Wednesday, January 31

Was Morgan Spurlock wrong?

A month-long junk food binge featured in documentary film Super Size Me has been recreated by scientists - and given them a big surprise.

Many of the healthy twentysomething students showed very little change in the amount of cholesterol and fatty chemicals swimming around in their blood after stuffing as much as 6,000 calories per day.

And some put on much less weight than expected - even though all their meals had to come from fast food outlets such as McDonald's.

The 18 volunteers - twelve men and six women - were allowed breakfast at home but it had to be a large bacon-and-eggs meal. Exercise was totally ruled out.

After a month the students gained between 5-15% extra weight. But none of the students reported Super Size Me maker Morgan Spurlock's "mood swings" or liver damage.

Professor Fredrik Nystrom, who led the research at Linkoping University in Sweden, is puzzled about why Spurlock had such an extreme reaction - musing he could perhaps have had an undiagnosed problem with his liver.
Even if he was, I don't think we'll be hearing much about it.

Does Juan Forero Believe the Venezuelan Government Can Manage Its Resources?

This morning on NPR, Juan Forero's report on Hugo Chavez's new policies includes this:
In a series of announcements in recent weeks, Chavez has promised to install a socialist state and redistribute Venezuela's oil-generated wealth.

It will be far from communism, which is what his critics claim he wants. But 21st-century socialism does mean nationalizing utilities. It means more state control of the oil sector. And the National Assembly is about to give the president the power to enact economic laws by decree for 18 months.

A shoe factory in Caracas' poor west end is an example of what Chavez wants. Here, 80 workers make one kind of shoe. It's black and nondescript. Thousands of pairs are exported to Cuba, Venezuela's closest ally.

This factory, run by state-organized cooperatives, is the new Venezuela. Gustavo Zuniga is among the "leaders." There is no manager.

"We went from being instruments of capitalism to being the owners of a company that produces goods for a community," Zuniga says. "We are conscious that this is the economy that can save the world."

In a highly polarized country, the changes are captivating to Paula Cadenas's cousin, Joanna Cadenas. She is a teacher at the state's Bolivarian University. She always dreamed of a government that would take care of its people.

Sitting in a noisy shopping mall, sipping a beer, she heralded the government's so-called missions: health, education and nutrition programs bankrolled by oil dollars.

Venezuela seems caught between two worlds. One is capitalist, where oil is king. But tugging the other way is Chavez's so-called Bolivarian Revolution.
It may sounds good, apart from the "nondescript" shoes that are apparently only a hit in Cuba. The generally positive tone reminds me of last month's report. But what about where the money comes from? Consider this:
In his recent inauguration speech, President Hugo Chavez also announced an intention to amend the constitution to bring the gas law into line with that of oil. The intention would seem to be that private foreign investors in companies operating in the gas sector should no longer be allowed majority ownership or control. Other announced changes appear likely to consolidate the state's control of other aspects of [the state oil company] PDVSA's business relationships. Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez has announced that PDVSA is considering developing its own oil services company, working with the Chinese government.

However, the strategy implies a series of risks:

--PDVSA was seriously weakened by the strike and subsequent mass firings in 2003. It now faces a huge increase in management workload.

--Given the government's ambitious domestic social agenda and its growing international commitments, Venezuela needs the oil price to stay as high as possible, to maximize government income.

--This further uncertainty over the future shape of the oil industry poses questions about investment. Current investors are unlikely to progress to new investments until the new "rules of the game" are clear. Without significant investment, the country will struggle to maintain its current level of crude production.

--Substituting NOCs for private foreign investment, and taking service provision in-house, risks a corresponding reduction in the quality and competitiveness of technology.

The government is exerting increasing control over the hydrocarbons sector and other "strategic" industries. The challenge is whether it can manage the associated risks to investment, management and efficiency.
Even if oil stays expensive, will the Venezuelan government be able to manage it well?

Tuesday, January 30

Was 9/11 really that bad?

