Briefly, On The Rational Consumption Of Coffee

Briefly, On The Rational Consumption Of Coffee

Rose Woodhouse’s excellent post about voting and economic rationality once again rekindled my own interest in the idea that we as human beings are capable of deciding upon the rationality of another person’s decisions. Perhaps that’s phrased wrong: we’re obviously capable of judging the apparently irrational decisions of third-parties. The question that interests me is whether or not we’re right, and my contention is that in very single imaginable scenario of perceived irrationality by a third party, we’re wrong.

Given how enthusiastically received my “Come on guys, let’s all be relativists!” arguments tend to go, I don’t imagine I’ll be anymore popular after asserting that all human beings are entirely rational actors. But popularity be damned; I simply cannot force myself to assume that there are other human beings out there who don’t know what they’re doing. I’d like to offer an illustrative example of why I believe what I believe. It has to do with coffee.

But before getting into coffee, a brief sojourn back to Rose’s post, in which she declared indignation about the offensive idea that people vote against their own self-interest as defined by others. She wrote:

The working assumption seems to be that to vote for any reason other than economic self-interest is to be somehow bamboozled. Or at least, clearly irrational.

In a nutshell, the opinion seems to be, “These are things you ought to care about, but since you apparently don’t, you and your decisions are irrational!” You won’t be surprised to discover that these things you ought to care about often line up very conveniently with the things that the person making such a comment already believes. We hear this often in the realm of politics. Entire books have been written dedicated to a debate about the rationality of voting and I remember running into the concept whilst a very bad woefully ineffective graduate student. Why, I always wondered, were we assuming our calculations of rational behavior onto third parties? Why, I also wondered, were we trusting what people said and not what people did?

That later point is a big one for me: as a social worker, I worked exclusively with children who often promised me that their behavior was going to change. And my response, every single time, was that I didn’t care what they told me, I cared what they actually did. That was our metric of measuring success. A kid who frequently stole from other kids promising to change wasn’t nearly as valuable as a kid who stole from other kids not stealing as much from other kids. It was this experience, repeatedly daily for three years, which left totally unconvinced about what people say and totally taken with what people do.

So then, for us to judge a voter’s rationality then seems like a fool’s errand: we can’t be certain of what got them into that voting booth, but we can be certain that they were in that booth and not doing any of the other things that they could have been doing instead. What mattered most to them was voting; what came in second place was literally everything else. That seems to me to be a person who has prioritized voting in their lives, not an irrational nut incapable of deciding for themselves what is and isn’t best.

But is voting a good topic for a consideration of rationality? Maybe not. So I want to try asking something else instead: is it rational to consume coffee? Well…

-Yes, it is rational, because coffee contributes to your health in numerous ways, including the prevention of diabetes, helping us to avoid heart attacks and strokes, and a decreased risk of Parkinson’s Disease.

But…

-No, it isn’t rational, because most coffee contains caffeine, an addictive stimulant which can ruin sleep patterns and, according to some, complicate pregnancy. Furthermore, quitting caffeine can induce withdrawal.

But…

-Yes, it is rational, because coffee is delicious, as evidence by the fact that people the world over not only consume the stuff, but figure out new and fascinating ways to make the stuff.

But…

-No, it isn’t rational, because coffee is bitter, and of the five tastes, bitter is the one that is supposed to caution us away from consumption due to its association with toxicity.

But…

-Yes, it is rational, coffee looks fantastic

But…

-No, it isn’t rational, because these people are awful.

But…but…but…

To have those that judge the rationality of others tell it, we can know the right and wrong reasons for consuming coffee, and from that, we can effectively judge the decision to do so, just as we can do with voting (or, frankly, with anything). But there are so many reasons for doing nearly anything. We cannot know how or why an individual prioritizes their decision making; we can only see the decisions that those individuals make. From that, it seems much more reasonable that we can back into an understanding of their apparent preferences and knowing that, we can take educated guesses at their rationality. Even then though we are still unlikely to possess a comprehensive view of an individual’s reasons for doing this and not that.

One final thought: why do I consume coffee? Because when I turned 30, I decided that coffee was a drink I ought to consume, and I fought myself to learn to drink it and enjoy it. This involved many of bitter faces and exasperated reactions from my wife and my children. For me though, the challenge of learning coffee outweighed the initially bad experiences. This is, in hindsight, a relatively ridiculous thing to have done, and I seriously doubt that any economist anywhere would have been capable of teasing out that explanation for why I did what I did. But I write this having just finished a cup of coffee that I thoroughly enjoyed and having just uploaded pictures to a tiny tumblr dedicated to the drink’s imagery.

