Category: Current Affairs

The fragmentation of France?

The less fortunate have their own cultural markers of Americanisation. Again, Fourquet analyses names. The Maries of French tradition were replaced by Kevins (after Home Alone) and Dylans (after Beverly Hills 90210). The map of these American names coincides with the places where Marine Le Pen can count on her firmest support. Many National Rally activists bear names such as Jordan Bardella, today the number two in the party, or Davy Rodriguez, who headed its youth organisation. More phenomena of this kitschy low-status Americanisation include the immense popularity of country music clubs, vintage US cars, and pole dancing across France, as well the spread of the Buffalo Grill restaurant chain in hundreds of locations.

And this sentence I found interesting:

Americanisation was the only component of globalisation that did not bitterly divide the French.

Here is more from Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski.  I wouldn’t say I have an opinion of my own on these issues — haven’t been there in a few years — but I found this piece stimulating.

A ray of good news

Every now and then this country, and for that matter the ACLU, does the right thing:

The American Civil Liberties Union helped scuttle a bill this week that would have enabled the Biden administration to liquidate Russian oligarchs’ assets and turn the proceeds over to Ukraine.

ACLU officials told lawmakers Tuesday that the legislation could run afoul of due-process protections in the U.S. Constitution because it does not allow its targets to challenge the government’s actions in court, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks. ACLU officials warned that the measure would probably be struck down by the judicial branch if enacted as proposed, giving Russia a potential propaganda victory over the United States, the people said.

Here is the full article.  Shame on all of you who supported this!

What true conservatives should care about

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the opening bit:

If you are a true conservative — and I use the term not as Ted Cruz might, but in its literal sense, as in conserving what is of value in the modern world — then you should be obsessed with three threats to the most vital parts of our civilizational heritage, all of which are coming to the fore: war, pandemic and environmental catastrophe.

These three events have frequently caused or contributed to the collapse or decline of great civilizations of the past. After being seriously weakened by pandemics and environmental problems, the Roman Empire was taken over by barbarian tribes. The Aztecs were conquered by the Spanish, who had superior weapons and also brought disease. The decline of the Mayans likely was rooted in water and deforestation problems.

I think of true conservatism as most of all the desire to learn from history. So let us take those lessons to heart.

Two further points:

1. I don’t think of this as existential risk, rather humanity could be set back very considerably, with uncertain prospects for recovery.  In the median year of human history, economic growth is not positive.  A few thousand years of “Mad Max” would be very bad.

2. I think you should aspire to be more than just a “true conservative.”  You should be a liberal too!  So there is more to the picture than what the column outlines.  Nonetheless I see it as a starting point for reformulating a morally serious conservative movement…

Recommended.

What should I ask Barkha Dutt?

I will be doing a CWT with her.  Here is Wikipedia on Barkha Dutt:

Barkha Dutt is an Indian television journalist, author and owner of YouTube news channel MoJo Story.

She is an opinion columnist with The Hindustan Times and The Washington Post. Dutt was part of NDTV‘s team for 21 years, until she left the channel in January 2017. Barkha emerged as a prominent figure after her frontline war reporting on the Kargil Conflict between India and Pakistan in 1999. Dutt has won many national and international awards, including the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour. Dutt was one of the journalists taped in the Radia tapes controversy. At NDTV, Dutt was the host of the weekly, award-winning talk-show We The People as well as the daily prime-time show The Buck Stops Here.

So what should I ask her?

Under-signaling

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Biden administration would be prepared to use all its sanctions tools against China if Beijing moved aggressively toward Taiwan.

“I believe we’ve shown we can” impose significant pain on aggressive countries, as evidenced by sanctions against Russia, Yellen told lawmakers Wednesday as she testified before the House Financial Services Committee. “I think you should not doubt our ability and resolve to do the same in other situations.”

Here is the full Bloomberg story.  If I were Xi Jinping, I would be heartened and encouraged by that ultimately rather lukewarm threat.

My excellent Conversation with Roy Foster

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the episode summary;

Roy joined Tyler to discuss why the Scots got off easier than the Irish under British rule, the truths and misconceptions about Ireland as a policy laboratory for the British government, why spoken Irish faded more rapidly than Welsh, the single question that drove a great flowering of Irish economic thought, how Foster’s Quaker education shaped his view of Irish history, how the Battle of the Somme and the 1916 Easter Rising cemented the rift between the Northeast and the rest of the country, what went wrong with Irish trade policies between the 1920s and 1970s, the power of Irish education, why the re-emergence of The Troubles in the 1960s may not have been as inevitable as many people believe, the cultural effects of Ireland’s pro-Allied neutrality in World War II, how Irish visual art is beginning to be looked at in a similar way to Irish literature, the social and economic changes of the 1970s that began to radically reshape Irish society, the reasons for Ireland’s openness to foreigners, what Irish Americans misunderstand, and more.

Here is an excerpt:

COWEN: If we think of the 19th century, as you know, I think it’s in 1831 that free universal schooling comes to Ireland. Are there ways in which, in the 19th century, Ireland is more modern than Britain?

