Month: June 2019
I was very pleased to have been sponsored by the Friedberg Economics Institute, who were wonderful hosts and put together great audiences on my behalf.
Here is my interview with Globes, which they helped to arrange, excerpt:
“We started this trade war with China by shooting in all directions. It would have been much wiser to form our alliances first, and then consider doing something versus China. I believe that the current trade war with China is unavoidable. It would have taken place even without Trump as president. There are too many cases of unfair trading by China, of Chinese companies operating unfairly and even spying, of stealing of US ideas, and preventing US or Western businesses from operating in the country. This dam had to burst sooner or later.
“What is happening now is not good for any country: not for the US, not for China, and also not for Israel, which like many other small countries will be harmed by the trade war. We’re in a situation in which everyone loses.
“The US is pressuring, and will pressure, Israel not to cooperate with China. It has already begun, and it will get worse. You can understand Washington – if you have the Sixth Fleet in Haifa and China controls part of the port, US concern is understandable. On the other hand, China depends on oil from the Middle East. It needs reliable partners in the region in order to ensure its regular supply, and Israel is the only country that meets this criterion. Imagine a future in which China exerts strong pressure on Israel to help it conduct its foreign policy. I think that it will be harder and harder for Israel to cope with Chinese pressure on the one hand and US pressure on the other.”
A variety of other topics are covered at the link.
The author is Robert Zubrin and the subtitle is How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility. I found this book fun, ambitious, and informative, even if I was not entirely convinced. Zubrin thinks big and bold in an exciting way, here is one bit:
Exploring Mars requires no miraculous new technologies, no orbiting spaceports, and no gigantic interplanetary space cruisers. We can establish our first small outpost on Mars within a decade.
There is not much talk of the stress space (or for that matter life on Mars) might place on the human body. Zubrin talks of Mars tours of four or six years or more.
Yet my biggest difference with Zubrin is this: I think of space and planetary exploration as presenting many surprising and difficult problems, ones which cannot be foreseen and fixed in advance by stocking a spacecraft with “just the right materials.” There are many sentences like this:
Mobile microwave units will be used to extract water from Mars’s abundant permafrost, supporting such agriculture and making possible the manufacture of large amounts of brick and concrete…
But when the problem of missing parts arises, or perhaps missing links between systems, you can’t run to the local hardware store. Try this one too:
Extracting the He3 from the atmospheres of the giant planets will be difficult, but not impossible. What is required is a winged transatmospheric vehicle that can use a planet’s atmosphere for propellant, heating it in a nuclear reactor to produce thrust.
My other worry is that if we do not find it profitable to inhabit rural Nevada, Mars might stay empty as well. Zubrin does make a detailed economic case for the value of space, though to my eye much of it falls on satellites. Asteroids have valuable minerals, such as uranium, and that might spur mining operations, powered by nuclear fusion. But is that really the cheapest way to get more uranium, in any case I suspect its price and value would fall rapidly with quantity.
Zubrin puts forward the interesting hypothesis that life in space will encourage a great deal of political freedom:
Historically, the easiest people for a tyrant to oppress are nominally self-sufficient rural peasants, because none of them are individually essential…In a space colony, nearly everyone will be individually essential, and therefore powerful, and all will be capable of being dangerous to those in authority.
Hard to verify, but worth a ponder.
Under another scenario, arks full of large, smart salamanders, genetically programmed to build incubators by instinct, will settle the galaxy at “a speed exceeding 20 percent the speed of light.”
There are many interesting ancillary points, such as using the length of the growing season to estimate global warming, or how pp.284-285 offer an ambitious take on the spin-off benefits from the space program so far, or pp.294-295 on exactly why taking out an asteroid with bombs is so hard.
With plenty of caveats of course, but recommended, the author of this one is never coasting.
Anecdotes that Millennials fundamentally differ from prior generations are numerous in the popular press. One claim is that Millennials, happy to rely on public transit or ride-hailing, are less likely to own vehicles and travel less in personal vehicles than previous generations. However, in this discussion it is unclear whether these perceived differences are driven by changes in preferences or the impact of forces beyond the control of Millennials, such as the Great Recession. We empirically test whether Millennials’ vehicle ownership and use preferences differ from those of previous generations using data from the US National Household Travel Survey, Census, and American Community Survey. We estimate both regression and nearest-neighbor matching models to control for the confounding effect of demographic and macroeconomic variables. We find little difference in preferences for vehicle ownership between Millennials and prior generations once we control for confounding variables. In contrast to the anecdotes, we find higher usage in terms of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to Baby Boomers. Next we test whether Millennials are altering endogenous life choices that may, themselves, affect vehicles ownership and use. We find that Millennials are more likely to live in urban settings and less likely to marry by age 35, but tend to have larger families, controlling for age. On net, these other choices have a small effect on vehicle ownership, reducing the number of vehicles per household by less than one percent.
