This week on Unsupervised Learning, Razib is joined by Tim Lee, a former columnist at the Washington Post, Ars Technica, and Vox.com, to discuss his new project, Full Stack Economics, a newsletter on economics, technology, and public policy.
The conversation jumps directly into a major issue facing many Americans today: the cost of housing. In many US cities, access to affordable housing is the most economically important issue facing individuals and families. While nearly everyone agrees that working-class Americans should be able to afford rent or a mortgage, sharp differences in public policy positions like rent controls and freezes on property tax rates can create major distortions in the supply of housing and the incentives to build and maintain units. Numerous interests are at play between those who already own property in a neighborhood, whose property value often benefits from a housing crunch, those who want to purchase or rent in a new neighborhood, and developers who wish to increase supply but have to deal with established stakeholders. Though homeowners often make arguments about the character and aesthetics of their neighborhoods, the reality that their home values increase when they limit building has a major impact on their incentives from a purely economic perspective.
Though these issues are widely discussed in an ad hoc fashion every day in this country, Tim and his co-author, Alan Cole, attempt to highlight and flesh out the issue in a more explicit manner at Full Stack Economics, bringing both economic analysis and the public policy context to the fore.
Then Razib and Tim switch to discussing how the erosion of public trust in media organizations, particularly those that are principally funded by ad revenue, has created a market for subscription-based email newsletters. Tim’s goal with Full Stack Economics is to bring highly researched and deeply reported pieces directly to subscribers without the pressure of having to fulfill a weekly quota of copy or to be pressured by click-bait advertising incentives. Though his audience is smaller, he hopes it is more willing to be patient as well as more deeply.
They conclude their conversation by discussing a variety of technologies in the pipeline that might be potential economic and social game changers, including artificial meat, genetically modified mosquitoes, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, self-driving cars, and green energy. Due to our leadership in science and technology, Tim remains bullish on the American economy and its potential in the coming decade, while being concerned by the political polarization and American culture’s social ills.