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Comment: Re:Economist Article is Exceedingly Precise (Score 1) 240

by xelah (#47653741) Attached to: Patents That Kill

$89 billion is surely false precision, but it's not unreasonable to put a value on lives when you have an economic decision to make. None of them work all that well, but it's better than just flailing in the dark which is the alternative.

For example, you can look at how much it would cost to save those lives another way (eg, through spending on road or rail safety or other, known, healthcare spending). This might give you a figure of a few million. But you tend to find huge discrepancies between spending in different areas - eg, much more in air and rail safety or terrorism prevention than in road safety - depending on how the public responds to those things. Refusing to put a cost on lives this way kills - governments spend huge sums on rail (eg, after the UK Hatfield rail crash) and terrorism prevention when spending a lot of it on healthcare and road safety would save more lives. eg, according to this the UK government was prepared to spend three times as much (~£3m) per life saved on rail compared to road, and more like £15m in an expensive system after the crash - in effect letting 15 people die to save each one.

You can also recognize that we're not talking about certain death, we're talking about risks to life - and people implicitly put a value on risks to life all the time. Car vs train, one car vs another, a dangerous job vs a safe one, driving further to buy something more cheaply or commute from somewhere different. You can come to estimates based on how much they're prepared to spend to avoid risk. But, of course, people are quite irrational about risk and you get widely varying numbers.

And, as another commenter has said, you can estimate from economic output lost, but that's not very satisfactory. In theory it produces a minimum value (assuming that the economy isn't overproducing, spending people's time on producing things less valuable than the time). But it confuses the purpose of an economy - to give people the best quality of life it can, not to produce as much stuff as it can.

Comment: Re:And this is the same for copyrights. (Score 1) 240

by xelah (#47653633) Attached to: Patents That Kill
If someone has built a bridge, how does letting him collect tolls from that one thing for its entire life encourage them to continue to do more work? Well....the same way they were encourage to build the first one, because they'll get paid for it. You think people don't consider the possibility of ongoing income from something when deciding if it's worth doing (or worth handing an author an advance for, or investing in research for)?

Comment: Re:Weakest Russia ever (Score 1) 582

by xelah (#47548389) Attached to: Satellite Images Show Russians Shelling Ukraine

Russia is in some danger of wrecking its own economy. Putin is a clever guy who employs a lot of other clever guys, and will certainly know the risks, the question is more about what he can and can't do to improve matters without compromising his own position. Russia has actually been moving up the ease of doing business index, which might surprise people who only ever look at the less boring media. But it has a lot of other problems as well.

Oil and gas is great for centralized states. It's easy for governments and oligarchs to control compare to, say, a well diversified manufacturing base full of new products. But Russia's oil output is compromised by a lack of investment, taxes are very very high on oil profits and you always face the danger of having your assets seized. There's going to be a big questions over whether the Russian government is going to divert money it'd like to spend on popularity in to its own oil investment, and/or whether it can attract foreign investment (and possibly expertise). This is the same sort of problem Venezuela had, except Hugo Chavez was far more stupid about it (he took so much money from the state oil company to buy popularity that its output fell through lack of investment, and he sacked a huge chunk of his oil expertise out of spite after a strike).

Meanwhile, a centrally controlled economy run by governments, oligarchs and local pet thugs who steal what they can is never going to be too good at innovating with new products and methods. The current war is making Putin very popular, and so presumably less dependent on other support and more able to do something about this....for now.

A strong oil industry can make life hard for other industries if you have an open economy - local manufacturers can find themselves producing products which can be obtained much more easily by digging up a little oil and swapping it internationally for foreign goods. Oil sanctions would certainly help other industries develop more quickly....but I suspect those industries wouldn't operate very well.

It's certainly naive to write off the Russian economy, it's amazing how well problematic economies can product....but it's always going to be limited by its dysfunctional politics and state, which will never be tackled as long as Putin (or his heirs) is there.

Comment: Re:I don't see the problem. (Score 1) 667

by xelah (#47498971) Attached to: Russian Government Edits Wikipedia On Flight MH17

If you're competently operating an air defence system you don't just 'expect' civil aviation to avoid you as your only way of avoiding killing hundreds of civilians and pissing off a lot of governments. It isn't difficult to check, it isn't difficult to notice constant overflying traffic heading to or from Russian airspace on your radar and wonder what it is, it isn't difficult to listen in on air band radios, it probably wouldn't have been so hard to get a question to civilian air traffic controllers in Russia and it would hardly have been impossible to issue a warning.

The people involved were clearly too incompetent to have been given access to air defence missiles.

Comment: Re:Well, duh... (Score 1) 210

The directive is from nearly 20 years ago so I doubt there are many MEPs or commissioners who couldn't blame their predecessors if they wanted to, or point out that few people were really expecting Google and the Internet as it is now. Besides, it's been working OK for a long time (except for continuing poor enforcement). It was written to stop companies selling on your data as sales leads, credit reference agencies giving out inaccurate data you're not allowed to see or correct, employers keeping irrelevant or inaccurate records about you or keeping it far longer than they need it, organizations asking for your data for one reason and then using it for another, employers keeping (or 'obtaining') lists of union members/activists, and so on.

The difficult bit is keeping all of that whilst handling search engines appropriately.

Comment: Re:A sampling of hot button economic issues (Score 1) 305

by xelah (#47358361) Attached to: How Often Do Economists Commit Misconduct?

But now you also have to decide what 'benificial' means. Does it mean more GDP? politicians and business types like to act as if it does. Does it mean higher economic welfare? You're more likely to get that answer from an economist, though many will still go on to consider only GDP because it's easier and it's what their employers care about.

You'll certainly find papers on the effect on GDP of things like infrastructure spending, top income tax rates and immigration. You're unlikely to find much beyond the abstract and theoretical about their effects on economic welfare.

So you can still argue that your policy will make people better off, even if the economic evidence on GDP is unambiguously against you.

Even if you couldn't, it still wouldn't matter. Economists don't run the economy, ordinary people are all too ready to dismiss them in favour of their prejudices and politicians are all to happy to sacrifice economic welfare for political reasons. And, of course, campaign funding and personal reasons.

(As an aside, for the US working hours and inequality should probably be at the top of the economic-welfare list....though infrastructure needs a serious kick up the arse there, too, AFAICT).

Comment: Re:Pity (Score 1) 67

There are quite a lot of well known and in some cases proven ways to reduce traffic pollution, some available sooner than others. Some examples: better car emission standards, more and better trains trains, electric cars, high fuel taxes (to affect vehicle choice and travel distance), encouraging shorter commuting times or telecommuting and urban tree planting.

Comment: Re: Let's get rid of EU (Score 2) 272

by xelah (#47239967) Attached to: EU May Allow Members Home Rule On GMO Foods

With millions of EU citizens living across borders, large trade flows and shared environmental and political concerns, getting rid of the EU will mean a new treaty organisation to handle all this stuff. 28x27 bilateral agreements on product standards, fisheries, competition, access to benefits and healthcare, taxation and energy isn't going to work.

There will always be something in the place where the EU is now. At least this one HAS a parliament, unlike the WTO, NATO, etc. Better to make it work.

Comment: Re:Competition Sucks (Score 1) 507

by xelah (#47216143) Attached to: Uber Demonstrations Snarl Traffic In London, Madrid, Berlin
Insurance may price some riskier drivers out of the market, or insurance companies may refuse to offer insurance at all. And they may impose conditions, and provide incentives (in the form of lower premiums) to use risk-lowering techniques (like minimum vehicle standards, driving courses, recording devices and the like) and make different choices (cheaper to insure cars).

Comment: Re:Do No Evil so why not delete the info? (Score 1) 138

I don't know about EU countries other than the UK, but the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act isn't quite /that/ wide. The time limit is different for different crimes (immediate for police cautions, never for prison sentences over 30 months - so you can certainly forget about having your conviction for mass murder spent). It doesn't require old records or publications to be destroyed. It doesn't require that no-one ever mention it, instead you can be sued for defamation if you do it maliciously (and, AIUI, you can't be sued for defaming a dead person so historians don't need to worry so much). And, employers are allowed to consider it anyway for some jobs (financial jobs, anything involving children, taxi driving, etc.). In fact, if you want to volunteer to work with children you might have much more than your spent convictions inspected, but pretty much any contact with the police at all.

