Category: Travel

What should I ask Russ Roberts?

I will be doing a podcast with him, specifically focusing on his decision to emigrate to Israel.  Here are the suggestions that Russ solicited from Twitter.  We will release the episode both on EconTalk and on CWT.

So what should I ask him?  Keep in mind this is the Conversation with Russ I want to have…

My favorite things Idaho

I used to blog “My Favorite Things…” all the time, but I ran out of new places to go for a while.  Now there is Idaho!  Boise in particular.  Today, I can think of a few “favorite things” from Idaho, here goes and potatoes don’t count:

Artist: Matthew Barney.  Filmmaker and artist, prominent in the avant-garde but much of his work is quite accessible if you don’t mind the near total absence of dialogue.  Is the nine-hour Cremaster cycle his masterpiece?  (I’ve only seen parts).  According to the internet “Cremaster is a paired muscle of the pelvis and perineum that is fully developed only in the external genitalia of males. Being located between the internal and external layers of spermatic fascia, cremaster covers the testes and spermatic cord.”  Many scenes from the movies have been turned into photos and artworks as well.

Do people in Idaho look like that?

Composer: LaMonte Young.  Is he the most underrated twentieth century avant-garde composer?  The Well-Tuned Piano is one of my favorite works, though it is a tough slog for many, being about five hours in length, here is a YouTube version.  He was even born in a log cabin in Idaho, and grew up LDS.  His career blossomed in New York, but he attributed his interest in drone sounds to the Idaho wind and other sounds from his boyhood.

Other music: Built to Spill.

Author: Jerry Kramer, who grew up in Idaho and later played football for the Green Bay Packers.  I loved Instant Replay as a kid.  But is there a “real author” from Idaho?  Is it better or worse to be a “real author”?  Marilynne Robinson has never clicked with me.

Poet: Ezra Pound, born in Idaho.  A fascist and anti-Semite, and not a true favorite of mine, but he was talented and it seems odd not to list him.  Can I name a better poet from Idaho?

Explorer: Sacagewea.  I hope she is cancel-proof.

Drum Battle: Idaho.  Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.  For some reason, it reminded me of Benny Goodman’s Clarinade (not from Idaho).

Film, set in: My Own Private Idaho and Napoleon Dynamite might be the best known.  But perhaps I will go with Smoke Signals, Superman II (the one with Gene Hackman), and Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.  Superman II, if I had to say.

Here is more Matt Barney:

I’ll be sure to report on my visit.

NASA chief Bill Nelson on UFOs

And more on YouTube, for instance at 55:30.

Lexington, Kentucky notes

Here they have NIMHY rather than NIMBY — “Not in my horse’s yard.”  And so the city is ringed by (protected) horse farms and the suburbs are further out.  This makes the downtown core denser and more coherent than you might expect, to the benefit of the visitor but perhaps not the resident?

I was struck by how much everyone complains about “the traffic.”

You may recall that Lexington was the setting for Queen’s Gambit.

Overall I would be “long” the city.   Downtown has a music and theater scene, albeit on a modest scale.  There is a university and a basketball team (Anthony Davis, Rex Chapman, and John Wall, among many others) and lots of health care.  And lots of bourbon.

I had an excellent meal in a Peruvian restaurant, saw a plausible Honduran restaurant and also a “West Indies” chicken restaurant under construction.  The local steak house was very good, and they offer a $160 wagyu cut, not my order however.

Downtown has more historical plaques than are needed, and they can’t even fit the event descriptions on a single side of the plaque.  By the end of the double-sided exposition, you are not sure what they are talking about.

As is common in the Appalachian and near-Appalachian regions, the quality difference between pre-WWII and post-WWII buildings is enormous, even larger than usual.

How many people could, off the top of their heads, name the third largest city in Kentucky?  Overall, Louisville is larger and more charming, but Lexington arguably is less Midwest and “more Kentucky.”

Maybe it was just coincidence, but I sure saw and heard a lot of ambulances whizzing by.

Which were the best eras to visit various places?

Francis Quinn emails me:

I’m an American man, 29, arrived in Amsterdam for the first time yesterday, and I am finding it to be the least crowded European city I’ve been to. Is this COVID-related possibly, do you think, or did the city used to be empty? I even thought I was on a college campus, almost. I’m loving it.

I’m now thinking of a new question for Tyler: *when* was the best year to have visited various places? From 1900-2100 (past and present, future possible travel times for all your readers)?

Good idea, let’s put aside Covid, here are a few observations:

1. The best time to visit the United States is now.  The country keeps on getting better and more interesting, most of all the latter.

2. New York City is a big exception here.  It probably was more interesting to visit NYC in the 1950-1978 period when it was clearly the world’s leading city, culturally and otherwise.  San Francisco (1970s?) and Detroit (1960s?) are exceptions also.

3. Most of Western Europe probably was best to visit in the 1970s or 1980s?  Modern enough to be comfortable, less ruined by excess tourists, and the internet doesn’t really raise the value of Europe much at all.  Note that I am putting aside “visit in 1920 so you can be shocked by the novelty and then brag about it.”  That is an interesting plan, but I think not the question at hand.  And the danger of disease and poor medical care still would have been high.

4. Much of Eastern Europe was best to visit right after the Iron Curtain came down.  Poland is an exception to this, and it is best to visit Poland now.

5. For most of Asia, the best time to visit is right now.  Perhaps Japan was more exciting in the bubble years.  Some parts of China were wrecked by the Cultural Revolution, and Hong Kong was more fun before the takeover.  China was freer and more fun ten to fifteen years ago.  So there are exceptions, but mostly the point stands.  Asia as a whole is getting better and more interesting.

6. For most of Africa, the best time to visit is right now, wars aside.  Ethiopia for instance was obviously much better to visit a few years ago.  I am not sure about Nigeria.  Obviously, for some anthropological or wildlife-related interests, much earlier times might have been better, but not for the typical educated tourist.

7. Right now is the best time to visit Israel.  I suspect some of the Arab countries in the Middle East were better to visit much earlier — Beirut and Cairo for instance.  Yemen was clearly better to visit in the early 1990s.  Iran during the time of the Shah.  And so on.  Overall these points are not a promising sign for the region.  Dubai and the like are clearly best to visit now.

8. Most of Latin America is best to visit now, as the region remains largely unspoilt.  Brazil might be an exception to this, though I have not been lately.  Some parts of Brazil seem to be more dangerous, and an earlier visit may well have been superior.  Ever see the movie Black Orpheus, set in Rio?

9. The 1960s were the best time to visit Haiti.

What else?

Derry notes, Northern Ireland’s second largest city

People in Derry are still talking about the 1680s…it is bad to be a “Lundy,” namely a traitor to your cause but the bar here has become a high one.  You are either with them or against them.

The 17th century city wall seems fully intact, the buildings are splendid, and the green, wet, and hilly natural setting is a perfect fit.  The town is long on history, short on things to do.  It is perfect for a two-day trip.

I witnessed a Loyalist parade — the men were not feminized, nor did they seem happy. It is now so much “common knowledge” that Britain really does not care about them.  So what is their future and with whom?  Given differential birthrates, Catholics seem headed to become a majority in NI as well.

Most of the city centre is Catholic, and unlike Belfast it is not difficult to imagine Derry rather easily being swallowed up by the Republic of Ireland, some of which even lies to the north of Derry.

I went to see where Bloody Sunday occurred in 1972, and it shocked me how small the “contested territory” is/was.  It feels as if you can count each and every home, and one’s mind starts wandering to the Coase Theorem and Hong Kong real estate billionaires and Special Enterprise Zones.

Real estate in Northern Ireland seems dramatically underpriced, though along a thirty-year rather than a ten-year time horizon.  But should you buy closer to Belfast?

In some ways Derry reminded me of parts of West Virginia, including the Scots-Irish faces, the bygone glories, and also the “every family has an addiction” signs in the center of town.

One hundred years ago, in 1921, who would have thought that joining with the Irish Republic would lead to more prosperity than joining with Britain?  Therein lies a cautionary note for us all.

My appearance on the Ezra Klein Show

Talking with Ezra is always both fun and enlightening for me, here is his partial summary of the episode:

So we begin this conversation by discussing the case for and against economic growth, but we also get into lots of other things: why Cowen thinks the great stagnation in technology is coming to an end; the future of technologies like A.I., crypto, fourth-generation nuclear and the Chinese system of government; the problems in how we fund scientific research; what the right has done to make government both ineffective and larger; why Cowen is skeptical of universal pre-K (and why I’m not); whether I overestimate the dangers of polarization; the ways in which we’re getting weirder; the long-term future of human civilization; why reading is overrated and travel is underrated; how to appreciate classical music and much more.

Here is the link, full transcript here, definitely recommended!

