What Would Dinosaur Meat Taste Like?

December 29, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

In any self-respecting dinosaur movie there’s a scene where the fearsome predators try to eat humans. But, let’s be honest, if we ever managed to clone dinosaurs it’d be us eating them. What would they taste like?

  • The taste of meat depends largely on the type of diet the animal had. Humans generally prefer the meat of herbivores since it tastes less ‘gamey’.
  • Thus carnivorous animals such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex likely wouldn’t find a place on our dining tables.
  • Despite their close genetic relationship with birds, dinosaurs are unlikely to taste like chicken. They’re more likely to taste like beef because of the type of activity they engaged in.

Read more about dinosaur meat, the unique cuts you could get, and the things to look out for if you’re ever trying to determine which dinosaur you should eat, over here.

Source: PopSci

The Economics Of Cashmere

December 28, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

With winter coming to the northern hemisphere, a cashmere sweater is on the wish-list of many. But why is it so expensive? Aisha Harris had the answer:

  • Cashmere has long been associated with class. Ever since the 1500s Indian Emperors used the material to signify status.
  • In the present day there is a lot of demand for the material. It is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool despite its light weight.
  • However supply is a problem. Cashmere comes from the undercoat of goats specifically bred to produce the wool.
  • It takes the wool from two goats to produce enough material for a single sweater.
  • Producing the wool is a costly process. The undercoat needs to be separated from the coarser top coat by hand.
  • All of this means that only 30,000 pounds of cashmere is produced every year…while 3 billion pounds of sheep’s wool is.

Read more about where the material is produced, when it first appeared in Europe, and where the name ‘cashmere’ comes from over here.

Source: Slate

Peak Farmland

December 22, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

peak farm

It’s a surprise our civilization has survived as long as it has; if peak oil isn’t going to end it, then peak copper, phosphorus, gas, water, and coal could. The latest peak that society may be facing is something to rejoice over writes Alister Doyle:

  • Due to declining population growth and rising farm yields, the amount of land needed for agriculture will decrease substantially by 2060 according to one study.
  • The amount of land that will no longer be needed for farmland is projected to be more than twice the size of France
  • Others disagree. Most notably the UN predicts that the need for farmland will increase due to rising demand.
  • How meat consumption rises might ultimately determine which study is right. The production of meat requires a lot of farmland, and if the developing world starts to consume meat at developed world levels, then peak farmland might be a myth. Luckily the evidence so far suggests that this won’t happen.
  • The demand for biofuels such as ethanol is another wildcard that will affect how our demand for farmland changes.

Read more about how this land can then be returned to nature, why the UN disagrees with peak farmland, the assumptions that the studies use and more over here.

Source: Reuters

Via: Freakonomics

Time To Sell Alaska?

December 17, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

Here at Centives we’re somewhat afraid of heights and that’s made us moderately concerned about this whole fiscal cliff business. Steven Mufson however was ready to soothe our nerves by offering a solution: Selling Alaska. Highlights of his argument include:

  • Alaska’s natural resources mean that it could be sold for anywhere between $2.5 trillion and $5 trillion – as much money as both Democrats and Republicans hope to raise over the next decade.
  • Alaska was originally bought for $7.2 million in 1867 meaning that if it sold for top dollar then it would garner over a 6 million % return on investment.
  • Potential buyers include the Russian federation which might now regret originally selling it to the United States.
  • China is also a potential buyer. Arranging the transaction would be easy as America could offer to give up Alaska, in exchange for China forgetting the debt that the US has accumulated.
  • OPEC could offer a joint bid to further consolidate its share of the oil market.
  • The idea might sound ridiculous, but it shouldn’t really. In times of budget crises countries are always asked to sell off their assets. Most of the time these assets are state owned enterprises, but there’s no reason that large swathes of land shouldn’t be part of the equation.
  • However even if Alaska was sold, it’d only solve the country’s debt problems for the next six years.

Read more about the proposal, the surprising amount of support it receives from the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, why shaming America is part of the idea, and other instances of countries selling land over here.

