Do recessions benefit our health?

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

The human and economic costs of recessions are deep and well-documented. They can also have real health benefits, however, and seldom are they expressed so starkly as in this sentence in a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research: “The Great Recession provided one in twenty-five 55-year-olds with an extra year of life.”

…Overall, the paper notes, age-adjusted mortality in the US fell by 2.3% during the Great Recession. The finding, from professors at MIT, the University of Chicago and McMasters University, broadly tracks previous research showing that that mortality rates rise in good times and fall in hard times.


One answer is related to air pollution, which is lower in recessions, typically because of reduced economic activity. The benefits of lower pollution levels persist long after the recession — at least 10 years, according to the researchers’ estimates. Air pollution reduction accounts for more than one-third of the mortality benefits from the Great Recession.

And all of this:

The data do provide some additional clues. Except for cancer, for example, all major causes of mortality fell during the Great Recession. Decreases in cardiovascular-related deaths accounted for about half the mortality gains during that time. Furthermore, the mortality benefits were concentrated among Americans without college degrees. You might think that some of these improved health outcomes were due to people losing their stressful, low-paying jobs, but unemployment can be pretty stressful too.

For a 55-year-old, according to the paper’s estimates, about one-quarter of the economic costs of the Great Recession were countered by these mortality gains. So the Great Recession was still a very bad event — just less bad than we used to think. That is especially true for less educated Americans, who were hit harder by unemployment but also reaped the mortality gains.

At the top end of the age distribution, Americans aged 65 and older didn’t lose much from the Great Recession, in part because so many were already retired or working only part-time (in some cases, they were ensconced in jobs they were not going to lose). The researchers estimate that those over age 60 were also better off, on net, from the Great Recession.

Worth a ponder.  Here is the original paper by Amy FinkelsteinMatthew J. NotowidigdoFrank Schilbach Jonathan Zhang.

On-line images and lookism

Each year, people spend less time reading and more time viewing images1, which are proliferating online. Images from platforms such as Google and Wikipedia are downloaded by millions every day, and millions more are interacting through social media, such as Instagram and TikTok, that primarily consist of exchanging visual content. In parallel, news agencies and digital advertisers are increasingly capturing attention online through the use of images, which people process more quickly, implicitly and memorably than text. Here we show that the rise of images online significantly exacerbates gender bias, both in its statistical prevalence and its psychological impact. We examine the gender associations of 3,495 social categories (such as ‘nurse’ or ‘banker’) in more than one million images from Google, Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database (IMDb), and in billions of words from these platforms. We find that gender bias is consistently more prevalent in images than text for both female- and male-typed categories. We also show that the documented underrepresentation of women online is substantially worse in images than in text, public opinion and US census data. Finally, we conducted a nationally representative, preregistered experiment that shows that googling for images rather than textual descriptions of occupations amplifies gender bias in participants’ beliefs. Addressing the societal effect of this large-scale shift towards visual communication will be essential for developing a fair and inclusive future for the internet.

That is from a new Nature paper by Douglas Guilbeault, Solène Delecourt, Tasker Hull, Bhargav Srinivasa Desikan, Mark Chu, and Ethan Nadler.  In general, print is much more gender-egalitarian than is images.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Thursday assorted links

1. Steph Curry full court tunnel shot.

2. Thinking about fire risk (NYT).

3. FTC upset at Coke and Pepsi for offering too-low prices to Walmart.

4. A recent survey on sex differences in intelligence, and here.

5. Markets in everything pay 42k to streak at the Super Bowl.

6. The NYC Print Fair (NYT).

7. Carlson (not Carlsen!) prefers the Russian grocery store.  And he doesn’t like U.S. dollar stores either.

8. Zvi on Gemini.

The Erosion of Financial Privacy

Here is a bit on privacy from Eric Hughes’s Cypherpunk’s Manifesto of 1993.

Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.

…Since we desire privacy, we must ensure that each party to a transaction have knowledge only of that which is directly necessary for that transaction….In most cases personal identity is not salient. When I purchase a magazine at a store and hand cash to the clerk, there is no need to know who I am. When I ask my electronic mail provider to send and receive messages, my provider need not know to whom I am speaking or what I am saying or what others are saying to me; my provider only need know how to get the message there and how much I owe them in fees. When my identity is revealed by the underlying mechanism of the transaction, I have no privacy. I cannot here selectively reveal myself; I must always reveal myself.

Therefore, privacy in an open society requires anonymous transaction systems. Until now, cash has been the primary such system. An anonymous transaction system is not a secret transaction system. An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy.

I am saddened and dispirited by the evolving situation. Privacy is losing. Cash has nearly vanished without being replaced by cryptographically private alternatives. Instead, we rely on credit cards, debit cards, Venmo, PayPal, and other systems that log every transaction in vast databases.

