Sunday assorted links

1. Stuart Whatley reviews Stubborn Attachments.

2. Ungated version of my growth-raters vs. base-raters column.

3. The economics of buffets.

4. 2009 study: “”Do voters effectively hold elected officials accountable for policy decisions? Using data on natural disasters, government spending, and election returns, we show that voters reward the incumbent presidential party for delivering disaster relief spending, but not for investing in disaster preparedness spending.”

5. Chinese birth rates coming in lower than expected.

6. How to get money to people fast (it isn’t the bridges).


#4 is yet more evidence that democracy doesn't work.

Would you like to propose an alternative system? Every other one tried seems to have ended up in totalitarianism.

Singapore-style "managed" democracy.

6. $500 isn't going to do it, not for the roughly 50% of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck and may be out of work for many weeks, some out of work due to the virus but a far larger number out of work because of business closures. $500 per person per week, perhaps, but not a one-time $500 helicopter drop.

$500 is enough for food, and things like rent or utilities can just be left to forgiveness later.

I presume the utilities would not turn anyone off in a quarantine situation.

The FICA tax cut is automatic when the majority of workers get sick or they are laid off due to business shutdowns.

The free market delivers big tax cuts to millions of workers by cutting or eliminating their wage incomes every year.

Since Reagan, this is the preferred way to "put more money in consumer pockets".

Something Bernie! hasn't yet dreamt up: food stamps for all.

Others have suggested a tax holiday. I think that would include income and FICA tax withholdings, sales tax, real estate taxes.

I heard reports that Hong Kong has given $1,200 to each citizens (or household?).

The typical family doesn't have saved money for an emergency. Recommended keep $1,000 cash in house and six months expenses. But, who can do that?

Some 'preppers' also have state-of-the-art water filtration equipment. I believe our LDS brothers and sisters are taught to keep six months food on hand.

Is it a mistake to believe the government can 'provide' for us?

But the GOP has been promising since Reagan to "put more money in your pockets" while delivering lots more free stuff!

The "free" in free market obviously means free stuff to conservatives, and since Clinton, progressives have been in total agreement.

Trump is merely the ultimate conservative in stating poudly and clearly GOP promises. Great, free, universal medical care, for example.

You will not find a single Republican or conservative who will state clearly they want huge shares of those born to be in poverty, sick, dying, homeless, hungry, in fear, whether in the US or globally.

Only the "unborn" get "life saving" aid from conservatives, but only if the "mother" doesn't die first, which they won't prevent because of too high costs. Once born, kid, you are on your own.

I'm heartless. I don't feel your pain.

Whenever I think of DJT or read a tweet, I feel this thrill running up my leg.

Keeping $1000 in your house is $1000 that's vulnerable to theft or fire, and insurers generally do not accept claims for lost cash. If there's a hurricane on the way maybe get some cash from an ATM but it's not a good idea to keep large amounts of cash anywhere except a bank.

6. Too old world. The Fed directly grants every domestic Amazon account (existing 3/1/2020) five hundred dollars. Done.

Amazon probably has the chops to match accounts to SSN, remove dupes, use the most recently active. Send a text and email.

82% of households have a Prime membership, presumably the percentage with non-Prime puts you into the 90s.

Why would you use Amazon, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Amazon doesn’t cover everyone, they could raise prices to make it irrelevant, you’re granting a monopoly for no reason...

I named a solution that easily reaches 80 to 90% of households.

Feel free to name an alternative that as easily reaches more. You could mail debit cards to every taxpayers last address, but that is not 100% reach either. The most vulnerable groups fell below tax reporting thresholds.

It would be sad if this government couldn't do it simply because Trump hates Bezos.

Even if it were a good idea, the real problem is that Democrats also hate greedy billionaires like Bezos and Amazon (the poster child of monopoly and "surveillance capitalism") and would oppose it for being corporate welfare (unless they also got to expropriate...err...socialize ownership of Amazon).

“They called me mad. They called me insane. They called me looney. They were right!”

Uh, the obvious answer would be to simply deposit cash into banking accounts instead of some weird Amazon scheme...

93.5% of households have bank accounts.....the remainder are already on public assistance, in prison, vagrants, or illegal immigrants who aren’t eligible anyways.

At one point I had concurrent personal accounts at 6 banks. It's nontrivial how you convert that into a 1:1 dispersal. And certainly it is a lot more players.

