Uncategorized

Elaine Sciolino is pretty critical.  She writes:

A new consumer protection law meant to inform diners whether their meals are freshly prepared in the kitchen or fabricated somewhere off-site is comprehensive, precise, well intentioned — and, to hear the complaints about it, half-baked.

Public decree No. 2014-797, drafted and passed by the French Parliament and approved by the prime minister, went into effect last week. It allows restaurateurs to use the logo if they have resisted the increasing temptation to buy ready-made dishes from industrial producers, pop them in the microwave and pass them off as culinary artistry.

It doesn’t seem to be working to encourage quality:

French fries, for instance, can bear the “fait maison” symbol if they are precut somewhere else, but not if they are frozen. Participating chefs are allowed to buy a ready-made pâte feuilletée, a difficult-to-make, multilayered puff pastry, but pâte brise, a rich pastry dough used to make flaky tart shells, has to be made on-site. Cured sausages and smoked hams are acceptable, while ready-made terrines and pâtés are not.

…Périco Légasse, a food critic for the weekly magazine Marianne, wrote: “ ‘Homemade’ doesn’t mean freshly made. A dish totally prepared with frozen products, even if they come from a Romanian slaughterhouse, can enjoy this happy distinction as it was cooked on-site.”

Mark Bittman piles on.  I would stress there is no substitute for consumers who demand the right kind of food and who otherwise won’t buy it.

The subtitle is An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness, and the author is Russ Roberts.  The focus is on Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and why that is an important book.  This is Russ’s best book in my opinion, so you should consider buying it here.  My favorite section is the discussion of the Chilean maid, definitely recommended.

Assorted links

by on July 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Cohen and Scheinmann on Israeli strategy in Gaza.  And a theory of how Hamas acted out of weakness.  And Vox considers Israel’s strategy.

2. The psychology of first impressions.  Lots of examples at that link.

3. Is Ethiopia the next China?  Or just the next Vietnam?

4. Was the Concorde an evolutionary dead end?

5. Sadly John Blundell has passed away.  He was always a great encouragement to me and I am sorry to hear he is gone.

6. What happened to Inoki?  Lots, in fact.  And Bryan Caplan re-reads Catcher in the Rye.  And the FT essay prize.

7. More on Swedish vouchers.

8. Larry Summers on secular stagnation, Ex-Im, and TPP.

Slowest Growing Populations (%, 2000-10)

1 Moldova -13%

2 Georgia -8%

3 #Ukraine-7%

4 Bulg -6%

5 Latvia -6%

6 Lithuania -5%

7 Belarus -5%

That is from here, the most rapidly growing populations are given here, some Gulf states and Africa, both are tweets from Ian Bremmer.

Assorted links

by on July 22, 2014 at 12:37 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Claims about the economics of eBooks (speculative).

2. The Browser picks the greatest blog posts ever.

3. Wage stagnation is real.

4. Edward Hugh on Spanish unsustainability.

5. How good were the Harlem Globetrotters?

6. How can you tell if an elephant is obese?

From Neil Irwin at The Upshot:

Five years into the economic recovery, businesses still aren’t plowing much money into big-ticket investments for the future. Nonresidential fixed investment — what businesses spend on equipment, software, buildings and intellectual property — still hasn’t bounced back to its pre-crisis share of the economy, let alone made up for lost ground from the record lows of 2009. As Justin Lahart notes in The Wall Street Journal, equipment spending in particular has averaged 5.2 percent of the economy over the last five years, down from 6.5 percent over the previous half-century.

If firms increased their spending enough to close that gap, it would mean an extra $220 billion in annual economic activity and perhaps a couple of million more jobs. But there may be even more important and lasting consequences for this lack of spending by businesses.

Capital spending improves worker productivity. And worker productivity improves living standards. Less capital spending by businesses means less investment in the kinds of equipment, software and intellectual property that will make the economy more competitive over the long haul.

One simple hypothesis is that it’s not worth spending more on American workers at current wage levels.  As workers, while Americans are quite good, they are just not that much better than a variety of high-IQ individuals in cheaper countries, many of whom now have acceptable infrastructure to work with.

Addendum: Brad DeLong considers potential gdp.

…on July 13, about four days before the actual incursion began, about 67 percent of Israelis supported a ground operation. By authorizing one, Netanyahu has given the public what it has demanded.

That is from Brent Sasley.

Fred Kaplan wonders whether Israel has lost its ability to think strategically.  Even Max Boot seems to think Hamas will stay in charge of Gaza.

Or is the fear that even intercepted Hamas rockets will in the long run spur too much Israeli emigration?  Are the economics of long-run rocket/shoot-down reciprocity unacceptable to Israel?

A friend of mine suggests that Israel feels the need to send a tough signal to Iran.

Or all of the above?

I am by the way not impressed by various Twitter demands that I should spend more time moralizing about this conflict.  I do think it is deontologically wrong on the part of the Israelis, and I also do not understand their strategy from even a purely nationalistic point of view.  But my voice will have no influence, and I would rather learn something from the comments section about why such strategies are being pursued.  Call me selfish if you wish, I am.

Assorted links

by on July 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The shipping container apartment.

2. Why not buy more store brands?

3. Cows are a good Indian investment after all.

4. Can sanctions stop Putin?

5. Let them eat cosmopolitanism.  But note: I never argue “…that egalitarianism as a political force in America is fundamentally opposed to globalisation.”  I do argue that egalitarians do not usually take a consistently global perspective when framing the recent history of inequality.  I also never argue “…redistribution must necessarily make the economy poorer than it otherwise would be.”  I do argue wealth maximization is a good starting point for thinking about how much redistribution we should do and furthermore that will be some positive amount.

Yet another shibboleth of campaign finance reform appears to be in weak shape, here is a new paper (pdf):

I show that the public funding of elections produces a large decrease in the financial and electoral advantage of incumbents. Despite these eff ects on electoral competition, I demonstrate that public funding produces more polarization and candidate divergence|not less. Finally, I establish that this eff ect is at least in part due to the fact that public funding disproportionately aff ects the contribution behavior of access-oriented interest groups, groups who, I show, systematically support moderate incumbents. Access-oriented interest groups therefore help generate the incumbency advantage and mitigate polarization by supporting moderate legislators.

That is from Andrew B. Hall at the Department of Government at Harvard.

Assorted links

by on July 20, 2014 at 4:16 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Yemen travelogue.

2. New American opera companies, but there are more in Germany.

3. The economics of lobster.

4. Law enforcement implications of driverless cars.

5. What is the relative cost of a Hamas rocket to an Israeli defense?

From Becker, Philipson, and Soares (pdf):

GDP per capita is usually used to proxy for the quality of life of individuals living in different countries. Welfare is also affected by quantity of life, however, as represented by longevity. This paper incorporates longevity into an overall assessment of the evolution of cross-country inequality and shows that it is quantitatively important. The absence of reduction in cross-country inequality up to the 1990s documented in previous work is in stark contrast to the reduction in inequality after incorporating gains in longevity. Throughout the post–World War II period, health contributed to reduce significantly welfare inequality across countries. This paper derives valuation formulas for infra-marginal changes in longevity and computes a “full” growth rate that incorporates the gains in health experienced by 96 countries for the period between 1960 and 2000. Incorporating longevity gains changes traditional results; countries starting with lower income tended to grow faster than countries starting with higher income. We estimate an average yearly growth in “full income” of 4.1 percent for the poorest 50 percent of countries in 1960, of which 1.7 percentage points are due to health, as opposed to a growth of 2.6 percent for the richest 50 percent of countries, of which only 0.4 percentage points are due to health. Additionally, we decompose changes in life expectancy into changes attributable to 13 broad groups of causes of death and three age groups. We show that mortality from infectious, respiratory, and digestive diseases, congenital, perinatal, and “ill-defined” conditions, mostly concentrated before age 20 and between ages 20 and 50, is responsible for most of the reduction in life expectancy inequality. At the same time, the recent effect of AIDS, together with reductions in mortality after age 50—due to nervous system, senses organs, heart and circulatory diseases—contributed to increase health inequality across countries.

That reminder is from Aaron Schwartz.  And of course that is the Becker, yet another contribution from Gary Becker.

Do note, by the way, that medical progress is usually egalitarian per se.  A common metric is something like “health outcomes of the poor” vs. “health outcomes of the rich,” and that may or may not be moving in an egalitarian direction.  But very often the more incisive metric is “health outcomes of the sick” vs. “health outcomes of the healthy,” and of course most medical treatments are going to the sick.  The more desperate is the lot of the sick, the more likely that medical progress is egalitarian per se.

Mann and Corrado have new work on this topic, here is a brief excerpt from the Brookings summary:

The evidence suggests that increasing the role of small donors would have little effect on partisan polarization in either direction because small donors tend to be highly polarized. Although Mann and Corrado note that a healthier mix would champion democratic ideals like civic participation and equality of voice.

Taking both points together, Mann and Corrado find that campaign finance reform is insufficient for depolarizing the parties and improving governing capacity. They argue forcefully that polarization emerges from a broader political and partisan problem. Ultimately, they assert that, “some break in the party wars is probably a prerequisite to any serious pushback to the broader deregulation of campaign finance now underway.”

I view campaign finance reform as in general an overrated idea on the Left.

Assorted links

by on July 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. You only mimic the robot when it is present.  And robot soccer, with automated referees.

2. Academic average is over.

3. How to make selfie toast (there is no great stagnation).

4. Roko’s Basilisk.

5. Wolfgang Streeck on how capitalism will end.  And how many copies has Knausgaard sold?

6. The era of mood affililiation.

7. The pageant king of Alabama.

8. The world’s most cerebral marriage? (Parfit-relevant)

The working paper (pdf) describes it in this way:

Filecoin is a distributed electronic currency similar to Bitcoin. Unlike Bitcoin’s computation-only proof-of-work, Filecoin’s proof-of-work function includes a proof-of-retrievability component, which requires nodes to prove they store a particular file. The Filecoin network forms an entirely distributed file storage system, whose nodes are incentivized to store as much of the entire network’s data as they can. The currency is awarded for storing files, and is transferred in transactions, as in Bitcoin. Files are added to the network by spending currency. This produces strong monetary incentives for individuals to join and work for the network. In the course of ordinary operation of the Filecoin network, nodes contribute useful work in the form of storage and distribution of valuable data.

The mother site is here.  File under…arbitrage.

For the pointer I thank J.

Assorted links

by on July 18, 2014 at 11:36 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Walrasian markets for beer, or marketing gimmick?  And secret markets in everything, for broke and desperate athletes.  Details on Kindle Unlimited.

2. Claims about Danes (speculative).

3. The argument that Chinese shadow banking just isn’t that risky.

4. Mobile showers for the homeless.

5. The new family robot?

6. “Will the Israeli government attempt “lower the mean, increase the variance” strategies?”  The reference is from this MR post.