Reason for a New Age

Food & Diet

Posted by publius2point0 on 2014/03/10


At its heart, food has two purposes in the human body:

  1. Energy
  2. Material

If we think of it in the terms of a car, over its lifespan a car will need fuel (gasoline, electricity, etc.) and replacement parts as old ones wear out or break. The human body isn’t so much different from that, aside from a few quirks. Humans do grow (while still young), so the food we eat doesn’t always replace something old, and of course cars need someone on the outside to change out parts where the body can correct itself with no more needed than eating a well-rounded diet.

Of course, the big question is: What is a well-rounded diet?

Despite all of the thousands of debates and millions of books out there, this is actually a pretty easy question to answer if you just work back from the information given above. A well-rounded diet needs to provide the right amount of energy and the array of materials that the human body needs. It’s basically as simple as that.

Energy

Energy in food comes principally from (and I steal shamelessly from the Wikipedia) carbohydrates, fats, proteins, organic acids, polyols, and ethanol. Each of these are molecules of hydrogen and oxygen with the occasional carbon or nitrogen. Via the wide variety of metabolic pathways, these are converted into ATP (for use) or fat (for later use). ATP is composed of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorous. Fats (triglycerides) are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

Now I break this down to the atomic because, while molecules of H, O, N, C, and P aren’t fungible in the human body, as you might note from the chart of metabolic pathways in the above link, there are enough routes that can be taken to convert one molecular type into another type that so far as it goes when talking about “carbohydrates, fats, proteins, organic acids, polyols, and ethanol”, one might as well say that they are all equivalent to the body. At the end of the day, they’re going to be rent asunder into their component atoms and reassembled into whatever is needed. A few pathways are more indirect, so that some sources of energy are less efficient, but this is taken into account when calories are listed on food labels. You do not need to remember which types of energy are more or less efficient at growing your ass.

Interestingly, carbon is a component of fat but not of ATP. Unfortunately, I think you’re out of luck if you want to try to avoid eating carbon so that your body can’t create fat. But that is an interesting point about chemical reactions.

Chemical reactions follow a system similar to puzzles. If the ins-and-outs of two objects don’t align just right, then you’re just plain out of luck in terms of getting anything to happen between them. This is one reason why the general answer to questions like, “What happens if I eat a lump of plastic?”, are that you’re just going to poop it. Plastic molecules just don’t have the right shape to be noticed by any of the chemicals that your body is going to expose the things that you ingest, so it will be ignored. More interestingly – from the standpoint of diet – is that if your body lacks one chemical, then it might not be able to do something else. The citric acid cycle, for example, is one of the major metabolic pathways. It is the major route for carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to be turned into energy. But as the name suggests, the cycle is dependent on citric acid. Failure to ingest enough citric acid could, potentially, shut down the citric acid cycle and prevent your body from being able to convert food into energy. Unfortunately, the pathway to fat is completely different so all you would be doing is to decrease your activity level.

I should probably point out, at this point, that you should not try eating random chemicals – regardless of whether you think you’ll just poop them or not – nor should you arbitrarily try cutting out your supply of certain nutrients because you think you’ve spotted a way to shut down some particular subsystem of your body. Talk to a physician before putting or not putting something in your mouth.

Material

Everything you ingest is, of course, a “material” for your body. But where food taken in as energy is largely burned and later exhaled, essential nutrients are used for structural purposes. You might note above that phosphorus is a component of ATP – which largely serves as the gasoline of the body – yet we don’t need to eat phosphorus to keep moving. I infer from that, that phosphorus is just a structural element of ATP and is re-used after all of the other elements are used. Minus it, you wouldn’t have any energy to do anything, but the rate at which phosphorus is lost from the body doesn’t have a strong relationship to how much energy you burn. (It looks like most of it forms the structure of your bones and teeth – along with other elements.)

For any essential nutrient, they fall into one of two piles:

1. Excesses will lead to toxicity.
2. Excesses will be pooped out.

But in all cases, if you don’t get enough then bad things happen. And so, if you read the tables listed in the page of Dietary Reference Intake, you can find out how much is too little (the Estimated Average Requirements) and how much is too much (the Upper Intake). For some things, like vitamin K, there isn’t any particular upper limit that we know of that you can intake with negative health effects. Not that I recommend verifying this, yourself.

