Forced prison labor put downward pressure on wages at American companies, worsening inequality

In Economic Consequences of the U.S. Convict Labor System, UCLA economist Michael Poyker uses data on prisons and their surrounding areas from 1850 to 1950 to examine the role that free/extremely low-waged forced convict labor had on wages. Read the rest

The Peltzman model: a way to understand the kind of regulation Facebook might face from Congress

Sam Peltzman proposed a model of regulation where the profitability of firms is in tension with their customers' desire for low prices and politicians' desire to get votes. Read the rest

Public goods are REALLY good: thousands of years later, the Roman roads are still paying dividends

Social scientists often promote the value of public provision of infrastructure as a sound, long-term investment in development and prosperity, pushing back against the neoliberal tendency to abandon public goods in favor of private development. Read the rest

Easter Island musical stone went from priceless to worthless

Pu o Hiro is a roadside rock in the Easter Islands, but at one time its value was so great that factions fought over its possession. The rock's natural holes allowed it to be played like an instrument. Rare Earth uses it as a starting point for discussing consensus value. Read the rest

Thinking in Bets: a poker-master's Jedi mind-trick for being less wrong

Annie Duke dropped out of a PhD in cognitive psychology to become a professional poker player; now she runs a nonprofit devoted to improving decision quality by merging the practical cognitive tools of the world's greatest poker players with the leading edge of cognitive psychology, a method she describes in an excellent and charming new book called Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts.

How to be better at being pissed off at Big Tech

My latest Locus column, "Let’s Get Better at Demanding Better from Tech," looks at how science fiction can make us better critics of technology by imagining how tech could be used in difference social and economic contexts than the one we live in today. Read the rest

The first-ever rigorous quantitative study of US artistic revenue from internet indies: 14.8M Americans earned $5.9B in 2016

The Re:Create coalition has just published Unlocking the Gates: America's New Creative Economy, a quantitative report that uses rigorous statistical methods to derive the total income, by state, earned by creators who use the internet to reach their audiences. Read the rest

Charles Stross's "Dark State": transdimensional, nuclear-tipped mutually assured destruction by way of a first-rate spy novel

Dark State is the sequel to Empire Games, a reboot/latter phase of Charles Stross's longrunning, excellent economic science fiction/high fantasy Merchant Princes series.

Three national corporations control nearly all of San Francisco's live music

Jamie Zawinski (previously), who owns San Francisco's amazing DNA Lounge venue, does a postmortem on the announcements from Slim's and the Great American Music Hall that they have "partnered" with Golden Voice, a division of Anschutz Entertainment Group, a $8 billion company that is the world's largest owner of sports teams and events; owns Coachella and ten other large festivals, and is in turned owned by a Fundamentalist, homophobic, climate change denier. Read the rest

An interesting way in which money is totally broken

Calculating inflation, earning power, social progress, equality and inequality -- they all depend on being able to compare what used to be happening in our economy to what's happening now, and the way we do that is with money. Read the rest

After industry adopts open video standards, MPEG founder says the end is nigh

Leonardo Chiariglione is founder and chairman of the International Standards Organization's Motion Picture Expert Group (MPEG), whose standards have dominated video playback since the earliest days; MPEG's primary rival is the Alliance for Open Media, an ascendant open standards body that requires that members promise not to enforce patents that overlap with its standards, meaning that anyone can play back AOM video without paying rent to MPEG members. Read the rest

The Financial Times's 404 page is an ingenious, hilarious introduction to major concepts in economic theory

If you hit a dead link on the Financial Times' website, you get a 404 page that offers a series of funny possible explanations for the page's nonexistence, each corresponding to a different economic theory (like "monetarism," the "efficient markets hypothesis" and "trickle-down"), and many are linked to articles from the FT's archives that delve into the concept. Read the rest

The world's richest 2000 billionaires could wipe out extreme poverty with one seventh of what they gained last year

Oxfam's released its annual report on inequality, timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum, and unlike previous reports (which focused on attractive but misleading stats about the relative wealth of poor and rich people), the new one focuses on the growth in the fortunes of the world's richest people, a stat that is a much more reliable indicator of growing inequality. Read the rest

Bitcoin's high valuation has ruined it as a medium of exchange

Technological limitations in the design of the Bitcoin system means that the network only processes about seven transactions per second, unless you pay someone with a lot of compute-power to log your transaction, currently at the rate of about $20/transaction. Read the rest

Financial consultancy says that Bitcoin's value is speculative, and as a currency, it should be worth $810

Wall Street consultants Quinlan & Associates have published "Fool's Gold: Unearthing The World of Cryptocurrency," a $5000, 156-page report that predicts that Bitcoin will drop to $1800 by next December, and down to $810 by 2020 (it is currently trading in the $14,000 range). Read the rest

If you bought shares in all the companies Trump trashed since taking office, you beat the market

Barry Ritholz maintains two stock indices: the Oligarch Index contains "companies that Trump liked" in his public communications; the Drain the Swamp index has "companies that Trump trashed." Read the rest

Nudging doesn't give poor people retirement savings, it just makes them poorer

Nudging -- the idea that a well-designed "choice architecture" can help people make free choices that are better than the ones they would make without the nudge -- has a few well-publicized success stories: the cafeteria where frontloading veggies and other healthful options gets kids to choose carrots over pizza; and the employer-side deduction for retirement savings that gets employees to put aside a little more to retire on (this insight rates a Nobel-adjacent prize*!). Read the rest

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