Crafting Simple, Accurate Messages about Complex Problems

image source . #1 image from googling “complexity of obesity”

image source. #1 image from googling “complexity of obesity”

image source . #2 image from googling “complexity of obesity”

image source. #2 image from googling “complexity of obesity”

image source . #3 image from googling “complexity of obesity”

image source. #3 image from googling “complexity of obesity”

Today is the 7th anniversary of this blog, "Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal." My first post, "What is a Supply-Side Liberal?" appeared on May 28, 2012. I have written an anniversary post every year since then:

  1. A Year in the Life of a Supply-Side Liberal

  2. Three Revolutions

  3. Beacons

  4. Why I Blog

  5. My Objective Function

  6. A Barycentric Autobiography

Beyond family activities (within which my new role as a grandfather is a special joy), a large share of my efforts this past year have been devoted to three big projects that I believe in deeply as ways to make the world a better place:

  • Working toward the elimination of any lower bound on interest rates to restore the firepower of monetary policy. The big news in this area is my new IMF Working Paper with Ruchir Agarwal. See “Ruchir Agarwal and Miles Kimball—Enabling Deep Negative Rates to Fight Recessions: A Guide” or click on the “neg.rates” link right underneath my blog subtitle “A PARTISAN NONPARTISAN BLOG: CUTTING THROUGH CONFUSION SINCE 2012.”

  • Working out the principles for a national well-being index that could be credible as a full coequal to GDP with Dan Benjamin, Ori Heffetz, Kristen Cooper and our ace research assistant Tushar Kundu—with help from Rosie Li, who has mainly been working with Patrick Turley and me on the genetics of assortative mating. (See my happiness subblog for related posts.)

  • Fighting obesity, one diet and health post at a time. (See the links at the bottom of this post.)

Blogging about diet and health, I have gotten some pushback from those who are paid to be experts on diet and health, as you can see from “On the Epistemology of Diet and Health: Miles Refuses to `Stay in His Lane’.” One of the more common criticisms is to say that issues of diet and health are complex, and I am oversimplifying. I think if you took the time to read the full set of blog posts, you would agree that I am allowing for a lot of complexity. But to make ideas understandable, it is important not to be juggling too many ideas at once. In “Brio in Blog Posts” I recommend that a blog post should have one central idea—otherwise it should be split into more than one blog post. I am afraid I don’t take my own advice, but that maxim has pulled me toward making blog posts more focused than if I didn’t have that maxim in mind.

I believe that fighting obesity requires more focused advice. Not “Do everything right, and here is the long list.” Instead, start with one action: go off sugar. I give some advice for that in “Letting Go of Sugar.” Don’t worry about anything else in the area of diet and health until you have accomplished that. After that, you can see where to go next in “4 Propositions on Weight Loss.” And if that all becomes old hat, then I recommend a reading program. I hope my blog posts are of some help, but those blog posts also point to some useful books to read. (To summarize, see “3 Achievable Resolutions for Weight Loss.”)

I am by nature a believer. I start by assuming that people are telling the truth or at least telling it as they see it. But being a blogger and interacting on Twitter has been for me a cold bath in reality: I have become more and more aware of people being dishonest or intellectually slovenly in ways they think can advance their careers. (For an example of intellectual slovenliness, see “Let's Set Half a Percent as the Standard for Statistical Significance.”) Let me get pointed in relation to diet and health: for some, it is all too easy to serve the interests of sugar companies by saying it is all complex and sugar is only a small part of the picture. If the statement that “Sugar is only a small part of the problem” is true at all, it is far from being proven. And given that almost everyone feels they need to agree that cutting back on sugar is a good idea, saying it is only a small part of the problem is the main available option for defending sugar.

In my view, saying something is complex can be consistent with crafting simple accurate messages about that issue. When price affects quantity and quantity affects price, one can say it is all complex—“the seamless web of history”—or one can use the analytical tools of supply and demand. It often is possible to cut through complexity to make useful points.

One of the strengths of economics is its emphasis on the craft of choosing which elements to put into a model and which elements to leave out. This is crucial for insight and understanding. It is crucial for insight and understanding because of the limitations of the human mind. (See “Cognitive Economics.”) Thinking that a map is unnecessary because we have the territory in front of us is usually a big mistake.

One of the strengths of blogging is that it is conducive to breaking complex issues into manageable pieces. Each post can tackle a different aspect of a complex issue, from a different angle. But hyperlinked together, those posts can respect the complexity without making everything totally opaque.

I hope that my tagline “cutting through confusion since 2012” isn’t an entirely false boast. If it isn’t entirely false, that gives me the motivation to continue blogging for the next seven years and beyond.

Don’t miss my other posts on diet and health:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Other Health Issues

VII. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

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 “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography. I defend the ability of economists like me to make a contribution to understanding diet and health in “On the Epistemology of Diet and Health: Miles Refuses to `Stay in His Lane’.”