Friday, March 23, 2018

Economics: In Defense Of Driverless Cars

(Drivebycuriosity) - Driverless cars are under scrutiny. A woman got killed by a self-driving car. A video shows that the victim suddenly stepped into the way of the car. A human driver could not have reacted either and and wouldn`t have been able to avoid the accident. The missing human control didn´t change the event.

But it seems that the luddites are abusing the accident as an argument against driver-less cars.  I think they are mistaken and the world will be better with self-driving cars.  Car accidents - with human drivers - killed 37,461 people alone in the US in 2016 (usatoday). Do we prohibit cars? Do we prohibit human drivers? Machines have a shorter response time which would reduce this number significantly.

Self-driving will cause much fewer accidents. They don`t drink and drive, they don´t text while driving. Robots don`t drive aggressively, they aren´t distracted, they don`t have to impress by speedy driving, they do note engage in car races, they don´t fall asleep while driving and they adapt their speed to the traffic situation.

Computers cause way fewer accidents because they don´t make mistakes and they don´t behave unlawful. A computer needs just a nanosecond to respond to a surprising event (like a child on the street), much faster than a human brain. And with the assistance of sensors the computer can respond to the traffic situation (hydroplaning, ice, potholes) much better than a human driver. Fewer accidents mean less lost lives and save a lot of costs for the economy.

Self-driving cars are more efficient, because computers can calculate the optimum speed, track and driving rhythm. Therefore they use less energy to go from place A to place B. Self-driving cars will burn less gasoline which reduces the consumption of fossilized energy and exhaust, dampening the greenhouse effect.

Fewer accidents will translate into lower insurance costs so driving will get cheaper which also will reduce the costs for Uber and taxi rides.

Welcome driverless cars!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Photography: Late Winter In Tompkins Square Park

(Drivebycuriosity) -  Officially the spring has begun. But winter came back, at least for one day. Today one of the nasty North·Easters is covering New York with wet & heavy snow. But mistress winter has some charm as well.

I used the occasion to take some winterly pictures in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan`s East Village. As you can see the saturated snow is coating benches and trees, creating a kind of fairy tale landscape.


Economics: The Costs Of Xenophobia

(Drivebycuriosity) - It seems that the Americans are driven by xenophobia. Many are afraid of evil foreign powers who do harm to them and the whole world. The main culprits today are Russia, Iran & China. Hence the Americans, or at least their government, want to punish them, by implying sanctions and tariffs.

Unfortunately these punishments come with high costs - for the Americans. Russia & Iran belong to largest global oil producers of the world. Implying new sanctions against Russia and reviving old ones against Iran would reduce the global oil supply and hike the price of oil. The price of oil already climbed more than 30% in the recent 12 months and could jump above $100 if the supply of Russian & Iranian oil is disrupted.

Unfortunately the US economy is very sensitive to oil prices. It seems that the Americans are addicted to driving and gasoline consume. In January the US retail sales already dropped because Americans spend more money on the gas pumps and bought less other goods & services. If the oil price rises to fast and too high the damage could get much worse.

A trade war against China will harm the US most, especially low income groups. Americans would have to pay much higher prices for many goods, including cars, clothing, electronics and more. Low income families would have a lower standard of living because they would have to spend much more for apparel, hardware, toys and multiple other from China imported goods and could therefore purchase less other goods & services. China also could retaliate and punish US companies like Boeing, General Motors, Apple, McDonald's and many more.

A combination of spiking oil prices with sharply reduced China exports & imports would slow American´s economy and could even lead to a new recession  - a very high price for economic illiteracy and xenophobia.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Economics: Why Is India So Far Behind China - The Gandhi Effect

(Drivebycuriosity) - Why is India still so poor? India`s per capita income is just $7,200 ( ). The chart below shows that the South Asian country lags far behind China which reached a per capita income of $16,600.

China`s rise is the result of a fundamental change. In the late 1970s, China has moved from a closed, centrally planned system to a more market-oriented one. China has implemented reforms in a gradualist fashion, resulting in efficiency gains that have contributed to a more than tenfold increase in GDP since 1978 (

India instead was kept back by the Gandhi effect. After becoming independent in the year 1949 India`s economic politics was strongly influenced by the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, who was an anti-capitalist and an ascetic (wikipedia). He didn`t believe that humans behave rational and are guided by self-interest. The activist cared less about accumulating wealth and economic prosperity. Instead he rejected materialism and preached a policy of self-sufficiency. Gandhi also called for the boycott of foreign-made goods (Swadeshi movement)

In the second half of the 20th century India mostly followed his philosophy and implemented an Gandhian-economics (wikipedia). Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India said: “Never talk to me about profit, it is a dirty word” (Economy). India`s policy tended towards protectionism, with a strong emphasis on import substitution (Ghandi`s self-sufficiency), meaning replacing imported cars and other products with Indian made things, even though they cost much more and had a lower quality (Ghandi`s Swadeshi movement). India also focused on economic interventionism (politicians decide what and how much to produce & consume), a large government-run public sector, business regulation, and central planning.

