Wednesday assorted links

Two Vaccine Updates

First, in an article on new vaccine boosters in USA today there is this revealing statement:

Any revised Moderna vaccine would include a lower dose than the original, Moore said. The company went with a high dose in its initial vaccine to guarantee effectiveness, but she said the company is confident the dose can come down, reducing side effects without compromising protection.

Arrgh! Why wait for a new vaccine??? Fractional dosing now!

A microneedle patch for vaccines.

The same article also notes:

One of Moderna’s co-founders, MIT professor Robert Langer, is known for his research on microneedles, tiny Band-Aid-like patches that can deliver medications without the pain of a shot. Moderna has said nothing about delivery plans, but it’s conceivable the company might try to combine the two technologies to provide a booster that doesn’t require an injection.

The skin is highly immunologically active so you can give lower doses with a microneedle patch. The microneedles are sometimes made from sugar and don’t hurt. Microneedle delivery, however, can cause scars but I say apply the patch where the sun don’t shine and let’s go!

Second, Canada’s NACI has now endorsed mix and match for the AZ and Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. First Doses First has put Canada in very good shape (now ahead of the US in percent of the population with at least one dose) and this was always part of the FDF plan–delay second doses to get out more first doses and then, when supplies increase, give second doses, possibly with a better vaccine.

Do individuals make more rational decisions when the stakes are higher?

Often yes, but this is a shibboleth of economics that doesn’t always fit the facts, as has been illustrated starkly by our behaviors during the pandemic.  Many people have taken too much risk, or been too risk-averse, even with high stakes on the line.  Here is one excerpt from my recent Bloomberg column:

You might wonder why we are getting these big, important decisions so wrong. I have at least two hypotheses. One is that anxiety causes people to make worse decisions. Facing the danger of a deadly pandemic, for example, the higher stakes might induce me to shift into denial, if only to protect my sanity and peace of mind. I might make worse decisions than if I were simply trying to avoid the common cold, for which the stakes are far lower.

My other hypothesis involves identity and the desire for belonging. It is no accident that red states in the U.S. are under-vaccinated relative to blue states; vaccine skepticism is in part an identity marker for Trump supporters. People tend to see big decisions as more important in shaping their identity than small ones. In essence, the significance of a decision induces all kinds of surrounding social forces to “infect” that decision with partisan influences, and that decision in turn becomes a truly credible signal of what we believe.

For most economic decisions, people do still make better choices when the stakes are higher — but this isn’t a universal principle. Are you so sure, for example, that decisions about who to marry are made more rationally than those about which TV show to watch? Maybe they are, but it’s not entirely obvious.

Note that it is now much easier to make good small stakes decisions, largely because of the internet:

An accompanying change is that low-stakes decisions are easier than ever, due largely to the internet, with one crucial caveat: The decision-maker must be relatively rational. Several decades ago, if you wanted to figure out the best paper towels to buy, you might have asked around and then collated a lot of information yourself. These days it is easy enough to search the internet for the answer. Or consider the example of credit-card rewards, which are far easier to collect, manipulate and use because of the internet.

The danger of course is that the sum of all these smaller triumphs convinces people that they are rational about big dilemmas too — despite the fact that they choose rather poorly on some of them. We are not used to a world where we are worse at big decisions than the small ones. But it has been hurtling our way for some while now.

Recommended.  I also cite this: “Bryan Caplan, a colleague who studies human rationality, has put the individual Covid response in only the second percentile of “my initially mediocre expectations.””

