Month: August 2022

Post-Covid excess deaths in Britain

For 14 of the past 15 weeks, England and Wales have averaged around 1,000 extra deaths each week, none of which are due to Covid.

If the current trajectory continues, the number of non-Covid excess deaths will soon outstrip deaths from the virus this year – and be even more deadly than the omicron wave.

So what is going on? Experts believe decisions taken by the Government in the earliest stages of the pandemic may now be coming back to bite.

Policies that kept people indoors, scared them away from hospitals and deprived them of treatment and primary care are finally taking their toll.

Here is the full story, via B.

Some simple analytics of Indian growth, economic and cultural

I think of India as, throughout much of its history, as having a surfeit of human talent but a scarcity of good infrastructure.  Infrastructure serves as a bottleneck for further advances.  Thus, many of India’s most significant advances are densely packed with talent, but capital goods are relatively scarce.  For instance:

1. Indian classical music is super-high G-loaded, but the instruments are relatively inexpensive, compared say to a symphony orchestra.

2. Indian mathematics and computational advance, such as we find in say Ramanujan and the broader South Indian tradition, is high on mental facility and low on capital goods.

3. Religious contemplation is another Indian specialty, ditto.

4. Indian food has lots of ingredients, but many of them are relatively inexpensive, for instance vegetables, lentils, or native spices.  The combinatorial achievements however are remarkable.

And so on.

As Indian economic growth proceeds, infrastructure will improve dramatically and indeed this process already is underway.  That will enable India to make contributions in a broader range of areas, and for those contributions to spread around the world more readily.

We are in essence entering a world where physical infrastructure and “ingredients” are no longer the binding constraint on Indian cultural development.  In cuisine, this is mirrored by the rise and spread of Indian “fusion” cuisine, including in India itself, and Indian molecular gastronomy.

Indian culture (and exports) will continue to rise in influence.  But many Indians will miss the older approach.  They expect talent-intensive cultural contributions, and have come to love them.  (Do you really want Pandit Kumar Gandharva to be replaced by a collaboration with some guy playing a mellotron?0  The next wave of Indian cultural exports will be less talent-intensive, less cognitively challenging, and to many people they will not feel “entirely Indian.”

Precisely as India succeeds in spreading its influence, its culture will seem just a bit stupider.  This will be reinforced by the likelihood that the global marginal customer is not so cognitively well-equipped to understand the greatest glories of Indian civilization.

Indians wielding capital will become increasingly influential, relative to Indians wielding talent.  Vishny Anand as Indian leader will be replaced by ????.


Why is female labor force participation declining in India?

One of the big problems in the Indian economy, and in gender relations, is that economic growth has not translated into more women working, in fact the contrary.  This paper is a little bit old (2014), but so far the most systematic analysis I have found:

…we analyse four prominent hypotheses of the root causes of declining female participation. The findings in this paper indicate that a number of factors were responsible for the recent sharp decline in estimated labour force participation rates among working-age women. Some factors, such as increased attendance in education and higher household income levels, are no doubt a positive reflection of rapid economic development. Additionally, we find evidence that changes in measurement methodology across survey rounds is likely to have contributed to the estimated decline in female participation, due to the difficulty of differentiating between domestic duties and contributing family work. However, the key long-run issue is the lack of employment opportunities for India’s women, owing to factors such as occupational segregation.

Here is the full paper by Steven Kapsos, Evangelia Bourmpoula, and Andrea Silberman.  Dhanaraj and Mahambari suggest that women who work are more likely to be the targets of domestic violence, another factor holding back labor force participation.  what else do you know on this topic?

Virginia test scores and school pandemic closures

The differences were particularly stark in mathematics. Two-thirds of students passed math exams last school year, compared to 82 percent before the pandemic. Racial and economic disparities also widened, with White and Asian students making more progress toward their pre-pandemic levels than Black and Hispanic students.

Passage rates remained more than 20 points behind pre-pandemic levels in math for Black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students, and among students learning English.

All groups fared better in reading than they did in math, but state officials said that was due to the fact that standards were lowered in 2021, and cautioned against optimism.

There is further detail at this link.

Does government spending boost patriotism?

