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    This clip with Dan Ariely telling off a dentist who tried to sell him on a more expensive item is classic. Would that we all behaved in such a manner, no? The problem when you interact with a particular set of professionals, in particular in healthcare, the information asymmetry is such that it is very...
  • Too bad there aren’t more opportunities to comparison shop between professionals. I had one chance – I went to random Dentist 1 who offered free cleaning/exam, and she said I had five teeth with big older fillings that should be replaced with crowns. Dissatisfied, I went to my landlady’s Dentist 2, who said the fillings could lasts another 5-10 years and that crowns don’t last forever either, so don’t replace them. Dentist 2 has now had my business for the last 14 years and I never resist when he says I need work.

    Maybe Yelp will help with this. I’d definitely send business his way if he needed it (he doesn’t).

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  • Okay, watched the video and had to laugh. The whole resin/vs amalgum thing comes up every single day at work. Some dentists even tell patients no one does amalgum any more. Resin/composite/porcelain is always going to be a lot more expensive than old-fashioned amalgum, which is all your insurance is going to pay for.

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  • I work with dental insurance. A couple of points. One, I often speak with dentists. As you would expect, they run the gamut. Dentists tend to give away a lot of services because patients either cannot pay or will not. And plenty of dentists just give away services, if they find out for example that insurance won’t pay when everyone thought it would, or if their patient’s financial status changes.

    But there are plenty of dentists who go straight to the most expensive procedure, bill the patient and only then submit it to insurance. The insurance company (I speak from experience) will only pay for the least expensive generally accepted procedure for that particular condition. So the patient is stuck paying the difference. Part of my job is fielding questions from irate clients. I do the math and explain it. Funny, it isn’t the stupid people who react the worst, it is the smart ones. Embarrassed?

    My advice, if you are going to have a procedure that is over the normal exam/cleaning/filling, get the dentist to submit it to the insurance company before you have it done. Get the insurance company locked into a $ benefit amount, and the dentist on board. That will also tell you if what the dentist is advising is the routine treatment or the more expensive one.

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  • One of the major parameters which shape individual success, and macroeconomic growth in the aggregate, is time preference. Time preference basically measures an individual's future-time orientation. Would you for example take $1,000 in the present, or wait 30 days and accept $1,500 dollars? It doesn't need to be money, children can exhibit time preference as...
  • Here’s another international time preference comparison using the World Values Survey. It’s in press and just came online.

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  • If you ask me whether I would prefer $3400 now or $3800 in a month (or even in 6 months), my answer would depend strongly on how you proposed to guarantee the later payment. This is even more strongly true if you are promising me $3800 later contingent on me paying $3400 now.

    American society (and European and Japanese) has provided institutions which can be trusted to honor these promises, but the cost of enforcement is relatively high, and so it is easier to trust institutions which make such promises on a scale large enough that enforcement costs are small compared to the amounts at stake.

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  • To be an accurate study, it would have to ask people whose incomes are similar.

    Greece – “Greeks can’t trust their fellow Greeks.” http://www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2010/10/greeks-bearing-bonds-201010?currentPage=all

    - that’s why they want their money now. Italians and Spaniards have a similar attitude.

    Nigeria – I remember reading about Nigerians in Japan. Their Japanese wives would complain about their lack of thought for the future.

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  • @AG

    ~For example, when you plan your personal educational, career choice, or planting your own farm, it is a task of future orientation with little social trust concern.~

    It’s hard to have a future orientation if you can’t rely on social trust.

    You might not plant a farm if there was a large risk that someone would just take it from you. You would be less likely to think of university if a gang was threatening to kill you.

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  • The results seem in tune with Thöni & Gächter’s nation rankings on the public good game.

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  • Francis Fukayama wrote a book called “Trust” with a similar premise trying to argue that “high trust” societies enjoyed more economic growth than “low trust” societies, with time consciousness constituting one of the “social virtues” correlated with high trust societies. It is one of the better examples of the larger literature that looks at links between national culture and national economic outcomes. He also drew on Robert Putnam’s concept that Social Capital in a society has economic value. The link between time preference and trust is a natural one. A future time preference only makes sense if future outcomes are predictable, and depend on context. A bird in the hand is one worth two in the bush makes sense if you are a small business with no cash reserves cashing accounts receivable, but little if you are an already affluent individual planning for your retirement.

    But, the grain of salt that came with the book “Trust,” quite by accident, is worth recalling. A big conclusion of the book was that Japan was a highly economically successful country that had grown at high rates due to high levels of trust and widespread commitment to social virtues in society. Not long after the book went to print, Japan entered a slump, the Lost Decade, from which it has never really fully discovered despite a brief episode of robust economic growth squeezed between two long periods of stagnation. Japanese public finance is also now precarious, not quite as out of kilter as Greece, Spain and Ireland, but much larger in scale and not that far from being out of balance either.

    Not long after Trust was released, Richard Florida’s examination of the cultural determinants of economic growth, “The Rise of the Creative Class” was released, and while his release didn’t necessarily contradict Fukayama, he did find that economic growth was greatest in places where people tend to have large but shallow social networks, and in places that have diversity and tolerance for different lifestyles — basically places with low social capital. This is probably because excess social capital can discourage innovation through a pressure to conform and deep relationships narrow the pool of people with whom you might need to be connected at some critical moment since each one takes more of your time.

    The encouraging part of time preference as a determinant of the fate of nations is that it is known from history to be mutable. For example, there is good documentation of the transition of English society from a not very time conscious one to a very time conscious one in the industrial era that made clock towers, pocket watches and grandfather clocks Anglo cultural icons. In much of the United States, time consciousness arose from the need to make the trains run on time. It seems plausible that time consciousness might be more a symptom than a cause of economic prosperity.

    One also wonders how much the now or later question, for example, seemingly a neutral one, when phased in money terms is a function of a national currency’s history of hyperinflation. Mexico, at the bottom, for example, has seen its currency devalued so often that the interest rates that Norweigens think are so high might seem more realistic.

