Month: June 2018
4. Applying Moneyball techniques to team chemistry in sports — also the next frontier for management?
Here is another left-over question from my recent talk:
How do you think about when it makes sense for to consume the most-recent news, in light of Robin Hanson’s “news isn’t about info”? How would you advise the rest of us?
I consume the news avidly for (at least) these reasons:
1. For professional reasons, I am required to do so. That said, I am happy to note the endogeneity of that state of affairs. Consuming the news is fun, though in a pinch more sports, games, and the arts could serve much of the same role.
2. I actually care what is happening.
3. Consuming the news is one of the best ways of testing your views about the past. We are always revaluing what we thought we knew, in light of new data. Brexit teaches us that the UK was never quite so well integrated into the EU. The election of Trump may imply that certain late 19th century strands of American politics are enduring, and the evolution of the racial income gap will induce us to reassess various policies of the last few decades.
Under this theory, reading a lot of history books should raise the return to following the news. For most people, they haven’t read so many books and at the margin they need more books rather than more news. In this sense, following the news doesn’t make intellectual sense for most people, though they may need it for social bonding, signaling, and conversation purposes.
I would stress the concomitant point that following the news does not make one a much better predictor of the future, if at all. It may even cause people to overweight the most recent trends, due to availability and recency bias.
4. I also use the news to make history more interesting to me. It is easier to get “wrapped up” in the news, if only because of the social support and the element of dramatic suspense. If somehow the Balkans no longer existed, I would find it hard to wish to understand that “…the medieval Serbian Orthodox Church had established a new see at Pec in Kosovo in 1297…” As it stands, my interest in that event is sufficiently intense, and it remains important for understanding the current day.
5. It is perhaps addictive that the news comes every day. But that is a useful discipline. If you follow the news, you will work at it every day, more or less. Better those compound returns than to do something else once every three months and a half.
In essence, the news is a good, cheap trick for getting yourself to care more about things you should care about anyway, but maybe don’t.
1. Susan Napier, Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art. A thorough and serious treatment of Miyazaki’s career, focusing on his creative works rather than biography per se.
3. Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee: A Life. A quite good, serious, and well-researched biography of the master, especially good in setting up the context of the martial arts in Lee’s time. I hadn’t known that James Coburn took 106 private lessons with Bruce, nor that Steve McQueen was another notable pupil. Nor had I known how much Bruce studied the fights of Muhammad Ali for some of his film sequences.
4. James Crabtree, The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age. Delivers on exactly what it promises, a strong look at India’s wealthy class.
5. Thomas Weber, Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi. Perhaps you, like me, are totally sick of Hitler books. But how exactly did his ideas morph into…what they became? This book is detailed, well-documented, psychologically insightful, at times even brilliant.
2. Harvard Asian-American ouch: “Harvard admissions evaluators — staffers who are likely under pressure to deliver a target mix of ethnicities — rate Asian-American applicants far lower on subjective personality traits than do Alumni interviewers who actually meet the applicants.” And double ouch.
This post serves up some spoilers of detail, though no major spoilers of plot until the penultimate “you must go see it” paragraph. Upon a re-viewing of this movie, I found the following striking:
1. There is a Skype-like service for phone calls, but it never occurs to anyone that something like sending an email might be possible or even desirable. A lot of major and even apparently simple technological advances just aren’t that self-evident. The cameras in the movie also remained quite primitive and clunky, even by pre-smart phone standards. Maybe people expected a great stagnation in cameras back then.
2. At the time, Kubrick apparently thought it plausible that the audience would buy into common, widespread and indeed commercially viable space travel by 1992. The film was released in 1968.
3. Pan American flies people into outer space, and apparently used this new market to avoid total bankruptcy. Their stewardesses still have silly hats and costumes, and they act in a vaguely self-demeaning manner.
4. The film shows some signs of recognizing that Moore’s Law might happen. Hal for instance is advanced AI, but he is not huge in size. And the portrait of voice recognition technology is quite realistic.
5. Stars do not twinkle in outer space, however.
6. Hal 9000 would be less creepy with a female voice, and indeed Apple and Amazon figured that out some while ago. Note to my tech friends: do not program your personal assistant bots with a resentful, quivering, paranoid, passive-aggressive male voice.
7. The movie seems to suggest that chess-playing computers are a major achievement, when in fact this was mastered relatively easily, compared to many other AI problems. The movie shows this chess game, with Hal as Black. It is the kind of game you might expect a strong computer to play against a human, namely with a finish based on visually counterintuitive tactics.
8. It is a truly dystopic vision to think that Howard Johnson’s will be serving us food in space.
9. The first time I saw the movie, which I believe was in the mid-1970s, I was more stunned by seeing Americans talking to Russians “as if they were normal people” than by any of the technology.
