Archive for February, 2012

The Convenience of Piracy

Yglesias hits on what I think is the core driver of piracy of TV shows here:

One of the nice things about unauthorized downloading of your favorite TV show is that you don’t need to pay any money for it. But there are lots of other nice things about it! For one thing, you get your hands on the show right away and you can watch it. If your company isn’t offering a legal path for getting content as quickly and conveniently as the illegal path, then you’ve got a problem on your hands. The only thing I can recall “pirating” recently was Season 2 of Sherlock which I downloaded since the BBC had made it impossible for Americans to watch the show otherwise.

Exactly. When we’re talking about piracy of content, its important to remember that the type of content matters. For TV shows, the primary motivation for piracy isn’t financial, I suspect, but convenience. A Netflix account is cheap and because I have one I have no need to pirate all of the old seasons of How I Met Your Mother, I can just stream them. In fact, it’s more convenient for me to watch this legen – wait for it – dary show on Netflix than it is to pirate 6 seasons, because Netflix stores the files for me, rather than having them clutter up my own hard drive. But for the current season I have no convenient way to watch on my own schedule without signing up for an additional service, and so obtaining them legally is no longer convenient.

For movies (currently in theaters) the story is one of both convenience and cost. On the convenience side, it’s much easier to watch a movie in your living room than to drive to a theater, and the drinks are free. It’s also a lot cheaper. It costs more for one movie ticket than a month of Netflix.

For music, the motivations for pirating are a bit different. Cost of course stays in the picture, but the primary driver I suspect is a combination of bundling affects and  risk aversion. You may hear a song you like on the radio, but because you are risk averse, you probably don’t want to buy the whole CD. What if the rest of the album sucks? Then you just spent a lot of money on one song. A simple solution is to pirate the album, and if you like it you can buy it later. In practice, of course, few get around to that second part. As for the bundling affects, say you find that your risk aversion was warranted and the rest of the album really does suck. You still like that one song, but not enough to buy the whole thing.

iTunes of course gets around these issues by allowing you to buy songs individually, but in many cases people like a song but they don’t like it enough to spend money on it. Enter piracy. Some bands are circumventing this by making their content available for free download, and providing their listeners with a convenient method to “pay what you think the music is worth”. And they’re finding that to be a successful model!

Or you can just take the Grateful Dead’s advice, and encourage people to record your shows and share the recordings as widely as possible. Last I checked, those guys were mildly successful.


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Yes, that was hard to write. To be clear, I loathe Santorum and everything he stands for. But I have found myself rooting for him against Mitt Romney. And I’ve been thinking about it for some time, trying to put to words why I could possibly favor him, and failing. But today Andrew Sullivan wrote an excellent post (you should read the whole thing) that articulated wonderfully what I have so far failed to:

For Santorum, as for Ratzinger, if your conscience says one thing, and the Pope says another, you obey the Pope, not your conscience. And for the Christianists, if your conscience or intelligence says one thing, and the Bible says another, you obey the Bible, not your conscience, and certainly not your intelligence. Because beneath Christianism is a deep fear of the human mind – as if they actually believe that reason is stronger than religion and therefore must be restrained. As if the human mind can will God out of existence.

This is Santorum’s fear-laden vision. Which is why he is not a man of questioning, sincere faith and should not be flattered as such. He is a man of the kind of fear that leads to fundamentalist faith, a faith without doubt and in complete subservience to external authority. There is a reason he doesn’t want many kids to go to college. I mean: when we already know the truth, why bother to keep seeking it? And if we already know the truth, why are we not enforcing it as a matter of law in a country founded on Christian principles? It is not religious oppression if it is “the way things are supposed to be”, by natural law. In fact, a neutral public square, in his mind, is itself religious oppression…

For now we can see in plain view the religious fanaticism that has destroyed one of the major parties in this country, a destruction that is perilous for any workable politics. It must be defeated – and not by electing a plastic liar and panderer like Romney. But by nominating Santorum and defeating him by such a margin that this theo-political Frankenstein, which threatens both genuine faith and civil politics, is dispatched once and for all.

Yes. The modern GOP is not a political party, it is a church. Thus far, though it has worn its religion on its sleeve, it has largely been able to hide its  agenda behind its more extreme members, and say in public that such things are out of the mainstream. But if Santorum is elected the shield disappears, the veil is lifted, and we can confront the GOP for what it has truly become.

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Occupy NASCAR!

No one will ever convince me that NASCAR is a sport (I’ll give it “activity” at best) but CBS asked Mitt Romney if he followed it. He had this to say:

“Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.”

Yea, that ought to convince the blue collar crowd that you understand them.

He really is like a parody of a rich guy. He’s actually the stereotype, its kind of hilarious (in a laugh to keep from crying kind of way).

I’m a baseball fan, personally. Although I don’t know any team owners, I did meet Ted Williams in a doctors office when I was 6. And a friend of mine gave Halladay’s family a tour of the zoo.

So thats not nothing.

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New data from Pew:

In general, more Americans say that government regulation of business is harmful than say it is necessary to protect the public. At the same time, when asked about regulations in specific areas, such as food safety and environmental protection, there is broad support for strengthening regulations or keeping current regulations as they are now rather than reducing regulations.

Got it? American’s are against “regulations” as such, but they support specific regulatory policies. We saw the same thing during the health care debate. Polling data showed that Americans were opposed to “Obamacare” but they mostly supported the specific policies that it encompassed.

And as I pointed out last night, Americans are against “deficits” and “debt”, but support the specific policies and priorities that primarily drive them.

We get exactly the government we want.

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Image via ThinkProgress

If you were even remotely in the proximity of the internets today, you probably heard a lot of chatter about Mitt Romney’s speech on the economy in Detroit. The picture above is from that event. Not exactly a full house.

