Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Science myths that just won't die

Nature: "False beliefs and wishful thinking about the human experience are common. They are hurting people — and holding back science."

Saudi Arabia's finances hit by low oil prices

It couldn't happen to nicer people... (Reuters) other than Russia of course:

The government ran a deficit of 367 billion riyals ($97.9 billion) or 15 percent of gross domestic product in 2015, officials said. The 2016 budget plan aims to cut that to 326 billion riyals, reducing pressure on Riyadh to pay its bills by liquidating assets held abroad and issuing bonds.

Next year's budget projects spending of 840 billion riyals, down from 975 billion riyals actually spent this year. The ministry said it would review government projects to make them more efficient and ensure they were necessary and affordable.

Revenues next year are forecast at 514 billion riyals, down from 608 billion riyals in 2015, when oil revenues accounted for 73 percent of the total. The Brent oil price averaged about $54 a barrel this year but is now around $37.

China slows...

An overview from the WSJ:

China's Communist Party promised to transform people's lives after decades of chaos. Higher living standards underpin the party’s rule, making limits on personal freedoms worthwhile for many. As the economy slows, that social compact is fraying.
There's a certain amount of nervousness, fear but also optimism and hope as to what comes next.

Plus other challenges: Xinjiang seethes under Chinese crackdown (NYT via Instapundit)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Because making some customers less profitable...

Will make banks want to serve those customers more? I'd say that the economic literacy/idiocy is remarkable but sadly I don't think it is (NYT):

Some who advocate the use of the ID cards question whether the refusal to accept them has less to do with security concerns and more to do with protecting the bottom line. Regulations reining in fees have reduced the profits banks can make from low-income customers, putting the city’s immigrants among the least attractive sources of potential customers.

“If New Yorkers who rely on IDNYC were perceived to be highly profitable customers, the big banks would no doubt change their tune,” said Deyanira Del Río, a co-director of New Economy Project, which works with community groups in New York.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Branding is crucial...

But so is authenticity: How the Mast Brothers fooled the world into paying $10 a bar for crappy hipster chocolate (Quartz). We've been exploring ecommerce and the development of nascent brands lately so I've been thinking a lot about things like this... though it also speaks to the limitations of marketing (as I'm sure the Mast Brothers are about to learn).

Friday, December 18, 2015

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Corruption as symptom, not cause, of poverty

Interesting hypothesis being advanced by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson (WSJ):

Corruption doesn’t come from nowhere. It is a result of economic and political institutions that empower unrepresentative elites while shutting out the rest of the country. That empowerment lets politicians, bureaucrats and soldiers grab resources and get wealthy from bribes. What allows them to get away with it is the absence of democratic accountability and effective checks and balances, like the rule of law and press freedom. Without fundamental change in these institutions, anticorruption crusades aren’t likely to improve the economic lives of ordinary people. The greedy elites that dominate most poor countries will just find other ways to enrich themselves at public expense.

If corruption were the real problem, its absence would mean widespread prosperity, but we know that’s not the case. Take pre-1994 South Africa, where white-supremacist rule included a competent, professional bureaucracy and a somewhat independent judiciary. Uncorrupt though it might have been, this apartheid state ruthlessly oppressed its impoverished and disenfranchised black majority.

Or consider Cuba, which Transparency International today considers to be less corrupt than Greece. Cuba is poorer now than at the time of Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1958. The reason isn’t graft or the enrichment of the country’s elites. The problem is communist dictatorship: The economic institutions established by the Castro brothers discourage investment, innovation and entrepreneurship.
It would have been nice had the authors explored further what this means. What institutions can/should get developed and how does one develop them when their transparency and creation run counter to the entrenched interests of local elites?