Interesting stuff

  1. Read The Case for Letting Malibu Burn (originally from 1995)
  2. Think: Local journalism has collapsed over the past 20 years. It should be brought back — via subsidies — due to the massive savings from journalists uncovering corruption.
  3. Read: Robotaxis are cool, but they will not make city streets better for pedestrians… because “convenience” will lead to more use.
  4. Read: Get rid of trigger warnings if you want to reduce anxiety.
  5. Social media is contributing to teen violence, as youngsters taunt each other online… and shoot each other on the streets.
  6. The bridge between a product design on a computer and the process of automating manufacturing of the product has been made. Factories with far fewer humans are next.
  7. Think: TikTok will give users the option to turn off personalized recommendations in the EU soon. Most won’t switch off “their” addiction.
  8. Listen: Countries differ in economic complexity (not GDP), and that’s the real measure of “development.”
  9. Change: Aristotle’s ten rules for the good life:
    1. Name your fears and face them.
    2. Know your appetites and control them.
    3. Be neither a cheapskate nor a spendthrift.
    4. Give as generously as you can.
    5. Focus more on the transcendent; disregard the trivial.
    6. True strength is a controlled temper.
    7. Never lie, especially to yourself.
    8. Stop struggling for your fair share.
    9. Forgive others, and forbear their weaknesses.
    10. Define your morality; live up to it, even in private.

H/T to AG

When I’m 54…

It’s my 54th birthday today! Woo hoo!

Rather than try to write a poem/song in the style of “When I’m 64,” here are a few thoughts:

  1. I’ve decided to release my Best of Aguanomics (2018) as a free ePub. Initially, I did not want to make a digital version available — thereby forcing people to buy the (door stop) sized book so they could read it on paper (and probably on the toilet), but I realized that the ebook would allow people to browse a chapter a day (455 of them!) or skip around.
    Data: Since releasing the book nearly 5 years ago, I’ve sold 77 copies (and made $14, since I sell as close to cost as possible), so this move won’t put me in poverty 😉
  2. I’ve stepped away from Reddit in two stages: (a) I deleted the Apollo app from my phone and iPad in July, after Reddit killed third-party developers and (b) by unsubscribing to 180 (!) subreddits that were mostly time-wasting click bait. So now I hope to have a healthier, occasionally relationship with the site. My decision to quit other socials (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) has only given me greater joy with time 🙂
  3. I was interested to read this detailed report on world inequality. Although I am not in the top 10 percent of global rich, by cash income, I know that I am very privileged to have my health, friends, a good job and apartment, etc. It’s good to remember when things are going well 🙂
  4. My dad is 90 and in pretty good spirits. My mom died when she was 46 after a long bout with cancer. It’s good to remember that things do not always go according to plan.
  5. My sailing hobby is now more “stable” (compared to Doffer), as my boat (a 1971 Vrijheid re-named Chance) is smaller, more common, closer to my house, and in a club of many others who can teach me more. Nobody comes to the Netherlands for the mountains, but they should come to enjoy the water (sports)!
  6. Why “Chance“? Because there’s a lot that can go right and wrong on a boat, so it’s not a good idea to plan too aggressively. Perfection is an illusion with boats, so I try to remember that “90 percent is good enough”
  7. Speaking of pursuing perfection improvement, I’ve signed up (and been gifted) two wood working courses, so I will have more hands on experience to humble my aspirations!

Seven is enough, I think.


