Assorted links

by on June 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Slides on decoupling, and the paper is here.

2. The most frightening toilet paper in the world seigniorage edition the culture that is Japan markets in everything.

3. How the American grocery bill has changed.

4. What is up with the Australian yield curve?

5. Is plastination near?, and I am happy to make the FP Twitter Top 100.

ezra abrams June 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Re an old post – around Jan, you were gracious enough to ask your readers for topics, and one topic was the role of money in politics.
The consensus here was that money is not *that* influential
well, fyi, at about minute 2 in this video http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/power-players-abc-news/newt-gingrich-advice-mitt-romney-sharpen-animal-instincts-105728293.html
N Gingrich says that money was important, if not decisive in the primary fight

John Thacker June 19, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Yes, in that without the SuperPAC, Gingrich would have been unable to compete with the establishment choice. I’ve certainly seen evidence that money is important, in that a certain minimum amount is needed to compete.

We’ve seen SuperPACs help knock of incumbents in primaries this election cycle. I’ve seen very little evidence that freer money in politics has reduced, rather than increased, choice and competition.

Right Wing-nut June 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Two points: 1) a few years ago, I saw a graph of political donations at the national level verses the budget. It was not normalized, but the percentage looked to me to be tightly bound.

2) The power of incumbency is immense, if only as name identification. The only practical offset is money. (Foot soldiers are both hard to bind & hard to buy.)

FXKLM June 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Politicians generally don’t like to ascribe their losses to their own unpopularity. Lack of money is a much more comforting explanation.

Al June 19, 2012 at 7:32 pm

+1

chuck martel June 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

The analysis of grocery prices simply verifies personal intuition. The best part of the NPR web page is the comment section.

Right Wing-nut June 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm

In order for the grocery bill as a percentage of income to be meaningful, we have to also examine the complimentary expenditure of eating out. In deference to a commenter, we need to also examine the delta between subsidies and (in defiance of same) taxes on the ag sector. A much messier, but FAR more accurate picture.

I’m also curious about the omissions. Potato chips are in, but soda & candy bars are out? (These are up) Various forms of meat are in, but no attempt to handle fish? Milk? (WAY up). Eggs? (up & up)

Something’s fishy.

Doc Merlin June 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm

“What is up with the Australian yield curve?”

Banks required to buy and hold short term government debt?

Andrew M June 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Are those figures correct? Bloomberg’s numbers for Japan don’t match the FT’s: http://markets.ft.com/research/Markets/Bonds

libert June 19, 2012 at 6:31 pm

If that were true, then shouldn’t the short-term debt have lower rates than the medium-term debt? The oddity is that the reverse is true: short-term rates are high, long-term rates are high, but medium-term rates are low.

It could be explained by expectations of a recession, but I don’t know if Australia is faltering right now. Anyone know?

Paul Johnson June 19, 2012 at 6:58 pm
Ronald Brak June 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Australia is not faltering yet, but because of the weak situation in Europe and concerns about China and elsewhere, Australia is taking steps to avoid faltering. (Interesting that we’re trying to boost inflation in Australia because of Europe’s problems while Europe is unwilling to do so.) And Paul Johnson, you’re right that falls in housing prices are definitely part of the Reserve Bank’s decision, but just how much of the recent rate cut was due to weakness in the world economy and how much due to falling house prices I can’t say. You need someone who pays close attention to these things.

I expect Australian housing bubble to end in a long, slow grind as housing prices become more realisitic. Now people have realised they can’t sell empty places at a profit they are doing things like converting them into rentals, like what is being done to the empty place next to me. A bogan bought it a couple of years ago to live in, but there wasn’t enough room for all his cars, so he kept it as an investment and went and got another place. This is good for me as a renter because the increased supply will help keep my rent down. As for the bogan feeling poorer because he lost out on his investment, well, like many bogans he makes a lot more money than me, so I think he’ll be okay. If worse come to worst he can let the registration on some of his cars lapse. Or even sell one, but I’m sure it won’t come to that.

