The Brass Tack

Let's get down to it.

VAT, stat

Posted by srconstantin on July 18, 2009

Bruce Bartlett comes out in favor of a value-added tax. The usual argument for a VAT is that, unlike the income tax, it doesn’t penalize labor or savings, but consumption, so it can make the US more attractive for investment and more productive. The usual argument against the VAT is that it’s regressive.

Bartlett alludes quickly to some justifications that bear expanding. He compares the VAT to a carbon tax (which, after all, is also a tax on most consumption). So the arguments (usually put forward by liberals) for why a carbon price wouldn’t have to be unduly regressive — rebates, sliding scales, and the like — also work for an ordinary VAT.

Also, Bartlett says that a VAT is “broad-based,” that is, that everybody pays it. He is disturbed by the fact that many Americans don’t pay income tax: “And I think it’s bad for democracy when people get into the position when a majority can vote benefits for themselves but not pay for it.” This seems to be an argument for regressiveness for its own sake. I’m a bit unconvinced.

But the fact is, we are going to have to raise taxes simply to pay for projects currently in the pipeline. Eventually too much government debt becomes a bad thing — someday foreigners will be unwilling to buy it. And the VAT promises to be simple, non-distortionary, and good at raising revenue. Ezekiel Emanuel likes the idea. The only problem is that ordinary people will have to pay it.

And, perhaps, that it’s vulnerable to fraud.

I can also conceive of problems with implementation: it will be appealing to exclude food, heat, and so on from the tax to make it less onerous on the poor, but this could make it tempting to choose certain commodities to tax more than others, which would be distortionary. (Consider how much state revenue comes from cigarette and liquor taxes.)

Interestingly enough, it seems to be progressive rather than regressive in poor countries. And if you consider consumption as a proxy for lifetime income, rather than annual income, then even in the US a VAT is only modestly regressive. In fact, if you literally used consumption to stand for lifetime earning, assuming that consumption was perfectly smoothed over the life cycle, then the VAT is by definition proportional (flat). Will Wilkinson has philosophical reasons why we should think about consumption rather than annual income when we’re concerned about inequality and the distribution of wealth.

VAT may not be so bad, and we might need it anyhow if rolling back the Bush tax cuts is not enough to cover current and future spending.


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On “soaking the rich”

Posted by srconstantin on July 17, 2009

Something is odd about this Economist article. It objects to Pelosi’s new House health care bill because it’s funded, not by reducing the tax break to employer-provided health insurance, but by raising taxes on the wealthy. One of the Economist’s arguments is pretty sound — the tax preference for health insurance is a market distortion, costing $250 billion a year, and it makes people over-dependent on employer-provided health insurance, making the loss of a job catastrophic because you lose your health care as well. We have higher rates of medical-related bankruptcy than do countries without this tax break. So I agree that it’s a mistake not to reduce the tax preference.

But the Economist mentions raising taxes on the wealthy (here that means those who make over $350,0000) in passing as though that’s intrinsically a bad thing. It seems to me that you at least have to justify why it’s counterproductive to “soak the rich.” Is the increase in marginal tax rates enough to really decrease productivity? Given that it wouldn’t raise the top income bracket even to Reagan-level tax rates, I think it’s not certain that it will. A universal health care system will inevitably be supported more heavily by the rich. And since according to polling, the rich don’t mind paying more I think it’s a mistake to automatically judge this as a bad thing.

Jamelle has posted on just this issue, arguing against the standard property-rights critique of progressive taxation. Jamelle spends a lot of time talking about how the rich don’t entirely earn their wealth, how Bill Gates was part of a network of privilege that helped him succeed, and I actually think that’s not the point. We don’t make tax judgments in a democracy based on whether people are “worthy” — a lottery winner and a brilliant tech wizard are taxed the same. And even someone who didn’t believe in progressive taxation would admit that some rich people are undeserving.

