Month: July 2015

Civilization comes to Washington, D.C.

Baan Thai at 1326 14th St. serves regional Thai cuisine, from four different parts of the country, the attached sushi restaurant serves as a talisman against the uninformed.  Get the tapioca chicken, the Isan sausage, and the Thai vermicelli in chili peanut sauce.  This is one of three or four local places with real Thai food, and thus one of the best dining spots in DC.  The Yelp reviews are nearly worthless, but here is useful WaPo coverage.

Sunday assorted links

Your smart phone can predict your grades

Interesting but worrying too:

The SmartGPA study uses passive sensing data and self-reports from students’ smartphones to understand individual behavioral differences between high and low performers during a single 10-week term. We propose new methods for better understanding study (e.g., study duration) and social (e.g., partying) behavior of a group of undergraduates. We show that there are a number of important behavioral factors automatically inferred from smartphones that significantly correlate with term and cumulative GPA, including time series analysis of activity, conversational interaction, mobility, class attendance, studying, and partying. We propose a simple model based on linear regression with lasso regularization that can accurately predict cumulative GPA. The predicted GPA strongly correlates with the ground truth from students’ transcripts…Our results open the way for novel interventions to improve academic performance.

That is from a new paper by Rui Wang, Gabriella Harariy, Peilin Hao, Xia Zhou, and Andrew T. Campbell (pdf).  Class attendance, by the way, does not predict grades very well.

For the pointers I thank Eric Barker and Dan Gould.

What the Not Very Serious People among the Not Very Serious People were up to

Arresting the central bank’s governor. Emptying its vaults. Appealing to Moscow for help.

These were the elements of a covert plan to return Greece to the drachma hatched by members of the Left Platform faction of Greece’s governing Syriza party.

That is from the FT, and there is more:

The plan demonstrates the apparently ruthless determination of Syriza’s far leftists to pursue their political aims — but also their lack of awareness of the workings of the eurozone financial system.

For one thing, the vaults at the Nomismatokopeion currently hold only about €10bn of cash — enough to keep the country afloat for only a few weeks but not the estimated six to eight months required to prepare, test and launch a new currency.

The Syriza government would have quickly found the country’s stash of banknotes unusable. Nor would they be able to print more €10 and €20 banknotes: From the moment the government took over the mint, the European Central Bank would declare Greek euros as counterfeit, “putting anyone who tried to buy something with them at risk of being arrested for forgery,” said a senior central bank official.

“The consequences would be disastrous. Greece would be isolated from the international financial system with its banks unable to function and its euros worthless,” the official added.

For all the flaws of the euro, the case for it has never been made more effectively.

Saturday assorted links

1. Profile of Terry Tao.

2. Did Medicare D affect outcomes?

3. Is drinking a countercyclical asset in Greece?

4. Drug testing is coming to e-Gaming.

5. Interview with William Vollmann.  I still think the “By the Book” series in the NYT is the single best thing on the web these days.

6. One billion earths in our galaxy alone?  Uh-oh.  I don’t regard all that frozen water on Pluto as good news either.

7. Kremer and Miguel respond on the worm wars (pdf).

Sanity on financial transactions taxes

Overall, the dogmatic argument that a financial transactions tax is unworkable is clearly false. It operates in a lot of countries. The wide-eyed hope that such a tax can be a truly major revenue source also seems to be false. In part because of concerns over the risk of creating counterproductive incentives–either just to structure transactions in a way that minimizes such a tax or even to react in a way that reduces liquidity and increases volatility in financial markets–the rate at which such taxes are set is typically pretty low. As the authors write, “the idea that an FTT can raise vast amounts
of revenue—1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or more—has proved inconsistent with actual experience with such taxes.”

The question with any tax is not whether it is perfect, because every real-world tax has some undesirable incentive effects. The question is whether a certain tax might have a useful role to play as part of the overall portfolio of real-world taxes. For what it’s worth, this particular review of the evidence leaves me skeptical that expanding the currently existing US financial transactions tax from its very low present level would be a useful step.

That is from Timothy Taylor.

Hurrah for Singapore birthday markets in everything

Rolls-Royce will be celebrating Singapore’s 50th year of independence with a special bespoke luxury car, the first time the carmaker has commissioned a car to celebrate the anniversary of a country.

Based on the Ghost line of vehicles, the limited edition “SG50 Ghost Series II” bears the red and white colors of Singapore’s flag. The white exterior will feature red trim, while the interior seats are dark red in color, with the city’s iconic half-fish, half-lion Merlion symbol stitched into the four headrests.

Unfortunately only one model will be released for sale, for $290,000.  And that is not all:

Singapore’s independence day falls on August 9, and is slated to be the country’s biggest anniversary celebration ever. Other brands that have released special products to mark the day include Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Singapore Special Edition watch, a Singapore Airlines plane bearing a special motif, and Ayam Brand’s specially designed sardine cans.

The story is here, and perhaps I will be blogging Singapore a bit more as the country’s fiftieth anniversary approaches.  Who would have thought?

Friday assorted links

1. I am sorry people, I can no longer tell what is satire and what is not.  I am so sorry.

2. Chinese Communists preferred.  And China overtakes U.S. as top ice cream market.  And Adam Sandler strikes the Taj Mahal, not the Great Wall.  Read also about Captain Phillips at the bottom of that piece: “The reality of the situation is that China will probably never clear the film for censorship,” wrote Bruer. “Reasons being the big Military machine of the U.S. saving one U.S. citizen. China would never do the same and in no way would want to promote this idea. Also just the political tone of the film is something that they would not feel comfortable with.”

