Miscellanea March 13, 2017
Well, here’s a random set of stuff. Costa Rica, San Francisco, and México. More...
Links - March 13th, 2017
- Why All Exchange Rates Are Bad Timothy Taylor - Conversable Economist
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.
- A Big Little Idea Called Legibility Venkatesh Rao - Ribbonfarm
I am currently reading several books at once, and one of them is Seeing Like a State. So far, the book has presented a bunch of ideas about the inner workings of what the author calls high modern states. In this post, Rao (who is not the author of the book) summarizes one of the most interesting ideas in the book so far: legibility, or reorganizing society to make it more understandable, and thus more governable.
- President Trump Wants a Wall? Mexico Is It Eduardo Porter - The New York Times
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.
- The Uber Conflation Ben Thompson - Stratechery
2017 gave Uber a rough start. In an unusual post, Ben argues for a change of leadership, focusing on two questions: ‘Is Uber’s approach to regulation wrong?’ and ‘Is Uber wrong with regards to the specific issue at the center of this controversy?’
- Brains, Bodies, Minds... and Techno-Religions a16z Podcast
One of my favorite episodes of a16z ever. Touching on the subjects of nationalisim, imagined communities, religion, governments, etc, etc, etc, and how all of these are affected by the rise of technology. I had shared a related piece from Harari a few months ago, but this podcast episode is way better.
- Crafts, Garicano, and Zingales on the Economic Future of Europe EconTalk
Having Russ Roberts and one of his guests debate on economic topics is fun. Having him and another three guests? Even better.
Links - March 12th, 2017
This post has been sitting half-baked on my draft list for far too long. In an effort to motivate myself, and to write more, I decided to post it as is and move on. My apologies to the authors of the uncommented links.
- Manifestos and Monopolies Ben Thompson - Stratechery
It has been interesting to see Ben apply aggregation theory to politics more and more. I agree with the views presented in this article about centralization (or lack thereof), regulation (or lack thereof), and market solutions (or lack thereof).
- Surfing, metrics and creation: Facebook and Snap Benedict Evans
Since Snap’s S1 came out a couple of weeks ago, everyone has been discussing whether moats exists or not. The fact that their whole thesis revolves around the disintegration of sustained competitive advantages is fascinating. Evans’ index fund analogy adds an interesting idea to the mix: Facebook, Instagram, and Google must reflect reality and serve billions, while Snapchat will aim to create N things, each worthwhile to M million people, such that N*M becomes significant while not overtaking the role of the index.
- Segregation Had to Be Invented Alana Semuels - The Atlantic
Not surprisingly, the past is different than we think it was. Thinking of the rise of segregation as a relatively new phenomenon is odd.
- Hyphen-Nation Bayeté Ross Smith - The New York Times
A great set of interviews. I constantly think about this topic of where identities overlap and how people view themselves vs. how they are sseen by others. More so these days. Belonging, otherness, and these social dynamics are very intriguing.
- How did Europe become the richest part of the world? Joel Mokyr - Aeon
- "Incentives" as bigotry Chris Dillow - Stumbling and Mumbling
- People Actually Use Food Stamps to Buy More Food Noah Smith - Bloomberg View
- Clock 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy
Links - February 16, 2017
Unintentionally, there’s a lot of money/banking/finance content in this post. At least its not all about Trump, right?
- The Future of the Euro Stephen Cecchetti and Kermit Schoenholtz - Money, Banking and Financial Markets
“Markets price risk, not hope.” In times like these, I wish I understood international finance better.
- Money, blockchains, and social scalability Nick Szabo - Unenumerated
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.
- Money as a Commons: Basic Income, Demurrage and Crypto Currencies Albert Wenger - Continuations
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.
- Snap's Apple Strategy Ben Thompson - Stratechery
I have seen the Snap <=> Apple narrative popping up over and over across the web. Except for the “obsessive-design-focused-mission-driven-CEO” story, which I can’t really ascertain (and neither can the media!) , I haven’t really seen any good arguments to back it up. Ben comes the closest, but doesn’t quite convince me either. The Facebook <=> Microsoft analogy is much more believable, given the market conditions. I am bullish on Snapchat, and I am enjoying my spectacles (a different blog post soon?) but we’ll have to wait and see how this one plays out.
