Month: February 2019
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column. Here is one bit:
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who is also a Nobel laureate in economics, has written and co-written a number of papers on happiness in which he distinguishes between enjoying the moment and having an overall sense of satisfaction with one’s life. As it turns out, these two variables often diverge quite dramatically…
My tentative conclusion from all this: Online life is inducing us to invest less in our memories and long-term sense of satisfaction. It is pretty obvious from human behavior that, right now, the internet is doing more to boost short-term pleasures.
The more negative take would be that online life is obscuring our understanding of our own lives. I do not go that far. After all, humans make analogous choices about balancing short- and long-term happiness when they have one child rather than four, or when they sit on an exercise bike rather than get on a plane to Paris. Those aren’t the wrong decisions for everybody.
The solutions include pro-natalism and more travel:
There is so much talk about regulating or controlling the internet. Dare I suggest an alternative approach? Use public policy to help shift the balance of ease back toward life satisfaction and the formation of longer-term memories. Make it cheaper and easier to have and raise children. Use the education system to support more study trips abroad. Think about how to ease the pursuit of long-term life satisfaction.
There are plenty of human imperfections behind our online choices. As we respond, why not accentuate the positive — and keep the freedom to choose?
There is much more at the link, please do read the whole thing.
I am very excited about my next book, due out April 9:
I view this work as an antidote to many of the less than stellar arguments circulating today. It looks like this:
Table of contents
1. A new pro-business manifesto
2. Are businesses more fraudulent than the rest of us?
3. Are CEOs paid too much?
4. Is work fun?
5. How monopolistic is American big business?
6. Are the big tech companies evil?
7. What is Wall Street good for, anyway?
8. Crony capitalism: How much does big business control the American government?
9. If business is so good, why is it disliked?
Here is part of the Amazon description:
An against-the-grain polemic on American capitalism from New York Times bestselling author Tyler Cowen.
We love to hate the 800-pound gorilla. Walmart and Amazon destroy communities and small businesses. Facebook turns us into addicts while putting our personal data at risk. From skeptical politicians like Bernie Sanders who, at a 2016 presidential campaign rally said, “If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” to millennials, only 42 percent of whom support capitalism, belief in big business is at an all-time low. But are big companies inherently evil? If business is so bad, why does it remain so integral to the basic functioning of America? Economist and bestselling author Tyler Cowen says our biggest problem is that we don’t love business enough.
In Big Business, Cowen puts forth an impassioned defense of corporations and their essential role in a balanced, productive, and progressive society. He dismantles common misconceptions and untangles conflicting intuitions.
Here is the publisher’s home page. Definitely recommended…and if you are a regular MR reader, no more than five to ten percent of this book has already appeared on this blog.
1. Netflix as an engine of cultural globalization (NYT). A good piece.
2. Gene Simmons on Kiss and capitalism (WSJ).
The open letter on Amazon from Robert Mujica, New York State’s Budget Director, is on fire. It shines an unflattering light on many people involved in the Amazon decision but its analysis of twitter mobs goes well beyond Amazon.
In my 23 years in the State Capitol, three as Budget Director, Amazon was the single greatest economic development opportunity we have had. Amazon chose New York and Virginia after a year-long national competition with 234 cities and states vying for the 25,000-40,000 jobs. For a sense of scale, the next largest economic development project the state has completed was for approximately 1,000 jobs. People have been asking me for the past week what killed the Amazon deal. There were several factors.
First, some labor unions attempted to exploit Amazon’s New York entry. The RWDSU Union was interested in organizing the Whole Foods grocery store workers, a subsidiary owned by Amazon, and they deployed several ‘community based organizations’ (which RWDSU funds) to oppose the Amazon transaction as negotiation leverage. It backfired.
…Organizing Amazon, or Whole Foods workers, or any company for that matter, is better pursued by allowing them to locate here and then making an effort to unionize the workers, rather than making unionization a bar to entrance. If New York only allows unionized companies to enter, our economy is unsustainable, and if one union becomes the enemy of other unions, the entire union movement – already in decline – is undermined and damaged.
Second, some Queens politicians catered to minor, but vocal local political forces in opposition to the Amazon government incentives as ‘corporate welfare.’ Ironically, much of the visible ‘local’ opposition, which was happy to appear at press conferences and protest at City Council hearings during work hours, were actual organizers paid by one union: RWDSU. (If you are wondering if that is even legal, probably not). Even more ironic is these same elected officials all signed a letter of support for Amazon at the Long Island City location and in support of the application. They were all for it before Twitter convinced them to be against it.
…Furthermore, opposing Amazon was not even good politics, as the politicians have learned since Amazon pulled out. They are like the dog that caught the car. They are now desperately and incredibly trying to explain their actions. They cannot.
