Sunday, December 29, 2013

Does Dynamic Pricing Have a Speed Limit? Should It?

On the heels of the big Uber flap over its dynamic pricing model, and Matt Yglesias exploring alternatives to explicit dynamic pricing schemes in the restaurant industry, there's been a lot of discussion over the variability of prices lately. The reasons are pretty clear: technology and the internet have crashed the costs associated with setting up transactions down to essentially zero. A corollary of this is that with an algorithm (or the click of a button) you can change prices constantly. Input commodities have had rapidly-changing prices for a long time, but front-end dynamic pricing has been limited in the customer service domain (hotels, lobster shacks, etc.) Clearly we're seeing the conflict that arises when people's norms and expectations don't keep pace with technological change.

Dynamic pricing seems to be mostly a good thing. It uses resources more efficiently (along the intensive margin), allows more price discrimination (charging people what they're willing to pay), and incentivizes new supply during peak times. But in some areas there are probably limits to the social gains to be had from ever-faster price changes. The best example of this is high-speed trading in financial markets, which now operate at speeds far exceeding what their supposed capital-allocation function requires.

As parts of the economy become more "service-and-flow"-oriented (also called the "sharing economy") and less ownership-based, the moral implications of constantly-shifting prices become apparent. If few people own cars and simply order the service of road transportation (from self-driving cars, or cheap ride-sharing programs), everyone becomes very exposed the uncertainty of changing prices. Certain groups (like those with money!) will be better able to cope with the added uncertainty. If you can't say for certain how much your parking meter is going to cost before you leave the house, maybe you'll just stay home.

Perhaps everyone will simply adapt and routinize price-checking in the morning alongside their coffee and newspaper, but for people who's mental bandwidth is already stretched this could be a problem. Lifestyle complexity is regressive. From this perspective, certain forms of regulation can be justified on the grounds of limiting the adoption of dynamic pricing. I've tended to be a big supporter of eliminating building and rental/housing restrictions, but imagine what a truly efficient housing sector would mean in sellers-market conditions: would renters have to pay different amounts every month? Every week?

We're already seeing business trying to reduce the stickiness of their labor costs by rebalancing to more part-time and temporary workers. While the macroeconomic effects of this trend might be nice (for GDP growth at least, not so much for unemployment), more and more dynamic pricing in key sectors could also have worrying pro-cyclical implications. The effects of demand shortfalls could more easily (and more quickly) ripple through previously isolated areas of the economy. How these competing effects of faster price changes actually compare in the data is a underexplored topic for researchers.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Strange Fashion Moment

Random cosmic convergence or a sign from the fashion Gods?
Photo Credit:
The fashion industry is one of the most dynamic and fascinating. The nearly complete lack of intellectual property rights means that for designers and brands to stay on top, they must constantly innovate. Add to this the complex interplay of copying and variation between cultural and demographic groups, as well as the influence of technology, trade policy, and economics, and you've basically got an endless source of interesting developments.

One of the weirdest fashion incidents in recent memory occurred about a year or two ago and lasted for just a blink of an eye: a total convergence by most major fashion groups on a single item. North Face technical jackets somehow became totally awesome and cool among urbanites of all income and racial groups, young professionals, rural hippies and bohemians, established government and business professionals... the list goes on and on. I won't attempt to explain why this miraculous trend singularity happened, but it's fascinating to realize that each fashion group arrived at the North Face technical jacket by a different path, each with their own history and internal logic.

edit: spelling

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Quote of the Week

"American hunting has thrived because it shuns the elitism and snobberies of the Old World. With each passing year, market forces have delivered weapons and gadgets that allow anyone to play Teddy Roosevelt, big-game hunter, further democratising the hunt. Yet to advocates of primitive hunting, those same forces--faster, easier, bigger--weaken the sport's Rooseveltian values, and help explain its slow decline. Thanks to bowhunting, recent trends have been on the primitivists' side. The juggernaut of commerce is now catching up. A very American contest looms."
That's from a fantastic article in The Economist's special holiday issue about bowhunting in America.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hypothesis About Chinese Takeout and Christmas

Many readers might be aware of a somewhat tongue-and-cheek, possibly mythical tradition among Jews to order Chinese food for dinner on Christmas. Presumably its origins lie in the idea that most places serving Western cuisine are closed. Without having any data available, or really taking the time to look for any evidence whatsoever, it seems highly unlikely that this tradition, if it exists, would generate any offsetting bump in sales.

