Social Security “Produces Inequality Systematically”

(p. B5) Mr. Kotlikoff, 64, did not set out to become Dr. Social Security. Two decades ago, he and a colleague were studying the adequacy of life insurance. To do so, you need to know something about Social Security. Soon, Mr. Kotlikoff was developing a computer model for various payouts from the government program and realized that consumers might actually pay to use it.
From that instinct, a service called Maximize My Social Security was born, though it wasn’t easy to do and get it right. “We had to develop very detailed code, and the whole Social Security rule book is written in geek,” he said. “It’s impossible to understand.”
Because of that, most people filing for benefits have to get lucky enough to encounter a true expert in their social circle, at a Social Security office or on its hotline. They are rare, and this information dissymmetry offends Mr. Kotlikoff. “We have a system that produces inequality systematically,” he said. It’s not because of what the beneficiaries earned, either; it’s simply based on their (perhaps random) access to those who have a deep understanding of the rules.
. . .
“Get What’s Yours” is a useful book. Indeed, we all need better instruction guides for the many parts of our financial lives that only grow more complex over time.

For the full commentary, see:
RON LIEBER. “YOUR MONEY; The Social Security Maze and Other U.S. Mysteries.” The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 14, 2015): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 13, 2015.)

The book under discussion is:
Kotlikoff, Laurence J., Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman. Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing out Your Social Security. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Fongoli Chimps, Where Prey Is Scarce, Show “Respect of Ownership”

(p. A10) The Fongoli chimpanzees live in a mix of savanna and woodlands where prey is not as abundant as in rain forests. There are no red colobus monkeys, and although the chimps do hunt young vervet monkeys and baboons, the much smaller bush babies are their main prey.
Dr. Pruetz argues that less food may have prompted both technological and social innovation, resulting in new ways to hunt and new social interactions as well. Humans evolved in a similar environment, and, as she and her colleagues write in Royal Society Open Science, “tool-assisted hunting could have similarly been important for early hominins.”
. . .
By and large, said Dr. Pruetz, the adult males, which could take away a kill, show a “respect of ownership.” Theft rates are only about 5 percent. The chimps she studies also have more mixed-sex social groups than chimp bands in East Africa.
Travis Pickering, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, said that with less food available it seems that the Fongoli chimps, “have to be more inventive” and that “these hunting weapons even the playing field for non-adults and females.”
Early hominins may have been in a similar situation, he said.

For the full story, see:
JAMES GORMAN. “Hunter Chimps Offer New View on Evolution.” The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 15, 2015): A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 14, 2015, and has the title “Chimps That Hunt Offer a New View on Evolution.”)

The academic article discussed above is:
Pruetz, Jill D., Paco Bertolani, K. Boyer Ontl, S. Lindshield, M. Shelley, and E. G. Wessling. “New Evidence on the Tool-Assisted Hunting Exhibited by Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes Verus) in a Savannah Habitat at Fongoli, Sénégal.” Royal Society Open Science 2, no. 4 (Weds., April 15, 2015), URL: .

Resilient Italian Entrepreneur Planned to Build Trattoria and Ended Up Building Museum

FaggianoAndSonsDigToFixPipe2015-04-19.jpg “Luciano Faggiano and his sons were digging to fix a pipe in Lecce, Italy. They found a buried world tracing back before Jesus.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) LECCE, Italy — All Luciano Faggiano wanted when he purchased the seemingly unremarkable building at 56 Via Ascanio Grandi was to open a trattoria. The only problem was the toilet.

Sewage kept backing up. So Mr. Faggiano enlisted his two older sons to help him dig a trench and investigate. He predicted the job would take about a week.
If only.
“We found underground corridors and other rooms, so we kept digging,” said Mr. Faggiano, 60.
His search for a sewage pipe, which began in 2000, became one family’s tale of obsession and discovery. He found a subterranean world tracing back before the birth of Jesus: a Messapian tomb, a Roman granary, a Franciscan chapel and even etchings from the Knights Templar. His tratto-(p. A8)ria instead became a museum, where relics still turn up today.
. . .
If this history only later became clear, what was immediately obvious was that finding the pipe would be a much bigger project than Mr. Faggiano had anticipated. He did not initially tell his wife about the extent of the work, possibly because he was tying a rope around the chest of his youngest son, Davide, then 12, and lowering him to dig in small, darkened openings.
. . .
Mr. Faggiano still dreamed of a trattoria, even if the project had become his white whale. He supported his family with rent from an upstairs floor in the building and income on other properties.
“I was still digging to find my pipe,” he said. “Every day we would find new artifacts.”
. . .
Today, the building is Museum Faggiano, an independent archaeological museum authorized by the Lecce government. Spiral metal stairwells allow visitors to descend through the underground chambers, while sections of glass flooring underscore the building’s historical layers.
His docent, Rosa Anna Romano, is the widow of an amateur speleologist who helped discover the Grotto of Cervi, a cave on the coastline near Lecce that is decorated in Neolithic pictographs. While taking an outdoor bathroom break, the husband had noticed holes in the ground that led to the underground grotto.
“We were brought together by sewage systems,” Mr. Faggiano joked.
. . .
“I still want it,” he said of the trattoria. “I’m very stubborn.”

For the full story, see:
JIM YARDLEY. “Home Repair Opens a Portal to Italy’s Past.” The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 15, 2015): A1 & A8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 14, 2015, and has the title “Centuries of Italian History Are Unearthed in Quest to Fix Toilet.”)