Sunday assorted links

Glen Weyl update and interview

Here is one excerpt:

I’ve moved on from being a researcher. I’m an advisor to Microsoft’s senior leaders about geopolitics and macroeconomics. So, my whole outlook has changed quite a bit as a result of that.

And:

In Taiwan, we’ve come to work extremely closely with Audrey Tang, their digital minister who’s just a remarkable person and, honestly, a much more interesting subject than me. She has been using quadratic voting for administering national hackathons—where people get together and try to create technological solutions to social problems.

Audrey has used quadratic voting to score those competitions and she’s also used another idea that we’re very into, called ‘data coalitions’ or ‘data cooperatives’—they’re sort of data labour unions—to organize those services. Taiwan’s response to Covid was, to a large extent, driven by these civic technology developments and they were the most successful country in the world. They had the lowest infection and death rate and the smallest impact on their economy. A lot of that was related to their harnessing of these civic technology approaches.

Here is the Five Books link, interesting throughout.

What has Become of the Ticker-Tape Parade?

Jason Crawford at the Roots of Progress points out that we used to have a lot of ticker-tape parades. The most famous was perhaps the Victory Parade of World War II but we used to have many parades to celebrate technological and cultural milestones. There were huge celebrations, for example, when the final spike of the transcontinental railroad was nailed, when the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, and the Statute of Liberty dedicated. In the 1920s and 1930s there were big celebrations for aviation pioneers including for Charles Lindburgh, Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes and that tradition continued in the 1960s and 1970s with multiple parades for the astronauts:

During the early space program, there were also several NYC ticker-tape parades for astronauts—not just the Apollo 11 heroes, who went on a world tour after the Moon landing, but missions before and after as well:

  • 1962, March 1 – John Glenn, following the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission.
  • 1962, June 5 – Scott Carpenter, following the Mercury 7 mission.
  • 1963, May 22 – Gordon Cooper, following the Mercury 9 mission.
  • 1965, March 29 – Virgil “Gus” Grissom and John Young, following the Gemini 3 mission.
  • 1969, January 10 – Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders, following the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon.
  • 1969, August 13 – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, following Apollo 11 mission to the Moon.
  • 1971, March 8 – Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, and Stuart Roosa, following Apollo 14 mission to the Moon.
  • 1971, August 24 – David Scott, James Irwin, and Alfred Worden, following Apollo 15 mission to the Moon.

One of the last big ticker tape parades was in November of 1998 for John Glenn and the astronauts of Space Shuttle Discovery but since then the number of such parades has declined.Why? Has the number of accomplishments worthy of a parade declined? Or have we become complacent or even cynical about progress?

Jonas Salk famously turned down a ticker tape parade for the creation of the Polio vaccine but there was excitement and celebration around the world. When the time comes, I hope that we will enthusiastically celebrate science and the success of a COVID vaccine.

Salk's polio vaccine was such a huge medical advance, it made ...

Should hiring schools coordinate on delaying their interviews?

The AEA emails me this (web version here):

The AEA suggests that employers wait to extend interview invitations until Monday, December 7, 2020 or later.

Rationale: the AEA will deliver signals from job candidates to employers on December 2. We suggest that employers wait and review those signals and incorporate them into their decision-making, before extending interview invitations.

…The AEA suggests that employers conduct initial interviews starting on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, and that all interviews take place virtually; i.e. either by phone or online (e.g. by Zoom). We also ask that all employers indicate on EconTrack when they have extended interview invitations (https://www.aeaweb.org/econtrack).

Rationale: In the past, interviews were conducted at the AEA/ASSA meetings. This promoted thickness of the market, because most candidates and employers were present at the in-person meetings, but had the disadvantage of precluding both job candidates and interviewers from fully participating in AEA/ASSA sessions. Since the 2021 AEA/ASSA meetings (which will take place Jan 3-5, 2021) will be entirely virtual, we suggest that interviews NOT take place during the AEA/ASSA meetings to allow job candidates and interviewers to participate in the conference.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they don’t offer much economic analysis of this recommendation.  I have a few remarks, none of which are beyond the analytical acumen of the AEA itself:

1. This proposal could well be a tax on the more conscientious departments, which will abide by the stricture while the more rogue departments jump the gun, giving them a relative advantage in finding job candidates.

2. It is common practice for the very top departments to make phone calls to advisors early, well before Christmas, and in essence tie up their future hires before the rest of the market clears (even if the ink on the contract is not dry until later on).  Whatever you might think of this practice, have any of those departments vowed to stop doing this?  If not, is the new recommendation simply an exhortation that other departments ought not to copy them, thus giving them exclusive use of this practice?  And did the AEA — which essentially is run by people from those top schools — ever complain about this practice?