Even assuming the tradition is real and substantial, I'd guess that there's some big substitution effects and selection bias at play. It seems likely that the type of person who is going to: A) know about the tradition, and B) observe the tradition, is also the type of person who likes Chinese takeout a lot and eats Chinese takeout regularly. This means eating Chinese food on Christmas probably just substitutes with some other day of the week where it would have been ordered, resulting in no net sales increase.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Avatar: The Last Airbender is Stunning in it's Technical Perfection

Photo Credit:
Bear with me here. I know cartoon television shows aimed at kids eating Lucky Charms on a Saturday morning don't usually attract critical attention. Especially Japanese anime-styled cartoons. But by ridding yourself of prejudice regarding the appropriateness of viewing a lighthearted, solidly un-hip kids show, you may walk away thoroughly impressed. On several key technical dimensions, this show simply blows everything else away (including big-budget, high-concept cable and internet offerings).

A few takeaways:

1. Dialogue: More and more I'm coming to the conclusion that, outside of particularly skilled artistic circumstances (Tarantino etc.), good dialogue requires the periodic joke or comment that puts the viewer off-balance. Typically this means breaking out of the stiff formality of mundane plot-furthering dialogue and having characters say something that's believable from a real-world perspective. Similar to breaking the fourth wall, dialogue that makes me think "I would respond in a similar way" heightens focus and spurs reflection in an intellectually rewarding way. Avatar does this all the time.

2. Humor: Viewers who have difficulty enjoying anime--or cartoons in general--might not appreciate Avatar's humor. The comedy style in anime (and to a lesser extent American cartoons) is quite well-defined with fairly strict conventions regarding certain emotional symbols and visual devices. Avatar adheres to these conventions, but employs humor that is slapstick and creative, offering a refreshing break from the dark- and dry-humor that dominates most narrative shows these days.

3. Story: Simply incredible. The show is built around a band of travelers seeking out various spiritual masters scattered throughout an ancient world. The protagonist, a sort of "chosen one" type figure, is a kid who was frozen in ice, seeking to correct the damage that's been done in his absence by an unconstrained militaristic empire. Exploring an impoverished world at war allows for a really interesting take on the moral ambiguity of truly desperate people willing to do anything to survive. A rich historical background is revealed gradually throughout the show.

4. Characters: Every single episode furthers each character's development. And, amazingly, bit characters develop fast and actually return. This is one of the most unique and refreshing aspects of Avatar. The show is built around three seasons but one main story. Each show is variable in it's weighting towards furthering the plot, but in no way does it split between "monster of the week" episodes (to borrow X-Files' formula) and mainline plot episodes. Almost every character is pretty original, which is a feat.

5. Philosophy: Avatar mostly concerns the training of young warriors in various magical martial arts disciplines. What's impressive is the way Avatar infuses real-world philosophy and spirituality into its zany cartoon world. Brahminism, Shinto, warrior folk religions, various branches of Buddhism (Tibetan Buddhism is represented by the "air" caste which resides in cloistered mountain monasteries) are all readily apparent.

6. Correct Use of Aww: This is a pretty new concept that's been popularized by the internet. Employing cute animals to trigger the emotion of "aww" is quickly developing to rival in importance the old mainstay artistic categories like humor, drama, and action. Animals are important devices because their endearing ignorance and purity is used as a foil: when things get too serious they pleasurably jolt the viewer and make everything light-hearted. While related to humor, cute animals are something different. Avatar uses animals and the concept of "aww" to great effect.

7. Style: Most great cartoons try and carve out a unique style, and Avatar succeeds in a curious way. The animation isn't unique at all, but the show still conveys a strong sense of style through creative world-building. The setting is essentially a fictional amalgamation of stylized Asian indigenous cultures. The series winds its way through a detailed anthropological exploration of architecture, clothes, spirituality, and martial arts styles. Additionally Avatar is filled with quirky stylistic easter eggs that add depth and texture over many episodes. For example, most every animal in the show is a comical combination of two real-world animals, like a "pig bear" or "cat owl". It's just incredibly weird.