The IRS would have to reprocess 1099s into a 1:1 list and then contact some thousands of institutions.

But sure it's possible.


Each bank account is tied to a Social Security Number.....

You could literally program it to hit the first savings account activated on the list.....

You don’t need to contact institutions at all. Come on dude you’re not this stupid.

You'll just shoot money to closed and obsolete accounts?

#3 This is why you can't just "soak the rich."

3. From the link: "By 2030, the National Restaurant Association projects that 80% of all restaurant items will be eaten at home — a trend that buffets can’t effectively capitalize on." This trend, I suspect, is attributable to more than the proliferation of food delivery apps (the reason indicated at the link), rather bowling alone: more people living alone, unmarried and unattached. If pandemics are our future, not really a bad choice. As for buffets, the link indicates that one of the tricks is to put the inexpensive, filling dishes at the beginning of the buffet line: "75% of buffet customers select whatever food is in the first tray — and 66% of all the food they consume comes from the first 3 trays." So it's true: fatty see food, fatty eat food. My question: what percentage of Trump followers eat at buffets?

The secret to winning at the buffet is Roman-feast style emesis in the bathroom followed by thorough dental hygiene.

"By 2030, the National Restaurant Association projects that 80% of all restaurant items will be eaten at home — a trend that buffets can’t effectively capitalize on."

That seems high to me, but i admittedly don't observe the stay-at-home customers, I only see the ones eating at restaurants.

And they may be diminishing? My neighborhood is seeing a boom in construction of high density housing -- and at the same time close to a dozen restaurants have closed in the last year or two, with nothing replacing them.

At first I thought this was due to landlords raising rents, so they either get market rate from their tenant restaurants, or replace them with a tenant who will pay that rate. And then I wondered if there's been a hidden recession coming (seems unlikely, the region's economic stats have been good, better than the country's average). Or maybe it is due to the changing customer patterns that the National Restaurant Association foresees. (They seem to never use their natural acronym, for obvious reasons.)

In theory, customers who eat at home are still patronizing the restaurant. But recent years have seen the growth of "ghost restaurants": restaurants that deliver food to you, but that do not really exist as a standalone restaurant. Instead they simply make food for the home delivery market.

3. Right now I prefer three square meals a day, rather than one huge one. That said, if I do end up at a restaurant buffet, I tend to go scan everything before I begin. Oh, that presumes random access, rather than one of those guardrail feedlot operations.

As a college student I was much more fascinated by how much I could stack at Mongolian BBQ. An a la carte bowl stacked 2 ft high was big bang for the buck.

(The trick was to go with bean sprouts first, because they build a platform wider than the bowl itself.)

Now THIS ^ is world class trolling.

Yes, he’s a former Republican Boomer (who pulled the lever for Reagan!) in his 70s that was eating Mongolian BBQ in SoCal in the mid 1960s and working as a programmer in BioTech in the 70s using programming languages not invented until the 90s and 00s.

Sounds about right

Anyone doing realtime in the 70s used assembler. Languages? Kids these days have it too easy.

Not that the timeframe is accurate, but rolling with it as if I were this guy:

You’re a LARPer, it’s obvious, and no one cares.

It’s the internet. Your arguments stand or fall on their own, based on coherent logic.

Don’t use your fake identity to argue from authority, that’s so lame it’s almost Gen X.

#4 __ Voting effect on specific officials' policy actions

this old "study" is merely speculation; the supposed evidence in no way factually demonstrates the study conclusions.

it's most likely impossible to trace such causal connections between vote counts and particular actions by particular government officials -- way too many complex variables to even rationally attempy such a study.

But the objective was to publish 'something' that at least superficially appears to be professional research.

How about not wasting still another crisis? With interest rates at a negative real level, it's astonishingly cheap and easy to move forward with infrastructure spending, specifically on the replacement of carbon power with clean power, that would pay for itself over time. Let's do it.

Paying for the interest on money borrowed for infrastructure isn't the whole of the expense, there is, after all, the money itself which must be repaid. Is this an example of Sanders' economics?

San Antonio had a recently-returned Wuhan lady in quarantine, tested her twice, negative, then let her go; she apparently went straight to the food court at the mall for a few hours, then they re-eaxamined her test and found it was weakly positive, and then they extracted her from a Holiday Inn at two in the morning.

