Flood the Zone

COVID cases are rising in New York, Michigan and New Jersey with most cases coming from the British and New York variants (B.1.1.7, B.1.526). It would be a good idea to flood these zones with vaccines. J&J production should hit 11 million doses this week. Send the J&J vaccine to pharmacies and clinics in these states that are capable of putting a lot of shots in arms quickly.

Are Americans getting worse?

Maybe so:

Morbidity and mortality have been increasing among middle-aged and young-old Americans since the turn of the century. We investigate whether these unfavorable trends extend to younger cohorts and their underlying physiological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms. Applying generalized linear mixed effects models to 62,833 adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1988-2016) and 625,221 adults from the National Health Interview Surveys (1997-2018), we find that for all gender and racial groups, physiological dysregulation has increased continuously from Baby Boomers through late-Gen X and Gen Y. The magnitude of the increase is higher for White men than other groups, while Black men have a steepest increase in low urinary albumin (a marker of chronic inflammation). In addition, Whites undergo distinctive increases in anxiety, depression, and heavy drinking, and have a higher level than Blacks and Hispanics of smoking and drug use in recent cohorts. Smoking is not responsible for the increasing physiological dysregulation across cohorts. The obesity epidemic contributes to the increase in metabolic syndrome, but not in low urinary albumin. The worsening physiological and mental health profiles among younger generations imply a challenging morbidity and mortality prospect for the United States, one that may be particularly inauspicious for Whites.

Here is the full article, via an excellent loyal MR reader.

Focus on the supply side

The biggest question in the U.S. right now is how rapidly vaccinations will proceed. Yet only 8.5% of the new appropriations — under the most generous calculations — are directed toward vaccine supply and anti-Covid-19 efforts.

The biggest question for the world is whether the wealthier nations will put up the estimated $25 billion needed to jump-start a global vaccination campaign in a (relatively) timely manner. So far it appears that they will not — again, a supply-side issue. There did not seem to be much interest in putting such an expenditure into the American Rescue Plan, even though the resulting resumption of trade and migration would undoubtedly have benefited the U.S. by far more than $25 billion.

Major stories about supply-side problems receive only fleeting notice in the U.S. media. Poor infrastructure and distribution are making it difficult for the 270 million inhabitants of Indonesia to get vaccinated, yet very few Americans are paying attention. Indonesia is not usually the focus of attention — and people are not sufficiently obsessed with the supply side.

In the corporate world, there was the big announcement that Intel plans to move full speed ahead to produce more high-quality semiconductor chips and to put more chip factories in the U.S. That switch has come after years of disappointing results from Intel. Can it set things straight? Right now there is a chip shortage in automobile manufacturing, and given the potential fragility of Taiwanese chip supply, U.S. national security hangs in the balance…

Supply-side economics got a bad name because it was associated with too many economists who insisted that tax cuts would be self-financing, or who insisted on tax cuts above all other possible supply-side improvements. Yet all economists ought to proudly announce that they are supply-side economists, first and foremost. That is pretty far from the world we live in, especially as social media have made U.S. monetary and fiscal policies a touchstone for the entire world to debate, often in highly emotional terms.

Here is the rest of my Bloomberg column.

Friday assorted links

Housing and the Game of Reverse Musical Chairs

The Mayor of Charlottesville recently tweeted.

Please explain how building more market rate housing will free up the housing market for low-income citizens. Which low-income citizens will be able to afford to buy or rent a home that’s going to sell to $450,000? New construction will not lower the selling price of older homes….

musical chairsFortunately, Bryan Caplan has an excellent explanation, the game of reverse musical chairs.

New housing is usually nice housing, because over time technology improves and capital depreciates.  Since richer people are more willing to pay the upcharge for nicer housing, the future residents of new construction are usually well-to-do.

So what do casual observers miss?  They miss the big picture: People who move into new construction are moving away from older construction.  When they move, those older units become available for others.  While those others probably won’t be drastically poorer than those they replace, they tend to be slightly poorer.  Think: “one rung down.”  When these slightly poorer people move, their prior dwellings will tend to be taken over by those who are a further rung down.  And so on, in a great chain reaction.  Allowing new construction really does help the whole income distribution.

