Assorted links

1. Praying and fasting at high latitudes.  And how charismatic was Jesus?

2. A brief look at Modinomics.  And here.  And how can we reduce deaths on Indian railway tracks? (scroll down a bit to reach that discussion)

3. Modern Russian cancer ward?  The general topic of pain relief is one of the most neglected in public policy and it requires more deregulation in the United States as well.

4. Dutch “glow in the dark” roads.

5. Amazon seems to be proceeding with drone plans.  And what are the best options for regulatory reform?, by Philip A. Wallach.

6. The earnings of economics majors.

7. James K. Galbraith writes a Cambridge critique of Piketty.  A good and interesting piece, one of the best reviews.


what is the actual link (if any) for #1: "how charismatic was Jesus?"

It took many decades for me to decide that, on the balance of probabilities, Jesus existed. To ask me to believe very yarn about him, as if it were a verbatim account of his sayings, is umpteen steps too far.

Sounds like you must have had an extremely high proof hurdle...there is a ton of historical evidence of the existence of Jesus, and his historical reality has not been seriously his divinity is another question

"there is a ton of historical evidence of the existence of Jesus". Not in my view: there are a few bits, but enough for me. If there were a ton I'd not have waited decades to make my decision, for which doubtless the whole world was waiting with bated breath :)

"and his historical reality has not been seriously questioned": good Lord, what on earth makes you think that?

His divinity is not an issue for me, since I'm not superstitious. Touch wood.

If you'd like to read lot's of scientific proof, I recommend this book:
Witnesses to Mystery: Investigations Into Christ's Relics ($24 at Amazon)

#1: Maybe I missed it within the bulk, but the author doesn't seem interested in the difference between truth and fiction. The Gospels are a semi-fictional collections of "Jesus' Greatests Hits". So we can expect that the book-character will always win arguments, always understand what the opponents are trying, etc, etc. Can we just assume that the same lessons will work in real life? Maybe we can; but I found nothing in the article that justifies that assumption.

In fact I expect the real Jesus, like all public actors, sometimes lost arguments and was sometimes befuddled. Nonetheless he would have rallied from this well enough to be successful. Studying that Jesus might be more profitable -- but we would need a time machine to do it.

#4: "releasing a green glow for up to eight hours at night"

In winter, in Amsterdam, the longest night lasts over 16 hours. How do they intend to cope with that? Or will the lights from passing cars also provide sufficient energy?

Only 16 hours? Southern sissies.

The problem with this idea, in my opinion, is: what good does it actually do? Failure to see the lines on the road is not the problem with night driving. Drivers generally have no problem staying on the road. It is failure to see other things on the road that leads to accidents. Glow in the dark lines won't help this, and may even make things worse, giving the impression that you can see much farther than you actually can.

#3 In the case of terminal diseases, absolutely people need easy access to painkillers. However, liberal use of opioid pain medications is a huge problem in the US. Practitioners, who undertreated pain in the past, have made hydrocodone the most prescribed drug in the country for many years running.

To the extent one supports deregulating drugs in general, fine, that is a point of view that I don't agree with but is defensible. But the number of Rx painkiller overdoses in this country keeps climbing, and has now surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the number one cause of accidental death in many states. The pendulum has swung too far the other way and I don't believe less regulation is the answer. Perhaps better information for prescribers on how many prescription patients are receiving and from which prescribers and additional training on alternative pain therapies is a better way to go.

I doubt this is true about what you wrote of Rx painkillers and fatalities for "some states". All drug-induced deaths in the US only surpassed auto fatalities in 2010 by 40K vs 35K, and it wasn't all painkillers nor was it all prescriptions drugs.

Sorry, that's right it. It is not only due to Rx painkillers. It is all drug overdose deaths that have passed motor vehicle accidents as the leading killer, though the largest contributor is painkillers and that is where the growth has been in the last ten years. Also important to note that about 1/3 of car accident fatalities have drugs in their systems and the 1/4 of Rx overdose deaths overall do not specify a drug.

To me this screams "defective product" far more than cigarettes or handguns or any of the normal targets for that argument.

You can easily break your arm in a minor accident and wind up dead of an overdose after a multiyear downward spiral in what amounts to a side effect of your drug treatment. That is scary.

Is it painful to overdose on a painkiller?

