Month: June 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a leftist organization that has helped buoy the campaigns of dozens of outsider candidates running on very progressive platforms in places where Democrats like Crowley are used to winning—handily. Some of Ocasio-Cortez’s positions include fighting for Medicare for All and a federal jobs guarantee, abolishing ICE, and insisting on much more severe policing of luxury real estate development (part of the reason she has refused corporate donations).

Tuition-free college for all seems to be another part of her stance.  Here is the full Vogue profile from a few days ago. She was working as a waitress while running and still paying off her student loans (NYT); her BU degree was in economics.

As Jeremy McClellan indicated: “Tonight kinda makes me wonder if the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee is someone who isn’t really on the radar yet.”  And what should you infer from this picture?

Computational complexity and time travel

I’ve already put this Scott Aaronson paper in Assorted Links, but here are two passages I liked in particular:

…finding a fixed point might require Nature to solve an astronomically-hard computational problem! To illustrate, consider a science-fiction scenario wherein you go back in time and dictate Shakespeare’s plays to him. Shakespeare thanks you for saving him the effort, publishes verbatim the plays that you dictated, and centuries later the plays come down to you, whereupon you go back in time and dictate them to Shakespeare, etc. Notice that, in contrast to the grandfather paradox, here there is no logical contradiction: the story as we told it is entirely consistent. But most people find the story “paradoxical” anyway. After all, somehow Hamlet gets written, without anyone ever doing the work of writing it! As Deutsch perceptively observed, if there is a “paradox” here, then it is not one of logic but of computational complexity…

And:

Now, some people have asked how such a claim could possibly be consistent with modern physics. For didn’t Einstein teach us that space and time are merely two aspects of the same structure? One immediate answer is that, even within relativity theory, space and time are not interchangeable: space has a positive signature whereas time has a negative signature. In complexity theory, the difference between space and time manifests itself in the straightforward fact that you can reuse the same memory cells over and over, but you can’t reuse the same moments of time.

Yet, as trivial as that observation sounds, it leads to an interesting thought. Suppose that the laws of physics let us travel backwards in time. In such a case, it’s natural to imagine that time would become a “reusable resource” just like space is—and that, as a result, arbitrary PSPACE computations would fall within our grasp. But is that just an idle speculation, or can we rigorously justify it?

It is in general quite an interesting paper.

Ethnolinguistic favoritism in African politics

African political leaders have a tendency to favor members of their own ethnic group. Yet for all other ethnic groups in a country, it is unclear whether having a similar ethnicity to the leader is beneficial. To shed light on this issue, I use a continuous measure of linguistic similarity to quantify the ethnic similarity of a leader to all ethnic groups in a country. Combined with panel data on 163 ethnic groups partitioned across 35 sub-Saharan countries, I use within-group time variation in similarity that results from a partitioned group’s concurrent exposure to multiple national leaders. Findings show that ethnic favoritism is more widespread than previously believed: in addition to evidence of coethnic favoritism, I document evidence of non-coethnic favoritism that typically goes undetected in the absence of a continuous measure of similarity. I also find that patronage tends to be targeted toward ethnic regions rather than individuals of a particular ethnic group. I relate these results to the literature on coalition building, and provide evidence that ethnicity is one of the guiding principles behind high-level government appointments.

That is from Andrew Dickens in the latest American Economic Review.

Tuesday assorted links

Immigration policy is hard

That is the title and topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the central analytical point, one that people are not so keen on discussing right now:

If we apply a simple economic model to the migration calculus, for the potential migrant, the expected return of trying to cross the border must exceed the overall return of staying at home. So if we improve conditions for those arriving from, say, Guatemala, more will try to come. That will result in higher prices to the border-crossing coyotes, more coercion and predation on the Mexican route along the way, bad treatment or lower wages in the U.S., or other compensating negative factors.

Basically, more and more people will leave Guatemala until the costs of leaving and staying are roughly equal.

This explains why even desirable changes to immigration policy may not have their intended effect. Improving how migrants are treated by the U.S. legal system, for example, may help those who reach the U.S., but it won’t be of much help to migrants as a group. We should still improve the immigration process, because parent-child separation is immoral, dehumanizing and, not incidentally, terrible publicity. Still, the costs of trying to migrate, and possibly failing, will negate a lot of the gains of those who make it.

I set out my proposed immigration compromise, and I argue also that current asylum law needs to be rethought, a topic to which I may return soon.

Who has a good personality?

