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The Ugly Truth

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

There is a strange thing about modern ugliness: It is militant and proselytizing, and not just the result of thoughtlessness, poverty, lack of skill, and so forth. It might properly be called ideological. It is not so much the result of bad taste as of opposition to good taste as a desideratum. I have often noticed this before, but I was reminded of it powerfully when I opened my French newspaper the other day and saw a revealing juxtaposition—revealing, whether intentional or not.

The headline said “Europe [meaning the European Union rather than the geographical expression] is a necessary utopia for the left,” and the article beneath was an interview with the seemingly eternal and indestructible student revolutionary Daniel Cohn-Bendit. The large photograph that accompanied the interview was of Exarchia Square in Athens, described in the caption as being in a bohemian and oppositional district.

The picture showed a building in the best fascismo-concrete style originated by Le Corbusier, its hideous structure covered—I cannot say defaced, for that implies a surface whose appearance can be much worsened from its original state—with scrawled graffiti. It was a sight of such appalling and inhuman ugliness that blindness itself would be a blessing by comparison.

For anyone with minimal aesthetic sensibility, this picture resembles hell more than utopia, but a world of such ugliness is nevertheless a kind of utopia for those who value what they call social justice above all other considerations, for while ugliness is democratic, being within the reach of all, beauty is aristocratic or at least elitist, being available to only a minority even in the best of circumstances.

There are other advantages to ugliness over beauty. It requires no effort and no maintenance, for example; it increases with neglect. Beauty, on the other hand, imposes a discipline and a restraint on those who would have it. This includes dress, of course; on the back page of the same newspaper was a picture of a campaigner for a more economical use of energy (not a despicable aim in itself), who was dressed—as a matter of principle, one suspects—as if he had just fallen out of bed after two hours’ sleep after an all-night party.

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Will the Establishment Go Trump?

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

Submitted by starfcker via The Burning Platform blog,

This week marks a seminal shift in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. This is the week the establishment rolled over and began to accept that he is their front runner. The wild attacks and blatant put downs will be muted from here on out as the establishment struggles to come to grips with their new reality. Trump has proven to be an immensely popular and muscularly resilient candidate. He has survived fire that would have killed any ordinary candidate.

His reward will be to watch a batch of the so-called serious candidates be exiled to the sidelines. The Rick Perrys of the world, the Lindsay Grahams of the world, were valuable to the establishment at 5% support. They have no value at 0%. 5%, 10 times could have allowed an unpopular Jeb Bush to win a lot of primaries with a surprisingly low percentage of the vote, as long as the minor candidates siphoned off some of the rest. With a half of dozen of them at 0%, that strategy is toast.

Republican kingmakers are nothing if not pragmatic, they want results for their money. They aren’t getting it. They are unhappy. They are angry. But like a chameleon changing colors, they want to be on the winning side. They all know Trump, they also know they can deal with Trump, so they will. The Blitzkrieg is over. Trump survived. The establishment sacrificed many of their finest media plants this past weekend. Every one of them ended up looking like exactly what they are, cheap desperate prostitutes, willing to say whatever was required of them, as long as their paychecks kept coming .

Media brands that took a dozen years to build, are now damaged goods. Where will Trump take this, who knows? But the man knows how to make a deal, the man knows how to win, and the man knows how to set a mark so people don’t screw with him in the future. It must suck to be Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace, and Bret Baier, and know that you are shut out from the Trump circus for the indefinite future. May their shows suffer damage as a result? They might, and it’s certainly a fate no one else is going to risk. Lots of bazookas got laid down at their feet by the mercenary media this week. They took their best coordinated shot at him, and failed. CNN doesn’t have the ratings muscle to go after him in the next debate the way Fox did. Look for a totally different and much less confrontational take on Donald Trump starting now.

*  *  *

TrumpZilla strikes…

Reprinted with permission from Zero Hedge.

BigPharma Heroin

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

On Thursday, the FDA approved the powerful painkiller OxyContin for use in children ages 11 to 16 who have severe, long-term pain.

The extended-release opioid has been used for years to treat constant pain in adults, but it is one of the few prescription painkillers approved for children. The only other known opioid drug approved for use in children is Duragesic, or the fentanyl patch. [1]

Drug maker Purdue Pharma was approached by the FDA to study how to safely use OxyContin in youngsters. The agency sought to make the drug an option for children who suffer severe pain due to trauma, surgery, or cancer. Purdue had been working on OxyContin for child-use for years. [1]

“This program was intended to fill a knowledge gap and provide experienced health care practitioners with the specific information they need to use OxyContin safely in pediatric patients,” Sharon Hertz, an FDA drug division director, wrote in an online post. [1]

The new approval means that doctors may only prescribe OxyContin to children who have already shown they can tolerate a minimum dose of 20 mg of oxycodone, the main ingredient in the painkiller. Patients who have never before been exposed to opioid drugs can overdose and die if they suddenly take one. [1]

“Children are not treated with opioids very often and usually it’s only for a limited period of time with close supervision by health care professionals,” said Sharon Hertz, a physician with the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Fewer daily doses may free patients for physical therapy appointments, allow them to go home from the hospital sooner and may help them to sleep through the night without waking up.” [2]

Justin Baker, a pediatric oncologist and hospice and palliative medicine doctor at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, agrees. He says having additional long-acting painkillers “is going to be tremendously helpful for treating children with cancer pain or pain at the end of life.” Long-acting and slow-release medications prevent breakthrough pain, allowing children to feel comfortable and “focus their energy on being a kid instead of fighting their pain,” Baker told USA Today. [2]

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Now Is a Great Time To Buy Gold

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

After being bearish on gold prices during 2013 and 2014, I became mildly bullish on the precious metal in February of this year. With gold at $1,200 an ounce, I wrote an article discussing three reasons why I believed gold prices would bottom in 2015, and thus why I believe gold was an attractive long-term investment.

With gold’s recent decline to below $1,100 an ounce, I believe today is one of the best times to own gold. My three reasons for buying gold that I discussed in February have remained valid. I now want to reiterate and refresh my three reasons for owning gold at today’s prices.

1. Global gold mining production to decline over the next several years

According to the just-released, World Gold Council’s Q2 2015 Gold Demand Trends report, global mine supply during the 2nd quarter of this year totaled 781.6 tonnes, declining by 4% on a year-over-year basis. Not surprisingly, gold mining executives have continued to shift their focus away from exploration & development, to costs reduction and balance sheet deleveraging. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of global gold mining executives shows that 60% of them expect gold prices to continue to decrease (gold miners who are bearish on the precious metal tend not to invest in new exploration & development projects); moreover, 87% of the global mining executives surveyed expects costs to fall further or stay the same relative to that of 2014.

According to the World Gold Council’s Q2 2015 Gold Demand Trends report, global gold exploration & development activity fell to a new, record low last quarter, declining by over 60% since the late 2011 peak (when gold prices peaked at over $1,900 an ounce). Because of this decline in gold mining capital expenditures over the last several years, I expect annual global mining production to decline by 7%-10% over the next several years, which in turn will support gold prices.

2. Global monetary policy outlook is still highly uncertain, despite a stronger U.S. dollar

The 1970s bull market in gold (when the price of gold rose from $35 to $850 an ounce in just a decade) was driven by the 1971 severing of the U.S. dollar link with gold, along with a rise in inflation fueled by Vietnam War spending, increased social welfare spending, lackluster U.S. productivity growth, and a highly accommodative Federal Reserve. While the year-over-year increase in U.S. inflation (as measured by the Consumer Price Index) remains tame at 0.1%, this is primarily due to the recent decline in energy prices. Leading indicators of U.S. inflation–such as the tightening job market, increased bank/credit lending, and higher minimum wages–are all pointing to higher inflation in 2016.

I also believe that the inclusion of the Chinese currency, the yuan, into the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights basket over the next several years is a foregone conclusion. Over the next 5-10 years, I expect global foreign currency reserve managers to begin buying the yuan as of part of global central bank reserves–over time, I expect the Chinese yuan to make up as much as 10% of all global central bank reserves, replacing the Japanese Yen as the world’s third most popular reserve currency. While the U.S. dollar is strong today, I believe a diversification of the world’s central bank reserves into the yuan (even just a 10% allocation) will in all likelihood result in a weakening of the U.S. dollar, which will in turn increase the attractiveness of gold as an investment or diversification tool for U.S. investors.

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So Long, Greens

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

Yesterday, I received my advance copy of this book, and after spending about an hour with it, I Tweeted this:

Just received advance copy of book “A Disgrace to the Profession” from all I can say is: Mann, that’s gonna leave a mark!

And today, after spending a full day with it, that statement still holds true.

I remember when Mann decided to sue NRO and Steyn for defamation, and despite all the laughing at the time there was this prescient thought from Dr. Judith Curry:

“Mark Steyn is formidable opponent. I suspect that this is not going to turn out well for you.”

