Food and Drink

China’s top leadership plans to push ahead with deep structural reforms of agriculture and the countryside next year, but the most pressing matter is how to deal with its huge stockpile of surplus grain.

The source is here, via Bill Bishop.

I’m not convinced women who are on Tinder who say “no hookups” actually mean that.

First of all, Tinder is for young people and young women don’t have a hard time meeting men in real life. So, for someone to go to a place that is known to be where casual sex seekers meet and announce THEY aren’t at all interested in casual sex seems fishy. If I’m not in the market to buy shag carpeting that’s full of vomit and fleas, I don’t go shopping at the used carpet store that specializes in shag carpeting that’s full of vomit and fleas. I certainly don’t go there and ask where I can find silk hand-knotted rugs from Central Persia for basically the same price and get offended when I’m offered vomit and fleas.

More likely, these women are interested in hooking up (or at least open to some opportunities of it happening) but don’t want their friends and colleagues knowing this should someone come across their profile, so like the Playboy readers who buy the magazine for the articles, these women are on Tinder “just for the lulz.”

Which brings me to my second point: Despite their loud claims, women are not on Tinder to find their husbands. Getting married is easy. It is so easy that almost anyone can do it! Very unattractive, very poor, mentally unstable people can do it. Now, you might not be able to marry someone who meets all the required characteristics but if Tinder women were sincere in husband-hunting, rather than just stating “no hookups”, which is spectacularly unhelpful, they’d actually list their requirements in order to speed up the process.

And, if the internet (and online dating in particular) is so hostile to women, why would any reasonable woman who has above-average chances of meeting someone in traditional ways subject herself to unbearable and avoidable sexual harassment online? If she’ll assume the risk of verbal abuse from potential suitors, she must be very motivated to meet someone using this platform and I doubt she will be in the top 5-10% of all available women (or perhaps she’s more resilient and online interactions are not emotionally harmful to her). So compared to the top 5-10% of the men she’s vying for (attractive, educated, marriage-minded men in their 20s are quite rare), she won’t have the upper hand, so making brusque dismissals right out of the gate just seems more like an attempt to demonstrate dominance. The point is, the women who really don’t want to hook up aren’t on Tinder and the ones who do say that on Tinder aren’t being honest.

wedding

That is from NinjaEconomics, the original post is here.

candy

“Everybody is always like Wonka this, Wonka that, but I just never relate,” said Maayan Zilberman, a lingerie savant turned conceptual confectioner and the creator of Sweet Saba, an avant-garde candy company.

…Behind her was a container of candy rings that resemble men’s sex toys, made with edible gold and pectin. Ms. Zilberman had prepared them initially for a baby shower. “It was for the parents’ friends, not the baby,” she said. Much to her amusement, the $10 rings are often misidentified as doll bracelets by young customers. “They’re some of my best sellers.”

There are also candies that look like gold Rolexes but taste like Champagne ($10), eucalyptus-flavored Q-tips ($8 for six) and pencils that taste like grass ($12 for four). Ms. Zilberman worked with a food technologist to develop about 30 flavors, which include bubble gum, bacon, whiskey and mother’s milk.

“It’s mostly just cream,” Ms. Zilberman said of the last one.

Here is the Joshua David Stein NYT piece.  Here is Zilberman’s Instagram page, try this photo of the candy.

I’d guess women actually do tend to have a higher taste for quality and variety within this category of [regular] products. But I still doubt that women have higher taste for quality and variety overall. Instead it seems to me that the sorts of products that can have similar male and female versions tend to be lower-quality less-varied more-commodity-like sorts of products.

Women could have a higher taste for quality among lower quality products, and still have the same overall taste for quality, if women have less tolerance for variation in quality across product categories. That is, men may be more willing to save via lower quality in some areas, in order to pay for higher quality in other areas. In contrast, women may seek a more consistent level of quality across many product categories. Women may be more afraid someone will judge them badly from one particular unusually low quality category, while men may hope someone will judge them well from one particular unusually high quality category. This theory fits with many other results suggesting that men are and seek higher variance, and have less conformity.

His post is here.

