An Interview with the Retiring French Ambassador

An especially blunt and interesting interview with Gérard Araud, the French Ambassador, who is retiring (to America) from public life. Here’s one bit:

I don’t think that anything irreparable is happening in the U.S. I don’t know what would have happened in France if Marine Le Pen had been elected, because our institutions are much weaker.

Let’s look at the dogma of the previous period. For instance, free trade. It’s over. Trump is doing it in his own way. Brutal, a bit primitive, but in a sense he’s right. What he’s doing with China should have been done, maybe in a different way, but should have been done before. Trump has felt Americans’ fatigue, but [Barack] Obama also did. The role of the United States as a policeman of the world, it’s over. Obama started, Trump really pursued it. You saw it in Ukraine. You are seeing it every day in Syria. People here faint when you discuss NATO, but when he said, “Why should we defend Montenegro?,” it’s a genuine question. I know that people at Brookings or the Atlantic Council will faint again, but really yes, why, why should you?

These are the questions which are being put on the table in a brutal and a bit primitive way by Trump, but they are real questions.

Here’s another which reflects my own political arc watching the triumph and decline of more libertarian ideas. The tragedy is that the ideas worked as we said they would to make the world a much richer, more peaceful place but the ideas are being rejected anyway:

Bayoumy: Tell me about your memoirs.

Araud: My career had started with the election of [Ronald] Reagan, and my career is finishing with Trump. From Reagan to Trump you have, more or less, the neoliberal era—taxes were bad, borders were bad, and you have to trust the market. It’s also the period of the triumphant West … that the West was in a sense doomed to win. That sooner or later all the world will march triumphantly, to the triumph of the market. And suddenly the election of Trump and the populist wave everywhere in the Western world is for me, and I may be wrong, but for me means that this period is over.

Markets in everything those new service sector jobs

TITUSS BURGESS doesn’t like to travel and says he knows “zero” about South Africa, which would seem to make him an unlikely host for a 10-day tour of that nation, especially one that costs nearly $27,000 a head. But on a chill March night, the actor, best known for his role as Titus Andromedon on the Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” patiently posed for selfies with travel journalists at a Manhattan wine bar to kick off Heritage Tours’ new Spotlight Series of trips. The company describes the tours as “immersive small-group experiences enhanced by the presence of expert personalities and influencers.”

…While Mr. MacMillan says that the hosts for his trips were chosen for their connection to the destinations, the link can seem tenuous. Courtney Reed, who played Princess Jasmine in Disney ’s “Aladdin” on Broadway will be hosting a trip to Spain focused on wine, fashion and food. She’s never been to Spain, but is “extra thrilled” about going. “I think my role is just to provide social ambience,” she said. “I’m a very easygoing person and I can create extra flair just having fun and appreciating our surroundings. I’m like a cheerleader….We’re going to have a blast!”

…Other travel companies are hitching their wagons to stars who don’t merely gild the travel experience, but add bona fide knowledge or expertise. “There’s only so much caviar and champagne you can give passengers, so we like to enrich their experience in an intelligent way,” said Barbara Muckermann, chief marketing officer of Silversea Cruises. The cruise line, which has at least one expert lecturer on each of its ships, invited nine artists, writers and other creative types including authors Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer and Saroo Brierley to make appearances during its 133-day World Cruise 2019. Besides giving lectures, each is contributing to a commemorative anthology that Silversea line is creating for the passengers.

There is more at the link, by Kevin Doyle at the WSJ, via the excellent Samir Varma.

