Results for “africa”
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Hispanic and White Criminality are Converging

Keith Humphreys has a good post at the excellent Slow Boring on how Hispanics and White statistics on crime are converging.

An otherwise dull new government report on incarceration contains a startling fact: Hispanics are slightly less likely to be jailed than whites. It’s one of multiple unappreciated signs of fading disparities between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in the criminal justice system, a phenomenon with substantial implications both for the future of reform and electoral politics.

To be clear this is about jails not prisons where there are still differences but those differences are also rapidly converging. Hispanics are also joining police forces in much higher numbers.

Parallel changes appear in who the criminal justice system employs. From 1997 to 2016, the proportion of police officers who were African-American was stable, whereas the proportion who were Hispanic increased 61%. This helps explain why a June 2021 Gallup poll found that the proportion of Hispanics expressing “a lot” or “a great deal” of trust in police was 49%, almost as high as whites (56%), and far greater than that of African-Americans (27%).  Hispanic views on policing and crime may also be similar to whites because the two groups rate of being violent crime victims is almost identical (21.3 per thousand persons for Hispanics, 21.0 for whites).

Maybe systemic racism isn’t so systemic after all.

…in an era of widespread despair about criminal justice reform and racism in America more generally, the declining disparities between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites merit reflection. A generation ago, the idea that such disparities would dramatically shrink or even disappear within the criminal justice system would have sounded naive. The fading of disparities should inspire reformers to even greater heights and also reduce cynicism about the alleged intractability of prejudice within American society.

Saturday assorted links

1. The Chinese war against celebrity (NYT).  And how much of the burden of The Woke falls upon (Western) female pop stars? Very important point in this piece, and oft neglected, about the incidence of Wokeness.

2. The most translated book from every nation?

3. Robin now sees a more fundamental problem in society.  Perhaps I would focus more on cruelty?

4. Drinking the Peter Leeson Kool-Aid.  And more here, why not?  I’d love to go.

5. The protest culture that is New Zealand.

Thursday assorted links

1. “If one wishes to stop the virus, only one goal matters: Getting the reproduction rate below one. e to the 3 t is not a lot less exponential growth than e to the 6 t.”  Is that nowadays a cancellable thought?

2. NPR covers Fast Grants.

3. New Danish data on vaccine effectiveness against delta.  And Bergstrom on Simpson’s paradox.  Based on UK data, Eric Topol has a contrasting view.

4. The economics of Mexican indigenous languages.

5. Austria and Croatia set “expiry dates” for vaccinated travelers — 270 days.

6. “The current landscape sees Economists lobbing impeccably crafted papers into any conceivable area of social science inquiry.

7. Why no Lyme disease vaccine?  (New Yorker)

8. Data fabrication?

9. Thomas Quasthoff update.

10. Has eighty percent of South Africa already had Covid?  (Bloomberg)

Who are the most rational people?

From John A. Doces and Amy Wolaver:

We examine the question of rationality, replicating two core experiments used to establish that people deviate from the rational actor model. Our analysis extends existing research to a developing country context. Based on our theoretical expectations, we test if respondents make decisions consistent with the rational actor framework. Experimental surveys were administered in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, two developing countries in West Africa, focusing on issues of risk aversion and framing. Findings indicate that respondents make decisions more consistent with the rational actor model than has been found in the developed world. Extending our analysis to test if the differences in responses are due to other demographic differences between the African samples and the United States, we replicated these experiments on a nationally representative analysis in the U.S., finding results primarily consistent with the seminal findings of irrationality. In the U.S. and Côte d’Ivoire, highly educated people make decisions that are less consistent with the rational model while low-income respondents make decisions more consistent with the rational model. The degree to which people are irrational thus is contextual, possibly western, and not nearly as universal as has been concluded.

Speculative, and not replicated, but the point remains of definite interest.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Immigration encouragement as the new form of hybrid warfare?

