Month: November 2014

Is SMS a form of net non-neutrality?

People have wondered how an Internet without net neutrality would work. Net neutrality is more than just a debate, it’s not a hypothetical, and it’s real and alive today with SMS.

It is currently hypothetical that on an Internet without net neutrality, companies would need to “pay to play” and live by arbitrary, ISP-devised rules for accessing consumers who want and pay for their services. This is the so-called “fast lane.” While ISPs argue this is about network utilization and bandwidth costs, businesses worry that it’s far beyond that.

At stake is access to consumers, and ISPs monetizing their subscriber bases instead of providing the open pipe consumers pay for. While some companies think it’s just a problem for Netflix or other high-bandwidth applications like streaming video, it’s not. The very real potential is that if you don’t have the right relationships, abide by arbitrary rules or pay appropriately, your company doesn’t get slow access – it gets no access. We know because this is how SMS in the U.S. works today.

That is from Jeff Lawson, there is more here.  Here is Steven Pearlstein’s column on net neutrality.

Assorted links

GiveDirectly

Consider GiveDirectly this holiday season for your charitable giving. As you may recall, GiveDirectly was started by four economists and it gives money directly to the very poor in Kenya and Uganda. GiveDirectly is a top-rated charity by GiveWell. The founders are committed to providing independent, randomized controlled trials of its process. One RCT has already been conducted with positive results and 3 others are under way. GiveDirectly publicizes the trials of its process before the results are produced. Impressive–the drug companies had to be forced to do this. Check out their website, they even provides real-time performance data. Here’s a bit more on their process.

GiveDirectly

What should a Bayesian infer from the Antikythera Mechanism?

That is the early “computer,” remember?:

Who made the famed Antikythera Mechanism, the astronomical calculator that was raised from an ancient shipwreck near Crete in 1901?

The complex clocklike assembly of bronze gears and display dials predates other known examples of similar technology by more than 1,000 years. It accurately predicted lunar and solar eclipses, as well as solar, lunar and planetary positions.

For good measure, the mechanism also tracked the dates of the Olympic Games. Although it was not programmable in the modern sense, some have called it the first analog computer.

We now learn that the calendar of this mysterious device begins in 205 B.C.  The key point, in my view, is that we have discovered no other comparable machine from antiquity or any other era other than modern times.  It took us until 2006 to even understand what the device was supposed to do, using advanced tomography, and we had been holding it since 1901.

So what to infer?  The first option is that this device was a true outlier, standing sui generis above its time.  Cardiff University professor Michael Edmunds “described the device as “just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind””.

As an artifact that is true, but is that so likely in terms of broader history?  It is pure luck that we fished this thing out of the Mediterranean in 1901.  (By the way, further dives are planned to search for more parts of it.)  The alternative possibility is that antiquity had many more such exotic devices, which have remained unreported, at least in the manuscripts which have come down to us.  That would imply, essentially, that we don’t have a very good idea of what antiquity was like.  In my view that is the more rational Bayesian conclusion.  It is more likely than thinking that we just lucked out to find this one unique, incredible device.  To put it another way, if you found some organic life on a traveling comet, you ought to conclude there is more of that life, or something related, somewhere else.

And to me, the Antikythera Mechanism does not sound like a “lone genius” kind of device: “The gear teeth were in the form of equilateral triangles with an average circular pitch of 1.6 mm, an average wheel thickness of 1.4 mm and an average air gap between gears of 1.2 mm.” (Wikipedia)  That suggests it was made by some kind of regular industrial process.  It also had some sophistications which modern Swiss watches do not.

Given this Bayesian conclusions, which other strange claims stand a decent chance of being true of antquity?  Which other surprises await us?

I find this an interesting passage: “the mysterious device was already pretty ancient by the time it went down some time around 85BC to 60BC with a ship carrying a bride and her dowry, io9 reports…”  You don’t find a lot of people carrying around a lot of ancient PCs today, so might there have been an Antikythera Great Stagnation way back when?  I think maybe so.

Here is a Lego model of the device.  Here is an introductory YouTube video.  Here is Wikipedia on the Antikythera Mechanism, a very good entry.

I owe thanks to Vic Sarjoo for pointers and Robin Hanson for a useful conversation on this topic.

Assorted links

Claims about oil

“All told, roughly 2.6 million barrels a day of world crude oil production comes from projects with a breakeven price in excess of $80 a barrel,” the report said. World oil production was 93.2 million barrels a day in the third quarter.

