Odd notes

1.  Look how Newsweek puts things in perspective:

The bombardment was preceded by a large-scale Kurdish operation against Isis in northern Iraq, which saw 5,000 Kurdish fighters, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes, sweep around Mosul to recapture an area larger than the size of Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino combined.

That large, eh?

2.  This surprised me:

Ms Schneider reckons that more than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs.

And some more information:

As a result, land use is changing drastically on the other side of the world. In Brazil, more than 25m hectares of land””parts of which were once Amazon rainforest””are being used to cultivate soy (Chinese companies have not signed up to the “soy roundtable”, a voluntary association, the members of which agree not to buy soyabeans from newly deforested land). Entire species of plants and trees are being sacrificed to fatten China’s pigs. Argentina has chopped down thousands of hectares of forest and shifted its traditional cattle-breeding to remote areas to make way for soyabeans. Since 1990 the Argentine acreage given over to that crop has quadrupled: the country exports almost all of its whole soyabeans””around 8m tonnes””to China. In some areas farmers harvest two or three crops a year, using herbicides that have been linked to birth defects and increased cancer rates.

3.  In China, small cities are more densely populated than large cities:

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4.  Here’s something you probably didn’t know about Edgar Allen Poe:

Poe’s mind was by no means commonplace. In the last year of his life he wrote a prose poem, Eureka, which would have established this fact beyond doubt””if it had not been so full of intuitive insight that neither his contemporaries nor subsequent generations, at least until the late twentieth century, could make any sense of it. Its very brilliance made it an object of ridicule, an instance of affectation and delusion, and so it is regarded to this day among readers and critics who are not at all abreast of contemporary physics. Eureka describes the origins of the universe in a single particle, from which “radiated” the atoms of which all matter is made. Minute dissimilarities of size and distribution among these atoms meant that the effects of gravity caused them to accumulate as matter, forming the physical universe.

This by itself would be a startling anticipation of modern cosmology, if Poe had not also drawn striking conclusions from it, for example that space and “duration” are one thing, that there might be stars that emit no light, that there is a repulsive force that in some degree counteracts the force of gravity, that there could be any number of universes with different laws simultaneous with ours, that our universe might collapse to its original state and another universe erupt from the particle it would have become, that our present universe may be one in a series.

All this is perfectly sound as observation, hypothesis, or speculation by the lights of science in the twenty-first century. And of course Poe had neither evidence nor authority for any of it. It was the product, he said, of a kind of aesthetic reasoning””therefore, he insisted, a poem. He was absolutely sincere about the truth of the account he had made of cosmic origins, and he was ridiculed for his sincerity. Eureka is important because it indicates the scale and the seriousness of Poe’s thinking, and its remarkable integrity. It demonstrates his use of his aesthetic sense as a particularly rigorous method of inquiry.

5.  In a review of a book on disappearing religions, I found this:

In a Detroit supermarket Russell experiences one of the most moving moments in a book that is often tinged with sadness. As he roams the aisles, Russell notices voices speaking a language that echoes with the sounds of Arabic or Hebrew, though it is neither: it is Aramaic. “Amid the Muzak and synthetic fruit drinks in a suburban American store, I was hearing the language of Christ.” The people speaking it are Assyrian Christians from northern Iraq, the descendants of the legendary Church of the East. Its followers””some of whom (the Chaldeans) today answer to Rome””once claimed a tenth of all Christians among its flock. Their missionaries brought Christianity to China in 635. When Mel Gibson brought out his film version of the life of Christ, the Assyrians were among the few people in the world who could follow its Aramaic dialogue without the benefit of subtitles.

During the modern era, many Assyrian Christians settled in the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest. In June, the jihadist army that would soon rename itself “Islamic State” captured the city, setting off an exodus of Iraqi Christians that could well mean the end of yet another ancient religious presence in the Middle East. There are already more speakers of Aramaic in metropolitan Detroit (around a hundred thousand) than in Baghdad; the head of the Assyrian Christians, Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV, lives in Chicago. In the Midwest, they have their churches, clubs, restaurants, and newspapers. There is some comfort in the thought that they have found safety, and that in some degree their culture will endure. But this is small consolation for the loss of an entire world.

6.  My favorite Indian film is The World of Apu (1959.)  This story about an Indian bride who marries a wedding guest reminds me of the film.

7.  Why is this called a “head transplant” and not a body transplant?  And what does that say about our concept of personal identity?

8.  This is rather surprising:

Britain has prized the ideal of economically mixed neighbourhoods since the 19th century. Poverty and disadvantage are intensified when poor people cluster, runs the argument; conversely, the rich are unfairly helped when they are surrounded by other rich people. Social mixing ought to help the poor. It sounds self-evident””and colours planning regulations that ensure much social and affordable housing is dotted among more expensive private homes. Yet “there is absolutely no serious evidence to support this,” says Paul Cheshire, a professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics (LSE).

