Monday assorted links

1. The economics of Substack and Ghost (NYT).

2. Short SNL video if The Woke invaded Star Trek.  And “Atomic Superyacht to Offer $3 Million Eco-Tours With Scientists” (Bloomberg).

3. Exaggerated, but an update on Sweden (and Uruguay).  And perspective from Andreas Backhaus.  And excess pessimism from some experts.

4. “Now, great economists often change their views over time, as they should when new information arrives. Mundell, however, changed his whole intellectual style; if you were to read his Nobel lecture without knowing who wrote it, you might never have guessed that it was the same man who devised those crisp little models several decades earlier.”  Paul Krugman on Mundell.

5. Antibodies through injection, seems to work.

6. Advance viewing of the Boring tunnel in Nevada.

Why I am not entirely keen on the Great Barrington Declaration and AIER

More people are asking me about my attitudes toward Great Barrington and AIER, including David Henderson in this post (which also has a good transcript of my remarks to Russ Roberts).  Earlier I wrote a conceptual critique of the Great Barrington Declaration, but today I would like to make some more targeted remarks.  I didn’t do this when speaking to Russ because I feel they require direct quotation and documentation, which one cannot easily do in a podcast.  And in general I don’t like to write posts “attacking people” (way oversupplied on the internet), but in this case libertarian sympathies are so split that a kind of a wake-up call is needed.

Let me first say that if you are libertarian, and would like a libertarian response to the pandemic, and you find Alex and me not libertarian enough, read the Ryan Bourne book from the Cato Institute.  You may not agree with everything in there, but it has no “gross errors” and no “biomedical weirdness.”  And people, the Cato Institute really is libertarian.  They once hired David Henderson as chief economist.

As for the AIER, read this Jeremy Horpedahl thread and click through appropriately, here is the Sam Bowman-produced part of the thread.  Conspiracy theorist and shall we say “speculative thinker” Naomi Wolf is now a senior researcher at AIER, please do read her tweets.  5G conspiracy theories?  Vaccine nanoparticles that make you travel back in time?  “Not kidding” she wrote, and the general weirdness extends far beyond that, to some of her books as well.  Or try this “externality denialism” from just a few days ago: “Your vaccine status makes no difference to others.”  Her pinned tweet casts suspicion on Bill Gates, and refers to “global treason.”

I say it is a mistake to let such a group set the libertarian agenda or indeed any agenda, even if you favor very rapid reopenings and are very critical of lockdowns.  I implore you to think very seriously about what is going on here.

Going back to the GBD proper, which again is sponsored by AIER, here is co-author Sunetra Gupta:

“What we’ve seen is that in normal, healthy people, who are not elderly or frail or don’t have comorbidities, this virus is not something to worry about no more than how we worry about flu,”  professor Gupta told HT.

Nope, almost 600,000 U.S. deaths later.  Or how does this Gupta claim look?:

‘Why would you arrest transmission?’ she asks. ‘To wait for a vaccine? You cannot get rid of it.’

What would Benjamin Netanyahu say?  Or Gupta in May: “Covid-19 is on the way out.”

The best of them is probably Jay Bhattacharya, with whom I often agree, and who, as far as I can tell, has no track record of blatantly false predictions.  Yet even he cannot avoid a tinge of biomedical weirdness.

Why was Bhattacharya on the advisory board of the anti-vax group Panda?  I am reluctant to play the “guilt by association” game here, but I think there is a broader pattern of these writers simply being wrong about the science, and their associations reflecting that.

I agree with his WSJ critique (with Kulldorff) of vaccine passports.  Still, he comes up with some literally true but misleading sequences such as:

The idea that everybody needs to be vaccinated is as scientifically baseless as the idea that nobody does. Covid vaccines are essential for older, high-risk people and their caretakers and advisable for many others.

I wonder why cannot he bring himself to say that “the average social value of a 16-year-old getting vaccinated is strongly positive”?  (And we are running significant tests to lower the remaining uncertainty, and if it is merely adenovirus platforms you worry about well say that.)  Instead he has to walk around the issue and play down the value of near-universal Covid vaccination.  You might think that is all the fault of the editorial chopping board, but it seems to be a broader and more consistent pattern with this group.

