Monday assorted links



Would you have written 'Rappelling!' instead?

We Americans are tired of Europeans and their "crabs" and "abseiling." Learn to speak English.

Wait, what do you call crabs?

#1: "Hail Caesar! (US) 3.1 Scene by scene it was well directed, but somehow fell flat. The Coen brothers need to think about what made their early films so successful."

'de gustibus' and all that, but three of the Coen Bros. last four films are "Hail, Caesar!", "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "A Simple Man". I wish other filmmakers would think about what made the Coens recent films so terrific.

er..."A Serious Man"

Well, considering how not every single commenter is diligent in reading every link, let us just highlight a bit from that check cashing link - 'In the book, she provides the example of Carlos, a local contractor who came in on a Thursday to cash $5,000 for his small business, paying a $97.50 fee (and a $10 tip to Servon) in the process. That's $100 he'll never see again — how could he be coming out ahead compared with using a bank? Servon explains:

"If Carlos is like many small contractors operating in New York City, he relies at least in part on undocumented workers, who are unlikely to have bank accounts. If Carlos deposited his check in a bank, it would take a few days to clear — too late to deliver cash on payday. Or maybe the check was a deposit for a job he had just been contracted to do, and he needed supplies to get started. If he couldn't start right away, he risked losing the job to another contractor."

Paying $100 isn't much compared with the cost of losing good laborers that need to be replaced, or forfeiting new business.'

#5 Check-Cashing-Services

(@prior_test2: U missed the main point of the link... after your alleged diligent read)

"The three common reasons customers cited for using a check casher over a bank: cost, transparency, and service."

"if you go into a check casher... signs list every product that's for sale and how much it costs" .... Walk into your bank branch and you'll see there's no literature like that that... customers couldn't predict when banks would charge them a fee or what the amount of the fee would be — a deal-breaker when you're operating on a tight budget."

"The RiteCheck she worked at charged $1.50 to pay a bill, $0.89 to buy a money order, and roughly 1.95% — as regulated by state law — of the face value of a check to cash it. These small fees add up, but they often pale in comparison to the unexpected charges, maintenance fees, and overdraft fees customers had experienced at banks. The rate for money orders is actually far cheaper than most banks, which commonly charge $5 to $10. "

"... checking accounts were the antithesis of transparent. The terms and conditions were long, technical, and laden with jargon. Many people can't afford to wonder when their deposit will clear and prefer paying a small fee for the clarity and speed offered by check cashers. "


The main point of the link is to help ensure that GMU Prof. Zywicki does not look like too much of an outlier when defending things like this -

And of course people without better alternatives choose what is available - for example, undocumented workers live in a cash economy, and obviously, the person paying them needs cash. And having that cash not be tracked is critical to how the process works. With the check casher making a nice profit, without having to worry about running up against any money laundering regulations by being involved in illegal activity, or deal with being caught at tax evasion, etc.

Yes, "people without better alternatives choose what is available." So outlawing check-cashing and payday loan businesses means outlawing many poor people's best alternative. That seems to me to be a simple point, which lots of people seem to overlook.

"The main point of the link is ..." pretty clear to anybody who can read. It takes a mind like yours to ignore all the words and jump to an entirely negative connection to a GMU professor.

It's pretty clear that you left GMU angry. It's less clear why you have this decades long, rabbit boiling obsession.

I have been dinged before by my bank for missing their minimum amount in checking.

It was actually expensive. I ended up putting more into savings, to avoid that in the future, but I could see paying a per use fee might be better.

Is there a reason Carlos couldn't go to the issuer's bank and cash the check? I paid a guy $700 last week to fix my fence and that's what he did.

One reason is that many banks charge people without accounts for cashing checks drawn on the bank.

Holy moly.

That's the first thing we should be making illegal.

re #4
Conjecture A: Flynn effect is result of all of society studying for the test. Woodley effect is result of all of society not exercising for those particular tests. (for example: in the era of 3D computer graphics, do people have much less cause to practice 3D rotations in their head.)

Conjecture B: Flynn resources + Woodley resources are a constant, but tests are not exact offset. So increasing one requires decrease on the other.

Or, maybe our brains are optimizing to take advantage of complex environments? So that supports the Flynn effect, but has side effects that the Woodley effect is picking up.

I thought Flynn effect is indeed environmental but Woodley effect is genetics, as in inbreeding over time. One reason you should be thinking of marrying inter-racially (stronger children).

