What should I ask Daron Acemoglu?

There will be a Conversation with him, no associated public event.  So what should I ask him?


I would ask him what he thinks about Fukuyama’s characterization of modern states as having the three characteristics of an effective bureaucracy, rule of law, and some kind of accountability for the powerful to the collective? And to follow it up I would ask if he thinks that you can have those things without elections, with China and Singapore arguably being examples of modern states with effective bureaucracy, rule by law (everyone but the leader of the country basically held to the same legal standards), and accountability via one party rule?

+1. Great question. Those two (Daron and Francis) should have a conversation. Still waiting for Tyler's conversation with Francis.

Instrumental variable regression: what is it, when has it provided you unlooked for and surprising results, and when has it led you astray?

Just read his fascinating book The Narrow Corridor. I could help thinking about the formal model that one could construct to study the various implications. I thought of agent-based vs. DGE model. What was Acemoglu thinking of?

It's well known that women mature faster than men, during the highschool period. This shows up in more women enrolling in colleges than men, and better highschool and college achievement. Should there be a policy prescription to remedy this?

I know that’s a question for Daron, but here’s my take. Women’s development advantage decelerates well before they turn 18 and enroll in college. If women were materially more mature into their late teens and maybe 20’s, then they would have outpaced men long ago. However, the trend of women beating unsuccessful/unmotivated men is a recent one. I think young girls are behaving like first generation immigrants, surrounded by a self-fulfilling mythology which pushes them to greater success. As with immigrants, this group outperformance should quickly fade with each generation.

Successful/smart men are faring better than ever. The real crisis is with men that are at least slightly below average. Exogenous factors like automation and the heightened importance of a *good* education for a good wage are causing young men to just drop out of the race altogether (drop college, settle for a low wage job, live with parents). Believe it or not, video games also have a measurable effect on decreasing motivation among those men as well. Higher value leisure is leading some men to substitute increasingly mediocre work with leisure on the margins.

Prescription: I think more STEM curricula should be introduced earlier in grade school, and students should be allowed to substitute some liberal arts and all foreign language classes with STEM coursework. This would lift up some of the aforementioned boys, and girls for that matter, and prepare them for the jobs of the future. Maybe that guy living with his parents and working at Jiffy Lube would have made websites for a living if we trained him early enough. Furthermore, boys/young men tend to be averse to discipline and structure. They get bored easier than girls. This can be remedied by providing them challenging material in their sub-field of choice. That would entail a hybrid online model where kids do most of their coursework online but complete labs and projects in person. Some classes would still be fully administered in person, for socialization if nothing else. This model would also allow smart students to zip ahead and take more courses, higher level courses, etc... Lastly, the federal government should form public-private partnerships to ensure that high school and college education is supplemented with practical experience at corporations and non-profits. Subsidizing co-ops and internships should increase their supply. The benefits of those subsidies would far, far outweigh the costs. They would lead to greater job prospects for youth and a more skilled workforce.
Note: German-style vocational schooling should also be available, but I think it’s slightly overrated given that we’re becoming even more of a service economy over time.

Nice post; my only qualm would be that I think this crisis exists for above-average men (in terms of cognitive ability and potential) as well as those below-average. Especially if you're from a non-competitive, small town background and weren't inspired at school. From my limited sample of friends (from my industrial backwater hometown), some of whom are top 2-3% in terms of cognitive ability, many have ended up in an uninspiring job by day and gaming/ smoking weed by night. I'm encouraging one of them to move back in with his mum so he can actually save up some money, rather than blowing it all on weed...

"If women were materially more mature into their late teens and maybe 20’s, then they would have outpaced men long ago. However, the trend of women beating unsuccessful/unmotivated men is a recent one. "

Four letter: pill (not only by the direct effect of pregnancy and children over women's careers, but also - perhaps even more important - because now parents have less fear of sending their "precious little princess" to a distant town without supervision).

