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Comment: Re: Not France vs US (Score 1) 258

Well, I don't know if anything in economics is provable per se, but Europe (more specifically the UK) is going through this debate right now. The EU is a giant free trade zone. How valuable is that? People who do business all think it's essential, but people are who are just employees aren't so sure. Let the debate commence.

Comment: Re: Not France vs US (Score 1) 258

Whatever the reason, they still boosted domestic production and economic growth.

That may have been true in the USA (hard to say given the lack of in-depth statistics back then and difficulty of knowing the impacts of such things even today) but it probably wasn't the case abroad. Sure, the USA didn't care one whit back then about the impact of tariffs on British or European manufacturers, nor did they care much if Americans couldn't afford superior foreign-made products for a while. They valued economic independence more, and given their situation that was understandable.

But putting military concerns to one side, free trade theory is correct. Those tariffs made the world as a whole economically worse off. If governments could be trusted not to use their economies as weapons of war, it'd be better for everyone if tariffs were reduced and removed, because it makes people wealthier in the long run and that's why every so often countries and trading blocs try to engage in free trade treaties.

Of course the problem is, governments do so love using economics as a weapon .... the USA more than most. So tariffs will continue to have non-economic justifications for the forseeable future, of the form "yes it makes us less wealthy, but the upsides are worth it".

Comment: Re:Free Shipping (Score 1) 258

Banning loss leaders (a.k.a. market dumping) seems like an inherently attractive fix to improve free markets, but it's fraught with difficulty.

The most obvious problem is R&D costs. I do market research and decide that people would be willing to pay $100 for a widget. But said widget does not yet exist, so I spend a million dollars to develop it, and then start selling it for $100 a pop. I calculate it will take several years to break even but that's OK, because I'm a businessman who thinks long term and we like those sorts of people don't we?

I think you can see where this is going - the business runs at a loss for several years, to build the market and spread out the development costs. Eventually I can reduce the price of my widget because I paid off the R&D costs. But until then I'm still in the red.

Amazon is no different. If they make no profit, it's because they choose to charge low prices, build the market and develop new products all at the same time, instead of cashing out. Though actually I think you're distorting history by saying they "muscled their way into the market". Amazon was one of the first online stores. There was no market to muscle in to, nobody else was doing what they were doing. Bezos pretty much created a new market from scratch.

Comment: Re:Price floors are subsidies (Score 1) 258

And sometimes it is, despite the supposed inefficiencies. That's what the French government thinks, and there are similar opinions in other European countries.

If governments could reflect the diversity of opinions in their population perfectly ever time, the world would be a simpler place.

In practice they tend to reflect the opinions of a very specific group of people - politicians (closely followed by bureaucrats) who are e.g. typically older and wealthier than the average man on the street.

There's an interesting article by an author on the topic, called "Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller: Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you". Worth reading, at least.

Comment: Re:Not France vs US (Score 1) 258

If it isn't better, why would you do it?

Small online book shop - you didn't hear about them so .... they don't exist? Is that what you're implying?

Read this article about a commercial dispute between Amazon and a large publisher (Hachette). It was on the Colbert Report, a US news comedy show. The hosts book was caught up in this dispute and so he told people to go buy his book and others at Powell's Books, which I can only describe as a small (relative to Amazon) online book store.

Comment: Re:Cost of housing (Score 2) 258

The price of homes has become wildly disconnected from the cost of land thanks to their use as speculative asset, but even if that were not the case in most places you can build upwards way more than people do. And populations are stabilising or even falling in developed parts of the world. Only immigration keeps it from entering full-on collapse. So if our messed up financial system gets fixed and people stop using houses as piggy banks I see no reason why the cost of homes must go up forever.

Comment: Re:Not France vs US (Score 1) 258

If you want many participants in a market, most of them will be small. That is why small shops are worthy of protection.

You can't have it both ways. If you think markets can only support five competitors, simply shrinking the market doesn't radically change things, as by definition local bookstores only compete in a small local market with a small selection of books. If you want a book that isn't in the bestsellers list, then in your local town there's probably only one or two book shops that stock it at best and most likely none.

