Category: Travel

Open the Skies!

Here’s a list of the world’s top ten airlines:

  1. Qatar Airways
  2. Singapore Airlines
  3. Emirates
  4. ANA (All Nippon Airways)
  5. Qantas Airways
  6. Japan Airlines
  7. Turkish Airlines
  8. Air France
  9. Korean Air
  10. Swiss International Air Lines

The airlines in this list have at least two things in common: None of world’s best airlines are US owned and none of them are allowed to operate domestically in the United States. The two common elements are related because so-called “cabotage laws” prohibit foreign airlines from serving domestic travelers.

Imagine what international travel would be like if you could only fly on a US owned airline? Ok it’s not that hard to imagine. Restricting international flights to domestic airlines would make international travel much more expensive and more inconvenient. The US State Department rightly lauds the Open Skies Agreements that have brought competition to international flights:

Since 1992 the United States has pursued an “Open Skies” policy designed to eliminate government intervention in airline decision-making about routes, capacity, and pricing in international markets…Open Skies agreements expand cooperative marketing opportunities between airlines, liberalize charter regulations, improve flexibility for airline operations, and commit both governments to high standards of safety and security.  They are pro-consumer, pro-competition, and pro-growth, and facilitate countless new cultural links worldwide.

True! But US domestic flights fly on Closed Skies. Europe has opened up competition to all European airlines. Indeed, Europe is also substantially open to US carriers, but the US is closed to foreign carriers for domestic flights. Cabotage laws are, in effect, a Jones Act for the airlines.

In an good review, Scott Lincicome summarizes:

Europe’s deregulatory experiences—and our own—show that nixing cabotage restrictions would not only put additional downward pressure on fares but also likely improve route coverage and maybe even customer service.

What should I ask Paul Salopek?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, here is Wikipedia:

Paul Salopek (born February 9, 1962 in Barstow, California) is a journalist and writer from the United States. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and was raised in central Mexico. Salopek has reported globally for the Chicago Tribune, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, National Geographic Magazine and many other publications. In January 2013, Salopek embarked on the “Out of Eden Walk”, originally projected to be a seven-year walk along one of the routes taken by early humans to migrate out of Africa, a transcontinental foot journey that was planned to cover more than 20,000 miles funded by the National Geographic Society, the Knight Foundation and the Abundance Foundation.

Salopek received a degree in environmental biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1984. Salopek has worked intermittently as a commercial fisherman, shrimp-fishing out of Carnarvon, and most recently with the scallop fleet out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1991. His career in journalism began in 1985 when his motorcycle broke in Roswell, New Mexico and he took a police-reporting job at the local newspaper to earn repair money.

As far as the walk goes, he has made it to China.  So what should I ask him?

AEA Hypocrisy

Here’s the AEA’s official statement on inclusion:

The AEA seeks to create a professional environment with equal opportunity and fair treatment for all economists, regardless of age, sex, gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, health condition, marital status, parental status, genetic information, political affiliation, professional status, or personal connections.

Yet the AEA is requiring any attendees at the annual meeting to be vaccinated and boosted, a standard which excludes half of the US population! How is that equal opportunity and fair treatment? I suppose some people will want to say “health condition” doesn’t include vaccinated or not…dubious legerdemain…but there’s no question the AEA vaccination policy is a huge violation of the spirit of inclusion.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of the TSA

A nice opening anecdote on life at the TSA from the Verge:

People cry at airports all the time. So when Jai Cooper heard sobbing from the back of the security line, it didn’t really faze her. As an officer of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), she had gotten used to the strange behavior of passengers. Her job was to check people’s travel documents, not their emotional well-being.

But this particular group of tearful passengers presented her with a problem. One of them was in a wheelchair, bent over with her head between her knees, completely unresponsive. “Is she okay? Can she sit up?” Cooper asked, taking their boarding passes and IDs to check. “I need to see her face to identify her.”

“She can’t, she can’t, she can’t,” said the passenger who was pushing the wheelchair.

