Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal an Intelligent Economist Top 100 Economics Blog

Here is a quotation from Prateek Agarwal’s email to me about this honor:

… your blog, Confessions of a Supply Side Liberal has been featured in the Top 100 Economics Blogs of 2019. Congratulations!

One of the significant changes this year has been the removal of newspaper blogs such as Bloomberg View and Real Time Exchange to focus on more niche blogs. The lack of female economist (and bloggers) has been a common criticism of this list. I've made an effort to include more female bloggers, but if you have any suggestions, I can consider them for the 2020 list.

I’d be glad for suggestions from readers of good blogs by female economists that didn’t make it onto this list that I can pass on to Prateek.

Why a Positive Aggregate Demand Shock Should Make the Stock Market Go Down If the Fed is Doing Its Job Right

Spencer Jakab’s July 5, 2019 Wall Street Journal shown above, “Investors Are Trapped in Bizarro World,” puzzles over why the stock market went down after a better-than-expected job report. Let me propose a simple explanation: a Fed that is beginning to do a part of its job better.

Here is the argument:

The Effect of a Positive Demand Shock on the Stock Market If the Fed is Doing Its Job Right

  1. To a reasonable approximation, optimal monetary policy is pretty close to keeping output (GDP) at its natural level. This is what I mean by “the Fed doing its job right”—not perfectly according to every nuance in the optimal monetary policy literature, but simply keeping the output gap between actual output and natural output zero to the limit of its ability. Note that if the Fed is doing this, it is not itself a big source of demand shocks because it is being appropriately reactive to events.

  2. Define a positive demand shock as anything that leaves the natural level of output the same, but raises the level of the real interest rate necessary to keep the actual level of output at that natural level. Fiscal policy shocks are one possible candidate. But “animal spirits” may be another. In context, I am assuming that a surprisingly good jobs report is often a sign of one of these positive aggregate demand shocks.

  3. Assume that higher output (GDP) has a positive effect on the stream of real future dividends a firm will pay out, while a higher real interest rate has a negative effect on the present value of any given stream of real dividends.

  4. If the Fed is doing its job well, a positive demand shock shouldn’t change actual output much because the job is to match actual output to natural output and by the definition of a demand shock, natural output hasn’t changed. But then by the other part of the definition of a positive demand shock, the real interest rate should go up. In the usual notation, Y same, r up. Note that “r up” may mean that the Fed won’t cut rates as quickly as people had thought. “r up” is all relative to prior expectations.

  5. Y same, so there is no affect on stock prices from that source. But r up tends to make stock prices go down. That’s the end of the argument.

The Effect of a Positive Technology Shock on the Stock Market If the Fed is Doing Its Job Right

Let’s contrast the effect of a demand shock if the Fed is doing its job right to the effect of a technology if the Fed is doing its job right. My argument for a technology shock takes a different angle, and is somewhat simpler.

  1. Keeping the output gap zero as the Fed should be doing, means that the economy is close to doing what a real business cycle model would do.

  2. In what is called the “Divine Coincidence,” keeping the output gap zero also (at least approximately) keeps the rate of inflation steady.

  3. Typically, real business cycle models predict that investment should go up in response to a positive technology shock. (I have been interested in my research in showing that this is quite general.) If investment is going up, then the value of a firm’s preexisting capital should also go up. Even in fairly general models, the value of firms should on average go up if investment in the economy has increased.

  4. Typically, the real interest rate goes up in real business cycle models in response to a positive technology shock. (I have been interested in my research in showing that this is quite general.) This increase in the real interest rate, coupled with inflation unchanged, means the value of a firm’s debt will go down.

  5. The value of the firm going up and the value of its debt going down together imply that stock prices should go up.

Conclusion

I don’t want to be mistaken for saying that the Fed is doing its job right. Indeed, I have a long wishlist for how the Fed should improve its conduct of monetary policy. See my post “Next Generation Monetary Policy.” But it is a sign of progress if the stock market has begun to react in both of the ways described above.