Handily, there’s also a table of the recommended intake. Unfortunately, unless you enjoy memorizing lists, reverse engineering whether you’re hitting your targets from what you’ve eaten is not an easy task. Unlike energy, essential nutrients can’t be reduced to a single number (calories). Fortunately, if you’re not hitting your target, you’ll know it because you won’t feel healthy. So if you do feel healthy, then you’re eating all the nutrients that you need. If you’re not, then you’re either a hypochondriac (which is probably more likely than that you need to start taking multivitamins) or you should look through the tables and find things that you’re probably missing from your diet and see if you can add those to your diet – or talk to your doctor. But since almost everything we eat (the notable exceptions being salt and water) are former living creatures, and they have many of the same needs as us, by simple virtue that we’re eating our fellow life, it’s not too hard to get all the nutrients you need.

The Best Diet

So what’s the best diet?

Well, how much energy you burn in a day depends on how active you are and how efficiently you are able to move (e.g. men are generally larger, so there’s greater inertia for us to fight against when we move). There are probably ways to get a hard number, if you strap enough measuring equipment onto yourself and live your life as normal for a few weeks, but there’s an easier way. If you’re thin and always down on energy, you should raise the total number of calories that you eat. If you’re overweight, you should reduce your caloric intake and/or raise your activity level. An average of 2,100 kcal for women and 2,700 for men is a good base assumption – but everyone’s metabolism is slightly different. You may genuinely have a body/diet which leads to every ounce of energy being stripped from the food you take, or one which passes nearly everything through to the toilet.

For reference, 2,375 kcal is equivalent to a cheeseburger, a medium fries, a bowl of cereal, an orange, a salad, a cup of broccoli, two soft drinks, a slice of pumpkin pie, and a banana. As a rough estimate, it looks like if you assume 400 kcal for a main dish, 150 for a side, and 100 for a (non-water) beverage, you should be able to get by in daily life.

Name Estimate Real
Cheeseburger 400 600
Medium Fries 150 380
Bowl of Cereal 400 310
Orange 150 45
Salad 400 300
Broccoli 150 30
2x Soft Drinks 200 280
Slice of Pie 400 325
Banana 150 105
Total 2400 2375

Now, that’s more than I eat in a day and I’d definitely put on fat if I tried. I probably eat an average of 1200 kcal per day and still need to hit the gym regularly. Olympic athletes can eat up to 8,000 or 12,000 kcal per day (for some of the more energetic sports). Don’t expect your average, if you want to maintain a healthy weight, to be very close to the recommended average. Nor even that it will stay consistent from year-to-year. Our metabolisms change through our life, as do our activity levels. And don’t think that there’s something magical about your body that allows it to create fat no matter how little you eat. There may be some illness that causes people’s body to only produce fats instead of ATP out of food, but the lack of morbidly obese people in most of history and the planet is a fair indicator that if there is such an illness, it is a freak occurrence. But otherwise, basic physics tells us that it’s impossible to create fat unless you’ve ingested at least an equivalent amount of excess energy-producing material.

Essential nutrients are less flexible. I suspect that larger people would need to take more of certain nutrients (like vitamin K) to cover for the extra volume, though not all would have that sort of gain (since your skeleton and teeth stay the same size no matter how big you get it). But overall, the recommended daily intakes are probably a solid bet.

But so far as your body is concerned, at the end of the day, everything is just atoms and molecules. You could probably healthily live to a hundred eating lard and some wisely-chosen multivitamins. You could get your daily iron by biting off chunks of the Eiffel tower. Your body doesn’t really care how it was made or how tasty it was in your mouth, just whether the right components are there to be taken in and used.

So what is the best diet? Eat all the nutrients you need and adjust your caloric intake to adjust your weight. That’s really all it should come down to.

Hunger & Satisfaction

But the reality is that when people talk about diet, what they really mean is, “How can I lose weight while still feeling satisfied?” Granted, satisfaction has a few factors to it, the gratification of eating large, filling meals, the flavors and colors of the food before you, etc. Many people just wouldn’t be satisfied if they were asked to eat small, cold portions of clinically-prepared rations, regardless of whether it met their dietary needs or not. In some societies, like Japan, a small bowl of miso soup and a single small grilled fish counts as a perfectly full and complete meal. So terms like “large” and “inviting” are largely based on our expectations, but I can imagine that after decades of eating large plates, piled with foods draped in sauces, it’s hard to lower your sights.