I would offer the following (speculative) generalization.  Guys are more likely to “just buy any usable sock,” whereas women are more likely to want “the right socks.”  Therefore socks for guys end up being cheaper, because male price elasticity is higher.

Yet guys are more likely to spend a lot to buy the most expensive stereo system, or the most expensive car, or make the biggest charitable donation.  There may not be coexisting “male” and “female” versions of these goods, as with pink vs. blue razors, but still the men pay big compared to the women.

The now-famous WaPo Danielle Paquette piece oversamples “regular goods” and undersamples the goods where males end up paying more.  Therefore it looks like women are getting ripped off, but in reality we don’t know the net effect.

Bryan Caplan had a hand in this lunch discussion too, I ordered halal fish and chips, Bryan let me take his extra spinach.

Austin food bleg

by on December 19, 2015 at 2:28 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

What’s the best dumpy place to eat in Austin?

I thank you in advance for your suggestions.

Lemin is recently out of UC Berkeley, and I have heard that he is on the American market right now.

Here is Lemin’s paper on the Malthusian trap (pdf), one of the most interesting papers of the last few years.  The key point is that some kinds of production drive down living standards and other kinds of production do not, therefore enriching and disaggregating Malthus’s theory, some might say overturning it.  Here is one excerpt:

It follows that the Romans were rich not because technological progress temporarily exceeded population growth—as Malthusianists claim—but because Rome had a business-friendly legal system and an active market economy. Well-functioning courts and market-places boost industry more than they boost agriculture. Thus biasing production structure to luxury, they raised the average living standards of the whole society. Conversely, the Agricultural Revolution left an unfortunate legacy: the hunter-and-gatherer-turned peasants failed to achieve the level of leisure and nutrition their ancestors once enjoyed (Diamond, 1987). Growth was immiserizing because agriculture biased production structure to subsistence. The same tragedy recurred when potato dominated the Irish diet in the late 18th century.

Lemin then introduces cross-societal migration into the model and shows that “…A tiny bit of bias in migration (say, if people are extremely reluctant to move and slow to learn) can still suppress a strong tendency of growth.”  The Industrial Revolutipn did not come to Song China because there were insufficient mechanisms for exclusion.

Here is Lemin Wu’s home page.  Here are some of his other papers and ideas.

Two different people have asked me this question this week, so I thought I would write out my answer. My approach is slightly unorthodox, but here goes:

1. Go to the top of Marina Bay Sands hotel and get a view of the skyline, the harbor, and the Straits.  Watch the ships queuing.  This is one of my favorite views in the whole world.  Most of all I am struck by the contrast between what Singapore has achieved so quickly and also its continuing ultimate vulnerability; the view captures both of those.  If you can afford it, stay in the hotel and swim in the Infinity Pool.  That alone justifies dragging your body all the way to Singapore.

2. Organize the rest of your trip around food.  For Malay food, visit the hawker centre at Geylang Serai Night Market.  For Indian food, go to the hawker centre at the entrance to Little India, and walk around the adjacent shopping bazaar as well.  For Singaporean food, there are many good choices, depending on your location.  The optimal time to arrive is by 10:30, before most of the queues start.  Ask cabbies for the best chili and pepper crab.

3. Eat at David Thompson’s Thai restaurant, in the mall next to Marina Bay Sands.

4. Once it is dark, and edging toward 9 p.m., walk around the Merlion area and the bridge, where the city comes to life.

5. Spend the rest of your time seeking out “retro Singapore” as much as possible.  Haw Par Villa is one place to start, but there are multiple substitutes, including the hawker centres away from downtown and their special dishes.

6. The Asian Civilizations Museum is by far the best museum in town.  The zoo and the bird park are first-rate.

7. Much as Singapore calls itself a “city-state” I think of it as a “suburb-state,” unlike Hong Kong which is a true city.  I consider this high praise, but Singaporeans often are slightly insulted when I put it this way.  Your mileage may vary, but I say enjoy it as you would a suburb.

8. Talk to as many Singaporean civil servants as you can.

9. Take a day trip by cab or bus into Johor Bahru, in neighboring Malaysia, a thirty minute trip if there are no delays.  The food there is even better and you will learn some political science.  Read this book for background on both countries.  Read Lee Kuan Yew.

