The Solomonic solution?

Or should that be “Solve for the equilibrium”?  How about “China Civil War of the Day”?:

The largest province in Solomon Islands has announced plans for an independence referendum as tensions with the country’s national government over China policy rise.

Malaita, a province of 200,000 people in the country’s east, “will soon conduct a provincial-wide referendum on the topic of independence”, a statement from premier Daniel Suidani said on Tuesday.

In a phone interview with the Guardian, Suidani confirmed the plan, saying a vote would be held as soon as this month.

The referendum plan comes after a year of tensions between Suidani’s provincial government, which is supportive of Taiwan, and Solomon Islands’ national government which has adopted a pro-Beijing stance.

Here is the full story.

Wednesday assorted links

Monkey Parenting Matters

In a new NBER paper, a group of economists, including James Heckman, have joined with researchers who study child development to analyze data from a multi-generational monkey raising experiment. It’s well known from the Harlow experiments of the 1950s that monkeys raised without their mothers don’t do so well. (It’s also from these experiments that the mantra of skin-to-skin mother-child contact comes from.) What’s distinctive in the new paper is that there are two generations of monkeys who are raised by their mothers or in nurseries and in each generation the treatment is randomly chosen. Indeed, I believe this new paper includes the children of monkeys discussed in this earlier paper which also included Heckman. The multi-generational experiment lets the researchers test whether disadvantage is transmitted down the generations and whether it can be alleviated.

The analysis indicates first that being raised by a mother results in better health and higher social status than being raised in a nursery (as measured by who wins disputes and ELO scores similar to those used in chess!). Second being raised by a mother who was raised by a mother is better than being raised by a mother who was raised in a nursery. The latter indicates that disadvantage transmits down the generations. Indeed, being raised by a mother who was raised in a nursery is just as bad as being raised in a nursery. In other words, it’s hard to ameliorate disadvantage in one generation.

The sample is small (about 100 monkeys in generation one and 60 in generation two) but because of random assignment still potentially useful.

The authors suggest that there are lessons for humans:

Our findings are in line with results from a social experiment on humans. Heckman and Karapakula (2019) document the intergenerational effects of the Perry Preschool Project,which was a randomized social experiment in the 1960s that provided high-quality preschool experiences to socially disadvantaged children. They find that the positive effects of the preschool program were transmitted into the next generation. The offspring of the treated participants were more likely to have better health, achieve higher education, and were more likely to be employed than the offspring of the non-treated participants. In the same way that early-life advantage via maternal presence for rhesus-monkeys led to improved health and higher social rank for their offspring, early-life advantage via high-quality preschool in humans led to better health and social outcomes for their children.

But note the subtle shift in “treatment” meaning. In the monkey experiment, mother-raised is better and it’s the nurseries which are bad but in the human experiment it’s the nurseries that are good. It’s hard enough to justify external validity across human experiments in different places or times doing so across species is an even more perilous leap.

*The Stakes: American at the Point of No Return*

That is the new book by Michael Anton, the famed then pseudonymous author of the “Flight 93 piece.”

I consider this to be the very best book for understanding where the current Intellectual Right “is at.”  In that sense I recommend it highly.  The opening chapter is a polemical fear that all of American will go the route of California, and then Anton keeps on digging further in on what has gone wrong.

To be clear, my vision is not the same as Michael’s.  I would like to see more emphasis on economic growth, on individual liberty, to recognize the emancipatory strands within the Left, to move away from the current historical pessimism of the Right and of Anton in particular, to be more unabashedly cosmopolitan, think more about science, and to become more Bayesian.  Nor do I agree that “…there’s little wrong with President Trump that more Trump couldn’t solve.”

Nonetheless this book serves a very valuable purpose and many of you should read it.

Tesla’s Gigafactory

Elon Musk has said that he thinks not of building cars but of building factories that make cars, the machine that makes the machine. You can see what he is on about in this new video of the first Gigafactory.

