Shared posts

03 Jun 07:17

Intimate Partner Violence in the Great Recession

by Tyler Cowen

That is a recent paper from Schneider, Harknett, and Mclanahan (pdf), here is the abstract:

In the United States, the Great Recession has been marked by severe negative shocks to labor market conditions. In this study, we combine longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study with Bureau of Labor Statistics data on local area unemployment rates to examine the relationship between adverse labor market conditions and intimate partner violence between 1999 and 2010. We find that rapidly worsening labor market conditions are associated with increases in the prevalence of violent/controlling behavior in marriage. These effects are most pronounced among whites and those with at least some post-secondary education. Worsening economic conditions significantly increase the risk that white mothers and more educated mothers will be in violent/controlling marriages rather than high quality marital unions.
That backlash seems to have started more or less right away…

The post Intimate Partner Violence in the Great Recession appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

25 May 05:19

What the hell is going on?

by Tyler Cowen

Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria.  I could list more such events.

Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up?  What the hell is going on?

I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis.  I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.

The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males.  The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them?  Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer.  They do less well with nice.  And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes).  A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs.  They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.

To borrow a phrasing from Peter Thiel, perhaps men did better in the age of “technological progress without globalization” rather than “globalization without technological progress,” as has been the case as of late.

Here’s a line from Martin Wolf:

Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton note, in addition, a sharp relative deterioration in mortality and morbidity among middle-aged white American men, due to suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse.

For American men ages 18-34, more of them live with their parents than with romantic partners.

Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority.  Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here?  And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.

The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem.  It might even make it worse.

Again, we don’t know this is true.  But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two.  It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible.  Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.

One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done.  But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick.  Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus.  But how to do that?  That world went away for some good reasons.

If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it.  It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes.  It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure.  And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.

What percentage of men are brutes anyway?  Let’s hope we don’t find out.

The post What the hell is going on? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

19 May 03:16

Become part of a tree after you die

by Saving Our Trees
I love memorial trees.  To me they represent life, beauty & a celebration of the life of the person who has passed.  I know that memorial trees are very healing for people who have lost someone they love. I am excited to see that finally we can choose to have our cremated remains become part of […]
08 May 07:15

Trump voters are fairly well off

by Tyler Cowen

Trump voters’ median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states, sometimes narrowly (as in New Hampshire or Missouri) but sometimes substantially. In Florida, for instance, the median household income for Trump voters was about $70,000, compared with $48,000 for the state as a whole. The differences are usually larger in states with substantial non-white populations, as black and Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly Democratic and tend to have lower incomes. In South Carolina, for example, the median Trump supporter had a household income of $72,000, while the median for Clinton supporters was $39,000.


However, while Republican turnout has considerably increased overall from four years ago, there’s no sign of a particularly heavy turnout among “working-class” or lower-income Republicans. On average in states where exit polls were conducted both this year and in the Republican campaign four years ago, 29 percent of GOP voters have had household incomes below $50,000 this year, compared with 31 percent in 2012.

About 44 percent of Trump supporters have a college degree, compared to 29 percent for the nation as a whole.

That is from Nate Silver, by the way here is my conversation with Nate, transcript, audio, and video at the link.

The post Trump voters are fairly well off appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

29 Apr 08:43

Looking back on your past can make you less likely to suffer depression in the future

by Research Digest

I don't find the research here super convincing with regard to the claim being made, but it does run contra my worldview so I am considering it

Is spending time looking back on our lives good for our mental health? A lot of research suggests it is, but these studies have been cross-sectional, making it hard to form a clear causal story – for example, perhaps being happier makes it more likely that people will reminisce. On the other hand, there are therapeutic trials that show purposeful reminiscence can bring about clinically meaningful decreases in depression. Now, a longitudinal investigation in Applied Cognitive Psychology provides further evidence for the benefits of the right kind of looking back, and it shows that reminiscence has this effect by building up our psychological resources.

The work, from Deakin University’s David Hallford and David Mellor, recruited 171 adult US participants (average age 26) using Amazon's Mechanical Turk survey website. At two time points a week apart, the participants rated their levels of depression symptoms and they reflected on the past week, reporting how much they had thought or talked about their personal history during that time, and whether they had done it to achieve either of two specific goals: to help define who they are today – the identity function of reminiscence – or to remind themselves that they have the skills or character to deal with present challenges, which is the problem-solving function. Past research suggests these adaptive uses of reminiscence are what seem to have the clinical effects over time. The current study clarified that these kinds of reminiscence were not associated with lower levels of depression in the same week that the reminiscence took place, but were associated with less depression one week later. So, you’re not necessarily in a better state during periods when you are being reflective, but reminiscing now is likely to protect you against depression in the future.

Note, the effects of reminiscence on next week’s depression symptoms were not direct. Rather, reminiscence affected a set of positive psychological resources: self esteem, confidence in own ability, optimism and meaning in life. And where these resources were enhanced, depression dropped.

Although the participants in this study reported a range of depression symptoms, they were not diagnosed with clinical depression. Nonetheless, the results do suggest a cognitive explanation for how reminiscence-based therapy is effective for people with more serious depression. Rather than reminiscence activating brain pathways that somehow flush out depression, it provides sense, meaning and ways of thinking to free the individual from feelings of joylessness or despair. Prior evidence (albeit cross-sectional) has suggested that reminiscence can cut both ways – dwelling on bitter experiences can increase our psychological distress, and I should emphasise that this new research focused on adaptive reminiscence. Casting your mind back through the past to reflect on the person you are, or are constantly becoming; treating your experience as a testimonial to what you are capable of. By these activities, we can nourish the psyche and protect our wellbeing.


Hallford, D., & Mellor, D. (2016). Autobiographical Memory and Depression: Identity-continuity and Problem-solving Functions Indirectly Predict Symptoms over Time through Psychological Well-being Applied Cognitive Psychology, 30 (2), 152-159 DOI: 10.1002/acp.3169

--further reading--
Do you remember the time? How collective nostalgia inspires group loyalty
Feeling chilly? Indulge in some nostalgia

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

Our free weekly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!