My Conversation with Ed Glaeser

I did David Cutler and Ed sequentially, based on their new co-authored book, here is the joint episode but there is also a separate link concerning Cutler.  Here is one excerpt from the general summary:

They joined Tyler for a special joint episode to discuss why healthcare outcomes are so correlated with education, whether the health value of Google is positive or negative, why hospital price transparency is so difficult to achieve, how insurance coding systems reimburse sickness over health improvement, why the U.S. quit smoking before Europe, the best place in America to get sick, the risks that come from over-treatment, the possible upsides of more businesses moving out of cities, whether productivity gains from remote work will remain high, why the older parts of cities always seem to be more beautiful, whether urban schools will ever improve, why we shouldn’t view Rio de Janeiro’s favelas as a failure, how 19th century fights to deal with contagious diseases became a turning point for governance, Miami’s prospects as the next tech hub, what David and Ed disagree on, and more.

And from my exchange with Ed:

COWEN: Let’s start with a simple question. All this enthusiasm about cities and agglomeration benefits — the pandemic comes along. A lot of people transition to work from a distance, and then we see big measured productivity gains. What has gone on there?

GLAESER: It reminds us that for many jobs, in a static sense, you can do this long-distance. You can make things work. I think many of us found this. We wrote this book in eight months over the pandemic year, distinctly away from each other, partially because there were no distractions, and all that was good.

However, you also need to recognize the limits of long-distance living. The most important of those limits is just it’s much less fun. It’s much less joyful, but while it seems as if it’s fine for static productivity, it seems distinctly more problematic for people learning and for onboarding new talent.

Let me just give you two types of studies, one of which is we have the call center studies. The father of that was the Nick Bloom paper, which was a randomized control trial in China. A more modern version is done by our students, Natalia Emanuel and Emma Harrington, which looks into American call centers.

Both of them find the same thing in terms of static productivity. If anything, it goes up, but the workers who go remote are much less likely to be promoted in both studies. One interpretation of this is that promotion in the call center work means that you actually are given the job of handling more difficult calls.

How would your boss know that you are good at handling difficult calls if they weren’t in the same room with you? How would you learn how to do those difficult calls if you weren’t around other people? So while the static productivity remains, you lose the dynamic benefits of being around other people.

Second piece of evidence it comes from Burning Glass Technologies and new hires. Even though Microsoft tells us that its programmers were just as productive, overall, new hires for programmers were down 42 percent between November 2019 and November 2020. Firms were clearly unwilling to take the same kind of risks of hiring new workers that they couldn’t inculcate in their corporate culture or screen them properly, or do any of those other things.

Even though measured productivity did well during the pandemic, there were still lots of disruptions. In particular, many younger workers who came of age really lost out as a result of this.

COWEN: If work from a distance goes fine in the short run, what’s the cross-sectional prediction about where it will persist in the future? Is it firms facing bankruptcy, firms with immediate projects now, possibly start-ups who will then later transition to all being together in one big happy family, but they’re afraid they’re going to fail before then? What should we expect?

GLAESER: I think we should expect young workers to be more likely to be brought together. Young firms, as well, because you’re very much at this learning, creative phase. I think the optimal work-from-home strategy is a couple of partners who are in an accounting practice and have decided they know each other perfectly well and are delighted to Zoom it in from wherever they are.

I think, unquestionably, working from home will remain a part of the economy. It may well be many workers end up spending 20 percent of their time working from home, even if they’re part of a generally full-time job. But for younger workers, for firms that are just getting started, I think being live is likely to continue being a major part of the work environment.

It also depends a lot on what your home environment is like. If you’re like us —  if you are a middle-aged professor who’s likely to have a comfortable home office, and maybe even not having kids at home anymore, certainly not kids who are crying all the time at home anymore — working at home is a lot more pleasant than if you’re a 23-year-old and live in a studio apartment in Somerville or New York or London.

Recommended!

Authoritarian Australia

Australia is now one of the most authoritarian states in the world. Conor Friedersdorf writes:

Australia is undoubtedly a democracy, with multiple political parties, regular elections, and the peaceful transfer of power. But if a country indefinitely forbids its own citizens from leaving its borders, strands tens of thousands of its citizens abroad, puts strict rules on intrastate travel, prohibits citizens from leaving home without an excuse from an official government list, mandates masks even when people are outdoors and socially distanced, deploys the military to enforce those rules, bans protest, and arrests and fines dissenters, is that country still a liberal democracy?

