Various musings, mostly economics

Haven’t posted in awhile because of school plus kids. Just wanted to write down a few thoughts floating around in my head. I’m prefacing this post with the caveat that I’m a semi-amateur at economics so let me know where I’m wrong.

1. It’s always bothered me how conformist say Apple consumers tend to be or as I’m realizing currently, how libertarians can also be extremely conformist (especially on margins they deem unimportant like art/music/clothes/taking drugs/fun). I’ve also posted this on Twitter and Facebook; here’s my thought.

Groups who are non-conformist relative to the general population (Scientologists, skaters, “punks”, Apple consumers) or to what they consider out-groups have extremely high in-group conformity. And I think it’s almost a literal tradeoff. The more you think you are different from the average person (parents, middle America, etc.), the more you will conform unquestionably with those like-minded; maybe even more-so than the average person is a conformist on issues like football or crime. Now this is a general statement. There are definitely outliers, but I’m talking about the average non-conformist.

2. In economics classes it has always bothered me when we talk about utility functions and preferences. The classic examples are apples and oranges or something like guns and butter where a consumer prefers more of one good over the other and the consumer can rank these things. But, when I think about the real world and especially with my background of being Chinese-American from the SGV (feeling a bit like an alien would feel about American culture) it just strikes me how a huge majority of my preferences are not even preferences for most Americans. One thing to note is that I’m not really talking about how some people’s goods can be bads to other people (country music, ballet, horror movies, etc.)

I’m interested in how 50% of my preferences aren’t even known things to say someone in Kentucky. Now I know this can be handled with classical utility theory, but what I am trying to get at is… In real life the difference between people of different cultures isn’t that Americans prefer 6 bananas over 4 carrots, whereas Japanese prefer 5 carrots over 3 bananas; it’s that I prefer Wong Kar-Wai movies, Karaoke, and Hainan Chicken to someone else’s preference for Hockey, dirt-bike racing, and MMA. Many of people’s preferences aren’t even ranked or known by other people. In class when we talk about preferences though it’s always like this guy prefers more oranges than this other guy who prefers more apples. All I am saying is life isn’t really like that. I prefer things which aren’t even in other people’s utility functions and that is the norm.

3. Finally, it also bothers me when teachers talk about different types of non-monetary costs such as transaction costs, time costs, opportunity costs, etc. and fail to highlight the vast magnitudes of these things. When I hear professors talk about time costs/opportunity costs for example it might cost one person twenty percent more to do an activity because he makes more money and his time is more valuable. But, when I think of things in life these cost differences can be gargantuan.

What got me thinking about this; after high school I worked as tech support at EarthLink and dealt with people of varying skill levels. There are regular things in life for example setting up a twitter account, that would take my grandfather half a day to setup and more time to even understand. My grandfather could also pay someone say $50 to set it up for him and teach him how to use it whereas it would take me 5 minutes and no money. The same can be said for something like an oil change; a mechanic can do it for $5 in 10 minutes by himself whereas say someone else would have to wait an hour at Jiffy Lube and pay $50. A vast amount of things in life between people with different skills and different wages are like this. And it makes a huge difference in all those non-monetary costs; it is not a small 20% difference in many cases. The magnitudes are important and money doesn’t smooth all these things out.

4. I’ve been reading a history book on Taiwan, Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan, and thought this passage on P. 92 was interesting and about things I was unaware of.

“For most of their centuries of existence the triads have been seen primarily as Chinese nationalist organizations, usually dedicated to restoration of the Ming dynasty. Their criminal activities have often had a Robin Hood revolutionary flare. It is only in the last century that triads have become exclusively criminal gangs. Both Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek were triad members. Chiang, indeed, started his career as a hit man for the Green Gang, which controlled drug trafficking in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s.”

The movie Shanghai Triad might have been referencing KMT and Chiang Kai-Shek. Also, eerily similar to Stalin and the original Bolsheviks.

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