Assorted links

1. The commercialization of the kaffeeklatsch.

2. Slide show of Haitian photos, which also indicates that about 1/4 of Haitian gdp is spent playing the lottery.

3. Schools are competing harder and harder for the best students.

4. Why the poor don’t work, in the words of the poor.

5. Will robots revolutionize Chinese manufacturing?  The most interesting part is the discussion of how short product life cycles make robots harder to use.  And wages for prostitutes are falling.


Tsk, tsk TC, #5 re wage prostitutes is from May--is this site now open for stale stories?

And to think I would have thought this blog skewed in the vox day direction, but whatever.

Anecdotally, I know of a university which gives either nearly full financial aid or zero financial aid. You would expect the distribution to slope gently but it instead is bimodal.

Maybe this is all universities. Maybe this will become all universities.

#4 You realize you just wrote a book which basically says "there's no point in trying if you're not a superstar"? Is there any more explanation needed?

LOL. But also +1.

TC's book does give the impression that tomorrow's world will really resemble the dystopian Cyberpunk worlds which had become popular in the 80s before receding in most of the 90s-00s i.e. it will be a sad, fucked-up and sub-optimal equilibrium where the masses struggle and fail while a minority get all the kool toys technology generates.

If things like SNAPs and disability pay-checks remain available, of course, people will try and take advantage of them. Just like the rich are taking advantage of their subsidies.

#4. These aren't the words of the poor, these are the survey responses of the poor, put into pigeonhole categories for analysis.

As someone who spent time at home taking time to answer a lot of surveys out of curiosity, you make a great point.

For a number of surveys, I wanted to provide input, whether for consumer products or for health care policy, but I gave up when it became clear that the survey were simply seeking validation of decisions already made. Decisions that were wrong in my opinion, but that I couldn't express.

Even some surveys from a decade plus ago for health care policy matters (I think too many people forget that from 2002-2007, health care cost and access was the 2nd or 3rd biggest issue for individuals and businesses) done by colleges and universities were deaf to unexpected answers. Students were hired to do the surveys, but they were not involved in the research. A few stopped to ask how to put in different answers and offered to try to pass along feedback. But over several years the allowed answers seemed to narrow in the wrong direction, even from public discourse.

The words of the 3.4 million college students aren't those of the "poor" at all, except maybe insofar as they inflate the apparent number of poor to people not looking closely...

I think governments should sponsor zero-sum lotteries, in which the house has a take of zero. That way, the poor can satisfy their yen for gambling without losing any money. On average, it would be a wash. The prizes should be many and not too big, so you're not concentrating wealth too much.

SImilarly, I'd like to see legalized zero-sum slot machines everywhere. If you have a bar, you'd make your money from tips and drinks, not the machines. The machines would be an attraction to get people in the bar. This would completely crush all forms of illegal gambling, Indian casinos, and Las Vegas. And it would eliminate the pernicious aspects of gambling, because you wouldn't be able to gamble away your whole paycheck, or at least it would be very unusual.

I like this idea. I wonder if it would work to satisfy the gambling urge.

The Federal government is the consistent winner in "MegaMillions" and "PowerBall" lottery games.

The anonymous South Carolina winner of last week's $400 million (say $200 million lumnp sum payment) PowerBall will net approximately $120 million (sigh). The IRS will take $80 million.


Assuminig (assuredly!) most lotto players are not 1%-ers, the poor pony up most of that tax.

Well, technically the poor bought the tickets, but the 1% paid the taxes on the winnings. :)

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General....

That's an excellent Vonnegut story.

Said differently, the differences we observe in real-life outcomes is out-sized compared to the differences we observe in real-life inputs. This is because we operate in a SYSTEM with specific RULES.

And, before you start responding that we shouldn't have rules and just let free markets rule it all, the law of the jungle, afaict, is actually pretty egalitarian. It's a rare hunter-gatherer that can achieve 380 times the amount of kills of the average hunter-gatherer...

Reduce the fixed cost of employing labor.

Is there any way to automate this? Maybe based on the tags?

Conservative Republicans have officially made it their mission to end food stamps as we know them. Such was evident last week, when the House GOP voted to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as food stamps are now known, by $39 billion over a decade and begin bulking up its work requirements, along the lines of welfare reform in the 1990s.

My understanding is that Republican's voted to increase the program by 57% over the next 9 years, while the Democrats wanted to increase it by 65%.

Phrases such as "Republican's .. made it their mission to end food stamps as we know them.." as a lead in, is just partisan tripe by an author who is trying to create a narrative.

From #5 Delta is testing a one-armed, four-jointed robot that can move objects, join components and complete similar tasks. By 2016, Delta hopes to sell a version for as little as $10,000, which would be less than half the cost of current mainstream robots.

Delta believes it can achieve the low price through cost advantages at its Taiwan facility, in-house component production and a shorter target life span for its robot.

There might be some low hanging fruit in creating less durable robots. In my experience, many industrial robots are over-built and over-sized for the task.

That might be code for plastic parts over metal parts. Didn't that conversion happen for foups in semiconductor fabs, to pick a robot example?

Just replacing metal parts with plastic parts would be nearly worthless. And I was thinking of the bigger industrial robots. There really aren't that many semiconductor fabs. However, there are probably 10 million packaging lines around the world. Every human still manually loading product into cardboard boxes, or loading cardboard boxes onto pallets is easily replaceable.

