Interesting stuff

  1. American laws now aid global tax dodgers — and that’s not an accident
  2. Economic warfare (embargoes, tariffs, etc.) is useless and probably counterproductive. Better to offer favorable economic terms on migration and trade and shame leaders into serving their people.
  3. The rise of women (from inequality) is both useful and urgently needed. NGM — the magazine of bare-breasted exotics — has put out an issue on women, with all the editing, writing and photography by women.
  4. Why is Iran’s government paranoid about environmentalists? Here’s one (authoritative) perspective. My take is that enviro-groups can challenge the government’s authority and competence.
  5. Free-market medical care works in the US
  6. COP15 fail, in the manner of Dr. Seuss
  7. Two excellent podcasts: Eastern Europe after the wall and the “disrespected” who support populists and Naomi Klein’s evolution as a public intellectual against excess capitalism
  8. Paranoia about abuse of power has diffused power and stopped progress.
  9. China is one (of ?? countries) “erasing the past” by removing articles from academic databases. Such censorship was not possible in the days of printed journals, but digital archives (often controlled by for-profit companies) are centralized — and thus vulnerable.
  10. California’s decision to prohibit insurers from dropping clients as new risks (e.g., living near fire-vulnerable areas) emerge will nuke the insurance market, increasing the risk that people, businesses and cities will go bankrupt as climate chaos results in new damages in different places.

H/T to JP


Will businesses take down Trump?

Donald Trump is not just bankrupt as a moral leader coward. He’s also wildly corrupt, in terms of enriching himself at a vast cost to the country. (By vast, I mean that he’s willing to give up $billions of US wealth to get himself $thousands in golf courses or deals for his daughter.)

Republicans have allowed for this behavior because it ain’t their money and voters seem to think Don and the Replicants are on their side. That’s crazy wrong. (Just tonight I had to clarify how little of Obama’s economic growth Donnie can claim as his own. I’d say negative, given his attacks on trade, migration and American alliances.)

Anyway, the Replicants are selfish cowards who care nothing about the Constitution (let alone God), but business people are not in the same class. They will act because their money is at risk. For example:

The Economist: “Amazon confirmed that it will appeal against the Pentagon’s decision to award a $10bn cloud-computing contract to Microsoft. Amazon had been favourite to win the contract, before Donald Trump, who has kept up a public feud with Jeff Bezos, the company’s boss, suggested it should go elsewhere. Amazon says that procurements should be administered “objectively” and “free from political influence”. Mark Esper, the defence secretary, said the process had been fair.”

My one-handed conclusion is that Trump is toast as soon as he starts to cost people real money. Let’s see if he can avoid tanking the economy (or powerful businesses) before the election. (I think he should be impeached, of course, but that won’t happen while Replicants are insulated from voter anger.)

Interesting stuff

  1. Political hobbyism takes us away from spending time working with others to acquire power. While we sit at home, people who seek political control are out winning over voters.”
  2. An advertising guy has lots of insights for economists (I bought his book to read and learn 😉
  3. How psychics “see your future” (with a little help from your credulity)
  4. A good overview of illegal drug markets in the UK
  5. Dutch celebrities sue Facebook for fake ads — and win.
  6. Listen to these two great episodes of the Capitalisn’t podcast: DuPont covers up the hazards of teflon and Monsanto lobbying farmers to use glycophosphate
  7. My boss (LUC’s Dean) is also a researcher into parents-child communication. She’s just released a paper on gender and racial stereotyping in kids books.
  8. I really learned a few things listening to this podcast on the “economics of Millennial Socialists”
  9. A short video on how the Dutch nearly destroyed Amsterdam with US-style highways, off-ramps and urban destruction.
  10. Before there was recycling, there was the rag trade” (I bought the book!)

Real decentralization is radical

Visionaries, consultants and public speakers love to explain how they are embracing distribution over decentralization over centralization, using an image like this:

What drives me crazy about this image is that it actually undersells true decentralization, i.e., when everyone is connected to everyone:

Really decentralized (D)

We already have such systems for email (anyone on Earth can connect with anyone else without going through a censor, “chokepoint,” or authority), and cryptocurrencies offer the same connectivity for money.

Note that mobile phones are not decentralized because they need to be connected to carriers, which also means that mobile phone apps for messaging and payment are not decentralized. (I can’t install WePay on my phone, for example, because it’s not approved for the EU.)

These distinctions are important to people who support freedom of action, belief and existence — freedoms that are under assault in Hong Kong, Iran, China, and even the US (due to monopoly concentrations and government attempts to control private conversation).

Thus, we need to avoid debating “decentralization” within an Overton window preferred by authorities and would-be-monopolies. Those parties are happy with figures B and C because they can be monitored and controlled via critical nodes such as influencers, service providers, or content owners.

My one-handed conclusion is that citizens should insist on real decentralization. Choose D.

H/T to CD

Interesting stuff

  1. Nice podcast explaining Pigouvian taxes and their origin 
  2. Do economic sanctions work? No.
  3. Why Does Tipping Still Exist” — especially when it’s biased
  4. How Oligarchs and Populists Milk the E.U. for Millions” Me: End the CAP!  
  5. Governments are using spyware to target journalists via hacked WhatsApp messages. The same can happen to you. Here’s how to protect yourself.
  6. Regrets for a Dutch town that switched from natural gas to “renewable” biofuel.
  7. Greater urban density means more connections and more innovation
  8. Church vs tribe: “Western Individualism Arose from Incest Taboo
  9. Prosperity in China is changing the way people behave towards each other
  10. Will India get rich fast enough to prevent more smog deaths?

Big data helps monopolies, not you

Economists say competition in markets rages from “perfect” (no company can charge a price over cost without losing 100% of its customers to another company) to “monopoly” (one company sets prices to maximize profits).

Two caveats are important. First, the monopolist doesn’t charge as much as possible but whatever maximizes profits. There might be a lot of trading going on, but also a lot of missing trades. Second, businesses seek monopoly power in different ways, from having a unique product with zero substitutes (pretty rare) to being open for business at a certain time and place (pretty common). Businesses often try to create monopoly power by making it hard to compare products with competitors or across boundaries. That’s why they sell the same razor in pink for women and blue for men, change model numbers for the same product in different markets, change package sizes, and so on.

Thus, businesses make it harder to see similarities and differences because confusion for you means larger profits for them.

Flipping this idea over, businesses want to identify similarities and differences among customers to make it easier to charge different prices to different customers. Their goal is not to charge as much as the market will bear but as much as you will bear.

Thus, businesses “price discriminate” (PD) in a quest to get $4 from you and $6 from me for the same product.  There are three types of PD, arranged from easiest to hardest to implement:

  • “Third degree PD means charging a different price to different consumer groups,” e.g., young vs old or lunch vs dinner.
  • “Second-degree PD means pricing according to quantity demanded, e.g., larger quantities are available at a lower unit price.”
  • “First degree PD means (FDPD) charging the maximum price each consumer is willing to pay.”

There are many examples of second and third degree PD, but FDPD is harder to pursue. In the past, we got close to FDPD with auctions in which the highest bidder won the good, but auctions take time and still leave money on the table (the winner only needs to outbid the second place bidder).

Now the technology exists to allow routine and widespread FDPD. That technology has arrived with “big data,” and it’s not your friend.


  • Our social media habits reveal our likes, choices, and friends
  • Our social graph links us to friends and relatives, allowing data to be cross-checked and refined with weak or strong links to the people around us.
  • Our loyalty cards, credit cards, and credit scores can be used to understand our ability- and willingness-to-pay
  • Our phones track everywhere we go.
  • Personal fitness devices record our heart-rates, stepping speed, etc.
  • Data brokers can cheaply buy and combine many datasets and use machine learning (AIs) to create our “digital twins.” Twins may not be too accurate when they are born (here’s one effort), but your actions are constantly being compared to your twin’s predicted action. With time, your twin will will know you better than you do.

Taken together, Big Data means that you will be paying more and getting less for many goods and services. At its most-dystopian extreme, Big Data will direct you to friends, work and romance based on business profit-maximization instead of your own ideals of happiness.

My one-handed conclusion is that big data is more of a curse than a blessing for the average human.

NB: I’ve blogged for years on the weaknesses and threats of social media, but this post also draws on my 25 years of experience in working with data and the many ways we abuse data.

