The blog of Toban Wiebe 2015-09-08T16:41:55+00:00 Toban Wiebe New Jekyll site 2015-09-05T08:30:00+00:00 <p>So I decided to move from Wordpress to <a href="">Jekyll</a>. Not that I had any complaints with Wordpress, it’s an absolutely fantastic platform. I just wanted to start <a href="">blogging like a hacker</a>. With Jekyll I can work from a text editor, use <code>git</code> for the entire site, and publish with a simple <code>git push</code>. Furthermore, I can host the site on <a href="">Github Pages</a>, which automatically rebuilds the site whenever a change is made.</p> <p>The comments were a cesspool back on Wordpress (and I’m talking about legitimate, non-spam comments here), so I’m nuking all the past comments and starting here with no commenting system for the time being.</p> <p>I’ve chosen a Creative Commons 4.0 license to encourage sharing. Feel free to copy code from the <a href="">github repository</a> that this site is generated from.</p> Double standard: caffeine vs nicotine 2015-01-16T14:20:48+00:00 <blockquote>[...] there is a kind of puritanical view that everything relating to nicotine is bad and harmful and should be stamped on.</p> <p>-<a href="">Richard West</a></p></blockquote> <p>I'm no expert on this topic, but it seems to me that the harms of tobacco are from smoking (and chewing) and not from the nicotine itself (apart from the addictiveness). So nicotine administered with gum/patch/vaping would be somewhat more like caffeine in harmfulness (loads of people are addicted to caffeine).</p> <p>Nicotine also seems to have similar useful effects. From <a href="">Wikipedia</a>: "Nicotine appears to have significant performance enhancing effects, particularly in fine motor skills, attention, and memory." A Martian scientist comparing the harms and benefits (for humans) of drinking coffee vs <a href="">vaping nicotine</a> might think that both drugs are safe and have productivity-boosting effects, and wouldn't see a reason for only one of them to be socially acceptable.</p> <p>So why is nicotine held to a <a href="">much higher standard</a>? Well, the public health effort to end smoking became a moral crusade. As Jonathan Haidt puts it, morality binds and blinds. The anti-smoking crusade gained enough strength that it created <a href="">a hated enemy</a>. Smokers in North America are now a low-status out-group from the perspective of most non-smokers. As usual, when activists morally charge their case by painting something as sacred or evil, they commit themselves to not giving up an inch. Smoking is pure evil, and nicotine is central to smoking, so nicotine must be evil too. Any admission that nicotine might not be horrible is helping the enemy.</p> <p>Caffeine, on the other hand, did not get loaded with negative affect because it had a safe delivery system. Imagine if nicotine had historically been consumed in drink form instead of smoking -- in such a world, I imagine that it would just be another stimulant drink like coffee or tea.</p> <p>It's a real shame that e-cigarettes (nicotine) are being morally condemned along with cigarettes (tobacco). If smokers can switch to vaping, they can avoid all the harm and still get their nicotine. From a public health perspective, getting smokers to switch is a huge win. Doctors should be prescribing e-cigs to smokers, government should promote switching. Unfortunately, since nicotine has been painted evil by association, it's probably not going to happen.</p> A thought on methodology 2014-08-26T01:30:50+00:00 <p>I've never felt comfortable with the logical positivists' "science is prediction" characterization, primarily because it neglects what I intuitively think of as the heart of science: explanation. For example, Darwin's theory of evolution – perhaps the greatest scientific discovery ever – is big on explanation, but not nearly as big on prediction. (Because evolution happens on such long timescales, although microbial evolution can be observed on very short timescales.) Or consider the 'selfish gene' paradigm, the evolutionary paradigm of viewing the gene as fundamental unit of selection, and the organism as a mere tool fabricated by the genes for the purpose of propagating themselves into the future. Dawkins' discusses (I think it was in The Extended Phenotype) criticisms of the idea as not providing any new predictions. My initial reaction to these criticisms is always: So what? They're wonderful <em>explanations</em> of the world. They make sense of the world. Isn't that pretty remarkable?</p> <p>The point I want to make here is that the emphasis on prediction is just a convenient special case of a more general principle: that a theory should correspond to reality, just as a <a href="" target="_blank">map corresponds to the territory</a>. Reality can be observed past, present, and future. It is just as well to vet a theory against past observations as against future observations. The reason the scientific method favors prediction is that it prevents the scientist from concocting a 'just so' story that too neatly fits the existing facts ("overfitting"). An idealized honest scientist can test a theory against any empirical evidence.</p> <p>Darwin's theory is so amazing because <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=1416594795&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=highthou-20&amp;linkId=V4OQUPRBW3EBZQ6E">it makes sense of so many existing facts</a>. (And you can still make predictions about historical facts (<a href="" target="_blank">"retrodictions"</a>), such as the famous quip that evolution would be falsified by finding <a href="" target="_blank">fossil rabbits in the precambrian</a>.) Of course, if you have a beautiful theory that has no connection to reality, then you're not doing science. Science is concerned with explaining reality, and so scientific theories must say things about reality – things which can (in principle) be empirically checked. It ultimately doesn't matter where that evidence is temporally located.</p> In Praise of Consumer Debt 2012-09-08T13:21:05+00:00 <p>Debt is a wonderful thing. But many intelligent and responsible people have debt aversion, believing that the optimal level of debt is zero. They proudly brag when they've paid off their mortgages that they are debt-free. This is flat out stupid.</p> <p>One of the great things about debt is that it allows us to trade future wealth for present wealth at the price of interest. For most people, income rises substantially over their lifetime. Because of diminishing marginal utility (a dollar is worth more to you when you're poor than when you're rich), it would be utility-maximizing to transfer some of that future wealth to your present self (given a sufficiently low interest rate). This is even more true of students: they live very poorly as they invest in their earnings potential, then they get jobs and experience a dramatic reversal of their income (from negative to large positive). Debt allows us to smooth out wealth over our lifetime, yielding a gain in utility at the cost of interest.</p> <p>Most people are perfectly comfortable taking on huge levels of debt to buy a house. This is good. But a lot of people are way too squeamish about borrowing to increase their present standard of living. Yes, people are risk averse and don't want to be stuck with a debt they can't pay. This reduces the optimal level of debt, but not necessarily to zero.</p> <p>What I'm saying is that people who expect a large increase in future income (with a high degree of certainty) should be more willing to use debt to finance consumption spending: buying the stuff that makes life better, the stuff you'd buy once you have that higher income.</p> <p>Debt is economically equivalent to savings (assuming the same rate of interest applies to both). How is that possible, you say? In both cases the opportunity cost is the same: if you buy something with borrowed money, you have to pay the interest cost of the loan; if you paid with saved money, the hidden opportunity cost is the interest foregone. So the opportunity cost is equal.</p> <p>Thus, my argument applies generally to savings and debt. Why should your poor present self save for your rich future self? It should really be your rich future self that pays the debts of your poor present self!</p> <h2>Appendix</h2> <p>Here is a useful method for deciding whether to make a large purchase with long run benefits (whether using debt or savings).</p> <ol> <li>Estimate the duration of the benefits and assign a monetary value to the benefit flow (e.g., $<em>x</em>/year for <em>n</em> years). (This assumes constant benefits over time for simplicity.)</li> <li>Calculate the payments (in the same units as the benefit flow) required to pay off a debt in the amount of the purchase over the lifetime of the benefits. This is easy to do using the PMT function in a spreadsheet. Then simply compare the benefit flow to the expected financing cost; since both are in the same units, it's easy to see if the purchase is worth it.</li> </ol> <p>Example: My brother recently got laser eye surgery. It cost $2000, and we conservatively assumed an interest rate of 5%, and that the benefits would last 40 years. The spreadsheet formula is then =PMT(0.05,40,2000) and outputs an annual payment of $116. Since he valued the benefits at no less than $200/year, it was clear that this was a good purchase.</p> Abortion Aversion is Silly 2012-09-05T20:00:47+00:00 <p>In a previous post, I <a title="Selfish Reasons to Have an Abortion" href="">expressed my bafflement</a> at the existence of abortion aversion among intelligent atheist women. My argument was that an unmarried woman who gets pregnant while still in school/college takes on an enormous opportunity cost by keeping the baby (I estimated at least a quarter million dollars).</p> <p>Economists take preferences as given, but it seems to me that there is significant scope for criticizing preferences. For example, Indians have an aversion to eating beef because cows are sacred in their culture. Now, billions of people eat beef and it's perfectly fine; their lives are better for it. If Indians could drop their beef aversion, they would also be better off for it. In fact, we ought to encourage them to do so. There's no place for religious superstition in the 21st century.</p> <p>Likewise, there is no room for superstitious aversion to abortion. Our modern understanding of biology tells us that nothing morally significant happens at conception. To a biologist, it's religious to think otherwise. Sure, you could say, it's a continuum and we have to pick a cutoff of moral significance. To this, I respond with common sense: a ball of cells is obviously not morally significant (how could we have evolved moral instincts for it?); a birthed baby is. The cutoff is somewhere in the middle. So there's no reason to have qualms about early abortions.</p> <p>We rightly criticize moral values based on superstition, like beef and pork aversion. We should also criticize other moral values that impose large costs. Many costly evolved instincts can be overridden by reason, e.g., the <a href="">astoundingly costly anti-market biases</a>.</p> The joy of smashing comforting beliefs 2012-08-31T12:08:30+00:00 <p>I plan to become an economics professor and spend my life in the intellectual world. This is a huge life decision, so I asked myself: What drives my intellectual passion? I have to admit that, in large part, it's the pleasure I get from the utter intellectual demolition of stupid but comforting beliefs. The more feel-good and popular the belief, the more satisfaction I glean from putting it through the intellectual shredder.</p> <p>It's not that I love to argue with people (I enjoy it a bit, but I get sick of it very quickly). I get the most satisfaction just from reading a book that destroys an inane but popular belief. While it does make me feel good inside, I think it also appeals to the optimist in me: think of how much better the world would be if these beliefs were replaced with more intelligent ones.</p> <p>It's no coincidence that my favorite subjects to study are economics and evolution, which I dual-wield as intellectual war-hammers for bashing simpleton feel-good beliefs.</p> <h2>Economics</h2> <p><a href="">Bastiat is the icon</a>, attacking economic fallacies <a href="">with wit and zeal</a>. There are so many examples of <a href="">wrongheaded economic thinking</a>, but it will suffice to mention a few here.</p> <ul> <li>The minimum wage amounts to the following nonsense: "Some workers' wages are too low. Therefore we should ban low wages." Economics (or just common sense) says that employers will fire these workers rather than take a loss on them.</li> <li>Any talk about jobs creation is deeply misguided. Work is a cost, to be minimized. Furthermore, all the hand-wringing about unemployment and insufficient demand overlooks a simple fact: markets clear. At lower wages, more workers are hired.</li> <li>The arguments for overpopulation and resource depletion completely neglect the effects of increased population on productivity. More people means a finer and more efficient division of labor, and more technological innovation. Resource depletion is an overblown concern, since market prices rise when there are shortages. This reduces demand, increases supply, and creates profit opportunities for innovators to increase supply or find substitutes.</li> </ul> <h2>Evolution</h2> <p>No, I'm not talking about creationist bashing. <a href="">There's a lot of politically correct wishful thinking</a> about sex differences and evolutionary psychology smacks it right on the mouth. It's especially satisfying to demolish inane feminist arguments about "patriarchy", "oppression", and other horseshit which does not pass the muster of evolutionary analysis. Men compete so fiercely for mates that there's no way they've formed a 'cartel' to keep women down.</p> <p>An evolutionary approach to health also smashes some sacred cows (e.g., "saturated fat is bad, despite over a million years of evolution as meat eaters", or "you should protect yourself from sunlight, even though sunlight is so biologically important that Europeans evolved pale skin just to absorb more of it").</p> <p>Incidentally, <a href="">evolutionary psychology can explain</a> where a lot of dumb ideas come from.</p> <p>[caption id="attachment_623" align="aligncenter" width="300"]<a href=""><img class="size-full wp-image-623" title="Sauron" src="assets/Sauron.gif" alt="" width="300" height="225" /></a> Sauron smashing haters like I smash foolish beliefs[/caption]</p> <p>I have long wondered if there is a certain personality type that predisposes one the be open to libertarian ideas. I now think that there is: the love of smashing feel-good beliefs. Those who don't share this passion are much less likely to be thrilled about libertarian ideas. They hold on to their comforting beliefs and try to find sophisticated ways to defend them (or they downplay the issue to avoid undermining them.) Libertarians, on the other hand, have no sympathy for feel-goodery.</p> Does a weak dollar boost exports? 2012-06-02T23:52:02+00:00 <p>One mindlessly repeated claim is that a weak dollar boosts exports. While <a title="Sacrificing the End to the Means" href="">I think that promoting exports is lunacy</a>, I'm going to investigate this claim and show that devaluations can only cause temporary, one-shot increases in exports:</p> <ul> <li>Suppose the dollar loses value in the currency exchange markets, but domestic goods prices have not changed.</li> <li>Now, foreigners in the currency exchange markets will buy up dollars 'on sale' and use them to buy US goods (which haven't yet increased in price.)</li> <li>This arbitrage process is the temporary boost in exports: export goods get a disproportionate share of the increased foreign demand, so export prices rise before input prices.</li> <li>But it is only temporary: extra demand also bids up US goods prices to the point that there is no longer any gain to arbitrage.</li> <li>This general price rise is inflation, and it precisely counterbalances the devaluation.</li> <li>Exporters lose their advantage as the inflation hits the prices of inputs.</li> <li>Thus, once the markets equilibrate, exporters have made a transient gain at the expense of everyone who was holding dollars (which fell in value both on the currency exchange markets and in domestic purchasing power.)</li> </ul> <p>Another way to see that exporters derive no long run advantage is to notice that, relative to their foreign competition, they have not gained any comparative advantage. Their costs have not fallen, hence they cannot cut prices. So they can only sell the at the same price and quantity as before, and earn the same rate of profit.</p> <p>I hope this makes it obvious how stupid it would be to enact a policy of devaluation for export stimulus. The harms of inflation borne by the entire populace would greatly overshadow any transient benefit to exporters.</p> Fallacious Use of The Naturalistic Fallacy 2012-06-02T15:56:15+00:00 <p>When trying to explain the rationale behind the <a title="The Evolutionary Lifestyle: A Logical Theory of Health" href="">evolutionary approach to health</a> (i.e., "paleo"), I often get accused of making the naturalistic fallacy ("natural is good"). This really irks me, as this objection reeks of an even worse fallacy: "natural is not good".</p> <p>The reason the naturalistic fallacy is interesting and has its own name is because it's usually true, but not always, so we're liable to forget about the exceptions and commit the fallacy. In the realm of biology this correlation is especially tight, since species <em>adapt</em> to their environments through evolution. We need to be extra careful to not become blind to exceptions.</p> <p>Consider my friend Ryan Murphy, who <a href="">says that</a> "the paleo diet is just the naturalistic fallacy with a bit of evolutionary biology thrown in." Let me turn this statement on its head by agreeing with it and showing how it's a good argument for taking an evolutionary approach to nutrition. I'll start with the naturalistic fallacy and add supporting evidence from evolutionary biology. Each step should increase the probability that a paleo diet is an optimal human diet.</p> <ul> <li>Paleo diet is natural (probability $latex p$ of being true based on only this premise: $latex p \approx 0\%$)</li> <li>Humans evolved as hunter gatherers on the African Savannah for hundreds of thousands of years until developing agriculture 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, implying that humans are adapted to this evolutionary environment ($latex p \geq 70\%$)</li> <li>Humans have only <a href="">begun adapting</a> to agricultural foods; we are genetically still primarily hunter gatherers ($latex p \geq 75\%$)</li> <li>Modern day <a href="">hunter-gatherers exhibit excellent health</a>, free of the "diseases of civilization" ($latex p \geq 85\%$)</li> </ul> <p>I'll stop there with a conservative estimate that a paleo diet is at least 85% likely to be an optimal human diet. Those are very good odds, and the downside risk is tiny, given the argument from evolutionary adaptation. Perhaps there is some other kind of diet that is superior (I consider this extremely unlikely for the same reason), but just as a matter of risk aversion, I would put my eggs in the paleo basket.