Saturday, October 20, 2012

Research paper of the day: Can’t We All Be More Like Scandinavians?

Fascinating new paper from the same people who brought us
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty   .    

The new paper is called "Can't we all by more Scandinavian?"  This paper outlines reasons why we can't all be like Norway with its high standard of living and comprehensive welfare state which in technical terms is called "cuddly capitalism".  The paper argues that for some nations to have "cuddly capitalism" others need to have a more harsh social policy that has stronger incentives for work and innovation.  We use the technical term "cut-throat capitalism" to classify these nations.  In simple terms the authors argue that the cut-throat nations are the ones that expand the technological frontier for the world and then the "cuddly" nations use the innovation and progress to ensure that they maintain a high standard of living.

Needless to say this is a rather controversial argument.  I personally have always wondered if a bigger welfare state in the US might encourage more people to be more entrepreneurial since they would be able to fall back on a safety net if the business fails.  Although Americans don't have the same social pressures about failure that we see in most the rest of the developed world, the financial cost to a failed business are substantial and can lead to a level of poverty that is almost impossible to achieve in Scandinavian society.

Mark Thoma has a great overview of the issues and is generally awesome so check his post out if you want to learn more.

So what do you think?  Does our cut-throat capitalism lead to a level of innovation and progress that we would otherwise be unable to achieve?  Are Scandinavians essentially getting a free ride due to the more harsh form of capitalism we practice in the US?  Could an improved social safety net actually more the US more innovative?  These are the questions that caused me to start studying economics and pushed me towards going to grad school.  I'm not sure if there is an answer to these questions but I have a feeling I might be spending a rather large amount of the rest of my life to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Journal Article of the Day: Does Money Burn Fat?

This has to be one of the best article titles I have seen in some time.

Essentially what the researchers found was that financial incentives can help people loose weight. This isn't exactly a shocking result, I would even argue that finding people didn't respond to the financial incentives would be more note worthy.  Still the concept that incentives matter is something that many people have a hard time understanding.

Does Money Burn Fat? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment

We test whether financial incentives have an effect on weight reduction in a randomized controlled trial involving 700 obese persons assigned to three experimental groups. While two treatment groups obtain €150 and €300, respectively, for achieving an individually assigned target weight within four months, a control group receives no such premium. The results indicate that the weight losses for the treatment groups are 2.6 and 2.9 percentage points higher than that achieved by the control group, raising the average total weight loss for the incentivized groups to 5 percent of the initial weight. This percentage is typically regarded as a threshold to improve the health status of the obese. Further evidence indeed indicates some health improvements. The higher reward causes only the group of obese women to lose more weight. Overall, the results suggest that financial incentives can motivate people to lose weight significantly.

Friday, October 5, 2012

I am so tired of the Boy Scouts of America not living up to the values they claim to be teaching our youth.

I achieved the Rank of Eagle Scout, worked at summer camp, and even served as the Western Region Chief of the Order of the Arrow (the Boy Scouts National Honor Society) and was a member of the Nation Committee for the Order of the Arrow.

When I was young Scouts was where you hung out with your friends and learned about camping, leadership, and how to be a better person. For me the Scout Oath and Law was a serious thing and I did my best to follow them and try to learn to live by those values. When I grew older and learned about the so-called 3 g's (Girls, God, and Gays), I was very confused about what to think about the issue. I found scouting to be a great program that I enjoyed and thought had good values but the exclusion of people due to gender, sexual orientation, and religious belief went against everything I thought I had learned in scouting.

Scouting taught me to be reverent and I thought that meant to follow your religious beliefs and respect the beliefs of others. As a Unitarian Universalist, my religion teaches me to "Respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” How can I do that when I am a member of an organization that discriminates against so many people, including people who are my friends?

The Scout Law teaches every Scout to be brave, which means that a Scout should have "the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him.” I very much wish when I was active in scouting I had been braver and had actively worked to change the discriminatory policies of the Boy Scouts. I still feel that scouting is a great program that teaching important things to youth. The issue I have today is that the organization itself is not living up to those values. 

Reading about Ryan is a reminder that although I earned all the awards and high positions within the Boy Scouts, I was never as good a Scout as Ryan is right now. It sounds to me like Ryan is living the Scout Oath and Law and deserves his Eagle Scout award. 

Boy Scouts: Don't let your anti-gay policy deny my son his Eagle award

Petitioning Troop 212, San Francisco Bay Area

Boy Scouts: Don't let your anti-gay policy deny my son his Eagle award