Yes, it is a good idea to patronize the small restaurants on the outskirts of the hutong, but here is another tip.  Go to the very fanciest restaurant possible, in a fancy five-star hotel.  Then order the cheapest items on the menu.  That likely will involve some vegetables (pumpkin in egg, anyone?), tofu, and fried rice.  It will be an amazing meal, quite possibly better, at least to a Western palate, than if you had ordered the most expensive delicacies of that restaurant.  Many of these courses will not exceed $10 per shot, which is still about at American prices or even slightly below, and that’s not adjusting for massive differences in quality.  If you feel you can afford more than that, fine, but the low budget constraint actually directs your attention to some pretty fine items, and to items which are never truly good in American Chinese restaurants.

I’ve had good street food in Beijing, but in my view it is neither your first nor even your second preferred option.

 Truckmaker Freightliner’s newest commercial big rig can steer and drive itself, while the driver relaxes and enjoys the ride. No, I’m not talking about Autobot Ultra Magnus. It’s the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, the first ever self-driving commercial truck to receive a road license plate for autonomous operation on public highways.

The system, called Highway Pilot, operates like the autopilot on a commercial airliner. Once set and underway the system can maintain a cruise without the driver’s intervention. Highway Pilot uses stereoscopic cameras located at the front end of the truck that watch the road ahead for roadside signage, lane markers and other vehicles.

This 3D imagery is fed into the Inspiration Truck’s electronic brain, which then affects the electric steering rack, the drive-by-wire throttle and the automated manual transmission to keep the truck between the lines and a safe distance behind a leading vehicle.

It is not yet a fully autonomous vehicle:

Speaking of the human element, the Inspiration Truck still requires that a driver be in its driver’s seat. A person needs to get the truck moving from a stop, handle complex low-speed maneuvers and to monitor autonomous drive.

Freightliner tells us that the system will notify the driver with visual and audible cues in the event that conditions won’t allow confident autonomy (such as snow, rain or on roads with poorly defined lane markers) and a human is needed to take over. When driving conditions are optimal, however, and the road stretches out ahead, the Inspiration Truck’s driver can set the Highway Pilot and tend to other parts of the business of logistics.

There is more here.

Kyle York came up with a few, here is one of them:

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards Immanuel Kant. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Jeremy Bentham instead. Jeremy Bentham clutches the only existing copy of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Kant holds the only existing copy of Bentham’s The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Both of them are shouting at you that they have recently started to reconsider their ethical stances.

For the pointer I thank Dennis Boyle.

Xian bleg

by on May 4, 2015 at 4:59 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

What to do, where to go, and above all what to eat?  I do of course have the standard guidebooks, what can you add to the basic advice?

And how easy is it to buy a ticket for the fast train from Beijing?

The road that is Bolivian

by on April 30, 2015 at 1:37 pm in Travel | Permalink

Yes, Yungus:

For decades, the road had its own rules. The most important was to drive on its left side. That allowed down-bound motorists to peer out their windows and get a better look at how close their wheels were to the abyss.

Amid fog, rain and landslides, accidents killed 200 to 300 people per year.

You can read more about it here.  I was once in La Paz, and unwilling to leave because it would have meant traversing this road.  Nor did I have enough time to fly somewhere and back.

Go to the mercado in Valladolid, right off the main square, and sample as many dishes as possible.  Don’t hesitate to use the spicy black sauce.  That is the single best introduction to Yucatan cuisine I know of.

Mérida offers a more urbanized variant, with influences from Cuba (the tortas) and Lebanon (kibi, which is like kibbeh).  The town has many bad restaurants, go eat at Punto y Coma, a loncheria inside one of the markets, taxi drivers seem to know where it is.  Ask for their specialties, and don’t miss Sopa de Lima.

In Cancún, get yourself to El Centro, away from the tourist hotels.  If you are stuck on the strip, Tempo offers ten courses for less than $50, the founder chef is from San Sebastian and I would put the quality at that of a Michelin two-star.  Otherwise look for small places selling fish tacos.

El cenote Samula was created by the meteor which did in the dinosaurs, today you can swim there.  The open air restaurants to its side were the best meal so far.

