Thursday, January 24, 2019

We consider public debt from a long-term historical perspective, showing how the purposes for which governments borrow have evolved over time

Public Debt Through the Ages. Barry J. Eichengreen,Asmaa A ElGanainy,Rui Pedro Esteves,Kris James Mitchener. IMF Working Paper No. 19/6,

Summary: We consider public debt from a long-term historical perspective, showing how the purposes for which governments borrow have evolved over time. Periods when debt-to-GDP ratios rose explosively as a result of wars, depressions and financial crises also have a long history. Many of these episodes resulted in debt-management problems resolved through debasements and restructurings. Less widely appreciated are successful debt consolidation episodes, instances in which governments inheriting heavy debts ran primary surpluses for long periods in order to reduce those burdens to sustainable levels. We analyze the economic and political circumstances that made these successful debt consolidation episodes possible.

Tradeoff between robustness and efficiency across species and brain regions can contribute to differential cognitive functions between species & to fragility underlying human psychopathologies

A Tradeoff in the Neural Code across Regions and Species. Raviv Pryluk et al. Cell, Volume 176, Issue 3, p597-609.e18, January 24, 2019.

    •    Human neurons utilize information capacity (efficiency) better than macaque neurons
    •    Cingulate cortex neurons are more efficient than amygdala neurons in both species
    •    Amygdala and monkey neurons show more synchrony and vocabulary overlap (robustness)
    •    There is a tradeoff between robustness and efficiency across species and regions

Summary: Many evolutionary years separate humans and macaques, and although the amygdala and cingulate cortex evolved to enable emotion and cognition in both, an evident functional gap exists. Although they were traditionally attributed to differential neuroanatomy, functional differences might also arise from coding mechanisms. Here we find that human neurons better utilize information capacity (efficient coding) than macaque neurons in both regions, and that cingulate neurons are more efficient than amygdala neurons in both species. In contrast, we find more overlap in the neural vocabulary and more synchronized activity (robustness coding) in monkeys in both regions and in the amygdala of both species. Our findings demonstrate a tradeoff between robustness and efficiency across species and regions. We suggest that this tradeoff can contribute to differential cognitive functions between species and underlie the complementary roles of the amygdala and the cingulate cortex. In turn, it can contribute to fragility underlying human psychopathologies.

Simplified: Pioneering brain study reveals ‘software’ differences between humans and monkeys. Alison Abbott. Nature 565, 410-411 (2019),

Neuroscientists tracked the activity of single neurons deep in the brain and suggest the findings could explain humans’ intelligence — and susceptibility to psychiatric disorders. 

Recent reports are conflicted about whether adult neurogenesis occurs in humans; discrepancies could arise from species differences in neurodevelopmental timing and differences in subject ages

Recalibrating the Relevance of Adult Neurogenesis. Jason S.Snyder. Trends in Neurosciences,

  • Animal work has revealed that immature neurons born in the adult dentate gyrus have key cellular and behavioral functions.
  • Recent reports are conflicted about whether adult neurogenesis occurs in humans.
  • Discrepancies could arise from species differences in neurodevelopmental timing and differences in subject ages.
  • Regardless of its extent, postnatally, an extended period of neurogenesis may produce a heterogeneous population of dentate gyrus neurons, due to prolonged cellular maturation and differences in the stage of the lifespan when neurons are born.
  • These developments warrant a recalibration of when and how dentate gyrus neurogenesis contributes to cognition and mental health in humans.
Abstract: Conflicting reports about whether adult hippocampal neurogenesis occurs in humans raise questions about its significance for human health and the relevance of animal models. Drawing upon published data, I review species’ neurogenesis rates across the lifespan and propose that accelerated neurodevelopmental timing is consistent with lower rates of neurogenesis in adult primates and humans. Nonetheless, protracted neurogenesis may produce populations of neurons that retain plastic properties for long intervals, and have distinct functions depending on when in the lifespan they were born. With some conceptual recalibration we may therefore be able to reconcile seemingly disparate findings and continue to ask how adult neurogenesis, as studied in animals, is relevant for human health.

Promoting subjective well-being is not only desirable per se, but it is conducive to higher productivity and improved countries’ economic performances

Happiness Matters: Productivity Gains from Subjective Well-Being. Charles Henri DiMaria, Chiara Peroni, Francesco Sarracino. Journal of Happiness Studies,

Abstract: This article studies the link between subjective well-being and productivity at the aggregate level, using a matched dataset from surveys and official statistics. Well-being and productivity are measured, respectively, by life satisfaction and total factor productivity. The analysis, which applies non-parametric frontier techniques in a production framework, finds that life satisfaction generates significant productivity gains in a sample of 20 European countries. These results confirm the evidence of a positive association between the variables of interest found at the individual and firm level, and support the view that promoting subjective well-being is not only desirable per se, but it is conducive to higher productivity and improved countries’ economic performances.

Keywords: Productivity Subjective well-being Total factor productivity Efficiency Life satisfaction Economic growth DEA Combined data

The Bitter Pill: Cessation of Oral Contraceptives Enhances the Appeal of Alternative Mates

The Bitter Pill: Cessation of Oral Contraceptives Enhances the Appeal of Alternative Mates. Gurit E. Birnbaum, Kobi Zholtack, Moran Mizrahi, Tsachi Ein-Dor. Evolutionary Psychological Science,

Abstract: Hormonal contraceptives change women’s natural mate preferences, leading them to prefer nurturing but less genetically compatible men. Cessation of contraceptives reverses these preferences, decreasing women’s attraction to current partners. Two studies examined whether women who had used contraceptive pills at relationship formation and stopped doing so were more vulnerable to desire attractive alternatives, primarily around ovulation, as compared to women who had not used pills at relationship formation or had used pills then but did not stop using them. In Study 1, participants watched videos of attractive and average-looking men and described imaginary dates with them, which were coded for desire expressions. In Study 2, we measured attention adhesion to attractive and average-looking men. Results showed that women who stopped using pills and were currently in high-fertility phase were especially likely to attend to, and express desire for, attractive alternatives, suggesting that cessation of contraceptives motivates the pursuit of more suitable mates.

Keywords: Attractive alternatives Contraceptive pills Infidelity Mate choice Menstrual cycle

Allow Fracking To Avoid An Energy Crisis: Nuclear is not being modernized & tankers/pipelines will fail some day and the uproar will left us with no spare capacity

We Need To Allow Fracking To Avoid An Energy Crisis. Stephen Glover, Daily Mail, January 24 2019.
We have an energy crisis. And it so happens that we appear to have lots of shale gas. A whole new industry could be created if only the Luddites would see sense.

Almost everyone I know is against fracking. Not that many of them understand much about it. But this doesn’t prevent them from pursing their lips and shaking their heads while looking solemn and generally disapproving whenever the subject is raised.

What about the United States, I sometimes ask, where fracking on a massive scale has made the country much less reliant on expensive imports of oil and gas? America has vast unpopulated areas, they reply. Britain is a crowded island. They may then add that fracking — which involves extracting gas from underground rocks by injecting high-pressure chemicals — causes earthquakes and ruins the countryside.

It is because of views like these that fracking in the UK has barely got going despite there being enormous reserves of potentially recoverable shale gas, which if extracted would greatly improve our chances of keeping the lights on and the wheels of the economy turning.

Labour is against fracking. As are the Lib Dems. So is the SNP government in Scotland, which has banned all exploration north of the border. Opinion polls suggest a majority of the public is against. And of course every environmentalist you care to mention thinks fracking is the work of the Devil.

As for the Conservative Government, although supposedly pro-fracking, it proceeds cautiously, and seldom defends the practice. I can’t recall the underwhelming Greg Clark, Business Secretary and the Minister with overall responsibility, ever singing its praises.

The Government’s greatest terror is that the process might cause earthquakes. In 2011, shale gas test-drilling triggered tremors in Lancashire, and fracking was banned for a time.

So it’s no surprise that Mr Clark’s department is apparently ignoring the conclusion of two advisers in the government’s Oil and Gas Authority that the existing low limit on tremors caused by fracking be raised because the risk of harm is ‘vanishingly small’.

All in all, it is hard to find anyone in public life who will speak up for fracking, excepting Natascha Engel, the former Labour MP for North East Derbyshire, who was appointed Commissioner for Shale Gas last autumn by the Government. She recently told the Mail that fracking, if safely and sensibly pursued, could create tens of thousands of jobs, and provide Britain’s energy needs for 50 years.


It’s a roaring shame we can’t have a reasoned debate. Consider this: on Tuesday, which was unpleasantly cold, the National Grid could supply enough power only by relying on energy produced by the coal-fired power stations that environmentalists hate (13 per cent of the total) and on imported electricity from France and Holland (five per cent).

Because there was very little wind on Tuesday, less than three per cent of our energy was supplied by off-shore and on-shore turbines. That’s the trouble with wind power. When demand is high, as it is bound to be in cold weather, all the wind turbines in the world won’t help if there isn’t even a gentle breeze.

Isn’t it a bit alarming that in a country of around 65 million people, which is the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the world, the National Grid can only keep the show on the road by cranking up coal power stations and depending on imported electricity?

