Month: June 2022

Shopping in Russia

Finally, I offer a comment on the shuttered street level shops and mall tenants that have been gleefully reported by Western journalists:   yes, major Western branded stores have closed down, not all, but a great many.  Their loss is felt on the most prestigious shopping streets and malls, where they bought market share for their products by lavish spending on promotion, including prestige premises.  However, outside these limited addresses, one does not see gaps in the street level stores in Petersburg.  I see more empty store fronts in shopping streets in Brussels than here.

And more specifically:

This store chain [Azbuka Vkusa] puts the previous tenant to shame. The sheer variety and luxury of the present offering in fresh produce, cheeses, meats, fish, tinned conserves of all varieties is stunning. The fresh fish section offers swordfish from Sri Lanka, wild salmon from the Faroe Islands (presumably Russian caught), some unidentified white sea fish from Egypt, and dorade from Turkey. In a tank, there is a two kilogram live Kamchatka King Crab waiting for a buyer at 200 euros.  Live oysters in another tank are brought from both Crimea (large) and from the Far East (very large).  Farmed mussels are brought in from Crimea.

Here is the full story from Gilbert Doctorow, via Anecdotal.

Thursday assorted links

1. Wartime markets in everything.

2. Countries which like and hate Russia the most.

3. Shruti interviews Lant Pritchett, part II.

4. The examined life.

5. “While traditional creative occupations were associated with elevated genetic risk for a range of psychiatric disorders, this association was not unique, as similar, or greater elevations were seen for religious, helping and teaching professions…”  Link here.

Unmeasured inflation from higher tip demands?

Increasingly many point-of-sale terminals ask if you would like to tip – these days even occasionally at places like grocery stores. This (probably) has the effect of increasing the true average prices paid for a considerable fraction of consumer goods. If you buy that premise, then the addition of this feature to POS terminals has a  (perhaps short-term or temporary, but perhaps significant) inflationary effect (no?). How interesting do you think it would be to see this quantified? From my perspective, it would be interesting if this seemingly-small UI feature measurably contributed non-negligibly to inflation. (I’m not an economist. I’d also be curious to know where one might start getting data, etc., to do this kind of analysis.)

That is from an email from Andrey Mishchenko.

How bad is the Ukraine war going to be?

The bottom 50 percent of wars have an average of about 2,900 battle deaths, while the top 50 percent have an average of 653,000, and it is effectively a coin-flip which half any given war will end up in. In Ukraine, after three months and with no end in sight, Western analysts estimate at least 20,000 fatalities, putting this war well into the top half of conflicts…

In the deadlier half of wars, 10 percent have over a million battle deaths — what is stopping the Ukraine conflict from reaching that number?

Here is more from WarontheRocks.  And here is much from Paul Poast, starting with:

The…war could become one of the largest wars — measured in terms of fatalities — in history.

Here is a visualization of the war — who do you think is winning?

Via Edmund Levin.

What are the markers of spam emails?

And why can’t the senders avoid them?  You don’t need top-tier GPT-3 to sidestep these errors:

“touch base with you”


“immediate reply requested”

They are all dead giveaways that I should delete the message without reading further.  And why does the top of the email have to look so institutional in its formatting?  And please note — these are not all scams.  Many are actual marketing pitches directed at me.

Maybe worst of all is mentioning that I haven’t responded to the last email sent, as if that would make me feel guilty or something.  Treat me like a rational Bayesian!

“still haven’t heard back from you”

“still awaiting a response”

And so on.  You will continue to wait. This one I received is a lie, but at least based on a certain amount of cleverness:

“You’ve been responsive to press releases we’ve issued in the past around government and cybersecurity”

What else do you all take to be very clear predictors that an email is spam or just a marketing pitch?  And what is your model for why spam emails are not more convincing than they are?

Should the U.S. have a monarchy?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, riffing on Curtis Yarvin and others.  Here is one bit:

The engineer and entrepreneur Curtis Yarvin, who also has written under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug, has called for a new American monarchy, more like Elizabeth I than Elizabeth II. The usual instant American reaction, of course, is to dismiss absolute monarchy as unjust, old-fashioned and unworkable. And in fact that remains the correct reaction — yet it’s worth thinking through what the desire for monarchy says about the current state of America’s intellectual right.

And in response:

Many monarchist critics focus on the anti-democratic nature of the proposal. They may not realize how much parts of the New Right see the status quo as promoting a stifling conformity in academia, the media and corporate America (Yarvin’s “Cathedral”), rather than a truly pluralistic discourse.

I see far more intellectual diversity in today’s America than Yarvin does. Still, I wish that the “Cathedral” (am I allowed to call it that too?) would be a little more self-aware of its own limitations rather than just shouting down the anti-democratic thinkers as fascists. It’s also possible to think of absolute monarchy as a desperate way to restore diversity of thought, by creating a post whose holder is not accountable to the Cathedral.

The most telling criticism of absolute monarchy is a historical one. In the UK above all, the so-called “absolute” monarchs faced severe fiscal demands, which they met only by granting increasing powers to Parliament or the local nobles. And that was the case when government was a very small percentage of GDP. How would things work today? Would a king have as much power as, say, Tim Cook does? If the executive branch and legislature were to renegotiate old bargains today, the results might be so messy that each would end up with less power and coherence than what Yarvin sees now.

