Month: March 2015

The economics of busking

Mark Sandusky has a good article on that topic, here is one excerpt:

Time your busks wisely! Profits can vary widely from day to day, hour to hour. Our low for a Friday night was $98 for two hours of performance. Our high for two hours of performance on a Monday afternoon was $3. This was also our low, because we never busked on another Monday afternoon. We made the most money in between 5pm and 10pm, on evenings before weekends or holidays. Our understanding is that money drops best when people are feeling tipsy, but before they’re actually drunk.

The piece serves up other points of interest.

How nepotistic are we?

In just about every field I looked at, having a successful parent makes you way more likely to be a big success, but the advantage is much smaller than it is at the top of politics.

Using the same methodology, I estimate that the son of an N.B.A. player has about a one in 45 chance of becoming an N.B.A. player. Since there are far more N.B.A. slots than Senate slots, this is only about an 800-fold edge.

Think about the N.B.A. further. The skills necessary to be a basketball player, especially height, are highly hereditary. But the N.B.A. is a meritocracy, with your performance easy to evaluate. If you do not play well, you will be cut, even if the team is the New York Knicks and your name is Patrick Ewing Jr. Father-son correlation in the N.B.A. is only one-eleventh as high as it is in the Senate.

Emphasis added by me.  And this:

An American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award. Those are pretty decent odds, but they do not come close to the 8,500 times more likely a senator’s son is to find himself chatting with John McCain or Dianne Feinstein in the Senate cloakroom.

That is all from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) on Marginal Revolution

Our previous blog entries on Singapore are here, there are many dozens of them.  And yet Singapore is about the size of Fairfax County.

For the last fifty years, Singapore has been one of the truly special places in the world and a large part of that credit has to go to Lee Kuan Yew.

Here are previous MR entries on “China fact of the day.”  Again, there are many dozens, and a lot of the credit there too should go to Lee, who provided the model and inspiration for China’s reforms.

“There are dozens of such analogies between the Maori and the Welsh…”

Daniel Davies reviews New Zealand.  Here is one excerpt:

The key to understanding the economy of New Zealand is that it’s an industry cluster, and the industry in question is agriculture. Or, and this might be a bit more controversial, the industry in question is agriculture marketing, the most perfect example of which being the way in which the Chinese gooseberry was renamed the “kiwifruit” and production ramped up exponentially to meet US and European demand. At some point, if they can transport them without bruising, I’d guess that they’ll have a go at doing the same thing with the Feijoa, a kind of South American guava that’s very popular domestically. Marketing isn’t looked down on as a frivolous activity for people not clever enough to do science in New Zealand, as far as I can see – farmers, if they want to enjoy middle-class incomes, have to be very aware about the difference between the stuff that comes out of the ground or off the animal, and the sort of thing that people want to see in their shops.

I liked this bit (among many others) too:

One of the things that originally got me interested in the subject of economics was asking the question “How come they’re able to send lamb and butter all the way from New Zealand and still sell it cheaper than Wales?”, and never being very satisfied with the answer.

The discussion is interesting throughout.

Why is subtitling and closed captioning so bad?

Jan asks:

Why is the (global) state of subtitling and closed captioning so bad?

a/ Subtitling and closed captioning are extremely efficient ways of learning new languages, for example for immigrants wanting to learn the language of their new country.

b/ Furthermore video is now offered on phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, televisions… but very frequently these videos cannot be played with sound on (a phone on public transport, a laptop in public places, televisions in busy places like bars or shops,…).

c/ And most importantly of all, it is crucial for the deaf and hard of hearing.

So why is it so disappointingly bad? Is it just the price (lots of manual work still, despite assistive speech-to-text technologies)? Or don’t producers care?

UberAlex responded:

It’s interesting to look at the fan-sub community, where they can be a labour of love. They are often considered far superior translations to the official ones.

Conventional wisdom, from me, on the Israeli election

Corey Robin has a useful survey of responses from the Left, some of which include repudiations of Zionism, in addition to claims that the current Israeli policies simply have to unravel, to the detriment of virtually everybody.  Think of the latter as a prediction of comeuppance, much like how inequality critics sometimes predict eventual doom for the wealthy if they do not redistribute their wealth.

From a separate direction, economist Glen Weyl explains on Facebook why he is now supporting the BDS movement.

I’m not interested in debating the normative side of the election, or various peace plans, right now.  What I find striking is how unready many critics are to confront what has happened, not just in the “Plan B” sense but also rhetorically.  The possibility that civil rights progress, peace progress, and self-governance and democratic progress simply have stopped, and won’t be back any time soon, is before us.  If anything, matters might become worse yet, especially once you contemplate Gaza.  Yet Western commentators don’t know where to turn, because the prevailing progressive narrative is one, not surprisingly, of progress.  The common progressive remedy is one of moral exhortation, but at this point it doesn’t seem like another lecture to Israeli voters is going to do the trick.

