Thursday assorted links

by on December 15, 2016 at 11:02 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Great Patrick Collison chat with Ezra Klein.

2. New Classical.

3. Does singing promote cooperation?

4. Inside Quebec’s great maple syrup heist.

5. Building photos, 2016.  And massive Stonehenge-like complex found in the Amazon (NYT), the region whose history is perhaps least well understood.  Here is short, non-gated coverage.

6. Glenn Loury on Thomas Schelling.  Working link for Klein on Schelling’s politics you will find here.

1 rayward December 15, 2016 at 11:26 am

6. “In a tribute called, “Salute to Schelling: Keeping It Human,” Tyler Cowen, Timur Kuran, and I (Daniel Klein) expatiated on our high admiration of Schelling. We wrote:

Thomas Schelling has been one of the, and many cases the, pioneer in developing the following ideas: coordination concepts, focal points, convention, commitments (including promises and threats) as strategic tactics, the idea that strategic strength may lie in weaknesses and limitations, brinkmanship as the strategic manipulation of risk, speech as a strategic device, tipping points and critical mass, path-dependence and lock-in of suboptimal conventions, self-fulfilling prophecy, repeated interaction and reputation as a basis for cooperation, the multiple self, and self-commitment as a strategic tactic in the contest for self-control. (Klein, Cowen, and Kuran 2005, 159).”

Now read Schelling’s own assessment of himself at Cowen’s link to Schelling’s politics. What comes across in both is the absence of any ax to grind; he saw himself as an academic who was lucky enough to have been involved in some of the greatest achievements of his era, his own contribution a great achievement in itself. The absence of ego is jarring, and in stark contrast to the celebrity-obsessed culture in which we find ourselves today.

2 Alain December 15, 2016 at 11:46 am

(2) An interesting set of papers.
(1) a ‘great’ chat with Kline, impossible. I would appreciate if someone gave me a tl;dr about how it was ‘great’.
(5) interesting, but does everything have to start with a screed about how Europeans obliterated the world?
(4) Quebec! You’ll always be hilarious!

3 Turkey Vulture December 15, 2016 at 11:46 am

3. What if they were singing rounds? I hypothesize Lord of the Flies.

4 Mike W December 15, 2016 at 11:51 am

2. Anyone know about where the answer to Klein’s question, “Why there was a market opportunity for Stripe in a world that had PayPal” starts. The rest of the it doesn’t interest me.

5 Ray Lopez December 15, 2016 at 11:55 am

@#5 – Amazon Stonehedge is nothing more than Inca-inspired megaliths. If you go to Machu Picchu, you’ll see numerous 20 ton boulders and more transported long distances and arranged in impressive pyramids. They were constructed well before (as was Aztec, Maya, Olmec, others) these Amazon structures. Yawn.

“After conducting radiocarbon testing and carrying out measurements during the winter solstice, scholars in the field of archaeoastronomy determined that an indigenous culture arranged the megaliths into an astronomical observatory about 1,000 years ago [1016 C.E. THAT IS LATE], or five centuries before the European conquest of the Americas began.”

6 So Much For Subtlety December 15, 2016 at 5:24 pm

So you’re saying that these Brazilians are not the world’s best but simply a second-hand derivative pastiche of the more advanced Peruvians?

Around there them’s fightin’ words.

7 Thor December 16, 2016 at 2:20 pm

It’s not that bad. He could have said it was the dastardly Paraguayans who were more advanced.

8 N.K Anton December 15, 2016 at 12:06 pm

3) From my experience in a very ethnically and socioeconomically diverse school life, this makes sense because it mitigates cool vs. uncool because singing in a group during class is patently uncool. If you’re all sitting down and singing a lame song that your teacher makes you sing, no one can escape from being uncool. Also, it probably increases empathy by making everyone feel embarrassed.

Likewise, you all bond as little angry, ashamed and bored children, at the out-group that is your teacher.

9 rayward December 15, 2016 at 12:11 pm

1. When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton said: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.” How true. And it explains why so many young men and women go into the business of banking. How does this relate to Stripe? Purchase transactions on the internet are approaching the scale of banking, so skimming a small percentage of all the transactions on the internet can produce an enormous sum. Opportunity knocked, Collison answered. Listening to Mr. Collison reminds me of Glenn W. Turner, one of my favorite hucksters. Collison says Stripe is “building a technology layer”, which is a euphemism (a layer?) for skimming. That Ezra Klein falls for this BS is a testament to Mr. Collison. Of course, for every skimmer, the less available for the capital and labor that actually produces the goods being purchased. Does anyone in Silicon Valley actually produce anything tangible? We’ve waited for Godot, and we got Stripe, Uber, airbnb, and everyone’s favorite Facebook.