Here is a good Wikipedia page on technologies in the movie. Now a few spoilers:
The movie, which I had not seen in many years, I found quite stunning. It took so many chances, and with so much self-confidence that the originality could be pulled off. Imagine opening a film with minutes of discordant Gyorgy Ligeti music, played against a dark screen, with no signal that this is even part of the movie. Then you see a long scene with apes, no dialogue to speak of, and no explanation of how this might fit into a commercially viable product. Finally the Solow residual is explained! There is not only no love story, the film arguably has no characters, Hal aside. Kubrick often expects ballet music to keep you interested, and various movements in space are stretched out to interminable length, yet almost always with striking aesthetic success. You could generously describe the ending as “underexplained.” Hardly anything happens in the movie, and yet at the same time it encapsulates the entire history of humanity with extra material on both sides, beginning and end, and a nod in the Hegelian direction.
Go see it on the large screen if you can — I can’t think of any film that is so much worse (or simply different) on TV as this one. It is one of the better movies ever made, and it dates from a time near Hollywood’s peak. It is sad that nearly two generations of Americans now do not know this creation as it was intended to be seen, and indeed must be seen. On 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, the theatre had no more than twenty people in attendance. When it comes to culture, salience usually matters more than you might think.
I am quoted on how economists are portrayed in the media:
It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. It is not uncommon, for example, to see critiques of economics in the media which are about as sophisticated as saying “look at those silly physicists who think that a bowling ball and a feather fall at the same rate.” Even people who should know better like David Suzuki say ridiculously, obtuse things when it comes to economics–perhaps for ideological reasons.
At the same time, the quality of the coverage of economics in the media is often excellent and has never been better. Greg Ip, David Leonhardt, Catherine Rampell, Adam Davidson, Stacey Vanek Smith, Cardiff Garcia, Megan McArdle all do superb economic commentary and reporting not just about the economy but about economics. And those are only the people off the top of my head, I could name many more.
The public also has access to top economists through the blogs and social media. I would count Paul Krugman, Tyler Cowen, John Cochrane, and Jeniffer Doleac in this category.
While some people claim that economics is out of touch or obsolete, economics passes the market test. Economists have never been more in demand. Designing new types of markets is a big part of the internet economy and computer scientists, followed by economists, are the leaders in this field. Google and Facebook run billions of dollars of auctions using what was once an obscure economic theory (Vickey-Clarke-Groves auctions). Google, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb all hire economists to better understand data and design new economic mechanisms. Even some online games like Eve Online are hiring economists to help to run virtual economies–one such economist, Yanis Varoufakis, went from a virtual economy to a real economy when he became Greece’s Minster of Finance.
If you want to understand the world and make it a better place there is no better degree than an economics degree because it is so versatile.
By Robert L. Bradley, this is the first of several volumes, covering the entire history of the company. Due out in August, it will be definitive.
That is the new book by Tim Marshall, yes Trump and Israel and the like, but it goes much further than that. Here is one excerpt:
Since 1971, Assam’s population has more than doubled, from 14.6 million to over 30 million, much of which is due to illegal immigration. Hindu nationalists have argued that the area might have a Muslim majority by 2060. In 2015 there were 19 million Hindus and 11 million Muslims, nine of the twenty-seven districts being Muslim majority. Equally importantly, the 2017 census showed that people who are ethnically Assamese are now a minority in the state as a whole, and as people continue to arrive their proportions will continue to drop.
This is a depressing but thought-provoking book. Bangladesh, by the way, is smaller than the state of Florida, but has 165 million people. And I had not known there are about 800,000 Nigerians in South Africa. You can order the book here.
2. “The likelihood of selling the company increases by 4X after migration to Silicon Valley (from 1.4% to 7.1%), and migrants also have higher patenting, commercialization, venture capital financing, and sales.” Link here.
3. Are mammals becoming more nocturnal? (to avoid humans, NYT)
That question is the focus of some recent research by Chen Huang.
Women’s labor force participation rate has moved from 61% in 2000, to 57% today. It seems two-thirds of this change has been due to demographics, namely the aging of the adult female population. What about the rest? It seems that, relative to education levels, wages for women have not been rising since 2000:
I discover that the apparent increase in women’s real wages is more than accounted for by the large increase in women’s educational attainment. Once I condition on education, U.S. women’s real wages have not increased since 2000 and may even have decreased by a few percentage points. Thus, the locus of wage/education opportunities faced by U.S. women has not improved since 2000 and may have worsened. Viewed in that light, the LFPR decrease for women under age 55 becomes less surprising.
You can consider that another indicator of the Great Stagnation.
