Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Internet is Truly Awesome (Leonard Bernstein Mahler edition).

David Denby wrote a nice piece in the New Yorker a little over a year ago about this ten most "perfect" orchestra recordings of all time.  Coming in at Number 5 was Leonard Bernstein's Mahler 7 (the second time through) with the New York Philharmonic. (FWIW, I know seven of his choices, and love them all).

If one looks it up on the NY Phil's website, one finds a link to Lenny's marked up score of the piece, allowing us to see, among other things, directions from the composer he really wanted to make sure got  emphasis.  As such, the internet allows us to see how Leonard Bernstein went about thinking about one of the great, quirky pieces of all time, at any time we wish.

This is truly awesome.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

John Roberts is supposed to be a smart man.

But he makes a specious argument.  He says that because in the presence of Voting Rights Acts, there is no disparity in voter turn-out, there is no need for a Voting Rights Act.  Huh?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Are models that assume linear utility useful?

I just saw a paper on how the desire of households to match with particular houses could explain housing market dynamics--in particular why house prices are more volatile than incomes.

Performing such an exercise is very difficult, and requires simplifying assumptions.  One of the most important simplifying assumptions in the paper is that utility is linear--that people value their last unit of consumption just as much as their first.  This assumption is clearly wrong--we know that marginal utility diminishes in consumption.  Yet the assumption was necessary to make the model tractable.

So do we know more about the world because of the model or not?  I really don't know.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

If in 1987 you bought the average house in the average place...

…you have about broken even relative to the consumer price index. The Case-Shiller National Index for March 1987 was 62.03; for March 2013, it was 136.70.  The Consumer Price Index in March 1987 was 112.7; in March 2013 it was 232.77.  So the Case-Shiller Index has risen by  120.4 percent in 26 years; the CPI has risen by 106.5 percent.  So in inflation adjusted terms, the average house in the average place has risen by 13 percent over the past 26 years, or a little less than half of one percent per year.
[At the suggestion of Austin Kelly, I looked to see what would happen if I used the unit-weighted FHFA index instead of the value-weighted Case-Shiller index.  I found that based on FHFA, real house prices rose by 11 percent since 1991 (the first year for which data are available), or a little less than .5 percent per year.  So even though the index is different, the result is the same.]
Reposted from Forbes.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Could someone explain the market failure that protecting car dealerships solves?

The Wall Street Journal has a good story today about how car dealerships are (successfully) lobbying legislatures to ban Tesla Motors from marketing their cars directly to consumers.  GOP legislators, who get the willies about regulation that actually solves real problems, are on board with supporting protectionist policies for auto dealerships.

Does anyone really think that the industrial organization of the automobile retail industry works well?  My family buys a car every five years or so, and our experience is that no one tries to exploit asymmetric information like auto dealers.  I have lots of reasons to believe that our experiences are not unique.

What amazes me is that even in the age of the internet, when one can use sites like Edmunds to figure out what to pay for a car, dealers start out by assuming that the consumer is stupid, hope they get an absurdly marked up price, and only get reasonable when they find out their customer actually knows something.

Elon Musk is a visionary in many ways.  With the Tesla, he might make two important contributions--he might free  from petroleum, and he might free us from car dealers.