Evening Must-Read: William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone: What Happens to Society When Robots Replace Workers?
Weekend Reading: Rick Perlstein in Democracy Journal on Why Jacob Weisberg's Reviewing License Should Be Withdrawn

Noted for Your Nighttime Procrastination for December 21, 2014

Screenshot 10 3 14 6 17 PMOver at Equitable Growth--The Equitablog


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Must- and Shall-Reads:

And Over Here:

  1. William Davidow and Michael S. Malone: What Happens to Society When Robots Replace Workers?: "Henry Adams... estimated that power output... between 1840 and 1900 [had] a compounded rate of progress of about 7% per year.... 1848... speed... 60 miles per hour. A century later... 600... a rate of progress of only about 2% per year. By contrast, progress today comes rapidly... semiconductor technology has been progressing at a 40% rate for more than 50 years. These rates of progress are embedded in the creation of intelligent machines, from robots to automobiles to drones, that will soon dominate the global economy.... We will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value. Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century..."

  2. Nauro Campos: The Riddle of Argentina: "Argentina is the only country in the world that was 'developed’ in 1900 and ‘developing’ in 2000.... Financial development and institutional change are [probably] two main factors behind the unusual growth trajectory of Argentina over the last century.... Some argue that the decline started with the Great Depression (e.g. Diaz-Alejandro 1985)... Taylor (1992) argues for 1913.... Yet by 1947 Argentina was still ranked 10th in the world in terms of per capita income and della Paolera and Taylor (2003) estimate that the ratio of Argentina’s to the OECD’s income declined to 84% in 1950, to 65% in 1973, and then to 43% in 1987. It rebounded in the 1990s but with the run-up to the 2001 crisis again reverted.... The PGARCH multivariate analysis reveals a robust positive effect of the development of domestic financial institutions (private and savings bank deposits to GDP) as well as a negative growth effect from the instability of informal institutions (chiefly general strikes and guerilla warfare). As for the indirect effects on economic growth (through growth volatility), the results support negative roles for formal political instability (constitutional changes) and trade openness.... The main lesson... is one that economic historians already knew... institutions do matter but among them, political institutions and financial institutions seem fulcral..."

  3. Heather Boushey: You can’t help today’s middle class with 1930s-era policies: "America’s families look very different today than a generation or two ago. Too many families fear they are falling out of the middle class or will never get there due to a combination of stagnating wages, rising and high levels of income and wealth inequality, and an increase in jobs with unpredictable schedules and too few benefits. Yet, our workplaces are matched to a very different time. The foundation for labor standards in the United States are grounded in a set of policies implemented in the 1930s. They include the minimum wage, overtime provisions and unemployment insurance. This basket of social insurance programs presumes a specific kind of work and family structure that was prevalent then, but is not the norm now..."

  4. Nick Bunker: Weekend reading: "Cardiff Garcia asks whether household formation... will pick up.... Matt O’Brien argues that the bad news [for the Russian economy] won’t end any time soon.... Paul Krugman points to the large private-sector debts that Russia ran up.... Neil Irwin... countries with large social insurance states have the highest employment rates. Danielle Kurtzleben... the stark gender divide in low-wage work.... Dietz Vollrath... [on] the difficulty of calculating productivity growth in the service sector..."

  5. Karl Whelan: Thoughts on “Teaching Economics After the Crash”: "This is a long post on the state of economics and how it is taught to undergraduates. The world is not crying out for another such discussion, so blame Tony Yates, via whom I ended up listening to Aditya Chakrabortty’s documentary.... Like Tony, I viewed the programme as a hopelessly one-sided critique of the economics profession. Still, it was useful in the sense that it packed all the regular criticisms about economics into one short piece. I agree with most of what Tony wrote but I want to take a different approach because I think it’s worth engaging a bit more positively with the criticisms raised..."

  6. Miles Kimball: John Stuart Mill on Being Offended at Other...: "In On Liberty, Chapter IV, ‘Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual’ paragraph 12, John Stuart Mill effectively downplays the problem of direct preferences over others’ conduct or opinions by arguing that preferences over others’ self-regarding conduct or others’ opinions tend to be weak compared to the strength of preferences over one’s own conduct or opinions: 'There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it...'"

Should Be Aware of:


  1. Chad Orzel: Method and Its Discontents: "I have a lot of sympathy for the defenders of method... calls to scrap falsifiability are mostly in service of the multiverse variants of string theory. And I find that particular argument kind of silly and pointless.... I’m sort of at a loss as to why ‘There are an infinite number of universes out there and one of them was bound to have the parameters we observe’ is supposed to be better than ‘Well, these just happen to be the values we ended up with, whatcha gonna do?’ I mean, I guess you get to go one step further before throw up your hands and say ‘go figure,’ but it’s not a terribly useful step.... I’m probably most sympathetic with the view expressed by Sabine Hossenfelder in her post at Starts With a Bang.... 'It is beyond me that funding agencies invest money into developing a theory of quantum gravity, but not into its experimental test. Yes, experimental tests of quantum gravity are farfetched. But if you think that you can’t test it, you shouldn’t put money into the theory either.'...I just don’t really believe we’ve exhausted all the options for testing theories, just because one particular approach has hit a bit of a dry spell. There are almost certainly other paths to getting the information we want, if people put a bit more effort into looking for them..."

  2. Paul Krugman: The Dr. Oz Effect: "There are a lot of [Dr.] Ozzes out there, including in areas you might not consider the entertainment business.... Conference planners tried to recruit me for an event in which I would be presenting the alternative view to the main experts--Arthur Laffer... who among other things warned about soaring inflation and interest rates thanks to the rapid growth in the monetary base... and the Stephen Moore who was caught using fake numbers to promote state-level tax cuts.... These ‘experts’ appeal to the political prejudices of a business audience, but taking their advice would have cost you a lot of money. So why isn’t their popularity dented by the repeated pratfalls? Are they, also, in the entertainment business? To some extent... yes. Simon Wren-Lewis... [says] the financial sector buys into really bad macroeconomics... [because] economists working for financial institutions... earn their money by telling stories that interest and impress their clients. To do that it helps if they have the same worldview as their clients. Thinking about Dr. Oz also... helps explain... [why] the right wants alleged experts who toe the ideological line, why can’t it get guys... recruit[s] and continue[s] to employ people who can’t do basic job calculations, or read their own tables and notice that they’re making ridiculous unemployment projections.... Anyone competent enough to avoid these mistakes would also be unreliable.... I now also suspect that the personality traits you need to be an effective entertainer on inherently not-so-much-fun subjects like health or monetary policy are inherently at odds with the traits you need to be even halfway competent.... A hired-gun economist who actually knows how to download charts from FRED probably wouldn’t have the kind of blithe certainty in right-wing dogma his employers want. So how do those of us who aren’t so glib respond? With ridicule, obviously. It’s not cruelty; it’s strategy."

  3. Simon Wren-Lewis: Bond Market Fairy Tales: "When it comes to an issue involving financial markets, then it seems obvious who mediamacro should believe. Those close to the markets surely must know more about how those markets work than some unworldly academic. This post will suggest a more nuanced view.... Are we talking about what may happen over the next few days or weeks, or are we talking about what will happen over the next few years? In terms of very short term prediction, financial market economists beat academic economists.... Those working in the markets are not as concerned about the longer term.... Money is made in predicting short term movements, and knowledge of where things are going over the next few years is a relatively weak guide to what might happen over the next few days.... Economists working for financial institutions spend rather more time talking to their institution’s clients than to market traders. They earn their money by telling stories that interest and impress their clients. To do that it helps if they have the same worldview as their clients. Getting things right over the longer term seems less important.... It is also useful if they leave their clients with the impression that they have some unique insight.... So instead of suggesting... markets are governed by basic principles, it is better to suggest that the market is like some capricious god, and they are one of a few high priests who can detect its mood.... The incentive system for academics is very different..."

  4. Benjamin Schwartz: The American Conservative’s Christmas Reading: "I’d read the cuboid book (848 pages) The Making of the English Working Class, by E.P. Thompson... the way that undergraduates too often read—too rapidly, for the purpose of regurgitating arguments in a seminar and to root out facts.... Revisiting it now... the book has given me the most exhilarating experience of my reading life this year.... How between 1780 and 1832 the culture, traditions, and economy of artisans, small producers, tradesmen, and the yeomanry gave way to wage labor, the factory system, and mass industrialization.... Thompson summoned up the causes, arguments, and stratagems of a nearly wholly forgotten political culture... industrial capitalism was uprooting communities, devaluing purposeful work, corroding family life, and concentrating wealth, resources, and production into... ‘but two classes of men, masters and abject dependents.’ Lost were the traditional values of liberty, independence, and individualism—and the open, confident, and generous approach to life those values engender. Won was a steely and resilient class consciousness.... This is a work, Thompson unabashedly makes clear, about history’s losers, and in its embrace of the losers, as well as in other ways, The Making of the English Working Class is a profoundly anti-progressive book.... Thompson’s historical imagination and sympathy allowed him to see the value, and the tragedy, of lost causes: 'I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand-loom weaver, the ‘utopian’ artisan… from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties. Our only criterion of judgement should not be whether or not a man’s actions are justified in the light subsequent evolution. After all, we are not at the end of social evolution ourselves. In some of the lost causes of the people of the Industrial Revolution we may discover insights into social evils which we have yet to cure.'"