Philosophy

From a 2007 piece by Matheny and Leahy:

Campaigns directed toward pigs and cattle, however, could have a negative welfare effect by shifting consumption to poultry and fish products, which provide significantly less food per animal life-year. In fact, removing only poultry, eggs, and farmed fish from the diets of one hundred people would affect more animals than turning ninety-nine people vegan. If it is easier for consumers to shift consumption among animal products than to eschew all animal products, then this arithmetic has implications for both welfarist and abolitionist strategies.

That is from Natalie Cargill.  And the article is informative throughout.  You will note however that when it comes to environmental impact, red meat from the larger animals is typically the much larger problem.  So which do you care about more, animal welfare or the environment?  Or are you only willing to talk about margins where both improve?  By the way:

In the United States, there are only 220 veterinarians responsible for the care of more than nine billion farm animals.

Tucked between their 4K televisio​ns and their induction cooktop stove, Panasonic’s booth at the Consumer Electronic Show is also home to a futuristic magic mirror way more terrifying than that disembodied mask f​rom Snow White.

The Japanese heavy-hitter’s smart mirror has digital displays, including a secondary projection of your own reflection. The projection can be virtually altered to display different makeup looks, hairdos, and even facial hair styles.

But here’s where it gets really fun: it can also pinpoint all your flaws, from tiny wrinkles to barely-perceptible pores, and then “recommend” a series of beauty products and treatments in order to improve your look. Because apparently we weren’t picking apart our reflections enough as it is.

It also keeps track of your horrible, hideous flaws, so you can see if all the money you spent is working, or if you ought to spend more money.

“Once you start using products, you can track whether or not they’ve been working,” sales rep Joey Liao explained cheerfully, gesturing to another volunteer who sat pouting at a vanity. “So if she buys a very expensive new night cream and a month later has made no progress, goodbye night cream! You don’t need to invest in that anymore. You can use a different product.”

That story was sent to me by the excellent Mark Thorson, who also points us to the Norwegian Caribbean cruise that has a special snow room.

The tables have turned on zoo-goers in China — where people are paying to be locked in cages while hungry lions and tigers stalk their every move.

The Lehe Ledu Wildlife Zoo in Chongqing city is giving people the hair-raising chance to learn what it’s like to come face to face with an apex predator, Central European News reports.

Visitors are forking over their cash to be caged inside the back of a truck as it makes its way through the animal park. Just to make sure they get the attention of the beasts, huge chunks of raw meat are tied to the bars to lure them as close as possible.

“We wanted to give our visitors the thrill of being stalked and attacked by the big cats but with, of course, none of the risks,” said zoo spokeswoman Chan Liang. “The guests are warned to keep their fingers and hands inside the cage at all times because a hungry tiger wouldn’t know the difference between them and breakfast.”

The chilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience has been a hit with visitors — the trips have been sold out for the next three months, according to CEN.

The link is here, via NinjaEconomics.  Elsewhere, in New York they are banning the tiger selfie, with or without huge chunks of raw meat.  Yet also in New York, Tough Mudder has added tear gas to some of its obstacle routines, via Hugo Lindgren.

If you read a book, how many other related or similar books does it make you order?  (Of wish to order, if you are budget constrained.)  If the number is at least three or four, the book you read is almost certainly very interesting and worthwhile, if not always accurate.

Andrew Roberts’s biography of Napoleon made me want to read an additional biography of Napoleon, because it made his life to me more interesting.  It made Napoleon’s period more interesting too.  I might read a book on cavalry tactics as well, a topic I have never read on before.

Some books pretend to be the final word on a topic, but it is unlikely they succeed.  If you don’t end your read with some additional book orders, maybe you need to ask yourself what exactly went wrong.

At times it is not a book order which is the appropriate follow-up.  Say you read a book on Sri Lanka and you respond by going to Sri Lanka, well that counts too.  Or a biography of Beethoven may lead you to more of his music, rather than to another book on his life.

If I apply the Amazon order test, the best book for me this last year was Michael Hoffman’s Where Have You Been?: Selected Essays.

Hofmann’s book wins additional points for chain effects, namely the books I ordered, as a result of reading Hofmann, in turn made me want to order further books.  But chain effects are tricky.  Following my read of Andrew Roberts, and then a follow-up Napoleon biography, will I read yet another life of Napoleon?  That may depend on how good the follow-up is, and Roberts should not be held liable for that.  Or should he?  What should you think of a book which leads you to so-so follow-ups rather than to excellent follow-ups?  A blog post which does the same?