A live stream version is posted here, slide to 6:00 to start, YouTube and podcast and transcript versions are on their way.  I thought Jeff did just a tremendous job.  We covered the resource curse, why Russia failed and Poland succeeded, charter cities, his China optimism, how his recent book on JFK reflects the essence of his thought, why Paul Rosenstein-Rodan abandoned Austrian economics for “big push” ideas, whether Africa will be able to overcome the middle income trap, where he disagrees with Paul Krugman, his favorite novel (Doctor Zhivago, he tells us why too), premature deindustrialization, and how we should reform graduate economics education, among other topics.

Bleg for Cancun, Mexico

by on April 6, 2015 at 11:32 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Your answers here will help everyone at APEE, so please tell us what else should one do besides the usual?  Where is the truly good food to be had, including cocina economica?  I thank you all in advance for your assistance.

Bleg for Merida, Mexico

by on April 6, 2015 at 11:31 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

I haven’t been there for thirty years, what do you all recommend for a short stay?  And where can we find good marquesitas, pib x’catik, caballeros pobres, pucheros, and chancletas?  Among other delicious treats.

Here is the abstract of his piece “Air Conditioning, Migration, and Climate-Related Rent Differentials“:

This paper explores whether the spread of air conditioning in the United States from 1960 to 1990 affected quality of life in warmer areas enough to influence decisions about where to live, or to change North-South wage and rent differentials. Using measures designed to identify climates in which air conditioning would have made the biggest difference, I found little evidence that the flow of elderly migrants to MSAs with such climates increased over the period. Following Roback (1982), I analyzed data on MSA wages, rents, and climates from 1960 to 1990, and find that the implicit price of these hot summer climates did not change significantly from 1960 to 1980, then became significantly negative in 1990. This contrary to what one would expect if air conditioning made hot summers more bearable. I presented evidence that hot summers are an inferior good, which would explain part of the negative movement in the implicit price of a hot summer, and evidence consistent with the hypothesis that the marginal person migrating from colder to hotter MSAs dislikes summer heat more than does the average resident of a hot MSA, which would also exert downward pressure on the implicit price of a hot summer.

The pointer is from Ross Emmett in the MR comments section, very useful comments overall.  Biddle has two other pieces on the history of air conditioning, and Biddle has other interesting pieces as well, he is apparently an underappreciated economist.

Here Scott Sumner details the import of state income taxes.  In my view not the “main” factor, but a significant factor nonetheless, excerpt: “On the west coast, all states grew faster than the national average. Yes, its climate is nicer that the south central region.  But look at the more detailed data and you’ll see that hot and sunny Washington state and Alaska grew the fastest of five bordering the Pacific.  And oh by the way, Washington and Alaska are the only two with no state income tax.”  I’ll add this point: to the extent income inequality is rising, a relatively small number of cross-state migrants can lead to a noticeable difference in cross-state growth and job creation rates.  And the high earners are precisely those who are most able and most likely to leave a high-tax state for a low-tax state.

Paul Krugman has had a few posts on this question, most recently this one, the first one here.  Krugman is right in asserting a major role for air conditioning, but there is a subtle framing point which is sometimes neglected.  The most on-point study is this piece from Jordan Rappaport (pdf):

U.S. residents have been moving en masse to places with nice weather. Well known is the migration towards places with warm winters, which is often attributed to the introduction of air conditioning. But people have also been moving to places with cooler, less-humid summers, which is the opposite of what is expected from the introduction of air conditioning. Nor can the movement to nice weather be primarily explained by shifting industrial composition or by elderly migration. Instead, a large portion of weather-related moves appear to be the result of an increased valuation of nice weather as a consumption amenity, probably due to broad-based rising per capita income.

Overall Rappaport concludes that “nice [warm] weather is a normal good” is the more important driving force behind the movement to the Sun Belt than is air conditioning per se, though of course air conditioning makes nice warm weather all the nicer.  Evidence from compensating differentials also indicates that “…the decreased discomfort from heat and humidity afforded by air-conditioning has not been the primary driver of the move to nice weather.” (p.26)

From 1880 to 1910, Americans overall are moving to places with bad (cold) weather.  In the 1920s they start moving, on net, to places with nicer weather and that trend has not let up.  The arrival of affordable air conditioning in the postwar era bumps this up a bit, but the main trend already was in place.  Furthermore air conditioning has been in the south for quite a while now, but migration in that direction continues.  In his second post on the topic, Krugman refers to this as a “gradual adjustment” to AC, but it seems to better fit the nice weather as a normal good story.  We’ll know more if we see this migration continuing, but I expect it will.  At some point it won’t be plausible to call the ongoing movement a “lagged response” to the introduction of air conditioning, but again it will fit the normal good story pretty smoothly.

