Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Internationally compare the wages of McDonald's workers in Big Macs per hour. The great thing about this ratio is that it is mostly orthogonal to minimum wage effects: higher wages make the burgers more expensive. I understand the international variance primarily as saying that you're not just paying someone to cook burgers; you're paying someone to not do all the other things they could be doing with their time, such as work in another industry, or not work at all, relying on private and public charity. In the US, you've got to pay about 2.4 Big Macs per hour; India: 0.35.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Some good news: the Cottage Food Act of Washington goes into effect this summer.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Steven Weinberg expects that we will not live to see a particle accelerator reach higher energies than the LHC.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Free-market roads: not likely:
A 2004 GAO survey found that four of the five privately-funded toll road projects started or completed in the preceding 15 years included non-compete clauses that restricted the creation of competing freeways nearby.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Smart money and dumb money:
If, on average, mutual funds underperform the market and, on average, index funds match market performance (that's their goal, after all), then there is some other set of market participants who are, on average, outperforming the market. Presumably, these are professionals with some advantage relative to mutual fund managers - superior market information, superior execution capabilities, etc. The focus of equity market reforms since the 1980s has been to police these advantages - deregulating commissions, allowing for the development of crossing networks (used by the biggest mutual funds as well as other large investors) in order to avoid paying a full spread to market-makers and specialists, etc. But these reforms do not appear to have improved the performance of active mutual funds; rather, the advantages accruing to professional traders (such as high-frequency trading shops) only appear to have grown, with the cost being born by other market participants.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why are those with pre-existing conditions so often not offered health insurance at all, instead of just extra expensive health insurance?
An intriguing answer to that question comes from Nathaniel Hendren, a graduating Ph.D. student at MIT, in a study that got him offers from economics departments at Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton, among others. According to Hendren’s argument, not only are sick people a lot more expensive to care for, but they also know a lot more about what their cost of care is likely to be in the future. And it’s this inside information that makes the market for covering pre-existing conditions break down.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Monetary policy and the shadow banking system.
"Less debt, lower value, higher haircuts, and reduced collateral velocity: in our view, this is an ongoing and significant monetary shock."

Monday, May 07, 2012

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Savings sometimes earn low returns or worse. Consider that the S&P 500 is about where it was in spring of 2000, so if you bought and held an S&P 500 index fund for 12 years, then you didn't even keep up with inflation: no capital gains and about a 2% annual return from dividends. (For additional bleakness, recall that dividends are taxed.) Karl Smith:
We sometimes think that the large projected budget deficits and lack of savings on the part of middle aged Americans represent a failure to accumulate enough assets to pay for our own retirement and hence an increased burden for our children.

However, they are simply one manifestation of a much deeper issue: with slowing population growth the world is running short of things to own.

Demography isn't exactly destiny, but Table 2 here doesn't make me optimistic about the stock market. (But you can still get lucky. No one who bought AAPL at $350/share last year and sold it at $600 this year is complaining about low dividend returns.)
More Smith:
Far from being a utopian ideal to which we should all strive, savings is actually logistically difficult. Things rot. The wear out. The become obsolete.

You have to pay to save, and I know because it is a payment I have had to endure. You can loan your money to someone though outside of official channels getting it back is a non-trivial exercise.

People can and do [lose] your money.

This is actually more common than people stealing your money. Most people will lose your money out of stupidity.

...All of this comes to the point that in an aging industrialized country that [is] already really dense savings because really difficult. Nonetheless people are still programed that its an unmitigated good.

Friday, May 04, 2012

The best seasons of the Simpsons were 5 through 7.

While we're talking entertainment, let me remind you to watch Star Wars in machete order: IV, V, II, III, VI

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Modulo obvious demographic controls, Texas (K-12) schools' NAEP scores are slightly above the national average but, per-pupil, Texas schools are much cheaper than the national average. Following that last link to a big table of numbers, we see that Texas' savings come primarily from less spending on teacher benefits (health+retirement+...), though less spending on teacher salaries and administration also contribute.

One possible counterpoint: if we apply demographic controls to test scores, then shouldn't we apply similar controls to costs? That is, are Texas schools more efficient than New York schools, or is everything just generally cheaper in Texas? One quick and dirty way to reply to this question is to observe that Texas GDP per capita, which is about $48K, is only slightly under the national GDP per capita of about $49K, which in turn is not that different from the New York GDP per capita of about $51K (according to WolframAlpha). Meanwhile, Texas's education costs from that table are about two thirds of the national average, while New York's are about double the national average. For another potential control, use a cost of living index for each state, computed from the 2010 census: Texas is at 90, the national average is 100 by definition, and New York is at 125. Texas schools still look cheap with this control is applied.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Why are oil prices high?
The question is not whether there is a rational reason for high oil prices, but rather whether there is a rational reason the world is not producing 100 million b/d today. And if anyone knows the answer to that question, it should be Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi.
My guess is that the Saudis want to produce more, but can't.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012