Cash gave us substantial privacy by default because there was no technological alternative but there was never a collective vote for cash or, sadly, a consensus for privacy. You might hope that people would demand to keep the privacy rights they they once had but no. The populace seems indifferent to the erosion of privacy. Instead, paranoia about criminals hijacks the narrative. “What about the sex traffickers and terrorists?!” they shout. People seem more than willing to give up their privacy in exchange for a promise of security–false though the promise may be. Thus, we get ever more draconian regulations, effectively strangling our financial freedom. The $10,000 cash rule, for example, is insane, a reflection of Nixonian paranoia and not fit for a free society.

If you deposit or withdraw cash in excess of $10,000, your bank must fill out a currency transaction report (CTR) on a Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Form 104. The person making the deposit or withdraw must provide identification to the bank, and the bank must report details of the transaction as well as the name, address, social security number, and birthdate of the person making the deposit or withdrawal. Multiple deposits made in one day must be added together and will trigger the reporting requirement if, combined, they exceed $10,000.

Bankers are also required to file suspicious transaction reports (STRs). Withdrawing or depositing amounts just under $10,000 often does not succeed in avoiding reports to the government, because STR’s have no dollar limit. A person who withdraws $8,000 three times in a week may trigger the filing of an STR, and that person will not be notified that the STR was filed. Banks are also directed to perform account audits to look for suspicious activity. If the banking activity is not consistent with the “customer’s profile,” banks are directed to file a suspicious activity report (SAR).

Reporting requirements are not limited to banks. Business are also required to report cash transactions over $10,000. Any business (including a sole proprietorship) that receives more than $10,000 in cash in a single transaction or in related transactions must file an IRS Form 8300. If a business or individual fails to file a Form 8300 when required, the business or individual can be fined. The penalty for intentionally disregarding the filing requirement is the greater of $25,000 or the amount of cash received in the transaction not to exceed $100,000.

Currency transaction reports and suspicious transaction reports, do they not sound like something the Stasi would demand in communist East Germany? A free people would throw off this outrageous transgression. But could we get rid of such rules today? Could we even index the rules to inflation? $10,000 in 1970, when the Bank Secrecy Act was passed, is about $80,000 today.

Privacy suffers from a collective action dilemma: individually it isn’t worth much and so we don’t defend it, but lack of privacy is immensely costly when lost en masse. Moreover, our data, en masse, is worth a lot to corporations and governments. Thus privacy has few defenders and strong attackers.

We are on technology path that by default leads to less and less financial privacy. Another path exists, a path on which technology safeguards our financial privacy, but that path must be chosen and time is running short.

Emergent Ventures winners, 32nd cohort

Anson Yu, Waterloo, telemetry devices that can detect compromised hardware devices to protect our electrical grid and other critical infrastructure.

Anshul Kashyap, Berkeley, neurotech and vision, to visit the Netherlands for work and research reasons.

Kieran Lucid, Dublin, Irish videos about YIMBY and aesthetics, at the site Polysee.

Matin Amiri, Antwerp, Afghanistan, and San Francisco (?), building digital clones.

Snowden Todd, USA and Honduras and South Korea, to write a book on South Korean fertility issues.

Anthony Jancso, Accelerate SF, San Francisco, for general career development.

Denisa Lepadatu, Romania and Bremen, trip to Prospera to pursue longevity research.

Jamie Rumbelow and Henry Dashwood, London, British company to ease land rights/permissions.

Anastasia Vorozhtsova, Columbia University, to study Russian education and the Russian state.

Rohan Selva-Radov, Oxford, general career development, and to develop a dating/matching service for young people.

Olga Yakimenko, Vienna, movie-making.

Rucha Benare, Dublin, Pune area, art and biology.

Brooke Bowman, San Francisco, Vibecamp.

Ruxandra Tesloianu, Cambridge/Romania, travel grant and career development, bio space, science, and meta-science.

Ukraine cohort:

Serhii Shadrin, to study at University of Chicago, and to study information manipulation and media.

Le Sallay Academy, school for Ukrainian refugees, including in France and Serbia, Sergey Kuznetsov and Aleka Molokova.

Here are previous winners of Emergent Ventures.  Here is Nabeel’s software for querying about EV winners.

Wednesday assorted links

1. Profile of Samotsvety forecasting team.

2. Cornered markets in everything: “An auction of the tattooed skin of an Austrian performance artist has been cancelled after all 12 pieces were bought by a collector for “a seven-figure sum” ahead of the event.”

3. Some dating bounties are now at 100k (NYT).  “He is polyamorous now, so the bounty will be paid out to the person who introduces him to his long-term primary partner.”

