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May 2020

Noted: Smalligan & Boyens: Paid Medical Leave Research

What we know about the importance and the benefits of paid medical leave, compressed and explained: Jack Smalligan & Chantel Boyens: Paid Medical Leave Research ‘Paid medical leave may have an effect on health outcomes… [through] improved health management, earlier treatment, greater healthcare utilization, improved income stability, reduced financial stress, and enhanced return-to-work supports. Research on short-term paid sick leave shows clear societal and personal benefits…. [In] provid[ing] return-to-work services for newly ill and injured workers… the most effective programs emphasize early intervention following the onset of a new condition or worsening of a chronic condition… #equitablegrowth #noted #socialinsurance #2020-05-13

Noted: Boushey: The Path to Recovery

It really is not too late to turn the coronavirus recession into a sharp V-shaped recession. But I would say that the odds that we are going to do so are less than 10%. Only a very small number of people with any access to the levers of power or the megaphones understand that the keys to rapid recovery lie in boosting aggregate demand quickly by enough and in ensuring that businesses are not sent miss leading "bankruptcy shut down” signals. Heather Boushey understands this. Only a small proportion of other people of status and influence in Washington DC understand this:

Heather Boushey: It’s Not too Late to Put the American Economy on a Path to Recovery ‘We know what we need to do in a recession...

...Unemployment Insurance, aid to the states, enhanced nutrition support, direct payments—and infrastructure and job programs—are the tried-and-true programs that stabilize the macroeconomy while supporting America’s families. Decades of evidence show these programs work. Now, in this package, Congress should ensure that the supports we put in place stay in place by crafting them so that they trigger off when the labor market recovers, and not before… #coronavirus #macro #noted #2020-05-12

Noted: Yes: Time Feels Weird Right Now

Emily VanDerWerff: Why Quarantine Has Made Time Feel so Weird, Explained ‘March felt longer to people because you could look back to the first half of March, before we were in quarantine, and say, “Oh, all of this stuff happened.” And in the second half of March, people were forced out of their routines, their flow. But April has been the same thing over and over, and retroactively, it feels much shorter... #coronavirus #noted #2020-05-12

Martha Wells Is Having too Much Fun Here...

Highly recommended. Martha Wells appears to have had an illegally large amount of fun writing this novel. Here a newly-created instantiation of Murderbot sets out on what is supposed to be a suicide mission. Murderbot's first person POV:

Martha Wells: Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel 'Obviously some things had happened since [the] A[--hole ]R[esearch ]T[ransport] had... cop[ied the old me to create me]...

...And ART was right, it couldn’t risk a comm contact, even to get intel. If the Targets managed to deliver the threat to kill ART’s crew, it would put them in control of the situation and we had to avoid that any way we could.

I said, "I’m not actually a human baby, ART, I remember the f---ing directive—I helped write it".

"You’re not making this any easier", ART said.

"You can either have an existential crisis or get your crew back, ART, pick one".

ART said, "Prepare for deployment..."

#books #highlyrecommended #noted #sciencefiction #2020-05-12

Noted: Morley: New Normal?

Neville Morley: The New Normal? ‘Microsoft Teams... [might] be... used for a seminar of 10-12 students, where a class of 150 is clearly a non-starter. But having now had a couple of department meetings via Teams, I’m sceptical.... [Is] online class discussion... what we actually need to prioritis[e?].... Might it be possible to get more people more involved—and even more so if it takes place asynchronously, so people have time to think and compose their answers, rather than privileging the ability to come up with coherent thoughts spontaneously?… #internet #noted #universities #2020-05-11

Noted: Kelly: 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice

Kevin Kelly: 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice ‘Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe. Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points. Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better... #cognition #noted #2020-05-11

Noted: Gibbon: Roman Tolerance

Edward Gibbon: Roman Tolerance 'The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord...

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Noted: Tufekci: Coronavirus and the Blindness of Authoritarianism

Zeynep Tufekci: Coronavirus and the Blindness of Authoritarianism 'China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country...

