Month: June 2021

Fully public tax information?

Our model predicts that transparency reduces the individual bargaining power of workers, leading to lower average wages. A key insight is that employers credibly refuse to pay high wages to any one worker to avoid costly renegotiations with others under transparency.

Here is the paper by Zoe B. Cullen and Bobak Paksad-Hurson, which focuses on pay transparency, not taxes per se.

Monday assorted links

Mission Protocol

Business is the most important way in which human beings cooperate. In his Philosophical Letters, Voltaire explained to his French compatriots how the British had achieved religious toleration by focusing on business:

Go into the London Stock Exchange – a more respectable place than many a court – and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptized in a great bath in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that one has his son’s foreskin cut and has some Hebrew words he doesn’t understand mumbled over the child, others go to heir church and await the inspiration of God with their hats on, and everybody is happy.

What Voltaire understood is that if diverse people are to cooperate they must focus on their common interest and leave other (important) predilections like religion at home. Unfortunately, the woke movement is bringing religion back into business (and every other aspect of life). The religions have changed but Voltaire would not have been surprised at the consequences, a break down of cooperation and amity. That’s why I am very pleased to see how Brian Armstrong’s mission-focused company principles is growing rapidly:

A handful of founders and CEOs—Brian Armstrong of Coinbase, Jason Fried of Basecamp, Shopify’s Tobias Lütke, Medium’s Ev Williams—have said the unsayable. In the face of shop-floor social-justice activism, they’ve decided, business owners should resolve to stick to business.

No hashtag coders. No message-board threads about anti-racism or neo-pronouns. No open letters meant to get someone fired for a decade-old tweet. No politics. As Armstrong put it in his famous (or infamous) September 27th, 2020 blog post, business should be “mission focused.” A software developer explained that the conciliatory approach has become too costly: “The Slack shit, the company-wide emails, it definitely spills out into real life, and it’s a huge productivity drag.”

In October, a pseudonymous group inspired by Coinbase’s Brian Armstrong came together under the banner “Mission Protocol,” with the aim of getting other companies to start “putting aside activities and conversations” outside the scope of their professional missions. (“Mission focus doesn’t mean being apolitical,” they note. “It means being political about the mission. This mission is what you came together to accomplish, and this mission is what you’re fighting for in your work on the project.”) Paul Graham, a famed venture capitalist and “hacker philosopher,” tweeted his support to 1.3 million followers. Melia Russell, who covers the startup beat for Business Insider, noted that startups were jumping into the Mission Protocol threads “with a hell yes.”

One of the great achievements of the enlightenment was taking religion off the table. The result was peace, prosperity and the industrial revolution. In a similar way, sustaining cooperation among a diverse group of people, operating at a high level of performance is the task of great leaders and it means being mission focused.

Intertemporal substitution isn’t always good

“Because of the lockdown, we couldn’t have invited many people and therefore wouldn’t have needed to spend too much money. We would have saved the money that is ordinarily spent on paying for the tents, halwai (caterer), band baja. We would have been able to save a few lakhs. Because of the lockdown, we could have had a simple wedding for a few thousand rupees,” she explained, adding, “There’s no way we can afford a normal wedding in regular times.”

The second Covid surge and the accompanying lockdown has brought with it a spike in the number of cases of attempted child marriages across Madhya Pradesh.

According to figures shared by the Madhya Pradesh Women and Child Development ministry, a total of 710 child marriages were attempted between April 2020 and March 2021. But as soon as the second lockdown hit this year, the number of attempted child marriages shot up to 391 between April and May this year. This is more than half the figure reported in the past one year.

While ministry officials said the weddings were stopped “just in time”, families forwarded varying reasons for the attempted nuptials — from the lure of a “cheap” ceremony, to a fear of who will look after the child if the parents succumb to Covid, and therefore an attempt to find an alternative family.

Here is the full story, via Sheerwan.

Markets in everything Japanese melon pan mask edition

Melon pan is not only delicious, but one Japanese company also thinks it can make a good mask.

Osaka-based experimental think tank Goku no Kimochi The Labo has created “Mask Pan” or “Mask Bread” after college students from Fukuoka and Okinawa decided they want to sniff the smell of bread all the time. What better way to do that than wearing melon pan on your face?

FNN reports that Goku no Kimochi The Labo roped in famed melon pan specialty shop Melon de Melon to bake the bread. For each Mask Pan, the middle is carved out, making space for the wearer’s mouth and nose. As silly as this might seem (and goodness does it ever), the melon pan’s signature crunchy outside supposedly has a degree of effectiveness.

Here is the full story, via Shaffin Shariff.

The Iconoclastic culture that is Dutch?

One of the delightful characteristics of the Dutch is their frankness, and this comes through in the tales—which are far from bland.

As the exhibition texts explain, “the debate about the bare bottom in this Degas pastel dominated the art pages of the [Dutch] newspapers for weeks”. The question being asked was “whether in this day and age it is still possible to acquire and exhibit a female nude drawn by a man”.

Roos Rosa de Carvalho recalls that she received a letter from a painters’ model describing how posing nude is her profession, in which she takes pride. This made the museum curator think about Degas, concluding that “if we assume without question that she [Degas’s model] was the unwilling victim of a sex-obsessed artist, then perhaps we are not only failing Degas but her as well”.

Emilie Gordenker, the director of the Van Gogh Museum, was inevitably drawn into the controversy. She admits that “we had an internal discussion about the fact that some visitors might be offended by seeing a female nude”.

Here is more from The Art Newspaper.  And here in good ol’ USA, people are worried about TV wives being too attractive, relative to their husbands (NYT).  And here is another museum article, again American: “Menstrual Cups in Museums? It’s Time.” (NYT)

Why was pre-Covid unemployment so low?

Here is a recent paper by Andreas Hornstein and Marianna Kudlyak, noting that when the authors write “current” they are (were) referring to pre-Covid times:

Current unemployment, as of 2019Q4, is so low not because of unusually high job finding rates out of unemployment, but because of unusually low entry rates into unemployment. The unusually low entry rates, both from employment and from out of the labor force, reflect a long-run downward trend, and have lowered the unemployment rate trend over the recent decade. In fact, the difference between the current unemployment rate and unemployment rates at the two previous cyclical peaks in 2000 and 2007 is more than fully accounted for by the decline in its trend. This suggests that the current low unemployment rate does not indicate a labor market that is tighter than in 2000 or 2007.

Of course these results have significance for the common view that we need to “run the labor market hot” to get back to a desirable state of affairs.  What we need is for the necessary adjustments to take place to restore a new and sustainable equilibrium.

Emergent Ventures winners, 15th cohort

Emily Oster, Brown University, in support of her COVID-19 School Response Dashboard and the related “Data Hub” proposal, to ease and improve school reopenings, project here.

Kathleen Harward, to write and market a series of children’s books based on classical liberal values.

William Zhang, a high school junior on Long Island, NY, for general career development and to popularize machine learning and computation.

Kyle Schiller, to study possibilities for nuclear fusion.

Aaryan Harshith, 15 year old in Ontario, for general career development and “LightIR is the world’s first device that can instantly detect cancer cells during cancer surgery, preventing the disease from coming back and keeping patients healthier for longer.”

Anna Harvey, New York University and Social Science Research Council, to bring evidence-based law and economics research to practitioners in police departments and legal systems.

EconomistsWritingEveryDay blog, here is one recent good Michael Makowsky post.

Richard Hanania, Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, to pursue their new mission.

Jeremy Horpedahl, for his work on social media to combat misinformation, including (but not only) Covid misinformation.

Congratulations!  Here are previous Emergent Ventures winners.

The behavioral economics of pandemic sex

Another girl did ask if she could call me Fauci during sex. She said it with a straight face. I pretended that I didn’t hear and kept going, because how do you even address that? I’m not going to say yes, because that’s going to be weird. And if I say no, that kills the vibe. She didn’t say anything else, and she never called me Fauci. I think the only way you can make that weirder is if she had brought a Fauci mask and asked me to put it on.

Here are other anecdotes from the DC area, no photos but the text is somewhat risque.

