*Persecution and Toleration: The Long Road to Religious Freedom*

That is the forthcoming book by my excellent colleagues Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama, due out next January, you can now pre-order here.

Here is the Amazon summary:

Religious freedom has become an emblematic value in the West. Embedded in constitutions and championed by politicians and thinkers across the political spectrum, it is to many an absolute value, something beyond question. Yet how it emerged, and why, remains widely misunderstood. Tracing the history of religious persecution from the Fall of Rome to the present-day, Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama provide a novel explanation of the birth of religious liberty. This book treats the subject in an integrative way by combining economic reasoning with historical evidence from medieval and early modern Europe. The authors elucidate the economic and political incentives that shaped the actions of political leaders during periods of state building and economic growth.

I have read the entire thing (a slightly earlier draft), very definitely recommended.

Young “stars” in economics

We use a novel dataset of job flyouts for junior economists to investigate three aspects of the market for “stars”. First, what is the background of students who become stars? Second, what type of research does the top of the market demand? Third, where do these students take jobs? Among other results, we show that stars are more international and less female than PhDs overall, that theoretical and semi-theoretical approaches remain dominant, that American programs both produce the most stars and hire even more, that the private sector is largely uncompetitive, and that there is a strong shift toward stars having pre-PhD full-time academic research jobs.

That is the abstract of a new paper from Kevin A. Bryan, also known as A Fine Theorem.  Via Beth Popp Berman.

And here is a point on the stickiness of academic rankings over time:

In economics, among the 13 programs with the most published pages in a Top 5 journal by their faculty between 2002 and 2009, all 13 were among the top 18 in the same ranking for publications between 1974 and 1978 (McPherson [2012])!

“!” is right!  And this:

…almost 80% of the faculty at a top 10 economics department did their PhD in a top 10, compared to 58% in mathematics and 63% in literature.

!!

There is no published research cited in this article

Nor are any criticisms of that research presented.  The title and subheader of the piece (NYT) are:

A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley

“I am convinced the devil lives in our phones.”

Doesn’t a consensus have to be…scientific?  The article does cite many tech people who are limiting the screen time of their children.  That may well be a good thing.  But tech people also may not have the best balanced understanding of the scientific issues involved, or of how tech is used outside of tech communities (and their children) themselves.

Literally speaking, the headline refers only to a consensus in Silicon Valley.  But I do not myself see such a consensus out there during my visits, and it is not obvious within the article what the views of the dissenters might be, or how prominent or numerous those dissenters are.  Or even whether they are dissenters or the mainstream.  Furthermore, most readers will take this piece to be referring to a broader scientific consensus, which does not in fact exist.  And yes I have read some of the published research indicating that tech damages people’s mental capacities and, while such claims may end up being true, I do not find the current research very convincing.  In any case, such research ought to have been considered, pro and con.

We have now reached the point where tech is one of the worst covered subject areas by the U.S. and also British media.

Shopping While Black: Past, Present and Future?

The original Sears mail-order catalogue changed how African Americans in the South shopped:

…the catalogue format allowed for anonymity, ensuring that black and white customers would be treated the same way.

“This gives African Americans in the Southeast some degree of autonomy, some degree of secrecy,” unofficial Sears historian Jerry Hancock told the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast in December 2016. “Now they can buy the same thing that anybody else can buy. And all they have to do is order it from this catalogue. They don’t have to deal with racist merchants in town and those types of things.”

More recently, Uber has alleviated many of the traditional difficulties that blacks have had hailing taxis.

In a heartfelt essay Ashlee Clark Thompson explains how the “grab and go” technologies now being tested at Amazon Go made her confront lessons learned from decades of shopping while black:

The idea of walking into a store, taking an item or several off the shelves and strolling right back out again boggled my mind. It ran counter to everything I had learned about being black and shopping.

…I grabbed one of the orange Amazon Go bags and began to make my way around the perimeter of the store. I was studying the various bottled waters and debating whether to get fizzy or still, or a bottle of kombucha, when I realized what I was really doing: I was stalling. The fear I had carried with me for decades reared its head as I stood in front of the refrigerated display. I was afraid to make a choice, remove it from a shelf and put it in my bag. I was afraid someone would pop out from behind a display of Amazon-branded merch and scream, “Get your hands off that!” And I was mad that this fear couldn’t even let me fully enjoy an experience that’s designed for everyone to grab and go, no questions asked.

Eff this, I thought. I’m getting some Vitamin Water.

