Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Do Coywolves, Mr. Nobody, Plants And Fungi All Have In Common?

Public services are never better performed than when their reward comes only in consequence of their being performed, and is proportioned to the diligence employed in performing them. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
Presumably, individuals would prefer to pay less for virtually any good or service, since doing so rationally maximizes their utility from payment (Becker 1962). - Cait Lamberton, A Spoonful of Choice
This blog entry is dedicated to exploring the fact that the innate drive to maximize benefit (MB) isn't just a fundamental part of human nature, it's a fundamental part of every organism's nature.  As such, I should probably put the bottom line up front...

Extending consumer choice to the public sector would greatly MB

Here's the outline of the argument...

  1. MB depends on choosing the most valuable option (MVO)
  2. All living organisms want to MB so they endeavor to choose the MVO
  3. No two organisms are equally good at choosing the MVO
  4. Being better at choosing the MVO increases fitness
  5. Choosing the MVO depends on accurate information
  6. Humans are the best at choosing the MVO
  7. Humans are the best at storing and processing information
  8. The desire to choose the MVO is the core of consumer choice
  9. Narrowing the scope of consumer choice results in less information being processed
  10. Blocking consumer choice from the public sector narrows the scope of consumer choice
  11. Far less information is exchanged/processed for public goods
  12. Public goods largely fail to MB
  13. Extending consumer choice to the public sector would greatly MB

Unless I'm missing something, the universal drive to try and MB doesn't have a name.  For now let's just call it "linvoid".

There are quite a few Wikipedia entries that are more or less relevant to linvoid...

All these entries would be entirely meaningless if linvoid wasn't a real thing.  It should be the case that each entry has one unique word (ie "linvoid") in common.  But they really don't...
The multinomial logit or MNL model form is commonly used as it is a good approximation to the economic principle of utility maximisation. That is, human beings strive to maximise their total utility. - Choice modelling
The animal wants to gain the most benefit (energy) for the lowest cost during foraging, so that it can maximize its fitness. - Optimal foraging theory
Consumer behaviour is a maximisation problem. It means making the most of our limited resources to maximise our utility. As consumers are insatiable, and utility functions grow with quantity, the only thing that limits our consumption is our own budget. - Budget constraint
Rationality, interpreted as "wanting more rather than less of a good", is widely used as an assumption of the behavior of individuals in microeconomic models and analysis and appears in almost all economics textbook treatments of human decision-making. - Rational choice theory
Is "rationality" or "utility maximization" the same thing as linvoid?  I don't think so.

Check out this clip from a PBS documentary of the coywolf (coyote x wolf)...

A female coywolf (we'll call her Carrie), is trotting along with a goose egg in her mouth when she happens to discover a roadkill.  Carrie puts the egg down and it rolls a few feet away.  After a couple moments of deliberation, she picks up the roadkill, adjusts it in her mouth, goes over to the egg, double checks that she's chosen the MVO and trots away regretting that she couldn't take the egg with her.

We couldn't ask for a more perfect example of two closely related concepts...opportunity cost and linvoid.  But you really wouldn't know this from the commentary.

Here's a rough transcript of the clip (fake names)...

Dave: Oh yeah.
Frank: Yeah, that would have been the first time...the first time I've ever seen an animal carrying an egg like that.
Bob: She's picking something off the road.
Dave: Oh yeah.
Frank: They'll either eat the egg on the spot or they will cache them so they are able to eat eggs for up to a month after the nesting season is over.

Why didn't any of them point out the fascinating fact that Carrie traded an egg for a roadkill?  None of them thought that this behavior was remarkable?  Perhaps it was too mundane to mention?

From my perspective, the commentary should have gone something like this...

Dave: Oh yeah.
Frank: Yeah, that would have been the first time...the first time I've ever seen an animal carrying an egg like that.
Bob: She's picking something off the road.
Dave: Oh yeah.  Evidently the roadkill was worth the opportunity cost.
Frank:  What a great example of linvoid!  Linvoid is the fundamentally basic drive that compels all organisms to try and maximize their benefit.  Because of linvoid, all animals endeavor to choose the most valuable option (MVO).  Carrie the coywolf tried to choose the MVO because of linvoid.  All of us in this car are choosing to sit here and document Carrie because of linvoid.  Whoever watches this documentary will do so because of linvoid.  If anybody writes about this documentary it will be because of linvoid!

