Month: August 2017

Tuesday assorted links

1. “We find that relative to males in the same cohort, female economists are less likely (by about 14%) to have received tenure and promotion eight years post-graduation.”  And Kevin says reforming tenure is not nearly enough.

2. Most legacy applicants fits the academic profile of the colleges to which they are admitted.  I would stress this is a) revenue-maximizing, b) still deeply unfair, c) still pragmatically a good thing, and d) an indictment of how institutions currently think about “academic profile.”

3. On the origin of municipal segregation ordinances.

4. The new Shanghai rankings for economics departmentsGMU Law also in the top 30.  And Lynne Kiesling moves to Purdue, congratulations!

5. How will Lagos cope with its population?

6. David Brooks on moderates (NYT).

Eleanor Rigby auction markets in everything

Certificate of purchase and receipt for grave space to be sold with miniature bible belonging to woman whose name was immortalised by McCartney

They are expected to sell for between £2,000 and £4,000.

They will go under the hammer alongside the original handwritten score for the song, which is expected to fetch £20,000.

The jar by the door, however, is not up for sale.  Via Ted Gioia.

16 ways QR codes are used in China

Yes the Chinese are ahead of us in many ways, here is one bit from an excellent article by Connie Chan:

#11 QR code as call box and information kiosk

Remember those emergency call boxes on the side of freeways? In Nanjing, China, smart street signs with QR codes provide the names and contact info for the local police. They also provide sightseeing guidance with directions, and information on how to handle a residence permit.


Since people in China believe that QR codes are here to stay, even tombstones are engraved with QR codes that memorialize the life-story — through biographies, photographs, and videos — of the deceased. From the leadership of the China Funeral Association: “In modern times, people should commemorate their deceased loved ones in modern ways”.

There is much more at the link.

Greater gender parity in economics suggests we should reform tenure systems

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, the set-up is that the tenure clock and child-bearing plans do not exactly mesh well.  Here is my primary recommendation:

Imagine a greater variety of academic jobs, in areas that are not always valued highly by peer review. They might include jobs devoted to producing policy work, to teaching, to producing materials for online education, and to bringing the lessons of academia to broader audiences, such as through blogs and opinion columns. Furthermore, “up or out” provisions could be weakened, so if an individual didn’t succeed on a research track, but excelled in other areas, employment could be continued with different achievement criteria…Schools could keep some tenured jobs while elevating the quality of these other options.

Here is an interlude:

For all the jawboning about limiting discrimination, without adding good jobs on a significant scale, academia won’t get very far in addressing its imbalances.

Here is the clincher:

I have been struck by the course of debate in the economics profession over the last week, as much (deserved) Twitter ire has been directed at one particular online economics forum with anonymous and frequently misogynistic postings. Such forums probably discourage and demoralize women in the economics profession. But the general consensus among the forum’s critics is that those anonymous posters are the “losers” of the profession, not the deans, departmental chairs and Nobel laureates.

In other words, leading economists have spent a whole week “punching down” at those who are not in charge. I’ve hardly seen any critical self-examination about how the leaders, and the incentives they have created and supported, might also be at fault.


*The Dawn of Eurasia*

By Bruno Maçães, due out in January.  I was asked to blurb it, I’m going to go “off the reservation” and call it so far the best and most important book I’ve read so far this year.  From Amazon:

In this original and timely book, Bruno Maçães argues that the best word for the emerging global order is ‘Eurasian’, and shows why we need to begin thinking on a super-continental scale. While China and Russia have been quicker to recognise the increasing strategic significance of Eurasia, even Europeans are realizing that their political project is intimately linked to the rest of the supercontinent – and as Maçães shows, they will be stronger for it.

The Kindle edition at least you can pre-order.

Which are the most and least walkable countries?

In a recent study by researchers at Stanford University, Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous nation, came in last among 46 countries and territories for the number of walking steps its citizens take, averaging only 3,513 a day.

By comparison, Hong Kong was first with 6,880, and China second with 6,189. Ukraine, Japan and Russia rounded out the top five. The study tracked 717,000 people in 111 countries, who voluntarily monitored 68 million days of activity using an app on their smartphones and watch devices that was designed by Stanford researchers — the largest such tracking study ever, the researchers said. Each place needed to have at least 1,000 participants to be ranked in the report.

Jakarta, an urban sprawl of approximately 10 million people, with a metropolitan region of about 30 million, is the poster child of the nation’s walking woes.

Only 7 percent of the capital’s 4,500 miles of road have sidewalks, according to local government data.

