Month: December 2006

Markets in everything – Paretian liberal edition

Male workers who vow to stay away from prostitutes after year-end celebrations in South Korea are to be rewarded.

The Ministry for Gender Equality is offering cash to
companies whose male employees pledge not to pay for sex after office

Men are being urged to register on the ministry’s website.  The companies with most pledges will receive a reward.

Note that the vow is awarded, not the abstinence.  The pointer is from Claudio Shikida, Brazilian economist and blogger.

Posner Lectures Chipmunk

Here’s a tidbit from a Washington Post article today on property rights in online worlds.

Earlier this month, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner visited
Second Life, appearing as a balding, bespectacled cartoon rendering of
himself, and addressed a crowd of other animated characters on a range
of legal issues, including property rights in virtual reality. Posner
stressed that it was in Linden Lab’s interest to ensure due process and
other rights.

"They want people to invest in Second Life, and we
know people won’t invest if their rights are not reasonably secure," he
told the audience, which included a giant chipmunk and several
supermodels. He went on to predict the eventual emergence of an
"international law of virtual worlds" similar to international maritime

The new bird flu study

Who is at greatest risk from a pandemic?  We now have more systematic data:

The authors used international mortality data from 27 countries and
regions where there was a minimum of 80% death registration in the
years 1915 to 1923, trying to correlate the wide variation in mortality
with community attributes.  By restricting their data set to these
"registration areas," they are able to make more comparable comparisons
between areas that differed in mortality.  They selected two features of
the communities that might indicate important differences, per capita
income and latitude….

There was an extremely wide variation in excess mortality from country
to country and region to region.  Even within the same registration
areas, for example, the Census of India, there is a 2.1% excess
mortality attributed to the pandemic in Burma compared to a 7.8% in the
Indian province of Berar.

the single variable of per capita income in a country explains half of the variation in excess mortality [emphasis added].

It is possible that 95 percent of the losses of human life would come in the developing world.  Here is much more.

It is, by the way, a mistake to think that the risk of this happening has gone down.  The recent bird flu deaths in Egypt
point to the ongoing danger.  Nor should you think we have
any real idea what is going on with bird flu in Nigeria. 

Ordem e Progresso

One data point aside, the most obvious difference in Rio, from ten years ago, is how much safer it
seems.  Many parts of town that were previously filled with stalkers and
snatchers and kiddie gangs are now quite walkable and indeed pleasant. 
Small crimes have gone down in frequency, but crime occurs on a larger
scale.  The city has been parceled out, and if the police control a part
of town they are able to keep snatchings and the like to a minimum, unlike ten
years ago.  That said, the clashes at the fringes, between the police and
the favela kings, are, according to my Brazilian friends, more frequent and
more violent.  There is greater cartelization of territory, with
tighter control within each market, but more at stake on the borders.

As Americans (and Russians) we are not used to visiting large, insular
countries like our own, but Brazil is just that.  The diversity is remarkable, for one example Sao Paulo has about three
million ethnic Japanese.  But as in the United States, much of the
diversity is an illusion.  You can be from anywhere, and do anything you
want, but somehow you still only have the option of being Brazilian. 
Hardly anyone here speaks English, or indeed anything other than
Portuguese.  Many people claim to speak Spanish; that only means if you
speak to them in Spanish they are willing to answer you back in Portuguese,
with one or two Spanish words thrown in.  There are few concessions to
tourists, and even the most famous sites are visited mainly by Brazilians,
not foreigners.  It is one of the best experiences of intense cultural
immersion you can get.

Yes there are string bikinis but they are overrepresented on
postcards.  The ocean walk in Rio is full
of people who should not be wearing bikinis.  Brazilian women are among
the world’s most beautiful but in part because they do not insist of being
superthin.  They will overwhelm you with their sensual earthiness, and
their true appeal doesn’t rest much on their looks one way or the other.

