16 September, 2015

Plane reading, Sept 16 2015

Expert takes worth reading on economics, technology, and other interesting topics from the last week.  Plus recent news on Uber and on-demand/autonomous vehicles:

Economics of politics

  1. Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School, on the "natural" mechanisms by which income inequality is increased economies develop.  Related, evidence shows that the so-called "wage gap" rise 1978-present is "virtually all" driven by top company out-performance inter-firm rather than intra-firm social issues such as CEO pay.  The implication is that many existing programs to counter inequality are ineffective at best, and counterproductive at worst.
  2. Brad DeLong, on how the above is misunderstood (or ignored) by politicians including Hillary Clinton
  3. Mark Thoma, on research showing how the topic of inequality may be increasing political polarization by moving Democrats to left, replacing moderate Democrats with Republicans.  Result is more liberal Democratic party but more conservative legislature overall
  4. Scott Alexander, a book review of "Manufacturing Consent" by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman exploring how and why both the left and right believe the media is biased against them

    Economics of China and India
    1. Tyler Cowen, on Chinese corruption and the tension between inefficient SOEs and market reforms
    2. Bloomberg, on China shutting down (world largest) futures market after 99% drop
    3. Tyler Cowen, triangulating China's current growth rate via beer sales and retail sales.  Perhaps 0.9%
    4. Financial Times, on "The Dangers of Delhi's dreams of overtaking China."  I didn't realize that China growth of 5% implies adding an Indian-sized economy in less than four years

    Other economics and public policy
    1. Alex Tabarrok, on rational choice theory relating to crime & punishment (and child rearing)
    2. Brad DeLong, on the economic structure of commercial banks and challenges in the current interest rate environment
    3. VoxEU, on London's tube strike producing net benefits from forcing a substantial fraction of commuters to discover more efficient routes to work.  Interesting discussion on applications into management, personal lives, etc.
    4. Richard Thaler, on Efficient Market Hypothesis failures and Keynes' statement that "Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally."
    5. Austin Frakt via Mark Thoma, on how generous health care plans enable providers to exercise more market power
    6. Tyler Cowen, on news coverage of refugee camp management firms
    7. Alphaville, on research suggesting inflation expectations have little impact on corporate investment, contrary to conventional wisdom and common narrative
    8. Mark Thoma, on Paul Romer's "Botox for development" argument that double-blind standard is unnecessarily high and often prevents implementation of known improvements.  Also see this study on the lack of proper evidence showing "whether parachutes are effective in preventing major trauma related to gravitational challenge."  And more general lamentations on the parachute approach to evidence-based medicine here.
    9. VoxEU, on designing sports tournaments to maximize economic interest of spectators
    10. RT, on a Russian company paying workers in bricks because its bank accounts are frozen in bankruptcy
    11. Tim Taylor, on the economics and policy of needed shifts in dementia care
    12. VOXEU, on research showing that firm entry vs market concentration in intermediate goods markets is U-shaped - that is, that more companies enter when markets are widely spread or monopolized
    13. Dani Rodrick, on "understanding requires simplification... learn how different causal mechanisms work, one at a time, and then figure out which ones are most relevant in a particular setting... Navigating among economic models..is considerably more difficult than choosing the right map... [we must] devote our energy to becoming wiser at picking which framework to apply when."

