Why Donald Trump's Support Among Republicans Has Solidified

                                                    Link to the article above

                                                 Link to the article above

                                               Link to the article just above

                                            Link to the article just above

Donald Trumps support among Republicans has been rising. Gerald Seib reports this from a recent Wall Street Journal poll in his July 23, 2018 article "The Trump Divide Grows Wider":

... what’s striking is the solid support Mr. Trump is now winning inside his own camp. A remarkable 88% of self-identified Republicans say they approve of the job he is doing, the highest share within a president’s own party at this stage of a presidency since President George W. Bush’s standing after the 9/11 terror attacks. ...

At the same time, though, the strength of those pro-Trump feelings is more than matched by the intensity of anti-Trump sentiments. Some 52% of voters overall disapprove of the job he is doing, and a stunning 44% say they strongly disapprove. ...

Asked their feelings about Mr. Trump personally, a mere 9% of all voters said they are neutral.

I thought William Galston's op-ed the next day, "Why Republicans Can’t Get Enough Trump" was very insightful in explaining why Republicans who didn't vote for him in the primaries have gone beyond making their peace with Trump (as they did before the election) and have come to actively like him. William makes three points.  

Improving Economy. Due to the Fed's belated and too timid, but ultimately successful efforts, the economy was likely to improve no matter who was president. But Donald Trump has done enough to claim credit for the economy. Tax cuts and deregulation in particular seem plausible factors behind the improving economy to Republicans. 

Keeping His Campaign Promises. Personally, there are many campaign promises Trump made that I wish he had reneged on. But he has kept most of his promises. In William Galston's words:

He gave economic conservatives the tax cuts and deregulatory policies he advocated during the campaign. Social conservatives have gotten the judicial nominees they were promised, along with policy changes in areas from transgender bathrooms to abortion and religious liberty. And the populist conservatives who put Mr. Trump over the top in key Midwestern states have found an unswerving champion of the nationalist policies—on trade, immigration and putting America first—that energized them during the campaign.

Resentment of Cultural Elites. As an observer, I agree with the claim that many of America's elites have a very negative stereotype of white people who vote Republican and don't have a college degree. This reality and the perception of this reality understandably creates a great deal of resentment. Donald Trump has capitalized on this resentment. Here is how William Galston puts it: 

In Donald Trump, dissatisfied Americans have found a man who resents cultural elites as much as they do, who is as dismissive of convention as they would like to be, and, above all, who fights constantly, retreats rarely, seldom apologizes, and takes every setback as an opportunity to renew the unending struggle.

The mutual bad opinions that the elites and whites without a college degree have of each other reminds me of attitudes nationalists have about foreigners. It is unfortunate.

 

Don't miss posts discussing the political situation we are in:

 

Prevention is Much Easier Than Cure of Obesity

Given patience and fortitude at the beginning, what is needed for curing obesity can become easy—in steady state. The basic argument for that is in my post "4 Propositions on Weight Loss." But the steps needed to cure obesity are not an easy path. Prevention is much easier.

Prevention

The scientific verdict has not been delivered, but as a hypothesis I have mentioned before, I see two things that plausibly have the right timing to explain the worldwide rise in obesity:

  1. The rise of sugar, flour, and modern processed foods.
  2. The likely expansion of the daily eating window from, say, 10 hours (for example, 8 AM to 6 PM) to almost 16 hours (from right after waking to right before sleeping).

The kind of work economic historians do devoted to finding and analyzing data that can speak to patterns of what and when people ate 100 to 150 years ago could be golden in scrutinizing this hypothesis. As I urge in "Defining Economics,"

... economists ought to tackle the full range of problems that human capital gives them a comparative advantage at tackling. In my view, that includes a large share of all the big questions in the social sciences, and may include big questions in other areas (say, non-experimental studies of the effects of nutrition) that call for a level of statistical sophistication in dealing with messy situations that is not easy to obtain outside of economics PhD programs. 

