We need more indices

That is the upshot of my latest Bloomberg column, as the Doing Business index, PISA scores, and the Corruption Perceptions Index have been highly influential.  Here are a few of my further requests:

These successes raise a question: Which other indexes might be useful? Think of the suggestions that follow as a kind of Christmas wish list.

How about a loneliness index? David Brooks has argued that America faces a crisis of loneliness, making us unhappy and impoverishing us spiritually. I find these claims plausible, especially since the median U.S. household size has been shrinking. Still, just how bad is this problem? One recent study found that American loneliness has not been rising lately, and that loneliness increases only after people reach their early 70s…

A stress index for Americans another related idea: Just how much do our lives focus our attention on our worries rather than on our joys and hopeful expectations?

There are less emotional concerns as well. How about an infrastructure speed index? I worry about bureaucratization and the slow pace of building important public works. Construction on Manhattan’s Second Avenue subway line, for example, started in 1972, paused, resumed in 2004, and was finally completed (the first phase, anyway) in 2017. In contrast, construction of the core New York City subway system, with 28 stations, began in 1900 and finished in 1904. Similarly, construction of the Empire State Building took only 410 days.

Why do so many U.S. infrastructure projects today take so long? And if the process of improving and reshaping the environment to further human progress is now so much slower, doesn’t it make sense to try to measure this decline for the purpose of eventual improvement? Given the need for a greener energy infrastructure, this is a matter of the utmost urgency.

Speaking of energy infrastructure, how about a severity index for climate change and associated problems?

There are further noteworthy suggestions at the link.  Which indices do you wish for?


Index showing how many indices are out there? "Index of indices hit a record of 526,822 last week, with addition of Bangladesh butter production index, Poodle grooming cost index and Calcutta bad smell index."

An internet comment quality index.

+1, thread winner

"Internet comment quality dropped 37 points last week after news of Trump's impeachment brought out partisan trolls in record numbers on Twitter and Facebook. "

"Researchers predict an uptick in internet comment quality over the holidays as people with lives go home to visit their families and only highly dedicated nerds remain on forums."

Don’t you mean the quality would go down even further?


Depends on the forum.

Reporting the facts ain't trolling. Though seeking to obfuscate the same facts certainly is.

Even if you strictly reported facts, which is a hilariously absurd claim, you’d still be wrong.

If a person stands and screams in the faces of fellow subway passengers the current weather updates, whether the weather updates are factual is the least of the reasons why it’s inappropriate.

Me: The President committed crimes.

You: But you are criticising the President.

It's the most pathetic form of "both sides" possible, but it's all you, or Republicans in the House have got.

Attempting the heckler's veto?

No, sir, that’s the opposite of a heckler’s veto.

This is a grasping for mental health services. You don’t have children or a wife. And you’re past middle age.

Is there anyone you can reach out to? A priest, or a friend...

An isolated middle aged white political extremist without family or a wife is.....a thing.

Please turn yourself in.

Also have to give credit where it’s due.

The sockpuppets are mostly gone, which is a huge win. And anonymous’s obvious derailings are now being deleted at least sometimes.

Latest thread has at least 35 comments deleted due to anonymous/Thiago trolling and deranged heckler’s derailment.

Another few months and we might be able to comment on an academic paper about Bangladeshi educational attainment without 90% of the comments being about Trump.

Hope springs eternal

Even though I spend more time reading and posting here than I should, I don't visit and revisit posts enough to have more than a vague notion that sometimes, some posts get deleted from MR.

So I wasn't aware that a thread had had that many comments deleted, moreover ones that apparently were not of the blindingly-obviously-need-to-delete nature of the spam and worst trolling comments.

So how about an index measuring the quantity or percent of MR comments deleted?

'The sockpuppets are mostly gone'

Well, there seems to be some self proclaimed far right racist insulting 'liberasts' and talking incessantly about subhumans. His comments remain, but I have to say, reading them was hilarious. Obviously, he is from Sovakia, and likely a Hydra member, even if he avoids watching such degenerate movies.

'Another few months and we might be able to comment on an academic paper about Bangladeshi educational attainment'

Well, depends on how devoted far right/white racist John and compatriots remain, at what John calls an 'obscure' blog. It is amusing to see a far right racist ashamed of his mother country, but then, John is not the real name to start with.

Next time he shows up, just ask what country he is from, and enjoy playing with the sap.



Also we need more people that pay for their information, specially researchers, twitterers, etc. and less reliance on the public sector for funding everything.

An Income below cost of living index. A meaningful choices index. A planned obsolescence index.

And to demonstrate the cause :

How about a rent seeking (or rather rents captured) Index ?

