This is the second in a three-part essay series starting here. In a way, this is one of the best responses I’ve seen to Russ Roberts’ essay The Economist as a Scapegoat, critiquing the neoliberal/libertarian project of the last few decades. Lindsey’s book The Captured Economy has been on my to-read list for a while, and after these essays I think I’ll have to read it sooner than expected.
I haven’t been listening to many podcasts recently, but this conversation gave me a lot to think about.
Raising questions indeed. I’m very much not fond of the idea of the government “picking winners and losers,” and there’s just no way to justify this move other than explicitly trying to prop up the market.
While I disagree with a lot of what Doctorow suggests here in terms of monetary policy, I am much more in favor of his fiscal ideas, and definitely agree with his points on climate change vs GAI. Reading this made me think of Nassim Taleb’s comments about redundancy vs. naïve optimization.
In short, no. “If you want to stop governments from engaging in bad policies […] Vote, send letters, go to protests. Sorry, but buying bitcoin or gold in the hope that it somehow defunds these activities by displacing the Fed is not a legitimate form of protest. It’s a cop-out.”
Interesting to see an institution like the Fed pushing out educational content aimed at kids. When I was in Cleveland a few years ago I was similarly surpirsed by how much the Fed Museum catered to children. Gotta start them young, I guess.
An essay that tries to explain a complex perspective of neoliberal globalism, arguing that the narrative of “free trade” is in fact false, as there is an extremely opaque set of laws that regulate international markets. Further, the author argues that the global institutions that set the rules are self-perpetuating, and not really the bearers of deregulation that they pretend to be. Now I want to read Slobodian’s book Globalists.
I don’t understand commodities markets at all, so even superficial reads like this one, on the effect of the current crisis on cheese prices, seem interesting.
On how banks interests rates are “downwards-flexible and upwards-sticky,” and how that means we’re getting screwed. The title says it all.
I’m obviously biased on this topic, as a former F1 and H1B holder, but the fact is that even if you believe in the zero-sum immigration story, large parts of the US economy depends on immigrants. Education is one of the most contingent markets.
This piece came up a few months ago while talking to one of my coworkers about San Francisco housing. For some reason San Francisco progressives (aka, conservatives) are allergic to the basic notion of supply and demand. Here, Noah explains a few reasons why the YIMBY solution should go beyond just “build more market rate housing.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite stop himself short of using supply and demand in his explanation.
I probably learned about the Cobb-Douglas model a couple of lectures into my economics degree. In one short essay, Stucchio explained more about why it matters than any of my micro professors did.
I do not own a car. In this post, Danco explains how cars actually solve many different jobs, all bundled into a single product (he lists commuting, shopping, kids, and recreation, but I’m sure there are more). As more of those jobs are unbundled (i.e., you can shop online, or work from home, or live in a dense city) the overall value of the car bundle diminishes. Danco explores ways in which the bundle could be expanded to other areas, and for the industry to reinvent itself.
An essay built around a 2x2 that describes the dynamics of cities.
A lot of people blame the state of the world on the free market ideology pushed by Hayek, Friedman, and in the second half of the XX century. In this essay, Roberts digs deep into the macro trends, to make a clear case on the absurdity of that claim.
A cherry-picked case of someone who’s been able to monetize his art thanks to the discoverability provided by Spotify. The gatekeepers are still there, it’s just that now they are algorithmic.
Gurley is well known for his thesis around marketplaces. While many of the companies listed on this post are constantly critiqued for their extractive practices, in the end the people who sell their labor or their products on those platforms are better off because those platforms exist. I don’t buy the “level playing field” point, but it surely is more level than it used to be.
There’s a difference between generating value and generating profits. Value isn’t self-sustaining. Profits keep businesses alive, and the world running around us.
An in-depth piece on tech and centralization. The Hamiltonian/Jeffersonian axis had been popping up in a lot of places, and reading pieces like this one, at the intersection of tech, economics, and history, is what ultimately made me want to learn more US history.
This piece seems a lot more relevant now in corona-days where people can’t work anyway. Arguably, if people truly derived value and utility from their jobs in the shape of the identity they can form around it, the fact that work and benefits are decoupled should strictly make people better off, no?
When people jump through hoops to explain that what they don’t want is the label, not the thing.
This piece argues that massive deflation is coming, and that mainstream macro doesn’t know how to deal with it. Who are the fringe thinkers who have been focusing on it while everyone else’s attention was on the opposite problem? I’d like to read what they’re saying.
A prescient piece on the increasingly common protests worldwide, their local nature, and the strange global echoes they produce.
In which Branko lines up historical economic indices with the lives of characters of famous novels to explain how their personal economic situations change in the books. The examples given are from the US and England and France. Can you think of works of literature from XX Latin America that have this kind of info about their character’s income or wealth? Would love to see what that looks like.
What comes after capitalism? Milanovic puts forth three possible models that can help us think through this question. First, he shares an idea from John Roemer’s “What is socialism today”, which uses concepts from game theory to argue that as societies get richer less individuals behave in narrowly profit-motivated ways, instead opting for more solidaristic behaviors based on some higher ideal that leads to cooperation. Next, he brings up Thomas Piketty’s [Capital and Ideology], which argues we should have a two tier system, where companies beyond a certain threshold would trigger a workers shareholding arrangement that severely limits the stake any one person can have, while distributing a significant portion of the value to workers. This system would still allow for small and medium enterprises, maintaining incentives for innovation and value creation in a chiefly capitalist environment, while simultaneously altering the power relations between labor and capital. Lastly, Milanovic brings up his own view, one which is less ideological, and more an extrapolation of the relative scarcity of capital decreasing over time. In a world with a glut of capital, individuals can become entrepreneurs by borrowing said capital at very attractive rates without giving up control to capital owners. This last idea has a lot more Silicon Valley idealism than I’d usually expect from a generally left-leaning Marxist blogger, but I can see it.
A short note on why and how Ricardo’s and Marx’s models over-simplified inequality. In short, the societies they lived in were very different from ours.
If you’re here, you’ve probably heard me rant about why nation-states are generally the wrong sized unit. Branko explains it better than I could.
A counter-intuitive result about time diversification and the dollar cost averaging strategies that most passive investors use these days.
Zero interest environments are a weird historical edge case that explains the reality we live in. Roy makes an analogy with the “theory of everything” in the physics world, claiming that living near the zero-lower-bound explains a lot of what’s happening in the world today.
On how the time horizons we pick completely changes the outcome of moral questions was really good.
Last year, a lot of people were talking about modern monetary theory (MMT). Now, it seems like they have gotten a bit quieter. In this post, Noah digs around the literature, and brings in viewpoints from both proponents and critiquers. I am not persuaded yet, but to be honest I have not yet put in the time to understand these models well enough.
Using the right framing, we’re all poor. We can change that. Short and simple.
The fact that something can be explained as a shared illusion or a social construct doesn’t mean that it is meaningless, or that it doesn’t have consequences in the real world. Money is a social technology that serves a real function, helping people coordinate via the price system. Financial crises are as “real” as outages caused by pesky software bugs are “real,” they’re both immaterial, and both can wreak havoc in the real world.
The future of any state depends on who is seen as a legitimate member and who is not. The United States stop making sense if a significant group of people can’t agree on who is part of the union.
Living in SF means constantly seeing the suffering of the homeless. Their hardship is the consequence of policy decisions. I don’t like living in a society that finds this acceptable. As Applebaum says, we can “end homelessness instead of subsidizing mansions.” Policy is a decision.
There’s good capitalism and bad capitalism. Let’s get more of the former.
A few months ago I went to the Oakland Museum of California to see their exhibit, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” I kept thinking of Romer running around talking to people about charter cities.
In this op-ed, the CEO of Salesforce argues that “leaders need to embrace a broader vision of their responsibilities by looking beyond shareholder return and also measuring their stakeholder return.” What he fails to explain is that this only works if we can agree on what’s “good,” and that most people can’t agree on that
We don’t need United/American/etc. We need functioning air transportation infrastructure, regardless of the brand, or who runs it. If you let the companies fail and they have to do a fire sale on the assets, would no one jump in and take their place?
I’ve been interested in the idea of optimal currency areas since taking a money and banking class in college and learning about Robert Mundell’s work. Thinking of how the concept translates to a world that expands beyond physicality is fascinating, particularly thinking about it within the context of crypto.
The word conservative does a lot of work in this title - perhaps skeptical, or humble would be closer to my taste - but ultimately the argument made is one of “we don’t understand the complexity of the human body as much as we wish we did.” I listened to this episode after my dad had been in the hospital dealing with a lung condition for several months. It was strange to listen to this while being up close with a very real threat to his health, and having doubted every single decision we made along with his doctors.
An episode on emergent order in cities, and how by setting up the framework within which we live and socialize, urban planners can do a lot to shape the way cities change. I have added Bertaud’s book to my stack, and have heard great things from my urban-planner sister in law about his work, so I’m excited to dig deeper.
One of the questions that I think will define the next few decades is which countries can keep the flywheel of software and machine learning spinning. Regulation can slow down progress, but can guide technologists to solutions that are more widely agreeable. I am afraid that the US, and the West more generally, is much more constrained by its worldview and social norms than, say, China, and by extension will be slower to arrive at that technology. Three out of the nine companies discussed in Webb’s book are in China. If her vision of “technology warping humanity” becomes real, I truly hope it is technology whose values I agree with. Wishful thinking much?
I am very interested in how knowledge will evolve as our tools for managing and understanding it keeps expanding. Books are a tool from centuries ago, and the way we interact with them doesn’t really correspond to the ways in which most people learn. Yes, today we have mind-mapping tools, and interactive explorables, and hyperlinked encyclopedias, but
Kling sets up a model of political thought with three axes: the progressive, seeing everything in terms of oppressor versus oppressed, conservatives who see things on an axis of civilization versus barbarism, and, libertarians, for whom it’s liberty versus coercion.
During the months leading up to the 2016 elections, Arnade, his photography, and the stories he collected, made the rounds on Twitter. He had a lot of conversations with people he saw as different from himself, a distinction he described as the front row and the back row kids. It is hard to imagine that others might not want the same things we want in life, and that people can value things differently, but that is ultimately what a free society is based on. Arnade tries to bring “the other side,” and their lives, to “this side.”
