Ec101: Choices matter!

We’ve, in our Thursday posts this year, learnt about incentives and costs. But, and this is a really, really big “but” – they become operational only when we live in a world where we’re able to choose.

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabbarok – two people who have probably done more for educating people in economics than anybody else over the last thirty years or so – have written two of the best textbooks on economics available anywhere – one on micro and the other on macro.

In the book on microeconomics, they summarize ten different “big ideas” in economics: incentives, the invisible hand is the best kind of magic*, trade-offs matter, thinking on the margin matters, trade matters, wealth matters, institutions matter, business cycles are unavoidable, printing more money will lead to inflation and central baking is hard.

*I’ve paraphrased practically all of the big ideas, but this in particular is my phrasing, not theirs.

Two other asides before we proceed: in retrospect, it is interesting (at least to me) that at least one of their PhD’s (Tyler Cowen’s) and quite a few of their books are based literally on nothing more complicated than an exposition of these big ideas. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Also, they say that the biggest idea of them all is that economics is fun. I’d paraphrase that too: learning about the world is fun, and economics is a great tool to use towards that end.

Now, that allows for a neat segue to the topic du jour. At the very start of the book, even before the table of contents, they provide their definition of economics, one that I agree with wholeheartedly: economics is the study of how to get the most out of life.

Here’s the two word version: choices matter!

Unless we live in a society that is free to choose, at an individual level or otherwise, none of the other big ideas even come into play. So, to me, economics is first and foremost about being free to choose – and then about the benefits and costs of the choices that you make.

Which, I’d argue, means that learning about choices is plenty important. Ergo, this post.

  1. First things first. What is choice?
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    I chose (see what happened there?) this Quora post not because it is the “best”, but simply because it is so typical. Here’s what I think choice is: it is an admission of the fact that you can’t have everything. A particularly relevant example for me: what to eat from a buffet at a five star restaurant? With every passing year, “everything!” becomes an increasingly unrealistic answer. So choose those dishes that are likely to taste the best (maximizing happiness), or those dishes that are likely to cause the least harm (minimizing unhappiness) along some dimensions such as spiciness, oiliness or what have you.
    Or hey, do both at the same time! Choose the dish that is likely to taste the best and the dish that is likely to do the least harm. That’s half your micro paper right there – the rest is just math and diagrams. (I am kidding, of course, but only a little bit.)
    Choice is an admission of the fact that you can’t have everything, but that’s a good thing! It forces you to go with the best. Which paintings should you look at when you’re at the Louvre? “Every single one!” is unrealistic. Force yourself to choose, therefore, the very best of the lot. Constraints help you understand your own tastes better: aesthetics is, among other things, a matter of acknowledging the existence of constraints.
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  2. So having too many choices is a bad thing? It would seem so:
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    “It all began with jam. In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display.”
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  3. But hang on. Of what use is an economics theory that doesn’t have a on-the-other hand angle? Tim Harford, as is so often the case, to the rescue.
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    “But a curious thing happened almost immediately. They began by trying to replicate some classic experiments – such as the jam study, and a similar one with luxury chocolates. They couldn’t find any sign of the “choice is bad” effect. Neither the original Lepper-Iyengar experiments nor the new study appears to be at fault: the results are just different and we don’t know why.”
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  4. And on a related note, have you heard of Herbert Simon and satisficing? This excerpt is from a Wikipedia article on Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice, but it is actually about Herbert Simon.
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    “A maximizer is like a perfectionist, someone who needs to be assured that their every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. The way a maximizer knows for certain is to consider all the alternatives they can imagine. This creates a psychologically daunting task, which can become even more daunting as the number of options increases. The alternative to maximizing is to be a satisficer. A satisficer has criteria and standards, but a satisficer is not worried about the possibility that there might be something better. Ultimately, Schwartz agrees with Simon’s conclusion, that satisficing is, in fact, the maximizing strategy.”
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  5. And the final word goes to Tyler Cowen. Or is it Herbert Simon all over again? Choices, choices.
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    “What if you asked people the following: do you wish to choose your own means of limiting your (subsequent) choices, or do you wish to let someone else, perhaps the government, do the work? I suspect the answers would overwhelmingly favor the former option, namely voluntary choice at the meta-level. And if you reexamine the experiments mentioned above, they are all about ways in which people voluntarily limit their own choices. Maybe you don’t wish to run your own cancer treatments, but you wish to choose the doctor who will.”