That is from Joe Cochrane at the NYT.  Those results are consistent with my intuitions, noting that I sometimes find India difficult to walk in. By the way, the two countries with the highest “Activity Inequality” are the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Here are data on the walkability of various American cities.  The estimable Chug refers me to this short piece on the walkability of the Jersey shore.

Those new service sector jobs

Plastic surgeons who give you Vulcan and elfin-like ears:

Of course, looking naturally elflike is not everyone’s goal. Luis Padron, 25, who owns a cosplay business in Argentina, said he has spent over $35,000 in surgeries and procedures including skin lightening, nose surgery and hair removal for his sylvan shape-shifting. His look has been influenced by Katherine Cardona, a contemporary illustrator specializing in fairies, and Sakimichan, a gender-bending fantasy digital artist.

Padron plans to change his eye color to violet using an intraocular implant procedure in New Delhi (not approved by the Food and Drug Administration) because “it is the color of magic, fantasy, dreams and imagination,” he said. The idea is on point, elfishly speaking, when you consider that Bloom, who wore blue contact lenses in the Tolkien film, once described elves as “incredible angelic spirits who create and appreciate great beauty.”

To complete his elflike transformation, Padron is planning a heart-shaped hairline implant and PRP scalp injections in Beverly Hills, California, because “elves have long hair,” he said. He is also planning more plastic surgery in South Korea, including Adam’s apple reduction, jaw reshaping and limb lengthening, and plans to finish his look with ear pointing surgery, which he calls “the cherry on top.”

Waiting time for ear pointing, however, is over a year, and over 40 percent of elf-ear wishers don’t have the right cartilage to perform the modification, Von Cyborg said. Black was one of the lucky ones.

Here is the full story.  Should this be subsidized or taxed?

Who should be shamed, and who not?

Let’s start with the distiction between people and their ideas and also their behavior.  We might condemn the ideas of a person without condeming the person himself.  Of course, if the ideas are very, very bad, sometimes we condemn the person too.

We seem to mind less when the bad ideas come from another time and space altogether.  For instance, hardly anyone seems to mind if a Mexican migrant has incorrect and deeply offensive views on the Oapan-Sam Miguel land disputes.  Those beliefs, even if they sanction violence against innocents for the purposes of land grabs, don’t impinge much on current American status competitions.  Similary, I don’t see that many objections to intellectual “monuments” erected in favor of classical Athens, in spite of the significant role of slavery in that society.  The pro-Athenian faction isn’t going to command any electoral votes the next cycle.  Was Joan of Arc problematic?

How many people object if a high percentage of the best jobs for Indian-Americans go to members of higher castes?  Does anyone push for affirmative action within the Indian-American community?  Not that I am aware of.  Those status contests aren’t salient for most of us.

I see many people who have behaved very badly — and here I mean legally convicted criminals — but where the prevailing “mood affiliation” among American liberal intellectuals is to favor their rehabilitation.  For instance, if a company does not ask job applicants if they have criminal records, this is considered to be good, and maybe it is.  For one thing, many of those criminals are the products of bad circumstances and we may have various (true) theories that help to excuse their behavior.  So we don’t go to the nth degree to shame and disgrace those ex-criminals, even if they have been convicted of prior violent activities.

How are we then to feel about contemporary neo-Nazis?  Most of them have not been convicted of anything at all.  Yet right now we are going to great lengths to shame and disgrace them.  We regard them as on a lower moral rung than the convicted criminals.  But is wishing for violence that much worse than having committed it yourself?

Or sometimes those two qualities go together.  If you are a neo-Nazi and you have committed a violent act, like the guy who drove that car into the crowd, it seems OK to put your photo on the internet in any kind of stereotypically despised, lookist, “white filth” portrayal that is possible, with maximum scorn and contempt.  Should we cover a prisoner on Death Row the same way?  What about someone who has been judged mentally ill?  What if in the meantime we simply do not know?

There may be a good utilitarian reason for the distinctions we draw, namely that we wish to discourage neo-Nazi behavior, and the behavior of potential copycats, for future-oriented reasons.   (Is that shaming even the most effective way to do so?  We don’t seem to obsess over shame threats for convicted criminals, to keep them — and others — on “the right track.”).  Perhaps shaming and disgracing them is necessary because they hold very bad ideologies, and perhaps potentially contagious ideologies, ideologies that most violent criminals do not seem to promulgate.

Maybe this utilitarian view is correct, namely that the shaming of an individual should depend on social context and political impact, and not just on the prior behavior of that individual.  But then notice what we are doing, we are moving away from moral individualism ourselves, and treating the shamed person as a means in the Kantian sense.  I even feel that such shaming makes me a slight bit like them, in a way I wish to avoid.

Do I have the option of just feeling sorry for the neo-Nazis, and at the same time dreading their possible social impact, in the way one might dread and hate a tornado?  But not shaming or scolding them?

Or should I feel bad about benefiting from the shaming activities of others, and being a kind of free-riding Kantian moral purist?

What if deterrence is not your actual goal with the shaming, but rather you are shaming for the purposes of motivating your own “troops”?

Another group being shamed over the course of the last week has been the misogynistic EJMR posters.  But I am curious as to the implicit theories held by the shamers here.  Why do those men write such nasty things?  Is it all just bad socialization, or might some of them them have a genetic inclination toward such behavior?  But once we consider the latter, we seem dangerously into the kind of stereotyping we were objecting to just a moment ago, when we sought to shame them.

What if sexual bullying lies deep in male DNA?  Not for everyone of course, but for some people.  And those same people may well have grown up in disadvantageous circumstances, surrounded by the wrong kinds of nerds, and then they ended up sad and broken on EJMR, for lack of having had the right role models.

Overall I am not impressed by how most of you are writing and thinking about these issues.  I wish to shame you a bit.  Everyone wishes to shame someone.  For me it’s you — sorry!

Cancer, Herpes, Metformin and the FDA

Three articles on medical breakthroughs, or not, caught my eye. The Wall Street Journal discusses a breakthrough in cancer therapy using HIV to target cancer cells. The news is mostly good but the lead researcher worries that it was only luck which prevented the FDA from ending the research prematurely:

Cytokine-release syndrome almost ended the therapy in its infancy. In 2012, Dr. June’s first pediatric patient, 6-year-old Emma Whitehead, developed a 106-degree fever and experienced multiple organ failure. “We thought she was going to die,” he recalls.

A blood analysis showed high levels of the cytokine interleukin-6, or IL-6. “I happened to know because of my daughter’s arthritis that there was a drug that could target IL-6—that had never been used in oncology,” Dr. June recalls. Fortunately, the children’s hospital where Emma was being treated had the medication, Tocilizumab, on hand. “We wouldn’t have had it at the adult hospital because it wasn’t approved at that point for adult conditions.”

Within hours of receiving the drug, Emma awoke from her coma. “It was literally one of those Lazarus conditions,” Dr. June says. Eight days after receiving the CAR T-Cell injection, she went into remission. Two weeks later, she was cancer-free. She’s now 12 and thriving.

Tocilizumab “saved the field” as well as the girl, Dr. June says. “If the first patient dies on a protocol and nobody’s been cured, you’re over.” Regulators, he adds, always “err on the side of caution.” That irks him, since most of his patients would die without the experimental treatments: “Our FDA regulations are made so that you can never have more than about 30% of people get sick with serious side effects. I think we don’t have enough leeway for side effects when you have a potentially curative therapy.”

In my TED talk I argued that the richer China and India are the better it will be for US cancer patients because the bigger the market the greater the incentive to research and develop new drugs. US patients may also get a second benefit. China is big enough to move world R&D which previously was true only for the US and to a lesser extent (because of price controls) the EU. Since the US has by far the largest pharmaceutical market the FDA is a regulatory hegemon. With China we may get to see for the first time a serious alternative to the FDA. And according to some observers, China’s approval process is less-risk averse.

Some of those [new trials] are in the U.S., but more are taking place in China. “There’s a lot more people there, so you can do a lot more trials,” Dr. June says. “But they also put more of their GDP into medical therapy, particularly CAR T-cells.” Beijing’s drug-approval process is easier, too.

I don’t know whether that is true, but it’s a hopeful sign.

In another story, Lawrence Reed has the inspiring story of Bill Halford who has developed a not-yet-approved vaccine for Herpes. Herpes can be incredibly painful and it infects over one million people a year but the route to a vaccine has not been easy:

Impatient with Washington, Halford injected himself, his family and a group of ten herpes patients. None of his family exhibited any ill effects, evidence that the vaccines were safe. All the sufferers enjoyed dramatic pain relief, suggesting effectiveness. The early success of his research led him to co-found, along with film-maker and entrepreneur Agustin Fernandez, a company known as Rational Vaccines, Inc. (RVx)). Its mission is to fight the herpes epidemic worldwide, using the live, attenuated strains that Halford created.

Peter Thiel is a lead investor in Rational Vaccines. Sadly, Bill Halford contracted cancer and died this year at just age 48. I hope his company will carry the ball over the goal line.

Should we all be taking Metformin? Metformin is a diabetes drug but researchers have found that the people taking the drug also get dramatically fewer cancers. Here is Wired:

What they discovered was striking: The metformin-takers tended to be healthier in all sorts of ways. They lived longer and had fewer cardiovascular events, and in at least some studies they were less likely to suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Most surprising of all, they seemed to get cancer far less frequently—as much as 25 to 40 percent less than diabetics taking two other popular medications. When they did get cancer, they tended to outlive diabetics with cancer who were taking other medications.

As Lewis Cantley, the director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, once put it, “Metformin may have already saved more people from cancer deaths than any drug in history.” Nobel laureate James Watson (of DNA-structure fame), who takes metformin off-label for cancer prevention, once suggested that the drug appeared to be “our only real clue into the business” of fighting the disease.

It’s not just Wired. Here is the title of a recent meta-analysis:

Metformin reduces all-cause mortality and diseases of ageing independent of its effect on diabetes control: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Metformin is already approved so it could quickly be used off-label  but there is a big problem with anti-aging drugs–there is currently no way any anti-aging drug can get approved.

The assembled scientists and academics focused on one obstacle above all: the Food and Drug Administration. The agency does not recognize aging as a medical condition, meaning a drug cannot be approved to treat it. And even if the FDA were to acknowledge that aging is a condition worthy of targeting, there would still be the question of how to demonstrate that aging had, in fact, been slowed—a particularly difficult question considering that there are no universally agreed-on markers.

The FDA should provide a path to approve anti-aging drugs but if not maybe the CFDA will.

Germany fact of the day, the growing north-south divide

The gap between the unemployment rates in north and south, for instance, will soon be wider than that between east and west (see chart 2). In the New Social Market Economy Initiative’s education rankings, Saxony and Thuringia took the two highest places among Germany’s 16 states while Berlin and Brandenburg, also eastern states, took the two lowest. The north-south divide on life expectancy is now greater than the east-west one; women in Baden-Württemberg and Saxony live the longest. According to André Wolf of the Hamburg Global Economics Institute, “in the medium term the north-south differential could definitely supersede the (current) east-west one.”

In 1960, however, Bavaria was the poorest part of West Germany.

That is from The Economist.

A web site in honor of UCLA economist Earl Thompson

It was created by Josh Hendrickson, here is the whole thing.  I excerpt one part of it, I’ve done no additional indent but all of this following is from Hendrickson:

Institutions and Public Choice
In the 1970s, Earl Thompson started down a path of research that would continue through his career. This research represented the intertwining of institutions and public choice.
  • Taxation and National Defense“, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 82, No. 4, p. 755 – 782, (1974). In this paper Thompson argues that the optimal tax structure for a country should be one that is structured around national defense. He presents evidence that the U.S. tax system is the approximately optimal tax system using this criteria.
  • An Economic Basis for the `National Defense Argument’ for Aiding Certain Industries,” Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 87, No. 1, (1979). This paper is essentially an extension of the previous paper in that Thompson argues that many protectionist policies are optimal when considered in the context of national defense. He again shows that U.S. policy is approximately optimal in this context.
  • On Labor’s Right to Strike“, Economic Inquiry, Vol. 28, p. 640 – 653, (1980). In this paper Thompson argues that under certain conditions a strike by workers will actually benefit capital owners. He argues that the right of labor to strike and the existence of strikes are often explained by the profitability of the strike to capital owners.
  • Characteristics of Worlds with Perfect Strategic Communication“, Journal of Economic Theory, Vol. 23, No. 1, p. 111 – 119, (1980). This paper as well as the one that follows are designed to discuss how institutions emerge in society. Thompson posits the idea of a hierarchical structure in society in which each group commits to a reaction function. The resulting institutions are Pareto optimal, given those reaction functions. This model pops up throughout Thompson’s subsequent work to explain why we get efficient institutions (like the defense-based tax system) despite the fact that very few people would be able to articulate its purpose. The paper below is a more popular extension of this paper.
  • A Pure Theory of Strategic Behavior and Social Institutions” (with Roger Faith), American Economic Review, Vol. 71, No. 3, p. 366 – 380, (1981).
  • Ideology and the Evolution of Vital Economic Institutions: Guilds, The Gold Standard and Modern International Cooperation. (with Charles Hickson). Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000. This book is an attempt to summarize and extend Thompson’s work on institutions, growth collapses, and globalization. The book is exploding with ideas. Some of them you will find convincing. Others you might find crazy. However, the book will make you think. You won’t get these types of arguments or this type of thinking from any other economist.
  • What Globalization is Really All About.” This was a keynote address that Thompson gave at a conference. It is a short summary of Thompson’s career and his perspective on globalization.
Other Work
This is far from an exhaustive account of Thompson’s work. For a summary of his work, see “A tribute to Earl A. Thompson and, in his own words, a summary of his general economic and social theory” by Don Allison Jr. and Thomas Borcherding in Public Choice, (2013).