February 16, 2018

Games Should Not Cost $60 Anymore – Inflation, Microtransactions, and Publishing – Extra Credits

Filed under: Business, Economics, Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Extra Credits
Published on 24 Jan 2018

You would think that paying $60 for a game would be enough, but so many games these days ask for money with DLC, microtransactions, and yes, lootboxes. There’s a reason for that.

February 14, 2018

Repost: “I, Rose” and “A Price is Signal Wrapped Up in an Incentive”

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 8 Feb 2015

How is it that people in snowy, chilly cities have access to beautiful, fresh roses every February on Valentine’s Day? The answer lies in how the invisible hand helps coordinate economic activity, Using the example of the rose market, this video explains how dispersed knowledge and self-interested actors lead to a global market for affordable roses.

Published on 8 Feb 2015

Join Professor Tabarrok in exploring the mystery and marvel of prices. We take a look at how oil prices signal the scarcity of oil and the value of its alternative uses. Following up on our previous video, “I, Rose,” we show how the price system allows for people with dispersed knowledge and information about rose production to coordinate global economic activity. This global production of roses reveals how the price system is emergent, and not the product of human design.

January 28, 2018

QotD: Protectionism

Filed under: Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All protectionism is rooted in the mistaken presumption not only that existing, domestic producers have a moral right – enforceable by the state – to the patronage of domestic consumers, but also that no future domestic producers have such a right as against current domestic producers. This right, were it real, implies that consumers exist to please existing domestic producers; it implies that continued or expanded production of that which is currently produced domestically is the end, while consumption is only the means of encouraging such production.

Only the widespread, if unthinking, acceptance of this presumption gives credence to the demands of domestic producers that some “unfair” practice by a foreign rival or foreign government justifies the imposition by the home government of punitive taxes on domestic consumers who purchase imports. Only a widely shared, if seldom articulated, belief that current domestic producers have a right to some minimum portion of domestic-consumers’ incomes explains the nodding of the heads of many people of all political persuasions when they hear some politician or pundit or preacher demonize foreign producers for selling wares to domestic citizens.

Don Boudreaux, “Protectionism”, Cafe Hayek, 2016-05-27.

January 11, 2018

QotD: Regime uncertainty

Filed under: Books, Economics, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Washington’s destructive policies have been dubbed “regime uncertainty” in a strand of innovative analyses pioneered by Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute. Regime uncertainty relates to the likelihood that an investor’s private property — namely, the flows of income and services it yields — will be attenuated by government action. As regime uncertainty is elevated, private investment is notched down from where it would have been. This can result in a business-cycle bust and even economic stagnation. I recommend Higgs’ most recent book for evidence on the negative effects of regime uncertainty: Robert Higgs. Taking a Stand: Reflections on Life Liberty, and the Economy. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 2015.

Steve Hanke, “What’s Killing U.S. Growth?”, Huffington Post, 2016-04-12.

January 4, 2018

QotD: “[G]reedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The charge that sways juries and offends public sensitivities, and helps explain the large awards, is that greedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits.

Is this charge true? Of course it is. But this isn’t a criticism of corporations; rather it is a reflection of the proper functioning of a market economy. Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That’s right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies, and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away.

The reality is scarcity. There are limits to the desirable things that can be produced. If we want more of one thing, we have to do with less of other things. Those expressing outrage that safety is sacrificed for profit ignore this obvious point. For example, traffic fatalities could be reduced if cars were built like Sherman tanks. But the extra safety would come at the sacrifice of gas mileage, comfort, speed, and parking convenience, not to mention all the things you couldn’t buy after paying the extraordinarily high price of a Tankmobile. Long before we increased automotive safety to that of a Tankmobile, the marginal value of the additional life expectancy would be far less than the marginal value of what would be given up. It simply makes no sense to reduce traffic deaths as much as possible by making automobiles as safe as possible.

Dwight R. Lee, “Sacrificing Lives for Profits”, The Freeman, 2000-11.

