Morning Ed: Money {2017.05.29.M}

I am skeptical of the notion that free music on YouTube isn’t having some sort of deleterious effect on record store revenues, though consider the “asymmetrical power of the takedown regime” hard to do anything about without a false positive problem (which we’ve seen even now). So I’m not sure that’s where it leaves us.

This will end badly.

Christopher Ketcham argues that economists are wrong to bet on endless economic growth.

Kriston Capps makes the case against little free libraries.

Free television isn’t free. As an aside, there was a vaccine-autism plot in The Shield that was rather abruptly dropped. I don’t think that was Big Pharma as much as it was some medical consultants having a word with the showrunner, though.

This isn’t even a first world problem… though I know some well-to-do parents that could have done more in this regard, because when you try to resolve inheritance disputes there will always be problems regarding what others involved might want .

Dagnabbit. Hulu, too, apparently. If I can’t work around it, that may render null one of the main uses for the tablet.

I’m going to go with “Because Not Wealthy is all around us and therefore a lot less interesting.”


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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26 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Money {2017.05.29.M}

  1. The fundamental fallacy in that article about the alleged fallacy of unlimited growth is the apparent assumption that the consumption of nonrenewable resources per unit of GDP is constant. In fact, here’s a chart of global GDP (PPP-adjusted, so this isn’t just inflation) per kg of CO2 emitted. It fell by more than half between 1990 and 2013. Improvements in efficiency and clean energy will continue to drive this down. Growth can be about doing more with more, but it can also be about doing more with the same amount, or less. In the future, it will have to shift more towards the latter, but that doesn’t mean growth will stop.

    There is, of course, a limit to the resources we can consume. But if there is a limit to the subjective value we can derive from those resources, which is what ultimately matters, it’s so far beyond the status quo that it doesn’t really matter.

    Also, heavy emphasis on population growth combined with the total lack of reference to the fact that the fertility of most wealthy countries is now below replacement rate doesn’t help the author’s credibility. Nor does citing one heterodox economist while railing against “mainstream economists.”

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    • In fact, here’s a chart of global GDP (PPP-adjusted, so this isn’t just inflation) per kg of CO2 emitted. It fell by more than half between 1990 and 2013.

      I said that backwards, of course. It’s the CO2 per unit of GDP that fell by more than half.

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    • I wonder, does economics have an efficiency metric in the way a machine does? Economies strike me as suffering from inefficiency in ways similar to machines, which is why growth is important. An economy that is highly distributive without good growth will basically run out of steam as the inefficiencies suck all the energy out of the system.

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      • There are several types of efficiency in economics, though they tend to be more qualitative than quantitative. You can identify specific inefficiencies in the system, but it’s hard to measure them precisely, and you can never be sure that you haven’t overlooked any. I don’t think there’s an economic equivalent of measuring the heat produced by a system. IIRC James K discussed economic efficiency in the 8(-ish)-part series he did a couple years ago.

        And there are various reasons that people might prefer certain policies that are economically inefficient because they accomplish some other goal. E.g., pretty much any redistribution at all is going to be inefficient because of the deadweight loss from taxation.

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  2. I kind of want to say something about the radical librarians, but I cannot muster the energy. All I will say is how happy I am to be a citizen of a country with a political and economic system where folks like that can write all the journal articles that they want, but don’t have the power to tell the rest of us whether we can put a little house full of books in our front yards or not.

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  3. The “economics is unemotional” article reminds me a lot of the centrist-technocratic fantasy of politics where if we allow all policy decisions to be made by educated people who believe the right things than we can create a stable and prosperous society. This ignores the fact that many people who fancy themselves as centrist-technocratic types can really disagree about a lot of things. The folks at Cato and Vox see themselves as centrist-technocratic types. They aren’t going to agree on much. See the constant debates on a free market in healthcare vs. universal healthcare. Both sides make technocratic arguments for two entirely different policy outcomes.

    I agree with Christopher Ketcham on endless economic growth. If your relatively anti-wealth redistribution and believe that the only way to really increase prosperity is to increase the size of the economic pie than your going to need endless economic growth though. Its a base requirement for your ideological preferences.