Willitts June 20, 2012 at 1:34 am

Hate to break it to you, but Australia’s bubble is going to pop like a zit.

That term structure has got to be artificial, and it’s begging for arbitrage. Long the wings and short the body of the butterfly and leverage it by borrowing in yen. :)

libert June 20, 2012 at 10:04 am

Why yen?

Andrew' June 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm

5. I don’t see how plastination is even a close substitute for cryonics (or better, anti-aging). If my brain activity were uploaded to a computer, and I were sitting beside the computer, it would be pretty obvious to me that I wasn’t the computer. Wrong crowd, but what am I missing?

John Schilling June 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm

If you aren’t sitting beside the computer, it is less obvious that you aren’t the computer – and with plastination, you won’t be sitting beside the computer. The only possible surviving “you” will be the one in the computer.

More generally, you are missing the key insight that multiple instances of a single personality, if possible (e.g. with non-destructive uploading, or a Star Trek transporter malfunction) requires a less simplistic concept of personal identity than just “me” and “not me”. It is possible that, at some point in the future, there will be many identities who properly recognize themselves as being “me”, who I properly recognize as each being “me”, and who properly look upon each other as “not me”.

Pragmatically, it might be wise to keep these competing instances separated in space and/or time, which plastination incidentally accomplishes.

Right Wing-nut June 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm

This is a well-known paradox. Suppose you were falling off a cliff. Now, if we suppose that you also have the ability to create an instant clone with all of your memories that did NOT fall off the cliff, would you? Doing so would allow the people around you to carry on as if you had not died, but you DO die. But you clone carries on as if nothing had happened. What if it took 20 years for the clone to grow?

Suppose you are about to die. You arrange to have your head preserved at some magical point before brain damage sets in. Your head is frozen for 100 years. Your ticket is lucky, and your brain is NOT thawed before they get the process right. A new body is attached, and voila’! “You” “wake up”!

Suppose you are about to die. You arrange to have your head snapshotted at some magical point before brain damage sets in. Your upload sits for 100 years. Your ticket is lucky, and your upload is NOT instantiated in flesh before they get the process right. Voila’! “You” “wake up”!

I don’t really see the difference between the last two scenarios. And really, the difference between the first (especially with the delay) and the others is not so great either.

Finch June 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm

> I don’t really see the difference between the last two scenarios.

It depends on the nature of consciousness, which is something we presently don’t understand. If it’s something in the physical stuff of your brain, then it dies with the physical stuff and what’s left is a copy, which might be useful and might even be conscious in its own right if the replica is good enough, but it isn’t you in any meaningful sense. If consciousness is just a property of a sufficiently complicated algorithm in execution, then the whole idea of “you” is meaningless, and the “you” of 5 seconds ago is as dead and gone as the physically dead “you” in your examples. In this second case, uploads are effectively “you.” In the first case they have to get the thawing right for it to be “you.”

Frank June 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Among the sophisticated physicalists I’ve interacted with, you are regarded as your brain pattern. Not time-slices of consciousness that live and die in the moment. The epiphenomenon question is unanswerable at best and superfluous at worst.

There is no tenable physical argument, as far as I’m aware, for substrate essentialism, all the atoms and molecules in your body are flushed and replaced more than once within the course of your life. At worst, their arrangement, energy state, and information, matter.

Finch June 19, 2012 at 4:40 pm

> Among the sophisticated physicalists I’ve interacted with, you are regarded as your brain pattern.

People who believe (B), don’t believe (A). I don’t think that’s a shocking revelation. Robin Hanson probably doesn’t get along well with Catholics. Personally I’m sympathetic to the idea of strong artificial intelligence and think that a sufficiently sophisticated machine is conscious in all the ways that matter, but I recognize I don’t have the only opinion on the subject.

It’s still fair to say that the phenomenon of consciousness is not well understood, and believing that the static physical distribution of atoms is all there is is not universal. The dynamic state, for example might matter. New physics might be involved. We might have souls or spirits or something. I understand that there’s no evidence of anything but atoms, and even a little evidence that the dynamic state is not that important, but the jury is still out.

