The fine art of dentistry

“A team of researchers at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, asked a volunteer patient with three tiny, shallow cavities to visit 180 randomly selected dentists in Zurich. The Swiss Dental Guidelines state that such minor cavities do not require fillings; rather, the dentist should monitor the decay and encourage the patient to brush regularly, which can reverse the damage. Despite this, 50 of the 180 dentists suggested unnecessary treatment. Their recommendations were incongruous: Collectively, the overzealous dentists singled out 13 different teeth for drilling; each advised one to six fillings.” [Link]

This is in Switzerland! nearly 30% of the sample have recommended unnecessary treatment!

An article worth reading, even if a bit worrisome. Good to be alert. With dentists, it looks like you cannot stop with a second opinion. You need a third and a fourth, no matter which part of the world you live in.


It is very easy to write about ‘climate change’ and ‘denial’ in the same sentence. But, ‘denial’ is a human reaction to many things. When faced with a difficult situation or adversity, we first respond with denial. So, one of the usual cycles goes like this:

Crisis – anger – denial – acceptance – action – recovery – complacency – crisis.

Another situation in which we first respond with denial is when we come across something decidedly superior to our work and our knowledge, we respond with denial and then try to belittle it. When it fails, then we begin to accept it grudgingly. Perhaps, the ‘grudge’ never goes away.

So, the theme of this blog post is ‘denial’ in different contexts.

Here is a news-story on Miami going under water and how real estate agents are responding to it. The interesting lines that caught my attention are these:

The sea level in Miami has risen ten inches since 1900; in the 2000 years prior, it did not really change.

The second one that caught my attention is this:

This is the neoliberal notion, that the reasonable and mature way to think about this stuff is: Get more efficient and find the right incentives to encourage the right kinds of enterprise. But my friend wondered, what if the mature thing to do is to mourn – and then retreat?

I really liked this second one because it is in line with this blog post of mine, done a few days ago: ‘Problems and Solutions’. Humans do not or cannot have answers for all issues. In many cases, the ‘fix’ is to retreat, admit that we made a mistake and that we cannot fix it. Most of the time, the ‘fix’ is about continuing with our preferred way of living, not wanting to change it and that somehow we could have the cake and eat it too.

Closely related to this theme is the story published in FT is on a study by Blackrock that investors fail to price in the potential impact of climate change on their portfolios. No surprises there. The story has the link to the full study for those interested. [Link]

In the same issue of FT, there is also the story of the Great Barrier Reef slowly disappearing due to the effects of…….. ahem…. climate change. The first sentence of the article is a good-enough summary:

The damage caused to the Great Barrier Reef by global warming is severely compromising the ability of its corals to recover with a near 90 per cent slump in new coral growth last year, a study has found.  [Link]

This is from the story in the ‘New Yorker’ on migration from Gautemala into the United States:

In a sixteen-hundred-page analysis, government scientists described wildfires in California, the collapse of infrastructure in the South, crop shortages in the Midwest, and catastrophic flooding. The President publicly dismissed the findings. “As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it,” he said. There was a deeper layer of denial in this, since overlooking these effects meant turning a blind eye to one of the major forces driving migration to the border. [Link]

Another sentence in that long ‘New Yorker’ article on Gautemala, climate change and forced immigration to the United States caught my eye:

When the program started, the names we took down were all men,” Loyda Socop, another staffer at the C.D.R.O., said. “But it turned out that it was mostly women who were behind it. They were the ones who wanted to give this a try.” [Link]

Probably, it is worth studying if men are more prone to ‘denial’ and all the dangers associated with ego and hubris than women and, second, if they are more willing to adapt and change than men.

If at all there is some hope for a resilient response and recovery from the ravages of climate change, does it lie with women than with men?

Not that I think Sapiens have left much room for recovery. I think we may have gone past the doomsday clock with respect to climate change. We may mitigate, we may delay but not deny the impact.

Lastly, an illustration of the other form of ‘Denial’ – intellectual and/or ego-induced denial. My colleague, Raghuraman, pointed the ‘denial’ out to me.

This is a (very) long-form article I read in the early hours of Sunday before going to bed, on the Asteroid strike on the planet some sixty-six million years ago – on the moment the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began. A young Paleontologist (Robert DePalma) may have discovered the ‘record’ of that event in a place called ‘Hell Creek’ (what an apt name?!) in North Dakota.

What comes through, among many other things, in that article is the reluctance of the scientific community that this young man might have discovered what they have not been able to:

All expressed a desire to see the final paper, which will be published next week, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, so that they could evaluate the data for themselves. [Link]

The article was published on March 29, 2019. The paper must be out by now. Those interested and capable can go through the paper and decide for themselves if the young paleontologist has indeed stumbled upon the most amazing recorded evidence of the asteroid strike on Mother Earth.

For those interested, Robert DePalma is related to Hollywood Director Brian DePalma.

Lastly, I read that young Republicans are forcing their elder counterparts to shed ‘climate change’ scepticism (or, denial):

Mr Gaetz said: “One of the problems Republicans have with climate change is they assume if you accept the science of climate change, then you are [required] to embrace the left solution set.” But he added: “I recognise the obvious science of climate change. I didn’t come to Congress to argue with a thermometer.” [Link]

It is not just the Republicans who are to be blamed for climate change. One should blame even central bankers. Low interest rates and high debt have brought forward economic growth mindless construction – think Miami real estate!) that did not exist and have brought forward climate change. So, solutions have to start from the pursuit of mindless and structurally unsound economic growth. But, it might all be too late.

Well, we are like this only. We need asteroids to start afresh.

‘Has Asian dominance arrived’ and other links

This Bloomberg story tells us that global debt rose ‘only’ USD3.3trn in 2018 to around USD243trn, about three times the global GDP. If you want to know the background to this news, the link is there in the Bloomberg news-story. It is a research note by the Institute of International Finance.

Despite that, President Trump is not happy with Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. He says he is ‘stuck’ with Powell. This is quite wrong and dangerous. I am surprised at US dollar’s resilience in the face of such gibberish.

According to ‘What we are seeing’ (Edition: 22.03.2019), for the first time, globally, the number of 65-year olds has exceeded the number of 5-year olds.

One has to do more detailed work on the claim that Asia has become the world’s largest economic bloc and that its GDP now exceeds the combined GDP of the rest of the world, in PPP $. My simple response is ‘So, what?’. Of course, I could be very wrong here but the obituatry of Western dominance is being written too prematurely. Asia is at very high risk of internecine warfare and the West has a good track record of ‘divide and rule’. I would like to recall my MINT column from nearly four years ago that the 21st century would belong to the West or to nobody.

This blog post from ‘Bank Underground’ (Bank of England blog) says that rising interest rates increase labour share of GDP because productivity might fall faster than wages do. Or, we can add that capital’s share declines faster in an environment of rising rates due to correction in asset prices. Very interesting and important empirical evidence in this. It shows that a reflexive opposition to higher interest rates by the likes of, say, the Economic Policy Institute is wrong.

Democracy and Equality

I just saw a following header in an article at the website of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:


I think the author got the idea wrong totally. Democracy is incompatible with equality simply because humans are not born equal.

One can only force-fit them to be equal and that is not democracy. The State can attempt to level the playing field – opportunities – for all, unprivileged by wealth, birth, power, etc. But, force-fitting equality of outcomes and material status will be incompatible with democracy. Only autocracies can achieve that – for a while.

That is, put differently, autocracies have a better chance of achieving equality, assuming they are sincere about it. Even then, it is unlikely to last long.

One of the reasons is that equality is inconsistent with evolutionary logic.

STCMA – 15th March 2019

Study Links Eggs to Higher Cholesterol and Risk of Heart Disease [Link]

Across the globe, a question of air safety becomes a question of American leadership [Link]. I agree. America dithered a bit and damaged itself a lot in the process. Some pilot friends explained the nasty ‘penny pinching’ that Boeing did. Sad and condemnable. Chalk one more entry in the journal of ‘how capitalism is destroying itself’

Elbridge Colby urges America to take India’s side [Link]

Disturbing story of the treatment of Kazakh Muslims by China [Link]

This is from February 14. A fascinating long read on China’s mistreatment or harassment of young Marxists [Link]

Aarati Krishnan provides some good statistics on aggregate wage growth and breaks it down well. She explains why the economy is lacking the spark it needs. Well written. [Link]

On Thursday, 108 economists and statisticians put out a note urging that agencies associated with the collection and dissemination of economic statistics should not be subject to any political interference. [Link].