3. In the more liquid market, as this proposal is designed to create, the better job candidates are likely to end up going to the more highly rated schools.  That is the opposite of how the NBA draft works — this year the Minnesota Timberwolves (a very bad team) pick first.  So maybe the more liquid market is best for the most highly rated schools — is that obviously a good thing?

4. Many job candidates don’t get any early offers at all, and this is likely to be all the more true with Covid-19 and tight state budgets.  Aren’t they better off if the market clears sooner rather than later?  Then they can either move on to other jobs searches, take jobs with community colleges, look for postdocs, or whatever.  Why postpone those adjustments?  Is their welfare being counted in this analysis?  Aren’t some of them the very neediest and also most stressed people in the economics job market?

5. Let’s say instead the market is done sequentially, where first you “auction off” the candidates in highest demand, ensuring that say a department rated #17 does not tie up an offer (fruitlessly, at that) to one of the very top candidates.  Won’t that #17 school then bid harder for the candidates one tier lower, thus making that part of the market more liquid?  I know it doesn’t have to work out that way, but surely that is one plausible scenario?

6. In finance, there are some results that you get less “racing” behavior with batched rather than continuous trading auctions. Again, that doesn’t have to be true, but surely it is no accident that many high-frequency traders oppose the idea of periodic rather than continuous securities auctions?  What exactly are the relevant conditions here?

7. Would many economists recommend that say the top tech firms not make any offers before a certain date, so as to keep that labor market “more liquid”?  What exactly is the difference here?

8. Might it be possible that a permanent shift to non-coordinated interview dates, and less temporally coordinated Zoom interviews and fly-outs, would permanently lower the status and import of said AEA?

I do not wish to pretend those are the only relevant factors.  But here is a simple question: does anyone connected with the AEA have the stones to actually write a cogent economic or game-theoretic analysis of this proposal?  Or does the AEA not do economics any more?

Anxiety is rising among the American young

Anxiety increased from 5.12% in 2008 to 6.68% in 2018 (p<.0001) among adult Americans. Stratification by age revealed the most notable increase from 7.97% to 14.66% among respondents 18-25 years old (p<.001), which was a more rapid increase than among 26-34 and 35-49 year olds (differential time trend p<.001). Anxiety did not significantly increase among those ages 50 and older. Anxiety increased more rapidly among those never married and with some college education, relative to their respective counterparts. Apart from age, marital status and education, anxiety increased consistently among sociodemographic groups.

That is from a new paper by Renee D. Goodwin, Andrea H. Weinberger, June H. Kim, Melody Wu, and Sandro Galea.

You should be spending a significant portion of your time pondering these data, because it is one of the very most important social trends today, as it also helps to explain many other social trends.

Via the excellent (and calm) Kevin Lewis.

Somebody or something is failing us

Billions of dollars in federal funds earmarked for boosting nationwide Covid-19 testing remain unspent months after Congress made the money available, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In April, Congress allocated roughly $25 billion for federal agencies and states to expand testing, develop contact-tracing initiatives and broaden disease surveillance.

According to HHS data, only about 10% to 15% of that total has been drawn down, meaning the cash has been spent or committed to various efforts…

Of the $25 billion, some $10.25 billion was sent to states and U.S. territories in May to expand testing and develop contact-tracing programs at their discretion, but as of Aug. 14, just $121 million of that pool of funds had been drawn down.

Fast Grants it ain’t.  Here is the full WSJ article by Scott Patterson and Sarah Krouse.

College football is education too

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

So far the data are fragmentary, but they indicate that parties, bar-going and after-hours fraternization — not athletic practices — have been the major risks contributing to Covid-19 clusters among young people of college age. For all the talk of banning athletics, how about university regulations banning all alcohol consumption (including off-campus) for all registered students, under the pain of academic suspension? [NB: more schools have started trying at least partial versions of this since I wrote the column.]…

There is the risk that football players and other collegiate athletes will bring the virus home to their parents and older relatives. Still, that danger seems to be at least as high if they are bored and going out drinking, compared to practicing and trying to secure their place on the team. It simply is not obvious that athletics create a new risk.

Under the current system, student athletes can opt not to participate, just as many NBA players have elected not to play in the league’s “bubble.” While there are social pressures to go ahead and play, they are no different than the pressures to socialize more generally. Yet there are no calls to ban young people from socializing, even though that too is clearly a dangerous activity — perhaps the most dangerous activity — in terms of Covid-19 spread.

There is much more at the link.

