*The Morning Star*, by Karl Knausgaard

Yes, it is the real Knausgaard again, writing under lockdown and delivering a nearly 700-pp. novel that does indeed sound like Knausgaard but is not (strictly) autobiographical.

Here is a Swedish review, excerpt:

I read mostly the novel as an entertaining study of non-reflective life, an exploration of how a secularized society chooses to refrain from considering what does not fit the common explanatory models provided by our various sciences….

Here is a Kirkus review:

A sui generis metaphysical yarn, engrossing in its particulars if broadly rambling.

I would say it is not as viscerally satisfying as the best parts of My Struggle, but about half of it is quite good, the pace is fairly quick, and I had no trouble wanting to finish the book.  Some surprises come at the end, and KK is increasingly a “religious thinker” in my sense of that term.

Two more parts will be written, and those will clear up all of the remaining mysteries.

Claims about the art world (and other things)

Unsurprisingly, [Marc] Spiegler rejects the notion that an increased digital presence could undermine the necessity for the art world to fly to [Basel] Switzerland. “Having content available ahead of time builds momentum and increases, rather than diminishes, people’s desire to come.”

Comparing the fair to a music concert, Spiegler says: “The more live sets a DJ has online, the better attended their shows are. It hypes people up. The fairs are fun, people like seeing each other, they’re not going to stop wanting that.” Indeed for many, Art Basel 2021 will mark the welcome return to a once packed social calendar on the art world circuit, filled with invaluable in-person exchanges. Here’s hoping for a rager.

That is from Kabir Jhala at The Art Newspaper.  It does seem the Basel Art Fair will be held in person this September.

Do honorifics pass a market test?

Following on my discussion from the other day, it is worth thinking about whether new institutions or sectors work very hard to set up a lot of honorific titles.  So many of our standard honorifics come from quite old sectors, such as the military or religion or the nobility.  Are the new sectors seeking to copy those practices?

The world of gaming is quite new, and I do not think it does much to award generalized honorific titles per se, noting that naming competition winners as victors is a fundamentally different practice.

The world of tech is (mostly) pretty new, and it too does not rely much on titles.  Stock options are more important!  Of course you might call someone “employee #37,” but do they go around referring to “Programmer Smith”?  Yes Smith deserves “respect,” but somehow they don’t take it in that direction.

If honorific titles are so wonderful, why do most new institutions seem to be honorific-shy?  Surely a lot of the benefit from such honorific titles ought to be internal to the organization.

(As an aside, I think of women as being treated much better in think tanks and research centers than in academia, and in relative terms having superior opportunities.  And yet there are no formal honorific titles such as “Professor” in the former institutions.  I am not suggesting causality here, but still it seems that the more informal systems are hardly a train wreck for women as a whole.)

Clearly, titles do benefit particular individuals, such as those who are currently not receiving enough respect in their jobs.  But for larger groups as a whole, does it make sense to double down on the honorifics strategy?  In a world where say YouTube stars have more and more influence each year?  Where actual performance in most sectors is easy to measure than ever before?  Is it really so great to so validate the notion of “having done all your homework”?  Honorifics impose lots of costs on the broader group by formalizing hierarchies and making them based on the achievement of arbitrary credentialized plateaus, such as receiving a Ph.D.  Would you really want to invest in the group that wanted to move in the honorifics direction?  Or would you instead think of them as fighting yesterday’s war of ideas?

Can you think of significant new sectors that are investing in honorific titles?  If not, what should you infer from that?  You might claim that titles in the military are tried, true, and tested, and you would be right.  But at the margin should we have greater or less emphasis on titled honorifics as the world changes moving forward?  What are the market data telling us right now?

You already know what I think.

Electric shock devices on humans now allowed once again

A Massachusetts school can continue to use electric shock devices to modify behavior by students with intellectual disabilities, a federal court said this month, overturning an attempt by the government to end the controversial practice, which has been described as “torture” by critics but defended by family members.

