Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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- From a cat cushion to Bill Murray and a nude to a demon horse sculpture that killed its creator
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- A weird view of the Wheel - and cats in Tiger
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Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
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Counting Cats in Zanzibar
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Economics
Yesterday evening’s rather blatant quota photo was because yesterday, I (a) failed to do my blogging duties here in the morning, and then (b) went on a photo-walk, from which I returned in a state of exhaustion. It was all I could then do to pick out just the one nice photo and shove it up, accompanied by just enough words for me not seem rude.
Single photos are good when I have nothing much to say, nor much time or energy to say it with, because they take very little time to do or to look at. They don’t exhaust me. Nor do they take up much of your time unless you decide that you would like them to. It’s up to you. You can be done with a photo in a second, literally, while still quite liking it. Or, you can contemplate it for as long as you like, even for as long as it might take you to read a quite long essay. What you do not want from a blogger who is posting only for the sake of it is a long essay, which turns out to be saying nothing. That you can not get a nice little second of fun from and be off, certain that you probably missed very little. Hence quota photos. Hence also quota quotes, provided they are short, and to a point.
This blog is where, among other worthier things, I boast about what a clever fellow I am, given that not many other people are in the habit of saying this. A recent incoming email from Michael Jennings, entitled “You told me about this 12 years before the New York Times did”, gives me another opportunity thus to indulge.
The New York Times piece is this, which is a about how rich people have less stuff than poor people, because stuff is now so cheap.
And I said this in this, just over twelve years ago, as Michael says.
I’m guessing it’s the BJT Bosanquet reference that he particularly remembered.
This coming Friday I have another of my Last Friday of the Month meetings at my home in London SW1. This coming Friday is, after all, the last Friday of the month, so the logic is inexorable. Every Friday (even if the last Friday of, say, December 2014, happened to be Boxing Day, as it was) there is a Last Friday of the Month meeting at my home.
I have been having email problems, in the form of people using gmail suddenly not receiving my emails, so even if you thought you were on my list but hear nothing via email, be assured that this meeting will happen. Try emailing me (which should work) and then telling your spam filter not to reject my reply, which you will have to do despite it being a particular individual reply. I know, crazy. I hope to write more about this problem in a posting at Samizdata, Real Soon Now.
Or, if you intend coming to this particular meeting, you could leave a comment below, and I will respond saying message received and look forward to greeting you.
Anyway, this coming Friday (Feb 27), Pete Comley will be talking about inflation. He has recently published a book on the subject, which you can learn about in this posting at Comley’s website. And you can hear what Comley sounds like and a little of how he thinks by listening to this short interview with Simon Rose of Share Radio.
The thing about Comley is that he takes a long-term - very long-term - view of inflation. He began a recent talk I attended by discussing inflation at the time of the Roman Empire.
And in the long-term, there are not one but two major influences on inflation. There is, of course, the supply of money, by the powers that be who have always insisted upon supplying money. And when they make too many coins, too many bank notes or create too much bank credit, the price of regular stuff in shops goes creeping, or rocketing, up. But there is also the demand for that regular stuff. In particular, human population fluctuates. At some moments in history, population shoots up. At other times it falls, or at the very least the rate at which it increases falls. Just now, in country after country, the birthrate is falling, and that has consequences for inflation.
Before you say it, I’ll say if for you. Many simply define inflation as the first of these two processes but not the second. Inflation is what money issuers do to the money supply. A price rise caused by rising demand is simply not inflation. It is a mere price rise. Fair enough. It certainly makes sense to distinguish these two processes from each other, however hard it may be for consumers to do this when both are happening to them. And if you do that by restricting the definition of inflation in this way, then be aware that Pete Comley’s talk will be about inflation thus defined and about price rises sparked by rising demand, and for that matter about price stability caused by static demand. (He says, by the way, that we might be about to enjoy just such a period of price stability. And although you can never be sure about such things, better handling of the recent financial crisis, and we might have got there already.)
There is also the question of what causes money issuers to inflate, in the second and more restricted sense of inflation. They seem to do this more at certain historical junctures than at others. Inflation, restrictively defined, does not just cause bad economic experiences; it is itself caused, more at some times than at others.
