Photo of the Day

Terrific gallery of 50 best nature photos of the year at The Big Picture.  I’m going with this one, because I actually have something interesting to add.

Probably the most enjoyable course I took as an undergraduate was called Evolutionary Behavior.  We spent the first half of the semester studying how behavior follows evolutionary patterns in a variety of animal species and then the second half of the semester carrying out our own behavioral research at the Duke Primate Center (now the Duke Lemur Center).  My partner in my research was Kim, and we did a study of “affiliational contact among Lemur Fulvus Collaris” or something like that.   No groundbreaking results, but it was great tromping through Duke Forest trying to find our lemur groups a couple times a week and coming across other groups of lemurs– most notably a bachelor troop of the well-known Ring-tailed lemurs– during our study.   They actually gave the lemurs much more free rein in those days, but apparently cut back significantly after a number of them suffered cold-related injuries (apparently, Durham winters are worse than those in Madagascar).   One of my failures as a parent is that I’ve somehow failed to take my kids to visit despite only living 30 minutes away.  I’ll put that on the 2012 to-do list.

Anyway, many awesome photos there– check it out.

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Fantasy-based economics

Ron Paul gets a lot of credit for being true to his principles and not pandering to the Republican electorate.  But in so doing, it can be easy to forget that some of those principles are just plain stupid.  And, more importantly, clearly at odds with reality.  Fortunately, Paul Krugman does a nice job reminding us of this:

Unfortunately, Mr. Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology’s wrongness. And, even more unfortunately, Paulist ideology now dominates a Republican Party that used to know better…

Mr. Paul identifies himself as a believer in “Austrian” economics — a doctrine that it goes without saying rejects John Maynard Keynes but is almost equally vehement in rejecting the ideas of Milton Friedman. For Austrians see “fiat money,” money that is just printed without being backed by gold, as the root of all economic evil, which means that they fiercely oppose the kind of monetary expansion Friedman claimed could have prevented the Great Depression — and which was actually carried out by Ben Bernanke this time around…

And there has, indeed, been a huge expansion of the monetary base. After Lehman Brothers fell, the Fed began lending large sums to banks as well as buying a wide range of other assets, in a (successful) attempt to stabilize financial markets, in the process adding large amounts to bank reserves. In the fall of 2010, the Fed began another round of purchases, in a less successful attempt to boost economic growth. The combined effect of these actions was that the monetary base more than tripled in size.

Austrians, and for that matter many right-leaning economists, were sure about what would happen as a result: There would be devastating inflation. One popular Austrian commentator who has advised Mr. Paul, Peter Schiff, even warned (on Glenn Beck’s TV show) of the possibility of Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation in the near future.

So here we are, three years later. How’s it going? Inflation has fluctuated, but, at the end of the day, consumer prices have risen just 4.5 percent, meaning an average annual inflation rate of only 1.5 percent. Who could have predicted that printing so much money would cause so little inflation? Well, I could. And did. And so did others who understood the Keynesian economics Mr. Paul reviles. But Mr. Paul’s supporters continue to claim, somehow, that he has been right about everything.

It’s one thing to believe a theory when you lack the evidence to be sure either way, e.g., string theory.  But the evidence is quite strong that Krugman– and most all mainstream economists, liberal and conservative– are right and Ron Paul and friends are wrong.   Perhaps “Dr. Paul” as his acolytes so enjoy calling him, should stick to medicine and leave the economics to Krugman and others in the reality-based world.

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