Friday assorted links

*Adaptation Under Fire: How Militaries Change in Wartime*

That is the new book by Lt. General David Barno and Nora Bensahel, here is one excerpt;

This emphasis on decentralized, independent battlefield actions, long a part of German military thinking, once again became a central tenet of German army doctrine in the modest force of the post-Versailles period.  Mission orders were regularly emphasized and practiced during peacetime training exercises.  moreover, the German army relentlessly critiqued the performance of its leaders and units in exercises and war games.  Commanders and staff officers at all levels were expected to do so candidly and objectively, without regard to personal embarrassment or potential career damage.  This candor extended to critiquing the performance of senior officers and higher headquarters as well.  These principles made German doctrine inherently adaptable in the face of battle.

And then a few pages later:

In stark contrast to the Germans, in the French army there was “no large-scale examination of the lessons of the last war by a significant portion of the officers corps.”  Partly as a result, the lessons that the French army drew from world War I led to a warfighting doctrine that was nearly the polar opposite of that developed by the Germans.  The French army assumed that the next war in Europe would largely resemble the last.  The staggering number of French casualties during World War I led French leaders to conclude that an offensive doctrine would prove both indecisive and prohibitively costly.  They reasoned that a defensive doctrine would best preserve their fighting power and prevent the enemy from winning another major war through an offensive strike.  As a result, nearly all French interwar thinking focused on leveraging defensive operations to prevail in any future war.

Overall, it is striking to me just how much substance there is in this book per page — a rarity to be treasured!  You can order it here.

The Agorics era at Mercatus and GMU

This started in the late 1980s, and was led by GMU economist Don Lavoie, who earlier had been a computer programmer.  Here is one bit from Don’s extensive essay, co-authored with Howard Baetjer and William Tulloh:

The market for scholarly ideas is now badly compartmentalized, due to the nature of our institutions for dispersing information. One important aspect of the limitations on information dispersal is the one-way nature of references in scholarly literature. Suppose Professor Mistaken writes a persuasive but deeply flawed article. Suppose few see the flaws, while so many are persuaded that a large supportive literature results. Anyone encountering a part of this literature will see references to Mistaken’s original article. References thus go upstream towards original articles. But it may be that Mistaken’s article also provokes a devastating refutation by Professor Clearsighted. This refutation may be of great interest to those who read Mistaken’s original article, but with our present technology of publishing ideas on paper, there is no way for Mistaken’s readers to be alerted to the debunking provided by Clearsighted. The supportive literature following Mistaken will cite Mistaken but either ignore Professor Clearsighted or minimize her refutations.

In a hypertext system such as that being developed at Xanadu, original work may be linked downstream to subsequent articles and comments. In our example, for instance, Professor Clearsighted can link her comments directly to Mistaken’s original article, so that readers of Mistaken’s article may learn of the existence of the refutation, and be able, at the touch of a button, to see it or an abstract of it. The refutation by Clearsighted may similarly and easily be linked to Mistaken’s rejoinder, and indeed to the whole literature consequent on his original article. Scholars investigating this area of thought in a hypertext system would in the first place know that a controversy exists, and in the second place be able to see both (or more) sides of it with ease. The improved cross-referencing of, and access to, all sides of an issue should foster an improved evolution of knowledge.

A potential problem with this system of multidirectional linking is that the user may get buried underneath worthless “refutations” by crackpots. The Xanadu system will include provisions for filtering systems whereby users may choose their own criteria for the kinds of cross-references to be brought to their attention. These devices would seem to overcome the possible problem of having charlatans clutter the system with nonsense. In the first place, one would have to pay a fee for each item published on the system. In the second place, most users would choose to filter out comments that others had adjudged valueless and comments by individuals with poor reputations. In other words, though anyone could publish at will on a hypertext system, if one develops a bad reputation, very few will ever see his work.

And this:

Miller and Drexler envision the evolution of what they call agoric open systems–extensive networks of computer resources interacting according to market signals. Within vast computational networks, the complexity of resource allocation problems would grow without limit. Not only would a price system be indispensible to the efficient allocation of resources within such networks, but it would also facilitate the discovery of new knowledge and the development of new resources. Such open systems, free of the encumbrances of central planners, would most likely evolve swiftly and in unexpected ways. Given secure property rights and price information to indicate profit opportunities, entrepreneurs could be expected to develop and market new software and information services quite rapidly.

Secure property rights are essential. Owners of computational resources, such as agents containing algorithms, need to be able to sell the services of their agents without having the algorithm itself be copyable. The challenge here is to develop secure operating systems. Suppose, for example, that a researcher at George Mason University wanted to purchase the use of a proprietary data set from Alpha Data Corporation and massage that data with proprietary algorithms marketed by Beta Statistical Services, on a superfast computer owned by Gamma Processing Services. The operating system needs to assure that Alpha cannot steal Beta’s algorithms, that Beta cannot steal Alpha’s data set, and that neither Gamma or the George Mason researcher can steal either. These firms would thus under-produce their services if they feared that their products could be easily copied by any who used them.