What it does mean is that you can't be charged higher insurance premiums because you got caught speeding a few times ten years ago, can't be sacked from a shop when your employer discovers you shoplifter many years ago, etc. Personally I think it's of benefit to society as a whole because it provides an eventual route to a normal life for people who stop offending. In particular I'm thinking of lazy service providers who find it easier to say no than think about it, and recruiters who may think that someone poses no extra risk but worry that if it goes wrong they as individuals will get the blame.

Comment: Re:so apple and samsung should just research it al (Score 1) 131

I'm having trouble linking royalty costs to "stifling innovation" though. Getting paid via royalty payments is a pretty good reason to innovate: invent something, get paid. Increases in the amount people are paying in royalties just increases the incentive to invent something and get paid. In fact, it is doing exactly that. Companies invent stuff, or buy inventions, just to use those inventions as collateral to get access to other inventions. That $120-$150 estimate they put on there is not cash payments, it is $120-$150 of something... such as their own inventions.

Innovation and improved technology isn't just about invention. An improvement in technology is an improvement in the techniques people use to do stuff. A marvellous new thing used by hardly anyone is only a very small innovation. So, if a law limits access to new inventions then the improvement in technology is also limited.

I don't particularly recall that many "Cant afford royalty payments so our product is cancelled" stories.

I suspect that 'new product not developed because its expensive' doesn't attract readers well enough. Besides, just think of how many more people would be using better technology if they could buy a better phone with the same money. Abolish all patents today and there'd be a jump in the technology people use - in the short term.

It all comes back to the core dilemma of intellectual property: the cost of reduced adoption of a new invention vs the cost of it not being financially worthwhile to invent.

Comment: Re:so apple and samsung should just research it al (Score 1) 131

Along with the actual definition of "rent-seeking []". Rent-seeking is when one spends wealth on lobbying to increase their share of some limited resource, without creating anything of value in return.

That's a terrible definition.....even later in the same Wikipedia article it's redefined as 'an attempt to obtain economic rent', linking to the entry on economic rent itself, which has a section on monopoly rent which specifically mentions patents.

Economic rent is pretty much everywhere in some degree, because monopoly power is everywhere to some degree (nothing is perfectly competitive). And I think it would be wrong to just assume that it always causes a welfare loss just because it's become a (justifiable) mainstream-ish term of abuse, a correctly designed patent and copyright system being an obvious counterexample. Maybe in a perfect first-theorem-of-welfare-economics economy, but not in a real one.

Comment: Re:No steering wheel? No deal. (Score 2) 583

by xelah (#47106409) Attached to: Google Unveils Self-Driving Car With No Steering Wheel

And if you think your judgement and perception is better than this computer system, you are full of hubris and a menace to other road users. It works both ways.

Whatever. My driving skills (or lack thereof) are a known quantity to me. I have some grasp of what I can and cannot do in a vehicle.

I think that's unlikely, at least for most drivers. How many times have you experienced an emergency stop from 70mph? Or practiced regaining control from a skid? Or when sliding on ice, or aquaplaning? Most drivers will have no idea how their car behaves in those situations and have no idea how good their skills are because they've never been tested in those circumstances, or have only tested them once or twice. One would expect that a self-driving car's abilities will have been tested much more.

Comment: Re:So when will the taxi drivers start protesting? (Score 2) 583

by xelah (#47106391) Attached to: Google Unveils Self-Driving Car With No Steering Wheel

Or maybe there are more controlled environments - moving people around certain parts of airports springs to mind - which will be the first targets. Places where pedestrian and other traffic isn't allowed. Public and legal acceptance is far more likely there, and it'd be a better and eventually cheaper service than waiting for one of a handful of buses.

Comment: Re:The Problem Isn't "Free Speech vs Privacy" (Score 1) 278

by xelah (#47046337) Attached to: The US Vs. Europe: Freedom of Expression Vs. Privacy

The problem is that some nations want to enforce their rules on other nations.

Indeed - specifically, in this case, people wanting the US constitution to apply to a European court handling a case brought by a Spanish man against a Spanish company, Google Spain. The data was collected by Google Inc, but for the purpose of allowing Google Spain to sell advertising in Spain.

Bus error -- please leave by the rear door.