Interesting stuff

  1. Do MBA programs help or hinder ethics in business?
  2. Napoleon was still is pretty important
  3. The co-evolution of technology and techniques
  4. Inside the echo-chamber Facebook builds for you
  5. Our changing perception of digital data (from files to relations)
  6. The Dutch government has spent €11billion subsidizing wood pellets as [carbon-neutral] biofuel — which it isn’t when you including processing and shipping 
  7. The interesting tension between freedom and stability in cultures
  8. Leaf blowers are really really bad for the environment (like 20x car emissions)
  9. Tom Friedman is right to call attention to the four horses of America’s apocalypse institutional meltdown: Trump, Facebook, Fox news Lies and Republican traitors. Getting rid of Trump does not mean getting rid of the problem. 
  10. Fires in California (due to climate change but also over-stretched firefighting capacity, undermaintained infrastructure, and overpopulation in vulnerable areas) may be the beginning of the end for California. (Drought? Don’t even go there.)

Some people getting uppity

The title of this post refers to how some whites refer to successful blacks in the US. (They also bomb, lynch and imprison those blacks.) The gendered-version of this slander is “putting women in their place.” When it comes to the poor, the rich say they should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” The young? Some oldies complain about “kids these days.”

In all of these cases, the better-off complainer ignores their social and historical privilege. They rarely consider how the economic, social, political institutions created by their ancestors have put them firmly at the top end of a tilted playing field.

So the relative improvement in the lives of racial/ethnic minorities, women, the poor, and the young upset the privileged, the most prominent group of which is composed of old white rich men, who I’ll label “Donnies.”

The Donnies don’t like uppity people invading their world, so they lash out.

“Ethnics” invade Donny pools, restaurants, and professions. Even worse, they marry their women and move to their neighborhoods.

Women are doing better in school (now that they can attend), taking Donny jobs, making more money than Donny, and even (!) deciding they don’t need to trade their womb for Donny’s money. Donnies are mad, so they accuse women of having sex or being ugly — as if that will fix Donny’s bad grades, low earnings or lack of sex appeal.

Donnies hate it when the poor succeed, calling them “nouveaux riches.” Many Donnies owe their wealth to colonial pillage, family, or social networks that allow stupid Donnies to collect outrageous salaries (I went to school with many of them). Donnies caught lying and stealing don’t often face punishment, but the poor do [pdf].

The young? Donnies tell them to respect their elders when all there is to respect is wrinkles and hair loss. In the distant past, respect made sense, but old people today probably owe their longevity to medical science, welfare systems and professional carers.

A few years ago, Barack Obama was castigated for saying that business owners “didn’t build that” without outside help. Although business owners work hard, Obama was right to call attention to the enabling environment that made their success possible. Many Donnies take those institutions for granted. Others (like the Criminal-in-Chief) take advantage of the system. In my experience, I’d say that about 80 percent of these Donnies would break down in tears if they faced the business-climate of China, Mexico or Thailand. They wouldn’t even last a day in Argentina, Egypt or India.

My one-handed conclusion: The Donnies of this world are getting upset as they realize how Others are earning the success they never did.

Interesting stuff

  1. For years, I have complained that “nobody wakes up in the morning, looks at GDP statistics, and changes their plans for the day.” Listen to this podcast on mis-measuring productivity and manufacturing statistics, which may have given populists excuses to “fix” problems that never existed. (My impression is that many more people would be happier if they looked at their quality of life instead of a [random? inaccurate?] reference point that supposedly tells them how well they are doing compared to peers.
  2. Parents sometimes forget that they are not in control
  3. Hollywood may slowly be overcoming its sexism
  4. Will Smith “stopped caring about others’ opinions” when he turned 50
  5. Who are the Kurds? Trump certainly didn’t know who he betrayed.
  6. Check out these photos of museum visitors who “match the art”
  7. Airbnb is bringing cash to remote Himalayan villages. A good thing?
  8. Straight talk on privacy, encryption, crime and the State
  9. Why can’t billionaires just stop accumulating and help society?
  10. Capitalism in America: A tipping culture that borrows from the worst of Old Europe and WeWork’s crazy founder paid $1billion to go away.

H/T to PB