Category: Uncategorized

Friday assorted links

1. Russian army logistics.  And Soviet fact of the day.

2. Adam Minter on Get Back.

3. The police culture that is New Jersey (NYT).

4. “Aligning with Lukianoff and Haidt’s assertions, we found that students’ self-reported prevalence of cognitive distortions positively predicted their endorsement of safetyism-inspired beliefs, the belief that words can harm, and support for the broad use of trigger warnings.”  Link here.

5. Kalshi: “Will Omicron make up greater than 1% of U.S. COVID-19 cases by the new year?”  And here is another market in a new variant.

Thanksgiving assorted links

1. Why do frozen turkeys explode when deep fried?

2. “Former South Korean military dictator Chun Doo-hwan has died at age 90. This means all living former South Korean Presidents are currently in jail.”  Tweet link here.

3. David Wallace-Wells on the tragedy of regular ol’ air pollution.

4. The case against the Trump-Biden tariffs (NYT).

5. New dating terms.

6. Walmart “cancels” children’s toy that swears and sings in Polish about doing cocaine.

7. Georgia politician stands by giant topiary chicken that got him ousted as mayor.

8. Long list of things to be thankful for.

Give Thanks to the Green Revolution

It’s well known that the Green Revolution dramatically increased crop yields. In a new paper, Gollin, Hansen and Wingender use a general equilibrium model to show that the effects were even more far reaching. For a given acre, the Green Revolution raised the yields of some crops by 44% between 1965 and 2010. But the total effect was even larger because higher yields incentivized farmers to substitute away from lower-yield crops into higher yield crops. Moreover, higher yields meant that less farm labor was required which shifted populations into manufacturing. When one takes into account all of these knock-on effects the authors find substantial effects on GDP. Indeed, the authors estimate that if the Green Revolution had never happened GDP per capita in the developing world would be half of its current level.

More realistically, if the Green Revolution had been delayed by ten years incomes in the developing world would be 17% lower today. In terms of cumulative GDP what this means is that the investments which made the Green Revolution possible were responsible for some US $83 trillion in benefits.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Green Revolution simultaneously prevented many people from starving but also reduced total population because of reduced fertility. The Green Revolution also meant that less land was used for farming not more.

As Tyler argues in Stubborn Attachments (see also this video) growth is a moral imperative. A ten year delay in the Green Revolution could easily have happened. Indeed, it is happening now.

Photo Credit: Norman Borlaug. 1960s. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)

Model this Apple pricing decision

Apple has one new product that’s already so back-ordered it won’t arrive in time for Christmas. It’s a polishing cloth. Priced at $19.

Unveiled in October after Apple showed off its new line of gadgets, the soft, light gray square is made of “nonabrasive material” and embossed with Apple’s logo. During tests, the rag worked like other microfiber cloths that list for less than half that price. So…why $19?

As it happens, Apple’s pricing strategy rarely allows accessories to fall below that threshold. The 6.3-inch swatch of fabric sits beside 17 other Apple-branded items on the company’s website—a mélange of charging cables, dongles and adapters—each priced at $19. Some, such as the wired earbuds and charging adapter, were once included with new iPhones.

Those $19 Apple items—together with the Apple Watch, AirPods and other small gadgets—are part of the company’s growing Wearables, Home and Accessories category, which had more than $8 billion in revenue in the quarter that ended in October.

Almost every Apple price ends in the number “9.”  Would it matter if we all carried around $30 bills?  There is further discussion in this Galvin Brown WSJ piece.

Via the excellent Samir Varma.

The anatomy of gender discrimination

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

Maybe the men, on average, did have greater ambition and thus promotion potential. One reason could be that women, on average, spend more time at home raising children than men. For very demanding executive jobs, even a small difference in time and travel availability could make a big difference in job performance.

And yet even if that’s the case, there could still be a discrimination problem. Even if women and men differ on average, there is a probability distribution for each group, and those distributions usually will overlap. That is, there will be many women who are willing and able to meet any workplace standard thrown at them, and many men with limited ambition.

If you think men and women are different on average, the unfairness can become all the more severe for the potential top performers. In this context, employers will look at the most talented women and, for reasons of stereotyping, dramatically underestimate their potential, including for leadership positions.

