Monday, July 21, 2014

Cognitive limitations

Cbristina Sommers on the limits of reason:

I only recently came to appreciate the limited power of logic, reason and evidence to change minds. Most of us, whether we know it or not, are driven by emotion and group loyalty. Cognitive scientists have long known about a phenomenon called “motivated reasoning”—we tend to use logic and reason, not to discover what we believe, but to confirm what we already think we know. Instead of changing our minds in the face of contradictory evidence, we are more likely to seize on rationalizations for what we already believe. I see this tendency in myself once in a while and try mightily to resist it.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Multiplying by drawing lines

Here is a cute little trick to multiply without knowing the multiplication tables.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The dangers of scientific consensus

From the Wall Street Journal, "The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease":
Our half-century effort to cut back on the consumption of meat, eggs and whole-fat dairy has a tragic quality. More than a billion dollars have been spent trying to prove Ancel Keys's hypothesis, but evidence of its benefits has never been produced. It is time to put the saturated-fat hypothesis to bed and to move on to test other possible culprits for our nation's health woes.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Do it for Denmark

Denmark is worried about its fertility rate, though at 1.73 it is huge compared to Poland (1.33) the Ukraine (1.30), South Korea (1.25), or Singapore (0.80). It never ceases to amaze me how little people know about fertility rates and what the implications of those rates are, but it is a narrative that the mainstream press suppresses.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Trickle down biology

Though few in number, they have an effect that affects the whole system for the better.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

People still respond to incentives

Casey Mulligan is surprised that some economists seem to have forgotten that people respond to incentives, that if you penalize work, you get less of it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Socialism to our south

The results of socialism in Venezuela are what anyone who understands economics expects, but some citizens still prefer to believe that bad results must come for bad people:

Each day the arrival of a new item at Excelsior Gama brought Venezuelans flooding into the store: for flour, beef, sugar. Store employees and security guards helped themselves to the goods first, clogging the checkout lines, and then had to barricade the doors to hold back the surge at the entrance.
“The store owners are doing this on purpose, to increase sales,” said Marjorie Urdaneta, a government supporter who said she believes Maduro when he accuses businesses of colluding with foreign powers to wage “economic war” against him.
“He should tell the stores: Make these items available — or else,” she said.
Socialism is always in trouble because of sabotage--a favorite theme in the USSR and China under Mao. It is unfortunate that some people cannot understand that people respond to incentives.
Most Venezuelans are too busy just trying to secure the basics. Residents from the country’s interior say the shortages are even worse outside the capital.
“There’s nothing to buy where we live,” said Maria Valencia, a preschool teacher from the oil-producing hub of Maracaibo, near Venezuela’s western border, while shopping at a government-run Bicentenario supermarket where products sold by recently nationalized companies carried little heart symbols and the phrase “Made in Socialism.”
Valencia and three family members had filled their cart with corn oil, four bottles each, the maximum. “This stuff is gold,” she said.
Shoppers here were more inclined to blame the scarcities on badly behaved countrymen whom they said were trying to profit from the situation.
And while the government is trying to run the economy, it is not doing a very good job with a basic function of government:

But if the president’s fiscal policies are anything like his response to rising crime, the country looks to be in trouble.
The Jan. 6 roadside killing of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear in a botched robbery attempt jolted a country long-numbed by one of the world’s highest homicide rates and near-total criminal impunity. 

In democracy people get the kind of government that they deserve, which may be very different from the kind of government that they want. 

Read the whole thing in the Washington Posts here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


I have always liked the word "penultimate" because it seems so pretentious. Why not simply say "next-to-last"? But today I found an even more pretentious word: "antepenultimate". It means "next to next to last" or "two before the last." Now I just have to figure out where I can use it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shakeup at the Minneapolis Fed

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis may be the smallest of the 12 Reserve Banks, but in recent years it has earned the reputation of having one of the best research departments. That may be changing.