Presumably these are being built right now. But which texts will they be trained upon? Let’s say you can keep out any talk of T. Square. What about broader Chinese history? Do you allow English-language sources? Japanese-language accounts of the war with Japan? Do you allow economics blogs in English? JStor? Discussions of John Stuart Mill on free speech?
Just how good is the Chinese-language, censorship-passed body of training data? Does China end up with a much worse set of LLMs? Or do they in essence anglicize most of what they learn and in time know?
Pre-LLM news censorship was an easier problem, because you could let the stock sit in a library somewhere, mostly neglected, while regulating the flow. But when the new flow is so directly derived from the stock, statistically speaking that is? What then?
Much hangs in the balance here. What was it that Paul Samuelson said about writing a nation’s textbooks?
That is the new book by William D. Cohan, which I just reviewed for Times Literary Supplement. Gated, but here is the opening bit:
The individual stocks of the Dow Jones Industrial Average typically fall from grace with some regularity. Of the thirty Dow stocks listed in 1990, for instance, only seven were still in the Dow as of November 2022, mostly because the companies have ceased to be important. Stripped down to its basic fundamentals, that is the tale of General Electric (GE): one of rise and fall. But it had an exceptionally long time at the top. GE has its roots in the 1890s, and by 1993 it was the most valuable company in the United States, with a market value of more than $80 billion. It was removed from the Dow in 2018 – the last original stock from 1896 to leave the index. Its core business had shrunk, with no offsetting growth in another area. Today, the company is no longer a significant object of public attention.
This story can be told in many different ways, and the most impressive feature of William D. Cohan’sPower Failure is that he succeeds with multiple approaches.
You can buy the book here, note the American title is slightly different.
The nature, size of impact, and time horizons on all these vary greatly, but here is my list:
1. Moon landing, 1969. Most of the impact still not felt, except for satellites. My parents did let me stay up late at night to watch it.
2. The collapse of communism (1989-????). Poland is a lovely country to visit, Shanghai is amazing. I flew to eastern Europe once I could in 1989.
3. The rise of Asia. Japan and South Korea starting around the time of my birth. The rise of China for sure, and currently the rise of India is a likely addition.
4. Feminization, ongoing, no firm date. Impact plenty.
5. The realization of the internet. Hard to date, but I’ll say the 1990s and ongoing.
6. The smartphone — 2007. Impact in your face. Bought an iPhone the first day, was mocked by MR readers as an “Apple fan boy.”
7. Effective Large Language Models/AI. Impact still to be seen.
The “African population explosion” is perhaps next in line…
We study the joint process of urbanization and industrialization in the US economy between 1880 and 1940. We show that only a small share of aggregate industrialization is accounted for by the relocation of workers from remote rural areas to industrial hubs like Chicago or New York City. Instead, most sectoral shifts occurred within rural counties, dramatically transforming their sectoral structure. Most industrialization within counties occurred through the emergence of new ”factory” cities with notably higher manufacturing shares rather than the expansion of incumbent cities. In contrast, today’s shift towards services seems to benefit large incumbent cities the most.
That is from a new paper by Fabian Eckert, John Juneau, and Michael Peters. A Jeffersonian might think that was a big part of what made America so great earlier in the 20th century? Whereas today, at least for the Jeffersonian…?
One of my favorite CWTs, here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the summary:
She joined Tyler to discuss how she became obsessed with John Donne, the power of memorizing poetry, the political implications of suicide in the 17th century, the new evidence of Donne’s faith, the contagious intensity of thought in 17th century British life, the effect of the plague on national consciousness, the brutality of boys’ schooling, the thrills and dangers of rooftop walking, why children should be more mischievous, why she’d like to lower the voting age to 16, her favorite UK bookshop, the wonderful weirdness of Diana Wynne Jones, why she has at least one joke about Belgium in every book, what T.S. Eliot missed about John Donne, what it’s like to eat tarantula, the Kafka book she gives to toddlers, why The Book of Common Prayer is underrated, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Now, you have two books, Rooftoppers and Skysteppers, about rooftop walking. Some might call them children’s books. I’m not sure that’s exactly the right description, but what is the greatest danger with rooftop walking?