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Noted: Davidow & Malone: Dopamine Capitalism

A Precis of the thoughts that Bill Davidow and Mike Malone have been having recently on how modern high tech information age capitalism is increasingly finding it much more profitable to create evanescent and ultimately pointless desires then to satisfy durable and important needs: William H. Davidow & Michael S. Malone: Dopamine Capitalism ‘It is no secret that with the digital revolution has come many new forms of addiction, as users chase after social-media "likes" and other online stimuli. But less understood is the extent to which most of the tech industry now relies on behavioral manipulation to maximize profits at the expense of our wellbeing.... The powerful companies (and, in some cases, governments) that control the Internet have moved from accidentally or unwittingly creating human “robots” to knowingly doing so. Contrary to the usual warnings about artificial intelligence and automation, the biggest near-term threat to humanity is coming not from our machines, but from the people designing them. Those shaping the current technological era have violated the public trust by choosing business models that are openly amoral or even immoral. Following in the footsteps of the tobacco companies and the casino business, they are consciously creating and fostering addictive behavior in the name of profits...

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Noted: The Career of Gylippus

William Smith: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography & Mythology 'For all that we know of the rest of the life of Gylippus we are indebted to Plutarch (Nic. 28 ; Lysand. 16, 17) and Diodorus (13.106). He was commissioned, it appears, by Lysander, after the capture of Athens, to carry home the treasure. By opening the seams of the sacks underneath, he abstracted a considerable portion, 30 talents, according to Plutarch's text.... He was detected by the inventories which were contained in each package, and which he had overlooked. A hint from one of his slaves indicated to the Ephors the place where the missing treasure lay concealed, the space under the tiling of the house. Gylippus appears to have at once gone into exile, and to have been condemned to death in his absence. Athenaeus (vi. p. 234.) says that he died of starvation, after being convicted by the Ephors of stealing part of Lysander's treasure; but whether he means that he so died by the sentence of the Ephors. or in exile, does not appear. None can deny that Gylippus did the duty assigned to him in the Svracusan war with skill and energy. The favour of fortune was indeed most remarkably accorded to him; yet his energy in the early proceedings was of a degree unusual with his countrymen. His military skill, perhaps, was not much above the average of the ordinary Spartan officer of the better kind. Of the nobler virtues of his country we cannot discern much: with its too common vice of cupidity he lamentably sullied his glory. Aelian (Ael. VH 12.42; comp. Athen. 6.271) says that he and Lysander, and Callicratidas, were all of the class called Mothaces, Helots, that is, by birth, who, in the company of the boys of the family to which they belonged, were brought up in the Spartan discipline, and afterwards obtained freedom. This can hardly have been the case with Gylippus himself, as we find his father, Cleandridas, in an important situation at the side of king Pleistoanax: but the family may have been derived, at one point or another, from a Mothax...

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American Carnage: For Project Syndicate

The Project Syndicate people titled this "American Carnage": a good title. They also had to cut it massively. Here is the draft I am most satisfied with: J. Bradford DeLong: American Carnage ‘Throughout Donald Trump's presidency, it has been obvious that the American political system and public sphere are broken. But only with the federal government's embarrassingly incompetent response to the COVID-19 pandemic has that breakdown translated into a significant loss of life…

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Employment Population Ratio

Not as bad as I had feared it would be. But the Coronavirus Depression was here in April: BLS: Employment Situation Summary ‘Total nonfarm payroll employment fell by 20.5 million in April, and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The changes in these measures reflect the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it.... This is the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in the history of the series (seasonally adjusted data are available back to January 1948).... The labor force participation rate decreased by 2.5 percentage points over the month to 60.2 percent, the lowest rate since January 1973 (when it was 60.0 percent). Total employment, as measured by the household survey, fell by 22.4 million to 133.4 million. The employment-population ratio, at 51.3 percent, dropped by 8.7 percentage points over the month. This is the lowest rate and largest over-the-month decline in the history of the series (seasonally adjusted data are available back to January 1948).... Establishment Survey Data: Total nonfarm payroll employment fell by 20.5 million in April, after declining by 870,000 in March…

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Matthew Yglesias: Coronavirus Mitigation Could Kill Thousands. Suppress the Virus, Don’t Just “Flatten the Curve” ‘With the disease seemingly beaten back domestically, Hong Kong is now in a position to start switching emphasis to a strategy focused on border controls.... The city has a clearly articulated strategy that it calls “suppress and lift”: ease restrictions now when cases are at zero, but then clamp back down as necessary to push cases back down if they pop up. Taiwan has also had no new cases for several days.... New Zealand has not done quite this well, but the government believes it has successfully identified and isolated all of the country’s coronavirus cases and is lifting restrictions, on the claim that the virus has been “eliminated” in the country. South Korea’s outbreak is now down to single-digit numbers of new cases per week.... The United States, meanwhile, is moving to open up on the basis of a vaguely articulated assumption that settling for mitigation is good enough.... The United States has not really tried the strategies that have made suppression successful. To accomplish that, America would need to invest in expanding the volume of tests, invest in more contact tracers, and create centralized quarantine facilities.... Since the US didn't spend April doing that, trying to achieve suppression—along the lines of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, and New Zealand—would necessarily involve more delay and more economic pain. But doing so would save potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of lives and almost certainly lead to a better economic outcome by allowing activity to truly restart…

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Jo Walton (2004): The Dyer of Lorbanery (Spearpoint Theory) ‘There comes a point in writing, and it’s a spear-point, it’s very small and sharp but because it’s backed by the length and weight of a whole spear and a whole strong person pushing it, it’s a point that goes in a long way. Spearpoints need all that behind them, or they don’t pack their punch in the same way. Examples are difficult to give because spear-points by their nature require their context, and spoilers. They tend to be moments of poignancy and realization. When Duncan picks the branches when passing through trees, he’s just getting a disguise, but we the audience suddenly understand how Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane.... You certainly need to do a lot of set-up, carefully, towards what you want to do later, and the reason for that is so that when you actually get to doing it, it can stand alone at that point, be that point, because the spear needs to be behind it, and a spear-point supported right there with scaffolding doesn’t have any impact at all. It needs to be moving when it hits you, and it needs to have the spear already there, whether you and the reader built the spear together along the course of the book or whether the reader came into the room with it. And if you’re building the spear, you have to come by it honestly, even though you’re doing set-up, it all has to fit with what’s there it all has to work in its own context or you won’t end up with anything but a pile of splinters. And sometimes you don’t have room and it isn’t going to be fully there until afterwards, and I think it’s better to suck that up and trust the reader to think, to come back and re-read, to get the impact then, than to try to hammer the spear-point in when there hasn’t been time to build the spear…

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David Anderson: Cubic Fits & Department of D'OH ‘The first thing a data analyst trainee should learn is that playing with Excel’s functions and tools is a great way to get into trouble when you don’t have an underlying understanding of the fundamental data’s behaviors AND don’t understand the functions and tools core assumptions.  This is important.  The second or third lesson a data analyst trainee will learn is to not use Excel but that is advanced training. Why does this matter? It seems like the White House is using Excel and not understanding the phenonomenon they are trying to model. Eyeballing the data, there sure as hell seems to be a day of the week seasonality. But let’s go beyond that. If we were to assume that a cubit fit is an appropriate choice to model the data, and that we can project out of the current data to the near future so that there are almost no deaths on May 15th, that requires a What the Hell response…


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Things that have not aged well at al. From 2017: Letter in Support of the Nomination of Kevin Hassett to be Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers ‘Dr. Hassett has a record of serious scholarship on a wide range of topics, including tax policy, business investment, and energy. He has engaged on an even wider range of topics in the public policy debate and in his work at the Federal Reserve and as a consultant to the Department of the Treasury during the Administrations of President George H.W. Bush and President William J. Clinton. In addition, we appreciate that Dr. Hassett has consistently made an effort to reach out to a wide range of people from across the ideological spectrum both to promote economic dialogue and to collaborate on research and public policy proposals. For all of these reasons we believe that Dr. Hassett would be an excellent choice for Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and urge the Committee to move as expeditiously as possible to ensure that the Administration has the benefit of his economic advice...

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Trump Now Winning His Race with Bolsonaro for Worst Major-Country Coronavirus Response in the World

The United States is certainly doing the worst in the global north:

And here are my guesses of the overall situation:

One thing is clear: we now do fewer tests than and yet have thirty times the proportional caseload of the rest of the global north. And their economies are now recovering. Ours is not.

Daily Readings:

Max Roser & al.: Coronavirus Explorer

UCSF: Grand Rounds (Covid)

Worldometer: Coronavirus Update (Live)

Financial Times: Coronavirus Tracked

CDPH: nCoV2019 Updates

CDPH: News Releases 2020

Josh Marshall: Epidemic Science & Health Twitter List

NEJM Group: Updates on the Covid-19 Pandemic 'From the New England Journal of Medicine, NEJM Journal Watch, NEJM Catalyst, and other trusted sources...

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Jonathan Chait: Trump’s Use of Nonexpert’s Coronavirus Model Not Going Well ‘President Trump’s habit of promising unrealistically low casualty counts is one of the more inexplicable unforced errors in the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “One is too many,” he said on April 20, “but we’re going toward 50 or 60,000 people.” Just four days later, the number of confirmed deaths had already exceeded 50,000. A few days after that, he tacked on another 10,000 to the upper and lower bound, saying, “we’re probably heading to 60,000, 70,000.” That figure is already moot. Trump’s normal sales pitch is to juxtapose his results against a horrific alternative.... Why, this time, did he establish a target he couldn’t meet? Indeed, why did he throw out numbers that were obviously going to be exceeded very quickly? A chief culprit in the blunder turns out to be Kevin Hassett, the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers... Hassett is one of the subtler and more measured adherents of the supply-side creed, but this is a bit like being Santa’s tallest elf. In 1999, he notoriously co-authored Dow 36,000, a book arguing, via his own idiosyncratic calculations, that the stock market’s true value was massively higher than anybody forecast. (More than 20 years later, it remains well below that level.) Hassett is less kooky than Art Laffer, Lawrence Kudlow, or Stephen Moore, but... pinning your hopes to a Kevin Hassett spreadsheet turns out to be a giant error! Who could have guessed?

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Christopher Eisgruber: To the Princeton Community: The State of the University, and Planning for the Academic Year Ahead ‘We will be dealing with COVID‑19 for months or longer.  This University, like all of America and the world, must proceed accordingly.... Our ability to restart our in-person teaching and research will depend upon whether we can do so in a way that respects public health and safety protocols.... [About] laboratories, libraries, and other facilities... we are optimistic.... We are also optimistic about resuming on‑campus graduate advising and instruction this summer and in the fall.... Undergraduate education presents more vexing questions.... The interpersonal engagement that animates undergraduate life makes social distancing difficult. That is partly because undergraduates live in close proximity to one another, but even more fundamentally because they mix constantly and by design in their academic, extracurricular, and social lives. Many people have pointed out that COVID-19 infections are rarely fatal or even severe in people as young as our undergraduates.... Young people can, however, spread the virus to others.... To bring back our undergraduates, we need to be confident of our ability to mitigate the health risks not only to them, but also to the faculty and staff who instruct and support them, and to the surrounding community. We do not yet know enough about the path of this pandemic, and the medical response to it, to determine whether that is possible.... We are accordingly asking faculty members to begin planning now under the assumption that their classes will be online in the fall. In the event that we are able to resume residential instruction, we will be able to pivot quickly back to the instructional techniques more familiar to all of us—though we should anticipate that even if we can return to on-campus instruction in the fall, University life will be subject to significant restrictions for as long as the pandemic continues…

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Notes from Lockdown (from Project Syndicate)

I. Where We Are & What I Am Doing

As of now, the guess is that one person in 80 in California has or had the coronavirus. We rank 30th among the United States with 40 confirmed (and probably 60 true) coronavirus deaths per million. I am trying not to catch the disease, so that I do not then become one of those who spread it. I am going for long (isolated) walks in the hills of Berkeley and Oakland. I am watching lots of old movies. I am trying to let the orange-haired baboon who is President Trump live rent-free in my brain only between 8:00-8:15 PM, and spend only 8:15-9:00 PM thinking about coronavirus. And otherwise I am trying to play my position.


II. I Am, Right Now, for Relaxation...

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Note to Self: Heterogeneity in the S, I, R Model...

So instead of doing my day job this afternoon, I began wondering about how much the Susceptible, Infected, Recovered (or Not)'s suppression of individual heterogeneity affects its conclusions.

Suppose that people have different amounts of gregariousness/infectiveness. If everyone were like the most gregarious and vulnerable people the R_0 for the epidemic would be 5. If everyone were like the least gregarious and vulnerable people the R_0 for the epidemic would be 0. And suppose we have the population varying linearly between those extremes.

How much different would the course of the epidemic be than for a society where everyone was identical, and R_0 was 2.5?

The answer is: substantially.

If I have not made a mistake in my model-building or my python code—always an "if"—then the difference is substantial: 26% of the population escapes the epidemic for R_0 distributed between 0 and 5 with an average of 2.5. Only 10% escapes the epidemic if everyone's R_0 is 2.5.

The intuition is clear: By the time half of the population has been infected, an overwhelming number of those with high R_0's have been infected. Thus those who are still susceptible have personal R_0's much lower than the average. In the early stages, however—before any noticeable component of the population has been infected—the course of the epidemic tracks the average R_0 very closely. It is when it begins to fall off the exponential that the differences become apparent: not only are some of those who would be infected by exponential growth now immune (or dead), but those left who could be infected have lower R_0's than the average.

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Worthy Reads for May 2, 2019

  1. There are lots and lots of business practices that could and should be ruled illegal restrains on trade: Colleen Cunningham, Florian Ederer, and Song Ma: Killer Acquisitions: "This paper argues incumbent firms may acquire innovative targets solely to discontinue the target’s innovation projects and preempt future competition. We call such acquisitions “killer acquisitions.” We develop a parsimonious model illustrating this phenomenon. Using pharmaceutical industry data, we show that acquired drug projects are less likely to be developed when they overlap with the acquirer’s existing product portfolio, especially when the acquirer’s market power is large due to weak competition or distant patent expiration. Conservative estimates indicate about 6% of acquisitions in our sample are killer acquisitions. These acquisitions disproportionately occur just below thresholds for antitrust scrutiny...

  2. William Darity Jr., Darrick Hamilton, Mark Paul, Alan Aja, Anne Price, Antonio Moore, and Caterina Chiopris: What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap: "The white household living near the poverty line typically has about 18,000 in wealth, while black households in similar economic straits typically have a median wealth near zero.... The 99th percentile black family is worth a mere $1,574,000 while the 99th percentile white family is worth over 12 million dollars. This means over 870,000 white families have a net worth above 12 million dollars, while, out of the 20 million black families in America, fewer than 380,000 are even worth a single million dollars.... We... contend that a number of ideas frequently touted as 'solutions' will not make headway in reducing black-white wealth disparities... are wholly inadequate to bridge the racial chasm in wealth...

  3. An event coming on May 16: Preparing for the next recession is perhaps the most productive and urgent policy-analysis task op[en today: Equitable Growth: Preparing for the Next Recession: Policies to Reduce the Impact on the U.S. Economy - : "A Hamilton Project and Washington Center for Equitable Growth Policy Forum.... Historically, the U.S. has responded to recent recessions with a mix of monetary policy action and discretionary fiscal stimulus. However, since monetary policy options may be limited during the next recession, policymakers should consider adopting a range of fiscal policy measures now to help stabilize the economy when a future downturn inevitably occurs. This can be achieved with a range of fiscal policy responses aimed at expediting the next recovery through strengthening job creation and restoring confidence to businesses and households...

  4. In the real world, sometimes threats need to be exercised to move price, and sometimes they don't. I have high hopes that we will learn a lot about this from Antoine Arnoud's forthcoming dissertation: Equitable Growth: Automation Threat and Wage Bargaining: "One doctoral grant will support research on how economic inequality affects the quantity and quality of innovation, and whether technological innovations, in turn, impact inequality: Antoine Arnoud (Ph.D. candidate, Yale University) proposes to study a novel mechanism through which automation in the labor market might have an impact on wages through the threat, rather than the actuality, of automation...

  5. Greatly looking forward to what comes out of this: Equitable Growth: Equitable Growth Announces 2018 Class of Grantees: The impact of Antitrust on Competition: "Fiona Scott Morton (Yale University School of Management) will collect empirical metrics of antitrust enforcement outcomes to create a novel dataset, which she will use to analyze merger effects beyond prices such as employment, and to determine whether mergers in the high-tech sector are motivated by increased efficiencies or by the elimination of competitors...

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