Economic reasoning suggests another subtle effect at play. Promotion to the top involves a series of steps along a career ladder, often many steps. If there is a discrimination “tax” at each step, even if only a small one, those taxes can produce a discouraging effect. It resembles the old problem of the medieval river that has too many tolls on it, levied by too many independent principalities. The net effect can be to make the river too costly to traverse, even if each prince is taking only a small amount.

With a citation to Zaua further below!

Did Milton Friedman support bailouts?

Hugh Rockoff does a 72 pp. deep dive on Milton Friedman on bailouts.  This is an excellent paper, as he also considers Friedman’s columns and spoken words over the years and he also fleshes out Friedman’s thoughts on what we now call “shadow banks” (he worried about them).  Friedman was willing to accept a fair number of bailouts, here is one excerpt:

In the bailout of Continental Illinois, a case that Friedman thought had been handled well, depositors and other creditors were protected, but shareholders were mostly wiped out and management was replaced. The protection of depositors and other creditors created an advantage for large banks: they could raise funds more easily because they, like Continental Illinois, were “too big to fail.” However, Friedman thought that as long as shareholders and managers were forced to pay dearly when a financial institution was bailed out there would still be an adequate incentive for bank managers to exercise prudence.

More generally:

For Friedman this meant that in the case of financial institutions the benefits of a bailout might outweigh the costs.

And more speculatively:

No one can channel an economist as brilliant and creative as Milton Friedman. Nevertheless, having come this far I will make an attempt. I believe that it would have been consistent with his earlier views for Friedman to have been reluctant to condemnthe program of bailouts undertaken in 2008, to use the phrase that he used when questioned about the rescue of LongTerm Capital Management. I think he would have recognized that the repos issued by Lehman Brothers and other investment banks were similar to uninsured deposits in commercial banks, thus making possible a destructive panic. In other words, he would have recognized the logic of the contention that 2008 was a run on repos and similar to earlier financial panics (Gorton, Laarits, and Metrick 2018). He might have reminded us of the consequences of the failure to provide help for the BoUS in 1930. However, he might well have been critical of the structure of the bailouts, especially with respect to how various classes of stakeholders were treated.

I recall being excoriated in 2009 for suggesting that Friedman would have endorsed some version of the bailouts of that time.

Via the excellent Douglas Irwin.  And here is my older CWT with Doug.

Tuesday assorted links

1. “Republican or not” (short video, actually funny, and with a very real lesson about polarization).

2. Did our social distancing strategies pack too many people into the wrong places?

3. ConstitutionDAO, the bitter aftertaste?

4. “My Scottish maid could do better!”

5. “Our results show that the introduction and marketing of OxyContin explain a substantial share of overdose deaths over the last two decades.

6. The economics of Magnus Carlsen (NYT).

Best non-fiction books of 2021

What an incredible year for non-fiction books!  But let me first start with two picks from 2020, buried under the avalanche of Covid news then, and missed because I was less mobile than usual.  These books are not only good enough to make this list, but in just about any year they are good enough to be the very best book of that year:

Edward Nelson, Milton Friedman and Economic Debate in the United States, 1932–1972, volumes one and two.

Alexander Mikaberidze, The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History.

Also noteworthy is Reviel Netz, Scale, Space and Canon in Ancient Literary Culture, which I hope to write more about.

Per usual, there is typically a short review behind each, though not quite always.  As for 2021 proper, here were my favorites, noting that I do not impose any quota system whatsoever.  (And yet this list is somehow more cosmopolitan than most such tallies…hmm…)  I don’t quite know how to put this, but this list is much better than the other “best books of the year” lists.  These are truly my picks, ranked roughly in the order I read them:

Jin Xu, Empire of Silver: A New Monetary History of China.

Cat Jarman, River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads.

Michela Wrong, Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad.

Ryan Bourne, Economics in One Virus: An Introduction to Economic Reasoning Through Covid-19.

Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Amazon.

Ivan Gibbons, Partition: How and Why Ireland Was Divided.

Serhii Plokhy, Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Alan Taylor, American Republics: A Continental History of the United States, 1783-1850.

William Deresiewicz, The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech, brief discussion of it here.