Baltic officials say his [Lukashenko’s] latest tactic is to offer migrants from Iraq, Syria or several African countries a package that includes passage to the Lithuanian border. More than 4,000 migrants have crossed into Lithuania this year alone, more than 50 times the number that entered last year.

Rinkevics said this was “a very clear case of hybrid warfare” by deliberately using migration to target the EU and Lithuania. “The migrants are actually being used as the weapon. The longer we live in this 21st century, the scarier it becomes. Things that we couldn’t imagine that could be used, they are being used,” he said.

Here is the full FT piece, unsettling throughout.

What I’ve been reading

1. Richard Zenith, Pessoa: A Biography.  942 pp. of text, yet interesting throughout.  Brings you into Pessoa’s mind and learning to a remarkable degree.  (Have I mentioned that the world is slowly realizing that Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is one of the great works of the century?)  His favorite book was Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, and he very much liked Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus.  This biography is also interesting about non-Pessoa topics, such as Durban, South Africa in 1900 (Pessoa did live there for a while).  I am pleased to see Pessoa finally receiving the attention he deserves — definitely one of the books of this year.  Here is a good review of the book.  For a man who never had sex, this book covers his sex life a great deal!  And what a short and lovely title, no long subtitle thank goodness.

2. Nicholas Wapshott, Samuelson Friedman: The Battle over the Free Market.  Quite a good book, though it is interior to my current knowledge set and thus better for others reader than myself.  Contrary to what I have read elsewhere, Wapshott points out that Samuelson did not support Nixon’s wage and price controls, but this LA Times link seems to suggest Samuelson thought they were a good idea?

3. Jamie Mackay, The Invention of Sicily: A Mediterranean History.  While it was less conceptual than I might have preferred, this is perhaps the single best general history of Sicily I know of.  Short and to the point in a good way.

4. N.J. Higham, The Death of Anglo-Saxon England.  In 1066, five different individuals were recognized as de facto King of England — how did that come to pass?  Why was Aethelred the Unready not ready?  (He was only 12 when he assumed the throne, though much of the actual criticism concerned the later part of his reign.)  I find this one of the most intelligible and conceptual treatments of Anglo-Saxon England out there.  I don’t care what the Heritage Foundation says, beware Danish involvement in your politics!

Peter Kinzler, Highway Robbery: The Two-Decade Battle to Reform America’s Automobile Insurance System is a useful look at where that debate stands and how it ended up there.  Here is a good summary of the book.

It does not make sense for me to read Emily Oster’s The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision-Making in the Early School Years, but it is very likely more reliable information than you are likely to get from other sources.

Saturday assorted links

1. Markets in everything.

2. “Perhaps they are everywhere? Undetectable distributed quantum computation and communication for alien civilizations can be established using thermal light from stars.

3. “Biles briefly posted videos of her practicing bars and landing on her back on two dismount attempts, unable to complete the double-twisting double tuck as normal.

4. Speculative short piece on brain synchronization.

5. West African talking drums really can imitate human speech.

6. Carl Shapiro quits the FTC case against Facebook: “…he has criticized new FTC Chair Lina Khan’s aggressive approach to antitrust enforcement, and she in turn has faulted the agency’s traditional reliance on economists’ analyses in its fights against alleged monopolists.”

A Step Closer to General AI

From Google’s Deep Mind:

In recent years, artificial intelligence agents have succeeded in a range of complex game environments. For instance, AlphaZero beat world-champion programs in chess, shogi, and Go after starting out with knowing no more than the basic rules of how to play. Through reinforcement learning (RL), this single system learnt by playing round after round of games through a repetitive process of trial and error. But AlphaZero still trained separately on each game — unable to simply learn another game or task without repeating the RL process from scratch.

