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January 27, 2015

"15 Ways The World Will Be Awesome In 2050"

The long run--fingers crossed--could be very, very good.

"How do I become a data scientist?"

Seems like a useful set of recommendations.

"Changing Climates of History"

Interesting look at recent work by prominent historians on the role of climate in history.

For the most part, these five senior historians use climate change to discuss economic and political history. Unexpected climate shifts, or brief climate shocks, brought crop failure, hunger, unrest—these arguments appear time and again in these five books. In particular, climate shifts help explain economic distress and political violence.

"How Close Are We to Star Trek Propulsion?"

Not close, but closer than I would have thought.

"The 2017 total solar eclipse awarded to the United States"

Make your plans now

It goes right through the middle of the country too . . . almost everyone in the lower 48 is within a day's drive of seeing it. Cities in the path of the totality include Salem, OR, Jackson, WY, Lincoln, NE, St. Louis, MO (nearly), Nashville, TN, and Charleston, SC.

January 26, 2015

"Stop Trying to Save the World: Big ideas are destroying international development"

"Hayek" doesn't appear anywhere in this piece--it's in the New Republic[!] after all--but somewhere, he's smiling.

I came across the PlayPump story in Ken Stern’s With Charity For All, but I could have plucked one from any of the dozen or so “development doesn’t work” best-sellers to come out in the last ten years. In The Idealist—a kind of “where are they now?” for the ideas laid out in Jeffrey Sachs’s The End of Poverty—Nina Munk discovers African villages made squalid by the hopes and checkbooks of Western do-gooders. Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’s Poor Economics finds dozens of “common sense” development projects—food aid, crop insurance, microfinance—either don’t help poor people or may even make them poorer.

(See "Meant to Keep Mosquitos Out, Nets Are Used to Haul Fish In" for an unexpected, serious cost of distributing mosquito nets to fight malaria.)

"Learning and Forgetting the Wisdom of Coase"

With all due respect to Professor Borenstein--he is a very distinguished scholar and his brief tribute to "The Problem of Social Cost" here is quite nice--I think his discussion is misleading. Specifically, the following:

It is ironic and disappointing to hear some commentators laud Coase while at the same time saying that cap-and-trade would be too costly to the U.S. economy.  The WSJ editorial page, and many others of similar inclination, have argued instead that “the market” will solve pollution problems without government intervention. . . .

But on climate change, the right wing now fights against assigning any property rights on greenhouse gas emissions, even as the science becomes virtually certain that GHGs are the cause of climate change.  Leaving the property rights unassigned is equivalent to giving unlimited rights to emit and making those right untradeable. 

Leave aside the "virtually certain that GHGs are the cause of climate change"--a conclusion that at least some scholars dispute. Focus instead on those "many others" who argue that the market "solves pollution problems without government intervention". 

The criticism of market advocates here, as in many other instances, fundamentally mistakes the advocates' position. It's not that markets can solve all problems "without government intervention". It's that markets, while imperfect, tend to work better than government in a large number of instances, particularly the U.S. national government as currently constituted. This fundamental idea explains why market advocates would sharply question the supposedly wonderful cap-and-trade policy Professor Borenstein advances. In particular, I think there are four reasons to question cap-and-trade:

1. There is a real consensus--not just the questionable one about the causes of global warming, if any--that action taken by the U.S. alone will do virtually nothing to solve the problem. Supporters of cap-and-trade can talk about setting a moral example or starting the process, but if the rest of the world, particularly China and India, refuse to curb their carbon dioxide emissions, we would just incur a large cost for virtually no gain. Maybe the supporters believe in the effectiveness of international collective action. Maybe they believe the League of Nations and the UN have eliminated war, hunger, and poverty, and the other evils that plague mankind. I don't. And history gives, I think, little ground for optimism.

2. Cap-and-trade as outlined on economists' whiteboards and cap-and-trade as actually legislated by the Congress and implemented by the Executive would likely be substantially different. There are hundreds of examples of this to choose from. Is affordable housing a good thing? Sure. But are rent controls and huge mortgage subsidies and regulations requiring lending to low-income borrowers good things? No. Would greater access to health insurance be a good thing? Yes. Are the multiple taxes, exceptions, and complications of Obamacare good things? The jury is still out, but it's not looking good.

3. Even if a simple, clean law were drafted--again given the very large stakes potentially involved, that seems quite doubtful--there are likely to be unintended and unforeseen--unforeseen at least to some--effects. Anybody remember the yacht tax?

