Month: April 2012

Assorted links

1. Will cellphones be able to see through walls, and other barriers too?  Via Chris F. Masse.

2. Update on the elite Grayling humanities school.

3. The Guardian on An Economist Gets Lunch, by Oliver Burkeman, “This column will change your life,” and a lengthy review from Kyle Smith at The New York Post; “Cowen’s special sauce is rationality, which is why this may be the first food book I have ever made it through.”

4. Economies of Scope?

5. The violence of Montreal snow removal, and replicating three years’ worth of articles in psychology journals, and one economist’s guide to politics in China.

Scott Sumner, public choice, and Karl Polanyi all meet up

Through Interfluidity, where else?  Here is one bit:

Consider NGDP targeting. Under this policy rule, Treasury securities would become risk assets, whose real return would be geared to the health of the economy. (NGDP path targeting implies that shortfalls in real growth must be matched by increases in inflation.) Treasuries become low-beta index funds, diversified claims on the real production. Nominal yields would be more stable, but the real value of a future payment becomes as uncertain and volatile as the business cycle.

Read the whole thing.  In American politics, old people usually get their way.  In Western Europe, those governments have been obsessed with protecting insider interests for decades and they are not suddenly swept up with an enthusiasm for free market economics.  The problem isn’t “the Austerians”; do you really think that Pete Boettke is in charge?

The African Growth Miracle?

I had not previously read this 2009 paper by Alwyn Young (pdf):

Measures of real consumption based upon the ownership of durable goods, the quality of housing, the health and mortality of children, the education of youth and the allocation of female time in the household indicate that sub-Saharan living standards have, for the past two decades, been growing in excess of 3 percent per annum, i.e. more than three times the rate indicated in international data sets.

National income statistics, which in this context are untrustworthy, indicate a growth rate of only about one percent.  Contra Young, here is a much less positive perspective, excerpt:

Yet this is nothing like the required economic advancement built around an actual or dominant “middle-class” milieu as commonly and quite wrongly suggested.

Africa’s burgeoning demography will challenge this future. Subsistence economies remain its anchors, and the alleged “demographic dividend”, that some blithely portray as a “driver”, will mostly transform into one of rising unemployment and growing informalisation.

Those who observe the lack of significant gains in African agricultural productivity often prefer the negative interpretation.  Too many of the observed progress seems to come from mining wealth.  In a recent short essay, Michael Lipton sums it up:

1. Stop kidding ourselves. (a) Faster GDP growth in Africa since 2000 is mainly a mining boom, with dubious benefits. Staples yields (and labour productivity) have not reversed the dismal trends that Peter Timmer diagnosed two decades ago: big, credible rises are seen in only a few African countries (e.g. Rwanda, Ghana). The populous ones (Ethiopia, Nigeria, maybe Kenya, above all DR Congo) tell a sad tale.

That we don’t know who is right is perhaps the most interesting fact of all.

Veronique de Rugy on *An Economist Gets Lunch*

On the (superior) French parental approach to children and food:

Growing up, my parents would mostly ignore my wishes when it came to food — or anything else for that matter. I wasn’t forced to eat blue cheese at every meal, but I had to try it once in a while, like I had to try every new food they put on the table. My mom fixed one meal for the whole family and if you didn’t like it, well, tough luck because that’s what was on the menu that night. As a result, my sister and I ate very diverse meals (most of them without particular enjoyment). This practice may not guarantee that children will grow into adults who can eat anything but it certainly makes it easier for parents (Having tried both ways with my children, I can confirm that point too!).

And in summary:

Finally, I can imagine that this book will annoy a serious portion of the “foodie” community as, in the end, I read it as an awesome statement about the democratization of great food, not to mention a serious exercise in debunking the idea that high-quality food is reserved for a rare elite willing to invest lots of money in eating.

There is more here.

Tabarrok on the Alyona Show (“Debtors’ Prisons”)

I believe it was Brad DeLong who once said that people who can look into the camera and emote as if they are talking to a person will one day rule the world. It’s a very unnatural thing but ironically it makes you look much more natural on television (when you look at the person it looks as if you are not looking the viewer in the eye and worst of all is the shifty-eyed switch between looking at the camera and the person or their image which makes you look untrustworthy). I am getting the knack but still have other tics to work on.

Interview below, here is my original post.

*The Occupy Handbook*

I have an essay in that book co-authored with Veronique de Rugy.  Other contributors include Paul Krugman, Robin Wells, Michael Lewis, David Graeber, Peter Diamond, Emmanuel Saez, Ariel Dorfman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jeff Sachs, and Nouriel Roubini, among others.

Our essay is an…outlier…in the volume.  Here is one bit:

Wall Street has contributed to some very real problems, but the core issues for poor Americans are often health care, education, and the cost of renting an apartment of buying a house.  The best way to improve living standards and increase options for future success is to move toward greater competition and accountability in each of those areas, areas that usually have little to do with the financial sector per se.

Our goal is to propose an alternative vision for what OWS should focus on.  You can buy the book here.

How to get stuff done

This is a good discussion, I agree with most of it, for most people.  Here is one bit:

The hardest part is often just starting. I’ve found that it’s especially hard for me to start when a task is difficult or complex. The more importance and weight a certain activity has in my life or business, the more I seem to put off starting.