But I think that the harder thing for most people to tackle is the prospect of hunger.

When we talk of instinct, really what we’re talking about is chemicals. Through evolutionary processes, what works (eating, mating, etc.) and what doesn’t (starvation, running off cliffs, etc.) have been determined for the species. And in general, your body produces chemicals when it senses that you’re doing things which are good for yourself and the species that we interpret as joy or satisfaction, and chemicals that we interpret as displeasure and stress when we’re doing things that are bad. This is nature’s stick and carrot to make us behave as it thinks we should.

Unfortunately, instinct is stupid. It can’t differentiate between success in ones life and injecting morphine into your blood stream – since the latter is just cutting out the middle man. But more saliently, it can’t differentiate between starving and shaving off the pounds, nor can it understand the difference between eating enough to live a healthy lifestyle and enough to sink a large boat.

In our bodies, hunger/satiation appears to be primarily modulated by Ghrelin (hunger), Leptin (general satisfaction), and Peptide YY (immediate satisfaction).

Information is scarce, but it looks like ghrelin is produced by the intestine when the abdomen’s own store of fat starts to get low. Seeing as food is necessary for life, and food becomes useful to us via the processing that happens in the intestine, it makes sense that hunger would be triggered when the intestine’s backup generator starts to run out of fuel. But consequently, the obese are rarely subjected to ghrelin (since they always have lots of extra fat) and their brains become more sensitive to it when it is released.

Leptin is produced by adipose tissue (i.e. fat-holding tissue). Leptin acts more like a gas meter, always visible to the brain. The more fat you have, the more leptin your body is producing at any given time (24-7). But unlike a gas meter, with a hard “Full” point at the top, our brain interprets more leptin as better. Raising it always feels better and you’ll always feel dissatisfied when it drops to a lower level. In the literature, this is referred to as “leptin resistance”.

Peptide YY is used as a signal for the body to start digesting food – and hence also used by the brain to detect that we have eaten and are satiated.

When one starts to lose weight, ghrelin production starts to occur more quickly and we respond to it worse if we’ve been overweight. And more importantly, we appear to stay sensitive to ghrelin even after we have lost weight. That is to say, if you used to be obese but are now a healthy weight, you’ll feel more hungry than people who were never overweight. While you’re in the process of losing weight, your leptin level reduces and you’ll feel generally dissatisfied with the world and stressed out. Fortunately, it looks like healthy living and exercise can reset your body’s leptin expectations to something lower. Peptide YY just reacts when food hits your colon so dieting shouldn’t affect much.

Overall, I’m not too concerned with leptin. I tend to think that people are more driven by immediate drives than long-term ones. Plus it looks like after the first few days of dieting (during which leptin levels drop significantly) leptin levels raise to normal levels and don’t affect you at a significant level. But the ability to modulate the other two would be a boon to the ease of dieting.

Ones expectation would be that we could do this by raising the fat-level of our abdomen quickly (so that ghrelin production is stopped) and to get food into our intestines quickly so that Peptide YY is released earlier.

In tests, it seems that ghrelin production can be diminished by eating carbohydrates. If we eat when ghrelin is produced – indicating that the intestines want to store fat – and eat something which can easily be converted into fat directly in the intestine, and the intestine will choose to store fat for itself before supplying the rest of the body. If that is indeed the case, then eating a small, high-carb snack when you feel hungry, might be a method to deal with this. The important factors to consider would be that this still counts towards your total daily caloric intake, and I must note that the total amount of fat stored in your abdomen is probably fairly small and I doubt that your body waits until your abdomen is on empty before signalling for more food. So the total amount that you need to eat to replenish your abdominal fat level is probably quite small.

