Tyler Cowen

Getting a speeding ticket is not a feel-good moment for anyone. But consider Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman.

He was recently fined 54,024 euros (about $58,000) for traveling a modest, if illegal, 64 miles per hour in a 50 m.p.h. zone. And no, the 54,024 euros did not turn out to be a typo, or a mistake of any kind.

Mr. Kuisla is a millionaire, and in Finland the fines for more serious speeding infractions are calculated according to income. The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too.

…The fines are calculated based on half an offender’s daily net income, with some consideration for the number of children under his or her roof and a deduction deemed to be enough to cover basic living expenses, currently 255 euros per month.

Then, that figure is multiplied by the number of days of income the offender should lose, according to the severity of the offense.

Mr. Kuisla, a betting man who parlayed his winnings into a real estate empire, was clocked speeding near the Seinajoki airport. Given the speed he was going, Mr. Kuisla was assessed eight days. His fine was then calculated from his 2013 income, 6,559,742 euros, or more than $7 million at current exchange rates.

The full story is here, and in a much earlier MR post I argue against the practice.  Wealthier people have a higher value of time, and it is probably efficient to allow them to speed more.

What was once one of America’s most iconic and popular chains is now down to just two locations. According to NPR, one of the last three Howard Johnson’s restaurants closed its doors this week. Located in Lake Placid, N.Y., the restaurant opened in April of 1956. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the owners of the Lake Placid location are getting old and their children are “not interested” in taking over. So, they sold the restaurant to new owners who plan to turn the building into a “high-end roadside diner.”

Via the excellent Mark Thorson, there is more here.  You can read the Yelp reviews here.

That is the subtitle, the title proper is Pedigree, by Lauren A. Rivera.  This is a very good book on the microdynamics of inequality and the important role played by social networks, how you present yourself, and…pedigree.  Not all of it is a revelation, because by now many of these mechanisms are well-known.  Still, it is unfailingly intelligent, well-written, and it documents these matters better than any other book I know.  Here is one excerpt:

…individual sponsors did not need to be high up in the organization.  HR professionals and school teams typically trusted the recommendations of even the most junior firm employees.  Insider-outsider status was more salient than vertical position within a firm.  First-year analysts or associates could successfully push through an individual they knew from class, athletics, extracurricular activities, their hometowns, or word-of-mouth to the interview phase, provided that they could successfully get the application on the “right desk,” in person or via email…In addition, the tie to an individual sponsor did not have to be strong.

More generally, it is often better to have a contact “within” an institution rather than at the very top.  Recommended, for all those who have an interest in such topics.

Via Chug, here is what happens when you plate junk food as if it were high-end food, a good link.

It is now available, notice the new subtitle The Economic Malaise at a Technological Plateau: Problems of the United States and Oppotunities for China.

I will be doing some book promotion in China in May, and soon I will have a few questions for you all.


Assorted links

by on April 25, 2015 at 11:10 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Japanese virtual water innovation.

2. Cell phone blocking near a Baltimore jail?

3. Photos of a Chilean volcano eruption.

4. “Inspectors in Israel monitor live feeds to ensure that Jews aren’t sneaking in their vegetables with the Palestinian crop.”  And the economics of suspense.

5. Tsundoku.

6. Who are the junior creditors in Russia?  And more here.

7. New Yorker profile of Gene Wolfe.

3-D printed food

by on April 25, 2015 at 1:24 am in Food and Drink, Web/Tech | Permalink

Marijn Roovers’ epicurean delights have graced the tables of some of the Netherlands’ finest restaurants. But the food designer’s Chocolate Globe is his most intricate — and technologically advanced — creation. A chocolate shell just 0.8 millimetres thick is embossed in gold with the chocolate’s continent of origin, and it holds delicacies that symbolize the region.

Roovers and chef Wouter van Laarhoven printed it — layer-by-layer of chocolate — on a 3D printer. Roovers is at the forefront of a small group of gourmets and technophiles who want to revolutionize how food is prepared. On 21 April, they will gather in the Netherlands for the first conference dedicated to the 3D printing of food.

But do note this:

3D food printers tend to be slow: Roovers’ chocolate globes, for example, currently take about an hour to print. To prepare one per guest in a restaurant with 40 patrons would take almost 2 days of continuous printing. “It’s not very realistic,” he says. “At the moment it’s a way to show craftsmanship.”

