Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 21st, 2020

Dynamic Women of Early Jazz and Classic Blues

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Excellent article by David Radlauer, with many links. Just one of many ncluded in the article. Another, featuring Ginger Smock.

 

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2020 at 9:06 pm

Posted in Jazz

Another Tyler Cowan conversation, this one with Paul Romer

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Tyler Cowan talks with Paul Romer (audio at the link):

Paul Romer makes his second appearance to discuss the failings of economics, how his mass testing plan for COVID-19 would work, what aspect of epidemiology concern him, how the FDA is slowing a better response, his ideas for reopening schools and Major League Baseball, where he agrees with Weyl’s test plan, why charter cities need a new name, what went wrong with Honduras, the development trajectory for sub-Saharan Africa, how he’d reform the World Bank, the underrated benefits of a culture of science, his heartening takeaway about human nature from his experience at Burning Man, and more.

You can also watch a video of the conversation .

Read the full conversation

TYLER COWEN: Hello, everyone. Today I am  with , who needs no introduction. Paul, welcome.

PAUL ROMER: Good to be here.

COWEN: You have a  about the failings of economics. Let me try to defend the economics profession. Tell me what you think. If I look at the big catch-up winners over the last few decades, it seems to me it’s Poland and Ireland, and they basically followed a neoliberal recipe. They more or less did what economists told them to do. What’s the failure in that?

ROMER: By the way, what about China? China caught up pretty well too, but they followed some of the basic insights from economics.

COWEN: And the .

ROMER: Yeah. But the origins of that article were that I read some books that said economists got a lot more influence and things got worse in the United States, and this was a really troubling argument for me because it’s not easy to dismiss. What I concluded in that article saying we should do a cost-benefit analysis — look at the big things that economics has done well, the things it may have done badly, and just see how it works out.

The point you’re alluding to is something that my colleague, , has also made, which is that one of the areas where economics may really have been helpful is in the development process or the catch-up phase of growth. So that should go on the plus side, I think, on the benefit side of the cost-benefit analysis, no question there. And I think there’s some other ones that belong there too.

My point was that there may have been some things that have also been significant negatives, and it’s time to do the numbers and see what the net is.

COWEN: So if I ask myself, “What do I think has been the biggest negative?” I suppose I would say around 2000 date, economists for the most part did not understand the importance of the shadow banking system. What seemed to be a kind of ordinary real estate bubble, like the early 1990s, was far, far worse, and we totally missed that. That seems to be a defect of institutional knowledge, but you tell me what you think the greatest problem has been.

ROMER: I think this problem is an interesting one. I put a slightly different spin on it, but I think it’s in the class of things of a failure to understand or incomplete understanding. I don’t think that’s a sign of a science that’s failed. That’s a sign of a science which is just making progress. There’s some things it knows and things it doesn’t know. So I don’t view this one as a sign of a systemic problem that we’re not doing it right, in a sense.

For what it’s worth, we can come back and talk about this, but I think the lesson from the financial crisis, which we’re learning again now, is one about the fragility of extensive interconnection. We’ve paid attention to optimize efficiency with massive reliance on specialization and these complicated supply chains.

But the growth, the proliferation of connection means that our system is more fragile than we realize. A shock comes, and things happen that we didn’t anticipate. But again, that’s part of learning about a very new type of economy which is changing in real time.

The ones that struck me as being particularly worrisome were, first, I think the negative effect that economists have had in terms of protecting competition. Through the law and economics movement, we ratified this notion that big is okay as long as you can make some case that it’s efficient.

The upshot is, is that I think because of technical economics and the arguments of economists, antitrust is much more tolerant now of dominant firms, and if we believe that competition’s good in a whole bunch of ways, this could actually be very, very harmful. So that’s one.

COWEN: Doesn’t Amazon look pretty good right now in the midst of the pandemic? Do you wish we had split it up into different parts?

ROMER: My sense is that we’d be better off if we had five Amazons instead of one. And I don’t see why we couldn’t have five Amazons if we, as voters, say, “This is the kind of society we want to live in. Let’s just aim for that.” And same thing — the more worrisome positions are those of the tech firms that are so deeply connected now to many aspects of our lives and where there’s really very little competition and a lot of opacity about what these firms actually do.

COWEN: Let me try to defend the economics profession a bit more. If we look at climate policy, a lot of economists have recommended a carbon tax — not quite a consensus, but a very common view. Now, of course we haven’t done it, but it seems to me the profession, in some manner, is essentially correct there. So you would side with the profession on that?

ROMER: Yeah. Again, in some sense, the main point of the article that I’m making is that economists need to accept that our role is that of the technical adviser. We can say, “If you apply a carbon tax, carbon emissions will go down. Here’s what other effects we think they’ll have. But it’s up to you, the voters, to decide whether you want to follow that policy or not.”

So, if the voters don’t follow us, I think, to a first approximation, that’s not really our responsibility. And what I’m critical of is this tendency for economists to assume the responsibility of philosopher king and say to voters, “Well, we know better what a society should be like, what society should do. Listen to us. We’ll tell you the way things should be. We’ll tell you what you should do.”

And, in truth, I think we get into that mode a lot more than we realize. Certainly, some members of the profession get into that mode. And I think they’ve done, really, quite a bit of harm when they did that.

COWEN: When you, as a voter, judge policies, what normative or philosophical standard do you use? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2020 at 7:33 pm

What Kind of Country Do We Want?

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Marilynne Robinson writes in the NY Review of Books:

In my odd solitude I stream the America of recent memory. The pretext for drama, in the foreground, seems always to be a homicide, but around and beyond the forensic stichomythia that introduces character and circumstance there is a magnificent country, a virtual heaven. In a dystopian future, children would surely ask what it was like to live in such a country. Candid memory would say, By no means as wonderful as it should have been, even granting the broad streaks of pain in its history. Before there was a viral crisis whose reality forced itself on our notice, there were reports of declines of life expectancy in America, rising rates of suicide, and other “deaths of despair.” This is surely evidence of another crisis, though it was rarely described as such. The novel coronavirus has the potential for mitigation, treatment, and ultimately prevention. But a decline in hope and purpose is a crisis of civilization requiring reflection and generous care for the good of the whole society and its place in the world. We have been given the grounds and opportunity to do some very basic thinking.

Without an acknowledgment of the grief brought into the whole world by the coronavirus, which is very much the effect of sorrows that plagued the world before this crisis came down on us, it might seem like blindness or denial to say that the hiatus prompted by the crisis may offer us an opportunity for a great emancipation, one that would do the whole world good. The snare in which humanity has been caught is an economics—great industry and commerce in service to great markets, with ethical restraint and respect for the distinctiveness of cultures, including our own, having fallen away in eager deference to profitability. This is not new, except for the way an unembarrassed opportunism has been enshrined among the laws of nature and has flourished destructively in the near absence of resistance or criticism. Options now suddenly open to us would have been unthinkable six months ago. The prestige of what was until very lately the world economic order lingers on despite the fact that the system itself is now revealed as a tenuous set of arrangements that have been highly profitable for some people but gravely damaging to the world. These arrangements have been exposed as not really a system at all—insofar as that word implies stable, rational, intentional, defensible design.

Here is the first question that must be asked: What have we done with America? Over the decades we have consented, passively for the most part, to a kind of change that has made this country a disappointment to itself, an imaginary prison with real prisoners in it. Now those imaginary walls have fallen, if we choose to notice. We can consider what kind of habitation, what kind of home, we want this country to be.

No theoretical language I know of serves me in describing or interpreting this era of American unhappiness, the drift away from the purpose and optimism that generally led the development of the society from its beginnings. This can be oversimplified and overstated, but the United States did attract immigrants by the tens of millions. It did create great cities and institutions as well as a distinctive culture that has been highly influential throughout the world. Until recently it sustained a generally equitable, decent government that gave it plausible claims to answering to the ideals of democracy. This is a modest statement of the energies that moved the generations. Optimism is always the primary justification for its own existence. It can seem naive until it is gone. The assumption that things can get better, with the expectation that they should, creates the kind of social ferment that yields progress. If we want to avoid the word “progress,” then call it the creative unrest that made 2019 an advance on 1919.

In recent decades, which have been marked by continuous, disruptive change and by technological innovation that has reached assertively into every area of life, a particular economics has become a Theory of Everything, subordinating all other considerations to some form of cost-benefit analysis that silently insinuates special definitions of both cost and benefit. If neither of these is precisely monetizable—calories might have to stand in for currency in primordial transactions—personal advantage, again subject to a highly special definition, is seen as the one thing at stake in human relations. The profit motive has been implanted in our deepest history as a species, in our very DNA.

This kind of thinking has discredited ideals like selflessness and generosity as hypocritical or self-deceived, or in any case as inefficiencies that impede the natural economy of self-interest—somehow persisting through all the millennia that might have been expected to winnow out inefficiencies, if the pervasiveness of this one motive is granted. I consider the American university to be among the highest achievements of Western civilization. And I know at the same time that varieties of nonsense that would not last ten minutes if history or experience were consulted can flourish there, and propagate, since our entire professional class, notably teachers, go to university. There has always been learned nonsense, of course. But when angels danced on the heads of pins, at least the aesthetic imagination was brought into play.

Much American unhappiness has arisen from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2020 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Daily life

Kite-flying with flair

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Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2020 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Video

More Memphis Meats Musings

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Memphis Meats makes meat — that is, if you look at their beef, you see beef muscle cells growing in the usual structure of beef muscle. Thus what they produce is not “imitation” meat like Beyond Meat and its ilk. Memphis Meat is meat, but vat-grown rather than field-grown (or pen-raised).

All foods result from a process (of growth, harvesting, etc.), so the term “processed food” is for some quite puzzling. Normally, that term has been applied to foods that are the result of deconstructing natural foods, whose various components (such as taking the head of a wheat plant and breaking it up into chaff, wheat bran, wheat germ, and wheat flour) and then combining some components (wheat flour, say) with components from other foods (e.g., corn oil, refined sugar) and with flavorings, colors, and preservatives — and salt, don’t forget salt — to make a product food that can be packaged and has a long shelf-life. The resulting product food is unlike the foods from which it was derived.

Memphis Meats beef, in contrast, consists of growing, rather than deconstructing, the food to be delivered. Memphis Meats beef is more akin to tomatoes grown indoors in a hydroponic garden, away from dirt and insects (and insecticides) and airborne pollutants (various kinds of dust). They are still tomatoes, but they have never tasted dirt nor been victims of storm, insects, and the various poisons applied to outdoor crops. Just as tomatoes from a hydroponic indoor garden are real tomatoes, so is Memphis Meats beef, grown indoors in vats, real beef: the muscle fibers grown in the vat medium just as the muscle fibers grown in a cow.

The big difference is that Memphis Meat does not take so much land, does not pollute the environment so much, does not take so long, does not require so much transport, and does not involve killing an animal. I can see a future in which the consumer is asked, “Do you want killed meat? or grown meat?” (PETA, BTW, should be totally on board with Memphis Meats since no animals are harmed in the making of that product.)

I suggest the large rooms of vats with the growing meat have soothing classical music piped in so that when consumer tours occur the inevitable iPhone videos will have a nice soundtrack.

And in fact an interesting video commercial could be made to contrast the clean, well-lighted vat rooms, with their quiet and soothing music with the sounds and activity of a slaughterhouse in action, something that the killed-meat industry is not eager to display (for some reason).

I do think that the traditional killed-meat producers will fight Memphis Meats tooth and nail unless Memphis Meats finds a way to bring them inside the process. (Example: Fisher once made carriages, but when the automobile came along they found a new niche: making automobile bodies: “Body by Fisher” was once a tagline for well-crafted automobiles.) Perhaps ranchers could find a way to grow the plants and prepare the medium for the grown meat, perhaps slaughterhouses could be purchased and refurbished as vat farms for growing beef instead of killing cows (since slaughterhouses are located at the hub of the existing distribution system, that would help in getting grown meat to market: existing supply chains could be utilized).

I do understand some will not want to eat meat unless it involves killing an animal to get it, but if the meat’s the same, many will see advantages to grown meat. In time one significant advantage in time will be much lower cost, since the growing operation can be scaled and does not involve so much land, so much time, so much labor, so much transportation, so much waste (much of the animal is not edible and some of the animal is downright unsanitary).

Memphis Meat is the future, but it is a future that will be fought by those who kill and cut apart animals for profit.

In Canada, you can view Meat the Future easily. I’m not sure where you can see it in the US. Here’s the IMDB entry.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2020 at 9:56 am

Barrister & Mann Reserve Spice, with Rockwell

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Again a brush with a highly graspable knob at its base, this being a Maggard Razors 22mm synthetic. (I wish Phoenix Artisan would offer some of their brushes in 22mm). Again a superb lather from Barrister & Mann’s Reserve, and the Spice fragrance is very nice.

The Rockwell 6S is an acme of razors, and the shave it delivers is sublime. Three passes, perfect smoothness, no damage, and then a good splash of Reserve Spice aftershave. A good day has already begun.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2020 at 9:03 am

Posted in Shaving

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