Would a Computer-Driven Vehicle Make This Kind of Error?

Reading about the horrific train crash in Spain that killed at least 80, and thinking back to the (rare) fatal airplane crash in San Francisco brought to mind the ride I took in a driverless car a few months back at Carnegie Mellon University. Many people still distrust a computer to get them from Point A to B. How long will it be before our thinking changes and we distrust humans to do the same? The train and plane crashes both appear to be due to human error, as are the vast majority of automobile crashes (which kill more than 1 million people worldwide each year).

I haven't spent all that much time in Spain but one of the most striking observations from a recent visit was how hard it is to buy a train ticket from a machine. In many cases, you have to wait in (long) line for a human ticket-seller. Whenever I asked why, I was told this was simply done to protect jobs -- an understandable, if unsatisfying, defense in a country with 27% unemployment.

It does make me wonder how much a country or culture with a strong sense of job protection will be resistant to technological changes purely on employment grounds, even if they might produce large gains for the greater good.

Pay After You Go?

We've blogged extensively about pay-as-you wish pricing schemes. Springwise reports that a Spanish concert promoter is now experimenting with post-concert pay-as-you-wish pricing:

Spanish promoters Caravana de Emerxencia have recognized this problem and addressed it through their upcoming gig, where attendees can decide the price of the ticket when they leave.

The concert is taking place on April 4 at Sala Capitol in Santiago, northern Spain. Four bands will be playing on the night – SkarallaosChotokoeuSkarnivals and Swingdigentes. At the end of the evening attendees can pay whatever price they think the event deserves.

How do you like this plan? How do you think you would respond?

The Economics of Busking

Equilibration in a competitive or monopolistically competitive market is slow.  It takes time for new businesses to perceive excess profits and to enter the market. But not always.

Like many major European venues, the Plaza Mayor in Madrid has many buskers operating.  One busker had a particularly clever shtick:  Dressed up like an infant in a stroller, he would squeal and squawk, especially whenever someone put money his jar.  Many kids, and even this adult, did exactly that.  In the 5 minutes I watched at least 10 people gave him something. BUT:  Near the end of that time, other buskers, who had been observing him, moved their routines closer to his. His flow of customers diminished, with some going to the other, now nearby buskers.  He still was attracting more money than the others, but his excess profits had been reduced by the new competition.