However, if I can just get moving on it, even for a few minutes, it tends to get easier.

Because I know this about myself, rather than setting the intention to finish something, I resolve myself to start. The more often I start, the easier things get finished. Overcoming that first bit of inertia is the biggest challenge (just like getting started on a run, or the first push of getting a car moving).

Once things are moving, momentum is on your side.

That is from Jonathan Mead, hat tip goes to Anya Kamenetz.  You also can enter “time management” into the MR search function, and then scroll down a bit.

The Boston Globe on Cowen on food

Cowen’s book offers more than ethnic-dining tips, however; it situates them in a broad historical context. Many of today’s mainstream foodies, Cowen argues, have the history of American food all backwards. They assume that American food is so terrible and unhealthy because of agribusiness: We eat terribly, the thinking goes, because our food is frozen, packaged, and trucked over vast distances before we eat it. Cowen has an entirely different explanation for the mediocrity of American food. As he sees it, American food was ruined by a series of entirely contingent historical events — Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the rise of TV — which effectively ruined the restaurant industry. Those events were especially damaging, he argues, because immigration was so severely restricted during much of the 20th century. Immigrants were the people who can do the most interesting things with the cheap food on offer in the United States; without them, American food became boring and bland.

Now that immigration is on the rise again, America is a food paradise: the extended food supply chain created by American agribusiness means that food is plentiful and cheap, while our vibrant immigrant communities take that cheap food and make it awesome in a million different ways. (Barbecue is an example of a home-grown food culture which acts, in many respects, like an immigrant one.) The essence of American food, Cowen argues, is that it’s inexpensive, innovative, and various. To eat well in America, you have to embrace its unique history, and start from the fact that “the United States is a country where the human beings are extremely creative but the tomatoes are not extraordinarily fresh.” If you’re obsessed with the farmer’s market, you’ve got American food wrong; instead, think of America as a hotbed of “food innovation,” where the best food is getting made at strip malls and in food trucks. It’s an alternate vision of food in America.

That is Josh Rothman, there is more here.  Here is a Q&A with me on food, and what is always in my cupboard: “Goya beans, cumin seed, dried ancho chilies.”

*Odd Couple*

The author is Michael Huberman and the subtitle is International Trade and Labor Standards in History.  Here is the blurb from Leandro Prados de La Escosura:

In this path-breaking volume, Michael Huberman persuasively argues that the past informs the present.  Huberman shows that a historical perspective does not sustain the impossibility trilemma, the popular claim that democracy, national sovereignty and globalization are inherently incompatible.  Globalization and the emergence of the welfare state — which is at the roots of the modern democratic state — went hand-in-hand, increasing well-being and declining inequality over the long-run.

Another piece of the puzzle concerning India’s economic slowdown

Could the Indian slowdown be the most important (but still somewhat neglected) story in the world right now?  Vikas Bajaj reports:

…the country cannot get enough fuel — principally coal — to run the plants. Clumsy policies, poor management and environmental concerns have hampered the country’s efforts to dig up fuel fast enough to keep up with its growing need for power.

A complex system of subsidies and price controls has limited investment, particularly in resources like coal and natural gas. It has also created anomalies, like retail electricity prices that are lower than the cost of producing power, which lead to big losses at state-owned utilities. An unsettled debate about how much of its forests India should turn over to mining has also limited coal production.

The power sector’s problems have substantially contributed to a second year of slowing economic growth in India, to an estimated 7 percent this year, from nearly 10 percent in 2010. Businesses report that more frequent blackouts have forced them to lower production and spend significantly more on diesel fuel to run backup generators.

…In the last year, the nation’s power problem has grown acute, with the gap between demand and supply jumping to 10.2 percent last month, from 7.7 percent a year earlier. In some states like Andhra Pradesh, where Nellore is, and in neighboring Tamil Nadu, blackouts have become so common that many factories report getting more electricity from diesel generators than they do from the power grid, at a cost that is roughly three times higher.

State-contingent insurance markets in everything

Fortunately, when you purchase a low-powered car from Young Marmalade, the free installation of a black box can cut your insurance premiums into half. By monitoring the driving behaviour such as acceleration, braking, what time of the day the car was driven and at what speed, Young Marmalade provides affordable telematic insurance premiums.

It’s simple. The black box data is used to calculate premiums, if the car was driven well, the lower the premiums will be and vice-versa.

According to MD Crispin Moger, “A young male driver who has Intelligent Marmalade in his car will pay on average £2,601/year for comprehensive insurance, while a young woman will pay £1,642/year. If the black box detects a bad driver, initial premiums will be subjected to a £250 and £500 increase or Young Marmalade will cancel the policy.”

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank KM.

Assorted links

1. I want to praise Robin Hanson, yet I also want him to become more trendy with the trendy people.  Sometimes I think he already is trendy, yet he is certainly not shallow.  What to do?  Here is Robin’s CBA for uploads.

2. Will Disney manage to do away with lines?

3. The geographic flow of music: which cities lead in terms of listening habits?  Oslo, for one, and Montreal, Atlanta for rap music.

4. Ask a Korean, on Korean food, from a self-proclaimed “Korean food Wahhabbist.”

5. Corruption in the Chinese military.