Miguel: I’m sure the pill helped. However, it’s worth noting that most of the female-male gap in performance after high school is between selected pools of people rather than within them. Women might be marginally more likely to attend a good public university, but once they’re there, I haven’t seen evidence that they outperform their male peers like they do in grade school.

Dzoldzaya: I’ve seen smart men waste their potential as well. Usually they either have some emotional hangup due to a less-than-ideal upbringing, or they were born with a condition that impacts their emotional regulation and self-control. Otherwise, they would get their high SAT score and conclude “yippee, I’m going to turn my life around!” as I assume most poor smart people do. My advice for those men, other than the standard educational and professional stuff is 1. Do CBT 2. Get medication if they need it. Nothing, zip, nada, is preventing them from achieving wealth other than their mental roadblocks.

"Women might be marginally more likely to attend a good public university, but once they’re there, I haven’t seen evidence that they outperform their male peers like they do in grade school."

Restriction of range?


But, thinking more about it, perhaps could be other factor in place - perhaps emotional maturity is less important in college and even in the real world than in the high/grade school? My idea - possibly the type "intelligent but eccentric/immature/etc." ("Gregory House", basically) have more difficulty in school, where you are forced to do many things that you don't like (for example, study subjects that you don't feel curiosity); but in college and in real life is relatively more easy to find a niche where you can do (study, etc.) mainly the things that you like (if you go to a profession and/or academic area that has a big overlapp with "things that you like")

This is sticking in my below average craw. Maybe mental health resources are as worth public investment as anything else, considering they’re expensive & frequently unavailable.

Was the bar just lower for men “back in the day?”

The comparison of modern women to first generation immigrants is both novel and interesting. Hmmm...

Will there be a follow up to Endogenous Production Networks? https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3083542
And what would parts of portfolio of investment in technology look like? Would this consist of a mix of: Pure research (blue skies), tax credits to firms; Infrastructure investment; education or other?
Follow on - what do we know about preferences on humanity to seek the edge of technology and is that drive assessed after the fact as destructive or creative based on morality or outcome?

Why do you think there is such a stark secularism-religiosity dichotomy in the Middle East where one either supports a religious state or an unsavory secular state backed by the military (or the downfall of the other side)? Assad’s genocidal Syria, Sisi’s kleptocratic Egypt, and Turkey in the coup days are examples of the latter. Militant secular regimes are holding the Middle East back just as much if not more than theocracies, and somehow I feel this is an underrated issue.

How many papers of his suffer from weak instruments? Also, should his Holocaust paper really have been accepted by QJE instead of just being published in a economic history field journal? There wasn't really anything novel about the models or analysis. It was just new data that... surprise surprise... showed the Holocaust was bad.

How does Acemoglu morally justify having impeded the career of David Albouy for the accurate criticisms he made of AJR? How does Acemoglu rationalize his having built an entire career on an investment in the parsimony of institutions born of an error-riddled early paper?

In his recent talks, papers, and books he has a lot of stories about state fighting society and society fighting the elite.

He is not very specific with this major for him dichotomy. The "social democratic" bureaucrats become "society" fighting elites and states, university professors, students and professionals are society only if they're leftwing, but if the support Nazis as in Weimar, they are elites and the government.

What exactly is the difference between states and societies? Why is he separating "elites" from "states" and "societies" in haphazardous fashion? Why his elites are almost always bad?

He has a theory about states and societies reinforcing each other in a Red Queen movement in his recent book, but he doesn't present any theory why some societies succeed in this and others fail miserably. Without this, his theory is weird. It sounds like "sometimes overly powerful states/societies don't everything and don't make everyone poor, but I have no idea how it will end if you try to make your state/society more powerful".

We all know that Tyler never asks his guests difficult questions. Softly, softly and nothing deep is the way to go. Plus only get guests that will in general agree with you. I would really like to hear Tyler V Greg Cochran but that's never gunna happen.

listen to the Ross D. and Steve P. talks.

It's called "Conversations with Tyler," not "Interrogations by Tyler." TC explicitly says that he and the guest are replicating a conversation they might have off the air. In general, conversations are diminished, not enhanced, by attack.

