Month: September 2012

Guns don’t kill people, printers do!

Imagine an America in which anyone can download and print a gun in their own home. They wouldn’t need a license, a background check, or much technical knowledge, just a 3D printer. That’s the vision a cadre of industrious libertarians are determined to turn into reality.

Last week, Wiki Weapon, a project to create the first fully printable plastic gun received the $20,000 in funding it needed to get off the ground. The project’s goal is not to develop and sell a working gun, but rather to create an open-source schematic (or blueprint) that individuals could download and use to print their own weapons at home.

The technology that makes this possible is 3D printing, a process during which plastic resin is deposited layer by layer to create a three dimensional object. In the past few years 3D printers have become increasingly affordable, and just last week the first two retail stores selling 3D printers opened in the United States with models ranging from $600 to $2,199.

Here is more.

Car wash quantity discounts markets in everything

Here’s an offer that a lot of drivers would have a tough time turning down: free sex after nine car washes. [TC: is that such a good offer?]

Police near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, cracked down last week after getting wind of the unique offer from the teaming of a car wash and a massage parlor in the suburb of Sunway Mentari, the Malay Mail reports.

The full story is here, hat tip here.

Economic education in Italy

Prof. Antonio Nicita emails to me:

Following a long period of cooperation in the field of Economics, the  Universities of Florence, Pisa and Siena announce a new joint regional PhD program, with 10 three years scholarships, supported by Regione Toscana.

The Doctorate courses will provide students the knowledge, analytical skills and capabilities to conduct their research at the frontier of economics. Our programme gives emphasis to economic history and the history of economic thought, and recognizes the importance of  exposing students to different theoretical perspectives.

First year courses will mainly be held at the University of Siena, where students are welcome to apply for accommodation facilities. In the following years students will rely on the academic environment and facilities in one of the three universities, according to their research interests.

For additional information please refer to the site: http://www.econ-pol.unisi.it/dottorato/, or to the official sites of the Tuscan Universities

Is the Great Mirror Stagnation over?

“There hasn’t been much innovation with the mirror,” said Ming-Zher Poh, who, as a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a bio-sensing system called the Medical Mirror.

Introduced in 2010, the Medical Mirror uses a camera to measure a person’s pulse rate based on slight variations in the brightness of the face as blood flows each time the heart pumps. A two-way mirror creates a reflection while keeping visible the pulse reading on a computer monitor behind the mirror’s surface.

And this:

Japanese electronics conglomerate Panasonic Corp. initially considered targeting household consumers with its digital mirror—a flat-screen display powered by a computer behind a two-way mirror—but the company decided to target business customers instead because of the price.

In July, Panasonic started accepting orders for its mirror—priced at nearly Y3 million ($38,000)—targeting physical rehabilitation centers.

At the Yokohama Rehabilitation Center in Japan, a test site for the device, 77-year-old Takao Yamamura uses the digital mirror to rehabilitate after suffering extensive nerve damage following a spinal cord infarction.

The full article is here.  One problem is that consumers do not buy new mirrors very often, plus they are used to prices below $38k.

The sorry truth about military drones

From Glenn Greenwald, a must-read:

A vitally important and thoroughly documented new report on the impact of Obama’s drone campaign has just been released by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School. Entitled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan”, the report details the terrorizing effects of Obama’s drone assaults as well as the numerous, highly misleading public statements from administration officials about that campaign. The study’s purpose was to conduct an “independent investigations into whether, and to what extent, drone strikes in Pakistan conformed to international law and caused harm and/or injury to civilians”.

There is much more at the link.  And there is this:

…American progressives cheered loudly when a similar question was posed by Al Gore in a widely celebrated 2006 speech he gave on the Washington mall denouncing the Bush/Cheney assault on civil liberties:

“‘If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?'”

What has always amazed me about that is that, there, Gore was merely decrying Bush’s mere eavesdropping on Americans and his detention of them without judicial review. Yet here Obama is claiming the power to decide who should be killed without a shred of transparency, oversight, or due process – a power that is being continuously used to kill civilians, including children – and many of these same progressives now actually cheer for that.

I praise Kevin Drum for his good work on this, but too many others cannot bring themselves to utter much protest or, for that matter, defense, if that is indeed their view.

On foreign policy, here are some related points (too polemic for my tastes but still some good points) and no I am not trying to suggest Romney would be superior on these issues nor am I endorsing any other candidate.

It’s the bias against stale labor, not the sticky nominal wages

At this point, at least.  Read this bit from Chris Blattman.  Apparently, most of the staleness sets in within eight months.  Note, by the way, that this explanation simultaneously can account for a) unemployment not being very nice for the unemployed, and b) inability to use lower wage demands to get a job, even with ngdp ten percent above its pre-crisis peak.

The bottom line on the euro right now

From Matt:

… it’s not that long ago that the world was optimistic that Mario Draghi and the European Central Bank had finally gotten the situation under control. But the politics of the thing essentially prevent a “once and for all” resolution from taking place. That’s because the ECB’s game is to centralize as much authority in Frankfurt as possible which means that peripheral governments must be continually put to squeeze between the demands of the central bank and the demands of the voters. The fear is that if the ECB goes “too easy” on the Spanish government, that Rajoy will give in to the political unpopularity of the ECB agenda and back off. Spain needs to be perched perennially on the brink of a crisis since its citizens can’t be trusted to Ireland/Baltic-style simply go along with austerity budgeting.

