Posts concerning economics

Consumer’s Lament

23:13 13 Jul 2010

My wallet—not the metaphor, but the physical object I use to hold money and other things—has become worn and ragged. It’s time to buy a new one.

By “new one”, I mean ideally a new wallet of exactly the same model. This wallet has served me extremely well, and I don’t see why I would want to change its configuration given that it’s worked perfectly for years.

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Some Recent Web Reading on Economics

22:39 06 Jul 2010

A David Harvey lecture on the recent crises, animated:

An NPR broadcast on how falling real wages have been compensated for by expanding easy credit.

A reminder that money is not real.

Some thoughts on why higher education correlates to higher political self-delusion in Britain. (Also, on why economists and other intellectuals are so likely to construct theories defending even utterly ludicrous levels of inequality.)

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1 in 6 Shocked by Cellphone Bill

23:51 27 May 2010

Ars Technica reports on a new FCC survey [PDF] which found that about 30 million Americans have experienced unpleasant surprise at unexpected jumps in their cellphone bills. I’ll take this opportunity to complain about AT&T, who recently decided to simply tack a data plan (at $30/month) onto my bill when I switched my SIM card into my new Nexus One—and this wasn’t a request, they just did it and informed me by text message. I was able to get them to credit my account with the amount, which works since I’ve left them for T-Mobile, but that was extremely irritating.

In addition, the amount they charge for text messages is simply ludicrous, all the more so given that I had to pay not merely to send but also to receive them. Finally, I hate the fact that they concentrate on “minutes” so much while refusing to make talk minutes fungible—other services should be expressed in minute cost, e.g. one text message should deduct one minute of voice from your account. I realize they have every incentive not to do this, but it’s still extremely irritating. So far T-Mobile seem better; it looks like my T-Mobile bill will be around the same as, or maybe slightly more than, my AT&T bill, but now I have an unlimited data plan as part of that charge.

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The City and Sim City

22:37 21 May 2010

I’m impressed and fascinated by this interview with Vincent Ocasla, who essentially “beat” Sim City 3000 as an art piece commenting on modern life, economics, and social engineering.

(I do think this counts as an art piece. While I think that video games can be art, no matter what Roger Ebert says, I also wonder about whether it means anything that they can be used to create art in this manner.)

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Predatory Lending Infographic

23:58 20 May 2010. Updated: 00:59 21 May 2010

The Consumerist has a really good one. Hopefully you weren’t planning to use any of those services anyway, but if you were—don’t.

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Money, Motivation, and Social Organization

22:37 18 May 2010

This animated excerpt from a lecture by Dan Pink on the nature of motivation is absolutely worth watching:


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What’s Really Happening in Greece

23:55 14 May 2010. Updated: 01:17 15 May 2010

The primary narrative I see represented is that the Greeks spend “too much” on their social programs (and to pay their civil servants) and that they’ve been profligate generally and need to cut back, where this means slashing social spending. There may be a little truth to this tale, but there’s a lot more going on, which Michael Hudson exposes.

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Building the Bubble

23:30 04 May 2010. Updated: 01:32 05 May 2010

Was there a conspiracy to build doomed-to-fail speculative bubbles on dubious mortgages? Very likely, but not necessarily in the classic meetings-in-smoky-rooms fashion. Mike Whitney’s article “The Subprime Conspiracy” summarizes what was going on, and who knew about it. It also provides a good description of how the common idea of “conspiracy” can be quite naive, and that matching incentives are all that’s really required.

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Chris Ware and Fortune

21:29 25 Apr 2010

I’m not sure what Fortune magazine expected when they asked Chris Ware to come up with a cover for their May Fortune 500 issue, but my guess is that they didn’t do as much research as they should have.

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The History of Debt

13:34 23 Apr 2010

“Debt: The first five thousand years” is a fascinating long-term overview of how debt has evolved and been managed through its history. The perspective granted by the long view is quite different from how I’d been looking at recent debt-related events, in particular regarding the “virtual versus real” money debate.

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Market Efficiency in Action

17:18 20 Apr 2010

It should be clear that having better access to information than others will make it pretty easy to make money in market trading. And:

While markets are supposed to ensure transparency by showing orders to everyone simultaneously, a loophole in regulations allows marketplaces like Nasdaq to show traders some orders ahead of everyone else in exchange for a fee.

That seems like quite the loophole.

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The Sewer that Ate Birmingham

09:10 12 Apr 2010

Actually, it was the banks that ate Birmingham, Alabama, as documented by Matt Taibbi in “Looting Main Street: How the nation’s biggest banks are ripping off American cities with the same predatory deals that brought down Greece”.

Essentially, Birmingham decided it needed an expensive new sewer system, and its officials completely screwed the city by making awful financing deals with major Wall Street banks. The approach used by the banks is apparently one they’ve been using in many places, so the article might end up being informative about the troubles of a district near you.

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Height and Negotiation

12:41 16 Mar 2010

Taller people seem to have a number of social advantages, from increased earnings to (for men) increased desirability. It’s also an advantage in negotiations.

Various explanations for this have been posited, for example the fairly plausible idea that height correlates greater physical development earlier in life and hence to greater self-esteem.

A study cited in The Body has a Mind of its Own, however, suggests that we deal with height in a way that is both more ingrained and more shallow than that.

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Against Grad School

15:20 26 Jan 2010

I’ve posted about reasons not to go to grad school before, but I missed a classic post: “Straight Talk about Grad School”.

My own feelings about my postgrad degrees are largely positive, but I think there’s a big difference between shorter postgrad courses (like mine) and doctoral programs.

The MetaFilter discussion about this post includes a comment quoting this classic:

The At-Home PhD Simulator

  1. Give a $30,000 donation to the university of your choice, on your credit card.
  2. Go to the library and write. Write pages and pages. Every time you reach 50 pages, burn all of them. Repeat for several years.
  3. Take out an ad in Craiglist for someone to pretend to be your advisor. Set up periodic meetings with them where they read your drafts and give you the exact opposite of the advice they gave you three months ago.
  4. Adjunct a course at your local college. Give lots of written work. Submit everything you get to one of the online plagiarism detectors. Despair for humanity.
  5. After ten years, throw a dart at a map. Move where ever it lands for the rest of your life.

All that being said, I’m not sure I’d actually argue against doing a PhD.; I know plenty of people who seem relatively happy to have them. (Although most of those people seem to have done them outside the United States, a factor which may or may not be meaningful.)

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Cards Versus Cash

14:54 19 Jan 2010

I found this New York Times article on “The Damage of Card Rewards” to be rather interesting. Basically, to pay for reward programs aimed at getting the better-off to spend more, credit card companies charge merchants more, and merchants reflect these costs in their prices—but everyone pays the same prices, while only the users of reward programs get offsetting benefits.

The article essentially concludes that there is no solution to this problem—and, unless I missed something, doesn’t address regulation. I’m not necessarily advocating regulation here—it’s likely the banks would simply use it to enrich themselves further somehow, although that’s a practical political problem rather than a theoretical economic one—but I do think it’s odd to set up a problem like this, that seems like it could obviously be tackled using an approach of tweaking market rules, while barely mentioning that approach at all.

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Tiger Woods and His Sponsors

09:04 14 Dec 2009

Upon typing that title, I realized that it sounds quite like a modern fairy tale or children’s story. Of course, if it were a fairy tale, then the faithful sponsors would stick with Tiger as he attempted to slay the foul beasts of public opprobrium and frenzied media—but instead at least one major sponsor, Accenture, is walking away.

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Facebook Astroturfing

16:06 10 Dec 2009

Naturally, as soon as it became popular to use Facebook to promote political causes, it became attractive to distort the practice. The ease of online ”participation”—clicking a button or, at most, filling out a form—makes it rather difficult to judge just how committed to their causes participants are.

Furthermore, if it’s easy to click, then it’s also easy to persuade people to click, which is not always a good thing.

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Bullying: Just a Hunch

15:39 03 Dec 2009

I’ve come across what feels like another wave of articles related to bullying recently. I previously wrote about my thoughts on institutional responses, but this time my focus is on some of the causes, as well as how technical rules are unlikely to eliminate the problem.

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State Bandits

13:07 03 Nov 2009

No, not tax collectors. At least, in democracies, there’s a notion that collected taxes are disbursed according to the wishes of some significant portion of the populace. Here, I’m talking about the trend of the last few decades for police departments (and other law enforcement agencies) to confiscate property (and cash)—and then use it to fund themselves. Financial Cryptography discusses this issue, outlining its history in measure meant to crack down on money laundering. The Economist also has an article on the issue, and this line should make clear how dubious the whole thing is:

The 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act expanded these powers greatly, allowing courts to seize more or less anything owned by a convict deemed to have a “criminal lifestyle”, and introducing a power of civil recovery, whereby assets may be confiscated through the civil courts even if their owner has not been convicted of a crime.


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Plug Fun

23:28 30 Oct 2009. Updated: 00:31 31 Oct 2009

Figuring out what plug (or adapter) to use in a given country is almost like a game; in any case, I found this Gizmodo article well worth the read: “Giz Explains: Why Every Country Has a Different F#$%ing Plug”.

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Baseball, Statistics, and Arbitrage

13:23 23 Oct 2009

Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball has something of a cult following, and helped its main subject, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. The essential idea is that by focusing on non-traditional (in baseball terms) statistical analysis (called Sabermetrics), Beane could identify arbitrage opportunities in baseball markets.

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Economics, Fairness, and Football

23:40 19 Oct 2009

Living in a capitalist society, many of our pastimes and interests are based on exploitation of one kind or another.

Some of these forms of exploitation are reviled because of their outright cruelty. This revulsion isn’t consistent. One of the things that keeps us calm about them is a veneer of fairness, which allows us to move along in acceptance instad of trying to figure out how to fight. Even if we don’t believe it, either enough other people do or we think enough other people do, which is one of the things that keeps our current system ticking along.

Does our requirement for “fairness” increase the more direct the connection is between the exploitation and our enjoyment? This question is one that struck me while reading Malcom Gladwell’s “Football, dogfighting, and brain damage”.

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Wall Street: Even Worse Than You Thought

11:12 18 Oct 2009

It should be clear to any reasonable observer that Wall Street is a rapacious hive of sharks who will do more or less anything at all for money, and that the financial industry is politically powerful enough at this point to get away with more or less anything. It should also be clear that the term “corruption” doesn’t really do justice to their antics.

That being said, I’m still agog at some of what’s covered in this Mait Taibbi article:

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