Category: Current Affairs

From the comments, on reverence for asceticism

…[the] US for instance…worships sex, and…celibates are viewed as “losers”. A Hollywood film that describes this social mindset is “40 year old virgin” that came out a decade or so ago.

India makes an interesting contrast. Though the life of the “married householder” is an ideal in India, celibates are viewed with respect and admired for their self-restraint. This is actually one important contributor to the charm and charisma of Narendra Modi – a celibate man, a teetotaller among other things. He is viewed as someone who has “conquered his senses” and is incorruptible.

This streak of anti-sensuality, very much a part of Indian culture, is not to be found in US.

More westernized Indians on the cultural Left, back in India, mock at the public’s fascination with Modi’s celibacy and his puritanism. There are jokes in this group that Modi is probably gay or asexual. No wonder he can stay single.

Again this highlights the large chasm between the attitudes of the modern western mind which does not choose to view sensual restraint as a virtue, versus more traditional societies where self denial and austerity command a certain awe.

That is from Shrikanthk.

The Royal Economic Society Prize

The 2017 Royal Economic Society prize for best paper in the Economic Journal has been awarded to Robert Warren Anderson, Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama for their paper Jewish Persecutions and Weather Shocks 1100-1800 (non-gated). Noel and Mark are colleagues at George Mason and Robert is a former GMU student. Here’s the abstract:

What factors caused the persecution of minorities in pre‐modern Europe? Using panel data consisting of 1,366 persecutions of Jews from 936 European cities between 1100 and 1800, we test whether persecutions were more likely following colder growing seasons. A one standard deviation decrease in growing season temperature in the previous five‐year period increased the probability of a persecution by between 1 and 1.5 percentage points (relative to a baseline of 2%). This effect was strongest in weak states and with poor quality soil. The long‐run decline in persecutions was partly attributable to greater market integration and state capacity.

The RES is correct, this is an excellent paper with a great combination of theory and original data.

The award is another indication of the stellar quality of GMU’s economics department.

Comprehensive occupational licensing reform in Nebraska

Also known as the Occupational Board Reform Act, LB299 requires legislative committees to review 20 percent of licenses under their purview a year, in a continuous five-year cycle.

This process creates a framework for identifying less restrictive regulations than licensing, including private certification, registration, insurance or bonding requirements, inspections, open market competition, or a combination of these approaches.

Workers with conviction histories could also receive an advisory opinion from state licensing boards about their eligibility to work in a licensed profession prior to beginning a training program.

While piecemeal occupational licensing changes have passed in the Nebraska Legislature before, reforms of more burdensome licenses have had trouble advancing from committee. That motivated the Platte Institute to educate lawmakers about the need for a more comprehensive approach.

Here is the full story, via Daniel Klein.

Polarization isn’t mainly about ideology

If out-group hostility is more important to party identification than support for particular policies or ideologies, we may not actually place very many ideological demands on our parties. Defeating our enemies may be more important than advancing specific liberal or conservative agendas. According to Groenendyk: “If partisans’ identities are increasingly anchored to hatred of the outparty than affection for their inparty, electoral dynamics are likely much more fluid than many accounts suggest. Thus, insurgent candidates with questionable ideological credentials (e.g., Donald Trump) may be more appealing than one might expect in the age of ideologically sorted parties.”

Here is more from George Hawley, via Philip Wallach.  Of course Amihai Glazer understood this decades ago…nor should you forget Bryan Caplan’s “simplistic theory of left and right.

Authoritarian gridlock

Legislative gridlock is often viewed as a uniquely democratic phenomenon. The institutional checks and balances that produce gridlock are absent from authoritarian systems, leading many observers to romanticize “authoritarian efficiency” and policy dynamism. A unique data set from the Chinese case demonstrates that authoritarian regimes can have trouble passing laws and changing policies—48% of laws are not passed within the period specified in legislative plans, and about 12% of laws take more than 10 years to pass. This article develops a theory that relates variation in legislative outcomes to the absence of division within the ruling coalition and citizen attention shocks. Qualitative analysis of China’s Food Safety Law, coupled with shadow case studies of two other laws, illustrates the plausibility of the theoretical mechanisms. Division and public opinion play decisive roles in authoritarian legislative processes.

That is from Rory Truex, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The Public Choice Outreach Conference–Limited Time Offer!

Hurry while there is still time to apply to the 2018 Public Choice Outreach Conference, a crash course in public choice for students planning careers in academia, journalism, law, or public policy will held June 9-10 in Arlington VA. Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Students majoring in economics, history, international studies, law, philosophy political science, psychology, public administration, religious studies, and sociology have attended past conferences. Speakers include Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan, Shruti Rajagopolan and many others.

You can find an application and more information here. If you are a professor please invite your students to apply.

My Conversation with Balaji Srinivasan

Here is the transcript and audio, and this is the intro:

Marc Andreessen has described Balaji as the man who has more good ideas per minute than anyone else in the Bay Area. He is the CEO of Earn.com, where we’re sitting right now, a board partner at Andreessen Horowitz, formerly a general partner. He has cofounded the company Counsyl in addition to many other achievements.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Why is the venture capital model so geographically clustered? So much of it is out here in the Bay Area. It’s spreading to other parts of the country. Around the world, you see Israel, in some ways, as being number two, per capita number one. But that’s a very small country. Why is it so hard to get venture capital off the ground in so many areas?

