There is no musical great stagnation

by on December 5, 2016 at 12:42 am in Music, Travel | Permalink

Two years ago, the New Mexico Department of Transportation decided to spice up a particularly desolate stretch of Route 66 between Albuquerque and Tijeras by adding grooves in the road that will play music when you drive over them. If you drive the speed limit of 45 mph for the quarter-mile stretch, you can hear “America the Beautiful” play through the vibrations in your car’s wheels.

The grooves in the road work just like the rumble strips or “drunk bumps” that vibrate your car when you start to drift out of your lane. But these rumble strips are precisely positioned to create different pitches when you drive over them. The result? The notes to “America the Beautiful” rising from the bottom of your car.

Though I guess it means travel speeds are not really going up

The pointer is from Peter Metrinko.

Here I am referring to your personal plans, not to climate change.  The weather can make your current circumstances seem more difficult or less pleasant.  But extreme weather also tends to make your memories of journeys stronger and more lasting (“…remember that time in Goa when the monsoon came earlier than anyone thought…”).  Since we overemphasize the maximization of current utility, and under-invest in the creation of significant memories, we worry too much about the weather.


Tabarrok Moving to India!

by on November 30, 2016 at 7:20 am in Travel | Permalink

I am moving to India! Next semester (approx late Jan.-May) I will doing a sabbatical in India! Home base will be Mumbai at the IDFC Institute. I will be giving some talks and talking with people all over India and I hope to make some videos for Marginal Revolution University.

Airport Privatization

by on November 29, 2016 at 7:20 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Travel | Permalink

Airports in the United States need investment and improvements in operations efficiency and are thus ripe for privatization. Privatization is not a radical concept, around the world today many airports are run by private corporations or in public-private partnerships. In their latest report, The Ownership of Europe’s Airports, the Airports Council International writes:

Today, over 40% of European airports have at least some private shareholders – and these airports handle the lion’s share of air traffic. This year, about 3 out of every 4 passenger journeys will be through one of these airports…it is only a matter of time before fully publically-owned airports become a minority in the EU.

Moreover, even the public airports are typically structured as corporations that must pay their own way:

[Europe’s] airports – be they public or private – are to be run as businesses in their own right, strongly incentivised to continuously improve and underpinned by the principle that users pay a reasonable price to cover the cost of providing the facilities and services that they benefit from. There is no denying the tangible benefits that this approach has brought the EU – significant volumes of investment in necessary infrastructure, higher service quality levels, and a commercial acumen which allows airport operators to diversify revenue streams and minimise the costs that users have to pay – all of which are fundamental requirements to boost air connectivity.

The biggest restriction on airport privatization is that if a state or local government sells an airport it must use all of the proceeds to fund airport infrastructure–which makes the procedure pointless from their point of view. As I mentioned earlier, there is an Airport Privatization Pilot Program (APPP) which lifts this restriction but only if 65% of the air carriers serving the airport agree to the privatization. The APP is also slow and includes other restrictions. The Congressional Research Service has a good run down.

[Restrictions] include the need for 65% of air carriers serving the airport to approve a lease or sale of the airport; restrictions on increases in airport rates and charges that exceed the rate of increase of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and a requirement that a private operator comply with grant assurances made by the previous public sector operator to obtain AIP [Federal] grants. In addition, after privatization the airport will be eligible for AIP formula grants to cover only 70% of the cost of improvements, versus the normal 75%- 90% federal share for AIP projects at publicly owned airports. This serves as a disincentive to privatize an airport, because it will receive less federal money after privatization.

The airlines are lukewarm on privatization. Although they would benefit from better operational efficiency, they are big recipients of the explicit and implicit subsidies and they use their effective control over airports to limit competition.

The main danger of privatization is that of monopoly power–it wouldn’t be a good idea to sell all of a city’s airports to the same corporation, for example. Thus, privatization should be accompanied by steps to increase competition. There are over 5000 non-commercial airports in the United States and some of the “National” General Aviation Airports already serve international flights (mainly corporate jets) and could be expanded to allow more commercial traffic.

Privatization should not be thought of as just a transfer of ownership but rather as a changing of the rules of the game to allow for many more private airports.

Addendum: Michael Sargent at Heritage has a useful and detailed plan. Robert Poole and Chris Edwards from Cato offer a good overview.

