Monday, October 26, 2015

Intellectual Property for Jewelers

My wife noticed this morning that some jewelry she had bought was a knock-off of a local craft artist's work. Which inspired me to do some research on intellectual property for jewelers.

Turns out that designs can be copyrighted or (if three-dimensional) patented. Copyright protection is easy and cheap, but patents provide more protection. This bird's short take on this is to copyright almost everything; patent only designs that you expect to make a lot of money from.

Oooh, shiny!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review: Phishing for Phools

Akerlof and Shiller, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception. Princeton University Press, 2015. 257 pp.

This book, by Nobel-winning economics professors George A. Akerlof (Georgetown University) and Robert J. Shiller (Yale University), is an extended discussion of the role of fraud in economics. The authors argue that fraud is a natural feature of unregulated markets and that fraud is as subject to economic equilibrium as any other product. They back the argument with multiple historical examples, including a short history of advertising, abuses in the pharmaceutical industry, a history of the discovery of the health risks of cigarettes.

One entire chapter is spent on the return on investment of lobbying (at least 100 to 1, in the examples they give) while avoiding partisanship and current issues. Their examples are chosen to be safely in the past. It must have taken serious self-restraint not to talk about the financial disasters of the 2000s and the influence of lobbying and publicity on environmental politics. Instead they discuss the S&L crisis of the 1980s and the way the tobacco industry twisted and continues to twist the public reporting of the health risks of cigarette smoking. Application of their arguments to current issues is left to the readers.

The book makes a powerful case against the libertarian model of economic policy. In what sense is there meaningful freedom if the public is widely deceived and if every common error of thought and, indeed, simple human sympathy and self-interest, is exploited? It seems to me that Akerlof and Shiller have done for microeconomics what Keynes did for macroeconomics; exploded the case for anarchism and even what libertarians call "minarchism"--simple minimal laws governing economic behavior; such simple laws are invariably phished. Instead, they have made a case that law and regulation--governance--is required for a peaceful and prosperous society.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Where All the Drivers Are Above Average

I remember, back when I rented cars regularly, I would get enormous pressure from the rental agents to say that I was “completely satisfied.” I was pressured to give them fives on a one to five scale. They hinted, probably honestly, that their management penalized them if a customer gave them less than those ratings.

I hated it. I despise pressure to give complements. On top of which, what would I say when someone did an unexpectedly good job, or an extraordinary one? There was no space on the scale.

And then, it got worse. Firms like Uber fire drivers who get ratings less than 4.5 stars. Customers all know it, and drivers know what the customer ratings are, so if you want to do business with these firms, you are under enormous pressure to give five-star ratings.

Thanks to this, five stars is a C. There is no way to give A’s and B’s. Maybe the drivers were all born in Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.”


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Brief Look At Travel Sites

(As of May 3, 2015)

It seems that Google has bought ITA, which is now Google Flights, and Microsoft has bought a bunch of other travel sites, whch are now all Expedia.  The remaining player in the market is Priceline’s  Google will send you to a single airline site to book all of your flights, Microsoft’s Expedia acts as a travel agency, Kayak sends you to airline sites.

For really cheap travel, uses an auction system, but you never know if you’re going to be routed through New York on your way from Seattle to Walla Walla.

Me, I travel as the crow flies.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Problems with Affordable Care Act Tax Forms

At the end of the year, the various exchanges are required to send 1095-A forms to people who took advantage of the ACA tax credit. Unfortunately, there are conflicts between the exchange databases of tax credit data and the insurance company tax credit data and a large number of incorrect forms have been sent by two of the largest exchanges: the Federal and Covered California.

  • At the Federal level, some 20% of users, about 800,000 people, have been sent invalid 1095-A forms. Statement from the Federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Corrected forms will be sent. People who filed based on the invalid forms will be contacted by "the Treasury," likely the IRS. If you have a account, log in to it to find out if you have been affected.

  • California has not yet issued a statement. The LA Times reports that 100,000 incorrect forms have been sent. According to that report, corrected forms will be sent out soon.
The CMS reminds us that only 50,000 tax forms have been filed so far, so relatively few people have been affected. On the other hand, people who get the ACA tax credit are not making good money, so they may have filed early so that they get their tax refunds early.

The best practical coverage I have seen so far (but what do I do?) comes from Kelly Philips—"taxgirl" (girl?)—at the anti-Obamacare Forbes. She promises updates.

Myself, I think that the miserly nature and complexity of the ACA made some screw-up likely. It's not the liberals who want a bureaucratic state. It's the conservatives and the libertarians, who want each penny accounted for, for fear that some undeserving person might have picked one up.