Source: The Washington Post

The Economics Of Snitching

December 16, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

Markets are alive and well in the prisons of the United States writes Brad Heath:

  • In the United States it is possible for prisoners to get reduced sentences in exchange for information about other criminals.
  • This has led to entrepreneurs in prisons using their contacts outside the jail to gather valuable information and then sell it to other prisoners looking to commute their sentences.
  • Last year half the defendants who cooperated and offered information saw their sentences reduced by 50% or more.
  • An interested buyer can purchase the information for anywhere between $5,000 and $250,000, depending on the type and source.
  • This market means that it is possible for richer inmates to buy their way to shorter sentences.

Read more about the people who thought up the scheme, those who defend it, those who are trying to end it, and find some fascinating infographics over here.

Source: USA Today

Via: Marginal Revolution

Time To End Sports Welfare?

December 15, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

Here at Centives we’re all about finding bipartisan solutions to help ameliorate America’s deficit problems. Patrick Hruby pointed out that one easy way would be to end the billions of dollars of tax payer money that goes to benefit sports leagues or, as he calls it, sports welfare. Highlights include:

  • Between 2000 and 2006 the average taxpayer contribution to each sports stadium was as high as $280 million – equivalent to 15 Saturn V moon launches. Teams get this by asking for handouts and threatening to move elsewhere if they don’t get them.
  • Some taxpayers are continuing to pay off the debt incurred from stadiums that have already been demolished.
  • Regressive taxes are usually used to pay for the stadiums – meaning that the poor are paying while relatively rich sports fans benefit.
  • This money ultimately doesn’t go to benefit local economies. Instead it goes to rich players who spend it in the cities that they live in.
  • Sports leagues generally classify themselves as non-profit organizations, getting massive tax advantages.
  • Other examples of sports welfare include:
    • Allowing players to mark fines as a deductible expense.
    • A tax loophole created by a former baseball owner that allows teams to treat players as depreciable assets – similar to computers.
    • The Pentagon spends $80 million sponsoring NASCAR, cage fighting, and bass fishing vents.
    • A tax write-off for ‘donations’ from fans who get season passes in return.

The full article is quite long and very comprehensive. Some of the things will likely surprise you; head on over here to read it.

Source: Sports on Earth

Rap As A Diplomatic Tool

December 10, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

During the time of The Cold War, The United States used Jazz tours to build up good-will. These days it’s trying to use hip-hop to win over the Muslim world writes Hishaam Aidi. Highlights include:

  • After the Abu Gharib scandals, the American state department launched an initiative called Rhythm Road – an attempt to use hip-hop to revitalize pro-American sentiment.
  • Hip-hop was seen as the ideal tool to connect with the Muslim world because it has Islamic roots, and talks about the struggles of those who are unaccepted and disempowered.
  • Moreover American enemies such as Al-Qaida had started to recruit youths by presenting themselves as cool and hip. Rap was an ideal response to this tactic.
  • European countries appear to have taken to the idea and have deployed Muslim rappers as their emissaries across the world.
  • However the strategy’s effectiveness is questionable. Morocco and Algeria, the two countries where hip hop has had a deep influence, were both mostly untouched as the rest of the region was caught up in the Arab Spring.
  • Hip-hop artists themselves worry about the development. The music genre focuses on attacking the establishment and standing up to power. With the establishment – in the form of the US government – now using it as a tool, some fear that hip-hop has lost its soul.

The full article is over here and is a fascinating read. Aidi talks about how America’s current music strategy compares to the one used in The Cold War, how hip-hop exhibits America’s diversity, and the American hip-hop artists who’ve done an excellent job of connecting with the Muslim world…while alienating the Western one.

Source: Al Jazeera

Via: Foreign Policy

Discounts For Good Driving

December 2, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

The next time you try to get car insurance you may be offered a deal: a discount on premiums in exchange for your privacy.