26 Apr 11:31

Police versus Prisons

by Alex Tabarrok

Here’s a remarkable graph from the Council of Economic Advisers report on incarceration and the criminal justice system. The graph shows that the United States employs many more prison guards per-capita than does the rest of the world. Given our prison population that isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that on a per-capita basis we employ 35% fewer police than the world average.* That’s crazy.

polce v prison

Our focus on prisons over police may be crazy but it is consistent with what I called Gary Becker’s Greatest Mistake, the idea that an optimal punishment system combines a low probability of being punished with a harsh punishment if caught. That theory runs counter to what I have called the good parenting theory of punishment in which optimal punishments are quick, clear, and consistent and because of that, need not be harsh.

We need to change what it means to be “tough on crime.” Instead of longer sentences let’s make “tough on crime” mean increasing the probability of capture for those who commit crimes.

Increasing the number of police on the street, for example, would increase capture rates and deter crime and by doing so it would also reduce the prison population. Indeed, in a survey of crime and policing that Jon Klick and I wrote in 2010 we found that a cost-benefit analysis would justify doubling the number of police on the street. We based our calculation not only on our own research from Washington DC but also on the research of many other economists which together provide a remarkably consistent estimate that a 10% increase in policing would reduce crime by 3 to 5%. Using our estimates, as well as those of some more recent papers, the Council of Economic Advisers also estimates big benefits (somewhat larger than ours) from an increase in policing. Moreover, what the CEA makes clear is that a dollar spent on policing is more effective at reducing crime than a dollar spent on imprisoning.

Unfortunately, selling the public on more policing is likely to be difficult. Some of the communities most in need of more police are also communities with some of the worst policing problems. We aren’t likely to get more policing until people are convinced that we have better policing. Moreover, people are right to be skeptical because the type of policing that works is not simply boots on the ground. As the CEA report notes:

Model policing tactics are marked by trust, transparency, and collaborations between police and community stakeholders…

Better policing and more policing complement one another. Greater trust can come with body cameras as well as community oversight and other efforts to bring transparency and accountability. Most importantly, the drug war has eroded trust between police and community and that has led to an endogenous equilibrium in which some communities are rife with both drugs and crime. Fortunately, marijuana decriminalization and legalization have begun to move resources away from the war on drugs. Legalization in states like Colorado does not appear to have increased crime and has likely contributed to a dramatic decline of violence in Mexico. As we move resources away from drug crime, police will have more resources to raise the punishment rate for those traditional crimes like murder, robbery and rape that communities everywhere do want punished.

Addendum: See also Peter Orszag’s column on this issue.
* Corrected: Earlier I said spending rather than employment.

The post Police versus Prisons appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

02 Apr 16:12

The drone wars sex workers culture that is Oklahoma advertising markets in everything

by Tyler Cowen

what a dude

A sex worker in Oklahoma who was filmed using a quadcopter by a self-described “video vigilante” has pleaded guilty to a lewdness charge. According to a report from BBC News, the woman was sentenced to a year in state prison for the misdemeanor, although the case is still pending against her alleged client.

The encounter between the two was filmed by drone pilot Brian Bates, a known figure in Oklahoma City who describes himself as a “video vigilante.” Bates has long used video cameras to capture footage of alleged sex workers, which he uploads to his YouTube channel and his website,, earning money through ad revenue in the process.


Here is the full story, the photo is of Bates, who because of a famous musical does not live in the most obscure state.

I thank a loyal MR reader for the pointer.  And here is the Roam-E-Selfie drone.

Addendum: It is worse than you think.  In the comments Jason Bayz alerts us to this story:

FEBRUARY 9–An Oklahoma man who has gained national exposure for his “video vigilante” campaign to expose street prostitution in his hometown was arrested yesterday for allegedly paying hookers to ensure that they serviced customers in an area where he could easily film the illicit trysts.

According to the below Oklahoma City Police Department report, Brian Bates, 34, orchestrated the public encounters so he could peddle the resulting videotape to media outlets (some of Bates’s surveillance tapes are offered for sale on his web site).

In his dealings with prostitutes, Bates was choosy, investigators contend.

For example, if a john was a “regular,” Bates asked prostitutes to give “specific signals” so he would know not to bother rolling tape. Investigators also noted that, like any good auteur, Bates “gave direction to the prostitutes on how to complete the act with a high probability of success,” as well as tips on how to spot an undercover cop.

Bates was hit with a felony pandering charge and a misdemeanor count of aiding in prostitution. The pandering rap, which is usually reserved for pimps, carries a minimum two-year jail term, and a maximum of 20 years in the stir.

Jason wins the internet today!

The post The drone wars sex workers culture that is Oklahoma advertising markets in everything appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

27 Mar 02:23

Don’t murder markets in everything

by Tyler Cowen

But when Holmes was released from prison last year, officials in this city offered something unusual to try to keep him alive: money. They began paying Holmes as much as $1,000 a month not to commit another gun crime.

Cities across the country, beginning with the District of Columbia, are moving to copy Richmond’s controversial approach because early indications show it has helped reduce homicide rates. [TC: that is Richmond, CA]

But the program requires governments to reject some basic tenets of law enforcement even as it challenges notions of appropriate ways to spend tax dollars.

…And yet, interest in the program is surging among urban politicians. Officials in Miami, Toledo, Baltimore and more than a dozen cities in between are studying how to replicate Richmond’s program.

…five years into Richmond’s multimillion-dollar experiment, 84 of 88 young men who have participated in the program remain alive, and 4 in 5 have not been suspected of another gun crime or suffered a bullet wound, according to DeVone Boggan, founder of the Richmond effort.

And how is this for bizarre?

Boggan believes that travel is another key to the program’s success. He sets aside $10,000 per fellow for trips that are often the first time participants have left the state or the country. But fellows must agree to partner with someone they have either tried to kill or who attempted to kill them.

“Wild, right?” Boggan says. “But they get out there and realize, ‘Hey, this cat’s just like me.’ ” Boggan’s measure of success: No fellows who have traveled together have been suspected in subsequent shootings against one another.

File under Department of Why Not?

Here is the full story, fascinating throughout, via Michael Rosenwald.

The post Don’t murder markets in everything appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

02 Mar 09:38

Why "reaching training" for babies might soon become a thing

by Research Digest

this is interesting but my gut is that this is the sort of thing that can jump a kid out early but by the time they're five there's no lasting effect

Babies' first motor skills – how early they learn to reach for things and explore them – are related to their later abilities, both motor skills (such as crawling and walking) and skills in other domains, such as their vocabulary. This raises the intriguing possibility that those early motor abilities facilitate subsequent developments, triggering what psychologists call a "developmental cascade". This makes sense – for example, a baby who can already reach for and interact with things tends to attract more attention from his or her parents, which in turn is likely to foster further broad developmental progress.

