Robert Wiblin interviews Yew-Kwang Ng

The podcast is here.  And from Wiblin’s email:

“Hi Tyler,

…I spoke with Professor Yew-Kwang Ng, a 75 year old Chinese-Australian economist in Singapore who was impressively ahead of his time and I would never have expected to exist. He:

  • Was an active columnist in Chinese newspapers in favour of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the 80s.
  • Was perhaps the first to write an analytical paper on wild animal welfare/suffering, in 1995!
  • Wrote about the great importance of investing to prevent human extinction in 1991, well before this became a mainstream view. He also tried to tackle resulting infinitarian paralysis before this issue was widely appreciated.
  • Is an advocate of direct brain stimulation, as a drug-alternative which humans don’t abuse or develop tolerance to.
  • Advocated over 50 years for utilitarianism, philosophical hedonism and cardinality in welfare economics and made major theoretical contributions to welfare economics.
  • Developed a theoretical basis for interpersonal utility comparisons.
  • Since forever has been promoting the correct reading of Harsanyi’s Social Aggregation Theorem rather than Rawls’ bastardisation of it.
  • Was a communist revolutionary in colonial Malaysia, but then studied economics and deconverted.
  • Figured out about half of what’s distinctive about ‘effective altruist’ thinking, totally independently and on his own well before most people got to the questions.
  • Was the first to introduce non-perfect competition in macroeconomics by combining microeconomics, macroeconomics, and general equilibrium analysis into ‘mesoeconomics’, showing that Keynesianism and Monetarism are special cases.”

It made me sad that he isn’t more widely appreciated already, even by people building on his work today, so I made a guide to his most pioneering or influential publications to go along with the episode.

It would be great if you could post on MR and Twitter! :)”

Solve for the Hilfiger hoodies equilibrium

This week, Tommy Hilfiger introduced Tommy Jeans XPLORE , a new line of clothes and accessories that all come bugged with “smart chip technology,” which tracks how often you wear them and where you go with them on.

There’s even an exclusive game, sort of like Pokémon Go, that you can use to earn rewards like gift cards and concert tickets.

“It’s all of your must-have Tommy Jeans favorites with smart chip technology,” the brand’s website reads…

The company said in its announcement for the line that it hopes the chipped clothes and game will help create a “micro-community of brand ambassadors.” In essence, they’re rewarding you for wearing the products more often.

Here is the story, and for the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

Falling corporate tax rates appear to be the equilibrium

The average corporate tax rate globally has fallen by more than half over the past three decades, from 49 percent in 1985 to 24 percent in 2018, the study found.

“Corporate taxes are going to die in 10 to 20 years at this rate,” Ludvig Wier, an economist at the University of Copenhagen and a co-author of the study, said in an interview. “Without drastic collective action, you can see we’re nearing the end of it.”

Here is the full WaPo story by Jeff Stein.

Will the AIDS pandemic worsen again?

A 63-nation survey funded by WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found anywhere from 6 to 11 percent of new infections involved drug-resistant forms of HIV, and the trend was dire, with resistance increasing as high as 23 percent annually. Once individuals were put on their daily treatments, in 2017 failure rates due to drug resistance were as high as 90 percent in some countries, meaning new infections in those regions could no longer be controlled with the $75-a-year first-line therapies. The first such survey conducted in Cameroon, recently published, found that the majority of patients failing their primary treatments—up to 88 percent of them—were infected with resistant strains of HIV, and overall drug resistance rates in the West African nation in 2018 approach 18 percent.

Meanwhile, preventing HIV infection has fallen off the priority list, both in funding and individual action.

There is more of interest at the link, that is from Laurie Garrett, writing at Foreign Policy.

Cross-Mediterranean migration to Europe is falling

Fewer successes, more deaths:

Between 2015 and 2017, according to United Nations data analyzed by The Washington Post, about 95 percent of migrants taking the so-called central Mediterranean route ended up on this continent’s shores.

Last month, however, the success rate was 45 percent — the lowest of any month in at least four years. A large proportion of migrants were intercepted and returned to North Africa. But deaths have spiked. According to the International Organization for Migration, 564 people died in June — or more than 7 percent of those who attempted the crossing. That is the highest percentage in any month since at least 2015. For the year, 3.4 percent have died attempting the journey, compared with 2.1 percent last year.

