Math mentoring, Bharat Bonds, Japanese Savings, SIM Swaps and Pricing in Healthcare: Tweets of the week

 

 

 

 

Etc: Grandmothers, writers, Robert Solow (among others)

I recently had the honor (and pleasure) of meeting Paul Seabright, and to prepare for the meeting, I read, after many years, In The Company of Strangers. Hopefully, a review will follow soon. But there were a lot of interesting snippets in the book that led me down many a random trail in the jungles of the internet. They explain some of the links that have been chosen for your reading pleasure today.
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  1. “Defined broadly, menopause is the programmed end of fertility in a female animal. Human women, of course, are well aware that their fertility will decline with age and cease after a certain point, typically around age 50. In the animal kingdom at large, however, menopause is an oddity — and a long-standing evolutionary mystery. An organism’s ultimate goal is reproduction. Why sacrifice that consummate purpose? Even more puzzling, why would an animal naturally become infertile and then go on living for years? Throughout history, scientists have proffered numerous theories. But studying the biological phenomenon of menopause is difficult, in part because it seems to be so rare.”
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    Paul Seabright mentions this briefly in his book, and this article explains why menopause is so very important for the human species.
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  2. “I’ve often thought to myself that if Substack had existed when I’d first started writing, I might have approached my work very differently. As a writer who built an audience around a niche topic, I’ve wondered why it is so hard to make money directly off of one’s work. I’ve been lucky that my interests overlapped with the software industry, but what if I’d been obsessed with cataloging perfumes instead, or the causes of Britain’s Industrial Revolution? Many content creators are now able to strike out on their own, thanks to platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch, but writers, journalists, analysts, researchers, curators, and other independent obsessives mostly seem to make money by indirectly translating their reputation into something they can get hired for.”
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    This is something I’m only very vaguely thinking about right now – starting a much more systematic newsletter than I currently manage at the moment. Folks who read this blog via email, please feel free to drop me an email explaining what you like about it, what you don’t, and what else I could do. Thank you.
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  3. ““I think the way people do economics today is too much governed by the availability of data,” he says. “A lot of the articles that I see written in the journals seem to exist not because there is a problem here that needs to be solved, or a puzzle that needs to be explained, but because I have come upon this enormous bunch of data, [and figure] these data have to include the answer to some question.” But, he adds, that’s “natural,” given the sheer amount of data on hand and the pressure to publish.”
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    Amruuta, on Twitter, was kind enough to share this link with me, about Robert Solow, his long and justly celebrated career, how good he has proven to be as a mentor, and so much more.
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  4. The amazing – a word entirely appropriate in this case – Scott Alexander on what he learnt in this past decade.
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    “There’s an argument that I should learn less each decade, since I’ll be picking higher and higher fruit. My own knowledge can advance either because civilization advances and I hear about it, or because I absorb/integrate older knowledge that I hadn’t noticed before. Civilization advances at a decade per decade (or maybe less; see the Cowen & Southwood paper above), but each year it becomes harder and harder to find relevant older knowledge that I haven’t integrated yet. I plausibly only have five more decades to live, and I don’t think I’d be happy only advancing five times this amount over the rest of my life, let alone less than that.”
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  5. “The key thing about human beings is that our environment is as much each other as it is a particular natural ecology, and that component of our environment, the social component, has changed spectacularly in the last ten millennia. Therefore, the things we do can’t possibly be explained in a very simple way as having evolved through ordinary natural selection for the environment in which we find ourselves today. So we have to patch together an argument consisting of two parts. The first part is to say: What do we think human beings were like, physically and psychologically, as a result of their evolution in the African woodland savannah until about 10 millennia ago? Then we have to ask: How can we imagine that you launch that set of capacities out on the open sea of human social interactions where suddenly things get fantastically complicated, we start dealing with situations we never had to deal with before, with modern society as the result.”
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    I thoroughly enjoyed reading, once again, In The Company of Strangers. An interview with Paul Seabright about the book, and some other things besides.

Ec101: Understanding Opportunity Costs

I mean, come on. Who doesn’t understand opportunity costs?

The cost of the next best alternative, of the opportunity foregone. We could have told you this in our sleep.

So answer me this (and please don’t cheat):

“Imagine that you have a free ticket (which you cannot resell) to see Radiohead performing. But, by staggering coincidence, you could also go to see Lady Gaga – there are tickets on sale for £40. You’d be willing to pay £50 to see Lady Gaga on any given night, and her concert is the best alternative to seeing Radiohead. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either gig. What is the opportunity cost of seeing Radiohead? (a) £0, (b), £10, (c) £40, or (d) £50.”

