Month: August 2017
1. Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad. At first I feared it was too trendy, but I ended up engrossed.
2. Stephen R. Platt, Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War. Pseudoerasmus calls this the best book on the most underrated big war in human history; he is right. It also gives you a good sense of how 50-100 million people might have died.
3. Mark Bowden, Hue 1968: A Turning Point in the American War in Vietnam. Both a very good Vietnam War book, and a very good Vietnam book.
4. Rousas John Rushdoony. The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church. Uneven in argumentative quality, but brilliant in parts, this is one of the conceptually most interesting books on early Christianity. It turns out your views on Christology really do shape your politics, and furthermore there is a coherent version of libertarian Calvinism, except it isn’t very libertarian, and it comes from…having the right Christology. Recommended, it opens up new worlds for the reader.
5. Thomas Mann, Der Zauberberg. I had never read this in German before. For all its extraordinary intellectual and emotional peaks, it is also remarkably witty.
Approximately seventy-five percent of the world’s population lives in countries where asset exchange upon marriage is obligatory. Rising brideprice—money or gifts provided to a woman’s family by the groom and his family as part of marriage arrangements—is a common if overlooked catalyst of violent conflict. In patrilineal (and some matrilineal) societies where brideprice is practiced, a man’s social status is directly connected to his marital status. Brideprice acts as a flat tax that is prone to sudden and swift increases. As a result, rising brideprice can create serious marriage market distortions that prevent young men, especially those who are poor or otherwise marginalized, from marrying. This phenomenon is especially evident in polygamous societies, where wealthy men can afford more than one bride. These distortions incentivize extra-legal asset accumulation, whether through ad hoc raiding or organized violence. In such situations, rebel and terror groups may offer to pay brideprice—or even provide brides—to recruit new members. Descriptive case studies of Boko Haram in Nigeria and various armed groups in South Sudan demonstrate these linkages, while an examination of Saudi Arabia’s cap on brideprice and its efforts to arrange low-cost mass weddings illustrates the ways in which governments can intervene in marriage markets to help prevent brideprice-related instability. The trajectory of brideprice is an important but neglected early indicator of societal instability and violent conflict, underscoring that the situation and security of women tangibly affect national security.
For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.
Amanda Lea Robinson has a new paper “Nationalism and Ethnic-Based Trust: Evidence from an African Border Region,” here is her main result:
In diverse societies, individuals tend to trust coethnics more than non-coethnics. I argue that identification with a territorially-defined nation, common to all ethnic groups, reduces the degree to which trust is ethnically bounded. I conduct a “lab-in-the-field” experiment at the intersection of national and ethnic boundaries in Malawi, which measures strength of national identification, experimentally manipulates national identity salience, and measures trust behaviorally. I find that shared nationality is a robust predictor of trust, equal in magnitude to the impact of shared ethnicity. Furthermore, national identification moderates the degree to which trust is limited to coethnics: while weak national identifiers trust coethnics more than non-coethnics, strong national identifiers are blind to ethnicity. Experimentally increasing national identity salience also eliminates the co-ethnic trust advantage among weak nationalists. These results offer micro-level evidence that a strong and salient national identity can diminish ethnic barriers to trust in diverse societies.
Hat tip goes to Ben Southwood.
1. Turkey $1200
2. Brazil $1,115
3. Russia, $1,086
4. Greece $1,028
5. Poland $1,005
6. Italy $995
7. Czech Republic $994
8. Norway $993
9. Denmark $986
10. Sweden $982
See the whole list, but the United States is cheapest at $815, tied with Japan, with Hong Kong next at $821. One lesson is that having crummy, overregulated retailing is worse for some of your prices than being an expensive country.
Students in India who cheat on a simple laboratory task are more likely to prefer public sector jobs.
…cheating on this task predicts corrupt behavior by civil servants, implying that it is a meaningful predictor of future corruption. Students who demonstrate pro-social preferences are less likely to prefer government jobs…
That is from Dishonesty and Selection into Public Service: Evidence from India, by Rema Hanna and Shing-Yi Wang. Here are ungated copies.
Too many people think of him as ordinary and earthy, compared to Mozart or Beethoven. Yet he composed amazing amounts of pathbreaking, first-rate music, and it wears remarkably well upon repeated listenings.
My approach to Haydn is pretty simple:
1. Some of the early piano music is boring, but a simple availability metric will point you to the best material. The deepest are the six last sonatas, and most well-known performances are quite good. Ax, McCabe, Kalish, Richter, and Brendel are among the first choices, Jando (Naxos) and Buchbinder are good enough to listen to but not preferred. By the way, piano > pianoforte, there was no great stagnation.
2. Listen to as many of the string quartets as you can, with preference given to Opus 76. On average, the later opus numbers are better, yet Op.9 and Op.20 still are worthwhile.
