Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Market Failures in Everything: iodized salt

Marginal Revolution has a continuing series called "Markets in Everything" which highlights unusual markets. But for some reason they don't seem to have the opposite corollary, "Market Failures in Everything". I may not have their readership, but perhaps I can help anyhow.

MR pointed to an amazing NY Times article, In Raising the World’s I.Q., the Secret’s in the Salt.

The money quote is: "Worldwide, about two billion people — a third of the globe — get too little iodine, including hundreds of millions in India and China. Studies show that iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Even moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points, shaving incalculable potential off a nation’s development."

And the solution is government regulation of private salt producers, forcing them to iodize the salt at a trivial cost, a little over a dollar a ton. The article details why this is necessary, but just on the surface it is obvious from the fact that universal iodization has never been market driven.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

David Friedman's Blog

I've been posting a lot to David Friedman at his blog. David ranges widely on many subjects, and asks questions that are interesting not just because they are topical, but because they are posed from a set of libertarian premises that is unevenly informed by science and reality and also bizarre.

We had a really stimulating discussion at Academic Tabu. David (and others) totally missed the distinction between scientific ideas of race and cline, and thus why human races are a bogus idea. There were side trips on the value of S. J. Gould's "The MIsmeasure Of Man", and the creationist fallacy of whether evidence against a competing hypothesis increases the probability of a remaining hypothesis. A number of others don't get the simple point that genetics could be entirely responsible for all the variation of a character like intelligence within each of two populations, and yet there might be zero variation of intelligence between the two populations. Or that if there is variation between the two populations, it could be entirely due to some environmental influence.

Most recently, "Dishonest Words". There, David plays pot-calling-kettle-black. I also mention a real-life counter-example of the creationist fallacy: the Monte Hall Problem.