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  • Four year olds have already had abundant life experience with adults, who are to highly variable in terms of honesty and trustworthiness (and probably varies roughly predictably with SES). We might be looking at rational strategies based on family experience rather than an innate personality trait (though I’m sure this is a quant trait under a given condition). The learned strategy then proves to be either good or poor preparation for choices made in broader contexts (school, work).

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  • It’s a rough test, so it’s only a roughly accurate hierarchy; and I disagree with people who are suggesting that the low-trust insta-payment is probably a more rational option for people in the bottom tier of the chart, from an economic standpoint. It isn’t. The patient nerds are the economic winners in everyone of those nations.

    Instead I would focus on things like number of children and age of first sex and reproduction. The poor are focused on the present because that is when they are programmed to reproduce– when they are young and healthy. Working diligently, saving money and starting a family at 30 is usually good for your standard of living, but not always good for maximizing your descendants.

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  • While I have no doubt time preference plays a big role in separating rich from poor. I also question the use of money as the prize. As has been pointed out, there are myriad situations where having money now is worth far more than the promise of a higher amount later.

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  • @KP

    ~To put it another way, maybe a future orientation depends on some level of social trust ?~

    To answer your question, no.

    For example, when you plan your personal educational, career choice, or planting your own farm, it is a task of future orientation with little social trust concern.

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  • Explain New Zealand…

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  • Dienekes,
    That Greek proverb is somewhat like the English one:
    “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”

    As it implies uncertainty of future payment.

    I reckon that any society going through financial turmoil or revolution, would score low on this test, along with other generally low-trust societies.

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  • I have a possible explanation for the incredibly low score of Southern Europe (hell, Spain, Italy and Greece are 20% lower than Turkey!)

    Today, given the choice, I would wait. But at age 20, as a penniless graduate waiting to get a job (in France), I would definitely have taken the 3400 here and now – because it would bring medium-term stability, i.e. the assurance of not ending up in the street for the next few months. By the time the money would wear out, I might well have gotten a job.

    So I think it is rational to take the 3400 now if you are in a situation that is currently very unstable, with a high short-term risk of destitution, but with a reasonable chance of accessing comfortable stability in the future.

    This double condition would be a hallmark of student’s expectations in rigid economies with a highly protective job market, typical of Southern Europe. Hence the low score of “Hellespanitaly”.

    Additionally, regarding the high score of Turkey, I suspect that “economics students” may represent a different social stratum in Turkey than in Europe.

    P.S. Why is it that France is not on the charts?

    From my (previously described) experience, it would not score much higher than Southern Europe. Though there would be large regional differences, but I suspect the same is true in Italy.

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  • BTW, I just can not give up online FPS game against real human opponents. It is joy to figure out how to outperform and own the game. Certainly when you are too good at it, you might get banned from server admins who think there is no fun with you playing.

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  • @AG

    To put it another way, maybe a future orientation depends on some level of social trust ?

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  • Like Dienekes Says, trust can be issue here. Promising a future larger prize can be scam artist trick at ponzi scheme. Maybe this test is really about social trust instead of true future orientation.

    Better test for adults might be what would you do with $100k prize. Spending it,or investing it, invest in what ects.

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  • I’d also like to see the impact of things like crime rates and rule of law on those decisions.

    Long term investments in the future are pretty irrational when the future is extremely uncertain…

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  • There is also a similar Romanian saying “Nu da vrabia din mana pentru cioara de pe gard” meaning “Don’t give the sparrow in your hand for crow on the fence”. There is also a strong consensus in general that the right thing to do is to take what you can now and not wait for the future. The general default assumption about the future is that things will be worse then now. I also remember a study that showed that Norwegians are the most trusting when it comes to strangers while the South Europeans and especially South East Europeans (Balkans) where some of the least trusting in strangers.
    I’m pretty sure that delaying gratification is important requirement for success. But maybe in a low-trust, high instability environment not doing so is the most rational thing. Of course this can lead to chicken and egg situation. Maybe the environment is unstable because nobody is thinking for the future.

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  • Was that $3400 the same in cash, or was there a parity correction? For a German it is little money, but for a Nigerian it is a small fortune.

    BTW, there seems to be a correlation with climate. Those who choose to wait live in countries where winters are cold, and survival depends on getting prepared several months ahead.

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  • Interesting. My first reaction was that no one would pick the money now, that the gain for waiting a month is far too large to measure real differences. I was wrong. But then I thought about it, and I realised that there actually are good reasons to take the money now. To begin with, if you need it to buy food/medicine/avoid eviction/save your house from foreclosure/pay tuition… there situationally specific reasons not to wait. But they weren’t offering real money in this exercise, were they?

    Do wish they had included Indians…

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  • There is a Greek proverb: “kallio pente kai sto xeri para deka kai karteri” which can be paraphrased “better five and in your hand, than a promise for ten for which you have to wait”. This probably correlates with Greece’s position in the table.

    From a utilitarian perspective (and unless you have a reason to think you’ll die soon afer a month), it makes sense to go for the bigger prize. But, this conflicts with the inherent conservatism/worst-case scenario thinking of the proverb, that the promised prize may not be around in the future.

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  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ron Simon, J.S.. J.S. said: Which nations think over the long term http://ow.ly/1auCVQ [...]

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  • “After controlling the macro-economic variables (GDP per capita, growth rate, inflation rate)…”

    we can assume the charts were made after they controlled for the fact that poorer individuals are more desperate for money, correct? also, many times i consider whether psychology studies are over thinking life in general. when so many things in life never pan out is it really so bad to have a guaranteed “prize” immediately when the “promised” prize may never arrive? i guess i just don’t depend on many people to follow through with what they say they’re going to do. could homogenized/more trustful societies be a cause?

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  • Another different perspective at the individual level is the conflict between the current self and the remembering self.

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  • The underlying cause of “impulsivity” is hyperbolic discounting as best explained in the works of Georges Ainslie.
    So the real question when it comes to national differences is how much is from culture v/s how much from biology (yet another unwelcome “nasty” question for you know whom…)
    P.S. Why is it that France is not on the charts?