That is from new work by Christopher R. Knittel and Elizabeth Murphy.
1. Other people are happier than we are inclined to think. Around the whole world.
5. Not altogether an endorsement (the cryptocurrency culture that is South Africa).
Changing sectoral trends in the last 6 decades, translated through the economy’s production network, have on net lowered trend GDP growth by around 2.3 percentage points. The Construction sector, more than any other sector, stands out for its contribution to the trend decline in GDP growth over the post-war period, accounting for 30 percent of this decline.
That is from a new working paper by Andrew Foerster, Andreas Hornstein, Pierre-Daniel Sarte, and Mark W. Watson, “Aggregate Implications of Changing Sectoral Trends.”
Kevin Erdmann, telephone!
…we suggest that this division of innovative labor has not, perhaps, lived up to its promise. The translation of scientific knowledge generated in universities to productivity enhancing technical progress has proved to be more difficult to accomplish in practice than expected. Spinoffs, startups, and university licensing offices have not fully filled the gap left by the decline of the corporate lab. Corporate research has a number of characteristics that make it very valuable for science-based innovation and growth. Large corporations have access to significant resources, can more easily integrate multiple knowledge streams, and direct their research toward solving specific practical problems, which makes it more likely for them to produce commercial applications. University research has tended to be curiosity-driven rather than mission-focused. It has favored insight rather than solutions to specific problems, and partly as a consequence, university research has required additional integration and transformation to become economically useful. This is not to deny the important contributions that universities and small firms make to American innovation. Rather, our point is that large corporate labs may have distinct capabilities which have proved to be difficult to replace.
That is from Ashish Arora, Sharon Belenzon, Andrea Patacconi, and Jungkyu Suh, “The Changing Structure of American Innovation: Some Cautionary Remarks for Economic Growth,” recommended, an excellent paper spanning several disciplines. I would myself note this is further reason not to split up the major tech companies.
I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with her, no associated public event. Here is part of her Wikipedia page:
Robbins is a noted expert in the field of nineteenth-century African American literature and recently co-edited with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. an anthology of African American women’s writing. Robbins’ work focuses primarily on nineteenth and early twentieth century black print culture; she is affiliated with the Black Press Research Collective and serves as an advisor to the Black Periodical Literature Project at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.
…Previously, Robbins edited several other books with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., including The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin (2006) and In Search of Hannah Crafts: Essays on The Bondwoman’s Narrative (2003). She also co-edited The Works of William Wells Brown (2006) with Paula Garrett and an edition of Frances E.W. Harper’s 1892 novel Iola Leroy.
In addition to now being Dean at Sonoma State University, she also has written on film music, the history of post offices, the gold rush, higher education, African-American sonnets, and numerous other topics. So what should I ask her?
Therefore, on balance, our results suggest that Danto was substantively correct. As the number of events being evaluated grows, successful predictions will be increasingly outnumbered by events that seem insignificant at the time, but which come to be viewed as important by future historians in part because of events that have not yet taken place. More generally, our results provide further evidence for the observation that the combination of nonlinearity, stochasticity and competition for scarce attention that is inherent to human systems poses serious difficulties for ex ante predictions—a pattern that has previously been noted in outcomes such as political events, success in cultural markets, the scientific impact of publications and the diffusion of information in social networks. Given that historical significance is typically evaluated on longer time scales than these other examples, it is especially vulnerable to unintended consequences, sensitivity to small fluctuations and reinterpretation of previous information in light of new discoveries or societal concerns. A further complication is that historical significance, even when it can be meaningfully assigned, is specific to observers whose evaluation may depend on their own idiosyncratic interests and priorities. Although we speak of history as a single entity, in reality there may be many histories, within each of which the same set of events may be recalled and evaluated differently.
That is from Joseph Risi, Amit Sharma, Rohan Shah, Matthew Connelly, and Duncan J. Watts in Nature, in their new piece “Predicting History.”
Via William A. Benzon.
Lots of fire! Here is the podcast link.
A recent paper in Rural Sociology, an academic journal, examined how men talk about themselves in mainstream country music. Its author, Braden Leap of Mississippi State University, analysed the lyrics of the top songs on the weekly Billboard country-music charts from the 1980s until the 2010s and found that the near-routine depiction of men as breadwinners and stand-up guys has changed.
