Category: Uncategorized

*Leonhard Euler: Mathematical Genius of the Enlightenment*

By Ronald S. Calinger, what a beautiful book, clearly written, conceptual in nature, placing Euler in the broader history of mathematics, the funding of science, and the Enlightenment, all in a mere 536 pp. of text.  Here is one bit:

At midcentury Leonard Euler was at the peak of his career.  Johann I (Jean I) Bernoulli had saluted him as “the incomparable L. Euler, the prince among mathematicians” in 1745, and Henri Poincaré’s later description of him as the “god of mathematics” attests to his supremacy in the mathematical sciences.  Euler continued to center his research on making seminal contributions to differential and integral calculus and rational mechanics, and producing substantial advances in astronomy, hydrodynamics, and geometrical optics; the state projects of Frederick II required attention especially to hydraulics, cartography, lotteries, and turbines.  At midcentury, when d’Alembert and Alexis Claude Clairaut in Paris, Euler in Berlin, Colin Maclaurin in Scotland, and Daniel Bernoulli in Basel dominated the physical sciences, Euler was their presiding genius.

Nor had I known that Rameau sent his treatise on the fundamental mathematics of music to Euler for comments.

Definitely recommended, you can order it here.

Monday assorted links

1. New book on Never Trumpers by Robert Saldin and Steve Teles.  And should a Fields medalist be mayor of Paris? (NYT)

2. A dollarized and somewhat deregulated Caracas is booming, sort of, at least relative to the immediate past (NYT).

3. Jennifer Doleac on Thomas Sowell.

4. Interns: “A résumé audit study with more than 11,500 applications reveals that employers are more likely to respond positively when internship applicants have previous internship experience. Employers are also less likely to respond to applicants with black-sounding names and when the applicant is more distant from the firm.”

5. “The criminal activity around avocados bears striking similarities to “conflict minerals” such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold…

6. Solve for the equilibrium.

Pigouvian in-kind time horn tax in Mumbai

For the Mumbai’s perpetual honkers, who love to blare the horns of their vehicles even when the traffic signal is red, the Mumbai Traffic Police has quietly come up with an unique initiative to discipline them in order to curb the alarming rise in the noise pollution levels in the country’s commercial capital.

From Friday (January 31, 2020), it has installed decibel meters at certain select but heavy traffic signals to deter the habitual honkers through a campaign named ‘The Punishing Signal’.

Joint Police Commissioner (Traffic) Madhukar Pandey said that the decibel monitors are connected to traffic signals around the island city, and when the cacophony exceeds the dangerous 85-decibel mark due to needless honking, the signal timer resets, entailing a double waiting time for all vehicles.

Here is the full story, and for the pointers I thank Sheel Mohnot and CL.  Here is a relevant ad for the policy.  Here is Alex on honking as signaling.

Sunday assorted links

*A Treatise on Northern Ireland*, by Brendan O’Leary

This three-volume set is quite the remarkable achievement, and it would have made my best books of 2019 list (add-ons here) had I known about it earlier.  It starts with “An audit of violence after 1966,” and then goes back to the seventeenth century to begin to dig out what happened.  It has more detail than almost anyone needs to know, yet at the same time it remains unfailingly conceptual and relies on theoretical social science as well, rather than merely reciting names and dates. How about this?:

The breakdown of hegemonic control in Northern Ireland [mid- to late 1960s] exemplifies Tocqueville’s thesis that, when a bad government seeks to reform itself, it is in its greatest danger.

Here is an excerpt from volume II:

The thesis advanced here is that hegemonic control was established between 1920 and 1925 by the UUP, and, aside from a few exceptional moments, exercised successfully until 1966.  After 1925 opportunities for effective opposition, dissent, disobedience, or usurpation of power were minimal.  The major possibilities of disruption came from the outside, from independent Ireland or from Great Britain, from geopolitics, or the world economy.  Eventually, when external forces of disruption combined with major endogenous changes, hegemonic control would be contested, and would shatter.  But at no juncture did Northern nationalists or Irish Catholics in the North internalize the UUP’s rhetoric, or become significantly British by cultural designation.  When the civil-rights movement learned to exploit the claim to be British citizens entitled to British rights, the regime’s days were numbered.

I will continue to spend time with these volumes, which will not be surpassed anytime soon.  Unlike in so many history books, O’Leary is always trying to explain what happened, or what did not.  You can order them here.