 

RoW: Poland and her geopolitics

Back in the day, Poland and her geopolitics would have been shaped by two nations, Russia (or the then USSR) and Germany. Now, one is domestically stronger, and no longer a threat, whereas with the other, it is quite the opposite. Five articles that tell us a little bit more about Poland and her neighbors today.

  1. “Countries in the north, particularly Poland, have chosen two paths to limit the Russian threat. One is forging defense ties with countries in the region that share similar fears, while closely working with the U.S. This contributes to the Intermarium, the containment line against Russia from the Baltics to the Black Sea. But Poland knows that the West is in no position to fight against Russian influence further east and that NATO and the U.S. are unlikely to react to a potential Russo-Ukrainian escalation. This is why Poland’s second path to limit the Russian threat is to try to keep Kiev closer to Warsaw and the West, challenging Russia’s role in the former Soviet periphery.”
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    Ukraine and Russia’s designs on Ukraine are key to understanding Poland’s geopolitical concerns today.
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  2. “Both Poland and Russia had accused each other for their historical revisionism. Russia has repeatedly accused Poland for not honoring Soviet soldiers fallen in World War II for Poland, notably in 2017, in which Poland was thought on “attempting to impose its own version of history” after Moscow was not allowed to join an international effort to renovate a World War II museum in Poland and destroyed monument honoring Soviet soldiers fallen in the war. Meanwhile, Poland also accuses Russia for its unlimited historical distortion, notably back to 2014 when Putin signed a bill using any comparison of Nazi to Soviet crimes as a punishment, as the Poles were also treated brutally by the Soviets; although Russia’s historical revisionism might have influenced Poland’s Andrzej Duda over its Nazi war crime laws and Poland also has concerned that Russia’s political and historical revisionism might put Poland at risk.”
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    The entire Wikipedia article is worth reading, but this section was reminiscent of so much in so many other places.
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  3. Is Poland an Easern European nation? Well, it depends. If you mean geographically, no. If you mean it form a historical perspective, not so much. If you ask from a geopolitical perspective, hell no. Why then would most people guess yes?
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    “We see that the current geographical theories place Poland outside Eastern Europe. How come than that Poland is still often considered an Eastern European country? Of course, because of history. The cold war has created a division that influenced generations of Europeans and has an impact to this day. Historically, all countries that have been under the influence of the former Soviet Union were considered an eastern bloc (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Moldova, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia). This cold war legacy influences the perception of Western Europeans and despite big historical shifts (most of the countries from the former eastern bloc joined the European Union in early 2000’s) associations between these countries and the former Soviet Union are still being made.”
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  4. Speaking of the other large neighbour, Germany – how’s things these days? Uh, not great. Energy, the Holocaust, independence of the judiciary in Poland – or lack thereof, and immigration are points that mean that the two large neighbors don’t always see eye to eye.
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    “”In 2013, 70 percent of Germans described their country’s relationship with Poland as “good.” Now that number is down to 31 percent. Why did it happen, and what are the current problems?”
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  5. “The question of permanently stationing U.S. troops in Poland, for which Warsaw is prepared to pay $2 billion annually, is still unresolved. Some military officials have said they prefer retaining elements of the rotational scheme that is currently used to manage between 4,000 and 5,000 U.S. service members working in the country, many at the Powidz air base.”
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    My biggest learning form this article? Fort Trump is a thing.

Tech: Understanding Mainframes Better

My daughter, all of six years old, doesn’t really know what a computer is.

Here’s what I mean by that: a friend of hers has a desktop in her bedroom, and to my daughter, that is a computer. My laptop is, well, a laptop – to her, not a computer. And she honestly thinks that the little black disk that sits on a coffee table in our living room is a person/thing called Alexa.

How to reconcile – both for her and for ourselves – the idea of what a computer is? The etymology of the word is very interesting – it actually referred to a person! While it is tempting to write a short essay on how Alexa has made it possible to complete the loop in this case, today’s links are actually about understanding mainframes better.

Over the next four or five weeks, we’ll trace out the evolution of computers from mainframes down to, well, Alexa!

