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Unlike the U.S., the island states of Japan and Great Britain have had centuries of unilateral culturalism

Britain does not have a unilateral culture. "London, England, United Kingdom is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on earth. As of 2007, there are over 300 languages spoken in it and more than 50 non-indigenous communities with a population of more than 10,000."

Comment Re:Consider this. (Score 1) 111

The ancient Greeks used to treat jury duty like casual work - if you're free, turn up at the court in the morning, get selected randomly, and get paid. Apparently you could actually earn a reasonable wage through this. The advantage is that well-employed people don't have to waste their time (and money) doing jury duty, and the people who turn up have some motivation to do it, and probably prior court experience. The disadvantage is that whole "good cross section of the population" thing.

Comment Re:Ah, the sweet smell of free trade... (Score 1) 280

I'm concerned about it becoming a mainstream practice, not that it happens in niche markets.

It already is mainstream - the international import and export of clothing is restricted. In the UK, Tesco famously lost the court case over grey importing of Levi jeans, which they were selling at half the retail price of the officially imported jeans. And so now the only jeans you will in the UK (and the rest of the EU) are officially imported ones. The same thing happens with clothing, motor vehicles, basically everything where there are official distribution channels.

Allowing grey importing would ultimately lead to convergence on a single global price for everything. I think that would be interesting, but let's play devil's advocate - some publisher release a movie. Americans and Europeans are willing to pay perhaps $10 to download. Indians and Chinese are willing to pay perhaps $0.50 to download. But in a single, free market, there can be only one fixed price - so what should it be? If you price it closer to the Western price, then the product is inaccessible to Chinese and Indian people. But if you price it closer to the lower salaries, then your profit margins will be much lower, so you aren't going to do that. You can't please everyone when there is such huge wage disparity in the world. So, you conclude that the practical pricing model is the one that restricts distribution to only Westerners and wealthy people from elsewhere. So there is a counter-argument that dividing the world up and practising price discrimination actually helps the consumer, by enabling them to access the product they want at a price that they are able to pay. Now, I'm not saying that I agree with that point of view, but that's the counter-argument. Price discrimination is an important concept in business; having a range of similar items at varying price points allows your customer to pay a price point that they are comfortable with, rather than forcing them to choose between simply buying or not buying. See, for example, Starbucks coffee.

Comment Re:$3000 every 1-3 years. Right. (Score 1) 673

Nobody in their right mind is buying a new $3000 laptop every three years.

What? The average refresh rate is 2-3 years, above that TCO rises. From the Intel study: "For PCs that are older than three years, the cost of maintenance and issue resolution increases such that it is cheaper to purchase a new system." Something like 2/3rds of the desktops and laptops in industry were purchased in the last 2 years. e.g. Google's head of systems gave a talk at the Ubuntu Developer Summit (video) where he stated that they upgrade all hardware every 12 months - and they insist on it even if your system is working fine - because not doing so costs them more than dealing with failures over time.

Comment Re:"moving irresistibly"? (Score 1) 673

I have a 2005 Thinkpad. Bit by bit, things stopped working - but the difference here is that I replaced the keyboard, case hinge, and battery with cheap parts from ebay, and to this day the laptop is still functioning and useful. I have upgraded the OS to the latest Xubuntu and it is fast and runs all of the latest software without any issues. I didn't pay anything for the software upgrades. Every so often I am tempted to buy a new laptop, but then I realise my Thinkpad runs as well as it did in 2005, and still does exactly the same things it did then, so I really have no reason to replace it.

Comment Re:Lobbyists (Score 1) 559

you would be okay with a law requiring companies to say whether or not any black people touched the food.. And before you go on with some bullshit about there's no reason that would matter, there's equally no reason why a food being a GM crop would matter.

Isn't it possible that a person might be allergic to proteins expressed by a particular gene, or particular configurations of proteins combined into larger molecules, and hence a person could be allergic to GM wheat with jelly fish genes or whatever, but not allergic to normal wheat? Whereas it isn't possible for a person to be allergic to food touched by a black person.

Comment Re:Lobbyists (Score 1) 559

Some sort of religious crusade, then? You hate GMO so lets single out GMO?

You mischaracterise. I don't hate GM foods; I think the concept is actually quite interesting and promising, though needs some consideration - humans have, more or less, been eating the same kinds of foods for tens of thousands of years, and we should be somewhat cautious before radically altering that on a large scale (like, hundreds of millions of people...). There are reasons why vegetables did not naturally evolve animal genes, and shifting genes from, say, jelly fish to cows or carrots, may have unanticipated side-effects. I am a scientist, so I am obviously not "anti-science", but scientists have been wrong before, particularly when millions were at stake from selling a "wonder drug", or, when we thought it was safe to feed cows ingredients derived from animals. Money can be a corrupting influence in science, but it is not the whole story: we as a society have to accept the blame when we assume that something is safe over the long-term, but we have not actually done any long-term studies.

Comment Re:Lobbyists (Score 1) 559

If you want to know what's in GMO food, it's perfectly fair to require labelling of all natural food contents as well. Cyanide in apples, radioactive potassium in bananas, radioactive carbon in most plants, neurotoxin in pufferfish, etc.

"If you want to know what's in food, it's perfectly fair to require labelling of all natural food contents as well. Cyanide in apples, radioactive potassium in bananas, radioactive carbon in most plants, neurotoxin in pufferfish, etc."

People like you said the same thing when mandatory labelling of ingredients was introduced, and yet somehow we now have ingredients labels and still no "cyanide labels on apples" or any of that nonsense. The reality is that, in a functioning democratic society, if people want to know what ingredients are in the food that they buy, and the manufacturers refuse to comply, then the government will eventually pass a law that forces manufacturers to comply.

Comment Re:Our economic evidence (Score 2) 559

The information is freely available to anyone willing to research it.

How? If the manufacturer doesn't put it on the label, then how is a purchaser supposed to find out that the ingredients have been genetically modified?

This is about forcing information beyond a rational minimum of information (like nutritional content, ingredients, and allergies) to be displayed, but not all the information, only the information that fits political agendas.

Nutritional content and ingredients are also "information that fits political agendas", and food manufacturers were opposed to labelling them for the same reasons. How is GM different? There is no real reason why nutritional content should be labelled other than politics (aka "people want to know", which also applies to GM).

Comment Singapore (Score 5, Interesting) 732

Singapore is routinely ranked as having one of the best healthcare system in the world (WHO 2000 study Singapore ranked 6th, U.S. was ranked 37th). It's universal healthcare that people pay for out of their own pocket. The cost of providing world best medical care for everyone in Singapore, costs per person what Americans spend on administration alone - not doctors, drugs, surgeries or real health care - just what Americans spend on managers and secretaries. And yet, for this price, they get one of the best healthcare systems in the world in return. Amazing. Economists love it, here's some excerpts from The Undercover Economist - Lemons, health care, and the United States

The United States relies upon private health insurance to provide much of the financing for medical costs. This is unusual: in Britain, Canada, and Spain, for example, health-care costs are largely paid for by the government. In Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, medical costs are paid for by a system of "social insurance": it is compulsory for most people to buy insurance, but insurance premiums are tied by law to income rather than to the risk of a claim.

The United States system makes it voluntary to buy insurance, and premiums are linked to risk, not to income. But these market-based premiums, beloved of many Americans, do not seem to be delivering health care that makes them happy. A recent survey revealed that only 17 percent of respondents in the United States were content with the health-care system and thought no substantial reforms were necessary. Why the discontent?

The superficial reasons are simple enough to describe: the system is hugely expensive, very bureaucratic, and extremely patchy. The expense first: US health cares costs a third more, per person, than that of the closest rival, super-rich Switzerland, and twice what many European countries spend. The United States government alone spends more per person than the combination of public and private expenditure in Britain, despite the fact that the British government provides free health care for all residents, while the American government spending program covers only the elderly (Medicare) and some of the marginalized (Medicaid). Most Americans worry about health-care costs and would be stunned to discovered that the British government spends less per person than the American government but still manages to provide free health care for everyone. In fact, if you figure in the costs of providing health insurance to government employees and providing tax breaks to encourage private health care, the US government spending on health care, per person, is the highest in the world.

Bureaucracy next. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School found that the administrative costs of the US system, public and private, exceed $1,000 per persons. In other words, when you count all the taxes, premiums, and out-of-pocket expenses, the typical American spends as much on doctor's receptionists and the like as citizens of Singapore and the Czech Republic spend on their entire medical care. Both places are countries with health outcomes very similar to those in the United States: life expectancy and “healthy life” expectancy (a statistic that distinguishes a long healthy life and a long life plagued by years of severe disability) are a shade lower in the Czech Republic than in the United States; and in Singapore they are a little higher than in the United States. The costs of US bureaucracy is also more than three times the $307 cost per person for the administration of the Canadian health system, which produces noticeably superior health outcomes.

