*Hamilton*

I was surprised by the consistent level of quality in the production.  It runs for about 2 hours, 20 minutes, with hardly any slow musical moments — how many pop or rap albums can say the same?

I do not agree with those who see it as too authoritarian or too glorifying of raw ambition and war.  In my read of the piece, it is “crazy” King George III who speaks the truth about politics.  The main plot of course has non-white characters in the roles of Founding Fathers.  I view this as an imaginary history, to be compared against what actually happened, to illustrate just how far America is from having an actual emancipatory history.  At the same time, America is the country where people tell such imaginary stories about emancipatory histories, a sign that we are not entirely hopeless.  Yet when it comes to “who is in the room,” and “who gets to tell the story” — two recurring themes — the outcomes have been less than ideal.  I saw Hamilton as a piece about shattered dreams and yet picking up the pieces yet again.

It is striking how good a job Hamilton does at appealing to viewers of all different levels of education and information.

Here is a review from David Brooks (NYT).

Housing Costs Reduce the Return to Education

In normal times and places house prices are kept fairly close to construction costs by the ordinary processes of supply and demand. Average house prices didn’t rise much over the entire 20th century, for example. Even today, house prices are kept close to construction costs in most of the United States. But extreme supply restrictions in a small number of important places (San Francisco, San Jose, LA, New York, Boston etc.), have driven average prices well above any seen in the entire 20th century.

Over the last several decades high productivity industries have become more geographically concentrated. As a result, a substantial share of the productivity gains from technology, bio-tech and finance have gone not to producers but to non-productive landowners. High returns to land have meant lower returns to other factors of production.

The return to education, for example, has increased in the United States but it’s less well appreciated that in order to earn high wages college educated workers must increasingly live in expensive cities. One consequence is that the net college wage premium is not as large as it appears and inequality has been over-estimated. Remarkably Enrico Moretti (2013) estimates that 25% of the increase in the college wage premium between 1980 and 2000 was absorbed by higher housing costs. Moreover, since the big increases in housing costs have come after 2000, it’s very likely that an even larger share of the college wage premium today is being eaten by housing. High housing costs don’t simply redistribute wealth from workers to landowners. High housing costs reduce the return to education reducing the incentive to invest in education. Thus higher housing costs have reduced human capital and the number of skilled workers with potentially significant effects on growth.

Housing is eating the world.

Facts about abortion history

1. In 1800, there were no formal laws against abortion in the United States, although common law suggested that the fetus had rights after a process of “quickening.”

2. Ten states passed anti-abortion laws in the 1821-1841 period.  De facto there were many exceptions and enforcement was loose.

3. Abortion became a fully commercialized business in the 1840s, and this led to more public discussion of the practice.  Abortion in fact became one of the first medical specialties in American history.  It is believed that abortion rates jumped over the 1840-1870 period, and mostly due to married women.

4. Drug companies started to supply their own abortion “remedies” in the 1840s on a much larger scale.

5. At this time there were few moral dilemmas, at least not publicly expressed, about the termination of pregnancies in the earlier stages.  That came later in the 20th century.

6. In 1878, a group of physicians in Illinois estimated the general abortion rate at 25%.  In any case during this time period abortion was affordable to many more Americans than just the wealthy.

7. Several states started to criminalize abortion during the 1850s.

8. 1857-1880 saw the beginning of a physicians’ crusade against abortion.  By 1880, abortion was illegal in most of the United States, and this occurred part and parcel with a rise in the professionalization of the medical profession.  These policies were later sustained and extended throughout the 1880s and also the early twentieth century.

9. Over the 1860-1880 period, doctors succeeded in turning American public opinion significantly against abortion.  The homeopaths supported them in this.

This is all from the very useful and readable book Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy, by James C. Mohr.

The portfolio approach

Do you favour beach, city or rural destinations?

City and rural. I keep returning to my two favourite cities, Reykjavik and Addis Ababa. They’re such different places, yet my life is deeply entangled with both. I spend most of my time — holiday or no holiday, physically or mentally — in one of four cities: Berlin, Copenhagen, Reykjavik or Addis Ababa.

