Jonathan Rodden finds a "a fascinating fractal-like relationship between population density and Democratic voting. As one zooms in to lower and lower levels of geographic aggregation, the relationship only reappears in finer detail." The "understanding of the Democrats as the party of metropolitan America and the Republicans as the party of smaller post-industrial cities and towns is ... completely wrong."
At Orgtheory, Katherine Chen quotes two engineers: "Over the last 50 years, we argue that incentives for academic scientists have become increasingly perverse in terms of competition for research funding, development of quantitative metrics to measure performance, and a changing business model for higher education itself. ... If a critical mass of scientists become untrustworthy, a tipping point is possible in which the scientific enterprise itself becomes inherently corrupt and public trust is lost, risking a new dark age with devastating consequences to humanity. Academia and federal agencies should better support science as a public good, and incentivize altruistic and ethical outcomes, while de-emphasizing output."
Credit, Land, Crash. Repeat.
Adair Turner, interviewed by Lynn Parramore:
"If you look back at the story of advanced economies over the 20 years before 2007, you see an interesting pattern. During that period, the total value of national income — what economists call “nominal GDP,” meaning income unadjusted for inflation — grew at about 5 percent per year in a reasonably steady fashion. ...
Yet during all of that time, the value of all credit, unadjusted for inflation, grew at about 10 to15 percent per year. At the time, it seemed like we needed that pace of credit growth, but when you think about it, if your credit is going to grow at 10-15 percent per year in order to get your 5 percent GDP growth per year, eventually you’re going to have a problem. This isn’t a stable system. In my view, one of the reasons that it seemed that credit had to grow faster than total income was rising inequality. ...
If you look at the bottom 20 or 25 percent of the population, their real wages haven’t gone up for about 35 years! Meanwhile, the incomes of the top 1 percent have gone up 200 percent. This is a dramatic increase. The savings at the top have to go somewhere. At the bottom, there is a group of people who don’t feel that they’re participating in the growing prosperity, so they become very vulnerable to the delusion that if they borrow the money and buy a house, they’ll make up for their lack of real wages by house prices always going up. ...
We’ve made almost no progress at all in dealing with the fundamental drivers of economies that are too reliant on debt. We have not dealt with the fundamental fragilities that arise from inequality, from the bias of the lending system towards real estate, and from global imbalances. ... We need more radical policies so that we don’t just repeat the debt-fueled booms all over again and do another blow-up in 2025 or 2035. ...
The vast majority of the increase in the wealth-to-income ratio, which Piketty describes, comes from the increase in the value of urban real estate. The majority of that increase derives, in turn, not from new construction investment but from the increase in the value of land. ...
Instability mostly comes from the interface between the fact that the banks (or shadow banks) can create credit, money, and purchasing power in infinite quantities if we don’t constrain them, and the fact that credit is primarily created to fund the purchase of urban real estate and land, which is somewhat fixed in supply. In economics, when you put together a highly elastic thing and a highly inelastic thing, you create extraordinary potential for turbulence, volatility, and for unstable prices."
How did the South Become so Racist?
Michael Munger, interviewed by Russ Roberts:
"the original justification for slavery, which was the Roman one wasn’t good enough. And so Southerners cast about and found basically an alternative, which was the Greek justification for slavery. And let me just say very briefly what those two are. The one justification for slavery, and it was pretty common in Rome, was that if you lost a battle and were captured, then you might either be killed or kept as a slave. And there is a mutually beneficial exchange, if you will, in the sense that you’ve already lost. So, me saying, ‘I tell you what: I won’t kill you if you will agree to act as my slave for the rest of your life. And I may free you; I may not; but that’s up to me.’ And you say, ‘Killed/be a slave: I’m going to go with the slave thing.’ But, it meant that some slaves were very excellent. And in Roman society some slaves occupied very high positions, positions of respect. It’s just that they made this promise. It was an economic institution. And that was the way that slavery had existed in Africa: if you lost a battle, then you would be captured by the other side. It was almost like indentured servitude: you could work it off.
Well, that didn’t work in the American South because they wanted to maintain slaves, to be able to identify slaves and to have a justification that would allow them to enslave the children — which the old Roman justification would never have allowed. ...
So, the Southerners needed a different way, so they were looking for the Aristotelian notion of slavery, which is that slaves are people who are either morally inferior or lack the judgment to make independent choices. They are like children or like horses. That means that you actually have a positive-good justification for enslaving them: if I have a thoroughbred horse or a fancy dog, it would be cruel of me to set it loose to let it run around, because it’s not capable of taking care of itself. I have obligations to take care of it. My ownership actually gives me obligations. And what’s interesting and what this paper is about is how Southerners worked that out between about 1815 and 1835, and started to understand the implications for how they had to change the economic institutions of slavery to match this new ideology that they were creating. ...
what we’re looking at is how Southerners manage to persuade themselves. ... They actually came to believe that slavery was, first, a necessary evil; and then, later, a positive good: that not only could they not do without it, but that slaves themselves were better off as slaves than they would have been in Africa. ...
I think, that if I were born to a slave-owning wealthy family in the South in 1830, 1835, I would have defended slavery. And that’s terrible. But, the fact that you are raised in this system where people take it for granted; where it’s a kind of convention; and they had these justifications — these elaborately worked-out justifications — does make you wonder what 200 years from now, people will look back at our society and say, ‘How could they have thought that?’"
