Tim Harford, who writes the Financial Times‘s “Undercover Economist” column, has appeared on our blog many times. This guest post is part of a series adapted from his new book The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy.
Robert A. Radford studied economics at Cambridge University, and worked at the International Monetary Fund. In between, he spent half the war in a German prison camp, and on his release wrote an article, “The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp.” It gives a surprising insight into economic recessions.
The building blocks of the P.O.W. camp economy were parcels of food and cigarettes that the prisoners received from the Red Cross. These parcels were standardized—everybody got the same, beyond the occasional package from home. Occasionally, the Red Cross received bumper supplies, or ran short; in those circumstances everybody enjoyed a surplus or a shortage. Naturally enough, while prisoners had equal rations, they did not have identical preferences. The Sikhs didn’t have much use for their rations of beef or razor blades, for example; the French were desperate for more coffee; the English wanted more tea. Read More »
In Belarus, the government doesn’t allow trading of its ruble outside a narrow price range, which greatly overvalues the ruble— so there is a price floor on the ruble compared to the euro or dollar. Because of the floor, currency trading had dried up: who would want to sell foreign currencies for grossly overpriced Belarussian rubles??
A friend of one of my students has a website designed to overcome rigidities in this market, sort of a Craigslist for currency. People specify amounts willing to buy or sell, agree to trade at some price and arrange a meeting place (often one of the empty currency-trading booths!). When they meet, trade nominally occurs at the official price floor, making the transaction nominally legal; but the person selling rubles makes side payments to the buyer to lower the price sufficiently so that the trade actually takes place at the equilibrium price.
One more way in which technology helps markets circumvent imperfections and rigidities.
(HT to MK)
Life only tastes good when you eat what you kill. When you hustle for what you earn and someone pays you money in proportion to the service you’ve offered, the idea you’ve created, your ability to execute on it, and their ability to consume it in a way that benefits them.
Someone asked me the other day, “What does it mean when you say you ‘Eat what you kill’?”
It means that the greatest pleasure is going into the jungle and mastering the ability to hunt and survive without the help of masters who only pretend to guarantee our safety; i.e., bosses. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, a student, a homemaker, a writer — it’s time to start forgetting about all the ways the world has promised you safety and comfort.
Human knowledge has torn apart our families, our bank accounts, and lulled us into a creepy sense of Disney stability. A good friend of mine was just laid off from his job of ten years. He found out through an email and was asked not to come into work for the rest of the week and to clean out his desk when security came in on Saturday. All of that human knowledge in an email. Ten years of work. Time to cut costs. “What do I do now?” he asked me. Read More »
The night Bernie Madoff got caught for running a $60 billion Ponzi scheme I got a call from my friend “Eddie” (not his real name) who for many years worked for Madoff. I couldn’t tell if he was crying but he was very upset. “I can’t believe it,” he said, “Bernie was like a father to me. Mark Madoff was like a brother to me.” We spoke on and off all night as more news came in and he came to grips with the new world he was living in.
I called Eddie yesterday and said I wanted to write an article about him and how I thought he was the best trader I ever knew. I’ve met and worked with over a thousand traders. I traded for hedge funds. I ran a fund of hedge funds. I’ve written five books on trading. And Eddie is the best trader I’ve ever come across. Read More »