Kindle, Vancouver, Onions, Government Size and Quizzing

Five articles that I enjoyed reading this week, with a couple of sentences on why I think you might benefit from reading them.

The extent to which Amazon, via the Kindle, tracks your reading habits. Most of this article did not come as a surprise to me, and of course the Kindle and the books on it are as cheap as they are precisely because Amazon makes money by tracking precisely what this article says they do. Personally, I am OK with that – but you might want to read this before you make your own decision.

Could Amazon’s monopoly over the publishing industry change the nature of books themselves? As a result of the economic pressures of the streaming industry, the length of the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to 3 minutes and 30 seconds between 2013 and 2018. Will books be the next art form to be altered? Greer said it is possible.

“Never underestimate the power, or willingness, of tech companies to do almost anything to make a little extra money – including shifting the entire way we make music or read and write books,” she said. “They are perfectly willing for art to be collateral damage in their pursuit of profit.”

The equilibrium is being solved for in Vancouver, by observing the lack of an equilibrium in other cities. On Uber, Lyft, British Columbia, and the last mover advantage:

“A decade after Uber got its start, and eight years after Lyft changed the ride-hail model by allowing anyone to use their everyday car to pick up passengers, British Columbia thinks it has nailed how to regulate these companies, which have often slipped into the gray areas between transportation and labor laws. Call it the last mover advantage. Government officials in the province have spent years studying how other places dealt with an influx of ride-hail vehicles—and the sometimes unfortunate effects they had on local transportation systems.”

Vivek Kaul explains one application of the law of unintended consequences in this article in the Livemint, about onions.

When prices of an essential commodity, like onions, go up, state governments can impose stockholding limits. This leads to a situation where wholesalers, distributors and retailers dealing in the essential commodity need to reduce the inventory that they hold in order to meet the requirements of a reduced stock limit. The idea is to curb hoarding, maintain an adequate supply of the essential commodity and, thus, maintain affordable prices. This is where the law of unintended consequences strikes. Instead of ensuring prices of the essential commodity remain affordable, ECA makes it expensive.

Small governments aren’t necessarily great governments, but large governments don’t always do well either. But if you must choose when it comes to government, size does too matter! Via Marginal Revolution.

The plots do not support the hypothesis that small government produces either greater prosperity or greater freedom. (In reading the charts, remember that the SGOV index is constructed so that 0 indicates the largest government and 10 the smallest government.) Instead, smaller government tends to be associated with less prosperity and less freedom. Both relationships are statistically significant, with correlations of 0.43 for prosperity and 0.35 for freedom.

Samanth Subramanian on the joy of quizzing.

To attend these contests, quizzers rearrange the furniture of their lives, budgeting their time away from their families, or ensuring that they don’t travel overseas for work during a quiz weekend. I know one quizzer who switched jobs because his city’s quiz scene wasn’t active enough; I know another who scheduled his wedding to avoid a clash with a quiz. Once, while we were waiting around for a popular annual quiz to begin, a friend remarked that his wife was heavily pregnant; he hoped she wouldn’t go into labour over the next few hours. That would be unfortunate, we agreed.
“No, you don’t understand,” he said. “If my daughter’s born today, that means she’ll have a birthday party on this date every year. Which means I can never come to this quiz again.”

