Sunday, August 6, 2017

What Determines Amount of International Tourism?

I was looking at Gunnar Garfors's 25 Least Visited Countries in the world. I had always wondered about this, so for fun I decided to compare the tourist numbers he provides against the countries' populations, areas, population densities and per capita income. There is not a strong correlation for any of these, but population had the strongest with r^2=0.15. Grouping countries by island vs. landlocked vs non-landlocked, island countries had a lower average visitation rate.

The real relation is likely going to be an equation of cost and payout - that is, the average cost of visiting, versus what people think they'll get out of visiting there. Countries that are safe with developed tourist infrastructure (which per capita income is a proxy for) and good promotion (which increases the perceived value) and at least tolerable climate will be the best in terms of payout, but the average cost is going to be more complicated - to get lots of tourists, you need lots of countries relatively near you with money, and minimal administrative barriers (i.e. no unfriendly ergo uncooperative political relationships.) This reads like a description of Europe, and not surprisingly, 6 of the 10 most visited countries are in Europe, and the U.S. is the only one in the western hemisphere. If you wonder if local culture is in danger of being destroyed by all these tourists, most-touristed-country France has more tourists per year than its total population, and French culture seems to be in no danger of disappearing. If you're wondering, North Dakota is the least-touristed state in the U.S.

Defense Contractors - Is War Profitable?

Companies like Boeing get some of the revenue from selling consumer (civilian) hardware, and some from defense. Other companies are far more dedicated to producing military hardware (north of 90% of their sales in some cases.) Of the top 10 defense contractors in the world per Wikipedia, I looked only at the 7 U.S. ones that would exist in a similar tax and regulatory environment. The correlation is that the more arms sales, the less revenue.

So why be a defense contractor then? What often matters more is measures of unit profitability (indices like EPS, P:E - or if you're an employee, profitability per employee.) And sure enough, excluding outlier L3, the more military business, the more profitable per employee.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

War Requires Material Capacity and Lack of Institutional Constraint

In Never at War, Spencer Weart shows that in the modern era, democracies are extremely unlikely to fight other democracies, but that non-democracies fight democracies, and each other, much more often. You can try to think of counterexamples (Mexican-American War, maybe) but you'll be straining to do so.

A new paper by Blank, Dincecco and Zhukov show that prior to the modern era (i.e., 1200-1800) parliamentary states were actually MORE likely to go to war than absolutist states were. Their argument is that parliamentary states were successful in that they actually had more capacity to make war than the absolutist states, but they had not yet developed institutional constraints to prevent them from doing so, as presumably occurred in the modern era. (H/T slatestarcodex)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Education Ratings by State

This is from Education Week. No Bad Stripe visible here, but the Northeast sure does stand out. Looks like those Puritans and Midlanders are doing something right! To ask this more provocatively: are educators demanding to find out what they're doing in the Northeast so we do it everywhere? If not, why not? (Not that genes and geography are destiny - I have no ready explanations for Wyoming and Idaho, aside from good and bad policy decisions respectively.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Per Capita Income and the Bad Stripe

The Bad Stripe runs southwest from extreme SW Pennsylvania through West Virgina, turning westward through Kentucky and part of Tennessee, crossing the Mississippi through the Ozarks and into eastern Oklahoma. As seen in previous posts about it, it sticks out as a more-or-less contiguous zone of low happiness and quality of life indicators which is a border zone between North/Midwest and South, and is thought of by many as Greater Appalachian (or the greater reach of the Border Reavers, if Albion's Seed is your bag.) Long ago I thought this was just an area of contiguous mountains and hills, hence low population density and slower development, but you can't say that about western Kentucky and Tennessee or eastern Oklahoma.

The county-level per capita income map shows a poorer area roughly paralleling the Bad stripe, along with some of the Black Belt to the south and east of the Southern fall line cities.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

U.S. Presidents, Quality and Remembrance by Experts vs. Popular Opinion

Previously I measured the prominence of U.S. Presidents, using a quantitative measure (mentions in print as indexed by Google N-gram; a person publishing a book mentioning a President will have a greater level of expertise than someone chosen at random from the general public and asked about this President.) From this you can see which Presidents are being forgotten more or less quickly, based on how long they've been out of office. I also compared this how relatively forgotten or well-remembered they are against performance ratings given by historical experts. By doing this, you can see which bad Presidents we remember better than their time out of office would predict (and who maybe we should forget), and which good Presidents are unjustly slipping from memory.

