The RDA of Vitamin D is based on bad statistics

Vitamin D has been in the news lately, especially for its beneficial effects on immunity (as well as other benefits), and its potentially beneficial effects in preventing the development of COVID-19.

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.

Continue reading “The RDA of Vitamin D is based on bad statistics”

Forget about the second wave of the virus, get ready for a recessionary tsunami

Originally published at the Hill Times.

In the midst of multi-phase re-opening plans, Covid-19 cases are back on the rise around the world. This has caused talks of a second round of lockdowns to circulate before this first round of unlocking. This is music to the ears of struggling business owners. Yet we shouldn’t expect a government-orchestrated economic plan to be harmonious. The new normal for businesses will still mean a cacophony of higher input prices and disrupted distribution networks. 

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s fiscal snapshot delivered Wednesday predicts a very sharp recovery in GDP, with a gentle tapering of unemployment. This is a bad prognosis. With or without a second round of lockdowns, the economy will fall sharply ill again. Simply put, the global economy of the past few months has produced less stuff to use in trade, production, and manufacturing. What makes it worse is that these disruptions have happened at the arbitrary whim of bureaucrats. Even if demand returns to pre-Covid levels tomorrow, businesses may not be able to support their existing workforces or capital structure. 

The invisible hand of supply and demand will soon be greeting the market not with a socially distant salute; but rather with an invasive groping of revenue streams and supply chains. Investors and business owners must prepare for the worst. Expect more layoffs, store closures, and bankruptcies, as entrepreneurs unmask what the new normal will look like.

Politicians themselves will never admit to these problems. Many will tout that their decision-making has been prudent and shrewd, as they’ve been seeking expert advice. Officials tell us to expect the economy to bounce right back, even though these advisors are not economists themselves. Whether the recovery will look like a “V” or “U”, we should seriously question the alphabet soup of optimism that we’re being told to swallow. 

Foremost: politicians have no objective measure for determining what is and isn’t essential. The global supply and distribution system is, quite literally, unimaginably complex. The metaphor of a supply “chain” is misleading, as it implies a clear beginning and end. Since what may be a consumption good for one person may be a capital good for another, it’s more accurate to talk about an economic crochet—an intricate interweaving of supply threads and demand threads, coming together in an ever growing pattern of commerce. Plucking away at random threads may seem harmless at first, but it fundamentally alters the structural integrity of the whole economy. 

The impacts are already being felt. Scholars estimate an increase of over 253,000 cases of infant mortality this year due to the global lockdowns (compare that number to 550,000, the worldwide death total of Covid-19). 

Between overloaded mental crisis hotlines, deferred cancer testing and treatment, an increase in domestic abuse, disruptions in supplying pharmaceuticals, and a global food supply crisis that the UN’s World Food Programme says could lead to 270 million people being “acutely food insecure”, it will be years until the full effects of these lockdowns will be reckoned with. 

Governments around the world have been almost uniform in their response: hand out money to seemingly anyone who asks for it. Where did all this money come from, in a time when many are working and earning less? The central banks. Yet printing money to prop up financial assets devalues the currency overall. Ultimately, all of us will be forced to pay higher prices for everyday goods and services. 

Although this pandemic is novel, the laws of economics remain unchanged. Prices are determined by supply and demand, and enterprising individuals will find a solution to anything profitable. Understanding these principles will be the key to a healthy prognosis for recovery. The only complication to worry about is more meddling by politicians, which has a simple cure: civic vigilance.  

Human Action in One-Syllable Words

Human Action by Ludwig von Mises — in one-syllable words (inspired by the summaries of famous philosophical works by Jason Brennan). Here is a short summary, before launching into a part-by-part treatment:

You can choose. With this true face, we can use just our wits to learn some more true facts: like you act in time, you have doubt about fate, and that you give up your least liked piece of a thing to get more of what you want. If you live with a group that you trade with, you should each own the goods you use to make things with and trade them for cash. The cash math will help with your growth plans. If you don’t, your group will break and rot. If any bank makes fake cash and lends it out, it will cause a boom and bust. Folks are blind to these facts; you must help them see.

Continue reading “Human Action in One-Syllable Words”

Three Short Stories on Housing Economics

Originally published on Notes on Liberty. 

Do you love housing economics but have struggled to get the basic ideas across the younger generation? Yes, you get excited about reading 60-page reports, but kids these days have better things to do.