“Outsourcing” seems to be a major reason for this change:

Many migrants don’t make it to Europe because they don’t make it past the fleet of Libyan patrol vessels. The coast guard, rebuilt with E.U. and Italian funding, has become the most important player in the Mediterranean. Though the unit has been patrolling its coastal waters for more than a year and a half, data suggests it is becoming far more proficient at its job: intercepting migrants, placing them in detention on Libyan shores and keeping them from Europe.

In 2017, the Libyan coast guard managed to catch about 1 in 9 migrants attempting the journey. This year, it is intercepting almost 2 in 5. In June, it intercepted 47 percent.

Here is the full WaPo story by Chico Harlan.

How partisan is local law enforcement for immigration?

That is the topic of a new paper from Daniel M. Thompson, political science at Stanford.  The answer is “not very”:

Is local law enforcement conducted differently based on the party in power? I offer an answer to this question by focusing on a case in which law enforcement is elected and has meaningful independent discretion: sheriff compliance with federal requests to detain unauthorized immigrants. Using a regression discontinuity design in a new dataset of over 3,200 partisan sheriff elections and administrative data on sheriff behavior, I find that Democrats and Republicans comply at nearly the same rate. These results contribute to ongoing research into the role that partisanship plays in local policymaking, indicating that law enforcement officers make similar choices across party lines even when they have broad authority. I also present evidence that sheriffs hold more similar immigration enforcement views across party than the general public, highlighting the role of candidate entry in determining the level of partisan polarization.

For the pointer I thank Andrew Hall.  And here is Daniel Thompson on Twitter.

The longest history lesson ever is about Texas

n August 24 at 9 a.m., Andrew Torget will take the podium in a University of North Texas auditorium, clad in a suit and armed with 500 pages of notes. Forty-five students will be seated in front of him, notebooks — no laptops! — at the ready.

He’ll open his notes, clear his throat, and begin his lecture. If he’s going to successfully teach the longest recorded history class ever, he won’t be able to stop, aside from occasional brief breaks, for the next 30 hours. At least 10 of his students will have to stick it out, too.

Torget, an associate professor of history at North Texas, is gunning for an official Guinness World Record — for longest history lesson. What will the class cover? Texas history. All of it, he says, “from cave people up until last week.”

Here is the story by Sarah Brown, via Anecdotal.

Noah Smith and I debate the future of immigration into America

Over at Bloomberg:

Noah Smith: …Your conclusion was that although most Americans might have warm feelings toward immigrants in the abstract, the minority who are intensely anti-immigrant will prevail.

I think there are reasons to doubt this conclusion. The first reason is that illegal immigration and low-skilled immigration — the types that people tend to feel most negatively about — are both way down from a decade ago. Because these unpopular inflows are simply less of an issue, the pressure for restriction might abate quickly. Meanwhile, with U.S. fertility rates low, the U.S. needs skilled immigrants to come in and pay taxes to support the comfortable retirements of the elderly native-born. We might be seeing a situation similar to the mid-1800s, in which the needs of the U.S. economy override a brief bout of nativism.

Tyler Cowen: I still don’t see a renewed dose of immigration increases in America’s immediate or even midterm future. Immigration has become a major issue all around Europe, and pretty uniformly it is helping right-wing parties, not the left. Democrats fear this scenario for the U.S., even if immigration is polling pretty well at the moment. And so Democrats will keep some distance from the issue, more than one might have thought a few years ago.

Democrats also have begun to rethink the demographic-dividend strategy, based on the premise that immigrants will continue to vote for the Democrats in disproportionate numbers. According to one estimate, in 2016 perhaps as many as 28 percent of Latinos voted Republican, more than many observers had been expecting. The very successes of assimilation mean that many immigrants will end up voting Republican. Furthermore, a lot of recent legal arrivals are among the strongest opponents of illegal immigration into this country. I increasingly doubt that Democrats will be willing to bet the farm on a political strategy to boost immigration.

There is much more at the link.

Which happiness results are robust?

Timothy N.Bond and Kevin Lang have a report from the front:

We replicate nine key results from the happiness literature: the Easterlin Paradox, the ‘U-shaped’ relation between happiness and age, the happiness trade-off between inflation and unemployment, cross-country comparisons of happiness, the impact of the Moving to Opportunity program on happiness, the impact of marriage and children on happiness, the ‘paradox’ of declining female happiness, and the effect of disability on happiness. We show that none of the findings can be obtained relying only on nonparametric identification. The findings in the literature are highly dependent on one’s beliefs about the underlying distribution of happiness in society, or the social welfare function one chooses to adopt. Furthermore, any conclusions reached from these parametric approaches rely on the assumption that all individuals report their happiness in the same way. When the data permit, we test for equal reporting functions, conditional on the existence of a common cardinalization from the normal family. We reject this assumption in all cases in which we test it.

