Month: March 2022

Hong Kong and Shenzhen

I was asked by the NYTimes to comment on the lockdown of Shenzhen. This is what I said:

Shenzhen is China’s Silicon Valley so shutting it down will raise the cost of exporting electronics. Why would China shut down a vital export region? Next door is Hong Kong with currently the highest daily death rates from COVID ever reported. China’s population is highly vaccinated but with what may be less effective domestic vaccines and there are still millions of elderly people who are unvaccinated. China remains in a precarious position.

You can see why China is worried in these two pictures of daily deaths (left) and cumulative deaths (right) per million people in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is likely to exceed Canada’s death rate per capita before this is over, despite having had much lower rates for the previous two years. China is more vaccinated than Hong Kong. By some reports only 37% of the over-80s were vaccinated in Hong Kong while the rate is over 50% in China but still that leaves many very elderly unvaccinated. By the way, I have been somewhat skeptical about the three C’s story for Japan’s success but Japan has now gotten 95% of their over-80s vaccinated so Japan is in good shape regardless.

Those new service sector jobs (Japan)

Before moving out of Tokyo for her new job, Akari Shirai wanted to eat at the favorite restaurant she used to visit with her then husband. There was one issue: She didn’t want to be flooded with thoughts about her divorce by going alone. But she didn’t feel like inviting a friend and explaining the situation, either.

So she rented Japan’s “do-nothing guy.”

Their near-silent lunch lasted about 45 minutes. Shirai ordered her favorite dish and intermittently asked questions. She shared memories of her marriage and showed him a photo from the wedding. He nodded and gave curt answers, sometimes a dry laugh. He never initiated conversation.

It was exactly what Shirai wanted.

“I felt like I was with someone but at the same time felt like I wasn’t, since he existed in a way where I didn’t have to be attentive of his needs or think about him,” said Shirai, 27. “I felt no awkwardness or pressure to speak. It may have been the first time I’ve eaten in complete silence.”


A handful of other “rental” people have similar shticks, like a guy who gets hired to be treated to meals and a self-professed “ugly” guy who claims to boost others’ self-esteem. But Morimoto has cornered his niche market of doing nothing for cash, and many people now hire him for the novelty.

Here is the full story.

But was he taking a pay cut?

Until last summer, Khalid Payenda was Afghanistan’s finance minister, overseeing a $6 billion budget — the lifeblood of a government fighting for its survival in a war that had long been at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

Now, seven months after Kabul had fallen to the Taliban, he was at the wheel of his Honda Accord, headed north on Interstate 95 from his home in Woodbridge, Va., toward Washington, D.C. Payenda swiped at his phone and opened the Uber app, which offered his “quest” for the weekend. For now his success was measured in hundreds of dollars rather than billions.

“If I complete 50 trips in the next two days, I receive a $95 bonus,” he said as he navigated the light Friday-night traffic.

Here is the full story, VTEKL.  One implication of course is that the government in power there actually was honest and relatively non-corrupt.

Sunday assorted links

1. Magpies stereotype (NYT).  Among other things.

2. Who writes on the internet?

3. Natural immunity right now is looking somewhat weak.  And total ivermectin fail (WSJ).

4. The decline of Cesar Franck (NYT).  And the sounds of Dune (NYT).

5. Where can you visit in Asia right now?

6. “This paper examines the factors that have been driving the fall in inequality and poverty over two recent decades in the Russian Federation.

7. Is Russia shifting toward a long-term, static war?

8. A Ukraine-related hypothesis about the unpaid UCLA job.


Millions of people continue to curtail work and social activities for fear of COVID and they apparently have no plans to change their behavior.

NYTimes: Throughout the pandemic, many people in the United States desperately hoped for an end to mask wearing, isolation from friends and co-workers, and six feet of social distance. Others not so much.

In fact, new research suggests, millions have no intention of ending some pandemic behaviors even if the threat from the coronavirus and its variants were to fully subside.

Roughly 13 percent of people in the study reported that they did not intend to change their protective behaviors, like avoiding elevators, mass transit and eating indoors at restaurants.

As Nick Bloom, one of the researchers, puts it this is long social distancing a psychological version of long COVID.

The original research from Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom & Steven J. Davis is here.

Do Americans really want full Daylight Savings Time?

But in exchange for later sunsets, people have to be OK with dark mornings. And that’s not a universally popular tradeoff. Americans actually experimented with permanent daylight saving time starting in January 1974, and it didn’t go well. As reported in The Washington Post, support for year-round daylight saving time fell from a majority in late 1973 to around 30 percent in February and March 1974. According to Louis Harris polling that March, people were much more likely to say the change was a bad idea (43 percent) than a good one (19 percent). Parents who found themselves sending their children to school on pitch-black, cold winter mornings were particularly upset. But anyone who wakes up on the early side — which many Americans do — might also dislike slogging through an extra hour of darkness as they begin their day.

