Renminbi vs. yuan

by on October 25, 2016 at 12:44 am in Economics, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

The style guide of The Economist magazine, after explaining the difference between the two terms, leaves no ambiguity about what its reporters should use: “Renminbi, which means the people’s currency, is the description of the yuan, as sterling is the description of the pound.  Use yuan.”  The Financial Times favors the use of renminbi over yuan by a six-to-one ratio.  But Financial Times reporters seem to believe its readers are sophisticated enough to be able to shift back and forth between the two terms without further explanation.

That is from new and useful Gaining Currency: The Rise of the Renminbi, by Eswar S. Prasad.

And here is the BBC:

“Renminbi” is the official name of the currency introduced by the Communist People’s Republic of China at the time of its foundation in 1949. It means “the people’s currency”.

“Yuan” is the name of a unit of the renminbi currency. Something may cost one yuan or 10 yuan. It would not be correct to say that it cost 10 renminbi.

I did not know this:

The word “yuan” goes back further than “renminbi”. It is the Chinese word for dollar – the silver coin, mostly minted in the Spanish empire, used by foreign merchants in China for some four centuries.

If you wish to pursue it further:

As it happens, Chinese people rarely talk about renminbi or yuan.

The word they use is “kuai”, which literally means “piece”, and is the word used historically for coins made of silver or copper.

And so on…


What I’ve been reading

by on October 24, 2016 at 12:09 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Peter Ames Carlin, Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon.  I hadn’t known that Simon originally recorded the Hearts and Bones album with Garfunkel, but later erased his partner’s contributions to the songs.  Nor had I known that Simon produced a stripped-down, acoustic guitar version of “Surfer Girl.”  For fans, the book is interesting throughout, and most of all the story is of an ongoing rivalry — with Art — that never became functional again once it collapsed.

2. Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama.  A 1950s Argentinean novel set in colonial times, and beloved by Roberto Bolaño; the introduction describes the author as “a would-be magical realist who can’t quite detach himself from reality.”  For fans of the disjointed tragic.  I very much liked it, but had to read the first half twice in a row to grab hold of what was going on.

3. Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and its Demons.  Fresh and stimulating throughout, I found most interesting the parts of how the Commander in Chief role of the president evolved under Lincoln, and Lincoln as the first “media president.”  Highly relevant for current politics too.

Forthcoming is Joe Quirk, with Patri Friedman, Seasteading: How Ocean Cities Will Change the World.  Comprehensive and readable, though I am not a convert.

William Mellor and Dick M. Carpenter II, Bottleneckers: Gaming the Government for Power and Private Profit, is a very useful look at how laws and regulation block progress and create barriers to advancement.

I have only browsed Milan Vaishnav, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics, but it appears to be a quite interesting political economy take on the (non-optimal) transactional economies from having criminals so deeply involved in Indian politics.

Minxin Pei, China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay, takes a close look at Chinese corruption, based on a detailed study of two hundred cases.

Sunday assorted links

by on October 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The deal may “feel wrong” to a lot of people, but for the regulators it ought not to be a big deal:

AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner…is considered “vertical” because the two companies largely do not compete against each other but operate on the same supply chain.

This is the bottom line:

“By standard antitrust metrics, this deal should be O.K. in Washington,” said Paul Gallant, a technology, media and telecommunications policy analyst with Cowen & Company. “But the Democratic Party is moving left, and if Clinton wins, this could become an early test for her ‘tougher on business’ rhetoric.”

The negative arguments are speculative or quite a stretch:

AT&T could make it more expensive for its competitors to gain access to Time Warner’s content or give preferential treatment to its own programming, said John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group.

That is all from Leslie Picker and Cecilia Kang at the NYT.  I would stress that “entertainment” and “content” are sectors where choices have exploded more or less without precedent.  If the goal is to stop Time-Warner content from spreading to multiple sectors of the consumer media universe, I don’t see this one as a winner.

More generally, it is hard to see where the efficiencies from the deal are supposed to come from.  About the recent Bayer and Monsanto proposed merger I wrote:

There is a well-known academic literature, dating to the early 1990s, showing that acquiring firms usually decline in value after tender offers, especially after the biggest deals. Mergers do not seem to make companies more valuable or efficient.

