Thursday, September 29, 2011

Assault of Thoughts - 9/29/2011

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK

- A new blog on the economics of the digital age (HT Brad DeLong). One of the bloggers there has written about skills biased technological change in the past - I've cited him for my engineering chapter.

- WSJ on technological unemployment. As a short-run phenomenon, I think this should be taken more seriously than it is. As a long run phenomenon I think it's reasonable to dismiss it as a problem.

- Since Arnold Kling probably likes that last bullet point, I have to offer one he won't like. I agree completely with Karl Smith. There is a macroeconomy, aggregates are useful, and we can think scientifically about aggregates without deriving it up from the individual.

- Keynes vs. Smith on wine. I am a Smithian in the sense that I appreciate the distinctiveness of Virginia wine, but I'm not sure that appreciation quite amounts to terroir. In that sense perhaps I edge closer to Keynes.

- Bob Murphy raises some good questions for Steve Landsburg. I agree with a lot of it in the comments. The allocation of costs in Landsburg's post seems very selective.

I got more than four hours of sleep last night and my midterm and presentations are behind me, which is a lot more than I can say for the previous three nights. So I'm feeling great! Have a good Thursday everyone.


  1. Terrior makes glad that I am a beer and mead drinker.

  2. Yes - not as sensitive as grapes to soil conditions. Although I'm not sure why that would make one glad one way or another.

    The exception to this rule, of course, is lambic. That is a beer which can be said to have terroir.

  3. Let's just say that I am fairly skeptical of the concept of terroir generally. What's the basic science behind the concept for example? How exactly does the soil in particular impart some sort special quality to the grape? There has been a little bit of science applied to the issue, but not nearly enough to think in any definitive way on the subject.

    As for lambic, there are American brewers who make great lambics (IMO at least). I don't have to drink something made in Belgium to drink a great lambic in other words.

  4. You certainly don't have to drink something made in Belgium. The point isn't "Belgium roolz". The point is "lambic is a beer that takes on a lot of qualities of its environment - which is not usually as typical of beers".

    As for terroir... I'm not sure what you mean - this is a major area of research in oenology. It's all based on soil chemistry and light and water requirements. Pineapples grow better in Hawaii and Chardonnay's grow better in California than either grow in Virginia. But I would be willing to consider risking money on a Viognier grown in Virginia. Do personal tastes vary? Obviously? But all you need to accept "terroir" is to think that chemistry and biology matter.

    The question, of course, is "matter for what?". Wine production techniques have advanced too and mimicing is probably more possible than it used to be. Plus, as the link about Smith and Keynes said, people look for different things. If you like a balanced wine, terroir probably doesn't do much for you. If you like interesting tastes, it might be more important.

  5. You know when terroir REALLY got driven home for me? It was the first time I tried a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. Try one of those and then try a Sauvignon Blanc from anywhere else and tell me that soil chemistry, climate, and topology don't influence the fruit.

  6. "The point is "lambic is a beer that takes on a lot of qualities of its environment - which is not usually as typical of beers'."

    The point is that I find this to be a claim that hard to substantiate.

    "...this is a major area of research in oenology."

    Then please show me the peer reviewed articles in chemistry and biology journals on the subject. There really is not a heck of a lot of research out there on the subject that I'm aware of (maybe there has been a significant amount of growth since the last time I looked at it in mid-2000s). Plus, it isn't even clear to me what the mechanism that is involved would be I'd say.

    "But all you need to accept 'terroir' is to think that chemistry and biology matter."

    Yes they do, but claims made about what terroir means are fairly bizarre much of the time; such as the presence of some other fruit grown that patch of ground ten years before somehow imparts the grapes with say the hint of blackberries.

    "You know when terroir REALLY got driven home for me? It was the first time I tried a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough."

    Anecdotal at best.

    To quote Laurence Osbourne "Wine is 99 percent psychological, a creation of where you are and with whom." pg. 22 _The Accidental Connoisseur_

    That doesn't mean that wine is bad (it isn't my cup of tea so to speak), it just means that it almost entirely about something else than the so-called "objective criteria" of the wine.

    The same is true of mead; I in significant part like to drink simply because of where it comes from historically and all that entails. And some mead to me tastes better than others, but I am skeptical that it has anything to do with the soil that the plants grew in that the bees went to for resources to make honey.

  7. And yes, when I drink mead I do use it sometimes to segue into talking about the Vikings, because the Vikings are such a misunderstood group of people.

  8. Of course much of how people experience wine is subjective. What do you mean when you say "terroir" exactly, Gary? I simply mean that place-bound influences primarily associated with soil and climate make grapes grow differently and often distinctively in different areas. I didn't think that was controversial. You seem to think I'm claiming that where a grape is grown puts a wine in some kind of rigid objective rank order.

  9. Daniel,

    There is a broad, heated, intense and ongoing discussion about what terroir means, whether it is all B.S., some B.S., etc. So yeah, when someone (anyone) mentions terroir, I think of the notion within the context of that debate. Note that a lot of fairly serious wine people think that terroir is almost exclusively a slick marketing scheme, which to me is fine (if true, it makes it no different from say name brand clothing lines).

  10. Daniel (and Gary),

    1) Not sure whether I've mentioned this before, but have you ever taken a look at Rob Stavins' Journal of Wine Economics? Here's a post specifically related to the amorphous topic that is terroir. Bottom line: "[C]onsumers are evidently willing to pay more for the experience of drinking wines from these areas. While they may not discriminate among wines in terms of their intrinsic qualities, consumers are apparently responding to extrinsic qualities of wines, such as price and area of origin. So, terroir survives – as a concept, but somewhat less as a fundamental reality."

    2) Has anyone here ever tried any South African wines? The export list tends to be very hit and missed (I'm completely baffled by the mix of SA wines that I find in foreign countries), but there's certainly some excellent stuff out there.

    3) "Four hours sleep." You also feeling the workload pressure, eh? :) I keeping getting told that the first semester is the worst, so let's hope that's the case...


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