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Weekend Ponderance

If I told you that global total oil consumption was about 90 million barrels per day, or about 33 billion barrels per year, it would sound big.

What if, instead, I said, the entire world consumes only 4,000 olympic sized swimming pools of oil per day? That’s about what “we” do in fact consume.

UPDATE: I originally had some number like 130, it was a cut and paste error that I missed from my web page (4,130 by on calculation I had). I still think it sounds small.

In reading various papers and books that talk about biodiversity and the need to both measure and promote it (agreed!), you will encounter an idea of a thing called an “Indicator Species.” These would be species to examine, in part, to understand how healthy or threatened an ecosystem is. In various books on oceans I have read that mussels and oysters are good indicator species for marine health. I’m about to use the term “Indicator Species” improperly and I think there is a term for what I am about to talk about, I just don’t know what it is. In many ecosystems you can examine the health of the system by seeing what the top or largest predators are doing.

A basic question is, first, ARE THEY THERE?  An example of what I am talking about is the recent discovery of humpback whales in New York City. Yes! They may be indicative of a healthier marine system first because they are there, but really because it signals that there are enough fish and other foods there to make to make it worth their time to follow them all the way to New York. I bet the traffic is still bad. This may lead one to believe that the waters around New York are healthier than they have been in a very long time – if fish populations are growing there must be enough good habitat and smaller food organisms for them too, and for those smaller organisms to succeed water quality must be amenable to them. And so the whale’s presence, and probably its abundance, is an indicator of ecological health.

And here is where the dinner invitation is rescinded: If you type “humans as an in” into the Google Search bar, the first thing that comes up is, “Humans as an Invasive Species.” You’ll notice NO entry for Humans as an Indicator Species. Indeed if you proceed to google that term you get no direct results on it of the millions that come up for ants, slugs and the like. If you google it in quotes, you get a grand total of FIVE hits. FIVE. But seriously, if there is ever a measure of “sustainability” at least as it pertains to people, is whether they in fact exist SOMEWHERE and exist in large numbers somewhere. And by that metric, since we’d managed to flourish in just about every corner of the globe and now have managed to live for months on end in space, on Antarctica and in deserts, it is hard to argue that things are not going well. Life expectancy is at an all time high. Infectious disease fatalities are falling. Cancer death rates are falling. Calories per person are more available than any point in known history. And so on. But heaven forbid we actually ever use a real, living, breathing human being as an indicator of success. Seems strange to me especially given the slogans we see regularly invoked in the name of people.

On a somewhat related note, I came across this cartoon today:

Funny. Ha ha. But it’s silly really. We are so amazing with our technology that we can farm fish. And we are so amazing that we can feed them corn instead of ocean foods. And we can grow this corn using less water and land today than ever in our history, and applying less herbicides and pesticides than before. And with that Genetic Modification we can keep doing this, including the types of fish we grow. But then our awesome powers of science and adaptation wouldn’t be able to make the fish taste like whatever we really wanted it to taste like? I know, I know – that would sort of be the next panel in their “joke.” But … it’s a panel that should be there, and illustrates the very WORST case scenario for us – and a pretty darn good scenario that is. After all, we can already do this and also this and I don’t see people lamenting our ability to adapt in that particular way. Curious.

Ahh, nothing like the anticipation of seeing the future of a freshly seeded lawn …

image (2) image (1)

I lifted this from the end of my previous post:

Why on Earth would anyone be “worried” about this? Prices adjust. Entrepreneurs respond. Unless of course one can’t help but think that everything good in the world comes as a result of conscious policy choices. Drive around Rochester and there are already quite a few communities and developments popping up to satisfy those needs. Imagine this author writing in 1900: “today 40% of America lives and works on a farm but researchers estimate that by the end of the century less than 3% of Americans will live in this way. Today’s farm buildings are designed and built for a rough, rugged and hearty rural population – far from towns, with questionable plumbing and long rutted driveways, little closet space and nary an internet connection. How can tomorrow’s generation of connected, hip, “I want it now” people ever manage to survive in a country that was not built precisely for them, 40 years before they needed it? One can only imagine. But hopefully we can enact smart policies to ensure adequate housing for these future urbanites and figure out what to do with the enormous amount of silos, farm outbuildings and quaint farmhouses that just won’t suit the millions of new urban dwellers a 100 years from now. In addition to having to worry about the onset of a world war, a flu pandemic and the rapid deforestation of the American wilderness, add this menace to your list!”

This article from the Wonkblog (the Vox folks’ old stomping grounds) argues that America has a growing food inequality problem.

Let’s not dispute that claim. With growing income inequality it would not at all be surprising to see consumption inequality follow-suit, even if you expect it to be less dramatic.

But awkwardly, the article vaguely references food prices.  They claim that healthful foods have always cost more than unhealthful foods. But that does not in any way make their point. If they have always cost more than unhealthful foods, then why is inequality increasing? Are they getting relatively MORE expensive today? Certainly for all foods this is not true even in an absolute sense. The question for the author and our dear TUW readers: what has actually happened to real food prices over the last XX years? Here’s a hint: they’ve fallen. Sharply.