  • Typically car insurers use crude metrics such as your age, race, or even credit report to determine how risky your driving behaviour is and use that information to determine your monthly premiums.
  • Now however insurers are looking to dispense with the metrics and measure your driving capabilities directly. If you agree to install a sensor in your car that monitors your driving performance, insurers are willing to give you steep discounts on your monthly premiums if you’re found to be a good driver.
  • One such program from Progressive only asks you to install the device for six months, and then gives you a permanent discount based on the information it collected – although the company reserves the right to re-evaluate you if, for example, you get into an accident.
  • By only monitoring your driving performance for a short period of time, the company is hoping to make you feel more comfortable with the idea of your driving being monitored – especially since the rewards of this temporary arrangement could be lucrative.
  • The system is also being used to drive sales. Customers who currently don’t get car insurance from Progressive are offered the sensor for free to see how much their premiums would be if they were to switch providers.

Read more about the data that the insurance companies might choose to collect, why the sensors don’t come with GPS logging, and the time of day when you’re most likely to get into an accident over here.

Source: The New York Times

Via: The Atlantic

The Myth of American Meritocracy

December 1, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

An extraordinarily long and exceedingly controversial essay about the unfairness of elite college admission practices – and the subsequent effect on the United States – has been doing the rounds of the economics blog circuit. Centives’ summary of Ron Unz’s fascinating, if disturbingly presented, argument:

  • Modern college admissions systems came about as a result of overt racism. In the 1920s admission was based on academic merit and Jews were taking all of the top spots. Universities moved to prevent this by implementing an opaque system where the candidate was evaluated based upon an undefined set of criteria.
  • It worked. College administrators were able to suppress Jewish enrollment through a stealth cap that the media couldn’t attack them for.
  • Since then academic institutions have a history of altering how they evaluate students to either make it easier or more difficult for certain groups to get admission.
  • In the present day it’s Asian Americans who are discriminated against. Even though Asian-American students are by far the smartest around, since the mid-1990s there has been a stealth cap on their enrollment numbers. Universities have done this by once again talking up their ‘holistic analysis’ of candidates, rather than criteria based upon objective, transparent standards.
  • Instead the tables have turned and now Jews are vastly over-represented in colleges, even though their academic capabilities and achievements have crashed – a pattern common with late-generation immigrants.
  • This is in part why Asian students are forced to be so competitive. They can’t get into elite universities by merely emulating the feats of their Jewish peers. They must compete at a higher level and this requires them to be hyper-competitive.
    • A fascinating side effect of this is that whites flee neighbourhoods with high numbers of Asian students, because they don’t want to compete with over-competitive Asian students. But the students are over-competitive because there’s no other way for them to make it into the country’s top schools.
  • So how did Jews escape the discrimination? They were able to exert enormous pressure, and reverse the injustice, through Jewish ownership of America’s major media outlets including news channels, television networks and movie studios. That pressure continues to this day. Asian-Americans have no such power and so things aren’t likely to improve for them.
  • The problem is exacerbated by unqualified admissions officers making their decisions under the fear of being labelled anti-Semitic if the proportion of Jewish enrollment falls.

The full essay could easily have been its own book. It covers a ridiculous amount of ground, isn’t as racially antagonistic as it appears, and is well worth a read for the implications that this has for America’s elite colleges…and thus its government and business leadership. Get yourself a mug of hot chocolate and read it over here.

Source: The American Conservative

Via: Marginal Revolution

How To Profit From The End Of The World

November 30, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

The planet is warming. There are very few people who would dispute this. And as with anything in economics, any time there is certainty about an event, there is a profit to be made. Here’s how an aspiring millionaire can make money from the end of the world:

  • As companies adapt to the effects of rising sea levels and changing weather patterns, climate change consulting has become a $1.9 billion a year business…and is expected to grow.
  • Wind and Solar Energy companies also look like promising long-term investments.
  • Low-lying lands along the coast will be most affected and so investors should yank their money out of Thailand and China.
  • Changing conditions will make agriculture difficult in Africa and Latin America. But the agriculture industry should grow rapidly in Canada where warmer temperatures will be more conducive to farming.
  • The price of oil is also likely to rise, making oil a pretty safe bet.

Read more about the opportunity for infrastructure companies, why the BRIC countries are in trouble, and which countries will be best-positioned to capitalize on the opportunity created by climate change over here.

Source: Quartz