Work on these things

Here are some projects I’d like to see funded, some through my own ventures, or others through alternative mechanisms. On these issues, the right person could have an enormous impact, whether through the research side or directly coming up with actionable ideas, including of course creating and building companies.

More studies of super-effective people. Either individually or collectively. If you take the outliers in any domain, what should our intuitions be for understanding the underlying processes determining how many people could have ended up in those positions? How many people had the right genes but had the wrong upbringing? How many people had the right genes and the right upbringing but the wrong luck, or perhaps society failed them in some other manner? The answers to these questions have significant policy implications.

A comprehensive analysis and critique of the NIH and NSF. The US funds more science research than any other country — about $35 billion per year on the NIH and $8 billion per year on the NSF. How exactly do these institutions work? How have they changed over time and have these changes been for good or bad? Based on what we now know, how might we better structure the NIH and NSF? What experiments should we run or what kind of studies should we perform?

Why is life expectancy so long in Hong Kong? Life expectancy in Hong Kong is 84.23 years, more than five years longer than the US and the highest in the world. Hong Kong is not that wealthy (median household income is $38,000 USD); it’s somewhat polluted; people don’t obviously eat what seems like a healthy diet; and they don’t seem to exercise a great deal. What should we learn from this?

Bloomberg Terminal for everything. This might be a nonprofit, a company, or a government project. To state the obvious, many analyses hinge on having the right data. If you’re in finance, getting the right data is often easy: just pull it up on your Bloomberg terminal. But there is no practical way to ask “what most correlates with life expectancy in Hong Kong?” (See above on that topic.) Figure out a way to build a growing corpus of structured data across the broadest variety of domains.

A comprehensive guide to the American healthcare system. The American healthcare system is by far the world’s biggest and also by a considerable margin the world’s most influential. Yet there is no comprehensive, dispassionate, and analytical disaggregation of how it all works. Who are the actors and what are their incentives? To the degree that the relationships between different entities are in equilibrium, what are the forces ensuring they stay there? What is the Sankey diagram of fund flows within the U.S. healthcare system?

Better answers for how to quantify worker productivity. In most knowledge industries, companies have nothing better than highly subjective measures (i.e., supervisors’ assessments) of worker productivity. In theory, it seems significant improvements should be possible. In the short term, is it possible to measure the productivity or efficacy of individual managers, software engineers, educators, scientists? How about teams, and what size of team? And can we do so without creating Goodhart’s Law problems?

What should Widodo do? Indonesia is a large, populous middle-income country. It faces no major near-term security threats. It has a small manufacturing base and no major non-commodity export sectors. What is the best non-bureaucratic 10 page economic development briefing document and set of prescriptions that one could write for Indonesia’s president? For Indonesia, substitute Philippines, Chile, or Morocco. 

A comparative study of foundations and their efficacy. Philanthropic foundations are behind a lot of important work. But how does a foundation decide what it wants and how the resulting grants should be structured? How effective are the programs of that foundation? In practice, how have its institutional mechanisms evolved? Imagine some kind of resource that answered these questions for the major American foundations.

Institutional critiques. More broadly, there is no discipline of institutional criticism. There is a very rich literature of policy criticism in economics, journalism, and non-fiction books. There is also a rich literature of “corporate criticism”: there are thousands of articles about how Facebook (budget: $20 billion) works and how it might be good or bad. But there is relatively little analysis of the most important institutions in our society: government departments. How is the Department of Agriculture (budget: $150 billion) organized and how effective or not is it? How about the Department of Energy (budget: $32 billion)? And why are not those questions paramount in the minds of policymakers?

Cultures of excellence. If you ask informed Filipinos why the street food is mediocre, they will tell you that Philippines lacks a “culture of excellence”. It seems that some kind of “culture of doing things really well” has very persistent and generalizable effects. South Korea and Japan have developed much more rapidly than many Asian countries, despite many others adopting relatively free “Washington Consensus”-style trade policies. Russia still has higher GDP per capita than Mexico despite Mexico’s economic policies having been much better than Russia’s for many, many decades at this point. How should we think about cultures of excellence?

Regeneration at the government layer. Herbert Kaufman (unsurprisingly) concludes in an empirical study that government organizations don’t die. While we might all agree that this is a problem, actionable solutions are in short supply. What can or should we do about this?

IQ paradox. Ron Unz points out that intergenerational variation of IQ may be much higher than is often assumed, citing Ireland and Croatia as examples. For instance, not long ago Ireland had sub-par measured IQ and now that figure is much higher, following growth and prosperity. The policy implications of IQ disparities across nations may therefore be different to what might otherwise obviously follow: perhaps environment matters much more than is assumed. If so, what should we be doing more or less of?

Credible plans for new top-tier universities. 7 of the best 25 universities in the world (Times ranking) were started in the US between 1861 and 1891 by ambitious reformers. It’s probably harder in many ways to start an impactful new university today… but it’s likely not impossible and the returns to doing so successfully might be very high. What might be a good plan? Why have so few of these plans come to fruition? 

Summaries of the state of knowledge in different fields. As a general matter, a lot of oral knowledge in the world is still not readily available, and reflection on this fact might lead one in many interesting directions. One obvious application is helping people more readily understand the present state of affairs in different domains. If I want to know “how we’re doing” in, say, antiviral drug development, I could spend a few hours hunting for top researchers, email a few, and perhaps get on calls to obtain their candid assessments. Are we making good progress? What are the most important open problems? What’s holding things back? And so on. How can we make all of this knowledge publicly available across all fields?

Mechanisms for better matching. One of the single interventions that could do the most to improve global welfare would be to improve the efficiency of the partner/marriage matching ecosystem. Online dating demonstrates that significant change (and maybe even improvement?) is possible, with some figures suggesting that up to two thirds of relationships in the US may now be initiated through online dating services. Accomplished people often seem to struggle with this challenge. Good solutions would be important.

What should Durkan do? Jenny Durkan is the current mayor of Seattle. As cities become more important loci of economic activity in the world, the importance of effective city governance will increase. As with the Widodo challenge, what is the best 10 page briefing document and set of prescriptions that one could write for her? What about Baltimore and St. Louis?


Hong Kong life expectancy: Hong Kong is a city with no rural area. If you look at the life expectancy of just Sydney, leaving out the rest of Australia you get 86.7 years instead of 82.5. It's no secret that life expectancy in cities is generally longer, especially if they are well to do ones that don't make their money from accident prone industries.

Solid comment, +5 internet points

It is a quirk of statistics or more correctly a quirk in interpreting statistics. Usually this error is intentional to further a political or personal agenda. In fact if you only look at Americans of European descent we have one of the highest life expectancies. But the other 45% of the population does not and when you average it all together America's total life expectancy is average to above average. Imagine if you will what Hong Kong's average life expectancy would be if they were blessed with our diversity (which is our strength).

In Australia we regard all people who live in the United States whether, black, brown, or pink, as Americans. I think it's time you tried doing the same.

Very nice of you but not scientific. The purpose of using statistics to discover problems/anomalies requires that the data sets match. When they do not match and the result appear to indicate a problem and then that fake result is used to push a political narrative THAT is dishonest. So intentionally or not you are supporting that dishonesty.

We actually think of people living in Sydney as or the United States as distinct categories. It's really convenient and I highly recommend it. So convenient it's hard for me to believe you don't use that method yourself. If I asked you how many people were in Cincinnati would you give me a single number or list of racial/ethnic groupings with numbers for each?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: It depends on what underlying problem we are discussing. Health questions should take racial background into account. Our species has regional variations which differ in details such as metabolism.

White Americans don't have one of the highest life expectancies.

I suppose you really believe that and that would be because the political agenda has planted that idea in your head using fake statistics. The intent (one of many agendas) is to give us socialist medical care even if we don't want it. Part of that plan is to float this phony narrative that Americans don't live as long or are obese or have higher rates of diabetes, etc. and of course this is because of our health care or diet or whatever. But in fact, as much as it makes you unhappy, Americans of European descent do have one of the highest life expectancies in the world and even higher than their respective European counterparts. Sorry that makes you so sad.