I struggle to see the irrationality of the explanation that I have offered for my own behavior, just as I struggle to think that anybody anywhere is acting irrationality when they do the things that they do, even if they’re not things that I myself would do.

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78 thoughts on “Briefly, On The Rational Consumption Of Coffee

  1. I simply cannot force myself to assume that there are other human beings out there who don’t know what they’re doing.

    This part I find really unusual. I mean, I grok the rest of your piece and all, but in my general experience the vast majority of people hold ideas in their head that are logically inconsistent. That makes ’em pretty irrational, in my book.

    Any one of their singular ideas, presented in a vacuum, might be considered rational if you talk to them long enough; these are my root principles, and adding some logic spice on top and simmering for 20 minutes, I come to that conclusion. Seems rational enough.

    But then, of course, you ask them about some other idea that they hold, and they go with; these are my root principles, and adding some logic spice on top and baking for two hours, I come to that conclusion.

    But wait. When you were talking about this one of your root principles in argument number one, you said the principle plus the logic led you to foo, and now you’re saying it’s bar.

    And then we spend the next hour listening to special pleading.

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    • “…in my general experience the vast majority of people hold ideas in their head that are logically inconsistent. That makes ‘em pretty irrational, in my book.”

      But that assumes they are seeking a consistent end.

      I work out pretty regularly. I do this because I like the way I feel when I’m working out regularly, I like the way I look when I’m working out regularly, I enjoy the feeling of working out.

      I sometimes eat cheeseburger. Often times, after eating a cheeseburger, I don’t like the way I feel. I do not like the way a diet of cheeseburgers would make me look. I do enjoy the feeling of eating a cheeseburger.

      If you saw me pumping iron on Monday and pumping cheeseburgers on Tuesday, you might think, “Kazzy! What are you doing? That’s irrational!” What I would tell you is that on Monday, I was seeking the desirable ends that working out offered me. But on Tuesday, I was in a different mood, in a different place, and I needed the ends that eating a cheeseburger would offer me. Because my needs on Monday are different than my needs on Tuesday. And I don’t see anything irrational about that.

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      • It’s one thing to not be a Vulcan.

        It’s perfectly fine to have sliding scales for things on any given day. But then you have to admit that the scales slide.

        “I generally prefer being mostly healthy, but occasionally I eat a plate of sliders and onion rings dipped in this ridiculous bbq sauce because I find it enjoyable.” isn’t inconsistent, because you’re not claiming that you *always* eat healthy.

        It is another thing to say that eating healthy is fundamentally always your goal, and you always eat healthy because your total body health is itself so vastly important to you that you cannot conceive of ever eating a cheeseburger, but excuse me a second I gotta go have my smoke break.

        Usually, when I ask people why they do something that’s particularly interesting, their initial description of their justification is based upon absolutes. I can’t ever consider doing the alternative. I must do this thing. I decided I must do this thing because of this laundry list of absolutes.

        But no, it turns out that none of those things are absolutes, because you violate each one of them over here and over there and across the way. So really, the only reason why you do that particularly interesting thing is because you like to do it, you’re just rationalizing your preference by claiming that it is a necessity.

        No, you’re totally wrong.

        Repeat.

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        • But doesn’t that go into Sam’s point about the disconnect between what we say we value and what we actually value? I cosign that point 100%: actions speak louder than words. If you tell me you absolutely value eating healthy and I catch you scarfing Cheetos, ya know what? You’re not irrational, you’re just not actually absolutely committed to eating healthy. And I bet, if pressed, you’d acknowledge as much. If you held steadfast to the notion that you did absolutely value eating healthy and that Cheetos were healthy despite all evidence to the contrary or that you weren’t even really eating Cheetos despite the fact your fingers are covered in Cheetos dust, then maybe you’d be irrational, though self-delusional might be a more accurate term.

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            • The person who lies about having eaten the Cheetos despite having orange fingers is prioritizing (desperately) you not knowing that they’ve eaten Cheetos over the (maybe) shame that comes along with admitting to it. That doesn’t seem irrational to me.

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              • That seems irrational to me, because it assumes something I think is an unreasonable amount of probability regarding the likelihood that they’re going to pull said falsehood off.

