mindstalk: (Enki)
There's a book out there, David Graeber's Debt: the First 5000 Years, which I've heard about but not read, talking about the origin of money. This is one summary/review, including:

Graeber notes that the mainstream view of money as emerging from barter spot trades goes back to Adam Smith (Graeber 2011: 24). The modern neoclassical economics profession is obsessed with barter because they regard money as a neutral veil and their “real” analysis of economies is essentially that of a barter system

I'm currently reading The Big Problem of Small Change, a book Amy was reading sometime after we met. It includes (page 93 hardcover, Medieval Ideas About Money; Qualifications) the following translation of a bit from the Roman Digest (of law), 18.1.1, written by the Roman jurist Paulus before AD 235 (when he died.)

All buying and selling has its origin in exchange or barter. For in times past money was not so, nor was one thing called 'merchandise' and the other 'price'; rather did every man barter what was useless to him for that which was useful, according to the exigencies of his current needs; for it often happens that what one man has in plenty another lacks. But since it did not always and easily happen that when you had something which I wanted, I, for my part, had something that you were willing to accept, a material was selected which, being given a stable value (aestimatio) by the state, avoided the problems of barter by providing an equality of quantity (aequalitas quantitatis). That material, struck with a public design (forma), offers use (usus) and ownership (dominium) not so much by its substance (ex substantia) as by its quantity (ex quantitate), so that no longer are the things exchanged both called wares but one of them is termed the price (pretium).

(Source in Google Books, I think. I doubt we have any idea whether he was making this up, expressing common knowledge of the time, or referring to sources now lost to us.) [2019 edit: an earlier expression was Aristotle, in Politics I-9.)

The author calls this obscure; seems pretty clear to me. Nothing says it's an accurate story, of course. But it is 1500 years earlier than Adam Smith, though still several centuries after the invention of coinage.

A few pages later is another translation, this of the words of Pope Innocent IV, who lived in the 1200s.

We believe, however, that the king, by his right, and by the fact that money receives authority and general acceptance from his effigy or mark, can make money of somewhat less, but not much less value than the metal or matter from which it is made. Therefore, in the first case, when he wants to diminish a money already made, we do not believe he can do so without the consent of the people, but with its consent we believe that he can, just as anyone is allowed to renounce his right. And because the business of the king is considered to be the business of all, for this reason the consent of the majority of the notables of the kingdom suffices.

Bolding mine.
The authors add:

The passage comes from viewing seigniorage as a tax. At the time, kings were expected to live from the revenues of their own lands, and taxes could only be levied with the consent of the people. The treatise on money by the Germany scholar Gabriel Biel repeats this doctrine and adds arguments that debasement is a relatively efficient and fair form of taxation, falling on all classes alike.

I'm guessing most of us don't at a gut level think of "no taxation without representation" or "consent of the people" in association with medieval kings, thus this blog post. At one level that's from not correlating the contents of our minds properly, as "The Call of Cthulhu" put it, at least for those of us who know what the basic function of Parliament or the Estates-General was, i.e. to be persuaded by the king into approving taxes. But I think it's one thing to know of a couple instances of that (or more, after I read about Spain's Cortes-General), and another to read a 1200s Pope say so, so casually.

Of course the bit about 'notables' means we're not talking super democratic here. But still.

Also, this article on the Estates-General said things I condensed as

elective component: elected by monks, by rich people in towns, in 1302.
1468 towns elect an ecclesiastic, noble, and burgess. 1484 invites all
estates to elect; universal and direct suffrage for all orders, but
countrymen couldn't get to town, so elected electors to represent them.
Early lots of control over taxes, ceded during Charles VII out of
"weariness" in Hundred Year's War. Refused to grant a regency in 1484.
1484 had deliberation in common; 1560 had orders deliberate separately.
Advisory on legislation; petition; could grant right to modify
fundamental laws of the regime.

And finally, just because it's too cool not to share at every opportunity, one version of the oath of allegiance of Aragon's nobility:

"We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than us, to
accept you as our king and sovereign, provided you observe all our
liberties and laws, but if not, not."

I have to say, while I hate to buy into "democratic Europe, Asian despotism", I haven't heard of anything similar in Asia, particularly in China, Japan, and India. At least on a robust scale; early India had some republics, and Buddha was probably born in one than as a prince, but my reading of medieval India did not include kings having to wrangle taxes out of their subjects. Then again, India's history is kind of lacking in detail. China and Japan seem more pointed examples.
mindstalk: (Default)
I like doing botecs or Fermi estimates, and I also like doing them in reverse, framing a number I already know. I'll be doing the latter here.

Say I want to estimate the GDP of the USSR, not trusting their numbers. I'll posit some facts: population of 290 million, rounded to 300 million (I assume they're less likely to lie about numbers of people.) Subsistence agriculture GDP/capita of $500/year. Modern US GDP $50,000/capita -- but we're talking about 1991, 30 years ago. I know US productivity growth has been meh, so let's say the US was $30,000 back then.