Surprising. Thought you'd be either ignorant of the statistics or have a better defense tactic, rather than simply declaring that unflattering statistics are falsified by a conspiracy, like some BLMer.

The data actually show that Hispanics in the US have significantly higher life expectancy.

Cities are historically "population sinks" because communicable diseases spread more easily when population density is greater. While communicable diseases are less important as causes of death these days, I'm still skeptical that cities would be generally healthier today. More likely, people moving to cities are upwardly mobile while those left behind in the country aren't and health and economic mobility have common causes (e.g. genes).

Genes are not the reason for health and economic mobility.

Molecules, on the other hand, looks like a lot more promising way to look at things at a deeper level.

Genes are not the reason for health and economic mobility.

If they aren't--at least in substantial part--then evolution stopped at the Neolithic and selects for everything in the human body except the cerebrum.

Interesting question whether what you call evolution stopped at the Neolithic, which is the point that humans started creating tools that extended their abilities far more effectively than waiting for evolution to provide the ability to kill things at a distance or to stay warm using clothing or to cut using something sharper than human nails or teeth.

LOL. Evolution either works or it doesn't. If a trait is advantageous to reproduction, then evolution will select for it.

You're not too far removed from saying the Space Aliens did it.

Evolution is not a plan, and in this sense saying it works or doesn't is meaningless. And whether a trait is advantageous to reproduction is not particularly relevant - unless you wish to point out that species that value grandmothers seem to have more offspring than other comparable related animals. Good luck finding the genetic explanation for that empirical fact, by the way. You can start with explaining the genetic basis for that trait in humans.

You literally think evolution has an Off switch that we flick when we decide we don't need it anymore.

Seriously, just become a Creationist; it's more intellectually coherent.

I don't think evolution has an on or off switch, because evolution is not a machine. It is a seductive explanation that tends to ignore the fact that evolution is simply the workings of random chance in a broader framework. Much as the organisms that could not handle oxygen in the atmosphere simply were unlucky that other organisms generated oxygen. Organisms that still survive, though not over the entire planet, billions of years later.

And I notice you did not explain how the reproductive advantage of having grandmothers around is genetically based. though the empirical reality is considered well established in primate studies.

Yet the grandmother example is simply proof if a trait is advantageous to reproduction. Good luck on providing an explanation rooted in genes.

Lots of animals do fine without grandparents around, jaguars for example. It's not like the jaguars took a vote on it; they're just not wired for packs. Of course, things can change. Cheetahs may evolve into more extended-family pack behavior.

We are finding more genetic clusters associated with traits. The blank slate-ists are not going to like the future.

Evolution takes far longer to 'work' than A-G thinks. And it doesn't work the same on tool-using humans as it does on unthinking creatures. Animals and plants, without any thought or will in the matter, spend their lives consuming and reproducing. They don't think about any of it, it just happens. Traits that enable them to reproduce more than their kin will become more prevalent in the species over a very long time.

Humans decide if they want to reproduce. And there is now tech to prevent it, and birth rates are plummeting accordingly. That's not evolution. Evolution is not why humans move to cities or invent things. Humans have short circuited Darwinian evolution, with their sentience.

An example of what I mean: from an evolutionary standpoint, humans like Tom Brady and Bill Gates and George Clooney have the fitness to create hundreds of offspring. But they have 2-3 kids each. If they were the animal versions of themselves they would have impregnated hundreds of females. Their genes would spread through the species.

But they are humans, with volition. 'Evolution' doesn't apply here. Even the fittest humans have only a few kids each if that. Those genes that confer fitness on the 'best' humans don't propagate like they do in the animal kingdom.

Humans have short circuited Darwinian evolution, with their sentience ... But they are humans, with volition. 'Evolution' doesn't apply here.

Probably the most breathtakingly ignorant bit of hubris I've ever seen on MR.

Human evolution is ongoing, it does not stop at the jawline, and Bill Gates can no more declare evolution over than can William Jennings Bryan.

But it's not your fault, you haven't evolved sufficiently. You didn't even rebut the argument.

Hilarious how it's now the cognitive elite scoffing at evolution and declaring themselves higher creatures of pure will.

Revealed preferences: tell your daughter you don't care who she marries or who the sperm donor is because genes are randomly distributed with each birth.

Fully 25% or more of the population never reproduces at all. The fact that people may "choose" to reproduce less than they could have is just another example of natural selection. Whatever is causing the reduced levels of reproduction (i.e. personality) is selected against.

Clearly you don't understand Darwin's theory of evolution.

As it happens, human evolution has sped up since then.

In medieval times, yes. In developed modern countries, the typical dense urban lifestyle tends to be healthier than the suburban or rural lifestyle with both more daily physical activity such as walking and bicycling and easier access to health services.

That's interesting. fwiw, doctor friends surprised me by saying the wouldn't retire to (in my mind) a pretty civilized place because "their emergency hospital is X, the cardiac unit is no good."

It wouldn't surprise me if good urban hospitals (and of course fast EMT response) make a difference in those last few years.

People who live in cities are on average wealthier than their rural cousins, and they have better access to healthcare. That probably explains Hong Kong, unless there's data from other countries that show there's no advantage to city living. In other words, urbanization makes the pension problems more acute as people live longer past their productive years, and their past increased urban productivity does not make up for it.

"Investigators reported that people who reside in rural areas lived an average of 6 years longer than city dwellers, nonsmokers lived 3 years longer than smokers, and those who exercised a lot lived 15 years longer than those who exercised only a little."

"Asian Americans have sustained extraordinary advantage over the nearest groups, the northland low-income white rural populations (America 2; 5.9 y higher life expectancy for males and 5.6 y for females in 2001; 5.5 and 7.3 y, "

Correctly, cities are patchy when it comes to life expectancy, but in some aspects positives may outrun negatives.

In London, many boroughs are worse than rural English areas they are richer than. Others are not. But the ones that are above national average probably are not when you adjust for advantages on access to healthcare from density (to say more explicitly, city "lifestyle advantages" seems unlikely to me).

For ex, Crikey, Glasgow lowest LE in Scotland. Not consistent with simple city advantage model.

Crikey! Would you like a deep fried snickers? Not at all surprised Glasgow is doing poorly on life expectancy. One reason I was told was because a hyperactive immune system was a plus in surviving in industrializing Glasgow and accounts for the current high rates of autoimmune disease.

The main point is that you need to look across cities at whether what you discuss is a real effect before generalising.

That's probably why the sentence, "It's no secret that life expectancy in cities is generally longer," had the word "generally" in it.

My question here is, how many of those "additional" years are healthy years. Are those additional years spent in hospital or not..

Virtually all of these well taken questions can be answered with: More competition! :-)

Writing from Hong Kong, I would suggest a few points. But first, the fact that HK sits along Macau, Singapore and Japan at the top of the list indicates a more general trend - wealthy East Asian countries (in SG's case, ethnically East Asian majority population) have long life spans. It's likely that shared traits are at play, rather than some unique HK factor.

2) Low sugar consumption - notably lower than the US and much of the Western world. Culturally this shows up in the form of much less sweet desserts, small dessert portion sizes, low soda consumption, etc.

3) Family-centric elderly care - this doesn't apply as much to Japan as it does to the Chinese societies, but a large proportion of the elderly in HK live with their children/grandchildren, or are otherwise in close and frequent contact with them. I don't know exactly how this would improve average lifespans, but it seems that mental health would improve, younger family members might be more likely to spot health issues and push for treatment, they might get out of the house more, etc.

4) Essentially purely urban population. More walking, less driving. Closer to quality healthcare facilities/professionals. The small 90%+ urban European countries are at the top of the lifespan list as well, e.g. Iceland and Monaco.

5) High seafood consumption. As a general dietary trend, it's worth noting, though I don't think the research on the health effects of eating seafood/fish oil/whatever are very clear at this point so it may just be a random correlation.

6) Genetics. Maybe East Asians are just genetically blessed in ways that Europeans are not.

