nhaliday + infrastructure   40

Information Processing: Remarks on the Decline of American Empire
1. US foreign policy over the last decades has been disastrous -- trillions of dollars and thousands of lives expended on Middle Eastern wars, culminating in utter defeat. This defeat is still not acknowledged among most of the media or what passes for intelligentsia in academia and policy circles, but defeat it is. Iran now exerts significant control over Iraq and a swath of land running from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. None of the goals of our costly intervention have been achieved. We are exhausted morally, financially, and militarily, and still have not fully extricated ourselves from a useless morass. George W. Bush should go down in history as the worst US President of the modern era.

2. We are fortunate that the fracking revolution may lead to US independence from Middle Eastern energy. But policy elites have to fully recognize this possibility and pivot our strategy to reflect the decreased importance of the region. The fracking revolution is a consequence of basic research from decades ago (including investment from the Department of Energy) and the work of private sector innovators and risk-takers.

3. US budget deficits are a ticking time bomb, which cripple investment in basic infrastructure and also in research that creates strategically important new technologies like AI. US research spending has been roughly flat in inflation adjusted dollars over the last 20 years, declining as a fraction of GDP.

4. Divisive identity politics and demographic trends in the US will continue to undermine political cohesion and overall effectiveness of our institutions. ("Civilizational decline," as one leading theoretical physicist observed to me recently, remarking on our current inability to take on big science projects.)

5. The Chinese have almost entirely closed the technology gap with the West, and dominate important areas of manufacturing. It seems very likely that their economy will eventually become significantly larger than the US economy. This is the world that strategists have to prepare for. Wars involving religious fanatics in unimportant regions of the world should not distract us from a possible future conflict with a peer competitor that threatens to match or exceed our economic, technological, and even military capability.

However, I'm not sure that OBOR (One Belt One Road) and a focus on the "world island" of Eurasia will be a winning strategy for China. Mackinder's dream of a unified or even fully economically integrated world island will have to overcome the limitations (in human capital, institutions, culture, etc.) of the under-developed middle...

The belt-and-road express: China faces resistance to a cherished theme of its foreign policy: http://www.economist.com/news/china/21721678-silk-routes-are-not-always-appealing-they-sound-china-faces-resistance-cherished-theme

The staggering scale of China's Belt and Road initiative: https://www.axios.com/staggering-scale-china-infrastructure-142f3b1d-82b5-47b8-8ca9-57beb306f7df.html
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november 2017 by nhaliday
GOP tax plan would provide major gains for richest 1%, uneven benefits for the middle class, report says - The Washington Post
https://twitter.com/ianbremmer/status/913863513038311426
https://archive.is/PYRx9
Trump tweets: For his voters.
Tax plan: Something else entirely.
https://twitter.com/tcjfs/status/913864779256692737
https://archive.is/5bzQz
This is appallingly stupid if accurate

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/28/upshot/what-the-tax-bill-would-look-like-for-25000-middle-class-families.html
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/30/us/politics/tax-cuts-increases-for-your-income.html

Treasury Removes Paper at Odds With Mnuchin’s Take on Corporate-Tax Cut’s Winners: https://www.wsj.com/articles/treasury-removes-paper-at-odds-with-mnuchins-take-on-corporate-tax-cuts-winners-1506638463

Tax changes for graduate students under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: https://bcide.gitlab.io/post/gop-tax-plan/
H.R.1 – 155th Congress (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) 1 proposes changes to the US Tax Code that threatens to destroy the finances of STEM graduate students nationwide. The offending provision, 1204(a)(3), strikes section 117(d) 2 of the US Tax Code. This means that under the proposal, tuition waivers are considered taxable income.

For graduate students, this means an increase of thousands of dollars in owed federal taxes. Below I show a calculation for my own situation. The short of it is this: My federal taxes increase from ~7.5% of my income to ~31%. I will owe about $6300 more in federal taxes under this legislation. Like many other STEM students, my choices would be limited to taking on significant debt or quitting my program entirely.

The Republican War on College: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/11/republican-college/546308/

Trump's plan to tax colleges will harm higher education — but it's still a good idea: http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-tax-plan-taxing-colleges-is-a-good-idea-2017-11
- James Miller

The Republican Tax Plan Is a Disaster for Families With Children: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/11/the-republican-tax-plan-is-a-disaster-for-families-with-children/
- Kevin Drum

The gains from cutting corporate tax rates: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/11/corporate-taxes-2.html
I’ve been reading in this area on and off since the 1980s, and I really don’t think these are phony results.

Entrepreneurship and State Taxation: https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/feds/files/2018003pap.pdf
We find that new firm employment is negatively—and disproportionately—affected by corporate tax rates. We find little evidence of an effect of personal and sales taxes on entrepreneurial outcomes.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/26/us/politics/johnson-amendment-churches-taxes-politics.html
nobody in the comments section seems to have even considered the comparison with universities

The GOP Tax Bills Are Infrastructure Bills Too. Here’s Why.: http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-republican-tax-bills-impact-infrastructure.html
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Does European development have Roman roots? Evidence from the German Limes
The results indicate that economic development—as mea-sured by luminosity—is indeed significantly and robustly larger in the formerly Roman part of Germany. The study identifies the persistence of the Roman road network until the present an important factor causing this developmental advantage of the formerly Roman part ofGermany both by fostering city growth and by allowing for a denser road network.

https://twitter.com/GarettJones/status/888521595416793089
https://archive.is/ozKku
CC: @GarettJones this puts a new spin on deep history! Hard to explain...
I've got a theory, have a partial model but need some time to formalize it. I've called it the Radio Brain Hypothesis...
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Elon Musk’ Boring Company plans underground Hyperloop for New York-DC in ’29 mins’ | Electrek
For sure. First set of tunnels are to alleviate greater LA urban congestion. Will start NY-DC in parallel. Then prob LA-SF and a TX loop.
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Information Processing: History repeats
Brad Delong, in his course on economic history, lists the following among the reasons for the decline of the British empire and its loss of industrial superiority to Germany and the US.

British deficiencies:
* low infrastructure investment
* poor educational system
* lags behind in primary education
* teaches its elite not science and engineering, but how to write Latin verse

Sound familiar? What is the ratio of Harvard students who have studied Shakespeare, Milton or (shudder) Derrida to the number who have thought deeply about the scientific method, or know what a photon is? Which knowledge is going to pay off for America in the long haul?

Most photon experts are imported from abroad these days. We're running a search in our department for a condensed matter experimentalist (working on things ranging from nanoscale magnets to biomembranes). The last three candidates we've interviewed are originally from (1) the former Soviet Union (postdoc at Cornell), (2) India (postdoc at Berkeley) and (3) China (postdoc at Caltech).

Of course, these Harvard kids may be making a smart decision - why fight it out in an efficiently globalized meritocracy (i.e. science), when there are more lucrative career paths available? Nevertheless, I think we would be better off if our future leaders had at least some passing familiarity with the science and technology that will shape our future.

The future of US scientific leadership: http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2005/07/future-of-us-scientific-leadership.html
Does Globalization of the Scientific/Engineering Workforce Threaten US Economic Leadership?: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11457
Note Freeman's Proposition 2: Despite perennial concerns over shortages of scientific and engineering specialists, the job market in most S&E specialties is too weak to attract increasing numbers of US students. Nevertheless, US S&E pay rates are still high enough to attract talented foreigners. This competition further reduces the attractiveness of S&E careers to US students.

Foreign Peer Effects and STEM Major Choice: http://ftp.iza.org/dp10743.pdf
Results indicate that a 1 standard deviation increase in foreign peers reduces the likelihood native-born students graduate with STEM majors by 3 percentage points – equivalent to 3.7 native students displaced for 9 additional foreign students in an average course. STEM displacement is offset by an increased likelihood of choosing Social Science majors. However, the earnings prospects of displaced students are minimally affected as they appear to be choosing Social Science majors with equally high earning power. We demonstrate that comparative advantage and linguistic dissonance may operate as underlying mechanisms.

fall of Rome: https://twitter.com/wrathofgnon/status/886075755364360192
But if the gradualness of this process misled the Romans there were other and equally potent reasons for their blindness. Most potent of all was the fact that they mistook entirely the very nature of civilization itself. All of them were making the same mistake. People who thought that Rome could swallow barbarism and absorb it into her life without diluting her own civilization; the people who ran about busily saying that the barbarians were not such bad fellows after all, finding good points in their regime with which to castigate the Romans and crying that except ye become as little barbarians ye shall not attain salvation; the people who did not observe in 476 that one half of the Respublica Romanorum had ceased to exist and nourished themselves on the fiction that the barbarian kings were exercising a power delegated from the Emperor. _All these people were deluded by the same error, the belief that Rome (the civilization of their age) was not a mere historical fact with a beginning and an end, but a condition of nature like the air they breathed and the earth they tread Ave Roma immortalis, most magnificent most disastrous of creeds!_

The fact is that the Romans were blinded to what was happening to them by the very perfection of the material culture which they had created. All around them was solidity and comfort, a material existence which was the very antithesis of barbarism. How could they foresee the day when the Norman chronicler would marvel over the broken hypocausts of Caerleon? How could they imagine that anything so solid might conceivably disappear? _Their roads grew better as their statesmanship grew worse and central heating triumphed as civilization fell._

But still more responsible for their unawareness was the educational system in which they were reared. Ausonius and Sidonius and their friends were highly educated men and Gaul was famous for its schools and universities. The education which these gave consisted in the study of grammar and rhetoric, which was necessary alike for the civil service and for polite society; and it would be difficult to imagine an education more entirely out of touch with contemporary life, or less suited to inculcate the qualities which might have enabled men to deal with it. The fatal study of rhetoric, its links with reality long since severed, concentrated the whole attention of men of intellect on form rather than on matter. _The things they learned in their schools had no relation to the things that were going on in the world outside and bred in them the fatal illusion that tomorrow would be as yesterday that everything was the same, whereas everything was different._
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june 2017 by nhaliday
Backwardness | West Hunter
Back around the time I was born, anthropologists sometimes talked about some cultures being more advanced than others. This was before they decided that all cultures are equal, except that some are more equal than others.

...

I’ve been trying to estimate the gap between Eurasian and Amerindian civilization. The Conquistadors were, in a sense, invaders from the future: but just how far in the future? What point in the history of the Middle East is most similar to the state of the Amerindian civilizations of 1500 AD ?

I would argue that the Amerindian civilizations were less advanced than the Akkadian Empire, circa 2300 BC. The Mayans had writing, but were latecomers in metallurgy. The Inca had tin and arsenical bronze, but didn’t have written records. The Akkadians had both – as well as draft animals and the wheel. You can maybe push the time as far back as 2600 BC, since Sumerian cuneiform was in pretty full swing by then. So the Amerindians were around four thousand years behind.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/backwardness/#comment-1520
Excepting the use of iron, sub-Saharan Africa, excepting Ethiopia, was well behind the most advanced Amerindian civilizations circa 1492. I am right now resisting the temptation to get into a hammer-and-tongs discussion of Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Blood River, etc. – and we would all be better off if I continued to do so.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blood_River
The Battle of Blood River (Afrikaans: Slag van Bloedrivier; Zulu: iMpi yaseNcome) is the name given for the battle fought between _470 Voortrekkers_ ("Pioneers"), led by Andries Pretorius, and _an estimated 80,000 Zulu attackers_ on the bank of the Ncome River on 16 December 1838, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Casualties amounted to over 3,000 of king Dingane's soldiers dead, including two Zulu princes competing with Prince Mpande for the Zulu throne. _Three Pioneers commando members were lightly wounded_, including Pretorius himself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Rorke%27s_Drift
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Isandlwana

https://twitter.com/tcjfs/status/895719621218541568
In the morning of Tuesday, June 15, while we sat at Dr. Adams's, we talked of a printed letter from the Reverend Herbert Croft, to a young gentleman who had been his pupil, in which he advised him to read to the end of whatever books he should begin to read. JOHNSON. 'This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep to them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through? These Voyages, (pointing to the three large volumes of Voyages to the South Sea, which were just come out) WHO will read them through? A man had better work his way before the mast, than read them through; they will be eaten by rats and mice, before they are read through. There can be little entertainment in such books; one set of Savages is like another.' BOSWELL. 'I do not think the people of Otaheite can be reckoned Savages.' JOHNSON. 'Don't cant in defence of Savages.' BOSWELL. 'They have the art of navigation.' JOHNSON. 'A dog or a cat can swim.' BOSWELL. 'They carve very ingeniously.' JOHNSON. 'A cat can scratch, and a child with a nail can scratch.' I perceived this was none of the mollia tempora fandi; so desisted.

Déjà Vu all over again: America and Europe: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/deja-vu-all-over-again-america-and-europe/
In terms of social organization and technology, it seems to me that Mesolithic Europeans (around 10,000 years ago) were like archaic Amerindians before agriculture. Many Amerindians on the west coast were still like that when Europeans arrived – foragers with bows and dugout canoes.

On the other hand, the farmers of Old Europe were in important ways a lot like English settlers: the pioneers planted wheat, raised pigs and cows and sheep, hunted deer, expanded and pushed aside the previous peoples, without much intermarriage. Sure, Anglo pioneers were literate, had guns and iron, were part of a state, all of which gave them a much bigger edge over the Amerindians than Old Europe ever had over the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and made the replacement about ten times faster – but in some ways it was similar. Some of this similarity was the product of historical accidents: the local Amerindians were thin on the ground, like Europe’s Mesolithic hunters – but not so much because farming hadn’t arrived (it had in most of the United States), more because of an ongoing population crash from European diseases.

On the gripping hand, the Indo-Europeans seem to have been something like the Plains Indians: sure, they raised cattle rather than living off abundant wild buffalo, but they too were transformed into troublemakers by the advent of the horse. Both still did a bit of farming. They were also alike in that neither of them really knew what they were doing: neither were the perfected product of thousands of years of horse nomadry. The Indo-Europeans were the first raiders on horseback, and the Plains Indians had only been at it for a century, without any opportunity to learn state-of-the-art tricks from Eurasian horse nomads.

The biggest difference is that the Indo-Europeans won, while the Plains Indians were corralled into crappy reservations.

Quantitative historical analysis uncovers a single dimension of complexity that structures global variation in human social organization: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/12/20/1708800115.full
Do human societies from around the world exhibit similarities in the way that they are structured, and show commonalities in the ways that they have evolved? These are long-standing questions that have proven difficult to answer. To test between competing hypotheses, we constructed a massive repository of historical and archaeological information known as “Seshat: Global History Databank.” We systematically coded data on 414 societies from 30 regions around the world spanning the last 10,000 years. We were able to capture information on 51 variables reflecting nine characteristics of human societies, such as social scale, economy, features of governance, and information systems. Our analyses revealed that these different characteristics show strong relationships with each other and that a single principal component captures around three-quarters of the observed variation. Furthermore, we found that different characteristics of social complexity are highly predictable across different world regions. These results suggest that key aspects of social organization are functionally related and do indeed coevolve in predictable ways. Our findings highlight the power of the sciences and humanities working together to rigorously test hypotheses about general rules that may have shaped human history.

Fig. 2.

The General Social Complexity Factor Is A Thing: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2017/12/21/the-general-social-complexity-factor-is-a-thing/
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Annotating Greg Cochran’s interview with James Miller
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/
opinion of Scott and Hanson: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90238
Greg's methodist: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90256
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90299
You have to consider the relative strengths of Japan and the USA. USA was ~10x stronger, industrially, which is what mattered. Technically superior (radar, Manhattan project). Almost entirely self-sufficient in natural resources. Japan was sure to lose, and too crazy to quit, which meant that they would lose after being smashed flat.
--
There’s a fairly common way of looking at things in which the bad guys are not at fault because they’re bad guys, born that way, and thus can’t help it. Well, we can’t help it either, so the hell with them. I don’t think we had to respect Japan’s innate need to fuck everybody in China to death.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/ramble-on/
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/topics/
https://soundcloud.com/user-519115521/greg-cochran-part-1
2nd part: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:9ab84243b967

some additional things:
- political correctness, the Cathedral and the left (personnel continuity but not ideology/value) at start
- joke: KT impact = asteroid mining, every mass extinction = intelligent life destroying itself
- Alawites: not really Muslim, women liberated because "they don't have souls", ended up running shit in Syria because they were only ones that wanted to help the British during colonial era
- solution to Syria: "put the Alawites in NYC"
- Zimbabwe was OK for a while, if South Africa goes sour, just "put the Boers in NYC" (Miller: left would probably say they are "culturally incompatible", lol)
- story about Lincoln and his great-great-great-grandfather
- skepticism of free speech
- free speech, authoritarianism, and defending against the Mongols
- Scott crazy (not in a terrible way), LW crazy (genetics), ex.: polyamory
- TFP or microbio are better investments than stereotypical EA stuff
- just ban AI worldwide (bully other countries to enforce)
- bit of a back-and-forth about macroeconomics
- not sure climate change will be huge issue. world's been much warmer before and still had a lot of mammals, etc.
- he quite likes Pseudoerasmus
- shits on modern conservatism/Bret Stephens a bit

- mentions Japan having industrial base a tenth the size of the US's and no chance of winning WW2 around 11m mark
- describes himself as "fairly religious" around 20m mark
- 27m30s: Eisenhower was smart, read Carlyle, classical history, etc.

but was Nixon smarter?: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2019/03/18/open-thread-03-18-2019/
The Scandals of Meritocracy. Virtue vs. competence. Would you rather have a boss who is evil but competent, or good but incompetent? The reality is you have to balance the two. Richard Nixon was probably smarter that Dwight Eisenhower in raw g, but Eisenhower was probably a better person.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Energy of Seawater Desalination
0.66 kcal / liter is the minimum energy required to desalination of one liter of seawater, regardless of the technology applied to the process.
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february 2017 by nhaliday
Bad Math Props Up Trump’s Border Wall
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160304-us-mexico-border-fence-wall-photos-immigration/
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-01/israel-s-magal-eyes-trump-wall-boasting-gaza-tested-smart-fence
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-immigration-idUSKBN1591HP
this is great lol (convos w/ Turnbull+Mexican president):
‘This deal will make me look terrible’: Full transcripts of Trump’s calls with Mexico and Australia: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/politics/australia-mexico-transcripts/
TRUMP
Why haven’t you let them out? Why have you not let them into your society?

TURNBULL
Okay, I will explain why. It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product. So we said if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Noble [sic] Prize winning genius, we will not let you in. Because the problem with the people —

TRUMP
That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.

TURNBULL
This is our experience.
http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/09/wall-what-wall/
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Information Processing: The truth about the Chinese economy, from debt to ghost cities
1. 90% of China factory output consumed in China (not for export).
2. Export component of total GDP now relatively minor.
3. Build up in debt mostly in SOE sector, used to fund infrastructure and create jobs in wake of 2008 crisis (Keynesian stimulus).
4. Real estate finance not highly leveraged -- 30 to 70 percent cash in most transactions.
5. Ghost cities usually due to public + private partnerships in which private apartment developers complete buildings before public infrastructure (e.g., train or subway line) is in place. This leads to 1-2 year ghost city lag that is eventually closed. Follow up investigation of ghost cities shows that occupancy is eventually realized. (I've seen one example like this first hand, east of Shenzhen, where occupancy was indeed waiting on the extension of a train line.)

The Unreal, Eerie Emptiness of China’s ‘Ghost Cities’: http://www.wired.com/2016/02/kai-caemmerer-unborn-cities/
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Air Conditioning: Harmful?
As someone who has never lived with AC and is excited about whole house fans, it's easy for me to read things like this and feel virtuously smug. I'm so much better than those selfish people who keep themselves cool at the expense of the planet, go me! But my carbon footprint isn't actually lower than someone's in Orlando, because of heating. Heating emits less CO2 per degree than cooling, but in places where people live it typically requires many fewer degrees of cooling to get into the comfortable range.

There's a large ongoing migration from cold places to warm ones, facilitated by air conditioning, mostly in the form of having the vast majority of new housing construction being in the warm parts of the country. This is very beneficial from a climate perspective, and an anti-AC attitude, where AC is a luxury but heating is an unavoidable necessity, isn't helpful.
street-fighting  environment  data  rationality  essay  insight  len:short  cocktail  ratty  core-rats  infrastructure  energy-resources 
july 2016 by nhaliday

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