Grow Dat? Yes, Grow That!

"Go ahead, you know you want some strawberries. You don't have to hide under there, you can eat them."
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It’s an old observation that connecting with the land and the natural cycles of agriculture is a great teacher of humility, wisdom and common sense.  This is why agrarian philosophies are resurgent.  Some mull over philosophies, other live them. New Urban News highlights the Grow Dat program in New Orleans.  As the video shows, they’re […]

A pi-ful of people

The U.S. Census has at least one employee too many.  They’ve noticed and sent out a press release to let us know they estimate that at about 2:29 PM on August 15, 2012, the:

“U.S. population clock will reach … 314,159,265 residents, or pi (3.14159265) times 100 million. Pi is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.”

And, by the way, we passed that threshold on automobiles quite some time ago.  Our means of transportation have long out-numbered us.

Praise for Nanocivics

Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute says it’s “full of creative ideas.”

Each of us face a choice that’s so basic to everyday life, we take it for granted and neglect it.  Booker T. Washington and Mao Zedong had radically different approaches to the choice.  Which one are you following?

Check it out here.


Taxing Food

San Fransico is home to many things and confusing food taxation seems to be one of them. 

This SF Weekly article takes the approach that not taxing food is hurting the poor:

In 2009-10, California collected $42.2 billion in sales tax. In the current year, California’s Department of Finance estimates revenue losses from exempting food and bottled (non-carbonated) water to be nearly $10 billion — with much of this money staying in the pockets of people who would be difficult to categorize as requiring “tax relief.” This comes at a time when programs aiding the needy — the very people California aims to benefit by limiting food taxes — are being systematically dismantled due to lack of funds.

Hmm… If only everyone paid taxes on food, we could give money to the poor to help them buy the expensive food.  Great thinking, SF Weekly.  Perhaps low prices on food for everybody would be a better idea.

Nevertheless, the article does a great job highlighting the arbitrary nature of government oversight of any field, and food taxation in California does seem to provide some comic examples: 

Among many hundreds of rulings, California’s Board of Equalization has decreed that, specifically, a product called “Dr. Chen’s Secret Sauce” is food (as are “Tom and Jerry Eggnog Batter” and communion wafers), and therefore exempt from tax; aloe vera juice is a dietary “adjunct” and therefore taxable; and honeybees’ royal jelly could be either, depending on the description on its packaging, and may or may not be taxable.

Carbonated water and most carbonated juice drinks are taxable; carbonated 100-percent juice is not taxable; but carbonated alcohol-free wine is. … Hearings before the Board of Equalization determining that the sale of the very same batch of carrots would or would not require collection of sales tax if the buyer is a homeless shelter (no), a racetrack (yes), an ostrich farm (no), or a zoo (maybe) take on [an] absurd specter …

 We’d love to hear some feedback from any of our California friends, let us know any of your stories.

Only Heterogeneous Ideas Reproduce and Other Insights of Urban Economics

Agglomeration economics is the bulky name for one of the most interesting ideas of urban economics.  Mainly, that there are benefits, some measurable, other not, to putting lots of different activities and enterprises close to one another.  Edward Glaeser describes for us in City Journal:   

… a city’s long-term success depends on its hosting many industries, since real breakthroughs pull ideas from more than one field. More than 40 years ago, Jane Jacobs argued in The Economy of Cities that new ideas came from combining old ideas. Nighttime baseball combines baseball with electric lighting; graphic computer interfaces merge old-fashioned pictures with basic computing functions. Michael Bloomberg became a high-tech billionaire not in Silicon Valley but in New York, thanks to his firsthand knowledge of what technology a stock trader needed at his desk. To innovate, in Jacobs’s view, you often need to borrow the insights of another occupation—and since diverse cities contain many occupations, they should encourage more leaps of insight.

As a hint for my microeconomics class, the whole article linked above is well worth reading prior to the next test. 

Also, check out these urban economics links:

     A classic example of applied urban economics

     My answers to the extra credit on Urban Economics Answers


Ikea City

Can Ikea be a City, too?

IKEA’s announcement that they will be building an entire city took many by surprise.  Yet, look at it as a logical extension of their brand.  Sure, we in America know them as stores but in Russia, for example, they also serve as mall and retail center developers.  

If a running shoe seller (NIKE) can methodically expand their brand to football jerseys, why not IKEA?  It just goes to show the power of identity in economics: being known is a pre-requisite to making an exchange. 

But, can they be successful?

Taken together, the excerpts below lend some hope that they understand the small-scale relationships of public life (nanocivics!) enough to pull it off: 

  • “We are in keeping with the Ikea philosophy: We don’t want to produce for the rich or the super-rich; we want to produce for the families, for the people,” says Harald Müller, the head of LandProp, the property-development branch of Inter IKEA…
  • The 1,200 homes and apartments, 40 per cent of them large enough for families (making it a much more child-filled place than most post-industrial developments), will be priced to appeal to a range of incomes, the Swedes promise.
  • “We’re about human scale, we’re about building things to a high design and a good quality, because we are long-term investors,” explains Andrew Cobden, the project’s manager.
  • Ikea’s builders say they’re not interested in a Disney-style kind of an animatronic spectacle. Rather, they’re seeding Strand East with evocations of spontaneous urban life in hopes that it will become spontaneous urban life; they say they’d be happy to see it shift and evolve to suit market conditions.

Good luck, IKEA, the last phrase, suit market conditions, is certainly one we’d like to see more often.

Micro Link for April 2

Traffic congestion in Singapore provides a classic example of a negative externality.

March 26 Micro Links

Price discrimination by language barrier.

Why regulate at all?  Why does regulation matter?

Here one reason regulations matter.

Also, we have fun with game theory:

Part 1 from jodiecongirl

Part 2 from jodiecongirl

And here’s the place to practice your game theory.


Macro Links for March 5

Here’s our items from class today:

A key employee explains the Federal Reserve.

A key economist explains why he doesn’t like the Federal Reserve.

A good explanation of how banks create money.



Turning Athens into Hong Kong

Tyler Cowen linked to this excellent post on Athens by Megan Greene. She relates a regulatory burden so high that she found herself in, “a bookstore/cafe that could neither sell books nor make coffee.”  That’s not quite square with the media portrayal of Greece as hopelessly impoverished by either slothful residents or bare of natural resources.

As the story implies, the problem isn’t something about the Greek people or land, but the anti-capitalist system imposed upon them. Greece ranks 119 out of 179 in the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, last of the EU countries. Maybe fixing that would help the economy grow out of the debt situation. It would also help with the culture situation, free people do tend to take the initiative a little more often.

Athens could be the next great place for a capitalist haven. Just as Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan (1st, 18th, 19th in the rankings respectively) are high growth off-shore havens beating the state-controlled Chinese economy (ranked 138th), Athens could be the nearby haven for the increasingly sclerotic European Union.  If they let nanocivics operate organically, they might actually accomplish it.