HK people may not formerly "exercise" but they do walk a lot between places and up and down stairs. They go for long weekend walks and have to walk to train stations. Car ownership is quite low with few people owning a garage or parking spot. Even quite old people walk to shop. They like to eat fresh food and go shopping several times a week. When you walk to shop you can't carry too much so you tend to shop more frequently and that means walking. They do like to think that they are eating "fresh food". I suspect, but don't know for sure that ownership of large refrigerators may be relatively low because they have such small living quarters. Many people live in very small areas and getting out and walking is a way to avoid feeling hemmed in. It's quite a unique life style for many people. People eat out a lot which also means more walking.

Hong Kong is quite hilly, isn't it?

Flatness, like in the Netherlands, is good for encouraging bike riding, while hills are good for getting walkers to walk more strenuously.

“ According to a Stanford University study recently published in the science journal Nature, Hong Kong people walk an average of 6,880 steps a day, making us the most ambulatory populace out of the 46 territories and countries assessed.”

Another point in HK's favor is that the weather there is usually not too bad, of course the summers are sticky but not as bad say as the US south and there are no cold winters. This has two impacts, first people are still willing to walk outside all year round, and second very cold weather is a lot more deadly than warm weather;

Comedienne Ali Wong talks about how old East Asian women live forever.

I think I've seen an estimate for East Asian women in Fort Lee, NJ having a life expectancy of 90.

"What should Durkan do?"

Bring back the Sonics!

Challenge accepted.

'Super-effective' people - My intuition is more-than-otherwise-acknowledged, the old "there are large amounts of poor geniuses/savants" argument, is correct. If i had to make a prediction. I would say defense-spending in this area will remain pre-eminent. I think modern society makes motivation the greatest barrier to greatness. How can someone compete for peace against a nobel peace-prize winner like Obama? How can Banksy compete against a banana taped to a wall when people just eat it like macaques on the forest floor?

IQ Paradox - what is the role of trauma?

Life expectancy in HK - If I had to give hkers and 'independent economic autonomous zones' citizens credit, i would say they have a better than average argument and a less than ideal situation for success. I know the central committee. I know their resolve and patience. I know they're not sentimental. I know they'll pay the msm not to cover it. I know the the msm will do what they tell them. So once suburban white women stop paying attention do you have a plan? I hope it involves death cause that's how you got them the last time...albeit less pops than Che Guevara.

For all of the above, it will get wieder, not less so.

Sadly I can’t comment on the others but you know the US healthcare system is ridiculed by the rest of the world? Research dollars are high but the funding arrangements are not something even third world countries are trying to emulate and the cost by DRG is incredibly overblown due to wild funding inefficiencies.

Tyler called it the "biggest" and "most influential". He didn't say it was good (on a systemic level). I think he is correct. True, nobody wants to copy the U.S. funding arrangements for healthcare, but it is very influential in other ways.

I think the subtext to this point is understanding it so that the broken aspects can be improved.

It is in no way, shape, or form the most influential. The U.S. is so far behind other health care systems in so many basic areas that only those in a position to compare are able to grasp that reality. A group that is easily ignored when they talk about their experience.

This is an example of an actively maintained illusion within American society, which believes that everywhere else is worse off. Or that the U.S. is number 1 simply by being America.

I have been working in Britain in healthcare research associated with the NHS for nearly 8 years. I stand by my comment.

Yes, on a systemic level the US system is widely ridiculed as broken. Nonetheless, on many more specific issues such as care delivery for a particular disease, there is a lot of looking toward the US and a lot of innovation coming out of the US.

If something is broken on the systemic level, how does it become an influential system?

Maybe this is a debate about semantics?

Not really. TC wrote about the American health care system, not isolated parts of it. The world pretty much looks at the American health care system in bemused horror, even if American medical research is considered as good as anyone else's (if not with the unquestioning awe that most American TV viewers seem to hold).

The system part is that basically all citizens in a country like Japan or Switzerland have access to the fruits of such research as part of their health care system, while for tens of millions of Americans, such research plays essentially zero role in whatever haphazard health care they receive.

One could use an Italian car analogy - there is no question that Ferrari builds some of the finest cars on the planet by many measures. Measures which tend to ignore anything resembling cost or reliability, and which place no value on everyone being able to have their own Ferrari. This in comparison to the boring cars made by Toyota, a company whose fame for making the finest cars to drive is considerably less than Ferrari's.

I think that you are confusing health care insurance (and finance), with the actual delivery of care. As the British researcher said above, it is very common for non-US doctors and researchers to look to the US and how US healthcare providers care for and treat patients. The NHS, as you point out, doesn’t look at the US for how to pay doctors. They do look at how doctors treat trauma patients in the ER. Just as an illustration.

Please note that this is not an endorsement of the US healthcare system.

oh boy i’d like to think that with the amount of money sloshing around and profits made, there’s something being done well somewhere

Indeed, as another foreigner, I would say the doctors and treatment in the US is among the best in the world. But of course there are also some very bad parts. Surprisingly for US liberals the NHS also has some very bad features as well. The biggest problem with the NHS now is that it has replaced the Church Of England as the national religion, so you cannot even mildly criticise it except to ask for more money.

As long as you are in network.

A routine medical screening question that has no application in the NHS.

Of all the legitimate criticisms of the US healthcare system, the fact that sometimes a patient has to go to one medical provider instead of another isn't one of them.

if you frame it that way perhaps, but in the real world, the network system a big source of problems, confusion, and ripoffs.


A big one is in the news lately, with the "secret" rates of emergency docs, radiologists, and anesthesia. It's such a fat scam that it attracted private equity creeps.

Another issue is deciding where an ambulance takes you. Another issue is getting sick out of your region. Another is the ridiculous top line price for the uninsured.

Another is that no one knows what health care actually costs.

Are you truly unaware of all this?

"for tens of millions of Americans, such research plays essentially zero role in whatever haphazard health care they receive."

How so? Low income and elderly people in the U.S. have free healthcare just like Europe etc. Which tens of millions are you referring to?

There is no way the American health care system is the world's most influential, unless it is influence is considered in a negative sense. Because that would be true - no one living in a country with a functioning healthcare system wants their system to ever be like the U.S.

Looking at Hong Kong, it is interesting to see that the idea of 'exercise' is considered distinct from the idea of simply walking. Much like NYC, many people in Hong Kong do not spend a couple of hours a day sitting in a car - instead, they spend several hours a day walking. And another example of why America's health care system is so messed up - Americans do not need to drive to a gym to exercise more, they simply need to live in a way where walking is seem as normal.

And using Russia as an example of a culture of excellence? Only a teetotaller is likely to come up with that idea.

The idea that we need more match making does have the minor problem as what happens when women are no longer considered property, and thus are able to live independently.

We are still waiting to see the German mental health care system work its magic on expatriate Americans living in Germany.

What happened to "prior?" Did Tyler finally get a restraining order against him?

Except if they want timely care of high quality.

If you are told you need a colonoscopy, something not right, how quickly could you get it? If it is less than four months your system wins over the Canadian one.

If you need a hip replacement. Remember what this means; you are in constant pain, you have difficulty walking and exercising. You likely are at an age where regular walking and exercise is critical to your staying alive.

I talked to an orthopedic surgeon from Edmonton. At a time when Alberta was flush with money, the best they could do was 5 months. He worked in the US, and it was either next thursday or wednesday..

The US EMT services are not matched anywhere in effectiveness, speed and availability.

I'd really suggest before tearing your system down you get out a bit more. Don't look at statistics. They don't represent the experience of people.

Not true: there are more countries in the world besides the US, UK, and Canada. In Brazil, for example, we have a private medical care system for the rich where you get anything instantly. It is only in those "free" healthcare systems that you have huge awaiting times because there is not a price system to ration the supply of medical services.

Canada does indeed have longer wait times than the US for elective, non-emergency surgeries.

On the other hand, surgery is free for residents in Canada, whereas in the US a hip replacement will cost $32,000 on average. Even with generous private insurance, you will likely be paying thousands of dollars. You can potentially get a better place in line by paying even more thousands of dollars (there's no way that orthopaedic surgeon offering a next-week hip replacement was affordable) . I reckon the average person would rather wait a few months than pay those prices.

