Month: July 2004

How to use Internet radio

It can work for you, read here, courtesy of Wired magazine. Here’s just one bit:

[email protected] offers more than 175 free stations with fixed genres. In addition to the standard pop, rock and jazz categories, there’s a great mix of less-common genres including Hawaiian, klezmer, Bollywood, doo-wop, Motown and baroque. The single-minded fan can catch channels devoted to Ray Charles, Prince or the Doors. The WB channel features music from its various television shows.

Here is more on the service. I am especially fond of the Dancehall channel.

Internet radio, of course, is a substitute for downloading music. In the limiting case (if population were much, much larger), you could have a radio station for every song. Mandatory licensing would then apply, which is how the law ought to have treated music downloads in the first place (though here is a Cato critique of the idea). You can offer the song, you simply have to pay royalties, at some legally fixed rate, after the fact. We would have a more competitive market for downloads and a much greater selection of music. On the downside, we probably wouldn’t have those neat iPod device designs, as profit margins for Apple would be lower.

The law, of course, is keen to maintain the distinction between Internet radio and downloads. But how about a station that played the “requested song” with a probability of 0.4? Here is an article about “customizable” Internet raio, and why it might prove more useful than downloads. Here is readable information about the legal status of Internet radio. On a different but related front, now the RIAA is worred about digital radio too.

Monkey see, monkey do: Neuroeconomics in action

…[monkeys] have a rudimentary concept of economic choice, and researchers have discovered a medium of exchange — Berry Berry fruit drink — that can usefully stand in for money in a monkey’s mental life. To illustrate how monkeys make economic decisions, Glimcher’s former colleague Michael Platt, now at Duke, has investigated how they value status within their troop. Male monkeys have a distinct dominance hierarchy, and Platt has found they will give up a considerable quantity of fruit juice for the chance just to look at a picture of a higher-ranking individual. This is consistent with field observations, Platt says, which have found that social primates spend a lot of time just keeping track of the highest-ranking troop member.

Here is the full story, which is in fact a fascinating study of the new discipline of (human) neuroeconomics. Read the whole thing for an update on where economics is headed. Here is the ever-interesting Randall Parker on recent advances in the technology of neuroeconomics. Here is Kevin McCabe’s occasional neuroeconomics blog.

And here is a neuroeconomics link on how love can turn off parts of your brain.

The most international city in the world?

Arguably it is London:

…nearly one-third of the FT100 top companies has a non-national as chairman or chief executive. No other country has anything like that proportion.

Britain now publishes more book titles than any other country. Further example: there are more Chinese students in the UK than in any other country, again more than the US.

I can remember when the problem was keeping the Brits in, not keeping the foreigners out. But the UK had the good sense to embrace globalization rather than fighting it. Is there a lesson in this for you-know-who?

Is light slowing down?

Read the latest update. Yes I will defer to the experts, but in my gut I have never bought into the idea that the speed of light should be constant for all space and time. Maybe I am simply too used to economic models, where all the measured magnitudes fluctuate over time. That being said, a faster speed of light in previous times might, among other things, explain why the universe appears to be so uniform. Here is a collection of relevant stories and links.

Get this:

The speed of light, one of the most sacrosanct of the universal physical constants, may have been lower as recently as two billion years ago – and not in some far corner of the universe, but right here on Earth.

Do we economists sound that funny to outsiders?

Good news from Japan?

It is well known that Japanese government debt stands at very high levels; according to one estimate debt was 161% of GDP as of March 2003. For purposes of comparison, here are some figures.

The little-known good news, if you can call it that, is that most of these debts are inter-governmental in nature. For instance the central bank holds a large quantity of Japanese governmental debt. After making the appropriate adjustments, the Japanese public sector owes net consolidated debts of 62% of GDP. This is lower than the OECD average.

An additional estimate suggests that Japan must increase its tax rates by three to nine percentage points, to make good on its obligations. Note that Japanese taxes are currently second lowest in the OECD, after South Korea. The worst case scenario is that Japan must increase its tax rates to Western European levels.

Here is the researcher’s home page. The page promises that the relevant paper will be available shortly. The 26 June to 2 July issue of The Economist offers a good summary of the paper; the author also argues that Japanese demographic problems are not as serious as is often believed.

My take: OK, it seems fair enough to cancel out inter-governmental debt: “they owe it to themselves.” But why stop there? Remember the old Keynesian line?: “We owe it to ourselves”. Why not cancel out debt altogether? The most important statistic is not the final debt level, rather the estimate of how big a tax increase will be needed to restore fiscal order. Note that Western Europe “gets away” with its current levels of taxation only because the rest of the world does not follow suit. So the worst case scenario is nothing to be complacent about.

But overall the cited result cheers my heart. I’ve been bullish on Japan for a long time. As catatastrophic economic problems go, a bad banking system is something you can fix, albeit slowly.

I’ve had enough

Here is our latest foreign policy initiative:

New US curbs on travel to communist-ruled Cuba went into effect on Wednesday, with opponents decrying them as an attack on family and the Bush administration arguing they will hasten the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Cuban Americans may now visit relatives on the island once every three years instead of annually and they may go only to see close family members rather than more distant relatives, among other restrictions aimed at toughening the four-decade-old US economic embargo on Cuba.

“It’s unimaginable, abusive,” said Raquel Chaviano, one of hundreds waiting at Havana airport on Tuesday for one of the last flights back to Miami before the rules went into force.

“The family is the main thing in life, and it has nothing to do with politics,” said Chaviano, who left the Caribbean island in 1980, leaving behind her daughter and siblings.

Here is the full, sad story. Here are more details about the human costs of the policy. Here is some material on America’s failed use of sanctions against Cuba.

What do you have to do to join The Ranks of the Shrill? Does someone have to send you an E-Invite?

Musical chairs

I’ve been listening lately to Jeff Tweedy’s group Wilco, a group with a very high “critical praise to sales ratio”. Here is the Coase theorem in operation:

[Jeff] Tweedy’s canonization doesn’t actually happen until 2001, when he records “Yankee Foxtrot Hotel,” an ambitious, often gorgeous album that is famously rejected as too obscure by Warner/Reprise. Tweedy buys back the album for $50,000, sells it to the far smaller Nonesuch Records and becomes a folk hero, especially to major-label haters, when critics decide that “YFH” is pretty much a masterpiece. (Never mind that Nonesuch is actually another subsidiary of Warner. )

Here is the full story.