Ash Navabi's blog mostly about economics, language, and the language of economics.
Author: Ash Navabi
I'm senior economist at Housing Matters, a Toronto-based not-for-profit YIMBY group. In addition to housing policy, I also like to read and write about intellectual property, money & banking, and methodology. Other random things I'm interested in include space, physics, 3D printing, entrepreneurship, the English language, and internet culture.
In late 2019, Jordan Peterson went on an extended absence from public life. In a series of videos on his and his daughter Mikhaila Peterson’s YouTube channels (1, 2, 3, 4), it eventually became clear that he was suffering side effects from taking benzodiazepine medications (commonly known as “benzos”).
Despite the extreme detail the videos went into, the press reported these events in an incorrect and misleading manner. The most common headline and talking point became that Jordan Peterson was “addicted to benzos.” The reports later embellish this claim by declaring that Peterson was taking benzodiazepines to treat his anxiety.
Peterson was never “addicted” to benzos. He developed a physical dependency to them. There is a difference between these terms.
I am currently in a reading group on the Leo Strauss book On Tyranny, which also features essays by Alexandre Kojève. We just wrapped our first online discussion of the book, and it inspired me to write this post.
One of my fondest memories as a student was attending more than a dozen invite-only seminars on economic and political theory, which ranged from an afternoon to a full week. These were times when I got to spend time with some of the smartest students and scholars from around the world, to spend hours and delving deep into specific books, articles, and other intricacies of thinking, writing, and debate.
How do expectations affect economic decisions? The recent “inclusionary zoning” imbroglio at Toronto City Hall offers an interesting case study.
On October 22, 2021, the City’s Planning and Housing Committee approved the Inclusionary Zoning amendments, which would go up to vote in City Council on November 9th.
This news was seen as a surprise to many developers, as evidenced by the flurry of activity in the three weeks leading up to the November 9 City Council meeting. Dozens of new Condominium Approvals were being submitted per week; a huge increase, as the trend had been for only a handful of these applications per week.
The new rules go into effect in September 2022. This date must also have been a surprise to developers, because the day after the vote there was an immediate drop in the number of new Condo Approval applications being submitted per week.
As part of my work with UrbanToronto.ca, I have access to all the city planning and permitting data as they come in. This lets me chart and quantify this surprise. (If you’re interested in getting a summary of this data sent to your inbox daily, check out the New Development Insider. This report was first published there!)
Before delving into the charts, a bit of background info:
This week, Jordan Peterson released an interview titled, “Is Property Theft?”, with Austrian economist Robert Murphy. The conversation was fast and exciting, with a lot of references to books, articles, and other ideas from Austrian economics thrown in.
Since this is likely to be the first introduction to Austrian economics for many people, I am taking it upon myself to release a “study guide” of sorts for this interview. Here I will give citations, references, and other explanations for that may have gone by too quickly for the audience.
As a table of contents, I will use the time stamps from the original video as they appear on YouTube. Almost all of the links will take you to a free book, article, or lecture. That’s one of the great things about Austrian economics: there are a lot free learning resources.
A word of warning: the first few sections are much longer than others, as they provide a lot of necessary background information. Feel free to skim the information as needed on a first pass, and come back to it later for more details.
There are many ways to structure a story. But one theory says that they are all really saying the same thing.
Here I create a table comparing the four major narrative structures: Aristotle’s chronological structure, John Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Dan Harmon’s Story Circle (the source for my “But-Fore Story Circle“), and the classic three-act play.
I’ve also included two other structures, which aren’t normally considered part of dramatic storytelling. First is something I call “MMO”, which stands for means, motive, and opportunity. This is how typically how detectives determine who is the perpetrator of a crime. Second is “Human Action”, Ludwig von Mises’s title for his treatise on economics (I wrote a one-syllable summary here); it is a theory of how basic principles of choosing can be used to explain all economic phenomena.
MMO (detective principles)
Human Action (economic theory principles)
Call to adventure
You. Need. Go.
Prerequisites of action: felt unease about the current state of affairs, ideas about a possible better world, and a logical connection between ends sought and means required to instigate the change to get them
Challenges and transformation
Look. Find. Take.
Entrepreneurial judgment: whether the benefits of change outweigh the costs
Atonement and return
Action: making the choices necessary to bring about the desired state of affairs: exchanging with oneself and others to alter the structure of production.
What can Rick and Morty and South Park teach about writing a good story? Combining elements from the writing advice from the creators of both shows, I’ve devised a new way of structuring stories quickly and efficiently. In short, it is Dan Harmon’s story circle, with a logical transition between each stage: either a “but” or a “therefore”—a trick I learned from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park.
I explain the reasoning behind the But-Fore Story Circle in more detail below.
A bit of background: since at least the time of Spinoza, up until the present day, a limited number of people have made attempts at creating an axiomatic approach to understanding and studying the human psyche.
They have all failed to gain any traction or respect. The most likely reason, in my assessment, is quite simply having way too many axioms.
An axiom is supposed to be a clear, “self-evident” truth, from which one can then logically derive other truths. The most famous use of axioms is by Euclid, where he used 5 very simply stated axioms (like “The whole is greater than the part”) to derive a few hundred pages of geometry. Modern mathematical economics also uses a handful of axioms, while the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises only required one axiom (“Human action is purposeful behavior”) to understand the world.
However, modern attempts at axiomatizing psychology include dozens of axioms. For example, the “pyscho-logic” approach has over 50 axioms. What’s worse, is that many of these axioms have been expressed mathematically.
To me, this is unnecessarily complicated analysis. So below, I have attempted to give a start to a new kind of axiomatic psychology, using only one axiom:
Axiom: Thinking is the ability of a brain to observe, analyze, and decide.
An interesting weather phenomenon known as a “wet microburst”. which is when a lot of rain falls in a very small area, which causes a lot of winds as a result. These can look very cool, but are very dangerous to fly through!
Wet microbursts are a type of “downburst”, which happen during thunderstorms. A downburst is anytime cool air is forced out of a storm in a smallish area; if that air also has rain in it, and if the downburst is smaller than 4 kilometers in diameter, it becomes a “wet microburst”.
One way to think about thunderstorms is that they first need to “breathe in” by taking in warm air from the ground; and then as the warm air is cooled at high altitudes, the storm “breathes out” the cool air.
If the “breathed in” air is humid enough, and the high altitude air is cold enough, precipitation forms—which means the “breathed out” air can be either rain or hail. (This is why hail mostly happens in the spring.)
Most of the time, storms take in a “deep breath”, forcing the air to very high altitudes which also causes it to spread out, and then “breathe out” over large areas.
But sometimes, especially after a hail storm where the melting ice forms an area of much cooler air, the breathing out process starts much earlier—at both a lower altitude and before the air has had a chance to spread out over the sky.
This is what causes a downburst, and in effect it’s like dumping a huge bucket of water (or heavy air) from the heavens unto the earth. With gusts of wind that can travel up to 240 km per hour, you want to be very far away from one!
So how much vitamin D should a person be getting every day? The “recommended daily allowance” suggested by the Canadian and American nutrition authorities is 600 “international units” (equivalent to 15 micrograms).
A Brief History of the Modern RDA
Where did those RDAs come from? The answer is a 2011 report published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), called the Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Of particular note, it determined that Americans and Canadians require a daily vitamin D intake of about 600 IU per day by analyzing 32 studies of vitamin D supplmentation.
Their findings are explained and graphed in Chapter 5 of their report, pages 380-383 and figure 5-3: by supplementing with 600 IU of vitamin D per day, 97.5% of people will achieve adequate levels of vitamin D.