Since this is hard to visualize, picture a game of musical chairs.  With one key difference.  A normal game of musical chairs starts out with one chair per person, then subtracts a chair every turn.  The result: Faster, aggressive kids push out everyone else, until the fastest, most aggressive kid wins.  In my variant game, we start out with fewer chairs than people, then add a chair every turn.  The result: Slower and more pacific kids start getting places to sit, until there are enough chairs for everyone.

Both games feature a competitive scramble.  In conventional musical chairs, however, the competition gets more and more cutthroat and in the end almost everyone loses.  In my reverse musical chairs, in contrast, competition gets milder and milder and in the end everyone wins.

Testing Todd

Emmanuel Todd, that is.  Here is a recent paper from Jerg Gutmann and Stefan Voigt:

Many years ago, Emmanuel Todd came up with a classification of family types and argued that the historically prevalent family types in a society have important consequences for its economic, political, and social development. Here, we evaluate Todd’s most important predictions empirically. Relying on a parsimonious model with exogenous covariates, we find mixed results. On the one hand, authoritarian family types are, in stark contrast to Todd’s predictions, associated with increased levels of the rule of law and innovation. On the other hand, and in line with Todd’s expectations, communitarian family types are linked to racism, low levels of the rule of law, and late industrialization. Countries in which endogamy is frequently practiced also display an expectedly high level of state fragility and weak civil society organizations.

Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The nature of fame

In the early 1930s, so the story goes, Albert Einstein was in Hollywood, entertaining a visit by a friend, the comedian Charlie Chaplin.  They were enjoying some tarts baked by Elsa Einstein and idly chatting when Einstein’s son turned to Chaplin.  “You are popular,” he said, “because you are understood by the masses.  On the other hand, the professor’s popularity with the masses is because he is not understood.”

That is from Charles Seife’s new book Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity.

Socioeconomic roots of academic faculty

Using a survey of 7218 professors in PhD-granting departments in the United States across eight disciplines in STEM, social sciences, and the humanities, we find that the estimated median childhood household income among faculty is 23.7% higher than the general public, and faculty are 25 times more likely to have a parent with a PhD. Moreover, the proportion of faculty with PhD parents nearly doubles at more prestigious universities and is stable across the past 50 years.

Here is the full paper, via all over Twitter.

Thursday assorted links

1. If he had titled thisWe have come to bury Ayn Rand,” he might have had a point.

2. Poor Chinese marketing.

3. “Alabama school district, once home to infamous Tuskegee study, nears full COVID vaccination level.

4. UK competition authority concerned about “supply of GIFs.”  (You can’t make this stuff up, and yes Ayn Rand remains relevant.)

5. New Zealand nonetheless is facing a hospital crisis (see parenthetical remark on #4).

6. Response to Newell, Prest, and Sexton on the temperature-gdp paper.  I think the critique scores some good points against the authors, but it does not dissuade me from their fundamental conclusion that the current literature does not have a coherent answer to the key question about costs.

7. Forthcoming Congressional approaches to the next pandemic.

Cereal brand to reimburse consumers who paid inflated prices during COVID shortage

For those with pandemic pangs for the sweet crunch of Grape Nuts, take heart. The Great Grape-Nuts Shortage of 2021 is officially over.

After months of being out of stock, the cereal is shipping at full capacity to stores nationwide, parent company Post Consumer Brands told USA TODAY exclusively.

And if you paid wildly inflated prices on the black market to get your hands on a box, you may be eligible for reimbursement.

“It became abundantly clear during the shortage that Grape-Nuts fans are ‘Nuts for Grape-Nuts,’” Kristin DeRock, Grape-Nuts brand manager at Post Consumer Brands, said in a statement. “So much so that some of our loyal super fans were willing to pay extreme prices just to ensure they wouldn’t be without their favorite crunchy cereal.”

Here is the full story, via John B. Chilton.  One way to read this is Grape Nuts subsidizing habit formation.  Alternatively, you might read it as Grape Nuts subsidizing very loyal customers, and hoping to get publicity in the process.  Or is Grape Nuts subsidizing future middlemen in any future black market transactions by assuring them of ongoing demand?  How are you supposed to prove you bought a black market box?  And was it illegal to resell and buy Grape Nuts in the first place?  I don’t entirely understand all of the microeconomic mechanisms at work here.

