Our regulatory state is failing us, edition #1637

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the SalivaDirect PCR COVID-19 test created by the Yale School of Public Health for use with pooled saliva samples.

Pooled testing allows labs to combine saliva samples from multiple individuals into a single tube and process the batch as a single test. This approach maintains the clinical sensitivity associated with the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction tests — the gold standard for detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 — and gives labs the ability to process the tests far more quickly. The FDA authorizes Yale-designated laboratories to use the SalivaDirect test to pool as many as five samples at a time for SARS-CoV-2 testing.

That is November 2021In July 2020, Alex wrote: “Tyler and I have been pushing pooled testing for months.”

Better to have nothing in the meantime I guess!  In the meantime, only a handful of pooled spit tests have been approved.

Here is the full piece, via DR.

Thursday assorted links

1. Twenty new words for the dictionary.

2. “We find that while people with BD [bipolar disorder] are 20 percent less likely to be active in any creative occupation than the population, they are 50 percent more likely to be composers and musicians.  Occupations that people with BD are most likely to pursue, instead, include clerks, librarians, archivists and curators, as well as waiters and bartenders.  Notably, we also find that the healthy siblings of people with BD are 11 percent more likely to work in creative professions…”  Link here.

3. Carbon capture update? (NYT)

4. Econ classes from left wing to right wing?  And Hispanic New Jersey voters.  Passaic County.

5. More on the cancelled astronomy guy.

6. Kevin Durant SPAC on the way.

Claims about the costs of global warming

We quantify global and regional aggregate damages from global warming of 1.5 to 4 °C above pre-industrial levels using a well-established integrated assessment model, PAGE09. We find mean global aggregate damages in 2100 of 0.29% of GDP if global warming is limited to about 1.5 °C (90% confidence interval 0.09–0.60%) and 0.40% for 2 °C (range 0.12–0.91%). These are, respectively, 92% and 89% lower than mean losses of 3.67% of GDP (range 0.64–10.77%) associated with global warming of 4 °C. The net present value of global aggregate damages for the 2008–2200 period is estimated at $48.7 trillion for ~ 1.5 °C global warming (range $13–108 trillion) and $60.7 trillion for 2 °C (range $15–140 trillion). These are, respectively, 92% and 90% lower than the mean NPV of $591.7 trillion of GDP for 4 °C warming (range $70–1920 trillion). This leads to a mean social cost of CO2 emitted in 2020 of ~ $150 for 4 °C warming as compared to $30 at ~ 1.5 °C warming. The benefits of limiting warming to 1.5 °C rather than 2 °C might be underestimated since PAGE09 is not recalibrated to reflect the recent understanding of the full range of risks at 1.5 °C warming.

That is from a new paper by R. Warren, et.al.  The model does cover uncertainty, quadratic damages, and other features to steer it away from denialism.  At the end of the calculation, however, for a temperature rise of three degrees Centigrade they still find a mean damage of 2% of global gdp, and a range leading up to three percent of global gdp in terms of foregone consumption.  That is plausibly one year’s global growth.

If I understand them correctly, and I am not sure I do: “These give initial mean consumption discount rates of around 3% per year in developed regions and 48% [!] in developing ones.”  And what are the non-initial rates?  I just don’t follow the paper here, but probably I do not agree with it.  Perhaps at least for the developed nations this is a useful upper bound for costs?  And it is not insanely high.

Here is a piece by Johannes Ackva and John Halstead, “Good news on climate change.”  Excerpt:

However, for a variety of reasons, SSP5-RCP8.5 [a kind of worst case default path] now looks increasingly unlikely as a ‘business as usual’ emissions pathway. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the costs of renewables and batteries have declined extremely quickly. Historically, models have been too pessimistic on cost declines for solar, wind and batteries: out of nearly 3,000 Integrated Assessment Models, none projected that solar investment costs (different to the levelised costs shown below) would decline by more than 6% per year between 2010 and 2020. In fact, they declined by 15% per year.


Fundamentally, existing mainstream economic models of climate change consistently fail to model exponential cost declines, as shown on the chart below. The left pane below shows historical declines in solar costs compared to Integrated Assessment Model projections of costs. The pane on the right shows the cost of solar compared to Integrated Assessment Model assessments of ‘floor costs’ for solar – the lowest that solar could go. Real world solar prices have consistently smashed through these supposed floors.