All very interesting, or so I think. Libertarians like me tend to be quite well informed about recent monetary history and about the evils of fiat currencies, the Fed, the Bank of England, and so on and so forth. We tend to know a lot less about similar episodes in the more distant past to what he have recently experienced. In general, we are more interested in the fluctuating supply of money than in the way that population fluctuations influence prices.
Pete Comley has a small but particular soft spot for me, on account of me having been the one who drew his attention to this book about the long-term history of prices (The Great Wave by David Hackett Fischer), which seems to have had quite a big influence on his latest book, which is called Inflation Matters. It certainly does.
I just came across this Economist piece from last November (I think that link will keep on working), saying that there may soon be ultra-cheap trans-Atlantic flights. I did not know this.
Norwegian Air Shuttle, a low-cost carrier that has been expanding rapidly across Europe, has begun flying across the Atlantic and to Thailand. Next March Wow Air, an Icelandic carrier, will start flights on routes such as Boston to London, via Reykjavik, with introductory prices as low as $99 one way.
Time was when …:
… the fuel burned by long-haul planes made up a large proportion of the cost of operating the flights. That made it hard for budget carriers to find enough cost savings elsewhere to cut prices sufficiently to tempt flyers to switch from carriers offering more comforts.
This is now changing, with the launches of some new and far more fuel-efficient planes: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, already in the air, Airbus’s A350, which will start flying within weeks, and a revamped version of Airbus’s A330, coming in 2019. Ryanair’s boss, Michael O’Leary, recently reiterated a promise that he would eventually sell transatlantic flights from as little as €10 ($13) one-way and with average return fares of around €200-300. The full-service airlines will also be ordering these new planes, but their cost disadvantage compared with the nimble budget carriers (because of such things as their legacy pension schemes and labour agreements) will become more stark.
Perhaps I will one day set foot in the USA after all.
As for that Economist link above, no, unless you subscribe. You have to google “making laker’s dream come true”. Then you can read it.
Or: this link seems to get you straight to a recycled version of the piece.
That’s Bryan Caplan, complaining about something called the Human Development Index, in a piece entitled Against the Human Development Index.
At this blog, I am finding my one-a-day habit quite easy to stick with. Part of this, I think, is that the penalty (in my mind) of failing to do something today is (in my mind) very large, by which I mean very large when set beside the effort of doing something (which can be something very easy to do).
Most people talk about habits and how you get into them as if they are all about, well, habit. The brain is automatically triggered to do whatever it is, whenever, each day, or whenever you have just done something else. You lock your door when you leave your home when nobody else is there. After dinner, you immediately wash up. Whatever. It becomes painful to neglect such habits. And there is, I’m sure, plenty of truth to such notions.
But the relationship between cost and benefit is also significant, regardless of mere mental triggers. The longer you have been able to stick with a good habit, the worse it feels to break it, because of all that past investment. On the other hand, the penalty for sticking with a bad habit (like me failing, yet again, to do a Samizdata posting after a longish dry spell there) is not great. Percentage-wise it is tiny. Instead of your dry spell lasting twenty days, it lasts twenty one days. Big deal.
This is surely part of why getting out of a bad habit is very hard, at first, and getting into a good habit is hard, at first. The prices of each particular failure are small, at first. But as the good habit persists, the price of a failure to maintain it rises, while the cost of maintaining it stays the same, or (because of the mental trigger effect) actually falls. (You get, as the saying goes, into the swing of it.)
Talking about “past investment” in a habit sounds like the “sunk investment fallacy”. This is where you persist in investing in something not because the future investing you do will be profitable, but because of all the investing you have already done, even though future investment will be lost also. But the reason why there is a special name for this error is that the sunk investment “fallacy” feels like it is true even when it isn’t. The label exists because the error is so tempting, and consequently so common. If you do not persist, all that past investment will feel wasted. And of course, if continuing to “invest” in the habit will actually be beneficial (if the habit would be worth starting now even if you hadn’t already started it), then you really would be wasting all that past investment, if you let the habit slip.
