Perhaps you have noticed that the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans swept the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in four games straight. A month or two ago, it was not entirely obvious that the Pelicans would make the playoffs at all. And all 22 ESPN analysts picked the Pelicans to lose the series.
The simplest theory about the Pelicans performance is that they have two superstars, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. But while Portland was thought of as the superior team, they don’t have any player with the power and dynamism of Anthony Davis, whom I and many others consider to be a transcendent superstar.
One possible theory is this: an NBA series today is very well scouted and analyzed, and the players watch lots of tape. Adjustments are made each game or even each quarter, based on a quantitative analysis of what is working and what is not. This neutralizes many of the strategies of the lesser players, and furthermore having a good bench is worth less when it is easier to concentrate more of the minutes in the very best players. It is not however possible to neutralize the impact of a transcendental superstar, even with lots of advance planning. Those truly top players can improvise around any defenses thrown at them, or on the defensive end they can rapidly adjust to counter a new offensive attack.
Furthermore, in the playoffs effort is more or less equalized, as suddenly everyone is trying, even the bench players on the road. That too raises the relative return to top talent.
In the playoffs, it is thus plausible that the quality and value of the transcendent superstars goes up.
As more and more of contemporary business becomes regularized and measured and motivated and based on well-ordered cooperating teams, might the same be true for the transcendent superstars of that world as well? In essence, we’re always in the business “playoffs” these days, at least in Manhattan and Silicon Valley, and their transcendent superstars also become the difference-makers.
I do not seek to argue that is the main cause behind rising income inequaliity, but might it be one factor?
Of course my dream series for the finals is New Orleans vs. Philadelphia (Ben Simmons, Joel “built for…playoff basketball” Embiid. That is hardly the most likely outcome, but it is now looking a lot more possible than one might have thought. Philly, by the way, is the “all time hottest team entering the NBA playoffs,” at least by one measure.
Loudoun County’s growth over the past three decades has been driven in part by Asian Americans, who have flocked there to work for AOL and other tech companies that have set up shop in the area. Today 18 percent of the district’s residents are Asian American. Nearly half of those are Indian American; between 1990 and 2010, the number of Indian Americans in the county grew by a factor of fifty. Drive past a park on a summer evening, and you’ll see cricket matches under way—the Loudoun County Cricket League has forty-eight teams and more than 1,200 players.
Here is more, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.
I found this book by Sebastian Abbot very stimulating, though I wished for a more social-scientific treatment. The focus is on Africa, here is one bit on the more conceptual side:
But focusing on a young player’s technique still tells a scout relatively little about whether the kid will reach the top level, even when the observations are paired with physical measures of speed and agility. A study published in 2016 looked at the results from a battery of five tests conducted by the German soccer federation on over 20,000 of the top Under-12 players in the country. The tests measured speed, agility, dribbling, passing, and shooting. The researchers assessed the utility of the tests in determining how high the kids would progress once they reached the Under-16 to Under-19 level. The study found that players who scored in the 99th percentile or higher in the tests still only had a 6 percent chance of making the youth national team.
So what else might you look to?:
They assessed the game intelligence of players by freezing match footage at different moments and asking players to predict what would happen next or what decision a player on the field should make. Elite players were faster and more accurate in their ability to scan the field, pick up cues from an opponent’s position, and recognize, recall, and predict patterns of play.
Researchers have found that the key ingredient is not how much formal practice or how many official games players had as kids, but how much pickup soccer they played in informal settings like the street or schoolyard.
The implications for economics study and speed chess are obvious. Finally:
Researchers found that athletes have a 25 percent larger attention window than nonathletes.
Is that true for successful CEOs as well? By the way, I hope to blog soon about why human talent is in so many endeavors the truly binding constraint.
This is an interesting Africa book, too.
Here is the podcast and transcript, Martina was in top form and dare I say quick on her feet? Here is part of the summary:
In their conversation, she and Tyler cover her illustrious tennis career, her experience defecting from Czechoslovakia and later becoming a dual citizen, the wage gap in tennis competition and commentary, gender stereotypes in sports, her work regimen and training schedule, technological progress in tennis, her need for speed, journaling and constant self-improvement, some of her most shocking realizations about American life, the best way to see East Africa, her struggle to get her children to put the dishes in the dishwasher, and more.
Here is one bit:
NAVRATILOVA: I just wanted to leave no stone unturned, really. The coach, obviously, was technique and tactics. The physical part was training, working very hard. I’ll give you my typical day in a minute. The eating was so that I could train hard and not get injured. So it all came together.