                “I don’t like being caught eating cheetos” + “I don’t like being caught lying” might or might not be an additive proposition, where (“getting caught eating cheetos” plus “getting caught lying”) is worse than either (“getting caught eating cheetos”) or (“getting caught lying”).

                But I think it is, from observation.

                In general the kiddos haven’t figured out that doing something shameful (not that cheetos are shameful, but stay with me here) and getting caught is generally less embarrassing than doing something shameful and lying about it and getting caught at both.

                I have a six year old, she hasn’t figured this out yet. When calculating risk, she’s pretty likely to blurt out a fib, because getting caught lying seems less risky than getting caught eating cheetos but getting away with it by lying. And yet, clearly, when she’s caught doing both she’s more embarrassed – observationally – than if she just got caught doing the one. The eight year old has figured it out, but he’s not yet good at assessing how probable his fibbin’ is, so sometimes he attempts it even when he knows the payoff is worse, because he hasn’t figured out the risk assessment portion of it yet.

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                • It seems me that your kids are maximizing their abilities to react to situations. Their maximized abilities are often bad and do not produce the results that they might desire – just as my four-year-old believes that not being able to eat fruit snacks morning, noon, and night is a Hague-worthy war crime – but they’re still putting together the pieces of the world as they understand it in an attempt to get the things that they want. That doesn’t strike me as irrational (but it does often strike me as comical).

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              • That level of desperation can reasonable be seen as irrational. But look, irrational is just a word that means what we mean by it. Is it rational to claim that Obama is a socialist Kenyan who hates America? Well if it helps your side win an election then the answer can be yes. Is it rational to actually believe that Obama is a socialist Kenyan who hates America? Again the answer can be yes. Was it rational for Hitler to exterminate six million Jews and spark a world war? Well he really really wanted the Jews dead right?

                But a world in which people engage in this kind of behavior is dysfunctional in one way or another. Arguing over which word to use to describe that dysfunctionality is a pointless word game.

                As for coffee, I don’t drink the crap. I don’t drink alcohol either. I’m not a hyper-rationalist its just that they both taste like crap to me. That isn’t a rational reason to not drink them. But then I have never found a rational reason to drink them either.

                Has anyone else noticed that intoxicating habit forming substances tend to develop a following of snobbish connoisseurs? For example:

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3CKVAvAEFY&feature=relmfu

                By a reasonable definition of “irrational” we are all irrational much of the time. It is usually easier to see that irrationality from the outside than the inside.

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      • Well, that’s the “interesting” part. I observe somebody doing something, and it goes from there.

        I get that if you move the focus to what they do instead of what they say, you can construct a much more consistent and rational explanation for what’s going on than if you open up their heads and scrabble around in there for their justifications.

        But I can’t square someone’s actions being considered rational when their thought process is self-delusional. It’s like KenB’s comment on regulations: any one might make sense, in aggregate they might not. Same thing here: any one description of what someone’s doing may appear rational, but in aggregate it makes no sense; it’s rationalization.

        Now one can argue, I suppose, that human beings are inherently rational actors, but are simultaneously self-deluded, and thus their thought process is actually just that of rationalization of the rational underpinnings of their actions. They do what they’re going to do, and they say what they’re going to say, and the two are disjoint mechanisms that aren’t really connected at all except by the wish-fullfillment fantasy being that pretends it’s doing things for reasons of the fantasy, when the underlying meat sack is following programming, and that programming is utterly rational. This probably leads to no free will and all that.

        That’s a reasonably coherent explanation for all the data, so it has that going for it.

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        • If you don’t mind, can we choose a “self-delusional” thought process and talk about it? Because it strikes me that everything we think of as being “self-delusional” is either the result of an individual who doesn’t possess the information about something that we possess (at which point, the charge of irrational becomes frankly unfair) or the result of an individual whose offered explanations diverge from their behaviors (at which point, it becomes reasonable to follow the rabbit further down the hole).

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          • Sure, that sounds like an interesting conversation to have. Maybe we could do a post-exchange.

            I’ll have to ruminate on it a bit (it’s going to be a busy day, so I might not get back to you in the depth you deserve until tomorrow).

            While I’m cooking on that, do you find the “Now one can argue,” paragraph in the previous comment interesting? I mean, do you think that’s a reasonable (and/or) probable model for human behavior?

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              • Er, depends on the layer of abstraction we’re talking about.

                Not necessarily. Self-delusion is a defense mechanism, so it could clearly be regarded as a rational *mechanism*.