The point is that a liberal (in the Rawlsian tradition) thinks that certain outcomes are bad enough that redistribution is justified to prevent them. A property rights absolutist thinks that no outcome, no matter how bad, can justify wealth redistribution. Consider torture: if you seriously believe (as I do) that people have a fundamental right to not be tortured, then we must not torture, even if the victim is a scummy person, even if torturing him could save lives: it is the kind of horror we must never commit against a human being. A believer in absolute property rights feels this way about wealth redistribution. Property, to him, is morally equivalent to an extension of one’s own body; one is entitled to it, unconditionally. I don’t really think that’s true, not anymore. I think that if half the US population would die unless I gave a dollar, then it would not be wrong to take a dollar from me to save millions of people. It would be wrong to deprive me of property without due process of law — we do have property rights — but the scope of those rights can be shaped through legal means. Sufficiently bad outcomes can tip the scales. If, without progressive taxation, we have glaring class inequities and serious human suffering, then we can agree, through the democratic process, to pitch in and help. There’s an ordinary moral intuition about “pitching in” that seems to be absent in anti-tax ideology.

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Sweet Ass American Trends

Posted by srconstantin on July 17, 2009

These breakdowns by state on poll questions are very interesting and don’t line up well at all with the traditional “red state/blue state” paradigm. The above map answers the question “Are some human lives worth more than others?” Green is “yes,” red is “no.” Liberal states don’t seem any more egalitarian, in the sense of saying that all human lives are worth the same. Minnesota, the home of “Minnesota nice” or what one commenter called the “fairness belt” does much better than California.

Also note: Westerners are more likely to say they’d commit murder if they knew they would not get caught. Southerners (California included) rate themselves as more self-confident than Northerners (both from liberal and conservative states.) “The colder it is, the more likely you are to hate yourself.” As a low-self-esteem Northerner, I can attest this to be true.

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The Ballad Of Hollis Wadsworth Mason Junior

Posted by srconstantin on July 17, 2009

Apparently there’s a book club in Brooklyn that writes songs. This week the book in question is Watchmen, and there’s a wonderful, poignant song with Franz Nikolay of the Hold Steady, singing about the first Nite Owl. Link here .

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Bushwick Book Club also has a myspace page. Some of the weirdest, most charming stuff I’ve heard yet.

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Health Care: I fell off my horse

Posted by srconstantin on July 17, 2009

Well, not literally. I’ve just had a major change of opinion, prompted by some reading and some conversations with friends. (I think I got some of these ideas from Mike and Dylan. Thanks for changing my mind.)

I used to be staunchly against universal health care. This used to be my “health care plan” — Milton Friedman’s prescription of ending the federal subsidy for health care, drastically reducing all insurance coverage, and essentially making medicine something that behaved more like other commodities. It’s an important argument, and worth summarizing here. The reason we have expensive health care is that most payments are being made by third parties, partly because insurance payments are exempt from income tax. This subsidy for health care makes people spend more on medicine than they otherwise would, and it puts medical decisions in the hands of employers or insurance companies rather than the patients themselves, both of which raise healthcare costs. Third-party payment adds bureaucracy and makes medicine impersonal. Friedman was advocating a return to the good old days when health insurance covered much less, when a country doctor like my grandfather was a small businessman whose livelihood depended on keeping his patients healthy and satisfied, not a harried employee of an HMO. If people had to pay out of pocket for most health expenses, we’d all spend less on health care. It’s a great vision — and, to someone of libertarian politics, especially great because it’s free. All we’d have to do is remove a tax and some regulatory impediments to turn a mess into a well-functioning market.

But I’ve come to believe that this isn’t the right way to go about things. First of all, the subsidy isn’t the only reason health care is expensive. Partly it’s that doctors over-prescribe tests and procedures, even when they don’t produce better outcomes, because they’re reimbursed by insurance. Atul Gawande wrote on this in a New Yorker article:

As economists have often pointed out, we pay doctors for quantity, not quality. As they point out less often, we also pay them as individuals, rather than as members of a team working together for their patients. Both practices have made for serious problems.

Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coördination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.

That is, the solution is coordinating health care as the Mayo Clinic does, collaboratively, to maximize patient recovery at minimum cost: for instance, paying doctors a salary so that they don’t each have an incentive to increase their revenue by ordering a lot of high-margin procedures. What matters is how medicine is provided. Making individuals pay out-of-pocket is no cure-all:

The third class of health-cost proposals, I explained, would push people to use medical savings accounts and hold high-deductible insurance policies: “They’d have more of their own money on the line, and that’d drive them to bargain with you and other surgeons, right?”