David A. Bell writes,
IMAGINE THAT on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism.

It also raises several questions. Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction? Is the widespread belief that 9/11 plunged us into one of the deadliest struggles of our time simply wrong? If we did overreact, why did we do so? Does history provide any insight?

Certainly, if we look at nothing but our enemies' objectives, it is hard to see any indication of an overreaction. The people who attacked us in 2001 are indeed hate-filled fanatics who would like nothing better than to destroy this country. But desire is not the same thing as capacity, and although Islamist extremists can certainly do huge amounts of harm around the world, it is quite different to suggest that they can threaten the existence of the United States. the comparison with the Soviet experience should remind us, the war against terrorism has not yet been much of a war at all, let alone a war to end all wars. It is a messy, difficult, long-term struggle against exceptionally dangerous criminals who actually like nothing better than being put on the same level of historical importance as Hitler — can you imagine a better recruiting tool? To fight them effectively, we need coolness, resolve and stamina. But we also need to overcome long habit and remind ourselves that not every enemy is in fact a threat to our existence.
Absolutely. The whole point of terrorism is that it's desperation, and so far, at least, not very effective.

Monday, January 29


Michael Pollan gives lots of advice, some of which I agree with, and other that I don't. Plus some is contradictory.
  • Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
Why not? I don't like nondairy creamer, either, but a teaspoonful isn't going to kill you.
  • Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims.
Sure, just because it makes a claim doesn't mean it's going to be that healthy, but it might be OK for you.
  • Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup. None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.
For food to have been processed is in itself not necessarily a bad thing. Every week I eat a loaf of whole grain bread that is processed, with more than five ingredients, many of which are unfamiliar or unpronounceable. In fact I would prefer something fresher, but that's not an option for most Americans. And what's the hostility to high-fructose corn syrup? Are all other sugars OK?
  • Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food.
Bla bla bla. As a matter of fact, I do that when it's possible, but there's no year-round farmer’s market.
  • Pay more, eat less. The American food system has for a century devoted its energies and policies to increasing quantity and reducing price, not to improving quality.
Who's paying? I'm afraid that people with less money are going to ignore all his advice because of comments like this.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
One I can whole-heartedly agree on.
  • Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.
Yeah, yeah. But I wonder what he's got against the Chinese and the Indians?
  • Cook. And if you can, plant a garden.
Again, a good idea, but not something that everyone can do.
  • Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet.
Yeah, I agree, but what about avoiding "anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food" and "food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar"?

As Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote about Michael Pollan's book

What Pollan fails to explicitly acknowledge, or perhaps even to concede at all, is that his brand of boutique eating is a luxury good. He's rich (not that there's anything wrong with that), so he can afford to refuse beef when he isn't sure the cows have been allowed to graze on grass their entire lives. He has time to keep a vegetable garden. When he turns up his nose at "jet-setting Argentine asparagus" from Whole Foods because it "tasted like damp cardboard," he demonstrates a refined palate that separates him not only from the masses shopping at Wal-Mart but from the yuppies shopping at Whole Foods. When he further frets that such veggies are "floating on a sinking sea of petroleum" he demonstrates a refined political sensibility. And while Pollan is free to hope that someday everyone will be able to eat just as he does, he can't make a useful connection with sustainablemom.

When Pollan ate an organic TV dinner as part of his research, he wrote that "peeling back the polyurethane film covering the dish" made him feel "a little like a flight attendant." But for many of America's "industrial eaters," peeling back the plastic on a TV dinner doesn't make them feel like they're on a flight to Paris. It just makes them feel like dinner's ready. Pollan's positions are shaped by his exquisitely refined political and gastronomical sensibilities, to be sure, but a huge aesthetic component seems to be lurking beneath the surface, mostly unacknowledged by Pollan himself. Food, like other cultural artifacts, is freighted with symbolism, and The Omnivore's Dilemma could easily serve as a how-to guide for elite eating. As each trend spreads, the upper crust goes from whole wheat to organic to local, always trying to stay a step ahead of what's readily available to the average Josephine for Tuesday dinner. You get the sense that we're moving toward a world where the only really refined cuisine will be turnips, pulled from our own gardens in front of our dinner guests and cooked on the spot in butter churned at home earlier that day.

