Monday, May 25, 2015

Kids Prefer Euvoluntary Cheese

So you find out that the cheese you pay dearly for at your upscale grocer is made by prison labor. What do you do? Should you be offended? Should you credibly commit to shopping elsewhere? Or should you take comfort that convicts are learning a valuable trade that they should be able to convert to productive behavior upon release?

Is there a better use of their time? If so, what?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The "War" on "Big Food"

This is a remarkable article.

First, the idea that tastes change and that this drives business to change is not really entertained.  There has to be some first mover, a "movement," something organized.  The fact is that people want something different, and soon that thing will be provided.  Or businesses will go bankrupt.  Nothing new here.

Second, consumers are not "unreasonable."  What they are is aware of trade-offs.  If someone can come up with a "treat" that is both tasty and healthy, that someone will win big.  The only way you would call the consumer unreasonable is if you think that your market share is owned by you, the company.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Ecstasy of the Bees

The Federal Government frets about dwindling honeybee populations. Monoculture, dwindling habitat, micro-predators, and possibly nicotine-based pesticides may contribute to empty colonies nationwide.

Agriculture in the US isn't exactly command-and-control, but the big corn-producing state legislators have upheld the longstanding tacit pact that it'll never not be heavily politicized. Subsidies to farmers (which though the magic of cross-elasticity of demand are actually subsidies to Archer-Daniels Midland and Monsanto) ensure that enormous swaths of the heartland are dedicated to just a few varieties of soy, corn, and wheat. Put another way, it's agricultural policy in the first place that contributes to the problem, and perhaps a good step towards relieving the symptom of fewer bees is to end the corrupt, addictive habit of allowing Congress to interfere with farming.

I'm also sort of curious to what extent the DoT, HUD & al will be responsible for maintaining wildflower populations in proposed greensward areas. Are we going to see a new marigold czar come out of this?

I agree that apiary management is vital to crop health. That's kind of obvious. What's less obvious is that unelected bureaucrats with no skin in the game are better poised than farmers to make commercial decisions on their behalf. The costs of a nationwide foul brood brought on by government mismanagement are too awful to contemplate. Let's hope that if the worst happens, we might all live to regret it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Of Weregild

Via SJ, DC criminal defense attorney Jamison Koehler relates a tale of an attempted shakedown by a complainant. The short version runs a little like this (names changed for didactic purposes):

Dirk punches Carl, breaks his nose. Carl calls up Dirk's lawyer and offers to drop the charges as well as the civil suit if Carl forks over $30 grand. Dirk's lawyer checks his blood pressure and then blogs about the experience later on (after the trial is concluded, I assume). Greenfield offers additional advice should this sort of thing occur again.

Recall that the legal system in the US is patterned very closely after the English Common Law. Recall also that the English Common Law is not the only system to have administered justice in the west. If I had to wager a spondylus on the source of Carl's pedestrian jurisprudence, I'd go with the old German Salic Code. Frankish King Clovis I included ca. AD 510 a practice called weregild. Under a weregild regime, there are no corporal, carceral or capital punishments for violent crimes. If you were convicted of a crime, you paid either the victim or his family restitution based on the nature of the crime and the social status of the victim. Of course, by the 14th century or so, Salic Law had been supplanted by Holy Roman Law in Frankish territory, which meant a greater reliance on state-administered capital punishment rather than pairwise restitution. But at the time, the Salic Code was quite a nice improvement over payment in blood.

Let's lend Carl the benefit of the doubt and claim that he was simply channeling the same sense of justice that appealed to Merry Ol' Clovis. Is that really so wrong? Isn't a side payment in lieu of bypassing the modern US criminal justice system and all its unpleasantness merely an offer of a euvoluntary exchange where both parties walk away if not happier, then certainly better off than they would be by accepting their BATNAs?

Mind your Heraclitus here. The great peril of picking up depreciated jurisprudence a la carte is that the bits and bobs you might find appealing are part of an integrated ecology. The truth-seeking trial by ordeal, for example, works better than available alternatives when fingerprint or DNA evidence is unavailable. Similarly, weregild functions as a component of an integrated administration of justice where the alternatives are trial by combat. In the US of 2015, the alternatives to shaking down the guy who busted your lip include the well-trod, well-understood rituals of simple assault charges. Different BATNA, different negotiation tactics. Different outcomes of justice.

But wrong? Can you see a way to re-integrate the jurisprudence of weregild into a modern justice system? Can side payments help reduce the dreadful problems of prison overcrowding? Why or why not? What is the price of a life? Of a black eye? Cannot side payments serve the fundamental purposes of having a criminal justice system in the first place?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Of Deeds and Unpunishment

Rescuing a suffering animal is a noble act. Every so often, a noble act requires sacrifice. Not all sacrifices are offered by he who performs that kind act of nobility.

Michael Hammons of Georgia discovered that saving a dog by smashing a window carries with it the risk of arrest. The property owner says he's a vandal. Everyone else with a shred of conscience says he's a hero.

I wonder if anyone bothered trying to find the owner before busting the window. "Diane Byard says she and a group of shoppers noticed the dog in the car and were waiting on police before Hammons came."

"Waiting on police." Not "getting the store manager to issue a loudspeaker announcement," or "canvassing passersby." There's a problem? Call the cops or hope that an action hero stops by. Heavens forfend  we might attempt to solve a problem civilly.

People, with constituents like these, is it any wonder that criminalization has gone over-the-moon berserk? Be a good citizen. Be a good neighbor. Smashing folks' windows to rescue hot dogs is a last resort. If there is a social contract, amending the terms and conditions towards a more euvoluntary arrangement is surely in everyone's best interest. Yes?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Canon Fire

It is your right to be a shrinking violet. It is not your right to wilt the rest of the flowerbed.

Disrupting others' exploration of the Western canon to soothe your tender brow was, in another time, another place considered rude and boorish. No longer.

Colleges were once separated by gender and by race. Mandatory segregation is barbaric. Mandatory integration is an improvement, but an imperfect one. Students wishing to study the classic canon without being molested by the Valkyries of feelz deserve their own safe space.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rich Enough To Play At Being Poor

SWPL burrito-slinger Chipotle has raised a few Red Team hackles by announcing that they will no longer serve food containing genetically modified organisms. Here's one particularly risible quote from the link:
One recent study by researchers at Washington State University estimated that between 1996 and 2011, pesticide and herbicide use increased by more than 400 million pounds as a result of GMO cultivation.

If you ever find yourself short on fodder for an intro stats or principles of logic course, I urge you to put that on a midterm.

Anyway, if it makes wealthy westerners feel all warm and fuzzy inside to eat conventionally cultivated food, what's the harm? They're not obliging the desperately poor and malnourished people of the world to play Marie Antoinette after all.

Well, unless you count the mandatory labeling crowd. Recall your principles of economics: imposing mandatory costs on producers will shift the long-run cost curve upward, driving marginal producers out of business and raising entry barriers for new firms. Incumbent producers benefit from the monopoly-promoting policies, and if the policy covers the entire market (such as for food), consumers with low price elasticity of demand end up footing the bill. The unfortunate equilibrium results in two types of high-cap agribusiness: organic and GMO on the one hand, and unregulated subsistence farming on the other hand.

Then again, decades of farm policy and land use restrictions have spiked the GINI coefficient in agriculture anyway. Mandatory GMO labeling will do little more than cement the already-egregious market advantage enjoyed by spectacularly gigantic firms like ADM and Monsanto, so maybe it's not such a big deal after all.