Category: Data Source

Who are the world’s top intellectuals?

Cast your five votes here, plus you can see how old each candidate is and how many of these names you have read or heard of.  Several economists, such as Krugman, Becker, Sen, Summers, and Bhagwati, are included in the polling; Hernando de Soto and Richard Posner make the list as well.  For other nominees, how about Derek Parfit and Milton Friedman?  Philip Roth?  The politically incorrect Michel Houllebecq?  Bruno Latour?  Marvin Minsky or Hans Moravec?  I am glad to see Pramoedya Toer on the list.  How about the Google people?  An early blogger?

Growth fact of the day

…out of nineteen non-Western countries that belonged to the rich club in 1960, only four remained there (the Bahamas, Japan, Mauritius, and Slovenia) [in 2000].

Or perhaps you are wondering which countries, according to available statistics, appeared on the verge of crossing over into the "rich" category in 1960?  Here is the list:

Lithuania, Serbia and Montenegro, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia (addendum: no, I don’t believe the data), Ukraine, Croatia, Haiti (!), Guyana, Jamaica, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, the Congo (!), Senegal, Gabon, Ghana, Singapore, Iran, and Hong Kong.  At the time many of these countries lagged only slightly behind Portugal.

The lesson?  Don’t take your future prosperity for granted.

That is all from the very interesting Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality, by Branko Milanovic.  Here is more information on the book.  Here are the author’s working papersThis paper argues for allowing the free movement of soccer players onto teams outside their nationality.

The worst business regulations in the world

The "winner" is Democratic Republic of the Congo, the loser New Zealand, here is a longer list.  Here is an excellent chart; for getting licenses the U.S. is only number seventeen, for getting credit the UK is number one.  Do take a look.  Here is the related document.  In 2004 Serbia and Montenegro reformed the most for job creation incentives.  Africa had the lowest propensity for reforms in 2004.  Thanks to Tim Harford for the pointer, this work should make a big splash.

Our poverty statistics

According to the latest poverty rate estimates – released by the Census Bureau on Aug. 30 – the total percentage of Americans living in poverty was higher in 2004 (12.7 percent) than in 1974 (11.2 percent). According to that same report, poverty rates for American families and children were likewise higher last year than three decades earlier.

But can this be true?

Per capita income adjusted for inflation is over 60 percent higher today than in 1974. The unemployment rate is lower, and the percentage of adults with paying jobs is distinctly higher. Thirty years ago, the proportion of adults without a high school diploma was more than twice as high as today (39 percent versus 16 percent). And antipoverty spending is vastly higher today than in 1974, even after inflation adjustments…

The soundings from the poverty rate are further belied by information on actual living standards for low-income Americans. In 1972-73, for example, just 42 percent of the bottom fifth of American households owned a car; in 2003, almost three-quarters of "poverty households" had one. By 2001, only 6 percent of "poverty households" lived in "crowded" homes (more than one person per room) – down from 26 percent in 1970. By 2003, the fraction of poverty households with central air-conditioning (45 percent) was much higher than the 1980 level for the non-poor (29 percent).

Besides these living trends, there are what we might call the "dying trends": that is to say, America’s health and mortality patterns. All strata of America – including the disadvantaged – are markedly healthier today than three decades ago. Though the officially calculated poverty rate for children was higher in 2004 than 1974 (17.8 percent versus 15.4 percent), the infant mortality rate – that most telling measure of wellbeing – fell by almost three-fifths over those same years, to 6.7 per 1,000 births from 16.7 per 1,000.

Here is the link.  There are two bottom lines.  First, we have made more progress against poverty than the numbers indicate.  Second, we should look first to consumption data, not income data.

UHaul 2

Inspired by my earlier post, Chris Robinson has written some clever code to query UHaul prices which he then analyzes.  Also, like a true statistical gentleman, he makes the data available to all.

Steve Levitt chimes in on whether this is freaky enough – no, it’s encouraging. but not quite there yet.

Me?  I am still hoping that someone will follow up on my suggestion that these prices explain why women drink free nights are a good idea.

Factory tours

Eric Rasmusen recommends factory tours.  Along related lines, four of my favorite global sites are Gary, Indiana, the Ruhrgebiet near Duisburg, Germany, the harbor in Rotterdam (yes you can take a tour), and of course the view from the Pulaski Skyway.  I call it "industrial beauty."  And to think they asked me on New Zealand television whether New Jersey has more than one culture…

Who are the smartest people?

When asked the above question, and given a list of 50 names, Americans responded with these rankings:

1 Albert Einstein
2 Bill Gates
3 Marie Curie
4 Stephen Hawking
5 Condoleezza Rice
6 Bill Clinton
7 Sandra Day O’Connor
8 Oprah Winfrey
9 Warren Buffett
10 Jane Goodall

I will object to Johnny Carson, Dr. Phil, and Ralph Lauren in the Top 50, but applaud Hayao Miyazaki, Susan Polgar, and Jackie Chan.  Here is the full list.  The only academics in the Top 50 are Einstein, Hawking, and Curie, not one person from the social sciences is represented, unless you count Condi Rice. 

Addendum: Thanks to MacNeil, who directs me to further information about the survey.  The wording of this post has been amended to reflect what appears to be an agenda-setting role for Marilyn vos Savant; she appears to have provided the initial list.

An unusual New Zealand hotel

This awesome New Zealand hotel built out of a hillside, and a defunct train and plane, has three sleeping options:

"Sleeping inside a 1950’s Bristol Freighter Plane refurbished into 2 beautiful motel rooms.

"Sleeping inside a 1950’s Rail Carriage 3 room motel unit, which sleeps six.

"Sleeping like a Hobbit–underground with a circular window."

That is from Boing Boing, photo included, I am not sleeping there but I would select the Hobbit option.  Here is the original link with geographic information as well.  Here is a site Unusual Hotels of the World.

The “Failed States” index

I am surprised to see Ivory Coast as the very worst, my pick, the "Democratic" Republic of the Congo only manages to take second place.  And Guatemala, for all its problems, should not be five places "more failed" than Lebanon.  Still this is an interesting data source, click the colored box links at the top of the main page to see maps and the like.

Red tape and house prices

Steven Landsburg’s latest Slate column is based on work by Ed Glaeser and Joe Gyourko.

Instead of the traditional formula "housing price equals land price + construction costs + reasonable profit," we seem to be seeing something more like "housing price equals land price + constructions costs plus reasonable profit + mystery component." And, most interestingly, the mystery component varies a lot from city to city.

The mystery component turns out to be zoning rules, and proxied quite well by the length of time it takes to get a permit. In September, the World Bank’s Doing Business project will be publishing data on the cost of building inspections in 150 countries; it already has data on the cost of firing workers, starting a business, going through the courts, and more.