                Application of it could still be irrational, in a meta-sense. Self-deluding yourself regarding irreconcilable propositions is irrational, because the propositions are irreconcilable… even while it is also rational, as defending the psyche from the charge that they’re holding irreconcilable positions.

                So it depends on how you’re trying to define rationality :)

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          • Here’s kinda how I sort it out. Perception, especially self-perception, requires frameworks. Stage magicians understand how easily we can be misdirected.

            There’s a movement afoot to keep movie frame rate low. Folks are complaining about 48 FPS — it makes things look Too Real. But then, people complain every time we get more fidelity. We do better when things fit our perceptual frameworks. Things make sense that way. In a sense, we have to delude ourselves a little bit to make the world work, simplify things.

            We get in trouble when the evidence doesn’t fit neatly into our frameworks. Is a photon a particle or a wave? Well, sorta both and sorta neither. We can describe it with equations but trying to Make Sense of it sends some people into a tizzy. Down there in the world of the infinitesimal, it’s still real. It’s just not amenable to metaphors from the Larger World. It’s real, but on a statistical basis.

            We live in real time. We don’t have the luxury of doing an exhaustive lookup on everything, we have to operate on partial information all the time. It is not a rational process. Intelligent people keep enough doubt in the mix to alter their frameworks to accomodate the new evidence. We call people self-deluded when one person doesn’t agree with two other people, but the only way we can stay sane is to constantly doubt our own conclusions.

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  2. My coffee tastes like grapefruit juice — or blueberries!
    Not bitter at all.
    It’s chemistry is not the same as what those studies are measuring.
    And it’s got far less caffeine than normal coffee.

    Want the recipe?

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      • Suppose you ask a person to multiply 9 x 6 and they say, really quickly, “Oh, 56!” The real answer is 54. Are you telling me that you think they’re an irrational human being who shouted out the answer that came to them, even if that answer was wrong? Or is it simply that their quick thinking lead to a mistake which they then said out loud?

        Furthermore, if you DID run into somebody who told you, legitimately, that they believed that 2+2 = 1,293,201, 548, you’re going to assume irrationality without even bothering go further? You won’t seek out an explanation for that answer? Come on now.

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        • There’s a difference between labeling someone as “an irrational human being” and labeling a particular behavior by that person as irrational.

          And there’s also a difference between labeling a particular behavior irrational and not seeking out the explanation for the behavior.

          One of the (several) definitions of rational that gets used in psychology is something similar to “optimal.” One of the ways in which we explain “irrational” behavior is by producing a model that performs rationally (that is, optimally), and then pealing away components of the model until we get behavior that is irrational (that is, suboptimal) in the same way that human behavior is. It’s a nice way of producing and testing hypotheses. Or for Tom (if he’s around), it’s a nice tool for abduction.

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        • Isn’t the core of the rational voter argument one wherein it doesn’t make sense to vote because your vote is unlikely to matter and you’re better off doing something else instead? If my reason for voting is, “Hey, I like that guy and want to support him.” then whether or not my vote has a marginal value, I’m still satisfying my need to support the candidate that I do. Dismissing that as an acceptable reason for voting is ludicrous, just as dismissing conservative voters in Kansas who obsess over cultural issues is ludicrous.

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          • The “rational” voter arguments generally use a very narrowly defined concept of “rational,” in which it simply means in accordance with one’s economic interests. I agree with you that this is a pretty shitty way of evaluating voters. It should not, and as far as I can tell, does not undermine every possible useful conception of “rational.” Hell, it doesn’t even undermine economic concepts of “rational.” It’s just a case of overreaching with such a concept.

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        • I want to understand why it is useless to dismiss the idea that people have reasons for doing the things they do, reasons perhaps that they themselves either cannot or do not want to vocalize?

          And what, other than rank condescension, is so useful about determining that somebody, or at least something they do, is irrational?

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              • If you assume that accusations of rationality are by nature necessarily condescending (as opposed to condescending usually in practice), then you assume a bunch of things that lead me to assume that you’re going to wind up in a place where surrealism is a comfortable dynamic for participating in reality.

                I dig surrealism. I’m just not a surrealist. I kind of wish I could be, in a way.

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                  • Well, one can be an asshole and still be right, too.

                    Although I suspect if you’re naturally inclined to approach questions of rationality with the idea that you know what’s better, you’re going to wind up being both condescending and wrong a lot of the time, so in that sense I agree with you, yeah.