10 Bob December 15, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Of course something tangible is produced: Stripe and its competitors do things you could do yourself, but it takes a lot more effort to do than they should. The bank doesn’t want to give you a merchant account for weeks? Does integrating with the bank directly take 6 programmer-months? How about being compliant with credit card regulations like PCI-DSS? Instead of thinking of all of that, you pay a middleman so those problems are not your problems anymore. If the systems underneath were easier, you’d not want a middleman. If your company is big enough, you don’t want the middleman either, but you’ll, in practice, employ about as many people as said middleman doing the work.

So what I see when I see a company like Stripe making good money, what I understand is that the banking systems underneath are too complicated for their own good. It’s the same with uber, which just showed that taxi companies outside of a few select cities were completely uncompetitive in both price and quality of service. AirBnB? A $150/day apartment in SF often provides a better stay, and a far better location, than any of the old, loud, crummy hotels the rest of the city has. I

Therefore, I see how those companies aren’t really inventing anything big and new, but their skirting around crappy business models and overregulation is still producing plenty of public good. Back to Stripe: If you were starting an online store, and had to choose to use 3 months of starting budget building your payment infra, or 15 minutes and an extra half a percent of your revenue vs what the bank gives, you’d be mad to spend three months. Only when your volume is millions of dollars a month it start to make sense to think if bonus investment if worth that half a percent.

Or you can look at it from a market perspective: If big businesses like kickstarter and lyft are using a third party to do processing, are they all irrational, or is value being created?

11 rayward December 15, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Stripe’s skimming isn’t the alternative to bank (credit card) skimming, it’s in addition to it – purchasers pay two skimmers instead of one. That’s what “tech” is all about, skimming. And that even includes Google, a company that derives almost all of its revenues from advertising, advertising products made the old-fashioned way, in the world of atoms (to use Thiel’s metaphor). Americans were at one time encouraged to develop the technology to take us to the moon, to cure cancer, to produce energy that wouldn’t destroy the planet. Silicon Valley has responded with . . . . skimming, very accomplished skimming for sure, but skimming nevertheless. And people like Klein listen to the lords of Silicon Valley because . . . . because they have gotten fabulously wealthy from skimming. Is it any wonder that Americans elected a con man as president.

12 msgkings December 15, 2016 at 1:57 pm

The posts in which rayward continues to be stupid about what services are, as opposed to goods. In his mind, only goods are real. The fact that he’s a lawyer and produces nothing tangible and feeds his family by “skimming” has eluded his irony detector.

13 rayward December 15, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Actually, I’m very much aware that I am a “facilitator”, to use Mr. Collison’s term for his business. If I had collected a percentage of every transaction I have “facilitated” over my career, I’d be a wealthy man. But I didn’t, and I’m not. Even Shakespeare ridiculed lawyers. Yet, here we are, looking to “facilitators” in Silicon Valley to lead us to the promised land.

14 msgkings December 15, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Putting aside your hypocrisy, you still don’t seem to think providing a service like the tech companies do is worth much. Not that it matters to them, or the rest of us whose lives are greatly enhanced by those services.

15 Taxes Can Be a Worthwhile Investment in Our Future December 15, 2016 at 10:45 pm

Good points, Rayward. People used to call the Internet the Information Superhighway. And sometimes it is. But even more, it is the advertising superhighway. If we stop kidding ourselves, we have to admit that that is most of what the Internet is about– that, and fake news, and a territory for trolls to live in, and also porn. And, of course, the Internet’s most common beneficial contribution to society is cat videos.

16 msgkings December 16, 2016 at 12:52 am

Well, the internet can’t be all bad as it allows us to read multiple posts of yours like this one in every single thread here.

17 Mark Thorson December 15, 2016 at 1:26 pm

There is a certain element of genius to the Great Maple Syrup Heist. They invented a new crime. I’m reminded of the guy who counterfeited nickels. He might not have been caught, but he unknowingly combined heads with tails to create dates with mint marks that were never minted. Coin collectors noticed these in circulation, and when they first began reporting them to the FBI, the FBI didn’t believe them. Who would counterfeit nickels?

18 mkt42 December 15, 2016 at 3:19 pm

I don’t know if I’d give them that much credit for genius; when I teach about cartels I always mention DeBeers and the Charles Grodin/Candice Bergen/James Mason diamond heist caper movie “11 Harrowhouse” (sometimes re-titled “Anything for Love” in the US). Granted the movie is fiction, but it’s the same idea: find an insider who has access to the cartel’s cache of excess supply.

So this article has a few negatives: it doesn’t make the “11 Harrowhouse” connection. And it is at times over-written, the author could’ve used an editor to rein in the worst offenses. And it seems dismissive, at least at the start, about the worth of genuine maple syrup with the author complaining to the cashier that the maple syrup is much more expensive than Aunt Jemima syrup. I’m about the least food-snobby person that I know, but even I can tell the difference and I gladly pay many times as much for real maple syrup.