Then there is the patchy coverage of the system. Health insurance is usually packaged together with a job, which reduces the efficiency of the labour market; workers are hesitant to quit their jobs without lining another job up first for fear of being uninsured. Worse, 15 percent of citizens have no insurance coverage of any kind – which should be a stunning statistic for the world's richest economy, but probably isn't because it has been lamented for so many years. Compare it to Germany, where 0.2 percent of the population has no coverage, or to Canada or Britain, where everyone is provided for by the government.

Given what we have learned from George Akerlof and his lemons, the troubles of the US health-care system should be no surprise. We should expect a voluntary private insurance system to be patchy. A few people who have more pressing costs than health insurance (for example, the young poor, who have little money and rightly expect that they are unlikely to become seriously ill) will drop out of the system. As a result, health insurance companies, needing to cover their costs, will raise the premiums for the average client, driving out more and more people. Unlike the very stark lemons model, the market does not completely collapse; this is partly because many people find that the risks of having to pay for medical treatment are so worrying that they're willing to pay substantially more than an actuarially fair premium. As a result, the process of unravelling stops, but not before many people have been excluded from the system.

Thanks to Spence and Stiglitz, we should also expect insurance companies to devise ways to get around this lemons problem, but that although the solutions may be effective they will probably also be wasteful. The huge bureaucratic burden of the US system is one of the results, as insurance companies struggle to monitor the risks, behaviour and expenses of their customers. The clunky linkage of health insurance with jobs is another result: at first sight, there is no reason why a job should come with health insurance, any more than it should come with a house or free food. Employees are frequently forced to buy the health insurance that is packaged with their job. This packaging compels the healthiest members of society to buy insurance packages and so come cheap: health-care plans are not chosen by their beneficiaries, who would aim to get the ideal coverage for the right price, but by human resource managers with other priorities, such as making their own lives easy with a “one-size-fits-all” bulk purchases. The result is likely to further wasteful spending.

Not every drawback of the US health-care system should be blamed on Akerlof's lemons problem. Even without the difficulty of inside information, the system of insurance is problematic, because patients are not always able to choose their treatment. With the insurance company picking up the bill, choosing the appropriate treatment is always going to be something of a matter of negotiation. When you ask somebody else to pay for your health care, don't be surprised if you don't get exactly what you would have chosen yourself

The following section Fixing health care with keyhole economics describes how the Singapore system actually works. I don't have a text copy to paste here, but if you are actually interested in healthcare economics it makes interesting reading.

Comment Re:What an asshole (Score 1) 615

this guy Horowitz comes across as the biggest asshole not featured on a .cx TLD.

Not exactly uncommon; see, for example, this article which encourages CEOs to fire people: Three Types of People to Fire Immediately: "I wanted a happy culture. So I fired all the unhappy people." - A very successful CEO.

(Spoiler - it's people who complain, are overworked, are realistic about project prospects, or are already knowledgeable; "The best innovators are learners, not knowers.")

Comment Re:8 hours/day came about for a reason (Score 3, Interesting) 615

8 hours/day came about because productivity studies showed that production actually increased when hours were reduced:

That output does not rise or fall in direct proportion to the number of hours worked is a lesson that seemingly has to be relearned each generation. In 1848, the English parliament passed the ten-hours law and total output per-worker, per-day increased. In the 1890s employers experimented widely with the eight hour day and repeatedly found that total output per-worker increased. In the first decades of the 20th century, Frederick W. Taylor, the originator of “scientific management” prescribed reduced work times and attained remarkable increases in per-worker output.

By 1914, emboldened by a dozen years of in-house research, Henry Ford famously took the radical step of doubling his workers’ pay, and cut shifts in Ford plants from nine hours to eight. The National Association of Manufacturers criticized him bitterly for this — though many of his competitors climbed on board in the next few years when they saw how Ford’s business boomed as a result. In 1937, the 40-hour week was enshrined nationwide as part of the New Deal. By that point, there were a solid five decades of industrial research that proved, beyond a doubt, that if you wanted to keep your workers bright, healthy, productive, safe and efficient over a sustained stretch of time, you kept them to no more than 40 hours a week and eight hours a day.

Evan Robinson, a software engineer with a long interest in programmer productivity (full disclosure: our shared last name is not a coincidence) summarized this history in a white paper he wrote for the International Game Developers’ Association in 2005. The original paper contains a wealth of links to studies conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations and the military that supported early-20th-century leaders as they embraced the short week. “Throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds,” writes Robinson; “and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.”

What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day. Likewise, the overall output for the work week will be exactly the same at the end of six days as it would be after five days. So paying hourly workers to stick around once they’ve put in their weekly 40 is basically nothing more than a stupid and abusive way to burn up profits. Let ‘em go home, rest up and come back on Monday. It’s better for everybody.

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