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December 2011

"L.A. schools' healthful lunch menu panned by students"

Very interesting. Closely resembles my older daughter's experience teaching in a D.C. middle school, even to the derogatory phrase, "It's nasty."

Amanda Marcotte at Slate identifies, from the article, one possible reason for the puzzling behavior:

One problem is that it's simply easier to make edible junk food than edible healthy food. Anyone can deep fry a hunk of low-grade meat and pass that off as food kids will like. The kids, however, don't appreciate a pad Thai that's got the same sad near-food feel that school lunches have had since the beginning of time. Kids who reported liking the foods at the taste tests conducted over the summer are now complaining that the food is soggy and watery. Soggy and watery are easy to overcome qualities if food is also salty and deep-fried, but not so much when it's a pile of veggies and noodles.

Megan McArdle argues, interestingly, that it's just one more example in a long-running series.

This is one more installment in a continuing series, brought to you by the universe, entitled "promising pilot projects often don't scale".  They don't scale for corporations, and they don't scale for government agencies.  They don't scale even when you put super smart people with expert credentials in charge of them.  They don't scale even when you make sure to provide ample budget resources.  Rolling something out across an existing system is substantially different from even a well run test, and often, it simply doesn't translate.

"Nation To Bring In Revenue By Offering Official United States Of America Franchise Opportunities"

The Onion, doing its thing.

WASHINGTON—Amidst continued deadlock over how to rein in the federal deficit, government officials announced plans Tuesday to increase revenue by offering franchise opportunities to entrepreneurs who wish to start their own United States of America.

Banking on the popularity of its original location, the country hopes to make millions by partnering with franchisees around the world, to whom it would license the trademarked United States brand name as well as the nation's flag, motto, preserved landmarks, college sports programs, movie studios, and bicameral legislature.

"The Political Implications of Ignoring Our Own Ignorance"

Arnold Kling synthesizes Daniel Kahneman and Jeffrey Friedman to excellent effect:

However, I draw different implications from the hypothesis of cognitive hubris combined with radical ignorance. If social phenomena are too complex for any of us to understand, and if individuals consistently overestimate their knowledge of these phenomena, then prudence would dictate trying to find institutional arrangements that minimize the potential risks and costs that any individual can impose on society through his own ignorance. To me, this is an argument for limited government.

Instead of using government to consciously impose an institutional structure based on the maps of cognitively impaired individuals, I would prefer to see institutions evolve through a trial-and-error process. People can be “nudged” by all manner of social and religious customs. I would hope that the better norms and customs would tend to survive in a competitive environment. This was Hayek's view of the evolution of language, morals, common law, and other forms of what he called spontaneous order. In contrast, counting on government officials to provide the right nudges strikes me as a recipe for institutional fragility.