Some question the timing but the appeal has gained in legitimacy in recent months. The government’s many moves on different statistical data have raised more queries than answered them.

Honestly, this requires much more than a cursory mention. The article on how we need to save our ignorance from artificial intelligence is rich with philosophical implications and questions too. [Link]

The ‘Enlightened’ West

Now, of course, all the 12 disciples, like Jesus himself, were Jews – yet, as this new exhibition shows, it was Judas who western art chose to depict as the Jew, often with the red hair that marked him out as a betrayer, alongside his mysteriously fair-haired, fair-skinned fellow apostles. The power of the Judas story lives on: Judas a byword for traitor, the word Jew and Judas almost indistinguishable in several languages, including German. [Link]

I am glad that this article appeared in ‘The Guardian’ (ht: Rohit Rajendran). The important thing to note for readers is how optics is used to influence us and manipulate us, without us being conscious of it – Judas with red hair and other jews are ‘fair-haired’ and ‘fair-skinned’!

So much for Western openness, tolerance, reason, racial harmony vs. Eastern (Indian) prejudice, intolerance, bigotry and untouchability, casteism, etc.

Stuff that caught my attention (STCMA) – 15th February 2019

Who would have thought that ‘The Economist’ would be forced to write a leader on the love of the millennials for socialism. I think, once again, the diagnosis is correct. But, the solutions are hackneyed. Capitalism has gone to extremes. Share buyback, financed by debt, and its brazen link to executive compensation are just an example.

Pity that an astute observer like James Mackintosh twists himself too much to exonerate or minimise share buyback. It is hard to understand how one has to be mutually exclsuive about these things. That is, one can be critical of share buybacks and one can also be critical of the other stuff that he writes. Why does it have to be EITHER/OR?

This is incredible. The story is about how some of the corporate bonds that the European Central Bank bought went bust barely a year later. Had it happened in India, all hell would have broken loose and the Reserve Bank of India would have either had to close down and then be reinvented or the entire management and the Board would have had to resign. But, there is barely an eyelid batted in Europe. They preach governance to us. Read these extracts:

Scores of banks and bond investors were freely lending to investment-grade rated companies on not particularly onerous terms back in 2016. Yet the ECB determined that jostling its way to the front of this queue would boost investment and create jobs. What it did create were immediate pricing distortions, with companies able to issue negative-yielding bonds for the first time — charging investors for the privilege of lending to them. …

This QE bezzle was sometimes dramatically revealed even while central bank bond-buying was in full swing. Months after the ECB bought Steinhoff’s bonds in 2017, it had to dump the position at half face value amid an accounting scandal at the retailer. [Link]

I do not think Indians are paying attention to what is happening in Italy although folks of Italian origin continue to make the news in Indian politics. Mateo Salvini, one of the two Italian Deputy Prime Ministers,spoke about seizing the gold reserves from the Bank of Italy. Again, had the Government in India spoken like this, the so-called elites will have concluded that India was doomed forever.

In the meantime, the other Deputy Prime Minister did meet anti-government protesters in France:

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said he met leaders of France’s “yellow vest” anti-government movement on Tuesday, an encounter likely to further test already strained bilateral relations. [Link]

Interesting, isn’t it?

For economists who see ominous patterns in the world of numbers, one figure — 18 — is giving pause for thought. Last year, China, the world’s second-largest economy, accounted for 18 per cent of the global economy — just like Japan on the cusp of a decade of stagnation, and just like the Soviet Union shortly before it collapsed.

“In different ways, the USSR and Japan both stumbled when they faced the need to generate growth from more bottom-up, entrepreneurial, service- and network-oriented activities,” says Arthur Kroeber, managing director of research company Gavekal Dragonomics. “Despite a strong record of bottom-up dynamism, China is now moving in a much more statist direction.” [Link]

That leads to interesting political battles too:

Last month, the son of 1980s reformist leader Hu Yaobang warned that the USSR’s demise was due to overly centralised power and over-reliance on a planned economy, in a pointed swipe at Mr Xi. The son of reformist leader Deng Xiaoping has similarly warned that the country’s aggressive international stance could lead to danger. [Link]

The Free Exchange blog in ‘The Economist’ argues that a world without Facebook will be a better place. It might be hard to quarrel with that, even for FB users.