Clearing out the queue

Having been preoccupied the last few months, I’ve accumulated quite a pile of links that I never got around to writing anything about. Rather than forget about them entirely, I want to try to at least write a little bit about them.

Five questions for Hal Varian: This is an abridged transcript of a podcast interview with Hal Varian, author of a classic economics math text and currently Google’s chief economist.

A Brief History of the Corporation: I haven’t fully digested this but I’ve gotten interested in the history of firm organization and this seems to do a good job. It can be easy to forget that the corporation had to be invented; as such, it could be that in the future, other modes of organizing economic activity may be more productive.

The General Social Complexity Factor: Discusses one of my favorite maps, the Inglehart-Welzel cultural map of the world, its relation to population history, and more generally argues for the use of more quantitative methods in history, which I am absolutely down with.

Mini-Trumps are coming up all over Europe: A short interview with Francis Fukuyama, along the lines of a previous article I wrote about here.

How Starcraft Tournament Unlocks Future of AI: I think developments in AI with gaming are underreported and suggest the potential for huge advances. The biggest example here is of course AlphaGo, the most recent iteration of which was able to completely learn and master the games of Go and Chess merely by playing against itself for a period of a few hours. Mastery of Starcraft would represent another level of abstract reasoning.

The Disney-Fox merger: I have a philosophical tension I need to resolve: on the one hand, I think the current intellectual property regime is very poorly used, and I’m very skeptical of the usefulness of patents. In particular, I think extended copyright timeframes for artistic creations like music, stories, and characters, is unnecessary and probably harmful for long term creativity. On the other hand, the very driving force behind the eternal extension of copyright, Disney, which is accused of possessing monopoly power with its impending acquisition of Fox, has been putting out really high quality stuff of late. In 2016 alone, Disney released Moana, Zootopia, and a live action Jungle Book remake, all of which are very high quality. Disney has mostly let its acquired studios like Pixar, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm do their own thing and release generally high quality films. Anyone with a toddler and a Netflix account knows that there is a lot of plain crap out there when it comes to children’s entertainment. So this doesn’t appear to be a simple smash and grab corporate maneuver, with a large company buying out smaller competitors and draining them of their lifeforce in search of greater profits; I suspect that in a world of easy access to entertainment, quality matters much more than it used to, and it could be that bigger studios are in a better position to deliver that.

Related to that is this blogpost on the message of Moana, which I found a rather striking inversion of the usual hero’s journey story; the post also features the idea of Tyler Cowen. Can we just pause to think how great it is that we have a giant corporation producing commercial content featuring messages of diversity, understanding, and non-complacency?

18 Signs You’re Reading a Bad Criticism of Economics: This is older but still highly relevant, particularly number 6: “Uses the word ‘neoliberal’ for any reason.”

I’m not sure how to summarize ‘Imagine All the Virtues‘ other than to say it’s a discussion of the need for practical ethics and morality in society, contra idealized versions; featuring a guest appearance of the classic Star Trek: TNG episode “Darmok”.

I thought these colorized math equations were really neat and helpful. I’ve always been able to do math without much problem, but as I’ve gotten deeper into economics I’ve wanted to get a stronger intuition into how lots of these equations work.

And along those lines, I recently discovered this playlist of videos on Linear Algebra, and it’s no exaggeration to say this has been more helpful to me than any math class I have ever taken. If I ever have to teach linear algebra, you can bet these videos will be assigned.

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