As a side note, I find it shocking (and I suppose deplorable) that no American major media outlet has reviewed these books, or put them on its best of the year list, as far as I can tell.  We are failing at something, though I suppose you can debate what.  And I apologize to O’Leary for missing them the first time around.

Saturday assorted links

The dynamics of motivated beliefs

A key question in the literature on motivated reasoning and self-deception is how motivated beliefs are sustained in the presence of feedback. In this paper, we explore dynamic motivated belief patterns after feedback. We establish that positive feedback has a persistent effect on beliefs. Negative feedback, instead, influences beliefs in the short run, but this effect fades over time. We investigate the mechanisms of this dynamic pattern, and provide evidence for an asymmetry in the recall of feedback. Finally, we establish that, in line with theoretical accounts, incentives for belief accuracy mitigate the role of motivated reasoning.

That is from the new AER by Florian Zimmerman.  And from the paper proper:

We find that negative feedback is indeed recalled with significantly lower accuracy, compared to positive feedback, which suggests that the dynamic belief pattern we have identified is indeed driven by the selective recall of information. Next, we make use of additional outcome variables and a placebo condition to delve into how selective recall operates. In a nutshell, the following patterns emerge. Our results suggest that participants are able to suppress the recall of unwanted memories. Furthermore, participants appear to suppress the recall of not only negative feedback but also the IQ test more broadly. Our results lend direct support to key modeling assumptions in Bénabou and Tirole (2002, 2004). From a policy perspective, our findings suggest that policy interventions aimed at correcting self-servingly biased misperceptions via information or feedback are unlikely to be effective in the long run due to people’s ability to forget or suppress information that threatens their desired views.

The paper also shows that incentives matter and can improve the problem.  For instance, if you tell people that they will have to recall the information at some point in the future, and will receive a monetary reward for accuracy, there is considerably less selective forgetting.

Friday assorted links

1. Pee-Wee Herman comeback in the works.  And building a modern Congressional Technology Assessment Office.

2. Keeping a business running during a pandemic.

3. NBA loses possibly $100 million or more in China revenue.  And: “Our findings suggest that nationalist propaganda can manipulate emotions and anti-foreign sentiment, but does not necessarily divert attention from domestic political grievances.

4. 25 greatest classical pianists of all time?  A good list, except for Rachmaninov at #1, and I am pleased to have heard virtually all of the moderns in concert.  I would add Leif Andsnes and take off Lang Lang and Clara Haskil. And come on people — Pollini has to be top ten (he is not on the list at all), in spite of his recent age-related decline.  And Grosvenor is a fine pianist, but I wouldn’t quite put him in this exalted territory, replace with Rudolf or even Peter Serkin?  And if you are looking for peaks, Michelangeli surely belongs as well.  Solomon?

5. Ryan Bourne on state capacity libertarianism.  I will note that a possible coronavirus pandemic would likely boost the plausibility of state capacity libertarianism.

6. “…we construct counterfactual growth paths of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Greenland in the scenario where they joined the USA at times in history where this might have been a (remote) possibility.

7. John Cochrane on woke academia, recommended, and horrifying.

The economist as scapegoat

Russ Roberts defends Milton Friedman (and many others, implicitly), excerpt:

What about spending for public schools? Has that been reduced in this allegedly draconian neoliberal era?

In 1960, per pupil expenditure for elementary and high school students was just under $4000. In 1980, when the neoliberal ideology allegedly began its ascendance, it was a little less than $8000. The latest numbers from 2015–2016 are just under $15,000. All numbers are corrected for inflation (in 2017–2018 dollars). So under this time of alleged cutbacks and resource starvation, per pupil expenditures rose dramatically.

What about transportation infrastructure? Total spending is up in real terms. What about as a percentage of GDP? There has been a decline since 1962 as a percentage of GDP but the numbers are basically flat since 1980…

What about investment in non-defense research and development, and health? Up dramatically since 1980 in real terms.

There is much more at the link, including excellent visuals.

Loo markets in everything

If you need a toilet while on the go, trust Toto Ltd. to come up with a solution. Just summon one up with your smartphone, the company says.

The toilet manufacturer unveiled the “mobile toilet concept” at the CES tech show held in Las Vegas in early January. The company intends to develop an exclusive app that brings a portable restroom trailer to a spot near the location the call is made.

Here is the full story, via Nigel B.

Graduate student fellowships at George Mason/Mercatus

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is currently accepting applications for our graduate student programs for the 2020-2021 academic year, including several graduate student fellowships for students in any discipline and from any university. The application deadline is March 15, 2020.

