Month: February 2019
No, as I explain in my latest Bloomberg column, I do not think New York should have offered Amazon the tax break. Still, the polemical outrage over this proposed policy seems to me out of hand. It simply wasn’t that costly, unusual, or unfair. Here is one bit:
Consider, by way of illustration, entitlement and discretionary spending on the federal level. A program such as Social Security or Medicare is done entirely by formula, as it should be; large companies cannot lobby for higher payments or lower taxes for their workers. Much of discretionary spending, by contrast, is research grants and procurement contracts. One company or researcher wins, and the others do not. Furthermore, the government will usually offer different prices and terms, based on how much value it thinks the winning bidder can bring to the project. All of which is to say: Discretionary spending requires … government discretion.
Viewed in the context, critics of local development subsidies are also critics of government discretion. Or, to frame the issue in a duller way: They do not believe local governments should treat economic development as a procurement problem. That’s a defensible position, but it is not obviously correct.
Another analogy is with private shopping malls, which commonly charge much lower per-unit rents to anchor tenants, maybe even subsidizing them. That is based on the view that a famous retail chain or movie theater can help other businesses in the mall by attracting customers and burnishing the overall image of the place. When a local government offers tax incentives to relocating businesses, it is in a sense acting like a shopping mall, which treats tenant recruitment as a kind of procurement problem. Offering differential rewards to prospective tenants is standard practice.
And note this point about fixed assets:
When a large company is going to make a significant investment in an urban area, it is hoping for support in terms of infrastructure maintenance or improvement, and indeed it invests on that basis. The reality is that municipalities often have difficulty fulfilling their obligations anyway. (This also holds true, unfortunately, for even basic promises to ordinary citizens. Ridden the New York City subway lately?)
In other words, Amazon cannot walk away from NYC the way a street vendor can move to South Carolina and set up a barbecue shop. So they will be taxed harder ex post, if only in “in kind” terms, namely inferior services for the company and its employees. The lower tax rate upfront is in large part an offset to this expected time consistency problem.
By the way, Singapore, Singapore, Singapore. And I thank Garett Jones for the shopping malls point.
I will be doing a Conversation with him, no associated public event. So what should I ask him?
Here are previous MR entries on Knausgaard. Here is Knausgaard’s forthcoming book So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch.
From a reader:
I have really enjoyed your travel posts on various countries, and am currently planning a trip to India for the month of November. However, I have struggled to find much writing of yours on the country. Perhaps a post on tips/places/cities/culture is in order? It would be much appreciated.
I have only a few India tips, but I can recommend them very, very strongly. Here goes:
1. You can’t just walk around all day and deal with the pollution, the bad sidewalks, and dodging the traffic. This ain’t Paris. Plan accordingly.
2. When Alex set off to live in India, I said to him: “Alex, after a few weeks there, I want you to email me “the number.” The number is how many consecutive hours you can circulate in an Indian city without having to stop and resort to a comfortable version of the indoors.” You too will figure out pretty quickly what your number is, and it won’t take you a few weeks.
3. India is one of the very best and most memorable trips you can take. You should go repeatedly.
4. Every single part of India is interesting and worth visiting, as far as I can tell after five trips. That said, I find Bangalore quite over-visited relative to its level of interest.
5. My favorite places in India are Mumbai, Chennai, Rajasthan, and Kolkaata. Still, I could imagine a rational person with interests broadly similar to my own having a quite different list.
6. India has the best food in the world. It is not only permissible but indeed recommended to take all of your meals in fancy hotel restaurants. Do not eat the street food in India (and I eat it virtually everywhere else). It is also permissible to find two or three very good hotel restaurants — or even one — and simply run through their menus. You won’t be disappointed.
7. Invest in a very, very good hotel. It is affordable, and you will need it, and it will be a special memory all its own.
8. Being driven around in the Indian countryside is terrifying (and I have low standards here, I do this all the time in other non-rich countries). If it were safer, I would see many more parts of India. But it isn’t. So I don’t.