The typical day, then, when I really was humming was four hours of tennis, 10:00 to 2:00, two hours of drills and maybe two hours of sets. Then I would do some running drills on the court for 15, 20 minutes, sprints that if I did them now, I wouldn’t be able to walk the next day.
NAVRATILOVA: You know, 15- to 30-second sprinting drills. Then we would eat lunch. Then I would go either play basketball full-court, two on two for an hour and a half or little man-big man. It’s two on one. I don’t know, those people that play basketball. You just run. You just run.
COWEN: Which one were you?
NAVRATILOVA: It switches. Whoever has the ball is the little man. No, whoever has the ball, it’s one against two. Then you play little man, the person plays defense, and then the big man plays center. It’s not two on one, it’s one against one and then one. Then whoever gets the ball goes the other way. It’s run, run, run.
Then I would lift weights and have dinner either before lifting weights or after. So it was a full day of training.
COWEN: What about 9:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M.?
COWEN:Billie Jean King once suggested that you use writing in a journal every day to help you accomplish your goals. How does that work for you? What is it you do? Why do you think it works?
NAVRATILOVA: It worked because it really centers you. It narrows it down, whatever long-term goal you have. It becomes more real and more current because it narrows it down in that, “What do you need to do today?” and “Did you accomplish that goal?” You have a big goal. You break it into smaller goals, into smaller goals, until you get into, “OK, what do I do today to get to that goal?”
…Try to be honest with yourself. Be honest but also be nice to yourself. You see that with most champions. They’re perfectionists. You beat yourself up too much. I preach and I try to strive for excellence rather than perfection.
If you strive for excellence, perfection may happen. [laughs] It’s good enough to be excellent. That’s good enough. You don’t need to be perfect because perfection just happens by accident.
I asked her this:
COWEN: What was it like to go skiing with Donald Trump?
My favorite part was this:
NAVRATILOVA: Tyler, you need to drink more water. You’re not hydrating at all.
Remember, above all else, sports is cognitive! These are some of the smartest humans of our time, even if it is not always the kind of intelligence you respect most.
Two Burundi officials have been imprisoned after the African country’s president was allegedly “roughed up” in a football match they organised.
President Pierre Nkurunziza is a ‘born-again’ evangelical Christian who spends much of his time travelling Burundi with his own team, Haleluya FC. He travels with his own choir, “Komeza gusenga”, which means “pray non-stop” in the local Kirundi language.
On 3 February, his team faced a side from the northern town of Kiremba.
Normally, the opposition is well aware they are playing against the country’s president, and it has been said they go easy in the games, even perhaps allowing Nkurunziza to score.
But as the Kiremba team contained Congolese refugees who did not know they were playing against Burundi’s president, they “attacked each time he had the ball and made him fall several times”, a witness told AFP.
Kiremba’s administrator Cyriaque Nkezabahizi and his assistant, Michel Mutama, were imprisoned on Thursday, the news agency reports.
AFP cited a judicial source as saying they had been arrested on charges of “conspiracy against the president”.
Here is more, via Ray Lopez.
From one recent ESPN report:
And Bird would always say, “Did Laimbeer make it? [the All-Star game]” And I would say, yes or no, and if it was no, he’d be like “Oh, good. Cause then when I get on the bus and he says, ‘Hi, Larry’ I don’t have to say, “F— you, Bill.” So we can bleep that out, OK? But that’s the old days.
Windhorst: I can actually hear Larry saying that.
MacMullan: That’s the old days. But the new days, these guys are all friends. I’m just amazed at the camaraderie between teams.
Today, ESPN presents “the three unwritten rules for NBA trash talking,” the first being “Don’t make it personal.” The second is “Be quiet on the bench.” Where’s the trash?
I am honored to have been able to do this, here is the podcast and transcript. The topics we covered included…the ideas of Robin, most of all: “With Robin, we go meta. Robin, if politics is not about policy, medicine is not about health, laughter is not about jokes, and food is not about nutrition, what are podcasts not about?”
Here is one exchange:
COWEN: Let’s say I’m an introvert, which by definition is someone who’s not so much out there. Why is that signaling? Isn’t that the opposite of signaling? If you’re enough of an introvert, it doesn’t even seem like countersignaling. There’s no one noticing you’re not there.
HANSON: I’ve sometimes been tempted to classify people as egg people and onion people. Onion people have layer after layer after layer. You peel it back, and there’s still more layers. You don’t really know what’s underneath. Whereas egg people, there’s a shell, and you get through it, and you see what’s on the inside.
