…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…

That is my latest column for Bloomberg, here is the method:

Uber calculates figures for surge pricing at times of high demand, but it rounds off. So a computation of market conditions that might lead to a surge price that is 1.249 times higher than normal fares is rounded down to 1.2, but 1.251 would be rounded up to 1.3. Yet the initial, unrounded 1.249 and 1.251 estimates represent almost the same underlying market tightness.

Using data from Uber, the authors therefore could see how the demand for Uber varied with surge prices that vary (say from 20 percent to 30 percent above normal fares) even when market conditions are roughly constant.

Here is the source:

A new paper by Peter Cohen, Robert Hahn, Jonathan Hall, Steven Levitt…and Robert Metcalfe…

They conclude UberX produces about $6.8 billion in consumer surplus a year.  My caveat:

If anything, this method underestimates the worth of Uber, as it doesn’t capture what economists call “option value.” Let’s say you walk home with a guy or gal late at night, hoping something nice will happen. But you’re not quite sure, as he or she might make the wrong noises about a particular political candidate, and then you would wish to bail out quickly. Uber would be the safety net. Most of the time you don’t end up using the service or recording a transaction that would count for this study, but you can start making plans because you know you have Uber as a fallback.

Or consider those urban residents who have ditched their cars altogether. They know they can take Uber to the local market if they need to, even if most of the time they have not run out of milk and dog food. Similarly, the existence of Uber is helping some localities economize on mass transit expenditures.

The study also doesn’t measure how Uber might help get the U.S. to the next level of market innovation, which in this case might mean a network of on-demand, self-driving vehicles.

Do read the whole thing.

In the four years that Ayanna Chisholm has worked collecting tolls out of tiny glass booths at the Holland Tunnel and elsewhere in New Jersey, there have been several constants. There are familiar commuters, malfunctioning toll arms, occasional scofflaws — and an incessant barrage of come-ons, sexual comments, lecherous stares and crude gestures from male motorists.

Some of Ms. Chisholm’s colleagues say they have been subjected to drivers exposing themselves. The fusillade is especially menacing because it is inescapable, the workers confined to small hutches on the highway.

Like other women in her profession, Ms. Chisholm, who works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has learned to wear little makeup, crack her booth’s window open as little as possible, and drop change into waiting hands to avoid drivers who try to stroke her palm.

That is from the NYT, and of course the same was true decades ago.  No one from New Jersey should be surprised at how most internet comments have turned out.

Lima, Peru bleg

by on August 27, 2016 at 2:18 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Your assistance is humbly requested, noting that the shortness of the trip will prevent any significant excursions outside of the city.  Do note I have been there twice, though not in the last nineteen years or so.

I thank you all in advance for your suggestions.

Singapore’s nuTonomy, founded by two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Thursday it began testing a free taxi-hailing service in a small business district in Singapore called one-north, a campus-like space dominated by tech firms and biotechnology companies. Other tech companies including Chinese internet giant Baidu Inc. have been testing self-driving cars on the roads for years, but this is the first time the vehicles have been open to public use.

…Mr. Parker said the Singapore government had laid out a series of milestones for nuTonomy to achieve before it is allowed to extend its trials to other areas of the city. He declined to provide details on those milestones, but said the next stage would be to expand the service to a neighborhood adjacent to one-north.

Here is the WSJ piece, here are other articles.  I recall predicting about a year and a half ago that Singapore would be the first to do this.  A Singaporean countered me, and interjected they were very worried that their plans were falling behind.  I said: “That is exactly my point.  You are worried that you are falling behind.  Congratulations.”

Worry.  Singapore.  Think about it.

Uber passengers in Pittsburgh will be able to summon rides in self-driving cars with the touch of a smartphone button in the next several weeks. Uber also announced that it is acquiring a self-driving startup called Otto, co-founded by Israeli Lior Ron, that has developed technology allowing big rigs to drive themselves.

Via Mark Thorson, here is more.  And in Finland:

Residents of Helsinki, Finland will soon be used to the sight of buses with no drivers roaming the city streets. One of the world’s first autonomous bus pilot programs has begun in the Hernesaari district, and will run through mid-September.

Finnish law does not require vehicles on the road to have a driver, making it the perfect place to get permission to test the Easymile EZ-10 electric mini-buses.

So perhaps Finland can become a market leader in this area.

While only 25% of the Swiss population hiked regularly in 2000, today the figure is 44%.

That is from Dina Pomeranz, original source here.

Should you go?  I give the place high marks for food and scenery, but the total population of about 48,700 limits  other benefits.  It is like visiting a smaller, more unspoilt Iceland.  There is a shop in the main city selling Faroese music and many shops selling sweaters.  They will not tell you where the sweaters were knitted.

The natives seem to think Denmark is an excessively competitive, violent, harsh and hurried place.  The norm here is to leave your door unlocked.  It is a “self-governing archipelago,” but part of the Kingdom of Denmark.  In other words, they get a lot of subsidies.

But they are not part of the EU, so they still sell a lot of salmon — their number one export — to Russia.

You see plenty of pregnant women walking around, and (finally) population is growing, the country has begun to attract notice, and the real estate market is beginning to heat up.  But prices remain pretty low, and it would be a great place to buy an additional home, if you do that sort of thing.

In the early 1990s, their central bank did go bankrupt and had to be bailed out by Denmark.  It is a currency board arrangement, and insofar as the eurozone moves in that direction, as it seems to be doing by placing Target2 liabilities on the national central banks, a eurozone central bank could become insolvent too, despite all ECB protestations to the contrary.

Every mode of transport is subsidized in the Faroes, including helicopter rides across the islands.  Often the bus is free, and there is an extensive network of ferries.  I wonder how many population centers there would be otherwise.  There is now the notion that all of the communities on the various islands are one single, large “networked city.”

The Faroes are a “food desert” of sorts, with few decent or affordable fruits or vegetables.  And not many supermarkets of any kind.  Yet the rate of obesity does not seem to be high.  And they have a very high rate of literacy with little in the way of bookstores or public libraries.

The seabirds including puffins are a main attraction, but I enjoyed seeing the mammals too, with pride of place going to the pony:

The domestic animals of the Faroe Islands are a result of 1,200 years of isolated breeding. As a result, many of the islands’ domestic animals are found nowhere else in the world. Faroese domestic breed include Faroe pony, Faroe cow, Faroese sheep, Faroese Goose and Faroese duck.


The country receives a great deal of negative publicity for killing whales, but overall they seem to treat animals better than the United States does.  Fish consumption is very high and there are no factory farms.

If the Faroes had open borders, but no subsidies for migrants, how many people would settle there?

In 1946 they did their own version of Faerexit, from Denmark of course:

The result of the vote was a narrow majority in favour of secession, but the coalition in parliament could not reach agreement on how this outcome should be interpreted and implemented; and because of these irresoluble differences, the coalition fell apart. A parliamentary election was held a few months later, in which the political parties that favoured staying in the Danish kingdom increased their share of the vote and formed a coalition.

Overall I expect this place to change radically in the next twenty years.  It is hard to protect 48,700 people forever.  In part, they are killing those whales to keep you away.