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News and analysis: Lego Friends sells well, Organic food is no healthier, Bulgaria nixes EU membership plans

Lego’s Friends line has been a huge success. I’m mostly pleased by this, but I have somewhat complicated feelings.

I have a daughter, and it’s a little frustrating that the opportunities provided for girls to play a career include a beautician, a veterinarian, a horse trainer, a baker, a fashion designer, and a rock star. I’m glad they included the inventor but it smacks of tokenism. It’s also frustrating that there’s a bunny house and a pet patrol and a horse trailer and a puppy house–it’s bunnies and puppies and kittens and pink and purple. I’m just as offended, I suppose, by the violence in a lot of the boys’ kits, but with the inclusion of molded figures that don’t match minifig scale, the City and Creator Lego sets don’t seem intended to integrate into the Friends’ world.

My hope is that the crazy success of Friends’ means that they’ll release new models annually–and you can’t build a beauty shop every year. Here’s hoping we get to see ambulance drivers and astronauts and architects this go-round (and that’s just the A’s).

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News and analysis: Tampa has more than its share of poverty; Space elevator group LiftPort is back in business; Apple v. Samsung, ugh.

Republican political types are gathering in Tampa, Florida for the Republican Convention, and most people are talking about either the election, or about Hurricane Isaac. Not so many are talking about Florida’s still-depressed housing and job markets, or about the 25% poverty rate.

Part of being a society is deciding how we solve the economic problem–the problem of scarcity, and a big part of that is who gets what.

I don’t claim any particular insight into how we ought to do this: some people focus on fairness of process, and some people focus on fairness of outcome. In a broad sense, people seem to think both are important. Maybe a process is acceptable until it produces an outcome that is not, or outcomes are acceptable until it becomes clear how unfair the process is. Societies have to decide how to distribute goods; the consequences are ultimately borne by the societies as well.

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News and analysis: Foxconn raises wages but keeps long hours, Nike sells $315 shoes, Herr’s makes 5-6 tons of chips/day

So FoxConn workers are making more than they used to. They’re still working 60-hour weeks in violation of government labor laws.

So the wages are going up, changing relative wages against both the U.S. and against other developing nations. What’s going to happen? Well, we should expect that some manufacturing jobs will move back to the U.S. We should also expect higher value items and higher value brands to be established as more important parts of China’s economy.

The downside: prices on consumer goods–which have been depressed for a long time due to the 2000s explosion of labor due to the expansion of western firms into China–are likely to rise.

The upside: China will start buying more stuff, particularly higher-value items, in which the U.S. has a comparative advantage, so U.S. wages–which have been depressed for a long time due to the same explosion–are also likely to rise.
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Will everything be free in the future? Robots, information, value, and the long view of relative prices.

I don’t think everything will be free–more likely relative prices of raw goods and manufactured goods are just likely to swing drastically. If you take the long view of human history, increasingly the value of a good is defined by the information in it, and we have gotten much better at separating, recording and transmitting that information. If you think about it, mathematics and engineering are about inventing the language to describe the information contained in a good, interchangeable parts and mass production increase the signal-to-noise ratio, information goods like books, music, movies, research, software–these *are*their information–and then the development of an information infrastructure as well as cheaper and more widely distributed mechanized production methods mean that the information slowly becomes the only missing part.

Another way to think about it is that we have steadily shortened the distance between knowing how to make something and having it made. Little by little, the having it made part is becoming trivial relative to the knowing how to make something. Because information is non-rival–my having information implies nothing about your ability to have it–private goods become less private. Read the rest of this entry »

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