RUNDELL: Oh, it’s falling off.
COWEN: What leads you to fall off? If you’re rooftop walking, if you were to fall off, what would be the proximate cause of that event?
RUNDELL: Philippe Petit, who is, of course, one of the great roof walkers of the world and the man who strung the wire between the Twin Towers in 1977, talks about vertigo as a beast that has to be tamed piece by piece, that can never be overcome all at once.
Vertigo, he says, is not the fear that you will fall. It is the fear that you will jump. That, of course, is the thing that, when you are roof walking, you are taming. You are trying to unmoor your sense of danger and of not being able to trust yourself not to jump from your sense of beauty and the vision of a city that you get up high.
I roof-walk for very practical reasons: to see views that would otherwise be not really available to me in an increasingly privatized City of London.
COWEN: For you, what is most interesting in Donne’s sermons?
RUNDELL: The thing I find most interesting would be the radical honesty that he has — that you will find in so few other sermons of the time — about the difficulty of finding God. He is a man who writes often with certainty about the idea of reaching the infinite, the divine. But he also writes this famous passage where he says, “I summon God and my angels, and when God and the angels are there, I neglect them for . . .” I forget what it is. “The sound of a carriage, a straw under my knee, a thought, a chimera, and nothing and everything.”
That sense that, even though he had a brain that could control incredibly rigorous poetry, he did not have a brain that would control itself in prayer. He offered that to his congregation as a vulnerability and a piece of honesty that so few sermoners of the time — who thought of themselves more as a regulatory ideal that should never admit vulnerability — would offer.
Definitely recommended. And Katherine’s recent book Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne was perhaps my favorite book of last year.
Of the 69 rulers of the unified Roman Empire, from Augustus (d. 14 CE) to Theodosius (d. 395 CE), 62% suffered violent death. This has been known for a while, if not quantitatively at least qualitatively. What is not known, however, and has never been examined is the time-to-violent-death of Roman emperors. This work adopts the statistical tools of survival data analysis to an unlikely population, Roman emperors, and it examines a particular event in their rule, not unlike the focus of reliability engineering, but instead of their time-to-failure, their time-to-violent-death. We investigate the temporal signature of this seemingly haphazardous stochastic process that is the violent death of a Roman emperor, and we examine whether there is some structure underlying the randomness in this process or not. Nonparametric and parametric results show that: (i) emperors faced a significantly high risk of violent death in the first year of their rule, which is reminiscent of infant mortality in reliability engineering; (ii) their risk of violent death further increased after 12 years, which is reminiscent of wear-out period in reliability engineering; (iii) their failure rate displayed a bathtub-like curve, similar to that of a host of mechanical engineering items and electronic components. Results also showed that the stochastic process underlying the violent deaths of emperors is remarkably well captured by a (mixture) Weibull distribution.
I have been posing it many questions about Jonathan Swift, Adam Smith, and the Bible. Chat does very well in all those areas, and rarely hallucinates. Is it because those are settled, well-established texts, with none of the drama “still in action”?
I suspect Chat is a boon for the historian and the historian of ideas. You can ask Chat about obscure Swift pamphlets and it knows more about them than Google does, or Wikipedia does, by a long mile. Presumably it “reads” them for you?
When I ask about current economists or public intellectuals, however, more errors creep in. Hallucinations become common rather than rare. The most common hallucination I find is that Chat invents co-authorships and conference co-sponsorships like crazy. If you ask it about two living people, and whether they have worked together, the fantasy life version will be rather active, maybe fifty percent of the time?
Presumably that bug will be fixed, but still it seems that for the time being Chat has shifted some real intellectual heft back in antiquarian directions. Perhaps it is harder for statistical estimation to predict words about events that are still going on?
Here are some tips for using ChatGPT.
Of course Chat is already a part of my regular research and learning routine. Woe be unto those who cannot or do not use it effectively! I feel sorry for them, get with the program people…
From Max Kozlov, do note the data do not cover the very latest events:
The number of science and technology research papers published has skyrocketed over the past few decades — but the ‘disruptiveness’ of those papers has dropped, according to an analysis of how radically papers depart from the previous literature.