December 25, 2017

Repost – The market failure of Christmas

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Not to encourage miserliness and general miserability at Christmastime, but here’s a realistic take on the deadweight loss of Christmas gift-giving:

In strict economic terms, the most efficient gift is cold, hard cash, but exchanging equivalent sums of money lacks festive spirit and so people take their chance on the high street. This is where the market fails. Buyers have sub-optimal information about your wants and less incentive than you to maximise utility. They cannot always be sure that you do not already have the gift they have in mind, nor do they know if someone else is planning to give you the same thing. And since the joy is in the giving, they might be more interested in eliciting a fleeting sense of amusement when the present is opened than in providing lasting satisfaction. This is where Billy Bass comes in.

But note the reason for this inefficient spending. Resources are misallocated because one person has to decide what someone else wants without having the knowledge or incentive to spend as carefully as they would if buying for themselves. The market failure of Christmas is therefore an example of what happens when other people spend money on our behalf. The best person to buy things for you is you. Your friends and family might make a decent stab at it. Distant bureaucrats who have never met us — and who are spending other people’s money — perhaps can’t.

So when you open your presents next week and find yourself with another garish tie or an awful bottle of perfume, consider this: If your loved ones don’t know you well enough to make spending choices for you, what chance does the government have?

December 22, 2017

QotD: Economic lessons from Christmas toy shortages

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Toy marketing on this elite level — Canada should be proud! — creates enraged parents. Hatchimals disappeared from stores altogether many weeks ago, and the high prices commanded in the resale market have created an industry of colorful social-media abuse. Hatchimal hoarders (who can now command C$120-$140 on eBay for one egg) are alleged to be greedy monsters, ruining Christmas for single moms — that is, by making the toy available at a premium at a time when toy stores and the makers of the product are no longer any help. (If the toy had never been invented, or were otherwise unavailable at any price, there would be no cause for complaint.)

What we have here is the familiar operation of a strong human superstition: the belief in an illusory “just price” for a product. It is the same superstition that makes some music and sports fans angry at scalpers. But it is exacerbated in the Christmas-shopping milieu by the innate predicament of the parent, always an emotional hostage to their offspring.

The complainers know perfectly well their kids will survive if they have to wait a couple of months for a Hatchimal. They know they could buy many equally good (and equally ephemeral) toys for half what they might pay a Hatchimal hoarder. They probably even know, if I can play the obtuse childless know-it-all for a second, that an authoritative, confident parent could explain the situation to a child, and make them live with the explanation.

Parents always want Christmas to be just so, but in the people who are castigating Hatchimal resellers, you can hear the hints of desperation, maybe even bad conscience. The problem, angry moms and dads, is not the hoarders. They just saw the real problem coming, and it is you.

Colby Cosh, “How the Hatchimals Christmas craze got me to own up to my irrational baseball complex”, National Post, 2016-12-16.

December 21, 2017

QotD: Milton Friedman’s four types of spending

Filed under: Economics, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

Economist Milton Friedman famously divided spending into four types:

  1. I’m spending my own money on myself, in which case, I want to get the best combination of price and quality. This is the sort of spending that middle-aged women do on expensive handbags.
  2. I’m spending my own money on someone else, in which case I mostly care about price. This is why you get so many books you never read as gifts.
  3. I’m spending someone else’s money on myself, in which case … WEEEEE! This is the kind of spending that employees do on expense accounts. (Though not, of course, myself. I mean a generic employee with less moral fiber than I have).
  4. I’m spending someone else’s money on someone else, in which case … ah, who cares?

Megan McArdle, “Republicans Should Save These 3 Unpopular Parts of Obamacare”, Bloomberg View, 2017-01-05.

November 27, 2017

China discovers that there’s a (very) limited appetite for shared bikes

Filed under: Business, China, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Guardian, Benjamin Haas reports on what at first might seem to be a vast modern art display:

At first glance the photos vaguely resemble a painting. On closer inspection it might be a giant sculpture or some other art project. But in reality it is a mangled pile of bicycles covering an area roughly the size of a football pitch, and so high that cranes are need to reach the top; cast-offs from the boom and bust of China’s bike sharing industry.

