Month: January 2020

Daniel Gross on productivity

The longer you think about a task without doing it, the less novel it becomes to do. Writing things in your to-do list and coming back to them later helps you focus, but it comes at the cost: you’ve now converted an interesting idea into work. Since you’ve thought about it a little bit, it’s less interesting to work on.

It’s like chewing on a fresh piece of gum, immediately sticking it somewhere, then trying to convince yourself to rehydrate the dry, bland, task of chewed-up gum. Oh. That thing. Do you really want to go back to that? “We’ve already gone through all the interesting aspects of that problem, and established that there’s only work left”, the mind says.

Stateless Browser

One day someone will make a to-do product that lets you serialize and deserialize flow, like protobuf. Until then, my solution is to (somewhat counter-intuitively) not think about the task until I am ready to fully execute it. I do not unwrap the piece of gum until I’m ready to enjoy it in its entirety. I need to save the fun of thinking to pull myself into flow.

  • I try and respond to emails the moment I open them. If it’s something that requires desktop work, I quickly close the email.
  • I don’t write down ideas for posts until I’m ready to write the entire post.
  • I write down a few bullets of what I need out of a meeting, and then refuse to think about it until the actual event.

There are many more points at the link.  My classic line is simply “I’m not going to focus on that right now.”

Do elections make you sick?

Yes basically, at least in Taiwan:

Anecdotal reports and small-scale studies suggest that elections are stressful, and might lead to a deterioration in voters’ mental well-being. Nonetheless, researchers have yet to establish whether elections actually make people sick, and if so, why. By applying a regression discontinuity design to administrative health care claims from Taiwan, we determine that elections increased health care use and expense only during legally specified campaign periods by as much as 19%. Overall, the treatment cost of illness caused by elections exceeded publicly reported levels of campaign expenditure, and accounted for 2% of total national health care costs during the campaign period.

That is from a new paper by Hung-Hao Chang and Chad Meyerhoefer.

Gabriel Tarde’s *On Communication and Social Influence*

This 19th century French sociologist is worth reading, as he is somehow the way station between Pascal and Rene Girard, with an influence on Bruno Latour as well.  Tarde focuses on how copying helps to explain social order and also how it drives innovation.  For Tarde, copying, innovation, and ethos are all part of an integrated vision.  He covers polarization and globalization as well and at times it feels like he has spent time on Twitter.

It is hard to pull his sentences out of their broader context but here is one:

We have seen that the true, basic sources of power are propagated discoveries or inventions.


The role of impulse and chance in the direction of inventive activity will cease to amaze us if we recall that such genius almost always begins in the service of a game or is dependent on a religious idea or superstition.


…contrary to the normal state of affairs, images in the inventor’s hallucinatory reverie tend to become strong states while sensations become weak states.

…When the self is absorbed in a goal for a long time, it is rare that the sub-self, incorrectly called the unconscious, does not participate in this obsession, conspiring with our consciousness and collaborating in our mental effort.  This conspiracy, this collaboration whose service is faithful yet hidden, is inspiration

He argues that societies in their uninventive phase are also largely uncritical, and for that reason.  (Doesn’t that sound like a point from a Peter Thiel talk?)

He explicitly considers the possibility that the rate of scientific innovation may decline, in part because the austere and moral mentality of semi-rural family life, which is most favorable for creativity in his view, may be replaced by the whirlpool of distractions associated with the urban lifestyles of the modern age.


Attentive crowds are those who crowd around the pulpit of a preacher or lecturer, a lectern, a platform, or in front of the stage where a moving drama is being performed.  Their attention — and inattention — is always stronger and more constant than would be that of the individual in the group if he were alone.

Tarde argues that desires are intrinsically heterogeneous, and economics makes the mistake of reducing them to a near-tautologous “desire for wealth.”

Not all of it hangs together, but I would rather read Tarde than Durkheim or Comte, the other two renowned French sociologists of the 19th century.

You can buy the book here, here is Wikipedia on Tarde.

Monday assorted links

My chat with Brendan Fitzgerald Wallace

He interviewed me, here is his description: “My conversation with economist, author & podcaster Tyler Cowen covering everything from: 1) Buying Land on Mars (for real) 2) Privatizing National Parks 3) Setting up aerial highways in the sky for drone delivery 4) Buying Greenland 5) London post Brexit 6) Universal Basic Income 7) Why Los Angeles is “probably the best city in North America” 8) How real estate can combat social isolation & loneliness 9) Cyber attacks on real estate assets and national security implications. 10) The impacts, positive and negative of Climate Change, on real estate in different geographies. 11) Other esoteric stuff…..”.

Here is the conversation, held in Marina del Rey at a Fifth Wall event.

Model this East German crime

Following the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, the number of births halved in East Germany. These cohorts became markedly more likely to be arrested as they grew up in reunified Germany. This is observed for both genders and all offence types.

Here is the full article by Arnauld Chevalier and Olivier Marie, the authors seem to think the reunification event selects for risky parents, are there other possible explanations?

Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

From Bret Stephens

In October, Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute tallied the costs of Mr. Sanders’s policy goals. By his calculations, the federal government would double in size. Half the American work force would be employed by the government, Mr. Riedl writes. Government spending as a percent of G.D.P. would rise to 70 percent (in Sweden, it’s less than 50 percent). The 15.3 percent payroll tax would hit 27.2 percent to help pay for Medicare for All. Total additional outlays would reach $97.5 trillion on top of the nearly $90 trillion the federal, state and local governments are projected to spend over the next decade.

Here is the full NYT column.  #TheGreatForgetting, #moodaffiliation.

Evidence for State Capacity Libertarianism

The plots do not support the hypothesis that small government produces either greater prosperity or greater freedom. (In reading the charts, remember that the SGOV index is constructed so that 0 indicates the largest government and 10 the smallest government.) Instead, smaller government tends to be associated with less prosperity and less freedom. Both relationships are statistically significant, with correlations of 0.43 for prosperity and 0.35 for freedom.

Using SoG, the Cato measure of size of government, instead of SGOV, the IMF measure, does not help. The correlations turn out still to be negative and statistically significant, although slightly weaker.

Let’s turn now to the alternative hypothesis that quality of government, rather than size, is what counts for prosperity and freedom. Here are those scatterplots:

This time, both relationships are positive. High quality of government is strongly associated both with greater human prosperity and greater human freedom. Furthermore, the correlations are much stronger than those for the size of government.

That is all by Ed Dolan, recommended, and by the way smaller governments are not correlated with higher quality governments.

Sunday assorted links

Coronavirus information and analysis bleg

What are the best things to read to estimate what’s going to happen from here?

In particular, what is the best way to think about how to make inferences, or not, from extrapolating current trends about case and death numbers?

What is “what happens from here” going to be most sensitive to in terms of potential best remedies? Regulatory decisions of some kind? Which features of local public health infrastructure will matter the most? Will any of it matter at all?

Which variables should we focus on to best predict expected severity?

Dracula on Gratitude

I enjoyed the Dracula mini-series on Netflix–it’s smart, stylish and a fresh take. Also, at just three episodes, it’s satisfying without requiring a huge time investment.

Dracula has some pointed commentary on contemporary mores, including economics. After sleeping for a hundred years he finds himself in an ordinary home and speaks to the owner, Kathleen:

D: You’re clearly very wealthy.

K: Wealthy?

D: Yes. Well, look at all this stuff. All this food. The moving picture box. And that thing outside, Bob calls it um, a car. And this treasure trove is your house!

K: It’s a dump.

D: Kathleen, I’ve been a nobleman for 400 years. I’ve lived in castes and palaces among the richest people of any age. Never….never! Have I stood in greater luxury than surrounds me now. This is a chamber of marvels. There isn’t a king, or queen or emperor that I have ever known or eaten who would step into this room and ever agree to leave it again.

I knew the future would bring wonders. I did not know it would make them ordinary.

When the market drives you crazy

That is the title of the paper, by Corrado Giuletti, Mirco Tonin, and Michael Vlassopoulos, the subtitle is “Stock market returns and fatal car accidents,” here is the abstract:

This paper provides evidence that daily fluctuations in the stock market have important–and hitherto neglected–spillover effects on fatal car accidents. Using the universe of fatal car accidents in the United States from 1990 to 2015, we find that a one standard deviation reduction in daily stock market returns is associated with a 0.6% increase in fatal car accidents that happen after the stock market opening. A battery of falsification tests support a causal interpretation of this finding. Our results are consistent with immediate emotions stirred by a negative stock market performance influencing the number of fatal accidents, in particular among inexperienced investors.

Forthcoming in Journal of Health Economics, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The feminization of society, installment #1637, suffragist peace edition

Preferences for conflict and cooperation are systematically different for men and women. At each stage of the escalatory ladder, women prefer more peaceful options. They are less apt to approve of the use of force and the striking of hard bargains internationally, and more apt to approve of substantial concessions to preserve peace. They impose higher audience costs because they are more approving of leaders who simply remain out of conflicts, but they are also more willing to see their leaders back down than engage in wars. Unlike men, most women impose audience costs primarily because a leader behaved aggressively in making a threat, not because the leader endangered the states bargaining reputation through behaving inconsistently. Many of these differences, and possibly all, span time periods and national boundaries. Women have been increasingly incorporated into political decision-making over the last century through suffragist movements, raising the question of whether these changes have had effects on the conflict behavior of nations consistent with their large effects in other areas, such as the size and competencies of governments. We find that the evidence is consistent with the view that the increasing enfranchisement of women, not merely the rise of democracy itself, is the cause of the democratic peace.

Emphasis added, that is the abstract of a 2018 paper by Barnhart, Dafoe, Saunders, and Trager, and this tweet offers a useful image from the paper.  Via Ilya Novak.