For getting food through your gut quickly, fiber seems to be the go-to ingredient. But many high-carb items like potatoes and chips tend to be low on fiber and, in fact, travel through your intestines extra slow (reportedly). So rather than reaching for Fritos or Doritos when you’re feeling hungry and want a snack, the better options would probably be:

Legumes like peanuts and edamame
Natural grains like oats and whole wheat
Fruit

The important thing for someone who has lost weight would probably be to remember that snacking is like taking medicine. There is a proper dosage and intake schedule. The goal isn’t to eat or enjoy a meal, it’s to pacify your body when it thinks you should be eating something, but when really you shouldn’t be. But also to realize if you have lost weight that this is something that you – due to raised ghrelin sensitivity – will have to do every day for the rest of your life. You need to make sure that you have the right type of snacks available, in the right quantities, and that you have incorporated them into your overall diet plan.

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Romney 5-59 – Part 2

Posted by publius2point0 on 2012/10/25


Trade Policy

Trade Promotion Authority

Starting roughly a century ago, the legislature began to cede the creation of trade agreements to the executive branch as it was found that attempting to have a foreign nation negotiate with several hundred people lead to massive, complex, and silly trade agreements. It’s also been found that the prospect of having to meet the demands of hundreds of senators and congressmen discourages other nations from even entering into negotiations with us. It made more sense for the Executive branch to negotiate the deal and for the legislature to either approve it whole or not at all, with no ability to modify the agreement.

While there does not appear to be a strong argument against Trade Promotion Authority, as outlined above, the legislature has always put a time limit on the power, revoking it whenever the executive branch has displeased them.

Obama has never sought to have TPA re-instated, but Romney does. Specifically, he hopes to enter into agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Personally, I don’t know what business we are missing out on with these three countries, but overall I do not see any negative to the proposition. Trade isn’t a zero-sum game.

Copyright, Patent, and Trademark Protection

The document is either poorly worded or is explicitly attempting to be enigmatic about its intent, but as I read it, it appears to be suggesting an open trade agreement between any nations willing to genuinely ascribe to the global laws on copyright, patent, and trademark protection. This is, of course, an attempt to lessen China’s power – though it would also affect Russia and many other nations with questionable practices.

Unlike Romney’s “plan” to denounce China as a currency manipulator, I think that one could rightly confront China on this front. Whereas it sounds petty to hit China on their financial honesty when they are our creditor, pointing out that they are actively preventing us from making money via unlawful means is a much stronger argument. If China did not allow their people to flagrantly infringe on copyrights and patents, China would be buying much more from the US or allowing the US to sell much more in China.

Unfortunately, the currency manipulator idea and calling this free trade agreement the “Reagan Economic Zone” are, in conjunction, almost certainly going to throw the idea into the rubbish bin. I find it questionable that Romney actually seeks to have any sort of real plan for dealing with China, let alone the ideas he proposes in this document.

Energy Policy

The first several pages re-iterate what was said in the third of Romney’s high-level 5-point plan, so I will not address it further. He also comments on attempting to revise the Clean Air Act., but I am doubtful of the President’s power to have much effect on that – other than by using his power as the Executive to order to EPA to act in a certain manner during his tenure.

Following this, Romney seems to come out strongly in support of nuclear energy, talking about streamlining the process for approval and (presumably) construction. This is significantly better than Bush II’s plan of simply dumping a few billion into the industry and hoping that something would come undone, but otherwise not trying to remove any of the blocks that prevent the US from taking advantage of this technology.

Romney has a stronger goal of trying to increase the supply of gas and oil, domestically, and by dealing with Canada and Mexico. While I have no strong objection to this, I would note that, as I understand it, it can take a decade to locate an ideal spot for mining, set up a pump or oil rig, and put into place a steady method of transportation. By the time any oil sources that Romney lead to the creation of started to deliver oil to Americans, starting around 2023, I question how integral oil will still be to our economy. While still probably money better spent than on solar panels and wind farms, since oil can be packaged up and sold to India, Africa, or Russia in 2023 at the worst, I’m not sure that Romney’s plan to invest in oil is the best of all investments the US government could make.

On the other hand his idea of establishing “ARPA-E”, an agency dedicated to financing the study of energy production technologies in a similar manner that DARPA finances research into military technology, sounds fairly positive. I personally feel quite let-down that all of the big fusion-reactor research in the world is currently being pioneered in Europe.

 

To be continued in Part 3.