> The epiphenomenon question is unanswerable at best and superfluous at worst.

That’s what I described, perhaps less artfully. There is no “you.” Copy it, and the copy is the same as the original. Stop it, start it, fork it and merge it, none of that is important. Kill it and make another one, and nothing really fundamental has changed.

Frank June 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm

> …

It’s doubtful new physics will change the predominant physicalist perspective unless it overturns (or modifies) much of current physics.

>That’s what I described, perhaps less artfully. There is no “you.” Copy it, and the copy is the same as the original. Stop it, start it, fork it and merge it, none of that is important. Kill it and make another one, and nothing really fundamental has changed.

Physicalists don’t necessarily deny the existence of self. You and your copy are equally yourself, if there is a self.

Urstoff June 19, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Presumably numerical identity requires (strict) physical identity. Because your copy and yourself are not (strictly) physically identical (as you are made of numerically distinct molecules), then you and your copy are not numerically identical. Talk about the self doesn’t really matter; this simply applies to all objects. The keyboard in front of me is numerically distinct from any other keyboard, even other keyboards of its model. There is only this keyboard token, and to be numerically identical with this keyboard is to share all of its properties. As no other keyboard (even those of the same type) can share all of its properties (because they can’t share the same space, be made of the same molecules, etc.), no other keyboard can be numerically identical to one on which I am typing.

The problem is that token identity often gets confused with type individuation, particularly in the realm of thoughts. If you are a functionalist, you individuate mental states via their functional/computational/causal role, but that does not entail that two mental states are numerically identical (i.e., the same token) if they have identical functional roles. All that means is that they are the same type (much like my keyboard and others of its model). The self seems to depend on numerical identity, not type identity. This seems clear from the thought experiment using copies of persons. If there were another person physically distinct from you but with an identical mental life, you would not be both people. Rather, there would be two distinct selves that shared all of their mental states (up until the point of creation of the copy, of course). Because there would not be one self across two bodies, but two distinct selves/persons, numerical identity is necessary for identity of self. And thus because your copy (person that comes out of the transporter, etc.) is not numerically identical, they are not the same self/person.

Frank June 20, 2012 at 12:16 am

I agree that the existence of ‘self’ question confuses the issue and should be set aside.

>>The self seems to depend on numerical identity, not type identity. This seems clear from the thought experiment using copies of persons. If there were another person physically distinct from you but with an identical mental life, you would not be both people. Rather, there would be two distinct selves that shared all of their mental states (up until the point of creation of the copy, of course). Because there would not be one self across two bodies, but two distinct selves/persons, numerical identity is necessary for identity of self. And thus because your copy (person that comes out of the transporter, etc.) is not numerically identical, they are not the same self/person.

If numerical identity is a meaningful distinction then you’re dying as we speak because the identifiable atoms and molecules that form your brain are being replaced continuously. Destructive teleportation is only a faster form of this replacement, and if location matters, we can assume rematerialization in the same spot. If continuity of consciousness defines you, sleep and coma kill you.

The distinct identical mental life argument is circular.

Finally, contemporaneous copies will diverge from the point of creation such that they’re no longer the same individuals. These changes may be trivial at first, but they physically differentiate the copies after t=0.

Urstoff June 20, 2012 at 8:50 am

“If numerical identity is a meaningful distinction then you’re dying as we speak because the identifiable atoms and molecules that form your brain are being replaced continuously”

Not necessarily, as we can make a distinction between identity at one point in time (which requires numerical identity) and identity throughout time. The latter seems to require some type of physical contiguity, although what type is unclear. At the very least, we can say that any process that creates a copy (or could create a copy) is not the right kind of process to sustain identity through time, as it would be possible to have two things, not one, which clearly violates the identity.

Frank June 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm

>>Not necessarily, as we can make a distinction between identity at one point in time (which requires numerical identity) and identity throughout time. The latter seems to require some type of physical contiguity, although what type is unclear.