The result was an anemic economic growth at least through the 1990 and the majority of the population was kept in an extreme poverty. I visited the country in 1994 and stayed there 6 weeks. I was surprised how bureaucratic the whole country was organized which slowed  everything down and caused high costs. The Gandhi effect suppressed large parts of the country. I felled depressed that so many people lived on a stone age level.

India`s policy began to change in the 1990s, first slowly, but gaining speed after the millennium  change. Today India`s economy is growing about 7% annually, a bit faster then the Chinese economy (6,5-7%). I think this acceleration is mostly owed to Narendra Damodardas Modi, who became chief minister in 2001 and India`s prime minister in 2014. According to Wikipedia  Modi's government focuses on privatization and liberalization of the economy, based on a neoliberal framework (wikipedia).

That´s good news for India`s population. But, even if India manages to keep the actual economic growth rate of about 7% annually they will need decades to reach the current income level of China.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Movies: Red Sparrow

(Drivebycuriosity) - The world is changing, but there is always business for spies and always material for good spy stories. The film "Red Sparrow", which runs now in US cinema theaters, belongs to the best recent spy movies (imdb). A former ballerina of Moscow´s Bolshoi Theater needs a new profession. Her uncle, a high ranking Russian spy, recruits her for the Russian intelligence. After attending a special education in seducing & deceiving, she calls it "whore school", the ex-ballerina is send on a mission which starts a vertigo of events & experiences (this is a spoiler free blog. You  can find a synopsis here wikipedia).

I had a lot of fun watching the movie. The producers took their time to develop a complicated but plausible plot with a lot of twists and surprises which reminded me a bit of John le Carré`s classics but also of the spy series "The Americans".  Over 2 hours 40 minutes director Francis Lawrence & screen writer Justin Hayth send their the protagonist and the audience on a roller coaster of emotions. The film is smart, sexy, beautiful shot; hot steamy scenes are followed by brutality & violence and turn then again in sheer beauty.

"Red Sparrow" is build around Jennifer Lawrence who incarnates perfectly the ballerina turned spy. The director had worked with her before in several "Hunger Games" movies, but this film is for an adult audience. Jennifer shows more intelligence, more style, more power and , yes, more sex, she`s not afraid to present her beauty in some nude scenes. The actress - and her character - combines high intelligence with an amazing beauty. Often the camera focuses on her face and the audience gets mesmerized by her eyes.

I also indulged into the performance by Charlotte Rampling as a Russian spy instructor, tough, unforgiving & decadent - priceless. The rest of the cast impressed as well, especially Michael Schoenaerts as the "helpful" uncle (with a makeup which let him look a  bit like President Vladimir Putin), Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds (known as Cesar in HBO´s "Rome") and Mary-Louise Parker, whom I had admired in "West Wing" as a bitchy but alluring person. She has developed her bitchiness well over the years. Cinematography and soundtrack amplify the pleasure watching this movie.

"Red sparrow" is a perfect action movie and the proof that contemporary spy movies can be smart & highly entertaining as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Economics: Welcome Back Art Market

(Drivebycuriosity) - Last year the global art market staged a comeback. After two years of decline, the global art market grew about 12 percent in 2017, with about $63.7 billion in sales (artnews).

I  had already expected this recovery and had denounced the early claims of an art market peak. In February 2017 I supposed "that the global art market will follow the stock markets and will reach record sales & prices as well" (driveby). In 2017 the US stock market, (represented by the S&P 500) gained 19.42% and the art market accompanied him. History shows that stock markets & art markets walk side by side. Art is not only bought by collectors, who love it and want to own it, art is also purchased by investors & speculators, who hope to sell it later for a higher price. Economic growth and gains on real estate & stocks raised the wealth of potential art buyers and encouraged them to take more risks.

I believe that both, stock market & art market, will continue climbing this year, fostered by a growing global economy and stronger investor optimism which are lifting all boats.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Culture: Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ Brooklyn Steel

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like powerful atmospheric rock music. Fortunately my wife shares this taste. Yesterday we went to Brooklyn Steel, a rock venue in Brooklyn, to attend a gig by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The Canadian instrumental band delivered mini symphonies, very dark & beautiful pieces.

Each piece lasted more than 10 minutes. They began soft and very slow, but got stronger & more powerful over the time. Godsped´s dark music - a synthesis of violin, guitars & drums - created intense acoustical images of a cold & sinister world, somewhere in the North. The concert reminded me a bit of Mogwai, Sigur Rós, Pink Floyd, Sibelius and Scandinavian black metal bands.

The hall was kept in dark, just illuminated by the films which were projected on a large screen behind the band. The monochrome movies displayed frugal landscapes, simple architecture, a burning plane,  scenes of violence and sometimes abstract compositions which fit perfectly to the dark sound. Music & films merged into a psychedelic piece of art which could fit into an amazing museum like New York´s MoMa or the Broad in Los Angeles. The finale escalated into a furious crescendo setting a perfect punch line.

Thanks Godspeed for this amazing experience.