The referenda that are Swiss

The most contentious may be one put forward by a group called Ecopop, which would limit immigration to 0.2 per cent of the resident population. That has alarmed businesses, who worry it would make it harder to hire skilled staff and sour relations with the EU, which is Switzerland’s largest export market.

Another initiative would force the central bank to hold 20 per cent of its assets in gold, as well as ban it from selling any of its holdings of the metal. Gold bug supporters say it would strengthen Switzerland’s independence but the central bank has warned it will make harder its job of ensuring economic stability.

And the third would scrap the system of tax privileges for wealthy foreigners that prompted such people as Michael Schumacher, German Formula 1 racing driver, and Ingvar Kamprad, Swedish Ikea founder, to call Switzerland home.

The full FT story is here.  I am hoping they all fail, although the social scientist in me is curious about #2.

Assorted links

1. What happens when China pledges zero emissions.  And financial repression is easing in China.

2. The strange world of computer-generated novels.  And are board games back?

3. “Dogs use a very smart (mechanism) to optimize their drinking,…”  Cats too.

4. MIE: James Watson is selling his Nobel Prize.

5. Daniel Pink’s Crowd Control tries to bring behavioral economics to TV.  And Ben Powell’s TV show.

When did Korea clean up its air? (Korea fact of the day)

If you are going to ask “when will China clean up its air?”, you might wish to look at South Korea, a country with a broadly similar industrial profile, although of course Korea is much further along in terms of economic development.

As of 2002, South Korea was ranked 120th of 122 countries for air quality by the World Economic Forum.  And at that time South Korea was pretty much a fully developed nation, economically speaking that is.  South Korea was also already a democracy, and we know from Casey Mulligan (with Gil and Sala-i-Martin) that democracies tend to have cleaner air than autocracies, ceteris paribus.

Might we consider the possibility that China won’t clean up its air anytime soon?  The good news, however, is that once Korea started its environmental clean-up, improvements came pretty rapidly.  More recently, they come in at #43 on a more general index of environmental quality.

That fact is from Dong-Young Kim, The Challenges of Consensus Building in a Consolidating Democracy.

Economist cereal boxes

We are running a contest for MRU, and the goal is to figure out how economists ought to be put on cereal boxes.  Imagine that a famous economist would in fact be represented by a cereal and a cereal box.  For example there would be:

Thomas Piketty, Special K

Another possibility would be tweaking the cereal name slightly, so you would get:

Hyman Minsky, Captain Liquidity Crunch


John Bates Clark, Marginal Product 19

You could try:

Eugene Fama, Lucky Charms, though perhaps that is too subtle for some.

The winner of the contest gets…his or her suggestion actually realized.  Please enter your suggestions, and vote on the suggestions of others, here.  Or if you don’t want to enter the contest per se, there is always the MR comments section…

Does it make sense to put cameras on the police?

The Bloomberg editorial staff says no:

Videos often lack critical context, and studies have repeatedly shown that jurors can be misled by variables such as a film’s angle or focus, which can unduly sway perceptions of guilt. That cuts both ways: Footage of a protester bumping into a cop, devoid of context, could make life much easier on a prosecutor.

Police cameras are also prone to intentional abuse. With mysterious frequency, they seem to accidentally get switched off or malfunction at critical moments. One obvious remedy is to require that cops always keep them on. But that can be counterproductive. Witnesses and victims may be less forthcoming on camera. Attracting competent officers could become harder if their every interaction is recorded. Crucially, officers may simply avoid engaging certain communities, or avoid areas where confrontations are likely, if they know they’re being filmed.

Finally, equipping police with cameras and audio recorders means that they’re constantly conducting surveillance on innocent civilians — and potentially storing it all. Police frequently enter private homes and encounter people in medical emergencies who may not want to be filmed. Some officers may be tempted to record people on the basis of race or religion. And some departments have asserted that the public has no right to see such footage.

In short, a policy intended to empower the public and monitor the police could have precisely the opposite effect.

There is more here, food for thought of course.  Via Adam Minter.

Assorted links

1. Clive Crook on Grubergate.

2. Demography may help explain secular stagnation.

3. Guy Patrick Cunningham reviews Average is Over.

4. What the Concorde was like to fly.

5. George Selgin on Tommy Roe (and Izabella Kaminska).  And as long as we are on the topic of people getting upset, here is Landsburg on Krugman.