I am not sure about this, and am not confident that I have expressed this very well, perhaps because I have it a bit wrong. But that is the sort of thing that this blog is for. I post half-baked thoughts and thereby get to bake them a bit more.
One obvious complaint about this kind of thinking is that blogging is supposed to be fun. Well, for me, it is fun, when I can make myself do it. Above all, it is fun when I have done it. So, although not all aspects of doing it are fun, it is still fun, mostly.
As discussed in this earlier posting, here is a chunk of Frisby, from his book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? (pp. 197-201 – the chunk entitled “Beware the hype cycle"). And for the reasons stated in that earlier posting, this posting might rather suddenly disappear, so if you feel inclined to read it, do so now. And then when you have, buy the book and tell me that you have done this in the comments, because this might cheer up any passing authors or publishers:
There is a cycle that a new technology passes through as it goes from conception to widespread adoption. The research company Gartner has dubbed it the ‘hype cycle’. It has five phases: the technology trigger, the peak of inflated expectations, the trough of disappointment, the slope of enlightenment and the plateau of productivity.
In the first phase the new technology is invented. There is research and development and some early investment is found. The first products are brought to market. They are expensive and will need a lot of improvement, but they find some early users. The technology clearly has something special about it and people start getting excited. This is the ‘technology trigger’. The internet in the early 1990s is a good example.
As this excitement grows, we move into the second phase. The media start talking about this amazing new technology. Speculative money piles in. All sorts of new companies spring up to operate in this new sector. Many of them are just chasing hot money and have no real product to offer. They are sometimes fraudulent. This new technology is going to change the world. The possibilities are endless. We’re going to cure diseases. We’re going to solve energy problems. We’re going to build houses on the moon. This is the ‘peak of inflated expectations’. This was the internet in 2000.
But at some point, the needle of reality punctures the bubble of expectation, and we move into the third phase. Actually, this technology might not be quite as good as we thought it was; it’s going to take a lot of work to get it right and to make it succeed on a commercial scale. A great deal of not particularly rewarding hard work, time and investment lies ahead. Forget the ideas men – now we need the water-carriers. Suddenly, the excitement has gone.
Negative press starts to creep in. Now there are more sellers than buyers. Investment is harder to come by. Many companies start going bust. People are losing money. The hype cycle has reversed and we have descended into the ‘trough of disappointment.’ This was the internet between 2000 and 2003.
But now that the hot money has left, we can move into phase four. The incompetent or fraudulent companies have died. The sector has been purged. Most of those that remain are serious players. Investors now demand better practice and the survivors deliver it. They release the second and third generation products, and they work quite well. More and more people start to use the technology and it is finally finding mainstream adoption. This was the internet in 2004. It climbed the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, the fourth phase of the hype cycle, and entered the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ - phase five - which is where the likes of Google, Amazon and eBay are today.
Of course, cycles like this are arbitrary. Reality is never quite so simple. But it’s easy to make the case that crypto-currencies in late 2013 reached a ‘peak of inflated expectations’.
Perhaps it was not the. It wasn’t Bitcoin’s dotcom 2000 moment – just a peak on a larger journey up. Many Bitcoin companies, for example, are not even listed on the stock market. Greater manias could lie ahead.
But it’s also easy to make the case that it ws the peak of inflated expectations. In the space of three or four years, Bitcoin went from an understated mention on an obscure mailing list to declarations that it was not only going to become the preferred money system of the world, but also the usurper of the existing world order. At $1,000 a coin, some early adopters had made a million times their original investment. Speculators marvelled at the colossal amount of money they were making. The media were crazy for it. Bitcoin was discussed all over television.
It caught the imagination of the left, the right and the in-between. Computer boffins marvelled at the impossibly resilient code. Economists and libertarians marvelled at the politics of a money without government or border. There were early adopters, from the tech savvy to the black markets (black markets are usually quick to embrace new technology - pornography was the first business sector to actually make money on the internet, for example).
