Sunday assorted links

by on January 8, 2017 at 12:03 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the last bit:

I don’t mean to say that technological stagnation is a good thing. But sometimes the biggest advances lead to more tragedy than comfort, especially in the short run, before we learn how to adjust to their challenges. To paraphrase Peter Thiel, they promised us flying cars, and what we got was a bunch of stoned characters, and more than 140 of them. Beware the end of the productivity slowdown.

Do read the whole thing.

Canadiana Village, about an hour north of Montreal near Rawdon, Que., has been on the market since the fall. The nearly 60 hectares of land and 45 buildings are going for $2.8 million.

The village is designed to resemble a pioneer settlement from the 19th century, and includes a church, a general store, a mill, a cemetery, a saloon and 22 houses.

However, most of the buildings are just for show.

…”There’s only one livable home.”

Kaija said most of the buildings were shipped to the village over the years.

In its heyday, the village welcomed close to 30,000 tourists per year and was a popular destination for school field trips.

It was also featured in more than 110 film and TV productions, including Radio-Canada’s Pays d’en haut and I’m Not There, a Bob Dylan biographical drama.

Here is the full story, with photos, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Euro sentences to ponder

by on January 7, 2017 at 2:58 pm in Economics | Permalink

The point is that a country like Italy or Greece is not trapped by being in the euro. It could increase its competitiveness by raising value-added taxes on consumption and cutting payroll taxes.

That is from Arnold Kling, channeling Gita Gopinath.  The interview with her at the link is worth reading.

Saturday assorted links

by on January 7, 2017 at 1:16 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

One argument is “the higher trade barriers haven’t kicked in yet.”  Another is “the decline in the value of sterling shows the British people already have taken big wealth losses.”  Another approach focuses on consumption, Chris Giles at the FT has some good insights:

…rather than rising, household savings fell throughout 2016. The savings ratio dropped to an exceptionally low level in the third quarter as consumers went on a borrowing and spending binge not seen since before the financial crisis.

The interesting question is why households acted in this way. There are three plausible reasons. First, households correctly thought Brexit would improve their personal finances and borrowed and spent accordingly. Second, they were deceived into expecting economic gains from Brexit and still went out to spend. And, third, households watched sterling tumble, understood the likely effect on prices and brought forward their consumption, so they were spending in the knowledge their money would buy less in future.

Economic analysis allows us to set out these possibilities; it tells us only the last of the three options is sustainable; but it does not yet inform us which is correct.

By the end of 2017, we will know whether historically low levels of saving have persisted through the year, and this will provide a pretty good answer to the question of why spending held up so well after the EU referendum. If spending was merely brought forward, there will be a nasty jolt in the economy.

Here are some figures for consumer credit.  Do stay tuned…

How about calling the series “Lonely Planet”?

Years before penning Metamorphosis, considered by some to be the greatest short story ever written, Franz Kafka hoped to make his fortune writing a series of budget European travel guides.

Kafka conceived a business plan for the books, dubbed “on the cheap”, while travelling across the continent with his friend Max Brod in the summer of 1911. This detail was revealed in volume three of Reiner Stach’s biography, Kafka: The Early Years, published in translation (by Shelley Frisch) last month.

The ahead-of-its-time idea (considering the popularity of budget travel tips today) sought to take on the traditional Baedeker travel guides, which then consisted primarily of hotel and restaurant listings, but lacked the insider knowledge Kafka felt was truly valuable to a traveller.

Questions that his guides proposed to address are ones that tourists still seek answers for now. On which days do museums have reduced fees? Are there any free concerts? Should you travel by taxi or tram? How much should you tip? There was also a suggestion to include advice on where to find erotic and sexual entertainment for a fair price.

Stach writes: “Kafka and Brod were convinced that a travel guide that answered all these questions candidly and supplied a select few reasonable and reliable recommendations would instantly beat out the competition … With a series of this kind, they could earn millions, especially if it was published in several languages.”

Yet it seems they were a wee bit clueless on their own travels:

For example, after discovering that Zurich’s city library was closed on Sundays, the pair believed they could still gain entry by asking at the tourist office.


…the pair were so afraid that their idea would be stolen that they wouldn’t reveal the full details of their pitch to a publisher without first securing an advance.

I would have enjoyed hearing the Swiss travel office response.  Here is the full story, via Ted Gioia.

At first, Joseph Talbot was charged with DUI.  Then he undertook a plan:

As the Times of Wayne County was distributing its weekly edition on Saturday, Holdraker started receiving calls from newsstands that a man — Talbot, according to Holdraker — was buying up all the copies of the paper. “We got in the car and restocked newsstands as far as we could,” says Holdraker, noting that he prints only 350 extra copies per week.

Some helpful numbers: Talbot’s extra-newspaper purchases, according to Holdraker, were limited to the village of Newark. There, he gobbled up about 900 to 1,000 copies at $1.25 a pop from at least eight places. Surely the outlays suppressed the news to some degree. However: The Times of Wayne County has a circulation of just north of 12,000, a number that consists of newsstand sales and subscription via mail (about 5,000, says Holdraker). So the buy-up plan addressed barely one-twelfth of the newspaper’s print distribution.

