At the excellent Marginal Revolution blog, economist Tyler Cowen takes on a thought experiment: What if we all died at forty? An excerpt from his answer:
“One question is how child-bearing norms will evolve. There will be considerable pressure to have kids at age eighteen or so. (It might be considered unethical to have a child at age thirty-five, although if the fertility rate falls enough the economy might shift heavily into orphanages and this could be considered virtuous nonetheless.) I predict many people would become much stricter in their morals and more religious, and they will have children quite early.
Other people would attempt to maintain a collegiate lifestyle through their death at age forty. There would be a polarization of outcomes and approaches to life. Old age as an equalizer, and as an enforcer of responsible savings behavior, would be gone.
The likelihood of warfare would rise, if only because the sage elderly won’t be around and male hormones will run rampant.” (Thanks Browser.)
Economists Tyler Cowen (who has read more more books than all of us combined) and Kevin Grier have a smart article at Grantland that reveals how countries can improve their odds of earning medals at the Olympics. An excerpt about the divergent performances of China and India, two countries with similarly huge talent pools:
“Will China and India, the two countries with populations over 1 billion, dominate the Olympics of the future, especially as they become wealthier?
To date, their Olympic performances are almost polar opposites. China has become an Olympic powerhouse while India has underperformed. From 1960 to 2000, China won 80 gold medals, while India won only two. Over those 11 Olympiads, India only won eight total medals while China won over 200. While China has grown faster and is richer than India, the difference in wealth can’t begin to account for the chasm between their Olympic results.
In their book Poor Economics, MIT economists Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo attribute India’s dismal Olympic performance at least partly to very poor child nutrition. They document that rates of severe child malnutrition are much higher in India than in sub-Saharan Africa, even though most of sub-Saharan Africa is significantly poorer than India.
Even the significant segment of the Indian population that grows up healthy is at a disadvantage relative to China. The Chinese economic development model has focused on investment in infrastructure; things like massive airports, high-speed rail, hundreds of dams, and, yes, stadiums, world-class swimming pools, and high-tech athletic equipment. And while India is a boisterous democracy, China continues to be ruled by a Communist party, which still remembers the old Cold War days when athletic performance was a strong symbol of a country’s geopolitical clout.”
A concise explanation of why labor disputes in sports are so tortuous and odd, via Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier, on Grantland:
“Why are labor disputes in sports so weird?
The bosses control the whole sector and face little competition when it comes to hiring labor. Since the merger with the ABA in 1976, the NBA is a monopoly and operates in a manner (it monopolizes!) that would be illegal outside the sports world. Unlike in Silicon Valley, there are no NBA “start-ups.” You cannot create a new NBA team without permission of the incumbent owners. The league also has to approve changes in teams’ location and ownership.
What does this mean? The owners can get together and agree to jointly cut expenses, that is, the player salaries. Players have limited opportunities to play professional basketball in other countries, but realistically, if you are a world-class professional basketball player, you probably want to be in the NBA.
The star players are the only counterweight to management’s power. To a large extent, they ARE the NBA’s product. Because of this, the owners aren’t talking about using replacement players, and some stars are getting decent offers to play overseas during the lockout. These factors are a cause for concern for the owners and put limits on how much they can extract from the players.”
Interesting idea from William J. Stuntz’s The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution), which argues that NYC is far more violent than it was a century ago, but we don’t notice because emergency medical care and surgical procedures have improved so markedly that there are fewer fatalities. The only caveat is that I’d be curious as to how exhaustive statistics were 100 years ago. The passage:
“New York is America’s safest large city, the city that saw crime fall the most and the fastest during the 1990s and the early part of this decade. Yet New York’s murder rate is 80 percent higher now than it was at the beginning of the twentieth century — notwithstanding an imprisonment rate four times higher now than then. That crime gap is misleadingly small; thanks to advances in emergency medicine, a large fraction of those early twentieth-century homicide victims would survive their wounds today. Taking account of medical advances, New York is probably not twice as violent as a century ago, but several times more violent. At best, the crime drop must be counted a pyrrhic victory.”
“There’s a popular myth that NASA spent ‘millions’ of dollars developing a pen for astronauts to use in the weightless environment of a space ship — while their sensible Russian counterparts were happy to use the low-tech pencil. Alas, for all its appeal and plausibility, this is not true. Initially, astronauts and cosmonauts were both equipped with pencils, but there were problems: if a piece of lead broke off, for example, it could float into someone’s eye or nose. A pen was needed, one that would defy gravity, write in extreme heat or cold, and be leak proof: blobs of ink floating around the cabin would be more perilous than a stray pencil lead. A long-time pen maker named Paul C. Fisher patented the ‘space pen’ in 1965 (which he had developed at the cost of a million dollars, at the request of but not under the auspices of NASA.) NASA bought four hundred of them at $6 each, and, after a couple of years of testing, the pens were put into space.”
