File sharing helps some music labels

No, I am not one of those people who thinks you can fund an entire music industry through the sale of T-shirts. But file-sharing appears to have been a boon for some indepedent labels, which otherwise have a hard time getting their music to customers. Here is a money quote:

Today he [Mr. Egan] says – seemingly counterintuitively – his label simply would not exist without file-sharing services like Napster and its successors KaZaA and Morpheus.

Even as the major labels of the music industry pursue file traders for copyright infringement through lawsuits and the court of public opinion, Vagrant and many other independent label owners cheer them on. File sharing, these owners say, helps their small companies compete against conglomerates with deeper pockets for advertising and greater access to radio programmers.

“Our music, by and large, when kids listen to it, they share it with their friends,” Mr. Egan said. “Then they go buy the record; they take ownership of it.”

The New York Times offers the full account (registration required).

Smuggling amongst the Amish

“A smuggling ring operated for several months in Ohio’s largest Amish community, transporting hundreds of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, investigators said.” So notes Cnn.com. It says something about the power of good institutions that it still makes economic sense to smuggle workers into a community that limits its use of modern technology.

One man’s vice…

Here is a new blog devoted to the economics of public policy for the vices, namely the regulation of drugs, gambling, and prostitution, see vicesquad.blogspot.com. I am reading a bit in here, but overall the perspective rings sympathetic toward various methods of legalization or decriminalization. Click here if you wish to read about the attempt of Los Angeles to ban lap dancing.

Here is the blogmeister’s self-description: “My name is Jim Leitzel and I am an economist and co-chair of the public policy concentration in the undergraduate college at the University of Chicago. For the past five years I have taught a course on vice policy, and I have recently started to write a secondary text for the class.”

Thanks for Peter Boettke for the pointer.

The new Robert Putnam book

Robert Putnam has a new book out, with Lewis Feldstein, Better Together: Restoring the American Community. I started writing a short review of it, which ended up morphing into a look at Putnam’s oeuvre more generally, most of all his renowned Bowling Alone. The bottom line: I admire the quality of Putnam’s work, but am not convinced by his arguments that “bowling alone” is a growing problem. Click here to read my piece.

Herd behavior and dominant strategies for mice

Mice, taken collectively, are not very good at escaping from a crowded room. They act pretty much as humans do, namely they all crowd toward the door and few get out very quickly. Each individual mouse appears to make a rational calculation of a sort. The mice do best, and adopt some form of queuing behavior, when the door is large enough to let only one mouse through at a time. Researchers suggest that humans may exit a crowded more quickly, the smaller the door, which limits the crush toward the exit. For more information read this article from New Scientist.

Is love predictable?

The advent of Internet dating has led rapidly to a search for better matching results, as detailed by a recent story. After all, reductionists may wonder just how many dimensions the problem can have. Consider the following:

[Researchers] decided to employ computer technology to find a few “simple, logical rules” that make up, well, the recipe for love. For help on the technical side, they turned to Michael Georgeff, director of the Australian Artificial Intelligence Institute. During his work on a NASA project at Stanford Research Institute, Georgeff had developed a methodology to teach Space Shuttle Discovery computers how to anticipate unexpected problems. Working with Thompson and Hutchinson, he applied the same principles to the design of dating software, employing many of the statistical methods common to social science research. “Say you score a 3 on the introvert scale, and a 6 on touchy-feely. Will you tend to like somebody who’s practical?” Using Georgeff’s software, Thompson and Hutchinson then developed an online quiz. Match.com, the highly popular online dating site, began using weAttract.com’s software this year to give users a rough sense of what proportion of the dating population might be attracted to their particular array of personality traits.

The new algorithms are designed to measure not only initial attraction, but also how well the would-be couple can live in harmony. Ten thousand people a day are signing up for eharmony.com, which also tries to do some simple lie-detecting. According to some accounts 30 percent of on-line daters are in fact married, and often lying about that fact.

Meredith Hanrahan, at Matchmaker.com, invokes a market metaphor:

If you want to buy a car, you get a lot of information before you even test-drive,” she says. “There hasn’t been a way to do that with relationships.”

Perhaps one web-dating entrepreneur put it best:

“Everyone is high maintenance. The trick is finding the precise sort of maintenance you need.”

Is Larry Summers reshaping Harvard?

Yes, say many observers. His pro-science, back to the basics stance may make him one of Harvard’s most influential Presidents. And he is not backing down when faced with faculty opposition. Read this article from The Boston Globe, thanks to Instapundit for the link. Read here and here for my two previous blog posts on Larry at Harvard, with links to other commentary.

Addendum: Here is a recent (and brief) address by Summers on economics and morality, he stresses the ability of markets to conserve on altruism. Thanks to Doug Irwin for the pointer.

