Category: History

My Conversation with Sarah Parcak, space archaeologist and Egypt lover

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

She joined Tyler to discuss what caused the Bronze Age Collapse, how well we understand the level of ancient technologies, what archaeologists may learn from the discovery of more than a hundred coffins at the site of Saqqara, how far the Vikings really traveled, why conservation should be as much of a priority as excavation, the economics of looting networks, the inherently political nature of archaeology, Indiana Jones versus The Dig, her favorite contemporary bluegrass artists, the best archeological sites to visit around the world, the merits of tools like Google Earth and Lidar, the long list of skills needed to be a modern archeologist, which countries produce the best amateur space archeologists, and more.

Lots of talk about data issues and rights as well.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Here’s something that struck me studying your work. Give me your reaction. It seems to me your job is almost becoming impossible. You have to know stats. You have to know trigonometry. You have to know geometry. In your case, you need to know Egyptian Arabic, possibly some dialect, possibly some classical Arabic, maybe some other languages.

You have to know archaeology, right? You have to know history. You must have to know all kinds of physical techniques for unearthing materials without damaging them too much. You need to know about data storage, and I could go on, and on, and on.

Hasn’t your job evolved to the point where you’re almost . . . You need to know about technologies, right? For finding data from space — we talked about this before. That’s also not easy. Isn’t your job evolving to the point where, literally, no human can do it, and you’re the last in the line?

PARCAK: I am, I guess, jack of all trades, master of a few. But that’s not true either because I have to know the remote sensing programs. I have to know geographic information systems. I have to be up to date on international cultural heritage laws.

I think I’m not special by a long shot. Every archaeologist is a specialist. This archaeologist is a specialist in the pottery of this period of time, or does DNA, or excavates human remains — they’re bioarchaeologists — or they do computation. We all are specialists in a particular thing, but that’s really broad. My unsexy, more academic term is landscape archaeologist, so I’m interested in ancient human-environment interaction, which encompasses a lot of different fields and subfields. I’ve taken many courses in geology.

All of us who study Egyptology — we do a lot of training in art history because, of course, the iconography and the art and the objects that we’re finding. It takes a lot, but I would say most of the knowledge I’ve gotten is experiential. It’s from being in the field, I’ve visited hundreds of museums. I’ve spent countless hours in museum collections learning, touching objects.

Yeah, it’s a lot, but it’s also the field of archaeology. That’s why so many people really love it — because you get to touch on so many different areas. I would never, for example, consider myself a specialist in bioarchaeology. I know a tibia. When I find pitting on a skull, I know what that could potentially mean.

But also, I’m in a position now where I’m a dig director, so that means I’m in charge of a large group of humans, most of whom are far smarter, more capable than I am in whatever they’re doing. They’re specialists in pottery and bone, in rocks — project geologist — and conservation in art. We have project artists. We have specialists in excavation, and of course, there’s my very talented Egyptian team. They’re excavating. I’m probably a lot more of a manager now than I ever expected to be —

COWEN: And fundraiser perhaps, right?

One of my favorite CWTs in some time.  And here is Sarah’s book Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past.

When Did Growth Begin?

The subtitle of the paper is “New Estimates of Productivity Growth in England from 1250 to 1870” and it is by Paul Bouscasse, Emi Nakamura, and Jon Steinsson:

We provide new estimates of the evolution of productivity in England from 1250 to 1870. Real wages over this period were heavily influenced by plague-induced swings in the population. We develop and implement a new methodology for estimating productivity that accounts for these Malthusian dynamics. In the early part of our sample, we find that productivity growth was zero. Productivity growth began in 1600—almost a century before the Glorious Revolution. Post-1600 productivity growth had two phases: an initial phase of modest growth of 4% per decade between 1600 and 1810, followed by a rapid acceleration at the time of the Industrial Revolution to 18% per decade. Our evidence helps distinguish between theories of why growth began. In particular, our findings support the idea that broad-based economic change preceded the bourgeois institutional reforms of 17th century England and may have contributed to causing them. We also estimate the strength of Malthusian population forces on real wages. We find that these forces were sufficiently weak to be easily overwhelmed by post-1800 productivity growth.

Via Anton Howes.  Here is a related tweet storm from Steinsson.