</p> <p>Let me also add that I think there are many errors to be weeded out of the paleo dogma— speculative positions that don't follow directly from evolutionary arguments: things like carbs are bad (hunter gatherers ate plenty of tubers!), fructose is bad (fruit is good), we need to eat tons of meat (we co-evolved with our prey, hunting wasn't easy), etc. There are many different types of paleo diets, as humans are adapted to a variety of ecological niches.</p> <p>I'll wrap up by coming back to my initial point. The naturalistic fallacy objection to paleo is a straw man that misses the point. The argument for paleo depends on additional evidence from evolution, and derives additional support from anthropology. While Ryan is well versed in evolutionary theory and I think (hope) he doesn't make this mistake, I fear that others commit the error of thinking that, since natural doesn't imply good, then paleo isn't good. This is a far cruder fallacy! All the naturalistic fallacy implies is that paleo isn't <em>necessarily</em> good; but that doesn't mean there isn't a high <em>probability</em> that it <em>is</em> good.</p> Selfish Reasons to Have an Abortion 2012-06-02T13:32:20+00:00 <p>Abstract from moral considerations for a moment and consider a practical cost-benefit analysis of abortion. From an economist's point of view, abortion aversion is baffling. The costs of an unwanted pregnancy are often enormous, especially for young, unmarried women. Consider a girl in high school with decent grades and plans of attending college. If she gets pregnant, she has to choose between drastically different life paths:</p> <ul> <li>Scenario A: she gets an abortion, goes to college, gets a good career, finds a good husband, <em>and then</em> has children. With a comfortable financial situation and a father to help out, it becomes much less costly to have children (she will probably even have more kids than under Scenario B). No less important, the children will be much better off: better nutrition, better neighborhood, paternal investment, much better chance of affording college, etc.</li> <li>Scenario B: she keeps the baby, which drastically reduces her chances of getting a college degree. As a result, her career prospects are significantly lower. She also takes a big hit to her mate value—men place a large discount on single mothers, for good evolutionary reasons (e.g., evolution punishes investing in genetically unrelated children). So she has given up a good career and marriage for single motherhood. She is greatly worse off, and so is the child.</li> </ul> <p>Perhaps I'm an outlier, but if I were placed in this position, I would be willing to pay at least $250,000 to avoid Scenario B. This would surely be less than the difference in discounted lifetime earnings added to the difference in the value of husbands across the two scenarios.</p> <p>As such, I'm utterly baffled that unmarried, intelligent atheist women will even consider Scenario B. Either they aren't thinking through the costs and benefits or their moral cost of abortion is ridiculously high (or infinite, as is the case with sacred values).</p> <p>The bottom line: we're leaving $250,000 bills on the ground because of moral qualms about abortion. A cultural shift in the direction of greater acceptance of such practical abortions would have huge economic benefits for those in such a position.</p> <p>P.S. This is why I loved Sarah Silverman's "quickie aborsh" stunt!</p> <p><img class="alignnone" title="Quickie aborsh" src="assets/article-2129490-12964A35000005DC-615_634x494.jpg" alt="" width="634" height="494" /></p> New home for my blogging 2012-06-02T02:20:51+00:00 <p>I've been blogging so infrequently that I've decided to consolidate my blogging here. I've moved my posts and comments over from my blogs <em>Higher Thought</em> and <em>Libertarian Anarchy</em>, so it'll feel just like home.</p> <p>As always, my posting philosophy is quality over quantity. So subscribe to the feed here: <a href=""></a>.</p> Who says the whole world can't eat paleo? 2011-12-01T19:23:30+00:00 <p>A lot of people try to argue against paleo nutrition by arguing that the whole world couldn't eat paleo. First of all, this isn't even a coherent argument—it's a fallacy of composition: "paleo isn't be feasible for everybody, therefore it's not good for the individual." But the claim is also false: potatoes, now <a href="">paleo</a> <a href="">certified</a>, could easily feed the world. If grains can feed the world, then potatoes can do it better:</p> <p style="padding-left: 30px;">Potatoes are more nutritious, faster growing, need less land and water and can thrive in worse growing conditions than any other major crop. They provide up to four times as much complex carbohydrate per hectare as grain, better quality protein and several vitamins – a medium-size potato boiled in its skin has half an adult’s daily dose of vitamin C, for example. They also contain B vitamins, plus many of the trace elements poor people, and grain, lack. (<a href="">New Scientist</a>)</p> <p>So if everybody decided to cut grains and switch to potatoes as a staple, then farmers would plant potatoes instead of grains. Over time, potatoes would likely become cheaper due to economies of scale and innovation. (Disease and perishability are the main challenges to potatoes.)</p> <p>These types of arguments ignore the role of prices and innovation. Increased demand for a good increases its price, encouraging increased production and innovation, as well as substitutes. So even a low-carb, high-meat paleo diet might be possible worldwide. A large increase in demand for meat would lead to a rise in price that would set about efforts to reduce costs through economies of scale and innovations. Furthermore, meat substitutes would also expand to meet the demand (<a href="">insects</a> are a cheap alternative).</p> Capitalism: Moral, Practical, Necessary 2011-11-28T13:51:54+00:00 <p style="text-align: center;"><em>Capitalism stands its trial before judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets. They are going to pass it, whatever the defense they may hear; the only success victorious defense can possibly produce is a change in the indictment.</em></p> <p style="text-align: right;"><em></em><span style="text-align: right;">—Joseph Sch</span><span style="text-align: right;">umpeter</span></p> <p>From its beginning, the common wisdom has been that capitalism is bad. It is claimed that capitalism is ethically wrong, has bad practical consequences, and is unnecessary. But this claim is entirely false—in fact, the opposite is true: capitalism is both morally and practically optimal, and there is no other possible social arrangement compatible with modern society.</p> <p>It is important to precisely define ‘capitalism’ from the outset to avoid being misunderstood. Capitalism is the free market system, based on property, contract, and voluntary exchange. In a truly free society, where people are free to live as they please, free markets are practically guaranteed to arise as the result of voluntary production and trade undertaken by people seeking to improve their conditions. In other words, capitalism is the default social system of a free society.</p> <p>Much of the anti-capitalistic sentiment is aimed not at this voluntaristic conception, but at the currently existing system of state capitalism. This interventionist system is characterized by a market that is no longer free but hampered by all sorts of government restrictions, which result in many undesirable and unintended consequences. It is primarily these outcomes that the anti-capitalists—in mistakenly attributing them to free market capitalism—object to.</p> <h3>Morality</h3> <p>A widely held objection to capitalism is that it is immoral. This charge is mainly based on Marx’s claim that capitalists exploit laborers by taking as profits what properly belongs to the workers. This incredibly naive view was exploded long ago, but it persists today among those ignorant of economics—it can hardly be denied that profits are widely considered antisocial and evil.</p> <p>Marxian exploitation can only exist if goods acquire their value from the labor imbued in them. But this notion—the labor theory of value—was long ago rejected and replaced by the subjectivist notion of prices being determined by the relationship between supply and demand. It turned out that the persistent profit that Marx thought was a sure sign of exploitation was in fact an interest return—compensation to the capitalist for purchasing inputs such as materials and labor up front and only collecting revenue from sales later on. In fact, if the workers wished to earn this interest return, they could arrange to be paid only once the goods are sold. The fact that they do not indicates that they prefer to forgo the interest return in favor of regular, steady pay.</p> <p>As capitalism has showered the common man with wealth and eliminated mass poverty wherever freedom has existed, the anti-capitalists have resorted to accusing capitalism of corroding virtue. According to them, capitalism breeds consumerism, materialism, and selfishness. While this is manifestly not true, even if it were, what is the alternative? People can only exhibit virtue if they are free to choose so. Forced virtue is not virtue at all. Only freedom—which entails capitalism—can allow people to exhibit virtue.</p> <p>Capitalism is merely the result of leaving people free to live as they please (provided that they do not infringe on the freedom of others.) If they decide to engage in mutually consensual capitalist acts, who has any right to interfere? Capitalism is the outcome of freedom: any attempts by government to curtail capitalism must do so at the expense of freedom. Capitalism and freedom share the same fate.</p> <h3>Economics</h3> <p>Another popular myth is that capitalism enriches the capitalists and impoverishes the masses. This is flatly contradicted by history—the common person has been lifted out of poverty and has gone on to become fantastically wealthy as a result of capitalistic mass production. Economic science can explain: competition among firms brings prices down to the level of costs, and it also creates strong incentives for innovation. Large scale production has brought the unit cost, and hence price, of most goods down to levels easily within the reach of the common person.</p> <p>This myth is rooted in zero-sum thinking—that the gains of business come at the expense of the rest of us. But voluntary exchanges benefit both parties, otherwise the exchanges would not occur. Capitalism is positive-sum: businesses earn their incomes by competing to sell goods that consumers want. Capitalists become rich by enriching consumers with better and cheaper goods. They lose their wealth as soon as they fail to stay abreast of the competition to serve consumers.</p> <p>In fact, the fruits of capitalist efforts largely accrue to workers. Increased capital investment reduces unit production costs while competition quickly eats away any profits that arise. But more capital also increases the productivity of labor, so wages get bid up by competing employers. So, while capitalists earn fleeting profits, workers enjoy a steady rise in wages. Truly, capitalism is good to the common person, both as a consumer and a worker.</p> <p>Faced with these arguments, opponents of capitalism often turn around and blame capitalism for being unsustainable. Capitalism, they say, is short-sighted. It depletes the earth’s resources without concern for the future. Such arguments are totally wrong, ignoring the fact that prices serve to allocate resources through time. For example, if it was forecast that X would run out in a few years, speculators would buy lots of X now in order to sell it later at a higher price. By doing so, speculators conserve X today for use in the future. The higher present price of X would guide people to use X more efficiently and sparingly, and to find substitutes.</p> <h3>Necessity</h3> <p>Finally, for all their hatred of capitalism, the critics have no workable alternative compatible with modern living standards for the common person. The more the market is hampered by government interventions, the worse off the common person will be. And there are no non-market alternatives that could sustain modern society. Society is a bottom up, emergent order, incompatible with top down management.</p> <h4>Conclusion</h4> <p>But if all these claims of the anti-capitalists are false, why are these ideas so popular? Why have the correct ideas not slowly gained acceptance over time? Evolutionary psychology provides the answer: the aversion to capitalism is an artifact of our evolution in small communal bands. In the world of our distant ancestors, such things as zero-sum thinking and judging actions based on their intentions were pretty good rules to follow. But in the modern world, they are wholly inaccurate and can only serve to stand in the way of progress for the bulk of humanity.</p> <p>The claims of the anti-capitalists are not only completely false, but totally backwards. Capitalism is the product of a society where each is free to live and associate as they wish. Interventionism and socialism depend on government force and are thus inescapably exploitative. Capitalism, far from impoverishing the masses, enriches them at an incredible rate. Far from being unsustainable, capitalism allocates resources optimally between present and future.</p> <p>Capitalism is the optimal social arrangement on both moral and practical grounds. But if people are bound to believe otherwise because of their evolved preferences, then a counteracting educational program is of utmost importance. The ideas are simple yet powerful, but the challenge is to get them heard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Philosophical Anarchism — Government as Necessary Evil 2011-11-18T00:32:01+00:00 <p>Government is force. Anyone who disagrees is invited to try peaceful noncompliance with government. Try not paying taxes, smoking cannabis, working for less than minimum wage, or do anything peaceful that's against the government's rules. If they find out and you continue to peacefully refuse to comply, they will eventually assault you and put you in a cage (euphemistically called arrest and imprisonment). If you go one step further and use self defense with a gun (the only realistic way to defend yourself against police), you'll probably end up getting shot.</p> <p>Government does things that would be considered criminal if done by ordinary people. It repeatedly takes your money with the threat of force (arrest, or death if you resist that) and calls it taxation. It forbids acts between consenting adults for their own good (any black market activity, any regulated activity). It murders people and calls it war. It prevents the free association of its subjects with other people in the name of restricting immigration. Practically everything it does would be considered criminal if done by an ordinary person.</p> <p>Even the most minimal night-watchman state, funded by voluntary donations, would still be coercive. At the very least, it would have to prohibit any competing protection services. Otherwise it would risk being competed out of existence.</p> <p>That government is evil shouldn't be a controversial point. Economists justify government on the grounds that public goods cannot be produced voluntarily and hence coercive government measures are justified.</p> <p>Philosophical anarchism is the position that government is a necessary evil, to be done away with if there were a viable alternative. This should be the default position on government, held by any decent person with an intact moral sense. (I go further and advocate market anarchism as a viable alternative.)</p> <p>Government is force, and force should be used sparingly if it must be used at all. It seems to me that most people have forgotten this; they would prefer profligate use of government over sparing use. Thus, people need constant reminding that government rules are backed by coercive police power (and that markets are voluntary). In most cases, markets can solve whatever problems government is supposedly solving, and much more efficiently to boot. As such, we ought to be doubly reluctant to use government: for both moral and economic reasons.</p> How can one be good WITH God? 2011-11-17T22:16:39+00:00 <p>The theist charge that atheists can't have morality without a sky god is pretty laughable. But the error in the argument goes so deep that the argument is actually much more devastating when applied to theistic morality: how can a person following theistic morality be good?</p> <p>Suppose your sky god decreed it morally good to steal, rape, and kill; and morally wrong to live peacefully. Would the atheists then be living immorally for abstaining from these activities? Clearly not. The theist argument presupposes that theistic morality corresponds to our intuitive morality. If theistic morality just codifies our innate moral sense, then it's at best supplementing it; it's not the source of morality.</p> <p>The more interesting case occurs if theistic morality contradicts our intuitive morality. In this case, we say that god's moral code is wrong, not that our innate one is wrong. So god is fundamentally constrained to codifying the morality inherent in human nature. If god deviates from that, we deem his morality to be wrong.</p> <p>The problem with the theist argument is that morality is a collection of evolved instincts, not a set of rules passed down from on high (by gods or rulers). (I suggest reading Matt Ridley's <em><a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=217145&amp;creative=399369&amp;creativeASIN=0140264450" target="_blank">The Origins of Virtue</a></em> for the argument from evolutionary psychology.)</p> <p>So: if you follow intuitive morality, then you will act morally. If you follow theistic morality, then you may or may not act morally (depending on how closely the theistic morality corresponds to intuitive morality—usually very closely, otherwise it wouldn't survive long.) The real question is this: if one is simply following god's rules, how can we be sure that they will behave morally? As soon as god gives them the green light to steal, rape, and murder, they can override their innate moral qualms with religious justification.</p> Recycling is Wasteful 2011-10-30T14:27:11+00:00 <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="" frameborder="0" width="420" height="315"></iframe></p> <p>"Everybody got a <em>gri-gri.</em>" In their Bullshit episode on recycling, Penn and Teller call out recycling for what it is. When I first heard the economic arguments against recycling, I couldn't find fault with the logic, yet it was extremely difficult to swallow. Recycling just seems so obviously good; to question it seems beyond the pale. But truth trumps feelings, and so I made the tough adjustment to my views on recycling. This <em>gri-gri</em> is so powerful that I still feel a twinge of guilt when I trash recyclables.