Friday, October 31, 2014
Economic liberty (JewishWorldReview):
Poverty is not a cause but a result of Africa's problems. What African countries need the West cannot provide. They need personal liberty. That means a political system in which there are guarantees of private property rights, free markets, honest government and the rule of law. Africa's poverty is, for the most part, self-inflicted. Some people might disagree because their college professors taught them that the legacy of colonialism explains Third World poverty. That's nonsense. Canada was a colony. So were Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. In fact, the richest country in the world, the United States, was once a colony. By contrast, Third World countries such as Ethiopia, Liberia, Nepal and Bhutan were never colonies, yet they are home to some of the world's poorest people.Other than this tendency to lump all of Africa in as a group, I'd wholeheartedly agree.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Saturday, October 25, 2014
This is amazing - using a robot to perform corrective epilepsy brain surgery in a way that takes less time, reduces risk and reduces recovery time (cnet):
The working prototype involved the development of a shape-memory alloy needle -- that is, an alloy that can remember its original shape and return to it when heated after being deformed -- that can operate along a curving path. The robot also needed to be able to operated from inside an MRI machine, which creates a strong magnetic field.
The resultant needle is created from nickel titanium, also known as nitinol, an alloy that has both shape memory and is non-ferromagnetic, making it compatible with MRI machines. The 1.14mm needle operates like a mechanical pencil, consisting of a series of concentric tubes, some of which are curved so as to allow the tip to follow a curved path to the brain.
It is inserted in tiny, millimetre steps that allow the surgeon to track its position by taking MRI scans every step of the way, and its accuracy, the team said, is better than 1.18mm.
Useful to know... (WSJ):
One factor behind the change: Airline executives come into work Monday looking to raise fares, not discount them with sales to fill seats. Just this week airlines put through a $2 each-way across-the-board fare hike, even though prices for oil—the largest expense for airlines—have been plunging. Prices are still going up due to increasing demand for the limited number of available seats.
The lower Sunday and Saturday prices also result from the ability social media has given airlines to throw discounts in front of consumers at any time. That turns vacation shoppers surfing the Web on weekends into ticketed passengers without discounting tickets business travelers might buy while at work. And the findings reflect the lack of corporate sales over the weekend, since business travelers typically fly on more expensive tickets than vacation buyers.
When searching for the lowest fare, don’t give up on Tuesdays. It’s the day with the most frequent price drops, leaving the door open for good deals.
Governments have a significant role to play to ensure property rights support markets and competition (WSJ):
A major overhaul of Western water law is overdue, but implementing such reform would take years. In the near term, states should authorize short-term leases of water, build basic market institutions, deploy risk-mitigation tools such as dry-year options, and implement basic controls such as regulating how much water can be pumped. The current absence of viable market opportunities and incentives is producing perverse results.
[...] Even though federal and state policy fosters the export of agricultural commodities, Western water law generally inhibits trade in the water used to grow the commodities. States should open up the market by eliminating or streamlining legal barriers that effectively block transfers of water.
A market in water would encourage efficiency by stimulating innovation, promoting specialization and allowing water to move from lower-value to higher-value uses. Farmers who have an opportunity to trade a portion of their water have an incentive to take measures, such as installing more efficient irrigation systems, to free up water for trade. It would also create opportunities to deploy market-based tools, such as dry-year options, to help mitigate water risks to farms and cities.
For example, under a dry-year option, a water user with a low tolerance for water shortages—such as an almond farmer whose trees would quickly die without water—can contract with a seasonal agricultural user, such as a broccoli grower. In dry years, the almond producer would have the right to use the broccoli grower’s water. The almond producer pays a yearly premium to guard against times when water shortages would result in the loss of his orchard. The proceeds from the option give the broccoli grower a guaranteed revenue stream and thereby provide a hedge against a drought that might destroy his annual crop—mitigating risk for both parties.
Friday, October 24, 2014
According to Hillary Clinton, "don’t let anybody tell you it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs." (RealClearPolitics) More: from Cafe Hayek.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
I suppose progress is made incrementally, but I was hoping for more with India's new PM Narendra Modi. Maybe what's sadder is that this potentially is a step forward from the previous state of these government owned factories:
At British India Corporation’s textile factory in northern India, four men sit in a control room watching computerised gauges eight hours a day. When they are done, another group takes over, and then another, for 24 hours a day - much as they might at any major industrial plant.
The problem is, nothing is produced there.
The strange tale of British India Corporation is an example of how political patronage and India’s strict labour laws keep publicly owned companies going long after they are insolvent.
Now Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who campaigned in this year’s general election on a promise of “minimum government, maximum governance”, is preparing to invest more taxpayer money in ailing state-owned factories in a bid to turn them around.
While the government has announced the closure of six publicly owned companies, Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises Anand Geete said last month that about two-thirds of 64 loss-making firms can be revived with more money.
Interesting interview with a storied entrepreneur/venture capitalist at New York Magazine. One highlight on education:
The one other thing that people are really underestimating is the impact of entertainment-industry economics applied to education. Right now, with MOOCS,11 the production values are pretty low: You’ll film the professor in the classroom. But let’s just project forward. In ten years, what if we had Math 101 online, and what if it was well regarded and you got fully accredited and certified? What if we knew that we were going to have a million students per semester? And what if we knew that they were going to be paying $100 per student, right? What if we knew that we’d have $100 million of revenue from that course per semester? What production budget would we be willing to field in order to have that course?
Something to watch - Walmart delivers low cost primary healthcare to the poor (WSJ):
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pushed down prices for some generic prescription drugs to just $4 eight years ago, setting a new industry standard. Now it is trying to do the same for seeing a doctor.
