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From an old NY Review of Books review by Freeman Dyson (What Price Glory?):

… several historic battles in which foot soldiers defeated cavalry. In spite of these repeated calamities, the knight on his horse remained the emblem of military virtue throughout the long centuries of the Middle Ages. Kings and emperors spent their fortunes and gave land to their feudal depends to pay for knights and horses. In times of peace, the knights and horses exercised their military skills by competing with one another in splendid tournaments. The display of fine armor and equestrian skill became an end in itself, pursued by knights and armorers without much regard for military effectiveness. Making a grand spectacle in tournaments was more important than winning battles against peasants armed with bows and arrows. According to the customs of the Middle Ages, a knight who survived a defeat by peasants could usually return home without dishonor, after paying a ransom appropriate to his rank in the feudal hierarchy. The ransom might ruin his feudal estate but would not ruin his military career.

By the way, in other (totally unrelated readings of course) reading this week we learn that a great deal of gratitude should be paid by American revolutionaries to disease carrying parasites – which are very likely to have made a serious contribution to the British defeat by Yorktown. Of note as well, slavery was eliminated in England in the 1830s, and not until the 1860s in the States. Just sayin’


This morning, two different people sent me these two links:

  1. What the hell is going on?
  2. What the hell is going on?

To answer Tyler’s question at the end of (1), I think we are going to find out.

  1. Just because something is popular … you know, over 58% of my students favor eliminating studying as a requirement to do well in college; over 58% of the children in my kids’ school think Reeses Pieces are an essential part of a quality diet; over 58% of Catholics want the rest of the world to be Catholic; over 58% of Americans believe that food with DNA in it should be labeled …
  2. Cleaning up a Superfund site (i.e. a federally designated toxic waste site) improves educational outcomes. Given that the research on Superfund demonstrates that toxicity of sites does not dictate which sites get cleaned, and the little to no health benefits of the cleanups, this is a bit surprising (well, science should be surprising). I think their causality checks are decent, after all they only look at families that had kids before and after site cleanup, so the selection effect of residential sorting would not seem to be at play. My sense is that this would not replicate. In addition, to really make a policy claim here, we’d want to know what the total costs of Superfund cleanup are per unit of educational improvement. Note that the researchers are testing whether site cleanup is correlated with the probability of students repeating a grade and whether they are suspended from school. First, we’d want to see whether anything else would be driving those changes based on location, and second, I would love to see the impact of location on ALL of the possible educational outcomes. You would think that statistically you would find “significance” in some outcomes. How many showed significance?
  3. How have efforts to recruit and support low-income, high-achieving students worked in Texas?
  4. In another paper by Cornell scholars, did the expansion of Medicaid under the PPACA improve patients’ receipt of preventive care? What about helping patients adopt healthier lifestyles?
  5. Does environmental regulation reduce employment? These authors find the answer, perhaps surprising to many, of “no.” I can go in two directions here. First, I can feel sympathy for the authors wasting their time on a study like this in response to misguided public rhetoric about jobs and green policy. Or, I can move further into the land of being uncharitable and suggest that if one of my intro students sent me a paper like this they would not pass the class. Whether regulation creates, destroys, or does nothing to jobs is a complete head-fake. That is not what is at issue. Any decent economics student understands two things. First, jobs are a cost. Second, whether a policy is a good idea or not is crucially dependent on the net benefits of the program. Would you call innovations in tractor technology a bad thing because the net impact on employment in the “affected” sector as compared to the “other” sector has been negative? In other words, I do not think the rise in manufacturing jobs offset the loss of farm jobs over the 20th century. In fact, any economic change is going to change the composition of jobs. When we learn how trade seems to work, even if you have a dire view of foreign trade, we understand that trade changes the composition of jobs, at a first pass it will not change the number. So pointing to the fact that the number of jobs is not changed when we impose environmental regulations tells us nothing about whether those regulations are sensible or cost-effective. When the US imposes a tariff on Chinese tires, and Chine responds by imposing a tariff on American nylon manufacturers, what we see is more tire jobs in the US and less nylon jobs, and more nylon jobs in China and fewer tire jobs – so unemployment, by “looking at the big picture” would seem to be unchanged. But of course, what you should recognize is that both the US and China are made worse off by the tariffs.
  6. Interesting – housing field experiments demonstrating discrimination seem to replicate even if the face of selection error corrections. Field experiments on labor markets demonstrating discrimination are not as robust to reexamination. Note, that if you want to play tribal politics here, you would not have guessed who one of the authors was. I am sure that when he is talking about and researching about the minimum wage people will understand this. Not.
  7. They see it as “ineffective price regulation” and I see it as not allowing enough competition. After all, is there any reason to believe that well-drilling has huge natural monopoly characteristics? Is it not the case that there is not free and open entry into fracking?
  8. Both homo-economicus and homo-ethicus? Why do children take care of their elderly parents?
  9. How long until someone writes that communities should therefore want to get hit by natural disasters?

