*Won’t You Be My Neighbor?*

That is the title of the new documentary on the life and career of Mister Rogers.  Are there better movies on?:

1. The roots of American greatness.

2. The importance of “will” in building a succcessful career.

3. Toleration and individualism and respect for children.

This has to go down as one of the better documentaries, and it seems Mister Rogers was a better and more important thinker than many of the intellectuals of his time.  I had not known that Rogers had been trained and ordained as a Presbyterian minister.

On top of all that, the film is Straussian throughout.  Definitely recommended.  By the way, the documentary doesn’t mention this, but the show actually had its origins in Toronto on CBC.

What I’ve been reading

Gregory Claeys, Marx and Marxism, a better than expected take on where Marxism came from and how Marx’s different intellectual periods fit into his life.  One of the better introductions to Marx, noting that it does not stress issues of economic theory.

Tarjei Vesaas, The Ice Palace.  Not well known in the United States, but still one of the better Norwegian novels.  Short, readable, concerns a boy who goes missing.

Peter Cozzens, The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West.  Very good overall history of the post-Civil War campaigns against Native Americans, still highly relevant for understanding American foreign policy, and attitudes toward guns, among other things.

David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History.  A very strong work about race relations on the other side of the Atlantic.  I had not known that “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is Yoruba for “life goes on.”  The song as a whole was intended by Paul McCartney as a parable of the possibility of West Indian assimilation and it was a direct response to Enoch Powell.  Definitely recommended.

Linda Yueh’s What Would the Great Economists Do?: How Twelve Brilliant Minds Would Solve Today’s Biggest Problems, is probably the closest we will come to having an updated version of Robert Heilbroner.

Joshua Keating, Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood looks at Abkhazia, Kurdistan, Somaliland, Liberland, and a Mohawk reservation straddilng the U.S.-Canada border, as well as a Pacific Island that might disappear.  An interesting book for fans of alternative governance arrangements.

I’ve now see the page proofs for Steven Pearlstein’s Can American Capitalism Survive?: Why Greed is Not Good, Opportunity is Not Equal, and Fairness Won’t Make Us Poor.  His view is not mine, but if you want his view this book is the place to get it…

MAGA?

US exports increased 14.4 percent from YTD April 2016 to YTD April 2018, from $725.8 billion to $830.5 billion.

US imports increased 16.5 percent from YTD April 2016 to YTD April 2018, from $886.2 billion to $1,032.3 billion.

Here is the source, via James Hohman.  You don’t have to credit Trump with much if any of that, the broader point is that, as I argued yesterday, the age of trade is hardly over.

The Economic Limits of Bitcoin and the Blockchain

From Eric Budish at the Booth School of Business at Chicago:

The amount of computational power devoted to anonymous, decentralized blockchains such as Bitcoin’s must simultaneously satisfy two conditions in equilibrium: (1) a zero-profit condition among miners, who engage in a rent-seeking competition for the prize associated with adding the next block to the chain; and (2) an incentive compatibility condition on the system’s vulnerability to a “majority attack”, namely that the computational costs of such an attack must exceed the benefits. Together, these two equations imply that (3) the recurring, “flow”, payments to miners for running the blockchain must be large relative to the one-off, “stock”, benefits of attacking it. This is very expensive! The constraint is softer (i.e., stock versus stock) if both (i) the mining technology used to run the blockchain is both scarce and non-repurposable, and (ii) any majority attack is a “sabotage” in that it causes a collapse in the economic value of the blockchain; however, reliance on non-repurposable technology for security and vulnerability to sabotage each raise their own concerns, and point to specific collapse scenarios. In particular, the model suggests that Bitcoin would be majority attacked if it became sufficiently economically important — e.g., if it became a “store of value” akin to gold — which suggests that there are intrinsic economic limits to how economically important it can become in the first place.

I like the framework of this paper, though I wonder if there shouldn’t be more on the coordination costs of mounting a “double spending” attack, namely how exactly the returns from the attack should be divided.  Perhaps the most positive scenario for Bitcoin is if those coordination costs rise with the returns to the attack itself, in which case a much higher market value for Bitcoin still might be stable.