A free lunch

An old article by Tyler Cowen:
CONTRARY to popular opinion, China may be good for our trade balance. American consumers seem determined to spend money, and Chinese businessmen have made the bill cheaper.

It is not the case that China is simply draining the United States of money. Most of the growth in Chinese exports to the United States has come from switching manufacturing and assembly from other, more expensive, Asian countries.

...C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Center for International Economics, has been calling for a revaluation of the yuan for years, in the hope that a more valuable currency will make Chinese exports more expensive.

The belief is that if the dollar has less value in China, Americans will spend less on Chinese products to offset the prices they pay per item. But even if the numbers work out so that the flow of dollars to China diminishes, American consumers will pay higher prices and see fewer goods from China. Yuan revaluation is unlikely to benefit the United States, even if it does lower its trade deficit.

The trade effects of a revaluation of the yuan are unlikely to be large, in part because many Chinese exporters specialize in assembly. China sends out money buying components like semiconductors and turns them into finished goods, thereby running a trade deficit with East Asia. A new and higher value for the yuan would largely be a wash for these activities. With a stronger currency, China would have a harder time selling its electronic goods, but this would be offset by its greater purchasing power over the semiconductors. It would not do much damage to the Chinese competitive position.

The Chinese keep the yuan low, relative to the dollar, by buying up United States Treasury securities; as of early 2006, the Chinese central bank held up to $470 billion in Treasury securities. This huge accumulation of relatively low-yielding assets is the investment strategy of risk-averse bureaucrats, but it may bring longer-term benefits. Those assets can someday be sold or otherwise transferred to underdiversified Chinese financial institutions. The accumulation gives the Chinese a stake in American prosperity and signals that the Chinese are committed to long-term participation in the global economy. On the American side, the Treasury market is more liquid and the budget deficit can be financed at lower cost.

The yuan should not, as matters stand, float freely with free capital movements. Large quantities of Chinese savings, currently restricted to the domestic currency, would probably flee the country, worsening the serious solvency problems at Chinese banks. The Chinese must first clean up their banking system before they can have free capital markets. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, a market-determined value for the yuan might well be lower than today's exchange rate, not higher.

To the United States, the primary gains from yuan revaluation would come from the increased spending by Chinese consumers on American exports. But the Chinese are, and should be, extremely cautious. In addition to saving about 50 percent of their incomes, they are spending most of the rest on local basics, like food, cheap cars or education. Health care is a probable growth sector. China is still a poor country, and its potential to drive American export success is modest for the foreseeable future.


The climb of the Chinese economy out of Communism and into prosperity has brought the world, and the United States, a free lunch. Consumer goods of many kinds are cheaper and the Chinese are likely to generate many scientific and technical innovations. Steering the value of the Chinese currency -- from Washington -- is unlikely to increase those gains. The United States should not be spending its international political capital on yuan revaluation, which is at best a nonevent.
In fact, as Lawrence Lindsey wrote some time ago:
America, however, benefits from this arrangement. The Chinese clearly undervalue their exchange rate. This means American consumers are able to buy goods at an artificially low price, making them winners. In order to maintain this arrangement, the People's Bank of China must buy excess dollars, and has accumulated nearly $1 trillion of reserves. Since it has no domestic use for them, it turns around and lends them back to America in our Treasury, corporate and housing loan markets. This means that both Treasury borrowing costs and mortgage interest rates are lower than they otherwise would be. American homeowners and taxpayers are winners as a result.