</p> <p>In retrospect, the argument that recycling actually wastes resources follows from very basic economics. In the profit and loss system of a market economy, if a firm is unprofitable (and there are no externalities), it means that the resources it uses have more valuable uses elsewhere. Other firms can use these resources to make products that consumers value more highly (they're willing to pay a price that covers the cost of the resources). In other words, the outputs are less valuable than the inputs—resources have been wasted. These resources could be any inputs: natural resources, land, labor, etc.</p> <p>Government recycling programs are instituted precisely because it is unprofitable to operate a recycling business (for the typical consumer recyclables: paper, plastic, glass, cans, etc. Industry profitably recycles all the time.) This could be a result of government providing free landfills, which disguises the real cost of trash. But in reality, the cost of landfills is relatively small compared to recycling, so even in a world of private landfills that charged for trash, it would still be unprofitable to recycle. Further, modern landfill technology makes externalities insignificant, so the costs are fully borne by the landfill operators. And landfills only take up an insignificant amount of space relative to the space available on Earth.</p> <p><strong>Thus, we can conclude that unprofitable government recycling does not save resources; it actually wastes resources!</strong> The costs of recycling (labor, truck fleet, processing plant, etc) exceed the value of the recycled materials. We would be better off putting our waste in landfills and using those resources elsewhere, where they can more effectively satisfy consumer wants. So don't feel bad about using the trash, you're the one who's actually saving resources.</p> <h4>Further learning</h4> <ul> <li><a href="">EconTalk podcast</a> with Mike Munger on the economics and politics of recycling</li> <li><a href="">"Eight Great Myths of Recycling"</a></li> </ul> Expressive Non-voting 2011-10-02T14:41:16+00:00 <p>In Bryan Caplan's book, <a href=";tag=libertarch-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=217145&amp;creative=399369&amp;creativeASIN=0691138737">The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" src="assets/ir?t=libertarch-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0691138737&amp;camp=217145&amp;creative=399369" alt="" width="1" height="1" border="0" />, he explains how voters are "rationally irrational". Since the probability of any single vote influencing the outcome of an election is vanishingly small, there is no incentive for voters to spend time informing themselves in order to vote wisely. So rather than vote for the best policies, voters indulge (rationally) in <a href="" target="_blank">expressive voting</a> ("irrational"), e.g., showing support for an ideal/party, or being part of the democratic process for its own sake.</p> <p>Libertarians often don't vote because there are no candidates that represent their principles. Furthermore, many libertarians dislike voting and would prefer not to participate in a coercive political process even if it is democratic. So libertarians are often <strong>expressive non-voters</strong>. Since our individual votes won't make any difference, we may as well not vote—to express our objections to the coercive nature of democracy (as well as its non-trivial practical failings.) This way, when people bring up the topic in conversation, we can explain why we don't vote (and <a href="" target="_blank">why they shouldn't either</a>.) If other voters are going to vote expressively and ruin policy, then libertarians might be most effective by expressively non-voting.</p> The Gods and Clods Fallacy 2011-09-23T22:06:36+00:00 <p>In the South Park episode, "Chickenpox", Kyle wonders why Kenny's family is so much poorer than his. Gerald tells him that a functioning society needs "gods" to do the high-skilled work and "clods" to do the low-skilled work (<a href="">see clip</a>).</p> <p>This is a fairly common economic fallacy. To prove it's false, I'll show that in a society of all "gods", people would still do the low-skilled work, and furthermore that low-skilled wages wouldn't be any lower than high-skilled wages.</p> <p>Assume that everyone is equally highly-skilled and that there are high-skilled and low-skilled jobs on the market. Because of competition, wages are determined by productivity: employers bid wages up to the point where they are equal to the value the employee contributes to the firm (the discounted marginal revenue product). You might think that the high-skilled jobs will pay more since they are more productive, and this is true, but this arrangement can't last. Since everyone is equally skilled, they will flock to the high-skilled jobs, increasing the supply of high-skilled labor, and lowering its wage (this is because of diminishing marginal productivity: the productivity of high-skilled jobs decreases as their number increases). Similarly, the supply of low-skilled labor will fall, increasing its wage.</p> <p>This process will continue until the two wages meet. To see why, suppose the low-skilled wage is less than the high-skilled wage. Then it pays for those in low-skilled jobs to take high-skilled jobs by bidding down those wages, which also has the effect of increasing low-skilled wages. So wages will be equal across the board.</p> <p>But doesn't this contradict the fact that wages are determined by employee productivity? No, because of diminishing marginal productivity and the prices of the goods produced. As more people take high-skilled jobs, the productivity of each additional worker falls (marginal productivity). This is because, with only a few workers,  they can just do the most productive work. With many workers, they will also be doing less productive work, diluting the productivity of high-skilled labor. Similarly, with few workers in low-skilled jobs, they just do the most productive work.</p> <p>A further effect comes from changes in the prices of the goods they produce. With many people producing high-skilled goods, their price falls (as a result of increased supply), reducing the productivity of high-skilled labor. With few people producing low-skilled goods, their price rises, increasing the productivity of low-skilled labor. For example, if there were very few gas station attendants, their wages would be quite high, so high in fact that it may become cheaper to automate the job with technology (as has happened with gas pumps and is happening with checkout lines).</p> <p>So even though the gas station attendant does the same work, he becomes more productive (in the economic sense) as the general productivity of labor rises. As more and more people leave the gas station attendant profession for more productive jobs, the remaining gas station attendants become more valuable and their wages must rise to compensate them for the opportunity cost of taking a more productive job.</p> <p>In a world with large variations in individual productivity (with both "gods" and "clods"), people do the work they are most productive at and are paid accordingly. And if nobody is willing to take a job at a given wage, then that wage will have to rise, or the job might be automated if that is cheaper. So general increases in productivity benefit individual clods because their opportunity cost, and hence their wage, rises.</p> Money buys happiness 2011-05-28T16:00:50+00:00 <p>It's commonly believed that money doesn't buy happiness. Sure, we're happier for a while after a new purchase, but it wears off. We re-normalize back to our baseline level of happiness.</p> <p>While this is <a href="" target="_blank">probably not true</a> (richer countries are happier than poorer ones), even if it were, it still doesn't follow that we shouldn't strive to become wealthier. To make that inference, you'd have to hold that temporary happiness is worthless and only long-lasting happiness matters. But temporary happiness is valuable and desirable. Even if we're stuck on a "hedonic treadmill", we can still get happiness from running.</p> <p>There's a direct parallel to the free market system. Entrepreneurs innovate in order to reap profits, but competition always eats away those profits. Profits are always temporary, lasting only as long as it takes for competitors to enter the market. Yet these fleeting profits still provide a powerful motivation for entrepreneurs. Likewise, fleeting happiness is still happiness and still worth pursuing.</p> <p>So if money buys temporary happiness, and temporary happiness improves our quality of life, then it follows that <a href="" target="_blank">economic progress matters</a>. And since the level of economic progress depends on how free the market is, economic liberalization is the only way to go.</p> Grandparenting behavior as evidence for long-lived paleolithic ancestors 2011-05-22T13:08:55+00:00 <p>The most common objection to <a title="The Evolutionary Lifestyle: A Logical Theory of Health" href="">the logic of evolutionary health</a> is that paleolithic humans had short lifespans, presumably because they were in poor health.  This fallacy has been <a href="" target="_blank">demolished</a> many times over, but I have another argument to add to the pile. The popular notion that paleolithic humans lived long enough to reproduce then died is flatly contradicted by the existence of evolved grandparenting behavior.</p> <p>Grandparenting behavior seems to be a cultural universal. Parents want their grown children to produce offspring, and they seem to care a lot about it. Grandparents enjoy lavishing their love on their grandchildren. The grandmother on the mothers's side tends to invest a lot in helping out with the baby (for <a href="" target="_blank">good evolutionary reasons</a>).</p> <p>This implies that <a href="" target="_blank">these behaviors have evolved</a>, which in turn means that grandparents must have had a sizable impact on their grandchildrens's genetic success. So it must have been fairly common for people to live long enough to become grandparents. Conclusion: paleolithic humans routinely lived long enough to see their grandchildren grow up. They lived long enough to reproduce <em>and</em> see their children reproduce.</p> <p>So how old would that have been? A conservative estimate would be that the grandparent had their child at 16 and this child had the grandchild at 16 as well. The grandparent would be 32 at the birth of the grandchild. Since grandparenting behavior extends past infancy, let's take a conservative estimate of 4 years. So we can expect that it was common for our paleolithic ancestors to live at least to 36.</p> <p>Taking a more realistic estimate, we could assume that the average age of childbirth is 22 and that grandparents were around until their grandchildren were on average 6 years old. That brings the figure up to 50. And an <em>average</em> age of 50 is nothing to scoff at. I'm not sure how late the evolved grandparenting behaviors last, so 6 is still a conservative figure. In fact, with generations of 16 years, one could be a <em>great</em>-grandparent at 48.</p> <p>Just another argument that puts the lie to the notion of a short-lived paleolithic ancestry.</p> <p>Long live paleo man!</p> Statheism 2011-04-26T12:53:57+00:00 <blockquote>"Both creationists and socialists distrust invisible-hand processes and cannot conceive of order emerging except through some sort of centralised top-down control." —<a href="" target="_blank">Roderick Long</a></p></blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank"></a>A <a href="" target="_blank">statheist</a> is an atheist statist. In other words, statheists reject supernatural explanations of the world but believe that the state is necessary for creating social order and managing society. Now, anti-statism (aka market anarchism or libertarianism) is relatively obscure compared to atheism—and much less obvious—so statheism is nowhere near as egregious an error as creationism. Yet it's very important to point out the statist error to atheists, who claim to be proponents of reason, since it's in many ways similar to the errors of creationists.</p> <p>There's a certain incongruity of being an atheist and a statist, namely that many atheist arguments are closely related to anti-statist arguments. As atheists, they have no trouble rejecting top-down creationist explanations of the universe. They laugh at the idea that the universe was centrally planned by a supernatural being ("Cosmic Socialism"). They see clearly that the order and complexity of the universe and of life has emerged through bottom-up natural processes. <a href="'s_Dangerous_Idea#Skyhooks_and_cranes" target="_blank">As Dan Dennett would say</a>, they don't need a skyhook because they have a perfectly good crane.</p> <p>But when it comes to the order and complexity of large-scale society, statheists balk at the idea of emergent order. They are "Political Creationists", holding that social order can only come down from a powerful state. They employ faulty "state of the gaps" logic in their feeble attempts to rule out the possibility of a stateless society (e.g., "Only a state could provide roads/education/laws/courts/etc"). As usual, the problem boils down to a lack of understanding of economics. <a href="" target="_blank">Don Boudreaux writes</a>:</p> <blockquote><p>While there are some exceptions – Indur Goklany, for example – of natural scientists who understand economics, far too many of them see the world as posing physics or engineering problems rather than as posing economic ones.  The two problems are very different from each other.</p></blockquote> <p>Economics explains how social order emerges through the decentralized market price system, a "crane" theory. Statists keep their heads in the sand, content with a top-down "skyhook" theory of social order. They cling to an almost supernatural conception of the state: all-powerful, wise, and benevolent. In reality, the state is none of these: its power is derived from the support of its subjects, who could easily overpower the state if they revolted; its wisdom in managing society is extremely primitive compared to the information aggregation of markets, as seen by the utter and universal failure of central planning (and the spectacular success of free markets); its benevolence is largely a myth, as policy makers usually have more incentive to favor special interests at the expense of the general public.</p> <p>Ultimately the problem of social order boils down to this: There are only people, all imperfect and selfish to some extent. There are no super-people to rescue us from this anarchy and selflessly govern society. So how can we find a way to cooperate amongst ourselves, to avoid conflicts? Is it really best to give one group of people a bunch of guns and tell them to enforce social order while hoping that they won't abuse this power? That's a terribly uncreative, skyhook solution. No, a much more sensible position would be to reject the monopoly solution and look for a crane, a <a href="" target="_blank">bottom-up, competitive, polycentric solution</a>. And as economists have long insisted, markets are just the crane we need—incredible decentralized systems for coordinating cooperation among billions of people and directing production so as to best satisfy the wants of consumers.</p> <p>If statheists wish to fly the banner of reason, they should seriously re-examine their belief in the skyhook we call the state. They will find that there's a perfectly good crane to replace it.</p> Sacrificing the End to the Means 2011-01-02T02:27:56+00:00 <p>In <em><a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=117328592X" target="_blank">Economic Sophisms</a></em>, Bastiat tears the protectionist arguments to pieces and makes a powerful case for <em><a href="" target="_blank">freedom of trade</a></em>. In particular, he exposes the widespread jobs fallacy that pervades so much of the popular press and political discourse.</p> <p>The jobs fallacy is the belief that job creation promotes prosperity. It just seems obvious that more jobs means more prosperity: more jobs means more income. Politicians are constantly clamoring about job creation. But there's a subtle error here. Bastiat points out the absurdity of this argument.</p> <p>Labor is a means to the end of consuming goods. The means is not the end, and all value derives from the end. Labor itself does not make us prosper—the results of labor are what we consider prosperity. Labor itself impoverishes us—it is costly: at the very least we lose leisure time. We only engage in labor because we expect the products of labor to enrich us more than the labor impoverishes us. What we're after is to make a profit—a surplus of enrichment over impoverishment. We want to maximize the ratio of product to labor, of output to input, of result to effort.<!--more--></p> <p>Obviously, the best possible case would be to have all result with no effort—no work and an abundance of goods. The worst possible case would be all work and no result (which Bastiat called 'Economic Sisyphism'). Protectionists, who argue that free trade eliminates domestic jobs, are actually advocating a reduction in the result to effort ratio. They want to reduce the amount of cheap goods—the "result"—coming from abroad, and increase the amount of effort—"create more jobs"—required to produce a given result. Wouldn't it be wonderful if foreigners put us all out of work by flooding us with free goods? Wouldn't it be awful if all trade between persons were prohibited and each one of us had to be self-sufficient, fully employed for every waking hour, yet barely (or not even) surviving?</p> <p>The jobs fallacy is a part of a larger fallacy: favoring the interests of producers over consumers, i.e., favoring the means over the end. Production is only a means to the end of consuming the goods produced. Production derives its value from the value of the product. If some goods are no longer valued, their production loses its value. Production itself is not a source of value.</p> <p>Consumer demand is the source of value. The more people are willing to pay for a good, the more producers of that good will be willing to pay for the inputs required to manufacture it, and so on until value is imputed all the way back to labor, land, and natural resources. In this way, the entire economic structure of production is dictated by consumers, via the price structure established by this backwards imputation of value.</p> <p>Since all value is derived from consumer demand, it follows that satisfying consumer wants to the greatest extent possible maximizes prosperity. Promoting production can only increase prosperity to the extent that it satisfies consumer wants. But interfering with free trade always harms the interests of consumers and thus impoverishes. Therefore, free trade is the optimal policy.