Month: July 2019

Japanese pop-up restaurant markets in everything raise the lfpr edition

Worldwide, dementia affects 47.5 million people with 9.9 million new cases each year. Recently, a pop-up restaurant in Tokyo spent 3 days in operation, changing the public’s perception of those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Restaurant of Order Mistakes, which was open in early June, was staffed by sufferers of these disorders.

Six smiling waitresses took orders and served food to customers, who came in knowing they may not get what they asked for. Each waitress suffers either from dementia or Alzheimer’s, hence the name of the restaurant. One waitress, who used to work in a school, decided to participate since she was used to cooking for children and thought she could do it. But, of course, the day was not without mistakes.

Here is the full story, via Chaim K.

Sunday assorted links

1. Markets in everything: the “my girlfriend is not hungry” option takes off.

2. Joao Gilberto has passed away, music here.

3. Very good sentences: “The level of supply chain effort and professional polish that goes into the smallest cup of coffee is mind boggling.”  From Balaji Srinivasan.

4. Nuns resurrect endangered salamanders.

5. Michael Strain opposes the citizenship question on the Census.

6. “We move from jealousy to hate…”  Meet the anti-woke left.

Bryan Caplan, against populism

My point: If your overall reaction to business progress over the last fifteen years is even mildly negative, no sensible person will try to please you, because you are impossible to please.  Yet our new anti-tech populists have managed to make themselves a center of pseudo-intellectual attention.

Angry lamentation about the effects of new tech on privacy has flabbergasted me the most.  For practical purposes, we have more privacy than ever before in human history.  You can now buy embarrassing products in secret.  You can read or view virtually anything you like in secret.  You can interact with over a billion people in secret.

Then what privacy have we lost?  The privacy to not be part of a Big Data Set.  The privacy to not have firms try to sell us stuff based on our previous purchases.  In short, we have lost the kinds of privacy that no prudent person loses sleep over.

There is more good material at the link.

Should the citizenship question be put on the Census?

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

Unlike many of those who push for the question, I would like to boost the flow of legal immigration by a factor or two or three. Nonetheless, are we supposed to let foreigners in (which I favor), and give them a rapid path to citizenship (which I also favor), but somehow we are not allowed to ask them if they are citizens? To me this boggles the mind.

The real point is that the Democratic Party has talked itself into an untenable and indeed politically losing rhetorical stance on immigration (did you watch the debates? decriminalize illegal migration? health care benefits for illegal immigrants?), and the Census battle is another example of that.  It is no surprise that Trump wishes to keep it alive as a political issue:

Do you really wish for your view to be so closely affiliated with the attitude that citizenship is a thing to hide? I would be embarrassed if my own political strategy implied that I take a firm view — backed by strong moralizing — that we not ask individuals about their citizenship on the Census form. I would think somehow I was, if only in the longer run, making a huge political blunder to so rest the fate of my party on insisting on not asking people about their citizenship.

Not asking about citizenship seems to signify an attitude toward immigrants something like this: Get them in and across the border, their status may be mixed and their existence may be furtive, and let’s not talk too openly about what is going on, and later we will try to get all of them citizenship. Given the current disagreement between the two parties on immigration questions, that may well be the only way of getting more immigrants into the U.S., which I hold to be a desirable goal. But that is a dangerous choice of political turf, and it may not help the pro-immigration cause in the longer run.

Finally:

Countries that do let in especially high percentages of legal immigrants, such as Canada and Australia, take pretty tough stances in controlling their borders. Both of those countries ask about citizenship on their censuses. When citizens feel in control of the process, they may be more generous in terms of opening the border.

If you can’t ask about citizenship on your census, as indeed Canada and Australia do, it is a sign that your broader approach to immigration is broken.  I know this is a hard one to back out of, but if your response is to attack the motives of the Republicans, or simply reiterate the technocratic value of a more accurate Census, it is a sign of not yet being “woke” on this issue.  America desperately needs more legal immigration.

Saturday assorted links

Should we ban bicycles in major urban areas?

“New Yorkers on bikes are being killed at an alarming rate,” said Marco Conner, the interim co-executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.

Across the city, 14 cyclists have been killed in crashes this year, four more than all of last year, according to city officials. New York’s streets have seen an increase in bicycling while also becoming more perilous, in part because of surging truck traffic fueled by the booming e-commerce industry.

