Month: June 2020

Buy your apples from Abraham Aardvark

It is not just researchers and co-authors who benefit from having names close to the beginning of the alphabet:

The names of traders should not matter if information is symmetric across traders. By examining export data from Chinese customs, we find persistent lexicographic biases in firm-level export records. Firms whose names are lexicographically earlier in the Chinese-character rank export more to countries that have greater language proximities to Chinese, while firms whose names are lexicographically earlier in the English-romanization rank export more to countries that have greater language proximities to English. The lexicographic biases signify linguistic visibility as a source of comparative advantage in international trade.

Here is the full paper by Hua Cheng, Cui Hu, and Ben G. Li.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Tuesday assorted links

Why Are the Police in Charge of Road Safety?

It’s an unacknowledged peculiarity that police are in charge of road safety. Why should the arm of the state that investigates murder, rape and robbery also give out traffic tickets? Traffic stops are the most common reason for contact with the police. I (allegedly) rolled through a stop sign in the neighborhood and was stopped. It was uncomfortable–hands on the wheel, don’t make any sudden moves, be polite etc. and I am a white guy. Traffic stops can be much more uncomfortable for minorities, which makes the police uncomfortable. Many of the police homicides, such as the killing of Philando Castile happened at ordinary traffic stops. But why do we need armed men (mostly) to issue a traffic citation?

Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail. Road safety does not require a hammer. The responsibility for handing out speeding tickets and citations should be handled by a unarmed agency. Put the safety patrol in bright yellow cars and have them carry a bit of extra gasoline and jumper cables to help stranded motorists as part of their job–make road safety nice. Highways England hires traffic officers for some of these tasks (although they are not yet authorized to issue speeding tickets).

Similarly, the police have no expertise in dealing with the mentally ill or with the homeless–jobs like that should be farmed out to other agencies. Notice that we have lots of other safety issues that are not handled by the police. Restaurant inspectors, for example, do over a million restaurant inspectors annually but they don’t investigate murder or drug charges and they are not armed. Perhaps not coincidentally, restaurant inspectors are not often accused of inspector brutality, “Your honor, I swear I thought he was reaching for a knife….”.

Another advantage of turning over road safety to an unarmed, non-police unit would be to help restore the fourth amendment which has been destroyed by the jurisprudence of traffic stops.

As we move to self-driving vehicles it will become obvious that road safety does not belong with the police (eventually it will be more like air traffic control). We can get a jump start on that trend by more carefully delineating which police duties require the threat of imminent violence and which do not.

Defunding the police, whatever that means, is a political non-starter. But we can unbundle the police.

What I’ve been watching

Graduation, a Romanian movie and perhaps the most notable film about corruption I have seen, ever.  From the director of Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, also known as “the Romanian abortion movie.”  Both strongly recommended.

Moana.  I had to stop watching this one.  I am not amongst those who regard Disney as a tool of Satan, but the transparent emotional manipulations are so strong in each and every scene that they distracted me from the ongoing technical marvels.  It just wasn’t worth it, and I couldn’t bring myself to care.

Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee.  I thought this was a grave disappointment, noisy and cluttered rather than insightful, and grossly overrated.  To put my evaluation in context, I consider The Autobiography of Malcolm X to be one of the greatest American books of all time.

Bullitt, with Steve MacQueen, San Francisco crime drama circa 1968, interesting throughout.  Drama from start to finish, nothing hurried, wonderful soundtrack, always feels remarkably cinematic and reflects so many of the movie-making virtues of that era.  No one seems that surprised when a guy ends up on a plane with a gun, by the way.

Dust in the Wind, directed by Taiwanese marvel Hou Hsiao-Hsien.  One of his least scrutable movies, nonetheless memorable, and yes they are boyfriend and girlfriend.  Do keep track of which passages are said in which languages, and what is the vision of both Taiwan’s past and future.  Most of you won’t like this one, but nonetheless a landmark in Asian cinema.

Ozu, The End of Summer.  Could this be the most underrated movie of classic Japanese cinema?  It is hard for me to say more without bumping into spoilers, my only complaint is that the soundtrack is garish and unsuitable.

Solve for the journalistic equilibrium

In a company memo, the chief executive of the politics news site said he supported staff members’ right to march, adding that the publisher would cover bail for any employee who is arrested…

According to several people with knowledge of recent discussions at Axios, Mr. VandeHei said he did not intend his note to actively encourage marching in protests. He has also reminded the staff that the company’s reporters still need sources to open up to them, and that appearing to take one side could jeopardize their position.

And for purposes of contrast:

Ethics guidelines at The Times — similar to many other newsrooms across the country — say the company’s journalists “may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements” or publicly take positions on public issues. It adds, “doing so might reasonably raise doubts about their ability or The Times’s ability to function as neutral observers in covering the news.”

Here is the full NYT story, via a loyal MR reader.

