1. Ian Morris, Geography is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000 Year History. None of the book is bad, and half is quite interesting. Think of the treatment as “Deep Roots for Brexit,” though willing to noodle over earlier and more interesting topics in history. From a good FT review by Chris Allnutt: “Morris succeeds in condensing 10,000 years into a persuasive and highly readable volume, even if there are moments that risk a descent into what he seeks to avoid: “a catalogue of men with strange names killing each other”, as historian Alex Woolf put it.” Now if only he would explain why their hot and cold water taps don’t run together…
2. Michel Houellebecq, Interventions 2020. Grumpy non-fiction essays, with plenty of naive anti-consumerism. You need to read them if you are a fan, but I didn’t find so much here of interest. I was struck by his nomination of Paul McCartney (!) as the most essential musician, with Schubert next in line. Mostly it is MH being contrary. He has earned the right, but he wasn’t able to make me care more.
3. Frank O’Connor, “Guests of the Nation.” One of the best short stories I have read, Irish. Can’t say any more without spoilers! 11 pp. at the link.
4. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest. Has anyone done a systematic accounting of which Vietnam era fictional works have held up and which not? Maybe this one gets a B+? Not top drawer Le Guin, but good enough to read, and better yet if you catch the cross-cultural references and all the anthropological background works.
5. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, some cheap paperback edition. I did a quick, non-studied reread of this, in prep for the new Cambridge University Press reissue edition due out June 30, which has excellent notes and I will study and reread in more detail. One of the very best books! Not only is the story fully engaging and deeply humorous, but it is one of the seminal tracts on progress (largely skeptical), a blistering take on political correctness, wise on the virtues and pitfalls of travel, and one of the first novels to truly engage with science and politics and their interaction. Straussian throughout. Swift is one of the very greatest thinkers and writers and his output has held up remarkably well.
One cause (and effect) of the great stagnation, as emphasized by Peter Thiel and others (including myself), is our inability to imagine a future radically different from the immediate past. We view progress as gentrification and more nice restaurants, not fundamental transformation.
This same lack of imagination makes it difficult to understand the primacy of foreign policy in understanding the world on a day-to-day basis. If you lack imagination, you will tend to assume that the current configurations of countries, alliances, and so on are simply going to last.
But they are not, and they never have. And thus the primacy of foreign policy considerations. But for many people this is difficult to grasp.
Falconry based bird abatement is quiet, discrete, organic, eco-friendly, and very sustainable. The objective is not killing the nuisance birds, but scaring them off the premises.
West Coast Falconry conducts pest bird abatement by contract. We have professionals on staff that can help rid your establishment of a number of pest bird species including pigeons, starlings, and seagulls. Regular flyovers are key to this environmentally-friendly service.
I am reminded of the extensive markets in bees.
Hat tip: Luke Froeb.
I hadn’t looked at this work for a long time, and I was struck by how much he does not blame Christianity for the decline of the Roman Empire. Here is one bit, closer to Ibn Khaldun than anything:
The rise of a city, which swelled into an empire, may deserve, as a singular prodigy, the reflection of a philosophic mind. But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted for so long. (p.435)
Gibbon also puts forward the hypothesis that basic knowledge in agriculture and the manufactures is never lost, so the overall course of history will be progressive. (pp.442-443)
He is worried about existential risk from comets, volcanoes, and earthquakes, though despairs we cannot do much about it. (p.578)
All from the Penguin abridged edition, edited by David Womersley.
One example of such evidence-free regulation in recent years comes from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2021, HHS repealed a rule enacted by the Trump administration that would have required the agency to periodically review its regulations for their impact on small businesses. The measure was known as the SUNSET rule because it would attach sunset provisions, or expiration dates, to department rules. If the agency failed to conduct a review, the regulation expired.