You want to get depressed?

(1) See how the “Food Babe” is abusing the FOIA to smear, antagonize and intimidate Dr. Kevin Folta of the University of Florida’s Horticulture Department.

(2) See the latest in the Krugman Chronicles. 

Classy world we live in. Did anyone ever learn manners?

Quote of the Week

Arnold Kling has it, and yes, I am close to just tuning out the rest of the world and decaying quietly into my old age …

Everything written by, for, or against Krugman over the past 15 years is a waste of time. That includes this post as well as Adler’s. It includes various attempts by Henderson, Cowen, and Sumner to engage with Krugman. They try to treat him as if he had some sense of decency. Instead, he is Joe McCarthy with a Nobel Prize.

And this in a blog with the subtitle, “Taking the MOST charitable view of those who disagree” …

This is already not going over well among the people this “law” is aiming to “help” … not surprising:

Salary Threshold for Hourly Employees to Change

The U.S. Department of Labor has announced changes to how some employees are paid by announcing an increase to the salary threshold used to determine eligibility for overtime pay. Effective December 1, 2016, those who earn below $47,476 a year (with the exception of physicians, attorneys, and employees whose primary role is teaching) will be classified as non-exempt employees, who are paid on an hourly basis and are eligible for overtime. Non-exempt employees are required to use HRMS to track their time worked and also their paid leave time. Employers have been given six months to implement the change, and the University will use that time to assess the best ways forward to allow for full compliance. More information on the transition will be provided in a timely fashion. An FAQ will be made available through @Rochester within the next few days to explain the changes and how they will affect employees. Affected employees and their managers will receive further information directly from HR before the new pay scheme goes into effect later this year. Employees who have further questions should contact the appropriate HR Business Partner.

One in Ten Million!

Rare events … are NOT rare.

The modern internet has mated with the basic economics of risk and produced a frankensteinian beast. Suppose there is some awful thing that happens to people with a miniscule chance – say, once every 10 million times. It can be a car spontaneously combusting, the earth swallowing you up whole, or some awful disease striking you.

This is a rare event, and upon seeing it happen to someone your heart would break and your mind would shutter. However, in a huge world of 7 billion+ people, these miniscule events would actually happen quite regularly. In fact, we would expect to see these “rare” one-in-ten million events strike 700 times (per year, assuming an annual risk), or twice per day. With a good enough internet connection and decent enough access to modern cell phones, these twice per day awful events would hit our collective 7 billion phones quite regularly, leading everyone to think that these super-rare and horrible events are actually quite common. Where people go once they make that observation is a story for another day of course.

One reason I think some folks are suspicious of geoengineering solutions to climate change or biotechnology solutions to feeding people and clothing people is that these are not solutions where we “pay for our sins.” If humans perceive “easy” technical fixes to problems, that will not only make us less nervous about what future damages we may end up doing to the planet and ourselves, but it also undermines the calls for massive changes to our consumption patterns today and of course undermines the case for major political changes as well.

  1. The U.S. is 100% reliant on imports, from Canada, of Rubidium. Time to invade.
  2. Come to think of it … I AM a paid shill … for students.
  3. I wonder why private college tuition isn’t much lower?
  4. What is the right social cost of carbon to use for policy purposes?
  5. Acemoglu on automation and the future of labor markets and inequality.
  6. Is it cheap to mitigate CO2?

Seen in Dubai


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