Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Reading Feed (September 2019)


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Is it inefficient to walk up the escalator? — "Walking up the escalator remains time efficient, however, if those choosing to walk have much higher valuations of time than those who choose to stand. Might that be the case?"


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Claims about Italy and its immigrants


Blog: Overcoming Bias | Dreamtime Social Games

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Another difference between Pakistan and India — "Observing India tends to make people more libertarian... Observing Pakistan tends to make people more statist... It is an interesting question which countries at least seem to provide evidence for which sets of political views."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Karachi, and the greater violence of New World cities — "Recall one of the key principles of reasoning: look for the cross-sectional variation..."


Blog: JeffTK | Resetting Somebody Will v2

Blog: Schneier on Security | On Chinese "Spy Trains"

Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Free Money at PredictIt? — Zvi's (correct) update to my four-years-old My Faults My Own | PredictIt Arbitrage.

Blog: Marginal Revolution | My trip to Karachi — "There is no subway, and a typical street scene blends cars, auto-rickshaws, motorbikes and the occasional donkey pulling a cart. It’s fun for the visitor, but I wouldn’t call transportation easy. And yet to see only those negatives is to miss the point. Markets speak more loudly than anecdotes, and the population of Karachi continues to rise — a mark of the city’s success. This market test is more important than the aesthetic test, and Karachi unambiguously passes it."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | What I’ve been reading


Blog: Andrew.Batson | Housing and the Chinese middle class — h/t Tyler Cowen, who asks whether it is "the most important economic policy you’ve never discussed?"

Blog: Conversations with Tyler @ Medium | Alain Bertaud on Cities, Markets, and People — "Cowen: Will America create any new cities in the next century? Or are we just done?"

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The Danger of Reusing Natural Experiments — "A correspondent writes to ask whether I was aware that Regulation SHO has been used by more than fifty other studies to test a variety of hypotheses. I was not! The problem is obvious..."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Very real progress on the market concentration debate


Blog: Crypographic Engineering | Looking back at the Snowden revelations — h/t Tyler Cowen.

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Do workers discriminate against female bosses?pace Betteridge, and the study uses an online transcription job, so it's not about personality, in-person interactions, or going out for beers afterwards.


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Premature Imitation and India’s Flailing State

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Dining out in Karachi — "As in India, the hotel restaurants are excellent, and you can sample everything you might want without leaving a single restaurant, if you find the dust and heat too daunting (I do not, but you might, please do believe me on that one). The crowning glories in Karachi are the biryanis and the lassi. A randomly chosen lassi here seems to match the very best Indian lassis in quality. The karahi dishes come alive like nowhere else. Qorma sauces too. Vegetables are hard to come by, especially greens — the restaurant version of Karachi cuisine is quite meat-heavy, and the overall selection of dishes is not so different from what you find in the Pakistani restaurants in Springfield, Virginia. That said, the greens and herbs that accompany the meat dishes are fresh and vibrant."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | How strong is the evidence that the EITC boosts labor supply? — "Overall and contrary to consensus, the case for sizable extensive margin effects of the EITC is fragile. I highlight the presence of informational frictions, widely documented in the literature, as a natural explanation for the absence of extensive margin responses."


Blog: World Optimization | Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac My rating: 3 of 5 stars It was a pretty fun read,...

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Why do rates of entrepreneurship vary? — "Rather, the evidence shows that the strongest predictors of cross-national variation in entrepreneurial activity were normative, with social norms being the most strongly associated with entrepreneurialism and rates of organizational founding."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | We had Nash and Schelling — who did the Soviets have?

News: YLE | Business lobby proposes minimum wage in Finland — h/t Tyler Cowen.


Blog: Marginal Revolution | The ho-hum of environmental politics — "We show that a majority of the public supports policies to protect the environment. But the environment is rarely the most important issue for voters, and thus the environment usually does not have a large impact in elections. Moreover, there are increasingly large divisions between Democrats and Republicans, which incentivizes politicians from both parties to embrace extreme positions..."