Then there is the matter of texture. Most 3D printers work with either pastes or powders, so the resulting food tends to be mushy, says Julian Sing, founder of 3DChef, a firm near Tilburg, Netherlands, that specializes in 3D printing of sugar. “The food needs to have the right texture,” he says. “It needs to look like food and not like slop.”

There is more here, via Michelle Dawson.

The announcement is here., with lots of detail.  Here is the first paragraph:

Roland Fryer is an influential applied microeconomist whose work spans labor economics, the economics of education, and social problems and social interactions.  His innovative and creative research contributions have deepened our understanding of the sources, magnitude, and persistence of U.S. racial inequality.  He has made substantial progress in evaluating the policies that work and do not work to improve the educational outcomes and economic opportunities of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  His theoretical and empirical work on the “acting white” hypothesis of peer effects provides new insights into the difficulties of increasing the educational investments of minorities and the socially excluded.  Fryer is the leading economist working on the economics of race and education, and he has produced the most important work in recent years on combating the racial divide, one of America’s most profound and long-lasting social problems.

Here are previous MR posts about Fryer, lots of interest there, a very good and deserving choice.  His home page is here.

1. Deng Xiaoping: A Revolutionary Life, by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine.  Why not read a biography of one of the most important men of the twentieth century?  I found this book valuable even though I am already familiar with the Ezra Vogel tome on Deng.  Recommended.

2. Restless Empire: A Historical Atlas of Russia, by Ian Barnes, Belknap Press.  This is not only one of the best introductions to Russian history, there are clear and excellent maps every two or three pages.  More history books should follow this standard.

Assorted links

by on April 24, 2015 at 12:02 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Russ Roberts interviews David Skarbek on prison gangs.

2. Who caused the flash crash?

3. More Daniel Davies on Greece.

4. What happens to people when they think they are invisible?

5. AIG in hindsight.

6. “In fact, though the parents may not realise it, many interviewers watch the parents more closely than the child, Jenny suggests…And if parents bring in a portfolio listing the playgroups and classes their toddler has attended, and the places they have been on holiday – as some do – she doesn’t look at it.”  And David Brooks on parental love.

Chad writes me:

What jobs (particularly ones we think of as being inherently beneficial to society) might America have too many of? Political journalism comes to mind this particular month, since we apparently have enough to carefully monitor the Chipotle orders of presidential candidates 19 months before the election. Writers might be another, particularly in a world of self-publishing.

One can imagine lots of reasons for a greater-than-optimal number of people in a particular profession, from government subsidies to cultural biases, but I’m curious if you have a gut feeling about any professions in particular.

A good question, in my view the answer is not so simple.  Writers and artists are indeed a possible nomination, but some of the demand for these professions is likely for consumption, which makes the overinvestment difficult to judge.  And what about lawyers?  Relative to the number of laws and regulations (too many in my view, but take them as given), it is not obvious to me that we have too many lawyers.  Someone has to tell companies when it is safe to proceed, or not.

How about too many people selling medical devices and other high margin items?  Too many people making alcohol?  Too many people raising and selling animal meat?  Those would be my picks.

The finance sector is another obvious culprit, but as a fraction of wealth I do not think it is larger than in the past.  Admittedly people in the finance sector may be engaging in the wrong activities, but I am not sure the case for fewer employees per se is so obvious.  Still, it is another candidate, if only because it (often) involves people selling high-margin items.

Claims about embryos

by on April 24, 2015 at 12:29 am in Current Affairs, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

A pressing question, said Rudolf Jaenisch, an M.I.T. biology professor, is why anyone would want to edit the genes of human embryos in order to prevent disease. Even in the most severe cases, involving diseases like Huntington’s in which a single copy of a mutated gene inherited from either parent is enough to cause the disease with 100 percent certainty, editing poses ethical problems. Because of the way genes are distributed in embryos, when one parent has the gene, only half of the parent’s embryos will inherit it. With gene editing, the cutting and pasting has to start immediately, in a fertilized egg, before it is possible to know if an embryo has the Huntington’s gene. That means half the embryos that were edited would have been normal — their DNA would have been forever altered for no reason. “It is unacceptable to mutate normal embryos,” Dr. Jaenisch said. “For me, that means there is no application.”