In a 2-to-1 decision, the judges ruled that a federal ban interfered with the ability of doctors working with the school, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, to practice medicine, which is regulated by the state. The Food and Drug Administration sought to prohibit the devices in March 2020, saying that delivering shocks to students presents “an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury.”

Although the F.D.A.’s ban was national, the school in Canton, Mass., appears to be the only facility in the United States using the shock devices to correct self-harming or aggressive behavior…

The treatment, in which students wear a special fanny pack with two protruding wires, typically attached to the arm or leg, can deliver quick shocks to the skin when triggered by a staff member with a remote-control device.

Here is the full NYT story.  You might argue this treatment can be useful in many cases, but what exactly is the error rate here?  How high an error rate should we be willing to accept?  What recourse do the victims have, noting that many probably live under guardianship?  How might you model the incentives of the staff at the facility who use this?  How well do “prison guards” behave more generally?

As a side note, I think this matter should be handled by legislation rather than the FDA.

Thursday assorted links

1. The Great Apes also have time inconsistent preferences.  And NBC Sports to cover world chess championship.

2. The Norwegian century we were never woke.

3. A case for gdp-linked bonds.

4. Taco-eating job pays surprisingly well.

5. Retroactive public goods funding, partly by Sage Vitalik.

6. Izabella Kaminska on the paradox of DeFi, original paper here.

7. Minerva, higher ed innovator, is now fully accredited.

Why humans will perish rather than become grabby aliens

It turns out that Homo Sapiens is not all that different from other, early proto-human species, such as Neanderthals.  They are the “closest things to us.”  Denisovans, etc.  We killed them off.  (We also are likely to mostly kill off chimpanzees, zoos and research labs excluded.)  Therefore the best prediction is that we kill us off too.  The other species like us died through mass violence at the hands of humans.  We don’t have many data points, but they all seem to end the same way.

You might think a) “we are really good at killing off other species,” rather than b) “we are really good at killing things off.”  Therein lies some hope.  Signs of cross-national solidarity thus should make you much more optimistic about the future.

How’s that African vaccine distribution program coming?

Malaysia is phasing out Sinovac

Malaysia’s Ministry of Health said yesterday that the country will stop administering the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech once its current supplies run out, amid mounting evidence that the vaccines have limited efficacy against the Delta variant that is currently ravaging Southeast Asia.

They will switch mainly to Pfizer.  Thailand also will not be relying on Sinovac, and Turkey and UAE are moving in similar directions.  Here is the article, via Rich D.

I have a simple question, namely how to solve for the Chinese equilibrium.  Are they too supposed to switch away from Chinese vaccines to the Western vaccines?  Could the government stand that loss of face?

Seriously people, how is this one supposed to develop?  Inquiring minds wish to know.

Wednesday assorted links

1. “…the evolution of peer review is best understood as the product of continuous efforts to steward editors’ scarce attention while preserving an open submission policy that favors authors’ interests.

2. “An estimated 1.2 million people died from snakebites in India between 2000 and 2019, the equivalent of more than 58,000 a year, according to a recent paper.”  Link here.

3. The next wave of Facebook Bulletin writers.

4. Myhrvold says Portland is the best pizza city in the U.S.; I say eastern Connecticut.

5. Mastercard partners with Circle to settle stablecoin payments.  Are we seeing “the rails built before our eyes”?

6. UAPx: new non-profit to monitor UFOs.

7. Ten questions you should not ask in Iceland.

Why should they call us “professors”?

I’ve long wondered about this, and explore that question in my latest Bloomberg column.  I’ve discouraged this for a long time:

…I have insisted that my graduate students call me “Tyler.” My goal has been to encourage them to think of themselves as peer researchers who might someday prove me wrong, rather than viewing me as an authority figure who is handing down truth.

And:

Some of the strongest norms are around the title “Doctor.” Just about everyone calls their physician “Doctor,” though the esteemed profession of lawyer does not receive similar treatment. As a Ph.D.-toting academic, I’ve even had people say to me — correctly — “You’re not a real doctor.”