He gave me a quizzical look. We tried to imagine the scenario. A cardiologist tells an elderly woman that she needs bypass surgery and has Dr. Dyke see her. They discuss the blockages in her heart, the operation, the risks. And now they’re supposed to haggle over the price as if he were selling a rug in a souk? “I’ll do three vessels for thirty thousand, but if you take four I’ll throw in an extra night in the I.C.U.”—that sort of thing? Dyke shook his head. “Who comes up with this stuff?” he asked. “Any plan that relies on the sheep to negotiate with the wolves is doomed to failure.”

This is the psychological issue. People don’t treat medicine like a trip to the mall. They don’t comparison shop. Often they can’t (changing hospitals is hard) and don’t have the information to know when a procedure is overpriced or unnecessary. And, being human, we have great difficulty treating health risk in the same abstract way we treat financial risk; we don’t want to haggle over heart surgery. But this means, if we take it seriously, that health care can never really be a market, because we trust the sellers (doctors) to tell us what we need.

So, hesitantly, I’m now in the universal health care camp. It seems that public insurance actually can hold down costs: Medicare has lower administrative costs than its private counterpart Medicare Advantage. That’s in real life, not in a hypothetical future. And a public option really could compete with private insurers by contesting the market. Yes, those cost savings are done by rationing, but “rationing” may well mean “cutting out unsuccessful procedures,” not denying care to the sick, since there’s quite a bit of waste in the system already; Peter Singer has a nice clean utilitarian case for rationing by outcome rather than by wealth. There’s even an efficiency argument for health care reform (it’s from Matt Yglesias but I can’t find the original link):

There seems to me to be decent evidence that labor market flexibility leads to employment growth. It also seems clear that America’s health care system generates substantial labor market rigidities as people with medical histories need to maintain a seamless web of insured-ness in order to remain insurable. There economic costs here seem potentially quite large, but obviously you’d need some really smart people to take a look at it.

But you knew all that, and I knew all that. It’s uncertain how we are to generate all this efficiency, because politics is a blunt instrument and senators aren’t philosopher-kings, but in theory a public plan could make health care cheaper and cover the uninsured, and the justifications have been well-known for years.

Why has it taken me so long to come around? Well, really, because I believed in absolute property rights. Secretly, not in mixed company, of course. But I found something compelling in the Nozickian view that it is wrong to force people, through taxation, to do things for other citizens. That no social insurance, really, is a legitimate function of government. That no matter how much anyone may want to make poverty less crushing or the loss of a job less catastrophic, we have no call to forcibly take other citizens’ labor to accomplish that common goal. Self-ownership, which is the basis of freedom, extends to property ownership. It’s radical, but when you’re young and nothing personal is at stake, that radicalism can feel bracing, like a strong wind when you’re well protected in a down coat.

I can’t believe in that anymore. I don’t want to sit around waiting for the minimal state while people suffer here and now. It doesn’t seem just anymore. It seems absurd. Justice is building a society that anyone would be willing to live in, rich or poor, of any race or gender or background. And yes, it is legitimate if a democratically elected government raises tax revenue for those aims. I realize that for many people this is simple common sense, but I’m a convert, and for the first time I’m realizing I actually believe in liberalism.

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The root of all evil

Posted by srconstantin on July 15, 2009

Jamelle and Grand Mute follow up on my obesity post, and point out that culture is important:

Because, for all the economic and technological factors that have gone into fueling the obesity epidemic, these factors have only been the “how.” The “why” of obesity stems from culture, and specifically the culture of food: what is food, when and how and with whom it should be eaten, and so forth. Basically, if people didn’t recognize fast-food french fries as food, it wouldn’t matter how cheap McDonald’s could sell french fries for, because the demand would just not be there. On a broader scale, people eat as they do because of a mix of old customs, new marketing, and timeless peer pressure – and, yes, because technological and economic developments have enabled them to eat so.

So what’s the point of this – if you will – sociological take on obesity? Even if we remove the enabling factors – cheap corn, “supersize” portions, urban “food deserts”, total ignorance of nutrition – we will still be left with the root cause of obesity: the desire for a certain (and incidentally unhealthy) diet. And that means, so long as a caloric surplus is available, people will continue to get fat(ter).