That’s why I wrote these three, action-packed, short stories which you can read to any child (or child at heart).

So without further ado, here are three stories about how the supply of housing affects the prices of housing.

Continue reading “Three Short Stories on Housing Economics”

The Economic and Political Dynamics of Zoning

Originally published on Mises.org

Ludwig_von_Mises[1]Both economic decisions and political decisions involve choices and tradeoffs. The difference is that economic decisions are ultimately informed and rely upon monetary prices, revenues and costs. Political decisions, meanwhile, do not depend on market outcomes—they can be based on love, legacy, favors, or establishing power relations.

Zoning is the practice of governments controlling the type, size, and population density of buildings. (Zoning should not be confused with building codes, which control the building materials and other design aspects of buildings.) The purpose of zoning has been to create separate regional “zones” of building types: broadly, these categories typically include residential, industrial, retail, and parks. The zones are then broken down into more minute categories, like low, medium, and high density homes, different kinds of retail businesses, and so on.

Zoning is a type of government intervention into economic decision making: it the practice of the state (whether it is the municipality, subnational, or national level) intervening in the affairs of private individuals in where and what they can build. By intention, zoning is a limit on the supply of housing. In effect, it is a limit on the quantity of the stock of housing; that is, it acts like any other quota or prohibition.

While many economists, from Rothbard himself, to even those in the mainstream, recognize the deleterious effects of zoning, there does not exist a single, thoroughgoing Austrian analysis on the subject. The purpose of this piece is to be that analysis. It is broken up into two sections: the politics of zoning, and the economics of zoning.

Continue reading “The Economic and Political Dynamics of Zoning”

Toronto city councillors want to make housing even less affordable. Ontario’s stopping them

Originally published in the Financial Post. 


Building more homes just became easier in two of the most densely populated areas in Ontario: Toronto’s downtown core and its “midtown,” a small strip of land centred at Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. For anyone interested in finding a place to live in those areas, this is great news. Continue reading “Toronto city councillors want to make housing even less affordable. Ontario’s stopping them”

Nudge of the Week: Design Matters

Last week, there was tragedy on Southwest flight 1380, when an engine explosion led to a broken window in the fuselage and the death of a passenger.

While the pilot, Captain Tammie Jo Shultz, was able to land quickly to prevent further injuries, the sudden depressurization could have led to many more injuries. Especially as photo evidence shows that, despite clear instructions at the beginning of the flight, many passengers were not covering both their nose and mouth with the oxygen mask

The problem, in my view, is that there is nothing obvious about the design of the mask that indicates it should go over both the nose and mouth. Its circular opening reassembles a cup.

In order to prevent misuse, misuse has to be more difficult to achieve that proper use. In this case, perhaps a more triangular shape would better indicate an orientation that would cover the nose as well.

Emergency situations, especially when life and death are involved, are very stressful. Stress makes people more likely to lose focus and make mistakes. Designing in a way that actively prevents error can save lives.

Nudge of the Week: How to Avoid the “Too Good to be True” Bias

If you’re selling something that’s cheaper than what your competitors are offering, consumers are going to assume that it’s not going to be as good. People are used to thinking that if they want a good product, you have to pay a more money for it.

But as we know from the computer industry, it’s possible for something to get better and also cheaper. So what’s the lesson? Detail exactly what your specifications are. Computers list all their components, so that making comparisons between models is easy.

If you’re offering something cheaper and better, make sure to detail what it is that’s allowing you to sell for less than your competitors.

Nudge of the Week: Dark Patterns

There is definitely an ethical component to nudging. A good and ethical nudge is designed to help someone make a decision they want to make themselves. A bad and unethical nudge makes it harder for a person to do what they want.

Unethical nudges used to be called “shoves”, but the term gaining more steam is “dark patterns“. Examples abound, from tiny companies you’ve never heard of to places like LinkedIn and Amazon.

The rule of thumb for determining whether a nudge is “dark”, is by simply thinking whether you would be happy if your local supermarket made you do the same thing. Would you be happy if whenever you went grocery shopping, the manager put items she thinks you might like in your basket when—you weren’t looking? What if they made you walk through a tedious and deceptive maze every time you tried to leave?

Don’t nudge anyone with methods you don’t want to be nudged with yourself.