Category: Data Source

Is the speed of skyscraper construction declining?

Jose Luis Ricon writes:

…taking not averages but just the fastest building built every year (again taking out Pyongyang and Broad Group), regardless of country. This seems to indicate that with the exception of The Belcher’s tower(s) in HK and 60 Wall St, in general construction speed has remained stagnant for almost a century, and has actually declined since its peak in the Great Depression.

The early 1930s look pretty amazing.  The data on meters built per year, and the fastest built buildings by that standard are interesting too:

There is much, much more in this post, which I consider to be one of the best things written this year.  Here is Artir’s conclusion:

…the Empire State Building was an impressive achievement compared to the present, but it’s not true that the past has been better than the present; rather, the skyscrapers built during the Great Depression were.

Highly recommended, via Patrick Collison.  And here is Artir on Twitter.

Publicly traded firms do not have an investment deficit

Using data from U.S. corporate tax returns, which provide a sample representative of the universe of U.S. corporations, we investigate the differential investment propensities of public and private firms. Re-weighting the data to generate observationally comparable sets of public and private firms, we find robust evidence that public firms invest more overall, particularly in R&D. Exploiting within-firm variation in public status, we find that firms dedicate more of their investment to R&D following IPO, and reduce these investments upon going private. Our findings suggest that public stock markets facilitate greater investment, on average, particularly in risky, uncollateralized investments.

That is by Naomi Feldman, et.al., from the Fed.  Via Andrew McAfee and Matt Yglesias.  Of course, this is very much the opposite of what you usually hear from other sources.

Who is most likely to attribute an outcome to genetic factors?

Ahem:

Many scholars argue that people who attribute human characteristics to genetic causes also tend to hold politically and socially problematic attitudes. More specifically, public acceptance of genetic influences is believed to be associated with intolerance, prejudice, and the legitimation of social inequities and laissez-faire policies. We test these expectations with original data from two nationally representative samples that allow us to identify the American public’s attributional patterns across 18 diverse traits. Key findings are (1) genetic attributions are actually more likely to be made by liberals, not conservatives; (2) genetic attributions are associated with higher, not lower, levels of tolerance of vulnerable individuals; and (3) genetic attributions do not correlate with unseemly racial attitudes.

That is from , , and in the Journal of Politics.  For the pointer I thank K.

Which countries have the most human capital?

Here is a new Lancet paper by Stephen S. Lim, et.al., via the excellent Charles Klingman.  Finland is first, the United States is #27, and China and Russia are #44 and #49 respectively.  There is plenty of “rigor” in the paper, but I say this is a good example of what is wrong with the social sciences and more specifically the publication process.  The correct answer is a weighted average of the median, the average, the high peaks, and a country’s ability to innovate, part of which depends upon the market size a person has in his or her sights.  So in reality the United States is number one, and China and Russia should both rank much higher (Cuba and Brunei beat them out, for instance, Cuba at #41, Brunei at #29).  And does it really make sense to put North Korea (#113) between Ecuador and Egypt?  I’m fine with Finland being in the top fifteen, but I am not even sure it beats Sweden.  Overall the paper would do better by simply measuring non-natural resource-based per capita gdp, though of course that could be improved upon too.

Now, I did zero work on that one, and came up with a better result than the authors.  What does that tell you?

Addendum: You will note the first sentence of the paper’s background claims: human capital refers to “the level of education and health in a population”.  The first two sentences of the actual paper immediately contradict this: “Human capital refers to the attributes of a population that, along with physical capital such as buildings, equip­ment, and other tangible assets, contribute to economic productivity. Human capital is characterised as the aggregate levels of education, training, skills, and health in a population, affecting the rate at which technologies can be developed, adopted, and employed to increase productivity.”  The paper does an OK job of measuring the former, but absolutely fails on the latter.

Monopoly power does not seem to be up at the actual market level

Using U.S. NETS data, we present evidence that the positive trend observed in national product-market concentration between 1990 and 2014 becomes a negative trend when we focus on measures of local concentration. We document diverging trends for several geographic definitions of local markets. SIC 8 industries with diverging trends are pervasive across sectors. In these industries, top firms have contributed to the amplification of both trends. When a top firm opens a plant, local concentration declines and remains lower for at least 7 years. Our findings, therefore, reconcile the increasing national role of large firms with falling local concentration, and a likely more competitive local environment.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, Pierre-Daniel Sarte, and Nicholas Trachter.

World War II and African American Socioeconomic Progress

Here is a job market paper from Andreas Ferrara, University of Warwick:

This paper argues that the unprecedented socioeconomic rise of African Americans at mid-century is causally related to the labor shortages induced by WWII. Results from combining novel military and Census data in a difference-in-differences setting show that counties with an average casualty rate among semi-skilled whites experienced a 13 to 16% increase in the share of blacks in semi-skilled jobs. The casualty rate also has a significant reduced form effect on cross-state migration, wages, home ownership, house value, and education for blacks. Using survey data from 1961, IV regression results indicate that the economic upgrade, which is instrumented with the semi-skilled white casualty rate, is also associated with an increase in social status. Both black and white individuals living in treated counties are more likely to have an interracial friendship, live in mixed-race neighborhoods, and to have reduced preferences for segregation.

Via John Holbein.

Claims about alcohol

From Tom McKay at Gizmodo:

Alcohol is responsible for over one in 20 of all deaths worldwide, according to the most recent edition of a World Health Organization (WHO) report that comes out every four years.