  1. That is from Tim Harford, and is unfortunately behind an FT paywall. But here’s the original paper.
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    “We were surprised by the diversity of opinion regarding the value to which the
    term “opportunity cost” applies. As Table 2 indicates, the most popular answer
    was $50, with 27.6% of respondents choosing this answer. The second most
    popular answer was $40, with 25.6% of respondents choosing this answer. The
    third most popular answer was $0, with 25.1% of respondents choosing this
    answer. The correct answer, $10, was the least popular, with only 21.6% of
    respondents choosing this answer. In essence, the answers given to us by well trained economists appear to be randomly distributed across possible answers.” (Emphasis added)
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    So what did you guess?
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  2. People got plenty upset about the whole thing – check the comments, especially,
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  3. “I don’t have any quarrel with Alex’s economics; as far as I can see this point is semantic. (I’ll also admit that my gross perspective on opportunity cost is somewhat anachronistic; it is one reason why mainstream economists work directly with consumer surplus.) What disturbs me is how few economists gave $50 or $40 as the right answer; the actual answers were close to randomly distributed. Most Web-based sources appear confused on the net vs. gross issue, but at least they hover across the $40 and $50 options.”
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    Economists don’t always agree, but it mostly comes to down to splitting hairs? If only it were so
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  4. “This paper analyzes the relationship between opportunity costs of waiting and bribery in rationing by waiting situations. Assuming that a uniform waiting time clears the market for any given bribe and the bureaucrat chooses a bribe to maximize profit, the market equilibrium is characterized in terms of individual valuations of the good and opportunity costs of waiting. If individual valuations take discrete values and opportunity costs of waiting are uniformly distributed, then in an equilibrium individuals with low costs of waiting choose to wait while those with high opportunity costs pay the bribe”
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    While traveling on India’s highways, have you ever seen trucks waiting by the highway for no apparent reason?
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  5. For interested students, a big fat list of examples, drawn from multiple walks of life.

RoW: The movement of people into and out of Poland

One target for this year, 2020, is to write about one country a month. As this Wednesday article makes clear, this month’s country is Poland. Given its history and its current politics, I was curious about immigration and Poland – as the title of this post suggests, the movement of people into and out of Poland.

This is a topic that is of interest to me for a variety of reasons. I got the chance to teach a course on migration and its impact on development some years ago, and reading up for that course was quite instructive. Specifically, I got to know the works of Douglas Massey, and also chanced upon this lovely paper – lovely to me, that is – by Bryan Caplan. I also want to read this book, written by him.

Our government’s approach to migration – completely wrongheaded, in my view – is of course another reason to want to read about experiences in other parts of the world.

Onwards, then: five articles about Poland and its approach to immigration.

  1. “A draft of the interior ministry’s new migration policy, leaked to Polish media last month, revealed the government’s priority is to lure Poles back from western Europe, and to attract people from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, who can prove they have Polish origins.The document said Poland’s safety was guaranteed by its cultural, national and religious homogeneity, and said the new policy would focus on selecting immigrants who would follow Poland’s law and customs, as well as “values emerging from . . . Poland’s dominating religion”.

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    An article form the FT, miraculously ungated, about the issue.
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  2. “Poland’s massive migration numbers, and the warm welcome Ukrainians have received, stands in marked opposition to the anti-migrant electoral campaign that helped bring PiS to power four years ago. The party crushed a coalition of opposition parties with 46 percent of the vote in last month’s European Parliament election, its strongest ever result. Stumping in 2015, PiS head and Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, said that “refugees” would “bring in all kinds of parasites, which are not dangerous in their own countries, but which could prove dangerous for the local populations.”
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    The title of the article says it all, really.
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  3. “So it may come as a surprise that the Polish government has, very quietly, presided over the largest influx of migrant workers in the country’s modern history — though they are mostly Christians from neighboring Ukraine.Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has not been shy about promoting the government’s agenda. “We want to reshape Europe and re-Christianize it,” he said in 2017 in an interview with a Catholic television station. The government recently ordered all new passports include the phrase, “God, Honor, Motherland.”