The Better Side of Conventional Wisdom about Diet and Health

My interest in diet and health makes me curious enough to perservere through overly lengthy informercials giving various diet and health claims. A few days ago, I watched this infomercial for the Trim Down Club. Let me give you a report of what I heard, to save you the time. Although there are a lot of important things about diet and health that the informercial didn’t say, I agreed with everything it did say, with one exception. The exception is that the infomercial gave the usual flawed advice to spread one’s eating out over time. It is possible this is good advice when someone is eating foods that have a big insulin kick (see “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid”) so that an especially big meal of those kinds of foods would have a very large insulin kick, but even then the accumulating evidence on the virtues of periodic fasting (often called “intermittent fasting” or IF) calls that advice into question. (A Plea: I would love to know what research article or articles people cite to claim that eating lots of small meals throughout the day is better than a few big meals. I would be eager to write a post on such an article.)

Here are the areas of agreement:

  • Sugar is bad. Orange juice is a good example of a high-sugar food people falsely think is innocent

  • Transfats are bad. Old-style margarine is a good example of a food high in transfats. However, they neglected to mention that there is a partial ban on transfats in many countries. (See the Wikipedia article “Trans Fat.”)

  • Many highly processed foods that pretend to be good are actually bad. Typical types of “whole-wheat bread” are a good example. (See “The Problem with Processed Food.”)

  • Processed soy products are bad.

  • Processed meat is suspect.

  • Stress can make one feel hungrier.

  • Drinking green tea can make you feel less hungry and may have other benefits.

  • Combining high-insulin-index foods with high-insulin-index foods can reduce the size of the insulin kick and therefore the hunger rebound effect you are likely to face. (In here is an assumption that the total quantity of the high-insulin-index food you eat is likely to go down somewhat when you are also eating a low-insulin-index food. But that may be true for extremely high-insulin-index foods: see “Does Sugar Make Dietary Fat Less OK?”)

Surprisingly, despite the discussion of a lectin-free diet further down on the Trim Down Club webpage flagged above in its current incarnation, the informercial made no direct mentions of lectins (unless I missed it as the infomercial droned on and on). If you are interested in lectin-free diets, see my post “What Steven Gundry's Book 'The Plant Paradox' Adds to the Principles of a Low-Insulin-Index Diet.”

The reason I titled this post “The Better Side of Conventional Wisdom on Diet and Health” is that the infomercial emphasized that the Trim Down Club employed many licensed or certified dietitians. The advice given seems close enough to conventional wisdom, that I can easily believe that a substantial fraction of licensed and certified dietitians would be willing to sign on to this advice. The advice I give in my diet and health posts goes further beyond conventional wisdom. I strive to give reasons for the advice I give that I hope at least give you a way to evaluate my advice.

For annotated links to other posts on diet and health, see “Miles Kimball on Diet and Health: A Reader's Guide.”

John Locke: Bad Rulers May Be Removed

One of the longest sections in John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, is section 222, in the final chapter: XIX, “Of the Dissolution of Government.” In reading this, I sense his righteous anger at bad rulers. In the title of this post, it was hard to be as emphatic as he is. “Bad Rulers May Be Removed. Period.” might say it better.

I consider this sentiment to be something deeply ingrained into the human heart by evolution. Our cousins the chimpanzees feel it too, as you can see by following the link to the video shown above. I am in full agreement with John Locke in what he says in Section 222—not only with the substance of what he says, but also with the passion with which he says it:

§. 222. The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they chuse and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion of every part and member of the society: for since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society, that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making; whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence. Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society. What I have said here, concerning the legislative in general, holds true also concerning the supreme executor, who having a double trust put in him, both to have a part in the legislative, and the supreme execution of the law, acts against both, when he goes about to set up his own arbitrary will as the law of the society. He acts also contrary to his trust, when he either employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society, to corrupt the representatives, and gain them to his purposes; or openly pre-engages the electors, and prescribes to their choice, such, whom he has by solicitations, threats, promises, or otherwise, won to his designs; and employs them to bring in such, who have promised beforehand what to vote, and what to enact. Thus to regulate candidates and electors, and new-model the ways of election, what is it but to cut up the government by the roots, and poison the very fountain of public security? for the people having reserved to themselves the choice of their representatives, as the fence to their properties, could do it for no other end, but that they might always be freely chosen, and so chosen, freely act, and advise, as the necessity of the commonwealth, and the public good should upon examination, and mature debate, be judged to require. This, those who give their votes before they hear the debate, and have weighed the reasons on all sides, are not capable of doing. To prepare such an assembly as this, and endeavour to set up the declared abettors of his own will, for the true representatives of the people, and the law-makers of the society, is certainly as great a breach of trust, and as perfect a declaration of a design to subvert the government, as is possible to be met with. To which, if one shall add rewards and punishments visibly employed to the same end, and all the arts of perverted law made use of to take off and destroy all that stand in the way of such a design, and will not comply and consent to betray the liberties of their country, it will be past doubt what is doing. What power they ought to have in the society, who thus employ it contrary to the trust went along with it in its first institution, is easy to determine; and one cannot but see, that he, who has once attempted any such thing as this, cannot any longer be trusted.

