Month: December 2018
1. “What does Adam Smith’s moral philosophy owe to the literary discourse of his time?” A Berkeley dissertation by Shannon Frances Chamberlain, #GulliversTravels.
2. “OK, that’s the essentials I think. Happy new year, everyone!” A fiction reading list from 2018 by Jenny Davidson.
4. The labor market really is strong: “Here’s a help wanted ad for you: Hard-working, career-oriented cats being sought by the Ontario SPCA for a new program that aims to match unsocialized strays with farms, warehouses and breweries where they can work as mousers.”
It’s well known that to boost their sales, sellers sometimes post fake 5-star reviews on Amazon. Amazon tries to police such actions by searching out and banning sites with fake reviews. An unintended consequence is that some sellers now post fake 5-star reviews on their competitor’s site.
The Verge: As Amazon has escalated its war on fake reviews, sellers have realized that the most effective tactic is not buying them for yourself, but buying them for your competitors — the more obviously fraudulent the better. A handful of glowing testimonials, preferably in broken English about unrelated products and written by a known review purveyor on Fiverr, can not only take out a competitor and allow you to move up a slot in Amazon’s search results, it can land your rival in the bewildering morass of Amazon’s suspension system.
…There are more subtle methods of sabotage as well. Sellers will sometimes buy Google ads for their competitors for unrelated products — say, a dog food ad linking to a shampoo listing — so that Amazon’s algorithm sees the rate of clicks converting to sales drop and automatically demotes their product.
What does a seller do when they are banned from Amazon? Appeal to the Amazon legal system and for that you need an Amazon lawyer.
The appeals process is so confounding that it’s given rise to an entire industry of consultants like Stine. Chris McCabe, a former Amazon employee, set up shop in 2014. CJ Rosenbaum, an attorney in Long Beach, New York, now bills himself as the “Amazon sellers lawyer,” with an “Amazon Law Library” featuring Amazon Law, vol. 1 ($95 on Amazon). Stine’s company deals with about 100 suspensions a month and charges $2,500 per appeal ($5,000 if you want an expedited one), which is in line with industry norms. It’s a price many are willing to pay. “It can be life or death for people,” McCabe says. “If they don’t get their Amazon account back, they might be insolvent, laying off 10, 12, 14 people, maybe more. I’ve had people begging me for help. I’ve had people at their wits’ end. I’ve had people crying.”
Amazon is a marketplace that is now having to create a legal system to govern issues of fraud, trademark, and sabotage and also what is in effect new types of intellectual property such as Amazon brand registry. Marketplaces have always been places of private law and governance but there has never before been a marketplace with Amazon’s scale and market power. It’s an open question how well private law will develop in this regime.
I am not so sure, but Dawei Fang and Thomas Noe say yes:
Uncompetitive contests for grades, promotions, and job assignments, which feature lax standards or consider only limited talent pools, are often criticized for being unmeritocratic. We show that, when contestants are strategic, lax standards and exclusivity can make selection more meritocratic. Strategic contestants take more risks in more competitive contests. Risk taking reduces the correlation between selection and ability. By reducing the noise engendered by strategic risk taking, dialing down competition can produce outcomes that better conform with the meritocratic ideal of selecting the best and only the best.
We estimate the effect of skilled migration on educational investment in the country of origin by exploiting the aggressive nurse recruitment policies and subsequent visa restrictions employed by the United States in the 2000s. Using a new administrative dataset combining the universe of permanent migrant departures from the Philippines with the universe of institution-level post-secondary enrollment and graduation, we show that enrollment and graduation in nursing programs increased in response to demand from abroad for nurses. For each new nurse that moved abroad, approximately two more individuals with nursing degrees graduated. The supply of nursing programs increased to accommodate this. New nurses appear to have switched from other degree types. Nurse migration had no impact on either infant or maternal mortality.
4. David Brooks’s Sidney Awards, Part II (NYT).
Supply chain problems in Africa are quite complex, with most of them stemming from the sheer size of the continent. Africa’s land mass is greater than the USA, Europe, and China combined. Within this huge space there are 54 unique markets, few of which provide scale or adequate distribution infrastructure. Further complicating matters, there are over 2,000 languages spoken and very diverse cultural dynamics from one market to the next.
That is from an article by Chuma Asuzu, the piece is interesting throughout, most of all for infrastructure supply chain nerds. I so, so wish there were more articles like this.
For the pointer I thank Omar Mohamed. Omar also recommends this site on manufacturing.
In a nation where people lead ever more busy lives and increasingly view their dogs as family members, professional dog walking is flourishing. And along with it is what might be viewed as the unusual art of dog walker communication. Many of today’s walkers do not simply stroll — not if they want to be rehired, anyway. Over text and email, they craft fine-grained, delightful narratives tracing the journey from arrival at the residence to drop-off. They report the number of bathroom stops. They take artistic photos, and lots of them.
“For an hour-long walk, I send six or eight, depending,” said Griffin, 44, who holds a treat in her hand when shooting to ensure her charge is looking at the camera. “Then I give a full report that includes not only peeing and pooping but also kind of general well-being, and if the dog socialized with other dogs.”