Bonus trivia: the Spartans practiced eugenics under the flawed theory of 'strong body, strong mind', but ironically their army was in some ways weaker than the more broad minded Athenians, as skirmishes during the Peloponnesian war showed.

#5: If Carlos is like many small contractors operating in New York City, he relies at least in part on undocumented workers, who are unlikely to have bank accounts. If Carlos deposited his check in a bank, it would take a few days to clear — too late to deliver cash on payday. Or maybe the check was a deposit for a job he had just been contracted to do, and he needed supplies to get started. If he couldn't start right away, he risked losing the job to another contractor.

Wait, why can't Carlos just open a regular account at a regular bank and cash the check there, thus avoiding the fee?

Because Carlos is evading taxes.

I always knew he was shady.

That can't be. Obviously, Carlos loves to give (what?) 5% to the check casher.

When I come here, I often cogitate that if I were a Thomas Aquinas-clone, I may describe much of what here I encounter with a Latin phrase such as "Dulce Mundum Inexpertis."

Next, these geniuses need to do a report on beneficial pay-day lenders.

Obviously, you are familiar with GMU prof. Zywicki's work in this area, defending such practices as being beneficial to those who use them - not to mention the bottom line of those that profit from them. The link posted above gives a good idea of how that works.

"Because Carlos is evading taxes."


"...he relies at least in part on undocumented workers,"

And paying illegal immigrants directly in cash, to assist them in evading FICA taxes

Or avoiding garneshment at the bank.

He could, but banks also tend to have pretty terrible hours. Check cashing services are open pretty late and on weekends, too.

I pay nothing to use my bank. Free checking, cash checks at any time, transfer money online for free. That is because I have a certain amount of money in the bank at all times. Poor people living check to check don't have a permanent chunk of money in the bank so they don't get free checking, the bank holds their checks until they clear, they get overdrafts and the ridiculous fees. Banks don't want poor people's money, thus check cashing places.

As noted in the article - '"Banks want one customer with a million dollars. Check cashers like us want a million customers with one dollar," says Coleman, the RiteCheck president, in Servon's book.'

Yeah, that was kinda my suspicion as well. The article doesn't really say that, though.

You don't pay nothing. You pay in foregone investment returns which the bank takes for itself (perhaps they give you some de minimis interest, but it is far less than you could get elsewhere). There is a little tax disparity here - if poor person pays $100 in fee in a year, those fees have been paid with after-tax dollars, which means poor person might need to earn $107.50 or more, depending on effective tax rate. If wealthy person pays in $100 lost returns, that $100 is paid in pre-tax dollars. Of course, in reality, you might be giving up $200 of returns to avoid $100 of fees (or vice versa), so it can be hard to compare the two situations.

If you use BofA for checking and Merrill Edge for investing and have X amount in the account, not only do you get lots of checking goodies and a boost to your credit card rewards (e.g. my 1.5% back travel rewards card gets a boost and becomes a 2.625% back card), but you get 30 free trades a month on the trading platform. It's a pretty good deal in my opinion, but it doesn't get a lot of attention because BofA is associated with a lower-income market segment. I'm not aware of any similar combo package.

I can't pay the heating bill in stock. You have to have cash on hand.

It's the combined balance. You can keep as much or as little of that in checking as you need.

*I’m not aware of any similar combo package.*

Schwab and Fidelity will offer you similar packages without resort to a regular bank. But they'll want a considerable balance in the investment account. They're not in the business of serving poor people.

Can also find basic checking accounts with no maintenaince fees and sign up bonuses. I recently had a Key Bank offer that paid $400 for opening a basic checking account and doing at least one direct deposit of $500 or more within 60 days. I did so and they paid me. I could close it today and pay $25 back or wait a few more months and not pay anything.

6 B) "Counterfactual simulations based on our model suggest that immigration increased the overall welfare of US natives, and had significant distributional consequences. "

But the recent elections trump all such studies.

More of Issa, less of Visa.

4. Is the ability to multi-task a sign of intelligence? I don't know but the inability to multi-task puts one at a distinct disadvantage today. I come from a different era, an era when the ability to focus on one thing was considered a sign of intelligence; indeed, I can't multi-task, something my Godson and his friends think is hilarious.

"Is the ability to multi-task a sign of intelligence?"

Most likely.

Based on what I have read and seen, multi-tasking is not a real thing, and reduces productivity.