If I significantly sped up the rate of molecular replacement in your brain, physical contiguity would remain. At a sufficient rate, this is not meaningfully different from same-place destructive teleportation. Teleportation need not occur in macroscopic discrete chunks, it can take the same course your body uses. Whether it is your body that replaces your components or a machine, there remains one you.

>> At the very least, we can say that any process that creates a copy (or could create a copy) is not the right kind of process to sustain identity through time, as it would be possible to have two things, not one, which clearly violates the identity.

Quantum teleportation may require a destructive scan for the highest fidelity duplicate, ruling out co-existing duplicates. When you reduce the identity argument, either everyday people don’t retain numerical identity due to molecular replacement, or people and their destructive-process duplicate do.

Nylund June 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm

“This is a well-known paradox. Suppose you were falling off a cliff. Now, if we suppose that you also have the ability to create an instant clone with all of your memories that did NOT fall off the cliff, would you? Doing so would allow the people around you to carry on as if you had not died, but you DO die. But you clone carries on as if nothing had happened.”

This is basically how I think of things like the transporter in Star Trek. Are they all actually dying every time they do it, but since the clone carries on like nothing happened, none of them realize it?

It also applies to the “magic trick” in the movie, “The Prestige.”

Willitts June 20, 2012 at 1:13 am

The transporter is precluded by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which is why the writers had to invent a Heisenberg Compensator as a deus ex machina.

Paradoxes are undefined in impossibilities. If we imagine such paradoxes, they are vacuous.

The Prestige was a good movie. I enjoyed seeing Bowie as Tesla. The pledge, turn, and prestige are a good way to organize persuasive communications. I’m surprised I could find no reference to it other than the movie.

Frank June 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm

The others provided you with a basic grasp of the false dichotomy.

Regarding plastination, I believe ALCOR (the largest cryonics service provider) discounted the prospect of then-current plastination procedures in favor of vitrification. The glass-like low-temperature state was thought to better preserve brain structure. I corresponded with a medical physicist (unaffiliated with ALCOR) some time ago who echoed their view… for technical reasons that elude me today.

Granted, something may have changed in the 8-10 years since.

Ranjit Suresh June 19, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Yes, vitrification is a potential avenue towards brain restoration. Plastination, at least as it is discussed here, is something different entirely. To my mind, it does not offer extended life-span for the individuals discussing it today. On the other hand, for society it offers the possibility of the continued presence of men of great wisdom and ability.

Andrew' June 20, 2012 at 5:53 am

That’s my point.

They are different. Freezing is only a problem because of the ice crystallization. Otherwise it preserves almost everything in a state that can be restored to the original form and function. It is simply like going to sleep and waking up.

Plastination is going down the science fiction naval gazing philosophical paradox road that Robin Hanson is welcome to, but I’m completely uninterested in. Sure, I might wish a clone on my family and friends, it might even be better than life insurance, but it’s still not me.

Andrew' June 20, 2012 at 5:58 am

The direct competitor to plastination that Robin Hanson would be interested in seems to me to be improving MRI technology. You can record the structure and possibly molecular composition. Then you have the up-load right there. Then a future full of studies tying structure and chemistry (biophysics?) to thought closes that loop.

With plastination, how would you know that the plastination process didn’t affect the thinking process?

Frank June 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm

It’s believed that plastination makes living reanimation more difficult. However, vitrification presents with it’s own difficulties including structural warping and micro-fractures.

Dent June 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Andrew, you argue as if you-ness is some kind of property you have, aside from the (fuzzy) set of social identity parameters that distinguishes you from others.

But it’s not, “you” is just a crude identity pointer to a social network node.

There is nothing else there. There is no immortal soul there either. Phlogiston is not a real thing either.

Frank June 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm

There is volition, thought, and action which can aggregately constitute a coherent self. It’s not immutable, as evidenced in severe psychosis and schizophrenia patients, but neither is it beyond the scope of a physical explanation.

Dent June 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Sure, but volition, thought and action can presumably be copied, which means the coherent self can be copied.

