Month: July 2019

The cow circuit: the tourism culture that is India

The Union government is exploring a new tourism opportunity — a cow circuit. To promote cow-based tourism economy, the newly formed Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog has decided to carve out a route that will wind through places in the country which breed indigenous cows.

The board has identified states like Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Goa for this circuit.

Tourists, especially from foreign countries, students and researchers, will be told about Indian cows, which will also help them in research…

“We have so far focussed on religious, recreational, and adventurous tourism, but if we can link our cow tourism with tourist hotspots, we will be able to promote our indigenous breeds like Gir from Gujurat, Gangatiri from UP, or Ongole from Andrha Pradesh…this will also help in promoting cow-based economy as products made from cow ghee, cow urine and cow dung will be sold at tourist places…”

Here is the full story from Times of India, via Rayman Mohamed.

There is no great stagnation in policing nature through the use of AI-regulated cat flaps

A cat flap that automatically bars entry to a pet if it tries to enter with prey in its jaws has been built as a DIY project by an Amazon employee.

Ben Hamm used machine-learning software to train a system to recognise when his cat Metric was approaching with a rodent or bird in its mouth.

When it detected such an attack, he said, a computer attached to the flap’s lock triggered a 15-minute shut-out.

Mr Hamm unveiled his invention at an event in Seattle last month.

Here is the full story, via Michelle Dawson.

That was then, this is now

As he prepared for Apollo 11’s lift-off, Neil Armstrong thought he had a 10 per cent chance of dying during the mission, and a 50 per cent chance of not walking on the Moon. “There was still a debate about if you stepped on to the Moon, would you step into 10ft of dust?” says former Nasa official Scott Hubbard.

The entire mission was vulnerable to a single-point failure: if the service module’s engine had failed, for example, there was no back-up.

Nasa’s whole attitude to risk has now changed. Until recently, each system was built to tolerate any two faults. This is now seen as a blunt approach, treating all components as equally important. So Nasa instead tries to limit the probability of failure. The chance of losing SLS and Orion on its first mission is one in 140, according to the agency’s analysis.

That is by Henry Mance and Yuichiro Kanematsu, in the FT, from their splendid look at the current attempt to drive a moon mission.  And this:

“We do not have time or funds to build unique, one-of-a-kind systems,” William Gerstenmaier, a senior Nasa official, said recently. The agency’s biggest rocket — Boeing’s troubled Space Launch System (SLS) — will use some of the same engines as the Space Shuttle. Blake Rogers, an engineer at the Aerospace Corporation, a government-funded research agency, told the FT: “2024 is really soon. So there’s not a lot of brand-new technology…Today, Orion’s processing power will still be below 500MHz — significantly less than a MacBook.

Recommended, gated but of course you should subscribe to the FT.

Wednesday assorted links

Is Democracy Doomed?

Democracies are much richer than non-democracies and their wealth has made them the envy of the world. The close correlation between democracy, high GDP per capita, and economic, military, and cultural power has made modernity appear to be a package deal. When people look at rich, powerful countries they typically see a democracy and they think, “I want that.”

At the same time, however, the academic literature on the causal effect of democracy on growth has shown at best weak results. Here is the all-star team of Acemoglu, Naidu, Restrepo, and Robinson (ungated) in the JPE summarizing:

With the spectacular economic growth under nondemocracy in China, the eclipse of the Arab Spring, and the recent rise of populist politics in Europe and the United States, the view that democratic institutions are at best irrelevant and at worst a hindrance for economic growth has become increasingly popular in both academia and policy discourse. For example, the prominent New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (2009) argues that “one-party non democracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. ”Robert Barro (1997, 1) states this view even more boldly: “More political rights do not have an effect on growth.”

Although some recent contributions estimate a positive effect of democracy on growth, the pessimistic view of the economic implications of democracy is still widely shared. From their review of the academic literature until the mid-2000s, Gerring et al. (2005, 323) conclude that “the net effect of democracy on growth performance cross-nationally over the last five decades is negative or null.”