I can’t recall the last time a single paper so influenced my overall view of a field.  Their critique is even stronger than the abstract makes it sound.

Chinese sentences of the day another view of Trump

I have just spent a week in Beijing talking to officials and intellectuals, many of whom are awed by his skill as a strategist and tactician…He [Yafei] worries that strategic competition has become the new normal and says that “trade wars are just the tip of the iceberg”.

…In Chinese eyes, Mr Trump’s response is a form of “creative destruction”. He is systematically destroying the existing institutions — from the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement to Nato and the Iran nuclear deal — as a first step towards renegotiating the world order on terms more favourable to Washington. Once the order is destroyed, the Chinese elite believes, Mr Trump will move to stage two: renegotiating America’s relationship with other powers. Because the US is still the most powerful country in the world, it will be able to negotiate with other countries from a position of strength if it deals with them one at a time rather than through multilateral institutions that empower the weak at the expense of the strong…

My interlocutors say that Mr Trump is the US first president for more than 40 years to bash China on three fronts simultaneously: trade, military and ideology. They describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can. They speak of the skillful way Mr Trump has treated President Xi Jinping. “Look at how he handled North Korea,” one says. “He got Xi Jinping to agree to UN sanctions [half a dozen] times, creating an economic stranglehold on the country. China almost turned North Korea into a sworn enemy of the country.” But they also see him as a strategist, willing to declare a truce in each area when there are no more concessions to be had, and then start again with a new front.

That is highly speculative, to say the least.  And perhaps you should not be happy if China sees your strategy as strong, since China itself generally does a poor job cultivating allies and also undervalues them.  In any case, that is from Mark Leonard at the FT.

Wednesday assorted links

Facts about economics papers

The average length of a published economics paper has more than tripled over the past four decades, and some academics are sick of wading through them. At this year’s American Economics Association conference, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor David Autor compared a 94-page working paper about the minimum wage to “being bludgeoned to death with a Nerf bat” and started a Twitter hashtag, #ThePaperIsTooDamnedLong.

…Between 1970 and 2017, the average length of papers published in five top-ranked economics journals swelled from 16 pages to 50 pages, according to an analysis by University of California, Berkeley economists Stefano DellaVigna and David Card.

Longer papers can include more-robust statistical analysis, engage in multifaceted arguments or address complex topics. Some economists speculate paper inflation is also the product of the laborious peer-review process, in which other economists act as referees and read drafts, then demand any number of additions before publication…

Economists also tend to write defensively, including redundant material even in early versions of papers to head off possible quibbles that might come up during the review process, said Samuel Bazzi, an economics professor at Boston University.

That is from Ben Jeubsdorf at the WSJ.  One question is whether longer papers are better from a scientific point of view.  A second and more important question is whether long papers are better for attracting genius talent to the economics profession.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

Is eliminating corporate tax havens such a good idea?

Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato says maybe not:

We show that eliminating firms’ access to tax havens has unintended consequences for economic growth. We analyze a policy change that limited profit shifting for US multinationals, and show that the reform raised the effective cost of investing in the US. Exposed firms respond by reducing global investment and shifting investment abroad — which lowered their domestic investment by 38% — and by reducing domestic employment by 1.0 million jobs. We then show that the costs of eliminating tax havens are persistent and geographically concentrated, as more exposed local labor markets experience declines in employment and income growth for over 15 years. We discuss implications of these results for other efforts to limit profit shifting, including new taxes on intangible income in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Here is the NBER paper.

Educational sentences to ponder

Of course, poor kids can still soar in school, and rich ones can flunk out, but few would deny that money is a powerful influence on people’s futures. Now, consider that household income explains just 7 percent of the variation in educational attainment, which is less than what genes can now account for. “Most social scientists wouldn’t do a study without accounting for socioeconomic status, even if that’s not what they’re interested in,” says Harden. The same ought to be true of our genes.

And:

“Education needs to start taking these developments very seriously,” says Kathryn Asbury from the University of York, who studies education and genetics. “Any factor that can explain 11 percent of the variance in how a child performs in school is very significant and needs to be carefully explored and understood.”

The researchers are to the point:

What policy lessons or practical advice do you draw from this study?

None whatsoever. Any practical response—individual or policy-level—to this or similar research would be extremely premature and unsupported by the science.

Here is the story, via Michelle Dawson.  Here is the underlying paper, here are the FAQ.