FOSTER: That’s a very interesting and subtle question.

There is a theory that Ireland is used as a laboratory for British government and that they will apply further afield, in India and the Caribbean, models and lessons that they’ve learned in Ireland, which is sometimes referred to as Britain’s oldest or England’s oldest colony.

I have a slight problem with that, because Ireland is a very special kind of colony, if it’s a colony: it’s a metropolitan colony. The original inhabitants remain, one could say, in a far stronger position than in many of the areas of the British Empire, where they are effectively either enslaved or wiped out. But the point is really that what’s happening in Ireland in the 18th and 19th century is, as I’ve said earlier, a kind of dispossession.

But at the same time, there are elements — and this is true from the Act of Union, which abolishes the old, very elite Irish Parliament in 1800 — there are elements of experimentation in the British government of Ireland which aren’t (I have to say this) entirely malign, and you zero in on education. The attempt that was being made in the early 1830s was to introduce a nondenominational form of primary education for the Irish people.

Ireland being Ireland, it was rapidly denominationalized: the Catholics used it for their purposes and the Protestants used it for their purposes. But the theory of it was that you had to overcome the religious differences, which by the early 19th century seemed to dictate everything that was happening in Ireland.

The great novelist William Thackeray, who was married to an Irish woman, said when he did a tour of Ireland and wrote his Irish Sketch Book, “Where to get at the truth in this country: it is not possible. There are two truths, the Catholic truth and the Protestant truth.” By the early 19th century, this seemed all too true.

Substantive throughout, in my view one of the very best CWTs in some while.

Why is the U.S. inflation rate especially high?

However, since the first half of 2021, U.S. inflation has increasingly outpaced inflation in other developed countries. Estimates suggest that fiscal support measures designed to counteract the severity of the pandemic’s economic effect may have contributed to this divergence by raising inflation about 3 percentage points by the end of 2021.

That is from a recent San Francisco Fed piece by Òscar Jordà, Celeste Liu, Fernanda Nechio, and Fabián Rivera-Reyes.

I recall not so long ago when the overwhelming majority of Democratic-leaning economists on Twitter and elsewhere strongly favored the additional $2 trillion in stimulus.  In the campaign, it was a kind of electorally defining policy of the Biden administration.  I also recall that Larry Summers explained in very clear terms why this was the wrong policy, and hardly anyone listened.  “Progressive catnip” is the phrase I use to describe such policy options.  It involved “stimulus,” “sending people money,” and it “boosted demand,” all popular catchphrases of the moment.  It was seen as part of a broader push simply to be sending people money all the time.

This has to count as one of the biggest economic policy failures of recent times, and we still are not taking seriously that it happened and what that implies for our collective epistemic capabilities moving forward.

Making focal points even more focal

Via Glenn Mercer.

Tax Russian Oil

A tax on Russian oil would be paid mostly by Russia and would not greatly raise the price of oil. I often assign a question like this to my Econ 101 students. Ricardo Hausmann runs through the argument:

At first sight, imposing a tax on a good must increase its price, making energy even more expensive for Western consumers. Right? Wrong! At issue is something called tax incidence analysis, which is taught in basic microeconomics courses. A tax on a good, such as Russian oil, will affect both supply and demand, changing the good’s price. How much the price changes, and who bears the cost of the tax, depends on how sensitive both supply and demand are to the tax, or what economists call elasticity. The more elastic the demand, the more the producer bears the cost of the tax because consumers have more options. The more inelastic the supply, the more the producer – again – bears the tax, because it has fewer options.

Fortunately, this is precisely the situation the West now confronts. Demand for Russian oil is highly elastic, because consumers do not really care if the oil they use comes from Russia, the Gulf, or somewhere else. They are unwilling to pay more for Russian oil if other oil with similar properties is available. Hence, the price of Russian oil after tax is pinned down by the market price of all other oil.

At the same time, the supply of Russian oil is very inelastic, meaning that large changes in the price to the producer do not induce changes in supply. Here, the numbers are staggering. According to the Russian energy group Rosneft’s financial statements for 2021, the firm’s upstream operating costs are $2.70 per barrel. Likewise, Rystad Energy, a business-intelligence company, estimates the total variable cost of production of Russian oil (excluding taxes and capital costs) at $5.67 per barrel. Put differently, even if the oil price fell to $6 per barrel (it’s above $100 now), it would still be in Rosneft’s interest to keep pumping: Supply is truly inelastic in the short run.

…In other words, given very high demand elasticity and very low short-term supply elasticity, a tax on Russian oil would be paid essentially by Russia. Instead of being costly for the world, imposing such a tax would actually be profitable.

Addendum: Many people in the comments aren’t getting this so let me note that there is a big difference between taxing oil and taxing Russian oil, it’s only for the latter good that demand is relatively elastic.

