Sunday, October 14, 2018

Dawn raids uncover evidence of beer price fixing in India

Absent cooperation from one of the conspirators, collusion is difficult to prove because it requires evidence of an agreement between competitors.  Most executives are counseled to imagine what would happen if their correspondence and e mails were made public.  

To gather evidence, the competition authorities create a "prisoners' dilemma", by offering leniency to any cartel member willing to provide evidence against his or her co-conspirators.  In India, it appears that the leniency program lead to evidence of price fixing:
The CCI was tipped off by one of the three companies after it filed a leniency application with the regulator, revealing details of the alleged price fixing, he added. 
The regulator’s leniency program is a type of whistleblower protection offered to cartel members. 
The government source said that the raids found email exchanges showing that the companies were fixing prices. “That is smoking gun evidence,” the source said.
HT:  Matt B.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Screening on criminal background and credit history

When I was at the Bureau of Economics at the FTC, we were asked by Congress whether using credit histories to price car insurance was discriminatory.  The resulting FACTA report found that:
  1. as a group, African-Americans and Hispanics tend to have lower scores than non-Hispanic whites and Asians.
  2. ...scores effectively predict risk of claims within racial and ethnic groups.
  3. The Commission could not develop an alternative scoring model that would continue to predict risk effectively, yet decrease the differences in scores among racial and ethnic groups.
As a result, banning the use of credit scores would result in insurers finding other, less good and possibly discriminatory methods of distinguishing high from low risks, like selling insurance only in low risk areas.  Good drivers living in higher risk areas would be "pooled" with other drivers living in the high risk area, and would have to pay higher rates.

 Previous studies (here and here) finds an analogous effect of preventing criminal background checks in employment, that doing so increases racial discrimination against African American men:
If employers are very averse to hiring ex-cons then they will seek to reduce this risk and one way of doing so is by not hiring any black men. As a result, a background check allows non ex-cons to distinguish themselves from the pack and to be hired. Furthermore, when background checks exist, non ex-cons know that they will not face statistical discrimination and thus have an increased incentive to invest in skills.
When the box [a criminal back ground check] is banned it’s no longer possible to cheaply level the playing field so more employers begin to statistically discriminate by offering fewer callbacks to blacks. As a result, banning the box may benefit black men with criminal records but it comes at the expense of black men without records who, when the box is banned, no longer have an easy way of signaling that they don’t have a criminal record. Sadly, a policy that was intended to raise the employment prospects of black men ends up having the biggest positive effect on white men with a criminal record.

See also Using credit history to price hospital care

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Rather Unique Economy of Scope

Lots of companies provide rewards to customers who recommend their products to friends. But now Tesla is offering to send any photo you want etched in glass into space for the next million years.
Perhaps most notable, though, is “Launch Your Photo into Deep Space Orbit,” a new reward for owners with one qualifying referral. The cool, fun perk involves Tesla laser-etching any photo of the owner’s choice that would be sent into deep space. Tesla did not state it explicitly on its new Referral Program page, but the laser-etched photos would most definitely be sent to orbit using rockets from Elon Musk’s private space company, SpaceX. Owners who wish to send their pictures to deep space orbit can expect a reminder on their Tesla mobile app to upload their selected photo sometime in December 2018.

Of course, they can do this because both Tesla and SpaceX were founded by Elon Musk. The best part is Musk's tweet on acceptable images.

No word on when GM or Ford will offer a similar reward.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Less of other peoples' money is funding insurance

Health insurance costs about $20,000, 3/4 of which is paid by your employer.  One way to keep costs down is to raise deductibles.  This reduces costs is two ways:

  1. By reducing consumption of low value care (moral hazard); and
  2. By giving consumers an incentive to shop for lower price and higher quality care


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Economies of scope created AWS

Amazon Web Services is one of the biggest success stories around.
Less than a decade old, ... Cloud computing — remote computing, or web services, as cloud computing is sometimes called — has been so wildly successful that it’s increased the pace of technology innovation, the rate of technology adoption, and the volume of data in the world by many fold. Today mobile startups can go global in a snap, ...

Like many innovations, it's began with a problem, that it took too long and too much effort to plug "merchants" (sellers who use their own supply chain to fill orders) into the Amazon platform.
Providing a solution for Target, for example, one of Amazon’s early deals, was “far more painful than we thought it would be,” .... 

According to the book Machine, Platform, Crowd, Amazon stopped customizing solutions for each new merchant on its platform by "hardening" its API's, developing a standardized and well documented set of protocols that essentially decoupled parts of the web platform. For example, they separated back-end data from the presentation layer so that their merchant associates could control the consumer interface without creating more work for Amazon on the backend. Customers who used the new API increased conversion rates on their web properties by 30%.
Initially, hardening the API's created more work for Amazon, but when they had finished, they realized that they had a reliable, world-wide, web infrastructure that would enable developers to build their tech infrastructure on top of Amazon's cloud computing platform.  It turns out that there was a huge demand for the service:
First one, then two, then three CEOs declared infrastructure services a top priority and asked Amazon to take a hard look at helping them with data warehousing. It was too expensive, hard to manage, required too much commitment and was riddled with pricey upgrades. It seems in these early days of widespread Internet adoption, a collective grumbling emerged over how much hardware was required to operate at “web scale” — interact globally in real-time with huge user bases. No one had the stomach for the banks of servers they’d have to swallow in order to operate a global online presence.

Amazon continues to "spin off" ideas developed to solve internal problems, like "API Gateway, ... a tool for creating, publishing, scaling and securing APIs. The idea is to let enterprises get the same advantages from using APIs as Amazon does, thereby paving the way for faster development and innovation...":
"Inside your company, if you're able to offer your different services via hardened APIs that are well documented, it frees up all the other teams that want to consume your services, to use those just as building blocks, as if they're external services," Jassy said. "Once we got into that mode inside Amazon, it dramatically changed the speed with which we were able to innovate."