Uncategorized

A compact fusion reactor?

by on October 15, 2014 at 6:25 pm in Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Here is Guy Norris:

Hidden away in the secret depths of the Skunk Works, a Lockheed Martin research team has been working quietly on a nuclear energy concept they believe has the potential to meet, if not eventually decrease, the world’s insatiable demand for power.

Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being “compact,” Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling—ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.

Here is another account.  It is suggested that the reactor can fit on the back of a truck.

In response to such speculative reports I usually say: “If it’s true, why isn’t the price of oil down?”  But these days the price of oil is down!  I am not suggesting this is the reason, but at least I can no longer say “If it’s true, why isn’t the price of oil down?”.  I have to say something else, so if this is true — which I cannot judge — there is no great stagnation (any more).

For the pointer I thank various MR readers.

Assorted links

by on October 15, 2014 at 12:24 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The magical organ and musical taste.

2. Dropbox apologizes in Mission Soccergate.

3. Leonard Liggio has passed away.  Leonard’s voracious reading habits, and gentle nature, were very much a role model for me.  We will miss him.

4. There is no great cloud stagnation.

5. Austin Frakt on the new David Cutler book.  And Bill Gates reviews Piketty, very good piece.

6. Data on rebounds.

Terrence McCoy reports:

Schultz wants $150,000 for Ebola.com — a price he thinks is more than reasonable. “According to our site meter, we’re already doing 5,000 page views per day just by people typing in Ebola.com to see what’s there,” said Schultz, who monitors headlines the way brokers watch their portfolios, to gauge his domain’s worth. “We’re getting inquiries every day about the sale of it. I have a lot of experience in this sort of domain business, and my sense is that $150,000 is reasonable.”

The full story is here, and for the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

From a Jean Tirole press conference:

French economist Jean Tirole advocated Scandinavian-style labour market policies and government reform as a way of preserving France’s social model.

Hours after he won the economics Nobel Prize, Tirole said he felt “sad” the French economy was experiencing difficulties despite having “a lot of assets”.

“We haven’t succeeded in France to undertake the labour market reforms that are similar to those in Germany, Scandinavia and so on,” he said in telephone interview from the French city of Toulouse, where he teaches.

France is plagued by record unemployment and Tirole described the French job market as “catastrophic” earlier on Monday, arguing that the excessive protection for employees had frozen the country’s job market.

“We haven’t succeeded also in downsizing the state, which is an issue because we have a social model that I approve of – I’m very much in favour of this social model – but it won’t be sustainable if the state is too big,” he added.

Tirole remarked that northern European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, had proven you could keep a welfare social model with smaller government. In contrast, he said France’s “big state” threatened its social policies because there will not be “enough money to pay for it in the long run”.

There is more here, hat tip goes to Alex.  And I very much liked this Appelbaum interview with Tirole,here is one bit:

There’s no easy line in summarizing my contribution and the contribution of my colleagues. It is industry-specific. The way you regulate payment cards has nothing to do with the way that you regulate intellectual property or railroads. There are lots of idiosyncratic factors. That’s what makes it all so interesting. It’s very rich.

It requires some understanding of how an industry works. And then the reasoning is very much based on game theory. Usually we don’t have a perfectly competitive market, so we use game theory, which describes situations with a small number of actors. And information economics, those are the tools. But then you go into the industries and try to think about the possible rules. It’s not a one-line thing.

I liked David Henderson’s piece, and this one too, Tirole on France and Canada.

Assorted links

by on October 14, 2014 at 11:34 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Ireland’s suburban ghost towns.

2. The man who smuggles Trader Joe’s into Canada.  By the way, I much prefer Whole Foods, I hardly like any of the items at Trader Joe’s, although they have good smoked trout.

3. The culture that is San Francisco, bros vs. kids.

4. James Hamilton on lower oil prices.

5. Should China privatize its farmlandIs North Korea doing a bit better than most people think?

6. Catalan government calls off independence referendum, but it’s complicated.

7. Tirole on energy, climate, and the environment.  And Justin Wolfers on Tirole.  Vera’s list of fun Tirole papers.  And from Economist’s ViewA Fine Theorem.

Jean Tirole and Platform Markets

by on October 13, 2014 at 7:54 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Today’s Nobel prize winner in economics, Jean Tirole (working with Rochet) is a pioneer in one of the most important new areas in the economy and economics, the study of platform markets. Platform markets, also called two-sided markets, are markets where a firm brings together two or more sides both of whom benefit by the existence of the platform and both of whom may (or may not) be charged. A trivial but telling example is the singles bar that brings together men and (usually) women. Other examples are the Xbox, a platform for game players and game developers, credit cards a platform for buyers and firms that accept that card, newspapers a platform for readers and advertisers, and malls a platform for customers and stores to meet. An important example for the internet age is that Google is a platform of search users and advertisers.

