Month: June 2018

Final installment of stochastically best books to read on each country

These are past suggestions from MR readers, pulled from the comments, endorsed by me only on a stochastic basis:

Michela Wrong, Eritrea

Rwanda: something Prunier, probably Rwanda Crisis though it stops in 1996

Uganda: Season of Thomas Tebo, though it’s fiction (is that disqualifying?)

Eastern Congo: Jason Stearns Dancing with Monsters (like China, the country is too big for one book)

The Government of Ethiopia – Margery Perham’s Ethiopian answer to Ruth Benedict’s Japanese The Sword and the Chrysanthemum.

Ethiopia: – Wax and Gold by Donald Levine – Understanding Contemporary Ethiopia (edited by E. Ficquet & G. Prunier

Pre-colonial Africa: The Scramble for Africa

For DRCongo, I recommend The Congo: From Leopold to Kabila by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja. It does a great job of distinguishing between the dizzying array of political factions in Congolese history. It’s shortcomings are in culture and economics. Not a lot to choose from with DRC unfortunately!

From Genocide to Continental War, by Gérard Prunier

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz was excellent, as was King Leopold’s ghost on the DRC.

Zimbabwe – The Struggle Continues: 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe by David Coltart

Great Lakes region: this was actually good https://www.amazon.com/Great-Lakes-Africa-Thousand-History/dp/1890951358/

On Australia: Robert Hughes’ “The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding”

On Hong Kong: Gordon Mathews’ “Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong”

Tyler mentioned Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s book on the Caribbean for the region, so how about Paul Theroux’s book about the South Pacific, “The Happy Isles of Oceania”?

And if Boston were a country: J. Anthony Lukas’ “Common Ground” J. Anthony Lukas

What about outer space? Best book on Mars? The moon?

Kenneth Arrow says

1. The family of development economist Hollis Chenery owned the race horse Secretariat (!, related sources).

2. The opposition to putting the Reagan Library at Hoover and Stanford came from NIMBY considerations, not ideology.

3. The historian of Germany Gordon Craig was the greatest lecturer Arrow ever heard [TC: I can’t find any of him on YouTube.]

4. Arrow: “Well, I do remember an awful lot, and it’s not photographic memory.  I don’t remember the page exactly.  I read things in some order, and they come back, but I can’t explain how or why it happens.

…I think it’s just a desire to understand.  I just enjoy learning things.  Learning.  I don’t mean…I like to systematize, not just memorize.  To put them together.  I have this characteristic, even when I was young.  I treat everything like it was geography; in my mind I’d try to put the things on a map.  When I was reading history I’d try to make up genealogical tables, of the kings of England or something.  So I had this tendency to try to systematize things, to try and understand remote sounding things.”

5. His advice for Larry Summers [his nephew]: “Err on the side of too much regulation.”

6. Arrow once spent six months on the Council of Economic Advisors.  His two major effects may have been to veto an American version of the SST and to help veto the digging of a second Panama Canal.

Those are all from the frank interviews with Arrow in On Ethics and Economics: Conversations with Kenneth J. Arrow, by Arrow of course and also by Kristen Renwick Monroe and Nicholas Monroe Lampros.  Interesting throughout.

Saturday assorted links

U.S.A. fact of the day

There are some 400,000 children in the foster care system, many of whom are prohibited from any parental contact. Of those, about 12 percent are housed in institutional settings or group homes.

These children are typically taken by officials they have never met, without warning, then subjected to intrusive interrogations, medical examinations and sometimes strip searches, wrote Paul Chill, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, in a 2004 article about practices that experts say continue today.

Some three-quarters of cases nationwide involve not abuse, but neglect, a “really broad umbrella” that “often just looks like poverty,” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at Cornell University who studies the effects of paternal incarceration and foster care. “There’s no consistent evidence that removing kids is, on average, beneficial, and there’s substantial evidence that it does harm,” he said.

Even a caretaker’s authorized use of medical marijuana use can be grounds for removing children.

That is from Shaila Dewan at the NYT, with other good points too.

What if sleep was a commodity?

Dane emails me:

This is a speculative solve-for-the-equilibrium-type question that I’d love to get your thoughts on:

Imagine there was a technology that allowed essentially frictionless harvesting, selling, and buying of (non-perishable) human sleep. Essentially, anyone can strap in to a machine, be put to sleep, and their time/sleep would be harvested in a way that their time sleeping could be used by anyone else who would then get all the benefits of that sleep but instantaneously instead of sleeping themselves, maybe through a painless injection or a drink perhaps.

Imagine also that this technology was relatively non-capital-intensive, or at least, cheap enough that all humans were potential suppliers/buyers of sleep. Call them sleep-workers and sleep-consumers.

Additionally, there’s nothing “free” about the technology. Any sleep-worker’s or sleep-consumer’s lifespan would be unaffected in terms of calendar time. Instead, there would be a zero-sum transfer of waking hours between persons. Even an “around-the-clock” sleep-worker could only net 16 hours of saleable sleep per day. The other 8 hours would have to go to meeting their own sleep needs.

How would this market evolve? How would society evolve? What is the market price for an hour of sleep? How would norms around sleep-working and sleep-consuming evolve? How would the economic indicators evolve (GDP, productivity, inequality, etc)? Which jobs could or could not compete with non-consciousness? How would the welfare state then evolve? How much inter-temporal saving of sleep would there be? Should prisoners be allowed to sleep-harvest for their entire sentences? Would we allow them? Would it be ethical to farm never-conscious humans for the sole purpose of harvesting sleep? Etc…

The NBA vs. the NFL

[Lebron] James has more than 38 million followers on Instagram and nearly 42 million on Twitter. Brady, the N.F.L.’s biggest star, has 4.1 million Instagram followers and is not active on Twitter.

