Month: January 2020
Kris on Twitter asks that question. I have a few hypotheses, none confirmed by any hard data, other than my “lyin’ eyes”:
1. Twitter exists as a kind of parallel truth/falsehood mechanism, and it is encroaching on traditional academic processes, for better or worse.
2. Hypotheses blaming people or institutions for failures and misdeeds will be more popular on Twitter than in academia, but over time they are spreading in academia too, in part because of their popularity on Twitter. Blame makes for a more popular tweet.
3. Often the number of Twitter followers resembles a Power law, and thus Twitter raises the influence of very well known contributors. Twitter also raises the influence of the relatively busy, compared to say the 2009 world where blogs held more of that influence. Writing blog posts required more time than does issuing tweets.
4. I believe Twitter raises the relative influence of women. For one thing, women can coordinate with each other on Twitter more easily than they can in academic life across different universities.
5. Twitter can damage the career prospects of some of the more impulsive tweeting white males.
6. On Twitter is is easier to judge people by their (supposed) intentions than in academia, so many more people will be accused of acting and writing in bad faith.
7. On Twitter more people do in fact act in bad faith.
8. Hardly anyone looks better on Twitter, so that contributes to the polarization of many professions, especially economics and those professions linked to political issues. Top economists don’t seem so glamorous any more, not even in their areas of specialization.
9. Academic fields related to current events will rise in status and attention, and those topics will garner the Power law retweets. Right now that means political science most of all but of course this will vary over time.
10. Twitter lowers the power of institutions more broadly, as institutions typically are bad at Twitter.
4. Aragon Court fundamentals, interesting.
5. Claims about U.S. vs. Chinese high school education (speculative).
There is now transcript and audio from the Holberg debate in Bergen, Norway, courtesy of the CWTeam, here is their summary of the event:
This bonus episode features audio from the Holberg Debate in Bergen, Norway between Tyler and Slavoj Žižek held on December 7, 2019. They discuss the reasons Slavoj (still) considers himself a Communist, why he considers The Handmaid’s Tale “nostalgia for the present,” what he likes about Greta Thunberg, what Marx got right about the commodification of beliefs, his concerns about ecology and surveillance in communist states like China today, the reasons academia should maintain its ‘useless character,’ his beginnings as a Heideggerian, why he is distrustful of liberal optimism, the “Fukuyama dilemma” we face, the importance of “empty manners,” and more.
COWEN: You know the old joke, what’s the difference between a Communist and a Nazi? Tenure.
ŽIŽEK: You mean university tenure?
COWEN: Yes. It’s a joke, but the point is you don’t need Communism. You are much smarter than Communism.
I would describe the proceedings as “rollicking,” including the segment about “smoking the prick.”
I promised you an entire synthetic post of my own on that topic, but your own comments on that query were so good and interesting that I don’t feel I have much to add. If you have not already, do read them here, recommended.
Many rare languages are at risk of disappearing, and Seke, which is spoken in just five villages in Nepal has only approximately 700 speakers left in the world, according to a recent study by the Endangered Language Alliance. The organization estimates there are roughly 100 Seke-speakers living in New York, and 50 of them live in one building in Flatbush, Brooklyn. One of the youngest residents there, Rasmina Gurung, has several relatives in the building, and is helping the Endangered Language Alliance compile a Seke-English dictionary. “I feel so much pressure,” she told the New York Times. “I need to get as much knowledge as possible. And fast.”
Here is the full story (NYT), via John Chamberlain.
Tractors manufactured in the late 1970s and 1980s are some of the hottest items in farm auctions across the Midwest these days — and it’s not because they’re antiques.
Cost-conscious farmers are looking for bargains, and tractors from that era are well-built and totally functional, and aren’t as complicated or expensive to repair as more recent models that run on sophisticated software.
“There’s an affinity factor if you grew up around these tractors, but it goes way beyond that,” Peterson said. “These things, they’re basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it.”
BigIron Auctions, a Nebraska-based dealer that auctioned 3,300 pieces of farm equipment online in two days last month, sold 27 John Deere 4440 tractors through 2019.
The model, which Deere built between 1977 and 1982 at a factory in Waterloo, Iowa, was the most popular of the company’s “Iron Horse” series of tractors, which used stronger and heavier internal components to support engines with greater horsepower. The tractors featured big, safe cabins, advancing a design first seen in the 1960s that is now standard.
A sale of one of those tractors in good condition with low hours of use — the tractors typically last for 12,000 to 15,000 hours — will start a bidding war today. A 1980 John Deere 4440 with 2,147 hours on it sold for $43,500 at a farm estate auction in Lake City in April. A 1979 John Deere 4640 with only 826 hours on it sold for $61,000 at an auction in Bingham Lake in August.