As applied to today, this hypothesis boils down to the hypothesis that if

  • you stay away from sugar during pregnancy (or your child's mother does),
  • keep your kids from eating sugar thereafter,
  • successfully discourage snacking after dinner, and
  • get them to internalize these as good habits they continue after they leave home,

then your children are unlikely to have a problem with obesity in their lives. Note that almost all processed foods have a fair bit of sugar in them; therefore, as things stand, staying away from sugar implies staying away from processed food. If there is something else bad about processed food, that is handled. 

Let me also put forward the related, but distinct hypothesis that if

  • throughout your life so far, you have always been relatively thin (say a BMI—Body Mass Index—of 23 or below), and 
  • you avoid sugar and keep to an eating window of no more than 10 hours on a typical day going forward,

you are unlikely to have a problem with obesity in your life. I am also willing to predict that these habits will help avoid having the kinds of diseases that are associated with obesity strike you even if you remain thin. 

Cure

Unfortunately, the cure once your system is messed up enough for you to have become overweight is much more difficult. There may be many dimensions of "messing up your system." The one I know about is becoming insulin-resistant. (See "Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon.") I understand this to be a continuous variable: it is possible to be a little bit insulin-resistant, below what would lead to a diagnosis of insulin resistance. But every bit of insulin resistance makes it easier to put your body in the state where it accumulates body fat and harder to put your body in the state where it reduces body fat. There may be other mechanisms I don't know about that have the same effect. There are also equilibrating mechanisms that (other things equal) tend to make losing weight easier if your weight is high and gaining weight easier if your weight is low. Together all of these mechanisms constitute what might justifiably be called a "fat thermostat" that gets set higher the more your system is messed up. (The term "fat thermostat" was used by some popular diet books in the 80s and 90s.) 

In any case, it is common experience that for many people it takes a lot to lose weight and keep it off. The combination of a low-insulin-index diet and fasting is the easiest way I know of to lose weight and keep it off. But you and I don't get to choose how much fasting it takes. That is an experimental matter. You have to do whatever it takes. 

As with the monetary policy analogy I pursued in "Magic Bullets vs. Multifaceted Interventions for Economic Stimulus, Economic Development and Weight Loss," doing whatever it takes might seem extreme to onlookers. But it takes whatever it takes. And if done right, I think what it will take won't be all that painful to you, however surprised onlookers are that you can maintain it.

Self-discipline is necessary for losing weight and keeping it off; suffering is not. If you are suffering in steady-state, I'd like to hear about it to see if I can give some useful advice based on my own experience and the experience of those I know well.

By "suffering" I mean something quite specific: I mean what most people experience when they try calorie-restriction as their main strategy for weight-loss without introducing elements of either

  • fasting
  • low-insulin-index eating (or at least low-carb eating).

That type of suffering—familiar to so many who have tried raw, unsubtle calorie restriction as a primary strategy—is unnecessary. 

Time-restricted eating, coupled with staying low on the insulin index in one's food choices,

  • doesn't involve suffering
  • is consistent with a lot of variety in food, and
  • is consistent with eating heartily on social occasions,

but to anyone who gets you to speak frankly about your eating patterns the total amount of food you consume when following this strategy will look surprisingly low.

There is a limit to how efficient your metabolism can get, but at maximum metabolic efficiency, it doesn't take that much food to keep you going. As I have mentioned before, there is a silver lining to metabolic efficiency: cancer cells tend to be metabolically damaged, so operating on just the amount of food needed to keep you fully energetic when at maximum metabolic efficiency means there isn't a lot of extra nutrients around to keep metabolically inefficient cancer and precancer cells going. I have a set of posts on that:

Conclusion

I recognize that what works may be a path difficult for many people to follow. But I am reassured that there are many people out there who are much better at figuring out how to help keep people on track and motivated than I am. At this stage in human history, I believe what is most needed in fighting obesity is to get the facts about what works right. Helping people to use that knowledge depends on establishing the knowledge first. 

By "what works" I mean not only being successful at losing weight and keeping it off, but also doing so with a minimum of suffering. As an economist, I would consider suffering a bad thing, even if suffering had no adverse effects on health whatsoever. But suffering also makes a weight loss program difficult to sustain, so suffering does have a bad effect on health. So minimizing suffering is crucial. The combination of fasting and a low-insulin-index diet does that. 