Romney’s campaign has faced criticism about their choice of venue, and coverage of the empty seats has dominated today’s news.

As usual, the focus is on optics, not content. But the real reason to criticize Romney today? Take it away, Ezra Klein:

When Romney said he “wasn’t concerned about the very poor,” he wasn’t kidding. He’s using the policies they depend on most as a piggy bank for tax cuts…

What Romney is essentially proposing to do is finance a massive tax cut by cutting Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and job training. In other words, the neediest Americans — and, to a lesser degree, federal workers — will be financing a massive tax cut…

In 2000, George W. Bush ran for president saying “I don’t think they ought to be balancing their budget on the backs of the poor.” In 2012, amidst a much worse economy, Romney is running for president saying exactly the opposite.

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Some college students came up with a cost estimate for the Death Star recently. They concluded it would be too costly to build at $852 quadrillion dollars, which is 13 thousand times global GDP.

Kevin Drum disagrees:

For starters, this number is too low. Using the same aircraft carrier metric they did, I figure that the price tag on the latest and greatest Ford-class supercarrier is about 100x the cost of the raw steel that goes into it. If the Death Star is similar, its final cost would be about 1.3 million times the world’s GDP.

But there’s more. First off, the technology of the Star Wars universe is well in our future. How far into our future? Well, Star Trek is about 300 years in our future, and the technology of Star Wars is obviously well beyond that. Let’s call it 500 years. What will the world’s GDP be in the year 2500? Answer: assuming a modest 2% real growth rate, it will be about 20,000 times higher than today. So we can figure that the average world in the Star Wars universe is about 20,000x richer than present-day Earth, which means the Death Star would cost about 65x the average world’s GDP.

However, the original Death Star took a couple of decades to build. So its annual budget is something on the order of 3x the average world’s GDP.

But how big is the Republic/Empire? There’s probably a canonical figure somewhere, but I don’t know where. So I’ll just pull a number out of my ass based on the apparent size of the Old Senate, and figure a bare minimum of 10,000 planets. That means the Death Star requires .03% of the GDP of each planet in the Republic/Empire annually. By comparison, this is the equivalent of about $5 billion per year in the current-day United States.

In other words, not only is the Death Star affordable, it’s not even a big deal. Palpatine could embezzle that kind of money without so much as waving his midichlorian-infused little pinkie. If it weren’t for the unfortunate breakdown in anti-Bothan security and the shoddy workmanship on the thermal exhaust ports, it would have been a pretty good investment, too

But remember, the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the potential of the Force.

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A friend sent a column to me today that said the following:

Have you ever wondered, if both the  Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we  have deficits? Have you ever wondered, if all the  politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we  have inflation and high taxes? You and I don’t propose  a federal budget. The President does. You and I don’t  have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations.  The House of Representatives does… One  hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one President, and nine  Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the  300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually  responsible for the domestic problems that plague this  country… When you  fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power  of the federal government, then it must follow that what  exists is what they want to exist. If the tax code is  unfair, it’s because they want it unfair. If the budget  is in the red, it’s because they want it in the red. If  the Army & Marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan it’s  because they want them in Iraq and Afghanistan… Those 545 people, and they alone, are  responsible.

It is of course correct that congress and the president vote on budgets and appropriations, and you and I don’t. You and I don’t write the federal budget, but we vote for the people that do. Every one of those 545 people are there because we put them there (except SCOTUS judges, who are presidential appointees). We get exactly the politicians (and resulting policies) that we, as a country, want (or think we want).

If both republicans and democrats are against deficits, then why do we have them? It’s because we the people are not willing to do what is necessary to not have them. It isn’t a mystery, it’s math. To eliminate the deficit, revenue must equal spending. Currently, spending exceeds revenue by 1.3 trillion dollars. So to eliminate the deficit we need to collect 1.3 trillion more dollars, or reduce federal spending by 1.3 trillion dollars, or do some combination of the two. But politicians that attempt to raise taxes or cut spending by a combined 1.3 trillion dollars are rewarded by not getting re-elected. We have deficits because we want to have them.

If everyone is against high taxes and inflation, why do we have them? Well, we really don’t. Federal revenues (as percent of GDP) are at their lowest point in 60 years, and inflation expectations are low and stable, and the federal reserve has (foolishly, in my opinion, but that’s a topic for a different post) indicated that they plan to do everything in their power to keep it that way.

The role of lobbyists should not be ignored, but it isn’t just money. Another, albeit more subtle way that lobbyists influence policy is through research. If I am trying to craft policy related to petroleum refining, I’m going to need data about that industry. It’s often the case that the most useful source of data about any given industry is collected by that industry’s trade association, so naturally I’ll call the Petroleum Refiner’s Association and ask them to brief me. And they will be happy to do so, because their presentation will be an opportunity to influence my policy-making. (This happens to be why I oppose the idea of reducing congress’ budget. Less money for independent analysis will result in a heavier reliance on trade group data)

I certainly agree that it takes a lot of gall to decry deficits while voting to increase them. And I certainly agree that the policies that exist are the ones that congress and the president want to exist. But they are the ones we want to exist as well. If they aren’t we point that out by failing to re-elect the responsible people, and instead elect people who promise to overturn the policy. If the tax code is unfair, it is because we reward politicians who cut taxes by greater amounts in the top brackets than in the bottom ones. If the budget is in the red, it is because we punish politicians who attempt to cut entitlement or military spending or raise taxes. If the military is in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is because we reward politicians who use nationalism and vague threats of mushroom clouds in Manhattan to whip us into a frenzy.

Are politicians responsible for public policy and its effects? Of course they are. But they aren’t alone. We bear responsibility as well, because we sent the message via our voting habits that we wanted the policies that we got.

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