Take Hulldorff’s now-famous tweetThose with prior natural infection do not need it [Covid vaccines]. Nor children.”  “Need?” — OK, I get it, demand curves slope down.  But again, his tweet is not nearly as good or as accurate a message as “the average social value of a 16-year-old getting vaccinated is strongly positive.”  There is good evidence that the vaccines provide better protection than does natural infection, especially against the Covid variants, and it is established that infected younger persons can carry Covid to the unvaccinated, of which there will always be quite a few, most of all globally.  Furthermore, non-vaccine methods of achieving herd immunity are looking worse, due to the spread of variants and areas such as Manaus, which seem to have high rates of reinfection.  And have I mentioned that hospitalization rates for the young are rising?  (We are not sure why.)

Is it so great that 38.9% of Marines are refusing to take the vaccine? (no).  Or have these writers looked into the huge success that is Gibraltar?

Why take this weird, hinky attitude toward the science for no good reason?  It’s as if — when it comes to vaccines — they deliberately talk in an Alice in Wonderland universe without self-awareness of that fact.

No matter what your associations may or may not be, getting people vaccinated with quality vaccines is the #1 issue right now and it is the path back to liberty most likely to succeed and prove sustainable.  If you are not really enthusiastic about that, I think, frankly, that you are out to lunch.

Markets in everything those new service sector jobs work from a distance

Soon, she said, money began flowing into her account. “Please take all of my money for your trip, I don’t deserve it,” wrote Betaboy10, who gave $500, according to screen shots she provided to The New York Times. Another, named SubMike00, sent $250. A user who goes by Peter Zapp sent $400, along with the message: “I’d do anything to be owned by you.”

Welcome to the lucrative world of financial domination, a form of B.D.S.M. that has flourished during the pandemic, when many sex workers and their customers have migrated online because of social distancing precautions. The concept is simple, even if the allure is not immediately self-evident: “finsubs” (short for “financial submissives”) send monetary “tributes” to a financial dominatrix, who could be any gender, in exchange for being humiliated and degraded.

“It’s controlling someone through their wallet,” said Mistress Marley. (The Times agreed to identify her only by her professional name to prevent stalkers from finding her.) “I love waking up every day realizing that submissive men pay all my bills and I don’t spend a dime.”

…Giving away your hard-earned money may seem counterintuitive or unpleasant, like paying off credit cards and student loans. But for finsubs, who are also known as “pay pigs,” it is liberating and titillating.

And:

Financial domination is helping Charlie, 29, a sales manager in Ohio, identify as a transgender woman, even as she presents as a man in her “vanilla” life, she said. King Kourt, her findomme, has full access to one of her bank accounts, she said, and as part of a “consensual blackmail” arrangement, King Kourt threatens to expose Charlie as a woman in exchange for money.

The idea, both said, is to encourage Charlie to live as she wants in public as well as private.

Giving up financial control may also help some finsubs become more empathetic. William M., 31, a technology manager for a school system, said that he spends $300 a month on Queen Astro, 31, a findomme from Los Angeles. Every time he sends money, she publicly belittles him on Twitter or degrades him on Skype.

“I used to be much more self-centered,” William said.

And here is paragraph that is totally wrong:

In that sense, financial domination is not so different from some marriages. “We don’t call it findom,” Dr. Kort said. “We see it as romantic, as one partner telling another, ‘I’m going to take care of you.’ In findom, it becomes erotic, but it’s the same dynamic.”

Here is much more from The New York Times.  Seems to me like a pandemic-driven shift in the terms of trade to the suppliers!  Work backwards and infer the underlying elasticity of demand.

Sunday assorted links

How to extract information from on-line reviews, or why Star Wars is still a thing

Online reviews promise to provide people with immediate access to the wisdom of the crowds. Yet, half of all reviews on Amazon and Yelp provide the most positive rating possible, despite human behaviour being substantially more varied in nature. We term the challenge of discerning success within this sea of positive ratings the ‘positivity problem’. Positivity, however, is only one facet of individuals’ opinions. We propose that one solution to the positivity problem lies with the emotionality of people’s opinions. Using computational linguistics, we predict the box office revenue of nearly 2,400 movies, sales of 1.6 million books, new brand followers across two years of Super Bowl commercials, and real-world reservations at over 1,000 restaurants. Whereas star ratings are an unreliable predictor of success, emotionality from the very same reviews offers a consistent diagnostic signal. More emotional language was associated with more subsequent success.

