Saturday assorted links

1. More on the rise and fall of mobile home manufacturing.

2. “Caitlin and Philip met back in 2015 on Hinge, bonding instantly over the fact they had been to many of the same DMV restaurants—thanks to Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide.

3. “Sun-drenched Texas — not exactly known for its bleeding-heart liberals — has nearly triple the solar capacity this summer than it had last summer.”  Link here.

4. Billionaire wealth as a percentage of gdp, across countries.

5. Krugman needs to calculate Italy’s true net fiscal position, relative to tiny TFR and near-zero growth for more than 20 years (NYT).

China revelations of the day

Among the most alarming things the FBI uncovered pertains to Chinese-made Huawei equipment atop cell towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest. According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the FBI determined the equipment was capable of capturing and disrupting highly restricted Defense Department communications, including those used by US Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons.

And:

In 2020, Congress approved $1.9 billion to remove Chinese-made Huawei and ZTE cellular technology across wide swaths of rural America. But two years later, none of that equipment has been removed and rural telecom companies are still waiting for federal reimbursement money. The FCC received applications to remove some 24,000 pieces of Chinese-made communications equipment—but according to a July 15 update from the commission, it is more than $3 billion short of the money it needs to reimburse all eligible companies.

Here is the full story, vtekl.

Borgen, season four (only spoilers are at the meta-level)

My Bloody Valentine did a follow-up album twenty years later and it was pretty good, unexpectedly good.  Well, this reboot of Borgen, seven years later, is mostly better than the original, even if some of the original characters (Kasper) are missed.  It is now titled Borgen: Power and Glory, and can be found on Netflix.

Some people disliked the original Borgen for its possibly naive portrait of social democracy in Denmark, but season four stands all that on its head.  It represents a radical departure from political and also media discourse these days.

By far the main theme of season four is how it affects women when they hold major positions of power, in both the public and private sector.  How do their characters evolve?  How do they handle power?  What are their family relations like?  How happy do they become?  I won’t say any more here, only that I can’t imagine today’s Hollywood putting out this content.  Nor can I think of any other art work that explores this theme so consistently.  Critics might call the series misogynistic.  They might be right.

Some other themes are relevance are:

1. The nature of Danish imperialism, and how Denmark is incapable of treating Greenland as an equal partner.

2. How left parties manipulate indigenous causes for their own ends.

3. The corruption and pettiness of indigenous societies, such as are found in Greenland.

4. How the media really operate.

5. The hypocrisy of “green” politics.

In other words, what you get is “right-wing Borgen,” and with a vengeance.  Yet the proceedings are all cloaked in the same kind of superficial Danish triumphalism that characterized seasons 1-3.  I wish the content had more of “my kind of liberalism,” but maybe the right-wing cultural critique makes for better TV.  (I keep on thinking that something ought to be privatized…with apologies to David Brooks.  But it should!  You can give the government half the revenue.  And no, Russian and Chinese state-affiliated buyers do not count.  And while we are at it, how about “one billion Greenlanders“?  I’d settle for a million.)

It is no surprise that the reviews of this season are largely mediocre.  Yet for me it is the best Borgen yet, recognizing that it will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  But if any show has the street cred to deliver these messages, it is Borgen.  The show also tells us once again that Denmark is not quite the left-wing country you might think, because none of the reactionary content put on the screen comes across as unnaturally Danish.

Do you need to have seen seasons one thru three for season four to make sense?  It seems to me yes, but who knows maybe you can just start this one from scratch?

Stop drinking now!

Perhaps you drink responsibly, but you create contagion effects for others:

How malleable is alcohol consumption? Specifically, how much is alcohol consumption driven by the current environment versus individual characteristics? To answer this question, we analyze changes in alcohol purchases when consumers move from one state to another in the United States. We find that if a household moves to a state with a higher (lower) average alcohol purchases than the origin state, the household is likely to increase (decrease) its alcohol purchases right after the move. The current environment explains about two-thirds of the differences in alcohol purchases. The adjustment takes place both on the extensive and intensive margins.

