Month: April 2019

Bryan Caplan *Open Borders* launch day

From Bryan:

Dear friends: Monday, April 8 isn’t just my birthday.  It’s also the official launch date for *Open Borders*!

URL for ordering the book:

URL for an introductory post on the book:

U.S.A. fact of the day, *Jump-Starting America*

The United States, as of 2014, spends 160 times as much exploring space as it does exploring the oceans.

That is from the new and interesting Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream, by Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson, two very eminent economists.  And if you are wondering, I believe those numbers are referring to government efforts, not the private sector.  I am myself much more optimistic about the economic prospects for the oceans than for outer space.

Most of all this book is a plea for radically expanded government research and development, and a return to “big science” projects.

Overall, books on this topic tend to be cliche-ridden paperweights, but I found enough substance in this one to keep me interested.  I do, however, have two complaints.  First, the book promotes a “side tune” of a naive regionalism: “here are all the areas that could be brought back by science subsidies.”  Well, maybe, but it isn’t demonstrated that such areas could be brought back in general, as opposed to reshuffling funds and resources, and besides isn’t that a separate book topic anyway?  Second, too often the book accepts the conventional wisdom about too many topics.  Was the decline of science funding really just a matter of will?  Is it not at least possible that federal funding of science fell because the return to science fell?  Curing cancer seems to be really hard.  Furthermore, some of the underlying problems are institutional: how do we undo the bureaucratization of society so that the social returns to science can rise higher again?  Will a big government money-throwing program achieve that end?  Maybe, but the answers on that one are far from obvious.  This is too much a book of levers — money levers at that — rather than a book on complex systems.  I would prefer a real discussion of how today science has somehow become culturally weird, compared say to Mr. Spock and The Professor on Gilligan’s Island.  The grants keep on going to older and older people, and we are throwing more and more inputs at problems to get at best diminishing returns.  Help!

Still, I read the whole thing through with great interest, and it covers some of the very most important topics.

U.S.A. fact of the day

As President Trump threatened to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border in recent days, his Department of Homeland Security nearly doubled the number of temporary guest worker visas available this summer.

The Homeland Security and Labor departments plan to grant an additional 30,000 H-2B visas this summer on top of the 33,000 they had already planned to give out, the agencies confirmed.

The H-2B visa allows foreign workers to come to the United States legally and work for several months at companies such as landscapers, amusement parks or hotels. About 80 percent of these visas went to people from Mexico and Central America last year, government data shows…

With the additional visas, the Trump administration is on track to grant 96,000 H-2B visas this fiscal year, the most since 2007, when George W. Bush was president.

Here is more by Heather Long at WaPo, via Anecdotal.

Why is insulin so expensive?

Why aren’t we seeing more companies making insulin? There are many reasons for this, but patent evergreening is a big one. Patents give a person or organization a monopoly on a particular invention for a specific period of time. In the USA, it is generally 20 years. Humalog, Lantus and other previous generation insulins are now off patent, as are even older animal based insulins. So what’s going on? Pharmaceutical companies take advantage of loopholes in the U.S. patent system to build thickets of patents around their drugs which will make them last much longer (evergreening). This prevents competition and can keep prices high for decades. Our friends at I-MAK recently showed that Sanofi, the maker of Lantus, is no exception. Sanofi has filed 74 patent applications on Lantus alone, that means Sanofi has created the potential for a competition-free monopoly for 37 years.

More here, and yes there are a multiple of reasons, not just that one.  Such as this:

… it is actually legal for one insulin producer to pay another one not to enter the market. A few years ago the company Merck announced plans to sell a biosimilar version of Sanofi’s Lantus. Sanofi sued, and eventually Merck announced that it was no longer pursuing it’s biosimilar, presumably due to payments from Sanofi to stay away.

Here is another relevant source.  And this:

…Sanofi has filed lawsuits against both Merck and Mylan to prevent them from going to market with a generic lantus insulin (the Sanofi blockbuster drug).