The disparity between the two transcripts supports my theory that linvoid doesn't have a name.  Which is really bizarre.  Let's put this bizarreness on the back burner and consider the concept itself.

As the Frank in a better world pointed out... linvoid is the reason why Carrie was compelled to compare, calculate and try and choose the MVO.  Was the roadkill truly more valuable than the egg though?  Does it even matter?  What if she had put the roadkill down and picked up a rock instead?  Out of these three options…an egg, roadkill and a rock…the rock would definitely have been the least valuable option (LVO).  It's not even edible.  So it really wouldn't be a stretch to argue that Carrie was making a mistake.  What would happen to coywolves if they all started choosing the LVOs?

Imagine you're a coywolf and you see Carrie picking up a rock instead of the roadkill.  What do you do?  Well…first you'd think that Carrie is a dumbass and then you'd go over and pick up the roadkill yourself. Carrie's mistake is actually pretty great...if she's a member of another pack.  But if Carrie is a member of your pack...then there is a problem if she and too many other members consistently choose the LVOs.  Their mistakes would decrease your pack's fitness...which would decrease your fitness.  So if Carrie is a member of your pack then, because of linvoid, you'd make the effort to tell her that rocks aren't edible.  This accurate information should be of interest to Carrie given that, like all organisms, linvoid is a basic part of her nature.

Just like with coywolves, linvoid is a basic part of our nature as well.  Unlike coywolves though...we have hands!  If we wanted to, we could carry a goose egg in one hand and a roadkill in the other.  Our hands allow us to carry far more than coywolves can carry with their mouths.  Being able to carry more is a huge advantage.  We can get far more bang for our buck than animals that can carry less.  In fact, being able to carry all the groceries in one go is so heavenly that it provides a strong explanation for why we walk upright (carrying model).  Being able to carry more is, in most cases, far more beneficial than being able to run faster.

In prehistoric times, being able to carry more wasn't just a matter of an increase in the quantity of items, it was also a matter of an increase in the variety of items that could be simultaneously carried.  The addition of more variables increased the complexity of the prioritization problem.  Our early human ancestors had to decide on the most valuable set of items... children, food, water, tools, weapons, fire, seeds, etc... to carry.  Successfully determining the most valuable bundles required storing more and more information and having more and more power to process it all.  Having to mentally juggle all the information associated with a greater variety of items resulted in a virtuous cycle.  Being able to carry more led to an increase in cognition...which helped our ancestors figure out new ways to carry more...which led to more cognition which led to more carrying capacity which led to more cognition and so on.

It's a given that there were frequent concerns that other members in the group were carrying the wrong things.  This reflected the fact that information was unevenly dispersed.  Our ancestors, because of greater information storage and processing power, became better at effectively sharing their information with each other.  Why did they feel compelled to share their information with each other?  Because of linvoid.  As communication improved, accurate information replaced inaccurate information at a much faster rate.

Over time our ancestors became better and better at allocating resources (choosing the MVOs).  Of course it's more accurate to say that our ancestors were selected for the relevant traits.  But in any case...voila!  Here you are!  Homo sapiens.   Because of linvoid, perhaps you're wondering whether it's worth it to continue allocating your time to this blog entry.  Maybe you should watch a movie instead?

Have you seen Mr. Nobody?  It's by far the best movie to watch if you'd like to better understand linvoid/economics.  The story centers around a fellow named Nemo Nobody who is confronted with choices.  In this regard it's no different than any other movie.  What makes this movie exceptional is that we can also see what happens when Nemo chooses different options.

Here's a clip from the movie...

Nemo the human choosing between two different types of pastries is essentially the same thing as Carrie the coywolf choosing between an egg and a roadkill.  Because of linvoid, both Nemo and Carrie want the most bang for their buck.  The difference is that Nemo can process more information than Carrie can...which greatly increases his chances of choosing the MVO.