Saturday, January 27

Clever idea

The Illinois lottery may be up for sale. ...Clever idea. Governor Rod Blagojevich gets the cash now and the political credit for spending it on schools, while his successors contend with the consequences. Yet more evidence that even a hedge fund is no match for a politician when it comes to short-term thinking. (I'm not even thinking about the problems of handing 10 billion to an Illinois politician. But then that's really too much to stuff in shoeboxes.)

Friday, January 26

Economic inequality as a major American problem has been overstated

Much of the measured growth in income inequality has resulted from natural demographic trends. In general, there is more income inequality among older populations than among younger populations, if only because older people have had more time to experience rising or falling fortunes.

Furthermore, more-educated groups show greater income inequality than less-educated groups. Uneducated people are more likely to be clustered in a tight range of relatively low incomes. But the educated will include a greater range of highly motivated breadwinners and relaxed bohemians, and a greater range of winning and losing investors. A result is a greater variety of incomes. Since the United States is growing older and also more educated, income inequality will naturally rise.

...income is not the only — or even the most — important measure of inequality. For instance, inequality of consumption — the difference between what the poor consume and what the rich consume — does not show a significant upward trend (Dirk Krueger and Fabrizio Perri, “Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Inequality?” The Review of Economic Studies, January 2006). Consumption, of course, is not an ideal indicator of well-being; a high or steady level of purchases may reflect growing debt, and the ease of buying a big-screen TV does not reflect a comparable ease in buying good health care.

...Studies of personal happiness, based on questionnaires and self-reporting, indicate that the inequality of happiness is not growing over time in the United States. Furthermore, the United States has an inequality of happiness roughly comparable to that of Sweden or Denmark, two nations with strongly egalitarian reputations. (See the symposium in Journal of Happiness Studies, December 2005.) American society offers good opportunities for people to be happy, even if not everyone becomes rich.

If we look at leisure, from 1965 to 2003, less-educated groups experienced a bigger boost in free time than more-educated groups (Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, “Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time Over Five Decades,” Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Working Paper). In other words, the high earners are working hard for their money and perhaps they are having less fun.

So matters are not as bad as the critics have suggested. The dollars in our bank accounts are one measure of societal value, and it hardly seems fair that the very wealthy should receive more and more. But for the rest of us, life on the ground is not so terrible. Income and wealth inequality measures, taken alone, provide a misleadingly pessimistic picture.

The broader philosophical question is why we should worry about inequality — of any kind — much at all. Life is not a race against fellow human beings, and we should discourage people from treating it as such. Many of the rich have made the mistake of viewing their lives as a game of relative status. So why should economists promote this same zero-sum worldview?

Thursday, January 25

Are Professors Overpaid?

Writing on high salaries, Tim Harford writes,
The managing director’s huge salary, it turns out, is not designed to motivate him but to motivate potential successors - as they strive to win the reward of the top job. Think of the MD’s wage as a sort of “lifetime achievement” award for somebody whose productive contribution is long over.

Unfashionable indeed

My own, unfashionable view is that charitable giving, both governmental and private, is more likely to increase than to alleviate the poverty, ill health, and other miseries of the recipient populations.

A fiscal conservative is a libertarian

In Unaffiliated Voters on the Rise in California, Ina Jaffe quotes Democratic Campaign Strategist GARRY SOUTH on the independents:
Independent voters in this state tend to be moderate to conservative on the fiscal side. And on the social side, they tend to be liberal to libertarian.
A fiscal conservative is a libertarian! That's why in other countries they're called liberal.

Wednesday, January 24

Learning about money

Michele Norris' interview with Rafe Esquith:
NORRIS: You have an economic system that you used in your classroom and it's fascinating. Each child in Room 56 applies for a job and then they get paid for doing that job. They can earn extra money, I guess overtime, if they join extracurricular groups and they actually have to pay rent to sit at their desk.

Mr. ESQUITH: They sure do.

NORRIS: And what's the objective there?

Mr. ESQUITH: By the way, I should point out that if they sit closer to the front of the room, they have to pay more rent because it's a better neighborhood. The objective is this - one of the obsessions with schools these days is testing.

The economic system is giving the kids skills that they're going to be using for the rest of their lives. The real assessment of the teacher is what if have I given the child that he'll be using five years from now and 10 years from now. So learning how to take responsibility, learning how to plan a budget, learning how to save his money is something that kids are going to use forever.

As a matter of fact, you should point out that if the children save a lot of money, they can buy their seat and call it a condominium and then they never, ever have to pay rent again to teach them the principle of ownership. And the really clever kids buy other children seats and charge them rent every month.

Monday, January 22

Why, indeed?

Why is it that apologies for a militant Islam which stands for everything the liberal left is against come from the liberal left? Why will students hear a leftish postmodern theorist defend the exploitation of women in traditional cultures but not a crusty conservative don? After the American and British wars in Bosnia and Kosovo against Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansers, why were men and women of the left denying the existence of Serb concentration camps? As important, why did a European Union that daily announces its commitment to the liberal principles of human rights and international law do nothing as crimes against humanity took place just over its borders? Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal left, but not China, Sudan, Zimbabwe, the Congo or North Korea? Why, even in the case of Palestine, can't those who say they support the Palestinian cause tell you what type of Palestine they would like to see? After the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington why were you as likely to read that a sinister conspiracy of Jews controlled American or British foreign policy in a superior literary journal as in a neo-Nazi hate sheet? And why after the 7/7 attacks on London did leftish rather than right-wing newspapers run pieces excusing suicide bombers who were inspired by a psychopathic theology from the ultra-right?
Not that the right is much better.

Tuesday, January 16

Every day is like a present

“Once you go through something you think will kill you and it doesn’t, every day is like a present.”

Monday, January 15

Protection for accurate accountants?

Blind to the demands of Chinese business, the country's accounting system has instead been guided by the demands of state planners.

Aware of this and in principle determined to repair the damage, China's government this month began requiring all companies listed on the Shenzhen and Shanghai stockmarkets to prepare their accounts according to something approaching International Financial Reporting Standards...

Aware of this and in principle determined to repair the damage, China's government this month began requiring all companies listed on the Shenzhen and Shanghai stockmarkets to prepare their accounts according to something approaching International Financial Reporting Standards...

As with any big reform, this shift is easy to announce and hard to carry through. The transition China has chosen is ambitious in the extreme and requires several ingredients that are in desperately short supply.

Two of these are much discussed—a shortage of experienced accountants and the lack of deep financial markets (which international reporting standards use to price assets such as property and financial instruments). Neither of these shortcomings can be rapidly fixed, so the use of the new standards is bound to be fraught with bungles and misjudgments. All the more so because China gave itself just over a year to make the transition. Many people in the accounting profession mutter that it would have been wiser for the government to take longer, as many other countries that are better able to make the change have done.
Below the line, beyond the pale

This criticism is whispered, not shouted, because the third crucial ingredient is missing. There is a deep-seated fear within China that the government and its companies will punish anyone who complains, either through direct retribution, or, just as damaging, through quiet blacklisting. The new accounting standards will not work unless people criticise and complain; but China's history does not encourage dissent. The country has never supported a truly objective, independent accounting system. Would a place that jails reporters for unearthing corruption offer any more protection to accurate accountants?
Protection for accurate accountants? It's not likely. More at Cultural revolution.

The problem with Made in China

In the calculus of costs, risks, customers and logistics that goes into building global operations, an increasing number of firms are coming to the conclusion that China is not necessarily the best place to make things.

...reasons why China has not found itself at the top of the list for some new factories: “Rising costs and a natural desire by companies for diversification.” for factory workers has been rising at double-digit rates for several years. For managers, the situation is worse still.

[Some suggesting moving inland] where many costs are much lower than on China's heavily developed coastline [but for others] it is too expensive to get products to America and Europe from there. Other observers add that the shortage of management talent inland is even greater than on the coast. And it is not easy persuading expatriate workers to take their families to places like Chongqing and Chengdu, where foreign companions and international schools are thin on the ground. So many firms decide they would rather invest elsewhere in Asia...

