Thursday Links 21-Jun-2018: the rise of market Autocracies, Uighurs, Taubes comeuppance, Scootermania

I normally do my links post on Saturday, but was travelling. So here’s one for Thursday to catch up, and I’ll do another this coming Saturday.

1. One-state regimes are embracing markets but remain autocratic. Tyler Cowen called this “one of my more interesting columns as of late.” I agree. It’s excellent. He argues one of the most overlooked innovations in the past 30 years is the radical improvement in autocratic governance. Some of this is driven by technology, with easier monitoring of people through social media and the internet. But fundamentally this is a revolution in governance possibilities, discovering market economics and autocracy are a match made in heaven. As Cowen points out, and I’m old enough to have held this common view:

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was a common view that if authoritarian or totalitarian regimes liberalized, it would bring an end to their rule. The collapse of Soviet and Eastern European communism over 1989-1992 seemed consistent with this prediction, as perestroika and relaxed travel restrictions caused those regimes to implode.

The big innovation in authoritarian governance has been this: subsequent autocratic leaders, most of all in China, have found ways of both liberalizing and staying in power. The good news is that people living under authoritarian governments have much, much better lives than before. The corresponding bad news is that autocracy works better than it used to and thus it is more popular and probably also more enduring. The notion that autocratic government would fade away, either in practice or as an ideological competitor to Western liberalism, simply isn’t tenable any more.

Another sentence:

At the end of the day the Party still does what it thinks is best, but it is no longer crazy to suggest that the Chinese government is, along many dimensions, more responsive to public opinion than is the U.S. Congress.

During the cold war in the US, Reagan Republicans believed in market economies and immigration. Democrats were market skeptics and pro-union (and worried immigration would hurt the working class). But both were cold war enemies of socialist economics and autocracy.

That era is long gone. Now Democrats are becoming a party of meritocracy and oppressed identities. And immigration! While Republicans are becoming nationalists for the white poor. Neither cares about markets and productivity. We are negligent of the wellspring of our success, one now lifting up the reborn autocracies. link

2. China continues to put muslim Uighurs in concentration camps and nobody cares. Ok. To be fair, people do care. Yet I can’t help but recall how this is exactly the kind of humanitarian crisis that would make headlines during the cold war. And nowadays, even when reported on, is rarely linked to. (insert get of my lawn joke here). That said, I want to do my part. So here are links and quotes.

Economist:

Timothy Grose, a professor at Rose-Hulman University in Indiana, puts the total between 500,000 and 1m, which would imply that something like a sixth to a third of young and middle-aged Uighur men are being detained, or have been at some point in the past year.

According to the 2010 census, Uighurs account for 46% of the province’s population and Han Chinese 40% (the rest are smaller minorities such as Kazakhs and Kirgiz). But they live apart and see the land in distinct ways. Uighurs regard Xinjiang as theirs because they have lived in it for thousands of years. The Han Chinese regard it as theirs because they have built a modern economy in its deserts and mountains. 

New York Times:

Xinjiang has become a police state to rival North Korea, with a formalized racism on the order of South African apartheid. There is every reason to fear that the situation will only worsen.

And Scott Alexander has a post on why we should single out this particular injustice as deplorable. His post ends:

This is my long-winded answer to a question several people asked on the last links post – why should we prioritize responding to China’s mass incarceration of the Uighurs? Aren’t there other equally bad things going on elsewhere in the world, like malaria?

Yes. But I had optimistically thought we had mostly established a strong norm around “don’t put minorities in concentration camps”. Resources devoted to enforcing that norm won’t just solve the immediate problem in China, they’ll also help maintain a credible taboo against this kind of thing so it’s less likely to happen the next time.

3. Gary Taubes has gotten his comeuppance. The journalist Gary Taubes has been an advocate of low carb diets, and a strong critic of shoddy nutritional science. Then in 2012 he got funded with $40M to do his own studies, and they didn’t work out very well. Taubes said they weren’t done the way they should have been. While his critics are glad he got his comeuppance. I’ve followed Taubes for years, and frankly am unsure about it, but am certainly less anti-carb than before. If this topic interests you, Wired has a good tick-tock on what went down. link

4. Netflix playbook for original programming. I liked Eugene Wei’s comment on this Netflix article: “Companies typically only share their playbook this publicly if they believe the competition is incapable or too dumb (or both) to replicate or learn from it.” Here’s the link, plus one bit:

Instead of grouping members by age or race or even what country they live in, Netflix has tracked viewing habits and identified almost 2,000 microclusters that each Netflix user falls into. While it’s not a direct parallel, taste communities are sort of like Netflix’s version of the demographic ratings used by traditional ad-supported networks, just more evolved. 

5. Scootermania finally gets to the US. Ben Thompson has one of the best posts: The Scooter Economy.  Here’s an obligatory scooter tweetstorm. And let me end today’s post with the tweet below. Which I think is exactly right. The correct answer is successful approaches in tech are always obvious, but only after the fact. Not before.