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Romney 5-59

Posted by publius2point0 on 2012/10/14


Mitt Romney, candidate for President of the US, has been reluctant to discuss policy in public beyond high level soundbites like, “I will reduce the deficit.” To many, this has seemed a dishonest method to go about running your campaign, but as he has pointed out, anyone who so cares to do so can look up his 59-point plan for turning around the economy – the economic situation of the nation being his principal running issue for the election.

Now, I have realized by going back over some of my old posts that I have never been great at bringing quotes from materials into the body of my text. This may be unfortunate, but I’ll just note that I am going to maintain this standard for at least this one article, given that the full document is some 153 pages and I don’t have an interest in writing something of equal length, nor of breaking the document into sections to be discussed over many weeks. I would recommend to read the plan alongside my text.

Here is the full document.

One general commentary that I will make is that I am quite pleased with the honesty of the document. The numbers it cites come from the OECD, the Office of Management and Budget, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc. Up to page 63 (the Heritage Foundation), there isn’t a number in the document that anyone could decry as patently deceitful (which people are liable to do, when discussing a partisan think-tank). Most significantly, the Office of Management and Budget is a cabinet office, and hence no number from this source can Obama decry.

Starting off, it mentions the larger 5-point plan:

End Obamacare

After this bold proclamation of a title the explanation then waffles about any specifics. In plain speech, it effectively says, “We’re going to direct all the agencies who were tasked with choosing how to implement Obamacare to cut out anything that they believe is wasteful.” I am not impressed, and otherwise he doesn’t seem to actually comment on Obamacare anywhere in the document except as the occasional pejorative. Turning instead to places where he has actually been questioned on his stance on health care, the result seems to be that he supports a personal mandate to purchase health care, with the government stepping in to pay it for those who can’t. He pushes towards making the only insurance providers private, not public, which I also encourage, but that is not significantly different from ObamaCare in any short nor long-term way. What he does say, that is different, is that private insurers should be no different from insurance gained via an employer. That is the one step that the nation needs to make, and a good one. Saying that he wants to end ObamaCare is a meaningless soundbite, which I’m sure he’s aware of. The real plan here seems solid.

Cut Red Tape

Again, “I will tell everyone to stop doing all those bad, costly things they shouldn’t be doing.” We will have to see what the document says further along as this is meaningless as stated.

Boost Domestic Energy Production

“I will direct the government to rubber stamp any applications to drill, where the application is a clone of one which has been submitted before.” I.e., if Charlie has used a Turboencabulator x5000 to make widgets before and everything went well, with no complaints, and now Charlie wants to use the exact same Turboencabulator x5000 to do the same thing in basically the same conditions, there’s no purpose in re-doing all the red-tape and paperwork that was involved the first time. Romney wants to streamline this process.

I suppose that this seems reasonable. But I would really need to question just how frequent an occurrence this is? Given advances in technology and the difference in geological makeup from one location to the next, I’m not sure that I would trust that there’s ever really two setups that are so similar as to merit a pass. And of course, this would mean that companies need to file paperwork to get checked for whether they should go on the fast-track or the old, slow path. For those who are rejected, they now have even more red tape to get through than before.

More importantly, I would rather see something more dynamic as regards our energy future – nuclear, natural gas, smart grids, etc. Overall, I’m reading this as a fluff piece to keep the average Republican who wants to thumb their nose at the Democrats happy, when in reality, Romney has basically committed to nothing.

Call out China as a Liar

To actually quote the body of the text, “Directs the Department of the Treasury to list China as a currency manipulator in its biannual report and directs the Department of Commerce to assess countervailing duties on Chinese imports if China does not quickly move to float its currency.”

I think the main thing to say about this is that it’s never going to happen. The grand majority of American debt is held by China. For us to start down a warpath of trying to ruin their credit rating around the world is just going to be met by them coming to call for us to repay what we owe them.

While I think we would be the ones with the more morally righteous foundation to stand on in that particular game of chicken, the end result will be that we’ll be the ones to swerve. China doesn’t feel bad about behaving badly, they’re never going to admit that they’re lying about their financial situation. The US will continue to honestly admit that we owe them quite a bit of money and quickly come to realize that we just look like buttheads to go after our creditor, however bad they are.

Overall, Romney would be a fool to do this, and certainly Congress and the Senate will do their best to shut it down.

