…just as the bulk of the growth in employment can be attributed to a few sectors where productivity is either low or unmeasurable, a whopping 88 per cent of the total rise in the price level boils down to four sectors of the US economy…

How did you guess it was health care, higher education, real estate, and prescription drugs?

…In January 1990, those four product categories only accounted for 30 per cent of the money spent on consumption by the average American. (Housing was about half that.) Even after more than a quarter-century in which prices of these goods and services rose significantly faster than everything else, these four sectors still account for less than 40 per cent of total consumer spending.

Within health care, dentistry has seen the highest rate of price inflation.  Televisions, however, have been falling in price at the rate of about 12 percent a year since 1990.  Luggage, “dishes and flatware,” and household linens are all down in price dramatically, as are telephone and communication services.  Durable goods are down in price by about a third.

That is from Matthew C. Klein at FT Alphaville.

And self-published “indie” authors — in part because they get a much bigger cut of the revenue than authors working with conventional publishers do — are now making much more money from e-book sales, in aggregate, than authors at Big Five publishers.

And this:

The AAP also reported, though, that e-book revenue was down 11.3 percent in 2015 and unit sales down 9.7 percent. That’s where things get misleading. Yes, the established publishing companies that belong to the AAP are selling fewer e-books. But that does not mean fewer e-books are being sold. Of the top 10 books on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list when I checked last week, only two (“The Light Between Oceans” and “The Girl on the Train,” both mass-market reissues of novels that have just been made into movies) were the products of major publishers. All the rest were genre novels (six romances, two thrillers) published either by the author or by an in-house Amazon imprint. Their prices ranged from 99 cents to $4.99.

That is from Justin Fox at Bloomberg.

Here is one bit from Steve Lohr’s longer article at the NYT:

For the moment, Amazon seems to be the most aggressive recruiter of economists. It even has an Amazon Economists website for soliciting résumés. In a video on the site, Patrick Bajari, the company’s chief economist, says the economics team has contributed to decisions that have had “multibillion-dollar impacts” for the company.

Another Amazon jobs site lists openings for economists. As of Friday, there were 34.

Seeing this emerging job market, the National Association for Business Economics held its first meeting for technology company economists in April in San Francisco. Another is set for October in Silicon Valley.

The article has many other interesting segments.

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.

Microsoft did not dispute reports that it would spend $1.1 billion on the Boydton data center, and said that “on average, data centers employ tens to several dozen people,” in a mixture of corporate and contracted positions. It declined to let a reporter tour the site.

“They talked about 100 jobs, but it’s a slow process,” said Thomas C. Coleman III, the mayor of Boydton. So far, he says, the biggest impact “has been a couple of lunch tables at the Triangle gas station.”

That is from Quentin Hardy at the NYT.

At the prices they are offering, a lot of bugs in their software are going undetected.  Yet the company has the funds to pay more, and you might think for Coasean reasons the value to Apple of maintaining the franchise is pretty high.  So why don’t they pay more?  From Russell Brandom, this may be the reason:

If Apple really did put its enormous cash reserves behind catching every bug, the result might have unintended consequences for its own security workforce. Building and deploying patches is hard work, every bit as delicate and creative as finding vulnerabilities. Companies need dedicated teams to do that work — but with skyrocketing prices for iOS vulnerabilities, why not put in a few months to find an exploit, turn it in for the bounty, and then spend the rest of the year working on your tan? “If Apple or other defense bounties tried to outbid or even match offense bug prices, they may lose the employees they need most to fix the issues,” Moussouris says.

The article is of interest more generally.

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.

A few of you have asked, I considered that question in 2012, here is a significantly revised update:

1. Now I know how to text, sort of, though I hardly ever do it.  It strikes me as the worst and most inefficient technology of communication ever invented (seriously).  It’s not that fast, and it’s broken up into tiny bits of back and forth.  I don’t see how it makes sense beyond the “What should I get at the supermarket? — Blueberries” level.  There is intertemporal substitution, so just, at some other point in time, spend more time talking, writing longer letters, making love, whatever.  Not texting.  It is never the best thing to be doing, except to answer some very well-defined question.

2. I now carry only one iPad around, as I donated my spare iPad to a poor Mexican family.  I use it very often for directions, book and restaurant reviews, and general life advice.  Plus email and keeping current on my Twitter feed.  I simply don’t want a screen any smaller than that.  My iPad now also has a rather pronounced crack on the front glass, but that adds to its artistic value.  I dare not drop it again.

3. I have an iPhone, which I hardly ever use for anything.  Occasionally someone calls me on it, or I use it to check email in situations when it might be rude to pull out the iPad.  Other times I am rude, but it’s actually a form of flattery if I am willing to check my iPad in front of you.  You may not feel flattered, however.

3b. Except for the occasional Uber ride, I don”t use apps and hate reading news sites through the apps, I won’t do it.  I’m used to the web, not your app, and I hope I can get away with being a stubborn grouch on this forever.

4. I now have a Bloomberg terminal, which is very cool.  It is amazing that a product designed in the “before the internet as we know it” era still is the clear market leader and the best option.  Bloomberg is a great company with a great product(s).  Right now I can do about 5 of the 25,000 separate commands, but the fault is mine not theirs.  In the meantime, send me email at my gmu address, not what is listed on the Bloomberg column.

5. I use my Kindle less over time.  It remains in that nebulous “fine” category, but I prefer “real books.”  Kindle is best for works of fiction when I know in advance I wish to read every page in the proper order.  I am continuing with my long-range plan to read Calvin’s Institutes on my Kindle, bit by bit, in between other works.  This will take me ten years, but a) he is a brilliant mind, and b) in the meantime I won’t lose sight of the plot line.

6. I have a new Lenovo laptop, sleek and fast, plus some computers at work.  I don’t even know what they are, but probably they are quite subpar.

