Taking the lead—then finishing last

All the recent discussion of lead has reminded me of my youth.  In the garage we had large sheets of lead—they must have weighted 50 pounds each, and I presume they were from a demolished building.  When I was about ten I recall taking hammer and screwdriver to chop off lots of pieces of about one inch square.  Just small enough to put in the small pan in my lead melting set.  After it melted, I’d skimmed off all the impurities on top. (Oh my God—I now recall the lead had paint on it–what if it was lead paint!)

The molten lead was quite pretty—sort of like mercury.  Then I’d pour it into a mold to make toy soldiers.  Sometimes the soldier’s rifle would get bent when re-enacting a WWII battle.  No problem—I used my teeth to bend it back straight again.

You might wonder how many IQ points I lost.  Does this explain why I stick to simple-minded MV=PY arguments, and steer clear of more sophisticated NK models?  Does it explain why my posts are often grouchy, and my grammar is often poor?

I don’t think so.  I’m quite convinced that none of the lead got into the “free will” lobe in my brain.  I distinctly recall sitting down one day and deciding to be a grammatically-challenged grouchy monetarist out of my own free will.  You’ll hear no excuses from me.

PS.  Please don’t tell me that lead is nothing to joke about.  That’s true of those seriously injured, but it most certainly is something for me to joke about.  When I was ten years old I heard far worse–dead baby jokes, Polack jokes, etc.  Come to think about it we were pretty appalling back in 1965.  Must’ve been the lead . . .

PPS.  How many are old enough to recall swinging on asbestos pipes in the basement?  Or getting megadoses of second hand smoke all the time?  (Emphysema runs in the family–my grandpa was a non-smoker and died of it.  I have his asthma.  So did my dad–who smoked a lot.) By age 14 I was working on ladders scraping and burning paint off old houses.  I also worked on lots and lots of remodelling projects–sanding down the paint on old window frames, so they could be re-painted.  And people ask me why I’m determined to retire and move to California at 62.  I consider it a miracle that I’m still alive.

PPPS.  FWIW I find the lead—>crime hypothesis plausible, albeit unproven.  Students seem to have improved over time (at my school) and I’ve noticed that young adults today seem less aggressive than when I was young–but maybe that reflects Boston.



29 Responses to “Taking the lead—then finishing last”

  1. Gravatar of Chuck E. Chuck E.
    20. January 2013 at 08:32

    I remember doing those same things… We even ran behind the mosquito abatement fogging truck with our T shirts over our faces for “gas masks.”

    How many IQ point indeed!

  2. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    20. January 2013 at 08:33

    Fun post, Arnold. And I’m impressed by your creativity at age 10. I never did anything that daring.

  3. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    20. January 2013 at 08:35

    Oh, and by the way, I live in California now and am age 62. But not close to retiring. 🙂

  4. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    20. January 2013 at 08:36

    Oops. I called you Arnold. Somehow your story reminded me of my former co-blogger Arnold Kling, whom I miss. Sorry.

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    20. January 2013 at 08:46

    Chuck, Yup, we also used to run behind the DDT truck.

    Thanks David. I liked your post on Social Security.

  6. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    20. January 2013 at 08:52

    David…maybe it’s the lead that did it!

    Chuck E. Nowadays they run mosquito abatement trucks during the day (here) when people are out and about – just a little stream of fog. But when I was young, the trucks would come at night when most people were in bed, and you could look out the window and watch the fog rise to the heavens.

    For more than a decade I used a hairdryer that had asbestos inside. But perhaps the real damage to my brain was just poor eyesight that made it hard to read until after the cataract surgeries.

  7. Gravatar of Ram Ram
    20. January 2013 at 09:07

    My own view is that it was the unfortunate combination of lead exposure and NGDP instability that produced the crime wave, and I credit Alan Greenspan with single-handedly solving both problems.

  8. Gravatar of Grant Gould Grant Gould
    20. January 2013 at 10:32

    Chasing balls of mercury around my dad’s office floor with a razor blade — good times.

    Around here, people have the lead paint sanded off of their houses, but then eat tomatoes grown in their back gardens filled with the sanded-off dust. It’s possibly the only way one could possibly manage to get lead poisoning from paint thirty feet off the ground, but people are nothing if not inventive.

  9. Gravatar of Catherine Catherine
    20. January 2013 at 12:28


    I grew up on a farm in central IL where my dad used to come in from the fields with pesticide smeared all over his face, except for a clean ring around his mouth where he had (inadvertently) licked it off. My mom told me she used to put his farm clothes in the washer with a pair of tongs. (And she wasn’t squeamish. Just the opposite.)

    Of course, we did end up with 3 full-blown diagnoses of autism in the 10 grandchildren….

    We don’t know that the farm had anything to do with it, of course. I’m sure my dad was autistic himself.

  10. Gravatar of Catherine Catherine
    20. January 2013 at 12:50

    You don’t have bad grammar!


    You have:

    * comma splices (punctuation, NOT grammar)
    * the occasional dangling modifier (even the NY Times has danglers these days – and at least one Language Log post says that danglers are **not** ungrammatical in any event)
    * the occasional misplaced modifier (also extremely common)
    * very occasionally: “subject” pronouns used as “objects” – give it to John and I [wrong] versus give it to John and me [right]

    I think that’s it.

    Of these four, the only one that matters for readers is the misplaced modifier. Misplaced modifiers matter in your case because they make your meaning less clear to people like me who are learning macro on the fly. Readers with more background knowledge probably don’t notice them.

    I’ll point one out the next time I see one. (I realize I have not been invited to perform this service!)

    Subject pronouns used as object pronouns are bad only because they jump out at people who know the difference. Same thing with dangling modifiers: for some readers, danglers pop off the page.

