Category: Uncategorized

Evidence for State Capacity Libertarianism

The plots do not support the hypothesis that small government produces either greater prosperity or greater freedom. (In reading the charts, remember that the SGOV index is constructed so that 0 indicates the largest government and 10 the smallest government.) Instead, smaller government tends to be associated with less prosperity and less freedom. Both relationships are statistically significant, with correlations of 0.43 for prosperity and 0.35 for freedom.

Using SoG, the Cato measure of size of government, instead of SGOV, the IMF measure, does not help. The correlations turn out still to be negative and statistically significant, although slightly weaker.

Let’s turn now to the alternative hypothesis that quality of government, rather than size, is what counts for prosperity and freedom. Here are those scatterplots:

This time, both relationships are positive. High quality of government is strongly associated both with greater human prosperity and greater human freedom. Furthermore, the correlations are much stronger than those for the size of government.

That is all by Ed Dolan, recommended, and by the way smaller governments are not correlated with higher quality governments.

Sunday assorted links

Coronavirus information and analysis bleg

What are the best things to read to estimate what’s going to happen from here?

In particular, what is the best way to think about how to make inferences, or not, from extrapolating current trends about case and death numbers?

What is “what happens from here” going to be most sensitive to in terms of potential best remedies? Regulatory decisions of some kind? Which features of local public health infrastructure will matter the most? Will any of it matter at all?

Which variables should we focus on to best predict expected severity?

When the market drives you crazy

That is the title of the paper, by Corrado Giuletti, Mirco Tonin, and Michael Vlassopoulos, the subtitle is “Stock market returns and fatal car accidents,” here is the abstract:

This paper provides evidence that daily fluctuations in the stock market have important–and hitherto neglected–spillover effects on fatal car accidents. Using the universe of fatal car accidents in the United States from 1990 to 2015, we find that a one standard deviation reduction in daily stock market returns is associated with a 0.6% increase in fatal car accidents that happen after the stock market opening. A battery of falsification tests support a causal interpretation of this finding. Our results are consistent with immediate emotions stirred by a negative stock market performance influencing the number of fatal accidents, in particular among inexperienced investors.

Forthcoming in Journal of Health Economics, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The feminization of society, installment #1637, suffragist peace edition

Preferences for conflict and cooperation are systematically different for men and women. At each stage of the escalatory ladder, women prefer more peaceful options. They are less apt to approve of the use of force and the striking of hard bargains internationally, and more apt to approve of substantial concessions to preserve peace. They impose higher audience costs because they are more approving of leaders who simply remain out of conflicts, but they are also more willing to see their leaders back down than engage in wars. Unlike men, most women impose audience costs primarily because a leader behaved aggressively in making a threat, not because the leader endangered the states bargaining reputation through behaving inconsistently. Many of these differences, and possibly all, span time periods and national boundaries. Women have been increasingly incorporated into political decision-making over the last century through suffragist movements, raising the question of whether these changes have had effects on the conflict behavior of nations consistent with their large effects in other areas, such as the size and competencies of governments. We find that the evidence is consistent with the view that the increasing enfranchisement of women, not merely the rise of democracy itself, is the cause of the democratic peace.

Emphasis added, that is the abstract of a 2018 paper by Barnhart, Dafoe, Saunders, and Trager, and this tweet offers a useful image from the paper.  Via Ilya Novak.

Saturday assorted links

Vancouver vending machine markets in everything

Health advocates say a safe supply of opioids is critical to help prevent people from overdosing on tainted street drugs.

Now, a pilot project in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside provides some high-risk users with access to an automated machine that dispenses opioids prescribed by a doctor…

The machine, called MySafe, is stocked with hydromorphone tablets that are released on a pre-determined schedule to high-risk opioid users. A user must scan their palm on the machine to identify themselves. The machine recognizes each individual by verifying the vein pattern in their hand and then dispenses their prescription.

Made of steel and bolted to the floor, MySafe resembles an ATM or vending machine. It logs every package that is released and sends that information to a web feed that only program administrators can access.

Here is the full article, please solve for the equilibrium.  Via Michelle Dawson.

*Escaping Paternalism*

The authors are Mario Rizzo and Glen Whitman, and the subtitle is Rationality, Behavioral Economics, and Public Policy.  This is the most comprehensive, definitive attempt to respond to paternalism and nudge that I have seen, written from a (mostly) libertarian and partially Austrian perspective.  Excerpt:

In our discussion of preferences, the overriding theme was that preferences need not conform to rigid models.  We should countenance a much wider range of preferences, in both form and content, than economists have been inclined to accept.  But does the same permissive attitude apply to beliefs?…we will argue for a more permissive attitude towards beliefs.  Much like our position on preferences, our position on beliefs is that economists, and to a lesser extent other social scientists, have become slaves to an exceedingly narrow conception of both the function and operation of beliefs.

They argue for nudge as personal advice rather than as policy, and overall defend the John Stuart Mill tradition of limited paternalism at most.

Friday assorted links

1. “San Diego is now home to the largest mass surveillance operation across the country.”  And 23andMe to start layoffs.

2. Joseph Ferraro does a podcast with me, his core theme is how to get one percent better every day.  Much of this one is on my interviewing philosophy.  With the passing of Terry Jones, it is worth noting that the single biggest influence on my interviewing philosophy probably is Monty Python.  Whenever they would start a skit with an interview set up, and two people in chairs, I felt something especially good was coming up (try “Miss Anne Elk”).  What a delicious sensation!  Thus it seemed to me that an interview should grab the attention of the listener/viewer right away.  My friend Noam understands quite well how rooted a good podcast (including CWT) is in entertainment, no matter what the ostensible topic may be.