Wal-Mart now operates a dozen clinics in rural Texas, South Carolina and Georgia and has increased its expectation for openings this year to 17. On Friday, a Walmart Care Clinic opened in Dalton, Ga., six months after Walmart U.S., the retailer’s biggest unit, entered the business of providing primary health care.
An office visit costs $40, which Walmart U.S. says is about half the industry standard, and just $4 for Walmart U.S. employees and family members with the company’s insurance. A pregnancy test costs just $3, and a cholesterol test $8. A typical retail clinic offers acute care only. But a Walmart Care Clinic also treats chronic conditions such as diabetes. (Walmart U.S. also leases space in its stores to 94 clinics owned by others that set their own pricing.)
“It was very important to us that we establish a retail price in the health-care industry because price leadership matters to us,” said Jennifer LaPerre, a Walmart U.S. senior director responsible for health and wellness, in an interview.
Walmart U.S. hasn’t yet decided whether to roll out the clinics nationally. It so far has limited itself to markets where people are uninsured or underinsured, have a high rate of chronic diseases or struggle to get access to medical care, as well as places where it has a large number of employees. About 40% of the patients seen at the clinics so far don’t have a primary-care provider, Ms. LaPerre said.
Nah. The unintended consequences of the commons - ie subsidizing public roads. From Wired:
As driving becomes less onerous and computer-controlled systems reduce traffic, some experts worry that will eliminate a powerful incentive—commuting sucks—for living near cities, where urban density makes for more efficient sharing of resources. In other words, autonomous vehicles could lead to urban sprawl.As usual though, it's elites who seem to be wringing their hands over the poor(er) improving their lives in tangible ways.
It’s simple, says Ken Laberteaux, a senior scientist at Toyota. If you make transportation faster, easier and perhaps cheaper, then people won’t mind commuting. “What a consumer is expected to do is see what they can gain by moving a little further from the job centers or the cultural centers,” he says. That’s bad news: Urban sprawl is linked to economic, environmental, and health hardships.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
It would make sense as a path to consumer adoption (Wired):
Autonomous driving is nothing new for trucks in agricultural and military applications, and should be available for passenger cars by 2020. But trucks that share our highways are tempting candidates for shedding their human component: Highway driving is easy for computers but dangerous for us, especially when big machines are involved. In 2012, according to NHTSA, 333,000 large trucks were in crashes in the US. Those accidents killed nearly 4,000 people, the vast majority of whom were riding in passenger vehicles. Regulators have trouble ensuring that drivers get adequate rest, and the trucking industry has fought back against regulation.
With the idea that humans who drive less cause less trouble, Mercedes equipped the Future Truck 2025 with the “Highway Pilot” automated system. “It never gets tired. It’s always 100 percent and sharp. It’s never angry; it’s never distracted,” says Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the Daimler board member for trucks and buses. “So this is a much safer system.”
Friday, October 10, 2014
This would accelerate some of the radical changes in education that are happening already (but given the entrenched interests I can't see it happening any time soon) - from Inc.com:
The best way to get the economy back on track, according to Cuban, involves solving the student loan bubble that has saddled millions of recent grads with loans that will take decades to pay back. One of the reasons reversing this trend is so important is that college tuition has been skyrocketing for years.
"It’s easy for the colleges to ask for more, because then the potential students just take out bigger loans," Cuban said at Inc.'s GrowCo conference, adding that rising tuition costs have resulted in more than $1 trillion in student loan debt.
"That’s the same money that, when you graduated, you used to move out of the house or you went out and spent money that improved the economy and helped companies grow. It created more revenue and spending power. Instead, it’s going to build a better fitness center at your school."
So what's Cuban's plan to stem this problem?
"If Mark Cuban is running the economy, I'd go and say, 'Sallie Mae, the maximum amount that you’re allowed to guarantee for any student in a year is $10,000, period, end of story,'" he said.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Good MD, a primary care office set up this year, charges patients a single, flat monthly fee for unlimited visits. Monthly charges are based on age, and extra services—whether stitches or strep throat tests—are provided for an additional fee, posted online and in the office. The practice doesn't accept private insurance at all. The result is a system that benefits not third-party payers, but doctors and patients, Good MD founder Dr. Thuc Huynh, told local TV station WROC. "Insurance isn't who reimburses me or dictates what we do together in terms of our treatment. So, it's a direct financial relationship."More here.
Sunday, October 05, 2014
Inc. presents the 10 wealthiest entrepreneurs in the US.
It is a commonplace to the point of boringness among advocates of free markets that they make people pay to discriminate based on their tastes. A factory owner who restricts employment to whites only will face a narrower talent pool—likely paying higher wages for lower skills in total or on average. [...]
Employers cannot observe an employee’s productivity directly, at least before they employ them. But they can observe some things about them that signal productivity—using statistics. For example, if on average south Asians or Polish migrants tend to work harder than white Brits, they can use this fact about them to help make their employment decision. This isn’t racist—they don’t prefer employing south Asians, and they would be equally happy to pay a white Brit £6.50 an hour to produce £7 of stuff—it’s just that on average south Asians produce £7 of stuff an hour (say), whereas white Brits produce £6.40.
Which one is actually in place? We can test this. The answer is a resounding ‘statistical discrimination’. For example, minorities in France did worse when a large randomised study made them anonymous in job applications—so firms couldn’t see their names and thus ethnicities—implying that the reason they were called back and employed less was because their resumes/CVs were less attractive.
In Germany, job applicants with Turkish-sounding names got less callbacks than those with German-sounding names—unless both applicants had a favourable employment history reference. Then, for a given quality of reference, employers didn’t care whether they were Turkish or German. On eBay, white sellers receive lower prices selling stereotypically black products and black sellers receive lower prices selling stereotypically white products, but these differences go away when sellers build up credible reputations.