Why then do so many mergers and acquisitions happen? Well, some of them do pay off (Google buying YouTube), but also many managers engage in empire-building by increasing the size of their companies, even at the expense of the shareholders. Another possibility is what economists call “winner’s curse,” namely that the winner of an auction or contest or bidding war tends to be the person or institution most optimistic, and in fact overly optimistic, about the value at stake.

So from a social point of view, I doubt if there is so much at stake here.

Addendum: Matt Yglesias comments.  And here is FT coverage.

Saturday assorted links

by on October 22, 2016 at 2:40 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. My life as a Whole Foods DJ booker those new service sector jobs.

2. The political power of black women.

3. Antiprioritarianism (pdf), by Hilary Greaves.

4. Was the internet hack driven by commandeered Internet of Things?  I cannot verify what is in there, but it is potentially a very important and also disturbing post, via Binyamin Appelbaum.

5. The evidence for universe acceleration may be flimsier than we had thought.  And do you think this is a bigger story than #4 in this list?

6. No one bid for John Nash’s Nobel Prize — was that the Nash equilibrium?

7. Chemical bike lock causes vomiting in thieves.

Friday assorted links

by on October 21, 2016 at 1:10 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Thursday assorted links

by on October 20, 2016 at 12:23 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The drone advertising wars have begun.  In Mexico City, at least.

2. Claims about evolution, and one reason why people are getting taller.

3. Half of U.S. adults are in a face recognition database.

4. “The way the students made decisions about drinking actually resembled the single most common feedback controller that’s used in engineering,” Passino said. “It’s called a proportional-derivative controller, and it measures how far a system has moved from a particular set point and adjusts accordingly. It’s the same as cruise control on a car.”  Link is here.

5. “Objects that recycle ambient radio signals can get online without a power source.

6. Doug Elmendorf’s recommendations for debt.

Assorted Wednesday links

by on October 19, 2016 at 11:27 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

From Brad Plumer at Vox:

“We have done extensive polling on a carbon tax,” Podesta apparently told Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan back in January 2015. “It all sucks.”

There is further detail at that link.  A quite remarkable David Roberts piece at Vox, worth reading in its entirety, lays out why much of “the left” opposes the carbon tax on the ballot in Washington state.  It is revenue-neutral, doesn’t produce enough social justice, and as I would say it doesn’t have the right mood affiliation, among other factors.  Economist Yoram Bauman plays a key role in the article, and here is a quotation from him:

I am increasingly convinced that the path to climate action is through the Republican Party. Yes, there are challenges on the right — skepticism about climate science and about tax reform — but those are surmountable with time and effort. The same cannot be said of the challenges on the left: an unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government, and a willingness to use race and class as political weapons in order to pursue that desire.

I’m not so sure about that portrayal of the Republicans, but still that is a perspective you don’t hear enough.  (Scott Sumner comments on the piece.)  You may recall my earlier post on Republicans and Democrats:

At some level the Republicans might know the Democrats have valid substantive points, but they sooner think “Let’s first put status relations in line, then our debates might get somewhere.  In the meantime, I’m not going to cotton well to a debate designed to lower the status of the really important groups and their values.”  And so the dialogue doesn’t get very far.

To return more directly to the title of this post, why don’t we have a carbon tax?  I would put it this way: for better or worse, the American people expect their government to solve this problem without raising the price of energy.  Funny that.

Dancing retirements

by on October 19, 2016 at 12:32 am in Economics, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

Dancers are notoriously bad at planning for their second acts. They underestimate the age at which they’ll retire (the average age of retirement is 34), overestimate the amount of money they’ll earn, and misjudge the forces that will end their careers. More than one-third of the dancers in a 2004 survey were driven to retirement by an injury; only 5 percent left because they actually wanted a new career. When dancers enter the workforce in their thirties, many are woefully unprepared. Only 3 percent of current dancers say that teaching dance is their preferred post-retirement line of work, but it’s the most common fate: 53 percent end up teaching dance in some capacity.

And this:

Even during peak earning years: in the U.S., an average dancer’s annual total income is just $35,000—about half of which comes from non-dance activities.