You also want to have employment in your country be fairly even, and not have some areas with high demand and low supply and some with low demand and many unemployed, which is why local shops are worthy of protection.

You could apply this sort of argument to anything but it'd still be based on a false premise: while it'd be nice to have geographically distributed demand for labour, in practice this has not been true since the invention of cities. Why should people in cities have to suffer so someone in the countryside can be given a useless make-work job and be told they're helping preserve the nations culture? This is how the CAP got started, a program so massively unfair it is routinely used as ammunition by Euro-skeptics in Britain and elsewhere.

What's more once you decide that lots of people deserve to be protected from changing times, what happens if everyone decides that the e-book is to reading what the automobile is to riding horses? Do we keep all these little local booksellers employed even though nobody goes into their shop anymore, just because it's always been that way? I hope not but that's exactly the kind of thing France excels at.

Comment: Re:It is not about you. (Score 1) 258

The geek as cultural imperialist.

What has no value for me has no value for you.

Except I didn't say that. Go back and read what I wrote again before being so condescending. I said that I personally didn't see any inherent reason why bookshops are special and need protection, not that nobody else should value them. If you value local bookshops, there's a simple non-legal fix: go buy books there.

But obviously most French people are like me, otherwise France wouldn't have felt any need to pass such a law. French people would have rejected buying books on Amazon and the local players would have felt little impact. There would have been no problem to solve. So far from being a "cultural imperialist geek" I'm just pointing out the bleedingly obvious - regardless of what some columnist in the New York Times might think apparently most French people don't care much about their local bookshop culture, at least, not enough to pass up cheap and convenient book sales online. And that's fine.

Comment: Re:Not France vs US (Score 1) 258

As someone who has lived for a time in Europe (various times in France, Germany, and Italy), I can firmly state that I'd take their small food markets and shops over the U.S. any day

Sure, and you can do that by shopping there.

But Europe went through this process too. In the UK lots of people wailed about how Tesco and other big supermarkets were killing off the small local shops (implicitly assumed to be good). In fact, when pushed, many people would admit that the small local grocers often weren't really that great, that variety was non-existent and quality highly variable. Supermarkets crushed the little local shops because they were better and all the nostalgia in the world couldn't change that fundamental reality. And this isn't something restricted to the USA. Supermarkets did the same thing everywhere. It was just a better model.

BTW I don't buy it that America doesn't have small local food shops. At least when I've been in California there have often been open air markets with local produce. They aren't a scalable way for an entire population to get their food, of course.

Comment: Re:Not France vs US (Score 1) 258

No? I keep reading about how the economic recovery is creating lots of part time jobs.

What you're saying is that those jobs don't pay the same as a full time job. No, obviously not, but if the things around people keep getting cheaper then it doesn't matter: they can still end up objectively more wealthy. For instance, let's say 20 years from now everyone buys books cheap via e-readers and nobody has to own a car or parking spot anymore, because all the cars drive themselves and turn up on demand. People in such a world would have objectively better lives than ours - they'd be able to read any book they desired whilst on a long journey, get drunk if they wanted to when they were there, and get back home again, all for less than what they spend today and with more convenience. If they worked part time, they'd still earn less than a full time person would in that future world, but they'd still be better off than a full time worker in today's world who doesn't have those great things even though they have full employment.

Comment: Re:Not France vs US (Score 1) 258

Big internet sites make the economy more efficient. But the problem is an efficient economy doesn't need workers. And if there are no workers, there's no one to purchase the goods.

"Workers" can find something else to do, possibly newer and more interesting kinds of work, or possibly less work on a four day week, etc.

Look, humanity is stuck on this rock, we aren't going anywhere unless someone figures out how to do the impossible and fly around the galaxy faster than light. So our society needs an eventual end goal, and it seems widely agreed that this end goal should be that we all live lives of leisure and can do/go/explore/build whatever the hell we like, whenever we like it. Obviously along the way that means we'll end up doing less and less work until hardly anyone is doing any real work at all and it's all done by robots a la the world of Manna which was discussed here on Slashdot not that long ago.