Data from millions of manuscripts show that, compared with the mid-twentieth century, research done in the 2000s was much more likely to incrementally push science forward than to veer off in a new direction and render previous work obsolete. Analysis of patents from 1976 to 2010 showed the same trend.
“The data suggest something is changing,” says Russell Funk, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and a co-author of the analysis, which was published on 4 January in Nature. “You don’t have quite the same intensity of breakthrough discoveries you once had.”
The authors reasoned that if a study was highly disruptive, subsequent research would be less likely to cite the study’s references, and instead cite the study itself. Using the citation data from 45 million manuscripts and 3.9 million patents, the researchers calculated a measure of disruptiveness, called the ‘CD index’, in which values ranged from –1 for the least disruptive work to 1 for the most disruptive.
The average CD index declined by more than 90% between 1945 and 2010 for research manuscripts (see ‘Disruptive science dwindles’), and by more than 78% from 1980 to 2010 for patents. Disruptiveness declined in all of the analysed research fields and patent types, even when factoring in potential differences in factors such as citation practices…
The authors also analysed the most common verbs used in manuscripts and found that whereas research in the 1950s was more likely to use words evoking creation or discovery such as, ‘produce’ or ‘determine’, that done in the 2010s was more likely to refer to incremental progress, using terms such as ‘improve’ or ‘enhance’.
I have not yet read it, but surely it seems of importance:
Although there are many competing explanations for the Industrial Revolution, there has been no effort to evaluate them econometrically. This paper analyzes how the very different patterns of growth across the counties of England between the 1760s and 1830s can be explained by a wide range of potential variables. We find that industrialization occurred in areas that began with low wages but high mechanical skills, whereas other variables, such as literacy, banks, and proximity to coal, have little explanatory power. Against the view that living standards were stagnant during the Industrial Revolution, we find that real wages rose sharply in the industrializing north and declined in the previously prosperous south.
Here are the top MR posts by views from 2022. Biggest post was Tyler’s
followed up by two posts by me on Biden’s student loan plan
and further posts by me on FTX and the probability of a nuclear war.
I said ProPublica was putting their reputation on the line with the lab-leak report but nevertheless I was too credulous. Much of the factual reporting remains correct, however. Lab leak is very much in play.
Tyler comes in next with a post on criticizing other people in private.
and two posts on the Russian-Ukraine conflict.
Finally Tyler offers some advice:
What were your favorite MR posts of 2022. What should we revisit?
The subtitle is The Netherlands 1000-1800, and the authors are Maarten Prak and Jan Luiten van Zanden. An excellent book, here is one excerpt:
…between 1454 and 1500 the Netherlands appears to have printed more than double the European average number of books, with the Hanseatic town of Deventer as the most important center of this new industry. In the sixteenth century, book printing in the Low Countries was originally concentrated in Antwerp, but after 1585 production in the northern Netherlands skyrocketed, reaching an average per capita output that was consistently three to more than four times that of Europe as a whole. During the seventeenth century, Holland became the “bookshop of the world.” Exports of books were important, but the domestic demand for print was equally large.
You can buy it here.
A key part of The Great Barrington Declaration was the idea of focused protection, “allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.” This was a reasonable idea and consistent with past practices as recommended by epidemiologists. In a new paper, COVID in the Nursing Homes: The US Experience, my co-author Markus Bjoerkheim and I ask whether focused protection could have worked.
Nursing homes were the epicenter of the pandemic. Even though only about 1.3 million people live in nursing homes at a point in time, the death toll in nursing homes accounted for almost 30 per cent of total Covid-19 deaths in the US during 2020. Thus we asked whether focusing protection on the nursing homes was possible. One way of evaluating focused protection is to see whether any type of nursing homes were better than others. In other words, what can we learn from best practices?
The Centers for Medicaire and Medicaid Services (CMS) has a Five-Star Rating system for nursing homes. The rating system is based on comprehensive data from annual health inspections, staff payrolls, and clinical quality measures from quarterly Minimum Data Set assessments. The rating system has been validated against other measures of quality, such as mortality and hospital readmissions. The ratings are pre-pandemic ratings. Thus, the question to ask is whether higher-quality homes had better Covid-19 outcomes? The answer? No.
