Should governments compensate taxis for allowing Uber?

An interesting thought. Governments have, over the years, privileged taxi providers in a number of ways. They’ve also imposed costs upon them: in the US things like taxi medallions (which can become very valuable in some cities) and in London by insisting on a couple of years as an apprentice doing things like The Knowledge and so on. Now governments are allowing companies like Uber (and Lyft, Sidecar and so on) to enter these markets without imposing the same costs upon those companies. This is akin to government taking the property of a citizen, similar to a compulsory purchase order to build a railway through the land.

So, should governments be compensating those cab drivers? I think Mike Munger has the discussion and the conclusion correct here.

Yes, that cab license is property, akin to land. But compensation for the removal of a legal privilege it’s doubtful should have been granted in the first place is not the same as compensation for the removal of a righteously owned piece of property.

The analogy I would use is that of free trade. It’s often said that OK, perhaps a move to free trade is justified. But there’s all sorts of people who gain from the current, not free, trade. So, those who will gain from the move should compensate those who lose. Which is an attractive idea: except, except. That except being, well, those who currently gain from not-free trade aren’t currently sending cheques to those who suffer from not-free trade. So, why should the reciprocal be enforced?

We consumers are those who would have to compensate the cab drivers, through our taxes. The cab drivers aren’t compensating us presently for the benefits to themselves of the restrictive legal privileges. So, the removal shouldn’t lead to us having to compensate them.

 

 

Let them eat cake…and buy discounted TVs

Already (and keep in mind they’re five hours behind), Americans are storming Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Macy’s (and a whole lot of small, independent shops too) to snag the best Christmas deals of the season.

It’s Black Friday- the biggest shopping day of the year in the States, when stores open ‘early’ and offer huge discounts on otherwise pricy, luxury goods. Unlike the Brits, who started looking forward to Christmas post-Halloween, Americans had to at least pretend they weren’t listening to Bing Crosby on their iPods until the day after Thanksgiving; and now, with less than a month till Christmas day, shoppers will spend well over $1billion today alone to make up for their tireless waiting.

Over the past few years, this all-you-can-shop American trend has spilled over to the UK, with Amazon, Apple and Wal-Mart’s Asda taking the charge to bring discounts, up to 70%, to British consumers. Still in its early phases of becoming any kind of British tradition, the demand from customers for these kinds of deals continues to sky-rocket; last year, according to Visa’s estimate, £1million was spent on its cards every three minutes, and it’s expected this year’s charges will be up 22%.

And this year’s looking even bigger:

However, this year, the day is expected to be even busier. Black Friday 2014, scheduled for November 28, should be the biggest online shopping day ever in the UK.

Christopher North, managing director of Amazon.co.uk, said: “Black Friday took an incredible leap forward in 2013 with so many more customers taking advantage of the great deals on that day, resulting in sales of over 4m items for the very first time in our history.

“This year, we are offering more deals and savings than ever before and we are expecting record numbers to benefit from Black Friday Deals Week.”

Some take a moral stance against Black Friday, arguing that it promotes consumerism and unnecessary purchases; and some in the UK have gone so far as to say it defies British identity, as Black Friday has, until recently, been a post-Thanksgiving, US tradition.

It seems almost too obvious to point out that the the millions of pounds that will be spent in the UK today are a huge boost to business; benefiting not only businesses and their employees, but the customers themselves who are able to buy electronics and goods they could not otherwise afford at hugely discounted prices. It’s all very well to claim the moral high-ground on consumerism if you and your family want for nothing; but for many customers, necessities in the digital age (like computers and phones for their kids) aren’t accessible at their normal prices.

As for British identity – Black Friday is far too new to the UK for us to know how it–as a sales pitch or as a tradition–will play out in the future. Under no circumstances should Britain adopt the crazy shop-till-you-drop celebrations if it doesn’t want to; but no one can deny the huge, and ever-growing, demand from British consumers for the Black Friday tradition. And as long as there’s demand, let the rush commence.

Where the US justice system is and isn’t racially biased

In a timely post Scott Alexander investigates the evidence around the US justice system to see where, if at all, it is systematically biased against African-Americans. He looks at quite a lot of empirical evidence and concludes that:

There seems to be a strong racial bias in capital punishment and a moderate racial bias in sentence length and decision to jail.

There is ambiguity over the level of racial bias, depending on whose studies you want to believe and how strictly you define “racial bias”, in police stops, police shootings in certain jurisdictions, and arrests for minor drug offenses.

There seems to be little or no racial bias in arrests for serious violent crime, police shootings in most jurisdictions, prosecutions, or convictions.

This is important given the news coverage of the killing of Michael Brown, an 18-year old African-American in Ferguson, MI, by a white police officer. Although a lengthy grand jury investigation found that the police officer did not act unlawfully, many have rejected this verdict.