*Collected Writings of Morton Feldman*

Feldman probably was the most important American composer of his generation, he interacted with the leading NYC painters of his time, and it turns out he is a splendid writer as well.  His observations are to the point, often with a Nassim Taleb kind of sting.  Here is one bit:

Recently in the Sunday papers an article about Messiaen appeared in which a great virtue was made of his political “disengagement.”  Reading this article, we learn how deeply religious this composer is, how much he looks forward to his vacations in Switzerland, how proud he is of Boulez, and how involved he is with bird calls.  Can we say man is really disengaged?  His chief occupation seems to be this disengagement.  There is something curiously official in the way his interests and views are described — as though nothing could now disturb all this.

Or:

But he has nothing to worry about, that chap in Tempo.  He’s going to have it all.  Pitch relationships, plus sound and chance thrown in.  Total consolidation.  Those two words define the new academy.  You can tie it all up in the well-known formula, “You made a small circle and excluded me; I made a bigger circle and included you.”  A kind of Jonah-and-the-whale syndrome is taking place.  Everything is being chewed up en masse and for the mass…

It may seem strange to call Boulez and Stockhausen popularizers, but that’s what they are.  They glamorized Schoenberg and Webern, now they’re glamorizing something else.  But chance to them is just another procedure, another vehicle for new aspects of structure or of sonority independent of pitch organization.  They could have gotten these things from Ives or Varèse, but they went to these men with too deep  prejudice, the prejudice of the equal, the colleague.

More books should have sentences like: “[Virgil] Thomson disliked me on sight, as a youth, and it’s never changed.”

The full title is Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman,” edited by B.H. Friedman.

I think Feldman two greatest works are For John Cage, and also String Quartet #2, which is about five hours long.  This year I have been listening to the Philip Thomas 5-CD set of Feldman’s piano music more than just about any other CD.  It is not the very best Feldman, but it is some of the best Feldman to listen to, if only because the pieces typically are shorter.

From the comments, on alien visitation

…it looks like Avi Loeb (Harvard astronomer) is writing a book that will argue that we have been visited by aliens.

Harvard’s top astronomer lays out his controversial theory that our solar system was recently visited by advanced alien technology from a distant star.

In late 2017, scientists at a Hawaiian observatory glimpsed an object soaring through our inner solar system, moving so quickly that it could only have come from another star. Avi Loeb, Harvard’s top astronomer, showed it was not an asteroid; it was moving too fast along a strange orbit, and left no trail of gas or debris in its wake. There was only one conceivable explanation: the object was a piece of advanced technology created by a distant alien civilization.

https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/Extraterrestrial/9780358278146

That is from Josh P.  And here is the Amazon link.

Friday assorted links

The FDA Burns

If you think the FDA has been slow at approving new coronavirus tests just look at their process for approving sunscreen products.

EWG: The FDA first began working to update sunscreen regulations more than 40 years ago. In February 2019, the agency at long last issued a proposed set of final rules, but they were never adopted.

According to EWG, the Environmental Working Group, the FDA has been too slow to test old ingredients for safety and too slow to allow new ingredients on the market thus leaving us with sunscreen products which are neither as safe nor as effective as they should be. In particular, Europe has better sunscreen protection than the United States. Here’s EWG:

Americans have fewer choices and notably poorer protection than Europeans do from ultraviolet A rays in their sunscreen options. Although most U.S. sunscreens prevent sunburn effectively when used correctly, they aren’t as good as European sunscreens at preventing the more subtle skin damage produced by lower-energy UVA radiation. UVA rays have less energy and don’t burn the skin, but they can cause the skin to age, suppress the immune system and contribute to the development of melanoma.

…Between 2003 and 2010, sunscreen makers applied for FDA permission to use eight sun-filtering chemicals developed by European companies. Four of these – Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M, Mexoryl SX and Mexoryl XL – appear to be more effective than avobenzone, the most common UVA filter permitted by the FDA. The FDA’s failure to respond to these applications prompted Congress to pass the Sunscreen Innovation Act of 2014 (FDA 2014). This act requires the FDA to review new applications for sunscreen active ingredients within 300 days, but it doesn’t relax the standards companies must meet to prove new ingredients are both safe and effective.

In 2015, the FDA responded that the companies involved had not submitted enough information to prove their chemicals were, in fact, safe and effective for use (FDA 2015). The agency asked for more data, including complete study results, measurements of ingredient levels in people’s blood, and long-term studies on systemic toxicity and potential endocrine system disruption. The FDA has also proposed that all sunscreen ingredients, including those already in use, need to have adequate safety testing data.

Some information the FDA wants, such as complete copies of studies, might be easy for sunscreen makers to produce. But in other cases, the companies could take years to satisfy FDA requests. In the meantime, Americans are being shortchanged.

I first wrote about this issue in 2013 and seven years later, despite Congress passing a law in 2014, the FDA still has not acted.

My rule is very simple. I don’t think the FDA is better than the EMA so if any drug or device is approved in Europe it ought to be available for purchase in the United States with a label saying “Approved by the EMA. Not approved by the FDA.” (By the way, we do have reciprocity type agreements with Canada and New Zealand for food so this would not be unprecedented.)