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  • I just got back from a European trip, and I have to say I did not miss tipping. I especially appreciated not having to do the song & dance typical of larger groups in sit-down restaurants in the USA where you figure out how much you're going to tip on a communal basis, when everyone...
  • Here in NYC, the worst service I consistently have had is at Polish/Ukrainian restaurant in the East Village, by FOB Polish and Ukrainian waitresses, who just don’t understand “service” or heaven forfend “service with a smile”… yet still expect to be tipped. A holdover from the Communist thinking I expect.

    Abroad, the worst service I’ve had was in a restaurant in Dublin’s Temple Bar area – a boho area in the center of the city, and huge tourist mecca – where I was one of only 2 couples present, was served my meal, but had no fork, and requested one – and no other tables set, where I could have grabbed a fork for myself – and 3 Irish waitresses chatted on and on at the bar, and I had to make 3 requests for a fork, including asking to speak to the manager, before I got one 25 minutes later – now with a plate of cold food. There is no tipping in Ireland.

    So, I’m all in favor of tipping. Also, after food quality, I put a premium on good service – before decor or location – so have no problem tipping well.

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  • I lived in Japan for years. The service is pretty uniformly bad, except in two situations.

    The first, at pricey high level places, is excellent, if very formal. The second is at places where the owner is also the waiter. These folks are almost uniformly friendly and great talkers, joking and conversing with the customers.

    At normal restaurants, the service just sucks. The waitresses (usually female) are bored and unmotivated. With no tipping they have no reason to hurry to help, suggest items, top up coffee and everything you expect a good waitress to do.

    Around the world, in many countries I have visited, I find this pattern. In Europe, I found the service mostly poor, with occasional exceptions, but I was too poor then to go to more expensive restaurants.

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  • In France, you’re “socially expected” to tip. It’s just more of a small, semi-fixed amount. Something like a 2 euros tip for a table of several people with drinks, coffee and digestif is seen as generous. Less than fifty cents is seen as scroungy if you look like an adult professional.

    So please, do drop the coins. My former, semi-starving, order-taking, dishes-carrying, table-cleaning self retrospectively thanks you.

    That new picture of you looks a lot like Southern Europe (orange roofs on small houses). Italy? Southern France?

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  • Tipping is rare and seldom expected here in Australia and yet service at a fairly decent restaurant is almost invariably good. The reason is that the wages for people who serve at such restaurants is sufficient that they can afford to patronise similar restaurants themselves and thus see it from both sides. (By `fairly decent’ I mean “Have you a reservation. I’ll show you to your table. Menu, Wine list. Are you ready to order? Would Sir care to taste the wine?” and so on.)

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  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by razib khan, Ron Simon. Ron Simon said: Time & mind & tipping: I just got back from a European trip, and I have to say I did not miss … http://bit.ly/cy3GQg [...]

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  • “I just got back from a European trip, and I have to say I did not miss tipping.” Golly, is there now a uniform European tipping habit? How did that come in while my back was turned?

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  • Earlier this year, John Tierney reviewed several studies on how delaying gratification makes us feel better in the short term by preventing guilt but makes us feel more miserable in the long term by causing regret over missed opportunities. I added my two cents here, just to note that this sounds like part of the...
  • There is also the well known phenomenon that many people (especially the prudent) prefer lives with an upward sloping trajectory.  Contrary to naive economic theory, they would rather have increasing lifetime consumption with a “risk” (in these simple models) of NOT consuming their assets before death, as opposed to timing things so that no cent was left unspent or experience untaken at the last minute.  They would rather always feel that things are getting better and don’t want to suffer utility declines.  In the micro, micro sense this leads to postponing gratification (e.g. eating the best dish at the end of the meal or holding off drinking that great bottle of wine).  So better to risk wasting the gift card, than spending it early and having no gift card to buy stuff with if the urge arises later.

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  • I was suggesting that opportunity costs might explain why people delay indulgence. Redeeming a gift card, for example, takes time and effort. Perhaps you delay it until you have free time and energy? Perhaps you are saving it for a time when you can really enjoy it? Can you imagine a person in a store with the coupon in hand, seeing exactly what he wants to buy, and delaying the purchase? I can’t.

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  • (2)  When anyone mentions motorbikes, I have a tendency to wonder whether they have ever owned one.

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  • In “The 10,000 Year Explosion” Chochran and Harpending argue that delayed gratification is a relatively recent trait. Hunter gatherers get no benefit, perhaps even cost, so they are best to eat what they get, when they get it, and share any excess. 
     
    Agriculture turned that all around. Suddenly there was benefit, even necessity for delayed gratification, and a very strong selection pressure appeared. People who could successfully juggle future events had a decided advantage. They were the ones who acquired wealth, and mating opportunities. 
     
    Now what happens, I suspect, is that we have such a strong pattern of behavior that even in cases where delaying does not benefit, we ‘feel good’ about the self denial (religion capitalizes on this… deny yourself now for benefit in the afterlife). 
     
    I see myself doing this with vacation days. I have to use them before the end of the year, but I always wind up having to ‘burn’ them because I’ve saved so many that I can’t carry over.

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  • I often delay reading a book I beieve I will really like until I have a quiet couple of hours to spend in a recliner with a glass of wine nearby.  That is, sometimes one delays a guilt-free pleasure because the pleasure will be greater when we later enjoy it — it will earn interest. 
     
    OK, I just read the article.  How crappy it is.  The following paragraph describes perfectly rational behavior as long as you believe that visiting landmarks is really valuable the first time and then not so much the second (and does anyone really want to visit that goofy obelisque in DC twice?).  The author doesn’t seem to see how drastically the last two sentences undermine his point.  People put off doing things until the opportunity cost is zero.  People do things right before the cost of doing them goes way up.  How irrational! 
     
    <i> 
    Why, for instance, is it so hard to find time to visit landmarks in your own backyard? People who have moved to Chicago, Dallas and London get to fewer local landmarks during their entire first year than the typical tourist visits during a two-week stay, according to a study conducted by Suzanne B. Shu and Ayelet Gneezy, who are professors of marketing at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. The Chicagoans in the study had visited more landmarks in other cities than in their own, and even their relatively small amount of local sightseeing was done mainly in the course of entertaining out-of-towners. Otherwise, the only time Chicagoans rushed to see the local landmarks was just before they were about to move to another city, when that deadline inspired sudden passions for taking architectural tours and going to the zoo. 
    </i> 
     
    Probably the underlying literature is better than the article, but the article is unconvincing.  Maybe the reason the US has such a low savings rate is that people keep delaying the gratification associated with paying off their credit cards!