…in order for us to follow SSP5-RCP8.5, there would have to be very fast economic growth and technological progress, but meagre progress on low carbon technologies. This does not seem very plausible. In order to reproduce SSP5-8.5 with newer models, the models had to assume that average global income per person will rise to $140,000 by 2100 and also that we would burn large amounts of coal.

And: “Global CO2 emissions have been flat for a decade, new data reveals.”  Again, better than previous projections.

As I said in the title of this post, these are “Claims.”  But overall I would say that the new results are slanting modestly in the less negative direction, though I am not sure that the headlines of the last two weeks are equally encouraging.

My Conversation with David Salle

I was honored to visit his home and painting studio, here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

David joined Tyler to discuss the fifteen (or so) functions of good art, why it’s easier to write about money than art, what’s gone wrong with art criticism today, how to cultivate good taste, the reasons museum curators tend to be risk-averse, the effect of modern artistic training on contemporary art, the evolution of Cézanne, how the centrality of photography is changing fine art, what makes some artists’ retrospectives more compelling than others, the physical challenges of painting on a large scale, how artists view museums differently, how a painting goes wrong, where his paintings end up, what great collectors have in common, how artists collect art differently, why Frank O’Hara was so important to Alex Katz and himself, what he loves about the films of Preston Sturges, why The Sopranos is a model of artistic expression, how we should change intellectual property law for artists, the disappointing puritanism of the avant-garde, and more.

And excerpt:

COWEN: Yes, but just to be very concrete, let’s say someone asks you, “I want to take one actionable step tomorrow to learn more about art.” And they are a smart, highly educated person, but have not spent much time in the art world. What should they actually do other than look at art, on the reading level?

SALLE: On the reading level? Oh God, Tyler, that’s hard. I’ll have to think about it. I’ll have to come back with an answer in a few minutes. I’m not sure there’s anything concretely to do on the reading level. There probably is — just not coming to mind.

There’s Henry Geldzahler, who wrote a book very late in his life, at the end of his life. I can’t remember the title, but he addresses the problem of something which is almost a taboo — how do you acquire taste? — which is, in a sense, what we’re talking about. It’s something one can’t even speak about in polite society among art historians or art critics.

Taste is considered to be something not worth discussing. It’s simply, we’re all above that. Taste is, in a sense, something that has to do with Hallmark greeting cards — but it’s not true. Taste is what we have to work with. It’s a way of describing human experience.

Henry, who was the first curator of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, was a wonderful guy and a wonderful raconteur. Henry basically answers your question: find ways, start collecting. “Okay, but I don’t have any money. How can I collect art?” You don’t have to collect great paintings. Just go to the flea market and buy a vase for 5 bucks. Bring it back to your room, live with it, and look at it.

Pretty soon, you’ll start to make distinctions about it. Eventually, if you’re really paying attention to your own reactions, you’ll use it up. You’ll give that to somebody else, and you’ll go back to the flea market, and you buy another, slightly better vase, and you bring that home and live with that. And so the process goes. That’s very real. It’s very concrete.


COWEN: As you know, the 17th century in European painting is a quite special time. You have Velásquez, you have Rubens, you have Bruegel, much, much more. And there are so many talented painters today. Why can they not paint in that style anymore? Or can they? What stops them?

SALLE: Artists are trained in such a vastly different way than in the 17th, 18th, or even the 19th century. We didn’t have the training. We’re not trained in an apprentice guild situation where the apprenticeship starts very early in life, and people who exhibit talent in drawing or painting are moved on to the next level.

Today painters are trained in professional art schools. People reach school at the normal age — 18, 20, 22, something in grad school, and then they’re in a big hurry. If it’s something you can’t master or show proficiency in quickly, let’s just drop it and move on.

There are other reasons as well, cultural reasons. For many years or decades, painting in, let’s say, the style of Velásquez or even the style of Manet — what would have been the reason for it? What would have been the motivation for it, even assuming that one could do it? Modernism, from whenever we date it, from 1900 to 1990, was such a persuasive argument. It was such an inclusive and exciting and dynamic argument that what possibly could have been the reason to want to take a step back 200 years in history and paint like an earlier painter?

It is a bit slow at the very beginning, otherwise excellent throughout.

