Weekly Digest 6/7/18

Scott Alexander on suicide rates and guns – The US is an outlier in homicide rates but not in suicide rates even though there is a clear relationship between gun ownership and suicide rates but not between gun ownership and homicide rates. His conclusion is that if the US decreased its gun ownership, it would probably have even lower suicide rates and would be among the lowest in the developed world. He doesn’t mention it in this article, but conversely, decreasing gun ownership might not significantly decrease homicide rates.

Russ Roberts interviews Michael O’Hare about art museums – I learned so much from this podcast episode. The largest art museums only show around 5% of their collection at any given time, and since they continually acquire more art and perpetually display their staples, the majority of their collection never sees the light of day. O’Hare asserts that selling just 1% of their collection would not only allow the most well-known museums to fund admissions for perpetuity so that everyone could see their art for free, but would also give smaller art museums the opportunity to acquire more well-known works that currently aren’t seen by anyone. However, the current system all but prevents art directors from selling anything in their collection unless it is to acquire other works. So, we end up in a position nobody wants to be in: the largest art museums have so many works that will never see the light of day, works that smaller museums would kill for, and we have to pay ever increasing admission prices, ostensibly to provide the money “needed for a museum to operate.”

“The Education Tax Reduces Inequality and the Incentive to Work” – By Alex Tabarrok using data from David Leonhardt. College tuition is so much more expensive for Affluent families (~186k in income) than Upper-Middle families (~123k in income) that the earnings gap between them is smaller than first glance. Based on the data, when an Affluent family has 2 kids in college, their take adjusted income is actually less than an Upper-Middle class family. The post was thought provoking but I’m highly skeptical about this reducing the incentives of workers to earn more money.

The Verge article by Christine MacDonald on how Coca-Cola isn’t really water neutral – Good news: Coca-Cola is “water neutral,”ostensibly meaning that it gives back the same amount of water it uses. Bad news: its method of calculating its water use leaves out ~99% of its actual water use since it is only counting the water used in production, not the amount in its entire supply chain. For example, a half-liter of Coke takes ~35 liters of water to make (28L for growing sugar beets, 7L for the plastic bottle, and 0.4L for the actual liquid), but Coca-Cola is only counting its water use as 0.4L.

Helen Rosner on MSG – Mind blown. I had no idea that it’s been known for a while that MSG is not bad for you, despite the public perception, even among Asians, that it is. Why the perception? It originated from bad science, and possibly a dose of racism/xenophobia and then stuck despite many studies that have since debunked the myth. That it stuck illustrates the power of inertia and the difficulty in changing public opinion.


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