Three points of note. The factory was up and running in 10 months. There are lots of robots, in a factory in China–that tells you a lot about Chinese wages and the productivity of robots today. Tesla is building Gigafactory Berlin and Gigafactory Texas next.

Why cancel culture will not take over everything

I was reading this blog post by Arnold Kling, and I thought I should put my own views into a Bloomberg column.  Here is one bit:

So what to make of the apparent growing strength of cancel culture and affiliated movements? Here is the fundamental point: With the rise of social media and low-cost communications, virtually everything that can be said, will be said.

It might be said on Twitter rather than on the evening news, or on 4Chan rather than on Facebook. But the sentiments will be out there, and many of them will be disturbing. The world has arrived at a place where just about every politically incorrect statement — and a response to it, not to mention every politically correct statement and a response to that — is published or recorded somewhere.

So the policing of speech may be vastly more common than it was, say, 15 years ago. But the discourse itself is vastly greater in scope. Political correctness has in fact run amok, but so then has everything else.

As a general principle, people notice what disturbs them more than what doesn’t. Therefore opponents of political correctness — and I include myself in this group — have a never-ending supply of anecdotes to be concerned about. I am not suggesting that this cycle will end well, but it does put the matter in perspective.

The issue is how social norms will adjust to cope with a world where everything is being said all the time. That path will not be smooth — but anxiety about it is different from fear of political correctness simply swallowing up everything and canceling everybody.

I’m no optimist. In fact, I suspect it will be harder to rein in the chaos and bewilderment from the say-whatever-you-want culture — have you checked out the pandemic discourse lately? — than to curb the intemperance of the you-can’t-say-that culture.

Consider also the evolution of internet communication. For all of its diversity, there are significant trends toward centralization. The English language is more focal than before, national politics command more attention than local politics, and the U.S. itself has more soft power in some crucial directions, thanks to its central role in the internet’s intellectual infrastructure. It is striking, for example, how much the entire world responded to the Black Lives Matter movement.

That means Americans will be subject to more cancellations and to more political correctness than people in the rest of the world. For better or worse, Americans are the central nexus that so many others are talking about, not always favorably. To quote Joseph Heller: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you — and Americans have good reason to be paranoid these days. If you published your politically incorrect column in your local Croatian newspaper, the rest of the internet just wouldn’t care all that much.

Yet note the underlying assumption here — namely, that American soft power is indeed growing. And if you are an American intellectual, your relative influence around the world is likely to be growing as well. With that greater influence comes greater scrutiny, and greater risk that you will be treated unfairly by the PC brigades. Is that really such a bad trade-off?

At first I was afraid that “all the wrong people” would like this piece, but so far so good.

The new Elena Ferrante novel, up through p.63 no spoilers

It is a thrill to be dragged into her Neapolitan world of class and romantic intrigue and family strife once again, and the book is clearly Ferrante from the get go.  Yet I have some doubts.  The plot seems more accessible and less complex, and with fewer layers to be unpeeled.  It has not yet moved out of “father-daughter cliché land.”  Every page is engrossing, but I am still looking for the surprise.

They have been so stingy with advance review copies that there are still no Amazon reviews.

Tuesday assorted links

1. A few thoughts about UFOs.

2. More on the vaccines from Russia and China.

3. “We conclude by analyzing New York’s efforts to address out-of-network billing through binding arbitration between physicians and insurers over out-of-network payments. This intervention reduced out-of-network billing by 12.8 percentage points (88%).”  JPE link here.

4. “As if 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, airline pilots landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Sunday, August 30th, reported seeing “a guy in a jetpack” flying about 300 yards off their wing while on final approach to the bustling airport. What makes the reports even stranger is that, like a scene out of The Rocketeer, the airliners were descending through 3,000 feet when jetpack guy showed up next to them.”  Link here.

5. The public choice of NIMBY: “Historic district designation generates a 12-23% premium for house transactions in Denver.”