We demonstrate an important complementarity between patriotism and public-good provision. After 1933, the New Deal led to an unprecedented expansion of the US federal government’s role. Those who benefited from social spending were markedly more patriotic during WWII: they bought more war bonds, volunteered more, and, as soldiers, won more medals. This pattern was new – WWI volunteering did not show the same geography of patriotism. We match military service records with the 1940 census to show that this pattern holds at the individual level. Using geographical variation, we exploit two instruments to suggest that the effect is causal: droughts and congressional committee representation predict more New Deal agricultural support, as well as bond buying, volunteering, and medals.

That is by Bruno Caprettini & Hans-Joachim Voth, forthcoming in the QJE.

Locus of Control and Prosocial Behavior

We investigate how locus of control beliefs – the extent to which individuals attribute control over events in their life to themselves as opposed to outside factors – affect prosocial behavior and the private provision of public goods. We begin by developing a conceptual framework showing how locus of control beliefs serve as a weight placed on the returns from one’s own contributions (impure altruism) and others contributions (pure altruism). Using multiple data sets from Germany and the U.S., we show that individuals who relate consequences to their own behavior are more likely to contribute to climate change mitigation, to donate money and in-kind gifts to charitable causes, to share money with others, to cast a vote in parliamentary elections, and to donate blood. Our results provide comprehensive evidence that locus of control beliefs affect prosocial behavior.

Here is the full paper by Mark A. Andor,  It is always worth asking which political philosophies encourage such locus of control beliefs, and which do not.  That will tell you more than almost any other metric.  Wouldn’t it be nice if people would wear little buttons — “My philosophy does not encourage locus of control beliefs” — how simple life would be!

Friday assorted links

1. Thomas Cairns review of Talent.

2. How robust are various systems to the introduction of less skilled people?

3. Some ramblings about crypto regulation and proof of stake.

4. These CEOs are from which country?

5. How to improve conversations.  Not exactly my views, but useful nonetheless.  For normal people.

6. From a Russian soldier.

7. Should we be upset about the new Saudi golf league?

Thursday assorted links

1. “Guessing C For Every Answer Is Now Enough To Pass The New York State Algebra Exam.

2. Markets in everything: “The classes cost around $100 per dog and are so popular that Mr. Will’s six-year-old business, Rattlesnake Ready, is booked solid into fall.”  WSJ, interesting throughout.

3. There is no great stagnation in snake legs.


5. Dwarkesh Patel on eternal growth.

6. Like it or not, the government is governing (NYT).  Basically most of what you’ve read about Congress and American government over the last fifteen years turns out to be wrong.

7. Podcast with Sriram Krishnan of a16z, and with Aarthi Ramamurthy, largely about India.  Which Indian city has the best food, which have been my favorite movies of 2022, and how did he and his wife meet?

Not so simple as just giving the IRS more money

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  After detailing the very backward, often-1970s level of IT at the IRS (yes it will horrify you), the column continues;

It’s easy to say that the IRS has not had the staff or the money to do the necessary upgrades. But hold on: These software upgrades are supposed to save money by enhancing productivity, letting organizations do more work with fewer people. A reasonable person can be forgiven for asking whether an agency with a $13.7 billion budget really doesn’t have enough to front some cash.

You might argue that IRS was too liquidity-constrained to shell out the cash up front, but is that argument believable? The improvements from better software usually pay off rather quickly, precisely because the software is labor-saving. The US has plenty of small to mid-sized businesses and non-profits with shrinking staffs and budgets. Yet most of those institutions have been able to upgrade to better software, often repeatedly. Unlike the IRS, many state tax agencies at least use scanners, and those are hardly the wealthiest or most nimble institutions in American society.

When I see that the IRS reduced staff by 22%, I imagine an alternate reality in which the IRS had replaced a good deal of its office staff with better information technology, as many American businesses started to do in the 1990s. In this parallel universe, the staff of the IRS is down and the productivity of the IRS is up, as has happened to so much white-collar office work. But that is not the world we live in.

The advocates for additional funding should better understand why not everyone in America is thrilled with the agency’s new budget boost. It’s not just a bunch of kooks who fear “an army” of weapon-toting IRS agents, or rich people who feel they shouldn’t have to pay their fair share. It’s normal people who think it’s a bad idea to reward an agency that seems so dysfunctional.