Blog: My Biased Coin | Changing Times

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Oversight of cost overruns does not always help — "We identify our results using a federal bylaw: if the project’s budget is above a cutoff, procurement officers actively oversee the contractor’s operations; otherwise, most operational checks are waived. We find that oversight increases delays by 6.1%–13.8% and overruns by 1.4%–1.6%. We also show that oversight is most obstructive when the contractor has no experience in public projects, is paid with a fixed-fee contract with performance-based incentives, or performs a labor-intensive task..."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | How to reform the economics Ph.D — "I have a modest proposal. Eliminate the economics Ph.D, period. Offer everyone three years of graduate economics education, and no more (with a clock reset allowed for pregnancy). Did Smith, Keynes, or Hayek have an economics Ph.D? This way, no one will assume you know what you are talking about, and the underlying message is that economics learning is lifelong."


Blog: Overcoming Bias | Quality Regs Say ‘High Is Good’


Blog: Market Design | The Department of Justice opposes limits on early admissions, and other admissions agreements among colleges

Blog: Slate Star Codex | Too Much Dark Money In Almonds

Blog: Samo Burja @ Medium | The YouTube Revolution in Knowledge Transfer — h/t Tyler Cowen.

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The Intuitive Monty Hall Problem — "There are three boxers. Two of the boxers are evenly matched (no draws!); the other boxer will beat either them, always. You blindly guess that Boxer A is the best and let the other two fight. Boxer B beats Boxer C. Do you want to stick with Boxer A in a match-up with Boxer B, or do you want to switch?"

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Pollution, Climate Change and India’s Choice Between Policy and Pretense — "As Spears shows, pollution is killing Indians, especially babies, and those it doesn’t kill it harms as seen in statistics on stunting and respiratory disease. Spears isn’t naive, however, he knows that manufacturing is also bringing tremendous benefits. The issue, however, is that a lot of pollution in India comes from relatively low value activities like burning crops. Moreover, solar power in India is cost competitive with coal today, even before taking into account health benefits. Thus, the harms of pollution are tragic because they are unnecessary..."

Blog: The New Republic | Crash Course — h/t Tesla Wells.

Blog: Richard Korzekwa @ AI Impacts | The unexpected difficulty of comparing AlphaStar to humans — discussion at LessWrong.

Opinion: Bloomberg Quint | Israelis Just Saved Their Democracy — "What a Gantz administration would show American Jews is that the occupation wasn’t Netanyahu’s doing — it is the product of a world in which Israel tragically has no good alternatives. Gantz the general may not be as reticent about hitting back at Gaza as has been Netanyahu; he may actually decide to batter Hamas, the radical faction that governs that benighted sliver of Arab territory, because he understands the status quo is untenable."


Blog: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | Will Purdue’s Bankruptcy Engulf Its Owners? — "Why we will end up piercing the corporate veil" -- "[S]ocial media personalizes agency — in effect, making it easier to accuse particular individuals of wrongdoing. Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and the Koch brothers all have images or iconic photos that can be put into a social media post, amplifying any attack on their respective companies. It is harder to vilify Exxon, in part because hardly anyone can name its CEO (Darren Woods, since 2017), who in any case did not create the current version of the company..."

News: Reuters | Uber to limit drivers' app access to comply with NYC regulation — h/t Tyler Cowen.

Blog: BBC | The married couples in Hong Kong who live apart — "Nearly one in 10 married couples in Hong Kong are not living with their spouses. And of those who do, upwards of 12% of married couples aged 25 to 34 co-habit with parents, according to government data from 2018." and "A median-priced house is 21 times the annual median household income; in contrast, a house in the most expensive European market – the Greater London Authority – only cost 8.3 times the annual median household income."


Blog: WaPo | GWU aims to get smaller and better. Will that mean cuts to faculty and financial aid? — Planning on reducing student population by 20%, not yet sure if reducing staff positions, financial aid to student population, or both...

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The college football surveillance culture that is Alabama — "Saban, the Alabama football coach, has long been peeved that the student section at Bryant-Denny Stadium empties early. So this season, the university is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter — with an alluring prize: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season. But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays."


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Berkeley markets in everything — "Multiple students on campus have offered to pay their classmates to drop out of classes they are waitlisted for, raising concerns about over-enrollment and advising..."


