The Stingy News Weekly (08/15/2010)
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Value Workshop: Indigo
"We're putting Indigo Books & Music (IDG on the TSX) under the microscope today."
Advertising on the handicap principle
"Biologists have been long perplexed by the peacock.s tail, economists by the use of advertising. In both cases the struggle has been to understand why something so self-evidently pointless and potentially damaging can survive in a vicious world of winner-takes-all, loser-goes-extinct natural selection. Meanwhile researchers from both worlds have been closeting themselves ever deeper in an arcane world of computer modelling, where truth can be validated only by mathematics. Hints of answers to these puzzles have come not from number crunching but from fuzzy human intuitions about the way the world actually works."
Soak the very, very rich
"In a society that's becoming more stratified, a sensible tax system should draw more distinctions, not fewer. The U.S. is now a place where the rich and the ultra-rich really inhabit different worlds. (A couple of years ago, Barron's declared, 'Yes, it takes more than $10 million to be seen as rich these days.') They should probably inhabit different tax brackets, too."
U.S. is bankrupt
"Let's get real. The U.S. is bankrupt. Neither spending more nor taxing less will help the country pay its bills. What it can and must do is radically simplify its tax, health-care, retirement and financial systems, each of which is a complete mess. But this is the good news. It means they can each be redesigned to achieve their legitimate purposes at much lower cost and, in the process, revitalize the economy."
Slime mould like humans
"This style of 'comparative valuation' may seem uncannily human, but it's also one that's shared by hummingbirds, starlings, honeybees and many other animals. In fact, Latty and Beekman think that it's a 'common feature of biological decision-making'. Certainly, it's a much easier process - comparing two nearby options is less 'computationally intensive' than making absolute judgments about each of them."
Meet the $69 hot dog
"Absurdly priced menu items are more than a publicity gimmick. They're an application of "anchoring," a cognitive phenomenon discovered by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the 1970s. Whenever we try to estimate a numerical value, we are unconsciously influenced by related numbers just considered. In this case, the diner in a touristy Manhattan restaurant is trying to decide how much he or she can afford to spend. The familiar prices back home don't apply. That diner isn't going to order a $69 hot dog, but might happily opt for an $17.95 cheeseburger. The hot dog makes the cheeseburger appear reasonable in comparison (even though $17.95 would be a ridiculous price for a cheeseburger almost anywhere else). In scores of careful laboratory studies, price contrasts like that affect decisions. Restaurateurs and consultants believe it works on menus, too."
Why I'm not hiring
"A life in business is filled with uncertainties, but I can be quite sure that every time I hire someone my obligations to the government go up. From where I sit, the government's message is unmistakable: Creating a new job carries a punishing price."
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