Month: April 2021
NYTimes: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health announced a new initiative on Wednesday to help determine whether frequent, widespread use of rapid coronavirus tests slows the spread of the virus.
The program will make rapid at-home antigen tests freely available to every resident of two communities, Pitt County, N.C., and Hamilton County, Tenn., enough for a total of 160,000 people to test themselves for the coronavirus three times a week for a month.
“This effort is precisely what I and others have been calling for nearly a year — widespread, accessible rapid tests to help curb transmission,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University who has been a vocal proponent of rapid, at-home testing programs.
Imagine a parallel universe where Americans were tested massively, constantly, without care for cost, while those who tested negative continued more or less about their daily life.
In fact, that parallel universe exists. It’s the National Football League.
..After an October outbreak, the NFL moved to daily testing of all its players and instituted new restrictions on player behavior and stricter rules on ventilation and social distancing. The league also used electronic tracking bracelets to trace close contacts of people who tested positive. Throughout the season, the NFL spent about $100 million on more than 900,000 tests performed on more than 11,000 players and staff members. In January, the CDC published an analysis of the league that concluded, “Daily testing allowed early, albeit not immediate, identification of infection,” enabling the league to play the game safely.
You could write off the NFL’s season as the idiosyncratic achievement of a greedy sport with nearly unlimited resources. But I can think of another self-interested institution with nearly unlimited resources: It’s the government of a country with a $20 trillion economy and full control over its own currency. Unlike the NFL, though, the U.S. never made mass testing its institutional priority.
“The NFL was almost like a Korea within the United States,” Alex Tabarrok told me. “And it’s not just the NFL. Many universities have done a fabulous job, like Cornell. They have followed the Korea example, which is repeated testing of students combined with quick isolation in campus dorms. Mass testing is a policy that works in practice, and it works in theory. It’s crazy to me that we didn’t try it.” Tabarrok said we can’t be sure that a Korean or NFL-style approach to national testing would have guaranteed Korean or NFL-style outcomes. After all, that would have meant averting about 500,000 deaths. Rather, he said, comprehensive early testing was our best shot at reducing deaths and getting back to normal faster.
I am pleased to see Cornell mandating vaccination for all of its students. Of course other colleges and universities can do the same. Even if they do not take that step, it still seems it will be “safe enough” to hold most classes in-person in the Fall, if not sooner.
Here is what I think is the issue. Universities these days are not very good at “leaving people behind,” at least not as an act of open and deliberate commission. What about students or faculty who just had organ transplants and who thus might have compromised immune systems and also high vulnerability to Covid? Rather than the Coase theorem being applied, schools might make professors offer a hybrid option, namely that some students take the class face to face, and other students take it over Zoom, with a computer hooked up to cover the classroom.
Of course the mixed mode doesn’t work very well. I’ve learned from meetings that an all on-line meeting usually is (much) better than a mixed meeting where some people are present and others on-line, or in the old days on the phone.
So imagine universities giving every student the option to check a box: “I want this class on-line so please make it a hybrid option.”
Except they don’t make anyone prove that they just had an organ transplant.
And then ten percent of the students prefer to live in Pakistan, California, Florida — wherever. Those students check the box to make the class a hybrid option. What happens?
Many classes “might just suck.”
Another option is that the class evolves into mainly on-line as a least worst option.
Another option — #3 — is that the university forgets about the box-checking option but nonetheless uses this as a chance to evolve toward a larger and more sensible on-line presence.
#3 might happen, but I don’t think it will be in place by this fall. And thus you can see my worry about the pending fall semester in many institutions. Will they have the stones to say “No, we’re just going to offer this one face to face”?
