Against Sugar: The Messenger and the Message

Many Americans have begun to turn against sugar. Gary Taubes has been leading the charge with his book The Case Against Sugar, which sharpens the attacks he made in his previous two books, Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat.

Gary Taubes has risen high enough that he is set up for a fall. And there is plenty of dirt. He has played fast and loose with some of his history, putting words in the mouth of long-dead scholars they said or meant, and pointing out that people he disagrees with were compromised by sugar-industry ties, but neglecting to point out that people he agrees with were compromised by other food-industry ties.

I sense some “how the might have fallen” glee in Megan Molteni’s June 18, 2018 Wired article “The Collapse of a $40 Million Nutrition Science Crusade.” It turns out that Gary Taubes has lost some of the money-raising magic he had back in 2011.

In telling a story of the messenger’s fall from grace, Megan goes too far in disparaging the anti-sugar message. The devil is in the details of two experiments that had benefitted from Gary Taubes’s fund raising. Here is Megan’s description of the first experiment:

The EBC’s pilot project would lock 17 overweight men inside metabolic wards for two months, feeding them precisely formulated meals and pricking and prodding to see what happened to their bodies on a low-carb diet. If it made them burn calories faster, a follow-up study would do the same tests on a bigger group of people. If the effect was minimal, researchers would then test the effect of low-carb diets on hunger.

In my view, of these two possible effects of a lowcarb diet, the effect on hunger, which they never got to, is by far the most interesting. If a lowcarb diet makes you less hungry, that could help a lot with weight loss in the real world. But in a metabolic ward study, the amount people are fed is the same whether they are hungry or not.

Another limitation of a metabolic ward study is that changes in physical activity that might result at home from a lowcarb diet making someone feel more energetic might not happen while cooped up in a metabolic ward.

Results for two other experiments that benefitted from Gary Taubes’s fund raising won’t come in until later on this year. But here is Megan’s description of the other experiment whose results are in:

The fourth and largest one, conducted at Stanford, randomized 600 overweight-to-obese subjects into low-fat versus low-carb diets for a year and looked at whether or not their weight loss could be explained by their metabolism or their DNA. Published this February in JAMA, the study found no differences between the two diets and no meaningful relationship between weight loss and insulin secretion.

Megan badly misreads what the study actually shows. Both diets told people to go off sugar, refined carbs, and processed food, and both looked like a big success in helping people lose weight. Hardly a failure for an anti-sugar message! (For more discussion, see “Why a Low-Insulin-Index Diet Isn’t Exactly a ‘Lowcarb’ Diet” on my blog.) What is more, the fact that a high-fat/lowcarb diet avoiding sugar, refined carbs and processed food was just as good as a lowfat diet avoiding sugar, refined carbs and processed food is a victory for the idea that dietary isn’t the evil it has long been made out to be.

To the disappointment of the researchers in the Stanford study, the two diets each seemed to work well with no hint of whom they would work best for. Trying to predict with DNA, they used an outdated “candidate gene” approach, focusing on only 3 gene indicators (SNPs). (Fortunately, they have the data to try again using a combination of many more genes.) They also couldn’t predict weight-loss success from an initial test of how strongly someone’s insulin levels spiked after taking in sugar. The inability to predict for whom a given diet would work best was a failure to replicate previous studies. (On replication failures, see my post "Let's Set Half a Percent as the Standard for Statistical Significance.")

A difficulty in predicting weight-loss success from a test of how strongly someone’s insulin levels spiked after taking in sugar tells less than it might sound. On the one hand, a strong insulin response might mean that cutting out sugar or other carbs could bring down insulin levels more. On the other hand, a strong insulin response might mean that the bad stuff people were still eating because they weren’t doing everything right might be likely to keep their insulin levels high enough that they had more trouble getting to an insulin level low enough for weight loss. Here, what complicates matters is that the relationship between insulin levels and weight loss may not be a straight line. There may be a big middle range where weight stays about even, with weight loss at quite low levels and weight gain at quite high levels. Right now, that is only a logical possibility. The research hasn’t been done to know.

In any case, the inability to predict how much weight someone would lose from how strongly their insulin levels reacted to taking in sugar is all there is in this study to back up Megan’s statement that there was “no meaningful relationship between weight loss and insulin secretion.” There is nothing beyond that in the study to question the idea that insulin is an important part of the mechanism for weight gain or weight loss.

The bottom line is that despite the clay feet of the messenger—the decline in Gary Taubes’s fund-raising prowess and his other flaws—the anti-sugar message is still looking strong.

 

Don't miss these other posts on diet and health and on fighting obesity:

Also see the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see my post "A Barycentric Autobiography." 

John Locke Against Natural Hierarchy

                                                                        image source

                                                                     image source

In chapters VI and VII of his 2d Treatise on Government: “Of Civil Government” makes a remarkable argument against natural hierarchy, whether patriarchy, the supposed "divine right of kings" or any other natural hierarchy—other than the voluntary deference people are often inspired to make to someone imbued with justice and wisdom. Here are the links to the blog posts I wrote on these chapters:

Chapter VI: Of Paternal Power

Chapter VII: Of Political or Civil Society

Let me distill what I learned from these two chapters into the following thought. In "The Social Contract According to John Locke" I praise Michael Huemer's work, saying "I love the idea that what is wrong for an individual in the state of nature cannot suddenly become OK just because the government is doing it." Here, I want to point to the converse implication of this kind of reasoning: anything that is legitimate for a government to do is also legitimate for those not in the government to do, if (and it is a big if) they can do a better and more just job than the conventionally accepted government. The American Revolutionaries are exactly such a group of individuals who set out to do a better job than the government headed by King George III in the administration of the American colonies. One of the reasons they could hope to to a careful job of governing that would be better than the government headed by King George III is that they used the machinery of colonial government wherever that could be tweaked to make it consistent with independence. They weren't trying to start from scratch in inventing the machinery of government. 