…Today, we published “Open-Ended Learning Leads to Generally Capable Agents,” a preprint detailing our first steps to train an agent capable of playing many different games without needing human interaction data. We created a vast game environment we call XLand, which includes many multiplayer games within consistent, human-relatable 3D worlds. This environment makes it possible to formulate new learning algorithms, which dynamically control how an agent trains and the games on which it trains. The agent’s capabilities improve iteratively as a response to the challenges that arise in training, with the learning process continually refining the training tasks so the agent never stops learning. The result is an agent with the ability to succeed at a wide spectrum of tasks — from simple object-finding problems to complex games like hide and seek and capture the flag, which were not encountered during training. We find the agent exhibits general, heuristic behaviours such as experimentation, behaviours that are widely applicable to many tasks rather than specialised to an individual task. This new approach marks an important step toward creating more general agents with the flexibility to adapt rapidly within constantly changing environments. (Bold added, AT).

Hat tip: Daniel Kokotajlo at Less Wrong who notes “This seems like a somewhat big deal to me. It’s what I would have predicted, but that’s scary, given my timelines.” See also the LW comments.

In other news, South Africa awarded the first ever patent to an AI.

Why humans will perish rather than become grabby aliens

It turns out that Homo Sapiens is not all that different from other, early proto-human species, such as Neanderthals.  They are the “closest things to us.”  Denisovans, etc.  We killed them off.  (We also are likely to mostly kill off chimpanzees, zoos and research labs excluded.)  Therefore the best prediction is that we kill us off too.  The other species like us died through mass violence at the hands of humans.  We don’t have many data points, but they all seem to end the same way.

You might think a) “we are really good at killing off other species,” rather than b) “we are really good at killing things off.”  Therein lies some hope.  Signs of cross-national solidarity thus should make you much more optimistic about the future.

How’s that African vaccine distribution program coming?

Alternative Dosing

Close-up medical syringe with a vaccine.

Alternative dosing is finally getting some attention. This story in Nature recounts some of the recent arguments and evidence:

Two jabs that each contained only one-quarter of the standard dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine gave rise to long-lasting protective antibodies and virus-fighting T cells, according to tests in nearly three dozen people1. The results hint at the possibility of administering fractional doses to stretch limited vaccine supplies and accelerate the global immunization effort.

Since 2016, such a dose-reduction strategy has successfully vaccinated millions of people in Africa and South America against yellow fever2. But no similar approach has been tried in response to COVID-19, despite vaccine shortages in much of the global south.

“There’s a huge status quo bias, and it’s killing people,” says Alex Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “Had we done this starting in January, we could have vaccinated tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions more people.”

…Sarah Cobey, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of Chicago in Illinois and a co-author of a 5 July Nature Medicine commentary supporting dose ‘fractionation’, disagrees about the need for time-consuming data collection.

“We shouldn’t wait that long,” she says. “People are dying, and we have historical precedent for making very well-reasoned guesses that we think are going to save lives.”

…According to a modelling study published by Tabarrok and other economists, such an approach would reduce infections and COVID-linked deaths more than current policies.

Addendum: The reason for doing the modeling study is precisely to take into account variants like Delta. Our modeling suggests that even with efficacy significantly lower than that suggested by Figure 1 in our paper, alternative doses of more effective vaccines would still provide significant reductions in mortality, even when new variants dominate. The benefits derive from vaccinating more quickly.

What I’ve been reading

1. Barnaby Phillips, Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes.  Among its other virtues, this book is an excellent “in passing” way to learn about British imperialism and also West African economic collapse.  One thing I learned from this book is that Nigeria already has one of the very best collection of these bronzes in the world.  It does not seem they are being stolen or ruined, but they are not deployed very effectively either.  Recommended.

2. Paul Atkinson, A Design History of the Electric Guitar. “Why is it that so many guitars produced today, not only by Gibson and Fender, but by competing companies, still hark back to the classic designs of the 1950s?  Why do so many manufacturers produce designs that are very clearly derivative forms of the Les Paul, the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, the Flying V and the Explorer?”  There is now a book on this question, and quite a good one.

3. Cass Sunstein, Sludge: What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It.  More people should write books about the most important topics.  Have you and your institution done a “sludge audit” lately?