Here is basic NYT coverage of the case:
University officials did concede that its 2013 internal review found that if Harvard considered only academic achievement, the Asian-American share of the class would rise to 43 percent from the actual 19 percent.
Gabriel Rossman noted on Twitter: “Once you control for lacrosse, founding an NGO in high school, legacy status, alumni evaluation of personality, woke personal essays, and a 23&me test for EDAR, there’s no effect”
My take is simple. Harvard is risk-averse with respect to the stream of future donations, as are many other schools. Asian-American admissions don’t have the same donating track record as the white students traditionally cultivated by Harvard and other top universities. Either Asian-Americans may seek out “diaspora philanthropy,” or they simply may have a more cynical attitude toward top institutions that they basically have never had any control over.
Furthermore, there is a common fear — repugnant to me I should add — that if a student body becomes “too Asian,” many white students will be less interested in going there. I taught at UC Irvine for several years and found it to be a delightful experience, but this is exactly what many schools are afraid of (the UCI student body is disproportionately Asian, and the honors class I taught in my first year had only one non-Asian student in it).
And so they come up with every excuse possible — sometimes cemented in by self-deception — for maintaining a “balanced” student body.
It is incorrect to call it “racism,” but it is non-meritocratic and we should move away from those attitudes as quickly as possible.
In related news, the University of Chicago is moving away from the use of SAT scores in admissions. The cynical might suggest this is so they are more insulated from potential lawsuits and also so they have more discretion in admissions. If Chicago feels the need to do this, perhaps the system really is buckling under the strain of all these outside pressures.
Nonetheless, I predict ultimately the status quo will not change very much. I just don’t see a strong enough popular or judicial constituency for righting the wrongs done to Asian-Americans. Some kind of partial concession will be made, various terms and standards will be somewhat redefined, and we’ll be back to “rinse and repeat.” Meritocracy: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
I am pleased to report that none of this tomfoolery goes on at my home institution, which is highly and truly diverse.
CHETTY: So if you’re in your mid-30s, only something like a quarter or less of girls growing up in the Bay Area are married, and we show in our paper that every extra year you spend growing up in the Bay Area, you’re less likely to get married. I remember telling my wife, “I don’t think we need to worry. Our daughter will be fine in terms of earnings. It’s just that she might not be married if we move to California.”COWEN: So, you’ve lowered your expectations for grandchildren?CHETTY: Yes. [laughs]
4. What is a security? Is an orange a security? An ICO?
5. The culture that is Washington, D.C.? Or, the regional distribution of psychopaths in the United States.
From Theodore Dalrymple in 2010, also known as Prophets of the City Journal:
The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness. WikiLeaks will sow distrust and fear, indeed paranoia; people will be increasingly unwilling to express themselves openly in case what they say is taken down by their interlocutor and used in evidence against them, not necessarily by the interlocutor himself. This could happen not in the official sphere alone, but also in the private sphere, which it works to destroy. An Iron Curtain could descend, not just on Eastern Europe, but over the whole world. A reign of assumed virtue would be imposed, in which people would say only what they do not think and think only what they do not say.
The dissolution of the distinction between the private and public spheres was one of the great aims of totalitarianism. Opening and reading other people’s e-mails is not different in principle from opening and reading other people’s letters. In effect, WikiLeaks has assumed the role of censor to the world, a role that requires an astonishing moral grandiosity and arrogance to have assumed. Even if some evils are exposed by it, or some necessary truths aired, the end does not justify the means.
For the pointer I thank Robert Dietrich.
Here is another question I didn’t get to answer from last night:
Your blog talks about making small marginal improvements, but if you could redesign one system entirely from scratch, which one would it be, and how would it look compared to what is currently in place?
One answer would be “blogging, I would have much more of it.” But my main answer would be higher education, especially those tiers below the top elite universities. Completion rates are astonishingly low, and also not very transparent (maybe about 40 percent?). I would ensure that every single student receives a reasonable amount of one-on-one tutoring and/or mentoring in his or her first two years. In return, along budgetary lines, I would sacrifice whatever else needs to go, in order to assure that end. If we’re all standing around in robes, arguing philosophy under the proverbial painted porch, so be it. At the same time, I would boost science funding at the top end.
I also would experiment with abolishing the idea of degree “completion” altogether. Maybe you simply finish with an “assessment,” or rather you never quite finish at all, since you might return to take a class when you are 43. Why cannot this space be more finely grained, especially in an age of information technology?
At lower ages, I would do everything possible to move away from having all of the children belong to the exact same age group. The Boy Scouts are a better model here than “the 7th grade.”
The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment. and I don’t just say that because I root for Golden State. Though that doesn’t hurt any, either.