Month: April 2022

Saturday assorted links

1. “When Lee Jae-hye goes to the United States, she’s 30. When she’s back in South Korea, she’s 32.” (NYT)

2. Review essay on social media and political dysfunction.

3. The deadly accordion wars of Lesotho.

4. Ivanchuk Reviews His Game Against Carlsen, Ignores Air Raid Alert.

5. Jonathan Haidt Lunch with the FT.

6. Interview/podcast/YouTube with Thomas Uhm of Jane Street.  Crypto and NFTs too, some unique perspectives, in part a non-crazy person explaining the potential to the doubting Sallies.

The equilibrium, a continuing series

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the Federal Trade Commission has consistently ranked in the top five for staff satisfaction among medium-size government agencies, according to annual government surveys. But that changed in 2021, the year Lina Khan, a favorite of progressives, took the helm with plans to overhaul how the antitrust agency operates and turn it into a more aggressive bulwark against corporate consolidation, especially in the tech sector.

In the government’s November survey of the 1,100-person FTC, about half of whom responded, 53% of employees said senior leaders “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity,” down from 87% in 2020. And 49% of respondents had a “high level of respect” for senior leaders, down from 83% in 2020. Overall satisfaction with the agency dropped by a third, to 60% from 89%.

The “overall trends are not where we want them to be,” Khan said…

Here is the full piece. You may recall I predicted this from the beginning…

What is your most underappreciated paper?

If you are a scholar working primarily in the social sciences and/or humanities with at least 4000 Google Scholar citations, we hereby invite you to identify one or two publications with publication date 2012 or prior, and for which the count is lower than your present h-index, that you consider underappreciated. It is OK that the publication is coauthored.

…We encourage you to remark briefly on why you select the publication, and to provide a link to it. However, your entire contribution, including the referenced item(s) should be no more than 200 words.

That is from Econ Journal Watch, instructions for participating are at the link.

Toward a simple theory of why tech employees are so left-leaning

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is part of the explanation:

Another hypothesis concerns meritocracy. The top tech companies are very meritocratic in that they try to hire the very best programmers, engineers and managers, if only because so much money is at stake and these companies are sufficiently profitable that they can afford top talent.

Yet a meritocracy of intellect does not itself constitute a corporate culture or common set of values for employees. A series of meritocratic hires will come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures; it’s not as if they all went to Eton together. Those meritocratic hires thus may want some additional layer of shared culture — and the enterprise of tech, so often based on the manipulation of abstract symbols, does not provide it.

Wokeism does. In fact, this semi-religious function of woke ideology may help explain what many people perceive as the preachy or religious undertones to woke discourse.

You might wonder why this shared culture is left-wing rather than right-wing. Well, given educational polarization in the U.S., and that major tech companies are usually located in blue states, it is much easier for a left-leaning common culture to evolve. But the need for common cultural norms reinforces and strengthens what may have initially been a mildly left-leaning set of impulses.

Developing such a common culture is especially important in tech companies, which rely heavily on cooperation. The profitability of a major tech company typically is based not on ownership of unique physical assets, but on the ability of its workers to turn ideas into products. So internal culture will have to be fairly strong — and may tend to strengthen forces that intensify modest ideological proclivities into more extreme belief systems…

Further pieces of the puzzle are explained in the column.

The macroeconomics of a pandemic

Hence, aggregate demand stimulus is one quarter as effective as in a typical recession where all labor markets are slack.

That is from a new Baqaee and Farhi piece in the May AER, AEA gate.  It is a discouraging sign how little talk was heard of this kind of argument until recently.  The piece is titled “Supply and Demand in Disaggregated Keynesian Economies with an Application to the COVID-19 Crisis.”

Learn to Code!

Gallup did a survey of tech boot camp graduates and the results are quite good.

A new study by Gallup and educational technology company 2U provides insight into these outcomes, based on interviews with 3,824 graduates of 2U-powered university boot camps, and helps shed light on what high-quality programs look like. 2U partners with more than 50 nonprofit universities to power their boot camp programs. Over more than a decade, 48,000 students have graduated from 2U-powered boot camps.

The boot camp graduates surveyed reported earning substantially more money one year after graduation than they were earning while attending the boot camp — regardless of whether they had bachelor’s degrees to begin with.

Now that’s a survey result not a causal estimate but tech boot camp graduates without a bachelor’s degree earn nearly as much as computer science graduates even though the tech boot camp is much cheaper and quicker.

Although graduates of 2U boot camps spent between one-quarter and one-third of what bachelor’s degree-holders typically spend on their programs, boot camp graduates reported earning as much or more money in the year after they graduated.

The median 2018 boot camp graduate without a bachelor’s degree reported earning nearly as much ($55,000) in the year immediately after their boot camp as the median computer science bachelor’s degree graduate ($56,421), and they earned roughly $10,000 more than non-computer science majors ($44,033).3

Boot camp graduates with a bachelor’s degree (which accounts for most of the surveyed graduates) earned even higher salaries — about $5,000 more — than their counterparts with less than a bachelor’s degree. Further, boot camp graduates with bachelor’s degrees are outearning U.S. workers of the same age with a bachelor’s degree.

Education is ripe for transformation.

Britain fact of the day

In 1990, out-of-pocket spending by Britons on medical expenses was equivalent to 1 per cent of GDP, while across the Atlantic, uninsured Americans forked out more than twice as much, at 2.2 per cent. Thirty years on, that gap has all but disappeared. Americans’ non-reimbursable spending now stands at 1.9 per cent, and Britons’ has doubled to 1.8 per cent.