Links to posts on the earlier chapters of John Locke's 2d Treatise can be found here:

Posts on Chapters I-III:  John Locke's State of Nature and State of War 

Posts on Chapter IV-V: On the Achilles Heel of John Locke's Second Treatise: Slavery and Land Ownership

Manifesto #1: I Am Enough

I am delighted to be able to share another guest post by my wife Gail, mirrored from her blog "The Resilience Conspiracy." Her previous guest posts here are:

I hope there will be many more. This post of Gail's deals with the struggle almost everyone faces to feel they are good enough:


First in the Manifesto Series: New Beliefs Celebrating You in the Present

Until now I have carried with me, as if it were a precious talisman instead of a self-defeating prophecy, the notion that I am not enough. 

I would slyly slip this belief into casual conversation, just so you would not ask me to show up whole and powerful.  I would retell stories to myself of times when I tried hard and still failed to achieve perfection.  I would remind myself the world plays whack-a-mole with people unless they swing a heavy backpack of doubt and shame onto their shoulders before beginning their day.

It’s time to bring this trickster belief out in the open and stare it down.  I challenge it to a duel with my new belief:  I AM enough!  I will not wait until I get another degree, read another book, lose 20 more pounds, and somehow convince everyone in my world I am worthy.

Life is too short for such nonsense.  I am enough when I declare that I’ve HAD enough of this tire-slashing, shin-kicking, heckling perspective. 

I am enough when I refuse to make myself wrong for trying and when I step forward into the fray because I know I have something to contribute, and want to be present for my life instead of waiting for a green light telling me I finally have what it takes.

I was enough when I took my first breath and was placed in my mother’s arms with all the promise in the world sitting like a crown upon my tiny head.  I am enough now, because I know perfection is not a goal—it is a prison sentence.  Freedom comes when you realize you are enough.

Eating on the Road

  Casper, Wyoming.  Image source.

Casper, Wyoming. Image source.

Healthy eating on a car trip can be difficult. I thought it might be useful to share how I dealt with that on our recent car trip to a Cozzens family reunion in Northwest Wyoming (my wife Gail's side of the family).

One of the important considerations in how I approach eating on the road is my belief that loosening the constraints on special occasions is important to sustainability of an eating program. But the main way in which I loosened constraints was in having a much more spread-out eating window than I normally would. (See "Stop Counting Calories; It's the Clock that Counts.") I was just as careful as usual about what I ate. (Gail's choices were similar to mine except that she skipped breakfast in the hotel, didn't go for the pistachios, and doesn't like green bananas.) 

Day 1: Monday, July 2

I didn't eat any breakfast before getting on the road. Having fasting as a regular part of our routine made it easier to get out the door. We wanted to see Fort Collins and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant there. We shared our dishes:

  • tortilla soup (skipping the tortillas)
  • carne asada (steak)
  • fajita salad (skipping the crisp tortilla bowl)

I tried to hold off eating until lunch time, but then as we continued our journey I did eat some of the things we's packed: 

  • tea (Yogi and Tazo have some great herbal tea flavors)
  • a mix of baked cashews and almonds 
  • macadamia nuts
  • pistachios nuts
  • manchego cheese

Other than the tea, I tried to be conscious of portion sizes on these. Portion sizes are not a big issue when eating low on the insulin index at home within a very short eating window, but it is easy to eat a lot out of boredom on the road, and the eating window wasn't as short. 

We stopped in Casper for the evening. At an Asian fusion restaurant I had coconut curry over chicken and many vegetables. At the Hampton Inn, I had some decaf and half & half. 

Day 2: Tuesday, July 3

Hampton Inn has a free breakfast. I had:

  • scrambled eggs with ham and cheese
  • decaf with half & half
  • oatmeal with half & half
  • cream cheese (with no bagel on my cream cheese)

We had a late lunch at the Irma Hotel in Cody. We shared our dishes:

  • burger with fixings, no bun
  • salad bar
  • vegetable beef stew (small cup—skipped the potatoes)
  • taco salad (skipping the shell)

We stayed at the Ralston Clubhouse & Inn owned by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law Deirdre and Dirk Cozzens. They have done a great job with it:

Knowing we would have a refrigerator and freezer, we stocked up at the Albertson's in Cody:

  • 3 nectarines
  • half gallon half & half
  • 2 green bananas 
  • 2 containers of mint chip Halo Top
  • 2 bags full-fat cheese curd ("squeaky cheese") for our contribution to the reunion pot-luck

The actual eating of those things was spread out over two days: July 3 and July 4. Based on glycemic index data, I think of green bananas as having less of an insulin kick that would lead to overeating than ripe bananas would. (See "Using the Glycemic Index as a Supplement to the Insulin Index.") In addition, at the Ralston Clubhouse I ate nuts and three squares of 88% chocolate. (See "Our Delusions about 'Healthy' Snacks—Nuts to That!" and "Intense Dark Chocolate: A Review.")