Acemoglu et al. continue, “In this paper, we challenge this view.” Indeed, using a multitude of sophisticated econometric strategies, Acemoglu et al. conclude “Democracy Does Cause Growth.” In their sample of 175 countries from 1960 to 2010, Acemoglu et al. find that democracies have a GDP per-capita about four times higher than nondemocracies ($2074 v. $8149). (This is uncorrected for time or other factors.) But how much of this difference is explained by democracy? Hardly any. Acemoglu et al. write:

Our estimates imply that a country that transitions from nondemocracy to democracy achieves about 20 percent higher GDP per capita in the next 25 years than a country that remains a nondemocracy.

In other words, if the average nondemocracy in their sample had transitioned to a democracy its GDP per capita would have increased from $2074 to $2489 in 25 years (i.e. this is the causal effect of democracy, ignoring other factors changing over time). Twenty percent is better than nothing and better than dictatorship but it’s weak tea. GDP per capita in the United States is about 20% higher than in Sweden, Denmark or Germany and 40% higher than in France but I don’t see a big demand in those countries to adopt US practices. Indeed, quite the opposite! If we want countries to adopt democracy, twenty percent higher GDP in 25 years is not a big carrot.

As someone who favors democracy as a limit on government abuse, I find this worrying. One optimistic response is that the nondemocracies that adopt the policies necessary to make a nation rich, such as support for property rights, open markets and the free exchange of ideas, may not be such bad places. These beasts, however, appear to be rare. But if they are truly rare there must be more to the democracy-GDP per capita correlation than Acemoglu et al. estimate. So what are they missing? I am uncertain.

If democracies don’t substantially increase growth, why are they rich? Acemoglu et al. don’t spend time on this question but the answer appears to be reverse causality (from wealth to democracy) and the fact that today’s rich democracies adopted capitalism early. But don’t expect the wealth to democracy link to be everywhere and always true, it’s culturally and historically bound. And catch-up is eliminating the benefits of the head start.

If much of the allure of democracy has been higher GDP per capita then the allure has been a mistake of confusing correlation for causation. A fortunate mistake but a mistake. The literature on democracy and growth implies that there is no reason to reject an alternative history in which the world’s leading industrial economy was a nondemocracy. Nor why we could not see some very rich nondemocracies in the future–nondemocracies that would be as on par with the United States as say Sweden, Denmark and Germany are today. If that happens, the case for democracy will look very much weaker than it does now as the correlation between democracy and wealth will be broken and the causal effect more evident even to those without sophisticated econometrics.

Hat tip: Garett Jones for discussion.

The collected schizophrenias

There’s a line that reads, ‘Rarely did I experience such a radical and visceral imbalance of power as I did as a psychiatric inpatient amid clinicians who knew me only as an illness in human form.’ What was that like? 

When you’re in an inpatient situation in a psychiatric hospital, you lack autonomy in a way that I have experienced in few other situations. You’re not allowed to have a lot of things, especially things that are of comfort. You’re not allowed to have them because they’re dangerous, sure — like shoelaces — but you’re also not allowed to have them because they don’t want you to be distracted by them, such as phones or laptops or iPads. So you’re made to follow their schedule.

You’re also not allowed to know how long this deprivation is going to last.

That’s part of the reason the patients are so eager to talk to the doctor every day, because the doctor is the only person who can who can sign off on you getting out. But sometimes the whole day passes and you have not gotten to talk to the doctor. In the meantime, you’re expected to behave in certain ways that are seen as appropriate — like a group activity like colouring, or like making paper snowmen. You can’t be pouty about it. Otherwise that’s a check against you, and will get you further away from being checked out. So you have to be smiley about it, even though you’re a 36-year-old adult and you’re expected to make glitter snowmen.

That is from Esmé Weijun Wang, with more points of interest at the link, via Lama and also Michelle Dawson.

