I’ve noticed in Hong Kong that exiters are not accorded absolute priority.  That is, those entering the elevator can push their way through before the leavers have left, without being considered impolite, unlike in the United States.  In part, Hong Kongers are in a hurry, but that does not itself explain the difference in customs.  After all, exiters are in a hurry too, so why take away their priority rights?  Perhaps we should look again to Coase.  If some people who wish to enter are in a truly big hurry, they can barge forward.  Furthermore, an exiter who is not in a hurry at all can hold back, knowing that someone will rush to fill the void, rather than ending up in the equilibrium of excessive politeness where each defers to the other and all movements are delayed.  That is not an equilibrium you see often in downtown Hong Kong.

There is another positive effect from the Hong Kong method.  If you will be exiting the elevator, you have to step forward early on and be ready to leave promptly, to avoid being swamped by the new entrants.  That means the process of exit takes place more quickly.  And so the entrants who are in a hurry actually do get on their way earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

#smallstepstowardamuchbetterworld

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.

Assorted links

by on October 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Chinatown’s kitchen network.

2. David Leonhardt calls it “The Great Wage Slowdown.”

3. What the applied economists are up to at Microsoft.

4. Dating app average is over.

5. Some scholarly literature on Ebola outbreaks.  Jeff Sachs and others on how to control Ebola, in Lancet.

Sentences to ponder

by on October 8, 2014 at 11:50 am in Data Source, Economics, Education, Science | Permalink

On average, students in 2014 in every income bracket outscored students in a lower bracket on every section of the test, according to calculations from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (also known as FairTest), using data provided by the College Board, which administers the test.

Students from the wealthiest families outscored those from the poorest by just shy of 400 points.

From Josh Zumbrun, there is more here.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry

by on October 8, 2014 at 9:45 am in Current Affairs, Science | Permalink

Eric Betzig, one of today’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is a team leader at Janelia Farms the stunning Howard Hughes Medical Institute campus located nearby in Ashburn, VA. I’ve been out to the labs at Janelia a number of times for public talks and seen how Betzig’s work creating much higher resolution microscopes has impacted research in chemistry, biology and brain science. The new microscopes can be used to look at the dynamic operation of live cells. Check out some of the “movies” produced by these techniques. Be sure to scroll down and click right to see the movie of chromosome separation (no it’s not an animiation!).

Betzig has had a very unusual career. After working at Bell Labs for six years he quit science to work in manufacturing, optimizing machines in his father’s factory. After 10 years of that he wanted to get back into science but he hadn’t had any publications for a decade so he knew that he couldn’t just ask for job. Instead, he spent long hours at his cottage thinking of the ideas that would bring him job offers and eventually the Nobel.

Hat tip: Monique van Hoek.

Addendum: Here is Derek Lowe with more on the techniques.

The increase in the cost of college and university and the difficult job market have increased the demand for college rankings. College Scorecard, the U.S. Department of Education’s entry, includes information on tuition, graduate rate, loan default rate and by 2015 it is scheduled to have information on graduate earnings. The Washington Monthly has a best bang for the buck ranking which works similarly.

A new and interesting entry into this field comes from LinkedIn which uses data on its 300 million members to define desirable employers and then rank universities based on getting their graduates jobs with those employers. The methodology is somewhat opaque and a bit sketchy but the idea is to define desirable employers by industry based on the revealed preference of employees in LinkedIn. In particular, firm A is raised relative to firm B if more people move from B to A than from A to B and similarly if firm A retains its employees longer than firm B. The percentage of a college’s recent graduates who obtain employment from the desirable employers is then used to rank the universities. No cost factors are included.

The results are not too surprising although by this ranking Georgetown university does better in finance (coming 3rd after the University of Pennyslvania and Yale) than I would have expected.

The results are less important, however, than the idea of using lots of data, often collected for other reasons, to unlock hidden value. Facebook has considerably more profiles than LinkedIn, often with education and employment data, so this type of analysis could become more common and more precise.

Hat tip: Tom Acox.

IBM on Tuesday revealed details of how several customers are putting Watson to work, showing that cognitive computing has garnered at least an initial interest among different sorts of businesses. Naming customers also helps other businesses feel more at ease about trying the new technology.

In Australia, the ANZ bank will allow its financial planners to use the Watson Engagement Advisor to help answer customer questions. The idea is that the bank can then better understand what questions are being asked, so they can be answered more quickly.

Also in Australia, Deakin University will use Watson to answer questions from the school’s 50,000 students, by way of Web and mobile interfaces. The questions might include queries about campus activities or where a particular building is located. The service will be drawn from a vast repository of school materials, such as presentations, brochures and online materials.

In Thailand, the Bumrungrad International Hospital will use a Watson service to let its doctors plan the most effective treatments for each cancer patient, based on the patient’s profile as well as on published research. The hospital will leverage research work IBM did with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to customize Watson for oncology research.

In Cape Town, South Africa, Metropolitan Health medical insurance company will be using Watson to help provide medical advice for the company’s 3 million customers.

Watson is also being used by IBM partners and startups as the basis for new services.

Using Watson, Travelocity co-founder Terry Jones has launched a new service called WayBlazer, which can offer travel advice via a natural language interface. The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau is testing the WayBlazer app to see if it can increase convention and hotel bookings.

Veterinarian service provider LifeLearn of Guelph, Canada, is using Watson as the basis of a new mobile app called LifeLearn Sofie, which provides a way for animal doctors to research different treatment options. The Animal Medical Center in New York is currently testing that app.

Watson is also being incorporated into other third-party apps serving retailers, IT security and help desk managers, nonprofit fund-raisers, and the health care industry.