The article is interesting throughout, for instance:

She wants a serious relationship; both of her sisters are married. She’s tried Tinder and recently joined Bumble. For obvious reasons, she doesn’t like the apps that make you fill in your whole biography. Does she miss her old life—the drama, the spotlight? “I don’t think real life has enough glamour,” she says. But she also says that she doesn’t think glamour is “enough to base your life on.”

That is from an Alice Robb Elle profile of Alexandra Ansanelli, a ballerina who retired early, via Annie Lowrey.


Ansanelli is on the far right.

Tuesday assorted links

by on October 18, 2016 at 11:27 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Wikipedia edits are becoming more neutral and less partisan over time.  Ideological polarization does not seem to be ruling in that space.

2. Is it possible that the Paris Accord accelerates climate change?  Beware the phase-in!

3. I applaud the interview subject for demonstrating so clearly that macroeconomics is not a science (NYT).

4. Claims about learning styles.  I don’t think this piece is the correct bottom line (what about individuals who have auditory processing disorders?  isn’t all the action in variances rather than means?), but nonetheless worth a ponder.

5. Edward Banfield’s old critique of what was wrong with the nominating process in political parties.  That link is slightly slow to load but it does work.

6. Spain and the Spanish empire were never that centralized.

Monday assorted links

by on October 17, 2016 at 11:54 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Arnold Kling on Cass Sunstein and books to change people’s minds.

2. “Methodological terrorism“?  With a significant cameo by Andrew Gelman.

3. Dan Wang on Melancholy.

4. “A 2015 analysis published in The BMJ found 727 potential references to Dylan songs in a search of the Medline biomedical journals database; the authors ultimately concluded that 213 of the references could be “classified as unequivocally citing Dylan.””  Link here.

5. Advances in Chinese space flight.

Robin Hanson: Futurist

by on October 17, 2016 at 7:22 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

A great cover and story in The Chronicle of Higher Education on our colleague, Robin Hanson. The answer, of course, is yes.hansoncover

Overall, our results suggest that investing in secure payments infrastructure can significantly enhance “state capacity” to implement welfare programs in developing countries.

That is from Muralidharan, Niehaus, and Sukhtankar in the latest American Economic Review.  Their main result is this:

We find that, while incompletely implemented, the new system delivered a faster, more predictable, and less corrupt NREGS payments process without adversely affecting program access.

Most of all there is lower leakage of benefits, and program participants strongly prefer the biometric arrangements and the accompanying direct cash transfers.  The measurements of this paper, by the way, are based on 19 million data points.

I believe the Indian biometric smartcard initiative remains under-discussed and underappreciated.  It is actually one of the greatest achievements of contemporary times, based upon the innovative mobilization of the labor of millions in a manner that probably only India could do and that at first sounded quite ridiculous.  Scan, record, and use the biometric information of over a billion people, and in a “backward” country at that.  Well, they haven’t finished but it is well on track to succeed.

I do worry about the privacy implications of the technology and the data collection, but as it stands today so many Indians don’t have that much privacy in any case.

Here are ungated versions of the paper.  Here is my earlier post on the paper and the technology.  I had written:

One broader lesson here is that developing nations are not merely copying and applying the inventions of the West, but innovating on their own.  But a lot of their innovations take labor-intensive rather than capital-intensive forms, and thus they do not always look like innovations to our sometimes ethnocentric eyes.

Still true.

Sunday assorted links

by on October 16, 2016 at 2:59 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Ursula Le Guin profile.  And Bob Dylan as Richard Wagner.

2. Tom Sietsema on the Michelin picks for D.C.

3. Maria Konnikova reviews Tim Harford at NYT.

4. Inaction markets in everything, age of television college football edition.

5. David Warsh on the Laureates.

6. If you could get everyone to read one book, what would it be?  I find most of the listed answers strange, and overly specific, and dependent on the readers already knowing plenty of other books.  Surely your selection needs to be a bestseller if indeed by “everyone” you mean everyone.  I find The Bible, Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things, or even Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or perhaps a book about the enjoyment of sex, to be more plausible picks.  Which book would you recommend?