Once the plastic bottle hit the bottom of my reusable bag, I glanced around to see if anyone noticed. The Amazon employees shuffled around the small store and restocked shelves. Tourists chatted in small groups as they pointed and looked for the sensors that were keeping track of our every move. One guy with his phone on a selfie stick recorded himself as he selected snacks. And then there were the folks for whom the novelty had worn off and just wanted a vegetarian banh mi sandwich.

No one cared what I was doing. Is this what it feels like to shop when you’re not black?

…Amazon Go isn’t going to fix implicit bias or remove the years of conditioning under which I’ve operated. But in the Amazon Go store, everyone is just a shopper, an opportunity for the retail giant to test technology, learn about our habits and make some money. Amazon sees green, and in its own capitalist way, this cashierless concept eased my burden a little bit.

The similarities in these cases are interesting but so are the differences. In the Sears case most of the effect of diminished discrimination was driven by greater competition in one-shop towns. In the one-shop town the owners sometimes took a share of their monopoly profits in invidious racism–this appears to explain why shop owners would prevent blacks from buying more expensive products (or perhaps the one-stop shop had to cater to racist customers who demanded invidious discrimination.)

In the Uber case my bet is that a large share of the reduction in discrimination was due to the fact that Uber drivers don’t carry cash and so are less worried about robbery and the app increases safety because it records in detail rider, driver and trip data. In other words, the Uber system reduced the value of statistical discrimination. It’s difficult to know for sure, however, because there was probably also some decline in invidious discrimination brought about by Uber hiding some rider information from drivers until trips are accepted.

The last case, the Amazon Go case, is in part a decline in the value of statistical discrimination since shoplifting is no longer a problem (in theory, assuming the technology works) but in this case the decline in statistical discrimination is driven by much finer discrimination. The moment a shopper enters the Amazon Go store, Amazon knows their name, address, entire shopping history, credit history and potentially much more. Moreover, a shopper’s every movement within the store is tracked to a level of detail that no store detective could ever hope to match. To the customer, especially the black customer, it may feel like they are no longer being watched but in fact they are watched more than ever before–the costs of technological monitoring, however, are mostly fixed which means that everyone is monitored equally. No need for statistical discrimination in the panopticon.

Addendum: A good dissertation might be to incorporates the cost of information, the value of statistical discrimination and the demand for invidious discrimination in a general theory that explains the various cases mentioned here and the effects of information bans such as ban the box.

Hope is not lost

While some say wisdom comes with age, younger Americans are better than their elders at separating factual from opinion statements in the news, according to a new analysis from Pew Research Center.

And the gap is noticeable:

About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32%) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44% correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26% among those ages 50 and older.

When looking at the 10 statements individually, younger adults were not only better overall at correctly identifying factual and opinion news statements – they could do so regardless of the ideological appeal of the statements.

Maybe social media aren’t so terrible after all.  And maybe cable TV is less than perfect?

That is from Jeffrey Gottfried and Elizabeth Grieco, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Incentives matter

Chad Haag considered living in a cave to escape his student debt. He had a friend doing it. But after some plotting, he settled on what he considered a less risky plan. This year, he relocated to a jungle in India. “I’ve put America behind me,” Haag, 29, said.

He now lives in a concrete house in the village of Uchakkada for $50 a month. His backyard is filled with coconut trees and chickens. “I saw four elephants just yesterday,” he said, adding that he hopes to never set foot in a Walmart again.

His debt is currently on its way to default. But more than 9,000 miles away from Colorado, Haag said, his student loans don’t feel real anymore.

“It’s kind of like, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it really exist?” he said.

The philosophy major concedes that his student loan balance of around $20,000 isn’t as large as the burden shouldered by many other borrowers, but he said his difficultly finding a college-level job in the U.S. has made that debt oppressive nonetheless. “If you’re not making a living wage,” Haag said, “$20,000 in debt is devastating.”

Here is the full story by Annie Nova, with photos and video.  Via the excellent Samir Varma.

Sunday assorted links

Quote of the Day

The state-the machinery and power of the state-is a potential resource or threat to every industry in the society. With its power to prohibit or compel, to take or give money, the state can and does selectively help or hurt a vast number of industries…The central tasks of the theory of economic regulation are to explain who will receive the benefits or burdens of regulation, what form regulation will take, and the effects of regulation upon the allocation of resources.

Regulation may be actively sought by an industry, or it may be thrust upon it. A central thesis of this paper is that, as a rule, regulation is acquired by the industry and is designed and operated primarily for its benefit.

Stigler, George J. 1971. “The Theory of Economic Regulation.Bell Journal of Economics Spring: 137–46.

