Travel

I believe Josh Barro started this mess of a debate.

I would emphasize the endogeneity of transaction costs.  The airlines could do a lot to encourage Coasean bargaining between fliers, but they don’t.  How about handing out little cards?: “Have a friendly haggle with the person behind you.  Last year the average price for a non-reclined seat was $16.50.”  They could print up standardized contracts, like how they distribute customs forms, including contracts for trading seat assignments or distance from the bathrooms or how you shush your child, or not.  Imagine being nudged toward a deal through the in-flight internet system, so you don’t have to turn around to face the other party in the bargain.  They could take a cue from Alvin Roth and his matching algorithms or help you set up complex multi-party deals, like how the Denver Nuggets used to construct (and then dismantle) their rosters.

Nada.

The disutility of bargaining in this environment is high relative to the value at stake.  The chance of irritation or hurt feelings is non-negligible, and perhaps people on a flight are crankier anyway.  So the airlines deliberately keep the transactions costs high, as the gains from the potential bargain are low relative to the ickiness of the process.  The airlines wish to keep a lot of people away from the process altogether, if only out of fear of having to arrest people, divert flights, and so on.

That implies the more we debate this problem, the worse it becomes.  It also gives us the true Coasean answer to what is best.  Relative to current norms, who does more to make the whole question “an issue” — the seat recliner or the purchaser of the recliner-blocker?  Clearly it is the purchaser of the blocker and thus Josh Barro is broadly in the right, the norm should continue to allow people to recline their seats as that minimizes fuss, which is more important than getting the right outcome with the seat itself.

If you don’t like that, United does sell coach seats with extra space, which makes the recline of the person in front of you less bad.

Santa Cruz notes

by on August 27, 2014 at 2:36 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

The town square is lovely, even though they removed the sloth for fear he would electrocute himself.  The population is friendly, the weather is perfect, and there are few sights.  Unlike in much of South America, danger is not a concern.  The small children who hang out in the central square seem to think that a full embrace of a pigeon is a good idea.

The food is excellent and yet you never hear about it.  Try El Aljibe for local specialties (peanut soup, or duck and corn risotto, with egg on top), and Jardin de Asia for Amazonian Andean Peruvian Japanese Bolivian fusion.  It is hard to find the Cochabamba version of Bolivian food that has made it over to the U.S.   The steak here is decent but not as good as Argentina or Brazil.

The taxi equilibrium is that you do not ask in advance what the fare is, because that indicates you do not know.  Be confident, and you will be surprised how little money they ask for.

If you had to pick one city to represent South America as a whole, Santa Cruz might be it.  You can feel elements of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and yes even Bolivia here, all rolled into one.  The proportions of fair-skinned, mestizo, and indigenous people mirrors the Continent as a whole more than the Altiplano.  The secession movement here seems to have failed.  Amazonian indigenous peoples and Guarani are common here.

Arriving at the airport at 3:30 a.m. involves a nightmarish wait.  There is not much air pollution.  I didn’t meet a single person in the service sector who spoke English.  People in Santa Cruz seemed fairly happy relative to their per capita income.

You can study the economic development of China by visiting Bolivia.

My favorite things Bolivia

by on August 24, 2014 at 3:46 am in Travel | Permalink

Yes, violinist Jaime Laredo is from Cochabamba, but that does not sum up what is special about Bolivia.  I’ve been to maybe ninety countries, and often I think Bolivia is the most exotic and wild of them all.  For a simple contrast, so many aspects of Yemen have fed into streams we are familiar with, and Yemeni food is instantly recognizable, even if you have never been to the Arabian peninsula.

The main strands of Bolivian indigenous life — which I estimate to represent sixty percent of the country or more — have barely touched America or Europe.  It is all strange.  It is (mostly) deeply beautiful, like visiting another planet.  The sky is intense, and the potatoes and corn taste much stronger than what we we Americans are used to.  “I went there to eat a purple potato” is a coherent and indeed a wise sentence.  Llama jerky is a major dish.