So, Soviet GDP will be a GDP/capita (equivalent) estimate times population. From childhood reading I think I also know something about the Soviet lifestyle and economy: concrete apartment buildings with steam heat and electricity, supermarkets, subways, cars, aircraft carriers. Also expenses like ICBMs and a space program. Yeah, they often had the inferior version of things, but an ugly clunky concrete apartment is still a lot of resources.

So what are some GDP/capita estimates? $1000 seems too low, barely above African poverty, if that. $5000? Sure. $15,000? That's half the US of the time -- we also know the Soviets were a lot poorer than America, so it shouldn't be *higher* than that. So 5k-15k, for a GDP of $1.5 trillion to $4.5 trillion. And for a single figure, I like taking the geometric mean, so $8660/capita, and GDP of $2.5-2.6 trillion.

Wiki says $9200 for the USSR, and Trading Economics gives $36-37K for the US of the time.

As for Wal-Mart, how much could it be making? How many people does it sell to, and how much? I know it started in the US, and failed to expand into Germany, which suggests it has tried to expand. It sells to lots of people, but not everyone. Famously it sells to poor people, so they can't be spending *that* much on it. Many people may go there for groceries and regular household expenses, which suggests $200-400 per person, or $2000-5000/year. How many such regular shoppers? 50 million is certainly a lot in US terms. The US alone can't be 300 million, but maybe it they expanded a lot abroad it could be.

So, 50 million * 2000 = $100 billion/year. 300 million * 5000 = $1.5 trillion. That's a big range! But unavoidable when you don't much. Geometric mean is $390 billion. Actual number is $514 billion. Not bad. The real figure suggests, at $3000/year per person, 171 million people. Wiki says it's in 27 countries and multiple brands like Asda... though this raises the question of whether the $514 billion was for the whole conglomerate or just "Walmart". Wiki suggests the former, whew!

USSR vs. Wal-Mart

2019-Mar-05, Tuesday 14:37
mindstalk: Tohsaka Rin (Rin)

1989 GDP: $2.7 trillion in 1989 dollars. By this calculator that would be $5.4 trillion today, and that's not touching nominal/PPP issues (or fake Soviet statistics issues).

1990 population: 291 million, with 152 million workers.

Economic activity: everything from farming to space probes.


2018 sales: $500 billion in 2018 dollars. Or $514 billion, for the fiscal year ending in Jan 2019.

2019 employees: 2.2 million.

Economic activity: a whole lot of super-sized grocery stores and distribution trucks.

Why am I posting this? Because people are praising some book that one reviewer says claims "we are now surrounded by companies and organisations that are as large or larger than the USSR at its apex", and I want to inoculate people against bad ideas. Given that 10% of my USSR GDP is still bigger than Wal-Mart...
mindstalk: (Default)
A longish article on cities (or a country) that have built their way to affordable housing, contrary to the claims of many market-allergic leftists.


Money-quote paragraph:

"Houston, for example, can be Cascadia’s model for how easy it ought to be to get permits to build homes—if we believed, as Houston does, that building homes is in itself a good thing, our permitting processes would encourage rather than discourage it through endless months of hoop-jumping and politicized reviews. Tokyo, meanwhile, reminds us that placing control over development at senior levels of government, and making development of urban property a right of its owner, helps to elevate the broad public interest in abundant housing choices over parochial opposition to change. (Leaders in California have recently succeeded in passing a raft of new laws to act upon this lesson.) Chicago teaches that a pro-housing political orientation can provide abundant housing even under conventional zoning in a deep blue city, while Montreal offers Cascadia a model of a cityscape no longer of single-family homes but of three-story rowhouses, walk-up apartments, and condominiums on quiet, tree-lined streets close to transit and neighborhood centers. Singapore’s lesson is the promise of erecting high-density, park-like “new towns” on underused city land. And Germany shows us that a future is possible where housing is no longer an investment vehicle but “a very durable consumption good that provides a stream of housing services, not a ticket to financial gain.”"

Relatedly, Vienna and Singapore as two examples of massive public housing: https://www.shareable.net/blog/public-housing-works-lessons-from-vienna-and-singapore
Also useful if anyone tries to tout Singapore as a free-market miracle...


2017-Jul-23, Sunday 10:43
mindstalk: (Default)
why planes need bathroom ashtrays. if someone lights up anyway, they still need to stub it out.

Hadith revision https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/06/islam-manuscript-discovery-istanbul/531699/

military equipment makes cops more violent https://boingboing.net/2017/07/01/cops-are-civilians.html

Captain Kirk avoiding fights https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?806084-Star-Trek-What-do-Command-officers-actually-do&p=21209328#post21209328

Japan's housing creativity. Houses depreciate rapidly even though they're better made than before, and have little resale value; the flip side is freedom to build your house as you please, without worrying about property values. http://www.archdaily.com/450212/why-japan-is-crazy-about-housing

A full employment plan: http://democracyjournal.org/magazine/44/youre-hired/

Oslo working on banning cars in the center: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/this-city-found-a-clever-way-to-get-rid-of-cars-and-it-isn-t-a-ban-09e6e018-84d0-4814-9f0e-37085eaa9218/

Andrew Jackson, Trump, and the Borderers. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/04/trump-and-the-borderers/477084/

If the media covered alcohol like other drugs: https://www.vox.com/2015/6/15/8774233/alcohol-dangerous
mindstalk: (Default)
In which I argue that the lack of affordable housing indicates something horribly wrong, and not with capitalism as such.