Ergo the American system is only better for those who are wealthy and able to pay out of pocket for shorter wait times.

While we're looking at "the experience of people" I've got about a thousand anecdotes of Americans getting slammed with outrageous medical bills and going into bankruptcy over services that wouldn't cost them a dime out of pocket in Canada.

I have literally never heard of someone paying extra to reduce wait time in the U.S.

Because it never happens.

"Bloomberg Terminal for everything."

A Fox News terminal might show a different set of data to the same questions. It's the kind of world we live in.

Better data, enabling more questions to be answered empirically, would be one antidote to this kind of problem--not perfect, since many people are good at ignoring evidence that disagrees with their worldview. However, right now there is often a complete absence of evidence, and people are filling the gap ideologically.

A lot of conservative/liberal debates are debates over what programs work, in the absence of evidence.

Sadly, facts seem to play no role in American public debates any longer.

Australia, on the hand, is experiencing the sort of conditions where ignoring facts is impossible, regardless of debating points. After all, where there is smoke, there is the largest recorded fire in Australian history.

More Australian civil emergency workers have been mobilized than at any point in history. The main reason this bushfire season is so deadly is it started so early. The window of time in which it is relatively safe to do prescribed burns to reduce the fuel load has been shrinking. Prescribed burns aren't any sort of silver bullet, but they are a fire management tool that has become harder to use thanks to the climate no longer being what it was.

"thanks to the climate no longer being what it was."

Do you really think the Australian climate has changed over the past 60 years?

lol. This is precisely the problem in spades. disagreement about basic facts. pretty much impossible to do public policy when root causes of even major emergencies are not commonly understood.

the poster above is absolutely correct that the war over what to put on the terminal (creationism anyone?) would immediately lead to the development of a competing alternate facts terminal.

Yeah. It's hotter. We know because we had standardized thermometers and temperature reading for longer than that:

Preparing for rant about how the BOM has been faking temperature data to get funding to buy more Stevenson screen boxes in 5... 4... 3... 2...

But only slightly hotter and according to the IPCC, not a likely a reason for much change in fires - change in forestry practices is, at least in the U.S.

Australia is mostly desert and scrub. Without humans, it would be even more desert and scrub. It's kind of silly to think more scrub is burning in Australia because the planet is "hotter." Were there cooling, Arctic rains that used to pass over the outback before colonization?

That being said, cities are hotter than farmland which is hotter than forest and fossil fuels are unlocking carbon which had previously been captured as the Carboniferous era wound down. More humans would seem to result in a warmer planet. But it's way more complex than the mental construct people have of a hotter planet causing arid scrubland to burst into flame.

Actually, what's silly is thinking you can get away with a hand-wave that weak.

You think there's more brush fires in Australia because it's 96 degrees vs. 95 degrees?

Well, under your scenario, yes, it would be logical to expect at least 1% more fires.

However, in fact more, becuase I believe that fire behavior does not increase linearly.

Exactly yes. That's how bushfires work.

{sigh} Yeah, ignore the IPCC and no, that isn't how these fires work.

Its that you, Tony Abbott?

Let's assume all else is equal. A year in which the mean temperature is 23 degrees has less bushfire risk than a year in which the mean temperature is 24.5 degrees.

Do you understand why? I'm asking this question instead of explaining why because I started explaining and it felt like a massive insult to your intelligence.

Or debate even in the presence of evidence. For example, the best study I know shows Head Start has almost no statistically significant benefits, yet there is no agreement to close it down, or even spend the money elsewhere.

Its politically impossible for us to say we privide poor ppl with daycare services, so we overpay for Head Start instead.

'zactly. I propose we hold a fact-based debate about, oh, say, cigarette smoking circa 1980....

Hong Kong life expectancy mystery is just massive pension fraud.

You don't need a comprehensive report on healthcare. Just get them to list prices and watch the market do its job.

Did you follow any of the debates over "surprise billing"? Unless government regulation requires price transparency from providers, they aren't going to tell anyone their prices and there is nothing anyone outside of government can do about it.

Is that the list price before or after deductible? Coinsurance requirement? Out of pocket max? Lifetime benefit max? Covered or not-covered? In network or out?

Which list price do you mean?

The questions you ask show that you have no idea what you are talking about. Those are health insurance things, not healthcare pricing-related.

Back when I was in school, we were taught that what a consumer paid figured into pricing discussions.

There is ample room for innovation in education, but I'm not sure "start a new top tier university" is the right heading for that. Many excellent universities already exist--why one more? And if we need more, can't one of the many existing universities that is striving to enter the top tier fill that need?

Arguably, the university model is overused and overvalued. It's great for research and training people on an academic path. However, many people are getting a four year degree with little discernable benefit. Many others are using it as an extremely inefficient training method. As a software developer, I learned most of my skills on the job. I probably could have been amply prepared with a six month training program, then enter the workforce 3 1/2 years earlier. There is a lot of inefficiency there.

Yes. I think it would be more useful to ask how do we best train a nurse, or an electrician. Why does high school take 4 years, or how to increase the 4 year college graduation rate. There is a huge amount of money to be saved.

Emphatic yes here. The time and $ spent on high school (in U.S) yields very little. And the over-valuation of college/university degrees is a corollary.

Maybe a new one could have humanities departments that aren't overrun with identity politics and post-modernist cant. At least for a semester or two, anyway.

Hong Kong isn't anything special. What you should do is look at US demos for life expectancy. Asians here have a life expectancy of 87.1!

Black, Native American and white men are pulling down our numbers.
Blacks from drug related crime, strokes and heart disease, Natives from alcoholism, Whites from drugs, suicide and running into things at high speed.

Since Hong Kongers are well educated, highly social, familial and can't afford or have a place to put cars. This eliminates the main stressors and causes of our early deaths.

You guys are trying to make it way more complicated than it is. Hong Kongers have family and friends, and dont have guns, fast cars, alcohol, cheap beef, and drugs, like we do.

"Hong Kongers have family and friends, and dont have guns, fast cars, alcohol, cheap beef, and drugs, like we do."

So they don't have freedom? Makes Hong Kong sound like China or N.Korea--an open-air concentration camp.

Asian-Americans are not a good comparator for Asians on any dimension because the US only takes the most high-skill, high-education ones.

Chinese helped build the railroads out west. The US has had Asians for 200 years.

And not many Chinese-Americans (a subset of Asian Americans) are descended from them 2020, where we set our tale.

hong kong has highest meat consumption per capita in the world (including beef/pork)

If somebody wants to work on these things, who will pay for the work? These are definitely interesting problems.

85 years of dim sum is what I call a well lived life. No more, no less. Flipping the bird to Beijing is similarly priceless.


The "fast" link a few posts below should be an item on this list.

What is the recipe for success to successfully deliver a project extremely quickly, and how can we improve (in an area where we seem to have regressed hugely)?

IQ: Unz's article is terrible. It's full of irresponsible speculations based on tiny tested samples. One excerpt:

"For example, one might speculate that the smarter Irish immigrated to America, while their dimmer relatives remained at home, and the same was also true for the smarter Southern Italians, Greeks, or other Balkan Europeans. Similarly, perhaps the smarter European Jews crossed the oceans to New York Harbor in the years before World War I, while their dimmer relatives stayed behind and later moved to Israel after World War II."

Ireland tested 3,500 kids in 1979. Israel tested 1,700 kids in 1989. Only a dimwit uses weak data like this to advance such bold speculations.

If you're saying that the data are "weak" because of the "tiny tested samples", you have an unnecessarily high standard of strength. With IQ having a standard deviation of 15, a sample size of 1,700 gives us a sqrt(N) of about 40 and thus the 95% confidence intervals around the mean would be about 0.8 points of IQ. (And 0.5 for the Irish sample.)

Of the various reasons why estimates of the mean might be inaccurate, tiny sample size is pretty far down the list. Pretty much any of the criticisms of IQ are going to be more consequential than a plus-or-minus of 0.8 points.