And there is new evidence to suggest it is wrong. Researchers at Duke University in America followed over 1,600 children from age five to age 12 in England and Wales. They found that poor boys living in largely well-to-do neighbourhoods were the most likely to engage in anti-social behaviour, from lying and swearing to such petty misdemeanours as fighting, shoplifting and vandalism, according to a commonly used measure of problem behaviour. Misbehaviour starts very young (see chart 1) and intensifies as they grow older. Poor boys in the poorest neighbourhoods were the least likely to run into trouble. For rich kids, the opposite is true: those living in poor areas are more likely to misbehave.

9.  Fight Islamic fundamentalism–put them in charge of the government:

Hardliners have long railed against “Westoxification” (the title of a book by Jalal Al-e Ahmad, published in 1962), yet in their daily lives they are now surrounded by Western consumer goods, computer games, beauty ideals, gender roles and many other influences. Iranian culture has not disappeared, but the traditional society envisaged by the fathers of the revolution is receding ever further.

The most visible shift is in public infrastructure. Tehran, the capital, is a tangle of new tunnels, bridges, overpasses, elevated roads and pedestrian walkways. Shiny towers rise in large numbers, despite the sanctions. Screens at bus stops display schedules in real time. Jack Straw, a former British foreign minister and a regular visitor, says that “Tehran looks and feels these days more like Madrid and Athens than Mumbai or Cairo.”

.  .  .

Iran is the modern world’s first and only constitutional theocracy. It is also one of the least religious countries in the Middle East. Islam plays a smaller role in public life today than it did a decade ago. The daughter of a high cleric contends that “religious belief is mostly gone. Faith has been replaced by disgust.” Whereas secular Arab leaders suppressed Islam for decades and thus created a rallying point for political grievances, in Iran the opposite happened.



32 Responses to “Odd notes”

  1. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    1. March 2015 at 10:54

    “That large, eh?”
    -Not really. All three are essentially city-states. The Islamic State appears to have been pushed back quite a lot in the Kobani region, and a bit in NE Syria. But not much elsewhere.
    “In China, small cities are more densely populated than large cities:”
    -No surprise. The largest cities are precisely the first to get access to paved roads.
    “There are already more speakers of Aramaic in metropolitan Detroit (around a hundred thousand) than in Baghdad”
    -Key word is “metropolitan”. This includes Dearborn.
    The Poe poem, Chinese pigs, and poor Britons in rich neighborhoods facts are, indeed, surprising to me.

  2. Gravatar of Steven Kopits Steven Kopits
    1. March 2015 at 11:25

    Very Tyler-esque post.

    Good though. Loved the part about the pigs.

  3. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    1. March 2015 at 11:38

    2. I’m glad the Chinese can afford more pork, although not thrilled about more Amazon rain-forest destruction. The world is in dire need of a very convincing meatless pork-substitute that can be made in a renewable way.

    7. Unfortunately nonsense on the head transplant. Doing it involves severing the spinal cord, and we have no way to reliably reconnect the spinal cord after doing that will let you actually use your new attached body as anything other than a paraplegic. And of course, you’d have to take a cocktail of anti-rejection immune system suppressors your entire life from then on, like most organ transplant recipients.

    Should be interesting, though, if the experiments in 3D organ printing and more human-compatible genetically engineered pig organs come about. Medicine will change a lot if you can do transplants of clone organs/skin/bones/limbs made from the patient’s own cells successfully.

    8. Disturbing to hear, although it’s worth seeing whether it holds up in additional studies. That seems rather unusual compared to most other studies about the benefits of economic integration. If you look at PISA scores, for example, the best scorers are students in Shanghai – but after that, parts of the US do extremely. US schools with less than 25% poverty rate do very well, schools with 25-50% poverty do okay, and schools with more than that are terrible.

    9. Definitely true in some fashion. It’s something I think a lot of the Islamists in the Middle East will probably have to learn the hard way – they’re still at the point where many of them haven’t actually lived under such a “rule-by-clerics” government and thus can idealize it as better than the crappy dictatorships most of them live under.

    It’s sort of like how many of the Latin American countries had to elect parties that were originally leftist but moved in a pro-market direction in order for economic liberalization to really start gaining popular support.

  4. Gravatar of beamish beamish
    1. March 2015 at 12:19

    Single countries that are almost 300 square miles: Bahrain, Dominica, Tonga, Singapore.

  5. Gravatar of ant1900 ant1900
    1. March 2015 at 13:02

    The one transplant where you want to be the donor and not the recipient

  6. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    1. March 2015 at 14:59

    I’ve always found our alliance with the Arabs against the Persians was quite strange given how much more similar urban, Persian culture is to our own.