- House/real estate price percentage due to zoning restrictions
- Tobin’s Q
- Corporate profit percentage due to copyrights/patents either > 20 years old or trivial (one click purchase??)
- Percentage of local and state government spending that is pensions
- Ratios of income for legally protected professions (doctors, lawyers, etc) to both comparable OECD nations and domestic non protected professions


Immigrant quality index; 1 or 100 can be the baseline level of intelligence, income, job success, crime rates, etc. for the host population, and the index can evaluate any set of actual or potential immigrants relative to that.

Would likely go a long way toward clarifying why Australia, Canada, and Singapore are successful with their policies, and why most of Europe isn't.


I'd also add "ability to assimilate" as a factor which would give points to immigrant groups whose descendents marry outside their culture. I'd also extend your factors to consider the descendents of immigrants up to 3rd generation.

From PISA 2018, comparison of native with 1st and 2nd gen immigrant students. Successful "legal" immigration program has better performing immigrant students than the native. USA is in that category.

ReadNonImm | ReadImm1Gen | ReadImm2Gen | PctImmStu | PctResilient |Country
545.91 | 554.22 | 586.8 | 24.82 | 28.93 | Singapore
524.68 | 507.57 | 535.21 | 34.97 | 26.17 | Canada
503.91 | 500.75 | 522.69 | 27.71 | 29.11 | Australia
510.01 | 478.76 | 511.9 | 23.01 | 24.46 | UnitedStates
510.61 | 487.71 | 492.84 | 19.76 | 20.53 | UnitedKingdom
493.81 | 440.18 | 465.02 | 13.04 | 16.79 | OECDavg
518.9 | 404.55 | 477.31 | 22.17 | 15.95 | Germany
501.62 | 425.16 | 461.32 | 14.29 | 13.39 | France
525.42 | 410.01 | 471.18 | 20.47 | 10.28 | Sweden

Right. Moneyballing immigrants should be a popular past time: which potential immigrants are likely to pay in the most in taxes over what they cost in shared services.

Is this really so crazy? Wouldn't it make sense if there were recruiters/scouts/sponsors/investors who get a share of the taxes that their sponsored immigrants pay, but they would lose money for any sponsored immigrants who commit crimes or use government services? (By degree, of course.) The government could offer sponsors some special incentives to bring in intact families (rather than just the highest-earning member), refugees from warzones, refugees that are already in the US but unsponsored, etc.. Anyone (with money), even the leftest leftists, could be sponsors, and the US would give visas to all who have a sponsor, so nobody could be accused of discrimination: The government would not be making the calls. People mad about kids arrested at the border could just sponsor them and their parents, and they'd become documented US residents. If they do well in the USA they'd eventually even make their sponsors some money! And if they don't, the government would extract money from the sponsors who vouched for them, getting a partial compensation. Big tech firms could sponsor any immigrants they want to hire, and that's extra safe, since these sponsored immigrants would start out with decent jobs. It's an elegant solution to many thorny problems. Anyone who complains that we're not bringing in immigrants of type XYZ would be told: Sponsor them (kickstarter up some upfront money and collateral for liabilities) and problem solved. If the next complaint is: "I won't do that; those people would lose me money!" - that probably won't sway people.

The immigrants themselves should know where they stand quality-wise. From "Capitalism, Alone" (Branko Milanovic 2019):
"Other things being equal, a migrant's decision about where to emigrate will depend on the expected income in one country versus another. In principle, that would favor moving to to richer countries. But we also have to consider the migrants' views about where in the income distribution of the recipient country they might expect to end up. If a migrant expected to be in the lower part of the income distribution, perhaps because of a lack of skills or ambition, then a more egalitarian country with a larger welfare state would be more attractive. A migrant who expected to reach the higher end of a recipient country's income distribution would make the opposite calculation."

Seems so, when you consider that back in the day there was far less concern for worker safety or the environment on big projects (regarding the infrastructure speed index)

When you put up a dam or a skyscraper before, you would hire a bunch of scruffy immigrants and assume some number of them were going to die on the project. And that was normal procedure. Today (for the better) there's far more safety concern, which adds to cost and time.

And there was almost no thought given to ecological impacts. Before you would just say 'build the dam there' or 'put the skyscraper there' and it didn't matter how much noise or pollution or environmental disruption happened, again that was just normal.

So we could go back to the old ways on both of those metrics to speed things up, but I'm not sure that's a good tradeoff today.

Forgot the third thing, projects today are far more technologically complex and advanced, a 2019 skyscraper has a lot more stuff involved in its construction than the Empire State Building did.

But there were far fewer technological means to build the thing.

The delays are not in construction. They are busywork, lots of people, expensive people doing things that are not actually building things. Most of them work at cross purposed to actually building things.

It is working as designed. Someone could have worked their entire life and retired whose job was stopping the construction of the subway. Not a bad gig. Success is making it last till retirement.