Saturday assorted links

*Ages of American Capitalism*

The author is Jonathan Levy (U. Chicago) and the subtitle is A History of the United States, noting it is mostly an economic history from a left-mercantilist, nation-building point of view.  So far on p.95 I quite like the book, here is one excerpt:

Ironically enough, in some respects Jefferson’s Empire of Liberty came to resemble the eighteenth-century British empire.  Congress revoked all internal taxes.  The military budget was cut in half.  A provision of the 1789 Constitution, the Commerce Clause, granted Congress the authority to regulate commerce “among the several states,” forbidding interstate mercantilist discrimination.  The result was to check state discrimination, opening up a unitary commercial space and increasing the extent of markets and thus the demand for goods.  Empires, while forging common political jurisdiction, accommodate pluralism and difference in rule, often so that different elements in the empire might engage in commerce.  In this respect, the Louisiana Purchase, in essence, handed the United States its own version of a West Indies in the lower Mississippi Valley.  By 1810 already 16 percent of the U.S. slave population lived in the trans-Appalachian West.  New slave-based triangular trades appeared on the North American continent, in a great counterclockwise national wheel of commerce.

741 pp. of text in this one, I am curious to see what comes next.  And my colleague Steven Pearlstein wrote a very good review of the book.

What I’ve been reading

1. William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1805 edition.  Many people who read “the Great Books” never touch this one, because it is a poem, and a long one at that (about 200 pp. in my Oxford edition).  Nonetheless a) it is one of the best poems, and b) the experience of reading it is more like reading “a great book” than like reading a poem.  I am very happy to be rereading it.  Highly recommended, and it is also important for understanding John Stuart Mill, the decline and transformation of classical economics, and how German romanticism shaped British intellectual history.

2. Julian Hoppit, The Dreadful Monster and its Poor Relations: Taxation, Spending and the United Kingdom, 1707-2021.  A highly useful fiscal history, the book also has plenty on Ireland and those are often the most interesting sections.  There had been a formal union in 1801, but during the Great Famine there was no fiscal risk-sharing with Ireland.  At the time, the national government in London also much preferred spending in England to spending to Scotland.  At 223 pp. of text it feels short, but is still a nice illustration of how fiscal policy really does show a government’s priorities and throughout history always has.

3. Seamus Deane, Small World: Ireland 1798-2018.  Deane passed away only last month, might he have been Ireland’s greatest modern critic?  Covering Burke, Swift, Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, Heaney, Anna Burns and much more, these essays are especially good at tying together “old Ireland” with “current Ireland.”

4. Robert B. Brandom, A Spirit of Trust: A Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology.  I’ve only read the first forty or so pages in this one, and I will read them again.  I am not sure it makes sense for me to study this book further, given my priorities.  Yet it seems worth the $50 I spent on it.  If you wish to imbibe a truly impressive, line-for-line smart and insightful take from a contemporary philosopher, this 2019 book is exhibit A, noting that it serves up 757 pp. of text.  I’ll let you know how far I get.

Gene Slater’s Freedom to Discriminate: How Realtors Conspired to Segregate Housing and Divide America is a very good and useful book about the role of realtors and covenants in shaping residential discrimination.

Michael Albertus, Property Without Rights: Origins and Consequences of the Property Rights Gap.  I have only pawed through this one, but it appears to be a highly useful extension of de Soto themes with better data and a more systematic approach.

Edward Slingerland, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization is an argument that our capacity for getting drunk, and indeed the act of getting drunk, enhances creativity, trust building, and stress alleviation.  I mostly agree, but…

Friday assorted links

1. Not sure I have been abused for any prediction more than this one, and yet it seems true: “Democratic primary voters have been turning away this year from the anti-elite furies that continue to roil Republican politics, repeatedly choosing more moderate candidates promising steady leadership over disrupters from the party’s left wing.”  Here is yet further evidence of ongoing moderation.

2. More on Ivermectin.  And very real progress on dengue — yes the biomedical revolution finally is here.  More on that from The Atlantic.

3. Chess players ranked by fighting spirit?

4. Can Bollywood survive Modi? (Atlantic)

5. Ross Douthat on @pmarca and “Reality Privilege in action.”

Nach dem Gleichgewicht auflösen

Swiss-based multinationals such as commodities trader Glencore will receive subsidies and other incentives under plans Switzerland is drawing up to maintain its competitive tax rates, even as the country prepares to sign-up to the G7’s new plan for a global minimum tax on big businesses.

Bern is consulting its cantonal governments — which set their own corporate tax rates — to examine how measures such as research grants, social security deductions and tax credits could create a “toolkit” to offset any changes to headline tax rates, officials told the Financial Times.

Here is the full FT story by Sam Jones.