Here is more from Matthew D. Rocklage, Derek D. Rucker, and Loran F. Nordgren, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

My Conversation with Lex Fridman

2 hours 9 minutes long, Lex is one of the very best interviewers/discussants in the sector.  Here is the video, here is the audio.  Plenty of new topics and avenues, including the political economy of Russia (note this was recorded before the massing of Russian forces on the Ukraine border).  Lex’s tweet described it as follows:

Here’s my conversation with @tylercowen  about economic growth, resisting conformity, the value of being weird, competition and capitalism, UFO sightings, contemporary art, best food in the world, and of course, love, death, and meaning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Grseeycor4

Recommended.

India China Canada fact of the day

Kolkata has long been home to India’s largest Chinese community. At its peak, when Calcutta (as it then was) was the capital of imperial India, it was home to 50,000 ethnic Chinese…

Yet the Chinese community is wilting, anyway. It now numbers perhaps 2,500. Many more “Calcutta Chinese” live in Markham, a city in Canada, than in Kolkata.

Here is more from The Economist.

Saturday assorted links

1. Your Ponzi career?

2. People systematically overlook subtractive changes.  And a Patrick Collison comment: “An obvious point that took me way too long to appreciate: in software engineering, you should probably optimize for speed even when you don’t have to, because it’s one of the easiest/best ways to prioritize subtraction and parsimony in the solution space.”

3. Against alcohol.

4. Ezra Klein interviews Brian Deese about the economic thinking of the Biden Administration (with transcript).  A good instantiation of “where they are at.”

5. Various observations on the Biden corporate tax plan.

6. ‘Sense of Disappointment’ on the Left as the N.Y.C. Mayor’s Race Unfolds.” (NYT)  Again, I’m going to double down on my earlier claim that the progressive Left has peaked (which is not to claim that statism has peaked, it hasn’t).  This is NYC people!

7. Fact and fiction about Ethiopia’s ethnofederalism?  The content is hardly controversial to most readers I suspect, or even deeply committal on main issues, but the author chose anonymity nonetheless, which is itself a meta-comment on the piece’s own topic.

8. Map of all the physics particles and forces, highly useful, good explication, I don’t find any of this stuff intuitive.  “Strangely, there are no right-handed W bosons in nature.”  What is wrong with you people!?  Why can’t it all be windowless monads?  Or is it?

Which are the most striking elements of Monkey Pong?

Watch this if you haven’t already:

What comes to your mind is an interesting kind of Rorschach test.  A few options (not necessarily endorsed by me) are:

1. Where did they get that background from?

2. Can I have some of what that monkey is drinking?

3. Wealth concentrations are going to make IRB regulations less relevant over time.

4. How many people want to play Pong against a wired monkey?  Will we employ or enslave monkeys to enable this?  What is in fact the relevant difference?

5. What else can that monkey (cognitively) do better than I can?

6. Which regulatory agency will have jurisdiction over the (presumably disabled) humans who want this as a medical treatment?  What about the non-disabled humans?  The Navy pilots?

7. Where does this all end?

8. Will this raise or lower the price of monkeys?

What else?

New York City estimate of the day

In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan, home to the country’s two largest central business districts, has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday, contributing to an estimated $1 billion drop-off in property tax revenue.

JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce, Target and more are giving up expensive office space, and others are considering doing so. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the largest private-sector employer in New York City, wrote in a letter to shareholders this week that remote work would “significantly reduce our need for real estate.” For every 100 employees, he said, his bank “may need seats for only 60 on average.”

Here is more from The New York Times.  And this is with vaccination proceeding apace, and recovery well within sight.  It is going to be a very different New York City.

From Charles Kenny

Friends: I’m writing to tell you about my latest book and ask you to take a look (and share the news).

Your World, Better is written for the smart and engaged middle school student.  It looks at how America and the World has changed since the reader’s parents and grandparents were young: what has happened to health and wealth, homes, school and work, rights and democracy, war and the environment, happiness and depression.   It talks about the things that have gotten better, the sometimes-intensifying challenges that remain, and what readers can do about them.  (Some of you might hear echoes of my earlier book Getting Better –it is a source, but this is a very different text).