Google Trends as a measure of economic influence

That is a new research paper by Tom Coupé, here is one excerpt:

I find that search intensity rankings based on Google Trends data are only modestly correlated with more traditional measures of scholarly impact…

The definition of who counts as an economist is somewhat loose, so:

Plato, Aristotle and Karl Marx constitute the top three. They are followed by B. R. Ambedkar, John Locke and Thomas Aquinas, with Adam Smith taking the seventh place. Smith is followed by Max Weber, John Maynard Keynes and the top-ranking Nobel Prize winner, John Forbes Nash Jr.

…John Forbes Nash Jr., Arthur Lewis, Milton Friedman, Paul Krugman and Friedrich Hayek are the most searched for Nobel Prize winners for economics, while Tjalling Koopmans, Reinhard Selten, Lawrence Klein, James Meade and Dale T. Mortensen have the lowest search intensity.

Here are the Nobelist rankings.  Here are the complete rankings, if you are wondering I come in at #104, just ahead of William Stanley Jevons, one of the other Marginal Revolution guys, and considerably ahead of Walras and Menger, early co-bloggers (now retired) on this site.  Gary Becker is what…#172?  Ken Arrow is #184.  The internet is a funny place.

I guess I found this on Twitter, but I have forgotten whom to thank – sorry!

Is this truly an Irish equilibrium?

The British health system is the single most important issue driving opposition to Irish unification in Northern Ireland. Citizens of Northern Ireland get free medical care as part of the U.K.’s socialized medicine. British taxpayers subsidize Northern Ireland’s public services to the tune of $12.5 billion, according to one estimate. That’s a lot of money to give up for the nationalist cause. Nor is it clear more generally what the costs of unification would be or who would pay them, or what the economic benefits of unification might involve and who would get them.

It rubs my intuition the wrong way to believe that one form of socialised medicine over another is actually the major factor.  In any case, here is more from Kimberly Cowell-Myers.

What should I ask Daniel Carpenter?

I will be doing a Conversation with Daniel, who is a professor of political science at Harvard and one of the world’s leading experts on the history of regulation and also the FDA.  Here is part of his bio:

Professor Carpenter’s previous scholarship on regulation and government organizations appears in Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA (Princeton, 2010), winner of the Allan Sharlin Memorial Award of the Social Science History Association; and of The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862-1928 (Princeton, 2001), winner of the Gladys Kammerer Prize of the American Political Science Association and the Charles Levine Prize of the International Political Science Association.  With David Moss of Harvard Business School, he is the author and co-editor of Preventing Regulatory Capture: Special Interest Influence in Regulation and How to Limit It (Cambridge, 2013).

And coming out in May:

Professor Carpenter’s research on petitioning appears in his forthcoming book Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790-1870 (Harvard University Press, 2021)

So what should I ask him?

The beginnings of my early “job” publishing journal articles

No, I was not paid directly for this job, but it has been worth an enormous amount to me, most of all as a path to tenure and also future career opportunities of a broader nature.

I started publishing earlier than most people, with two articles accepted which I wrote at age nineteen, though it took a while for them to come out.

There I was at George Mason University, an undergraduate, and I figured I needed to do something to advance my lot.  And I already had the experience of beating adults at chess at young ages.  So it seemed to me I could publish something, even if not in the very best journals.

I was also well aware that GMU was specializing in various brands of Austrian and market-oriented economics, so some portfolio diversification would not be a bad thing, in part to ensure I would learn other traditions, and in part to signal that I was interested in them, as indeed was (and still is) the case.

I had been doing a lot of reading on the Cambridge capital debates, and so I thought I would try publishing a piece in the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics.  I sent it in, and they took it!  While I had thought this was possible, I still was quite surprised at the outcome, as it was my very first submission to a refereed journal.  The piece was “The rate of return in general equilibrium: a critique,” and it focused on the claims of Christopher Bliss and others that GE models were a successful resolution to the capital reswitching debates.  Editor Paul Davidson gave me detailed and excellent comments to help turn it into a publishable piece.

I was aware of course that such pieces would brand me as “not on the mainstream fast track,” but still it seemed like a very good deal to me.