Our relatives are supportive of our eating program. At dinner that evening with relatives, I had:

  • salad with olive oil (the mayo had too much sugar)
  • roast beef (au jus without the bread)
  • fresh bing cherries

Day 3: July 4

I skipped breakfast and had two nectarines cut up in half & half at lunch. At the reunion that evening in Burlington, Wyoming, I had:

  • sloppy joe meat
  • elk meat
  • salad
  • refried beans

I went back for many servings. That evening we ended the day of celebration by sharing a container of Halo Top ice-cream.

Day 4: July 5

On our trip back home to Superior, Colorado, we did it all in one day—about an 8.5-hour drive. Other than water, I only had tea on the trip. When we were back home, I had cherries and half & half.  

Conclusion 

I found what I ate on this trip quite satisfying. I can't recommend the particular restaurants we ate at, but the food there was OK and infused our diet with some variety. All of the other things I ate were quite tasty.

I hope this account is helpful in illustrating how to eat reasonably well even in circumstances that are more difficult than when eating at home. 

 

Don't miss these other posts on diet and health and on fighting obesity:

Also see the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see my post "A Barycentric Autobiography." 

  

2018 First Half's Most Popular Posts

The "Key Posts" link at the top of my blog lists all important posts through the end of 2016. Along with "2017's Most Popular Posts," this is intended as a complement to that list. (Also, my most popular storified Twitter discussions are here, and you can see other recent posts by clicking on the Archive link at the top of my blog.) I put links to the most popular posts from the first half of 2018 below into four groups: popular new posts in 2018 on diet and health, popular new posts in 2018 on other topics, and popular older posts in those two categories.

I am no stranger to bragging; however, I give statistics not to brag, but because I am a data hound. I would love to see corresponding statistics from other blogs that I follow! The numbers shown are pageviews in the first six months of 2018 according to Google Analytics. In that period, I had 129,326 pageviews total, with 21,651 pageviews on my blog homepage. 

New Posts in 2018 on Diet and Health

  1. Stop Counting Calories; It's the Clock that Counts 2838
  2. The Case Against Sugar: Stephan Guyenet vs. Gary Taubes 1844
  3. Intense Dark Chocolate: A Review 1003
  4. Why a Low-Insulin-Index Diet Isn't Exactly a 'Lowcarb' Diet 892
  5. The Case Against the Case Against Sugar: Seth Yoder vs. Gary Taubes 806
  6. How Fasting Can Starve Cancer Cells, While Leaving Normal Cells Unharmed 798
  7. Is Milk OK? 645
  8. Which Is Worse for You: Sugar or Fat? 573
  9. Carola Binder—Why You Should Get More Vitamin D: The Recommended Daily Allowance for Vitamin D Was Underestimated Due to Statistical Illiteracy 558
  10. A Barycentric Autobiography 428
  11. The Problem with Processed Food 389
  12. Carola Binder: The Obesity Code and Economists as General Practitioners 307
  13. My Giant Salad 300
  14. Why You Should Worry about Cancer Promotion by Diet as Much as You Worry about Cancer Initiation by Carcinogens 292
  15. Hints for Healthy Eating from the Nurse's Health Study 283
  16. Using the Glycemic Index as a Supplement to the Insulin Index 269
  17. A Conversation with David Brazel on Obesity Research 260
  18. Diseases of Civilization 253
  19. How Sugar, Too Much Protein, Inflammation and Injury Could Drive Epigenetic Cellular Evolution Toward Cancer 232
  20. The Heavy Non-Health Consequences of Heaviness 202
  21. Our Delusions about 'Healthy' Snacks—Nuts to That! 173
  22. Gary Taubes Makes His Case to Nick Gillespie: How Big Sugar and a Misguided Government Wrecked the American Diet 148
  23. Magic Bullets vs. Multifaceted Interventions for Economic Stimulus, Economic Development and Weight Loss 139
  24. Good News! Cancer Cells are Metabolically Handicapped 138