Tech: Links for 22nd August, 2019

  1. “1. first bionic hand with a sense of touch that can be worn outside a laboratory
    2. development of a new 3D bioprinting technique, which allows the more accurate printing of soft tissue organs, such as lungs
    3. a method through which the human innate immune system may possibly be trained to more efficiently respond to diseases and infections
    4. a new form of biomaterial based delivery system for therapeutic drugs, which only release their cargo under certain physiological conditions, thereby potentially reducing drug side-effects in patients
    5. an announcement of human clinical trials, that will encompass the use of CRISPR technology to modify the T cells of patients with multiple myeloma, sarcoma and melanoma cancers, to allow the cells to more effectively combat the cancers, the first of their kind trials in the US
    6. a blood test (or liquid biopsy) that can detect eight common cancer tumors early. The new test, based on cancer-related DNA and proteins found in the blood, produced 70% positive results in the tumor-types studied in 1005 patients
    7. a method of turning skin cells into stem cells, with the use of CRISPR
    the creation of two monkey clones for the first time
    8. a paper which presents possible evidence that naked mole-rats do not face increased mortality risk due to aging”
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    That is an excerpt from an excerpt, but I found the list astonishing. These are advancements from only the field of biology, only from 2018… and as the article goes on to say, only from January 2018. Remarkable. I know very little of how life sciences work, but the article was very informative on that score.
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  2. Do Uber and Lyft contribute to congestion? Note the funding agencies.
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  3. Benedict Evans on whether Netflix is a TV business or a tech business.
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  4. This link comes via MR, and Tyler Cowen said it is Tiebout Twitter. I prefer Voting With your Tweets.
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  5. “But perhaps he also sensed that power in society is shifting from the institutions he oversaw, to those that distribute private capital—it wouldn’t be the wrong read, even if it’s an unsettling one.”
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    A not altogether pretty look at the VC industry and its evolution over time.

Links for 13th May, 2019

  1. “There should be limits, too, on the rights investors can sign away. In recent years, some companies — such as Smartsheet and Twilio — have done dual-class issues in which the extra voting rights expire after a certain number of years. These sunset provisions preserve the potential benefits of leaving initial control in the hands of founders, while avoiding the risk of creating a dynastic birthright. That’s a sensible compromise. The Securities and Exchange Commission, or the exchanges it oversees, should make such provisions mandatory.”
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    A very useful article to help understand how to think about IPO’s, Uber, Lyft valuations, mandatory disclosures from firms and how they try to get around the issue – and the excerpt above is yet another example of a favorite adage of mine: the truth always lies in the middle.
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  2. “We find that between 1300 and 1400 a 10 percentage point higher Black Death mortality rate was associated with a 8.7 percentage point fall in city population, but between 100 and 200 years later, the impact of mortality was close to zero. When we examine the spillover and general equilibrium effects of the Black Death on city populations, we similarly find negative effects in the short run, and no effects in the long run. Cities and urban systems, on average, had recovered to their pre-Plague population levels by the 16th century.”
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    A worrying article, especially towards the end, but two major takeaways for me: cities matter, and trade matters. But my major takeaway is there is (yet more) cause for worry.
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  3. “Unfortunately, the world’s most prominent specialists are rarely held accountable for their predictions, so we continue to rely on them even when their track records make clear that we should not. One study compiled a decade of annual dollar-to-euro exchange-rate predictions made by 22 international banks: Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and others. Each year, every bank predicted the end-of-year exchange rate. The banks missed every single change of direction in the exchange rate. In six of the 10 years, the true exchange rate fell outside the entire range of all 22 bank forecasts.”
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    Forecasts are useless. I cannot be more serious when I say this. Forecasts are useless. But foxes are better at the impossible then the hedgehogs – this article helps you understand these terms, and their usefulness. This blog is about becoming a better fox!
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  4. “Again, one can argue that the amount of redistribution should be larger. But it would be untrue to argue that a significant amount of redistribution–like doubling the after-taxes-and-transfers share of the lowest quintile–doesn’t already happen. ”
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    The always informative Timothy Taylor on taxes, their composition, their effectiveness and the resulting redistribution in the United States of America. Also, read the book that is reviewed in this article – the entire book is worth your time, but the chapter on income tax is what I was reminded of.
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  5. “When Paul Romer expresses an opinion, it is always worthwhile to listen because it is always well-considered. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, he puts forward a proposal to restore what he terms is the “public commons” of the provision of information in support of democracy. He actually puts forward two linked proposals: one for a target on targeted ads by digital platform companies and a proposal that the tax is progressive (which may be a check on dominance). The latter is interesting but I will just focus on the former here.”
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    I do not recollect if I linked to the Paul Romer piece that is linked to in the excerpt above – in case I did not, please go ahead and read it. The rest of the current article speaks about why Romer’s proposal is a good idea, but not necessarily implementable right away.