Wednesday | 13 March 2013

policy

RESEARCH TIES ECONOMIC STATUS TO GAP IN LIFE EXPECTANCY
Michael Fletcher | The Washington Post

“People who are shorter-lived tend to make less, which means that if you raise the retirement age, low-income populations would be subsidizing the lives of higher-income people,” said Maya Rockeymoore, president and chief executive of Global Policy Solutions, a public policy consultancy. “Whenever I hear a policymaker say people are living longer as a justification for raising the retirement age, I immediately think they don’t understand the research or, worse, they are willfully ignoring what the data say.”

THREE WAYS TO BRING BACK MANUFACTURING
Anna Kim | Washington Monthly

. . . insourcing is unlikely to be the magic elixir for a job market that’s only slowly gaining steam more than three years after the official end of the Great Recession. Only some jobs are coming back, and not in nearly large enough numbers to reverse the overall decline in U.S. manufacturing employment. While manufacturing gained about 530,000 jobs between January 2010 and December 2012, America is still 7.5 million manufacturing jobs down from its last peak in 1979. Even if reshoring picks up steam, manufacturing employment is unlikely to recapture the heights of the 1950s, when more than one in three employed Americans worked the line.

Nevertheless, policymakers should encourage insourcing as much as possible, even if net job growth might be a fraction of what’s been lost. At stake is something much broader—America’s future capacity for innovation.

planning / cities

FAMILY FEUD
Akim Reinhardt | 3 Quarks Daily

Less than an hour apart, similar in size and population, and connected by I-95 and a tangled overgrowth of suburbs, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are very much alike. The mid-Atlantic’s kissin’ cousins share everything from beautiful row home architecture to a painful history of Jim Crow segregation. But the wealthier parts of D.C. have grown uppity of late, and you can blame Uncle Sam. Whereas Charm City has suffered from de-industrialization, depopulation, and growing poverty over the last half-century, Washington’s economy has grown dramatically with the federal government’s rapacious expansion since World War II.

Once upon a time, Baltimore was a major American city driven by heavy manufacturing and voluminous harbor traffic, while Washington was a dusty, lackluster town, the population noticeably undulating with the political season. But after moving in opposite directions for decades, D.C. was poised to surpass Baltimore economically by the 1990s.

The rich cousin is now the poor cousin and vice versa, trading seats at all the family functions.

healthcare

WILL BODY MONITORING IMPLANTS BE HE FUTURE OF HEALTHCARE
Adam Ozimek | Modeled Behavior | Forbes

Car insurance companies look to be at long last investigating ways to minimize this information problem by incentivizing drivers to put devices on their cars to partly measure how risky of drivers they are. With health care costs rising and increasingly subsidized by the government, it begs the question of whether such monitoring will become necessary for healthcare in the future?

Future technologies will certainly make this easier. Already we are seeing more and more of the “quantified self”, as new products allow us monitor our bodies and amass data about our behaviors. You can track the number of steps you take in a day, your heart rate, how many calories you’re burning, how you’re sleeping. But future technologies are pointing in an even more exhaustive, and some would say intrusive, self-monitoring direction. Research is being done on biomonitoring implants that will keep track of how your body is doing from the inside.

science

NEW CENTER AIMS TO MAKE SCIENCE MORE OPEN AND RELIABLE
Ed Yong | Phenomena | National Geographic

The Center’s values are epitomised in its signature project—the Open Science Framework. It’s a website that lets scientists store and share every aspect of their work, including facets that are often hidden from each other, let alone from the public. Failed experiments, the minutiae of methods, the genesis of ideas… these are often omitted from published papers or left to languish in personal file drawers. That creates strong biases in the literature, and makes it harder for people to check and reproduce each other’s work.

The Open Science Framework allows scientists to easily document these invisible steps and make them freely available. It’s the embodiment of the school maxim: “Show your working.” “It doesn’t mean that everyone will look at everything I do, but the fact that they can changes two important things,” says Nosek. “First, there’s no file drawer; research doesn’t get lost. Second, I’m accountable because someone could discover what I’m doing.”