The best of those N.B.A. players are also power brokers behind the scenes. The executive committee of the N.B.A. players’ union looks like a future wing of the Hall of Fame, including James, Curry, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.

The John Branch article (NYT) is interesting throughout on the economics of sports, social media, American politics, and race.  I’ve said it before, but the NBA is one of the best-functioning institutions in America today.

Friday assorted links

Do liberals and conservatives shop differently?

I usually urge care in interpreting or even believing such results, but if you are game here is another entry into the sweepstakes:

In our research, conservatives tended to differentiate themselves through products that show that they are better than others – for example, by choosing products from high-status luxury brands. In contrast, liberals tended to differentiate themselves through products that show that they are unique from others – for example, by choosing products with unconventional designs or colors. These distinct preferences emerged across multiple studies in which U.S. participants (university students who completed surveys in the lab, adults who took surveys online, and members of a research panel) indicated their political ideology and made real or hypothetical choices between products.

In one study, participants chose between coffee mugs that would be customized with their names and the message “Just Better” or “Just Different.” Conservatives were 2.2 times more likely than liberals to choose the mug that signaled superiority (“Just Better”) over the one that signaled uniqueness (“Just Different”). In another study, participants could win a gift card from one of two brands as a reward for participation — Ralph Lauren, which based on our numerous pretests of consumers’ brand perceptions generally signals superiority, and Urban Outfitters, which based on our pretests generally signals uniqueness. Conservatives tended to prefer Ralph Lauren, whereas liberals tended to prefer Urban Outfitters.

That is from Nailya Ordabayeva.

What should I ask Michelle Dawson?

I will be having a Conversation with her, here is part of her Ordre de Montréal citation:

Michelle Dawson is an autism researcher who is passionately engaged in promoting the rights of autistic people. Her research has led to important advances in the understanding of autism and its legal status.

Ms. Dawson is autistic and has never attended university as a student. In the early 2000s, faced with the devastating effects of human rights violation based on her diagnosis, she started learning about autism science, ethics, and law.

Since 2004, she has been affiliated with the Université de Montréal’s autism research group. Despite her lack of formal education and the precariousness of her situation, she has collaborated widely with academics here at home and around the world, and made original contributions to autism research in scientific journals, encyclopedias, scholarly books, and conference presentations. She has also used social media to promote better standards in autism research.

Her work has contributed to the advancement of knowledge in several areas, including perception, cognition, learning, and intelligence in autism. She has documented the poverty of scientific and ethical standards in autism intervention research, and the resulting harm to autistic people. Contrary to long-entrenched views, she believes that autistics deserve the same basic rights as the rest of humanity. She also believes that in research, as elsewhere, autistic and non-autistic people should work together as equals.

She tweets at @autismcrisis, and here is her work at scholar.google.com.  I also have a co-authored paper with her, on Alan Turing.  Many of you also will know Michelle as a long time MR correspondent.

So what should I ask her?

Was the Colombian peace deal so wonderful?

It seems to be increasingly unpopular with the Colombian electorate, and now there is this report:

Hundreds of Colombian farmers, activists, and community organisers have been killed over the past 18 months, despite the landmark peace deal that supposedly ended 52 years of war. For them, and for local leaders in the former conflict zones, the war – which left an estimated 220,000 dead and seven million displaced over five decades – didn’t end: it only became worse.

“Whenever we hear talk of peace, we worry,” says Anadelia Trochez, 43, president of the community council in El Ceral, a village in the Cauca Valley, the most productive coca-growing area in the country. “Out here, that usually means more trouble.”

Of course that is not the final word, but the evidence increasingly suggests it is a perspective to be taken seriously.  I recall how many outsiders swooned when the initial Colombian peace deal was first announced, and how tragic they considered it when the Colombian electorate rejected the first version of the deal.  Critics of the deal were considered warmongers.  Those are classic signs of mood affiliation.

The pointer is from Tom Murphy.

Thursday assorted links

Is the bilateral approach to trade liberalization really so bad?

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

It seems we are bureaucratizing trade as much as liberating it. Perhaps that is no surprise. If you wish to induce numerous nations to sign on to a deal, you will have to offer exceptions, clauses and conditions for them. The eventual result is that a free-trade treaty morphs into a managed-trade treaty. I still believe that the various trade agreements that have been passed or drawn up are for the better, but I also can’t help being disappointed by them. Note also that progress through the World Trade Organization had ground to a halt even before the election of Trump.

We are now in a setting where the world’s No. 2 economy — China, on its way to being No. 1 — is strongly opposed to free-trade ideals and free flows of information, especially for its own home market.

Enter bilateralism. The smartest case for trade bilateralism is that trade in many goods is already fairly free, but some egregious examples of tariffs and trade barriers remain. Look at agriculture, European restrictions on beef hormones in beef, and the Chinese unwillingness to allow in foreign companies. Targeted strategic bargaining, backed by concrete threats emanating from a relatively powerful nation — in this case the U.S. — could demand removal of those restrictions. Furthermore, the negotiating process would be more directly transactional and less cartelized and bureaucratic.

My colleague John Nye, an economist at George Mason University, has argued that the free-trade revolution of the 19th century came about because of a major trade agreement between Britain and France in 1860. Other European nations were fearful of being locked out of subsequent deals, and they hurried to sign bilateral trade treaties with Britain and France. There was a competition to make deals rather than cartelization of the process.

That said, our current pursuit of this approach does not seem to have enough allies on our side, and thus I doubt if it will work.  There is much more in the rest of the column.