I was thinking more along the lines of replacing a $12,000 PLC with a $100 phone cpu or just sizing the robots realistically. Why are so many robots designed to pick up 4 product cases weighing 20 pounds designed to handle the weight of a car frame? It shouldn't cost $1+ million for a robot to stack cartons onto pallets.

I didn't know what you were thinking of, I just know that when an engineer says something like that about a robot he probably means "we'll use injection molded plastic structure made in Asia rather than milled aluminum made in Germany."

I then gave an example whereby this exact change was made for this exact reason in wafer-handling robots in semiconductor fabs. I suspect that semi fabs are the leading edge for this sort of thing. And I suspect that the engineering of the robots is the expensive part of the process anyway, so there are limits to what you can get out of this sort of optimization. I do think you'll gradually see robots more tuned to specific tasks as the market for them grows with time.

#3 How did the headline "Freebies for the Rich" and an article about Unis rolling out the red carpet become "Universities are competing for the best students" in Cowen's hands?

Right, I forgot, capitalism determines who is rich and who is dumb. Nothing else to see here folks. Buy my book on the end of math.

#4- Why does everyone just assume that the best students are from upper middle class backgrounds because of privilege, test prep courses, and so on? Couldn't it be that smart people tend to do well in school, break into upper middle class careers, and pass on their smart genes to their kids?

There is a bit of a dilemma with financial aid: merit-based aid tends to go to the upper-middle class and need-based aid tends to go to people with low academic ability. You get questionable redistribution on the one hand and bad return on investment on the other. The intersection (poor kids with strong academic aptitude) seems to be where NYT wants us to spend the money, but that low-hanging fruit has been picked, as Tyler would say.

#4- Why does everyone just assume that the best students are from upper middle class backgrounds because of privilege, test prep courses, and so on? Couldn’t it be that smart people tend to do well in school, break into upper middle class careers, and pass on their smart genes to their kids?

No. Best student is not synonymous with smart and smart does not mean best student. You can be smart and do poorly in school for external factors or dumb and do well with motivation and help. There's plenty of litterature that shows that something seemingly as insignificant as teachers' expectations can cause a student to perform well or poorly.

There are many ways to end up in upper middle class and being smart is only one of them and probably not even enough. One of the difficulties in addressing inequality is the fact we have this romaticized idea of merit. In reality, what we define as merit even changes subjectively.

So, as long as there is inequality, the low hanging fruit will never have been completely picked. The thing is there will never be a time of no inequality therefore there will never be a time when we stop trying to provide opportunity to those who don't have access to it.

That's the real world, Greg. In the real world, people marry within 5 IQ points of each other and pay large premiums for white/Asian neighbors to maximize the odds of their kids being upper middle class and marrying well and living in a nice neighborhood in their turn.

In made-up-economist world, it's all just a matter of policy. That's why we need to hire economists to dream up all these social engineering schemes and the funding mechanisms for them so economists can marry well and live in nice neighborhoods.

So let me see if I understand #4: even though people are telling us that they are not working for reasons besides not finding a job, we should still continue to buy them food because:
#1 we are not sure they don't have another serious problem
#2 removing that benefit would not solve their situation

Using that air tight logic, why not use tax money to buy them a car? or a house? or maybe a laptop and some videogames?

I wish this debate was a bit more honest.

I think part of the discussion should be a) so we're not flooded with panhandling, and b) so there's not as much theft and my community is safer.

So areas that get the most welfare and food stamp benefits are the least affected by crime?

Didn't say that.

Huh, how about that. I always thought of welfare as a safety net for people fallen on hard times who, in their turn, would be grateful for the benefit of living in a productive, enlightened society and work hard to fulfill their own end of the social contract. In reality, it's a danegeld for an entrenched, resentful criminal class who do nothing but consume and breed more resentful criminals.

Isn't this what Sam Francis called anarcho-tyranny? Net producers aren't paying for the defense of a civil order that lets everybody get on with their lives. They're serfs on the tax farm paying bribes so a nuclear armed bureaucracy on the one hand and a violent, net consuming criminal class on the other don't beat them up and take their stuff. The bureaucrats and criminals get to vote on this, by the way.

tag closed.

'#4 One thing that I do not see discussed about food stamps is how much the recipients get. I was giving a friend a ride and he asked to stop at the market. He was buying cold cuts and fairly expensive stuff and so knowing his financial position I ask him if he could really afford to buy cold cuts. He said "I get food stamps and i need to spend them on food." I know that is just anecdotal but it makes me believe that food stamps provide more than a beans and rice diet.

BTW One other thing he told me is people where he works rent out their food cards.

Maximum benefits come out to $6 per person per day, neither lavish nor beans and rice. But beans and rice are hard to cook after the power company has cut you off. Things get more expensive at the bottom.

At first I thought $6 a day per person is low but then I thought my family of for spends about $180/week on groceries (food and cleaning supplies) and we do not eat out much and we eat very well. So that explains it, people on food stamps can eat almost like I do (6*7*4=168).

I'm not sure if it's still the same, but back when I was a stocker in a grocery stores it would not be unusual for folks on public assistance to come in and buy quite a bit of stuff at one time - certain day of the month - and in large portions - often large packages of meats (cheaper that way I guess). I assumed they were freezing it and rationing throughout the month because it would be a madhouse for a day or two, and then back to normal. Many would come in with several small children in tow, so having many kids might be part of it.

Food stamps is not very much though. It's about $4.25 per day in the states near me according to this:

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