Tuesday assorted links

More on Individualism and Benevolence

This paper investigates the role of individualism in charitable giving. Individualistic societies are those that value individual fulfillment, personal responsibility, and relationships with those outside one’s in-group. Though critics suggest individualism undermines virtues such as generosity, we consider contrary mechanisms first developed in the tradition of classical political economy, especially the “doux commerce” hypothesis (Hirschman 1982), which posits that self-interested pursuit of gains through trade has broader, usually positive, effects on the attitudes and behavior (Matson 2020). Originating in French Enlightenment–era works—especially Montesquieu (1777a, XX.2)—and later found in Mandeville (1988 [1714]), Smith (1982 [1759]), and Hume (1994 [1742]), these arguments fell out of favor within mainstream economics for much of the twentieth century (Boettke 1997). But interest in these works has reemerged alongside growing interest in endogenous preferences (Bowles 1998) and the cultural dimensions of economic activity and as experimental evidence identifying success in trade as a cause of prosocial conduct has accumulated (Smith and Wilson 2019).

…To test our hypotheses, we use evidence from a large cross-section of countries and several measures of individualism, including Hofstede’s (2001) individualism-collectivism index, the index of survival versus self-expression from the World Values Survey (WVS) (Inglehart and Oyserman 2004), and measures of generalized tolerance. Each represents a quantitative measure of culture, or what David Hume referred to as national character (Sent and Kroese 2020). Our empirical results show that individualism is indeed associated with charitable giving, as is economic freedom. The results support the argument of classical liberals thatcommercial society and the social and cultural institutions that support it are sources of the common good.

From Cai, Caskey, Cowen, Murtazashvili, Murtazashvili and Salahodjaev. See my previous post(s) on this topic.

U.S. Largest Industries, 1890

1. Transportation

2. Agriculture and Related Industries

3. Food, Beverages, and Tobacco Products

4. Metal, Metal Products, and Machinery

5. Textiles, Textile Products, and Clothing

6. Mining and Quarrying

7. Banking

8. Wood, Lumber, and Their Products

9. Leather and Allied Products

10. Slaughtering and Meat Packing

That is from the new and excellent An Illustrated Business History of the United States, by Richard Vague.  How many of you really know everything that is in here?  In that same year Buffalo was the tenth largest U.S. city.  And the most valuable import around that time (1891-1900) was sugar, with coffee #2 and “Hides and skins” #3.

The fly swatter had not yet been invented.

Just remember: picture books are usually better than regular books.

Is the second-cheapest wine a rip-off?

The standard economic analysis of product-line pricing by Mussa and Rosen (1978) implies that higher-quality varieties command higher absolute mark-ups. It is widely claimed that this property does not apply to wine lists. Restaurateurs are believed to overprice the second-cheapest wine to exploit naïve diners embarrassed to choose the cheapest option. This paper investigates which view is correct. We find that the mark-up on the second cheapest wine is significantly below that on the four next more expensive wines. It is an urban myth that the second-cheapest wine is an especially bad buy. Percentage mark-ups are highest on mid-range wines. This is consistent with the profit-maximising pricing of a vertically differentiated product line with no behavioral elements, although other factors may contribute to the price pattern.

That is from a new paper by David de Meza and Vikram Pathania, via The Browser (which is worth paying for).

@pmarca lets loose

Don’t underestimate yourself! The great writers of the past tended to be disassociative cranks. Diogenes Laertius says Heraclitus lived “by himself in the mountains, feeding on grasses and herbs” and died by burying himself in literal dung. Rousseau condemned his own children to the hell of an 18th century orphanage while sanctimoniously passing judgment on the rest of society. Nietzsche went insane protecting a horse from a whipping, and in his last messages to the world demanded the pope be jailed and all anti-Semites shot. You see, you fit right in.

And that is one of the more anodyne parts of the interview.  And yes it has been confirmed to be real.  Here is another one of the boring parts:

I predict that we — the West — are going to WEIRDify the entire world, within the next 50 years, the next two generations. We will do this not by converting non-WEIRD people to WEIRD, but by getting their kids. Their kids, and their kids’ kids, are going to grow up on the Internet at least as much as they grow up in the real world, and the pull of WEIRD culture will overwhelm all existing non-WEIRD cultures. I realize this is a very strong claim, but this process is already underway; at this point I think it’s inevitable. The cost of this will be a collapse of global cultural diversity exactly as you and Rozin predict.

Niccolo Soldo is the interviewer.