*The Rise of the G.I. Army, 1940-1941*

The author is Paul Dickson, and the subtitle is The Forgotten Story of How America Forged a Powerful Army Before Pearl Harbor.

For one thing, I enjoyed the examples of “fast action” in this book.  For instance, the U.S. passed draft registration Sept.16, 1940. All men between 21 and 45 are supposed to register, and on a single date, Oct.16. Almost all of them do, including people in mental hospitals. Some stragglers register over the next five days, but the overwhelming majority pull it off on day one, and with very little preexisting infrastructure to draw upon, as draft institutions had been abolished right after the end of WWI.

I had not realized how instrumental George Marshall had been, before Pearl Harbor, in investing in building up America’s officer corps.

The famous movie star, Jimmy Stewart, was drafted but then rejected for being ten pounds too light at 6’3″ and 138 lbs.  He then put on ten pounds so he could join the service.

The tales of poor morale, mental illness, and prostitution camps (no antibiotics!) in 1940 are harrowing.

Recommended.

Economists in the Wild: Finkelstein, Oostrom and Ostriker

Here’s the latest Economists in the Wild video featuring Amy Finkelstein, Tamar Oostrom and Abigail Ostriker discussing some of their research (with Einav and Williams) on breast cancer screening. It’s a good video for illustrating how the tools of economics can be used to study a startling wide variety of problems.

Here’s a free assignment to help connect this video to class.
More professor resources.
High school teacher resources.

Further results on the return to talk therapy

Here was my original post, here is an email response from a specialist in the area, channeled by a reader:

The issue is really, really complicated. I have a lot of data on it because I spent time with Mark Goldenson, interviewing a lot of folks segmented by those who chose to seek mental health assistance from a clinician, those who stayed with that treatment versus those who turned away relatively early, and those who experienced severe mental health conditions that make them think that they should have seen a therapist, but ultimately chose not to, for reasons other than economic ones.

And we also talked to clinicians on the other side of that equation.

So between that and knowing the literature reasonably well, I have a lot of perspective on this.

The first thing is that talk therapy is in general not effective for most people. And I know the paper under examination showed that it’s more effective than antidepressants, but in general, most people do not generally stick with talk therapy. They get a benefit at a reasonably low rate for a reasonably short period of time…

Moreover, there’s some pretty strong evidence that talk therapy or at least CBT is becoming less effective over time – the effect sizes in studies & meta-analyses are going down. And there could be reasons for that that aren’t an indictment of the therapeutic model.

So for example, the modern world could just be becoming more stressful and the therapy is less equipped for it… It could be that as the treatment becomes more popular, rather than the more advanced or cutting-edge therapists using it, it’s used by an increasingly broad set of therapists that include low-skilled or ineffective ones.

So there are a lot of reasons that may not have to do with the merits of CBT as an approach, but the data are reasonably convincing on that front.

I think a lot of people are making a reasonably rational choice that, especially if they’re not going to stick with it for a long period of time, even starting therapy is a low-value proposition.

George Ainslie (the psychologist) has this kind of notion of playing a prisoner’s dilemma with your [future] self… let’s just say I want to start an exercise habit… there are a lot of parallels with exercise and talk therapy.

If I knew for a fact that I was going to stop doing it after one month, it actually doesn’t make sense to start at all. Right, because the benefits of accrued will pretty rapidly deteriorate and it’ll be as if I never did it…

People are not just considering, “Should I try talk therapy?”, they’re considering, “Will I do this for a sufficiently long period of time, or especially can I afford it for a long period of time, to where I will get and maintain the benefits from doing it?”

And many people do in fact have misinformation about how quickly they can experience certain types of benefits, and how much work is involved – it’s clear that there’s a lot of work involved, and many people don’t want to do that work.

From an operant conditioning standpoint, the experience of a therapy session is frankly more punishing than it is rewarding (for many people, a lot of the time). Like any negative stimulus, they’re going to engage in behaviors that cause that stimulus to be experienced at a lower rate.

