Month: June 2017

Perfect complements, Saudi Arabia edition?

Manama: A Saudi judge and former Shura Council member has suggested hiring Saudi couples as flight attendants on Saudia, the flag carrier of the kingdom, as a first step to enabling Saudi women to become air stewardesses.

“The number of stewardesses with Saudia is around 1,000 and it is possible to recruit 1,000 Saudi couples to work together as flight attendants,” Dr Nasser Bin Zaid Bin Dawood said.

“Couples can start on domestic flights and then gradually move on to international flights. The idea of recruiting couples to work together is not new and we had a similar experience in the past when husbands were recruited as guards in the girls’ schools where their wives worked as principals, administrators, teachers or assistants,” Bin Dawood said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Thursday.

Here is the link, via Air Genius Gary Leff.  And here is Gary on the new air traffic control proposal.  Peter Orszag also approves.

What I’ve been reading

1. Gunther S. Stent, The Coming of the Golden Age: a view of the end of progress.  Starting on p.84 (!), this short 1969 tract becomes a remarkable disquisition on stagnation, through the lens of “Faustian Man,” the decline of romanticism, Ortega y Gasset, Kierkegaard, and the hippie beats of San Francisco.  At some point the social sciences won’t make that much more progress, and Stent portrays the Maori as the non-complacent branch of the Polynesians.

2. Susan Southard, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War.  What is a city like after a nuclear bomb hits?  Beautifully written, both historical and anecdotal, and the ignoble record of the American government in this episode, with respect to cover-ups and poor treatment of survivors, extends well into the recovery period.

3. Jonathan Abrams, Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution.  A study of youth vs. experience, you can think of this as an excellent management book in addition to its basketball virtues.

4. Javier Cercas, La verdad de Agamenón, selected essays about literature, Borges, Tijuana, Spanish political culture as expressed through history, and the life of an author.  About half of them are excellent, none of them bad.  Could Cercas be the least-known (in America) great author in the world today?

5. Richard V. Reeves, Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What To Do Abut It.  The top one percent is not the relevant group.

6. Fernando Vallejo, Our Lady of the Assassins.  This short and violent novel is about Colombia during the period of its troubles.  Full of life and vigor, makes the case for complacency.

Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, Cents and Sensibility: What Economists Can Learn from the Humanities, covers a topic I am greatly interested in; here is a partial review by David Henderson.  Related issues are considered by Mihir A. Desai, The Wisdom of Finance, with Charles Sanders Peirce and Wallace Stevens being two points of focus.

I am happy to have just written a blurb for Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles, The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Become Richer, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality, self-recommending.

The Seville study on bike ridership and bike safety

Here are some of the results:

Here’s what they found: bike network connectedness seems to immediately pay off in the form of lower risk to people biking. The risk of a biking trip in Seville seems to have fallen dramatically in 2007 and stayed mostly flat afterward. No other single variable predicted bike safety as well as that single yes/no question: Has a network been built yet?

More accurate still was a formula that took into account both variables — the length of bikeways built and that yes/no question about whether or not the network had been connected.

In other words: Generally speaking, every additional mile of protected bike lane somewhere in the city improved safety. But network connections improved safety most.

Here is a summary, here is the study itself.  For the pointer I thank Roland Stephen.

Monday assorted links

1. An interesting post on differing measures of wage growth, some showing more optimism than the usual story.  I interpret these data as showing overall productivity stagnation, and that we are near full employment, but that finally some terms of trade shift toward less skilled workers can be observed.  Other interpretations are possible, though.

2. The Parfitian lawsuit: “you made me exist!”

3. What happened to Jim Carrey?

4. “A society hospitable to the down and out will not be afraid to dress up.

5. “Staff at the Bank of England studied the writing style of Dr. Seuss as part of a push to make its communications more easily understood by the general public.

6. I was surprised to learn that the world’s largest bus terminal is in Tel Aviv.  The link presents nine other “largest buildings of a particular type” around the world.

7. Why are Tesla insurance rates going up so much?

8. The cut-off that is Qatar.

The ongoing eurozone recovery

Despite the 2015 Greek crisis, total growth in the single currency area has exceeded that in the US for the past two-and-a-half years, with the eurozone expanding 5.1 per cent over the period compared with 4.6 per cent for the US.