Every Tom, Dick and Harry you met under the age of 30 with an interest in IT was involved in some Bircoin start-up or other. Either that or he was designing some new alt currency - some altcoins were rising at over a thousand per cent per day. ‘Banks, governments, they’re irrelevant now,’ these upstarts declared.
I suggest that in late 2013 we hit the peak of the hype cycle - the peak of inflated expectations. Now Bitcoin is somewhere in the ‘trough of disillusionment,’ just like the internet in 2001. The price has fallen. There have been thefts. Some of the companies involved have gone bankrupt.
The challenge now is for all those start-ups to make their product or service work. They have to take Bitcoin from a great idea and a technology that works to something with much wider ‘real world’ use. They have to find investment and get more and more people to start using the coins. This is a long process.
There are many who will disagree with this interpretation. And, with investment, it is dangerous to have rigid opinions – I reserve the right to change my mind as events unfold.
How the internet is cheering up Art
Marginal Eurostar economics
At the Libertarian Home cost of living debate
Bill Bryson on the miracle of crop rotation
ASI Boat Trip 4: Groups of posing people
ASI Boat Trip 3: Drink!
Cashing a cheque by photoing it
I need a new passport but just now passports are a problem
Compact Cats buried under London’s poshest homes
How much does it cost to power up a mobile phone?
Anton Howes – James Lawson – Will Hamilton
Nothing from me here today
Well that’s a relief
Green screen blue screen
Sam Bowman on Bleeding Heart Libertarianism
Detlev Schlichter talking about Von Mises (and being videoed)
Big Things happening in the City
Happiness is still Gold Blend at only £3 instead of £4.50
Happiness is Gold Blend at only £3 instead of £4.50
Anton Howes at the Rose and Crown
Corrie Chipps pictures the Zimbabwe inflation
The next four Brian’s Last Fridays (including December 27)
Amazon pricing puzzle
The Times of May 24th 1940
Bad and good in bad weather
Views from Kings College
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
The mystery of the one good photo
Better a year late than never
Photoing people who are photoing food
Click to see the big picture
And on my other personal blog …
Talk by Frank Braun about Bitcoin at my home on Aug 3rd
Why I do not share Johnathan Pearce’s admiration for Bjorn Lomborg
Steve Baker MP
Occupy St Paul’s pictures
Street social services management integrated command sub-centres
James Tooley discovers private schools for the poor in the slums of Hyderabad
Matt Ridley’s demolition of CAGW
Go Gary Johnson!
Freedom Tower and Gary Johnson at Samizdata
A review of Detlev Schlichter’s new book (multiplied by 4)
Kevin Dowd last night
David Friedman on the similarity between fractional reserve banking and insurance
My personal Fixed Quantity of Blogging unfallacy
Empty tables and empty chairs
Words for bloggers to live by
No fruit juice
Five pictures of me
Science can relax about the harm done to it by Climategate
Rally Against Debt signs
Gordon Brown curses the United Kingdom
Nil scrap value
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom not threatened by the end of the Big Thing Boom
Pictures of Detlev Schlichter
Everything competes with everything
The Big Dig and some smaller digging
Let us now trash infamous men
Why I prefer blogging to writing for a magazine
Climate science as make-work for former Cold Warriors
Potential dental interruption
Me and Patrick Crozier talk about the banking crisis and its possible consequences
Thoughts on England not just keeping the Ashes but winning the series 3-1 (with asterisks)
Emmanuel Todd quoted and Instalanched
Dawkins does better sound than God ever did
Obamanomics dod not work
Talk at Christian Michel’s
The joy of error correction
Those cameras are getting cheaper
“I was banished to a separate room …”
Help with Audacity please
Mmmmmm … Asian skyscrapers!
The curse of interchangeable lenses and how I want my category killer
K Street - metonym - synecdoche
Which just goes to show that stuff gets around
Andy Flower urges England fans not to punish cricket for being corrupt
Ten thoughts about the Pakistan cricket corruption story
Toby Baxendale on what went wrong and what to do about it
A picture I want to remember
Reading various bits of Roger Kimball
Snappy quote from Victor Davis Hanson that may or may not actually be true
Tim Evans looking happy
At the launch of Alchemists of Loss
Spare A3 paper
Big box computers versus laptops
As strong and sweet as the free market itself
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom twitter of the day before the day before yesterday
Darling and Darling cat
Watching IPL cricket beats watching England play rugby
SAY NO TO GOVERNMENT MOTORS
Happy New Year and how to save seventy thousand quid
Burj Dubai looking semi-sane
The Shard is definitely being built!