This might be one of my favorite episodes in a while. I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about what to do with my time, and how I can do my best to bring good things into the world. Obviously, that hinges on what we define as “good” and “better.” Framing the discussion through the lens of classical economics, as well as film, and their everyday experiences, Klein and Roberts discuss the ways in which commerce and capital can help us guide us. Learning to see the world is not a zero sum game helps, and understanding that self-interest does not mean strict individualism does, too.
I was there that night when David asked his question, and had a long great conversation with him, but we didn’t exchange contact info. Having him unexpectedly show up on Econtalk was the best way I could ask to reconnect. I’m excited that however little might have stuck with David from our conversation, the experiences I shared maybe informed bits of this discussion.
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Should we try to be foxes or hedgehogs? In which situations is one better than the other? I have been thinking about this question for a while, and I’m pretty convinced that, largely, generalists have the upper hand figuring out the places worth going to in today’s interconnected environment, but we wouldn’t know how to get there without deeply specialized colleagues.
Smith is a surgeon in Oklahoma who runs a medical center that does not take insurance. Instead, his clinic posts all its prices online as a way to correct for price distortions that arise from over-regulation and lack of competition in the healthcare market. At the current prices we’re all poor.
Gurri wrote his book a few years ago, before the current wave of protests worldwide and before Trump. He writes about the ways in which technology enabled the destabilization of authority by weakening gatekeepers, and his extrapolations from 2014 seem fairly prescient today.
Capitalism is not inherently amoral, but the incentive structures that arise from capital accumulation can lead people to make decisions that are better for themselves while not better for anyone else. Therefore, we can’t depend on good people doing the right thing, and instead we need to bake those incentives against cronyism and regulatory capture into the market structures themselves. Munger and Roberts are not short on ideas of how to do that.
Singer is famous for his thought experiment of the drowning child. This conversation takes that utilitarian idea and expands on it into the effective altruism movement, and more generally into the question of how we can maximize our impact for the betterment of society.
From prisons and refugee camps, to secluded forests and huge cities, Davies describes how examples of economic ideas can arise in their purest forms in extreme locations.
A conversation that challenges the basic monotonicity assumption in economics that “more is always better,” and uses the ideas of Aquinas’ ethical framework to help us understand the ways in which we make decisions to improve our welfare.
Inspired by this episode, I decided to read the book, which was tough to get through, but definitely felt impactful, and important. check out my full review of the book here.
This episode from what seems to be ages ago, at the beginning of the COVID crisis, discusses the potential political and economic impact that the pandemic could have on our society. Roberts and Cowen have a wide ranging conversation on the possible outcomes of the policies that were being considered at the time.
"…in a way, nickel Coke died because we went off the gold standard."
Unsurprisingly, the field is biased against women.
I am afraid of the Chinese model for many reasons. This story of a young Uighur heading home to see his family and finding many of his close ones detained in the “re-education camps” is terrifying. When things that are not illegal are incriminating, and the rules of the game are on purpose murky and unclear, people can’t live freely. I don’t wish that upon anyone.
Using data from ACS to figure out what the most common kind of person is in the US based on some basic demographics. It made me wonder if the data had household composition, since running this kind of analysis on the modal household might be even more revealing of the “standard experience” than running the analysis on individuals.
You put nerds in prison and they will make the inmates start their own blockchain with pen, paper, and… mackerel cans?
At the American Economic Association’s annual conference, the Planet Money folks go around asking “What’s the most useful idea in economics?” In short Lisa Cook said opportunity cost, Betsey Stevenson said thinking at the margin, Emily Oster went with comparative advantage, Scott Cunningham said causal inference and David Autor explained the lump of labor fallacy.
Nothing. Let’s get rid of it.
One of the instances where imperfect markets lead to surprisingly bad outcomes. Dollar stores are ubiquitous in the rural US, and have more market power than the average local grocery store. Selling fresh produce is expensive, especially compared to the kind of high margin non-perishable items that a dollar store can carry. Since people try to save a buck, they end up buying all the low-margin items at local stores, and the high margin ones at the dollar store chains, which eventually leads the local grocers to close shop. This is an adjacent problem to that of food deserts, but perhaps even more perverse.
How we divide our limited resources, and who pays for them is not just an accounting problem, but an everyday reality. The examples here are pretty trivial, but ultimately this is the question that underlies most of our political disagreements.
The internet makes for all kinds of arbitrage business schemes, from dropshipping, to middlemanning, and more. This episode explains a specific case involving Amazon and eBay and cat toys.
A deep dive into the insane world of TurboTax and the strategies that enable them to keep squeezing money out of the public while offering the “free option” required by regulation. This is one of the most absurd cases of regulatory capture in the US today.
Merry christmas, shit hit the fan.
There are many reasons to dislike central planning. Most people arguing against it usually point to the economic calculation problem and the fact that even if the required data could be collated, which is on its own impossible, we wouldn’t have the compute power to make optimal decisions, so instead we should offload this process to markets. In this piece, Buterin and Weyl make an analogy to a common failure mode in statistically inferred systems (not necessarily machine learned) that is even easier to accept. I had not thought about it before, and found it very insightful. In short, they argue that systems with simpler designs, particularly those with less knobs for bureaucrats to fiddle with, are better. Our experience of highly complex systems don’t generalize well, so we should aim for less parameters to tune. This in turn also has the advantage of making systems less prone to corruption, since it is harder for the person behind the wheel to hide their actions behind the complex interaction effects of the system. Lastly, they discuss the differences between simple and familiar systems, and how a lot of the structures that organize our lives are actually quite complicated, but we’re used to them. You can consider the essay a proposal to apply Occam’s razor to political economy.
It is interesting to think about how tech IPOs will interact with the bear market of the past few weeks. Here Fred argues that it’s about time for the private and public markets to sync up once again, and that the startup sector is well positioned to make things work. I’m not so sure.
Isn’t redistribution more just/fair than our current system? What kind of perverse incentives does it introduce? How do we avoid free-loading? And how do we make sure that redistributive taxation doesn’t deter innovation and entrepreneurship? As usual, Russ does a good job of asking the big questions and answering them smartly, with simple words. Don’t miss out on Part II, while we wait for the third installment.
I first learned about William Easterly when one of my econ professors handed me his book, The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. I read that a few years ago, and by now have forgotten many of its anecdotes, but its key point resonated with me and shaped a lot of my intuition behind economics. Essentially, Easterly shows that the classic top-down technocratic solutions that make up foreign aid tend to backfire in unexpected ways because they’re full of perverse incentives for businesses, bureaucrats, and individuals alike. The headline, and part of the article, opposes his views to those of Bill Gates which is gimmicky and click-baity, but the content is substantial. For a deeper dive into Easterly’s thought, check out his Econtalk episodes, or obviously check out his actual work EQG is a pretty easy read.
Your decentralized system can allow for (1) Self-sovereignty, (2) Privacy-preservation, (3) Sybil-resistance. Pick two.
I don’t really know much about Brexit, but this divide between “any-wheres” and “some-wheres” is an interesting one. For a while, I’ve been making a similar argument about the cosmopolitan urban elites vs secluded rural communities elsewhere in the world.
Here, Noah points out what has been clear to many for a while: China is already the main world power, and the trend says that’s not gonna change. Still wrapping my head around the obvious implications & struggling to understand 2nd/3rd order effects. It made me think of this piece by Brian Brooks, the chief legal officer of Coinbase. If the replacement of the USD as the world reserve currency is a real worry near-term, it would be a good strategy for the US to push for a non-sovereign-backed currency instead of ceding the position to China. It’s like a kid, who knowing he’s lost the game, grabs the ball and takes it home with him early.
This ~12k word story of the downfall of GE is crazy. I’m sure someone has studied it well, but don’t conglomerates go totally in the opposite direction of Coasian theory of the firm? Odd that the paper it comes from was written in the golden era of conglomerates. The section on GE Capital overtaking the industrial “real economy” branch of GE has a lot of echoes of Braeburn Capital. Odd to think of the financialization of industrial giants.
An unusually political and not very internetty episode for this show, but still a very interesting listen about the interactions between local governments and corporations. It pairs nicely with this Planet Money episode about Amazon and NYC.
I really like the idea of cryptography enabling the “building blocks” style tech that Web 2.0 companies had promised many years ago. Today, no one wants to build on top of other people’s platforms, because historically, platforms end up screweing developers - just ask developers who built on top of Twitter. Crypto might finally lay out the right kinds of incentives, and lead us to a place where tiny services can actually ride on others’ rails. It’s still early days…
This is the first epic in a series about China that the NYT is working on. It is a good overview of how the Chinese government has switched from being a closed-in communist anti-market regime to an expansionist communist but market driven regime. The tone is a bit too positive for my taste, as it brushes away the clearly autocratic/totalitarian tendencies of the Chinese system, but the content is well put together, and I’m sure they will touch on these in one of the upcoming pieces. Make sure to see the appendix articles, too.
An in-depth look at why GDP grows the way it does. This post decomposes growth into many components, and ultimately ties it down to how many people can use a bounded pool of knowledge at any given time, and how we can extract more of that knowledge to put it to use.
Power laws are real, and they are everywhere. Of ~6k firms making $1B+ in revenue globally, the top 1% creates 36% of all profits, middle 80% record near-zero profits, Bottom 10% destroys as much value as the top 10% creates. Similarly, out the top 50 cities host 8% of the global population and represent 21% of world GDP, translating into a GDP/capita that’s 45% larger than their peers. The dynamics that lead to this are not studied enough.
In this essay, Noah points out two possible paths for the Democrats: social democracy and corporatism. Either we want the state to take up a larger role in people’s welfare, or we want companies to do so. There’s a clear tension between the two. Honestly, I’d like to think of a third path.
An interesting conversation on the sharing economy, and the value of platforms, from the ancient souks of the middle east to the present day gig economy. A lot of the dynamics behind these systems can be explained as ways of lowering transaction costs.
What kind of analyses can we apply to private brands to try and pick out winners? Caldbeck has been doing this for years, and has great insight into what signals are worth looking for.
The previous episode with CoVentue’s Ali Hamed was great, so I had very high expectations for this one, too. It did not disappoint, and reminded me of how little I actually know about the mechanics of credit, even though I interened in two different credit-related fintech startups.
You probably know, but the political situation in Venezuela is a disaster, and its hyperinflated financial system is an important part of it.
Policymaking is not about good intentions. The government tried to help dairy farmers, and in the process not only did it distort the dairy products market for years, but it also sunk a ton of cash into non-fungible assets - cheese!
The Zero Lower Bound, revisited.