 

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's Argument for Majority Rule

John Locke makes an argument for majority rule in Sections 95-99 of John Locke's 2d Treatise on Government: “Of Civil Government” (in Chapter VIII, "Of the Beginning of Political Societies"). His main argument is that some decision-making procedure must be binding on every member of a civil society, otherwise it cannot function as any improvement over the state of nature. That argument does not point specifically to majority rule. However, I think he is right in something he does not say explicitly, but is relying on: simple majority rule is the default rule humans tend to revert to in cases where everyone in a group is considered equal. This points to the key desideratum for a decision-making rule binding on those in a civil society: respecting the equality of individuals within that society. Technically, the decision-making rule should be symmetric in how it treats every individual.

Social choice mechanisms different from majority rule, but obeying the equality criterion are a research interest of mine. Here are ungated versions of my papers on this topic and a links to a blog post on an early stage project of ours in this area:

Dan Benjamin, Gabriel Carroll, Ori Heffetz, Derek Lougee and I have also been working hard on the math for dynamic versions of the "normalized gradient addition" social choice mechanism. 

Contrary to John Locke's drift, I think it is possible to do much, much better than majority voting as a social choice mechanism. Part of the standard training of economists is Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which I will briefly summarize as an ironclad proof that "No social choice mechanism is perfect." But I urge you to take John Locke's argument in sections 95-99 of his 2d Treatise as a strong argument that we need some social choice mechanism binding on all members of a civil society:

§. 95. MEN being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community, for their comfortable, safe and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it. This any number of men may do, because it injures not the freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the liberty of the state of nature. When any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.

  §. 96. For when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority: for that which acts any community, being only the consent of the individuals of it, and it being necessary to that which is one body to move one way; it is necessary the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority: or else it is impossible it should act or continue one body, one community, which the consent of every individual that united into it, agreed that it should; and so every one is bound by that consent to be concluded by the majority. And therefore we see, that in assemblies, empowered to act by positive laws, where no number is set by that positive law which empowers them, the act of the majority passes for the act of the whole, and of course determines, as having by the law of nature and reason, the power of the whole.

  §. 97. And thus every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation to every one of that society, to submit to the determination of the majority, and to be concluded by it; or else this original compact, whereby he with others incorporates into one society, would signify nothing, and be no compact, if he be left free, and under no other ties than he was in before in the state of nature. For what appearance would there be of any compact? what new engagement if he were no farther tied by any decrees of the society, than he himself thought fit, and did actually consent to? This would be still as great a liberty, as he himself had before his compact, or any one else in the state of nature hath, who may submit himself, and consent to any acts of it if he thinks fit.

  §. 98. For if the consent of the majority shall not, in reason, be received as the act of the whole, and conclude every individual; nothing but the consent of every individual can make any thing to be the act of the whole: but such a consent is next to impossible ever to be had, if we consider the infirmities of health, and avocations of business, which in a number, though much less than that of a commonwealth, will necessarily keep many away from the public assembly. To which if we add the variety of opinions, and contrariety of interests, which unavoidably happen in all collections of men, the coming into society upon such terms would be only like Cato’s coming into the theatre, only to go out again. Such a constitution as this would make the mighty Leviathan of a shorter duration, than the feeblest creatures, and not let it outlast the day it was born in: which cannot be supposed, till we can think, that rational creatures should desire and constitute societies only to be dissolved: for where the majority cannot conclude the rest, there they cannot act as one body, and consequently will be immediately dissolved again.

  §. 99. Whosoever therefore out of a state of nature unite into a community, must be understood to give up all the power, necessary to the ends for which they unite into society, to the majority of the community, unless they expressly agreed in any number greater than the majority. And this is done by barely agreeing to unite into one political society, which is all the compact that is, or needs be, between the individuals, that enter into, or make up a commonwealth. And thus that, which begins and actually constitutes any political society, is nothing but the consent of any number of freemen capable of a majority to unite and incorporate into such a society. And this is that, and that only, which did, or could give beginning to any lawful government in the world.