Maybe there is a great tractor stagnation or in some cases even retrogression? Here is more from Adam Belz, via Naju Mancheril.
Gerald Reitlinger, in his 1963 book, “The Economics of Taste,” wrote that back in 1937, when 18th-century French furniture was all the rage with the ultrawealthy, a desk by Carlin sold for 8,000 pounds, or about $700,000 in today’s money. That same year, a Cubist still life by Picasso failed to sell at auction for £105, according to Reitlinger.
Here is more from Scott Reyburn at the NYT. Will Warhol prices be the big loser, as future generations lose interest in images of Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor, Mao? At the moment the less identifiable iconography of Basquiat seems to be holding up better, at least in the eyes of the market.
1. Why is children’s TV so weird and mesmerizing? A little slow at the beginning, but recommended.
3. The empire strikes back: Dominic Cummings not allowed to hire civil servants directly. And: “One of the UK’s top employment lawyers previously told the Guardian that the post was “quite outrageous from an employment law perspective”.”
I will be doing a Conversation with him, yes the Jason Furman. So what should I ask?
The Arthashastra, the science of wealth and politics, is one of the world’s oldest treatises on political economy. Written by Kautilya, legendary advisor to the Indian King Chandragupta Maurya (reign: 321–298 BCE), the Arthashastra has often been compared to Machiavelli’s The Prince and has been a touchstone in Indian political economy for well over a thousand years.
Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah, two long-time advisors to the Indian government, have written the new Arthashastra, In Service of the Republic: The Art and Science of Economy Policy. In Service doesn’t go into great detail on current policies in India (Joshi’s Long Road is the best recent overview), it instead distills timeless wisdom on the making of political economy.
When faced with a potential government intervention, it is useful to ask three key questions. Is there a market failure? Does the proposed intervention address the identified market failure? Do we have the ability to implement the proposed intervention?
Public policy failures are born of: (1) The information constraint; (2) The knowledge constraint; (3) the resource constraint; (4) The administrative constraint; and (5) The voter rationality constraint. These five problems interact, and jointly generate government failure, of both kinds; pursuing the wrong objectives and failing on the objectives that have been established.
A government organization that is riven with corruption is not one which was unlucky to get a lot of corrupt people. It is one where the rules of the game facilitate corruption.
The competitive market process should force the exit of low-productivity firms. This does not happen when the low-productivity firms violate laws–e.g. a low productivity firm may emit pollution, while the high-productivity firm incurs the higher costs associated with the pollution control required in law….When enforcement capabilities, of laws or of taxes, are improved…production will shift from low-productivity firms to high-productivity firms. This reallocation will yield GDP growth, in and of itself.
There are two pillars of intervention in banking in India. On one hand, the state regulates banking. In addition, the Indian state produces banking services through the ownership of bank….There are conflicts between these two [pillars]. Regulation by the state may be indulgent towards its own entities….this calls for strong separation between the two pillars.
Kelkar and Shah are especially concerned with policy making in the Indian context of low state-capacity:
A policy pathway that is very successful in (say) Australia may not work in India as it is being placed in a very different setting. Envisioning how a given policy initiative will work in India requires deep knowledge of the local context.
If the fine for driving through a red light is Rs 10,000, there will be pervasive corruption. Jobs in the highway police will be sought after; large bribes will be paid to obtain these jobs. There will be an institutional collapse of the highway police. It is better to first start with a fine of Rs 100, and build state capacity.
(On that theme see also my paper with Rajagopalan, Premature Imitation.)
In Service to the Republic is the book that every policy maker and future policy maker should be given while being told, “before you do anything, read this!”
Addendum: I will be in India next week and after a visit to Agra and Hampi, I will be giving some talks at Ramaiah University in Bangalore and later in the month at the Indian School of Public Policy.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
Maybe Trump’s threat to attack cultural sites was not meant literally, but rather as a brash reminder that his retaliatory actions will not be constrained by world opinion, international law or the views of American elites. If so, such a signal, to be effective, has to harm the Iranian regime. Trump’s message shows that he doesn’t understand the calculus of retaliation very well.
Assassinating a military leader by drone, by contrast, is something the U.S. can do but the Iranian government cannot, at least not easily or without provoking even greater retaliation. That makes such a policy an effective deterrent in the short run, as it hurts the actual decision maker, and indeed that is what Trump chose to do.
By mentioning cultural sites, he in essence has decided to follow a very strong signal of action with a much weaker signal of words. If you are a hawk, you should understand that Trump’s talk of cultural sites is weakening his core message that retaliation will be effective. It is usually better game theory to follow up a highly impactful action with relative silence, but silence never has been Trump’s strong suit.
There is much more to the argument at the link.
