There’s been a lot of interesting talk about “homo-economicus” on the blog this semester, so I figured it would be fun to close things out with a post on “robo-economicus.” That is, robots using strategies modeled on economics to cooperate. Let me explain… A few months ago, I was applying for REU positions in mathematics and computer science. One of the programs I considered was Oregon State University’s Robotics in the Real World. In doing my due diligence in preparing an application, I stumbled upon this paper, “Learning to trick cost-based planners into cooperative behaviour.” In the paper, the authors essentially Continue reading Robo-Econimus

The Economy as a Complex Adaptive System

Lately, I’ve been reading up on emergent phenomena, systems in which complex behavior “emerges” from small scale interactions between relatively simple elements. Free market economies is a poster child of emergence–no one entity plans out every actor’s behavior. Rather, resource allocation decisions “emerge” from the local interactions of a large number of economic actors. I found some of the comments that Keith Downing made on free market economics in his book “Intelligence Emerging” fascinating, and figured I’d share them here for you all to appreciate. The eye-opening fact that the world works without excessive global manipulation and without many guarantees may initially Continue reading The Economy as a Complex Adaptive System

Public Opinion on Trade

The way that candidates on the campaign trail bat around the issue, one might think that trade is near universally accepted as a bane of the American economy. It is well known that a large majority of economists favor trade. I was surprised to discover that a slight, but not insignificant, majority of Americans currently favor free trade. NPR recently put up an article discussing data from Gallup that follows US public opinion on free trade matters over the last few years–what percentage of Americans many saw trade as a threat versus as an opportunity. Here is the chart NPR published: The chart suggests that public opinions Continue reading Public Opinion on Trade

Jeff Bezos’s Economic Prophecy

A few weeks ago, Jeff Bezos (of fame) invited reporters to tour his space venture “Blue Origin.” The company has existed in some form or another since the early 2000’s, but this was the first time that Blue Origin held a formal press event. The New York Times put together a great article on the event, written by Kenneth Chang. While much of the proceedings focused on the business plans and technological achievements of the firm, Bezos also took a little time to extoll his vision for the future of humanity (as you might expect from a billionaire who privately bankrolled a Continue reading Jeff Bezos’s Economic Prophecy

Facebook’s New Reactions

In the past few weeks, you might have noticed that Facebook rolled out new ways for you to react to your friends’ posts. You’re no longer limited to just “liking.” Now, among other things, you can express laughter, “wow,” sadness, and anger. Fom the user’s perspective, is almost definitely a good thing. Deciding whether it’s polite to like a post about your friend’s dead pet fish was always tricky. You might think that providing a more nuanced way to react to your friends’ lives explains why Facebook implemented this feature, but that’s not the whole story. Providing a satisfying user experience isn’t their only Continue reading Facebook’s New Reactions

Why Negative Interest Rates Even Work At All

Reading Lorraine’s post last week on negative interest rates, I did a bit of a double take. “Negative interest rates!?,” I wondered, “Why would any right-minded entity enter into such a disadvantageous arrangement?” Well, it turns out that having money–as in actually possessing currency–can be costly, especially if you have very large amounts of it. NPR’s All Things Considered put out a nice little exposition on this concept. One of my favorite parts of the story is a quote excerpted from a speech by Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer that lays out why holding currency can be costly: “It turns out that holding currency is Continue reading Why Negative Interest Rates Even Work At All

Cost Per Vote in New Hampshire

This post is a follow-up to my original post a few weeks ago about campaign spending per vote in the US primary elections. When I wrote that post, only information about the Iowa causes was available. Now, New Hampshire data is available. NPR put together a great table tabulating the TV advertising expenditures of campaigns in that state for all the major candidates, in both parties. You should click over there and look at it. Some interesting tidbits from their analysis: Jeb Bush, like in Iowa, burned a lot of cash but it didn’t translate to votes. Spending over $30 million dollars Continue reading Cost Per Vote in New Hampshire

Campaign Spending Per Vote: Part II

After last week’s post on cost per vote figures last week, I decided to keep the ball rolling. Here are some more figures, compiled from various sources. US Presidential Elections 2012 The Cato institute estimates that, in the general election, the Obama and Romney campaigns directly outlaid $10.37 per vote received and $7.11 per vote received, respectively. Factoring in allied spending, these figures rise to $16.73 per vote received and $20.09 per vote, respectively. Scottish Independence Referendum 2014 The BBC reports that a total of £6.7m was spent by campaign groups in the lead up to the referendum. Around 3,620,000 people cast Continue reading Campaign Spending Per Vote: Part II

Jeb’s Dismal Return on Investment in Iowa

How much should it cost to buy a vote? Not in the direct sense, but in terms of how campaign expenses incurred stack up against the number of votes received. Take a moment and make a mental guesstimate of a reasonable figure. $20? $200? For Jeb Bush and his Super-PAC, that figure was $2,800 in Iowa: $14.1 million divided by around 5,000 votes received. The runner-up in this ignominious statistic was Mike Huckabee, whose campaign spending amounted to slightly under $1,000 per vote received. The Huffington Post put together a fascinating comparison of the Republican field on this metric. To see how Jeb stacks Continue reading Jeb’s Dismal Return on Investment in Iowa

Police Seizures Balloon

Economimist Martin Armstrong recently claimed that the monetary value taken in by police seizures exceeded the monetary value of damages due to burglary. In 2014, around $4.5 billion dollars were seized by the police while only $3.9 billion dollars were lost by burglaries. As Martin writes, “this means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals.” Now, this is a somewhat arbitrary comparison; the fact that one value exceeds the other doesn’t hold any inherent meaning in particular. A large part of police seizures come from drug trafficking networks and other criminal syndicates not directly connected to Continue reading Police Seizures Balloon