Social Security was created based on the premise that people of certain ages are unable to support themselves due to poor and declining health. Yet Aubrey de Grey has made a fairly strong argument that this bad health can be cured (see Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), so that the elderly will be as healthy as the young.
Since it’s probably inevitable that the government will end up paying for the initial round of anti-aging treatments, why not make government payments for such treatments conditional on the beneficiary leaving the Social Security system? This would probably save the government enough that it would be worthwhile for it to speed the research up by offering a few billion dollars in prizes for people who complete milestones such as extending the lifespans of lab animals.
There’s a good deal of doubt as to how many decades it will take to produce a good enough cure (and some ambiguity as to how good a cure would need to be to qualify). But the a combination of Aubrey de Grey’s arguments and those of Rob Freitas and Eric Drexler suggest that there’s a very good chance that it can be done before Social Security is expected to collapse. And anyone who thinks Congress might turn Social Security into a system that is certain to remain solvent is drastically overestimating the reliability of demographic forecasts and/or the far-sightedness of Congress.
Book Review: Intangibles: Management, Measurement, and Reporting by Baruch Lev
It isn’t easy to make a book about accounting interesting and uplifting, but this book comes fairly close to accomplishing that. It provides a clear understanding of why it matters how well accounting rules treat intangible assets, and gives some good guidelines on how to improve them.
Some of the proposed improvements are fairly easy to evaluate, such as breaking down R&D into subcategories for basic research, improvements to recently released products, etc., but with some of the book’s suggestions (e.g. trademarks) I’m puzzled as to whether there’s little to be gained or whether he has a good idea that he hasn’t adequately explained.
Alas, accounting standards are a public good that few people have an incentive to create. The improvements suggested by the book could generally be adopted without first being approved by a standards committee because they mostly involve adding new information to reports. But the first company to adopt them gains little until investors can compare the information with that from other companies. And accounting standards committees tend to attract people whose main concern is preventing harm rather than creating new value. And that tendency is currently being reinforced by investors who want a scapegoat for their complacency at the peak of the recent stock market bubble.
I’m curious how U.S. politicians are rationalizing their support for tariffs to punish China for keeping the yuan high (i.e. propping up the dollar). There’s an obvious alternative if it’s as clear as most people claim that the yuan is undervalued: have the U.S. government buy as many yuan as it can. That would make it more expensive for China to keep the yuan down at a probable profit to the U.S.
There may be some Chinese rules which pose obstacles to doing this, but I doubt the U.S. politicians are able to know that they couldn’t get around such rules.
Note that I didn’t ask what their real motives are (tariffs benefit special interests more than buying the yuan would, which provides a strong hint). I’m interested in what excuses they would give.
I attended an interesting talk yesterday at SJSU by Dwight R. Lee on the topic “Misers vs. Philanthropists: And the Winner Is?” (part of a provocative lecture series sponsored by the Econ department).
His attempt to prove that misers helped the world more than philanthropists was only a partial success, mainly because he made assumptions about how well philanthropists spent their money that were somewhat arbitrary and unconvincing (probably too favorable to many philanthropists). He did a good job of explaining why philanthropists were overrated and misers underrated. The miser who hides money in his basement provides diffuse benefits to other holders of money by driving up the value of the money, providing nobody with much incentive to understand the effect. The beneficiaries of philanthropists are much more concentrated groups of people, who notice the benefits in ways that public choice theory describes for comparable political handouts.
I’m a bit puzzled as to whether the benefits he attributes to misers are often offset by central bank policies.
The best part of his talk was the great analogy he gave to suggest in a concise way that can be understood by an average person why the fact that workers get laid off isn’t an argument against free markets. He asked whether anyone in the audience liked pain. Nobody raised a hand. He then asked whether anyone would want to be completely without pain. Nobody raised a hand at this point either, correctly anticipating the description he would give of people who never feel pain (a disease known as CIPA, which significantly reduces a person’s life expectancy). Likewise with markets, plant closures are a symptom of mistakes in resource allocation, and we can expect systems that suppress those symptoms to perpetuate mistakes.
Temple Grandin’s latest book Animals in Translation has a couple of ideas that deserve some wider discussion. (The book as a whole is disappointing – see my reviews on Amazon for some of my complaints).
She reports that Con Slobodchikoff has shown that prairie dogs have a language that includes nouns, adjectives, and verbs, and they can apparently combine words to describe objects they haven’t seen before. This seems sufficiently inconsistent with what I’ve read about nonhuman languages (e.g. in Pinker’s books) that it deserves more attention than it has gotten. I can’t find enough about it on the web to decide whether to believe it, and it will take some time for me to get a paper version of Slobodchikoff’s descriptions of the research.
Grandin has an interesting idea about the coevolution of man and dogs. Domestication of animals causes their brains to become smaller, presumably because they come to rely on humans for some functions that they previously needed to handle themselves. It seems that human midbrains shrank about 10% around 10,000 years ago, about when dogs may have become domesticated. That is what we would expect if humans came to rely on dogs for many smelling tasks.