3. Coronavirus data?

4. “However, there was a main effect of height on yellow cards awarded, with shorter referees issuing more yellow cards.

5. Bryan Caplan on austerity for education, a response to me.  I say the actual equilibrium of price controls for higher education is that public spending does not make up the gap, and you end up with something like the German system.  I don’t favor this, to be clear, but there is much less higher ed signaling in Germany than the United States, even though the German system is very close to nominally free for students.

6. Space and time could be a quantum error-correcting code.

7. Rolls Royce plans mini nuclear reactors by 2029.

Are political leaders with a business background any different?

The argument holds that leaders with business experience make smaller contributions to collective defense because they are egoistic and more comfortable relying on a powerful ally for their defense. An analysis of defense expenditures in 17 non‐U.S. members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from 1952 to 2014 provides evidence consistent with the theory. The findings suggest that leaders with business experience are more likely than other heads of government to act as self‐interested utility maximizers.

Here is the full study, by Matthew Fuhrmann.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

*Serious Noticing*, the new James Wood book

The subtitle is Selected Essays 1997-2019, here is one excerpt:

A genre is hardening.  It is becoming possible to describe the contemporary ‘big, ambitious novel’.  Familial resemblances are asserting themselves, and a parent can be named: Dickens.  Such recent novels as Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, DeLillo’s Underworld, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth overlap rather as the pages of an atlas expire into each other at their edges.

The big contemporary novel is a perpetual motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity.  It seems to want to abolish stillness, as if ashamed of silence.  Stories and sub-stories sprout on every page, and these novels continually flourish their glamorous congestion.  Inseparable from this culture of permanent storytelling is the pursuit of vitality at all costs.  Indeed, vitality is storytelling, as far as these books are concerned.

I do not love the big, ambitious novel, as portrayed here.  As for Wood, the best parts of this book are excellent, and none of the lesser parts would seem to lower the sustainable growth rate of gdp.

Thursday assorted links

1. New Sam Peltzman paper about people moving to the political right as they age: “The change in mean Libcon from early adulthood (25) to old age (80) is substantial (over. 20 on the -1, 1 scale), and around half of this occurs after age 45.

2. Ryan Avent on E. Warren.

3. Meet the Pioneers crop of January 2020.

4. “Sperm donations taken from men after they have died should be allowed, a study says.

5. Malaysian 3-year-old joins Mensa (NYT).

6. Craig Palsson interviews Jason Crawford.

Peter Thiel on the funding of science

At a keynote address at the Precision Medicine World Conference, Thiel argued for enabling riskier research grant-making via institutions such as the NIH, as well as abandoning the scientific staple of the double-blind trial and encouraging the U.S. FDA to further accelerate its regulatory evaluations. He said that these deficiencies are inhibiting the ability of scientists to make major advances, despite the current environment that is flooded with capital and research talent.

Make science great again?

“There’s a story we can tell about what happened historically in how processes became bureaucratized. Early science funding was very informal – DARPA’s a little bit different – but in the 1950s and 1960s, it was very generative,” said Thiel. “You just had one person [who] knew the 20 top scientists and gave them grants – there was no up-front application process. Then gradually, as things scaled, they became formalized.

“One question is always how things scale,” he continued. “There are certain types of businesses where they work better and better at bigger and bigger scales,” he said, pointing to big tech.. “And, if big tech is an ambiguous term, I wonder whether big science is simply an oxymoron.”

He then cited the success of major scientific programs – such as the development of the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project, the Apollo space program and Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA – that hinged on having “preexisting, idiosyncratic, quirky, decentralized scientific culture[s]” and were accelerated rapidly by a major infusion of cash.


When I invest in biotech, I have a sort of a model for the type of person I’m looking to invest in,” said Thiel. “There’s sort of a bimodal distribution of scientists. You basically have people who are extremely conventional and will do experiments that will succeed but will not mean anything. These will not actually translate into anything significant, and you can tell that it is just a very incremental experiment. Then you have your various people who are crazy and want to do things that are [going to] make a very big difference. They’re, generally speaking, too crazy for anything to ever work.”

“You want to … find the people who are roughly halfway in between. There are fewer of those people because of … these institutional structures and whatnot, but I don’t think they’re nonexistent,” he continued. “My challenge to biotech venture capitalists is to find some of those people who are crazy enough to try something bold, but not so crazy that it’s going to be this mutation where they do 100 things differently.”

Here is the full story, via Bonnie Kavoussi.

*Smith: It’s a Capitalist World*

That is a new magazine, on UK-style paper, nice-looking, and presented by Jamie Whyte.  The first issue was published this December, and contributors include Dominic Hilton, Vernon Bogdanor, Helen Dale, David Friedman, Steven Landsburg (who seems to have a column on economic puzzles), Matt Ridley, Martha Bayles, and others.

So far my impressions are positive, though I despair at the economics of magazines more generally.

Googling the title of the magazine seems to yield nothing, and the issue I was sent does not obviously explain how to subscribe.  So I am not sure where to send those of you looking for more, but if anyone from the magazine is reading, would you please include that information in the comments section of this post?

Addendum: “Anybody who would like to see the PDF of Smith, please email me and I will send it to you.”

Wednesday assorted links

1. Megan McArdle on Elizabeth Warren, recommended.

2. Damien Ma Iowa China podcast.

3. “The church wants to attract more young families. The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship somewhere else. A memo recommends that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.”  Link hereCottage Grove, Minnesota.

4. “And the island’s puffin population has almost trebled in 15 years.”

5. Rent control #TheGreatForgetting.