August 2010

How very amusing about vegetarianism

Having a brain capable of deciding not to eat meat may in fact be due to …. eating meat.

The argument is that our large brains are very expensive, nutritionally, to keep going.

Some other part of the body (with reference to the \”standard\” mammallian blueprint) must have shrunk in terms of the nutrition required to keep it going to allow the brain to take so many resources.

Heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, the other expensive bits to keep going, are largely unchangeable given the size of the total animal.

But the gut is changeable. It\’s possible to have an \”expensive\” gut able to process lots of veggies….and cellulose etc, so that grass eating becomes nutritious. Or you can have a cheap gut which cannot process these….and therefore you need to be eating meat as it\’s denser in that nutrition required.

Which leads to the conclusion that you cannot have intelligent herbivores because they need to put so much energy into running their guts that the brain cannot grow large, thus only carnivores or omnivores can become intelligent.

No, this isn\’t an explanation of why vegertarians are dullards: neither that their small brains allow them to get away with it nor that their getting away with it makes their brains small.

But it ought to.


A new acronym appears: LGBTQI.

And what does it mean?

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Intersex

The \”transgender\” is sometime replaced with \”transgender/transexual\” which would, I suppose, give us LGBTTQQI.

I suppose we could have the occasional bit of fun by adding further terms: LGBTTQQII, so that we can include the indifferent. Or LGBAPIASTQQII for LGBanyportinastormTTQQII.

At some point though wouldn\’t it make more sense to simply say NEH?

Not exclusively heterosexual?

Yes, I\’d go with this

On the other side if there is no agency problem then deregulation should remain the order of the day.  Trade restrictions create arbitrageurs – and the arbitrageurs ensure the trade restrictions don’t work anyway.

Sensible policy.

Equal pay again

But 40 years after it was enshrined in law in the UK, women are still paid, on average, 17% less than men for full-time work and 39.9% less for part-time work.

No, this isn\’t true.

Firstly, this is using the mean average and ONS says that we should all be using the median: less affected by a very few high earners way out in the distribution (yes, it is correct to use the median here as there is a lower bound, £0 pay, meaning that the mean will not be representative). And yes, ONS has told people like the Fawcett Society and Harry Harperson that they\’re wrong to keep using the mean.

Secondly it isn\’t true that women get 39.9% less for part time work than men get for part time work. Women actually get more for part time work than men get for part time work. That 39.9% number is calculated by comparing part time female pay with full time male pay….but all part timers get less than full timers (OK, on average of course) meaning that that is confusing the issue by adding two entirely different gaps together.

I thought we\’d complained often enough and loudly enough about this to get them to stop doing this. Obviously not, eh?

This is interesting though:

In a recent study by Friends Provident, the financial services company, 24% of women said they considered salary to be the most important factor at work, compared with 37% of men.

So women think that pay is not as important as men do, eh? So other things are more important….perhaps flexibility, working hour, the actual job itself? Which means that women are going to negotiate for (and yes, you do negotiate, even by just accepting the terms of the job or not) things other than pay….and thus going to end up with less pay and more of whatever else it is they think more important.

As Adam Smith pointed out, the total price paid for labour is going to be equal: how that price is divided between the various things that are paid for it may differ.

Local authority strikes

This will be interesting:

Strike threat after councils impose two-year pay freeze
Scotland faces a winter of disruption to vital public services after council workers reacted with fury to the imposition of a two-year pay freeze.

Last time around, 78/79, such strikes were a factor in the electorate saying that the government of the time, Labour, had to go. Something was rotten with the state of the nation and a change had to come: in comes Maggie.

We might think that the same will happen this time: the government of the day gets it in the neck for screwing up so badly.


It\’s also possible that public opinion will go the other way. We\’ve got to hunker down in these harsh economic times: why shouldn\’t the public sector as well? If jobs are being lost all around, private sector pay is static at best, why should they get another wodge from our taxes?

It\’ll be interesting to see which way it goes. It might, just, go like the housing benefit thing did. As limits are announced various lefties rise up screaming that this will crucify the poor. Then, as people realised that the limit was £400 a week, that the annual limit was more, still, than many earned, the general feeling (my evidence being CiF comments, not the most reliable of sources admittedly) seemed to become, well, quite right too.

It\’s essentially a PR exercise now I think. Put upon and dedicated creators of the community? Or public sector fat cats who do little work and enjoy massive pensions?

Something you may not realise about Russia

Construction of a brand new 1,300 mile road between the two cities was recently completed almost five decades after construction first begun meaning it is now theoretically possible to drive across Russia on a continuous joined up network of roads.

Dressed in a casual polo shirt and wearing sunglasses, Mr Putin said he was keen to test the new road which he hailed as a \”historic\” moment in Russia\’s history. \”Our country, the largest in the world, has never in its history – never – been completely joined up by highways. Finally we have done it,\” he said.

They don\’t actually have a road network that covers the country. And as that story shows, it\’s not just little villages left off it either. There was no east west road, from Vladivostock to Moscow for example.

To be honest, I\’m not sure if it\’s still true now but certainly in the 1990s there were huge towns that didn\’t have land connections to anywhere. Norilsk for example, 300,000 people, and no land link at all. No road, no rail.

