What I’ve been reading and not reading

Sara Zaske, Achtung Baby: The German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children.  Es erinnert mich an meinen Freund Bryan Caplan aber auf deutsch.  Behind the link you will see how they changed the title for the American edition, I am giving you the better British title.

Pascal Boyer, Minds Make Societies: How Cognition Explains the World Humans Create. Boyer is one of my favorite writers in the “social science tries to explain the previously underexplained anthropological practice” genre, but this one I thought lacked focus and doesn’t have an obvious enough pay-off.  I will try it again, however.

Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen, Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics is an important documentation of their core results.

Primavera De Filippi and Aaron Wright, Blockchain and the Law: The Rule of Code, is a good treatment of how the principles of blockchain and principles of the law may clash, overlap, or coexist.  It’s a good place to start on the notion that blockchains are fundamentally innovations in governance.

I have yet to crack open The Structural Foundations of Monetary Policy, edited by Michael D. Bordo, John H. Cochrane, and Amit Seru.

There is Christopher Payne and Rob Barnett, The Economist’s Diet, by two economists and based on economic reasoning, noting that I wish never to offer opinions on diet books; this one is “micro habits and meta rules.”

W. Kip Viscusi, Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society, is as you would expect full of good common economic sense.

Saturday assorted links

1. Reading Gone With the Wind in China.

2. Are nouns less emotive than verbs? (The Economist)

3. Jedediah Purdy on “the usual stuff,” though better than usual.

4. The again collapse of Argentina.

5. “The results show that fully two thirds (67%) of children either do not know what a floppy disk is or incorrectly identify it. And yes, several children did in fact identify the object as a save icon.” Link here.  And “71% of children are also unfamiliar with overhead projectors, a former mainstay of classrooms across the country.”  Thank goodness, there is indeed no great stagnation!

6. How Sweden became an enclave for country and roots music.

Sex Redistribution and Disability

I am surprised that the subject of sex and disability has not arisen in the controversy surrounding Robin Hanson’s and Ross Douthat’s remarks on sex redistribution. The subject is one of active debate in the literature on medical ethics. Bioethicist Jacob Appel writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2010 argued:

If sexual pleasure is a fundamental right, as this author believes, then jurisdictions that prohibit prostitution should carve out narrow exceptions for individuals whose physical or mental disabilities make sexual relationships with non compensated adults either impossible or high unlikely.

…A second area in which reform is desperately needed is the ‘no sex’ policies that exist in American nursing facilities, mental hospitals and group homes. Many such facilities require the doors of patients’ rooms to be open at all times, making intimacy all but impossible. The assumption underlying these restrictions is that anything short of clearly expressed wishes by a fully competent and rational individual does not fulfil a minimum standard to consent to sexual relations. The principle advanced by this approach is that institutionalised individuals require a higher degree of protection than those living outside of institutions. In many matters, this is certainly the case. However, in regard to sexual relations, this ‘higher’ standard often serves as an obstacle to meeting both the wishes and interests of individuals who cannot conform to ‘real world’ standards of consent.

More challenging than a ‘negative rights’ conception of sexual liberty is one that also embraces a ‘positive right’ to sexual pleasure for the disabled–either for those individuals who are too impaired to find mates and/or those who are so physically incapacitated that they are incapable of pleasuring themselves. Several European nations, including Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland, allow limited ‘touching’ services for the severely disabled through non-profit organisations.

In the UK charities exist to help match sex workers with the disabled. Similar services are available in Denmark and in the Netherlands and in those countries (limited) taxpayer funds can be used to pay for sexual disability services. The Green party has proposed such services elsewhere:

A German politician has sparked controversy by suggesting people with severe disabilities could receive “sexual assistance” paid for by the state.

The Green party’s spokeswoman for age and care policy, Elisabeth Scharfenberg, said the government could “provide grants” for sexual services to disabled people who cannot achieve satisfaction by any other means.

Such a system is currently operating in Denmark and the Netherlands, where certified “sexual assistants” with special training conduct visits to disabled people who cannot afford to pay themselves.

Regardless of the answers one gives, I think these are legitimate questions of profound and deep importance to the people involved. It’s unfortunate and wrong that someone who brings these issues to the public forum is denounced and called creepy. We can and should do better.

From the comments, on reverence for asceticism

…[the] US for instance…worships sex, and…celibates are viewed as “losers”. A Hollywood film that describes this social mindset is “40 year old virgin” that came out a decade or so ago.

India makes an interesting contrast. Though the life of the “married householder” is an ideal in India, celibates are viewed with respect and admired for their self-restraint. This is actually one important contributor to the charm and charisma of Narendra Modi – a celibate man, a teetotaller among other things. He is viewed as someone who has “conquered his senses” and is incorruptible.

This streak of anti-sensuality, very much a part of Indian culture, is not to be found in US.

More westernized Indians on the cultural Left, back in India, mock at the public’s fascination with Modi’s celibacy and his puritanism. There are jokes in this group that Modi is probably gay or asexual. No wonder he can stay single.

Again this highlights the large chasm between the attitudes of the modern western mind which does not choose to view sensual restraint as a virtue, versus more traditional societies where self denial and austerity command a certain awe.