</p> <p>It's common for people to think that if domestic producers earn more due to a trade restriction, then they will spend those extra earnings, and the money will work its way through the economy, and no harm will have been done. This is a perfect illustration of the fallacy of the seen and the unseen, as Bastiat put it. The gain to the protected industry is highly visible—the number of jobs "created" is easily countable. But the losses to consumers are harder to see—each consumer loses a tiny bit because of the higher price of the protected good, but summing across all consumers, the loss is greater than the "gain". Similarly, removing the protections will cause a highly visible loss of jobs, but also a small enrichment to each consumer, which adds up to a net gain. To downplay these small increases in consumers' prosperity is to stand in the way of human progress. The history of progress has consisted of innumerably many such small enrichments of consumers.</p> <p>Crusoe economics can add valuable insight into this problem. Consider a small group that washes up on an isolated island after a shipwreck. If there were a friendly primitive population on a neighboring island willing to trade with them, to do so would be in their interest. We can immediately see that "protecting the domestic producers" by restricting trade is a pure loss. Clearly, labor has an opportunity cost: increasing the amount of labor required to produce a given output impoverishes the islanders. That extra labor could have instead been spent resting, or on other productive activities, such as fashioning tools.</p> <p>It's all too easy to fall for Keynesian sophisms when thinking about a modern economy in all its bewildering complexity. Hence the importance of reasoning from fundamental principles and using conceptual tools such as Crusoe economics to avoid lapsing into fallacy.</p> <p>In summary, the jobs fallacy is at root a confusion about the source of prosperity. Jobs are only a means to prosperity. Job creation via protectionist measures is literally <em>sacrificing the end to the means</em>.</p> Paleo Parenting 2010-12-19T22:09:48+00:00 <p>I couldn't find much on this topic in the paleosphere, so here's an initial attempt at a paleo approach to parenting. I'm not a parent, but I think the basic ideas are simple enough.</p> <p>The leading candidate for a primal infant care manual is Jean Liedloff's 1975 book, <em><a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0201050714" target="_blank">The Continuum Concept</a></em>. Based on her observations while living with hunter-gatherers, she recommends following the evolutionary logic. From the <a href="" target="_blank">website</a>:</p> <blockquote> <div id="_mcePaste"> <ul> <li>constant physical contact with his mother (or another familiar caregiver as needed) from birth;</li> <li>sleeping in his parents' bed, in constant physical contact, until he leaves of his own volition (often about two years);</li> <li>breastfeeding "on cue" — nursing in response to his own body's signals;</li> <li>being constantly carried in arms or otherwise in contact with someone, usually his mother, and allowed to observe (or nurse, or sleep) while the person carrying him goes about his or her business — until the infant begins creeping, then crawling on his own impulse, usually at six to eight months;</li> <li>having caregivers immediately respond to his signals (squirming, crying, etc.), without judgment, displeasure, or invalidation of his needs, yet showing no undue concern nor making him the constant center of attention;</li> <li>sensing (and fulfilling) his elders' expectations that he is innately social and cooperative and has strong self-preservation instincts, and that he is welcome and worthy.</li> </ul> </div> </blockquote> <p>This is in contrast to mainstream practices such as: formula-feeding, leaving the infant alone to sleep, leaving the infant to cry.</p> <p>Another valuable resource is the work of Judith Rich Harris. In her paradigm-shifting book, <em><a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0684857073" target="_blank">The Nurture Assumption</a></em>, she convincingly argues that parents have no effect on how their childrens' personalities will turn out. (The evidence shows that half of the variation in personality is due to genetics, the other half to the influence of the peer group.) She concludes that the Western obsession with nurturing children is a big fat waste of time. Since personality is immune to parental nurture, parents can breathe a collective sigh of relief—no longer are they to blame for their childrens' failures. Nor do they have to worry that they aren't spending enough "quality time" with their children, giving them enough affection, driving them to sports practices and music lessons, etc. Children turn out fine so long as they have a peer group.</p> <p>This agrees perfectly with the anthropological evidence. In hunter-gatherer cultures, infants stay in their mothers' arms until they are weaned. The mother doesn't bother to speak to her infant as it wouldn't be able to understand (and it will learn to speak from other children). Then, the toddler is handed over to an older sibling, usually a sister, who is given full responsibility over the child and is expected to dominate it. The parents play a very hands-off role. Harris writes:</p> <blockquote><p>The idea that parents should have to entertain their children is bizarre to people in [traditional] societies. They would fall down laughing if you tried to tell them about "quality time".</p></blockquote> <p>There is a good reason why this trait evolved in children. Parents and children only share half of their genes, so from the selfish gene's perspective, there are conflicts of interest. We would expect parents and children to try to manipulate each other for their own benefit, and that each would develop defenses against such manipulation. The child may try to get more than its fair share of food by crying, whining, being cute, etc. (It only shares half its genes with its siblings, after all.) The parents may want their daughter to stick around and take care of her younger siblings, while it may not be in her own best interest to do so. Hence children resist the efforts of their parents to shape their personalities.</p> <p>Harris's advice to parents is simple: 1) follow the evolutionary logic (i.e., don't bother with obsessive nurturing), and 2) raise them in a good neighborhood, where there is a good peer group. Children are socialized by their peer group, so this is the most effective thing you can do for them.</p> <p>Finally, when it comes to health, paleolithic nutrition is the most important element. For an infant, this means breast milk and then paleo foods. Please—don't feed your baby soy formula. Sun is also important: it's a tragedy that so many people shield their babies from getting any direct sunlight on their skin.</p> Gluttony & Sloth: Causes or Effects of Obesity? 2010-12-18T02:19:02+00:00 <p>One of the main, take home messages in Gary Taubes's book, <em><a href="">Good Calories, Bad Calories</a></em>, is that overeating and inactivity—gluttony and sloth—are not the causes of obesity as commonly supposed. Rather, they are the effects of hormone-driven fat accumulation. In his <a href="" target="_blank">inaugural blog post</a>, Taubes lays out why overeating is not a causal explanation of obesity—it merely restates the definition of obesity. Fat people must have overeaten—maintained an excess of caloric intake over expenditure. The real question is: Why do some people overeat (and why don't others)?</p> <p>The fact is, gluttony and sloth are symptoms, not causes, of obesity. Just as children "overeat" because they're growing (taller), people also overeat when they're growing (fatter). This explanation makes a lot of sense: if your body is storing away calories in the fat cells, then the other tissues will have fewer calories available to use. Hence, you will hungrier and less active, in exactly the same way as a lean person who is underfed.</p> <p>As Taubes explains in detail in the book, a diet high in refined carbs causes chronic high insulin levels, which causes insulin resistance in the lean tissues, causing a compensatory increase in insulin. Insulin is the storage hormone, so with the lean tissues being less responsive, the fat tissue takes up the slack. The fattening continues until the fat tissue becomes insulin resistant, but then one is at risk of becoming diabetic. The basic story is that bad nutrition causes hormone-driven fattening, which makes less fuel available to the lean tissues, causing hunger and lethargy.</p> <p>It's hilarious that obesity "experts" think that the gluttony/sloth hypothesis stands securely behind the law of energy conservation. Energy conservation only says that fattening and caloric excess must occur together—it says nothing about causality. They've just assumed that caloric excess causes obesity. Taubes has caught them making an embarrassing, elementary error. It's the fattening that causes the caloric excess. When your body wants to get fat, it adjusts your hunger and energy levels in order to create the caloric excess required.</p> <p>The bottom line is that gluttony and sloth are effects, and not causes, of obesity. Now stop blaming the victims for a lack of willpower and tell them the <a href="" target="_blank">real cause of their obesity</a>. (If they don't lose the weight after that, then you can blame them.)</p> The Myth of Overeating 2010-10-31T14:32:54+00:00 <p>One of the many invaluable lessons in Taubes's <em><a href="">Good Calories, Bad Calories</a></em> is that overeating is a myth. This makes a lot of sense. Suppose you "overeat". Then, you won't be as hungry at the next meal, so you'll "undereat", and the two meals will average out as "normal". In fact, we all "overeat" during the day, and "undereat" while we sleep.</p> <p>One of the main points that Taubes stresses is that <strong>hunger is a physiological, and not a psychological phenomenon</strong>. He discusses Edward Adolph's rat feeding experiments from the '40s which clearly showed that food consumption is regulated by caloric need, and not by volume, mass, or even taste! For example, when the rats' food was diluted they kept eating until they got enough calories, even though they ate a much greater volume and mass of food. And when calories were directly injected into the rats' stomachs, their intake dropped accordingly.</p> <p>The implication is that trying to eat less by using tricks like drinking water or eating more fiber to create a sensation of fullness are futile. You'll be hungry until you actually put real calories in there. (I should add that trying to eat less is a horrible way to lose fat: the cost is all the negative effects of semi-starvation and you generally regain all the fat when you return to normal eating.)</p> <p>Hunger, and hence food consumption are hormone driven: we eat to get enough calories. Period. Just as children eat a lot because they're growing, fat people "overeat" because they're growing (fatter). In neither case are they growing because they're overeating. Their bodies need more food in order to grow, so their appetites are correspondingly larger. When thin people "overeat", they don't get fat, they just aren't as hungry for the following meal, at which they "undereat". The bottom line is that you don't control your hunger—your caloric need does—so you'll end up eating the "right" amount over the long term.</p> <p>(Incidentally, Taubes points out that, if our hunger weren't regulated by caloric need,  it would require a feat of incredible accuracy to maintain a constant weight over a period of several years. A few extra calories per day would add up to major fattening in the long term. Of course, that's not what happens.)</p> <p>The fact is, overeating is really quite rare—because it hurts. If you don't feel sick, then you haven't overeaten. For most people this happens maybe once or twice a year. If you ate a lot, but feel alright, that's just calories in the bank which will delay your hunger. Eating big, nourishing meals is nothing to feel guilty about—you're giving your body the calories it needs to function, and if it doesn't need them right away, it won't trigger your hunger as quickly.</p> <div id="_mcePaste"></div> Evolutionary Psychology and the Antimarket Bias 2010-09-15T14:11:00+00:00 <p>My article was published today as a Mises Daily. Following <a href="">Paul Rubin</a>, I argue that the antimarket bias is a cultural universal, a genetic leftover from our evolutionary past. Check it out:</p> <p><a href="">Evolutionary Psychology and the Antimarket Bias</a></p> Why has religion been so successful? 2010-09-04T18:27:45+00:00 <p>Effectively all large societies have been religious. But religions haven't been successful because they're true: practically all religions are mutually contradictory, so there must be another reason to explain their success. One very good reason—probably the most fundamental one—is that religions have been very useful in promoting social cooperation. This is the basic prerequisite for civil society and economic progress.</p> <p>Securing cooperation is the fundamental challenge in establishing a civil society. It would be nice if we could all just get along, but we all have incentives to cheat and steal on occasion. These incentives become magnified as the society grows and relations become more anonymous, since it becomes more and more difficult to know whether other people are trustworthy. There are various ways to solve this problem, but if left unchecked these incentives would lead to social chaos.</p> <p>Religion is a particularly effective, if crude, method of securing cooperation. In general, religions lay out moral rules (which often happen to be social ones) and set up strong incentives to follow them. Eternal life in heaven is an infinitely great reward for being a cooperator; eternal damnation in hell is an infinitely great punishment for being a cheater; and the judge is omniscient, so it's impossible to "get away" with anything. Societies with these religions would have a competitive advantage: greater cooperation means more trade and more production—in a word, prosperity. These societies would grow and spread—by conquest or consent—until they came to dominate. So religion is a hack that gets people to behave in large, anonymous societies.</p> <p>On the individual level, there are strong incentives to portray oneself as a believer. Being genuinely religious makes you more trustworthy, as you can be counted on to cooperate and not cheat. Displaying (advertising) your religiosity to others is a signal of this trustworthiness, it creates a good reputation. Thus, being religious has material incentives: more people to trade and cooperate with. Once a religion gains a foothold, the incentive would be for everyone to jump aboard.</p> <p>Yet I don't think that religion could get a foothold with these incentives alone. Religion—a cultural universal—fundamentally rests on our psychological willingness to believe in the supernatural. Evolutionary psychology plays a large role. So religion is a particularly infectious meme that exploits an innate human irrationality and produces the byproduct of social cooperation, creating strong incentives to be religious.</p> <p>This explains so much about religious behavior. Why do the religious often ask what keeps atheists from stealing and murdering? Because that's supposed to be the function of religion. (Note that this question is self-contradictory: on one hand, it tries to argue that only religion can be the source of morality, while on the other hand, it presupposes that theft and murder are inherently wrong—regardless of what god says.) Why are the religious so hostile towards atheists, and why are they less hostile to believers in contradicting gods? Because genuine belief in <em>any</em> type of divine justice makes one more trustworthy; atheism makes one an unconstrained danger. Why do people invest so much time and money in religious affairs? To signal to others that they're believers and therefore trustworthy. Why is questioning religion taboo? To avoid undermining the social order.</p> <p>But there's plenty of hope for truth. As other institutions replace religion in enabling social cooperation, religion becomes redundant and people can freely satisfy their intellects without undermining the social order. Religion is supported by mass belief and cultural momentum. It has already started to come undone, and will only unravel faster as mass support shrinks.</p> Tariffs are Taxes and Taxes are Tariffs 2010-06-26T00:20:51+00:00 <p>Economists are united in support of free trade. Free trade brings great benefits: productivity is increased due to greater specialization from division of labor and all participants enjoy gains from trade. Any restrictions on trade move us away from this optimum. To the extent that beneficial trades are foregone, <a href="">prosperity is sacrificed and waste is promoted</a>. But the logic of the argument applies not only on the level of nations—it also applies with full force on the level of individuals.</p> <p>The argument for free trade is a simple, logical proof. Trade is defined as voluntary exchange. From this it follows that all trades are mutually beneficial (<em>ex ante</em>). In other words, each party in a trade expects to benefit. If this were not so, then the exchange would not occur. Nobody will make a trade that they believe will leave them worse off. One would only make a disadvantageous exchange if it were involuntary—but this violates our definition of trade as <em>voluntary</em> exchange. Evidently, if all trades are undertaken because both parties expect to benefit, then any restriction of trade can only serve to eliminate gains from trade. Unrestricted free trade maximizes prosperity. This follows directly from the logic of voluntary exchange.</p> <p>Now, if economists contend that tariffs are bad because they eliminate mutually beneficial exchanges and breed inefficiency, then they must also oppose sales taxes. For what is a sales tax but a tariff on trade between individuals? Sales taxes increase the cost of trades, eliminating mutually beneficial exchanges. They discourage specialization and trade, and encourage inefficient self-sufficient production.</p> <p>Furthermore, this principle applies to all taxes that add to the marginal cost of production and trade. An income tax, for example, increases the marginal cost of producing for trade (a portion of each additional dollar earned is lost as taxes). This discourages production and reduces prosperity. It also encourages inefficient self-sufficient production (they don't tax the work you do for yourself... yet). The only tax that wouldn't harm incentives to produce and trade would be a tax of fixed amount unrelated to income or wealth (also known as a head tax). Of course, taking peoples's money via taxation harms them, but a head tax wouldn't do the added damage of reducing the incentive to produce and trade. Needless to say, a head tax would never be implemented in practice, as it would effectively end the welfare state.</p> <p>In conclusion, if economists are to be consistent in their principled support of free trade, they must also oppose sales taxes on exactly the same grounds. If a tariff is a bad way to raise government revenues, then so is a sales tax. By the same principle, they must also oppose any tax related to income or wealth. These taxes harm the incentives to produce and trade. If economists are not willing to accept these conclusions, then they must also weaken their support for free trade.