In practice, we use majority voting of some description as our go-to social choice mechanism. The standard for an alternative social choice mechanisms is not that they are perfect—that is provably impossible; the standard is that it is better than the current system, which is heavily reliant on majority voting. Social Choice should be—and is—a vibrant, active area of research.  

Note 1: When I claimed above that majority voting is the default rule in situations where everyone is considered equal, I am using the "Boy Scout test" I used for another principle in "John Locke: Property in the State of Nature." Kids, left to their own devices, often use majority rule. It is hard to know how much this owed to the culture we live in. But I suspect it goes way back.

Note 2: When more than one candidate is running for an office, majority voting is often impossible because no candidate has gotten a majority. The rule there is often to choose the candidate with the most votes even if that is far short of a majority. Another common alternative is to have a runoff between the top two vote getters. Vermont has instituted ranked-choice voting, an interesting system, but one I think is still inferior to the one we suggest in "Repairing Democracy: We Can’t All Get What We Want, But Can We Avoid Getting What Most of Us *Really* Don’t Want?"

 

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

Must All Economics Papers Be Doorstoppers?

                                                          Link to the article shown above

                                                       Link to the article shown above

Economics papers have gotten bigger. The world outside the orbit of economists has noticed. The Wall Street Journal devoted 967 words to this topic in Ben Leubsdorf's July 23, 2018 article. He writes:

The average length of a published economics paper has more than tripled over the past four decades, and some academics are sick of wading through them. ...

Between 1970 and 2017, the average length of papers published in five top-ranked economics journals swelled from 16 pages to 50 pages, according to an analysis by University of California, Berkeley economists Stefano DellaVigna and David Card.

The graph on the left just below shows this dramatic increase in length:

  Screenshot from the Wall Street Journal article shown at the top

Screenshot from the Wall Street Journal article shown at the top

The question is whether the extra length is fat or muscle. Giving readers everything they need to be convinced that a claimed empirical result correctly represents the real world can take a lot. The existence of some careful—and carefully described—empirical work in economics is an important part of what gives economists the prestige they have with journalists, businesspeople and policymakers. 

But sometimes the length of a paper can deter other economists from actually reading it, so that very few people end up knowing whether the paper is on track or not. If the editor and referees who approved the paper miss something, or let the paper through because of methodological bias despite serious flaws, a falsehood can gain currency.

When I used to have graduate students present papers from the literature in class, I was always dismayed that they believed the abstract! Of papers I have read since I received my PhD, more than half the time, the abstract badly misrepresents what the paper really demonstrates. If smart graduate students who have actually read a paper believe abstracts way too much, it is a slam dunk to guess that economists will believe abstracts too much when they haven't read a paper—unless of course the abstract claims a result that goes against their prejudices.  

If most important papers are so long that almost no one really reads them, the conversation among economists becomes impoverished. A nice example that came up in Ben Leubsdorf's interview of Anil Kashyap is Anne Case and Angus Deaton's paper "Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century":

In 2015, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton published research on rising death rates for middle-aged white men. Their six pages in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences set off a national debate over possible links between mortality and economic distress, and “there was a lot of discussion about whether a paper like that, sent to a standard economics journal, would have had a chance to get published," said University of Chicago economist Anil Kashyap.

The way in which Anne and Angus's paper enriched not only the conversation among economists but the conversation in the country in general is nicely captured by Jeff Guo's April 6, 2017 interview of them, published in the Washington post: "‘How dare you work on whites’: Professors under fire for research on white mortality."

Is there any place for shorter papers in economics? The American Economic Association has officially decided "Yes" in the face of what has been an all-too-pervasive answer "No" in the top journals:  

The AEA announced last year it would launch a journal dedicated to publishing only concise papers, at least by economists’ standards—nothing longer than 6,000 words, or about 15 double-spaced pages. ...

“Certainly not all papers should be short,” said MIT economist Amy Finkelstein, founding editor of what’s being called American Economic Review: Insights. “But on the other hand, not all papers should be long.”

