Electricity pricing in Mexico City in the 1950s (according to Señora C)

energy public plug London 1017.JPG
(London, 2017)

Señora C at a tea party in Mexico City: “You don’t pay for the current you consume, you pay for the number of sockets you have in the house. Of course the system is quite mad. It comes to as much for a ballroom chandelier blazing away all night with hundreds of watts as for the bulb on your attic steps. So far so bad. Now comes the collector, who is so ill-paid that he couldn’t exist without bribes, literally not exist. You have just taken a house, he goes into your living-room and counts the sockets – ceiling-light, standing lamp, side lamps, unos, dos, tres, cuatros… “Nonsense”, he says, “you must put in one point and connect all your lights with extension wires.” It saves you four-fifths of the bill, and you split the saving. This is where your troubles begin. The one point is overstressed, your lights fuse, you keep tripping over wires. Then a controller appears and threatens to denounce you for what he quite correctly calls fraud. You bribe him as expected, and at the end of the year you are fined by the company anyhow. If you refuse this arrangement to begin with – we all did – you never get any current at all.”

(Sybille Bedford, A visit to Don Otavio – one of my favourite travel books)

A weekend in #Vienna

We caught the ICE from Brussels Midi station last Thursday evening to go to a party in Vienna. The BordBistro, which is one of the things I appreciate about these German trains, had less good food than usual, but I could still drink a Weissbier. At Cologne we picked up the night train to Vienna. The 2-person compartment was clean and new. German railways withdrew their night services a couple of years ago. We owe a lot to the Austrian railway company, ÖBB, for keeping theirs going. It would be nice to have a little table, though, like on the Russian night trains.

Austria from window morning night train Cologne-Vienna 318.JPG

In the morning the Austrian countryside was flat. The sky was curdly. We came into Vienna first thing and got the S-Bahn to Rennweg.

view from hotel window gold ferris wheel tower Vienna 318.JPG

The hotel let us have a room straight away, a big room with a small window with a view over the city towards a new Russian orthodox church. Joy – a kettle, teabags, a Nespresso coffee machine. I could hear the hooves of horses drawing tourist fiacres.

Friedmanngasse old housing social housing snow cars Josefstadtstr Vienna 318.JPG

At first I wasn’t so taken with the city. I found the grand late Victorian buildings florid – Manchester has some of the same things, for example on Portland Street, and I don’t like them either. Recent buildings showed flat stucco.

bicycles MacDonalds Vienna 318.JPG

When you weren’t looking at a McDonalds

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you were looking at a McDonalds sign.

Hbf station Vienna 318 blue.JPG

The public transport system had an ugly square typeface, low ceilings, overlit spaces, angular angles.

Heaven/ Heaven is a place/ Where nothing/ Nothing ever happens.

tram Rennweg Vienna 318 2.JPG

But oh the public transport itself is marvellous. You can use it like water. Like turning on a tap.

public fish Stadtpark Vienna 318.JPG  public mussel Vienna 318.JPGpublic mermaid sphinx Belvedere Vienna 318.JPG  public babies fish .JPG
And there are some lovely sculptures across the city of water creatures.

public birds Vienna 318 2.JPG  public griffin cathedral Vienna 318.JPGsphinx Belvedere Vienna 318 6.JPG
And of air creatures.

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And of Mark Anthony in a chariot drawn by lions.

I was interested in the graffiti

public writing EUROPE WITHOUT GREECE IS LIKE A PARTY WITHOUT DRUGS S-Bahn Vienna 318.JPG(Europe without Greece is like a party without drugs)

PhD pricing candles St Stephen's cathedral Vienna 318.JPGand in the candle pricing policy practiced by St Stephan’s cathedral.

We went to a book reading by the author Robert Pimm, at the Café Korb. The electric bus, 2A, dropped us off right outside. His thriller Blood Summit kept me up till two. He said that he once went to a reading by P.D. James. She said that up to a point in one of her books, she didn’t know who did it. When he heard that he stopped wanting to read her. If she doesn’t know, how am I supposed to work it out?

trendy hairdressers PH Vienna 318.JPGIn preparation for the party I went for a haircut in a city centre hairdressers with high ceilings and a parquet floor. A boy in a black elf costume gave me a 0 and a hot cloth head rub. How much will that be? I asked the tattooed leather-wearing manager. He looked at my head and smiled. You can have that for nothing, he said. Just give the boy a tip. Enjoy your visit to Vienna.

