by Tyler Cowen
on September 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm
in Uncategorized |
1. Blog of a funeral director; “Death keeps no schedule and neither will you.” And here are “Ten Reasons to be a Funeral Director.”
2. The real traveling salesman problem.
3. Insider trading for the literary Nobel Prize?
4. Hyperinflation in Syria.
5. Ten-part Dylan Matthews Wonkbook series on why the tuition is so high.
6. Which new bet did Ehrlich propose to Julian Simon, which Simon did not accept?
7. Miles Kimball on negative interest rates.
#6- the other thing this shows is that Ehrlich learned not to bet that the apocalypse was coming inside of 10 years
Also, Ehrlich wanting to bet based on the assumption that a lower sperm count in human males is a bad thing is hilarious.
Simon’s response to the proposed second bet:
“Let me characterize their offer as follows. I predict, and this is for real, that the average performances in the next Olympics will be better than those in the last Olympics. On average, the performances have gotten better, Olympics to Olympics, for a variety of reasons. What Ehrlich and others says is that they don’t want to bet on athletic performances, they want to bet on the conditions of the track, or the weather, or the officials, or any other such indirect measure.”
Simon, I assume, did not dispute that population would go up, or that pollution would (at least for a while) go up along with population. His point was about the human capacity to adapt and substitute.
#2 – very interesting.
#6 – so dumb. I cannot fathom what you’re on about here.
#7 – evidence that a PhD in economics is not necessarily protection against economic illiteracy.
Agreed on 7. That idiot has no doubt the fed could realistically implement such a policy. I guess he has never heard of a currency other than the dollar.
They could implement such a policy on paper, all they have to do is print more money! Because that is effectively the equivalent of a negative interest rate. As a “technical matter”, we’ve had the solution much longer than Kimball realizes. To the printing presses!
I had heard of Ehrlich’s proposed second bet long ago and thought it was old news to anyone familiar with Julian Simon. What surprises me is Tyler citing Sailer on the subject rather than, say, Wikipedia.
Has anyone actually checked whether Simon would have won the second bet? Eyeballing the list, it seems many of them are ambiguous about whether the human condition has degraded or not. My judgement as follows;
The three years 2002–2004 will on average be warmer than 1992–1994. – Not necessarily a bad thing, certainly for crop growth warmer is good, right. Now if this had been more hurricanes or flooding due to warmer weather maybe they would have had a point. But still you would want to see the net result after subtracting the benefits of warmer weather. My guess is that this would be a win for the E team though as defined.
There will be more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2004 than in 1994. Win for the E team, but higher CO2 surely means economic growth continuing. So good for the world and against the E team narrative.
There will be more nitrous oxide in the atmosphere in 2004 than 1994. – Don’t know who would win this, but again nitrous oxide growth could only be occurring if the world was continuing to experience economic growth.
The concentration of ozone in the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) will be greater than in 1994. – Again don’t know, but same as the other issues above.
Emissions of the air pollutant sulfur dioxide in Asia will be significantly greater in 2004 than in 1994. – probably higher thanks to the enormous economic growth in Asia since then. Win for E team.
There will be less fertile cropland per person in 2004 than in 1994. – If cropland is more fertile, maybe less is OK? Don’t know who would win, but there has been a big expansion in cropland in Latin America.
There will be less agricultural soil per person in 2004 than 1994. – if we can grow more on less soil that’s a good thing right? Don’t know who would win.
There will be on average less rice and wheat grown per person in 2002–2004 than in 1992–1994. – I think this would be win for the S side. Food scarcity is becoming less and less of an issue (globally, governments still manage to screw it up locally though thanks to stupid protectionists).
In developing nations there will be less firewood available per person in 2004 than in 1994. – Maybe because they are using other fuels to generate electricity? Anyway more broadly there has been a huge boom in biofuels. Defined more widely, win for S team.
The remaining area of virgin tropical moist forests will be significantly smaller in 2004 than in 1994. True as it impossible for “virgin forests” to expand, any expansion will be secondary growth – not necessarily a comment on the human condition though. I have read that actual forest cover, in the west, is higher than it has been for a very long time. Win for E team because of how they defined it.
The oceanic fishery harvest per person will continue its downward trend and thus in 2004 will be smaller than in 1994. Likely true – but fish farming is much more prevalent. I would guess that fish is about as cheap now as it ever was, certainly salmon is no longer a luxury good. I would guess a win for S team.
There will be fewer plant and animal species still extant in 2004 than in 1994. – It is hard to see how the number of species could go up. Win for E team based on definition.
More people will die of AIDS in 2004 than in 1994. – Aids can be well controlled now. But distribution of the drugs could be a problem in Africa. Simon would surely have won the moral bet though since the existential threat of AIDS has all but disappeared. Win for S team.
Between 1994 and 2004, sperm cell counts of human males will continue to decline and reproductive disorders will continue to increase. – I don’t think this is true, anyone have any data? It would seem that survival rate continue to improve in richer and poorer countries overall and I don’t see this mentioned anywhere as a big problem. Win for S team.
