Classic paper on economic models is secretly a masterclass in thinking, talking, writing and convincing

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Hal Varian, now Google's chief economist, wrote "How to Build an Economic Model in Your Spare Time," a classic paper, in 1994 while teaching at UC Berkeley (he's still an emeritus there). Read the rest

Piracy dooms motion picture industry to yet another record-breaking box-office year

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Once again the MPAA has released its box-office numbers for the year, and once again, this year has smashed all records (as has been the case throughout our young century) (really!). As always, the astronomical rise-and-rise of their fortunes is somehow used to launch a call for more publicly subsidized enforcement against "piracy." Read the rest

Online casino bankrolls largest-ever, ruinously expensive war in Eve Online

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Eve Online ("spreadsheets in space") is the infamously intricate massively multiplayer space trade/conquest game where real cash can be exchanged for in-game currency , making the battles fought there consequential in a way that sets it apart from other games. Read the rest

Cuba's free med schools are the meritocratic institutions that America's private system can't match

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The median parental income of the parents of new med school students in America is $100,000 -- twice the national average. In Cuba, America's brilliant, working class med students pay nothing -- free tuition, lodging and meals -- and they come home to America and provide front-line medical services to families who are frozen out of the US system, in which debt-saddled doctors opt for lucrative specialties instead of family medicine. Read the rest

After we make peace with robots doing all the work, will our lives have meaning?

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Philosopher John Danaher's new paper "Will life be worth living in a world without work? Technological Unemployment and the Meaning of Life" assumes that after the robots take all our jobs, and after the economic justice of figuring out how to share the productivity games can be equitably shared among the robot-owning investor class and the robot-displaced 99%, there will still be a burning question: what will give our life meaning? Read the rest

Starving pensioners in Japan responsible for shoplifting crime-wave

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Japan's recently expanded prisons are already at 70% occupancy, an incarceration epidemic blamed on hungry pensioners who account for 35% of the nation's shoplifting, with a high rate of re-offending. Read the rest

STUCK: Public transit's moment arrives just as public spending disappears

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More Americans are riding public transit than ever before, and not a moment too soon, because between oil's direct and indirect costs, climate change, the expense of roadworks, and the scaling problems of private cars, the increasingly urbanized nation needs something to keep its cities from imploding under the logistical challenge of getting everyone everywhere. Read the rest

Student loan garnisheeing topped $176M in three months

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The latest figures on government-backed student loans are in, and with them, the news that the US government took $176 million out of ex-students paychecks and Social Security in the last three months of 2015. Read the rest

Microsoft spams corporate users with messages denigrating their IT departments

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If your company hasn't "upgraded" your computer to Windows 10 -- a tendril of surveillance capitalism masquerading as a "free OS" -- you may start receiving messages from Microsoft telling you that your IT department is holding you back: "Your system administrator has blocked upgrades on this PC. Check with your system administrator about upgrading this PC to Windows 10." Read the rest

Using distributed code-signatures to make it much harder to order secret backdoors

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Cothority is a new software project that uses "multi-party cryptographic signatures" to make it infinitely harder for governments to order companies to ship secret, targeted backdoors to their products as innocuous-looking software updates. Read the rest

Whuffie would be a terrible currency

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My latest Locus column, Wealth Inequality Is Even Worse in Reputation Economies, explains the ways in which "reputation" makes a poor form of currency -- in a nutshell, reputation doesn't fulfill most of the roles we expect from currency (store of value, unit of exchange, unit of account), and it is literally a popularity contest where the rich always get richer. Read the rest

Google launches Project Shield, to protect news sites from DDoS attacks

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Insecure desktop operating systems (and even server/CMS vulnerabilities) has led to the creation of enormous, powerful botnets comprised of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of machines -- and thanks to the law of supply and demand, it's remarkably cheap and easy to rent time on a botnet and blast any site of your choosing off the Internet. Read the rest

App Stores: winner-take-all markets dominated by rich countries

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In Winners and Losers in the Global Economy, a new Caribou Digital report funded by Mozilla, surveys the top apps from 37 countries and analyzes where they come from and how the revenue from them flows around the world. Read the rest

Austerity Robin Hood: a billionaire who takes from "scroungers" and gives to "hardworking people"

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A beautiful essay in the London Review of Books traces the twists and turns of the Robin Hood story over time, to the era of austerity, where "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor" takes on a completely different complexion. Read the rest

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

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