Interesting stuff

  1. Fuck: Mid-winter temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius in South America leave climatologists in disbelief
  2. Read: What do you get when you combine AI-text with Amazon’s terrible “third parties” platform and fake reviews: A slew of rip-off travel guides.
  3. Read: Public pension funds have around 13% of their state employees’ money in “private equity” (PE, aka, leveraged buy outs), which is adding — not removing — risk from returns. (They are desperate for returns, since they do not want to lower pay outs or raise contributions.) The next  (predictable) financial crisis is getting started! Related: Why is PE popular? Dodgy accounting that lets pension managers pretend they are hedging. Listen to this discussion.
  4. Listen: US unions are fighting for a bigger piece of (record) corporate profits. Good.
  5. Think: “An individual from the top 10% of the global income distribution earns €87,200 (USD122,100) per year, whereas an individual from the poorest half of the global income distribution makes €2,800 (USD3,920) per year.”
  6. Listen: Many recent university grads in China cannot find “appropriate” jobs. Watch this space, as joblessness among the educated is a leading driver of revolution.
  7. Read: Another post-water update: “Heat, War and Trade Protections Raise Uncertainty for Food Prices
  8. Americans need to stop whining and deal with struggle. Read on.
  9. Read Why the Populist Right Hates Universities (critical, alternative perspectives)

Review: Stoner

A colleague recommended this 1965 novel by John Williams because it concerns academic life.

The novel is set in Missouri. The protagonist — William Stoner* — grows up on a lonely farm. He goes to university to farm better but falls in love with English literature and decides to stay.

All he wants to do is read and research early-modern literature and bring out the best in students, but — surprise — there are selfish people in the way.

I had to put the book down a few times, as the assaults on Stoner sometimes reminded me of assaults that I have endured from others.

At one point Stoner says “it doesn’t matter” — and then realizes that’s TRUE. Selfish and narrow minded people are always going to be around us, burdening us with their problems. The question is how you deal with them:

Edith [his wife] would burst into anger at either or both of them. And Stoner looked upon it all—the rage, the woe, the screams, and the hateful silences—as if it were happening to two other people, in whom, by an effort of the will, he could summon only the most perfunctory interest.

It doesn’t matter is a good place to start, and I have felt better a few times in the past year by giving up on projects or ideas. It’s good to have other options to take, other people to relate, other hobbies from work.

(Others have said this is an existentialist story. I can see that.)

Why was Stoner attracted to the academic life?

It’s for us that the University exists, for the dispossessed of the world; not for the students, not for the selfless pursuit of knowledge, not for any of the reasons that you hear. We give out the reasons, and we let a few of the ordinary ones in, those that would do in the world; but that’s just protective coloration. Like the church in the Middle Ages, which didn’t give a damn about the laity or even about God, we have our pretenses in order to survive

But bad as we are, we’re better than those on the outside, in the muck, the poor bastards of the world. We do no harm, we say what we want, and we get paid for it; and that’s a triumph of natural virtue…

Academics should read this book. FIVE STARS.

*The expression “stoner” — as in high on drugs — dates from the 1930s, but (I think) it became popular after this book was written.

Here are all my reviews.

Interesting stuff

  1. Watch this critique of “dumb excuses” (e.g., the US is big) for badly designed cities. (Cities are for people, not cars, which should stay outside cities.)
  2. Dictators are a lot less effective than people hope. Read more.
  3. Read: Stanford’s president resigned due to “unprofessional research” (making things up), and he’s not the only one.
  4. Read how rising temperatures combine with inflation and food insecurity (India has banned the export of commodity rice; Russia is again blocking Ukrainian grain exports) to foment conflict and violence — just as I discussed in my article on post-water political economy.
  5. Read: Goodreads reviews are spoiled by non-readers in partisan fights.
  6. Read: Academics say that Facebook cannot be blamed for echo-chamber polarization… Since they could not monitor other influences, I think they are missing the big picture on polarization: Tribalistic othering.
  7. Read: Credit rating firms are adding climate chaos risk into the $133 Trillion debt market.
  8. Listen to David McWilliams describe his childhood friendship with Sinead O’Conner: “She was an activist, not an artist.”
  9. Read: Antartica’s sea ice is leaving faster than ever, but the journalist is surprised? WTF?
  10. Think: UNESCO plans to add Venice to its “UNESCO sites under threat” list, which is growing as climate chaos develops.

H/T to RB

Cities need to secure their drinking water

DL sent this NYT article on Montevideo, Uruguay, running out of drinking water. As usual, the poorest are suffering, but the city also risks depopulating and collapsing, as solutions are too slow or expensive to implement in time to deal with the crisis. The “plan” is for rain to bail them out, but that’s not much of a plan.

