“Internet villages and algorithmic-speech” (from my inbox)

[Note: this is from Vishnu Modur, and he has been gracious enough to let me share his thoughts with you. – BC]

We find ourselves in an overlap of classical free-speech abstractions, editorialized-media discourse, and algorithmic-social media diatribe. Each of these is a product that cannot reproduce the stability of the system that produced them. And yet, these platforms—print, electronic and social media—represent disruptions that fill in a vacuum felt in the other system.

Besides, we tend to think that the IT revolution’s transformations with our iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter, are without a parallel, but think of what urbanization brought to the rural life, what the railway brought in the nineteenth century or the telephone in the early twentieth. Disruptive innovations that increased transportation speed in the past couple of hundred years have not lowered commuting time but instead increased commuting distances. The size of an average individual’s ‘extended family’ cluster is an approximate invariant—it doesn’t change with city size. In a village, we are limited to a community by proximity, whereas in a city, we are free to choose our own “village” by our likes and dislikes.

Similarly, social media tools have not brought us closer the way we intended it would. Instead, they have allowed us to construct our “internet villages.” These internet villages are scaled-up, combustible derivatives that cannot reproduce the stability of offline, real-world social interactions that produced them. Instead of free-speech, they cater to our preconceived notions by exposing us to algorithmic-speech that makes each of us a volatile, motivated political actor outside the legal institutions born out of civil society. Their extreme negative externalities include conspiracies, real-world riots, and unrest. Nonetheless, in a primal way, internet populism coming out of these internet villages is gesturing at the real-world rifts created by liberal legalism’s parchment antidotes on the one end and lack of upward mobility on the other end.

As Tyler Cowen points out in his book, The Complacent Class, in our digital realm, the word “disruption” is no longer violent but the peaceful label for an ingenious upheaval of an established business order. Taking a cue from this digital paradox, it is not unreasonable to assume that a radical improvement in our physical realm may occur when we volunteer to act with moderation on social media platforms. If we don’t act with moderation, someone else will moderate it for us. Responsible self-regulation can preclude complicated centralized government regulation.

Nightcap

  1. New York’s second “Drop Dead” moment is here Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism
  2. Modi takes another step towards a ‘Hindu India’ Mohamed Zeeshan, Haaretz
  3. Prospects for an independent Kurdistan Mohammad Kareem, LSE
  4. No sex please, this is Korea Colin Marshall, Los Angeles Review of Books

Nightcap

  1. Military alliances and lessons for collective action (pdf) Hartley & Sandler, JEL
  2. Federations, coalitions, and risk diversification (pdf) Chiang & Mahmud, PC
  3. How dirty and stinky were medieval cities? Elise Kjørstad, sciencenorway
  4. America’s postwar world order in transition (pdf) G John Ikenberry, IRA-P

Nightcap

  1. Why are the police in charge of road safety? Alex Tabarrok, MR
  2. Is decentralization overrated? Jason Sorens, Pileus
  3. Can corruption be good for growth? Brank Milanovic, globalinequality
  4. What is the relationship between urban change and the ship of Theseus? Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex

PS: I’m back from vacation. Hope y’all enjoyed yourselves while I was gone.

Nightcap

  1. The separate worlds of Covid-19 Leah Windsor, Duck of Minerva
  2. Whose freedom? Anti-lockdown protests Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
  3. The glory—and risk—of cities Joel Kotkin, City Journal
  4. Still don’t believe in aliens? Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias

Nightcap

  1. On poverty and famine Frances Woolley, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative
  2. Lessons from 1918 Michael Shurkin, War on the Rocks
  3. A history of capitalism via coffee David Pilling, Financial Times
  4. Urbanization and its discontents Timothy Taylor, Conversable Economist

Three Short Stories on Housing Economics

Do you love housing economics but have struggled to get the basic ideas across the younger generation? Yes, you get excited about reading 60-page reports, but kids these days have better things to do. 

That’s why I wrote these three, action-packed, short stories which you can read to any child (or child at heart). 

So without further ado, here are three stories about how the supply of housing affects the prices of housing.

Continue reading

Nightcap

  1. What it’s like to be black in Europe Christopher Kissane, Financial Times
  2. America’s other rebellious border Maxime Dagenais, Age of Revolutions
  3. Capitalism in America: Up, up, and away Deirdre McCloskey, Claremont Review of Books
  4. How Italy made me think about America Addison Del Mastro, American Conservative

Back in Brazil: more impressions

Another thing that calls my attention in Brazil (or rather, in Rio de Janeiro) are the crazy traffic jams. All day long, traffic moves painfully slowly. Really. There is no rush hour. Every hour is rush. The reason is not hard to understand: there are way too many buildings for too few streets and poor options in mass transportation.

Thinking about this, I came across this excellent text. It is in Portuguese, so for those who can’t read it, I’ll summarize. Basically, zoning laws in Rio de Janeiro through the 20th century were completely crazy, following a very nasty relationship between politicians and real state companies. A company wanted to build taller buildings and profit, the city hall would not oppose, especially when a luxurious apartment was waiting for the mayor. The result is that old neighborhoods like Tijuca and Botafogo simply have no space on the streets for so many cars.

But what is the problem with many tall buildings? That’s what New York is all about, and I simply love the Big Apple! Well, that’s true, but NY has something that Rio doesn’t: a great mass transit system. Rio has four subway lines. Or three. Wait, maybe it’s just one. Here is the thing: on paper, Rio has four subway lines, which already makes no sense, since it only has lines 1, 2 and 4. Line 3 was planned but never built. Line 4 is just an extension of line 1, and line 2 trains enter line 1 (!). Although the system was privatized in the 1990s, it is very clear that it maintains a very suspicious connection with the state government. Sergio Cabral, Rio’s former governor, and presently in jail, was married to a lawyer who defended the Metro company. It is also clear that bus companies subsidize politicians who maintain their interests. In sum, Cariocas are hostages to a terrible public transport system that favors a criminous relationship between big companies and politicians.

Rio ends up representing very well a problem we see all over Brazil: people believe this is capitalism. Because of that, they vote for socialist parties. It should be painfully obvious from the examples of USSR, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, North Korea, China, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, and so many others that socialism simply doesn’t work. But here is the thing: people in Rio (and actually in Brazil and Latin America in general) suffered and suffer so much under crony capitalists that they can’t help but thinking that socialism might be the answer.

Hear, World! Socialism failed, just like Mises predicted. But as long as people suffer under crony capitalists, it will still be appealing, be it in a poor neighborhood or a college campus in the US, be it in a poor country in Latin America. The job is not done. Freedom isn’t free. We still have a long way to go freeing people from evil.

Nightcap

  1. Why are economists wrong so often? Peter Coclanis, Aeon
  2. Civilization and urbanization Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
  3. Rethinking how imperialism works Joseph Stieb, War on the Rocks
  4. Social warfare Mary Lucia Darst, NOL

Rent isn’t a four-letter word

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Inspired by the publication this week of NYU scholar Alain Bertaud‘s critical new book Order without Design: How Markets Shape Cities (MIT press), Sandy Ikeda‘s pre-book development series Culture of Congestion over at Market Urbanism, and London YIMBY, here is a note on housing reform.

Classical liberals see the economic solution to housing as relatively simple: increase supply to better meet demand. By contrast, the political economy of housing is almost intractably complex. The reason for this is that there are endless externalities associated with new housing: access to light, picturesque landscape, open space and uncongested roads just for starters. These gripes and grievances are the bread and butter of local politics. Unlike consumer product markets, housing cannot be disentangled from these social, political and legal controversies. A successful market-based housing policy must establish institutions that not only encourage housing supply growth but navigate around these problems while doing so.

Policy reform proposals that deliberately favour increasing owner-occupied single-family homes, as tends to be the focus among market liberals in the UK (and to some extent in the US), are currently self-defeating. As justified as they were in the past to achieve a more market-friendly political settlement, they are now a barrier to achieving plentiful, affordable housing. This is because every new homeowner becomes an entrenched interest, a potential opponent to subsequent housing development in their area. They impose more political externalities than renters. I propose we cut the link between support for home ownership and housing supply policies. This would free up policymaking to focus on expanding provision by all available market-compatible means.

This should include greater encouragement of institutional landlords, especially commercial enterprises. Commercial landlords have more incentive and capability to expand supply on estates that they own, while long-term renters (unlike homeowners) have an interest in keeping rental costs low. The lack of private firms dedicated to supplying housing in England compared to much of the rest of the world is startling and yet often overlooked even by friends of free enterprise.

Continue reading

Nightcap

  1. History of “blackface” not what you think Robert Cherry, RealClearHistory
  2. Luck and the improbable career of Ralph Bramel Lloyd Michael Adamson, RealClearHistory
  3. The Habsburg Empire as a warning for US, EU Todd Buchholz, RealClearHistory
  4. The de-civilising process Adrian Wooldridge, 1843

Nightcap

  1. The renewed relevance of neoconservatism Rachel Lu, the Week
  2. The idea of a Muslim world is both modern and misleading Cemil Aydin, Aeon
  3. Democratic socialism threatens minorities Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic
  4. The world economy’s urban future Parag Khanna, Project Syndicate

Eye Candy: Countries whose capital is not their largest city

NOL map countries capital cities.png
Click here to zoom

Not much to add here. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation of any kind (colonialism, economic development, etc.). Still, I thought it was cool…

Eye Candy: the US Asian population, circa 2010

NOL map US Asian population
Click here to zoom

“Asian” is a pretty broad term. Racial classifications are, perhaps, the dumbest thing in the world.

Imagine seeing something like this in the press today, or this as an advertisement. There’s been lots of progress in this country, it’s just hard to see sometimes.