A new study in Developmental Science has tested this cascade theory with a training intervention. The researchers in America recruited a group of 14 three-month-old babies and their mothers, and for two weeks, the mothers were instructed to engage their infants in ten minutes per day of active reaching training. This involved the babies wearing Velcro covered mittens and being encouraged to reach for Velcro covered toys, with the Velcro helping the babies to successfully reach for and obtain the toys. A comparison group of 11 three-month-olds and their mothers spent the same time performing a passive version of the training, without the Velcro, in which the mothers touched the toys to their infants' hands. The babies also completed a basic test of their grasping skills, before and after their training.

When the babies were 15 months old, they returned to the psychology lab and were videoed playing with a bead-maze toy (a wooden block with metal wires attached, along which beads could be pushed). A further control group of fifteen 15-month-old babies who hadn't participated in any training at three months were also videoed playing with the toy.

The babies who'd received the active reaching training at 3 months of age showed more precocious motor and attentional skills when playing with the toy, as compared with the two other groups. For example, they spent more time looking at, grasping and rotating the toy and less time being distracted. Moreover,  the babies' post-training, but not pre-training, grasping abilities at age 3 months were related to their play behaviour at 15 months, consistent with the idea that the early training had had a long-term influence.

The study involved only a small number of children, all of whom were from highly educated families, and this wasn't a true randomised controlled trial because the no-training control group were recruited later and only visited the lab once. Nonetheless, these are fascinating results that suggest infants' very early motor abilities have long-lasting knock-on effects on their later development, and that it may be possible to intervene early to assist this process. The researchers said intervening in this way might be particularly beneficial to babies born preterm and children at risk for autism, who are known to show motor delays and reduced grasping movements early in infancy.


Libertus, K., Joh, A., & Needham, A. (2015). Motor training at 3 months affects object exploration 12 months later Developmental Science DOI: 10.1111/desc.12370

--further reading--
How babies go sole searching
10 surprising things babies can do

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Our free fortnightly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!

02 Mar 06:04

What are the core differences between Republicans and Democrats?

by Tyler Cowen

I liked this, and the fifth paragraph from the bottom has some good language w/r/t helping me figure out why John Oliver et al have started to bother me so much

Paul Krugman has a long post on this question, here is part of his bottom line:

…the Democratic Party…[is] a coalition of teachers’ unions, trial lawyers, birth control advocates, wonkish (not, not “monkish” — down, spell check, down!) economists, etc., often finding common ground but by no means guaranteed to fall in line. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has generally been monolithic, with an orthodoxy nobody dares question. Or at least nobody until you-know-who…

My view is not so far from that, but I would put it a little differently and then push harder on some other dimensions of the distinction (btw Brad DeLong comments).  The Republican Party is held together by the core premise that the status of some traditionally important groups be supported and indeed extended.  That would include “white male producers,” but not only.  You could add soldiers, Christians (many but not all kinds), married mothers, gun owners, and other groups to that list.

(The success of Trump by the way is that he appeals to that revaluation of values directly, and bypasses or revises or ignores a lot of the associated policy positions.  That is why the Republican Party finds it so hard to counter him and also fears it will lose its privileged position, were Trump to win.  The older Republican policy positions haven’t delivered much to people for quite some time.)

Democrats are a looser coalition of interest groups.  They agree less on exactly which groups should rise in status, or why, but they share a skepticism about the Republican program for status allocation, leading many Democrats to dislike the Republicans themselves and to feel superior to them.  In any case, that underlying diversity does mean fewer litmus tests and potentially a much broader political base, as we observe in higher turnout Presidential elections, which Democrats are more likely to win these days.  That also means more room for intellectual flexibility, although in some historical eras this operates as a negative.

Right off the bat, this distinction between the two parties puts most blacks, single women, and most but not all Hispanics in the Democratic camp.  Not-yet-assimilated immigrants have a hard time going Republican, even though a lot of high-achieving Asians might seem like natural conservatives.  No matter how much Republicans talk about broadening their message, the core point is still “we want to raise the status of groups which you don’t belong to!”  That’s a tough sell, and furthermore the Republicans can fall all too readily into the roles of being oppressors, or at least talking like oppressors.

Republicans, who are focused on the status of some core groups at the exclusion of others, are more likely to lack empathy.  Democrats, who oppose some of the previously existing status relations, and who deeply oppose the Republican ideology, are more likely to exhibit neuroticism.

It is easy for Republicans to see the higher neuroticism of Democrats, and easier for Democrats to see the lesser empathy of Republicans.  It is harder for each side to see its own flaws, or to see how the other side recognizes its flaws so accurately.

Academics are one of the interest groups courted by Democrats.  Academics want to appear high status and reasonable, and Democrats offer academics some of those features in the affiliation, including the option to feel they are better than Republicans.  So on issues such as evolution vs. creationism (but not only), Democrats truly are more reasonable and more scientific.  Academics consume those status goods, plus the academics already had some natural tendencies toward neuroticism.

Academics shouldn’t feel too good about this bargain.  They are being “used” as all party interest groups are, and how much reasonableness they can consume in the Democratic coalition will ebb and flow with objective conditions.  In the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, it was common for Democrats to be more delusional than Republicans, and those days may someday return, though not this year.

Next, we must move beyond the federal level to understand the two parties, and that is also a good litmus test for whether a discussion of the two parties is probing as opposed to self-comforting.

At the state and local level, the governments controlled by Republicans tend to be better run, sometimes much better run, than those controlled by the Democrats (oops).  And a big piece of how American people actually experience government comes at the state and local level.

This superior performance stems from at least two factors.  First, Republican delusions often matter less at the state and local level, and furthermore what the core Republican status groups want from state and local government is actually pretty conducive to decent outcomes.  The Democrats in contrast keep on doling out favors and goodies to their multitude of interest groups, and that often harms outcomes.  The Democrats find it harder to “get tough,” even when that is what is called for, and they have less of a values program to cohere around, for better or worse.

