Month: December 2017

Additions to my best books of the year list

Since my longer, full list (and for fiction), more has come out, or I have become aware of some omissions, listed here:

The Valmiki Ramayana, translated by Bibek Debroy.  I have only browsed this so far, but it is definitely worthy of mention.

Peter Guardino, Dead March: History of the Mexican-American War.  The link brings you to my commentary.

Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream: A Novel, [Distancia de Rescate].

Navid Kermani, Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity.  My review is behind the link.

Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own.  Ditto, a real favorite.

Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.  At first this was slated for my 2018 list, but it turns out the Kindle edition is out now, so it gets to make both lists.

The New Testament, translated by David Bentley Hart.

Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson.  I haven’t read this yet, but it is getting consistently rave reviews.

Karl Sigmund, Exact Thinking in Demented Times.  Again, a review is behind the link.

Favorite jazz from 2017

Charles Lloyd New Quartet, Passin’ Thru.  If their last few albums were released during the golden age of jazz, they would be revered to this day.

Cecile McLorin Salvant, Dreams and Daggers.  The new Ella Fitzgerald.

Alexandre Tharaud, Hommage a’ Barbara, classical pianist goes the route of French song, wonderful acoustics to these arrangements.

Django Bates, Saluting Sgt. Pepper.  A German (!) big band redoes the whole album, with a semi-comic music hall feel, intricate horn arrangements, works surprisingly well.

Mulatu of Ethiopia, the title says it all.

Runners-up might be Steve Coleman, Nicole Mitchell, Matt Mitchell, Tyshawn Sorey, Craig Taborn, Rez Abbasi, and Vijay Iyer, but I’m not sure I’ll go back to those in the longer run.

Rabat notes

Is Rabat the nicest city in the Arab world?  It sure seems to come close, but as a capital and major recipient of government largesse its recipe probably is not scalable.  They are building a new concert hall and also a high-speed rail line up to Tangier.  So many vistas are pleasant, the touts are absent, and the food never quite hits Morocco’s peaks, nor is there much in the way of crafts.

The city emits the vibe of not being especially religious.  The medina and kasbah are relatively empty of economic activity, having not yet reinvented themselves as yuppie or millennial shopping districts.  Other than public works projects, it doesn’t feel as if anything transformative will happen here anytime soon, economically or otherwise.  Morocco, of course, did not have an “Arab spring” in 2011, and the monarchy has proven remarkably stable, beyond many people’s expectations.  That is perhaps the #1 social science question about Morocco.

The citizens seem to compare themselves more to Spain and France than to say Egypt or Iran; I am not sure that is good for their happiness.

Nace en Rabat el primer hipopótamo concebido en cautividad en Marruecos.”

The Chellah ruins exhibit traces of Phoenician, Roman, and medieval Arabic pasts, the surrounding landscape design creates a perfect integration.  Winter temperatures are in the low to mid 60s.  If you have never been to Morocco before, doing the whole flight for a mere two days in Rabat is worth it, but neither is it the country’s leading highlight…

Are climate and personality related?

To test the relationship between ambient temperature and personality, we conducted two large-scale studies within two geographically large yet culturally distinct countries: China and the United States. Using data from 59 Chinese cities (N = 5,587), machine learning and multilevel analyses revealed that individuals who grew up in areas with milder temperatures (i.e., closer to 22 °C) scored higher on personality factors related to socialization/stability (agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability) and personal growth/plasticity (extraversion, openness to experience). These same relationships between temperature clemency and personality factors were replicated in a larger dataset of 12,499 ZIP-code level locations (the lowest geographic level feasible) within the United States (N = 1,660,638).

That is from Wenqi Wei,, via Kevin Lewis.

How much do colleges boost innovation?

Yes, yes, I know patents are not the right measure, that is what we’ve got:

I exploit historical natural experiments to study how establishing a new college affects local invention. Throughout the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, many new colleges were established in the U.S. I use data on the site selection decisions for a subset of these colleges to identify “losing finalist” locations that were strongly considered to become the site of a new college but were ultimately not chosen for reasons that are as good as random assignment. The losing finalists are similar to the winning college counties along observable dimensions. Using the losing finalists as counterfactuals, I find that the establishment of a new college caused 32% more patents per year in college counties relative to the losing finalists. To determine the channels by which colleges increase patenting, I use a novel dataset of college yearbooks and individual-level census data to learn who the additional patents in college counties come from. A college’s alumni account for about 10% of the additional patents, while faculty account for less than 1%. Knowledge spillovers to individuals unaffiliated with the college also account for less than 1% of the additional patents. Migration is the most important channel by which colleges affect local invention, as controlling for county population accounts for 20-40% of the increase in patenting in college counties relative to the losing finalists. The presence of geographic spillovers suggests that colleges do cause an overall net increase in patenting, although I find no evidence that colleges are better at promoting invention than other policies that lead to similar increases in population.