OTOH the article has a lot of positives. It made me realize the connection to “11 Harrowhouse”. It provided details about both the cartel and the process of making maple syrup (and how it has to be 66%-69% sugar; too low and it’s unstable, too high and it’s no longer syrup — I do wonder about those high-sugar concoctions: _Little House in the Big Woods_ memorably described a waxing stage where you get a soft maple candy and a grainy stage where you get maple sugar but I haven’t read any other descriptions about the variety of output that one can get when one boils off the water). John McPhee would’ve delved more deeply into the science, I have to think that degrees Brix are in there somewhere.

The article does have some good lines:
“If Jed Clampett shot up a sugar maple instead of a mountain holler, he’d have been a whole different order of rich.”
“In most cases, when a boring, bureaucratic job turns interesting, there’s trouble.”

And although the article misses the already-made movie, it notes the cinematic potential of the story. Especially the scene where the operators in the warehouse first become aware that syrup is missing, when the worker almost falls by stepping on a normally heavy and stable barrel. How many movies have key plot twists involving barrels? In “The Battle of the Bulge” Henry Fonda deduces that the Germans are short on fuel when he notices that their fuel barrels are floating. In “Treasure Island” Jim Hawkins eavesdrops while hiding in an apple barrel. There may be a few others but I can’t think of them.

And will maple water be the next coconut water?

19 So Much For Subtlety December 15, 2016 at 6:17 pm

How many movies have key plot twists involving barrels?

The Hobbit. The book, not the abortion of a film trilogy. When it comes time to save a stranded astronaut on Mars, you are clearly not going to be invited to the Council of Elrond. Although, in fairness, precisely none of the people at that damn meeting in the film looked even remotely plausible. Sean Bean knows anything about Elrond? Please. Benedict Wong, he looked right for the part. That’s it.

20 Lord Action December 16, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Jaws has a lot about barrels.

Much more obscure, and not worth seeing, is Megan is Missing. There’s a barrel twist in that one.

21 Mark Thorson December 15, 2016 at 6:48 pm

No. I’ve tried maple water, and it is very slightly sweet with a very faint maple flavor. Very slight and faint — it’s mostly water. Maybe I’d feel differently if it were carbonated.

Coconut water, on the other hand, is pleasantly sweet and has a nice coconut flavor. I’ve only had it straight from a young coconut, and I’d buy them often when the price was less than a dollar. Now since the popularity of coconut water, young coconuts are usually $2.49, so forget it.

22 AlanG December 15, 2016 at 3:30 pm

#1. The Sticher app is awful and the website no longer allows one to download podcasts. Maybe everyone else has infinite data plans but I listen to podcasts when I’m out walking in the real world and don’t have WiFi. I hope conversations with Tyler never goes the route of not allowing downloads from the web!

23 simon December 15, 2016 at 7:53 pm

1. Ezra Klein’s conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates this week is the best podcast of the year

FWIW here are my top 10 podcasts of 2016(with some evidence of recency bias!)

1. The Ezra Klein Show: Ta-Nehisi Coates 14 Dec
2. Waking up with Sam Harris: Andrew Sullivan 27 Oct
3. Nerdist: Gary Oldman 13 Apr
4. Tim Ferriss Show: Tony Robbins 9 Aug
5. Conversations with Tyler:Steven Pinker 2 Nov
6. James Bonding: The Music of James Bond 5 Dec
7. LSE Public Lectures: A day in the Life of the Brain with Baroness Greenfield 4 Nov
8. James Bond Radio: The James Bond Theme 18 Nov
9. FT Alphachetterbox: Mario Konnikova 6 Jun
10. EconTalk: Michael Munger 22 Aug

24 Taxes Can Be a Worthwhile Investment in Our Future December 15, 2016 at 10:49 pm

Thanks, Simon. I’ll have a look at the ones there I haven’t heard yet.

25 Tom G December 16, 2016 at 7:06 am

“The Indians had the sap but did not realize its potential until the French brought over the cast-iron pots needed to boil it down.”
Funny how so many ancient remedies/ practices were hugely improved by better technology, which most often the Europeans had first.

Thanks for keeping up with the Great Maple Heist, I often think of it. I don’t know why red-sugar maple trees haven’t been planted more in Europe, especially Slovakia.
Admittedly, it takes 40 years of growth before they start producing sap for syrup.
(One of my regrets at not doing this 25 years ago.)

26 Hazel Meade December 16, 2016 at 10:38 am

#3. You don’t necessarily want to encourage this. Singing and marching in unison are know behaviors of fascists and other unsavory groups.

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