Thursday assorted links

1. Church forests in south Gonder.

2. What is it like to live without Google?

3. Classical liberalism in Venezuela.

4. Price theory summer camp at University of Chicago.

5. The welfare effects of social media, a new paper by Hunt Allcott, Luca Braghieri, Sarah Eichmeyer, and Matthew Gentzkow.  (On the road, have not had a chance to read it yet.)  And the NYT summary.  My guess is this is the best paper on social media/Facebook so far.


1. Yes, they have to be in the forest to protect them from raids by the Corsairs of Umbar.

Damnit, damnit, damnit, I was going for the LotR hit....

Curse you, Radagast the Bird-Tamer; Radagast the Fool!

Would you two dorks get a room?


Wow, das ist schön Schriftstück, meiner Schwester amalysiert
diese Art voon Dingen, sso Ichh werde sagen, infprmieren vermitteln sie.

Someone is confused about #2--perhaps Tyler or some scribe with Gizmodo, or both.

Neither the query "[W]hat is it like to live without Google?" nor the admission "I cut Google out of my life, it screwed up everything", I submit, are commensurate with this: "what might it be like NEVER TO HAVE HAD Google?"

By the by: who today is our most popular and principled advocate of tech aversion, given the almighty prowess of our numerous tech tyrants to LIE, LIE, LIE, LIE, and LIE about their intentions and capabilities just as much as time and opportunity permit?

More importantly, why on earth would you cut out google by replacing it with apple... Completely useless.

I believe apple may in fact be an evil company, not merely amoral (if so, the only one I am aware of), but even I can give them props for their approach to user privacy.

Shameless lying being so prominent an aspect of leadership in the Tech Economy, pray tell:

what metric or algorithm of LYING, PREVARICATION, and FACT-CONCEALMENT (an LPF-C metric or algorithm, let's say) has been devised by some clever someone to detect and reveal the dimensions of truth aversion as practiced by the lying leaders of our lying Tech Establishment?

What LPF-C quotients might Zuckerberg, Bezos, Cook, Musk, et al., have earned over the courses of their respective illustrious careers?

Stallman comes out looking pretty, though, even if his leadership of the Tech Economy involves the GPL as a way to stop Zuckerberg, Bezos, Cook, Musk from completely walling off the software/Internet garden.

Well, not pretty exactly, but he does come out looking pretty good.

Compared to Jimmy Wales, or Linus, Stallman contributed next to nothing.

But Google contributed far more, especially after selling share to the public and usiing the cash to pay lots of workers to drive around collecting data or spending time in libraries helping computers read ten milllion books.

The public seems to hate any business that pays billions to workers to work with no revenue coming in from paying workers for years.

Then when the revenue comes in, people hate the fact they get the revenue from a decade earlier losing money paying workers.

Tim Cook thought it would be easy to replace Google maps and paid for other companies that paid workers to improve on government map data, because Apple hates paying workers to work, because it costs too much. Better to get China government to pay workers to work, then rent them.

But finding Apple customers demanded Google maps, Tim Cook was forced to pay workers to drive around. But by then, Goole was paying workers to bike around, walk around, to improve maps, plus collect bus and train schedules.

Two visions of capitalism: pay lots of workers to do lots of work collecting data to build the best productive capital ever and then keep paying lots of workers to improve it while getting fractions of a penny from users by getting paid to deliver ads, or directions.

Vs, buy data others bought and improved a little by paying workers as little as possible then sell this capital for much more than you paid.

What i find especially ironic is the people who argued google is cheating by not charging for software, are now complaining about Google charging for software and charging businesses who use Google maps to guide customers to their businesses.

If google maps is so profiitable, free market capitalism theory says everyone will be starting companies using cash from cash rich companiies to pay workers to drive, bike, walk around to build the capital to deliver mapping services as good as Google Maps for a slightly lower price. I thought Apple might use its cashh to dodge taxes by paying workers to drive, bike, walk around more than Google has so Apple Maps is twice as good as Google Maps and at least half of stores use Apple Maps to provide directions.

Tim Cook seems more like Stallman: capital should be free to Apple, produced by workers Apple doesnt pay, with Apple paid for providing users access to the free capital unpaid workers built and maintain.

2. It's not Google, it's the convenience of the logic engine vs. the mechanical engine. We let the logic engine think for us so we don't have to. In return for the convenience, we give up part of ourselves to the logic engine.

