Monday, July 28, 2008

Open Table: The future of dining in Halifax?

My friends at Cuzoogle recently wrote Open Table . What's the deal? You choose the date and time, and this website tells you what restaurant has a table open for your party. Currently 50 Canadian cities have restaurants using this web-booking site. And why not? From the perspective of the restaurant, it's labour saving - the host can concentrate on the customers there in person and the reservations are made with accuracy. And, perhaps on the margin, it will make it easier for their customers to books a table and attract new customers if this web-booking becomes popular. For the consumer, you can search the local restaurant scene in seconds at the last minute (which is much easier than searching the yellow pages and calling).

Currently, Halifax only has two restaurants on signed-up (Onyx and the Cut Steakhouse). I hope they can add a few of my favorites! . Getting a critical mass of restaurants in each city is going to be a big challenge for this website - do you think they have promoters in Halifax? Maybe I should call the Herald or The Coast! Without a large number of already popular restaurant favorites on this list, the website will not survive in Halifax or any city because the benefit to the consumer depends on it! But I like the business case. We currently buy books, movie tickets and almost everything else online, why not book a dinner for 2 online.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On Das Kapital: One of the greatest books of all time

Thanks to Mad Jenny’s recent post, "Globe and Mail's 50 Greatest Books" has grabbed my attention. What defines a great book? The Globe and Mail's view is that "a book is not simply a searchable database, and a great book is adjudged a great book over time by virtue of offering things — astonishing ideas, unforgettable characters, imaginative sublimity, glorious prose — that cannot be got elsewhere, and that tell us something new about the human (or other) condition." So far two economists have made the list of the 50 best: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and Karl Marx's Das Kapital. I covered selected readings from these works when I was at the University of King's College (the latter as part of a special lecture series entitled "The Future of Marxism"). With respect to Smith, his contribution needs no introduction. The G&M article on it is interesting and worth a read. I think it correctly points to Smith's genius and often misunderstood concept of the "invisible hand" - Smith did not think markets alone would solve the all world's problems (more on Smith in a future posting).

What stirred me to blog about this today? Mad Jenny asked why Das Kapital has made G&M 50 greatest books of all time list. Why? Here is my letter to my dear friend:

Dear Mad Jenny,

In response to your question regarding the worthiness of Das Kapital on the G&M top 50 list, I have the following thoughts. Given the terms set-out by the G&M, Das Kapital is easily in the top 50 because, simply put, it offers a unique perspective into the human condition. Das Kapital marks the beginning of a new order in political approach and moral thought about how our economic system affects (if not solely responsible for – according to Marx-) our human condition. Marx believed that it was the capitalist system is responsible for greed, and huge and ever growing inequality in wealth he observed in the world. As you know, this kind of critic can only be found in Marx and it is still contributing today. In addition to his obvious contributions to sociology and modern philosophy, Marx was, in one way, one of the first modern economist. How so? Marx spent many years reading and analyzing government blue books to understand the economy; which is something now thousands of economists do everyday.

In my view, many are quick to point-out that Marx's failures - he did not predict the rise of the middle class and the welfare state - but no one else did either. And, after people cite line and verse from Marx's more famous works (for example, "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need"), they quickly discount his contribution to economics and his influence on our own thoughts about society and morality. In addition, he, next to Hayek and Keynes (both should make the list), had great influence on how societies were run in the 20th century and they were instrumental in shaping world history.

I am not a Marxist, nor do I confess to be an expert on his works. But, Marx's best and only completed work in his life time, Das Kapital, is one of the greatest books of all time because of its analysis of the human condition and its influence on world history.

I know this was somewhat generalized and vague, but I hope you are convinced.

Canadian Economist

Monday, July 21, 2008

Seeing Paris on the Cheap: Where to Eat and More

I travelled to Paris a few weeks ago to attend a conference at Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV) and my wife and I were on a tight budget. We wanted to enjoy Paris's best eats and see some of the attractions we missed on our previous visits, without having to declare personal bankruptcy when we returned home. Here are some lessons we learned from meandering around the famous French capital.

