Before autumn (Jean-Paul Kauffman)

Les quelques promeneurs que je croise veulent se persuader que l’été vit encore… Les débuts de septembre en France entretiennent un climat très particulier, il oscille entre l’achèvement et un état de suspension qui ressemble à un sursis. C’est l’avant-automne. Il y a bien l’avant-printemps – mais jamais d’avant-été ou d’avant-hier. Cet état de grâce avant l’automne, où rien ne permet de conclure que les beaux jours sont finis alors que les signes de la rentrée s’accumulent, n’est ni un point mort ni une rémission, mains une sorte de butée sans cesse repoussée. – Jean-Paul Kauffmann, Remonter la Marne, 2013

Kauffmann goes on to draw some political parallels; but today it is this description of a moment in the year that interests me.

Nigel Wilson of Legal and General on getting more investment

[I]nvestors, like Legal and General, should de-emphasise quarterly reporting by the companies we invest in. Instead of short-term, share-price fixes such as buy-backs and mega-mergers, we should be supporting genuine investment plans which deliver returns over many years, not months… [Government should be encouraging] investing more in our infrastructure – road, rail, healthcare, energy and housing. Interest rates have never been so low, money has never been so abundant, yet so little of it has been invested in growth. Money needs to be put to constructive use: Jean-Claude Juncker has the right idea on this with the European Commission’s €350bn (£255bn) stimulus plan, and we too need to accelerate George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse plan from concept to a reality… We need to build new asset classes – aggregated small company financings, private rental housing, specialist accommodation for retirees and students, and local infrastructure and regeneration funds – to grow real economic value. – Nigel Wilson, Group CEO, Legal and General, Sunday Telegraph 30 August 2015

We need more investment in energy efficiency, especially in buildings, and Mr Wilson’s arguments are spot-on in this context. Will these ideas be picked up in the UK?

Price discrimination – ticket counters at Florence railway station

Yesterday afternoon I travelled across Italy, from Dont in the Dolomites to Lucca in Tuscany (a bus and five trains). Despite including a high speed train, the journey was reasonably cheap (19 eurocents/km). I was interested in this example of price discrimination at Florence’s main station:

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(1) Long queues at the “standard” ticket counters;

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(2) A couple of “alternative” counters allowing you to “skip the line” for €2 or €3 more.

Pierre Rosanvallon on governing

[For Pierre Rosanvallon, in his new book Le Bon Gouvernement], L’élection, directe ou indirecte, du chef de l’éxecutif… a accentué le “divorce, générateur de déception, entre le type de qualités qui font le bon candidat” (séduction, simplification, promesses, plasticité) “et celles qui sont requises pour gouverner effectivement” (capacité de choix, de décision, de négociation et de maîtrise des complexités).

– Gérard Courtois, Le Monde 28.8.15

Pricing – Belarussian railways

We were in Belarus a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been sorting out photos.

rail fares Polotsk 815 2

This one shows part of a big sign board at Polotsk station. It shows the fares on the line to Vitebsk (Битебск), our destination. To me there are three interesting things about this board:

(1) Its existence, making train fares more transparent than in other systems.

(2) The extraordinary cheapness of the fares. While we were there, the Belarus ruble was about 17000 to the euro (today it is nearly 20000). The crows-flight cost of our journey to Vitebsk was 0,8 eurocents/km. This is 40 times less than the average fare I pay (32 eurocents/km) and 6 times less than the previous cheapest (a bus from Lourdes to Gavarnie in France, in the summer of 2013).

(3) On the one hand there is no differentiation by ticket class, time of day etc. On the other hand there is a strong differentiation by distance. The fare per km for a journey of 102 km is 42% of the fare per km for a journey of 4 km.

Presumably, in the Belarussian system these are purely regulatory rather than commercial decisions.

One sees similar strong differentiation by distance in many urban transport systems and some regional ones (eg Stockholm).

Price differentiation – mountain refuges

I’m walking with friends in the Dolomites – the first time we’ve been here. We’ve been going to the Pyrenees for quite a few years, staying in refuges. There, they have a standard price (more if you take the evening meal). Here, you are offered the option of a dormitory or a more expensive private room. At Refuge Averau, yesterday, there was even more differentiation: €60 for a bed in a 10-person room, €63 in a 6-person room (both times with evening meal, which was excellent).

What leads to some economic operators applying more price differentiation than others?

(Another difference from the Pyrenees is that most refuges here have (a) road access and (b) more visits from people doing a one-day walk. This leads to (a) a wider, better choice of food but (b) less cameraderie.)

On travel: Michael Cunningham

By nightfall, when we stopped at a motel in Indiana, we had all but lost track of our histories and futures – it seemed we had always been driving across a vast table of farmland and would always continue to do so. That is both the horror and the marvel of long travel. You lose track of your life with astonishing speed. An interstellar traveller would be not quite identifiable as an earthling within two weeks; after six months in deep space he or she might as well not return to earth at all.

Michael Cunningham, A home at the end of the world (1990)