Here is Vox coverage.  Furthermore, fewer restrictions on foreign importation could solve much of the problem:

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “in most circumstances, it is illegal for individuals to import drugs into the United States for personal use.”

New bills by Peter Welch, Elijah Cummings, and Bernie Sanders would ease those restraints.  It seems easy enough to address this problem without having systematic government purchases of pharmaceuticals.  Insulin prices have risen as much as threefold over the last ten years, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Saturday assorted links

1. The productivity slowdown was Transatlantic.

2. Dominic Cummings splat starts with Soviets ends with drones.

3. The agency fight, explained (NYT).

4. Robin Hanson on trusting big business.

5. Cats know their name, but don’t really care.

6. Vitalik Buterin on collusion.

7. Good pro-Fortnite piece, mentions in passing that Fortnite is another social network competing with Facebook (NYT).

How much would a wealth tax raise?

From Larry Summers and Natasha Sarin:

We reasoned as follows: The existing estate tax is a wealth tax levied at the time of death. If 2 percent of wealthy families experience a death and intergenerational transfer (rather than a spousal transfer) each year, then the current 40 percent estate tax should roughly be the equivalent of a wealth tax of 40 percent multiplied by 2 percent — or a 0.8 percent wealth tax — assuming equivalent definitions of wealth and the same threshold for taxation. Since most wealth is held by fairly elderly people, and the mortality rate of 70-year-olds is above 2 percent, we suspect that 2 percent mortality is a conservative estimate. So the actual wealth-tax equivalent of the estate tax is likely greater than 0.8 percent.

The IRS reports that for 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the estate tax raised around $10 billion from estates over $50 million — and this included tax collected on the first $50 million of estate tax value, so it overestimates the conceptually appropriate figure. Therefore, if this is what the revenue yield would be from a 0.8 percent wealth tax, the implication is that a 2 percent wealth tax would raise a total of $25 billion. That’s around one-eighth of the Saez and Zucman estimate.

There is much more of interest at the link.

The case for regional-based, heartland visas

• U.S. population growth has fallen to 80-year lows. The country now adds approximately 900,000 fewer people each year than it did in the early 2000s.

• The last decade marks the first time in the past century that the United States has experienced low population growth and low prime working age growth on a sustained basis at the same time.

• Uneven population growth is leaving more places behind. 86% of counties now grow more slowly than the nation as a whole, up from 64% in the 1990s.

• In total, 61 million Americans live in counties with stagnant or shrinking populations and 38 million live in the 41% of U.S. counties experiencing rates of demographic decline similar to Japan’s.

• 80% of U.S. counties, home to 149 million Americans, lost prime working age adults from 2007 to 2017, and 65% will again over the next decade.

• By 2037, two-thirds of U.S. counties will contain fewer prime working age adults than they did in 1997, even though the country will add 24.1 million prime working age adults and 98.8 million people in total over that same period.

• Population decline affects communities in every state. Half of U.S. states lost prime working age adults from 2007-2017. 43% of counties in the average state lost population in that same time period, and 76% lost prime working age adults.

• Shrinking places are also aging the most rapidly. By 2027, 26% of the population in the fastest shrinking counties will be 65 and older compared to 20% nationwide.

• Population loss is hitting many places with already weak socioeconomic foundations. The share of the adult population with at least a bachelor’s degree in the bottom decile of population loss is half that in the top decile of population growth. Educational attainment in the fastest shrinking counties is on average equivalent to that of Mexico today or the United States in 1978.

• Population loss itself perpetuates economic decline. Its deleterious effects on housing markets, local government finances, productivity, and dynamism make it harder for communities to bounce back. For example, this analysis found that a 1 percentage point decline in a county’s population growth rate is associated with a 2-3 percentage point decline in its startup rate over the past decade.

That is the opening of a new study by Adam Ozimek of Moody’s Analytics with Kenan Fikri and John Lettieri of Economic Innovation Group.