    But immigration is Poland’s paradox. It has benefited greatly from the European Union’s open borders, earning billions of dollars in remittances from the hundreds of thousands of Polish workers who have migrated to other countries in the bloc, especially to Britain. Yet with Poland now facing labor shortages, the government is failing to lure back the diaspora — and is restricted by its political stance against migrants.”
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    The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.
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  4. “Since the opening of the labour market following Poland joining the European Union in 2004, Poland experienced a mass migration of over 2 million abroad. As of 2011, 52 out of 1,000 Polish citizens have lived outside the country;[10] estimated at 2.2 million by the Polish Central Statistics Office (GUS), and 2.6–2.7 million by the journalists. GUS statistics estimate that the number of long term Polish immigrants abroad have risen from 0.7 million in 2002 to a peak number of almost 2.3 million in 2007, and has since declined to 2 million by 2010–11.It has remained relatively stable at that level for a short period, following the uncertainty of Global Recession of 2007–08, By December 2015, 12% of Polish labor population left for UK to work there.According to a 2013 survey, approximately 14% percent of adult Poles have worked abroad since 2004 (approximately a quarter for over a year); 69% have a family member of a close friend who lives abroad, and approximately 24% are open to immigration. Majority of Polish migrants or those considering leaving are young; according to a 2014 survey approximately 90% of Poles under 34 have considered some form of migration. ”
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    That is from a Wikipedia article about the topic.
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  5. “BELGIANS must believe Siemiatycze is the capital of Poland, residents of this eastern Polish town like to quip. Those that are left, that is. Since before the fall of Communism Brussels has been the destination of choice for thousands of Siemiatyczans who seek work abroad. Accurate figures as to just how many have left are hard to come by, as people often retain Siematycze as their official place of residence. But it is clear that the real population of the town, at any given moment, is considerably less than the official figure of 15,000.”
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    From within that Wikipedia article, an article from the Economist about the number of people who have left Poland over the years.

 

Tech: What, exactly, is CES?

Five links to help us understand CES better, along with some information about why reading about it matters in the first place.

  1. CES (formerly an acronym for Consumer Electronics Show[1]) is an annual trade show organized by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). Held in January at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las VegasNevada, United States, the event typically hosts presentations of new products and technologies in the consumer electronics industry.
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    The first CES was held in June 1967 in New York City. It was a spinoff from the Chicago Music Show, which, until then, had served as the main event for exhibiting consumer electronics. The event had 17,500 attenders and over 100 exhibitors; the kickoff speaker was Motorola chairman Bob Galvin.[2] From 1978 to 1994, CES was held twice each year: once in January in Las Vegas known for Winter Consumer Electronics Show (WCES) and once in June in Chicago, known as Summer Consumer Electronics Show (SCES).”
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    As always, let’s begin with Wikipedia.
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  2. No excerpt, but here’s the official website. Have fun clicking through the topics. Think of CES as the harbinger of what is going to come up in tech this year or in the near future.
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  3. A photo essay showing you what earlier CES’s looked like.
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  4. Steven Sinofsky, who is absolutely worth following if you are interested in technology, on his impressions of CES from the previous year. Also contains a very cool idea for doing away with editors!
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    “Some years CES feels like a deep technology show with everyone talking about something that requires hardware, new software, and a lot of work to even do something (3D TV, WiFi, home disk storage)Some years CES feels like attendees are overwhelmed with one specific technology no matter which way we look (HD, 4K, internet). Over the past couple of years we have seen a lot of ingredients working to come together as products — virtual assistants, home automation, sensors to name a few. CES 2019 is a kind of year that sort of screams “we’re ready for the products that really work.” In that spirit, CES 2019 is a year where products are close, but seem a product manager iteration away from being a product that can reach a tipping point of customer satisfaction and utility. Products work in a “thread the needle” sort of way, but a lot of details and real life quickly cause things to become frustrating.”
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  5. I am scheduling this post on the 9th of January, and Dieter Bohn (another person you absolutely should follow if you are interested in technology) hasn’t as of yet written a post summarizing CES 2020. But he did write an excellent piece on how one should think about CES – this year, and perhaps in general.
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    “Every year, like clockwork, as tech journalists head to Las Vegas, some portion of them and some other portion staying at home will talk about how CES doesn’t matter anymore, how it’s awful, and how little that gets announced here actually gets released.

    These complaints always frustrate me because registering a disagreement with them ends up sounding like you believe the exact opposite: that CES is very great and what happens here is very consequential.
    For me, the opposite of “CES is bad” isn’t “CES is good” but rather “CES is not what you wish it was.””

India: Five Articles on Makar Sankranti

An attempt, for myself, to understand Makar Sankranti better. Reading up about this festival threw up for me additional information about how the it’s one of the few festivals in the Hindu calendar that is based on the solar calendar. In addition, I got to read about sesame (the word ‘tel’, a professor of mine tells me, may well have its etymological roots in ’til”) and about festivals in other parts of the world that celebrate similar themes.

The traditional Maharashtrian greeting around this time is ’tilghul ghya, god bola’ which translates as – although you lose the romance in the translation – “Eat sesame-jaggery, speak well (of each other)”.

One can hope!