The following figure shows predicted deaths by 5-star rating. There is no systematic relationship between nursing homes rating and COVID deaths. (In the figure, we control for factors outside of a nursing homes control, such as case prevalence in the local community. But even if you don’t control for other factors there is little to no relationship. See the paper for more.) Case prevalence in the community not nursing home quality determined death rates.
More generally, we do some exploratory data analysis to see whether there were any “islands of protection” in the sea of COVID and the answer is basically no. Some facilities did more rapid tests and that was good but surprisingly (to us) the numbers of rapid tests needed to scale nationally and make a substantial difference in nursing home deaths was far out of sample and below realistic levels.
Finally, keep in mind that the United States did focused protection. Visits to nursing homes were stopped and residents and staff were tested to a high degree. What the US did was focused protection and lockdowns and masking and we still we had a tremendous death toll in the nursing homes. Focused protection without community controls would have led to more deaths, both in the nursing homes and in the larger community. Whether that would have been a reasonable tradeoff is another question but there is no evidence that we could have lifted community controls and also better protected the nursing homes. Indeed, as I pointed out at the time, lifting community controls would have made it much more difficult to protect the nursing homes.
Here is the audio and transcript, here is part of the episode summary:
He joined Tyler to discuss why architects have it easier than opera composers, what drew him to the story of Antony and Cleopatra, why he prefers great popular music to the classical tradition, the “memory spaces” he uses to compose, the role of Christianity in his work, the anxiety of influence, the unusual life of Charles Ives, the relationship between the availability and appreciation of music, how contemporary music got a bad rap, his favorite Bob Dylan album, why he doesn’t think San Francisco was crucial to his success, why he doesn’t believe classical music is dead or even dying, his fascination with Oppenheimer, the problem with film composing, his letter to Leonard Bernstein, what he’s doing next, and more.
And here is an excerpt:
COWEN: How do you avoid what Harold Bloom called the anxiety of influence?
ADAMS: Harold Bloom was a very great literary critic, sometimes a little bit of a windbag, but his writings on Coleridge and Shelley, and especially on Shakespeare, were very important to me. He had a phrase that he coined, the anxiety of influence, which is interesting because he himself was not a creator. He was a critic, but he intuited that we creators, whether we’re painters or novelists or filmmakers or composers — that we live, so to speak, under the shadow of the greats that preceded us.
If you’re a poet, you’ve got all this great literature behind you, whether it’s Shakespeare or Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson. And likewise for me, I’ve got really heavyweight predecessors in Beethoven, in Bach, in Mahler, in Stravinsky. Maybe that’s what he meant, just the anxiety of, is what I do even comparable with this great art? Another thing is, if I have an idea, has somebody already thought of it before? Those are the neurotic aspects of my life, but I’m no different than anybody else. We just have to deal with those concerns.
COWEN: Are you more afraid of Mozart or of Charles Ives?
ADAMS: [laughs] I’m not afraid of either of them. I love them. I obviously love Mozart more than Charles Ives. Charles Ives is a very, very unusual figure. He was almost completely unknown in most of the 20th century until Leonard Bernstein, who was very glamorous and very well known — Bernstein brought him to the public notice, and he coined this idea that Charles Ives was the Abraham Lincoln of music. Of course, Americans love something they can grasp onto like, “Oh, yes, I can relate to that. He’s the Abraham Lincoln of music.”
Charles Ives was a hermit. He worked during the day in an insurance firm, at which he was very successful, but spent his weekends and his summer vacations composing. His work is very sentimental, also very avant-garde for its time. I’ve conducted quite a few of his pieces. They are not, I have to admit, 100 percent satisfying, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Ives never heard these pieces, or hardly ever heard them.
When you’re composing, you have to hear something and then realize, “Oh, that works and that doesn’t.” I think the fact that Ives — maybe he was just born before his time. He was born in Connecticut in the 1870s, and America at that time just was still a very raw country and not ready for a classical experimental composer.