Tourists are expected to outnumber the local population of 330,000 by seven to one next year, according to official data. By comparison, last year visitors to France outnumbered the French by two to one

…The number of tourists has risen by as much as 30 percent every year for the last four years, according to Iceland’s Tourist Board. They brought in revenues of $3.2 billion in 2015, a third of the country’s export earnings. Tourism is the single biggest employer, and many Icelanders are pouring money into services and new construction.

…“It’s like the city is not my city anymore,” Birgitta Jonsdottir, the leader of the Pirate Party, complained last month. “It’s like Disneyland downtown.”

A poll in October conducted by the national broadcaster RUV reported that 87 percent of Icelanders want the government to raise fees or taxes on tourists.

Think of that as Iceland’s version of Trumpism.  Here is the full NYT story.

Here is the link to video, podcast, and transcript.  The Q&A segment was led by guests Ezra Klein, Megan McArdle, Mark Miller (Coyote Cafe), and Eva Summer.  Fuchsia speaks in perfect British sentences and she always had an answer ready, with charm and extreme intelligence.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Three dishes one absolutely has to try are what?

DUNLOP: In Shanghai?

COWEN: In Shanghai. The city, not the region.

DUNLOP: I think you should have hong shao rou, red braised pork. Real home cooking. Delicious combination of soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar, and one of the favorite dishes.

I would recommend some Shanghainese wontons in soup stuffed with shepherd’s purse, which is a wild variety of the brassicas, and pork, just to show you the lighter, gentler side of Shanghainese cooking.

Then, perhaps, if we’re talking Shanghai, you might one to have one of these dishes that says something about Shanghai as being a mixing pot of different cultures.

There’s a very nice crab meat and potato and tomato soup served in some of my favorite Shanghainese restaurants. Which seems a little bit of a fusion with some European influences, the way they use potato and tomato in that soup with local seafood.

COWEN: As you know, the Michelin Guide recently has covered Shanghai, given some restaurants three, two, one star. There’s cheap places you can go. Conceptually, do they understand the food of Shanghai? To the extent they don’t, what are they missing?

DUNLOP: If you look at the restaurants they’ve selected, there’s a bit of a Cantonese bias. They do have some Shanghainese restaurants, but one thing that’s very conspicuous, there are some notable, some of the best Shanghainese local restaurants, which are missing from that list, in my opinion.

The reason is, I think, the methodology of Western food inspectors, which is they tend to go as individuals or small groups. Of course in many Chinese restaurants where you eat family style, to make the most of the restaurant, you have to eat as we’re doing now with a large group and a table full of dishes.

We cover much more, including her favorite parts of China, whether offal is an inferior good, whether one can acquire a taste for sea cucumber, what she thinks of Leonard Cohen, Dream of the Red Chamber, how newbies should approach Chinese food, what top Sichuan chefs thought of their trip to French Laundry, whether milk is overrated, whether Americans have done anything worthwhile with Chinese food, and her favorite Chinese movie.

Here is a short video excerpt from the Sichuan peppercorn tasting segment, namely what makes the very best peppercorns so good compared to the lesser peppercorns.


Here you can order Fuchsia’s new and excellent book The Land of Fish and Rice.

That is the new book by Christopher de Hamel, and it is one of the very best non-fiction books this year, in fact so far it might rank #1.  It is twelve chapters, each one about an individual medieval manuscript, the best-known of those being the Book of Kells.   The integration of text and the visuals is of the highest order of quality.  Most of all, the book brings each manuscript to life, relating its creators and creation, the surrounding historical context, its subsequent preservation and fame, and how that history has embodied varying attitudes toward copying and preservation.  No less illuminating is the anthropological treatment of how each manuscript is currently guarded and displayed, the author’s travel history in getting there, and a more general “philosophical without the philosophy” introspection on what these objects are really supposed to mean to us.

This book is not in every way light reading, and it does assume some (very broad) background in medieval history, but it brings a whole topic to light, and instructs, in a way that few other works do.

Here is just one short excerpt:

My initial inquiry as to whether I might see the manuscript of the Aratea in the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Leiden was met with the reply that this would hardly be necessary, since there is a high-class published facsimile from 1989 and the complete book is in any case digitized and freely available on-line.  It was a response entirely within the theme of copying.  If you had applied to the palace librarians of Aachen in the early ninth century to see the late-antique Terence, they would almost certainly have assured you that you would be better off with their nice new copy by their scribe Hrodgarius.

