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What explains the formation and decay of clusters of creativity? - Marginal REVOLUTION
Creativity is often highly concentrated in time and space, and across different domains. What explains the formation and decay of clusters of creativity? In this paper we match data on thousands of notable individuals born in Europe between the XIth and the XIXth century with historical data on city institutions and population. After documenting several stylized facts, we show that the formation of creative clusters is not preceded by increases in city size. Instead, the emergence of city institutions protecting economic and political freedoms facilitates the attraction and production of creative talent.

IOW, the opposite of what Dick Florida said.
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january 2018 by nhaliday
Team *Decorations Until Epiphany* on Twitter: "@RoundSqrCupola maybe just C"
Remember ‘BRICs’? Now it’s just ICs.
maybe just C
Solow predicts that if 2 countries have the same TFP, then the poorer nation should grow faster. But poorer India grows more slowly than China.

Solow thinking leads one to suspect India has substantially lower TFP.

Recent growth is great news, but alas 5 years isn't the long run!

FWIW under Solow conditional convergence assumptions--historically robust--the fact that a country as poor as India grows only a few % faster than the world average is a sign they'll end up poorer than S Europe.
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december 2017 by nhaliday
The rate of return on everything - Marginal REVOLUTION
Here is what I learned from the paper itself:

1. Risky assets such as equities and residential real estate average about 7% gains per year in real terms.  Housing outperformed equity before WWII, vice versa after WWII.  In any case it is a puzzle that housing returns are less volatile but about at the same level as equity returns over a broader time span.
2. Equity and housing gains have a relatively low covariance.  Buy both!
3. Equity returns across countries have become increasingly correlated, housing returns not.
4. The return on real safe assets is much more volatile than you might think.
5. The equity premium is volatile too.
6. The authors find support for Piketty’s r > g, except near periods of war.  Furthermore, the gap between r and g does not seem to be correlated with the growth rate of the economy.

I found this to be one of the best and most interesting papers of the year.
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december 2017 by nhaliday
As a foundation for this study, I organized the collection of village-level panel data on violent actors, managing teams of surveyors, village elders, and households in 380 war-torn areas of DRC. I introduce optimal taxation theory to the decision of violent actors to establish local monopolies of violence. The value of such decision hinges on their ability to tax the local population. A sharp rise in the global demand for coltan, a bulky commodity used in the electronics industry, leads violent actors to impose monopolies of violence and taxation in coltan sites, which persist even years after demand collapses. A similar rise in the demand for gold, easier to conceal and more difficult to tax, does not. However, the groups who nevertheless control gold sites are more likely to respond by undertaking investments in fiscal capacity, consistent with the difficulty to observe gold, and with well-documented trajectories of state formation in Europe (Ardant, 1975). The findings support the view that the expected revenue from taxation, determined in particular by tax base elasticity and costly investments in fiscal capacity, can explain the stages of state formation preceding the states as we recognize them today.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
King Kong and Cold Fusion: Counterfactual analysis and the History of Technology
How “contingent” is technological history? Relying on models from evolutionary epistemology, I argue for an analogy with Darwinian Biology and thus a much greater degree of contingency than is normally supposed. There are three levels of contingency in technological development. The crucial driving force behind technology is what I call S-knowledge, that is, an understanding of the exploitable regularities of nature (which includes “science” as a subset). The development of techniques depend on the existence of epistemic bases in S. The “inevitability” of technology thus depends crucially on whether we condition it on the existence of the appropriate S-knowledge. Secondly, even if this knowledge emerges, there is nothing automatic about it being transformed into a technique that is, a set of instructions that transforms knowledge into production. Third, even if the techniques are proposed, there is selection which reflects the preferences and biases of an economy and injects another level of indeterminacy and contingency into the technological history of nations.
Moslem conquest of Europe, or a Mongol conquest, or a post-1492 epidemic, or a victory of the counter-reformation would have prevented the Industrial Revolution (Joel Mokyr)
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Climate Risk, Cooperation, and the Co-Evolution of Culture and Institutions∗
We test this hypothesis for Europe combining high-resolution climate data for the period 1500-2000 with survey data at the sub-national level. We find that regions with higher inter-annual variability in precipitation and temperature display higher levels of trust. This effect is driven by variability in the growing season months, and by historical rather than recent variability. Regarding possible mechanisms, we show that regions with more variable climate were more closely connected to the Medieval trade network, indicating a higher propensity to engage in inter-community exchange. We also find that these regions were more likely to adopt participatory political institutions earlier on, and are characterized by a higher quality of local governments still today. Our results suggest that, by favoring the emergence of mutually-reinforcing norms and institutions, exposure to environmental risk had a long-lasting impact on human cooperation.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Global Evidence on Economic Preferences
- Benjamin Enke et al