What percentage of the value of a book is derived from the quality of the follow-ups it induces?  Under plausible rates of discounting, for serial readers this could easily by eighty or ninety percent or more.  (Could it be that actual book reviews are not consequentialist? Horrors.)  How about a book review outlet which refuses to consider the books under consideration, but rather considers and evaluates what they will induce you to read next?

I would subscribe.

France’s influential economist Thomas Piketty, author of “Capital in the 21st Century”, on Thursday refused to accept the country’s highest award, the Legion d’honneur, to criticise the Socialist government in power.

“I refuse this nomination because I do not think it is the government’s role to decide who is honourable,” Piketty told AFP.

“They would do better to concentrate on reviving (economic) growth in France and Europe,” added Piketty, who was once close to the Socialist Party but has distanced himself from the policies of President Francois Hollande.

The link is here, via many people in my Twitter feed, including Justin Wolfers and Claudia Sahm.  There is a bit more here.

Kevin Drum offers some commentary on my take on the uncertainties of 2015.  But keep in mind, by focusing on uncertainties the inquiry has an intrinsic pessimistic bias.  Lots of good things will happen in 2015 too, it’s just that they aren’t very uncertain.  Catch-up growth will continue in most nations, even if at slower rates in many cases.  Medical progress will lumber along.  Poverty will diminish.  Poems will be read and utils will sparkle in people’s brains.  A number of good books will be produced and you will be able to read about some of them right here on MR.  Washington, D.C. will continue to become an interesting city.  More and more people will experience the joys of parenthood.  Indeed there is quite a good chance 2015 will be one of the best years the world ever has seen!

But again, the uncertainties of 2015…those are mostly going to be negative.

Here is the final paragraph from a recent MRI paper by Farrow, Burgess, Wilkinson, and Hunter, “Neural correlates of self-deception and impression-management“:

Taken together, one appealing ‘pop-psychology’  interpretation of these results would be that being excessively honest with ourselves (‘faking bad’ at self-deception) is our least indulged in pursuit while giving out the best possible image of ourselves to other (‘faking good’ at impression-management) is a behaviour with which we are much more familiar and practised.

From the abstract you can read that “Our neuroimaging data suggest that manipulating self-deception and impression-management…engages a common network…”

Robin Hanson has suggested related hypotheses in the past.  Caveat emptor, for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Here for instance is the CR symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness.  I believe there will be more to come.

“Something out there is killing everything, and you’re probably next.”

You can view the talk here.  It is called “The Great Filter.”

You can file this one under “Questions that are rarely asked.”  The authors are Bauman, Gale, and Milton and the subtitle is Cross sectional study of political affiliation and physical activity.  It seems, in fact, that the armchair socialists are up out of their chairs:

Objective To examine the validity of the concept of left wing “armchair socialists” and whether they sit more and move less than their right wing and centrist counterparts.

Design Secondary analysis of Eurobarometer data from 32 European countries.

Setting The study emanated from the authors’ sit-stand desks (rather than from their armchairs).

Participants Total of 29 193 European adults, of whom 1985 were left wing, 1902 right wing, 17 657 political centrists, and 7649 politically uncommitted.

Main outcome measures Self-reported political affiliation, physical activity, and total daily sitting time.

Methods Linear models were used to examine the relation between physical activity, sitting time, and reported political affiliation.

Results The findings refute the existence of an “armchair socialist”; people at the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum were more physically active, with the right wing reporting 62.2 more weekly minutes of physical activity (95% confidence interval 23.9 to 100.5), and the left wing 57.8 more minutes (20.6 to 95.1) than those in the political centre. People with right wing political affiliations reported 12.8 minutes less time sitting a day (3.8 to 21.9) than the centrists. It is those sitting in the middle (politically) that are moving less, and possibly sitting more, both on the fence and elsewhere, making them a defined at-risk group.

Conclusions There is little evidence to support the notion of armchair socialists, as they are more active than the mainstream in the political centre. Encouraging centrists to adopt stronger political views may be an innovative approach to increasing their physical activity, potentially benefiting population health.

The full paper is here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Timothy Taylor has a superb blog post on that topic, here is one choice passage out of many:

A final example looks at mental models that development experts have of the poor. What do development experts think that the poor believe, and how does it compare to what the poor actually believe? For example, development experts were asked if they thought individuals in low-income countries would agree with the statement: “What happens to me in the future mostly depends on me.”  The development experts thought that maybe 20% of the poorest third would agree with this statement, but about 80% actually did. In fact, the share of those agreeing with the statement in the bottom third of the income distribution was much the same as for the upper two-thirds–and higher than the answer the development experts gave for themselves!

