Without Incentives, the Energetic become Lazy

Wise words from Frederick W. Taylor, who is known as the father of scientific management:

(p. B1) "When a naturally energetic man works for a few days beside a lazy one," Mr. Taylor wrote, "the logic of the situation is unanswerable.  ‘Why should I work hard when that lazy fellow gets the same pay I do and does only half the work?’ "

As quoted in: 

CYNTHIA CROSSEN.  "DEJA VU; Early Industry Expert Soon Realized a Staff Has Its Own Efficiency."  Wall Street Journal  (Mon., November 6, 2006):  B1.

Is Variety Good?

Chris Anderson has a stimulating and useful chapter in The Long Tail on why having variety and choice is good.

Not all agree.  My old Wabash economics professor, Ben Rogge, with wry amusement, used to refer us to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock.  Toffler’s view was that choice was stressful—visualize the Robin Williams’ Russian émigré character in "Moscow on the Hudson," when he collapses in panic on not knowing how to choose amongst the variety of coffees in the Manhattan supermarket aisle.

What amused Rogge was the contrast between the old critics of capitalism, who criticized capitalism for providing too few goods for the proletariat, and the new critics, like Toffler, who criticized capitalism for providing too many goods for the proletariat. 

Although Toffler has recanted his earlier views, others, such as Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, have picked up the anti-choice banner.

Here’s my current two cents worth.  Sometimes we value variety for its own sake, and sometimes not.  I may find the variety of ethnic restaurants exciting, but not the variety of music on I-tunes.

But even when I don’t value variety for its own sake, I still may value it because it increases the odds that the product I can find matches the product I want.  Let me explain.

In the language of Clayton Christensen and co-author Raynor, in The Innovator’s Solution, generally what I want is a good that does well, a "job" that I want or need to get done.

Some critics of mass production descried the loss of the variety of products produced by pre-industrial craftsmen.  But what good did it do the peasants that no two chairs were quite alike, if all of them were too hard and misshapen for the job of comfortably sitting in them?

Mass production reduced variety, but increased quality, in the sense of bringing (cheaply) to market, products that were far better at doing the jobs that most people wanted/needed to get done. 

If the modern varieties of chairs are a response to differences in the jobs that different consumers need to get done, then I might generally, and accurately, presume that variety is usually good, not because I want to constantly sample a lot of different chairs (like I want to sample a lot of different ethnic foods), but rather because variety increases the odds that I will find the one or two particular chairs that allow me to do the job that I want a chair to do for me.  

Specifically, recently, we were looking for a chair that was firm, spill-resistant, would swivel to allow talking to someone in the kitchen, would recline for watching television, would be dog-chew resistant, and would have a color/fabric complementary to the rest of the furniture.  We shopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart, which is the largest furniture store in the U.S., with the greatest selection, because we hoped to find the one chair that would do all of these jobs.

We came close, but I wish there was a store with even greater selection.


People Want to Live (So There, Leon Kass)

  Source of edited screen capture:  http://www.nytimes.com/gst/mostemailed.html


In an earlier post, Leon Kass was quoted as opining that life is better when it is short. 

The table above is from the New York Times list of most emailed articles within the last 24 hour period.  The listing above was for the period ending at 1:00 PM CST on Thursday, November 2, 2006. 

Notice that of the top four articles, three of them have to do with the study showing that reversatrol may lengthen life.  


More Evidence that Reagan Was Much More than a “Genial Idiot”

   Source of book image:  http://ec2.images-amazon.com/images/P/0688146139.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1056466100_.jpg


Reagan was smart and disciplined.  That was one of the main messages of Mike Deaver’s book.  But in these pages, there is much additional evidence.  See, especially, the essay by Martin Anderson.

Also, Lee Edwards talks about one of his early encounters with the Reagans; he visited their home, and he was especially anxious to see Reagan’s library.  He saw a large library with dog-eared, heavily annotated books.  He also mentions quizing the GE manager (CEO?) who used to travel by train with Reagan to visit GE plants.  Edwards asked what Reagan did during the train trips.  The GE manager reported that Reagan devoured books, periodicals, and reports, taking extensive notes on his index cards.

(Sounds like Reagan could have used a computer, and would have made a great blogger?)


The reference for the book is: 

Hannaford, Peter, ed. Recollections of Reagan: A Portrait of Ronald Reagan: William Morrow & Company, 1997.


Does Focus on Scarcity, Blind Us to Abundance?

Chris Anderson ends chapter 8 of his stimulating The Long Tale, with a provocative jab at economists:

(p. 146)  Finally, it’s worth noting that economics, for all its charms, doesn’t have the answer to everything.  Many phenomena are simply left to other disciplines, from psychology to physics, or left without an academic theory at all.  Abundance, like growth itself, is a force that is changing our world in ways that we experience every day, whether we have an equation to describe it or not.


