SCOTUS, houses of worship, and the pandemic

The Supreme Court has sided with religious institutions (NYT) against some of the pandemic restrictions of state and local governments: The opinion said the state had treated secular businesses more favorably than houses of worship. “The list of ‘essential’ businesses includes things such as acupuncture facilities, camp grounds, garages, as well as many whose services […]

Bryan Caplan on the cost of Covid

Here is Bryan’s post, here is one bit: Taking quality of life into account, how many life-years has the reaction to COVID destroyed?… Upshot: The total cost of all COVID prevention has very likely exceeded the total benefit of all COVID prevention. I don’t agree with Bryan’s numbers, but the more important point is one of […]

This was a thing, yes it was, that was then, this is now

Initially founded in 1962, the Anti-Digit Dialing League quickly became the premiere sensible dialing association organization in the United States of America. Nearly 60 years later, the problems this country’s phone network faces are direr than ever. While we continue to espouse the use of 2L+5N dialing over all-number calling whenever possible, our primary aim […]

Best movies of 2020

I categorize them on the basis of when I watch them, so there is always some slippage at the beginning and the end of the year, all the more for foreign films, which can come to the U.S. as much as a year or two later than their original release dates.  Of course this year […]

Can we have an Operation Warp Speed for green energy?

Probably not, as I argue in my Bloomberg column.  One problem is that advance market commitments work best when the output is well-defined, more or less homogeneous, and to be distributed according to very clear principles (one shot in the arm for everybody!).  You can’t quite hand out green batteries or small nuclear reactors on […]

How good has media coverage of Covid-19 been?

We analyze the tone of COVID-19 related English-language news articles written since January 1, 2020. Ninety one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals. The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in […]

“Mirror, Mirror” (Star Trek classic, spoilers in this post)

I haven’t seen most Star Trek episodes since I was a young teen, so I tried rewatching this one, you know, with the alternate universe and the evil Spock.  It was good! I took away from it the main lesson that our moral behavior — or lack thereof — is one of the most contingent […]

My podcast with Darren Lipomi

He is a well-known chemist (and more) at UC San Diego. We started with classic Star Trek and then moved into textiles, chemistry, music vs. sound, nanobots against Covid, how to interview, traveling during a pandemic, art collecting and voodoo flags, the importance of materials science, and much more.  Mostly he interviewed me, though it […]

MIT graduate micro exam, 1961

From the archives of Irwin Collier (I won’t do any extra indentation): Economics Candidates: Answer any FOUR questions (thirty minutes each).S.I.M. Candidates: Answer any TWO questions (thirty minutes each). Within the framework of static, partial-equilibrium theory, indicate under what circumstances advertising will reduce product prices in the long run, (a) if the advertiser is a […]

Edward Lazear has passed away

He was one of the true microeconomists, from Wikipedia: Edward Paul Lazear…an American economist, the Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Davies Family Professor of Economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Lazear served as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors from 2006 […]

Why is bitcoin at $18,000?

We can all admit now that it isn’t a bubble, right?  Of course you still might think the current price is too high, as returns are a (near) random walk. This WSJ article ably surveys the current landscape.  I put the least stock on “inflation hedge” arguments, and the most on ordinary factors such as […]

Do pandemics boost public faith in science?

No, according to Barry Eichengreen, Cevat Giray Aksoy, and Orkun Saka: It is sometimes said that an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will be heightened appreciation of the importance of scientific research and expertise. We test this hypothesis by examining how exposure to previous epidemics affected trust in science and scientists. Building on the “impressionable […]

The case for geographically concentrated vaccine doses

Here goes: A central yet neglected point is that vaccines should not be sent to each and every part of the U.S. Instead, it would be better to concentrate distribution in a small number of places where the vaccines can have a greater impact. Say, for the purposes of argument, that you had 20,000 vaccine […]

The pandemic is indeed a big deal

In our estimation, and with standard preference parameters, the value of the ability to end the pandemic is worth 5-15% of total wealth. This value rises substantially when there is uncertainty about the frequency and duration of pandemics. Agents place almost as much value on the ability to resolve the uncertainty as they do on […]

Externalities and Covid

I am getting a little ornery with all of the people citing Covid externalities, and then not going a step deeper.  To be clear, I agree we should subsidize preventive measures (most of all vaccines and testing, but more too), and close down high-risk indoor gatherings in many locales.  No more Democratic Party fundraisers in […]

Vaccination economic resumption sentences to ponder

If you think of state governments as basically being as permissive as possible consistent with not overwhelming their hospital systems then even vaccinating 20% of the population has a huge economic impact as long as it’s targeted in a halfway plausible way. That is from Matt Yglesias.  I would stress also the bad news that […]

I guess we will learn something from this experiment

Hong Kong will give a one-time HK$5,000 ($645) payment to anyone in the city who tests positive for Covid-19 to encourage people to take tests for the virus, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said. Here is the full Bloomberg report, via Jackson.