Monday assorted links

1. What do Finns think of Covid restrictions?

2. New York City’s bird paramedics (New York magazine).  And how the health care DARPA is coming along.

3. “American said that alcohol would continue to be served in first class and business class…” (NYT)

4. Solve for the equilibrium: “Any doofus can be a cybercriminal now,” said Sergei A. Pavlovich, a former hacker who served 10 years in prison in his native Belarus for cybercrimes. “The intellectual barrier to entry has gotten extremely low.” (NYT)

5. Danish spying markets in everything?

6. Observations on gerrymandering.

7. No wonder we are doing so well: “The number of Master’s and Doctoral degree holders more than doubled (in the US) from 2000 to 2018.”

8. Chad Underwood speaks.

The Ford F-150: An Electric Vehicle for Red America

The Ford F-150 truck has been America’s best selling vehicle for forty years! (Bubble test: Do you own one or know someone who does?) The new version, the F-150 Lightning, goes into production in 2022 and it’s electric. Even today there is still the whiff of “liberal America” around electric vehicles but what’s impressive about the Lightning isn’t that it’s electric, it’s that it’s a better truck. The Lightning, for example, can power a home and work appliances from its 11 outlets including a 240 volt outlet! Look at this brilliant ad campaign:

Security and peace of mind are invaluable during severe weather and unpredictable events. That’s why Ford helps ensure you never have to worry about being left in the dark…

Security, peace of mind, don’t be left alone in the dark…all great conservative selling points. Note the truck in the picture is powering the house and the chain saw. The husband and wife, their home and their truck, project independence, success and confidence–a power couple–even with a nod to diversity.

The Lightning is also fast with 0-60mph times in line with those of a Porsche 911 circa 2005, it has more carrying capacity (thanks to the smaller electric motors) than a similar gas vehicle, and it can tow a respectable maximum of 10,000 pounds with all the options.

The Lightning might succeed or it might fail but it won’t fail on politics, this is a vehicle a red-blooded, meat-eating skeptic of global warming could love.

What I’ve been reading

1. Marc Morris, The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England 400-1066.  A pretty good book.  It has been criticized for focusing on “dead white males,” but isn’t this a history of dead white males in large part?  The photos are quite good.  My main problem is simply that I find the whole era inscrutable.  Still, if you wish to learn whether Aethelred the Unready was in fact…unready…this is one good place to go.

2. Andrew Steele, Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old.  I haven’t read all of the popular “anti-aging” books, but perhaps this is the best one?  It presents the diversity of problems involved, and the difficulty of solving them, while remaining ultimately hopeful about the possibility of progress.  Most of the meat of the book is in the middle chapters, which are also good for explaining how aging research relates to broader biological and disease-linked issues.

3. Kara Walker, A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs To Be.  Mostly images of her drawings, no text to speak of (though many of the drawings themselves have text).  These 600 or so drawings will be on exhibit in a show in Basel that I hope to visit this summer, Covid conditions permitting.  I find her work a better introduction to “current race issues” than most of the recent well-known books on race issues.  Smarter and more powerful.

Steven Johnson, Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, is a very good history of exactly what its title promises.

Matt Grossman’s How Social Science Got Better: Overcoming Bias with More Evidence, Diversity, and Self Reflection is both substantive and honest.

Vaccinations at Indian hotels?

The Centre [national government] has asked states and Union Territories to initiate legal or administrative action against private institutions which are offering packages for COVID-19 vaccination in collaboration with hotels, noting that this is in violation of prescribed guidelines.

In a letter to all states and UTs, Additional Secretary to the health ministry, Manohar Agnani, said it has come to the notice of the ministry that some private hospitals have been offering vaccination packages with hotels, against the guidelines issued for the National COVID-19 Vaccination Programme.

Here is more from The Wire, via Rama.  Obviously running vaccines through hotels adds explicit pricing and tends to allocate more vaccines to the wealthy (on average the relatively productive), and to boost total vaccine supply.  So economists will see more merit in this idea than the Indian government does.