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  • (1)  The young feel immortal – why bother with insurance? 
    (2)  When anyone mentions motorbikes, I have a 
    tendency to wonder whether they have ever owned one.  A powerful thing, tacit knowledge.

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  • I like to keep interesting books around unread because of the pleasure of anticipation. Sometimes I look forward to a book, and get pleasure from this, and then find the book eventually disappointing. Delaying possible disappointment is another aspect of this.

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  • Maybe we enjoy projecting control to others sometimes. 
     
    If doing these activities is zero sum over time, it’s not clear why we should care whether people delay.

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  • Tyler Cowen points me to this article from last spring about the profligacy of professional athletes. Here are numbers which seem constructed for the sake of plausibility more than anything else:It shouldn't be that hard to track down a large number of former players and try and make the sample representative, and assess what their...
  • I can’t believe that the pro runners do 80+ miles a week, that’s insane! 
     
    It can be worse! :-)

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  • I think that the main difference between the two runners is body type. Sprinters tend to be muscular since it takes a lot of power to get limbs moving quickly, and long-distance runners tend to be thin, so they use less energy per stride and are less likely to overheat. Still, it’s an interesting idea. I think it would be neat if there was a correlation. 
     
    My unscientific observations: long distance runners seem to have a more “humble” termperament. When was the last time you’ve seen a Kenyan, Ethiopian, Moroccan, or even American marathon runner engaging in “trash talk” or braggadocio? (Come to think of it, how often do you even see marathon runners on TV, other than NYC and Boston marathons?) 
     
    As for sprinters, we have Michael Johnson and his “gold shoes”, Florence Griffith Joyner and her long nails. Edwin Moses, gold medal hurdler, said about Carl Lewis: “A little humility is in order. That’s what Carl lacks.”  
     
    Yes, these are three selective anecdotes, just food for thought.  
     
    long distance runners train a lot more. 
     
    Indeed! I have enough trouble following a marathon training program that builds up to a peak of 40 miles a week. I can’t believe that the pro runners do 80+ miles a week, that’s insane!

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  • The Dikembe Mutombo prenup story was made into a funny episode of the old HBO comedy about a sports agent, Arliss.

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  • [sprinters vs. long distance runners] 
     
    Not many of either type make significant amounts of money, so it’s probably not meaningful to make comparisons.

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  • My guess is that there wouldn’t be much of a correlation. I think that the main difference between the two runners is body type. Sprinters tend to be muscular since it takes a lot of power to get limbs moving quickly, and long-distance runners tend to be thin, so they use less energy per stride and are less likely to overheat. Still, it’s an interesting idea. I think it would be neat if there was a correlation. 
     
    long distance runners train a lot more.

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  • of possible interest re: long term financial solvency: long distance runners vs. sprinters? 
     
    My guess is that there wouldn’t be much of a correlation. I think that the main difference between the two runners is body type. Sprinters tend to be muscular since it takes a lot of power to get limbs moving quickly, and long-distance runners tend to be thin, so they use less energy per stride and are less likely to overheat. Still, it’s an interesting idea. I think it would be neat if there was a correlation.

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  • In the interests of the current racial fantasy I doubt that anyone would be allowed to study this subject seriously.

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  • How to limit paternity obligations is a challenge for pro athletes.  
     
    Is it really a mystery to them? 
     
    Reform of the no-fault divorce laws would go a lot further than just prenups. If legislation were passed to stop making it profitable to break up your marriage and family then maybe the women would think twice about getting married or at least not be able to take the guy to the cleaners when they change their mind about him. 
     
    These cases are not so much financial irresponsibility on the part of the man but rather infatuation intoxication, especially for those over 45 or so. They grew up when America had a low divorce rate, how could they have anticipated the cultural tsunami that would leave a 60% divorce rate?

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  • of possible interest re: long term financial solvency: long distance runners vs. sprinters?

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  • Don’t know exact numbers but hundreds of swedes and finns have played professional Ice hockey in the NHL and I haven’t heard of anyone of them going broke… ;-)  
     
    The phenomenon of prodigal athletes that end up selling their olympic medals in desperation is well known here, but not so much with ice hockey players. Most of the rich ones seem to invest their money well. 
     
    I think there’s some sort of selection going on with that. For one thing, ice hockey isn’t a cheap hobby at all, especially not for a kid that needs a new set of gear every year. If your parents can’t or won’t support that, you don’t play and you don’t practice. Thus ice hockey players tend to come from the more financially stable families.

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  • The NFL, or players’ agents, should require that a substantial sum of players’ incomes be set aside in retirement funds or other kinds of trusts. 
     
    ok cass….:-)

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  • The NFL, or players’ agents, should require that a substantial sum of players’ incomes be set aside in retirement funds or other kinds of trusts.

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  • kurt, you’re joking right? one of the examples in the article is about an investment in a car dealership gone wrong….

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  • I take it most NFL players do not invest in car dealerships when they retire from the NFL like John Elway did.

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  • right, there’s probably a lot of demographic comparisons you could do.

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  • Don’t know exact numbers but hundreds of swedes and finns have played professional Ice hockey in the NHL and I haven’t heard of anyone of them going broke… ;-)

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  • Expectations influence sensory experience in a wine tasting:Also, see ScienceDaily for a summary. Felix Salmon has another post, Tasting wine blind.
  • And it all affects how civilians take those paintings — how much they see in them, how moved they are by them, etc.

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  • Van Gogh was the anti-Bougereau between 1870 and 1980. His paintings were literally unsellable, or almost, during his lifetime, but now sell for as much as $50 million. 
     
    Does this mean that for ever dollar Bougereau gains, Van Gogh will lose a dollar? Maybe “Starry Night” is down to a measly $10 million. 
     
    Kenneth Rexroth wrote fifty years ago that used car dealers would go to jail if they followed the business practices of the art world. Two examples: overvaluing a donated painting to increase the donor’s tax deduction, and logrolling: you buy my million dollar painting for two million, I buy your million dollar painting for two million, and we both gain a million without any money changing hands.  
     