Another area I had been studying was public goods theory, at the original behest of Walter Grinder, an early inspirational mentor of mine.  So I wrote up some of my ideas on public goods theory, but put them in a neo-institutionalist framework, and sent it off to Review of Social Economy, an institutionalist journal.

They accepted the piece too!  Of course I had to respond to the comments from Reviewer 2, ever-valuable training to this day.  Note that with these early pieces I received only modest help from GMU faculty at the time.

I also was doing a term paper for a British history class, and I studied the 17th century British mercantilist Nicholas Barbon, and early advocate of free trade and also YIMBYism for London, following the Great Fire.  I turned that into a submission too, and a bit later it was accepted at Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, then edited by Warren Samuels.  That was “Nicholas Barbon and the Origins of Classical Liberalism,” and it contained some of the ideas that later evolved into state capacity libertarianism.  I recall three referee reports, not just two, and lots of follow-up work that was required.

My learning from these experiences was pretty simple:

1. I ought to keep on trying and writing more, but aiming higher.

2. My experience with early success in chess was not entirely unique, so of course this boosted my confidence more generally.

3. Try things, and make people tell you no.  Just keep on trying, in the most naive “Reader’s Digest” sense.  Most people simply won’t be doing that, so it can be a huge comparative advantage.

4. It is worth writing for people with ideas and political viewpoints different from one’s own, and they might have a real interest in what you are doing, especially if you can become fluent in their languages as well as your own.

5. I realized I didn’t have to grow up “having a chip on my shoulder,” as I saw was the case with many other young libertarians or for that matter left-wing radicals.  I figured I would and could strike out along a different path of eclecticism.

6. The publications probably got me get accepted into top graduate schools, as I was accepted everywhere I applied, basically the top six plus a few safety schools.  That validated my earlier decision to go to George Mason as an undergraduate and work on my own, rather than be stuck with more homework and more conformism at a bigger name university.  I figured that subsequent “work on my own” decisions might turn out well too, and later they did.

Here is a chain linking to my earlier posts on other early jobs.

And so that publishing job was to continue for a long time, in conjunction with my other labors of course…

The Marginal Revolution NFT!

Tyler and I are pleased to announce our first NFT on the blockchain. Now you can own a screenshot of the very first Marginal Revolution post!

Marginal Revolution is one of the world’s most popular blogs. Written by the economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok it has been in continuous operation since August 21, 2003. This is a screenshot of the very first post, a book review of Jenny Uglow’s The Lunar Men. Any media library or museum will want to have this amazing historical record as part of their collection!

The auction (natch) is here and is open for 6 days. Hurry! This is limited time offer for a unique item.

My excellent Conversation with John Cochrane

Here is the audio, transcript, and video.  So many good parts it is hard to excerpt, here is part of the summary:

John joined Tyler to apply that habit of mind to a number of puzzles, including why real interest rates don’t equalize across countries, what explains why high trading volumes and active management persist in finance, how the pandemic has affected his opinion of habit formation theories, his fiscal theory of price level and inflation, the danger of a US sovereign debt crisis, why he thinks Bitcoin will eventually die, his idea for health-status insurance, becoming a national gliding champion, how a Renaissance historian for a father and a book translator for a mother shaped him intellectually, what’s causing the leftward drift in economics, the need to increase competition among universities, how he became libertarian, the benefits of blogging, and more.

Here is one bit from John:

COCHRANE: You ask two questions here. One is active management, and the other is trading. I’d like to distinguish them. It’s a puzzle in the Chicago free market sense.

Let me ask your question even more pointedly. If you believe in efficient markets, and you believe in competition, and things work out right, we’ve scientifically proven since the 1960s, that high-fee active managers don’t earn any more than a proverbial monkey throwing darts in a well-managed slow index. So why do people keep paying for high-fee active management?

Chicago free market — we’re not supposed to say, “Oh, people are dumb for 40 years — 50 years now,” [laughs] but there’s a lot of it. It’s one of those things. Active management is slowly falling away. The move towards passive index investment is getting stronger and stronger.

There’s a strong new literature, which I’ll point to. My colleague here, Jonathan Berk, has written some good articles on it. This is the puzzle of efficient markets. If everybody indexed, markets couldn’t be efficient because no one’s out there getting the information that makes markets efficient. Markets have to be a little inefficient, and somebody has to do the trading.

