Monday, April 30, 2012

Great ammunition for public choice economists

Ganesh said that he gave the deity whatever money he could spare, which was sometimes as little as one rupee—roughly two cents.  Everything in the temple, Ganesh said, came from devotees like him, and he added, “So of course it belongs to God!”.
Wouldn’t it be a good thing, I asked if the deity’s wealth were used to help people?  By that logic, Ganesh said, valuable objects should also be removed from churches and mosques.  Moreover, he insisted, the money would not “reach the right hands.” 
“If the government takes hold of the temple’s wealth, they will loot it,” Ganesh concluded.
—Halpern, Jake.  April 30, 2012.  “The Secret of the Temple.”  The New Yorker.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Born to be, or not to be, religious

Almost half of American adults, for example, have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lifetime, and most do so before age 24…once people enter adulthood they tend to stick with one category, retaining either faith in God or the absence thereof…
Recent research suggests, however, that this is not the whole story.  By studying the correlations among thousands of individuals’ religious beliefs and measures of their thoughts and behaviors, scientists have discovered that certain personality types are predisposed to land on different spots of the religiosity spectrum.  Genetic factors account for more than half of the variability among people on the core dimensions of their character, which implies that a person’s feelings regarding religion also contain a genetic component.
…religious individuals tend to display agreeable and conscientious behaviors.  For example, religious people are inclined to show cooperation in laboratory experiments and to volunteer in real life.  They also endorse healthy lifestyles that reflect self-control such as low alcohol, drug and tobacco use.
…In a way, we are born to be inclined toward religion or atheism.  Does God call us?  For some of us, the answer is yes: through our genes, parents, acquaintances and life events.
—Saroglou, Vassilis.  May/June, 2012.  “Are We Born to Be Religious?”  Scientific American Mind.

Subliminal Messages

On September 12, 1957, Vicary called a press conference to announce the results of an unusual experiment.  Over the course of six weeks during the preceding summer, he had arranged to have slogans—specifically, “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola”—flashed for three milliseconds, every five seconds, onto a movie screen…the messages had increased soda sales at the theater by 18 percent and popcorn sales by 58 percent.
The public reacted with fury…
There was a glitch, however.  Researchers tried to replicate Vicary’s findings…but none succeeded.  After five years Vicary confessed that his so-called experiment was “a gimmick.”
—Stroebe, Wolfgang.  May/June, 2012.  “The Subtle Power of Hidden Messages.”  Scientific American Mind.

Other People's Money

The Air Force is being criticized for changing its motto, Doing God's Work with Other People's Money, to, Doing Miracles with Other People's Money.

The Humanist Magazine says, "It's hard to say what's more offensive--choosing 'miracles' as a better euphemism for making war than 'God's work,' or the part about doing it with other people's money."

Good point, but writers for this magazine have very Progressive politics, even on economic issues. Do they not recognize that Progressive economic policies are all about taking and spending other people's money?

Stoic Wisdom

 You must be one man, either good or bad. You must either cultivate your own ruling faculty, or external things; you must either exercise your skill on internal things or on external things; that is you must either maintain the position of a philosopher or that of a common person.
—Epictetus.  The Enchiridion of Epictetus. Narrative 29. Translated by George Long (1888).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bailey's DNA

The Genographic Project, administered by the National Geographic Society, allows you to submit your saliva for DNA extraction, after which they analyze portions of your DNA from your mother or father's side (you must pick, and I picked my father's DNA) to determine your ancestry.  The results for me are below.

My DNA reveals that I belong to haplogroup R1b, M343 (Subclade R1b1a2, M269), which is shared by most men in southern England, and parts of Spain and Ireland.

One of my earliest ancestor came out of Northeastern Africa and through the Middle East around 50,000 years ago. Into Iran and Central Asia around 40,000 years ago, my ancestors were then among the first group of humans to populate Europe, in the German region about 30,000 years ago, and I am a direct descendant of the Cro-Magnons.

They may have then settled in England, France, Spain, or remained in Germany.

Pretty damn cool.

Stoic Wisdom: Epictetus on Envy

Has any man been preferred before you at a banquet, or in being saluted, or in being invited to a consultation? If these things are good, you ought to rejoice that he has obtained them: but if bad, be not grieved because you have not obtained them; and remember that you cannot, if you do not the same things in order to obtain what is not in our power, be considered worthy of the same (equal) things. For how can a man obtain an equal share with another when he does not visit a man's doors as that other man does, when he does not attend him when he goes abroad, as the other man does; when he does not praise (flatter) him as another does? You will be unjust then and insatiable, if you do not part with the price, in return for which those things are sold, and if you wish to obtain them for nothing.  Well, what is the price of lettuces? An obolus perhaps. If then a man gives up the obolus, and receives the lettuces, and if you do not give up the obolus and do not obtain the lettuces do not suppose that you receive less than he who has got the lettuces; for as he has the lettuces, so you have the obolus which you did not give. In the same way then in the other matter also you have not been invited to a man's feast, for you did not give to the host the price at which the supper is sold; but he sells it for praise (flattery), he sells it for personal attention. Give then the price, if it is for your interest, for which it is sold. But if you wish both not to give the price and to obtain the things, you are insatiable and silly.