China also has other risks, notably a lack of protection for intellectual property rights. Stories abound of foreign investors finding local companies churning out identical goods to their own, but under a different brand...

Managers also worry about the rising value of the Chinese currency. Although nobody expects sudden leaps, the yuan does appear to be on a steadily upward trajectory...

Saturday, January 13

Posner on Charitable Donations

It strikes me as also quite possible that Gates and Buffett and the other multibillionaires would do more good for the world simply by investing their accumulated personal wealth in commercial enterprises, increasing the worldwide pool of capital, resulting in lower interest rates and more investment, including investment in new drugs!
But people like the idea of giving money away.

No Sense of Humor?

So there was
  • the Smart Beatle
  • the Cute Beatle
  • the Quiet Beatle, and
  • the Funny Beatle
But was there a "Dung Beatle"?

Our Produce Not Only Doesn't Taste Good, It's More Expensive


Here's an advisory for bargain shoppers. If you're anywhere near a coastline, pick up some cheap produce. It's sold especially cheap in Chinese neighborhoods in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. In Manhattan's Chinatown you can buy three bunches of asparagus for a dollar. Less than a mile away at a grocery store it'll cost you 12 times as much.

Lisa Chow, of member station WNYC, tried to find out why.

LISA CHOW: Outdoor stalls crowd the street in Chinatown. They sell everything from luxury watches to leafy vegetables. People are everywhere, speaking several different Chinese dialects. Especially at lunch and after work, you'll find a lot of cash changing hands, and it's often over boxes of produce.


CHOW: Chinatown is an anomaly. Average incomes are relatively low, and the price of produce is remarkably low. And this defies the stereotype that good produce is difficult to find cheaply in poorer neighborhoods.

Ms. WEI TRAN LAN IP(ph) (Produce Customer, Chinatown): (Foreign language spoken)

Wei Tran Lan Ip is eyeing the fruit at one of her favorite stores in Chinatown. For $6.50 she gets three pounds of bananas, eight oranges, a bunch of celery and two papayas. That same list of items costs $15.00 at a nearby supermarket chain.

Ip's friend and colleague Lana Chung translates.

Ms. LANA CHUNG: (Translating) I buy my food every day because it's much fresh.

CHOW: Outdoor stalls and small grocers sell most of the produce in this part of town, and they do a surprising amount of business, drawing out the same customers every day.

Ms. CHUNG: Chinese people, they always believe that if a fresh vegetable and food, if (unintelligible) put into the refrigerator, it will be taste much, much better at the street.

CHOW: It turns out this shopping pattern is what drives cheaper prices in Chinatown. Because when Chung says fresh, she also means ripe. And for wholesale distributors, ripe means stuff that's about to go bad.

Frank Chambri(ph) sells to grocery stores in New York and to Chinatown vendors.

Mr. FRANK CHAMBRI (Produce Distributor): A riper product is definitely worth less money, and people that buy today to eat today can buy a riper product.

CHOW: Supermarkets that sell to people who shop once a week will pay more money for fruits and vegetables that have additional shelf life. They also have to deal with higher labor costs, rent and transportation. All of this adds to the cost of the tomatoes on their shelves.

Steven Katzman is the president of wholesale distributor S. Katzman. He says Chinatown vendors can sell cheaply precisely because they sell a lot.

Mr. STEVEN KATZMAN (President, S. Katzman Produce): They're volume customers. They're still an ethnic group that does do a lot of cooking. They sit down and have a dinner, where, you know, instead of fast food. If you go back to cultures that still have a family dinner, they're the people that are buying it, and if they're buying in volume, they're buying it for less. They'll fight for the money.
A lot of this stuff tastes better, too. Part of the reason most Americans don't have access to really tasty fruits & vegetables is apparently that we shop weekly and use a lot of food that's partly prepared. But who would've thought that a longer shelf life meant not only that produce didn't taste better but also that it cost more.

