Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Christ, what a moron

If the Reuters comments system wasn't so annoying I wouldn't have to bother you lot with these ... also from Felix's site, Alan Greenspan:

Since the devastating Japanese earthquake and, earlier, the global financial tsunami, governments have been pressed to guarantee their populations against virtually all the risks exposed by those extremely low probability events. But should they? Guarantees require the building up of a buffer of idle resources that are not otherwise engaged in the production of goods and services. They are employed only if, and when, the crisis emerges.

An earthquake, in Japan, is not an "extremely low probability event". Like the eventual collapse of the San Andreas Fault (which will not be a "Black Swan", when it happens, btw), it is pretty much a probability one event. It is a low frequency event, but that is not the same thing at all. The words "only if, and" should be deleted from the last sentence quoted above, which makes the whole thing correct and shows you why social guarantees against inevitable but difficult-to-plan-for events are an obviously good idea, which is why literally every literate society ever has had them as a top priority. Alan Greenspan presumably hasn't got life assurance because seriously, death, how many of those are you likely to go through in your life?

Tangentially related to this, and to the post below, the original Twitter rumour that motivated that discussion was one to the effect that "Piers Morgan has been sacked by CNN". I would say that this is in the class of statements that were false when made, but which are basically true statements waiting for reality to catch up with them. If the newspapers ever mistakenly print my death, I plan to write to the obits editor concerned and reassure him that "History will vindicate you one day".
9 comments this item posted by the management 7/29/2011 05:28:00 AM
We're all linked up in a great big social network. Not you, you're in a different network

Illegally copying music, calling people nasty names on the internet ... the world is full of things which are a) basically pretty obviously morally wrong, but b) fun. And therefore, there's always a market for clever and counterintuitive arguments to the effect that they are actually not wrong at all! They're just new! And probably actually quite essential to our modern way of life.

So it is, I think, with the modern, wired, "connected", socially networked concept of "passing on spurious shite that you read off Twitter". Which differs from mere "gossiping" in a myriad ways which take five hundred words to explain why. Felix explains that Twitter isn't really a kind of broadcast media, it's a social networking site and so the standards should be those of the lads and lasses gossiping in the news room, not yeractual journalism.

The thing is, is Twitter like a newsroom? Maybe. But you know, given the job I do, I pretty much know from rumours. And in my world, although people trade in tips and hearsay all the time, you make a pretty big effort not to get a reputation for passing on crap. And if you do pass on something that turns out to be bollocks, I think you'd expect to apologise to the people you passed it on to. I expect that newsrooms are just the same - that journalists do gossip a lot with each other, but that it isn't possible to have the reputation of your professional work completely isolated from the quality of the stuff you pass on there either. In actual fact I'm sure Felix thinks so too - Twitter has a direct message facility and if Felix used that to pass on a rumour to me, I'm sure he'd regard himself as standing behind it.

So I think that in the view of Twitter linked above, Felix wants it to be like a newsroom, but like a newsroom which happens to have a massive tour party of schoolchildren or visiting trade delegations walking through it. People who are just visiting a newsroom are allowed to hang around, and pick up the excitement of the general vibe, and they can even get a bit of a vicarious thrill by listening to some of the goss that nobody dares print, or the stories covered by superinjunctions. But if you're an outsider you're certainly not allowed to rely on the miscellaneous blag you happen to overhear in the newsroom. There's a small interlinked social network of people who trust each other and swap information, and who value their reputations with each other for sifting out good stuff from bad, but who also know how to interpret each other's style and are usually aware of how much personal credibility someone is investing in a particular piece of information (the FT Alphaville blog even does this with marks out of ten).

And then there's a horde of plebs who are allowed access to the unmediated stream, but they don't have any idea of the underlying matrix of Bayesian weights that would allow them to make it into anything useful. And the insiders' view of the outsiders is that the outsiders should only be viewing this stuff as entertainment and they hardly give a toss if the outsiders end up materially misinformed, because the outsiders shouldn't be using the proceeds of their eavesdropping as a source of information in the first place; if it's information they want, they can get their backsides down to the newsagent and pay for it.

It's definitely got an internal logic. It seems a bit odd to me, but then I come from a somewhat different culture. This tension between media industry insiders and outsiders[1] from off the internet has been playing out for years now, and it's still fascinating.

[1] Particularly, of course, outsiders who are actually a bit tasty themselves - "gentlemen" who are better than the "players". I've remarked in the past that contra Andrew Marr, "bloggers" are in general normal human beings who, in their area of expertise, know a hell of a lot[2] more than he does. But this was actually underselling things; there have been plenty of regular commenters on my various blogs who as far as I can tell were actually teenagers (and who therefore probably did live with their parents, and probably did have occasional outbreaks of acne) and I've often been very impressed indeed with the level of knowledge of quite specialised areas that they were able to demonstrate based on nothing other than curiosity, lots of spare time and widespread availability of primary sources online. It really is a new information economy in some ways.