What's strange about the movie is that the moral of the story really doesn't follow from the story itself.  From the story we get the sense that one option really isn't as good as any...hence the importance of deliberation.  Yet, here's what Nemo concludes as an old man...
Each of these lives is the right one. Every path is the right path. Everything could have been anything else and it would have just as much meaning. Tennessee Williams. Ah! You're too young for that!
...and from the director himself...
My producers don't like me saying it, but it's really a big-budget experimental film about the many different lives one person can live, depending on the choices he makes. It's about the infinite possibilities facing any person. There are no good or bad choices in life. It's simply that each choice will create another life for you. What's interesting is to be alive. - Jaco Van Dormael
If all options were equally valuable then it really wouldn't matter which pastries, partners or paths we choose...

If one path was as good as any then deliberation would be pointless.  But I'm pretty sure that Dormael and quite a few other people engaged in some decent deliberation before deciding to invest significant amounts of their own time/money in the production of their movie.  Personally, I deliberated a bit before I decided to watch it...and I'm guessing that, in this regard, I'm the rule rather than the exception.

Can you imagine all the deliberation that went into the production and consumption of this movie?  What would you guess to be the total amount of time that was spent deliberating this one single product?  Can you grasp all the information that was processed in the total deliberation?  If you were somehow able to capture and digitize all this many gigabytes would you guess would be required to store it all?

In the video clip we saw Nemo deliberating between two pastries.  How much information did he process when trying to decide between the two items?  As I mentioned earlier, it doesn't seem unreasonable to guess that he processed more information than Carrie did when she decided between the egg and the roadkill.  But how much more information went into Nemo's decision?  Just a little more...or a lot more?  Did Nemo process twice as much information?  Or ten times as much information?  Or one hundred times as much information?

If I flatter myself and pretend that Dormael will read this blog entry then I might as well pitch him an idea for a follow up movie.  Rather than Nemo Nobody being the main character...the pastry shop itself would be the main character.  When a kid, such as Nemo, tries to decide which pastry to buy...we'd see, in a wonderful way, all the information that goes into his decision.  Then we'd see the same thing with the next customer... and the next customer.  The movie would fast forward a bit and show us how all their consumption choices have influenced the selection of pastries over time.  

Mr. Nobody, as wonderful as it is, doesn't show us where better options come from (builderism).   So unfortunately, it isn't the cure for economic ignorance.  But it does help to illustrate two fundamentally important concepts... opportunity cost and linvoid.  These two concepts are prerequisites for learning about economics.

So far we've looked at linvoid in terms of coywolves and humans.  Now, in order to help you appreciate the universality of this concept, we'll consider living organisms that are very different from mammals...plants and fungi.

Just like with mammals, the behavior of plants and fungi reflects their innate desire to MB.  In order to appreciate this it helps to have a bit of botany in your bonnet.  Nearly all plants, even epiphytic plants, have certain types of fungi living on and in their roots.  The fungi provide the plants with nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen.  In exchange, the plants provide the fungi with carbon.  Because plants and fungi are living organisms, and all living organisms are subject to linvoid, it should be a given that both fungi and plants actively shop around for better deals...
"The new theory pictures a more business-like relationship among multiple buyers and sellers connected in a network. Having multiple symbiotic trading-partners generates competition among both the fungi and the plants, where each individual trades carbon for nutrients or vice versa to maximize profits, not unlike a capitalistic market economy," says Franklin. - Symbiosis or capitalism? A new view of forest fungi (2014)
To learn more...

You really shouldn't be wondering this, but just in case you are...then yes, linvoid also extends to microbes...
The scientists asked themselves how far biological market theory, which has been used successfully to explain cooperative behavior in many species, could be extended. Could it be used to describe, for example, the exchange of commodities between organisms without any cognitive ability, such as microbes. 
They could think of instances where single-celled organisms had been shown to avoid bad trading partners, build local business ties, diversify or specialize in a particular commodity, save for a rainy day, eliminate the competition and otherwise behave in ways that seem to follow market-based principles. 
They concluded not only that microbes are economic actors, but also that microbial markets can be useful systems for testing questions about biological markets in general, such as the evolution of partner choice, responses to price fluctuations and the identification of market conditions that drive diversification or specialization. - Microbes swap for tiny goods in minuscule markets: Microbes buy low, sell high (2014)
For an excellent treatment of the concept of "biological markets" please see... Does Market Theory Apply to Biology?