The Spanish ten-year yield is back up over six percent and climbing…

The private sector can manufacture its own nominal gdp

Loyal MR readers will know I’ve long had sympathy with ideas such as ngdp targeting, even though I think they require more rule-oriented behavior than our political system is able to supply.  It’s still worth pushing in that direction.

There is however one tendency in some of the writings on ngdp which I would frame differently, so I will lay this out in a little more detail. I”m not sure anyone has written anything which I consider literally wrong, but I get nervous at what seem — to me — to be the implications.

Here is one example from Bill Woolsey:

The typical Market Monetarist perspective is that nominal GDP has shifted to a 14 percent lower growth path.    For real output and employment to remain on its previous growth path, the price level and nominal wages need to also shift to 14 percent lower growth paths.   They haven’t.   Instead, they are only about 2 percent lower.

My worry is that some Market Monetarists speak of ngdp as if it is some block of stuff, handed down from on high (of course in the past our central banks have not been targeting ngdp).  It’s as if ngdp determines the size of the room, and a carpenter is then asked to build a house within that room.  If the room is too small, a large house cannot be built.  Or, if you are not given enough clay, you cannot build a very large sculpture.  Along these lines, if the growth path of ngdp is not robust enough, the economy cannot do well.

I get nervous at how ngdp lumps together real and nominal in one variable, and I get nervous at how the passive voice is applied to ngdp.

My framing is different.  My framing is that the private sector can manufacture its own ngdp.  It can do so by trade and it can do so by credit and of course velocity is endogenous to the available gains from trade.  Most of the major central banks are, today, not obsessed with snuffing out recovery and increases in real output.

To say “ngdp is low,” or “ngdp is on a low growth path,” or “ngdp is below trend,” and so on — be very careful!  Those claims do not necessarily have causal force.  Arguably they are simply repeating, in a new and somewhat different language, the point that the private sector has not seen fit to engage in more trade, credit creation, velocity acceleration, and so on.  Formally speaking, the claims are not wrong, but I don’t find them useful as an explanation for why economic growth or recovery, at some point in time, is slow.  It is one way of repeating or re-expressing the slowness of economic growth, albeit with some transforms applied to the vocabulary of variables.

This matters when we consider sticky nominal wages.  Sometimes it is suggested that the “inside workers” have frozen up or taken up so much ngdp with their sticky wage demands that the outsiders cannot find the ngdp to fuel their activities.  It’s as if there is not enough ngdp to go around, just as there was not enough clay to make a sufficiently large sculpture.  I would like to see this modeled (I will report back on any credible citation you offer me), but note in the meantime it is not how the most popular or most influential sticky wage models work.  Once you see the private sector as being able to manufacture its own ngdp, this argument does not seem to have enough force to prevent the outside laborers from exploiting available gains from trade.

The outside laborers are sometimes locked out, but that is when businesses simply do not wish to expand output.  Once businesses are wishing to expand output, the sticky wages of the insiders should not prove an insuperable obstacle to hiring the outsiders at lower wages.  The private sector can support this by manufacturing its own ngdp and if demand is low, well, the wages for the new workers will be lower too, as indeed is the case at Caterpillar and many other companies.

I also see that we have undergone some reflation — current ngdp is about ten percent above the pre-crash peak — so there ought to be enough clay, even if we accept that metaphor.  And the number of laborers in the work force is down.  Here are some related comments from Scott Sumner.

I do believe in the nominal stickiness of many wages, but only in the short run and only for some classes of workers.  Especially when the quality of jobs can and does change so readily, I don’t see the nominal stickiness of wages as lasting for more than a few years, at the most, at least not for the United States.  For legal and regulatory reasons, Western Europe is often a different story.

In any case, these are my worries about some of the current framings of ngdp.

Catalonia, just to keep things interesting

Catalonia government president Artur Mas has called early elections for the powerful northeastern region, a vote that will likely be seen as something of a referendum on independence from Spain.

In a regional parliamentary debate Tuesday, Mas set the date for Nov. 25.

Mas called the elections more than two years ahead of schedule after the central government in Madrid last week rejected a demand to grant Catalonia special fiscal powers.

That is from The Montreal Gazette.  Here is FT coverage.  You can follow the issue on Twitter here.

I wonder where Andreu Mas-Colell (Finance Minister of Catalonia) stands on all of this?

The polity that is Vietnam

Three Vietnamese bloggers have been found guilty of spreading anti-government propaganda and given jail sentences ranging from four to 12 years.

The cases against the two men and one woman are some of the most high-profile being prosecuted by the country’s Communist rulers.

One of the defendants’ lawyers, Ha Huy Son, says the three were found guilty of writing online articles “opposing the government” by a court in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday.

Mr Ha says Nguyen Van Hai was sentenced to 12 years, Ta Phong Tan received 10 and Phan Thanh Hai four years.

Here is the FT article.  For all the talk about Asian economic miracles, keep in mind that Bolivia still has higher per capita income than does Vietnam.