Month: April 2019

Measurement for everything

One of the most widely used screenplay programs in Hollywood has a new tool to help with gender equality and inclusion.

In an update announced Thursday, Final Draft — software that writers use to format scripts — said it will now include a proprietary “Inclusivity Analysis” feature, allowing filmmakers “to quickly assign and measure the ethnicity, gender, age, disability or any other definable trait of the characters,” including race, the company said in a statement.

It also will enable users to determine if a project passes the Bechdel Test, measuring whether two female characters speak to each other about anything other than a man. The Final Draft tool, a free add-on, was developed in collaboration with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, which has been at the forefront of studying the underrepresentation of women on screen.

Here is the full Melena Ryzik NYT story.

Tuesday assorted links

*Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration*

That is the already-bestselling graphic novel by Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith, and I would just like to say it is a phenomenal achievement.  It is a landmark in economic education, how to present economic ideas, and the integration of economic analysis and graphic visuals.  I picked it up not knowing what to expect, and was blown away by the execution.

To be clear, I don’t myself favor a policy of open borders, instead preferring lots more legal immigration done wisely.  But that’s not really the central issue here, as I think Caplan and Weinersmith are revolutionizing how to present economic (and other?) ideas.  Furthermore, they do respond in detail to my main objections to the open borders idea, namely the cultural problems with so many foreigners coming to the United States (even if I am not convinced, but that is for another blog post).  Even if you disagree with open borders, this book is one of the very best explainers of the gains from trade idea ever produced, and it will teach virtually anyone a truly significant amount about the immigration issue, as well as economic analytics more generally.

There is more actual substance in this book than in many a purely written tome.

It will be out in October, you can pre-order it here.

Is “the better car experience” the next big tech breakthrough?

That is the question I raise in my new Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Another reality of the contemporary automobile is that Tesla has managed to rethink the entire design. The dashboard and interior are reconfigured, the drive is electric, software is far more prominent and integrated into the design, voice recognition operates many systems, and there are self-driving features, too. Whether or not you think Tesla as a company will succeed, its design work has shown how much room there is for improvement.

You might object that cars have numerous negative features — but that’s where there is much of the potential for major transformation. Cars cause a lot of air pollution, but electric cars (or maybe even hydrogen cars) are on their way, and they will lower noise pollution too, as hybrids already do.

Cars also create traffic congestion, but congestion pricing can ease this problem significantly, as it already has in Singapore. Congestion pricing used to be seen as politically impossible, but the Washington area recently instituted it for one major highway during rush hour. The toll is allowed to rise as high as $40, but on most days it is possible to drive to work for about $10 and home for well under $10, at speeds of at least 50 mph. Manhattan also will move to congestion pricing, for south of 60th Street in Midtown, and the practice will probably spread, both within New York and elsewhere, partly because many municipalities are strapped for cash. As for building new highways, transportation analyst Robert W. Poole Jr. argues in his new book that there is plenty of room for the private-sector toll concession model to grow, leading to more roads and easier commutes.

In other words, the two biggest problems with cars — pollution and traffic congestion — have gone from “impossible to solve” to the verge of manageability.

There is much more at the link, and here is the closer:

Right now there are about 281 million cars registered in the U.S., and they have pretty hefty price tags and demand many hours of time. The basic infrastructures and legal frameworks are already in place. So, despite the current obsessions with robots and gene editing, it should be evident that the biggest tangible changes from technology in the next 20 years are likely to come in a relatively mundane area of life — namely, life on the road.

Does the speed of production matter?

Patrick Collison has pointed out that past production often was very speedy, for instance the Empire State Building went up in 410 days, start to finish.  These days, it took the government almost fifty years to open the 2nd Ave. subway line in NYC, with a lot of the speedy production being relegated to China.

But how important is speedy production?  More generally, how should we think of the speed of production as a variable of import?

I can think of a few reasons why the speed of production might matter:

1. Because if you don’t act now the status quo is terrible.  (Often a factor in China, especially in earlier decades, or in earlier American history.  They really did have to put up those bridges at Remagen very quickly.)