Strange loopholes around taxation and cross-border exploits are getting more and more common. This is not just the case for huge corporations. Rich people are well incentivized hide vast wealth in assets around the world, but setting up shell companies like matryoshka dolls to hide cash is no longer necessary. Buying real estate in top markets, or leaving valuable art in tax-free ports works just as well. This problem is only going to get worse and worse over time, as access to these tax havens becomes more available.
Note that this episode was heavily criticized by many people online for its simplified economic explanations, but as an introduction to MMT, it’s probably a good one. In essence, the MMT crowd reminds us that money is just numbers on a spreadsheet, and makes the leap to saying that the government could just spend money by changing its balance sheet - no need to tax to bring in money first. I don’t understand this well enough, so if you have pointers, I’d very much appreciate them.
Certain products are all about perception. Luxury items tend to fall in that category, and good wine is right up there, too. The fact that I was half way through watching The Sopranos when I listened to this didn’t help.
The internet is wonderful. I had a question about a topic which I knew about, but mostly anecdotally: the kibbutz. I wanted depth, and asked Russ if he could supply it. He asked me to suggest an expert worth interviewing. I researched a bit and found Abramitsky. Weeks later, my questions were answered, even if there wasn’t much in the episode that I didn’t already know. The success of the kibbutz was related to being small homogeneous units of very motivated people, and its eventual fall came with time, as the motivated people were gone, and other opportunities appeared for their kids and grandkids. The discussion on how the Israeli kibbutz was voluntary (exit was an option!) and comparing it to the coercive Russian kolkhoz was what made this episode most valuable. That’s where my questions had initially come up, and what I learned most about. I had my gap year in Israel when kibbutzim were no longer central, so I didn’t get the kibbutz experience. By now, I don’t think young people can have that experience, but there’s a lot to learn from the experiment. This episode makes the kibbutz ideas accessible to everyone. Thank you for that Ran and Russ!
For the past couple of months, Russ had been pushing his listeners to read Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle, and offered to host a book club through his podcast. This is the first of a few episodes on the book, discussing the historical context of the novel. These other two older episodes, one on Bukharin and one on Trotsky were super helpful in my quest to understand Solzhenitsyn. I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, and hope to write a full blog post on it soon.
Hearing Noah and Russ discuss all these topics was wonderful. The conversation about co-determination was not as interesting as the discussion around labor, incentives, and metric measurement. The point about temp agencies reminded me of last year’s NYT piece comparing the bleak job prospects of a janitor at Apple today vs. a janitor at Kodak in the 80s, as well as the discussion about company goals/profit maximization in Tim O’Reilly’s WTF. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for a conversation like the one they alluded to, where each of them presents some indicator to make an argument and the other one has a chance to critique it.
Having taken Bloom’s class on Coursera earlier this year, I found this conversation a good recap of some of his arguments, which added to a few new ideas made for a great listen. The discussion about Westworld (a show that I’ve never seen) and how people behave with each other versus how they behave with robots or other beings that they believe to be non-human was super interesting.
A conversation worth listening to given our current political environment around the world. I am fascinated with nation states lately, and Hazony believes they’re not going anywhere. He’s against the idea of more global government, and thinks that we should double down on the nation-state. In a way, his arugments mimic what Taleb says at the beginning of Antifragile about Switzerland and its canton system - you want to have multiple sets of policies running in parallel as a way to let the best outcomes rise out of trial and error across the board. With little research to back it up, I think that’s the correct approach, but that the modern nation-state is too large for such trial and error to be productive. Another book to add to the to-read list.
This was one of the most enlightening episodes a16z has put out in a while. In part, due to the fact that I know absolutely nothing about Dollar General and their target market, making the stories fascinating, but also because of how little expectations I had from it. Definitely worth a listen.
This description of China as a country where the individuals are celebrated for starting companies, and building capital, while letting the government steers the wheel and is celebrated for its collectivized growth is a strange combination. From the outside, it seems accurate. What puzzles me the most is how people in China trust that the powers that be are not going to take them away for building the wrong thing. The institutions of trust are simply different, and I don’t understand them well enough, and should change that.
For a while I’ve been wondering about this question myself. If you believe in efficient markets, then there’s always going to be someone there to pick up the $20 from the sidewalk, but at the same time it feels like there must be an effect from the stashes of money flowing to index funds. Could we craft a strategy based on exploiting the added momentum that certain stocks get from being heavily invested in by the Vanguards and Blackrock of the world?
An interesting argument against banning/blocking users online. Essentially, Elaine makes an analogy to squatter’s rights, arguing that people’s investment over time in their online presence (say, Alex Jones’ Twitter account) should entitle them to some kind of property rights, and that Twitter, Apple, Cloudflare, or whoever, should not be able to single-mindedly revoke those rights. While in theory this sounds reasonable, it disregards the fact that these companies don’t owe their patrons for the space on the platform, and that the patrons agree to be there under whatever terms of service are presented to them. There is no social contract between the companies and the users, and if the users decide to act in a way that the platform finds harmful to their values (or their bottom line!) they are justified in taking them out.
This is not really a post about Apple, but about all large companies who invest part of their assets into what the authors deem “risky financial assets, such as corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, auction-rate securities and equities.” Gilbert and Hrdlicka argue that this should be a regulated space, and that companies should return this capital to shareholders instead of taking advantage of the tax and accounting treatments that these non-operational assets allow for. I am not familiar enough with this topic to make a strong argument either way, but something smells fishy, and this seems like a space worth regulating.
I was recently introduced to this project, which looks great. After skimming the reading list and adding a bunch of things to my queue, now I’m wondering: what other projects have similarly structured survey lists? I really appreciate the mix of breadth and depth.
I’m fascinated by the Hirschmanian notions of exit, voice, and loyalty. Here, Mann explains how the rise of cryptocurrencies allow for more use of exit where traditionally people would have leaned on voice. It is exciting to think about how this new technology might reshape the world.
An example of the strange loops that money takes when someone sees through the modern finance system’s leaky abstractions. Specifically, Koning moves money through the stock market in a series of trades to avoid foreign exchange fees.
A long piece on Silicon Valley history and ideology, the formation of its origin stories, its organizational structure culture, and its hero-worshipping fantasies. Worth your time.
The people at Numerai are producing some really interesting blockchain ideas - the kind that wouldn’t work on a Postgres DB. This implementation of P2P prediction feeds is one of them.
This is very messed up, but not too surprising. “…we find that monthly changes in gold prices lead to an increase in girl relative to boy neonatal mortality and that the surviving girls are shorter.” The analysis of this specific correlation is new, but the study of the dynamic isn’t. For example, here’s Amartya Sen back in 1990.
Private property, ownership, and the many rights and regulations that surround them are in fact pretty complex. Who owns the space in which you’re in right now? It might not be that simple.
Having the whole world virtually on a single currency, owned by a single country, and serving that country’s interests is an anomaly, and other states seem to be catching on to the fact that they can do something about it.
Humans build complex systems, and those systems lead to unintended consequences.
A somewhat depressing view of the rat race, but seems like sound analysis. Bastable discusses how we’ve built a system in which people are forced to save for basic needs and services like housing, education, and healthcare, with no real way of ever accumulating enough money to make their expected standard of living achievable. As my friend Stephen mentioned on Twitter, we have to “acknowledge the common factor among the sectors most subject to cost disease: a predominance of government subsidy and regulation.” because “subsidy of demand is captured by suppliers via increased prices.” We need to find ways to tie prices and costs back together.
Our current policies around labor don’t match the new reality we live in, and neither stopping the “the gig economy,” nor shoehorning it in the old paradigm will do. “…technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. […] Uber is a symptom, not a cause.” We can change the status-quo.
The effort by the people behind Palladium is laudable. They are trying to answer the question of what comes after liberalism, and are publishing this magazine to that end. I, too, am convinced that the current world order is not sustainable, and would love to see it be replaced with a less broken version of itself, based on liberal ideas. I’ll keep an eye on their work, and I hope you do, too.
A privileged person suddenly notices their privilege, and tries to understand it. What’s most interesting about this piece is not the argument she tries to make for basic income, nor the commentary on the value of education, but instead its point about taxation. Taxes on gifts and inheritance are way too low, and lead to weird incentives.
The indicators we pick matter. The ways we measure things matter. Here, Russ makes a strong set of arguments agains the usual arguments about the standard of living in the US, and who wins from economic growth. I think the rich-get-richer dynamics in our modern economic systems are extremely strong, and this piece downplays them a little bit, but the point that Russ makes about the dynamism of the various groups is definitely something that is not talked about enough. Made me think of the random handouts experiment I had produced a while back, which I never turned into a full blog post. The longer you run that simulation, the more obvious it is that people switch from one bucket to another all the time.
The events from the past couple of weeks are tragic, and deeply troubling. It is on days like these that I remember that it doesn’t matter whether I think of myself as part of a group or not. The case that Russ makes here is that the problem at the root of all the gun violence in the US is not the availability of guns, but the fact that the social fabric that mediates our interactions has torn. In his own words, “One of the glorious things about American culture in our day is that people leave you alone. […] And yet, one of the most horrific things about American culture in our day is that people leave you alone.”
This brief explaining and expanding on some of David Glasner’s and Earl Thompson’s ideas on a labor standard is fascinating. If you’re interested in how money and central banking work, you should take a look. Hendrickson argues that instead of having the Fed aim for stable prices and full employment by managing interest rates tied to fiat, we build a set of policies that mix the ideas of the gold standard and the job guarantee that has gained some popularity recently. Essentially, instead of having the dollar trade for a fixed quantity of gold, the Fed would define the dollar as a fixed quantity of labor. This would tie the price level to changes in the real market, outsource monetary policy to the market, and provide the equivalent of a job guarantee to the citizenry. Obviously there are problems with this, such as fungibility (ie, not all hours of labor are equal) but this can be solved with some kind of indexing solution. I’m intrigued, so if you have anything else to read on this topic, I’d love to hear about it.
This is a topic I’ve discussed before here, but it’s nice to have some data to back up the story.
Another one by Noah. It is very unusual for pundits to go back and revise their commentary, and to retract the data they’ve used to back up their claims. This one deserves applause.
A critique of Morty Shapiro and Gary Saul Morson’s book on the intersection of economics and the humanities. I took their joint class at Northwestern a few years ago, and also thought it was lacking. The reading list was wonderful. It exposed me to many ideas/authors I did not know about, but their debates were disappointing. I hear a lot more Morson than Morty coming through in Hanson’s arguments. Maybe some day I’ll read their book.
