Two interesting tech articles

1. Not sure why this didn’t occur to me right away: It’s time for robot pilots

2. I’ve long noted with amusement the way that veganism has been making it easier for consumers to gain access to many traditional “industrial” cooking ingredients, such as palm oil. It is interesting to see that it is also driving a lot of technical innovation:  Silicon Valley gets a taste for food

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In which I annoy Margaret Wente

It is true that the other day I referred to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a “warmonger” in the pages of the Ottawa Citizen. I did follow up this claim with the slight disclaimer that “I don’t mean that in a bad way.” Some people, however, have been having difficulty seeing how you can call someone a warmonger and “not mean it in a bad way.” So I thought I might explain myself a bit.

Margaret Wente, however, took things a bit further in today’s Globe and Mail, imputing some things to me that I didn’t actually say. Here she is:

Is Stephen Harper a warmonger? Some highly intelligent people seem to think so.

Joseph Heath, a leading philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, is one of them. In a piece published in the Ottawa Citizen last week, he wrote that the Prime Minister “is pro-war. He thinks that war is something worth doing.

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I drove 78 miles to the 100-mile store

This could be the title of a country song. I have lots of friends who love to shop at The Hundred Mile Store in Creemore, which is kind of a locavore paradise. I love to bug them about it, just because, you see, they’re all from Toronto. So they drive to The Hundred Mile Store — which is 78 miles from downtown Toronto. Okay, that’s not entirely true, they’re usually up in the country anyhow, skiing or whatever, and they pop in — so they drive more like 10 or 20 miles to get there. The point is that in doing so they violate the most important rule of socially-conscious food consumption, which is the “last mile” principle. If you look at carbon impact in particular, what matters most is the last mile — how the food gets from the store to your home, because that’s the inefficient link in the chain, where the big environmental impact is felt (mainly because the food is no longer being bulk delivered, it is disaggregated, so the social cost of transportation skyrockets).… Continue reading

The Greek finance minister on IR game theory

Yanis Varoufakis, the new finance minister of Greece, on international relations game theory in today’s NY Times:

“If anything, my game-theory background convinced me that it would be pure folly to think of the current deliberations between Greece and our partners as a bargaining game to be won or lost via bluffs and tactical subterfuge.

The trouble with game theory, as I used to tell my students, is that it takes for granted the players’ motives. In poker or blackjack this assumption is unproblematic. But in the current deliberations between our European partners and Greece’s new government, the whole point is to forge new motives. To fashion a fresh mind-set that transcends national divides, dissolves the creditor-debtor distinction in favor of a pan-European perspective, and places the common European good above petty politics, dogma that proves toxic if universalized, and an us-versus-them mind-set.”… Continue reading

Affaire HSBC: la pointe de l’iceberg

Au terme d’une enquête de longue haleine, en collaboration avec 60 autres médias issus de 47 pays, le journal Le Monde vient d’exposer au grand jour un vaste système d’évasion fiscale orchestré par l’institution financière britannique HSBC (qui n’en est d’ailleurs pas à son premier scandale)

La nouvelle fait déjà beaucoup parler, notamment à cause des célébrités impliquées, mais les véritables vedettes de l’affaire, ce sont les chiffres : 180,6 milliards d’euro transférés dans le plus grand secret vers Genève, par l’entremise de comptes HSBC appartenant à plus de 100 000 clients et de 20 000 sociétés. Et cela, uniquement entre le 9 novembre 2006 et le 31 mars 2007.

Il s’agit d’activités illicites, il est donc par définition difficile de connaître l’ampleur des sommes impliquées par les structures et mécanismes de l’évasion fiscale. Cette enquête, basée sur des archives numérisées dérobées à la filière suisse de la Banque HSBC, a donc le mérite de jeter une lumière sur cette réalité, même si ce n’est que de façon partielle.… Continue reading

Vaccination is a collective action problem

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the difficulty many people have grasping the logic of collective action problems — where the outcome of an interaction is bad, but where no individual has an incentive to stop doing the thing that is leading to that bad outcome (here).

I’m reminded of this problem every morning these days, since vaccination has been in the news, first with the NHL players, and now with a measles outbreak in Toronto. The debate over vaccination is a perpetual source of frustration for me, because people insist on treating parents who refrain from vaccinating their children as irrational, whereas in most cases they are not being irrational, they are actually free riding, which is perfectly rational, in at least one sense of the term (i.e. the one used by economists). Thus they should be criticized for acting immorally, as opposed to irrationally.… Continue reading

On philosophical and economic illiteracy

As I may have mentioned, I’m in the Netherlands this week, giving a paper at an Ethics and Economics conference in Utrecht. My paper (here) starts out by belabouring some of the issues that were raised by N. Gregory Mankiw’s much-derided attempt to defend the incomes of the top 1% (here). There was a huge amount of criticism piled onto Mankiw in the wake of this, but one of the things I noticed was that few economists challenged the most problematic feature of his argument – namely, that it is based on the zombie idea that paying workers according to their “marginal productivity” is equivalent to paying them the actual product of their labour, and therefore corresponds to some pre-theoretic concept of what they “deserve.” (According to this view, the marginal productivity theory of wages provides the foundations for a moral justification for the distribution of income under capitalism.) This is an argument that was bandied about a lot in the early 20th century (and given its most spirited defence by John Bates Clark in his 1899 book, on The Distribution of Wealth), and is almost universally regarded as having been defeated.… Continue reading

Academic roundup

No blogging lately, not just because of the holidays, but also because I’ve been working on a number of different academic projects. Here is a quick set of links, for those interested.

First of all, a Habermas paper that I have been fiddling around with for a long time finally came out, in Philosophy and Social Criticism. It’s called Rebooting Discourse Ethics. The official version is gated, but the MS can be found here. Thanks to PSC for letting me go on at length!

I’ve also posted a series of papers that I’m working on over at my page. The first, Why Do People Behave Immorally When Drunk? is coming out in Philosophical Explorations soon. I’m happy to see this one in print, as it was a huge amount of work. My co-author, Benoit Hardy-Vallée, wrote the first draft while he was doing a SSHRC post-doc with me at UofT maybe 10 years ago.… Continue reading