Links for 9th April, 2019

  1. “What is not useful is the sense that measuring GDP is the problem, and measuring gross national happiness is the solution. Few societies have ever really focused on either. We should all be happy about that.”
    Tim Harford reminds us that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In this case, the article is worth reading for understanding how GDP can’t really be measured, and how that may not be a bad thing. In addition, please read the article to understand that Bhutan probably isn’t all that “happy” a country in the first place!
  2. “Given the pressure on all unions to negotiate higher-than-average wage increases, using monetary policy to reduce inflation would inevitably aggregate spending to fall short of the level needed to secure full employment, but without substantially moderating the rate of increase in wages and prices. As long as the unions were driven to negotiate increasing rates of wage increase for their members, increasing rates of wage inflation could be accommodated only by ever-increasing growth rates in the economy or by progressive declines in the profit share of business. But without accelerating real economic growth or a declining profit share, union demands for accelerating wage increases could be accommodated only by accelerating inflation and corresponding increases in total spending.”
    Monetary nerds only, it should go without saying! David Glasner runs a blog called Uneasy Money, which is well worth reading, but only if you want to find yourself steeped in all things monetary. This post takes a slightly critical view of Arthur Burns tenure as Fed Chairman.
  3. “Amazon’s economists game out real estate decisions, set the lowest prices that will deliver a profit, precisely determine what customers care about and whether advertisements are working — all using machine-learning algorithms that automate decision making on a massive scale. It’s the kind of asset that smaller companies can’t always pay for, allowing Amazon to pull further and further away from the competition.”
    Amazon has, in case you didn’t know, probably the world’s largest collection of PhD’s in economics. This article helps you understand what it is that they do once they’re in Amazon. A helpful read if you are considering building a career in economics.
  4. “The White House explains why it’s predicting such big growth: the TCJA will cause a surge in business investment by “substantially raising the target capital stock and attracting increased net capital inflows.” And this rise in the capital stock will cause a surge in productivity. Except that there’s no sign of a surge in business investment: the report cherry-picks a few numbers, but overall orders for capital goods, probably the best real-time indicator, are showing nothing much (that 2015-6 slump, by the way, was about fracking, which fell off for a while when world oil prices plunged)”
    Paul Krugman is less than impressed with the 2019 Economic Report of the President, and provides data to show why he is less than impressed. The chart that follows the excerpt is worth looking at too.
  5. “There’s one biosignature that Seager, Guyon, and just about everyone else agree would be as near a slam dunk for life as scientific caution allows. We already have a planet to prove it. On Earth, plants and certain bacteria produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis. Oxygen is a flagrantly promiscuous molecule—it’ll react and bond with just about everything on a planet’s surface. So if we can find evidence of it accumulating in an atmosphere, it will raise some eyebrows. Even more telling would be a biosignature composed of oxygen and other compounds related to life on Earth. Most convincing of all would be to find oxygen along with methane, because those two gases from living organisms destroy each other. Finding them both would mean there must be constant replenishment.”
    That’s just one of many, many excerpt-able pieces from a very long, but also very rewarding article about the search for ET. Take your time with this one – about an hour or so, and pay particular attention to the infographics.

Links for 12th March, 2019

  1. “We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.”
    Umberto Eco on an exhibition that he is going to have at the Louvre… on lists. He explains why he likes the idea of lists so much – and says it’s not just him. Listicles are as old as humanity, and are around because we want to make the infinite understandable.
  2. “The drama started earlier this week, when Warner “revoked a previously agreed-upon publishing license” for India, according to Spotify, “for reasons wholly unrelated to Spotify’s launch in India.” Existing global deals don’t cover expansions into new territories, so when Spotify enters a country like India, it has to make a separate deal. With Warner pulling out, Spotify attempted to side-step a direct deal with the label using a controversial amendment in Indian law, which says “broadcasters” can obtain a license for copyrighted works even if the copyright owner denies use. In response, Warner fired back with a request for an injunction, forcing the case to the Indian court system.”
    I have subscribed to the service, and am quite happy with it so far. I also subscribe to Google Play music, but find Spotify’s playlists better organised, especially be genre. Google Play Music, as I see it, has two advantages: it allows you to upload up to 50 GB of your own songs to it’s servers, and you can then play them from anywhere. Second, it has the WB catalog – which Spotify doesn’t, and this article explains why.
  3. “Using the Excel app, you can take a picture of a printed data table on your Android device and automatically convert the picture into a fully editable table in Excel. This new image recognition functionality eliminates the need for you to manually enter hardcopy data. This capability is starting to roll out for the Excel Android app with iOS support coming soon.”
    I have tried it, and it works – albeit imperfectly. But if you have ever struggled with the beast that is MOSPI – or anything like it, this is likely bring a tear to your eye.
  4. “I think we’re at the point of no return. The omnichannel train has left the station. What would I do if I ran a retail business today? First, I would accept the fact that customers now love to shop both online and offline, and they expect two-day shipping for certain products and near flawless execution. The bar has been set high by Amazon. Then I would create a game plan that leverages my existing physical assets like warehouses, distribution centers and stores to offer new services like ship-from-store or pickup-at-store. I would also build new fulfillment centers specifically to fulfill online orders and ship to customers’ homes.”
    More useful for the infographic atop the excerpt above. The fourth section of the infographic is a mix of optimism and handwaving to me – unless you replace the word “will” by “should”. Also see the Stratechery article about value chains.
  5. “It is worth noting that individual citizens of some of the world’s most volatile regions have asked WMI for cloud seeding services. A growing body of research addresses the idea that many wars and conflicts are stoked by environmental problems, which are often underlain by weather problems. Increasing drought across north-central Africa has ruined crops, starved the populace and is thought to have enabled Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s invasion of northern Mali in 2012. A paper published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal stated that drought in Syria between 2007 and 2010 was the worst since instrumental record-keeping began, and caused widespread crop failure, mass migration and helped spark the Syrian conflict.”
    A Longread article on cloud seeding or “weather mod”. Worth it to understand what technology optimism means in practice, and to understand how long the attempted history of weather modification has been, and also for the photographs. For the photographs, I would recommend viewing this on the desktop.

