Octavo Dia

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gene Transfer and Rapid Post-Flood Speciation

It is well-established in Creationist research that the immediate post-Flood period was one of rapid speciation among terrestrial vertebrates. Landing in the mountains of Ararat, the base population was rapidly subdivided by the mountainous terrain, and adaptations to the varying climatic bands on the mountain slopes provided more grist for natural selection's mill. Unexploited environmental niches, of which there was no lack in a world newly devoid of terrestrial vertebrates, also contributes to rapid speciation.

However, an overlooked facet is that, along with all the "land-dwelling, air-breathing" animals, came their entire internal biota. In the close quarters of the ark, there would be a non-stop exchange of bacteria. Among the bacteria, the exchange genes would be non-stop as well--with each other and with their hosts.

In the post-Flood world, these bacteria would again be divided, and influence which genes their hosts would express, and how their hosts would adapt to new environments. Ladling out portions of this bacterial stew to rapidly dispersing populations in a wide open world would create an unimaginably rapid level of speciation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spending More and Getting Less the Free Market Way

Noumenon linked me to this Washington Post column about Switzerland's health care costs.

I think the author's analysis misses the boat because he's comparing two different measures. Healthcare costs are incurred on an individual basis, but the "outcomes" are measured entirely in the aggregate. I theorize that people tend to purchase as much lifespan as they can afford and, like everything, this investment in lifespan is subject to diminishing returns.

Thus in a pure free market system, rich people would spend vast sums on healthcare to provide a minimal increase in lifespan--it is, after all, easier to increase lifespan from 60 to 62 than it is to increase it from 90 to 92. If you move to a more socialized system, the rich would receive only a fraction of the lifespan they would have otherwise purchased, but this is more than offset in the aggregate by the increased lifespan of those who would otherwise be unable to afford it.

Thus the high cost, low outcome healthcare market can be explained as a result of people pursuing their self-interest. Though market failures, information disparities, and incentive structures do play a role, so long as you give people the freedom to purchase healthcare, the law of diminishing returns will lower your bang for the buck.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: Rework

Fried, Jason and David Heinemeier Hansson. Rework. New York; Crown Business, 2009.

This is an odd book. It was at once insightful and pie in the sky. Inspirational yet meaningless. It's most distinguishing feature was its rampant tree murdering by taking up every third page with a little doodle.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: Cheap

Shell, Ellen Ruppel. Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. New York; Penguin Press, 2009.

This book is replete with half-baked economics, unwarranted conclusions, and self-righteous snobbery.

In the half-baked economics, her thesis is a prime example. She argues, rightly, that the wage-price cycle can work in reverse, with lower prices necessitating lower wages, which supports the pricing position of the discounters, who proceed to cut wages further. However, and this is where the half-baked part comes in: just because it happens does not mean that it is bad or unnecessary. Reducing real wages is part of dealing with an overvalued dollar. Achieving that without taking a huge hit to the standard of living is better than taking that hit without it.

For the unwarranted conclusions, she assumes that, just because worker protections in the United States happened during a time when socialist/Progressive policies were popular, that they are both a necessary and sufficient condition. She uses China as an example of how free markets cannot produce workers rights, arguing that, when the workers demand higher compensation in the form of better working conditions, the factory owners "just move the factories further inland." Of course, that begs the question of (a) why the people further inland would be willing to work in those same conditions and (b) what happens when there is no more "inland" to move to? It is not free markets that produces poor working conditions, it is poverty. Fix poverty through the free market, and working conditions will follow.

The self-righteous snobbery can be illustrated by her analysis of the food industry. She complains that factory farm pork is flaccid and flavorless compared to the rich, natural flavor and texture of free range pork. I, personally, would rather enjoy my heavily seasoned bacon a couple of times a month than have the "real thing" every couple of years, if I could get it at all. In a world where those in truly dire poverty are achieving a real standard of living, there will be fewer resources available for everyone.

As an aside, her offhand comment that in the last decade Americans have eaten more shrimp than tuna illustrates a bigger market failure than any she addresses. The tuna is a large, predatory fish nearly as high on the foodchain as sharks. It should be no more surprising to say that Americans eat more shrimp than tuna than to say they eat more rabbit than bear, or more chicken than eagle. We developed a taste unsustainable high on the foodchain. Shrimp, farmer or no, are a much better substitute.

As Michael Moncur said, "Every journalist has a book in him, which is an excellent place for it."


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Speaking the Truth to Idiots

I pity Obama. He made a point that needed to be made, but there was no way he could win. His phraseology, "reduce spending in the tax code," has been roundly mocked, not least of which was Jon Stewart's awesome line, "Can we afford that AND the royalty checks to George Orwell?"

If only Obama had read Explaining Things to Dummies for Dummies.

The manipulations we make to our economy through the tax code are NOT FREE. We subsidize all sorts of stuff, not least of which are mortgages, through the tax code. Instead of spending the money directly, we hide the expenditures in the tax code. This has a profound effect on our economy--it is directly implicated in the mortgage bubble that left us in the hole we're in. We would be far better served by eliminating all of those variations in the tax code, and bringing all those subsidies on budget. Then we could at least see what we were spending money on, and decide whether it deserves that level of support.

As it is, we're spending money we don't even know about. At least Obama recognizes off-the-book spending. Most people think it's free.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Book Review: Ender's Game

Card, Orson Scott. Ender's Game. New York; Tom Doherty Associates, 1985.

I liked this book. It has the same description-driven story that Larry Niven, my favorite author, uses. The one bit that I didn't like, I don't think there's a solution for. My experience, as a member of the merely intelligent, is that I do not have to consciously think about most things--I intuitively grasp them. In the book, the parts that Ender intuitively grasped seemed a cop out, but the parts he consciously thought through seemed forced. As I said, I don't think there's a solution to what I wanted, but I liked it anyway.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Don't Blame the Machines

I ran across the following quotation in this article:

Mr Ryan notes that with the government now paying roughly half of all health care costs, more disciplined federal funding could force efficiency into the system. However, that still leaves rising costs due to technological progress, an aging population, and the shrinking coverage offered by private sector employers. [Emphasis mine.]

Why would technology create rising costs? Yes, technology is expensive, but so are the alternatives, which is why we invent technology. Technology either makes us more efficient, which reduces costs, or it allows us to do something which we hadn't been able to do before. Whether we utilize our new capabilities is not a technological problem.

Rising medical costs are not due to technological progress. They are due to the assumption that, because we can do something which we previously could not, we should do it. Medical costs rise with technological progress only because we decide to treat that which was previously left untreated.

Whatever you think about rising medical costs, don't blame the machines. We're the ones jacking up the price.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

What a Reasonable Energy Policy would Look Like

Let's start off by defining what a reasonable energy policy is not. Anyone who has an "energy policy" that doesn't involve increasing the price of gas is either on something or selling something. With gas prices in the United States only capturing a fraction of the true cost, demand for gas will always be too high. The only alternatives to raising the price of gas would be to lower the cost of alternatives, which would produce massive waste and misallocation. (Or, I should say, even more massive waste than is caused by a severely under-priced good.)

The key to a reasonable energy policy is the understanding that everything we do has consequences. Many of the consequences we only realize decades after the fact. Therefore, in order to mitigate that risk, you do not do one thing. Diversification is a reasonable energy policy. We're not going to be able to meet all our energy needs through oil (imported and domestic), or nuclear, or wind power, or solar, or conservation, or burning garbage, or, or, or...

The only way we will be able to meet our needs without hanging ourselves in the long run is to do everything. Everything I listed above will meet part of our needs. Diversify, because a 50 mpg car will run out of gas too.