What I don't understand is why it is tolerated. A simple measure of horsewhipping someone involved in decisionmaking and management of the project, someone different every day. The projects would move much quicker. Plus provide free entertainment for the masses. A double benefit.

Will you support my building a toxic waste processing facility next to your home?

Read about a tunneling project, I think Crossrails 2, which requires starting the boring in a residential area beyond the end station to get the TBM started down which is requiring hundreds of dump trucks per day on residential streets, which are causing by noise and ground shaking damage to the homes, of mostly low class workers. The government is arguing against compensation based on this being temporary, only a year or so until the boring gets to the industrial area where 90% of the waste will be removed. The construction company is fighting restrictions on the amount of traffic and on limits to the hours of day the trucks operate.

But perhaps you consider the 24×7 truck going by your house carrying toxic waste to be entertainment? Along with the plumes of smelly smoke?

It IS partially safety and environmental concerns, as well as noise restrictions. 5 people died building the Empire State Building. Today any building project with a death is considered a failure, with numerous people being fired or quitting.

Safety considerations and requirements are now half-hearted, fill-in-the-blanks procedures designed by insurance carriers. Construction is still one of the most dangerous ways to make a living, far more dangerous than the celebrated law enforcement.

However, if labor costs are the issue, construction should be dramatically cheaper than it was in days of yore. Advanced equipment and changes in technology have increased per worker productivity fantastically. But, just as in medicine, education, the legal world, etc., "administrative costs" have exploded while the actual number of hands-on workers has plummeted.

A loneliness index already exists:

You could have just googled it.

Yes, I discuss it in the piece!

There are a number of Loneliness scales (Indexes) and they have been used for a long time (in psychology).
As usual, I will recommend scholar.google.com/ncr. Not google.com, but scholar.google.com/ncr. Big difference. (The /ncr is to avoid automatic country redirect).

I will add that there may be a need for a Bullshit Receptivity Scale. In fact, there already is one. It measures the tendency (or willingness) to believe that randomly generated gibberish contains profound philosophical and/or spiritual meanings/insights.

See: On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit, by Pennycook, Cheyne, Barr, Koehler, & Fugelsang, 2015. Find it at scholar-google.com/ncr.

Along the lines of the Brooks suggestion, I'd like to see a "civic engagement" index, based on work by Robert Putnam. In my travels I often wonder whether the people of the country I'm visiting really are members of bowling leagues, chess clubs, choirs, or something similar. Where are they still getting this right?

We can't eat indices.

Great! Great!

I get to write the index and the parameters.

I propose a Bull Feces Index

To go along with the Politifact and/or Pinnochio Index.

Indices agglomerate data, weight data, and produce one number. We have so much data now that we don't need indices; what we need is better graphics and ways to display and analyze data so that the public can view and participate in the analysis.

Well it looks like I have to be the old man here. I think the large majority of such indices are a waste. Top of mind is "feeling" indices. You mentioned a "loneliness" index. What that accomplishes? Yes, people might feel lonely. So what? Are you saying people use that information to better their lives? Or are you proposing some "action" to solve this problem for other people? By whom? How? Why?

This is a bad impulse. The idea that we can measure everything to understand (and solve!) other people's problems is just a fantasy. We already have plenty of indices (and related problems) which are material to our lives: unemployment, stock market, house prices, etc.

Economists have to eat.

I must agree with you here. You are old.

>how about a severity index for climate change and associated problems?

How about no?

How about yes?

That's a compelling argument, but no is clearly the way forward here.

Using your same argument, yes is clearly the way forward here.

Based on the huge amounts of available raw data, a Do-Gooders Doing Damage (DGDD) index would be expensive and difficult to compile.

A Dick the Butcher Quality Posts (DBQP) index wouldn't require any work at all.

Thats the "MR OK Boomer Index."

Conversely, the index/list of dem/lib accomplishments is exceedingly small.

Point of Information: the Barack Hussein Obama regime adding 96,000 new jobs and 173,000 new food stamp recipients in August 2012 is not a positive.

You're going with that?

Is that your list of accomplishments?

Another fun index would be the GT Index - tracking libs hiding behind children when their untenable positions are exposed. "What About The Children!"

FYI - GT is in honor of world-famous, international truant, and climate nonscientist Greta Thunberg.

I didn't mean to get you so upset.

Dick the Boomer is easily triggered.

Why not go all the way to a 1:1 relationship between indices and reality? Best way to get an accurate picture seems to me.

The map is the territory!

Loneliness? Stress? Now that big data is a thing and people are slowly getting used to post-privacy (50% confidence), how long before someone invents macropsychology.

Or psychohistory

We need fewer indices, but ones that actually measure what they claim to measure and we need to be better about accepting that the map isn't the terrain. The more dimensions we try to capture with benchmarks, the more political the benchmarks become, the more prone to gaming benchmarks policy becomes, and the stupider commentary becomes as people stop trying to assess features that are not the benchmark. The thing you measure becomes the Truth.

