Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Wednesday Bible Study: Divine Right

Psalm 72 is one of those elevating the king to a kind of demigod status and extolling his power and glory. As I have said many times, the basic structure of Judean society, as was the norm throughout the region, was an alliance between a priestly caste and warrior kings, so that's what this is all about. But yes, it's weird that it's called a Psalm of Solomon, and concludes with "The prayers of David, son of Jesse, are ended." It's doubly weird because many subsequent psalms are in fact ascribed to David. The likely explanation is that the Book of Psalms we have today is a compilation of several books, usually thought to be four. This was the last in one of the volumes so the scribe just copied it. Anyway, busy this morning, can't say more for now.

A Psalm of Solomon.

72 Give the king thy justice, O God,
and thy righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge thy people with righteousness,
    and thy poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor!

May he live[a] while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth!
In his days may righteousness flourish,
    and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth!
May his foes[b] bow down before him,
    and his enemies lick the dust!
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
    render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!
11 May all kings fall down before him,
    all nations serve him!

12 For he delivers the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
    and precious is their blood in his sight.

15 Long may he live,
    may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
    and blessings invoked for him all the day!
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
    on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
    may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may men blossom forth from the cities
    like the grass of the field!
17 May his name endure for ever,
    his fame continue as long as the sun!
May men bless themselves by him,
    all nations call him blessed!

18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth!
Amen and Amen!

20 The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.


  1. Psalm 72:5 Gk: Heb may they fear thee
  2. Psalm 72:9 Cn: Heb those who dwell in the wilderness

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Assume a Can Opener

 Since I'm actually giving a lecture about this tomorrow I'll just share some of my slides.

Introductory economics textbook writers are fond of cartoon worlds --   only two people with goods to exchange, or only two goods for sale.
They imagine how these worlds would work and then argue that these imaginings can be extrapolated to explain how the real world works.
To the more realistic world of many people, many products, and many buyers and sellers they apply numerous other assumptions, without for the time being examining whether any of them are ever likely to be true.

A caricature? Maybe, but many people, including many influential people, think is a description of reality. It strongly influences journalism, our political discourse, our jurisprudence, and our public policy.


"FEW IDEAS have more profoundly poisoned the minds of more people than the notion of a “free market” existing somewhere in the universe, into which government “intrudes.” 

                                                                    -- Robert Reich, The Myth of the Free Market 


The Story . . . 


Imagine a world of two people, Bob and Alice. Alice has something that Bob wants more than she does, let’s call it X, and Bob has something that Alice wants, call it Y, that is worth less to Bob than it is to Alice. So if they exchange X and Y, they’ll both end up feeling better off.


That’s called a transaction. It follows that whenever a transaction happens, the world is a better place because now both parties are happier. Obviously, if some busybody comes along and stops Alice and Bob from doing all the trading they want to do, they won’t be as happy as they could be.


The Conclusion . . . 


The endeavor from here on is to inflate this into a claim about the real world of many people, many corporations, and innumerable products.

A first order conclusion is that the way to the best possible world is to let everybody do whatever trading they want, of anything, with anybody.

The posited “free market” economy, if left to its own devices, will turn out maximum prosperity, efficiency and happiness for all.

Government just needs to leave it alone – an idea called laissez faire – French for “let do” – a phrase popularized in the 19th Century.


This, however, depends on certain assumptions . . .

“Rational Actors”: People allocate their spending* to maximize their “utility,” a mysterious psychological property such that $1=1 utile.
Willing sellers and willing buyers.
Perfect information: Buyers and sellers know everything important about the product.
Corollary: Consumer sovereignty – consumers generate demand.
Many sellers and many buyers.
Willing sellers and willing buyers.
Declining marginal utility.
No “externalities” – 100% of the costs and benefits of transactions are captured by the parties.
All goods are “excludable” and “rivalrous,” i.e. non-public
Next, we'll take on these assumptions and see what's really true.




Monday, February 26, 2024

Economics 101, Lesson One


One way you can create jobs is to lower people's taxes. If people have more money to spend, it means somebody has got to produce more for them. And the producers then need to hire people. It's Economics 101!


-- George W. Bush, Springfield, MO, January 14, 2002*

Mr. Bush was very fond of saying "It's Economics 101!" It was a catch phrase for him, and other politicians often say it. But can you think of a critique of the above statement? Is there anything wrong about it?

(Jeopardy! music plays.)


Okay. When government acquires revenue from taxes, what happens to the money? Does it just disappear? Why no. The government spends the money. Where do you think the salaries of schoolteachers, police officers, highway workers, soldiers and sailors, and firefighters come from? For that matter, about half the income of doctors and nurses, medical assistants, hospital staff; most of the income of nursing home workers, and retirees. And almost all of the income of university-based biomedical and public health researchers, as well as physicists and astronomers and -- well, you get the idea. 


