Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Earth Hour

A yearly reminder that some environmentalists would prefer that we return to the dark ages.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Resilience, Grit and Learning

A somewhat related and hopeful, if tangential, article to the discussion of "safe zones" sheltering students from ideas (or White people) at institutions of learning (NationalPost) - resilience can be learned (WSJ):

He and Mr. Charney came up with 10 traits of people who survived war, assault and disasters, as well as less traumatic events, and ultimately thrived. These people tend to be optimistic—thinking things will work out—and are able to accept what can’t be changed and focus on what can be, he says. They recognize that even though they didn’t have a choice in their loss, they are responsible for their own happiness.

Although genetics plays a role in being resilient, it isn’t a huge one. Resilience can be learned and enhanced, he says. For example, people can develop a more optimistic view by cultivating friendships with positive people and challenging negative thoughts.

“When you change the way you are viewing things, it has a pretty big impact on all sorts of things,” Mr. Southwick says. It isn’t easy to do, he acknowledges.
Harvard researcher Angela Duckworth defines grit as being "the ability to persist and passionately pursue your goal of winning, whatever it takes." According to Ducksworth, when it comes to success, grit is more important than talent. (99u)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tech to watch: DNA nanobots to cure cancer

This is amazing (nextbigfuture):

In a brief talk, Bachelet said DNA nanobots will soon be tried in a critically ill leukemia patient. The patient, who has been given roughly six months to live, will receive an injection of DNA nanobots designed to interact with and destroy leukemia cells—while causing virtually zero collateral damage in healthy tissue.

According to Bachelet, his team have successfully tested their method in cell cultures and animals and written two papers on the subject, one in Science and one in Nature.

How high taxes drive away innovators

People respond to incentives. Even inventors (via ASI):

This paper studies the effect of top tax rates on inventors’ mobility since 1977. We put special emphasis on “superstar” inventors, those with the most and most valuable patents. We use panel data on inventors from the United States and European Patent Offices to track inventors’ locations over time and combine it with international effective top tax rate data. We construct a detailed set of proxies for inventors’ counterfactual incomes in each possible destination country including, among others, measures of patent quality and technological fit with each potential destination. We find that superstar top 1% inventors are significantly affected by top tax rates when deciding where to locate.

The elasticity of the number of domestic inventors to the net-of-tax rate is relatively small, between 0.04 and 0.06, while the elasticity of the number of foreign inventors is much larger, around 1.3. The elasticities to top net-of-tax rates decline as one moves down the quality distribution of inventors. Inventors who work in multinational companies are more likely to take advantage of tax differentials. On the other hand, if the company of an inventor has a higher share of its research activity in a given country, the inventor is less sensitive to the tax rate in that country.

The effects of the minimum wage hike in Seattle

More unintended consequences (Shiftwa)? Pretending that effects like these are accidents is either political malpractice or simple idiocy at this point...
Related: "The Minimum Wage and the Great Recession: Evidence of Effects on the Employment and Income Trajectories of Low-Skilled Workers" (Cato)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Falling commodity prices

Trying to predict commodity prices isn't dissimilar to trying to catch a falling knife - but it shouldn't surprise anyone how quickly neo malthusians were once again proven wrong (Reason):

Plunging oil prices have been big news over the past year. Since mid-summer 2014, the price for benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude has fallen from $105 to $48 per barrel. But it's not just the price of petroleum that has plummeted. The prices of lots of other industrially important commodities have also been dropping.

Erten and Ocampo also point out, "The magnitude of cumulative decline during the downward trend is 47 percent for the non-fuel commodity prices, with recent increases of around 8 percent far from compensating for this long-term cumulative deterioration." The recent upswing phase of the current super-cycle did not boost commodity prices to nearly what they were a few cycles back.

However, Erten and Ocampo report that metals have been an exception—the mean of the last cycle was higher than the preceding one. Still, they note, "The contraction phase of this cycle has not even begun yet, which can lower the mean of the whole cycle in the upcoming years." It now appears that commodity prices were just reaching their pinnacles when Erten and Ocampo were writing up their results back in 2011. Instead of peak resource production we are most likely now past peak commodity prices—and heading lower for at least for the next ten to fifteen years.

Bridge International Academies: privatized mass education in developing countries

Developing countries need more entrepreneurs and business selling solutions that people want and need vs bureaucrats forcing interventions down their throats 'for their own good.' This is exciting. From the WSJ - "For-profit Bridge International Academies is challenging the assumption that governments and charities should lead education programs in impoverished countries":

Bridge’s founders are challenging the long-held assumption that governments rather than companies should lead mass education programs. The company’s goal is to eventually educate 10 million children and make money by expanding its standardized, Internet-based education model across Africa and Asia.

The Internet and Barnes & Noble Inc. Nook tablets are used to deliver lesson plans, which are then used by teachers. The tablets also are used to collect test results from students scattered across hundreds of towns and villages and serve as a means of monitoring their progress.

“It’s like running Starbucks,” said Greg Mauro, a partner at California-based venture-capital firm Learn Capital LLC, the largest shareholder in Bridge with a 15% stake, likening it to the coffee chain with standardized systems and procedures that can be replicated across new locations. If all goes to plan, the American-run, Nairobi-based education startup will seek a stock-market listing in New York in 2017, according to Mr. Mauro.

The endgame of Chinese communist rule?

Cautiously optimistic... an even bigger question is what comes after (WSJ):

The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun, I believe, and it has progressed further than many think. We don’t know what the pathway from now until the end will look like, of course. It will probably be highly unstable and unsettled. But until the system begins to unravel in some obvious way, those inside of it will play along—thus contributing to the facade of stability.

Communist rule in China is unlikely to end quietly. A single event is unlikely to trigger a peaceful implosion of the regime. Its demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr. Xi will be deposed in a power struggle or coup d’├ętat. With his aggressive anticorruption campaign—a focus of this week’s National People’s Congress—he is overplaying a weak hand and deeply aggravating key party, state, military and commercial constituencies.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Piketty: About that inequality? Nevermind.

Piketty's correction (WSJ):

Though his formula helps explain extreme and persistent wealth inequality before World War I, Mr. Piketty maintains, it doesn’t say much about the past 100 years. “I do not view r>g as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century,” he writes, “or for forecasting the path of inequality in the 21st century.”

Instead, Mr. Piketty argues in his new paper that political shocks, institutional changes and economic development played a major role in inequality in the past and will likely do so in the future.

When he narrows his focus to what he calls “labor income inequality”—the difference in compensation between front-line workers and CEOs—Mr. Piketty consigns his famous formula to irrelevance. “In addition, I certainly do not believe that r>g is a useful tool for the discussion of rising inequality of labor income: other mechanisms and policies are much more relevant here, e.g. supply and demand of skills and education.” He correctly distinguishes between income and wealth, and he takes a long historic perspective: “Wealth inequality is currently much less extreme than a century ago.”
More here (WSJ): "Why Thomas Piketty’s Revisions Don’t Fix His Book."

Saturday, March 07, 2015

How automation will wipe out (private sector) unions...

It's pretty basic economics (Reason):

Forecasts differ on the specifics, but they generally point to automation being disruptive as far as traditional workplace roles are concerned. A recent Oxford University study put nearly half (47 percent) of all jobs at risk of replacement by automation in two decades. A Wired article puts the number at 70 percent by the end of this century.

Computers are getting smarter and stronger while employees, with their health insurance, pensions, and vacation time are becoming increasingly expensive. The writing is on the wall; plenty of jobs, at least as performed by humans, aren't long for this world.
I think the more interesting question will be how long we will tolerate the public sector unions who earn far more than their private sector peers and the politicians who have been beholden to them.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Turning beehives into honey on tap

This is cool (wired):

Beekeepers Cedar Anderson and his father Stuart have, essentially, hacked the honeycomb—a nearly flawless geometric and structural achievements—to make it more mechanically efficient. In a nutshell, Flow frames have a partially formed honeycomb matrix within a transparent frame. Bees complete the comb, fill the cells with honey and cap them. To harvest the honey, the beekeeper inserts a tool into the top of each frame and twists, a move that splits each cell in the honeycomb vertically, allowing the honey to flow freely. It is collected at the bottom through a tube. Presto! Honey on tap. [...]

“There’s more to bees than harvesting honey. Over one third of the food we eat is dependent on bees for pollination,” Cedar says. Without the help of bees, our crops would suffer devastating consequences, and with available areas for natural bee habitats disappearing each year, systems that make it easier for humans to look after bees are crucial.

Crossfit is great for entrepreneurs...

6 reasons why, according to Entrepreneur. I confess I require a bit of the external motivation that Crossfit provides (that is when I drag myself out of bed at 440am...).