  1. “Several manufacturers and their successors produced mainframe computers from the late 1950s until the early 21st Century, with gradually decreasing numbers and a gradual transition to simulation on Intel chips rather than proprietary hardware. The US group of manufacturers was first known as “IBM and the Seven Dwarfs”: usually Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell, General Electric and RCA, although some lists varied. Later, with the departure of General Electric and RCA, it was referred to as IBM and the BUNCH. IBM’s dominance grew out of their 700/7000 series and, later, the development of the 360 series mainframes.”
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    Wikipedia’s article on mainframes contains a short history of the machines.
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  2. “Mainframe is an industry term for a large computer. The name comes from the way the machine is build up: all units (processing, communication etc.) were hung into a frame. Thus the maincomputer is build into a frame, therefore: MainframeAnd because of the sheer development costs, mainframes are typically manufactured by large companies such as IBM, Amdahl, Hitachi.”
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    This article was written a very long time ago, but is worth looking at for a simple explanation of what mainframes are. Their chronology is also well laid out  – and the photographs alone are worth it!
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  3. “Although only recognized as such many years later, the ABC (Atanasoff-Berry Computer) was really the first electronic computer. You might think “electronic computer” is redundant, but as we just saw with the Harvard Mark I, there really were computers that had no electronic components, and instead used mechanical switches, variable toothed gears, relays, and hand cranks. The ABC, by contrast, did all of its computing using electronics, and thus represents a very important milestone for computing.”
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    This is your periodic reminder to please read Cixin Liu. But also, this article goes more into the details of what mainframe computers were than the preceding one. Please be sure to read through all three pages – and again, the photographs alone are worth the price of admission.
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  4. A short, Philadelphia focussed article that is only somewhat related to mainframes, but still – in my opinion – worth reading, because it gives you a what-if idea of the evolution of the business. Is that really how the name came about?! (see the quote about bugs below)
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    “So Philly should really be known as “Vacuum Tube Valley,” Scherrer adds: “We want to trademark that.” He acknowledged the tubes were prone to moths — “the original computer bugs.”
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  5. I’m a sucker for pictures of old technology (see especially the “Death to the Mainframe” picture)

India: Understanding our Constitution a little bit better

In less than a week, we celebrate our Republic Day.

But what exactly is a republic? How is it different from a democracy – which begs the question, what is a democracy?

One of the definitions of democracy, given by Google, is this: “control of an organization or group by the majority of its members.”.

Or, as children in India have been saying for years at around 5.30 in the evening, “majority wins” (Extra points for reading this in that wonderfully evocative sing-song cadence.) But hey, there’s so much more to it than that!

So what is a republic? Once again, Google to the rescue: “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.”

So when we celebrate Republic Day, we’re really celebrating the fact that we’re not ruled by a monarch anymore, but rather by ourselves. Except that we elect some people to do the job for us.

So when we appoint somebody, what powers do we give them? What powers do we not give them? Do we give them the power to change the powers that we give them – if you see what I mean?

That is where the constitution comes in. Again, our old pal Google: “a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.”

The Constitution, sets the maryadas of the government in power. This you can and should do, this, uh, not so much. That, not at all. The Constitution does so much more than that, but that is certainly one of its main purposes.

Which begs the question: who came up with the idea of constitutions? Who, in India’s specific case, was appointed to write India’s Constitution? On what basis? What were their ideas and motivating principles? And that is the direction in which today’s post will go.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be anywhere near an expert on this topic. This is on the basis of stuff I have been reading in order to teach myself. If you have links to share that will broaden my understanding of this topic, please do share.

Many thanks to Murali Neelakantan for providing a ton of helpful suggestions!

  1. “To understand the first conceptualisation, that of constitution-as-function, we should clarify what scholars view to be the traditional purposes of constitutions. A central idea here is the limitation of government power. Constitutions generate a set of inviolable principles and more specific provisions to which future law and government activity more generally must conform. This function, commonly termed constitutionalism, is vital to the functioning of democracy. Without a commitment to higher law, the state can operate for the short-term benefit of those in power or the current majority. Those who find themselves out of power may find that they are virtually unprotected, which in turn may make them more likely to resort to extra-constitutional means of securing power. By limiting the scope of government and precommitting politicians to respect certain limits, constitutions make government possible.”
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    That’s the whole maryada angle we were talking about earlier. That is from the UCL website, and the website is worth a detailed look.
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  2. So if the idea of the Constitution is to, in this case, set up the framework for the operation of the government, that makes it pretty darn important. Who did we give the job to, and how?
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    “”India was still under British rule when the Constituent Assembly was established following negotiations between Indian leaders and members of the 1946 Cabinet Mission to India from the United Kingdom. Provincial assembly elections were held in mid 1946. Constituent Assembly members were elected indirectly by members of the newly elected provincial assemblies, and initially included representatives for those provinces that formed part of Pakistan (some of which are now in Bangladesh). The Constituent Assembly had 299 representatives, including fifteen women.”
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    Note that we didn’t really give the job to anybody. There were provincial assembly elections, and the Constituent Assembly members were elected indirectly by members of these provincial assemblies. But that may be a good thing! As Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah note in their recent book, In The Service Of The Republic: “The Constitution of India my not have won a referendum either in 1950 or today.” (Emphasis added).
    I really wish we had the time to explore this question in more detail: who frames the rules by which we agree to live as a country, and on what basis. But I promise to get to it in later posts. For the moment, we move on.
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  3. “(1) This Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as an Independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution;(2) WHEREIN the territories that now comprise British India, the territories that now form the Indian States, and such other parts of India as are outside British India and the States as well as such other territories as are willing to be constituted into the Independent Sovereign India, shall be a Union of them all; and