    A famous art dealer a few generations ago, Bernard Berenson, was found out to have taken bribes for misattributing paintings by minor painters to more famous painters.

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  • Works similarly with art. What you’re told about a painting affects how you take it. The buzz around it — critical, historical, what friends say, coolness factor, its price, its display placement — all have their effect. Recent-ish example: Bouguereau. A French academician, he was huge in the 19th century. But Impressionism triumphed, “everyone” decided that academic art was kitsch, and his paintings wound up in attics, selling (if at all) for next to nothing. Though he’d been very successful, his name was dropped from art histories. In other words, art fans looked at his paintings, if at all, and sneered.  
     
    Then, back in the 1980s, a few people shyly started to make a case for his work. The time was right, something caught fire, his reputation started to grow again, and these days his paintings are selling for big bucks, and his name is back in the art history books. These days, art fans look at his paintings and don’t sneer at them as kitsch, they go “Wow!”  
     
    But they’re the same paintings. 
     
    So: the buzz around them circa 1870 was: “The man’s a genius! Greatest painter of the century!” The buzz around them circa 1940 was: “Bouguereau? Who? Oh, that corny sellout?” The buzz around them today is “Wow, amazing! That academic art has a lot of virtues!” It’s the buzz, not the paintings themselves, that made the difference.

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  • I think that dividing the test group into poseurs, non-poseurs, and winetasters might give different results.  
     
    99% of the people who tried retsina would hate it unless told in advance that it’s supposed to taste like pitchpine lumber.

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  • In other words, wine tasters might be just full of shit. lol

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  • Since the world started falling apart, books on how crazy we are have never been more popular. Most focus on findings from behavior economics that show how human beings deviate from homo economicus in making decisions, and The Science of Fear by Daniel Gardner is no different. Unlike the others in this newly sexy genre,...
  • How many of today’s shootings and stabbings don’t end up as murders because of modern medicine?

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  • Crime may not have actually risen that much in the 20s, it may have been high all along but undercounted.

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  • Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone:
  • It makes perfect sense to me, since testosterone increases mood, energy and motivation in men. 
     
    Women respond the same, and it shows in their behavior. 
     
    Thanks for the interesting article!

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  • Ah, my favorite hormone! 
     
    I remember some other research on investment bankers and testosterone levels. The high-test guys did better overall, and especially on high trading volume days. This was maybe a year ago.

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  • Here is a brief description of the idea that price bubbles are caused by people buying something, not necessarily because they think it's worth anything, but because they think they can find an even greater fool to buy it at a higher price. This continues until no more such fools can be found, and this...
  • agnostic, 
     
    Perhaps the language of of math is not as intuitive to some people as it is to others. Personally, I find it much more satisfying to take the logic from your models and see it expressed it in English.  
     
    For instance, will the price of an asset experiencing “greater fool demand” eventually collapse, popping the bubble, or will it not collapse, preserving the bubble? The answer to this question is clear in English. If your investors run out of suckers to sell to, then the price of your asset will collapse. If they don’t run out, then it won’t.  
     
    On the other hand, you can set up two models, one with an exhaustible supply of suckers, and one with an inexhaustible supply. Then, you can define the “extra price” of the asset to be the supply of suckers times some other stuff. This means that the “extra price” will reach zero when the supply of suckers reaches zero, i.e. it will collapse when the supply of sucerks collapses. Now you can check your models and find that the price in the exhaustible supply model eventually collapses, whereas the price in the inexhaustible supply model permanently remains afloat. Thus, you reach the same conclusion. To me, you have just taken a more unintuitive and roundabout path to this conclusion.  
     
    In my opinion, math is most useful when you need to make precise calculations. For example, if I thought that you could use your models to make precise, real-world predictions, then I would think them useful. I.e. if you could predict how high real-world bubbles would go, when they would collapse, etc. But you can’t make those kinds of predictions, because in economics there is no method to determine your input variables with any kind of precision.  
     
    Most of the data available in economics is qualitative and order-of-magnitude, and this sort of data is best analyzed and integrated using your God-given ability to reason with language. Think about this fact: the best economic predictor in the world is Warren Buffett. Buffett ridicules mathematical models. His method is purely one of common sense and sound judgment. This suggests to me that economic models are extraneous. 
     
    One other issue I have with models is that they allow previously accessible fields of study to be transformed into mysterious arcanum, only meant to be understood by trained experts. This effectively shields the field from scrutiny by outsiders, making it much easier to be dishonest (either with yourself or with others). I’m not saying you were being dishonest here, since you clearly weren’t. But think about the ways you could massage the model in your favor, if you wanted to. Just drop in covariance amplifier term here, an animal spirits coefficient there, and suddenly the behavior of your model changes completely, and math illiterate folk like me can just scratch our heads.

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  • I think globalization encourages bubbles because it increases the plausibility of the idea that there are enough greater fools out there eager to be bilked. In 2006, it was obvious that very few people currently living in California could afford to buy a house there, but the feeling was that there was a near infinite supply of people from somewhere else (China? Mexico? The ex-Soviet Union?) who would pay to live in California. And since factual discussions of groups of people are discouraged, it was easy to dream.

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  • If not no one would have bought a house, because no rational investor will buy something if believes the prices will come down substantially. 
     
    Many speculators buy into bubbles, even believing that the price will come down eventually – because they think it still has a ways to go up, and they think they can get out before the tipping point. Or soon enough after to still make a profit. This kind of buyer contributes to the asymmetrical shape of the rise and collapse in speculative bubbles (they jam the exits once the bubble pops).

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  • I think the implicit question that everyone needs to ask is this: do markets price things properly? That may sound like an easy question but it’s underlying assumption that underlies all economic pricing.  
     
    For example during the bubble days a few years ago the average median house price in California was $450,000. I think everyone implicitly believed that a house was worth that much. If not no one would have bought a house, because no rational investor will buy something if believes the prices will come down substantially. 
     
    I haven’t read Minsky, but the secondary accounts emphasize his point that debt acquired for productive investments is ok, but debt acquired to buy assets with the intent of flipping them is a Bad Thing.  
     