She noted that seminal 1950s papers by Paul Samuelson and John Nash took only a few pages to convey findings on public goods and game theory; both men later won the Nobel Prize in economics. Some journals today seem wary of publishing such quick reads.

“If you want to publish a paper in a top journal, even if you think you have one key insight that can be conveyed succinctly, the referees are not going to take it,” Ms. Finkelstein said.

One part of Ben Leubsdorf's reporting was incomplete. He writes:

Ms. Finkelstein said the new journal is on track to have more than 600 submissions for its first year.

There is no clue here how 600+ submissions compares to other American Economic Association journals. Any American Economic Association journal is likely to get a lot of submissions. (Update: Claudia Sahm tweets: "and on @mileskimball point about the new AER Insights “There is no clue here how 600+ submissions compares to other American Economic Association journals.” blog.supplysideliberal.com/post/2018/7/25… That’s nothing for the AER, 1500+ submitted papers in 2013." Go to the tweet itself for a relevant graph.)

Conclusion: If economists were not deterred from reading papers by their length, the cost of long papers could conceivably be only in reduced leisure for economists. But I'll bet the elasticity of reading a paper with respect to its length is substantial. When I cross-post a blog post to Medium, as I do occasionally, the statistics Medium gives on "reads" as well as "pageviews" indicate that the shorter a post, the more likely someone is to get to the end!

If fewer economists read a paper, that means fewer economists evaluate its claims. I mentioned above the possibility that false claims creep into conventional wisdom as a result. Another place economists opting out of reading papers is corrosive is in the tenure and promotion process. If tenure and promotion committees don't read a candidate's papers, and only do bean-counting, they are outsourcing judgment to journal editors and referees.

Journal editors and referees seem like a dangerously small set of people to be the only evaluators of a paper. Optimistically, one out of every ten or so citations to a paper might represent another serious evaluator of a paper, but many papers never get that many citations. (Many citations are defensive, in case the one cited might become a referee. Other citations are by people who believe abstracts relatively uncritically.) 

I don't mind papers that are wrong getting published. But I do mind papers that are wrong being believed. I want to have enough people actually read papers that the economics profession as a whole learns what to believe and what not to believe, and learns what is important and what is not important. If papers being 50+ pages long keeps economists from reading them, that is a problem. 

One thing that could help a lot is if we had a way to collect data on how many people actually read a paper. Technology may make this easier. What if downloaded papers had a link at the end of the pdf file that could be clicked to say "I read this paper"? (Taking those who clicked the link to a page encouraging them to offer anonymous comments could also be valuable.) There could be authentication that identified the particular reader in order to avoid cheating, but an ironclad promise of confidentiality of who clicked that they had read a paper to avoid people trying to look good by claiming to read things they hadn't. (There would still be an incentive to help friends by clicking that link, but hopefully some fraction of those friends would feel guilty enough about not reading when they said they did to generate some additional readers.) This would provide crucial data. It could be a better indication of the importance of a paper than citations. And it would communicate to economists the importance service they are doing to the profession when they read a paper.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Propositions on Weight Loss

  Before: Miles, May 27, 2016. In Montreal. Photo by Gail Cozzens Kimball. You may use this image as long as your use includes a link to this post.

Before: Miles, May 27, 2016. In Montreal. Photo by Gail Cozzens Kimball. You may use this image as long as your use includes a link to this post.

  After: Miles Spencer Kimball, June 19, 2018. Photo by Gail Cozzens Kimball. You may use this image as long as your use includes a link to this post or the home page of this blog:    supplysideliberal.com

After: Miles Spencer Kimball, June 19, 2018. Photo by Gail Cozzens Kimball. You may use this image as long as your use includes a link to this post or the home page of this blog: supplysideliberal.com

The other day I was catching up with my friend Kim Leavitt, who is a deep thinker. I told him about the blogging I was doing on fighting obesity, with fasting as the key tool. (By "fasting," "eating nothing" or "a period of no eating" I mean a period of drinking water, carbonated water, tea or coffee—without sugar or other sweetener—but nothing else.)  Kim's insightful questions inspired me to distill the logical spine of my views on weight loss down to four propositions: 

  1. Eating nothing leads to weight loss.

  2. For healthy, nonpregnant, nonanorexic adults who find it relatively easy, fasting for up to 48 hours is not dangerous—as long as the dosage of any medication they are taking is adjusted for the fact that they are fasting.