Ironically, in proposing to rescind the SUNSET rule, HHS argued that it would be too time consuming and burdensome for the agency to review all of its regulations. Citing almost no academic work in support of its proposed repeal — a reflection of the anti-consequentialism that animates so much contemporary regulatory policy — the agency effectively asserted that assessing the real-world consequences of its existing rules was far less pressing an issue than addressing the perceived problems of the day (by, of course, issuing more regulations).
Through its actions, HHS has rejected the very notion of having to review its own rules and assess whether they work. In fact, the suggestion that agencies review their regulations is an almost inexplicably divisive issue in Washington today. “Retrospective review” has become a dirty term, while cost-benefit analysis has morphed into a tool to judge intentions rather than predict real-world consequences. The shift highlights how far the modern administrative state has drifted from the rational, evidence-based system envisioned by the law-and-economics movement just a few decades ago.
Here is more from James Broughel at Mercatus.
The review makes many points, here is one excerpt:
Everywhere I have worked, the organization’s hiring processes were tilted in favor of experience over intelligence. Interviews include behavioral questions or assessments of specific skills. Rarely is anyone on the hiring loop running problem-solving sessions that require the candidate to demonstrate how they might deal with the real-world challenges they will encounter in the workplace.
Most of the time you can win candidates by getting the basics right:
- Reach out to people, don’t wait for them to come to you.
- Build relationships before you need them.
- Develop followership (so people that work with you once will want to work with you again).
- Get candidates excited for the job before you start screening them.
- Make your workplace a good place to work for smart and talented people (which is NOT the same as making it a “good place to work” generally, or anything from the HR/PR lists.)
- Be the type of manager that top talent will want to work for.
- Ensure that you have someone selling the candidate once you know you want to make an offer and start the selling process before the offer is made.
- Be polite.
- Be fast.
Interesting throughout, though I feel the author significantly overestimates the extent to which we think the current talent assessment market is efficient.
One of the most important developments in the study of racial inequality has been the quantification of the importance of pre-market skills in explaining differences in labor market outcomes between Black and white workers. In 2010, using nationally representative data on thousands of individuals in their 40s, I estimated that Black men earn 39.4% less than white men and Black women earn 13.1% less than white women. Yet, accounting for one variable–educational achievement in their teenage years––reduced that difference to 10.9% (a 72% reduction) for men and revealed that Black women earn 12.7 percent more than white women, on average. Derek Neal, an economist at the University of Chicago, and William Johnson were among the first to make this point in 1996: “While our results do provide some evidence for current labor market discrimination, skills gaps play such a large role that we believe future research should focus on the obstacles Black children face in acquiring productive skill.”
…the key step that is missing in every DEI initiative I have seen in the past 25 years: a rigorous, data-driven assessment of root causes that drives the search for effective solutions. In other aspects of life, we would not fathom prescribing a treatment without knowing the underlying cause.
…Solutions that yield measurable results can be substantiated into company policy, while those that don’t should be discarded. In the case of the hospital network, once a small change was made to the structure of their scheduling, gender differences were reduced. Despite countless hours spent in training and seminars, their results were unchanged for years. The solution was hidden in plain data.
Roland Fryer on using data not feelings to address diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Out-of-sample accuracy is strikingly high: of the 500 people with the highest predicted risk [ of being shot], 13 percent are shot within 18 months, a rate 130 times higher than the average Chicagoan.
Yikes! That is from a new NBER working paper by Sara B. Heller, Benjamin Jakobowski, Zubin Jelveh, and Max Kapustin. The Spielberg movie was indeed a good one…
One implication is that income inequality isn’t quite as extreme as measured. Another implication is that rising income inequality will itself cause higher mark-ups, but without the economy becoming “more monopolistic” per se. Here is the paper:
The Law of Diminishing Elasticity of Demand (Harrod 1936) conjectures that price elasticity declines with income. I provide empirical evidence in support of Harrod’s conjecture using data on household transactions and wholesale costs. Over the observed set of purchases, high-income households pay 9pp higher retail markups than low-income households. Half of the differences in markups paid across households is due to differences in markups paid at the same store. Conversely, products with a high-income customer base charge higher markups: a 10pp higher share of customers with over $100K in income is associated with a 2.5–5.2pp higher retail markup. A search model in which households’ search intensity depends on their opportunity cost of time can replicate these facts. Through the lens of the model, changes in the income distribution since 1950 account for a 9pp rise in retail markups, with one-third of the increase due to growing income dispersion. This rise in markups consists of within-firm markup increases as well as a reallocation of sales to high-markup firms, which occurs without any changes to the nature of firm production or competition.
5. The Ethiopian economy has not collapsed, even with the civil war (FT). Yet its prospects are difficult to gauge.
I had never heard of those, but it turns out they are common at top business schools. Egads! Here are some results:
We study the effects of grade non-disclosure (GND) policies implemented within MBA programs at highly ranked business schools. GND precludes students from revealing their grades and grade point averages (GPAs) to employers. In the labor market, we find that GND weakens the positive relation between GPA and employer desirability. During the MBA program, we find that GND reduces students’ academic effort within courses by approximately 4.9%, relative to comparable students not subject to the policy. Consistent with our model, in which abilities are potentially correlated and students can substitute effort towards other activities in order to signal GPA-related ability, students participate in more extracurricular activities and enroll in more difficult courses under GND. Finally, we show that students’ tenure with their first employers after graduation decreases following GND.
What is exactly the right way to model this practice? If you believe in the signaling model of MBA education, is this an attempt to game the signal and avoid zero-sum comparisons? Can that boost the overall aggregate value of the signal?
Or maybe you believe the MBA is a mix of learning/networking and signaling. You want to encourage more learning at the margin, without the person having to incur a signaling penalty through some lower grades.
Or does this simply show that top prospective MBA students hold the bargaining power, and these arrangements help recruiting by making life easier for those students?
What else? Here are other readings on the practice. Where adopted, the policies seem quite popular with students. And the policies do not restrict showing the grades to other schools, though perhaps for MBAs that is not so relevant?
Long time readers will know that both Tyler and I have been promoting GiveDirectly since its creation in 2011. GiveDirectly was started by four economists and it gives money directly to the very poor in Kenya and Uganda. Unusually for any charity, GiveDirectly has published substantial, high quality, pre-registered RCTs on its work and is a top-rated charity by GiveWell. GiveDirectly, the charity, continues to do great work helping the world’s poorest people but they are now also using their experience to help design and administer programs in the United States.
A nonprofit that originally focused on giving cash to impoverished people in Africa will soon be delivering money to poor residents of Chicago, in one of the largest tests of a guaranteed basic income program in the US.
GiveDirectly is administering a program that will give $500 a month to each of 5,000 households in Chicago as soon as the end of June. The city is using $31.5 million from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act for the year-long pilot, and hoping the payments will help it recover faster from the pandemic.
I look forward to seeing the results.
Previous research highlights the role that political knowledge plays in forming political positions and how financial literacy influences personal economic decisions. But even among economists, how economic knowledge affects policy views remains little studied. We measure economic literacy among a representative sample of U.S. residents, explore the demographic and socioeconomic correlates of this measure, and examine how respondents’ policy positions correlate with their economic knowledge. We also estimate counterfactual policy positions as if respondents were fully economically literate. We find significant differences in economic literacy by sex, race/ethnicity, and education, but little evidence that respondents’ policy views are related to their level of economic literacy on average. Examining heterogeneity by political party, we uncover an interesting if polarizing pattern: estimated fully economically literate policy views for Democrats and Republicans are farther apart than respondents’ unadjusted views.
We find that men, older Americans, Americans without children, Republicans, and the more educated have higher economic literacy. Family income is unrelated to economic literacy, though Black and Hispanic Americans have lower economic literacy (including conditional on education and income).
Here is the full paper by Jared Barton and Cortney Stephen Rodet.