I should say that the principle that bad rulers can be removed is, I believe, satisfied relatively well by our periodic elections in the US: our elections have the power to sweep out the bulk of our rulers within a period of six years.

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

2019 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" and “2018'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.) Continuing this tradition, I give links to the most popular posts from the first half of 2019 below into four groups: popular new posts in in the first half of 2019 on diet and health, popular new posts in the first half of 2019, on other topics, and popular older posts in those two categories. I will put in the half-year pageviews for each post when someone went specifically to that post.

I am pleased to be able to report over a quarter million Google Analytics pageviews in the first half of 2019. Of the 252,048 pageviews reported, 19,684 were pageviews for my blog homepage. 

New Posts in 2018 on Diet and Health

  1. Kevin D. Hall and Juen Guo: Why it is so Hard to Lose Weight and so Hard to Keep it Off 1,562

  2. Evidence that High Insulin Levels Lead to Weight Gain 980

  3. 3 Achievable Resolutions for Weight Loss 832

  4. David Ludwig: It Takes Time to Adapt to a Lowcarb, Highfat Diet 690

  5. Lisa Drayer: Is Fasting the Fountain of Youth? 558

New Posts in 2018 on Other Topics

  1. In Honor of Alan Krueger 8,308

  2. The Costs of Inflation 2,182

  3. John Locke: How to Recognize a Tyrant 995

  4. Who Leaves Mormonism? 940

  5. Supply and Demand for the Monetary Base: How the Fed Currently Determines Interest Rates 677

  6. John Locke's Argument for Limited Government 605

  7. Ruchir Agarwal and Miles Kimball—Enabling Deep Negative Rates to Fight Recessions: A Guide 578

Older Posts with Continuing Popularity on Diet and Health

  1. Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid  25,698

  2. How Fasting Can Starve Cancer Cells, While Leaving Normal Cells Unharmed  16,614

  3. Why a Low-Insulin-Index Diet Isn't Exactly a 'Lowcarb' Diet  5,846

  4. Whole Milk Is Healthy; Skim Milk Less So  4,509

  5. The Case Against Sugar: Stephan Guyenet vs. Gary Taubes  4,400

  6. Using the Glycemic Index as a Supplement to the Insulin Index  3,567

  7. Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon  2,433

  8. Which Nonsugar Sweeteners are OK? An Insulin-Index Perspective 2,293

  9. Stop Counting Calories; It's the Clock that Counts  2,285

  10. Intense Dark Chocolate: A Review  1,425

  11. What Steven Gundry's Book 'The Plant Paradox' Adds to the Principles of a Low-Insulin-Index Diet 1,285

  12. Five Books That Have Changed My Life  1,113

  13. The Keto Food Pyramid  994

  14. Jason Fung's Single Best Weight Loss Tip: Don't Eat All the Time 926

  15. Why You Should Worry about Cancer Promotion by Diet as Much as You Worry about Cancer Initiation by Carcinogens 862

  16. Meat Is Amazingly Nutritious—But Is It Amazingly Nutritious for Cancer Cells, Too?  820

  17. Vindicating Gary Taubes: A Smackdown of Seth Yoder 691

  18. Our Delusions about 'Healthy' Snacks—Nuts to That! 652

  19. 4 Propositions on Weight Loss 605

  20. My Giant Salad 560

  21. This post is under construction. Below here the numbers are not accurate yet in this category.

  22. Jason Fung: Dietary Fat is Innocent of the Charges Leveled Against It  868

  23. Salt Is Not the Nutritional Evil It Is Made Out to Be  464

  24. Sugar as a Slow Poison  383

  25. Is Milk OK?  1374

Older Posts with Continuing Popularity on Other Topics (This post is under construction: the numbers below are not accurate yet, but these are predicted to be among the more popular posts)

