Interesting stuff

  1. Read: The oceans are transitioning to become more acidic, hotter and higher  (+15m by 2500, so goodbye Netherlands… and many other cities!)
  2. Listen: Good discussion of how Chinese women are getting richer while women in “cloistered” cultures (think stay at home) are just waiting to be let out.
  3. Read: AIs offer effortless knowledge but they are likely to push us to conform to the beliefs of its algorithmic designers. Related: AIs are contributing to the “enshitification” of the Internet (Have you noticed? I see it in the fall in quality at Amazon shopping and Google search. I’m not on social media, thanks god!)
  4. Read this 1967 essay on the “New Industrial State” by John K. Galbraith. His main idea is that large corporations — as bureaucracies that dominate “market economies” — mean that markets are more planned than free. This theme is part of my recent post on setting prices, but JKG does make the mistake (from what I’ve read) of assuming that large firms can maintain power, despite their planning (failures). I can say this with confidence because none of the largest 10 firms in 1967 are in the top 10 today — and many are gone altogether.
  5. Read Jane Jacobs’s 1984 essay on urban economics and development [pdf]. Insightful!
  6. Read a slightly terrifying description of the personalities of the TechBros who are shaping our lives.
  7. Read: Local governments are bulling the press (which is calling attention to shenanigans) — just another sign of end times for America?
  8. Read: Climate chaos is already disrupting seasonal fruits… and much more to come!
  9. Read: Another step in collapse: Climate chaos is hitting Europe, but nobody is doing “anything” about it (compared to pursuing other goals that make CC worse)
  10. Read: We need more heresy, not less.

Grades and learning

Schools tend to go to one extreme or another when it comes to grades: they are either confidential or posted openly.

The reasons for confidential tend to involve self esteem, privacy, peer pressure and bullying. The idea is that students will be mean to each other if they know the grades of others.

This idea is a bit flawed — students can be mean in many ways, grades are feedback on work rather than evaluations of personal character, etc. — but you can see its parallel in discussions of pay at work.

The alternative of open grades is popular with those who want to show the product of potential, habits and behaviour — and how sometimes inputs do not lead to outputs. Sure, So-and-so (the model student) got an A, but what about S0-and-no (the rebel), who also got an A? Going further, open grades help students calibrate their own performance; they help groups of students compete with each other (I’ve published on this); and they force teachers to give clear objective feedback to students who will compare their work.

Learning is a process, and grades are signals of whether than process is going well. Although I’d prefer to post ALL my grades openly, I actually fall somewhere in between — I give open grades on some assignments (along side openly penalising failures to follow guidelines), but I give confidential grades on others. That’s just how things work out.

But my one-handed conclusion is that individual grades only make sense when you can compare yourself to the group. That’s how you know that your B+ is amazing (top grade on the exam!) or a disaster (everyone else got an A- or above).

We learn by comparison, so don’t ignore its potential.

Interesting stuff

  1. Listen to Freakonomics talk about tracking disease in wastewater
  2. Watch this funny satire on “Airbnb aesthetics”
  3. Out-of-control advertising is “enshitifying” the internet.
  4. Read: Is Amazon using excess profits from commissions paid by sellers to crush competition? Seems right to me.
  5. Listen to a good conversation on correctly using statistics
  6. Listen: California’s omni-present “this building contains chemicals known to cause cancer” signs are actually useful (!)
  7. Read: RIOT (a bitcoin miner) seems to embody a mix of fraud and delusion.
  8. The Dutch government will not make housing more “affordable” by giving money to buyers, since they will just pay more for the limited supply. BUILD MORE SUPPLY!
  9. A few choice excerpts from Right Ho Jeeves (PG Wodehouse, 1934), a novel that skewers the English upper classes, via Bertie’s relation with his butler Jeeves:

    I [Bertie] eyed him narrowly. I didn’t like his looks. Mark you, I don’t say I ever had, much, because Nature, when planning this sterling fellow, shoved in a lot more lower jaw than was absolutely necessary and made the eyes a bit too keen and piercing for one who was neither an Empire builder nor a traffic policeman

    I [Bertie] have no doubt that you could have flung bricks by the hour in England’s most densely populated districts without endangering the safety of a single girl capable of becoming Mrs. Augustus Fink-Nottle without an anaesthetic.