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                  • The Myth of the Rational Voter isn’t quite saying that people are irrational though. It’s more saying that voters have no reason to think much about who they should vote for and why and so most people rationally choose not to. He even calls this idea “Rational Irrationality”.

                    An equally accurate title would have been “The Myth of the Diligent Voter”, but I guess that would have been less provocative.

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          • Sam, what is useless is a concept of “rational” that only means “has reasons.” It serves no purpose.

            If you simply dislike the label “irrational” because it has a pejorative element, then I’m perfectly fine with calling it something else that corresponds to a definition of “rational” that’s more productive than “has reasons.” But if you just mean, “has reasons,” then it’s tautological that every behavior is rational and therefore it’s useless to call a behavior rational.

            Put differently, I think it’s possible to come up with a definition of rational that isn’t (necessarily) pejorative but is useful, and which does not preclude analysis of the actual reasons behind a behavior (and which, in some, perhaps many cases, actually depends on those reasons).

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            • You are the psychologist, so I certainly wouldn’t dream of telling you your business, but I will say in my defense that I do not believe the understanding that people have reasons for doing the things that they do is useless. I certainly found that understanding that reasoning at least gave me an entry (both with myself and with clients that I worked with) into changing those behaviors. But perhaps I have misunderstood your point.

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              • Argh.

                I’m not saying that understanding that people have reasons for what they do is useless. I’m saying that such a conception of “rational” is useless, because it applies to every single physically possible behavior tautologically, unless the behavior arises spontaneously and instantaneously with no antecedents, which is, of course, physically impossible.

                So, what I’m saying, in essence, is that you’ve made the concept of “rational” or “irrational” useless by making everything rational. If everything is rational, then “rational” is meaningless, because there’s nothing with which to contrast it. You’ve essentially defined “rational” as “behavior.”

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                  • Then like I said, your concept of “rational” is useless, but I suppose that’s what you wanted. I’m just afraid that by so defining rational to get rid of it so that no one uses it pejoratively, you’ve eliminated the possibility of more useful conceptions of “rational.”

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                    • Perhaps it is useless. I don’t think it is an appropriate or useful way to interact with other human beings. But abandoning that train for a minute: what is useful about considering the rationality of another person beyond the boundaries of their own actual wants and desires?

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                    • Sam, I don’t know, what are we trying to do? Evaluate the adaptability behavior? Determine the accuracy of their reasoning? Determine whether they reasoned well? Determine whether their behavior is consistent with their stated reasons (which may then turn out to be different from their unstated, or even unconscious reasons)? Determine whether we should believe what they say? Determine whether their arguments are good? Determine if their might be better ways to get what they want? Determine whether their behavior is predictable in certain ways? Actually predicting that behavior? And so on.

                      Not all of these require rational behavior, but the concept of rational behavior, or rational argument, or rational motivation, or whatever, can be useful for these and many other purposes.

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  3. I discovered coffee while walking to work in the rain in Seattle. I was cold and wet out and the coffee made me feel warm and perked me up. I drink it because:

    It perks me up.
    It makes me poop.
    It’s good with dessert when dining out especially if I’d had alcohol.
    I like the taste.

    “But there are so many reasons for doing nearly anything. We cannot know how or why an individual prioritizes their decision making; we can only see the decisions that those individuals make. ” Damn right, and frankly, in this particular instance, I dont’ care.
    Primarily I use it as a caffeine delivery system. I don’t fetish-ize it and I stopped buying Starbucks back before they expanded outside the Pacific Northwest—because they roast the beans too much.

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  4. Coffee, like wine, is a drink for connoisseur and Joe Schmoe alike. About ten percent of both are excellent, fifty percent quite passable and the remaining forty percent varying along the asymptote of awfulness.

    Here in New Orleans, Community Coffee seems to be ubiquitous. In this office, we have these twee one-cup coffee packets, in little foo-foo wrappers, engineered for the Bunn one-cup machines. It’s a surprisingly good cup of coffee but it does produce a good deal of waste. I don’t like bottled water for the same reason.

    In Guatemala, where some of world’s finest coffee is grown around every house, the snobs drink Colombian coffee. I wonder if the snobs of Colombia drink Guatemalan highland coffee. But there’s a twist: on my first trip to Guatemala, I was served coffee by a prominent attorney in town and found myself getting a rush I’d never quite experienced from a cup of coffee before. “Oh,” he said “the Colombian coffee is fortified with coca leaf.”