I’ve been thinking a bit about food lately, and this reminds me of an idea of C.S. Lewis’s, actually. The protagonist in one of his books is alone on a strange planet, passing his time by gathering alien fruit. He can find plenty of nourishing fruit, but once in a while he sees a brilliant red fruit, sweeter than all the rest. He’s tempted to focus only on gathering the sweet ones, but voluntarily holds himself back, thinking that would be too much sweetness. He reflects that perhaps the root of all evil is the human desire to only eat the red fruit, to taste only the most pleasurable experiences and have them over and over again. Perhaps, Lewis writes, that’s why money is said to be the root of all evil; buying things is how we ensure we can have pleasurable experiences whenever we want.

It’s possible to literally do this with food, of course. We can have every drink a soda, every meal a treat. (I don’t want to admit to what extent I actually do this — I think I actually drink more Diet Coke than water.) If an occasional red fruit is good, it would be best of all to have nothing but red fruit.

And interestingly enough, that’s exactly how Homo economicus behaves. All economic models have individuals consuming as much as they can of the things that make them happy. A model consumer will stop if he runs out of resources, or if his consumption has nasty side effects, but he won’t consume less than he could just for the sake of being moderate. There’s no self-restraint for its own sake.

I wonder, sometimes, in my grimmer moments, if we’ve become culturally worse at self-restraint for its own sake, if we behave too much like utility-maximizers and red-fruit-gatherers. Sure, food manufacturers and their calorific innovations are to blame for a lot of obesity, but maybe we’ve also lost an old-fashioned kind of asceticism. The automatic “No, thanks.” The embarrassment at putting too many lumps of sugar in your tea. A part of me, personally, is terrified by truly having limited resources — limited sweetener, limited electrical power for my laptop. I want all the goodies of life to be too cheap to meter. Maybe I’m like those conservatives who Jamelle says have an ethic of consumption, a commitment to the idea that a mighty country like America shouldn’t have to stint itself. We want to have all we want. It’s an idea that would be alien fifty or a hundred years ago.

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Obesity and economics

Posted by srconstantin on July 15, 2009

The New Yorker has a generally good article about obesity. Most of the points made are common knowledge and I agree with them. People have gotten fatter in the past few decades not because the nation’s willpower has suddenly been sapped by pod people, but because calorie-dense food has become much more abundant, and because humans are always easily manipulated psychologically by supersizing and the like.

But there’s too much emphasis in the article, I think, on the sinister influence of the agriculture and food-processing industries, and the suggestion that governments can encourage better eating and fitness by regulating food production. Yes, we could stop subsidizing corn and soy, and I think that argument has gained enough ground in the public imagination that it might one day actually happen. Yes, local governments could make an effort to make cities more walkable and bikeable and to do something about the food deserts in poor neighborhoods where the only thing to eat is a HoneyBun from the convenience store. (Even in my home neighborhood, if my family didn’t have a car, I’d almost be living like that.)

But when you come down to it, fattening food is a matter of resource constraints. To not be fat, you need to eat meat and vegetables. (Yes, or beans, tempeh, and vegetables). Now we all know that meat is less land-efficient than grain: meat provides about 1200 calories per acre per day, while grain and vegetables produce 6000 calories per acre. That’s a common argument for vegetarianism: you can feed the world better on veggies than meat. But it’s more complicated than that. That 6000 calories per acre per day is about the output of a nice organic vegetable plot; but a US corn farmer produces much more — 26,301 calories per day. Corn is a C4 plant, which means it can grow with much less water than most garden vegetables. Also, fruits and vegetables are still harvested by hand, which makes them more expensive. Sugars and grains are probably the most efficient crops in the world: energy-dense, drought-tolerant, and capable of being harvested and processed mechanically. They’re intrinsically cheaper, even if we had the best food policy in the world. Eating efficiently means eating grain and sugar; eating for leanness means wasting land, labor, and water on meat and vegetables.

It’s worth taking seriously the contention that it’s all right for everyone to get fatter. After all, negative perceptions of fat come from the association with gluttony and the lack of self-control. But experiment has shown that given the right environment, we’re all gluttons, so maybe that association is mistaken and we should quit picking on the plump. My problem with that tack, though, is that it’s not all about perception: obesity really is linked with disease. And as long as the rich are still mostly thin, this remains an inequity issue.

