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Assorted links

by on October 1, 2014 at 12:09 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Are European money market funds breaking the buck?

2. The top ten essays since 1950.

3. Did the Fed and Treasury work against each other?

4. Reddit tales of ZMP workers.

5. What is the Bezos plan for The Washington Post?

6. Brad DeLong’s points on Ebola.

7. The great Srinivas, the Indian mandolin virtuoso, has passed away.

This is perhaps today’s underreported news story:

Catalonia’s regional government said Tuesday it was suspending its promotion of an independence referendum, a day after a decision by Spain’s Constitutional Court blocking the nonbinding vote.

Catalonia’s leaders still hoped to hold the vote on Nov. 9, said spokesman Francesc Homs, but meanwhile they are halting the campaign for the referendum to avoid subjecting public servants to possible legal liability for defying the court.

There is more here.  Here is an El Pais in English story about how they hope to fight back and continue anyway, but it sounds like a losing cause.  Here is a story on a protest march to defend the referendum idea.  Developing…

I see a whole bunch of candidates here, each backed by a broadly plausible psychological story:

1. They are more ruthless than we realize.

2. They are more like us than we realize.

2b. #1 and #2.

3. They have longer time horizons than we imagine.

4. Due to extreme political constraints, they have far shorter time horizons than we think.

5. They are more inured to the risk of economic depression and hardship than we grasp.

6. They are more obsessed with parallels to earlier Chinese history than a typical Westerner would find natural.

7. They are less rational than social science rational choice models would predict, having one or two major blind spots on matters of critical importance.

8. The Chinese see themselves as weaker and less stable than we see them.

9. All of the above.

10. Good luck.

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports:

The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world.

But these aren’t just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks.

“They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”

This purveyor of skinny lattes and double cappuccinos is deep inside the agency’s forested Langley, Va., compound.

…The baristas go through rigorous interviews and background checks and need to be escorted by agency “minders” to leave their work area. There are no frequent-customer award cards, because officials fear the data stored on the cards could be mined by marketers and fall into the wrong hands, outing secret agents.

And this:

The chief of the team that helped find Osama Bin Laden, for instance, recruited a key deputy for the effort at the Starbucks, said another officer who could not be named.

Employees at the branch also are not allowed to bring smart phones inside.  The piece is interesting throughout.

Assorted links

by on September 30, 2014 at 11:30 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Mining Bitcoin by hand.

2. John Cochrane on inequality.

3. Will your grandmother ever find Borat funny?

4. Interview with a Chinese Misesian.

5. Recessions seem to have a permanent effect on lowering fertility.

6. Teledentistry.  And Jacob Weisberg reviews Rick Perlstein.

Deconstruction of the EU’s actual greenness must start by separating old renewables from new renewables — an essential task because in most countries the old renewables still provide the largest combined contribution in the green category. Readers of European news might be forgiven if they thought that wind turbines and PV panels, both heavily promoted and subsidized by many governments, lead the charge toward the continent’s renewable future. Actually, “solid biofuels” continue to be by far the largest category. In plain English, solid biofuels are wood, the oldest of fuels, be it trunks directly harvested for heat and electricity generation and burned as chips, or large amounts of wood-processing waste — a category particularly abundant in the EU’s two Nordic members with large forestry sectors. In 2012, 80 percent of Finland’s and 52 percent of Sweden’s renewable energy came from wood, and the average for EU-28 was 47 percent; even for Germany, the most aggressive developer of wind and solar, it was about 36 percent.

Burning logging and wood-processing wastes make sense; importing wood chips from overseas in order to meet green quotas does not. In 2013, the EU was burning more than 6 million tons of imported wood pellets. According to Forests and the European Union Resource Network, if all the EU states were to meet their 2020 green quotas, some of them would have to burn 50-100 percent more wood than they did in 2010. Imports now come mostly from North American and Russian forests, but Brazil is considered as the best source for future imports.

The irrationality of wood-based electricity generation is perhaps best illustrated by the conversion of Britain’s largest, originally coal-fired station to burning wood chips: initially they were to come from Brazil, but eventually more than 6 million tons a year will come from the swamp forests of North Carolina and tree plantations in Georgia. And wood-burning electricity generation would not be carbon-neutral even if all the trees cut down for chips were promptly replanted and if all of them regrew quickly and completely: more trees would have to be planted in order to offset carbon released by fossil fuels used in harvesting, processing, and intercontinental transportation of imported wood.

That is from Vaclav Smil, there is more here.

Assorted links

by on September 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The short stories salon with no names.

2. What does OKCupid data say about the Brits?  And UK real wages are still falling.

3. The best erotic works of art?

4. Why is infant mortality higher in America?

5. The catalog of things which don’t exist yet.

Assorted links

by on September 28, 2014 at 1:00 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. A look at how Songdo is coming along.

