The innovation agenda

Ezra Klein has a column about the coronavirus agenda of economist Alex Tabarrok: Here’s a question I’ve been mulling in recent months: Is Alex Tabarrok right? Are people dying because our coronavirus response is far too conservative? I don’t mean conservative in the politicized, left-right sense. Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University and a …

Loss aversion and politics

I was thinking this week about political economy and status quo bias, specifically how cognitive biases could fit into Mancur Olson-style models of bargaining. Well, there is a literature on everything, per Cowen’s second law, and sure enough here’s a paper by Alberto Alesina and Francesca Passarelli on loss aversion in politics. Here are some …

Parsing US vaccine forecasts

This post is an experiment based on a simple idea: Readers care about the future; crowdsourced forecasts are one relatively reliable way to predict the future; so journalists should use those forecasts as grist for journalism. What might that look like? President Biden has said all adults in the US will be eligible to get …

Sorting vs. synthesis

Tech analyst Ben Thompson likes to say that the internet is about abundance not scarcity. The most successful internet platforms take advantage of this, organizing the abundance into feeds and results pages. Thompson calls these platforms aggregators. It’s striking how influential this model has become: aggregation is about scanning a lot of content, on your …

The iron rule of explanation

Last year I posted about an Aeon article by the philosopher Michael Strevens, about the scientific method. That was based on his book The Knowledge Machine which I’ve since read. I’ve been posting a lot in the past year about theory vs. evidence and epistemology in general and I really recommend this book. Of all …

Lockdowns and spending

I’ve been thinking about what economic growth will look like in 2021, partly for work and partly for Good Judgment’s forecasting tournament. One question within that is how much lockdowns affect total consumer spending. Tracktherecovery.org makes it easy to explore this question. That chart shows consumer spending and time spent outside the home for Americans, …

Innovation and safety nets

Joseph Henrich in The WEIRDest People in the World: Such broader and stronger safety nets would have sharpened the population’s cognitive and social skills on average. These psychological effects, along with the greater independence from families and churches that such insurance gives individuals, help explain why stronger safety nets promote more innovation, both in preindustrial …

The psychology of competition

From anthropologist Joseph Henrich’s recent book The WEIRDest People In the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous: That differing effects of intergroup vs. within-group competition help us understand why “competition” has both positive and negative connotations. Unregulated and unmonitored, firms facing intense intergroup competition will start violently sabotaging each other while …

Only empirical evidence counts

Michael Stevens, a philosopher, writing at Aeon: Indeed, I conjecture, modern science arose in the 17th century, in the course of the so-called Scientific Revolution, precisely because it stumbled upon the extraordinary motivating power of ‘only empirical evidence counts’ – a story I tell in my book The Knowledge Machine (2020). For thousands of years, …