Way more iPad and way less texting are I suppose the main ways in which I deviate from the dominant status quo.  Come join me in this and we shall conquer the world.

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.

I am all in favor of San Francisco’s $13 per hour minimum wage (which rises to $15 by 2018), plus mandatory paid sick leave, parental leave and employer health care contributions. But labor costs at restaurants are inching past 50 percent of total expenditures, an indicator of poor fiscal health. Commercial rents have also gone bananas. Add the ever-rising cost of frisée and pastured quail eggs and it’s no wonder that many restaurants are experimenting with that unique form of sadism known as “small plate sharing,” which amounts to offering a big group of hungry people something tiny to divvy up. Even nontrendy joints now ask $30 for a proper entree — a price point, according to Mr. Patterson, that encourages even affluent customers to discover the joys of home cooking.

That is by Daniel Duane for the NYT, on how Silicon Valley shapes the northern California dining scene and it is of interest more generally.

I have been pushing this line for a while, now I am pleased to see coverage from The New York Times:

Industry leaders point to a number of areas where China jumped first. Before the online dating app Tinder, people in China used an app called Momo to flirt with nearby singles. Before the Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos discussed using drones to deliver products, Chinese media reported that a local delivery company, S.F. Express, was experimenting with the idea. WeChat offered speedier in-app news articles long before Facebook, developed a walkie-talkie function before WhatsApp, and made major use of QR codes well before Snapchat.

Before Venmo became the app for millennials to transfer money in the United States, both young and old in China were investing, reimbursing each other, paying bills,and buying products from stores with smartphone-based digital wallets.

The Paul Mozur article is interesting throughout.

Delphi Automotive Plc, the vehicle-electronics supplier that last year conducted the first coast-to-coast U.S. demonstration of a self-driving car, will begin testing autonomous autos in Singapore this year that may lead to robot taxis by the end of the decade.

The test will involve six autonomous autos, starting with the modified Audi Q5 the supplier used last year to travel from San Francisco to New York in self-driving mode. In Singapore, the cars initially will follow three predetermined routes and by 2019 will range freely based on customer requests, without a driver or a human minder, according to Glen DeVos, a Delphi senior vice president.

“We actually will have point-to-point automated mobility on demand with no driver in the car,” he said at a briefing with reporters at Delphi’s Troy, Michigan, operations base. “It’s one of the first, if not the very first, pilot programs where we’ll demonstrate mobility-on-demand systems.”

Here is more from Keith Naughton.

That’s why they have Cowen’s First Law!  Here is new research by Mitch Downey at UCSD (pdf):

Recent research emphasizes the pressure technological change exerts on middle-wage occupations by automating routine tasks. I argue that technology only partially automates these tasks, which often still require labor. Rather, technology reduces task complexity enabling a less skilled worker to do the same job. The costs of automation, then, are not only the costs of the technology itself but also of low-wage workers to use it. By raising the cost of low-wage labor, the minimum wage reduces the profitability of adopting automating technologies. I test this prediction with state variation in the minimum wage and industry variation in complementarity between low-wage workers and technology. I show that accounting for state price differences induces new and useful minimum wage variation, derive new measures of complementarity from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the CPS Computer Use Supplement, and build a measure of technology based on IT employment, the largest component of IT spending. My results imply a $1 decrease in the minimum wage raises the average industry’s technology use by 30% and decreases the routine share of the wage bill by 1 percentage point (3.3%), both relative to a counterfactual without complementarity. Routine-intensive industries often exhibit high complementarity, making the minimum wage an important policy lever to influence the pace of routine-biased technical change.

I owe this link to someone other than myself, but can no longer remember who that is…sorry!

This possibly gated but excellent nonetheless piece is from the FT, here is one excerpt:

A few weeks ago was typical. After some time off, my feed aggregator displayed 794 blog posts, 56 of them foolishly filed into the “must read” folder. Here lay a polemic blasting the FT for worrying about China’s debts; there a graph strewn post about US inflation expectations. Virtuoso “infovore” Tyler Cowen had dug up a fascinating passage on how China runs monetary policy. Another polymath, Brad DeLong (former Clinton staffer and tireless scourge of rightwing bunkum), had spent some minutes producing a few hundred words on “the intellectual role of the economist in public life”, throwing out references to pre-Christian philosopher Hermippos of Smyrna as a warm-up. Another writer, an anonymous retired trader with a bad back, explained how quantitative easing exposes central bankers as a bunch of bungling frauds. It felt like his fifth such post in a week.

And so on…

And yet in 10 years of trying to make sense of the economic world around me, I have found nothing as reliably good as the blogosphere.

And so on!  How can you not love an article that refers to an “omni-reading angel in the celestial library”?

There is a hat tip to Scott Sumner and a nice appreciation of Steve Randy Waldman as well.

Households making $25,000-$35,000 a year spend ninety-two more minutes a week online than households making $100,000 or more a year in income, and differences vary monotonically over intermediate income levels.

That is from a new NBER paper by Boik, Greenstein, and Prince.  Do note that the authors adjust for age and other demographic variables.

The upshot is that the real “undervalued” services from the internet come from its risk-sharing properties, not from the supposed lack of pricing of internet services.  If something bad happens to you, well…there is always the internet to fall back upon, at least provided you still can afford the connection.  This also means that business cycles are not quite as painful as before, but also that labor markets will be slower to adjust.

Some also may find in this fact an optimistic statement that “real life” (ha ha) has more to offer than the internet, with the caveat that real life is expensive.

The data in this very interesting paper also indicate that Chat has largely collapsed since 2008 as a way of spending time on the internet, internet time devoted to news sites has fallen from 10% to 5%, and social media and video are on the rise.

Here is my previous post “Let them eat ideology!”