Much of this, in addition to simply putting money into the pockets of people who are likely to spend it (and, yes, somebody has to produce for them and therefore hire workers) is investment that either makes production possible -- e.g. the road network, and educated work force, law and order -- or will fuel technological innovation and more productivity and wealth in the future. 


Next, I'll discuss the theory of the Free Market™ and why it is unmitigated bullshit.



 *George Bush II actually got a C- in Economics 101 at Yale

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Sunday Sermonette: A digression to current events

The next two psalms are just the usual pleading for God to be good to me and to screw over my enemies, so I won't say anything else about them.  But I will take this opportunity to comment on the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that an embryo is legally a child, with Chief Justice Tom Parker writing that "human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself." Presidential candidate Nikki Haley said she agrees, that she believes an embryo is a baby. 

It is something of a mystery why this very weird belief has become central to the ideology of many self-described Christians, and that it is held so passionately. There is no biblical basis for this idea whatsoever. That abortion, at any stage of pregnancy, is any sort of a sin, is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, Old Testament or New. Jesus is never said to have mentioned it, not do the epistles. In the Torah, unwanted killing of a fetus is a property crime against the father. Numbers 5 prescribes a ceremony for the purpose of inducing abortion in the case of an unfaithful wife. God repeatedly commands the Israelites to massacre pregnant women and children. 

As for the point at which an entity gains the moral status of a human, they couldn't even have speculated on that because they were unaware of the existence of embryos or the nature of conception -- which actually did not become even dimly understood until the late 19th Century. The embryos used in IVF are microscopic, consisting of 60 undifferentiated cells. In nature, blastocysts that make it to that stage frequently fail to implant, the woman has a menstrual period, and never even knew that she was "pregnant," as the Bible thumpers would have it. Counting later miscarriages, about half of all embryos are naturally aborted. 


If these people really believe that all of them are "babies," then they believe that half of all babies die before they are born, and this must be the greatest public health crisis in all of history by an enormous margin. One hundred percent of the NIH budget must immediately be redirected to find ways of saving all those babies. Meanwhile, God is the most prolific abortionist in history by 12 orders of magnitude. It's all so utterly, transparently ridiculous that I can't believe we even have to engage with these lunatics. 

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering.

70 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let them be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life!
Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who desire my hurt!
Let them be appalled because of their shame
    who say, “Aha, Aha!”

May all who seek thee
    rejoice and be glad in thee!
May those who love thy salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”
But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
Thou art my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not tarry!


Prayer for Lifelong Protection and Help

71 In thee, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame!
In thy righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline thy ear to me, and save me!
Be thou to me a rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress,[a] to save me,
    for thou art my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For thou, O Lord, art my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon thee I have leaned from my birth;
    thou art he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of thee.

I have been as a portent to many;
    but thou art my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with thy praise,
    and with thy glory all the day.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    forsake me not when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me,
    those who watch for my life consult together,
11 and say, “God has forsaken him;
    pursue and seize him,
    for there is none to deliver him.”

12 O God, be not far from me;
    O my God, make haste to help me!
13 May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
    with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
    who seek my hurt.
14 But I will hope continually,
    and will praise thee yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of thy righteous acts,
    of thy deeds of salvation all the day,
    for their number is past my knowledge.
16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come,
    I will praise thy righteousness, thine alone.

17 O God, from my youth thou hast taught me,
    and I still proclaim thy wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
till I proclaim thy might
    to all the generations to come.[b]
Thy power 19 and thy righteousness, O God,
    reach the high heavens.

Thou who hast done great things,
    O God, who is like thee?
20 Thou who hast made me see many sore troubles
    wilt revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    thou wilt bring me up again.
21 Thou wilt increase my honor,
    and comfort me again.

22 I will also praise thee with the harp
    for thy faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to thee with the lyre,
    O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy,
    when I sing praises to thee;
    my soul also, which thou hast rescued.
24 And my tongue will talk of thy righteous help
    all the day long,
for they have been put to shame and disgraced
    who sought to do me hurt.


  1. Psalm 71:3 Gk Compare 31.3: Heb to come continually thou hast commanded
  2. Psalm 71:18 Gk Compare Syr: Heb to a generation, to all that come


Saturday, February 24, 2024

Root causes

My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to explain why we're spending all this money on medicine and getting sick and dying more and sooner than the countries that spend half as much. First, we need to take a step back and consider the actual determinants of health. The Kaiser Family Foundation has offered a convenient picture: