Monday, September 5, 2011

Comments From @EricSchmidt During His Dreamforce Keynote

Sorry for the missed blog post last week. I was out at Dreamforce in San Fransisco for work. At Dreamforce, the final keynote address featured Marc Benioff (Chairman and CEO of Salesforce) and Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman of Google), having a conversation on the past, the future, and everything in between. In the above video, start at minute 41 and 30 seconds. Marc asks Eric a question about how to fix America. I have been planning a blog post on how to fix America (which is different from defining a moral government in the theoretical sense) for a while, but I am still stuck on the issue of fixing campaign finance, and until I figure this out, I'm going to have to hold off. However, there are a number of other areas that are fully baked, and some of them relate to Eric's comments on the subject. This blog post is a response to those comments, and as such makes much more sense having heard those comments specifically. Please take a few minutes to check those out before reading any further.

"You need to focus on getting a better educated workforce." The primary means by which the species homo sapiens sapiens has survived over the last 200,000+ years is our intellect; our ability to look at the past as a means of modeling the world and using these models in predicting the future. An enormous part of this is obviously looking at the past part; and this is where "knowledge" comes in. We, as humans, leverage knowledge as a means of innovation; it is much easier to make new discoveries when you know the current state of science than it is to make new discoveries in the absence of that knowledge. As such, knowledge, and obviously education (which is the means by which we acquire knowledge), is the primarily means by which we are able to move up in the world. This is completely in line with my discussion of a social safety net, and a public option in education being a part of that, so no need to go any further on that train of thought. Still, it's worth mentioning, as is any agreement in principle by any highly intelligent individual. We all, at the end of the day, use our own mind as a means of evaluating the merit of the statements of others, but as I mentioned in my first ever post on this blog, that does not mean that we do not consider agreement from people who we consider to have intelligent, well formulated opinions, as supportive of our views.

Still, I wouldn't be writing this blog post if there wasn't disagreement. If you start where I suggested that you do, you will have to watch for a while; until about minute 57 and 50 seconds; until you get to the statement that is the foundation of the rest of this post. Right around there, Eric implicates healthcare, specifically, as the primary causal factor of our economic troubles. People getting sick --> government paying for keeping them alive --> government being expensive --> taxes being inflated --> people and businesses that would have, under other conditions, invested in their own growth (resulting in jobs and GDP), instead choosing to save their money. The problem, of course, is that Eric missed an important factor in this chain of events. The simple fact that our lack of health in this country, and as a result the high cost of healthcare, is a result of our food policies. To many, it may have seemed completely bizarre for a blog on philosophy and political theory to discuss nutrition; particularly as its second post; but Eric's keynote serves as a perfect segue into the discussion of why political theory and nutrition need to be so tightly linked in our current day and age; why fixing food policy will necessarily cause the cascade of events that will result in our economy once again being great.

In his discussion, Eric labels healthcare as the fundamental economic sink in our economy. By no means does he call for a removal of medicare, but he does state that the current state of healthcare in this country is completely unsustainable; that it is the primary causal factor in our deficit, and by extension our debt, as well as most other economic issues in our country. I, personally, would put our foreign policy (and by extension our military budget) into this group, but let's stay on point for the moment. We as a country are sick. Rare is the 30+ year old individual who is not sick; whether it be allergies, extra body fatmass, inflamed skin, acne, diabetes, cavities, thyroid disorders, autoimmunity, elevated lipids, etc.; and this is not "normal" from the perspective of evolution. These diseases that we experience are not as result of our increased life expectancy, nor are they as a result of hormones in meat, chemicals in the air, or radio waves hitting our bodies every second of the day. They are as a result of our idiotic, evolutionarily inappropriate lifestyle choices, particularly around nutrition, sunlight and sleep. These choices, which I have already labeled as idiotic, are in large part a result of the fact that the foods that are bad for us are artificially cheap.