Have you heard of Walmart? Of course you have. What are they known for? Providing lots and lots of cheap shit. Also for bullying local governments and squeezing suppliers, but that's not the point here, which is: cheap shit. They have nicer competitors: Target, Kmart, Dollar Stores.

Plane seats are jammed and humiliating but also cheaper than they ever have been, modulo gas prices.

You can spend thousands of dollars on a fancy bicycle, or less than $100 on a cheap one.

Stores are full of cheap, if sometimes unhealthy, food.

You can spend under $13,000, or maybe $12,000 on a new car, or over $100,000 on a luxury sports car.

Many of us wear cheap clothes, "from Third World sweatshops"; others spend $thousands on elite designer clothing.

You can get a watch for $15, or $1500. They'll tell time about the same.

Our economy is full of selling cheap stuff to the masses and expensive stuff to the rich, and various things in between, (sometimes including selling cheap stuff for higher prices, if you can pull off price discrimination.) Because that's how you make the most profit, not by only making luxury stuff.

But in housing, particularly in some markets, it's said that developers are only building luxury housing. If true, why would that be? Why would housing be unlike every other part of the economy?

"Everyone needs housing, so they can extort you." Nope, that won't fly. Everyone needs food and clothing, and in the US lots of people need cars.

"They're just chasing profit." But the point of my examples is that there's tons of profit in non-luxury goods and services. Walmart is *huge*, with its founder's children inheriting $20 billion each of accumulated profit.

And in fact, if you look around the world, you do see cheap(er) housing options. Mobile and manufactured homes for the individual, pre-fab housing for soulless but cheap developer tracts, microapartments that cut living space to 100 square feet, SRO hotels that go further by making you share bathroom and kitchen (if any), granny apartments. In cheap land markets (prefab housing in surbuban developments) and expensive ones (microapartments in Tokyo and Hong Kong.)

But not in Boston, or San Francisco. Why not? Is there something about those places that makes developers spontaneously ignore non-luxury demand? Or is something, like zoning laws and permitting processes, preventing them from doing so?

If you know me, you probably know my answer: the latter. But if you don't like that answer, what's your alternative? Why don't we see Walmarts, Spirit Airlines, $15 watches, and $13,000 cars of modern urban housing?


2017-Jul-09, Sunday 14:10
mindstalk: (Default)
Is Tesla overvalued? Argues Tesla either can't cause disruption, or can't monopolize it. https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/6/26/15872468/tesla-gm-ford-valuation-justifying-disruption

did Seattle's minimum wage lower employment? two studies, two reports
and two summaries, differing about which sucked

Internet addiction and ethical web design https://aeon.co/amp/essays/if-the-internet-is-addictive-why-don-t-we-regulate-it

Asian anthem authoritarianism http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/28/asia/philippines-anthem-bill/index.html

Air pollution still kills thousands. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/28/534594373/u-s-air-pollution-still-kills-thousands-every-year-study-concludes

Intravenous vitamin C as cure for sepsis? http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/could-deadly-infections-be-cured-vitamin-c-180963843/

origin of Ashkenazi? https://theconversation.com/uncovering-ancient-ashkenaz-the-birthplace-of-yiddish-speakers-58355?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=facebookbutton

slow progress in parking reform: http://nyc.streetsblog.org/2017/06/27/american-cities-are-chipping-away-at-the-burden-of-parking-mandates/

Sea Trek https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?805937-Star-Trek-Alternate-Trek-settings&p=21196309#post21196309

plate tectonics and evolution https://theconversation.com/plate-tectonics-may-have-driven-the-evolution-of-life-on-earth-44571

right to carry increases violent crime, maybe? It uses a fairly new statistical technique to make synthetic controls. The result sounds robust. But the abstract says "elevates violent crime rates, but seems to have no impact on property crime and murder rates". Isn't murder a violent crime?

expert view on reducing gun deaths https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/01/10/upshot/How-to-Prevent-Gun-Deaths-The-Views-of-Experts-and-the-Public.html?_r=0

oil eating bacteria https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170626155740.htm
Neanderthal dentistry https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170628131510.htm
host specific enemies and tropical biodiversity https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170629142949.htm

Vancouver sea wolves http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/sea-oceans-wolves-animals-science/
mindstalk: (thoughtful)
So there are various ways government policy could try to make housing cheaper, but one that I see a lot of people pushing now is a form of inclusionary zoning. Specifically, especially from what I've been told by Cambridge/Somerville politicos, requiring that a percentage (10-30%) of new units (of large developments) be rentable at low price. Not because they're smaller or more cheaply built, but just at a lower price. As Wikipedia says, "Many jurisdictions require that inclusionary housing units be indistinguishable from market-rate units"

(I don't know how that applies to a building that was planned to have diverse housing anyway. I suppose a percentage of each housing class?)