8: Deepness of Theory: I don't really know how to describe this aspect of the show, but it's the #1 thing that stood out to me when compared to other great cartoons. It's sort of like the combination of a) logical consistency within the fictional world and b) attention to detail. The magic/martial arts they invent in the series involve the ability of certain individuals to manipulate elements using specific martial arts techniques. In most cartoons, magic and superpowers are used only in order to have cool action and maybe a bit of character development. This almost always leads to there existing logical applications of superpowers that never show up on camera. Avatar fully explores the limits of the fictional world they've constructed, so if you say "well if you can control water why don't you manipulate blood," this actually pops up in the show. Maybe call it "logically extensive world-building" or something.

9: Good Vocabulary: The advanced concepts and general lack of dumbing-down is great.

In general the core idea of merging fantasy magic with Asian martial arts techniques is a damn good one, and allows for tons of creativity. But that's not entirely why the series succeeds. The idea of world-building within one culture and then dividing it up into four sub-cultures all based around simple-to-understand elements (and the commonly-understood emotional associations with these (e.g. air = free, fire =  rage etc.)) makes a basic model of culture that facilitates the exploration of differences. The main themes of Avatar: war, diversity, importance of history, duty, honor, violence vs. nonviolence, importance of family and love, exceptionality vs mediocrity, competition between freinds etc. are all complicated, but Avatar flawlessly navigates this terrain. Not bad for a Saturday morning cartoon.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Patent Pending: Guinness Book of World Records Science Museum

I recently stumbled across another article about the quietest place on earth (this room gets periodic internet coverage), and it really made me want to check it out to see how long I could last. It got me thinking that since I'm probably not the first person to have this thought, perhaps there's an opportunity there.

Providing ultra-quiet spaces for meditation and curiosity satisfaction wouldn't be realistic by itself (unless there's some really amazing DIY soundproofing out there), but bundled together with other competition-based science demonstrations, one could likely create quite a draw. Manhattan's promising Museum of Mathematics is tragically underfunded, but its best exhibits are those where a specific optimal outcome is explored and achieved only through an understanding of the underlying science.

Extending this idea of "the science of limits," one quickly sees the synergy with Guinness' powerful world records brand. Allowing paying (or suggested-donation-giving) customers to learn about and compete for world records on the spot could be an amazing educational and brand-building opportunity. In addition to trying your hand at total silence, one could imagine visitors racing against projections of Usain Bolt's world record 100m, reciting memorized digits of pi, programming rubik's cube-solving robots, or singing on pitch.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Example of Good Government

Globalization and has exposed us to terrible risks
Photo Credit:
I tend to take a pretty cynical view towards government and the policy process in general, so it's important to highlight the occasional example of things going right. The FDA recently declared its intention to raise the cost-benefit bar for antibacterial soaps, forcing manufacturers to prove their health benefits.

Basic economic theory holds that when markets fail, government's role is to step in with a corrective. Classic examples might be antitrust rules (preventing monopolies), the Toxics Release Inventory (reducing information asymmetries between employers and workers), and taxes on alcohol (forcing prices to reflect the true social cost of goods).

Reducing the quantity of antibiotics floating around by making their production and distribution more costly is a perfect case of government action. Individual pharmaceutical firms don't have to bear the full social cost of increasing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so they produce more antibiotics than is optimal. The FDA is internalizing this externality. Although antibiotic-resistance is a problem in the here-and-now (reducing the efficacy of drugs), its real harm is to increase the tail risk of global pandemics. Such low-probability, high-impact events are often overlooked in public policy, so it's refreshing to see some action on this front.

Facebook Isn't Doomed

Jay Yarrow in Business Insider today had an interesting piece on Facebook, saying it's doomed because sleeker one-function apps like Snapchat and Twitter will crush its individual services, which are complicated and burdened by the need to all fit together. This is certainly a real problem, but I think he underappreciates the resilience of Facebook's position and the simplicity with which the issue could be fixed.

Facebook has a tremendous advantage simply by being the first, biggest, and most popular social networking service. Good networks are all about scale, and Facebook remains the most important medium for maintaining relationships across time and space. Additionally, by bundling together different services, Facebook insulates itself from the failure of any single one. This allows time to adapt and incorporate whatever innovation an upstart competitor may have created. The rise of Twitter was a major challenge for Facebook, but its existing customizable profile pages, simple messaging service, and weird "poke" thing remained enjoyable enough to allow the rejiggering of the "wall" into the Twitter-like news feed.