Hamel worked for a long time in the book department at Sotheby’s and then in a library at Cambridge University.  He is a bit of a fuddy-duddy (he thinks the bustle of NYC is extreme, for instance), but nonetheless has produced a lovely and complete work that virtually every author should envy.  I am ordering his other books too, mostly on the history of books.

Here is a Guardian review, John Banville in the FT raves about it, and here is The Paris Review.  I believe I ordered it on, all five-star reviews by the way.  Here is the U.S. Amazon listing, with access to used copies, I am not sure when the American edition comes out.


…the most important technological change for the transportation of heavy goods in nineteenth-century India was not the arrival of the quick, expensive railway: it was the move from pack animals to carts pulled by two or four beasts in the first half of the century.  This was the process historian Amalendu Guha calls ‘the bullock cart revolution’.  Throughout the 1860s and 1870s railways found it impossible to compete not only with bullock carts, but also with human-powered river transport.  Rowing boats along the Ganges and Jamuna won a price war with the railways over the cost of transporting heavy goods.  Vessels powered by human beings were able to undercut steam vessels elsewhere.

That is from Jon Wilson, The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India, a new and excellent book that stresses how much British rule of India was rooted in chaos and violence, rather than the smooth operation of a colonial elite.

A small number of people complain a lot about the airports.

As for the noise complaints about National Airport, two individuals at one residence in NW D.C. made 6,852 complaints, 78% of the total number of noise complaints.

Here is the study by Eli Dourado and Raymond Russell.

The very beginning is a little slow, but I thought Ezra was one of the very best guests.  The topics include the nature and future of media, including virtual reality, the nature of leadership (including Ezra’s own), how running a project shapes your political views, a wee bit on health care, what he thinks are the Obama and Clinton models of the world, Robert Putnam’s research on the costs of diversity, the proper role of shame in society, animal welfare, and of course Ezra’s underrated and overrated, with takes on Bob Dylan, The Matrix, William F. Buckley, Joe Biden, and more.  There is no video but here is the podcast and transcript.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: …Now Putman, let me ask you about Putnam, and how Putnam relates to Donald Trump. As you know, Robert Putnam at Harvard, he has some work showing that when ethnic diversity goes up that there’s less trust, less cooperation, less social capital.

If you think of yourself in the role of an editor, so you have an American society, diversity has gone up, and a lot of people have reacted to this I would say rather badly — and I think you would agree with me they’ve reacted rather badly — but there’s still a way in which the issue could be framed that while diversity is actually a problem, we can’t handle diversity.

Putnam almost says as such, and do you think there’s currently a language in the media where you have readers who are themselves diverse, where it’s possible not to just be blaming the bigots, but to actually present the positive view, “Look, people are imperfect. A society can only handle so much diversity, and we need to learn this.” What’s your take on that?

KLEIN: I strongly agree. We do not have a language for demographic anxiety that is not a language that is about racism. And we need one. I really believe this, and I believe it’s been a problem, particularly this year. It is clear, the evidence is clear. Donald Trump is not about “economic anxiety.”

COWEN: A bit, but not mainly, I agree.

KLEIN: That said, I think that the way it’s presented is a choice between economic anxiety and racism. And one I don’t think that’s quite right, and two I don’t think that’s a productive way of having that conversation.

COWEN: Why don’t we have that language? Where did it go, or did we ever have it?


COWEN: You see this with Medicaid. A lot of people don’t sign up. They don’t have addresses. You can’t even get them, whatever.

KLEIN: They don’t like doctors. They’re afraid of doctors.

COWEN: This is me.

KLEIN: You’re afraid of doctors?

COWEN: “Afraid” isn’t the word.

KLEIN: Averse. [laughs]

COWEN: Maybe dislike. Averse. [laughs] They should be afraid of me, perhaps.

Definitely recommended.  The same dialogue, with a different introduction, is included in The Ezra Klein Show podcast.

Uber Versus Taxi Cab Racism

by on October 6, 2016 at 7:28 am in Economics, Film, Travel | Permalink

Film maker Charles Mudede, a black Zimbabwean living in the United States, is thrown back into the racist past by a visit to Vancouver.