Just two days after China’s number three bike sharing company went bankrupt, a photographer in the south-eastern city of Xiamen captured a bicycle graveyard where thousands have been laid to rest. The pile clearly contains thousands of bikes from each of the top three companies, Mobike, Ofo and the now-defunct Bluegogo.

Tim Worstall draws the correct conclusion from the provided evidence:

We want, irrespective of anything else about the economy, a method of testing ideas to see if they work. Does the application of these scarce resources meet some human need or desire? Does it do so more than an alternative use, is it even adding value at all?

Bike shares, are they a good idea or not? The underlying problem being that expressed and revealed preferences aren’t the same. There’s only so far market research can take you, at some point someone, somewhere, has to go out and do it and see.

Excellent, the Commie Chinese have done so. Vast amounts of capital thrown into this, competing bike share companies, hire costs pennies. And no fucker seems very interested. That is, no, large scale bike share schemes don’t meet any discernible human need or desire, they don’t add value, spending the money on something else will increase human joy and happiness better.

And this is excellent, we’ve tried the idea and it don’t work. Now we can abandon it and go off and do something else therefore.

Which is the great joy of market based systems. They’re the best method we’ve got of finding out which ideas are fuck ups.

Long live markets.

September 17, 2017

QotD: The great enrichment

Filed under: Books, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most fundamental problem in Piketty’s book, then, is that he misses the main act. In focusing solely on the distribution of income, he overlooks the most surprising secular event in history: the Great Enrichment of the average individual on the planet by a factor of 10 and in rich countries by a factor of 30 or more. Many humans are now stunningly better off than their ancestors were.

This includes a gigantic improvement of the poorest — your ancestors and mine. By dramatic increases in the size of the pie, the poor have been lifted to 90 or 95 percent of equal sustenance and dignity, as against the 10 or 5 percent attainable by redistribution without enlarging the pie.

What caused the Great Enrichment? It cannot be explained by the accumulation of capital, as the very name “capitalism” implies. Our riches were not made by piling brick upon brick, bachelor’s degree upon bachelor’s degree, bank balance upon bank balance, but by piling idea upon idea. The bricks, BAs, and bank balances were of course necessary. Oxygen is necessary for a fire. But it would be unenlightening to explain the Chicago Fire of 1871 by the presence of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere.

The original and sustaining causes of the modern world were indeed ethical, not material. They were the widening adoption of two new ideas: the liberal economic idea of liberty for ordinary people and the democratic social idea of dignity for them. This, in turn, released human creativity from its ancient trammels. Radically creative destruction piled up ideas, such as the railways creatively destroying walking and the stage coaches, or electricity creatively destroying kerosene lighting and the hand washing of clothes, or universities creatively destroying literary ignorance and low productivity in agriculture. The Great Enrichment requires not accumulation of capital or the exploitation of workers but what I call the Bourgeois Deal. In the historical lottery the idea of an equalizing liberty and dignity was the winning ticket, and the bourgeoisie held it.

That even over the long run there remain some poor people does not mean the system is not working for the poor, so long as their condition is continuing to improve, as it is, and so long as the percentage of the desperately poor is heading toward zero, as it is. That people still sometimes die in hospitals does not mean that medicine is to be replaced by witch doctors, so long as death rates are falling and so long as the death rate would not fall under the care of the witch doctors. It is a brave book Thomas Piketty has written. But it is mistaken.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 13, 2017

Tesla’s experiment in price discrimination

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Alex Tabarrok links to a story about Tesla using an over-the-air software update to help Tesla owners in hurricane-threatened areas get more range from their lower-battery capacity cars … but he says this may eventually come back and bite the company:

Tesla knows that some of its customers are willing to pay more for a Tesla than others. But Tesla can’t just ask its customers their willingness to pay and price accordingly. High willing-to-pay customers would simply lie to get a lower price. Thus, Tesla must find some characteristic of buyers that is correlated with high willingness-to-pay and charge more to customers with that characteristic. Airlines, for example, price more for the same seat if you book at the last minute on the theory that last minute buyers are probably business-people with high willingness-to-pay as opposed to vacationers who have more options and a lower willingness-to-pay. Tesla uses a slightly different strategy; it offers two versions of the same good, the low and high mileage versions, and it prices the high-mileage version considerably higher on the theory that buyers willing to pay for more mileage are also more likely to be high willingness-to-pay buyers in general. Thus, the high-mileage group pay a higher price-to-cost margin than the low-mileage group. A familiar example is software companies that offer a discounted or “student” version of the product with fewer features. Since the software firm’s costs are mostly sunk R&D costs, the firm can make money selling a low-price version so long as doing so doesn’t cannibalize its high willingness-to-pay customers–and the firm can avoid cannibalization by carefully choosing to disable the features most valuable to high willingness-to-pay customers.

The kind gesture to Tesla owners in Florida is probably deeply appreciated right now, but…

Unfortunately, I fear that Tesla may have made a marketing faux-pas. When it turns off the extra mileage boost are Tesla customers going to say “thanks for temporarily making my car better!” Or are they going to complain, “why are you making MY car worse than it has to be?”

Human nature being what it is, the smart money is betting on the “Thanks for the temporary upgrade, but what have you done for me lately?” attitude setting in quickly.

September 11, 2017

QotD: Does inequality matter?

Filed under: Books, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The central problem with the book, however, is an ethical one. Piketty does not reflect on why inequality by itself would be bad. To be sure, it’s irritating that a super rich woman buys a $40,000 watch. The purchase is ethically objectionable. She should be giving her income in excess of an ample level of 2 cars, say, not 20; 2 houses, not 7; 1 yacht, not 5 — to effective charities. Andrew Carnegie enunciated in 1889 the principle that “a man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Carnegie gave away his entire fortune. (Well, he gave it at death, after enjoying a castle in his native Scotland and a few other baubles.) But the fact that many rich people act in a disgraceful fashion does not automatically imply that the government should intervene to stop it. People act disgracefully in all sorts of ways. If our rulers were assigned the task in a fallen world of keeping us all wholly ethical, the government would bring all our lives under its fatherly tutelage, a nightmare achieved approximately before 1989 in East Germany and now in North Korea.

Notice that in Piketty’s tale the rest of us fall only relatively behind the ravenous capitalists. The focus on relative wealth or income or consumption is one serious problem in the book. Piketty’s vision of apocalypse leaves room for the rest of us to do very well indeed — rather non-apocalyptically — as in fact since 1800 we have. What is worrying Piketty is that the rich might possibly get richer, even though the poor get richer, too. His worry is purely about difference, about a vague feeling of envy raised to a theoretical and ethical proposition.

But our real concern should be with raising up the poor to a condition of dignity, a level at which they can function in a democratic society and lead full lives. It doesn’t matter ethically whether the poor have the same number of diamond bracelets and Porsche automobiles as do owners of hedge funds. But it does indeed matter whether they have the same opportunities to vote or to learn to read or to have a roof over their heads.

Adam Smith once described the Scottish idea as “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” It would be a good thing, of course, if a free and rich society following Smithian liberalism produced a Pikettyan equality. In fact, it largely has, by the only ethically relevant standard of basic human rights and basic comforts. Introducing liberalism in Hong Kong and Norway and France, for instance, has regularly led to an astounding betterment and to a real equality of outcome — with the poor acquiring automobiles and hot-and-cold water at the tap that were denied in earlier times even to the rich, and acquiring political rights and social dignity that were denied in earlier times to everyone except the rich.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 9, 2017

QotD: Picketty’s unsupported inequality claims

Filed under: Books, Britain, Cancon, Economics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Piketty’s definition of wealth does not include human capital, owned by the workers, which has grown in rich countries to be the main source of income, when it is combined with the immense accumulation since 1800 of capital in knowledge and social habits, owned by everyone with access to them. Once upon a time, Piketty’s world without human capital was approximately our world, that of Ricardo and Marx, with workers owning only their hands and backs, and the bosses and landlords owning all the other means of production. But since 1848 the world has been transformed by what sits between the workers’ ears.