An even more encouraging sign, according to Mr Praet, is the broad-based nature of the eurozone’s revival, which suggests a more robust recovery. Italy’s economy grew 0.4 per cent in the first quarter, while Portugal’s GDP jumped 1 per cent.

And this (don’t get too carried away with that Phillips curve!):

Economists say the fall in May’s inflation rate to 1.4 per cent, from 1.9 per cent in April, removed any immediate pressure on the ECB to act.

That is all from Chris Giles and Claire Jones at the FT.  And as I’ve said before, this is a major reason why market volatility has stayed so low.

*Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States*

That is the new James C. Scott book, and so far it is the most interesting non-fiction read of the year (I am about halfway through).  You can think of it as an extended essay on which technologies actually gave rise to economies of scale, expressed through governance but not only.  Ultimately the focus settles on Mesopotamia, but the discussion is wide-ranging and the lessons are applicable to much of human history.  Here is an opening summary bit:

I propose that cereal grains have unique characteristics such that they would be, virtually everywhere, the major tax commodity essential to early state building.  I believe that we may have grossly underestimated the importance of the (infectious) diseases of crowding in the demographic fragility of the early state.  Unlike many historians, I wonder whether frequent abandonment of early state centers might often have been a boon to the health and safety of their populations rather than a “dark age” signaling the collapse of a civilization.  And finally, I ask whether those populations that remained outside state centers for millennia after the first states were established may not have remained there (or fled there) because they found conditions better.

Here is one good passage:

It is surely striking that virtually all classical states were based on grain, including millets.  History records no cassava states, no sago, yam, taro, plantain, breadfruit, or sweet potato states. (“Banana Republics” don’t qualify!)  My guess is that only grains are best suited to concentrated production, tax assessment, appropriation, cadastral surveys, storage, and rationing.  On suitable soil wheat provides the agro-ecology for dense concentrations of human subjects.

In contrast the tuber cassava (aka manioc, yucca) grows below ground, requires little care, is easy to conceal, ripens in a year, and, most important, can safely be left in the ground and remain edible for two more years.  If the state wants your cassava, it will have to come and dip up the tubers one by one, and then it has a cartload of little value and great weight if transported.

The discussion of how the technology of fire is the ultimate root of economies of scale is alone worth the price of the book.  Scott analogizes complacency/peace to the domestication of non-human animals, including the phenomenon of less violent emotional reactions and greater conformity.

Urgently recommended, and fun to read as well.

Here are various articles on the work of James C. Scott.  Here is a good NYT profile of Scott and also his farming work.

*Wonder Woman*, the movie

Very enjoyable and well-paced, at least until the very end, and Gal Gadot is spectacular.  Yet immediately beneath the facade of the apparently rampant feminism is a quite traditional or even reactionary tale of martial virtue being inescapable, gender attraction overwhelming all other social considerations, and Christian sacrifice and redemption.  (Hollywood is usually less left-wing than you think it is going to be.)  Beyond that, the visuals are striking, the scenes of WWI London ring true, the chemistry between the two leads is evident, and the 3-D effects add value.  The soundtrack/score could have been better.  The informed viewer will notice cinematic references to the key “charge the Anthill” scene of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, blatantly restaged with the marginal impact of Wonder Woman, various Batman movies, Transformers, Ray Harryhausen, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, among other creations.  The final image left me unsettled and I am glad they had the guts to leave it in; this is not a movie opposed to violence.

Browse every book hyperlink ever posted on Marginal Revolution (is this the second best web site ever?)

My product:

Marginal Revolution is one of the most popular economics blogs on the Internet, with a libertarian slant. It has been in constant operation since 2003, and has posted over 4000 links to books on Amazon.

I got the idea for this product from the Indie Hackers interview for Hacker News Books.

The site is totally functional, now I need to promote it and get some users (like me) who are superfans of Marginal Revolution and often buy books after reading about them on there.

Feedback and ideas appreciated!

Here is the link, that was posted by linuxfan2718 at IndieHackers, and for the pointer I thank P.

Sunday assorted links

1. “He was struck by the contrast between Australia’s growing economic and strategic bulk and the derangement of its self-absorbed political class…

2. “The Alt-Knights were originally conceived as a paramilitary wing of the Proud Boys…” (NYT)

3. Freddie on the chat with Chetty; I can’t speak for Raj, but I would gladly pay the better teachers more, if that meant firing the lemons (and I don’t read him as denying this).  And many lemons there are, FD doesn’t provide evidence against that by now rather well-established claim, furthermore it is one any high schooler would agree with.