  1. The Social Contract According to John Locke  11,040

  2. The 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism 8,610

  3. John Stuart Mill's Brief for Freedom of Speech  2,612

  4. John Locke: Freedom is Life; Slavery Can Be Justified Only as a Reprieve from Deserved Death  2263

  5. William Graham Sumner, Social Darwinist  1,593

  6. There's One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel at Math and Those Who Don't  (with Noah Smith) 1,317

  7. On John Locke's Labor Theory of Property 1,309

  8. Monetary vs. Fiscal Policy: Expansionary Monetary Policy Does Not Raise the Budget Deficit 1,264

  9. John Locke on Punishment 1,256

  10. The Shards of My Heart 1,209

  11. William Strauss and Neil Howe's American Prophecy in 'The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny' 1,176

  12. Key Posts 1,120

  13. Five Books That Have Changed My Life  1,113

  14. The Medium-Run Natural Interest Rate and the Short-Run Natural Interest Rate 1,058

  15. John Locke: The Purpose of Law Is Freedom 1,036

  16. The Logarithmic Harmony of Percent Changes and Growth Rates  986

  17. John Locke's Argument for Majority Rule 945

  18. John Locke's State of Nature and State of War 864

  19. On the Achilles Heel of John Locke's Second Treatise: Slavery and Land Ownership 864

  20. The Message of Mormonism for Atheists Who Want to Stay Atheists 855

  21. Liberty and the Golden Rule 854

  22. John Stuart Mill on Freedom from Religion 787

  23. There Is No Such Thing as Decreasing Returns to Scale  761

  24. On Teaching and Learning Macroeconomics  727

  25. Why I Write 668

  26. How and Why to Eliminate the Zero Lower Bound: A Reader’s Guide  655

  27. John Stuart Mill’s Vigorous Advocacy of Education Vouchers 648

  28. Why Taxes are Bad 612

  29. Government Purchases vs. Government Spending 600

  30. How to Turn Every Child into a 'Math Person' 593

  31. Returns to Scale and Imperfect Competition in Market Equilibrium 583

  32. Economics Needs to Tackle All of the Big Questions in the Social Sciences 581

  33. John Locke on Legitimate Political Power 568

  34. This post is under construction. Below here the numbers are not accurate yet in this category.

  35. Economist Twitter Stars 4978

  36. 2018 First Half's Most Popular Posts 2587

  37. Must All Economics Papers Be Doorstoppers? 1059

  38. Gabriela D'Souza on Failure in Learning Math  988

  39. Marriage—Not for the Faint of Heart 930

  40. Joshua Foer on Deliberate Practice  1783

How Mormon Scripture Declares the US Constitution to be the Work of God

There are many interesting features of Mormonism as a result of its having writings or “scripture” considered the “word of God” produced by Joseph Smith (the preeminent founder of Mormonism) in the first half of the 19th century in America. One is that Mormon beliefs are 100% consistent with all of the scientific principles generally known by 1844 when Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob. (And indeed, it is my belief that if Joseph Smith had not been murdered, and had lived to see the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, Joseph would have incorporated evolution much more fully into Mormonism.)

Another interesting feature of Mormonism due to its origin in the first half of the 19th century in America is that the word of God according to Mormonism declares that the Constitution of the United States had a divine origin. The key passage is Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80, in which Joseph Smith reports God saying this:

77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

In addition to this that Joseph Smith reported as being directly the word of God, Joseph Smith said, according to the journal of James Burgess (and similar things according to others):

… the time would come when the constitution and government would hang by a brittle thread and would be ready to fall into other hands but this people the latter-day saints will step forth and save it.

This is an idea that could easily be an important inspiration and motivation for many Mormon politicians; ideas that get into one’s head at an early age can be very powerful emotionally. I know this idea had an effect on me when I was a young Mormon.

Although not all the effects of this Mormon belief that the Constitution is divinely ordained and that the Constitution needs to be tended and defended are benign, on the whole I think it is quite helpful that a subgroup of the American population take the US Constitution so seriously.


Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

Don’t miss these guest posts on Mormonism by my brother Chris Kimball:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

One Nation

The beginning of the 2020 US presidential campaign is a reminder of the divisions within the United States. Understanding those with different views is not only the road to healing those divisions, but also, for either side, the road to winning in the general election sixteen months from now. Most of you and I already have a reasonably good understanding of the “Progressive” viewpoint that is now so influential in the Democratic Party. Therefore, let’s try to dig into the views of those who are enthusiastic Trump supporters as well as those who might reluctantly vote for Donald Trump because they are uncomfortable with the Democratic Party alternative.  