Links for 7th March, 2019

  1. “Switzerland’s two big banks lead in offshore Asian wealth management partly because of their past troubles elsewhere. UBS and Credit Suisse almost forfeited their operating licenses in the U.S. and several EU countries for abetting tax evaders on both sides of the Atlantic with secret bank accounts in Switzerland.”
    There’s supply, and there’s demand. The trouble is, there is also regulation – a lot of it. An article that does a good job of showing you what the UHNW world in China looks like.
  2. “Note that Amazon is not in the business of forecasting political shifts; nor are they strangers to dealing with challenging bureaucracies (i.e., Seattle). Still, being completely tone deaf to the shifting political winds is a bad strategy. When you have the biggest swing in House seats in since Watergate, one might expect corporate management to take notice. Especially if, say your side gig is also owning the Washington Post.Duh.”
    Barry Ritholtz is less than impressed with Amazon’s decision to base their HQ2 out of NY, and then go back on the plan. As he mentions in the article, some things that have been reported as having taken place are difficult to paint as being blatantly illegal – but the problem is more political than economic.
  3. “We are yet to receive any response to the several requests for comment sent to Colobit and to numerous websites, including Crypto365. The American WhatsApp number stopped answering our questions after two days, and we’ve been blocked by the Twitter user who first approached us.Alas, the foreseen year-end surge to $19,000 did not come to pass.”
    FT Alphaville does the tedious job on following up on what was obviously (to everyone), a scam. Yet, there are enough people in the world for whom this isn’t a scam, but perhaps an opportunity – which is why FT Alphaville writes these articles, and which is why I share them!
  4. “A core part of the urbanism canon. People refer to this book all the time, even if they don’t realize it, so it’s worth having this as a base when coming into a conversation. (Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life also falls into this category, though it’s less propagandistic than Triumph.)
    This book is about how “cities magnify humanity’s strengths”. It’s city propaganda at its finest, and I say that lovingly… I clearly fell hard for it! It’s hard to not fall in love with cities after reading this.
    Triumph is what started me down the path of thinking about agglomeration economies, which has since been a key model for how I think about cities.”
    Devon Zuegel lists out books on urbanization that she has enjoyed reading. I haven’t read all of them, but agree wholeheartedly about Triumph of the City – fantastic book!
  5. “Just 1 percent of U.S. single-family homes—1.8 million—are equipped with solar, and the real estate industry’s general understanding of TPO systems remains limited. Our real estate agent, a 35-year veteran, had never encountered one. The listing agents for Jug’s property also seemed uncertain. Initially they didn’t mention the system at all. Then they told us it was owned by Sunrun and that if we didn’t want to assume the lease they’d remove it. Then, apparently because they’d learned the full cost of that, they backtracked.”
    A less than encouraging story about rooftop solar electricity and TPO – read the article to find out what TPO is.

Links for 26th February, 2019

  1. “He wished to insure “all persons against absolute want,” but this minimum subsistence income had to be made “less desirable than the condition of those who find support for themselves.””
    Before you click on the link, would you care to take a guess about who is batting for UBI? As the article points out, the idea itself isn’t new. Nobody has come up with a clearheaded way of implementing it, though. Also, have you heard of the flypaper effect?
  2. “Any restructuring of Venezuela’s debt will therefore need to be intolerant of holdout creditors of any type because even a marginal holdout community could pose a lethal threat to the prospects for the recovery of the economy.”
    Paging Ronald Coase. Read this article to find out how to think about debt, and debt resolution in international finance – and about how different points of views are inevitably going to emerge. How to reconcile these views? Paging Ronald Coase!
  3. “There is no $3 billion that NYC gets to keep if Amazon does not show up. That “money” was a pledged reduction in Amazon’s future tax burden at the state and local level.”
    In which Tyler Cowen explains to us why Amazon not setting up in New York is bad news – not good. You don’t usually think of the word lugubrious when you think of Professor Cowen, which is worrying.
  4. “The meekness of the pangolin allowed it to survive for tens of millions of years. They are ancient. But humans, the only creatures that can threaten them, have not been kind to them in return. Of the eight species of pangolin, four are listed as vulnerable, two as endangered, and two as critically endangered. They are the most trafficked animals in the world”
    I know very little – next to nothing, in fact, about the pangolin. But reading this article helped me both learn about the pangolin, and about how without some degree of protection, pangolins might well not survive. Also contains interesting snippets about how humanity has, over the ages, tried to make sense of its surroundings. This link is via The Browser – if you like reading, and have some cash to spare, I’d recommend subscribing.
  5. “India is interested in creating a reliable transport corridor that would link it with Central Asia, Russia and Northern Europe; however, the corridor would have to pass through Pakistani territory – and strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad stand in its way. Similarly, territorial disputes between New Delhi and Beijing have put paid to the hope of a commercial corridor being developed through Chinese territory.”
    How might India develop better relations with the Central Asian nations. Most of us would struggle to even place all the Central Asian nations on a map – but this article helps us begin to understand why the relationship is important, and the challenges associated with developing it.