</p> Evolutionary Health vs State-Sponsored Science 2010-06-12T23:35:14+00:00 <p>Proponents of evolutionary health are in a frustrating position. On one hand, our position <a href="">follows directly from evolutionary theory</a> (one of the most well established scientific facts around). On the other hand, our position <a href="">stands in direct contradiction</a> to the mainstream state-sponsored position on nutrition and health (although that's slowly changing for the better). Obviously, a theory contradicting evolution is in all likelihood wrong. I don't think anybody doubts that all other living organisms are healthy when living under the conditions to which they have adapted via evolution (that's why zoos try to recreate their natural habitat). Humans, members of the same family of DNA-based organisms, should also be healthy under the conditions of the evolutionary environment.</p> <p>The scientific research in the field of nutrition and health has been deeply muddled, as <a href="">Gary Taubes has forcefully argued</a>. This is because they haven't adopted the guiding paradigm of evolution, the theory underpinning all of biology (and this due to <a href="">government distortion of science</a>). Without a theory to interpret the data, they're adrift at sea without a rudder, facing a bewildering array of disconnected facts with no way of relating them. Only evolution can make sense of the facts, but if they accept that, they'll have to admit that they were wrong and that the evolutionary health proponents were right. I look forward to the day.</p> <p>In this excerpt from <em>The Protein Debate</em> (<a href="">HT Robb Wolf</a>), Loren Cordain beautifully makes this point:</p> <blockquote><p>Although humanity has been interested in diet and health for thousands of years, the organized, scientific study of nutrition has a relatively recent past. For instance, the world’s first scientific journal devoted entirely to diet and nutrition, The Journal of Nutrition only began publication in 1928. Other well known nutrition journals have a more recent history still: The British Journal of Nutrition (1947), The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1954), and The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1988). The first vitamin was “discovered” in 1912 and the last vitamin (B12) was identified in 1948 (1). The scientific notion that omega 3 fatty acids have beneficial health effects dates back only to the late 1970’s (2), and the characterization of the glycemic index of foods only began in 1981 (3).</p> <p>Nutritional science is not only a newly established discipline, but it is also a highly fractionated, contentious field with constantly changing viewpoints on both major and minor issues that impact public health. For example, in 1996 a task force of experts from the American Society for Clinical Nutrition (ASCN) and the American Institute of Nutrition (AIN) came out with an official position paper on trans fatty acids stating,</p> <p>“We cannot conclude that the intake of trans fatty acids is a risk factor for coronary heart disease” (4).</p> <p>Fast forward 6 short years to 2002 and the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine’s report on trans fatty acids (5) stating,</p> <p>“Because there is a positive linear trend between trans fatty acid intake and total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol concentration, and therefore increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease, the Food and Nutrition Board recommends that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet”.</p> <p>These kinds of complete turnabouts and divergence of opinion regarding diet and health are commonplace in the scientific, governmental and medical communities. The official U.S. governmental recommendations for healthy eating are outlined in the “My Pyramid” program (6) which recently replaced the “Food Pyramid”, both of which have been loudly condemned for nutritional shortcomings by scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health (7). Dietary advice by the American Heart Association (AHA) to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) is to limit total fat intake to 30% of total energy, to limit saturated fat to &lt;10% of energy and cholesterol to &lt;300 mg/day while eating at least 2 servings of fish per week (8). Although similar recommendations are proffered in the USDA “My Pyramid”, weekly fish consumption is not recommended because the authors of these guidelines feel there is only “limited” information regarding the role of omega 3 fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular disease (6). Surprisingly, the personnel makeup of both scientific advisory boards is almost identical. At least 30 million Americans have followed Dr. Atkins advice to eat more fat and meat to lose weight (9). In utter contrast, Dean Ornish tells us fat and meat cause cancer, heart disease and obesity, and that we would all would be a lot healthier if we were strict vegetarians (10). Who’s right and who’s wrong? How in the world can anyone make any sense out of this apparent disarray of conflicting facts, opinions and ideas?</p> <p>In mature and well-developed scientific disciplines there are universal paradigms that guide scientists to fruitful end points as they design their experiments and hypotheses. For instance, in cosmology (the study of the universe) the guiding paradigm is the “Big Bang” concept showing that the universe began with an enormous explosion and has been expanding ever since. In geology, the “Continental Drift” model established that all of the current continents at one time formed a continuous landmass that eventually drifted apart to form the present-day continents. These central concepts are not theories for each discipline, but rather are indisputable facts that serve as orientation points for all other inquiry within each discipline. Scientists do not know everything about the nature of the universe, but it is absolutely unquestionable that it has been and is expanding. This central knowledge then serves as a guiding template that allows scientists to make much more accurate and informed hypotheses about factors yet to be discovered.</p> <p>The study of human nutrition remains an immature science because it lacks a universally acknowledged unifying paradigm (11). Without an overarching and guiding template, it is not surprising that there is such seeming chaos, disagreement and confusion in the discipline. The renowned Russian geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (12). Indeed, nothing in nutrition seems to make sense because most nutritionists have little or no formal training in evolutionary theory, much less human evolution. Nutritionists face the same problem as anyone who is not using an evolutionary model to evaluate biology: fragmented information and no coherent way to interpret the data.</p> <p>All human nutritional requirements like those of all living organisms are ultimately genetically determined. Most nutritionists are aware of this basic concept; what they have little appreciation for is the process (natural selection) which uniquely shaped our species’ nutritional requirements. By carefully examining the ancient environment under which our genome arose, it is possible to gain insight into our present day nutritional requirements and the range of foods and diets to which we are genetically adapted via natural selection (13-16). This insight can then be employed as a template to organize and make sense out of experimental and epidemiological studies of human biology and nutrition (11).</p></blockquote> Localism 2010-06-12T17:58:39+00:00 <p>The idea that we should "buy local" or that goods should be produced locally is fairly popular, but economically incoherent. There seems to be two main arguments for localism: 1) that long distance transportation is wasteful, and 2) that local spending benefits the local economy and makes people better off. Both arguments are wrong: localism is wasteful and can only impoverish us.</p> <p>At the most basic level, all goods are produced locally to some people (at least the producers and their neighbors). Why does the location of production matter at all? A head of lettuce moving in a refrigerated truck is the same as a head of lettuce sitting in the refrigerator of the local store. Transportation doesn't change the nature of the product. Furthermore, "local" is an arbitrary point on a continuum—is local 100 or 1000 miles? Why not 101 or 1001 miles? Taken to its logical conclusion, localism implies that everyone should be a self-sufficient producer and eschew all trade—it doesn't get any more local than that. To put it bluntly, localism is a bad idea, based on a non-understanding of the economics of trade. Trades are mutually beneficial (else they would not occur) on all levels: from local to global.</p> <p>Consider an Alaskan and a Colombian trading salmon and coffee. Despite the great distance separating them, this arrangement is the cheapest way of providing the Alaskan with coffee and the Colombian with salmon. If they were to "buy local" they would have to resort to very costly (wasteful) methods of production (such as greenhouses or cold-water tanks) or forgo the product entirely. Needless to say, they are both much worse off without trade.  The general principle I've outlined is that cost, not location, is the key factor. Alaskans can produce salmon at a much lower cost than Colombians, who can produce coffee at a much lower cost than Alaskans. If the savings from using efficient production exceed the transportation costs, then they both gain by trading because they can acquire the other product at a lower cost than if it were produced locally. By specializing and trading, they minimize waste and conserve scarce resources. To forgo mutually beneficial trades because of location is to shoot yourself in the foot.</p> <p>The economics lesson here is about scarcity. Since resources are scarce, we must economize their use in order to maximize prosperity. By using the lowest cost methods of production, we minimize the amount of resources that are used up in producing goods. This leaves more resources for the production of other goods, increasing our well-being. In other words, the least cost method is the least wasteful method. So rather than worry about where the product comes from, just look at its price. If local goods happen to be cheaper, then they were produced less wastefully. Same for faraway goods. (Keep in mind, however, that this only holds in a free market, as government distorts prices which hides true costs). A lower price means that less resources were used in bringing the product to you (including the resources used up in transportation). This is why so many goods are produced non-locally: the savings from producing in a more efficient location exceed the costs of transportation. We all benefit from these savings by enjoying more goods at lower prices.</p> <p>Globalization is often smeared as evil, but in truth, it is one of the <a href="" target="_blank">greatest triumphs</a> of human civilization. Localism is the real evil as it engenders waste, which can only bring poverty. <a href="">Global free trade</a> is the engine of worldwide prosperity and continues to be one of the most important solutions in the eradication of world poverty.</p> Clear Thinking About the Minimum Wage 2010-05-24T17:38:19+00:00 <p>Everybody knows that the minimum wage is a good policy, right? Problem is, they're all wrong. Economists proved long ago that price controls can't work—they only create shortages and surpluses. The minimum wage is a price floor: if it is set above the market wage it will create a surplus, leaving some workers unable to sell their labor. The overall popularity of a minimum wage is perhaps the best example of <a href="" target="_blank">ecognorance</a>, and it can only be corrected through <a href="" target="_blank">economic education</a>. Some simple reasoning will go a long way towards clearing up the minimum wage confusion.</p> <p>Consider the following thought experiment: suppose that the minimum wage is raised to $1000/hour. What are the implications? Evidently, most employers can't pay that much and they'll go out of business. If that weren't so, we could all become fantastically wealthy just by decreeing a ridiculously high minimum wage. Now suppose that the minimum wage is lowered to $0.01/hour. Again, employers won't pay that wage (even though they'd like to) because other firms are bidding for the same workers, and this drives wages up. The reason employers don't pay the decreed wages is that wages are determined by supply and demand, not government edict. Firms hire workers with the goal of earning profits, while wages are costs. They competitively bid wages up to the point where the wage (cost) equals the benefit or extra profit gained from hiring that worker. So competition for profits practically ensures that workers get paid according to their productivity, according to the value of their labor. (In economics jargon, they get paid their discounted marginal revenue product.)</p> <p>Now let's trace out the effects of an increase in the minimum wage on the employers affected (e.g., those hiring unskilled labor). First, the increased labor costs lead some firms to lay off workers and others to shut down, since demand for their goods and hence their prices have not changed. But the downsizing and shutdowns reduce the supply of the goods, increasing their price. This new, higher price justifies the higher wage for those who kept their jobs, since they are now producing a more valuable product. The end result is that some workers lose their jobs, while the rest enjoy the higher wage. Consumers lose because prices are now higher.</p> <p>Since workers are paid according to their productivity (like all factors of production), all the minimum wage does is to make it illegal to buy or sell labor beneath the price floor. The government is essentially saying: "You must be <em>this</em> productive to legally work in our country." This is most harmful to the least skilled of workers, the ones we want to help most. They will be the first to be fired, and will be cut off from the chance to gain the work experience and job skills needed to earn a legal wage. Allowing such people to work for lower than minimum wages gives them a chance to work their way to a better life. To deny them the freedom to negotiate their own wages and to leave them legally prohibited from working is a moral outrage.</p> <p>Some clever economists might argue that the minimum wage can increase the total wages paid to all workers. This could happen if the amount of workers unemployed was more than offset by the increased wage. But what is this except human sacrifice?! They would knowingly unemploy the most needy in order to increase the aggregate income of workers. This position is morally bankrupt and an insult to those who genuinely want to help the less fortunate.</p> <p>In sum, the minimum wage harms the very people it intends to help. It's a moral outrage that ought to be instantly abolished. Freedom is the best policy to help the poor.</p> <p>Recommended learning:</p> <ul> <li>Gene Callahan's excellent analogy, in which he compares the minimum wage with a hypothetical "minimum stock price". Find it in his book, <a href="" target="_blank">Economics for Real People</a> (free online), pages 189-194.</li> <li>Roger Garrison's <a href="" target="_blank">Mises University lecture</a>. You can follow along by downloading his <a href="" target="_blank">powerpoint</a>.</li> <li>Mary Ruwart, <a href="" target="_blank">Healing Our World</a> (free online). A great book for leftists, Ruwart shows how government restrictions hurt the poorest to the benefit of the wealthy and politically connected.</li> </ul> Religion: a virus of the mind 2010-05-21T02:45:52+00:00 <p>There is a striking parallel between belief in a personal god and belief in Santa. As <a href="" target="_blank">Richard Dawkins argues</a>, these beliefs (or memes) are viruses of the mind. The two beliefs are of the same type, differing only in particulars:</p> <ul> <li>Both beliefs infect young minds incapable of critical thought and lacking the knowledge to properly judge the validity of those beliefs.</li> <li>The disinfection process is identical for most people: critical thinking develops and knowledge about reality increases until the superstition is seen for what it is.</li> <li>Both depend on mass support: children believe in Santa because everyone else appears to. But when the appearance of mass support vanishes as children get older, the belief gets wiped out. If someone maintained the belief into adulthood, he would be considered mentally immature. Likewise, religions get their strength from mass support. The religion of culture A is considered ridiculous by those of culture B—culture B is highly resistant to religion A simply because mass support is missing. Religious belief is considered childish and ridiculous where it is rare.</li> </ul> <p>Growing up involves learning about reality and discarding falsehoods. Everybody drops the superstitions that don’t have mass support among adults. But many who were infected by religion as young children aren’t able to shake the virus as adults—because the mass support among adults prevents it from being exposed as a superstition. They go on to spread the virus to their children—that’s how the virus propagates itself.</p> <p>It’s telling that nearly all religious people were indoctrinated into their particular religion as children. Those who are infected as adults are usually of questionable psychological integrity, or are simply unaware of the scientific evidence. After all, <a href="" target="_blank">atheism correlates with intelligence and education</a>. Consider this: a person may have complete faith in religion A, but had they grown up in a different culture they would have complete faith in religion B, even though the two are mutually contradictory. It comes down to sheer luck whether one is born at the right time and place to be infected with the ‘correct’ religion, although such a person will always believe that his is the ‘correct’ religion, while the other is false. Take a moment and think through the implications of this.</p> <p>Now, religious people are not all stupid. In fact, many are very smart. For example, several <a href="" target="_blank">Mises Institute scholars</a> are religious, despite being very sharp thinkers in economics. This strikes me as a huge disconnect, a double standard—intellectual dishonesty, but probably not intentional. It’s as though religious belief is kept in its own compartment in the mind, sealed off from the rigors of evidence and logic that rule everywhere else. I find it absurd that one can be committed to the high standards of logic and evidence while also believing the superstitions of Bronze Age tribesmen.