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Interpretation

BBC's Will Grant is absolutely clueless.

Last week President Chavez ordered troops to rice processing plants after accusing producers of sidestepping the law on controlled prices by producing a higher grade of rice.

...

Mr Chavez is attempting to reduce the cost of the basic shopping basket of ordinary Venezuelans at a time of soaring inflation, says the BBC's Will Grant in Caracas.

I don't think inflation fighting is an even remotely acceptable explanation. Here, we have Mr. Chavez's military assets seizing other people's productive assets, because they followed the law to the letter. Who will now retain any profits from the use of these assets? Mr. Chavez's government. So who gets immediate benefits from this seizure? Plainly, Mr. Chavez! Will more rice be produced, and at lower cost? The reporter doesn't seem to realize that it doesn't matter. He won't be reporting the actual results of the seizure either way...

But business leaders and food producers are furious at what they see as a further attack on their ability to turn a profit, our correspondent says

Now I get it. We must judge Mr. Chavez not on the morality of means taken, but stated ends. And we simply shouldn't believe what producers say at all.

The Value of Time and Space

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I haven't sold used books in years.

Once upon a time, I had success with half.com. But eBay acquired half.com, and after the appropriate mourning period, first suggested and then demanded that I transfer my account to eBay and sell my stock using auction-style listings. This required much time and effort.

I refused. I simply emptied my entire online inventory, and stopped selling; eBay notified me days later that they couldn't believe how they'd offended long-time half.com users. They'd let me keep selling the old way. Too late. I still own most of that deleted stock.

Yet space limitations require that I now eliminate some of my books. Translation: our apartment is packed, and I must choose which books to donate to the library or sell, sell, sell! I used to sell books worth at least $5, and give away anything below the price floor; the going market rate for the rest was usually in the dollar to two dollar range, some down to a cool 1¢ (with the real money being made in the way-too-high shipping allowance). But being a low-volume seller of low-price books meant going to the post office to earn a dollar; so I would just donate them in bulk.

Now I've decided to sell off some of my books by becoming an Amazon Merchant. I was confident I'd sell many of my books because I follow two rules: I 1) keep my books in excellent condition, 2) undersell the lowest comparable used copy by 50¢ to $1.

So far, in twelve hours, I've sold 3 of the first 8 books I put up for sale -- all recent, popular, non-fiction titles. Now, this high volume tells me that I might have to rethink my inventory price floor; If I'm already going to the post office regularly, why not include the cheap books, and make a few extra dollars?

But then I remember that the point is to get rid of books I've read, will not reference, and will not read again; the point is to clear up space with minimal expense of time, not to maximize revenue on book sales; the point is MAX(U), not MAX(Π).

Nothing says "I thought about you" like a gift of cold hard cash. Seriously. It means you thought enough to say "I don't know your preferences as well as you do, and what I'd really like to give you is a little slice of selfish pleasure, so go spend this on anything your heart desires."

Don't buy it? Well, it seems like those gift cards are a big way to say "I thought of something you kinda like, but only in large, general terms, so here's a way to spend money within that broad category." But don't feel like you're doing people that much of a favor. Turns out, those things are big boons to the companies that sell them:

Retailers profit from unused gift cards - Yahoo! News

Companies are profiting from your forgetfulness, and the hope that you don't value the gift-giver's dollar the way you value your own. Why else would you let that remaining $5.43 just go to waste sitting on a gift card that's collecting crumbs under the seat of your car? Sure, Aunt Helga wanted you to spend ALL fifty bucks, but really, what can you get for a few bucks, and besides, the store is all the way on the other side of town...

Well, there is an option at SwapAGift, but then you have to be willing to consider your valuation of $100 here versus $100 there. The swap brings down the deadweight loss of Christmas, but doesn't eliminate it. I see it more as a new weapon in the quiver of people who will eat at specific restaurants because they get double mileage points on Thursday lunches when using a credit card.

The cynic in me likes to think that the gift-card sellers have simply learned a valuable lesson from big-city governments, who have long been relying on the remainders from unused farecards for riding on the local subway system as a way to keep the system solvent. Of course, that's not always enough.

Middlemen, Sardines Hardest Hit

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sardine.JPG

Via Knowledge Problem and Cold Spring Shops, comes a WaPo article describing how India's sardine fishermen are using cell phones to find the best prices for their catch. Middlemen are not pleased:

the dealers don't necessarily like the new balance of power, but they are paying better prices

Depending on the structure of this market, these higher prices to fishermen -- yielding at least one case of a tripling of income for a boat operator -- should induce them to fish a little more, or induce others to enter the market, and this will have a further "ripple effect" on the Sardine market -- an increase in aggregate supply, yielding lower prices to end consumers.

As much as the middlemen don't like the new balance of power, presumably the sardines like it even less -- especially if short-run supply can be expanded past the sustainable possibility-frontier into over-fishing.

Does anybody have an idea where one can get reliable information about prices and quantites for these markets?

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