2. Nominal interest rates are high.  You can think of the nominal rate as a rough measure of the opportunity cost of locked-up funds/resources.

3. Speed is a signal of urgency, and other positive qualities, but speed per se is not actually so valuable.  Speedy institutions and societies, nonetheless, might be better at setting priorities and accepting trade-offs, big gains above and beyond the value of speed.  Who wants a dawdler!?  And perhaps the speedy are especially good at signaling, a valuable skill.

4. Patrick himself suggests: “speed matters because frontier people like it and will go to the places where speed is possible. It maximizes their comparative advantage.  If your field ceases to support speed, you’ll lose frontier people and stagnate.”  [In turn you might wonder if speed today simply has shifted into other areas, say payment companies and the like, and out of construction, rather than speed having declined per se?  Amazon will try to shift to one day delivery, car production is speedier, Netflix gets you a movie more quickly, and so on.]

5. In a speedier world, recontracting happens more frequently.  Quantity-based resource logjams are cleared up more quickly, and the more rapid contracting sends off price signals, to the general benefit of the market, on a more regular basis, leading to generally superior resource allocation for Hayekian reasons.  For these reasons, perhaps the social value of speed is higher than the private value, thus implying we are underinvesting in production speed?  There are positive external benefits to pushing more liquidity into those spot markets!

So how much should we be worried about the (possible) decline of speedy production?  Should currently low nominal interest rates be taken to mean this simply isn’t much of a problem?

Your thoughts would be most welcome.

Do Experts Listen to Other Experts?

Not so much:

Organizations in science and elsewhere often rely on committees of experts to make important decisions, such as evaluating early-stage projects and ideas. However, very little is known about how experts influence each others’ opinions, and how that influence affects final evaluations. Here, we use a field experiment in scientific peer review to examine experts’ susceptibility to the opinions of others. We recruited 277 faculty members at seven US medical schools to evaluate 47 early stage research proposals in biomedicine. In our experiment, evaluators: (1) completed independent reviews of research ideas, (2) received (artificial) scores attributed to anonymous “other reviewers” from the same or a different discipline, and (3) decided whether to update their initial scores. Evaluators did not meet in person and were not otherwise aware of each other. We find that, even in a completely anonymous setting and controlling for a range of career factors, women updated their scores 13% more often than men, while very highly cited “superstar” reviewers updated 24% less often than others. Women in male-dominated subfields were particularly likely to update, updating 8% more for every 10% decrease in subfield representation. Very low scores were particularly “sticky” and seldom updated upward, suggesting a possible source of conservatism in evaluation. These systematic differences in how world-class experts respond to external opinions can lead to substantial gender and status disparities in whose opinion ultimately matters in collective expert judgment.

That is from a new working paper by Misha Teplitskiy, Hardeep Ranu, Gary Gray, Michael Menietti, Eva Guinan and Karim R. Lakhani.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Monday assorted links

1. A revision to the methods/assumptions, but democracy is still better for growth.

2. “[White] whale with harness could be Russian weapon, say Norwegian experts.

3. How the Thai government supported and promoted pad Thai.

4. Predicting high-risk opioid prescriptions before they are given.

5. “Gene Wolfe, an industrial engineer who helped devise the cooking process for Pringles, the stackable chip, and then turned to fantasy and science-fiction writing to craft intricate, philosophically rich novels that explored faith, war and distant planets, died April 14 in Peoria, Ill.”  Link here.

6. A brief survey on citizen science.

The Indian School of Public Policy

India is changing very rapidly and launching new programs and policies at breakneck pace–some reasonably well thought out, others not so well thought out. Historically, India has relied on a small cadre of IAS super-professionals–the basic structure goes back to Colonial times when a handful of Englishmen ruled the country–who are promoted internally and are expected to be generalists capable of handling any and all tasks. The quality of the IAS is unparalleled, of the 1 million people who typically write the Civil Services Exam the IAS accepts only about 180 candidates annually and there are less than 5000 IAS officers in total. But 5,000 generalists are not capable of running a country of over 1 billion people and and India’s bureaucracy as a whole is widely regarded as being slow and of low quality. The quality of the bureaucracy must increase, deep experts in policy must be encouraged and brought in on a lateral basis and there needs to be greater circulation with and understanding of the private sector.

The Indian government has started to show significant interest in hiring people from outside the bureaucratic ranks. NITI Aayog, the in-house government think tank, which replaced the Planning Commission, has hired young graduates from the world’s top universities as policy consultants. The Prime Minister Fellowship Scheme is an interesting initiative to attract young people to policymaking. A range of government departments and ministries do hire young, bright graduates in various disciplines to engage in research and advisory services. In fact, in a marked departure from tradition, the Indian government recently recruited 9 people working in the private sector into their joint secretary level (senior bureaucrats). Nine people doesn’t sound like a lot but these are hires at the top of the pyramid and

[T]his is perhaps the first time that a large of group of experts with domain knowledge will enter the government through the lateral-entry process.

The demand for policy professionals is there. What about the supply? I am enthusiastic about The Indian School of Public Policy, India’s newest policy school and the first to offer a post-graduate program in policy design and management. The ISPP has brought academics, policymakers and business professionals and philanthropists together to build a world-class policy school. I am an academic adviser to the school along with Arvind Panagariya, Shamika Ravi, Ajay Shah and others. The faculty includes Amitabh Mattoo, Dipankar Gupta, Parth J. Shah and Seema Chowdhry among others. Nandan Nilekani, Vallabh Bhansali and Jerry Rao are among the school’s supporters.

The ISPP opens this year with a one-year postgraduate program in Policy, Design & Management. More information here.

Average annual change in total factor productivity between 1990 and 2014

Here are the estimates from Penn World Tables, only selected countries are presented:

Sri Lanka 2.48

China 2.40

Poland 1.70

Uruguay 1.61

Romania 1.61

United States 0.89

Brazil -0.12

South Africa -0.53

Mexico -0.82

Ukraine -1.20

A few points.  First, I still believe Sri Lanka is an undervalued development story, in spite of recent developments.  Second, the economy of Poland is not discussed enough.  Third, other sources confirm similar numbers for Mexico, arguably because misallocations of capital and labor have increased due to the growing size of the informal sector.  Fourth, there are far too many other nations in the negative column.

Those numbers are reproduced in “Productivity in Emerging-Market Economies: Slowdown or Stagnation?”, by José de Gregorio, in the new and interesting volume Facing Up To Low Productivity Growth, edited by Adam S. Posen and Jeromin Zettelmeyer.

From the comments, on work hours and spousal distribution

#3) If working long hours is bad, “overworked” in the author’s language, then why would the author say that women are often “stuck” in limited roles or take a “back seat” to their husbands. Why not say that husbands most often bear the burden of overworking so that their wives can have a better work-life balance, even in cases where the wife has sufficient education to bear more overwork burdens? Conversely, if wives really are taking a “back seat” to their husbands, then it must be the case that workers *welcome the opportunity* to earn premiums by working longer hours. So, which is it, are husbands sacrificing home life for the benefit of their wives or do couples actually view higher “overwork” premiums as a welcome benefit?

Here is a logically coherent, self-consistent way of describing things: The percentage of women with advanced education has been steadily increasing. That liberalization, along with economic liberalization, has contributed to economic growth, especially for highly educated couples. Such couples are well enough off that, in many cases, both spouses don’t even have to work full time to generate sufficient income. Many affluent wives prioritize work-life balance over pure financial returns. With such a large fraction of highly educated workers prioritizing work-life balance, firms find it necessary to increase “overwork” premiums to attract workers to fill the most time-demanding roles. The tax wedge between taxed office work and untaxed home production (own childcare and enjoyment of spending time with one’s family) may also contribute to workers’ prioritization of work-life balance over pure financial compensation.

That is from BC.

An Interview with the Retiring French Ambassador

An especially blunt and interesting interview with Gérard Araud, the French Ambassador, who is retiring (to America) from public life. Here’s one bit:

I don’t think that anything irreparable is happening in the U.S. I don’t know what would have happened in France if Marine Le Pen had been elected, because our institutions are much weaker.

Let’s look at the dogma of the previous period. For instance, free trade. It’s over. Trump is doing it in his own way. Brutal, a bit primitive, but in a sense he’s right. What he’s doing with China should have been done, maybe in a different way, but should have been done before. Trump has felt Americans’ fatigue, but [Barack] Obama also did. The role of the United States as a policeman of the world, it’s over. Obama started, Trump really pursued it. You saw it in Ukraine. You are seeing it every day in Syria. People here faint when you discuss NATO, but when he said, “Why should we defend Montenegro?,” it’s a genuine question. I know that people at Brookings or the Atlantic Council will faint again, but really yes, why, why should you?

These are the questions which are being put on the table in a brutal and a bit primitive way by Trump, but they are real questions.

Here’s another which reflects my own political arc watching the triumph and decline of more libertarian ideas. The tragedy is that the ideas worked as we said they would to make the world a much richer, more peaceful place but the ideas are being rejected anyway:

Bayoumy: Tell me about your memoirs.

Araud: My career had started with the election of [Ronald] Reagan, and my career is finishing with Trump. From Reagan to Trump you have, more or less, the neoliberal era—taxes were bad, borders were bad, and you have to trust the market. It’s also the period of the triumphant West … that the West was in a sense doomed to win. That sooner or later all the world will march triumphantly, to the triumph of the market. And suddenly the election of Trump and the populist wave everywhere in the Western world is for me, and I may be wrong, but for me means that this period is over.

Markets in everything those new service sector jobs

TITUSS BURGESS doesn’t like to travel and says he knows “zero” about South Africa, which would seem to make him an unlikely host for a 10-day tour of that nation, especially one that costs nearly $27,000 a head. But on a chill March night, the actor, best known for his role as Titus Andromedon on the Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” patiently posed for selfies with travel journalists at a Manhattan wine bar to kick off Heritage Tours’ new Spotlight Series of trips. The company describes the tours as “immersive small-group experiences enhanced by the presence of expert personalities and influencers.”

…While Mr. MacMillan says that the hosts for his trips were chosen for their connection to the destinations, the link can seem tenuous. Courtney Reed, who played Princess Jasmine in Disney ’s “Aladdin” on Broadway will be hosting a trip to Spain focused on wine, fashion and food. She’s never been to Spain, but is “extra thrilled” about going. “I think my role is just to provide social ambience,” she said. “I’m a very easygoing person and I can create extra flair just having fun and appreciating our surroundings. I’m like a cheerleader….We’re going to have a blast!”

…Other travel companies are hitching their wagons to stars who don’t merely gild the travel experience, but add bona fide knowledge or expertise. “There’s only so much caviar and champagne you can give passengers, so we like to enrich their experience in an intelligent way,” said Barbara Muckermann, chief marketing officer of Silversea Cruises. The cruise line, which has at least one expert lecturer on each of its ships, invited nine artists, writers and other creative types including authors Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer and Saroo Brierley to make appearances during its 133-day World Cruise 2019. Besides giving lectures, each is contributing to a commemorative anthology that Silversea line is creating for the passengers.

There is more at the link, by Kevin Doyle at the WSJ, via the excellent Samir Varma.

*The AI Does Not Hate You*

That is the new book by Tom Chivers, and the subtitle is Superintelligence, Rationality and the Race to Save the World.  Here is one excerpt:

Overall, they have sparked a remarkable change.  They’ve made the idea of AI as an existential risk mainstream; sensible, grown-up people are talking about it, not just fringe nerds on an email list.  From my point of view, that’s a good thing.  I don’t think AI is definitely going to destroy humanity.  But nor do I think that it’s so unlikely we can ignore it.  There is a small but non-negligible probability that, when we look back on this era in the future, we’ll think that Eliezer Yudkowsky and Nick Bostrom  — and the SL4 email list, and LessWrong.com — have saved the world.  If Paul Crowley is right and my children don’t die of old age, but in a good way — if they and humanity reach the stars, with the help of a friendly superintelligence — that might, just plausibly, be because of the Rationalists.

There is also material covering Scott Alexander and Robin Hanson, among others.  Due out in the UK in June.