On first read, that sentiment might seem banal. Of course we should clearly oppose China’s intensifying political repression. But is easier to list American business leaders who have cravenly excused the inexcusable than to name those such as Collison, who have been brave enough to state the obvious. When it comes to China’s human rights abuses, the position of the American business community is prone…
“It must be possible,” Collison tells me, “to acknowledge the basic facts — for example, that concentration camps and forced sterilization programs are reprehensible evils. If it becomes de facto unacceptable to do so, as part of some kind of self-perpetuating silence, it really seems to me that that’s a positive feedback loop that we should hurry to break.”
There is much more at the link, definitely recommended.
It has gone great so far, but I don’t think it is socially optimal to be doing this forever. Here is my latest Bloomberg column on that topic, 2x the usual length, excerpt:
If Twitter, Facebook and other tech companies shift toward everyone working from home, it will mean less reliance on esprit de corps and morale to ensure performance, and more management using direct financial incentives and project- and output-based monitoring. Virtual tools can help organize teams, but they simply can’t replicate the intellectual frisson of “gathering the smart people” together, and this could damage performance and innovation.
There is some evidence that when employees work at a distance, they don’t put in extra hours or extend themselves for the benefit of co-workers. That probably means a better work-life balance for many people, but perhaps also inferior performance from a lot of companies over the longer haul.
This move away from workplace morale as a motivator will help self-starter employees, but it may not be good for tech labor overall. In essence, without a local workplace ethos, it is easier to commoditize labor, view workers as interchangeable and fire people. The distinction between protected full-time employees and outsourced, freelance and contract workers weakens. A company can make the offer of, “If you hand in your project, we pay you,” to virtually any worker around the world, many of whom might accept lower wages for remote roles.
Bringing new workers on board is an especially difficult problem for this model. In the short run, of course, that is a minor concern but over time it grows.
25 simple job features explain over half the variance in which jobs are how automated.
The strongest job automation predictor is: Pace Determined By Speed Of Equipment.
Which job features predict job automation how did not change from 1999 to 2019.
Jobs that get more automated do not on average change in pay or employment.
Labor markets change more often due to changes in demand, relative to supply.
That is all from their newly published paper on the topic.
I am happy to announce two further winners of the Emergent Ventures prizes to fight Covid-19.
The first is to Statnews.com for their excellent and intelligent reporting on public health, including the coronavirus, with the latter articles being ungated.
This is not only a prize for past achievement, but also resources to allow them to continue into the future. As most of you know, journalism is a highly precarious enterprise these days.
And to be clear, this is a one-time prize and it involves absolutely no editorial control or influence over what they publish.
Here is a recent NYT article on Statnews.com. the headline reads: “The Medical News Site that Saw the Coronavirus Coming Months Ago.”
The second winner is Tina White and Covid Watch, for their work on track and trace apps, you will note that Tina and her group were earlier winners of a (smaller) Emergent Ventures fellowship. This is an Early Response prize, for their critical and timely work to boost the quality of these apps and to make them more privacy-friendly and more palatable to civil liberties concerns. Here is some coverage:
Quick update on Curative, the COVID19 testing co – they are currently running 6% of entire US COVID19 testing capacity – from being a sepsis co six weeks ago
— Celine Halioua (@celinehalioua) May 15, 2020
Emergent Ventures is pleased to have been their very first funder, and to have consummated the entire grant process, including the wire of funds (at the time critical for materials purchase), in less than 24 hours.
- You can now buy a synthetic deepfake of Ethereum’s hottest tokenized man.
- For $99 per 200 words, you can decide what he says.
- However, he still has the final say on what comes out of his avatar’s mouth.
Here is the full story, which I saw somewhere on Twitter.
Of course they do. And yes, I know that is a small thing, and furthermore temperature checks may not even be effective.
The general point is this: you cannot over the longer run have a society based on such inflexible rules of adjustment. For decades it may seem possible, due to underlying stasis, but eventually the truth will be revealed. No single anecdote will be so convincing, and it will take a long time for the failures to pile up. And in the meantime this will breed disrespect for the more valuable laws.
I will be doing a second Conversation him, including about testing but by no means only. What should I ask him? For purposes of reference here was my first Conversation with him, likely I won’t repeat any of the same questions, though of course you are free to suggest I should.
Tinges of Covid-19, doses on financial crises, but mostly about economic history. Here is the audio and transcript. Here is the summary:
Adam joined Tyler to discuss the historically unusual decision to have a high-cost lockdown during a pandemic, why he believes in a swoosh-shaped recovery, portents of financial crises in China and the West, which emerging economies are currently most at risk, what Keynes got wrong about the Treaty of Versailles, why the Weimar Republic failed, whether Hitler was a Keynesian, the political and economic prospects of various EU members, his trick to writing a lot, how Twitter encourages him to read more, what he taught executives at BP, his advice for visiting Germany, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Was Keynes right about the Treaty of Versailles? Was it as bad as Keynes said?
TOOZE: No. I’m a confirmed liberal Keynesian in my broad politics, and my understanding of politics and the way expertise ought to relate to it, and the operations of modern democracy. I think his political writings in Essays in Persuasion are brilliant. But I regard The Economic Consequences of the Peace as disastrous because, essentially, it enhanced and gave arguments to the German nationalists who —
COWEN: But that doesn’t mean Keynes was wrong, right? It may have had that effect, but he’s writing at a time where the wealth-to-income ratio is especially low, so a given measure of debt burden is much worse for an economy than what we might be used to.
TOOZE: Absolutely, but the evidence of the 1920s is that, with the right framework, the Weimar Republic was, in fact, perfectly capable of bearing a reasonable burden of reparations — 2 percent to 3 percent were doable. The fact of the matter is the German political class had no interest in accepting that responsibility and was quite determined to do a variety of different things to escape that burden.
And there is no doubt at all that the front-loading of the demands, which is very understandable from the point of view of the financial needs of the French in particular, caused a huge bottleneck, if you like, early on in the history of the Weimar Republic when it was most fragile. And that’s, as it were, the moment when I think the critique is most valid.
And that’s why, for me, really, the hidden agenda of the economic consequences of the peace is an appeal, to the Brits but above all to the Americans, for large-scale debt concessions, on which one could only agree with Keynes that this was, in fact, absolutely critical, that market economies have unspoken fundamental political preconditions, which, in the aftermath of the massive war, have been disrupted.
COWEN: Speaking of Hitler, was Hitler, in fact, the Keynesian?
TOOZE: No. Hitler personally — absolutely not. Hitler’s personal monetary ideas are very, very conservative. He’s an anti-inflation hawk. He has to be persuaded to engage in large-scale monetary financing.
Somebody like Schacht is a contemporary of Keynes, and that’s Hitler central banker and an adventurous monetary thinker. He’d learned to think outside the monetary box, if you like, in the efforts to stabilize Weimar’s currency in 1923–24. And he’s certainly an expansionary. He’s not afraid of monetary finance and of using off-balance-sheet vehicles to provide liquidity and to provide credit for an underemployed economy.
And quite reasonably, no one’s worried about inflation in 1933 because Germany has massive unemployment. So, in that sense, they are adventurous, macroeconomic, monetary economists.
They’re not Keynesians for the simple reasons that Keynesianism, classically, of course, is a liberal economic politics. It believes in a multiplier, and the multiplier’s the be-all and end-all really of Keynesian economics because what it suggests is that small, intermittent, discretionary interventions by the state — relatively small — will generate outside reactions from the economy, which will enable the state to serve a very positive role in stabilizing the economy but doesn’t require the state to permanently intrude and take over the economy.
That’s a post-1945 kind of vision of a mixed economy. Keynes himself — that’s why he wants the multiplier to be three because if the multiplier is three, then $1 by government spending generates $3 of private economic activity.
You can think of government intervention as sporadic. It’s emergency medicine. It’s not chronic care. That, of course, is the antithesis of what the Nazis are doing because they are ramping up government spending, not across the board, but highly focused on rearmament because what they’re doing is not just creating jobs, though they do create jobs as a side effect. What they’re doing is restructuring the economy towards building the foundation for rearmament in a war economy.
What they’re actually trying to do is systematically repress the multiplier because they do not want people employed in armaments factories to go out and buy clothing and fancy food, which requires imports. They want the money to be circled straight back into the armaments effort. Saving various types of financial oppression is the order of the day. They’re macroeconomists, the Nazis. They’re adventurous macroeconomists. They’re doing massive intervention, but they’re not Keynesian.
Tooze’s discussion of his own career and interests, toward the end, is hard to excerpt but for me the highlight of the conversation. He also provided the best defense of Twitter I have heard.
Here are some relevant criticisms from Soltani, Calo, and Bergstrom:
Studies suggest that people have on average about a dozen close contacts a day—incidents involving direct touch or a one-on-one conversation—yet even in the absence of social distancing measures the average infected person transmits to only 2 or 3 other people throughout the entire course of the disease. Fleeting interactions, such as crossing paths in the grocery store, will be substantially more common and substantially less likely to cause transmission. If the apps flag these lower-risk encounters as well, they will cast a wide net when reporting exposure. If they do not, they will miss a substantive fraction of transmission events. Because most exposures flagged by the apps will not lead to infection, many users will be instructed to self-quarantine even when they have not been infected. A person may put up with this once or twice, but after a few false alarms and the ensuing inconvenience of protracted self-isolation, we expect many will start to disregard the warnings.
At least as problematic is the issue of false negatives—instances where these apps will fail to flag individuals as potentially at risk even when they’ve encountered someone with the virus. Smartphone penetration in the United States remains at about 81 percent—meaning that even if we had 100 percent installation of these apps (which is extremely unlikely without mandatory policies in place), we would still only see a fraction of the total exposure events (65 percent according to Metcalf’s Law). Furthermore, people don’t always have their phones on them.
There is also a very real danger that these voluntary surveillance technologies will effectively become compulsory for any public and social engagement. Employers, retailers, or even policymakers can require that consumers display the results of their app before they are permitted to enter a grocery store, return back to work, or use public services—is as slowly becoming the norm in China, Hong Kong, and even being explored for visitors to Hawaii.
Taken with the false positive and “griefing” (intentionally crying wolf) issues outlined above, there is a real risk that these mobile-based apps can turn unaffected individuals into social pariahs, restricted from accessing public and private spaces or participating in social and economic activities. The likelihood that this will have a disparate impact on those already hardest hit by the pandemic is also high. Individuals living in densely populated neighborhoods and apartment buildings—characteristics that are also correlated to non-white and lower income communities—are likelier to experience incidences of false positives due their close proximity to one another.
In another study:
Nearly 3 in 5 Americans say they are either unable or unwilling to use the infection-alert system under development by Google and Apple, suggesting that it will be difficult to persuade enough people to use the app to make it effective against the coronavirus pandemic, a Washington Post–University of Maryland poll finds.
And here are skeptical remarks from Bruce Schneier.
I also have worried about how testing and liability law would interact. If the positive cases test as positive, it may be harder for businesses and schools to reopen, because they did not “do enough” to keep the positive cases out, or perhaps the businesses and the schools are the ones doing the testing in the first place. Whereas under a lower-testing “creative ambiguity” equilibrium, perhaps it is easier to think in terms of statistical rather than known lives lost, and to proceed with some generally beneficial activities, even though of course some positive cases will be walking through the doors.
I wonder if there also is a negative economic effect, over the longer haul, simply by making fear of the virus more focal in people’s minds. The plus of course is simply that contact tracing does in fact slow down the spread of the virus and allows resources to be allocated to individuals and areas of greatest need.
Here is the opening:
Here is the full story by Will Hobson. Recommended.