An key difficulty in these markets is that the price charged to one side of the market influences the demand on the other side of the market. The price a newspaper charges to readers, for example, influences the number of readers but that in turn influences the price that the advertisers, the other side of the market, are willing to pay to advertise in the newspaper. It further often happens that one side of the market is harder to “get” than the other and so the profit-maximizing prices on the two sides of the market are very different. One side of the market may even be “subsidized.” The price that newspapers charge readers, for example, is often much less than the cost of the newspaper. Or, to give another example, Microsoft makes money by selling its Xbox at close to cost or even below cost and charging game developers a fee for the right to write games for the Xbox and a royalty rate on their sales. Google finds it optimal to give its services away for free and just charge one side, the advertisers, for being on the platform.

Antitrust and regulation of two-sided markets is challenging because the two sets of prices may look discriminatory or unfair even when they are welfare enhancing. In a mall, for example, it’s often the largest firm (the anchor) that gets the lowest price (sometimes even zero!). Does this represent an unfair advantage that a large firm has over smaller rivals or is it a rational consequence of the fact that the anchor store may bring the most customers to the other, smaller stores in the mall so that the total package is welfare maximizing? Is Microsoft engaging in predatory pricing if it prices the Xbox at or below cost? A singles bar may have “ladies are free night”. Sexist? or good economics? Platform markets mean that pricing at marginal cost can no longer be considered optimal in every market and pricing above marginal cost can no longer be considered as an indication of monopoly power. The analysis also impacts such issues as network neutrality. People worry, for example, that firms like Netflix may be the anchor stores of the internet and get better prices as a result. But the analysis of platform markets suggests that this isn’t necessarily welfare reducing. As these examples indicate is easy to go wrong regulation these markets and in fact Rochet and Tirole urge caution in regulating platform markets.

Rochet and Tirole provide one of earliest and most important analyses of pricing in these types of markets (see also here for an overview).

See Tyler’s post below for much more on Tirole.

Assorted links

by on October 12, 2014 at 4:58 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Pearlstein reviews Kleinbard and Madrick.  And is Piketty actually a case for more capitalism?

2. GMU job market candidates.  And talks from the “40 years after Hayek’s Nobel Prize” event.

3. Interviewing people named Hitler.

4. A tiger against tiger nationalism.

6. What the British wrote about the Germans in 1944, and why do the Germans still care?

How to Discount Pension Funds

by on October 12, 2014 at 12:17 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The NYTimes has a good piece on the Dutch pension system which is characterized by sober calculation.

The Dutch central bank also imposed a rigorous method for measuring the current value of all pensions due in the future. Pensions are not supposed to be risky, Governors_of_the_Wine_Merchant's_Guildso the Dutch measure them the same way the market prices very safe bonds, like Treasuries — that is, by discounting the future payments to today’s dollars with a very low interest rate. This method shows that a stable lifelong benefit is very valuable, and therefore very expensive to fund.

Notably, the Dutch central bank prohibited the measurement method that virtually all American states and cities use, which is based on the hope that strong market gains on pension investments will make the benefits cheaper. A significant downside to this method is that it lets pension systems take advantage of market gains today, but pushes the risk of losses into the future, for others to cope with. “We had lengthy discussions about this in the Netherlands,” said Theo Kocken, an economist who teaches at the Free University in Amsterdam and is the founder of Cardano, a risk analysis firm. “But all economists now agree. The expected-return approach is a huge economic offense, hurting younger generations.”

Economists agree, the Dutch are correct. We know with high certainty the payments that pension funds will have to make in the future so they should be discounted at a relatively low, risk-free rate. Discounting at a risky rate implies that we can fund these pensions with risky assets but as I pointed out in Average Returns Aren’t Average most investors won’t achieve the average return (see also John Cochrane on this point) so the American system practically guarantees that lots of pension funds will run into severe problems.

There is a new product to help you with getting things done, writeordie.com:

Write or Die is an application for Windows, Mac and Linux which aims to eliminate writer’s block by providing consequences for procrastination and, new to this version, rewards for accomplishment. Historically Write or Die has specialized in being the stick in the carrot/stick motivation continuum, but it’s time to experiment with encouragement.

One of the biggest improvements is the inclusion of visual stimulus. Instead of just writing to avoid annoying sounds and alarm warning colors you can now customize your stimulus. If you like to see a cute puppy after you’ve reached a certain number of words, you can. If you’d like to write in fear of a jiggling spider, you can do that too.

Under some modes, if you spend too much time without typing, it starts erasing the words you already have created.

For the pointer I thank Jonathan Falk.

Assorted links

by on October 11, 2014 at 4:20 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Is luxury consumption a female mating competition strategy?

2. Brad DeLong on whether QE is destabilizing.

3. The man who discovered Ebola.  And how one district in Sierra Leone contained Ebola.

4. Amazon is not a monopoly.

5. How bad are the remaining losses in Spanish banks?

6. Might the changes in Yemen endanger some of world trade?

Comedy club average is over

by on October 11, 2014 at 3:17 am in Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

 One Barcelona comedy club is experimenting with using facial recognition technology to charge patrons by the laugh.

The comedy club, Teatreneu, partnered with the advertising firm The Cyranos McCann to implement the new technology after the government hiked taxes on theater tickets, according to a BBC report. In 2012, the Spanish government raised taxes on theatrical shows from 8 to 21 percent.

Cyranos McCann installed tablets on the back of each seat that used facial recognition tech to measure how much a person enjoyed the show by tracking when each patron laughed or smiled.

Each giggle costs approximately 30 Euro cents ($0.38). However, if a patron hits the 24 Euros mark, which is about 80 laughs, the rest of their laughs are free of charge.

The full story is here, via Mark Steckbeck.

Assorted links

by on October 10, 2014 at 11:16 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The last one-sentence book review.

2. Lead role in Kafka’s Metamorphosis given to a robot.

3. Lev Grossman reviews Kerry Howley.

4. Jesse Rothstein revisits the value of a great teacher (pdf).  Maybe it’s not so high.

5. 5700 video games for $164k.

6. Claims about carbon capture (speculative).

7. America fights Chinese plan for a rival to the World Bank.

8. Economic policy in Hong Kong isn’t as good as many people think.

A New York appeals court will consider this week whether chimpanzees are entitled to “legal personhood” in what experts say is the first case of its kind.

For Steven Wise, the lawyer behind the case involving a chimp named Tommy, it is the culmination of three decades of seeking to extend rights historically reserved for humans to other intelligent animals.

On Wednesday, a mid-level state appeals court in Albany will hear the case of the 26-year-old Tommy, who is owned by a human and lives alone in what Wise describes as a “dark, dank shed” in upstate New York.

Wise is seeking a ruling that Tommy has been unlawfully imprisoned and should be released to a chimp sanctuary in Florida.

A victory in the case could lead to a further expansion of rights for chimps and other higher-order animals, including elephants, dolphins, orcas and other non-human primates, Wise said.

“The next argument could be that Tommy … also has the right to bodily integrity, so he couldn’t be used in biomedical research,” the Boston attorney said.

The full article is here, via Charles Klingman.

Assorted links

by on October 9, 2014 at 11:46 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The favorite books of fifty famous people, though not Ben Affleck.

2. Hong Kong people.

3. Peter Thiel on creativity.  And Virginia Postrel on Peter Thiel.

4. Do kids need simplified non-fiction?

5. Captive orcas speak dolphin.

6. It works best if all jurisdictions depenalize marijuana use (pdf), JPE gated version here.

David wrote:

the point about unnecessarily fancy infrastructure with weak maintenance is endemic to all the corrupt east asian economies, really

if you want to quickly assess a city’s transport infrastructure, look to see if all the roads have good sidewalks and all the streetlights have a number. the head honcho is only driven past, he doesn’t walk on the pavement – if the project exists only to impress him, then the pavement will be subpar and cracking. if the streetlights are not numbered, then nobody is tracking failures and replacing parts.

Tyler [not this Tyler] wrote:

A week in China often leaves Westerners impressed. So shiny! So new! So big!

Live there a year and you yearn for the Newark Airport…

Douglas Levene wrote:

I live and work in Shenzhen and can add a few observations. First, the food in Shenzhen is generally not very good, and does not compare to Hong Kong or Taipei. Second, a lot of the infrastructure (the subway, the parks) is new and shiny (and there is excellent cell service on the subway), but construction quality being what it is on the mainland, you can expect much of it to look terrible in a short time. Third, although Shenzhen is much cleaner than it was four years ago, it’s still very dirty compared to Hong Kong and Taipei. Fourth, you can’t get decent internet service to foreign (English) language websites anywhere in Shenzhen, even with a VPN. This is probably due to the Great Chinese Firewall. Fifth, it’s very hard to find housing built to Western standards of comfort, size, and cleanliness. Sixth, western style toilets are still a rarity in Shenzhen. That all said, Shenzhen remains the beating heart of the capitalist South and is the best hope for China.