Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss relevant topics that have not appeared in recent posts.

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  • Robert Koslover

    Does the existence of the US Dept. of Education have an overall positive or negative impact upon the economic prosperity and/or gross domestic product of the US?

    • Ben

      As compared to what? Not existing? State or city based educational programs? Traditional apprenticeship?

      • Robert Koslover

        As compared to not existing. And to leaving the job of education to the individual states to manage as they please.

  • http://liveatthewitchtrials.blogspot.com/ david curran

    You have written before about hidden drug trials but what happens if a failed drug says your models of how to make drugs are wrong?

    The antidepressant reboxetine: A headdesk moment in science

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=the-antidepressant-reboxetine-a-hea-2010-11-30

    “When behavioral pharmacologists are doing comparisons between older antidepressants and newer ones, reboxetine is often used as a positive control, a drug known to have an effect in the behavioral test of choice.

    But it doesn’t work in patients”

  • http://jensfi.blogspot.com/ dWj

    Why do large industrialized countries frequently have socialist and/or state-subsidized health care, but never socialist and/or (substantial) state-subsidized food?

    • rapscallion

      People are really picky about the amount and quality of the food they get. It would be really obvious right away if the government was screwing up the food supply, so public agencies couldn’t get away with their usual crappy service. With health care, on the other hand, people don’t really know if their services are effective or not.

      • http://newstechnica.com David Gerard

        They do, however, frequently have government-run alcohol monopolies. Are the consumers of that likely to be any less fussy, in your view?

    • Whateverfor

      14% of the US population (40 million) received food stamps last year, and 30 million kids got free or reduced price lunches.

      The difference between food and health care is just that food is much cheaper. 40 million on food stamps costs 54 billion, 50 million on Medicaid costs 300 billion. So less people need help with food expenses than health care, and we can support those people much easier.

  • Buck Farmer

    Thoughts on what an egalitarian society with status-competition based on wit/talent would look like, whether it is possible, and if what likely advantages and disadvantages it would have.

    I’m contrasting this with status-competition based on resources.

    First thoughts:

    1. Reduced economic output? Smith is classic writer on economic virtues of status-competition (though I think he was following up the writings of some French guy…)

    2. Tournament style economy? -> Forager-style mating? Large underclass? Social instability?

    3. Wit/taste/talent usually has strong ingroup/outgroup connotations…i.e. “in the know”…is it possible on a society-wide and relatively egalitarian basis (in contrast with Versailles)?

    4. Does this roll-back the benefits of the “dismal science” in terms of freeing people to interact via a market vs. interact via personal relations? (See Carlyle’s writings on the slave rebellion in Haiti for anti-market-economy viewpoint)

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    The recent paper on plow-cultures might help add some meat to your farmer vs forager story.

  • nw3

    Veblen, in the Theory of the Leisure Class, broadly divides modern western societies like ours into an upper leisure class and “everyone else”, with the leisure class living off the surplus, exploiting the masses for profit by way of rent seeking, shrewd dealing, and fraud.

    Rent seeking, shrewd dealing and fraud sound like bad boy behaviors, which got me thinking…maybe female preference for bad boys is rational preference for offspring with the tools needed to win the “pecuniary struggle” outlined by Veblen. The personable bartender and the witty musician may not be wealthy, but they would be if they entered the competition.

    The only problem is the “pecuniary struggle” is different today than it was 1,000 years ago when William the Conqueror raided England. Guys with internet companies and private equity funds generally don’t look like conquerors, but they exploit their advantage ruthlessly, killing off older industries like newspapers and book stores. It’s for scientists to determine if it’s more important, or heritable, to look like a conqueror or act like one.

  • Big Dubya

    Robin, you and Roissy recently butted heads over ‘Sex at Dawn’, which ties in more broadly with you forager vs farmer discussion. Roissy dissents from the author’s view that pre-agricultural societies were characterized by a generally happy sexual freedom. In an extended discussion of one such still-extant society, the Mosuo of Lugu Lake China, the author says “The Mosuo’s relaxed and respectful tranquility is accompanied by a nearly absolute sexual freedom and autonomy for both men and women.” This quote is fairly representative of the author’s thought, based on the 1/2+ of the book I’ve gotten through so far.

