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NYS Parent Teachers association joins the ranks of the climate deniers.

At the end of 2016, the NYS-PTA passed a resolution that aims to remove genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) foods from school cafeterias throughout the state.
Resolutions adopted in November will:

• Support mandatory labeling of GMO and GE foods.

• Support regulations barring pesticide-tolerant GMOs and GE foods from use in food and beverages provided by school meal programs and vending services.

• Encourage schools to avoid the use of foods and beverages that contain pesticide-tolerant GMOs and GE foods until such regulations are in effect.

• Encourage education of parents and community members on the health and environmental effects of pesticide-tolerant GMOs and GE food products.

And in this nice Op-Ed from the Buffalo News:

The last resolution is incredibly ironic as it includes the concept of increasing education, while simultaneously promoting false beliefs that are not founded in science. If done correctly, that class would be very short. It might go something like this:

“Welcome class. There are no known negative health effects from GMOs, despite that myth being propagated by certain people.

“The scientific community widely agrees on and supports the use of GMOs for many reasons, one of which is that there is not a single case of any known negative health effects. If you don’t believe me, please read the letter sent to Greenpeace, signed by over 100 Nobel laureates, stating that GMOs are safe. Class dismissed.”

That is of course the opinion of a molecular biology PhD – and I am merely passing along the ideas for you here.

Ban Plants!

A very misunderstood idea is that “organic” foods are grown without pesticides. This is patently untrue. Organic foods are grown with “approved” pesticides – generally those that have a biological origin. Of course, this does not mean that these pesticides are worse, or better, than “unnaturally” produced chemical pesticides (aren’t biological pesticides also chemicals? Oh, ignore my semantics … that’s too scientific)?

But let’s think about this a little bit more. Did you ever wonder why certain foods taste the way they do, particularly on the bitter side? Did you ever wonder why ANY plants exist at all, if the worry is that pests and animals will just eat them all? Well of course plants are clever creatures too, and they obviously make their OWN protection. And this protection can be quite poisonous. Think about a common food – cassava, which is one of the most important staple crops on Earth. Cassava needs serious preparation before being allowed for human consumption – it has cyanide in it. Yes, the stuff that we put in the little pills we send up with the astronauts. Cyanide! And of course, many poorer regions of the world rely on cassava – and since the cassava requires extensive cooking to get rid of the cyanide, we put enormous pressure on poorer areas to find enough fuel to do it. So, we are “allowing” poor countries to deforest and rely on unsustainable biomass practices to cook their foods, and we “allow” them to eat dangerous and poison foods. Yet, our “first-world” sensibilities (mostly European, but increasingly in America) deny these very same people access to biotechnology that could make their farming and eating lives far safer and more sustainable.

In any case, if we are serious about “healthy” foods and keeping poisons out of our fields, farms and bodies, I think the obvious conclusion is to ban plants. Think about it. If we had banned plants, then it is possible that Alexander Supertramp would have survived his excursion up into the Alaskan Wilderness, instead of having the unfortunate luck of likely ingesting canavanine, an antimetabolite that is likely stored in the seeds of the organic, natural, local, wild potatoes he ingested, which was developed by many leguminous species to ward off predators.

 

“But that’s NOT what we are talking about!”

What ARE we talking about then?

Among the peeviest of my pet peeves is watching car commercials. Thankfully I don’t have to watch too many as I have largely substituted away from almost all forms of advertising. But think about all of these local car commercials that advertise amazing lease deals:

“Just $199 for a Ford F-150 Extended Cab, for 36 month lease!”

“Now get your Ford Escape for only $99”

“Drive a Kia for $149 per month”

And on and on.

And anyone who knows anything about basic financing, and cars, realizes these are about as close to being lies as you can get without actually telling lies.

In the fine print, of course you will see something like, “lease terms based on 36 month lease, with minimum $3,999 plus first month’s payment, plus taxes, title and registration due at signing.”

Well, hell … my house is valued at about $180,000. If I sold it to you, I would be willing to finance it for you personally for the measly sum of $10 per month for 5 years. I would do this so long as you paid me $179,400 today (ignore discounting and investing).

So, yeah, my house can be had for the incredible lease rate of $10 per month – but that is only true in about the most meaningless way possible.

HOW the HECK do regulators not put a stop to this? Don’t we have some new Warren-esque powers embodied in the CFPB that is supposed to do something about it? An economic puzzle is why some car company doesn’t call out the fraud on their competitors and make profits by being more honest? Are people that behaviorally crippled? My best guess is that local politics and regulation is sort of a partially owned subsidiary of the automobile dealers, so it is cronyism plain as day.

Any other thoughts?

I would definitely favor some cracking down on this – free market be damned, if damned it need be (and I do not suspect this is a “free market” phenomenon).

Enviro-Swap

If we truly wanted to reduce emissions from automobiles, and to save energy at the same time, we should hope to see a major swap. What would that be?

