Month: December 2017

What is up with the new Brexit deal?

Most of the Tories are happy they found a semi-workable version of the deal.  They pay a big divorce bill to the EU, have a long transition period, opt for “regulatory standardization with the EU” for the whole UK, as enforced by the need to avoid a hard border in Ireland, and over the longer term end up with a customs union and free trade agreement of Norway-like nature.

In other words, they pay a lot of money, lose a seat at the table, and don’t significantly increase the policy autonomy of the country.  In the subsequent bargaining over the details, the EU still holds most of the cards.  Here are a few observations:

1. This represents an almost complete “fold” of the pro-Brexit stance, though like so many other political issues of the Anglo-American day it has become more about exerting one’s will over the opposition than achieving a very particular exit path or even outcome.  One group in British society has won quite a major victory in symbolic terms, namely it has been shown that the country has agreed to leave.

2. At this point, the chance of Brexit being reversed in the short term is very slim.  The anti-Brexit forces know that if this deal falls apart, they could end up with something much worse.  That said, the chances of a medium-term reversal may be higher.  Come the next election, it will still feel as if the UK is in the EU.  The transition period could be extended, and then extended again.  And then…

3. With the current deal, assuming it sticks, the chance of the UK itself unraveling is small.

4. The remaining pro-Brexit case is simply that the UK has limited its entanglement with the EU legal system and a possible future of full federal union.  That’s worth something, but still I am pro-Remain.

5. Real estate in Northern Ireland remains significantly undervalued.

6. the EU really has shown it has a fairly strong and indivisible commitment to the “Four Freedoms,” on migration much more than I would have expected.  You can debate whether this makes the rest of the union more or less stable over the longer term, but for sure it does one of those two things.

Here is a good piece on the Irish border issues.

Sunday assorted links

Why is Switzerland Peaceful?

Switzerland is a highly diverse society, especially among language groups, and with immigration it is becoming even more diverse. Yet Switzerland is also very peaceful. Why? The answer offered in this paper Good Fences created by geography, I find somewhat depressing. I would focus more on political decentralization as an explanation, that too is a function of geography but unlike geography it can be transplanted. I’m in Switzerland this week:

We consider the conditions of peace and violence among ethnic groups, testing a theory designed to predict the locations of violence and interventions that can promote peace. Characterizing the model’s success in predicting peace requires examples where peace prevails despite diversity. Switzerland is recognized as a country of peace, stability and prosperity. This is surprising because of its linguistic and religious diversity that in other parts of the world lead to conflict and violence. Here we analyze how peaceful stability is maintained. Our analysis shows that peace does not depend on integrated coexistence, but rather on well defined topographical and political boundaries separating groups, allowing for partial autonomy within a single country.

In Switzerland, mountains and lakes are an important part of the boundaries between sharply defined linguistic areas. Political canton and circle (sub-canton) boundaries often separate religious groups. Where such boundaries do not appear to be sufficient, we find that specific aspects of the population distribution guarantee either sufficient separation or sufficient mixing to inhibit intergroup violence according to the quantitative theory of conflict. In exactly one region, a porous mountain range does not adequately separate linguistic groups and that region has experienced significant violent conflict, leading to the recent creation of the canton of Jura. Our analysis supports the hypothesis that violence between groups can be inhibited by physical and political boundaries. A similar analysis of the area of the former Yugoslavia shows that during widespread ethnic violence existing political boundaries did not coincide with the boundaries of distinct groups, but peace prevailed in specific areas where they did coincide. The success of peace in Switzerland may serve as a model to resolve conflict in other ethnically diverse countries and regions of the world.

Early thoughts on aviation

There was the ever-present worry that aircraft would make war even more horrific.  Some called for the international control of aviation to prevent its misuse.  A few even advocated the complete destruction of all aircraft on the grounds that even civilian machines could be adapted for war.

…At the opposite end of the spectrum were the enthusiasts who expected that soon everyone would be able to fly their own personal aircraft…As early as 1928, Popular Mechanics predicted a car that could be turned into a helicopter, but most commentators thought the autogyro was a better bet — although it did need a short horizontal run before take-off…As late as 1971, Isaac Asimov was still expecting that VTOL [vertical take-off and landing system] machines would eventually take the place of automobiles.