That is from Shrikanthk.

The Royal Economic Society Prize

The 2017 Royal Economic Society prize for best paper in the Economic Journal has been awarded to Robert Warren Anderson, Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama for their paper Jewish Persecutions and Weather Shocks 1100-1800 (non-gated). Noel and Mark are colleagues at George Mason and Robert is a former GMU student. Here’s the abstract:

What factors caused the persecution of minorities in pre‐modern Europe? Using panel data consisting of 1,366 persecutions of Jews from 936 European cities between 1100 and 1800, we test whether persecutions were more likely following colder growing seasons. A one standard deviation decrease in growing season temperature in the previous five‐year period increased the probability of a persecution by between 1 and 1.5 percentage points (relative to a baseline of 2%). This effect was strongest in weak states and with poor quality soil. The long‐run decline in persecutions was partly attributable to greater market integration and state capacity.

The RES is correct, this is an excellent paper with a great combination of theory and original data.

The award is another indication of the stellar quality of GMU’s economics department.

Comprehensive occupational licensing reform in Nebraska

Also known as the Occupational Board Reform Act, LB299 requires legislative committees to review 20 percent of licenses under their purview a year, in a continuous five-year cycle.

This process creates a framework for identifying less restrictive regulations than licensing, including private certification, registration, insurance or bonding requirements, inspections, open market competition, or a combination of these approaches.

Workers with conviction histories could also receive an advisory opinion from state licensing boards about their eligibility to work in a licensed profession prior to beginning a training program.

While piecemeal occupational licensing changes have passed in the Nebraska Legislature before, reforms of more burdensome licenses have had trouble advancing from committee. That motivated the Platte Institute to educate lawmakers about the need for a more comprehensive approach.

Here is the full story, via Daniel Klein.

One estimate of the rate of return on pharma

…return on investment in pharma R&D is already below the cost of capital, and projected to hit zero within just 2 or 3 years. And this despite all efforts by the industry to fix R&D and reverse the trend.

That is from Kelvin Stott.  Keep in mind this is during a time when global demand has been growing, which suggests the supply side is all the more constipated.

Why Matthew E. Kahn is optimistic about microeconomics

1.   Applied micro researchers have access to more data than ever and have access to more computing power and more easy to use and sophisticated econometric methods than ever before.   Improved canned software in Stata allows applied researchers to relax many of the statistical assumptions that researchers made in previous years.   Such “robust” estimates allow us to march towards learning the truth.

2.   Due to “natural experiments”, discontinuities, and explicit randomizations, we now have more variation in “cause variables” (the X’s) than ever before.

3.  The advent of Google and the rise of Economics in Europe and outside of Western nations means that the current set of applied micro researchers are aware in “real time” about what findings are emerging in the top 5 journals and NBER and IZA and CEPR working papers.    Now that there are so many applied micro economists working around the world, this competition fosters innovation and progress.

4.  Replication is rising as an important piece of our advance as a “science”.

5.  Leading firms such as Amazon highly value quantitative training.  Undergraduates are aware of this and they are investing in the math/computer programming and economics and stats training to have the option to pursue this.  Some of these young people will opt into doing a PHD in economics and applied micro grows stronger due to this influx of talent.

6.  Thanks to scholars such as Raj Chetty, the power of using administrative data (such as IRS tax data) are now more clearly seen all over the world. I expect that more government officials who “know that they do not know” the answers for unlocking economic development will increasingly partner with the J-PAL and other economists to help them to experiment and learn.  This is Hayek as applied microeconomist at its best.

The rest of his post lists four concerns.

Transportation speed matters

High skilled workers gain from face to face interactions. If the skilled can move at higher speeds, then knowledge diffusion and idea spillovers are likely to reach greater distances. This paper uses the construction of China’s high speed rail (HSR) network as a natural experiment to test this claim. HSR connects major cities, that feature the nation’s best universities, to secondary cities. Since bullet trains reduce cross-city commute times, they reduce the cost of face-to-face interactions between skilled workers who work in different cities. Using a data base listing research paper publication and citations, we document a complementarity effect between knowledge production and the transportation network. Co-authors’ productivity rises and more new co-author pairs emerge when secondary cities are connected by bullet train to China’s major cities.

That is from Xiaofang Dong, Siqi Zheng, and Matthew E. Kahn.  Of course, supersonic air travel should be next…

Polarization isn’t mainly about ideology

If out-group hostility is more important to party identification than support for particular policies or ideologies, we may not actually place very many ideological demands on our parties. Defeating our enemies may be more important than advancing specific liberal or conservative agendas. According to Groenendyk: “If partisans’ identities are increasingly anchored to hatred of the outparty than affection for their inparty, electoral dynamics are likely much more fluid than many accounts suggest. Thus, insurgent candidates with questionable ideological credentials (e.g., Donald Trump) may be more appealing than one might expect in the age of ideologically sorted parties.”

Here is more from George Hawley, via Philip Wallach.  Of course Amihai Glazer understood this decades ago…nor should you forget Bryan Caplan’s “simplistic theory of left and right.