    Co-signing on with jr about little free libraries. I prefer the real thing myself, because they have the histories that I like to read but not necessarily buy because of space and budget, but you shouldn’t be against a civic/social program because it is insufficient for disadvantaged groups. The welfare state requires that the prosperous and affluent see the welfare state working in their favor rather than just the poor. Its why the most popular welfare programs are always for everybody rather than just the disadvantaged.

    On why we find the wealthy interesting: For most of human history, the wealthy and powerful strove to live a life of leisure. Wealth was seen as not having to work to make a living or why you had these fantasies about a land of plenty where animals come up begging to be eaten. Most people tend to hate work to an extent and want to live a life of leisured wealth. The idea that the wealthy work longer and harder than other people would make no sense for most of human history.

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  4. To be far to Mr. Capps, he’s not quite making the case against little free libraries, he’s reporting about some people that are making that case, and some other people pushing back at that.

    My faith in the artistic integrity of soap operas, a medium invented by Proctor and Gamble, is now permanently shattered.

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  5. *looks at Netflix, rolls eyes, sighs heavily*

    https://apkpure.com/netflix/com.netflix.mediaclient

    I don’t know if anyone is ever going to explain this to corporations, but if you provide something for free *and* also try to have some sort of restrictions on it…people will figure out how to distribute it to everyone.

    Hell, even if you’re *charging* for that, they will do that, but at least with charging, the original pirates have to *pay*. With free stuff, they just come up with a hacked interface let everyone access the stuff *you’re* giving away…I’m pretty sure that’s how APK Pure is doing it. (Please note that APK Pure is *operating in the US* and thus probably isn’t doing things that are obviously illegal under US copyright law.)

    But, moreover, this is baffling.

    First, I’m pretty sure that pirates who are downloading and redistributing shows off Netflix are copying the shows using the *completely unrestricted* device that Netflix works fine on, which is usually called a ‘personal computer’!

    And Netflix on a PC, being in a *web browser*, has none of the ‘cannot copy’ restrictions (Which don’t work anyway, but at least they pretend.) that BluRay and other computer programs can have, where they tell the OS to try to keep their screen from being copied. Netflix is not able to do that, because Netflix is literally a webpage. I’m pretty sure I could record Netflix just by telling my video card’s built-in recording system (Which comes with all modern video cards for game recording and livestreaming) to record Chrome, no weird hacks or anything!

    Second, I’m sure that anyone who gone to the absurd amount of trouble to inexplicably rig a *tablet* up for Netflix pirating will just…download the Netflix app from somewhere else. Or keep using their existing app.

    What is even the hell point here?

    Maybe someone should remind Netflix that everyone who has the Netflix app on their tablet and is using Netflix with it is a *paying customer*. And they have a lot more paying customers who have rooted an android tablet for other reasons than have rooted an Android tablet to do something malicious to Netflix. (In fact, I suspect that last group is literally zero. Seriously. Absolutely zero. Pirates are not operating off damn tablets!)

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      • you should read the DVD Blueray spec more closely. They have killswitches for “you put in a pirated DVD, now you don’t get the player anymore”

        No, they don’t, and that doesn’t make any sense…there is no difference between a ‘pirated’ DVD (I think you mean Blu-Ray there.) and a *user-created* Blu-Ray. They’re both just unencrypted Blu-Rays. And no player is going to nuke itself because you put in a Blu-Ray of your wedding. There are some players that seem reluctant to play unencrypted Blu-Rays, but that appears to be more a compatibility issue than anything deliberate, and it’s still not going to nuke itself.

        The killswitches for players are completely unrelated to that. They are a code that can be included on all new Blu-Rays to brick specific players, and they trigger *when you put that Blu-Ray in*. Or they’re sent out in a software update, and, again, trigger at that time.

        I really don’t have any idea why you think a *user-created* DVD would include the kill-switch code for anything, which is something hackers don’t know how to do, or if they do none of them have admitted it yet. I think you need the player keys anyway. And I’m pretty sure they can only be on encrypted Blu-Ray, which was *also* something hackers do not know how to do…mostly because they do not care.