  3. Eating sugar, bread, rice and potatoes makes most people feel hungry a couple of hours later. People who have, by and large, quit eating sugar, bread, rice and potatoes can notice this effect on the rare occasions that they do eat a substantial amount of sugar, bread, rice or potatoes. Moreover, if they pay attention, those who have quit eating sugar, bread, rice and potatoes can notice which other foods cause them to feel hungry a couple of hours later.

  4. Two months or so after quitting eating sugar, bread, rice, potatoes—and all the other foods and beverages that make them feel hungry a couple of hours later—a large fraction of people will then find fasting relatively easy.

Let me comment on each proposition in turn:

Proposition 1: "Eating nothing leads to weight loss" is not controversial. 

Proposition 2: The best evidence that fasting is not dangerous comes from the experience of those in religious traditions that encourage fasting. For example, the Mormonism I grew up in not only instructed everyone who could to fast for 24 hours once a month, it also encouraged people to fast for longer periods of time for special spiritual purposes. Mormon fasts often involved not drinking as well as not eating. Given the body of experience indicating that even fasts that risked dehydration were usually not that dangerous, nonreligious fasting that encourages the drinking of water should not be dangerous for those in good health who are not pregnant or anorexic. The biggest worry I have about people fasting is that it could easily throw off the dosage of medication they are taking. So anyone taking prescription medication should consult their doctor about medication interactions before fasting. And anyone taking nonprescription medication should think hard about lowering the dose when they fast. 

Proposition 3: In talking about sugar, bread, rice, potatoes, and other things that an individual finds from experience make them hungry a couple of hours later, I am consciously being agnostic about the mix of hormones or other internal body mechanisms that make this happen. Following Jason Fung, I have tended to talk as if insulin was central to the mechanism. (See "Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon" and "Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid.") Even if I am totally wrong about the biological mechanisms, Proposition 3 can still be verified by experience. Because the data on how hungry an individual feels arrives so quickly, each individual can gather the needed personalized evidence quickly. 

Proposition 4: As for Proposition 3 and the effects of various foods, each individual can readily gather the relevant evidence for themselves on how much easier fasting is after going off sugar, bread, rice, potatoes and other foods and beverages that make them feel hungry a few hours later. People who are still eating sugar, bread, rice and potatoes and other troublesome foods and beverages may well find fasting excruciatingly difficult. But I make the testable prediction that a large fraction of those who go off those foods will find fasting relatively easy. To be more specific, physiologically, if one has gone off that set of foods, the hunger from fasting will not be anywhere near as intense. It will be much easier to distract oneself from the hunger with distractions like a good TV show, work, or a hike. Also, it is likely true that the self-discipline developed by going off troublesome foods will come in handy in sticking to the fast through all the reminders of food that surround us in our society.  

Conclusion: These four propositions are the core of the argument I have been making in my diet and health posts. If anyone wants to attack the approach to weight loss I have been recommending, I urge them to attack some element of the argument I have outlined above. The clear implication of the above argument is that for a large fraction of people, fasting—combined with avoiding sugar, bread, rice and potatoes—is a powerful, not-too-painful, tool for weight loss. 

Addendum: In a comment below, Ani poses and important challenge:

When you say that eating nothing leads to weight loss, you are making the assumption that (i) your metabolism is not affected by the fact that you are fasting and (ii) that once you start eating after fasting, you do not overeat. These might be valid, but have to be stated at least as assumptions, if not as proven facts.

On point (ii), I am assuming a long-enough fast and a short-enough eating window that it is simply not appetizing to eat enough extra during that short period of time to make up for the weight-loss effects of not eating during the previous period of fasting. The avoidance of sugar, bread, rice, potatoes and other troublesome foods and beverages is likely to reduce the required ratio between the duration of fasting and the length of the eating window. 

