What should we regulate *more*?

Since the Biden team does not seem too favorably disposed to deregulation, perhaps it is worth asking in which areas we should be pushing for additional regulation.  Here are a few possible picks, leaving pandemic-related issues aside, noting that I am throwing these ideas out and in each case it will depend greatly on the details:

1. Air pollution.  No need to go through this whole topic again, carbon and otherwise.  Remember the “weird early libertarian days” when all air pollution was considered an act of intolerable aggression?

2. Noise pollution.  There is good evidence of cognitive effects here, but what exactly are we supposed to do?  Can’t opt for NIMBY now can we!?

3. Something around chemicals?  How about more studies at least?

4. Housing production.  You can look at this as more or less regulation depending on your point of view.  But perhaps cities of a certain size should be required by the state government to maintain sufficient affordability.

5. Mandates for standardized reporting of data?  For example, the NIH requires that scientists report various genomic data in standardized ways, and this is a huge positive for science.  What else might work in this regard?

6. Federal occupational licensing, in lieu of state and local.

7. Software as a service from China?

8. Animal welfare and meat production.

9. Is there a useful way to regulate to move toward less antibiotic use?

10. Should we have more regulation of AI that measures human emotions?  How about facial and gait surveillance in public spaces?

11. How about regulating regulation itself?

What else?

I thank an MR reader for some useful suggestions behind this post.

Positive externalities through family member incarceration?

This result surprised me, but perhaps there are gains from getting the bad apples out of the household?:

Every year, millions of Americans experience the incarceration of a family member. Using 30 years of administrative data from Ohio and exploiting differing incarceration propensities of randomly assigned judges, this paper provides the first quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of parental and sibling incarceration in the US. Parental incarceration has beneficial effects on some important outcomes for children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 4.9 percentage points and improving their adult neighborhood quality. While estimates on academic performance and teen parenthood are imprecise, we reject large positive or negative effects. Sibling incarceration leads to similar reductions in criminal activity.

That is new from Samuel Norris, Matthew Pecenco, and Jeffrey Weaver, forthcoming in the AER.  Via Ilya Novak.  Here is Noah on this study, here is a related result from Sweden.

Sunday assorted links

1. Those new service sector jobs.

2. How much would be collected from a higher capital gains rate?

3. Fairfax County police chief under fire for earlier behavior.

4. “The Pfizer vaccine’s “280 different components, manufactured in 86 different sites across 19 countries, driven partly by the research of Turkish migrants to Germany, is globalization in a needle.””  Link here.

5. Income at the margin for Supreme Court Justices (Bloomberg).  Is this a problem or not?

6. The difficulties of being Australian (Pakistani).

What predicts professional philosophers’ views?

The entire piece is interesting, but this segment caught my eye in particular:

Additionally, they found that being more politically right-leaning was associated with several philosophical views, such as theism, free will libertarianism, nonphysicalist views in philosophy of mind, and the correspondence theory of truth.

Here is more from Justin Weinberg.  Belief in hard determinism, by the way, is correlated with lower levels of happiness.

I say this all boosts Strauss in relative status.  It is important to believe that people really are special and possess agency, no matter what the actual truth.

What I’ve been reading

1. Marcel Proust, The Mysterious Correspondent: New Stories.  Yes they read like fragments, but Proust’s fragments are still better than almost anything else.

2. Michele Alacevich, Albert O. Hirschman: An Intellectual Biography.  There can never be enough books on Albert Hirschman, noting this one focuses on his ideas rather than his life.

3. Jennifer Ackerman, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think.  A good and entertaining overview of some of the most interesting questions about birds, including bird intelligence.  “Extreme behavior in birds is more likely in Australia than anywhere else.”

4. Paul Betts, Ruin and Renewal: Civilizing Europe After World War II.  The immediate aftermath of WWII was the last time the Western world was truly chaotic, and this book captures that time well, including its intellectual milieu.  Are you interested in how West and East German books of manners differed in the late 1940s and 1950s?  If so, this is your go-to book.

5. Tim Birkhead, The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology.  As I tweeted: “I am coming to the conclusion that the quality of books about birds is higher than about almost any other subject.”  Simple question: have you read a better book about the history of ornithology than this one?

Tom Standage, A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next is a very good history of what it promises.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, is indeed…a defense of truth.

There is Niall Ferguson, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe, lots of bad news yes, but is he short the market?

NFT virtual horse markets in everything

Is it simply that we have made gambling too much fun and too intriguing?  Or should we upgrade our view of the welfare consequences of gambling?:

On Zed Run, a digital horse racing platform, several such events take place every hour, seven days a week. Owners pay modest entry fees — usually between $2 and $15 — to run their steeds against others for prize money.

The horses in these online races are NFTs, or “nonfungible tokens,” meaning they exist only as digital assets….

“A breathing NFT is one that has its own unique DNA,” said Roman Tirone, the head of partnerships at Virtually Human, the Australian studio that created Zed Run. “It can breed, has a bloodline, has a life of its own. It races, it has genes it passes on, and it lives on an algorithm so no two horses are the same.” (Yes, owners can breed their NFT horses in Zed Run’s “stud farm.”)