Reading back through the Wiki article, I noticed they've added memorability and performance measures from the general public. Memorability and performance rankings from non-experts is bound to differ from the measures I performed already. So, for memorability I used the Roediger and De Soto Science paper,[1] and for performance I used the net favorability figure from the 2013 Rasmussen poll.

Here is the overall scatter plot for forgetting over time. The x-axis is years out of office, the y-axis is percent of general public remembering the President by surname.

As before, I guessed that forgetting happens more and more slowly over time. That is, people forgot about Polk faster in the first fifty years after he left office than the second fifty years. In the expert data this was born out and it was born out in the popular data as well, using the same two comparison groups (forgetting rate of the group J.Q. Adams through Cleveland, compared to McKinley through Reagan; not shown). In fact in both data sets there is a slight "negative" forgetting in the earlier group, i.e. the longer ago you were President, the better. (I started with J.Q. Adams because he was the first President who was not a founder, but the effect remained.)

Because of this effect (non-linear trend due to faster drop off in the more recent past) again I used a power law for goodness of fit, to determine whether Presidents were forgotten faster or slower than they otherwise would have been, on average, for that length of time out of office. I had to exclude Obama because he was in office (zero years out) during the survey and you can't include a zero value in a power law calculation. The figure on top is forgetting relative to appearance in print in 2000; on the bottom, to American's ability to remember this President's surname in 2014.

Here, there was a difference. For the experts, relative to how long they've been out of office, Gerald Ford was the most forgotten. Here, it's Chester Alan Arthur - who also holds the dubious distinction of being most forgotten in absolute terms as well (only 7% of Americans could remember him - tied with Franklin Pierce.) In fact, in popular remembrance Ford is not relatively more forgotten, but LBJ is (and in fact since this poll didn't distinguish LBJ and Andrew Johnson, presumably a least a tiny bit of this number is for the other President, so it's probably slightly worse than it appears here.) In fact there's only one other President from the last hundred years more forgotten relative to his time out of office than LBJ, and that's Harding. Charts are side-by-side for comparison. You can see the cluster of obscure late nineteenth century Presidents, more forgotten by the public than they are in print.


First let's look at the net favorable ranking that the public gave for these Presidents, compared to their relative remembrance (distance above or below the remembrance curve, with a linear adjustment so the units come out the same for comparison to the previous blog post. X-axis is performance (left is better), Y-axis is memorability (up is well-remembered.) In other words, George Washington will be in the upper left.

The rankings above are not zero sum. That is, the public could conceivably rank everyone favorably, or unfavorably, and indeed you can see clustering on the left (good performing) side of the graph. But to compare apples to apples, let's line them up ordinally - so it IS zero sum - and compare to the experts rankings. By doing this, we break the Presidents into four quadrants based on whether they're in the top or bottom half of the performance rankings, and whether they are relatively forgotten or well-remembered based on where they are relative to the remembrance curve. The chart above is based on experts rankings and overall mentions in print; below, on public remembrance and net favorables.

The "unjust quadrants" are bad and relatively well-remembered, as well as good and forgotten. This chart looks somewhat different from the experts' rankings. For one thing, in popular opinion there's more clustering of the good, well-remembered Presidents (possibly those two variables are the more like the same thing, outside the experts.) Also, the worse-than-average Presidents are remembered in print a little better than than by the general public (see the group just above the memory line on the right side of the experts/print graph.) As Ford is the most forgotten in the expert/print world and Arthur to the public, I predict that over time public opinion converges to the experts; i.e. Ford will eventually be just as obscure as Arthur is now.

And finally, in the public mind, there is one clear outlier who performed poorly but is remembered well - Richard Nixon. In the latter, there isn't such separation. The three I've circled are, from left to right, Reagan, Wilson, and Garfield. Garfield!?![3] That last one may owe more to the comic strip;[4] and anyway, if only 19% of people remember you (as opposed to Reagan's 66%) how do they know if they like you or not? Consequently, an argument that the experts' rankings are at the very least more internally consistent. You should see the post, or at the very least read about the most unjustly forgotten successful President (per the experts), James Polk.