    This is where ecology and economics in theory converge. One of the unstated assumptions of both is that systems tend to converge towards some sort of equillibrium state. However as a believer of the Medea Hypothesis: 
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Ward_(paleontologist) 
     
    I believe life is inherently self destructive we only have to look at the “oxygen holocaust” that occurred because the first life on earth produced oxygen,a substance that was poisonous to those organisms but which allowed higher life to flourish. Or own produced of C02, incidently the ideas for curbing global warming by spraying sulfer particles in the air strike me as really dumb and probably even worse than global warming. 
     
    Economic systems are very similar in the fact that stable systems lead to ever increasing levels of instability. In this case it’s investors who invest with a false sense of security, which is my read on Minsky. All economic systems eventually evolve into systems of “Ponzi Finance”. What a great name it describes our credit system to a tee.  
     
    Of course if you really want to get crazy with this analysis there is another great book on economics written by a religion professor called. Confidence Games about how the markets are really based on faith: 
     
    http://www.amazon.com/Confidence-Games-Redemption-Religion-Postmodernism/dp/0226791688/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250880709&sr=8-1 
     
    The author doesn’t come out and say it but he infers that all markets function because of faith. Once that faith is lost things go to hell in a handbasket. From a GNXP point of view this is more evolutionary psychology than biology.  
     
    As far as mathematical modeling is concerned Nicholas Taleb wrote some great stuff on it: 
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=nicholas+taleb 
    In his lay books he believes that most models make an assumption that most distributions are gaussian when in fact they are not. He believes in “fat tails” or black swans. Hence the title of his one book. The fact that quants and economists seem to get things consistently wrong supports this hypothesis.  
     
    Personally I think the problem with economics is that we fail to ask some obvious questions. Is this price rational? Do we act on the basis of faith(much like religion)? Is the system inherently unstable?

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  • I do mean to be rude, and you need to learn more math before you criticize models. It is not built in that there will be a bubble (a boom-and-bust). It happened that way. That’s the point of modeling — sometimes it will turn out that the price will only increase or only decrease from start to finish. It’s harder than you think to build models where there is a boom-and-bust, let alone where there are sustained boom-and-bust cycles. 
     
    Indeed, earlier in these comments I noted that when we allow the retireds to re-join the suckers, if their rate of leaving (l) is greater than a*I (the leaving rate of investors times the number of investors), we do NOT get a bubble. Price hype only increases to a point where it stays put. 
     
    This is why we model — to see what assumptions about the world can produce what we observe. You can argue among those that can produce real patterns, but we can immediately discard those that cannot produce them. 
     
    As an aside, whenever someone uses the word “tautology,” the conditional probability that they don’t know what they’re talking about is high.

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  • Let me see if I can summarize your model. 
     
    First, you define a system wherein “investors” sell an asset to a pool of “suckers” until the pool of suckers is depleted. Then, you define the (extra) price of said asset to be 0 when the pool of suckers is full, 0 again when it is empty, and positive everywhere in between. Finally, you declare that this system – which is tautologically defined to produce a bubble – produces a bubble. And people wonder why Austrian economists don’t like mathematical models? 
     
    Not to be rude, I don’t think you need to do all this work. The logic behind the greater fool theory is already simple and clear: If Steve thinks he can find an idiot to pay $100 for a $75 barrel of oil, he’ll probably buy some oil. If enough Steves are doing this, oil prices will rise. QED. To me, grafting equations onto this logic just distracts from and conceals the logic. Maybe there’s some use to this I’m not seeing, but I’m really not seeing it.

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  • the magazine cover indicator has been improved on by google search word count and other data mining indices. Not that it did any good in recent housing bubble case.

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  • There’s a paper by Doyne Farmer, among others, carrying out this kind of modeling experiment in more detail. IIRC, his three groups are fundamental investors, momentum investors and noise investors. The main result was that his market didn’t settle down to an equilibrium. And his momentum investors aren’t necessarily dummies. There are models in which information about fundamental values percolates down slowly to retail investors and stodgy fund managers. Under those assumptions, the movement of share prices does convey useful information. 
     
    The characteristic features of bubbles include the involvement of new players and the use of debt. The sign of new players is the magazine cover indicator in which news magazines at the peak all have covers devoted to real estate, internet startups, etc. So perhaps an epidemic model would provide better insights. 
     
    I haven’t read Minsky, but the secondary accounts emphasize his point that debt acquired for productive investments is ok, but debt acquired to buy assets with the intent of flipping them is a Bad Thing.  
     
    The standard source for the descriptive history is Kindelberger. He has a bestiary of perhaps 200 of these cycles from the GD down to real estate speculation in a single European city. And yes, the tulip bulbs are there.

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  • I just checked what happens when we let retireds re-enter the suckers, i.e.: 
     
    S’ = -aSI + lR 
     
    Where l is the rate at which retireds decide to come out of retirement. This assumes that they decide to do so independent of what other retireds are doing, and again ignores price or price trend, which is unrealistic. 
     
    It does not produce cycles. Rather, there is a single stable fixed point that has a positive value for both S and P — meaning that the suckers are never completely used up (now they can be replenished by retireds) and there will always be some degree of price hype. Moreover, if l is less than aI, the price hype will go up and then down, although not to zero; but if l is greater than aI, price hype only goes up to its stable value and never declines. So for some parameter values, this model doesn’t even produce a semi-boom-and-bust. 
     
    So, even allowing for retireds to get back in on the bubble won’t produce cycles in this model. We probably need a more realistic picture where P’ affects the rate at which suckers become investors, as well as the rate at which retireds decide to re-join the suckers.

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  • agnostic, 
     
    Retards DO rejoin suckers all the time, because they retired with money from the market, that is, they feel good about their chances to do it again.  
     
    Be kind enough to “allow” them to rejoin.

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  • Bubbles are supposed to be cyclical.  
     
    Right, this model just shows that we can at least get boom-and-bust. I’ll bet that if I allow the retireds to re-join the suckers, it will produce cycles. It’s like when an epidemic hits, and the people who are recovered and immune eventually lose their immunity and become susceptible to infection again. 
     