Libra’s unresolved puzzles

That is a long blog post from my colleague Lawrence H. White, who has thought about these matters for many years.  Here is one excerpt:

If we take the white papers’ talk of “backing” seriously, it suggests that the value of Libra coins in circulation is matched by the value of assets held in the Reserve, ready to buy back or redeem the coins. The papers say that Libra will be backed by a portfolio of $-denominated, €-denominated, and other fiat-denominated securities. But is a coin in the hands of a Reseller a debt claim or an equity claim on the Reserve? In particular, when a Reseller bring Libra 1 to the Reserve, she might either have an IOU, entitling her to a specified medium of redemption, like a Paypal account balance or a Hong Kong Dollar note redeemable in US Dollars. Or she might have a share claim on the Libra Reserve portfolio, like a mutual fund share. For the Reserve portfolio to provide full backing, the share claim will have to be redeemable in a bundle of currencies whose composition mirrors the composition of the portfolio.

The official papers ambiguously suggest both debt and equity characteristics. in places, they liken the Libra Reserve to a currency board. An orthodox currency board note issues debt claims (local currency notes), each redeemable for a fixed amount of the anchor currency (HK$7.8 = US$1), and holds at least 100 per cent reserves in the anchor currency. If that is the Libra arrangement, then there is a fixed exchange rate between Libra and a pre-specified fiat currency basket. The proportions of fiat currencies in the medium-of-redemption basket would be pre-specified. To provide full backing the proportions would have to correspond exactly to the proportions of currency-denominated assets in the Reserve’s portfolio. Otherwise adverse exchange rate movements could reduce the portfolio value below 100 percent of the par value of Libra in circulation.

On the other hand, the Resellers are not described as redeeming Libra at the Reserve. A different backing arrangement would provide that returning Libra 1 always gives the Reseller a fixed-proportions fiat currency basket equal in value to 1/N, where the portfolio’s market value is Libra N. The Reserve is then a kind of mutual fund, and Libra 1 in the hands of a Reseller is a mutual fund share (a possibility Williamson identifies). This would be novel arrangement – a mutual fund redeemable in a multi-fiat medium of redemption, with shares used as a medium of exchange. The value of the Libra 1 share would not be perfectly steady in terms of the defined currency basket, but would be as steady as the nominal net asset value of the portfolio in currency baskets.

There is much more detail at the link.

Tuesday assorted links

1. Psychologist Robert Levine has passed away (NYT).

2. Xi, the great deglobalizer.

3. “This is what spending almost half of national income on investment looks like. And that is not an experience you can have anywhere else.

4. Claims about Andalusian donkeys.

5. The tech culture that is China: “Bedding equipped with QR codes will allow hotel guests to verify that they are not sleeping in unclean sheets, says the technology’s developer.”

Taipei notes

My other visit here was thirty years ago, and most of all I am surprised by how little has changed.  The architecture now looks all the more retro, the alleyways all the more noir, and the motorbikes have by no means vanished.  Yes there are plenty of new stores, but overall it is recognizably the same city, something you could not say about Seoul.

Real wages basically did not rise 2000-2016.  The main story, in a nutshell, is that the domestic capital has flowed to China.  About 9 percent of the Taiwanese population lives in China, and that is typically the more ambitious segment of the workforce.

I am still surprised at how little the Taiwanese signal status with their looks and dress.  The steady heat and humidity may account for some of that, though the same is not true in the hotter parts of mainland China.

The Japanese ruled Taiwan from 1895 through the end of WWII, and those were key years for industrial and social development.  The infrastructure and urban layouts often feel quite Japanese.

Thirty years ago, everything was up and buzzing at 6 a.m., six days a week; that is no longer the case.

The National Palace Museum is the best place in the world to be convinced of the glories of earlier Chinese civilizations.  It will wow you even if you are bored by the Chinese art you see in other places, as arguably it is better than all of the other Chinese art museums put together.  How did they get those 600,000 or so artworks out of a China in the midst of a civil war?

The quality of dining here is high and rising.  Unlike in Hong Kong or Singapore, Taiwan has plenty of farms, its own greens, and thus farm to table dining here is common.  Tainan Tai Tsu Mien Seafood is one recommendation, for an affordable Michelin one-star, emphasis on seafood.  Addiction Aquatic Development has superb sushi and is a first-rate hangout.  At the various Night Markets, it is still possible to get an excellent meal for only a few dollars.