There are many prominent Turkish economists. Ask if there is a "Turkish school" of economics. Is there some common characteristic of their research?

All CWT are done 1 on 1, in person.

All conversations are done in person, yes. Some in studio at the Mercatus offices, some where we travel to the guest, some as live shows at Mason or on the road.

I produce CWT--Roman knows only MRU!

I am more than a producer of Conversations. In the three years since you last pasted in my bio, for instance, I also became a father!

When he asks for financial support for the podcasts he advertises them as such.

Also true! https://conversationswithtyler.com/donate/

Great work Jeff! I can honestly claim that the podcasts have enriched my life. :)

Thanks very much!

Ask him about whether the willingness to take risks is important for development; and if the lack of it can doom nations to fail.

In Daron Acemoglu’s and James A. Robinson’ s “Why Nations Fail” 2012, that subject was not covered.

What TV shows does he watch?

Parsimony: over or underrated?

What is his response to this critique of 'Why nations fail?'


The China anomaly is simply due to time lag in development. China is very late to the development game, so it has a massive pool of cheap labor. In an abstract sense, Chinese competitive advantage, currently, is being undeveloped. So what happens once their poor expect higher wages? I believe supply chains will shift to South-Southeast Asia. If China tries to stop this through protracted political bullying, the global market will respond negatively. In the long run, they can’t even hope to get a high GDP-per-capita if they don’t distribute power and become freer.

As for India, it may be a democracy but it is an incredibly fractured country. That’s not just from a governance standpoint, but also language, culture, etc...the country has significant coordination problems of unmatched scale. Only 52% of Indians speak Hindi, India’s most common language.

Language is really an underrated factor in development or lack thereof. For example, Arabic vernacular is spoken-only, and “formal”/Quranic/news reporter Arabic is what’s written. So learning to write is harder, because you can’t simply write what you speak. In many cases, formal Arabic uses entirely different words. No one, not even Arabs, speak of this as a problem, but it is and I think it hinders socioeconomic advancement in many tangible and intangible ways.

Their per capita GDP is already about $19k in terms of purchasing power parity. I have seen adds up in Jiangsu (admittedly a wealthier province) for retail clerk positions starting at 4000 yuan a month. That translates to roughly $580 a month, and can purchase more like $1150 worth of goods and services (going off the PPP adjustment factors I see on Wikipedia, which may be a little bit dated). So that would be an entry level position. That isn’t too far off from what people in the US were making in entry level retail positions 10 years ago, though the Chinese folks will surely be working full time, not part time, and won’t have access to US welfare state benefits, like many of those US entry level retail workers.

Does Islam cause underdevelopment?

He would say no

Please have him expound on his support of the minimum wage.

That would be my suggestion as well. Especially in the light of the Seattle Minimum Wage study: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2992408

An increasing portion of output takes the form of information goods, online services, and efficient corporate and manufacturing management. These have very low marginal costs, and even physical goods may be consumed cheaply and remotely through technologies like 3D printing. Many information and creative industries benefic greatly from real-world network effects and a concentration of practitioners in a local area. Does this imply that we may see more division of labour and specialisation at the global level? A nation for software, a city for VR movies, a town for science fiction writers. A federal republic of accountants. A principality of lawyers.

Don’t we already have that? Hollywood for the film Industry, NYC for corporate mgmt, accountants, lawyers and corporate finance, SF for ad driven IT, Seattle for cloud IT, etc.

Is Islam right about women?

Given the failure of presidential systems who elected people like Trump, all Argentinian presidents, and Lula, what is your take on presidentialism vis parliamentarism?

What do you think about sorting instead of voting for public representatives?

Ask him something about Peter Turchin, since they both have grandiose Theories of History they've developed. Does Turchin's elite overproduction thesis hold any water for him? Does he think these demographic cycles can/do influence the creation of inclusive institutions?