    Technology and business

    1. TechCrunch, on Hyperloop hiring ex-Cisco prez as CEO and launching $80m fundraising campaign
    2. John Hempton, on how Alibaba's numbers don't seem to add up - in a really big way
    3. MIT, on new chess computer that learns by holistic position evaluation rather than brute force.  It played at International Master level after 72 hours on a home PC, a level higher than 98% of human players and all but a handful of the most advanced programs running on supercomputers.  Also here
    4. AP/Daily Finance, on Target testing entry into the grocery delivery business
    5. TechCrunch, on Disney experimenting with light bulbs that flash to communicate with IoT devices
    6. TechCrunch, on Accel's Growthverse tool - an interactive visualization of companies in the marketing technology ecosystem.
    7. BoingBoing, on the implications of IoT launching with "the inkjet business model": "empty" Epson cartridges are still 20% full of ink
    8. VoxEU, on M-PESA and the impact on trade credit of mobile payment solutions
    9. NYTimes, on the mechanism of how the Fed implements decisions to raise interest rates
    10. MIT, interviewing Peter Thiel on his views on investing in BioTech
    11. Big Think, riffing on Carl Sagan "We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster."
    12. Slate, covering ArsTechnica's story that half (15 of 30m) of Ashley Madison passwords were encrypted with MD5 instead of bhash.  11m of those 15m have been cracked already.
    13. Slate, on San Antonio's utility-funded expansion of residential solar.  This should spread quickly, if PUC rules permit sufficient retention of cost savings
    14. William Nordhaus, on triangulating the nearness of the AI "singularity" through economic indicators (it's very far away), and the two competing views on whether it would imply stagnant or accelerating economic growth (and wealth inequality).  An excellent read
    15. TechCrunch, on a BlitzScaling course to be taught at Stanford entrepreneurs this fall mostly by people other than Reid Hoffman.  Unclear if Marissa Meyer will be sharing how the scale of  Google Books failed to deliver any value, or the lessons she learned from watching Yahoo's stake in Alibaba become worth more than Yahoo itself.  GSB Dean Saloner seems to have his hands full and is unlikely to guest lecture.

    Other interesting things

    1. Charles Green, on how trust is enhanced by transparency in pricing with professional service customers
    2. Dave Sandidge, on an experience piloting an aircraft literally through the Northern Lights.
    3. TheGuardian, reporting that the West declined Russia's 2012 offer to broker Assad stepping down from Syria
    4. TheGuardian, covering actor Ben Foster's in depth prep for role as Lance Armstrong, realizing that doping affects the mind not just the muscles
    5. BloombergView, on the theory of "Peak Environmental Impact" - the decoupling of economic growth from resource use.  Implications are very broad
    6. Daniel Little, on a recently published survey of the use of Agent-Based Models in different areas sociology.  Little highlights in particular how "altruistic punishment" (that hurts punisher more than punishee but helps society more broadly) is required to keep selfish and shirking workers from dominating an environment, with considerable implications in org design and leadership
    7. Futurity, on the Southern Ocean's carbon sink and how it's cyclicality muddles analysis of rising CO2 levels and global warming.  A recent surge in its activity may a contributor to the recent pause in warming
    8. Corey Robin, on TPP's ISDS mechanism completing the corporate interests behind Kissinger's backing of Pinochet's overthow of Allende in Chile and the other "Dirty Wars" of the 1970's and 1980's.  Nominally a review of Greg Grandin's book about those wars
    9. Christopher Kelly, on the development of a comprehensive taxonomy of the science and practice of interrogations
    10. Lane Wallace, reviewing her experience piloting a $3m "personal submarine."  Note link is to cached version; original article has gone missing in less than a week
    11. BigThink, on surveillance's real potential for improving human behavior, and Neil Postman's categorizing of fears of social impact of increased surveillance state as Orwell (truth will be concealed from us) or Huxley (truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance)

    Bonus reading:  Stories on Uber, some of which may eventually be integrated into my narrative

      1. NYTimes, on Uber lawsuits highlighting deficiencies of worker protection laws dating from 19th century
      2. TechCrunch, on Bill Gurley's lamentation of technology economics and overvaluation "It’s the “Same Sh_t” as in ’99"
      3. Izabella Kaminska, drawing a parallel between Uber's recent agreement with the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the British East India Tea Company
      4. TechCrunch, on Ola (India Uber competitor) raising $500m on a $5b valuation
      5. NYTimes, on a fellowship honoring David Carr "covering the intersection of technology, media and culture... to build upon Mr. Carr’s commitment to holding power accountable and telling engaging, deeply reported stories."
      6. VentureBeat, covering Google's hiring of ex-Hyundai boss to head autonomous car project which may be a good candidate for a spin-off from Alphabet
      7. CityPaper, on being an undercover Uber driver.  Well-written, particularly in demonstrating how short trips can push Uber's platform revenue momentarily above 50% of ride fees
      8. Slate, on DidiKuadi (China) backing Lyft in the U.S. as part of its battle with Uber in China
      9. TechCrunch, on Uber's VP of Mobile leaving for VC world "to be closer to his family" in Europe

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