Roderick Matthews, Peace, Poverty and Betrayal: A New History of British India.

Alejandro Ruiz, Carla Altesor, et.al., The Food of Oaxaca: Recipes and Stories from Mexico’s Culinary Capital.

Tomas Mandl, Modern Paraguay: South America’s Best Kept Secret.

Kara Walker, A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs To Be.

Tony Saich, From Rebel to Ruler: One Hundred Years of the Chinese Communist Party.

Adeeb Khalid, Central Asia: A New History from the Imperial Conquests to the Present.

Richard Zenith, Pessoa: A Biography.

John B. Thompson, Book Wars: The Digital Revolution.

Scott Sumner, The Money Illusion: Market Monetarism, the Great Recession, and the Future of Monetary Policy.

Architectural Guide to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Joanne Limburg, Letters to My Weird Sisters: On Autism and Feminism.

McCartney, Paul. The Lyrics.  A remarkably high quality production, again showing McCartney’s skill as manager and entrepreneur.  Perhaps the biggest revelation is when Paul insists that if not for the Beatles he would have been an English teacher.  He also claims that he and not John was the big reader in The Beatles.  It is also striking, but not surprising, when explaining his lyrics how many times he mentions his mother, who passed away when Paul was fourteen.  There is a good David Hajdu NYT review here.

Bob Spitz, Led Zeppelin: The Biography.  They always end up being better than you think they possibly could be, and this is the best and most serious book about them.

gestalten, Beauty and the East: New Chinese Architecture.  Self-recommending…

Is there a “best book” of 2021?  The categories are hard to compare.  Maybe the seven volumes of Architectural Guide to Sub-Saharan Africa?  But is it fair they get seven volumes in this competition?  The McCartney?  (He took two volumes.)  The Pessoa biography?  Roderick Matthews on India?  So much to choose from!  And apologies to all those I have forgotten or neglected…

Read more!  And here is my favorite fiction of 2021 list.  And I will write an addendum to this list as we approach the very end of 2021.

Monday assorted links

1. DAOs, a canon.  And the future of NFT art?  With an NFT by David Salle.

2. Wolves are very, very good for motorists.

3. On Praan and Emergent Ventures India.

4. Are the zebra stripes the whites or the blacks?

5. Reddit thread on which is the world’s most evil company.

6. New biography of Stanislaw Lem now translated into Spanish.

7. Who is followed most on various social media platforms?

My favorite fiction of 2021

Marcel Proust, The Mysterious Correspondent: New Stories.  Not the very best Proust, but even so-so Proust is pretty superb.  These are fragments to be welcomed.

Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary.  At least as good as The Martian, and arguably more conceptual.

Judith Schlansky, Verzeichnis einiger Verluste [Inventory of Losses].  Conceptual German novel with roots in Borges, not as good in English.

Patrick McGrath, Last Days in Cleaver Square.  Unreliable narrator!

Karl Knausgaard, The Morning Star.  The master returns with a full-scale novel, with theology galore.

Anne Serre, The Beginners.  Short, French, about relationships, fun.

Sally Rooney, Beautiful World, Where Are You? She is quite the conservative, don’t be put off by the left-wing rhetoric.

Mario Levrero, The Luminous Novel.  The best Uruguayan novel of all time?

Domenico Starnone, Trust.  The better of the two “Elena Ferrante” novels released in English this year?

As for retranslations of classics, I very much like the new Oedipus Rex trilogy and the new translation of the Kalevala.  I hope they are fiction!  And kudos to Sarah Ruden’s work on the Gospels, I am not sure where to put them…

Overall I thought this was an excellent year for reading fiction, much better than the few years preceding.  My number one pick here would be the Andy Weir, noting that, for purposes of your norming, I do not usually select science fiction for this designation.  (Here is my earlier CWT with Andy Weir.)

Note that I just ordered a whole new batch of appealing-sounding novels (FT link), and I will read some before year’s end, so I will give you an update when appropriate, most likely toward the very end of the calendar year.  And my non-fiction list will be coming soon.  And also note: “missing” titles from this list are very often missing on purpose!

Read more!

Sunday assorted links

1. Listen to the science! (of hugging…”You’re probably going to want to use your arms.”)  Do we actually all want longer hugs?

2. New data and results on wealth inequality over time.

3. Richard Hanania on the weakness of conservative anti-Wokeness.

4. The constitution of the DAO of the Constitution.

5. Michael Mina is leaving Harvard for the private sector.

6. Library Athena — a better way to read free classic texts on-line.

Monetary theory and crypto

No, I don’t mean money/macro, such as debates over ngdp targeting or transitory inflation.  I mean old-fashioned monetary theory.  Try all these pieces.  Obviously, many of those particular authors are now deceased or retired.  But take the field in general — has it had anything interesting to say about crypto developments?  I don’t expect it to have predicted crypto, or its price, any more than I expect macroeconomists to have predicted recessions (see Scott Sumner on that one).  But surely monetary theory should be able to help us better understand crypto?  And its price.

How much has it succeeded in that endeavor?  (I have read and on MR cited a number of NBER and other academic working papers on crypto, over the years.)  Or are you better off reading “amateur” pieces on Medium and other sources cited on Twitter?

What should we infer from your answer to these questions?

Surely any failings here are restricted to monetary theory alone.

The weirdness of government variation in Covid-19 responses

That is the new Substack post from Richard Hanania, here is one excerpt:

But imagine at the start of the pandemic, someone had said to you “Everyone will face the existence of the same disease, and have access to the exact same tools to fight it. But in some EU countries or US states, people won’t be allowed to leave their house and have to cover their faces in public. In other places, government will just leave people alone. Vast differences of this sort will exist across jurisdictions that are similar on objective metrics of how bad the pandemic is at any particular moment.”

I would’ve found this to be a very unlikely outcome! You could’ve convinced me EU states would do very little on COVID-19, or that they would do lockdowns everywhere. I would not have believed that you could have two neighboring countries that have similar numbers, but one of them forces everyone to stay home, while the other doesn’t. This is the kind of extreme variation in policy we don’t see in other areas.

It’s similar when you look at American jurisdictions.

And:

As the political reaction to COVID-19 has surprised me, I’m still trying to figure it out. But for now I can say it’s shifted my priors in a few ways.

  1. People are more conformist than I would have thought, being willing to put up with a lot more than I expected, at least in Europe and the blue parts of the US.
  2. Americans in Red States are more instinctively anti-elite than I would have thought and can be outliers on all kinds of policy issues relative to the rest of the developed world (I guess I knew that already).
  3. Partisanship is much stronger than I thought. When I saw polls on anti-vax sentiment early in the pandemic, I actually said it would disappear when people would have to make decisions about their own lives and everyone could see vaccines work. This largely didn’t happen. Liberals in Blue States masking their kids outdoors is the other side of this coin. Most “Red/Blue Team Go” behavior has little influence on people’s lives. For example, deciding to vote D or R, or watch MSNBC or Fox, really doesn’t matter for your personal well-being. Not getting vaccinated or never letting your children leave the house does, and I don’t recall many cases where partisanship has been such a strong predictor of behavior that has such radical effects on people’s lives.
  4. Government measures that once seemed extreme can become normalized very quickly.
  5. The kinds of issues that actually matter electorally are a lot more “sticky” than I would have expected. Issues like masks and lockdowns, though objectively much more important than the things people vote on, are not as politically salient as I would have thought. A mask mandate for children eight hours a day strikes me as a lot more important than inflation, but it seems not to be for electoral purposes. If an asteroid was about to destroy earth and Democrats and Republicans had different views on how to stop it, people would just unthinkingly believe whatever their own side told them and it would not change our politics at all.
  6. Democratically elected governments have a lot more freedom than I thought before, especially if elites claim that they are outsourcing decisions to “the science.” Moreover, “the science” doesn’t even have to be that convincing, and nobody will ask obvious questions like how “the science” can allow for radically different policy responses in neighboring jurisdictions without much of a difference in results. This appears true everywhere in the developed world but in Red State America, where people really hate experts, regardless of whether they’re right or wrong.

You should all be getting Richard’s Substack.  Of all the “new thinkers” on the Right, he is the one who most combines extreme smarts and first-rate work ethic, with non-conformism thrown in to boot.  Read him!