</p> <p>Belief in a personal god is childish, just like belief in Santa. Both beliefs have zero scientific evidence to support them, and are opposed by <a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=1416594787">overwhelming evidence</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" src="assets/ir?t=highthou-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1416594787" border="0" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> to the contrary. If one must believe in a god, then deism (the belief in a non-personal god) is best—it doesn’t contradict the facts so blatantly. But it’s best to ditch deism and even agnosticism and be a full-blown atheist. Reject the existence of god(s) in the same way that you reject the existence of Santa.</p> <p>Religion is an affront to reason and human dignity. It represents a complete rejection of reason and it lowers humans to the level of pawns in some divine game. Religion spreads by infecting innocent children, before they can critically assess what they’re being taught. Leave the children alone and let them decide what they’ll believe when they grow up. But if that were done, I reckon that religion would completely evaporate in a few generations.</p> The Root Problem: Corporations or Government? 2010-05-13T02:47:29+00:00 <blockquote> <p style="text-align: left;">"Capitalism is the best. It's free enterprise. Barter. Gimbels, if I get really rank with the clerk, 'Well I don't like this', how I can resolve it? If it really gets ridiculous, I go, 'Frig it, man, I walk.' What can this guy do at Gimbels, even if he was the president of Gimbels? He can always reject me from that store, but I can always go to Macy's. He can't really hurt me. Communism is like one big phone company. Government control, man. And if I get too rank with that phone company, where can I go? I'll end up like a schmuck with a dixie cup on a thread." —Lenny Bruce</p> </blockquote> <p>A common refrain among people unfamiliar with libertarian theory is that corporations are the problem and government is the solution—that government needs to tightly regulate private business to rein in corporate greed. This view is fundamentally confused. It entails that private business—which derives its means by voluntary exchange—is the problem, while government—which derives its means through violence—is the solution.</p> <p>First, greed is a universal feature of human nature that's here to stay. Businessmen have always been and will always be greedy. And the rest of us are greedy too, in the sense of being self-interested. That includes the agents of the government. Since government can use violence to achieve its ends, we should be much more worried about predation by greedy politicians and bureaucrats.</p> <p>Of course, businessmen are not angels. Like all people, they can be jerks and criminals. Adam Smith's great insight was that businessmen benefit others not out of benevolence, but by their own greedy pursuits in a free market. Under the institution of free market competition, private predation can be minimized and the social benefits of greed can be maximized. But this cannot be achieved with a government in existence.</p> <p>Greedy businessmen don't passively submit to regulations, they lobby and do whatever they can to gain control of the regulatory body. Once they have access to the political means, they use it as a tool to hinder their competition, to the detriment of everybody else. Gabriel Kolko has shown that even the Progressive Era regulations were pushed through by big business to restrict competition. Where there is government, businesses will fight to control it for their benefit. Under government, the corporation becomes an exploiter.</p> <p>In fact, free market competition is <a title="the best kind" href="">the best kind</a> of "regulation". Where there is competition, people have choice and can avoid businesses they don't like. And businesses have incentives to publicize the misbehavior of their competitors. Competition is simply the best check on private predation. Furthermore, it can be supplemented by other voluntary measures, like boycotts, to seal any cracks. There is no reason to introduce legalized violence in the form of a government.</p> <p>Government is not the solution, it is the root problem. Government brings with it the problem of public predation, and creates the avenues for systematic private predation. Advocating more government as the solution to private predation is like trying to put out a fire by dousing it with gasoline. Without government, private predation can be restrained through market competition. In other words, government is the ultimate cause and corporations are the proximate cause of the problems. Don't be a branch-striker. Strike the root.</p> <p>[Further reading: Roderick Long, <a title="Can We Escape the Ruling Class" href="">Can We Escape the Ruling Class</a>] </p> Evolutionary Psychology vs The Blank Slate 2010-05-07T01:47:54+00:00 <p>I just finished reading Steven Pinker's book, <a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0142003344">The Blank Slate</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" src="assets/ir?t=highthou-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0142003344" border="0" alt="" width="1" height="1" />. I must say that I underestimated it, despite having high expectations. Pinker draws from an impressive range of disciplines, drawing many important insights.</p> <p>Pinker invokes evolutionary psychology and the other sciences of human nature to systematically pick apart the Blank Slate. The Blank Slate is the empiricist position that the mind enters the world empty and acquires all traits from the environment—hence, the mind can be shaped into whatever we desire simply by controlling the environment; there is no such thing as human nature. In the nature/nurture debate, it is known as the extreme nurture position. Pinker decisively shows that this position is false. The mind comes with many innate features such as emotions, a moral sense, and a highly specialized ability to learn language (but not to read/write), just to name a few. The existence of <a href="" target="_blank">cultural universals</a> seals the fate of the Blank Slate.</p> <p>While all of this is quite evident to most people, many intellectuals (especially in the social sciences) have bitterly resisted the discoveries of innate features. They fear that a scientific basis for differences among people, the sexes, and races will legitimize discrimination. Their error was to base their morality on the assumption that humans are born blank slates. As such, their moral opposition to discrimination is deeply undermined by the discovery of facts about human nature. In fact, the Blank Slate position could just as easily be invoked to argue that people should just be socialized to accept discrimination. A proper moral theory holds that people have equal rights by the fact that they are humans, regardless of their innate features. Likewise, the recognition of human nature fatally undermines such garbage philosophies as relativism, constructionism, and romanticism.</p> <p>He explores the implications of various innate features of the mind, such as our intuitive moral sense or our intuitive theory of mind. His analysis of our innate theory of economics explains why economic fallacies are so common among non-economists (and even among some economists). Paul Rubin has written an <a href="" target="_blank">excellent paper</a> about this and draws heavily on Pinker's book. I highly recommend it.</p> <p>To his credit, Pinker takes a mature classical liberal position on social issues. In the chapter on politics, he rejects the Utopian (i.e., Marxist) position for its naive view that human nature can be fundamentally changed. He sides instead with the classical liberals, who recognize the flaws of human nature and the need for institutions that can deal with them (e.g., limited democratic government, low taxation, free markets). On the topic of feminism, he sides with the equity feminists (those who advocate political equality between men and women) in rejecting gender feminism (which he calls the "lunatic fringe" of feminism).</p> <p>One of the interesting topics he discusses is child development.  Contrary to common belief, parents have virtually no influence on how their children turn out (personality, intelligence). This is explained by the evolutionary theory of parent-child conflict—children only carry 50% of a parent's genes so their interests are not fully consonant; children evolved resistance to parental influence to prevent parental exploitation.  Scientists have found that about 50% of what shapes a person is genetic. The other 50% is attributable to interaction with peers and chance. For example, the children of immigrants seamlessly learn the language and adopt the culture, but they don't acquire their parents' accents. This explains why children don't turn out as their parents worked so hard to ensure. It also entails that most parenting advice is trash that wastes parents' time and makes them feel guilty for not investing all their efforts in raising their children.</p> <p>Pinker's discussion of the arts is great. He shows that humans are hardwired to enjoy specific features in art (form, beauty, melody, etc). But in the 20th century, modernism and post-modernism explicitly rejected beauty and deliberately created appalling and disgusting art in attempt to change human nature. Hence the sorry state of modern art, and the superiority of classical art.</p> <p>All in all, it's a fascinating book with broad implications. Pinker's analyses are careful and intelligent, brimming with good sense. The book is well worth reading, and you will learn a lot in a variety of fields.</p> Stand up desk and other ergonomics hacks 2010-04-25T12:07:32+00:00 <div> <p>I bought a stand up desk a half year ago for ergonomics. I was fed up with sitting (for many of the reasons that <a href="" target="_blank">Mark Sisson recently wrote about</a>) so I hired a handyman (through the online classifieds) to build me a standup workstation. It was pretty expensive ($450), but it's top quality and I plan to use it extensively for many years to come. It's gigantic: 3' deep and 5' wide, giving me plenty of room to do both computer work and paperwork. It's height adjustable within a few inches for fine tuning (via a screw mechanism between the legs and the tabletop).</p> <p>I find that standing is nice but as Mark pointed out, static standing has its drawbacks. But since you're not locked in a chair, it's easy to move around or stretch once in a while—I like to drop into a grok squat once in a while. Foot soreness can be extreme at the beginning if you're unaccustomed to standing for long periods. But your feet will adapt in a week or two, and will become even better adapted over longer periods. I use an <a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=B000EFK9KM">anti-fatigue mat</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" src="assets/ir?t=highthou-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B000EFK9KM" border="0" alt="" width="1" height="1" />, the kind that cashiers and other workers sometimes use. It makes the transition much easier and is really nice to stand on. Good posture is really important to avoid back soreness—just stand as tall as you can (like you do when you're getting your height measured). It also helps to have a tall stool to sit down once in a while so you're not always in one static position.</p> <p>[caption id="attachment_202" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Stand up workstation"]<a href=""><img class="size-large wp-image-202 " title="desk" src="assets/desk-1024x830.jpg" alt="" width="614" height="498" /></a>[/caption]</p> <p>My workstation also features dual monitors (24" and 19"), which is a big productivity booster. I keep them below eye level and angle them upwards to reduce eyestrain—when you look down, your eyelids close more and your eyes don't get as dry.</p> <p>I also use the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 which I can't recommend highly enough. The split keyboard keeps your wrists in natural alignment and the front is raised, creating a slight negative angle which also does wonders for the wrists. I can't stand regular keyboards anymore, it feels like typing handcuffed. I can type much faster and much more comfortably on my ergonomic keyboard.</p> <p>Rather than using wussy computer speakers, I hooked up my 500W 5.1 surround sound system. I can only send it a stereo signal, but it's still awesome.</p> <p>I recommend a standing workstation if you put in a lot of time at your desk. Otherwise, you might want to try some of the cheap alternatives that Mark suggests.</p> </div> Cognitive Dissonance: Why Mass Delusions Persist 2010-02-09T03:55:19+00:00 <p>I recently read <a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0156033909">Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" src="assets/ir?t=highthou-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0156033909" border="0" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> on <a href="" target="_blank">Dr. Eades's recommendation</a>. The book centers on <a href="" target="_blank">cognitive dissonance theory</a> (read this link for a good overview), which is ripe with insights into why people hold irrational beliefs. The essence of the theory is that when people are confronted with dissonant beliefs such as "I'm a good, smart person" and "I just made a bad mistake," they tend to rationalize the latter so that the former is not undermined. Such a person might convince himself that it wasn't a mistake, or that somebody else was responsible for it. Likewise, when people with poor self-esteem do something good, they tend to rationalize it away, e.g., "It would have happened without me anyways." This rationalizing process can take someone step-by-step to the point of justifying things that they would have considered crazy at the outset.</p> <p>A good example is the <a href="" target="_blank">Milgram Experiment</a>: the volunteers proceeded to deliver more and more powerful "shocks" (up to what they believed were dangerous levels) because they justified it one shock at a time. Once they had delivered the first shock, it wasn't a big leap to justify giving the second shock, nor the third, and so on. But if they stopped for fear of harming the person, they would have to justify the previous few shocks, which weren't much weaker. They faced the dissonance of admitting that they were wrong to be giving the shocks in the first place, which is why many people rationalized the shocks and continued as instructed. (Interestingly, this suggests that it was the incremental nature of the process that led so many to deliver dangerous shocks, and not just obedience to an authority figure, as commonly believed. Had the authority figure ordered the volunteers to deliver a dangerous shock right from the start, a lot more of them would have refused because they wouldn't have had any dissonance to resolve.)</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Confirmation bias</a> plays an important role in rationalizing our beliefs, allowing us to discount or ignore disconfirming evidence and focus on the confirming evidence. People can become entrenched in the craziest beliefs via this process of step-by-step justification with confirmation bias, e.g., flat-earthers, vegetarians, and religious people. Take vegetarianism: let's say you object to the cruel treatment of animals on factory farms. From there, it's only a small step to the belief that killing animals is wrong. And from there, it's a small step to the belief that eating meat is wrong. Confirmation bias smooths each step: you ignore or discount the counter-arguments and convince yourself with all the supporting arguments. Step-by-step, you slide further and further. By the end of the process, you've gone from the reasonable belief that animals shouldn't be treated cruelly to the absurd belief that eating animals is unhealthy. The lesson here is that once we become committed to a belief, we become motivated to justify it. Confirmation bias helps smooth the process, and step-by-step we can end up strongly believing something that we previously would have considered ridiculous.</p> <p>Cognitive dissonance theory offers some interesting practical advice. For instance, if you're considering making a big purchase, don't base your decision on the opinion of somebody who just made that purchase. They'll be motivated to rationalize the purchase and you'll tend to get biased advice. Another tip: if you want to win somebody's friendship, get them to do a favor for you. They'll be motivated to justify the favor by telling themselves that you're a good person and you deserved it. Conversely, if you harm someone, you'll be motivated to justify the harm by convincing yourself that the person deserved it. So venting your anger at someone is counter-productive: you'll come to hate that person even more.</p> <p>Cognitive dissonance theory has much to say about the mass delusions, which have the veneer of legitimacy because of their sheer number of believers. The main three are religion, statism, and mainstream health (or god, government, and grains.) To non-believers, these are completely loony beliefs that only persist because of cultural momentum. Because of this, a believer faces great dissonance in admitting that such beliefs are foolish. It would be very difficult for them to admit that their religion is nothing but a fairy tale; they would experience strong dissonance between "I'm intelligent and rational" and "I strongly believed in a fairy tale". The dissonance would be even worse for intellectuals, who play a crucial role maintaining the legitimacy of widespread beliefs. To admit error is to admit that they misled countless people—a terrible thing to do—so there's a strong motivation to rationalize the belief and convince themselves that they're right. The dissonance becomes extreme in fields where the ideas have horrible real-world consequences, such as mainstream health or the social sciences. It would be extremely difficult to accept that "I promoted ideas that caused misery and deaths for countless people." In these cases, the motivation to rationalize is tremendously powerful, which explains why conversions among these intellectuals are practically non-existent.</p> <p>It's important to understand this when working to explode mass delusions. Erroneous beliefs are rarely dropped right away—if they are at all, it's often through a step-by-step reversal of the process that led there in the first place. One important conclusion we can draw is that if we want to convince someone of their error, we should respectfully and humbly point out their error. If we viciously attack their position as though only an idiot would believe it, then they face the dissonance of admitting that they strongly held an idiotic position and will be motivated to further entrench themselves in their position. Of course, we don't always aim to convert the other person, in which case vicious attacks on their position can motivate other critics and win over undecided people. But when we really do want them to change their position, we would be wise to recognize that it will take time for them to correct their beliefs and that respectful criticism will go much further than head-on assault.