4. Scott Sumner on the two new Fed picks.  I view these as very good news.

5. How to think about investing in housing.

6. Do spiders offload cognitive tasks to their webs?

My first political memory and my grandmother’s commentary

It was 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.  I saw the funeral on television, at age six.  There was a casket, and a long line of soldiers or National Guardsmen (?), standing motionless with tight chinstraps and very serious expressions, or so I seem to recall.

I knew what death was, but otherwise I struggled to understand.  Suddenly my grandmother blurted out something like: “If one of those guys moves an inch, they’ll line him up and shoot him!”

An early instance of fake news you might say, but since that time I have sought to place that comment in a broader framework.  I have thought of a few options:

1. She thought this was the case.

2. She wished this was the case.

3. She felt the need to express the gravity of the situation to me and my sister, and this was the first thing that came to her mind.  Since I had not much of a framework for processing the comment, she didn’t regard it as a lie or falsehood, rather a dab of added meaning.

4. She had just read Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony.”

5. She sought to instill discipline in me, and was reaffirming her own role at the center of this process, and here was a didactic example to be cited.  A smaller penalty, such as a decrease in shore leave, I might not have understood.

6. She enjoyed lying.

7. I enjoy lying.

Of these, #3 seems the most likely, with a bit of #5 and maybe #2.

How much of our political discourse fits the general pattern of this exchange?

My second political memory is the evening of the Nixon-Humphrey election.

I still have fairly good political memories of the early 1970s, including (especially) Watergate, and now this knowledge is worth more than it used to be.

Saturday assorted links

1. A Christian responds to my earlier post on God, but I don’t see many actual arguments for the existence of God in there (criticizing “metaphysical nominalism” doesn’t count).  The testimony argument is offered, but I considered that in my original post, and I don’t see a rebuttal to what I wrote.

2. Good short overview on indirect costs and federal overhead payments.

3. Very good Yuval Levin short essay on the CBO and health care policy scoring.

4. James Wood appreciation of W.G. Sebald.

5. January 2016 Tyrone take on why Democrats should support Donald Trump for reasons of climate change.

6. Is it Randal Quarles and Marvin Goodfriend to the two open Fed seats? (NYT)  Here is Goodfriend’s 2016 paper on dealing with the zero lower bound (pdf).

What should I ask Ed Luce?

I’ll be interviewing Ed on June 13, 6-8 p.m., GMU Arlington campus, including about his new and very interesting book The Retreat of Western Liberalism.  Ed is also “chief American commentator” for The Financial Times, and author of one of the best general introductions to India, In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India.  Here is Ed’s Wikipedia page.  Here are event details.

Trump and the collapse of America’s global role (POTMR)

I don’t usually “rerun” material for posts, but here is my December 9 Bloomberg piece on Trump:, discussing the greatest danger from a poorly functioning Trump regime:

It’s hard for a president with perceived conflicts of interest to make credible commitments to allies because the allies can’t be confident that a president will stick to a proposed agreement or course of action. The result is an unraveling of alliances, a decline in international trust and possibly dangerous rearmament and nuclear proliferation. It’s hard for a subsequent president to reverse those losses.

Hostile powers or lukewarm neutrals also will be confused if foreign policy is not run in the usual predictable, bureaucratized fashion. That raises the risk of conflict or it makes an amelioration of tensions less likely.

Here is also my earlier piece on the Trump administration and lies.

Jill Lepore on dystopia

Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance; it’s become a fiction of submission, the fiction of an untrusting, lonely, and sullen twenty-first century, the fiction of fake news and infowars, the fiction of helplessness and hopelessness. It cannot imagine a better future, and it doesn’t ask anyone to bother to make one. It nurses grievances and indulges resentments; it doesn’t call for courage; it finds that cowardice suffices. Its only admonition is: Despair more. It appeals to both the left and the right, because, in the end, it requires so little by way of literary, political, or moral imagination, asking only that you enjoy the company of people whose fear of the future aligns comfortably with your own. Left or right, the radical pessimism of an unremitting dystopianism has itself contributed to the unravelling of the liberal state and the weakening of a commitment to political pluralism. “This isn’t a story about war,” El Akkad writes in “American War.” “It’s about ruin.” A story about ruin can be beautiful. Wreckage is romantic. But a politics of ruin is doomed.

Here is the full article.