Most people know that farmers use far more water than cities, and that urban landscaping uses a lot of water (more than half, in hot cities), which allows for “painless” cutbacks in those uses during droughts, and reallocation to drinking. But that’s also not much of a plan.

Cities instead need to be far more proactive, i.e.,

  • Maximizing groundwater storage, and restoring/protecting the quality of that groundwater.
  • Recycling wastewater as a new supply.
  • Identifying multiple sources of water, hopefully from uncorrelated sources (so one drought does not reduce all of them at once), and storing water in multiple ways (under ground, in reservoirs, in snowpack).
  • Not replying on technological “solutions.” Desalination is the most popular, but it’s not available in the short term (portable units are too small to supply a city) and unsustainable in the long term. Riyadh houses 5 million in a high-altitude desert far from the ocean, but it’s one of the only countries foolish enough to live in constant danger of losing its water supply.*
  • Rebalancing water uses away from agriculture and towards ecosystems (which keep cities habitable) and drinking water. In watersheds shared with cities, farmers should immediately reduce their use of groundwater (with a goal of “net zero” over time), and prepare to lose access to their surface water.

My one-handed conclusion is that cities, which are uninhabitable without drinking water, take immediate and dramatic steps to secure themselves against the increasing and inevitable risks of droughts.

*Saudi Arabia, the third highest A/C user in the world (after the US and China), uses around 600,000 bbl oil per day in summer for A/C [pdf]. That’s around $50 million per day, or $1.30 per citizen.


Interesting stuff

  1. Listen to a discussion of how kids can learn way faster when they pace themselves.
  2. Want to end the retirement problem in the US? Lift the $160k cap on SS contributions, so the rich pay more. Read on.
  3. Re-insurers are not just raising their rates by 20-30% per year; they are exiting California and Florida as higher risks of larger losses run into political barriers to pricing those risks. #GetReal
  4. Read how NYC allowed developers to make $millions on extra building in exchange for a promise — now broken — to provide to the public commons.
  5. Vermont was “safe from climate change” — until it flooded. Protip: Nowhere is safe.
  6. Think. In 2003, people worried that PowerPoint would make us dumb. Were they right or wrong? (Me, I think they were right.)
  7. Read: Heat is killing people, but it’s killing poor workers in particular
  8. One reason people obsess over trivial nothing? Too much comfort and too little work. Read on.
  9. Read: Americans need to stop boycotting and start striking
  10. Listen to Malcom Gladwell point out that “cop stories” have given the public the wrong idea of how good (0r bad) cops are.

The high cost of cheap permit parking in Amsterdam

This post updates my Jun 2022 post announcing the paper because I have extensively revised the paper (shortening, correcting, elaborating) before sending it out to a journal for review.

I don’t know when we will get news from the review process (somewhere between 1 day and 6 months), so here are the highlights:

  1. We started the paper to see how bureaucratic prices for parking lined up (or not) with market prices for housing. Both prices should go up in “popular” neighborhoods. If they are misaligned, then opportunity costs for misallocation rise. To check alignment, we used GIS and ratios of parking prices to housing prices, which made it easy to compare areas across the city.
  2. Our first pivot came when we realized that people park by the hour (tariff, for visitors) or year (permit, for residents), so we compared both.
  3. Permit parking takes 80% of spaces to earn 20% of parking revenue. That’s because permits are inefficiently cheap, so bureaucrats increase tariffs (€7.50 per hour and rising) to try to squeeze out visitors. Here’s the imbalance:
  4. Although I had heard of Amsterdam’s autoluw (“nearly car free”) policy, I did not know that it dates back to a 1992 referendum to remove cars from the city center. But, there are now more cars (and parking places) in the center than in 1992, so progress is slow.
  5. According to our analysis of ratios, permit parking is too cheap everywhere, and tariff parking is too cheap in Noord, which will harm quality of life as that district develops. This map shows the ratio of tariff to living prices (Noord in red):
  6. The city is not raising permit prices to reduce demand. Instead it is trying to build more supply — underground and underwater parking garages — for permit holders. Spaces in these garages cost €80,000-230,000 to build in our three examples, but the city isn’t even recovering its operating costs in permit revenue. So its spending €millions of citizens’ money on capital projects that will never earn their cost back.
  7. We recommend increasing the price of permits from current (€500/year) levels to around €3500/year, which is what (other academics have estimated that) people are willing to pay.
  8. Such an increase, over time, would reduce the number of cars by around 40 percent, freeing 50,000 spaces for other uses (and removing the need for costly garages). The extra revenue (around €300 per citizen per year) should be used to improve neighborhoods.