Sometimes the benefits don’t accrue during the session, they accrue afterwards. It takes a lot of work to experience them and [can] involve emotional trauma to even retrieve them.

It’s not consistent with people’s ROI calculation, or what they would like to see in their ROI calculation. Again, it’s really similar to physical exercise – we know physical exercise works. It works better than antidepressants. It accrues all the benefits that this paper Cowen cited discovered in terms of energy and mood and earnings and so on and so forth.

But people still don’t engage in exercise, and in fact I think the rate of physical activity is actually on the decline, in the industrialized world at least.So, it’s more complex than “Does the behavior accrue benefits if you do it consistently?” It’s also not entirely about access because many forms of physical activity are free, and as the paper examines the seeking of talk therapy is not super sensitive to [price].

So it goes beyond the mere cost of the service, although the cost of the services is definitely prohibitive for a large cross-section of people.

How does ketamine or any other substance relate to this?

I think it relates very favorably in that people may actually have the opposite misconception around psychedelic-assisted therapy. They might view regular talk therapy as something where they’re going to have to do this tedious hour a week for months before they get any benefits or they solve any problems in their lives.

[With ketamine] they probably think that they’re going to do one ketamine session, and all of their issues are going to be solved right their PTSD is cured and they no longer experience any symptoms of anxiety, depression, etc… It’s probably a little bit overhyped in the minds of people who have only casually exposed themselves – they’re seeing an article in The New Yorker, or they’re seeing it on a blog, or someone goes on a podcast and talks about an experience. They’re not looking at it with the measured view of someone from the Johns Hopkins team or whatever. So I think that it does work in your favor….

People may overestimate the level of benefit they’re likely to achieve and it seems like the medicine is doing the work, rather than them. Even though I know that that isn’t really the case….

By the way, fun stuff from that research sprint we did with Goldenson  – the average person in our cohort (who did ultimately get therapy), put it off for over two years.

It was a pretty wide range – some people sought help after, perhaps, six weeks I think was the shortest. Nobody has a bad day or think they’re experiencing depression or experiencing dysfunction in their work life or their romantic life or whatever it is and goes straight to a therapist…

They also tend to do a fair bit of research – they research different therapeutic methods and kind of choose one that fits their personality or their values, almost more so than efficacy.

And most of the people who ended up with a stable relationship with a provider trial between two and five different folks.

Those words are from Chris York, via MR reader Milan Griffes.

The impact of economic regulation on growth: survey and synthesis

This study provides a survey of research that uses cross-country comparisons to examine how economic regulation affects growth. Studies in the peer-reviewed literature tend to rely on either World Bank or Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development measures of regulation. Those studies seem to reflect a consensus that entry regulation and anticompetitive product and labor market regulations are generally harmful to growth. The results from this cross-country research, taken in conjunction with economic theory as well as other country-specific studies of economic regulation, support the hypothesis that economic regulation tends to reduce welfare in competitive markets. Given the continued use of certain types of economic regulation, the findings may offer important lessons for policymakers.

That is a new Mercatus working paper by James Broughel and Robert Hahn.

Monday assorted links

Uh-oh Mumbai

And here is the research:

The spatial layout of cities is an important feature of urban form, highlighted by urban planners but overlooked by economists. This paper investigates the causal economic implications of city shape in India. I measure cities’ geometric properties over time using satellite imagery and historical maps. I develop an instrument for urban shape based on geographic obstacles encountered by expanding cities. Compact city shape is associated with faster population growth and households display positive willingness to pay for more compact layouts. Transit accessibility is an important channel. Land use regulations can contribute to deteriorating city shape.

Here is the full paper by Mariaflavia Harari.  “Transit accessibility” — what a funny phrase to apply to Mumbai traffic!  Try some Marathi slang instead.  And in case you are not familiar with Mumbai, some of the lower parts have some of the most valuable land.