Most single people are crazy

February 16th, 2015

A Dynamic Theory of Romantic Choice:

So the next time you're at a bad date, feel free to let them off with "It's not you, it's the market structure".

[Via Paul Krugman]

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It looks awfully cramped back there in Economy Class

November 29th, 2014

Kieran Healy is proud to bring the world Air Gini:

I found myself wondering what a plane with seating laid out on the basis of the U.S. income distribution would look like. So, following Beth's lead, I decided to get into the aviation business and launch Air Gini, America's most American airline.

I appreciate that this isn't the point of Healy's thought experiment, but I can't help but imagine that those eight passengers he's allocated seats in First Class wouldn't dream of setting foot on a regular commercial flight when they could fly in their own private jet.

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Algorithms As The Champions of Workers

August 18th, 2014

Danny Crichton's argument that Algorithms Are Replacing Unions As The Champions of Workers is a doozy:

At the heart of this movement is the right of workers to choose how and when they work. Uber, for instance, doesn't require strict hours for drivers, instead letting them choose schedules that match their needs. If a driver wants to take a two-hour lunch break or pick up their kids after school and only work late mornings and evenings, the system provides them the flexibility to do that. Carefully-tuned algorithms provide incentives through prices to ensure that the market is meeting the demand of customers and workers. The same flexibility holds true for most on-demand startups including TaskRabbit, Postmates, oDesk, Crew, and Guru.

Such convenience used to be the exclusive preserve of elite talent. Professionals like lawyers, doctors, engineers and consultants have had the flexibility in their work to take vacations and use "flex time" policies for many years now. Such policies make it easier to do everything from building a family to improving one's skills through education.

It also helps that all those professional types were earning hourly rates that allowed them to forego a week's work without substantially affecting their ability to make that month's mortgage payment.1 As if that weren't enough, Crichton also has some strange ideas about how a startup-driven labour market might work:

There is a long-tail to labor markets that startups are finally exploiting. Maybe I want to do a mix of cooking, Egyptian hieroglyphic travel blogging, and some regression analysis of health data. In the past, that would mean getting a job in marketing and living a corporate life until such time that one could quit and pursue their interests. Today, it is entirely possible to stitch together a set of opportunities to bring all of those passions together.

Let's just hope that the guy who is paying for the health data analysis doesn't want his report finalised the very same week in which you'd promised to supply one of your patrons with pre-publishing access to a meaty piece you're just getting to grips with about the hieroglyphs at Amenemhet I's pyramid at Lisht.

We can but hope that our multi-talented individual doesn't have a passion for, say, eating regularly, or being able to plan more than a few weeks ahead. Startups and those who make money from the sharing economy ideally want people with no family complications to mess up their schedules, and who will be at the beck and call of the business on what amounts to a zero-hour contract. Also, it'd be nice if as many regulations as possible governing established industries could be swept away/regarded as not applying to those doing exactly the same type of work but as part of the sharing economy. And this is an environment in which trades unions are obsolete?

Shoulda been published in The Onion.

[Via @Pinboard]

  1. Also, I know that attitudes to paid time off are a bit different in the USA, but might these sort of professionals not also be salaried employees and thus allowed some paid leave? Or is that another of those socialistic notions that has dragged down the living standards of citizens of western Europe's various social democratic nations?

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'You make it seem as if the capitalists would entirely remove all human labor from their businesses in deference to robots, if they could. This would constitute an egregious disregard for the communal good, and so I'm afraid it's impossible to imagine proprietors acting in this horrible way!'

March 16th, 2014

A Preliminary Phenomenology of the Self-Checkout is long, but totally worth it:

III. The Ghost in the Machine


You have bought a greeting card, you indicate. Why, then, can't I feel its heft in my bagging area? Is it because of the appalling taste you have? I will not abet this item. I will never detect it, for you are unscrupulous and depraved. This disingenuous gesture will not cause your niece on the occasion of her birthday ("Time to celebrate!") to feel any particular tenderness. Welcome to the new phase in human history that my presence has inaugurated: soon, greeting cards will no longer be available for purchase. So, too: yarn, cotton balls, postcards, feathers, stickers, and some seasoning packets. In their stead, you might dare enjoy communing with your fellow man.

Also features a man who pays a terrible price for trying to game the Machine for the sake of saving money on half a dozen lemons, and Karl Marx chatting with John Locke1 about the price of lemons (among other things.)

