Simultaneous buying and selling makes the economy extremely efficient. But in our overconnected world, it may also force us into a race to the bottom.
If you want to succeed in an Internet-driven, overconnected world, you must arbitrage.
If you don't, you will become prey to those who do. But in an Internet-driven,
overconnected world, arbitrage may also force us into a race to the bottom.
makes the economy extremely efficient. In the commodity world, arbitrage can be
a miraculous transaction, yielding an infinite rate of return. The arbitrager
buys a commodity in one market and sells it instantly at a higher price in
another. In a perfect arbitrage, the arbitrager collects the money from the
sale before paying for the original purchase. For example, sell a bushel of
wheat for $7.00 and collect the money instantly; buy the bushel in another
market for $6.75 and pay later.
Of course, perfect arbitrage seldom exists. Speculators quickly root out opportunities,
and prices converge. The sale price, for example, drops to $6.85 and the
purchase price rises to $6.84. Of course, the sale price could drop below the
purchase price to, say, $6.75, and the arbitrager would lose 9 cents on every sale.
In the past, the term "arbitrage" was used in conjunction with financial and
commodity transactions, but now it is used more broadly. For instance, people
talk about arbitraging labor costs, referring to using cheap labor in a distant
location to substitute for more expensive local labor.
Successful arbitrage depends on strong and efficient connections. You have to be able to move products from where you buy them to where you sell them. Transaction costs
and other logistics must be kept to a minimum. And in order to find the best
arbitrage opportunities, you have to have good information about markets.
This is where the Internet comes in. Not only does it reduce the cost of
finding opportunities, but it greatly increases the efficiency of doing so. As
a result, the universe of arbitrage opportunities has expanded. Name something
that can be bought or sold, and there may a way to arbitrage it: stocks, bonds,
commodities, precious metals, labor costs, taxes, regulatory environments,
credit card debt, retail shopping experiences.
In 2004, commenting on slow job growth in the U.S., Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley cited "global labor arbitrage" as the main
reason growth had slowed. Roach predicted that global labor arbitrage was
likely to be an enduring feature of the economy. Our experiences over the past
seven years have certainly proven him right.
Most people might think Roach was referring to factory workers and customer
support workers in India who answer calls in heavily accented English. But
because of the power of the Internet, information-intensive jobs of almost any
type are subject to labor arbitrage. Teleradiology Solutions, a company located in Bangalore, reads X-rays for patients in the U.S. and Singapore. Jobs we thought
were safe are safe no longer. More and more companies are employing engineers
and programmers in India, Russia, and the Balkans. Businesses must either
arbitrage and succumb to the unrelenting pressure to cut costs or face the
prospect of becoming uncompetitive.
Non-traditional arbitrage lurks in some surprising places. Consider retailing. Physical retailers add value by providing a retail experience. Some people enjoy shopping. One of the most important services retailers provide is the opportunity to experience the merchandise. Test drive a Ferrari. Try on a pair of jeans. Then go to an online retailer and arbitrage out the added value and the local taxes as well. Many of us do this without giving it a second thought. We find what we want at the shopping center and then rush home to buy it on Amazon. If we're shameless, we do our online shopping on our smart phone a few seconds after leaving the store.
In financial markets, arbitrage has run rampant. Transaction costs facilitated by
the Internet have plummeted. It has become possible to collect massive amounts
of information inexpensively. As computation power has increased and data sets
have grown, computers can now uncover more and more arbitrage opportunities.
traders use computers to scan the market to scout out the tiniest mispricings. If
a computer can discover an index made up of a few hundred stocks that is priced
too high, traders sell the index short and buy the stocks, making pennies per
share on billions of shares--pennies that add up to hundreds of millions in
profits. Is it any wonder that high-frequency trading now accounts for nearly two
thirds of the trading volume?
arbitrage adventures aren't just for the big guys. I was amazed to learn about
credit card arbitrage. Get a low-interest introductory loan for signing up for
a new credit card, invest that money in a high-interest account, and pray.
The Internet makes it easier to get around financial regulations and circumvent jurisdictions. If regulators in the UK or USA get too tough, the Internet can help: when data flows so efficiently, it's a lot easier to move the regulated entity from London or Wall Street to a more understanding jurisdiction.
If I can arbitrage a growing number of financial transactions, both low-skilled
and high-skilled jobs, and then throw in retailing, what's left? A lot, as it
turns out. Ask people in Hollywood about movies and recordings. Talk to the
newspapers. As bandwidth increases, opportunities to arbitrage will continue to
grow as well. Maybe the only things that will be safe are meals in restaurants
and trips to the hair salon.
Arbitrage is an economist's dream. It squeezes out inefficiency. It creates an intensely price-competitive world. Consumers benefit big time, because they have access to high quality goods at low prices.
But arbitrage has its downside as well. I used to love to travel. I even looked
forward to the flight. I could sit in peace and quiet and catch up on my
reading. Today I can fly for less money, but I also fly less. The qualitative
experience is so poor that it has reduced my interest in traveling.
Price is one of the most powerful motivators known to humankind. Nobody wants to pay
more. When the focus is exclusively on price, qualitative aspects often suffer,
and in many situations that is too high a price to pay. If only arbitragers could find a way to squeeze out
costs while maintaining quality. Now that
would be the perfect arbitrage.="http:>
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Maya Arulpragasam is a famous rapper, singer, designer, producer, and refugee. When she was 9, her mother and siblings fled violence in Sri Lanka and came to London, and the experience was formative for her art. As she explained to The Guardian in 2005 after the release of her debut Arular, “I was a refugee because of war and now I have a voice in a time when war is the most invested thing on the planet. What I thought I should do with this record is make every refugee kid that came over after me have something to feel good about. Take everybody’s bad bits and say, ‘Actually, they’re good bits. Now whatcha gonna do?’”
That goal—to glorify people and practices that the developed world marginalizes—has been a constant in her career. Her new music video tackles it in a particularly literal and urgent way, not only by showing solidarity with refugees at a moment when they’re extremely controversial in the West, but also by posing a simple question to listeners: Whose lives do you value?
Without the financial support that many white families can provide, minority young people have to continually make sacrifices that set them back.
The year after my father died, I graduated from grad school, got a new job, and looked forward to saving for a down payment on my first home, a dream I had always had, but found lofty. I pulled up a blank spreadsheet and made a line item called “House Fund.”
That same week I got a call from my mom—she was struggling to pay off my dad’s funeral expenses. I looked at my “House Fund” and sighed. Then I deleted it and typed the words “Funeral Fund” instead.
My father’s passing was unexpected. And so was the financial burden that came with it.
For many Millennials of color, these sorts of trade-offs aren’t an anomaly. During key times in their lives when they should be building assets, they’re spending money on basic necessities and often helping out family. Their financial future is a rocky one, and much of it comes down to how much—or how little—assistance they receive.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The generation has been called lazy, entitled, and narcissistic. Their bosses beg to differ.
Yes, many Millennials are still crashing on their parent’s couches. And there’s data to support the claim that they generally want more perks but less face time, and that they hope to rise quickly but don’t stick around for very long. Millennials have also been pretty vocal about their desire to have more flexible jobs and more leave time.
But does all of this mean that all Millennials are actually worse workers?
Laura Olin, a digital campaigner who ran social-media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, says that’s not been her experience. “You always hear about Millennials supposedly being entitled and needing coddling, but the ones I’ve encountered have been incredibly hard-working and recognize that they need to pay their dues.”
To solve climate change, we need to reimagine our entire relationship to the nonhuman world.
Humans were once a fairly average species of large mammals, living off the land with little effect on it. But in recent millennia, our relationship with the natural world has changed as dramatically as our perception of it.
There are now more than 7 billion people on this planet, drinking its water, eating its plants and animals, and mining its raw materials to build and power our tools. These everyday activities might seem trivial from the perspective of any one individual, but aggregated together they promise to leave lasting imprints on the Earth. Human power is now geological in scope—and if we are to avoid making a mess of this, our only home, our politics must catch up.
Making this shift will require a radical change in how we think about our relationship to the natural world. That may sound like cause for despair. After all, many people refuse to admit that environmental crises like climate change exist at all. But as Jedediah Purdy reminds us in his dazzling new book, After Nature, our relationship with the nonhuman world has proved flexible over time. People have imagined nature in a great many ways across history.
Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other presidential contenders appease Donald Trump at their own peril.
Give Donald Trump this: He has taught Americans something about the candidates he’s running against. He has exposed many of them as political cowards.
In August, after Trump called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and vowed to build a wall along America’s southern border, Jeb Bush traveled to South Texas to respond. Bush’s wife is Mexican American; he has said he’s “immersed in the immigrant experience”; he has even claimed to be Hispanic himself. Yet he didn’t call Trump’s proposals immoral or bigoted, since that might offend Trump’s nativist base. Instead, Bush declared: “Mr. Trump’s plans are not grounded in conservative principles. His proposal is unrealistic. It would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” In other words, demonizing and rounding up undocumented Mexican immigrants is fine, so long as it’s done cheap.
While Saint Nicholas may bring gifts to good boys and girls, ancient folklore in Europe's Alpine region also tells of Krampus, a frightening beast-like creature who emerges during the Yule season, looking for naughty children to punish in horrible ways—or possibly to drag back to his lair in a sack.
While Saint Nicholas may bring gifts to good boys and girls, ancient folklore in Europe's Alpine region also tells of Krampus, a frightening beast-like creature who emerges during the Yule season, looking for naughty children to punish in horrible ways—or possibly to drag back to his lair in a sack. In keeping with pre-Germanic Pagan traditions, men dressed as these demons have been frightening children on Krampusnacht for centuries, chasing them and hitting them with sticks, on an (often alcohol-fueled) run through the dark streets.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is newly flush with cash—and ambition.
For more than five decades, scientists of various stripes have been scanning the stars for technological civilizations, populated by thinking beings like us. These efforts have been carried out by a number of institutions, but they all fall under a general heading—the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI—and they have all had to navigate endless obstacles, including funding droughts, criticism, stigma, and, in some cases, outright snickering. But now, that’s starting to change.
“These are dynamic times for SETI,” says Andrew Siemion, the director of the University of California-Berkeley’s SETI Research Center. In June, the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner pledged $100 million to fund an ambitious new research program, spread across several academic institutions. That’s the largest cash gift in SETI’s history, and Siemion hopes it will inspire others. On Tuesday morning, he is set to brief members of Congress in a House science committee hearing.