Scale back benchmarking to things that lend themselves to measurement and use non mathematical approaches to integrate those measurements with more holistic explanations that compete in the marketplace of ideas.

tl;dr - more things like happiness indices is a terrible idea

Appe-ndex. An index of useless indices.

An economist idiocy index. Wouldn't be flattering for TC though.

Anyone here think 'Shark Lasers' is smarter than Tyler Cowen?

Tyler, I blame you!

During the Conversation with Tyler with Daron Acemoglu about the "economic, social, and political trajectories of nations", there was zero mention of the Index of Economic Freedom.

Citizens of countries ranked as “free” or “mostly free” on the index enjoy incomes that are more than double the global average and more than six times higher than those in “repressed” economies. Seems to me that is probably more important to most people than who is in power.

Index stress index

This index tells us when too many of the other indices overlap and interfere.

I read a claim a long time ago that your mile time, running, was the best measure of your health and likely longevity. Not everyone would be willing to run. But if I could dream, I'd like to know how the American population has slowed over time.

Any stress index would need to differentiate between eustress and distress. "Stress" is not always bad. For example, exercise is stress; the part that builds strength is the body repairing the damage exercise causes, and anything that causes damage is necessarily stress. No one would say that's a bad thing, though.

Unfortunately, this is not universal. Put two different people under the same stress and one may consider it eustress and one distress. Even for an individual the same stresser can be considered eustressful or distressful depending on a variety of factors, including mood.

Before someone goes off about how enlightened Bhutan's concept of "Gross National Happiness" is, let's just be clear that this is from a government engaged in ethnic cleansing.

How about a stop to all federal data, save for one monetary index and one real index? Then people could concentrate on their lives and forget about others' distractions. :-)

It's worth noting that there's a (not-so-fine) line between "influential" and "useful," a fact demonstrated sometimes demonstrated by the Corruption Perception Index (see here https://globalanticorruptionblog.com/2019/01/29/a-reminder-year-to-year-cpi-comparisons-for-individual-countries-are-meaningless-misleading-and-should-be-avoided).

And it goes without saying that we ought to be extra careful about the influential-but-not-so-useful indices because of the perverse incentives (for, e.g., politicians, etc.) they tend to generate.

We did it!!! Now we can GET BREXIT DONE!

PISA 2018 Country Top 5% Smart Fraction Average Math Scores:

Rank |Math95| Country
10 | 661 | Canada
15 | 651 | UnitedKingdom
17 | 650 | Germany
36 | 629 | UnitedStates

Histogram: https://i.ibb.co/tPjTcw9/histusacan.png

Demographics Adj Scores: https://i.ibb.co/2WKCBNZ/demogusacan.png

18 | 647 | Sweden

"Feelings, nothing more than feelings . . . ." Has economics come down to "feelings, nothing more than feelings"? I get the feeling that economists have lost their way. Repeated tax cuts for the wealthy have not worked, so the problem is the feelings of the demimonde? How ridiculous. Cowen, step up your game. Brooks can get away with such nonsense, but you can't.

A post-housing cost living standard index?

People in Hong Kong are listed as having high per capita GDP PPP.

Then, their income is consumed by housing costs.

This problem is becoming widespread throughout the world, as job markets urbanize but housing supplies become sticky.

TDS index in the MSM or at least an entry in the DSM.

Political Divide Index. I would like to see how it changes over time.

Non-partisan Political Fact Index
How about a Political fact check index which is scored by how well each side thinks the site made their case. With obvious significant penalties for being caught rating one side better than the other for similar behavior.

Elon Musk created the TBM speed index: how much faster can a tunnel be bored than Gary the Snail.

Also, how little land is needed to generate 100% of the energy used in the US from the Sun, about 100x100 kilometers square, an almost insignificant amount of land in the US.

EDA returns index. The goal is to help taxpayers and governments understand the returns on dollars spent by economic development authorities per location.

Lifestyle inflammatory index. Does lifestyle play a role in the regulation of inflammation which is associated with a number of chronic conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Does time spent on social media increase inflammation risk? See Diet Inflammatory Index at http://bit.ly/35gHdXO.

How about a Regulatory Utility Index that rates the cost benefit of (it would have to be a sample) of regulations each year>
The suggested climate severity index would be the difference between the cost benefit analysis with and without the optimal carbon tax.
Internationally, a monetary/time cost of banking, transferring money domestically and internationally would be useful.
The WB Doing business index which is centered on urban industry and commerce need to be supplemented with a rural index that has things like land transfer, access to commercial agricultural inputs, and electricity, water pricing, etc.

Bring back the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

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