The reference to Anderson’s book, is:

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Resveratrol May Slow Aging

SinclairDavid.jpg  Harvard Medical School antiaging researcher Dr. David Sinclair.  Source of image:  http://webweekly.hms.harvard.edu/archive/2003/8_25/index.html


If our institutions sufficiently allow and reward entrepreneurial innovation in health care, substantial gains in the length and quality of life are possible.  (In the WSJ article passages that follow, "CR" stands for "calorie restriction.")


(p. A1)  Now a coterie of scientists and biotech ventures are rekindling interest in CR as they try to mimic its antiaging effects with medicines.  It is still a highly speculative quest, and many researchers fret that it hasn’t completely shaken its association with centuries of dubious nostrums to slow aging, from inhaling virgins’ breath to eating gold to implanting monkey glands.

Much of the new focus is on a substance in red wine called resveratrol.  The interest in it started three years ago when a group led by Harvard Medical School biologist David Sinclair reported that it boosted yeast cells’ life span by 70% via a mechanism resembling CR.  He later co-authored a study showing that it also boosts life span in fruit flies and roundworms.  But his tendency to make bold leaps based on tentative data has also sparked intense controversy.  One big question:  Does he really understand the workings of CR well enough to mimic them in a drug?

Last spring, Italian scientists reported that resveratrol boosted life span more than 50% in a kind of short-lived fish.  Intriguingly, fish on resveratrol had much faster swimming speeds as they aged, and spent far more time moving around, than did undosed control fish.

At least two groups of researchers are now testing whether resveratrol can extend life span in mice — the first such studies in mammals.  At a meeting of the American Aging Association in June, Dr. Sinclair and colleagues presented preliminary results from a study showing that resveratrol had "CR-like protective effects" against the buildup of fatty deposits in the livers of mice on high-calorie diets.  That suggests that resveratrol could lead to new drugs for diseases of aging associated with rich diets, such as adult-onset diabetes.

A company that Dr. Sinclair co-founded in 2004, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., has begun testing a resveratrol-based drug in diabetic patients.  It has raised $82 million from venture capitalists, a hefty sum for an early-stage biotech.  . . .

. . .

(p. A11)  Dr. Guarente recalls that Dr. Sinclair, who came to MIT in 1995 to do post-doctoral studies, breezed into his lab as if out of a Crocodile Dundee movie, greeting everyone with a cheery, "Hello, mate."  The eldest son of parents who both worked in medical diagnostics, he was known in high school as a talented class clown and risk-taker, a kid who aced science classes but got in trouble for setting off minor explosions in chemistry lab.  The idea of taking part in unorthodox, high-risk studies on aging suited him.

. . .

. . . , Dr. Sinclair joined forces with a researcher at the National Institute on Aging, Rafael de Cabo, to plan one of the ongoing studies of resveratrol in mice.  But he had a problem:  He lacked the $20,000 needed to buy mice.  Then he got a call out of the blue from Tom LoGiudice, foreman at the U4EA ("euphoria") Ranch near Thousand Oaks, Calif. Mr. LoGiudice had phoned on behalf of the ranch’s owner, Harman Rasnow, who was considering taking resveratrol pills and wanted to know more about them.  When Mr. LoGiudice heard about Dr. Sinclair’s problem, he arranged for his boss to talk directly to the researcher.  "I have an 85-year-old passion for longevity," says Mr. Rasnow, pinpointing his age.  "David sounded like he was really onto something.  So I told him, ‘I’ll send you a check for $20,000.’ "

Dr. Sinclair later got another call from Mr. LoGiudice, this time inviting him to make a pitch for funding to one of Mr. Rasnow’s wealthy acquaintances, Paul Glenn, a venture capitalist and a longtime supporter of research on aging.  After Dr. Sinclair did so, the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research in Santa Barbara, Calif., awarded $5 million to Harvard Medical School to launch a center on the basic mechanisms of aging with Dr. Sinclair as its founding director.  Now plans are afoot to expand the center into a leading institute on aging, says Mr. Glenn, with start-up funding of $75 million to $100 million.


For the full story, see: 

DAVID STIPP.  "Youthful Pursuit; Researchers Seek Key to Antiaging In Calorie Cutback A Controversial Hypothesis Draws Scientists, Investors; Will It Work in Humans? Fighting Fat in Lab Mice."  Wall Street Journal  (Mon., October 30, 2006):  A1 & A11.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


The NBC nightly news on Weds, Nov. 1, 2006 ran a brief, but nice story, reported by Robert Bazell, on the basics of this:  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15511128/


Government War on Drugs Kills 92 Year Old Shut-In Who Defended Her Home


As a live-and-let-live libertarian, I think the war on drugs is a waste of money and a violation of rights. 

Consider the news report of the police breaking down the door of a 92 year-old Atlanta woman, who defended her property, and was shot dead.


In the CNN report, the woman’s 75 year old niece expresses understandable outrage.


View CNN’s airing of a WSB report by Eric Phillips, broadcast on Weds., Nov. 22nd.