The issue of too many functions creating too much noise could possibly be corrected with better sorting algorithms or design, but here's an even simpler solution: break Facebook into chunks. If problems arise when many different services have to be packed together on the same webpage or application, why not release a bunch of apps that do just one thing? Have a "profile viewer" app, a messenger app, a photo app, etc.  By erecting optional barriers between Facebook's different services, it could partially replicate the design advantages of its competitors. Having a number of minor Facebook apps would also allow experimentation with different color schemes, something that might be helpful in establishing a sheen of "newness" for all those cool-hunting kids.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Epigenetics Can Help Fix Nutrition Science

Aeon recently posted a great essay critiquing the popular 'selfish gene' analogy, exploring new layers of complexity biologists have since uncovered within the process life uses to propagate itself. One of the hottest new concepts has been 'gene expression' or epigenetics. It's basically the insight that not all genes affect their organism in the same way; some heritable changes can occur that aren't caused by changes in DNA sequence. This promising new field muddles the nature/nurture question in a most intellectually-rewarding way.

One of the greatest potential applications of epigenetic thinking is in the field of nutrition science. Explaining exactly why someone's body fat percentage is what it is remains a murky and contentious area, ironic given the global obesity epidemic. Much of the confusion stems from the difficulty in parsing out heritable effects from lifestyle and cultural factors. As an example of the theoretical clarity epigenetics can provide, consider this question that I've long wondered about (and never found a satisfactory answer to).

Most people agree body fat percentage is in part driven by heritability: kids tend to share the body type of their parents, and we all know people who can eat whatever they want and remain skinny. This heritable component likely contributes to the difficulty people experience when trying to change their basic body type in a sustained way.

So here's my question: say you have a heterosexual couple, both with a propensity to fatten, and they've lived much of their lives overweight. If they had a kid, odds are the kid would share this propensity. Now consider what might happen if the couple decided to buckle down, lose weight, and get in shape. What would happen to the kid? The parents' genes certainly haven't changed, so one might expect the kid to still be cursed with a propensity towards accumulating body fat. But it seems strange to imagine, say, parents who've been thin and fit for 10 years having a kid with a propensity to fatten.*

Epigenetic effects can help explain why this scenario seems unlikely: after 10 years of thinness, the parents have probably undergone major biological changes that are somehow 'locked in' and get passed on to their children.

Hopefully researchers will someday be able to understand the exact dynamics of interactions such as this. If we knew definitively, for example, how long parents must sustain weight loss in order to gift a thinness propensity to their children, it would be a tremendous benefit to society. One can easily imagine compassionate parents being strongly incentivized to lose weight and get healthy themselves in order to enable their children to live better lives with greater opportunity.

*admittedly there's some confounding effects here: parents who are able to make big lifestyle shifts like sustained weight loss probably are insane fitness nuts who are likely to influence the behavior of their children

Friday, December 13, 2013

Quote of the Week

"The crux of the problem is that our national data systems and the social facts they produce are based on a normative view of economic and domestic life as stably situated in households. As a  result, people who are institutionalized, unstably housed, or tangentially connected to households are commonly overlooked in statistical portraits of the American population.
 In this book, I show how inmates and former inmates are categorically and systematically excluded from the data collection efforts that frame American social policy and social science research. Their exclusion clouds our understanding of the American economic, political, and social condition. Decades of penal expansion coupled with the concentration of incarceration among men, black, and those with low levels of education have generated a statistical portrait that overstates the educational and economic progress and political engagement of African Americans."
That's from the foreword of Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress by University of Washington sociologist Becky Pettit. While biasing statistical data sets probably isn't the most consequential effect of mass incarceration, it certainly is shocking and a great example of the difficulty inherent in most large-scale statistical research. When Noam Chomsky talks about "objective" in the media and big governing institutions really meaning, "from the perspective of the rich and powerful," this is very much the type of thing he's referring to. For deeper look check out this fantastic EconTalk interview with the author.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Information Nexus

1. Must-Read Fukuyama of Political Decay
2. Solid Mashup of 2013's Big Pop Music Hits
3.  Minimum Wage Vs. EITC
4. Excellent Short Film on the Plight of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
5. Does Nelson Mandela Prove That Leaders Matter? and this Response

Reviewing Movies From 10 Years Ago is Risky

Ed Power in Slate has an interesting article today critiquing New Zealand as the filming location for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, basically arguing that Middle-Earth is described in the books as much older and darker than New Zealand's geography allows for. I'm fairly agnostic regarding the importance of fidelity to source material in film adaptations (there's much to be said for stylistic differentiation and uniqueness of vision), but he makes a good case--almost.