That is from a new research paper by Marit Hinnosaar and Elaine M. Liu.   To be clear, I don’t think we should ban alcohol, I simply think each and every person should stop drinking it, voluntarily.  Now.

Will MacAskill remarked to me recently (in a not yet released CWT) that Effective Altruists tend to be social liberals.  But should they be?  Why should they not jump on this bandwagon?  It is in fact a wagon you jump on!

Peer review facts of the day

It’s estimated that, between them, researchers around the world spent a total of 100 million hours on reviewing papers in just 2020 alone. Around 10 percent of economics researchers spend at least 25 working days a year reviewing them…

Today, a scientist who submits a study to Nature or PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, can expect to be published nine months later, on average. In the top economics journals, the process takes even longer – a staggering 34 months, or almost three years. And the length has been crawling upward each year.

That is from Saloni Dattani, at Works in Progress (full issue here, recommended), and she also offers some suggestions for reform.

The Synchron brain-computer interface is implanted in a patient

So much talk about Monkey Pong, but perhaps the real action is elsewhere:

On July 6 a doctor at the Mount Sinai West medical center in New York threaded a 1.5-inch-long implant made up of wires and electrodes into a blood vessel in the brain of a patient with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The hope is that the patient, who’s lost the ability to move and speak, will be able to surf the web and communicate via email and text simply by thinking—the device will translate his thoughts into commands sent to a computer.

Synchron, the startup behind the technology, has already implanted its devices in four patients in Australia, who haven’t experienced side effects and have been able to carry out such tasks as sending WhatsApp messages and making online purchases.

Here is the yummy-yum part:

A doctor makes an incision in the patient’s neck and feeds the stentrode via a catheter through the jugular vein into a blood vessel nestled within the motor cortex. As the catheter is removed, the stentrode—a cylindrical, hollow wire mesh—opens up and begins to fuse with the outer edges of the vessel. According to Majidi, the process is very similar to implanting a coronary stent and takes just a few minutes.

A second procedure then connects the stentrode via a wire to a computing device implanted in the patient’s chest. To do this, the surgeon must create a tunnel for the wire and a pocket for the device underneath the patient’s skin, much like what’s done to accommodate a pacemaker. The stentrode reads the signals when neurons fire in the brain, and the computing device amplifies those signals and sends them out to a computer or smartphone via Bluetooth.

Here is the full Bloomberg story by Ashlee Vance.

Our regulatory state is failing us, NIH edition

…the lawmakers pressed NIH leadership for answers about the mysterious disappearance of the Scientific Management Review Board, a committee that Congress empaneled in 2006 to ensure the agency was operating efficiently…

“There wasn’t any notification that we weren’t going to meet again — it was just that the meetings stopped getting called,” Nancy Andrews, a onetime board member and the former dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, told STAT in May.

She added: “I had the sense that we were asking questions in areas that they didn’t really want to get into, and I suppose Francis [Collins] in particular didn’t really want us working on.”

Here is the full StatNews piece.

Thursday assorted links

1. Most common dream by country (speculative).

2. Atif Mian on Pakistan’s desperate economic situation.

3. David Wallace-Wells on where we stand with Covid (NYT).

4. Officials to reorganize the federal health department, currently hard to assess but surely no response to pandemic failures was a mistake.  CDC to lose some power.

5. Thomas Edsall on the feminization of U.S. politics (NYT).  Important, recommended.

6. Thailand not happy about seasteading.

7. Russ Roberts on marriage, rationality, and Darwin, and also his new book (NYT).

The latest wisdom on corporate income tax cuts

A corporate income tax cut leads to a sustained increase in GDP and productivity, with peak effects between five and eight years. R&D spending and capital investment display hump-shaped responses while hours worked and employment are much less affected.

That is from a new NBER working paper by James Cloyne, Joseba Martinez, Haroon Mumtaz, and Paolo Surico.  You will hear many economists, including Paul Krugman, tell you that the Trump corporate tax cuts were a failure.  It would be more accurate to say that we still do not know how effective they will be, noting that the pandemic may have extended the “five and eight years” benchmark a bit.  And it would be more accurate to report that the best available science indicates the tax cuts stand a good chance of succeeding.  See this earlier research, in top-tiered outlets, and also this.