The Treasury report on stablecoin regulation

I’ve now read it, and I don’t get it.  OK, so stablecoins should be Fed regulated, brought into the FDIC network, and prohibited from mixing with commerce.  In essence, the stablecoin issuers become like banks in the regulatory sense.  Let’s put aside whether or not you think that is a good idea and ask a simpler question: what about “all of crypto”?  Does that have to be put through the same legal ringer?  What does it mean to ban general crypto from affiliating with commerce at the institutional level?  To guarantee crypto issues with the FDIC?

You might say this is only for “stablecoins,” but does the document give a rigorous legal definition of that term?  No.  How stable does it have to be, to be a stablecoin?  What if there is no stability guarantee, but the issuer acts to create an expectation of relative stability.  Is that a stablecoin?  Or just crypto?  What if the price fluctuates “a bit”?

You may feel “I know a stablecoin when I see one,” and maybe you do, but I very much suspect that under these proposed regulations you either kill all of crypto, or hardly anything ends up being legally classified as a stablecoin, though it still might be pretty stable!

What about a “not quite stable coin,” but you buy a separate contract with a “separately capitalized” intermediary, so that you are each time made whole, and can de facto treat the value as really quite stable?

Maybe they have clever answers to these questions, and just didn’t see fit to include them in a 26-page document.  But I am sooner inclined to think that Treasury is not currently handling this issue at a sufficiently high conceptual level.

Attention Cycles

Using data from US public firms’ regulatory filings and financial statements, we document that firms’ attention to macroeconomic conditions is counter-cyclical and their propensity to make production mistakes is pro-cyclical. Attentive firms make smaller mistakes, and mistakes of the same size are punished more by financial markets during downturns. We explain these phenomena with a business cycle model in which firms, owned by risk-averse investors, rationally allocate costly attention across states. When aggregate productivity is low, there are higher rewards for delivering profits, and firms optimally pay more attention and make smaller mistakes. Endogenously counter-cyclical attention generates quantitatively significant asymmetric, state-dependent shock propagation and stochastic volatility of output growth.

That paper is by Joel P. Flynn and Karthik A. Sastry of MIT, noting that Sastry is on the job market this year.

Should the Roma be more Woke?

The members of Pretty Loud, possibly the world’s first all-Roma female hip-hop group, don’t write saccharine love songs.

Their lyrics focus instead on the pains Roma women experience: marrying and having children too young, feeling like second-class citizens and not finishing high school.

“Don’t force me, Dad, I’m too young for marriage,” the six members, who hail from Serbia and are in their midteens to late 20s, sing in one song. “Please understand me, or should I be quiet?” they rap in another. “No one hears when I use my Roma girl’s voice.”

Here is more from the NYT.  And more from YouTube:

Tuesday assorted links

1. Creeque Alley (that was then, this is now).

2. “We further document that the labor-market premium to action-oriented personality traits has rapidly increased over the past two decades.”  And here is a new paper on Finnish extraversion (not joking).

3. Banning non-compete agreements in Austria didn’t really help worker earnings.

4. On the benefit of early promotion.  Suandi is on the job market from Berkeley.

5. “We find that the introduction of potatoes led to a sizeable and permanent reduction in conflict.”  Joris Mueller on the market from Northwestern.

6. Lots of interesting job market candidates from Northwestern this year in economic history, political economy.

Pseudoviruses and Luciferase

Testing whether a drug or vaccine inhibits a virus can be especially difficult if the virus is dangerous and thus requires cumbersome biosafety level-3 conditions. A now common alternative is to create a pseudovirus, a harmless, non self-replicating virus core that has been modified to exhibit the same surface proteins as the dangerous virus. In the case of SARS-CoV-II, for example, pseudoviruses were created with the same spike proteins as the real virus. In addition, the pseudovirus is given a Luciferase gene. The Luciferase gene (aka light bearer gene) is a gene for creating the kinds of enzymes which light up fireflies and it is only expressed after entering a cell. Thus, scientists can test whether a virus has been successfully neutralized by measuring how much light virus-exposed cells exhibit. Neat!

Here’s a nice picture of the idea from Berthold Instruments who sell luminometers which measure the intensity of Luciferase activity.