Remove any Pro-Union Laws Initiated by Obama

Unfortunately, I don’t know much about this. My belief had been that Obama was relatively tepid about unions. For years, GM was making awful, archaic vehicles. Starting a couple of years ago, they began to see their reappearance in the limelight with car shows featuring their vehicles and positive reviews coming out about them. This had lead me to believe that GM (by order of Obama) had gone union busting in an attempt to curb the thinking processes that spoiled innovation, as well as shutting down the unfeasible pension plans the unions had bargained themselves into that were ultimately killing the company. Apparently, this was not the case. The unions are now part owners of GM and outside of some contract workers, Obama only seems to have been working to preserve the full payment of those pensions. Given that, I suppose that my only fallback explanation for how GM started to make a few decent cars is in the same manner that the Russians got into space: Technological theft and pointed political pressure to create one or two reasonable items, at the expense of everything else. It may be that GM bankruptcy #2 is just around the bend.

Anyways, we shall have to see what Romney says further on in the document, if anything. Not enough is said here for me to evaluate his approach.

 

Going on to the rest of the document, the first section is his Tax Plan, starting on page 40.

Tax Plan

I will skip over a few of the lesser items that are mentioned, but the general gist is the lowering of taxes. The big items follow.

Simplify the Tax Code

Romney desires to restructure the tax code and make it simpler and more rigorous. This appears to be less out of a desire to raise or lower the tax rate so much as due to the realization that an additional 36.4% beyond what is paid in taxes is spent on avoiding taxes. While it may be true that people can reduce their tax burden to 0% if they get sufficiently creative, it’s still likely that most people pay more to avoid a percentage of their taxes than they would pay just by paying their taxes. Making that the case saves the people money and allows the government to lower tax rates without lowering receipts.

While I question the accuracy of these numbers – it doesn’t seem like something one can accurately quantify without a lot of assumptions – overall this seems like a reasonable goal on the face of it.

The problem with this proposal is two-fold. Firstly, reducing spending is always equivalent to laying someone off. Specifically, if this measure reduces the spending on tax lawyers and tax advisers across the nation by 50%, then that is equivalent to laying off 50% of all tax lawyers and tax advisers across the nation.

Secondly, the reason for the bizarre tax code is because the principal method by which politicians hog trade or otherwise seek to achieve political ends is by affecting the tax code. In example, if you are the governor of a state which relied on corn sales to support the populace, getting tax breaks for the local corn businesses from the federal government is a big win. If you’re a president who is pro-union, removing the tax burden on union-guaranteed pension plans is a method of accomplishing your aims.

At the end of the day, all tax loopholes or disincentives that have been imposed are due to the political might of some corporation, party, coalition, or other entity. While it may be the case that to the majority of those who are taxed, these tax oddities are annoyances, and if we all voted on it we would vote to simplify and standardize tax code, the reality is that we don’t live in a democracy. Those who are willing to make their way to Washington DC and play hardball are the ones who get the grease, and the rest of us do not.

Fundamentally, I don’t think that Romney could hope to have much if any traction on this issue short of removing the lobbying system. But minus an alternative method for protecting against the tyranny of the majority (i.e. the lobbying system), I don’t know that I could really advocate this. I’m more concerned with the rights of advocacy groups like the NRA, the ACLU, or the Financial Industry. Minus pushback from the Financial Industry after Obama was elected, for example, I’m sure that ObamaCare would have done more than simply establish a new government health care agency. Private health care may well have gone away entirely.

Transition to a Territorial Tax System

Apparently, at the moment, the US taxes money which was earned abroad by a corporation as soon as the money hits American shores (though only if the US tax rate on that money is higher than the foreign tax rate, and only for the difference of the two). The theory that Romney offers is that this reduces the desire for American companies to bring the money home and invest in American growth.

According to Warren Buffet, “I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone—not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77—shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off.” I’ve seen people take this to mean that taxes don’t factor into business decisions in the real world – it’s all just a myth. It’s possible that Buffet meant it that way – though it’s also possible that he was being political and adjusted his phrasing of the truth towards that sort of interpretation. It’s probably true that people don’t invest in places with low tax rates and shy away from places with high tax rates. Rather they invest based on the sum total of all numbers – which includes tax rates, but also includes expected profit margins, growth rates, etc. – which overall form a “sensible” or “nonsensical” investment. The fact of the matter is that all the big box stores in the Seattle area are in the city of SeaTac because it offered them a tax incentive to settle there.