</p> <p>Perhaps most importantly, understanding cognitive dissonance theory can help us overcome our own biases and avoid the dangers of rationalization. The motivation to rationalize is quite difficult to escape, even for the authors of the book. We may always be susceptible, but we can protect ourselves by being aware of when we rationalize and stopping the process before it goes too far. It can be difficult and even humiliating to admit error, but a strong commitment to truth can provide the motivation. In the long run, a cultural shift in our attitudes towards mistakes would solve the bulk of the problem. If mistakes were considered normal and admission of error honorable, it would be much easier to admit error from the start, before rationalizing our way into delusion.</p> Good Calories, Bad Calories summarized in point form! 2010-01-07T22:10:15+00:00 <p><em><strong>***Note: I checked with Knopf about copyright and they informed me that I can keep the notes up for a limited time until they withdraw the permission. Please download your own copy of <a href="" target="_blank">the PDF</a> while it's still available.***</strong></em></p> <p>Gary Taubes's masterpiece—<a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=1400033462">Good Calories, Bad Calories</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" src="assets/ir?t=highthou-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1400033462" alt="" width="1" height="1" border="0" />—is the most important book ever written on diet and health. Drawing from an astounding body of research, Taubes challenges the conventional wisdom head on and decisively wins (the book is perhaps overkill.) He shows that carbohydrates are the root cause of obesity and most chronic diseases, and that fat is not only innocent, but positively beneficial. The book was so amazingly good that after finishing it, I decided to read it through again and take extensive notes for future reference. Now that I've finished, I figure that these notes could be quite useful as a reference to others who've read the book, or even as an overview to get more people to read the book. These notes are no substitute for reading the book though. They were written as a reference to complement the book and I strongly recommend reading it through in its entirety. Armed with <a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=1400033462">Taubes's book</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" src="assets/ir?t=highthou-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1400033462" alt="" width="1" height="1" border="0" /> and these notes, you'll be a low-carb, high-fat force to be reckoned with!</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Complete Notes to Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes</a></li> <li>Or, save or print a copy of the <a href="" target="_blank">PDF version</a>.</li> <li>New: <a href="" target="_blank">EPUB version</a></li> </ul> <p>If you're unacquainted with Taubes's work, his <a href=";playnext=1&amp;playnext_from=PL&amp;rclk=pa" target="_blank">obesity lecture</a> is a good place to start.</p> Paleo (Bare) Footwear 2009-05-15T02:09:50+00:00 <p>Our feet have evolved for going barefoot-our hunter—gatherer ancestors didn't have footwear. According to evolutionary logic, going barefoot is the healthiest option for our bodies. Unfortunately, barefooting is often impractical. Physical constraints, i.e., sharp objects or cold weather, as well as cultural constraints (<em>"no shirt no shoes no service"</em>) prevent us from going barefoot most of the time. Fortunately, there are some high-quality and affordable products that allow us to have the best of both worlds.</p> <h4>Vibram FiveFingers</h4> <p>[caption id="" align="alignright" width="311" caption="Vibram FiveFingers &quot;Sport&quot; model"]<img id="bgyh" title="Vibram FiveFingers" src="assets/img1-large.jpg" alt="Vibram FiveFingers Sport" width="311" height="213" />[/caption]</p> <p>The <a id="r37d" title="Vibram FiveFingers" href="" target="_blank">Vibram FiveFingers</a> are the shoe or sandal equivalent of toe socks. Designed to give you the barefoot experience with the benefits of underfoot protection, they'll make your feet come alive! There's nothing better except actually going barefoot. They're great for outdoor or fitness activities. I like to use them for doing sprints on the grass at the park. You can immediately run faster because the power of your toes and feet are fully unleashed and because your running mechanics improve (no more heel strikes). They also make amazing sandals or watershoes as they're incredibly grippy (the soles have sipes cut into them, just like snow tires). Very fun to wear!</p> <p>As Tim Ferriss explains, <a id="sfzq" title="traditional shoes can be quite harmful to foot health and posture, while barefooting can bring amazing relief" href="" target="_blank">traditional shoes can be quite harmful to foot health and posture, while barefooting in FiveFingers can bring amazing relief</a>. In his case, it eliminated 10 years of lower-back pain in 2 weeks. Primal living blogger Mark Sisson is also a big fan of the <a id="fmhk" title="FiveFingers as primal footwear" href="" target="_blank">FiveFingers as primal footwear</a> and likes to use them for playing ultimate and doing beach sprints.</p> <p>Order them online from the <a id="t01t" title="Vibram website" href="" target="_blank">Vibram website</a> but be sure to measure carefully as accurate sizing is very important. Canadians can get them from <a id="o:lm" title="Mountain Equipment Co-op" href=";Ntt=vibram+fivefingers&amp;jsessionid=YMS7KMhS2qL26KpMy5nm1wnkMzvypPgVs1LmHGJmm9FL7v8Qr82G%21-426885038%211242341810690&amp;bmUID=1242341870287" target="_blank">Mountain Equipment Co-op</a> for an even lower price!</p> <p>Unfortunately, you can't wear them all the time, either because of cold weather or public reasons like your job. And that's where the Wysong Ergonomic Insoles come in handy, providing barefoot benefits all in the privacy of your normal shoes.</p> <h4>Wysong Ergonomic Insoles</h4> <p>[caption id="" align="alignright" width="230" caption="Wysong Ergonomic Insoles"]<img id="cvm4" title="Wysong Ergonomic Insoles" src="assets/Insoles.jpg" alt="Wysong Ergonomic Insoles" width="230" height="251" />[/caption]</p> <p>The <a href=";a_bid=04167ce5&amp;">Wysong Ergonomic Insoles</a> are designed to emulate the natural foot support of walking in sand. The heel of the insole is missing so that your heel "floats", relieving the pressure on it. This promotes proper posture and discourages heel strikes in your step. The toes are also cut out to create "toe-grips" which actually makes a big impact by engaging your toes for even more propulsion.</p> <p>They're the perfect solution for day-to-day use, where going barefoot or wearing FiveFingers wouldn't be feasible. They take some getting used to and adjustment to find the right position, but they definitely put out results. Not only are they super-comfortable to wear for standing and walking, they also unleash the power of your feet in athletic activity. You can immediately feel the difference while running or jumping, a feeling of power and swiftness. You'll feel a new bounce in your step and an urge to go bounding away! Best of all, you can put them in any shoe you want, so you can wear them all the time. I've been wearing the Wysong Ergonomic Insoles for almost four years and can honestly say they're the best health product I've ever come across.</p> <p>Available online from the <a href=";a_bid=04167ce5&amp;">Wysong website</a>.</p> <h4>Verdict</h4> <p>I was extremely impressed with both of these products and highly recommend them—for health, comfort and athletics. Both are definitely worth a try and are affordable enough to warrant it.</p> Become A Power User: Get The Best Software 2009-04-09T01:33:39+00:00 <p>Most people fall far short of tapping the full potential of their computing because they don't take advantage of the best free software programs. Using the right tools is the most effective thing a person can do to become a more effective computer user. To help people accomplish this, I've assembled a list of the best free software programs (many are open source), and I will be updating it regularly to keep it current. By using the best tools, not only does computer work become more efficient, it often becomes enjoyable. For example, most people find email infinitely more pleasant when using Gmail, and likewise with Firefox and web browsing. While you probably won't need them all, you should at least try out the ones labeled <span style="color: #000000;"><span style="font-size: xx-small;"><strong><span style="color: #000000;">[Must have!]</span></strong></span></span>. So give them a try; I think you'll be impressed!</p> <p>I'll update the list as needed to keep it current. That way, it won't get old and out of date. Leave your comments and suggestions on this post (comments disabled on the article).</p> <p>Check it out: <a href="" target="_self">The Best Free Software<br /> </a></p> Constitutionalism is Socialism 2009-03-13T02:50:32+00:00 <p>A constitutionally limited government provides the services of security and justice. To accomplish this, it establishes a system of national defense, police and courts—these are the means of production of security and justice. By definition then, limited government is socialist (i.e., state ownership of the means of production.) It's also socialist in the sense that the provision of security and justice is socialized: the costs and benefits are collectively shared. Furthermore, these services are funded through involuntary taxation and private citizens are coercively prohibited from competing in their provision. Government is inherently a coercive socialist monopoly. Therefore, constitutionalists are socialists, as they support limited government. (To be precise, constitutionalists are coercive socialists—I have nothing against voluntary socialism, which is perfectly legitimate.)</p> <p>The thing is, they also consider the principles of liberty to be important. Constitutionalists believe that markets are better than central planning, but that government is necessary to protect liberty—that government is a necessary evil. This contradictory position mainly exists because they lack the understanding of the logical conclusion of the principles of liberty: the stateless society. But rather than just rejecting them as statists, we should reach out to them as potential libertarians in the spirit of <a id="i_.v" title="Gain vs Loss" href="" target="_blank">gain orientation</a>. Fortunately, an open mind and a little education are all that's needed to arrive at a consistent pro-liberty position.<!--more--></p> <p>On practical grounds, <a id="w9jt" title="Ludwig von Mises Institute" href="" target="_blank">Austrian economics</a> is quite clear: the market always beats the State. Competition always beats monopoly. Why leave the government with any role at all if the market can provide us with everything we want? If the market is better than government in every other area, why would it fail in the so-called "essential roles of government": national defense, police and courts? The functions of both national defense and police could be produced more efficiently by entrepreneurs selling protection services. Private courts would easily provide better, speedier and more affordable justice than government courts. Security and justice are extremely important, all the more reason not to leave them in the hands of a coercive socialist monopoly. There is no place for the state in a free society; anything the government can do, the market can do better.</p> <p>The state is also incompatible with basic moral principles. For instance, it is morally wrong to initiate violence against another person. Yet this is all the State can ever do, using "the strong arm of the law". Taxation is a perfect example, since a government couldn't exist without it. Taxes are not voluntary, they <em>must</em> be enforced with coercion. Government can only tax you because it has the overwhelming power to force you to pay. If it didn't have so much power, you could try to defend yourself. However, most people choose to pay because of this threat of violence (which, in any other scenario, would be recognized as extortion or robbery). If you don't pay, and insist on not paying, you will eventually be staring down the barrel of a government gun. After your non-compliance with their written requests, they will initiate violence against you by arresting you and putting you in jail (otherwise known as kidnapping). If you resist their efforts and attempt to defend yourself, you will be shot (murdered). Notice that the government is the aggressor—it initiates the violence. The person who refuses to pay does no more than defend himself from their attacks.</p> <p>The State is a destructive parasite that is inherently immoral. Government <em>is</em> socialism—even the smallest one. <a id="tn24" title="Restoring the Libertarian Brand Name -" href="" target="_blank">Les Antman nailed it</a> when he wrote that "limited government is the theory that free market capitalism is best protected by a socialist monopoly." There's no way around it: the State must go.</p> <p>Most constitutionalists have a healthy anti-government attitude. They just don't realize that a society without government is both possible and desirable. They're ripe for becoming full-blown libertarians.</p> <p>To learn about the workings of a stateless society, I recommend reading <a id="d5mh" title="Chaos Theory - by Robert P. Murphy" href="" target="_blank">Chaos Theory</a> (only ~50 pages) [<a id="pd26" title="Chaos Theory" href="" target="_blank">pdf version</a>] or <a id="crdm" title="The Market For Liberty" href="" target="_blank">The Market For Liberty</a> [also in <a id="em-3" title="The Market For Liberty" href="" target="_blank">pdf</a> and <a id="hfgu" title="The Market For Liberty" href="" target="_blank">audio-book</a>]. Another excellent short introduction is Roderick Long's <a id="tv07" title="Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections" href="" target="_blank">Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections</a>.</p> How To Set Up A Website 2009-03-06T01:31:41+00:00 <p>After my <a id="dmhz" title="A Negative Review of SBI" href="../2009/01/a-negative-review-of-sbi/">thrashing of the all-in-one website tool <em>Site Build It</em></a>, I figured it would be a good idea to show how easy it is to set up a great-looking website with conventional hosting.</p> <p>Even in this age of user-friendliness and online how-to guides, it can still be a bit overwhelming to set up your first website. It can be daunting just shopping for hosting, where you're bombarded with all sorts of foreign terminology (eg. cPanel, mySQL, FTP, etc.) Admittedly, there is a fairly steep learning curve. But with the right guide, you can easily get a website set up and start publishing your content right away. Here are the four steps to set up a website:</p> <ol> <li><strong>Register a domain name:</strong> The first thing to do is claim your name. Domain name registration costs around $10/year. It doesn't really matter where you register, so just find the best price. I recommend <a id="f-rd" title="Moniker domains" href=";landingpage=home" target="_blank">Moniker</a> based on their great prices ($8/year for <em>.com</em>).</li> <li><strong>Find a web host: </strong>You'll want to make sure you find a good host. Hosting is very important and is your main expense. I recommend <a id="v0gu" title="HostGator web hosting" href="" target="_blank">HostGator</a>—they're a solid company and their hosting has all the features you'll need at great prices for both single and unlimited domain accounts (in case you ever decide to create more websites). Once you have an account set up for your domain, move on to step 3.</li> <li><strong>Point the domain at your host:</strong> Your host will give you at least 2 nameserver addresses (e.g., and Log in at your domain registrar and paste the nameservers from your host into the nameserver (DNS) records. This points your domain name to your host where your website will be. It can take as long as 72 hours for <a id="bdqx" title="DNS propagation delay" href="" target="_blank">domain propagation</a>, so don't panic if your domain name doesn't take you to your host right away.</li> <li><strong>Build your site:</strong> Now that the groundwork is complete, you can start building your site. To begin, briefly familiarize yourself with the basics of cPanel (the video tutorials and help pages are excellent). There are a lot of things to play with, but you really might only use a handful: Softaculous/Fantastico, File Manager, Backups, FTP accounts, and MX records (for using <a href="" target="_blank">Google Apps</a>). When you're ready to create the actual public website, open an installer such as Softaculous or Fantastico. If you want a blog or a content site, go with <a id="d7d7" href="" target="_blank">Wordpress</a>; for forums, try <a id="b:dv" href="" target="_blank">phpBB</a>. (You can even <a id="xe.i" title="Open Source CMS" href="" target="_blank">test drive applications</a> to get a feel for them.) By using an application, you'll never have to write any HTML source code! Fill out the required information and let Fantastico work it's magic. That's it: your site is now live. Log in to the application and start creating your content.</li> </ol> <p>With these four simple steps, you can create a website within hours. From here on out, the going is much easier. Popular applications like Wordpress are very easy to use and learn, with a wealth of documentation to help you with anything you can't figure out on your own. By using themes and plugins, you can create an amazing website—customized to your preferences—with minimal effort and without any experience (or extra costs)!</p> <p>Publishing your ideas on the web is easy, cheap and rewarding. There are still countless opportunities on the web—for profit, fame or disseminating information. I often have trouble finding information on the web and find myself thinking, "here's a niche website opportunity." And as you know, the web evolves at a breakneck pace—who knows what new opportunities will open up? More and more people are using the internet each year. Better to be ahead of the game than to be a latecomer and miss out. If you can't justify spending any money yet, check out <a id="tv60" href="" target="_blank">Blogger</a> or <a id="iwki" href="" target="_blank"></a> to start a free blog—you even buy a domain and have them host it for a small fee. There are no good excuses not to own a website. So get started right now—I could use some help challenging the <a id="j3-_" href="">mass delusions of our time</a>!</p> <p><em>Updated: Feb 17, 2010</em></p> A Negative Review of Site Build It (SBI) 2009-02-25T01:03:35+00:00 <p><a id="l2sb" title="Site Build It!" href="" target="_blank">Site Build It!</a> (SBI) is an all-in-one website creation, hosting and marketing tool from Ken Evoy's SiteSell Inc. It makes it simple for someone to create and market their own income-producing website. I ordered SBI in March of 2008. Ultimately, I came away disappointed.