4. Good Henry Farrell post about Hayek and Mill and women and game theory.

5. Ross D.: “Only elites can keep populism alive.” (NYT)

6. “One study by the German Economic Institute (IW) found the army had been underfunded relative to Nato standards by at least €394bn between 1990 and the early 2020s.” (FT)

Life as a professional bridesmaid (those new service sector jobs)

Ten years after posting that Craigslist ad, Glantz is 35 years old and shares her one-bedroom Williamsburg apartment with a husband, a dog, and a baby.

That means her stash of bridesmaids dresses gets split — she keeps 25 in a garbage bag in her closet, and another 25 at her in-laws’ house. The rest she’s donated or given to friends.

The business brings in more than $100k a year, and she has freelance bridesmaids who work for her when she can’t, or when a bride is concerned someone will recognize her as a bridesmaid for hire.

She also sells:

Maid of honor speeches, which cost $375 if they’re written by Glantz or $35 if she gets her AI assistant to help. “I was going into labor, and had someone who asked if I could do one in three days. I gave birth on a Tuesday and had the speech written by Friday morning,” she says.

Here is the full story, via the excellent Samir Varma.

Scientific Talent Leaks Out of Funding Gaps

Lack of speed kills:

We study how delays in NIH grant funding affect the career outcomes of research personnel. Using comprehensive earnings and tax records linked to university transaction data along with a difference-in-differences design, we find that a funding interruption of more than 30 days has a substantial effect on job placements for personnel who work in labs with a single NIH R01 research grant, including a 3 percentage point (40%) increase in the probability of not working in the US. Incorporating information from the full 2020 Decennial Census and data on publications, we find that about half of those induced into nonemployment appear to permanently leave the US and are 90% less likely to publish in a given year, with even larger impacts for trainees (postdocs and graduate students). Among personnel who continue to work in the US, we find that interrupted personnel earn 20% less than their continuously-funded peers, with the largest declines concentrated among trainees and other non-faculty personnel (such as staff and undergraduates). Overall, funding delays account for about 5% of US nonemployment in our data, indicating that they have a meaningful effect on the scientific labor force at the national level.

That is the abstract of a new paper by Wei Yang Tham, Joseph Staudt, Elisabeth Ruth Perlman, and Stephanie D. Cheng.  Here is my earlier piece, with Collison and Hsu, and what we learned doing Fast Grants.

Early French economics, my lecture notes

Early French moralists, some of them Jansenists:

Pierre Nicole, La Rochefoucauld, etc. Invisible hand, idea of “mechanism”

Pascal, Pensées, 1669, probability and expected value

17th century mercantilism, Louis XIV, Colbert

18th century, Galiani (Italian), French debates on bread and bread prices

1748, Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws, analysis of commerce

Diderot, Voltaire, Encyclopedia, rationalism

Beccaria (Italian), law and economics

Physiocrats (they bore me)

Turgot, 1767, liberal principles, stresses accumulation

Condorcet – stresses growth and progress

1789 French Revolution, Napoleon

Much of French economic thought ends up libertarian, e.g., the Ideologues

J.B. Say, Say’s Law, 1803, passim

French pick up on different strands in Smith

Fourier, Proudhon, and Utopian Socialism

1830 — Bourbon Restoration

1838 – Augustin Cournot

1844 – Jules Dupuit, French engineering tradition

Bastiat and free market tradition

1860 — Anglo-French Free Trade Treaty

1873 — Leon Walras, marginalism and general equilibrium theory

Trump’s threat to let Putin invade NATO countries

I don’t usually blog on “candidate topics,”or “Trump topics,” but a friend of mine asked me to cover this.  As you probably know, Trump threatened to let NATO countries that failed to meet the two percent of gdp defense budget obligation fend for themselves against Putin (video here, with Canadian commentary).  Trump even said he would encourage the attacker.

Long-time MR readers will know I am not fond of Trump, either as a president or otherwise.  (And I am very fond of NATO.)  But on this issue I think he is basically correct.  Yes, I know all about backlash effects.  But so many NATO members do not keep up serious defense capabilities.  And for decades none of our jawboning has worked.

Personally, I would not have proceeded or spoken as Trump did, and I do not address the collective action problems in my own sphere of work and life in a comparable manner (“if you’re not ready with enough publications for tenure, we’ll let Bukele take you!” or “Spinoza, if you don’t stop scratching the couch, I won’t protect you against the coyotes!”).  So if you wish to take that as a condemnation of Trump, so be it.  Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel there is some room for an “unreasonable” approach on this issue, whether or not I am the one to carry that ball.