(I don’t think bans or taxes on fattening foods are the solution. Business will outwit them. Trans fat free foods just replace the trans fats with saturated fat; the trans fats were put there in the first place to avoid having to put saturated fat on the label. Also, fast food taxes amount to a punishment to the poor. And there’s an individualist case to be made that the government has no business telling an individual what to eat or what to weigh.)

If we want to make it affordable to eat well in the US, maybe public education, better urban policy, and an end to subsidies will be enough. But if we want to talk about global health, we’d need technology. As the New Yorker article writes, in developing countries “People on modest incomes suddenly find a cheap, calorie-packed diet within their grasp and make the most of it as soon as they can,” they write. “Unfortunately this means sacrificing many elements that are nutritionally more valuable.” The only real solution would be to make protein and vegetables competitive with grains in terms of price. If we could make in vitro meat cost-effective, one day a skinless chicken breast might be as cheap as an order of fries. (And factory-grown meat doesn’t torture animals.) We’d also need to really et aquaculture off the ground. And we’d need a new green revolution for non-starchy vegetables so they could be harvested more cheaply and watered with less. It’s going to take a whole lot more than a rooftop garden to do this.

Edit: A Grand Mute Proof notes that “virtuous,” healthy, organic food is just as corporate as any other kind. The narrative of food reform is usually painted as a few altruistic veggie-growing mavericks taking on Big Food. But the fact is, industries like to be funded (which is why the CEO of Stonyfield Farm is working with Alice Waters to increase federal funding for healthier school lunches.) To some extent that’s not terrible, as you actually need economies of scale if the goal is to democratize healthy food. If the food movement has pushed big companies to develop healthier foods, that’s a success. On the other hand, to some extent it’s simple corporate greenwashing, which too many idealists fall for.

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Cory Doctorow’s “Makers”

Posted by srconstantin on July 15, 2009

I like the idea of serializing novels. It made Dickens a bundle. It might be a good way to experiment with free content without sending writers into ruin. It’s especially good when the novel in question is very very good.

Cory Doctorow, he of the cape and goggles, is making Makers available in segments on the website, which incidentally has a great blog. If any publisher is actually making an effort to survive in a future where the internet still exist, Tor is. Pity I’m a student and not an eccentric millionaire who can actually buy thousands of dollars’ worth of books.

Makers is a novel about a business model.

“We will brute-force the problem-space of capitalism in the twenty first century. Our business plan is simple: we will hire the smartest people we can find and put them in small teams. They will go into the field with funding and communications infrastructure—all that stuff we have left over from the era of batteries and film—behind them, capitalized to find a place to live and work, and a job to do. A business to start. Our company isn’t a project that we pull together on, it’s a network of like-minded, cooperating autonomous teams, all of which are empowered to do whatever they want, provided that it returns something to our coffers. We will explore and exhaust the realm of commercial opportunities, and seek constantly to refine our tactics to mine those opportunities, and the krill will strain through our mighty maw and fill our hungry belly. This company isn’t a company anymore: this company is a network, an approach, a sensibility.”

It’s rare that you run into a book that gives you an idea. It’s all but impossible to find a book that gives you a funny, perceptive, useful idea on every damn page. And I’m only four segments in. Read it.

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Carbon copycats

Posted by srconstantin on July 14, 2009

Matt Zeitlin doesn’t like Anne Applebaum’s argument against carbon treaties.

Also, the reason people who work on global warming want an international treaty that establishes caps for everyone’s carbon emissions is because many governments don’t see the point of taking a short-term economically negative, politically controversial stand on global warming without some assurances that there will be coordinated global so that their carbon policy won’t be for naught. Ultimately, the reason we have the treaties, the documentaries, and the PR campaigns is to convince policymakers to put caps on carbon, increase the price of carbon and invest in alternative energy — all of which Applebaum seems to support.

think the real question isn’t whether or not Applebaum’s column makes any sense — it doesn’t — but why she wrote it. After all, she agrees with the mainstream consensus among people conerned about global warming that we need to get the incentives right to spur alternative energy advancements. But because it’s de rigueur for columnists to make a big show of disagreeing with some aspect of any consensus, especially liberal ones, Applebaum ends up sounding very strange.

