# Thursday, October 25, 2007

From Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution; see item 3 which points to two posts. The first by Felix Salmon (Blogonomics 301 with Tyler Cowen), the second over at The Economist's blog, Free exchange (How to sell books). From Felix Salmon's post, you can download Cowen's talk (the talk is over an hour long, the linked *.m4u file is 250 megs, so watch out).

Lots of interesting stuff in Cowen's talk. I'm wondering, though, how what Cowen says applies to the biblioblogosphere.

In the biblioblogosphere, are blogs loss-leaders that basically promote a good of some sort (either a book or books by the blog author, or the author himself/herself)? Whether intentional or not, do they just serve to promote the author? (If so ... I guess I need to write a book soon)

On an unrelated side note, I'm more and more convinced that "blog reader" really isn't an appropriate term anymore. There may be people who actually read every word written on a particular blog (and therefore are blog readers; if you do that with my humble blog here, wow ... boy, do I appreciate you!) but I think the better label is probably "blog follower". That is, I think people follow blogs, they don't necessarily read blogs. They might read or skim an article that has a provocative title; but they certainly don't read everything. There's no way anyone can really read 200 blogs; but it is possible to follow 200 blogs.

Post Author: rico
Thursday, October 25, 2007 3:23:05 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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# Friday, September 30, 2005

I don't blog about economics often,* but now is the time.

Steve Antler, whose blog is Econopundit, has an interesting idea on a new approach toward oil and our national energy policy.

Check it out.

Also check out this post Antler links to that discusses what oil shale is, and how it might be processable. Speculation? Sure. But we can dream, can't we?

Hey, I'm not an expert on any of these issues (economics, oil development) and I am certainly not advocating tax increases ... but it bears some thought, no? And Antler's method for stabilizing US oil import prices and providing some funds for domestic exploration is alluring, to say the least.

Note to potential commenters: I'm not ruling out or advocating against renewable energy resources (solar, hydrogen, wind, wave, whatever). I say bring 'em all on. But we're stuck with oil for the forseeable future, so we've got to do something.

* BA, Economics, Northwestern College, Class of '93.

Post Author: rico
Friday, September 30, 2005 7:49:28 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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# Tuesday, June 14, 2005

So, when I go to Merriam-Webster's dictionary in Firefox, I get a pop-under ad. When I go to the same site in IE, no pop-under. Here's the link I tried. Same link in both browsers.

I think this is interesting from an economic perspective. I'll list a few options I just thought up myself:

  • Could it be that Firefox has sufficient market share to make it the primary target of nefarious advertisers? They're more motivated to locate and exploit non-IE-browser-specific holes? That is, have they perhaps lost income because more folks are using Firefox and not seeing their popups, so they were motivated to find and exploit Firefox-specific holes?
  • Could it be that IE's status as primary target by nefarious advertisers has paid off? That the market has policed itself and Microsoft's response has been adequate — and since Firefox hasn't had this level of real-world use and testing, a shortcoming was found and exploited?
  • Pure chance occurrence; the pop-up dudes got lucky on my config.

Note that I only have out-of-the-box popup handling on Firefox; no extensions dealing with popup blocking. Google toolbar is installed on IE but the popup blocker is turned off; perhaps that may have something to do with it. I dunno. But it seemed strange; I can remember when "popup-killing" was one of the killer features of Firefox.

I'd guess it is a combo of the first two options above.

Post Author: Rico
Tuesday, June 14, 2005 9:07:42 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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# Monday, January 10, 2005

I see from a post at Marginal Revolution that Dr. Robert Heilbroner has passed away due to an extended illness.

This brings back memories.

In my heady undergrad days, one assignment given in an econ class was to write a letter to an actual, living, breathing economist and ask him questions about stuff.

This was in the early 90's (1991?). Balanced budgets were all the rage; the phrase “Gramm-Rudman” was known by many who weren't into politics or economics (oh that we could be in a similar place now ... Phil Gramm, please do something!). I was a balanced budget zealot. So I chose to send a letter to Dr. Heilbroner asking him how in the world one could advocate deficit spending as a viable fiscal policy.