…Third, in retrospect, the State and the City could have done more to communicate the facts of the project and more aggressively correct the distortions. We assumed the benefits to be evident: 25,000-40,000 jobs located in a part of Queens that has not seen any significant commercial development in decades and a giant step forward in the tech sector, further diversifying our economy away from Wall Street and Real Estate. The polls showing seventy percent of New Yorkers supported Amazon provided false comfort that the political process would act responsibly and on behalf of all of their constituents, not just the vocal minority. We underestimated the effect of the opposition’s distortions and overestimated the intelligence and integrity of local elected officials.
Incredibly, I have heard city and state elected officials who were opponents of the project claim that Amazon was getting $3 billion in government subsidies that could have been better spent on housing or transportation. This is either a blatant untruth or fundamental ignorance of basic math by a group of elected officials. The city and state ‘gave’ Amazon nothing. Amazon was to build their headquarters with union jobs and pay the city and state $27 billion in revenues. The city, through existing as-of-right tax credits, and the state through Excelsior Tax credits – a program approved by the same legislators railing against it – would provide up to $3 billion in tax relief, IF Amazon created the 25,000-40,000 jobs and thus generated $27 billion in revenue. You don’t need to be the State’s Budget Director to know that a nine to one return on your investment is a winner.
The seventy percent of New Yorkers who supported Amazon and now vent their anger also bear responsibility and must learn that the silent majority should not be silent because they can lose to the vocal minority and self-interested politicians.
…Make no mistake, at the end of the day we lost $27 billion, 25,000-40,000 jobs and a blow to our reputation of being ‘open for business.’ The union that opposed the project gained nothing and cost other union members 11,000 good, high-paying jobs. The local politicians that catered to the hyper-political opposition hurt their own government colleagues and the economic interest of every constituent in their district. The true local residents who actually supported the project and its benefits for their community are badly hurt. Nothing was gained and much was lost. This should never happen again.
Even if you think the end result was fine, as I do, this was a political fiasco for New York. Amazon was wise to exit when they did because the pecking of the chickens would only have intensified as they sunk investments.
With whom would you like to see me do a Conversations with Tyler? Please restrict your suggestions to the living.
Arvind Panagariya, Free Trade and Prosperity: How Openness Helps the Developing Countries Grow Richer and Combat Poverty. Self-recommending. The book has plenty of evidence, not just the usual hand-waving.
Knut Hamsun, On Overgrown Paths. Hamsun’s memoir, last creation, and maybe most interesting work? But few like to talk about it, for it is 1945 and the Norwegian government has just come to place him under house arrest and in turn bring him to an institution, for having wholeheartedly supported the Nazis. The story of course is told from his rather matter of fact point of view…
Jenny Davidson, Reading Jane Austen. I hardly know any books about Jane Austen, and indeed I don’t much enjoy reading her novels. Still, this is the best book on Austen I have seen, take that for what it is worth. It is very much to the point and furthermore the author writes: “I also hold a degree of suspicion toward those who love Austen, though, myself included.”
James Grant, Bagehot: The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian is a good treatment of someone who was not the greatest Victorian.
Richard J. Evans, Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History, I had high hopes but it bored me.
Mercatus has republished The Market Process: Advanced Studies in Political Economy, a series of Austrian-like essays from the 1980s, edited by Peter J. Boettke and David L. Prychitko.
Joel S. Baden, The Book of Exodus: A Biography is forthcoming, a good general introduction.
David C. Rose, Why Culture Matters Most, is from the perspective of a Douglass North-type economist.
2. History of Singapore in ten dishes. Laksa included.
5. Teaching in English in emerging economies — good or bad? (The Economist)
6. How Africa is creating welfare states (The Economist).
Plaintiffs in patent lawsuits used to flock to the Eastern District.of Texas because they could sue anywhere in the United States and the Eastern District has long been notoriously friendly to plaintiffs. In 2016, Marshall, Texas with a population of only 24,000, was home to an astonishing 25 percent of all patent filings in the U.S. In May of 2017, however, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods that plaintiffs can’t forum shop to find a friendly court. Instead patent plaintiffs must file in districts where the company being sued is incorporated or where it has an established place of business.
Businesses are now responding to the Supreme Court’s rule by shifting their establishments. Apple, for example, looks like it will close both of its retail stores within the Eastern District of Texas and instead open a new store in Dallas, just south of the Eastern District of Texas border.
That is the new and interesting book by Yair Listokin. He argues that during a downturn regulators perhaps should be slower to approve utility rate increases, the IRS should run tax policy in a more stimulative manner, construction expenditures should be less regulated, and some environmental review should be eased. Perhaps during the Greek financial crisis, all prices and debt contracts should have been lowered, by law, an immediate ten percent, to ease the deflation.
Should so many different parts of government, including at the state and local level, have macroeconomic goals added to their missions? I am not sure, but I am glad to see an entire book devoted to the idea.
Next, institutions must heed growing calls to abandon paper counting and similar metrics for evaluating researchers. One alternative approach, the Rule of Five, demonstrates a clear commitment to quality: candidates present their best five papers over the past five years, accompanied by a description of the research, its impact and their individual contribution. The exact numbers are immaterial: what matters is the focus on quality. A handful of institutions have required reviewers to consider individual contributions rather than lists of publications, and the shift has not been easy. Reviewers should be admonished for Googling individuals’ h-indices and citation lists, for example. Perseverance and self-reflection are essential.
1. Organizational methods of Stephen Wolfram (frankly, I find a bunch of piles on the floor to be easier to implement).
2. Scott Sumner on blackmail: “I suspect that the almost universal public opposition to legalizing blackmail reflects society’s view (subconscious to be sure) that enforcing these norms (especially for non-criminal activities) requires a “light touch”, and that turning shaming into an highly profitable industry will do more harm than good. It will turn society into a mean, backstabbing culture. The people hurt most will be sensitive good people who made a mistake, not callous gang members who don’t care if others think they are evil.”
He is the Prime Minister of Ethiopia:
In that time, he has overseen the swiftest political liberalisation in Ethiopia’s more than 2,000-year history. He has made peace with Eritrea; freed 60,000 political prisoners, including every journalist previously detained; unbanned opposition groups once deemed terrorist organisations; and appointed women to half his cabinet. He has pledged free elections in 2020 and made a prominent opposition activist head of the electoral commission. In a country where government spies were ubiquitous, people feel free to express opinions that a year ago would have had them clapped in jail.
Here is more from David Pilling and Lionel Barber at the FT. Don’t forget that until the ascent of Abiy Ahmed, the internet was basically shut down for most of the country.
The 63-year-old has been been trying to buy an apartment ever since she was evicted from the home she rented for 32 years – when it was bought by Chinese investors two years ago.
“I want some security in case the same thing happens again,” says Ms Hynes, originally from Ireland. She earns a modest salary as an English teacher, while her Greek husband’s monthly pension was cut from €1,500 (£1,315; $1,690) to €500 during the country’s economic crisis, which began in 2010.
“When we were evicted there were still apartments selling nearby for €100,000. Now I can’t find anything under €250,000. These are Chinese and Russian prices. Not Greek.”
Greece’s financial crisis a decade ago shrank the country’s economy by more than 25% in the following years, but there are finally signs of improvement.
The property market, once completely dead, is on the rise – house prices in Athens rose 3.7% last year…
The boom appears to be driven by a controversial “golden visa” scheme, in which non-EU citizens receive residency and free movement in the EU’s Schengen zone, in exchange for investing in property.
The worry is that foreign investors are benefiting while ordinary Greeks miss out.
Many EU countries including the UK, Portugal and Spain, have golden visa schemes, but Greece has the lowest threshold. Investors receive five-year residency after purchasing €250,000 of property, making the country a new hotspot for foreign buyers.
Here is the full Jessica Bateman BBC story, via Ray Lopez. Does a culture of renters bring a bohemian, non-complacent dynamic urban core? Or a bunch of whiners who oppose economic progress? Or both?
Presently — faced with the immaturity of Chinese sci-fi — everyone in our sci-fi community is envious of the adult sci-fi readership in the US, and see it as a sign of maturity in sci-fi literature. But one must know that senility comes after maturity, and death comes after senility. The prosperity of US sci-fi is largely a result of the prosperity of its movie and TV industries, and these sci-fi movies and TV shows are but a stylistic extension of the “golden age” (sci-fi). Contemporary sci-fi literature itself in US is already deep in twilight — full of works applying complex techniques to express dense metaphors, completely devoid of the youthful energy of the “golden age” (sci-fi); and many magnum opuses in recent years already have an air of death about them. Americans under 25 these days basically don’t read sci-fi; I don’t see what’s to be envied about that.
But to look at it in another way, sci-fi literature is by its very nature immature — because it shows humanity in its childhood, filled with curiosity and fear for the vast and profound universe, as well as the urge to explore it. In the face of such a universe, human science and philosophy are very immature, and sci-fi is the only literary form available to express our scientific and philosophical immaturities; so it’s no surprise that sci-fi is filled with immaturity. When human science is developed to the furthest extent and everything in the universe is discovered down to its minutia, that will be the day sci-fi dies.
Here is the entire Reddit thread, via Benjamin Lyons.
6. That was then, this is now, gymnastics edition (recommended).