Which isn't to say that we should believe Unz's argument. Because there are indeed plenty of critiques that we could give, starting with whether IQ is a useful or valid measure, and how representative those Irish and Israeli samples were.

But we don't know that the samples were unrepresentative. We do know that 1,700 is a decent-sized sample, unless the variable in question has a large standard deviation, or we have needs for high precision.

"how representative those Irish and Israeli samples were": that is almost always the nub of the matter in Social Science research.

Correct. So critiques of Unz should criticize or question him for the right reasons. So-called "tiny tested samples" is a very weak reason for criticizing Unz.

They are probably not representative samples, and there are some pretty large within country swings in the table that Utz presents.

Did you stop reading right there? He goes on to cast doubt on his own speculation.

Reasonable Ron Unz of 2012, how we miss thee.

Korea didn't have a culture of excellence until very recently (assuming it does now). It had a culture of "good enough to get by." Or "no more than necessary."
Japan had the same "culture of good enough" but also had numerous sub-cultures of excellence. It had both.
Korea followed Japan's example. Japan previously followed the examples of what Japan thought were the "advanced, powerful, wealthy, civilized" countries. Korea and Japan had a lot of similarities. SE Asian countries, not so much.
When it pays to be excellent and you know how to be excellent, and you have the wherewithal to put your knowledge into practice, then there will be a culture of excellence. If you are not rewarded for offering excellence and you don't know how to be excellent, or can't be all that you can be, then there won't be a culture of excellence.
Plenty of less than excellent aspects of America waiting to be made more excellent.

This is a good point. Perhaps it explains one interesting paradox: Japan's former colonies of Korea and Taiwan seem to be doing quite well (obviously excluding North Korea, due to communism and US sanctions), much better than say the American colony in the Philippines. Even though at the time, America was a wealthier and arguably more benevolent colonial master than Japan.

Yes, but Korea and Taiwan had the Japanese education system.

Japan and South Korea kind of did better as American "colonies" than before that (certainly Korea).

Half jokingly: this generation if HK pensioners literally swam across the Shenzhen bay to get from mainland China to HK.

"Why is life expectancy so long in Hong Kong? Life expectancy in Hong Kong is 84.23 years, more than five years longer than the US and the highest in the world. Hong Kong is not that wealthy (median household income is $38,000 USD); it’s somewhat polluted; people don’t obviously eat what seems like a healthy diet; and they don’t seem to exercise a great deal. What should we learn from this?"

The prevailing idea is - and various commenters demonstrate it - find out their lifestyle and copy it. Back in the day, I remember being told that the Japanese eat lots of fish and have a very long life expectancy. So eat lots of fish.

Study genetics. That’s what we should be doing. And are doing.

It’s a reasonable hypothesis that the genetics of E. Asians gives them a higher life expectancy.

We have been studying genetics for quite awhile now, and it hasn't borne nearly the fruit that people were expecting it to 20 years ago (across a variety of disciplines).

Hong Kong, in any case, isn't home to a distinctive genetic group. It's nearly all Han Chinese. China's life expectancy of 76.25 years does not really outperform middle income countries in many other parts of the world. It may still be that Chinese genetics help them live longer, but there isn't obvious evidence to point to that supports this.

Right, and Taiwan (the other Han Chinese country) has about the same life expectancy as the US, and lower than many other developed countries. I don't really buy the East Asian genetics argument--it could matter a bit on the margin, but lifestyle probably matters way more.

"Comparative study of foundations"

Have a look at - this gives an interesting take on the efficiency and effectiveness of donations to organizations.

Additionally: the US arguably suffers from a profusion of philanthropies, to judge by the funding credits from public broadcast productions.

With their laudatory but distinct aims, perhaps philanthropy managers are not concerned with administrative overlap: nevertheless, why is there NO known consolidation among philanthropies dedicated to generally the same issues? (governance, education, health, for three)

Philanthropy administration costs (while ostensibly consuming something less than five or ten percent of available funds or donations) amount to how much (cumulatively) on an annual basis in the US?

How much embezzlement occurs at US philanthropies on an annual basis?

The range of foundations reflects the range of interests and personalities of their founders. Plus some tax law consequences.

I worry less about embezzlement of the illegal sort. And more about deliberate miss-use of foundations by the wealthy as shelter to avoid employment taxes, to launder campaign contributions, to operate as political lobbies, to hide personal wealth behind churches, and to perpetuate marketing fee schemes. Not to mention the role they play in laundering baksheesh for legal and illegal college admissions.

Here's one example: Jeffry Epstein gets a favor at Harvard from Summers; coincidentally, Epstein makes a donation to Summer's wife's nonprofit; that nonprofit pays her a salary. Totally legal.

The tens of millions flying around between Wexner and Epstein foundations is a clear red flag of tax fraud. Not to mention both the Clinton and Trump foundations that most certainly exist for, or at least exploited for shady purposes.

Philanthropist: a misanthrope with disposable wealth or discretionary income.

.. and with a no-good son-in-law that needs a job.

That said, there are many well run and transparent foundations doing very important work.

Related to IQ, height has changed a fair amount, such as in the Netherlands, South Korea, and perhaps in Northern India (or at least among the Indian diaspora). In South Korea, both height and IQ appear to have risen substantially. On the other hand, I'm not aware that the Dutch have necessarily gotten smarter than their neighbors even while they've gotten taller.

My impression is that there has been more change in average heights around the world in recent decades than hereditarians might have expected.

On the other hand, the Japanese remain relatively short despite being pretty prosperous for the last 50 or 60 years. The Balkan peoples remain tall and robust (and recently highly successful in sports) despite not being very prosperous relative to other Europeans.

Average protein intake in Japan is considerably less than the average for developed nations. While the average intake in grams doesn't look too bad, the balance of amino acids is poor.

When meeting Japanese Americans it's easy to see if they ate a traditional diet when growing up just by looking at their limb lengths.

"When meeting Japanese Americans it's easy to see if they ate a traditional diet when growing up just by looking at their limb lengths."

lol what?

It's easiest to see the difference across generations. Especially in places like rural China. There is often a lot of difference between young adult children and their parents and grandparents. Not only are the young larger overall, their limb lengths to height ratios differ. It really stands out to me, possibly because in Asia in particular I find it hard to tell people apart by their faces and need a way to tell who is who.

"the Japanese remain relatively short despite being pretty prosperous for the last 50 or 60 years."

From 1963 to 1993, Japanese height for men increased 4 inches and for women, 3 inches.


S. Korea...5' 9.0"
Canada....5' 8.5"
France......5' 8.5"
Taiwan.....5' 7.5"
Japan........5' 7.4"
H.K...........5' 7.0"
Spain.......5' 7.0"


Japan has been a first world country for a generation longer than South Korea and is now 1.6" shorter than SK. And Koreans are probably the most genetically related people to Japanese.

There are a number of conundrums in terms of coming up with nature and nurture explanations for national average height. It's a pretty complicated subject.

The unexpected outcomes in average height should induce some degree of humility in people who want to speculate about the future course of average IQs.

Russia vs. Mexico: Both countries strike me as having cultures that are haphazard about safety. Neither one has much of a Japanese or Swiss or even Italian culture of excellence about most things.

Russia, though, has a culture of occasionally coming up with amazing organizational achievements (e.g., their space program and Tyler recently mentioned the dynamo who organized the Soviet natural gas system), while Mexico does not.

Russia produces geniuses on a regular basis, and when things go right these people lead a clutch of talented people and great things happen. But Russia seems to fail at keeping the greatness going after the man in the middle dies. So that's another item for the list: How do you make sure Kodak outlives George Eastman?

Russia has likely the most isolated geography in the world. Comparable or worse to Argentina. Canada or Mexico border with the world number one. Also it's culture is not very exportable, which sets back it's services industry. A lot of unjustified blame for Putin and russian institutions, truth is that it's not easy.