So if books get delivered by radio to a device with a battery that lasts for a month and gives me access to the whole world's library for a pittance, how is that not a giant step towards the kind of utopia I described above? Small local bookshops staffed by smart shop assistant girls with cute French accents are great until you realise they don't have the book you want and you had to haul your ass into town in order to discover this fact (assuming the shop was even open by the time you got there). It's not something I would trade progress for.

Comment: Re:Subject bait (Score 1) 322

And before _whatever_date_is_inconvenient_for_somebody_else Beersheba was a town of Jews. You can go back as far or as close as you want and find somebody living here. I mention that in my other posts.

Yes, but going back indefinitely is pointless. Memories have half-lives. What matters most for resolution of conflict is what people who are alive today remember and feel, not what some goat herder did a thousand years ago (maybe, assuming the historical texts are accurate).

Within living memory, Beersheba started out as being Palestinian. That's the start date that matters. If in 50-100 years or so when everyone who remembers that is dead, pointing this out will be as stale as the statement I quoted above. But not today.

Honestly, when ordinary people outside that place look at the state of Israel and Gaza it's hard not to conclude that Israel should never have been created at all. The Jews who were living around the world could have stayed there, or moved to places with no anti-semitic political forces.

Comment: Re:Why the assumption.... (Score 2) 258

Why the assumption that it is good for for-profit companies to find loopholes and avoid the will of democratically elected governments.

Democratically elected does not equal democratic.

The most democratic place I know of is Switzerland, where there is an absolutely constant stream of referendums on absolutely everything, mostly things that in other countries would be all be lumped under an umbrella vote for left or right. For example the Swiss recently voted on the question of whether to buy new Gripen fighter jets. The French, in contrast, have a system so undemocratic that the President doesn't even need the authority of parliament to start a war!

I think it's very corrosive to imply that people a huge bloc of people get a vote between two or three possibilities every four or five years, that somehow legitimises everything that government does in the meantime. It doesn't. The system of voting we have was decided on hundreds of years ago when most people couldn't even read and letters took days or weeks to cross countries. Representatives chosen locally every few years made total sense in such a world. It's now obsolete, much better possibilities can be imagined or even implemented. Western democracy is merely the least worst system tried so far, not the best.

In this case, there's no justification for the French government to be messing with Amazon. As pointed out in other replies to your comment, if the French people truly prefer their local bookshops over Amazon then they'll vote with their wallet, a far fairer and more democratic way of doing things than central government mandate. This idea isn't stupid, there are parts of the world that places big chain stores and brands don't make much progress in because of local culture. But times change and countries are very large. Take McDonalds in France. In 2013 we have this story about an anti-McDonalds protest and the local government attempting to block construction of a restaurant there. But then in 2014 we have another story where the French are protesting for a McDonald's, they're upset because it's been delayed and they want it to open.

These sorts of disputes are best left to ordinary people to work out economically.

Comment: Re:Not France vs US (Score 4, Interesting) 258

Yeah, and so what?

The underlying assumption behind this kind of move seems to be the belief that small local bookshops are inherently worth protecting. Why is that? It's not like if a bookshop closes the land it occupied is salted with radioactive waste. Something else, possibly something more useful will move in.

The real problem here is not Amazon or books or even Google, it's the French mindset that things should never change, that the old ways are always the best ways. Perhaps France has an unusually elderly set of politicians or voters, but you see this in all its areas, most notoriously agriculture. Old ways of farming were put on a quasi-religious pedestal and vast amounts of EU policy and budget were redirected towards preserving them.

Fetishing bookshops doesn't have any emotional appeal to me - they're just buildings stacked with a small and limited selection of reading materials, which inefficiently deploy land and people. Given the rise of the e-book even large chain bookshops will likely disappear over the coming decades, and who will cry for them?

Perhaps the space the bookshops used up can be replaced by coffee shops - spaces for social interaction and work, where reading an e-book and then meeting a friend and having a nice conversation at ordinary volume is a perfectly acceptable way to spend your time.

If what they've been doing hasn't solved the problem, tell them to do something else. -- Gerald Weinberg, "The Secrets of Consulting"