Favorite books by female authors

Elena Ferrante named her top forty, and I am not sure I approve of the exercise at all.  Still, here are my top twenty, in no particular order, fiction only, not counting poetry: 1.Lady Murasaki, Tale of Genji. 2. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights. 3. Alice Munro, any and all. 4. Elena Ferrante, the Neapolitan quadrology. […]

Radio and riots

Although the 1960s race riots have gone down in history as America’s most violent and destructive ethnic civil disturbances, a single common factor able to explain their insurgence is yet to be found. Using a novel data set on the universe of radio stations airing black-appeal programming, the effect of media on riots is found […]

The political economy of Swine flu vaccine allocation

Previous research has isolated the effect of “congressional dominance” in explaining bureaucracy-related outcomes. This analysis extends the concept of congressional dominance to the allocation of H1N1, or swine flu, vaccine doses. States with Democratic United States Representatives on the relevant House oversight committee received roughly 60,000 additional doses per legislator during the initial allocation period, […]

Mental health and Covid — correction

Earlier I had reported incorrectly that one in five Covid patients developed subsequently mental health problems.  Here is the original paper, and a more accurate rendering of the result is this: “In the period between 14 and 90 days after COVID-19 diagnosis, 5.8% COVID-19 survivors had their first recorded diagnosis of psychiatric illness (F20–F48), compared […]

Progress against HIV-AIDS hasn’t been reported enough

While an effective vaccine against HIV may still be a long way off, a new HIV prevention technique has proven remarkably effective at protecting women against the virus. A single injection of a drug called cabotegravir every two months was so successful in preventing HIV in a clinical trial among women in sub-Saharan Africa that […]

Covid travel markets in everything

EVA Airways, one of the largest carriers in Taiwan, is partnering with travel experience company Mobius on a campaign called “Fly! Love is in the Air.” These are flights for singles on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year Day. “Because of Covid-19, EVA Air has been organizing “faux travel” experiences to fulfill people’s […]

Is the Great Stagnation over?

– A working mRNA vaccine (first ever in humans!), – Apple M1 chip, – SpaceX rocket launch, – GPT-3, – Tons of cool companies IPO’ing and tons more getting started, – V-shaped recovery – Electric cars – Crypto going mainstream That is from a tweet by Nabeel S.Qureshi.  One could add warp speed, affordable solar […]

Russell Roberts update Israel fact of the day

Excited and humbled to announce that as of March 1, I will be president of Shalem College in Jerusalem moving there in the summer, Covid permitting. I will stay affiliated with Hoover and continue doing EconTalk. More on Shalem here. It’s an amazing place: Here is the tweet, here is the link to more about […]

What should I ask Benjamin M. Friedman?

As noted, Ben has a new and very interesting book coming out Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.  He is also the author of the superb The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, and the earlier Day of Reckoning, about the economic policies of the Reagan administration.  Ben has been a leading macroeconomist since the 1970s, […]

Why conspiracy theories are on the rise

There are certain ideas that are highly seductive, so much so that even “WEIRDOS” occasionally dabble in conspiracy theories. So why weren’t conspiracy theories a bigger part of life in the late 20th century? I believe this is because the media was almost completely controlled by WEIRD people. The news desks at ABC/NBC/CBS stuck to […]

David Splinter responds to Saez and Zucman

When estimating income inequality with tax data, accounting for missing income presents many challenges. Researchers have adopted different approaches to address these challenges. Saez and Zucman (2020) discuss differences between the national income distributions of Piketty, Saez, and Zucman (PSZ, 2018) and Auten and Splinter (AS, 2019a). Saez and Zucman also make updates to their […]

My Conversation with Jimmy Wales

It was excellent throughout, here is the audio, video, and transcript, here is part of the summary: Jimmy joined Tyler to discuss what happens when content moderation goes wrong, why certain articles are inherently biased, the threat that repealing section 230 poses to Wikipedia, whether he believes in Conquest’s Law, the difference between “paid editing” […]

The Chilean pension system is in crisis

Chile’s celebrated $200bn private pensions system has served as a model for dozens of emerging markets since it was introduced in the 1980s. Now, it faces an existential crisis as public support for the model fades and populist politicians allow savers to withdraw funds during the coronavirus crisis. The lower house of congress voted to […]

Erasmus Darwin, apostle of progress

Erasmus Darwin plunged into popular scientific poetry.  Cantering along in the style — if not with the elegance — of Alexander Pope, he never aspired to greatness.  His verses, however, were remarkable for their vivid pictures of evolution interlaced with stirring accounts of the advancement of science, technology, and human culture during the late eighteenth […]

Post-Covid, is the U.S. falling behind China?

