The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett made a big splash a decade ago by showing many correlations between inequality and various problems. In a recent talk, Pickett summarized the thesis of the book with the graph at right.
Even at the time, however, there were peculiarities in the data–for example, some countries were dropped without explanation and data with different definitions were spliced together–as pointed out by Christopher Snowdon in the Spirit Level Delusion. Adding in a few more countries, for example, made many of the correlations disappear.
Snowdon now has a nice post with another test. Suppose we run the same or similar regressions using today’s data? If the relationships are robust we ought to see the same correlations or even stronger correlations given the increase in inequality.
Here, for example, is a key graph from The Spirit Level on inequality and life-expectancy.
If, however, we use the same countries but today’s most up-to-date figures on inequality and life-expectancy we find no correlation.
If we add the four countries that are unequivocally richer than Portugal and were excluded from The Spirit Level for no good reason (South Korea, Hong Kong, Slovenia and the Czech Republic (now known as Czechia)), there is a statistically significant association with inequality but it is in the opposite direction to that predicted by The Spirit Level hypothesis, with greater inequality correlating with longer life expectancy (r2=0.145, R=0.385, p-value=0.0495).
After examining a variety of data. Snowdon summarizes:
In summary, most of the biggest claims made by Wilkinson and Pickett in The Spirit Level look even weaker today than they did when the book was published. Only one of the six associations stand up under W & P’s own methodology and none of them stand up when the full range of countries is analysed. In the case of life expectancy – the very flagship of The Spirit Level – the statistical association is the opposite of what the hypothesis predicts.
If The Spirit Level hypothesis were correct, it would produce robust and consistent results over time as the underlying data changes. Instead, it seems to be extremely fragile, only working when a very specific set of statistics are applied to a carefully selected list of countries.
It’s certainly possible that inequality has a causal effect on various issues (both positive and negative) but it seems that such effects are small and subtle enough to require much more than cross-sectional country-level data to uncover.
As always, note that the descriptions are mine and reflect my priorities, as the self-descriptions of the applicants may be broader or slightly different. Here goes:
Michelle Rorich, for her work in economic development and Africa, to be furthered by a bike trip Cairo to Capetown.
Jeffrey C. Huber, to write a book on tech and economic progress from a Christian point of view.
Mayowa Osibodu, building AI programs to preserve endangered languages.
David Forscey, travel grant to look into issues and careers surrounding protection against election fraud.
Jennifer Doleac, Texas A&M, to develop an evidence-based law and economics, crime and punishment podcast.
Fergus McCullough, University of St. Andrews, travel grant to help build a career in law/history/politics/public affairs.
Justin Zheng, a high school student working on biometrics for cryptocurrency.
Kyle Eschen, comedian and magician and entertainer, to work on an initiative for the concept of “steelmanning” arguments.
Here is the first cohort of winners, and here is the second cohort. Here is the underlying philosophy behind Emergent Ventures. Note by the way, if you received an award very recently, you have not been forgotten but rather will show up in the fourth cohort.
Germany’s decisions on China’s Huawei, Russia’s Nord Stream 2 & now Iran-backed Hezbollah
That is a tweet from Velina Tchakarova. Germany will not list Hezbollah as a terrorist group, in case you missed that piece of news. And the country will not ban Huawei infrastructure as a potential piece of its communications networks. Furthermore:
The projections peg the [German] military budget to be several billion euros short of the trajectory to meet the government’s goal of reaching 1.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2024. Analysts even see the current spending curve unable to sustain 1.35 percent in the years ahead.
NATO members in 2014 agreed to boost their defense spending to 2 percent of GDP within 10 years.
Italy, by the way, just endorsed China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, the only G7 member to do so.
For all the talk about Brexit, these may end up being the relevant “exits” of our time. And if anyone is working hard to make Brexit seem like a somewhat less bad idea, I suppose that is Germany and Italy, not anyone in British politics.