3. Listen to the London Symphonies. Again and again. All of them, Dorati being one option for conductor.
That’s hardly the only wonderful Haydn, but those are the pieces that work best through recordings. See the choral and vocal music live. Most of the concerti bore me, as do the piano trios. Many of the earlier symphonies are good, including the Paris set and the “Sturm und Drang” period, but unless you have lots and lots of time I say focus on the London ones for now.
As the years or decades pass, you will realize you have been underrating Haydn.
…most important of all was the gulf between the man and the national media, who could not understand each other — Romney’s billboards in New Hampshire read THE WAY TO STOP CRIME IS TO STOP MORAL DECAY; he could not understand why newsmen found the slogan funny; and they could not understand what he meant by moral decay.
Why their sudden inward turn, and why the Chinese state’s abandonment of the oceans? Some historians, like Bruce Swanson, cite a power struggle within the bureaucracy between eunuchs and conservative neo-Confucians, dubbed “continentalists,” with the eunuchs ultimately losing out. Another important factor was probably China’s reopening of its enlarged and completely renovated Grand Canal, an extraordinary feat of engineering that connected northern China to the increasingly populous breadbasket of the south. At eleven hundred miles long, the canal was controlled by numerous locks, much like New York’s Erie Canal, which measures only one-third its length and was not built until four hundred years later. In 1415 the state banned the shipment of grain to the north by sea to compel use of the canal, for which thousands of barges were built. Such a decision would have dramatically reduced the need for shipping, and hence shipbuilding and the maintenance of fleets, leading to the halting of oceangoing ship construction altogether by Yongle’s successor in 1436.
That is from the new and interesting Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power, by Howard W. French. I believe the definitive economic history of the Grand Canal remains to be written, it will be a major achievement when it happens.
3. “No less than 72% of the most ‘authoritarian’ group voted to leave, while just 21% of the most ‘libertarian’ group did so.” A post-mortem on Brexit (pdf). And in Germany there is a pub The UnBrexit.
4. This piece is a good meditation on what efficiency really means (with apologies to Benjamin L.), here is one bit: “[Chris] Paul can’t consistently create easy shots against an elite defense, but he’s also too disciplined to take bad shots, which limits his upside against higher levels of competition. Paul has averaged more than 25 points a game in a playoff series only once, and it was in his most recent seven-game battle against the Jazz. Westbrook has done it nine times, and Curry has done it eight. Paul’s tricks don’t work as well against his All-NBA peers.”
5. Eduardo Porter on tax reform (NYT).
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, basically I defend Apple. Here is one excerpt:
Those remarks are unfair to Apple, which in difficult circumstances probably did the right thing. China has already shown Facebook Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. that it is willing to do without their services. How would it help the world to have Apple join that list, either partially or in full? I don’t approve of Chinese censorship, but the VPNs are in fact illegal. It hardly seems unreasonable for a major company to follow the laws of the country it is operating in, even if those laws are unjust or imprudent.
Go back to the banned status of Bloomberg View in China, which is also a ban on some of my writings. (My educational videos are also blocked because they are on YouTube.) Does that mean I should stop having my books translated into Chinese, or that I should refuse to speak at Chinese universities, on the grounds that they do not present all of my written product? No, hardly anyone behaves that way, nor should they. I prefer to try to communicate with the Chinese — including listening to and learning from them — as much as I plausibly can.
There is much more at the link.
In 2005, I thought housing prices were rising above the fundamentals and I said so. In 2008, as the fall in housing prices was well under way, I wrote a blog post and later a NYTimes op-ed saying that the housing price bubble was not nearly as big as people thought. I wrote:
I think that housing prices went beyond the fundamentals sometime around 2004…but 2004 levels are still well above long run trend.
…Prices will probably drop some more but personally I don’t expect to ever again see index values around 110. Do you? If we don’t see the massive drop back to “normal” levels then the run up in prices should be described as a shift to a new equilibrium…[with some overshooting, rather than as a bubble.]
To put it mildly, not everyone agreed with my argument. I certainly got the timing wrong–I didn’t think the recession would be as long or as deep as it was. Nevertheless, some people are coming round to my point of view. Karl Smith, for example, has a new post Was There Ever a Bubble in Housing Prices? which concludes more or less, as I did nearly ten years earlier, that the answer is no. What happened was greater liquidity which made housing prices gyrate more like stock prices but “the fundamental driver isn’t irrational bubble behavior. It is competition over a scarce resource.”
Let’s go back to the Shiller graph (now updated to 2018 with some slight corrections since 2017 post). Over the entire 20th century real home prices averaged an index value just under 100 (and over the the entire second half of the 20th century were only slightly higher at 112). Over the entire 20th century, housing prices never once rose above 131, the 1989 peak. But beginning around 2000 house prices seemed to reach for an entirely new equilibrium. In fact, even given the financial crisis, prices since 2000 fell below the 20th century peak for only a few months in late 2011. Real prices today are now back to 2004 levels and rising. As I predicted in 2008, prices never returned to their long-run 20th century levels.