Our unreliable political beliefs

"Physicists do it...Psychologists do it...Even political scientists do it...Research findings confirming a hypothesis are accepted more or less at face value, but when confronted with contrary evidence, we become "motivated skeptics" ... picking apart possible flaws in the study, recoding variables, and only when all the counterarguing fails do we rethink our beliefs...

But what about ordinary citizens?...On reading a balanced set of pro and con arguments about affirmative action or gun control, we find that rather than moderating or simply maintaining their original attitudes, citizens - especially those who feel the strongest about the issue and are the most sophisticated - strengthen their attitudes in ways not warranted by the evidence."

-- Charles S. Taber and Milton Lodge, Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs, via Arnold Kling, who goes on to cite Philip E. Converse's "The Nature of Belief Systems of Mass Publics."
Converse suggested that the political beliefs of roughly 90 percent of the population are incoherent. Most voters lack elementary knowledge of our political system, they hold views that are ideologically jumbled and logically inconsistent, and their opinions change over time in ways that suggest almost random behavior. He suggested that there is a relative sharp fall-off in the coherence of opinions as one goes from the most highly-involved segment of the voting public.
As Taber and Lodge all of our intellectual pursuits we tend to follow strategies for avoiding truth. The more knowledgable we are, the more we follow a high-investment strategy of selectively accepting evidence that favors our outlook while discounting contrary information. In science, this process ultimately is checked by the methods of experimentation, prediction, and falsification. In markets, it is checked by the process of profit and loss. In politics, the checks are less powerful. Our political beliefs are likely to be especially unreliable, regardless of which strategy we use to avoid truth.
Reminds me of what Tyler Cowen said.

Many unisured are only temporarily so

...of the 46 million or so people without health insurance at any given time, about 45% will have health insurance within four months. This is one of the main findings of a 2003 study by the Congressional Budget Office, "How Many People Lack Health Insurance and for How Long?"
That's not something you hear much.

Sunday, January 7

What are Asians?

After starting off like this:
WHEN Jonathan Hu was going to high school in suburban Southern California, he rarely heard anyone speaking Chinese. But striding through campus on his way to class at the University of California, Berkeley, Mr. Hu hears Mandarin all the time, in plazas, cafeterias, classrooms, study halls, dorms and fast-food outlets.
A little more than half of Asian freshmen at Berkeley are Chinese, the largest group, followed by Koreans, East-Indian/Pakistani, Filipino and Japanese...

[The chancellor at Berkeley, Robert J. Birgeneau] agrees on at least one point: “I think we’re now at the point where the category of Asian is not very useful. Koreans are different from people from Sri Lanka and they’re different than Japanese. And many Chinese-Americans are a lot like Caucasians in some of their values and areas of interest.”

Thursday, January 4

Confirming my beliefs

From Tyler Cowen's Self-Deception as the Root of Political Failure
Just about everyone thinks that their political views are better than the views of smarter or better trained others. On economic issues, few voters defer to the opinions of economists. Nor does this appear to be a well-grounded suspicion of experts. Many citizens are deliberately dismissive, stubborn and irrational. At the same time these individuals maintain a passionate self-righteousness. They are keener to talk than to listen, the opposite of what an information-gathering model would suggest. Individuals tend to believe that their private self-interest coincides with the national self-interest. Debates and exchange of information tend to polarize opinion rather than producing convergence.
Just as I thought. Of course just because this confirms my beliefs doesn't mean it's true.

Wednesday, January 3

Coco Chanel started the trend for sun tans in 1923

Coco Chanel started the trend for sun tans in 1923 when she got accidentally burnt on a cruise.
So claims the BBC. I'm not so sure.

And then there is shaving, of various kinds, which concur that female shaving of underarms began with sleeveless garments that exposed women's armpits. But why their legs? Is it because of short skirts? And do men shave their chins?