People — most of them crypto enthusiasts — are rushing to snap up the digital horses, which arrive on Zed Run’s site as limited-edition drops; some of them have fetched higher sums than living steeds. One player sold a stable full of digital racehorses for $252,000. Another got $125,000 for a single racehorse. So far, more than 11,000 digital horses have been sold on the platform.

Alex Taub, a tech start-up founder in Miami, has purchased 48 of them. “Most NFTs, you buy them and sell them, and that’s how you make money,” Mr. Taub, 33, said. “With Zed, you can earn money on your NFT by racing or breeding.”

One implication here is that automation is never going to destroy all of the jobs.  Here is the full NYT story.

*American Republics*

That is the new Alan Taylor book and the subtitle is A Continental History of the United States, 1783-1850.  Excerpt:

With 124,000 inhabitants in 1813, Mexico City was twenty times bigger than Washington, D.C. — and about forty times grander.  Poinsett described the public buildings and churches as “vast and splendid,” providing “an air of grandeur…wanting in the cities of the United States.”  A German intellectual, Alexander von Humboldt, thought the city’s statues and Baroque palaces “would appear to advantage in the finest streets of Paris, Berlin and [St.] Petersburg.”

…Mexico City had an array of cultural institutions created during the colonial era.  “No city of the new continent, without even excepting those of the United States, can display such great and solid scientific establishments as the capital of Mexico,” marveled Humboldt.  The United States had nothing to match Mexico’s Academy of Fine Arts, National Botanic Garden, National University, and School of Mines.  Founded in 1551, the university was the oldest in the Americas.

The book is excellent, including on Mormons, and also the War of 1812, and it will be one of the best books of this year.  It is time to admit that Taylor is not only one of the best historians, but he is one of the best writers period in any field.  Recommended.

The American economy circa 2021

Spending on cars and trucks is 15.1 percent higher than it would have been on the 2019 trajectory; spending on furnishings and durable household equipment is 16.6 percent higher; and spending on recreational goods is a whopping 26 percent higher.

Altogether, durable goods spending is running $348.5 billion higher annually than it would have been in that alternate universe, as Americans have spent their stimulus checks and unused travel money on physical items.

The housing sector is experiencing nearly as big a surge. Residential investment was 14.4 percent above its prepandemic trend, representing $90 billion a year in extra activity. And that was surely constrained by shortages of homes to sell, and lumber and other materials used to make them. It is poised to soar further in coming months, based on forward-looking data like housing starts.

Another bright spot is business investment in information technology. The tech industry has been comparatively unscathed by the crisis. Spending on information processing equipment in the first quarter was 23 percent higher than its prepandemic trend, and investment in software 7.4 percent higher.

But:

Spending on transportation services remains 23 percent below its prepandemic trend, recreation services 31 percent, and restaurants and hotels 19 percent.

Those three sectors alone represent $430 billion in “missing” economic activity — largely equivalent, it’s worth noting, to the combined shift of economic activity toward durable goods and residential real estate.

A corollary shows up in trade data. Services exports are down 26 percent compared with the prepandemic trend, which reflects in significant part the freeze-up in global travel.

Here is the full NYT story.

Friday assorted links

Why the quality of the police is not higher

According to the Fairfax County Fraternal Order of Police, the average starting salary for a Fairfax County cop is $52,000. The median household income in the county was $124,831 in 2019.

And:

Fairfax County Police Department is down 188 officers, according to Sean Corcoran, president of the Fairfax County Coalition of Police. Officers eligible for retirement are leaving, others are getting out to join higher paying federal agencies like the Capitol Police.

It is thus very difficult to exercise quality control.  Here is the full story.

The culinary space culture that is French

A French astronaut who leaves Earth these days does not leave French food behind.

Here are some of the foods that Thomas Pesquet, a French astronaut who launched on a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station on Friday, will enjoy during his six-month stay in orbit: lobster, beef bourguignon, cod with black rice, potato cakes with wild mushrooms and almond tarts with caramelized pears.

“There’s a lot of expectations when you send a Frenchman into space,” Mr. Pesquet said during a European Space Agency news conference last month.

Alas, alcohol is prohibited, much of the food is freeze-dried, and croissants do not work in orbit.  They do have kale and ice cream.  Here is the full story (NYT).

Facts about biomass

The carbonaceous winners are plants, which make up about 80 percent of all biomass on Earth. Bacteria comes in second at 13 percent and fungus is third at just 2 percent.

Of the 550 gigatons of biomass carbon on Earth, animals make up about 2 gigatons, with insects comprising half of that and fish taking up another 0.7 gigatons. Everything else, including mammals, birds, nematodes and mollusks are roughly 0.3 gigatons, with humans weighing in at 0.06 gigatons. The research appears in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The fact that the biomass of fungi exceeds that of all animals’ sort of puts us in our place,” Harvard evolutionary biologist James Hanken, who was not involved with the study, tells Borenstein.

Here is the full piece.  And from the cited research article:

…the biomass of domesticated poultry (≈0.005 Gt C, dominated by chickens) is about threefold higher than that of wild birds…

…the total plant biomass (and, by proxy, the total biomass on Earth) has declined approximately twofold relative to its value before the start of human civilization. The total biomass of crops cultivated by humans is estimated at ≈10 Gt C, which accounts for only ≈2% of the extant total plant biomass…

In terms of biomass, mollusks are a bigger deal than you might think.