“When Tyler Cowen was 15, he became the New Jersey Open Chess Champion, at the time the youngest ever. At around the same age, he began reading seriously in the social sciences; he preferred philosophy. By 16 he had reached a chess rating of 2350, which today would put him close to the top 100 in the U.S. Shortly thereafter he gave up chess and philosophy for the same reason: little stability and poor benefits.
He’d been reading economics, though. He figured that economists were supposed to publish, and by age 19 he had placed two papers in respected journals. As a PhD candidate at Harvard, he published in the Journal of Political Economy and the American Economic Review. ‘They were weird, strange pieces,’ he says, ‘but still in good journals, top journals. That cemented my view that I could, you know, somehow fit in somewhere.’ I ask him what he was like, what made him doubt he could fit in.
‘I was like I am now.’
‘You’ve always been like that?’
‘Always. Age 3. Whatever.’
‘What did you do at age 3?’
‘Read a lot of books.’”
“Tyler Cowen has read what’s listed in Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, though not, he concedes, every single last one of the Icelandic sagas. He rereads what you probably haven’t heard of, like Anton Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island. For the Brazil trip, in case he runs out of new books, he has also brought Neal Stephenson’s 1,100-page Cryptonomicon, which he has already read. Fiction slows him down, he says, which makes packing easier. He carries a Kindle but reads paper when he can; he says he’s invested too much time on the rhythm of how the eye tracks the page. Several people have told me the same story about Cowen: They have watched him read, and he scans a page as others might scan a headline.”
Cowen visits Big Think to discuss the free market and morality:
Annie Lowrey’s Slate piece, “Let in the Super-Immigrants!,” argues that America’s quickest path to economic turnaround is to fast-track educated alien workers to citizenship status, favoring the highly skilled over the poor, huddles masses. The opening:
“This winter, George Mason economist Tyler Cowen publishedThe Great Stagnation, an ebook arguing that the United States has exhausted all its easy sources of growth. We have, Cowen says, no more low-hanging fruit: no more cheap frontier land to farm, no more places to build new interstates, no rural homes to electrify, no more girls to send to school and then add to the workforce. From now on, Cowen says, growth will be slower, and transformative innovations like toilets and telephones will be rarer.
Cowen is alarmingly convincing, and The Great Stagnation received a round of queasy applause from the chattering classes—including from this publication. But maybe there remains one last shiny, fat apple hanging right in front of our faces, one last endeavor that would bring us fast, costless, and easy growth. It is immigration reform. The United States can grow faster by stealing the rest of the world’s smart people.
Today, the Obama White House is reaffirming its pledge to do just that.”
Damn, those Kenyans are good. (Image by Pete Souza.)
Economist Tyler Cowen’s instant reaction to the political ramifications of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, posted at 11:30pm on May 1:
“My quick take is that that Obama will be re-elected (getting Osama is way more important than Iraq, or Saddam in the American mind, attacks on American soil, etc.), at this point the Republicans won’t try to beat him from the center and will thus nominate a more extreme candidate and lose badly, and the most important effects will be on Pakistan, not this country.”
Tyler Cowen: "Maybe it is stretching the concept, but you can interpret Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as amateurs too."
An excerpt from a post by economist Tyler Cowen on Marginal Revolution about the merits of amateur efforts:
“Amateurism is splendid when amateurs actually can make contributions. A lot of the Industrial Revolution was driven by the inventions of so-called amateurs. One of the most revolutionary economic sectors today — social networking — has been led by amateurs. Maybe it is stretching the concept, but you can interpret Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as amateurs too.
Amateurs are associated with free entry and a lot of experimentation. Barbecue quality is very often driven by amateurs, and in general amateurs still make contributions to food and cooking. The difficulty of maintaining productive amateurs is one of the reasons why scientific progress periodically slows down. Specialization, however necessary it may be, can make big breakthroughs harder at some margin. This is one aspect of the division of labor which Adam Smith did not fully grasp, though he hinted at it.
Through computers, and the internet, the notion of amateurs working together is becoming more important. This includes astronomical searches and theorem-proving, plus collection and collation of data, and Wikipedia; this is Shirky’s ‘cognitive surplus.’”