That is from new research by Michael J. Andrews, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The Running of the Economists!

The annual job market scramble at the AEAs is about to begin. To help you through the madness, Marginal Revolution University, Planet Money and MobLab have teamed up to bring you an overview and guide, featuring Al Roth (on a treadmill), Josh Angrist, Betsey Stevenson and much more!

When you have finished the video you can find tips and links to job market advice at the bottom of this page. Good luck!

The economics of augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is a real-time, interactive user experience that inserts virtual computer-generated elements into a user’s environment. AR technology utilizes the Internet of Things (IoT) to enable smart devices to capture and identify “scenes” as a user moves through her world, generate contextually relevant holograms, sound, and other sensory inputs, then project those virtual elements through the user’s display. AR technology is coordinative in that it assists in economic calculation, aids in tracking usage, and helps agents overcome some kinds of information asymmetries. We provide examples from existing AR applications and conceptualize how AR strengthens self-organization and enables polycentric loci of private governance to emerge, what we call agile self-organization. Examples include information-enhancing overlays, automatic language translation, individualizing and privatizing the provision of personal and worker safety, reducing emergency response times, and enriching education with overlays and holograms. We conclude that AR technologies could erode traditional policy rationales for intervention and allow private governance to take hold and flourish in situations where it has traditionally had difficulty doing so.

That is a paper from the still-underrated Abigail Devereaux (a former student of mine), via Kevin Lewis.

Does the cream always rise to the top?

Or do we misallocate talent when it comes to innovation?  Here is a not so famous but very interesting paper by Murat Alp Celik:

The misallocation of talent between routine production versus innovation activities has a fi rst-order impact on the welfare and growth prospects of an economy. Surname level empirical analysis employing micro-data on patents and inventors in the U.S. between 1975-2008 combined with census data from 1930 reveals new stylized facts: (i) people with “richer” surnames have a higher probability of becoming an inventor, however (ii) people with more “educated” surnames become more proli fic inventors. Motivated by this discrepancy, a heterogeneous agents model with production and innovation sectors is developed, where individuals can become inventors even if they are of mediocre talent by excessive spending on credentialing. This is individually rational but socially inefficient. The model is calibrated to match the new stylized facts and data moments from the U.S. economy, and is then used to measure the magnitude of the misallocation of talent in innovation. A thought experiment in which the credentialing spending channel is shut down reveals that the aggregate growth rate of the economy can be increased by 10% of its value through a reduction of the misallocation. Socially optimal progressive bequest taxes that alleviate the misallocation are calculated, which serve to increase the growth rate of the economy to 2.05% while increasing social welfare by 6.20% in consumption equivalent terms.

I am not so persuaded by the idea of buying your way into innovative circles with credentials, or the analysis of the inheritance tax, but nonetheless this should stimulate thought.

Favorite world music 2017

Danyèl Waro, Monmon.  From the Reunion Islands, sample.

Residente, album is called Residente, Puerto Rican rap/reggaeton roots, but spreading out through diverse styles.

The Secret Ensemble, Call of the Birds, Turkish with classical roots, teaser here.  Passionate stuff.

Minore Manes: Rebetika Songs, from Smyrna.

Sahra Halgan Trio, Faransiskiyo, Somaliland.  Try this.

Duo Sabil, Zabad, oud and percussion.  Here is one cut.

Try this music video by Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra.

If you insist on something Brazilian, we can go back a year and pull out Sociedade Recreativa.

Were U.S. nuclear tests more harmful than we had thought?

So says Keith A. Meyers, job candidate from University of Arizona.  I found this to be a startling result, taken from his secondary paper:

During the Cold War the United States detonated hundreds of atomic weapons at the Nevada Test Site. Many of these nuclear tests were conducted above ground and released tremendous amounts of radioactive pollution into the environment. This paper combines a novel dataset measuring annual county level fallout patterns for the continental U.S. with vital statistics records. I find that fallout from nuclear testing led to persistent and substantial increases in overall mortality for large portions of the country. The cumulative number of excess deaths attributable to these tests is comparable to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Basically he combines mortality estimates with measures of Iodine-131 concentrations in locally produced milk, “to provide a more precise estimate of human exposure to fallout than previous studies.” The most significant effects are in the Great Plains and Central Northwest of America, and “Back-of-the-envelope estimates suggest that fallout from nuclear testing contributed between 340,000 to 460,000 excess deaths from 1951 to 1973.”

His primary job market paper is on damage to agriculture from nuclear testing.