ROW: Links for 10th July, 2019

  1. “The radio station, whose call letters are KHIL, has long been the daily soundtrack for this frontier town (population 3,500) that prides itself on its cowboy culture and quiet pace of life. But six decades after the founding of the station, the property is in foreclosure, with utility disconnect notices coming nearly every month.”
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    Culture and Coase (an updated version) in rural America. For both of these reasons and more, worth your time.
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  2. “When Amnesty International U.S.A. started looking for a new headquarters in New York City, the human rights group settled on office space in a modest skyscraper in Lower Manhattan known as Wall Street Plaza.But just as the organization was about to sign a lease last week, the building’s owner said that its new parent company, a giant shipping conglomerate owned by the Chinese government, decided to veto the offer. The company, Cosco Shipping, did not want the United States chapter of Amnesty International, which has produced scathing reports highlighting human rights abuses in China, as a tenant, according to the group.”
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    Business, culture, nationalism, America and China.
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  3. “When you’re doing everything wrong, the best way to fix the problem isn’t usually to go through the list of things you’re doing wrong and fix them one by one. It’s best to step back and ask why you’re so bad at everything, whether a systemic problem is causing you to make so many separate mistakes. And in the case of the MTA, the root cause of its capital-construction failures is usually diagnosed as unaccountability: Nobody knows who’s in charge, so nobody has to be terrified of taking the blame for obscene costs and endless delays.”
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    Coordinating stuff is hard. The New York version of this story. Also, this is why Singapore deserves all the admiration it gets (and more)
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  4. “During the French referendum on the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, we observed that 60% of the voters with the lowest incomes, personal wealth or qualifications voted against, whereas the 40% of the electorate with higher incomes voted in favour; the gap was big enough for the yes vote to win with a small majority (51%). The same thing happened with the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, except that this time only the top 20% were in favour of the yes vote, whereas the lower 80% preferred to vote no, whence a clear victory for the latter (55%). Likewise for the referendum on Brexit in the UK in 2016: this time it was the top 30% who voted enthusiastically to remain in the EU. But, as the bottom 70% preferred to leave, the leave vote won with 52% of the votes.”
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    An article which helps you think a little bit more about the European Union and what plagues it.
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  5. “China’s overall external surplus is down. That’s not surprising—China’s general government deficit is somewhere between 4 percent of GDP and 12 percent of GDP, depending on what measure you use. The gap between China’s fiscal stance and that of Korea is even bigger than the gulf between Germany’s surplus and the deficit of France—and the gap between the euro area’s (tight) overall fiscal stance and the much looser stance of the United States.But the surplus of China’s neighbors, who have responded, in many cases, to the “rise” of China with policy stances designed to maintain weak currencies and protect their exports, has soared over the past ten years, and now is substantially larger than it was prior to the global crisis.”
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    A useful article about Korea’s macroeconomic choices, and the reasoning behind them.
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Etc: Links for 28th June, 2019

Five articles on the state of the music industry today

 

  1. “A “middle tier” of new artists, operating away from the million-dollar advances of streaming’s biggest acts, are increasing their share of the format’s economics. Or, to phrase it another way, streaming, slowly but surely, is creating a commercial ecosystem in which more artists are able to make a living — and forcing the biggest-earning megastars on the planet to share a chunk of their annual wealth.”
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    I’d recommend a deeper dive into the data for sure, but an interesting article nonetheless. Who is earning the streaming dollars?
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  2. “If we were to rewind just a few years ago, the idea of Spotify delivering drive-optimized playlists interspersed with news may not have sounded totally outlandish but it would nonetheless have only felt a distant possibility. But now that Spotify has extensive podcast capabilities under its belt and a very proven willingness to insert podcasts throughout the music user’s experience, the concept of what constitutes a playlist needs rethinking entirely…largely because that is exactly what Spotify has just done. The industry needs to start thinking about playlists not as a collection of music tracks but instead as a targeted, personalized and programmed delivery vehicle for any combination of content. In old world parlance you might call it a ‘channel’, but that does not do justice to the vast personalization and targeting capabilities that playlists, and Spotify’s playlists in particular, can offer.”
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    If you haven’t heard of anchor.fm – they were recently purchased by Spotify (as was Gimlet Media). Both of these are in the podcasting business. This article makes clear why Spotify acquired them.
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  3. “Please write. And I don’t say that because my podcast is all written. Even shows in the venerable genre of Two People Talking About Stuff become so much tighter, so much more listenable if you take the time to write an introduction to the conversation to orient the listener. Tell them where they’re going. Make them want to go there with you. And then get going.”
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    This advice applies to more than just podcasts. But speaking of podcasts and audio in general, a somewhat useful set of advice regarding starting one of your own.
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  4. “Without Madonna, we don’t have Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and maybe even Janelle Monae. The doubles she played with during each of her transformations — not only the religious Madonna but the virgin, boy-toy, material girl, dominatrix, dancing queen, mom, yoga mom, adopting mom and, now, sexagenarian claiming her space among artists two generations younger — were fun-house representations of conventional femininity. They refracted and reflected a future most of us didn’t know was coming before she showed it to us.”
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    On the importance of Madonna to culture at large today, and her ongoing importance to the music industry.
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  5. “Six years ago, when Thom Yorke memorably expressed his feelings about the music industry by calling Spotify “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse,” it was hard to argue with him. At that point, global sales of recorded music were headed for their 13th decline in 14 years, with the overall value of the industry nearly cut by half since the turn of the century. It looked like the digital revolution really did turn the music business into a moldering husk. But now, like any good zombie during an apocalypse, the industry is once again primed to devour the world on a massive scale.”
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    And as a fitting coda to the series, reflections on the Phoenix like rise of the music industry, and where it might head to in the years to come.

