Results for “wisdom garett jones”
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The wisdom of Garett Jones

Of course this Bloomberg column was inspired by Garett’s work, not to mention Paleo-Caplanianism!  Here is one excerpt, with the focus being on the annoying tendency to label various policies “anti-democratic”:

The danger is that “stuff I agree with” will increasingly be labeled as “democratic,” while anything someone opposes will be called “anti-democratic.” Democracy thus comes to be seen as a way to enact a series of personal preferences rather than a (mostly) beneficial impersonal mechanism for making collective decisions…

It is also harmful to call the Dobbs decision anti-democratic when what you’re really arguing for is greater involvement by the federal government in abortion policy — a defensible view. No one says the Swiss government is “anti-democratic” because it puts so many decisions (for better or worse) into the hands of the cantons. And pointing out that many US state governments are not as democratic as you might prefer does not overturn this logic.

It would be more honest, and more accurate, simply to note that court put the decision into the hands of (imperfectly) democratic state governments, and that you disagree with the decisions of those governments.

By conflating “what’s right” with “what’s democratic,” you may end up fooling yourself about the popularity of your own views. If you attribute the failure of your views to prevail to “non-democratic” or “anti-democratic” forces, you might conclude the world simply needs more majoritarianism, more referenda, more voting.

Those may or may not be correct conclusions. But they should be judged empirically, rather than following from people’s idiosyncratic terminology about what they mean by “democracy” — and, by extension, “anti-democratic.”

I am worried about some of the increasing polarization on this issue.  If you are on “the Left,” and you think various social and policy trends are so immoral, how is it exactly that you avoid becoming yourself “anti-democratic”?  Even though at the same time you are cursing everything you don’t like as “anti-democratic” too?

The wisdom of Garett Jones

On wage subsidies:

True, would likely boost employment rates. But note: if it works, it means current low employment rates are largely supply-side & voluntary.

Here is the link, and here is Garett’s follow-up tweet.  Here are previous installments in the series.

I would note that it is oh so hard for people to keep consistent views on labor markets (e.g., minimum wage vs. wage effects of immigration, or how about minimum wage vs. nominal wage stickiness?).  Those moods and emotions keep on getting in the way…

Words of wisdom from Vitalik Buterin

Both reasoning from behavioral-economic first principles, and my personal experience, people are at their most evil out of fear, not greed. Growth means there is less fear going around.

That is from Vitalik Buterin, reviewing Stubborn Attachments on TwitterAnd this:

I have a different take on “growth is good for harmony” (52-53). Arrow’s theorem doesn’t become more or less true if a conflict is between, say (+5, +1) vs (+1, +5) or (+2, -2) vs (-2, +2). Rather, the reason why the latter is more disharmonious is loss aversion.

And:

Redistributing money to the rich (p88) is risky because the rich are not necessarily aligned with general population. Caring for old people (p91) is valuable not just for the sake of present individuals, but also as a commitment to future old people who are present-day workers.

Here is my earlier Conversation with Vitalik Buterin.  And here is Garett Jones’s tweet storm on the book.

The wisdom of Lee Ohanian

The area has become “the largest region for medical device manufacturing” in the world, says Faulconer, who explains that because of increasingly complex binational supply chains, “sometimes [one product] will cross the border two to three times.” UCLA’s Ohanian pegs the figure far higher: In some cases, he suggests, a product can cross the U.S.-Mexico border an astonishing 14 times before it goes to market. One study suggests that the average good exported from Mexico to the U.S. contains 40-percent American-made components. In the San Diego-Tijuana region, Solar Turbines, Kyocera International and Taylor Guitars are just a few of the companies that have facilities on both sides of the border.

Here is the full article, via the wisdom of Garett Jones.

*Hive Mind*, by Garett Jones

I am very excited to report that next week will see the publication of Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own, by my colleague Garrett Jones, with Stanford University Press.  This will go down as one of the social science books of the year.

Here is Garett’s opening paragraph:

This isn’t a book about how to raise IQ: it’s a book about the benefits of raising IQ. And a higher IQ helps in ways you might not have realized: on average, people who do better on standardized tests are more patient, are more cooperative, and have better memories. But while dozens of studies by psychologists and economists have established these links, few researchers have connected the dots to ask what this means for entire nations. And since average test scores vary across nations—whether we’re talking about math tests, literacy tests, or IQ tests—an overall rise in national test scores likely means a rise in the number of more patient, more cooperative, and better-informed citizens. This in turn means that higher national test scores will probably matter in ways too big to ignore. And if education researchers and public health officials can find reliable ways to raise national test scores, productivity and prosperity will rise where poverty and disease now flourish.

