You've heard of an international market for superstar soccer players. We need an international market for superstar central bankers.
[ Reuters ]
Great Britain gets a lot of things wrong, like food and spelling. But here's something they get right: They're willing to poach the best central bankers from around the world for the top spots at the Bank of England.
The UK is hardly alone on this. They're just particularly aggressive about it. Their latest target is Mark Carney, the current chief of the Bank of Canada. Before that, though, they snatched up American economist Adam Posen -- an expert on Japan's lost decade -- to serve on their monetary policy committee. You've heard of an international market for superstar soccer players and Olympic coaches. This is an international market for superstar central bankers.
It got me thinking: How much is a good central banker worth? Consider this chart. The blue line shows where our economy could, and should, be if it had kept growing at its long-term trend since 2008. The red line shows where we actually are. The difference between the two is the so-called output gap. (Note: These dollar figures are not adjusted for inflation).
We're in about a trillion-dollar hole. And that's a trillion dollars every year. Even if we get "Morning in America: The Sequel" and the economy rapidly reverts to its long-term trend, we'll forever be $4 trillion poorer than we would have otherwise been.
Let's try a thought experiment. Say that Lars Svensson -- one of the world's top monetary economists and the current deputy governor of Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank -- could get our economy back to trend in half the time Ben Bernanke could. It's actually plausible-ish. Like Bernanke, Svensson spent his academic career championing unconventional monetary policy as a "foolproof" way to escape a liquidity trap. (Coincidentally, they were colleagues at Princeton). But unlike Bernanke, Svensson's Riksbank has been much more willing than Bernanke's Fed to experiment with these kind of heterodox policies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sweden's recovery has been the envy of the developed world. So I ask again: How much is a good central banker worth? Put simply, how much cash should we throw at Svensson to steal him away from Sweden?
That's another way of asking how long it will take the economy to return to trend. Here's where things get really depressing. According to Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, we won't get back to full employment until after 2018. If we assume the output gap will steadily shrink until then, that leaves us with roughly another $4 trillion in lost income. Maybe more. If Svensson really could double our recovery speed, he'd be worth $2 trillion to us. Even if that's being wildly optimistic, something on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars probably isn't. Tell me that wouldn't be worth paying Svensson a billion dollars a year. Maybe more.
The above suggestion is obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek ... but not completely. Right now, central bankers are paid almost entirely in prestige. Ben Bernanke is making just $199,700 this year. That's not to say that we need to pay central bankers more to attract the best ones. We don't. Economists really care about prestige.
This doesn't necessarily lead to the most efficient allocation of monetary economists. As Matt Yglesias pointed out, we'd ideally have economists prove their central banking chops in smaller countries before moving up to the big leagues of the Fed or the ECB or the Bank of England. Put a bit less diplomatically: Sweden is important, but it's a relative waste of Svensson's talents not to have him running a bigger central bank. (Not that I have anything against Sweden). Here comes the "to be sure" sentence: It wouldn't be enough just to import Svensson. As L.A. Galaxy fans can tell you, bringing in one (albeit, overrated) superstar like David Beckham doesn't help much if his teammates are only mediocre. We'd need to create a Federal Reserve board equivalent of the Super Friends for Svensson to make the biggest difference. We might even find out that we already have a superstar in Bernanke in that scenario.
Central banking should be a superstar profession. The difference between a top central banker and an average one can be astronomical, particularly when conventional policy is impotent. An efficient market would pay them accordingly. If the United States spent $10 billion assembling a central banking fantasy lineup of Lars Svensson, Stanley Fischer, Adam Posen, and Christina Romer, it would probably be a phenomenal investment. It'd pay for itself many, many times over. The biggest challenge is changing the norms around central banking. We shouldn't just consider the top American economists for the top spots.
We're a nation of immigrants. The Federal Reserve should reflect that.
It’s a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef’s restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least ambitious home cooks to liven up a weeknight dinner. But recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.
This means that for most novice cooks, kitchen wisdom—a unified understanding of how cooking works, as distinct from the notes grandma lovingly scrawled on index-card recipes passed down through the generations—comes piecemeal. Take, for instance, the basic skill of thickening a sauce. Maybe one recipe for marinara advises reserving some of the starchy pasta water, for adding later in case the sauce is looking a little thin. Another might recommend rescuing a too-watery sauce with some flour, and still another might suggest a handful of parmesan. Any one of these recipes offers a fix under specific conditions, but after cooking through enough of them, those isolated recommendations can congeal into a realization: There are many clever ways to thicken a sauce, and picking an appropriate one depends on whether there’s some leeway for the flavor to change and how much time there is until dinner needs to be on the table.
Activists threatened to drag local Republicans off a parade route if they weren’t excluded from a local celebration. Organizers cancelled the entire event in response.
On the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, perhaps 3 million Americans took to the streets in peaceful protest to register their opposition. When news of his travel ban broke, I stood at LAX watching Angelenos sing the Star Spangled Banner and Amazing Grace. Across the nation, peaceful protest against President Trump continues. But a violent fringe has been using Trump’s rise as a justification for political violence, as if his authoritarian impulses justify authoritarianism from his opponents.
This tiny faction knows that most of their compatriots on the left are committed to nonviolence, so they frame their aggressive actions as a narrow exception to the rule.
Most famously, they insisted that it was okay, or even righteous, to punch white supremacist Richard Spencer because he was “a Nazi.” That position impels the debate down a slippery slope. And now, activists in Oregon caused the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, a community event in the southeast quadrant of Portland, by threatening to forcibly drag “fascists” off the parade route if they weren’t excluded.
The most comprehensive review of evidence on health consequences of caffeine use has just been published.
That’s what a Los Angeles news anchor said earlier this month, in response to the announcement that “the world’s strongest coffee” is now available in the United States. The product is called Black Insomnia, a playful nod to apotentially debilitating medical condition that can be caused by the product.
The anchor’s tone took a dramatic decrescendo as she read from the teleprompter: “The site Caffeine Informer says Black Insomnia is one of the ‘most dangerous caffeinated products.’” Her smile faded. “Oh. I’ll have to have this one sparingly.”
Black Insomnia is actually in competition for the title of “world’s strongest coffee.” Another, similar purveyor sells coffee grounds called Death Wish. They come in a black sack with a skull and cross bones. On its Amazon page, Death Wish claims to be “the world’s strongest coffee” and promises its “perfect dark roast will make you the hero of the house or office.”
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Who wins (the rich), who loses (anybody who doesn’t like deficits), and why it might take a miracle for the plan to become a law
There are two compelling narratives around President Donald Trump’s first 100 days. The first is his transformation from heterodox populist to orthodox Republican. Although he ran as a mold-breaking renegade, his economic policies come straight out of the conservative mold, from cutting business regulations to backing off threats to label China a currency manipulator and supporting plans to reduce health-insurance coverage for the poor.
The second story is that Trump has been more focused on optimizing for his own income and branding than for political victories. He has visited no foreign leaders, passed no major laws, given no major political addresses, and disappeared as the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare failed, all while doing little to refute accusations that he’s using the office to raise membership revenue at Mar-a-Lago and mixing business and politics in ways that are unprecedented for a sitting president.
The nationalists in Donald Trump's White House appear to have come very close to persuading the president to sign an executive order withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
A proposed draft executive order that would pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement set off the latest round in a now-familiar series in Trump’s White House: The friction of Donald Trump’s nationalist campaign promises against the reality of governance, and the tension between moderating forces within the White House and more aggressive ideological purists.
The draft of the executive order, its existence first reported by Politico, is “in advanced stages of the process,” a senior White House official told me on Wednesday afternoon. But on Wednesday evening, the White House released a readout of a call between President Trump, President Pena Nieto of Mexico, and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, saying that Trump had “agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time.” It quoted Trump as saying: “It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date at this time,” and said the three leaders had agreed to embark on renegotiation of the deal.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs represent one of the most dangerous challenges since the end of the Cold War. But there are opportunities to stop it.
The drama that is playing out now over North Korea’s nuclear and missile program—accentuated Tuesday by that regime’s large-scale artillery drill—represents one of the most dangerous challenges for U.S. national security since the end of the Cold War. It is a crisis that has been building for a long time, as North Korea has broken through the nuclear barrier and possesses fissile material sufficient for 20 to 25 nuclear weapons, by one estimate. After many failed attempts, through pressure and negotiations, to bring an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, three new elements have heightened the urgency of the situation.
First, North Korea is racing to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the continental United States. In his annual New Years address in January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared his country to be “in the final stage of preparation for the test launch” of such a missile. Moreover, experts warn, North Korea could at some point in the next few year years make the terrifying technological leap to a hydrogen bomb, which could be up to 1,000 times more destructive than the nuclear weapons that now comprise the North Korean arsenal.
The semiaquatic mammal leverages its own buoyancy and bone density to charge through the water.
People are talking about hippos this week, at least in part because the Cincinnati Zoo’s beloved baby hippopotamus, Fiona, is now three months old—a milestone that seemed uncertain when she was born prematurely in January.
Fiona’s doing great—so great that she’s “a little bit dangerous to actually cuddle and snuggle” anymore, the zookeeper Jenna Wingate told local reporters.
Which reminds me that wee Fiona will eventually, if she continues to thrive, turn into a grown-up hippo. And grown-up hippos are not—I repeat, not—to be trifled with. Consider, for example, this video, which my colleague Ed Yong shared with me yesterday:
Look at that hippopotamus go! After sharing this video on Twitter, I got several perplexing responses. Comments like this: “Not bad for an animal that doesn’t swim,” and “And … they can’t even swim!” There is even, someone told me, a children’s book about this: Hippos Can't Swim: And Other Fun Facts. As a long-time skeptic of “fun facts,” I obviously had to know more.
Film, television, and literature all tell them better. So why are games still obsessed with narrative?
A longstanding dream: Video games will evolve into interactive stories, like the ones that play out fictionally on the Star Trek Holodeck. In this hypothetical future, players could interact with computerized characters as round as those in novels or films, making choices that would influence an ever-evolving plot. It would be like living in a novel, where the player’s actions would have as much of an influence on the story as they might in the real world.
It’s an almost impossible bar to reach, for cultural reasons as much as technical ones. One shortcut is an approach called environmental storytelling. Environmental stories invite players to discover and reconstruct a fixed story from the environment itself. Think of it as the novel wresting the real-time, first-person, 3-D graphics engine from the hands of the shooter game. In Disneyland’s Peter Pan’s Flight, for example, dioramas summarize the plot and setting of the film. In the 2007 game BioShock, recorded messages in an elaborate, Art Deco environment provide context for a story of a utopia’s fall. And in What Remains of Edith Finch, a new game about a girl piecing together a family curse, narration is accomplished through artifacts discovered in an old house.