</p> <h4>The Hype</h4> <p>There's a lot of hype about SBI on the internet. A Google search turns up an avalanche of positive reviews, mostly from affiliates. It's hard to even find a negative review! Add to this that other non-affiliates say good things about it. Even blogging king <a id="uury" title="Steve Pavlina" href="" target="_blank">Steve Pavlina</a> strongly recommends it (and probably makes a fortune doing so).</p> <p>I think the affiliates generate most of the hype—there are swarms of them out there. SiteSell relies 100% on affiliate marketing for its sales. The <a id="k1f9" title="affiliate program" href="" target="_blank">affiliate program</a> offers a $75 commission per referral, lifetime renewal commissions and 2 tier income. This motivates lot of people to become affiliates and push SBI as a miracle product for creating content-based income websites. All these sales websites effectively drown out any negative reviews in the search engine results.</p> <p>After my experience with SBI, I was shocked that there weren't more negative reviews out there. This motivated me to make my own contribution.</p> <h4>A rare negative review</h4> <p>I don't think SBI is a scam, but it's not for everyone. The actual value in SBI is the education, not the technology. It could be useful for someone who doesn't know much about computers or the web. But for someone capable of installing software like Wordpress at their own host (<a title="How To Set Up A Website" href="" target="_self">which is really easy</a>), SBI would be more of a hindrance than a help.</p> <p>Here's my point-by-point review:</p> <h5>Appearance</h5> <p>I'm not sure if it's a conscious effort on their part, but everything from SBI looks like it's from the infancy of the web. The main <a id="aoru" title="SiteSell website" href="" target="_blank">SiteSell website</a> sports a design that I would date back to the late '90s. The administrator interface is the worst—it looks ancient (early '90s) and it's terribly ugly. Fortunately, these are unimportant cosmetic issues that have no bearing on the success of your website. Unfortunately, the SBI themes are no better. Unless you can make or find your own HTML/CSS design and add in the special SBI tags, you're stuck with choosing from less than a dozen really lame and outdated themes (mid '90s). This is a big problem, because first impressions are so important on the web.</p> <p><em>My rating: 3/25</em></p> <h5>Educational resources</h5> <p>SBI's strength is in education. Someone who knows nothing about creating and marketing a website may find their <a id="ts-x" title="Action Guide" href="" target="_blank">Action Guide</a> handy. Then again, with a bit of patience you could find all the information you need for free online (in fact, the Action Guide is free). SBI just boils it down and explains it in simple terms so you don't have to do the research. The weekly email newsletter contains informative articles and links to good forum threads. The forums have a great reputation: there is a very helpful and supportive online community. You can even get free forum access (read-only) by signing up for the affiliate program. Yet I can't fully endorse the educational resources: they're often simplistic and fluffy, aimed at very novice webmasters. Personally, I would just do my own research at a few different sources. So, while there is some value in the educational resources, you can access them for free or do the research yourself.</p> <p><em>My rating: 18/25</em></p> <h5>Technology</h5> <p>For market research, SBI has a useful brainstorming tool for doing keyword analysis. It uses <a id="tp5o" title="Wordtracker" href="" target="_blank">Wordtracker</a>'s keyword research service (SBI users get 25 queries per year). If keyword research is important to you, you could just use Wordtracker's free trial or subscribe for one month. Or try a free alternative like <a id="qy:x" title="Keyword Discovery" href="" target="_blank">Keyword Discovery</a>.</p> <p>The built-in blogging functionality is downright awful, but you can get around it by installing whatever blogging software you want on a subdomain (eg. <em></em>). However, there's a catch: SBI won't host it, so you have to buy separate hosting.</p> <p>There are some handy tools like a Google Sitemap generator and automatic search engine pinging, but these features are free (and better) with software like Wordpress or Joomla.</p> <p>The control panel (Site Central) is pretty basic, without many features. It does make things simple, but it's terribly limiting for more advanced users. File management is also pretty cumbersome—you can't create any directories, so all of your pages have to sit in the root folder. I would avoid SBI due to these constraints alone.</p> <p><em>My rating: 8/25</em></p> <h5>Price</h5> <p>In my opinion, SBI is outrageously priced at $300 per website per year. And if you want a blog or forum, you have to pay for 3rd party hosting on top of that. In comparison, <a title="Moniker domains" href=";landingpage=home" target="_blank">domains</a> only cost $8 per year. <a title="HostGator web hosting" href="" target="_blank">Hosting</a> for a single domain costs $60 per year, or $100 for unlimited domains. Throw in a free software tool like Wordpress and you have <a title="How To Set Up A Website" href="" target="_self">a way better setup for a fraction of the cost</a>.</p> <p><em>My rating: 1/25</em></p> <h5>Summary</h5> <p>If you find yourself lured by the sales talk, don't bite. The SBI features and tools may sound impressive, but you have to compare them to the alternatives. I've found free alternatives that are much better than SBI's offerings. The only thing of value that they offer is education, but they put that out for free. There's no reason to buy the product. If you're still undeterred, at least try Wordpress so you can compare them and see the difference.</p> <p>With a score of 30%, SBI gets a big red <span style="color: #ff0000;"><strong>FAIL</strong></span>:</p> <p><em>Appearance: 3/25<br /> Education: 18/25<br /> Technology: 8/25<br /> Price: 1/25</em></p> <p><strong><em>Total: 30/100</em></strong></p> <h4>A better way: Open source over proprietary technology</h4> <p>Being disappointed with SBI, I tried out some free open-source content management systems (CMS). The top three are <a id="xulx" title="Joomla" href="" target="_blank">Joomla</a>, <a id="i7op" title="Drupal" href="" target="_blank">Drupal</a> and <a id="f8e9" title="Wordpress" href="" target="_blank">Wordpress</a>. Joomla was pretty good, but I found it a bit hard to learn and too bulky for my needs. I haven't tried Drupal yet; it's the most fully featured, but the hardest to learn. Wordpress was just perfect—easy to install, very intuitive, and a great selection of themes and plugins to make it do just about anything. I was very impressed—<em>Wordpress blows SBI out of the water!</em></p> <p><a id="b_bl" title="Open source software - Wikipedia" href="" target="_blank">Open source</a> is better—Firefox is one of the best examples. In addition to the CMSes I mentioned above, there are plenty of high-quality open-source web applications, such as <a id="n5kz" title="phpBB" href="" target="_blank">phpBB</a>, <a id="e8zv" title="MediaWiki" href="" target="_blank">MediaWiki</a>, <a id="pnqm" title="Movable Type" href="" target="_blank">Movable Type</a>, etc. If you're worried about support, the free forum support usually suffices. If that's not good enough, you can hire someone from <a id="cv-0" title="Elance" href="" target="_blank">Elance</a>. Open source software is constantly being improved and bugs are fixed almost immediately. Best of all, you don't pay a cent. It's simply a smart idea to use flexible open-source technology as opposed to restrictive proprietary technology.</p> <h4>Final verdict</h4> <p>If you're computer or web illiterate, your best bet is to skip SBI and hire someone to make a website for you. If you have the skills (or the potential to learn the skills) to set up Wordpress or another CMS at your own host, then do it. It's easier than ever to <a title="How To Set Up A Website" href="" target="_self">set up a great looking website for under $75/year</a>. In this age of free software and cheap hosting, I foresee a dark future for SBI.</p> <p>My experience with SBI was one big letdown. I transferred my domain out well before my subscription expired.<strong> I strongly discourage using Site Build It</strong>, no matter how good the affiliates make it sound. <em>SBI is so bad, you couldn't even pay me to use it!</em></p> <h4>Further reading</h4> <ul> <li> <a id="bxzv" title="Wordpress Vs SiteBuildIt for Making Money Online -" href="" target="_blank">Wordpress Vs SiteBuildIt for Making Money Online<br /> </a></li> <li> <a title="SBI (Site Build It) versus Wordpress: How to Structure a Website -" rel="bookmark" href="" target="_blank">SBI (Site Build It) versus Wordpress: How to Structure a Website<br /> </a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Site Build it - Don't Buy It</a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Site Build It Review Bazooka</a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">The Great Site Build It SCAM</a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Site Build It Review Site</a></li> </ul> <p><em>Update (March 25, 2009): there has been an explosion of negative reviews of SBI after <a title="Site Build It Scam Review" href="" target="_blank">Lis Sowerbutts' negative review</a> triggered a massive comment war which saw Ken Evoy and his minions battling Lis and her internet marketing friends. I've added a few of the new links to the 'Further reading' section above.</em></p> The Evolutionary Lifestyle II: Radical Implications 2009-01-23T18:34:26+00:00 <p>What are the implications of the <a id="klmv" title="The Evolutionary Lifestyle: A Logical Theory of Health" href="">evolutionary lifestyle</a>? To find out, we must first figure out what the evolutionary lifestyle consisted of. The <a id="m_z1" title="timeline of human evolution" href="" target="_blank">timeline of human evolution</a> indicates that evolutionary change takes place over hundreds of thousands of years. To put that into perspective, the <a id="u41d" title="complete timeline" href="" target="_blank">complete timeline</a>—from the earliest lifeforms to modern humans—spans 4 billion years.</p> <p><a id="u3w1" title="According to S. Boyd Eaton" href="" target="_blank">According to S. Boyd Eaton</a>:</p> <blockquote><p>We are the heirs of inherited characteristics accrued over millions of years; the vast majority of our biochemistry and physiology are tuned to life conditions that existed prior to the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Genetically our bodies are virtually the same as they were at the end of the Paleolithic era some 20,000 years ago.</p></blockquote> <p>The <a id="a6ef" title="Paleolithic - Wikipedia" href="" target="_blank">Paleolithic</a> era, otherwise known as the Stone Age, spans from 2.5 million years ago, with the introduction of stone tools, until the advent of agriculture 8,000-12,000 years ago. During this era, humans lived as <a id="x3y3" title="hunter-gatherers" href="" target="_blank">hunter-gatherers</a>. Anatomically modern humans—people with the same physical appearance and intelligence as ourselves—appeared in Africa at least <a id="qq.8" title="130,000 years ago" href="" target="_blank">130,000 years ago</a>.</p> <p>Since our bodies have evolved to thrive under Paleolithic conditions, mimicking the <a id="pcip" title="Paleolithic lifestyle" href="" target="_blank">Paleolithic lifestyle</a> is the key to optimum health. We can immediately see that the implications of this approach are at odds with much of the conventional wisdom. The basic premises carry radical implications. A few examples:</p> <ul> <li><a id="vgmi" title="Human diet during the paleolithic - Wikipedia" href="" target="_blank">Diet</a>: primarily meat, fish, shellfish, leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts and insects. <ul> <li>Eating meat is the foundation of a good diet.</li> <li>Fat is good for you. Good quality fats (they ate the <em>entire </em>animal) are essential for good health.</li> <li>Grains and dairy have no evolutionary precedent in the human diet. We should therefore expect them to be lousy sources of nutrition and possibly even harmful.</li> <li>Water: drink when you feel thirsty, there's no evolutionary precedent for forcing down 8 glasses of water per day. Nor is there any precedent for drinking fluoride-medicated water.</li> </ul> </li> <li>Skin health: our ancestors lived for millions of years under the sun, without sunscreen (or clothes). We should expect sunlight to be healthy, but excessive exposure (sunburn) to be unhealthy. There's no precedent for using moisturizing lotions, or other skin products, either.</li> <li>Exercise: Paleolithic exercise consisted of lots of low-intensity walking, coupled with occasional short bursts of high-intensity work (hunting, fleeing from predators, etc). Regular cardio exercise (jogging, cycling) has no evolutionary precedent. <a id="ml_6" title="Crossfit" href="" target="_blank">High-intensity, low-duration strength exercise</a> is optimal.</li> <li>Rest: contrary to popular perception, hunter-gatherers enjoyed an <a id="v93a" title="rest and leisure" href="" target="_blank">abundance of leisure time</a>. Laziness is natural.</li> </ul> <p>Given that these ideas are extremely dangerous to some powerful special interests, it is perfectly obvious why the Paleolithic lifestyle is marginalized in mainstream health. In both the USA and Canada, the government publishes nutritional and health guidelines. And sure enough, they line up pretty nicely with the interests of some big lobbies. For example, both recommend eating a lot of grain and dairy, and using plenty of sunscreen.</p> <p>If the bureaucrats and special interests are somehow right, we would be asked to accept a mind-boggling coincidence of stupendous proportions: that there is another type of lifestyle that by chance happens to be better suited for our bodies. Remember, our bodies have become highly specialized, through millions of years of evolutionary adaptation, to thrive under a specific set of conditions; it would be next to impossible for a different lifestyle to suit our bodies better than the one our bodies have literally grown into. The evolutionary lifestyle fits like a glove. There's no alternative that could suit us any better.</p> <p>For a neutral opinion:</p> <ul> <li><a id="wfay" title="Wikipedia - Paleo Diet" href="" target="_blank">Wikipedia - Paleo Diet</a></li> </ul> <p>From the advocates of the Paleolithic lifestyle:</p> <ul> <li> <a id="kv8x" title="Mark's Daily Apple" href="" target="_blank">Mark's Daily Apple</a> - my favorite site about the Paleolithic lifestyle (he calls it the Primal Blueprint). I recommend starting with his <a id="xnzj" title="Definitive Guide to the Primal Blueprint" href="" target="_blank">Definitive Guide to the Primal Blueprint</a>.</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">PaNu</a> - Dr. Kurt Harris is my new favorite paleo writer. He gives a rigorous scientific analysis of paleolithic nutrition. Check out his <a href="" target="_blank">12 steps</a>.</li> <li><a href=";tag=highthou-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0446678678" target="_blank">The Protein Power Lifeplan</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" src="assets/ir?t=highthou-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0446678678" border="0" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> - this book draws upon both evolutionary theory and empirical evidence and offers a comprehensive Paleolithic lifestyle plan.<a id="mgic" title="Dr. Mercola" href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> The Evolutionary Lifestyle: A Logical Theory of Health 2009-01-16T01:12:56+00:00 <p>Unlike other lifestyles, diets and exercise plans; the <strong>evolutionary lifestyle</strong> is based on theory, not on empirical evidence. We know it's a healthy lifestyle without even looking at any studies. This is crucially important for two major reasons. First, the conclusions of research studies seem to be constantly changing. There is still wide controversy in the field of health (unlike in chemistry or physics), which brings me to the second reason: government tainted science. Governments (tax-funded monopolies) have horrible incentives, so their involvement in the field of health is sure to spread misinformation and lies. In most countries, the government publishes recommendations for diet, exercise and other health-related topics. Given the perverse incentives of governments, it's extremely important to question such nutritional guidelines. Fortunately, we can sidestep the empirical research by using evolutionary theory, which actually turns out to be a much more reliable and accurate way to discover the healthiest lifestyle.</p> <p>The theory can be stated as follows:</p> <blockquote><p><em>Given that humans are the product of evolution, the lifestyle that </em><em>the human body has adapted to through evolutionary natural selection will tend to be optimally healthy</em>.</p></blockquote> <p>If we accept the assumption that humans evolved through Darwinian adaptation, then we can conclude that our bodies have become specialized in a certain lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) and this lifestyle will be optimal for good health. If we want to be healthy, all we need to do is read up on our evolutionary history. No research studies required.</p> <p><a id="fbi1" title="Evolution - Wikipedia" href="" target="_blank">Evolution</a> is the process by which random mutations of the genes (DNA) that happen to confer an advantage to the organism survive and outcompete the old genes (and vice versa for bad genetic mutations). This positive feedback system, over thousands of generations, improves the genetic blueprint of the species. But evolution is not perfect; it is a process of continual improvement. The length of time (or the number of generations) that a species exists under certain conditions determines how much adaptation will occur. That is why the theory states that the evolutionary lifestyle will <em>tend</em> to be optimally healthy.</p> <p>Unless critics can somehow disprove the theory, then all the research studies in the world wouldn't be able to invalidate the thesis. Ultimately, however, if the theory is correct, the empirical research must illustrate it, by definition. I believe that it already does, but I won't get into the empirical side here.</p> <p>The evolutionary lifestyle is highest standard in the field of health, because the theory is logically, not empirically, derived. (Technically, it's logically derived from the theory of evolution, which is empirically derived—but that's a pretty solid empirical theory!) No longer are we to remain at the mercy of the ever changing nutritional advice of the empiricists. We now have a theory that will enable us to cut through the controversy and get straight to the facts.</p>