The Daily View: 12/17/2023: University backlash, Eli Lilly, Morning people, Food, and AI

Item #1: University backlash

College presidents have taken heat for not doing more to crackdown on anti-Israel speech, which interestingly in the case of Harvard morphed into a plagiarism scandal involving its president, Claudine Gay. [To settle the matter, she submitted ‘corrections’, which is bullshit given that if this happened to anyone else they would be suspended, or fail the assignment, course, or even expelled]. It’s hard for me not to feel cynical about the recent Republican-led backlash to Harvard, Upenn, and MIT as being opportunistic and hollow. The GOP has never cared that much about fighting wokeness in universities or elsewhere, but only care now because it affects Israel. Otherwise, as I wrote earlier, the GOP pays lip service to the ‘base’, but otherwise sees wokeness at universities, ‘DEI’, and excessive credentialism as the ‘free market at work’.

These business leaders such as Bill Ackman and others, having already donated so much money, are only now getting involved because they see that this alleged antisemitism effects them personally and hurts their investments. If you dropped $40 million to put your name on a library, and now due to reputational damage the going rate is $4 million, of course you will take notice. As soon as the universities renounce antisemitism, including new management and firing of the old staff and promising to make Israel off-limits for debate, which is already happening, things will return to how they were–of pushing wokeness, and inaction or inattentiveness by those same politicians and business leaders.

Item #2: From Marginal Revolution: A Weighty Economics Puzzle. Weight is regained if obesity drugs are discontinued, Eli Lilly stock falls:

Yesterday a new study was released showing that patients on Eli Lilly’s Zepbound (tirzepatide) lost weight but regained a meaningful percentage after being switched to placebo. Eli Lilly stock “tumbled” on the news, e.g. here and here or see below. In other words, Eli Lilly stock fell when investors learned that to keep the weight off patients would have to continue to take Zepbound for life. Hmmm…that certainly violates what the man in the street thinks about pharmaceutical companies and profits. Chris Rock, for example, says the money isn’t in the cure, the money’s in the comeback. If so, shouldn’t this have been great news for Eli Lilly?

This is pretty dumb. The related tweet by Alex Tabarrok went viral and was shared by some of the accounts I follow, which is why I am discussing it. Apparently this is seen as a major ‘own’ against the conventional wisdom that drug companies make more money with recurring treatments compared to one-time cures.

It’s already well-established that the GLP-1 action wears off, such as for treating diabetes. Why would GLP-1 in the context of weight loss be different. Also, except for bariatric surgery, weight loss treatments are generally assumed to be lifelong given that drugs have a tendency of leaving the body. This was known to investors for years, so this press release provides no new information, but only reaffirms what was already widely known to be true, and confirmed by the drug manufactures themselves. Here is an article from as far back as October 2021 that purports weight regain, based off the original studies of Wegovy by Novo Nordisk:

People in the Phase 3 study of Wegovy saw their weight loss taper significantly around week 60. And when people stopped taking the drug, they started regaining weight, Novo Nordisk’s Brett says. The company is testing longer treatment periods and will release more data on maintenance in a few weeks.

The decline of the stock price of Eli Lilly last week must be put in the broader context. The stock went up so much over the past three years in spite of this public knowledge that the drug would have to be taken for life:

As shown above, Eli Lilly stock had already surged over the past three years. There are many reasons, or none at all, for the stock to have fallen that day. Maybe it was simply overbought and due for a pullback.

Item #3 Are you a morning person? You may be a Neanderthal descendant.

Isn’t this a racial difference? Something that Eurasians have that people in sub-Saharan Africa don’t? Wouldn’t this have serious implications for say, economic development, if some countries are composed of more “morning people” than other countries?

Even though I agree with HBD in regard to things like IQ, obesity, etc., I think he’s overreading into the racial angle here. The bigger and more obvious problem with the article is that the concept of ‘morning people’ or ‘night people’ is ill-defined to begin with. There is no agreement or scientifically precise definition of what these terms mean or how to measure it. I think it’s mostly situational: someone who has to commute to work becomes a ‘morning person’, but then a ‘night person’ on the weekends. What if someone goes to bed late and then wakes up early in the morning for an hour, and then goes back to sleep? What about variables like seasonality, climate, etc. Alaska has very short days for example.

Item #4: Ozempic, weight-loss drug fears settle into longer-term risks for food companies:

…sales of dry goods are up 7.6% in the past 12 months, while frozen prepared foods are up 5.8%, according to data from NielsenIQ. McDonald’s, long synonymous with greasy burgers, clocked an 8.1% gain for same-store sales in its Q3 results and is planning a record restaurant expansion despite weight-loss drug proliferation.

So in other words, I was right again (here, here, and here) in predicting that these drugs would not negatively affect food sales much despite the hype, and also will not put much of a dent in the worldwide obesity problem. The majority of people who take Ozempic/Wegovy lose around 10-15% of initial body weight, which although clinically significant, is often not enough to not be overweight or obese. A 300-pound person who loses 15% still weighs around 250, which is still fat. Tirzepatide is up to 20-25% of weight loss, but again, this is only an average; about half of users lose less. Obese people who remain obese despite losing some weight will probably be disinclined to continue using the drugs.

Item #5. This went viral: Excuse me, but the industries AI is disrupting are not lucrative: Gemini and the supply paradox of AI.

Excellent article. This agrees with what I wrote months ago about how the industries most negatively affected by AI tend to be small and low-stakes–things like essay-writing or graphics design. These are tiny relative to the overall economy and already cheap to begin with. Google is a $2 trillion mobile advertising and search juggernaut; by comparison, Shutterstock is worth just $1.6 billion dollars according to Google Finance. Same for Getty Images, which is worth just $2 billion. It costs very little to hire someone in a developing country to create content, like producing graphics or to write an essay. Or to even parse legal documents.

Although AI is getting all the hype now, the bread and butter of ‘big tech’ is ads. Tech companies invest considerable capital into optimizing ads and evading ad blockers.

In five years we’ll look back at why AI was not more disruptive regarding the job market, and why it failed to live up to its expectations of automating more of the economy. Despite the ability of AI to do these amazing things, most jobs do not involve ‘amazing things’, but instead involve complicated sequences of steps, fine motor control, or making various ad hoc changes or inferences and such. Human labor is so valuable for its ability to adjust on the fly and to quickly assimilate new information, which computers/software cannot do as well or at all.