4. Finally, experience shows that we sell short technological change and the creativity inherent in markets at our peril. What if an excellent substitute for beef were developed, a substitute that greatly reduced the amount of livestock? (Note that livestock supposedly are responsible for half of the global warming gases.) Well, such a substitute may well be coming. (Link via Michael Greenspan.) What if batteries become substantially more efficient and cheaper, such that solar and wind power become viable substitutes for carbon? That may well be coming, too.

In short, I think pro-market scholars haven't forgotten Coase and they do understand what the implications of his paper are. I think market skeptics would do well to better acquaint themselves with government-in-practice and markets-in-practice before throwing stones at us.

"The Unappreciated Success Of Charter Schools"

Excellent short piece by economist Adam Ozimek on what the average obscures about charter school performance. (Link via Marginal Revolution.)

"How the U.S. Can Revive Its Entrepreneurial Vigor"

Three reasonable proposals.

"The Real-Life Teachers of Spare Parts on What’s Wrong With US Schools"

I liked about half of this argument and disliked half. The part I liked:

WIRED: How did you come up with the idea of building complex robots at a school where kids need basic math and writing help?

Lajvardi: The kids were bored. That has far reaching implications. They dropped out or learned little because they weren’t finding anything interesting at school.

Cameron: Most kids think school is a lot of work, you get yelled at, it’s regimented. What Fredi and I did with the robotics club wasn’t school. We were just doing something that was a lot of fun.

"Whistleblower: Pelosi Covered Up Role In Crisis"

It's a very good thing for the country that Ms. Pelosi is no longer Majority Leader Speaker (Thanks, Michael!).

It would also be good if she lost her seat or retired.

"A Tsunami Of Change Is Coming To The Global Economy"

If you want a pessimistic forecast of the world economy over the next five or so years, this piece makes some interesting arguments.

January 25, 2015

"Messi-To-Neymar Is As Beautiful As Soccer Gets"

You just don't see things like this every game.

"NFL Draft Experts Hated The Draft That Turned The Seahawks Into The Best Team In The League"

Worth remembering if you read those "expert" evaluations of NFL drafts.

The 2012 NFL Draft is the biggest reason why the Seattle Seahawks have been the best team in the league over the last two years. . . .

They drafted five players that have become a part of their core, and got many of them in the late rounds . . . 

"Chickens Today Are Shockingly Bigger Than They Used To Be"

That's one big chicken.

January 24, 2015

"Churchill embodied Britain's greatness"

Friday was the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's death. Here's a fine tribute to him.

"Math Explains Likely Long Shots, Miracles and Winning the Lottery"

A fine, useful piece.

For a shorter version, see Persi Diaconis's remark that if you look at a big enough sample long enough, "almost any damn thing will happen".

"New Products From Ruger"

". . . [last month] the gun manufacturer announced the addition of three new offerings to its already expansive product line."

January 23, 2015

"Science journals screw up hundreds of times each year. This guy keeps track of every mistake."

Good for him. May he live long and prosper.

"The Jewish tie salesman"

Via Economic Job Market Rumors.

A fleeing Taliban terrorist, desperate for water, was plodding through the Afghan desert when he saw something far off in the distance. Hoping to find water, he hurried toward the mirage only to find a very frail little old Jewish man standing at a small makeshift display rack - selling ties.

The Taliban terrorist asked, "Do you have water?" The Jewish man replied, "I have no water. But would you like to buy a tie? They are only $5."

The Taliban shouted hysterically, "Idiot Infidel! I do not need such an over-priced western adornment. I spit on your ties. I need water!

"Sorry, I have none, just ties - pure silk, and only $5." "Pah! A curse on your ties! I should wrap one around your scrawny little neck and choke the life out of you but . . . I must conserve my energy and find water!" "Okay," said the little old Jewish man. . . . It does not matter that you do not want to buy a tie from me, or that you hate me, threaten my life, and call me infidel. I will show you that I am bigger than any of that. If you continue over that hill to the east for about two miles, you will find a restaurant. It has the finest food and all the ice-cold water you need. Go In Peace.

Cursing him again, the desperate Taliban staggered away, over the hill. Several hours later, he crawled back, almost dead, and gasped, "They won't let me in without a tie!"

"Find The Farthest City On Earth From Anywhere Else"

I'm unsure why anybody needs this, but if you do . . . 

January 22, 2015

"Ten Ways Men Oppress Women with Their Everyday Behavior"

Beautifully done.

1. Broplimenting

This is when a guy says something nice to you without asking for your consent first. Men should always ask. “Do you consent to me complimenting you?” before saying anything nice or else it’s assault. No, nonverbal cues don’t count – he still has to ask for explicit consent before offering that kind of affection.