        Anyway, since you want to talk about cracking Blu-Ray:

        With Blu-Ray, everyone knows how to decode them with the right key, and people continually crack keys, and every new key means from that point on everyone can rip on a computer any Blu-Rays issued in the past, but *not* any after that point, as the Blu-Ray people revoke each discovered key. (By blacklisting the key on new releases, not killswitching the device, which wouldn’t accomplish anything except blow up one random player. I mean, they probably *do* killswitch the device, odds are it belongs to a hacker who has halfway dismantled it, but that accomplishes nothing except a vague sense of satisfaction.)

        Which in practice means…if you normally rip Blu-Ray, and you buy brand new Blu-Ray, you sometimes have to wait a month or so before a still-valid player key is cracked and you can rip them.

        More the point, Blu-Ray ripping is easy on a PC because the user can *easily* install a piece of software(1) between their Blu-Ray device and anything accessing it, allowing the decryption to be completely stripped off. That was my point…that personal computers are generally *wide open* and much easier to rip things from.

        Likewise, Netflix can *always* be ripped by simply reading the video memory. Very easy on a PC and…well, actually, it’s easy on an Android tablet, too, that’s an ‘accessibility’ feature IIRC, but the problem is the resolution is small and the video bandwidth sucks, so often it’s *impractical* to grab the screen at 30 frames a second on a Android tablet. (And *maybe* apps can disable their screen being read?)

        And, yes, I know tablets, way down, are either *actually* Linux (or MachOS), and, if you root (and jailbreak if need be) them, you can use them as a Linux system, and crack this stuff just fine. But there is absolutely no reason to do fight the built-in locks and restrictions and hardware limitations. If you’re going go use a Linux system to rip content…install Linux on a PC like a normal person!

        Of course, in reality, it would be stupid and pointless to rip Netflix using video memory…Netflix works in a *web browser*, and web browsers are one of the basic OS controls that applications can embed, which means you can write an application that, essentially, is decoding Netflix *inside itself*. (Or write enough of a web browser to do the same thing.) They don’t even have to go screwing around inside video memory or other application’s memory, they can just check what they are doing in *their own* memory space.

        Netflix is basically in a situation where they have no DRM options at all. Their content is being decoded in *random third-party* software that follows specific standards and everyone knows how to write and there are several open source versions of! There is literally no way to protect their content, at all.

        Which makes their ‘no rooted devices’ thing very stupid.

        And, actually, they just lost a hypothetical customer for their dumbness. I’ve sorta been weighing Netflix in my mind…most of my extended family has it, it has shows I like, and streaming at my house has gotten a lot better recently, enough to be almost usable. (Well, until *last* week, when I suddenly started getting only 50k downstream for several days!) And it would give me an option of watching it on my Android phone. I even got my mother’s credentials and played around a bit, watched some stuff on my phone and smaller smart TV to see how it would work.

        I was still in ‘maybe’, mostly because I hadn’t figured out how to easily get it on my main TV, and, well, possible internet problems.

        But my phone is rooted. And the Android device I was considering using on my main TV is *also* rooted.

        And, yes, I could probably still do it anyway, I linked to the apk above and even if it checks, I have a program that will hide root from specific apps. But I was pretty on the fence to start with, and…well, that’s just a hassle.

        1) I would mention where you can get that software, but that would technically be a DMCA violation, because apparently we have no first amendment rights any more if corporations object, and we can now be barred from just telling people information. So you will have to figure out what the name is and where to find it yourself.

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        • David,
          Did you ever wonder why the DVD spec was so easy to crack?
          They had a hacker on the planning board for the spec. So when all the Academics were all, “we can have this cracked in 6 months”, he was all “nahhh… nobody will ever figure it out!”

          Netflix has some crack compression coming down the line, seriously awesome stuff.

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  6. There is no link in the first article. The record/CD stores that seem to thrive in the modern era seem to be largely of the used/vintage variety. You have Amoeba and Rasputin in the Bay Area. These are generally staffed by music fanatics and have a bohemian/dive bar vibe to them. The Amoeba at the end of Haight Street (now across from Whole Foods) is huge. Rock takes the biggest section with dedicated section for Jazz and Classical too. They seem to thrive because the prices of their CDs are generally less than Itunes. Plus they are good for finding old things that might not be on Itunes or streaming generally.

    The other record stores in the Bay Area that survive either specialize in a specific form of music or they literally sell records as in vinyl and are going for a particular type of music enthusiast.