The strategy described here makes a lot more sense when talking about high risk assets like venture and crypto, and like most of these rules of thumb it must be suboptimal, but I’ve been thinking about taking this approach for future investments. Dividing assets in three separate chunks to diversify away risk, and still remain exposed to the original theses, seems like a good idea.
Another one I probably can’t say much about. I am worried about the progress of technology and where this kind of censorship might take us, though.
Our views about ownership, and how radically they have changed in the last 15-20 years is a topic I’ve been reading a lot about recently. Cowen describes a symptom, and says it should cause us worry. His explanation of why this is a problem is flawed though. As a HN commenter mentions: “The problem isn’t that we own less stuff, it’s that the ownership is replaced by a dependency on a handful of corporations which we have no ability to influence or appeal to. The substitution of individual ownership for a communal one in which individuals retain a stake - a real community, or at a larger scale, a democracy - is not inherently bad. The problem with our recent trend is that we aren’t getting communal ownership in return; we’re getting nothing but convenience. […] You’re renting from a centralized company which outsources the generation of actual value to others, and pays them as little as possible. You aren’t shifting your dependence from yourself to a community, but from yourself to a company that wants nothing more than to make money.” A book I read earlier this year, Doctorow’s Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, discusses this topic in depth, and I’m hoping to write more about it in the future.
Most people don’t know much about the millions of people who died in China during Mao’s era of collectivization. In this conversation, Dikotter explains some of its history, and explains the many ways in which its policies failed. It reminded me a lot of reading Seeing Like a State, and made me wonder about the relative success of the kibbutz, the analogous Israeli collective farm. I did a bit of research, and probably will not only add Dikotter’s book to my to-do list, but also this one on the Israeli experiment. The problem with listening to EconTalk is that it makes me want to understand the world more, and I can only do that by reading more. Guess that’s a good kind of problem to have.
It’s odd when ideas that sound like conspiracy theories are actually true. Turns out that there is a transnational scheme to subsidize the last-mile shipping of stuff that has moved across borders. This contributes to the skewed cost distribution of last-mile delivery, and affects local businesses where transportation cost represents a significant portion of the price of an item. This seems like a pretty messed up set of incentives waiting to explode in our faces.
People in the US love to talk about how different they are from the rest of the world. It’s inequality is truly exceptional among countries with developed economies, and seems fully self inflicted. As Milanovic notes, given the political environment in this contry, the solution must be multifaceted, with small changes on many dimensions - taxation, education, welfare, healthcare - which will be much easier to swallow individually than a single big change would.
For all the talk going around about conservatives becoming Keynesians, it’s strange how government spending keeps sliding down. It’s easy to forget how much influence military spending had on Silicon Valley’s success, and how we’re still riding the momentum of previous waves of investment. Innovation isn’t free. It must come about from an empowered, educated citizenry, and the government can take part in that. As Manjoo explains, “every key component in a smartphone, from the battery to GPS, is based on research first done for the American government.” It’s time to fund more of these experiments.
San Francisco is a mess. Things could be different.
This was an episode where the research presented little suprise in directionality, but disappointed me with the magnitudes. Alesina and his team study people’s attitude towards immigrants, focusing on legal immigrants only, and the findings are in many ways obvious. On average, people dislike immigrants (suprise!) and assume they are taking away jobs or free-riding on the local welfare programs. On average, people in the US are much more optimistic than they should be about whether a poor person can bootstrap their way out of poverty, while Europeans are much more pessimistic than they should be. What was suprising though, was how far off people’s guesses were against what the metrics really are. People vastly overestimate how many immigrants there are, how many of them are illegal, and how much they take from the welfare systems. This was a somewhat depressing but quite worthwhile conversation to listen to.
Also available as a podcast.This is not a new argument from Russ. He posits that our newfound tribalism isn’t all that new, and that it’s simply been exacerbated due to the incentives of the media industry, the filter bubbles of the internet, and the availability of content. He uses restaurants to illustrate the explosion of available choices, and contrasts how this explosion isn’t all that meaningful when choosing what to eat or shopping for shoes, becoming problematic only when there are high externality costs without a feedback mechanism that makes us pay the price from our mistakes. If we buy an uncomfortable pair of shoes, or order a bad plate of pasta, we suffer. Immediately. If we vote for the wrong candidate, our contribution to their election is minuscule, and their actions are diffused over many years - there’s no clear-cut feedback loop. This dynamic means that the ROI on truth isn’t all that high for any one individual, and in aggregate, we end up with a market failure in which media is louder and angrier, as it sells more than nuanced positions would, and each one of us becomes more entrenched in our beliefs, disconnected from each other. Let’s all try to be more nuanced?
Every time one of my friends has asked me what I think of the startup they’re about to join, I’ve said that they should discount the equity as if it were worth $0. The probabilities work out that way, and given that most of them have other offers on the table, its the rational thing to do. Semil’s post discusses the employee side, as well as the early investor’s side - one I had not considered before. If you want to read more on this, Dan Luu’s piece on startup vs. big co tradeoffs is wonderful, pushing the point that all things being equal taking the megacorp offer is a no-brainer for the employee. As someone who wanted to be in startup land and ended up at HugeCo by accident, I mostly agree with him.
Value is a mindbending idea once you notice that it’s not tied to price, and that prices themselves are just numbers representing the opportunity cost between various goods. I was surprised there was no mention of supply and demand - this is often overlooked when discussing labor markets (ie, bankers don’t make big salaries because they produce that much value for the companies they work for, but because that’s the price the market bears). Culture might be different at facegoopplemazforce, but even if we’re not measured by “butts in seats” time, people value face time, and track who’s in first, and who leaves last. The input/output problem is pernicious in the org behavior experiences of office life, a la Dilbert. Lastly, the third section in the essay made me think of Russ Roberts’ recurring point that GDP per capita is a bad measure of our standard of living, and that we need to figure out another way to measure our progress. What are some realistic alternatives? Are there any?
I’m still going strong on my quest to fight recency bias by going back to old EconTalk episodes. I’m doing this partially to get away from the current “everything is politics” environment, but also to unlock knowledge that’s trapped in the recent past.
Trade wars are good and easy to win. Really cool economics data viz work from the NY Times, however sad the topic.
Same topic, but with a broader view, and the same messed up incentives. Noah argues that there are policy solutions that must be taken at the federal level to solve this. I agree, but I’m skeptic that we’ll see them any time soon.
A great framing of the set of technologies that everyone is so excited about but which in many ways doesn’t yet live up to expectations. Sometimes, even people deeply embedded in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco tech world get stuck in the “We’re not facegoopplemazforce, so we don’t have the data, and can’t gain from ML.” This is a mistake. The value is in the domain specific low cost solutions. Echoes a lot of ideas in Tim O’Reilly’s What’s the Future, which I’m reading right now.
A quick read that might even interest the skeptics. In essence, Gil sees potential in the store of value story, the payments story, the securitization story, and the digital goods story. Strangely he subdivides SoV into investment and offshore, but I see those two as the same. I’m personally most excited in securitization/smart contracts, which he calls money wrapped in code.
What makes banking different from other peer to peer platforms like Airbnb, Uber, or Tinder? Not the kind of question that I expected someone at the Bank of England to be thinking about.
For quite a while now I’ve been saying that the market feels a little too hot, and that there must be a recession coming. This article is similarly pessimistic about it. I don’t feel confident enough to set short positions, but I have kept good chunk of cash at hand to buy whenever shit hits the fan.
When labor markets tighten, people get creative. You get robots, and you train high school kids after realizing you don’t really need any credentials. This is a good thing. This is how we move forward.
Another labor market tightening. This is a topic I had discussed with friends already, and it is good to put numbers to our anecdotes.
An interesting back of the envelope analysis of why Brexit and Trump’s tariffs are actually different. It’s interesting to think in terms of little economic diagrams - I don’t do this often enough anymore.
This one came from Leon. He found the argument about food replacing music as a status symbol the most interesting, but for me it was much more about the cultural appropriation aspect, and how culture imposes itself in strange subtle ways.
A great conversation about venture capital. The points about how the value added by investors as you shift between seed and series A was super interesting. I might have to listen to this one again.
The point about not reducing distributions to scalar parameters (minute ~34) was very insightful. What are some other things that we treat as scalars when we shouldn’t?
On my last post I mentioned this EconTalk episode was coming, and it did not disappoint. Out of all the suggestions, I think the rethinking of property tax is the most interesting, and possibly the most non-consensus. I want to read this book.
This interview was interesting because Russ usually plays the spiritual role, instead of the skeptic one, but here he’s the skeptic. I have been intrigued by the idea of psychedelics since I read about Steve Jobs’ use of them in his biography, and Pollan makes a great case for them backed with strong evidence, and apparently good science. It made me think a lot of Reply All’s “Shine On You Crazy Goldman”, which discusses microdosing, and Sam Harris’ Drugs and the meaning of life. All of these conversations bring up interesting questions about the labeling and stigma that different substances have, and make you wonder why we accept some of them while repudiating others. For the most part, I think it’s path dependence. A couple of my friends are reading Pollan’s book now, so more conversations about this are coming.
Hanson’s views about emulating brains and how this kind of technology would affect labor markets are fascinating. The moral side of it is not too different from one of the questions raised by Weyl’s book mentioned above - assuming these ems are indistinguishable from people, is it fair/moral to bring them to the world and take a cut of their earnings? How do their needs and desires balance out? We’ve seen some of this tech roll out between this being recorded 7 years ago and now, but I’m sure that within our lifetimes we’ll see us get a lot closer than Hanson suggests.
Trying to understand why tariffs are bad, and get some sound reasons to reject the US’s current position on trade, I went back to look at what Russ had to offer on the classical trade theory. He gives a lot of really good and really basic examples on the points of returns to scale and comparative advantage, and debunks protectionism as a good long-term strategy.
A crazy dive into the rabbit hole of unexpected packages landing on our doorsteps, and the fake reviews they enable on the internet.
For a while now, Noah has been pushing a comprehensive case to open up immigration in the US. Including a slew of facts that show why the current nativist wave is based on false premises, as well as economic arguments for further opening up the borders, his platform is one I can definitely get behind. I’m biased, and I believe there’s a moral case for the US to open up, but the strongest arguments Noah makes are all in the economic interest of the country, not just the immigrants. This conversation is a good summary of his views.