Friday assorted links

Why we still should be optimistic about free trade

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

A lot of the recent cross-border migration is planting a hugely positive, pro-trade legacy that will yield dividends for decades to come. The Chinese, Indians, Nigerians and many other groups around the world will continue to build economic connections, even when the countries involved aren’t always so geographically close. I expect the positive trade gains from these connections and personal networks will outweigh the downside from some higher tariffs in the meantime. Ultimately the opportunities are there, and the biggest problem is the lack of human talent to execute on them.

I do however see one big problem:

The internet shows some signs of breaking down into separate networks, connected only imperfectly. The Chinese “Great Firewall” has proved robust, and recently the European Union has moved toward creating its own set of stringent privacy and data protection laws, such as the new General Data Protection Regulation standards. Sitting here in Norway for a conference, I find I am unable to access many American websites, such as the Chicago Tribune, which are not (yet?) GDPR-compliant. There is thus a danger that the internet will become carved into three or more separate systems, to the detriment of trade, data flows and eventually personal  connections.

Do read the whole thing.

Is carbon capture underrated?

Siphoning carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere could be more than an expensive last-ditch strategy for averting climate catastrophe. A detailed economic analysis published on 7 June suggests that the geoengineering technology is inching closer to commercial viability.

The study, in Joule, was written by researchers at Carbon Engineering in Calgary, Canada, which has been operating a pilot CO2-extraction plant in British Columbia since 2015. That plant — based on a concept called direct air capture — provided the basis for the economic analysis, which includes cost estimates from commercial vendors of all of the major components. Depending on a variety of design options and economic assumptions, the cost of pulling a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere ranges between US$94 and $232. The last comprehensive analysis of the technology, conducted by the American Physical Society in 2011, estimated that it would cost $600 per tonne.

That is by Jeff Tollefson in Nature, via Brad Plumer.  Of course this is potentially very significant news.

How much is deep sea fishing subsidized?

While the ecological impacts of fishing the waters beyond national jurisdiction (the “high seas”) have been widely studied, the economic rationale is more difficult to ascertain because of scarce data on the costs and revenues of the fleets that fish there. Newly compiled satellite data and machine learning now allow us to track individual fishing vessels on the high seas in near real time. These technological advances help us quantify high-seas fishing effort, costs, and benefits, and assess whether, where, and when high-seas fishing makes economic sense. We characterize the global high-seas fishing fleet and report the economic benefits of fishing the high seas globally, nationally, and at the scale of individual fleets. Our results suggest that fishing at the current scale is enabled by large government subsidies, without which as much as 54% of the present high-seas fishing grounds would be unprofitable at current fishing rates. The patterns of fishing profitability vary widely between countries, types of fishing, and distance to port. Deep-sea bottom trawling often produces net economic benefits only thanks to subsidies, and much fishing by the world’s largest fishing fleets would largely be unprofitable without subsidies and low labor costs. These results support recent calls for subsidy and fishery management reforms on the high seas.

Emphasis added, that is by Enric Sala, et.al., via Anecdotal.

Can privatization solve Ethiopia’s problems?

Here is a new paper by Ermyas Amelga, excerpt:

Privatization will not just solve the GTP’s financing problem, a worthy enough accomplishment in its self, but would also help address macroeconomic problems. These include funding/driving aggregate demand, financing aggregate investment, solving the foreign exchange shortage, rebalancing the balance of payments, dampening inflation and reviving general economic activity. May seem improbable but its not.

In the context of the huge financing needs to fulfill the plans under the GTP, privatization represents an excellent means of cashing out on the accumulated net worth of Ethiopia’s SOE’s. Indeed, there is arguably no more justifiable use of this accumulated net worth than spending it on the GTP that the government itself believes is worthy of supreme sacrifice from all corners of society.

