What should I ask Paul Romer?

I will be doing a second Conversation him, including about testing but by no means only.  What should I ask him?  For purposes of reference here was my first Conversation with him, likely I won’t repeat any of the same questions, though of course you are free to suggest I should.


How would you evaluate the developmental trajectories of African states so far? What are their prospects over the next decade?

Given that they have only been independent for about 6 decades, and within that period have had to engage in significant state-building, while also grappling with politics in multi-ethnic contests (unlike say the high performers of East Asia), how are they doing?

Is the fact that Africa, as a region, has clocked 25 years of uninterrupted growth something that we should appreciate more?

I would be very interested to hear what he thinks of the FDA. Does he think Congressional legislation should change it? How costly does it continue to be by slowing the switch to saliva testing for SARS-CoV-2 presence?

Also, what market-based mechanisms should we implement for recent test results? Should internet companies authenticate each time someone gets a test and then store the results for use in an app that demonstrates recent negative test results?

Also, should entry into an airport require presenting negative test results? For employees and travelers?

Also, how to make the market speed up the installation of UV light virus sterilization equipment horizontally aimed along ceilings and also in HVAC systems?


What's the medium term P* that clears the market for mass testing? He clearly thinks this is the answer, so what is the clearing price? What should the government me doing to ensure P gets to P*? Loan guarantees? Explicit guarantee of purchase at P* regardless of market?

How many people does he believe will be tested/day on:


Mostly these would be nice for reality check reasons.

Why isn't he getting any traction on his mass testing plan? Even critics and those who propose alternative plans concede that increased testing would be helpful. Are congresspeople telling him they would fund mass testing except for political constraints? Are FDA people telling him they would remove regulatory barriers except for some factor preventing it? What's the hold-up?


How about saliva testing? I’ve heard it works, and it could be done at home. Also, how accurate are antibody tests?

....and related thereto, once the "test" part of the equation, how best to roll out the "trace" piece. If we extrapolate the problem solving methodology for COVID-19, policy makers will only focus on the "trace" piece once testing is ramped up, and such an approach will be untimely. How can we influence policy makers to hopefully be more thoughtful in implementing the trace piece.

Presumably no one in any policy-making position is taking it seriously.

Do you believe the back of the napkin math in this Tweet?


Also, do we need to impose virus test requirements for many occupations and for entry into office buildings? How long should those requirements be in place? Who should enforce those requirements? Police? Building security?

How would an economist sole the issue of police brutality and extrajudicial killing of unarmed African Americans? Should there be private police forces, bullet proof clothes, another green book? Looking for out of the box solutions.

What exactly happened in Honduras, and does he sometimes regret the decision to quit?

Could you ask him what is the worst thing about economics (in general) in his opinion? I would be interested in your view of it also.

He was a innovator in using the internet for economics education via Aplia. I once heard him say that online education innovation tends to come from the west coast out of start ups. But when they are bought by east coast publishers the incentives get screwed up because publishers just want the technology as a hook to get colleges to buy their textbooks. So real online education innovation comes from the west. Does he still think that?

Why is the World Bank pushing the IFC to adopt a metric-free evaluation criterion?

Charter cities - what went wrong?

What are the major differences in data analysis methods between economists and epidemiologists, especially with respect to data handling, transparency, reproducibility and reliability of analysis?

Look forward to this one.

Why did American public health professionals miss this one so bad?

If they were anything like British ones the answer is pretty clear. Because there is more fun and political power involved in spending your time trying to interfere in private health matters than in planning for public health matters such as epidemics.

I mean, which brings you more applause at dinner parties: preaching against eating fats or trying to improve the sewerage?

Charter cities are about making a better local market, but what does he think about countries coming together in larger units like the East African federation?

If we had an effective test and trace tracking plan in place in the United States in fall 2020, what would be your recommendation for schools? Should they operate under close to normal circumstances? Would they need to shut down anytime a student, faculty member, or close associate of either tests positive? Should classes be grouped in cohorts to limit cross-class exposure? How would this work in the context of before/after care at schools?

what effect will the further expansion of central bank balance sheets have on the global financial system and global economies, both developed and emerging?