I found it interesting throughout, the first half was on Covid-19 testing, and the second half on everything else. Here is the audio and transcript. Here is the summary:
Tyler invited Glen to discuss the plan, including how it’d overcome obstacles to scaling up testing and tracing, what other countries got right and wrong in their responses, the unusual reason why he’s bothered by price gouging on PPE supplies, where his plan differs with Paul Romer’s, and more. They also discuss academia’s responsibility to inform public discourse, how he’d apply his ideas on mechanism design to reform tenure and admissions, his unique intellectual journey from socialism to libertarianism and beyond, the common element that attracts him to both the movie Memento and Don McLean’s “American Pie,” what talent he looks for in young economists, the struggle to straddle the divide between academia and politics, the benefits and drawbacks of rollerblading to class, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
WEYL: There’s one really critical element of this plan that I don’t think has been widely discussed, which is that there are 40 percent of people in the essential sector who are still out there doing their jobs. There may have been some improvements in sanitation. There probably have been, though there have been a lot of issues with getting the PPE required to do that.
But those people are basically transmitting the diseases they always have been. And so, by far, our first priority has to be not “reopening the economy,” but rather stabilizing that sector of the economy so that transmission is not taking place within that sector.
Once we’ve accomplished that goal, it will actually be relatively easy to reopen the rest of the economy, given that that’s 40 percent. It’s just a doubling to get to everybody being in a disease-stabilized situation. So I really think the focus has to be on stabilizing the essential sector by building up this regimen. I think we can do that by the end of June.
Once that’s accomplished, I think we can, over the course of July, reintroduce most of the rest of the economy and have the confidence that, because we haven’t seen reemergence of diseases within the essential sector, that reintroducing everybody else will proceed in a similar fashion.
COWEN: Other than possibly the adoption of your plan, what do you think will be the most enduring economic or social change from this pandemic?
WEYL: My guess is that there will be a lot of large corporations that take on important social responsibilities because of the trust environment that you were talking about and that it becomes increasingly illegitimate for them to be run under a pure shareholder-maximization perspective once they’re taking on that role. I think we’re going to see fundamental shifts in some of the corporate governance parameters as a result of the social role that a bunch of companies end up taking on.
COWEN: At heart, coming out of the Jewish socialist tradition, through a matter of biographical accident, you first became a libertarian. Needed time to find your way back to the tradition you belonged to. Along the way, did economics, so you believe in some notion of markets, albeit directly adjusted by regulation and mechanism design. And you’ve moved away from methodological individualism.
But you’re this weird person of a Jewish socialist, believes in markets, and had this path leading away from libertarianism. No other person in the world probably is that, but you are. Is that a unified theory of you?
WEYL: Well, the thing that throws a little bit of a wrench into that is that I was actually a Jewish socialist before I became a libertarian.
COWEN: Does that strengthen or weaken the theory?
For me the most instructive part was this:
COWEN: What do you view yourself as rebelling against? At the foundational level.
But you will have to read or listen to hear Glen’s very good answer.
These would seem to be some important results:
To model COVID-19 spread, we use an SEIR agent-based model on a graph, which takes into account several important real-life attributes of COVID-19: super-spreaders, realistic epidemiological parameters of the disease, testing and quarantine policies. We find that mass-testing is much less effective than testing the symptomatic and contact tracing, and some blend of these with social distancing is required to achieve suppression. We also find that the fat tail of the degree distribution matters a lot for epidemic growth, and many standard models do not account for this. Additionally, the average reproduction number for individuals, equivalent in many models to R0, is not an upper bound for the effective reproduction number, R. Even with an expectation of less than one new case per person, our model shows that exponential spread is possible. The parameter which closely predicts growth rate is the ratio between 2nd to 1st moments of the degree distribution. We provide mathematical arguments to argue that certain results of our simulations hold in more general settings.
And from the body of the paper:
To create containment, we need to test 30% of the population every day. If we only test 10% of the population every day, we get 34% of the population infected – no containment (blue bars).
