Let’s eliminate the Covid test entry requirement for the U.S.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, you ought to be able to guess most of my arguments.  Here is the very end:

I am not arguing for passivity in the face of danger. It is distressing that US policymakers do not seem interested in spending big for pandemic preparedness. America needs a new Operation Warp Speed for pan-coronavirus vaccines and nasal spray vaccines. It should be gathering more data on Covid and improving its system of clinical trials for anti-Covid remedies, among other measures.

I am simply saying that removing the Covid test for entry to the US would bring an end to one of the more egregious instances of “hygiene theater.” And it would send a signal that America is welcoming the world once again.

Recommended.  And note that the most responsible European countries do not impose such tests.

Thursday assorted links

1. Is the YIMBYest city in America in Maine?

2. Dump on Thomas Friedman all you want, he remains grossly underrated these days (NYT).

3. Patrick Collison on how to read and deal with books.

4. Monkeypox starting on Metaculus.

5. With in-house judges, the SEC wins about 90% of the time (WSJ).  It’s about 70% of the time in Federal Court.  “Ms. McEwen said the SEC in-house judges were expected to work on the assumption that “the burden was on the people who were accused to show that they didn’t do what the agency said they did.””

6. The ancient civilization buried under eastern Turkey.

7. PLA amphibious landing bottleneck problems.

8. AGM interviews Daniel Gross and me on Talent and related matters, the semiotics of Zoom calls, plus a round of overrated vs. underrated, starting with Miami.


The crypto market is up! The crypto market is down! The roller coaster can be fearfully thrilling but as thoughtful academics and people interested in ideas let’s look away from the daily ups and downs and focus on the big picture. What is crypto? What is cryptoeconomics?

Tyler and I have written a new chapter for our textbook, Modern Principles. In Cryptoeconomics we explain just enough cryptography–namely cryptographic hash functions and public-private keys–to understand what new forms of communication and organization have been made possible by these breakthroughs. We then use these fundamentals to explain NFTs, blockchains, Bitcoin, smart contracts and decentralized finance–all in a crisp, compact format accessible to everyone.

Not everyone wants to teach crypteconomics, of course, or has the time (scarcity!) so this chapter will be available as an option to anyone using our book and the Achieve online course management system (in fact, it’s available now). Tyler and I have found, however, that our students, colleagues, even people at dinner parties ask us about crypto. Probably your students and friends will ask you as well. Plus our textbook is called Modern Principles so we thought we were obligated to teach these new ideas!

Cryptoeconomics is a good guide to some fundamentally new ways of trading, communicating, and cooperating.

Addendum: If you want to learn more about DeFi, my talk goes into greater depth.

My Conversation with the excellent Daniel Gross

This is Daniel Gross my co-author on Talent and the venture capitalist, to be clear.  And here is the audio and transcript.  Of course we focus on talent and also:

They also explore the question of why so many high achievers love Diet Coke, why you should ask candidates if they have any good conspiracy theories, how to spot effective dark horses early, the hiring strategy that set SpaceX apart, what to look for in a talent identifier, what you can learn from discussing drama, the underrated genius of game designers, why Tyler has begun to value parents more and IQ less, conscientiousness as a mixed blessing, the importance of value hierarchies, how to become more charismatic, the allure of endurance sports for highly successful people, what they disagree on most, and more.


GROSS: Well, take a step back. Why are we even here? And why would I even have a shred of an interesting opinion on talent? To the extent that I do, I think it’s because in the venture business — much more so than, I think, almost any other business — you live in constant paranoia of missing out on great talent. You might say, “Well, that’s true in every company.” And it’s true at the Met when you’re looking for someone to play in the orchestra, too. But in the venture business, unlike others, great talent always looks very weird to whatever convention is.

Before Mark Zuckerberg came along, that phenotype of the hoodie sweatshirt and slightly aspie kid was not the common phenotype. Now, of course, there was a phase — 2013, 2014, 2015 — where everyone started looking for that. But then it hit you again with a very weird-looking person, where Vitalik [Buterin] is of a completely different ilk than Zuck. One very much is Julius Caesar, and I think another one — I don’t exactly know how you’d bucket Vitalik — maybe like an early pope.