As I noted earlier, Australia is in clear contravention of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13 of which states:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Friedersdorf continues:

To give Australia’s approach its due, temporary restrictions on liberty were far more defensible early in the pandemic…Had it behaved rationally and adequately valued liberty, a rich nation like Australia would have spent lavishly—before knowing which vaccines would turn out to be most effective—to secure an adequate supply of many options for its people. It could afford to eat the cost of any extra doses and donate them to poorer countries. Australia then could have marshaled its military and civil society to vaccinate the nation as quickly as possible, lifted restrictions more fully than Europe and the United States did, and argued that the combination of fewer deaths and the more rapid return to normalcy made their approach a net win.

Instead, Australia invested inadequately in vaccines and, once it acquired doses, was too slow to get them into arms. “Of the 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that have been released to the government by manufacturer CSL, only about 8 million have gone into the arms of Australians,” The Age reported on August 21, citing concern about blood clots and a widespread preference for the Pfizer vaccine.

…Because of its geography, Australia is a neighbor and an observer of authoritarian countries as varied as China and Singapore. But its own fate, too, may turn on whether its people crave the feeling of safety and security that orders from the top confer, or whether they want to be free.

Australians largely support the restrictions but to me that makes them all the more disturbing.

Temporary restrictions on liberty can be justified in an emergency if the restrictions produce something else of great value but respecting the great value of liberty and individual rights means doing everything in one’s power to limit the scope of and lift such restrictions as quickly and completely as possible.

My Conversation with Zeynep Tufekci

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

Zeynep joined Tyler to discuss problems with the media and the scientific establishment, what made the lab-leak hypothesis unacceptable to talk about, how her background in sociology was key to getting so many things right about the pandemic, the pitfalls of academic contrarianism, what Max Weber understood about public health crises, the underrated aspects of Kemel Mustapha’s regime, how Game of Thrones interested her as a sociologist (until the final season), what Americans get wrong about Turkey, why internet-fueled movements like the Gezi protests fizzle out, whether Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey, how she’d try to persuade a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, whether public health authorities should ever lie for the greater good, why she thinks America is actually less racist than Europe, how her background as a programmer affects her work as a sociologist, the subject of her next book, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Max Weber — overrated or underrated as a sociologist?

TUFEKCI: Underrated.

COWEN: Why?

TUFEKCI: Part of the reason he’s underrated is because he writes in that very hard-to-read early 19th-century writing, but if you read Max Weber, 90 percent of what you want to understand about the current public health crisis is there in his sociology. Not just him, but sociology organizations and how that works. He’s good at that. I would say underrated, partly because it’s very hard to read. It’s like Shakespeare. You need the modern English version, conceptually, for more people to read it.

I would say almost all of sociology is underrated in how dramatically useful it is. Just ask me any time. Early on, I knew we were going to have a pandemic, completely based on sociology of the moment in early January, before I knew anything about the virus because they weren’t telling us, but you could just use sociological concepts to put things together. Max Weber is great at most of them and underrated.

COWEN: Kemal Mustafa — overrated or underrated?

TUFEKCI: Underrated.

COWEN: Why?

TUFEKCI: Why? My grandmother — she was 12 or 13 when she was in the Mediterranean region — Central Asia, but Mediterranean region, very close to the Mediterranean. She was born the year the Turkish Republic had been founded, 1923, and she was 13 or so. She was just about to be married off, but the republic was a little over a decade — same age as her. They created a national exam to pick talented girls like her. The ones that won the exam got taken to Istanbul to this elite, one of the very few boarding high schools for girls.

The underrated part isn’t just that such a mechanism existed. The underrated part is that the country changed so much in 13 years that her teacher was able to prevail upon the family to let her go. To have a 13-year-old be sent off to Istanbul, completely opposite side of the country, to a boarding school for education — that kind of flourishing of liberation.

I’m not going to deny it was an authoritarian period, and minorities, like Kurds, during that period were brutally suppressed. I can’t make it sound like there was nothing else going on, but in terms of creating a republic out of the ashes of a crumbling empire — I think it’s one of the very striking stories of national transformation, globally, within one generation, so underrated.

There are numerous interesting segments, on varied topics, to be found throughout the dialog.

The problem with fitting third doses into a regulatory structure

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

In the U.S., President Joe Biden’s administration is now pushing third booster shots for people who already have been vaccinated. That might be a good idea, but it too creates additional uncertainty for travel and migration — and for social interaction more broadly. If three doses are so important, should people be allowed to travel (or for that matter interact indoors) with only two doses? The bar is raised yet again.

Of course the issues do not end with the third dose. If the efficacy of the second dose declines significantly in less than a year, might the same happen with the third dose? How long before four doses are necessary, or maybe five? Or what if yet another significant Covid variant comes along, and only some people have a booster dose against that strain? What then counts as being “sufficiently vaccinated”?