My larger point is the following: compared to our national deficit, the 20 billion that we spend on subsidizing agriculture is small. However, when you factor in the fact that it is the cause of our health problems, and thus our healthcare spending problems as a whole, the subsidization of agriculture is much more significant. Eric has his facts right, but like Gary Taubes and his carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis, the effect that he is observing occurs downstream of another event. In Gary's case, this effect is the elevation of fasting insulin, which occurs downstream of leptin signalling as interpreted in the hypothalamus (it is shocking to me that someone as intelligent as Gary cannot recognize this from the literature; it is the brain driving the increase in appetite and fatmass, the observed effects of insulin clearly occur downstream of this). In the case of Eric Schmidt, it is the agricultural subsidies driving our healthcare problems.

It's not surprising that someone like Eric, who has a day job that involves dramatically changing the world on a daily basis, would not have tried paleo. So let this post serve as a direct call to action to Eric to give it a shot. Try a paleo 2.0 type diet for 30 days. He's definitely got some pudge on there, so I feel pretty confident asserting that 30 days will be enough time to see a dramatic benefit. The fact that the neolithic agents of disease and hyperrewarding foods are driving our sickness in the first place necessitates this outcome.That's the difference between causes and symptoms. In a self correcting system; a classification that definitely applies to the human body; Under normal circumstances (the standard american diet) the repair mechanism is mostly just a Sisyphean task. However, if one removes the antagonizing factor, the system should be able to start to make serious headway in repairing the damage until it reverts back to baseline.

While this in no way can definitively prove anything from a scientific perspective, there are times when effect is so dramatic that it is completely impossible to ignore the uncontrolled intervention as the cause. As I stated above, I feel confident that there will be an effect of an impossible to ignore magnitude; if you recall the example of my dad, he lost four pounds a week for about 5 weeks and had his cholesterol completely normalize over that time after having had it be high for years; that's the type of dramatic change that we are talking about. No other mechanism of action is claiming those numbers, even for its long tail. To me this has always seemed bizarre, and has served as evidence that we probably didn't have it right in the past because of my "self-correcting system" heuristic above. Now we do, which is why I am convinced that we have it right this time, at least in a black box sense (we can reliably predict effects from causes, but don't necessarily have all of the mechanisms fully baked yet).

Convincing someone as influential as Eric Schmidt (which, again, is what I expect would happen after even just a 30 day intervention), someone who has the president's ear, can go a long way to getting us back on the right track as a country. To bring things back full circle:

  1. Healthcare costs are the primary cause of our economic troubles (Eric's original statement)
  2. The high cost of healthcare is as a result of almost everyone over the age of 30 being sick in some way as defined above, and many under the age of 30 as well.
  3. Agricultural subsidies make the most unhealthy foods, the neolithic agents of disease, artificially cheap
  4. As a result of these foods being artificially cheap, they get consumed in larger amounts than they otherwise would, particularly by the bottom half of the income distribution, who cannot afford healthcare (microeconomics 101)
  5. Since these are the foods that are making us sick, increased intake of these foods results in increased illness
  6. Therefore, agricultural subsidies are the cause of our economic troubles, and
  7. Removing agricultural subsidies (the causal factor in a self-correcting system) will cause a cascade of events resulting in healthcare costs coming down, and the economic issues being alleviated.

2 comments:

  1. Not only did my cholesterol come down, but also my blood pressure. I do miss bread product, but am having some success baking cookies with gluten-free flour.
    Agricultural subsidies have always mystified me. Okay, in times of Depression or Great Recession I can justify them. But surely they should focus on really healthy foodstuffs like fruit and vegetables? I think I'll retire Down Under where all the beef is grassfed.

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  2. I'm not sure about subsidies. I think there's a difference between a social safety net type measure like food stamps and an across the board subsidy. The latter seems to violate the purpose of government in my opinion. Government is about safety, about protecting life. It's not about protecting paychecks.

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