first real knockout of March MODOK Madness 2014
Robin Hanson's farther died and even in this he is so very Robin Hanson
Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.
Last night my father died. And I am sad. This wasn’t a big deal in the scheme of things. But, you see, this was MY little finger. And more.
nice sash, prince
infographics in the 19th century
This chart, devised in 1869 by French civil engineer Charles Minard, illustrates the disastrous toll suffered by Napoleon’s army on its foray into Russia in 1812. 615,000 men marched east, and 10,000 emerged five months later.
In a single image the map shows the path of the army, its geographical coordinates, its dwindling size, and the weather conditions (the graph at the bottom shows the plunging temperature during the retreat from Moscow, when “Generals January and February” killed thousands of starving soldiers). Yale political scientist Edward Tufte said Minard’s illustration “may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”
social mobility in america is mostly a myth but maybe it's mostly a myth everywhere, all of the time
Another remarkable feature of the surname data is how seemingly impervious social mobility rates are to government interventions. In all societies, what seems to matter is just who your parents are. At the extreme, we see in modern Sweden an extensive system of public education and social support. Yet underlying mobility rates are no higher in modern Sweden than in pre-industrial Sweden or medieval England.
There was one case where government interventions did seem to promote mobility, which was in Bengal, in India. There the strict quota system in educational institutions had benefited significantly people with surnames associated with the Scheduled Castes.
But the bizarre element here is that these quotas did not help those truly at the bottom of the social ladder. Instead, the benefits went to families of average social status whom the British had mistakenly classified as Scheduled Caste. These families have now become a new elite. The truly disadvantaged, such as the large Muslim community, have been correspondingly further burdened by being excluded from these quotas.
Interestingly, in China, the extreme social intervention represented by the Communist Revolution of 1949, which included executing large numbers of members of the old upper class, has not resulted in much of an increase in social mobility. Surnames of high status in the Imperial and Republican era continue to be overrepresented among modern elites, including Communist Party officials.
The families that have high social competence, whatever the social system is, typically find their way to the top of the social ladder.
The interview is interesting throughout. And you will of course note the new Chetty results — created with entirely different methods and data — showing economic mobility has not much changed in the United States for decades.
For the initial pointer I thank Samir Varma.
tyler cowen thinks los angeles is the best city in the world, apparently?
I wrote this email, which in the interests of varying the “voice” on this blog I have not in the meantime edited:
Best food in the US, no real comparison especially adjusting for price.
Best driving for classic routes and views and also availability of parking along the way (NYC is awful for the latter).
Best walking city in the US (really), and year round.
The city has its own excellent musical soundtrack, Beach Boys, Byrds, Nilsson, etc., has aged better than the SF groups I think.
Incredible architecture and neighborhoods, almost everywhere.
Everyone goes to the movies.
First-rate concert life, including classical and contemporary classical.
Very interesting art galleries.
Few book stores (though disappearing everywhere, these days) and the people have no real sense of humor, but nowhere is perfect!
really awesome longform on the ad council, keep america beautiful, and public service ads as efforts to ward off public regulation: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/3642/
To amuse themselves in 1907, librarians Edmund Lester Pearson and John Cotton Dana published The Old Librarian’s Almanack, a pamphlet they alleged to have been written originally in 1773 by Jared Bean, “curator or librarian of the Connecticut Society of Antiquarians,” and evidently a man of strong opinions:
So far as your Authority will permit of it, exercise great Discrimination as to which Persons shall be admitted to the use of the Library. For the Treasure House of Literature is no more to be thrown open to the ravages of the unreasoning Mob, than is a fair Garden to be laid unprotected at the Mercy of a Swarm of Beasts.
Question each Applicant closely. See that he be a Person of good Reputation, scholarly habits, sober and courteous Demeanour. Any mere Trifler, a Person that would Dally with Books, or seek in them shallow Amusement, may be Dismiss’d without delay.
The book was reviewed seriously in the New York Sun, the New York Times, the Hartford Courant, Publisher’s Weekly, the Newburyport Daily News, the Providence Sunday Journal, and even the Library Association Record, which asked “what librarian would not at times in his secret soul sympathize” with Bean’s irritation with patrons who disturbed his reading time.
Finally Helen E. Haines of the Library Journal discerned the hoax, and the library community realized it had been had. Public Libraries wrote, “We congratulate the author of the book on being so clever to project himself into the past, as to deceive even the very elect. The book is well worth owning and reading. Let us be thankful that one with humor, imagination and sympathy has created for us dear old Jared with his gentle comradeship and his ardent love of books.”
Here's a great example from Elisabeth Rosenthal of the kind of scary price problems in American health care. It costs more to have a conventional delivery in the United States than it costs to have a cesarean in France or Switzerland or the Netherlands.
And note that this graphic is very careful to look at the actual all-in final amount of money paid. This is not a question of how the cost is allocated between the patient, the insurance company, the government, and the patient's employer. It's a question of how much money gets handed over from the people who pay for health care (patients, insurance companies, employers, governments) to the people who perform health care services. And Americans hand over a lot.
Perhaps someone will make the argument that America is gaining some important quality advantage over Swiss and Dutch childbirths in exchange for our money. But if you accept that we aren't, note that there isn't anything mysterious about the reason prices are so much higher in the United States than elsewhere. What other countries do is they write laws capping the price of health care services. The economic justification is that in all countries the purchase of health care services is heavily subsidized (because one of the best things a society can do with its material prosperity is ensure that sick people get better) so you need to use regulation to ensure that the incidence of the subsidy falls mostly on patients rather than on health care providers. In America, health care prices are largely uncapped so they get very high.
yglesias throwing shade at robin hanson at the end there
Josh Green had a fascinating story the other day about the difference between the Obama campaign's (accurate) internal polling data and Gallup's wildly off-base data. He delves into exactly how Gallup thinks they got it wrong, but looking at the chart I'm struck by how good Gallup's polling was at doing what Gallup's polls are supposed to do—drive media interest in Gallup polls.
You see two big things from the Obama campaign data. One is that on a day-to-day basis nothing matters and nothing changes. The people who follow campaign events are mostly strong partisans whose minds don't change, the swing voters whose minds might change aren't interested in politics so they don't know these things are happening. Even worse, the Obama data shows that even the things that do matter don't actually matter. The "bumps" Obama got from the Democratic Convention and the 47 percent tape were almost precisely offset by Obama's terrible performance in the first debate. This is a picture of how US presidential campaigns play out that's validated by scholarship on the history of elections, so it should give us some confidence that the Obama team knows what they're doing.
But what they're doing isn't what Gallup is doing which—again—is trying to drum up media interest in Gallup polls. And compared to the Obama numbers, the Gallup numbers are really interesting. You could write lots of articles about those numbers, while the Obama numbers tend to suggest that you shouldn't bother.
I'm not a huge fan of the "we should be gambling all the time about everything" school of thought, but it would be useful in this realm. If public polls were released by people who were placing large financial bets on the outcome of the campaign, then pollsters would work to purge their models of excessive volatility. But in the world that exists, the incentives are all wrong. "Incumbent President presiding over economic growth and falling unemployment will probably win and nobody's paying attention to the campaign" is a terrible news story. It just happens to be true.