economics

Patronage markets at Kobold Quarterly

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Along with getting back into playing D&D over the past year, I've started catching up on the world of 3rd party publishers. One really interesting publisher is Kobold Quarterly, which seems to have developed over the course of a year from a one-man gaming zine to a respected publication with big-name contributors like Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb, and Skip Williams.

The biggest thing KQ is doing, though, is their patronage-based Open Design adventures. KQ puts out the bare sketch of an idea, with a couple of big options left open. (The current project, Halls of the Mountain King, has 3E and 4E versions competing.) Patrons sign up via paypal; when one of the competing options hits a dollar target, it goes into development, and other options' patrons get the option to join the winner or else get a refund. The project then commissions writers, a cartographer, and artists, and the patrons are given access to private forums to discuss the project, guide its development via polls, or propose ideas to the writers and other patrons for inclusion into the project. At the end, the patrons each get copies of the project - and nobody else does. It's a limited run, private work, and it appears that the total commission is in the few thousand dollar range, though I haven't been able to find totals anywhere.

Covering the mortgage, part 2

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To get a little less abstract than the previous post on the application of housing law during financial meltdown, I think I've satisfactorily chewed over a connection I've been working on.

A week ago, I attended the Global Suburbs conference at UMich (in no small part masterminded by Dale), and caught part of a talk on land ownership and housing costs in Lahore, Pakistan. If I followed correctly, one comment that was made was that Pakistanis had fairly recently received access to financing tools such as the 30-year mortgage, allowing many people the potential to purchase homes who never would have been able to previously. This increased buying power led to increased demand, contributing to rising prices.

There's a parallel here. Over the past decade, Americans have received access to financing tools such as the ARM, the zero-down mortgage, the interest-only mortgage, the no-documentation mortgage, and all sorts of bizarre hybrids. All of these were essentially justified by lenders on the grounds that mortgages were a can't-lose proposition, as well as the adoption of collateralized debt instruments, and allowed many people the potential to purchase homes who never would have been able to previously.

Covering the mortgage through the long emergency

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For snarky, mildly academic news commentary on the long finance meltdown the country is in the middle of, my reading of choice is Salon's How the World Works. Combine that with a Salon feature today on oil prices, and you start getting to immediate questions for my profession:

The bottom line: Oil prices are high today, not due to a temporary disruption in the global flow of petroleum as in 1980, but for systemic reasons that are, if anything, becoming more pronounced. This means news headlines with the phrase "record oil price" are likely to be commonplace for a long time to come. ...

Think Global: Act, Dingell!

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Southeast Michigan is blessed with a political powerhouse in Congressman John Dingell (D-15th), the longest serving member of the House, and the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Dingell's therefore pretty well placed to Make A Difference when it comes to addressing climate change.

However, as the Congressman from Southeast Michigan, Dingell is also strongly wedded to the auto industry (literally - his wife Debbie is President of the General Motors Foundation). With the Big 3, and their unions - Dingell's largest funders and voter bloc - digging in their heels every step of the way on anything that smells like a fuel efficiency mandate, Dingell is notably hesitant to embrace positive energy legislation. In response to calls for increased CAFE standards, he put forth what was at first a stunt - a proposal for an intentionally unrealistic plan meant to kill debate on the issue by being too sweeping. While the political chessgame aspect of this has received its share of criticism, I think Dingell has also been surprised to see people taking it seriously, and he's now starting to get behind the proposal as a serious attempt to address climate change.

And that's where we come in. Whether you're a Dingell constituent or not, you can show him that you support strong action on climate change. A group of Ypsilanti residents have set up a petition to urge Dingell on, and state their support for action. I've signed the petition, and you can too.

"Middle class" is now the wealthiest 7%, says DetNews

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The DetNews today rails against suggestions for a graduated State income tax, saying,

Under one scenario, that highest bracket would kick in once household income hits $150,000. . .Democrats will try to sell this to voters by convincing them it hurts the evil rich and not good, wholesome working families. But look at the chart -- you don't have to make all that much money before your taxes go up substantially. Like every other tax hike, this one will rob the middle class, because that's where most of the money is.

Robbing the middle class at $150,000 and up, eh? Let's check some facts. (This is where it's especially nice that the Census Bureau's website is called "American Factfinder".)

Blueberry season!

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It's blueberry season, apparently until the end of August. We like Dexter Blueberry Farm - not organic, but local and close. (Plus, it's where my mom took us several times a summer when I was little, so it's tradition.) I picked about 9 pounds.

Blueberries are $1.35 / lb at the farm. I weighed some out; they're about 3 cups / lb, making a dry pint about $0.90. Blueberries at the store are about $4/pint. Wow.

Now, were you to think like an economist, and figure out how much time I spend picking said blueberries, and driving to the farm and back, and declare that my picking time costs me the same hourly rate as my working time, then this pint costs about $5.75, before per mile costs are calculated. Which is why I avoid thinking like an economist - and also why we take friends along. With Kelli & Michael in tow, the mileage costs are cut in half from what we pay alone, and the time expenditure has entertainment value, meaning the cost of my time is priced at the opportunity cost of the fun I could be having elsewhere, and, ehhhh, let's just say it all equals out, my time cost is zero, meaning the cost of the blueberries is equal to the price of the blueberries plus mileage costs / pickers. I don't care for economist pedantry anyways, so this method is fine by me.

Spreading the gospel of Jane

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Last fall, I loaned my copy of Jane Jacobs' Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life to a friend. Recently, I commented to him that I kinda wanted it back, as I'd had a hankering to re-read it. He said, "Well, I'd actually kind of like to loan it to somebody else, because I really think she should read it, so maybe I should just buy a new copy for you."

Last night, he told me that, in fact, he already had re-loaned out my copy...and also bought three more to give as Christmas presents. So I suppose that's a pretty successful book loan. And, with my copy gone, maybe I'll take the opportunity to go find a hardcover edition on Amazon and upgrade. Aaaand, done. D, you owe me $10.

Environmentalism means jobs.

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For a post with a lower screed-content, I'll point you to Grist's interview with Oakland, CA, social justice advocate Van Jones. Jones notes that while the environmental movement is often seen as a self-righteous fixation of upper middle class white aging hippies and hippie wannabes (and that impression is too often correct), an environmentally-friendly economy can be and will need to be something that provides economic opportunities for the working class and poor. As I've noted before, a more environmentally sound economy will involve more "skilled service" jobs, and less focus on cheap energy and global flows of disposable goods.

Drowning the Great Lakes State in a bathtub

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Taking their cues from the New Orleans experience, certain portions of Michigan's government seem to think that we can cut or starve our way to health. (Ask a mental health professional for a name for this sort of thing.) Language denouncing "tax hikes" and fiscal recklessness abounds when these folks talk about our Governor. Fortunately, though, at least some people seem to have figured out that the facts don't support slashing our way to solvency. In the words of the Michigan Municipal League's Executive Director:

Despite the supposed tax "relief" of the last decade it is hard to find anyone who is not employed by the Mackinac Center that actually feels better off.

Repair, don't replace: advantaging local labor over cheap energy and infinitely mobile capital

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Mark Maynard and MM.com reader Jim ask how we can convince our US Representative, the incoming Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, John Dingell to take global warming seriously. Mark says,

While I realize that, given his constituency, he may not be as gung-ho as I am to see fuel-efficiency standards substantially raised and a gas tax implemented (both which would seriously piss off his automotive industry base), I have to think that there may be some wiggle room with regard to what he can get away with. Given the growing awareness of both the true cost of our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and the environmental implications of burning fossil fuels, the cost of supporting such legislation, especially if done in concert with a multi-billion-dollar initiative to fund alternative energy research at the federal level, may not necessarily mean political suicide.

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