Dissipation of Economic Rents: when money is wasted chasing money

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Much of economics is both esoteric and vital, meaning you need to understand it, but it's hard sledding. Today, economist Tim Harford does us the service of explaining "dissipation of economic rents" -- inefficient systems in which the effort expended by everyone chasing value wipes out the value they're chasing. Read the rest

Solving the "Longbow Puzzle": why did France and Scotland keep their inferior crossbows?

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The longbow was vastly, demonstrably superior to the crossbow, but only England adopted it as a common military weapon; the Scots and French stuck with the inferior crossbow for nearly a century -- why? Read the rest

Independent economists: TPP will kill 450,000 US jobs; 75,000 Japanese jobs, 58,000 Canadian jobs

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Proponents of the secretly negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership -- which lets companies force governments to get rid of their labor, environmental and safety rules in confidential tribunals -- say it's all worth it because it will deliver growth and jobs to the stagnant economies of the rich world. Read the rest

Income inequality makes the 1% sad, too

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A study from the notorious socialists at the Harvard Business Review analyzed data from the Gallup World Poll and the World Top Incomes Database and found that in countries with a large degree of wealth inequality, "levels of life satisfaction" go down, and "negative daily emotional experiences" go up, for all populations, including the richest. Read the rest

Why Americans can't stop working: the poor can't afford to, and the rich are enjoying themselves

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Ever since Keynes's seminal 1930 paper Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren predicted that technological progress would virtually eliminate work by making labor much more productive, economists have puzzled over why Americans' working hours have gotten longer and longer, until they are some of the longest in the world. Read the rest

Dear Comcast: broadband isn't gasoline

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Comcast's CEO Brian Roberts has been doing a lot of spinning lately to explain his company's plan to increase its prices (already some of the highest in the developed world) by turning on usage caps and charging up the wazoo for people who exceed them. Read the rest

The Entrepreneurial State: how the "free market" stalls without government-funded innovation

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Mariana Mazzucato's The Entrepreneurial State uses empirical research to demolish the capitalist orthodoxy that holds the state to be a feckless, harmful distorter of markets.

Thomas Piketty on Thomas Piketty

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Crooked Timber's fascinating seminar on Thomas Piketty ran all through December, presenting arguments from economists, social scientists and political theorists from around the world on Piketty's seminal Capital in the 21st Century. Read the rest

Lessig on how the economics of data-retention will drive privacy tech

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In an interview with the WSJ's CIO blog, Lawrence Lessig proposes that the existence of cryptographic tools that allow for "zero-knowledge" data-querying, combined with the potential liability from leaks, will drive companies to retain less data on their customers. Read the rest

Pirate Bay cofounder invents an infernal device that will utterly bankrupt the music industry

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The record industry insists that all unauthorized copies represent lost sales. So Peter "brokep" Sunde, co-founder of The Pirate Bay, has built a machine that makes 100 copies per second of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," storing them in /dev/null (which is to say, deleting them even as they're created). Read the rest

America: shrinking middle class, growing poverty, the rich are getting richer

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A new Pew report analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors finds that America's middle class has shrunk to the smallest share of the US population for the first time in four decades; while the share of national wealth owned by the middle class has dwindled and the share of wealth controlled by the rich has grown. The number of poor Americans has also grown, as middle class families slip into poverty. Read the rest

Thomas Piketty seminar on Crooked Timber

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The Crooked Timber folks have assembled a distinguished panel to discuss Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the 21st Century, a must-read economics book (don't be scared by its brick-like appearance!). Read the rest

EAT BUGS: Monetary incentives distort our perceptions of what's good for us

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There are lots of transactions that we're either prohibited from making (selling kidneys), or that are strictly regulated by statute (parental surrogacy). Naturally, these rules are hotly debated, especially among economists, who generally assume that markets of informed buyers and sellers produce outcomes that make everyone better off. Read the rest

Pre-mutated products: where did all those "hoverboards" come from?

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Those bowtie-shaped "motorized self-balancing two-wheeled scooters" you see in the windows of strip-mall cellphone repair shops and in mall-kiosks roared out of nowhere and are now everywhere, despite being so new that we don't even know what they're called. Read the rest

Millennials are cheap because they're broke

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The stubborn unwillingness of millennials to buy cars and houses and save for pensions may reflect a shifting consciousness about material culture, but can also be attributed to the undeniable fact that young people have no money. Read the rest

We treat terrorism as more costly than it truly is

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The deaths from terrorism are unspeakable tragedies. It goes without saying. But the mortality due to terrorism -- total deaths per capita -- are very low, lower than car-wrecks or traditional murder. Likewise, the costs from terrorism -- damage to physical structures, damage to economies -- are high, but, when you look at the numbers, you find they're just not that high. Read the rest

Hey, kids, let's play Corporate Monopoly!

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Global Justice Now's "Corporate Monopoly" is an excellent piece of information design; it's a playable boardgame adapted from Monopoly (itself originally designed to teach the evils of capitalism), in which a shoe (the 99%) and a top hat (obvs) take it in turns to go round a familiar board whose squares tell stories about real-world class war, centred around UK policies and business. Read the rest

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