They may be motivated by a belief that the justice system is predisposed to exonerate white police officers who act wrongfully to racial minorities. This is a phenomenon I have written about in the past – one has to use one’s existing beliefs to assess new information to make sense of the world at all. But Alexander’s investigation of the evidence suggests that things may not be as clearly biased as they believe (or, indeed, as I did before reading the post myself).

Alexander makes an important point, however. Although law enforcement may be less biased in the US than we think, the laws themselves may still be very biased (even if that bias is unintended, which perhaps it is). Drug laws, which seem extremely unjust, will cause more injustice to African-Americans if they use drugs more regularly than other racial groups. And then there is the fact that African-Americans may be poorer on average than than white Americans, so they cannot access the same quality of legal defence.

The lesson from this may be that, though we can never escape the ‘webs of belief’ we construct to understand the world, we can try to be aware of the fact that we use these. If instead we decide to view disagreements about politics as existing because bad guys have incentives to fight good guys, we may end up in dark places where no amount of evidence will ever convince us that we may be mistaken.

But *which* right on and trendy thing should I be doing?

One of those lovely little conundrums is raising its head over in the right on and trendy food movement at present. The problem being, well, which part of being right on and trendy should people sign up to? This has actually got to the point that there’s a New York Times opinion piece imploring people to, umm, well, ditch one principle in favour of another:

And yet, if you look closer, there’s a host of reasons sustainable food has taken root here in central Montana. Many farmers are the third or fourth generation on their land, and they’d like to leave it in good shape for their kids. Having grappled with the industrial agriculture model for decades, they understand its problems better than most of us. Indeed, their communities have been fighting corporate power since their grandparents formed cooperative wheat pools back in the 1920s.

For the food movement to have a serious impact on the issues that matter — climate change, the average American diet, rural development — these heartland communities need to be involved. The good news is, in several pockets of farm country, they already are.

“Sustainable” food here means organic. Oh, and small producer: you know, one who cannot get economies of scale because they’re running too few acres. but, you know, if people want to produce this way, live on the pittance they can earn in this manner, good luck to them and all who sail with them. and if people want to buy their produce similarly good luck. However, there’s something of a problem:

But just as these rural efforts started gaining steam, an unfortunate thing happened to the urban food movement: It went local. Hyperlocal. Ironically, conscientious consumers who ought to be the staunchest allies of these farmers are taking pledges not to buy from them, and to eat only food produced within 100 miles of home.

Montana has perhaps three people in addition to all those cows. And it’s a lot more than 100 miles away from any of the hipsters who are interested in small scale organic farming. And those hipsters are all eating local. Which is, don’t you think, just so lovely a problem?

Those urban aesthestes are simply missing the point of farming altogether. Which is that it’s a land hungry occupation (organic even more so than conventional) so it makes great sense to do that work where there’s no people. Farming right by the big cities of the coasts, where land is hugely expensive (because there’s lots of people in those big cities) is simply not a sensible manner of using the resources available.

Just so much fun to see the fashionable being hoist on their own petard really.

Sometimes men and women want different things

Sometimes men and women want different things. Their actions in labour markets are one example of this. That’s OK, even if it results from socially constructed gender roles, so long as it leads to good lives for both genders. One recent example of where this might be the case comes in a new paper studying the mathematically gifted. (Hat tip to Stephen Hsu).

Two cohorts of intellectually talented 13-year-olds were identified in the 1970s (1972–1974 and 1976–1978) as being in the top 1% of mathematical reasoning ability (1,037 males, 613 females). About four decades later, data on their careers, accomplishments, psychological well-being, families, and life preferences and priorities were collected.

Their accomplishments far exceeded base-rate expectations: Across the two cohorts, 4.1% had earned tenure at a major research university, 2.3% were top executives at “name brand” or Fortune 500 companies, and 2.4% were attorneys at major firms or organizations; participants had published 85 books and 7,572 refereed articles, secured 681 patents, and amassed $358 million in grants.

For both males and females, mathematical precocity early in life predicts later creative contributions and leadership in critical occupational roles. On average, males had incomes much greater than their spouses’, whereas females had incomes slightly lower than their spouses’. Salient sex differences that paralleled the differential career outcomes of the male and female participants were found in lifestyle preferences and priorities and in time allocation.

Men and women differed widely on a large number of metrics. Particularly, men, much more than women wanted high pay, risk taking, merit-based compensation and, work involving physical objects. On the other the top three things women valued more than men were, in order: working no more than 40 hours a week, working no more than 50 hours a week, and working no more than 60 hours a week.

It’s OK for people to have different preferences, and it’s OK for those preferences to differ not just within groups but across groups. That’s because satisfying people’s job preferences is what gives them general satisfaction and happiness with their job (shock! horror!) Some people may want men and women to be more alike, and that’s fine, but we should do this keeping in mind the costs that may impose on both groups.

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