    Presumable, before the bubble there is a steady state situation, what causes the bubble mechanism to start? 
     
    In this model it’s an exogenous event. Somehow, a group of people get it in their heads to start speculating in some market. In the early 1990s, there was speculation in comic books. Starting in the late 1990s, they were speculating in houses. Why is it one thing at one time, and another thing at another? The model doesn’t try to explain that, only how the dynamics unfold once the initial speculators have arrived.

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  • How steady state passes into the bubble phase?

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  • You may wish to look at some of the results coming out of experimental economics.

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  • Someone has actually come up with an economic theory on why we have price bubbles: 
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyman_Minsky 
     
    Minsky believed that stability bred complacency in financial systems and that this encouraged borrowers and lenders to become ever more reckless. 
    Minsky’s Actual Paper (PDF form) 
     
    http://www.levy.org/pubs/wp74.pdf 
     
    Another author also wrote something about economic bubbles: 
     
    http://www.amazon.com/Dollar-Crisis-Causes-Consequences-Cures/dp/0470821027 
     
    Duncan that the dollar acted like steroids for economies running large trade surpluses with the US and believe this led to hyperlending and the Asian currency crisis of 1997 
     
    Last but not least there is too big to fail: 
     
    http://www.amazon.com/Too-Big-Fail-Hazards-Bailouts/dp/081570304X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250767678&sr=1-1 
     
    The author of this book believes that financial institutions are inherently reckless because of government guarantees that underwrite reckless behaviour. 
     
    Yes I did get a degree in economics but I didn’t read any of the aforementioned texts for school and hardly covered any of the issues that the authors raised in my classes.

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  • Bubbles are supposed to be cyclical. Presumable, before the bubble there is a steady state situation, what causes the bubble mechanism to start? On the light side, your model does not take into account that a new sucker is born every minute.

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  • In the new issue of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell reviews some book about using the appeal of FREE to grow your business. This is supposed to apply most strongly to information, so that as more and more of a firm's product / service consists of information, the more it can use the appeal of...
  • Gross generalities usually leave plenty of room for exceptions which certainly makes the arguing fun. There are plenty of ways businesses can make money by providing ‘free’ stuff. Unfortunately in the current cycle this means ‘creators’ are having to find ways to generate cash that are non-traditional and in some cases counter-intuitive. ‘What I made is free, but if you want it conveniently/safe it will be $.99. Anderson’s book is really about shifting revenue streams, and while it describes todays environment I’m not sure it proves sustainability.

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  • May be you didn’t read all the article, Microsoft is “dead” the way IBM is dead, a lingering dinosaur still breathing but which cannot harm anymore. 
    The bias toward Apple is from Paul Graham not me, there is no such thing as “Apple computer” it’s “Steve Jobs computer”, so yeah it’s likely to be dead soon or may be it will go open source the way Mozilla hatched from Netscape. 
    Anyway the “game” isn’t anymore about the OS but about higher level development platforms mostly web centric and (big) database centric.

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  • Microsoft is not dead, contra that article. Microsoft haters have been predicting its demise forever — and have always been wrong. It’s Apple that’s stalling out — their OS market share had been gaining steam during the 2000s, but it peaked and slightly declined during 2008, now at about 7 – 7.5%. 
     
    I know software isn’t a standard trade good — hence the emphasis I placed on information in the article and comments, numbnuts.

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  • @agnostic 
     
    May be you should stick to the stuff you really know about? 
    Software isn’t much the epitome of the “standard trade good”!

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  • RKU says:

    Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Linux actually runs on more CPU cores than Windows (given the vast number of servers, and their higher-core structure). 
     
    Also, since an increasing fraction of all software activity is via the Web/Server model rather than locally on the PC, I’d bet that Linux totally dominates the active-CPU-clock-cycle measure of computer activity. 
     
    And given how dreadfully bad the new Windows Vista version seems, and the rise of netbooks, I think the local platform may be heading in the same direction. 
     
    And don’t forget the other incredibly successful software components of the Free/Open Source movement, such as Apache, PHP, MySQL, etc., most of which have pretty much wiped out their non-free competitors. 
     
    I really, really would avoid making “Anti-Free” arguments when you’re talking about software (for which the cost of production and distribution is zero!)

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  • What he’s talking about is the fact that the very existence of a competitor keeps the dominant player on its toes, and forces it to keep working in the consumer’s interest rather than sitting on its glutei maximi and enjoying its monopoly rent. 
     
    Right, like how the rest of us keep the NBA players in top shape — they wouldn’t want us to take over professional basketball and do it right. 
     
    Compare the quality of Internet Explorer after Firefox burst onto the scene. 
     
    What are you talking about? You make it sound like IE has been around for ages in monopolistic decadence, and only recently became good. IE only overtook Netscape in 1999 — before then, it had anything but a monopoly. 
     
    Furthermore, it’s market share has not been steady, as you imply with your sitting-on-their-asses monopoly argument. They peaked in 2002 and have been slightly declining since. So much for IE being a long-entrenched, decadent monopoly. 
     
    Here’s a picture showing that IE’s popularity looks like a flaring up and dying down, just like Netscape before it: 
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Browser_Wars.svg

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  • I don’t know what you’re talking about with Linux — 1% or less uses it. 
     
    What he’s talking about is the fact that the very existence of a competitor keeps the dominant player on its toes, and forces it to keep working in the consumer’s interest rather than sitting on its glutei maximi and enjoying its monopoly rent. The future threat is more important than the actual effect at a given time. 
     
    You may not see the potential effect of Linux, but rest assured that Microsoft definitely saw it. 
     
    A more accessible example is Firefox. Compare the quality of Internet Explorer after Firefox burst onto the scene. Notice that both products are essentially “free” from the consumer’s viewpoint.

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  • Competition=Higher quality. Examples: Email, Linux, Google Docs. (BTW, Google docs is constantly adding new features) 
     
    Not true — at least not in information-based fields. All the neat stuff by Google that you’re talking about was delivered only after it started to really dominate and edge out the competition, allowing it to focus on side projects, and/or to act as a royal patron to start-ups. 
     
    I don’t know what you’re talking about with Linux — 1% or less uses it. Except for servers, it doesn’t compete with anything.

