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Presenting political argument on Twitter, and the "prestige economy"





Here's a fabulous interview with activist Sarah Kendzior, a journalist and researcher who made a great, concise argument against unpaid internship as a series of four tweets last June. Policymic talks with Kendzior about her work on the "prestige economy" and the widening wealth-gap, and also talks about the theory of presenting arguments over Twitter, a subject on which Kendzior is every bit as smart as she is on matters economic and political.

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Differences between life when you're poor and life when you're middle class

Beth Pratt writes, "Being poor is different than being middle class. Killer Martinis explains just how different in this post she calls 'Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts'. She begins by telling us that 'rest is a luxury for the rich' and goes on from there."

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Should you short the London property bubble?


Economist Tim Harford answers my question: How would you short the London property bubble? in a column that also asks the important question: should you?

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GDP misses out the value of stuff the net makes free


In the New Yorker, James Surowiecki looks to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee's forthcoming book The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies for a discussion of one of the major problems with using GDP as a means of assessing the economic health of a nation. Because GDP uses the dollar-value of all transactions as a proxy for economic vibrancy, it discounts to zero any productivity improvements that result in expensive things becoming free. For example, if every technology company has to license a Microsoft operating system for every one of its servers and products, that's great for GDP: it adds billions to the national bottom line. But when GNU/Linux comes along and zeros out the cost of operating systems for your data-center and embedded systems, GDP drops.

But the impact on the nation is a net positive: first, because existing products get cheaper as they no longer include a Microsoft tax; second, because new products and services emerge that would not have been profitable/possible with the Microsoft tax included. It's not great for Microsoft, its employees, suppliers, and shareholders, but their pain -- which is real and terrible -- is dwarfed by the wider benefit.

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Rich America versus Poor America: stats about the wealth gap

Occupy's "99%" and "1%" slogans made America's widening wealth gap into part of the common discourse. But (as this video demonstrated) it's still hard to wrap your head around how widespread poverty is in America, and how much richer America's rich have become. This listicle, 21 Hard To Believe Facts About 'Wealthy America' And 'Poor America' delivering a series of ringing slaps to make the reality sink in:

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How would you short London?

Here's a finance riddle: how would you short London's property bubble? House prices are up GBP50K in the last six months, our freeholder is making noises about either buying or forcing us out in order to build a giant tower, and they sold off Scotland Yard (!). They say the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, and I've been marvelling at the irrationality of London's property market since I moved there in 2003. Just for the sake of argument, if you wanted to put a bet down on a property value crash, how would you make it? Cory 91

Fighting patent trolls and corruption with the Magnificent Seven business-model


My new Locus column, Collective Action, proposes a theory of corruption: the relatively small profits from being a jerk are concentrated, the much larger effects are diffused, which means that the jerks can afford better lawyers and lobbyists than any one of their victims. Since the victims are spread out and don't know each other, it's hard to fight back together.

Then I propose a solution: using Kickstarter-like mechanisms to fight corruption: a website where victims of everything from patent trolls and copyright trolls, all the way up to pollution and robo-signing foreclosures, can find each other and pledge to fund a group defense, rather than paying off the bandits.

It's the Magnificent Seven business model: one year, the villagers stop paying the robbers, and use the money to pay mercenaries to fight the robbers instead.

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Giving no-strings-attached money to the world's poorest produces remarkably good results

The Economist details outcomes from Give Directly, an organization that analyzes satellite photos to identify the poorest places in the world and then hands over no-strings-attached cash grants to the people who live there. It's a contrast to other programs, where donations are funneled into school construction or funding planned-out businesses. Give Directly has produced remarkably good results: "In randomly selected poor households in 63 villages that have received the windfalls, they say, the number of children going without food for a day has fallen by over a third and livestock holdings have risen by half. A year after the scheme began, incomes have gone up by a quarter and recipients seem less stressed, according to tests of their cortisol levels."

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40-hour work-week as a tool of emiserating economic growth

David Cain's 2010 essay "Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed" -- occasioned by his return to full-time employment -- has a sharp-edged rumination on the modern, 40-hour work-week and what it does to us. In Cain's view, the 40-hour office week leaves us "tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have."

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Explaining America's massive, untenable wealth-gap with video

This 2012 video from Politizane does an excellent job of illustrating the massive, well-documented gap between the wealth-distribution that Americans believe they have, the distribution they would favor (regardless of political affiliation), and what America actually has: a system that rewards CEOs at 380 times the rate of their average employees.

Wealth Inequality in America (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Homlessness and technological literacy: the Tenderloin Technology Lab


Wired profiles Darrell Pugh, a formerly homeless man who teaches people who have no homes or are otherwise in economically precarious position how to use networks and computers, at the Tenderloin Technology Lab in San Francisco. It's an amazing story and draws an important connection between technological literacy and the ability to live a full life in modern society. Pugh's own perspective on this ("Educating myself and passing what I know onto other people so they can try, that’s all part of what I think we need to do. We shouldn’t hold back our knowledge from each other. We should share it so we’re all better.") is fantastic.

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London School of Economics: piracy isn't killing big content; government needs to be skeptical of entertainment industry claims


Copyright and Creation, a policy brief from a collection of respected scholars at the rock-ribbed London School of Economics, argues that the evidence shows that piracy isn't causing any grave harm to the entertainment industry, and that anti-piracy measures like the three-strikes provision in Britain's Digital Economy Act don't work. They call on lawmakers to take an evidence-led approach to Internet and copyright law, and to consider the interests of the public and not just big entertainment companies looking for legal backstops to their profit-maximisation strategies.

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Lessons learned from a flat-rate service-charge, no-tip restaurant

Jay Porter owned a San Diego restaurant called The Linkery where tipping was not allowed; instead, a flat 18 percent service-charge is added to each bill, and that charge is divided among the servers, bus-people, and kitchen-staff. In a six-part series, Porter sets out the case for his experiment and reports on the result, covering the bad gender dynamics, motivation and microeconomics, and a comparison with a tip-friendly restaurant he also owns. It's a compelling tale about economic fairness versus locked-in dysfunctional conventions. He summarized his findings in an easily digested article for Slate.

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HOWTO make $200,000 off of the above-inflation USPS postage hike


The USPS is planning a rare, above-inflation postage stamp price-hike on Jan 26, 2014; and they're also selling "forever-stamps" that can be used at any time. Allison Schrager and Ritchie King show how these two facts in combination offer a significant arbitrage opportunity, and set out a plan to buy 10 million stamps at $0.46 and sell them at $0.48, netting $200,000 in profit, at 4.3 percent.

It's pretty thoroughly thought-through, with a detailed finance and distribution plan. I'd love to see them try it.

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Twitter party game/Prisoners' Dilemma: "I Eat Poo"

Jeremy Bornstein proposes a party game/Prisoners' Dilemma variant called "I Eat Poo," in which the players pass their phones to their left and invite the player there to type (but not send) an embarrassing message into their own Twitter account. Phones are handed back and each player gets to decide whether to allow the message to be posted, or to forfeit $20 to the message-writer; the phones are handed back to the message-writer, and the hand-over may also include a covert $20 payoff. The climax comes when the final accounting is made: if everyone has paid $20, or no one has paid $20, then nothing happens (the messages aren't posted). Otherwise, the paid-up don't get posted, the unpaid do, and the pot is split among the message-writers.

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