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Sunday assorted links

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The post Sunday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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ahofer
13 hours ago
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re. 2 - it is more sub-contracting than subsidizing, no?
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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Monday assorted links

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The post Monday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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ahofer
15 hours ago
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re. item 6, there is NO WAY Japanese students would be offended by a bra fence. Clearly the author never watched TV in Japan.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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HOUSE OF CARDS: Companies Build Bonds for European Central Bank to Buy. The European Central Bank…

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HOUSE OF CARDS: Companies Build Bonds for European Central Bank to Buy.

The European Central Bank’s corporate-bond-buying program has stirred so much action in credit markets that some investment banks and companies are creating new debt especially for the central bank to buy.

In two instances, the ECB has bought bonds directly from European companies through so-called private placements, in which debt is sold to a tight circle of buyers without the formality of a wider auction.

It is a startling example of how banks and companies are quickly adapting to the extremes of monetary policy in what is an already unconventional age. In the past decade, wide-scale purchases of government bonds—a bid to lower the cost of borrowing in the economy and persuade investors to take more risk—have become commonplace. Central banks more recently have moved to negative interest rates, flipping on their head the ancient customs of money lending. Now, they are all but inviting private actors to concoct specific things for them to buy so they can continue pumping money into the financial system.

Something that can’t go on forever, won’t.

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ahofer
1 day ago
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what could go wrong?
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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YES, EVEN IN WEST VIRGINIA: West Virginia University Offers Students Guide On “Using Gender Neutra…

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YES, EVEN IN WEST VIRGINIA: West Virginia University Offers Students Guide On “Using Gender Neutral Pronouns Such As ‘Ve,’ ‘Ver’ And ‘Vis’”

GENDER NEUTRAL

These are Heinlein’s Crazy Years — we just live in them.

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ahofer
1 day ago
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what?
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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Mind and – or versus – brain – and “neuropsychoanalysis”

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imagesThis book was a gift from my wife: In the Mind Fields by Casey Schwartz. I’ve written before how the concept of the self bugs me. I keep pondering: what, really, is this feeling that I’m me? David Hume identified why this is so hard – it’s using the self to look for itself.

The book is subtitled Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis. But it wasn’t persuasive that there even is such a thing.

It’s a tale of two disciplines. Psychoanalysis, the whole Freudian thing, tries to demystify the workings of the mind. Neuroscience tries to understand the workings of the brain. It’s interested in figuring out how the brain creates the mind. But, once you have one, the thoughts it produces are no concern of neuroscience. That’s psychology, the province of psychoanalysis. And, in turn, psychoanalysis isn’t much interested in the nuts and bolts of brain function that neuroscience explores.

imagesIndeed, as the book says, psychoanalysts are so fixated on the mind that they tend to forget it’s produced by the brain. They’re often actually somewhat hostile to neuroscience, seeing it as aridly divorced from the reality of human experience, as lived through the psychology they are concerned with. While neuroscientists tend to look down on psychoanalysis as unscientific, non-rigorous, subjective psychobabble.

Neuropsychoanalysis (as the name implies) seeks to bridge this chasm, by bringing the findings of neuroscience into the practice of psychoanalysis. However, while its leading prophet, Mark Solms, does use the word, the book left me unclear how, if at all, this marriage actually works in practice.

UnknownEventually, the author comes around to focusing intensively on one case: Harry, and his psychoanalyst, David Silvers. A normal, athletic man, Harry had a stroke in his thirties that partly crippled him and left him aphasic – i.e., largely speechless. (He fully understood language, but couldn’t put thoughts into words.) Unable to continue his tutoring business, Harry’s life became a cycle of medical appointments.