9. If you go during monsoon season, your trip will be quite memorable. I cannot say I recommend this (I don’t), but I am myself glad I did it once, in Goa, when monsoon season started early. I got a lot of work done.
10. Do not expect punctuality.
11. Most of the sights in India, including the very famous ones, are overrated. The main sight is India itself, and that is underrated.
12. “In religion, every Indian is a millionaire.”
I thank Yana and Dan Wang and Alex for discussions relevant to this post.
Here is my Bloomberg column on that topic, excerpt:
…rates of change are important. The Venezuelan figure of about 40 percent [govt. spending/gdp] is up from about 28 percent in 2000, a very rapid increase. By boosting government spending so quickly, the Venezuelan government was sending a message that the key to future riches is courting government favor, not starting new businesses.
Or consider exports, which for most developing economies play an especially critical role. They bring in foreign exchange, provide contacts to foreign markets, and force parts of the economy to learn how to compete with the very best foreign companies. Yet over 90 percent of Venezuela’s exports are oil, and those resources are owned and controlled by the government. For this all-important growth driver, Venezuela comes pretty close to full socialism — to its detriment.
…nationalizations under Chavez were numerous — encompassing much of the oil sector plus parts of the agriculture, transport, power, steel, telecommunications and finance industries. Even though many of those nationalizations were small in scale, the threat of further encroachments on private property rights discouraged investment and sent the wrong signal about where the nation was headed.
There is much more at the link, including a discussion of the all-important dimension of ideas. And here is the essential Kevin Grier on Venezuela.
2. On the I.N.F. missile control treaty (NYT).
7. “Aspiration, an online bank founded on the idea that customers should pay what they think is fair, is rolling out a new banking service where consumers can gain additional rewards for shopping at companies who carry out sustainable business practice.”
During the jury selection process, attorneys may request that a potential juror be stricken for cause, e.g. the juror is related to the defendant. Attorneys also have a limited number of peremptory challenges, typically between 3 and 20 depending on the state and the seriousness of the charges, which are essentially accepted without question. In Batson v. Kentucky the Supreme Court ruled that peremptory challenges may not be based solely on race but it’s widely acknowledged that Batson has no teeth because attorneys can easily come up with pretexts–which need not rise to the level of causes–to strike.
Next month the Supreme Court will revisit peremptory challenges and race. I don’t have strong opinions on the issue, although a small number of peremptory challenges seem fine to me, if only to keep the system moving and reduce the time and resources spent on jury selection. One reason I don’t have strong opinions is that I don’t think peremptory challenges are as biased as a NYTimes article seems to suggests.The NYTimes article, for example, never mentions that defendants also get peremptory challenges! A second more subtle reason is that diversity of the jury pool constrains the jury even when there are no minorities on the jury. Here, from an earlier post, I comment on the findings of The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials:
What the authors discover is that all white juries are 16% more likely to convict black defendants than white defendants but the presence of just a single black person in the jury pool equalizes conviction rates by race. The effect is large and remarkably it occurs even when the black person is not picked for the jury. The latter may not seem possible but the authors develop an elegant model of voir dire that shows how using up a veto on a black member of the pool shifts the characteristics of remaining pool members from which the lawyers must pick; that is, a diverse jury pool can make for a more “ideologically” balanced jury even when the jury is not racially balanced.
Thus, diversity of the jury pool may be as important as diversity of the jury–in a way that’s fortunate since it’s easier to make the jury pool diverse (as we have done with required randomization) than the jury. Instead of eliminating peremptory challenges, I’d raise their cost. For example, suppose that both sides get 3 “free” peremptory challenges but if they wanted one more they would have to give two to the opposing side.
Addendum: Justice Kavanaugh has written in favor of restricting peremptory challenges.
Haiti’s tourism sector is up in arms over recent travel warnings from the U.S., Canada and France that have led to at least one booking company — Expedia — blacklisting the country’s two international airports and hotels as illegal.
