URLs du Jour

2019-04-22

[Amazon Link]

  • At Reason, Thomas Hazlett looks at Zuckerberg’s Plea: Regulate Me Before I Violate People’s Privacy Again!. An interesting point:

    While Congress has been holding hearings, poking tech execs, and dancing the legislative Fandango, the marketplace has imposed actual sanctions. Between the time Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal was revealed, March of last year, and March of this year, shareholders lost more than $61.6 billion adjusted for overall market (NASDAQ) fluctuations. In contrast, Sen. Wyden's 4 percent fine—even if applied to global sales, and instantly—would whack just $2.2 billion from the Facebook moguls.

    Not that it matters, but: the "privacy" concept seems slipperier the more I think about it. Especially when people talk about "their" data; it's invariably data that they've chosen (or have been forced to) to share with (at least) some people. What kind of property rights does one have over data that one has shared?

    Contracts and user agreements? Sure, except nobody reads those.

    But, as Hazlett notes, the big privacy-invader is the state, which demands to know the inner details of your financial status every April 15. (And has the right to demand even more data if they don't like your numbers.)

    And my beloved Town demands to be informed in detail (and get a piece of the action) of any alteration to my house. And that becomes public information, of course.

    But I'm supposed to be worried about Zuckerberg knowing my birthday? Please.


  • I've occasionally thought it was odd that government expenditures were automatically added to the Gross Domestic Product, no matter how stupid or (even) destructive they were. Not being an economist, however, I thought the underlying reasoning was probably pretty good, even if I didn't understand it.

    [Amazon Link]
    But as it turns out, this was (and is) a controversial question. Pierre Lemieux discusses Government Expenditures in GDP, as revealed in a 2014 book by Diane Coyle, GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History:

    Many economists were opposed to adding government expenditures to private production in the concept of GDP, including Simon Kuznets himself who was among the main developers of the national accounts methodology. But Coyle suggests that there was a propaganda motivation under the victory of the other side. Coyle writes (pp. 16-17):

    In the policy tussle in Washington, Kuznets lost and wartime realpolitik won. … Subtracting defense spending from the older conception of national income would have wrongly given the impression that the war effort was going to involve a huge sacrifice in private consumer spending. … The pattern of growth before and after 1945 would have looked very different if government spending had been disregarded as before in the definition of total economic activity.

    By “wrongly,” Coyle means “correctly,” that is, it would have annoyingly contradicted government propagandists. As often if not as usual, it seems, politics was about manipulating collective choices.

    Hm. Maybe some smart economists could come up with some other one-number measure of economic health that reflects how well peoples' material wants are satisfied, not necessarily the state's material wants.


  • At AEI, Mark J. Perry notes recent research: Trump's washing machine tariffs created 1,800 US jobs, but at a YUGE cost to consumers of $820,000/job. It's illustrated by a Ramirez cartoon, which you can click over to see, but here's a different one:

    Trump Trade War and Tariffs

    Bottom Line: As the cartoon above by Michael Ramirez illustrates graphically, the tariffs imposed last year on imported washing machines that launched Trump’s insane trade war are imposing YUGE costs on American consumers and businesses that make the US economy worse off, not better off. Assuming the new 1,200 factory workers at Whirlpool and Samsung are making the average annual pay for US manufacturing workers of $43,000, the costs to American consumers exceeds the value of each new job by a factor of 19-to-1. If the Dealmaker-in-Chief thinks it’s a good deal to force US consumers to pay $820,000 annually in higher costs to create a new $43,000 per year factory job, then he might have to re-think his deal-making strategies or take some remedial economics courses in the economics of trade protection. Is that Trump’s idea of the kind of “winning” we’re supposed to get sick of?

    It all goes back to Bastiat's Seen and Unseen: We don't see the jobs that would have been created if American consumers been able to buy cheaper washing machines and spent the savings elsewhere.


  • A pretty good local restaurant/brewpub banned tipping in 2017. And went out of business the following year. Coincidence? Maybe. But an article in Grub Street describes Why Eliminating Tips At Restaurants Doesn’t Work.

    In early 2015, Thad Vogler became an unwitting pioneer of the movement to eliminate tipping at restaurants. Vogler, who owns Bar Agricole and Trou Normand in San Francisco, had worked and traveled throughout Europe and Asia, where he loved the convenience and lack of pretense that came from restaurant pricing in which service was already included. Less than a year into his experiment, he found himself struggling with the consequences of a tip-free dining room: His staff was in a constant state of flux, and he would routinely attack anyone who expressed even the slightest bit of doubt about his new policy. “I started to feel like Stalin,” Vogler says. “I was being a total ideologue.” After nine months of being tip-free, he knew something needed to be done.

    The Stalinists at Consumer Reports recently excoriated tipping (in their usual passive-agressive manner).