While I've argued that linvoid is a truly universal characteristic of all life...I really can't know for a fact that this is true.  Perhaps across the universe on some strange planets there are forms of life that have absolutely no desire to get the most bang for their buck?  Maybe?  It's just really hard to imagine fitness being irrelevant.  As if somehow there's a planet where evolution or gravity is the exception rather than the rule.  Any such story would be really heavy on the fiction and ultra light on the science.  It's a lot easier to imagine organisms that are better than we are at choosing the MVOs.

Any alien species that has colonized other planets is better than we are at choosing the MVO.  Here on Earth we still haven't even given linvoid a name.  So even though we've won the MB race on our shouldn't be a surprise if we learn that we're lagging far behind species on other planets.

Superficially it seems that the problem is that too many members of our species are choosing the least valuable model of government.  But this would be like arguing that the problem is that Carrie and too many other coywolves are choosing rocks.  When too many organisms choose the LVOs the real problem has to do with a lack of accurate information.  Therefore the solution is to supply accurate information.  So here I am.

Maybe I'm wasting my time?  Maybe linvoid isn't a real thing?  Maybe I'm vastly overestimating your cognitive abilities?  Maybe I'm vastly overestimating my own cognitive abilities?

If you're at all familiar with behavioral economics, then perhaps you've got a few critiques of consumer choice up your sleeve.  But what are the alternatives?

If the majority of people's biases consistently prevent them from choosing the MVOs...then...what?  We should continue allowing the majority to choose the most valuable people to choose the most valuable public goods?  We should continue allowing the majority to choose how they allocate their own money in the private sector?  Neither really follows from a truly substantial critique of the majority's choices.

If you do have a truly substantial critique of the majority's choices, then it would be far more logical for you to argue for a model of government in which the best choosers are allowed to allocate everybody else's resources (time, money, etc).  This presents a couple fundamental problems.  The first problem is how to identify these exceptionally unbiased choosers.  The second problem, which trumps the first, is that, as flawed and faulty as people's choices can be, we really don't MB by limiting valuation.

In a pragmatarian system, if nearly everybody suddenly allocates all their taxes, and then some, to defense…then chances are really good that it would behoove you to figure out what all the fuss is about.  Maybe you'll ask your neighbor and learn that Godzilla is heading straight for the US.  If a considerable percentage of the population has allocated so much of their own tax dollars to defense then it wouldn't be unreasonable to guess that their allocations were backed by considerable evidence.  Does this mean that the majority’s valuation is 100% correct?  Not 100%...but perhaps high enough where it might be really worth it for you to make it a number one priority to acquire and process as much relevant information as you can.

There's always a chance that the majority's valuation is incorrect.  Perhaps the Godzilla that people believe they see is actually just a really elaborate prank.  Hmmm, if it turned out that this was the case, then would people be able to get a refund from the Department of Defense?  Perhaps the DoD would issue a statement on their website….
…sorry folks…while we appreciate that you're worried about shortages of other public goods…we’re keeping the money because it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Maybe it would help to try and imagine what would have happened if The War of the Worlds radio prank had occurred in a modern pragmatarian system.  According to that Wikipedia article, the exact depth and breadth of the panic was not known.  But in a pragmatarian system, this information would be instantly available.  You could simply go to the DoD website and see the recent changes to their demand shape.  The size of the change would indicate just how many panicked people had allocated just how much money to the DoD.  

This snippet from the Wikipedia entry is especially relevant...
Others blamed the radio audience for its credulity. Noting that any intelligent listener would have realized the broadcast was fictional, the Chicago Tribune opined that "it would be more tactful to say that some members of the radio audience are a trifle retarded mentally, and that many a program is prepared for their consumption." Other newspapers took pains to note that anxious listeners had called their offices to learn whether Martians were really attacking.
People who consistently make mistakes...go on wild goose chases, tilt at windmills, bark up the wrong trees, leap without looking, fail to make informed decisions...generally have less resources to allocate than people who consistently endeavor to do their homework.  This is because gaining resources depends on choosing the MVOs which depends on due diligence.  Therefore, as a rule, diligent people have more influence and control over how society's limited resources are allocated.

