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This is the dumbest post I have ever written. You have been warned.


I found that last bit…intriguing. Backing our currency with cat videos would, of course, be very difficult to work (backing a currency with something whose marginal cost of replication of zero is probably not a recipe for stability)…but what if we backed our currency with actual cats?

i can haz currency stability

The biggest question to answer is ‘how many cats would the government need to hold in reserve to make the standard work?’ So I went back to look at how much gold the government had when it had a gold standard, and then, in need of a denominator, indexed it as a ratio to national income (using Piketty & Zucman’s data).

look this all made sense at the time



Rather than over-analyze the data, I just took the average value of all the individual year values, came up with 1.98%, and multiplied that by national income today (just over $14.5 trillion) to estimate that the government would need to hold in reserve $288.7 billion in cats to maintain a cat standard.

This means we have a problem. The Humane Society estimates that there are 95.6 million owned cats in America, and that there are another 30-40 million stray or feral cats. That means an outside estimate of ~135 million cats in the United States. Which means even if the government eminently domained every living cat in America, that would still imply a valuation of over $2,000 per cat, which is an order of magnitude more than the current market price. This would, among other things, be highly disruptive to the cat market. It would also be hard to sustain, since rescue cats are largely sold by non-profits at the marginal cost of vaccinations, microchipping, etc.

So what the government needs to do is breed cats. Lots of cats.


Assuming we’re not talking about a purebred standard, the kind of cats the government might be keeping in reserve would probably have a market value of around $100/each, which means we would need the government to hold, in reserve, twenty times as many cats as exists in the United States today – 2.7 billion cats. Firstly, that could take a little time – depending on how large a cat base the government started with (presumably they wouldn’t catnap every cat in America), as long as a decade. This is not the insurmountable obstacle, though.

Land is.

Cats, by nature, are kind of territorial.

all mine

One study, in fact, shows a leading cause of death for outdoor cats is…other cats. Meouch.

That same study showed that outdoor cats have quite a substantial home range – as large as 1351 acres, though the average is just 4.9 acres. Even applying that average across the board, to 2.7 billion cats that gets you to 20.7 billion square miles – over a third of all the land area on Earth.

So let’s assume substantial overlap – even if you assume 100 cats per home range, that still gets you to 200 million square miles, 5-6 times the size of the United States. To get all those cats into, say, Wyoming, you’d have a density of 27,602 cats/square mile – which is shockingly close to the human density, 27,779 people/square mile, of New York City.

Wyoming, in other words, would look like this:

everybody! everybody! everybody wants to be a cat!

And it turns out Wyoming land isn’t cheap –  if you apply  the $450/acre for ranch land quoted in this article, over $28 billion.

Of course, total land value in the United States is probably over $15 trillion at this point so we could just have a land standard. That would be a lot easier. A whole lot easier…




Than herding cats.

damn right i went there



I saw this come up in my email:

Alice Paul for President!


And thought “now the Republicans are against that, too?”

Karl Smith, who is very smart, is still stunningly dense on climate change:

One of the core ideas behind climate change is that if humans continue to burn fossil fuels then the earth will become warmer.

As it stands there are some places on earth that are so hot that no one wants to live there. There are also some places that are so cold that no one wants to live.

A baseline guesstimate might be that if the earth got warmer then the number of places that were too hot would expand and the number of places that were too cold would contract.

A possible strategy then would be for humans to move from the places that are newly too hot to the places that were formerly too cold.

Now this may very well be a horrible idea. In which case I would expect someone to say: I hear were you are coming from Karl but . . . . and that’s why that plan won’t work.

I’ve received a lot of email and tweets on this issue. I have tried to go through them all. So far I haven’t seen one that comes at it like that. Lots of folks mocked me. Some were kind enough to send along information on exactly how hot the too hot places might get and what the consequences of excess heat might be.

Yet, so far, nothing addressing why moving to cooler places won’t work.

Again, even if we are certain this won’t work its probably worth stepping through exactly why it won’t work. At least so everyone can be on the same page.

This is remarkably foolish. Just taking this at face value, you are just sacrificing an enormous amount of non-tradable capital by abandoning cities that would be in the too-hot category. People like Miami and Eilat and Quito and Nairobi and Jakarta and La Paz and Mexico City and all kinds of other places that could become overheated. We would lose a lot of built infrastructure, history, culture, and unique clusters of human interactions that way. Plus, if millions or billions of people are forced to evacuate their homes due to something that was preventable and not of their doing, that’s not very nice.

But this also radically understates what global warming really is. If all it did was “raise the temperature of every place on earth by X degrees” then I would just move to Boston or Montreal and call it a day. But it also, for example, melts the polar ice caps. Which could leave some of those formerly-cold-and-now-warm cities underwater since a lot of them are coastal. It could massively impact food supplies, leading to shortages which lead to starvation. It could cause hurricanes, tornadoes, and other dangerous weather systems to become more common and more extreme. It could make wet places dry and dry places wet, leading to flooding or fires. It could cause mass extinctions of species.

And most importantly, once you get into these kinds of scenarios, the simulations start to get haywire. Kind of like the scene from Sunshine (which tragically seems not be on YouTube) when Capa shows how projections of the bomb’s impact scramble the simulator past a certain point. This is what Matt Yglesias tried to say to Smith in a nice way about “tail risk” – is that it’s very possible that global warming could cause chain reactions of awfulness whose outcomes we cannot possibly predict. It’s the kind of thing economists have trouble pricing, sure, but it’s easier to price it when you acknowledge it. We’re not talking about just relocating vacation homes here.

I mean, seriously, dude, before you piss off the whole internets, at least read this first.


Apparently Jeremy Binckes at TBD has weird thoughts about more than just driving:

It was a long and contentious battle, but the D.C. Council finally passed a statistically small but symbolically significant tax hike on the richest residents. The smart thing to do after such a measure would be to not give the opposition — the design-inept D.C. GOP — any ammunition. Needless to say, a council member has done exactly the opposite.

Two days after that tax hike, $2,300 in taxpayer-funded furniture was delivered to Councilman Michael A. Brown’s office, the Post reports. The couch "smelled like and looked like it was new," but his staff insisted the furniture — four chairs, a desk, a bookshelf and two floor lamps — was used, purchased from Cort to replace "shoddy" furniture from the 1980s.

It’s not about how much it cost, really, but the appearance of spending money while taxing others. This is the practical definition of a disconnect. After all, if the existing furniture had been in use since the ’80s, why choose this exact moment to buy replacement furniture? Why not two weeks ago, or perhaps two months from now? It’s almost as if the council wants bad press.

OK, so let’s avoid the "appearance of spending money while taxing others," forgetting that this is sort of what all governments do at all times. In a parallel universe where the DC Council filled its budget gap with nothing but spending cuts should they avoid the appearance of spending money on themselves while shafting the poor and needy? Maybe! Or maybe sometimes the government has to do things that seem frivolous like "replace ratty old furniture" but are really just the good old-fashioned cost of doing business. The furniture has been there since the 1980s? Why not replace it now? Notice that even he is too embarassed to make this argument directly, simply pointing out a "disconnect" or a "bad appearance," "giv[ing] the opposition…ammunition." That’s because this is not an issue. Grow up.

From Lords of Finance:

To make matters even worse, Congress had decided to get into the act.

I feel like you’d have trouble pointing to an instance where the opposite was the case.

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