SRINIVASAN: That’s actually now changed with the advent of ICOs and Ethereum and crypto. Historically, the reason for it was companies would come to Sand Hill Road. One maybe slightly less appreciated aspect is, if you come to Sand Hill Road and you get VC financing, the VC who invests in your company typically takes a board seat. A VC does not want to fly 6,000 miles for every board seat if they’ve got 10 board seats and four board meetings a year per company.

What a VC would like in general, all else being equal, is for you to be within driving distance. Not only does that VC like it, so does the next VC in the B round and the next VC in the C round. That factor is actually one of the big things that constrains people to the Bay Area, is VC driving distance, [laughs] because VCs don’t want to do investments that are an entire world away.

With the advent of Ethereum and ICOs, we have finally begun to decentralize the last piece, which was funding. Now, that regulatory environment needs to be worked out. It’s going to be worked out in different ways in different countries.

But the old era where you had to come to Sand Hill to get your company funded and then go to Wall Street to exit is over. That’s something where it’s going to increasingly decentralize. It already has decentralized worldwide, and that’s going to continue.

COWEN: With or without a board seat, doesn’t funding require a face-to-face relationship? It’s common for VC companies to even want the people they’re funding to move their endeavor to the Bay Area in some way, not only for the board meeting. They want to spend time with those people.

We’re doing this podcast face to face. We could have done it over Skype. There’s something significant about actually having an emotionally vivid connection with someone right there in the room. How much can we get around that as a basic constraint?

And here is another:

COWEN: Right now, I pay financial fees to my mutual funds, to Merrill Lynch, all over. Anytime I save money, I’m paying a fee to someone. Which of those fees will go away?

SRINIVASAN: Good question. Maybe all of them.

And:

COWEN: Drones?

SRINIVASAN: Underrated.

COWEN: Why? What will they do that we haven’t thought of?

SRINIVASAN: Construction. There’s different kinds of drones. They’re not just flying drones. There’s swimming drones and there’s walking drones and so on.

Like the example I mentioned where you can teleport into a robot and then control that, Skype into a robot and control that on other side of the world. That’s going to be something where maybe you’re going to have it in drone mode so it walks to the destination. You’ll be asleep and then you wake up and it’s at the destination.

Drones are going to be a very big deal. There’s this interesting movie called Surrogates, which actually talks about what a really big drone/telepresence future would look like. People never leave their homes because, instead, they just Skype into a really good-looking drone/telepresent version of themselves, and they walk around in that.

If they’re hit by a car, it doesn’t matter because they can just rejuvenate and create a new one. I think drones are very, very underrated in terms of what they’re going to do. 

Do read or listen to the whole thing.

What are the problems with the intellectual left?

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

Paul Krugman recently made a splash in a New York Times column by suggesting there are no “serious, honest, conservative intellectuals with real influence,” referring to the “unicorns of the intellectual right.” I largely agree with his criticisms, but I would like to offer a very different perspective. This column is my corresponding warning to the left, like when somebody tells you your shirt is not properly tucked in.

Here is one passage, but there is much more:

Religion has been a major force in world history, and today is no exception. The popular intellectual who probably has made the biggest splash this year, Jordan Peterson, describes himself as a Christian. Right-wing intellectuals, overall, aren’t nearly as religious as is the broader right-wing electorate. Still, I find they are much better suited to understand the role of religion in life than are left-wing intellectuals. For intellectuals on the left, the primary emotional reaction to religion is to see it as a force standing in the way of social liberalism, feel awkward about how many Americans are still religious, and then prefer to change the topic.

I see the main victims of the political correctness movement as standing in the center or center-left. In fact, some intellectual superstars, such as Peterson or Steven Pinker, have thrived and received enormous attention by attacking political correctness. But if you don’t have a big public audience, you work in a university, and you wish to make a point about race or gender that isn’t entirely along “proper” lines, you will probably keep your mouth shut or suffer the consequences. Those intellectual victims are not mainly on the right, and it means the left has ended up somewhat blind on these issues. This underlying dysfunction is a big reason the left was so surprised by the election of President Donald Trump.

Do read the whole thing.

Let the boy Brexit!

Pope Francis has been praying for the British toddler Alfie Evans — and the Italian government has granted the child Italian citizenship and lined up a transportation plan that could swiftly bring the sick little boy to a Vatican hospital.

But Alfie’s doctors say he cannot be healed, and shouldn’t make the trip at all.

On Tuesday, according to lawyers representing Alfie’s family, a British judge sided with the doctors, saying that the family cannot accept the offer to take Alfie to the Vatican for treatment.

Here is the full story.  The boy’s situation is dire, but he has not even received a definitive diagnosis from the British doctors.