The only reason in the book to exclude human capital from capital appears to be to force the conclusion Piketty wants to achieve. One of the headings in Chapter 7 declares that “capital [is] always more unequally distributed than labor.” No it isn’t. If human capital is included — the ordinary factory worker’s literacy, the nurse’s educated skill, the professional manager’s command of complex systems, the economist’s understanding of supply responses — the workers themselves, in the correct accounting, own most of the nation’s capital — and Piketty’s drama falls to the ground.

Finally, as he candidly admits, Piketty’s own research suggests that only in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada has income inequality increased much, and only recently. In other words, his fears were not confirmed anywhere from 1910 to 1980; nor anywhere in the long run at any time before 1800; nor anywhere in Continental Europe and Japan since World War II; and only recently, a little, in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. That is a very great puzzle if money tends to reproduce itself as a general law. The truth is that inequality goes up and down in great waves, for which we have evidence from many centuries ago down to the present, which also doesn’t figure in such a tale.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 3, 2017

QotD: Picketty’s misunderstanding of the supply and demand curves

Filed under: Books, Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The technical flaws in Piketty’s argument are pervasive. When you dig, you find them. The fundamental problem is that Piketty does not understand how markets work. In keeping with his position as a man of the left, he has a vague and confused idea about how supply responds to higher prices. Startling evidence of Piketty’s miseducation occurs as early as page 6.

He begins by seeming to concede to his neoclassical opponents: “To be sure, there exists in principle a quite simple economic mechanism that should restore equilibrium to the process: the mechanism of supply and demand. If the supply of any good is insufficient, and its price is too high, then demand for that good should decrease, which would lead to a decline in its price.” The words I italicize clearly mix up movement along a demand curve with movement of the entire curve, an error of first-term college students. The correct analysis is that if the price is “too high” it is not the whole demand curve that “restores equilibrium,” but an eventually outward-moving supply curve. The supply curve moves out because entry is induced by the smell of super-normal profits.

Piketty does not acknowledge that each wave of inventors, entrepreneurs, and even routine capitalists find their rewards taken from them by entry. Look at the history of fortunes in department stores. The income from department stores in the late 19th century, in Le Bon Marché, Marshall Field, and Selfridge’s, was entrepreneurial. The model was then copied all over the rich world. In the late 20th century the model was challenged by a wave of discounters, and they then in turn by the internet. What happens is that the profit going to the profiteers is more or less quickly undermined by outward-shifting supply. The original accumulation dissipates. The economist William Nordhaus has calculated that the inventors and entrepreneurs nowadays earn in profit only 2 percent of the social value of their inventions. If you are Sam Walton the 2 percent gives you personally a great deal of money from introducing bar codes into stocking of supermarket shelves. But 98 percent at the cost of 2 percent is nonetheless a pretty good deal for the rest of us. The gain from macadamized roads or vulcanized rubber, then modern universities, structural concrete, and the airplane, has enriched even the poorest among us.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

August 17, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Illusion of School Choice

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Education — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 16 Aug 2017

In private schools, as in private enterprise in general, poor performance drives funding away by driving paying customers away. Yet in public schools, poor performance is used as an excuse for increased funding. With incentives like these, is it any wonder that public schools are failing our children so badly? Isn’t it time to inject some competition into the system?

Education for all is a worthy wish. So is food for all. But we don’t force poor people to eat state-produced food. Even food stamp recipients get to choose where to shop. Why shouldn’t beneficiaries of public education spending get to choose where to send their kids?

Our hosts James R. Harrigan and Antony Davies want to know…

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