09
Apr
12

All linky, no thinky

I was going to write up a full post on John Derbyshire’s epic fuckup, but the internet being what it is that’s mostly been covered for me (see for example here, here, and here).  One point I can add — from my own experience as a white straight cis North American able-bodied English-speaking middle-class right-handed male — is that discussion of privilege occasionally pokes my id in a nasty, resentful place.  “You didn’t earn anything”, it seems to say, “you just got where you are by picking the right parents and phenotypes”.  Well, yeah, sort of.  Checking off all those boxes (note the misleadingly active metaphor) means I’m playing life on Easy Mode.

Of course, I didn’t get to pick and choose at character creation time — I just squirted right out into e1m1 without even the opportunity to remap the controls.  But there’s no point trying to pretend that I’m some sort of gritty underdog and manufacture a set of fictional victim-traits for myself.

——

Instead, I’d be better off spending the effort on pharmaco-wonkery.  Here’s Derek Lowe on resveratrol:

Incidentally, if you’re not as big an endocrinology nerd as you would like to be, check this shit out.  Wish I’d found that before the long weekend rather than after.

Anyway, it will not surprise you to discover that the research surrounding  a compound that’s active in so many pathways is… er, not precisely definitive.  Lowe’s conclusion:

The bottom line? Resveratrol is a very interesting compound, and potentially useful. But the details of its actions aren’t clear, and neither, honestly, are the actions themselves. Given the importance of the processes we’re talking about – cellular metabolism, which is intimately involved with aging and lifespan, which is intimately involved with defenses against cancer – I don’t feel that the situation is clear enough yet to make an intelligent decision. So no, I don’t take resveratrol. But I’d be willing to if the fog ever clears.

——

There are other interesting problem domains that are tangled and foggy, of course.  Formula car aerodynamics is one of my favourites, and so is economics.  But in all of these domains we’ve found a few things upon which even the experts will all agree, and Adam Ozimek (blogging for Megan McArdle) points us to

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15 Responses to “All linky, no thinky”


  1. April 9, 2012 at 14:15

    Government policies don’t explain high gas prices

    Bollocks. I refuse to believe that “all economists” are so thick as to not believe in inflation.

    • April 9, 2012 at 14:39

      Think in real dollars, not nominal dollars.

      • 3 Dave
        April 9, 2012 at 18:41

        What about all the saber-rattling going on in the Persian Gulf? Is military policy in oil-producing areas not supposed to affect the price?
        The article says specifically, “rather than U.S. federal economic or energy policies.” so I suspect whoever wrote the question didn’t want that part of government policy considered. Kinda makes me wonder how carefully the questions were written to encourage the desired answers. And maybe how carefully the polled experts were picked. 41’s not a very big sample size for every economist in the world.

      • 4 perlhaqr
        April 9, 2012 at 19:31

        Nope, they said that “everyone” disagreed with the gold standard too, so there are no “real” dollars there, just whatever the Fed prints.

        • April 9, 2012 at 21:17

          For one, we can guarantee they didn’t interview anyone influenced by Austrian economics. They used the term ‘leading,’ so we can guarantee they were influenced by Keynesianism.

          I admit there may be good reasons to conclude the gold standard equivalent is a bad idea, that I don’t know about. But I’m not going to learn them from any of these guys.

        • April 9, 2012 at 21:34

          You’re being facetious, right? (Don’t think I disapprove of facetiousness. :-) ) “Real” dollars are inflation-adjusted.

          • 8 perlhaqr
            April 10, 2012 at 06:47

            Half facetious. “Real” dollars may be inflation adjusted, but my paycheck sure isn’t. And how many magic wand waves do you really want to give these people? “If you discount energy policy, military policy, economic policy, and massive inflation, the government has no effect on gasoline prices.”

            I mean, you might as well phrase that “Ignoring reality, it turns out that whatever I want to be true is true!”

            • April 10, 2012 at 09:03

              “Real” dollars may be inflation adjusted, but my paycheck sure isn’t.

              Yeah, real wages fall in a recession, whether you’re an unreconstructed Keynesian talking about sticky wages or Tyler Cowen talking about declining marginal productivity. The point is that inflation doesn’t cause gas prices to rise relative to other commodities.

              Side rant:
              Inflation is a macro phenomenon, not a micro phenomenon. It’s what happens when the money supply grows faster than what I’m going to simple-mindedly call aggregate supply — the stock of goods and services people want to spend that money on. If milk (or gas, or houses) gets more expensive, that might be inflation, or it might be something utterly unrelated (milk distributors’ strike, new FDA regs requiring that all milk be filtered through cold-pressed unicorn dreams, or even increased demand for milk among a new generation of lifters doing GOMAD). If M1 goes up, that’s inflation.

              And how many magic wand waves do you really want to give these people? “If you discount energy policy, military policy, economic policy, and massive inflation, the government has no effect on gasoline prices.”

              You’re going somewhere completely different with this than I was, and since Dave and Alrenous did too I figure it’s my fault. (That’s the problem with “no thinky”.) My view on the linked post is that it points out that there’s no magic dial in the Oval Office that sets gas prices. Gingrich can’t drop gas prices to $2.50 without a 1970s-style price control, and Obama didn’t jack up gas prices because he’s a big meanie who hates America. Gas prices vary with the intersection of supply and demand curves.

              Sure, if we launch a Harpoon at every rig in the Gulf of Mexico, gas prices are going to go up, because the price-supply curve is going to shift to the right. It’s always possible for the gummint to fuck things up, although wrt. energy policy I think it’s harder than you think, short of nationalizing a big chunk of the supply chain. Even BC’s carbon tax, which explicitly increases the price of gas, accounts for maybe three cents a litre (that’s 11.4 cents a gallon) of a twenty-cent swing over the course of the year. The province’s government is flagrantly meddling with gas prices, and it can only manage a fifteen per cent nudge. We didn’t even notice over here when the Albertan government fucked with oil-field royalties, and despite the fact that Alberta exports a bunch of oil across the 49th you probably didn’t either.

              Sticking to the mythical analogy, government isn’t an archmage that can tweak and twiddle the chain of consequence as it pleases to orchestrate grand and sweeping plans: it’s an INT 3 giant that can only affect the world by flailing around with an enormous club and wrecking things.

            • April 10, 2012 at 12:39

              My point is supposed to be that ad populum is still a fallacy.
              I want to know whether the arguments these 41 economists would use are in fact all the same, or whether they only superficially agree.

              • April 10, 2012 at 13:15

                (Replies now nest 10 deep.)

                Well, 7 of the 41 actually commented on their answers to the oil-price question, those seven having given answers from “uncertain” to “strongly agree”. My aggregate take on their answers is that short-term price fluctuation comes largely from changes in the world oil market, which fits my supply/demand intuition that energy policy doing little to change either supply or demand in the short term; mostly it seems like it’d add compliance costs to local markets and shift certain forms of production around (possibly out of the country). They don’t seem to be so sanguine about long-term effects, which makes sense if you think in terms of oil exploitation permitting in places like North Dakota affecting (potential) production in twenty years’ time.

                You’ll all be pleased to note, too, that foreign policy is specifically mentioned by one of the economists: “US foreign policy is probably more relevant than energy policy.” The question specified “energy and economic policy”.

                I don’t see this as an argument ad populum. I suppose you could read it as an appeal to authority, which it isn’t either. I’m basically trying to implement Aretaevian epistemology — if there’s a consensus among experts that doesn’t fit with my position, I (try to) lower my confidence in my position. I’m way too ignorant about economics to decide that the Austrian perspective is just the way it is, and that I can safely ignore anyone less Austrian than, say, Tyler Cowen. I don’t even know what all my choices are — even if it’s true that none of the polled economists is an Austrian, it doesn’t follow that they’re all old-school Keynesians; looking just at macro there’s also RBC theorists and Monetarists and Market monetarists — and probably a whole bunch of others I just don’t know about. In that environment, it’s hard to discount entirely cases where all of those polled essentially come down on the same side of the fence.

                Also, I suspect that if the survey had stacked the deck ideologically, I would’ve heard about it on (say) EconLog or one of the other more or less an-cap econoblogs I read. In particular, this post by Arnold Kling probably would’ve had a very different flavour.

                • April 10, 2012 at 14:31

                  Even assuming Aretaevian epistemology is true, what’s your evidence they are in fact experts? I’m not saying they’re all hard-core Keynesians. I’m saying that they have Keynesian influence, but not Austrian, almost certainly. This lowers the certainty they’re experts. Simply put, I have a broader, if not deeper, understanding of economics than they do. I shouldn’t. Without seeing their actual arguments, I don’t know if breadth or depth is more important on this issue, however.

                  Also, I suspect that if the survey had stacked the deck ideologically,

                  I would have expected the same thing. Lo and behold.

                  Kling seemed to want to go off topic, rather than to address the survey directly. For the gold standard, he offers neither support nor condemnation. Which in turn means their ideological bent, if any, would have been off-topic for him.

                  • April 10, 2012 at 15:04

                    David Friedman’s opinion shifts my own assessment. Thanks for pointing that out.

                    what’s your evidence they are in fact experts?

                    Friedman’s comment implies that they’re representative of a subset of (expert) economic thought. He refers to them as if they’re peers. Similarly with Kling and Lazear. I recognize several names (particularly Daron Acemoglu) from approving references by Tyler Cowen and Greg Mankiw and probably others I regard as expert economists. (Acemoglu’s publication list in particular suggests that he’s at least mildly acquainted with Austrian principles. I haven’t bothered to check the rest.)

                    Simply put, I have a broader, if not deeper, understanding of economics than they do.

                    What’s your evidence for this statement? You keep coming back to a Keynesian vs. Austrian dichotomy; in linear algebra terms I think that basis spans a very small subspace of modern macroeconomic thought. Nick Rowe, for example, is sort of a New Keynesian in some ways but his macro is dominated by principles that are independent of Keynesianism. (I think.) Milton Friedman and Scott Sumner also come to mind as prominent economists who aren’t “Keynesian” or “Austrian”.

                    It seems to me that you’re citing “This sample isn’t Austrian enough” as evidence that you have a broader grasp of macro than they do, and I think that’s too narrow a focus. For example, it seems to me that (on the gold standard question) a variety of well-justified positions on monetarism would be more interesting than a Keynes/Hayek spread. (That’s what Friedman’s getting at in the comment above the one you linked.)

                    Then again, for all that I write on the subject I’m pretty damn ignorant about economics. If you’re more broadly knowledgeable than (say) Daron Acemoglu, I should just shut up and listen to you.

                    • April 10, 2012 at 20:24

                      He refers to them as if they’re peers.

                      And that likewise shifts my assessment.

                      What’s your evidence for this statement?

                      Trying to get specific about;

                      they’re representative of a subset

                      So I’m probably wrong about Austrianism per se. What characterizes this subset?


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