In 1992, the AIDS/HIV “parallel track” was approved as a regulatory change for FDA to allow patients exclusive access to AIDS/HIV drugs that had passed safety tests but had not yet passed all efficacy tests. Other drugs did not have access to this approval option. As a result of parallel track, the highly effective anti-viral drug stavudine was approved, saving thousands of lives.
…In the years that followed, FDA and Congress created several paths to speed approval and open access to promising medications, including accelerated approval, priority review, fast track, breakthrough therapy, right to try, and expanded access, or “compassionate use.” Unfortunately, these approaches are often confusing, and it is difficult for drug developers to determine which approach to pursue. None of these reforms have matched the openness and simplicity of the parallel track…
That is a new and forthcoming book by Michael H. Kater, excerpt:
The book’s first contention is that in order for a new Nazi type of culture to take hold, the preceding forms first had to be wiped out. This mainly affected the artistic and intellectual achievements most hated by the Nazis, those of the Weimar Republic, whose aesthetic and political hallmark was Modernism. The police controls Hitler used to carry out purges in political and social contexts were also used against Modernist art forms and their creators…
However, as far as films were concerned, the most acute interest shown by Hitler was in the weekly newsreels. These embodied for him what film was all about: an ideal instrument for political control. He regularly commented on newsreels to Goebbels, and had some several cut or modified. More so than in the case of feature films, Hitler was liable to override any decisions Goebbels had already made on them. Even long before the war broke out Hitler was adamant that newsreels display the heroic…
Recommended, even if you feel you’ve had your fill of books on Nazi Germany.
Long before there was such a thing as “Big Data,” there was Tim O’Donovan, a retired insurance broker who has meticulously tabulated the British royal family’s engagements with pencil and paper every day for 40 years.
In a row of old-fashioned leather-bound ledgers, in a wisteria-fringed house in the village of Datchet, just west of London, he has amassed an extraordinary collection of raw data. The Autumn Dinner of the Fishmongers’ Company, convened in October by Princess Anne? It’s in there. The opening of the Pattern Weaving Shed in Peebles, Scotland? Of the Dumfries House Maze? Of a window at the Church of St. Martin in the Bull Ring? Noted.
Mr. O’Donovan, 87, is not part of the hurly-burly of royal commentary. Not only is he not active on social media, he claims never to have seen it. (“I am glad to say I don’t have anything to do with it,” he said, a bit starchily. “Everything I’ve heard about it is negative.”)
Every year, Mr. O’Donovan releases a comparative table listing the number of engagements attended by the highest-ranking royals, setting off a flurry of barbed commentary in the British news media. The feeding frenzy comes because Mr. O’Donovan, intentionally or not, has effectively invented a metric of how much the members of the royal family work.
He does it for fun, as his hobby:
Born into a family of avid collectors, he hungered in his 40s to undertake a statistical project; he had been impressed by a man who used public records to tabulate the waxing and waning popularity of baby names, publishing his findings once a year in a letter to the editor of The Times of London. He found his fodder in the Court Circular, an account of the royals’ engagements that appears in The Times of London. He decided to clip each one, paste it in a ledger and run the numbers, releasing his first results at the end of 1979.
One of the most striking hypotheses in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel was that technology diffused more easily along lines of latitude than along lines of longitude because climate changed more rapidly along lines of longitude making it more difficult for both humans and technologies to adapt. Thus, a long East-West axis, such as that found in Eurasia, meant a bigger “market” for technology and thus greater development.
A few pieces of evidence are suggestive:
Laitin and Robinson (2011) and Laitin et al. (2012) report that linguistic diversity has been historically more persistent across lines of latitude than longitude, suggesting that population movements were more prevalent East-West relative to North-South. Ramachandran and Rosenberg (2011) report similar evidence based on the geographic distribution of genetic variation. While these studies speak to greater movements of populations East-West relative to North-South, they do not speak directly to the diffusion of technologies and development. Alternatively, Olsson and Hibbs (2005) provide a cross-country analysis in which a variable measuring East-West orientation of major landmasses correlates significantly with present-day income levels. This finding explicitly links continental orientation to income levels. However, it does not speak directly to the mechanisms (e.g., more diffusion of technologies) leading to this correlation.