Trypanophobia or How to Alleviate Vaccine Hesitancy

A significant share of vaccine hesitancy is driven by fear of needles, trypanophobia. Adults don’t like to admit a fear of needles and less so that they would avoid a vaccine for fear of a needle. But trypanophobia is common and does reduce flu immunizations:

Avoidance of influenza vaccination because of needle fear occurred in 16% of adult patients, 27% of hospital employees, 18% of workers at long‐term care facilities, and 8% of healthcare workers at hospitals. Needle fear was common when undergoing venipuncture, blood donation, and in those with chronic conditions requiring injection.

Aside from fear of the needle, I think there is also a perception that needles are “serious medicine” and thus anything that comes in needle form must be serious or dangerous. In fact, vaccines are safer than many commonly used drugs that are taken orally.

Needle hesitancy is bad for the hesitant who don’t get protection from COVID and bad for everyone else who are further subject to transmission from unvaccinated carriers.

The best way to alleviate needle hesitancy is to get rid of the needle. Operation Warp Speed made smart investments in a fairly widely range of vaccines (we advised going wider) including a pill vaccine from VaxArt. The VaxArt vaccine has completed a Phase I trial with modest results and is moving into Phase II. Nasal vaccines are in development. The RadVac open science vaccine, for example, is a nasal vaccine available to anyone with a scientific bent willing to give an unapproved vaccine a try. CodaGenix has a nasal vaccine in Phase I trials as does Altimmune.

Aside from ease of delivery, a COVID nasal or oral vaccine may also be better than intramuscular injection because it stimulates the immune system at the first point of viral attack, the mucosal tissues in the nose, mouth, lungs and digestive tract. In addition, the mucosal immune system has some unique elements so you get a potentially stronger immune response more capable of neutralizing the virus quickly.

Operation Warp Speed investments generated trillions in value for billions in cost, a few additional smart investments in accelerating nasal and oral vaccines could pay off highly in mopping up vaccine hesitancy and moving us more quickly to herd immunity. We could even do a human challenge trial with nasal vaccine v. intramusucalar injection. Oral and nasal vaccines will also be great for kids and for booster shots.

Even at this late stage we are spending trillions on stimulus/relief and not enough on investment, especially on highly successful investment in vaccines.

Addendum: I know it probably won’t help but fyi, it’s a painless shot. Nothing to fear! Get a superpower and a donut afterwards. It will be memorable.

Decades of evidence on the cyclicality of real wages

I keep on hearing that “running the economy hot” is going to be very good for workers.  So shall we look at the decades of evidence?

On average, the prevailing view has been that real wages are roughly acyclical across the business cycle, though with variation across and across researchers.

Here is one take from the AER:

The cyclical behavior of real wages has evolved from mildly countercyclical during the interwar period to modestly procyclical in the postwar era.

In recent times a mild acyclicality for real wages has become a more popular view, but in the 1980s it was more likely that the RBC theorists would try to show cyclicality and the aggregate demand theorists would pooh-pooh such demonstrations and insist on much weaker and theoretically ambiguous correlations.  Here is an older view, incomplete in my opinion but far from absurd:

It is shown that real wages are procyclical in response to technology and oil price shocks but are countercyclical in response to aggregate demand shocks.The evidence is consistent with models where nominal wages are stickier than nominal prices

Here is a biased but interesting post Keynesian survey of the questions, with the author more or less implying we don’t know what we are talking about.  Here is one of the stronger results on pro-cyclical real wages, for the EU, but it requires you to believe there is no nominal downward wage stickiness during the Great Recession (ready to bite that bullet?).

Here is a 1995 JEL survey by very good economists (Katherine Abraham and John Haltiwanger).  Part of the very first sentence is:

…the debate over the cyclicality of real wages has a very long history and is filled with conflicting hypotheses and inconclusive evidence.

Here is another 1995 survey.  Notice that what is probably the best and best-known attempt to explain why the cyclicality of real wages might be changing over time is built on a general equilibrium business cycle model, which has become a horror of horrors on Twitter and also in blog space.

Overall, if you study the evidence on the cyclicality of real wages you will find it is a confusing and difficult problem, and furthermore that past results may not hold in the future or for that matter in the present.  Yet one rarely sees this literature, or its implications, discussed on Twitter, or for that matter on econ blogs.  Here is a simple rule: if you see a discussion of current labor markets and wages, ask if the author is coming to terms with these results or not.