Developers[1] push back on this, and I've seen it described as a tax on them. Is that a fair description? Time for a simple thought experiment: imagine a building of 100 units, planned price of $1000/month, total revenue of $100,000/month. Then the city passes a new law during construction, requiring 30% be offered at $800. That's 30 units getting a $200 discount, $6000/month, which yes, you can think of as taxing the developer 6% and giving that back to the lucky tenants.

6%, not of profit, but of gross revenue. That's a lot! If the developer was anticipating profit of 5%, it is no longer worth building. Even if they anticipated 8%, that's now 2%; you might as well quit and invest in 30 year federal bonds. Or build hotels or condos that won't be hit by IZ, or just go build somewhere else.

And it can be worse. 30% requirement is high, but 20% subsidy might be low; 15% at $500/month would mean $7500, or a tax of 7.5%.

What's the alternative? Say the city instead decided to attach an explicit public subsidy to some of the new units. The $6000/month, $72,000/year cost would be spread among the whole population and tax base, not one developer. For a 77,000 person city like Somerville, that's under $1/person.

That's not quite fair though: that's just one development, and IZ applies to all of them, so we should look at that. Then again, there aren't many big developments in Somerville, which has "ambitious" plans to barely keep up with population growth at about 1% a year, and historically has done far less than that (3% total over some 20-30 year period I now forget, when Boston and MA did 12% and the country grew 24%). If we're adding units at 1% a year, and 30% of those are subsidized, then the subsidy of a new unit is spread over 300 existing ones. At a simplifying assumption of one person per unit, $2400/year ($200*12) is spread over 300 people, so $8/year.

(Most of what I've heard about recently is about a proposed 500 unit development in Union Square; assuming Somerville's 77,000 people live in 30,000 units, that's over 1% right there. But it'll take a few years.)

Of course, this is supposed to apply to all new housing, so after 30 years the subsidy support will have climbed to $240/year. This is pretty significant, especially compared to municipal taxes and revenue; probably talking about raising those up to 10% of existing levels. Also, affordable (or subsidized) units will be almost 10% of the housing stock.

But then someone might reasonably say "why should we dick around with only subsidizing new units? Why not just go ahead and subsidize 10% of all units, right now? The math's the same." And all the economists nod in agreement, and all the politicians blanch in terror...

Personal conclusion: yes, it is a tax on developers, and as with unfunded mandates[2] in general, it's an unfair tax, pushing a requirement onto a small subset of society, instead of funding it honestly out of general taxes and expenditure.

Of course, I feel that we shouldn't be trying to subsidize our way to cheap housing, which won't even address the real problem of more people wanting to live in cities now; we should enable building *more housing*, by removing the massive artificial restrictions on urban supply imposed by local governments. But that's another topic.

[1] 'Developer' has gotten a bad rep somehow; what if we called them builders, instead? It's not even a euphemism, more like an anti-euphemism: they are literally building new buildings and housing. Especially for the projects that get hit by IZ; you could argue that converting a house into apartments isn't real building (though it is real construction work, and more 'real' than hedge fund finance, say), but IZ applies to big projects, which are mostly new buildings.

But then it sounds worse: what kind of asshole opposes building new housing? (People who already have housing and don't want more neighbors, that's who.) Much easier to intone against "developers" and "profit" (as if homeowners don't hope to profit from growth in their home values, not to mention from their jobs.)

[2] Also see EMTALA, requiring ERs to stabilize anyone regardless of ability to pay; it's great that they do that, not so great that government didn't both reliably compensating them for it, so the costs were driven into other medical prices. Or landowners sometimes winning the anti-lottery of discovering there's an endangered species on their land and now they can't use it; protecting the environment is cool, but it would be fairer to compensate people for unexpected loss. And yes, strictly speaking minimum wage is an unfunded mandate on employers, and a price floor on labor, both nominally bad ideas, though that issue gets complicated by data and macroeconomics.

Abstract housing

2016-Oct-13, Thursday 15:16
mindstalk: (Default)
I was thinking about supply/demand curves and housing again. A standard picture: imagine a demand curve sloping down (-45 degree line, maybe), and a vertical line on the left, reflect legally capped housing. Equilibrium is low quantity, high price. Now, imagine that there's a small loosening -- Somerville allows another 5000 units on top of the existing 70,000 people, say; the vertical line moves right a bit, the equilibrium quantity increases, and price decreases -- but is still pretty high compared to a hypothetical 45 degree supply line.

I've seen a lot of people claim that housing somehow isn't affected by supply and demand, that developers only build luxury housing, but if you can follow my mental picture, you see that's what we'd expect from only small increases. Worse, if demand is itself increasing -- the demand curve moving to the right -- then price can increase anyway. It'd increase even more if the supply line hadn't shifted right.