In economics many articles are subjected to multiple rounds of refereeing at the same journal, which generates time costs of referees alone of at least $50 million. This process leads to remarkably longer publication lags than in other social sciences. We examine whether repeated refereeing produces any benefits, using an experiment at one journal that allows authors to submit under an accept/reject (fast-track or not) or the usual regime. We evaluate the scholarly impacts of articles by their subsequent citation histories, holding constant their sub-fields, authors’ demographics and prior citations, and other characteristics. There is no payoff to refereeing beyond the first round and no difference between accept/reject articles and others. This result holds accounting for authors’ selectivity into the two regimes, which we model formally to generate an empirical selection equation. This latter is used to provide instrumental estimates of the effect of each regime on scholarly impact.
That is from a new NBER paper by Aboozar Hadavand, Daniel S. Hamermesh, and Wesley W. Wilson. This is exactly the kind of work — critical, data-driven self-reflection about science — what Progress Studies wishes to see more of.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
My main prediction for 2020, if it can be called a prediction, is trend exhaustion: For the first time in a long while, several important trends have come to an end.
What do I mean by that? Trends ebb and flow, of course, but at any given moment many of them embody one of two distinct states: momentum, or reversion to the mean. The first is a continuation of past progress, either upward or downward. The second is a movement back toward “normal,” however that may be defined.
The relevant list of exhausted trends includes the U.S. labor market, Chinese economic growth, the growth of populist parties, and numerous others. And:
One implication is that the coming year may hold an especially large number of surprises. Alternatively, rational people (and readers of Philip Tetlock, who has studied the difficulty of forecasting the future) might discard their hubris and not be very surprised at all.
1. Amish rules: “Children of richer Amish parents are less likely to leave the community.”
2. Those new service sector jobs: “When Mark Holmgren had his arm amputated this spring, he couldn’t stand the thought of his severed limb ending up in the trash. Instead, he had his arm bones cleaned, mounted and preserved for posterity.”
4. A Grand Canal museum for China? I will visit.
5. Which books are abandoned the most often? (Gwern, a knotty problem of estimation)
6. Further evidence on U.S. consumers bearing tariff costs, also relevant for market power debates. And yet further data on the question.
As Tyler argued last week one of the most common analytical inaccuracies on Twitter is to blame the Fed for being too conservative with monetary policy over the last few years. I see this problem on both the left and the right. One of the ways the argument goes is as follows::
This month’s unemployment rate is lower than last month’s unemployment rate. Thus, we could not have been at full employment last month.
Monetary policy should be less conservative. If only we had been more aggressive earlier, we could have reached where we are sooner and made millions of people better off.
All of this is wrong. To begin, full employment does not mean the lowest possible unemployment rate. We are at full employment when we are at the natural rate of unemployment and as Milton Friedman wrote:
The ‘natural rate of unemployment’….is the level that would be ground out by the Walrasian system of general equilibrium equations, provided there is imbedded in them the actual structural characteristics of the labor and commodity markets, including market imperfections, stochastic variability in demands and supplies, the cost of gathering information about job vacancies and labor availabilities, the costs of mobility, and so on.
The natural rate can change over time, even in a sustained direction, as the structural characteristics of the economy change, as demand, supply, demographics, information and so forth change. Change does not mean disequilibrium. When the production of apples is bigger this year than last year we don’t jump to the conclusion that last year the apple market was out of equilibrium. Similarly, the fact that unemployment was lower this year than last year does not mean that we weren’t at full employment last year.
The point of Friedman’s 1968 piece was that monetary policy can’t do much to influence the natural or full employment rate. Thus, the second half of the argument also doesn’t follow. In other words, it doesn’t follow from the fact that unemployment is declining that monetary policy last year could have achieved this year’s unemployment rate last year. My children are taller this year than last year but that doesn’t mean I could have accelerated their growth by feeding them more last year.
Monetary policy can make a big difference in arresting a negative spiral of declining spending leading to declining income leading to declining spending….Keynes was right. Scott Sumner was also right to call for more aggressive monetary policy in 2008-2010. But that was a disequilibrium event, now long over. When children are starving, you can get them to grow faster by feeding them more, but don’t try using that rule in normal times. Today we are in normal times. The economy has been growing steadily for over a decade. We are not in a downward spiral and wages and prices are not stuck at 2008 levels. In fact, since the end of the recession a large majority of workers are in new jobs! Indeed, a good chunk of the labor force has retired since 2008 to be replaced by entirely new workers. Nothing sticky there.
Standard macro models do not imply that monetary policy can always lower unemployment. (I can’t believe I have to write that in 2020 but the great forgetting is well upon us). Indeed, the standard models, as Tyler discussed, are all about testing and deepening our understanding of the Friedman list, most notably “the cost of gathering information about job vacancies and labor availabilities.” Bottom line is that nobody ever said that we had to like the Walrasian equilibrium but like it or not, monetary policy can’t do much to change it.