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Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen is an American economist, academic, and writer. He occupies the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and is co-author, with Alex Tabarrok, of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. Cowen and Tabarrok have also ventured into online education by starting Marginal Revolution University. He currently writes the "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times, and he also writes for such publications as The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Newsweek, and the Wilson Quarterly.

Articles by Tyler Cowen

Computational sentences to ponder

10 hours ago

From a very smart correspondent:
“incidentally forgot to say that this is
basically the death of the
“extended Church-Turing hypothesis”
which roughly states that all reasonable computational models can be simulated on a Turing machine with only polynomial cost.  but it now sure looks like quantum computers are physically realisable and are non-polynomially faster
– in other words we now almost certainly know that computational complexity does depend on laws of physics”
The indentation was his, and with reference to this earlier reported quantum computational result from China.
The post Computational sentences to ponder appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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So what does Friday bring us?

13 hours ago

Researchers in China have claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy, building a quantum computer capable of carrying out calculations trillions of times faster than today’s most powerful supercomputers…the computer, developed by a team of scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China in central Hefei, completed a calculation almost 100tn times quicker than existing supercomputers. The breakthrough comes a year after Google proclaimed itself the first to reach the milestone with its Sycamore machine. According to Lu Chaoyang, a professor in charge of the experiment at USTC, the Chinese computer achieved the breakthrough by manipulating particles of light.
Ho hum! Here is the FT article, more here, via John-March Russell here is extensive Scott Aaronson commentary, with

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Selfish corporations, and does thinking about business make you like it more?

13 hours ago

Alas, maybe not!  (Try a love letter instead…)
From Emanuele Colonnelli and Niels Joachim Gormsen:
We conduct representative large-scale surveys of U.S. citizens aimed at measuring perceptions of large corporations’ environmental, social, and governance performance and investigate how these perceptions affect the public support for economic policies. The public demands corporations to behave better within society, a sentiment we label “big business discontent.”We experimentally vary individual perceptions by showing animated videos that highlight the“good” and the “bad” of corporate behavior in recent years. We show that higher big business discontent lowers support for corporate bailouts. The effects are present across the whole political spectrum, but they are stronger for liberals than

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Friday assorted links

16 hours ago

1. ““[The plan] asks faculty members, some of whom have lived their entire adult lives working and teaching at Yale, to make a sudden life-changing decision in a matter of months in return for a cash payment,” the draft report reads.”  And they are outraged by that fact, link here.  Just imagine what getting fired must be like.
2. Toward a public choice theory of the Clintons.
3. “Beavers have built a dam on Exmoor for the first time in more than 400 years.”
4. New Proust stories appearing in English for the first time order them here.
5. Gaming vaccine distribution?  And how epidemiologists have changed/will change their behavior (NYT).
6. Financial predictors of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
7. The Lancet published this b.s.?
8. ““As a child I saw it as a totally normal name,” said Mr

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Covid-19 as a Ramsey tax problem

1 day ago

So many commentators cite lives, hospitalizations, and so on, as measuring the costs of the pandemic, and I understand that those are the rules of engagement, and furthermore I know that welfare economics is not the only relevant normative approach.
Nonetheless let us try to apply welfare economics for just a moment.  In that framework what counts as a cost is deadweight loss (no sick pun intended, nor recursively).
Look at it as a public finance problem. The total deadweight loss stems from the size of the “pandemic taxes” or “risk mark-ups” being applied to various human activities, then magnified by elasticities of adjustment, and quite possibly further social externalities from the collapse of critical scale (e.g., it is not just that movie-going might be dangerous, you can no longer

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China fact of the day

1 day ago

Following an FBI investigation this summer, more than 1,000 researchers who had hidden their affiliation with the Chinese military fled the United States, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
Here is the full story.
The post China fact of the day appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Thursday assorted links

2 days ago

1. The immediate immigration policy dilemmas faced by Biden.  And humans in Mexico 30,000 years ago?
2. Kerfluffle surrounding Philip Lane, chief ECB economist, about making calls privately to banks.
3. Good Dube thread on new wage stickiness paper.
4. Don Boudreaux on Walter Williams (WSJ).  And Jayme Lemke.  And David Henderson.  And Thomas Sowell.
5. The culture that is San Francisco what is up with you people?
6. US vs. UK vaccine review procedures.
7. Delta: “Our partners at Mayo Clinic have advised that virus spread could be reduced by 90 percent with weekly testing, reducing asymptomatic transmission. We’re achieving this expansion of our testing by increasing onsite rapid testing, providing testing kits at workplaces with smaller employee populations, and offering at

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“What will they do on Thursday?”

2 days ago

So wondered Eli Dourado.  Well, from the front page of Nature:
Sight restored by turning back the epigenetic clock [in mice, to be clear]

Neurons progressively deteriorate with age and lose resilience to injury. It emerges that treatment with three transcription factors can re-endow neurons in the mature eye with youthful characteristics and the capacity to regenerate.
OK people, are you ready for Friday?  C’mon, Eli, give ’em another dare!
Via Tom Jens.
The post “What will they do on Thursday?” appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Canada gamble of the day

2 days ago

Canada’s deficit is growing at the fastest rate among developed nations as it seeks to prop up its economy during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Canadian officials are betting the aggressive approach will pay off, pointing to the number of jobs already recovered, and argue that the country can afford to pour money into the economy while borrowing costs are historically low. But some economists warn the heavy spending could lead to a fiscal crisis, and one major ratings firm has already stripped the country of its triple-A rating…
Canada’s virus-related spending, the bulk of which originates with the federal government, has totaled about 382 billion Canadian dollars, the equivalent of $294 billion, and accounts for roughly 19% of Canada’s total economic output.
Yet data from the IMF indicate

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I would like to complain about complaining

2 days ago

That is in my latest Bloomberg column, here is part of the argument:
…complaining at a hotel…very often yields a relatively high return, whether your complaint is justified or not. If you tell the front desk that your room was not cleaned promptly and properly, or contact the hotel chain with a similar message, there is a good you will get an upgrade or extra points on your account. Most hotels have empty rooms most of the time, so they are not forgoing very much revenue by granting such favors. They might even be turning you into a more loyal customer.
The injustice you cite doesn’t have to be that serious — what matters is that you brought it to their attention. That means you are looking for a benefit, perhaps with an exploitative motive, but still hotel management may respond. If you

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Wednesday assorted links

3 days ago

1. Gross contracts written under coercion.  But contracts nonetheless, and informed by agency theory.
2. NYT profile of Shopify.
3. Google discovers a new problem with machine learning?  (Is it new?)  Source paper here.
4. John McWhorter profile.
5. Family portrait (photo).
6. 52 things Tom Whitwell learned this year.  Some are disputable, but always a good series.
7. My colleague Walter E. Williams has passed away.
8. Should South Korea allow its K-pop royalty to postpone conscription duties until age 30?  (NYT)
The post Wednesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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My excellent Conversation with Zach Carter

3 days ago

Zach is author of the recent book The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, which has been on many year-end “best of” lists.  Here is the audio, transcript, and video.  Here is part of the CWT summary:
Zach joined Tyler to discuss what Keynes got right — and wrong — about the Treaty of Versailles, how working in the India Office influenced his economic thinking, the seemingly strange paradox of his “liberal imperialism,” the elusive central message of The General Theory, the true extent of Keynes’ interest in eugenics, why he had a conservative streak, why Zach loves Samuel Delaney’s novel Nova, whether Bretton Woods was doomed to fail, the Enlightenment intuitions behind early defenses of the gold standard, what’s changed since Zach became a father, his

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American Ph.Ds are failing at start-ups

3 days ago

We document that since 1997, the rate of startup formation has precipitously declined for firms operated by U.S. PhD recipients in science and engineering. These are supposedly the source of some of our best new technological and business opportunities. We link this to an increasing burden of knowledge by documenting a long-term earnings decline by founders, especially less experienced founders, greater work complexity in R&D, and more administrative work. The results suggest that established firms are better positioned to cope with the increasing burden of knowledge, in particular through the design of knowledge hierarchies, explaining why new firm entry has declined for high-tech, high-opportunity startups.
Here is more from Thomas Åstebro, Serguey Braguinsky, and Yuheng Ding.
The post

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Tuesday assorted links

4 days ago

1. New data on YouTube consumption.
2. New Canadian paper: “…for most parameter values, the optimal policy is to adopt an initial shutdown level which reduces the reproduction number of the epidemic to close to 1. This level is then reduced once a vaccination program is underway.”
3. More on Deep Mind and protein structures.  And off-label drug uses, to an extreme.
4. Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock is one of the very best movies of this year; search Amazon Prime for “Small Axe,” select episode two.  Short too.
5. Cecilia Rouse on debt cancellation.
6. Covid-19 in America detected as early as Dec.13-16 2019?  See here for good criticisms, still an open question.
7. Update on FDA vaccine review.  And new information on the EU review schedule.
The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on

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Why you should use *Modern Principles* for your class

4 days ago

Alex has had numerous posts on Modern Principles, but here is my two cents.  A textbook, as the name indicates, is a book.  It has to be conceived of as a book, and thought of as a book, and written as a book, and ideally it should be read as a book.  There are many other textbooks out there, and I do not wish to name names, but consider the following question.  Which are the authors who really love books?  Who spend their lives reading books?  And indeed writing books.  And who spend their lives studying what makes books good or bad?  Who view books as truly essential to their overall output?
An ancillary question to ask is who are the authors who are truly dedicated to video, and to on-line communication more generally, as an independent outlet for their efforts and creativity?
Here is

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Cognitive biases: where do we stand?

4 days ago

Here is a new and very important paper by Victor Stango and Jonathan Zinman, here are some of the main results, noting that each and every paragraph is important:
Our first finding is that biases are more rule than exception. The median consumer exhibits 10 of 17 potential biases. No one exhibits all 17, but almost everyone exhibits multiple biases; e.g., the 5th percentile is 6.
Our second finding is that cross-consumer heterogeneity in biases is substantial. The standard deviation of the number of biases exhibited is about 20% of its mean, and several results below suggest that this variance is economically meaningful and not substantially inflated by measurement error.
Our third finding is that cross-consumer heterogeneity in biases is poorly explained by even a “kitchen sink” of other

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The December 1st test

4 days ago

No, it’s not quite December 1st, but it is close.  And I recall a number of people, including numerous MR commentators, suggesting that once the election is over (with a modest lag) that Covid-19 would disappear from our radar screens, and that the “liberal media” would stop talking about it.
The first three articles on the NYT home page right now are:
Vaccines are Coming. But First a Long, Dark Winter.
Cuomo Fears ‘Nightmare of Overwhelmed Hospitals’ as Virus Cases Spike.
Covid-19 Live Updates: California’s Governor Warns of ‘Drastic Action’ as Hospitals Near Crisis.
Perhaps I am “lemon picking” by not waiting for the morning, but I have other posts planned for then.  CNN by the way is right now leading with Covid, WaPo is more about election and appointments, but after that it is Covid

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Japan tragedy fact of the day

4 days ago

In 2019 Japan’s population shrank at the rate of roughly one person per minute…
Here is the rest of the FT article, too pessimistic in my view but by no means is it entirely fabricated.  Here is one quotation:
“The economic and demographic numbers make the future look so grim. They believe the pie is shrinking, so if they do get a piece, they have to stick to it. The priority is stability. Nobody has big dreams any more,” said Prof Miura. A study published earlier this year by Hiroshi Ishida, a professor at Tokyo University’s Institute of Social Science, found a record 49 per cent of respondents aged 20 to 31 thought life for their children would be worse than for them.
I am curious to see what will be the next “big turn” in Japan’s history…the country has had a few, and they were not well

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Monday assorted links

5 days ago

1. Canada bans mass export of prescription drugs.
2. Andrew Gelman redux.  And my earlier Bloomberg column on Heather Boushey.
3. The cheerleaders at least can earn big bucks (NYT).  Arbitrage!
4. Update/revision: Wikipedia presents strongly conflicting accounts of the assassination in Iran.
5. Maybe repealing the Corn Laws didn’t really help Britain? Though it did help lower earners, that being offset in the aggregate by terms of trade effects that harmed the wealthy.  Here is a related tweet storm.
6. Agnes Callard, impossible to excerpt, definitely recommended (NYT).
7. Deep Mind solves the protein-folding problem (!).
The post Monday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Markets in everything, messed up edition

5 days ago

Shawn Graham, a professor of digital humanities at Carleton University in Ottawa, uses a convolutional neural network called Inception 3.0, designed by Google, to search the internet for images related to the buying and selling of human bones. The United States and many other countries have laws requiring that human bones held in museum collections be returned to their descendants. But there are also bones being held by people who have skirted these laws. Dr. Graham said he had even seen online videos of people digging up graves to feed this market.
Here is the full NYT story, interesting more generally, via TEKL.
The post Markets in everything, messed up edition appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Who Mismanages Student Loans and Why?

5 days ago

From Kimberly Rodgers Cornaggia and Han Xia:
With a license to use individually identifiable information on student loan borrowers, we find that a majority of distressed student borrowers manage their debt sub-optimally and that suboptimal debt management is associated with higher loan delinquency. Cross-sectional analysis indicates that loan (mis)management varies significantly across student gender, ethnicity, and age. We test several potential selection-based explanations for such demographic variation in student loan management, including variation in students’ overconfidence, consumption preferences and discount rates, and aversion to administrative paperwork. Motivated by federal and state allegations against student loan servicers, we also test for the presence of treatment effects.

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New appointments?

5 days ago

Mr. Biden will nominate Neera Tanden, the president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. He will nominate Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University labor economist, to be chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, these people said.

The president-elect plans to choose Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, a former senior international economic adviser during the Obama administration, to serve as Ms. Yellen’s top deputy at the Treasury Department. And he will turn to two campaign economic advisers, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey, to serve as members of the CEA alongside Ms. Rouse, the people said.
Here is the WSJ story.  And another report:

President-elect Joe Biden is leaning towards

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Sunday assorted links

6 days ago

1. How well is India doing? (Bloomberg)
2. The world of Cartel TikTok (NYT).  The world is not as ruled by “the Woke” as you might think!
3. KFC Rolls Out Self-Driving 5G ‘Chicken Trucks’ in China.
4. The epidemiological musical culture that is Sweden.
5. One of the world’s largest collections of prehistoric rock art has been discovered in the Amazonian rainforest.
6. Assassination by remote control.
The post Sunday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Toward a short history of Operation Warp Speed

6 days ago

This will go down in history as one of science and medical research's greatest achievements. Perhaps the most impressive.I put together a preliminary timeline of some key milestones to show how several years of work were compressed into months. pic.twitter.com/BPcaZwDFkl
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) November 28, 2020

Link here, do read the whole thread.  So which of you is going to write the definitive book on this?  That is a serious question.
The post Toward a short history of Operation Warp Speed appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Voting Rights, Deindustrialization, and Republican Ascendancy in the South

6 days ago

Here is a new paper from Gavin Wright:
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 revolutionized politics in the American South. These changes also had economic consequences, generating gains for white as well as Black southerners. Contrary to the widespread belief that the region turned Republican in direct response to the Civil Rights Revolution, expanded voting rights led to twenty-five years of competitive two-party politics, featuring strong biracial coalitions in the Democratic Party. These coalitions remained competitive in most states until the Republican Revolution of the 1990s. This abrupt rightward shift had many causes, but critical for southern voters were the trade liberalization measures of 1994, specifically NAFTA and the phase-out of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement which had protected the

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Saturday assorted links

7 days ago

1. Greenstone and Nath on cost-effective carbon abatement.
2. William Bolcom remembers Boulez.
3. Robin Hanson on pandemic spending and prevention; see also my comment #2 in the list.
4. Can the British turn moon dust into oxygen?
5. NHS to trial blood test to detect more than 50 forms of cancer.  You know the scientific resurgence of the British (or should I say the English?) is a remarkable and much underreported story.  Start with the Anglosphere and mix in a few top universities and the revenue-rich creative cluster of southeast England…  There is much we can learn from this episode, and it is more important than say continuing to debate Brexit.
6. The Novavax vaccine.  Nita Patel (guess where she is from? Try for the state) gets special praise and “Her all-female crew is an essential

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Misaligned incentives for incarceration in the United States

7 days ago

The incarceration rate has increased substantially in the United States between the 1980s and the 2000s. In this paper, I explore an institutional explanation for this growth: the fact that costs of incarceration are not fully internalized. Typically, prison is paid for at the state level, but county employees (such as judges, prosecutors or probation officers) determine time spent in custody. I exploit a natural experiment that shifted the cost burden of juvenile incarceration from state to counties, keeping overall costs and responsibilities unchanged. This resulted in a stark drop in incarceration, and no increase in arrests, suggesting an over-use of prison when costs are not internalized. The large magnitude of the change suggests that misaligned incentives in criminal justice may be

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Why we should be optimistic about various vaccines

7 days ago

I’ve been a long-time reader of your blog, and I have enjoyed your analyses of how the pandemic could play out in the US.
I saw that you gave some space to Arnold Kling’s pessimistic take on the vaccines. I’m a volunteer in the J&J Phase 3 vaccine trial, and my experience of the trial design makes me more optimistic about the vaccines than even the headline numbers in the so-far announced trials would suggest. I think the trial set-ups particularly for J&J have some biases that would lead to understated effectiveness results:
First, these trials are effectively unblinded. The placebos are saline solution in J&J, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna. Per the Phase 2 results for J&J, >60% of participants had significant side effects, with flu-like symptoms the most common; I believe other vaccine

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