But there's a complication. Such graphs are ideally about some identical commodity, which housing is not: it varies in size, price, location, amenities. But, I think we can think about not the price of units, but the price per square foot (or meter). A specific unit can be expensive because it costs a lot, or because it costs less but gives little space; both are expensive compared to renting a Rust Belt mansion for less than a Boston 1BR. Even more abstractly, there are other amenities: a tight (expensive) market will likely have year-to-year leases, deep deposits, and hostility to pets; a cheap one will be more month-month and loose about things.

That said, okay, increasing the supply slightly only decreases the price per area slightly. We could still expect big expensive and smaller cheaper units to be built; the claim is that that's not true. I don't know how true that is... but I do know that one end of the tradeoff curve, cheap apartments that are very small ("microapartments", "SRO") and have no parking space, is outright illegal to build in almost all the US. And a friend argued that simply building a 600 square foot box in Boston already puts you into "luxury" price ranges, that's just how expensive it is here. (I know that a couple of Back Bay parking spaces, probably consuming an area of about 660 square feet, sold for $600,000 -- that's not even an actual box, let alone a habitable one with plumbing and wiring.)

Meanwhile we do have current evidence that supply and demand works: some luxury markets have gotten saturated, with units not renting out, or being discounted, and Japanese housing prices haven't soared the way US ones have; it's much easier to build there.
mindstalk: (Earth)
Recent thought about equilibrium effects on housing:

If many people actually *prefer* denser areas, or the amenities that result from them, then shifting the supply curve right (by loosening zoning codes) leads to more housing and lower rates, but may be followed by the demand curve shifting right because the area is more desirable due to higher density, leading to more housing and higher rates. And then shifting again, until the demand curve stops shifting or you run into a steeper part of the supply curve (whether due to looser but still extant legal limits, or sheer physical capacity) so that price increases outweigh increased amenities in desirability. (Or you simply run out of ability to add people.)

So it's true that free market housing won't necessarily lower prices for good; OTOH, it does allow more people to live in a place they'd prefer, which is still good.
mindstalk: Tohsaka Rin (Rin)
I knew that Australia had a "high" minimum wage; somehow I'd remembered it as $22/hour, but that seems totally wrong. (I think 22 is where the US would be if it had tracked productivity gains.)

As often, Wikipedia has a handy and hopefully accurate table: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_wages_by_country

the fun part being to sort the columns. In nominal (exchange rate) US$ terms, the highest minimum wage is yes, Australia, at $15.58/hour. Next is Luxembourg at $14.75, and a handful of countries scattered around $12. Germany drops down to $11.28, then Canada at $9.45.

In PPP terms, the highest is San Marino, at only $12.55. Luxembourg is second at $11.43, Australia third at only $11.14, and things quickly slide down from there.

Also interesting is the annual minimum wage as a %age of GDP/capita. There's some variation -- Luxembourg is only 26%, Argentina 75%! -- but 40-50% is common, with the US low at 27.6%. 40% would mean $10.50/hour, 50% would mean $13.13/hour. $15 would mean an annual wage of 57% of GDP/capita, which would put us alongside San Marino and New Zealand.

(Side note: many poor countries allegedly have a minimum wage that is a *multiple* of the GDP/capita.)

Note: Switzerland and the Nordic countries have no official minimum wage, relying on massive collective bargaining instead, and aren't listed. Some web pages say Denmark has an average (over sectors) minimum of US$20, with $15 at the minimum. Another says $19 for Sweden. Methodologies aren't given, so I'd guess those nominal, not PPP; still high. Swiss search results are poisoned by the referendum for a $25/hour wage (overwhelmingly rejected by the voters.)

The PPP multiplier for both Denmark and Sweden seems to be 1.3, so that $19-20 nominal would be about $15. But also note that it's not actually universal; there may be some lower wage sectors.

Also note that a lot of these countries have relatively high unemployment rates, especially among youth, while being much nicer countries to be unemployed in.

According to https://www.dol.gov/featured/minimum-wage/chart1 the highest inflation-adjusted minimum wage in the US was $10.34, in 1968; $8-9 was a more sustained plateau.

So what does this mean for US policy? Going by PPP numbers, the highly popular $15/hour is in fact notably higher than any other country's legal minimum wage; it's also pretty high as a %GDP, though not uniquely so. It may also be standard for de facto heavily unionized Nordic countries. Even Hillary's $12 is on the high end in dollars, though fairly standard as %GDP. (Note that Hillary also proposes inflation-indexing it, which might be a radical detail in itself. Possibly risky, even -- part of the macroeconomic role of inflation is to quietly depress wages when that's needed.

So I'd say that $15 for the whole country really is pushing the envelope, especially if we're not prepared for higher unemployment as a possible outcome.

EDIT: I should say, I wrote this post from a perspective of comparative macroeconomics, as in "what levels can we safely say won't mess up a modern economy." If we look at lifestyle attained, obviously one needs less money in a country with subsidized health care, college, parental leave, and with superior public transit and bus/train networks. You'll live better on $24K (PPP) in Germany than in the US because of the greater public services.

EDIT 2: Also of interest might be how many, and what sort of, people receive minimum wage, for how long, in various countries. Stepping stone, or permanent underclass?
mindstalk: (Mami)
Some articles on democracy (pluralist and feminist) among Syrian Kurds: NYTimes, FT, scribd copy of FT.