Soon, Cooper was joined at her station by a supervisor, followed by an assortment of EMTs and airport police officers. The passenger was dead. She and her family had arrived several hours prior, per the airport’s guidance for international flights, but she died sometime after check-in. Since they had her boarding pass in hand, the distraught family figured that they would still try to get her on the flight. Better that than leave her in a foreign country’s medical system, they figured.

The family might not have known it, but they had run into one of air travel’s many gray areas. Without a formal death certificate, the passenger could not be considered legally dead. And US law obligates airlines to accommodate their ticketed and checked-in passengers, even if they have “a physical or mental impairment that, on a permanent or temporary basis, substantially limits one or more major life activities.” In short: she could still fly. But not before her body got checked for contraband, weapons, or explosives. And since the TSA’s body scanners can only be used on people who can stand up, the corpse would have to be manually patted down.

“We’re just following TSA protocol,” Cooper explained.

Her colleagues checked the corpse according to the official pat-down process. With gloves on, they ran the palms of their hands over the collar, the abdomen, the inside of the waistband, and the lower legs. Then, they checked the body’s “sensitive areas” — the breasts, inner thighs, and buttocks — with “sufficient pressure to ensure detection.”

Only then was the corpse cleared to proceed into the secure part of the terminal.

Not even death can exempt you from TSA screening.

Later we get to the economics:

Actuaries measure the cost-effectiveness of an intervention — say, a pharmaceutical drug or a safety device like a seat belt — with a metric called “cost per life saved.” This calculation tries to capture the total societal net resources spent in order to save one year of life. For example, mandatory seat belt laws cost $138; railway crossing gates cost $90,000; and inpatient intensive care at a hospital can cost up to $1 million per visit. As long as an intervention costs less than $10 million per life saved, government agencies are generally happy to back them.

The most generous independent estimates of the cost-effectiveness of the TSA’s airport security screening put the cost per life saved at around $15 million. And that makes two big assumptions: first, that the agency is both 100 percent effective and 100 percent responsible for stopping all terror attacks; and second, that it stops an attack on the scale of 9/11 about once a decade. Less optimistic assessments place the number at $667 million per life saved.

My Conversation with Cynthia L. Haven

Here is the audio and transcript, here is part of the summary:

…those two interests converged as they led her to interview and write books about three writers and thinkers whom she also came to call mentors: René Girard, Czeslaw Milosz, and Joseph Brodsky.

Cynthia joined Tyler to discuss what she’s gleaned from each of the three, including what traits they have in common, why her biography of Girard had to come from outside academia, Milosz’s reaction to the Berkley Free Speech Movement, Girard’s greatest talent — and flaw — as a thinker, whether Brodsky will fall down the memory hole, why he was so terrible on Ukraine, why Cynthia’s early career was much like The Devil Wears Prada, the failings of Twitter, and more.

And one excerpt:

COWEN: What is your philosophy of what is missing in most other people’s interviews?

HAVEN: I don’t know that it’s a philosophy.

COWEN: You must think you’re adding something, right?

HAVEN: I’m interested in big questions. I think a lot of people aren’t. A lot of interviewers aren’t. It’s not an era for big questions, is it?

COWEN: 2022? I’m not sure.

HAVEN: Really?

COWEN: Maybe the questions are either too big or too small and not enough in between.

HAVEN: That’s an interesting point of view.

COWEN: There’s plenty of ideology in the world and in this country. It doesn’t have to be a good thing, but —

HAVEN: Ideology is different than big questions, I think.

Interesting throughout.

As Goes India, so Goes Democracy

We lost China. It is imperative that we not lose India.

By we, I mean the West and liberal democracy broadly speaking. Many of us thought that China would liberalize naturally as the Chinese people grew rich and demand followed Maslow’s hierarchy. Many other countries had followed this path. But China doesn’t have a liberal history, technology provided irresitible tools for social control, and democracy no longer looks to be as important for riches as it once did. With China lost and the United States in relative decline, the liberal world very much needs India as a large, multi-ethnic, and free democracy. Liberal democracy is also India’s best hope and bulwark against being ripped apart by internal divisions. But much remains in the balance. Suketu Mehta has a very good essay on this issue:

…Indian democracy is one of the 20th century’s greatest achievements. Over 75 years, we built, against great odds, a nation that for the first time in its 5,000-year history empowered women and the Dalits, people formerly known as untouchables. We largely abolished famine. We kept the army out of politics. After independence, many people predicted that we would become Balkanised. Yugoslavia became Balkanised, but India stayed together. No small feat.