[1] Note that the popular poll apparently went just by surname, which of course gives us five pairs of Presidents who can't be distinguished. When I assumed people were remembering one half the time and the other one half the time, or when I completely excluded them, the forgetting trend was the same.

[2] Internet surveys are not infrequently gamed, and the lowness of Reagan's numbers is suspect here, but it's the best I have available. To be clear, this isn't an endorsement of the Reagan administration - if you're liberal and you're annoyed by the thought that Reagan's memorability should be higher, compare to how much you hear Reagan being fetishized by Republicans and then go back and look at how low this number is. If it makes you feel better, assume that the number is not representative of full public opinion because Republicans don't know how to use the internet.

[3] A final insult to Arthur. You're the VP for a guy who is assassinated after just a few months in office, and you serve out almost his whole term, and people still remember him 2.5x as much as you?!?

[4] This comic generator is fun too.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Grammar of Rock Singers and Dictators

I once asked a friend to translate Van Halen's Standing on Top of the World into Japanese, so I could sing it at a karaoke bar in Japantown, San Francisco. My friend said, "I don't know if you can really translate it." Glance briefly over the lyrics and you may understand her complaint:

Hey, baby, woo
I know you believe in me, that's all I ever need
No no, nothin's gonna stop it
Nothin' will discourage me, oh, no

Hey baby, uh, it's the only way out
Oh, little darlin'
Now come on, what's it all about?

Oh, I know you wanna touch
I got to have a little taste
I don't wanna sink my teeth in that fine piece of real estate, yeah

Hey baby, woo! make it nice 'n sweet, oh
Oh, little darlin'
Let's take a walk down easy street

If you're using the term for infant for "baby", or literally translating "I got to have a little taste", or goodness forbid actually trying to understand the meaning and direction of each phrase, you're probably not going to translate the important component of the song. Another friend once asked in frustration about this song, "What is this even about? This song is about nothing. It's just Sammy Hagar selling his personality."

It's becoming increasingly clear that the actual propositional content of human utterances is often secondary to other purposes those utterances may have - particularly, emotional or tribal afiliation purposes. This goes double for beliefs which are professed explicitly for tribal loyalty signaling. When your team wins an upset, and you hold up one index finger as you scream triumphantly into the camera, everyone (including you) knows that your team really isn't number one. Although "beliefs" are often thought of as propositional attitudes, the important part of these team cheers is not the actionable, semantic, propositional content. It's the visceral and emotional loyalty signals it sends. Sometimes, where the stakes aren't so high (as at a football game) you can jokingly point out to your friend that no, we're not really #1, and he'll say "I know, but you know what I mean. Don't ruin the moment." However, in more serious settings, you cannot directly address the emptiness of dogmatic statements ("God is great", "Hail Mary full of grace", and "From each according to ability...", etc.) without giving away the game - so people sometimes get confused, and start to take all their own utterances literally. More interesting perhaps are the gyrations people go through to avoid acting on things that they absolutely insist they believe - and indeed, most people are able to say these team cheers without thinking too much about them or why they don't seem to be able to meaningfully affect their actions in concrete ways.

Donald Trump is difficult to translate, and has frustrated translators the world over with his incoherent stream of narcissistic consciousness. A recent article points out that in fact translators have had this same difficulty with other twentieth century demagogues. Whether this is clever manipulation of crowds or merely the result of impoverished minds, I won't speculate. The important point is that somehow, they communicate something, even if it's semantically jumbled propositionally empty territorial barking. We can think of this as finally boiling off the pesky, pin-down-able, commitment-laden propositions from language and leaving behind a distilled tribal chant, empty of formal meaning but chock full of visceral power. Trying to translate Donald Trump or Van Halen lyrics exposes the vacuum of actual content in both cases, without bringing along the emotional tribal-identity impact that is really the only thing there. Consequently, those who look for inaccuracies and broken promises in Trump's words hoping to finally wake up his supporters are, unfortunately, playing checkers against a wrestling team.