    Roissy’s view, to which I incline, is that polyamory is really disguised hypergamy, that if women really enjoy complete freedom, then fierce sexual competition among men will ensue and swallow up society’s ability to grow and prosper.

    This conflict over how best to interpret pre-ag societies should in principal be empirically testable, and that is the purpose of my contribution to this thread, to ask the question: do any reliable data exist to estimate the percentage of men in pre-ag societies who managed to physically reproduce? Have any DNA studies been done on such existing societies as the Mosuo, or fossil studies on extinct peoples?

    If significantly fewer Moauo men than women reproduce, Roissy is vindicated. If similar percentages of men and women manage to reproduce, support is given to the Sex at Dawn/Hanson viewpoint. Any data out there?

    • Sister y

      A great starting point on effective polygyny in pre-ag societies is Daly & Wilson’s Homicide, specifically Chapters 6-9.

      • Big Dubya

        thanks Sister y, any quick synopsis you can give?

      • Sister Y

        Hard to summarize in a blog comment, but essentially:

        1. There have never been any societies that are truly sexually permissive toward women. Margaret Mead was full of shit.
        2. There is high effective polygyny (male reproduction variance exceeds female reproductive variance) in every human society, though the degree varies. Modern humans are effectively polygynous, even in countries like the United States where only monogamous unions are legally recognized. Pre-agricultural societies like the Yanomamo exhibit particularly high effective polygyny. In a 1967 study of the Xavante Indians of Brazil, 40% of married men were polygynous (so a ton of men had no wives), but all women of fertile age were married, and only 1 out of 195 women over 20 had not yet borne a child. 6% of men at 40 were childless. The maximum number of children for a man was 23; for a woman, 8.
        3. Sexual dimorphism in body size and violence (especially male-male conspecific violence) correlates with effective polygyny. All hominids for which we have fossil evidence are high in both compared to known monogamous primates.

        This used to depress me a lot (the universality of male sexual proprietariness toward women), until I discovered that EVEN BABOONS exhibit different mating strategies within a population (see Sex and Friendship in Baboons by Barbara Smuts). Some males try to dominate the troupe and monopolize all the females; other males hang out with females even when they’re not in estrous, babysit their kids, groom them, etc. and even though these “friend” males are not the big scary alpha males, the females sneak off with them and they manage to reproduce much more frequently than they would have if they didn’t befriend females. So we should expect even more variation in human male mating strategy. (This is as close as I can come to an evo bio explanation of the cuckold fetish among human males.)

      • Big Dubya

        Interesting about the Xavante Indians. I wonder how 94% of men manage to reproduce, if 40% of men have multiple wives.

        Your point #3 about sexual dimorphism would also be a good way to test the hypothesis about pre-ag societies being truly polyamorous; if they are, then they should have a relatively small degree of sexual dimorphism.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    dWi, I don’t know about food generally but agribusiness (mostly corn) sucks up huge amounts of subsidies.

    Sister Y, it has been claimed that Mead was wrongly defamed.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    STD rates by nation, and over history.
    I thought I found a link, but it was alll extrapolations from the premise that abuot 20% of the population has herpes.
    It’s interesting that something like herpes or hpv genital warts doesn’t either go to 100% or to 0%. There seems to me to be some sort of equilibrium infection percentage. I imagine its been studied quite a bit by epidemiologists.
    We talk a lot about sex and society here, but not a lot about STD and society.
    There seems to be a big gap (quasi-understandably) between the type of mates women find attractive (and the type men won’t exclude) and the type of mates likely to give them incurable STD’s.

    • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

      ” the type of mates likely to give them incurable STD’s.” should read ” the type of mates UNLIKELY to give them incurable STD’s.”

    • Buck Farmer

      Hear hear.

      A lot of the phenomena studied here rely on the classic micro-behavior extrapolated to macro-effects model of modern econ.

      Epidemiology and the texture of networks will add both realism and unexpected alternative equilibria to alot of Robin’s conjectures.

  • OhioStater

    There’s a post at Roissy named “Sex Differences in Book Dedication”:

    http://roissy.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/sex-differences-in-book-dedications/

    My comment was:

    “There’s selection bias here. A woman with a committed alpha is lucky and spends all of her time keeping that alpha happy and committed.

    A woman with an alpha has no time to write a book.”