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Free services are advertising for premium services. 
     
    ‘”free” has the power to create a consumer stampede.’ 
     
    Free=Eyeballs. Ad firms are paid huge sums for eyeballs. Convenient services like email are much stickier than your typical ad and therefore a much higher value.  
     
    “Thus, in a world where there is more FREE stuff, the quality of stuff will decline.” 
     
    Wrong. There is competition for eyeballs in the free space. Competition=Higher quality. Examples: Email, Linux, Google Docs. (BTW, Google docs is constantly adding new features) 
     
    “If you’re only trying to get people to buy your target product by packaging it with a FREE trinket, then that’s fine. You’re still selling something,” 
     
    The free service IS the trinket. The premium service, or a secondary service for another market is the product.  
     
    Google 
    Free search = trinket 
    Ad platform = product 
     
    Many successful web businesses use the “freemimum” model.  
     
    Because digital products scale so efficiently, there’s not much difference in overhead between 60 or 60000 users.  
     
    If you need 3000 paying customers to turn a profit, and your conversion rate is 5%, the 60,000 repeat eyeballs on the free service is a much more efficient way to get 3k paying users than advertising traditional advertizing. 
     
    Free services are leverage to generate novel revenue streams is other creative ways.

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    How do we know that the following equation is incorrect? 
     
    FREE + lower quality = Better value 
     
    Dan’s experiments show a discontinuity of preferences at the price of zero. They do not tell us which side of the discontinuity is “correct.” Ironically, I think this is one that the markets will sort out.

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  • How about encyclopedias? It used to be that libraries and educated people would spend a lot of money for a good encyclopedia. Now people go online and look at sites for free. 
     
    If you started charging, say, $5 for a lifetime subscription to Wikipedia, and also increased the price of Britannica by five bucks, would people start flocking toward Britannica?

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  • chemdude: 
     
    Of course bgc is correct–he’s an Austrian–and will always have the correct explanation of such phenomena.

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  • “Is there a single real world example of this?” 
     
    How about encyclopedias? It used to be that libraries and educated people would spend a lot of money for a good encyclopedia. Now people go online and look at sites for free. I absolutely love Wikipedia, but I’ll admit it is not quite as reliable as Encyclopedia Britannica used to be.

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  • In other words, FREE caused people to choose an inferior product more than they would have if the prices were both positive. Thus, in a world where there is more FREE stuff, the quality of stuff will decline. It’s hard to believe that this needs to be pointed out. 
     
    Is there a single real world example of this? I can’t think of one. Certainly the opposite trend dominates – people flock to overpriced junk because they use price as a heuristic for value. I’d imagine they’d do the same even if the alternatives were free instead of merely cheaper. If you gave away rustbucket cars to anyone who wanted them, would it put a dent in BMW sales? I doubt it.

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  • Even sticking with just information, per Chris Anderson, look at what movies you can download without cost on a peer-to-peer site or whatever — they mostly all suck, being limited to the library of DVDs that geeks own. Sign up for NetFlix or a similar service, and you have access to a superior library of movies, and it hardly costs you anything — it’s just not FREE. Ditto for music files you can download cost-free from a P2P site vs. iTunes, or even buying the actual CD used from Amazon or eBay. 
     
    Ummm… I realize this is tangential to your main point, since movies and music are generally not intended to be “free”, and are subsidized by the people who actually buy the stuff, but what you write here is totally wrong. I can find any song I want on BitTorrent. You can get the whole discography for almost any band all in one go. I’ve even found obscure shit from the 60′s for my parents before. I’m no classical music connoisseur, so I’m not totally certain about that (like if you want specific recordings etc.) but my guess is you can find it. I bet an enormous fraction of recorded CDs are available on BT.  
     
    Movies are even easier. Any major movie is online. Foreign films are easy if you speak the language the movie was recorded in and can use the sites in that language, and probably even if you can’t. 
     
    I’d like to see stats, or failing that, examples of stuff that is hard to get online for free, if you want to make this argument. 
     
    I’m not too impressed by the chocolates example either. You’re talking about trivial items (a piece of candy) and trivial sums of money – the psychology involved is interesting, but I’m not sure the results generalize to more important decisions. Also, IMO, Hershey’s Kisses are not exactly “crap”, and in fact I prefer Hershey’s chocolate to a lot of the more expensive stuff. If the experiment in question had used candy that actually tasted like crap for the “free” choice, I suspect the results might have been different. 
     
    I can also think of counter-examples. Tap water is basically free and generally safe to drink, but lots of people buy the bottled stuff. You could probably dress yourself entirely with free T-shirts with ugly logos, and while some geeks do this, most people do not. Etc. 
     
    But in general, you can imagine the quality level you’d enjoy from a free car or an all-volunteer police force. 
     
    It seems like you’re getting two different arguments mixed up here. Saying that free stuff tends to be crap (or simply not exist) because people usually don’t want to expend lots of effort to get nothing in return is… well, not exactly news, and in fact I agree that “using free to grow your business” is in general a stupid idea and has failed in most cases where I’ve seen people try to implement it. But that’s different from saying that giving things away would lead to an abundance of crap because psychological mechanisms would cause people to irrationally reject superior alternatives, a claim which in general does not seem valid.

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  • the chocolate example, as described, seems odd. certainly one possibility is that humans compare the prices of two things in relative terms–that is, 15 cents is 15X the price of 1c, but 14c is infinitely more expensive than free. this is testable (increasing the price of both chocolates by 10c should further skew people towards the truffles), and would explain behavior much more parsimoniously than invoking some sort of weird psychological phenomenon associated with the word “free”.

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  • sg says:

    There is a small industry devoted to pricing models. All of the airlines use professional pricing consultants. The local private school had trouble enrolling enough students until they raised their prices. So their is some irrationality in the price people want to pay. There are even some who will not take something if it is free.

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  • bgc has it correct. Anything that is “free” (meaning that someone besides you is paying for it) is going to be overused. The NHS is an excellent example. Its costs were far greater than originally projected because people didn’t realise agnostic’s point. Even a small $20 copay will stop some people from going to a doctor for a runny nose. 
     
    tanstaasfl

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