Interview with Sol Yurick, author of The Warriors


Geoff from BLDGBLOG sez, "A few years ago, I interviewed novelist Sol Yurick, author of The Warriors, for BLDGBLOG -- but a variety of circumstances meant it just sat in my hard drive for the past four years. But after rediscovering the interview in my old files, and after Yurick himself passed away back in January, it seemed like there was no time like the present to publish this, finally."

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Charlie Stross: Bitcoin should die in a fire

Charlie Stross's Why I want Bitcoin to die in a fire presents a set of scorching denunciations of Bitcoin based on its technical, political, and economic demerits. On the way, Stross takes some vicious shots at libertarianism. It's one of those Christmas-season hornet's-nest kickings that are fun to watch -- at a great distance.

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Mandatory bug-bounties from major vendors

Brian Krebs proposes that software vendors should be forced to pay a bounty on all newly discovered vulnerabilities in their products at rates that exceed those paid by spy agencies and criminal gangs. He says that the bill for this would be substantially less than one percent of gross revenues, and that it would represent a massive overall savings when you factor in the cost to all the businesses and individuals who are harmed by security vulnerabilities. He doesn't explain what to do with popular, free/open software though. Cory 11

EU politicans who got raises worked less; MEPs with pay-cuts worked more

In Salaries and Work Effort: An Analysis of the European Union Parliamentarians [PDF], a paper by professors Naci Mocan and Duha Altindag in the latest Economics Journal, the researchers take advantage of a recent change in the pay of Members of the European Parliament to examine the relationship between pay and work.

Until 2009, each EU nation chose how much to pay its MEPs, and salaries were highly variant. When they were harmonized in 2009, some MEPs got paycuts, other got raises. The researchers examined MEPs' behavior before and after, and concluded that the MEPs who got raises did less work (attending meetings and sessions) than they had under lower salary conditions; while MEPs who took cuts started showing up for work more.

The UK just gave massive, above-inflation raises to its MPs, and part of the argument was that you have to pay for quality. That proposition does not appear to accord with the data.

The unique event allowed the economists to compare the effects of pay rises and decreases on MEPs' performances between July 2004 and December 2011. From this they drew a startling conclusion: MEPs who got an increase ended up attending fewer meetings, while those who had a pay cut raised their attendance rate. Each percentage increase in salary resulted in a decrease of around 0.04% in the number of days an MEP attended parliament. For example, the average French MEP, whose salary increased from about €76,000 to €92,000, ended up missing an additional parliamentary meeting a year.

"We find that a decrease in salaries motivates parliamentarians to increase their attendance," the economists write. The increase in salary also had a negative impact on the number of written or oral questions asked by parliamentarians.

"European parliamentarians are responsible for passing laws that govern the member countries," the two academics write. "They have control over the EU budget and they supervise the other EU institutions. So given the significance of the job, it might be presumed that the effort MEPs put into their work would not be influenced by their salary. The results of our analysis show that this is not the case."

Paying politicians too much harms their work ethic, study claims [Jamie Doward/The Guardian]

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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