That is from artist Olafur Eliasson in a very good FT travel survey.

Sunday assorted links

Educating animals (not just signaling)

Formal training programs, which can be called education, enhance cognition in human and nonhuman animals alike. However, even informal exposure to human contact in human environments can enhance cognition. We review selected literature to compare animals’ behavior with objects among keas and great apes, the taxa that best allow systematic comparison of the behavior of wild animals with that of those in human environments such as homes, zoos, and rehabilitation centers. In all cases, we find that animals in human environments do much more with objects. Following and expanding on the explanations of several previous authors, we propose that living in human environments and the opportunities to observe and manipulate human-made objects help to develop motor skills, embodied cognition, and the use of objects to extend cognition in the animals. Living in a human world also furnishes the animals with more time for such activities, in that the time needed for foraging for food is reduced, and furnishes opportunities for social learning, including emulation, an attempt to achieve the goals of a model, and program-level imitation, in which the imitator reproduces the organizational structure of goal-directed actions without necessarily copying all the details. All these factors let these animals learn about the affordances of many objects and make them better able to come up with solutions to physical problems.

The paper is by Ken Cheng and Richard W. Byrne, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Steve Teles on the Federalist Society and the Left

Here is one bit from what is an excellent story with good material in every paragraph:

Mr. Teles makes sure to emphasize that his sympathy with the conservative legal movement here grows out of not his policy preferences, which lean left, but his belief in the importance of a “powerfully structured” constitutional system. “I don’t think the purpose of the Constitution is to get a government so small you can drown in a bathtub,” he says. Rather, it is to ensure the government “is democratically responsible.”

Mr. Teles believes that one of the most salient projects for the newly conservative Roberts Court will be to roll back administrative-state prerogatives. That could revitalize Congress and restore the constitutional structure, vindicating two longtime goals of the conservative legal movement. But he thinks this could also end up serving certain policy ends of progressives.

For the past several decades, Mr. Teles says, many progressive victories in the economic realm have been achieved through “administrative jujitsu”—difficult-to-understand maneuvers involving taxes, fees, mandates, regulations, and administrative directives. If courts start to block technocratic liberal plans for social reform because they violate the separation of powers, the left may find it easier to mobilize for pure redistribution as an alternative. Think of postal banking instead of CFPB regulation, or a carbon tax instead of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, or a reduction in the Medicare eligibility age instead of ObamaCare subsidies and exchanges.

That might be good for democratic discourse, Mr. Teles suggests. “In some ways liberalism has been deformed” by relying on administrative agencies, “as opposed to making big arguments for big, encompassing social programs.” In the short term, though, conservative courts will probably prove “radicalizing for the left.” Democrats may fully jettison Clintonism and say: “We’re going straight for socialism.” Steeply redistributive programs enacted by legislatures would be “easier to defend in court,” even a conservative court, than unaccountable bureaucratic diktats.

That is from Jason Willick at the WSJ.  I am a big fan of Steve Teles, and in fact here is my Conversation with him (and Brink Lindsey).

Managing Incentives

Lesson one in our textbook chapter on managing incentives is “You get what you pay for (even when what you pay for is not exactly what you want)”. Case in point is the California cleanup of the 2017 wildfires, at $280,000 per site it’s four times more expensive than similar past cleanups and by far the costliest cleanup in CA history. The state emphasized speed and farmed the job out to the Army Corp of Engineers who hired contractors who were paid by the ton excavated! Paying by the ton created highly u̶n̶p̶r̶e̶d̶i̶c̶t̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ predictable consequences as KQED reports:

…Dan said he saw workers inflate their load weights with wet mud. Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said he heard similar stories of subcontractors actually being directed to mix metal that should have been recycled into their loads to make them heavier.

“They [contractors] saw it as gold falling from the sky,” Dan said. “That is the biggest issue. They can’t pay tonnage on jobs like this and expect it to be done safely.”

…Krickl pointed to where his home used to stand. It’s a 6-foot deep depression that he affectionately called his “pond”.

