Congestion Tolling at the Supermarket

To help explain why toll lanes might not be the great solu­tion to traffic con­ges­tion many believe them to be, Timothy Lee goes to an unex­pec­ted place to draw par­al­lels: your loc­al super­mar­ket.

Super­mar­kets are a good ana­logy, sug­gests Lee, because they oper­ate in a free mar­ket, are ruth­lessly effi­cient, intensely com­pet­it­ive, and employ ‘lanes’ (check­out queues)… but they don’t use con­ges­tion pri­cing. The reas­ons why they don’t, he says, can also be applied to traffic con­ges­tion:

First, we have strong and soph­ist­ic­ated social norms, cul­tiv­ated since we were young chil­dren, for wait­ing in lines. This bit of self-organ­iz­a­tion is extremely import­ant for the smooth func­tion­ing of civil soci­ety. We see wait­ing your turn as an oblig­a­tion we have to one anoth­er, and there­fore not as an oblig­a­tion that a super­mar­ket or trans­port­a­tion agency can waive in exchange for a cash pay­ment. I sus­pect cus­tom­ers would see people using a tolled check­out lane as break­ing an impli­cit social con­tract.

More import­antly, cus­tom­ers would be sus­pi­cious that the super­mar­ket was delib­er­ately under-staff­ing the free lanes to gin up demand for the express ones. […] In the low-mar­gin gro­cery busi­ness, it would be a pretty effect­ive way for a man­ager to pump up his short-term profits, while the long-term harm to the store’s repu­ta­tion would be hard […] to quanti­fy.

This lat­ter con­cern seems par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to the case of toll roads. The rev­en­ue-max­im­iz­ing pri­cing sched­ule is not the same as the con­ges­tion-min­im­iz­ing sched­ule. An effect­ive con­ges­tion-pri­cing scheme might gen­er­ate rel­at­ively little rev­en­ue if people shift their driv­ing to off-peak times (which is the whole point). The oper­at­or of a mono­pol­ist­ic toll road will face a con­stant tempta­tion to boost rev­en­ues by lim­it­ing through­put on free lanes and jack­ing up the off-peak toll rates. The wide­spread voter per­cep­tion that they’ve “already paid for” many tolled roads through oth­er taxes isn’t exactly right as a mat­ter of fisc­al policy, but I think it’s based on a sound intu­ition: there’s no reas­on to think the polit­ic­al pro­cess will set tolls in a way that’s either fair or eco­nom­ic­ally effi­cient.

The Statistics on Link Rot

By sampling 4,200 ran­dom URLs span­ning a 14 year period, Maciej CegÅ‚owski, the cre­at­or of book­mark­ing web­site, decided to gath­er stat­ist­ics on the extent of link rot and how it pro­gressed across time. Inter­ested in find­ing out if there is some sort of ‘half life of links’, he found instead that it is a fairly lin­ear, fast deteri­or­a­tion:

Links appear to die at a steady rate (they don’t have a half life), and you can expect to lose about a quarter of them every sev­en years.

And even that is an optim­ist­ic res­ult, says Maciej, as not all dead links were able to be dis­covered programmatically. There are also sev­er­al unanswered ques­tions:

  • How many of these dead URLs are find­able on
  • What is the attri­tion rate for shortened links?
  • Is there a simple pro­gram­mat­ic way to detect parked domains?
  • Giv­en just a URL, can we make any intel­li­gent guesses about its vul­ner­ab­il­ity to  link rot?

Inter­est­ingly, link rot is what inspired the cre­ation of (it fea­tures page archiv­ing fun­citon­al­ity). This is sim­il­ar to why I star­ted Lone Gun­man: I was los­ing track of inter­est­ing links and art­icles, and wanted a way to eas­ily find them again as well as help me build con­nec­tions between dis­par­ate art­icles and top­ics.

Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Tips and Rules: An Economist’s Take on Eating Out

When it comes to find­ing, order­ing, and eat­ing at eth­nic res­taur­ants there’s only one place to look for advice: eco­nom­ist Tyler Cowen’s Eth­nic Din­ing Guide. I’ve men­tioned Cowen’s guide before (if only in passing), but it’s time I ded­ic­ated a post to this treas­ure trove of din­ing advice and, espe­cially, the tips from Cowen’s Gen­er­al Remarks.

From an art­icle in The Wash­ing­ton Post, four strategies for find­ing good res­taur­ants and order­ing well (click through for details):

  1. For good value, avoid high-rent areas (those will be expens­ive or chains).
  2. Look for com­pet­i­tion (pos­sibly a sign of a large immig­rant pop­u­la­tion, provid­ing expert­ise).
  3. Know how to order ‘strategically’  from waiters.
  4. Be aware of the res­taur­ant cycle (from open­ing, to accol­ades, to mass pro­duc­tion).

