Archive for May, 2012

It’s About Time

DOMA was ruled unconstitutional today, by well a respected conservative judge, in such a way that makes it easier for SCOTUS to concur.

A good day for anyone that thinks equality is a thing we should care about.

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Earlier this month, I pointed out the blatantly obvious fact that government employees are people with jobs who buy things and pay for services, and that firing them means there will be less people with jobs buying less things and paying for less services.

Here’s Mitt Romney:

“That stimulus he put in place, it didn’t help private sector jobs, it helped preserve government jobs, and the one place we should have cut back was on government jobs. We have a 145,000 more government workers under this president. Let’s send them home and put you back to work!”

So, somehow, destroying a whole bunch of jobs will create jobs! Good to know. 

I really don’t get what’s so confusing about the idea that government jobs are in fact actual jobs, filled by actual people, who buy actual things with their money.

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New York City wants to ban the sale of 16 oz sodas. The Gravel Kraken writes:

This is tyranny.  Obesity may be a nationwide problem, but it is not a government problem.  Even accepting the premise that “too much sugar is bad for people, and a free people cannot be trusted to regulate their own sugar intake” the proposed regulation doesn’t make sense.  Free refills will still be allowed, there is no limit on number of 16 ounce drinks that can be sold at one, and grocery stores will still be allowed to sell sugary drinks at whatever size they please.  Keep in mind that the standard, single-serving soda bottle contains 20 ounces of soda.

This is just insulting and a waste of everybody’s time.

I agree that this ban is a dumb idea. I agree that it’s insulting and a waste of everyone’s time. I agree that it’s pointless, and I agree it shouldn’t be enacted. But it is not tyranny. Governments can do a lot of terrible things, and many of them do. Tyranny is very real and causes a lot of harm and suffering to a lot of people around the world. Making it slightly less convenient to drink 16 oz of Cherry Coke is not tyranny, it’s just annoying. The word tyranny is thrown around so much by libertarians that I’m beginning to think really it’s stopped describing actual tyranny and instead just means “things the government does that I think it shouldn’t”.

When we see tyranny, we should point it out. And we should combat it. But this is not tyranny. This is a dumb, pointless regulation. And we should combat it too, but lets try to stop crying wolf.

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Commenting on an Yglesias post connecting obesity and commute times, Karl Smith asks for a model to explain the effect:

I tend to roll my eyes at this type of research because in the language of economics, it lacks a structural model. That is at model time folks seem to forget that they are dealing with a complex system that has specifically evolved to maintain equilibrium in the face of exogenous shocks.
Moreover, the human system is not much different than most mammalian systems and so positing cognitive causes as the source seems sketchy at best. This is not to say impossible, but simply that a claim so ridiculous on its face would require a really good story. To date I have yet to hear one and typically when I’ve challenged obesity researchers with an implicitly cognitive model they typially seem unaware that one would need a story or structural model.

We’ve observed that certain kinds of chronic stress can have strange effects and we know that we can manipulate body mass by using drugs that manipulate serotonin, dopamine,norepinephrine and cortisol. So, we have something remotely suggestive of a mechanism.

All that having been said my intuition still says we are looking at a single vector, and it’s a molecule or family of molecules. Still, something like the commuting/sitting hypothesis should be taken seriously.

It sounds like Smith wants to hear something along the lines of “commuting is known to cause an increase in levels of the whatever molecule, and the whatever molecule is known to up/down regulate the whatever pathway, leading to weight gain”.

That would be fantastic if we could figure it out to that level of detail but its not going to happen. Rather, I think the effect is much, much more simply explained by time constraints. Let’s say you work 8 hours per day plus 1 hour for lunch and breaks. Now let’s say you commute 1 hour each way (a conservative estimate for many) and take half an hour in the morning to get ready. This means from the time you wake up to the time you get home from work consumes 11.5 hours. Now let’s say you want 6.5 hours of sleep each night. Were up to 18 hours accounted for. That leaves 6 hours in which to run errands, do chores, cook and eat dinner, prepare for the next day, go out and drink, or do whatever else you may want to do. So with only 25% of each day available to you to do all the things you want/have to do, activities like going to the gym or exercising probably won’t make the cut for most people.
Of course that’s a choice and anyone that so chooses could prioritize those activities over happy hour for example. Commuting certainly doesn’t make you fat, just like being poor doesn’t make you fat. It’s all about choices.

But time is a very real constraint, and should factor into the analysis. At the end of the day you can still choose to eat healthy and exercise, regardless of your commute (or income) but the associated time constraints serve to raise (potentially significantly) the marginal cost of making those choices.

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Go read this, by Matt Langdon on Ari Kohen’s blog, on the subject of heroism and, more broadly, unwillingness to change opinions and what that means for school kids. It’s short but good.

…four years ago at this time, a kindergarten teacher told me her students were chanting, “We want Bush, we want Bush.” Kindergarten kids should not have opinions on the presidential race, yet they did. They had unwavering opinions. It’s why New York City public schools decided to eliminate controversial words from their tests —words like dinosaur, pepperoni, and birthday. Kids shouldn’t find those words controversial. Adults shouldn’t find those words controversial, but again, there’s not much we can do about adults. It’s why a character education speaker was kicked out of a school because she said that war was a sad thing to a classroom of kids.

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The Romney campaign is repeating its claim that Obama has presided over a net job loss. Greg Sargent often claims this metric is not fair because it includes the job losses in progress when Obama entered office, before his policies could take effect, and I agree with that characterization. However, I want to point out that, even if you do look at Romney’s net metric, you will see that employment is now higher than it was on inauguration day:


Thus, Obama has not presided over a net job loss, but a net gain of 152,000 jobs, using Mitt Romney’s logic. Now that number isn’t exactly eye-popping and job growth has been much to slow, but any way you cut it Mitt Romney is lying here. Sargent also highlights this:

In the same release attacking Obama over “net” job loss, the Romney camp also defends Romney’s jobs record as Governor of Massachusetts by pointing out … that Romney inherited a state economy that was losing jobs when he took office.


So, Romney’s campaign wants you to apply the same logic to Mitt Romney as they deny to Obama:

This is precisely the argument that the Romney campaign is implicitly dismissing as bogus when Obama makes it. Indeed, in the very same release, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul blasts Obama for his “net negative record on job creation,” which is only a “net negative” if you factor in the jobs losses at the start of Obama’s term. But in its own defense, the Romney campaign is arguing for a focus on the jobsadded after the job losses that took place when Romney assumed office.

In other words, if we were to apply to Obama the same standard that the Romney campaign wants applied to itself, Obama has created millions of jobs. (Relatedly, Mike Tomasky tried to apply the same standard to both men’s records, and concluded that if you don’t factor in early job loss for either, Obama’s job growth percentage exceeds Romney’s.)

Exactly right. You could redraw my graph above to start in 2010, and it would look much nicer. But again, Sargent doesn’t note here that, even using Romney’s net metric, job growth is now in the positive.

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…and that Philly loves us a whole hell of a lot.

Here’s Philly Beer Week, by the numbers:

Days in Beer Week: 10

Events Actually Happening between June 1 and June 10 (Official Beer Week): 717

Venues: 209

Courtesy of foobooz.

You know you’re jealous.

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