Well, we would want to see all of the Toyota Priuses adorned with the following bumper sticker:

Instead of the more typical ones you would find on them, such as:

Indeed, to complete the enviro-swap, we should certainly want to see all of the Ford F-150s, Hummers, sports cars and such sport the latter sticker.

I wonder how many F-150s have Buy Local stickers on them?

 

Quite literally almost every single person involved in college athletics/kidney donations gets paid except the very people who are generating the lion’s share of value in the first place. Tell me an argument in favor of banning kidney sales and then insert “college athlete” and see how that sounds. Of course, neither the athlete nor donor could realize the value of their “production” if they did not also rely on the cooperation of many, many others, but that is true of ANY action in our modern interconnected world.

When you see a kidney donor, ask them how they feel about their amateur status. Better yet, ask the hundred thousand people waiting for one what they think of their amateur status. When you see a college athlete, particularly in the revenue sports at schools that generate revenues, ask them if they get deep satisfaction in their morally superior “donor” status.

Here is my new policy preference. I used to advocate for legalizing kidneys and having competitive labor markets determine athlete pay. But that makes me some kind of horrific person. But let’s try this one on for size – if we REALLY believe in the morality of organ donation and if we really believe the concept of amateurism ever existed in sports (it did not even exist for ancient Greek Olympians, who were well paid for their services, and the origin of amateur sports in college was as much an effort to keep the lower classes away from tarnishing the sports that only the rich could afford to do) … but again, if you REALLY believe in amateurism and altruism in organ markets – then let’s get behind a law that bans ANY funds or compensation from exchanging hands for ANYONE who is in ANY way involved in the processes. So, transplant surgeons and nurses and anesthesiologists and bed-sheet makers and orderlies and insurance company workers and government insurance workers and organ donor network employees, and coaches and trainers and gym supervisors and gym issue room attendants, referees, and anyone else should all be required to do what they do for no pay. I will get on board with your programs when you actually take your own programs seriously.

 

It is well understood that the incidence of defaults on college debt is higher on people with smaller loans outstanding. These are marginally attached students to begin with. Remember that 40% of students who start college do not finish.

Yet, contrast this with where the “noise” is coming from on “free college” and the “college loan crisis.”

We have yet another example of a generally wealthy and elite population looking for goodies at the expense of the less well-off. The race for regressive redistribution continues, while people smugly celebrate the opposite. Listening to the term “free college” is like hearing nails on a chalkboard – not just for the economic challenge of it, but for the proud regressive redistribution that supposedly “progressive” policy advocates are calling for.

We can examine calls for “free health care” with the same lens as well.

There is a rich survey literature out there demonstrating that when Americans are asked if they want ‘free goodies’ from their government, they voraciously lap up the idea. When surveys ask them to put even a little skin into that game, support drops to statistical noise levels. Shocker. Not.

 

You are doing your students, and our world, an enormous injustice by telling them that wealth and income does not matter. Increasing wealth comes along with improvements in health, reductions in oppression, increases in opportunity – but I increasingly encounter students who simply dismiss out of hand that wealth is important. Note, I am not saying it is the “only” thing, but it is important, and very much a precondition for human betterment on a wide variety of measures.

… the Bastiat Bowl.

 

It seems to me that anti-GMO activists are open and proud discriminators on the basis of sex. Transgenic breeding techniques are targeted methods of introducing genes with particularly desirable characteristics into a plant or animal species. These very same characteristics have been for thousands of years, and can currently be, bred traditionally into plant and animal species. The outcomes are no different – in fact since transgenic approaches presumably can better target the genes to be transferred, there is very likely to be less of a concern regarding unintended side-effects and other acquired traits when these characteristics are introduced using modern biological technologies over more “traditional” breeding methods and certainly from mutation breeding.

Thus, to restate what we’ve argued here before, being opposed to “Genetic Modification” of plants and animals because they are GMOS and not because of the actual characteristics that are being selected for, is very akin to being opposed to parents conceiving of children through different sexual positions and practices. I’d pay a lot of money (OK, I wouldn’t, but I’d get a smile) to see a child advocacy group say, because they are concerned about the health of children, that only children produced via the missionary sexual position should be permitted.

Now, of course, I am taking the  very worst of the anti-GMO characterizations here, but those do seem to get more press than the moderate and understandable concerns some people may have. This report from the National Academy of Sciences does the GMO-thingy the right way. It takes all of the concerns seriously, and invited the harshest critics like Greenpeace to be part of the discussion process in putting together this report. This report ought to be the baseline for how the public discussion of GMOs takes place – but in my admittedly jaded view, the hysterical and sexually discriminating claims of the activists end up being the starting points for most conversations. This baseline framing of the issue is in my view not correct. But what do I know, I am only an economist.

It is surely the case that Mr. Bentham’s lifetime utility is much larger than would have otherwise been the case. How much should his satisfaction be weighted in the global social utility function? I most certainly love it when my students tell me that they are visiting London or planning to study abroad at UCL – I always ask them to wander on by to visit our old philosopher friend. Yes, that is him, his head has been fixed up a bunch I am told.

Many thanks to B.A. for the photo.

Bentham

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