Coordination problems are fascinating, and this review of Posner and Weyl’s new book gives a taste of their ideas on political economy, with a nice dose of crypto. From immigration, to private property, to the gig economy, the authors seem to have controversial but well founded solutions on how to tackle some of the hardest coordination problems facing society today. Game theory and technology are a great pairing, and one that I don’t think has been explored enough. I can’t wait for this EconTalk episode to come out.
Gotta love when economic analysis beats bad arguments.
Most traditional economic models are based on bad assumptions: full information, rational agents, etc. Dillow uses the Modigliani-Miller theorem as an example of how this quickly breaks down, and uses it to argue for better undergad education. I mostly agree that there should be a higher emphasis on empiricism.
And speaking of perfect information and economic assumptions that make no sense, here’s one that’s ususally ignored altogether at the undergraduate level: symmetric information. This post discusses the problems of infrequent transactions (think a company going public, or a person buying a house) and how one side of this market has a clear advantage over the other.
If you believe in specialization, you should believe Krugman’s argument on trade wars. He basically says there’s two reasons for the stock market’s current drop re the potential trade war: 1) Efficiency loss imposed by artificial costs on international trade, which undo specialization (tariffs). 2) Stranded assets, which are worth more on paper than on the market. I’d say there’s a third thing in play here: behavioral overshooting. In any case, the stranded asset thing is interesting. It isn’t just the soon-to-be unproductive factories in China that lost value, but also their counterparts in the US, like real estate owned by foreigners.
Sadly, Szabo has not yet released the second part of this series yet. He argues that we’ve forgotten that money used to exist outside of the State’s purview, and it is implied in his argument that cryptocurrencies are just a reversion to older models of money without state intervention.
I have never understood the American model of car sales.
This interview with Ray Dalio was great. His management philosophies are very controversial, but his success running Bridgewater speaks for itself. Describing the reasoning behind his book, Dalio discusses how he tries to boil everything down to pattern matching. Since most things have some similar precedent in the past, you can look at previous instances and act according to what history tells you will be the successful decision. Essentially, it’s real life Duck Typing. If you define ahead of time what your principles are, and how you’d behave in a certain situation based on your knowledge of previous experiences, then nothing is surprising. Importantly, you have to be a student of history for this strategy to work.
Krugman discusses how running a deficit vs. a surplus is about math and accounting and not about winning or losing, but just plain accounting. Then he goes on to compare international trade to inter-state trade. Inter-state and inter-city interactions are super interesting. I’ve always wondered why there isn’t more research along these lines. Made me wonder whether there is a dataset that could be used to replicate the methodology of Dirk Brockmann’s research on mobility and effective communities, but capturing trade instead of commerce.
When people in 2018 think of money, they think of it much like we think of the nation state - this is how things work in the world, we are all citizens of some country, and that country issues its state-sponsored currency. Most people don’t consider that history has followed different paths, and that we’re not at the end of history. Within our lifetimes these institutions will probably shift shapes.
This column asks questions about the future of technology, and which technologies are worth supporting. As you’d expect, it brings in some “marginal cost of 0” ideas, along with questions about what the structure of society should be, and what should be the role of corporations in a financialized world. Ultimately, it pushes us to remember human agency. Being a cog in one of these machines, I can tell you how easy it is to forget we have that.
Reading this reminded me of this piece on measuring surgeons’ skills and making decisions on who gets to perform surgeries based on that. Medicine is a very tricky industry (is it even ok to call it an industry? or is that healthcare?), where we don’t set up incentive systems that we know lead to better outcomes because it’d reveal that we don’t really trust our doctors. Doctors are people, and if we give them something to optimize for, they’ll optimize for it. Let’s pick the right thing: patients.
Bottom up or top down? I think neither. Lately I’ve been really conflicted about this idea of whether single humans can effect change in the world, and how.
This post describes one of the reasons why “micropayments” just don’t work. Yes, I’m in theory willing to pay a cent to read some article or blog post, and I could spend $N/month on content, but having to think about whether or not I want to pay for something or not adds significant friction. This is also why you’d rather open Netflix and scroll for ten minutes through bad content instead of opening the iTunes Movie Store and scroll for two.
On a previous episode of Patrick’s podcast, the conversation turned to the role that attention plays in consumption. Naturally, that led to talk about Albert’s book, World After Capital, and how we’re shifting to a world where the scarcest asset is human attention. I tweeted back saying I’d like to hear them discuss further, and they did!
Most economics taught in school is based on ideas that are hundreds of years old. In most colleges,(including my own) courses at the undergraduate level are focused on the theory, and the idealized models that describe the interactions between firms, labor, and widgets, which don’t really apply to our reality today. In many ways, this is related to the conversation between O’Shaughnessy and Wenger linked to above. Our world is full of intangibles. Our economics education should evolve to deal with them.
When I took a class on public finance in college, we devoted a total of an hour and a half to this topic. From the minute I heard about signaling theory, I was completely convinced. If you are at all interested on education, and how people make decisions about their lives, listen to this.
Yes, a third EconTalk episode. Sorry, not sorry. I have to confess I have not yet read the manifesto, but I soon will. Pluckrose and Lindsay make a strong argument to embolden science, reason, democracy, the rule of law, and moral progress. It’s crazy that these are things that need to be argued for, but we live in strange times.
Protectionism and lobbying are staples of the American economy. Here, more so than in many other countries, the government is structured in a way that incentivizes this. In this episode, Lindsey and Teles, come together from different sides of the political spectrum and show why the captured economy is a problem. For a more academic in-depth version of this, you can also check out the EconTalk episode interviewing the same two guys.
Everyone needs food to live. Most food comes from fertilized fields. Most fertilizer is made with phosphate, which is derived from phosphorus. Most phosphorus comes from Morocco. Morocco is a monarchy. How insane is it that the future of humanity is so tied to a single person’s whim, and no one knows about it?
Stripe is a really interesting company, and hearing John Collison talk about where it is going is fascinating. First, he talked about the idea of pitching a company for customers that don’t yet exist, which is kind of crazy, but by definition visionary. Then, they also discussed being seen as a value-add or a toll-taker. I’ll probably re-listen to this one in a few years, just like this other a16z episode on marketing and positioning. Neither is relevant to my current role, but eventually they will come in handy.
Regulation and deregulation should cause serious market restructuring. This is a good article by Thompson on how the market for booze was designed to value morals over efficiency, and how that’s changed in the last few years. It is interesting to put this trend in perspective around the rest of the labor market.
As an engineer working many layers away from the actual money-making part of the business, I have noticed I’ve almost fully stopped thinking about how sales work, and how people decide to spend their money. This is a problem, and I’m making an effort to read more about sales, marketing, and business development these days. This was a good start.
And on that note… “Politics has become like a game of football in which the only thing that matters is that our side wins and nobody cares about the quality or even basic honesty of the game. Most of us have forgotten that we are citizens as well as partisans.” Dillow is talking specifically about Brexit, and the relationships between capitalism and democracy, and the fact that news and information markets don’t lead to the most informed citizenry.
As Airbnb becomes more and more mainstream, this was bound to happen. Institutions, like people, must adapt.
I had no idea that desegregation in the US was pushed through congress via the commerce clause. There are some really interesting questions on how far the federal government can reach into state actions, and individual decisions. Making everything about money has its issues, and this episode does a good job of poking holes into some basic tenets of the US political system.
Speaking of falling behind, here’s Mankiw making some very reasonable arguments for things that we should not be arguing. The higher education system in this country might need some reform, especially on its financing and in the administrative arms race it has triggered in the last couple of decades, but the tax scheme critiqued by Mankiw here is definitely not a solution. Disincentivizing people from going to college is not necessarily a bad idea - we might be subsidizing too much education in some areas - but if that is the goal, there are more direct ways to address it than through taxing endownments.
I recently started re-listening to some older episodes of EconTalk, trying to see whether the talking points have changed in the past couple of years. The episode focuses on labor economics, and O’Reilly makes a few good points about changes in how we view labor and reputation today, and how that is changing. Listening to this again made me bump up his book a couple of spots for my to-do in 2018.
In an otherwise boring article, Cecchetti and Schoenholtz wonder whether derivatives markets will negatively affect the valuation of crypto assets. This seems possible, and I think its a prudent point of view. Not much else is new in this post. These two have been skeptical of cryptocurrencies for a long time, and here they take the fundamentals’ “no way to do a DCF on this” side. Specifically, they argue that bitcoin looks like a bubble since “investors buy solely because they see the price rising, without any change in the discount rate, in risk tolerance, or in the projected dividend stream.” As my brother Max mentioned, this one can make the same argument against gold, or as Naval Ravikants keeps repeating “Money is the bubble that never pops.”
A spin on the basic income idea. Having a large sovereign fund that redistributes its profits seems smart at face value, especially if one believes in r > g. However, it brings up second order questions, like how to ensure such fund is properly managed, or whether those same assets could be more productive out of state’s hands. Sam Altman pushes a similar idea in American Equity, expressing the payout as “an annual share of GDP”. Intriguing, but perhaps too simple to actually work without unexpected effects.
I tweeted this out as an “Interesting argument from Milanovic” and he humbly corrected me, saying the argument really is Smith’s. Discussing interactions between democracy and power distribution during the colonial period, Milanovic summarizes Smith’s view: “More democratically-governed colonies (like the British) treat slaves worse because the elite which, in a system of oligarchic republicanism, controls the levels of power is reluctant to punish its own members who are particularly brutal towards slaves.” An unexpected lesson. It made me think of Roberts and Munger’s discussion about slavery, and how plantation owners argued the slaves were better off as slaves than on their own. The system must be full of perverse incentives if that is an idea put forth with a straight face.
There are interesting questions about centralized decision making, organization, and coordination here. For example, if the same people own all the airlines, via indexing, does competition still emerge? The answers matter, but I think we’re still pretty far from having enough concentration of capital for this to be real concern.
Square is a more interesting company than Twitter. They don’t sell ads, nor nudge customers into buying things. Their product reduces friction in other companies’ transactions, which sets them apart from the rest of the pack of Silicon Valley startups. I am particularly intrested in how quiet Square (and PayPal and Stripe and others) has been about crypto. I wonder not what Chase and Goldman are planning to do with these new technologies, but what Stripe and Square have in store.