I’m not saying there’s no identity, just that identity consists of parameter sets abstracted as social identifiers. Volition, thought and action patterns are part of that parameter set, and can be copied once a person can be copied.

Those who object, “But the copy wouldn’t be me!” simply keep ignoring this and present the pointer “me” as if it were a property in itself, rather than a mere pointer.

Frank June 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm

We’re in agreement.

ThomasH June 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Glad to see the focus on real growth in the “decoupling” issue. Now if we could just get the Fed to pay attention. The unceertainty it has created about NGDP growth can’t be good for real growth.

Matt Waters June 19, 2012 at 9:07 pm

The decoupling slides show that the average can get a bad rap. The “net decoupling” is about what you would expect, with average total compensation about equal to average productivity. Median wages have flatlined, but half of that is due to non-wage compensation going up. The other half is due to skewness of compensation.

My questions are:

1. Does skewness in compensation match skewness in productivity? Occam’s razor would say it does since we have free movement of labor and a mismatch between compensation and economic value should not persist over the long-run.

2. How much would our average and median wages go up with less non-wage compensation? In other words, if we had Singapore health care costs, how much would wages go up. It looks very significant. Also, how much is Singapore free-loading on Americans paying back the research costs to pharmaceuticals and device makers?

Lord June 19, 2012 at 11:11 pm

One of the reasons for the shift to processed foods is much greater selection. It used to be if you wanted something that tasted good you had to make it yourself. Now there are only a few foods of which good varieties are not available. It was that shift from ‘best of’ to ‘best varieties of’. Some of the things still not available in good varieties: banana bread/muffins (the commercial varieties stinge on bananas or go the artificial route), chili (may be the time between production and taste but also a much more constrained assortment), mac n cheese (hard to believe given the number of varieties but a there is a noticeable lack variation among them), potato salad (much improved but still somewhat limited). Things like apple and pumpkin pie have greatly improved even though they could do more.

Andrew' June 20, 2012 at 6:04 am

How much of this is due to the preservation aspects?

There is an aisle completely of cereal I think because it is easy to dry.

Urstoff June 19, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Hopefully that data on the price of groceries will be another nail in the coffin of the “people are obese because they can’t afford to eat healthy” myth.

Eric June 20, 2012 at 12:58 am

I find the food comparison to be a bit odd. I believe that there has been a substantial shift from beef to chicken, which would account for a fair bit in the decline of meat consumption because chicken is substantially less expensive then beef. Also it is strange that they graph chicken thighs and not breasts, when Americans are notoriously much more interested in breasts then thighs.

Rahul June 20, 2012 at 4:28 am

chicken is substantially less expensive then beef.

Why is it that in most American chain restaurants the “chicken” entree, burger, burrito etc. is more expensive than the beef default? Maybe I am wrong.

Andrew' June 20, 2012 at 6:01 am

I’d guess that the burger is the least expensive “cut” of the beef while the grilled chicken breast is the best meat from the chicken.

A better comparison might be some equivalent measure between burger and reconstituted chicken nuggets.

Andrew' June 20, 2012 at 5:59 am

2. The ultimate consumable commodity-based fiat currency?

Tubulus June 20, 2012 at 10:27 am

Australia’s curve looks like the US curve in 2001 – central bank gradually lowering rates.

TallDave June 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm

3. This is why median living standards rise despite stagnant median wages. Which is another way of saying inflation is wrong.

The whole notion that inflation can be one number rather than a multidimensional array is just another example of the false precision of econometrics anyway; as Scott Sumner said the other there really isn’t even a solid definition.

Robert June 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Re: Scary Toilet Paper in Japan

I’m surprised!

I’ve had installed in my American home a Japanese toilet that washes and blow-dries! I use very little toilet paper these days.

These devices are very popular in Japan; it was several trips to Japan that inspired me to get one at home. So I’m surprised there’s still a large demand for toilet tissue there. Of course, maybe that’s why they print books on it: they read it, and not wipe with it.

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