This 3V rule, which is pretty great, means that we really don't MB by preventing any number of people from endeavoring to choose the MVOs in the public sector.  Blocking choosers, diligent or otherwise,  is the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Careless choosers wield such a relatively small amount of influence that it's an epic mistake to prevent public goods from being subjected to the full force of humanity's linvoid-fueled processing power (LFPP).

Check out this recent sentence from Bryan Caplan...
The intellectually lazy masses have no patience for thoughtful arguments or big picture surveys of the evidence. - Against Recent Events
From the same blog entry...
...people's ubiquitous reluctance to bet shows something very big: Deep down, most demagogues don't even find themselves convincing - and neither do the masses who lionize them.
Following the link...
A bet instantly raises the marginal private cost of error, which leads to a sharp increase in rationality. Faced with financial consequences, people suddenly - if temporarily - admit to themselves that they know a lot less than they like to believe - and bet accordingly.
If the masses can't choose for themselves whether they personally carry national defense, public healthcare or any other public good...then does it really make any sense to accuse them of being intellectually lazy?   It's called "rational ignorance" for a reason.  Rational ignorance can be easily eliminated simply by allowing taxpayers to put their own tax dollars where their mouths are.

Along a similar line...
Alchian and Henry had a too-rare knack for using formal economic theory properly.  Never did they mistake the categories (such as “prices,” “quantities,” “marginal-cost schedule”) used in textbooks for being either descriptions of reality or prescriptions for reality.  They understood what such categories – and their verbal, graphical, and mathematical depictions – are: tools of thought and analyses to help our puny minds get a better grip on the enormously complex economic reality. - Don Boudreaux, Manne and Alchian
While I largely agree with Boudreaux's point, the part about "puny minds" really jumped out at me when I read it.  Our minds are puny?

As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.  My puny mind envisions a computer cluster of over 6 billion puny minds all connected together.  The analogy is hardly perfect but I'm pretty sure that we aren't doing ourselves any favors by removing any amount of puny minds from the cluster.  This is the problem with public spending... nearly everybody's mind has been removed from the cluster.  Where is your mind?  Where is my mind?  Not swimming in the public sector.  The public sector's microcluster utilizes the tiniest fraction of humanity's total LFPP.  It really shouldn't be a surprise that microclusters produce major clusterfucks.

Here on Earth we won the race to MB because of, rather than despite, our LFPP.  The problem is that as a species we clearly do not understand this.  Even though we call ourselves Homo sapiens, we erroneously believe that it's somehow beneficial to exclude nearly all our LFPP from the public sector.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If we want to MB and create a cluster of populated planets sooner rather than later, then every single person must be free to decide for themselves which public goods are worth carrying.  If, in a pragmatarian system, you disagreed with other people's valuations, if you thought that they were carrying the LVOs, then you'd endeavor to use your words and pictures to share your accurate information with them.  If it wasn't worth it to do so then perhaps your information really wasn't that important.

Check out this picture of a couple pro tax choice advocates...

They are actually pro choice advocates but it seems as if "somebody" decided to improve their message.  A lot more trust/faith is required for allowing people to have kids than it is for allowing them to choose where their taxes go.  As I mentioned earlier... the market is a 3V network.  If somebody has a lot of taxes to allocate, which represents a lot of responsibility, then it's because they've been vetted/vouched/validated by a lot of other people.  Taxpayers have to earn their responsibility.  The same really isn't true of parents.

As many people argue (see comments), being able to have children is a basic human right.  Well...I don't think that the right to have children should trump the right for children to be raised by parents who have earned the responsibility to do so.  Just like I don't think that Elizabeth Warren's right to spend taxpayers' money should trump the right for taxpayers to only have their taxes spent by people who have earned the right to do so.