On Saturday the snow came down.

Leigh's party Vienna 318.JPGThe party was at the British embassy, dancing late, and brunch there on Sunday morning.

egg cups Leigh's brunch Vienna 318.JPGThe embassy crockery includes a set of egg cups.

politics queueing to vote Russian embassy Vienna 318.JPGLeaving the embassy we passed an anti-Putin demonstration corralled outside the Italian embassy; then a people queuing to vote in the Russian election (voting music was being played); then the Orthodox church we saw from our window.

On Sunday evening, after a visit to Cohen’s Smartfoods at the railway station, it was time for the train home.

Things that were different from home (Belgium): good internet in every café and restaurant. No bread with meals. You are expected to write the tip into the card payment machine, not leave a separate quantity of cash. The hotel room had a kettle. (It warned, however, that the kettle was for water only.)

On the way home we had a bit of a to-do at Frankfurt airport station; that’s another story.

Amitav Ghosh on money in China in the 1830s

Fanqui-town’s most commonly used coin was the one that had the widest currency in the world: it was the Spanish silver dollar, also called the ‘piece of eight’ because it was valued at eight reals. The dollar contained a little less than an ounce of fine silver and was embossed with the heads and arms of recent Spanish sovereigns. But among the pieces of eight that circulated in Canton, very few retained the designs that had been stamped on them at the time of their minting. In China, while passing from hand to hand, every coin was marked with the seals of its successive owners. This practice was considered a surety for buyers as well as sellers, for anyone who complained of a bad coin could be sure of having it replaced so long as it could be shown to be marked with the seal of its last owner.

When space ran short, more was created by flattening the coin with a hammer. In due time, the cracked and battered coins would be broken into bits, to be kept in bags and placed upon the scales when a transaction required silver of a certain weight. As coins aged, they became more and more difficult to pass off, even when their content of silver remained unchanged; new coins, on the other hand, were called ‘first-chop dollars’ and were so prized they were valued above their weight. – Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (2011)

Price differentiation in car repairs

“Researchers [for a survey commissioned by ClickMechanic, a mobile car repair service] requested quotes to fix a basic fault – a malfunctioning clutch on a 2011 Ford Focus – from 182 garages across 10 British cities. The study, using a sample of male and female drivers, found that only 6 per cent of independent garages gave the same quote to both men and women. The garages quoted men an average of £571, while women were given a price of £616, an unwarranted mark-up of 8 per cent.” – The Times, 3.7.15

Pricing – the role of smart meters – article by T-O Leautier

Our demand for electricity varies from one time to another, and – with variable forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar – the same is true for electricity supply. This means that it costs more to supply electricity at some times than at others. It seems to be a good idea to allow us as consumers to take advantage of this cost variability in situations when we can shift our demand to times when electricity is cheap. Meters that “know” what time we consume electricity are an essential element in this and are often called “smart” meters. Public policy at national and European level aims at more consumers having smart meters. It is therefore disturbing that a recent article by Thomas-Olivier Léautier of the Toulouse School of Economics argues that for the “vast majority of residential consumers” a switch to real time pricing would be worth only €1-€4 per year: much less than the price of the new meter. (this link is to an earlier draft than the one I read). This is all the more disturbing to me because when I worked on public transport, microeconomists from Toulouse came closer than any others to finding models describing oligopolistic situations in which operators unavoidably have market power – a characterisation that is as true of electricity markets as it of those for public transport. However, the article seems (if I have not misunderstood) to:

  1. Only take into account variability in demand, not variability in supply – and therefore not the implications of the presence in the market of variable renewable sources of energy;
  2. Only allow consumers to reduce their demand (experiencing a loss of welfare to offset the cost saving) and not to shift their demand in time (for example by cooling freezers way down when the wind is blowing);
  3. Conclude that an increase in the share of price-reactive consumers will not affect the price of electricity – which seems unlikely to be a general result;
  4. Assume that electricity pricing takes the form of optimally designed two-part tariffs.

For these reasons, I think this article is a useful beginning of the microeconomic exploration of this topic, but not the end of the story.