Second-generation black Americans have been inadequately studied in prior quantitative research. The authors seek to ameliorate this research gap by using the Current Population Survey to investigate education and wages among second-generation black Americans with a focus on Nigerian Americans. The latter group has been identified in some qualitative studies as having particularly notable socioeconomic attainments. The results indicate that the educational attainment of second-generation Nigerian Americans exceeds other second-generation black Americans, third- and higher generation African Americans, third- and higher generation whites, second-generation whites, and second-generation Asian Americans. Controlling for age, education, and disability, the wages of second-generation Nigerian Americans have reached parity with those of third- and higher generation whites. The educational attainment of other second-generation black Americans exceeds that of third- and higher generation African Americans but has reached parity with that of third- and higher generation whites only among women. These results indicate significant socioeconomic variation within the African American/black category by gender, ethnicity, and generational status that merits further research.
3. The police culture that is Canada (short video for Passover).
Superb NYTimes disquisition on a masterpiece of Indian miniature painting. The text, formatting, visuals, all beautifully done–better than any museum exhibit I can recall.
In addition to the subject matter this piece has a lot to say about online education and how news is becoming a winner take-most market. Note what Tyler and I said on endogenous fixed costs in our piece on online education in the AER and consider how many newspapers could put together a display of this quality.
Shaked and Sutton (1987) and Sutton (1998) show that when quality is primarily vertical, meaning that there is a measure of quality such that all consumers agree that higher quality is more preferred, then increased market size does not result in reduced concentration. Instead, as market size increases, firms invest more in quality, which endogenously increases economies of scale and maintains market concentration.
Along related lines, Berry and Waldfogel (2010) show that there are many more restaurants in larger than smaller cities, but even as city size increases by a factor of 10 there is no tendency for the number of newspapers to increase. Larger cities have more restaurants than smaller cities because economies of scale are limited and quality differs “horizontally,” according to taste (thus, larger cities have more diverse restaurants). Yet larger cities are served by roughly the same number of newspapers as smaller cities because quality is more vertical, most newspaper consumers want more coverage, better writers and more features.
In their efforts to rein in illicit massage businesses across the country, police sometimes rely on sting operations in which undercover officers engage in sex acts with spa workers, according to law enforcement experts and police records reviewed by The Post. While such tactics are generally permitted by law…
The EITC increases the labor supply of mothers, which leads to increases in payroll and sales taxes paid.
The EITC decreases dependence on government transfer spending.
Evaluated over a one-year period, the net EITC cost is only 17 percent of the $70 billion annual budgetary cost.
Evaluated over a longer-time horizon, the net EITC cost is lower and perhaps zero.
The 2009 EITC expansion continued to increase maternal labor supply and earnings.
2. Dog theft on the rise. By one measure, the price of a dog is up 5x, and (UK) dog thefts are up 250%.
3. SNL on NFTs.
4. Godzilla movies ranked (not always well).
New paper from Jeffrey E. Harris:
The decades-long effort to produce a workable HIV vaccine has hardly been a waste of public and private resources. To the contrary, the scientific know-how acquired along the way has served as the critical foundation for the development of vaccines against the novel, pandemic SARS-CoV-2 virus. We retell the real-world story of HIV vaccine research – with all its false leads and missteps – in a way that sheds light on the current state of the art of antiviral vaccines. We find that HIV-related R&D had more than a general spillover effect. In fact, the repeated failures of HIV vaccine trials have served as a critical stimulus to the development of successful vaccine technologies today. We rebut the counterargument that HIV vaccine development has been no more than a blind alley, and that recently developed vaccines against COVID-19 are really descendants of successful vaccines against Ebola, MERS, SARS-CoV-1 and human papillomavirus. These successful vaccines likewise owe much to the vicissitudes of HIV vaccine development.
It is called Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad, and so far it is very good. Here is one bit:
As a Rwandan psychologist once told me: “To show emotional reserve is considered a sign of high standing. You do not just pour out your heart in Rwanda. You do not cry. It’s the opposite of Western oversharing, a form of stoicism.
A culture that glories in its impenetrability, that sees virtue in misleading: to someone proposing to write a nonfiction account embracing many of the most controversial episodes in Rwandan history, it posed a bit of a challenge.