Not too long after I sent the letter, I received a handwritten response (on a postcard) from Dr. Heilbroner. I'm fairly sure I still have it; I'll see if I can dig it out of my old college papers tonight and post an image of it here sometimes over the next few days. I don't remember exactly what Dr. Heilbroner wrote, but it did have the effect of calming me down a bit.

Update: I went home for lunch, and took a quick look in my old stacks. I found the letter immediately. I had (most likely for a class) finished reading The Debt and the Deficit by Dr. Heilbroner and Peter Bernstein. The assignment to write to an economist came at about this point in time. According to the copy of the letter I sent him, I asked Dr. Heilbroner whether or not the government had a “moral obligation” to repay its debts.

Below are the front and back of the card he sent. The card is typewritten (not handwritten as I earlier mentioned) but is signed. I wrote my letter to him on November 25, 1991. His response is postmarked December 3, 1991. Clicking on either image will open a larger version of the graphic.

Letter from Dr. Robert Heilbroner

and the front of the card:

Letter from Dr. Robert Heilbroner

Note to you young'uns out there: This is how we did things before email (and blogs).

Post Author: Rico
Monday, January 10, 2005 8:29:23 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) 

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# Monday, November 01, 2004

I'm not going to go on record and make any predictions regarding the presidential election. If you know me, you know who I'm voting for.

Under the guise of a post dealing with economic issues, I'm just going to point you to Ray Fair's econometric model that has been quite accurate in the past at predicting elections (see the model's 2000 final prediction). The model is updated every quarter, and new predictions are run.

October 29, 2004 Fair Model Prediction

Note that Fair's model predicts percentages of the two-party vote received by each candidate. So these aren't percentage numbers of all votes cast, these are percentage numbers of only the votes cast for either of the two major parties. His margin of error is 2.5%.

Heck, if you want to, you can play with the numbers on Fair's model yourself and see what happens.

If you live in Whatcom County, polls open at 7:00 AM and close at 8:00 PM. The Whatcom County Auditor's web page has more info, voting guides, etc. There's also a sample ballot that you should check out; unless you've already voted absentee or something.


Post Author: Rico
Monday, November 01, 2004 6:05:38 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) 

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# Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Once again, an insightful link culled from Marginal Revolution. What's that, you don't aggregate the Marginal Revolution RSS feed? For shame.

The MR dudes link to an article at the “Foundation for Economic Education” entitled Moses and Outsourcing. The authors use the example of manna from heaven to support an argument that outsourcing isn't a bad thing, but a good thing. The logic is ok, I suppose, though the argument seems a bit forced. But hey, it's worth reading with writing like this:

The biblical account doesn’t use economics jargon. Nevertheless, manna was equivalent to what now would be called outsourced food. Hey, it was outsourcing to beat all outsourcing—God offered it for the taking. No one had to plant it. No one had to tend it. Just pick it up. Good deal? Not if you’re an outsourcing alarmist, United States circa 2004.

Can’t you just hear what these alarmists would have been advising Moses about manna? You know, things about manna causing the Israelites to lose food-production jobs. Not just any jobs, mind you, but “good” jobs. Horror of all horrors, manna meant trading good jobs for bad jobs, reducing Israelite living standards. The Israelites should shun manna to preserve good jobs and high living standards. Or so the alarmists would argue.

You can read Ex 16 and see for yourselves. I think the economic argument is somewhat strained — I mean, there was a bit of a monopoly going on in regards to food production in the desert. The source was God, and that was it. Surely the Foundation for Economic Education isn't arguing the merits of the benevolent dictatorship — which would be the closest modern economic/political model to Israel in the desert, right?

Yes, that's a little joke. :) Surely the guys at the Foundation have a sense of humor ...

Update: Wow, the editor of The Freeman comments on my humble post! Thanks for dropping by, Mr. Richman. And thanks for fightin' the good fight in the realm of economic education!