Here is my earlier post “Why Singapore is special.”   In a nutshell, it’s one of the world’s greatest trips, safe and easy to deal with too.

bacteriaFrom a new paper in Nature, Scientific Reports:

Microbial communities are ubiquitous in both natural and artificial environments. However, microbial diversity is usually reduced under strong selection pressures, such as those present in habitats rich in recalcitrant or toxic compounds displaying antimicrobial properties. Caffeine is a natural alkaloid present in coffee, tea and soft drinks with well-known antibacterial properties. Here we present the first systematic analysis of coffee machine-associated bacteria. We sampled the coffee waste reservoir of ten different Nespresso machines and conducted a dynamic monitoring of the colonization process in a new machine. Our results reveal the existence of a varied bacterial community in all the machines sampled, and a rapid colonisation process of the coffee leach. The community developed from a pioneering pool of enterobacteria and other opportunistic taxa to a mature but still highly variable microbiome rich in coffee-adapted bacteria. The bacterial communities described here, for the first time, are potential drivers of biotechnologically relevant processes including decaffeination and bioremediation.

The authors note:

The presence of bacterial genera with pathogenic properties and the fast recovery of the communities after rinsing the capsule container, strongly suggest the need for frequent maintenance of the capsule container of these machines.

In related news from a few years ago, scientists in the US have genetically modified an E.coli strain so that it is ‘addicted’ to caffeine. Yes, but will E. coli prove theorems?

Hat tip: Paul Kedrosky.

Indonesia’s anti-drugs agency has proposed building a prison on an island guarded by crocodiles to hold death row convicts, an official said, an idea that wouldn’t be out of place in a James Bond film.

The proposal is the pet project of anti-drugs chief Budi Waseso, who plans to visit various parts of the archipelago in his search for fierce reptiles to guard the jail.

“We will place as many crocodiles as we can there. I will search for the most ferocious type of crocodile,” he was quoted as saying by local news website Tempo.

Waseso said that crocodiles would be better at preventing drug traffickers from escaping prison as they could not be bribed — unlike human guards.

There is more here, via Charles Klingman and Mark Thorson, try this Bond movie clip too.

Here is Jessica Gigot, farmer:

We don’t really plan for the weather short-term. That makes me sound like a bad farmer, but I’ve been surprised so many times that I don’t want to get too attached to one scenario. That’s what old farmers tell you: Be open to unpredictability. The drought will continue, that seems to be the consensus. And I may adjust my planting dates, putting in crops early to harvest early, and putting more in late to harvest again late. I kind of go with instincts. There are great farm planners out there and a lot of spreadsheets to follow, but I honestly don’t do that for every crop. You just get in a time bind and could spend all winter doing that and nothing else. Sometimes, it’s scary looking forward as a farmer. From our farm, we can see Mount Baker and the Puget Sound, a volcano and a rising sea. We’re kind of living for the moment, in a geological sense.

The NYT story, by Ryan Bradley, also interviews an economist, a biologist, a musician, and others.

They are disappearing, though still with a cluster in Queens, here is one trouble they are having:

It costs as much as $4 million to open a new diner these days…compared to $500,000 for a higher-end restaurant, because diners require so much storage space for the inventory that their large menus require.

The full article, by Aaron Elstein, is here, it has numerous interesting bits.

In a live demonstration conducted in 2006 with the celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, Spence found that when people were served a scoop of bacon-and-egg ice cream accompanied by the sound of sizzling bacon they described the taste of the ice cream as much more “bacony” than subjects whose consumption was accompanied by the clucking of chickens. This insight—that the appropriate soundtrack can intensify the flavor of a food—inspired Blumenthal’s iconic “Sound of the Sea” dish, for which diners at his restaurant, the Fat Duck, in Bray, are presented with an iPod loaded with a recording of crashing waves and screeching gulls to listen to while enjoying an artfully presented plate of seafood. The effect could be used similarly, Spence said, to design soundtracks that replace some of the lost flavor of food for the elderly.

That is from Nicola Twilley in The New Yorker, interesting throughout.