In some sense, I think of introverts as going for the egg people strategy. They’re trying to show you, “This is who I am. There’s not much more hidden, and you get past my shell, and you can know me and trust me. And there’s a sense in which we can form a stronger bond because I’m not hiding that much more.”
COWEN: Here’s another response to the notion that everything’s about signaling. You could say, “Well, that’s what people actually enjoy.” If signaling is 90 percent of whatever, surely it’s evolved into being parts of our utility functions. It makes us happy to signal. So signaling isn’t just wasteful resources.
What we really want to do is set up a world that caters to the elephant in our brain, so to speak. We just want all policies to pander to signaling as much as possible. Maybe make signals cheaper, but just signals everywhere now and forever. What says you?
HANSON: I think our audience needs a better summary of this thesis that I’m going to defend here. The Elephant in the Brain main thesis is that in many areas of life, perhaps even most, there’s a thing we say that we’re trying to do, like going to school to learn or going to the doctor to get well, and then what we’re really trying to do is often more typically something else that’s more selfish, and a lot of it is showing off.
If that’s true, then we are built to do that. That’s the thing we want to do, and in some sense it’s a great world when we get to do it.
My complaint isn’t really that most people don’t acknowledge this. I accept that people may be just fine leaving the elephant in their brain and not paying attention to it and continuing to pretend one thing while they’re doing another. That may be what makes them happy and that may be OK.
My stronger claim would be that policy analysts and social scientists who claim that they understand the social world well enough to make recommendations for changes—they should understand the elephant in the brain. They should have a better idea of hidden motives because they could think about which institutions that we might choose differently to have better outcomes.
And of course I asked:
COWEN: What offends you deep down? You see it out there. What offends you?
And why exactly does it work to invite your date up to “see my etchings”? And where is “The Great Filter”? And how much will we identify with our “Em” copies of ourselves? There is also quantum computing, Robin on movies, and the limits of Effective Altruism. On top of all that, the first audience question comes from Bryan Caplan.
You should all buy and read Robin’s new book, with Kevin Simler, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.
I will be having a Conversation with her on March 19, in Arlington at George Mason University. So what should I ask?
I thank you all in advance for your usual enthusiasm and sagacity.
Intrepid entrepreneurs have plunged into icy Finnish water in an eccentric contest to win funding for their business ideas.
Polar Bear Pitching allows start-up firms to put forward their projects to investors for as long as they can stand in the freezing temperatures.
The final of the Dragon’s Den-style competition will see a dozen companies put their plans under the noses of investors.
The winner of the two-day contest — which takes place in frozen sea near Oulu on February 6 and 7 — will receive €10,000.
Start-ups who have secured funding say standing in such cold water helps convince investors they are serious.
Here is the article and photo, via Danica Porobic.
[NBA star John] Wall is shooting 42 percent, his lowest mark since he was a rookie, and he just hasn’t played with enough vigor on either end of the floor. One measure of that: He has spent 76.57 percent of floor time either standing still or walking, the largest such share among all rotation players, according to tracking data from Second Spectrum. Dirk Nowitzki is right behind Wall, and he’s almost 40.
That is from Zack Lowe at ESPN. By the way, Wall was just named to the NBA All-Star team.
After reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules, a few people asked me what my list would look like. I would stress that what follows is not a universal or eternally valid account, but rather a few ideas that strike me in the here and now, perhaps as the result of recent conversations. I suspect the same is true for everyone’s rules lists, so please keep this in perspective. Here goes:
1. Assume your temperament will always be somewhat childish and impatient, and set your rules accordingly, knowing that you cannot abide by rules for rules sake. Hope to leverage your impatience toward your longer-run advantage.
2. Study the symbolic systems of art, music, literature. and religion, if only to help yourself better understand alternative points of view in political and intellectual discourse. Don’t just spend time with the creations you like right away. Avoid “devalue and dismiss.”
3. When the price goes up, buy less. Try to understand what the price really is, however, and good luck with that.
4. Marry well.
5. Organize at least some significant portion of your knowledge of the world in terms of place, whether by country, region, or city. If you do that, virtually every person will be interesting to you, if only because almost everyone has some valuable knowledge of particular places.
6. When shooting the basketball, give it more arc than you think is necessary. Consistently.
7. Learn how to learn from those who offend you.
8. Cultivate mentors, and be willing to serve as mentors to others. This never loses its importance.
9. I don’t know.
10. Heed Cowen’s Three Laws.
11. Do not heed Cowen’s Three Laws.
12. Every now and then read or reread Erasmus, Montaigne, Homer, Shakespeare, or Joyce’s Ulysses, so that you do not take any rules too seriously. The human condition seems to defeat our attempts to order it.