In this column, Smith discusses Richard Florida’s argument that “by creating a good environment for knowledge workers […] cities could attract the human capital that would bring in businesses and ultimately re-invigorate their economies.” As Noah points out, and Florida concedes, this helped many American cities kickstart a new phase of growth, but that came together with increased inequality, and other undesired side effects. I agree with Florida that cities should “invest in things that improve the lives of their poorer residents,” but I am skeptic of Noah’s claim that the federal and state governments should get more involved. There is too much local knowledge required to solve urban ailments, but in the end, these are problems of fragmentation, and short vs. long term incentives, both of which governments are well fit to solve…
…speaking of which. Krause makes good arguments of how to fix up San Francisco. Some make sense, and some don’t. I agree with him that it’s not a problem of resource constraints. It’s an issue of political will. There’s no BART going up to Marin because of NIMBYs, not because there was no money to build it. I remember listening to a similar arugment on the YIMBY pocdast, where they discussed how the arbitrary geographic divisions in the Bay Area’s landscape makes coordination basically impossible.
Investing is hard. Mostly because of the uncertainty, but also because even the parts of it that seem intuitive are underneath quite complex, making us wrong more often than not. This article discusses optimal strategies for repeated bets (aka the Kelly Criterion) in the context of the stock market. Their test seems biased, given the strategy’s return over the bull market of the last ten years, but the article is interesting nonetheless.
If there is one thing I love (and also hate) about EconTalk, is that nearly every episode ends up with me adding a book to my list. In this case, its Rasmussen’s book on the Hume and Smith, and their role in the Scottish Englightenment. I keep thinking that I should just go back to the origin, and read the classics first - Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature and The History of England, as well as Smiths’ The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations - and then go into the modern analysis of their work, but it is nice to have your hand held as you learn these. I always thought it was odd than in 4 years of economics courses I was never asked to read any Smith. As an aside, I found Smith posthumous editorializing of Hume’s work to be fascinating.
Brown brings up Vonnegut’s Player Piano, which features a dichotomous society where “only engineers and managers have gainful employment and meaningful lives.” Connecting the novel’s dystopia to the present isn’t too hard to do. What’s interesting is Brown’s connection to retirement investing. The origins of retirement come from not being able to do your work - i.e., losing your good hand, and with it your ability to work the land. Only in the past few decades did this financial structure evolve to the 401k’s and IRAs as we know them today. What if we’re going back to the origins of the model, except not as insurance for health, but for disruption? Replacement insurance. We invest in FAANG and reap the benefits.
I recently had a conversation with my girlfriend about how IP is a system of the past that is about to change. Here, Stiglitz and friends agree with me, and say that the solution should look a bit like open source software, but don’t really give a good answer to the question at hand: how can we change international IP law to maximize welfare in the long run? I’d love to learn more about this topic.
When I first read George, it just clicked. It seems beyond logical that windfalls should be taxed at a high rate, especially when said taxation is paired with a fixed market size. If you want to go back to the source, read this excerpt, but Noah’s piece is a good window into how the land lays today. Pun intended.
Totally related to Monteiro’s post above. McArdle and Roberts discuss how internet communities have inherited all the bad things about small-town dynamics, but shed most of the positives. When all of history is a few clicks away, errors become much more costly. This is one of the better EconTalk episodes in recent memory.
With this blog post, Krugman seems to have forgotten some of his pre-election punditry. Nevertheless, he makes a number of great arguments, backed by data and peer reviewed studies. Since most of you won’t click through, here’s the TLDR (all these are lies being fed to the American public):
- America is the most highly-taxed country in the world
- The estate tax is destroying farmers and truckers
- Taxation of pass-through entities is a burden on small business
- Cutting profits taxes really benefits workers
- Repatriating overseas profits will create jobs
- This is not a tax cut for the rich
- It’s a big tax cut for the middle class
- It won’t increase the deficit
- Cutting taxes will jump-start rapid growth
- Tax cuts will pay for themselves
I knew that Amazon employed a ton of seasonal workers, but I had no idea of the extent of the program, nor the fact that most of the laborers were retirees. Bruder does a great job in this exposé, giving us a window into the dystopian labor conditions that her protagonists endure. Most interesting is the fact that for a non-insignificant group of the population, the pangs of the financial crisis are still very much alive. I also read a review of her book in the NYT, where the reviewer pointed out a fact I kept thinking about as I read the column - this is all about old white people. A big error of omission in an otherwise great read.
A lot of people are asking themselves how is it that the market is doing so well, when the political environment and various economic indicators make it seem like it should not. Many people predicted that with Trump as president, the US economy would not do well - myself included - so what’s going on? Fox argues that a good chunk of the growth is coming from increased consumption abroad, that investors expect Trump’s business friendly policies to be good for the market, and that maybe we’re just looking at the wrong metrics. One point he doesn’t make, and which I have not seen elsewhere, is that the dollar itself is losing value (nearly 6% since election day), so the bull-market is not actually as strong as it seems.
An explanation of the insane insurance system that allows people to live in flood-prone areas in Houston, and elsewhere in the US. Through the National Flood Insurance Program “one percent of homes have been responsible for more than 25 percent of the claims,” which is kind of the point of insurance - except when you stop and think that if this incentive system were not in place, people would just not live there! By insuring these homes at subsidized rates, the government is incentivizing dangerous behavior (living in a flood-prone area) out of tax payers’ pockets.
An unusual EconTalk, where the topic is a mixed bag of technocracy and an optimistic outlook of the current technological revolution.
I have been reading a lot of Levine’s writing lately (mostly his Money Stuff series/newsletter) and this is a great example of it: a nice mix of crazy, technology, and politics, viewed through the lens of finance. “People are worried that people aren’t worried enough” and “Blockchain blockchain blockchain,” are recurring sections that have kept me coming back.
I have never read Cory Doctorow’s novels. He was recently in a Planet Money episode about his change of heart about copyright laws. It was really good, and I’m surprised I didn’t share it after I heard it! This post about his newest book, and the economics behind it, made me want to read his work. I have found myself enjoying fiction as much as non-fiction lately. It is harder to find books whose stories touch on issues that you’re interested in, since you’re not looking at the “business” or “science” section, but there are plenty of good things to read. In this case, it is the economics of coordination.
"The economics of GoT" is a good genre. A long time ago I had read a similar article about its money and banking system, and turns out it was also by Ozimek. In this post, he tries to explain why there hasn’t been an industrial revolution in GoT. The TL;DR is a) there’s no cheap energy source (coal), b) scarcity of both labor and capital, c) a hierarchical closed system of science/knowledge (the Maesters). Trying to poke holes in a fantasy world with real world theories is always interesting.
But coal! The Rust Belt! Our jobs!
The patent system is a mess. In this episode, the Planet Money folks try to explain what ideas are and are not patentable. Among others, they discuss beef cuts, and easily snackable variations on chicken wings from non wing parts of the chicken. I listened to this on my way to meet friends for Wing Wednesday, quite fitting.
We’ve all seen that scene from The Graduate. Here’s some backround info on the invention of the material. In many ways, I owe a lot of who I am to that one word: “plastics”
My experience of technology, and that of most readers of this blog, is one predicated on high speed access, tens, if not hundreds of gigabytes of storage, and last generation processors paired with large amounts of memory. How does the internet work when “fast” means you’re streaming over 2G? What do your apps store when the drive on your phone holds only a couple of gigs? How do you find content your when you’re illiterate? This article doesn’t try (and can’t!) answer these questions, but provides data and anecdotes of why they are questions worth asking.
That’s trickle down economics for you. Not only is the US economy growing at a slower rate, but it is also growing extremely unequally. Intuitively, these curves should have negative slopes - it is much easier to find an opportunity to grow $100 into $102 than to turn $1M into $1.02M - so what changed in this complex system that lead us to the current state? Rules over wealth and wages are diverging more and more.
This article argues that “modern American elites recoiled from accumulating mere goods now that globalisation has made them affordable to the middle class” and are instead now spending their money inconspicously - buying experiences, and high social value items instead. I don’t know if I buy the argument, but I guess I’ll have to read the book. I have also been meaning to read Veblen for a while, but that’s a bit denser.
Usually I am biased when talking about economics, but this argument wouldn’t help me anyway. Letting low skill workers come in help the US, too, as they generate business and grow the pie for everyone else. It’s not a zero sum game.
Among other things, this made me think of the opening chapter of Flash Boys, and how the crazy floors of stock and commodity exchanges are not what they used to be. Now I want to go watch Trading Places. (Also, Roman Mars on Planet Money? More of that, please.)
A good point about governance, shareholder influence, and, in a way, democracy. If the shareholders are idiots, you end up making bad decisions. But if the shareholders are really smart but skilled in a different area, you end up making bad decisions too.
Urban economics and gentrification are recurring topics on this blog. This post doesn’t bring much new to the conversation, but the explanation of feedback loops and how the durability of buildings relates to the length of these feedback loops is interesting.
Religion’s role in the rise of finance is an interesting topic. I remember reading about it in Dimont’s God, Jews, and History 10 years ago (I should probably it read again), and being surprised by how much of a role Judaism had in the development of modern banking. This article discusses the changing views of money within Christianity, and how lending shifted from being sinful to respectable. The development of money and commerce is related to slowly expanding our circles of trust - from families, to tribes, to villages, to towns, and eventually to cities and countries. As transactions become trustless, finance becomes faceless, and lending at interest is no longer one person screwing the other one, but oil in the gears of a bigger machine.
How would an alternative history where the American Colonies get seats in the British Parliament have played out? In Imagined Communities, Anderson repeatedly mentions that the colonial nation state emerges in the Americas partly because creole colonists are not given the same opportunities as the “actual British” or the “Actual Spanish.” A colonist could rise in the state bureaucracy up to a certain point, but never reach the highest courts. This led to an imagining of “us” against “them” where the “us” were the colonists, and the “them” was the empire. This dynamic led to rebellions, and a variety of fights for independence across the continent. Are there any examples of colonies that were granted full “part of the empire” status? I couldn’t think of any.
I would love to spend some time in China and understand how some technologies are being leapfrogged over there. The article reminded me of Charlie Warzel’s cashless Swedish adventure, which I shared when it came out last year, and is totally worth your time. Especially interesting here are the aspects of consumer lock-in to these two companies (Alibaba and Tencent) mobile payment systems, and the lock-out experienced by foreigners.