I wrote it because my (middle school age) elder daughter’s friends appear largely of the opinion that everything is terrible, and after the last eighteen months it is a little hard to blame them for thinking that. Your World Better is optimistic, but it doesn’t shy away from the considerable problems we face: from inequality through discrimination and depression to climate change and infectious threats.  It is meant to encourage kids to help make the world better: tip them from hopelessness toward action, not into complacency.  I hope you think I get the balance right.

The pdf of Your World Better is available to download in my blog for free.  Or you can buy a kindle version for 99 cents or a hard copy for $8.10.  Any author royalties from those sales will be donated to UNICEF.

What I’ve been reading

1. Susan Bernofsky, Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser.  I believe you need to have read Walser first, but if so this is a far better biography than what you might have expected the English-speaking world to have produced.  It is also an implicit portrait of where pre-WWI Europe went wrong, the history of micro-writing, and a paean to general weirdness, noting that Walser in both his life and writing is inexplicable to this day.

2. Andy Grundberg, How Photography Became Contemporary Art.  How does a whole genre rise from also-ran status to a major (the major?) form of contemporary art?  This is an excellent history with nice color plates and it is also a causal account.  I liked this sentence, among others: “Surprisingly, the acceptance of color photography had happened earlier in the art world than in the so-called art photography world.”  Polaroid had a significant role as well.

3. Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Amazon.  A truly good and very substantive management book (I hear your jaw hitting the floor).  Just that statement makes it one of the best management books ever.  Really.

4. Tom Jones, George Berkeley: A Philosophical Life.  A thorough biography of an 18th century Irish philosopher who is still worth reading.  Berkeley also wrote on monetary theory and pioneered the idea of an abstract unit of account.

5. Ryan Bourne, Economics in One Virus: An Introduction to Economic Reasoning through Covid-19.  This book came out yesterday, I read it earlier, and here is my blurb: “A truly excellent book that explains where our pandemic response went wrong, and how we can understand those failings using the tools of economics.”  It is published by Cato, a libertarian think tank, and it is a much better and more integrated and science-based account than what you might find from other groups, whether libertarian or non-libertarian.

How should you feel if you attentively finish Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey, Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment?

Cameron Blevis, Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West, is a good book and on a more important topic than you might think.

Additional Thursday assorted links

1. Will Greenland let China mine there?

2. How regulators are starting to think about Coinbase.  And interpreting bitcoin as a better chain letter.

3. Neopronouns: “but what does thon think?”  And today’s Ezra Marcus NYT piece on neopronouns is first-rate.  Can I use “Tyler” as my neopronoun?  Can I choose to be pronounless?: “Instead of using third person pronouns, a nullpronominal person is usually referred to by name, or can be referred to with an epithet, or the sentence can be rephrased to omit pronouns, typically by using the passive voice.”  I like that, should I put it on my Twitter profile?

4. Ezra Klein (NYT) has a very good take on the Biden administration, though I would frame the described truths in a quite negative manner.  I would say that in essence they are making decisions based on their own sociology and class and conformism, and also on the basis of what they think (poorly informed) voters want, rather than focusing on scientific reasoning and trying to see that through.  And whatever problems economics might have, including as a predictive tool, one does not do better with those who are trying to take its place.  Further interpretation from Ezra here.

5. Bryan Caplan turns fifty, and what did he do in his forties?

6. More on muons.  Best treatment so far.

Vaccine passport sentences to ponder

From New York State:

Using Excelsior Pass is entirely voluntary, but it requires learning about the state’s system and mastering a few different websites and apps. It took me 20 minutes over Zoom to help an octogenarian set up his pass, though it was certainly simpler than mastering vaccine-appointment websites. And even when we thought we understood the system, Excelsior Pass didn’t always work: My tech-reporter colleague tried to use it to enter Yankee Stadium, but the system didn’t update with his clearance until after the game was over…

Testing Excelsior Pass, what surprised me most was how easy it is to fake. When you first sign up for your QR code on the state website, it asks a handful of questions based on your vaccination and testing records. But after that, you’re on the honor system — you can add the QR code to any phone without any more challenge questions.

Designed by IBM, here is the full story.  I get that different parts of the country (Michigan…surge vaccine supply!) may need to proceed at different speeds, but basically it is time to plan a full reopening, and it seems that vaccine passports are more likely to hinder than to help achieve that end.