If we kept DST all year, or got rid of it.

A Madoka fanfic I'm reading. It's like Starship Troopers or Old Man's War crossed with Madoka crossed with transhumanism and Culture ship Minds. Kyubey said we'd go to the stars, and we did. Many fans think magical girls are potentially immortal, and here they are. I've been enjoying it a lot. Could have used some more editing passes, but generally fun to read, often funny, I'm engaged with the show characters and the original one. Downside: it's longer than Lord of the Rings and still ongoing, last update Oct 6.  I've read 34 chapters out of 44 and am thinking I should pace myself, maybe go read Ancillary Mercy while I still sort of remember what happened in Ancillary Sword.

Funny panel from the Fate/zero manga.

Japan is actually doing quite well per capita: low unemployment, very high employment to working-age-population ratio, inflation is back.  Abenomics, and Keynesianism, works.  GDP is shriking... because the population is, especially the working-age population.

James notes that Heinlein's first story is closer to Dickens' last novel than it is to us.  This will be more interesting when his *last* book is closer to Dickens than to us, but still.

Polio is judged to be even closer to eradication.

Portugal's Left Bloc, a party run by women.

Secret gardens and numinous fantasy

SF written in 1666 by Margaret Cavendish

mindstalk: (atheist)
The median wage today is lower than the minimum wage would be if it had kept up with productivity.

"The figure shows the real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) value of the minimum wage, plus what the minimum wage would be if it had kept pace with productivity growth since 1968, as it did for the two decades prior. If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity growth over this period, it would now be $18.67 per hour. That sounds shockingly high—it is two-and-a-half times as high as the current minimum wage and is actually higher than the median wage, which is $16.30 per hour. But it’s important to keep in mind that the primary reason a minimum wage of $18.67 sounds so high today is because the wages of most workers are so low."

"If the median wage had kept pace with productivity growth over the last 40 years, it would now be $28.42 instead of $16.30. "

mindstalk: (thoughtful)
(simply copying a comment I made elsewhere:)

So, according to Google's convenient graph, Somerville's population was 76,295 in 1990, and 78,804 in 2013. That's 3% growth stretched over 23 years. Boston has grown 13% in the same period. Cambridge, 12%. Massachusetts, 12%. The US as a whole, 28%. If population increase had been distributed evenly, there should be over 97,000 people in Somerville now. Or 85,000, at only the state's level of growth.

In reality there's been migration to warmer (or cheaper) states; OTOH, there's also been migration back into dense cities, as many people who grew up in suburbs don't want to live there. Except hardly anyone's building dense cities anymore -- it's usually illegal[1] -- so the price of the old stuff gets bid up way high. 97,000 people wanting to live in the space of 78,000 people will explain a lot of the housing price increase even without bringing in tech or "have no kids"[2] money.

(And I think it's fair to use the higher number -- after all, Boston and Cambridge rents have been going up a lot too, indicating people want to move here faster than housing can be built for them.)

[1] A friend claimed that 99% of Somerville is non-conforming to the current zoning code. If the city burned down, it wouldn't allow itself to be rebuilt as it is.

[2] Or "have no car" money, what with relying on bikes and the Red Line.


2015-Aug-15, Saturday 18:47
mindstalk: (Default)
Oil state prudence and sovereign wealth funds: Norway vs. Alberta, also a look at how Norway's fund invests. I liked the Albertan complaining that Norway is a relatively small country: yes, but it has more people than Alberta... http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/international-business/european-business/norways-sovereign-wealth-fund/article25973060/?click=sf_globefb

Debunking the fear about EMPs http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/05/24/the-empire-strikes-back/

Portugal, optimal currency area, and labor mobility: fiscal union trumps labor mobility in importance. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/the-downside-of-labor-mobility/
Who cares about reserve currency status? http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/international-money-mania/

First we export pollution to China via outsourcing, now they export it back to us via air movements: http://www.sgvtribune.com/environment-and-nature/20150810/air-pollution-from-china-undermining-gains-in-california-western-states

Trees and bus stop waiting time perception http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/08/trees-can-make-waiting-for-the-bus-feel-shorter/401135/?utm_source=atlanticFB

How the US 'justice' system abuses bail: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/the-bail-trap.html?smid=tw-nytmag&_r=0

Vampire squid: not a squid. (Or vampire, durr.) http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/06/23/vampire-squids-arent-vampires-or-squids/

Real paleo diet might have evolved around carbs. Oops! http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/13/science/for-evolving-brains-a-paleo-diet-full-of-carbs.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur

Privacy Badger, an EFF alternative to the supposedly more commercial Ghostery browser plug-in. https://www.eff.org/press/releases/privacy-badger-10-blocks-sneakiest-kinds-online-tracking
mindstalk: (Enki)
When it's pointed out how well Iceland recovered with a floating currency, vs. long lasting euro depression, people sometimes object that it's a tiny country we can't extrapolate from. True, it is small. But then, when people talk about Latvia allegedly recovering despite austerity policies, let's remember its own oddities.