New Posts in 2018 on Other Topics

  1. On Teaching and Learning Macroeconomics 1758
  2. Marriage—Not for the Faint of Heart 815
  3. The Shards of My Heart 454
  4. Gabriela D'Souza on Failure in Learning Math 441
  5. John Locke: Freedom is Life; Slavery Can Be Justified Only as a Reprieve from Deserved Death 429
  6. On the Achilles Heel of John Locke's Second Treatise: Slavery and Land Ownership 410
  7. Cousin Causality 346
  8. John Locke and the Share of Land 343
  9. John Locke: The Purpose of Law Is Freedom 328
  10. Martin Feldstein Shows Too Little Imagination about How to Tame the US National Debt 316
  11. On Rob Porter 310
  12. On Being a Good Guy 306
  13. Robert Barro: Tax Reform Will Pay Growth Dividends 305
  14. On Perfectionism 305
  15. My Organized-Tweet Stories, In Order of Popularity, in Their Flight from a Dying Storify to the Haven of Wakelet 300
  16. Math Learning for Kids Who Have a Tough Time 296
  17. Gauti Eggertsson, Ragnar Juelsrud and Ella Getz Wold: Are Negative Nominal Interest Rates Expansionary? 288
  18. Critical Reading: Apprentice Level 280
  19. Greg Ip: A Decade After Bear’s Collapse, the Seeds of Instability Are Germinating Again 264
  20. 2017's Most Popular Posts 262
  21. John Locke on Legitimate Political Power 260
  22. Most of the Gender Wage Gap Stems from Inequality in the Household, Inequality in the Culture, and Hostile Workplaces 257
  23. The Economist: Improvements in Productivity Need to Be Accommodated by Monetary Policy 257
  24. The Partitioned Matrix Inversion Formula 251
  25. Why We Want More Jobs 229
  26. The Real Test of the December 2017 Tax Reform Will Be Its Long-Run Effect 200
  27. Charles Murray on Taking Religion Seriously 191
  28. Why America Needs Marvin Goodfriend on the Federal Reserve Board 176
  29. Chris Kimball: Having a Prophet in the Family 147
  30. The Social Contract According to John Locke 147
  31. Tropozoics 141
  32. John Locke: Thinking of Mothers and Fathers On a Par Undercuts a Misleading Autocratic Metaphor 140
  33. Alexander Trentin Interviews Miles Kimball on Next Generation Monetary Policy 138
  34. Martin A. Schwartz: The Willingness to Feel Stupid Is the Key to Scientific Progress 132
  35. John Locke: The Law of Nature Requires Maturity to Discern 125
  36. Ricardo Hausman: Tacit Knowledge Is a Key Component of Productivity; That Means Prosperity Depends on Allowing Skilled Immigration--Especially into Poor Countries 124
  37. Sam Brown and Miles Kimball on Teleotheism 122
  38. Glenn Hubbard on National Debt Ethics 116
  39. The Argument that We Are Likely to Be Living Inside of a Computer Simulation 115
  40. John Locke Explains 'Lord of the Flies' 108
  41. David Holland on the Mormon Church During the February 3, 2008–January 2, 2018 Monson Administration 105
  42. Shane Phillips: Housing and Transportation Costs Have Become a Growing American Burden 92

Older Posts with Continuing Popularity on Diet and Health

  1. Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid 4300
  2. Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon 2217
  3. Five Books That Have Changed My Life  1251
  4. The Keto Food Pyramid 471
  5. Jason Fung: Dietary Fat is Innocent of the Charges Leveled Against It 374
  6. Meat Is Amazingly Nutritious—But Is It Amazingly Nutritious for Cancer Cells, Too? 249
  7. Whole Milk Is Healthy; Skim Milk Less So 239
  8. Salt Is Not the Nutritional Evil It Is Made Out to Be 171
  9. Sugar as a Slow Poison 166
  10. Mass In/Mass Out: A Satire of Calories In/Calories Out 93
  11. Relative Price Changes, 1997-2017  91
  12. Economists' Open Letter Open Letter to President Trump and Congress Against Protectionism 91

Older Posts with Continuing Popularity on Other Topics

  1. John Stuart Mill's Brief for Freedom of Speech 4209
  2. William Graham Sumner, Social Darwinist  1563
  3. The Logarithmic Harmony of Percent Changes and Growth Rates  1542
  4. The Medium-Run Natural Interest Rate and the Short-Run Natural Interest Rate 985
  5. The Complete Guide to Getting into an Economics PhD Program (with Noah Smith) 917
  6. Why Taxes are Bad 899
  7. Joshua Foer on Deliberate Practice 892
  8. Monetary vs. Fiscal Policy: Expansionary Monetary Policy Does Not Raise the Budget Deficit 873
  9. Why I Write 807
  10. John Stuart Mill on Freedom from Religion 780
  11. On John Locke's Labor Theory of Property 710
  12. John Stuart Mill’s Vigorous Advocacy of Education Vouchers 652
  13. Ezequiel Tortorelli: The Trouble with Argentina 641
  14. Government Purchases vs. Government Spending 628
  15. John Stuart Mill’s Defense of Freedom 588
  16. How and Why to Eliminate the Zero Lower Bound: A Reader’s Guide 577
  17. There's One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel at Math and Those Who Don't  (with Noah Smith) 577
  18. The Message of Mormonism for Atheists Who Want to Stay Atheists 538
  19. The Descent—and the Divine Calling—of the Modernists 457
  20. There Is No Such Thing as Decreasing Returns to Scale 451
  21. Shane Parrish on Deliberate Practice 435
  22. Daniel Coyle on Deliberate Practice 434
  23. What is a Supply-Side Liberal? 409
  24. John Stuart Mill's Brief for Individuality 409
  25. On Master's Programs in Economics 385
  26. John Locke on Punishment 384
  27. What is the Effective Lower Bound on Interest Rates Made Of? 383
  28. John Locke's State of Nature and State of War 347
  29. An Agnostic Prayer for Strength 361
  30. Robert Shiller: Against the Efficient Markets Theory 342
  31. Japan's Move Toward a Sovereign Wealth Fund Policy 337
  32. John Stuart Mill on Balancing Christian Morality with the Wisdom of the Greeks and Romans 283
  33. How to Turn Every Child into a "Math Person" 280
  34. The Shape of Production: Charles Cobb's and Paul Douglas's Boon to Economics 266
  35. John Stuart Mill: In Praise of Eccentricity 246
  36. Nicholas Kristof: "Where Sweatshops are a Dream" 241
  37. Cognitive Economics 230
  38. John Stuart Mill on Freedom of Thought 228
  39. Matthew Shapiro, Martha Bailey and Tilman Borgers on the Economics Job Market Rumors Website 225
  40. The Volcker Shock 220
  41. John Stuart Mill: In the Parent-Child Relationship, It is the Children that Have Rights, Not the Parents 218
  42. Why I Am Not a Neoliberal 214
  43. Miles Kimball - Google Scholar Citations 211
  44. Roger Farmer and Miles Kimball on the Value of Sovereign Wealth Funds for Economic Stabilization 209
  45. Jeff Smith: More on Getting into an Economics PhD Program 199
  46. Silvio Gesell's Plan for Negative Nominal Interest Rates 197
  47. The Unavoidability of Faith 190
  48. Karthik Muralidharan, Abhijeet Singh, and Alejandro J. Ganimian: Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology-Aided Instruction in India 189
  49. The Deep Magic of Money and the Deeper Magic of the Supply Side 189
  50. Franklin Roosevelt on the Second Industrial Revolution 187
  51. John Locke on the Equality of Humans 184
  52. Can Taxes Raise GDP? 183
  53. John Locke: People Must Not Be Judges in Their Own Cases 178
  54. On Having a Thesis 177
  55. How Subordinating Paper Currency to Electronic Money Can End Recessions and End Inflation 173
  56. John Stuart Mill on the Role of Custom in Human Life 173
  57. International Finance: A Primer 169
  58. John Stuart Mill’s Brief for the Limits of the Authority of Society over the Individual 167
  59. Restoring American Growth: The Video 167
  60. Expansionist India 166
  61. Let's Set Half a Percent as the Standard for Statistical Significance 165
  62. Brio in Blog Posts 164
  63. Greg Shill: Does the Fed Have the Legal Authority to Buy Equities? 163
  64. Contra John Taylor 163
  65. Marriage 101  159
  66. Noah Smith: You Are Already in the Afterlife 157
  67. The Message of “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” 157
  68. John Stuart Mill Applies the Principles of Liberty 156
  69. Peter Conti-Brown's Takedown of Danielle DiMartino Booth's Book "Fed Up: An Insider's Take on Why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America" 151
  70. Freedom Under Law Means All Are Subject to the Same Laws 151
  71. John Locke Treats the Bible as an Authority on Slavery 150
  72. Marriage 102  149
  73. 18 Misconceptions about Eliminating the Zero Lower Bound 148
  74. Sticky Prices vs. Sticky Wages: A Debate Between Miles Kimball and Matthew Rognlie 148
  75. The Costs and Benefits of Repealing the Zero Lower Bound...and Then Lowering the Long-Run Inflation Target 148
  76. My Objective Function 140
  77. Why I Am Not a Physicist 139
  78. The Coming Transformation of Education: Degrees Won’t Matter Anymore, Skills Will 137
  79. John Stuart Mill on Benevolent Dictators 134
  80. John Stuart Mill on the Chief Interest of the History of Mankind: The Love of Liberty and Improvement vs. Custom 134
  81. Economics Needs to Tackle All of the Big Questions in the Social Sciences 133
  82. Electronic Money: The Powerpoint File 131
  83. John Stuart Mill on Freedom of Contract 130
  84. Is Taxing Capital OK? 130
  85. Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg on Immobility in America 129
  86. How Increasing Retirement Saving Could Give America More Balanced Trade 126
  87. Michael Weisbach: Posters on Finance Job Rumors Need to Clean Up Their Act, Too 126
  88. Alexander Trentin Interviews Miles Kimball about Establishing an International Capital Flow Framework 126
  89. Heroes of Science Action Figures 125
  90. Electronic Money: The Quiz 123
  91. The Swiss National Bank May Need to Cut Its Target Rate Further Now That It Could Get In Trouble with the US If It Keeps Buying So Many Foreign Assets 118
  92. John Stuart Mill on Public and Private Actions 115
  93. Even Central Bankers Need Lessons on the Transmission Mechanism for Negative Interest Rates 115
  94. An Underappreciated Power of a Central Bank: Determining the Relative Prices between the Various Forms of Money Under Its Jurisdiction 113
  95. Rodney Stark: Historians Ought to Count—But Often Don’t 112
  96. John Locke Pretends Land Ownership Goes Back to the Original Peopling of the Planet 112
  97. How Albert Einstein Became a Celebrity 112
  98. Noah Smith: Why Do Americans Like Jews and Dislike Mormons? 112
  99. Student Guest Posts on supplysideliberal.com 110
  100. Will Women Ever Get the Mormon Priesthood? 109
  101. My Dad 107
  102. Miles Moves to the University of Colorado Boulder 105
  103. How I Became Optimistic 105
  104. How the Romans Made a Large Territory 'Rome' 104
  105. John Stuart Mill’s Roadmap for Freedom 104
  106. Teleotheism and the Purpose of Life 104
  107. Next Generation Monetary Policy 103
  108. In Praise of Partial Equilibrium 102
  109. Building Up With Grace 101
  110. Rodney Stark on the Status of Women in Early Christianity 101
  111. Why Thinking about China is the Key to a Free World 99
  112. One of the Biggest Threats to America's Future Has the Easiest Fix 99
  113. On the Great Recession 98
  114. Why I am a Macroeconomist: Increasing Returns and Unemployment 96
  115. Matt Waite: How I Faced My Fears and Learned to Be Good at Math 95
  116. Two Types of Knowledge: Human Capital and Information 94
  117. Jordan B. Peterson on the True Purpose of a University Education 93
  118. Robert Eisler—Stable Money: The Remedy for the Economic World Crisis 93
  119. Miles Kimball, Colter Mitchell, Arland Thornton and Linda Young-Demarco—Empirics on the Origins of Preferences: The Case of College Major and Religiosity 92
  120. America's Big Monetary Policy Mistake: How Negative Interest Rates Could Have Stopped the Great Recession in Its Tracks 92
  121. The Supply and Demand for Paper Currency When Interest Rates Are Negative 88
  122. The Government and the Mob 88