Do read the whole thing, which offers many points of interest.  By the way, here is a good blog post on a first visit to Haiti.

Many economists like to dump on their fellow social scientists, and personally I find that reading anthropology is often quite uninspiring.  That said, I would like to say a small bit on the superiority of anthropologists.  I view the “products” of anthropology as the experiences, world views, and conversations of the anthropologists themselves.  Those products translate poorly into the medium of print, and so from a distance the anthropologists appear to be inferior and lackluster (I wonder to what extent the anthropologists realize this themselves?).

Yet anthropologists have some of the most profound understandings of the human condition.  They have witnessed, absorbed, and processed some of the most interesting data, especially those anthropologists who do fieldwork of the traditional kind.

The rest of us are simply (usually) too blind to see this.  It even can be argued that anthropology is the queen and most general of the social sciences, and that economics, as a social science, is simply playing around in one of the larger anthropologically-motivated sandboxes, namely the economy.

We so often confuse “what can be translated into print well” with “what is important and interesting.”  In classical music there have been performers, such as Jorge Bolet, who are incredible but whose genius didn’t translate well in the recording studio.  That does mean anthropology is very often not a highly leveraged means of status and influence.

I believe that travel — when done intelligently — is the most fundamental method of learning.  And yet most travel books are a crashing bore.  Don’t confuse what you — as an outsider — can consume well with what is good and important from an inside perspective.

There is a new 538 article on this, by , and , here is one excerpt:

We first found that an economist’s research area is correlated with his or her political leanings. For example, macroeconomists and financial economists are more right-leaning on average while labor economists tend to be left-leaning. Economists at business schools, no matter their specialty, lean conservative. Apparently, there is “political sorting” in the academic labor market.

A word analysis indicates the most left-leaning phrase is “post Keynesian,” followed by “credit union.”  The most right-leaning phrase is “free banking,” and then “bank note” and “hedge fund.”  Here is some good news:

There’s no evidence that publication decisions are determined by editor ideology.

And yet:

…a left-leaning economist is more likely to report numerical results aligned with liberal ideology (and the same is true for right-leaning economists and conservative ideology)

This won’t be a popular paragraph with everyone:

Policymakers may need to “re-center” economists’ findings by adjusting for ideology. Take the area of tax rates for high earners. The average optimal tax rate reported by economists in our data is 41 percent. Using our model, we can also estimate that these economists as a group are slightly left of center. We can then figure out what optimal top tax rate a hypothetical centrist economist would report: 33 percent.

Here is the authors’ lengthy research paper on all of this (pdf).

For the pointer I thank Bruce Bartlett.

The mainland – which has long been criticised by international human rights groups for using organs harvested from executed prisoners as its main source of organ transplants – will completely ban the practice from next year.

All organs used in future transplants must be from donors, the Southern Metropolis News quoted Dr Huang Jiefu as saying. Huang is former deputy director of the health ministry and director of the China Organ Donation and Transplant Committee.

Major transplant centres had already stopped using executed prisoners’ organs, said Huang, who chaired an industry forum in Kunming on Wednesday.

There is more here, via Mark Thorson.  The article notes China has one of the lowest voluntary organ donation rates in the world.  0.6 individuals out of a million sign up to donate their organs after they die, and that means the number of actual donors is lower yet.  If you google around, you will find some ambiguity as to whether the donation rate or the “register to donate rate” is that low, but as far as I can tell (try this Chinese source) it is the actual register to donate rate, in part because they just aren’t many ways to register right now.  Please let us know if you have additional information on this point.

Wikipedia by the way reports:

The wait times for organ transplants for organ recipients in China are much lower than elsewhere in the world, and there is evidence that the execution of prisoners for their organs is “timed for the convenience of the waiting recipient.

Here are some of Alex’s earlier posts on a market for transplanted organs.

There may be a nascent movement towards reappropriating roadkill as ethical meat, but sustainable fur couture? Paquin was in uncharted territory. No matter: In short order she located a taxidermist in Vermont who schooled her in the nitty-gritty of skinning and — oof — scraping an animal pelt ahead of the tanning process. Her induction came in the form of a deceased raccoon: “We both had a shot of whiskey, I put some peppermint oil under my nose, and we found a branch in the woods to hang this thing from. It was super intense.”

There is more here, from Meaghan Agnew.  I found these estimates interesting though perhaps speculative:

So, how many animals do you think get killed on the streets of this country every year? Whatever your guesstimate, go higher: according to Culture Change, it’s  approximately 1 million a day, or 365 million a year. By comparison, Born Free USA reports that approximately 50 million animals are killed every year for their fur.

For the pointer I thank Hugo Lindgren.