I have the vague sense that one cause of Mexican mediocrity is a not irrational anti-Americanism. Perhaps Mexicans assume that if there roads were safer and their police more effectual, then Mexico (which is a pretty wonderful piece of real estate) would fill up with American retirees and the like. By keeping Mexico kind of dilapidated and underperforming, they keep Mexico from being swamped by gringos.

Mexico now ranks as one of the most complex economies in the world nowadays

Once Mexico gets rid of the drug lords, and deals with the infrastructure problems, then I expect rapid ascent in that country

Mexico has organizational achievements of its own tho. Starting with a master plan, It created from nothing a system of beach resort towns, opening a new one every few years.

That is true. I recall reading an article in Sports Illustrated in the 1970s about how some of Mexico's best and brightest work for the government ministry that selected and developed coastal resort towns. They did a fine job creating two or three new resorts per decade for at least several decades.

I can't believe that you didn't mention the periodic chart. Very organized.

'Credible plans for new top-tier universities'

Why not search for entirely new and novel forms of education? The K-12 primary, secondary and tertiary liberal arts education is the tried and true path for most but does this mean that it's the most effective?
As Dan11111 pointed out, he feels that his university education did not prepare him for his specific career path. Testing intesnive and immersive training such as the so-called Boot Camps would be a good start to see how much better their outcomes are for workplace readiness. Could not the costs of higher education be reduced if we focused more on specific training rather than the well-rounded education? Allow the latter to come once financial stability takes hold?

Education has been captured by the State. It will never innovate because it can't; it's prime directive is to employ educators.

Health care: I recall during the debates over Obamacare many opponents argued that America needs less health care not more. Did the opponents mean we need less health care or did they mean that we need to spend less on health care? I recall a similar argument with respect to the financial sector following the financial crisis, that the financial sector is too large and should be downsized. In his preceding blog post, Cowen points out that China's economy may be larger than our economy but China's wealth is much smaller. China's health care sector and financial sector are smaller too. Part of the trade negotiations are over China's restrictions on imports of health care (in particular drugs) and on the ability of foreign financial service firms to conduct business in China. A wealthy country like America has an (over)abundance of health care and financial services. Does that imply that we are really good at health care and financial services? If we are, then why reform either sector?

As to Cowen's larger point in his blog post (promoting innovation), if one considers Google and Facebook, two superstar firms, the innovation that made them superstar firms, digital advertising, was largely serendipitous.

I’m trying to parse this.

during the debates over Obamacare many opponents argued that America needs less health care not more

What does healthcare even mean in this context? You’re aggregating 17% of the economy into...what? What does “more healthcare” even refer to?

A wealthy country like America has an (over)abundance of health care and financial services

What does this mean?

if one considers Google and Facebook, two superstar firms, the innovation that made them superstar firms, digital advertising, was largely serendipitous.

That’s not what made them superstar firms. You have it backwards. Because they offered something in high demand, they were able to provide it for free and charge advertisers for the eyeballs.

"Even the leader of a new Harvard University study on longevity was surprised to find that Asian-American women living in Bergen County have the longest life expectancy in the nation, typically reaching age 91."

Cultures of excellence. I think there is better answer found in Joe Studwell's book How Asia Works (2013). Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand did not become Asian tigers because they failed to follow the simple path:

1. Land reform. Create conditions for small farmers to thrive.

2. Use agricultural surpluses to build a manufacturing base that produce exports.

3. Shield export company finances from competition, but not products. Products become competitive when corporations are still too weak to survive in global competition. Successfully developing countries give lip service to free-market principles while actually keeping tight control on financial institutions.

Incidentally this is the same formula that many poor European countries followed. Finland for example.

Came to say exactly this - surprised that I don't hear more about this book to be honest.

People keep ascribing Hong Kong’s longevity to a healthy diet and high seafood consumption. Perhaps more importantly, they have the highest meat consumption in the world as noted by Dr Shawn Baker of The Carnivore Diet.

Bloomberg terminal for everything: data structure + NLP is really hard. Wolfram Alpha has been trying to get this right for a decade and still relies on human agents to mark up data. The results fall somewhere between “neat” and “OK-ish.”

The closed source nature of their tech and tendency to shun standards for their own way of operating seems to bring short term wins at the expense of long term loss for their persistent efforts.

Also Tim Berners-Lee's Linked Data efforts seem relevant here but I'm unaware of any real success stories (yet?).

Super-effective people? Read the Art of the Deal. You can’t get more effective than President Donald J. Trump!

Is that the book with the Forward by Kim Jon-Un or the one autographed by Nancy Pelosi?

What's the last count on the number of people he have appointed who have left the Administration, been exposed for corruption, or both?

Jesus, Bill, take a breath, it was a joke.

Upon further reflection, Rich's comment was a joke.

If anybody, you should know that it's no joke. Have a glass of Chardonnay on me.

If you conduct research, the problem is not the absence of a Bloomberg terminal, but rather how few people are trained today in finding facts or data sources.

Students today search the internet and look for YouTube videos. As long as those sources are at hand, few will search further into other sources of information.

Teach students how to search for data, how to clean up data, how to draw inferences using statistical techniques, etc.

The IQ finding doesn’t seem like such a paradox. Many social science findings have shown that environment matters little within first-world tolerances without extrapolating to a larger variety of environments. So while IQs variations between people within say the United States in 2019 are mostly genetic, IQ differences between different countries and time periods are likely mostly environmental. Indeed, the Flynn Effect has no plausible genetic explanation, instead showing that large enough variations in environment can have enormous impacts on IQ.

The implications of this seem clear—while there is a significant genetic component to IQ such that we can never expect equal productivity out of all individuals, economic development in poor countries and freer migration can create a virtuous cycle of increasing global IQ, which then allows for further development.

The problem is.... are secular rising components of IQ the ones that generate discovery and tech? I like many others suspect they are not.

Another addition is that if IQ follows rather than causes development, then it explains far less about rich/poor country development because the apparent correlations would dissolve as a causal factor (and we'd expect IQ increases to lead to less in tech, science etc). A more secularly shifting IQ is general less developmentally useful one.

"Bloomberg terminal" made me think of a different "big data" idea: a "Google maps" of the human possibility space (GMHPS). with Google maps you input your location and destination, and it shows you one or routes. now imagine a person inputs their profile into GMHPS - for example, 22 years old, 2 years of college lives in a certain small town - and then picks some sort of destination or question - wants to live in Miami or Seattle, or make $100,000/yr, or where are the most job openings within 200 miles - and GMHPS offers possible routes. it would combine social networking like LinkedIn and FB, and employers would want to plug into it to get motivated job seekers, etc. could also have mentors and coaches who help people with their path. an individual can try to do this on their own, but it's far more difficult than it could be. this would be really useful for young people who just don't know what the opportunities are out in the world.

Once data is consolidated on a Bloomberg terminal, expect governments to more easily limit data, or place their own data on it.

Teach people where data resides or can be found, how to clean it up, etc. so you are not dependent on a single source.

Raj Chetty's econ course at Harvard, as well as some new graduate business school courses which rely less on on the canned case study and more on exploratory data analysis are the paths for original thinking and discovery.

IQ reduction.

So did you all hear about the mountain lions? It's not like they are the only critter that eats things grown along the coast.

I bet we are all carrying a higher toxic burden than we want to admit.

It's fortunate coal burning is on the way out, which is by far the largest source of mercury pollution in developed countries. In under developed countries gold mining can be a massive source and a considerable amount of this mercury flows into the oceans and accumulates in marine life.

But I think the other part of the story is that the mercury didn't precipitate/sink as expected (or assumed) so this big bad load may remain biologically relevant for some time.

Oh yeah. Fer sure. It's got a half life of decades in the human body. Apparently 27 years in human brain tissue for elemental mercury, according to wikipedia. So if you are exposed to a little too much mercury, try to wait at least 30 years before doing it again. But it can be hard to avoid exposure. Just eating a lot of fish can give children mercury poisoning.

Finding more on my Bloomberg Terminal for everything..

"The more research I read, the more convinced I am that toxicity—exogenous, endogenous, and toxins of choice—are now the primary causes of most chronic disease in industrialized countries."

