The Future of Crises
David Wessel is economics editor for The Wall Street Journal and writes the Capital column, a weekly look at the economy and forces shaping living standards around the world. He is responsible for overseeing coverage of the Fed and the Journal’s daily coverage of the macro economy, global trade and economic trends. He appears frequently on National Public Radio.
His book, “In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic,” was published August 4, 2009.
Previously, Mr. Wessel was deputy bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau. David joined The Wall Street Journal in 1984 in Boston, and moved to Washington in 1987. In 1999 and 2000, he served as the newspaper’s Berlin bureau chief.
He previously worked for the Boston Globe, the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and Middletown (Conn.) Press. A 1975 graduate of Haverford College, he was Knight Bagehot Fellow in Business & Economics Journalism at Columbia University in 1980-81.
David has shared two Pulitzer Prizes, one for Boston Globe stories in 1983 on the persistence of racism in Boston and the other for stories in The Wall Street Journal in 2002 on corporate wrong-doing. He is the co-author, with Wall Street Journal reporter Bob Davis, of Prosperity, a 1998 book on the American middle class.
Question: Who is to blame for the housing crisis?
David Wessel: Fact 1 is that the Federal Reserve was given by Congress substantial power to oversee the mortgage industry. Not all of it, but some of it. Fact 2, the Federal Reserve had the power to ban unfair and deceptive practices in mortgage lending and other lending and didn’t use that power in the case of mortgages because Greenspan thought it was very difficult to make a rule; it was really something that should be done case by case. Fact 3, Greenspan was not a big fan of regulations. Greenspan in his own book says that he didn’t agree with a lot of the laws that govern regulation in the United States. Laws that he was pledged to enforce, but he would obey the law of course, and he did what was required by the law, but he was not a regulatory enthusiast, to say the least. And so, he was never pressing his staff to say, how can we come up with a law that will do something here? Fact 4, Ned Gramlich had a different view of the world. Ned Gramlich is not a prophet, or the late Ned Gramlich was not a prophet. He didn’t see the entire collapse of the housing bubble, or anything like that. All he said was, there were some consumers out there who were getting some kind of lousy products and he thought it was the role of government, in this case the Federal Reserve on whose board he sat, to regulate that so that the people who were getting the mortgages would be protected. He was a simple consumer protection argument and he and Greenspan disagreed. Greenspan said subsequently, and Gramlich didn’t push very hard. Gramlich and others say, give me a break; it was hard to get anything trough the Fed unless Greenspan wanted it to happen and Greenspan was not a fan of this.
I don’t think that had Ned Gramlich been 100% successful we would have avoided the housing bubble. I think the housing bubble was caused by a number of factors and one of them is the supply and demand question that Ed Glazer talks about, although Glazer is much more focused on what makes housing prices go up in some communities and down in other, or up less than others. And that really isn’t what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a massive generalized cross the country surge in home prices, and I don’t think that Glazer pretends to explain that. This is more like the financial bubbles that financial economists study. So, what would have happened if Gramlich had been more aggressive, or more successful in tightening the Feds regulation of sub-prime mortgages, as in fact, the Fed has done subsequently after all the horses left the barn, they closed the door. They’ve outlawed all the mortgages that nobody is making any more now.
Well, I don’t think we would have avoided the housing bubble, but maybe it would have been more – I don’t think we would have avoided the housing bubble because there was so much going on, but it might have been less widespread and there might have been fewer victims. And I think that’s all that you can say. Obviously mortgage regulation can stop mortgage brokers, or banks, from making mortgages to people that have no income, no job, and no hope of paying back the loan. In fact, the financial community frequently yelps that regulation will stop them from making these sorts of loans. And Barney Frank, among others, has said, “Yeah. That’s the point.” So, for instance, the Congress passed a new law on credit cards. The Fed has written rules to enforce it and that will make it harder for some people to get credit cards who probably shouldn’t get them. Well, the same thing could have happened with sub-prime mortgages should the Fed had acted differently.
Question: The fact that we couldn’t see this crisis coming, does this signal anything for the future?
David Wessel: In many respects, this crisis was a failure of imagination. The authorities, Bernanke, Geithner, and Paulson, even though they had this gut sense the we might have a financial crisis, never imagined that so much could ride on the value of houses in the U.S. And if the value of houses in the U.S. fell, which was a surprise, that that could pull down the entire financial system.
So, one thing that tells us is that we are going to have crisis in the future, human foresight is limited, we will go through periods of lots of boom in financial markets and then lots of angst and depression in financial markets and we should not be thinking that we are going to come up with a system that prevents every crisis. What we need to do is come up with a system that makes them less frequent, makes them less severe when they happen and somehow cushions the blow so that when they happen, they don’t have such widespread effects as this one did.
I think that having a systemic regulator, someone who’s charged with looking across the entire financial system, makes a lot of sense. It’s certainly better than not having one. One of the reasons this crisis was so severe is there was a whole bunch of people going around looking at just the institutions they regulated. In some cases there were huge institutions that nobody was looking at and in other cases, they just weren’t looking for the connections between Bank A, and Investment Firm B, and Mortgage Broker C, and Insurance Company D. Well we can surely do a better job of that. Whether the Fed is the right agency or not is kind of a political debate right now. The Fed is certainly better equipped than any existing agency to do that, but one could set up a new agency to do that. The British tried that, it didn’t work very well, but the British have done that. So, I think that all you can say is, we should do it, but we shouldn’t be naïve. It’s not going to cure us from any repeat of a crisis.
Question: Can we build a system less prone to human error?
David Wessel: One can always hope, but I don’t think so. Look, it is striking how few people were involved in the big decisions in this crisis. And it might have been better if at some times the circle of people who participated was larger. I was struck, for instance, for how little intervention there was from the White House in some of the key decision. Like, should Lehman Brothers be bailed out or not? The peculiarity of the law limits the number of Fed Governors who can sit in a room and talk about something that matters to three without calling it a meeting and having a formal notice under the Freedom of Information Act. As a result, Michigan as often not included in the deliberations even though he was one of the financial experts who was a member of the seven-member Federal Reserve Board at the time.
But, I mean, this is a little bit like thinking about World War II. In the end, there were some key generals, Patton, and Montgomery, and Eisenhower, and there were lots of people involved in the decisions, but in any war, there’s going to be a handful of generals who come up with a strategy and then a lot of people who execute it and advise them. And I’m not sure if we can hope for much more in a circumstance like this.
You know, there are two ways to look at what just happened. One was, it was an enormous failure of our system, our governance, and of the people we charge with protecting us from a financial calamity. And I think all of those things are true. But one can also say that, at a moment of great peril to the United States economy, and in deed to the global economy, somehow this small band of people managed to pull the U.S. economy, the global economy back from the abyss of depression. So, we don’t know how the story is going to end. We might have a decade of stagnation, and that would be horrible of course, but for the moment, I don’t think you want to complete condemn the system that put these people in place and gave them the authority to do what they did so that today, in November, 2009, the odds of another Great Depression, or back to close to zero, whereas a year ago, they were more like 30%.
Question: Some people say our lack of understanding for basic economics got us into this mess. How should economics be taught in school?
David Wessel: That question has a number of pieces that don't touch each other. One thing is there was a failure of academic economics here. Too many macro-economists underplayed the importance of finance and of financial institutions and their understanding of the world. The relatively small number who were working in this field, Bernanke being one of them, could have used a lot more help. So there are a lot of practicing economists who had a model view of the world that didn't turn out to be quite rich enough to cover what was happening.
I don't think that we're going to convince a whole lot of people that they shouldn't take a loan that they can't pay by giving them a high school economics course. So do I believe that more people need sound financial education, a sense of if it looks too good to be true it probably is, a way to understand that if borrow something, some money and you're paying 12 percent interest that that could add up over time. The answer to that is yes and we should do a better job of that and there's been endless efforts to do it and it's going to be kind of hard if you have kids who can't add and subtract but if you get past the add and subtracting thing we should be able to do that better and websites and calculators can help.
But I think that some people look at the teaching of consumer economics as a panacea and it isn't. We are always going to have people who don't get it and it's important to think of a way to give them choices that help steer them away from really bad decisions. I think there's a lot of new thinking in economics called behavioral economics that gives us a guide here.
We would not build a grade school cafeteria where the kids had 12 feet of dessert and then six inches of fruit, vegetables and protein. But that's what we do in finance. You go into a bank and there's a hundred ways that they can lend you money that you can't afford to pay back. So one of my disappointments in the financial regulatory bill that's working through Congress is they rejected some of the proposals that the President had made that would structure these decisions so that if you went to get a mortgage you would be required to be shown if you got a regular ‘ole 30 year fixed year mortgage, this is what your payments would be and this is how much interest you would pay over time. If you take this new fangled mortgage, this is how it's different.