Setting aside the obvious fact that Peter Jackson's representation of Middle-Earth was driven by many more factors than simply filming location, I think Power falls into a fallacy that's common in reviews for movies released a long time ago: he evaluates decisions made 15 years ago using the film standards of today. While the passage of time occasionally allows positive and negative truths to emerge by filtering out noise (judging presidents, for example), in this case it warps his analysis by setting up an unfair standard.

Critiquing the Lord of the Rings trilogy as insufficiently dark and gritty ignores the effect the films themselves had in establishing that very expectation. The films were major global hits that shifted the trajectory of fantasy moviemaking towards gritty epicness, setting the stage for the current state of gloomier, quieter fantasy. Lord of the Rings was plenty dark when it came out, and it's unfair to claim it didn't go far enough.

Note: Although the Hobbit movies are being released now, fundamental decisions like filming locations and cinematographic style are essentially locked-in from the previous trilogy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Planet Money T-Shirt is Going to Have a Huge Black Market

Planet Money, a fantastic radio show/podcast/blog popularizing economics has recently been working on a cool project following the complete supply chain of a simple branded cotton t-shirt. The idea is an extension of the book Travels of a T-Shirt by Pietra Rivoli that many of us probably read in an introductory macroeconomics class.

Delivery of the shirts is fast approaching, and naturally the coverage and publicity of the endeavor is increasing. Strangely, however, only people who pre-ordered the shirts months ago during the very earliest phase of the project will be able to purchase them. If you've recently been turned on the the show, or are just now hearing about these t-shirts, you're out of luck. My prediction is that the buzz surrounding these shirts will generate considerably more demand than the fixed pre-ordered stock, creating a financial incentive for certain enterprising econ nerds to resell them on a secondary market.

I suspect that encouraging this behavior may have been the Planet Money team's plan all along, and covering the secondary market would be a great opportunity to do a show on price discovery and the role that prices play in revealing information about consumers.

Is the New Mobile Tech Trend Solving or Bypassing the Real Problem?

This guy understands it's not all about energy efficiency
Photo Credit:
Wired this week had a few good articles about a hot new (old) trend in the mobile tech arena: passive wireless communication between devices. Apple has a new system call iBeacon, and Foursquare is using clever programming to allow phones to automatically check-in. In both cases, the primary innovation is the reduction of battery drain. Seamless passive communication is a key step towards realizing the 'internet of things' and rebooting the failed Grafedia idea, so hooray.

Limits on energy storage have long been a limiting factor preventing engineers from packing ever-more goodies into mobile devices; lithium ion technology and micro-fuel cells are steadily improving, but not keeping pace with other design areas like miniaturization and heat regulation. Squeezing more utility out of existing batteries is great--it's maintaining the pace of advancement everyone's come to expect from mobile tech. The story of human progress has largely been one of increasing energy efficiency.

But in a certain way this trend represents progress along the wrong margin: the real problem is inadequate energy production and storage technology. Even the cool powermats that allow wireless charging are attempts to get around this nettlesome limit. Nearly all historic predictions about the future failed to recognize the great advances we've made in communications and information technology, instead emphasizing the wondrous gizmos enabled by a world of unlimited free-flowing energy. I'm glad I live in a world brimming with social and cultural change, but to truly realize the sci-fi future we've all dreamed about, we'll need more than awesome energy efficiency.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Unionization is Tough at the Low End

Wonkblog has an interesting and somewhat rambling discussion of the various troubles at one of the nation's biggest unions, IAM. The end contains an interesting nugget about some of the underlying dynamics of decreasing unionization in the US:
"If you're trying to organize a new group, it's usually a low-paid group, and how are you going to tell them they have to pay $70 a month, and they don't know what for?" Asuncion said in an interview. "It's the dues structure that's killing us."
I often hear liberals talk about the failure of workers at the low-end of the skill/wage spectrum to unionize and how it's an error of short-term thinking, but I think this quote is telling. Although low-wage jobs have less turnover than one might expect, not supporting unionization may very well be a rational economic calculation. Unions provide economic benefits to their workers in a less concrete, more long-term way. Dues, on the other hand, are paid monthly and take a greater share of total wages the lower you slide on the income scale. Add to this that the primary weapon of unions--the strike--is a potentially devastating strategy for low-wage workers who are struggling to get by each month. If employers know that strike threats have no teeth, the bargaining position of unions (and the benefits they can promise) becomes shakier. Additionally, an increased emphasis on organizational culture and employee engagement by business undercuts some non-economic functions of unionization, such as establishing a shared identity, improving workplace conditions, and aggregating information from lower organizational levels.

