Priceonomics - The Market for Human Hair < 5min

Nearly everyone has hair they discard without a thought. Yet it can also be one of the world’s most precious resources, and businesses can’t get enough of it. ... When companies buy hair from the temple for as much as $700 per pound, it contains sweat, blood, and lice. ... To transform the best (longest) hair from trash into treasure, teams of workers untangle the hair, sort it by length, pick out lice and other particles, wash and dry it, and dye it a variety of colors. Companies then either ship the hair out to salons where stylists will sew, tape, or bond the extensions into customers’ hair, or sew the hair into wigs. ... Retailers like Lori’s Wigsite sell wigs made of fake, synthetic hair, and they cost $250 where a human hair wig would cost $1,500. ... History is full of examples of human hair being treated as a valuable commodity. Archeologists have discovered human hair wigs held together with resin and beeswax in Ancient Egyptian tombs. Upper class men in 18th century Europe wore long periwigs made of human or horse hair, and thieves commonly worked in teams to steal and resell them. An observer of an annual “hair harvest” in a poor Italian village in the 19th century described seeing girls “sheared, one after the other, like sheep.” Their hair went to Parisian markets that sold 200,000 pounds of human hair each year.

Priceonomics - There Are No Truffles in Truffle Oil 7min

But in a world full of manipulative marketers, the truffle is the real deal. A type of fungus that grows on tree roots, the truffle stands on the right side of the line between decomposition and decadence. ... These fickle cousins of mushrooms have proven impossible to mass produce; they are still dug up individually by dogs that track their scent. ... The truffle stands in stark contrast to our era of convenience: the preservatives in bread that allow it to stay fresh for weeks and the year-round availability of seasonal fruits and vegetables. ... The combination of these two trends—the desire for a convenient, ever-ready supply of an ingredient, and a hunger for the traditional, the rare, and “real food”—led to what would seem to be a remarkably successful scam on foodie culture: truffle oil. ... Despite truffle oil's poor provenance, though, it has been used and praised by both average joes and renowned chefs. Truffle oil has been a remarkably successful con. ... taste is a slippery concept that is susceptible to psychological trickery and difficult to discuss objectively. Many embarrassed gourmands have realized that they were equating true truffles with smelly olive oil, but amateurs and experts alike easily confuse the good stuff and the cheap stuff whether it’s wine, sushi, or chicken picatta.

Priceonomics - Is Every Speed Limit Too Low? 7min

Over the past 12 years, Lt. Megge has increased the speed limit on nearly 400 of Michigan’s roadways. Each time, he or one of his officers hears from community groups who complain that people already drive too fast. But as Megge and his colleagues explain, their intent is not to reduce congestion, bow to the reality that everyone drives too fast, or even strike a balance between safety concerns and drivers’ desire to arrive at their destinations faster. Quite the opposite, Lt. Megge advocates for raising speed limits because he believes it makes roads safer. ... This “nationally recognized method” of setting the speed limit as the 85th percentile speed is essentially traffic engineering 101. It’s also a bit perplexing to those unfamiliar with the concept. Shouldn’t everyone drive at or below the speed limit? And if a driver’s speed is dictated by the speed limit, how can you decide whether or not to change that limit based on the speed of traffic? ... The answer lies in realizing that the speed limit really is just a number on a sign, and it has very little influence on how fast people drive.