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April 2016 posts

Call for proposals and submissions: The first PPE Society Meeting, March 17-19, 2017

Mark D. White

From the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) Society, an announcement and call:

We are planning our first stand-alone PPE Society Meeting for March 17-19 2017 in New Orleans.  With that event in mind we are now doing a CALL FOR PROPOSALS and SUBMISSIONS.

On the proposals side, if you have ideas for panels, or speakers, that you would like to organize, please write up the proposal, with a justification articulating its relevance to PPE, and submit it using the form below.

On the submissions side, if you have a paper you would like to present, please write up an abstract, making sure that it is anonymized, and submit it using the form below.

We have not yet set a deadline for submissions, but if you have an idea for a talk now, letting us know what it is ASAP would be tremendously helpful in our planning for this event.

The submission site can be found here.

Locavore Liars

By Jonathan B. Wight

The farm-to-table movement inspires consumers to pay higher prices for meals, on the basis of feeling virtuous about by-passing the international agricultural monoliths and global trade.  The quintessential example of a locavore establishment is Polyface Farm in Shenandoah Valley, VA, written up in Michael Pollin’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

I loved visiting there and very much admired their sustainable practices.  But it all comes at a steep cost.  I bought some Polyface grass-fed steaks at numbingly high prices; perhaps my overly high expectation explains  my ultimate culinary disappointment--not with their farm and inventive practices, but with my budget.  

In that regard, how are so many restaurants able to claim “farm-to-table” status for their meals when it is so expensive to do small scale agriculture? 

The answer now comes from Laura Reiley, at the Tampa Bay Times, who reports that many restaurants simply lie about the source of their ingredients.  This is a classic case of bait and switch, or asymmetric information. We all want to be fooled and we are being fooled:

“This is a story we are all being fed. A story about overalls, rich soil and John Deere tractors scattering broods of busy chickens. A story about healthy animals living happy lives, heirloom tomatoes hanging heavy and earnest artisans rolling wheels of cheese into aging caves nearby.

"More often than not, those things are fairy tales.”


[Thanks to NPR for link to this story.]

Paternalism and the Sugar Conspiracy

By Jonathan B. Wight

Ian Leslie has written a long piece for The Guardian, outlining how America’s dietary guardians got it dead wrong.  Dietary guidelines in the past decades have emphasized reducing saturated fats; however, the real culprit in obesity and heart disease is sugar.

But the establishment representing the industry of science has been obdurate, showing the moral hazards that exist in scientific research.  Professional reputations get established for following certain lines of inquiry and for getting certain types of consistent answers.  (Think of the similarities in certain types of political economy research... doesn’t matter the context, the policy recommendation is always the same!)

In the world of health care, there is lots of money for promoting things that may, or may not, make any sense.  This would include the over-emphasis on fats and the relative neglect of sugar.

Leslie notes:

“If, as seems increasingly likely, the nutritional advice on which we have relied for 40 years was profoundly flawed, this is not a mistake that can be laid at the door of corporate ogres. Nor can it be passed off as innocuous scientific error…. this is something the scientists did to themselves – and, consequently, to us.”

What’s missing from this article is the underbelly of sordid economic public policy.  The U.S. maintains a quota on sugar imports from the world, so as to fatten the wallets of a few billionaires in Florida, Louisiana, and Hawaii, who at times have produced American sugar at 4 times the world price.  While a high sugar price is a good thing (if sugar is to be avoided), it would be far better to import sugar and then tax its final use to fund health care.

A worse downside is that the high price of sugar has led to the rise of corn-based sweeteners, so that now there is an unholy alliance of sugar farmers and corn farmers aligned against freer trade. The greater power of corn has contributed also to our hugely uneconomic policy of mandated ethanol fuel (boondoggle upon boondoggle). The corrupt influences of big agro and big industry are intricately related now to big health care and big government paternalism. 

In short, it’s a total mess.

[Thanks to Jim Bacon and Bacon’s Rebellion for the link to this story.]

Third Moon of Jupiter

By Jonathan B. Wight

I am an amateur astronomer and conditions were just perfect last week for capturing this shot of the third moon of Jupiter.


If you look closely you can see a satellite orbiting to the left.

You can see all the sulpher and broken surface, suggesting volcanic activity.


And yada yada, blah blah….  and belated April Fools!

Read below the fold to find out what you were really seeing.

Continue reading "Third Moon of Jupiter" »