My only thought in adding the “benevolent dictator” remark was that God was stooping to take care of the Israelites in the desert, to ensure their needs were met. There were no other options. It was the only analogous contemporary situation I could think of in the three seconds I took to think about it while writing the post. Not the best comparison, of course. Comparisons are never adequate when one is comparing something contemporary to God.

Regarding any economic motives in God's action with the Israelites, I plead Deut 29.29.

Post Author: Rico
Tuesday, September 28, 2004 7:20:05 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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# Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Finally, an economist who can put things in terms most folks understand. The blog Agoraphilia (kudos to Marginal Revolution for the pointer) uses real-life examples to explain economic analysis. You've gotta look for the gems — hey, it's a blog — but there are some insightful posts there. A few are mentioned below:

The post on Relationship Cycles is a good example. Economics is, when you break it down, the study of the allocation of resources. Economics, practiced properly, offers insight to the efficient allocation of resources. So it makes sense that one might gain some insight in social practices (note I said “insight” and nothing about rules or consistency across cultures/people) by applying economic analysis.

Another post on the Optimal Haircut was good, though it doesn't really apply to me. When it comes to hair, I value utility more than appearance, so I simply get out the clippers and chop 'er nice and short. No comb or brush necessary.

I have the same philosophy when it comes to lawn maintenence: Whatever grows, keep it short.

(That reminds me ... it's been raining, I need to mow the lawn ... )

Post Author: Rico
Tuesday, September 21, 2004 7:40:55 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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# Monday, September 13, 2004

Of course it's good. I read a short post on the subject at Truck & Barter this morning. It reminded me of something I wrote on March 3, 2004 on the same subject. Particularly the sidebar below.

Here's an older article at VentureBlog that I snaked from the ChicagoBoyz. This one is about the evil demon o' the day known as outsourcing. If you've got questions about trade restrictions, NAFTA, and the like, this little VentureBlog article does a good job of explaining the basics of why trade is good — and hence why trade barriers/protectionism are bad.

Now, I may be getting a little out of my depth here, after all — I studied econ in college 10 years ago (blast ... I'm gettin' old!) and have been fairly much focused on Logos stuff (writing code, converting books) ever since. Hopefully I haven't made any gross errors. Follow my logic here:

First: US Firms have an interest in minimizing all costs while keeping or increasing productivity. This only makes sense — less cost with the same output (and prices) means more profit for the producer. If prices drop then the producer is still ok. If he needs to drop prices to compete, he's even better off — he's got the flexibility to chase market share instead of just worrying about paying next month's bills.

Second: US consumers (yes, consumers) are fairly savvy. Price is an important factor. Who doesn't want lower prices? I mean, why else does Wal-Mart even exist? Who wouldn't buy the cheaper of two otherwise equivalent goods? Who wouldn't be tempted by the cheaper of two goods, even if the more expensive was obviously better, if the price was significatly lower on the lower-quality good?

Third: US Workers are expensive on a worldwide scale. That's ok — we're also the most productive and most versatile, so it all works out. We're worth what we cost. However, as US Firms tighten the belt, they're able to do more with less. Dropping dead wood employees is done, and firms end up healthier and stronger — and more productive and more profitable.

Fourth: With the improvements in global communication and travel of the past 50 years, some firms are able to seek lower cost labor outside of the country. This is good — it allows firms to be more profitable and efficient, and it allows price competition to continue. Logically, if US consumers didn't mind high prices, US producers wouldn't have to take this step. Right?

Sidebar: One thing I simply can't comprehend about opposition to free trade, outsourcing, etc. from those of the liberal persuasion is the incontrovertible fact that the countries that host such businesses (India, China, Philippines, Sri Lanka, etc.) end up with people in solid jobs, with marketable skills, and decent pay for the country. I mean, isn't the raison d'etre for such folks simply “helping people” and ensuring “justice” for those who unfortunately don't have it as good as us? Anyway, as these foriegn-based folks have (and spend) money in their own country, it stimulates growth! It's like one big fat infusion of capital into these economies, some of which may not be doing so well. Why bother with the IMF, with international loans, with the crapola of the UN, etc. when we can have a positive effect on a country in this way? How much more humanitarian can we get? This is, effectively, Ronald Reagan's “A rising tide lifts all boats” applied on a global scale. Wow. First he gets rid of communism, then he sets the policies for economic improvement on a worldwide scale. US consumers get cheap goods to boot. Dang, Ronnie was a stud.