    (3) WHEREIN the said territories, whether with their present boundaries or with such others as may be determined by the Constituent Assembly and thereafter according to the Law of the Constitution, shall possess and retain the status of autonomous Units, together with residuary powers, and exercise all powers and functions of government and administration, save and except such powers and functions as are vested in or assigned to the Union, or as are inherent or implied in the Union or resulting therefrom; and

    (4) WHEREIN all power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of government, are derived from the people; and

    (5) WHEREIN shall be guaranteed and secured to all the people of India justice, social, economic and political; equality of status, of opportunity, and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith worship, vocation, association and action, subject to law and public morality; and

    (6) WHEREIN adequate safeguards shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes; and

    (7) WHEREBY shall be maintained the integrity of the territory of the Republic and its sovereign rights on land, sea, and air according to Justice and the law of civilised nations, and

    (8) this ancient land attains its rightful and honoured place in the world and make its full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind.”
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    This is the famous Objectives Resolution, put forth by Jawaharlal Nehru on the 13th of December, 1946, in one of the first few (the very first?) meetings of the Constituent Assembly. (5) and (6), to me, are the most crucial parts of the resolution. If the question is, what were the aims and aspirations of the members of the Constituent Assembly in terms of what they hoped the Constitution would achieve, this is the best answer I could find.
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  4. “It was here that the enduring distinction between “justiciable” and “non-justiciable” rights (Directive Principles) was first mooted, much to the consternation of K.T. Shah. It was in the Sub-Committee that Minoo Masani, Hansa Mehta and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur argued strongly for a right to inter-religious marriages and to a uniform civil code (with Ambedkar’s support), but were voted down. It was in the Advisory Committee that the right to privacy (secrecy of correspondence and prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures) was dropped from the draft bill of rights, as was the right to vote. Here you find Ambedkar’s eloquent arguments for the link between constitutional rights and the economic structure, and K.T. Shah’s radical proposals to make remuneration for housework a fundamental right. In short, endlessly fascinating stuff.”
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    All of that comes from Gautam Bhatia’s blog, written in collaboration with Vasudev Devadasan. The blog is worth subscribing to, and reading this post (part 1 of 3, no less) makes me want to burrow into this topic for a long time to come. Alas, accursed economics!
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  5. And finally, from a column written in 2018 by Gautam Bhatia, this excerpt – but do read the whole thing!
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    “In hearing and deciding these cases, the court has an opportunity to affirm the words of one of its greatest civil rights judges, Justice Vivian Bose, who recognised the deeply transformative character of the Constitution when he said: “Is not the sanctity of the individual recognised and emphasised again and again? Is not our Constitution in violent contrast to those of states where the state is everything and the individual but a slave or a serf to serve the will of those who for the time being wield almost absolute power?” How India Became Democratic helps us to understand that the answer to both those questions is an unambiguous “yes.””

 

It shames me to realize how little I know about India’s constitution, and the history of that constitution. We live by a set of rules whose origins, aims and framers are largely unknown to most of us. This post was my attempt to begin to change my own status quo, and I hope to dedicate at least one Monday a month to writing a post that helps me learn more about the Indian Constitution.

And on that aspirational note, a very happy Republic Day to you all!

Tahini: Sesame Recipes from other parts of the world

This past Monday we learnt about Makar Sankranti and related festivals from other parts of the world. Today’s video is about how other cultures prepare dishes using sesame. Tahini is one of my favorite things to eat, so today’s was an easy pick.

 

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.””