Which people who are currently famous will still be famous 10,000 years from now? It won’t be Gwyneth Paltrow, that’s for sure. Her singing at the Oscars last night nearly made Quadaffi surrender. But that very difficult question is taken on by the fertile mind of economist Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. An excerpt:
“I’ll go with the major religious leaders (Jesus, Buddha, etc.), Einstein, Turing, Watson and Crick, Hitler, the major classical music composers, Adam Smith, and Neil Armstrong. (Addendum: Oops! I forgot Darwin and Euclid.)
My thinking is this. The major religions last for a long time and leave a real mark on history. Path-dependence is critical in that area.
Otherwise, an individual, to stay famous, will have to securely symbolize an entire area, and an area ‘with legs’ at that. The theory of relativity still will be true and it may well become more important. The computer and DNA will not be irrelevant. Hitler will remain a stand-in symbol for pure evil; if he is topped we may not have a future at all. Beethoven and Mozart still will be splendid, but Shakespeare and other wordsmiths will require translation and thus will fade somewhat. The propensity to truck and barter will remain and Smith will keep his role as the symbol of economics. Keynesian economics may someday be less true, as superior biofeedback, combined with markets in self-improvement, ushers in an era of flexible wages, while market-based expected nominal gdp targetingprevents a downward deflationary spiral.”
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour: Desperate to be President. (Image by George Armstrong.)
Economist Tyler Cowen analyzes Tuesday’s election results pretty well on his blog. An excerpt:
“Just 32% of the Tea Party candidates won; admittedly that figure should be adjusted by the rate of incumbency (a lot of Tea Party candidates were challengers). In any case, there was not a Tea Party tidal wave. Sarah Palin as nominee is up a few points on InTrade.com, although I do not see why. Haley Barbour is also up and Chris Christie is down considerably (why?). Given that the Democrats did better than expected in the Senate, Obama’s reelection chances look better now than they did a week ago. The Republican strategy is not dominating in broad constituency, MSM-reported, ‘lots of scrutiny’ races, even with an abysmal economy and a not so popular health care bill. My mental model of Obama is that he will cut deals with the Republicans, even on (mostly) their terms, if indeed any deal is on the table. I would be pleased if critics of the Obama presidency would indicate their managerial background and expertise, yet few do. How many of them could manage a team of ten people with any success?”
Someone told Tyler Cowen to fold his arms like this for the photo. (Image courtesy of Tyler Cowen.)
The economist Tyler Cowen offers as good a defense of liberal arts education as any on his blog, The Marginal Revolution. An excerpt:
“Liberal arts education forces us to decode systems of symbols. We learn how complex systems of symbols can be and what is required to decode them and why that can be a pleasurable process. That skill will come in handy for a large number of future career paths. It will even help you enjoy TV shows more.
For related reasons, I believe that people who learn a second language as adults are especially good at understanding how other people might see things differently.
I am interested in food (among other topics), not only because of the food itself. I also view it as an investment in understanding symbolic meaning, cultural codes of excellence, the transmission of ideas, and also how the details of an area fit together to form a coherent whole. I believe this knowledge makes me smarter and wiser, although I am not sure which mass-produced formal test would pick up any effects. I view this interest as continuing my liberal arts education, albeit through self-education.”
I don't display "flashes of ego," you Afflictor jackass.
Many years ago there was a toothy peanut man from Georgia named Jimmy Carter who became President of the United States. I’m not old enough to analyze the Carter Presidency from memory, but I’ve always believed him to be an honest if feckless leader who was plagued by the Iranian hostage crisis and gas shortages. He’s done wonderful charitable work since leaving office, though he occasionally displays flashes of ego. Overall: a decent man who wasn’t a very distinguished POTUS.
The quasi-Libertarian economist and gourmand Tyler Cowen has a different take on Carter’s legacy on his wonderful site, Marginal Revolution. See Cowen’s whole post. (The reader comments below the post are also worth reading.) Here’s an excerpt:
“At the time I thought Carter was a reasonably good President and it was far from obvious to me that the election of Reagan would in net terms boost liberty or prosperity.
I do understand that he was a public relations disaster and he shouldn’t have fired his entire Cabinet and that he botched the Iran invasion.
Still, I think of Carter as a President with some major pluses and overall I view his term as a step in the right direction. He also seems to have been non-corrupt — important so soon after Watergate — and since leaving office he has behaved honorably and intelligently, for the most part.”