Peggy Noonan, in her most recent op-ed “The 2020 Democrats Lack Hindsight,” emphasizes “identity” issues as important to those who enthusiastically support Donald or might vote for him because of discomfort with the alternative. She quotes a middle-aged Kansan man, who said:

Every day, Americans are told of the endless ways they are falling short. If we don’t show the ‘proper’ level of understanding according to a talking head, then we are surely racist. If we don’t embrace every sanitized PC talking point, then we must be heartless. If we have the audacity to speak our mind, then we are most definitely a bigot. …

We are jabbed like a boxer with no gloves on to defend us. And we are fed up. We are tired of being told we aren’t good enough. … in Donald Trump, voters found a massive sledgehammer that pulverizes the ridiculous notion that Americans aren’t good enough.

The previous week, in “My Sister, My Uncle and Trump,” Peggy quoted her sister and uncle and characterized these two early Donald supporters this way:

They were patriots; they loved America. They weren’t radical; they’d voted for Republicans and Democrats. They had no grudge against any group or class. They knew that on America’s list of allowable bigotries they themselves—middle Americans, Christians who believed in the old constitutional rights—were the only ones you were allowed to look down on. It’s no fun looking down on yourself, so looking down wasn’t their habit.

A good resolution of cultural issues and racial, ethnic and gender disparities could help heal the divisions in America. (Here, I will leave aside the fraught issue of abortion. For my views on abortion, see “Safe, Legal, Rare and Early.”) Let me give my opinion on a way forward.  

First, for racial, ethnic and gender disparities, as in the area of climate change, a crucial rule to make a civil discussion possible is that recognition of a serious problem should not be construed as agreeing that the remedy urged by those highlighting the problem is the right remedy. People need to have confidence that their views about a remedy will be respected enough that they are not giving away the game by acknowledging the reality of a problem. Admitting a problem exists should not be construed as agreeing to be railroaded into a particular remedy.

As Peggy Noonan points out, people hate being called racist or sexist or otherwise being told they are deplorables. It is good to look for alternative explanations for people’s attitudes before jumping to accusing people of invidious racism or sexism. Here I use the phrase “invidious racism or sexism” to mean seriously blameworthy racism or sexism as opposed to the even more troublesome racist and sexist attitudes that are like the air we breathe and hence not particularly blameworthy in an individual. Non-invidious pervasive racism or sexism is one of the most important alternatives to positing invidious racism or sexism.

Second, racism and sexism can often be supported by systemic structures plus routine self-interest and self-aggrandizement. For example, in economics departments, professors have a strong interest in building up their own fields and their own styles of economics. To the extent their numbers tilt male right now, and male economics professors have, on average, different field and style preferences, their desires to build up their own fields and styles of economics will handicap female job candidates, even if they don’t have any prejudice at all against women who happen to be doing the field and style of economics they are looking for.    

Turning to invidious racism and sexism, it is important to realize that some comes from personal grievances that might not have happened in a better society. For example, children often live in fear of being bullied. Two types of bullying and nasty teasing can lead to invidious racism, sexism and other bad attitudes. First, if the bully happens to be of a different race, the hatred of that bully might be overgeneralized into a hatred of a race. Second, bullies often taunt other children by saying they are a member of disfavored group. When I was a boy, bullies often taunted other boys by saying they were a “fag,” which powerfully got across the idea that to be a homosexual was bad. Both of these mechanisms for creating invidious racism, sexism and other bad attitudes can be forestalled by reducing the amount of bullying that children face from one another. (See my post “Against Bullying.”)

Another reduceable source of invidious racism is the centrality to our current society of prizes—such as admission to elite colleges or professional schools or prestigious jobs—that have an excessive amount of surplus. If elite colleges and professional schools each expanded the number of students admitted, it would reduce the stress on those trying to get admitted and reduce the likelihood that that stress would lead to resentment of affirmative action—and might even reduce the sense that affirmative action was needed, because admission wasn’t quite such a big prize.

When particular jobs have a huge amount of surplus for those who get them, it would be helpful for us to reduce the gap in prestige, pay and perks between them and the next job down on the ladder. The top nurses on the totem pole should be at about as high on the ladder as the least of even experienced doctors. The most talented non-tenure-track lecturers should have at least as much prestige as struggling professors. And the most skilled paralegals should be nearly the equal in prestige to mediocre members of the bar.