There are other interesting points at the link.

Facts about chickens

Although previous studies have made claims for an early origin of chickens, our results suggest that unambiguous chickens were not present until ∼1650 to 1250 BCE in central Thailand. A correlation between early chickens and the first appearance of rice and millet cultivation suggests that the production and storage of these cereals may have acted as a magnet, thus initiating the chicken domestication process.

Here is the full paper, via Anecdotal.

A Bloody Waste

Image by Satheesh Sankaran from Pixabay

Hemochromatosis is a disorder in which extra iron builds up in the body. A potential treatment is phlebotomy so patients with hemochromatosis want to donate blood and donate regularly. The American Red Cross, however, does not permit people with hemochromatosis to donate blood. Why not? The blood is safe and effective. The blood of these patients doesn’t have much, if any, extra iron (the iron builds up in the body not so much in the blood per se). The “problem” is that people with hemochromatosis benefit themselves by giving blood and for this reason their blood is considered tainted by the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross, which controls about 45% of the nation’s blood supply, does not currently accept donations from people with known hemochromatosis. Everyone agrees that the blood is safe and of high quality. There is no risk of passing on a genetic disease through blood transfusions. But the Red Cross has a long-standing policy that potential donors are not allowed to receive direct compensation for their donation (beyond the usual orange juice and cookie). Because people with hemochromatosis would otherwise have to pay for their therapeutic phlebotomies, they would in effect be getting something of value for being able to donate for free. Thus the Red Cross has ruled that such donations violate their policy.

The FDA does allow patients with hemochromatosis to donate blood so long as there is no charge for phlebotomy (i.e. so long as patients don’t have an incentive to lie to obtain free phlebotomy via donation.) Some countries and some blood banks within the US do accept donations from people with hemochromatosis as do some Kaiser locations. But the American Red Cross is the biggest collector of blood and so it is very often the case that when people with hemochromatosis get a phlebotomy their blood is simply thrown away.

Once a week, Dan Gray pays to have a pint of blood taken at Franklin Memorial Hospital. And once a week, that blood is thrown out rather than donated to someone in need.

It frustrates him.

“You could take a pint out of me, a pint out of you and a pint out of somebody else and play three-pint monte with it and they wouldn’t know whose is whose,” Gray said. “As far as the analysis of it, no one would know.”

and here:

The Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center put out a desperate call this past week for blood donations.

…Every time Carol Barbera hears of such pleas, she gets upset. She was once an avid blood donor and would be one still.

She also has plenty of blood to give.

A medical condition requires her to have a pint of blood drawn at least every two months. The blood is perfectly usable as donor blood. Instead, it goes straight into medical waste.

The Red Cross’s antipathy towards donations from people with hemochromatosis appears to stem from a confused ethical view that incentivized donations are either “coerced” or “non-altruistic” and an old bias against paid donations coming from Titmuss. Actual studies of paid donation, however, show that incentives increased donations without reducing quality.

Thus, as far as the evidence is concerned, there are no good reasons to prohibit people with hemochromatosis from donating blood and given the repeated shortages of blood in the United States there are many good reasons for allowing them to donate.

Hat tip: The tireless Peter Jaworski.

Free speech for legal advice for the poor

A New York nonprofit, Upsolve, started out helping automate the bankruptcy process for low-income Americans. Then it stumbled into a related problem: Many of the families it served were on the receiving end of a barrage of intimidating letters, calls and lawsuits from debt collectors insisting they owed boatloads. Knowing that many of these mistake-riddled cases would have been easy to dismiss if only their clients had been able to afford lawyers, Upsolve sought to offer a helping hand, in the form of free legal advice.

That’s when they ran head-first into state statutes that make it a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, to engage in the unauthorized practice of law.

Now, with the help of fully credentialed attorneys, they are challenging that law in Manhattan federal court. Tuesday, they scored an early victory, as Judge Paul Crotty granted Upsolve’s motion for a preliminary injunction, ruling on First Amendment grounds that the state cannot enforce its prohibition against the free advice program.

Here is the full story.  Here is the full court decision.  Here is the website of Upsolve.  I am pleased that Emergent Ventures has played a key role in supporting Upsolve.

Difficult-To-Pronounce Names and Labor Market Outcomes

Here is a new paper from Qi Ge and Stephen Wu:

This paper tests for the existence of labor market discrimination based on a previously unstudied characteristic: name fluency. Using data on over 1,500 economics job market candidates from roughly 100 PhD programs during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 job market cycles, we find that having a name that takes longer to pronounce is associated with 1) a significantly lower likelihood of being placed into an academic job or obtaining a tenure track position; and 2) an initial placement at an institution with lower research productivity, as measured by the research rankings in the Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) database. We obtain similar results using two alternative ways of measuring pronunciation difficulty, a computer generated algorithm based on commonality of letter and phoneme combinations and a subjective measure based on individual ratings, and they hold after the inclusion of many control variables including fixed effects for PhD institution and home country.

Might the hard-to-pronounce names nonetheless be proxying for lesser job networks in some manner?  In any case an interesting result.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.