Interesting stuff

  1. Watch this expose on the mainstream media (e.g., NYTimes) taking oil money in exchange for better coverage.
  2. Listen to how (re)insurance companies are dealing with climate risk. It’s messy, but money talks so listen!
  3. Read: Confessions of a Celebrity Ghostwriter
  4. Watch What is water scarcity really? (I make an appearance)
  5. Read: A campaign (successful!) to stop the massacre of migratory raptors in India
  6. Read: The push for fareless transit is downstream of a larger failure: underinvestment in infrastructure.
  7. Stories from a solar-powered website that sometimes goes offline:
  8. Read AI is finally good at stuff, and that’s a problem (ChatGPT — is it the enemy or the beginning of a beautiful partnership?)
  9. Read about fermentation as a sustainable and healthy way of adding value to food — also handy when global food trade starts to fall apart!

H/Ts to YK and AC

Usefulnomics — an example

I’m not shy about criticizing the weakest elements of economics (there are many), so it’s sometimes a good idea to remind myself (and you!) of the strengths of economics, i.e., those characteristics that make it useful.

Here’s an example based on a test-question I just asked:

You are a baker facing higher energy (natural gas) prices. Higher prices result from (choose one for each): (i) A change in demand or quantity demanded? (ii) A change in supply or quantity supplied? (iii) Which impact came first?

The start of the right answer lies in the question (“higher natural gas prices”), which result from Russia’s (recent) invasion of Ukraine, i.e., impacts from closing and damaged pipelines, embargos,  etc.).  So the answer to (iii) is that the supply shock came first.

Now what about quantity supplied vs supply of natural gas? The first refers (in economic jargon) to changes in price or quantity within a supply/demand figure “holding all else equal.” Since the figure only shows the price/quantity relationship, other changes do not move up/down the line; they shift the line entirely. What’s assumed is that the line represents “supply in the market” (a mix of technologies, firms, geographies) and how, typically, you can get more quantity by offering a higher price (thus, the rise from left to right). In the case of the war, a few things (firms, geographies) are NOT being held constant. Indeed, the supply curve shifted in due to a loss of some/all Russian NG supply. That’s called a “change in supply” from S0 (baseline, in black) to SW (war, in red)

What about demand? Its components (income, tastes, substitutes) were still “equal” when supply shifted in, so it doesn’t shift. Instead, prices rise (to PW) and quantity demanded falls (to QW, “climbing up the demand curve”) as supply shifts from S0 to SW. (Note that prices often lead to quantities, hence the arrows.)

This model separates causes and effects, which helps with planning, reactions, and so on. There are, of course, many responses that have affected (shifted) both supply and demand, but those came after the initial shock.

My one-handed conclusion is that it’s useful to have a logical means of understanding/explaining the everyday complexities of markets.

Interesting stuff

  1. It’s always useful to take a step back and reconsider during “crypto winters” — listen to this podcast with the founder of Coinbase to learn a bit.
  2. Read: The population of college-age Americans is about to crash. It will change higher education forever.
  3. Read: The Myth of the 25-Year-Old Brain (I’m standing by my long-running comment on this: “Under-25” surcharges for car rental.)
  4. Watch: Wow, SBF tries to dodge the depth of his fraud (FTX)
  5. Listen to Magatte Wade on real entrepreneurship!
  6. Read: Expiration Dates Are Meaningless
  7. Read: The World Cup of Microsoft Excel (not yet ruined)
  8. Listen/read: Are greedy corporations to blame for inflation? (No.)
  9. Listen: How AM radio in the US turned into a right-wing circus
  10. Cute:

H/T to DL

Twitter, social media and the commons

Twitter is a social media platform, in the sense that its content is created by its users. Facebook, Youtube, Tiktok, Instagram and LinkedIn are also social media platforms.

All of these platforms have a goal of making money, which will come from a combination of two sources: subscriptions and advertising. (Amazon and Google are both moving into advertising, but neither promises anything like the “social” environment of these others.)

Back in 2010, I pointed out the Faustian bargain of social media companies: They either charge subscriptions to protect users (and lose users) or they sell advertising and abuse users. Much to my dismay, most of the SM websites have gone with the latter option, which has contributed to insecurity (even suicide), abuse (even genocide), and disruption (fake news, disinformation). Although it’s clear that some SM platforms are run by asocial narcissists, it’s also clear that new owners, no matter their understanding of psychology, will adapt methods that create $0.01 of revenue for every $100 of social damages. That’s how less-destructive businesses (e.g., oil, guns, alcohol) have run for centuries.

So we’re fucked.

What’s sad about Twitter is that it was less bad than most of the other SM platforms. Users had more control over who they followed; trolls were easier to block; individuals could reach a larger audience, faster than on other platforms promising to “boost” influence. For some professions (journalists and academics), Twitter was an amazing source of information, insight and (occasionally) influence.

All of that is now at risk because Elon Musk has simultaneously failed on three fronts:

  1. Destroying the “blue check” system that reduced fraud.
  2. Destroying civility by re-authorizing accounts of trolls and liars at the same time as firing moderators.
  3. Alienating nearly all “mainstream” advertisers.

So it looks like Twitter will turn into an underfunded cesspool of trolls, victims and megalomaniacs. That’s not just a bad way to blow $44 billion. It’s bad for all of the people — of all nations and statures — who will be fooled, angered and abused by the firehose of hate that Twitter (and other SM sites) promote in the name of “engagement.”

My one-handed conclusion is that you’re better off with more socializing and less Asocial Mediaâ„¢

Or try Mastodon?

*The Dutch say that someone is asocial when they are an asshole, i.e., ignoring social rules and norms. Americans use “amoral” in the same pejorative way, i.e., lacking morals.

Addendum (12 Dec): Ezra Klein explains Twitter and the commons (with the sheep example, alas).

Interesting stuff

  1. Listen to the origins of “culture war”
  2. Listen to this long (nearly 4 hours!) conversation with a former KGB agent. (One tidbit: Putin was not good as a spy but very good as an organizer)
  3. Read: The U.S. Needs More Housing Than Almost Anyone Can Imagine
  4. Read: The legit alternative to Twitter: Mastodon.
  5. While visiting the RetroFuture exhibition in Eindhoven, I came across this gem:This image alone falsifies the idea that we understand how technology affects (defects?) our lives. Here’s the video of Dutchies claiming they don’t have any use for mobile phones…
  6. Read: French farmers (with 70% subsidies) are draining (commons) groundwater to fill (private) reservoirs. Another development in line with an end of abundance!
  7. Read how a journalist “lost” 20 years of emails… and felt lighter.
  8. Listen to Jeremy Grantham — a famous Silicon Valley investor — explain the existential risks of climate change
  9. Listen: Sometimes it’s better to quit rather than struggle through…
  10. Watch Steve Jobs (and all his engineers!) make history in 1984

H/Ts to GK and ME