After walking a dog named Stevie Nicks earlier this year, Griffin’s blow-by-blow mentioned that the dog had collected a chicken bone from under a bush, then “crunched down on it and broke into 3 pieces.” At the end of another walk, Griffin related that she “picked the foxtails out of her little beard and mustache,” and explained precisely where the foxtails had come from — “the fence around the yard at the corner.”
Dog walkers’ notes are often more exhaustive than those parents get from the caregivers of their human children.
The article is interesting throughout:
“Ongoing, two-way communication is actually one of the most important components to a successful walk,” White said. “What we’ve heard from owners is the more details, the better. You can’t have too many details.”…
“All of our dog walkers have been really good communicators, but Perry wins the prize,” said Tucci, a nonprofit executive. His texts “are really are more logistical and poop-oriented than anything else. But they’re always so enthusiastic.”
I interview Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, not a Conversation but nonetheless a conversation, they were both in top form. Here is the link.
1. The next generation of Indian intellectuals? Is the list maybe a bit too high-falutin’?
3. “Libraries are incredibly risk averse…” And this bit: “We will err very much on this side of caution. We would rather not gather the information in the first place, then run the risk of holding it and losing it. And we do have to have information. With one exception, we get rid of it the moment we can. The only one exception is fines information.”
5. More skepticism about carbon taxes, from Justin Gillis (NYT).
6. Scott Sumner on how to teach economics (recommended, there is much truth and wisdom in this post).
The US economy has undergone a number of puzzling changes in recent decades. Large firms now account for a greater share of economic activity, new firms are being created at a slower rate, and workers are getting paid a smaller share of GDP. This paper shows that changes in population growth provide a unified quantitative explanation for these long-term changes. The mechanism goes through firm entry rates. A decrease in population growth lowers firm entry rates, shifting the firm-age distribution towards older firms. Heterogeneity across firm age groups combined with an aging firm distribution replicates the observed trends. Micro data show that an aging firm distribution fully explains i) the concentration of employment in large firms, ii) and trends in average firm size and exit rates, key determinants of the firm entry rate. An aging firm distribution also explains the decline in labor’s share of GDP. In our model, older firms have lower labor shares because of lower overhead labor to employment ratios. Consistent with our mechanism, we find that the ratio of nonproduction workers to total employment has declined in the US.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the final bit but not the main argument:
So what then to do? The first and most important step is for Americans to realize they have been creating and sanctioning a moral horror, and to treat it as a major political issue. Step No. 2 is to modify the career incentives for prosecutors to seek out ever tougher sentences. Step No. 3 is to experiment with more electronic monitoring of criminals, and to see if that can limit the number of people behind bars. Step No. 4 is to frame prison reform in more straightforward economic terms. It is not only about guaranteeing rights on paper. It’s also about designing the economic incentives for prisons to create secure and orderly environments. That has hardly been the focus of current systems. Finally — and this idea is broader in scope — the decriminalization of additional offenses should also be considered.
I realize these are complex issues, and potential remedies require far more consideration than I can give them here. But if you think America’s current penal system is the very best we can do, that is about the most pessimistic verdict on this country I have ever heard. Has anyone ever suggested that the American prison system is the world’s best? The can-do attitude is one of my favorite features of American life. We just need to apply it a little more broadly.
Can I simply say “I am right”?
2. Bhaven N. Sampat long NBER survey paper on evidence on patents and copyright. I won’t get to read this soon, but it looks very useful.
3. “When young sailors need a minor course correction, he said, instead of ordering a spell in the brig, he often orders them to write reports on works by authors like Patrick Henry or Ayn Rand.” (NYT)
5. Why is Serbia a nation but Karnataka not? Recommended.
NYTimes: Any creative illustration “fixed in a tangible medium” is eligible for copyright, and, according to the United States Copyright Office, that includes the ink displayed on someone’s skin. What many people don’t realize, legal experts said, is that the copyright is inherently owned by the tattoo artist, not the person with the tattoos.
Some tattoo artists have sold their rights to firms which are now suing video game producers who depict the tattoos on the players likenesses:
The company Solid Oak Sketches obtained the copyrights for five tattoos on three basketball players — including the portrait and area code on Mr. James — before suing in 2016 because they were used in the NBA 2K series.
…Before filing its lawsuit, Solid Oak sought $819,500 for past infringement and proposed a $1.14 million deal for future use of the tattoos.
To avoid this shakedown, players are now being told to get licenses from artists before getting tattooed.
A meal naturally brings people together, but does the way a meal is served and consumed further matter for cooperation between people? This research (n = 1476) yielded evidence that it does. People eating from shared plates (i.e., Chinese style meal) cooperated more in social dilemmas and negotiations than those eating from separate plates. Specifically, sharing food from a single plate increased perceived coordination among diners, which in turn led them to behave more cooperatively and less competitively toward each other compared with individuals eating the same food from separate plates. The effect of sharing a plate on cooperation occurred among strangers, which suggests that sharing plates can bring together not only allies, but strangers as well.
That is the abstract from a piece by Kaitlin Woolley of Cornell, via the estimable Chug, with whom I have shared meals.