Friday assorted links

1. Did pharma drug stocks know Trump was going to win?

2. “Homes exposed to sea level rise (SLR) sell for approximately 7% less than observably equivalent unexposed properties equidistant from the beach.

3. Brexit and simplism.

4. Deep roots are deep.  Recommended.

5. Planning for a Huawei 5G future.

6. How many higher ed institutions have been closing and what is the trajectory?

Has the time for income-sharing arrived?

That is the topic of my new Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

To be sure, there are problems with the idea of equitizing human capital. For instance, what if less talented, less hard-working individuals turn out to be the most likely to sign away part of their future income? That creates a problem that economists call “adverse selection.” This is a real issue, but it hasn’t stopped companies from selling equity and startups from selling venture capital shares. As for the students, due diligence and talent measurement may suffice to identify enough good students with bright prospects.

There are also genuine questions about how far this model can be extended. The demand for labor is robust in information technology, but would a similar system work for philosophy professors or prospective musicians? In both cases incomes are undoubtedly lower, motivations non-pecuniary, and the chances for real success more remote. The company Pando Pooling, meanwhile, is trying equitization with minor league baseball players. The importance of raw baseball talent may be so paramount, however, that companies cannot much improve the labor market prospects of their clients.

Note also that we already equitize each other’s labor in many non-explicit, non-corporate ways. If two economists write a paper together, for example, each is tying his or her fate somewhat to the other. And if two people in business decide to share networks or trade favors, each has a stake in the success of the other.

The piece also consider Lambda School in San Francisco as an institution trying to operationalize this practice.

The friendship paradox and systematic biases in perceptions and social norms

Except I call it the Twitter paradox, and it is about how neurotics really get on each others’ nerves:

The “friendship paradox” (first noted by Feld in 1991) refers to the fact that, on average, people have strictly fewer friends than their friends have. I show that this oversampling of more popular people can lead people to perceive more engagement than exists in the overall population. This feeds back to amplify engagement in behaviors that involve complementarities. Also, people with the greatest proclivity for a behavior choose to interact the most, leading to further feedback and amplification. These results are consistent with studies finding overestimation of peer consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs and with resulting high levels of drug and alcohol consumption.

That is from Matthew O. Jackson in the new JPE.

What I’ve been reading

1. Ruby Warrington, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Concentration Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.  Both the title and content make it self-recommending.

2. Jonathan Bate, How the Classics Made Shakespeare.  “One key argument is that Shakespeare’s form of classical fabling was profoundly antiheroic because it was constantly attuned to the force of sexual desire.”  Bate is very smart and this book shows it.

3. Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman, Of Privacy and Power: The Transatlantic Struggle over Freedom and Security.  An important contribution to political science, expanding on their concept of “weaponized interdependence,” namely how the U.S. (and sometimes other political actors) uses access to international networks, such as SWIFT, to push other nations around.  See #weaponizedinterdependence on Twitter for an introduction.

4. Andrew Lambert, Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires and the Conflict that Made the Modern World.  Covers the Phoenicians, Venice, the Dutch Golden Age, the rise of the British empire, and more.  Interesting throughout, but I most liked the final section on why there are no seapowers today, and why China and Russia never will be seapowers.  Overall a nice integration of geopolitics and culture.

5. Rucker C. Johnson and Alexander Nazaryan, Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works.  A good summary of what the subtitle promises, though I was hoping for more attention on the costs and losers from those arrangements.

6. Guzel Yakhina, Zukeikha.  Translated from the Russian by Lisa C. Hayden, a Tatar woman is sent into exile in the Soviet Union of the 1930s.  This is one of the novels I enjoyed this year, several others I know concur.

U.S.A. fact of the day

According to publisher Penguin Random House, [Becoming] has sold more than 10 million copies — including hardcover, audiobooks and e-books — since its November release. That puts it near the top, if not the pinnacle, of all-time memoir sales.” It’s already the top-selling hardcover of last year, and it has outsold both of her husband’s books put together.

Here is the full story.