In their articles, Miller and Drexler propose a number of ways in which this problem might be overcome. In independent work, part of the problem apparently has already been overcome. Norm Hardy, senior scientist of Key Logic Corporation, whom we met at Xanadu, has developed an operating system caned KeyKOS which accomplishes what many suspected to be impossible: it assures by some technical means (itself an important patented invention) the integrity of computational resources in an open, interconnected system. To return to the above example, the system in effect would create a virtual black box in Gamma’s computer, in which Alpha’s data and Beta’s algorithms are combined. The box is inaccessible to anyone, and it self-destructs once the desired results have been forwarded to the George Mason researcher.

There is really quite a bit more at the link, noting that at the time Don had assembled a group of about ten people working on these ideas.  As for the hyperlinks, I recall thinking at the time something like: “People don’t value reading so much, so making reading better with hyperlinks won’t have a huge marginal value!”

The decline in pandemic sports viewership

It is not mainly about NBA politics:

  • US Open (golf) final round: down 56%
  • US Open (tennis) was down 45% and the French open is down 57% so far
  • Kentucky Derby: down 43%
  • Indy 500: down 32%
  • Through four weeks, NFL viewership is down approximately 10%
  • NHL Playoffs were down 39% (Pre Stanley Cup playoffs was down 28% while the Stanley Cup was down 61%).
  • NBA finals are down 45% (so far). Conference finals were down 35%, while the first round was 27% down. To match the viewership, activity on the NBA reddit fan community is also down 50% from the NBA finals last year.

That is from Daniel Frank, here are a few of his hypotheses:

  • Sports are very social. People love talking about sports with their peers and without interacting with as many people, people have less opportunities to talk about sports with others. This has the effect of making fans feel less engaged and more casual fans less likely to start watching, creating a cascading effect on engagement.
  • Watching sports is a great way for people to tune out, relax and distract themselves from normal life. With so many people working from home, having a less defined break from work to non-work, and potentially working less hard, watching sports feels like less of an escape than it used to.
  • People have started consuming politics like they do sports and their interest in sports has been cannibalized by political fanaticism.
  • Lots of people are experiencing mental health challenges and struggling and don’t have the same interest in things they used to enjoy like sports.

My intuitions are quite close to Daniel’s — what do you all think?

Thursday assorted links

Politically Incorrect Paper of the Day: The Persistence of Pay Inequality

Gender wage gaps appear even in markets where workplace discrimination is impossible or unlikely. Uber driver’s for example are assigned trips using a gender-blind algorithm and earn according to a known formula based on time and distance of trip. Yet, a small but persistent gender gap of about 7% exists which appears to be due mostly to the fact that male drivers drive a little bit faster, choose to work in more congested areas, and have a bit more experience. Litman et al. (2020) show that the same kind of difference also show up in earnings on Mechanical Turk

In this study we examined the gender pay gap on an anonymous online platform across an 18-month period, during which close to five million tasks were completed by over 20,000 unique workers. Due to factors that are unique to the Mechanical Turk online marketplace–such as anonymity, self-selection into tasks, relative homogeneity of the tasks performed, and flexible work scheduling–we did not expect earnings to differ by gender on this platform. However, contrary to our expectations, a robust and persistent gender pay gap was observed.

The average estimated actual pay on MTurk over the course of the examined time period was $5.70 per hour, with the gender pay differential being 10.5%.

In this case, however, neither experience nor task choice nor demographics appears to explain the difference. One interesting finding is that women are more likely to choose tasks with a lower advertised pay–perhaps men are just a bit lazier. Who knows? People are different.

N.B. The authors go out of their way to plead that they are not in fact politically incorrect.

Claims about politics (speculative)

First, I don’t think “liberals” is exactly the right word here, but I’m not going to relitigate that one now. Second, as I’ve argued in my The Age of the Infovore (and in some forthcoming writings you haven’t seen yet), I don’t think “mental health condition” is appropriate in this context.  Furthermore, what are called “mental health conditions” often are sources of insight and can be positively correlated with talent.

That all said, I don’t think you can understand modern American discourse, most of all social media, without recognizing that “the intellectual Left” has higher neuroticism — as defined by Five-Factor personality theory — than say centrists.  The Right of course has its own correlations, but that is a topic for another time.

Emergent Ventures winners, new India cohort

A further Covid-19 India Prize goes to award winning journalist Barkha Dutt for her reporting on the Covid pandemic and related crises in India.