You can download the paper from here.

We are happy to hear your corrections and suggestions for improvement!

Interesting stuff

  1. Listen to David McWilliams, a really clever Irish economist, on The failed war on drugs
  2. Listen: A lawyer goes after the bankers working with terrorists.
  3. China’s President Xi makes it illegal to not be patriotic. Read on. Related: Firms cannot discuss problems in markets (Xi says “number only go up!”)
  4. Read about climate-induced threats to China’s food security
  5. Read: Homelessness in California has a lot to do with… too few homes 🙁
  6. Listen to a discussion of the challenges of getting shade on over-regulated streets in LA
  7. Read: Arizona is already uninhabitable for those who cannot shelter.
  8. Read some good ideas on how to do social media properly. Related (?): The Age of Social Media Is Ending
  9. Read about the recruiting crisis in America’s military (time for civil service!)
  10. Think about climate, via these visuals. Here’s one:

The decline of the Irish pub

Irish pubs are famous worldwide — not for the drinking but for the craic (conversation) and inclusion (talking with strangers as well as old friends).

To carry out these conversations, you need a few people, attention, and some social lubrication (booze).

These requirements are under strain, endangering the future of a glorious element of Irish culture — an element that the world needs a lot more of these days.

In terms of people, there are now more choices of how to spend one’s time, which is already under strain from commuting, over-working (union hours were good for pubs) and binging on all-you-can eat content from services like Netflix. So there are fewer people in pubs.

In terms of attention, look to mobile phones, their needy algorithms, and the people’s FOMO-fueled obsession with messages from other addicts. It only takes one “let me just check this” for a craicing joyride to crash into a crack-addled stupor. Smart phones render us dumb.

In terms of booze, the issue is not getting drunk* but fear of drinking too much before the inevitable drive home. I am no fan of drunk driving, but the need for cars in the Irish countryside (and many cities), means that people lay off rather early, in caution, rather than shouting another round.

Car culture has numerous negative effects, from killing children playing in the street, to scaring pedestrians and bikers from getting around. Cars take streets for parking and roads take money from budgets best used elsewhere. Car culture leads to less exercise and more sprawl. People get fat and unhealthy as they sit in two-tons of metal, going to a “good paying job” in commutes that take time from their day and years off their lives.**

As more pubs close, due to a lack of custom, the space between them increases, requiring more driving, which means less drinking, and the vicious cycle turns. Walking to the pub is a luxury in the countryside and even getting harder in cities.

Fewer pub nights means less craic, weaker community, and more loneliness. That sucks.

My one-handed conclusion is that people need to leave their phones at home, walk over to the pub (or carpool with a designated driver), and tall With more strangers rather then warring on “social” media.

*Bowe’s in Dublin has a sign above the bar that reads “Bowe’s bar is dedicated to those merry souls who make drinking a pleasure, who reach contentment before capacity, and what so ever they drink, can hold it and remain gentlemen

**The Irish have an average BMI of 27.5. The US and NL have BMIs of 28.8 and 25.4, respectively. Those data are from 2014, so the stats are now worse. (Curiously, the order of countries when looking at 2016 rates of obesity*** — 25.4%, 41.9% and 20.4% in Ireland, US and NL, respectively — is different, probably due to a classic “mean vs median” skew.)

***In a  recent, “I can’t believe this is not the Onion” development, Paris has announced it will charge “obese cars” (=the norm in the US) more to park. European parking spaces just don’t have the elastic waistbands of America’s.