How does Paul Romer's 100 B dollar per year virus testing plan differ from the pandemic virus testing plans of the U.S. government? This could be a hard question to answer because if the government writes many plans in many departments it is hard to know what was already the existing policy but may be Redfield has said something to give us a clue.

Were there any mass testing proposals (either inside government or from academics and think tanks) before covid-19?

Ask him what he thinks that perceived credit risk weighted bank capital requirements might be doing to that oxygen of development that risk-taking is

What does he think are the most important economic issues not addressed/insufficiently addressed today ?

Is lockdown a viral meme of authoritarian origins (China) not intended for export to democracies but the existence of social media linked video made export inevitable ?

Why has Brazil and Argentina succeded at fighting the new coronavirus while Italy, Mexico, Ecuador and Spain failed? Aren't they all Latin countries? Is it institutions or culture?

What is he doing to prevent the 1,000,000 malaria deaths that occur every single year?

If nothing, why not?

What groups/institutions/companies are doing the best at 'not letting a crisis go to waste' in terms of their development of human capital? To what extent is that success managerial/structural vs. dependent on the talents and inclinations of their members?

Loves your Clarence West/Grateful Dead tangent.
Something tangential would be great

I really like this quote from Paul in his article about meta-ideas. What would motivate social scientists to generate more meta-idea (e.g. Kremer and AMCs, Cowen and Fast Grants, Tabarrok and dominant assurance contracts, Romer and urban expansion through lightweight planning) -- and then actually try them out in the real world?

Only a failure of imagination, the same one that leads the man on the street to suppose that everything has already been invented, leads us to believe that all of the relevant institutions have been designed and that all of the policy levers have been found. For social scientists, every bit as much as for physical scientists, there are vast regions to explore and wonderful surprises to discover.

Regarding charter cities, what does he think about the prospects of a rich stable country excising some low value land from their territory to establish them, then providing basic services (legal, police) in exchange for fee. Is this a way to get them established and stable?

What did he learn at Burning Man?

What were his GRE scores?

Ask him about helicopter drops.

How should the world leaders from the advanced economies work in coordination to tackle the post COVID crisis in the emerging economies; essentially in regards to the economic fallout?

Ok but seriously, ask him something about Colorado. Interesting juxtaposition over the last 40 years is Colorado and Missouri.

What will be the price of gold/ounce in 12 months? What will be the interest rate for a 10 year treasury in 12 months? What will be the sp500 index in 12 months? Why?

Ask him
"If an economist notices experts in another field proposing government policies he doesn't like, should he seek reasons to discredit that profession and promote the opinions of economists who disagree with the experts? Have economists usurped the position of physicists as the profession that knows everything? Would this be classified as mood affiliation or confirmation bias?"

What makes scientific subjects, especially fields like pure math and physics, deep and hard (by reputation) subjects that attract talented students and motivate them to invest years into learning before they even have the tools to read cutting edge articles and start doing independent research? What can economics learn from these fields / how do you create this sort of culture of excellence? Is it a matter of "the norms of science vs. politics" or are there other factors at play?

Romer clearly views these fields as highly successful: this is a recurring idea in his writings on the failures of economics, whether "mathiness" or otherwise. But I'm curious what he views as the underlying mechanisms that cause these subjects to develop the way they do.

What can be done to increase new innovations? Thinking both grants, prizes, patents, but also changing the structure of these the scientific communities or the university system or the undergraduate/graduate system. What do you do about a subject that is generating mountains of new ideas but very little of which is having a significant economic impact?

My pet theory is a brain drain hypothesis. The deepest subjects (high energy physics and number theory come to mind) tend to be pure rather than applied. You expect applied areas to be competing more intensely with industry than pure areas, and the very best students likely see a wage premium if they enter industry rather than stay in academia. Over time, this also becomes self-reinforcing: I study this deep subject because that is where the most interesting work is being done, it is the most technically demanding of the subjects and the smartest people are working there.