Eliminating the kinds of gaps beloved of those doing regression discontinuity analyses—in this case between those barely admitted and barely rejected, or between those barely hired and those barely turned away—should reduce any resentment due to affirmative action, but will still leave the kind of racial/ethnic animosities common against Jews and Asian Americans. There is no single solution to all forms of racism or ethnic or religious hatred.

Finally, there are likely to be many interventions that can be made with schoolchildren that can reduce racism, sexism and other bad attitudes. The key thing is to have these programs evaluated in randomized trials. Just because someone believes something will help doesn’t make it so. (For older age groups, some evidence has come in suggesting that sensitivity training of the common types is not very effective.) There is no shortage of ideas to be tested. In “Nationalists vs. Cosmopolitans: Social Scientists Need to Learn from Their Brexit Blunder” I write:

As a Cosmopolitan, what I most want to know from social science is what interventions can help make people more accepting of foreigners. Somewhat controversially, it is now common in the US for elementary school teachers to make efforts to instill pro-environmental attitudes in schoolchildren. Whether or not those efforts make a difference to children’s attitudes, are there interventions or lessons that can make schoolchildren and the adults they grow up to be likely to feel more positive about the foreign-born in their midst? For example, having had a very good experience learning foreign languages on my commute by listening to Pimsleur CDs in my car, I wonder whether dramatically more effective Spanish language instruction for school children following those principles of audio- and recall-based learning with repetition at carefully graded intervals might make a difference in attitudes toward Hispanic culture and toward Hispanics themselves in the US.

Although it is the province of social scientists to test interventions intended to improve attitudes toward the foreign-born, many of the best interventions will be created by writers, artists, script-writers, directors, and others in the humanities. There are also many other marginalized groups in society, but the strength of anti-foreigner attitudes suggests the need for imaginative entertainment and cultural events to help people identify with human beings who were born in other countries.

My bottom line is that when we think of racism and sexism and other bad attitudes, we should consider root causes that are not entirely within the individual and not leap too quickly to castigating individuals. And we should cast the net wide for root causes and plausibly helpful interventions, and test hypotheses rigorously. Some proposed remedies for racism, sexism and other bad attitudes may do more harm than good. It does not make one a racist, sexist or bad person to say that we should ask for evidence about the effects of various remedies. (And we should gather evidence for the effects of remedies recommended by those on the right as well as by those on the left. For example, effective crime control measures that make people feel safer might reduce racism, or certain kinds of easy cultural training that immigrants are happy to receive might make them seem less threatening to the native-born.)

In the last few years I have become aware of the serious possibility that for a long time we were successful at driving racism and sexism underground by silencing people with such attitudes, without fully convincing people to relinquish such attitudes. Silencing people with such attitudes may reduce the chance of transmitting those attitudes to the rising generation, but it also causes the resentment people almost always feel when they can’t say their piece. If, as a society, we had not succumbed to the temptation o trying to silence people, we might—after great effort—now be further along the road to persuasion. Letting people say their piece often seems threatening when we disagree strongly (and perhaps especially when we disagree strongly for good and sound reasons), but I believe letting people say their piece and then responding with our views is the wiser course.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid reading anyone out of the human race—not even those who would read others out of the human race. Given our evolutionary heritage, taking an “Us and Them” approach is extremely contagious. Let’s not play with that kind of fire. In a cultural war like the one we are in now, I believe it is the side that can best rise above the us-versus-them temptation that will prevail.

Related posts and links, beginning with those flagged above:

Jonathan Shaw: Could Inflammation Be the Cause of Myriad Chronic Diseases?

Inflammation plays a role in many diseases, according to Jonathan Shaw’s fascinating Harvard Magazine article shown above: “Raw and Red-Hot: Could inflammation be the cause of myriad chronic conditions?” I found three points Jonathan made especially interesting.

First, arterial plaques that block blood flow in a way that can cause heart attacks or strokes may owe just as much to inflammation as they do to cholesterol. For example, one of the most powerful predictors of cardiovascular health is C-reactive protein, which is related to inflammation. Jonathan reports:

… a molecule called C-reactive protein (CRP), easily measured by a simple and now ubiquitous blood test, could be used like a thermometer to take the temperature of a patient’s inflammation. Elevated CRP, he discovered years ago, predicts future cardiovascular events, including heart attacks.