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. No, not the character from Lost.

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Why The Sharing Economy Isn't

August 31st, 2013

Tom Slee is unimpressed by an attempt to hijack the 'sharing economy' for the benefit of venture capitalists:

So a couple of months ago Douglas Atkin, head of Community and E-staff Member at AirBnB, took to the stage of the Le Web conference in London (video) to announce the formation of Peers: "a grassroots organization that supports the sharing economy movement." I like grassroots organizations and I like the co-operative impulse, but this… Well here is his speech (in quotation marks) in its entirety with comments from yours truly.


Now why should you do this? Well it's the right thing to do. We literally stand on the brink of a new, better kind of economic system, that delivers social as well as economic benefits. In fact, social and economic benefits that the old economy promised but failed to deliver. As Julia, an AirBnB host, told me just last night, "the sharing economy saved my arse".

The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it's the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money. Jobs become "extra money" just like women's jobs used to be "extra money", and like those jobs they don't come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits – none of that old economy stuff. But hey, you're not an employee, you're a micro-entrepreneur. And you're not doing it for the money, you're doing it for the experience. We just assume you're making a living some other way.


Well worth reading in full.

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August 3rd, 2013

Tokyo Traders Gear Up for the 'Curse of Ghibli':

TOKYO – Most people know Studio Ghibli as the Japanese film house behind animated hits such as 'Spirited Away,' about a girl trapped in a supernatural bath house, and 'My Neighbor Totoro,' featuring a giant raccoon-like creature.

But among Japan's stock and currency traders, Ghibli has a darker association.

Once every few weeks [NTK…] airs a Ghibli movie in the prime Friday evening spot. During the trading session after that, market veterans say, bad things happen.

Yen watchers expect the worst when a Ghibli flick airs at the same time that nonfarm payroll data is released in the U.S. […] In eight of the past nine such convergences, the data came in weak. In seven of those cases, the dollar tanked versus the yen and Japanese stocks fell. […]

Someone please remind me why news programmes listen so respectfully to analysts from major financial institutions…

[Via The Morning News]

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June 16th, 2013

Mark Blyth does a marvelous job of dismantling the notions that Austerity is Good For Us and It's What We All Deserve for Being Spendthrift in Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea:

[Via Memex 1.1]

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Intensifying the contradictions

June 1st, 2013

Agent Gideon Goes Rogue:

Nikolai strolled into the stuffy office where the older man stood waiting behind a desk which had stood in the same spot back in Stalin's day. The older man – Colonel Rakhmetov – gestured him brusquely to a seat in front of him, sat down himself, looked up and said "Sit".

The Colonel glared at him. "The plan for Agent Gideon began under Brezhnev. Do you have any idea of the resources required to place a mole at the heart of the British establishment, trained from birth to further the cause of Communism? So can you tell me what, precisely, is happening in that miserable backwater right now?" […]

[Via The Browser]

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Irrational exuberance

January 23rd, 2012

It turns out that former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan was laughing all the way to the (run on the) banks:

[Following the release of the minutes of the meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee's meetings for 2001-2006…]

It makes for quite a fun read if you get past all the boring economic analysis parts. In fact, if the stenographer was accurate, the Committee broke into laughter 45 times in just the January meeting! That's at least 45 jokes (some didn't get laughs – if only we knew the quality of each laughter!). I would have guessed that would be a lot relative to other meetings, right? I mean how funny would it be if the top of the housing market was also when the FOMC was telling the most jokes in their meetings?

Well, being a data nerd with nothing better to do on a Thursday night, I looked into it. To be precise, I went back for just the last six years (2001-06) and searched for how many times the stenographer's notation for laughter appeared in the released transcripts of each FOMC meeting.

Suffice it to say the data is funny…

Sadly, the minutes of meetings of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee are written in a rather dry, formal style, so there doesn't seem to be much scope for a similar analysis of economic policymakers' behaviour over here.

[Via The Morning News]

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The Super-Rich Super-Heroes Respond To #OccupyWallStreet

October 23rd, 2011

Chris Sims gathers the views of The (Fictional) 1% on #OccupyWallStreet:

Instead of paying taxes to support a corrupt system, I put my money where it does the most good: A utility belt full of sharp pieces of metal that I throw at the mentally ill. I am the 1%.

Bruce Wayne
(Alias) Batman

[Via Crooked Timber]

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