That is from Peter J. Bowler, A History of the Future: Prophets of Progress from H.G.Wells to Isaac Asimov.

One thing I learned from this book is that “money crank” Frederick Soddy was an early prophet of nuclear power, before many others understood the potential.  I am reminded of how “socialist crank” [oceans of lemonade with ships pulled by dolphins] Charles Fourier once prophesied that all of Europe would be tied together by railways.

A simple theory of gene-culture coevolution, with reference to immigration

Are there genetic vulnerabilities for depression across cultures?

Genetic vulnerability differs substantially from country to country. East Asian contexts, for example, show a high prevalence of genes associated with depression. Yet, despite these vulnerabilities, they develop fewer cases of the disorder. One hypothesis is that genetic vulnerabilities have co-evolved with culture, creating extra protective factors (in this case, extra interdependence). However, when these people leave their cultural contexts, they have a higher risk of developing depression.

That is an interview with Yulia Chentsova-Dutton, associate professor of psychology at Georgetown, and a researcher in this area.  You can imagine further applications of this mechanism.  The interview has other interesting points, for instance:

What is the role of emotion regulation?

Emotion regulation is increasingly becoming understood as a core factor in all affective disorders. In western societies, we don’t see enough adaptive strategies like reappraisal: learning to tell yourself a different story that would eventually lead to different emotions. There is also not enough social regulation of emotion, which occurs by sharing our emotions with others. Research shows that cultures can facilitate functional regulation strategies. For example, Igor Grossmann’s work shows that Russians make rumination (generally considered a dysfunctional strategy) more functional by encouraging people to ruminate about the self from another person’s perspective, making rumination almost reappraisal-like in its quality.

Do read the whole thing.

Saturday assorted links

*A Life of My Own*, by Claire Tomalin

This new memoir is one of my very favorite books of the year, and perhaps you recall Tomalin’s famous biographies of Hardy, Pepys, Dickens, Nelly Ternan, and Jane Austen.  This time it is her life.  The story is hard to excerpt, but here is one bit:

The day [for our lunch] came, and I realized I was feeling wobbly.  I resolved to take no notice and things started well.  We chatted and surveyed our menus.  I chose fish, and even as I ordered it I knew it was a mistake.  We talked on; I felt my stomach heave.  I knew Vidia [Naipaul] to be the most fastidious of men.  What should I do?  I rose carefully to my feet, excused myself in a calm voice and said I would be back in a moment.  I managed to make my way through it I ran as fast as my feet would carry me along the corridor to the Ladies, where I threw up with great violence.  I washed my face in cold water, combed my hair, powdered my nose, gave myself a shake and returned.

Vidia looked at me and said, “You did that very well.”

Strongly recommended.

The Flynn effect in reverse does the rot start at the top?

The IQ gains of the 20th century have faltered. Losses in Nordic nations after 1995 average at 6.85 IQ points when projected over thirty years. On Piagetian tests, Britain shows decimation among high scorers on three tests and overall losses on one. The US sustained its historic gain (0.3 points per year) through 2014. The Netherlands shows no change in preschoolers, mild losses at high school, and possible gains by adults. Australia and France offer weak evidence of losses at school and by adults respectively. German speakers show verbal gains and spatial losses among adults. South Korea, a latecomer to industrialization, is gaining at twice the historic US rate.

When a later cohort is compared to an earlier cohort, IQ trends vary dramatically by age. Piagetian trends indicate that a decimation of top scores may be accompanied by gains in cognitive ability below the median. They also reveal the existence of factors that have an atypical impact at high levels of cognitive competence. Scandinavian data from conventional tests confirm the decimation of top scorers but not factors of atypical impact. Piagetian tests may be more sensitive to detecting this phenomenon.

That is newly published research from James R. Flynn and Michael Shayer, via Rolf Degen.

