Archive for the ‘Trade’ Category

Open email to Amazon

September 7, 2011

Here’s the text of an email I sent to Amazon‘s customer services, about my last-minute decision NOT to buy several albums of music from the store.

Having read the terms and conditions I have decided not to make a purchase for the following reasons:
1) I don’t understand what Amazon’s “right to withdraw” software means for my MP3 download. Does it mean that I can pay for a download and Amazon can, without warning, disable the download? If so, that sounds like a rubbish deal.

2) Ownership. I understand the restrictions on retransmitting and not sharing MP3s, but the statement that I do not own the download begs the question: what exactly am I paying for if I don’t own the download?

3) Cross border restrictions: I currently live in the UK, but I have lived in other countries and I may go and live in the USA. Am I supposed to destroy my UK downloads every time I go and live in another country? What if I spend half my time in the USA and the other half in the UK? Am I not allowed to keep one set of files? Seems very inconvenient.

Consequence: I have never yet bought any downloaded music. At £0.79 a track and my likely target of 1,000 pieces, that’s about £800 of lost business for Amazon. What benefit are you getting that’s worth annoying potential customers this much?

Kind regards,
Antoine Clarke

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A test for the “Wisdom of Crowds”

January 10, 2010

Tomorrow (that’s Monday, 11th January 2010), I shall be giving a talk about James Surowiecki’s excellent little book, The Wisdom of Crowds, at the Institute of Education in London, at an event organised by “the other LA.”

Given the inclement weather, the fact it’s the first meeting of the year, there’s a new venue, I only told friends about it this evening, and the problem that either the speaker or the subject might not be as exciting to others as it is to me, I consider this a good test.

If no one shows up, how can I possibly argue that crowds lack wisdom? But then if I’m right, surely lots of people will want to know more about it.

I shall be talking about markets, taxes, voting, opinion polls and fairness. There will also be a little quiz.

If you cannot (or will not!) make it, I suggest Surowiecki’s book to anyone remotely interested in psychology, economics or epistemology, or to use less fancy language: how people think, work together and acquire and use knowledge.

It’s very readable, it has only one error of reasoning in my opinion [not fair to tell yet] and the only technical flaw is the lack of an index.

[UPDATE 8 Feb 2010: The flaw mentioned above is the claim that taxpayers consent to being taxed. The missing ingredient is the extent to which coercion (actual or potential) affect one’s decision to comply with taxation or not. If the various tax authorities of the world did not have the power to drag people before courts, confiscate assets and prison sentences weren’t relatively longer than say, for stealing food, I imagine that tax revenue rates would plummet.]

Smallville, China

January 3, 2010

A spectacular, if botched demolition in Liuzhou, caught my attention on several grounds. First the awesome image here of what was briefly a leaning tower to make that of Pisa look stable.

But two other thoughts occurred. First, this is no clearing of slums, or destruction of an ancient residential quarter. I’d guess the building being demolished was no more than 20-25 years old. I find this a telling incident in the development of China as a leading industrial country.

Destroying a recent structure to put up something more useful is not something one does when money is tight, or investment prospects are uncertain. It may be a case of Parkinson’s Law concerning new buildings, but I suspect not.

The second is that this story is a reminder that outside the tourist destinations and familiar names of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, perhaps Nanjing and Guangzhou, there is a huge country. Here’s a list of Chinese cities with a population estimated at over 2.5 million inhabitants:

[taken from Wing Chan “Misconceptions and Complexities in the Study of China’s Cities: Definitions, Statistics, and Implications,” July/August 2007 issue of Eurasian Geography and Economics, which was cited here.

Shanghai 13.46 million
Beijing 9.88 million
Guangzhou 7.55 million
Wuhan 6.79 million
Tianjin 6.76 million
Shenzhen 6.48 million
Chongqing 6.17 million
Shenyang 4.6 million
Chengdu 3.96 million
Dongguan 3.87 million
Xi’an 3.76 million
Nanjing 3.51 million
Harbin 3.46 million
Dalian 2.87 million
Changchun 2.75 million
Qingdao 2.72 million
Kunming 2.64 million
Jinan 2.64 million
Taiyuan 2.54 million
Zhengzhou 2.5 million

To put this in context, here’s the equivalent table for the European Union [adapted from national data here].

London 7.56 million
Berlin 3.43 million
Madrid 3.21 million
Rome 2.73 million
Paris 2.20 million

Anyone wondering how long China will pretend to pay lip service to Western political correctness may do well to ponder where current demographic and economic trends are taking us.

Brontosaurus mocks “endangered” elephant

June 18, 2009

According to TIME magazine: Facebook is for Old Fogies.

To which I can only comment: that’s like a brontosaurus calling an elephant “endangered.”

Hat tip: Ward Supplee‘s Twitter feed.

Oh, I almost forgot. TIME has a Facebook page (no link because some things are best left to die). I wonder if Facebook advertises in TIME. I’m guessing not.

Diplomacy à la française

March 1, 2008

You can generally tell which countries the French government is trying to get an arms deal going with by the amount of diplomatic effort going in.

So this story of a $40,000,000,000 contract to supply new air tankers for the U.S. Air Force indicates a serious amount of lobbying.

Bad news for the U.K.’s influence in the U.S.A.: previously, the lack of sufficient air tankers for the U.S. forces meant they had to arrange help from the R.A.F., for example before the invasion of Afghanistan. Presumably, once this contract is up and running, the U.K. becomes just that little bit more expendable.

For this reason, the U.K. government should have tried to block this deal. But I have no doubt that Nicolas Sarkozy would have innocently pleaded that the EADS contract was a “European” deal and how could the British be so cynical?

Indeed.

And here’s the story of a business model that works…

January 13, 2008

I don’t like pointing the finger at losers all the time, although the RIAA’s legal strategies deserve constant denunciation and ridicule.

Here’s a good example of a good idea made good (despite rocky economic conditions), written by the inspiring Virginia Postrel.

The sea/land/rail container has transformed the global economy:

Just as the computer revolutionized the flow of information, the shipping container revolutionized the flow of goods. As generic as the 1’s and 0’s of computer code, a container can hold just about anything, from coffee beans to cellphone components. By sharply cutting costs and enhancing reliability, container-based shipping enormously increased the volume of international trade and made complex supply chains possible.

”Low transport costs help make it economically sensible for a factory in China to produce Barbie dolls with Japanese hair, Taiwanese plastics and American colorants, and ship them off to eager girls all over the world,” writes Marc Levinson in the new book The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (Princeton University Press).

The key moment was when a businessman stopped looking at shipping in terms of each component, but decided that customers care about the start and finish points, the time it takes and cost. From there, and the added reduction in pilfering, speedier loading/unloading and border control processing, there has been a tremendous improvement in global trade. The nearest equivalents in the past I can think of are the amphora and the barrel.

I found Virginia Postrel’s article via Reason Online. Only sad note, her column was the last of its kind in the New York Times:

This is Virginia Postrel’s last Economic Scene column. She has written columns under that heading for the past six years.

However, the same blog post on Reason’s ‘Hit and Run’ describes the use of containers for building homes, shops and even a Ukrainian shopping mall. I hope Brian Micklethwait tells us what he thinks about it all.