Archive for the ‘Marginal Revolution’ tag
I’ve got a bit a (well-earned) reputation for seeing Christmas as inefficient economically. Tyler Cowen raises some interesting points both for and against that view which are worth a look. This idea made me chuckle, though that hardly makes it wrong:
Clustering a lot of the buying and marketing at the same time may lead to a better matching of purchases and products, a bit like “speed dating.”
Alex Tabarrok writes a slightly different version of a story I wrote a few years ago (I’m under no delusions that I was the first to think of it, just some self-pimping): we’re all criminals.
I broke the law yesterday and again today and I will probably break the law tomorrow. Don’t mistake me, I have done nothing wrong. I don’t even know what laws I have broken. Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that I have broken some laws, rules, or regulations recently because its hard for anyone to live today without breaking the law.
I note this more for its contrarianism than for its validity, but this was truly an unconsidered point in my mind.
But if you want to minimise animal suffering and promote more sustainable agriculture, adopting a vegetarian diet might be the worst possible thing you could do.
The primary means by which this idea is made reasonable:
Published figures suggest that, in Australia, producing wheat and other grains results in:
- at least 25 times more sentient animals being killed per kilogram of useable protein
- more environmental damage, and
- a great deal more animal cruelty than does farming red meat.
(via Marginal Revolution)
I’m a bit of connoisseur of this type of thing, and so I’m embarrassed that I just today found an utterly fantastic plain-English argument from Alex Tabarrok about why you should discount almost all news story about a really interesting new finding by scientists. (I’m a connoisseur of this kind of thing because of the number of intelligent people who seem to treat every new study about a wonder-substance or agent-of-death as meaningful.) These guidelines are a good summary:
1) In evaluating any study try to take into account the amount of background noise. That is, remember that the more hypotheses which are tested and the less selection which goes into choosing hypotheses the more likely it is that you are looking at noise.
2) Bigger samples are better. (But note that even big samples won’t help to solve the problems of observational studies which is a whole other problem).
3) Small effects are to be distrusted.
4) Multiple sources and types of evidence are desirable.
5) Evaluate literatures not individual papers.
6) Trust empirical papers which test other people’s theories more than empirical papers which test the author’s theory.
(via Tabarrok himself, in a shorter but good post about a specific study’s failure)
Increasing the size of people’s moral or compassion circles — that is, the people they see as like them; who they might refer to as “we” — is one of the most important things we can do if we want to make the world a nicer and more peaceful place. Alex Tabarrok shares some evidence that globalization is one of the primary forces doing that work today.
(I’ve been yammering about such things on Frozen Toothpaste recently, if you’re interested.)
I’m not gushing as mightily as Mr. Wehr, but this TEDx talk from Tyler Cowen is definitely worth a viewing.
Tyler Cowen thinks that influential people have more conventional opinions. While I find his theories interesting, I have to wonder if this isn’t a simple selection bias: people become and stay influential because their view are widely held. I also tend to think that “conventional wisdom” has more merit than the whole discussion gives it.
I was convinced some time ago, but for those who weren’t there’s new evidence that even the stingiest microlenders have a positive effect:
ZaFinCo was no dewy-eyed social business, but a hard-nosed, profit-minded company, charging 11.75 per cent per month on a four-month loan, or 200 per cent APR, much more than Compartamos was generally judged to have been charging.
Despite the high rates, the results were astonishing. “We expected to see some good effects and some bad,” explained Karlan, who checked in with the experiment’s participants six to 12 months after they had filed their initial loan applications. “But we basically only saw good effects.”
Most strikingly, those “treated” by the experiment - that is, those for whom the computer requested a second chance at a loan - were much more likely to have kept their jobs than the control group. They were also much less likely to have dropped below the poverty line or to have gone hungry. All these outcomes were recorded well after the loan had been taken out and (usually) repaid, so this was not measuring a temporary debt-funded binge.
Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman
If you think of Mr. Krugman as an often shrill mostly political columnist — as I frequently do — this was something of a surprise. But the folks at Marginal Revolution are here to make sure you understand that this was actually closer to inevitable.
Democrats and the Economy
Two semi-scientific surveys point to the facts that:
- Democratic presidents have been historically better for the economy than Republicans.
- A survey of 500 economists by Scott Adams (he of Dilbert fame) shows them more likely to favor Obama’s economic policies, nearly 2-to-1. (via /., Tyler Cowen comments)
Feel free to read as much and as little bias into these items as you wish.