Sounds a little out there, but it is via the NIH

Bloomberg Terminal for everything.

We have that. It's the web. Most common queries produce desired charts. But to fill the gap on everything, the long tail charts, will always take the ability to find and plot a "unique" view.

For instance, I suggested at the top of this page that distance from hospital was the HK advantage.

The relationship between distance to hospital and patient mortality in emergencies: an observational study


On the long tail side, post raw data, encourage broad data literacy, and produce more data scientists to work on harder problems.

More studies of super-effective people.

Sadly you need to select for, or encourage, more life dissatisfaction. Some of us might be happy with the beach chair, the Corona, and the sunny day. That ain't super productive.

The rest.

Good and useful questions. People not currently in beach chairs should look into them.

Summaries of states of knowledge: these were once provided by encyclopaedeia, which once could be found decorating library reference room shelves.

Is Wikipedia so inferior to Funk & Wagnalls, World Book, or Encyclopaedia Britannica? --is it so superior to any or all?


The reality is the opposite of what you say: cities are becoming **LESS** important. The defeated local head tax would have cost Amazon a few bucks. But OTOH, city economic policy might be important to the local coffee shop but it's meaningless to Amazon or Microsoft.

For Durkan:

First she should focus on the city and get her nose out of regional issues like the salmon fishery and mining in Alaska.

Second she and the city council should recognize that Amazon and other big tech firms are aggregating revenue from the entire world. What they can extort from Amazon in Seattle won't be applicable other cities that don't have Amazons; i.e., the social taxes Seattle is imposing won't work in Tuscaloosa

Third: The homelessness problems of big cities aren't created *JUST* by big cities. They're also created by regional and state policy that's restricting resource jobs in rural areas and driving more people to cities; by environmental restrictions that restrict/slow construction of both housing and transportation projects.

Could Tyler's sixteen separate summonses find effective coverage and treatment in a single monograph, e. g., an informed treatise on anthropology? (--or, as I might insist, an informed treatise on "human anthropology" [so many fakes out there these days . . .])

Think of it for at least two moments: could a useful guide (less than a hundred pages of text, probably less than fifty to be of any value) be composed (for translation into numerous tongues and formats) that would address the "basic" situation faced by any human being permitted to live on this planet?

Could a "consciousness spectrum" of some eight billion distinct positions and perspectives find a single summary expression? (with sufficient temporal range and application)

Must be substantive and not geared for lowest common denominators, unless we want to remind the bulk of humanity just how stupid our glorious enterprise can be.

"South Korea and Japan have developed much more rapidly than many Asian countries, despite many others adopting relatively free “Washington Consensus”-style trade policies."

Not true. Japan began developing in 1868, it took over a century for it to become a mature economy. South Korea grew a lot from 1950 to 2010 but more slowly than Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Other Asian countries started to develop decades after the 4 Asian tigers.

"Russia still has higher GDP per capita than Mexico despite Mexico’s economic policies having been much better than Russia’s for many, many decades at this point."

Not sure about that. Russia's Ease of Doing Business 2020 score is 78.2, Mexico's is 72.4.

An interesting puzzle is that Mexico has followed better policies than a country like Brazil but has failed to diverge from the rest of Latim America. In fact, I think that Brazil has greatly overperformed relative to the expectation conditioned on its policies: GDP per capita grew 11 fold from 1910 to 2018, by far the fastest long-run growth rate in the Americas, despite being one of the closest, least free, and most bureacratic economies in the world. While Mexico's has underperformed relative to expectation conditioned on its policies since the 1990s.

"Not true. Japan began developing in 1868, it took over a century for it to become a mature economy.

Japan would have reached that somewhat quicker had there not been the Pacific War. By 1970, Japan had almost caught up with the U.K.

Worth some pushback; what in Japan and SKs trajectory is not explained by traditional development models that focus on investment, health, economic freedoms, basic education and literacy, fiscal stability?

Then we can consider a role for "culture of excellence" and Jap/SK institutions (Zaibatsu/MITI/chaebol etc). I'm not sure any of these are necessarily a positive on growth - even as most credibly an advantage on exports, this puts countries at the mercies of the international trade system and reliant on creditors ability to pay leading to growth that is externally limited.

There are too many sinecures that would be challenged here.

Super effective people: Warren has a solution for this problem.

NIH and NSF: What would be interesting is to look at the good work that these organizations produce and study how much of it is in spite of the insitutional structures and rules.

Hong Kong? The easy gains are children surviving. I wonder if there is a mix of current children surviving and the older group being survivors from a time when the weak died. If so we would expect life expectancy to tail off.

Bloomberg terminal: This is the same as Summaries of state of knowledge. The scientific publishing mechanisms are supposed to do this, but obviously aren't. As for raw data, bloomberg charges quite handsomely for that data.

American healthcare. There is no incentive to do this, in fact if someone tried they likely would be Flynn'ed. Look at the reaction to Trump mandating that pricing be disclosed.

Worker productivity: Very difficult to do, because the only people who know anything about the processes are the ones doing it. worth listening to.

Institutional critiques. There is an 11th commandment. Thou Shalt Not Criticise Bureaucrats. Again, a good possibility that you would be Flynn'ed for this. 3/4 of your budget would be legal expenses fighting FOIA request battles. There are stupid people writing right now how the expose of FISA abuses in the FBI are a threat to the institution.

So many of these are about figuring out why something succeeds or fails. Isn't this something terrible like Make America Great Again? Isn't the pinnacle of achievement in academia the length of your grievance list?

#17. Perhaps possibly maybe we could dismantle our entire corrupt and corrupting Media Establishment.

The N. Y. T. tells us this morning that Boeing FIRED its outgoing C. E. O. At the same time CNN reports that Boeing's former CEO RESIGNED. Two leading news outlets, neither telling quite the same tale. (Even the Soviets could distinguish Pravda from Izvestiya: no information in "Truth", no truth in "Information".)

Perhaps one should look to reputable news sources, rather than tabloids.

Haha! Take THAT Fake News York Times! They are totally like a tabloid. Oh man I can't see how they can recover from this sick burn.

Even if you had every bit of this data laid out before you now, it would be impossible to synthesize it into coherent, broadly supported policy. Which is to, the information could have no vector for real world effect. So why do it?

More broadly, there is no discipline of institutional criticism.

Doesn't Public Choice Theory at least partially do what you're describing?

Bloomberg Terminal for everything: Bret Victor's Dynamicland seems to show a lot of promise.

Highly effective. In an interview about the book Outliers on Charlie Rose, Gladwel dropped a comment that I thought was very important: hinting towards the personal cost of being highly effective. My personal observation is that to be highly effective, you usually have to abandon your family, and be an uncompromising bully. That's an anecdotal observation of course.

Gladwel's comment was along the lines of why don't the very bright children follow their successful parents, and he posited that it may have something to do with their front row seats to the consequences.

TC mentions Goodhart's Law and then asks about the "IQ_Paradox". LOL! HK is 92.5% Han Chinese, I doubt there's much to see there. What should our intuitions be for understanding ... anything? Easy! Don't trust intuition. Best universities? as measured by economic impact? as measured by Nobel's (etc.)? As measured by what exactly? As far as I can see, China is doing a damn good job in elevating some of its Universities into World Class competitors. I don't really see how anything other than ego could motivate the expense of establishing an institution of that sort. Yet TC mentions "the returns" as if the university is a manufacturing plant. OTOH, the failure of on-line universities is glaring, and while on-line (formal course) content continues to increase, I'm surprised that TC is following the Ready, Fire!, Aim process when it comes to education. (while simultaneously noting several enormously impactful research areas (effectiveness, productivity, health, excellence, matching (not just sex partners, TC; career matching, too!)) in need of additional attention.

I am dubious that there are not reams of studies and critiques on government institutions. Are are you suggesting that the entire edifice of Libertarianism and anti-government fundamentalism is built without a foundation of rigorous study? lol

Meanwhile, I am even more dubious that the health care system has not been studied to death. You mean to tell me that ACA was passed and Medicare rejected as an option, without anyone knowing how the system actually works?