3. A guide to the worm wars, not Dune though, sorry.  Goldacre responds in the comments.

4. Robert F. Graboyes, Fortress and Frontier in American Health Care, a new eBook.

5. Should Greece have defaulted in 2010?

6. Against culinary communism.

7. One of the best summaries of what we know about the minimum wage.

Rent Control in Stockholm

Here’s an interesting letter from “Stockholm” to Seattle

Dear Seattle,

I am writing to you because I heard that you are looking at rent control.

Seattle, you need to ask your citizens this: How would citizens like it if they walked into a rental agency and the agent told them to register and come back in 10 years?

stockholm1

I’m not joking. The image above is a scan of a booklet sent to a rental applicant by Stockholm City Council’s rental housing service. See those numbers on the map? That’s the waiting time for an apartment in years. Yes, years. Look at the inner city – people are waiting for 10-20 years to get a rental apartment, and around 7-8 years in my suburbs. (Red keys = new apartments, green keys = existing apartments).

Stockholm City Council now has an official housing queue, where 1 day waiting = 1 point. To get an apartment you need both money for the rent and enough points to be the first in line. Recently an apartment in inner Stockholm became available. In just 5 days, 2000 people had applied for the apartment. The person who got the apartment had been waiting in the official housing queue since 1989!

Stockholm2

In addition to Soviet-level shortages, the letter writer discusses a number of other effects of rent controls in Stockholm including rental units converted to condominiums and a division of renters into original recipients who are guaranteed low rates and who thus never move and the newly arrived who have to sublet at higher rates or share crowded space. All of these, of course, are classic consequences of rent controls.

Addendum: More details on Sweden’s rent-setting system can be found here, statistics (in Swedish) on rental availability in Stockhom are here and a useful analysis of the Swedish housing crisis with more details on various policies (e.g. new construction is exempt for 15 years but there isn’t nearly enough) is here. Jenkins wrote a comprehensive review of the literature on rent controls in 2009 that echoed what Navarro said in 1985 “the economics profession has reached a rare consensus: Rent control creates many more problems than it solves.”

Hat tip to Bjorn and Niclas who confirmed to me the situation in Stockholm and to Peter for the original link.

The progressive closure of San Francisco

…San Francisco does not have a massive network of regional public transit connecting hundreds of different high-density, walkable communities to the city. In fact, neighborhoods that foster urban life and convenience are tremendously scarce in the Bay Area. All of this means the pressure on San Francisco has proven to be even greater than other cities in the country.

Regardless of these realities, most San Francisco progressives chose to stick with their familiar stance of opposing new development, positioning themselves as defenders of the city’s physical character. Instead of forming a pro-growth coalition with business and labor, most of the San Francisco Left made an enduring alliance with home-owning NIMBYs. It became one of the peculiar features of San Francisco that exclusionary housing politics got labeled “progressive.” (Organized labor remained a major political force throughout this time period, and has allied with both pro-growth and anti-growth forces, depending on the issue.) Over the years, these anti-development sentiments were translated into restrictive zoning, the most cumbersome planning and building approval process in the country, and all kinds of laws and rules that make it uniquely difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to add housing in San Francisco.

That is from Jed Kolko, hat tip to Conor Sen.

The University of California raises its minimum wage

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday the school will become the first to raise the on-campus minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“This is the right thing to do,” Napolitano said at a meeting in San Francisco. “For our workers and their families, for our mission and values, and to enhance UC’s leadership role by becoming the first public university in the United States to voluntarily establish a minimum wage of 15 dollars.”

The raise will benefit college employees who work more than 20 hours a week. It will also be applied to thousands of contractors working with the school.

There is more here, via NinjaEconomics.

The *Financial Times* as a purely digital product

The word is now in, Nikkei is the buyer, but Pearson is keeping The Economist.

I find the Financial Times works well as a purely digital product, and of the major newspapers it is the one I can most easily imagine reading digital only.  From a newspaper I care not only about the amount of absolute content, but also the sense that I haven’t “missed anything.”  Often I find this feeling of completeness hard to get from digital editions, even when they are fairly well done.  There is too much content, with too many overlapping categories, to organize everything neatly.  There is a new set of stories up before I am sure I really have culled through the old.  The FT runs fewer stories, has fewer sections and content areas, and the wonderful Saturday edition has a relatively transparent structure which I can navigate on-line.

Would it be so terrible for other newspapers to concentrate their arts and leisure coverage, or their book reviews, on one or two days of the week?  Digitalization might eventually bring that about, for greater ease of navigation.  In the digital world, “less content” seems less miserly, because a universe of alternative content is at your fingertips in any case.

One equilibrium is that more newspapers copy the FT in their greater focus.  Another equilibrium is that only the FT goes digital only.  A third option is that the home page dies altogether, even for major newspapers, and this difference between the FT and other papers ceases to matter altogether.

Here is a good Nieman article on the economics of the FT.

Addendum: Here is Peter Thai Larsen: “In 1987 Pearson sold the FT’s building to a Japanese buyer and kept the paper. Now it’s selling the paper and keeping the building. Discuss.”