You will note, of course, that because of fixed costs and option value, a currently unprofitable project can remain up and running for a long time to come.  (As explained in the Cowen and Tabarrok Principles text.)  Here is a related point:

At the same time, analysts have also noted that for many shale producers, a large chunk of production costs — acquiring acreage, contracting wells, etc. — have already been spent. As a result, the more important figure might be “half-cycle” production costs. which analysts at Citi last week pegged at between $37 to $45 a barrel.

From William Watts, there is more here, including a discussion of which forms of fossil fuel energy are profitable at $80 a barrel.

Claims about Russia

Sergei Guriev, a former ­adviser to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a former board member of Russia’s largest state bank, said: “If nothing changes, if sanctions aren’t removed and the price of oil does not go up, then in two years the Russian government will have a major problem — it will lack cash and it will not be able to borrow it.”

The luxury goods market may contract up to eighteen percent this year in Russia.  There is more here, via www.macrodigest.com.

Not From the Onion: Man Arrested for Pointing Banana at the Police

A Colorado man, from Fruitvale (I am not making this up), was arrested for pointing a banana at the police. What makes this actually scary is the language of the police report:

The officers wrote in the police report they feared for their safety despite observing the supposed weapon was yellow.

“I immediately ducked in my patrol car and accelerated continuing northbound, fearing that it was a weapon,” Officer Joshua Bunch wrote in the report, according to the newspaper. “Based on training and experience, I have seen handguns in many shapes and colors and perceived this to be a handgun.”

The man was fortunate that he was only arrested. Had he been wielding a pointed stick he would surely have been shot.

Young Matt Dillon markets in everything

In Matt Dillon’s case, he would often look in the wrong direction. I would tell him that on the screen he would be looking in the right direction, even though it felt wrong when he was shooting it. Trying to explain this to a 14-year-old kid who was already suspicious about the whole thing wasn’t easy. So I’d put a $20 bill on my forehead, and I’d say, “Matt, if you look at this $20 bill, it’s yours when the shot is finished.” Over the course of the movie he made about $200.

There is more (too much more) here, and for the pointer I thank Hugo Lindgren.

The economics of Uber

We were talking about this at lunch the other day, and now Josh Barro steps forward with the numbers:

The average price of an individual New York City taxi medallion fell to $872,000 in October, down 17 percent from a peak reached in the spring of 2013, according to an analysis of sales data. Previous figures published by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission — showing flat prices — appear to have been incorrect, and the commission removed them from its website after an inquiry from The New York Times.

In other big cities, medallion prices are also falling, often in conjunction with a sharp decline in sales volume. In Chicago, prices are down 17 percent. In Boston, they’re down at least 20 percent, though it’s hard to establish an exact market price because there have been only five trades since July. In Philadelphia, the taxi authority recently scrapped a planned medallion auction.

There is more here.  I learn also that Nevada just banned Uber.

The French work a bit more than you think

Is this information about the work week good news or bad news?

But in reality, France’s 35-hour week has become largely symbolic, as employees across the country pull longer hours and work more intensely, with productivity per hour about 13 percent higher than the eurozone average. And a welter of loopholes lets many French employers outmaneuver the law.

All told, French workers put in an average of 39.5 hours a week, just under the eurozone average of 40.9 hours a week, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That is from Liz Alderman.

China estimate of the day — the return of Austro-Chinese business cycle theory

“Ghost cities” lined with empty apartment blocks, abandoned highways and mothballed steel mills sprawl across China’s landscape – the outcome of government stimulus measures and hyperactive construction that have generated $6.8tn in wasted investment since 2009, according to a report by government researchers.

In 2009 and 2013 alone, “ineffective investment” came to nearly half the total invested in the Chinese economy in those years, according to research by Xu Ce of the National Development and Reform Commission, the state planning agency, and Wang Yuan from the Academy of Macroeconomic Research, a former arm of the NDRC.

…The bulk of wasted investment went directly into industries such as steel and automobile production that received the most support from the government following the 2008 global crisis, according to the report.

Mr Xu and Ms Wang said ultra-loose monetary policy, little or no oversight over government investment plans and distorted incentive structures for officials were largely to blame for the waste.

Don’t forget this part:

Misallocation of capital and poor investment decisions are not the only explanation for the enormous waste in China’s economy. A significant portion of China’s post-crisis stimulus binge was simply stolen by Communist Party officials with direct responsibility for boosting growth through investment, according to separate estimates by Chinese and overseas economists.

There is more here, from the excellent Jamil Anderlini.  As Arnold Kling would say, 祝你今天愉快…

Addendum: Here is a criticism of how that estimate was made.