Here is the full piece, by Amelia Thomson-Deveaux and Jean Yi at 538.  My personal preference is to keep mornings as light as possible and never have DST.  Fortunately, the House may rebel against the current Senate plan.

The Ukrainian economist who is fighting the Russians with logistics

This Bloomberg piece by Scott Duke Kominers is an interview with the heroic Tymofiy Mylovanov.  He is an economist, also of the University of Pittsburgh, who is organizing many of the logistics in Ukraine and also running the Kyiv School of Economics.  I am honored to know Tymofiy, here is one bit of a much broader story:

Mylovanov: Within the first couple of days, you see how people respond differently. Some people get traumatized; some become dysfunctional; others become almost super-efficient, like me and my team. But you have to figure out how to function in war or you die. Your loved ones will die. And we had a plan — war-time protocols at the university. We even had a war committee, and everyone was responsible for specific tasks, and they have to start executing them. Otherwise we collapse.

If someone doesn’t show up to a meeting, that doesn’t matter. Decisions are made without them. No wavering, no trembling hand. You either do it or you don’t do it and you accept the consequences. So we managed to shut down our facilities and put security in our buildings and the people there had food and water, and they’ve been staying there for two weeks.

There is much more detail in the article, which is interesting throughout.  And:

Mylovanov: One specific thing: We need 307,000 medical kits. I have the specification. Let’s say Israel can only supply 30,000 and Canada probably can supply 20 or 30,000. But we have suppliers who can provide the medical kits. We give this specification to [Ukraine’s] Ministry of Health, and our charitable foundation will pay. So tag me or email me or ping me on Twitter — and then donate, please donate.

All the fundraising goes directly to logistics. I have a website at the university of the charitable foundation [Kyiv School of Economics Humanitarian Relief Fund], and there is a Twitter post at my account. If I get a hundred dollars on that charitable foundation, it goes towards medical kits and it’s likely going to save a life.

By the way, Tymofiy Mylovanov is widely published in economics journals, including Econometrica and JET.  Here is Tymofiy on Twitter.

The economics of Twitter moderation

Social media platforms ban users and remove posts to moderate their content. This “speech policing” remains controversial because little is known about its consequences and the costs and benefits for different individuals. I conduct two field experiments on Twitter to examine the effect of moderating hate speech on user behavior and welfare. Randomly reporting posts for violating the rules against hateful conduct increases the likelihood that Twitter removes them. Reporting does not affect the activity on the platform of the posts’ authors or their likelihood of reposting hate, but it does increase the activity of those attacked by the posts. These results are consistent with a model in which content moderation is a quality decision for platforms that increases user engagement and hence advertising revenue. The second experiment shows that changing users’ perceived content removal does not change their willingness to pause using social media, a measure of consumer surplus. My results imply that content moderation does not necessarily moderate users, but it marginally increases advertising revenue. It can be consistent with both profit- and welfare-maximization if out-of-platform externalities are small.

That is from a new paper by Rafael Jiménez Durán, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

I am still unsure how to title this post

Here is the punchline:

“The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an Assistant Adjunct Professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.”

At first I was pondering “These wages are not sticky downwards,” and then “These wages are sticky downwards.”  Or how about “Tax them anyway”?  “Solve for the ZMP equilibrium”?

One of the few jobs where your payments are inflation linked!“?

What else?  Here is the ad, here are some possible explanations, I am not sure if those make it better or worse.

I thank several loyal MR readers for the pointer.

Saturday assorted links

1. Why aren’t there more dogs in the doctor’s office?

2. Design theorist Christopher Alexander has passed away.

3. Forthcoming Balaji book on how to start a new country.

4. Dominic Cummings on nuclear strategy.

5. Supposed EA blindspots (mostly not my views, by the way, but still an interesting engagement).

6. Putin on art, and what it is like for a Canadian woman to have dinner with him.  And another piece with “He considered the fact that primarily women were responsible for Russia policy in the Obama administration to be an intentional attempt to humiliate him.”  Link here.

7. Tanner Greer Op-Ed on Ukraine (NYT).  He is the Scholar’s Stage blogger.

Notes from Tavira, Portugal

The so-called “Lisbon earthquake” of 1755 in fact occurred near Tavira, which explains why so much of the city was rebuilt in a relatively consistent Portuguese Baroque style.