Second, the states with a lot of Democrats are probably on average harder to govern well (with some notable Southern exceptions).  That may excuse the quality of Democratic leadership to some degree, but it is not an entirely favorable truth for the broader Democratic ethos.  Republicans, of course, recognize this reality.  Even a lot of independent voters realize they might prefer local Republican governance, and so in the current equilibrium a strong majority of governors, state legislatures, and the like are Republican.

Think on those facts — or on the state of Illinois — the next time you hear the Democrats described as the reality-oriented community.  That self-description is “the opium of the Democrats.”

If you wish to try to understand Republicans, think of them as seeing a bunch of states, full of Republicans, and ruled by Republicans, and functioning pretty well.  (Go visit Utah!)  They think the rest of America should be much more like those places.  They also find that core intuition stronger than the potential list of views where Democrats are more reasonable or more correct, and that is why they are not much budged by the intellectual Democratic commentary.  Too often the Democrats cannot readily fathom this.

At some level the Republicans might know the Democrats have valid substantive points, but they sooner think “Let’s first put status relations in line, then our debates might get somewhere.  In the meantime, I’m not going to cotton well to a debate designed to lower the status of the really important groups and their values.”  And so the dialogue doesn’t get very far.

Again, both the Democrats and the Republicans have their ready made, mostly true, and repeatedly self-confirming stories about the defects of the other.  They need only read the news to feel better about themselves, and the academic contingent of the Democrats is better at this than are most ordinary citizens.  There is thus a rather large cottage industry of intellectuals interpreting and channeling these stories to Democratic voters and sympathizers.  On the right, you will find an equally large cottage industry, sometimes reeking of intolerance or at least imperfect tolerance, peddling mostly true stories about the failures of Democratic governance, absurd political correctness, tribal loyalties, and so on.  That industry has a smaller role for the intellectuals and a larger role for preachers and talk radio.

It is easier for intelligent foreigners to buy more heavily into the Democratic stories.  They feel more comfortable with the associated status relations, and furthermore foreigners are less likely to be connected to American state and local government, so they don’t have much sense of how the Republicans actually are more sensible in many circumstances.

It would be wrong to conclude that the two parties both ought to be despised.  This is human life, and it is also politics, and politics cannot be avoided.  These are what motivations look like.  Overall these motivations have helped create and support a lot of wonderful lives and a lot of what is noble in the human spirit. We should honor that side of American life, while being truly and yet critically patriotic.

That said, I see no reason to fall for any of these narratives.  The goal is to stand above these biases as much as possible, and communicate some kind of higher synthesis, in the hope of making it all a bit better.

This year, I’m just hoping it doesn’t get too much worse.  In the last few years I have seen some nascent signs that Democrats are becoming less reasonable at the national level, for instance their embrace of the $15 national minimum wage.  I also am seeing signs that the Republicans are becoming less fit to govern at the local level, probably because national-level ideology is shaping too many smaller scale, ostensibly pragmatic decisions.  The Trump fixation also could end up hurting the quality of Republican state and local government.  So this portrait could end up changing fairly rapidly and maybe not for the better.

The post What are the core differences between Republicans and Democrats? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

07 Nov 09:31

When we get depressed, we lose our ability to go with our gut instincts

by Research Digest

well this explains a lot

People who are depressed often complain that they find it difficult to make decisions. A new study provides an explanation. Carina Remmers and her colleagues tested 29 patients diagnosed with major depression and 27 healthy controls and they found that the people with depression had an impaired ability to go with their gut instincts, or what we might call intuition.

Intuition is not an easy skill to measure. The researchers' approach was to present participants with triads of words (e.g. SALT DEEP FOAM) and the task was to decide in less than three and a half seconds whether the three words were linked in meaning by a fourth word (in this case the answer was "yes" and the word was SEA). Some triads were linked, others weren't.

If the participants answered that the words were linked, they were given eight more seconds to provide the linking fourth word. However, it was perfectly acceptable for them to say that they felt the words were linked, but that they didn't know how. Indeed, when this occurred, it was taken by the researchers as an instance of intuition - that is, "knowing without knowing how one knows".

There were no differences between the depressed patients and controls in the number of times they provided the correct fourth, linking word, nor in the number times they provided no response at all. This suggests both groups were equally motivated and attentive to the task. But crucially, the depressed patients scored fewer correct intuitive answers (i.e. those times they stated correctly that the words were linked, but they didn't consciously know how).

Having poorer intuition on the task was associated with scoring higher on a measure of brooding (indicated by agreement with statements like "When I am sad, I think 'Why do I have problems others don't have?'"), and in turn this association appeared to be explained by the fact that the brooding patients felt more miserable.

Remmers and her team said their study makes an important contribution - in fact, it's the first time that intuition has been studied in people with major depression. The results are also consistent with past research involving healthy people that's shown low mood encourages an analytical style of thought and inhibits a creative, more intuitive thinking style.

However, I couldn't help doubting the realism of the measure of intuition used in this study. Is a judgement about word meanings really comparable to the gut decisions people have to make in their lives about jobs and relationships?

Two further questions that also remain outstanding are whether an impairment in intuitive thinking is a symptom or cause of depression; and is this intuition deficit specific to depression or will it be found in patients with other mental health problems?


Remmers C, Topolinski S, Dietrich DE, & Michalak J (2014). Impaired intuition in patients with major depressive disorder. The British journal of clinical psychology / the British Psychological Society PMID: 25307321

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

16 Oct 11:30

California’s Water Shortage

by Alex Tabarrok

In the 1970s the US faced a serious shock to the supply of oil but the shortage of oil was caused by price controls. Today, California is facing a serious water drought but the shortage of water is caused by price controls, subsidies and the lack of water markets. In an excellent column, The Risks of Cheap Water, Eduardo Porter writes:

Water is far too cheap across most American cities and towns. But what’s worse is the way the United States quenches the thirst of farmers, who account for 80 percent of the nation’s water consumption and for whom water costs virtually nothing….

Farmers in California’s Imperial Irrigation District pay $20 per acre-foot, less than a tenth of what it can cost in San Diego….This kind of arrangement helps explain why about half the 60 million acres of irrigated land in the United States use flood irrigation, just flooding the fields with water, which is about as wasteful a method as there is.