“Asian-American applicants receive a 2 or better on the personal score more than 20% of the time only in the top academic index decile. By contrast, white applicants receive a 2 or better on the personal score more than 20% of the time in the top six deciles,” wrote Mr. Arcidiacono. “Hispanics receive such personal scores more than 20% of the time in the top seven deciles, and African Americans receive such scores more than 20% of the time in the top eight deciles.”

That is from Wesley Yang (NYT), citing Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono, and of course it is obvious what is going on here…

The origins of WEIRD psychology

This is one of the most important topics, right?  Well, here is a new and quite thorough paper by Jonathan Schulz, Duman Bahrami-Rad, Jonathan Beauchamp, and Joseph Henrich.  Here is the abstract:

Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of populations that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD). We propose that much of this variation arose as people psychologically adapted to differing kin-based institutions—the set of social norms governing descent, marriage, residence and related domains. We further propose that part of the variation in these institutions arose historically from the Catholic Church’s marriage and family policies, which contributed to the dissolution of Europe’s traditional kin-based institutions, leading eventually to the predominance of nuclear families and impersonal institutions. By combining data on 20 psychological outcomes with historical measures of both kinship and Church exposure, we find support for these ideas in a comprehensive array of analyses across countries, among European regions and between individuals with different cultural backgrounds.

As you might expect, a paper like this is fairly qualitative by its nature, and this one will not convince everybody.  Who can separate out all those causal pathways?  Even in a paper that is basically a short book.

Object all you want, but there is some chance that this is one of the half dozen most important social science and/or history papers ever written.  So maybe a few of you should read it.

And the print in the references to the supplementary materials is small, so maybe I missed it, but I don’t think there is any citation to Steve Sailer, who has been pushing a version of this idea for many years.

The slippery slope

Members of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ family were followed by the owner of the restaurant they were kicked out of over the weekend after they settled an alternative place to dine.

During an interview Monday on Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s radio show, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the father of the press secretary, said Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., tailed Sanders’ in-laws across the street and along with a number of other people protested their presence at the restaurant to which they had migrated.

Sanders and her husband were said to not be present at the second restaurant.

Here is more.  I still believe in freedom of association in matters such as this, but I also think you should, as a personal decision, serve Republicans at the lunch counter.  This is what starts to happen when you don’t..  Civility remains underrated, and is this a good time to apply just a little behavioral economics to how the interactions might escalate.

Via Megan.

The economics of land mines

Landmine contamination affects the lives of millions in many conflict-ridden countries long after the cessation of hostilities. Yet, little research exists on its impact on post-conflict recovery. In this study, we explore the economic consequences of landmine clearance in Mozambique, the only country that has moved from “heavily-contaminated” in 1992 to “mine-free” status in 2015. First, we compile a dataset detailing the evolution of clearance, collecting thousands of reports from the numerous demining actors. Second, we exploit the timing of demining to assess its impact on local economic activity, as reflected in satellite images of light density at night. The analysis reveals a moderate positive association that masks sizeable heterogeneity. Economic activity responds strongly to clearance of the transportation network, trade hubs, and more populous areas, while the demining-development association is weak in rural areas of low population density. Third, recognizing that landmine removal recon figured the accessibility to the transportation infrastructure, we apply a “market-access” approach to quantify both its direct and indirect effects. The market-access estimates reveal substantial improvements on aggregate economic activity. The market-access benefits of demining are also present in localities without any contamination. Fourth, counterfactual policy simulations project considerable gains had the fragmented process of clearance in Mozambique been centrally coordinated, prioritizing clearance of the colonial transportation routes.

That is a new NBER paper by Giorgio Chiovelli, Stelios Michalopoulos, and Elias  Papaioannou, via Dan Wang.  File under “Not Unrelated to NIMBY.”

Trade War Costs in a Supply Chain World

When Americans buy a car from Mexico, half of what they buy was earlier imported from the United States (74% of foreign imports in the car are from US, foreign imports and labor account for 2/3 of value, .74*.66=48.44–corrected from earlier version). 

The firms exporting vehicles from Mexico to the U.S. have set up very deep supply chains between the two countries — much deeper than previously thought. About 74 percent of all the foreign parts used by vehicle assemblers in Mexico that export to the U.S. are imported from the U.S. itself. In contrast, only 18 percent of the imported parts used by Mexican firms exporting to Germany come from the U.S. (see chart). Because the parts that come from the U.S. also include inputs from other countries, it is important to account for international trade along all stages of the supply chain. I estimate that thirty-eight percent of the value of the average finished vehicle exported from Mexico to the U.S. is American value returning home, more than double the 17 percent figure that had been commonly considered.

That’s Alonso de Gortari writing at EconoFact.