    Endless Economic Growth: The Ecologist and the Engineers battle strike again. The endless economic growth argument is based in a blind faith in human ingenuity to solve any problem and/or potential limitation. The Ecologist argument is based on the idea that we cannot do so if resources keep depleting. I think it is possible that both sides have points in this fight. On the one hand, the predictions of Malthus hasn’t happened yet despite 200 years of Malthus supporters screaming wait and see. On the other hand, we are transforming landscapes in ways that are potentially not good. Las Vegas doesn’t strike me as particularly viable and generally I think if someone wants the hot dry heat that comes with a place like Vegas, they should take the way it looks as well. No greening Las Vegas, Phoenix, Palm Springs, etc.

    Big Pharma/Soap Operas: I did some work on the plaintiff’s litigation into the Testosterone boosting medications. There are men who do need testosterone boosters. They tend to have prostate cancer, HIV, or some genetic defect but there are not a lot of guys in these category. There are a lot of guys who are getting older and are upset that they can no longer work all day and party all night or they find that being tired lowers their sex drive. So the Pharma industry created an ad campaign asking men “Do you suffer from Low T?” Yes, they really called it Low T. They made billions of dollars but lots of guys developed increased DVT, MI, and Stroke because of their testosterone supplements (usually gels applied on the thigh or underarm).

    But the First Amendment is the First Amendment and I don’t see any way to prevent the Pharma companies from doing what they do even if it is a public health crisis.

    Wealth photos: What strikes me about the photos is that they are very gaudy and ostentatious displays of wealth. You had a guy covered in his weight in gold chains like a pimp on steroids. The Russian woman was dressed normally but her apartment/house reminded me more of an upscale hotel rather than anyone’s home, even a wealthy home.

    There are a lot of wealthy people out there who display their wealth in much more hidden ways. This is not to say that they are frugal or buy less expensive things but their tastes go more muted or less brandy. Brunello Cuccinelli is a very expensive clothing line but the look is much more conservative/classic. Here is Simon Doonan explaining how to look at clothing for hidden wealth:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/doonan/2011/11/the_rise_of_quiet_luxury_understated_chic_that_is_very_very_expensive_.html

    As the 1 percenters run for cover, the world of quiet luxury is enjoying the biggest growth spurt in its history. I’m talking not just Hermès, but sportswear by Brunello Cuccinelli, suits by Brioni, Isaia and Kiton, handmade shoes by Lobb, and Delvaux or Valextra handbags. There is a feverish and growing appreciation for exquisite, hand-crafted clothing and accessories that subtly shimmer with excellence rather than blaring their belogoed names. This puts we fashionistas in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, we enthusiastically support the causes that are synonymous with Occupy. Yet our lives and our incomes are dependent on the ability of the top 1 percent to plonk down absurd amounts of cash for both quiet and noisy luxury designer goods. We’re sort of like Madame Defarge, knitting and cackling at the revolutionary spectacle, but, unlike Madame D., we are secretly shilling our handicrafts to the doomed elite. Quelle horreur!

    On the less formal line, you also have companies like Engineered Garments, Our Legacy, Paul Smith which produce casual clothing but at higher price points than say the GAP.

    Confession: I really like Paul Smith sneakers and shoes but they are expensive by most standards. I’ve had lots of guys compliment me when I wear them instead of just a typical pair of chucks, New Balances, or Nikes. I wonder how people would react when they find that Paul Smith sneakers tend to cost around 295 retail (I wait until sales to buy them).

    You can see this in furniture and decoration as well. I find “quiet luxury” to be way more aesthetically pleasing than the photos shown above. One of the things said about Trump was that part of his appeal was from rejecting quiet luxury and basking in ostentatious displays of wealth.

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  7. Christopher Ketcham argues that economists are wrong to bet on endless economic growth.

    Ah yes, with “big” support for that idea coming from “…a book called The Limits to Growth, issued as a slim paperback by a little-known publisher in March of 1972…”

    Every few decades we have someone declare we’re done growing and inventing stuff. Since 1972 we’ve had the massive boom in the 80’s, the internet, smartphones, and the computer industry.

    We’ve got multiple other *industries* queued up for creating growth, including genetic engineering, driverless cars, robots, etc.