[2] A wonderful example of this was at some lecture when David Aaronovitch, after talking for an hour about bloggers, excused himself with the words "I have to leave because I'm going to an interview with the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. You wouldn't get a blogger doing that". I calculated at the time that if you added up the contributors and blogroll of Crooked Timber, between them they would likely have had sufficient hours of face-time with Amartya Sen that if he'd been an aeroplane, they'd have been able to fly him.
8 comments this item posted by the management 7/29/2011 03:12:00 AM

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To infinity, and beyond

Even though I am not really a fan of much science fiction this is really good news. via theguardian blog.
52 comments this item posted by the management 7/26/2011 07:14:00 AM

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ee-aye-ee-aye-ee-aye oh, up the World Bank Income Classifications we go!

Yay! The land of my birth gained promotion to "Lower middle income" from "low income" last week - this is the development economics equivalent of getting from the Conference to League Two. Zambia were promoted alongside fellow perennial resources-state battlers Ghana.

As the Guardian article points out, although this has a lot to do with the copper boom (and Chinese investment), it is also the case that foreign aid increased as a proportion of Zambian GDP, and the authors are correct to note that this is a palpable win for the "aid works" lobby.

Also interesting: pop-up solar powered internet cafes. One of the Great Lost Posts from "project Zambia" three years ago was going to be an explanation of why I was much more sympathetic to the "one laptop per child" idea than most of my mates - stripped of the child-related mawkishness it was a great big ICT development strategy. And as we noted, the thing about human beings is that we really like communications technology, and we're often surprisingly good at using it.
1 comments this item posted by the management 7/21/2011 06:58:00 AM

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The world's second lowest productivity industry

Unemployment. Furthermore, despite decades of technological advance in the rest of the economy, unemployment remains stubbornly at the bottom of the pile. There have been no major efficiency gains in unemployment in the last hundred years.

Normally I am sceptical of industrial policy, but when the government starts talking about moving resources out of unemployment, I think there is good reason to believe that they might be picking a winner.

[regular readers of this blog will, of course, be aware of what the world's first lowest productivity industry is, and perhaps of the curious tendency of right-wing political parties to want to subsidise it]
29 comments this item posted by the management 7/20/2011 06:11:00 AM

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Around and about in Companies House WebCheck

The Centre for Social Cohesion, number 06609071 - annual return overdue!

The CSC were taken over by the Henry "Scoop" Jackson Society earlier in the year, but their company registration is still marked "Active", and they're now two weeks away from triggering a fine. A bit worrying because the Scoopies have historically had excellent organisational skills (when it comes to administrative matters anyway - on things like avoiding some really embarrassing tacking-in-the-wind with respect to Hosni Mubarak, less so).

Worth noting, btw, that although historically the legal entity has been "The Henry Jackson Society Project For Democratic Geopolitics" (a trust registered with the Charities Commission), there is now "The Henry Jackson Society", a company limited by guarantee number 07465741, which is also registered with the CC. I am not sure why - Philip Blond's Respublica has two legal entities for fairly sensible VAT reasons, so it's probably that. In any case, since CSC is now folded into H'S'JS, they ought to either get rid of the legal entity or make its filings properly - they are registered to the same address on Pentonville Road so it shouldn't be difficult.

Update: Meanwhile, the Quilliam Foundation, the organisation for reformed Islamist morons, is holding an event for former EDL morons. As always, the USP is "I have a history of being a hell of a moron, so you should listen to me". Because if you can't rely on morons, who can you rely on?

There is actually a business model here. Northern Ireland (I seem to remember Marc Mulholland once telling me) has quite the cottage industry of reformed terrorists doing the learn-from-my-terrible-example circuit (substantial overlap with the "True Crime" thrill-to-these-depraved-deeds industry), but England and Wales less so. The trouble, there as here, is that in many cases, people who have shed their extremist beliefs have not always finished losing the deep-seated personality problems that drove them into extremist politics in the first place. There's a niche for the twelve-step people here; rather than taking up our time with their policy programs and suchlike, I think Quilliam would be better advised to get into the rehabilitation business full-time and rebrand themselves Morons Anonymous.


5 comments this item posted by the management 7/13/2011 01:48:00 AM

Friday, July 01, 2011

Nukemen, slight return

Further evidence that it would only be possible to have a sensible debate about the role of nuclear in the UK's future energy strategy if we first got rid of nearly everyone currently working in nukemanship, on both the industry and policy sides.
60 comments this item posted by the management 7/01/2011 12:51:00 AM

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