Recommended, I will continue reading, and this one is likely to make the “best non-fiction of the year” list.
I saw that circulating as an April Fool’s joke, but is it such a crazy idea? Here would be a few effects:
1. Submissions would decline, thus liberating some time for editors and referees. This is valuable in its own right, and furthermore remaining decisions might be made with greater care. And presumably the remaining submissions would be those with a higher chance of acceptance.
2. To some extent departments would pick up the submission fee. This would favor researchers in wealthier departments, though whether this is good or bad I am not sure. And even the most flush departments would find this pretty steep and I don’t think would offer carte blanche reimbursement.
3. It would favor senior and wealthier colleagues over junior colleagues. That sounds bad to most people, but is it? Favoring the wealthier senior colleagues might help limit the arms race for “here is my 90-page paper that has performed every possible cross-check of the results.” It also might lower the return to technique, as younger researchers tend to be more up on the latest math but they are also less broad and by definition less experienced.
4. Graduate students in particular would be less likely to submit, especially from lower-tier departments. It would be harder for job candidates from the non-top schools to prove themselves by publishing in the AER.
5. Papers would be “shopped around” more to seminars before being submitted.
6. Papers would become longer, which is probably a bad thing.
7. It might select for overconfident economists from wealthier families.
8. The AER would no longer “get all the best papers,” at least as such things are perceived. That could very well be good! Why should one journal have such a lock?
Would the AEA take in more revenue with this plan?
What else? What is in fact the optimal submission fee for a journal where publications can be worth tens of thousands of dollars (or sometimes much more) there? Why should the authors/submitters be charged so little?
This new piece in American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics seems to be channeling some parts of Bryan Caplan’s argument:
Despite increases in the college earnings premium to persistently high levels, investment in college education remains low. We can understand this apparent puzzle by considering the risk of attending college and, in particular, the possibility of failing to graduate. Students with a reasonable probability of completing college already enroll, and for those who do not enroll, the low chance of completion blunts the impact of the rising college premium. In the absence of improved college readiness, our quantitative results suggest that continuing long-standing trends in skill-biased technological change can be expected primarily to increase earnings inequality rather than college attainment.
From Kartik Athreya and Janice Eberly. The implied discontinuity in the de facto talent distribution also echoes some themes from my own Average is Over.
Here’s a great video on FastGrants, the fast funding-institution started by Tyler and Patrick Collison to fund COVID research at a speed that could make a difference on the ground. And it did.
Lots of other people stepped in with funding including Arnold Ventures, The Audacious Project, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, John Collison, Crankstart, Jack Dorsey, Kim and Scott Farquhar, Paul Graham, Reid Hoffman, Fiona McKean and Tobias Lütke, Yuri and Julia Milner, Elon Musk, Chris and Crystal Sacca, Schmidt Futures, and others.
The list of funded people and projects is long and impressive and while the grants were fast, the payoff is going to last well beyond the pandemic.
Thanks, Tyler and Patrick!
Sea level rise will cause spatial shifts in economic activity over the next 200 years. Using a spatially disaggregated, dynamic model of the world economy, this paper estimates the consequences of probabilistic projections of local sea level changes. Under an intermediate scenario of greenhouse gas emissions, permanent flooding is projected to reduce global real GDP by 0.19 percent in present value terms. By the year 2200, a projected 1.46 percent of the population will be displaced. Losses in coastal localities are much larger. When ignoring the dynamic response of investment and migration, the loss in real GDP in 2200 increases from 0.11 percent to 4.5 percent.
That newly published paper is from Klaus Desmet, Robert E. Kopp, Scott A. Kulp, Dávid Krisztián Nagy, Michael Oppenheimer, Esteban Rossi-Hansberg and Benjamin H. Strauss in American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics. Am I wrong to feel a little…underwhelmed by those estimates? Here is an earlier recent paper on other cost estimates.