In a world with deep supply chains a trade war will be much more expensive than in a conventional world. In a conventional world, a tariff only reduces efficiency at the margin as it relocates production from foreign to domestic firms who in the initial equilibrium have equal costs. But in a deep supply chain world a tariff isn’t just a tax on imports it also raises the costs of production of domestic firms. In a deep supply chain world, for example, a tariff on car imports from Mexico raises the cost of US auto production.

Paul Krugman recently argued that for an equal reduction in trade, Trump’s trade war would be less costly than Brexit because Trump’s tariffs will raise revenue and only distort production on the margin. In contrast, he argued that Brexit would raise costs on all units of production. In a deep supply chain world, however, the difference between Brexit and Trumpit are not so large. In such a world, tariffs increase the price of imports and make it more costly to produce goods domestically.

Solve for the “not a detention center” equilibrium

A spokesman for Southwest Key, Jeff Eller, said on Sunday it could not legally require children to stay on the premises if they sought to leave, and that “from time to time” children had left several of its 27 shelters for immigrant children.

“We are not a detention center,” Mr. Eller said in a statement. “We talk to them and try to get them to stay. If they leave the property, we call law enforcement.”

Federal officials echoed that position, saying they could not stop a child who attempted to leave. The officials did not respond to a question about how many children had walked away from migrant centers nationwide.

Here is the rest of the NYT article, it has further points of interest.

What are the best analyses of small, innovative, productive groups?

Shane emails me:

Hello!

What have you found to be the best books on small, innovative, productive groups?

These could be in-depth looks at specific groups – such as The Idea Factory, about Bell Labs – or they could be larger studies of institutions, guilds, etc.

I suggest reading about musical groups and sports teams and revolutions in the visual arts, as I have mentioned before, taking care you are familiar with and indeed care passionately about the underlying area in question.  Navy Seals are another possible option for a topic area.  In sociology there is network theory, but…I don’t know.  In any case, the key is to pick an area you care about, and read in clusters, rather than hoping to find “the very best book.”  The very theory of small groups predicts this is how you should read about small groups!

But if you must start somewhere, Randall Collins’s The Sociology of Philosophies is probably the most intensive and detailed place to start, too much for some in fact and arguably the book strains too hard at its target.

I have a few observations on what I call “small group theory”:

1. If you are seeking to understand a person you meet, or might be hiring, ask what was the dominant small group that shaped the thinking and ideas of that person, typically (but not always) at a young age.  Step #1 is often “what kind of regional thinker is he/she?” and step #2 is this.

2. If you are seeking to foment change, take care to bring together people who have a relatively good chance of forming a small group together.  Perhaps small groups of this kind are the fundamental units of social change, noting that often the small groups will be found within larger organizations.  The returns to “person A meeting person B” arguably are underrated, and perhaps more philanthropy should be aimed toward this end.

3. Small groups (potentially) have the speed and power to learn from members and to iterate quickly and improve their ideas and base all of those processes upon trust.  These groups also have low overhead and low communications overhead.  Small groups also insulate their members sufficiently from a possibly stifling mainstream consensus, while the multiplicity of group members simultaneously boosts the chances of drawing in potential ideas and corrections from the broader social milieu.

4. The bizarre and the offensive have a chance to flourish in small groups.  In a sense, the logic behind an “in joke” resembles the logic behind social change through small groups.  The “in joke” creates something new, and the small group can create something additionally new and in a broader and socially more significant context, but based on the same logic as what is standing behind the in joke.

5. How large is a small group anyway?  (How many people can “get” an inside joke?)  Has the internet made “small groups” larger?  Or possibly smaller?  (If there are more common memes shared by a few thousand people, perhaps the small group needs to be organized around something truly exclusive and thus somewhat narrower than in times past?)

6. Can a spousal or spouse-like couple be such a small group?  A family (Bach, Euler)?

7. What are the negative social externalities of such small groups, compared to alternative ways of generating and evaluating ideas?  And how often in life should you attempt to switch your small groups?

8. What else should we be asking about small groups and the small groups theory of social change?

9. What does your small group have to say about this?

I thank an anonymous correspondent — who adheres to the small group theory — for contributions to this post.

What should I ask Claire Lehmann?

I will be doing a Conversation with her (no associated public event), if you don’t already know here is Wikipedia on Claire:

Claire Lehmann is an Australian psychologist, writer, and the founding editor of Quillette.

Lehmann founded Quillette in October 2015, with the goal of publishing intellectually rigorous material that makes arguments or presents data not in keeping with the contemporary intellectual consensus.

Here is Claire on Twitter.  Here is her own home page and bio.  Here is the Quillette Patreon page.

So what should I ask her?