Fifth: Now follow me here ... this is where it gets wacky. If US Firms are forced via protectionist measures (Smoot-Hawley, anybody? Do we not remember what sparked the Great Depression?) to quit outsourcing and are forced to only use domestic labor ... well, let's just say the unemployment rate ain't gonna go down. Remember point 3 above? We're expensive. More jobs will be shed, and the costs to produce will go up.

Sixth: The increase in cost due to removal of economic advantage from offshore labor could very easily spark inflation. Think about it: Fewer jobs and higher production costs. Higher production costs lead to more expensive goods — Wal-Mart's little pac-man-wannabe smiley face does less bouncin' 'round the store. Folks with less money (fewer jobs, more expensive goods) buy less. Discretionary spending goes down. Credit card interest rates go up and this effectively takes more money out of most Americans who carry an inordinate amount of credit-card debt ... let's not even talk about the interest rates on the national debt. Heck, it could be the spark to 70's era stagflation (when both unemployment and inflation are on a drastic rise), though that's a bit alarmist.

Now, there's a whole lot of “what if” in the above conjecture. But basically, if US firms are forced to increase their costs, along with a narrowing of the market by pursuing protectionist measures, it ain't gonna be good. (Remember, even if the “protectionist” measures are tariffs on imports or other import restrictions, that's bad because the affected countries retaliate by slapping tariffs and whatnot on our goods.)

So, all of essentially ends up increasing costs and decreasing the market for US producers of goods and services. And — even though I last studied this stuff 10 years or so ago — even I know that is not the way to stimulate the economy.

Again, my main point here (in reference to the T&B post) is the sidebar. Why is foreign aid (writing a blank check, essentially, to a government) good, but investement that directly affects the actual participants in a foreign economy bad?

The answer is: it isn't bad, it is good, and it is a very effective way to provide assistance to needy economies with cheap labor pools that provide decent quality work.

Post Author: Rico
Monday, September 13, 2004 8:04:36 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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# Saturday, September 11, 2004

 ... though I'm still not going to go there unless it's just the only place likely to have something I need/want.

But stories like this just make me want to like them. I mean ... they've been able to keep the influence of unions at bay? That's awesome. More power to 'em.

So, while I won't be heading down to the land of Wal-Mart anytime soon, I won't boycott 'em. I mean ... it's not like they're a truly incompetent organization like Radio Shack or anything. Now there's a company whose doors I won't darken unless I need to buy a fuse. Seriously. Ask around whatever group of friends you have, and see if anyone has a horrible customer service experience related to Radio Shack. I bet you'll easily find at least one person with a story.

Post Author: Rico
Saturday, September 11, 2004 10:37:34 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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# Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Duh -- it's so obvious. Google doesn't want to go public. They have to go public due to some esoteric SEC reg that has to do with number of outside investors in a privately held company or something like that. The argument, as I recall, is that once the number of investors gets over a certain threshold (500?) the company is essentially public and the reporting/auditing burden of a public company is required. So Google goes public. I read an article on this months ago; don't have the link handy (sorry). Google is making it difficult for all invovled so that folks who end up with Google shares have motive to simply sit on them.

Google wants control of their own destiny, and public companies don't necessarily have that ability. Their Dutch Auction style IPO (see MarginalRevolution's awesome summary) is another clue; it forces folks to make high offers -- it forces them to be committed.

So I'm guessing Google doesn't care about the press they're getting. They probably don't really care about the money. If they did, they could've gone public and raked it in a few years back. The leadership and founders of the company are going to do all they can to keep control localized and secure.

That's my take, anyway. Don't look for Larry & Segey to cash out any time soon. They're not doing it for the money, and I bet they're having a load of fun.

Post Author: Rico
Wednesday, August 18, 2004 9:53:47 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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