Second, many of the benefits of exercise may come because of the long-run inflammation-reducing effects of exercise:

In 2007, [Harvard] associate professor of medicine Samia Mora and colleagues published a study of exercise that sought to understand why physical activity is salutary. They already knew that exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease as much as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs do. … women had donated blood in the 1990s when they entered the study. Eleven years later, the researchers analyzed this frozen blood to see if they could find anything that correlated with long-term cardiovascular outcomes such as heart attack and stroke. “… reduced inflammation was the biggest explainer, the biggest contributor to the benefit of activity …”

The anti-inflammatory effect of exercise was much greater than most people had expected. That raised another question: whether inflammation might also play a dominant role in other lifestyle illnesses that have been linked to cardiovascular disease, such as diabetes and dementia.

In the short-run, exercise increases inflammation, just as it increases blood pressure. But in the long run, exercise reduces blood pressure and reduces inflammation.

Third, the case that inflammation rather than something else correlated with inflammation is doing the good work is bolstered by the many benefits of an anti-inflammatory drug:

In 2017, two cardiologists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who suspected such a link, published the results of a human clinical trial that will forever change the way people think about inflammation. The trial, which involved more than 10,000 patients in 39 countries, was primarily designed to determine whether an anti-inflammatory drug, by itself, could lower rates of cardiovascular disease in a large population, without simultaneously lowering levels of cholesterol, as statin drugs do. The answer was yes. But the researchers went a step further, building into the trial additional tests seeking to clarify what effect the same anti-inflammatory drug, canakinumab, might have on illnesses seemingly unrelated to cardiovascular disease: arthritis, gout, and cancer. Only the researchers themselves, and their scientific colleagues, were unsurprised by the outcome. Lung cancer mortality dropped by as much as 77 percent. Reports of arthritis and gout also fell significantly.

Some of the researchers Jonathan interviewed speculate that strong immune system responses were very helpful in the environment of evolutionary adaptation, since infectious diseases were such a big danger.

Also, Jonathan interviewed Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, director of the Sabri Ülker Center for Metabolic Research. Gökhan speculated that eating all the time is one cause of chronic inflammation, both because eating puts a lot of reactive molecules in the mix and because being well-fed provides lots of energy to run the immune system.

Let me make connections to a few themes I have pursued in my diet and health posts. First, note how different an emphasis on inflammation is that a view that says “dietary fat is bad.” For example, if eating animal protein caused inflammation, the fat in the meat might get blamed instead of the animal protein in the meat. Second, if, as Gökhan argues, eating all the time causes excessive inflammation, could periodic fasting reduce inflammation? Third, reminiscent of, bit distinct, from what Gökhan is sayhing, I have written about Steven Gundry’s big claim that many particular foods cause inflammation and overactivate the immune system in “What Steven Gundry's Book 'The Plant Paradox' Adds to the Principles of a Low-Insulin-Index Diet.” Interestingly, Steven claims that certain types of food cause inflammation in and near the digestive tract, and that belly fat then builds up to provide a storehouse of energy for that immune-system response. If that is the case, then belly fat would be caused by inflammation rather than itself causing inflammation. But in any case, belly fat is a bad sign.

It is my sense that the importance of inflammation to the chronic diseases associated with obesity has not fully made it into popular awareness. It deserves to.

I have found the food insulin index extremely useful in thinking about which foods are healthy and which are unhealthy. (See “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid.”) I would love to see a corresponding index of how much inflammation different foods. Short of that, I would love to have a better sense of what kinds of subjective sensations after eating are most likely to be signs of an inflammatory response to particular foods I just ate.

Overall, on what to do in relation to inflammation, diet and health, I am left with more questions than answers. There are many possible recommendations for which I am worried about possible side effects. As an analogy, too-easily-clotting blood is akin to an overactive immune system. A baby aspirin, turmeric or regular cinnamon (that is, non-Ceylon cinnamon) are all blood-thinners. Taking some kind of blood thinner may often make sense, but personally I find they give me nose bleeds. (I love cinnamon and eat Ceylon cinnamon to avoid the nose bleeds.) The three recommendations I do have in relation to inflammation that have few downsides are:

  1. Exercise regularly.

  2. Quit sugar. Heidi Turner says “Sugar is the universal inflammatory ... Everyone is sugar intolerant.” (See “Heidi Turner, Michael Schwartz and Kristen Domonell on How Bad Sugar Is” and once you are convinced, turn to “Letting Go of Sugar.”)