    I was trying to think who you reminded me of. Somebody who went about strewing ruin and desolation and breaking up homes which, until he came along, had been happy and peaceful. Attila is the man. It’s amazing.” she said, drinking me in once more. “To look at you, one would think you were just an ordinary sort of amiable idiot–certifiable, perhaps, but quite harmless. Yet, in reality, you are worse a scourge than the Black Death. I tell you, Bertie, when I contemplate you I seem to come up against all the underlying sorrow and horror of life with such a thud that I feel as if I had walked into a lamp post.”

    The fact that pigs were abroad in the night seemed to bring home to me [Bertie] the perilous nature of my enterprise. It set me thinking of all the other things that could happen to a man out and about on a velocipede without a lamp after lighting-up time. In particular, I recalled the statement of a pal of mine that in certain sections of the rural districts goats were accustomed to stray across the road to the extent of their chains, thereby forming about as sound a booby trap as one could well wish

Interesting stuff

  1. Listen to this fascinating discussion of how Ukraine’s postal service functions amidst war.
  2. Listen to this delightful conversation (Part One is also good) with Chris Anderson (TED) on charity, religion and public life.
  3. Reconsider: I’m not 100% onboard with Peter Thiel’s politics, but I really like his program to pay young people to skip college, which is “more popular than ever”
  4. Wanna be happy? Stop complaining. Read more.
  5. Economists’ perspectives on inequality are disconnected from reality.
  6. Read: Climate chaos is reducing lifespans now, via air pollution.
  7. Scary but not at all surprising: A number of Americans actually DO want chaos.
  8. Read this absolutely fascinating 1943 “Report on the Problem of the Mafia in Sicily” — excellent analysis!
  9. John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1973 insights on “The Economics of the American Housewife” [pdf] starts with “The convenient social virtue ascribes merit to any pattern of behavior, however uncomfortable or un­ natural for the individual involved, that serves the comfort or well-being of the more powerful members of the community…” and gets more interesting from there.
  10. I read Lucky Jim (Amis 1954) and enjoyed the roller-coaster plot of a hapless academic [Jim Dixon]. Here are some fun passages from various parts of the book:

    The title of the article he’d written. It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. “In considering this strangely neglected topic,” it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool.

    DIXON was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

    The hydrogen bomb, the South African Government, Chiang Kaishek, Senator McCarthy himself, would then seem a light price to pay for no longer being in the Middle Ages. Had people ever been as nasty, as self-indulgent, as dull, as miserable, as cocksure, as bad at art, as dismally ludicrous, or as wrong as they’d been in the Middle Age?

    He remembered some Greek or Latin tag about not even God being able to abolish historical fact, and was glad to think that this must apply equally to the historical fact of his drinking out of Christine’s coffee-cup.

    While he dressed, he thought how nice it was to have nothing he must do. There were compensations for ceasing to be a lecturer, especially that of ceasing to lecture.

    Dixon thought he really would have to run downstairs and knife the drivers of both vehicles; what next? what next? What actually would be next: a masked holdup, a smash, floods, a burst tyre, an electric storm with falling trees and meteorites, a diversion, a low-level attack by Communist aircraft, sheep, the driver stung by a hornet? He’d choose the last of these, if consulted. Hawking its gears, the bus crept on, while every few yards troupes of old men waited to make their quivering way aboard.

How does an entrepreneur set prices?

Traditional (neo-classical) economic theory has robust models of price-setting in two extremes. In a perfect market, identical firms sell identical goods at the same price, each firm covering its marginal costs, but no firm making any profit.

But where do normal firms and entrepreneurs set their prices, based on imperfect information regarding their competition, the potential clients, and the “unique” elements of their goods/services?

Here’s a picture:

My one-handed conclusion is that economists are very sure about a very rare set of market circumstances and very unsure (or they should be!) about 99% of market participants.

Interesting stuff

  1. Read: Guatemala’s citizens score a rare win (in Latin America) for democracy over corruption.
  2. Read: More old friends are caring for each other in the face of shrinking and fragmenting families. Very much related: Social media has turbocharged the “bowling alone” decay of social ties.
  3. Watch: “AI can do your homework… now what?
  4. Plan: Dutch banks are calling for climate risk labels for houses mortgages. Here’s one calculator by postcode [Dutch]

H/T to CD

Alexei Navalny, RIP

A hero under all circumstances.