EC101: Links for 13th June, 2019

  1. “A September 2018 article from Eater tells us that Miguel Gonzalez delivers directly to 120 New York restaurants. As an avocado supplier, he works with farms in Mexico’s Michoacán state. To maintain consistency and minimize bruising, he monitors truck temperatures and how the boxes are stacked during their 2600 (or so) mile journey.”
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    What happens when you raise the tariff on a commodity? Who do you think will (ultimately) pay? Econ texts give you the answer – this article provides an example.
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  2. “Across the United States, a similar cocktail seems to be keeping inflation at bay: Employers are reluctant to charge more, unsure how consumers will react, and they’ve found an untapped supply of workers. It’s partly great news. More Americans are getting jobs than policymakers once thought possible, and wages and prices aren’t spinning out of control the way history would predict.”
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    Think you know macroeconomics? Short answer: you never really do. The NYT provides an example of a conundrum that is keeping the Federal Reserve up at night: full employment, low inflation. A nice problem to have, right? You’d have thought so…
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  3. “Economists have written about topics that we would now classify under the headings of “microeocnomics” or “macroeconomics” for centuries. But the terms themselves are much more recent, emerging only in the early 1940s. For background, I turn to the entry on “Microeconomics” by Hal R. Varian published in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, dating back to the first edition in 1987.”
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    On the etymology of micro and macroeconomics.
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  4. “Belloy’s misfortune stemmed from more than bad luck. He was the victim of unscrupulous traders known simply as operators, who might sell fake elevator receipts, or move prices in their favor by spreading false news. Or they might pull off an especially cunning manipulation known as a corner, in which they would buy future wheat while simultaneously buying all physical wheat.Later, when it came time for the operator to take delivery of his future wheat, the other trader had to first go buy some. But there was none. The operator owned it all. Thus trapped, or cornered, the victim had no choice but to pay whatever price the operator demanded. Cornering was the ruin of many a trader, like our Belloy, to whom the only apparent recourse was to find the nearest saloon and shoot himself in the head.”
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    Rarely are classes in financial economics so very entertaining. A lovely history (maybe apocryphal, who knows) about the early days of the CBOT in Chicago.
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  5. “There is no simple remedy for the curse of knowledge, but let me offer a suggestion. Keep a particular person in mind as you teach. That person should be someone you know well—a parent, a spouse, or a best friend (as long as that person is not an economist). Pretend you are explaining the material to them. Are they getting it, or are they lost? If you know this person well, you may be able to more easily empathize with their learning challenges. You might prevent
    yourself from going overboard.”
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    N. Gregory Mankiw comes up with a short six point guideline about how to teach economics better. It is worth going over this list, irrespective of whether you are learning economics or teaching it. Also, taken a look at Eli5?