Note also that life expectancy is notably higher in warm weather than cold weather.  Deschenes and Moretti conclude (pdf): “…The longevity gains associated with mobility from the Northeast to the Southwest account for 4% to 7% of the total gains in life expectancy experienced by the U.S. population over the past thirty years.”

That again points toward a “normal good” explanation, with air conditioning playing a supporting role.

That all said, if you look at the larger political debate going on here, Krugman is correct in arguing that lower taxes are the not main reason for this migration, even though the median voter in these states probably approves of such relatively low tax rates.  In any case, there is a clearer and better version of the weather hypothesis which can be put forward.

Addendum: David Beckworth adds commentary and some fascinating maps.

File under The Culture that is Germany.  Here is the rest of the abstract:

In this article, we investigate cosmopolitan attitudes among the people often considered the most cosmopolitan – the elite. Studying the typical class of frequent travellers provides a particularly good opportunity to study the relationship between transnational activities and cosmopolitanism. We also comprehensively investigate the link between postmaterialist values and cosmopolitan attitudes. We test our arguments using an original dataset that includes a relatively large sample of the German positional top elite in the years 2011 and 2012. A comparison between these data and data from a general population survey shows that while transnational activities affect the attitudes of ordinary citizens, increased travelling does not make elites more cosmopolitan. We discuss several reasons why this might be the case. We also observe that postmaterialist values and the ideological environment of the elite play a key role. Finally, we tentatively suggest that cosmopolitan elites do not endanger national social cohesion, as some fear they might. We show that cosmopolitanism and localism are not mutually exclusive and that members of the German elite feel even more attached to their nation than ordinary Germans.

Like my source the excellent Kevin Lewis, I wonder how much this applies to other nations as well.

Daniel Davies reviews New Zealand.  Here is one excerpt:

The key to understanding the economy of New Zealand is that it’s an industry cluster, and the industry in question is agriculture. Or, and this might be a bit more controversial, the industry in question is agriculture marketing, the most perfect example of which being the way in which the Chinese gooseberry was renamed the “kiwifruit” and production ramped up exponentially to meet US and European demand. At some point, if they can transport them without bruising, I’d guess that they’ll have a go at doing the same thing with the Feijoa, a kind of South American guava that’s very popular domestically. Marketing isn’t looked down on as a frivolous activity for people not clever enough to do science in New Zealand, as far as I can see – farmers, if they want to enjoy middle-class incomes, have to be very aware about the difference between the stuff that comes out of the ground or off the animal, and the sort of thing that people want to see in their shops.

I liked this bit (among many others) too:

One of the things that originally got me interested in the subject of economics was asking the question “How come they’re able to send lamb and butter all the way from New Zealand and still sell it cheaper than Wales?”, and never being very satisfied with the answer.

The discussion is interesting throughout.

Uber appears more expensive for prices below 35 dollars and begins to become cheaper only after that threshold,” say Mascolo and co.

That is for New York City and the data set appears pretty impressive.  The article is here, the original research here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

The tour that is Chinese

by on March 17, 2015 at 1:38 am in Economics, Travel | Permalink

Just how confident is Los Angeles property broker Erik Coffin that he can interest Chinese clients in high-end Las Vegas villas? He’s charging $4 million a month for a quick glimpse.

It isn’t just any tour. The marketing push is set to start next month for these twice-monthly journeys that cost $250,000 a pop for a seven-day, private jet and Rolls Royce-chauffeured trip to the American heartland. Eight-person groups also will be offered consultations on plastic surgery, picking the sex of a child and wealth-management.

“It’s already a win for us,” said Coffin, 42, who employs 18 Mandarin speakers, almost a third of his staff, at Gotham Corporate Group, which recently opened an office in Beijing.

Here is one response:

“People usually come to the U.S. shopping for luxury bags or expensive clothes, but I bought a home,” said Lin, who owns a petrochemical export business in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang. “Maybe I’m crazy and a bit impulsive, but it was a better deal than buying a similar type of home in downtown Shanghai. And I just really like the city. It’s as simple as that.”

The full story is here, by Bonnie Cao.