Monday, September 15, 2014

The history of culture diffusion

Nature, the magazine, published a 5 minute animation about the spread of culture and ideas through the history and the world (from 600AD to present day) by following birth and death place of main personalities in history like Leonardo da Vinciy. One can see the cultural activity of the Renaissance in Italy and the Rome empire, and the French, American and British cultural and scientific explosion of the XVII and XVIII century. It clearly is a bit Eurocentric but is also interesting and beautiful, anyway.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life expectancy is accelerating

The Economist published this week male’s life expectancy at birth in UK since 1971. According to their source life expectancy in 1979 was 69 years old, in 2012 it was 79. Not sure why they selected males instead of female (perhaps data is less volatile for males). In 40 years British males’ life expectancy at birth has increased by 10 years, that’s 3 months every year on average! The most interesting thing, though, is that life expectancy has been accelerating. The rate at which life expectancy increased in the 1970’s was lower than today. I added the black dotted line which shows the best fitted line to the original graph. From it one can estimate that, in fact, in 1970 the increase in life expectancy was 1.8 months every year, in 2012 that increase was 4.2 months every year. That’s an acceleration of 1 month every twenty years.

There’s of course a limit here, one can’t increase its life expectancy by 12 months per year or more because that would mean you are immortal. In any case we are living longer at an accelerating rate.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Creative destruction

Mancur Olson pointed out many years ago that economies seem to grow much faster after major wars or other societal revolutions. That were the case of Japan, Germany, and France after World War II. Olson's story was that wartime destruction and revolution dissolved the old vested interests and let new leaders come to the fore. War and revolutions remove the older generations and bring in new generations and technologies.

Another XX century economist, Joseph Schumpeter, argued that the process by which economic growth occurs is the so called “creative destruction”, the replacement or destruction of old technologies and methods by new and more efficient ones. Understandably, this process is always confronted by the old establishment and their opposition is likely to be successful because they tend to have a structured and strong lobby. Economist such as William Easterly argue that institutions that defend economic freedom and protect individual economic liberties are the key for that “creative destruction” to succeed. Daron Acemoglu goes one step further, though, his point in his new book “Why nations fail” is that freedom and individual liberties don’t happen spontaneously, they stem from inclusive institutions, i.e. institutions that embody a broad majority of the society and where political power is not owned by just a few. In other words, the political contest between levelled groups of interest end up reaching the lowest common denominator: individual liberty.

Therefore, from Acemoglu’s point of view, Olson’s observation about war regeneration is a process that only occur IF “inclusive institutions” are in place, otherwise the new generations will just supplant and replicate the previous extractive groups and the protected old technologies just as black American slaves did in Liberia or Mugabe did in Zimbabwe to name a few. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Big data hype

An interesting lecture about statistics and Big Data hype delivered by Berkeley’s professor Terry Speed. Apparently we seem to be at the end of the upper trend for Big Data. So the excitement will soon be over and the expectations of what can be extracted from Big Data will soon be more… realistic. Meanwhile let’s enjoy it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Quality of Government

In 2010 the European comissioned a report on the quality of government by region in Europe. The  report was prepared by the research team at the Quality of Government Institute of University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The primary task of this project was to create data for quality of government (QoG). Although a recent proliferation of QoG data have emerged since the mid 1990s, no quantification of the quality of government has been created or used in this process so far at the regional level. Based on the combination of national level international expert assessments from the World Bank and the largest QoG survey to date to focus on regional variation, they constructed the most complete quantitative estimates of QoG variation for 172 EU regions within 18 countries.

This study is important because numerous academic studies and statements by international organizations, have emphasized that only with a high quality of government can a country reap the benefits of economic growth and social development and foster economic development.

QoG was disaggregated into the following categories or pillars:

1) ‘corruption’,
2) ‘rule of law’,
3) ‘bureaucratic effectiveness’
4) ‘government voice and accountability’/ or ‘strength of democratic and electoral

The general view is the following

One can see that, as expected, northern Europe is the most developed in QoG and not surprisingly Italy and East Europe are lagging behind.

If the EU countries had to be clustered in three groups the result would be this.

France, Belgium, Portugal and Spain make the middle group while Italy is part of the last group.

By pillars the results are the following:

Friday, March 14, 2014

from PDF to CSV

One of the most annoying things about gathering data is that sometimes it is shown in PDF format. As you know the process of copy and paste data from PDF to EXCEL or STATA can be very painful.

Tabula,  came some time ago, is a useful piece of free software to get the data tables out of countless PDF files. It's really is simple to use. Load a PDF file into Tabula, which runs on your computer, highlight the table to extract, and the program does the rest.

Download Tabula here. Find out a little more about it on Source.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Europe's dynamic Historical Atlas

The Centennia Historical Atlas is an impresive program that shows border changes in Europe and the Middle East from the 11th century to the present.
Some dates are not very accurate what still is a nice piece of reasearch.