The Guardian writes that the report found that roughly three million deaths in 2016 can be attributed to alcohol, of which 2.3 million were men and 29 percent were caused by injuries (including everything from accidents to car collisions and suicides) rather than health problems. Other recorded causes of death included digestive disorders (21 percent) and cardiovascular diseases (19 percent), as well as “infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders” and other conditions caused by alcohol intake, CNN added.

According to the WHO data, approximately 7.2 percent of premature deaths worldwide are linked to alcohol, and as well as 5.3 of all deaths in general.

Obviously murky and multiple causalities will make any of these numbers debatable.  Still, I guess this explains why debates over alcohol so command the headlines these days and make alcohol the number one social issue?

Congestion pricing is not just slanted toward the elite

From Luz Lazo at The Washington Post:

The average user [of the optional toll lanes] is younger than 45 and has a household income of less than $100,000 a year, according to a new survey.

About 60 percent of the frequent users said they have household incomes of less than $100,000, and a similar share have a bachelor’s degree or higher. About one-third of those users said they don’t mind the tolls because their employers pick up the bill, according to the survey.

And this:

They are loyal Amazon customers who get a package from the online retailer at least once a month.

“They don’t mind paying a fee for convenience services and similarly don’t mind paying for tolls,” Bell said.

Congestion pricing in the D.C. area has been a major success.  And many of its benefits are overlooked.  Consider me, a relatively well-educated and high-income user of the roads.  After a few years, I still can’t figure out how to use the new Beltway lanes, and when they let me get off where I want to, or not.  So I have never used them once.  Still, they clear the rest of the road for me.

Ethiopia fact of the day

Here is another reason to be optimistic about the country:

In Ethiopia, once among Africa’s top five countries for child marriage, the practice has dropped by a third in the past decade, the world’s sharpest decline, says the World Bank. The government wants to eradicate child marriage entirely by 2025.

In contrast:

Three out of four girls in Niger are married before they are 18, giving this poor west African country the world’s highest rate of child marriage. The World Bank says it is one of only a very small number to have seen no reduction in recent years; the rate has even risen slightly. The country’s minimum legal age of marriage for girls is 15, but some brides are as young as nine.

That is all from The Economist.

America does pretty well at public health

Michael S. Sparer and Anne-Laure Beaussier has a new and interesting piece on this topic, here is part of the abstract:

First, the United States outperforms its European peers on several public health metrics. Second, the United States spends a comparable proportion of its health dollar on prevention. Third, these results are due partly to a federalism twist (while all three nations delegate significant responsibility for public health to local governments, federal officials are more engaged in the United States) and partly to the American version of public health moralism. We also consider the renewed interest in population health, noting why, against expectations, this trend might grow more quickly in the United States than in its European counterparts.

I also learned (or relearned) from this paper the following:

1. For per capita prevention, the U.S. is a clear first in the world.  (I wonder, by the way, to what extent this contributes to higher health care costs in the United States, since preventive care also can drive doctor and hospital visits.)

2. The UK and France made a deliberate decision to switch away from public health to curative medicine, after the end of World War II, when they were building out their universal coverage systems.

3. The American history with public health programs is a pretty good one, with advances coming from the anti-smoking campaign, lower speed limits, anti-drunk driving initiatives, fluoridated water, and mandatory vaccination programs.

4. The British fare poorly on various public health metrics.

5. “The US system of public health fares rather well compared to other Western nations.”  On net, our population is not as anti-science as it may seem, at least not if we look at final policy results, as compared to some of our peer countries.

All in all, an interesting read.

Are generational or cohort-level changes strong?

Here is the view of Kali H. Trzesniewski and M. Brent Donnellan, in their piece “Rethinking “Generation Me”: A Study of Cohort Effects from 1976-2006”:

Social commentators have argued that changes over the last decades have coalesced to create a relatively unique generation of young people. However, using large samples of U.S. high-school seniors from 1976 to 2006 (Total N = 477,380), we found little evidence of meaningful change in egotism, self-enhancement, individualism, self-esteem, locus of control, hopelessness, happiness, life satisfaction, loneliness, antisocial behavior, time spent working or watching television, political activity, the importance of religion, and the importance of social status over the last 30 years. Today’s youth are less fearful of social problems than previous generations and they are also more cynical and less trusting. In addition, today’s youth have higher educational expectations than previous generations. However, an inspection of effect sizes provided little evidence for strong or widespread cohort-linked changes.

The pointer is from @hardsci.  As he (Sanjay) notes on Twitter: “Researchers these days just don’t make cohort arguments like they used to”  And here are some related results on narcissism.

The seventeenth century was a special time in Britain

The apprentice dataset, which is richest and most reliable from 1580 to 1680, tells much the same story for the seventeenth century. As we expected, the underlying shares of apprentices’ parents in industry and services are higher than in the probate dataset, but the trends move in parallel. Agriculture declines consistently over this period. Industry and services both grow substantially, with services outstripping industry. Compared to the probate data, the share of the workforce in agriculture declines more quickly, while the rate of expansion in industry is somewhat slower in the first half of the seventeenth century, although it reaches a similar level by 1660–1679. The growth in services is similar to the probate dataset. This coherence between the results from two independent sources offers a first test of the validity of our findings.

That is from a newly published and important paper by Patrick Wallis, Justin Colson, and David Chilosi, “Structural Change and Economic Growth in the British Economy before the Industrial Revolution, 1500–1800.”

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.