If you pulled over one hundred people on the street, and asked them to state a religious belief they hold, I’m not sure you would get any answer more plausible than “the pyramids were built for the storage of grain.”  Would you now?

Yet we mock Ben Carson for this, but we do not make fun of those who believe openly in the Trinity, Virgin Birth, ex cathedra, and many other beliefs which are to my mind slightly less plausible claims.  It’s not so different from the old prejudice that Mormon beliefs are somehow “weirder” than those of traditional Christians, except now it is secularists picking and choosing their religious targets on the supposed basis of sophistication.  The Seventh Day Adventists, Carson’s church, are of course weirder yet.

I doubt the storage claim is true as a dominant explanation, but should there not be some storage — of something — in a profit-maximizing or rent-maximizing model of pyramid supply and inventory management?  Maybe Ben’s economic intuition confirmed what he had heard in church.  And what about Coase’s durable goods monopoly model?  In that treatment the monopolist stores grain, admittedly for the pyramids variable Coase was hermetic in his exposition, perhaps properly so given how much is at stake here.  And “remains of storage pests have been found in grain recovered from pyramid tombs.”  Further argumentation along these lines can be found in F. Zacher’s classic 1937 article “Vorratsschädlinge und Vorratsschutz, ihre Bedeutung für Volksernährung und Weltwirtschaft” (Cowen’s Second Law), which by now has been cited over nineteen times (twenty in fact).

The Quran notes that the pyramids were made of baked clay, when instead according to many standard accounts much of the pyramids are made of quarried limestone (yet even that question is murky and I would not entirely count out the Quranic exposition).  Presumably many Muslims, who ascribe a holy status to the Quran, would defend the baked clay proposition in some manner.  How often is that thrown in their faces?

Might Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, possibly hold some views about Joseph which are not literally true?  After all, those stories do come from the Torah.

Besides, our Founding Fathers had some pretty strange notions about pyramids.  Most of them did a pretty good job in office.

What Ben Carson has done is to commit the unpardonable sin of talking about his religion as if he actually takes it seriously.

Loyal MR readers will know that I am myself a non-believer.  But what I find strangest of all is not Ben Carson’s pyramids beliefs, but rather the notion that we should selectively pick on some religious claims rather than others.  The notion that it is fine to believe something about a deity or deities, or a divine book, as long as you do not take that said belief very seriously and treat it only as a social affiliation or an ornamental badge of honor.

Bully for Ben Carson for reminding us that a religion actually consists of beliefs about the world.  And if you’re trying to understand his continuing popularity, maybe that is the place to start.

Here is Eliot Abrams, doctoral student at the University of Chicago who is working on modeling food truck behavior:

Modeling food truck parking locations is complex, as there are around 70 active food trucks parking at more than 30 locations in Chicago. Thankfully, there is plenty of data because food trucks need to advertise their locations. Since 2011, Andrew Violette, who runs ChicagoFoodTruckFinder.com, has been tracking the city’s food trucks based on their Twitter feeds. I pulled 34,328 parking records from Violette’s website and created a simulation of how food trucks park.

This exercise translates the observed food truck movements into information on the relative number of customers a truck serves at each location on a given day. The number of customers is a function of many variables, such as the day of the week and the location chosen by the truck. I focus on estimating how customer traffic is impacted by the number and diversity of other trucks parking at the location and by the past frequency with which the truck has parked at the particular location. Just like Hotelling’s ice cream vendors, food trucks should (and do) choose their locations in response to these dynamics in order to maximize their profit.

As part of the same symposium, here is, Drew Davis, Booth MBA and most importantly a guy who runs food trucks:

In Wrigleyville, we ended up getting a lot of people out for Sunday strolls, running errands. We’re near a drugstore and a grocery store. By experimenting, we got to the right answer. We don’t want to be a destination in itself. We’d much rather make ourselves part of people’s everyday experience, a part of their lives.

At Booth, there’s always the question: Does the data exist and can I get it?  I could generate data from our truck sales. But you can really only compare results if the day of the week was the same, the spot was the same, and the weather was the same. By the time you’ve made all those cuts in the data, the analysis would be horrendous. I work much better with stories.