Last night I attended an event about the interaction between technology and housing. As you’d imagine, this is a hot topic in San Francisco. One of the panelists pointed out that unlike other countries, in the US home ownership is seen as an investment, and not as a means of shelter. From her perspective, this philosophy has led regulators to crystallize a perverse set of incentives into law, in order to preserve the value of those investments, at a huge social cost. And I totally agree. When I see all the single-family two story homes in the western side of San Francisco, or the low rise buildings neighboring the downtown area, I just get more convinced that this is a policy issue, not an innovation issue. Having an economic boom should be a good thing!
Disagreeing over the facts, and these levels skepticism over quantitative analysis is almost laughable, but NIMBYs, and other critics of the pro-housing movement do have some good arguments. Here’s a quick summary.
I have always said that who is president does not matter as much as the historical context, and who that person surrounds themselves with. The fact that things were going well when he got to power means that people shouldn’t be too unhappy (yet!) but they are. What will happen once the economy goes south?
This one is less about the politics of it, but the actual mechanics. The business of insurance is one of pricing - the better you are at calculating the likelihood of whatever mishaps you are insuring against, the more money you’ll make. Harris explains the various players along the value chain, and discusses how the insurance market is structured.
Dillow lists three reasons. First, he starts with Marx’s view of economics as a historical process. Since the economy is “founded upon past injustices” and the “denial of the rights and freedom which libertarians celebrate,” the status quo can’t be regarded as legitimate by libertarians. Second, he discusses Marx’s perspective on property rights, and how they might discourage investment and innovation. Lastly, he posits that Marx’s gripe with capitalism was not that it was unfair, but that it robbed laborers from their freedom. As someone mentioned on HN a few days ago in the context of a minimum wage discussion, “When a person is desperate, ‘voluntary’ starts to lose all meaning.” I’m not a libertarian, but I should read Marx.
This makes the idea of getting an economics PhD even less appealing than it already was. The fact that even the people who arguably know the most about how markets function can’t build a better matching market.
It’s ridiculous to think that spreadsheets were so revolutionary only a few years ago.
Is it illegal to study how a system works, to the point that you understand it so well that you can exploit it? No, that’s the whole point of open source software. Patch the issue, give the gray hat his bounty, and move on.
In a strange melding of worlds, Ben moves away from the usual tech talk and goes deep into the history of financial manias. Using Yuval Harari’s notion of shared myths, this post makes a clear difference between bubbles of irrationality, and bubbles of timing. I firmly believe that crypto is one of the latter.
And if you really thought fiat is valuable, think again.
What are the implications of crypto for central banking? The written-in-stone aspect of the blockchain makes monetary policy way more credible, which is a good thing, but at the same time crypto knows no borders, making adjustments by one group of users spill over to others quite easily. A more in depth look here.
A couple of years ago, right after my college graduation, I was very close to going the startup route, but ended up joining Apple instead. With hindsight, I can tell that financially the decision is a no-brainer: Cash is cash.
Currency areas, and defining regional economies is one of my long-time favorite topics. There is a trend in the US towards lower labor mobility, which has deep implications for the economy. Historically, if an economic shock hit a state like Oklahoma, its citizens would respond by migrating to California, where things were better. This is no longer the case. As this trend continues, the business cycles of different zones in the country may start to diverge, and at that point the monetary policy set by the Fed might stop making sense.
A note on inequality, since that’s another recurring theme here.
This article was awesome. The basic idea it tries to get across is that because cities are multicultural and inclusive, they are also more productive. This vision of the city as a bastion of openness and tolerance, unlike the insular rural communities that voted for Trump, is not new, but the post sparked some interesting conversation online. For example see Noah Smith’s, Ross Douthat’s and Chris Arnade’s takes.
This is another version of Noah Smith’s Beware of Thinking like an Economist. Here the argument is “there are certain problems that only sociologists can solve,” which is probably just as bad. However, the historical aspect is interesting, especially the fact that there could have been a Council of Social Advisers.
The issue with modeling of any kind is that there are no alternative realities to compare against. We can only measure what we see, and by definition there are no counterfactuals, nor what-ifs. Making policy decisions under this state of affairs is hard, and the only thing we can do about it is internalize this limitation, knowing that we could be very wrong. Statistical analysis is a tool, and like any other tool, it is succeptible to operator error.
Americans are exceptional in their very own ways. This whole healthcare story is a fiasco, and I am amazed that the American people have allowed it to go this long.
The Trilemma makes it so that whatever policy a government decides to follow, it must be an active choice. Currency manipulation towards a stronger, weaker, more stable, or more volatile currency is a choice, and there is no default. Like everything else in economics, and the world we live in, it is a choice about tradeoffs, and understanding who gains and who loses (and by how much!) is the key to the issue.
The average American has no clue of how immigration policy and actual immigration patterns work. Understanding how much effort other countries put into helping the US keep illegal immigrants at bay could be helpful in the current climate.
Having Russ Roberts and one of his guests debate on economic topics is fun. Having him and another three guests? Even better.
“Markets price risk, not hope.” In times like these, I wish I understood international finance better.
I have previously discussed Szabo, and his view on human institutions as “trust-offloading mechanisms.” In a way, money is the ultimate trust-offloading abstraction. Until the last few years, money – American Dollars, the Euro, or the Costa Rican Colon – still relied on trusting several points of failure – states, the payments networks, the certificate authorities – and our human interactions simply assumed those costs. Bitcoin and the internet have started to changed that, and further developments in technology promise much more. This is a post I’ll probably re-read again soon.
Something that surpised me about monetary policy rules when I studied them in college was how much their usefulness depended on people’s expectations of their usefulness. Individual agents’ beliefs on the predictability and stability of a state’s decisions about its monetary policies were the fulcrum of all the models we studied in these intermediate economics classes. Thinking about how these rules can be baked into a crypto currency, such as bitcoin’s pre-defined velocity rule, or freicoin’s holding fees, is really interesting. Like Albert, I’m excited about these experiments.
The confluence of artificially cheap electricity, price controls on imported goods, and hyper-inflation are making Bitcoin more and more mainstream in places like Venezuela. While the great majority of the population probably has no idea of what cryptocurrencies are, or how to use them, it is really interesting to hear about how the fringe slowly drifts.
Data are the base on which we assess the validity of any policy, and on which we can measure the success or failure of ideas. When China announces growth numbers, no one believes them. Can the US potentially get to the same situation?
The headline is a bit click-baity, but the content is good. Tax reform is not a bad idea. At face value, this variation on the VAT seems good, but to be honest I don’t understand the full implications yet. This Planet Money episode tries to explain the same idea from a different, lighter angle. If you have other good explanations on this topic, please send them my way.
I am very much in favor of a carbon tax. However, there is no way that the right kind of carbon tax will be instituted given Trump and friends’ stance on the fossil fuel industry. It’s not like the Secretary of State is the ex-chariman and CEO of the world’s largest refinery business. While Rex Tillerson might have said that a carbon tax is the best possible policy, there is no reason to believe that the government will curb the industry as much as it should.
Understanding that the economy is not a zero sum game is essential when talking about immigration. Borjas and Roberts describe the short and long term implications of the demographic changes that are tied to immigration, not just on the economic side, but also in terms of culture.
Lately I have been coming back to the Veil of Ignorance and how morality can be defined in terms of the choices we’d make behind it. If we did not know in which part of society we’ll fall, our policy choices would be very different. This can apply at the level of a city dealing with its poor, a country dealing with its healthcare system, or the international community dealing with its refugees. The idea of a basic income guarantee is gaining more and more steam, and I think this Rawlsian exercise can help us understand why.
I especially liked the section on why people remember hyperinflations, but not financial crises. Essentially, the argument is that hyperinflations affect anyone with savings. A financial crisis, on the other hand, can make you better off in real terms — as long as you keep your job.
More on immigration. This episode includes three interviews with three economists with very different views. First, Dean Baker, whose suggestion is that the US should open its borders for high skilled individuals, such as doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. The most interesting part of his argument is that he’d like to make it mandatory for these individuals to repatriate some of their income, and so improve their home-countries in return for the brain-drain. Next, Giovanni Peri makes an argument for an auction based system, in which companies bid for the most lucrative candidates. This is a system I’d be against. For starters, how would we control for living cost in different areas of the country? And importantly, money is not a good measure of how valuable a job is. Last, Alex Nowrasteh, whose proposal most aligns with my views: make it a free for all.
Another great data visualization project out of the NYT’s “analytical journalism” desk, this time about the relationship between education and economic mobility. Finding your school is really easy. Here’s Northwestern, for example. There are no surprises: the numbers are stark, as expected.
It is easy to draw a matrix to group the cases of what might be fake news, based on the belief of its publisher and its consumer. It is a simple confusion matrix, where the only quadrant we should really worry about is the one where “the supplier knows the story is false but the demander believes the story is true.” Kahn exposes important issues about the economic environment in which a market for fake news might arise.
New ideas are not worth listening to because they are new, but shouldn’t be disregarded for that reason either. Conservatism is a stupid idea. I wonder how it came up in the first place. Definitely related to my argument on Szabo’s article above.
The perverse effects of signaling becoming more important than reality.
A story about the most recent crisis, and how Neel Kashkari, who worked at the Treasury at the time, and is now the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Fed, plans to avoid the next one. As the podcast put it, the fact that Bernie Sanders and the WSJ editorial board agree that Kashkari’s proposal is a good way to move forward means that there is some intellectually solid ground in it.
Twenty years after this article was published, both academia and industry are still struggling to understand the implications of increasing returns, network effects, and zero marginal costs. It is good to take a step back, and see how a view from the past can improve our understanding of business dynamics today.
Normative economics, and therefore normative policies, are more prevalent than we would all like to admit. In Noah’s lead example (the US opening trade with a poor country) he talks about two sides: the consumers, who get cheaper goods, and the workers, whose jobs are lost to globalization. Ultimately though, there is one more group missing in this tale, and it is presumably that of the biggest winners: the citizens of the poor country, whose economic gain from such a trade deal would disproportionately improve their standard of living. “What ought to be” is a matter of identity politics, and we ought to remember that identity can also be defined by a nation-state.
How does pricing strategy work in a world where decisions are programmatic, and therefore can’t be viewed through the lens of traditional game theory or antitrust case law? Can you blame a supplier who “sets and forgets” his pricing scheme, and somehow ends up selling a book for $23,698,655.93 (+$3.99 shipping)? Interesting times are ahead.
“You might be able to teach an entire course on the microeconomics of money and banking based on the following thought experiment” might be an overblown claim, but this is definitely a good way to introduce the topic. While most people these days are aware of the “fiat-ness” of money, or its imaginary value, the money creation process is a few logical jumps away that few actually take.
