Category: Weblogs

Emergent Ventures winners, sixteenth cohort

Phoebe Yao, founder and CEO of Pareto, “a human API delivering the business functions startups desperately need.”  Here is the Pareto website.  She was born in China, formerly of Stanford, and a former classical violist.  (By my mistake I left her off of a previous cohort list, apologies!)

BeyondAging, a new group to support longevity research.

Sam Enright, for writing, blogging, and general career development, resume here.  From Ireland, currently studying in Scotland.

Zena Hitz, St. John’s College, to build The Catherine Project, to revitalize the study of the classics.

Gavin Leech, lives in Bristol, he is from Scotland, getting a Ph.D in AI.  General career support, he is interested in: “Personal experimentation to ameliorate any chronic illness; reinforcement learning as microscope on Goodhart’s law; weaponised philosophy for donors; noncollege routes to impact.”

Valmik Rao, 17 years old, Ontario, he is building a program to better manage defecation in Nigeria.

Rabbi Zohar Atkins, New York City, to pursue a career as a public intellectual.  Here is one substack, here is another.

Basil Halperin, graduate student in economics at MIT, for his writing and for general career development.

Gytis Daujotas, lives in Dublin, studying computer science at DCU, for a project to make the Great Books on the web easy to read, and for general career development.  Here is his web site.

Geoff Anders, Leverage Research, to support his work to find relevant bottlenecks in science and help overcome them.  A Progress Studies fellow.

Samantha Jordan, NYU Stern School of Business, with Nathaniel Bechhofer, for a new company, “Our platform will accelerate the speed and quality of science by enabling scientists to easily manage their data and research pipelines, using best practices from software engineering.”  Also a Progress Studies grant.

Nina Khera, “I’m a teenage human longevity researcher who’s interested in preventing aging-related diseases, especially those related to brain aging. In the past, I’ve worked with companies like Alio on computation and web-dev-based projects. I’ve also worked with labs like the Gladyshev lab and the Adams lab on data analysis and machine learning-based projects.”  Her current project is Biotein, about developing markers for aging, based in Ontario.

Lipton Matthews, from Jamaica, here is his YouTube channel, for general career development.

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.

“Why economics is failing us”

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

Here’s the dirty little secret that few of my fellow economics professors will admit: As those “perfect” research papers have grown longer, they have also become less relevant. Fewer people — including academics — read them carefully or are influenced by them when it comes to policy.

Actual views on politics are more influenced by debates on social media, especially on such hot topics such as the minimum wage or monetary and fiscal policy. The growing role of Twitter doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Social media is egalitarian, spurs spirited debate and enables research cooperation across great distances.

Still, an earlier culture of “debate through books” has been replaced by a new culture of “debate through tweets.” This is not necessarily progress.

To use a bit of economic terminology, economists haven’t fully internalized the lessons of the Laffer Curve. By demanding so much rigor in academic research, they’ve created an environment in which most of the economics people actually see is less rigorous.

There is also a political effect. Twitter is a relatively left-wing social medium, and so the tenor of popular economic discourse has moved to the left.

Recommended, and it is one of those pieces where the reaction to the piece itself confirms the thesis of the piece…

Daniel Frank on me, his introduction to Tyler Cowen

He has written a very nice appreciative post, and I regard his interpretations as accurate, here is an excerpt from it, perhaps it is an introduction to the last ten or so years of what I have been writing here:

…I wrote this post because the area Tyler influenced me the most and what I think is his greatest strength is something few discuss; his ability to deal with emotional and intellectual insecurity.

For context, when I first started reading Tyler’s writing as a teenager 15+ years ago, I was upset at how apolitical, non-partisan and unemotional he was. Sure he had all these great ideas but the world was filled with silly people who needed to be taken down a notch. Tyler never did that and eventually I realized he was right. Tyler’s equanimity and the way he tries to confront his own insecurities and flaws (that all humans have) is what, in my opinion, makes him so unique. By spending so much time reading his work, Tyler’s demeanour has rubbed off on me and made me a much better thinker.

Here are a selection of some of my favourite Tyler Cowen posts that capture his unique way of thinking:

Pushing the Button

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/11/imagining-the-b.html

When describing a person/group/idea that you dislike, if you feel the need to attack them, it is akin to pushing a “button” that makes you temporarily dumber. You don’t want to be pushing the button yourself or in fact, spend time around/reading others who do.

The Fallacy of Mood Affiliation

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/03/the-fallacy-of-mood-affiliation.html

When reading about an issue, people frequently identify with a mood and depending on how that mood resonates with that issue, they will artificially create a set of arguments to match and justify the mood.

Devalue and Dismiss

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/01/the-devalue-and-dismiss-fallacy-methodological-pluralism-and-dsge-models.html

“a writer will come up with some critique of another argument, let us call that argument X, and then dismiss that argument altogether. Afterwards, the thought processes of the dismisser run unencumbered by any consideration of X, which after all is what dismissal means. Sometimes “X” will be a person or a source rather than an argument, of course. The “devalue” part of this chain may well be justified. But it should lead to “devalue and downgrade,” rather than “devalue and dismiss.”

Tyler Cowen’s 12 Rules for Life

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/01/tyler-cowens-12-rules-life.html

1. Assume your temperament will always be somewhat childish and impatient, and set your rules accordingly, knowing that you cannot abide by rules for rules sake. Hope to leverage your impatience toward your longer-run advantage. 3. When the price goes up, buy less. Try to understand what the price really is, however, and good luck with that. 7. Learn how to learn from those who offend you. 9. I don’t know.

Why Do People Hate the Media So Much

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/09/people-hate-media-much.html

“No matter what the media tells you their job is, the feature of media that actually draws viewer interest is how media stories either raise or lower particular individuals in status.” “The status ranking of individuals implied by a particular media source is never the same as yours, and often not even close.” “A good rule of thumb is that if you resent the media “lots,” you are probably making a number of other emotional mistakes in your political thought.”

This gem is also linked to in the original post expressing the idea: “So much of debate, including political and economic debate, is about which groups and individuals deserve higher or lower status”

How Public Intellectuals Can Extend Their Shelf Lives

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2020/02/how-public-intellectuals-can-extend-their-shelf-lives.html

There is in fact much more, again here is the link.

My excellent Conversation with John Cochrane

Here is the audio, transcript, and video.  So many good parts it is hard to excerpt, here is part of the summary:

John joined Tyler to apply that habit of mind to a number of puzzles, including why real interest rates don’t equalize across countries, what explains why high trading volumes and active management persist in finance, how the pandemic has affected his opinion of habit formation theories, his fiscal theory of price level and inflation, the danger of a US sovereign debt crisis, why he thinks Bitcoin will eventually die, his idea for health-status insurance, becoming a national gliding champion, how a Renaissance historian for a father and a book translator for a mother shaped him intellectually, what’s causing the leftward drift in economics, the need to increase competition among universities, how he became libertarian, the benefits of blogging, and more.

Here is one bit from John:

COCHRANE: You ask two questions here. One is active management, and the other is trading. I’d like to distinguish them. It’s a puzzle in the Chicago free market sense.

Let me ask your question even more pointedly. If you believe in efficient markets, and you believe in competition, and things work out right, we’ve scientifically proven since the 1960s, that high-fee active managers don’t earn any more than a proverbial monkey throwing darts in a well-managed slow index. So why do people keep paying for high-fee active management?

Chicago free market — we’re not supposed to say, “Oh, people are dumb for 40 years — 50 years now,” [laughs] but there’s a lot of it. It’s one of those things. Active management is slowly falling away. The move towards passive index investment is getting stronger and stronger.

There’s a strong new literature, which I’ll point to. My colleague here, Jonathan Berk, has written some good articles on it. This is the puzzle of efficient markets. If everybody indexed, markets couldn’t be efficient because no one’s out there getting the information that makes markets efficient. Markets have to be a little inefficient, and somebody has to do the trading.

Your second question is about trading. Why is there this immense volume of trading? When was the last time you bought or sold a stock? You don’t do it every 20 milliseconds, do you? [laughs]

I’ll highlight this. If I get my list of the 10 great unsolved puzzles that I hope our grandchildren will have figured out, why does getting the information into asset prices require that the stock be turned over a hundred times? That’s clearly what’s going on. There’s this vast amount of trading, which is based on information or opinion and so forth. I hate to discount it at all just as human folly, but that’s clearly what’s going on, but we don’t have a good model.

Self-recommending.

The conversation some of you want to have

The most frequently upvoted request was this, noting that I will add in numbers so you may follow my replies:

1. Looking back on your history of blogging, what were you most right about? And what were you most wrong about? Are there any posts you regret?

2. If you were to go back in time and choose a profession other than economics, what field would you choose, and why?

3. What important questions are the least answerable empirically, and how should these questions be approached?

4. What questions would benefit most from better empirical evidence?

5. A number of years ago, I recall you saying something like “Bloggers get the commenters that they deserve.” Do you regret saying this? (Sorry–ha ha).