Four rules-of-thumb for choos­ing from the menu (be aware of the excep­tions):

  1. Avoid “ingredi­ents-intens­ive” dishes, opt for “com­pos­i­tion-intens­ive” instead (i.e. con­tains sauces or com­plex ingredi­ent mixes).
  2. Appet­izers are super­i­or to main courses in some cuisines; be will­ing to have a ‘side-dishes-only’ meal.
  3. Avoid desserts, espe­cially Asi­an ones.
  4. Order for vari­ety, not quant­ity (order more than you think neces­sary).

And finally, from a recent art­icle by Cowen in The Atlantic, six rules for din­ing out:

  1. In the fan­ci­est res­taur­ants, order what sounds least appet­ising.
  2. Beware the beau­ti­ful, laugh­ing women (you’re there for food, not the scene/drinks).
  3. Get out of the city.
  4. Admit what you don’t know, and search/ask intel­li­gently.
  5. Exploit res­taur­ant work­ers (if you see expens­ive labour, think about what your return is… fam­ily-run res­taur­ants may offer the best return).
  6. Prefer Viet­namese to Thai, Pakistani to Indi­an.

Cowen can be a bit out­spoken on the top­ic of food, so bear in mind this com­ment:

It all makes per­fect sense if you like what Cowen likes, which is inter­est­ing food for a reas­on­able price without much ambi­ance. Which is not what every­one likes.

Wheth­er that’s what you like or not, you’ll still def­in­itely like Cowen’s book on the sub­ject, An Eco­nom­ist Gets Lunch.

Misunderstood Salt: The Facts About Limiting Intake

For dec­ades we have been told, with cer­tainty, to lim­it our salt intake or risk heart dis­ease and high blood pressure—but is this advice based on sound sci­entif­ic find­ings? The short answer is No.

The evid­ence is incon­sist­ent, incon­clus­ive and con­tra­dict­ory, says prom­in­ent car­di­olo­gist Jeremi­ah Stamler (who used to be an advoc­ate for the eat-less-salt cam­paign back in the 60s and 80s), and there­fore the “eat-less-salt” mes­sage is pre­ma­ture and may even be harm­ful.

Last year, two [meta-ana­lyses] were pub­lished by the Cochrane Col­lab­or­a­tion, an inter­na­tion­al non­profit organ­iz­a­tion foun­ded to con­duct unbiased reviews of med­ic­al evid­ence. The first of the two reviews con­cluded that cut­ting back “the amount of salt eaten reduces blood pres­sure, but there is insuf­fi­cient evid­ence to con­firm the pre­dicted reduc­tions in people dying pre­ma­turely or suf­fer­ing car­di­ovas­cu­lar disease.” The second con­cluded that “we do not know if low salt diets improve or worsen health outcomes.”The idea that eat­ing less salt can worsen health out­comes may sound bizarre, but it also has bio­lo­gic­al plaus­ib­il­ity and is cel­eb­rat­ing its 40th anniversary this year, too. A 1972 paper in The New Eng­land Journ­al of Medi­cine repor­ted that the less salt people ate, the high­er their levels of a sub­stance secreted by the kid­neys, called ren­in, which set off a physiolo­gic­al cas­cade of events that seemed to end with an increased risk of heart dis­ease. In this scen­ario: eat less salt, secrete more ren­in, get heart dis­ease, die pre­ma­turely. […]

[Four stud­ies] involving Type 1 dia­bet­ics, Type 2 dia­bet­ics, healthy Europeans and patients with chron­ic heart fail­ure — repor­ted that the people eat­ing salt at the lower lim­it of nor­mal were more likely to have heart dis­ease than those eat­ing smack in the middle of the nor­mal range.

via The Browser

Equipping for Emergencies: What Items Disappear First?

As someone who lives in an eco­nom­ic­ally, cli­mat­ic­ally and polit­ic­ally stable West­ern coun­try, the chances are some­what remote that I’ll ever encounter an emer­gency that requires fore­thought and care­ful plan­ning1. Nev­er­the­less, that doesn’t stop me from enjoy­ing this list of the 100 most in-demand goods dur­ing an emer­gency.

This list appar­ently ori­gin­ates from someone called Joseph Almond who cre­ated it in 1999 after observing the beha­viour of con­sumers pre­par­ing for Y2K-related prob­lems. I say “appar­ently” because I can’t find any sug­ges­tion that this is actu­ally true.

Nev­er­th­less, there’s some­thing about this list that is inher­ently intriguing, even though I’m far from a mem­ber of the sur­viv­al­ism move­ment. Oh, and feel free to share this with the more voguish title: How to pre­pare for the zom­bie apo­ca­lypse. Now that will get you some of them pre­cious retweets.

via Ask Meta­Fil­ter

1 Although I’m not know for my futur­ism.