Ok, actually, I can believe that...

I can remember such studies, but much like MR comments, I can remember arguments that the results don't matter because (insert hobbyhorse).

"Han Chinese" or whatever.

On that Bloomberg Terminal for everything, it's easy enough to ask for, but specifying the requirements, much less designing and building it, that's something else entirely. Mark Andreesen recently had a conversation with Kevin Kelly in which he talked about AI-as-platform, as opposed to AI-as-a-feature. He's betting on AI-as-platform and remarked that Google is as well.

Now, when you search Google you get a ranked list of possibilities. In the future you'll type in a question (or speak it) and you'll simply get THE answer. Sounds like they want to turn the web into a Bloomberg-terminal-for-everything.

Explaining US Healthcare: Peter Attia w/ Marty Makary on Peter's podcast was the best 3 hours I've ever heard on explaining healthcare.

Many of these problems are being tackled by multiple mature and broad disciplines. The first question on super-effective people is tackled by those who study deliberate practice in the psychological literature as well as creativity researchers. Studies of prodigies, gifted children, and biographies of great thinkers and doers fit in here too. There's certainly for work to be done and I'd say if we used that knowledge that we have we could great world-class centers for education, healthcare, and governance. This is why I like the idea of a Bloomberg terminal for everything. Distilling knowledge and ensuring that it is reliable is a worthwhile goal that could help solve the other problems. I'm working on a communication platform for just this kind of thing to scale up scientific research to the people and places that matter.


aye. there's the rub

> How should we think about cultures of excellence?

Probably autism related (Japan, South Korea, and Russia seem more autistic than Latin America).

The legacy ChineseAmericans are mostly the descendants of the early railroad workers and gold miners from the early selected few Chinese open ports in Guandong and they are different from the recent selected Chinese immigrants. The results of the NAEP scores have shown the difference. ChineseAmerican is the major AsianAmerican groups in CA and most of them there are legacy ChineseAmericans. The legacy ChineseAmericans in CA mostly speak Cantonese while those in further east mostly speak Mandarin or Hokkien. Dispite that the Silicon Valley is in CA, the average CA AsianAmerican NAEP score is mediocre compare to the similar groups further east like in MA, NJ and TX. It is statistically significant that the AsianAmerican NAEP scores correlate with the longitudes.

NaepMath = +331.17 +0.245*Longitude; #n=29; Rsq=0.2367; p=0.007451 ** (VSig)

The overall performance of ChineseAmericans is not that stellar. At the "average" ethnic group level they might be overshadowed by the IndianAmericans who are mostly recent selected immigrants. The average sum of percentages of the 6 main AsianAmerican groups is about 89%. Thus with about possible 11% error margin, the rough "expected" estimation of the performance of ChineseAmericans in the NAEP tests, at the 50th percentile level they might be slightly behind that for the IndianAmericans.

IQnaep 50th Percentile, Ethnic Ancestry
123.83 IN
123.78 CN
118.82 KR
109.78 VN
94.14 PH
84.53 JP

However, it seems that at the 75th percentile level, the ChineseAmericans could have catch up with the IndianAmericans,

IQnaep 75th Percentile, Ethnic Ancestry
133.59 CN
131.11 IN
130.66 KR
120.88 VN
105.56 PH
93.62 JP

But at the 95th percentile level, the Korean, though with smaller number than the ChineseAmericans and IndianAmericans, could have surge passes both groups. As I said before, the Chinese are not sending their best to US.

IQnaep 90th Percentile, Ethnic Ancestry
149.03 KR
141.25 CN
136.66 IN
125.22 VN
113.64 PH
100.73 JP

So it might be that at the top 2% level (98th percentile) that KoreanAmericans or ChineseAmericans (they usually have similar set of surnames unless self identified with the specific group) might have overtaken the IndianAmericans, as shown in the number of National Merit Scholar semifinalists and the team memberships in the International Math Olympiads. The seemingly poor performance of the JapaneseAmericans is puzzling. It could be because of the smaller pop number or the internment of the JapaneseAmericans during WW2 might have encouraged the smarter ones to repartirate back to Japan later and detered the smarter ones from later emmigration. It will be interesting to watch the performance of the ChineseAmericans in 13 years time.

Lifespan is statistically correlated with IQ.

LifeExp = +30.55 +0.51*IQdb; #n=184; Rsq=0.6393; p=3.331e-16 *** (VVSig)

The above comment about the longest living Americans are AsianAmerican women from NJ (top NAEP performing AsianAmerican state) rather than from CA (mediocre average NAEP score) just confirms that.
The above LifeExp eqn estimates the average value for AsianAmericans for both genders in NJ to be 89.46 years. Given that women normally live longer, thus the value of 91 is not that surprising. Of cause Harvard researchers often do not belive in IQ. That might be why he was surprised by the results.

Study Confirms Link Between Higher Intelligence And Longer Life Expectancy

We don't yet understand why this is the case, but more than 20 longitudinal studies (studies with data points covering a long period of time) carried out around the world have found similar links.

Perhaps the readers here may find some of the answers here to your questions about Hong Kong life expectancy.

Lewis, M., Macpherson, K. (2013). Health Transitions and the Double Disease Burden in Asia and the Pacific: Histories of Responses to Non-Communicable and Communicable Diseases. Oxon: Routledge.

Lewis, M., Macpherson, K. (2008). Public Health in Asia and the Pacific: Historical and comparative perspectives. London: Routledge.

Re: cultures of excellence, it is worth asking how and why these are related to official cultures more broadly: how often they are part of the official/mainstream culture of a polity or nation, vs defined in rebellion against the official/mainstream culture in their own mythos, even if in practice high status and highly economically successful within that culture.

I think most Anglospheric nerds whose self-conception rests largely on valuing excellence would conceive of themselves in the latter way, i.e. as rebels or as Morlocks to the dominant culture's Eloi. This is an old and internationally persistent subcultural conception, see e.g. Kipling

"They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose;
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their jobs when they damn well choose..."

My guess is that non-Anglospheric (sub)cultures of excellence are much more official/conformist and that this has both notable upsides and downsides wrt the Anglospheric norm that are worth exploring; but I could be wrong.

Bloomberg Terminal for everything: as a tiny step in that direction, the Finnish government has pulled together a set of key statistics on a broad range of social/economic phenomena in a very handy format, calling them "Findicators":

A Comparative Study of the Quality of Govt Spending?
I'm thinking of the effects on general welfare of projects like Eisenhower's interstate highway system with more modern day capital and transfer investments. I suspect such a study would show that the quality has fallen recently, for several reasons -- A more cynical, combative political environment; more of the gains dribbling away to special interests; more stupid ideas getting funded. Such a study would add interesting input into conversations about how much bang for the buck to expect from govt spending.

I'd encourage you to be in touch with Rainer Heufers, who runs the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies in Jakarta. He'd be able to give very helpful insights on a policy document for Indonesia.

It's not quite the Sankey diagram, but here are pie charts of funds flowing in and out of US health care: (h/t:

How about something to with the climate crisis? Perhaps improving battery efficiency, seeking alternatives to rare earth minerals, working on alternatives to fossil fuels. Reducing, reusing, recycling. Taking steps to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Identifying things that are wasteful and polluting now, and innovating new approaches / techniques / products to replace them.

I'd love to see this post updated with something in it that acknowledges we're in a tight spot as a planet, and encourages your readers to do something about it!

Perhaps a reference to Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth and some encouragement to shift our thinking to the new economic model she proposes?

These are very interesting points, but I can't help and wonder with global warming being one of the top existential threats how it does not make your "Work on these things" list?

Isn't the field of organizational behavior all about institutional criticism? They are constantly studying organizations, large and small, and trying to figure out what is effective and what isn't.

Re: super effective peeps we should study how much their effectiveness generalizes. This would require significant cross cultural (and not just modern capitalist) research. To what extent are traits and capacities shared among "super-effective" people in different contexts? We should also look at patterns in what outliers are outliers in and what they aren't. For example, are super effective people much better than average at avoiding common cognitive biases and errors?

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