There is more information here.

Google’s driverless car may still be a work in progress, but the potential for semiautonomous vehicles on American roads is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

By the end of the decade, a growing number of automakers aim to offer some form of hands-off-the-wheel, feet-off-the-pedals highway driving where a driver can sit back and let the car take control.

The very nature of driving, experts say, will be radically reshaped — and the biggest players in the auto industry are now vying to capture a slice of the revolutionary market they see coming within a matter of years.

From Aaron M. Kessler, there is more here.

Assorted links

by on October 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Why does Bangladesh have a much lower open defecation rate than India?

2. Why many Catalans wish to leave Spain.

3. The growth of interest in Mexican Coca-Cola.

4. Stephen Chow film retrospective opening at BAM.

5. How good are Senators at backward induction?

6. Geoffrey Holder has passed away.

Twitter’s science stars

by on October 7, 2014 at 9:48 am in Science, Uncategorized, Web/Tech | Permalink

Science picks a list of the top one hundred, I am flattered to have been selected.  Other designees from economics include Krugman (his bot actually), Sachs, Roubini, Florida, Goolsbee, Basu, Dambisa Moyo, Rodrik, Stiglitz, Wolfers, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Mark Thoma, and Noah Smith.  “Science” is not quite the right word here, but “markers to science” might do, or in my own case perhaps “library science.”

The real news in the list is that economists are overrepresented and other scientists are, on the whole, underrepresented.  They don’t see the returns to it that we do, and if there is more room in our science for persuasion, you should slot that into your Bayesian estimates too.

Shenzhen notes

by on October 7, 2014 at 2:23 am in Food and Drink, Travels, Uncategorized | Permalink

Many parts of the city are indistinguishable from Hong Kong, and even China pessimists should find it easy to imagine Shenzhen gliding into fully developed status.  At times Shenzhen looks better than Hong Kong, but that is due to what I call the myth of infrastructure.  Shenzhen being poorer than Hong Kong, and having developed later, are coincident reasons with the peak parts of the city having newer-looking infrastructure.

The OCT Design Center was impressive.  China probably will never dominate world music, but my bet is China will be the most important country for the visual arts within the next ten to fifteen years.

It didn’t strike me as a great city for food, if only because the place barely existed thirty years ago.  I passed by a bunch of places, but none were especially tempting and some parts of the city don’t seem to have many non-corporate restaurants at all.  Finally, I had a tasty meal at the Muslim Hotel Restaurant, food (and servers and diners) from the western part of China.  I believe that Cantonese food is due for a steep relative decline, given how much it relies on low labor costs and super-fresh ingredients.  It’s already the case that people thinking of taking you out to eat in downtown Hong Kong fixate on other options.  It is the New Territories part of town which will carry Cantonese traditions forward.

By the way, visiting Shenzhen will make you think that wages in Hong Kong and Taiwan are due for decline.

*The End of Normal*

by on October 7, 2014 at 1:08 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

That is the new James K. Galbraith book, subtitled The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth.  It covers a lot of ground and everyone will find something to object to in here.  Still, I found it a good example of some fresh thinking, though it is not a tract which sees through its arguments with a lot of detail.  I am glad to have read it.

I especially enjoyed the integration of high resource costs with Keynesian economics, as Galbraith has become more of a pessimist about long-run growth and he now sees the energy price shocks as essential to the economic history of the last forty years.  The analysis of the Soviet Union as an economic regime with super-high fixed costs, heavily reliant on (supposed) economies of scale, was my favorite part of the book.  Here is one excerpt from that:

The Soviet economy was a deeply integrated system, with little redundancy, little internal competition, weak capacity for introducing new technologies, and vulnerable to breakdowns in transportation and distribution.  This did not matter all that much for bulk items such as oil or steel, but it was a serious problem for perishables like food.  Fresh produce usually did not survive the trip from farm to market, which is why Russia’s urbanites so prized their dachas…

One way to sum up the Soviet system is to say that it operated with very high fixed costs.  It had high overheads.  To produce anything at all  (or, for that matter, even to produce nothing), those fixed costs had to be paid.  And they had to be paid whether or not output reached the consumer, and whether or not the consumer wanted that output when it did.

Galbraith also makes the important point that stagnant or falling median incomes need not imply growing envy or growing class warfare or growing frustration and the like.  Very often wage profiles fall by having the new labor market entrants start at lower rates.  Individuals still make steady wage progress over the major part of their working lives and feel they are “getting somewhere.”  Furthermore the gap between them and their most noticeable peers — those right above them — may not be growing at all.  Other discussions of median wages often serve up a good deal of sloppiness on this point.

Shenzhen fact of the day

by on October 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm in Web/Tech | Permalink

Worldwide sales of smartphones totaled 968 million devices in 2013, an increase of 42.3 percent over a 12 month period, according to Gartner. Perhaps most significantly, sales of smartphones made up almost 54 percent of overall mobile phone sales in 2013, and outnumbered annual sales of feature phones for the first time.

There is more here, mostly about the Shenzhen smart phone market, via Mark Bergen.

John Oliver on Civil Asset Forfeiture

by on October 6, 2014 at 1:04 pm in Law | Permalink

A case study in how quickly incentives can warp the rule of law.

Hat tip: Daniel Lippman.

Assorted links

by on October 6, 2014 at 11:56 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Leland B. Yeager just turned ninety.

2. Gloria Trevi update.

3. #economicsinthreewords

4. Our understanding of giraffes does not measure up.

5. The Reagan years added more public sector jobs than did Obama.

6. Does social but not economic ideology follow a common path?