It wouldn’t take much to go wrong — a ruptured pipeline carrying gas from Norway or Europe, or a tanker carrying the stuff to our shores running aground — for us to discover there isn’t any spare capacity in the system, and for everything to go kaput.

Looking to the future, plenty of people believe the danger of shortages is likely to increase. Britain’s coal-fired power plants will all be shut down by the mid-2020s. Several have already been closed under EU anti-pollution rules.
Meanwhile, the country’s ageing nuclear power stations, which provide 21 per cent of current power supplies, are expected to be de-commissioned by the 2030s. But the replacement programme has been severely dented
by the recent decision of two Japanese companies to pull out of building two nuclear power stations with state-of-the-art reactors in Cumbria and on Anglesey.

With the £20 billion Chinese-financed Hinkley Point now the only new nuclear reactor being built, it seems possible, if not probable, that, in 15 years’ time, nuclear power stations will supply a smaller proportion of our energy needs than they do at present.

In short, as coal-fired power stations are certain to be cashiered, and nuclear power seems likely to be curtailed, there is a looming energy gap which new off-shore turbines can’t be guaranteed to fill because the wind does not always blow.

Nor would it be sensible to make up the impending shortfall by importing more gas from Russia. It would be foolhardy to put ourselves at the mercy of a hostile regime. That is the perilous path down which Germany has recklessly gone — 20 per cent of its energy needs are supplied by Moscow — and we would be mad to follow suit.

How easy it is for virtue-signalling or ignorant politicians to condemn fracking without giving any thought to the consequences in ten or 20 years’ time, or indeed for the thousands of new jobs, often in depressed areas of northern England, which it might create. […]

If we still had vast reserves of oil and gas in the North Sea, this weakness and indecision on the part of the authorities might not matter. But we don’t. We have an energy crisis. And it so happens that we appear to have lots of shale gas.

Rolf Degen summarizing: Default manipulations, the magic bullets of the "Nudge" approach for improving decision making, work the least well when individuals care deeply about the choice

When and why defaults influence decisions: a meta-analysis of default effects. Jon M Jachimowicz et al. Behavioural Public Policy,

Abstract: When people make decisions with a pre-selected choice option – a ‘default’ – they are more likely to select that option. Because defaults are easy to implement, they constitute one of the most widely employed tools in the choice architecture toolbox. However, to decide when defaults should be used instead of other choice architecture tools, policy-makers must know how effective defaults are and when and why their effectiveness varies. To answer these questions, we conduct a literature search and meta-analysis of the 58 default studies (pooled n = 73,675) that fit our criteria. While our analysis reveals a considerable influence of defaults (d = 0.68, 95% confidence interval = 0.53–0.83), we also discover substantial variation: the majority of default studies find positive effects, but several do not find a significant effect, and two even demonstrate negative effects. To explain this variability, we draw on existing theoretical frameworks to examine the drivers of disparity in effectiveness. Our analysis reveals two factors that partially account for the variability in defaults’ effectiveness. First, we find that defaults in consumer domains are more effective and in environmental domains are less effective. Second, we find that defaults are more effective when they operate through endorsement (defaults that are seen as conveying what the choice architect thinks the decision-maker should do) or endowment (defaults that are seen as reflecting the status quo). We end with a discussion of possible directions for a future research program on defaults, including potential additional moderators, and implications for policy-makers interested in the implementation and evaluation of defaults.

Men in the short-term mating context allocated more points to bodily traits, but only when in the low budget condition—in the high budget condition, men showed more interest in facial traits

Mate-by-Numbers: Budget, Mating Context, and Sex Predict Preferences for Facial and Bodily Traits. Carin Perilloux, Jaime M. Cloud. Evolutionary Psychological Science,

Abstract: Unlike women, or men considering long-term mates, men pursuing short-term mating have shown a tendency to prioritize bodily information over facial information when assessing potential mates. Prior studies have documented this tendency across a variety of methods ranging from photograph ratings to forcing a choice between faces and bodies, but have yet to ask participants to prioritize individual traits in faces and bodies. The current study used a budget allocation method to do just that. We randomly assigned participants (N = 258) to a mating context (short-term or long-term) and a budget (high or low) and asked them to allocate points across 10 traits (five facial, five bodily) to design their ideal mate within their budget. As expected, men in the short-term mating context allocated more points to bodily traits, but only when in the low budget condition—in the high budget condition, men showed more interest in facial traits. Women, also as expected, and in contrast to men, showed a general trend toward favoring facial traits regardless of budget and condition. Overall, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that women’s bodies provide better information regarding immediate fertility and are thus more important for men to assess in short-term mating contexts.

Keywords: Physical attractiveness Mate preferences Face Body Traits Evolution