Saturday, May 17, 2014

Developing space, profitably

It's pretty exciting watching the emerging space industry literally get off the ground (MITTechReview):

The Explorers Club event provided a snapshot of what may be a new industry in the making. In an era when NASA no longer operates its own spacecraft and government funding for unmanned missions is tight, a host of startups—most funded by space enthusiasts with very deep pockets—have stepped up in hope of filling the gap. In the past few years, several have proved themselves. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, for example, delivers cargo to the International Space Station for NASA. Both Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and rocket-plane builder XCOR Aerospace plan to perform demonstrations this year that will help catapult commercial spaceflight from the fringe into the mainstream.

The advancements being made by space companies could matter to more than the few who can afford tickets to space. SpaceX has already shaken incumbents in the $190 billion satellite launch industry by offering cheaper rides into space for communications, mapping, and research satellites.

However, space tourism also looks set to become significantly cheaper. “People don’t have to actually go up for it to impact them,” says David Mindell, an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics and a specialist in the history of engineering. “At $200,000 you’ll have a lot more ‘space people’ running around, and over time that could have a big impact.” One direct result, says Mindell, may be increased public support for human spaceflight, especially “when everyone knows someone who’s been into space.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

US economy becoming less entrepreneurial, more businesses being destroyed than created

Not good (WashingtonPost).

If the decline persists, "it implies a continuation of slow growth for the indefinite future." This lack of economic dynamism, particularly the steep drop since 2006, may be one reason why our current recovery has felt like much less than a recovery. As Matt O'Brien noted on Wonkblog last week, annual job growth rates have stubbornly refused to budge above 2 percent for the duration of the recovery.

The authors of the Brookings study dug beyond the national numbers to look at the change in new firms at the state and metro levels and found that they generally mirrored the national trends.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The carbs that divide the north and south in China

I'm a bit skeptical but apparently people in the north and south of China have different personality traits driven by the staple carbs they have historically cultivated (WSJ):

A study published Friday by a group of psychologists in the journal Science finds that China’s noodle-slurping northerners are more individualistic, show more “analytic thought” and divorce more frequently. By contrast, the authors write, rice-eating southerners show more hallmarks traditionally associated with East Asian culture, including more “holistic thought” and lower divorce rates.

The reason? Cultivating rice, the authors say, is a lot harder. Picture a rice paddy, its delicate seedlings tucked in a bed of water. They require careful tending and many hours of labor—by some estimates, twice as much as wheat—as well as reliance on irrigation systems that require neighborly cooperation. As the authors write, for southerners growing rice, “strict self-reliance might have meant starvation.”
A bit of warranted skepticism from Sarah Hoyt guest blogging at Instapundit: "’d need to see a lot more studies done before I thought it was even a major influence. Also, culture is not genetic. Yes, certain propensities might be genetic, but the human individual can still shape himself to a great degree."

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A randomized study comparing cash and food transfers

Interesting study (SSRN via Chris Blattman):

Drawing on data collected in eastern Niger, we find that households randomized to receive a food basket experienced larger, positive impacts on measures of food consumption and diet quality than those receiving the cash transfer. Receiving food also reduced the use of a number of coping strategies. These differences held both at the height of the lean season and after the harvest. However, households receiving cash spent more money on agricultural inputs. Less than 5 percent of food was sold or exchanged for other goods. Food and cash were delivered with the same degree of frequency and timeliness, but the food transfers cost 15 percent more to implement.

Using the word "so" undermines your credibility

According to Hunter Thurman (FastCompany):

Beginning your sentence with “so” orients your message and subconsciously alerts your audience that what you’re about to say is different than what you’ve been talking about up until this point.

Why we should fear China's economic implosion...

What you should know about entrusted loans (WSJ) and the potential slowdown to commodity purchases globally (Seattle Intelligencer) but also why we needn't fear (WSJ).

Humanitarians, for a price

The cynical side of me wonders how this is any different than normal. But it does seem at least considerably cheaper and more innovative than the way things have been done in the past (NPR):

When a famine swept through Somalia in 2011, it was hard for aid workers to get food distributed. Most of the country was too dangerous for non-Somalis to do the work. Instead, the United Nations looked at satellite images of camps filling up with tents and dispatched locals to deliver the food. A local industry around distributing aid and sheltering the poor sprung up.

On today's show, we visit a country with almost no government, but a lot of entrepreneurs. And we see what happens when locals decide to make money by becoming humanitarians for profit.

Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker (1930-2014)

One of the greatest economists of the last century, passed away today. Sad (WashingtonPost via Instapundit). More from Greg Mankiw.

Update: More from Freakonomics. Also ASI.

Why inequality isn't a problem but a sign of progress

With, I think, the qualifier of a relatively free market governed by rule of law and property rights (Telegraph via Instapundit):

almost all inequality in developed economies does not arise by the wealth of almost anyone else declining. (That does happen in less socially and politically developed societies, in which wealth arises from political control of resources or access to corruption.) In modern developed economies inequality arises when someone – a Gates or Zuckerberg or Cowell or Ronaldo or Rowling or just an ordinary businessman or professional – finds some way (some skill or invention or investment) that adds considerable value, and that value is not then shared equally.

In our modern globalised economy, the gains from a new idea or skill can now be leveraged over enormously more people. Instead of your new and better mousetrap being sold just to the fair folk of Wolverhampton, the whole world beats a path to your door. In such a world, improved added value creates large inequalities. But that is precisely because the added value of a Windows or Facebook or awesome evening's football skill benefits so enormously many people – even if each only benefits a little compared with the huge aggregate benefits benefits taken by the value-creator.

Average U.S. household spends more on federal regulations than for health care, food or transportation

Troubling - but to be fair, this presumes that there are zero benefits to regulation as well (WashingtonExaminer via Instapundit):

Crews estimates the annual cost of compliance with the record number of new federal rules and regulations issued under President Obama at $1.863 trillion.

That works out to a $14,974 “hidden tax” every year for the average U.S. household. That’s 23 percent of the $65,596 annual average household income in America.

Why does 1% of history have 99% of the wealth?

A reasonable question to ask (YouTube via Instapundit):