Month: July 2009

When should one blog the obvious…?

Usually I try not to blog points which already have occurred to everyone, even if those points are true and important.  But today I will do so.

First, the idea of an employer mandate for health care is a tax on hiring labor in a time when, if anything, the hiring of labor should be subsidized.  On top of that is the proposal to tax health insurance benefits.  Keynesians especially should be upset about these developments, although I haven't heard many peeps.  Even if they favor this policy in the abstract, surely they are accustomed to the idea that the short run is very important, most of all for labor markets and aggregate demand.

Second, Joseph Stiglitz's idea that "the UN has a key role to play in "reforming the global
financial and economic system"
" is a bad idea.  It is a very bad idea.  We're past the point where "they can't do any worse than we did" is a good or usable argument.  Has the Public Choice revolution been such an unpalatable pill to digest?

On the brighter side, I did not agree with but enjoyed this comment from thehova (citing Michael Powell):

"Wilco" is a five-letter word for the quiet slaughter of all that is
elemental, passionate, and reverentially stupid about rock 'n' roll.

Markets in everything

has a convivial party atmosphere and is far more female friendly than a normal
boxing crowd, with 40% of tickets purchased by ladies.

Here is more, with the subheader Swedish Chessboxing Sensation in London.  About a year ago, five or so people sent me links about chessboxing for "Markets in Everything."  I didn't think it was weird enough to merit inclusion in the series.  But now, with the addition of "Swedish" and "ladies" to the mix (or is it the "convivial party atmosphere"?), I think it is weird enough.  Here is Wikipedia on chessboxing.

*Wilco*, by Wilco

If you aggregating a lot of binary opinions, I vote yes you should buy it.  It's more accessible and less mysterious-sounding than their usual fare, which you may consider either a plus or a minus.  If you're wondering what my underlying stance is, a few days ago I said to Brian Hooks something like: "I'm glad I've never really been a fan, that leaves me free to enjoy them without feeling threatened by what they stand for."

Status games among the Amish

Some Amish bishops in Indiana weakened restrictions on the use of
telephones. Fax machines became commonplace in Amish-owned businesses.
Web sites marketing Amish furniture began to crop up. Although the
sites were run by non-Amish third parties, they nevertheless
intensified a feeling of competition, says Casper Hochstetler, a
70-year-old Amish bishop who lives in Shipshewana.

"People wanted bigger weddings, newer carriages," Mr. Lehman says.
"They were buying things they didn't need." Mr. Lehman spent several
hundred dollars on a model-train and truck hobby, and about $4,000 on
annual family vacations, he says. This year, there will be no vacation.

It became common practice for families to leave their carriages home and take taxis on shopping trips and to dinners out.

Some Amish families had bought second homes on the west coast of
Florida and expensive Dutch Harness Horses, with their distinctive,
prancing gait. Others lined their carriages in dark velvet and
illuminated them with battery-powered LED lighting.

Most of the article concerns a recent bank run in an Amish community:

Only Amish people can join. The trust's 2,100 depositors receive
annual interest of 3.2%, while borrowers pay 3.5% interest on loans.
There are no credit checks. Monthly mortgage payments can be no more
than 33% of a borrower's gross income.

The trust's structure reflects the Amish philosophy of sharing. It
isn't insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., but by its own
bylaws it maintains at least $1 million in cash reserves. The trust has
never exercised its authority to foreclose on a home.

A sustained run wiped out the bank's reserves and now it has ceased lending.  Probably it is hard to gather the data, but I would love to read a book Economic Life Among the Amish.

Update on the public plan

Ruth Marcus tells Democrats not to go to the wall for it.  She is not personally against the presence of a public plan, she just doesn't think it is a "do or die" question.  There are other ways of making the sector more competitive, if need be.

Here is the veteran commentator Wisewon on the public plan.

As Ezra Klein indicates, the health insurance exchanges are a more important part health care reform.  Here is a progressive symposium on the public plan; read Paul Starr.

Brad DeLong writes:

We should set up a public plan, let it compete with the privates, and
see if it can provide care people like more cheaply than the private
insurance companies. Friedrich Hayek would approve: the idea is to use
the market as an institutional discovery mechanism.

Is this the SOE model?  I'm still stuck on what the public plan will be instructed to maximize, much less what it will end up maximizing after ?? years of Congressional interference.  And exactly who in our government will mimic the behavior of shareholders?

How to fight corruption in Nepal

The Nepalese government plans to issue pants to airport workers that have no pockets.

A spokesman said trousers without pockets would help the authorities “curb the irregularities”.

The move comes after the prime minister of Nepal said corruption was damaging the airport’s reputation, AFP reported.

Apparently without pockets it is harder to take bribes.  (You also can file this under "Carrying costs > liquidity premium.")  The pointer is from Air Genius Gary Leff, who I might add is allowed to wear pockets.

Ben Casnocha reviews *Create Your Own Economy*

I am delighted with the review, which is more like a review essay, with many interesting observations on internet culture as well as on the book.  The essay title is "RSSted Development."  Excerpt:

…the intellectual and emotional
stimulation we experience by assembling a custom stream of bits. Cowen
refers to this process as the “daily self-assembly of synthetic
experiences.” My inputs appear a chaotic jumble of scattered
information but to me they touch all my interest points. When I consume
them as a blend, I see all-important connections between the different
intellectual narratives I follow a business idea (entrepreneurship) in the airplane space (travel), for example. Because building the blend is a social exercise real communities and friendships form around certain topics my
social life and intellectual life intersect more intensely than before.
And I engage in ongoing self-discovery by reflecting upon my interests,
finding new bits to add to my stream, and thinking about how it all
fits together.

Cowen maintains that these benefits enhance your internal
mental existence; how you order information in your head and how you
use this information to conceive of your identity and life aspirations
affects your internal well-being. Because a personal blend reflects a
diverse set of media (think hyper-specific niche news outlets in lieu
of a nightly news broadcast that everyone watches on one of three
networks), and because each person constructs their own stories to link
their inputs together, the benefits are unique to the individual. They
are also invisible. It is impossible to see what stories someone is
crafting internally to make sense of their stream; it is impossible to
appreciate the personal coherence of it.

The way the benefits of info consumption
habits accrue privately but are perceived publicly approximates
romance, Cowen adds. Compare a long-distance relationship to a
proximate one. In a long-distance relationship, you have infrequent but
very high peaks when you see each other. Friends see you run off for
fancy getaway weekends when the sweetheart comes to town. Yet
day-to-day it is not very satisfying. In a marriage by contrast you
have frequent, bite-size, mundane interactions which rarely hit peaks
or valleys of intensity. The happiness research that asserts married
couples are happier than non-married ones and especially happier than
couples dating long-distance is not always self-evident. Outsiders see
the inevitable frustrations and flare-ups that mark even stable
marriages. What they cannot see is the interior satisfaction that the
couple derives by weaving together these mundane moments into a
relationship rich in meaning and depth, and in writing a shared life
narrative that is all their own.

After reading the essay, I wonder how many blogs Ben has in his RSS feed…

Markets in everything, vending machines edition

John de Palma has much to offer today:

An entrepreneur who used
his redundancy money to start a business selling foldable shoes from a
vending machine is to launch in America.  Matt Horan's £5 Rollasole is
an emergency flat shoe women can change into from their stiletto heels
for the walk home after a night out.  The pumps are already on sale in
Ibiza superclubs Eden and Space(…)

Link here.  No, innovation is not dead:

…Katie Shea, a senior at
the Stern School of Business at New York University, is instead
pursuing her dreams of entrepreneurship. She has founded a shoe company
that designs and imports collapsible shoes that women can wear while
walking to work and then stuff into their pocketbooks…"

But where is the vending machine?  Scrub that one.  I want something different from my vending machines:

…Over the last decade, Mr. Torghele, 56, an entrepreneur in this
northern Italian city who first made money selling pasta in California,
has developed a vending machine that cooks pizza. The machine does not
just slip a frozen pizza into a microwave. It actually whips up flour,
water, tomato sauce and fresh ingredients to produce a piping hot pizza
in about three minutes…

Here are previous MR posts on vending machines.  Here is my favorite.