The welfare effects of eviction policies

This paper studies the implications of rental market policies that address evictions and homelessness. Policies that make it harder to evict delinquent tenants, for example by providing tax-funded legal counsel in eviction cases (“Right-to-Counsel”) or by instating eviction moratoria, imply eviction and homelessness are less likely given default. But higher default costs to landlords lead to higher equilibrium rents and lower housing supply. I quantify these tradeoffs in a model of rental markets in a city, matched to micro data on rents and evictions as well as shocks to income and family structure. I find that “Right-to-Counsel” drives up rents so much that homelessness increases by 15% and welfare is dampened. Since defaults on rent are driven by persistent income shocks, stronger protections are ineffective in preventing evictions of delinquent tenants, and lead to a large increase in default premia. In contrast, rental assistance lowers renters’ default risk and as a result reduces homelessness by 45% and evictions by 75%, and increases welfare. Eviction moratoria can prevent a spike in evictions following a rare economic downturn, as long as they are used as a temporary measure.

Here is the paper, that is by Boaz Abramson, who is currently on the job market from Stanford.

What I’ve been reading

1. Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage.  I read this as a kid, and was surprised how well my reread held up.  To the point, subtle, and with an economy of means.  I hope the new Paul Auster biography of Crane (which I will read soon) will revive interest in this classic.

2. Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah.  #2 in the Dune series, I disliked this one as a tot, but currently am marveling at its political sophistication.  Somewhat uneven, but better than its reputation.  The Wikipedia page for the book also indicates that Villeneuve is likely to do a Dune 3 based on this story.

3. Elisabeth Anderson (not the philosopher), Agents of Reform: Child Labor and the Origins of the Welfare State.  Considers the political economy of child labor reform Germany, France, the United States, and the failed case of Belgium.  Pathbreaking, a major advance on the extant literature.  The explanations are messy rather than monocausal, but often focus on the success or failure of individual policy entrepreneurs.

4. Gordon Teskey, Spenserian Moments.  No one seems to care about poor old Edmund Spenser, yet there seem to be quite a few good books about him.

5. Patrick McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light.  The best book on Hitchcock, John Nye recommended it to me eight years ago.

There is Howard Husock, The Poor Side of Town, And Why We Need It.

And Mary Roach, Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.

Richard A. Williams, Fixing Food: An FDA Insider Unravels the Myths and Their Solutions, covers the food regulatory side of the FDA, and:

Markus K. Brunnermeier, The Resilient Society.

Monday assorted links

1. Impressions of an Indian graduate student visiting America.

2. A trucker reports on the supply chain crisis (too pessimistic?).

3. Reddit thread on what does America get right, what they leave out is more interesting than what they list.

4. Once we start talking to whales, what will they say back to us?  Will we even understand it?

5. Hanania’s new theory of politics: “We once more find a Democratic bias towards the written word.”  Recommended.

6. Vitalik on crypto cities, recommended.

*Apprentice to Genius*

An excellent book, the author is Robert Kanigel and the subtitle is The Making of a Scientific Dynasty.  It is strongest on the role of mentors and lineages in scientific excellence, the radically inegalitarian and “unfair” nature of scientific achievement and also credit, and it offers an interesting look at the early days of the NIH.  Here is one excerpt:

But Brodie simply saw no reason to become an expert in an area to launch a study of it.  Rather, as Sid Udenfriend says, “he would just wander into a new field and make advances that people fifteen years in the field couldn’t.”  Poring through scientific journals didn’t appeal to him; picking the brains of colleagues did.  “He’d go up to you,” Jack Orloff remembers, “and say, ‘Tell me what you know about X and Y.’  Sometimes he’d already know a lot, but he could come across as almost stupid.”  Indeed, he could seem downright ignorant, asking disarmingly simple, even hopelessly naive questions, like a child.  But as one admirer notes, “He’d end up asking just the questions you should have asked ten years ago.”


Beginning around 1955, the big stir at LCP was over serotonin.  (“When the experiments were good, we called it serotonin,” Brodie would later recall…”When I heard it pronounced serotonin, I knew the experiments were bad and I stayed home.”)


Martin Zatz, a veteran of Julius Axelrod’s lab and a scientist with an uncommonly broad cast of mind, was talking about mentoring and its role in science.  “Are you going to talk about the disadvantage of the mentor chain?” he asked me, smiling broadly.

What’s that?  “That you don’t get anywhere,” he replied, now quite serious, “unless you’re in one.”

Recommended.  Why are there not more excellent conceptual books on the history of science?