  7. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    1. March 2015 at 15:43

    The Apu movie is the third in a trilogy. After decades of interest, I have never been able to see the trilogy. Or even the third one.

  8. Gravatar of hugov hugov
    1. March 2015 at 17:31

    Item 2. The growing pork consumption should be put into perspective with the equivalent situation in developed countries:

    1. While growing, the meet consumption per capita in China is about half as in the one in developed countries.

    2. The feed conversion ratio for pork is about twice a the one for beef.

  9. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    1. March 2015 at 17:57

    Good Tyler Cowen style posts. When Sumner speaks about non-economic subjects, I find him a better read.

    Head transplant trivia: back in the 1980s, the Commissioner of the US Patent Office withdrew an issued patent, as conflicting with public policy, that had patented keeping a monkey head alive.

    Poe and cosmology: this is remarkable, but it happens often. An ancient Greek (name escapes me) posited the universe is a dodecahedron, and certain modern physics models find the same thing (Google: “dodecahedron universe”). Aristarchus of Samos (c. 270 BCE) posited a sun-centered universe well before Copernicus. Same for numerous hypothesis that mosquitoes transmit malaria, prior to the proof that this is true. Yet, unfortunately, according to the rules of modern science such hypothesis are not given credit until they can be tested and falsified. Question for the reader: if you cannot falsify some of Sumner’s economic theories, how do we know they are true?

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. March 2015 at 19:32

    Good comments, even Ray was slightly less loony than usual.

  11. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    1. March 2015 at 22:52

    Read a good one-liner the other day: neoclassic economics: confirmation bias + untestable hypothesis. How much of NGDPLT is this?

  12. Gravatar of Jon Jon
    1. March 2015 at 22:59


    The remarks about Iran remind me of when people in the US said things like, “Bush stole the election, I don’t know a single person who voted for him.”

    Seems the children of the elites in Iran are just as out of touch with hoi polloi as coastal elite are with the heartland here in the states…

  13. Gravatar of Noontime Spender Noontime Spender
    2. March 2015 at 04:44

    Why can’t China grow their own soybeans?

  14. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    2. March 2015 at 06:38

    Yglesias wrote a MASSIVE new essay: “American democracy is doomed”


  15. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    2. March 2015 at 06:43

    Prof. Sumner,

    I feel that your discussion of “fiscal crisis” in this exchange with Bryan Caplan is unclear:


    I’ll attempt to describe what I think is your view of a possible future “fiscal crisis”:

    In Japan, the “fiscal crisis” is anemic real growth, and the U.S. might also suffer the same crisis (anemic real growth) in a couple decades.

    You don’t have a conventional view that (high debt / GDP) necessarily contributes much to anemic real growth. Rather, government overreach and suboptimal government policies contribute to anemic real growth.

    Sumner described this government overreach and suboptimal government policies in posts such as the ones entitled “What is big government?” and “There’s “big government” and then there’s big government”

    Is that approximately what your view of “fiscal crisis” looks like?

  16. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    2. March 2015 at 06:50

    Dear Commenters,

    See here where I try to model changes in long-term interest rates:


    Any ideas where I can find a better model? Any sources available that are better than this famous Bernanke speech (March 2013)?


  17. Gravatar of Cliff Cliff
    2. March 2015 at 08:11

    Why do they have to cut down the rainforest to grow soy beans for pigs? Pigs will eat anything. In the U.S. people pay the pig farmers to eat their waste.

  18. Gravatar of Jon Jon
    2. March 2015 at 08:24


    Saw your entry on capital gains tax in the wsj. You’ve written on that topic here before but your narrative voice sounded different. What kind of editing or constrains did the wsj impose on that piece?

  19. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    2. March 2015 at 08:50

    On #8
    1. I once had a discussion with a black an attorney who had been active in the civil rights movement years before and He surprised me by saying he thought integration of schools was a mistake. he said that was because before integration there was a black valedictorian and class president from each of the all black schools. Life is complex.

    2. I sort of remember Ezra Klein debating with a commenter about an experiment that moved some low income people into good areas with “good” schools and some good students to “bad” schools. The commenter contended that the poor children did just as badly in the good schools and the good students did well in the bad schools. I have been unable to find that discussion or a reference to such an experiment does anybody know of a link maybe. I dreamed it, so do not take the above as data.

  20. Gravatar of Student Student
    2. March 2015 at 10:16

    Interesting stuff across the board.