I say make the funding conditional on progress in advance.  Overall I remain astonished how little critical scrutiny the Biden bills are being subject to.  By the way, here is a standing history of attempts to reform the IRS/give it more funding.  Most have failed.

Emergent Ventures India, fourth cohort

Here is the latest EV India cohort, and I am delighted to see more applications from young women and teenagers.  I note also that a lot of the applicants for EV India are increasingly from smaller towns, or were raised in small towns before moving to larger cities for their projects.

EV India now has 75 winners!  And I met most of them in Udaipur this last weekend.  Here is the list of new winners:

Siddharth Kanungo is a chemical engineer by training and founder of Primer, an interactive conversational learning platform. Primer is designed for self-learners to learn subjects like mathematics, physics, computer science, that are usually offered in a university-level setting.

Keertana Subramani is a 23-year-old educator and social entrepreneur who wants to provide high-quality, accessible learning experiences. She received her EV grant to build SUVY Classes, a platform that vets and trains tutors for quality, and offers engaging, live classes for any learning need, and at twenty cents a day.

Arun Iyyanarappan is a 28-year-old electrical and software engineer passionate about creating alternate systems for electric power consumption. He received his EV grant to build a cost-effective solar powered house to show proof of concept for electrifying homes in rural areas at low-cost.

Gowtham Tummeda is a 21-year-old student interested in biology and programming and views biology as a software problem.  He received his EV grant to build an end-to-end AI platform for biological data analysis. His larger ambition is to use the platform to model, design and simulate changes to strands of DNA at protein level using Deep Mind’s Alpha Fold.

Tejas Sidnal is an architect and researcher from Mumbai. He is the founder of CarbonCraft, a design and material innovation startup converting carbon emissions into building materials by fusing material knowledge of clean technologies with traditional techniques. He received an EV grant to reduce the curing process for Carbon Tiles from 28 days to under four hours for tiles that store captured carbon.

Hiya Jain is an 18-year-old interested in using EdTech to make education equitable. She received her EV grant to travel to San Francisco and better understand the EdTech space. She is currently working on UnMold, a project connecting high-school students in developing countries to PhD students running high information, low pressure, cohort-based courses to inject inspiration into a system.

Shruti Karandikar is a 16-year-old high school student from Bangalore. She has started ‘Screens for the Unscreened’ to collect phones, tablets, and laptops and donate them to underprivileged students. This is being converted into a non-governmental organization called ‘Mobilize’.

Sainadh Chityala  is a 22-year-old engineering student. He received the EV grant to develop software to power self-driving cars in unpredictable and chaotic driving environments in urban India.

Samarth Bansal  is a 28-year-old independent journalist and programmer in India. His reporting has appeared in Indian and foreign press like the The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Mint, and HuffPost, etc. He writes The Interval, a fortnightly newsletter. He received his EV grant to merge his two interests – developing AI platforms for journalism and serve the news at higher speed and lower cost.

Apurwa Masook is a 23-year-old structural engineer who graduated and cofounded and spearheaded India’s first Indigenous Student Rocketry Mission. He is the founder of Space Fields, a team of hustlers, engineers and space aficionados working towards affordable access to space. He received his EV grant to support Space Fields’s efforts in developing a low-cost high-performance green compositepellant to power next generation of Launch Vehicles.

Snigdha Poonam  is a 38-year-old journalist and author from Delhi. She has written about identity politics, income inequality, tech culture, and crime.  Her first book, Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World, won 2018’s Crossword Award for nonfiction. She received an EV grant to travel across India to for her investigative work on scams and fraud in the contemporary Indian political economy.

Aniruddha Kenge is a 20-year-old student of industrial design with an interest in carbon-based materials, especially graphene. He is working towards decarbonizing plastics and making their use, reuse, and production sustainable, swiftly. He received his EV grant to develop hemp fiber-based bio-composites in India that can replace multi-use plastics.

Keya Krishna is a 16-year-old high school student in Washington DC interested in the intersection of science, technology, and public policy. She received her EV grant to measure pollution exposures at a hyper-local level with a high level of spatial and temporal granularity, specifically focusing on the pollution exposure of school-going youth.