6. Can hospital design affect recovery? (speculative)

7. Arnold Kling picks his favorite books of the year.

Patents Do Not Increase Productivity

James Pethokoukis points us to this graph in the CBO’s new report on innovation. Patenting is way up but total factor productivity has barely budged. 112414patent

Boldrin, Allamand, Levine, and Ornaghi show something similar cross-sectionally, namely that the industries with the most patents are not the industries with the biggest increases in labor productivity. At best there is only a slight positive relationship between patents and labor productivity (see the paper for more).



The economics of rape

There are some interesting and under-reported papers on this topic, here is one of them, by Jordan D. Matsudaira and Emily Greene Owens, here is the abstract:

In 2006, approximately 49% of violent crimes were not reported to police. Being the victim of sexual assault is expensive; each incident imposes an external cost of over $100k on the victim. However, recent estimates of the total social cost are an order of magnitude larger suggesting that from a social welfare standpoint rape is likely to be underreported if the victim’s demand for reporting is price elastic. In spite of the centrality of victim reporting in the functioning of the criminal justice system, to date there is very little systematic evidence on what governments can do to encourage victims to report crimes. We estimate the sensitivity of victims to the cost of reporting in an Alaskan city between 1993 and 2006, during which time a chief of police publicly supported a policy of charging victims of sexual assault for medical procedures required to collect evidence against their attackers. Using a triple differences approach that compares trends in reported sexual assaults to other index crimes over time and across Alaskan cities, we estimate that this shift in cost of approximately $1,200 from the city government to victims reduced the number of reported rapes by between 50 and 80%. This large response highlights the importance of public policies which reduce the private cost of reporting crime.

The full paper is here.  Here is a paper by Paul Zimmerman and Bruce Benson on the economics of alcohol and rape, the published version is here.  Here is W. David Allen on the under-reporting of rape.  Here is a paper on rape as an economic crime.  This Scott Cunningham paper covers the connection between prostitution and rape.  This study shows that porn does not seem to lead to rape.  That said, if you enter “economics rape” into, many of the top entries are about the crop.  My Google searches for “political economy of rape” do not turn up much useful, although that ought to be a very important topic.

Economics and chess session at the SEA

Session 16M, Economics and Chess


“Thinking Outside the Game Tree: Game Preparation at Chess World Championship”
Doru Cojoc, Columbia University

“Do Rational Agents Make Rational Decisions? Evidence from Chess Data”
Alexander Matros, University of South Carolina
Irina Murtazashvili, Drexel University

“Human and Computer Preference Divergences at Chess”
Kenneth Regan, University at Buffalo
Tamal Tanu Biswas, University at Buffalo
Jason Zhou, SUNYIT

The link to the program is here.  Here is Cojoc’s earlier paper on mixed strategies in chess.

Carlsen played an imperfect match, by the way, especially in the second half, but won on the grounds of age and stamina.  For the next cycle, I see Grischuk as the most likely challenger, as Aronian tends to choke at key moments and Caruana does not yet have a good enough positional understanding of the middle game and end game.  Carlsen will hold the title still for some while to come.

The pointer is from Daniel Klein, here is his earlier paper on why don’t government officials seem like villains (pdf).

Does crime increase on game day? (football)

David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee report:

This article investigates the effects of National Football League (NFL) games on crime. Using a panel data set that includes daily crime incidences in eight large cities with NFL teams, we examine how various measurements of criminal activities change on game day compared with nongame days. Our findings from both ordinary least squares and negative binomial regressions indicate that NFL home games are associated with a 2.6% increase in total crimes, while financially motivated crimes such as larceny and motor vehicle theft increase by 4.1% and 6.7%, respectively, on game days. However, we observe that play-off games are associated with a decrease in financially motivated crimes. The effects of game time (afternoon vs. evening) and upset wins and losses on crime are also considered.

Is it that a game works up everyone’s excitement, but the playoff games the criminals actually watch?  That is via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Religious identity and economic behavior

While cruising the internet I ran into this recent working paper (pdf) by Daniel Benjamin, James J. Choi, and Geoffrey Fisher:

We randomly vary religious identity salience in laboratory subjects to test how identity effects contribute to the impact of religion on economic behavior. We find that religious identity salience causes Protestants to increase contributions to public goods. Catholics decrease contributions to public goods, expect others to contribute less to public goods, and become less risk averse. Jews more strongly reciprocate as an employee in a bilateral labor market gift-exchange game. Atheists and agnostics become less risk averse. We find no evidence of religious identity-salience effects on disutility of work effort, discount rates, or generosity in a dictator game.