Eating: The ethnic food in Paris provides the best value for money. The restaurant business in Paris is very competitive and only the best survive. And, since non-traditional Parisian food sells at a discount, it has to be popular to survive (hint: busy=good). If you are into, or have never tried lamb couscous, here are two recommendations: (1) Chez Jaafar, 22, rue Sommerard, Latin Quarter, and (2) Chez Omar, 47 Rue de Bretagne, Le Marais ( a review ). Avoid tourist trap Rue de la Huchette, or as the French all it "bacteria alley". Besides not knowing its alias, many foreign tourists who eat here are under the impression that this is the celebrated Latin Quarter. A shame. In this case, busy with other tourists.

Sleeping: Hotels in Paris are very expensive and often booked well in advance during the peak summer season. Going to Paris in April or October seem the ideal times to visit. We used to rent a apartment for 6 days ( see here ). It was small, but in a nice location and was only $94US per night, which for July is a good rate. A more centrally located place is Hotel Paris Rivoli (many reviews here . The rooms are a bit small, but the location is great (near St. Paul's Metro). When checking into a hotel, always see the room first and check for signs of bed bugs (yes, I am very serious).

Notes to the first time travelers to Paris:
(1) Read a good travel guide: we love the Lonely Planet. It is well written and has a fairly good map. It's not perfect, but one of the best.
(2) Unlike Canada, this old city is not friendly if you have mobility issues. There are many stairs, and older buildings (including hotels and apartments) don't elevators. If you have mobility problems, plan extra time and make sure to ask the usual questions before booking.
(3) Don't act like a typical American tourist: (a) Before ordering something or asking a question, always begin with "Bonjour Madam/Sir". (b) Gratuities are included in the price of your meal (most servers get paid (often 15%) no matter how the meal goes from your perspective). So don't double tip (although many believe this is the only reason the French let Americans into their country).
(4) Don't keep all your money in one place, lock your luggage, and hold your purse close to your body. Your white sneakers, fanny-pack, map or guide book, and incessant stop-point-and-click, blows your cover too easily making you easy prey.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Attention Zoom Airlines: Replace your calculator!

For the second time in three years, I selected Zoom Airlines to get me and my wife to Paris. If you booking in advance, the trip from Toronto or Montreal is fairly cheap (even in today's high oil price environment) - including the extra trip from Halifax, they had the best price. I think this discount airline has great service; however, thier in flight service pricing makes me scream!

Let me explain: The announcement comes over the speaking on the flight: "You can purchase a headset for $6CND or 4€". This is fine; since the current exchange rate is somewhere near $1.60 per euro, it is cheaper to pay in Canadian Dollars. And then it happened: "You can also purchase a blanket for $5 or 4 €". WHAT? How does this make any sense? And they said it like it was no big deal. I was floored. They go to all this effort to round to the number 4,5, and 6, but then use two different implided exchange rates?

Dear Zoom Airlines: Please choose an single exchange rate for inflight service. As far as I am concerned, exchange rates are not item specific!

Canadian Economist.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Top 25 Emerging Artist: Works by Emily are on display in Toronto

Art work from an emerging young artist are similar to an undervalued stock: buy it and hold. The benefit on holding art in your portfolio is that it also gives a visually based utility. Here is how to have a look into 25 Canadian emerging artists.

This year, Fido and the historic Distillery District in Toronto are getting together to celebrate and support a shared commitment to arts and culture (some details here . This partnership comes in the form of the largest outdoor projector screen in Toronto. The projector is located in the Distillery District’s Pure Spirits Patio (also known as the Fido Spot).

After having carefully reviewed numerous excellent submissions, several of Emily's paintings were selected to be part of the slideshow that will run daily at the Distillery District during the month of July. The entire slideshow will be comprised of pieces from only 25 artists. Congratulations Emily!

I understand that Emily's work is being shown at:
Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill Patio
Distillery District
55 Mill Street

Emily's work can be view on this "a work in progress" blog .