This paper is a very good introduction to both Ethiopia’s corporate problems and also their fiscal problems.  Privatization is not entirely fashionable these days, but the current situation in Ethiopia presents perhaps the strongest case for it.  So if your initial reaction is “Ah privatization, that is the failed strategy that China rightly rejected”…you are making exactly the same mistake made by many privatization proponents in the 1990s.  Ethiopia is starved for revenue, foreign exchange, and the country needs more private sector involvement/

And lo and behold, Ethiopia has in fact just announced a major plan to privatize many parts of some of the major state-owned companies.

By the way, I wish to thank Chris Blattman for an introduction to Ermyas and also for valuable ideas and information related to Ethiopia.

Brutalism in Singapore

Is this article evidence that we (I?) are living in a simulation?  Or did the editors of The Economist place it as an Easter Egg for me?:

The building, which was once called a “vertical slum” by a Singaporean legislator, is a densely packed mix of residential and commercial units. Along with People’s Park in Chinatown (pictured), which has been praised by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, it is among a handful of Brutalist buildings that were built in a surge of architectural confidence after the country became independent in 1965. They are particularly adored by those who love concrete, as well as bold and wacky colours.

Modernist buffs have started to fret that many of these Brutalist buildings will soon be gone. In February one of them, Pearl Bank, once the highest residential tower in Singapore, was sold for S$728m ($544m) to CapitaLand, one of Asia’s largest real-estate developers. The company plans to demolish the yellow horseshoe structure and build a “high-rise residential development” of 800 flats in its place.

Here is the full story, here is a related article from Malay Mail.

Advice for possible and wanna-bee book writers

Adam Ozimek asks me:

Bleg for , don’t think I asked this before but maybe I did…. advice for economists and other social scientists planning on writing a book (I’m not planning, just curious for the future)

Let me pull out those social scientists whose disciplines expect them to write books for tenure and promotion, because those are quite different cases.  I’ll start with a few simple questions:

1. Should you write a book?  You will always have something better to do, and thus IQ and conscientiousness are not necessarily your friends in this endeavor.  And you are used to having them as your friends in so much of what you do.

2. Should anyone, other than historians (broadly construed), write a book?

3. Will you make more money from an excellent email newsletter?

4. How about some YouTube lectures?  You don’t have to mention the lobster.

5. Consistently good columnists are hard to come by, and believe it or not blogs still exist.

6. Twitter is now up to 280 characters, photos too, maybe more to come.

7. Will your book idea still be fresh, given the long lags in the writing and publication cycle?  Won’t DT have done so much more between now and then?  Don’t his tweets obliterate interest in your book?

8. In advance, try to predict the price they will charge for your book.  Also try to predict the percentage of the reading public — and I mean those who bought your book — who will get past the first ten percent.

One good reason to write a book is when you have the feeling you cannot do anything else without getting the book out of your system.  In that sense, you can think of the lust to write books as a kind of disability.

Another good reason to write a book is so you can do the rounds on the podcast circuit.  It doesn’t matter if no one reads your book, provided you are invited to do the right podcasts.  Wouldn’t you rather talk to people anyway?

Yet another possible reason to write a book is the desire to get on “the speaker’s circuit,” noting that most book topics won’t help you with this at all.  You had better be good.

Bryan Caplan is perhaps the most natural “social science book writer” I have met, besides myself of course.  Not only does he want people to agree with him, he insists that they agree with him for the right reasons.

If you’re still game, start by writing every single day.  No exceptions.  Sooner or later, you will have something, and then you can write another one.

Wednesday assorted links

1. Those new service sector jobs: “Florida’s best-known industries include citrus, seafood and selling tacky souvenirs to tourists. But there’s one booming Florida industry that hardly ever gets a mention from the Chamber of Commerce folks.

Mermaids.

All over the state there are now scores of women — and a few men — who regularly pull on prosthetic tails and pretend to be those mythical creatures made popular by Hans Christian Anderson and Walt Disney. Some do it for fun, but quite a few are diving into it as a business, charging by the hour to appear at everything from birthday parties to political events.”

2. Robin Hanson Age of Em paperback is now out.

3. Ethiopia agrees to abide by its earlier peace and boundary agreement with Eritrea (NYT, big news).

4. Dennis Rodman to Singapore?