I am doing graduate studies in high energy physics (HEP), and I would say that the general view among my peers is that economics is interesting to discuss but not a field worth studying. Why? Mostly people see the anything-goes attitude of economists as a form of pseudoscience when compared to the stringencies of HEP. For example, the Higgs boson was a theoretical model that, while interesting, wasn't accepted as truth until a ~ $5B experiment to measure its existance was successful. In economics it might not be possible to get to a similar ground-truth level, but I see some hope in the use of advanced computer models such as this: https://blog.einstein.ai/the-ai-economist/

1. How do you rate the World Bank's response to COVID-19?
2. If you knew what you know now, would you have accepted the role of Chief Economist at the World Bank?

Will the Covid-19 pandemic change any of the parameters in endogenous growth theory? For example, if the cost (and perceived risk) of short term international travel rises, then those in business and academia might be less likely to spread and recombine ideas, so the flow of ideas (Rivera and Romer 1990) will fall. How significant does this effect need to be do slow the rate of global productivity growth?

Romer has said that his inspiration for studying growth was the exponential growth curve of per capita GDP of Britain that he saw in the 1970s. Does he still think that will continue unlike what Robert Gordon and Thomas Piketty think as those two project growth to be 0% after 2075 or so? (I realize their views are crazy but curious what Romer thinks.)

Should the U.S. consider an emergency universal federal loan program, up to say $5,000? If so, should it be tied to Social Security in any way?

I'm compelled that a loan program would be advantageous for a number of reasons. But linking to SS seems half-baked at best, considering ~15% of the population pays no payroll taxes, and is therefore decoupled from any future SS benefit/potential loan.

Ask if he agrees with this Twitter comment:

just for the record: we all stayed home for two months and these dumb fucks in charge didn't use that time for anything other than to lie about shit and then open everything back up like things were gonna magically get better


On 5/5 tweeted this

Re “test everyone every two weeks”

“That’s not going to happen” is intellectual cowardice.

If you think it is not worth making it happen, just say so and explain why.


What’s the best argument or evidence could convince you that in the current political dysfunction such a project couldn’t be done?

Recognizing that the politics are terribly unfavorable to getting this done, what would be the first steps to making it happen? For politicians/ngo/academia/business/citizens?

I am wondering whether mass-testing strategies couldn't be massively improved if combined with group testing? You don't need to know down to an individual level who is ill or not - for example, you could use a single test for an entire class, and if that test is positive you send the entire class home for two weeks, then test again.

What is the best fiscal policy at the moment, from both a macro and human suffering perspective? Cash assistance for the poor and unemployed? Debt and rent relief for small businesses? More loans to small businesses backed by a government guarantee? Student loan forgiveness and mortgage relief?

Why does the Fed resist NGDPL targeting?
Why did Congress create the PPP instead of funding unemployment insurance that replaced 90% of lost wages plus individual health insurance while unemployed.
Why were spread-mitigation measures not more local instead of state-wide?
Do the regulations at CDC/FDA that prevented rapid local adaption of testing asymptomatic people make sense in normal times?

-why did the dutch roast & eat their own prime minister?
- under/overrated Rasmussen poll =shows liberals are more likely to snitch? doesn't this explain the fbi and democrats russian investigations

Albany, Georgia wishes they had locked down sooner. Southwest Georgia certainly disproves that rural comminities were safe from the worst effects. Bans on large public gatherings were prudent everywhere, the sooner the better.

In lue of his charter cities ideas... what are his thoughts on the policy response to the pandemic generally (clearly I expect testing to be mentioned but more generally) What would he recommend institutions do? And what kind of institutional framework would he recommend?

Also I would like to frame my questions with the back drop of just having reread St. Thomas’ “De regno ad regem Cypri” and so am thinking about certain places responses to the pandemic and what would a thomistic framework look like... not that it changes much in questions themselves.

Ask about the falsifiability/testability of his theories. Is he making science or fancy writing?

The standard figures used for the Statistical Value of a Life seem outrageously high (much higher than the GDP generated by an average person in their lifetime), the theoretical basis of these figures seems weak (measuring willingness-to-pay only on occassions when the risk is highly salient) and the insistence on using a single figure for all ages groups, rather than a value per year of life saved, is positively perverse. How then should we think through whether the lockdown provides value for money?

Corruption at the World Bank. The quality of work being done there and the scandal involving Chile.

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