BRIEFLY NOTED: for 2021-03-11 Th

Things that went whizzing by that I want to remember...


True wisdom: the only way to win is not to play:

Duncan BlackThe Only Winning Move Is Not To Play: ‘Too many people try to earnestly engage the latest right wing nonsense (Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head’s dick) and when it’s this dumb, just point and laugh at them. I don’t know or care if any of them are sincere, but it’s so so stupid and engaging it at all is just feeding the trolls. Never feed the trolls, or a Mogwai after midnight.… LINK: <>


Very Briefly Noted:

Share Grasping Reality Newsletter, by Brad DeLong

One Video:

  • An excellent updating to a long, and depressing, discussion about how to yoke two very different animals to the front of the intellectual chariot: Gavin Wright, Shari Eli, Jonathan Levy, Trevon Logan, Suresh Naidu, & Caitlin RosenthalHistorians and Economic Historians in Conversation <>:

Eight Paragraphs:

We do not realize how unbelievable the cumulative technological revolution in computer hardware performance has been:

Charlie StrossLying to the Ghost in the Machine: ‘In the 2000s… cheap high performance GPUs put the processing power of a ten years previous supercomputer in every goddamn smartphone. I’m not exaggerating…. Modern CPU/GPU performance is ridiculous. Every time you add an abstraction layer to a software stack you can expect a roughly one order of magnitude performance reduction, so intuition would suggest that a WebAssembly framework (based on top of JavaScript running inside a web browser hosted on top of a traditional big-ass operating system) wouldn’t be terribly fast; but the other day I was reading about one such framework which, on a new Apple M1 Macbook Air (not even the higher performance Macbook Pro) could deliver 900GFlops, which would put it in the top 10 world supercomputers circa 1996–98. In a scripting language inside a web browser on a 2020 laptop)… 

LINK: <>

An attention economy is an increasing-returns economy is a winner-take-all economy. This is deranging, and destabilizing:

Kyle ChaykaThe Meme Economy: ‘I used to think that stability was formed by the slow gains of promotions and work, the respect of my peers and the establishment of authority in some field or another, even if not through salaried full-time jobs. My concept of a career has been replaced, however, with the framework of a series of increasingly arcane gambles within the digital platforms that contain our lives and our civilization. Any bet could outpace many years of work. We hope to land at the right startup, to buy the right coin, to be an early adopter on a new platform just before the audience floods in, to become a meme ourselves. For that is how it works: You go viral, thus you get a gig, get sponsorships, sell subscriptions, sell a book…

LINK: <>

Is our Capitol Hill Democrats learning? They is. Is media organizations like The New York Times learning? So far not a clue:

Scott LemieuxChuck Schumer No Longer Interested in Playing 3-Card Monte with Susan Collins - Lawyers, Guns & Money: ‘"Collins was not pleased to be singled out in such a manner. In an interview, she called Schumer’s comments an ‘extraordinary’ backhanding of his most natural ally across the aisle. And she said there’s been zero contact with the Democratic leader since the election: ‘He has not spoken to me, no.’ “Should we let Susan Collins make the bill substantially worse, or just go ahead and pass a better one” is not actually a hard question if those are the choices. And in terms of what this might mean going forward, I assume Schumer has also realized that, as his predecessor allegedly remarked, Collins “is always there for a vote you don’t need.”… [Now] even relatively moderate Democrats [are willing] to ignore Republican pleas to spend months and months negotiating before Susan Collins can announce that, in fact, her shop has no cheese at all and she was deliberately wasting your time…

LINK: <>

I have long wondered whether individuals who write to inform their readers might be able to acquire enough a brand to disintermediate newspapers and such that really work for their reporters’ sources, and when they don’t work for their sources work for their bosses, and when they don’t work for their sources or their bosses work for their advertisers. SubStack is once again launching the project of finding out why this might become so into the breach:

Elizabeth SpiersBlogs vs. Substack vs. Legacy Media: ‘Self-publishing on Substack is good for people who want to write commentary. And there’s no chance of ever cannibalizing op-ed writers from journalism because there’s just no shortage of people who want to be op-ed writers. But it mostly works well for people who already have a bit of a brand, either because they’ve written somewhere else or they’ve already built up an audience from scratch–and the latter is really hard to do. But if you can do it, the upsides of self-publishing are that you can write about whatever you want with no institutional or stylistic constraints. I write for traditional outlets like the Washington Post as well as on my personal Substack, but I have to pitch everything and I hate pitching. There are some pieces I’d rather just write on spec than write 450 words explaining what the piece is. And sometimes I get rejections and want to write those pieces anyway, if only for myself. Substack is good for that…

LINK: <>

A truly great paper:

J. Vernon Henderson, Tim L. Squires, Adam Storeygard, & David N. WeilThe Global Spatial Distribution of Economic Activity: Nature, History, & the Role of Trade: ‘We study the distribution of economic activity, as proxied by lights at night, across 250,000 grid cells of average area 560 square kilometers. We first document that nearly half of the variation can be explained by a parsimonious set of physical geography attributes. A full set of country indicators only explains a further 10%. When we divide geographic characteristics into two groups, those primarily important for agriculture and those primarily important for trade, we find that the agriculture variables have relatively more explanatory power in countries that developed early and the trade variables have relatively more in countries that developed late, despite the fact that the latter group of countries are far more dependent on agriculture today. We explain this apparent puzzle in a model in which two technological shocks occur, one increasing agricultural productivity and the other decreasing transportation costs, and in which agglomeration economies lead to persistence in urban locations. In countries that developed early, structural transformation due to rising agricultural productivity began at a time when transport costs were still relatively high, so urban agglomerations were localized in agricultural regions. When transport costs fell, these local agglomerations persisted. In late developing countries, transport costs fell well before structural transformation. To exploit urban scale economies, manufacturing agglomerated in relatively few, often coastal, locations. With structural transformation, these initial coastal locations grew, without formation of more cities in the agricultural interior…

LINK: <>

Boris Johnson has set his credibility on fire, and has no potential allies anywhere in the world for whatever he wants to do on international diplomacy or economic policy. But that’s probably fine with him, since he does not want to accomplish anything other than become Prime Minister:

Philip StephensSquandering Trust Is No Route to a ‘Global Britain’: ’By seeking to renege on his Brexit commitments, Boris Johnson has made the UK an unreliable ally…. Middle-ranking and smaller states seek… sheltering behind alliances, coalitions of the like-minded and multilateral rules. A long-promised foreign, diplomatic and intelligence strategy soon to be unveiled by Boris Johnson’s government must start from this simple premise…. International networks rest on mutual trust. Nations, like individuals, abide by the rules to the extent that others also act in good faith. Unreliable partners do not get to act as conveners. Which renders all the more inexplicable Johnson’s efforts to renege on the Brexit agreement he signed with the EU. The government’s move to delay implementation of agreed new checks on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland recalls a threat last year to repudiate the customs arrangements designed to avoid a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland…. Such things are noticed. Witness the remarks of Brendan Boyle, a congressional ally of US president Joe Biden. This was the second time, Boyle told BBC television’s Newsnight, “that this UK government has signed up to an international agreement and then immediately decided to go back on what it agreed to”. The move carried “all sorts of ramifications”. One of which could be a serious falling out with Washington. Biden has signalled he expects Johnson fully to uphold the Irish protocol…

LINK: <>

One of the major pedagogical and intellectual-presentational revolutions of our time:

Matt AsayJupyter Has Revolutionized Data Science, & It Started with a Chance Meeting Between Two Students: ‘If you want to do data science, you’re going to have to become familiar with Jupyter… best known for Jupyter Notebooks, a web application that allows data scientists to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualizations and narrative text. This proves to be a great way to extract data with code and collaborate…. It started with a friendship. Fernando Pérez and Brian Granger met the first day they started graduate school at University of Colorado Boulder. Years later in 2004, they discussed the idea of creating a web-based notebook interface for IPython, which Pérez had started in 2001. This became Jupyter, but even then, they had no idea how much of an impact it would have within academia and beyond…

LINK: <>

Duncan Black is making me remember days of horror and disappointment from 2009-2012. If the right-wing of the Republican caucus had been focused on achieving policies rather than simply dissing Obama by refusing to endorse any deal he proposed—they could have repealed a large chunk of the New Deal, given Obama’s desperate, desperate jonesing for a “grand bargain” on entitlements:

Duncan BlackSomebody Reads This Blog: ‘Back in the day, Obama’s people would respond to criticism about the size of the stimulus by arguing that there was a problem finding “shovel ready” infrastructure projects. People like stupid me kept pointing out that this was ridiculous as you could just start replacing the water/sewer systems in most of the country. Keynes’s “pay people to dig holes in the ground and then fill them up,” but actually useful and needed!… The rescue bill has quietly become an infrastructure bill. It devotes $350 billion to supporting state and local governments. These funds, initially proposed to plug COVID–19-created holes in public budgets, in many cases now exceed those holes. So the Senate has allowed states, cities, and counties to spend that money on imteproving services such as water, sewage, and broadband. Because many water systems are vulnerable to climate change and must be adapted, this is de facto climate funding. The bill also contains $31 billion for tribal governments and Indigenous communities, including line items for new infrastructure, housing, and language preservation. Progress…

LINK: <>

Hoisted from the Archives:

1997: The Corporation as a Command Economy <>: we were all told, back when the Soviet Union collapsed, that hierarchical organizations simply did not work as modes of organizing economic life—that you needed a market in order to achieve anything better than low-productivity, bureaucracy-ridden economic stagnation. What, then, are all these large corporations—ATT and IBM, General Motors and Toyota, Microsoft and USX—doing? What methods of corporate control have saved them from turning into smaller versions of the unproductive Soviet economy That our economy is populated by large corporations shapes how we live. Our social being cannot but be shaped by the one-third of our waking lives spent at work. Our politics would be very different without corporations both as sources of pressure an influence on politicians and as intermediaries serving the purposes of politicians…

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