Your second question is about trading. Why is there this immense volume of trading? When was the last time you bought or sold a stock? You don’t do it every 20 milliseconds, do you? [laughs]

I’ll highlight this. If I get my list of the 10 great unsolved puzzles that I hope our grandchildren will have figured out, why does getting the information into asset prices require that the stock be turned over a hundred times? That’s clearly what’s going on. There’s this vast amount of trading, which is based on information or opinion and so forth. I hate to discount it at all just as human folly, but that’s clearly what’s going on, but we don’t have a good model.

Self-recommending.

Dr. Seuss as a policy issue

That is a Substack essay from Matt Yglesias, and open source at that.  Excerpt, using quotation marks rather than forcing further indents on the segment:

“To me, there’s something attractive about the “constitutional copyright” idea of returning to the 1790 Copyright Act rule. But there’s also something attractive about the idea of an author retaining control over their works during their lifetime. There’s also something to be said for the idea that if you publish something and then get hit by a bus the next day, maybe that happenstance shouldn’t cut your heirs out of the downside. Mashing that all together might leave you with life of the author OR 28 years, whichever is longer.

I think it’s hard to specify the exact right number (Rufus Pollock tries with some fancy math and comes up with 15 to 38 years), but these two points from Hal Varian’s paper on copyright terms seem relevant:

  • “Fewer than 11 percent of the copyrights registered between 1883 and 1964 were renewed after 28 years.”
  • “Of the 10,027 books published in 1930, only 174 were still in print in 2001.”

It is just super-rare for old works to have large commercial value. But Xing Li, Megan MacGarvie, and Petra Moser show that copyright extensions have a big impact on consumer prices. And I would argue the cultural cost is higher.”

There is much more at the link.

Noah Substack interviews Patrick Collison

Here goes, here is one good excerpt of many:

Isaac Asimov’s New Guide to Science. I read that when I was 13 or 14 and thought it was just amazing. (I was an exchange student in Germany at the time. I didn’t learn much German but I did have my eyes opened to many aspects of science that I previously knew nothing about!) Some of John Gribbin’s books, like In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat, really inspired me. Douglas Hofstadter — especially Metamagical Themas. (I read GEB when I was a teenager but found it a bit of a slog.) But, honestly, I think I was always interested in creating technology to some extent. I spent hours and hours playing with Lego when I was young and then transitioned pretty quickly to programming. I remember being pretty certain that I’d love programming before I’d ever written a line of code and, sure enough, I did. So, maybe it’s just something about how my mind is wired.

And:

Overall, my single biggest science policy suggestion would be to pursue far greater structural diversity in our mechanisms. More different kinds of grant making institutions, more different kinds of research organizations, more different career paths for participants, etc. That’s not easy to do — bureaucracies by their nature seek to standardize which this fosters homogeneity. So, to the extent that the Endless Frontier Act can bring us closer to a more structurally varied world, I’m probably supportive relative to the status quo. My biggest qualm would probably be that it combines regional development policy with scientific policy. While the political merit is easy to see, I’m not sure that that’s a good idea. Talent clusters are real and I think it probably makes more sense to think about how best to improve those clusters than it does to foster underdog competitors.

Recommended, interesting throughout.

My Economics in Argumentation seminars job

You can trace my earlier jobs here, my next job, which I believe started at age nineteen, involved giving summer talks to high school debaters.  The program was called Economics in Argumentation, and it continues today in a much broader form under the name Economic Thinking, led by the excellent Gregory Rehmke, who was program leader back then as well.

The program was looking for someone who had debate experience (I debated for one year, my high school debate partner was the later economist and Fed governor Randall Kroszner), someone who was available, someone willing to fly around the whole country, someone affordable, someone who could relate to the high school students, and someone who knew enough economics.  That was me.

So I barnstormed for part of the summer, doing I would guess six to eight events a year?  I was paid $500 plus expenses for a weekend, typically to give a few talks on how to apply economics to the year’s debate topic.  One topic example was “the economics of arms sales,” and so in advance I had to spend a few months reading up on the topic of that year.  Other potential speakers were not so interested in doing that.