Tyler and I discuss water subsidies in Modern Principles:

Farmers use the subsidized water to transform desert into prime agricultural
land. But turning a California desert into cropland makes about as much sense
as building greenhouses in Alaska! America already has plenty of land on which
cotton can be grown cheaply. Spending billions of dollars to dam rivers and
transport water hundreds of miles to grow a crop that can be grown more cheaply
in Georgia is a waste of resources, a deadweight loss. The water used to grow California cotton, for example, has much higher value producing silicon chips in
San Jose or as drinking water in Los Angeles than it does as irrigation water.

The waste of subsidized water is compounded by over 100 years of rent-seeking and a resulting legal morass that makes trading water extremely difficult (see Aquanomics for a good analysis). A water trading system is slowly taking form in the American West but the political transaction costs are immense. Australia, however, faced similar difficulties but has managed to develop a good water trading system and Chile has long had a robust market in water. Subsidies to farmers are politically sustainable when everyone has as much water as they want but when faced with continued shortages and an ever-intrusive water Stasi consumers and industry may eventually demand a more rational, less wasteful system based on incentives, markets and prices.

27 Sep 18:20

Huntington Beach Man With Nothing Better To Do Visits Disneyland For 1,000 Days Straight

by Carman Tse
Huntington Beach Man With Nothing Better To Do Visits Disneyland For 1,000 Days Straight A Huntington Beach man has gone to infinity and beyond on his quest to visit Disneyland as much as he can. [ more › ]

24 Sep 05:28

Should we hope to live to very ripe old ages?

by Tyler Cowen

I say yes.  A number of you have been asking me for comments on this now-famous Atlantic piece by Ezekiel Emanuel.  You should read his whole argument, but here is one bit:

…here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

Ezekiel basically wishes not to live beyond age 75.  Not that he will do himself in, but he regards that as a limit past which it is probably not desirable to go.  Just to be clear, I don’t read Emanuel as wishing to impose or even “nudge” this view on others, he is stating a personal vision.  Still, it strikes me as a somewhat strange approach to understanding the value of a life or estimating when that value ends.  The value of an individual life is to be sure somewhat ineffable, but for that same reason it is difficult for a life to lose so much of its value.

It is easy for me to see how a person could be a valuable role model for others past the age of seventy-five.  I expect Ezekiel in particular to fulfill this function superbly.  I still think frequently of the late Marvin Becker, the Princeton (later UM) Renaissance historian, who for me was an important role model at the age of seventy-seven.  Marvin often used to say “Oh, to be seventy again!”  He had more than his share of aches and pains, but he was always a comfort and joy to his wife Betty, and most likely to his children and grandchildren as well.

Or visit the list of words in Emanuel’s paragraph, cited above.  Many people are “disabled” to begin with, and many other lives are “deprived” to begin with, for one thing most of the lives in the world’s poorer countries.   But they are still, on the whole, extremely valuable lives.  I don’t just mean that external parties should respect the rights and lives of those persons, but rather internally and individually those lives are of great value.

To pick another word from that paragraph, “creativity” is overrated and most of us do not have it in the first place.  And if one does have it, perhaps its passing is in some ways a liberation rather than a personal tragedy.

I would rather be remembered as “that really old guy who hung on forever because he loved life so much” than as vibrant.  At some points I felt this piece needed a…marginal revolution.

And to sound petty for a moment, I don’t want to pass away during the opening moments of a Carlsen-Caruana match, or before an NBA season has finished (well, it depends on the season), or before the final volumes of Knausgaard are translated into English.  And this is a never-ending supply.  The world is a fascinating place and I fully expect to appreciate it at the age of eighty, albeit with some faculties less sharp.  What if the Fermi Paradox is resolved, or a good theory of quantum gravity developed?  What else might be worth waiting for?

I cannot help but feel that Emanuel is overrating some key aspects of what are supposed to be making his current life valuable, and thus undervaluing his future life past age seventy-five.  (See David Henderson too on that point.)

It was Dan Quisenberry who once said: “The future is much like the present, only longer.”

More to the point, and coming from the marginalist camp, there is Art Buchwald, who noted: “Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.”

15 Sep 11:20

The Case for Open Borders

by Alex Tabarrok

Dylan Matthews summarizes the The Case for Open Borders drawing on an excellent interview with Bryan Caplan. Here is one bit from the interview:

Letting someone get a job is not a kind of charity. It’s not a welfare program. It’s just the government leaving people alone to go and make something out of their lives. When most people are on earth are dealt such a bad hand, to try to stop them from bettering their condition seems a very cruel thing to do to someone.

My elevator pitch has no economics in it, because the economics is actually too subtle to really explain in an elevator pitch. If I had a little bit more time, I would say, “What do you think the effects for men have been of more women in the workforce?”

Are there some men who are worse off? Sure. But would we really be a richer society if we kept half the population stuck at home? Isn’t it better to take people who have useful skills and let them do something with it, than to just keep them locked up someplace where their skills go to waste?

Isn’t that not just better for them, but better for people in general, if we allow people to use their skills to contribute to the world instead of keeping them shut up someplace where they just twiddle their thumbs or do subsistence agriculture or whatever?

On the economics, David Roodman has a characteristically careful and comprehensive review written for Givewell of the evidence on the effect of immigration on native wages. He writes, “the available evidence paints a fairly consistent and plausible picture”:

  • There is almost no evidence of anything close to one-to-one crowding out by new immigrant arrivals to the job market in industrial countries. Most studies find that 10% growth in the immigrant “stock” changes natives’ earnings by between –2% and +2% (@Longhi, Nijkamp, and Poot 2005@, Fig 1; @Peri 2014@, Pg 1). Although serious questions can be raised about the reliability of most studies, the scarcity of evidence for great pessimism stands as a fact (emphasis added, AT)….
  • One factor dampening the economic side effects of immigration is that immigrants are consumers as well as producers. They increase domestic demand for goods and services, perhaps even more quickly than they increase domestic production (@Hercowitz and Yashiv 2002@), since they must consume as soon as they arrive. They expand the economic pie even as they compete for a slice. This is not to suggest that the market mechanism is perfect—adjustment to new arrivals is not instantaneous and may be incomplete—but the mechanism does operate.
  • A second dampener is that in industrial economies, the capital supply tends to expand along with the workforce. More workers leads to more offices and more factories. Were receiving economies not flexible in this way, they would not be rich. This mechanism too may not be complete or immediate, but it is substantial in the long run: since the industrial revolution, population has doubled many times in the US and other now-wealthy nations, and the capital stock has kept pace, so that today there is more capital per worker than 200 years ago.
  • A third dampener is that while workers who are similar compete, ones who are different complement. An expansion in the diligent manual labor available to the home renovation business can spur that industry to grow, which will increase its demand for other kinds of workers, from skilled general contractors who can manage complex projects for English-speaking clients to scientists who develop new materials for home building. Symmetrically, an influx of high-skill workers can increase demand for low-skill ones. More computer programmers means more tech businesses, which means more need for janitors and security guards. Again, the effect is certain, though its speed and size are not.
  • …one way to cushion the impact of low-skill migration on low-skill workers already present is to increase skilled immigration in tandem.

