Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Catching up

Thanks for the comments on the previous post.

Yes Roger, we indeed are planning to try to understand relationships between patterns of physician-patient communication and medical outcomes -- decision making, adherence, satisfaction, and ultimately, better health. As a matter of fact the project started in the context of an intervention trial to try to improve antiretroviral adherence. We have a long way to go, but I have a lot of ideas about possible applications. Stay tuned.

Tanta makes a very good point about a subject that I thought about quite a lot a few years ago. This gets wonkish in a different area -- econometrics -- but it is actually a fairly profound question. Most people probably never really think about how the inflation rate is calculated, but the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the most commonly used measure, is actually based on a bunch of Commerce Department employees going shopping every month, and seeing what it would take to buy a so-called "basket" of typical goods. Really.

A complication, as Tanta notes, is that year after year, the mix of goods that people buy changes, and even goods with the same name -- such as cars and computers -- aren't really comparable. Broccoli and tomatoes don't really change over time -- or rather, if anything, they have gotten somewhat worse due to industrial farming practices -- but computers and cars supposedly get better. Computers also have tended to actually get cheaper, or at least stay at roughly the same price for a much more powerful machine, although cars certainly have increased in price. However, your new Lexus is presumably also worth a lot more than a new Model A was in 1936.

So, the Commerce Department attempts to correct for these developments by changing the market basket every few years to match what people actually buy; and by correcting for the supposed quality improvements associated with technological change. Some people even argue that they don't go far enough, and that inflation is overstated.

Actually, I would say that it is understated. What was once a luxury, or even science fiction, is now a necessity. The automobile has profoundly shaped development patterns. Most people live in suburbs where they have no choice but to drive to work, school and the grocery store. If somebody were to start manufacturing new Model As, it would be illegal to drive them. Cars are required to have all those modern safety features. It is nearly impossible to live without a telephone. It is illegal to build or rent out a house or apartment without indoor plumbing, electricity, a refrigerator, central heating. So all of these great things technology has given us may be better than an outhouse, oil lamps, ice boxes and a coal stove - but those are no longer an option. The bottom line is, it costs more to live nowadays than it used to. Whether that makes us better off depends on what you value, I suppose.

Finally, a commenter remarks that evolution is "bad." I'm not sure what to make of that idea -- evolution is why we are here, after all, so it can't be all bad. But funny you should bring that up.

I'm starting a new project, using the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems blog, which has been dormant for a while. I'm reading the Bible -- yup, the whole thing, starting at the beginning. I've already done the first five verses. I'm using the King James, because I was raised in the Epispickle Church, so that's what I'm most familiar with. I will post erratically, whenever I have the time and inspiration, probably most often on Sundays. The amount of material I cover with each post will vary -- when we get to the begats, I may take a whole lot in one chunk. It may take me the rest of my life. But I intend to keep going.

Most Bible thumpers, in my experience, are highly selective. Most of what they thump they totally ignore, if they have ever read it at all. Of course, a lot of it would be quite embarassing to acknowledge. But I'm not going to be selective -- I'm going to do it all, every last word.

Others with posting privileges are free to continue to post on the Dialogue blog, and we'll even take applications from newcomers. I don't care whether anybody reads it, but if you do, I hope you'll enjoy it.

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