There is a three-toed sloth in the Santa Cruz parkPink flamingos and lithium on the other side of the country.  La Paz is set in a bowl of sorts where you can look either up or down and see homes carved into mountains.  The altitude (in some parts of the country) never ceases to feel like a strain, and the Andes are the world’s largest mountain range.  Some of the indigenous politicians have run against the Western Enlightenment.  On the Altiplano I encountered some of the most miserable-looking people.  The beautiful women have an intensity and a heartiness.  The bowler hat remains in style.

Most of the hotels aren’t very good.  The country has been landlocked for some time, and has lost territory in three different wars.  There are over thirty official languages and it is the number four country in the world for number of butterfly species.  You will not find a higher percentage of expressionless, stone-faced petty merchants.

Due to hydrocarbons, the country is growing at over six percent a year.  My favorite movie set in Bolivia is Even the Rain, a Spanish production I believe.

I strongly recommend a visit to Bolivia.

But as for Santa Cruz, well…that is something altogether different.

Nine million Americans took a week off in July 1976, the peak month each year for summer travel. Yet in July 2014, just seven million did. Keeping in mind that 60 million more Americans have jobs today than in 1976, that adds up to a huge decline in the share of workers taking vacations.

Some rough calculations show, in fact, that about 80 percent of workers once took an annual weeklong vacation — and now, just 56 percent do.

That is from Evan Soltas, there is more here.  And Evan offers a bit more here.

Cochabamba bleg

by on August 16, 2014 at 1:27 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Thank you all for the Santa Cruz tips.  I’ll also be in Cochabamba, and so I request your advice for that destination too.  Bolivia is one of the world’s most underrated travel spots, so if you haven’t already gone you should start thinking about such a trip.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia bleg

by on August 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

I’ll be there soon enough.  Please tell me what to do, what to eat, and how to understand what I am doing.  I thank you all in advance.

This time Newport Beach, CA is the villain, or the guardian of public safety, depending on your point of view:

While demand for such thrill rides seems limitless, the supply has been curtailed by the Newport Beach City Council. Alarmed by noise complaints and safety concerns, the council approved a six-month moratorium on new jetpack businesses this summer, dashing the hopes of several would-be operators. The move has left Jetpack America as the only oceanfront flight school in town for now, cornering the market on what some see as an ever-expanding audience, thanks in large part to video clips posted online and Internet deals that lure new customers to the shores of Newport Beach, an idyllic setting less than 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The devices cost $10k (formerly 100k), they push you 40 feet up, and you can go 30 mph.  You can still do it in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida, though further regulations are coming.  How is this for a good sentence?:

The jetpack universe is small, but growing.

The full story is here, by Jennifer Medina, interesting throughout.

Thinking Inside the Box

by on August 8, 2014 at 11:21 am in Books, Education, Travel | Permalink

I like this library building in Nice, France.

NiceBlockHead

A man exploited the perks of business-class travel to feast for free 35 times in a year at Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA’s) Munich airport lounge — without ever taking off.

The man used the flexibility of the one-way fare to Zurich to repeatedly reschedule his travel plans after gaining access to food and drink, Munich district court said in a statement. Lufthansa canceled the ticket after more than a year and refunded the price, only for the man to purchase a replacement.

The court ruled that lounge services are provided on the assumption that travelers will seek to fly, and ordered the man to pay Lufthansa 1,980 euros ($2,705), equal to about 55 euros per visit or more than twice the cost of the 744.46-euro ticket. Lufthansa pursued a prosecution only after the man bought the second ticket with the intention of resuming his foraging raids.

Business-class fares typically offer the flexibility to rebook when plans change, while offering perks such as access to premium lounges, conference facilities and showers. The Munich facility at Lufthansa second-biggest hub offers Bavaria’s Loewenbraeu beer on tap, together with local delicacies including leberkas meatloaf and sausages with sweet mustard.

The link is here and for the pointer I thank Hugo Lindgren.  And yes, I know there are various spellings of “leberkas.”