2. Scott Sumner on a guaranteed annual income.

3. Ross Douthat on cults and secrets and innovation and Peter Thiel.

4. Will Boisvert reviews the new Naomi Klein book.

5. Sydney Push.

6. Interview with the great Lee Perry at age seventy-eight.

Arrived in my pile

by on September 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

Walter Mischel, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control.

Isabel Sawhill, Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage.

Eric Kaplan, Does Santa Exist?: A Philosophical Investigation, by one of the producers of The Big Bang Theory.

Assorted links

by on September 27, 2014 at 11:16 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Things that cost more than space exploration.

2. Tim Harford on why Parisian food is getting worse.

3. The Mercedes-Benz driverless truck.

4. Steven Pinker on why academic writing stinks.

5. Bill Gross’s Straussian take on his deceased pet cat, CAPM, the disrepair of economic models, his personal pet history, and the future of asset returns.  It is strange how they concluded from this letter that he was erratic: “I often asked her about her recommendations for pet food stocks, and she frequently responded – one meow for “no,” two meows for a “you bet.” She was less certain about interest rates, but then it never hurt to ask.”  I say he was spot on, and knew no other way of communicating the bad news.  I suppose he needed to be Straussian about his Straussianism.

Friday assorted links

by on September 26, 2014 at 11:53 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Is software outpacing hardware?  A chess experiment pitting a smart phone against a desktop.

2. Guide to Aphex Twin (the new release is quite good).

3. Wimps.

4. “In Average Is Over, George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen delivers good news and bad news with nearly equal enthusiasm.” Joseph Stromberg has a good review.

5. Knausgaard bingo.

6. Two big mysteries.

Assorted links

by on September 25, 2014 at 12:39 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Can you recognize robot handwriting?

2. Is Kansas turning moderate?

3. Robin Harding in the FT on shifting the tax burden to land.  It doesn’t always work so well.

4. College ranking by billionaire alumni.

5. The gains from provoking nerd fury.

6. Will the FAA let filmmakers operate drones?  It seems so.

Dylan Matthews says yes.  He cites their mixed-member proportional representation, their unicameral legislature, and monarchy.  He left out the biggest advantage of New Zealand government — not very much federalism!  Admittedly, more populous countries cannot achieve that same outcome with equal ease.

I also would make a case for preferring the earlier New Zealand Westminster system to proportional representation.  What is really the advantage of giving those small parties — not all of which have a fully responsible sense of governing — leverage over their pet issues?  The process of coalition formation decreases accountability and blurs what elections are really about.  PR makes more sense in fractious or ethnically split countries, where various groups require a sense of representation.  New Zealand has long had separate arrangements for special Maori representation, and in any case Kiwi PR has not evolved to be primarily about giving Maori added voice (the ostensibly “Maori party” holds only two seats).  To the extent such additional voice is desirable, it can best be done other ways.

Why not just fire them or cut their pay?  As you may know, ESPN just suspended Bill Simmons for three weeks.

One possibility is that a fined but still active worker may continue to “shoot off his mouth” and thus increase the ongoing collateral damage.  (Simmons called the NFL commissioner a “liar” and I believe he works for one of the network’s revenue sources.)  The suspension is a kind of cooling off period.

Another possibility is that ESPN wishes to shift the long-run bargaining equilibrium.  They wish to signal to Simmons that he isn’t as valuable to them as he may think he is, in the hope of either cutting his pay relative to trend or inducing him to be more careful with his future words.  They wish to show they can go without his output for three weeks, without (perhaps) a major loss of business.  Fining him would not shift the long-run balance of power in the same manner because ESPN is continuing to rely on the traffic which Simmons brings in and thus signaling that they really need him.

I do not know if the suspension is with or without pay, but a version of the above argument can work either way, with some modifications required.

If I were the commissioner, I would be insulted by the suspension of Simmons.  It suggests these are words which cannot be said, perhaps because they will elicit audience assent.  The suspension also signals that ESPN regards the commissioner as quite thin-skinned and presumably — especially if he is indeed thin-skinned! — he could be offended by that too.

In sticky nominal wage models, it remains an interesting question why more workers are not suspended rather than fired outright.  Indeed this used to be closer to the norm in many manufacturing labor markets.

Assorted links

by on September 24, 2014 at 12:56 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Will it work for Norway to pay Liberia to stop deforestation?  Does the Coase theorem hold?

2. New York City food menus from one hundred years ago.

3. What does this Singaporean road sign mean?  Duh.

4. Those 538 guys missed what is actually the best taco (economies of scope).

5. How to best survive a black bear attack.

6. Videotape of Solow, DeLong, myself and Russ Roberts on Piketty.