*The AI Does Not Hate You*

That is the new book by Tom Chivers, and the subtitle is Superintelligence, Rationality and the Race to Save the World.  Here is one excerpt:

Overall, they have sparked a remarkable change.  They’ve made the idea of AI as an existential risk mainstream; sensible, grown-up people are talking about it, not just fringe nerds on an email list.  From my point of view, that’s a good thing.  I don’t think AI is definitely going to destroy humanity.  But nor do I think that it’s so unlikely we can ignore it.  There is a small but non-negligible probability that, when we look back on this era in the future, we’ll think that Eliezer Yudkowsky and Nick Bostrom  — and the SL4 email list, and — have saved the world.  If Paul Crowley is right and my children don’t die of old age, but in a good way — if they and humanity reach the stars, with the help of a friendly superintelligence — that might, just plausibly, be because of the Rationalists.

There is also material covering Scott Alexander and Robin Hanson, among others.  Due out in the UK in June.

Saturday assorted links

1. Architectural battles and the alt right.

2. Alberto Mingardi reviews *Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero*.

3. Rising wage returns to workers who are on call all the time and work long hours (NYT).  The framing of the piece implies these workers impose negative externalities on others, but of course positive externalities are a more plausible scenario.  Furthermore, the wedge created by marginal tax rates suggests many people are working too few hours at too unproductive a pace, compared to an optimum.  It is the non-pecuniary aspects of the job which are oversupplied, as in basic micro, right?

4. “Amazon employs a system that not only tracks warehouse workers’ productivity but also can automatically fire them for failing to meet expectations.

5. Chris Blattman and Agnes Callard at Night Owls.

6. Data and discussion on Chinese overseas lending (NYT).

7. “Are These 90 Day Fiancé Couples Living Happily Ever After?

What I’ve been reading

1. Patrick Bergemann, Judge Thy Neighbor: Denunciations in the Spanish Inquisition, Romanov Russia, and Nazi Germany.  A very specific, useful, and interesting account of actual denunciation practices during the above-mentioned episodes.  During the Inquisition, there was general immunity given to most denouncers, you can imagine the resulting incentives.  This book is becoming more relevant than it ought to be.

2. John L. Rudolph, How We Teach Science: What’s Changed, and Why It Matters.  I found this book boring, but it is the kind of book people should be writing and I suspect some readers and researchers will find it very useful.  A fact-rich, reference-laden history of American science education, still by the end I still was looking for more organizational principles.

3. Samme Chittum, Last Days of the Concorde: The Crash of Flight 4590 and the End of Supersonic Passenger Travel.  An excellent book on why the Concorde was in fact abandoned.  I hadn’t realized it was never so safe in the first place:  “They soon learned that Concordes operated by British Airways and Air France had been involved in a range of tire failures over the years.  No fewer than 57 such incidents had taken place since Concordes began flying in 1976, 47 were either burst or inflated tires, and 10 were instances in which tires lost tread.”

4. Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, translated and edited by Ken Liu.  I found the “hit rate” in this collection to be slightly over fifty percent, which is rare for a science fiction anthology, plus even the lesser stories give one some insight into China, so definitely recommended, at least if you think you might like it.  But don’t read this before The Three-Body Problem.

Ethan Pollock, Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse, delivers what it promises.  The coup against Gorbachev was plotted in a banya, I learned.

Joshua Specht, Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America.  A good economic history of the “cattle-beef complex”: “Abilene, Kansas was the first major cattle town.”

Emily Oster, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, From Birth to Preschool is in my pile, it may someday be revised to cover older children.

Also in my pile is Julius Caesar, The War for Gaul, a new translation by James J. O’Donnell.  I can’t speak to this translation, but the book is a winner.

Getting serious in the privacy wars

A three-hour drive north of the Philippine capital Manila, local leaders have drawn a line in the sand against a swelling tide of scuttlebutt and innuendo.

They outlawed gossip.

In a world awash with fake news and online rumors, more than half a dozen neighborhoods in Binalonan have introduced an anti-gossip ordinance to put an end to too much idle chitchat. Town Mayor Ramon Guico III says the worst time is during the summer, when the scorching heat pushes people to huddle beneath the broad branches of century-old acacia trees, sipping soft drinks or munching on snacks in the shade.