COWEN: You seem to understand everything in music, from Indian ragas to popular songs, classical music, jazz. Do you ever worry that you have too many influences?
That is the new book by Quinn Slobodian. Slobodian is very smart, and knows a lot, but…I don’t know. I fear he is continuing to move in the Nancy McLean direction with this work.
This is a tale of how libertarian and libertarian-adjacent movements have embraced various anti-democratic and non-democratic positions. So you can read about seasteading, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Hong Kong as a charter city, and “decentralization” plans for Ciskei, South Africa.
You won’t hear about the highly successful SEZ reforms for the Dominican Republic, or how the European Union was partly rooted in Hayek’s postwar piece on interstate federalism. In that essay, Hayek was explicit about how much would be done by treaty, rather than direct vote, and that is (mostly) how the European Union has turned out. With reasonable success, I might add. Do only the nuttier episodes of “less democracy” count?
Question one: Is the word “plutocratic” ever illuminating?
Question two: Is this a useful descriptive sentence for Milton Friedman? “He [Patri] had a famous grandfather, perhaps the century’s most notorious economist, both lionized and reviled for his role in offering intellectual scaffolding for ever more radical forms of capitalism and his sideline in advising dictators: Milton Friedman. The two shared a basic lack of commitment to democracy.”
Yes, Milton Friedman did believe in democracy. He was an advocate of democracy and free markets, believing that economic freedom would advance both economic and political freedom. He argued that government should be limited in size and scope and that the free market should be allowed to operate with minimal interference.
Or how about engaging with the academic literature on Friedman’s visit to Chile? And more here. Was Friedman, who was elected president of the American Economic Association and won an early Nobel Prize, really “notorious”?
There is valuable content in this book, but it needs to cut way back on the mood affiliation.
The excellent Patrick McKenzie tells the story of VaccineCA, the ragtag group of volunteers that quickly became Google’s and then the US Government’s best source on where to find vaccines during the pandemic.
Wait. The US Government was giving out the vaccines. How could they not know where the vaccines were? It’s complicated. Operation Warp Speed delivered the vaccines to the pharmacy programs and to the states but after that they dissappeared into a morass of incompatible systems.
[L]et’s oversimplify: Vials were allocated by the federal government to states, which allocated them to counties, which allocated them to healthcare providers and community groups. The allocators of vials within each supply chain had sharply limited ability to see true systemic supply levels. The recipients of the vials in many cases had limited organizational ability to communicate to potential patients that they actually had them available.
Patients then asked the federal government, states, counties, healthcare providers and community groups, ‘Do you have the vaccine?’ And in most cases the only answer available to the person who picked up the phone was ‘I don’t have it. I don’t know if we have it. Plausibly someone has it. Maybe you should call someone else.’ Technologists will see the analogy to a distributed denial of service incident, and as if the overwhelming demand was not enough of a problem, the rerouting of calls between institutions amplified the burden on the healthcare system. Vaccine seekers were routinely making dozens of calls.
This caused a standing wave of inquiries to hit all levels of US healthcare infrastructure in the early months of the vaccination effort. Very few of those inquiries went well for any party. It is widely believed, and was widely believed at the time, that this was primarily because supply was lacking, but it was often the case that supply was frequently not being used as quickly as it was produced because demand could not find it.
It turned out that the best way to get visibility into this mess was not to trace the vaccines but to call the endpoints on the phone and then create a database that people could access which is what VaccinateCA did but in addition to finding the doses they had to deal with the issue of who was allowed access.
A key consideration for us, from the first day of the effort, was recording not just which pharmacist had vials but who they thought they could provide care to. This was dependent on prevailing regulations in their state and county, interpretations of those regulations by the pharmacy chain, and (frequently!) ad hoc decision-making by individual medical providers. Individual providers routinely made decisions that the relevant policy makers did not agree comported with their understanding of the rules.
VaccinateCA saw the policy sausage made in real time in California while keeping an eye on it nationwide. It continues to give me nightmares.