No, not really.

No amount of thinking is going to let you know what a street in Johannesburg looks like.

And that's just one of the new kinds of information google has *created*.

There's no "thinking" that we've offloaded to google that we don't continue to do ourselves. On the other hand, there's plenty of information google creates and curates, and once you have access to a main line feed of information, cutting that off hurts.

True. Access to virtually unlimited information has a multiplier effect.

The trick is to separate the info from the noise. There's a lot of noise.

5) "(ii) reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization"

Ignorance IS bliss!

Of course, if you are ignorant of political activity, you are surprised when politics turns into policy that results on police on your doorstep.

How badly do the price theory summer campers get beat up when they return to their regular schools in the fall?

Hello Mudda
Hello Fadda
Here I am at
Camp Chicagah

Camp is busy
And there's some danger
To get my lunch I must quote Carl Menger

Adam Smith's here
So it Stigler
Milton Friedman
It's just like Eden

All the counselors
Hate the Marxists
They say that Keynes
Was a one big narcist

Best post of 2019 (it's still early)

How badly and often did you get beat up at school?

Re: the last stanza. Keynes (I don't support central planners) didn't think much of Marxism calling it "dull and illogical."

Still waiting for your menu of preferences and subsidies which rich people employ to rob the penniless poor.

Plus, capitalism/free markets has taken more millions out of poverty than any other "ism."

'Keynes (I don't support central planners) didn't think much of Marxism calling it "dull and illogical."'

True but irrelevant. Chicago School economists are well-known for disagreeing with Marx. And for disagreeing with Keynes.

'How badly and often did you get beat up at school?'

A strange reaction to a comment that people with a range of ideologies agree is a very funny one.

Bullpucky, but very funny!

+1, clever and funny

3. Excellent paper, very informative. The most important takeaway I think is in footnote 29. Developing countries should only try to democratize when they have caught up to the rich world in living standards and their culture has been more or less liberalized by the rising prosperity, education, and global connections. There are exceptions, but democracy is generally not stable in poor countries and has a very good chance of making those poor countries worse off in the long run. The only proven path for poor countries to become stable democracies is the Asian tiger model where growth and economic liberalization can take place without too many political constraints and democracy is only introduced after first-world living and education standards exist. US foreign policy should recognize this and not push poor countries to democratize.

'US foreign policy should recognize this and not push poor countries to democratize'

You know, there are some people - Iranians and Chileans come to mind, with their well documented examples - where that sentence would not describe those nations' experience with U.S. foreign policy and democratizing in the past.

Other examples available upon request involving what could be called the Kissinger Doctrine, involving a not actually sourced quote - 'I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.'

We (USA) saved Chile's a$$. I am sure they are not grateful, but at least we don't have Chileans storming the gates, unlike those unfortunates from the sh*thole failed nation states. Intervention is a form of border control and parental love.

Bosnia, Chile, but we can't do everything. Central America sure needs some help. Mexico is like the 18 year old miscreant - too big to help but too unsophisticated to negotiate their way in the world without some painful failures.

I wish Mexico and AMLO luck, because we share a long and porous border with them.

'We (USA) saved Chile's a$$'

As noted, by not caring about pushing democracy as part of our foreign policy.

'at least we don't have Chileans storming the gates'

Or Argentinians, another group of people who benefitted from much the same sort of American attention as the Chileans received - 'Operation Condor (Spanish: Operación Cóndor, also known as Plan Cóndor; Portuguese: Operação Condor) was a United States–backed campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents, officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America. The program, nominally intended to eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas, was created to suppress active or potential opposition movements against the participating governments' neoliberal economic policies, which sought to reverse the economic policies of the previous era.'

Strangely, the fact that Chile and Argentina are both basically the furthest countries from the U.S. (not even sharing the same seasons with us, oddly enough) likely plays zero role in explaining why so few people from a notable economic basket case like Argentina do not form up caravans to walk to the U.S.

'Intervention is a form of border control and parental love.'

Tell that to the El Salvoradorans, who started showing up in the U.S. after our intervention. For that matter, tell it to the Vietnamese who arrived in the U.S. after 1975.

Admittedly, that was back in the days we thought the Russians were our enemies.