The result should be a fuller picture of science, from conception to publication. Nosek hopes that this will also help to put the emphasis on the process of science, and shifts it away from the published, peer-reviewed paper. He says that the focus on papers has created “a mindset where the goal is to publish instead of to learn stuff”.

WILL WE EVER BRING BACK THE WOOLY MAMMOTH?
Ed Yong | Phenomena | National Geographic

Synthesising an animal genome from scratch is a massive challenge by today’s technological standards. It would require: a far more accurate draft than the one we have; knowledge of the number of chromosomes a mammoth had; the ability to stitch together such large stretches of DNA; ways of packaging that DNA into a nucleus; and hoping that all the DNA will still be in good working order.

There is another option. Rather than producing mammoth DNA from scratch, you could tweak DNA from an African elephant. The genomes of the two species differ by just 0.6 percent, half the difference between us and chimpanzees. By identifying and swapping the different sequences, you could potentially rewrite an elephant genome so that it reads like a mammoth one.

psychology

HOW YOUR MORAL DECISIONS ARE SHAPED BY A BAD MOOD
Travis Riddle | Scientific American

If mood directly changed our experience of potentially pushing (a bystander into an oncoming train in order to spare the lives of five other bystanders) — the moral emotion hypothesis — then putting people in a positive mood should have made them more likely to push, no matter how the question was asked. The ‘moral thought’ hypothesis, on the other hand, accounts for these results quite nicely. Specifically, it is known from previous research that positive moods validate accessible thoughts, and negative moods invalidate accessible thoughts. So, for example, if I ask you if it’s okay to push, you will begin to consider the act of pushing, making this thought accessible. If you’re in a positive mood, that mood acts on this thought process by making you more likely to feel as though this is an acceptable behavior – it validates the thought of pushing. On the other hand, if I were to ask if it is okay to not push, the positive mood should validate the thought of not pushing, leading you to feel like not pushing is an acceptable behavior. Negative mood, which invalidates accessible thought, has a parallel effect, but in the opposite direction. Thus, this idea fits well with the observed pattern of results in this experiment.

These findings raise some further questions, some of which psychologists have been attempting to answer for a long time. Emotions and logical thought are frequently portrayed as competing processes, with emotions depicted as getting in the way of effective decision-making. The results here are another demonstration that instead of competing, our emotions and our cognitions interact and work closely to determine our behaviors. In fact, some researchers have recently begun to suggest that the division between these two is rather tough to make, and there may not actually be any meaningful difference between thought and emotion.

finance

A THEORUM TO TERRIFY BANKERS
Tim Hartford | The Financial Times

M&M, the Modigliani-Miller theorem, is an elegant proof that under certain circumstances the debt/equity mix of a company’s funding doesn’t actually affect its value at all.

Imagine a company called Papple. It has issued 100 shares, each a claim on 1 per cent of Papple’s future profits. Papple has big plans, which it could fund by issuing 100 new shares, making each old share worth only 0.5 per cent of Papple’s profits. Alternatively, Papple could borrow money, leaving each shareholder with the right to 1 per cent of Papple’s profits, but pushing shareholders to the back of a queue behind the company’s creditors. That second option is riskier, but more profitable for shareholders if the expansion plan works. If the plan fails and the debt can’t be serviced, Papple will be bankrupt.

It seems a fraught decision, but M&M says that it doesn’t matter what Papple does, because investors in the company can always hedge their bets if Papple seems too risky, or borrow money to buy extra Papple shares if they feel that Papple is too boring an investment without such leverage.

M&M applies to banks, too, but with a twist. Banks that get into financial trouble cause systemic damage, so even if M&M applies from the point of view of investors, society would prefer less debt and more equity. But bank investors want the opposite, because the “too big to fail” subsidy means that shareholders enjoy successful gambles while creditors are bailed out if things go wrong. This subsidy means that debt-laden banks are more valuable to investors. If M&M holds, the taxpayers’ loss is the bankers’ gain.

Bankers have tended to argue that equity is scarce and expensive and too much equity means that banks will make fewer loans at higher rates. M&M shows us that this argument is wrong in theory.

old things

STEVIE WONDER ON SESAME STREET – 1,2,3

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WOMEN IN SHORTS CAUSE CAR TO CRASH INTO POLE
Retronaut

Toronto

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