I fear that by ceding this unique authority status to doctors we are making it easier for them to oversell us medical care, a major problem in the U.S. If your doctor suggests that you need a procedure done, it can be hard to say no, especially if you have been deferring to that person for years through the use of an honorific title. On the upside, perhaps all that deference has encouraged many people to get their vaccinations.

There are some arguments for titles:

Sometimes a title can be used to suggest a subordinate position, such as the use of Nurse. It can be an honorific, but it also places the person below the Doctor. The advantage, however, is one of greater anonymity and remove. A woman in particular might prefer “Nurse Washington” over the use of her real full name, given the potential risk of harassment.

Title issues and gender issues intersect in tricky ways. A title such as doctor or professor can give a woman newfound respect, but perhaps the practice hurts respect for women as a whole, since they are titled at lower rates than men.

What I expect we will see is that “established” women and minorities will insist on title usage all the more, to command respect, and under the guise of societal feminization we will evolve a new set of non-egalitarian hierarchies, presented and marketed to us under egalitarian pretenses.  On related ideas, see my earlier post on the first date book walk out meme.

The wisdom of Ilya Shapiro

Civil-Rights Law as Lawyer Full-Employment Act The data that Eric Kaufmann presents and explains about ideological prejudice, social intolerance, and “affective polarization” (“Political Discrimination as Civil-Rights Struggle,” July 12) are as disturbing as they are depressing. Progressive authoritarianism is a growing problem, particularly among young elites and thus at the commanding heights of business, culture, and education. But the solution Kaufmann proposes – expanding anti-discrimination law to cover political belief – is worse than the disease.

There’s a reason why legal protections for ideology are currently found only in places such as Seattle and Washington, D.C.: They’re progressive innovations, one more barnacle on the crusty hull of employment law. Each time a new protected category is added to civil-rights laws that were originally enacted to break Jim Crow – talk about “systemic racism”! – it further burdens employers and enriches lawyers. Indeed, Kaufmann’s proposal is a lawyer full-employment act, with easily foreseeable litigation about whether a particular ideological belief is a “bona fide occupational qualification.”

“Legislators and courts would need to define terms tightly,” Kaufmann allows, but how confident are we that they would, or will long continue to do so? If discrimination “on the basis of sex” can be read 50 years later to include sexual orientation and gender identity – see last year’s Bostock v. Clayton County, which did just that to federal employment law – then even the tightest statutory definitions will loosen over time. In other words, the idea that narrow exemptions for political parties (what about think tanks?) from a ban on political discrimination won’t eventually be read to allow forced adherence to corporate diversity/equity/inclusion statements is laughable. And then we’re back where we started, except with more billable hours.

That is his letter to National Review, the response of Kaufmann can be found at the same link.

Why the post-1960 divergence for Haiti and the Dominican Republic?

Here is a very good post from Noah Smith on that topic, opening excerpt:

As recently as 1960, the two countries had similar standards of living. Today, the D.R., by some measures, is eight times as rich as Haiti, while Haiti’s standard of living hasn’t advanced at all since 1950.

The D.R. has already surpassed Brazil and Colombia; if Covid doesn’t knock it off its growth trend, it’ll soon pass Mexico and Argentina.

A forensic exercise then follows, for instance:

When Haiti won its independence from France, France sent warships to demand reparations for Haitian expropriation of French property (i.e. slaves and land). Haiti agreed to pay a considerable sum, and to give France cheap exports as well. Some people blame this monumental act of extortion for Haiti’s poverty. It makes a simple, intuitive sort of sense — if someone takes your money, it’s hard to get rich right?

But there are some big problems with this thesis. First of all, Haiti finished paying back this debt (which France reduced) in 1947. That’s at least a decade before Haiti and the D.R. started to diverge economically, and four decades before the divergence became pronounced. Furthermore, Haiti’s total external debt in 2019 was only about 15% of GDP, while the D.R.’s was about 40%! The D.R. is far more indebted to foreign countries now than Haiti is.