Read the whole thing, Chad Syverson opines as well.

Feeding America, the third largest non-profit in the United States, distributes billions of pounds of food every year. Most of the food comes from large firms like Kraft, ConAgra and Walmart that have a surplus of some item and scarce warehouse space. Feeding America coordinates the supply of surplus food with the demand from food banks across the U.S..

Allocating food is not an easy problem. How do you decide who gets what while taking into account local needs, local tastes, what foods the bank has already, what abilities the banks have to store food on a particular day, transportation costs and so forth. Alex Teytelboym writing at The Week points out:

…Before 2005, Feeding America allocated food centrally, and according to its rather subjective perception of what food banks needed. Headquarters would call up the food banks in a priority order and offer them a truckload of food. Bizarrely, all food was treated more or less equally, irrespective of its nutritional content. A pound of chicken was the same as a pound of french fries. If the food bank accepted the load, it paid the transportation costs and had the truck sent to them. If the food bank refused, Feeding America would judge this food bank as having lower need and push it down the priority list. Unsurprisingly, food banks went out of their way to avoid refusing food loads — even if they were already stocked with that particular food.

This Soviet-style system was hugely inefficient. Some urban food banks had great access to local food donations and often ended up with a surplus of food. A lot of food rotted in places where it was not needed, while many shelves in other food banks stood empty. Feeding America simply knew too little about what their food banks needed on a given day.

In 2005, however, a group of Chicago academics, including economists, worked with Feeding America to redesign the system using market principles. Today Feeding America no longer sends trucks of potatoes to food banks in Idaho and a pound of chicken is no longer treated the same as a pound of french fries. Instead food banks bid on food deliveries and the market discovers the internal market-prices that clear the system. The auction system even allows negative prices so that food banks can be “paid” to pick up food that is not highly desired–this helps Feeding America keep both its donors and donees happy.

Food banks are not bidding in dollars, however, but in a new, internal currency called shares.

Every day, each food bank is allocated a pot of fiat currency called “shares.” Food banks in areas with bigger populations and more poverty receive larger numbers of shares. Twice a day, they can use their shares to bid online on any of the 30 to 40 truckloads of food that were donated directly to Feeding America. The winners of the auction pay for the truckloads with their shares. Then, all the shares spent on a particular day are reallocated back to food banks at midnight. That means that food banks that did not spend their shares on a particular day would end up with more shares and thus a greater ability to bid the next day. In this way, the system has built-in fairness: If a large food bank could afford to spend a fortune on a truck of frozen chicken, its shares would show up on the balance of smaller food banks the next day. Moreover, neighboring food banks can now team up to bid jointly to reduce their transport costs.

Initially, there was plenty of resistance. As one food bank director told Canice Prendergast, an economist advising Feeding America, “I am a socialist. That’s why I run a food bank. I don’t believe in markets. I’m not saying I won’t listen, but I am against this.” But the Chicago economists managed to design a market that worked even for participants who did not believe in it. Within half a year of the auction system being introduced, 97 percent of food banks won at least one load, and the amount of food allocated from Feeding America’s headquarters rose by over 35 percent, to the delight of volunteers and donors.

Teytelboym’s very good, short account is working off a longer, more detailed paper by Canice Prendergast, The Allocation of Food to Food Banks.

Canice’s paper would be a great teaching tool in an intermediate or graduate micro economics class. Pair it with Hayek’s The Use of Knowledge in Society. Under the earlier centralized system, Feeding America didn’t know when a food bank was out of refrigerator space or which food banks had hot dogs but wanted hot dog buns and which the reverse–under the market system this information, which Hayek called “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” is used and as a result less food is wasted and the food is used to satisfy more urgent needs.

The Feeding America auction system is also the best illustration that I know of the second fundamental theorem of welfare economics.

Even monetary economics comes into play. Feeding America created a new currency and thus had to deal with the problem of the aggregate money supply. How should the supply of shares be determined so that relative prices were free to change but the price level would remain relatively stable? How could the baby-sitting co-op problem be avoided? Scott Sumner will be disappointed to learn that they choose pound targeting rather than nominal-pound targeting but some of the key issues of monetary economics are present even in this simple economy.