Well, Part 1, or should I say, Volume 1 of that prediction is now in press. It’s a scorcher, hilarity, and a tale of science and politics gone awry all in one.

Steyn realized the word of a political pundit like himself can only travel so far in certain circles, and in a brilliant move, he has gathered a compendium of what other scientists have to say about Mann’s work on the “hockey stick”. And of course, he’s had it illustrated by Josh. My favorite is Mann as Yoda, wielding a hockey stick rather than a light saber, seen in this collage below:

The book has twelve chapters plus an introduction, prologue, and a postscript. In it. You’ll find quotes from scientists like this one:

and this one:

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Fats Are OK

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

The medical industry learns slowly.

In 1949, my physician, Francis Pottenger, put me on a diet. It had lots of red meat, extremely high-fat milk (certified raw milk), eggs, and plenty of butter. I had wheat cereal, cooked overnight.

He took me off white sugar and processed foods.

I suffered from chronic bronchitis. In 18 months, I got well. Basically, I have never been sick since.

Today, we learn this:

The saturated fats found in meat and dairy produce are not as bad for health as previously believed, a study has found. However, the scientists who conducted the research have warned against reaching for the butter dish.

A major study into the health implications of dietary fats has failed to find a link between food containing saturated fats, such as eggs, chocolate and cream, and an increased risk of dying from heart disease, stroke or type-2 diabetes.

The study nevertheless did find that industrially-produced “trans-fats” made from hydrogenated oils, and once used in margarine, snack foods and packaged baked foods such as some cakes and crisps, are linked with a greater risk of death from coronary heart disease.

The latest findings, published in the British Medical Journal, appear to confirm the growing realisation that the prevailing health advice for the past half century to cut down on foods that are rich in saturated fats such as butter and cheese may have been misguided.

Gee, you mean medical science was wrong for 50 years? Arrogantly, confidently, stupidly wrong?

Read more on www.independent.co.uk

Neocons to Americans

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

America’s neocons insist that their only mistake was falling for some false intelligence about Iraq’s WMD and that they shouldn’t be stripped of their powerful positions of influence for just one little boo-boo. That’s the point of view taken by Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt as he whines about the unfairness of applying “a single-interest litmus test,” i.e., the Iraq War debacle, to judge him and his fellow war boosters.

After noting that many other important people were on the same pro-war bandwagon with him, Hiatt criticizes President Barack Obama for citing the Iraq War as an argument not to listen to many of the same neocons who now are trying to sabotage the Iran nuclear agreement. Hiatt thinks it’s the height of unfairness for Obama or anyone else to suggest that people who want to kill the Iran deal — and thus keep alive the option to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran — “are lusting for another war.”

Hiatt also faults Obama for not issuing a serious war threat to Iran, a missing ultimatum that explains why the nuclear agreement falls “so far short.” Hiatt adds: “war is not always avoidable, and the judicious use of force early in a crisis, or even the threat of force, can sometimes forestall worse bloodshed later.”

But it should be noted that the neocons – and Hiatt in particular – did not simply make one mistake when they joined President George W. Bush’s rush to war in 2002-03. They continued with their warmongering in Iraq for years, often bashing the handful of brave souls in Official Washington who dared challenge the neocons’ pro-war enthusiasm. Hiatt and his fellow “opinion leaders” were, in effect, the enforcers of the Iraq War “group think” – and they have never sought to make amends for that bullying.

The Destruction of Joe Wilson

Take, for instance, the case of CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Hiatt’s editorial section waged a long vendetta against Wilson for challenging one particularly egregious lie, Bush’s nationally televised claim about Iraq seeking “yellowcake” uranium from Niger, a suggestion that Iraq was working on a secret nuclear bomb. The Post’s get-Wilson campaign included publishing a column that identified Plame as a CIA officer, thus destroying her undercover career.

At that point, you might have thought that Hiatt would have stepped forward and tried to ameliorate the harm that he and his editorial page had inflicted on this patriotic American family, whose offense was to point out a false claim that Bush had used to sell the Iraq War to the American people. But instead Hiatt simply piled on the abuse, essentially driving Wilson and Plame out of government circles and indeed out of Washington.

In effect, Hiatt applied a “a single-issue litmus test” to disqualify the Wilson family from the ranks of those Americans who should be listened to. Joe Wilson had failed the test by being right about the Iraq War, so he obviously needed to be drummed out of public life.

The fact that Hiatt remains the Post’s editorial-page editor and that Wilson ended up decamping his family to New Mexico speaks volumes about the upside-down world that Official Washington has become. Be conspicuously, obstinately and nastily wrong about possibly the biggest foreign-policy blunder in U.S. history and you should be cut some slack, but dare be right and off with your head.

And the Iraq War wasn’t just a minor error. In the dozen years since Bush launched his war of aggression in Iraq, the bloody folly has destabilized the entire Middle East, resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths (including nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers), wasted well over $1 trillion, spread the grotesque violence of Sunni terrorism across the region, and sent a flood of refugees into Europe threatening the Continent’s unity.

Yet, what is perhaps most remarkable is that almost no one who aided and abetted the catastrophic and illegal decision has been held accountable in any meaningful way. That applies to Bush and his senior advisers who haven’t spent a single day inside a jail cell; it applies to Official Washington’s well-funded think tanks where neoconservatives still dominate; and it applies to the national news media where almost no one who disseminated pro-war propaganda was fired (with the possible exception of Judith Miller who was dumped by The New York Times but landed on her feet as a Fox News “on-air personality” and an op-ed contributor to The Wall Street Journal).

The Plame-Gate Affair

While the overall performance of the Post’s editorial page during the Iraq War was one of the most shameful examples of journalistic malfeasance in modern U.S. history, arguably the ugliest part was the Post’s years-long assault on Wilson and Plame. The so-called “Plame-gate Affair” began in early 2002 when the CIA recruited ex-Ambassador Wilson to investigate what turned out to be a forged document indicating a possible Iraqi yellowcake purchase in Niger. The document had aroused Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest.

Having served in Africa, Wilson accepted the CIA’s assignment and returned with a conclusion that Iraq had almost surely not obtained any uranium from Niger, an assessment shared by other U.S. officials who checked out the story. However, the bogus allegation was not so easily quashed.

Wilson was stunned when Bush included the Niger allegations in his State of the Union Address in January 2003. Initially, Wilson began alerting a few journalists about the discredited claim while trying to keep his name out of the newspapers. However, in July 2003 – after the U.S. invasion in March 2003 had failed to turn up any WMD stockpiles – Wilson penned an op-ed article for The New York Times describing what he didn’t find in Africa and saying the White House had “twisted” pre-war intelligence.

Though Wilson’s article focused on his own investigation, it represented the first time a Washington insider had gone public with evidence regarding the Bush administration’s fraudulent case for war. Thus, Wilson became a major target for retribution from the White House and particularly Cheney’s office.

As part of the campaign to destroy Wilson’s credibility, senior Bush administration officials leaked to journalists that Wilson’s wife worked in the CIA office that had dispatched him to Niger, a suggestion that the trip might have been some kind of junket. When right-wing columnist Robert Novak published Plame’s covert identity in The Washington Post’s op-ed section, Plame’s CIA career was destroyed.

Accusations of Lying

However, instead of showing any remorse for the harm his editorial section had done, Hiatt simply enlisted in the Bush administration’s war against Wilson, promoting every anti-Wilson talking point that the White House could dream up. The Post’s assault on Wilson went on for years.

For instance, in a Sept. 1, 2006, editorial, Hiatt accused Wilson of lying when he had claimed the White House had leaked his wife’s name. The context of Hiatt’s broadside was the disclosure that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the first administration official to tell Novak that Plame was a CIA officer and had played a small role in Wilson’s Niger trip.

Because Armitage was considered a reluctant supporter of the Iraq War, the Post editorial jumped to the conclusion that “it follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House – that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame’s identity – is untrue.”

But Hiatt’s logic was faulty for several reasons. First, Armitage may have been cozier with some senior officials in Bush’s White House than was generally understood. And, just because Armitage may have been the first to share the classified information with Novak didn’t mean that there was no parallel White House operation to peddle Plame’s identity to reporters.

In fact, evidence uncovered by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who examined the Plame leak, supported a conclusion that White House officials, under the direction of Vice President Cheney and including Cheney aide Lewis Libby and Bush political adviser Karl Rove, approached a number of reporters with this information.

Indeed, Rove appears to have confirmed Plame’s identity for Novak and also leaked the information to Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper. Meanwhile, Libby, who was indicted on perjury and obstruction charges in the case, had pitched the information to The New York Times’ Judith Miller. The Post’s editorial acknowledged that Libby and other White House officials were not “blameless,” since they allegedly released Plame’s identity while “trying to discredit Mr. Wilson.” But the Post reserved its harshest condemnation for Wilson.