Blog: Overcoming Bias | Yay Democracy Dollars

Blog: The Money Illusion | Land of bridges and tunnels — "Despite the attempt to rely more on tunnels than bridges, Guizhou ended up with 40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges, including the very tallest. Read that again. I didn’t say China had 40% of the world’s tallest (which would be a major achievement), I said a poor, small province in the interior with only 2.5% of China’s population has 40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges." h/t Tyler Cowen.


Blog: Popehat | Over At Crime Story, A Post About the College Bribery Scandal

Blog: The Grumpy Economist | Bans on fracking and nuclear power

Blog: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | How a Labor Shortage Could Explain Negative Interest Rates

Blog: Marginal Revolution | China-U.S. trade war insurance fact of the day — "An increasing number of US universities are looking to buy insurance policies against a drop in revenue from international students, fearing they are overexposed to China at a time of mounting trade tensions between Washington and Beijing." and "The correct inference, I think, is that some of these colleges already have spent that supposedly forthcoming tuition money."


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Consumers seem to like search engine advertising — "We analyze a large-scale field experiment conducted on a US search engine in which 3.3 million users were randomized into seeing more, or less advertising. Our data rejects that users are, overall, averse to search advertising targeted to them. At the margin, users prefer the search engine with higher level of advertising."


Blog: Marginal Revolution | The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us

Blog: Conversations with Tyler @ Medium | Samantha Power on Learning How to Make a Difference — "I was very fortunate — but again, it’s not a common circumstance — to be both a diplomat representing the United States and a member of the president’s cabinet. I was able to spend enough time with President Obama to have a sense not only of what my explicit instructions were, but where the gray areas were at the margins and how far to push." and "[S]ome students will come up to me and say, 'I want to be America’s ambassador to the UN. How do I go about doing it?' And I’ll say, 'Well, not that way, probably.' Because if you focus on the title rather than what you want to do in the world, you’re probably not going to get very far. But some people are drawn to power, to the position or whatever."


Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Free-to-Play Games: Three Key Trade-Offs

Blog: The Grumpy Economist | Intellectual property and the trade deficit


Blog: Shtetl-Optimized | Paul Bernays Lectures

Blog: The Grumpy Economist | More on low long-term interest rates — "In an environment with stable inflation, the yield curve should typically be inverted..."

Blog: The Grumpy Economist | Intellectual property and the trade deficit — "'The IP Commission estimates that between $200 billion and $500 billion a year of intellectual property is stolen from the U.S.'... Well, suppose China were to pay up, and pay the $200 to $500 billion a year in royalty payments. Where would it get the money from? Hmm. It would have to sell us an additional $200 to $500 billion worth of exports, that's how. The trade deficit would have to increase."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Active Learning Works But Students Don’t Like It — "A carefully done study that held students and teachers constant shows that students learn more in active learning classes but they dislike this style of class and think they learn less. It’s no big surprise–active learning is hard and makes the students feel stupid. It’s much easier to sit back and be entertained by a great lecturer who makes everything seem simple."


Blog: The Grumpy Economist | Low bond yields


Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Who To Root For: 2019 College Football Edition


Blog: Long Now @ Medium | What a Prehistoric Monument Reveals about the Value of Maintenance — h/t Tyler Cowen.

Blog: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | Scared to Travel to ‘Dangerous’ Places? Don’t Be — "Over the last few decades, initially as part of my research for a book, I have made 20 or so visits to rural Guerrero, in Mexico, near drug gang territory, and they have all passed without incident. Still, I get very nervous when I am in a 'collectivo' on a mountain road and the driver appears to be no more than 15 years old and is fond of loud music and beer."


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Is this the very best book ever written? — "No, I don’t mean Proust, Cervantes, or the Bible. I mean Dave Marsh’s The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. To be sure, it is not the greatest book qua book, or even in the top tier (though it is very good and Marsh is very smart and knowledgeable). It is possible it has become the greatest book of all time because of YouTube. Scroll through the pithy, one-page or sometimes even one-paragraph reviews of the various songs, and play them on YouTube while you are reading."

Blog: NYT | A Tomato Grows in the East River — and NYT | There’s Another Tomato Plant in the East River.


Blog: 80,000 Hours Podcast | Vitalik Buterin on effective altruism, better ways to fund public goods, the blockchain’s problems so far, and how it could yet change the world