2013 Population (source: googling population iceland, etc.)
Iceland 0.323 million, peak in 2013.
Latvia 2.013 million, peak 2.667 million in 1989; 2.2 m in 2007, so 10% shrinkage in 6 years
Greece 11.03 million, peak 11.19 in 2009

GDP per capita (for comparison, 2013 US is $53k) (source same, Google's graphs)
Iceland: peak $68.8k in 2007, nadir 40.3k 2009, 47.5k 2013
Latvia: 13k 2007, peak 15.5k 2008, nadir 11.4k 2010, 15.4k 2013
Greece: 28.5k 2007, peak 31.7k 2008. nadir 22k 2013 and falling.

So yes, Iceland is small. Latvia is 7x bigger, but still 5x smaller than Greece.

Iceland is growing in population, Greece has shrunk 1.4% from its peak, Latvia has been continually shrinking since 1989 and has dropped 10% just in the crisis. (I don't know how much was deaths > births and how much was emigration. Kind of doesn't matter here: whether retirees or unemployed youth, they probably weren't contributing to GDP.)

Iceland was filthy rich at least on paper, and bottomed out at still 1/3 richer than Greece's peak wealth and almost 3x Latvia's peak. In turn, Greece was more than twice as rich as Latvia in 2008, and even in crashing is 2x richer than Latvia's nadir and 42% richer than Latvia's peak. So if you to throw up your hands and say Iceland is too different, we can't learn from it, then the same can be applied to Latvia's recovery: a small country, poor enough to still have lots of economic catch-up, and with massive population loss. Greece is more developed so has less room for rapid improvement, and where should 1.1 million unemployed Greeks go? Germany?

Picking at it more, Latvia's 2013 GDP/capita is 35% higher than 2010. Impressive! Iceland's 2013 is 18% higher than 2009, or 14% higher than 2010. But if Latvia lost 10% of its population who weren't contributing to GDP, then only about 23% (1.35/1.1) is actual productivity improvement. 7% annual growth in GDP/capita is very impressive, especially for a country that's not super poor (e.g. China is still under $7k) and for austerity, but again, given the baselines... it's not a good role model for a much richer country.


The other poster child for sudden devaluation is Argentina, which defaulted and dropped its peg to the dollar in 2001.

Population: 41.45 million in 2013, has been steadily if slowly increasing like Iceland's.

GDP per capita: old peak was $10k in 1998. Slid to 8.7k in 2001, crashed to 3.3k in 2002. Three years later back to 5.8k, or 75% improvement. 2013 (latest data in graph) was an all-time peak of $14.7k. 2008 was the first year above the 1998 peak, at $10.2k.

This is a country 4x the population of Greece, about the size of Spain, but still poorer than Latvia. So devaluation has worked well for a tiny country and a big (among those we're talking about) country, for a rich country and a poor one. One might start thinking it works well in general... just like good economic theory tells us it should.

One retort is that Argentina is a commodity exporter that lucked into a commodity boom. That might explain some of the sheer magnitude of the recovery. But there's no reason to think that's all of it. And the usual implication, if not statement, is that Greece doesn't export anything and therefore can't benefit from devaluation. That's simply bullshit: Wikipedia lists its 2014 exports as 27.2 billion euros, vs. a GDP of $238 billion nominal or $284 billion PPP. (Yes, it uses both euros and dollars.) Either way, we're talking exports of at least 10% of GDP (about the same as the USA!). Imports were 47.8 bn euros. Big trade deficit, but still a big export market that could benefit from devaluation.

One wrinkle is that almost 40% of that trade is refining imported oil: crude oil comes in, products go out, and a floating drachma wouldn't make imported crude any cheaper. Still, over 60% is other stuff. And conversely, tourism isn't listed as an 'export', though it's basically exporting experience to visitors, and totally benefits from a cheaper drachma. (The really big GDP sector is shipping; I have no idea if that benefits from a cheaper local currency.)

Conclusion: devaluation is still a good bet, and a better one than staying on gold the euro, and Latvia doesn't have a lot to teach countries that don't want to kill off or drive out 10% of their population in a few years.

Europe burning

2015-Jul-10, Friday 16:13
mindstalk: (angry sky)
Metaphorically. Or abstractly, anyway.

There's all this news about Greece's debt crisis and Syriza apparently capitulating to the austerians[1], which is pretty depressing. But, as a reminder, Greece's GDP is 20% below peak. Unemployment is nearly 26%, and 60% for youth. While the EU fiddles over debt, the economy is burning -- human capital, the basis of developed economies, is atrophying. Or leaving. No one has a plausible proposal for fixing this on the euro, which has become basically a gold standard for eurozone countries, with all the problems thereof. AFAICT, hardly anyone is even talking about it as a problem.

And Spain, with 4x the population, is nearly as badly off, with unemployment over 22%. They're making their interest payments though, so no one cares. And we may hear even less from them thanks to a new gag law on political dissent. As a Spaniard I know tells us, Franco simply died, Spain didn't really purge the fascist influences from itself.