Questioning Authority

                                                                       image source

                                                                    image source

Independence Day is a day for celebrating the freedom we have in our republic. One of our most precious freedoms is the freedom to question authority. Let me share with you a lightly edited version of an email I sent one of my coauthors a while back on how deeply I feel about the right to question authority: 


I was pleased that I did a little better today about handling gracefully the issue of scientific authority. I have been embarrassed about getting so heated about that on some occasions. I think I am getting closer to figuring it out. 

As a practical matter, the main thing I want you to know is that I respect you, way more than a random paper in the literature, even if it is by someone called an "expert" on some topic. So your saying you think X carries a lot more weight to me than saying "the experts on this think X."

Here are some of my relevant values and experiences:

  1. I am a child of the 60s. "Question Authority" was one of our watchphrases and is burned into me. 
  2. My path out of Mormonism (a very big deal in my life) involved questioning authority. There in particular, the primacy of truth versus hierarchy was something I felt deeply. 
  3. My relative success as an economist has involved questioning authority all along the way. 
  4. I have a very strong value of giving everyone a fair hearing. So I don't need someone to claim authority for me to be willing to listen to their idea. (On Twitter, people find my willingness to treat the questions and ideas of people with no particular status seriously quite unusual.)

The ultimate nonnegotiable principle for me in our work is that we make the final judgment—not any other purported experts—or even scholars accepted as experts by general (but uncareful) social consensus. There may sometimes be tactical reasons to act as if we were deferring to the experts, but in the first instance we should make our own judgments (except in cases where we don't care enough—then we might as well defer to whomever our audience might be induced to think is an expert). 

Anyway, sorry for the excess heat along the way on this. 


In Praise of Avocados

Avocados are both healthy and delicious. When I am not fasting, I typically eat an avocado a day in my giant salad. I am glad I am not the only fan of avocados. Bee Wilson, in her delightful February 16, 2018 pocket history of avocados, "What Explains Our Mania for Avocados," writes:

In the U.S., demand for avocados is now so frenzied that it threatens to outstrip supply. The average American consumes 7 pounds of avocado a year, up from 1 pound in 1974. By 2016, annual retail sales of avocados in the U.S. had reached $1.6 billion, according to the Hass Avocado Board.

Bee agrees with my assessment of avocados:

Few other ingredients taste at once so dreamily rich and so healthy. ...

Avocado is one of the few modern foods that manages to straddle our ideas of both comfort and health.

Among the many cultural, technological and economic factors that have driven the increasing popularity of avocados, a key factor has been Americans beginning to turn away from the lowfat orthodoxy has gripped us for so long. As Bee writes:  

Our avocado-love has also been driven by cultural changes, large and small: the popularity of tacos, the rise of the hipster cafe, the rehabilitation of fat as a health food. ...

In the 1980s, at the height of low-fat orthodoxy, avocado was regarded as dangerously fattening, and the wholesale price plummeted to 10 cents a pound. 

Even better, in many circles nowadays, people realize both

  • avocados are healthy
  • sugar is unhealthy. 

 

Don't miss these other posts on diet and health and on fighting obesity:

Also see the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see my post "A Barycentric Autobiography." 

 

John Locke: The Law Must Apply to Rulers, Too

The principle that law must apply to the head of a nation as well as to everyone else is an important one. We feel this principle strongly with our own leaders, but still may not appreciate the full importance of this rule, since it deters many possible evils that are less salient because they don't actually happen.

Thus, it is good to have a reminder from John Locke in Sections 90-94 of John Locke's 2d Treatise on Government: “Of Civil Government” (in Chapter VII, "Of Political or Civil Society") of what happens when rulers are not subject to law: it is like being in the state of nature, unilaterally disarmed in the face of someone who at best is a judge in his or her own case, at worst an out-and-out predator.  The full text of the passage is below. But let me first draw out what strike me as the most telling passages:

  • He that would have been insolent and injurious in the woods of America, would not probably be much better in a throne; where perhaps learning and religion shall be found out to justify all that he shall do to his subjects, and the sword presently silence all those that dare question it ...
  •  ... every man, who loves his own power, profit, or greatness, may, and naturally must do, keep those animals from hurting, or destroying one another, who labour and drudge only for his pleasure and advantage; and so are taken care of, not out of any love the master has for them, but love of himself, and the profit they bring him ...
  • ... if it be asked, what security, what fence is there, in such a state, against the violence and oppression of this absolute ruler? the very question can scarce be borne ... 
  • Betwixt subject and subject, they will grant, there must be measures, laws and judges, for their mutual peace and security: but as for the ruler, he ought to be absolute, and is above all such circumstances; because he has power to do more hurt and wrong, it is right when he does it.
  • To ask how you may be guarded from harm, or injury, on that side where the strongest hand is to do it, is presently the voice of faction and rebellion: as if when men quitting the state of nature entered into society, they agreed that all of them but one should be under the restraint of laws, but that he should still retain all the liberty of the state of nature, increased with power, and made licentious by impunity. This is to think, that men are so foolish, that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes; but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions.
  • ... when time, giving authority, and (as some men would persuade us) sacredness of customs, which the negligent, and unforeseeing innocence of the first ages began, had brought in successors of another stamp, the people finding their properties not secure under the government ... could never be safe nor at rest ... till the legislature was placed in collective bodies of men, call them senate, parliament, or what you please. By which means every single person became subject, equally with other the meanest men, to those laws, which he himself, as part of the legislative, had established; nor could any one, by his own authority, avoid the force of the law, when once made; nor by any pretence of superiority plead exemption, thereby to license his own, or the miscarriages of any of his dependents. 
  • No man in civil society can be exempted from the laws of it: for if any man may do what he thinks fit, and there be no appeal on earth, for redress or security against any harm he shall do; I ask, whether he be not perfectly still in the state of nature, and so can be no part or member of that civil society ...

One implication of John Locke's argument is that when a ruler is not subject to the law, then everyone else in the nation is in a state of nature vis a vis that ruler, and so can legitimately combine together with others to act as vigilantes to punish that ruler if justice demands that the ruler be punished. But the costs of vigilante action to punish a ruler are extraordinarily high—not only bloodshed, but the danger that conspirators against the ruler might be judging their own case and so might judge wrongly. It is much better to have a legal system that can punish the ruler when appropriate.  

For rebels and conspirators against a ruler who is not subject to the law, in addition to the danger of judging wrongly that the ruler has committed an injustice that deserves to be punished, there is also the danger that an offense by the ruler that ought to be punished by a penalty less than death will be punished by death because only death seems effective in preventing the ruler from retaliating. However, it might be reasonable to stipulate that any ruler is deserving of death who does not agree either (a) to become subject to the law or (b) to remain outside civil society but to resign. In that case, tyrannicide would always be justified, as long as the ruler was first loudly called upon to either become subject to the law or to resign, with due time given to the ruler to contemplate the merits of that demand.  

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Here is the full passage, including John Locke's footnotes to it:

  §. 90. Hence it is evident, that absolute monarchy, which by some men is counted the only government in the world, is indeed inconsistent with civil society, and so can be no form of civil government at all: for the end of civil society, being to avoid, and remedy those inconveniences of the state of nature, which necessarily follow from every man’s being judge in his own case, by setting up a known authority, to which every one of that society may appeal upon any injury received, or controversy that may arise, and which every one of the 1 society ought to obey; wherever any persons are, who have not such an authority to appeal to, for the decision of any difference between them, there those persons are still in the state of nature; and so is every absolute prince, in respect of those who are under his dominion.

  §. 91. For he being supposed to have all, both legislative and executive power in himself alone, there is no judge to be found, no appeal lies open to any one, who may fairly, and indifferently, and with authority decide, and from whose decision relief and redress may be expected of any injury or inconveniency, that may be suffered from the prince, or by his order: so that such a man, however intitled, Czar, Grand Seignor, or how you please, is as much in the state of nature, with all under his dominion, as he is with the rest of mankind: for wherever any two men are, who have no standing rule, and common judge to appeal to on earth, for the determination of controversies of right betwixt them, there they are still in the state of nature, 2 and under all the inconveniences of it, with only this woeful difference to the subject, or rather slave of an absolute prince: that whereas, in the ordinary state of nature, he has a liberty to judge of his right, and according to the best of his power, to maintain it; now, whenever his property is invaded by the will and order of his monarch, he has not only to appeal, as those in society ought to have, but as if he were degraded from the common state of rational creatures, is denied a liberty to judge of, or to defend his right; and so is exposed to all the misery and inconveniences, that a man can fear from one, who being in the unrestrained state of nature, is yet corrupted with flattery, and armed with power.

  §. 92. For he that thinks absolute power purifies men’s blood, and corrects the baseness of human nature, need read but the history of this, or any other age, to be convinced of the contrary. He that would have been insolent and injurious in the woods of America, would not probably be much better in a throne; where perhaps learning and religion shall be found out to justify all that he shall do to his subjects, and the sword presently silence all those that dare question it: for what the protection of absolute monarchy is, what kind of fathers of their countries it makes princes to be, and to what a degree of happiness and security it carries civil society, where this sort of government is grown to perfection, he that will look into the late relation of Ceylon, may easily see.