Plaudits are due to Givewell. While others are focused on giving cows, Givewell is going after the really big gains.

10 Aug 12:40

Paul Krugman on libertarian fantasies

by Tyler Cowen

He writes:

…the cost of bureaucracy is in general vastly overestimated. Compensation of workers accounts for only around 6 percent of non defense federal spending, and only a fraction of that compensation goes to people you could reasonably call bureaucrats.

And what Konczal says about welfare is also true, although harder to quantify, for regulation. For sure there are wasteful and unnecessary government regulations — but not nearly as many as libertarians want to believe. When, for example, meddling bureaucrats tell you what you can and can’t have in your dishwashing detergent, it turns out that there’s a very good reason. America in 2014 is not India under the License Raj.

In other words, libertarianism is a crusade against problems we don’t have, or at least not to the extent the libertarians want to imagine.


And what all this means in turn is that libertarianism does not offer a workable policy agenda. I don’t mean that I dislike the agenda, which is a separate issue; I mean that if we should somehow end up with libertarian government, it would quickly find itself unable to fulfill any of its promises.

You can read his further points here.  In fact I agree with many of Krugman’s observations in what I thought was overall a useful post.  It’s just that I think a lot of other viewpoints are living in a fantasy world too.

That said, Krugman grossly underestimates the costs of government regulation.  For one thing, government regulations are a major obstacle to the infrastructure improvements which Krugman is so keen on.  To use Krugman’s own pick of the cherry, he wrote another post defending the DMV for its on-line service and reasonable wait times.  It was not always so, but on top of that let’s not forget the Virginia DMV just tried to put Uber and other ride-sharing services out of business (Krugman himself wrote rapturously about Uber a few weeks ago and how it held out the promise of a society with diminished car ownership in some locales.  I say bring it on.)  Fortunately the regulators were temporarily overriden in this case, although they may reemerge as an obstacle in a subsequent bargain.  More generally, taxi license and medallion requirements are a disgrace in many places, and who is in charge of that?  Typically the DMV.

You might also ask whether DMVs underregulate where they ought to regulate more.  The number of road deaths in the United States each year is so high as to be scandalous.  I am not sure how much this problem can be pinned on the DMV (how easy is it to get very bad drivers off the road through legal/constitutional means?), but still it is hard to argue that in absolute terms these agencies are overseeing a successful regime of road safety.

04 Aug 08:30

The iPhone Effect - when mobile devices intrude on our face-to-face encounters

by Research Digest
You've probably experienced this. You're in the middle of telling your friend a story when his eyes flick across to his phone. Perhaps he even picks it up, checks the screen. "Sorry, go on," he says. But your flow is interrupted. And you know his mind is at least half elsewhere.

Shalini Misra and her team approached 100 pairs of people (109 women; average age 33) in cafes across Washington DC and neighbouring districts. They asked them to chat for ten minutes at a table in the cafe about a trivial topic (plastic festive trees) or about the most meaningful events of the past year. For each pair, the researchers observed from a discreet distance and checked whether either party put a mobile device on the table, or held one in their hand. After ten minutes was up, each person in each pair was asked to fill out a few questionnaires about the conversation and their partner.

Feelings of "interconnectedness" (rated by agreement with statements like "I felt close to my conversation partner") were reduced for pairs in which a mobile device was placed on the table or held by one of them. Similarly, "empathetic concern" (measured by items like "To what extent did your conversation partner make an effort to understand your thoughts and feelings about the topic you discussed?") was rated lower by pairs in which a mobile device was brought into view. The topic of conversation made no difference to these results, but the reduction in empathetic concern associated with the presence of a mobile device was especially pronounced for pairs of people who were in closer relationships, perhaps because their expectations about the interaction were higher.

The difference in the quality of conversations in the presence versus absence of mobile devices was modest - average scores for connectedness and empathic concern were 5.05 and 5.51 (on a 7-point scale), respectively, with devices, versus 5.36 and 5.85 without devices. Also, what this study gains in realism by being a real-world observational study, it loses in experimental control. The causal role played by smart devices can't be proven - perhaps less engaging conversational partners were more likely to reach for a smart phone or tablet.

Nonetheless, these real-world results converge with the findings of a lab study published last year that also found the mere presence of a mobile phone adversely affected strangers' feelings of social intimacy. Misra and her team say that smart mobile technologies create a "state of polyconsciousness" in which our attention is torn between the people we're with physically and those to whom we're connected by the smart device. "The result," they believe "is diminished quality of the 'here and now' interactions with co-present others."


Misra, S., Cheng, L., Genevie, J., & Yuan, M. (2014). The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices Environment and Behavior DOI: 10.1177/0013916514539755

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

28 Jul 13:45

Lost For Words, On Purpose

by Robin Hanson

classic, quasi-approachable hanson

When we use words to say how we feel, the more relevant concepts and distinctions that we know, the more precisely we can express our feelings. So you might think that the number of relevant distinctions we can express on a topic rises with a topic’s importance. That is, the more we care about something, the more distinctions we can make about it.

But consider the two cases of food and love/sex (which I’m lumping together here). It seems to me that while these topics are of comparable importance, we have a lot more ways to clearly express distinctions on foods than on love/sex. So when people want to express feelings on love/sex, they often retreat to awkward analogies and suggestive poetry. Two different categories of explanations stand out here:

1) Love/sex is low dimensional. While we care a lot about love/sex, there are only a few things we care about. Consider money as an analogy. While money is important, and finance experts know a great many distinctions, for most people the key relevant distinction is usually more vs. less money; the rest is detail. Similarly, evolution theory suggests that only a small number of dimensions about love/sex matter much to us.