Things I had not known about taxonomy

The Swede Carl Linnaeus, a father of modern taxonomy, “spent much of his leisure time penning long and flattering portraits of himself, declaring that there had never “been a greater botanist or zoologist…””

Today the world has about 10,000 active taxonomists. It takes eight to ten years to train a good taxonomist. It is commonly believed that the world has a severe shortage of taxonomists, although economists might challenge the use of the word “shortage” in this context.

Logging a new species costs about $2000 per species.

Each year about fifteen thousand new species are recorded. Insects alone offer possibly as many as 100 million undiscovered species.

As of 2002, there were no full-time taxonomists in Africa.

Kevin Kelly’s (Wired magazine) All Species Foundation has not made much of a dent in these problems. And taxonomy is not nearly as web-based as you might think.

I don’t think it follows, as scientist Koen Maes suggests, that “It’s not a biodiversity crisis, it’s a taxonomist crisis!” Still, we know less about species and their numbers than I had thought.

All this is taken from Bill Bryson’s recent and entertaining A Short History of Nearly Everything, chapter 23. Thanks to Yesim Yilmaz for the pointer.

What have we learned about income distribution?

I’ve been reading the new book The New Geography of Global Income Inequality, by sociologist Glenn Firebaugh. The data work is intensive, here are a few things I have learned:

1. Knowing what country an individual lives in explains about 70 percent of the observed variation in income across individuals (p.11).

2. If we could magically eliminate all income inequality within nations, the world’s total income inequality would shrink by at most one-third. Most of the relevant inequality is across different nations (p.11).

3. Global income inequality is falling, contrary to what many critics charge (pp.17-18). So the world’s poor are catching up to the world’s rich (p.18), on average.

4. Most poor countries are not catching up, most of all Africa. The world’s poor are catching up, on average, once we weight countries by population. The growth of China, and to a lesser extent, India, has driven the improved prospects of the poor and the decline in cross-nation inequality (passim).

5. If we compare the United States to Western Europe, there is considerably less inequality within the United States.

As you might surmise, I found this book to be excellent and highly instructive. It reads more like an extended article than a book, but nonetheless it delivers on the substance.

Addendum: Daniel Drezner offers some interesting remarks, with links, on Paul Krugman’s recent writings on inequality.

Subsequent addendum/clarification: Firebaugh (p.193) writes: “average income is much more unequal across nations in Western Europe than across states in the United States.” He does not (and could not) argue that “within a single nation equality” is less in Europe. Here are Gini coefficients for the various European nations and the United States.

The Eric Rasmusen controversy

Eric Rasmusen of Indiana University has long been well-known as an excellent microeconomist. I taught from his Games and Information for many years, I still have his article “Stock Banks and Mutual Banks” on my Industrial Organization reading list.

Lately Rasmusen has been the center of much controversy. Usually I like to summarize the links I use, however briefly. But in this case I am not sure how to explain events without offending anybody, I know Rasmusen a bit plus I have numerous gay friends. So just read here on the episode. Here is Rasmusen’s frequently interesting blog. Here are Rasmusen’s views on religion. Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the Chicago Tribune link.

Tragedy of the tragedy of the commons

Garrett Hardin and his wife recently passed away, it is rumored to have been a double suicide. Hardin was a well-known environmentalist, most prominently he coined the phrase “tragedy of the commons”. He spent the latter part of his career opposing immigration and favoring population control, he was even embraced by some eugenecists.

Addendum: The Hardins were survived by their four children, thanks to Nicky Tynan for the pointer.

Elephants all the way down

I just learned that there is a blog concerned solely with news about blogging, www.blogroots.com.

Of course that is just the beginning. Blogdex tracks popular links, see also Daypop.com. Technorati tells you who is linking to the URL of your choice. Blogstreet.com lists the most influential and widely-read blogs. Number one is Scripting News, Instapundit is number three, the rankings are based on the metric of how often a blog is blogrolled by others. If you weight blogrolling by the influence of who is blogrolling, Instapundit is number one and Andrew Sullivan is number two.

Amateur reviewers are conformists

Let’s say you just saw a movie and now you review it for a web site. Many reviewers will be influenced, albeit subconsciously in many cases, by the ratings already available for viewing. If a movie has many high ratings, you will be less likely to pan it, and vice versa. This occurs even when you see only the number of stars assigned by other people, and have no access to concrete information about the opinions of others, as you might get from a written review. Overall people end up losing trust in peer-driven reviewing systems, and it is plausible to assume that this applies to Amazon.com reviews as well. Thanks to Randall Parker for the original pointer to the research. Cass Sunstein’s new Why Societies Need Dissent explores the pressures for conformity in more detail. Here is a link to the relevant economics research.