- What We Don’t Do Fred Wilson - AVC
Thinking about this on a personal level is interesting. I know what my goals for the year are, to a certain level, but what are things that I should specifically not focus on? After all, focus means “saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”
- Understanding Python Class Instantiation Amir Rachum
These one-off explanations of snippets of source code are always enlightening. Coding seems like magic, until you discover that there is not magic, just layers upon layers of well thought out abstractions, each one understandable on its own, but magical as a whole.
- Square-Mile Street Network Visualization Geoff Boeing
Urban development is super interesting, and thinking of how cities work by looking at their layouts is a good exercise. I wish I had worked more with geographic data while I was in the Apple Maps team. This seems like a neat library, and the fact that it is based on networkx makes me even more curious. There might be a side project brewing here.
- Anthony Bourdain's Moveable Feast Patrick Radden Keefe - The New Yorker
My friend Dana had already recommended that I read Kitchen Confidential, but after reading this, it got bumped up a few notches on my to-do list. Parts Unknown, Bourdain’s show, is one of my go-to “half an hour to kill” shows on Netflix. It is very entertaining, and it makes an effort to show more than just the food of foreign lands. As the article describes, there is a layer of political complexity to the show that is unusual for its kind. Make half an hour to read this, and then make another one to watch an episode of the show.
- Bitcoin, the Blockchain, and Freedom in Latin America Russ Roberts and Jim Epstein - EconTalk
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.
- Billy Bookcase 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy
There is a comment I especially liked here about how “…innovation in the modern economy isn’t just about snazzy new technologies, but boringly efficient systems. The Billy bookcase is not innovative in the way the iPhone is innovative. The innovations are about working within the limits of production, and logistics, finding tiny ways to shave more off the cost…” The iPhone example is coincidental, I’m sure, but I immediately went to “this is the argument against Tim Cook.” It is hard to appreciate how much of today’s Apple is dependent on the advanced supply chain operation that the company has built. Pushing atoms is also innovation.
Links - February 12th, 2017
This is a podcast heavy list. I have been reading plenty of books lately (this year I’ve already finished 4, and I’m partially through 3!), so I’ve been spending more and more time on podcast land. There are a couple of programm-y things, but everything else is sadly about Politics.
- Government Economists Are Going to Produce Statistics Trump Doesn't Like Gene B. Sperling - The Atlantic
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?
- How to Spot Visualization Lies Nathan Yau - Flowing Data
Facts don’t need to be alternative to make you arrive at the wrong conclusions.
- So You Want to Move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem? Here’s How Daniel Shapiro - Foreign Policy
When I went back home, I was amazed by how many of my friends and family were convinced that having Trump in the White House was a good idea just for this. Someone with a little more experience tells us how simple the process would be.
- This is the Republican plot to kill the US corporate income tax as we know it Tim Fernholz - Quartz
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.
- Senior Republican statesmen propose replacing Obama’s climate policies with a carbon tax Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin - The Washington Post
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.
- The Dirichlet is a Mixed Bag (of Nuts) Justin Bozonier - Data Bozo
Using short code snippets, and a bag of mixed nuts as the motivating example, Bozonier explains a complex probabilty concept.
- Buggy Software, Loyal Users: Why Bug Reporting is Key To User Retention Itamar Turner-Trauring - Code Without Rules
Filing bugs sucks, every time, but few things are as satisfying as getting a message that says “this will be fixed in the next build!” and feeling like you’re helping improve a system that you actively use. Whether it is opening an issue on an open source project, or filing a Radar for a different team at Apple, the less I have to think about how to report a bug, the more likely it is that I will continue using your software, and helping you improve it.
- George Borjas on Immigration and We Wanted Workers EconTalk
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.
- Michael Munger on the Basic Income Guarantee EconTalk
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.
- Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde on European Economic History and Macroeconomic Modeling Macro Musings
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.
- It’s Working Out Very Nicely This American Life
By far, act two was the best part of this episode. The Trump Administration’s rhetoric implies that the current vetting system for immigration into the US is leaky, and useless. The wording of the executive order is one of “taking first steps,” while “extreme vetting” suggests that the current implementation is not strong enough. Hearing the opinion of one the interviewers who actually take part in the vetting process shows how naïve the narratives coming out of the White House can be.
- Cars and Cities, the Autonomy Edition a16z Podcast
What happens to our urban environments when car culture goes away? What kind of businesses are enabled due to autonomous vehicles?
- If Economists Controlled The Borders Planet Money
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.