Hat tip: John Thacker.

Addendum: You should actually get more sun to avoid vitamin D deficiency which is bad for a variety of reasons including, in my estimation, greater susceptibility to COVID.

The greatest gaming performance ever?

Or is chess a sport?

First Magnus Carlsen “privatizes” chess competition, naming the major tournament after himself, setting all of the rules, and becoming the residual claimant on the income stream.

He reshapes the entire format into a seven set, four months-long series of shorter tournaments, consisting of multiple games per day, 15 minutes per player per game, with increment.  It seems most chess fans find this new format far more exciting and watchable than the last two world championship matches, which have featured 22 slow draws and only two decisive games (with the title decided by rapid tiebreakers in each case — why not just head to the rapids?).

Magnus won all but one of the “sets” or mini-tournaments, along the way regularly dispatching the game’s top players at an astonishing pace, often tossing them aside like mere rag dolls.  Even the #2 and #3 rated players — Caruana and Ding Liren — stood little chance against his onslaught.  Carlsen kept on winning these mini-tournaments against fields of ten players, typically all at a world class level.

A Final Four then led to a 38-game, seven-day showdown between Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, not decided until the very last set of moves yesterday.  Note that at the more rapid pace Nakamura may well be a better player than Carlsen and is perhaps the only real challenge to him (at slower classical speeds Nakamura would be in the top twenty but is not at the very top of the rankings).

Nonetheless Carlsen prevailed.  Nakamura had the upper hand in terms of initiative, but in the final five-minute tie-breaking round, Carlsen needed to pull out 1.5 of the last 2 points, which indeed he did.  He drew by constructing an impregnable fortress against Nakamura’s Queen, and in the final “sudden death Armageddon” round a draw is equivalent to a victory for Black.

Along the way, at the same time, Magnus participated in Fantasy Football, competing against millions, at times holding the #1 slot and finishing #11 in what is a very competitive and demanding endeavor.

Emergent Ventures winners, 10th cohort

Sebastian Garren, to found John Paul II Preparatory School’s South Campus in St. Louis, a hybrid on-line and in-person educational alternative for K-12, also stressing Western history and the classics.

John Durant, for career development and writing, and explorations into notions of angels.

Mishka Orakzai of Peshawar, Pakistan, to support her thiscodeworks project intent to make snippets of code more available.

Krishaan Khubchand, 20 years old, studying law at Birkbeck, to study mega-projects and capital allocation, he is also a Progress Studies fellow.

Vignan Velivela.  He started as a robotics engineer at Cruise Automation, is a member of the Explorers Club (wikiBBC) for his work on the lightest planetary rover at Carnegie Mellon, worked on a peer-to-peer lending startup in India that was acqui-hired by PayTm, went to college (BITS Pilani) in India studying EE and Economics, and now is co-founder of AtoB.

Wasteland Ventures (no web page), to support their efforts in talent search and development.

And two Emergent Ventures anti-Covid prizes have been awarded to:

Witold Wiecek, Bayesian statistician and consultant, for his work on the Bayesian modeling of the COVID-19 epidemic, and the design of an optimal vaccine portfolio, in cooperation with the Accelerating Health Technologies team.

Arthur W. Baker (no web page, and not this guy) for his efforts on incentive design for vaccines, in cooperation with the Accelerating Health Technologies team.

Here are previous winners of Emergent Ventures grants and prizes.

The polity that is San Francisco

If you were hoping to cure your cabin fever with a quick jaunt to San Francisco to eat a $200 dinner in a geodesic dome next to a homeless encampment, it looks like you’ve missed your chance. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that after a surprise inspection, the city’s health department has ordered Japanese fine dining spot Hashiri to take down the fine dining domes that have made it internationally famous…

Hashiri opted to erect three plastic garden igloos on the sidewalk and reopened for dinner on August 5. The structures, which cost $1,400 apiece, immediately generated controversy, as the restaurant, which caters to the ultra-rich, happens to be located in an area where people experiencing homelessness congregate.

“Mint Plaza is a phenomenal space, it’s just sometimes the crowd is not too favorable,” Matsuura said to the Chronicle. “There are people who come by and spit, yell, stick their hands in people’s food, discharging fecal matter right by where people are trying to eat. It’s really sad, and it’s really hard for us to operate around that.”

The restaurant began receiving hate mail prior to last Thursday’s surprise inspection, which Matsuura suspects was the result of anonymous complaints to the Department of Public Health. The domes were ordered removed “due to the enclosed nature of the structure, which may not allow for adequate air flow,” per the inspection report.

Not enough air flow?  I wonder how many kitchens would pass that test?  Here is the full story, via Air Genius Gary Leff.