People seeking to book flights and hotel rooms on Expedia and subsidiaries Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire and CheapTickets are being blocked from doing so following violent protests that erupted on Feb. 7. Though Haitians were shuttered in for more than a week, with schools and businesses closed, international carriers like American, Spirit and JetBlue kept flying.
But Expedia didn’t seem to care…
The block, said an Expedia spokesperson, is linked to the State Department Level Four travel warning.
“Once governmental advice reaches a certain level of travel concern, we take action to close off destinations on our sites,” said Philip Minardi, director of communications for the Expedia Group. The block will remain in effect until the advisory lifts, he said.
Here is the full story, I find this troubling. On top of everything else, State Department Level warnings are inefficiently sticky.
I can’t say this is a good movie. It has a nonsensical plot (you really can’t get that far from the sun…cold is not the only problem!), unmemorable characters, and mediocre dialog. Still, it is interesting. You see two hours of the Chinese building all sorts of big infrastructure, and imagining their future as world leader. They show Shanghai in ruins, for the first time ever in a Chinese movie. You see that even Chinese directors have been influenced by the 1969 Hollywood movie Marooned, a sign that Chinese world leadership is a bit further away than they may like to think. On the brighter side, it has many more striking visual shots than you would find in almost any Hollywood movie today. It is one of the biggest grossing films in Chinese history.
The movie is basically a retelling of some of the earlier parts of Genesis. The Chinese do in fact succeed in building the Tower of Babel, both physically and linguistically. They survive that which is analogous to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They thwart the Noah’s Ark plan, reject the notion of their own intrinsic sinfulness, and save the remainder of humanity. It is the Chinese Christ figure who sacrifices himself to achieve the happy ending, thereby overturning what might be understood to be the will of God. By the end of the movie the Chinese can indeed “do anything.”
How’s that for thinking big?
The main reason Amazon as a corporate entity does not pay much in taxes is because the company so vigorously reinvests its profit. The resulting expensing provisions lower their tax liabilities, in some cases down to zero or near-zero. That is in fact the kind of incentive our tax system is supposed to create, and does so only imperfectly, noting that many economists have suggested moving to full expensing.
(NB: You can’t hate both share buybacks and profit reinvestment!)
Amazon pays plenty in terms of payroll taxes and also state and local taxes. Nor should you forget the taxes paid by Amazon’s employees on their wages. Not only is that direct revenue to various levels of government, but the incidence of those taxes falls somewhat on Amazon, which now must pay higher wages to offset the tax burden faced by their employees. Not everyone wants to live in NYC or Queens! (Do you agree with Paul Krugman’s charge that the Trump tax cuts are mainly a giveaway to capital? If so, you probably also should believe that the wage taxes paid by Amazon employees fall largely on capital.)
There is no $3 billion that NYC gets to keep if Amazon does not show up. That “money” was a pledged reduction in Amazon’s future tax burden at the state and local level.
When it comes to the discussion surrounding Amazon and taxes, I can only sigh…
Robert Wiblin of 80,000 hours has an excellent podcast with Glen Weyl on Radical institutional reforms that make capitalism & democracy work better. Weyl’s diagnosis of the problems of capitalism and democracy strike me as wrongheaded but on the other hand his solutions are interesting.and original. Wiblin does a good job of gently but decisively pushing back in places, e.g. in the discussion of high modernism.
RadicalXChange is hosting a big conference March 22-24 in Detroit. In addition to Weyl, speakers include Vitalik Buterin, Margaret Levi and Zooko Wilcox among others. I will be talking about open borders and also about city development on a panel with Devon Zuegel, Mwiya Musokotwane and Mark Lutter.
In the late nineteenth century Britain had almost no mandatory shareholder protections, but had very developed financial markets. We argue that private contracting between shareholders and corporations meant that the absence of statutory protections was immaterial. Using approximately 500 articles of association from before 1900, we code the protections offered to shareholders in these private contracts. We find that firms voluntarily offered shareholders many of the protections that were subsequently included in statutory corporate law. We also find that companies offering better protection to shareholders had less concentrated ownership.
Acheson, Campbell and Turner writing in the Review of Financial Studies. Interesting implications for the US system of competitive federalism in corporate law.
Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.
Academic jobs are notorious for long, convoluted hiring processes, but becoming a school bus driver, at least in the county where I work, isn’t much easier. For an academic position, applicants submit a dossier (often packed with repetitive material), survive a screening interview (with a committee larded by ulterior motives), and visit the prospective employer for at least a day, during which they’ll be tested and measured by dozens of gatekeepers, before negotiating a complex employment package and earning the governing board’s rubber stamp, all of which can take over a year. Aspiring drivers attend an orientation, watch dozens of online videos, solicit moral references, pass a physical (including a drug screening), get a commercial learner’s permit (a laborious process that requires extensive testing and hours at the DMV), finish classroom and road training (at least 200 hours), sit for various written exams (failure of a single exam can mean removal from the program), complete a half-day CDL test (which includes a daunting pre-trip bus check), and undertake at least two weeks of on-the-job training before showing up at the intake office to request a route that probably isn’t available. Trainees are paid once they reach the classroom. I finished everything in about six months.
That is from Steve Salaita, who was forced to leave academia after several times making inappropriate remarks. Here is another bit from the same essay:
You hear ex-professors say it all the time and I’ll add to the chorus: despite nagging precariousness, there’s something profoundly liberating about leaving academe, whereupon you are no longer obliged to give a shit about fashionable thinkers, network at the planet’s most boring parties, or quantify self-worth for scurrilous committees (and whereupon you are free to ignore the latest same-old controversy), for even when you know at the time that the place is toxic, only after you exit (spiritually, not physically) and write an essay or read a novel or complete some other task without considering its relevance to the fascist gods of assessment, or its irrelevance to a gang of cynical senior colleagues, do you realize exactly how insidious and pervasive is the industry’s culture of social control.
Wordy at times, but mostly interesting throughout.
2. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, movements in the outflow rate account for most of the variation of the labor force participation rate: the LFPR increases in tight labor markets because fewer workers leave the labor force, not because more nonparticipants enter.” Link here.
3. “Yes, and the best part of it is that most of my studies were actually in philosophy, and I never put that on my CV—that I have a degree in philosophy—at all.” Norway’s sovereign wealth fund manager.
4. How Steph Curry learned how to shoot. An excellent look at how many dimensions of training are required for excellence. And pulling data from Reddit threads about NBA players, including about discrimination.
From Cui, Li and Zhang:
We conduct four randomized field experiments among 1,801 hosts on Airbnb by creating fictitious guest accounts and sending accommodation requests to them. We find that requests from guests with African American-sounding names are 19.2 percentage points less likely to be accepted than those with white-sounding names. However, a positive review posted on a guest’s page significantly reduces discrimination: When guest accounts receive a positive review, the acceptance rates of guest accounts with white-sounding and African American-sounding names are statistically indistinguishable.
In other words, taste based discrimination is weak but statistical discrimination is common. Statistical discrimination happens when legitimate demands for trust are frustrated by too little information. Statistical discrimination is a second-best solution to a problem of trust that both owners/sellers/employers and renters/buyers/workers want to solve. Unfortunately, many people try to solve statistical discrimination problems as if they were problems of invidious prejudice.
If you think the problem is invidious prejudice, it’s natural to try to punish and prevent with penalties and bans. Information bans and penalties, however, often have negative and unintended consequences. Airbnb, for example, chose to hide guest photos until after the booking. But this doesn’t address the real demands of owners for trust. As a result, owners may start to discriminate based on other cues such as names. Instead market designers and regulators should approach issues of discrimination by looking for ways to increase mutually profitable exchanges. From this perspective, providing more information is often the better approach. As Cui, Li, and Zhang write in a HBR op-ed:
Our recommendation is for the platform companies to build a credible, easy-to-use online reputation and communication system. Bringing information to light, rather than trying to hide it from users, is more likely to be a successful approach to tackling discrimination in the sharing economy.
Addendum: See also Tyler and I in The End of Asymmetric Information. We need to work with information abundance rather than try to push against the tide.