  1. As usual, the Wikipedia article to begin with.
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    “Makara Sankranti or Maghi, is a festival day in the Hindu calendar, dedicated to the deity Surya (sun). It is observed each year in January. It marks the first day of the sun’s transit into Makara (Capricorn), marking the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days.”
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  2. Heard of Maslenitsa? I hadn’t!
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    “”People burn an effigy made of straw, wood, and cloth, representing Mother Winter, to mark the end of Maslenitsa in the village of Leninskoe, Kyrgyzstan, on March 10, 2019”
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  3. “A Hindu holy man, or naga sadhu, prays as he bathes in the waters of the holy Ganges river during the auspicious bathing day of Makar Sankranti of the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India, on January 14, 2013. The Maha Kumbh Mela, believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth is held every 12 years on the banks of Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. The festival is expected to attract over 100 million people.”
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    A lovely photo essay in the Atlantic about the Kumbh Mela. As the article suggests, best seen on a computer, and that too full screen.
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  4. “Does drinking a live fish out of a jeweled goblet sound like your idea of a party? Better book a trip to Belgium, stat. That’s how locals in the town of Geraardsbergen—and nowhere else in the world, as far as we know—get down on the last Sunday in February. To kick things off, participants (dressed as medieval knights, naturally) march to the top of Oudenberg Hill, where they proceed to toss thousands of krakelingen, or ring-shaped bread rolls, down on the town below. Later on, they set a wooden barrel on fire and carry torches back to the city, symbolizing the seasonal return of light. But not before they take turns drinking a live fish from chalices filled with red wine—even though everyone knows white pairs best with seafood.”
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    A fascinating (to me, at any rate) set of links about how some European cultures celebrate the end of winter and the start of summer. Celebrate, it would seem, the ability to light up a fire – a global phenomenon.
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  5. “Sesame seed makes a grand appearance in January in most parts of India, around the time of Makar Sankranti, as the sun moves into the zodiac of Capricorn. Up north and in the west, it assumes the forms of laddoo, chikki, revdi and gajak. In Punjab, they also go by the name of til pinni. Til pitha and tilor laru are prepared in Assam for Bihu celebrated around the same time.”
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    How could I not include a link about food?

Video for 12th January, 2019

Tweets for 11th January, 2020

 

 

 

Etc: Links for 10th January, 2019

Links that I read during the week that I found interesting.

 

  1. Russia plans to have the ability to cut itself off from “the” internet, but keep “its” internet running.
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  2. One of my students might be embarking on a PhD in neuroeconomics, and reading up about the topic got me here. Interesting videos, and a neat set of publications.
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  3. Spinach is, is not, no is, no is not, never was, always was, is, isn’t a good source of iron. Via the excellent Navin Kabra.
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  4. A profile of Qassem Suleimani in the New Yorker, from almost seven years ago.
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  5. Learn SQL by solving a murder mystery.
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  6. The last link this Monday was about NIP. Rathin Roy is doubtful about the Indian government’s ability to execute on the plan.

Ec101: Links for 9th January, 2020

Five articles on sunk costs today.

  1. First up, a somewhat basic introductory article. Feel free to skip it if you’re sure you know what sunk costs are (pausing only to note that it is not so much the knowing that matters with sunk costs, but remembering to apply it)
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  2. “The United States has invested much in attempting to achieve its objectives. In addition to the many millions of dollars that have been spent, many thousands of lives have been lost, and an even greater number of lives have been irreparably damaged. If the United States withdraws from Vietnam without achieving its objectives, then all of these undeniably significant sacrifices would be wasted”
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    The quote itself is a quote (if you see what I mean) from this paper, which is a wonderful rumination on sunk costs. Read Taleb on the subject (and not just his tweets!)
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  3. This entire post by Alex Tabarrok is very short (and I have linked to it before, I think), but it is worth reading. Especially the last sentence: do think about it, if you are an economics student.
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  4. “Once your model of choice is at all complex, no one knows what a sunk cost means any more. So a theoretical scolding of those who honor “sunk costs” is not completely well-defined. That being said, there is still the empirical question of whether most people attach too much weight to previous plans and have a status quo bias. The experimental evidence suggests that we are more rigid than we need to be. The propensity to honor previous commitments may have efficiency properties, but we cannot discard this proclivity when we ought to.”
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    The bottom line from Tyler Cowen’s post on the topic. He was responding to Tabarrok’s post above.
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  5. “Suppose that you are trying to pursue a morally worthy goal, but cannot do so without incurring some moral costs. At the outset, you believed that achieving your goal was worth no more than a given moral cost. And suppose that, time having passed, you have wrought only harm and injustice, without advancing your cause. You can now reflect on whether to continue. Your goal is within reach. What’s more, you believe you can achieve it by incurring—from this point forward—no more cost than it warranted at the outset. If you now succeed, the total cost will exceed the upper bound marked at the beginning. But the additional cost from this point is below that upper bound. And the good you will achieve is undiminished. How do the moral costs you have already inflicted bear upon your decision now?”
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    I am reminded, very strongly indeed, of the Mahabharata. That is the abstract of this paper.