On point (i), my claim that for many people fasting won't be painful includes the claim that for those people, their metabolism won't get so low that they face a serious problem of feeling sluggish or listless. As for the effects of a slower metabolism on weight loss, physics, chemistry and biology put a limit on how efficient one's metabolism can get. One's metabolism might become quite a bit more efficient, so that you don't need to eat much to feel good and keep your weight even. That amount of food might be small enough that you are spending a lot more time fasting than time eating, but enough fasting will keep your weight steady. 

In my posts on cancer,

I make the point that an efficient metabolism, while not favorable to being able to eat a lot total, could give one's normal cells a decisive edge over cancer cells that have inefficient metabolisms and therefore a tough time in the absence of abundant food. 

Ani also mentions animals. One of the key things about a fasting schedule, combined with avoiding troublesome foods, is that it is much, much easier to execute consciously than attempts at calorie restriction while keeping to a traditional eating schedule. Consciously-chosen fasting plays to our strengths as humans. It is in a different category than, say, fasting during hibernation for animals. 

 

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."

New Mormon Prophet Russell Nelson Shakes Things Up

                                                       Link to the article above

                                                    Link to the article above

Within hours of when he was formally accepted as head of the Mormon Church ("sustained" in Mormon jargon), new Mormon Prophet Russell Nelson began announcing major changes to Mormon practice. Some touched on hot-button issues in the broader society, such as measures to reduce the dangers of sexual abuse by local church leaders, and the choice of an Asian-American and a Latin-American apostle. (An apostle is one of the top 15 Mormon leaders, in line to become a Prophet himself, if he lives long enough. They are all male.) But there are two other big changes whose importance for the lives of Mormons takes some explaining. They and the measures to reduce the dangers of sexual abuse by local church leaders might have been in the works in any case, but a Prophet's views can often be decisive in what gets put in place. 

One of the big changes that is more important than it sounds is to the organization of Mormons' 3-hour block of Sunday meetings. (They are not all in the morning because multiple Mormon congregations usually share a meetinghouse and someone has to take the afternoon shift.) "Sacrament Meeting," named after the Mormon terminology "the sacrament" for communion has everyone together, including very young children. Sunday School separates adults from children, other than the adults tending to the children. The third chunk of time then additional separates adult men from adult women. It used to be that during that time, men who had held moderately high local church office ("high priests," often somewhat older) would be separated out from the men who hadn't ("elders"). Now all the adult men will be together, deemphasizing that status difference and also likely having leadership of that group of all the adult men devolve on more experienced men. This is a big sociological change because older and younger men will now be interacting significantly more. Also, the deemphasis of the status difference between men who have held moderately high local church office and those who haven't extends to the whole of Mormon men's religious experience, not just what happens for one hour on Sunday. 

The other change that is more important than it sounds is to the Mormon Church's program of monthly visits to every member, which was called "home teaching" when by men to the whole family and "visiting teaching" when by women to other women. Now the goal of monthly visits has been relaxed, but the expectation of being on top of how families and individuals are doing has been raised. In addition to relaxation of the goal of monthly visits, the program of "ministering" that replaces home-teaching and visiting-teaching does not involve set-piece messages sent out from Mormon Church central. So the new program encourages people to "get real" rather than just go through the motions. It remains to be seen what "ministering" turns out to be in practice, but it could be an excellent step towards encouraging people to care for one another in a more authentic way. 

There is a key change attendant on the program of "ministering" represents an important step towards gender equality in a church where "patriarch" and "patriarchal" are very positive words, and women cannot hold the priesthood. Home teaching, visiting teaching and now ministering are normally conducted by pairs. Under the older programs, teenage boys were involved in home-teaching, but teenage girls were not involved in visiting teaching. But both teenage boys and teenage girls will be involved in ministering. This is in line with another step toward gender equality a few years ago when the minimum age at which a Mormon woman could be a Mormon missionary was reduced to 19 from 21, encouraging more women to get the leadership experience of serving a mission. 