The gap in wealth between the richest 10% of humanity and the poorest 10% will be greater in 2004 than in 1994. – Not sure why this would necessarily be a bad thing, if the poor were also getting richer as well. The rich are are certainly not getting rich at the expense of the poor, they had no money to start with. In any event the last decade or so has seen the greatest increase in living standards in history for the world. Here is one study, http://www.oecd.org/dev/pgd/44773119.pdf , one quote “Since the 1980s, the poverty rate has been trending considerably downward globally”. This win for the S team surely trumps all the other wins together for the E team. The human condition is improving and continues to improve, despite what Ehrlich predicted.
So I make it 4 definites for the E team (albeit two of them are defined so that they could only win) and 5 definites for the S team, with the rest to be determined.
“The three years 2002–2004 will on average be warmer than 1992–1994.”
One of my commenters pointed out that this was designed to be a sucker bet — 1992 had been unusually cool due to atmospheric dust from Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991.
Yes, actually several of them were sucker bets. How could virgin forest expand? Any expansion is by definition not virgin. And how could there be more species?
But the list serves a good purpose by reminding us again of how the doomsters continually miss the big picture. They put on record their biggest fears in 1994 for the next ten years. And we can now look back and see that they were not really that significant. When we get the next Jeremiah predicting disaster unless their pet policy is followed (ban immigration anyone?) we can point to this list as a record.
But, I thought that in economics, policies were supposed to be evaluated ceteris paribus? Letting, say, ocean fisheries be devastated on the grounds that in 10 years, iPhones will have even more awesome apps than now seems to be missing the point about, no?
Stop acting like a two-digit IQer Steve. Show me one shred of evidence that Julian Simon ever said anything to indicate, for example, that he was unaware of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ problem in fisheries.
Sheesh. Ehrlich’s follow-up bet gambit was the lame denouement of a complete ass-kicking- the guy will enter into history as the dictionary photo accompanying ‘laughing stock’.
Do yourself a favor, do some reading on the subject of environmentalism. I recommend Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist as a good place to start.
Quite true and quotable.
Tyler directly linking and respecting Steve Sailer… this is more likely to appear in the postmortems of the USA Empire than most of Tyler’s USA related posts
I would agree. Either future generations will huddle around wood fires in whatever analogue of Harvard exists, presumably in an abandoned mine shaft somewhere, grunting in surprise that an educated man could risk the wrath of the Great Sky Gods by talking to a minion of the Evil Ones. Or they will despair at the idiotic closing of Western minds to open debate.
My money is on the former.
Well, in the U.S., it seems that part of ‘open debate’ includes young earth creationism, as just one example of how deeply held some anti-scientific views are treated in public.
However, don’t blame the ‘idiotic closing of Western minds’ for the lack of that sort of open debate about human origins except in the U.S. – in Western Europe, young earth creationism is virtually unknown, and thus is neither debated nor rejected. Much like the current sun centered view of the solar system is neither debated nor rejected. And considering how some notable European countries practised other forms of what they considered ‘scientific’ human improvement (whatever happened to Soviet man, by the way?), it isn’t as if they don’t know what they are rejecting.
I am not remotely threatened by Young Earth Creationism. Why are you?
@2, Traveling Salesman problem, the story is designed as a ‘human interest’ ‘feel good story even if you don’t know about math’ story, and downplays math. If this is true: “In the end, the best approach turns out to be building on what people are already doing” then explain how a package sent from Los Angeles to the far East ends up going to Memphis, Tennessee first? Traveling Salesman with constraints (Memphis being a hub) is still a math problem, not a human intuition problem. Math matters.
From a short PERC article I co-wrote with a student who amassed the 20th century history of the Simon-Ehrlich wager:
[W]ould Simon have won or lost in other decades? Was he just lucky to have picked the 1980s? [Our research] shows that the 1980s experienced the second largest drop in prices of the century, so to some extent Simon was lucky. He had said simply that he was more likely to win than to lose in any given decade, and indeed he would have won in only five decades (the 1900s, 1910s, 1940s, 1980s and 1990s). He would have lost by a few dollars in the 1950s, and by more significant amounts in the other four decades. This outcome confirms Simon’s suspicion that prices over short spans of time are as likely to rise as to decline, but the overall trend will be downward.
See more at: http://perc.org/articles/betting-wealth-nature
It’s interesting to think about #2 with respect to the possibility of autonomous vehicles. Supposing that self-driving trucks became feasible, UPS still couldn’t use them for delivery because there would be nobody to take packages out of the truck and carry them to the door (and the AI and robotics to accomplish that would be more complex than the self-driving truck). The work of a delivery truck driver doesn’t seem sophisticated at all–until you think about what it would take to fully automate it.
They could still use the driverless truck. A human will carry the packages off the truck but the human won’t drive. It wouldn’t be the worst job in the world but it sure won’t pay much.
One interesting thought about driverless vehicles…in urban areas trucks routinely park illegally while they unload. I wonder if the robotrucks will be programmed to park illegally.
So, off-topic, or you could file it under #5, but does anyone want to come in from the cold on Obama yet? There is still time, I’m feeling generous and giving out reprieves, but there may not be many more of these opportunities.
#5: This reminds me of Steve Sailer’s bit on Occam’s butter knife. The reason health care and college tuition see price jumps at four and five times inflation is the curse of third party payments. Instead of focusing on that obvious answer, we write ten part “wonk” papers on why leprechauns are stealing our magic beans.
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