On a previous episode of Patrick’s podcast, the conversation turned to the role that attention plays in consumption. Naturally, that led to talk about Albert’s book, World After Capital, and how we’re shifting to a world where the scarcest asset is human attention. I tweeted back saying I’d like to hear them discuss further, and they did!
Most economics taught in school is based on ideas that are hundreds of years old. In most colleges,(including my own) courses at the undergraduate level are focused on the theory, and the idealized models that describe the interactions between firms, labor, and widgets, which don’t really apply to our reality today. In many ways, this is related to the conversation between O’Shaughnessy and Wenger linked to above. Our world is full of intangibles. Our economics education should evolve to deal with them.
When I took a class on public finance in college, we devoted a total of an hour and a half to this topic. From the minute I heard about signaling theory, I was completely convinced. If you are at all interested on education, and how people make decisions about their lives, listen to this.
Yes, a third EconTalk episode. Sorry, not sorry. I have to confess I have not yet read the manifesto, but I soon will. Pluckrose and Lindsay make a strong argument to embolden science, reason, democracy, the rule of law, and moral progress. It’s crazy that these are things that need to be argued for, but we live in strange times.
Lately, Roman Mars and his friends at 99PI have been doing great work explaining the evolution of cities, urban planning, and state sponsored development projects. This one on CIAM’s Bijlmer project reveals a lot of the problems of modernist architecture. Having just read Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, and Scott’s Seeing Like a State, made this extra interesting. Don’t miss part two.
This one, about Henry Ford’s failed project in Brazil was also fascinating. It’s packed with great tid bits of economics, culture, and incentives management. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s something similar happening with American corporations setting out for a modern equivalent in China today.
I’ve been on a Sam Harris binge lately, and it all started from this podcast episode. I’ve been meaning to read Ferguson’s work for years, and this discussion of his latest book gave me an even stronger reason to do so. At first I was interested because of the analysis of power networks and institutions throughout history, but when I realized that the use of the word network was not casual, but actually referring to network science, I was totally sold. I’ll make a big effort to read it this year.
Protectionism and lobbying are staples of the American economy. Here, more so than in many other countries, the government is structured in a way that incentivizes this. In this episode, Lindsey and Teles, come together from different sides of the political spectrum and show why the captured economy is a problem. For a more academic in-depth version of this, you can also check out the EconTalk episode interviewing the same two guys.
Everyone needs food to live. Most food comes from fertilized fields. Most fertilizer is made with phosphate, which is derived from phosphorus. Most phosphorus comes from Morocco. Morocco is a monarchy. How insane is it that the future of humanity is so tied to a single person’s whim, and no one knows about it?
Stripe is a really interesting company, and hearing John Collison talk about where it is going is fascinating. First, he talked about the idea of pitching a company for customers that don’t yet exist, which is kind of crazy, but by definition visionary. Then, they also discussed being seen as a value-add or a toll-taker. I’ll probably re-listen to this one in a few years, just like this other a16z episode on marketing and positioning. Neither is relevant to my current role, but eventually they will come in handy.
Hannah listened to this before me, and insisted that I had to hear it. I truly don’t understand how this has been acceptable behavior for so long.
Episodes of TAL are divided in several acts, and for the most part the various acts are of similar quality in any given episode. On this one, act one knocks it out of the park with a story of immigration into Europe via two tiny Spanish enclaves in Africa.
My friend Leon got me hooked on O’Shaughnessy’s podcast. This one is full of interesting ideas about how to value online assets such as accounts on Airbnb or Instagram, and how one could potentially set up an incentive system to transfer the cashflows of these accounts without corrupting the quality of the underlying service being provided by the creator. See also the episode with Chris Dixon on the future of tech.
A great episode on the surprising origin story of air conditioning. I never would have thought that the original purpose of A/C was to control moisture content in the air for publishing plants, where paper and ink alignment would constantly go out of whack. Human pleasure quickly took over, of course.
A strange quality of the education system is that most people don’t really know (nor have a way to know!) what are opportunities that are available for them. It can be a kid who imagines herself only as a doctor, because that’s what her parents do, or a kid who thinks he’d be lucky if he can become a janitor, because its more than his parents ever accomplished, but at any and all levels of the spectrum, this notion of understanding the availability of choices is tough. In this episode of TAL, they talk about the life of young students from low income backgrounds, their shock when learning how the upper class lives, and how that experience changes the course of their lives years later.
A story about religion, cults, and how our experiences of what we see as “normal” when we’re children affects us for the rest of our lives. Since you’re here, you probably know that I’m highly skeptic of religion. Listening to this made me think of a quote by Max Weinreich that Mangi Jay tweeted a few days ago: “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy” A riff on that might be “A religion is a cult with a thousand years of history.”