Vancouver B.C. does not have Uber or Lyft, the ridesharing service I mainly use in Seattle and New York City…the absence of ridesharing companies in Vancouver has meant the persistence of a problem that, in my experience, pretty much vanishes from the surface of things when you have an account with Uber or Lyft: taxi cab racism….I had all but forgotten this form of racism until this weekend, when I found myself in downtown Vancouver unable to hail a cab. They just simply passed by me, though many were not engaged. At first I thought I was not visible enough to drivers, but after a few cabs passed by my increasingly theatrical waving, I remembered the color of my skin.

It’s important to note that many of the taxi drivers were not white but South Asians—some who were even blacker than me. But when it comes to taxi racism, the color of the driver often does not matter. White racism, in this sector, has been adopted, sometimes even intensified, by all other races, many of which have been and still are the victims of white racism. Even in Seattle, when Yellow Cab was the top dog, East African drivers would pass by me because I looked like them. All of that nonsense came to an end with ridesharing, whose apps made hailing unnecessary.

The author, it’s worth noting, is not a fan of neoliberalism:

The sad thing is that much of my thinking is strongly opposed to the sharing economy because the society in which its modes are expressed, a neoliberal society, results, for one, in the encroachment of the “entrepreneurial spirit” into all aspects of our lives.

So give him credit for grudgingly acknowledging one important benefit.

The shortcomings of the catapult method do not appear to have deterred traffickers from seeking ways to shoot drugs from Mexico into the United States. Authorities in the Mexican state of Sonora recently discovered a vehicle modified to serve as a mobile air cannoncapable of launching packages of drugs across the border. It is not clear whether the apparatus — described by the news outlet Fusion as something that looked like it “came out of the Mad Max movie” — was ever used, nor is it clear if it even functioned as intended.

There are other documented instances in which traffickers have used cannon to launch drugs across the border, including another truck-mounted device discovered by Mexican authorities in 2013.

Here is the full story, via Norden Intelligence.

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Self-driving vehicles are also likely to help the suburbs most. One of the worst things about the suburbs is the commute to the city or to other parts of the suburbs. But what if you could read, text or watch TV – safely — during that commuting time? What if you could tackle your day’s work just as you do on a train or plane? Commuting would seem a lot less painful. As driverless vehicles evolve to accommodate work and leisure uses of the automobile space, pleasure will replace commuting stress.

What about drones? They too would seem to favor remote areas where it is harder to access useful goods and services. Drones may do more for exurbs and rural areas than for the suburbs, but it seems cities will gain least. Walking or biking to nearby shops is a potential substitute for drone delivery. Rolling sidewalk drones might find it harder to negotiate crowded cities, and cities with a dense network of tall buildings may be less friendly to flying drones. Population density may increase the risk of a drone falling on someone.

And another:

Or consider the advent of the “smart home” and the Internet of things. Wouldn’t it be nice to just talk to your stove/computer/3-D printer/robot and say, “Make me some pureed squash”? Any forecast on this topic seems speculative. Still, the suburbs often have more new homes and more new appliances because it’s harder to rebuild or to re-equip older city apartments. So I suspect the arrival of the smart home will favor the suburbs, too.

There is much more at the link.  Note that unlike the earlier “telecommuting revolution,” which did not harm cities at all, many of these changes will speed the actual movement of people and goods, not just information.  Their effects will be more like those of the interstate highways of the 1950s and 60s, and that favored the suburbs not cities.

Our findings provide empirical evidence that ride-sharing services such as Uber significantly decrease the traffic congestion after entering an urban area.

Here is the paper, by Li, Hong, and Zhang, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Kevin also directs our attention to this paper by Arye Hillman & Niklas Potrafke:

Simple correlations show that Protestantism is associated with economic freedom, Islam is not, with Catholicism in between. The Protestant ethic requires economic freedom. Our empirical estimates, which include religiosity, political institutions, and other explanatory variables, confirm that Protestantism is most conducive to economic freedom.

By the way, here is my earlier column on the benefits of Uber, one product of economic freedom.  By the way, do not try this driverless car trick at home.

Once the craft approaches Mars — a trip of about 20 months or more — the craft will have to get through the atmosphere, reaching a temperature of 1,700°C, and use rockets to lower the craft gently onto the moon.

That is a description of the new Elon Musk plan to settle Mars.  He hinted at the ticket price someday being as low as 200k.  By the way, space flight is bad for your eyes, and here is Alex on the dangers of space travel.

I get that planet earth someday may be destroyed, but does that give anyone a private incentive to leave for Mars in the meantime?

Seasteading is looking better all the time…