Consider this comment (that I can't directly reply to)...
We don't lock people up just because we think they are LIKELY to commit crimes. Or because it is cheaper to lock people up preemptively than deal with ameliorating the effects of crime after the fact.
Likewise we shouldn't take people's kids away just because we think they are LIKELY to abuse them. Or even if it is cheaper to preemptively take them away than to deal with ameliorating abuse. 
I am willing to pay a premium for a just system. Parent licensing is unjust. - Theresa Klein
It stands to reason that Klein wouldn't give any money to an unjust system.  The simple logic here is that if a system wants her money, then it's going to have to earn it with justice.  It's pretty solid logic.  She's not going to randomly give her money away.  Clearly she values her money enough to expect something valuable in return.  There's a "minor" detail with her logic though.  Can you see it?  It's the part where, in Klein's mind, a just system, a system that's worth her money, is one in which people do not have to earn the responsibility to hold another person's life in their hands.  Klein has a blatant double standard...unless children are worthless.  If children are worthless then it would make sense why she would hold her money to a much higher standard.

With the justice system, people are innocent until proven otherwise.  With a sound economic system, people are irresponsible until proven otherwise...
Indeed, we might consider the dollars people earn as certificates of performance. Think of it in the following way. You hire me to mow your lawn. After I have completed the task, you give me $20. I go to the grocer and demand a pound of steak and a six-pack of beer that my fellow man produced. The grocer says, “You’re demanding something that your fellow man has produced. What have you done to serve him?” I reply, “I have served my fellow man by mowing his lawn.” The grocer says, “Prove it!” That’s when I hand him my $20, my certificate of performance. - Walter Williams, Capitalism and the Common Man
Markets work because the amount of influence/responsibility that individuals in a society have is determined by the valuations of the other members of the society.  This maximally inclusive feedback system, because of linvoid, logically creates the most value.  Determining influence/responsibility outside of such a system logically destroys value.

In order to help ensure that this blog entry provides you with the most bang for your buck... I'll add a bunch of value in the form of more than a dozen excellent passages...


Loss of personal wealth is a powerful dissuader, while profits are a powerful persuader to pay heed to other people’s preference. - Armen A. Alchian

Geometry presupposes an arbitrary definition of a line, "that which has length but not breadth." Just in the same manner does Political Economy presuppose an arbitrary definition of man, as a being who inevitably does that by which he may obtain the greatest amount of necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries, with the smallest quantity of labour and physical self-denial with which they can be obtained. - John Stuart Mill, Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy

Gain is the end of all improvement, and nothing could deserve that name of which loss was to be the necessary consequence. But loss must be the necessary consequence of improving land for the sake of a produce of which the price could never bring back the expence. If the complete improvement and cultivation of the country be, as it most certainly is, the greatest of all public advantages, this rise in the price of all those different sorts of rude produce, instead of being considered as a public calamity, ought to be regarded as the necessary forerunner and attendant of the greatest of all public advantages.  - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

The produce of industry is what it adds to the subject or materials upon which it is employed. In proportion as the value of this produce is great or small, so will likewise be the profits of the employer. But it is only for the sake of profit that any man employs a capital in the support of industry; and he will always, therefore, endeavour to employ it in the support of that industry of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, or to exchange for the greatest quantity either of money or of other goods. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

One of those boys, who loved to play with his companions, observed that, by tying a string from the handle of the valve which opened this communication, to another part of the machine, the valve would open and shut without his assistance, and leave him at liberty to divert himself with his play-fellows. One of the greatest improvements that has been made upon this machine, since it was first invented, was in this manner the discovery of a boy who wanted to save his own labour. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

But the annual revenue of every society is always precisely equal to the exchangeable value of the whole annual produce of its industry, or rather is precisely the same thing with that exchangeable value. As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

In other universities the teacher is prohibited from receiving any honorary or fee from his pupils, and his salary constitutes the whole of the revenue which he derives from his office. His interest is, in this case, set as directly in opposition to his duty as it is possible to set it. It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest, at least as interest is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it altogether, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in as careless and slovenly a manner as that authority will permit. If he is naturally active and a lover of labour, it is his interest to employ that activity in any way from which he can derive some advantage, rather than in the performance of his duty, from which he can derive none. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

The public can facilitate this acquisition by establishing in every parish or district a little school, where children may be taught for a reward so moderate that even a common labourer may afford it; the master being partly, but not wholly, paid by the public, because, if he was wholly, or even principally, paid by it, he would soon learn to neglect his business. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