This paper studies the global variation in economic preferences. For this purpose, we present the Global Preference Survey (GPS), an experimentally validated survey dataset of time preference, risk preference, positive and negative reciprocity, altruism, and trust from 80,000 individuals in 76 countries. The data reveal substantial heterogeneity in preferences across countries, but even larger within-country heterogeneity. Across individuals, preferences vary with age, gender, and cognitive ability, yet these relationships appear partly country specific. At the country level, the data reveal correlations between preferences and bio-geographic and cultural variables such as agricultural suitability, language structure, and religion. Variation in preferences is also correlated with economic outcomes and behaviors. Within countries and subnational regions, preferences are linked to individual savings decisions, labor market choices, and prosocial behaviors. Across countries, preferences vary with aggregate outcomes ranging from per capita income, to entrepreneurial activities, to the frequency of armed conflicts.


This paper explores these questions by making use of the core features of the GPS: (i) coverage of 76 countries that represent approximately 90 percent of the world population; (ii) representative population samples within each country for a total of 80,000 respondents, (iii) measures designed to capture time preference, risk preference, altruism, positive reciprocity, negative reciprocity, and trust, based on an ex ante experimental validation procedure (Falk et al., 2016) as well as pre-tests in culturally heterogeneous countries, (iv) standardized elicitation and translation techniques through the pre-existing infrastructure of a global polling institute, Gallup. Upon publication, the data will be made publicly available online. The data on individual preferences are complemented by a comprehensive set of covariates provided by the Gallup World Poll 2012.


The GPS preference measures are based on twelve survey items, which were selected in an initial survey validation study (see Falk et al., 2016, for details). The validation procedure involved conducting multiple incentivized choice experiments for each preference, and testing the relative abilities of a wide range of different question wordings and formats to predict behavior in these choice experiments. The particular items used to construct the GPS preference measures were selected based on optimal performance out of menus of alternative items (for details see Falk et al., 2016). Experiments provide a valuable benchmark for selecting survey items, because they can approximate the ideal choice situations, specified in economic theory, in which individuals make choices in controlled decision contexts. Experimental measures are very costly, however, to implement in a globally representative sample, whereas survey measures are much less costly.⁴ Selecting survey measures that can stand in for incentivized revealed preference measures leverages the strengths of both approaches.

The Preference Survey Module: A Validated Instrument for Measuring Risk, Time, and Social Preferences:

Table 1: Survey items of the GPS

Figure 1: World maps of patience, risk taking, and positive reciprocity.
Figure 2: World maps of negative reciprocity, altruism, and trust.

Figure 3: Gender coefficients by country. For each country, we regress the respective preference on gender, age and its square, and subjective math skills, and plot the resulting gender coefficients as well as their significance level. In order to make countries comparable, each preference was standardized (z-scores) within each country before computing the coefficients.

Figure 4: Cognitive ability coefficients by country. For each country, we regress the respective preference on gender, age and its square, and subjective math skills, and plot the resulting coefficients on subjective math skills as well as their significance level. In order to make countries comparable, each preference was standardized (z-scores) within each country before computing the coefficients.

Figure 5: Age profiles by OECD membership.

