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:>
When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days.
In 2011, I was hired, straight out of college, to work at the White House and eventually the National Security Council. My job there was to promote and protect the best of what my country stands for. I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman––I was the only hijabi in the West Wing––and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included.
Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this––or because of it––I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens.
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Tucker Carlson’s latest reinvention is guided by a simple principle—a staunch aversion to whatever his right-minded neighbors believe.
Tucker Carlson is selling me hard on the swamp. It is an unseasonably warm afternoon in late January, and we are seated at a corner table in Monocle, an upscale Capitol Hill restaurant frequented by the Fox News star. (Carlson, who typically skips breakfast and spends dinnertime on the air, is a fan of the long, luxurious, multi-course lunch, and when I requested an interview he proposed we do it here.) As we scan the menus, I mention that I’ll be moving soon to the Washington area, and he promptly launches into an enthusiastic recitation of the district’s many virtues and amenities.
“I’m so pathetically eager for people to love D.C.,” he admits. “It’s so sad. It’s like I work for the chamber of commerce or something.”
“No… it’s a magic potty,” my daughter used to lament, age 3 or so, before refusing to use a public restroom stall with an automatic-flush toilet. As a small person, she was accustomed to the infrared sensor detecting erratic motion at the top of her head and violently flushing beneath her. Better, in her mind, just to delay relief than to subject herself to the magic potty’s dark dealings.
It’s hardly just a problem for small people. What adult hasn’t suffered the pneumatic public toilet’s whirlwind underneath them? Or again when attempting to exit the stall? So many ordinary objects and experiences have become technologized—made dependent on computers, sensors, and other apparatuses meant to improve them—that they have also ceased to work in their usual manner. It’s common to think of such defects as matters of bad design. That’s true, in part. But technology is also more precarious than it once was. Unstable, and unpredictable. At least from the perspective of human users. From the vantage point of technology, if it can be said to have a vantage point, it's evolving separately from human use.
A new report explores why those who benefitted from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion supported the man who promised to reverse it.
Here’s a question that’s baffled health reporters in the months since the election: Why would people who benefit from Obamacare in general—and its Medicaid expansion specifically—vote for a man who vowed to destroy it?
Some anecdotal reports have suggested that people simply didn’t understand that the benefits they received were a result of the Affordable Care Act. That was the case for one Indiana family The New York Times described in December:
Medicaid has paid for virtually all of his cancer care, including a one-week hospitalization after the diagnosis, months of chemotherapy, and frequent scans and blood tests.
But Mr. Kloski and his mother, Renee Epperson, are still not fans of the health law over all. They believed that it required that Mr. Kloski be dropped, when he turned 26, from the health plan his mother has through her job at Target — not understanding that it was the law that kept him on the plan until he was 26.
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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The polymath computer scientist David Gelernter’s wide-ranging ideas about American life.
Last month, David Gelernter, the pioneering Yale University computer scientist, met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of joining the White House staff. An article about the meeting in TheWashington Post was headlined, “David Gelernter, fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist, is being eyed for Trump’s science adviser.”
It is hard to imagine a more misleading treatment.
By one common definition, anti-intellectualism is “hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science, as impractical and contemptible.”
Here is the exchange that I had with Gelernter when I reached out to ask if he would be interested in discussing the substance of his views on science, politics and culture.
Neil Gaiman’s remarkable new book has triggered a debate about who, exactly, owns pagan tales.
Myths are funny. Unlike histories, they are symbolic narratives; they deal with spiritual rather than fact-based truths. They serve as foundations for beliefs, illustrating how things came to be and who was involved, but they’re often sketchy about when or why. There’s a brief scene from Neil Gaiman’s new book Norse Mythology that does a remarkable job of capturing just this: the wonderfully nebulous sense of being in illo tempore—the hazy “at that time” of the mythic past. It begins, as many creation myths do, with “an empty place waiting to be filled with life,” but in this instance some life already exists. There’s Ymir, whose enormous body produces all giants and, eventually, the earth, skies, and seas. There’s Audhumla, the celestial cow, who licks the first gods out of blocks of ice. And there are three brothers—the gods Ve, Vili, and Odin—who must devise a way out of this timeless nowhere:
Rescuing the world’s most precious antiquities from destruction is a painstaking project—and a Benedictine monk may seem like an unlikely person to lead the charge. But Father Columba Stewart is determined. Soft-spoken, dressed in flowing black robes, this 59-year-old American has spent the past 13 years roaming from the Balkans to the Middle East in an effort to save Christian and Islamic manuscripts threatened by wars, theft, weather—and, lately, the Islamic State.
“Given what’s happened in the last years since the rise of ISIS, it’s very clear that things are really endangered,” Stewart said. “It’s imperative to make sure that these manuscripts are safe, because we don’t know what will happen to them.”
High-school textbooks too often gloss over the American government’s oppression of racial minorities.
Earlier this month, McGraw Hill found itself at the center of some rather embarrassing press after a photo showing a page from one of its high-school world-geography textbooks was disseminated on social media. The page features a seemingly innocuous polychromatic map of the United States, broken up into thousands of counties, as part of a lesson on the country’s immigration patterns: Different colors correspond with various ancestral groups, and the color assigned to each county indicates its largest ethnic representation. The page is scarce on words aside from an introductory summary and three text bubbles explaining specific trends—for example, that Mexico accounts for the largest share of U.S. immigrants today.