But I write this today to tell you: things in India are more dire than you realise. India is a country that is majority Hindu, but it is not officially a Hindu state. The people who are in power in India today want to change this. They want India to be a Hindu ethnocratic state, where all other religions live by Hindu sufferance.

This has practical consequences: people of other religions are actively harassed, even lynched on the streets; their freedom to practice their religion in their own way is circumscribed. And when they protest, they are jailed and their houses bulldozed. Most worrying, much of the judiciary seems to be sympathetic to the Hindu nationalist agenda, and issues its verdicts accordingly.

There is also sustained and systematic harassment of writers, journalists, artists, activists, religious figures – anyone who questions the official narrative. We who have attached our names here are taking great personal risk in writing this: our citizenship of India could be revoked, we could be banned from the country, our property in India seized, our relatives harassed.

There are many others who think like we do but have told us they cannot speak out, for fear of the consequences. I never thought I’d use the word “dissident” in describing myself and my friends who have compiled this document. I thought that word only applied to the Soviet Union, North Korea, China.

It is crucial that India remains a democracy for all its citizens. India is not Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan. Not yet. A lot of India’s standing in the world – the reason we are included in the respectable nations, the reason our people and our tech companies are welcome all over the world – is that we are seen, unlike, say, China, as being a multi-ethnic democracy that protects its minorities.

With over 200 million Indian Muslims, India is the third largest Muslim country in the world. There are 30 million Indian Christians. There are Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, Atheists. They are as Indian as I am – a Hindu who’s proud of being a Hindu, but not a Hindu as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party seek to define me.

…The alienation of Indian Muslims would be catastrophic, for India and the world. They are being told: you are invaders, this is not your country, go back to where you came from. But Indian Muslims did not come from elsewhere; they were in the country all along, and chose which God to worship. After the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, they voted with their feet; they chose to stay, and build a nation.

…The country also has an enormous, restive, and largely unemployed youth population – half of its population is under 25. But only 36% of the working-age population has a job. To meet these challenges, it is crucial that the country stay united, and not fracture along religious lines, spend its energies building a brighter future instead of darkly contemplating past invasions.

In this time when country after country is turning its back on democracy, India has to be an example to countries around the world, this beautiful dream of nationhood expressed in the Hindu scriptures as “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – the whole earth is a family. We should all be rooting for this incredible experiment in multiplicity to work. As goes India, so goes democracy.

Will travelers bifurcate into “challenge” and “comfort”?

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

When people are forced to adjust, as happened during peak pandemic times, they learn new things. What many Americans and Westerners have learned is that they enjoy “comfort travel” as much if not more than “challenge travel.” A lot of the new habits are going to stick. Especially with group travel, the preferences of comfort travelers will tend to win out in choosing a destination.

One slightly sorry truth is that many people do not very much enjoy challenge travel, which can be stressful and almost like work. When the social and group pressures to do it are removed or lessened, challenge travel is likely to decline, although the hardcore challenge travelers will remain and perhaps even expand their ambitions.

The future for challenge travel, then, may be that it becomes both less popular and more intense. In this sense it may harken back to an earlier era of travel, where risk and difficulty were ever present and surprises were frequent.

I am posting this from Ahmedabad and headed next to Udaipur…

There is No Such Thing as Development Economics

I used to think there was such a thing as development economics. There are still richer and poorer countries, of course, but is there a “development economics,” a special type of economics for poor countries? I don’t think so. Maybe there once was. In the twentieth century, divergence in per-capita GDP increased big time and it was a burning question why poor countries weren’t on the same development path as the developed nations. Starting around 1990-2000, however, we have seen convergence. Most countries are now on the same path. Poorer countries and richer countries are becoming more alike, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. I tweeted the following news headline recently:


Notice the commentary on NYC infrastructure but also the man bites dog angle. In Pakistan people on social media are apparently sharing videos of flooding in the New York subway to complain about the poor state of infrastructure in Pakistan!