Table 6: Pairwise correlations between preferences and geographic and cultural variables

Figure 10: Distribution of preferences at individual level.
Figure 11: Distribution of preferences at country level.

interesting digression:
D Discussion of Measurement Error and Within- versus Between-Country Variation
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october 2017 by nhaliday
“Editor’s Introduction to The New Economic History and the Industrial Revolution,” J. Mokyr (1998) | A Fine Theorem
I taught a fun three hours on the Industrial Revolution in my innovation PhD course this week. The absolutely incredible change in the condition of mankind that began in a tiny corner of Europe in an otherwise unremarkable 70-or-so years is totally fascinating. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath are so important to human history that I find it strange that we give people PhDs in social science without requiring at least some study of what happened.

My post today draws heavily on Joel Mokyr’s lovely, if lengthy, summary of what we know about the period. You really should read the whole thing, but if you know nothing about the IR, there are really five facts of great importance which you should be aware of.

1) The world was absurdly poor from the dawn of mankind until the late 1800s, everywhere.
2) The average person did not become richer, nor was overall economic growth particularly spectacular, during the Industrial Revolution; indeed, wages may have fallen between 1760 and 1830.
3) Major macro inventions, and growth, of the type seen in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s happened many times in human history.
4) It is hard for us today to understand how revolutionary ideas like “experimentation” or “probability” were.
5) The best explanations for “why England? why in the late 1700s? why did growth continue?” do not involve colonialism, slavery, or famous inventions.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
Definite optimism as human capital | Dan Wang
I’ve come to the view that creativity and innovative capacity aren’t a fixed stock, coiled and waiting to be released by policy. Now, I know that a country will not do well if it has poor infrastructure, interest rate management, tax and regulation levels, and a whole host of other issues. But getting them right isn’t sufficient to promote innovation; past a certain margin, when they’re all at rational levels, we ought to focus on promoting creativity and drive as a means to propel growth.


When I say “positive” vision, I don’t mean that people must see the future as a cheerful one. Instead, I’m saying that people ought to have a vision at all: A clear sense of how the technological future will be different from today. To have a positive vision, people must first expand their imaginations. And I submit that an interest in science fiction, the material world, and proximity to industry all help to refine that optimism. I mean to promote imagination by direct injection.


If a state has lost most of its jobs for electrical engineers, or nuclear engineers, or mechanical engineers, then fewer young people in that state will study those practices, and technological development in related fields slow down a little further. When I bring up these thoughts on resisting industrial decline to economists, I’m unsatisfied with their responses. They tend to respond by tautology (“By definition, outsourcing improves on the status quo”) or arithmetic (see: gains from comparative advantage, Ricardo). These kinds of logical exercises are not enough. I would like for more economists to consider a human capital perspective for preserving manufacturing expertise (to some degree).

I wonder if the so-called developed countries should be careful of their own premature deindustrialization. The US industrial base has faltered, but there is still so much left to build. Until we’ve perfected asteroid mining and super-skyscrapers and fusion rockets and Jupiter colonies and matter compilers, we can’t be satisfied with innovation confined mostly to the digital world.

Those who don’t mind the decline of manufacturing employment like to say that people have moved on to higher-value work. But I’m not sure that this is usually the case. Even if there’s an endlessly capacious service sector to absorb job losses in manufacturing, it’s often the case that these new jobs feature lower productivity growth and involve greater rent-seeking. Not everyone is becoming hedge fund managers and machine learning engineers. According to BLS, the bulk of service jobs are in 1. government (22 million), 2. professional services (19m), 3. healthcare (18m), 4. retail (15m), and 5. leisure and hospitality (15m). In addition to being often low-paying but still competitive, a great deal of service sector jobs tend to stress capacity for emotional labor over capacity for manual labor. And it’s the latter that tends to be more present in fields involving technological upgrading.


Here’s a bit more skepticism of service jobs. In an excellent essay on declining productivity growth, Adair Turner makes the point that many service jobs are essentially zero-sum. I’d like to emphasize and elaborate on that idea here.


Call me a romantic, but I’d like everyone to think more about industrial lubricants, gas turbines, thorium reactors, wire production, ball bearings, underwater cables, and all the things that power our material world. I abide by a strict rule never to post or tweet about current political stuff; instead I try to draw more attention to the world of materials. And I’d like to remind people that there are many things more edifying than following White House scandals.


First, we can all try to engage more actively with the material world, not merely the digital or natural world. Go ahead and pick an industrial phenomenon and learn more about it. Learn more about the history of aviation, and what it took to break the sound barrier; gaze at the container ships as they sail into port, and keep in mind that they carry 90 percent of the goods you see around you; read about what we mold plastics to do; meditate on the importance of steel in civilization; figure out what’s driving the decline in the cost of solar energy production, or how we draw electricity from nuclear fission, or what it takes to extract petroleum or natural gas from the ground.


Here’s one more point that I’d like to add on Girard at college: I wonder if to some extent current dynamics are the result of the liberal arts approach of “college teaches you how to think, not what to think.” I’ve never seen much data to support this wonderful claim that college is good at teaching critical thinking skills. Instead, students spend most of their energies focused on raising or lowering the status of the works they study or the people around them, giving rise to the Girardian terror that has gripped so many campuses.

College as an incubator of Girardian terror:
It’s hard to construct a more perfect incubator for mimetic contagion than the American college campus. Most 18-year-olds are not super differentiated from each other. By construction, whatever distinctions any does have are usually earned through brutal, zero-sum competitions. These tournament-type distinctions include: SAT scores at or near perfection; being a top player on a sports team; gaining master status from chess matches; playing first instrument in state orchestra; earning high rankings in Math Olympiad; and so on, culminating in gaining admission to a particular college.

Once people enter college, they get socialized into group environments that usually continue to operate in zero-sum competitive dynamics. These include orchestras and sport teams; fraternities and sororities; and many types of clubs. The biggest source of mimetic pressures are the classes. Everyone starts out by taking the same intro classes; those seeking distinction throw themselves into the hardest classes, or seek tutelage from star professors, and try to earn the highest grades.

Mimesis Machines and Millennials:
In 1956, a young Liverpudlian named John Winston Lennon heard the mournful notes of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, and was transformed. He would later recall, “nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.” It is an ancient human story. An inspiring model, an inspired imitator, and a changed world.

Mimesis is the phenomenon of human mimicry. Humans see, and they strive to become what they see. The prolific Franco-Californian philosopher René Girard described the human hunger for imitation as mimetic desire. According to Girard, mimetic desire is a mighty psychosocial force that drives human behavior. When attempted imitation fails, (i.e. I want, but fail, to imitate my colleague’s promotion to VP of Business Development), mimetic rivalry arises. According to mimetic theory, periodic scapegoating—the ritualistic expelling of a member of the community—evolved as a way for archaic societies to diffuse rivalries and maintain the general peace.

As civilization matured, social institutions evolved to prevent conflict. To Girard, sacrificial religious ceremonies first arose as imitations of earlier scapegoating rituals. From the mimetic worldview healthy social institutions perform two primary functions,

They satisfy mimetic desire and reduce mimetic rivalry by allowing imitation to take place.
They thereby reduce the need to diffuse mimetic rivalry through scapegoating.
Tranquil societies possess and value institutions that are mimesis tolerant. These institutions, such as religion and family, are Mimesis Machines. They enable millions to see, imitate, and become new versions of themselves. Mimesis Machines, satiate the primal desire for imitation, and produce happy, contented people. Through Mimesis Machines, Elvis fans can become Beatles.

Volatile societies, on the other hand, possess and value mimesis resistant institutions that frustrate attempts at mimicry, and mass produce frustrated, resentful people. These institutions, such as capitalism and beauty hierarchies, are Mimesis Shredders. They stratify humanity, and block the ‘nots’ from imitating the ‘haves’.
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october 2017 by nhaliday

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