A further question comes from a rather startling admission in the piece,

“But it’s likely knowledge-driven, too. People from lower socioeconomic tiers may have limited opportunity to learn about the effects of unhealthy foods and the consequences resultant from unhealthy diets. The study found a strong correlation between education level and performance in the health index. “

I find this to be entirely unbelievable. I’d like any of you to go out in the street and ask anyone, regardless of their apparent SES, what they understand about what they eat and how they eat. Furthermore, don’t we have compulsory schooling up to about age 16 in “free” government schools, most with reduced price or free lunch service and certainly every one of them offering all kids of education on healthy living. To be honest, I think the sentiment in the quote above is rather demeaning,

And here, I don’t understand the point that is trying to be made:

America’s growing food inequality isn’t merely affecting the poor. Diet-driven diseases like obesity and diabetes now cost the country hundred of billions of dollars every year.

Does this mean that food inequality makes those at the upper end fat? Maybe, I don’t know. I’d like to see data on the distribution of BMI by education and income group – my hunch is that there is no relationship, or certainly not one that would confirm the point above. And the piece closes with another statement that quite frankly I don’t understand and certainly see no evidence provided for:

No matter the cause, the gap is marginalizing a significant portion of the population. “In America, food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say—social class. It used to be clothing and fashion, but no longer, now that ‘luxury’ has become affordable and available to all

How is it marginalizing? After all, aren’t people in different classes now living farther and farther apart from one another? Would such inequality even be recognizable? And of course, while I am sure the real price of clothing and apparel has fallen, does it follow that status and luxury clothing is more accessible than food, even high quality food, over this time period?

Elsewhere: why on Earth would anyone be “worried” about this? Prices adjust. Entrepreneurs respond. Unless of course one can’t help but think that everything good in the world comes as a result of conscious policy choices. Drive around Rochester and there are already quite a few communities and developments popping up to satisfy those needs. Imagine this author writing in 1900: “today 40% of America lives and works on a farm but researchers estimate that by the end of the century less than 3% of Americans will live in this way. Today’s farm buildings are designed and built for a rough, rugged and hearty rural population – far from towns, with questionable plumbing and long rutted driveways, little closet space and nary an internet connection. How can tomorrow’s generation of connected, hip, “I want it now” people ever manage to survive in a country that was not built precisely for them, 40 years before they needed it? One can only imagine. But hopefully we can enact smart policies to ensure adequate housing for these future urbanites and figure out what to do with the enormous amount of silos, farm outbuildings and quaint farmhouses that just won’t suit the millions of new urban dwellers a 100 years from now. In addition to having to worry about the onset of a world war, a flu pandemic and the rapid deforestation of the American wilderness, add this menace to your list!”

Today is our first day of classes. I used to be excited about it, and now it is just a giant pit in my stomach.

For the record, just so it doesn’t have to be imagined anymore in other classrooms and by people who have never so much as said hello to me:

  • I support the exploitation of workers by “corporations” and “capitalists. I especially like it when such exploited workers are women and underrepresented minorities.
  • I support the exploitation of the environment.
  • I support the pursuit and accrual of short-term profits at the expense of long term profits and sustainable business.
  • I support everything the Koch Brothers, Exxon, McDonalds, Big Pharma, etc. have ever done, anywhere, and under any circumstance. I supported it before they started paying me. Now I REALLY support it.
  • I know everything there is to know.
  • Economists have a monopoly on viewing the world. All other disciplines have nothing to contribute.
  • I discriminate against everyone, even when I am not consciously doing so.
  • .. fill in whatever you like, that’s par for the course.

This research paper hit my desk this morning:

Positive Long Run Capital Taxation: Chamley-Judd Revisited
by Ludwig Straub, Ivan Werning  -  #20441 (EFG PE)

Abstract:

According to the Chamley-Judd result, capital should not be taxed in
the long run.  In this paper, we overturn this conclusion, showing
that it does not follow from the very models used to derive them.
For the model in Judd (1985), we prove that the long run tax on
capital is positive and significant, whenever the intertemporal
elasticity of substitution is below one.  For higher elasticities,
the tax converges to zero but may do so at a slow rate, after
centuries of high capital taxation.  The model in Chamley (1986)
imposes an upper bound on capital taxation and we prove that the tax
rate may end up at this bound indefinitely.  When, instead, the
bounds do not bind forever, the long run tax is indeed zero; however,
when preferences are recursive but non-additive across time, the
zero-capital-tax limit comes accompanied by zero private wealth (zero
tax base) or by zero labor taxes (first best).  Finally, we explain
why the equivalence of a positive capital tax with ever rising
consumption taxes does not provide a firm rationale against capital
taxation.

http://papers.nber.org/papers/W20441?utm_campaign=ntw&utm_medium=email&utm_source=ntw

Was walking in front of a shop the other day when I saw a pretty tacky piece of memorabilia for sale. Even my own initial response was, “anything for a buck!”