Over the past decade, more songs objectify women and are about hooking up. Mr Leap’s examination of lyrics also found that masculinity and whiteness had become more closely linked. References to blue eyes and blond hair, for example, were almost completely absent in the 1980s. In the 2000s, they featured in 15% of the chart-topping songs…
Jada Watson, of the University of Ottawa, recently found that in 2000 a third of country songs on country radio were sung by women. In 2018 the share was only 11%. Even the top female stars get fewer spins. Carrie Underwood had 3m plays between 2000 and 2018; Kenny Chesney received twice as many. A report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that 16% of all artists were female across 500 of the top country songs from 2014 to 2018.
Here is more from The Economist.
That is the new book by Chris Arnade, insightful throughout and with excellent photos. Excerpt:
McDonald’s wasn’t just central to my friends, it was important to everyone in the neighborhood. It was always packed with families and older couples, especially on weekend mornings. In the evenings, it was filled with teenagers or young couples going out.
There weren’t really many other options. McDonald’s was one of the few spaces in Hunts Point open to the public that worked. While wonderful and well-intentioned nonprofits serve Hunts Point, whenever I asked anyone where they wanted to meet or grab a meal, it was almost always McDonald’s.
Arnade indicts “the elitists,” whereas I would lay heavier blame on alcohol and drug abuse. Many much poorer people never touch the stuff, and furthermore I would have added a comparison with America’s dark-skinned, not entirely popular Muslim immigrants, the non-drinking ones most of all. There is indeed something wrong with much of American culture, and we need to think harder about what that might be. Neither sympathy nor empathy changes that fact, and I am happy to be one of the elitists under indictment. I would rather write what I think than try to make other people feel better, or to support my favored politics, and perhaps that attempt is doomed in any case? Is it more or less condescending to hold the poor to high standards?
1. Michael H. Kater, Culture in Nazi Germany. The best general introduction to this still-important topic.
2. Alev Scott, Ottoman Odyssey: Travels Through a Lost Empire. Imagine setting off to write a book about Turkey, finding your access shut down, and then coming up with what is probably an even better travelogue about the former fringes of the Ottoman Empire. I will buy the author’s next book.
3. James Walvin, Freedom: The Overthrow of the Slave Empires. Perhaps not original, but a highly readable and very much conceptual overview of how the slave trade developed and was then overthrown. Recommended.
4. Chester Himes, If He Hollers, Let Him Go. Pretty brutal actually, a kind of pre-integration African-American noir, dating from 1945. People should still read this one.
5. John Steinbeck, East of Eden. At first I enjoyed this one, but after a while I grew bored. If it came out today, by John Anonymous, how many people would think it was a great book? (“Most of those who wrote the Amazon reviews” you might reply. Maybe, but what other current books do they like? Barbara Kingsolver?) If Sally Rooney’s Normal People, or some time-synched version thereof, came out in the 1920s or 30s, how many today would claim it is an absolute masterpiece? I am happy to recommend that one.
Arthur M. Diamond, Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism is a good introduction to what the title and subtitle promise.
Gareth Williams, Unraveling the Double Helix: The Lost Heroes of DNA. A good, detailed look at thought on DNA-related issues, before Crick and Watson published the solution.
I will not have time to read Anthony Atkinson’s Measuring Poverty Around the World, his final book, but as you might expect it appears to be a very serious contribution.
Linda Yueh’s What Would the Great Economists Do? How Brilliant Minds Would Solve Today’s Biggest Problems, now out in paperback, is the closest we have come to producing a modern-day version of Robert Heilbroner’s book. As with Heilbroner, it is from a somewhat “left” perspective.
Carp all you want, I thought it was pretty damn good. The innovations: monsters have economic value, there are property rights in monsters (for a while), communication really matters, the environmentalists are the bad guys, and nuclear power saves the world. The stagnation: Asian people, and only Asian people, have TFP about monsters.
You can’t judge these movies by normal standards, like those silly critics do, instead you have to ask:
1. How good are the monsters and the monster fight scenes?
2. Does it give the monsters a decent backstory and mythological lore?
3. Does it pay suitable homage to the original movies?
4. Does it have the right number of obscure monsters, arbitrarily added to the canon, as if we know all along who and what they are supposed to be?
5. Do you learn something about how the film-producing country views its own science and bureaucracy?
6. Perhaps YIMBY will come to Boston after all.
Mothra steals the show, A- I say, don’t @ me on this one. The Japanese movie Shin Godzilla, which appeared about two years ago, is pretty good too, especially on #5.