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  8. General Hospital – Anti-vax stuff came up on The Shield. It came out of the mouths of a guy who would lie about anything if it was to his advantage, and his willfully-blind wife. And they got shot down. Later, the genetic predisposition toward autism was a minor plot point. It was a very effective rebuke of the anti-vax movement.

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  9. Nowhere in economic theory is there a requirement or expectation that economic growth will continue forever. No economics paper, lecturer or textbook I ever ran across in my entire economics education made this claim.

    What a great many economists do believe is that we are not close to the limits of economic growth right now. And this is the claim Ketchum would need to defend.

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    • During the year I spent in a PhD economics track, there was zero exposure to anything in macro growth theory except open-ended exponential growth. Economies that failed to achieve perpetual exponential growth, when they were discussed, were treated as abject failures. Now, if you sat one of the professors down and pushed, they might take your position — growth is not a requirement, it may not continue forever, there may be other limits. But that’s not what they taught their first-year grad students.

      OTOH, I was pleased that the emphasis in market theory was all the ways that markets can fail.

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      • Year 1 Macro in grad school is all about creating a generic model with as few features as possible. You’re not even trying to create something predictive. You just want something that’s mathematically sound. Then when you specialize, you learn about the possible features you can attach to a model to represent a certain theory or component. In the meantime, you’re taking Econometrics, which teaches you the valid use of all the mathematical traits you’re embedding in the model. Then you start writing your dissertation, getting your hands dirty and building a theoretical or practical model for what you’re interested in (again, leaving everything else as generic as possible).

        How you handle growth is going to differ, depending on what you’re trying to model. Environmental economics and developmental economics are going to take different approaches. If you’;re doing a business cycle model, growth is going to vary. If you’re doing an endogenous growth model, well, growth is the whole story. But if you’re staying clear of all those things, you’ll put in some clean exponential growth if you bother to model growth at all. Creating an economic model is like writing a screenplay. Keep it simple. Don’t introduce extraneous characters.

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      • Economies that failed to achieve perpetual exponential growth, when they were discussed, were treated as abject failures.

        Given that we are (as far as we can tell) no where close to those limits, and all “limits” arguments before have soundly failed, this seems appropriate.

        On the face of it, one of the core beliefs of “no more growth” would have to be “we’re done inventing things”. So the first thing that needs to die is Moore’s Law… and while it’s days are no doubt numbered, it’s death has been predicted many times incorrectly.

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      • Macroceconomic growth models exist to understand economic growth as it is now. And in the here and now an economy that isn’t growing is a failure. There are scenarios where stable growth could be a success (e.g. a nation of people that have decided they don’t want any more goods and services, and are using increasing productivity to work shorter hours) but those scenarios don’t describe any real-world economies.

        It’s true that hitting fundamental resource constraints will require looking at economic growth differently, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the practice of macroeconomics right now. Centuries-long forecasts don’t form a part of macroeconomics, and for good reason – predicting an economy a decade in advance is fraught enough, forecasting on a century-scale would be hubris.

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      • This sounds a bit like complaining that people who research “sustainable” farming practices have their heads in the sand with respect to the heat death of the universe. It seems like a good argument would have to be made that it’s relevant on the time scale in question.

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    • This is pretty much what I was thinking. As part of my job, I make GDP forecasts, for about the next three years. If you’re doing a debt sustainability analysis or some other kind of long-term budget or capital planning, you’re going to try to forecast longer-term growth potential, but those forecasts are guesses at best.

      The problem with endlessly extrapolating into the future is that it is very difficult to predict shocks and it’s near impossible to predict the timing of shocks. That’s why no one expects economic forecasts to be that precise more than a couple-few years out. And it’s why I’m not worried about some paper from 1972 that says we are going to die.

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  10. Inheritance: My conversations with my parents about money were quite straight forward, whether it was about paying for college (I’m going to help but you’re going to have jobs too to help pay for it too). I knew about the terms of various wills throughout the years. When I was younger and in school, if I got a windfall, say from my father and step mother both dying on company time, the money would be in a trust for school so I didn’t blow it “on hookers and coke”–yeah that’s a quote from my Dad. But I’ve seen lots of people get all weird when talking about money.

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