    My guess is that dangling modifiers and misused subject pronouns are invisible to the majority of readers.

    Comma splices should show up on Grammar Check, shouldn’t they?

    You do not know from bad grammar, believe me!

  11. Gravatar of Catherine Catherine
    20. January 2013 at 12:54

    Sorry – the Language Log link doesn’t work.

    Here it is (it’s a post about a dangling participle in The Economist: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1799

    If The Economist can publish dangling modifiers, The Money Illusion can, too.

  12. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    20. January 2013 at 14:53

    Richard Fisher is the man

    “Why? Mr. Fisher argued that megabanks not only threaten taxpayers with bailouts, but that their continuing failure to lend is also thwarting the Fed’s efforts to jump-start the economy by keeping interest rates low. “I submit that these institutions, as a result of their privileged status, exact an unfair tax upon the American people,” he told his audience. “Moreover, they interfere with the transmission of monetary policy and inhibit the advancement of our nation’s economic prosperity.”


  13. Gravatar of Vagabundus Vagabundus
    20. January 2013 at 17:52

    Dross, The impurities on top of molten metal are called dross. We used asbestos board to skim it off. I am sure to get cancer soon for that. Is there still money left in the fund?

  14. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    20. January 2013 at 19:35

    “Taking the lead””then finishing last”

    Or, getting early lead, will go to your head.

  15. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    20. January 2013 at 19:42


    Interesting read from Fisher. I’m of the view that TBTF will never go away so there are really only two good solutions. 1) Better regulate asset/equity ratios by asset class, or 2) limit bank size.

    Only question I would have on 2) is what it does to bank efficiency. Specifically, there are lot of large financial transactions and it’s not clear to me that a consortium of small banks can adequately handle these.

  16. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    20. January 2013 at 19:50

    I don’t effing believe it.

    When I was a youth I poured lead sliders using as lead tire balancers that had fallen off of cars/tires (abundant on the roads of L.A.) and any other source of lead I could find. Years later, as an adult, I bought a thick sheet of lead as described, I don;t know what was the intended purpose, I assumed x-ray work.

    Born in 1955—something about that year.

    IQ? Not nay lead paint, leaf soldiers, but lead in the gasoline that meant lead in the smoggy air…

  17. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    20. January 2013 at 20:47

    “Richard Fisher is the man”

    No, Richard Fisher is the moron.

    He measures a “too-big-too-fail subsidy” by exactly one metric: the difference in yield spreads between large banks and small banks. He ignores all the factors driving this, like geographic and product line diversification, and claims it is all “subsidy”.

    Then, who does he want these banks to lend to? Subprime? HELOC? Keep in mind the Fed is *requiring* these banks to *raise* their capital ratios. Why would they lend?

    Ultimately, Fisher is just a shill for the Texas Community Bankers who vote him in and are buddies with him.

  18. Gravatar of David N David N
    20. January 2013 at 22:55

    What if we took all the lead an minted a giant coin…

  19. Gravatar of Ning Fu(Foenix) Ning Fu(Foenix)
    21. January 2013 at 01:27

    “how many IQ points I lost” really like this sentence. it seems that this is not quite related to economics. But, this post shows us the other side of you, bravo~

    Even though the article about lead may be not 100% percent, at least it can call for people’s attention to lead pollution. After all, it is not good for health anyway.

  20. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    21. January 2013 at 02:13

    Scott, sorry but you may have to do a reply to this: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/01/why-is-there-still-inflation-in-greece-model-this.html

    I left one in the comments, but I’m not sure that anyone will read it. Still pleasantly surprised to see Eliezer Yudkowsky interested in macroeconomic issues, though. (I thought he was too busy saving the world or something…)

  21. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    21. January 2013 at 03:58

    Richard Koo on Japan: http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2013/01/17/1340432/koo-posen-and-other-abenomics-dissenters/?

    (Is it now a regular thing for Alphaville to drop links to posts on this blog?)

  22. Gravatar of Michael Michael
    21. January 2013 at 06:27

    Lead is most dangerous to children under age six.

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. January 2013 at 06:57

    Thanks Catherine, And please do give me suggestions.

    Saturos, That’s a very odd article. It’s not clear whether Koo think Japan needs more AD or not. Why would he argue that deflation is not a problem and then argue for fiscal stimulus?

    Regarding Greece, it seems to me that the evidence Tyler presents strongly supports my approach, “It’s not inflation, it’s NGDP stupid.”

    Michael, Yes I know, indeed as a landlord I have to deal with our INSANE liability rules on lead paint.

  24. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. January 2013 at 07:33

    Saturos, ssumner:

    Tim Duy provides a good explanation of the “inflation” in Greece. It’s all oil, and indirect taxes on oil.


  25. Gravatar of c8to c8to
    21. January 2013 at 08:25

    the lead may not have got to you, but maybe the tox did:


  26. Gravatar of Josiah Josiah
    21. January 2013 at 08:32


    At least you don’t live in Canada, where horrible accidents can strike at any moment.

  27. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    22. January 2013 at 08:42

    I suggest that comming of age in the great inflation leads to crime, and kids that grew up in during the great moderation are less crime prone.

  28. Gravatar of Typhoon Jim Typhoon Jim
    22. January 2013 at 21:08

    I expected more thinking of the marginal case here! The matter is not whether the genius Scott Sumner can survive a dose of brain-bashing chemicals. He has intellect to spare, probably (his upbringing may have helped.) But what will happen if you push one more fellow who drew bad tickets in the birth and upbringing lotteries down a notch? There seems a great deal of “unseen” to see here.

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. January 2013 at 06:47

    Jim, I thought I was thinking at the margin. Didn’t I say the lead made me dumber? Read the post again.

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