And, this being about 20 years after the rise of newspaper websites, there was another means of circulation as well. The Times of Wayne County, says Holdraker, puts its top news stories on its site without restriction. As to whether this particular story qualified for this status, Holdraker says, “It wasn’t gonna be, but obviously he pushed it.”

That is via Jack Shafer and Clive DavisThe article has other humorous points of interest.  Perhaps this is a new business model for media looking to expand their print sales?

Friday assorted links

by on January 6, 2017 at 12:48 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. What if U.S. importers and exporters are the same?

2. More on religious tolerance in Lagos: “We’re too busy trying to make money”

3. Now declassified CIA maps.

4. For the median working age male, measured median income growth since 1962 (!) is zero.  We need more economic theories where wages rise only through some consumer good innovation at the fringes.

5. Anti-surveillance clothing aims to hide wearers from facial recognition.

The Danish parliament on Monday passed a bill that will bar students from taking a second university degree.

The bill restricts individuals who already have a higher education degree from pursuing a degree in another field at the same or a lower level.

The bill was supported by the three government parties as well as the Danish People’s Party and the Social Democrats. Its backers say the move is a matter or priorities.

Here is the full story, via Anecdotal.

Two employees at the East Lake County Library created a fictional patron called Chuck Finley — entering fake driver’s license and address details into the library system — and then used the account to check out 2,361 books over nine months in 2016, in order to trick the system into believing that the books they loved were being circulated to the library’s patrons, thus rescuing the books from automated purges of low-popularity titles.

Library branch supervisor George Dore was suspended for his role in the episode; he said that he was trying to game the algorithm because he knew that these books would come back into vogue and that his library would have to spend extra money re-purchasing them later. He said that other libraries were doing the same thing.

Data falsification will be one of the biggest stories of the next five years.  That is from BoingBoing, via Ted Gioia.

China WeChat fact of the day

by on January 6, 2017 at 3:00 am in Web/Tech | Permalink

WeChat’s ability to create a bustling payments economy echoes the general success of its parent company. In September, Tencent became China’s largest company by value, surpassing state-owned China Mobile, when it reported its third-quarter revenue: $6 billion, up 52% year over year. How much of that can be attributed to Wallet and WePay was not specified: WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, makes money largely from online gaming, advertising, and selling sticker packs. But Tencent—which began with the instant messaging app QQ and is now pursuing artificial intelligence and electric cars alongside investments in a range of companies, including China’s dominant ride-sharing operation, Didi Chuxing—did cite WePay as a major reason for its “other” businesses’ growth, which increased $726 million in the third quarter, or 348% over the same period last year. According to estimates by HSBC, based on current tech company valuations, WeChat could already be worth more than $80 billion, about half of Tencent’s market capitalization.

That is from Eveline Chao at Fast Company, and for the pointer I thank Dan Wang.  The article offers other points of interest.

Yes, I still subscribe to the paper versions.  I found this study by Pattabhiramaiah, Sriram, and Sridhar interesting:

Between 2006 and 2011, daily print newspapers in the U.S. lost 20% of their paid subscribers, partly due to increasing availability of alternative sources of news, such as free content provided on newspaper websites and by news aggregators such as Yahoo. However, contrary to the expectation that firms respond to softening demand by lowering prices, newspapers increased subscription prices by 40-60% during this period. In this paper, we explain and quantify the factors responsible for these price increases. We calibrate models of readership and advertising demand using data from a top-50 U.S. regional print newspaper. Conditional on these demand models, we calibrate the newspaper’s optimal pricing equations, and assess whether the increase in subscription prices are mainly rationalized by: a) the decline in readers’ willingness to pay (WTP) in the presence of heterogeneity among subscribers, or b) the newspaper’s reduced incentive to subsidize readers at the expense of advertisers, due to softening demand for newspaper advertising. We find that the decline in the ability of the newspaper to subsidize readers by extracting surplus from advertisers explains most of the increase in subscription prices. Of the three available subscription options (Daily, Weekend, and Sunday only), subscription prices increased more steeply for the Daily option, a pattern consistent with the view that newspapers are driving away low valuation weekday readers while preserving Sunday readership and the corresponding ad revenues. Thus, our research augments theoretical propositions in two-sided markets by providing a formal empirical approach to unraveling the relative importance of the role played by agents on the subsidy and demand side in determining prices.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard, has a term for this: “retrospective wait unemployment,” or “looking for the job you used to have.”

“It’s not a skill mismatch, but an identity mismatch,” he said. “It’s not that they couldn’t become a health worker, it’s that people have backward views of what their identity is.”

That is from a longer and interesting piece by Claire Cain Miller (NYT).

Thursday assorted links

by on January 5, 2017 at 12:17 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink