How bad is the Ukraine war going to be?

The bottom 50 percent of wars have an average of about 2,900 battle deaths, while the top 50 percent have an average of 653,000, and it is effectively a coin-flip which half any given war will end up in. In Ukraine, after three months and with no end in sight, Western analysts estimate at least 20,000 fatalities, putting this war well into the top half of conflicts…

In the deadlier half of wars, 10 percent have over a million battle deaths — what is stopping the Ukraine conflict from reaching that number?

Here is more from WarontheRocks.  And here is much from Paul Poast, starting with:

The…war could become one of the largest wars — measured in terms of fatalities — in history.

Here is a visualization of the war — who do you think is winning?

Via Edmund Levin.

What are the markers of spam emails?

And why can’t the senders avoid them?  You don’t need top-tier GPT-3 to sidestep these errors:

“touch base with you”


“immediate reply requested”

They are all dead giveaways that I should delete the message without reading further.  And why does the top of the email have to look so institutional in its formatting?  And please note — these are not all scams.  Many are actual marketing pitches directed at me.

Maybe worst of all is mentioning that I haven’t responded to the last email sent, as if that would make me feel guilty or something.  Treat me like a rational Bayesian!

“still haven’t heard back from you”

“still awaiting a response”

And so on.  You will continue to wait. This one I received is a lie, but at least based on a certain amount of cleverness:

“You’ve been responsive to press releases we’ve issued in the past around government and cybersecurity”

What else do you all take to be very clear predictors that an email is spam or just a marketing pitch?  And what is your model for why spam emails are not more convincing than they are?

Should the U.S. have a monarchy?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, riffing on Curtis Yarvin and others.  Here is one bit:

The engineer and entrepreneur Curtis Yarvin, who also has written under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug, has called for a new American monarchy, more like Elizabeth I than Elizabeth II. The usual instant American reaction, of course, is to dismiss absolute monarchy as unjust, old-fashioned and unworkable. And in fact that remains the correct reaction — yet it’s worth thinking through what the desire for monarchy says about the current state of America’s intellectual right.

And in response:

Many monarchist critics focus on the anti-democratic nature of the proposal. They may not realize how much parts of the New Right see the status quo as promoting a stifling conformity in academia, the media and corporate America (Yarvin’s “Cathedral”), rather than a truly pluralistic discourse.

I see far more intellectual diversity in today’s America than Yarvin does. Still, I wish that the “Cathedral” (am I allowed to call it that too?) would be a little more self-aware of its own limitations rather than just shouting down the anti-democratic thinkers as fascists. It’s also possible to think of absolute monarchy as a desperate way to restore diversity of thought, by creating a post whose holder is not accountable to the Cathedral.

The most telling criticism of absolute monarchy is a historical one. In the UK above all, the so-called “absolute” monarchs faced severe fiscal demands, which they met only by granting increasing powers to Parliament or the local nobles. And that was the case when government was a very small percentage of GDP. How would things work today? Would a king have as much power as, say, Tim Cook does? If the executive branch and legislature were to renegotiate old bargains today, the results might be so messy that each would end up with less power and coherence than what Yarvin sees now.

There are other interesting points at the link.

Facts about chickens

Although previous studies have made claims for an early origin of chickens, our results suggest that unambiguous chickens were not present until ∼1650 to 1250 BCE in central Thailand. A correlation between early chickens and the first appearance of rice and millet cultivation suggests that the production and storage of these cereals may have acted as a magnet, thus initiating the chicken domestication process.

Here is the full paper, via Anecdotal.

A Bloody Waste

Image by Satheesh Sankaran from Pixabay

Hemochromatosis is a disorder in which extra iron builds up in the body. A potential treatment is phlebotomy so patients with hemochromatosis want to donate blood and donate regularly. The American Red Cross, however, does not permit people with hemochromatosis to donate blood. Why not? The blood is safe and effective. The blood of these patients doesn’t have much, if any, extra iron (the iron builds up in the body not so much in the blood per se). The “problem” is that people with hemochromatosis benefit themselves by giving blood and for this reason their blood is considered tainted by the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross, which controls about 45% of the nation’s blood supply, does not currently accept donations from people with known hemochromatosis. Everyone agrees that the blood is safe and of high quality. There is no risk of passing on a genetic disease through blood transfusions. But the Red Cross has a long-standing policy that potential donors are not allowed to receive direct compensation for their donation (beyond the usual orange juice and cookie). Because people with hemochromatosis would otherwise have to pay for their therapeutic phlebotomies, they would in effect be getting something of value for being able to donate for free. Thus the Red Cross has ruled that such donations violate their policy.