On a semi-related note, many professional athlete unions have difficulty bargaining with owners because their strike threats are equally romantic: if nearly all of your total lifetime income is made within just a few years as a sports star, losing just half a season is potentially very costly.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Absurd Protectionism in the Sugar Industry is Great!

The Washington Post recently had a horrifying report on the domestic sugar industry, which through political influence has managed to establish itself as a resilient rent-seeking coalition. Government protection via price controls, import quotas, and loan guarantees raises prices, enriching manufacturers while hurting consumers and impoverishing foreign producers. It all sounds pretty terrible--your classic public choice dilemma, right?

While it's true that this regulatory kludge makes almost everyone worse-off by economic standards (real income, productivity, growth), I can't help but see a paternalistic silver lining to the status quo. The state of nutrition science is increasingly converging on the idea that sugar is astonishingly damaging to individual health and is a primary driver of the epidemic of metabolic syndrome and its associated ailments (obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's). While I haven't studied the elasticity of consumer demand for sugar, typically when you make something more expensive, you get less of it (though not always!).

The social and economic benefits of consuming less sugar are probably huge, and certainly under-appreciated. Having a healthy and vigorous citizenry is a virtue in and of itself, but also enhances the capacity of people to pursue and realize their own goals. A simple tax on sugar would be vastly more socially and economically optimal, but given the current sluggishness of our legislative branch, I'll take what we can get.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Feminist Defense of the Taxi Cartel

In most major US cities, the taxi industry is highly regulated, mandating all sorts of service standards and ownership rules. Unsurprisingly, many of these rules seem to be designed to restrict the supply and innovation of new market entrants, thereby protecting incumbents (taxi drivers and taxi companies) by keeping prices high and revenue streams secure. The flip-side of this arrangement is that for most people, getting someone to drive you around in a car is more difficult, more expensive, and less convenient than it otherwise would be.

With the rapid adoption of smartphones, a few upstart companies (Uber, Sidecar, Lyft) are attempting to break into the field, offering consumers the promise of radically convenient transportation options through gps-hailing and ridesharing. These innovations threaten the high wages of incumbent taxi operators, and currently an ongoing political battle is being waged in cities across the country to negotiate the entry and potential disruption of the industry.

In general I've been very sympathetic towards the disruptors: they're bringing technology to an outmoded industry, they're helping usher in the 'service-and-flow' economy (also known as the sharing economy), and most importantly they're helping to increase the real income of city-dwellers by reducing the price and increasing the accessibility of transportation.

Most of the pushback I've heard defending the status quo typically revolves around either concern for the livelihoods of taxi operators, or safety. The first point is silly: existing taxi operators have no substantive claim on special wage supports compared to any other service sector, and the gains realized from reform would mostly flow to consumers, of which there are many.

Up until recently, I've been content to brush off safety concerns as basically a 'bootlegger and baptist' phenomenon: cartel defenders talk about ensuring minimum safety standards and the moral solemnity of taxi drivers, but that's just a marketing ploy to keep themselves well-protected from competition.

However, in a recent conversation on this topic I was a bit thrown off by a safety-based argument I hadn't truly considered: that because I was a man my framing and analysis of this issue had led me to undervalue the potential safety issues of a more unregulated taxi industry. The habit of getting into a random car with a total stranger without a second thought is a social achievement that's been built up over time in part because of government's explicit backing of taxi operators. Any potential change in this situation runs the risk of undermining the relationship of trust implicit between taxis and riders. It would probably only take a few highly-publicized murders or sexual assaults for a new unregulated technology-mediated taxi industry to lose trust and collapse.

Information Nexus

1. Explaining the Economics of Star Trek and a Response
2. Answer to a Question Everyone's Surely Asked
3. Skeptical Take on the Guaranteed Income Idea
4. Nice Analysis of the Bicycle Dilemma (and good hyperlinks too)
5. The Math Mutation Podcast Covers Arrow's Theorem