It only hurts the family.

I don't think the period of addiction before the overdose is all that pleasant.

there's only one way to find out

To me, the fact that hydrocodone is so commonly prescribed reflects an undertreatment of pain. It lets you take a little less acetamenophen/ibuprofen if you need enough that side effects are an issue, but it does very little for serious pain. More Vicodin please!

"even if the holder plays no active economic role. Absentee landlords and the Koch brothers have power of this type"
That's simply not true. The Kochs actively manage their business. Part of their beef with Ed Crane is that he disparaged a book on management one had written to a reporter. If Galbraith had wanted to make a Georgist argument that all natural resource extraction is basically rent from things found/claimed rather than produced, that would be a better argument applied to the Kochs.

Perhaps the ecstatic response to Piketty is a function of how most reviewers simply don't engage much with data. Those that do are unlikely to breathlessly extol its apparent seminal nature.

Well, his research sparked a lot of political possibility coming from a fresh, foreign face at the right moment. People like Galbraith, who've been beating a similar drum for years, are just victims of being pigeonholed into the liberal academy ghetto after the rational expectations surge of the 70's and 80's. Piketty's theoretical work seems to be lacking, but he and the team that put together the world top income database made a real contribution to effectively ending any possible debate about the extent of inequality. The wealth distribution is becoming much more concentrated and inheritance is back as a social force.

Piketty may not accurately describe the mechanics of capital or wealth (which would be fitting, given his book's synonymous predecessor's similar failure), but after viewing the data he's collected, you really can't back to arguing that the concentration of wealth isn't scary.

Galbraith's critique makes it pretty clear that the concentration of wealth is not an inevitable outcome of capitalist economies. That turns the scary dial down from a 11 to maybe a 6. Difficult to battle but hardly impossible. Still I suppose you could argue that at least Piketty's work is forcing the issue, but if it is true that tax records are not the only place to analyse inequality and if he is claiming that it is, then that's a sharp disservice.

I think the mistake many people fall into is to think of the world as fixed or constant. Whether it's resources (peak oil, peak farmland, peak copper), or capital/wealth. Don't articles like this refute this error in thinking?

What is scary about it exactly?

For starters, inheritance is returning as the surest route to the good life. The top 1% of heirs have seen their average income surpass the average income of the top 1 percent of wage earners. It's one thing for top incomes to grow larger and larger when the earners are at least plausibly doing very valuable things like inventing things or running a successful business. It's another entirely when there exists a class of people increasing their share of wealth and power simply by being born to the right parents. It's in the interest of everyone that top incomes go to people actually fueling the creative engine of the economy and not aristocratic proto-rentiers.

What sort of deregulation are you referring to as far as pain management?

Anything aside from painkillers, I mean.

That's like asking "What sort of drought relief do you propose? Anything aside from water, of course."

Why the testy response? I wasn't asking a hostile question but simply wondering if I had overlooked something. Sheesh...

Well it is currently the odd combination hard to get if you need it while also killing more people than illegal drugs.

1b is one of the best articles I've read in a while.

Love the juxtaposition of #1a and #1b.

For those interested, I think the best high-level summary/argument on the issue is happening on twitter right now.

Start at ‏@JustinWolfers: "At least 5 large surveys track insurance coverage. One of the 5 changed => Must be a conspiracy...." and follow the conversation.

And how many of those are census bureau surveys? Which survey do you expect the White House to trumpet?

My assessment of the landscape is that some people like to watchdog Obama and ACA implementation. So, I'd be surprised if there was any unqualified trumpeting of survey results that have a built-in 2% decrease in the uninsurance rate. If there was some uncalled for trumpeting, someone, not sure who, might just call them out on it.

Also note that that the updated survey starts with a measurement of the uninsurance rate in 2013, the year before full implementation of the ACA.

Self-serving take on #6: My accounting buddies learned to evaluate a situation based only on costs. My liberal arts buddies learned to evaluate a situation based only on benefits. My economics degree taught me to evaluate a situation based on both costs and benefits.

It's also clear that the salaries of the majors compared in the studies are accurately sorted based the combination of intelligence+ambition.

Self-deprecating take on #6: Do economics majors still do all that well when you exclude the top 25-50 schools from the analysis?

They still probably do a lot better than your average English Lit major, that doesn't come from a well connected family.