And I don’t know of a single research result considering macro real wages, or other labor market factors, coming out of a pandemic with suddenly available highly effective vaccines.

#thegreatforgetting

It is once again time to take scientific agnosticism seriously.  Most of what you all are saying I just don’t think is founded upon very much, maybe in some cases there is n = 1 support but typically not more.

And dare I suggest that if we do not very well understand the course of wage/price over the business cycle, there is a lot more about cyclical labor markets we also don’t understand?

Wednesday assorted links

1. Thomas Meaney on Singapore.  Good, interesting long read from LRB.

2. What is the ideological news slant of your Twitter account? (mine was 57% left-wing, 34% right-wing, not too many centrists, at least by their measures, maybe I prefer “the kooks”).  I don’t wish to embarrass anyone in particular, but some of the ideological bubbles you can find with this are…just remarkable.

3. Why it is important to translocate rhinos upside down.

4. Ten economists address overheating, my view is closest to that of Jason Furman (NYT).

5. Are the economics of tennis broken? (Bloomberg)

6. Update on the Swedish pandemic experience.

7. Ross Douthat on decadence and the intellectuals.

My Conversation with Sarah Parcak, space archaeologist and Egypt lover

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the summary:

She joined Tyler to discuss what caused the Bronze Age Collapse, how well we understand the level of ancient technologies, what archaeologists may learn from the discovery of more than a hundred coffins at the site of Saqqara, how far the Vikings really traveled, why conservation should be as much of a priority as excavation, the economics of looting networks, the inherently political nature of archaeology, Indiana Jones versus The Dig, her favorite contemporary bluegrass artists, the best archeological sites to visit around the world, the merits of tools like Google Earth and Lidar, the long list of skills needed to be a modern archeologist, which countries produce the best amateur space archeologists, and more.

Lots of talk about data issues and rights as well.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Here’s something that struck me studying your work. Give me your reaction. It seems to me your job is almost becoming impossible. You have to know stats. You have to know trigonometry. You have to know geometry. In your case, you need to know Egyptian Arabic, possibly some dialect, possibly some classical Arabic, maybe some other languages.

You have to know archaeology, right? You have to know history. You must have to know all kinds of physical techniques for unearthing materials without damaging them too much. You need to know about data storage, and I could go on, and on, and on.

Hasn’t your job evolved to the point where you’re almost . . . You need to know about technologies, right? For finding data from space — we talked about this before. That’s also not easy. Isn’t your job evolving to the point where, literally, no human can do it, and you’re the last in the line?

PARCAK: I am, I guess, jack of all trades, master of a few. But that’s not true either because I have to know the remote sensing programs. I have to know geographic information systems. I have to be up to date on international cultural heritage laws.

I think I’m not special by a long shot. Every archaeologist is a specialist. This archaeologist is a specialist in the pottery of this period of time, or does DNA, or excavates human remains — they’re bioarchaeologists — or they do computation. We all are specialists in a particular thing, but that’s really broad. My unsexy, more academic term is landscape archaeologist, so I’m interested in ancient human-environment interaction, which encompasses a lot of different fields and subfields. I’ve taken many courses in geology.

All of us who study Egyptology — we do a lot of training in art history because, of course, the iconography and the art and the objects that we’re finding. It takes a lot, but I would say most of the knowledge I’ve gotten is experiential. It’s from being in the field, I’ve visited hundreds of museums. I’ve spent countless hours in museum collections learning, touching objects.

Yeah, it’s a lot, but it’s also the field of archaeology. That’s why so many people really love it — because you get to touch on so many different areas. I would never, for example, consider myself a specialist in bioarchaeology. I know a tibia. When I find pitting on a skull, I know what that could potentially mean.

But also, I’m in a position now where I’m a dig director, so that means I’m in charge of a large group of humans, most of whom are far smarter, more capable than I am in whatever they’re doing. They’re specialists in pottery and bone, in rocks — project geologist — and conservation in art. We have project artists. We have specialists in excavation, and of course, there’s my very talented Egyptian team. They’re excavating. I’m probably a lot more of a manager now than I ever expected to be —

COWEN: And fundraiser perhaps, right?

One of my favorite CWTs in some time.  And here is Sarah’s book Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past.