Here is chapter one, here are Garett’s chapter summaries.  Here is Garett’s home page.  On Twitter, here you will find The Wisdom of Garett Jones.

That was then, this is now…

Six days after Traphagen’s visit, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that work on the border wall that began under Trump is revving back up under Biden. In an online presentation Wednesday, CBP — the largest division of the Department of Homeland Security and home to the Border Patrol — detailed plans to address environmental damage brought on by the former president’s signature campaign promise and confirmed that the wall will remain a permanent fixture of the Southwest for generations to come.

Here is the full story, median voter theorem blah blah blah, via the wisdom of Garett Jones.

*The Culture Transplant: How Migrants Make the Economies They Move To a Lot Like the Ones They Left*

That is the new forthcoming book by Garett Jones (and his wisdom), I am very much looking forward to reading/rereading the final version of this one!  (See the link for my blurb based on a pre-pub reading.)  Here is the Amazon summary:

Over the last two decades, as economists began using big datasets and modern computing power to reveal the sources of national prosperity, their statistical results kept pointing toward the power of culture to drive the wealth of nations. In The Culture Transplant, Garett Jones documents the cultural foundations of cross-country income differences, showing that immigrants import cultural attitudes from their homelands―toward saving, toward trust, and toward the role of government―that persist for decades, and likely for centuries, in their new national homes. Full assimilation in a generation or two, Jones reports, is a myth. And the cultural traits migrants bring to their new homes have enduring effects upon a nation’s economic potential.

Built upon mainstream, well-reviewed academic research that hasn’t pierced the public consciousness, this book offers a compelling refutation of an unspoken consensus that a nation’s economic and political institutions won’t be changed by immigration. Jones refutes the common view that we can discuss migration policy without considering whether migration can, over a few generations, substantially transform the economic and political institutions of a nation. And since most of the world’s technological innovations come from just a handful of nations, Jones concludes, the entire world has a stake in whether migration policy will help or hurt the quality of government and thus the quality of scientific breakthroughs in those rare innovation powerhouses.

You can pre-order here, due out November 15.

The Premonition

In The Premonition Michael Lewis brings his cast of heroes together like the assembling of the Avengers. In the role of Captain America is Charity Dean, the CA public health officer who is always under-estimated because she is slight and attractive, until she cracks open the ribcage of a cadaver that the men are afraid to touch. Then there is Carter Mecher, the redneck epidemiologist who has a gift for assembling numbers into coherent patterns. And Richard Hatchett the southern poet who finds himself at the head of The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), the world’s most important organization during the pandemic; and Joe DiRisi the brilliant, mad scientist picked by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as the person most likely to cure disease…all of them. As you might expect from Michael Lewis, it’s all terribly well done, albeit formulaic and  sometimes over-the-top, e.g.

Charity’s purpose was clear….she was put on earth to fight battles, and wars, against disease. To save lives and perhaps even an entire country. p. 200-201

But Lewis has a bigger problem than over-the-top writing.

The heroes were defeated. Lewis likes to tell stories of brilliant mavericks like Billy Beane and Michael Burry who go against the grain but eventually, against all odds, emerge victorious. But six hundred thousand people are dead in the United States and whatever victory we have won was ugly and slow. Indeed, Lewis assembles his mighty team but then The Premonition trails off as the team is defeated by bureaucracy, indecision, complacency and malaise before they even have a chance to enter the real battle against the virus. It’s telling that none of Lewis’s heroes are even mentioned in Andy Slavitt’s Preventable (about which I will say more in a future post).

To be fair, Lewis’s heroes are fascinating, brilliant people who did some good. As part of the Kremer team I interacted a bit with Richard Hatchett and CEPI. Hatchett headed CEPI and understood the danger of SARS-COV-II before anyone else and with Bill Gates’s support started funding vaccine production and shoring up supply lines before anyone else was off the starting line. CEPI was magnificent and their story has yet to be told in full measure. Had Lewis’s heroes been in charge I have no doubt that many lives could have been saved but, for the most part, the heroes were sidelined. Why and how that happened is the real question but Lewis’s story-telling skills aren’t the right skills to answer that question.