I had to wait four hours for a connecting flight from Sao Paulo to Rio.  I saw hundreds of Brazilians waiting for different flights (have I mentioned that infrastructure is terrible?), but not once did I see anyone reading a book.

The food is better than I remember it, top sirloin being the best cut at a
churrascaria.  The cheeses, while not complex, are superb.  The cold antipasti are often the best part of the
meal.  Only Italy has better pasta, and even that is debatable.

I find it hard to finish Our Mutual Friend, perhaps because the plot
still doesn’t make sense to me, not even on second reading.  Still, I hold
an obvious fascination with serial stories which pretend to be about one thing
and are in fact deeply about something quite different; those who read MR most
closely already know this, even if they can’t always figure out the plot.

Brazil fact of the day, federalism edition

In today’s Brazil, federalism and decentralisation have become a question of uncontrolled flows of money from the central state to the provinces.  10 per cent of the municipalities of Brazil do not raise any tax at all.  At the same time, 89 per cent of them derive 95 per cent or more of their income from transfer payments from Brasilia, or from the government of their federal state.

Here is the link, which argues, correctly, that Brazil has too much dysfunctional federalism.  I might add that infrastructure here is another (related) problem, read the post above this one.  For a country of Brazil’s importance, the quality of the roads, airports, and so on is abysmal.  Did I mention that only about fifteen million of the voters pay income taxes?

Wee bit more on Krugman

I agree with Krugman’s (new?) stance that we should not be deficit-obsessed, at least "not now."  As Brad DeLong points out, under Krugman’s scenario the Bush tax cuts would/will expire, and there will be new revenue.  Krugman wants to spend it, Matt Yglesias does too.  That would be my position, were I a moderate Democrat.  I don’t favor those spending plans for other reasons, but the deficit per se would not scare me off.  In that sense, it is easy to defend Krugman’s Op-Ed.

What puzzles me is what happened to the forthcoming fiscal destruction of the United States, given the current (and presumably future) level of the deficit.  If Krugman has simply changed his mind, that is fine; after all neither the United States nor the dollar has collapsed.  We’ve been getting new evidence every day and it suggests a relative degree of optimism.  If Krugman has changed his mind, I would like to know why.  Is it because of this evidence, or for some other reason?  I don’t require a "Krugman moping in abject defeat and the rest of us cackling I told you so" moment (or do I?), but I genuinely would like to know what is up.

The World We Have Lost

…Sarah Bernhardt [renowned French actress] in 1886…soon shocked [Brazilian] society with her daring swimsuit and alarmed the city’s inhabitants by entering the water….At the time, Brazilians had believed a quick dip in the sea had some medical efficacy, but only around dawn before the sun became too strong and only if prescribed by a doctor.  The elite cultivated their whiteness to set themselves apart from the darker-skinned lower classes  To actually sit in the sun was considered declasse and a serious breach of social decorum.

…In 1917 the city established strict regulations to govern seaside conduct.  Bathing in the sea was allowed only from five to eight in the morning and from five to seven in the evvening…the law permitted an extra hour on Sundays and holidays…Noise and shouting on the beach, or bathing during prohibited hours, brought a stiff fine or five days in jail.

That is from Colin MacLachlan, A History of Modern Brazil: The Past Against the Future.

Never mind

…Suppose the Democrats can free up some money…Should they use the reclaimed revenue to reduce the deficit, or spend it on other things?

That is Paul Krugman, and the answer is that Rubinomics is dead and they should spend the money.  Deficit reduction is for "the long run."  Even from Krugman’s point of view, the use of "they" seems premature with a Republican President and a hard-to-elect Democratic frontrunner candidate in the wings.  More economically, I am pleased that the forthcoming fiscal destruction of the United States has been averted, or at least held at bay for some time.  It took a mere mid-term election; cuts in spending or tax hikes were not necessary, quite the contrary.