That is from John Burn-Murdoch the FT.  And this:

And the bulk of the increase in spending is from those who can least afford it. Between 2010 and 2020, the portion of UK spending that went on hospital treatments increased by 60 per cent overall, but more than doubled among the lowest-earning fifth of the population. The poorest now spend as much on private medical care as the richest, in relative terms. One in 14 of Britain’s poorest households now incurs “catastrophic healthcare costs” in a typical year — where costs exceed 40 per cent of the capacity to pay. This is up from one in 30 a decade ago…

Hmm….And here is a relevant (ungated) visual.  Via Ilya Novak.

Energy’s future is both cleaner and dirtier

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one part:

In the short run gas will substitute for the much dirtier coal, but over the longer term fracking is competing with greener forms of energy production.

The bottom line: If you are bullish on green innovation, perhaps you should be bullish on innovation in fossil fuels as well.

One notable feature of energy is that it is easy to use more of it. If energy were truly cheap, people would take more plane trips, build more robots, desalinate more water and terraform more of the earth’s surface. These are wonderful ambitions, but they might lead the world to use both more green energy and more carbon-intensive energy.


…it seems increasingly easy to imagine a world with wonderful green energy innovations and lots of carbon emissions — and people will praise the former to feel less bad about the latter.

Most likely, the world’s countries will develop their energy supplies in a sequential, rolling fashion. Japan developed economically before China, which in turn became industrial before Vietnam, and currently Vietnam is leading most of Africa. It could be that the world always has some growing countries that will want to use lots of fossil fuels, and a universal transition to solar power and good batteries could be distant.

Price pressures along the way could reinforce this basic logic. As green energy becomes more common, batteries may become more expensive, as they are based on a variety of scarce physical inputs. At the same time, the initial slack in demand for oil and gas, during a true green-energy transition, will make those resources very cheap. Is it such a sure bet that an industrializing Uganda will immediately and directly go the green energy route?

To be continued…

Thursday assorted links

1. Kafka and sexual shame.

2. Do beautifying filters improve your job chances?

3. Brian Eno documentary on the way.

4. FDA still crazy with the vaccines for kids.  Keep in mind the only thing the “experts” have ever resigned over is when boosters were pushed through.

5. Can the Solomons PM use Chinese police to stay in power?  Don’t they know about Lando K.?

6. How to read intellectuals like a portfolio.  Including Ann Coulter and Matt Yglesias and yours truly, among others.

My podcast with Zachary Karabell

Here is Zachary, here is the podcast and its summary:

What’s coming next? We sit down with a modern renaissance man, economist, and podcaster Tyler Cowen to participate in what he calls his greatest pleasure: information extraction. We pick his brain on everything from mRNA to housing bubbles to literature. “The world,” he tells us, “has never been more optimistic than it is now.”

(Recorded before the most recent war!)  Here is the general page for Zachary’s podcast.

What should non-native readers read in German?

Dmitry asked me:

Tyler, what else in addition to Thomas Bernhard would you suggest in German for non-native speaker?

Books in this category should be relatively short, modest in terms of vocabulary demands, and possess enough redundancy that you can miss some points and still know what is going on.  Plus it should be good.  Along these lines, I would recommend the following:

1. Friedrich Schiller plays.

2. Heinrich Böll novels.

3. Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Die Physiker, a play.

4. Various Max Frisch.

5. Herta Müller, from Rumanien but writes in German.  Her work comes across as quite flat in English, so the relative return to reading it in German is high.

6. Arthur Schnitzler plays.  And Brecht plays.

7. Strauss/Hofmannstahl libretti.  And Schubert song lyrics, for instance by Goethe.

I would stay away from Günther Grass, for multiple reasons.  There is much else I would recommend for other reasons, for instance Thomas Mann or Robert Musil, but not for the reasons listed in this post.  Or Bernhard Schlink fits the standards outlined above, except it isn’t really that good?  Remarque and Zweig maybe, but a lot of it is swill.  Michael Ende perhaps?  Martin Suter?  Christa Wolf seems like it ought to be easy when you view it on the page, but in fact it is fairly tough going.

Swiss fact of the day

Two months into Vladimir Putin’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine, however, what is remarkable is just how little Russian capital actually seems to be in the Alps. Neutral, inscrutable Switzerland was, perhaps more than any other country, presumed to be the treasure house of the Putin kleptocracy.

But despite Bern having mirrored all of the US and EU sanctions against Russian oligarchs — measures that apply to around 900 people globally — just $8bn of Russian assets in the country have so far been frozen.

Consider, by comparison, that the channel island of Jersey alone has frozen $7bn of assets linked to a single Russian tycoon, Roman Abramovich.

Here is more from the FT.

Wednesday assorted links

1. NFTs for tots? (NYT)

2. Book of Mormon, first edition, up for auction.  “Printed only two weeks prior to the formal establishment of the Mormon Church, this is the only edition where Joseph Smith is identified as the “author” rather than as the “translator,” as it appears in subsequent editions.”  Yes you can bid, the estimated range is 40k-60k.

3. “…the average Twitter employee generates $677k in revenue….”  That is from Ben Thompson, gated but do subscribe.

4. Join Philip Tetlock’s new Hybrid Forecasting-Persuasion Tournament.  Or just read about it!

5. “Questioning the Entrepreneurial State” — new book, free and on-line, on the Mazzucato thesis, 364 pp.

6. Inscribed copy of The Fountainhead for $1500-2500.

7. How to sue the Michelin Guide.