Links for 14th May, 2019

  1. “The issue is much simpler: Do you trust Mark Zuckerberg and the other young lords of Silicon Valley to be good stewards of the world’s digital speech?”
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    Via Tyler Cowen, an interesting article about the unintended consequences of the evolution of Facebook. Worth reading to think about free speech, Facebook, Silicon Valley and the benefits of a well-rounded education.
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  2. “When and where should scientists report controversial research ideas that colleagues share with them in confidence? Have scientists acted inappropriately if they provide conventional research advice to someone conducting an unorthodox experiment?”
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    How should you think about policing the cutting edge of science – or anything, for that matter? What is the opportunity cost of policing – and what is the opportunity cost of not policing? I (and the article) don’t have any answers – but you should be thinking of these issues while reading it.
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  3. “It is a path humanity is already on, of course: When was the last time you ever read a map rather than got directions from Google? Or cracked a book to find an errant fact? It’ll be like that for so many things we do, as normal practices change to reflect and take advantage of the convenience and precision of AI.”
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    Kara Shwisher talks about emerging tech, and the (as she puts it) new internet. Worth reading to understand how technology is likely to evolve, and change.
  4. “Maybe Hanson could focus on this in his next book. Nevertheless, this book is a necessary corrective to the center-right, neo-liberal dogma of the last quarter century. To crudely paraphrase David Frum, if liberals and conservatives do not take control of mass immigration, the public will elect authoritarians to do the job because the job needs to be done.”
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    The Quillette reviews a book that defends Trump – a useful read to find out why Trump won, and what the thinking is of the processes that got him to where he is.
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  5. “It was in 1906 when the Indian National Congress, prompted by its leader Lokmanya Tilak and industrialist Ardeshir Godrej among others, promised to introduce the swadeshi element into the production of soaps.Ardeshir Godrej, a lawyer-turned-serial entrepreneur, along with his brother Pirojsha Burjorji co-founded the Godrej & Boyce manufacturing company, which is now a $4.54 billion Indian conglomerate called Godrej Group.”
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    A fascinating story about how the Godrej group got into the soap making business

Links for 29th April, 2019

  1. “It may seem silly to lament over music selections in an exercise class, but it’s an issue that fitness companies may increasingly face as they transform from traditional health companies into media publishers. Let’s face it: working out can be boring, and people are willing to pay top dollar to have someone yell at us while sweating to the latest Migos track. Combine that with the flexibility to exercise in your own home on your own time and it’s a revenue strategy that has helped brands like Equinox, Pure Barre, SoulCycle, and Physique 57 tap into a demographic that previously found the studios inaccessible. Even companies like ClassPass and Fitbit have also expanded beyond their initial product of a subscription service and fitness trackers, offering their own guided fitness sessions for $8 to $15 a month.”
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    I don’t know if you have heard of any of these services, but the legal angle of copyrights is worth reading about.
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  2. “Respect among Russians for Josef Stalin has surged to the highest level of President Vladimir Putin’s era, with 70 percent saying his rule had been good for the country, according to a poll tracking attitudes toward the Soviet dictator.”
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    With an excerpt like that, why would you not want to read more?
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  3. “Japan has certainly lost the late 1980s bubble-economy swagger that once terrified Western chief executive officers. Yet neither is the world’s third-biggest economy some sort of Mad Max economic dystopia. Japan remains a rich country, home to some of the best infrastructure and fastest bullet trains, leading auto and robotics industries, and one of the highest life expectancy rates. It’s a financial superpower—the largest creditor nation and provider of investment and savings, with net external assets of almost $3 trillion. Japan’s megabanks are the foremost lenders in Asia outside of China.At the moment, Japan looks like an island of stability among developed nations that are riven by polarized debates about unfettered capital flows, free trade, and open borders. Ordinary Japanese aren’t being torn asunder by American-scale income inequality and culture wars, grappling with a slow-motion train wreck like Brexit, or coping with French-style yellow vest worker protests on the streets of Tokyo.”
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    Is Japan growing? No. But so, this article asks, what? Also a good overview of all of what Japan has tried in the last thirty years or so, in terms of economics and society.
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  4. “Documents seen by the Financial Times and extensive interviews with more than a dozen senior figures in the <word removed by me> world show a co-ordinated global effort by the Russian state, through ambassadors and representatives of its banks and biggest companies, to win votes with promises of money and political pressure. 
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    Without cheating, can you guess what this article is about? Once you have made a guess, click through to find out what the article is about.
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  5. “Exxon’s arrangement in Texas reflects, in miniature, our national state of indecision about the best approach to climate change. Depending on whom you ask, climate change doesn’t exist, or is an engineering problem, or requires global mobilization, or could be solved by simply nudging the free market into action. Absent a coherent strategy, opportunists can step in and benefit in wily ways from the shifting landscape. Tax-supported renewables in Texas take coal plants offline, but they also support oil extraction. Technology advances, but not the system underneath. Faced with this volatile and chaotic situation, the system does what it does best: It searches out profits in the short term.”
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    Economics at play in terms of energy, policy, climate change, short term profits, incentives, horizons and so much more.