  §. 93. In absolute monarchies indeed, as well as other governments of the world, the subjects have an appeal to the law, and judges to decide any controversies, and restrain any violence that may happen betwixt the subjects themselves, one amongst another. This every one thinks necessary, and believes he deserves to be thought a declared enemy to society and mankind, who should go about to take it away. But whether this be from a true love of mankind and society, and such a charity as we owe all one to another, there is reason to doubt: for this is no more than what every man, who loves his own power, profit, or greatness, may, and naturally must do, keep those animals from hurting, or destroying one another, who labour and drudge only for his pleasure and advantage; and so are taken care of, not out of any love the master has for them, but love of himself, and the profit they bring him: for if it be asked, what security, what fence is there, in such a state, against the violence and oppression of this absolute ruler? the very question can scarce be borne. They are ready to tell you, that it deserves death only to ask after safety. Betwixt subject and subject, they will grant, there must be measures, laws and judges, for their mutual peace and security: but as for the ruler, he ought to be absolute, and is above all such circumstances; because he has power to do more hurt and wrong, it is right when he does it. To ask how you may be guarded from harm, or injury, on that side where the strongest hand is to do it, is presently the voice of faction and rebellion: as if when men quitting the state of nature entered into society, they agreed that all of them but one should be under the restraint of laws, but that he should still retain all the liberty of the state of nature, increased with power, and made licentious by impunity. This is to think, that men are so foolish, that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes; but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions.

  §. 94. But whatever flatterers may talk to amuse people’s understandings, it hinders not men from feeling; and when they perceive, that any man, in what station soever, is out of the bounds of the civil society which they are of, and that they have no appeal on earth against any harm, they may receive from him, they are apt to think themselves in the state of nature, in respect of him whom they find to be so; and to take care, as soon as they can, to have that safety and security in civil society, for which it was first instituted, and for which only they entered into it. And therefore, though perhaps at first, (as shall be shewed more at large hereafter in the following part of this discourse,) some one good and excellent man having got a pre-eminency amongst the rest, had this deference paid to his goodness and virtue, as to a kind of natural authority, that the chief rule, with arbitration of their differences, by a tacit consent devolved into his, without any other caution, but the assurance they had of his uprightness and wisdom; yet when time, giving authority, and (as some men would persuade us) sacredness of customs, which the negligent, and unforeseeing innocence of the first ages began, had brought in successors of another stamp, the people finding their properties not secure under the government, as then it was, (whereas government has no other end but the preservation of property 3) could never be safe nor at rest, nor think themselves in civil society, till the legislature was placed in collective bodies of men, call them senate, parliament, or what you please. By which means every single person became subject, equally with other the meanest men, to those laws, which he himself, as part of the legislative, had established; nor could any one, by his own authority, avoid the force of the law, when once made; nor by any pretence of superiority plead exemption, thereby to license his own, or the miscarriages of any of his dependents. No man in civil society can be exempted from the laws of it: 4 for if any man may do what he thinks fit, and there be no appeal on earth, for redress or security against any harm he shall do; I ask, whether he be not perfectly still in the state of nature, and so can be no part or member of that civil society; unless any one will say, the state of nature and civil society are one and the same thing, which I have never yet found any one so great a patron of anarchy as to affirm.

 

Note 1. The public power of all society is above every soul contained in the same society; and the principal use of that power is, to give laws unto all that are under it, which laws in such cases we must obey, unless there be reason shewed which may necessarily inforce, that the law of reason, or of God, doth enjoin the contrary, Hooker’s Eccl. Pol. l. i. sect.16. [back]

Note 2. To take away all such mutual grievances, injuries and wrongs, i. e. such as attend men in the state of nature, there was no way but only by growing into composition and agreement amongst themselves, by ordaining some kind of government public, and by yielding themselves subject thereunto, that unto whom they granted authority to rule and govern, by them the peace, tranquillity, and happy estate of the rest might be procured. Men always knew that where force and injury was offered, they might be defenders of themselves; they knew that however men may seek their own commodity, yet if this were done with injury unto others, it was not to be suffered, but by all men, and all good means to be withstood. Finally, they knew that no man might in reason take upon him to determine his own right, and according to his own determination proceed in maintenance thereof, in as much as every man is towards himself, and them whom he greatly affects partial; and therefore that strifes and troubles would be endless, except they gave their common consent, all to be ordered by some, whom they should agree upon, without which consent there would be no reason that one man should take upon him to be lord or judge over an other. Hooker’s Eccl. Pol. l. i. sect. 10. [back]

Note 3. At the first, when some certain kind of regiment was once appointed, it may be that nothing was then farther thought upon for the manner of governing, but all permitted unto their wisdom and discretion, which were to rule, till by experience they found this for all parts very inconvenient, so as the thing which they had devised for a remedy did indeed but increase the sore, which it should have cured. They saw, that to live by one man’s will, became the cause of all men’s misery. This constrained them to come unto laws, wherein all men might see their duty beforehand, and know the penalties of transgressing them. Hooker’s Eccl. Pol. l. i. sect. 10. [back]

Note 4. Civil law being the act of the whole body politic, doth therefore over-rule each several part of the same body. Hooker’s Eccl. Pol. l. i. sect. 10.

Fight the Backlash Against Retirement Saving Nudges: Everyone Benefits When People Save More for Old Age

"Fight the Backlash Against Retirement Planning Nudge" is my first piece as a Bloomberg columnist. Thanks to Noah Smith for recommending me to my new Bloomberg editor, Jonathan Landman.

Thanks also to many on Twitter who pointed me to the ferment on this topic. I hope to do a Wakelet story of those tweets once I have a little more functionality on Wakelet. (Wakelet has been great at transferring over all of my organized-tweet stories from Storify—see "My Organized-Tweet Stories, In Order of Popularity, in Their Flight from a Dying Storify to the Haven of Wakelet." It still isn't easy to make new stories with Wakelet, but I am optimistic it will be.)