The best parts of town are scattered along the edges of the center, not in the center itself.  The overall Moorish feel remains, and oranges are grown in the surrounding countryside.

There is in fact nothing to do here.  That said, the town is consistently lovely and you will find few chain stores or fast food outlets.  The real problem is that Portugal is depopulating, and within depopulating Portugal Tavira is itself depopulating in both absolute and relative terms.  Many buildings are uninhabited and they are beginning to fall apart.

I am not sure I have seen an older town, and that includes a variety of stints in Japan.

It is very difficult to use one’s credit cards here, and it is not because they have leapfrogged to some more advanced means of payment.

For dining, I recommend the snack bar attached to the seafood market, on the far left corner as you look at the market.  They serve what is perhaps the best broccoli I ever have had.  It is also full of “characters,” salty men of the sea types.

More generally, I recommend the orangey snacky pastry thing, famous locally.  Pork and clams is a classic regional dish, cod to me is overrated.  Garbanzo beans are deployed profusely.  The seafood is excellent in quality, though too often it is put in a decent but not really interesting tomato broth.  It is worth a cab ride to the food market in nearby Faro, a larger town.

There are numerous Indian restaurants, but I haven’t run across a single Chinese locale, nor seen a single Chinese person here.

Visitors to Tavira do not regret it, but neither do they say “I wish I had come many years earlier!”

Against credentialism

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, induced by a timely tweet by Conor Sen.  It turns out the state of Maryland is abolishing the four-year college degree requirement for many state jobs.  In Missour, neither the governor nor the lieutenant governor have a four=year college degree, so perhaps they should follow suit?

From the column, here is one bit:

On average, more education probably does correlate with better job performance — but there are a lot of exceptions. If U.S. society wants to boost opportunity for everyone, it needs to work harder to spot those exceptions and act on that knowledge. In a world where so much information and so many diverse forms of certification are available, there are far better ways to assess a candidate than asking the binary question of whether they have a four-year degree.

This move against credentialism is all the more imperative due to the rise of technology. Many of the top names in tech or crypto are dropouts and do not have degrees. To be sure, those are not the kind of people the Maryland state government is likely to be recruiting. But there are numerous people in tech, lower on the salary scale, who have not invested much in formal credentials, in part because they failed to see their professional relevance. For many tech jobs, a personal GitHub page is far more important.

From these passages you also can see why the credentialism critique is slightly different from some of the more radical critiques of educational signaling.  In my view, education does causally improve performance on a lot of jobs, at least on average, through more or less the traditional channels.  Still, treatment effect variances can be high, and very often we can do better with more finely grained assessments of individual talent, rather than taking a four year degree to be a binary yes/no qualification.  In many cases, for instance, would you rather not hire some with a military background?  The bottom line is that you can achieve a superior allocation of talent, and cut back on signaling costs, even if you think signaling is a clearly present but not dominant force behind the demand for higher education.

Shruti Rajagopalan podcast with Lant Pritchett

There is plenty on India, RCTs, economic development, and education.  Here is one bit from Pritchett:

Everybody is getting a crappy education. One of the few times I’ve gotten a spontaneous standing ovation was, I was giving a talk about Indian education to a group, mainly of IAS officers—and who were elites of the education system, who have emerged as elites from the system. I was talking about the deficits in the Indian education system. I just said, “Look, I know everybody in this room is intrinsically smarter than I am by a lot, because imagine where you would be had anyone given a shit about what you actually learned.”…

It was that the curriculum is so out of touch and the teaching is so out of touch with good teaching that by not learning the fundamentals early, it’s not the case that the elite are getting a great education. Indonesia is another place I’ve worked and lived and have a lot of love for. When the OECD did adult literacy tests, fact of the matter is that adult literacy of tertiary graduates in Jakarta—this is just a sample of the most elite city, the most elite—were lower than high school dropouts in the OECD.

Again, I think there’s this illusion that there’s this very steep gradient in a low-performing system and that the elite are coming out with super good educations. I agree that the elite coming out of the Indian system are super impressive, amazing people because no way could I have survived the education system. I’m not claiming the Indian elite aren’t unbelievably world-competitive with any elite everywhere. There’s a reason why the Indian elite come out and are now CEOs of major American corporations, but it isn’t because the education system has been this wonderfully value-added process.

It’s been an unbelievably brutal selection process, which select on a bunch of overcoming features like grit and determination and drive that then might be good signals of who could be an effective CEO. If you can survive the Indian education system, of course you can run Google.


RAJAGOPALAN: How has your Utah-Idaho background, lots of exposure to Mormonism—how has that affected or shaped your perspectives on economic development?

Interesting throughout.