I agree we should back off - we can't do everything. Chile was good, but there were many failures. You know what they say about good intentions. Vietnam and most of the Latin American interventions were disasters, but understable given the realities of Stalin, Mao, the Iron Curtain, North Korea, and the growing communist threat in Latin America. All that said, we should just build the wall, implement eVerify, and work with allies to help failing states before the masses end up on our border (but not in your neighborhood I'm sure).

most of the Latin American interventions were disasters

None of them were disasters with the arguable exception of Guatemala in 1954.

3. Excellent paper, very informative. The most important takeaway I think is in footnote 29. Developing countries should only try to democratize when they have caught up to the rich world in living standards and their culture has been more or less liberalized by the rising prosperity, education, and global connections. There are exceptions, but democracy is generally not stable in poor countries and has a very good chance of making those poor countries worse off in the long run.

What's salient about Venezuela has been that it's a petrostate run by thieves.

Parliamentary institutions were the mode in Europe at a time when real income levels of the most affluent European states were similar to India's now.

'Stability' is usually a nonsense term. That aside, institutional continuity has been the norm in India for nearly a century and in Latin America and the Caribbean for over 30 years.

Tabarrok to the Pillory: Parliamentary institutions were the mode in Europe at a time when real income levels of the most affluent European states were similar to India's now.

Quite. Those institutions weren't entirely stable, of course - hello Mussolini - but it's hard to imagine that growth would've been better if Europeans had just left the show in the hands of authoritarian dictators. The record of even illiberal democracy is still better than the record of most authoritarians, particularly authoritarian socialists.

If you look at something like - - there's no indication that countries that have less democracy at low income levels have had any better growth, or political stability, than countries with more democracy.

If anything whether a country should democratize is really dependent on whether it has a 'demos' that is capable of democracy - enough trust and lack of tribalism to allow peaceful concession of power put to a fair public vote. That's not something wealth giveth or taketh away.

This is a separate question from the richest countries should just allow large, belligerent illiberal and undemocratic challengers to grow indefinitely until they reach parity. Much less help them to do it.

The US in the 1970s saw this as clearly foolish in the case of the USSR - "Wait til those Communist Russians get American incomes, then they'll surely democratize" - and it would seem foolish in the 1930s - "Wait until those German Nationalists Socialists get American incomes, then they'll surely democratize". And it is foolish in the case of China today.

Agree, great read. And worrisome. I read it as an argument that that the Venezuelan economy has been trapped between socialists and mercantilists throughout its history. Classical liberal thought/governance has been mostly absent throughout its history. Makes me worry because in the US the left is growing more socialist and now we have our mercantilist Trump in charge of the right. And there’s no room for liberals. End result for Venezuela: now people are eating zoo animals. I don’t wanna eat zoo animals.

Venezuela is only complicated for Egghead economists. If a democratic nation has a small wealthy elite, a small but slightly larger middle-class, then there is a good chance that the enormous underclass will vote for a candidate that promises to make their lives better. Hence, the people actually ELECTED Chavez. Imho, that was an ignorant choice.

One of my big beefs with Tyler's "Average ..." is his assumption that we would just accept that without taking action. Tyler even asserted the population was too old too revolt, that violence was a game for the young, not a tired old useless ex-middle class. I disagree. I don't think that's going to accepted in a democracy. People will vote for change, and it is probably not going to work. Democracy depends upon a happy middle class, which means average people need to feel they are not left out. That's a problem, because most people are average. Reading between the lines, and always reading through my filter of biases, I think Tyler and his tribe are surprised and disappointed by Trump, Brexit, Italy, AfD, yellow vests, and the other anti globalist movements. Of course, they are not driven solely by economic issues, loss of social capital via uncontrolled immigration of people with very different values is also problem. The global elite are not troubled by immigration because they do not experience the negative impacts in their neighborhoods, their children's schools, or on their job or income security. In fact, they benefit from the free movement of capital.

We are not done yet - this is not going to end well.

"...that we would just accept that ..."

To clarify, the underclass would just accept the impacts of globalization or, more generally, inequality. Stability requires a large middle-class or a very powerful state.

Democracy is not "elections". Democracy is a system of government where political power is dispersed over the population. Ancient Athens, perhaps the most democratic state ever, was such that all citizens were absolutely equal in political rights and there were no elections: all executive positions were filled by sorting from the citizenry.