California, not to mince words, prioritized the appearance of equity over saving lives, over and over and over again, as part of an explicitly documented strategy, at all levels of the government. You can read the sanitized version of the rationale, by putative medical ethics experts, in numerous official documents. The less sanitized version came out frequently in meetings.
This was the official strategy.
The unofficial strategy, the result the system actually obtained, was that early access to the vaccine was preferentially awarded based on proximity to power and to the professional-managerial class.
… The essential workers list heavily informed the vaccination prioritization schedule. Lobbyists used it as procedural leverage to prioritize their clients for vaccines. The veterinary lobby was unusually candid, in writing, about how it achieved maximum priority (1A) for veterinarians due to them being ‘healthcare workers’.
Teachers’ unions worked tirelessly and landed teachers a 1B. They were ahead of 1C, which included (among others) non-elderly people for whom preexisting severe disability meant that ‘a covid-19 infection is likely to result in severe life-threatening illness or death’. The public rationale was that teachers were at elevated risk of exposure through their occupation. Schools were, of course, mostly closed at the time, and teachers were Zooming along with the rest of the professional-managerial class, but teachers’ unions have power and so 1B it was. Young, healthy teachers quarantining at home were offered the vaccine before people who doctors thought would probably die if they caught Covid.
Now repeat this exercise up and down the social structure and economy of the United States.
…Healthcare providers were fired for administering doses that were destined to expire uselessly. The public health sector devoted substantial attention to the problem of vaccinating too many people during a pandemic. Administration of the formal spoils system became farcically complicated and frequently outcompeted administration of the vaccine as a goal.
The process of registering for the vaccine inherited the complexity of the negotiation over the prioritization, and so vulnerable people were asked to parse rules that routinely befuddled healthy professional software engineers and healthcare administrators – the state of New York subjected senior citizens to a ‘51 step online questionnaire that include[d] uploading multiple attachments’!
That isn’t hyperbole! New York meant to do that! On purpose!
Lives were sacrificed by the thousands and tens of thousands for political reasons. Many more were lost because institutions failed to execute with the competence and vigor the United States is abundantly capable of.
…The State of California instituted a policy of redlining in the provision of medical care in a pandemic to thunderous applause from its activist class and medical ethics experts….Residency restrictions were pervasively enforced at the county level and frequently finer-grained than that. A pop-up clinic, for example, might have been restricted to residents of a single zip code or small group of zip codes.
All people are equal in the eyes of the law in California, but some people are . . . let’s politely say ‘administratively disfavored’.
The theory was, and you could write down this part of it, disfavored potential patients might use social advantages like better access to information and transportation to present themselves for treatment at locations that had doses allocated for favored potential patients. This part of the theory was extremely well-founded. Many people were willing to drive the length and breadth of California for their dose and did so.
What many wanted to do, and this is the part that they couldn’t write down, is deny healthcare to disfavored patients. Since healthcare providers are public accommodations in the state of California, they are legally forbidden from discriminating on the basis of characteristics that some people wanted to discriminate on. So that was laundered through residency restrictions.
Many more items of interest. I didn’t know this incredibly fact about the Biden adminsitratins Vaccines.gov for example:
Pharmacies through the FRPP had roughly half of the doses; states and counties had roughly the other half (sometimes administered at pharmacies, because clearly this isn’t complicated enough yet). You would hope that state and county doses were findable on Vaccines.gov. It was going to be the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s effort to fix the vaccine finding problem and take credit for doing so.
…Since the optics would be terrible if America appeared to serve some states much better than others on the official website that everyone would assume must show all the doses, no state doses, not even from states that would opt in, would be shown on it, at least not at the moment of maximum publicity. Got that?
A good point about America.
We also benefited from another major strength of America: You cannot get arrested, jailed, or shot for publishing true facts, even if those facts happen to embarrass people in positions of power. Many funders wanted us to expand the model to a particular nation. In early talks with contacts there in civil society, it was explained repeatedly and at length that a local team that embarrassed the government’s vaccination rollout would be arrested and beaten by people carrying guns. This made it ethically challenging to take charitable donations and try to recruit that team.
Many more points of interest about the process of running a medical startup during a pandemic. Read the whole thing.