How to improve conferences

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

The next time you are attending a formal presentation at a conference, ask yourself these questions: Is this better than all of those Zoom calls I am turning down? Is this better than the next best YouTube clip I might be watching? For most people, the answers are obvious. Conference organizers need to be willing to pull the trigger and usher the presentation into a gentle retirement.

Charismatic presentations still can be important to motivate a sales force or to build the unity of a crowd. But informational presentations are obsolete.

Earlier in my career, I went to presentations not to listen, but rather to meet the other people interested in the topic. That made sense at the time, but these days information technology provides superior alternatives. For instance, I have been to conferences that have “speed dating” sessions (without the date part, to be clear, and with vaccine and testing requirements) where you meet many people for say two minutes and then move on to the next meeting. This should become a more regular practice. Conference organizers also can create “speed dating pools” where everyone interested in a particular topic area has a chance to meet.

Another marvelous practice prompted by the pandemic that should be continued and indeed extended at all conferences: outside sessions, especially with group discussions.

Recommended, there is more at the link.  What other ideas do you have?

Far UVC Sanitization Kills COVID

A new type of ultraviolet light that is safe for people took less than five minutes to reduce the level of indoor airborne microbes by more than 98%, a joint study by scientists at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and in the U.K. has found.

…Far-UVC light has a shorter wavelength than conventional germicidal UVC, so it can’t penetrate into living human skin cells or eye cells. But it is equally efficient at killing bacteria and viruses, which are much smaller than human cells.

In the past decade, many studies around the world have shown that far-UVC is both efficient at destroying airborne bacteria and viruses without causing damage to living tissue. But until now these studies had only been conducted in small experimental chambers, not in full-sized rooms mimicking real-world conditions.

…The efficacy of different approaches to reducing indoor virus levels is usually measured in terms of equivalent air changes per hour. In this study, far-UVC lamps produced the equivalent of 184 equivalent air exchanges per hour. This surpasses any other approach to disinfecting occupied indoor spaces, where five to 20 equivalent air changes per hour is the best that can be achieved practically.

“Our trials produced spectacular results, far exceeding what is possible with ventilation alone,” says Kenneth Wood, PhD, lecturer in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St. Andrews and senior author of the study. “In terms of preventing airborne disease transmission, far-UVC lights could make indoor places as safe as being outside on the golf course on a breezy day at St. Andrews.”

Summary here. Study here.

Here and here and here are my previous posts on UV-C sanitization. We are moving slower than I would like but the picture is of a UVC robot being used at Pittsburgh airport so kudos to them.

Peru facts of the day

When Félix Chero knelt before Peru’s president Pedro Castillo last Sunday and swore to serve as the country’s justice minister he became the 46th minister in the Castillo government in just eight months. Since taking office last July, the president has rattled through four cabinets, four prime ministers, three foreign ministers and two finance ministers. Chero is his third justice minister…

On average, Castillo has changed a minister every nine days.

Here is much more from Gideon Long at the FT.

In praise of Paul Farmer

From an email by John Quattrochi:

There are no mentions of Paul Farmer, who recently passed away, on MR. This is a shame, because he excelled in two areas of interest to you: talent identification and cross-cultural integration of ideas.

Paul did so much for so many people that it’s easy to lose sight of what set him apart. He was a leader in the social movement to improve health among the most vulnerable. He did so by building organizations and writing and speaking across multiple cultures.

He began by going to an important center in his industry and becoming an understudy to a master practitioner. Rural Haiti is to health vulnerability what Silicon Valley is to tech innovation. In his early 20s, Paul went there to work for Fritz Lafontant, a Wozniak-like Haitian priest pioneering a community-based approach to the social determinants of health.

Paul then identified the talent with whom he would co-found, in 1987, aged 28, the central organization for his work, Zanmi Lasante (“Partners in Health”). In 1983, he met and recruited the 18-year-old Ophelia Dahl. She has been in PIH leadership for 35 years. Around the same time, he met and recruited fellow medical student Jim Kim, who also led PIH, before stints as president of Dartmouth and the World Bank.  From his undergrad friends, he brought on Todd McCormack, son of the founder of one of the world’s leading talent management agencies, IMG. And finally, for startup capital, he successfully pitched Tom White, a 67-year-old Boston construction magnate.

To expand his movement, he adapted his ideas to the peculiar idioms of many cultures and subcultures: medicine, anthropology, Christianity, Washington DC, Haiti, Russia, Rwanda, and more. He lectured widely, and always lingered afterward, forging brief but powerful individual connections. His charisma included equal parts moral exhortation and dry humor. As a Harvard professor for over 30 years, he convinced many students to join his movement in lieu of (or in addition to) rent-seeking careers in finance or management consulting.

Paul is often called a hero. Yet, if a hero is someone who sacrifices much, Paul may not qualify. By all appearances he loved his work and was richly rewarded in status and attention. What’s not debatable is his genius. From boardrooms to bedsides, lecture halls to shanty stalls, he channeled the idea that every human life has equal moral worth in irreplicable ways. His legacy is immense.

RIP.