Activists tell of ‘being travelled’ – sent on lavish trips, chaperoned by police – to keep them out of the government’s way.

As top Communist leaders gathered in Beijing the veteran Chinese political activist He Depu was obliged to leave town – on an all-expenses-paid holiday to the tropical island of Hainan, complete with police escorts.

It is an unusual method of muzzling dissent, but He is one of dozens of campaigners who rights groups say have been forced to take vacations – sometimes featuring luxurious hotels beside sun-drenched beaches, trips to tourist sites and lavish dinners – courtesy of the authorities.

It happens so often that dissidents have coined a phrase for it: “being travelled”.

He, 57, had not been charged with any crime but officers took him 1,400 miles (2,300km) to Hainan for 10 days to ensure he was not in the capital for this year’s annual meeting of China’s legislature, he said.

Two policemen accompanied him, his wife and another dissident for dips in the ocean and visits to a large Buddha statue, he said.

“We had a pretty good time because a decent amount of money was spent on the trip – the local government paid for everything.”

Altogether eight activists have told Agence France-Presse of being forced on holiday in recent years.

The pointer is from Mark Thorson.

Montreal bleg

by on June 20, 2014 at 5:03 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Where should I eat there?  And what is the best place for vegetarian or Indian food?  I thank you all in advance for whatever aid you can offer.

Los Angeles on cusp of becoming ‘major’ walkable city, study says.”

Despite its long love affair with the car, Los Angeles is on the cusp of becoming a “major” walkable urban area. And doing so could do wonders for its real estate market, at least in spots.

That’s the gist of a new report released Tuesday by SmartGrowth America and George Washington University, which measured the number of walkable urban neighborhoods in 30 big metro areas and looked at the potential to develop more.

The original MR post was here, and for the pointer I thank…Alex.

I would cite a few:

1. Berlin

2. Kuala Lumpur

3. Mexico City

4. San Francisco

5. Seoul

6. Toronto

7. Stockholm

8. Lagos

Higher living standards count toward this designation, but they are not enough.  Vienna’s general excellence was higher in the 20s, even though the city was much poorer back then, and so Vienna cannot make the list.

Los Angeles probably peaked in the 80s and New York arguably peaked in the postwar period through the 1970s or 80s.  Chicago might have a claim.  Can you think of others?  Does Shanghai have a chance, or did it peak around 2000 or so, before it got so polluted and crowded?

What do CEOs do on vacation?

by on June 8, 2014 at 9:15 am in Economics, Travel | Permalink

Not that much in economic terms, or so it seems according to a new paper by David Yarmack:

This paper shows connections between chief executive officers’ (CEOs’) absences from headquarters and corporate news disclosures. I identify CEO absences by merging records of corporate jet flights and CEOs’ property ownership near leisure destinations. CEOs travel to their vacation homes just after companies report favorable news, and CEOs return to headquarters right before subsequent news releases. When CEOs are away, companies announce less news, mandatory disclosures occur later, and stock volatility falls sharply. Volatility increases when CEOs return to work. CEOs spend fewer days out of the office when ownership is high and when weather is bad at their vacation homes.

The published version is here, other versions are here.  Hat tip goes to the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter have a new book about risk — The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Dangers and Death — and it does actually have new material on what is by now a somewhat worn out topic.  Here is one example:

In 1951 there were fewer than 4 million registered vehicles on the roads in Britain.  They meandered the highways free of restrictions such as road markings, traffic calming, certificates for roadworthiness, or low-impact bumpers.  Children played in the streets and walked to school.  The result was that 907 children under 15 were killed on the roads in 1951, including 707 pedestrians and 130 cyclists.  Even this was less than the 1,400 a year killed before the war.

The carnage had dropped to 533 child deaths in 1995, to 124 in 2008, to 81 in 2009, and in 2010 to 55 — each a tragedy for the family, but still a staggering 90 percent fall over 60 years.

You can buy the book here.