Picture of an aftershock of the credit crunch rippling around the world
Talking with Toby Baxendale
Apple mobile phones are very profitable but Nokia mobile phones are not very profitable
Wuhan railway station under construction - with sunset behind
Pictures of Anthony Evans
Scrounging Englishmen and stories too good to check
Paul Marks on the financial crisis and on the badness of Obama
Under a hundred copies
Why I vote against AGW
Great speech by Kevin Dowd in Paris which should be available to listen to soon
Another London lump?
Laptop for emails
Minimum Wage flatvert at Guido’s and Iain Dale’s
Indy Flatverts and a Guido Q&A
IPL continues to literally trump proper cricket
Croziervision of default
My opinion of yesterday’s budget
The Vita-Mix 5000 at the Veggie Show
At Samizdata: cricket - crime - Kevin Dowd quote
James Tyler’s speech at Policy Exchange
Lawrence H. White on the Scottish experience of free banking
My confusion about free banking
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
Kevid Dowd video now up and watchable
Work begins on the Shard of Glass
Don’t blame banking
Paul Marks on the financial crisis
TARP stuff - and a trip to Sheffield
Meme for the New Depression
Kevin Dowd says what should be done
Commenting about the Dowd lecture at Samizdata
London continues to build big
Michael Jennings on shoring up the bad old economy versus building a good new one
Is the contemporary art bubble bursting?
P. J. O’Rourke confuses the average with the significant
The Official Story and the Most Confident Alternative
I have not been living beyond my means
Why Willem Buiter blogs and why I do
Cheap CDs and sopranos I’ve never heard of
Ruminating about politics and ideology
Another pendulum theory
Metaphor muddle alert
Guido Fawkes conflates the Monetarists and the Austrians – needs to chat with Antoine Clarke
Reasons to be a bit more cheerful
Antoine and Michael on what to do now
Antoine Clarke on the financial turmoil and the US election
Gordon Brown to guarantee everything
Tom Burroughes on the banking crisis
Not the book I want to read right now - maybe later
Profundity and silliness
It only takes One Rich Lunatic
On classical music voice addiction
Armed is less dangerous
The British Public continues to dislike too-high-and-rising taxes
Voice of God journalism
Eurovision sense from Squander Two
To let – one Ark
Paul Marks told us so
Big, Bigger, Biggest - starring Heathrow Terminal 5
Flat pictures for flat screens
Cuba before Communism
The petty cash effect cuts in for Linux
Linux versus Windows - the bigger tiny laptop breakout
The economics of Jonathan Ross
Has global warming stopped?
Another don’t-get-it-right-get-it-written Samizdata posting
A bog standard (but rippling and therefore ultra-cool) tower soon to be built in Chicago
Billion Monkeys and a Real Photographer at the Golden Umbrellas
When the penny drops
The bridge that was going to make Westminster a fine city and London a desert
Eurostar says goodbye Waterloo hello St Pancras
Aid rewards low growth
Will China fail?
The double thank-you moment
Antoine Clarke on Sarkozy
Free trade explains the success of the Swedish Model
Serious tax cutting
Darrin M. McMahon and me and George Orwell on the pursuit of happiness
Emmanuel Todd (4): From ideology to economic progress
Leon Louw talks about the habits of highly effective countries
Geek girl I like your thinkings - are nice - I want have sex with it
It only takes two idiots
Should blogs - this one in particular - specialise?
Remembering the Alternative Bookshop experience
Two Red Bull pictures
The Wealth of Networks
Pauses - Indian accents - English names
To be controlled in our economic pursuits means to be dot dot dot controlled in everything
“The basis is economic development”
Thoughts on habits and on killer apps