"Quotation of the Day"

Thomas Sowell, via Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek:

Metaphors about how “society” should “arrange” this or that result evade the institutional reality that someone must be empowered to constrict other people’s freedom – and thus evade the need to weigh whether the expected value of the result being sought, given the chances of achieving it, is greater or less than the expected value of the loss of freedom that this effort entails.

"Beware Of Heavily Traded Stocks"

From The Economist:

As a control, the authors combined the popularity measure with another well-known effect, related to the volatility of individual stocks. Stocks that are more volatile than the market (rising or falling 10% when the index moves 5%) are described as having a "high beta;" stocks that are less volatile than the market are "low-beta."

. . .

The authors of the new paper combined the popularity and beta characteristics. They found that popularity was by far the dominant effect: whether a stock was popular was more important when determining its return than whether it was volatile. The same was true when controlling for other factors, such as the size of the company and the starting valuation.

Interesting. But of course if it's true--a big if--the effect has probably already gone away by now.

"Why 'Dad Rock' Became 2014's Put-Down Du Jour (Sorry, Bruce and U2)"

This is true:

Fifty years ago, baby boomers adopted the edict “Never trust anyone over the age of 30,” so it’s hilarious to see youth-oriented publications form a de facto Revolutionary Tribunal and attack boomers by reprising their own credo.

So is this:

He omits a big reason for music’s current turn: the dad-rock 
way—learning to play and sing well enough to record without digital editing and 
pitch correction—was harder. While harder doesn't mean better, it deserves note.

Link via Michael Greenspan.


January 21, 2015

"Where Bars Outnumber Grocery Stores"

Guess. Go ahead, guess.

"A Child With A Baseball Bat Could Total A Tesla Model S"

The allegedly supercool Tesla S may have some problems.

"How Did Jane Austen Write Great Novels Without Much Life Experience?"

"She's a miracle, basically."

"This Is The Only Summary Of Pride And Prejudice You Need To Read"

Concise as heck.

UPDATE: Link fixed now. Thanks to the commenters.

January 20, 2015

". . . it is effulgently suicidal."

In an already distinguished career as a writer, this column is the best by Jonah Goldberg I've read yet.

I don’t dispute that Islamist terrorist attacks threaten to give Islam a bad name. (Actually, that ship probably sailed a long time ago for lots of people.) What I don’t get is why Muslims should have blanket immunity from the rules that apply to everyone else. If Israel does something bad, Jews are expected to condemn it — and they do. When a pro-lifer goes vigilante and blows up an abortion clinic, you can be damn sure that pro-life leaders are expected to denounce it — and they do. More to the point, the entire liberal establishment gets their dresses over their collective heads about the need to hold larger communities accountable. Just ask tea partiers, Evangelical Christians, gun-rights advocates, and my other fellow Legionaires of Doom.

The entire edifice of supposedly sophisticated left-wing thinking is about collective responsibility. . . .

We’re breeding generations of citizens who think attacking left-wing college administrators from the left is bold and courageous and denouncing Islamic extremism is racist. We apologize for the “root causes” that lead to actual violence, while we theorize endlessly about how ultimately we’re really to blame. Our military heroes are terroristic and the terrorists are misunderstood. That’s not merely dazzlingly idiotic; it is effulgently suicidal.

"Botched environmental predictions for 2015"

This is a great project for somebody: keep track of the Left's record on predictions.

You’ve heard the warnings: Global warming could doom humanity. Overpopulation and deforestation will destroy the planet. We’re going to run out of energy.

It isn’t happening right now, experts say, but it could happen in a few decades.

Yet, decades ago, experts warned that many catastrophes would happen now – by the year 2015. Yet they have not. found five predictions that went astray.

"Sorry, liberals, Scandinavian countries aren’t utopias"

Kyle Smith reviews The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.

Smith's conclusion is consistent with other work I've seen: even if Scandinavians really were terrifically happy, they are key features of their societies that wouldn't transfer well to other countries, particularly the U.S.

"More Is More: Why the Paradox of Choice Might Be a Myth"

From the first time I heard about the famous experiment, I thought it was baloney: the stakes were low, the situation not representative of the choices people actually face, and the sample was almost surely unrepresentative. The corollary worry that increasing choices were therefore bound to make us sad and crazy failed to recognize the significant increase in tools people now have for making choices.

So the recent failure to replicate the results is of little importance to me, but your mileage may vary.

See this for Barry Schwartz's reply. But also see this remark of his:

It’s just that sometimes choice is paralyzing, and sometimes it’s liberating, and we don’t know what determines which direction it’ll go in, yet. So I don’t think we can say unequivocally that too much choice is bad, because we don’t know the limits to that.

I'd give him an A for honesty, but a D- for the scientific importance of his theory.

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