Top Posts of 2008

Like last year, I thought I’d list today the most popular posts on this blog from 2008:

  1. Google Street View
  2. Australian iPhone Ad
  3. Luxury Car Tax
  4. FT MBA Rankings
  5. Baby Bonus dues
  6. NSW Electricity Privatisation
  7. The Medicare Levy Change
  8. Coming out against the baby bonus
  9. AussieMac in the AFR
  10. House price predictions

and these blasts from the past still got lots of hits (at least as much as the Top 10):

Since last year, it appears that Australian policy issues as well as problems with Australian companies now rank highly in terms of individual post readership. Previously it all appeared keyword driven.

In light of all this, I want to anticipate a major change to this blog that will happen on January 20th. It will make it significantly more responsive in terms of Australian issues. Stay tuned.

Classifying disagreements

Paul Graham has an interesting essay about the type of disagreements commentors make on blogs (and elsewhere). Here is his list:

  1. DH0: Name Calling (“The author is a self-important dilettante”)
  2. DH1: Ad Hominem (“Of course he would say that, he is a Senator”)
  3. DH2: Responding to Tone (“I can’t believe that the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier manner”)
  4. DH3: Contradiction (“I can’t believe that the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier manner. Intelligent design is a respected scientific theory.”)
  5. DH4: Counterargument
  6. DH5: Refutation
  7. DH6: Refuting the Central Point

Personally when writing on the blog I try to keep to DH3 or above but I’m sure someone will find examples where I have strayed.

Joye Blogs

My AussieMac co-author, Christopher Joye is Business Spectator‘s newest blogger. He will be blogging on property issues. The first post is here; on various issue associated with interpreting house price trends.

Sadly, there is no RSS feed for the blog itself (something you get from the Fairfax and News press). Hmm, can you really call it a blog if there is no feed?

10 Years ago for Scott Adams

Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, returns today to his prediction about confusopolies. Here is the prediction:

In the future, all barriers to entry will go away and companies will be forced to form what I call “confusopolies”.

Confusopoly: A group of companies with similar products who intentionally confuse customers instead of competing on price.

And he goes on a decade later:

Thanks to the Internet, relatively efficient capital markets, and the fact that some company in China can make just about anything, anyone with drive can start just about any kind of company. The interesting part is that in the near future it can never be profitable to do so, because a hundred other people will start the same company next week and drive down your margins. Your only defense is to be confusing, so customers believe, incorrectly, that your product has advantages.

I have long been intruiged by this as, superficially at least, it seems to describe alot of behaviour. Indeed, I documented that behaviour here (for gas retailing) and here (for telecommunications).

While not using the term confusopoly economists are divided over it. For instance, Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff don’t think confusion is a good idea (see also this) whereas Glenn Ellison can see it emerging.

Of course, in his post today, Adams noted that he has Google Alerts set up to tell him when someone is writing about him on the Internet. I figured that this would be a good day to post about him and perhaps gratutiously link to Parentonomics: An Economist Dad Looks at Parenting (out in Australia now and in the rest of the world from MIT Press in early 2009; Amazon pre-order here). He talks about celebrity endorsements and I could use them. What could be less confusing than that!

Blogging and piracy

For some reason, this new paper on blogging by Gaudel, Mathieu and Peroni was associated in my mind with this article in Slate on movie uploader, aXXo.

The blogging paper concerns the economics of reciprocal attention. The hypothesis is that the reason people blog is to have their ideas read but that this comes with a price (or norm) that you need to read and acknowledge the ideas and opinions of others. The paper looks at Livejournal data to test this out by examining the quantity of blog content and the type of network a blogger has — friends versus readers. The idea is that you have to consider putting effort into blogging. Under the norm, if you don’t provide much content you will have to cite and discuss others more so as to maintain status. Conversely if you provide lots of content, you don’t have to worry about giving as much attention to others. It is overall contribution that matters. What they find is that blogs with more readers than friends do indeed provide more content. I’m not quite sure this is the first order model but, as usual with these things, it can get you thinking.

So I was thinking about aXXo. aXXo is apparently a brand name in the Bit Torrent network for providing good quality movie content. Of course, this is illegal content but in a world ungoverned by the rule of law, that illegality attracts malicious content disguised as something more attractive. So a brand matters and the torrent distribution cites maintain the integrity of brand names with account verification.

But what is in it for aXXo? There can be no explicit recognition as identity is secret. There is no obvious remuneration although the torrent sites can do well from advertising revenue. aXXo is purely self-motivated but with cost, some risk of prosecution. It seems from the article that aXXo does get attention and recognition with downloaders leaving complementary comments. Can that be it? Is that enough to keep going? It makes you wonder.

CITE in the Australian

The Higher Education section of The Australian today has a solid review of the Centre for Ideas and the Economy. Once again, let me put out the call to academics out there who would like to be involved in CITE and to write either an ideaCHECK or ideaPITCH. We have resources to support both.

Andrew Leigh leaves the blogosphere

… and a ton of other stuff; hopefully temporarily. Andrew is going to Treasury for six months to try his hand as a public servant. On the one hand, I see this as a terrific opportunity, rarely afforded Australian academics, to see government from the inside. For what Andrew does that is essential and so long as it is temporary, his academic career will not suffer for it.

But for me personally, this is a big change. Andrew and I have written many papers over the past few years and continue to do so. Some of those are in the publication train but there will inevitably be a pause to the creation of new ones. But Andrew’s blog was the reason I got into this business and I get so much from reading both it and his AFR columns that were, by far, the best in the country. Many will miss that.

There is, however, another role Andrew was playing. For media commentary (not just on our joint work), we were each other’s fall-back. For instance, recently, I decided not to comment any more on the baby bonus and the timing issues that this would create today and tomorrow. Andrew stepped in and was there to save me from having to explain my decision to journalists. I’ll have to do my own wriggling now.

It is not all cost. One of the biggest mysteries Andrew and I had to deal with was why our push to have the baby bonus installment stopped failed earlier this year. The evidence and economics were compelling and it was a new political party in office. But yet we failed. Interestingly, one clue on that has come to light and it turns out that the policy we will have from 1st January, 2009, is in fact an original Latham era policy to do with parental leave. We had not been aware of this. The original policy involved fortnightly payments and a more stringent means test. But it was not motivated like Costello’s ‘one for the country’ absurdity but about parental leave. Hopefully, it will morph into that.

As a (temporary) insider, Andrew will likely get to learn more about what makes policies get traction and what doesn’t. This will be a valuable for all of us.

Results: Happy Economists

OK so here are the results of yesterday’s poll (thanks to Google Spreadsheets). The first number is the average (out of 5 where 5 is ‘Really Happy’ and 3 is ‘Neutral’) while the number in the brackets is the standard deviation.

4.35 (0.90)     3.3 (0.82)       3.47 (1.1)      

2.88 (0.79)   3.26 (1.06)     3.84 (0.81)

I am guessing Andrew Leigh’s picture was taken pre-baby.

Happy Economists

A new paper today about how happy economists seem. [HT: Marginal Revolution] To what end, I am not sure.

In honor of this I thought I’d conduct a survey of how happy some Australian economist bloggers appear. The survey is over the fold. (It could be laid out better but I didn’t want to spend more than 10 minutes on this). Results will follow later.

Continue reading “Happy Economists”