English Forests are Growing

England has doubled the amount of forestland in the past 150 years, and now has as much land dedicated to forests as the year 1350.

As I have reported before, the earth is greening–especially in China and India, in part because of rising CO2 levels and in part because of increasing urbanization and agricultural productivity.

That’s the gist, you can find a more detailed world investigation at OurWorldInData.

Hat tip: the excellent Jeremy Horpedahl.

How well will Colombia end up doing?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  I am ultimately optimistic, but let me present the case for the negative:

Yet those positives have been in place for a while, and the results are less than earth-shattering. By World Bank estimates, Colombia has a per capita income of slightly more than $16,000, using purchasing power parity standards. For purposes of comparison, Mexico comes in at slightly over $20,000. Argentina is considered to have been an economic failure since the Peronist years, but still has a per capita income exceeding $22,000.

Also troubling is the country’s export profile. After fossil fuels, which have a limited future, the country’s leading exports are coffee, gems and precious metals. None of these is large enough or sophisticated enough or training enough quality labor to push the nation over the top. When it comes to complex manufacturing, the country is lagging well behind Mexico and Brazil, much less South Korea.

A pessimistic view of Colombia would cite the country’s very different geographic regions that have never seen full economic or even political unification. The lack of a fully developed nation-state has been reflected in the country’s ongoing troubles with guerrillas and drug lords. The major urban centers of Bogotá and Medellín are both deep in the interior, surrounded by mountains, and unable to take advantage of major navigable rivers. There is no world-class port or harbor, and except for its connection to the US, the country is inward-looking and has attracted relatively few immigrants, recent Venezuelan refugees aside. The Amazon cuts off Colombia from much of the rest of South America. De facto Colombia has no richer neighbor to pull it up by its bootstraps, Panama being much too small and most of Brazil being too distant. Colombia’s problems also include a recent uptick in troubles with former guerrillas.

I look forward to my next visit to the country…

China new product fact of the day

On 10 July, in Guangdong Shunde, MBG released “Dressed Air Conditioning”, which was described as the product of the first global 3C certification of cold-wearing equipment with a compressed mechanism.

What do you mean, “dressed air conditioner”? – Put air conditioner on your body, wear it on your body. Its three cores are a vest, a mini-direct compressor, and a battery, but it’s easy to say, it’s got a lot of technology in it. The miniature compressors can reduce the temperature to 16°C in three minutes, weighing just 485g, less than a kilogram. The total weight of the equipment is about five pounds, which is equivalent to keeping the lady with the smallest number in the gym away from her waist.

(What does that last segment mean?)  Here is the full story, via Anecdotal.

Some reasons why the U.S. dollar is strong

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  After talking through some traditional economic reasons, here are some cultural reasons:

In addition, American soft power is far more robust than many criticisms would indicate. English is increasingly entrenched as the global language. The world’s major internet companies are still largely American, with the exception of some Chinese ones. If the internet continues to become more important in our lives, that is another plus for the US — and the dollar.

America also sets a good deal of the global intellectual agenda, for better or worse. The #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and wokeism, among other topics, are debated around the world. A US presidential election is akin to a global presidential election, in terms of interest and maybe impact. No other country can say the same.

Perhaps, in view of the larger moral picture, this is all a mixed blessing. But in terms of keeping the dollar as a focal reserve currency, it is a major plus.

There is a reason why the global intellectual chattering classes find it hard to be bullish on America, and so to them a strong dollar is counterintuitive. When one country is so much the center of global attention, it is hard for that country to look good. As my colleague Martin Gurri argues, anything studied and discussed long enough on the internet tends to lead to disillusionment. People focus on the vices more than the virtues, and lose trust.

And so it is with the US. Both abroad and domestically, on both the left and right, there seems to be less faith in the American dream than there was three or four decades ago. In some quarters the US is seen as on the verge of collapse, or at the very least moral and intellectual ruin.

…Most people around the world can recite the defects of America far more easily than they can those of, say, Paraguay.

As a related side note, with both nominal incomes and the dollar up, now is a remarkably inexpensive time for Americans to travel abroad.