The FDA does allow patients with hemochromatosis to donate blood so long as there is no charge for phlebotomy (i.e. so long as patients don’t have an incentive to lie to obtain free phlebotomy via donation.) Some countries and some blood banks within the US do accept donations from people with hemochromatosis as do some Kaiser locations. But the American Red Cross is the biggest collector of blood and so it is very often the case that when people with hemochromatosis get a phlebotomy their blood is simply thrown away.

Once a week, Dan Gray pays to have a pint of blood taken at Franklin Memorial Hospital. And once a week, that blood is thrown out rather than donated to someone in need.

It frustrates him.

“You could take a pint out of me, a pint out of you and a pint out of somebody else and play three-pint monte with it and they wouldn’t know whose is whose,” Gray said. “As far as the analysis of it, no one would know.”

and here:

The Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center put out a desperate call this past week for blood donations.

…Every time Carol Barbera hears of such pleas, she gets upset. She was once an avid blood donor and would be one still.

She also has plenty of blood to give.

A medical condition requires her to have a pint of blood drawn at least every two months. The blood is perfectly usable as donor blood. Instead, it goes straight into medical waste.

The Red Cross’s antipathy towards donations from people with hemochromatosis appears to stem from a confused ethical view that incentivized donations are either “coerced” or “non-altruistic” and an old bias against paid donations coming from Titmuss. Actual studies of paid donation, however, show that incentives increased donations without reducing quality.

Thus, as far as the evidence is concerned, there are no good reasons to prohibit people with hemochromatosis from donating blood and given the repeated shortages of blood in the United States there are many good reasons for allowing them to donate.

Hat tip: The tireless Peter Jaworski.

Free speech for legal advice for the poor

A New York nonprofit, Upsolve, started out helping automate the bankruptcy process for low-income Americans. Then it stumbled into a related problem: Many of the families it served were on the receiving end of a barrage of intimidating letters, calls and lawsuits from debt collectors insisting they owed boatloads. Knowing that many of these mistake-riddled cases would have been easy to dismiss if only their clients had been able to afford lawyers, Upsolve sought to offer a helping hand, in the form of free legal advice.

That’s when they ran head-first into state statutes that make it a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, to engage in the unauthorized practice of law.

Now, with the help of fully credentialed attorneys, they are challenging that law in Manhattan federal court. Tuesday, they scored an early victory, as Judge Paul Crotty granted Upsolve’s motion for a preliminary injunction, ruling on First Amendment grounds that the state cannot enforce its prohibition against the free advice program.

Here is the full story.  Here is the full court decision.  Here is the website of Upsolve.  I am pleased that Emergent Ventures has played a key role in supporting Upsolve.

Difficult-To-Pronounce Names and Labor Market Outcomes

Here is a new paper from Qi Ge and Stephen Wu:

This paper tests for the existence of labor market discrimination based on a previously unstudied characteristic: name fluency. Using data on over 1,500 economics job market candidates from roughly 100 PhD programs during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 job market cycles, we find that having a name that takes longer to pronounce is associated with 1) a significantly lower likelihood of being placed into an academic job or obtaining a tenure track position; and 2) an initial placement at an institution with lower research productivity, as measured by the research rankings in the Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) database. We obtain similar results using two alternative ways of measuring pronunciation difficulty, a computer generated algorithm based on commonality of letter and phoneme combinations and a subjective measure based on individual ratings, and they hold after the inclusion of many control variables including fixed effects for PhD institution and home country.

Might the hard-to-pronounce names nonetheless be proxying for lesser job networks in some manner?  In any case an interesting result.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Monday assorted links

1. Gross and Emanuel on reforming the NIH (recommended, Atlantic).  The world really is coming around on this issue.

2. FIRE will move into broader free speech issues.

3. New Perry Mehrling book on Charles Kindleberger is coming.

4. “…we find that adding cultural measures to the model increases the explanatory power from 44% to 95% of the gender compensation gap.

5. How did civil service exams affect who gets employed by the federal government? p.s. Is there any chance here that “elitism” is good rather than bad?

6. Comparing past and present inflation.

Can Education be Standardized? Evidence from Kenya

From Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Anthony Keats, Michael Kremer, Isaac Mbiti, and Owen Ozier:

We examine the impact of enrolling in schools that employ a highly-standardized approach to education, using random variation from a large nationwide scholarship program. Bridge International Academies not only delivers highly detailed lesson guides to teachers using tablet computers, it also standardizes systems for daily teacher monitoring and feedback, school construction, and financial management. At the time of the study, Bridge operated over 400 private schools serving more than 100,000 pupils. It hired teachers with less formal education and experience than public school teachers, paid them less, and had more working hours per week. Enrolling at Bridge for two years increased test scores by 0.89 additional equivalent years of schooling (EYS) for primary school pupils and by 1.48 EYS for pre-primary pupils. These effects are in the 99th percentile of effects found for at-scale programs studied in a recent survey. Enrolling at Bridge reduced both dispersion in test scores and grade repetition. Test score results do not seem to be driven by rote memorization or by income effects of the scholarship.

Promising results, to be sure…

Further results on YouTube radicalization

To what extent does the YouTube recommendation algorithm push users into echo chambers, ideologically biased content, or rabbit holes? Despite growing popular concern, recent work suggests that the recommendation algorithm is not pushing users into these echo chambers. However, existing research relies heavily on the use of anonymous data collection that does not account for the personalized nature of the recommendation algorithm. We asked a sample of real users to install a browser extension that downloaded the list of videos they were recommended. We instructed these users to start on an assigned video and then click through 20 sets of recommendations, capturing what they were being shown in real time as they used the platform logged into their real accounts. Using a novel method to estimate the ideology of a YouTube video, we demonstrate that the YouTube recommendation algorithm does, in fact, push real users into mild ideological echo chambers where, by the end of the data collection task, liberals and conservatives received different distributions of recommendations from each other, though this difference is small. While we find evidence that this difference increases the longer the user followed the recommendation algorithm, we do not find evidence that many go down `rabbit holes’ that lead them to ideologically extreme content. Finally, we find that YouTube pushes all users, regardless of ideology, towards moderately conservative and an increasingly narrow range of ideological content the longer they follow YouTube’s recommendations.

That is from a new research paper by Jonathan Nagler and Joshua A. Tucker.  And here are previous posts on YouTube, some of them covering radicalization charges in further detail.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

What I’ve been reading

1. Dan Werb, The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronavirus and the Search for a Cure.  An excellent book on the history of coronaviruses more generally, with much of the strongest material coming on how earlier coronavirus investigations fed into the progress we have made on Covid-19.  Recommended, not just what all the other Covid books are telling you.

2. James Poskett, Horizons: The Global Origins of Modern Science.  A useful account of what the title promises, with a look at contributions from pre-conquest Mexico, China, and other non-Western locales.  Maybe the book pushes the non-Western theme a little too much at points, but this is basically a sane and readable account, and most of the cross-cultural connections are valid rather than strained.

3. Evan Lieberman, Until We Have Won Our Liberty: South Africa After Apartheid.  An interesting book, and one which contains a lot of useful information.  Yet the author works too hard to avoid recognizing just how badly matters have gone.  Overall, incomes are down and the racial wealth gap has not improved…and that is after getting rid of one of the most inefficient economic systems of all time, namely apartheid.  For sources try this and this, among others.  The income gains you can find are focused in a super-small group.

4. Paul Mango, Warp Speed: Inside the Operation that Beat Covid, the Critics, and the Odds.  Written by an HHS insider and participant, this is kind of cheesy and fanboyish.  But probably it should be!  For one thing, the book gives you a sense of just how much talent was involved in OWS, an under-discussed lesson.  On p.69, you can learn that they repeatedly considered human challenge trials and learn their question-begging reasons for refusing to do them.

5. David Hackett Fischer, African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals.  An extended history of U.S. slavery, focusing on regional differences, for instance Carolina Gullahs vs. New Orleans vs. Mississippi.  As you might expect, the broader story is integrated with that of the particular African origins of the slaves as well.  A strong book, recommended.

Michael Magoon’s From Poverty to Progress: Understanding Humanity’s Greatest Achievement is a very good introduction to the importance of progress and material wealth in history.

Sunday assorted links

1. “Our results suggest that the degree to which Twitter is political has likely been overstated in the past.

2. When do ideas get easier to find? Hard to excerpt, but important piece.

3. The economics of stadium names.

4. Pollution from car tire wear.

5. The Swedish history of not feeding other people’s children.

6. The 1993 ferry sinking off the coast of Jeremie, Haiti had a high death toll — some sources say over one thousand (does anyone know the proper final toll?).  Yet the incident doesn’t seem to have its own Wikipedia page.

7. Ann Turner Cook, original Gerber baby, dies.