Abhilash Mishra is the Founder and Chief Science Officer of EquiTech Futures. He trained as a physicist and holds an M.Phys from the University of Oxford and a PhD in Astrophysics from Caltech. EquiTech Futures is a network of innovators from around the world using data science and AI to tackle societal challenges. Abhilash received his EV grant to develop and scale cohort-based courses, research residencies, and educational networking, through their programs EquiTech Scholars, EquiTech Residency, and EquiTech Institutes.

Reuben Abraham is the founding CEO of Artha Global, a new Mumbai and London based policy research and consulting organization that provides the scaffolding for efforts aimed at building state capacity. He was named ‘Think Tanker of the Year 2022’ by Prospect Magazine for putting together a large platform that enabled inter-disciplinary work to tackle the Covid-19 crisis in India.

Zi Cheng “Sam” Huang is a 26-year-old ethnographic researcher interested in elite spaces and cultural replication. Currently, they are assisting on a project about the beliefs of AI researchers. In their free time, they coach Peking University in competitive debating, effective altruism, and started a fellowship for talented young debaters to engage in effective altruism. With their EV grant, they seek to understand scaling education programs in India especially IITs.

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is an entrepreneur and writer from Dhaka, Bangladesh. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He received his EV grant to scale Future Startup into a leading destination to learn about entrepreneurship, tech, and business in Bangladesh.

Hemanth Bharatha Chakravarthy (21) and Benjamin Hoffner-Brodsky (22) are data scientists from Chennai and Davis with backgrounds in computational social science research and government. They founded Jhana, a Bangalore-based artificial intelligence lab, and are interested in simplifying and democratizing legal processes and information, and in building alignment and ethics tools for back-checking deployed AI systems. They are building a state-of-the-art, automatic legal search interface for lawyers and students. 

Tushar Khandelwal (24), is a former investment banker turned social entrepreneur. He is the founder of Sigma91 – a career accelerator for ambitious teens, and has built a community of over 400 highly talented teenagers.

Akash Kulgod is a 22-year-old researcher, writer, and techno-optimist from Belagavi, with a degree in cognitive science from UC Berkeley. He is the founder of Dogluk — a startup-DAO aiming to augment the ability of dogs to detect disease by transforming their olfactory perceptual abilities into digital and multidimensional signatures. He is also a team member of the Rajalakshmi Children Foundation. You can follow his substack for his writing and podcasts about Dogluk, effective altruism, and the psychedelic revival.

Raghav Gupta  is a 24-year-old industrial engineer and the founder of EquiDEI, a crypto-fintech startup. EquiDEI is a blockchain based protocol designed to monetize unbanked supply chain assets of small and medium sized enterprises in India, to provide low risk liquidity options. His ambition is to use his startup to generate wealth and liquidity and jobs for the SME ecosystem.

SealXX is a bioplastic solution to replace single-use plastics based on the concept of biomimicry, and it is founded and run by five teenagers across the world. At SealXX, they want to make the everyday products by mimicking protein-based natural processes by reducing the need for plastic reliance. Chandhana, Nithi, Roy, Nathan, and Elly, cofounders of SealXX were awarded an EV grant to develop and scale their biomimicry process.

  • Nithi Byreddy is a 17-year-old innovator and author researching the applications of carbon capture in climate science. She has worked on creating a blockchain-based solution to reduce people’s carbon footprint and has worked with IKEA to create sustainable innovations to reduce their carbon emissions.
  • Roy Kim is a 16-year-old innovator and environmentalist interested in mimicking the mechanisms and designs of nature to create sustainable environments, mainly cities. In addition to working alongside Walmart, he is currently developing a theoretical ecological urban utopia and further exploring the applications of biomimicry in our society.
  • Nathan Park is a 17-year-old entrepreneur who is interested in economics and business management. He is currently doing research on the economics of the housing market, and running a student-led, scientific publication called MIND Magazines that seeks to make science universally accessible to everyone.