I agree with the points made by Noah in the longer post, and would add a few factors.  First, Haiti’s moments of extreme political weakness happened to coincide with a major increase in drug trafficking in the region.  Second, the DR has done an especially good job of mobilizing Special Economic Zones to support its economic growth, at least relative to Haiti.  That in turn had broader feedback effects on subsequent political economy and thus economic growth.  Haiti, in contrast, ended driving out its MNEs — Disney manufacturing was once in the country, baseball production was once significant, and so on, but none of those gains have compounded and mostly they went away, due to bad governance and infrastructure.  (And the massive corruption at Haiti’s main port is a striking contrast with DR export procedures through the SEZs.)  Third, and this one may be as much symptom as cause, but the DR managed to decentralize its power structures somewhat through economic growth on its peripheries, through both tourism and SEZs.  In Haiti, the second- and third-tier cities have not developed, and have turned into backwaters, while centralization in Port-au-Prince has continued unabated, thereby intensifying the logic of Haitian rent-seeking.

Tuesday assorted links

1. What FARC ate for fifty years.

2. Post 9-11, subsidizing higher education didn’t do much for veterans.

3. Nuclear gender gap uh-oh?  And the French are wavering on nuclear (FT).

4. Notes on persistence and economic development.

5. Dating without looksism? (NYT)

6. Very good Interfluidity post on how crypto might work (but not dominate).

7. Excellent Matt Wakeman post on his Peru trip.

Ray C. Fair on price inflation

This paper uses an econometric approach to examine the inflation consequences of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Price equations are estimated and used to forecast future inflation. The main results are: (1) The data suggest that price equations should be specified in level form rather than in first or second difference form. (2) There is some slight evidence of nonlinear demand effects on prices. (3) There is no evidence that demand effects have gotten smaller over time. 4) The stimulus from the act combined with large wealth effects from past household saving, rising stock prices, and rising housing prices is large and is forecast to drive the unemployment rate down to below 3.5 percent by the middle of 2022. 5) Given this stimulus, the inflation rate is forecast to rise to slightly under 5 percent by the middle of 2022 and then comes down slowly. 6) There is considerable uncertainty in the point forecasts, especially two years out. The probability that inflation will be larger than 6 percent next year is estimated to be 31.6 percent. 7) If the Fed were behaving as historically estimated, it would raise the interest rate to about 3 percent by the end of 2021 and 3.5 percent by the end of 2022 according to the forecast. This would lower inflation, although slowly. By the middle of 2022 inflation would be about 1 percentage point lower. The unemployment rate would be 0.5 percentage points higher.

As I do not think the correct answers here are close to certain, I am happy to continue to survey a broad range of opinion.  Stay tuned…

Here is the link, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  As for the markets, here is yesterday’s report from Neil Irwin:

“So we’re at 1.2% 10-year Treasury yields with 5.4% year-over-year inflation. Very normal very cool.”

As I interpret those numbers, the market expects inflationary pressures, the Fed to respond, but that response will induce a recession.  Stay tuned…

Biden, COVID and Mental Health in America

Using US Census Household Pulse Survey data for the period April 2020 to June 2021 we track the evolution of the mental health of nearly 2.3 million Americans during the COVID pandemic. We find anxiety, depression and worry peaked in November 2020, coinciding with the Presidential election. The taking of prescription drugs for mental health conditions peaked two weeks later in December 2020. Mental health improved subsequently such that by April 2021 it was better than it had been a year previously. The probability of having been diagnosed with COVID did not rise significantly in the first half of 2021 but COVID infection rates were higher among the young than the old. COVID diagnoses were significantly lower in States that had voted for Biden in the Presidential Election. The probability of vaccination rose with age, was considerably higher in Biden states, and rose precipitously over the period among the young and old. Anxiety was higher among people in Biden states, whether they had been diagnosed or not, and whether they were vaccinated or not. The association between anxiety and depression and having had COVID was not significant in Biden or Trump states but being vaccinated was associated with lower anxiety and depression, with the effect being larger in Biden states. Whilst being in paid work was associated with lower anxiety, worry and depression and was associated with higher vaccination rates, it also increased the probability of having had COVID.

That is a new NBER working paper from the highly regarded David G. Blanchflower and Alex Bryson.  Model that!