My own anecdote fit the pattern. This week I am in Delhi and due to a series of unfortunate supply chain shocks at my house-build in the US, for the first time in 3 weeks I have running hot water and reliable internet access!  Not only that but although India has sadly fallen for the paper straw nonsense the top hotels remain free from flow constrictors so the water gushes out of the shower with elan just as God intended. Civilization is  truly moving back east.

More generally, poorer and richer countries face many of the same problems today: infrastructure, low-skill workers and technological change, climate adaption and so forth. Is the latest paper on cash transfers, pollution, or corruption about a poor country or a rich country? It’s hard to tell. Poor countries still have their own unique problems, of course, but those problems are best analyzed by country rather than by income category. India is not the same as Thailand or Peru. I see little that unites poor countries under the rubric development economics.

My Conversation with Barkha Dutt

Here is the link, and here is part of the CWT summary:

Barkha joined Tyler to discuss how Westerners can gain a more complete picture of India, the misogyny still embedded in Indian society, why family law should be agnostic of religious belief, the causes of declining fertility in India, why relations between Hindus and Muslims seem to be worsening, how caste has persisted so strongly in India, the success of India’s subsidized institutes of higher education, the best city for Indian food, the power of Amar Chitra Katha’s comics, the influence of her English liberal arts education, the future of Anglo-American liberalism in India, the best ways to use Twitter, and more.

And from the conversation:

COWEN: Many outsiders have the impression that relations between Hindus and Muslims and the aggregate in India have become worse over the last 10 to 15 years. If you put aside particular actions of particular political personalities, and you try to think of a structural reason why that might be true — because normally the intuition is, people grow richer, they’re more tolerant, there’s more commercial interaction, there’s more intermingling — what would be your structural account of why, in some ways, that problem has become worse?

DUTT: You just spoke of intermingling, Tyler. I think that one of the biggest reasons for the worsening relations, or the othering, as it were, of communities that are not your own is the ghettoization of how people live. For example, if there were neighborhoods where people live cheek by jowl — that still happens, of course, in many cities, but it also happens less than it used to, and that is true. We are seeing a Muslim quarter, to give an example, or a Christian quarter in a way that we wouldn’t have before our cities were so ghettoized.

I think that kind of intermingling, of living in the same housing societies or neighborhoods, participating in each other’s festivals as opposed to just tolerating them — those are the structural changes or shifts that we are witnessing. It’s also true that it is tougher for a person from a religious minority — in particular, an Indian Muslim — to get a house as easily as a non-Muslim. I think I would be lying if I did not acknowledge that. Also, the last point is interfaith marriages or interfaith love. This is a deeply politicized issue as well.

While I’m talking to you, in the last 24 hours in the Southern city of Hyderabad, one of our big technology hubs, we’ve had reports of a Muslim family that attacked a Hindu man for marrying a Muslim woman. In reverse, we see Muslim women also targeted all the time if they choose to marry Hindus. This is not helped by the fact that you’ve had several states now talking about what they call love jihad. That’s the phrase they use for marriages that are across religious communities, in particular between Hindus and Muslims.

The percentage of Indians marrying not just outside their religion but also outside their caste — which in Hinduism is a hierarchical system of traditional occupation that you’re born into — is woefully low. I don’t know if I remember my data correctly, but I think less than 5 percent of Indians actually marry outside of their own communities. I would need to go back to that number and check it, but that’s what I remember off the top of my head.

Those are the structural reasons: the fact that people don’t love or have relationships outside of their community, don’t live enough with people of diverse faiths, and don’t participate in each other’s lives.