2) Clear love/sex talk looks bad.  Love/sex are to supposed to have lots of non-verbal talk, so a verbal focus can detract from that. We have a norm that love/sex is to be personal and private, a norm you might seem to violate via comfortable impersonal talk that could easily be understood if quoted. And if you only talk in private, you learn fewer words, and need them less. Also, a precise vocabulary used clearly could make it seem like what you wanted from love/sex was fungible – you aren’t so much attached to particular people as to the bundle of features they provide. Precise talk could make it easier for us to consciously know what we want when, which makes it harder to self-deceive about what we want. And having available more precise words about our love/sex relations could force us to acknowledge smaller changes in relation status — if “love” is all there is, you can keep “loving” someone even as many things change.

It seems to me that both kinds of things must be going on. Even when we care greatly about a topic, we may not care about many dimensions, and we may be better off not being able to express ourselves clearly.

16 Jul 08:06

What does it feel like to be depressed?

by Research Digest
We're used to reading about depression as a checklist of symptoms. These lists have their uses, but arguably they miss the human story of what depression truly feels like. Now the psychologists Jonathan Smith and John Rhodes have published their analysis of the first-hand accounts of seven therapy clients, (three women and four men) about what it's like to be depressed for the first time. The participants had an average age of 44, and all had been referred for therapy in London.

The first theme to emerge from the interviews was the feeling of being "depleted" - in one's relationships, bodily, and in respect to the past and future. Ravi (names have been changed), who'd recently lost his job and separated from his wife, described his "relational depletion" like this:
You get into a state I think mentally where, you're just like out on an island ... You can see from that island another shore and all these people are there, but there's no way that you can get across [ ] or there is no way that you want to get across.
The idea of bodily depletion was conveyed by Sally, whose son had recently been imprisoned for nine years. "It's like part of you gone, your heart, I don't know. Perhaps half my heart has gone away." Later she adds: "I don't feel like I'm part of my body when I'm down. [ ] It's like something's gone inside me and swept my happiness away."

The feeling of the past and future being depleted (what the researchers call "temporal depletion") was captured by Paul: "I feel that everything I do, everything has been a waste." Pamela, who had been suspended from work, shared a similar sentiment:
I feel like sometimes my life is on hold. [ ] I'm going to be out of a job and that's my life over because [ ] [the company] has been my life for 20 years, you know, I've, I don't know anything else.
The second key theme to emerge from the interviews was of "being shaken" - including experiencing overwhelming emotions ("I was waiting for that fearfulness to come on like a wave," said Paul); frenzied thinking ("It feels like my brain is just racing all the time and I'm trying to think all the time," said Ravi); and the sense of an uncertain self. Regards this last point, Stewart (who'd lost access to his son after a divorce), put it like this:
Depression for me is not liking yourself, having no confidence in yourself, seeking reassurance, hanging onto anything that you can, pretty much anything emotionally, get your hands on. Lacking courage.
Reflecting on their analysis, Smith and Rhodes said it was clear that all the interviewees had in common that they felt alone, empty and that they had no future. The picture, the researchers explained, was not of a "steady, flat, fixed-state" but of a "fluctuating see-saw between long periods of descents into emptiness and moments of explosive emotion."

The authors summed up: "To feel oneself as not in relation, as not having a body and as not having a life or a future means that one is either lacking or questioning the very taken for granted qualities of human experience. This helps illuminate depression as a very powerful phenomenon which makes aberrant the most basic existential features of life."

The pair hope the insights from their research may have therapeutic implications - for example, they said an open discussion with clients of what depression entails could reassure them that their experiences are shared by others, and help to "make links between what is being felt now and what has happened to the person."


Smith, J., and Rhodes, J. (2014). Being depleted and being shaken: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of the experiential features of a first episode of depression Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice DOI: 10.1111/papt.12034

--further reading--
What's it like to have OCD?
Recovering patients describe their battles with an "anorexia voice"
A study of suicide notes left by children and young teens
What clients think CBT will be like and how it really is

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

21 Jun 11:15

The Anti-Nanny State

by Alex Tabarrok

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute calculates that:

The US government spends more on its immigration enforcement agencies than on all of its principal criminal federal law enforcement agencies combined. In FY 2012, spending for CBP, ICE and US-Visit reached nearly $18 billion. This amount exceeds by nearly 24% total spending by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Secret Service, US Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) which stood at $14.4 billion in FY 2012.

In other words, the Federal government spends more on preventing trade than on preventing murder, rape and theft. I call it the anti-nanny state. It’s hard to believe that this truly reflects the American public’s priorities.

border fence1

19 Jun 23:59

From Snow White to Snowman: A Disney Reading List | Longreads | Jun. 19, 2014


some really good pieces linked here

Here’s a collection exploring Disney’s more than 80-year grip on popular culture—the animation, the music, the princesses, and the parents killed off in the First Act.
11 Jun 18:25

Dust to Dust

by Greg Ross,_1900%29.jpg

Annihilation has no terrors for me, because I have already tried it before I was born — a hundred million years — and I have suffered more in an hour, in this life, than I remember to have suffered in the whole hundred million years put together. There was a peace, a serenity, an absence of all sense of responsibility, an absence of worry, an absence of care, grief, perplexity; and the presence of a deep content and unbroken satisfaction in that hundred million years of holiday which I look back upon with a tender longing and with a grateful desire to resume, when the opportunity comes.

– Mark Twain, Autobiography

14 May 18:32

Who benefits from drug testing?

by Tyler Cowen

Black males, overall.  Abigail K. Wozniak has a new NBER paper on this topic:

Nearly half of U.S. employers test job applicants and workers for drugs. A common assumption is that the rise of drug testing must have had negative consequences for black employment. However, the rise of employer drug testing may have benefited African-Americans by enabling non-using blacks to prove their status to employers. I use variation in the timing and nature of drug testing regulation to identify the impacts of testing on black hiring. Black employment in the testing sector is suppressed in the absence of testing, a finding which is consistent with ex ante discrimination on the basis of drug use perceptions. Adoption of pro-testing legislation increases black employment in the testing sector by 7-30% and relative wages by 1.4-13.0%, with the largest shifts among low skilled black men. Results further suggest that employers substitute white women for blacks in the absence of testing.

There is an earlier ungated version here.

30 Apr 11:00

Paul Krugman on the political salience of inequality

by Tyler Cowen

a bummer of a post that strikes me as mostly otm

Krugman wrote:

…it is notable that in a time of deeply depressed labor markets, our biggest thing is long-run inequality.

Or closer to home, I do of course track how my columns do on the most-emailed list; and there’s no question that inequality gets a bigger response than demand-side macro.

This doesn’t mean that we should (or that I will) stop trying to get the truth about depression economics across. But it’s an interesting observation, and I think it has implications for how politicians should go about doing the right thing.

This is a very interesting point (link here), but it differs from my view.  I see the inequality issue as having high salience for NYT readers, for Democratic Party donors, and for progressive activists.  It has very little salience for the American public, especially with say swing voters in southern Ohio or soccer moms.  Unlike in Singapore or South Korea, where the major concentrations of wealth are pretty hard to avoid for most people, American income inequalities are well hidden for the most part.

McLean is one of the wealthiest towns in Virginia, but if you drive through the downtown frankly it still feels a bit like a dump.  I’ve never wanted to live there, not even at lower real estate prices.  You don’t stumble upon the nicest homes unless you know where to look.  Middleburg is wealthier yet, but it has few homes, feels unreal, and most people don’t go there anyway.  If they do, they more likely admire well-groomed horses and still read Princess Diana biographies.  They are not choking with envy over the privileges of old money rentiers, and there is no Walmart in town to bring in the masses (who probably would not care anyway).

Perhaps ironically, to the extent that inequality as a phenomenon consists of the top 0.01% pulling away from the pack (not my prediction, by the way), general public resentment against the very wealthy will be especially hard to generate.  Out of sight, out of mind.

What swing voters really hate is inflation, probably irrationally so.  That does mean the aggregate demand argument won’t have much political salience, but as a result I see the Left as not quite knowing what to do next.  We’ll get pre-school in more cities, a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, and lots of action targeted at high cable bills, which for the intelligentsia will be tied to net neutrality and various mergers.  As the de Blasio reign indicates, blue cities may be the new laboratories for trying out bad ideas.  The states which won’t expand Medicaid may yet budge, but most of them are firmly in the “red” category.  The political influence of the local hospitals will matter more than intellectual discourse.

In short, you can expect a series of totally unsatisfying political debates, and they will further distort the discussions of economists, on both sides of the political ledger.

25 Apr 15:30

What was Aragorn’s Tax Policy?

by Alex Tabarrok

relevant to some interests

Excellent interview with George R. R. Martin at Rolling Stone:

How did you come up with the Wall?
The Wall predates anything else. I can trace back the inspiration for that to 1981. I was in England visiting a friend, and as we approached the border of England and Scotland, we stopped to see Hadrian’s Wall. I stood up there and I tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman legionary, standing on this wall, looking at these distant hills. It was a very profound feeling. For the Romans at that time, this was the end of civilization; it was the end of the world. We know that there were Scots beyond the hills, but they didn’t know that. It could have been any kind of monster. It was the sense of this barrier against dark forces – it planted something in me. But when you write fantasy, everything is bigger and more colorful, so I took the Wall and made it three times as long and 700 feet high, and made it out of ice.

and some political economy:

A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.

23 Apr 12:51

New Music?


man i JUST chided someone on twitter for being upset about the selfie song and now this! i don't know how to stop being mad at people for this reaction and I certainly don't know how to convince them to stop having it :/

19 Apr 19:36

Don’t put your money where your mouth is

by Tyler Cowen

I put my hand in my mouth after I touched all of that money. Could that be bad?

Not a surprise to me but yikes nonetheless:

In the first comprehensive study of the DNA on dollar bills, researchers at New York University’s Dirty Money Project found that currency is a medium of exchange for hundreds of different kinds of bacteria as bank notes pass from hand to hand.

By analyzing genetic material on $1 bills, the NYU researchers identified 3,000 types of bacteria in all—many times more than in previous studies that examined samples under a microscope. Even so, they could identify only about 20% of the non-human DNA they found because so many microorganisms haven’t yet been cataloged in genetic data banks.

Easily the most abundant species they found is one that causes acne. Others were linked to gastric ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning and staph infections, the scientists said. Some carried genes responsible for antibiotic resistance.

“It was quite amazing to us,” said Jane Carlton, director of genome sequencing at NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology where the university-funded work was performed. “We actually found that microbes grow on money.”

This was, by the way, a relatively frequent complaint in 19th century monetary writings, with the advent of banknotes.

18 Apr 16:10

The Socialization of Medicine

by Alex Tabarrok

good news imo, tho that is a gut reaction and I may be wrong

“We understand that we doctors should be and are stewards of the larger society as well as of the patient in our examination room,” said Dr. Lowell E. Schnipper, the chairman of a task force on value in cancer care at the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

In practical terms, new guidelines being developed by the medical groups could result in doctors choosing one drug over another for cost reasons or even deciding that a particular treatment — at the end of life, for example — is too expensive.

More from the NYTimes.

11 Apr 00:22

10 Things We Learned From 'Earthquake Lady' Lucy Jones' Reddit AMA

by Emma G. Gallegos
10 Things We Learned From 'Earthquake Lady' Lucy Jones' Reddit AMA "Earthquake lady" Lucy Jones went on Reddit to debunk some of the useless myths that surround the still-mysterious phenomenon of earthquakes. But she also shared some facts about building codes in Southern California that left us feeling a bit...shaken. [ more › ]

29 Mar 07:03

From the comments, Charles Mann on Chinese coal

by Tyler Cowen

we are all going to die

In any case, according to most analysts — see, e.g., Bloomberg, “The Future of China’s Power Sector”, Aug. 2013 — China won’t stop putting in coal plants. Indeed. Bloomberg projects that 343-450 gigawatts of new coal generation will be built in China over the next fifteen years, more than the total capacity of the entire US coal base (300 gigawatts). China’s power needs are so big that even if it installs solar and wind facilities faster than any other nation has ever emplaced them, the nation will still bring online 1 large 500 MW coal plant *per week* from now until 2030.

Even if somehow China *could* build enough solar and wind plants in time, it still would be building coal plants, too. The basic reason is that solar panels in China typically produce <20% of their annual peak capacity (China has few sunny regions) and wind 80% of peak capacity and do it all the time, so to get reliable power you have to build vastly more peak capacity from renewables than coal, and China can’t afford that.

There is more, including more from Mann, here.