The interest of a nation in its commercial relations to foreign nations is, like that of a merchant with regard to the different people with whom he deals, to buy as cheap and to sell as dear as possible. But it will be most likely to buy cheap, when by the most perfect freedom of trade it encourages all nations to bring to it the goods which it has occasion to purchase; and, for the same reason, it will be most likely to sell dear, when its markets are thus filled with the greatest number of buyers. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

In the real world, demand revelation meets with the same problem that has long confounded students of democracy.  As Anthony Downs and others have shown, rational voters have little or no incentive to spend their time or effort gathering or providing information about their preferences.  And even if the information were available, what is the incentive for a bureaucratic (monopolistic) supplier of a public good to give voters the greatest amount of value at the minimum of cost? - Edward H. Clarke, Demand Revelation and the Provision of Public Goods

Justice would thereby have been done at least to the extent that each man received his money’s worth. - Knut Wicksell

The consumers are not prepared to satisfy anybody’s pretensions, presumptions, and self-conceit. They want to be served in the cheapest way. - Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

But this is not all. If this doctrine is true, and as all men think and invent, as all, in fact, from first to last, and at every minute of their existence, seek to make the forces of Nature co-operate with them, to do more with less, to reduce their own manual labor or that of those whom they pay, to attain the greatest possible sum of satisfactions with the least possible amount of work; we must conclude that all mankind is on the way to decadence, precisely because of this intelligent aspiration towards progress that seems to torment every one of its members. - Frédéric Bastiat, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen

Men have a natural inclination, if they are not prevented by force, to go for a bargain—that is, for something that, for an equivalent satisfaction, spares them labor—whether this bargain comes to them from a capable foreign producer or from a capable mechanical producer. - Frédéric Bastiat, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen

To satisfy our wants to the utmost with the least effort - to procure the greatest amount of what is desirable at the expense of the least that is undesirable - in other words, to maximize pleasure, is the problem of economics. - William Stanley Jevons, The Theory of Political Economy


Bueller's Basement

OMD Walk Tall

Out of curiosity I searched for videos of animals trying to decide which items to carry.  For some reason the results really sucked.  There's got to be plenty of relevant videos out there though. In this case, I'm pretty sure that crowd sponsored results would have done a better job.  If you do happen to find a video that's at least as good as Carrie the coywolf sacrificing an egg for a roadkill...then please don't hesitate to share it.  Perhaps we can create a youtube playlist of such videos.

Cutest chubby couple ever.  I randomly found a picture of them on flickr.  I shared the link with my gf and she was like, *weirded out*..."are you a connoisseur of cute chubby couples?"  "Now I am", was my reply.  I wanted to share the link with you but when I clicked on it recently, I discovered that the photographer had removed all of her photos from flickr.  On her profile page there's a link to her photography website...but I wasn't able to find the photo.  I'm tempted to contact her and ask for a copy of the photo.  But how could I possibly explain my interest in the photo without sounding like the total wacko that I am?

Do you personally know anybody who does a really good job at hiding their wackyness?  If so, then perhaps they don't do such a good job.

When I was younger I was really interested in fitness.  One aspect that fascinated me was how to compare the fitness of an elite marathon runner with the fitness of an elite weightlifter.  So I imagined an x y graph where x represented stamina and y represented strength.  The x could be measured by the time it took a subject to run a mile and the y could be measured by the maximum amount of weight that the same subject could bench press 10 times.  If you took 100 subjects, tested them and plotted their results on a graph where 10,0 was the fastest possible time and 0,10 was the heaviest possible weight...then whoever was closest to the point 10,10 would have the best overall fitness.    

This comes to mind because, if we created a similar graph/test for body mass index (BMI) and attractiveness, and tested and plotted the combined BMI and attractiveness of every couple in the world...then the cutest chubby couple ever would be closest to the point 10,10.

Random pet peeve...when my spoon falls into the soup. I'm supposed to eat my soup. My soup isn't supposed to eat my spoon. Unless it wants to avoid being eaten. That would be creepy.  Because it would mean that my soup was alive.

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