  3. Don’t eat all the time. (See “Stop Counting Calories; It's the Clock that Counts.”)

  4. Google “Steven Gundry Yes and No” and check out Steven’s list of OK “yes” foods and inflammatory “no” foods.

For annotated links to other posts on diet and health, see “Miles Kimball on Diet and Health: A Reader's Guide.”

The People Have the Right to Erect a New Government When the Previous Government Betrays the Trust It Has Been Given

One of the most remarkable things John Locke says in his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, in Chapter XIX, “Of the Dissolution of Government,” sections 219 to 221, is that the people may erect their own government either when the previous government has descended into anarchy, or when it has betrayed the people’s trust. He argues that the people have an inherent right to

… a settled [government], and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it.

(Here I have translated the noun “legislative” as “government.”) Besides anarchy, the people, he says, have a right to erect a new government when the previous government betrays its trust:

The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them, when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and to make themselves, or any part of the community, masters, or arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people.

If the people have this right, it is appropriate to make it possible for the people to exercise this right in a relatively low cost way. Democracy is one of the simplest—and in practice the most effective known way of lowering the cost of the people to exercise their right to erect a new government when the old one descends into anarchy or betrays the trust given to it.

Democracy in the real world is far from perfect. But it has this treat virtue: if the vast majority of people hate the government, then the government falls. Otherwise it is not a true democracy.

Even democracies in form that are not true democracies because the elections are rigged, still have some benefit in paying homage to the principle that if a government is horrible, the people get to replace it. And having a tradition of elections in form has, I believe, a positive effect on the likelihood of possible futures in which makes elections take full force. For example, who should be the successor in a dictatorship or semidictatorship is not always clear. Sometimes that question of succession will end up being resolved an election even though the elections before that were sham elections.

Moreover, in our world of 2019, elections have become a time when the rest of the world is watching. That is valuable.

If an autocracy really is looking after the welfare of the people (as most claim but do not do), then John Locke’s principle does not require democracy. But if an autocracy really is looking after the welfare of the people better than anyone else or any other organization would, it should be able to win an election. So if an autocracy is actually legitimate, there would be no harm to having a democracy instead, with the erstwhile autocrats being converted into election victors. (I don’t think John Locke would have any truck with the notion that the people are not good judges of their own welfare.) This way of looking at things does, however, suggest that one should not diss autocrats who genuinely govern putting the people’s welfare first and with high competence, then at some point institute elections and win them fairly.

In relation to these powerful ideas, it is well worth reading John Locke’s own words:

219. There is one way more whereby such a government may be dissolved, and that is, when he who has the supreme executive power neglects and abandons that charge, so that the laws already made can no longer be put in execution. This is demonstratively to reduce all to anarchy, and so effectually to dissolve the government: for laws not being made for themselves, but to be, by their execution, the bonds of the society, to keep every part of the body politic in its due place and function; when that totally ceases, the government visibly ceases, and the people become a confused multitude, without order or connexion. Where there is no longer the administration of justice, for the securing of men’s rights, nor any remaining power within the community to direct the force, or provide for the necessities of the public, there certainly is no government left. Where the laws cannot be executed, it is all one as if there were no laws; and a government without laws is, I suppose, a mystery in politics, unconceivable to human capacity, and inconsistent with human society.

§. 220. In these and the like cases, when the government is dissolved, the people are at liberty to provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the change of persons, or form, or both, as they shall find it most for their safety and good: for the society can never, by the fault of another, lose the native and original right it has to preserve itself, which can only be done by a settled legislative, and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it. But the state of mankind is not so miserable that they are not capable of using this remedy, till it be too late to look for any. To tell people they may provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, when by oppression, artifice, or being delivered over to a foreign power, their old one is gone, is only to tell them, they may expect relief when it is too late, and the evil is past cure. This is in effect no more than to bid them first be slaves, and then to take care of their liberty; and when their chains are on, tell them, they may act like freemen. This, if barely so, is rather mockery than relief; and men can never be secure from tyranny, if there be no means to escape it till they are perfectly under it: and therefore it is that they have not only a right to get out of it, but to prevent it.

§. 221. There is therefore, secondly, another way whereby governments are dissolved,and that is, when the legislative, or the prince, either of them, act contrary to their trust.

First, The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them, when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and to make themselves, or any part of the community, masters, or arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people.

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