“It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame’s CIA career is Mr. Wilson,” the editorial said. “Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming – falsely, as it turned out – that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials.

“He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.”

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10 Banned Books

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

It’s almost hard to believe that books are still being banned in the world. Aside from a crackpot dictatorship or genuinely sensible reasons, such as keeping Stephen King’s Cujo out of preschools, you’d think we’d have moved past such an archaic form of censorship by now. But alas, the times have yet to be a’changing. And while some reasons for banning a book make at least a little sense, these explanations are just baffling.

It’s almost hard to believe that books are still being banned in the world. Aside from a crackpot dictatorship or genuinely sensible reasons, such as keeping Stephen King’s Cujo out of preschools, you’d think we’d have moved past such an archaic form of censorship by now. But alas, the times have yet to be a’changing. And while some reasons for banning a book make at least a little sense, these explanations are just baffling.

10 James And The Giant Peach – A Sexual Spider

But the protagonist of the novel, Billy Pilgrim, is also “unstuck in time,” which means that the book makes precious little chronological sense. One minute, he’s in his mansion after the war getting massaged to sleep by a Magic Fingers machine attached to his bed. The next moment, he’s in the past in an alien zoo being forced to make love to a porn star for the Trafalmadorians’ entertainment.

It’s for scenes like the latter that the novel is usually banned. It’s been cited for obscene language, explicit sexual scenes, and “an act of bestiality.” If you’re talking about, say, middle schoolers, those are decent reasons to at least question a book’s merits for that age group.

But in 1985, a high school in Owensboro, Kentucky, threw logic out the window and banned Slaughterhouse-Five for the aforementioned “Magic Fingers” passages. For context, the Magic Fingers was a machine that simply vibrated the main character’s bed because he was depressed and had trouble sleeping. It would “jiggle him while he wept.” Compared to forced copulation for the pleasure of extraterrestrials, that seems a little benign.

But the Owensboro school didn’t stop there. They also made sure to mention that they didn’t like one particular sentence out of the entire novel: “The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the fly of God Almighty.”

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Beware Universal Background Checks

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

Covington VA –-(Ammoland.com)- Gun-grabbers are pushing hard to get what they call “Universal Background Check” (UBC) legislation passed at the state level. They have recently been successful in Washington State and Oregon.

Universal Background Checks (UBC) are where all gun sales, including private sales, must be run through a government background-check system.

While that seems innocent enough, it isn’t.

You will no longer be able to sell a gun at will to a relative, friend, or acquaintance in your living room, a parking lot, or anywhere else, except in a gun dealer’s business location during normal business hours, after you pay a fee and fill out paperwork. Oh, and a gun dealer can choose not to handle private sales at all!

Reprinted with permission from AmmoLand.com.

How To Rewire Your Brain

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

I’m at the University of Cambridge, having a panic attack. I can’t breathe, my head’s spinning, my heart’s going like the clappers and there’s a psychiatrist standing next to me who’s provoked it. Deliberately.

Dr Annette Bruhl works at the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute and she’s examining what happens to our mental functions when we’re under pressure, to try to help those with anxiety.

Some stress is vital – we need it to react to threat – but prolonged levels can affect our thinking, memory and decision-making processes. So Dr Bruhl is giving me cognitive tests to see just how differently my brain works when its tested to its limits.

I’m inhaling a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide: not dangerous, but designed to induce feelings of panic. Fifteen minutes later, with monitors showing my pulse is accelerating and my blood pressure’s rocketing, the results show just how differently my brain works to when it’s relaxed.Without the gas, a numbers task was straightforward, but with the mask on, I can’t think straight and make numerous mistakes.

There is a good reason why I’m sitting in a lab, gasping for breath. I finished an MSc in Psychology at the University of Westminster last year and am still studying, trying to understand how the brain provides consciousness and what affects it.

As a journalist, I want to find out if mental decline is inevitable or whether we can rewire our brains to halt it – and even stimulate growth. It was while doing my academic work that I first met Dr Catherine Loveday, a neuropsychologist and an expert on the ageing brain. She introduced me to her mother Scilla, a former consultant psychiatrist, for my new Radio 4 series ‘How to Have a Better Brain’.

Scilla tells me how frustrating her memory loss is. She finds the simplest things take her twice as long. When she’s cooking, she forgets what ingredients she’s put in and one family Christmas, the turkey came out of the oven, raw.

Scilla is fiercely bright and shows me her computer where she’s got four games of online Scrabble on the go, against her three daughters and a friend in the village. She’s winning every one of them. Sometimes the words come easily, on other days her brain lets her down and she can’t remember where she’s been or what she’s done.

Catherine spotted her mum’s deterioration a few years ago and gave her a series of tests. The results showed Scilla was up to 95 per cent better than those her age in tasks like planning, reasoning and attention. On memory, she was 99 per cent worse. Together, they’re using their combined knowledge of psychiatry and psychology to try to halt further decline.

“Memory is so important for our sense of self,” Catherine says, “so we’re doing every evidence-based thing we can, to hold onto it.”

That includes exercise and when we take Mimi the dog for a walk, Scilla tells me just getting out in the fresh air makes her feel happier and think more clearly. “It’s a free space with no distractions, when I can actually discover that I can remember things, that I’m not going completely doolally. If I don’t do it, I can feel myself going into a dark space.”

The science shows that physical activity doesn’t just make us feel better, it also helps protect the brain. Dr Alan Gow, associate professor at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, and part of a team investigating memory loss, tells me that even the simple act of walking can lead to brain functions improving – and that tests on people in their seventies suggest those who exercised had less brain shrinkage. “Those who did a bit more exercise were better in terms of their speed of thinking and their general reasoning,” he says.

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Natural Pain Killers That Are Still Legal

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

Have you ever heard of opium lettuce? How about kratom? These are just a few of the many natural herbs which have been used over the centuries as painkillers. Read on to find out how to use natural herbs for pain to achieve pain relief without over-the-counter and pharmaceutical drugs.

We didn’t always rely on pharmaceutical painkillers, but in the past several years, some reports indicate that 4 out of 5 people relied on a prescription narcotic to help alleviate pain. The several billion-dollar industry has boosted the percentage of people taking painkillers that are even stronger than morphine. These include include such drugs as fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, and oxycodone. The numbers grew from 17% in 1999 to 37% in 2012, according to one study. Use of strong painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin are higher

The EU Has Failed Politically and Economically

Lew Rockwell Institute - Lun, 17/08/2015 - 06:01

[This article is adapted from a July 17 Mises Weekends interview, available here in Mp3 format.]

Jeff Deist: You have studied at length, conceptually, central banks around the world. Before we get into that further, I’d like to ask you as a German especially, what your opinion is of the ongoing crisis in Greece.

Karl-Friedrich Israel: One of the leading German economists has recently compared the Greece situation to the so-called Dutch disease.

Back in 1960 when the Netherlands discovered huge supplies of natural gas, they could exploit those resources and live off exploiting those resources and they became fairly wealthy and it allowed them to increase wages and prices within the economy faster than the actual productivity grew. And when the production of gas diminished after some time, the economy was pushed into a recession. They had to go through a painful adjustment process in which wages had to fall and prices had to fall, but after all, today they are a stable economy in Europe. To some extent, the situation is similar in Greece, but of course Greece has not been exploiting a natural research, but rather an unnatural resource, namely the euro, which is a central-bank controlled fiat money.

After the introduction of the euro, huge amounts of liquidity in the form of credit flowed into the Greek economy, which allowed them to increase wages and prices and welfare spending above their productivity level. And so that’s why today, they are not competitive in the international markets and that’s why they have problems.

JD: But it’s interesting, apart from just the mechanics of the debt that’s owed by Greece, there’s also the political angle of all this. I’m reading today in the Washington Post about this image of the cruel German returning. In effect, the ECB has become a political project of sorts, has it not? It’s actually serving now to inflame some of those old postwar tensions that existed between the north and the south in Europe.

KFI: Yes, that’s true. There are some interesting facts and this is not surprising that the Germans are discontent with the situation in Greece and Greeks are discontent with what is happening in Germany. The Greeks don’t like the German conditions that come with bailout money.

So for example, as I’ve mentioned, the wages are inflated in Greece. Let me give you some examples. In manufacturing, the average hourly wage is twice as high as in Poland and Poland is of course, not part of the eurozone, but there are other examples. Pension payments in Greece are on average higher than in Germany. It’s not surprising that Germans, when they hear those empirical facts, they cannot understand it. Why do Greeks get higher pensions than we do in Germany, and why do we have to give them all these loans? So in fact, the big project of European integration, in some respects turns out to be counterproductive.

JD: Well it reinforces nationalist impulses in some senses.

KFI: That’s true.

JD: Now if we go back to the founding of the euro itself and the ECB within the eurozone, at the time, was it really recognized that it was crazy to have a single currency among these nations which still allow them to produce their own central sovereign debt through their own central banks.

KFI: It is not crazy to have the single currency, but it is crazy to have a single currency which can be exploited by sovereign national banks. This is what Greece has done, for example, through the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) mechanism. So, Greece was essentially able to grant itself credit from this ELA mechanism because, in order to stop Greece, a two-third majority would have been necessary within the ECB Council. Back then in 2012, the six crisis-stricken countries, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cypress, and Greece, had more than a third of the votes. So it was very hard to stop them from granting themselves more credit. This has changed now because Latvia and Lithuania entered the eurozone in 2014 and 2015, so now it has become easier to stop this.

JD: But this makes Philipp Bagus’s point that the euro operates more as a political project than a real currency.

KFI: That’s true, absolutely true.

JD: As a German, I’d like your thoughts. Do you think the average hardworking German or Dutchman or Belgian feels aggrieved under the eurozone? In other words, do they feel as though they are subsidizing countries that are economically less productive, like the PIGS, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain?

KFI: Yes, I think they do. In fact, there never has been a majority for the euro, at least in Germany. So there always has been quite some skepticism toward the eurozone and toward the integration of Europe through these monetary measures in Germany. And now, as I mentioned earlier, seeing that welfare spending is at least partly higher in Greece than in Germany, just reinforces this feeling of some Germans that we are effectively subsidizing the Greeks. We have to give them liquidity and they don’t seem to be willing to lower their standard of living, which of course, nobody wants to lower their standard of living, but this is what needs to be done.

JD: So, part of your work here this summer at the Mises Institute is discussing, confronting some of the prevailing arguments in support of central banks and central banking. Could you sort of lay out for us, as a devil’s advocate, what are some of those arguments and how do you refute them in your work?

KFI: I think one of the most important arguments at the beginning, was the argument of price stability. It is the idea that we need a flexible money supply that can be expanded in accordance to real economic growth, so that we have stable prices or a stable price level. This argument still today seems to be very important because when the ECB started to buy government bonds directly, there was opposition in Germany, and lawsuits against the ECB have been brought to the European Court of Justice.

They argued that those purchases of government bonds are against European law because direct government financing is prohibited, but of course, the European Court of Justice, which is based in Luxembourg, decided in favor of the ECB measures. They argued that no, this is within the legal boundaries of the ECB because it belongs to the category of monetary policy and they do that in order to stabilize the ruro, in order to stabilize the purchasing power of the euro. So we have this argument still today. What I would argue is that what is today called price stability is not stability at all. This can be seen by the very definition of price stability that the ECB proposed. Price stability for them means, an inflation rate close to 2 percent.

JD: Same as in the US. Our Fed’s target is 2 percent.

KFI: Exactly, which means that in thirty-five years, on average, the currency will have lost half its value.

JD: Right and what’s so interesting is this inflation is an expressed policy of the government we pay for, in effect.

KFI: Right.

JD: This isn’t just a symptom of mismanagement, it’s an expressed policy.

KFI: Right.

JD: From your perspective, in the shorter history of the ECB versus our Fed, have they succeeded in creating price stability within the eurozone?

KFI: No, they haven’t. Since the establishment of the Federal Reserve in the US, the US dollar has lost, according to official statistics, 98 percent of its purchasing power. And the developments are similar in other countries. This is the same in the eurozone today and it has been the same under the deutsche mark as well. The deutsche mark seemed to be stable just because it was relatively less inflationary than for example, the French franc or the Italian lira, but it still was inflationist and a big part of the purchasing power has been lost under the policies of the Bundesbank.

JD: Does the ECB have an employment mandate like the Fed?

KFI: There’s a difference here. The Federal Reserve operates under a so-called dual mandate, so they try to maintain price stability and economic growth and employment on equal footing.

So, they are to some extent inherently more inflationist than the ECB because the ECB has a hierarchical mandate which says, first of all, comes price stability and after that, real economic targets, employment and growth.

JD: When we look at the euro in terms of its endgame, some people talked about the Greek exit as the straw that would break the camel’s back and will begin the end of the euro. Do you think that’s true or do you think the euro has real staying power in the coming decades?

KFI: It seems as if the leading nations within the eurozone want to preserve the currency union. They don’t want to let Greece exit the euro. Angela Merkel right now is lobbying for more rescue credits for Greece in order to keep Greece within the union. A leading German economist has proposed that it would be better if Greece left the eurozone, introduced the drachma again, and then devalued the drachma against the euro so that they remain competitive. I’m not sure whether this is the best solution, but it is pretty clear that what needs to be done is price adjustment and wage adjustment. In which way, I don’t know, but prices and wages in Greece as compared to other countries, have to fall.

JD: Well, a lot of people including Nigel Farage, have suggested going back to the drachma, but diluting the drachma doesn’t create any wealth, it just transfers wealth from savers to, say, Greek exporters. So in and of itself, allowing the currency to float to its natural level in devaluing it would not make Greek people more prosperous, but I would suggest that it might give them more sovereignty and more say over their future.

KFI: That’s true. They might have more sovereignty and they might have an independent central bank that can inflate their own currency as they please, but I don’t know whether this is the best solution. The Greek government seems to be inspired by Keynesian policy and prescriptions. I don’t know whether the Greek people or the country would be better off if they had an independent central bank and their own currency.

JD: So, can you elaborate on your thesis, your findings, in terms of your study of central banks? If you could make one point to someone who was talking to you about the folly of central banking, what would that point be?

KFI: I’m studying central banking especially in terms of fiat money because fiat money is subject to political will. It can be extended at virtually zero cost. And I would argue that this is the very danger of fiat money. You provide central banks with a very powerful tool which seems, according to historical experience, to corrupt people.

JD: And this is the point made by your mentor, Guido Hülsmann in his book about the ethics of money production, that there’s not just economic consequences to fiat currencies, but there’s deep seated cultural consequences to fiat currencies. For example, people act more upon high time preferences and they don’t save for the future as much.

KFI: I think it’s not only economics that is important here to understand, but the dynamics of central banking and the fiat money. In my research, I focus more on the economic arguments, but I see that there are a a lot of other arguments from other areas of the social sciences and ethics. I oftentimes ask myself what is the more powerful argument against or for central banks? Is it an economic one or is it an ethical one? And at times, I think the ethical argument might even be more powerful with which to persuade people.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

Il rimbalzo del PIL greco: una non-sorpresa

Von Mises Italia - Ven, 14/08/2015 - 22:53

Oggi, i notiziari economici hanno riportato con stupore la notizia di una crescita del PIL greco pari allo 0,8%, nel secondo trimestre, rispetto al precedente (e dell’1,4% tendenziale); le previsioni indicavano un calo dello 0,5.

Tuttavia, un articolo di Ekathimerini ricorda, molto opportunamente, che i controlli sui movimenti di capitale sono entrati in vigore il 28 giugno – quindi il loro impatto si vedrà nelle statstiche del trimestre successivo, tuttora in corso – e che, fino alla loro introduzione, i greci si erano lanciati in una vera e propria corsa alla spesa in articoli di lusso e altri beni-rifugio.

Per la verità, forse parlare di “beni-rifugio” non è del tutto appropriato e una buona parte di questi acquisti era già in programma ma è stata anticipata; di sicuro, però, la prospettiva di un ritorno alla dracma, o di un taglio sui conti correnti in puro stile cipriota, ha posto i greci di fronte all’alternativa tra l’uovo oggi e… il nulla domani. Non mi stupirei, quindi, se si trovasse conferma di quanto ho sostenuto in un articolo precedente, cioè che lo scopo di ciascuno era svuotare il conto corrente, il cui saldo, improvvisamente non più percepito come sostituto monetario perfetto, era diventato la “moneta cattiva” della legge di Gresham. In effetti, è difficile pagare in contanti articoli di lusso e simili (in Italia, dati gli importi, sarebbe anche illegale; in Grecia non saprei); se i dati sulle entrate fiscali vedranno un incremento delle entrate di cassa non interamente spiegabile con questo sussulto del PIL, credo che potrà valere come conferma del fatto che i conti correnti sono stati usati per comprare… perfino la pace con il Fisco.

Il dato congiunturale è senz’altro una buona notizia per la Grecia: dopo anni di obiettivi macroeconomici mancati, un risultato migliore delle attese riduce il rischio di un nuovo giro di vite sul fronte fiscale, oltre a quelli appena introdotti. Ma non bisogna dimenticare il risvolto negativo: con buona probabilità, i greci hanno concentrato in un paio di mesi acquisti programmati per l’intero anno e oltre; in ogni caso, hanno fatto tutto il possibile per dare fondo a giacenze di cassa che, nel frattempo, non si sono certo ricostituite. Esiste la possibilità che si cerchi di ricostituirle nei prossimi mesi, se il terzo salvataggio sarà approvato e se i greci crederanno che il pericolo di giugno-luglio non sia più imminente (molto potrebbe dipendere anche dall’evolversi della situazione politica interna). Ma questo significherà una contrazione della domanda e, sia detto per inciso, di quel gettito IVA su cui Governo e UE sembrano puntare parecchio. Lo scenario alternativo, decisamente più interessante, dipende dalla fine dei controlli sui capitali: se la fiducia nei depositi a vista non sarà stata pienamente ristabilita, continueranno a diminuire; il che potrebbe scatenare un circolo vizioso, rinfocolando il timore di un bail-in del sistema bancario.

In tutto questo, non trascurerei altri due fattori. Primo: a che livello è il consumo di capitale? Dubito fortemente che le imprese greche, in questi anni, siano state in grado di far fronte agli ammortamenti (tranne forse nel settore turistico); la crescita a medio termine, in larga misura, dipende da questo. E secondo: bisogna tenere d’occhio la penetrazione, o la nascita, delle monete alternative. Dopotutto, almeno finché resteranno i controlli sui capitali, la crisi greca sarà (anche) una crisi dei mezzi di pagamento. E l’entrata in scena di altre valute potrebbe far operare la legge di Gresham perfino contro l’euro… tutto dipende dalle alternative disponibili.

The post Il rimbalzo del PIL greco: una non-sorpresa appeared first on Ludwig von Mises Italia.

Commenti liberi

Luogocomune.net - Ven, 14/08/2015 - 20:43
Segnalazioni e commenti degli utenti sulle notizie più recenti.

(Happy Ferragost).

Possiamo paragonare le utilità delle persone?

Freedonia - Ven, 14/08/2015 - 07:06




di Robert P. Murphy


Nei circoli degli economisti di libero mercato, è scoppiata un'accesa discussione sul "confronto delle utilità interpersonali". Prima Tyler Cowen ha scritto un post in cui dava per scontato che un uomo ricco conferisce utilità ad un dollaro in più rispetto ad un uomo povero (sebbene Cowen non ritenesse che questo potesse giustificare la ridistribuzione statale). In risposta David R. Henderson ha espresso perplessità, poiché a suo dire Cowen aveva trascurato il fatto che un tale confronto dell'utilità interpersonale (CUI) è una sciocchezza, proprio perché l'utilità è un concetto ordinale. Poi un gruppo di persone, tra cui David Friedman, si è gettato nella mischia, sostenendo che Henderson era rimasto indietro perché von Neumann e Morgenstern avevano mostrato come potremmo costruire funzioni d'utilità cardinali, e non ordinali.

In questo post toccherò i punti chiave di questa disputa. Per venire al sodo, sono d'accordo con David R. Henderson: il modo in cui gli economisti usano il termine "utilità" è un concetto ordinale che esprime una classifica soggettiva, non una misurazione oggettiva. Quindi non ha senso dire che Jim riceve più o meno utilità di Sally. Inoltre il lavoro di Von Neumann e Morgenstern non cambia questo fatto fondamentale: sebbene ci si possa anche "credere", l'utilità cardinale non ha nulla a che fare con le loro dimostrazioni.



Fratello, Ti Avanza Qualche Spicciolo?

Per un'argomentazione più completa consultate il mio post precedente, quando anche Dan Klein (come Tyler Cowen) aveva affermato che i ricchi hanno "un'utilità marginale" più bassa nei confronti del denaro rispetto alle persone povere. Ma per i nostri scopi, lasciatemi fare un breve riassunto dell'argomento principale.

La teoria economica utilizza il concetto d'utilità marginale decrescente (UMD), secondo la quale le persone attribuiscono meno utilità alle unità successive di un determinato bene. Questo concetto spiega perché un consumatore in un negozio d'alimentari non spende tutti i suoi soldi sul primo elemento che mette nel suo carrello. Ad esempio, supponiamo che un tizio abbia $20 nel portafoglio e veda che la soda è in vendita a $1 a bottiglia. Il tizio mette nel carrello la prima bottiglia di soda perché la valuta di più rispetto al ventesimo dollaro in suo possesso. Ne mette un'altra nel carrello, perché valuta di più la seconda bottiglia di soda rispetto al diciannovesimo dollaro in suo possesso. Ma (supponiamo) che si fermi qui, perché valuta di più il diciottesimo dollaro in suo possesso rispetto alla terza bottiglia di soda. L'utilità marginale della soda diminuisce ad ogni unità acquistata, mentre l'utilità marginale del denaro aumenta al diminuire delle unità di baconote nelle mani del tizio.

Se non fossimo in grado di "pensare al margine", sarebbe difficile spiegare perché la gente fa acquisti limitati: se il tizio pensava che la prima bottiglia di soda "avesse valore" pari a $1, perché avrebbe dovuto fermarsi? Solo il pensiero marginale può spiegare il comportamento dei consumatori di tutti i giorni.

Il problema arriva quando a volte la gente tenta di utilizzare il concetto di UMD per giustificare la redistribuzione statale del reddito. In particolare, tale tesi recita che (per esempio) il miliardesimo dollaro di Bill Gates non ha quasi nessuna utilità marginale, mentre il decimo dollaro di un senzatetto ha un'enorme utilità marginale. Quindi si presume che prendere un dollaro da Bill Gates e darlo ad un senzatetto, andrà a beneficio "dell'utilità sociale totale".

Ci sono diversi problemi con questo tipo d'affermazione. Anche se pensiamo che abbia senso attribuire unità d'utilità alle persone, non c'è ragione di supporre che potremmo paragonarle tra gli individui. Ad esempio, anche se abbiamo pensato che un uomo ricco abbia unità d'utilità – simili alle unità della temperatura del suo corpo – e che tali unità scendano all'aumentare dei soldi, e che valga il ragionamento inverso per una persona povera, non abbiamo modo di porre i due tipi d'unità sulla stessa scala.



Ordinale e Cardinale

Tuttavia, un problema più importante è che l'utilità stessa – nel modo in cui è stata tradizionalmente intesa dagli economisti nella teoria dei consumi – è un concetto ordinale. Si noti che i numeri ordinali sono questi: il primo, il secondo, il quindicesimo e così via. Invece i numeri cardinali cadono sulla linea dei numeri reali: 2, 3.78 e 604.2. Si noti inoltre che ha senso risolvere operazioni aritmetiche coi numeri cardinali; possiamo dire che 12.4 è il doppio di 6.2. Non possiamo risolvere operazioni coi numeri ordinali, a meno che non li dobbiamo usare per comporre classifiche: il primo è migliore o superiore al secondo, ma non è "due volte" meglio. Inoltre non si può dire che il divario tra il primo e il secondo è inferiore al divario tra il secondo e il diciottesimo. Tali affermazioni sono prive di senso, se tutto quello che abbiamo è una graduatoria ordinale.

Anche se in economia la matematica utilizza funzioni d'utilità che sfornano numeri cardinali, in senso stretto la teoria di fondo è ordinale. (Questo è uno dei punti che Bryan Caplan ha sottolineato nel suo saggio di critica agli Austriaci.) L'elemento basilare della teoria della preferenza moderna è una "relazione di preferenza", la quale prende in considerazione due tipi di merci e li classifica – uno dei due è migliore rispetto all'altro, o altrimenti il consumatore vi è indifferente. Ci sono teoremi che dimostrano che se la relazione di preferenza di un consumatore obbedisce a certe proprietà, allora possiamo costruire una funzione d'utilità cardinale per "rappresentare" le preferenze. Ma non c'è niente di magico nelle "utilità" che possa sfornare tale funzione. Tutto quello che ci interessa è che la funzione d'utilità assegni un numero maggiore ad un pacchetto preferito. Quindi se l'individuo preferisce il pacchetto A al pacchetto B, allora la funzione d'utilità dovrebbe concludere che il pacchetto A produce più utilità del pacchetto B.

Per ripetere: se comprendiamo che cosa significa la funzione d'utilità in questo contesto, non dovrebbe esserci confusione se si parla d'utilità in relazione a cose cardinali "reali". Se alla base di una certa funzione d'utilità c'è una relazione di preferenza ordinale, allora possiamo trasformarla in una funzione d'utilità diversa – diciamo, elevandola al quadrato – e questa nuova funzione d'utilità sarà anch'essa corretta, fino a quando la nostra trasformazione è "monotona" (il che è solo un termine di fantasia che significa che la classifica continua ad essere rispettata).



L'Utilità di Von Neumann–Morgenstern

Fin qui tutto bene. Ma, come hanno sottolineato David Friedman e altri, nel 1947 John von Neumann e Oskar Morgenstern hanno dimostrato che, in determinate condizioni, possiamo rappresentare le classifiche di preferenza ordinali di una persona con una funzione d'utilità cardinale; in questo modo è come se tale persona stesse massimizzando l'aspettativa matematica dell'utilità dei premi sottostanti. Affinché la funzione d'utilità cardinale obbedisca a questa proprietà speciale, può essere trasformata solo in modo lineare (il termine in gergo è "trasformazione affine positiva"). È per questo che David Friedman e gli altri pensano che la teoria dell'utilità di Von Neumann–Morgenstern abbia dimostrato come l'economia fosse tornata ad una nozione cardinale d'utilità.

Per aiutare il novizio a capire i due approcci, facciamo due esempi. Supponiamo che John abbia la seguente classifica di preferenze ordinali:

1°: Mela

2°: Banana

3°: Arancia

Potremmo dire, "John ottiene più utilità da una mela che da una banana", e potremmo concludere che se John può permettersi solo una banana o un'arancia (perché la mela è troppo costosa), allora comprerà una banana.

Se vogliamo, possiamo assegnare una funzione d'utilità cardinale agli elementi. Ad esempio, supponiamo che U(mela) = 5, U(banana) = 3 e U(arancia) = 1. Allora possiamo dire che se John può scegliere solo un frutto, sceglierà quello che massimizzerà la sua funzione d'utilità U. Ma non dovremmo dire sciocchezze come: "La mela dà una soddisfazione 5 volte superiore all'arancia," perché potremmo elevare al quadrato la funzione originale assegnando punteggi d'utilità di 25, 9, 1 e ottenere lo stesso risultato, vale a dire, una funzione U () che rappresenta una preferenza ordinale. Ma con questa nuova U (), l'utilità della mela sarebbe 25 volte superiore a quella dell'arancia. Dovrebbe esserci chiaro – se abbiamo capito quello che stiamo facendo – che utilizzare la funzione d'utilità cardinale non infonde alcuna cardinalità alle preferenze soggettive della persona.

Ah, ma lungo la strada arrivano von Neumann e Morgenstern. Vogliono affrontare quelle scelte espresse in condizioni d'incertezza. Per inserirle in un modello, non hanno più la classifica individuale coi vari risultati, invece hanno l'individuo che pondera l'insieme di tutti gli esiti possibili in base ai risultati sottostanti.

Torniamo al nostro amico John, il quale stavolta ci dà molte più informazioni. Non ci basta sapere come colloca la mela, la banana e l'arancia. Ora vogliamo sapere come John classifica le cose in base alle due seguenti opzioni:


Esito1 con {10% mela, 40% banana, 50% arancia}

&

Esito2 con {20% mela, 20% banana, 60% arancia}


Conoscere solo la classifica di mela, banana e arancia, non è sufficiente per indicare come John classificherà i due esiti qui sopra. Supponiamo per amor di discussione che preferisca l'Esito2.

Ora SE il nostro amico John cataloga la sua preferenza ordinale in base a due esiti tali, ognuno tratto dall'insieme di tutti gli esiti possibili, e, inoltre, SE queste classifiche di preferenza ordinali obbediscono a determinate proprietà, ALLORA von Neumann e Morgenstern possono creare una funzione u() più piccola che fornisca utilità per la mela, la banana e l'arancia, cosicché sia possibile creare una funzione U() più grande che generi un numero per l'aspettativa matematica delle probabilità di un frutto moltiplicato la u() di quel frutto.

Ad esempio, se u(Mela) = 5, u(Banana) = 3, e u(Arancia) = 2, allora l'Esito1 di sopra produrrebbe utilità complessiva di U(E1) = 0.1×5 + 0.4×3 + 0.5×2 = 0.5 + 1.2 + 1 = 2.7; mentre l'Esito2 produrrebbe l'utilità complessiva di 0.2×5 + 0.2×3 + 0.6×2 = 1.0 + 0.6 + 1.2 = 2.8. Pertanto, John preferirebbe l'Esito2 all'Esito1. Potremmo dire che John è un massimizzatore dell'utilità attesa e che quest'ultima è più alta nell'Esito2.

Per essere chiari, la scelta della funzione più piccola u() è arbitraria. Se, per esempio, raddoppiassimo tutti i valori e aggiungessimo 2, ciò non altererebbe le classifiche implicite degli esiti, e quindi non perderemmo alcuna informazione; potremmo ancora dire che abbiamo modellato la classifica delle preferenze ordinali di John con la funzione delle utilità cardinali. Tuttavia, non possiamo applicare una trasformazione monotona. Non possiamo elevare al quadrato i numeri in u(), ad esempio, perché John non potrebbe massimizzare l'aspettativa (utilizzando le probabilità negli esiti) della funzione più piccola u().



Un Momento, Huh?

Quindi abbiamo appena dimostrato che le persone possiedono un'utilità cardinale? I sostenitori di questa tesi spesso invocano l'esempio della temperatura. È vero, ammettono, ogni scala che misura la temperatura è arbitraria. Le tre più popolari sono quella Fahrenheit, quella Celsius e quella Kelvin. Sarebbe sciocco se qualcuno dicesse che un oggetto che ha 100 gradi F è due volte più caldo di un oggetto che ha solo 50 gradi F, perché i numeri non sarebbero gli stessi nella scala Celsius o Kelvin.

Anche così, continuiamo a pensare che la temperatura è una proprietà oggettiva, cardinale e misurabile. E si noti che la trasformazione tra le tre scale è affine: è possibile modificare la dimensione di un'unità in modo proporzionale, e per di più è possibile far scorrere la scala verso l'alto o verso il basso in base secondo un numero fisso di unità, ma questo è tutto. Non è possibile, ad esempio, elevare al quadrato la scala Fahrenheit per ottenere una scala equivalente che funzioni altrettanto bene per misurare la temperatura. [Nota per i puristi: il mio punto riguarda la distorsioni delle dimensioni dell'unità, non se 4 gradi F negativi diventano 16 gradi F positivi se li eleviamo al quadrato.]

Non sono sicuro se questa mossa popolare funzioni davvero. Credo che la ragione per cui rifiutiamo una scala "Fahrenheit Elevata al Quadrato" è che sappiamo che il calore è davvero una quantità misurabile e cardinale. Se volessimo classificare oggetti in termini di calore, da quello più caldo a quello più freddo, allora una scala "Fahrenheit Elevata al Quadrato" funzionerebbe. Ma non è questo quello che vogliamo da una scala della temperatura. Vogliamo un aumento di un grado in corrispondenza di un incremento simile nell'intensità del calore, dovunque ci troviamo sulla scala. E vogliamo proprio questo esito perché sappiamo che il calore è cardinale.

Abbiamo una situazione simile con le preferenze soggettive? Non credo proprio. Le persone nel mondo reale non obbediscono agli assiomi di cui hanno bisogno Von Neumann e Morgenstern per il loro teorema. E non si tratta di persone "irrazionali" che necessitano di un economista per aiutarli a ragionare; penso che molte persone non abbiano alcun problema con le loro scelte nel famoso paradosso di Allais. È un "paradosso" se affermiamo che la gente debba massimizzare l'utilità attesa.



Conclusione

In definitiva dobbiamo essere chiari quando chiediamo: "Le persone hanno utilità cardinali?" Se quello che si intende è: "Siamo in grado di fare alcune ipotesi in un modello", allora sì, mi sta bene che gli economisti sostengano di aver riscoperto l'utilità cardinale. Ma hanno ragione anche quegli economisti che ritengono che la moderna teoria del consumatore si basa solo su una classifica di preferenze ordinali. (Per una discussione tecnica, si veda l'articolo di William Baumol.) Inoltre, dal punto di vista empirico, la gente non obbedisce ai requisiti della teoria dell'utilità attesa di Von Neumann e Morgenstern.

In ogni caso, è un punto controverso quello riguardante i confronti delle utilità interpersonali. Anche se pensassimo che gli individui hanno utilità cardinali, non ne conseguirebbe che la ridistribuzione incrementerebbe l'utilità sociale totale.

Anche se intendessimo questi termini in base al loro uso più comune, non è possibile concludere che i ricchi traggono meno felicità da un dollaro marginale rispetto ad una persona povera. Ci sono molte persone, in particolare nel settore finanziario, la cui autostima è direttamente legata ai propri guadagni. E come indica l'immagine d'apertura, a Paperon de Paperoni piacciono davvero i suoi soldi. Prendere monete d'oro da Paperone e darle ad un monaco povero non aumenterebbe necessariamente la felicità, anche nel senso psicologico di tutti i giorni.


[*] traduzione di Francesco Simoncelli: http://francescosimoncelli.blogspot.it/



***********************************************************************************

di Robert P. Murphy


Nel mio ultimo articolo mi sono inserito in una disputa tra alcuni economisti di libero mercato riguardo l'utilità interpersonale. David R. Henderson (di cui avevo preso le parti) ha citato con approvazione il mio post su EconLog, e ha aggiunto anche alcune sue considerazioni. Dai commenti al mio post, mi sono reso conto che molte persone non hanno apprezzato che David ed io stavamo parlando di "utilità" così come viene intesa nella moderna teoria dei prezzi. Non è la stessa cosa come la "felicità" o il "piacere", se tali termini si riferiscono a sensazioni fisiche o stati psicologici. Nel presente post spiegherò la differenza.



Utilità e Felicità

I critici continuavano a chiedere a Henderson (e a me): "Mi stai dicendo che un senzatetto non trae più felicità da una coperta rispetto ad un milionario?" Ma riguardo i confronti tra utilità inerpersonali, tale domanda non coglie il punto.

Nella moderna teoria dei prezzi (quella in vigore sin dai primi anni del XX secolo) – sia per l'economia neoclassica sia per la teoria Austriaca – "l'utilità" è semplicemente un concetto legato ad una scelta razionale. Dire che l'Opzione A dà ad un individuo più utilità dell'Opzione B, significa semplicemente che l'individuo preferisce A a B.

Ad esempio, supponiamo che Jim e Mary siano al ristorante e debbano scegliere tra due gusti di gelato per dessert. Jim sceglie vaniglia mentre Mary sceglie cioccolato. Possiamo dire che la vaniglia dà a Jim più utilità rispetto al cioccolato, mentre quest'ultimo dà a Mary maggiore utilità rispetto alla vaniglia. È una sciocchezza assoluta chiedere, "Qual è la percentuale d'utilità che la vaniglia dà a Jim rispetto al cioccolato?" ed è una sciocchezza assoluta chiedere, "Jim ottiene più utilità dalla vaniglia rispetto a quella che Mary ottiene dal cioccolato?"

È vero, probabilmente c'è un sacco d'attività biochimica associata alle scelte di Jim e Mary. I neuroscienziati potrebbero avere molte cose da dirci circa la stessa situazione. Ma, come economisti, se stiamo interpretando le loro risposte come volontarie, un comportamento intenzionale (una "scelta razionale" in un quadro neoclassico, o "azione umana" in un quadro misesiano), il concetto di utilità è legato alla scelta stessa. Non ci interessano i fatti fisiologici che potrebbero essere coinvolti in una spiegazione delle preferenze di ogni persona. Forse uno scienziato è in grado di misurare le endorfine di Jim rispetto a quelle di Mary quando ognuno di loro dà il primo morso al dolce, ma ciò non ha nulla a che fare con "l'utilità", come viene intesa nella moderna teoria dei prezzi.

Vorrei cercare un altro modo per illustrare la distinzione: qualcuno potrebbe scegliere d'andare in palestra e sollevare pesi piuttosto che sedersi sul divano a mangiare la pizza. Il sollevamento pesi fornisce più utilità, anche se è fisicamente doloroso e molto sgradevole di per sé. Oppure una persona potrebbe scegliere il martirio alla rinuncia delle sue idee religiose o politiche. Ancora una volta, questo abbraccio della morte dà più utilità al martire, ma non trasmette felicità o piacere in senso edonistico.



Utilità: A Cosa Serve?

Di fronte alla spiegazione fornita qui sopra, alcuni critici potrebbero chiedersi: a cosa diavolo serve questo concetto di "utilità" se si tratta di una mera tautologia che ci dice solo quello che la persona ha scelto?

La risposta è che l'economia moderna – sin dalla rivoluzione del 1871 – non usa solamente l'utilità, ma si concentra in particolare sull'utilità marginale. Questa è stata la prima teoria cruciale – insieme al concetto d'utilità marginale descrescente – che ha permesso agli economisti di spiegare facilmente come si formano i prezzi in un'economia di mercato.

Torniamo al mio esempio di un acquirente che vede in vendita bottiglie di soda a $1 ciascuna. Senza il concetto d'utilità marginale, sarebbe difficile spiegare perché l'acquirente metterebbe due, e solo due, bottiglie nel suo carrello. Dopo tutto, se i commerci in un'economia sono disciplinati da una "parità di valori", o se sono governati da quanto sforzo lavorativo viene trasmesso in un bene, allora perché l'acquirente non riempie il suo carrello di soda fino a quando non finisce i soldi? Guardando la cosa da un altro punto di vista, se l'acquirente pensa che non valga la pena mettere nel carrello la terza bottiglia di soda, perché ha un'opinione diversa per quanto riguarda la prima e la seconda bottiglia?

È solo grazie al concetto d'utilità marginale se ci concentriamo sulla singola bottiglia e sulla singola banconota da un dollaro, ed è solo grazie al concetto d'utilità marginale decrescente se possiamo dare un senso al comportamento dell'acquirente. Possiamo quindi costruire cose un po' più complicate, come la curva della domanda dell'individuo e la curva della domanda di mercato. In questo approccio, "l'utilità" non si riferisce alle motivazioni fisiologiche o psicologiche quando qualcuno acquista una bottiglia soda. Per quanto ne sappiamo, una persona potrebbe acquistare bottiglie di soda per decorazione, o addirittura per il tiro al bersaglio. Dire che l'acquirente trae più utilità da 2 bottiglie di soda che dalla diciannovesima banconota non significa nient'altro che, "L'acquirente sceglie volontariamente d'acquistare la seconda bottiglia al prezzo di $1".

Di per sé questi concetti non ci forniscono una teoria quantitativa che possa indicare quante bottiglie di soda comprerà martedì prossimo una determinata persona. Invece abbiamo un quadro mentale per organizzare le nostre osservazioni e dare un senso ai fenomeni di mercato.



La Diminuzione dell'Utilità Marginale Implica la Cardinalità?

Prima di lasciare questo argomento, vorrei chiarire un equivoco. Alcuni critici hanno contestato il mio uso dell'utilità marginale decrescente, pensando che questo comportasse una derivata seconda nella funzione d'utilità e implicasse di conseguenza unità cardinali d'utilità. Qui c'è una divergenza precisa tra l'approccio neoclassico e l'approccio Austriaco.

Nella teoria neoclassica standard, è vero che l'utilità marginale decrescente è stata scartata. John Hicks, in Value and Capital, ha scritto un trattato autorevole sull'argomento. In particolare, se scartiamo la vecchia idea d'utilità (unità di una certa sostanza psichica che viene massimizzata), allora (sostiene Hicks) non possiamo avere un'utilità marginale decrescente perché è come se dicessimo che "l'utilità marginale" rappresenta l'aumento dell'utilità totale all'aumentare delle unità del bene, e quindi l'utilità marginale decrescente significa che l'utilità marginale scende al diminuire delle unità. In altre parole, Hicks sosteneva che l'utilità marginale decrescente poteva sembrare come una derivata seconda negativa, e ciò non avrebbe senso se l'utilità è ordinale. Hicks disse che la soluzione era quella d'utilizzare il concetto di Tasso Marginale Decrescente di Sostituzione (TMDS).

Tuttavia, secondo l'economia Austriaca, non incappiamo in questo problema perché "utilità marginale" NON significa "cambiamento dell'utilità totale all'aumentare delle unità del bene". Invece, secondo l'economia Austriaca, "utilità marginale" significa "utilità dell'unità marginale". Per risolvere il cosiddetto paradosso acqua/diamante, dobbiamo semplicemente capire che i litri successivi d'acqua servono a fini sempre meno importanti. Il primo litro d'acqua viene utilizzato (supponiamo) per placare la sete, il secondo litro per la cottura, il terzo fino al decimo per fare il bagno e il millesimo litro e quelli successivi servono a lavare l'auto. La ragione per cui un litro d'acqua è così poco costoso, è che al margine viene dedicato a fini relativamente poco importanti; l'utilità marginale del millesimo litro è molto inferiore all'utilità marginale del primo litro d'acqua. Quest'affermazione non comporta unità cardinali d'utilità, non più di quanto diciamo che "un gelato alla vaniglia dà a Mary meno utilità marginale di un gelato al cioccolato".


[*] traduzione di Francesco Simoncelli: http://francescosimoncelli.blogspot.it/


The President Had a Love Child

Lew Rockwell Institute - Ven, 14/08/2015 - 06:01

One of the sauciest legends of the White House has finally been proven true, thanks to DNA testing.

Relatives of President Warren G Harding revealed to the New York Times on Wednesday that he did indeed father a daughter in 1919 with his longtime mistress Nan Britton, after receiving the results of a genetic test linking them to the son of the love child.

Rumors of Harding’s infidelity became tabloid fodder in 1927, when Britton authored a tell-all on their secret relationship, revealing juicy facts like the fact that they used to have sex in a West Wing closet.the 72-year-old began to have doubts.

‘It’s sort of Shakespearean and operatic,’ Dr Harding told the New York Times. ‘This story hangs over the whole presidential history because it was an unsolved mystery.’