A more parsimonious explanation could be that economics is just STEM-lite: it's better than pure liberal arts in terms of making money, but not as good as the more analytic, fact-based fields.

'Economists are people who are good with numbers, but don't have the personality to become accountants'

My accounting buddies learned to evaluate a situation based only on costs.

As someone who has taken some accounting courses and has worked with accountants, your buddies should sue their professors for malpractice.

I want to spit this out just to orient my point: I think Marx had two main avenues of analysis. The first was an internal critique of Ricardo that was meant to show deductively that profit must come from wages, the second was a sort of sociological one based upon newspapers and government reports, etc., that showed how bad things were getting for most of the English population. The first did seem to imply the engine would eventually blow up, while the second, taking place in the real world, was more of an empirical question of whether or not things could be made better for more people. Jevons took care of the first point, and, I don't know, Bismarck, the second point, I suppose.

Following Galbraith, I've yet to see any law or deductive theory in my reading of Piketty. It's more like a trend. Secondly, politically, Piketty is basically dealing with problems that many people are dealing with and in the same way. He's worried about the confluence of wealth concentration and political concentration, and how best to pay for the legislation we actually enact. It's good that it's selling and providing a catalyst towards discussion of these issues, but anyone who is frightened by Piketty isn't reading him, I would guess.

Finally, economists sometimes call something a rule or law that simply isn't a rule or law. As I've said, it's often just a trend or, where a rule is concerned, a loose set of guidelines.

I am not frightened about Piketty, or Marx for that matter. You are right, they are just arguments and data. But I am frightened by people using or misusing the arguments and data in Piketty to convince people to make radical changes to economies to resolve what are at the end of the day relatively trivial problems. There were many millions of people killed and many billions of people kept in poverty in the 20C by the misguided attempt to deal with the perceived problem of inequality in wages and wealth. It was only when people, like the Chinese Politburo, decided to ignore this problem that we actually saw dramatic improvements in the general human condition. Surely we don't have to go through that all again. Envy of rich people cannot and should not be the basis for structuring an economy.

ChrisA, I can't summarily dismiss your points because I made similar points back in early 2009 on various blogs:
"The unfolding debt drama in Russia, Ukraine, and the EU states of Eastern Europe has reached acute danger point.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Last Updated: 2:05AM GMT 15 Feb 2009"
However, back then, I was worried about a debt-flationary spiral leading to massive and lingering unemployment. Unemployment did get very bad, but not to the levels I'd feared, since we didn't get a spiral, but more like slow-motion debt-deflation, while the lingering point has been somewhat validated by history. But Piketty's book is best seen, in my view, as an exposition of some worrying economic and political problems that exist today, but that, if seriously addressed now, would come nowhere close to endangering our basic system. What could do that, however, is ignoring the problems and allowing them to get worse. You can make it an ideological discussion if you'd like, but to me it's a purely empirical and pragmatic matter.

It was only when people, like the Chinese Politburo, decided to ignore this problem that we actually saw dramatic improvements in the general human condition.

Actually that's not at all the histroy of China in the 20th century but okay I guess just another misinformed person hanging around here.

2. The lack of material on this about someone who's been in politics so long tells you everything you need to know.

3. Obviously the solution is more gun control.

From #7: James K. Galbraith is professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the University of Texas at Austin, and author of the forthcoming book, The End of Normal.

That's quite an original title!

On #2 (Modi), there is a recent publication by Maitreesh Ghatak and Sanchari Roy that may be useful.
"Gujarat, one of the richest states in India, was always at par or ahead of the rest of India during the 1980s, and unambiguously ahead in the 1990s. There is no evidence of any differential acceleration in the 2000s, when Narendra Modi has been in power, relative to the 1990s, both with respect to the country as a whole, as well as other major states. This is robust to using alternative measures of income (gross state domestic product or per capita income), alternative methods of computing growth rates, and keeping or dropping the year 2000-01, for which Gujarat had a negative growth rate following the Bhuj earthquake."

I don't see why this is a bad thing: there is nothing that is natural about a state growing. Probably different policies were required at different times. It is arguable later policies were harder, it is also equally arguable that earlier policies were harder.

And growth came from where earlier, where does it come from now? There's more nuance to this than just hey look at growth rates its pretty similar.

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