    I especially liked this bit: We cannot know how or why an individual prioritizes their decision making; we can only see the decisions that those individuals make. From that, it seems much more reasonable that we can back into an understanding of their apparent preferences and knowing that, we can take educated guesses at their rationality. Even then though we are still unlikely to possess a comprehensive view of an individual’s reasons for doing this and not that.

    I wonder what future generations will make of our garbage dumps. There’s a new science, I suppose it’s really an offshoot of archaeology, called garbology. Archaeologists love to find garbage dumps, they call them middens. Neolithic people who lived along shorelines left piles of oyster shells meters deep. I was talking to a garbologist who used the old heavy glass Clorox bleach bottles as dating reference points.

    What will future generations make of our choices for president? They’ll have plenty to work with, if digital rot doesn’t set in and destroy the recordings we make. But I’m pretty sure they’ll be as mystified by our choices as we are today. They’ll have the advantage of a longer perspective but it won’t be any clearer. A good deal of the historian’s art is reaching pat conclusions which can’t be rebutted any more.

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      • I am just a bit of a coffee snob. I do not like robusta. I’m an arabica man. I put a lot of time and effort into finding good beans.

        While I was still in my Do-Gooder Phase in Guatemala, I did some reforestation work up near Cobán under the guidance of the university. We put in both native shade trees and coffee plants. The shade trees grow up to provide cover for the coffee and if all goes well, those trees produce fruit which feeds the birds which in turn shit on the bushes and fertilise them.

        Starbucks and the big guys used to come down and buy entire crops, paying a premium over the NYMEX Coffee contract. I set up a little system which takes quintal (50 kilos) of home grown coffee, cup tests them and puts them into a bonded warehouse run by the priest in town. A little bid and ask system is set up for those bags. It doesn’t move a lot of coffee but it does provide price discovery for high end coffee, un-distorting that market, making it more like the wine market, where a particularly good chateau can achieve its proper price point.

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    • I just got back from France and was surprised how popular those little Nespresso machines were over there. They quickly and cleanly make great individuals cups using little sealed pods. I’m putting this on my Christmas list…hint hint.

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      • Sorry, I should elaborate.

        First off, let me say that I largely agree with this framework.

        Second, it is often said that children are inherently irrational. The crux of this line of thinking seems to be that they often don’t act with ends in mind… they often lack reasons (I’m thinking specifically of very young children). While I think this can often be explained using just this framework, with children’s reasons being impacted by such developmental processes as delayed gratification, I do often see children who are literally just acting, often with no rhyme or reason (so called impulse behavior). Is this rational? It would seem not to be. The best I can come up with is that they are satisfying some sort of visceral urge, which might not be motivated by a conscious reason, but nonetheless is motivated by something.

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        • To my mind, you can’t hold against a person what they don’t know. Children, even young children, are reacting the stimulus they are receiving and act accordingly (and often outlandishly). I recognize in advance that this will be a serious point of contention, but I don’t see even children as acting irrational. Is there a term along the line of prerational behavior? (But even that is odd to think about. My son does things when he wants things. He’s only four. It often doesn’t work. But he clearly is doing what he thinks will work.)

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          • I’m inclined to agree with you on this. As a teacher of 4- and 5-year-olds, it grates on me when folks dismiss them as irrational beings. They are often quite rational. They are just operating with far greater limits than adults.

            The gap between why adults think kids do things and why the kids are actually doing them can be massive.

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  5. As a member of a field that is constantly derided for its supposedly dogmatic adherence to human rationality I know exactly what you mean.

    Economists are reluctant to call actions irrational because 1) “irrationality” can explain anything and therefore it explains nothing and 2) it creates the risk of pathologising other people’s preferences (a practice with a very unhappy history).

    There are basically two situations where I think it is legitimate to talk about irrationality though:
    1) As a statement conditional upon some goal e.g. “It is irrational to vote because you want to change the outcome of the election.” Naturally this kind of statement is only valid for someone who’s goals are actually the same as those contained in the conditional statement.
    2) In situations where it is impossible to construct a consistent set of goals that would explain the behaviour. This is the stuff Behavioural Economics gets into. The classic example is intransitivity – where a person demonstrates a preference for A over B, B over C and C over A. There’s just no way to reconcile that with rational choice.

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  6. If I’m understanding this correctly, and I think I am, it seems that you are positing most people say, “You are acting irrational” when they are really thinking, “You are acting in a way that I wouldn’t” and/or, “You are acting in a way that does not make sense to me.”

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