Thinking back on the history of MR, here are my answers:

1. I believe I was right (and proven right) about the Great Stagnation, a controversial proposition at the time.  I also believe I have been right about many aspects of the Covid crisis, as Alex has been as well.  See also my earlier writings.

I still like last year’s blog post on State Capacity Libertarianism.

Perhaps two things I was right about, but still not recognized as correct are: 1) post-2012 or so (but not earlier), unemployment was fundamentally a re-matching problem, and would not have been helped much by nominal decisions by the Fed, and 2) we could have done much better than Obamacare and no I don’t mean single payer.

Two of my more obvious errors were dismissing the notion of a major financial crisis in the early days, as I didn’t see that a bursting real estate bubble would wreck the shadow banking system, rather I expected (at worst) something like the recession of the early 1990s.

I also was wrong to think that Greece and Italy would leave the eurozone after the crisis of 2011.  I thought deposits would be more mobile across borders than they turned out to be, thus crushing domestic banking systems and requiring a breaking with par.

I was originally wrong in calling bitcoin a bubble, though I improved and earlier yet MR was one of the first outlets to call attention to bitcoin; see also this earlier 2007 post, when I wrote: “…monetary economics will end up as a special case of a more general theory of encryption. One day they’ll solve Riemann’s Hypothesis and the price level will just go poof…!”

I am pleased to have played early roles boosting ngdp work, especially in free market circles, and standing firm on the need for some kind of green energy policy, though neither involved any originality on my part.  I see both decisions as vindicated.

That all said, I regret the post where I wrote “Bloggers get the commenters that they deserve.”  Even if it is true.

2. if my current profession were inaccessible to me, I would be either a philosopher or a legal academic, but trying to replicate the essential features of my current life as I know it.  I feel I would be much less effective in either venue, however.

3. “What important questions are the least answerable empirically, and how should these questions be approached?”  Maybe that is too broad a question, but two responses.  First, I am not sure we ever will understand “culture,” as more empirical work perhaps will broaden the concentric circles of our ignorance and create more open questions, by both teaching us more detail and showing how much context-dependence matters.  Second, I am increasingly skeptical that we will ever find “the theory of everything” in physics.  Maybe it is all just a sprawling mess that resists systematization and comprehension by our feeble little brains.  How well do felines grasp Keynesian macroeconomics?

That said, approach these dilemmas by fighting to understand and indeed doubling down.

4. “What questions would benefit most from better empirical evidence?”  Well, many of them, but be ready to deal with this notion of broadening and expanding the concentric circles of our knowledge — and ignorance — at the same time.  In many, many areas that is at least as likely as convergence on a definite set of answers.

Do commenters get the bloggers they deserve?  I don’t think so.

How do the NIH and NSF work?

A surprising number of individuals responded to my post last week soliciting books about the NIH and NSF.  Thank you to those who did and please do still feel free to reach out on this matter.

It became apparent that a highly complementary effort would be a Substack/blog/podcast/similar about the inner workings of the NIH / NSF, and indeed other institutions relevant to the modern-day administration and practice of science.  Think SCOTUSblog or Macro Musings, but focused on the NIH/NSF/etc.

So, if you would like to start such a blog/podcast/newsletter, please email me, and that plan will be considered for financial support.

Blog and Substack contest winners

To date there are three:

1. Anton Howes for his Substack Age of Invention.  He is a historian of invention, often but not exclusively focusing on the eighteenth century, here is Anton on Twitter.  As a separate matter, don’t forget Anton’s excellent recent book Arts & Minds: How the Royal Society of Arts Changed a Nation.

2. Works in Progress.  Here is their About page: “Works in Progress is a new online magazine dedicated to sharing novel ideas and stories of progress, and features original writing from some of the most interesting thinkers in the world.”  The major individuals behind Works in Progress are Sam Bowman, Saloni Dattani, Ben Southwood, and Nick Whitaker, all with bios at the previous link, all strong intellectual forces.

Note also: “Works in Progress is always looking for new writers for upcoming issues and our blog. Reach out if you want to talk about writing for us, with a short summary or abstract of your piece.”

3. Alice Evans, lecturer at King’s College London.  Here is Alice on Twitter.  She is working on “”THE GREAT GENDER DIVERGENCE” What explains global variation in gender relations?” and here is her related blog on that same topic.  Here is her famous post on gender relations in north vs. south India.  Her home page also links to her podcast.

I do expect there will be further awards, and I will keep you posted (here is the original announcement).  If you just started writing a blog and submitted, you may still be in the running for the future. In the meantime, congratulations to these winners!