—Epictetus.  The Enchiridion of Epictetus. Narrative 25. Translated by George Long (1888).

What caused the financial crisis?

If you ask people where [financial] risk will flow, there are two camps. One says risk will flow to the smartest person, the person who best understands it; and the other [camp] says risk will flow to the dumbest person, the person who least understands it. And at least based on my experience and my understanding of what has been happening in the derivatives market, it’s the latter. 
—Frank Partnoy. “Money, Power & Wall Street. Frontline. PBS.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ethical Meat: An Essay

Recently, Jayson Lusk and I entered an essay contest hosted by the New York Times on when it is ethical to eat meat. Our essay was not selected, so I'm posting it here. I suspect people didn't like the idea of counting more happy cows as "more ethical" because the animals are raised to be killed for meat.

The finalists selected are here. It seems many contributors believe fertilizer comes mainly from animal manure when it comes almost exclusively from fossil fuels. Or, maybe people believe it is unethical to use fossil fuels as fertilizer.

The Ethical Omnivore
by Jayson Lusk and Bailey Norwood

Who is more ethical: a vegan whose diet prohibits the existence of suffering animals or an omnivore whose desire for meat brings into existence happy animals? Vegans have gained the moral high ground by pointing out that their choices prevent the existence of suffering animals, but seldom do we realize that their actions also prevent the lives of what would be happy animals. Making the world a better place involves more than just preventing the bad. It also means promoting the good.

An ethical justification for meat-eating must ultimately revolve around the actual outcomes experienced by animals—something too often forgotten when a dietary choice becomes a salient part of one’s identity. We can all agree that a sad animal is less preferred than a happy animal, and that two sad animals are less preferred than one sad animal. That is why vegans tout the absence of meat in their diet. Some farm animals live unpleasant lives and the less meat consumed, the less misery the world contains.

However, if we accept this premise, we must also agree that it is better for a happy animal to exist than no animal at all, and that two happy animals are better than one happy animal. While it is certainly true that many animals (farmed and wild alike) live miserable lives, it is also true that many farm animals experience more positive than negative emotions throughout life. Beef cattle, for instance, live most their lives with ample food, protected from predators, and in natural, comfortable habitats. In such cases, it is in the animals’ best interest that they live, and because livestock producers do not raise millions of cows as pets, these happy animals will only live if farmers are paid to raise them—paid by omnivores.

An omnivorous diet that includes food derived from happy animals—and only happy animals—is ethical because it brings into existence animals who live in merriment and precludes the existence of animals who would live in misery.

The ethics of meat eating are more vividly seen by imagining the reality of animal abolition. Attempts to ethically equate ownership of livestock and ownership of human slaves are shaky because the abolition of human slaves and livestock entail vastly different outcomes. Humans can care for themselves. Yet if livestock ownership ceased, we would not witness freedom-loving cows but the near extinction of a species. Farm animals are raised for profit. Animal abolition eliminates the possibility of profit, and implies that many millions of animals will not come into existence. So long as we believe two happy animals are better than one, and one happy animal is better than no animal, animal abolition is unethical.

It would be wrong to categorically assert that meat-eating is ethical. So too would it be wrong to universally claim veganism is the pinnacle of ethical eating. Meat comes from some animals who lead pleasant lives and some who did not. A diet is made ethical when it creates greater happiness, and the only way to effectively ensure that more happy cows exist is to buy meat from farmers who treat their animals well, and to refuse meat from farmers who do not. Instead of asking ourselves whether we should eat meat or go vegan, we should be asking which type of happy animal we will eat today.

—Jayson L. Lusk and F. Bailey Norwood are professors at Oklahoma State University and authors of Compassion, by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Resources for Personal Finance

Each year my Introduction to Agricultural Economics class must create a retirement plan, where they describe what percent of their income they will save, how they will invest the money, and the like. Below are the resources provided for them. Perhaps others must find it useful also.

  1. Saving and investing for retirement
  2. What percent of my income should I save for retirement?
  3. The risks that bonds carry.
  4. Finance Terminology

Bailey Explains the Great Recession

Here is a webpage describing the Great Recession I use in my class. It is still a draft but all the multimedia is final.