Monday assorted links

Policing the Police

Here is the new paper by Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer, full title being “Policing the Police: The Impact of “Pattern-or-Practice” Investigations on Crime”:

This paper provides the first empirical examination of the impact of federal and state “Pattern-or-Practice” investigations on crime and policing. For investigations that were not preceded by “viral” incidents of deadly force, investigations, on average, led to a statistically significant reduction in homicides and total crime. In stark contrast, all investigations that were preceded by “viral” incidents of deadly force have led to a large and statistically significant increase in homicides and total crime. We estimate that these investigations caused almost 900 excess homicides and almost 34,000 excess felonies. The leading hypothesis for why these investigations increase homicides and total crime is an abrupt change in the quantity of policing activity. In Chicago, the number of police-civilian interactions decreased by almost 90% in the month after the investigation was announced. In Riverside CA, interactions decreased 54%. In St. Louis, self-initiated police activities declined by 46%. Other theories we test such as changes in community trust or the aggressiveness of consent decrees associated with investigations — all contradict the data in important ways.

Via Ilya.

13.3% unemployment rate

That one surprised me, as indeed it did most other economists.  What should I learn from this episode?  After all, labor market adjustment was relatively slow coming out of the 2008 crisis.

My tentative hypothesis is that “matching” is more important than I had thought (and I already thought it was quite important, relative to other macro commentators).  One feature of the current layoffs and rehirings is that the ties between workers and firms apparently were not so severed in the first place.  For most sectors (cruise ships aside, etc.), no “rematches” were required, and so rehirings were accomplished very quickly.  As demand (partially) returned, employers wanted at least some of the old workers back, and workers wanted their old employers back, and then it happened.  “Figuring out where I belong” did not slow down the process very much.

That is good news for the remainder of the recovery, provided the recovery happens soon, and it is at least one factor (not necessarily decisive, of course) militating in favor of a speedier reopening.  “Reopen before the worker-employer ties are lost!”

It also implies that during regular, non-pandemic downturns a lot of the slowness of labor market recovery has to do with matching rather than demand per se, noting that the two interact.  And that is a sign of a more general pessimism for the future, since demand problems are easier to fix through policy than matching problems are.

Another possible implication of the new numbers is that employers realized that “F*** it, I want to get back out there” is the prevalent consumer and also worker attitude, whereas Twitter-bound intellectuals were slower to see the same.

Does partisanship shape investor beliefs?

We use party-identifying language – like “Liberal Media” and “MAGA”– to identify Republican users on the investor social platform StockTwits. Using a difference-in-difference design, we find that the beliefs of partisan Republicans about equities remain relatively unfazed during the COVID-19 pandemic, while other users become considerably more pessimistic. In cross-sectional tests, we find Republicans become relatively more optimistic about stocks that suffered the most from COVID-19, but more pessimistic about Chinese stocks. Finally, stocks with the greatest partisan disagreement on StockTwits have significantly more trading in the broader market, which explains 20% of the increase in stock turnover during the pandemic.

Here is the full piece by J. Anthony Cookson, Joseph Engelberg, and William Mullins, via the excellent Samir Varma.

That was then, this is now, pandemic public protest edition

Greta Thunberg is calling on other young climate activists to avoid big protests and move their demonstrations online amid efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. Over the past year and a half, Thunberg has incited thousands of students across the globe to protest inaction on climate change. She’s inspired many to join massive demonstrations like those outside United Nations climate conferences in New York and Madrid last year. Now, she’s asking people to stay home…

Just as she does when it comes to climate change, Thunberg urged people to “unite behind experts and science” to address the current public health crisis posed by the novel coronavirus…

“We’ll have to find new ways to create public awareness & advocate for change that don’t involve too big crowds,” Thunberg tweeted. “Listen to local authorities.”

Here is the relevant article.  I don’t recall anyone protesting her decision at the time, or arguing that the benefits of the climate change protests would outweigh their public health costs, or even attempting such a calculation.

I am inclined to conclude that some mix of two truths must hold, though I am not sure in what combination: 1) Many of you care less about climate change than you may think, compared to other issues, and/or 2) The lockdown has made us all somewhat batty.

I thank A. for the relevant pointer, noting that no one else seems to have considered this parallel, which is perhaps evidence for #2?

Revisiting Camden

ImageOne of the few bright spots over the past week was Camden, NJ where instead of beating protesters the police joined them. Protests in Camden were peaceful and orderly and there was little to no looting. As I wrote last year, Camden disbanded its police force in 2013, nullifying the old union contract, and rebuilt.