Well, it could be that while it lowers productivity, it is also a skill-set that is sometimes required, with some being better at it than others. So perhaps in an ideal world you design jobs and tasks so that no one ever has to multi-task, but in reality multi-tasking is sometimes required, and so you want people who are relatively better at it (i.e. it reduces their productivity less than it does rayward's), at least for jobs where it is more likely to be required.

But even if what I am describing exists, the great majority of instances of "multi-tasking" are probably people working on a presentation while listening to music, checking their fantasy lineup, paying a bill, and buying something on Amazon.

"Based on what I have read and seen, multi-tasking is not a real thing, and reduces productivity."

Humans multi-task all the time. If you are working on something and someone calls your name and you respond, then clearly you were multi-tasking.

But in a larger sense, humans don't multi-task at their core work. What they do is time slice tasks. Generally, speaking, when some one is "good" at multi-tasking, it means they are efficient at handling interruptions. Efficient meaning they can intelligently deal with the interrupt and then quickly get back to a high productivity state on their core task after the interruption is dealt with.

So, time slicing would be a better word.

There's probably some people who can multi-task more effectively than others. My vague memory mentioned something about gender differences, but women had like a 65% degradation in ability vs. 75% for men. So that's pretty...nightmarish.

IME, most people mean "task switching." There's an awful lot of that I see on a daily basis, though in most cases it's still silly and destructive: everyone chases the latest email like 5 year olds chase the soccer ball at an AYSO game.

YMMV, hospitals are not the same as accounting departments. Those poor saps need to juggle a lot of balls.

I see JWatts ninja'd me and coined "time slicing." I'd largely agree with that interpretation. Same caveat, though: when your boss interrupts your project to ask a question that could've waited till tomorrow, productivity declines.

I imagine this is why I am currently wading through complex settlement agreements dating back to 2009 right now...

"Same caveat, though: when your boss interrupts your project to ask a question that could’ve waited till tomorrow, productivity declines."

Yep, but that's why the boss would prefer an employee who'd only need 15 minutes to get back on task after the interruption and not 2 hours. There's a wide variance in my experience.

In the current world, with so many distractions easily available, lot comes down to self-knowledge and self-discipline too. If you know you are the type that takes longer to get back on task after a distraction (a worse multi-tasker or task-switcher or time-slicer) you need to do everything possible to avoid those distractions.

I fail terribly at that, which makes me very inefficient outside of rapidly-approaching deadlines.

I'd like to believe that Cowen, like me, can't multi-task, his skill in chess a result of his ability to focus on one thing. Maybe. Maybe not. I often distinguish between those with useful skills (fix the toilet, build a barn, pilot a ship) and those with useless skills (a lawyer, a banker, an economist). What is intelligence?

4. "Whether this is dysgenics or some other insidious cause is not yet clear to me."

It is only dysgenics if the traits become more common despite being a survival/reproductive disadvantage. If, in the modern world, lower intelligence leads to a higher likelihood of passing on your genes, then increasing intelligence despite its reproductive disadvantage would be dysgenic. Decreasing intelligence would be natural selection at work. Nature didn't set us on a path to become ever smarter, and there is nothing inherently good about higher intelligence. That is the human conceit - and especially the conceit of more intelligent humans.

It is not true that there is nothing good about intelligence; rather it is that evolution makes no claim about good or evil of traits, only about survival of genes. Intelligence may or may not help, or even hinder, producing offspring. Evolution doesn't care. (To clarify your point, I'm sure you generally agree)

Yes, I only mean to claim that evolution doesn't tell us there is something inherently good about intelligence. I think implicit in a lot of discussion on this topic is a faith in there being a "right" direction for humanity to go in, that it is towards greater intelligence, and that this is somehow a naturally discoverable truth about existence.

I think of intelligence as being "good," in the sense of being what makes our existence interesting. It is also "bad," in that the haphazard way intelligence developed leaves us longing for the impossible: an eternal but impermanent existence (though this is also arguably "good", as it also makes life interesting and is an inherent part of being human). And even in its "good" sense, I think it is good up to a point. "Idiocracy" seems like a depressing world where essential aspects of the human experience are missing, but so does a society of genetically-engineered super geniuses.

Yeah, even in trying not to be sloppy with language I'm still sloppy. Intelligence is not inherently Good either, it merely makes a good man better- and a bad man worse. Like strength, charm, or a gun, and unlike Honesty, Mercy, or Justice.

But this one time I saw a cartoon with an De/evolution Gun and that's exactly how science works (along with unlocking more than 10% of your brain). Worst pop science idea?