We do not have many civic heroes these days — the people who fight with words rather than weapons to preserve domestic quality of life.

Three of my heroes, Clair Patterson, Jane Jacobs, and Rachel Carson, were civic heroes — they sacrificed a lot to help us all.

Another was Alexei Navalny, who was willing to die to help his fellow Russians.

Last week, Putin murdered him.

Putin didn’t murder him directly — just as MBS didn’t murder Jamal Khashoggi with his own hands — but Putin was 100 percent responsible.

I don’t think I was ever a fan of Putin, but he’s certainly turned from bad to worse since I began criticising him in 2005, but this 2009 post is better. I am not sure I would have been so brave if I was living in Russia. Navalny was beyond brave — not just criticising Putin to his face over the years, but returning to Russia to do so after Putin’s thugs failed to kill him with poison in 2o21. Navalny said: “I am not afraid of Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants.”

That’s a hero, hands down.

I recommend these articles (“Why Russia Killed Navalny” and “The reckless heroism of Alexei Navalny“) to learn more about a leader the Russians needed but may not have deserved.

I look forward even more to Putin’s fall from power.

Interesting stuff

  1. Data != truth: 29 sets of academics, given the SAME data on gender and speaking in public, came up with disagreeing analyses. Related: 73 teams also disagree on how to interpret the SAME data on migration and support for social welfare.
  2. Read: America’s founders didn’t mean self-pleasure when they promoted  “pursuit of happiness” — they meant self-restraint.
  3. Listen to this really excellent discussion of how NYC’s 2019 regulation on “affordable” housing made housing less affordable. (The Dutch are doing more or less the same now.)
  4. Read how illegal drug producers pollute land and water in the Netherlands. Legalize and regulate drugs! Related: Farmers illegally dumping animal shit. Reduce industrial agriculture!
  5. Sad: Average world temperatures are now +1.7C over pre-industrial levels, with +2C in sight for 2030. Shit’s gettin’ real… Related: We need to think differently about how we describe the strength of hurricanes.
  6. Read this nice analysis of why democrats make housing more expensive than republicans.
  7. Read: Want less stress? Pay off your debt!
  8. Read this update on “lab diamonds,” which are chemically the same as “natural” (inhuman?) diamonds and thus pulling down prices by as much as 90%. Still, some people think they are too cheap (=not enough sacrifice for that ring?), which is why they need to raise the price — and attraction — by using my “eco-ring” idea 🙂
  9. Government failure in action: The Dutch government wants more affordable housing, so they’ve decided to expand supply limit prices, which has resulted in fewer and fewer new starts. What’s the challenge, says the city [in Dutch]? Builders can’t make enough money on new builds. Fail.
  10. Watch: If you believe in a “social license to operate”, then what explains McKinsey’s continued crimes against society?

Interesting stuff

  1. Shop! Someone made a useful AI-powered, reddit-sourced search engine for “buy it for life” products. Here’s advice on what bicycle to buy, for example.
  2. Maybe the neo-luddites are right to oppose the rise of tech-dictators?
  3. Read an analysis of why the Court struct down Trump’s claim that he could commit crimes (!) not just as president (!!) but also as a civilian (!!!). (The guy is really full of himself…)
  4. Read Neal Stephenson’s thoughts on AI (He coined the concept of metaverse)
  5. Read this fascinating (and well written) debunking of central planning, written in 1937 — 8 years before Hayek made his amazing contribution.

Who do you work for?

Economists assume that people work for themselves first, i.e., accepting payment (extrinsic motivation) to do something they would not do if they were not paid.

But that “model” ignores the role of intrinsic motivation (we do what we like) which plays a role — large or small — in determining where we work, but also how much we are willing to accept to do the work (more intrinsic motivation on offer means reduces the need for extrinsic motivation).

So it’s complicated.

Now get into the common problem of outsiders assuming you are there for intrinsic reasons when you are there for other reasons. For example:

  • You work at a non-profit, but only because of the salary (extrinsic).
  • You teach at a university but only because you want to be left alone to do research (different intrinsic reasons).
  • You say you care about the public interest but your company screws the public (extrinsic displaces intrinsic).

My one-handed conclusion is that you should not take someone’s motivational claim at face value. Better to watch to see how their behavior (revealed preference) aligns or clashes with their professed goals (stated preference).