“That’s how it starts,” he complains.

The chin-wagging usually revolves around who might be cheating on their spouse or running up debts. Facebook and messaging apps worsened the problem, but Mr. Guico says the really damaging stuff is gossip— the sort of thing your mother might have warned you about…

The first offense starts with a fine of 500 pesos, or around $10, followed by an embarrassing afternoon spent picking up trash.

Here is the full James Hookway piece at the WSJ.

Sentences to ponder

Graduate students experience depression and anxiety at six times the rate of the general population, Gumport mentioned.

A study produced by Paul Barreira, director of Harvard’s University Health Service, found that “the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms among economics Ph.D. students is comparable to the prevalence found in incarcerated populations.”

Most of the article (the top segment) is an interesting consideration of the economics of Stanford University Press.

Slavery is usually worse than you think

The men were allowed to come on deck night and day if they wished, but it was the rule to whip the Negro men if they went in the hold with the women.  Aboard the Creole, sex was apparently (and, it turned out, wrong) deemed a greater threat than slave rebellion.  Gonorrhea, according to slaveholding commonplace, was a disease “generally contracted among Negroes en route who are brought for sale.”  A number of different traders had their slaves aboard the ship, and segregating them by sex was a way to keep one slaveholder’s slaves from diminishing the value of another’s by passing a disease — or starting a pregnancy.

That is from Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market.

Sentences to ponder

She also said Ms. Gardner had ranked reporters in job interviews according to how negative they were regarding tech companies, viewing that as a favorable trait, and had urged Ms. Angwin to run headlines on future stories like ‘Facebook is a dumpster fire.’ Ms. Angwin said her objections had led Ms. Gardner to seek her removal as editor in chief.

Here is the source (NYT), via Tom.

Did rising health care expenditures damage the U.S. savings rate?

Maybe so:

The U.S. saving rate declined by 8 percent between 1980 and 2009. We document that the decline can be explained by rising health expenditures. Using exogenous variation in medical expenses generated by FDA drug approvals, we document that a 1 percentage point increase in health expenditure generated a decline in saving rate of 0.9 percentage points. We then estimate a model of household decisions to evaluate the mechanisms behind the decline. We find that the rise in health expenses and drop in saving rate are driven by progress in health technology, reduction in co‐payment rates, and improvements in income processes.

That is by Yi Chen, Maurizio Mazzocco, and Béla Személy, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Gender and the confidence gap

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

The first new study focuses on performance in high school, and the startling result is this: Girls with more exposure to high-achieving boys (as proxied by parental education) have a smaller chance of receiving a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, they do worse in math and science, are less likely to join the labor force, and more likely to have more children, which in turn may limit their later career prospects.

Those are disturbing results.  Exposure to high-achieving peers is normally expected to be a plus, not a minus. It is what parents are trying to do when they place their children into better schools, or when school systems work hard to attract better students.


A second new study finds that even blind review does not avoid gender bias in the processing of grant proposal applications, drawn from data from the Gates Foundation. It turns out that women and men have different communications styles, with the women more likely to use narrow words, and the men more likely to use broader ones. And reviewers, it turns out, favor broad words, which are more commonly associated with more sweeping claims, and disfavor the use of too many narrow words.

The net result is that “even in an anonymous review process, there is a robust negative relationship between female applicants and the scores assigned by reviewers.” This discrepancy persists even after controlling for subject matter and other variables. Notably, however, it disappears when controlling for different rhetorical styles.

These two studies probably are connected to each other. While the two sets of researchers do not address each other’s claims, it is not a huge leap to think of broader, more sweeping language as reflecting a kind of confidence, whether merited or not. Narrow words, on the other hand, may reflect a lower level of confidence or a greater sense of rhetorical modesty. Not only might lower confidence hurt many women in life, but a greater unwillingness to signal confidence — regardless of whether it’s genuine — might hurt them too.

There is much more at the link, recommended.