 

Saturday Links 9-Jun-2018: Facebook teens, Ozimek’s economy is alright, Ritchie’s Hypeology, chill out on banning plastic straws

Once again it’s Saturday. So here’s what I enjoyed reading this week, with commentary as to why.

1. Pew Research shows teens using Facebook less. Teens are way cool so Facebook is doomed. A narrative that’s been overplayed for at least a decade. Example. But now Pew has a survey (with real survey data, not just anecdotes) showing teens went from 71% usage in 2014-2015 to 51% usage now. And Facebook demographics are skewing poorer. This is convincing data, so maybe there’s something to it this time round. The chart below is from Frederic Filloux, who has a good write up on the survey. link

facebook pew.png

2. Adam Ozimek on not freaking out about structural economic factors. Ozimek’s econ piece is excellent, if (deliberately) dry. That said, his core argument here is outstanding. And applicable beyond economics. It is not enough to say something impacts the world, you must demonstrate what you’re freaking out about now is bigger than in the past. A far more difficult challenge. He nails the point as quoted below. link

Robert Gordon’s magisterial treatise The Rise and Fall of American Growth teaches that weak productivity growth today cannot be explained simply by pointing out mismeasurement, because every decade over the last 150 years has its own sources of innovation and progress that are mismeasured. It’s not enough to show that mismeasurement exists; you have to show that it is bigger than the mismeasurement in past decades.

The same mistake is made when we talk about structural factors affecting labor markets. Many commentators argue the labor market has little room to continue improving because structural headwinds will keep it less healthy today than in the past. This does not suffice; every decade the labor market faces headwinds and tailwinds.

3. AI Winter follow up. I linked to Filip Piekniewski’s post AI Winter Is Well On It’s Way last week. That post got 100k pageviews. And deservedly so! Now he has a follow up. It turns out my reaction (what about Waymo, is the hype fading not cracking) was similar to others, so he addresses those points in his follow up. After reading Piekniewski, my priors have shifted in his direction. Recommended. original post, follow up

4. Stuart Ritchie’s new book Hypeology coming out Spring 2020. Let me disclaim up front I’m a fan of Ritchie, postdoc in psychology at Edinburgh. His previous book Intelligence: All That Matters is the single best (and short) explainer on the current state of IQ I’ve ever read. And he does twitter rather well. So I’ll buy his book when it comes out. The announcement starts: “The Bodley Head has signed a book that exposes the ‘bias, hype, incompetence and fraud’ in the peer-reviewed world by Dr Stuart Ritchie following a four-way auction.” link

5. Fighting pollution by banning plastic straws is a dumb idea. Let me quote wikipedia on the bike shed effect: “A [atomic] reactor is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those who work on it understand it. On the other hand, everyone can visualize a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.” I see wikipedia has recently changed the name of this phenomena to the Law of Triviality. Things that are easy to understand get debated, while complicated things are ignored. Which leads us to people fighting plastic pollution by banning plastic straws. Quote: “Yet even if all those straws were suddenly washed into the sea, they’d account for about .03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.” link

6. Freddie deBoer on letting shoes be shoes. It’s short and good. link

That’s all for this week!

 

Saturday Links 2-Jun-2018: AI’s balmy winter, Malaria GMO mosquitoes, Marshmallow 2.0, Mass of life on Earth

Here’s links and commentary for this week…..

1. AI’s balmy winterFilip Piekniewski has a post arguing AI Winter Is Well On Its Way. It’s an excellent corrective to the past several years of AI hype. Recommended! That said, I didn’t find it completely convincing, though my objections are mostly definitional.

Continue reading Saturday Links 2-Jun-2018: AI’s balmy winter, Malaria GMO mosquitoes, Marshmallow 2.0, Mass of life on Earth

Saturday links 26-May-2018: Golden Rice, Algorithmic social feeds, Racism as original sin, Asteroid smotes flying birds

1. FDA approves Golden Rice. Mark Lynas is a former anti-GMO activist, who in 2013 changed his mind about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Quote:

It eventually dawned on me … that I was actually being anti-science in the way I was talking about GMOs, and that there are many ways a stronger scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs than there is about the reality of climate change.

One of the case studies that really changed my mind about this was the saga of golden rice, which was developed to be vitamin A-enhanced, because something like a quarter million children per year die from a vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries, particularly in South Asia … Greenpeace has been waging a campaign to stop this rice from ever being developed … You can make a pretty strong case that tens of thousands of children have died because they were denied access to this purely because it’s GM, and there is a ideological bias against that.

Continue reading Saturday links 26-May-2018: Golden Rice, Algorithmic social feeds, Racism as original sin, Asteroid smotes flying birds

Saturday Links 19-May-2018: AI GPUs crush Moore’s law, Europa plumes, Ice cores and Rome, evolving cultural brains

Here’s my Saturday weekly reads. Links to what I enjoyed reading, with commentary.

1. AI GPUs crush Moore’s law. Human intuition appears to be hardwired to linear  growth. Steve is a teenager, and if he grows an inch/year he’ll soon wind up as tall as his dad. But what if Steve grew exponentially? He’d match his dad at 6 feet tall in one year, be 12 feet tall next year, a mile high in 10 years, 1000 miles high in 20 years.

Continue reading Saturday Links 19-May-2018: AI GPUs crush Moore’s law, Europa plumes, Ice cores and Rome, evolving cultural brains

Saturday Links 12-May-2018: Google Duplex means…begun, the spam war has. Also genomics math, chokers are the best, hearing with a vibrating vest.

spamwars

It’s Saturday again, so here’s links/commentary on what I read and learned from this week.

1. Begun, the spam war has. The big tech news this week was the announcement of Google Duplex. Duplex launched with a demo of it calling a hair salon on the phone and talking to a human to make an appointment. If you haven’t seen it yet, pause and look, it’s worth watching. The computer sounds very human.

Continue reading Saturday Links 12-May-2018: Google Duplex means…begun, the spam war has. Also genomics math, chokers are the best, hearing with a vibrating vest.

Saturday Links 5-May-2018: Viral sex redistribution, Filipinos 700k years ago, Contingency of Marx, Marchetti’s constant, Email as micromeetings

My weekly list of good reads. With commentary on why I liked them. This week has more than usual, so let’s go.

1. Robin Hanson, sex redistribution, viral outrage. To recap, Hanson wrote a short post arguing inequality in the distribution of sex may be similar in importance to inequality in the distribution of income. His quoted the news of a self-described involuntary celibate (incel) murdering 11 people by driving through a shopping district in Toronto. Hanson ended his post saying “Strikingly, there seems to be little overlap between those who express concern about income and sex inequality. Among our cultural elites, the first concern is high status, and the later concern low status. For example, the article above seems not at all sympathetic to sex inequality concerns.” Hanson’s post now has 500+ comments(!). It started going viral with this twitter thread asserting Hanson is motivated by evil. Then Jordan Weissmann in Slate asked Is Robin Hanson America’s Creepiest Economist? Which was predictably followed by someone claiming Hanson believes “women should fuck violent men“, complete with quote marks around those words. Sigh. Ross Douthat at the New York Times wrote a piece influenced by Hanson’s post on incels and sex robots, which of course was misinterpreted as well, leading Douthat to write a twitter explainer thread.

Continue reading Saturday Links 5-May-2018: Viral sex redistribution, Filipinos 700k years ago, Contingency of Marx, Marchetti’s constant, Email as micromeetings

Saturday Links 28-Apr-2018: DNA joins the surveillance society, voting for status, music streaming, seagoing Neanderthals

Here’s links and comments on what I enjoyed reading this week.

1. DNA joins the surveillance society. This week police arrested a 72 year old man accused of 51 rapes and 12 murders between 1974 and 1986. He was tracked down using DNA site GEDmatch. How this works is you get your DNA results from a major company like 23andMe or Ancestry.com. It requires a court order for police to get that data. But once you have your own DNA data, you can also upload it wherever you want. Including an open DNA site like GEDmatch. GEDmatch now has about 900k people on file. And it’s free to use by anyone. While you share 50% of your DNA with siblings, it drops to 3% with 2nd cousins. The matches found on GEDmatch were 3rd and 4th cousins, which investigators turned into a list of about 1000 people who met the right profile. They narrowed it from there. Here’s a good explainer.

Continue reading Saturday Links 28-Apr-2018: DNA joins the surveillance society, voting for status, music streaming, seagoing Neanderthals

Saturday Links 21-Apr-2018 iPhone X survey, humans at sea, Huang’s law, housing, humans versus megafauna

Here’s my favorite reads from this week, with comments.

1. Apple Customers love iPhone X, except for Siri. Ben Bajarin at Creative Strategies published an ungated version of their iPhone survey, and no surprise people love the new interface. That is, the replacement of the home button with a swipe based interface, and unlock using Face ID. I agree. I also agree Siri remains the weakest aspect of the iPhone. No surprise there either. Has a nice chart summarizing the survey results. link

Continue reading Saturday Links 21-Apr-2018 iPhone X survey, humans at sea, Huang’s law, housing, humans versus megafauna

Saturday Links 14-Apr-2018: Facebook, China Tech fusing with government, Birds see magnetic fields, Media a side hustle for tech giants

Here’s comments and links on what I enjoyed reading this week.

1. Facebook Facebook Facebook. The 2018 deluge continues. Which aspects seemed underreported? I’d say: A. Only a vocal minority care about privacy. B. Hence privacy is weaponized in a proxy war for what people really care about — Facebook’s power over news and which political tribe wins. C. Regulations will likely backfire, locking in Facebook’s dominance. D. Facebook’s leadership has a natural cultural affinity to globalist, elite, college educated, status-quo power. E. Yet Facebook’s economic incentives derive from broad based advertising, making them natural allies to populist nationalism. Perhaps you noticed a tension between those last two. Continue reading Saturday Links 14-Apr-2018: Facebook, China Tech fusing with government, Birds see magnetic fields, Media a side hustle for tech giants