Darwinian Rubbernecking

Introduction

This year marks the 50th anniversary of “American Girl in Italy”, Ruth Orkin’s iconic photograph of men ogling Ninalee Craig as she walked down a street. Despite the cultural stigma now attached to its practice, the rubbernecking of young beautiful women is an everyday phenomenon. From an evolutionary perspective, prehistoric males who did not instinctively tune to visual cues of potential mates with beneficial traits and fecundity would face adverse natural selection pressure. Presumably, males living today have inherited the tendency to rubberneck nubile females because such proximate behaviors translated to improved ultimate fitness during natural selection.

In similar fashion, people driving by a car accident turn their heads to look. In nature, an organism that does not tune to signals of carnage is ignoring potential useful cues of threat in their vicinity and could be subject to elimination. Our tendency to rubberneck trauma, thus, is an adaptation inherited through evolution through the survivorship bias of those who attended to cues of stress that can improve our Darwinian fitness.
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Reverse Malthus

What are the potential implications of global depopulation?

The world population has been growing since antiquity, interrupted by wars, disasters, pandemics, and famine. But the global human population may soon hit an inflection point and enter a period of demographic contraction.

The population is already declining in many countries, including Japan, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary.1 Many more are on the brink. If it were not for international immigration, both the United States and the EU would have declining populations today. The total population of the continent of Europe, including Russia and non-EU countries, peaked in the year 2000.
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Price and Money: Wag the Dog?

Milton Friedman famously claimed, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” Does this relationship also hold in reverse?

Decades ago, when everything and everyone from unions to cartels were blamed for inflation, Friedman rejected the conventional wisdom and posited on the basis of empirical data that money supply drives price levels. He argued that prices increased not due to price and wage increases, but because the federal government made the supply of money grow faster than the real economy created value. This groundbreaking theory, while highly controversial and almost revolutionary at the time, appeared to be vindicated by the “Great Inflation” of the 1970’s, and has since become the core tenet of monetarism and modern policymaking. However, in a mark-to-market world, a price may act insidiously to drive money supply and amplify boom-bust cycles.
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Not-So-Dire Diagnosis

Warren Buffett once famously stated that “Berkshire [Hathaway] buys when the lemmings are headed the other way,” conjuring up visions of rodents blindly following one another off a cliff. But the idea that lemmings participate in mass suicide is a myth, propagated by a Disney documentary. The widespread misuse of the lemming metaphor by investors to illustrate herd behavior itself reveals the herdlike behavior of investors and the scarcity of original insight.

Original insight is also uncommon among doctors. Physicians are trained through rote memorization, and independent views are often ridiculed by peers and prosecuted by malpractice attorneys. The hiring of physicians as consultants by investment firms seeking unique perspectives has instead led to a greater tendency toward consensus thinking.
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