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History and Economic History

Can historians and economic historians understand each other? That was the subtext of a panel discussion on "Number Trouble" at last weekend's meeting of the American Association for Slavic and East European Studies (ASEEES). On the panel were some of my favorite historians of Imperial Russia: David Darrow, Tracy Dennison, Steve Hoch, Yanni Kotsonis, and Katia Pravilova. In the...

One Hundred Years

One hundred years since a small group of extremists seized control of a major European state, thus launching a civil war, collectivization, terror, the complete reorganization of economy and society, and a geopolitical standoff that could well have ended in human extinction—all in the name of an untested and ultimately incorrect theory of human nature. When Keynes wrote of...

Technology Made Us Slaves, Technology Will Set Us Free

I’m back. Vacation turned into the mad rush before the start of the semester turned into the actual start of the semester turned into…Anyway, it seems as good a time as any to return to the theme of distractions and how to manage them. My friend John Ahlquist alerts me to a piece about tech innovators going off the...

(Not) Correcting Acemoglu and Robinson

When is an error not really an error? Daron Acemoglu and Jim Robinson recently posted a correction to the key proposition in “Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality, and Growth in Historical Perspective,” the seminal paper in what has proven to be an enormously influential research enterprise. That proposition characterizes equilibrium in terms of the parameter q,...

What Trump Knows (apropos of Korea, Putin, and Charlottesville)

Donald Trump is a little man who knows one big thing: the power of political rhetoric lies in not sounding like other politicians. He is not the first to understand this—Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination in 1992 by playing against (1980s Democratic) type—but few have honed the tool to such perfection.During the presidential campaign, this furthered two goals....

A Good Conference

What makes for a good conference? The opportunity to see old friends and make new ones. Quality panels with work that challenges and crosses intellectual boundaries. Outstanding plenary sessions. Pleasantly situated receptions and dinners. And what sort of conferences satisfy these criteria? To my mind, those that are small enough that everybody can fit into a banquet hall, that bring...

Game Theory and Medicine

It’s been radio silence for a few weeks as I have raced to beat various deadlines. The last of these lifted as I gave a talk on Thursday in the Internal Medicine Department at the University of Iowa. This was, needless to say, my first presentation to an audience in scrubs. I owe the rare privilege to my brother...

Is Trump Tipping? An Update

In what seems like eons ago, but in fact was early March, I posed the question: Is the Trump presidency at a tipping point? My conclusion then was that it was easy—perhaps too easy—to tell stories in which actors have incentives that lead to tipping points. Let's not get carried away, I argued: one could just as easily tell...

Second Pancake (on Ukraine after the Euromaidan)

A big shout-out to Grigore Pop-Eleches and Graeme Robertson, who organized a great conference at Princeton on Wednesday. It was the latest opportunity for scholars and policymakers to come together to discuss the future of Ukraine, which—I don't think this is an overdramatization—is at a critical juncture in its history as an independent nation. There is a saying in Russian: первый...

Going Deep

Consider me a convert. After listening to Ezra Klein's interview with Cal Newport, author of the popular Study Hacks blog, I read Newport's Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The book is not written specifically for academics, but I haven't read anything better about how to be one. "Deep work" is cognitively demanding work requiring intense...