I have links below to posts that explain more about the home teaching and visiting teaching and about two things I don't think will change any time soon within Mormonism: antipathy toward gay marriage and exclusion of women from the priesthood. I also have a link to a rundown of the administration of the Mormon Prophet who preceded Russell Nelson: Thomas S. Monson

I have to admit I am surprised by the scale of the changes Russell Nelson has ushered in for the Mormon Church. There was little indication in what he had done as an apostle before become Prophet that he would be that innovative. However, the structure of Mormon leadership at the top emphasized following more senior leaders enough that a leader's true views are often only revealed when he rises to the very top. 

 

Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

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

Economist Twitter Stars

   Link to the REPEC rankings of Top 25% Economists by Twitter Followers . Note that economists have to register their Twitter feeds with REPEC to be included on the list. Thus, there are some notable omissions, such as  Noah Smith  and  Greg Ransom . 

Link to the REPEC rankings of Top 25% Economists by Twitter Followers. Note that economists have to register their Twitter feeds with REPEC to be included on the list. Thus, there are some notable omissions, such as Noah Smith and Greg Ransom

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   Link to the REPEC rankings of Top 25% Economists by Twitter Followers . Note that economists have to register their Twitter feeds with REPEC to be included on the list. Thus, there are some notable omissions, such as  Noah Smith  and  Greg Ransom . 

Link to the REPEC rankings of Top 25% Economists by Twitter Followers. Note that economists have to register their Twitter feeds with REPEC to be included on the list. Thus, there are some notable omissions, such as Noah Smith and Greg Ransom

Paul Krugman has enough Twitter followers to equal the population of a megacity. And quite quite a few economists have, on their own, have a medium-sized city worth of Twitter followers. A long way down the list, my own followers constitute a delightful small town. Economists on Twitter is a thing. 

In the University of Michigan's March 5, 2018 University Record, Justin Wolfers, number 6 on REPEC's list above, shares some of his own experience on Twitter and for others trying to establish themselves on Twitter. Safiya Merchant interviewed Justin along with other University of Michigan faculty on Twitter for her article "#SocialScholars: Professors show power of public engagement." Here is Justin's story:

Wolfers, professor of economics in LSA, and public policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, tends to center his tweets on these respective topics, often retweeting news articles or providing commentary.

Despite his social media success, Wolfers originally thought the idea of Twitter sounded like "nonsense" and wouldn't work.

Back in 2011, Wolfers flipped a coin every day to test how Twitter affected his productivity, influence and learning. If it landed on heads, he would open Twitter to consume the Twitter stream and tweet if he felt the need.

He soon realized that every day he hoped it would come up heads.

"Twitter is a particularly important medium for journalists, and so what was important to me was, even among my first couple hundred followers, a large number of them were journalists," Wolfers said. "I could talk to 100 journalists at once through Twitter. So it would be not unusual that a week later, I'd learn what I'd written had been featured in The New York Times or The Washington Post."

Wolfers said his social media presence also allows him to directly reach and provide insight and analysis to policymakers.

"Sometimes the most productive thing I will do in a single day might be a tweet," he said. "That tweet might cause every journalist to write a deep dive on a particular topic or it might cause a policymaker to rethink an issue. And that's a tremendous privilege."

Safiya also quotes Justin as follows:

Although social media usage might not yet be as pervasive as academic journal publications among faculty, Wolfers said it's a "very natural idea" for public intellectuals to speak in the public square to the general populace.

"What we're doing is interesting; don't lose sight of that excitement."

Finally, in a sidebar, "Tips for clicks," Justin gives this advice for someone trying to establish themselves on Twitter:

I say be yourself but be 120 percent of yourself. You have to be a little bit bigger than life because otherwise it'll get lost in 140 characters."

Against Sugar: The Messenger and the Message

Update: In “Vindicating Gary Taubes: A Smackdown of Seth Yoder,” I retract my serious criticisms of Gary Taubes below. And the article linked above had so many errors, Wired had to significantly revise it. However, the post below is still important in defending Gary’s substantive views.

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

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

 

Links to posts on later chapters so far:

Chapter VIII: Of the Beginning of Political Societies

Chapter IX: Of the Ends of Political Society and Government