The mayor himself acknowledged on Monday that the city was facing an “emergency.”

That is from the New York Times, you will find more detail, and some further points of interest, at the link.

Would urban bicycling pass an FDA test of “safe and effective”?  Furthermore, as a driver and pedestrian I observe cyclists breaking the law — most of all running red lights — at an alarming rate.  And surely we all believe in the rule of law, so why should we allow technologies that seem so closely tethered to massive law-breaking?

I do get that bicycles are driven by cool people who are fighting climate change.  Nonetheless, what if self-driving vehicles were connected to fourteen deaths in NYC alone?  How would we treat them?  Alternatively, what if Facebook owned all of those bicycles?

A long harangue about how the car and truck drivers really were at fault will fail to pass the Coasean symmetric externalities test.

Why is the United States behind on 5G?

No American company makes the devices that transmit high-speed wireless signals. Huawei is the clear leader in the field; the Swedish company Ericsson is a distant second; and the Finnish company Nokia is third.

It is almost surprising that the Defense Department allowed the report to be published at all, given the board’s remarkably blunt assessment of the nation’s lack of innovation and what it said was one of the biggest impediments to rolling out 5G in the United States: the Pentagon itself.

The board said the broadband spectrum needed to create a successful network was reserved not for commercial purposes but for the military.

To work best, 5G needs what’s called low-band spectrum, because it allows signals to travel farther than high-band spectrum. The farther the signal can travel, the less infrastructure has to be deployed.

In China and even in Europe, governments have reserved low-band spectrum for 5G, making it efficient and less costly to blanket their countries with high-speed wireless connectivity. In the United States, the low-band spectrum is reserved for the military.

The difference this makes is stark. Google conducted an experiment for the board, placing 5G transmitters on 72,735 towers and rooftops. Using high-band spectrum, the transmitters covered only 11.6 percent of the United States population at a speed of 100 megabits per second and only 3.9 percent at 1 gigabit per second. If the same transmitters could use low-band spectrum, 57.4 percent of the population would be covered at 100 megabits per second and 21.2 percent at 1 gigabit per second.

In other words, the spectrum that has been allotted in the United States for commercial 5G communications makes 5G significantly slower and more expensive to roll out than just about anywhere else.

That is a commercial disincentive and puts the United States at a distinct disadvantage.

Here is more from Andrew Ross Sorkin (NYT).

Robin Hanson on coercion and feedback

But the concept of coercion isn’t very central to my presumption. At a basic level, I embrace the usual economists’ market failure analysis, preferring interventions that fix large market failures, relative to obvious to-be-expected government failures.

But at a meta level, I care more about having good feedback/learning/innovation processes. The main reason that I tend to be wary of government intervention is that it more often creates processes with low levels of adaptation and innovation regarding technology and individual preferences. Yes, in principle dissatisfied voters can elect politicians who promise particular reforms. But voters have quite limited spotlights of attention and must navigate long chains of accountability to detect and induce real lasting gains.

Yes, low-government mechanisms often also have big problems with adaptation and innovation, especially when customers mainly care about signaling things like loyalty, conformity, wealth, etc. Even so, the track record I see, at least for now, is that these failures have been less severe than comparable government failures. In this case, the devil we know more does in fact tend to be better that the devil we know less.

So when I try to design better social institutions, and to support the proposals of others, I’m less focused than many on assuring zero government invention, or on minimizing “coercion” however conceived, and more concerned to ensure healthy competition overall.

Here is the full post.

The new and improved Magnus Carlsen

After a few years of only so-so (but still world #1) results, Magnus has I believe won five tournaments in a row this year and he is leading in the sixth, currently running in Croatia.

He recently stated that he has learned some new chess ideas from AlphaZero, but more importantly he has shown up better prepared in the openings than his opponents, probably for the first time in his career.  Yet his preparation has taken an extraordinary spin.  Other grandmasters prepare the opening in the hope of achieving an early advantage over their opponents.  Magnus’s preparation, in contrast, is directed at achieving an early disadvantage in the game, perhaps willing to tolerate as much as -0.5 or -0.6 by the standards of the computer (a significant but not decisive disadvantage, with -2 signifying a lost position).  Nonetheless these are positions “out of book” where Magnus nonetheless feels he can outplay his opponent, and this is mostly opponents from the world top ten or fifteen.