Nexteen is an innovation accelerator program for 13-19 years-old students with programs aimed at exposing students to exponential tech to work on global challenges. Here are some of their ambitious students:

  • Vedanth Nath,16, is is a high schooler, football enthusiast, and the creative engine at Nexteen. Prior to Nexteen, ran Media House, and has worked in in the WASH Sector. He also leads Tech and Youth at LooCafe helping them become the largest Toilet-WASH Company in the country.
  • Karthik Nagapuri, 22, is an innovator, Defi developer, and student getting his completing the last year of his undergraduate degree in Artificial Intelligence. At Nexteen, he’s building the tech infrastructure that would be useful for innovators who are part of the program. He also worked on Safe Block, a crypto wallet nominee system. He is also the winner of a separate EV grant for building open API framework and tech for LooCafe.
  • Ayush Srivastava,19, is a serial entrepreneur who likes to work on operations of new startups to help them grow. He has helped operationalize several startups before Nexteen.
  • Anvitha Kollipara,16, is an entrepreneur. She works on scaling, bringing international accreditation, and acquiring partnerships with companies such as Adobe for the non-profits she founded. She was named one of the top three teen change-makers by Forbes for her work with CareGood Foundation.
  • Harsh Vardhan Shukla,19, is a YouTuber turned entrepreneur, completing his undergraduate degree in business development while working on the side on nanotech projects. He works on content production (videos) and podcasts.

Emergent Ventures India is now large enough for top-up grants and repeat winners! Some familiar names below:

  • Nilay Kulkarni, a 22-year-old software developer from Nashik, for his fintech start up.
  • Swasthik Padma to scale his start-up TrashTrap to scale Plascrete – a high strength building material made by converting non-recyclable plastic waste – for commercial use.
  • Chandra Bhan Prasad to continue his excellent scholarship on Dalit capitalism and Dalit dignity.
  • Naman Pushp, co-founder of Airbound, for his early efforts to explore sustainable on-ground mobility.
  • Onkar Singh to continue developing his open-source CubeSat.

Those unfamiliar with Emergent Ventures can learn more here and here. The EV India announcement is here. More about the winners of EV India second cohort and third cohort. To apply for EV India, use the EV application click the “Apply Now” button and select India from the “My Project Will Affect” drop-down menu.

If you are interested in supporting the India tranche of Emergent Ventures, please write to me or to Shruti at [email protected].

Wednesday assorted links

1. The culture that is New Jersey.

2. The etymology of splooting.

3. “In this cohort study of 3191 patients with e-scooter or bicycle injuries, e-scooter injuries commonly occurred at nighttime and involved young adults who were not helmeted and most often intoxicated.”  Link here.

4. Astaire-Reynolds.

5. The story of solo McCartney, volume I of a new biography.

6. The Japanese government is encouraging alcohol consumption, in a bid to boost tax revenue (FT).

7. Bitcoin’s longest-serving Lead Maintainer quits, naming no successor.

Still under-policed and over-imprisoned

A new paper, The Injustice of Under-Policing, makes a point that I have been emphasizing for many years, namely, relative to other developed countries the United States is under-policed and over-imprisoned.

…the American criminal legal system is characterized by an exceptional kind of under-policing, and a heavy reliance on long prison sentences, compared to other developed nations. In this country, roughly three people are incarcerated per police officer employed. The rest of the developed world strikes a diametrically opposite balance between these twin arms of the penal state, employing roughly three and a half times more police officers than the number of people they incarcerate. We argue that the United States has it backward. Justice and efficiency demand that we strike a balance between policing and incarceration more like that of the rest of the developed world. We call this the “First World Balance.”

First, as is well known, the US  has a very high rate of imprisonment compared to other countries but less well  known is that the US has a relatively low rate of police per capita.


If we focus on rates relative to crime then we get a slightly different but similar perspective. Namely, relative to the number of homicides we have a normal rate of imprisonment but are still surprisingly under-policed.


As a result, as I argued in What Was Gary Becker’s Biggest Mistake?, we have a low certainty of punishment (measured as arrests per homicide) and then try to make up for that with high punishment levels (prisoners per arrest). The low certainty, high punishment level is especially notably for black Americans.


Shifting to more police and less imprisonment could reduce crime and improve policing. More police and less imprisonment also has the advantage of being a feasible policy. Large majorities of blacks, hispanics and whites support hiring more police. “Tough on crime” can be interpreted as greater certainty of punishment and with greater certainty of punishment we can safely reduce punishment levels.

Hat tip: A thread from Justin Nix.