Posts Tagged ‘trade’

In place of wooden and corrugated metal shacks with trash fires out back, there are stuccoed buildings, nicely painted houses with landscaping, and public garbage collection. Where lots of folks in countries to the north do their shopping in poorly stocked stores run out of people’s houses, Costa Rica has American style grocery stores in every town where you can buy anything your heart desires: artesanal cheese, capers, fresh meat to name a few. Instead of the rolling hills full of cows, horses, and cowboys … in Nicaragua, we rolled by enormous plantations of pineapple, sugarcane, and papaya worked by big, industrial tractors, and headed directly for export. The country smells of prosperity and piña. … From La Fortuna, we made our way through resort land and around Lake Arenal to the little town of Nuevo Arenal … where there are no bars on the windows. It’s quite a striking thing to notice. After months of seeing ironwork in front of ever pane of glass, to be looking out of the hotel through a huge clear window is an interesting luxury. … Rather than wandering unmarked trails in a National Park, you have to pay someone $10 to go look at a waterfall. … The rainy season has arrived, so we are [adjusting to] wet weather. Sometimes we stop for shelter, and sometimes we ride on through. One day, after we thought we’d waited out the rain and headed on down the road, it started pouring, and looked like it would continue all night. As there were no hotels that we could see reachable that afternoon, we asked a logging/trucking company if we could sleep in their shed. The dude started to send us on our way to an hasped he knew, but then changed his mind, realizing we were much happier stopping right then for something dry and dusty than riding some more in the pouring rain in search of a pricey hotel room. He asked us all about our trip, brought us a tarp to lay on the floor, and explained that he used to drive trucks all over the province without knowing where he’d sleep, and he’d spent many a night sleeping in corrals with the animals. 

July 16, 2012

What does it mean to be the wealthiest country in Central America?

July 4, 2012

The seeds of my dissent from economic orthodoxy were pretty much sown for me by my 1st professor on the 1st day of my 1st economics class.

This prof had gone to a great personal trouble to begin our exposure to the dismal science with a very down-to-earth and super-important lesson. She went so far as to spend her own cash on some things from the store, of varying cost, and gave us all at the beginning of the class random items. Some people got candy, some got socks, one or two got things of greater value.

This was a masterful teaching stroke, by someone who cared deeply about her subject and teaching it to newbies: she would have us all participate in voluntary trade within the classroom and end up than we started. Gains from trade—the fundamental point about economics—are really “the only thing we know about welfare”. Sure, some people start off with more—more wealth, more smarts, better looks, genes that will make them grow taller so they can reach the mayonnaise jars from the back—but hey, at least we can make all of them better off and not hurt anyone by allowing them to trade freely.

Right?

We each reported, on a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied we were with the Stuff we had been randomly given at the beginning of the class, and the prof wrote these scores down on the board. Then we were asked to stand up, walk about the room, and see if anyone would voluntarily exchange Stuff with us. Multiple transactions were allowed, even encouraged—and after a few minutes of cluelessly blitzing with each other, the trading day was closed and we resumed our seats.

The prof asked our scores again, fully expecting that ∀i in the class, utility before utility after.

But one girl reported a lower score.

Instead of taking this as evidence against her belief that transactions are always mutually beneficial—a cornerstone of normative economic theory—the prof instead scolded the girl. “Well, what’d ya do that for?!”

By the way, this was not a prof who prepended test questions with the phrase “According to the theory we learned in class,” which means I still dispute that I got that one about the lobstermongers right! (Since it asked about “What would happen” not “what the theory says would happen”.)

At the time I thought the outburst a bit rude and over the years to come I remembered the episode. (well, obviously) I still think of it as a microcosm of certain intellectual misdeeds by economists. The framework is too important to hold onto; if anyone undermines then you get angry and yell at them! It’s a plausibility war, after all.

Not too far off from real comments by economists: But if you took away the mutually-beneficial assumption, then you’d have no theory at all! (Regardless of whether nullset is the only true theory we have.)

The assumptions about what goes on in transactions are so appealing that even when you see them violated in front of your eyes, they’re still so implausible and—hey—what about all this stuff I learned about indifference curves? If I saw so many graphs with them not overlapping or going backwards, then that has to be the truth, because maths!

Nevermind that people don’t always know what they want, or maybe it’s contradictory or impossible, and even in well-defined classroom experiments they may just, um, do it wrong.

Happy Independence Day. Here’s to hoping you don’t use the independence to shoot yourself in the foot.

February 12, 2012

commodification

  • same hopes & desires
  • same choice of stores
  • the same houses and the same decorations in those houses
  • EFFICIENCY
  • fruit from the other side of the world

part II

  • Do our sexual norms derive from the invention of chimneys in the 14th century?
  • the invention of table manners
  • furniture, music, buttons, wainscoting, and intellectual pursuits — all due to the Little Ice Age?
  • lower and upper classes slept in the same hall, with the animals, around a fire, in the manor-house days. And had sex right in front of each other! omg! Economics begetting morals (I mean seeing thru to the 19th century)
  • So the Little Ice Age was the beginning of privacy. Speaking of not having sex in front of each other, maybe it contains as well the roots of abortion as well as the roots of Victorianism. Privacy norms were made law in 1979 in the United States, to the chagrin of anti-abortionists. Since then and before, appeals to privacy as a fundamental human right have been made to justify any victimless crime (homosexuality, libertinism, drug use … some of which are no longer criminal). What if our conception of this “natural human right” is just a function of the history of global temperature?

part III

  • Jamestown, VA versus charcoal
  • Economics before capitalism. Sounds like the ruler had the economy’s interest at heart — a growing economy means more to tax.

part IV

  • before trains, each village was more-or-less a genetic island. Not that no-one swam the waters to marry someone from the next town over, but genetic interchange among geographically dispersed humans was slow. As transport became cheaper and faster, procreation between Poles and Germans, Lyonnaise and Bretagnes, Spanish and Portuguese became more common.

June 17, 2011

Shipping lanes and Road networks in the world.

via shipping & logistics