In the recent hullaballoo, it has been forgotten that perhaps the best paper on whether religion is good for you was written by Jonathan Gruber.

Assorted links

1. John Cochrane on behavioral political economy and why it isn’t better.

2. High status voices have a different sound.

3. “…competition induces exaggerated negative tones in blogs, which is unrelated to information. Our results suggest that social media may provide mixed incentives for its participants in terms of information efficiency.”

4. Andrew Ng on Baidu.

5. Overstated but interesting critique of renewables.

6. The actual, stereotypical Coase theorem.

Best non-fiction books of 2014

First there are the economics books, including books by people I know, including Piketty, The Second Machine Age, Tim Harford’s wonderful macro explainer, Megan McArdle’s The Up Side of Down, Lane Kenworthy on social democracy, The Fourth Revolution by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge, Daniel Drezner The System Worked, and Frank Buckley on why the Canadian system of government is better.  And Russ Roberts, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness.  We’ve already talked, written, and thought about those plenty, and they are not what this list is about, so I will set them aside.  Most of you are looking for excellent new books in addition to these, books you might not have heard about.

Here are the other non-fiction books of the year which took my fancy, mostly in the order I read them, noting that the link usually leads you to my previous review or comments:

Jürgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century.  Long, exhausting, and wonderful.

Christopher Hale, Massacre in Malaya, a broader history than it at first sounds, fascinating from beginning to end.

Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life.

The Very Revd John Drury, Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert.

John Keay, Midnight’s Descendants: A History of South Asia since Partition.  An excellent treatment of how much work remains to be done in the “nation building” enterprise in South Asia.

Alice Goffman, On the Run: Fugutive Life in an American City.  A sociology graduate student hangs out with lawbreakers and learns about police oppression, an excellent micro-study.  My column on her book is here.

Gendun Chopel, Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler, Tibetan scholar goes to India and records his impressions, unusual.

George Prochnik, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of His World.  I loved this one.

I’ve only read the first half of the new Tom Holland translation of Herdotus’s Histories (I will get to the rest), but surely it deserves note.

Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.  This book won the National Book Award for non-fiction.

David Eimer, The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China.  A look at China’s outermost regions and their ethnic minorities.  Just imagine that, we had two excellent popular China books in the same year.

The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman, by Davi Kopenawa.  Repetitious in parts, sometimes incoherent too, but it offers a smart and unique perspective you won’t get from any of the other books on this list or any other.

Jonathan Rottenberg, The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic.  This treatment stresses the (partial) cognitive advantages of having a tendency toward depression.

Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary, assorted facts and insights about the English language, you don’t have to feel like reading a book about poetry to find this worthwhile.

David Sterling, Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition, huge, expensive, wonderful, more than just a cookbook though it is that too.  I’ve spent some of the last few weeks learning these recipes and what makes them tick.

Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.  A good overview of how some of the main pieces of today’s information technology world fell into place, starting with the invention of the computer and running up through the end of the 1990s.

Arthur M. Melzer, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.

Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life.

Jan Swafford, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph.  As good or better than the classic biographies of the composer.

Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, vol. 1.  This one I have only read a part of (maybe 150 pp.?), it is very long and does not fit my current reading interests, but it seems very good and impressive and also has received strong reviews.  So I feel I should include it.

Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins.

So who wins?  If I had to pick a #1, it would be The Very Revd John Drury, Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, not the kind of book I would be expecting to coronate, which is a testament to the magnetic force it has exercised over my imagination.

Then I would pick Alice Goffman, On the Run: Fugutive Life in an American City and David Sterling, Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition as the runners-up.

My fiction picks were here.  There are still some wonderful books to come out this year, and already-published books I will still read, especially after mining other “best of” lists, so around Dec.31 or so I’ll post an updated account of what I would add to this list.

Assorted links

1. A lot of anomalies exist only in hard to trade stocks.

2. Why is a neuroscientist working for Uber?.

3. What is the most popular funeral song? (British)

4. Izabella Kaminska criticizes free banking.

5. At The New Statesman, authors choose favorite books for 2014.

6. Why is the Swedish language so incomplete?  And why are they voting on it?  This raises the question anew of which semantic issues should be turned into matters of explicit political debate, the culture that is Sweden.