Well, actually, the column does make sense. She says that global coordination for climate change through international treaties will be very hard. And it will. It’s a massive coordination problem; every country has an incentive to free ride. (Here’s a paper on the game theory of climate change treaties, written by economists at Columbia and NYU. Notable results: the Kyoto treaty was not a self-enforcing treaty. Because there is no world government, countries cannot commit themselves to sign binding contracts. It is possible to have a self-enforcing treaty, but countries would have to credibly commit to increase their emissions in case any country defects on the treaty.) It’s also important to remember that not all countries are equally invested in prevented climate change. Russia would be better off if the world got warmer and it had maritime access to the Arctic as ice melted. The countries likely to be hardest hit are poor, equatorial countries that aren’t the main emitters. A fair, successful treaty is an enormous challenge.

But if treaties probably won’t work and the US alone can’t reduce carbon emissions, is all hope lost? No, for a reason Applebaum touched on but Matt seems to have missed. If we make carbon expensive here in the US, it will be profitable for engineers and entrepreneurs to come up with cheap alternative energy. We spend all the R&D money and pay more for energy — but once we come up with our new gadgets, other countries can copy them on the cheap. The real issue here is developing countries: China and India. They’re not likely to accept a treaty that means a drop in their standard of living just as they’re emerging into prosperity. But they do seem willing to mitigate climate change if they can afford it — China in particular has been quite active on that domestically — so exporting American clean-energy inventions might work better than treaties. Think of electronics: they used to be designed here and manufactured (or knocked off) in Asia. Now companies like Lenovo are making their own innovations. A similar pattern could work for clean energy.

Matt’s point about treaties is essentially that they’re good political theater, that they “convince policymakers to put caps on carbon, increase the price of carbon and invest in alternative energy.” But that’s always a shaky argument because theater can inspire politicians to equally theatrical gestures, like the weak Waxman-Markey bill. And anyhow, domestic carbon policy isn’t for naught globally, because we can be the world’s lab for green energy. Maybe we should keep trying for treaties, but we shouldn’t depend on them.

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Why I wish I lived in Seattle

Posted by srconstantin on July 14, 2009

The Burning Beast festival,

The second-annual world’s greatest feast in a field—featuring a dozen Seattle chefs cooking whole beasts over hot coals—happened yesterday.

It only rained a little, and the carnivores’ spirits were undampened. A sell-out crowd of 450 people attended, a smashing success for Smoke Farm (the nonprofit haven for artists, philosophers, and other oddballs an hour north of Seattle that was both the site of and the beneficiary of the event).

Now, I don’t dig on swine, myself, but I like the idea of being able to cook and dress a whole animal. It’s a feat. I always liked the section on hog slaughtering in the Foxfire Book.

In fact, the current craze for bacon in all its forms, fading though it may be, reflects, in a time when demonstrating class means showing restraint about food, a commitment to awesomeness through arterial damage that I find quite moving. David Brooks lamented, “Gone, at least among the responsible professional class, is the exuberance of the feast. Gone is the grand and pointless gesture.” The New York Times misses the point when it sniffs at William Gurstelle’s “Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously” for including bacon among his risky home projects — “When Mr. Gurstelle begins to explore things like drinking absinthe, mastering bullwhips, eating hot chili peppers and throwing knives, his book runs briefly into the shallow weeds. There is even a disquisition on “danger dogs,” that is, hot dogs wrapped with grilled bacon. That’s not edge-work, it’s pigging out.” But pigging out is, in the minds of the baconneurs, a water-gun squirt in the eye of a society obsessed with health, safety, prudence, the denial of every reckless impulse.

Now in an age of rising global temperatures, thinking more about the future really isn’t such a bad idea. And changing ourselves into long-term thinkers might be our best bet at sustainability. This stuff is vitally important, and bacon and pig roasts are just a goofy gimmick. But a part of me rejoices that we’re not yet living in Norman Mailer’s “Utope cities on the moon,” run by the “natural managers of that future air-conditioned vault where the last of human life would still exist.” There’s a part of me that wants people to remain carnivorous, greedy, reckless, and fun-loving, watching the smoke from our own barbecues rise into the stars.

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