Monday, February 15, 2016

The Supreme Court and the Chains of the Constitution

Milton Freidman said:

"The ballot box produces conformity without unanimity; the marketplace, unanimity without conformity"- Free to Choose

and as Don Boudreaux writes:

"The dispersion of knowledge and experience is one of the most important reasons for relying on free markets. Politicians and bureaucrats, despite their pretenses, know next to nothing about the all-important details of the economic affairs that they regulate. This reality means that government regulation is the displacement of expertise by ignorance."

 All of the statements above are testaments for why democracy, if left unchecked, can be just as detrimental to a society as so called unrestrained or unregulated markets. Perhaps more so than the critics of capitalism would ever imagine or be willing to admit.

There is a lot of contention about whether we should nominate a new justice now, or wait until after the next election.  Much of this has to do with the fact that the supreme court has not played a very effective role acting as a brake slowing the pace of unrestrained democracy. The effect is that many micro level personal decisions in our lives are becoming subject to the votes, opinions and interpretations made by these justices. The stakes are high for a lot of reasons.

In Judicial Activism Reconsidered, Economist Thomas Sowell describes our Constitution:

“The federal Constitution is "the supreme law of the land," not because it is more moral than state constitutions or state or federal legislative enactments, but because it represents a larger and more enduring majority.107 Minorities receive their constitutional rights from that enduring majority to which transient majorities bow, not from whatever abstract moral rights are imagined to exist as a brooding omnipresence in the sky.”

Once we start making heroic ‘modern’ interpretations of words in the constitution like ‘general welfare’ or ‘regulate commerce,’ the constitution is weakened, and minorities are forced to give power over to whatever transient majority prevails at the time. The short term gain from being able to bypass the amendment process (which requires obtaining the consent of the governed) via the courts or legislative process comes at a long term cost to our liberty and national well being. Every step we take away from the limited role of government defined by the specifically enumerated powers of the Constitution, we concentrate more power and wealth in our central government. This increases the incentives for large corporations and special interests to influence our lawmakers, and provides the means for ever more concentration of power and transfer of power away from the people. This outcome is what game theorists refer to as a prisoner's dilemma, (a nash equilibrium) and the solution or means of escape was proposed by our founders: a binding Constitution that limits the power of all players.

“in questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution” —Thomas Jefferson

We've broken the chains, and so these nominations have become a much bigger deal than they need be, or our founders envisioned them to be....and we will continue to send lawyers and lobbyists to Washington, offer up our candidates to the highest bidder, and freak out over court appointments all the while proposing band-aid fixes like campaign finance reform or new parliamentary rules and procedures around nomination processes. It's democracy out of control.

For some deeper dives into these issues see: Public Choice Theory for Agvocates

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Can Science or Evidence Change Your Mind?

I was recently listening to an EconTalk podcast with Russ Roberts and Adam Ozimek, about why economists change their minds or don't and the impact or role of evidence.  In general it is hard to find good examples of people changing their minds about ideologically firm beliefs in the face of strong contradicting evidence.  Outside of the specifics of issues related to microeconomic theory (like the impacts of minimum wages on unemployment) or macroeconomics (are fiscal stimulus policies effective?) one example of a couple a couple of fairly well known people that have changed their minds in this regard include Mark Lynas and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

"There is an equivalent level of scientific consensus on both issues, I realized, that climate change is real and genetically modified foods are safe. I could not defend the expert consensus on one issue while opposing it on the other." - Mark Lynas, How I Got Converted to GMO Food, NYT April 24,2015 

“I went to Monsanto,” Nye said, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.” - Proof he’s the Science Guy: Bill Nye is changing his mind about GMOs by Washington Post March 3, 2015 

On a personal note, rather than change my mind about issues related to economics/markets/prices I find that the evidence has made me less dogmatic, and more skeptical or borderline agnostic. Despite Leamer's influence, and the credibility revolution, I find issues like what Andrew Gelman refers to as the garden of forking paths and researcher degrees of freedom  weigh pretty heavily on my mind, no matter how solid the identification strategy or methodology as presented in a polished 'study' or paper.  


 I recently caught the February 4th Agritalk podcast with Mike Adams, and heard Jeff Stier and Julie Kelly discussing their article in National Review about 'climatarians.'

 "climatarian (n.) A diet whose primary goal is to reverse climate change. This includes eating locally produced food (to reduce energy spent in transportation), choosing pork and poultry instead of beef and lamb (to limit gas emissions), and using every part of ingredients (apple cores, cheese rinds, etc.) to limit food waste."

 Climatarians "want every meal to be a political statement on topics such as farm workers’ rights or the carbon footprint of your family’s dinner." I think that's been true for a lot of anti-agribusiness and anti-family farm activists for a long time, as well as the mantra of a number of foodies that know little about modern agricultural technology and production.

They go on to discuss a lot of important issues related to meat and cancer, as well as the resource intensity of organic production systems, as well as the implications of the Carnegie Mellon study that indicate that a climatarian influenced diet might actually be worse for the environment than one containing more meat. Of course, science is not central to the dogma of a climatarianist agenda, as the article states: "Regardless of science to the contrary, these activists promote the organic, local, non-GMO diet as the most eco-friendly." 
For a deeper dive on some related issues see:

Saturday, February 6, 2016

How Big Data and Genomics are Crushing the Myth of Monoculture

From: Multi-hybrid corn planter trials in Corn and Soybean Digest (link):

"If multi-cultivar planters gain significant market share in coming years, farmers could see a big shift in the corn hybrids and soybean varieties available to plant in unique field environments, says Jason Webster, Beck’s Hybrids research agronomist…….“We may have customized hybrids for certain soils that never would have been released in the past,” he says."

This is in line with what I have said before (see Big Data + Genomics ≠ Your Grandparent's Monoculture):

"the disruptions of new technology, big data and genomics (applications like FieldScripts, ACRES, MyJohnDeere or the new concept Kinze planters that switch hybrids on the go etc.) will require the market to continue to offer a range of choices in seeds and genetics to tailor to each producer's circumstances of time and place. There are numerous margins that growers look at when optimizing their seed choices and it will require a number of firms and seed choices to meet these needs as the industry's focus moves from the farm and field level to the data gathered by the row foot with each pass over the field."

The convergence if big data and genomics is driving more diversity into every seed in every field across every acre.