I had no idea that desegregation in the US was pushed through congress via the commerce clause. There are some really interesting questions on how far the federal government can reach into state actions, and individual decisions. Making everything about money has its issues, and this episode does a good job of poking holes into some basic tenets of the US political system.
Ever heard about this fake news thing? Here’s some evidence that, at least in Mexico, it goes deeper than you’d think. I wouldn’t be surprised if the exact same thing is happening in the US right now.
A great analysis of labor and immigration in a little town in Alabama during the 90s, including interviews with locals, and research by several economists, who together make very solid arguments for immigration. The real issues are xenophobia and complacency. Don’t miss part two.
I recently started re-listening to some older episodes of EconTalk, trying to see whether the talking points have changed in the past couple of years. The episode focuses on labor economics, and O’Reilly makes a few good points about changes in how we view labor and reputation today, and how that is changing. Listening to this again made me bump up his book a couple of spots for my to-do in 2018.
It is always strange to hear about how much thought and effort went into the development of products that I don’t use and totally take for granted. One of the things I like the most about Roman Mars’ podcast is that it exposes me to stories that I would never wonder about on my own.
More on race, history, and immigration.
An explanation of the insane insurance system that allows people to live in flood-prone areas in Houston, and elsewhere in the US. Through the National Flood Insurance Program “one percent of homes have been responsible for more than 25 percent of the claims,” which is kind of the point of insurance - except when you stop and think that if this incentive system were not in place, people would just not live there! By insuring these homes at subsidized rates, the government is incentivizing dangerous behavior (living in a flood-prone area) out of tax payers’ pockets.
An unusual EconTalk, where the topic is a mixed bag of technocracy and an optimistic outlook of the current technological revolution.
In case the Stratechery post above was not enough, here’s Ben doubling down. Aggregation theory paired with politics. Towards the end of the episode there is a discussion on how, via regulation, increased transparency in the decisions made by algorithms could enable journalists and citizens to openly review the outcomes of machine learned systems, which in turn would change the behavior of the advertisers and scammers. Overall, a good way to spend an hour.
A very meta show, where two of the acts are about radio shows. The prologue was intensely sad. Go call your parents.
The patent system is a mess. In this episode, the Planet Money folks try to explain what ideas are and are not patentable. Among others, they discuss beef cuts, and easily snackable variations on chicken wings from non wing parts of the chicken. I listened to this on my way to meet friends for Wing Wednesday, quite fitting.
An unusual guest for this podcast, discussing culture and language instead of economics. The link, and the reason why this is interesting, is that language is a continually evolving emergent system, just like the economy. No one designed English, or Spanish, and there is no one person dictating what can and can’t be said. Sure, there are bodies like the Real Academia Española, who “oversee” a language, but they can’t stop us from inserting an emoji in the middle of our sentences, or from dropping a whole set of pronouns from normal use. I wish they had spent some time around topics of nation and identity building around language, but otherwise this is one of my favorite EconTalk episodes lately.
We’ve all seen that scene from The Graduate. Here’s some backround info on the invention of the material. In many ways, I owe a lot of who I am to that one word: “plastics”
Among other things, this made me think of the opening chapter of Flash Boys, and how the crazy floors of stock and commodity exchanges are not what they used to be. Now I want to go watch Trading Places. (Also, Roman Mars on Planet Money? More of that, please.)
Speaking of Roman Mars… I think this episode represents well what I like so much about his podcast. A mix between a history class (who invented the Stethoscope?), a design review (how can you improve upon the original rolled up notebook?), modern culture (why do doctors wear their stethoscopes around their shoulders?), and a bunch of interesting interviews. Worth the 20 minutes.
Fighting over immigration where there is virtually none. The first act, where they talk to a skeptic who tries to educate himself by reading news online, is just amazing.
The first of a two part show. Alex gets a scam phone call, and he follows it to the source.
I have mixed feelings about the fact that ZCash is on Radiolab. On the one hand, it’s great to see good reporting on cryptocurrencies, and they do a pretty good job of making it accessible to laymen, but on the other hand they hide the math behind mysticism and science. It is ok to explain simplified versions of the concepts, but even the title of the episode gives it a magical connotation that I can’t come to terms with.
The episodes of a16z where people talk about the past are way better than those where they talk about the present or the future. “How did we get to now” says a lot more about where we are going than the latest and the shiniest.
And if that was not enough, here’s some more Sapolsky on free will.
Design meets history, meets civil unrest, meets politics.
5 stories in 1. A Standard Oil gas station in San Francisco to comply with trademark law, “desire paths” and how user experience beats designers wishes, 50-Hz vs 60-Hz electrical systems, and a whole section on local design solutions, followed by a strange story about street naming.
Another fight over public governance, funding, and what happens when we can’t agree on what the government should and should not provide. This case on public education is insane. The religious side to this story makes me especially angry.
Another fight over public governance, funding, and what happens when… Wait, that’s the same description as the post right above, but here we’re talking about the federal government and funding scientific research.
While the episode is framed as an argument against the game of golf, it really is about the strange taxation status of country clubs in California where the game is played. The reason it is specifically about California is Prop 13, and the extremely low property taxes that these clubs pay to the State. Under the proposition, land value is reassessed whenever the majority ownership changes hands, making for a really interesting argument on the nature of ownership under equity membership schemes of the clubs.
I generally can’t stand Tim Ferriss, but this is a good episode. Nick’s blog is great (if you haven’t read him, start here).
At Northwestern, the “One Book” program tries to build community by sending incoming students a copy of a book before they arrive on campus. My year, it was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This episode gives an overview of her story, and by interviewing her family members, and some of the scientists involved in the research that her case spawned. To be honest, I started the book that summer, but never finished it. I’ll get to it some day.
Microbiomes are interesting. It’s odd to think that so much of our life is defined by bacteria.
Planning urban development is hard, and sometimes, the unplanned spontaneous decisions of many lead us to interesting places that central planning couldn’t reach.
I had never thought about the political implications about generating electricity at home. This episode discusses “net-metering,” or the billing mechanism that allows someone with PV panels on their roof to get credit for generating more electricity than they consume. How did it come about? Some guy plugged his PV panels into his meter, and it started going backwards!
This makes the idea of getting an economics PhD even less appealing than it already was. The fact that even the people who arguably know the most about how markets function can’t build a better matching market.
It’s ridiculous to think that spreadsheets were so revolutionary only a few years ago.
Is it illegal to study how a system works, to the point that you understand it so well that you can exploit it? No, that’s the whole point of open source software. Patch the issue, give the gray hat his bounty, and move on.
This series of podcasts by Tim Harford has given us strong history lessons, telling us why things are the way they are. This specific episode though, focuses more on asking whether any of it makes sense “From a certain angle, it is odd. Many countries take pride in banning employers from discriminating against among workers based on characteristics we can’t change: whether we’re male or female, young or old, gay or straight, black or white. […] But mostly our passport depends on the identity of our parents and location of our birth. And nobody chooses those.” Somehow, this seems ok in our modern mind set - it is all a game of Us & Them.
Lately I have been more paranoid than usual about this, and I am considering changing how I handle my password management all together, and even buying a YubiKey for personal use. This episode just backs that feeling even more.
If you think about it hard enough, everything is made up. Countries, money, companies, the constitution, everything! And, blockchains, too…
Life somehow keeps teaching us that we have no idea what we’re doing. “Growing up” is about learning from your experiences, but there are always new mistakes to make.
All new technology can be seen as a double edge sword. Luckily, crypto wasn’t killed by the US government.
The cyber is hard.
The cutting edge of biological research gets more interesting, and more scary, the more I learn about it. Researchers are uncovering really powerful building blocks, but we have very little understanding of the complex relationships in the whole system. The ethical considerations discussed in the last part of this episode are especially worth listening to.
Something I will never understand is how someone can enjoy poring over low level buffer management for hours to find an overflow condition or some obscure vulnerability. Luckily some people like watching water boil with their white hats on, and do it for the greater good, too.
The confluence of artificially cheap electricity, price controls on imported goods, and hyper-inflation are making Bitcoin more and more mainstream in places like Venezuela. While the great majority of the population probably has no idea of what cryptocurrencies are, or how to use them, it is really interesting to hear about how the fringe slowly drifts.
There is a comment I especially liked here about how “…innovation in the modern economy isn’t just about snazzy new technologies, but boringly efficient systems. The Billy bookcase is not innovative in the way the iPhone is innovative. The innovations are about working within the limits of production, and logistics, finding tiny ways to shave more off the cost…” The iPhone example is coincidental, I’m sure, but I immediately went to “this is the argument against Tim Cook.” It is hard to appreciate how much of today’s Apple is dependent on the advanced supply chain operation that the company has built. Pushing atoms is also innovation.
Understanding that the economy is not a zero sum game is essential when talking about immigration. Borjas and Roberts describe the short and long term implications of the demographic changes that are tied to immigration, not just on the economic side, but also in terms of culture.
Lately I have been coming back to the Veil of Ignorance and how morality can be defined in terms of the choices we’d make behind it. If we did not know in which part of society we’ll fall, our policy choices would be very different. This can apply at the level of a city dealing with its poor, a country dealing with its healthcare system, or the international community dealing with its refugees. The idea of a basic income guarantee is gaining more and more steam, and I think this Rawlsian exercise can help us understand why.
I especially liked the section on why people remember hyperinflations, but not financial crises. Essentially, the argument is that hyperinflations affect anyone with savings. A financial crisis, on the other hand, can make you better off in real terms — as long as you keep your job.
By far, act two was the best part of this episode. The Trump Administration’s rhetoric implies that the current vetting system for immigration into the US is leaky, and useless. The wording of the executive order is one of “taking first steps,” while “extreme vetting” suggests that the current implementation is not strong enough. Hearing the opinion of one the interviewers who actually take part in the vetting process shows how naïve the narratives coming out of the White House can be.
What happens to our urban environments when car culture goes away? What kind of businesses are enabled due to autonomous vehicles?
More on immigration. This episode includes three interviews with three economists with very different views. First, Dean Baker, whose suggestion is that the US should open its borders for high skilled individuals, such as doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. The most interesting part of his argument is that he’d like to make it mandatory for these individuals to repatriate some of their income, and so improve their home-countries in return for the brain-drain. Next, Giovanni Peri makes an argument for an auction based system, in which companies bid for the most lucrative candidates. This is a system I’d be against. For starters, how would we control for living cost in different areas of the country? And importantly, money is not a good measure of how valuable a job is. Last, Alex Nowrasteh, whose proposal most aligns with my views: make it a free for all.
I recently tweeted that about one of Gimlet’s new podcasts, Heavyweight, calling it “Curb Your Enthusiasm, podcast version”. Stories about people, told in a really fun way. This one is about young people developing their identities, and grappling with their religious beliefs. Two stories about two people who met as they were going in opposite directions 30 years ago, meeting again today.
A story about the most recent crisis, and how Neel Kashkari, who worked at the Treasury at the time, and is now the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Fed, plans to avoid the next one. As the podcast put it, the fact that Bernie Sanders and the WSJ editorial board agree that Kashkari’s proposal is a good way to move forward means that there is some intellectually solid ground in it.
In this interview wit Joel Mokyr, Sonal Chokshi and the a16z team bring historical perspective into today’s economic environment. Building new things is easier when you have an understanding of the past. The episode reminded me of why I should have taken Mokyr’s class at NU, instead of signing up for an awful data structures course.
Right up there with “I, Pencil” and the story of economic complexity, we have the story of economic growth. Consider this a case study.
A fun look at an extremely small market, dealing only in high luxury fungi.
The big question about technology today is who will be the leader for the next platform. As usual, great insights from the Andreessen Horowitz hallway.
While I don’t yet know the pressures of being CEO, it is well known that depression, anxiety, and other issues are common among the startup crowd. Gotta hand it to Alex Blumberg for exposing himself as he did in this episode. It takes courage to let others into one’s life as he did.
People do not understand second order effects, and have trouble forseeing policy implications. I keep going back to how whenever we think of economics in terms of the study of “rational agents,” we’re making a mistake. And I don’t mean it in the behavioral econ “we all have biases” way, but in the “People are dumb and don’t have full information to make rational decisions” way. Democracy is hard.
More of the same. I am on a roll, I guess. It is odd that both US presidential candidates are against trade in this election, so the Planet Money folks compressed a quarter millenium of trade history for us. While superficial, there is a good discussion of The Wealth of Nations, and who benefits from tariffs vis-a-vis open borders and other trade policies. They touch on concentrated benefits and diffuse costs, which we can see across the ladder from regional to supranational deals. I assume the bipartisan anti-trade sentiment in the US is just a blip, and that we’ll soon revert to the trend of freer trade.
Starting a career in software engineering during the days of AWS and Heroku gives me a strange vantage point. The story of how Netflix switched their whole infrastructure would not be half as impressive if I didn’t understand the role of culture in organizational change. The fact is that “this is how we do things around here” can make or break you. This episode talks about the architecture that underlie the modern web stack.
Lots of interesting tid bits on culture, and how our perception of the world changes over time. What will we look back in N years and think “wow, how were we so stupid”?
The fact that two white economics professors at prestigious universities talk about this in public is already a big win. Not knowing the history of slavery in the US, this was quite interesting. The “us vs. them” framing, coupled with the Rawlsian ideas towards the end, was the most persuasive part. Incentives strike again.
Had never thought about the fact that someone had to have introduced “average” into our culture. Another great episode from the 99pi team.
In a recent post, I shared Charlie Warzel’s analysis on the future of payments. This episode of the a16z podcast takes a deeper dive.
I listened to this several weeks ago, but just noticed I hadn’t posted it. Mostly recommending it for Act 1, which deals with a really hard story. Especially interesting due to the herd mentality of “we do this because it is the way we’ve always done it,” which I hate so much. Other people’s decisions can change our lives forever. Sometimes unknowingly, and for all the wrong reasons.
As Marco says, “…the last thing we all need is for the ‘data’ economy to destroy another medium.” Implied, but not mentioned in the article, is the discoverability problem of podcasts. Finding 10 shows that you generally like is easy. Finding the best episode of those 10 shows is impossible.
Recommended mostly for its first half, which talks about energy, evolution, and the origins of complex life. Another book to add to the list.