The Great Leland Yeager has Passed

Leland Yeager has passed at the age of 93. Yeager was the last of that remarkable group of scholars–including Buchanan, Tullock, Coase, Nutter–that made Virginia political economy. Yeager was a polymath perhaps best illustrated by The Yeager Mystique an appreciation by William Breit, Kenneth G. Elzinga and Thomas D. Willett written some twenty years ago (quoted below). His work on monetary theory and international monetary relations remain of great value today.

His facility with languages was legendary:

Another doctoral student, the president of the Graduate Economics Club, was working with Yeager (in Yeager’s capacity as Director of Graduate Studies) to bring Maurice Allais to the University of Virginia for a colloquium. Yeager passed any correspondence from Aliáis on to the club’s president for a response. The correspondence was in French.

Nonplussed by what he mistakenly considered Yeager’s challenge to him, the club’s president decided to retaliate. With the aid of a graduate student in another department, he responded to Yeager with a letter written in Sanskrit. Yeager was oblivious to the ruse. Innocently, he replied in Sanskrit, saying how pleased he was that the club’s president knew this language.

In a faculty of great teachers he was regarded as primus inter pares:

Sometimes he would invite students for a weekend at his Charlottesville residence, where he provided excellent cuisine and wine and conversations which could sometimes lead to a publishable manuscript. A fascinating instance is provided by this lucky house guest: “I happened to ask him some questions on a topic in monetary theory. Well, Leland immediately brought out his tape recorder, and for the next several hours I proceeded to ask him questions, which we then discussed fully. Every few minutes he would summarize the discussion on his tape recorder. Very early the next morning I could hear Leland typing away at his typewriter. When I got up, he presented me with 23 pages of transcript – he had typed up all that we had recorded the night before. We eventually converted that transcript into an article which was published by a major journal. I don’t think I will ever be able to duplicate the excitement I felt during that discussion with Leland into the wee hours of the night.

See Tyler’s personal remembrance below.

In case you have not been watching (the D.C. public school system)

It’s so bad that three agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Education Department and the D.C. Office of the Inspector General — are now investigating the D.C. Public School system.

This is after the revelation earlier this year that more than 900 students — a third of the capital’s entire graduating class — were not eligible for the diplomas they were given.

Add to that the bombshell last week that the school system is full of residency fraud — a good chunk of the kids who come to D.C. schools don’t even live in the city. This is happening at the highest levels, investigations showed. The executive assistant to former schools chancellor Kaya Henderson, Angela Williams-Skelton, hauled her grandkids from their Frederick, Md., home to a D.C. public school every day, right under the chancellor’s nose.

And then we have the resignation of one of Bowser’s most influential and prestigious appointments, the schools chancellor picked to follow Henderson, Antwan Wilson. He resigned because of the way his daughter got to leapfrog hundreds of D.C. students on a waitlist to get into the school she wanted.

Here is more from Petula Dvorak at The Washington Post.  As far as I can tell this has not been a major news story, and the main point of this particular article is to suggest that D.C. voters do not seem to care very much either.  Here are two related Scott Alexander posts.

The new economics of Tanzanian blogging

Repressive regimes across the world have found inventive ways to stifle internet freedom, from deleting posts to blocking service. But Tanzania’s government has come up with a scheme that could prove even more draconian: it plans to charge hundreds of dollars a year for the privilege of blogging.

As part of new online regulations, bloggers will be required to pay hefty registration and annual licence fees that add up to roughly $920 — prohibitive for most in a country with a nominal per capita income of under $900.

In proportion to GDP, the Tanzanian registration and licence fee would be the equivalent of asking Americans to pay nearly $60,000 to start a blog.

That is from John Aglionby and David Pilling at the FT.

How scary are Christians?

Only 3 percent of white Christians are first-generation immigrants. That compares with 10 percent of black Christians, 58 percent of Latino Christians, and 66 percent of Asian Christians. In other words, American Christianity is growing heavily through immigrants who are people of color. If Christians are really so scary, maybe it’s time to build that wall.

By the way:

And around the globe, the people most likely to be Christians are women of color.

So to put all the pieces together:

if you’re mocking Christians, you’re mostly mocking women, because women are more likely than men to be Christians. The greatest disproportion is found among black Christians, of whom only 41 percent are male. So you’re mocking black women in particular.

That is from the excellent Stephen Carter at Bloomberg.

Spain Italy fact of the day

Spaniards have became richer than Italians — a heartening indication of Spain’s economic revival but a worrying sign for Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy, which is stuck in political gridlock. Spain’s per capita gross domestic product exceeded that of Italy in 2017, according to IMF data published this week that compare countries on a so-called “purchasing power parity” basis. The IMF also forecast that Spain would become 7 per cent richer than Italy over the next five years. A decade ago Italy was 10 per cent richer on the same basis.

That is from Valentina Romei from the FT.

Africa fact of the day

Sub-Saharan Africa is slipping into a new debt crisis, with 40 per cent of the region’s countries now at high risk of debt distress — double the proportion of five years ago.

Chad, South Sudan, the Republic of Congo and Mozambique moved into “debt distress” in 2017, the IMF said, which means they have defaulted or cannot service their debts. A much higher number have breached one of the fund’s thresholds for debt or servicing burdens, putting them into the IMF category of highly vulnerable to default.

That is from Chris Giles and David Pilling at the FT.