Moral value is a consequence of awareness which is a consequence of some kind of intelligence. Sam Harris makes this argument (much better than I) in attempting to derive objective good without a God, and I find it pretty compelling.

Don't think I can ever buy that there is an objective good. There might be some kind of underlying genetic-related limits on the range of moral views that can become a cultural norm, but even that I am not so sure of.

I think moral views are the product of random mutation (genetic and cultural) combined with selection pressures, favoring people who could act within a moral framework as a means of enabling greater cooperation within the tribe. I don't think that proves them to be objective in any way. To paraphrase Nietzsche: "Life is no argument. The conditions of life might include error."

But I am happy most people don't agree with me. A fully reletavist society with no belief in an objective "good" would probably not be a pleasant one to live in. I just ask to be free to think what I think and occasionally argue for it.

In contemporary discussions, "dysgenic" traits are those that are commonly thought socially undesirable, usually because they threaten advanced societies if they become too prevalent (low intelligence, for example). You're wide of the mark, in other words.

Fair enough. Guess I learned an older usage of the term at some point.

The current definition doesn't seem great though. Is there some different term for individually harmful traits accumulating, or is the same term used for those thought to be individually harmful and harmful at the society level?

#6: Maybe we should add a core sequence in cuteonometrics.

So awesome that Angrist and Plischke get an NBER working paper lamenting that more people haven't adopted their book.

#5 is excellent. And I agree with ale the good she says on the check-cashers. I have not the typical profile of a user, but I have used them from time to time (for example to cash a travel reimbursement check in Canadian dollars I got from a Canadian university after a talk), and I have used them for the same reasons the "unbanked" and "underbanked" of the paper use them: mainly, transparency. Each time it happened, I came to check-casher, asked what was their rate of change, their fee, obtained the information in half a minute, compared with the incomplete information I had obtained laboriously from my bank, and cashed my check. The service was great.

1. Scott Sumner: " One of the actresses (who won an award at Locarno) was sitting in the same row as me.) What if the 2 hour film is a giant mistake? Maybe all films should either be an hour (short stories) or 5 hours (novels)."

Films range from 80 minutes, usually comedies, to 2 1/2 hours and on rare occasion, 3 hours.

I've wished that more directors would make more short 30, 45 or 60 minute films and package them with another short in order to have two or three short films that could either have a similar genre like Creepshow (5 short films in 120 minutes), Cat's Eye ( 3 short films in 90 minutes) and Kurosawa made "Dreams" with 8 shorts in 120 minutes). They don't have to be Twilight Zone style. Those were in 1982, 1983 and 1990, respectively. Maybe this type went straight to TV.

#6.b is a nice addition to this area. But a major issue is the market structure. Tech is moving (if not already) towards an oligopolistic structure so an assumption of monoplistic competition seems to miss critical issues. Tech is about a few large firms dominating not many small firms.

See the recent settlement SV firms had to pay for their anti-poaching agreement.

I am impressed that there were books worth that much. Presumably they will be hard to sell on. There can't be many books worth a quarter of a million pounds and I bet that everyone knows each individual book that is worth that much by name. Anyone who buys a stolen one will want to sell it at some point.

The fact that they had virtually no security system means that the owners assumed no one would steal one.

Clearly they had inside knowledge. Does that mean they also have an Evil Silicon Valley Billionaire lined up to add to his underground lair's library? Who else would pay that much money for something they could only look at?

I would think they are better off stealing Canadian maple syrup.

"I would think they are better off stealing Canadian maple syrup."

If you're a go getter Evil Billionaire, there's no reason not to stock your Kiwi Bunker with plenty of rare books and high quality syrup.

Sure. But Abseiling. You don't get quality henchmen like that just anywhere.

#1 - "Arrival" sucks. Rest of recs OK.

2016 was a banner year for Korean films - The Wailing, The Handmaiden, Train to Busan, The Age of Shadows. Great stuff.

The Mermaid was typical of Stephen Chow's work in recent years - he is trying to straddle a very wide range of languages and humor styles, from his HK Cantonese roots (where he excels as no one else can) to the massive mainland (Mandarin) market. It's not easy to do - it sold well on the mainland but I've yet to meet someone in HK who liked it. His name barely sells anymore in HK, despite widespread borderline obsession with his 90s films. Not that it matters to him - you can make more money peddling crap to mainland China than you can selling classics to HK.

"The Coen brothers need to think about what made their early films so successful."
I suspect that, for many directors, a reason that the quality of filmmaking tapers off in their later films is that they are thinking too hard about what made their early films successful.

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