Now one might argue that there is still a bubble or perhaps another bubble in housing prices. But the United States does not look anomalous compared to other countries. In fact, in many other countries prices have risen more than in the United States. Here is the Economist’s Global Price Index of real house prices for a variety of countries. (Do note that some countries not shown, such as Germany, haven’t seen big increases in prices.) Are all these countries experiencing bubbles? Or has the equilibrium changed?
Understanding why the equilibrium has changed is a fundamental issue that I don’t think we yet have a good handle on. My view, is that it’s a combination of expected long-run lower interest rates, greater liquidity, and supply constraints on land. Lower interest rates, for example, mean that durable assets increase sharply in price, all the more so if the rates are expected to stay low. Combine this with greater liquidity (see Smith’s post) and supply restrictions and you can explain most of what is going on in the United States. What I don’t know is if the same explanations work worldwide and can the same factors also be used to explain why land prices haven’t risen in Germany, Japan or Switzerland?
Hat tip: Nathaniel Bechhofer.
In the period from January to June criminal homicides have risen 10 per cent in the state of Rio, compared with last year, while homicides in confrontations with police have risen 45 per cent, according to the state security secretariat. Violent deaths resulting from attempted robbery have risen 21 per cent.
The violence is taking its toll on Rio`s cash-strapped police, who complain they lack funds even for petrol for their vehicles. News organisation Globo reported that every 54 hours, a policeman is killed in the city.
Offensive words and phrases can be trademarked, and some people are trying to do this to keep such jargon out of broader circulation:
A spokesman for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said the office does not comment on trademark applications. Applications for trademarks flagged under a “scandalousness provision” can still be denied, the spokesman said.
Bordenave said he has filed many trademarks for phrases and logos that might prove profitable — radio frequencies, for example, and the phrase “New Orleans Tricentennial.” (The city will celebrate its 300th birthday next year.)
His idea: Build a brand around the n-word by including it discreetly — in T-shirt collar tags or fine print on water bottles, for example — on products emblazoned with larger, positive messages like “UNITY.” He said consumers would learn that, by buying such products, they were keeping the epithet out of more visible circulation.
This plan strikes me as ill-advised, and overly optimistic on the entrepreneurial side:
Maynard — of Snowflake Enterprises, named for a common insult of “someone with thin skin,” he said — planned to co-opt the swastika by including it on baby products. Such “social satire,” he said, could change its meaning and restrict its usage among hate groups.
“One of the hopes is that people look at the swastika flag in 10 years and think: baby wipes,” he said.
Or is there another agenda, hidden in its openness? Here is the full story, via M.
That is Dave Rubin the comedian. It is thirty minutes long, no transcript or video, audio only right here. We covered comedy and political correctness, which jokes should not be told, the economics of comedy, comedy in Israel and Saudi Arabia, comedy on campus, George Carlin, and the most underrated Star Wars installment, among other topics. Here is one excerpt:
Cowen: How much do you think comedy is what’s sometimes called ‘a winner take all’ market? So another way to phrase the question is 20 years from now do you think there will be more or fewer professional comedians? You might say, for instance, “Well, you’re on YouTube, you’re real ly funny, I don’t need to go to a comedy club.” There’s this fellow in South Korea, Robert Kelly, he did an interview, he was trying not to be funny doing the interview, his two kids ran into the room, his wife pulled the kids back, it created a viral video, one of the funnier things I saw all year.
Cowen: Maybe not a funny guy, he was trying to keep it serious, so it was hilarious, and I can find those through my filters, through Twitter, through search. What’s the role of a professional comedian when an amateur’s best moment from a guy who isn’t even funny goes so viral?
Rubin: Well, the role is always there because the commentary on society is always gonna be there, so the moments like… Of course, I saw that video and it’s hilarious and it’s in the moment and it’s a beautiful thing. By the way, there was an outrage to that, because a lot of people were saying that the woman who came in was his nanny because I think she was Asian but it was actually his wife so then that created… So even that, just a pure moment of something hilarious happening became part of the outrage machine too. But the role for the critic of society, it’ll always be there, but it’s just not gonna to come from the clubs anymore, I think. I think that unfortunately… Comedy in its rawest form of standing in front of a group of people with a microphone and connecting to them that way, it’s as beautiful as it gets, there’s nothing in between you and the audience. It’s like painting, if you were a great painter and every stroke you had to go, “Was that okay? Was that okay?” Well, that would make you kinda crazy as a painter, but in stand up up you have to do it that way, every line you have to make sure is funny. I have not been funny here today at all, maybe we have to do something else.
Cowen: There’s less live music in New York City today than in the 1970s, is there less live comedy?
I enjoyed doing the interview very much.