Lessons from the Washington, D.C. dining scene

Contrary to what many people will insist, it’s now possible to eat excellent Mexican food, including tacqueria-style tacos, in D.C., Northern Virginia and nearby Maryland. But this is not the result of a sudden influx of Mexican migrants — long an underrepresented group in the D.C. area — into the dining scene. Rather, earlier Mexican migrants are assimilating, opening larger businesses and spreading quality versions of their food to more parts of this country, just as hamburgers and pizzas earlier transcended their regional origins. This development is consistent with research showing that Mexican-Americans are assimilating more rapidly than previously we had thought. So the next time California, Texas or Arizona snobs complain about Mexican food offerings on the East Coast, tell them it’s better than they think.

The D.C. area also has some stagnating ethnic cuisines. Vietnamese food has continued to penetrate the market in Texas and Oklahoma, but in the Mid-Atlantic region mainstream Vietnamese restaurants seem to be in slight retreat. Vietnamese pho soups and banh mi sandwich shops are popular, and those dishes are feeding into fusion cuisine. But the full-menu restaurants don’t compete well with Thai and Chinese offerings. I am reminded of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which decades ago had fine and reasonably authentic German restaurants, but now they are mostly gone or are shells of their former selves. In the D.C. area, Bolivian is another cuisine that’s holding steady but not advancing in either the number of restaurants or the popularity with non-Bolivian customers.

The broader lesson is that America isn’t going to become endlessly more diverse, whether in its culinary offerings or otherwise. There are natural limits to these processes, and some are self-reversing as immigrants either assimilate or reach a peak influence on the broader American culture. In dining markets for the last 10 years as a whole, I would say the biggest development has been the spread of high-quality hamburgers and pizzas to all price ranges and dining styles, not the growth of cuisines cooked by recent immigrants.

Here is the rest of the column.

Chicago fact of the day

Chicago in 1850 was a muddy frontier town of barely 30,000 people. Within two decades, it was 10 times that size. Within another two decades, that number had tripled. By 1910, Chicago — hog butcher for the world, headquarters of Montgomery Ward, the nerve center of the nation’s rail network — had more than two million residents.

That is Emily Badger on what happened to American boomtowns, via David Levine.  p.s. this doesn’t happen any more.

*Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity*

Imagine a German-born, ethnically Iranian (Sunni?) Muslim — Navid Kermani — wandering around the religious art of Western Europe and telling you what he really thinks, in fairly analytical terms.  I am very much enjoying this book, here is one excerpt:

One reason why the zest that Catholic art has for Jesus’s suffering leaves such a bad taste in my mouth is no doubt because I am familiar wit it, and unfamiliar with it, from Shia.  I am familiar with it because the celebration of martyrdom in Shia is just as excessive, bordering on the pornographic, and I am unfamiliar with it because, in my grandfather’s faith, which was more influential than any other point of reference in my own religious upbringing, precisely this aspect of Shia played no part, indeed was rejected as folk belief and superstitition, a dissuasion from making the world a better place instead of just lamenting its condition.  [Guido] Reni does not glorify pain; he doesn’t show it at all.  He accomplishes what other crucifixion scenes only suggest: he transposes suffering from the physical to the metaphysical.

And this:

If the Greatest Master of Sufism claims that the contemplation of God is most perfect in women, the Christians’ images confirm it.

Definitely recommended (for some of you), and I have ordered many more of Kermani’s books.

Favorite popular music from 2017

It’s wrong to call this “popular music,” because most of it isn’t that popular, but we certainly can’t call it rock and roll any more, can we?

First, here are the ones that everyone else recommends too:

Run the Jewels 3, not a let down.

Kendrick Lamar, Damn, a common pick for best of the year.

Tyler the Creator, the album has an obscene name, which I won’t reproduce, but I can list the name of the Creator.

King Krule, Ooz, “The world is a filthy, utterly debased place, his music suggests, but there are rewards of sorts for those determined to survive it. In this spirit, The OOZ drops at our feet like a piece of poisoned fruit, a masterpiece of jaundiced vision from one of the most compelling artists alive.”

Migos, Culture, rap from Atlanta.

Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory, but not theory as they do it as Northwestern.

SZA- Cntrl, from New Jersey, “Her forebears are more Keyshia Cole and Mary J. Blige, who have hurt and have been fearless enough to sing about that hurt…”

Lorde, Melodrama, “the New Zealand century” is gaining on “the Norwegian century.”

Taylor Swift, Reputation.  This one is kind of popular.

Perfume Genius, No Shape, “The body has become sturdier, less despotic.

My summary remark is that I didn’t intend to listen to so much rap/hip-hop, but it remains the most vital genre.

Here are some more original selections:

Jlin, Black Origami, “…a gorgeous and overwhelming piece of musical architecture, an epic treatise on where rhythm comes from and where it can go.

Juana Molina, Halo.  Argentina, avant-garde songstress, vivid vocal and instrumental textures, she has almost abolished lyrics.

The Secret Sisters, You Don’t Own Me Any More, folk for 2017, “They went from opening shows for Bob Dylan and Paul Simon to cleaning houses to make ends meet.”

Django Bates, Saluting Sgt. Pepper.  A jazzy, big band, music hall take on the album, works surprisingly well, one of the freshest takes on the Beatles since Laibach.

Paul McCartney, Flowers in the Dirt, remastered, an underrated album to begin with, this release also includes the previously unavailable acoustic demo tapes with Elvis Costello.

Death Grips, Bottomless Pit.  Has the information density and partial unpleasantness of the old Skinny Puppy recordings, “seesawing from grit to gloss to back again.”

Beach Boys, Wild Honey, titled 1967 — Sunshine Tomorrow.  This remix brings out what was supposed to be just a “blues/soul/Brian cooling his heels” album as an acoustic masterpiece and proper successor to Pet Sounds and Smile.

Philip Glass, Piano Works, by Víkingur Ólafsson. One of the two or three best Glass recordings I know, here is an interview with the pianist.

Overall, if I had to push any of these on you it would be the last two.  Soon I’ll cover jazz and world music.

Thursday assorted links

1. “And the real Dr. Ashkin wrote to his doppelganger in Utah with a remarkably generous offer. He said he would find a place for Hewitt in an actual physics program where he could quickly earn an actual Ph.D. and relieve himself of the stress of being an imposter. Hewitt declined and the university quietly dismissed him.”  Link here.

2. “For those unfamiliar with it, Dynamicland (from what I know of it, at least) is a computing environment at room / space scale. The room is the computer, and as much as possible, computing happens with physical objects. This enables you to interact with your whole body, to see systems by picking them up, and to share computing space with multiple people (compare this to traditional computing with a mouse and keyboard, with 1 person per computer and minimal sharing).

For starters, there’s a newly active twitter account showing off things…”  Source link here.

3. Books Mises wanted to see written: most of them still have not been done…get to work!  And the silent comedy of Jackie Chan.

4. Matt Notowodigdo recommends some favorite economics articles from the year, very good list.

5. Is the Republican tax plan raising the effective capital gains rate?  And for homes?

6. The game theory of recognizing Jerusalem, by Noah Feldman.

Adam Smith on Occupational Licensing

Adam Smith warned that “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Although Smith’s warning is often quoted, few people know that what Smith was talking about was occupational licensing. At the time Smith wrote, tradesmen such as weavers, hatters, and cutlers (metalworkers) monopolized their industries by limiting entry to students who had served long apprenticeships under a master, and tradesmen also limited the number of students a master could teach. Seven-year apprenticeships had been required in Britain since the 1563 Statute of Artificers. In Smith’s time, however, occupational licensing was beginning to fall apart because the 1563 law had been interpreted to apply only to the trades listed in 1563 and not to the new trades then arising with the Industrial Revolution. The act was finally repealed in 1813, in part because of Smith’s influential attack.

Occupational licensing is also undergoing great changes in the United States today—but in the opposite direction of those in Smith’s time.

That is the introduction to the Undertaker’s License a Cato Research Brief on my paper with Brandon Pizzola on occupational licensing in the funeral services industry.