When and why I still buy CDs

I’ll pay money rather than pirate an album under the following conditions:
1. I happen to be in a record store, see the album in front of me and doubt I’ll be able to find it for download. This happens more often than you’d think. I enjoy music that most people don’t, and the majority of stuff online is more likely to be major pop artists than minor underground.
2. If I want to buy a soundtrack. Soundtracks can be a pain to download and are harder to find than typical artists and solo albums. Not many people realize how much fun listening to music from movie soundtracks can be, so there are fewer people putting them up for download.
3. If I can’t find a bloody download. This happens to me all the time. The people on the net sharing music just don’t get their hands dirty enough looking for really unique underground artists. If you hear of a local band that doesn’t reside in a major city chances are you’re going to have a harder time finding someone willing to share it unless it’s the artist himself (which I have had happen thanks to soulseek).
4. If I’m at the show. I love looking at my albums and knowing that I bought it at a show.
5. If I find it on vinyl. I have no sound preference for vinyl it’s purely an aesthetic thing either you get it or you don’t.
By chance, Tyler Cowen also wrote on this topic recently. I was prompted to write up this list after spending about an hour waiting for installation work at Best Buy. While browsing I noticed a few things about the CD selection had changed recently.
1. They have a lot of classics and oldies (still mostly major acts) remastered and put out on generic release mix discs and greatest hits albums, but not the original albums.
2. Older releases of even current major artists are harder to find than they used to be lots of current artists have the most recent album only. My guess is that if it’s not selling they send back the extra stock and never bother restocking, then just direct people to the web to buy it.
I’m starting to think that hardcore collectors are going to be the only place to find a really wide variety of older music in the future.

Off the Books

Venkatesh’s new book is a fun and interesting read (Cowen’s comments, and Slate’s review). In case you don’t know Venkatesh is the guy who wrote the drugs chapter in Levitt’s Freakonomics. The new book goes further into the urban underground with ethnography. Basically he just moved into the hood, and observed the world around him through the lenses of social science and economics.
What better a lense than Austrian economics? If you’re like me and you believe that Austrians have a unique and powerful ability to explain why things happen the way they do, then this would seem like a great method to link up with Austrian theory. Here are a brief list of research projects I’d love to see performed with a similar Venkatesh, “just do it,” ethnographic approach:

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Imprisonment Statistics

Here are three sources I recently came across that do a great job at visually representing the trends of incarceration across the country and around the globe.
1. Many Eyes, US Prison population by state (thanks to M. Thomas for the link). This shows the dominance of incarcerated populations by state from 1990 to today. I wish they had similar graphics going all the way back to colonial times.
2. Google Earth prisons around the world (download here). Need help visually understanding where the most prisons in the world are what countries operate them. Check out Ireland, the UK, California, and Texas. Once again I would live a full time series from the dawn of civilization till modern times that shows the facilities cropping up like this.
3. The global prison population by country. Not as visual as the previous two but thorough. I’m thinking of running a quick regression against the economic freedom index. Any suggestions?

How suprising it is that we do all just get along

Virgil Storr is a brilliant graduate from GMU who we see on a regular basis thanks to the fact that his private sector job keeps him close by. If you don’t know Virgil here’s a bit of background; in addition to being a free market economist he is also a vegetarian. Once I heard him comment about how difficult it is to maintain a balance between these two identities because there are large portions of people in each group who are not enjoyable to be around. I thought about a similar situation I feel myself a few weeks ago when I attended a concert in Baltimore.

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Unitizing economists for liberty

Phinneas’s comments to Walter Block’s original post on the Mises blog (hit tip to Aubrey Herbert for the link) are an interesting read. Phinneas uses the term “unitize” to refer to the process of mass producing amorphous services. This is one of the few ways to make real money. Real money is made not by the great idea itself but in taking the great idea to the masses.
Then he comments on Walter’s thesis (being an academic economist is the best way for bright students to promote liberty). Phinneas argues that aiming for liberty is best achieved by popularizers and people who write the editorials rather than the research. In this role they are unitizing the ideas of liberty so have a better chance at reaping high profits of liberty. To some extent I agree, popularizes do some real heavy hitting for liberty. But I think he’s overlooking time in the classroom as an example of unitization. Popularizes like Hazlitt and Menken did great work at promoting liberty by being public intellectuals but the climate of our times has changed. Today pretty much everyone goes to college, and almost no one engages debate in magazines and newspapers. The time spent in university is when most adults form their world views. If Hazlitt or Menken were around today their best access to captive audiences and minds open to the ideas of liberty would be in the classrooms of colleges. The professor who rises the ranks of academia by scholarly research also engages hundreds of students in the classroom.

Should economists exploit a comparative advantage by focusing on topics other than comparative advantage?

For “Communicating Economics” taught by Russell Roberts we were given the assignment to write a 1000 words on the topic of comparative advantage. In my opinion, our previous two assignments were more straight forward because they were on topics that most people have erroneous beliefs about (the minimum wage, and the hazards of capitalism as a social system). Starting the writing process for each was easy because you knew what you were up against. But before I could write something coherent on comparative advantage I had to get over the fact that I think we’ve generally won this battle.

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Balmer should read the first 200 pages of Human Action

Mises’s Human Action is a hefty read, but the first hundred pages or so gives you the entire outline of praxeology and the Austrian perspective. Normally I’d never think of suggesting the book to a non academic type (because of its weight and depth). But for people who are serious about business, making money, and corporate strategy I think the Austrian school has important lessons to be learned.

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The Economics of Lost

Marginal Revolution linked to the LOSTpedia on the Economics of Lost today. This is a really cool entry that I think anyone who’s a fan of the show would enjoy. I also wish that more pieces of pop culture sparked and encouraged as much reflection as the LOST series does.
As for the content of the entry I tend to agree with much of it but am not as quick to wrap up Jack’s character as a symbol of “socialism.” After all he’s got a talent and skill of great importance, and scarcely found on the islands; he’s a doctor. The way he obtains his position of authority on the island is much less democratic than the entry makes it out to be. I doubt if he were an accountant anyone would have respected his instructions or lead. This is kind of a interesting thought experiment that the show provides. Is there a link between political power and power of necessity?

Two days iced inside..

For the last two days I’ve been iced inside my house in Burke Virginia thanks to the snow storms. I put that time to use and have reorganized the categories of this blog as well as posted my publications and working papers on my new website. I am proud to introduce danieljdamico.com. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

My roommate has been reading The Origin of Wealth and came across a mention of Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz who have done scholarly research on “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Playing around with their database at The Oracle of Bacon has been extremely fun. Did you know that Atreyu from The Neverending Story was also in Troll and then your just one step away from Bacon himself?