For my first talk, which was my very first public talk ever, I was nervous and disorganized, but after that I was fine and just consistently got better.  That is when and how I learned to give public presentations.  It was also my first time taking flights on a regular basis, and navigating new locations other than the immediate Atlantic seaboard/95 corridor.

Here are a few things I learned and some related memories:

1. I visited Seattle and Houston most frequently.  But I also went to Louisville, Grand Rapids, Wichita, a bunch of other Midwest places, and Los Angeles and San Francisco for the first time.  I learned what a great country America is, and I began to figure out how to travel.  I became acquainted with locales such as eastern Kansas, and would have not otherwise seen them, or realized how much I enjoy seeing them.  My knowledge base expanded rapidly.

2. Greg was super-nice to me throughout, and he has ended up being one of the people who helped me out most.  The money was useful but most of all the experience.  Greg had to put up with a lot of me, and he enjoyed mocking me (gently) for thinking (at first) that all restaurants around the United States were going to be serving chocolate ice cream.  Greg had formerly been a student of Paul Heyne’s at the University of Washington, so he had broadly Austrian and market-oriented views, and I fit into his programmatic vision very well.  (In fact most of what I was teaching I had learned from Heyne’s own book, which I read when I was fourteen.)  Plus going around with Greg was a lot of fun.  He is also a basketball fan, explained to me articulately exactly why Bill Walton was such a great player albeit briefly, and he taught me things like “if you are going to fly around the country, you need to have a credit card.”

3. High school debate coaches are in general a great and very dedicated group of educators.  The debate world back then was a kind of privatized appendage to the public school system, and it was a good refuge for people who really wanted to learn things.  They were also good audiences to practice upon, because a) they are used to considering all sides of an argument, and b) they judge presentations as such and apply fairly high but not obnoxious standards.  They also expect you to get to the point very quickly.

4. Giving the talks forced me to figure out what I thought economics really was all about.  Incentives and opportunity cost were the two ideas I pushed the hardest.  I tried to show the audience, through the application of concrete examples and arguments to the topic area, that those ideas were useful for formulating and responding to debate arguments.  I also encouraged them to think about secondary consequences in a more rigorous and systematic fashion, rather than just tacking them onto arguments for the sake of debate.

5. Here is a seven-minute excerpt from one of my talks.  I was younger then.

6. I had the chance to meet Paul Heyne when we visited Seattle, and in general met lots of interesting people along the way.

6b. I have a memory of driving around with Greg, finding a delicious Basque restaurant in Nevada.  But how did we end up in Nevada?

7. A number of other speakers for the program were graduate students in economics, and with debate backgrounds, yet I noticed immediately that they did not really think like economists.  They knew more neoclassical economics than I did, but somehow they were lifeless in their approaches and were not able to integrate the economic way of thinking with debate topics.  Some remain in the profession to this day.  It was important for me to learn just how much of the educated world fit into this category, one way or another.

8. Most of all this job required the energy to start, finish, and maintain each talk in a way that would command the attention of bright high school students.  They also respected preparation, so you had to come in knowing more than they did about the topic, but at the same time make the economics the primary focus.  Ultimately “show up and perform” is one of the job styles I am most comfortable with.

9. I felt I was getting a good deal overall, and wasn’t looking to demand a higher wage.  At the margin, I was more likely to ask for more events on the West Coast and in other good places.

10. Maybe I did this for three summers in a row?  (One of my successor speakers was Air Genius Gary Leff.)  Graduate school and then moving to Germany pulled my attention toward other endeavors.  But it was a job I loved, and a job that in modified form I still have to this day.

My job as managing editor of the Austrian Economics Newsletter

I’ve already posted about my chess teaching, and my grocery store work (here and here), my next job was as managing editor of the Austrian Economics Newsletter, for 1980-1981.  I was only eighteen (and nineteen) then, so for me this was a big step up.

I was responsible for commissioning content, making sure authors got their pieces in on time, editing those pieces (along with the editor proper, Don Lavoie), proofreading, picking up all the copy and delivering it to the typesetter, and coming up with ideas for future features.  I wrote a few short pieces too, conference coverage if I recall.  Part of my job was managing Don as well, though overall he was extremely generous with his time and also easy to work with.  Note that all of this work was de facto pre-computer.