You could fly in or out, there was a rail line to the river and after the spring thaw (late June up there) there would be boats out over the sea to Murmansk or up the river inland to where the Trans-Siberian crossed the country.

And this sort of isolation was not unusual: there would be cars and roads inside these cities, but they were islands: go too far outside the cities and the road networks simply stopped.

What we would consider to be basic infrastucture in many places just doesn\’t exist.

Who? Who?

Cabinet minister may act over false claims of gay affairs

The thing is, have things moved on enough now that the allegation would be an affair or two, thus breaching his oath to his wife, or that he\’s gay? Which of the two is actually considered disreputable these days?

Paul Routledge and numbers

And today\’s example of a journalist who really doesn\’t have a firm grasp on numbers is Paul Routledge in The Mirror.

The Office for National Statistics says that 178 in every 10,000 people in management and professional jobs die before they’re 65. The comparable figure for middle-class jobs like teaching is 297. But for manual workers it’s 407 per 10,000. And their overall life ­expectancy is far lower, too.

Nice try there but no.

Early mortality (ie, deaths before retirement age) is measured per 1,000 of population, not per 10,000 of population.


Well done Paul, you\’re only out by a factor of ten!

So what does James Hansen suggest we do?

However, fossil fuel addiction can be solved only when we recognise an economic law as certain as the law of gravity: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy they will be used. Solution therefore requires a rising fee on oil, gas and coal – a carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All funds collected should be distributed to the public on a per capita basis to allow lifestyle adjustments and spur clean energy innovations. As the fee rises, fossil fuels will be phased out, replaced by carbon-free energy and efficiency.

A carbon fee is the only realistic path to global action. China and India will not accept caps, but they need a carbon fee to spur clean energy and avoid fossil fuel addiction.

Governments today, instead, talk of \”cap-and-trade with offsets\”, a system rigged by big banks and fossil fuel interests. Cap-and-trade invites corruption. Worse, it is ineffectual, assuring continued fossil fuel addiction to the last drop and environmental catastrophe.

How wondrous to find an environmentalist who actually gets regulatory capture, public choice economics and the economics of Pigou taxation!

For, yes, this is exactly what we should be doing, assuming that the IPCC is indeed correct about climate change.

We\’ve even got two different approaches we could use to this.

One is the Stern Review one: the social costs of carbon emissions are $80 a tonne, so tax carbon emissions $80 a tonne (in detail, CO2-e).

Excellent, we in the UK already largely do that. We\’ve not got the taxes properly distributed, it\’s too much on petrol, about right on flying and not high enough on farming for example, but over all we\’re at about the right level.

There\’s also the William Nordhaus idea, start with a low tax and (credibly) commit to raising it. Perhaps $5 or $10 a tonne now, rising to $250 or so around 2040. This allows both the development of new technologies and also works with the grain of the capital cycle.

The Nordhaus solution is almost certainly better for those places (yes, USA, we are looking at you) which do not at present have anything like the required carbon taxes. Whacking $80 a tonne on right now would cause huge dislocation: better to let the economy adapt more gently.

We\’d also rather like to stop those $550 billion of subsidies to fossil fuels as well: the $100 billion that Iran spends on consumer subsidies for petrol and natural gas, the $70 billion or so Russia does and so on.

But what really intrigues about what Hansen is suggesting is that it\’s obvious that he\’s actually been reading real economists on this problem. whether or not he\’s actually got his ideas from these sources or not I don\’t know, but the rising fee idea is what Nordhaus suggests and the cap and trade inviting corruption is a point Greg Mankiw has made (although he\’s politer and calls it corporate pork).

Isn\’t that amazing? Someone who desires to change human activity actually going to the experts in how to change the incentives humans face so as to change their activities?

You\’d almost think the guy was a scientist or something.

They just don\’t get it, do they?

Impenetrable \”clusters of privilege\” are forming around the best state schools, Barnardo\’s, Britain\’s biggest children\’s charity, warns today. Poorer families are losing out to better-off neighbours who move house or attend church to get a better education.

Unfair admissions practices result in schools with skewed intakes that do not reflect their neighbourhoods, Barnardo\’s says, citing research that indicates the top secondary schools in England take on average just 5% of pupils entitled to free school meals.

It\’s a little difficult to see how both these can be true….that the rich move into neighbourhoods around good schools thus creating enclaves, yet also the school ends up not reflecting the number of poor around. One or the other: the poor get excluded becuase of house prices and thus there are no poor in the catchment area, surely?

But the larger point seems to be escaping these people entirely.

Yes, human beings will do a lot for their kids, yes, those with greater resources will do more for them than those with fewer.

That\’s something engrained within human beings. For wanting to be able to do a lot for your kids is one of the reasons people go out and acquire those greater resources.

And it doesn\’t matter how you try to rig the market to stop this, people will always game whatever system you put in place.

Complaining that the pushy get better access to a good provided free by the State is simply pissing in the wind.

It\’s that English understatement thing again

The idea that the best way to deal with amazingly profitable and slightly addictive substances is to let the most thieving and murderous people in our country sell them, and kill anyone who’d mention this to the regulators, also doesn’t strike me as top notch.

Sadly, it was also one of the lines that Sunny decided to edit out of this piece.