Saturday, March 31, 2012

On How the Rich Spend Their Money

Surprise, surprise, the rich are cheap, and aren't generally sophisticated about their investing (Barron's):

Here are some of my favorite myth-busting factoids: the vast majority of the super rich and affluent shop at Walmart (74%), Target (73%), and Home Depot (63%). That compares with Brooks Brothers (6%), Tiffany & Co. (5%), DKNY (3%), Burberry (2%), and Luis Vuitton (2%). The wealthy are also big users of coupons; 71% of the affluent use paper coupons every month, with 54% using online coupons every month. 
Conclusion: Pick your retail stocks carefully. I am hearing a lot of “common wisdom” at the moment that luxury stocks are the “safest” because the wealthy continue to buy while middle income households are tapped out. That’s partly true but the picture is much more nuanced than that. Yes, the wealthy will spend on beautiful trinkets, but, as these stats suggest, they also don’t like overpaying and are always on the lookout for bargains. 
The wealthy are not always wise investors, contrary to popular opinion. I’ve met some who are brilliantly savvy about financial markets and many others who really do not have a clue. Here’s a bit of truth-telling about the wealthy I found totally believable: only 8% of the affluent know what private equity firms do. A tentative 26% considered themselves to be “somewhat familiar” with private equity. In other words, a full 67% of the affluent are in the dark about how private equity firms make their money acquiring, buffing up, and selling companies. 
Conclusion: Stereotypes about the rich are as prevalent as stereotypes about the poor.

Both are rooted in ignorance.
Of course this shouldn't be a surprise...

Why Free Markets and Private Property Rights Matter

The impact of capitalism is difficult to understate on the reduction in poverty (Reason) - a fact those who argue for a reduction in income inequality seem to forget:

The start of most global trends is hard to pinpoint. This one, however, had its big bang in the early 1970s, in Chile. After a socialist government brought on economic chaos, the military seized power in a bloody coup and soon embarked on a program of drastic reform -- privatizing state enterprises, fighting inflation, opening up foreign trade and investment and unshackling markets. 
It was the formula offered by economists associated with the University of Chicago, notably Milton Friedman, and it turned Chile into a rare Latin American success. In time, it also facilitated a return to democracy. Chile was proof that freeing markets and curbing state control could generate broad-based prosperity, which socialist policies could only promise. 
If that experiment weren't sufficient, it got another try on a much bigger scale when China's Deng Xiaoping abandoned the disastrous policies of Mao Zedong and veered onto the capitalist road. The result was an economic miracle yielding growth rates that averaged 10 percent per year. 
The formula was too effective to be ignored. Over the past two decades, poorer nations have dismantled command-and-control methods and given markets greater latitude. Economic growth, not redistribution, has been the surest cure for poverty, and economic freedom has been the key that unlocked the riddle of economic growth.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Finally, a Sustainable Fiscal Solution

While simple and effective, perhaps a bit politically infeasible (via Greg Mankiw):

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Economics of Glenn Beck's GBTV online venture

The economics of this are incredible. I pretty much thought he had drifted into obscurity, apparently not. Say what you will about his politics, but striking out on his own seemed like a huge gamble at the time (WSJ):

The transformation is also evident in the economics of the business. On Fox News, Mr. Beck averaged 2.2 million daily viewers and was paid $2.5 million a year. GBTV, which jumped on the scene in September, is expected to bring in at least $40 million in revenue this year, supported by advertising and more than 300,000 subscribers paying as much as $9.95 a month for full access to GBTV, according to a person close to the company. While it is significantly smaller than his audience at Fox News, it's still more than an established network like CNBC, which drew an average of 189,000 viewers over the course of the total day in February, according to Nielsen.

To turn that revenue into profit, Mr. Beck keeps costs low by using staff and equipment already in place for other parts of Mercury Radio Arts, Mr. Beck's multimedia mini-empire, which includes best-selling books, a syndicated radio show that draws some 10 million listeners a week, public events, and Blaze, a news and opinion website. As a result, Mr. Beck's initial investment in the network was paid off in the first two months, according to a person close to the company.

Some 120 people now work in the wider Beck kingdom, which is expected to bring in $80 million in revenue this year, according to the same person. The business is flush enough now to afford two sets—the one in New York and a second in Dallas, where the network's headquarters is being built—the capital of Glenn Beck Inc.
Related: things the press doesn't seem to be reporting on Rush Limbaugh - here (DailyCaller) and here (LegalInsurrection via Instapundit).

Update on 'Kony 2012' Campaign

Here (Globeandmail via Carson):

It was planned as a tour of Uganda’s poorest towns and villages: the first chance for Joseph Kony’s victims to see the viral video sensation that has excited so many millions of people in North America.

But after a furious reaction, the tour has been cancelled. Too many Ugandans were outraged by the “Stop Kony” video when they saw it. Some even threw stones and shouted abuse, forcing the organizers to flee.

