The Russian economy is not falling apart

…the economic decline is not as precipitous as some experts had expected it would be after the Feb. 24 invasion. Inflation is still high, around 17 percent on an annual basis, but it has come down from a 20-year peak in April. A closely watched measure of factory activity, the S&P Global Purchasing Managers’ Index, showed that Russian manufacturing expanded in May for the first time since the war began.

Behind the positive news is a combination of factors playing to Mr. Putin’s advantage. Chief among them: high energy prices, which are allowing the Kremlin to keep funding the war while raising pensions and wages to placate ordinary Russians. The country’s oil revenues are up 50 percent this year.

Here is more from the NYT.  Most of the story focuses on how a Russian-owned version of McDonald’s has reopened, serving what is broadly the same food.  But they don’t serve Big Macs because…the sauce is proprietary.  Presumably they already were making the sauce on their own?  It is funny which parts of international law a country will or will not break.

And here WaPo reports that Russia is winning the war.

Saturday assorted links

1. “We conclude that the ǣfrog in the panǥ (FIP) momentum effect is pervasive in co-momentum settings, suggesting that information discreteness (ID) serves as a cognitive trigger that reduces investor inattention and improves inter-firm news transmission.”  Link here.

2. Paul Simon and his brother.

3. Why wasn’t the steam engine invented earlier?

4. Ari Armstrong on faith and Stubborn Attachments, a bit of Rand too.

5. Davis Kedrosky reviews Koyama and Rubin.

6. Business talk about “diversity” can be counterproductive.

James Joyce, entrepreneur

At the critical elevator pitch, Joyce whetted investors’ appetites with the opening gambit: Dublin, a European city of 350,000, had no cinema and two more cities in the same country, Cork and Belfast, were also without a cinema. (Joyce the hustler bumped up Dublin’s population to 500,000 for effect.) Ireland, with close to a million urban dwellers, was virgin trading soil ripe for far-sighted operators. For a man who was a better spender than saver who would experience money problems throughout his life, the contract Joyce negotiated reveals a canny financial operator, and a true salesman. He convinced the partners to give him 10 per cent of the equity and profits, although he didn’t invest a penny. He was also paid expenses and a wage. Hands were shaken, the deal was done, Joyce was off. The portrait of the artist as a young entrepreneur.

…the mind that wrote Ulysses was also the mind that opened Ireland’s first cinema.

Here is the full FT story.  By the way, this being the 100th year of Ulysses, you should read that book if you haven’t already.  It is one of the very best books!  And it really isn’t that difficult.  If you need to, just keep on going, don’t try to figure it all out…

Friday assorted links

1. Why is nuclear power plant construction so expensive?  Oops, correct link here.

2. NASA is joining the hunt.

3. The world of blind mathematicians (2002).

4. Putin speaks his truth, yet again.  How is it that so many have missed this for so long?  Niall Ferguson (Bloomberg) laid out the case on January 2.

5. Has SCOTUS trust fallen apart?

6. Which professions think centuries ahead?  And which professions think mainly in the moment?

What should I ask Matthew Ball?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, here is some background:

Metaverse, metaverse, metaverse! You hear it everywhere. It’s mainstream, it’s a trendy buzzword, it’s even corporate strategy du jour.

But that wasn’t the case in early 2018. And this is when Matthew Ball, a former head of strategy at Amazon Studios, began writing a series of metaverse-themed essays – long, lucid, influential essays – that are almost uncanny in their prescience.

Matthew is now a venture capitalist as well and he has a forthcoming and already much-discussed book The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything.  Here is his home page and here is Matthew on Twitter.  So what should I ask him?

Stop school shooting drills

…this article applies machine learning and interrupted time series analysis to 54 million social media posts, both pre- and post-drills in 114 schools spanning 33 states. Drill dates and locations were identified via a survey, then posts were captured by geo-location, school social media following, and/or school social media group membership. Results indicate that anxiety, stress, and depression increased by 39–42% following the drills, but this was accompanied by increases in civic engagement (10–106%). This research, paired with the lack of strong evidence that drills save lives, suggests that proactive school safety strategies may be both more effective, and less detrimental to mental health, than drills.

That is from Mai ElSherief,, published in 2021.  Via Gabriel Demombynes.

Logan Ury, dating coach

Ms. Ury constantly speaks as if she’s at a podium. She is a generous interview subject, sometimes taking 25 minutes to answer a single question about her work. She uses data often, quotes Adam Grant and refers to behavioral economics experiments casually.

Her language makes a subset of her clients — especially men from Silicon Valley — “feel safe,” she said. “If it’s an engineering-focused guy, I’ll say ‘loss aversion,’ ‘sunk cost fallacy.’ I know, with certain people, that makes them want to work with me.”

Here is the full NYT story by Dani Blum.

Shopping in Russia

Finally, I offer a comment on the shuttered street level shops and mall tenants that have been gleefully reported by Western journalists:   yes, major Western branded stores have closed down, not all, but a great many.  Their loss is felt on the most prestigious shopping streets and malls, where they bought market share for their products by lavish spending on promotion, including prestige premises.  However, outside these limited addresses, one does not see gaps in the street level stores in Petersburg.  I see more empty store fronts in shopping streets in Brussels than here.

And more specifically:

This store chain [Azbuka Vkusa] puts the previous tenant to shame. The sheer variety and luxury of the present offering in fresh produce, cheeses, meats, fish, tinned conserves of all varieties is stunning. The fresh fish section offers swordfish from Sri Lanka, wild salmon from the Faroe Islands (presumably Russian caught), some unidentified white sea fish from Egypt, and dorade from Turkey. In a tank, there is a two kilogram live Kamchatka King Crab waiting for a buyer at 200 euros.  Live oysters in another tank are brought from both Crimea (large) and from the Far East (very large).  Farmed mussels are brought in from Crimea.

Here is the full story from Gilbert Doctorow, via Anecdotal.

Thursday assorted links

1. Wartime markets in everything.

2. Countries which like and hate Russia the most.

3. Shruti interviews Lant Pritchett, part II.

4. The examined life.

5. “While traditional creative occupations were associated with elevated genetic risk for a range of psychiatric disorders, this association was not unique, as similar, or greater elevations were seen for religious, helping and teaching professions…”  Link here.

Unmeasured inflation from higher tip demands?

Increasingly many point-of-sale terminals ask if you would like to tip – these days even occasionally at places like grocery stores. This (probably) has the effect of increasing the true average prices paid for a considerable fraction of consumer goods. If you buy that premise, then the addition of this feature to POS terminals has a  (perhaps short-term or temporary, but perhaps significant) inflationary effect (no?). How interesting do you think it would be to see this quantified? From my perspective, it would be interesting if this seemingly-small UI feature measurably contributed non-negligibly to inflation. (I’m not an economist. I’d also be curious to know where one might start getting data, etc., to do this kind of analysis.)

That is from an email from Andrey Mishchenko.