  21. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    2. March 2015 at 10:18

    Excellent post. #4 is fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Gravatar of Derivs Derivs
    2. March 2015 at 10:21

    Unless it is a product based on long term carry (like gold), I always build long term pricing as a function of some form of mean reversion. Essentially the long end of a curve is very often priced by gambling theory and arbitrage relationships more than anyone actually believing they have a freakin clue what 30yr inflation rates are. So if I had to blindly price a 30 yr bond off only historical data, I would price as a very long term weighted moving average.
    I would assume 30yr rates look a lot like the weighted average of the past 30yr 3mo bill prices (I would take straight line 20 yrs as a first cuff to offset having to figure out how to weigh out the back end – markets definitely have short term memories and give higher weight to recent data). From there supply and demand and some risk reward. If anyone thinks the market is estimating 30yr inflation off some econ model, they are on crack. Of course many would insist I am the one holding the pipe, but it’s always been different opinions that make a market (although let’s face it, the vast majority of economists are only comfortable to pontificate and not extend risk beyond words)… C’est la vie.

  23. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    2. March 2015 at 11:23

    #2 I happen to have a friend who is an agronomy PHD from Brazil and he says that for beef at least if the typical producer in Brazil used optimal practices he could produce 6x more beef without using more land. I assume that soy might be more like 2x so more land does not necessarily need to be used. We are no where near optimized for land use. We are closer to optimized for human effort.

  24. Gravatar of Alfred A Alfred A
    2. March 2015 at 12:56

    Prof Sumner,

    Argentina has gone from being one of the prime beef exporters in the world to falling behind Paraguay and Uruguay. Uruguay – we should let that sink in for a minute.


  25. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    2. March 2015 at 12:57

    @TravisV – Offtopic- you’re asking for clarity from Sumner? He has more looks than Lon Chaney (‘the man with 1000 faces’). As for your modeling scheme, what are you doing asking this board? Is this a serious computer model, or some word model that can be twisted according to how vague the words are? (Sumner favors the latter). As for the Yglesias alarmist essay you link to, it’s internet click bait. Sample sentences: “Back when George W. Bush was president and I was working at a liberal magazine, there was a very serious discussion in an editorial meeting about the fact that the United States was now exhibiting 11 of the 13 telltale signs of a fascist dictatorship. The idea that Bush was shredding the Constitution and trampling on congressional prerogatives was commonplace.” – LOL. I didn’t vote for Bush, but this is ridiculous. Yglesias never heard of Andrew Jackson I guess. Presidents always try and accumulate power, and Jackson even repudiated a Sup. Ct. decision involving indians.

    In fact, the USA will ‘muddle though’ this crisis–unless we do something stupid like adopt NGDPLT. Then it’s 0/0 = undefined behavior.

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. March 2015 at 15:22

    Jon, Except that the prefered candidate of the “elites’ won the recent presidential election.

    Travis, I’m not sure I’d view slow growth in Japan as a “crisis.” They do have a falling population.

    Perhaps the need for sudden and dramatic tax increases would constitute a crisis.

    Jon, They adapt the style to something more reader friendly, when I submit something too academic sounding. But it is still my ideas.

  27. Gravatar of Jan C Jan C
    3. March 2015 at 05:12

    “9. Fight Islamic fundamentalism-put them in charge of the government”

    I wonder if there are similar evolutions in Saudi Arabia.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. March 2015 at 11:05

    Jan, Probably not, as the Islamic fundamentalists are not really in charge. Although of course the people in charge are fundamentalists by most standards, just not Saudi standards.

  29. Gravatar of collin collin
    4. March 2015 at 09:05

    9. I always thought the best way to fight ISIS is two ways. Let them have their portion of land and let them try to set up a government and economic system that would fail with the people. (It worked with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.) Long term, hungry people do really dumb things. Secondly, follow the 1864 Union strategy which was to contain them in their land and city which will limit their supply lines. Then slowly bomb their areas and take back cities. (Also we should remember ISIS are not military geniuses…They have not had a major victory in months.)

    Otherwise, signing a nuclear deal with Iran would help our cause enormously.

  30. Gravatar of Ms. Schneider’s China estimate of the day Ms. Schneider’s China estimate of the day
    4. March 2015 at 10:56

    […] is from The Economist, via Scott Sumner, whose post is of interest more generally on numerous matters.  Scott also cites The Economist for […]

  31. Gravatar of Ms. Schneider’s China estimate of the day | Freedom's Floodgates Ms. Schneider’s China estimate of the day | Freedom's Floodgates
    4. March 2015 at 11:19

    […] is from The Economist, via Scott Sumner, whose post is of interest more generally on numerous matters. Scott also cites The Economist for […]

  32. Gravatar of Just Financial News / Ms. Schneider’s China estimate of the day Just Financial News / Ms. Schneider’s China estimate of the day
    4. March 2015 at 12:46

    […] is from The Economist, via Scott Sumner, whose post is of interest more generally on numerous matters. Scott also cites The Economist for […]

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