Such stagnation and possibly retrogression in outcomes is hardly novel at the global level, and even within Israel/Palestine proper it’s far from clear there has been much actual news from the Israeli election (i.e., the two-state solution has been failing for some while now).  Still, Israel attracts enough attention, and loyalty, that this is producing an intellectual crisis for many.  Some people feel they have been made fools of, and they are no longer happy playing along with the fantasy of an eventual peace deal based on ideals of democracy and rule of law.  They wish to recast their mood affiliations, but where really to turn?

By the way, the world has been getting more violent since 2007.

The stagnation of Los Angeles fact of the day

There are just 6 per cent more people working in greater Los Angeles than there were 25 years ago. By contrast, the Inland Empire has nearly doubled in size. In fact, the absolute number of jobs added in the Inland Empire since 1990 is nearly double the absolute number of jobs added in greater LA. To get a sense of how wild that is, the entire workforce of the Inland Empire was only 13 per cent the size of Los Angeles’s back in 1990. Even now, there are more than three workers in Los Angeles for every one in the Inland Empire.

It’s a little hard to see given the scale of the chart, but it’s also worth noting that LA experienced a Depression-level drop in employment in the early 1990s. Between January, 1990 and November, 1993, employment in the America’s second-biggest metro area fell by nearly 11 per cent. Employment didn’t return to its previous peak until July, 1999. Talk about a lost decade! (It may help explain this.)

That is from Matthew C. Klein, there is more here, about other American cities too, possibly FT-gated but interesting throughout.

How good a marginal rebounder are you really?

Maybe this is too strange and squirrelly an example to deserve mention on MR, but I found it fascinating.  It starts with this:

This year’s rebounding leaderboard, at least in terms of rebounds per game, is topped by DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond, who also finished 1-2 last season. In a bygone era, you’d simply say they are the league’s best rebounders at this time. Yet it might not be that way at all.

There seems to be a huge oops:

Both the Clippers and Pistons have better defensive rebound rates with their star rebounders on the bench. How is that possible?

This is a big topic, but one possible reason could be the simple fact that neither Jordan nor Drummond is particularly concerned with boxing out…Drummond blocks out on the defensive glass just 5.97 times per 100 opportunities, lowest in the league among centers with at least 500 chances.

Jordan is a little better at 9.64, but that’s still the 11th-lowest total.

In other words, what really matters is marginal rebounding prowess, adjusting for how many rebounds you take away from the other players on your team.  Maybe an individual can pull in the ball more often by positioning himself to grab the low hanging fruit rebounds — often taking them from other team members — rather than boxing out the other team for the tough, contested rebounds.

Measurement really is changing the world.  The article is here, by Bradford Doolittle, ESPN gated.  Here is more on DeAndre Jordan, also ESPN gated.  That is one media source I pay for gladly.

Alain Badiou on the French headscarf law

This is from his Polemics book:

43. In point of truth, the headscarf law expresses only one thing: fear.  Westerners in general, and the French in particular, are no more than a bunch of shivering cowards.  What are they afraid of?  Barbarians, as usual.  Barbarians both at home, the ‘suburban youths’, and abroad the ‘Islamic terrorists’.  Why are they afraid?  Because they are guilty, but claim to be innocent.  Guilty from the 1980s onward of having renounced and tried to dismantle every politics of emancipation, every revolutionary form of reason, every true assertion of something other than what is.  Guilty of clinging to their miserable privileges.  Guilty of being no more than grown-up kids who play with their many purchases.  Yes, indeed, ‘after a long childhood, they have been made to grow up’.  They are thus afraid of whatever is a little less old than they are, such as, for example, a stubborn young lady.

44. But most of all, Westerners in general, and the French in particular, are afraid of death.  They can no longer even imagine that an idea is something worth taking risks for.  ‘Zero deaths’ is their most important desire.  Well, they see millions of people throughout the world who have no reason to be afraid of death.  And among them, many die for an idea nearly every day.  For the ‘civilized’, that is a source of intimate terror.

I’ve tried a few other Badiou books, but I find this to be the one easiest to make sense of.  Here is Wikipedia on Badiou.  Here is a Guardian article on him.

Claims about meritorious books which I did not finish

Richard Roberts and David Kynaston, The Lion Wakes: A Modern History of HSBC.  This is an important book for the historian, but it is not written for the eye of the economist.

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant: A Novel.  It has a beautiful air of mystery and profundity, but by p.120 I still didn’t care.  Some of you will like this a lot, but I put it down to pick up some other book which I will not finish.

Then it’s back to Houllebecq and The Mahabharata.

The Toronto Star covers our Scarborough outing

The article is here, by Lauren Pelley, here is one excerpt:

“It’s great news to hear,” echoed Ganesan Sugumar, CEO and director of Saravanaa Bhavan Canada, an Indian vegetarian restaurant chain. (Cowen’s tour group visited the location near McCowan Rd. and Finch Ave. East.)

“This is honestly the best cuisine, I could say, in Canada,” Sugumar added. “We have so many ethnic restaurants.”

The article also has a useful map of all the places we visited.  My original blog post was here.