Kenyan hospital markets in everything

The Kenyatta National Hospital is east Africa’s biggest medical institution, home to more than a dozen donor-funded projects with international partners — a “Center of Excellence,” says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The hospital’s website proudly proclaims its motto — “We Listen … We Care” — along with photos of smiling doctors, a vaccination campaign and staffers holding aloft a gold trophy at an awards ceremony.

But there are no pictures of Robert Wanyonyi, shot and paralyzed in a robbery more than a year ago. Kenyatta will not allow him to leave the hospital because he cannot pay his bill of nearly 4 million Kenyan shillings ($39,570). He is trapped in his fourth-floor bed, unable to go to India, where he believes doctors might help him…

The hospitals often illegally detain patients long after they should be medically discharged, using armed guards, locked doors and even chains to hold those who have not settled their accounts. Mothers and babies are sometimes separated. Even death does not guarantee release: Kenyan hospitals and morgues are holding hundreds of bodies until families can pay their loved ones’ bills, government officials say.

Dozens of doctors, nurses, health experts, patients and administrators told The Associated Press of imprisonments in hospitals in at least 30 other countries, including Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China and Thailand, Lithuania and Bulgaria, and others in Latin America and the Middle East.

Here is the full story by Maria Cheng, via Daniel Lippman.

My interview with Pioneer

Short, and mostly about boyhood, here is one bit:

If you became really good at something (physics, programming, art, music), how exactly did you first get hooked?

Learning is fun. I found that social sciences are a good vehicle for learning things all the time. That got me hooked. It made my travel more salient, and it enriched the time I spent with music and the arts. It helped me make sense of people, too. All that at once. That was a pretty potent brew, and it still is.

What are some weird things you worked on or did as a teenager?

These days, what’s weird? I play chess intensively for four years, ages 10 to 14. Then I studied economics for the rest of my life. Arguably I was less weird as a teenager than I am today. What’s weird is that I haven’t matured into a less intensive course of study.

Here is the full link, here is a link to Pioneer, a new venture capital enterprise to discover the “lost Einsteins.”  That may be you, so go apply.  Here is a Pioneer list of some specific projects of interest.

Saturday assorted links

Toward a theory of optimal personality?

If you are too conscientious, you might experience undue stress during a negative performance review.  Or being too agreeable is correlated with lower salary levels, especially for men.  And surely too much extroversion and too much openness are possible too?

Rolf Degen reproduces a few relevant paragraphs from a new paper.  The work is by Nathan T. Carter, Joshua D. Miller, and Thomas A. Widiger, here is one excerpt from their abstract:

…researchers have only recently begun to uncover evidence that extreme standing on “normal” or “desirable” personality traits might be maladaptive…many more people possess optimal personality-trait levels than previously thought…

I don’t quite agree with that, though I wouldn’t, would I?  I think they are overrating normality.  The notion that “weirdos are bad” seems to me longstanding, and one of the most durable human intuitions, not something that researchers have only started to realize.  In a world with growing division of labor, and greater accountability (in the private sector, at least), extreme traits would seem to be rising in social value.  And perhaps some of that return can be captured as private value too — Silicon Valley anybody?

Overall, I still think that “falling short” on say either conscientiousness or openness is undesirable for most though not all individuals.  How can conscientiousness ever be bad, you might be wondering?  Well, if the world is underproducing people with unusual interests and inclinations, more conscientiousness might make “more weirdos” a harder outcome to achieve.  For instance, conscientiousness, with respect to obligations toward broader society, might keep many people more conformist.  That said, there still are many people who would do better to get up in the morning and go to work, one manifestation of conscientiousness.

Agreeableness is the trait that remains a hard to define black box.  Cooperativeness is often good, though simple deference to the opinions of others, without critical examination, is often bad.  When I hear “agreeableness” discussed as a formal personality trait, the possible clash between those two (and other) underlying features of agreeableness seems to receive insufficient attention.

Here is a previous MR Post on related issues.

Data mining is not infinitely powerful

To say the least:

Suppose that asset pricing factors are just data mined noise. How much data mining is required to produce the more than 300 factors documented by academics? This short paper shows that, if 10,000 academics generate 1 factor every minute, it takes 15 million years of full-time data mining. This absurd conclusion comes from rigorously pursuing the data mining theory and applying it to data. To fit the fat right tail of published t-stats, a pure data mining model implies that the probability of publishing t-stats < 6.0 is ridiculously small, and thus it takes a ridiculous amount of mining to publish a single t-stat. These results show that the data mining alone cannot explain the zoo of asset pricing factors.

That is from a new paper by Andrew Y. Chen at the Fed.