Monthly Archives: April 2012

Douthat on Secular Morality

Any thoughts on this??

 Modeled Behavior

via Douthat on Secular Morality.

Down with particle physics, up with Big Energy Research!


via Down with particle physics, up with Big Energy Research!.

Currently, thousands of our best physicists are being shunted into careers in experimental particle physics, spending their lives working at CERN or Fermilab. These are our very best physics brains, and they are a very scarce commodity. In my opinion, we need these people to be working on solar power, biofuels, and nuclear power. Applied physics is not as intellectually thrilling or as nerd-glamorous as fundamental physics, but we can ill afford to pay our super-nerds to indulge their philosophical whimsy at a time like this.

So I am suggesting, not an abandonment of Big Particle Physics, but a pause. If and when energy stops getting more expensive and resumes its march toward abundance, our species will have the breathing room to look for answers to questions like how to combine gravity with the Standard Model.

If I took issue it might be because arguably applied physics and science are what private industry does the best job of capturing value from and has an incentive to do so. It’s pure science that does have the same attraction for private money; so pure science has the best case to be subsidized.


Buying your way out of waiting your turn – Markets in everything – internalizing expenses due to misconduct as the cost of doing business

Such trends are not confined to high-finance and business, but pervasive in modern-day lives. Old-fashioned virtues of equality (of people standing in a que to access a service) have given way to opportunity-cost driven conventions (rich people pay to access the service out of turn). The implications of this gradual shift have been far-reaching and is surely a major contributor to the widespread widening of inequality across societies. It is obvious that there is a slippery slope associated with these trends. Traditional mores slowly get replaced with market-based morality, with all its attendant consequences.

Innovation: "Most Innovations in Most Fields Are Not Patented."

It seems like Patents are becoming an inhibition to innovation.  The goal is to use them as a weapon against competition based on excellence and innovation:  what capitalism should be all about.

AEI held a session on patents and patent reform building off Launching the Innovation Renaissance. Alex Tabarrok was one of the speakers, taking for his title “Most Innovations in Most Fields Are Not Patented.” You can listen to a YouTube of part of his talk and see some related YouTubes at the end. His title says it all link here and link here. The entire conference is to be posted here

Innovation: “Most Innovations in Most Fields Are Not Patented.”
John Bennett
Sat, 17 Mar 2012 20:28:25 GMT

Assorted links

Scarcity, Rationing, and Death Panels

I have a little to say about the inevitable rationing health care and the power of antecdote, and the appropriateness of that.


One of the fundamental principles in economics is that goods and services are scarce.,,The question is NOT “should things be rationed?” Rather, it is “How should things be rationed?”

This distinction is made clear to us every day, but possibly no more so than in the area of health care.

In other instances, medical care will be rationed by our ability and willingness to pay…

[in the absense of this kind of rationing) And in some instances, death panels composed of persons with medical training (and political connections?) will decide how to ration scarce health resources. 

I have enough trouble with physicians who like to play god as it is. Giving them the ability and power to decide who should receive a heart, a kidney, or a cancer treatment adds to my concerns. 

For example, consider this story [h/t Rebekkah]:

When Kenneth Warden was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer, his hospital consultant sent him home to die, ruling that at 78 he was too old to treat.

Even the palliative surgery or chemotherapy that could have eased his distressing symptoms were declared off-limits because of his age…

Thanks to [his daughter’s] tenacity, Kenneth got the drugs and surgery he needed — and as a result his cancer was actually cured. Four years on, he is a sprightly 82-year-old who works out at the gym, drives a sports car and competes in a rowing team.

city, Rationing, and Death Panels
Sun, 08 Apr 2012 11:42:44 GMT


I agree with the main point here that rationing of a scarce good like health care is inevitable either by ability and willingness to pay or by the decision of some rationing third party.  The anecdote is touching in a child fighting for the parents life.  I’m not sure though that it proves that the decision as made to not pursue care was wrong.  The story is not proof of the  effectiveness of treatment in cases of this types, how often under the same circumstances would the result have been different?  I don’t know, but only mean to caution how much to read from this story.  Furthermore, how many kids might get more basic and less dramatic care but with improved quality of life that is worth as much or more than a costly miracle cure made available to someone who could pay.  Again I don’t know.

Why You Should Learn to Love Pink Slime

So Pink Slime seems destined to go down in one way or another.  We’ll stop using it in many place, or use less at least for a time.  As discussed below though there really isn’t much of a demonstrated health or nutrition issue with using Pink Slime.  Instead maybe it’s a way to show we care.

Another reason I think is that as urban society, most of us don’t really have much exposure to chain that puts food on our table.  How many people out of a hundred have seen an animal slaughtered, or could picture where that piece of meat on their plate actually came from?  Not many.

I grew up on a farm and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a complete butchering, but I ‘d like to think I know my burger had a mom.