Any new thoughts about this


What causal role do individuals, or more specifically, a group's average, when combined with any number of multiple measurable metrics (IQ, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, etc), have on institutions? Are those things, if not sufficient, at least necessary and not evenly distributed, and therefore very relevant in any attempt to explain and predict the world in way you attempted to do?

Did you put the cart before the horse? Or what happens when Garrett Jones meets Daron Acemoglu?

You speak of those traits as if they are fixed. We are 4x closer in time to when Europeans were living in backwards, feudal, war-ridden, dirty, diseased, zealous, and intellectually staid societies (while Muslims flourished and made critical advances in math and science) than we are to when Egyptians built the Great Pyramids (when Europe was essentially savage compared to Egypt and Sumer). Pro-social traits and higher level cognition scale on a societal level with development. Middle Easterners were comically ahead of Europe, and I don’t believe it’s because of innately superior traits at the individual level. Otherwise, the MENA region would still be on top. Orderly civilization and development is a pre-condition for a step change in your average citizen. Likewise, the downfall of civilization causes individual regression.

Some base level of local and familial advancement precedes aggregation into larger civilizations, so there is a feedback loop, but other factors like environmental endowment also come into play.

Ask him: ask him to list top 3 things developing nations should avoid at all costs and top 3 things they should do to break the vicious circle.

He is quoted in my book "A Crisis Wasted: Obama's Defining Decisions" making interesting comments about how housing should have been managed. Ask him about that.

How can we incentivize middle-income countries to raise human capital spending relative to GDP?

You have Brad DeLong's answer.

1. Is language an (emergent) institution? How much does it matter for reform and development? (I’m thinking of John Searle’s work here)

2. Is he aware of the emerging literature on “entangled political economy” (Richard E. Wagner et. al.)? Thoughts? He hasn’t really implemented that type of systems thinking in his own work yet...

narrow interest, but, ask him an additional version of your 'acemoglu production function' question, about acemoglu-driven technical change in others' production functions. What is his advice for graduate students starting phDs, and for professors looking to do a better job advising their phD students, given increasing time-to-PhD, etc.? He's won multiple best-advisor-in-department prizes & is famous for advising tons of students

Seconded. I'm interested in hearing how he coauthors. Are papers broken down into self-contained modules or tightly integrated?

Go full meta. Ask him what you should ask him.

Ask him how he can be so productive. Seriously. He must be the most productive economist ever in terms of output and quality.

Why not a political Coase Theorem?

I'm curious about his view on the deep roots of modern economic success and how much, if at all, history matters.


How do he and James Robinson collaborate? What is the mix of talking, writing, etc? Three hour walks like Tversky and Kahneman? Do they fear that a change in status for one of them could torpedo the relationship?

I'm rereading his work now and he doesn't really take hte culture/growth arugment head on. Maybe press him on this a bit more.

If institutions are so important, why do we have such variation of success inside them? The Chinese do well no matter where they go. Is it IQ or culture, or what?

In "Why Nations Fail" him and Robinson claim that China's growth is doomed to halt, as it is based on extractive institutions. Ask him, how does he think this prediction has panned out, and whether he continues to make that prediction for the future.

What can be done to help Guatemala (and similar)?
What can be done to help Ferguson?
If he could make one big policy change in the US, what would that be?

KFC, Chik-fil-A, and Popeye's, rank these chicken franchises

1. Obviously, "What is the Daron Acemoglu production function?" In particular: (a) How does he get so much research done -- what does he sacrifice; (b) How does he make use of his wide network of coauthors
2. How is the MIT economics department able to sustain its culture where the faculty are known for providing public goods (strong advising, lots of participation in group decision-making...)

1. Why don't more economists work on growth theory? (a la Stubborn Attachment's clarion call, of course)
2. How would he change the design of economics PhD programs?
3. What are his thoughts on "progress studies"?

1. What does he make of the critique that "institutions" and/or "culture" is just a relabeling of Solow's concept of "productivity" -- i.e.: either way it's just a residual 'measure of our ignorance'

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