Evan Soltas
Apr 22, 2012

Music, Links, and Questions

It's a rainy weekend in New Hampshire. Your links for this week:

Ben Schmidt's amazing data visualization of shipping traffic during the 18th and 19th centuries -- apparently it's far from exhaustive, but amazing and informative nonetheless.

Adam Ozimek of the "Modeled Behavior" blog links to an insightful, if disheartening, study about the lifestyle habits of Americans given marginal changes in their working hours. The money quote:

What did people do with that extra time? Mainly they slept and watched TV. Time spent in front of the television rose by 12 minutes, to two hours, 49 minutes a day in the two years through 2009. Sleep was the next big gainer, increasing by six minutes to eight hours, 40 minutes a day.

The data also show what Americans aren’t doing with their extra time: There was virtually no change between 2007 and 2009 in the time devoted to volunteering, religious activities, exercise or education. In sum, time people might have used productively is instead being squandered, says University of Texas economist Daniel Hamermesh.

The New York Times reports that scientific journals are having problems with dramatically increasing retraction rates. Tell me, at what point does it become more efficient for academic communities to just publish entirely online, in working papers and warehouses like (for econ) SSRN, through email circulars and lists, and in electronic journals?

The Wall Street Journal, strangely enough, has an excellent review of Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel's new book, What Money Can't Buy, which asks if there are moral limits to economic efficiency. I think this is a question which needs to be asked more often, even if the answer is yes to efficiency.

The Postal Service is looking, since its lucrative first-class mail monopoly is dying, to expand to other fields, reports The NYT. Some economist needs to shut this idea down. The purpose of the Postal Service is not to make a profit as a company. It's to provide a specific service that society has decided should be supported -- mail to rural areas where it is not profitable. I've written about how it should be dismantled in the past, given that the role of the post is fading and that rural mail could be now efficiently achieved through a subsidy.

Economists talk a lot about "labor market segmentation." It's important, but there's something silly about this. It's not labor markets, per se, which are segmented -- it's the work itself. That's what struck me when I read this article about Netflix's unlimited vacation policy in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, versus the fact that a growing fraction of employment is in low-end food service and hospitality jobs. What do you think their vacation policy is? Hmm. (This is a follow-up on Karl Smith's post, in a way.)

How is "economic growth" adjusted for inflation?
Why is the market value of labor so low and the market value of a functionally insignificant diamond so high?
To what extent has original sin limited growth in developing countries? This one actually has a hysterically wrong (collapsed) answer from someone who thought "original sin" was meant in its Biblical, and not economic, usage.
What is the difference between economic growth and economic prosperity? Can you have one without the other?
Where can I download data on inflationary expectations (i.e. Michigan Survey, Livingston Survey)?
What are the effects of a price floor (or minimum price) on supply?
What are the effects of a price ceiling (or maximum price) on supply?