Jim Epstein described the situation prior to rebuilding:

Camden’s old city-run police force abused its power and abrogated its duties. It took Camden cops one hour on average to respond to 911 calls, or more than six times the national average. They didn’t show up for work 30 percent of the time, and an inordinate number of Camden police were working desk jobs. A union contract required the city to entice officers with extra pay to get them to accept crime-fighting shifts outside regular business hours. Last year, the city paid $3.5 million in damages to 88 citizens who saw their convictions overturned because of planted evidence, fabricated reports, and other forms of police misconduct.

In 2012, the murder rate in Camden was about five times that of neighboring Philadelphia—and about 18 times the murder rate in New York City.

In May of 2013, however, the entire police department was disbanded nullifying the union contract and an entirely new county police department was put into place.

The old city-run force was rife with cops working desk jobs, which Cordero saw as a waste of money and manpower. He and Thomson hired civilians to replace them and put all uniformed officers on crime fighting duty. Boogaard says she didn’t see a single cop during the first year she lived in the city. “Now I see them all the time and they make friendly conversation.” Pastor Merrill says the old city-run force gave off a “disgruntled” air, and the morale of Metro police is noticeably better. “I want my police to be happy,” he says.

Note that the police were not “defunded.” In fact, Camden put more police on the street and as Daniel Bier noted crime fell and clearance rates increased.

Camden remains a high poverty, high crime place to live but the improvement shows the importance of some fairly simple attitudinal changes–“It’s more of a protect-and-serve approach to dealing with the residents, rather than kicking down doors and locking our way out of the problem,” –and reforms such as restraining the police unions, focusing on violent and property crimes and not using policing as a revenue source.

 

 

Sunday assorted links

1. Emily Owens survey on the economics of policing.  Or try this link.

2. Europe’s reopenings have mostly gone OK.

3. Give masks to people held in custody.

4. New policing bill introduced (NYT, seems mostly good).

5. Is cell-mediated immunity relevant?  Important if true, speculative, but to my amateur mind increasingly not crazy.  It is lacking in sufficient direct support to say “I believe it,” and needs to be tested against concrete alternatives at more micro levels, and it has some uncomfortable “residual” properties (hi Bob!), but so far it is the only theory that fits the data and surely that is worth something.

6. Prediction markets clinical trial in Singapore.

Rescheduling for thee, but not for me

When Wisconsin Republicans refused to move their election day, Democrats, experts, and various media types decried the decision as immoral and dangerous during a pandemic. “Regularly scheduled, orderly elections with direct governmental consequences were either too dangerous, or insufficiently compelling,” Adam wrote in a late-night email. “Contrast that, of course, with Democrats’s evident belief that we absolutely must not delay these protests against police brutality. The protests—spontaneous not scheduled, disorderly not orderly, emotive not concretely consequential—simply had to go on.”

Protests and demonstrations are more important and indispensable than elections. The deliberate act of voting, essential to a democracy, can be put on a schedule delay but political catharsis must proceed on its own schedule. Mario Cuomo used to say that “We campaign in poetry but we govern in prose.” Now it’s poetry or nothing.

Here is more by Jonah Goldberg.  I am not looking to attack or make trouble for any individual person here, so no link or name, but this is from a leading figure in biology and also a regular commenter on epidemiology:

As a citizen, I wholeheartedly support the protests nonetheless.

My worries run deep.  Should the original lockdown recommendations have been asterisked with a “this is my lesser, non-citizen self speaking” disclaimer?  Should those who broke the earlier lockdowns, to save their jobs or visit their relatives, or go to their churches, or they wanted to see their dying grandma but couldn’t…have been able to cite their role as “citizens” as good reason for opposing the recommendations of the “scientists”?  Does the author have much scientific expertise in how likely these protests are to prove successful?  Does typing the word “c-i-t-i-z-e-n” relieve one of the burden of estimating how much public health credibility will be lost if/when we are told that another lockdown is needed to forestall a really quite possible second wave?  Does the author have a deep understanding of the actual literature on the “science/citizen” distinction, value freedom in science, the normative role of the advisor, and so on?  Does the implicit portrait painted by that tweet imply a radically desiccated, and indeed segregated role of the notions of “scientist” and “citizen”?  Would you trust a scientist like that for advice?  Should you?  And shouldn’t he endorse the protests “2/3 heartedly” or so, rather than “wholeheartedly”?  Isn’t that the mood affiliation talking?

On May 20th, the same source called a Trump plan for rapid reopening (churches too, and much more) “extraordinarily dangerous” — was that the scientist or the citizen talking?  And were we told which at the time?  Andreas’s comments at that above link are exactly on the mark, especially the point that the fragile consensus for the acceptability of lockdown will be difficult to recreate ever again.

If you would like a different perspective, bravo to Dan Diamond.  Here is his article.  And here are some better options for public health experts.  Here is a useful (very rough) estimate of expected fatalities from the protests, though it does not take all-important demonstration effects into account.  I can say I give credit to the initial source (the one I am criticizing) for passing that tweet storm along.

We really very drastically need to raise the quality and credibility of the advice given here.