Links for 26th April, 2019

  1. “The world economy desperately needs a plan for “peaceful coexistence” between the United States and China. Both sides need to accept the other’s right to develop under its own terms. The US must not try to reshape the Chinese economy in its image of a capitalist market economy, and China must recognize America’s concerns regarding employment and technology leakages, and accept the occasional limits on access to US markets implied by these concerns.”
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    Dani Rodrik explains the need for, as he puts it, peaceful coexistence – between China and the USA. My money is on this not happening: history, current affairs and game theory are my reasons for being less than optimistic.
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  2. “Yes, there was arsenic in Bangladesh’s wells, and it may have posed a health threat. But in areas where people were encouraged to switch away from the wells, child mortality jumped by a horrifying 45 percent — and adult mortality increased too. It turns out that the alternatives to the wells, for most people in Bangladesh, were all worse — surface water contaminated with waterborne diseases, or extended storage of water in the home, which is also a major disease risk.”
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    Unintended consequences is one of the most underrated phrases in economics.
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  3. “Only one of Murdoch’s adult children would win the ultimate prize of running the world’s most powerful media empire, but all four of them would ultimately have an equal say in the direction of its future: Murdoch had structured both of his companies, 21st Century Fox and News Corp, so that the Murdoch Family Trust held a controlling interest in them. He held four of the trust’s eight votes, while each of his adult children had only one. He could never be outvoted. But he had also stipulated that once he was gone, his votes would disappear and all the decision-making power would revert to the children. This meant that his death could set off a power struggle that would dwarf anything the family had seen while he was alive and very possibly reorder the political landscape across the English-speaking world.”
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    A very long, but very entertaining and informative read about the Murdoch family – its rise, its stumbles and its influence on the world today. Be warned, this is only the first part – but the entire thing is a great read.
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  4. “There has been a lot of churn in the Sensex over the decades. Corporate power in India seems to be more fragile than usually understood. Only a handful of companies such as Tata Motors, Hindustan Unilever, Mahindra & Mahindra, ITC, and Larsen & Toubro have managed to hold their place in the index. Many of the older industrial houses such as the Thapar group, the Walchand group and the Kirloskar group have slipped out of the benchmark index. Even the real estate and infrastructure giants who had a strong presence in the Sensex a decade ago — Jaiprakash Associates, Reliance Infrastructure and DLF, for example — are no longer in the index.”
    Niranjan Rajadhakshya writes in Livemint about the churn in the Sensex. Worth reading for the chart alone that appears midway through the article.
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  5. “The government has tried to change ideas about death through directives and incentives. In 2016, officials issued guidelines for encouraging more burials within nature, rather than delineating plots for tombs and memorials. In a revised law on funeral management in September, the central government called on local governments to provide financial support for public cemeteries, which would be cheaper for residents.”
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    An interesting read about the burial problem in China, and what they’re doing about it.

Links for 19th April, 2019

  1. “I don’t seem to have any less energy. When I’m in the Johnson library I’m still there from 9 to 5. And I’d like to feel — but I don’t really feel — that I’ve learned something about writing. If I told you what I thought people would laugh because my books are so long, but I often think of Renoir and how his painting got simpler and simpler and better and better. I don’t say my writing has gotten better but sometimes you think, Oh, I can do this.”
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    A fascinating interview in the NYT of Robert Caro.
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  2. “From Wednesday, the payment company is to begin contacting essay-writing firms, giving them notice that they should “move their business elsewhere”.But this will not be an “overnight ban” – as there will be debates over which services are helping students to cheat and which are offering legitimate tutoring assistance.”
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    A very, very large can of worms has been opened by Paypal.
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  3. “If you neutrally described the typical Sopranos episode, almost anyone hypothetical juror would hand down centuries of jail time. As you watch, however, righteous verdicts are far from your mind. Why? ”
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    I’ve just begun watching the Sopranos, so this didn’t make too much sense right now, but this part caught my eye in the whole article.
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  4. “The challenge is how do we adapt to that increased efficiency, which is very much like what happened to agriculture. Agriculture has become so efficient that now it’s kind of irrelevant to the economy, less than two percent of our working population. And that what’s happening to traditional capitalist—particularly manufacturing—activity. Today in America only a four-and-a-half percent of workers are doing production work in manufacturing. There are more 50-year-old men on disability than doing production work in manufacturing—precisely because it’s become so productive. Fewer people are producing goods. More people are producing services.”
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    Larry Summers looks back at 2008. Somewhat standard stuff, but this excerpt above was quite interesting.
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  5. “Land and money are two of the most neglected concepts in economic theory. Land is immobile, irreproducible and appreciates in value over time due to collective investment – none of these features apply to capital goods. Yet modern economics and national accounts treat them as one and the same.”
    The quote above was quoted in the article – a meta quote, if you will – but the article is a good reminder of the importance of the idea of rent.