Archive for the ‘Very important’ Category

Suppose you’ve imposed a (non-trivial) burden upon someone else without their consent. What is the right course for society to take in response? One option is to force you to fully compensate your victim. Requiring sufficient compensation would completely transfer the cost you’ve imposed upon the rest of society back to you. Knowing this ex ante, your individual cost-benefit calculation becomes identical to society’s cost-benefit calculation, for you expect not only to enjoy every social benefit, but also to suffer every social cost, flowing from your decision.

What ought to happen, then, if you do not have the funds to fully compensate your victim? The government may well seize your physical assets, selling what they can to make up for the shortfall. If even that is not enough to repay your debt to society, the government may have to take ownership of a more intimate asset: you. As with a bankrupt firm, the government may lend you the money you require to fully compensate your victim in a timely manner, but must take temporary ownership of you while you repay your debt in exchange. You would, in effect, be offering to collateralize such a risky loan with the only valuable you have left: your future stream of income.

Here’s my proposal: when a crime is committed (ignoring so-called victimless crimes for the time being), the government produces a transparent, predictable estimate of the crime’s social cost. If the criminal is able to fully pay the price, possibly by liquidating her portfolio, she may do so. If she is not able to pay the price, she goes to prison. Instead of serving a prison term, however, her mandate is to pay down her debt to society in full. In prison, she can produce whatever goods and services it is feasible for her to produce in that setting, which the government will sell to the general public, collecting most of the proceeds. With her small share of the proceeds, she may purchase a better standard of living in prison, or she may contribute extra funds towards paying down her debt, thereby shortening her stay in prison.

The signal such a policy would send is clear: if you commit a crime, be prepared to pay the price. If you’re not so prepared, you will be partially enslaved by the government (i.e., the government will have a controlling equity stake in you) until you have paid the price. Moreover, the higher the quantity and quality of the goods and services you produce for the general public’s consumption, the better your standard of living in prison, the sooner you exit prison, or perhaps both. Your incentive before you commit the crime is to carry out society’s cost-benefit calculation for yourself, and even if you go through with it, your incentive is to be as productive as possible for the benefit of your society, much as it would be outside of prison. Fewer people would be in prison, most would have shorter and less miserable stays, and much less human capital would be wasting away behind bars. All while reducing crime rates. What’s not to love (besides the optics of slavery 2.0…)?


Nukes for the environment

Posted: February 9, 2012 by nullpointerexceptional in Politics, Science, Very important
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So the US approved the first nuclear reactors since 1979 with the Three Mile Island boogie. The real question is why this is the first approval since then? Why does this approval come so close to the near catastrophe in Japan? Heck Germany (the ones trying to tell everyone else how to run their balance sheets) has gone as far to say they are going to shut down all of their reactors to avoid the same potential fate as Japan. Now that the approvals are out in the open, I suspect you’ll start seeing more sensational news reporting on radiation leaks at existing plants – heck in VT there were reports of radioactive fish being caught right outside the cooling towers sparking mass hysteria. A majority of media outlets are leaving out details, such as testing at the facilities report no radiation leaks and that other fish in the same stream at the other end of the state, 150 miles away, have the same radiation levels – good little tidbit which changes the severity of the situation. Not to mention, in America we don’t build reactors on fault lines or earthquake central.

Not all that long ago, I lived 10 miles from an aging plant. Sure it wasn’t the greatest landmark the area has known, but I really didn’t mind it. Some of my lesser intelligent friends were even concerned for my life, I was moving so close to a reactor after all. These same friends also think that radiation causes three legged frogs and birth defects: lead and fertilizers cause that stuff, all radiation does is kill you or give you cancer. All I have to say is it’s about damn time the flukes on capital hill moved along something that is actually beneficial to the prosperity of this great nation. There has never been a better thing for the environment than nuclear power – it’s basically steam on steroids. No real waste products, no hazardous green house gases and jigga-what-whats (see what I did there?) of power for the masses. Sure you need to bury the spent fuel rods in barren deserts forever, but is that really all that bad?

All I can say is, mother nature loves nuclear power and I’m sure the tree huggers are loving this. Plus it just might drive the cost of electricity down to where plug-in electric cars are cost effective in a person’s lifetime.

Valentine’s Day is a comin’. Let’s do something special for that special someone this year. Skip the cliched flowers and heart-shaped box of chocolates, they just tell the world you’re lazy and only willing to do the absolute minimum when it comes to romancing. Let’s not do the expensive jewelry thing either, that really just wrecks the curve. Here’s my suggestion, it’s something that I think will really be a show stopper.