Now, this was quintessentially a neuroscience case. Harry’s problem was not psychological; his brain was physically damaged. Of course, he did have some psychological difficulty adjusting to his loss and new circumstances but that was certainly not mental illness. At one point, though, Silvers labels him “depressed.” That diagnosis seemed superciliously offhand. Depression is a particular pathology, apparently caused by brain chemistry effects. Harry was not “depressed,” he was responding to a rotten break, as any normal person would. If anything, he seemed pretty cheerful under the circumstances.

So what was Harry doing in psychoanalysis altogether? It works by talking through issues with the analyst. But the supreme irony here is that Harry’s problem was his inability to talk! He did manage to communicate, somewhat, sort of. But Silvers acknowledged that his sessions with Harry did not resemble his usual interactions with patients.

The book flap states that Harry “nevertheless benefits from Silvers’s analytic technique.” This assertion is key to the whole book. Yet I could not see how Harry benefited, therapeutically. He and Silvers did establish a human bond, which Harry seemed to value. But Silvers’s psychoanalysis did nothing to improve his situation. In fact, Harry was actually in worse shape at the end.

images-2Nor could I see how Silvers’s efforts could be labeled “neuropsychoanalysis.” He had no neuroscience training, and nowhere did he appear to be using neuroscientific insights to help Harry. This evokes the old saw, “if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Silvers’s psychoanalytic toolkit was simply mismatched to Harry’s case.

Freud, who figures prominently throughout this book, had a lot to say about the self and its behavior – some of it wrong, though he himself would have acknowledged the tentativeness of his theories – but he had no clue what makes a self. Someday neuroscience may crack this very hard problem. images-1Then maybe I can finally know who and what I am.














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ahofer
4 days ago
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Given that my Dad is a neuroscientist, and my Mom was a Freudian Psychoanalyst, this may be up my alley.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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On arms races

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There’s a nice headline in the Times today:

Make us sell healthy food, supermarkets implore May.

This invites the obvious reply: if you want to sell healthy food, why don’t you just do so?

The answer lies in competitive pressures. If any individual supermarket tries to cut salt in its products or refrains from special offers on unhealthy foods, it would lose market share to rivals.

Each individual supermarket’s rational attempts to maximize profits thus leads to an outcome which none of them really wants – the over-marketing of unhealthy food. This is an example of an arms race, a process whereby individually rational behaviour has results which are collectively undesirable. Here are some other examples:

 - If all companies try to pay above-average wages to attract the best CEO, the result is no better quality of management but ever-rising salaries. The same thing is true for football transfer fees.

 - If everybody works long hours in the hope of promotion nobody’s chances improve, but everybody ends up working (pdf) longer than they’d like.

 - If everyone buys a flash car to impress the neighbours, nobody’s impressed but everyone’s in more debt.

Such processes are well described in, for example, Robert Frank’s Darwin Economy and Tom Slee’s No One Makes You Shop At Wal-Mart.

Arms races are a counter-example to free marketeers’ claims that, via the invisible hand, individual choices within a free market lead to optimal behaviour. This isn’t to say that such claims are wrong; they are often right. Instead it’s just to corroborate Jon Elster’s point that in the social sciences there are no (or very few) iron laws but rather different mechanisms that work or not depending upon particular contexts.

When there are arms races, it’s reasonable for the parties to make the appeal that supermarkets are making: “save me from myself.”

This, of course, should be the essence of politics. Politics is – or should be – the art of solving problems of collective action. If individually rational actions always led to outcomes which were optimal in aggregate there wouldn’t be a role for the state.

However, one feature of David Cameron’s governments was that they didn't see this. The most egregious example of this was of course the failure to see that attempts to pay off “the nation’s credit card” would fail because of the paradox of thrift. But there were others, such as encouraging panic-buying of petrol during the threatened lorry-drivers strike of 2012, or demanding that shareholders take more control of companies without seeing the obvious free-rider problem in doing so.

From this perspective, the “damp squib” of the government’s obesity strategy suggests that Ms May is continuing to make the same mistake as her predecessor.

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ahofer
4 days ago
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non sequitur?
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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