Venezuela became a dictatorship gradually as Chaves exploited the institutional weaknesses of Venezuela to gradually attain total power. Now we are at the point where it appears to be almost impossible to remove Maduro from power without external intervention, even though the country is completely collapsing under his regime. Clearly, chavismo is very stable considering that no matter what happens, no matter how far down the economy goes and how high inflation gets, the government does not fall! The US has a much less stable political system, look at Obama had a few years of below trend growth and they already made a radical shift with Trump. That is sign of a democratic system at work.

EdR: One of my big beefs with Tyler's "Average ..." is his assumption that we would just accept that without taking action. Tyler even asserted the population was too old too revolt, that violence was a game for the young, not a tired old useless ex-middle class.

When it comes to the decay of the middle class, there's generally some partisan hilarity in how this is treated by our media, depending on the political orientation and which part of the middle class that opposition would come from (and I'm including TC in media as a guy who is to a large degree a pop economist, rather than primarily a business or academic economist).

Contrast right and left wing middle class led attempts to resist reversion to world norms of unequal societies

One the one hand, nationalist anti-globalist sentiment is presented as this terrifying force, an incipient fascism terrorism, whenever this can be used to justify constant monitoring and chilling actions against their functional ability to speak or partake in politics in our society.

On the other, whenever anyone suggests actually conceding to the results of public votes that have an element of anti-globalist nationalism in them and which play to a nationalist constituency - stronger border controls and more limited migration, leaving international institutions, reversing redistribution of gains from globalisation - there is laughter and the suggestion that if these not implemented, there will be no violent or serious consequences because the constituency is too old, too poor and too stupid (ala Michael Young's Meritocracy). At the same there's also shock that anyone presenting this as a possibility would "incite terrorism".

They're in a superposition of being threatening when it can be used to justify repression against them, and toothless and laughable when its suggested that anything they support should actually be implemented, when it wins by the rules that are democratically agreed.

Then look at the reverse example of how left wing anti-globalism that shares sentiment with communist, socialist, black separatist and anarchist movements is treated. Whenever they are discussed as a terrorist threat, they are constantly played down, and its played up that they should not be monitored and allowed to partake in political society.

But then at the same time you have things like this - - "To all those blasting schaudenfreude toward laid off journos: 1,000 downwardly mobile, resentful, college-educated people of upper middle class origins skilled in rhetoric and connected to broader networks of influence and power is what's called a revolutionary vanguard". Well, upper middle class, radical sympathizing, left wing, university educated individuals... their politics are no threat worth monitoring, up until the point that they don't get what they want, in which case let's immediately concede to buffering them from the winds of change and making sure they get good solid, affluent middle class employment and elite social status to avoid the danger of revolution.

2) This is like banishing Frito-Lay from your life and "migrating" to Utz, Herr's or Dipsy Doodles for a week. I'd be more impressed if she cut out all wifi and cell coverage and survived with a typewriter and landline for 24 hours.

Of course we should understand the techno-tentacles we are gripped by. But as Bob Grant used to ominously intone, "They say he has power ... but who gives him that power?"

1. From the article:

"Deforestation was particularly encouraged during the country’s period of communism, in 1974–91, when the government nationalized the land, including the large estates of the church, and distributed it to people who converted swathes to farmland. Just 5% of the country is now covered in forest, down from 45% in the early twentieth century."

Collectivism - socialism, communism, democratic-socialism, et al - has been a disaster everywhere. Yet there are still numerous advocates for same, like the Democrats. Will they ever learn?

More ...

"Much of the nation’s forestland has been sacrificed to agriculture to feed the country’s mushrooming population — at more than 100 million, it is the world’s 12th largest. "

I remember Tyler (?) writing the best solution to poverty is for poor people to move to rich nations. Really? How many of those 100,000,000 should we take in the USA? And what about the multitudes of poor in other nations, especially in Africa? Consider the recent Tyler post on population growth. What is the end game?

At some point, unless something changes, Africa will burst at the seams and we will see the mother of all migrations - the camp of the saints coming to life.

And how does that work if the richest nation on Earth becomes a socialist nanny state? Open borders? Medicare for everyone, everywhere? And what will all those people do if and when AI and automation replace many (most?) tasks - those that can be described by an algorithm?

Where are the feminists? The family planning advocates? Are they all comfortably rich first world women entertaining themselves or virtue signalling? They should go do their work in Africa.

Jared Diamond was mentioned in one of Tyler's posts. Jared, in his book "Collapse", makes the case that the Hutu-Tutsi massacre was the result of explosive population growth and agrcultural subdivision until the plot sizes were too small to support anyone.

There will be rivers of blood.

Amazon and Google have changed the landscape of services that people use so that nearly everything is a little bit closer to the consumer. But what the the author is really demonstrating is how integrated the world really is - imagine running an article about trying to cut Office Depot (or GE or Ford or out of your life (including everyone that does business with Office Depot). You'd find all kinds of things that you simply just can't do anymore.

You could run this experiment against companies that most people have never heard of like Century Link, Akamai, or Equinix and still find that you don't like the results.

5. "reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization;"

Given the fretting about online propaganda's effect on people, this to me was the most interesting observation.

Right, it supports the notion that one of the main effects of social media is to amplify the behaviors and attitudes that we already have. For good and for bad: information gets shared more quickly and easily, but that includes bad information, fake news, extreme stances, etc.

All of these Latin American countries stall out at the middle income level due to demographics. If the underclass gets upset they elect a demagouge and they blow things up counterproductively. Otherwise you get your usual semi-corrupt mediocrity. Booms and busts in natural resource prices cause lots of economic swings.

That's all folks.

Ancestry based models of Latin American GDP per capita:

Ancestry, left-right wing economic orientation and trade with United States probably all matter, in that order of importance (though obviously these are not independent variables).

1: "If you see a forest in Ethiopia, you know there is very likely to be a church in the middle".

If you visit the Everglades in the winter, the rangers offer swamp hiking tours where you literally wade right into the swamp. There are clumps of dry land here and there with trees; the ranger mostly avoided them saying that those are the places that alligators like to hang out when they get too cold from sitting in the water.

So if you see a clump of trees in the Everglades there might be an alligator in the middle.

I was expecting the hike to be through muddy murky water and terrain but it was not like that. The Everglades can be thought of as an extremely wide and shallow and slow-moving river. The water is clear and cool in January but not cold and the "riverbottom" mainly felt sandy rather than muddy, although walking through there you'll stir up all sorts of silt. Where we were it was mainly calf deep. There seem to be no mosquitoes in January.

#5) Studies find that the average user would have to be paid $1000-2000 to stay away from facebook for a year. Apart from any views one has about facebook, does this mean that, if GDP were properly measured, it would include $1-2k per facebook user-year?

4. Price theory summer camp at University of Chicago.

The path length to delivery is a good definition of price.

I hate to break the bad news here, but there is nothing esoteric. The user has a fixed trade space, he allocates it to efficiency with transactions yielding objects that matches their budget. All of Becker's trade off problems can be converted into a problem of packing trade space to efficiency. It is not worth an entire summer camp, I have a spread sheet function, used in many fixed channel allocation problems, nothing new.

let us solve the classic problem U Chicago presents, climate adaption.

You have a fixed channel, a nightly budget of ten dollars. You can by pizza of air conditioning, but the colder it is the more you like pizza, so they compete.

The trick is on the margin, constantly adjust purchases of both so you have at least one pizza in hand when the air conditioner is on, that is optimum. You have solved the queueing problem in delivery, neither air conditioning nor pizza is backing up in inventory not going short. It is all about stationary inventory. price is set by the inventory costs you incur along delivery, you consume 'inventory insurance' , that is pay a fee for any jitter in demand that causes extra shelving costs.

Take a good novel and go camping in California instead.

Where does thermodynamics come in? U CHicago mentions that.

It is really entropy, maximized. When the channel is efficient, the two products sharing the road, pizza and air conditioning, will be balanced distribution, equivalent to each product keep its own stable path length (price stable). At maximum entropy, that stable radius, in Euclid world, and you get the two indifference curves, each is optimally indifferent to the channel space occupied by the other. There correlative overlap is called bit error, or market uncertainty, and should be small.

We call it the theory of everything, as near as I can tell it works from quarks to trees. In trees, the theory treats trunk to leaf and run to root as delivery networks that must be optimally queue without overflow. Quarks are the way they are because they avoided charge overflow in the furnace. The three quarks have indifference curves, they whiten the trade space, same idea.

Thanks for the link to the church forests. Unknown to me at least, and great pictures. I'm impressed that the mystique of the church protected the remnant forests - even if people were unlikely to plow right up to the church building itself, you might think the timber would have been taken long ago. I've felt the total lack of interest in nature represented a missed opportunity for American churches.

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