Many more interesting points, including: a) would Britain have given up slavery in 1830 (i.e., after the value of slave labor had risen)? b) the emergence of the rationale for racism 1815-1835 (e.g., "since I owned them I have a much better reason to take care of them because they are still going to be valuable to me 5 years from now; whereas if I rent labor, I don’t care: that guy can die"). c) slaves as "lazy" = trying to get better working conditions. d) Adam Smith discussing Greek justifications for infanticide, its parallels to justifications for slavery.
Appendum. Michael Karp writes: "the book is less about whether slavery was or was not “modern,” and more about the fact that leading slaveholders believed it was. ... It wasn’t just that slaveholders believed Britain and other European powers would come to their aid in a war against the North, although they did believe that. It was that their entire ideological and strategic worldview depended on a belief in the global necessity of slave labor. European states might oppose slavery in the abstract, but they could not escape the deeper principle of racial inequality upon which slavery rested."
Cognitive Biases, Climate Edition
Elizabeth Kolbert writes:
"But the problem with global warming—and the reason it continues to resist illustration, even as the streets flood and the forests die and the mussels rot on the shores—is that experience is an inadequate guide to what’s going on. The climate operates on a time delay. When carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere, it takes decades—in a technical sense, millennia—for the earth to equilibrate. This summer’s fish kill was a product of warming that had become inevitable twenty or thirty years ago, and the warming that’s being locked in today won’t be fully felt until today’s toddlers reach middle age. In effect, we are living in the climate of the past, but already we’ve determined the climate’s future.
Global warming’s back-loaded temporality makes all the warnings—from scientists, government agencies, and, especially, journalists—seem hysterical, Cassandra-like--Ototototoi!—even when they are understated. ... It’s likely that the “floodgates” are already open, and that large sections of Greenland and Antarctica are fated to melt. It’s just the ice in front of us that’s still frozen."
For a list of cognitive biases, see here.
Things I liked, Monday
Glenn Greenwald and Naomi Klein discuss the Podesta leaks. If the powerful give up their right to privacy, who counts as powerful, and who gets to decide?
Jay Livingston looks at Trump's support among religious conservatives and coins the term motivated morality: "It’s like 'motivated perception' – unconsciously adjusting your perceptions so that the facts fit with your ideology. But with motivated morality, you change your moral judgments."
Heidegger was super Nazi after all. Surprise.
Harper's covers the US involvement in Yemen: "aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter." The US does not want to lose the Saudis as an ally. But the Saudis are furious about the rapprochement with Iran. And so the US helps them murder hundreds of innocent Yemenis. Someone at the White House must've done a cost-benefit analysis. Puzzling.
Things I liked
Dani Rodrik on ideas vs. interests: "identities are malleable as are voters’ perceptions of how the world works and therefore which policies serve their interests." Today's Trump voters won't necessarily remain opposed to liberal policies.
Fascinating episode of In Our Time, a BBC Radio 4 podcast, on 12th Century Renaissance. Excellent overview over a period you know little about.
Ezra Klein interviews Francis Fukuyama: there are too many vetoes, and we need to talk about class.
David Remnick profiles Leonard Cohen. Self-recommending.
Ars Technica reports on a new Georgetown study:
"Half of American adults are in a face-recognition database.. By using face recognition to scan the faces on 26 states' driver's license and ID photos, police and the FBI have basically enrolled half of all adults in a massive virtual line-up. This has never been done for fingerprints or DNA. ...
At least five major police departments, including those in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology that can do so, or expressed an interest in buying it. ...
Police departments have little oversight of their databases and don't audit them for misuse."
The Baltimore Sun writes: "the American Civil Liberties Union in California released documents last week showing the system was used to monitor protesters during the unrest and rioting in Baltimore last year."
Work Vs Fun
Underneath the endless fears that "technology is going to kill all our jobs," there's a paradox. Most jobs suck. Cashier clerking, construction work, insurance sales - at first blush, these jobs and countless others are hard, often repetitive, and not inherently meaningful. So far so good: If automation frees people from work they don't want to do, that seems perfectly fine. But most people become less happy when they lose their job. Their life satisfaction declines, in a lasting way. Avoiding that is a pretty good motivation for people to keep their jobs.
Here's the twist. Cristobal Young at Stanford argues that free time is only enjoyable when people around you also have free time. As he puts it, "time is a networked good." So if people around you are gainfully employed, sitting at home alone and being unemployed sucks. On weekends though, when everyone's off work, being unemployed isn't so bad.
So perhaps the worry about technology isn't that it causes some amount of unemployment. Some unemployment, after all, is experienced as pretty bad and people work hard to avoid it, even when their jobs aren't that great to being with. The real "worry" would be that unemployment crosses some threshold and becomes so widespread that it's socially acceptable and quite enjoyable. We're social beings. If everyone around you doesn't work, it isn't hard to imagine people finding more enjoyable pastimes - gardening, online video-games, etc.
Provided they have a means of securing their living, of course (enter UBI).
Does it follow that, say, young people are happier in places with outrageously high youth unemployment than in places where almost everyone works?
More about Cristobal's research here.
This is my notepad.