That “pond” was created when contractors removed the foundation, soil and an entire concrete pad for Krickl’s garage, leaving behind a large hole.

Here’s my favorite part:

So many sites were over-excavated that the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services recently launched a new program to refill the holes left behind by Army Corps contractors. That’s estimated to cost another $3.5 million.

Hat tip: Carl D.

Talking to your doctor isn’t about medicine

On average, patients get about 11 seconds to explain the reasons for their visit before they are interrupted by their doctors. Also, only one in three doctors provides their patients with adequate opportunity to describe their situation…

In just over one third of the time (36 per cent), patients were able to put their agendas first. But patients who did get the chance to list their ailments were still interrupted seven out of every ten times, on average within 11 seconds of them starting to speak. In this study, patients who were not interrupted completed their opening statements within about six seconds.

Here is the story, here is the underlying research.  Via the excellent Charles Klingman.

Now solve for the telemedicine equilibrium.

Who’s complacent? Virginia is complacent

My wife and I are the proud (and exhausted) parents of two young sons, and we live in Falls Church, Virginia. Our oldest is “two half” and will be starting a “cooperative” preschool down the street this September. That means we volunteer in his classroom and help run the school—charity auction, field trip transportation, etc.—and in return we save on tuition. It’s a win-win.

Currently, co-oping parents in Virginia must undergo four hours of annual training before they can volunteer in the classroom—basic things like first aid and certain laws relevant to child care. As reported by the Washington Post, however, the Virginia Department of Social Services is considering regulations that would require co-oping parents instead to undergo approximately 30 hours of training—just to help in the classroom a few hours each month, completing daunting tasks like passing out snacks and sweeping the floors.

Here is more from Ilya Shapiro.

Friday assorted links

1. Lagos.

2. “[Low] Rainfall predicts assassinations of Ancient Roman emperors, from 27 BC to 476 AD.

3. Photographer of death: “It is not known whether Hooper ever aided his subjects.”  Warning: those images are tough viewing.

4. Ex post penalty levied on InTrade.

5. Markets in everything? (speculative)

6. John Cochrane review on banking and finance.

7. Yugoslavian concrete brutalism show at MOMA (NYT).

Margaret Thatcher and the size of government

There are those who still believe that the Thatcher government (1979-1990) rolled back the state and cut taxes.  In fact Thatcherism involved an increase in the proportion of national income passing through the state and an increase in the tax burden.  Only income taxes went down, with great publicity — the more hidden taxes increased.  Value Added Tax, a form of purchase tax, was increased and was by comparison with income taxes regressive, though not quite as regressive as the additional taxes which were levied on alcohol and tobacco…the Thatcher government, and indeed subsequent ones, ended up spending more in absolute and even in relative terms on welfare taken overall.

That is from David Edgerton, The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth Century.  Here are my previous posts on the book and on other work by Edgerton.

Surveillance sentences to ponder

One of the surveillance industry’s recent — and much publicised — success stories took place at a pop concert in eastern China. While Jacky Cheung, a Hong Kong pop star (rebranded a “fugitive trapper” by the Chinese media) crooned, cameras were automatically sweeping the audience.  Facial-recognition technology picked out four men accused of crimes — including a ticket scalper and a greengrocer accused of a Rmb110,000 potato scam in 2015. “Smiling as he approached his idol, he did not realise he had already been spotted,” Jiaxing police gloated in a social-media post.

And:

Some of China’s leading facial-recognition players, for example, are now moving into gait recognition. Hanwang Technology was an early entrant in the field: it was forced to rethink its fingerprint-recognition technology when the Sars epidemic of 2005 left people in China terrified of physical contact.  “We can see the human figure and his gait, so if his cap is pulled down [we] can still recognise him,” explains Liu Changping, president of the Beijing-based company. The Chinese authorities already have a decent video database to build on, he adds: “If [someone] was put in prison before, there’s video of him walking around.”

That is from Louis Lucas and Emily Feng from the FT, interesting throughout.