Adam Smith Fellowship

The Adam Smith Fellowship is a one-year, competitive program for doctoral students interested in political economy and is co-sponsored with Liberty Fund, Inc. Fellowships are awarded to students attending PhD programs from any university and in any discipline, including economics, philosophy, political science, and sociology.

Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship

The Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship is a one-year, competitive program for graduate students interested in applying political economy to pressing public policy issues. Fellowships are awarded to students attending master’s, juris doctoral, and doctoral programs at any university and in any discipline, including economics, law, political science, and public policy.

Oskar Morgenstern Fellowship

The Oskar Morgenstern Fellowship is a one-year, competitive fellowship program awarded to doctoral students with training in quantitative methods who interested in applying these methods to issues in political economy. Fellowships are awarded to students attending PhD programs from any university and in any discipline, including economics, political science, and sociology.

Here is the overall fellowships page.

Thursday assorted links

1. A Bayesian approach to Bernie Sanders (show your work).

2. Should libertarians ally with Bolsonaro?

3. In which I interview Tom Kalil, Chief Innovation Officer at Schmidt Futures (other sessions too, scroll down for mine).  And Phantom Tyler says solve for the equilibrium.

4. New British fast-track visa, aimed especially at scientists.

5. Taste for Indian food predicts Bernie Sanders support (NYT).  But what does an interest in Pakistani food correlate with?  In the United States, Pakistani food usually is better than Indian.

6. “A professor at one of China’s top universities has quit what many academics would regard as a dream job after he gained celebrity status through an online “knowledge-sharing” platform.”  (former GMU student, 2008 Ph.d)

The vaccine makers have solved for the equilibrium

GSK has made a corporate decision that while it wants to help in public health emergencies, it cannot continue to do so in the way it has in the past. Sanofi Pasteur has said its attempt to respond to Zika has served only to mar the company’s reputation. Merck has said while it is committed to getting its Ebola vaccine across the finish line it will not try to develop a vaccine that protects against other strains of Ebola and the related Marburg virus.

Drug makers “have very clearly articulated that … the current way of approaching this — to call them during an emergency and demand that they do this and that they reallocate resources, disrupt their daily operations in order to respond to these events — is completely unsustainable,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, an organization set up after the Ebola crisis to fund early-stage development of vaccines to protect against emerging disease threats.

Hatchett and others who plan for disease emergencies worry that, without the involvement of these types of companies, there will be no emergency response vaccines.

Here is more from Helen Branswell, you can follow her on Twitter here on the evolving coronavirus situation, she is maybe the single best follow on that topic?

What I’ve been reading

Randy Shaw, Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.  A YIMBY book, with good historical material on San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other locales involved in the struggle to build more.

Conor Daugherty, Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America.  Coming out in February, this is a very good book about the YIMBY movement and its struggles, with a focus on contemporary California, written by a NYT correspondent.

Jennifer Delton, The Industrialists: How the National Association of Manufacturers Shaped American Capitalism.  Why don’t more books fit this model: take one topic and explain it well?

Economists, Photographs by Mariana Cook, edited with an introduction by Robert M. Solow.  Self-recommending.  Interestingly, I recall an old University of Chicago calendar of economist photographs, still buried in my office somewhere, with pictures of Frank Hyneman Knight, Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, and others.  At least in terms of personality types, as might be revealed through photographs, the older collection seems to me far more diverse.  Or is the homogenization instead only in terms of photograph poses?

Michael E. O’Hanlon, The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War Over Small Stakes.  A very useful practical book about what options a U.S. government would have — short of full war — to deal with international grabs by China or Russia.  There should be thirty more books on this topic (#ProgressStudies).

Christopher Caldwell, The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties.  This is both a very old thesis, but these days quite new, namely the claim that 1965 and the Civil Rights movement created a “new constitution” for America, at variance with the old, and the two constitutions have been at war with each other ever since.  It will be one of the influential books “on the Right” this year, I already linked to this Park MacDougald review of the book.

Robert H. Frank, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work.  From the Princeton University Press catalog: “Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street—our environments are themselves products of our behavior. Under the Influence explains how to unlock the latent power of social context. It reveals how our environments encourage smoking, bullying, tax cheating, sexual predation, problem drinking, and wasteful energy use. We are building bigger houses, driving heavier cars, and engaging in a host of other activities that threaten the planet—mainly because that’s what friends and neighbors do.”