But I don't think there are any hard feelings: San Antonians responded with a host of good-natured, virus-inspired viral memes.

2) Base-raters are prevalent in Texas and that's a problem, because testing - such as it currently is - ended up hitched to uncertainties like only being sick enough to go into a hospital. One of the worst parts is that instead of creating a knowable cash price for the test, so people could save the money needed, government money for tests was instead transferred to the unknowables of Medicare and private insurance. Seriously, is this a good time for certain individuals to get rich on hidden provider costs? Yet there are millions in Texas who pay for medical care with cash, such as myself. Even though I am 65 and can self quarantine if needed, other uninsureds not only need to keep working, many of these individuals work in services which keep them in constant exposure to the public. Already community spread has begun in Houston from hospital workers who could not get tests. And living in rural coastal counties here is absolutely no protection, because people still go to the coast to fish this time of year in the same spots, so informal public gatherings from many different population densities continue mixing together. All of which makes it impossible for me to stock wisely and take precautions, when someone in my own family who is nearly 100, is fishing at the coast as I type these words. If anything, the most vulnerable people in Texas tend to be the older ones who are simply not concerned. I am afraid Texas is going to be one of the worst examples of this situation.

5: Has their *ever* been a totalitarian atheist country with a strong birth rate? The citizens won't do it for their country, and they won't do it for their god, either.

How about China during The Great Cultural Revolution? There were the big government induced famines followed by a period with ample food and serious political repression. I gather China's population took off. (You can argue the atheism, but you didn't want to get caught practicing any religious ritual during that era. Screwing was OK.)

North Vietnam.

The review suffers from the same defect as SA, does; it overemphasizes the trade-offs between Growth+ and redistribution.

Then again, many non-buffet restaurants have been serving such large portions lately that they might be a better value for gourmands, especially those who'd prefer to take some food home rather than be faced with the "use it now or lose it forever" proposition offered by the all-you-can-eat buffet?

For portions in popular-price restaurants do seem to be getting larger. And perhaps that makes sense, as customers' sense of value is likely to be focused on the food that is served relative to its price, even though practically all restaurants spend more on non-food expenses than they spend on food.

And, some buffets are not-quite-all-you-can-eat in that they have portion control over the costlier items. For example, there might be someone slicing that prime rib and enforcing a "one serving of prime rib per customer" policy.

Although I think they'd do better to install claw machines, and require customers use them to snag the expensive stuff.

Demographic cycles should not affect trends in p.c. consumption if each cohorts's savings are adequate and well invested.

#4 Odd if it is the expenditure rather than the effectiveness of the relief which in turn depends on the state of preparedness.

I loved this review. Obsessed with growth, maximisation and rationality, it demonstrates how shallow economists usually are with respect to the human condition.

5. China is a big chunk of the world's population and with India closing in on replacement fertility rate it looks like world population is on track to come in below their medium forecast of close to 10 billion in 2050. I'm inclined to think it will be on the low side.

5) Demographics is an inexact science. In the 1940s there were all sorts of arguments that there would be a post-war baby bust based on trends in the 1920s and 1930s. We all know what actually happened.

1) I haven't read Stubborn Attachments, but I'm wondering how good an assessment of the book it is. The review implies that it views growth as an end in itself with its own moral weight rather than treating growth as a means to better societal outcomes.

#5 The future belongs to Africa.

#6 I know Claudia reads this blog, so she knows something of monetary policy. Why is anyone talking about tax reductions when interest rates are well above zero? You can’t say something has failed when you have not even tried it. Plus I am pretty sure a commitment to grow ngdp by 5% coupled with infinite QE world work better. Tax cuts create debt, QE creates assets.

On #5. It's not entirely impossible that 100 years from now, the US will have overtaken China in total population:

It seems very common for people outside a business to portray themselves as being able to plumb the intracacies of said business. My family has owned restaurants going back to 1952, in different states and different towns. Anybody who believes that a person would own a business where the profit was only 1% is misguided and anyone who would own such a business is a fool. The profit margin for a business owner is he or she's income and it's obvious that 1% profit is too much work for too little money. Example. A restaurant takes in $5000 a day, at 1%, the owner is making $50.00. They would be smarter to get a minimum wage paying job. The last restaurant I owned made a profit of 40% at the best of times and more than 25% at the worst of times. The profit margins on other businesses I've owned were 50% to 85%.

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