In Did Technology Transfer More Rapidly East-West than North-South?, from which I just quoted, Pavlik and Young offer more direct evidence on the natural direction of technological diffusion:
We employ Comin et al.’s (2010) data on ancient and early modern levels of technology adoption in a spatial econometric analysis. Historical levels of technology adoption in a (present-day) country are related to its lagged level as well as those of its neighbors. We allow the spatial effects to differ depending on whether they diffuse East-West or North-South. Consistent with the continental orientation hypothesis, East-West spatial effects are generally positive and stronger than those running North-South.
The room is the most expensive in America, beating out one at The Mark hotel, which previously held the accolade at $75,000 a night. And Empathy is also one of the world’s most expensive hotel accommodations, according to The Palms. (In fact, it’s potentially the most expensive: The Royal Penthouse Suite at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva — at about $80,000 a night — was the world’s most expensive suite in 2018, according to Lonely Planet.)
…The room was designed by world-renowned artist Hirst and showcases a number of his well-known original pieces, like the iconic “Winner/Loser,” with two bull sharks suspended in formaldehyde.
Hirst — who is known for controversial pieces — also created a 13-seat curved bar filled with medical waste, and hanging above the bar is Hirst’s “Here for a Good Time, Not a Long Time,” which features a marlin skeleton and taxidermy marlin.
Here is more text and photos, noting that perhaps the high price is in part “advertising” so that major gamblers feel good when the room is comped to them?
Imagine: For the rest of your life, you are assigned no tasks at work. You can watch movies, read books, work on creative projects or just sleep. In fact, the only thing that you have to do is clock in and out every day. Since the position is permanent, you’ll never need to worry about getting another job again.
Starting in 2026, this will be one lucky (or extremely bored) worker’s everyday reality, thanks to a government-funded conceptual art project in Gothenburg, Sweden. The employee in question will report to Korsvägen, a train station under construction in the city, and will receive a salary of about $2,320 a month in U.S. dollars, plus annual wage increases, vacation time off and a pension for retirement. While the artists behind the project won’t be taking applications until 2025, when the station will be closer to opening, a draft of the help-wanted ad is already available online, as Atlas Obscura reported on Monday.
The job’s requirements couldn’t be simpler: An employee shows up to the train station each morning and punches the time clock. That, in turn, illuminates an extra bank of fluorescent lights over the platform, letting travelers and commuters know that the otherwise functionless employee is on the job. At the end of the day, the worker returns to clock out, and the lights go off. In between, they can do whatever they want, aside from work at another paying job.
That is by Antonia Noori Farzan at WaPo. The project is called “Eternal Employment.”
For the pointer I thank Peter Sperry.
China’s economy is about 12 per cent smaller than official figures indicate, and its real growth has been overstated by about 2 percentage points annually in recent years, according to research. The findings in the paper published on Thursday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, reinforced longstanding scepticism about Chinese official statistics. They also add to concerns that China’s slowdown is more severe than the government has acknowledged. Even based on official data, China’s economy grew at its slowest pace since 1990 last year at 6.6 per cent.
That is from Gabriel Wildau of the FT — adjust your debt to gdp ratios accordingly.
This paper examines the impact of sibling gender on adolescent experiences and adult labor market outcomes for a recent cohort of U.S. women. We document an earnings penalty from the presence of a younger brother (relative to a younger sister), finding that a next-youngest brother reduces adult earnings by about 7 percent. Using rich data on parent-child interactions, parents’ expectations, disruptive behaviors, and adult outcomes, we provide a first step at examining the mechanisms behind this result. We find that brothers reduce parents’ expectations and school monitoring of female children while also increasing females’ propensity to engage in more traditionally feminine tasks. These factors help explain a portion of the labor market penalty from brothers.
That is by Angela Cooks and Eleonora Patacchin in Labour Economics. Once again, family niche effects seem to matter. Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.