We used to have this politically correct phrase called tolerance, which I actually just hate, and I keep nudging people towards the Indian military. The Indian military actually has a system of the commanding officer taking on the faith of his troops during religious prayers. The military has multireligious places of worship. It even has something called an MMG, which is not just a medium machine gun but a Mandir Masjid Gurdwara, which is all the different faiths praying together at the same place. We don’t see a lot of that kind of thing happening outside of the military.

Another survey done by Pew reinforced this when it spoke of Indians today being more like a thali than khichri. Let me just explain that. A thali is a silver tray where you get little balls of different food items. Pew found that Hindus and Muslims — when surveyed, both spoke of the need for religious diversity as being a cornerstone of India. They like the idea of India as a thali, where there were different little food items, but separate food items. The khichri is rice and lentils all mixed up and eaten with pickle. The khichri is that intermingling, the untidy overlapping.

We are just seeing less and less of that overlapping. In my opinion, that is tragic. Where there is social interdependence, where there is economic interdependence, where there is personal interdependence is when relationships thrive and flourish and get better. But when they remain ghettos, separations just tolerating each other — that, I think, remains in the realm of othering.

Recommended, interesting throughout.

How much pilot training should be required?

[Derek} Thompson: To what extent do you think regulatory policy is making America’s airlines particularly fragile to the sort of problems we’re currently experiencing?

[Scott] Keyes: One of the front-and-center issues discussed in the airline industry right now is this question of pilot training. Is 1,500 hours the proper amount of air time we should be expecting from pilots before we certify them to fly commercial jets? On the one hand, it’s easy to say, “You can’t be too careful.” Just imagine the attack ads if somebody votes to decrease the training requirement, and then all of a sudden there’s a crash. The optics are horrendous. On the other hand, the U.S. is a bit of an outlier. Most other countries do not require anything near this level of training ahead of being certified. The U.S. historically has not required that level of training. And we let foreign pilots fly to JFK and SFO and LAX without this requirement. All that said, there’s still no quick overnight fix that will immediately get you more flights, more pilots, and a greater supply of air travel. Certainly not for this summer.

Here is more on why air travel is so screwed up this summer, via Daniel Wilner.

Cork notes

It is a lovely town to walk in, seems to have better weather than Dublin, and Honan Chapel is to my mind Ireland’s single greatest sight.  Most of the time, you can look around in any direction — not just the best direction — and see pleasing sights.  So I can heartily recommend a visit.

But I am puzzled by the near-complete absence of restaurant food, at least in the city centre.  You can walk for half an hour and maybe see only one or two places you would even consider eating in.  Especially at lunch time.  So many places open at five.  Other places close at three.  I’ve not been looking for “a standard mid-level pizzeria,” but at times I would have settled for one but I never saw one.  Not once.  There are a reasonable number of coffee places that serve some sandwiches.  Only a small number of pubs serve much food.  I saw two Chinese restaurants, neither of which seemed appealing.  I walked for at least ten minutes from the main cinema down a main street — nothing, not one place to eat.  Many neighborhoods, whether residential or commercial, seem to have zero restaurants whatsoever.  No fish and chips takeaways either.

I looked for Indian food, and was pleased to walk by Eastern Tandoori across from the opera house.  The wooden sign out on the street says they open at 5 p.m.  But they don’t, and if you dig deep enough on the web you will find they are closed until July 1.  I didn’t find any other (actually open) Indian restaurant to eat at.  I ate at Ignite (Pakistani, and quite excellent).  Their Facebook page says they open at noon, but alas no they open at 5 p.m.  Many other restaurants exist on paper but seem to never open, and this is in a prosperous and bustling town.  It is easier to find a barbershop here, or a book store.

The English Market, the main place to buy raw ingredients in town, is excellent.  It has one OK cafe upstairs, and that closes well before dinner time.  It is fine for a chowder and some smoked trout spread, but not too much more.

Nor is the city inundated with American fast food.  Nor does Dublin have this problem.

Within an hour of Cork city centre, there are numerous excellent restaurants, including with Michelin stars.  Cork is set in the heart of Irish food country, believe it or not.  Breads and cheeses are excellent.

So what gives?  Why are the corporate entities here so reluctant to sell me cooked food?