Measuring a farm animal’s utility is an interesting exercise. Choice is not only a human problem.
Tax cuts, and infrastructure spending are good ideas, but will he actually put them in motion?
The fact that anything works is crazy. Making pencils is nearly impossible, and yet, there is probably a store within a couple of blocks from you where you can get one, along with N other more complex items.
Right up there with “I, Pencil” and the story of economic complexity, we have the story of economic growth. Consider this a case study.
This is not about Trump. This is about (macro)economics, business, and the mind-bending realization that they are inherently different. Macro versus micro, closed systems vs. open systems, zero-sum games vs. growing pies. Out of all my classes at Northwestern, International Finance was probably the most unexpectedly enlightening. This is it, in a nutshell.
The argument is easy, make it cheaper to take risks, and more people will take risks. Incentives.
Consider two very different options for why growth seems to have stoped: either people have stopped consuming enough to drive the economy forward, or we have stopped innovating and creating products as we used to. Each situation requires very different remedial policies, but as Smith explains, we’re not sure which of the two worlds we’re living in.
One of the few things about finance that I actually enjoyed learning about in school was Gordon’s Growth Model. In his post, Fatas applies the model and plays with the equation to come up with a “Bubble Index.” While I wouldn’t bet on it, the equation makes for an interesting exercise.
People do not understand second order effects, and have trouble forseeing policy implications. I keep going back to how whenever we think of economics in terms of the study of “rational agents,” we’re making a mistake. And I don’t mean it in the behavioral econ “we all have biases” way, but in the “People are dumb and don’t have full information to make rational decisions” way. Democracy is hard.
A critique of Spolsky’s Finding Great Developers, based on solid microeconomics. Luu compares the software engineering labor market to Akerlof’s market for lemons. The argument against Spolsky’s model seems to be based on two ideas: first, that there is an information asymmetry for both hiring managers, as well as engineers, and second, that the proportion of dysfunctional teams is larger than Spolsky implies. The article goes into an extensive study of the market structure, and possible solutions for both managers and engineers. The main takeaway, is that job hunting and hiring for software engineers is hard.
When people think of economics as a discipline, they tend to think of the broad themes they read about in the newspaper: interest rates, trade, unemployment, the housing market, etc, usually analyzed at the macro level. However, as Smith points out, microeconomics has slowly gained steam, developing more reliable models than macro in the last few years. Better tools, new methods, as well as data, are driving this change. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in more Nobel Prizes going to the microeconomists as of late, including this year’s winners.
More of the same. I still believe modern nations might be unraveling. Another case of “we don’t want to pay for them, because they are not us”.
In which Kocherlakota explains so much of what’s wrong with techno-pessimism, while making a case for paying attention to second and third order effects.
Not suprisingly, the idea of redistribution is not taken well by Roberts, but the underlying themes are more interesting anyway. Touching on cosmopolitanism, identity, and other recurring subjects of this blog, Deaton and Roberts discuss the state of the US’s poor, questioning whether a poor person in the south is objectively worse off than a poor person in Africa, for example.
The stories coming out of the Wells Fargo scandal are rough. Incentives in the financial markets are turned on their heads, and it is amazing that the extensive regulation can’t handle these issues. Golden parachutes and bail-outs aside, this is insanity.
To continue the theme of freedom of movement, let’s talk immigration policy. In short, Dillow argues that the free market right should support open immigration in much the same way they support free trade. If freedom was something that the conservatives really cared about, they could not be this inconsistent, and they surely would push for more lenient immigration laws than the left. Once again, it is a matter of boundaries, and identity: freedom for whom?
More of the same. I am on a roll, I guess. It is odd that both US presidential candidates are against trade in this election, so the Planet Money folks compressed a quarter millenium of trade history for us. While superficial, there is a good discussion of The Wealth of Nations, and who benefits from tariffs vis-a-vis open borders and other trade policies. They touch on concentrated benefits and diffuse costs, which we can see across the ladder from regional to supranational deals. I assume the bipartisan anti-trade sentiment in the US is just a blip, and that we’ll soon revert to the trend of freer trade.
It is easier to sell people on a safe past than an unsure future. Our brain is hardwired with biases, trained by thousands of years of evolution. It can trick us on false positives and overblow our fears, or it can make us think that the past was, by its own nature, better than the future. What seems irrational is that no candidate has capitalized on this, realizing that there is a discrepancy between public discourse and the numbers. Soon, some candidate will catch the tailwind instead of falsely promising restoration.
A clear exposition one of my gripes about economics as a discipline: Once you layer in tax, after tax, after tax, and your policies start interacting with each other, they no longer achieve the desired effects.
In the real world, no agent -however rational- can make optimal choices, as they don’t have nearly full information. To make things worse, solutions proposed at a given time might alter the underlying reality before they even go into effect, and no longer work as expected! By the time they are in place, policies are hard to change (this week’s EconTalk touched on that topic) and we deal with it by adding more crap on top. Living in a complex society does not by definition require the levels of complexity of modern legislation.
Similar to the recent Bloomberg article. Amazon seems more and more serious about their last-mile effort, and the incumbents are still incredulous.
If the political system in the US is hard, and confusing, the Fed is probably one of the most misunderstood. Even having taken several courses on the topic, understanding the intended effects of central banking, and monetary policy, is tough. Bernstein makes a good case for the importance about better understanding it.
I lived in Chicago for 4 years, and I never saw levels of poverty and homelessness as intense as I see in San Francisco. However, both cities have poverty. Both cities have homelessness. In Chicago it is a matter of “out of sight, out of mind”, while in SF you see it day in and day out. Market Street and the Magnificent Mile are a stark contrast, but both cases require society to provide solutions. This article is missing a call to action.
The events that are developing in the EU right now are potentially more important to the future of global culture than most people realize. Whatever conclusion comes from this case might define sovereignty and jurisdiction across national and supranational borders. As Tim Cook posits in his letter, “at its root, the Commission’s case is not about how much Apple pays in taxes. It is about which government collects the money,” and that is the actually interesting question here.
In a complex world, second order effects tend to be more important in aggregate than one would expect. Increased access to birth control results in better care for the kids who are born, and eventually a better society.
No data was released, but here is the original paper, in case you want to take a look.
Whether penny auctions can be classified as gambling or not, they could be a source of really interesting decision theory/behavioral economics research. If you know of any studies particularly worth looking at, please send them my way.
Lots of interesting tid bits on culture, and how our perception of the world changes over time. What will we look back in N years and think “wow, how were we so stupid”?
The fact that two white economics professors at prestigious universities talk about this in public is already a big win. Not knowing the history of slavery in the US, this was quite interesting. The “us vs. them” framing, coupled with the Rawlsian ideas towards the end, was the most persuasive part. Incentives strike again.
Incentives rule all our decisions. If the mandate of fiduciary duty is to “maximize shareholder value,” that is what any board will do. Whether the “business decision” was correct or not is a question of short-term vs. long-term thinking, discount rates, and how much the company values its employees. When labor is interchangable, this is not a surprising decision. If the well-being of the employees were somehow baked in into the pricing model, there could be a different outcome.
An analysis on the future of work, and labor compensation. I am not surprised that gains are concentrated in a set of firms, the real question, as Claudia points out, is “is rising worker segregation a sign of reduced competition, greater economic rents, or is it telling us about a change in the nature of production?” My guess? The latter.
The fact that we can walk into a store and exchange a piece of paper for a loaf of bread is a sign of trust. Our economies, and our lives, are all based on trust, and Tim’s article explains how important this is in an age where “reputation” becomes currency. Reminded me a lot of Seabright’s Company of Strangers.
One of the most intriguing aspects of bitcoin is what kind of effects a constant, predictable, and stable money supply would cause in our financial systems. Coming from the Bank of England, this post holds more water than the usual cryptocurrency wonk posts.
The world is a mess, its just less messy than it used to be.
Not the usual Krugman. A really interesting take on how the Internet has changed cities. While he thinks of “back office operations,” I think of AWS and outsourced manufacturing.
A simple result that should change how we see one of the assumptions that underlies tons of models in economics.
I am very happy that I found Chris Arnade. His posts and tweetstorms provide amazing insight into a part of the United States that I otherwise would simply not have access to.
Great analogy between natural science vs. religion and natural science vs. social science. As Noah points out, the idea of the “God of the Gaps” fits in quite well. I have long been a fan of Paul Davies and his take on the classic fight. Noah gives a good explanation for why they are, in a way, the same.
A glimpse into what money might become.
An interesting take on the rise of trump. Similar to Chris Arnade’s twitter comments on the implicit understanding optionality of Trump voters, who desire volatility.
It is all a charade. At least the WWE embraces it.
I learned this exists from my manager, who used to work at Netflix. Mind blown.
It takes guts to describe your company as the “…most popular way to buy, sell, and use bitcoin” or, more humbly, a “bitcoin wallet and platform” and then come out and say that something else is better, and possibly more sustainable, than BTC. Smells like a soft pivot to cryptocurrencies in general could be coming.
Economic models can be bent to lie. Usually, not this blatantly, though.
Extreme clarity on the future of journalism, media, and strategies for companies in the space to respond to change. TL;DR: create better content or disappear. The arguments fit perfectly with Aggregation Theory, and while the article is a bit too focused on politics, the analysis could apply to any other news covered by the media, from the Tech Bubble, to ISIS, or Millenials. Long, but worthwhile.</br>I have been reading Baekdal for years. I can’t even remember how I ran into his blog, but it must have been 7 or 8 years ago, and I am glad I did.
While I have read (…skimmed 🙄) Mary Meeker’s report several years in a row by now, I had never consciously noticed the acceleration of adoption rates of new technologies.
As is mentioned toward the end, “the most effective monopoly killer is the next monopoly.”
Sometimes, free is a problem.
When reality contradicts your beliefs, most likely, you have to change your beliefs.
If you haven’t yet, go read Part 1.
When I tweeted at him asking for resources to understand the math behind this research, Noah recommended reading this pdf. To be honest, I haven’t had time for it yet.
As usual, Thoma asks the right questions. I am particularly interested in the “how is the social interest is defined?” aspect of his article. When companies, and identities, span across the world, our definitions of society change too.
As the source name implies, this is not about San Francisco, but Los Angeles. “…we can’t solve society’s mobility problems by trying to ensure that everyone gets a $250,000 car. We don’t need subsidized Lamborghinis, we need Honda Civics.”