This is really a paper about alcohol, and indeed “the a word” dominates the very first paragraph of the text, here is the abstract:
Jason M. Lindo, Peter Siminski and Isaac D. Swensen
This paper considers the degree to which events that intensify partying increase sexual assault. Estimates are based on panel data from campus and local law enforcement agencies and an identification strategy that exploits plausibly random variation in the timing of Division 1 football games. The estimates indicate that these events increase daily reports of rape with 17–24-year-old victims by 28 percent. The effects are driven largely by 17–24-year-old offenders and by offenders unknown to the victim, but we also find significant effects on incidents involving offenders of other ages and on incidents involving offenders known to the victim.
Baseball has dominated the cultural and sporting life of Palau for almost 100 years, which is about four times longer than Palau’s been an independent nation. Over the years, Palauans have shaped the game to fit their island lives. Kids learn to play with bamboo bats and coconut-leaf balls. Pitchers chew betel nut instead of dip. Monsoons rain out not just games and series, but entire seasons of league play. Local traditions of witchcraft have crossed over into the country’s sporting life; even today, it’s not uncommon for accusations of black magic to fly after particularly contentious games. (I’ve been reporting on and off from Palau for seven years, so I’m used to it. THIS pitcher’s dad was a known wizard; THAT team’s manager caught women from an opposing village burning leaves over home base.) Baseball as it’s played in Palau is a decidedly Palauan thing.
But baseball has also shaped Palau. It’s more than a national pastime here. It’s an organizing principle—or, more accurately, a re-organizing principle. Before the 20th century, Palau was a matriarchy. Women controlled most aspects of society, and men were limited to fishing, fighting, and handling village-to-village diplomacy. Then colonial rule brought centralized government—and baseball—to the archipelago. Ever since, these two male-dominated worlds have fed on each other, with Palau’s baseball leagues serving as a kind of farm system for government service. Scores of congressmen, senators, diplomats, and heads of state have passed through Palau’s dugouts on their way to political power.
Michael R. Ransom and Tyler Ransom have a new paper on this question:
We examine the extent to which participation in high school athletics has beneficial effects on future education, labor market, and health outcomes. Due to the absence of plausible instruments in observational data, we use recently developed methods that relate selection on observables with selection on unobservables to estimate bounds on the causal effect of athletics participation. We analyze these effects in the US separately for men and women using three different nationally representative longitudinal data sets that each link high school athletics participation with later-life outcomes. We do not find consistent evidence of individual benefits reported in many previous studies – once we have accounted for selection, high school athletes are no more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, or participate in the labor force. However, we do find that men (but not women) who participated in high school athletics are more likely to exercise regularly as adults. Nevertheless, athletes are no less likely to be obese.
The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis. Kevin also refers us to this paper: “…the large portion of the variance in a four-item economic egalitarianism scale can be attributed to genetic factor[s].”
It should be collaborative rather than adversarial:
Integration is a common policy used to reduce discrimination, but different types of integration may have different effects. This paper estimates the effects of two types of integration: collaborative and adversarial. I recruited 1,261 young Indian men from different castes and randomly assigned them either to participate in month-long cricket leagues or to serve as a control group. Players faced variation in collaborative contact, through random assignment to homogeneous-caste or mixed-caste teams, and adversarial contact, through random assignment of opponents. Collaborative contact reduces discrimination, leading to more cross-caste friendships and 33% less own-caste favoritism when voting to allocate cricket rewards. These effects have efficiency consequences, increasing both the quality of teammates chosen for a future match, and cross-caste trade and payouts in a real-stakes trading exercise. In contrast, adversarial contact generally has no, or even harmful, effects. Together these findings show that the economic effects of integration depend on the type of contact.
And here is a recent paper by Devesh Kapur, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Lant Pritchett and D. Shyam Babu, on the benefits of modernity for Dalits, here is one short bit of the abstract:
The survey results show substantial changes in a wide variety of social practices affecting Dalit well-being—increased personal consumption patterns of status goods (e.g. grooming, eating), widespread adoption of ―elite‖ practices around social events (e.g. weddings, births), less stigmatising personal relations of individuals across castes (e.g. economic and social interactions), and more expansion into nontraditional economic activities and occupations.
That said, please do not confuse “big improvements” with “no serious problem.”