So what?

I think I should have changed my sentence to, “someone somewhere thought a customer might be willing to give me more of what I want in exchange for this piece of memorabilia.” That’s true after all, isn’t it?

And think of how our thinking is different if we remove money from the language and instead talk about why we actually acquire money – to secure the goods and services that we want and need.

“Anything to be able to get the things she needs!”

Doesn’t sound quite the same, does it? But use the term “buck” and our impression changes.

  1. If you read the popular progressive literature, you would come to believe that only progressives actually care about other people. It’s a startling observation, no? There’s no reason to try to rebut this aside from its obvious absurdity.
  2. Do most people actually care about other people in the first place? Regarding the progressives, a group with which I used to have much sympathy and continue to be fascinated by, if you examine the disgust and vituperation steaming off of their web pages for anyone who is NOT a progressive, it sure seems hard to believe they care about anyone other than their small group of wonks. Lord forbid anyone utter the word “conservative” or “libertarian” in their presence – the spears and arrows soon come out. And let’s not talk about “the rich?” If a group of folks wanted to champion itself as actually giving a hoot about humanity, it sure is odd to see them treat some portions of humanity as subhuman – if I were into analogies now would be a perfect time, but it would be lost on folks and likely misinterpreted. Let’s just say such treatment is reminiscent of how certain groups of people are claimed to be treated by none other than the progressives. What is particularly odd about the progressives is that their worldview seems to rule out the possibility that there are actually some poor conservatives and libertarians out there, that there are actually some underrepresented conservatives and libertarians out there, and that when blanket statements like, “Conservatives believe …!” (they KNOW this because a ridiculously put together poll says so) they therefore are calling every single conservative and libertarian similar, and not worthy of individual consideration. Strange for a group that supposedly champions the opposite.
    NOTE: this is not a particularly generous assessment and commits the very “group” association of all “progressives” as being the same that I quite abhor. I think grammatically we need to come up with a way to talk about “a prominent theme that is encountered by public representatives of a group of people who like to fancy themselves by a particular name …” but that’s a little cumbersome.
  3. What, exactly, does “working class” mean? I have a funny feeling that I am not included among this group. I wonder if my more progressive colleagues would be honored with the label?
  4. I’d like to start a new movement. It’s the “what, exactly, do you want?” movement. When I hear someone railing against some condition or some supposedly ignorant thought that a group of people hold or propose some policy, I want to see people say exactly what it is that they want. I want to see, for example, what kind of pay distribution they think is OK. I want to see what people are permitted into what occupations and at what levels, and I want to see it in fine detail. I want to see people say exactly who should pay more in taxes, who exactly should be more regulated, on a very detailed basis. So, if you think “the rich” should nonetheless do more, I want you to say how much more, I want you to investigate my current income, my current assets and spending habits and tell me what ought to go. I want to see folks apply every bit of the logic that they apply to broadly defined and fuzzily observed groups down to themselves, and if their ideas are not applied consistently to themselves I’d like to see why they are exempt from it. After all, in the context of the global poor and global inequality, even the most moderate apportioned of Americans is disgustingly rich and part of the “global 1%.” When I hear arguments that the minimum wage should be increased, I want people to go into the small stores and shops that have workers, identify who is underpaid and why they are underpaid, and tell the shop owners that they must pay all of their workers more, and to tell them why this is so, and tell them why as entrepreneurs that they have an extra responsibility to pay people more while the wonks and really serious people get to tap away at their keyboards demanding it all the while not hiring a single person themselves. And more. It will never happen of course.
  5. I am very much in favor of a generous welfare state. I’d change it of course, but I am myself skeptical that the changes I prefer would actually be an improvement on what we have now. I’ve been wrong about a few things in the past too. I would wish, on this labor day, for people to admit they might not know how to do things, and that they have been wrong in the past. I’d like them to mean it. It will never happen of course.
  6. I am very much in favor of a generous welfare state. Among the changes I’d like to see are cultural ones. I would start by inculcating in all people that sure you may be entitled to “help” by some moral philosophy, but that there are conditions upon which your entitlement should be granted, including among them gratitude and a requirement that you actually ASK for the help that you will be getting, and that this is not a one-shot deal. Of course, this will never happen.
  7. Labor Day is every day.

Say the really serious people.

And they continue, “the point is to change it.”

How’s that for reporting the news? Read the piece. Don’t you think they’d get bored parroting the same “points” time and again?

Here’s a shocker – maybe:

1) People don’t care nearly as much about “inequality” as the wonks do

2) Policy preferred by the world changers actually is counterproductive?

3) Policy preferred by the world changers is relatively impotent?

4) Here’s a real cynical take – maybe politically the world changers do better when there is more inequality?

But I’m not nearly as confident in any of that as are the world changers.

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