I don’t think so, as I argue in my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit: If you are wondering whether China or the U.S. with its allies is more likely to make a big breakthrough, in, say, quantum computing, ask yourself a simple question: Which network will better attract talented immigrants? The more that talent […]

More immigrant founders and co-founders, in this case Moderna

Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna, is a two-time immigrant. He was born to Armenian parents in Lebanon and immigrated with his family in his early teens to Canada. After attending college, Afeyan came to the United States and earned a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He started his […]

LaMelo Ball What Price Fame?

Ball, though, wasn’t content with just having been a solid player in Australia. Instead, he raised some eyebrows last spring when he attempted to buy his former team. The talks eventually fizzled out. It wasn’t a typical move for a teenager, but Ball isn’t a typical teenager. He has already lived on different continents, starred in […]

Sentences to ponder

How many will speak up for science today?: Our results show that the enormous expansions of parental leave and child care subsidies have had virtually no impact on gender convergence. That is from a new NBER working paper by Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, Johanna Posch, Andreas Steinhauer, and Josef Zweimüller., based on decades of data […]

Intertemporal substitution remains underrated (Covid in Scotland)

He suggested the announcement that the roll-out of a vaccine within weeks had persuaded people to break the rules and take risks. “People maybe think the battle is over because the vaccine is coming…” Here is the Times of London story.  Of course economics suggests the exact opposite course of action, namely that when a […]

Economics and epidemiology, revisited

The Economist was kind enough to reference my earlier blog post on this topic, from April 12, so I thought we should look at it again.  Please do reread it!  Here are my first two points: 1. They [epidemiologists] do not sufficiently grasp that long-run elasticities of adjustment are more powerful than short-run elasticites.  In […]

Asking for a friend

What is the current take on foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election?  I hardly hear anyone mentioning this.  Was there much?  And if not, why not?  Our sagest minds were warning of this for years, and I heard several nat sec experts warn me of this but a few weeks ago.  There have been […]

Best classical music recordings of 2020

As you might expect, this has been a pretty spectacular year for listening to classical music on disc, too good you might say.  Here is what I enjoyed the most: Beethoven Complete Piano works, by Martino Tirimo.  I probably know the performance canon for Beethoven piano sonatas better than any other area of classical music, […]

*Queen’s Gambit* (no real spoilers in this post)

I’ve now seen a few episodes, and I have a few comments on the chess: 1. No player, including Magnus Carlsen, can become that good that quickly, without a lot of learning and losing along the way. 2. They show the players moving too fast, though for dramatic reasons this is easy enough to understand. […]

What will the transitional vaccine path look like?

In several regards segregation will rise, as I explain in my latest Bloomberg column: The first issue will be how Americans respond over the course of the next few months. Simple logic suggests that when a good vaccine is pending, you should play it much safer. Instead of putting off that vacation indefinitely, just wait […]

Is AI centralizing research influence?

Increasingly, modern Artificial Intelligence (AI) research has become more computationally intensive. However, a growing concern is that due to unequal access to computing power, only certain firms and elite universities have advantages in modern AI research. Using a novel dataset of 171394 papers from 57 prestigious computer science conferences, we document that firms, in particular, […]

Matt Yglesias to Substack

I’ve been wanting for some time to reclaim what I had in my blog days as an independent voice, and a great opportunity has arisen for me to do that on Substack where today I’m launching a new site that you can find and read all about here: — Matthew Yglesias 🍦 (@mattyglesias) November 13, […]

How do the NIH and NSF work?

A surprising number of individuals responded to my post last week soliciting books about the NIH and NSF.  Thank you to those who did and please do still feel free to reach out on this matter. It became apparent that a highly complementary effort would be a Substack/blog/podcast/similar about the inner workings of the NIH […]

Free Britney Spears

Jamie Spears was authorized by the California Superior Court to control his daughter’s finances, health care, and aspects of her daily routine. The conservatorship was initially temporary. Twelve years later, it’s still in place. The court documents and hearings—there have been many over the years—have been mostly sealed to the public, so little is known […]

Emergent Ventures winners, eleventh cohort

Andrew Dembe of Uganda, working on the “last mile” problem for health care delivery. Adam Pahlavan and Anne Lee, formerly of Stanford, to pursue opportunities in on-line education, including for their Summer Stem Institute, and also for general career development. Maxwell Dostart-Meers of Harvard, to study Singapore and state capacity, as a Progress Studies fellow. […]

Sweden Covid-19 update

Do not judge Sweden until the autumn. That was the message from its state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell in May and through the summer as he argued that Sweden’s initial high death toll from Covid-19 would be followed in the second wave by “a high level of immunity and the number of cases will probably be […]

UAE China fact of the day

Rochelle Crossley has been working as a flight attendant in the UAE and received a COVID-19 vaccination after thousands of injections were rolled out to frontline workers. “The fear of getting the virus outweighed the fear of having the vaccination,” Ms Crossley told 9News. I am glad to see somebody computing expected value. By the […]