Whiny Techies, I

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Whiny Techies, I

A bit of advice for all those who rushed out to be the first on their block with a new iPhone and are now bellyaching because Apple reduced the price:

Get a life.

What rock have you folks been living under? Have you bought an airline ticket recently? Or have you ever haggled with a rug salesman? Or bought a case of wine on sale at the local liquor store that sold for 20 percent more the week before?

As the generation that has grown up on eBay, Priceline and day-trading on Nasdaq, you should have developed at least a rudimentary understanding of markets -- willing buyers and willing sellers and all that.

And fairness -- what's that have to do with anything? If Apple suddenly discovered that it was losing money on the new iPhones and suddenly raised the price, would you have volunteered to send a check?

I've got some news for you: Steve Jobs is not your friend. The reason he's a billionaire and you're not is that he's brilliant at selling you gadgets that make you feel so cool you're willing to pay way more than it costs to make them. His only mistake last week was letting you in on his little secret.

Whiny Techies, II

Many people who spend their days blogging, surfing and downloading have developed a strange notion that everything connected with the Internet should be free.

They get all huffy when a newspaper decides it is going to charge for its content. And they rally behind any politician or entrepreneur who promises to close the "digital divide" by providing free, wireless Internet access to everyone, everywhere.

The latest rallying cry is "network neutrality." This campaign started out with the legitimate goal of making sure that consumers could continue to access whichever services or content they want, rather than having to take those offered by the cable and phone company duopolists. But lately the campaign seems to have morphed into a broader demand that all consumers should be able to pay the same monthly fee for using the Internet, no matter how much bandwidth they use or how much their movie downloads and video chats are slowing service to everyone else in the neighborhood.

Perhaps this is the kind of economic illiteracy we should expect from people who get their information from "The Daily Show" and the Daily Kos. But isn't it time for the rest of us to move on and acknowledge that the days of the online free lunch are over?

Three Cheers for Two Economists

Twice a year since 1970, some of the best economists in the world gathered at the Brookings Institution to deliver and critique papers on all the hot topics in macroeconomics. The quality was always high and the disagreements were spirited but respectful, with none of the partisan or ideological rancor that now characterizes so much of economic conversation.

But last week's meeting of the panel was special. Nearly 100 alumni, including a certain former Federal Reserve chairman and three Nobel prize winners, gathered to pay tribute to George Perry, a Brookings fixture, and Yale professor Bill Brainard, who have been the guiding hands and spirit of the panel for the past 27 years.

It's only a slight exaggeration to say that there are few pieces of received wisdom in macroeconomics today that don't have Perry's and Brainard's fingerprints on them. And it tells you something about the institution they nourished that they will be succeeded by a trio of top-flight economists with deep Washington experience: former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers; Greg Mankiw, former head of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers; and Doug Elmendorf, who's worked at the Treasury, Fed, Congress and the White House.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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