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Archive for March 19th, 2011

Book Review:
Yesterday, I finished reading “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely (2008©).  Mr. Ariely is a behavioural economist.  In traditional economics, we (the buyer) are expected (“supposed to”) make all of our purchasing decisions based on rational consideration of which option brings us the greatest perceived benefit (which is not necessarily our greatest economic benefit).  As it turns out, this is “frequently” not a valid assumption.   A behavioural economist studies why this is true and looks for underlying causes in decision-making.  In effect, they are looking for the causes of our irrational behaviour.
 

I admit up front, prior to reading this book, I had no idea there even was a field of study called “behavioural economics”, although I have been aware for some time that people do things (make decisions) which appear irrational (to me).  For example, why do mid-Westerners and Southerners consistently vote for conservatives (mostly Republicans), when conservatives do not (for the most part) represent these voters economic interests.  (This has always been a curiosity to me, because I always assume that given two candidates, one would always vote for the one who represented your economic interests.) 
 

The book offers individual chapters on a number of “hidden” factors in our decision making processes.  Among them are ownership, positioning, and poor math relational skills.  For example, many people keep things beyond the items utility period because we already own the item.  We even are willing to continue to spend on maintaining ownership – over and above the cost of the item – to continue ownership.  How many of us know someone who rents storage space (in economic terms, cluttered garages and attics are equal to rented storage space although the monthly payment is indirect) to hold items (furniture, books, albums, clothing) which we will never use again?  How many of us do this ourselves?
 

Anyway, this book is a very fast and enjoyable read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in gaining a better insight into why people seem to make irrational economic decisions.
 

Comments on world news:
First Libya – Let me put this as clearly as I can state it – NOOOOOOOO!  NO MORE WARS!!! 
 

This morning’s quote was from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The laws are not to change the heart, but to restrain the heartless.”  The U.S. is NOT the law.  The U.N. is NOT the law.  Remember, the Reagan administration supplied (money and weapons) the Afghans in their war against the Soviets and the result was the Taliban.  There is a law of unintended consequences.  With the best of intentions, you are getting precipitously close to the unintended consequences which will result when we get involved in something we know little about and absolutely cannot control as a final outcome.
 

I wish we could make the world a better place by removing Muammar Gaddafi and his family from Libya, but it is already too late.  Once a dictator decides it is acceptable to kill everyone who stands against him and then proceeds to do so, it is too late to do anything about it.  A no fly zone will not stop his army (tanks and artillery) from pulverizing the opposition.  Ground troops will be required.  Who is going to send them?  The French? The Italians? The other Arab states?  We can “try” to establish a no land travel and no artillery zone – but the cost of maintaining such an effort from the air (and from aircraft carriers) will be astronomical.  Ground troops will be required.  Let’s not kid ourselves…
 

And even if Gaddafi chooses not to murder his opposition directly, he can blockade them and starve them to death.  Does anyone seriously think anyone (the U.S., France, the U.K.) will be willing to air-drop food and supplies to the opposition for any protracted period of time?
 

Does anyone seriously believe the tribal warlords who would control Libya’s various regions, will be more democratic than Gaddafi if they should happen to win (with our support)?  Are we really promoting a democratic Libya?  In all honesty, I don’t know either, but I doubt it.   I think we are deciding we know enough about the current devil, that we’re willing to take a chance on the devil(s) we don’t know about in the future.
 

So where is our national interest?  As near as I can tell, we have no direct national interest in this conflict.   Of course we have a humanitarian interest, but has the U.S. EVER gone to war over a humanitarian interest?  Now, Europe has “national” interests in Libya – oil, not the promoting of a democratic state in North Africa.  So are we willing to help Europe with their oil problems?  If yes, what can we expect to get out of this?  Do we really expect France to support our continuing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Will they commit air power and troops?  Don’t make me laugh!
 

Please, President Obama – as much as it pains me to say this – because I know the U.S. would love to be shut of Gaddafi – leave this one alone!!  You are getting bad advice, AGAIN!!  Stay out of it.  And get us out of Iraq AND Afghanistan now!   They are already bleeding us dry (economically and spiritually) NOW!   Mr. President, please read the book reviewed above and maybe you’ll have a better understanding of why this is a terrible decision!!!
 

Tonight I continue to pray for the people of Libya, for world peace and for the withdrawal of American forces from around the globe.
 

Second, the disaster in Japan –  my heart goes out to the people of Japan.  No one could watch the TV and not be overcome by the magnitude of carnage.  You are in our prayers.  Today I donated $10 to the Red Cross Japan Relief efforts.  I realize this is more than my $1 donation page generally asks for, but during the last week I read of an elderly man bowing deeply to a relief worker when the man was handed the equivalent of a bowl of rice for a meal.  His simple act of gratitude and civility made me cry.  I am also struck by the courage of the 50 (now approximately 200) brave men who have sacrificed their own lives to save their families and their country (and probably the world) from the nuclear disaster which is unfolding before our eyes on TV.  Please give anything you can spare.  Honor courage!
 

Other thoughts:
I make no effort whatsoever to conceal the fact I am completely opposed to the nuclear energy industry.  There is no such thing as a safe nuclear reactor.  There are only one-in-a-thousand-years or one-and-a-million-years accidents waiting to happen.  The problem isn’t the odds against when something will happen.  The problem is the result when it does happen.  In this case, the “real” problem isn’t the fuel in the reactors.  It is the spent fuel laying next to the reactors.  There is NO safe place on earth to put spent fuel!  This is the fundamental problem with the industry.
 

Three Mile Island.  Chernobyl.  Now, Fukushima.  How many nuclear plant disasters and how many deaths have to happen before we abandon nuclear energy?  The only thing a nuclear plant is good for is making nuclear arms and I’m not convinced that’s such a good thing either – but the genie is already out of the bottle on that one.  I’m not saying burning coal, or oil, or natural gas are any better for the environment in the long-term.  All I am saying is the catastrophic risk of damage is less.  And you’ll note I have intentionally qualified my statement to the plant.  We have NO idea what long-term effects the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico will have on the oceans or the world.  We are playing Russian Roulette with the planet and we have no idea how many chambers or how many rounds are in the game.

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The laws are not to change the heart, but to restrain the heartless.
 

—  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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