I think most people don’t want to know so much about where their food came from.  When they find out so much as they know about Pink slime they don’t like it.

Adam Ozimek — blogger at Modeled Behavior and associate at Econsult Corporation

There have been a lot of complaints and outrage lately over the beef product known as “pink slime.” Officially called Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), these are beef additives made from processed trimmings of beef leftover from other cuts. It’s worth considering some of the economic issues involved in pink slime.

Many seem to have the impression from the complaints that there is something unsafe or unhealthy LFTB. For instance, the following comes from the petition asking the USDA to ban pink slime from schools:

Two former government microbiologists claim that, for political reasons, pink slime was approved for human consumption by USDA over serious safety concerns…

Even apart from safety concerns, it is simply wrong to feed our children connective tissues and beef scraps that were, in the past, destined for use in pet food and rendering and were not considered fit for human consumption.

Despite these complaints about safety and whether the meat is “fit for consumption,” if you read the pink slime critics who are knowledgeable of such things, you’ll see that these claims are false. For instance, Marion Nestle reports that it “is not really slimy and it is reasonably safe and nutritious”. If safety and nutrition aren’t a problem, then why shouldn’t we eat it? …

If people’s desire to regulate pink slime isn’t about health, safety, or even taste, then what is it about? Robin would probably suggest that it is about signaling. Pink slime is seen as low status, and even though consuming it is not bad for our selves or our children, we would ban it to show that we care. This Hansonion hypothesis is borne out pretty clearly by a lot of pink slime complaints. Nestle herself makes it about as clear as possible that signaling is why she is critical of pink slime:

Even if LFTB is safe, nutritious, and tastes like hamburger, it may not be culturally acceptable. Do we want LFTB in our food? Or do we and our children deserve better? Serving healthy and delicious food is a way to show respect for our culture, food, children, and schools, and to invest in the future of our nation.

Our children deserve “better”, but better in what way? Apparently not safety, nutrition, or taste. Many people aren’t opposing pink slime because it’s bad for us, but because doing so shows that we care.

… a lot of the decline in the demand for pink slime will be offset by an increase in demand for normal ground beef, which will mean more cows will be slaughtered.

So will the number of cows produced and slaughtered increase or decrease? In the end, the cattle industry reports that this filler saves about 10 to 12 pounds of edible meat from every cow, and this is the equivalent of 1.5 million heads of cattle. Despite the lower revenues from each cow discussed above, the demand shift effect will likely outweigh the lower profit effect so that the net impact will be a significant increase in the number of cattle that will be raised and slaughtered every year.

You are probably wondering why we should even care how many cows are produced? After all, if a cow ever got the chance, he’d eat you and everyone you care about. But in his forthcoming book, An Economist Gets Lunch, Tyler Cowen argues that less cows are a good thing given the polluting methane that they produce (cow farts). So we should worry about the negative environmental externalities that this increased production of cows lead to.

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Why You Should Learn to Love Pink Slime
Megan McArdle
Thu, 05 Apr 2012 17:00:00 GMT

Unlimited Campaign Spending—A Good Thing?–Richard Posner

I haven’t read this, but it contrary to what most I think.  I like things that are opposed to conventional wisdom.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission held that Congress cannot limit expenditures in political campaigns as long as the spender, who might be an individual or an organization, including a corporation or union, is not affiliated with or acting in concert with the candidate or political party. The Court held that such “independent” expenditures are not campaign donations, which can be regulated; they are pure expressions of the political preferences of the donors. 

Some of the expenditures are made directly by donors to buy political advertising, but most (84 percent of the roughly $100 million in such “independent” expenditures already made in the current presidential primary campaign) are given by the donors to political action committees (called “super PACs”), which channel the expenditures into political ads or other methods of influencing political opinion. This is sensible intermediation since the donors are unlikely to be knowledgeable about creating or buying or placing ads. 

The Supreme Court allows donations to political campaigns to be regulated (and limited) because of fear that donations unlimited in amount corrupt the political process, because the candidate recipient knows that a donor of a large amount of money expects something in return, usually favorable consideration of a policy that would benefit the donor, and hence a large donation is likely to be a tacit bribe. But the Court, rather naively as it seems to most observers, reasoned in the Citizens United case that the risk of corruption would be slight if the donor was not contributing to a candidate or a political party, but merely expressing his political preferences through an independent organization such as a super PAC—an organization neither controlled by nor even coordinating with a candidate or political party. 

The criticisms of the Court’s reasoning are several. First, the notion of “coordination” is vague, and tacit coordination with a candidate or a party seems to occupy the same never-never land as tacit collusion in antitrust law. It can be quite effective yet is hard to condemn as actual coordination. Allies of the candidate or members of the party can run the super PAC, and without even talking to the candidate or to party officials can figure out what kind of political advertising will be helpful to the candidate. Most super PAC advertising has been negative—that is, has attacked opponents of the candidate whom the super PAC favors—because positive advertising would be difficult without explicit coordination; the reason is that candidates tend to be vague and protean about what they favor, in order to maintain their freedom of action and reaction, so a super PAC could operate at cross-purposes with its favored candidate if it advertised in support of a program that it thought the candidate would favor. In addition, negative political advertising is usually more effective than positive. 