Brad Delong has more.  Mark Thoma has more.  I am sure others have more too, time to walk around Brazil.

My favorite things Brazil

1. Painter: Candido Portinari is the obvious choice, try this one, or here, but he is not well-represented on-line.  Jose Antonio da Silva, the naive painter, is a personal favorite; here is one image, here are two more.

2. Movie: Black Orpheus, if seen on a big screen, is splendid from beginning to end.  Imagine Rio with empty, unpopulated hills.  More recently, I am fond of Central Station, and regard City of God as just a bit overrated.

3. Music: This topic needs a post all its own, and you will get one soon enough.

4. Novel: Brazil (or is it the translators?) is oddly weak in this category.  I’ll nominate Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor, or Machado de Assis, his still underrated Epitaph of a Small Winner.  Here are more authors, but I await your guidance.  By the way, I think Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes is a good read but I haven’t been able to finish any of the others by him.

5. Natural wonder: Iguassu is one of the best natural sights in the world.  Imagine a big waterfall 17 km long, and with coatimundis, amazing butterflies, and churrascaria nearby.

6. Non-fiction books about: I love Nancy Scheper-Hughes’s transcendent Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil.  My runner-up pick would be Alex Shoumanoff, Capital of Hope, about Brasilia.  The classic works of Gilbert Freyre are good background on the country, as is Brazil: Once and Future Country.

7. Sculptor: Avant-garde Helio Oiticica is all the rage these days.  They put two of his works out at MOMA, a big Tropicalia show in the Bronx, plus a big solo show is coming to Houston, I hope to see it there.  The on-line images destroy the angles and the content of the boxes, maybe try this one, but best to see it live.

8. Favorite food: The small towns near Curitiba, in the south, have the world’s best beef plus amazing pasta.

The bottom line: Might Brazil be the best place, period?  To visit, that is.

Do prostitutes need pimps?

In the five years I observed vice in Maquis Park, there was only one fatality for a prostitute who was managed by a pimp.  In contrast, thirteen self-employed prostitutes died during the night hours at work.  Of these, ten died at the hands of either an abusive john, a spouse or partner jealous of their work, or a pimp trying to clear them away from a spot: the other three died of drug overdoses, although they too may have been dealing with some type of harassment.

Sex workers with pimps can earn more money, and their work is more steady.

Shades of Walter Block.  From this data set it does seem that pimps beat their prostitutes a lot, but that otherwise there are more beatings.  That is from Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor.  Here is my introductory post on the book.

Snow Crashed

Somedays I feel like I have woken up in a Neal Stephenson novelThe following is not science fiction:

The poster child for profitable Second Life businesses is Ailin Graef–better known by her avatar’s name, Anshe Chung–and
Anshe Chung Studios, the business she
runs with her husband, Guntram Graef.

Originally, the two ran the company from Germany, but at the beginning of
this year, they set up shop in Wuhan, a large city in China, and are now
employing more than 30 people full-time at, she says, better than local average

Last month, Ailin Graef issued a press release announcing that the company’s
total holdings, comprised mainly of virtual land in Second Life, were
worth more than a million real-life dollars. For those who aren’t familiar with
the  complex economies of virtual worlds, such a claim may seem incomprehensible.

But for anyone who has spent significant time in Second Life, the
number seems all too possible, given Chung’s dominance of the land market there.

On Monday, Graef visited Second Life for a
discussion about her business, how best to set up businesses in Second
and the nature of competition there.

Unfortunately, as the interview was commencing, the event was attacked by a
"griefer," someone intent on disrupting the proceedings. The griefer managed to
assault the CNET theater for 15 minutes with–well, there’s no way to say this
delicately–animated flying penises.

It’s not clear why the griefer attacked, but Anshe Chung is controversial to
some Second Life residents for reasons such as inflexibility on land
pricing, the signs she has placed in many areas of the virtual world that are
visible to anyone flying overhead, and her ability to get many residents to sell
their land to her.