Even spending two percent of gdp would not get many NATO allies close to what they need to do (and yes I do understand the difference between defense spending and payments to NATO, in any case many other countries are falling down on the job).  I strongly suspect that many of those nations just don’t have effective fighting forces at all, and in essence they are standing at zero percent of gdp, even if their nominal expenditures say hit 1.7 percent.  Remember the report that the German Army trained with broomsticks because they didn’t have enough machine guns?  How many of those forces are actually ready to fire and fight in a combat situation?  It is far from obvious that the Ukraine war — a remarkably grave and destructive event — has fixed that situation.

The nations that see no need to have workable martial capabilities at all are a real threat to NATO, and yes this includes Canada, which shares a very large de facto Arctic border with Putin, full of valuable natural resources.  Even a United States led by Nikki Haley cannot do all the heavy lifting here.  What if the U.S. is tied down in Asia and/or the Middle East when further trouble strikes?  That no longer seems like such a distant possibility.  And should Western Europe, over time, really become “foreign policy irrelevant,” relative to the more easternmost parts of NATO?  That too is not good for anybody.

With or without Trump’s remarks, we are likely on a path of nuclear proliferation, starting in Poland.

People talk about threats to democracy in Poland, and I am not happy they have restricted the power of their judiciary.  But consider Germany.  The country has given up its energy independence, it may lose a significant portion of its manufacturing base, its earlier economic strategy was to cast its lot with Russia and China, AfD is the #2 party there and growing, and the former east is politically polarized and illiberal, among other problems.  Most of all, the country has lost its will to defend itself.  That is in spite of a well-educated population and a deliberative political systems that in the more distant past worked well.  You can criticize Trump’s stupid provocations all you want, but unless you have a better idea for waking Germany (and other countries) up, you are probably just engaging in your own mood affiliation.  On this issue, “argument by adjective” ain’t gonna’ cut it.

The best scenario is that Trump raises these issues, everyone in Canada and Western Europe screams, they clutch their pearls and are horrified for months, but over time the topic becomes more focal and more ensconced in their consciousness.  Eventually more Democrats may pick up the Trump talking points, as they have done with China.  Perhaps three to five years from now that can lead to some positive action.  And if they are calling his words “appalling and unhinged,” as indeed they are, well that is going to drive more page views.

The odds may be against policy improvement in any case, but by this point it seems pretty clear standard diplomacy isn’t going to work.  I am just not that opposed to a “Hail Mary, why not speak some truth here?” approach to the problem.  Again, I wouldn’t do it, but at the margin it deserves more support than it is getting.  Of course it is hard for the MSM American intelligentsia to show any sympathy for Trump’s remarks, because his words carry the implication that spending more on social welfare has an unacceptably high opportunity cost.  So you just won’t find much objective debate of the issues at stake.

If you’re worried about Trump encouraging Putin, that is a real concern but the nations on the eastern flank of NATO are all above two percent, Bulgaria excepted.  Maybe this raises the chance that Putin is emboldened to blow up some Western European infrastructure?  Make a move against Canada in the Arctic?  I still could see that risk as panning out into greater preparedness, greater deterrence, and a better outcome overall.  Western Europe of course has a gdp far greater than that of Putin’s Russia. they just don’t have the right values, in addition to not spending enough on defense.

So on this one Trump is indeed the Shakespearean truth-teller, and (I hope) for the better.


WEF 2002: The world could face lithium shortages by 2025, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says, while Credit Suisse thinks demand could treble between 2020 and 2025, meaning “supply would be stretched”.

Reuters 2023:  Lithium producers are growing anxious that delays in mine permitting, staffing shortages and inflation may hinder their ability to supply enough of the battery metal to meet the world’s aggressive electrification timelines.

GEP 2023: Lithium faces supply shortages due to past underinvestment amid surging electric vehicle demand.

This list could easily be extended. In contrast here from Nat Bullard’s presentation is data on battery prices per kilowatt-hour. Note that almost all of the above is very short-term extrapolation from the price increase in 2022. As Tyler says, do not underrate the elasticity of supply.

But I haven’t yet given you my favorite headline on this topic, an all-time classic:

Lithium Price Crash Could Trigger Shortages From 2025


A periodic reminder of your pending competitive inadequacy

Many people think “I will do […], AI will not anytime soon do [….] as well as I will.”  That may or may not be true.

But keep in mind many of us are locked into a competition for attention.  AI can beat you without competing against you in your task directly.  What AI produces simply might draw away lots of attention from what you hope to be producing.  Maybe looking Midjourney images, or chatting with GPT, will be more fun than reading your next column or book.  Maybe talking with your deceased cousin will grip you more than the marginal new podcast, and so on.

This competition can occur even in the physical world.  There will be many new, AI-generated and AI-supported projects, and they will bid for real resources.  How about “AI figures out cost-effective desalination and so many deserts are settled and built out”?  That will draw away resources from competing deployments, and your project will have to bid against that.

I hope it’s good.