COWEN: Like a Russian holy saint.

GROSS: Exactly. By the way, not just the person is weirder than whatever the conventional norm is, but the idea is weird, too.

Interesting throughout!

Russia fact of the day

A study of Russian publications in the 1990s found that some 39 percent of all nonfiction published in Russia in that decade had something to do with the occult.

That is from the really quite interesting The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Fedorov and His Followers, by George M. Young.  And for more on Russian Cosmism, you might try reading this collection.  It is interesting to get such a different perspective on the issues raised by Bostrom, Hanson, Balaji, Musk, and the longevity writers, among others.  I don’t believe any of those thinkers would be happy with these Russian discussions, but…I suppose that’s the point!

Wednesday assorted links

1. New non-profit for geothermal energy.

2. New Allison Schrager podcast, first episode with Joel Mokyr.

3. Who owns the publicity rights to Einstein?

4. Yann LeCun on AI risks.  And why (some) octopus mothers self-mutilate and kill themselves.

5. “The subscribers presumably think they’re talking directly to the woman in the videos, and it is the job of the chatter to convincingly manifest that illusion.” (NYT, those new service sector jobs)

6. Virginia Postrel has a new Substack.

7. Mihm on the Henry Ford parallel (Bloomberg).

8. Results of the UFO hearings.

Remote work and home prices

What explains record U.S. house price growth since late 2019? We show that the shift to remote work explains over one half of the 23.8 percent national house price increase over this period. Using variation in remote work exposure across U.S. metropolitan areas we estimate that an additional percentage point of remote work causes a 0.93 percent increase in house prices after controlling for negative spillovers from migration. This cross-sectional estimate combined with the aggregate shift to remote work implies that remote work raised aggregate U.S. house prices by 15.1 percent.

Here is more from John A. Mondragon and Johannes Wieland.

The new Covid equilibrium

Many people have stopped keeping track of where Covid is headed, if only because it is such a stressful and unpleasant topic.  To be clear, under current circumstances I favor complete “Covid laissez-faire,” though with subsidies for new and better vaccines.  Overall, things are not so peachy keen (NYT):

The central problem is that the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first Omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.

Those people may go on to have third or fourth infections, even within this year, researchers said in interviews. And some small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long Covid.

“It seems likely to me that that’s going to sort of be a long-term pattern,” said Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa…

“If we manage it the way that we manage it now, then most people will get infected with it at least a couple of times a year,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. “I would be very surprised if that’s not how it’s going to play out.”

I know many of you like to say “No worse than the common cold!”  Well, the thing is…the common cold imposes considerable costs on the world.  Imagine a new common cold, which you catch a few times a year, with some sliver of the population getting some form of Long Covid.  One 2003 estimate suggested that the common cold costs us $40 billion a year, and in a typical year I don’t get a cold even once.  That 2003 estimate also does not include the sheer discomfort of having a cold.

With a pinch of Long Covid in the distribution surely the current virus is a wee bit worse than that?  While many cases of Long Covid are malingerers and hypochondriacs, at this point it is clear that not all of them are.  Toss in some number of immunocompromised individuals (how many?).

Even under mild conceptions of current Covid, it is entirely plausible to believe that the costs of Covid will run into the trillions over the next ten years.

Death rates are not up, but more of the unvaccinated will die off with time and the rest of us will face this steady risk and planning annoyance for — how long?  Plus we’ll get lots of “colds,” some of them considerably worse than a cold.  And with what risk that it might mutate again and get worse? The next generation of vaccines probably will not be directly subsidized.  Which will mean much lower rates of uptake.  The point of maximum Covid immunity may well be behind us.  And you won’t be able to blame it all on lockdowns.

Please keep in mind that when it comes to your reactions I will read many of them as not much better than “I just don’t want to think about this, I am still in denial.”

Tuesday assorted links

1. How long-term space missions change the brain.

2. Innovation in NYC subway crimes (New Yorker).

3. “Right to repair” doesn’t have to work out well.

4. “I find that 501(c)(4)s do not have significant effects on [Congressional] candidate vote share when accounting for the spending of candidates, parties, PACs, and Super PACs.

5. The UFO hearings are on, and “For the majority of the incidents we had in last years report, the majority had multi-sensor data…”

The State of Public Transit in the Nation’s Capital

The mismanagement of the metro system in the nation’s capitol is astounding.

WashPost: Metro’s train delays are projected to worsen as the agency abruptly yanks from service more than 70 operators who have been working without undergoing a mandatory retraining process for at least a year, officials announced Sunday.

The agency pledged corrective action in a release acknowledging that nearly half of the agency’s 500 train operators lack required recertification testing and training, while warning that staffing issues would lengthen wait times on the Green and Yellow lines from 15 to 20 minutes until the end of the month.

…Metro’s latest predicament coincides with a train shortage that has forced the agency to operate at reduced service with longer-than-normal wait times since mid-October. The safety commission ordered about 60 percent of its fleet out of service after a federal investigation into a Blue Line derailment found a defect affecting the wheels of the 7000 series, Metro’s latest and most advanced model of trains and rail cars.

Without the series’ 748 cars, Metro has been forced to rely on older models, some 40 years old and nearing retirement. The smaller, older cars, coupled with lower frequencies, have driven many passengers away because of crowding and social distancing concerns as coronavirus case numbers continue to fluctuate. Those concerns will only grow with longer wait times and fewer trains in service.

You may recall that in 2015 there was a deadly fire on the Metro which I wrote about in 2016.  (post repeated below).

WTOP: A Metro worker blamed for falsifying records about the tunnel fans that failed during last year’s deadly smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza has been granted his job back by an arbitration panel — and Metro’s largest union has just filed a lawsuit against Metro because the worker hasn’t been reinstated yet.

The union’s defense is that everyone was doing it so no one is to blame. The Union is probably right that the WMTA suffers from a culture of poor safety and responsibility but you can’t fix that culture without clear signals that the incentives have changed.

I had to take the Metro to DC earlier this week and due to track closings for safety improvements it was miserable, at least 45 minutes of delays for the roundtrip. Some 700,000 people ride the metro every day and if each is delayed by just 15 minutes total (7.5 minutes each way) then at $15 an hour that’s 2.6 million dollars worth of delay every day.

Before traveling on the DC Metro I recommend checking the twitter account @IsMetroOnFire.

Addendum: At least this time heads are rolling.

What is the best interview question of all time?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, also picked by the WaPo.  Excerpts:

What are the open tabs in your browser right now?

…First, the question measures what a person does with his or her spare time as well as work time. If you leave a browser tab open, it probably has some importance to you and you expect to return to the page. It is one metric of what you are interested in and what your work flow looks like.

It’s not just cheap talk. Some job candidates might say they are interested in C++ as a programming language, but if you actually have an open page to the Reddit and Subreddits on that topic, that is a demonstrated preference…

The question also tests for enthusiasm. If the person doesn’t seem excited about any of those open browser tabs, that may be a sign that they are blasé about other things as well. But if you get a heated pitch about why a particular website is the best guide to “Lord of the Rings” lore, you may have found a true nerd with a love of detail. That will be a plus for many jobs and avocations, though not all.

There is much more at the link, and to consider some other competing questions, do see my new book with Daniel Gross Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World, publication date is today!

And do note that this particular question comes from Daniel.

Ask and they shall deliver

The EU is preparing to loosen its environmental regulations as it seeks to replace Russian fossil fuels with renewable energy and imported hydrogen power.

Companies in the bloc would be allowed to build wind and solar projects without the need for an environmental impact assessment, according to draft proposals obtained by the Financial Times that call for the fast-track permitting of renewable projects in designated “go-to” areas.

The EU’s 27 member states, which control energy policy, would be obliged to earmark a sufficient number of these areas to meet the bloc’s renewable energy targets. A “strategic” impact assessment would be needed before an area was selected.

“Lengthy and complex administrative procedures are a key barrier for investments in renewables and their related infrastructure,” according to the draft. The plans could “result in the occasional killing or disturbance of birds and other protected species”, it added.

Here is more from the FT.  Via Albert Rio.