Because of the Covid lockdown (March-June 2020), Indian news reporting and broadcasting faced severe disruptions in March-April 2020. For the first 50 days, as television networks remained studio-bound, Dutt and her small team traveled across India to report from the ground, producing over 250 ground reports. All the videos and reports are available on the MoJo youtube channel.

One of the world’s most severe lockdowns unleashed a massive internal migration from the cities to the villages in India. Dutt’s team was one of the first to shed light on the erroneous state policies concerning economic migrants in India during the lockdown,, often while walking alongside migrants. Her sustained coverage eventually led other stations and newspapers to follow and report similar stories and invoked a policy response from the government.

Another Covid-19 India Prize goes to award winning data journalist Rukmini S, for The Moving Curve Podcast, covering the data issues in India. She is currently an independent journalist writing for MintThe PrintIndia Today (where she is tracking the pandemic daily) and India Spend (she is tracking Covid mortality) and writes occasionally for The GuardianSCMP and The Hindu.

She distills all the information, data, and her daily insights into a 5-7-minute audio update in the form of a free podcast, now at 92 episodes. The episodes range from getting to the heart of India’s death statisticsinterviewing a rural doctor about what it’s like waiting for Covid to hit, to attempting to cut through India’s public/ private healthcare binary, and they have had significant influence on many state governments. The Moving Curve podcast is produced by a small team of two – Rukmini S and sound engineer Anand Krishnamoorthi. The podcast is available on the major platforms as well as on medium.

Monoclonal antibodies are doing very well

In the study, 112 patients received 2.8 grams of each of the antibodies, and 156 received placebo. The difference in viral load was statistically significant at day 11, unlike some doses of Lilly’s single-antibody cocktail. There was also a statistically significant reduction in viral levels three days and seven days after infection.

The treatment also improved symptoms, according to a scored questionnaire, and resulted in fewer hospital and emergency room visits. Visits to the hospital or ER were made by 5.8% of patients in the placebo group, but just 0.9% of those who received the antibody combination. That difference, however, was just barely statistically significant.

Lilly said that it has already begun talking to regulators around the world about its single antibody treatment, and has filed with the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization…

Lilly said it anticipates it could have as many as 1 million doses of its one-antibody treatment, LY-CoV555, available in the fourth quarter of 2020, with 100,000 available this month. But for the combination therapy, just 50,000 doses will be available in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Both antibody regimens have been well-tolerated, with no serious side effects, the company said.

Here is the full story from StatNews.  Big news, but not a surprise to everyone.

Wednesday assorted links

1. The economics of vending machines.

2. Geneva introducing a minimum wage of $25 an hour.

3. Senegal proceeding with festival that usually attracts four to five million people (NYT).

4. Those new service sector quarantine work for the super-rich jobs.  And Covid-19 and acedia.

5. New calculations on what is needed for herd immunity.

6. A much quicker and easier serological test.

7. Lessons from the Israeli second wave.  Good stuff, but I would note a common tension found in many discussions.  When arguing against herd immunity and “segregate the old” approaches, it is common to note “you can’t stop the young from infecting the old,” though that point in the broader picture does not in fact work against herd immunity approaches.

My Conversation with Audrey Tang

For me one of the most fun episodes, here is the audio, video, and transcript.  And here is the longer than ever before summary, befitting the chat itself:

Audrey Tang began reading classical works like the Shūjīng and Tao Te Ching at the age of 5 and learned the programming language Perl at the age of 12. Now, the autodidact and self-described “conservative anarchist” is a software engineer and the first non-binary digital minister of Taiwan. Their work focuses on how social and digital technologies can foster empathy, democracy, and human progress.

Audrey joined Tyler to discuss how Taiwan approached regulating Chinese tech companies, the inherent extraterritoriality of data norms, how Finnegans Wake has influenced their approach to technology, the benefits of radical transparency in communication, why they appreciate the laziness of Perl, using “humor over rumor” to combat online disinformation, why Taiwan views democracy as a set of social technologies, how their politics have been influenced by Taiwan’s indigenous communities and their oral culture, what Chinese literature teaches about change, how they view Confucianism as a Daoist, how they would improve Taiwanese education, why they view mistakes in the American experiment as inevitable — but not insurmountable, the role of civic tech in Taiwan’s pandemic response, the most important remnants of Japanese influence remaining in Taiwan, why they love Magic: The Gathering, the transculturalism that makes Taiwan particularly open and accepting of LGBT lifestyles, growing up with parents who were journalists, how being transgender makes them more empathetic, the ways American values still underpin the internet, what he learned from previous Occupy movements, why translation, rotation, and scaling are important skills for becoming a better thinker, and more.

This bit could have come from GPT-3:

COWEN: How useful a way is it of conceptualizing your politics to think of it as a mix of some Taiwanese Aboriginal traditions mixed in with Daoism, experience in programming, and then your own theory of humor and fun? And if you put all of that together, the result is Audrey Tang’s politics. Correct or not?

TANG: Well as of now, of course. But of course, I’m also growing, like a distributed ledger.

And this:

COWEN: You’re working, of course, in Taiwanese government. What’s the biggest thing wrong with economists?

TANG: You mean the magazine?

COWEN: No, no, the people, economists as thinkers. What’s their biggest defect or flaw?

TANG: I don’t know. I haven’t met an economist that I didn’t like, so I don’t think there’s any particular personality flaws there.


COWEN: Now, my country, the United States, has made many, many mistakes at an almost metaphysical level. What is it in the United States that those mistakes have come from? What’s our deeper failing behind all those mistakes?

TANG: I don’t know. Isn’t America this grand experiment to keep making mistakes and correcting them in the open and share it with the world? That’s the American experiment.

COWEN: Have we started correcting them yet?

TANG: I’m sure that you have.

Definitely recommended.

New Canadian data on mask effectiveness

We estimate the impact of mask mandates and other non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) on COVID-19 case growth in Canada, including regulations on businesses and gatherings, school closures, travel and self-isolation, and long-term care homes. We partially account for behavioral responses using Google mobility data. Our identification approach exploits variation in the timing of indoor face mask mandates staggered over two months in the 34 public health regions in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. We find that, in the first few weeks after implementation, mask mandates are associated with a reduction of 25 percent in the weekly number of new COVID-19 cases. Additional analysis with province-level data provides corroborating evidence. Counterfactual policy simulations suggest that mandating indoor masks nationwide in early July could have reduced the weekly number of new cases in Canada by 25 to 40 percent in mid-August, which translates into 700 to 1,100 fewer cases per week.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Alexander Karaivano, Shih En Lu, Hitoshi Shigeoka, Gong Chen, and Stephanie Pamplona.

Why are North and South India so different on gender?

From Alice Evans:

Region is a strong predictor of female survival, literacy, autonomy, employment, and independent mobility. A woman with the exact same household wealth/ caste/ religion will likely have more autonomy if she lives in the South.

It does not seem to be a function of wealth, nor was colonialism a major factor.  And cousin marriage, which is more prevalent in the south?  Alice notes:

Southern women may have gained autonomy despite cousin marriage, not because of it.

Islam, however, is one factor:

In sum, gender segregation became more widespread under Islamic rule. Men continue [to] dominate public life, while women are more rooted in their families, seldom gathering to resist structural inequalities.

But perhaps most significantly:

Female labour force participation is higher in states with traditions of labour-intensive cultivation…

Wheat has been grown for centuries on the fertile, alluvial Indo-Gangetic plain. Cultivation is not terribly labour-intensive, though cereals must still be processed, shelled and ground. This lowers demand for female labour in the field, and heightens its importance at home.

Rice-cultivation is much more labour intensive. It requires the construction of tanks and irrigation channels, planting, transplanting, and harvesting. Women are needed in the fields. Rice is the staple crop in the South.

And this:

Pastoralism may have also influenced India’s caste-system. Brahmins dominate business, public service, politics, the judiciary, and universities. Upper caste purity and prestige has been preserved through female seclusion, prohibiting polluting sexual access. These patriarchal norms may be rooted in ancient livelihoods. Brahmins share genetic data with ancient Iranians and steppe pastoralists. Brahmins also comprise a larger share of the population in North India and only 3% in Tamil Nadu.

Over the centuries, male superiority may have become entrenched.


Northern parents increasingly support their daughters’ education, but this is primarily to improve their marriage prospects, not work outside the home.

There is much, much more at the link, including some excellent maps, visuals, and photos.

How rational individual decisions can make the pandemic worse, and why a good response is hard to maintain

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

The more time passes, the more I wonder if I have, in fact, contracted an asymptomatic version of Covid. The chance of that was quite small in February, but as each month passes it becomes modestly more likely. That realization could easily nudge many people into taking just a bit more risk.

Another train of thought considers the possibility of having a pre-existing protective immune response, perhaps from T-Cells. Experts are not sure of the likelihood or magnitude of this effect, but some have suggested that as many as one-third of Americans may have some built-in protection.

Again, as the months pass, it’s rational for me to upgrade the probability that I have such a protective immune response. With the passage of time, I will feel more protected than I used to.

The basic reasoning is straightforward: Since I haven’t caught a bad form of it by now, I must be relatively safe. Many Americans may or may not grasp the finer points of the immunology and the Bayesian statistical reasoning, but that is a very common-sense kind of response.

And so such people will take more risk — to the detriment of the broader community.

There is much more at the link, including a discussion of intertemporal substitution.  These are some reasons why initially good (or bad) Covid responses tend to get worse, relevant for Europe as well.