Thinks 207

Notes for a Workshop on Polarization: by Arnold Kling. “Differences in beliefs are associated with friction, antipathy, and tribalism. People come to see the solution as defeating those on the other side rather than engaging with them. If our discourse is dominated by tribal antagonism, then the benefits of differences get swamped by the costs. Polarized discourse turns differences into a bad thing. Constructive discourse turns differences into a good thing.”

Shane Parish: “Good thinkers understand a simple truth: you can’t make good decisions without good thinking and good thinking requires time.Good thinking is expensive but poor thinking costs a fortune.”

Watched: Oslo (on Netflix), about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the 1990s.

Thinks 206

What We Learned Doing Fast Grants: by Patrick Collison, Tyler Cowen, and Patrick Hsu. “The original vision was simple: an application form that would take scientists less than 30 minutes to complete and that would deliver funding decisions within 48 hours, with money following a few days later.”

From The Economist on the 175th anniversary of the repeal of the Corn Laws. Donald Boudreaux and Douglas Irwin on free-trade tips from 1846: “Ending tariffs on grain lowered food prices and unleashed economic growth—and offers lessons for today.”

Jason Brennan: “The right to vote should be restricted to those with knowledge..Consider an alternative political system called epistocracy. Epistocracies retain the same institutions as representative democracies, including imposing liberal constitutional limits on power, bills of rights, checks and balances, elected representatives and judicial review. But while democracies give every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies apportion political power, by law, according to knowledge or competence…The idea here is not that knowledgeable people deserve to rule – of course they don’t – but that the rest of us deserve not to be subjected to incompetently made political decisions. Political decisions are high stakes, and democracies entrust some of these high-stakes decisions to the ignorant and incompetent. Democracies tend to pass laws and policies that appeal to the median voter, yet the median voter would fail Econ, History, Sociology, and Poli Sci 101. Empirical work generally shows that voters would support different policies if they were better informed.”

Thinks 205

An idea to simplify big economic numbers by using the idea of a nation-family: “For simplicity, the total money entering the [US] federal budget — call it “income” — has been scaled to be $100,000. Meanwhile…this hypothetical nation-family spends about $144,000 a year, exceeding the budget by about $44,000. Most of the expenditure goes to four big-ticket items: about $29,000 to pay for Social Security, $18,000 for Medicare, the same for Defense and around $14,000 for Medicaid.

NYT on historical fiction: “Part of the power of works of fiction set in our era comes from their familiarity. A present-day setting provides a recognizable foundation from which other less stable experiences might be productively explored: love, life, loss. But what happens when history emerges as the overwhelming force shaping the entire unstable narrative of now?”

Lord Acton: “Who are a free people? Not those over whom government is reasonably and equitably exercised; but those who live under a government so constitutionally checked and controlled that proper provision is made against its being otherwise exercised.” [via CafeHayek]

Thinks 204

Unicorn analysis (June 2021): by Elad Gil. “Over the last 8 months the number of tech startups worth $1B or more (“unicorns”) has grown by 43% from 487 Unicorns to 701. This is almost double the 361 unicorns in June 2019.”

The new 20-second rule: how to tackle screen fatigue and sore eyes. “Every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.” [from FT]

Timothy Taylor: Some Economics of James Buchanan. “When thinking about people coming together to take joint actions, whether they are buying and selling in a market, or starting a company, or operating together through government, Buchanan insisted on viewing the process not as actions taken by “the government,” but rather as the outcome of negotiations by groups of individuals.”

Thinks 203

From The Economist on China’s Communist Party: “The party has 92m members, or about 8% of the adult population. It is not an easy group to join, and admission is getting harder. Mr Xi wants to fashion it into a super-loyal elite, capable of taking on any task at the drop of a hat. Deng Xiaoping, who launched China’s “reform and opening” in 1978, spoke of separating the roles of party and government. Mr Xi has fused them, putting the party more firmly in charge. Ordinary members are now first responders to disasters such as covid-19, as well as eyes and ears in workplaces, neighbourhoods and campuses, alerting officials to potential trouble.” More: “China did not turn into a straightforward kleptocracy in which wealth is sucked up exclusively by the well-connected. Corruption did become rampant, and the most powerful families are indeed super-rich. But many people felt their lives were improving too, and the party was astute enough to acknowledge their demands. It abolished rural taxes and created a welfare system that provides everyone with pensions and subsidised health care. The benefits were not bountiful, but they were appreciated.”

And more from WSJ: “The CCP has survived because of its adaptability, but a generational shift from traditional values to more liberal attitudes could undermine its popular support.”

FT: “The economic emergence spurred by the reforms has led to the biggest and longest-run economic boom in history. In 1980, China’s annual gross domestic product stood at a mere $191bn, or $195 per capita, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. Nearly 40 years later, its GDP has increased 75 times to $14.3tn, or $10,261 per capita, in 2019. On its current trajectory, it may overtake the US as the world’s largest economy in about a decade or so. It is well known that such achievements are the products of economic reform. Deng Xiaoping, the diminutive political survivor who became China’s paramount leader in 1978, is rightly credited with a clutch of commercial liberalisations that included the de-collectivisation of agriculture, the opening of China to foreign investment, the lifting of price controls and the rolling back of state ownership, to name just a few. “

Thinks 202

Paritosh Joshi: From 1901 to 2011, what the census tells us about India’s population. “India’s population grew almost five-fold over 110 years.” And: “The demographic changes which India is grappling with, today and in the future, are rather different from the simplistic tropes of “explosion” fear-mongering. They pertain to the real and present dangers of populations beginning to shrink in several states. They pertain to a diminishing pool of people of working age, the “demographic dividend” which our leaders love to boast about. They pertain to an increasing burden of the aged and infirm on the society, economy and health care infrastructure. There are real demographic problems that need to be solved. But they are not what politicians are trying to scare you with.”

Rakesh Mohan on the need for a third generation of reforms in India: “The first condition for sustained growth is an enhancement of investment levels, both public and private. This would imply an overall increase in fiscal expenditure along with a shift in composition towards higher public investment for the delivery of public goods and services, which, in turn, would crowd in private investment rather than crowding it out. But buoyancy in the tax-GDP ratio does not reflect the sustained growth in GDP of the past three decades, particularly the stagnation experienced over the past decade. Focused attention now needs to be given, to increasing efficiency and compliance in tax-revenue collection so that India’s overall tax-GDP ratio rises to levels consistent with comparable international experience, to finance the needed enhanced public expenditures.”

David Perell: “You have to put ideas into your own words and explain them to others. Or, in the words of philosopher Giambattista Vico: “We only know what we make.””

Thinks 201

What the Crypto Crowd Doesn’t Understand About Economics: by Tyler Cowen. “Digital currency has always been a highly unusual asset class, but it won’t stay that way forever.”

Blockchain is puny, here’s the math to make it mighty: by Eli Ben-Sasson. “This fix is the adoption of cryptographic proofs…Instead of recording this data-heavy information to the blockchain, we write on the chain in a kind of shorthand — proofs which verify that transactions have been conducted with integrity. All the heavy computational lift, meaning the work done to obtain the proof, happens in the cloud, not the blockchain.”

Yascha Mounk defines 180ism as ” the tendency of many participants in public debate to hear what their perceived enemies have to say and immediately declare themselves diametrically opposed.” He adds: “The first and most obvious is that the primary question most participants in public debate ask themselves is not “How do my values inform my views on this matter?” or “What is the evidence for what is being asserted?” Rather, it is “How do I demonstrate that I am a loyal member of my political tribe?” As it happens, the easiest way to do that is simple: Look for what the enemy says on any one issue and stake out the opposite position.”

Thinks 200

Marc Andreessen: “Software is our modern alchemy…Software is alchemy that turns bytes into actions by and on atoms. It’s the closest thing we have to magic.So instead of feeling like we are failing if we’re not building in atoms, we should lean as hard into software as we possibly can. Everywhere software touches the real world, the real world gets better, and less expensive, and more efficient, and more adaptable, and better for people. And this is especially true for the real world domains that have been least touched by software until now — such as housing, education, and health care.”

Creating the Future of Work: by Steven Sinofsky. “Since the easiest way to predict the future is to invent it, I want to explore how knowing what we know now can influence corporations by offering a view of how software-defined corporations will be structured and operate. We will look at this from the perspective of the entire company (the CEO view), the team view (the manager), and the individual (the me-centric view). These are the experiments that are taking place and need to take place that will get us to a new model.”

FT on the power of a great mentor: “A mentoring relationship is a mutual one, because we never outgrow our ability to learn from one another..The work of advising, guiding and teaching someone along any stretch of their life’s journey has an element of sacredness.”

Thinks 199

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar: “On-demand reading, hearing, and watching have given wings to pay reve­nue. In 2020, for the first time, subscription revenues overtook advertising to bring in more than 51 per cent of all the money that mass media made, according to the Ficci-EY rep­ort. While a bulk of this Rs 63,100 crore came from television (TV), print, and film, it is on-demand digital video that is pushing the envelope here. India now has 58 million OTT subscribers. MPA pred­icts this will rise to 200 million by 2025. While many of these also double as TV, which has 168 million pay homes or print, the moment­um from on-dem­and has energised the market.” More: “Newspapers reach 421 million people a month, news television over 600 million and digital news about 454 million. Seventeen of the top 20 online news brands are from legacy media brands such as NDTV or Express, going by Comscore India data. They have continued to dominate this list. Many command way over the average time spent on news.”

WSJ: “[Ralph] Emerson’s remedy for sorrow, grief and depression was not to stay still. Don’t hold on to your pain and wait for it to work itself through—instead, get up and do something. Write your speech, compose your music, start your business or expand it; go at it, whatever it might be. In his essay “Self-Reliance,” he puts it this way: “Life only avails not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose, it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim.””

McKinsey: Top tech trends

Thinks 198

Joe Zadeh on the tyranny of time: “Contemporary society is obsessed with time — it is the most used noun in the English language. Since clocks with dials and hands first appeared on church towers and town halls, we have been bringing them closer towards us: into our workplaces and schools, our homes, onto our wrists and finally into the phone, laptop and television screens that we stare at for hours each day. We discipline our lives by the time on the clock. Our working lives and wages are determined by it, and often our “free time” is rigidly managed by it too.”

Shankkar Aiyar: “[Since 1991], Relative to its past, India has done well – from sub 5 per cent growth pre-reforms to an average of 7-plus per cent GDP growth. Since reforms, India’s GDP has vaulted ten times from USD 270 billion to over USD 2.7 trillion and its per capita income from USD 303 to 2,000. However, relative to other countries, India has lagged. China opened up its economy roughly the same time as India. Between 1991 and 2019, China’s GDP has grown from $383 billion to over USD 14 trillion and its per capita income from USD 333 to over USD 10,200…Economic growth is sustained by the virtuous cycle of income- consumption-demand-investment-growth. India has struggled to enable investment – indeed, it could be argued that deterred investment results in a large part of its consumption demand being exported. Structurally speaking, decentralisation accelerates processes yet India has persisted with a centralised system that suffers from bipolar disorder of authority and accountability. And this is worsened by the regulatory landscape…The Indian state suffers from lop-sided deployment of resources — it does too much of what it must not do and does too little of what it must do. To deliver on the promise of its potential, India needs to complete the unfinished agenda —install Gov 2.0 to enable minimum government and maximum governance.”

BBC: Past 7 years in India in 7 charts