Delaware has a large number of the incorporated business of the US as “legal denizens” even though the headquarters are in other states, because Delaware has a long history of dealing with business law and its easier for businesses to work together if they’re all under the same legal system. So certainly taxes aren’t the only factor that a business or an investor takes into account, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when the number that makes everything come together be the tax rate at location X. Ultimately, every point you have in your favor as someone making a bid for new business is one more point in your favor.

So while I believe that Romney is correct in his assessment here, this still comes down to Keanesian math. He’s proposing to raise the deficit by cutting taxes for the sake of stimulating the economy. While the specific methodology is different, the big picture isn’t much different from Obama.

Regulatory Policy

The majority of this section of the document talks about the amount of money spent by businesses in dealing with Federal Regulation (specifically, $1.75 trillion), in a generally negative tone. Of course, this disregards the fact that regulations are (at least in theory) intended to provide benefits. For example, say that my preferred method of doing business is to literally work my employees to death and then replace them with fresh new employees. The government does some math and determines that giving trained workers 20% more personal time so that they do not die on the job ends up sparing the economy the losses incurred by training row after row of unskilled labor, while freeing those bodies for other, new industries. Overall, this regulation on my business, while costing me money in the sense that I must now close down the factory for a few hours each day, it will end up benefiting me by an even greater amount, such that I actually end up profiting.

The question isn’t how much regulation is costing us, it’s what is the cost-benefit tradeoff on average? Since 1997, the Office of Management and Budget has been required to analyse and report these values to the best of their extent. For example, here is the 2011 report. If you look over their numbers, you will note that the average ratio is positive. Of course this makes sense. If anyone was reporting a detrimental regulation, financially, you would expect it to be cut. Of course, if your livelihood thus depended on the financial cost/benefit ratio of a particular regulation, you might be inclined to provide favorable estimates. Still, one can pontificate on the true reliability of this report till his head starts to float off blissfully into the clouds, the fact would remain that you’re limited to what data there is in existence, and this is it.

But so what, precisely, does Romney intend to do about any of this? This seems to come down to the REINS Act.

I think we will need to take a step back to understand this.

Most government regulatory agencies, like the EPA, are part of the Executive Branch of the government. At some point in the past, Congress and the Senate were convinced to cede the day-to-day nitty-gritty of managing the welfare of the environment to a group with greater technical knowledge of the impact of particular technologies and wastes. Now that they have ceded this power, their ability to control the regulations created by these groups is limited to that they have over any Executive power – not much.

Technically, they can veto anything which the President or other body of the Executive Branch has passed, but this takes some effort. The Congressional Review Act de-ceded some of this power, stating that new regulations have to be passed by Congress – though if Congress doesn’t care to bother reading through or voting on the regulation within X amount of time from submission, then it will become law on its own. This spares them having to vote on every single thing the regulatory agencies are doing, while giving them the theoretic ability to block anything whatsoever that they do not want.

The REINS Act strengthens this by further stating that if the cost analysis of a new regulation exceeds $100 million (presumably, in today’s dollars), then it does not get the automatic pass. It must be passed by the Legislative branch officially.

Now that we understand the act…so what? To date, the Legislative branch has largely ignored their power to review legislation. Unless something makes headlines, they really don’t care and very few people are so bored as to sift through Federal regulations, hoping that a body which is specifically designed and crewed to review and monitor one particular bailiwick of the world will flub up in some glorious fashion.

If I work in a research group in the Department of Agriculture and want to propose something to my superiors that will have a noteworthy impact on the economy of the nation, I’m doubtful that I’ll do so flippantly. Is the bar for me to prove my work to my bosses in the DoA lower than it is for them to sell my work to the Legislature? Given that they have the technical background to analyze my work, probably not.

Overall, I don’t see a large demerit to the passage of this law, but nor do I see a great bonus. Romney has failed to make any strong case for using 1/7th of his plan target Federal Regulations. The most favorable thing I can say is that perhaps the number of specifics was too large for him to present in a document like this. The document doesn’t make any indication to this effect, though.

 

To be continued in a part 2.

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