Nothing says I love you quite like a solid block of rich, dark chocolate molded in the exact dimensions of your own heart. Here’s how to do it. Go to a doctor, preferably one that operates on a fold out table down some dark alley. Pay him the requisite fee of $500. He’ll hook you up to some very professional-looking machinery. Along with his fine medical team, he’ll cut you open, hopefully using a non-invasive incision like the autopsy y-cut. From there, he’ll clamp off some of your blood vessels, as a machine will now circulate the blood through your system, and carefully extract your heart. He’ll then put your heart in a container and cover it in quick setting plaster. After the plaster has had time to cure, he’ll painstakingly saw the mold in half, making sure not to damage any living tissue, brush off the heart, and then place it snugly back into your chest cavity. With some reattaching of arteries and restarting your heart, he’ll close up your chest. Voila, you can now make exact replicas of your own heart out of whatever you’d like. In the spirit of Valentine’s day, chocolate seems the most appropriate, but feel free to use Jello or frozen orange juice or anything that will hold the shape. Be creative!

Also, keep in mind that Valentine’s day is also known as National Organ Donor Day, so if you don’t have a sweetheart, you can still give someone a sweet heart.

Well, I blew it

Posted: February 8, 2012 by alephnaughty in Important, Posts that shouldn't have been written, Very important
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Colorado and Minnesota, what gives? Hate you guys. New prediction: This ice cream I am about to consume will be delicious. Yep, it is. The streak is back!

…that we nailed Nevada, Groundhog Day, and the Super Bowl winner. So…word to ya motha.

Onto Colorado and Minnesota we go:

1st: Rom Mittney

2nd: Sant Rickorum

3rd: Ging Newtrich

4th: Pan Roul

Same for bof states. Be amazed, y’all.

US economy grows 243,000 jobs in the month of January. In other news, Obama is looking to be a safer bet for re-election everyday.

Addendum: I should explain what I think is happening. In part two of my series on the jobs crisis, I said that too-high (cyclical) unemployment is due to interest rates being too high. To be more precise, there is a so-called “natural” rate of interest, which is the interest rate that would equate planned savings and planned investment, keeping aggregate demand on target. Aggregate demand management involves moving the market rate of interest to keep up with movements in the natural rate of interest. The Fed has been keeping its policy rate near zero since late 2008, so why is the (cyclical) employment situation improving? My view is that the natural rate of interest is rising, which effectively makes the Fed’s unchanged stance more expansionary than it was previously.

Why is the natural rate of interest rising? Well, folks haven’t been spending a whole lot (hence weak aggregate demand). Consumer durables (e.g., cars) only work for so long. At some point, you cannot delay that new car purchase any longer, so, you have to borrow more (more planned investment) and consume more (less planned savings). Together, that makes for a higher natural rate of interest. In other words, when a recession hits, consumers delay a lot of discretionary purchases until they’re more comfortable with their financial circumstances, but you can only delay such purchases for so long. This crisis has been going on so long, and Americans are sufficiently impatient, that they’re starting to go ahead with those purchases anyway. And that means that the Fed is effectively stimulating aggregate demand more than it was before, even if its interest rate policy is effectively the same (though they have been dragging out the first projected rate hike for some time, so that probably helps, too). If enough people begin to replenish their consumer durables, a self-sustaining recovery may be underway, as long as the Fed doesn’t prematurely strangle it. Hence, it’s morning in America…I think. (Buy stocks, sell bonds).

P.S. Matt Yglesias agrees with me to an eery extent. In fairness I generally see things the same way he does…

There are two kinds of Americans. The first are autistic. The second are drunk, drugged up, and manically depressed. Why? Don’t ask me. But, here’s a theory: the economy hates the second group, just like you hate your drunk, drugged up, and manically depressed cousin (and yes, the Oxford comma is absolutely essential) who just eats all your food and complains about life being unfair.

Now, Mr. Scientist (you might say), what use is this theory? Just seems like you’re hating on people who already hate themselves. Well, I am doing just that. But, I’m also doing science. If my theory is right, here’s a prediction it makes: the second group has shitty economic fortunes compared with the first. Ta da…

From personality to neuropsychiatric disorders, individual differences in brain function are known to have a strong heritable component. Here we report that between close relatives, a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders covary strongly with intellectual interests. We surveyed an entire class of high-functioning young adults at an elite university for prospective major, familial incidence of neuropsychiatric disorders, and demographic and attitudinal questions. Students aspiring to technical majors (science/mathematics/engineering) were more likely than other students to report a sibling with an autism spectrum disorder (p = 0.037). Conversely, students interested in the humanities were more likely to report a family member with major depressive disorder (p = 8.8×10−4), bipolar disorder (p = 0.027), or substance abuse problems (p = 1.9×10−6). A combined PREdisposition for Subject MattEr (PRESUME) score based on these disorders was strongly predictive of subject matter interests (p = 9.6×10−8). Our results suggest that shared genetic (and perhaps environmental) factors may both predispose for heritable neuropsychiatric disorders and influence the development of intellectual interests.

You know whose economic fortunes are better than humanities majors? Science majors. Just look at those p-values. Hot damn. I didn’t pay much attention in AP statistics (I just remember gems like “power is desirable”, and “we want small Ps”), but this looks pretty sciency to me. And the authors are from Princeton!

OK, so, my theory sucks. Granted. But how about them p-values? And for the record, I belong to the first group, have shitty economic fortunes, and I spend my days eating other people’s food and complaining about the unfairness of life. I am the two Americas.