So Dr Harding and his cousin Abigail, a grand-niece of the president, approached Blaesing to ask him about undergoing a genetic test offered by Ancestry.com.

When the results came back, it proved that  Blaesing was a second-cousin to Dr Harding.

‘I have no doubts left,’ Abigail Harding, a retired high school biology teacher from Ohio, said. ‘When he’s related to me, he’s related to Peter, he’s related to a third cousin – there’s too many nails in the coffin, so to speak. I’m completely convinced.’

However, other Harding family members are less inclined to accept the results.

Read the Whole Article

This Guy Really Gets Trump

Lew Rockwell Institute - Ven, 14/08/2015 - 06:01

No one could have predicted the Donald Trump phenomenon that we are currently witnessing, but I believed from the start that Trump might outperform the expectations of the media and the pundit class. I recognized that Trump articulates a very Perot like message of economic nationalism that plays much better with the GOP’s Flyover Country middle class base than it does with the donor class and the three-legs-of-the-stool ideologues. I also recognized that Trump’s campaign, with his message of decline and his call for restoration (“Make America Great Again”), could potentially serve as a somewhat non-ideological vehicle for anger at the ruling Regime and dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs.

Therefore, I was very pleased when I stumble upon an article soon after Trump announced, that articulated very clearly what I believed was behind the early enthusiasm for Trump. I’m going to quote at length from the article because I think it remains one of the best explanations the prescribed script. He’s not either or. He’s really is neither, which is why the issues box checking obsessives can’t figure him out or fathom his support. Con Inc. wants candidates who check all the boxes because it easily satisfies a certain portion of the base and reinforces the Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, Red Team vs. Blue Team dynamic. The Establishment wants the two sides to shadow box with each other in what amounts to little more than theater while they continue to direct policy in a way that enriches them. Trump is the audience member who won’t shut up about the obvious production gaffes.

Erickson at one point wrote that he would vote for Trump if he were the eventual nominee. Whether he still feels that way I don’t know, but this was an easy promise to make at the time because he clearly stated in the linked article above that he didn’t believe Trump actually had a chance to win the nomination. Erickson was OK with Trump when he viewed him as a safety valve for angry yahoos, but when that match Trump was striking began to threaten to really burn down the house, like when Trump and his angry supporters brought Fox News to their knees, well that’s starting to get serious. Something must be done.

The World of ZIRP Zombies

Lew Rockwell Institute - Ven, 14/08/2015 - 06:01

Interest rates in the US, Europe and the UK were reduced to close to zero in the wake of the Lehman crisis nearly seven years ago.

Initially zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) was a temporary measure to counter the price deflation that immediately followed the crisis, but since then interest rates have been kept suppressed at the zero bound. It had been hoped that the stimulus of close-to-zero interest rates would also guarantee economic recovery. It has failed in this respect and the low bond yields that result have only encouraged the rapid expansion of government debt.

rates risk triggering a second financial crisis that could also undermine currencies, pushing up price inflation. While macroeconomic theories can be faulted on the basis of outcomes, there is little doubt the systemic threat from a trend of rising interest rates is very real.

On balance, it is a situation that calls for inaction justified by hope. After all, with the Fed funds rate at 0.25% and $2.6 trillion of commercial bank funds already on deposit at the Fed, could it be that even a small increase in the rate will just suck more deposit money out of the US banking system, leading to a contraction of bank lending?

Central bankers are beginning to see what it has been like for their colleagues in Japan, where for twenty-five years with zero interest rates nothing tried seems to work. Welcome to Keynes’s world of euthanized savers and state-sponsored funding. Welcome to the world of ZIRP zombies.

[1] Keynes: General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, Chapter 24 section 2.

[2] See Von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit, p. 349. (English translation, 1953 Yale University Press.)

Reprinted with permission from GoldMoney.

Massacring Syrians

Lew Rockwell Institute - Ven, 14/08/2015 - 06:01

For the last two weeks, the international Press has been full of rumours announcing the beginning of a US military operation against Syria. Thierry Meyssan, who has already denounced a manipulation by General John Allen and his friends, whose aim is to sabotage the USA/Iran agreements, revisists the absurdity of this charge. He explains why the strategic support offered by Russia and China to a secular Syria is not negotiable.

the 27th July, the New York Times announced the creation, by Washington and Ankara, of a security zone to shelter Syrian refugees presently stationed in Turkey [1]. Shortly afterwards, the White House denied this information. I explained in an earlier article that the New York Times had been led astray both by General John Allen, special envoy for the international anti-Daesh Coalition, and by the intermediary Turkish governement [2]. I noted that Allen had aleady participated in two other attempts to sabotage peace in Syria, in June 2012 and in December 2014, and that President Obama had attempted to have him arrested three years ago, in September 2012.transport, and with the United Kingdom, they control and secure the oceans. This is why, for the maintenance of its power, Washington considers it essential to sabotage any attempts to re-open the continental routes [5]. The chaos in Iraq and the fall of Palmyra have cut communication routes via the South, while the chaos in Ukraine cuts the routes via the North.

In the Syrian conflict, the Western and Gulf powers support the Muslim Brotherhood, while Russia and China support the secular Republic.

The illusions of France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey

The Turkish government, which decidedly seems to understand nothing about politics, has twice attempted to force the United States into open warfare. On the 11th May 2013, Turkey denounced a massive terrorist attack in Reyhani, which it attributed to the Syrian secret services. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately rushed off to complain to President Obama. But the US President had already been warned in advance by the CIA that the attack, which cost the lives of 51 Turks and crippled 140, was a set-up by the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MIT), a false-flag operation engineered by the Turkish secret services. Since Reyhani, incidentally, those responsible for the attack have been forced to resign.

Mr. Erdoğan tried again four months later with the help of the Elysée, by organising the chemical attack on la Ghoutta in Damascus, the 21st August 2013. The plot was immediately unmasked by the British MI6, who hurried to warn their US allies. After a cleverly-orchestrated spectacle in the House of Commons, London and Washington left Ankara and Paris to their crimes and their bluster.

We can discuss the capacity of the Obama administration to defend its new strategy of alliance with the Iranian Chiite clergy, or the capacity of its US adverseries to pursue their Straussian strategy of remodeling the « Greater Middle East » and generalised chaos. But in any event, none of them will ever move from a third-party war fought by jihadists to a classic conflict. It is absurd to imagine that Washington would launch a third World War against Russia and China with the sole aim of replacing President Bachar el-Assad with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Notes

[1] « Turkey and U.S. Plan to Create Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Free of ISIS », Anne Barnard, Michael R. Gordon & Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, July 27, 2015.

[2] “Clinton, Juppé, Erdoğan, Daesh and the PKK”, by Thierry Meyssan, Translation Pete Kimberley, Voltaire Network, 3 August 2015.

[3] “The United Kingdom and France are bombing Daesh in Syria”, Translation Pete Kimberley, Voltaire Network, 5 August 2015.

[4] “SAS dress as ISIS fighters in undercover war on jihadis”, Marco Giannangeli and Josh Taylor, Sunday Express, August 1, 2015.

[5] “The Geopolitics of American Global Decline”, by Alfred McCoy, Tom Dispatch (USA), Voltaire Network, 22 June 2015.

I Will Never Own a House Again

Lew Rockwell Institute - Ven, 14/08/2015 - 06:01

Many people have said to me in the past month, “I’m going to buy a home.” Or, “What do you think of the idea of me buying a home?” I like the second batch of people. They are my friends and it seems like they are sincerely asking for my advice. And I’m going to give it to them. Whether they meant it or not.

I have some stories about owning a home. One of them is here: “What It Feels Like to be Rich” where I describe my complete path into utter depravity and insanity. The other one is still too personal. Its filled with about as much pain as I can fit onto a page. Oh, I have a third one also from when I was growing up. But I don’t want to upset anyone in my family so I’ll leave it out. Oh, I have a fourth story that I just forgot about until this very second. But enough about me. Let’s get right to it.People were killing themselves. I don’t like that sort of stress. This is how I deal with stress.

H)     Cash is king. I like cash in the bank. I like having access to it.  I don’t like it all tied up in one illiquid investment.  I want to fill a bathtub with all the dollar bills I would’ve used as a downpayment on a house. I want to bathe in that bathtub. I’m going to do that later today in fact.

By the way, this is going to sound like a contradiction: but I think housing is a great investment right now.  I think housing prices have gone down far enough and I can list the reasons why housing as an abstract investment concept is going to go higher from here. But I don’t like to write about investing on this blog. Suffice to say there are many stocks you can buy, with leverage if you want to take advantage of the rise in housing. But I’m never going to buy a home again. And sit there in the middle of the night thinking, “Why the hell did I do this to myself again?”

Reprinted with permission from The Altucher Confidental.

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