One can go days in Taipei and hardly see any Western tourists, so consider this a major arbitrage opportunity.

Economists study busing

This paper dates from 2012, but it is one of the best looks at what we know about busing, based on rigorous analysis of data, combined with natural experiments:

We study the impact of the end of race-based busing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools (“CMS”) on academic achievement, educational attainment, and young adult crime. In 2001, CMS was prohibited from using race in assigning students to schools. School boundaries were redrawn dramatically to reflect the surrounding neighborhoods, and half of its students received a new assignment. Using addresses measured prior to the policy change, we compare students in the same neighborhood that lived on opposite sides of a newly drawn boundary. We find that both white and minority students score lower on high school exams when they are assigned to schools with more minority students. We also find decreases in high school graduation and four-year college attendance for whites, and large increases in crime for minority males. The impacts on achievement and attainment are smaller in younger cohorts, while the impact on crime remains large and persistent for at least nine years after the re-zoning. We show that compensatory resource allocation policies in CMS likely played an important role in mitigating the impact of segregation on achievement and attainment, but had no impact on crime. We conclude that the end of busing widened racial inequality, despite efforts by CMS to mitigate the impact of increases in segregation.

That is from Stephen B. Billings, David J. Deming, and Jonah E. Rockoff.

The real privacy violators

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have turned state driver’s license databases into a facial-recognition gold mine, scanning through millions of Americans’ photos without their knowledge or consent, newly released documents show.

Thousands of facial-recognition requests, internal documents and emails over the past five years, obtained through public-records requests by Georgetown Law researchers and provided to The Washington Post, reveal that federal investigators have turned state departments of motor vehicles databases into the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.

Police have long had access to fingerprints, DNA and other “biometric data” taken from criminal suspects. But the DMV records contain the photos of a vast majority of a state’s residents, most of whom have never been charged with a crime.

Here is the full story by Drew Harwell.

Monday assorted links

Phonics Based Direct Instruction

Linguist John McWhorter strongly supports phonics and direct instruction:

Now that it’s summer, I have a suggestion for how parents can grant their wee kiddies the magic of reading by Labor Day: Pick up Siegfried Engelmann’s Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. My wife and I used it a while ago with our then-4-year-old daughter, and after a mere 20 cozy minutes a night, a little girl who on Memorial Day could recognize on paper only the words no and stop and the names of herself and her family members could, by the time the leaves turned, read simple books.

…Engelmann’s book, which he co-wrote with Phyllis Haddox and Elaine Bruner, was first published in the early 1980s, but it was based on work from the late 1960s. That’s when Engelmann was involved in the government-sponsored Project Follow Through, whose summary report compared nine methods for how to teach reading and tracked results on 75,000 children from kindergarten through third grade. The results, though some critics over the years have rejected them on methodological grounds, were clear: The approach that proved most effective was based on phonics—teaching children how to sound words out, letter by letter, rather than encouraging students to recognize words as single chunks, also called the whole-word system. Specifically, the most successful approach supplemented basic phonics with a tightly scripted format emphasizing repetition and student participation, often dubbed “direct instruction.” As I have previously explained for NPR, the results were especially impressive among poor children, including black ones.

…And yet in the education world, Engelmann’s technique is considered controversial.

Here are previous MR posts on Direct Instruction, the teaching method that works even though many teachers don’t like it.

Japanese car rental markets in everything

People are renting cars, but then not driving them at all:

One respondent to the company’s survey said they rented vehicles to nap in or use for a workspace. Another person stored bags and other personal belongings in the rental car when nearby coin lockers were full.

In the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, rental cars were also used to recharge cellphones.

”I rented a car to eat a boxed meal that I bought at a convenience store because I couldn’t find anywhere else to have lunch,” said a 31-year-old male company employee who lives in Saitama Prefecture, close to Tokyo.

“Usually the only place I can take a nap while visiting my clients is a cybercafe in front of the station, but renting a car to sleep in is just a few hundred yen (several dollars), almost the same as staying in the cybercafe.”

Here is the full story by Andrew J. Hawkins, via Samir Varma and also Michael Rosenwald.