If I were grading an undergraduate philosophy class, I am not sure Dr. Jaenisch would exceed a C minus with that answer (the source article is here).  Besides I have never known a normal embryo.  Then there is the all too obvious question as to why it should be acceptable to abort embryos, but not to modify or mutate them.  Oops.

The better arguments are surely the slippery slope worries that embryo tinkering will change the nature and future of humanity in dangerous ways, perhaps producing too much conformity, too much zero-sum competition (“buy the Harvard splice”), too much discrimination against various “types,” too much induced family loyalty, legal discouragement of rebellious genes, excess advantages for elites, too many decisions which too explicitly lower the social status of some groups of people, and perhaps ultimately too much drift from the world we know (and love?).

Those are my worries.  Whether or not they are valid, they would seem to merit at least a C+.  But many commentators wish to ensure these issues are not actually argued.  Will this prove the new face of anti-scientific, anti-philosophical thinking?  Check out the closing quotation from Professor Daley at Harvard, and his use of the word “deranged.”

A lot of parents will strongly desire some future version of this product, and I believe a number of countries are going to be willing to proceed with such innovations, if and when they become possible.  They’ll also be willing to live with the costs of the failures in the meantime.  So I don’t think the strategy of shutting down debate is going to fare so well in this case.

I had not known such a thing exists:

There are raisins stored in California warehouses as part of the U.S. government’s National Raisin Reserve — but the program may shrivel in the face of a Supreme Court challenge.

The National Raisin Reserve — which is overseen by the Fresno-based Raisin Administrative Committee — is part of post-World War II-era program that forces raisin producers to give part of their annual crop to the government to prevent an oversupply of the dried fruit. Controversially, the program seizes the raisins from the farmers without paying them, and that has created friction, lawbreaking farmers, and a Supreme Court case. One scofflaw farmer, Marvin Horne, has refused to surrender his raisins to the government and owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and over 1 million pounds of the sweet dried fruit to Uncle Sam.

The controversial raisin-seizing program could soon be, however, a relic of history.

Several Supreme Court justices expressed doubts Wednesday that federal officials can legally take raisins away from farmers without full payment even if the goal is to help boost overall market prices.

The article is here, via Jeffrey Lessard.  Here is commentary from Ilya Somin, here is an IJ video on the case.

Do read the whole thing.  Excerpt:

There has been no sign of a reversal of the decline in labour’s share of total income and no body of research that supports the idea that it will. Productivity growth is definitely under way, at rates similar to those in the 1970s and 1980s, but well below the rates of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1990s. In particular, there is no sign that a burst of productivity growth will make up for the complete stall in productivity growth around the crisis, as Figure 3 shows.

Most importantly, there is no sign suggesting a departure from the decline in labour-force participation shown in Figure 6. Some commentators have declared a turnaround in participation based on recent monthly data, but Figure 9 suggests this is wishful thinking. Participation has declined along a straight line during the period of improving conditions in the labour market, suggesting a complete disconnect between participation and the state of the labour market.

Excellent throughout.

Assorted links

by on April 23, 2015 at 12:06 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Is America a mobility laggard?

2. Rogoff on debt supercycles vs. secular stagnation.

3. Can software reduce on-line procrastination?

4. Can Greece default and stay inside the eurozone?

5. Paying to get inside the restaurant, by Tim Harford.

6. The Turing test Olympics.

7. M.H. Abrams has passed away at 102.

8. The new Arizona State online initiative.

…the warden of the Lee Correctional Institute, Cecilia Reynolds, said that in recent weeks her officers found 17 phones in one inmate’s cell. She said she suspected that the phones continue to come in on drones.

There is more here, interesting throughout.  How about this bit?:

Prison officials, echoing Ms. Reynolds, say that convicts and their families and friends are willing to pay more than $1,000 to get a device – like an iPhone — into a prison. Smartphones are so desirable because unlike pay phones at prisons, they are not recorded or monitored, enabling gang leaders to freely run their criminal activities from behind bars. The phones also allow them to watch pornography and communicate surreptitiously with fellow prisoners.

The phones are essential for coordinating with smugglers using drones, because the prisoners need to know where to find the deliveries in the yard. Most important for the smugglers, the prisoners can then use the phones to quickly pay them.

How about blocking cell phone signals inside the jail?  Elsewhere, a possibly radioactive drone was found on the roof of the office of Prime Minister Abe.  As I’ve said already on Twitter, the drone wars have begun…