As for test and trace:
Even with 100% of contacts traced and tested, still mass-testing of just over 10% of the population daily is required for containment.
The authors are not anti-testing (though relatively skeptical about mass testing compared to some of its adherents), but rather think a combination is required in what is a very tough fight:
Our simulations suggest some social distancing (short of lockdown), testing of symptomatics and contact tracing are the way to go.
That is all from a new paper by Ofir Reich, Guy Shalev, and Tom Kalvari, from Google, Google, and Tel Aviv University, respectively. Here is a related tweetstorm. With this research, I feel we are finally getting somewhere.
Savers at the Bank of Nook are being driven to speculate on turnips and tarantulas, as the most popular video game of the coronavirus era mimics global central bankers by making steep cuts in interest rates.
The estimated 12m players of Nintendo’s cartoon fantasy Animal Crossing: New Horizons were informed last week about the move, in which the Bank of Nook slashed the interest paid on savings from around 0.5 per cent to just 0.05 per cent.
The total interest available on any amount of savings has now been capped at 9,999 bells — the in-game currency that can be bought online at a rate of about $1 per 1.9m bells.
The abrupt policy shift, imposed by an obligatory software update on April 23, provoked a stream of online fury that a once-solid stream of income had been reduced to a trickle with the stroke of a raccoon banker’s pen.
“I’m never going to financially recover from this,” one player wrote on a Reddit forum. “Island recession incoming,” said another.
Here is more from the FT, via Malinga Fernando.
The Economist has a full article on this topic, here is one good excerpt:
But the defining feature of the latest innovation revolution is breakneck speed. Companies are being forced to raise their corporate metabolism and overcome “analysis paralysis”, an affliction caused by top managers having pored over the same irrelevant case studies at business school. In a recent briefing consultants at Bain urged companies to throw out old data, test quickly and often, and assume you will be in testing mode for some time to come.
The article is interesting throughout, and here is my earlier post on the rising speed premium in a pandemic world.
…while I have written about Taiwan’s use of cellphone-enforced quarantines for recent travelers and close contacts of those infected, I should also note that every single positive infection — symptomatic or not — is isolated away from their home and family. That is also the case in South Korea, and while it was the case for Singaporean citizens, it was not the case for migrant workers, which is a major reason why the virus has exploded in recent weeks.
Here’s the thing, though: isolating people is hard. It would be very controversial. It would require overbearing police powers that people in the West are intrinsically allergic to. Politicians that instituted such a policy would be very unpopular. It is so much easier to let tech companies build a potential magic bullet, and then demand they let government use it; most people wouldn’t know or wouldn’t care, which appears to matter more than whether or not the approach would actually work (or, to put it another way, it appears that the French government sees privacy as a club with which to beat tech companies, not a non-negotiable principle their citizens demand).
So that is why I have changed my mind: Western governments are not willing to take actions that we know work because it would be unpopular and controversial (indeed, the fact that central quarantine is so clearly a violation of liberties is arguably a benefit, because there is no way people would tolerate it once the crisis is over). And, on the flipside, that makes digital surveillance too dangerous to build. Politicians would rather leverage tech companies to violate liberty on the sly, and tech companies, once they have the capability, are all too willing to offload the responsibility of using it wisely to whatever government entity is willing to give them cover. There just isn’t much evidence that either side is willing to make hard choices.
That is from Ben’s Stratechery email newsletter, gated but you can pay to get it. There is currently the risk that “test and trace” becomes for the Left what “chloroquine” has been for Trump and parts of the political right — namely a way to make otherwise unpalatable plans sound as if they have hope for more than “develop herd immunity and bankrupt the economy in the process.”
To be clear, I fully favor “test and trace,” and I’ve worked hard to help fund some of it. That said, I wonder if we will anytime soon reach the point where it is a game changer. So when people argue we should not reopen the economy until “test and trace” is in place, I increasingly see that as a kind of emotive declaration that others do not care enough about human lives (possibly true!), rather than an actual piece of advice.