"The Predatory Lending Fallacy"

aka what some financial journalists seem to have problems differentiating (Arnold Kling via thethinkerblog):

Consider the following problems:

1. Qualified borrowers getting bad deals.
2. Unqualified borrowers getting good deals.

(1) is predatory lending. (2) is what caused the housing bubble and crash. Getting that story straight would be a major accomplishment for the media.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Freakonomics: The Rise of the Prize

It would seem the answer is yes (Freakonomics)

Could the incentive prize be the most powerful and yet most underutilized tool we have to tame the wicked problems of the twenty-first century?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Using Particle Accelerators to Make Cheap Solar?

It seems like it's about as cost efficient as thin film though because of the increased solar efficiency (up to 20%), with a smaller footprint (, see also HackerNews):

A device similar to the giant atom smashers used by physicists may be the key to cheaper solar cells.

Twin Creeks Technologies in San Jose has created a machine that uses high-energy protons to carve silicon wafers into thin layers, each of which can then be fashioned into a solar cell.

The layers are about one-tenth as thick as the standard silicon solar cell but generate just as much electricity. The same amount of raw silicon, therefore, can yield far more cells, making each one less expensive to produce.

Founded in 2008, Twin Creeks exits stealth mode today with $93 million in venture capital, a unique product and a focused business plan.
Other articles cite cost to produce as low as 40 cents a Watt - compared to the sale price of about double this from Chinese vendors. If the numbers work out, this is a challenge to thin film solar - not to mention coal fired plants.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Simon Sinek (via swissmiss):

If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.

Friday, March 09, 2012

A Noteworthy Defense of "Vulture Capitalism"

From John Stossel:

"Greed" means you want more for yourself. Fine. If you obtain it legally, without force or privilege -- say, by buying a business and making it more efficient, or shifting resources to where consumers prefer them -- that is a good thing. "Creative destruction" makes America richer. 
Shifting resources does mean some people lose their jobs. That is sad for those who are fired. 
But on balance, it's a good thing. Intuition tells us that it would be better if no one ever lost a job and that capitalists who close businesses are evil. But America would not be better off today if elevator operators and factory workers who made typewriters had their jobs preserved by a "compassionate" government. 
America is richer today because those workers lost their jobs, because money once paid them is put to better use. In addition, most of those workers found new jobs where their skills better served consumers. Some even say they were glad that they were fired, because now they are more productive, and being productive makes people happy.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What you need to know about Kony 2012

A few friends have sent me links to the Kony 2012 campaign, and I gave in and watched the video late last night.  It's difficult to disagree with its aims.  It's also difficult as an armchair marketer not to see the genius in the video as a propaganda tool and all the hooks they plant for people to participate and act.  Here are two links that say it better than I could -

ForeignPolicy: Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)
FindWhatWorks: Kony 2012: history, nuance, and advocacy’s Golden Rule

I would add that one thing that often bothers me about these campaigns, particularly evident at the beginning of this video, is the "rich white man comes to save poor suffering black people" theme that reeks of self righteousness but also condescension.  Otherwise, for all the criticisms of spending, if enough awareness is generated to get rid of men like Joseph Kony, it's probably money well spent.  I won't be donating to the cause though I support it and while I would gather there are better more efficient ways to spend the money, there are certainly worse (RED campaign).

Also here: The Worst Killer of Invisible Children is Not Joseph Kony (GiveWell, h/t Beata). While I'm sympathetic to their argument, I think it's a mistake much like it is to dismiss September 11 relative to all the deaths from *insert cause here*. That said, malaria is also another senseless killer whose enablers are among us (

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

World Bank: Number of Poor People Declining Everywhere

A good reason for cheer. From the Economist:

The best estimates for global poverty come from the World Bank’s Development Research Group, which has just updated from 2005 its figures for those living in absolute poverty (not be confused with the relative measure commonly used in rich countries). The new estimates show that in 2008, the first year of the finance-and-food crisis, both the number and share of the population living on less than $1.25 a day (at 2005 prices, the most commonly accepted poverty line) was falling in every part of the world. This was the first instance of declines across the board since the bank started collecting the figures in 1981 (see chart).
The estimates for 2010 are partial but, says the bank, they show global poverty that year was half its 1990 level. The world reached the UN’s “millennium development goal” of halving world poverty between 1990 and 2015 five years early. This implies that the long-term rate of poverty reduction—slightly over one percentage point a year—continued unabated in 2008-10, despite the dual crisis. 
A lot of the credit goes to China. Half the long-term rate of decline is attributable to that country alone, which has taken 660m people out of poverty since 1981. China also accounts for most of the extraordinary progress in East Asia, which in the early 1980s had the highest incidence of poverty in the world, with 77% of the population below $1.25 a day. In 2008 the share was just 14%. If you exclude China, the numbers are less impressive. Of the roughly 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2008, 1.1 billion of them were outside China. That number barely budged between 1981 and 2008, an outcome that Martin Ravallion, the director of the bank’s Development Research Group, calls “sobering”.