Still has a ways to go to catch up to Hungary though, which last I heard had gone pretty much full fascist, with a constitutional hardball coup d'etat.

In the UK, the Lib Dem collapse and plurality voting allowed the Tories to get a solid seat majority, even with hardly any more votes (just as the Tories did in Canada, with the Liberal collapse -- same vote percentage even, about 40), and Osborne's using that to double down on more austerity -- big welfare cuts -- without even the excuse of kowtowing to external creditors.

I don't have as many details, but the Nordics I know seem to think they've been swept by neo-liberal if not anti-immigrant parties, and that the Scandinavian welfare state is in deep danger.

[1] Coinage of 'austerity' and 'Austrian', as in school of economics. Expansionary austeriy has pretty much no support from economists, and is as intellectually respectable as Creationism, anti-vaxxer thought, and global warming denial, but clung to by many European leaders.

random stuff

2015-Mar-14, Saturday 23:48
mindstalk: (Default)
A riddle! Not mine:

We are little airy creatures,
All of different voice and features;
One of us in glass is set,
One of us you'll find in jet,
T'other you may see in tin,
And the fourth a box within;
If the fifth you should pursue,
It can never fly from you.


I've sometimes seen "lady/princess in the streets, hooker/slut/??? in the sheets". Today I saw "Senpai in the streets, Hentai in the sheets."



Swiss fines wealth based fines
Finland fines day fines
Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland also have
some sliding-scale fines

bike lanes don't hurt businesses bike lanes and businesses

Thomas Piketty on Greece, eurozone monster

getting RPGs on the same page tool

US stagnation

2015-Feb-10, Tuesday 22:17
mindstalk: (atheist)
2014 article on how the US poor and middle class are falling behind their counterparts in social democracies. Low-tax, low-service policies are bad for almost everyone, who knew?
Assume ellipses between almost all the paragraphs below, I'm excerpting.


"After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.

A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

Median per capita income was $18,700 in the United States in 2010 (which translates to about $75,000 for a family of four after taxes), up 20 percent since 1980 but virtually unchanged since 2000, after adjusting for inflation. The same measure, by comparison, rose about 20 percent in Britain between 2000 and 2010 and 14 percent in the Netherlands. Median income also rose 20 percent in Canada between 2000 and 2010, to the equivalent of $18,700.

But other income surveys, conducted by government agencies, suggest that since 2010 pay in Canada has risen faster than pay in the United States and is now most likely higher. Pay in several European countries has also risen faster since 2010 than it has in the United States.

Americans between the ages of 55 and 65 have literacy, numeracy and technology skills that are above average relative to 55- to 65-year-olds in rest of the industrialized world, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group. Younger Americans, though, are not keeping pace: Those between 16 and 24 rank near the bottom among rich countries, well behind their counterparts in Canada, Australia, Japan and Scandinavia and close to those in Italy and Spain.

Top executives make substantially more money in the United States than in other wealthy countries.

But both opinion surveys and interviews suggest that the public mood in Canada and Northern Europe is less sour than in the United States today.

“The crisis had no effect on our lives,” Jonas Frojelin, 37, a Swedish firefighter, said, referring to the global financial crisis that began in 2007. He lives with his wife, Malin, a nurse, in a seaside town a half-hour drive from Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city.

They each have five weeks of vacation and comprehensive health benefits. They benefited from almost three years of paid leave, between them, after their children, now 3 and 6 years old, were born. Today, the children attend a subsidized child-care center that costs about 3 percent of the Frojelins’ income.

Even with a large welfare state in Sweden, per capita G.D.P. there has grown more quickly than in the United States over almost any extended recent period — a decade, 20 years, 30 years. Sharp increases in the number of college graduates in Sweden, allowing for the growth of high-skill jobs, has played an important role.

And tax records collected by Thomas Piketty and other economists suggest that the United States no longer has the highest average income among the bottom 90 percent of earners.
mindstalk: (Default)
My sister doesn't like minimum wage, and shared this sob story about a sci-fi bookstore that says it's closing because of San Francisco's rising minimum wage. One line jumps out:

"I can't increase the prices of my products because books, unlike many other things, have a price printed on them,"

Books do have prices printed on them as do newspapers and comic books; why is this the case? Why do we expect books to sell at the same price in downtown San Francisco and suburban Topeka, with no change for variable overhead like labor and rent?

By contrast, see this story about a mall split between two minimum wages because it straddles a county line. As might be expected, the pretzel store with higher wages raised prices a bit and cut profits somewhat. (The shoe store at $8/hour has trouble attracting decent employees given $10/hour alternatives.)

So why don't books get the luxury of a "convenience of buying books in downtown" surcharge? I wonder how many of the industry's woes can be traced to this perceived inability to set prices at the storefront. (Including trouble coping with Amazon. Say I had the choice of selling 100 books at $1 profit or 40 books at $2 profit; clearly I pick the former. If competion means a choice of selling 100 books at $0.10 profit or 40 books at $1.10 profit, I pick the latter. But if my business model means I don't actually have a choice...)

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