Many Americans seem to be keen to get their third dose, but by the nature of counting that number is fewer than the number willing to get two doses. Furthermore, many people might just tire of the stress of dealing with an ongoing stream of obligatory booster shots and stop at one or two.

The sad reality is that the “two-dose standard” may not last very long, whether abroad or domestically (the same is true of the even weaker one-dose standard with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca). Vaccine mandates will become harder to define and enforce, will be less transparent, and will probably be less popular.

If you tell people that three doses are needed for safety, but two doses are enough to get you into a concert or government building, how are they supposed to sort out the mixed messages? It is not obvious that enough people will get the third dose in a timely manner to make that a workable standard for vaccine passports.

Add to that the problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which originally the government urged people to get. Now those people are not being given comparable chances to obtain boosters — in fact, they are not yet being given specific guidance at all. Are they orphaned out of any new vaccine passport system, or will (supposedly dangerous?) exceptions be made for them? Or do they just have to start all over?

The big international winner from all this is likely to be Mexico, which has remained an open country and is not relying on vaccine passports. In general I do not admire Mexico’s lackadaisical Covid response, but the country may end up in a relatively favorable position, most of all when it comes to tourism and international business meetings.

As for the U.S. and Europe, the temptation to escalate required safety measures is understandable. But the previous vaccine standards were largely workable ones. If they are made tougher, they might break down altogether.

Recommended.

Covid markets in everything, certified air ambulance regulatory arbitrage edition

“We weren’t sure what was going to happen … if they were going to separate us or put us in a hospital,” said McElroy. “I didn’t know if I was going to need a respirator.”

None of that happened. Within 72 hours, the couple was on a Learjet back to Arizona.

Before they left, Underwood purchased memberships with Covac Global, a medical evacuation company launched by the crisis response firm HRI in the spring of 2020. It meant the couple didn’t pay a dime for their repatriation, said McElroy.

Commercial airlines and private jets can’t fly travelers with Covid-19 home, but certified air ambulances staffed with medical teams can.

While some companies evacuate travelers who require hospitalization, Covac Global retrieves travelers who test positive for Covid-19 and have one self-reported symptom. About 85% of evacuees are returned home, while the rest need hospital attention, said CEO Ross Thompson.

When CNBC first spoke with the company in March, it was performing about two to three medical evacuations every month. Now, that number has climbed to about 12 to 20.

Here is the full story, via Shaffin Shariff.

The value of seat space during a pandemic

Delta Air Lines did not sell the middle seat in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its principal rivals sold all seats starting in July 2020.

Delta raised its fares by 15%.

Passengers paid $23 to prevent a stranger from sitting next to them.

Delta had to operate more flights, so this was not a profit-enhancing strategy.

Here is the paper, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

My Conversation with Andrew Sullivan

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

Andrew joined Tyler to discuss the role of the AIDs epidemic in achieving marriage equality, the difficulty of devoutness in everyday life, why public intellectuals often lack courage, how being a gay man helps him access perspectives he otherwise wouldn’t, how drugs influence his ideas, the reasons why he’s a passionate defender of SATs and IQ tests, what Niall Ferguson and Boris Johnson were like as fellow undergraduates, what Americans get wrong about British politics, why so few people share his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, why Bowie was so special, why Airplane! is his favorite movie, what Oakeshottian conservatism offers us today, whether wokeism has a positive influence globally, why he someday hopes to glower at the sea from in the west of Ireland, and more.

And here is one excerpt:

SULLIVAN: Well, and so you get used to real conversations about people, and you don’t mistake credentials for intelligence. You realize that people outside of the system may be more perceptive about what’s going wrong with it than people buried within it. I honestly find life more interesting the more variety of people you get to know and meet. And that means from all sorts of different ways of life.

The good thing about being gay, I will tell you, is that that happens more often than if you’re straight — because it’s a great equalizer. You are more likely to come across someone who really is from a totally different socioeconomic group than you are through sexual and romantic attraction, and indeed the existence of this subterranean world that is taken from every other particular class and structure, than you would if you just grew up in a straight world where you didn’t have to question these things and where your social life was bound up with your work or with your professional peers.

The idea for me of dating someone in my office would be absolutely bizarre, for example. I can’t believe all these straight people that just look around them and say, “Oh, let’s get married.” Whereas gay people have this immense social system that can throw up anybody from any way of life into your social circle.

Interesting throughout.  And again, here is Andrew’s new book Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021.