If there is one central villain in The Premonition, it’s the CDC. Lewis acknowledges that his perspective has changed. In The Fifth Risk, the system (the “deep state” used non-pejoratively if you will) is full of wisdom and power but it’s under threat from Trump. In The Premonition, Trump is an after-thought, at best a trigger or aggravating factor. Long before Trump or the pandemic:

Charity had washed her hands of the CDC. “I banned their officers from my investigations,” she said. The CDC did many things. It published learned papers on health crisis, after the fact. It managed, very carefully, public perception of itself. But when the shooting started, it leapt into the nearest hole, while others took fire. “In the end I was like ‘Fuck you’, said Charity. “I was mad they were such pansies. I was mad that the man behind the curtain ended up being so disappointing.” p. 42

As the pandemic starts the CDC fails repeatedly. At the beginning of the pandemic on January 29 the government had started to repatriate Americans from Wuhan bringing some of them to a National Guard base just outside of Omaha. But shockingly the CDC doesn’t test them for the virus.

Never mind that every single one of the fifty-seven Americans in quarantine wanted to be tested: the CDC forbade it. And [James] Lawler [US Naval Commander and national security coordinator on pandemic response] never understood the real reason for the CDC’s objections…Whatever the reasons, fifty-seven Americans spent fourteen days quarantined in Omaha, then left without having any idea of whether they’d been infected, or might still infect others. “There is no way that fifty-seven people from Wuhan were not shedding virus,” said Lawler. p. 176

Many of the people brought home from China are not even quarantined just told to self-quarantine:

…When local health officers…set out to find these possibly infected Americans, and make sure that they were following orders to quarantine, they discovered that the CDC officials who had met them upon arrival had not bothered to take down their home addresses.

…[Charity] posed a rude question to the senior CDC official moved on the call: How can you keep saying that Americans are at low risk from the virus if you aren’t even testing for the virus. She’d been answered with silence, and then the official move on to the next topic. [p.206-207, italics in original]

And all of this is before we get to the CDC’s famously botched test an error which was amplified by the FDA’s forbidding private labs and state governments to develop their own tests. Charity Dean wanted California to ignore the CDC and FDA and, “blow open testing and allow every microbiology lab to develop its own test.” But Dean is ignored and so by as late as February 19, “Zimbabwe could test but California could not because of the CDC. Zimbabwe!” p. 223. The failure of testing in the early weeks was the original sin of the crisis, the key failure that took a containment strategy ala South Korea and Taiwan off the table.

Lewis’s most sustained analysis comes in a few pages near the end of The Premonition where he argues that the CDC became politicized after it lost credibility due to the 1976 Swine Flu episode. In 1976 a novel influenza strain looked like it might be a repeat of 1918. Encouraged by CDC head David Sencer, President Ford launched a mass vaccination campaign that vaccinated 45 million people. The swine flu, however, petered out and the campaign was widely considered a “debacle” and a “fiasco” that illustrated the danger of ceding control to unelected experts instead of the democratic process. The CDC lost authority and under Reagan the director became a political appointee rather than a career civil servant. Thus, rather than being unprecedented, Trump’s politicization of the CDC had deep roots.

Today the 1976 vaccination campaign looks like a competent response to a real risk that failed to materialize, rather than a failure. So what lessons should we take from this? Lewis doesn’t say but my colleague Garett Jones argues for more independent agencies in his excellent book 10% Less Democracy. The problem with the CDC was that after 1976 it was too responsive to political pressures, i.e. too democratic. What are the alternatives?

The Federal Reserve is governed by a seven-member board each of whom is appointed to a single 14- year term, making it rare for a President to be able to appoint a majority of the board. Moreover, since members cannot be reappointed there is less incentive to curry political favor. The Chairperson is appointed by the President to a four-year term and must also be approved by the Senate. These checks and balances make the Federal Reserve a relatively independent agency with the power to reject democratic pressures for inflationary stimulus. Although independent central banks can be a thorn in the side of politicians who want their aid in juicing the economy as elections approach, the evidence is that independent central banks reduce inflation without reducing economic growth. A multi-member governing board with long and overlapping appointments could also make the CDC more independent from democratic politics which is what you want when a once in 100 year pandemic hits and the organization needs to make unpopular decisions before most people see the danger.

Lewis hasn’t lost his ability to write exhilarating prose about heroic oddballs. Page by page, The Premonition is a good read but the heroes in Lewis’s story were overshadowed by politics, bureaucracy and complacency–systems that Lewis’s doesn’t analyze or perhaps quite understand–and as a result, his hero-centric story ends up unsatisfying as story and unedifying as analysis.

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