From this job I learned a few things:

1. Most of all, I was grateful to Don for taking a huge chance on me.  A while earlier, I had driven to a party at his house in Brooklyn and spent a few hours with him.  One core lesson here is show up!  If I had not gone to Don’s party, almost certainly none of this would have happened.  At the time, the drive from New Jersey to Brooklyn seemed a little daunting to me, but my Auseinandersetzung with the BQE went fine.

2. I began to suspect all the more that “keeping track of things getting done” requires an innate predisposition, though a bad upbringing can squeeze it out of you.  But a lot of people just can’t or won’t do that, even if they are very smart.

3. The most fragile element of the supply chain was keeping the typesetter in line to deliver material promptly.  We were just never going to be a major customer of his and thus we were not a priority.  I just had to keep on bugging him, and I was afraid he would find out I was only an eighteen-year-old.

4. Parents matter!  My father and mother owned and ran a magazine (Commerce, affiliated with a chamber of commerce in NJ but they owned and ran it), and there I was at age eighteen, helping to run a mini-magazine.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  And my mother dealt with typesetters all the time.  My grandmother helped with the editing and the proofreading.

Here I am at an older age, still co-running a magazine of sorts, namely MR.  (Some of you help with the proofreading — thanks!)  You could say it is affiliated with a number of groups, starting with GMU, but it is owned and run by…you get the picture.

5. The issues of the Austrian Economics Newsletter all came out in an orderly fashion, so I considered my work there a success.  Don and I also pushed each other in broader and more empirical directions, away from the earlier Austrian praxeological approaches.  The Newsletter helped make Austrian economics a broader tradition.

6. Managing your boss is a big part of most jobs.  Again, Don I found easy to work with, and I learned a great deal from him, but he did need a co-worker who could appreciate his ideas and listen to his “speeches.”  I feel I served that function well.  I did see that Don was onto ideas that represented real advances in Austrian economics, and to this day Don is underrated.  He was the best and most influential Austrian economist of his generation, but is not universally regarded as such (he passed away prematurely of cancer at the age of 50).

7. As a young person, you can advance much more quickly if you are doing something outside of the mainstream.  That is yet another reason to be on the lookout for “weird” talent.

8. One of the more important things I learned was “what it means to know everyone/everything going on in a particular field.”

9. I don’t recall exactly how the job ended.  But I think that version of the newsletter was discontinued, and Don stopped doing it, more or less at the same time.  (Later it was taken over by the Mises Institute and became a very different product; the Mercatus publication Market Process was the true successor.)  I was very glad to have done it, but after two years or so I was ready to move on to the next thing.

The Gregory Clark working paper

I wanted to present this paper to you all, here is the abstract:

Economics, Sociology, and Anthropology are dominated by the belief that social outcomes depend mainly on parental investment and community socialization. Using a lineage of 402,000 English people 1750-2020 we test whether such mechanisms better predict outcomes than a simple additive genetics model. The genetics model predicts better in all cases except for the transmission of wealth. The high persistence of status over multiple generations, however, would require in a genetic mechanism strong genetic assortative in mating. This has been until recently believed impossible. There is however, also strong evidence consistent with just such sorting, all the way from 1837 to 2020. Thus the outcomes here are actually the product of an interesting genetics-culture combination.

The title is “For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls: A Lineage of 400,000 English Individuals 1750-2020 shows Genetics Determines most Social Outcomes.”  For those of you who don’t know, Greg’s home page provides some context.

My Caribbean podcast with the excellent Rasheed Griffith

One hour, fifteen minutes, almost all of it about the history and culture and economic future of the Caribbean, here is the audio.  It starts with Rasheed interviewing me, but later becomes more of a back-and-forth dialog, covering Cuba, Trinidad, Barbados, the best music from Jamaica, why Haiti has failed so badly, whether the Caribbean will be Latinized, and much more.  This one is pretty much entirely fresh material and I enjoyed doing it very much.

Rasheed is from Barbados, he is a very recent Emergent Ventures winner, and more generally his podcast focuses on the role of China in the Caribbean.  Newsletter and some prestigious podcast guests coming soon!

Here is Rasheed on Twitter.