4. Andras Schiff, Music Comes Out of Silence: A Memoir. A well-written and in fact gripping treatment of what makes classical music so wonderful, life as a touring concert pianist, and defecting from Hungary and later being disillusioned by a resurgent European populism.  Zoltan Kocsis was at first the more brilliant pianist, but Schiff was more persistent and ended up with a more successful career.

Alex Millmow’s The Gypsy Economist: The Life and Times of Colin Clark covers the now-neglected Australian pioneer of development economics and relative historical optimist.

There is also Kathleen Stock, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, controversial.

Wednesday assorted links

1. More.  Please forgive the source and the pop-ups.

2. Those new service sector jobs: the rising number of dog lawyers in Canada.

3. The decentralized origin of standard weights.

4. The longer-term economic consequences of pandemics, over 220 years.

5. Why Africa’s island states are generally freer (The Economist).

6. Transient pacemaker that dissolves harmlessly in your body.  And another step toward a pancoronavirus vaccine.

7. New Joe Lonsdale AmericanOptimist podcast.

The origins of Wokeism

My latest Bloomberg column considers one factor (of many), here is an excerpt:

The male-female imbalance in academic life should be treated as a kind of emergency. But the institutions that address it are slow and bureaucratic.

Now enter the philosophy of wokeism. One way to think of the woke is as a bunch of people who scream about various injustices. But sometimes they don’t have a good plan to address a particular imbalance — and along the way they can inflict a good deal of unjustified damage, for instance by canceling people who make the wrong remarks about gender imbalance or other issues.

These and other criticisms of the woke may well be correct. Still, at the end of the day it has to be recognized that an unresponsive society will generate a lot of unproductive (and unresponsive) screamers. So simply dissecting the weaknesses of woke tactics and arguments misses the point. When practical solutions do not seem to exist, many people will resort to screaming.

This leads to the conclusion that wokeness won’t be defeated as an ideology until there is a more convincing and practical vision of how to undo institutional sclerosis. When that vision comes, it may not be so closely allied with wokeness, which is not excessively concerned with effective administration and incentive compatibility.

And this:

Sometimes it even seems that woke forces are effective. Recently some major museums have announced that they are sending back their highly valuable West African bronze sculptures to their countries of origin. Many of those sculptures were stolen by British colonial occupiers, and their restoration would reunite those countries with a significant part of their cultural heritage. This justified change would probably not have occurred without pressure from wokeism.

One underlying theme of the column is that the defects of the Woke — such as excess rigidity — are closely allied to the defects of the society they are protesting against.

Ann Bernstein interview with Lant Pritchett

Ann Bernstein: From your knowledge of India and Indonesia, what are the core causes of their lack of educational
progress? These are places with highly qualified civil servants and, at least in India’s case, a democratic
government. How do you see this problem? How do we get out of this trap?

Lant Pritchett: I’m head of this very large research project called RISE and we’re spending millions of dollars to
find out the answer to that question. One of the countries where education improvements have been dramatic
is Vietnam. At a tiny fraction of the spending in most countries – including South Africa – Vietnam is achieving
OECD levels of learning. When we asked our Vietnam team why the country has produced this amazing success,
they told us: ‘because they wanted it’.

On one level, that seems silly; on another level, it is the key. Unless, as a society, you agree on a set of achievable
objectives and actually act in a way that reveals that you really want those objectives, you cannot achieve

Recommended throughout.

Thursday assorted links

1. Do mongooses sit behind a Rawlsian veil of ignorance?

2. “…despite the socially progressive and egalitarian outlook traditionally associated with liberalism, the most liberal Democrats actually expressed the greatest dehumanization of Republicans.”  And how about this clincher: “…and demonstrates the need to develop more constructive outlets for social identity maintenance.”

3. Claims about Tether.

4. Solve for the fungi equilibrium?

5. Please let’s not regulate private space tourism.

6. Good piece on why the Benin bronzes should be returned (NYT).

7. There is progress after all.