It thus is difficult to see what practical difference there is between super PAC donations and direct campaign donations, from a corruption standpoint. A super PAC is a valuable weapon for a campaign, as the heavy expenditures of Restore Our Future, the large super PAC that supports Romey and has attacked his opponents, proves; the donors to it are known; and it is unclear why they should expect less quid pro quo from their favored candidate if he’s successful than a direct donor to the candidate’s campaign would be. 

So the real question is whether campaign donations, in whatever guise, should be limited. There are two arguments. The first and less is that, as with brand advertising, advertising pro and con competing politicians tends to be offsetting; the argument is that if the contestants’ spending is limited, this will not affect the outcome of the contest but merely reduce its cost. But the argument is weak because it fails to account for the need of a new entrant to spend more heavily than incumbents in order to offset the cumulative effect of earlier expenditures. Even if the producer of some famous brand stopped advertising altogether, it would be years before consumers began to forget about the brand and stop buying it, but a new entrant would have no existing body of consumer good will to fall back on. 

The stronger argument for limiting campaign donations is the corruption argument, which I have just suggested is as strong against the super PACs as it is against direct campaign donations. But again there is the concern with new entrants. If a candidate’s name is Bush or Clinton or Kennedy (and he or she is related to a former President who bore one of those names), the candidate enters a political campaign with an information advantage by virtue of belonging to a well known political dynasty extending over two or more generations (hence like an established brand). An unknown may need to spend more than one of those dynasts to pull even. Yet it hardly seems feasible to fix a limit on contributions and then raise it for new entrants. 

That said, I think the emergence of new media in the Internet era make the corruption argument stronger than the new-entrant argument. The reason is that the Internet greatly reduces the expense of disseminating information, whether about a candidate or anything else. The number of over the air radio and television stations is limited and likewise the number of newspapers and magazines, but nowadays most people are getting their information, including political information, from social media, blogs, tweets, and other modes of communication, effectively infinite in number, accessible costly over cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices. These technologies for creating, disseminating, and receiving information at very low cost should enable any candidate with a persuasive message to reach a large audience of potential voters, and should thus favor new entrants in political as in other markets—provided they are not allowed to be drowned by enormous expenditures by super PACs. 

We saw the effect of the new information technologies at work in the 2008 Democratic primary season, when the relatively unknown Barack Obama defeated the much better known Hillary Clinton, and we have seen it again and more dramatically (consistent with the rapid expansion and adoption of these technologies) in the current  Republican primary campaign. Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum, none of whom was nationally prominent (Santorum had once been, but after his one-sided defeat for reelection to the Senate in 2006 had lapsed into obscurity), were able to compete effectively with the better-known candidates (Romney and Gingrich), and lost because of lack of support rather than lack of campaign funds. True, Santorum and Gingrich were both bolstered by super PACs, but they were hammered by Restore Our Future, thus providing a good example of offsetting “arms race” political expenditures. 

But could it be that the more that is spent on political campaigns, the more informed the voting public becomes? This suggestion is hard to take seriously. Political candidates seem to have a very condescending view of the American electorate; almost no information is conveyed by political advertising. Debates and other campaign appearances provide voters with insights into the character and intelligence of candidates, but positive political advertising is largely a mode of hagiography, and negative of defamation.

Unlimited Campaign Spending—A Good Thing? Posner
Richard Posner
Mon, 09 Apr 2012 02:30:35 GMT

A rational reason for high oil prices


"There is no rational reason for high oil prices," writes Ali Naimi, Saudi Arabian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, in today’s Financial Times. Well, I can think of one– if oil prices were lower, the world would want to consume more than is currently being produced.

Blue line: total world oil production, millions of barrels per day, annually, 2002 to 2011. Red line: global oil production in 2002 times (yt/y2002)0.75 where yt denotes global world GDP in year t as reported by IMF. 2011 world GDP growth estimated at 3.9%.


The question is not whether there is a rational reason for high oil prices, but rather whether there is a rational reason the world is not producing 100 million b/d today. And if anyone knows the answer to that question, it should be Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi.

A rational reason for high oil prices
James Hamilton
Wed, 28 Mar 2012 19:02:47 GMT

Cafe Hayek — where orders emerge — Page 2

While Cafe Hyack is basically a libertarian site, it recognises that we have a mixed economy and have had growth over the long view. You can arguably say that shows capitalism causes more growth or a large role for government does.

Cafe Hayek — where orders emerge — Page 2.