So far it is working.  One commentator wrote: “Magnus is turning into a crushing monster just like Garry. He isn’t the strangler anymore”

And it is hard to counter someone looking for a disadvantage!

*Fentanyl, Inc.*, by Ben Westhoff

The slightly misleading subtitle is How Rogue Chemists are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic.  Why misleading?  So many substance abuse books are a mix of hysterical in tone and a disappointing “paint by numbers” in their execution, but this one really stands out for its research, journalism, and overall analysis.  To give just one example, it is also a great book on China, and how China and the Chinese chemicals industry works, backed up by extensive original investigation.

Start with this:

Americans take more opioids per capita — legitimate and illegitimate uses combined — than any other country in the world.  Canada is second, and both far outstrip Europe.  Americans take four times as many opioids as people do in the United Kingdom.

And this:

For many years, Chinese organized-crime groups known as triads have been involved in the international meth trade.  But experts familiar with triads say their influence appears to be waning in the fentanyl era.  “They’re a shadow of their former selves,” said Justin Hastings, an associate professor in international relations and comparative politics at the University of Sydney…Though ad hoc criminal organizations continue to move drugs in China, major trafficking organizations are rare there, and cartels basically nonexistent.  This leaves the market wide open for Chinese chemical companies, who benefit from an air of legitimacy.

As for marijuana and cocaine, they are used by only about one in every forty thousand individuals in China.  But the book covers the entire U.S. history as well.

Definitely recommended, this will be making my year-end “best of” list for non-fiction.  And yes I did go and buy his earlier book on West Coast rap music.

California’s regulatory code for housing is too strict

The sponsors of SB 50 seem to recognize that the state’s housing problems are at least partially man-made. Indeed, California is a leader in regulating just about everything — including insurance carriers, public utilities and housing construction. If California’s regulatory code underwent some serious spring cleaning, it could help the state at least make a dent in its housing affordability crisis.

The California Code of Regulations — the compilation of the state’s administrative rules — contains more than 21 million words. If reading it was a 40-hour-a-week job, it would take more than six months to get through it, and understanding all that legalese is another matter entirely.

Included in the code are more than 395,000 restrictive terms such as “shall,” “must” and “required,” a good gauge of how many actual requirements exist. This is by far the most regulation of any state in the country, according to a new database maintained by the Mercatus Center, a research institute at George Mason University. The average state has about 137,000 restrictive terms in its code, or roughly one-third as many as California. Alaska and Montana are among the states with as few as 60,000.

That is from James Broughel and Emily Hamilton at Mercatus, in The Los Angeles Times.

A simple model of Kawhi Leonard’s indecision

As a free agent, he is being courted by his current team, the Toronto Raptors, as well as the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers (now the team of LeBron James). And the internet is making jokes about him taking so much time for the decision.  In Toronto, helicopters are following him around.

Due to the salary cap and related regulations, there is no uncertainty about how much money each team can offer.  The offer that can vary the most in overall quality, however, is the one from the Los Angeles Lakers.  For instance, if Kawhi is playing in Los Angeles with LeBron James, he might receive more endorsements and movie contracts (or not).  If he is waiting on the decision at all, that is a sign he is at least sampling the Laker option, and seeing how much extra off-court value it can bring him.  So the existence of some waiting favors the chance he goes to the Lakers.  That said, if he is waiting a long time to see how good the Laker option is, that is a sign the Laker option is not obviously crossing a threshold and thus he might stay with Toronto.

The decline in American infrastructure proficiency

That is the concern of a new paper by Ray Fair, here is the abstract:

This paper examines the history of U.S. infrastructure since 1929 and in the process reports an interesting fact about the U.S. economy. Infrastructure as a percent of GDP began a steady decline around 1970, and the government budget deficit became positive and large at roughly the same time. The infrastructure pattern in other countries does not mirror that in the United States, so the United States appears to be a special case. The overall results suggest that the United States became less future oriented beginning around 1970. This change has persisted. This is the interesting fact. Whether it can be explained is doubtful.

Is it not the rise of interest in spending more money on medical care?