So you can still get the new fangled one but you should be shown that choice. In the credit card bill that passed, I believe there are rules that say to people -- rules that say that the credit card company has to put on the bill if you make the minimum payment -- the $29 you have to pay, the minimum -- how many months or years will it take you to pay off your balance. That's a way to help people make decisions in real-time when they're faced with them and it's not something you can teach them in 8th grade and hope they'll remember when they're 37.
Recorded on November 20, 2009
Could we build a system that is less prone to error? David Wessel argues that the Fed’s lack of imagination contributed to the bust. This series was made possible by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97ac37e6c7f6f22ec130ea2d56871701"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dB78NV2WpWc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.</p><p>In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank">One study</a> compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2005.00006.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">another Florida study</a> found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oklahoma</a> and another out of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016813478823" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Minnesota</a>, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.</p><p>The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. <a href="https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/economics_of_private_prisons.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Hamilton Project analysis</a> noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.</p><p>"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."</p>
What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?
- Traditionally, intelligence has been viewed as having all the answers. When it comes to being innovative and forward-thinking, it turns out that being able to ask the right questions is an equally valuable skill.
- The difference between the right and wrong questions is not simply in the level of difficulty. In this video, geobiologist Hope Jahren, journalist Warren Berger, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, and investor Tim Ferriss discuss the power of creativity and the merit in asking naive and even "dumb" questions.
- "Very often the dumb question that is sitting right there that no one seems to be asking is the smartest question you can ask," Ferriss says, adding that "not only is it the smartest, most incisive, but if you want to ask it and you're reasonably smart, I guarantee you there are other people who want to ask it but are just embarrassed to do so."
A vertical map might better represent a world dominated by China and determined by shipping routes across the iceless Arctic.
- Europe has dominated cartography for so long that its central place on the world map seems normal.
- However, as the economic centre of gravity shifts east and the climate warms up, tomorrow's map may be very different.
- Focusing on both China and Arctic shipping lanes, this vertical representation could be the world map of the future.
The world, but not as we know it<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTkwMjIyNn0.qmQfwUdjQka8JX6q4KGANagleiuucpWay5ytMenZxUU/img.jpg?width=980" id="b95e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ac088ec55c0585a93a9a310faab9a4c7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A Chinese 'vertical world map,' showing the world in a different perspective from the one we're used to.
Image: Prior Probability<p>Europe is tucked away in a corner, an appendage of Asia dwarfed by neighboring Africa. North America is stood on its head, facing the rest of the world from the top of the map — cut off from South America, which cuts a solitary figure at the bottom. Africa is justifiably huge, but equally eccentric. </p><p>The eye scouts elsewhere for a place to land: not the Indian Ocean, which dominates the middle of the map, but some terra firma. Antarctica and Australia are too small, mere stepping stones for the land mass of Asia. Ultimately our gaze is drawn toward China, the lynchpin of this unfamiliar world. </p><p>Managing to leave both poles intact, this "vertical" world map is about as far away as you can get from the classic Mercator projection – which slices up both, giving center stage to a puffed-up Europe. Perhaps this new map will become more familiar soon: It may do more justice to the world of the near future, dominated by China and determined by shipping routes across the iceless Arctic. <br></p>
China's 'ten-dash line'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTI4MzQyNn0.sBe0oFTif4Jef1vWh1kAnUylU_QMPXT5xQjm-5aA3sA/img.jpg?width=980" id="a3b81" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80fc6e4f5c9c1c978f698be2c8de5484" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
'China without any part left out': includes Taiwan and the islands and atolls in the South China Sea, surrounded by a ten-dash line
Image: Global Times<p>While there's no indication that this map represents the Chinese government's "official" worldview, it is no secret that China has a thing with maps – and more specifically, the country's representation on them. </p><p>In China, the country's current economic success is seen as a redress of the unequal treatment meted out by western superpowers in the 19th century. China's world dominance is a return to a more natural state of world affairs, many feel. Cartographic rectifications are a symbolically significant corollary of that sentiment.</p><p><a href="https://www.citylab.com/equity/2015/12/china-cracks-down-on-politcally-incorrect-maps/421032/" target="_blank">Fines are regularly imposed</a> on companies – domestic and foreign – that fail to represent China to the fullest extent of its external borders, disputed though they may be by others (e.g. India, Taiwan and any of the countries with claims overlapping China's in the South China Sea). But the People's Republic's cartographic obsession doesn't end at China's territory itself. It also includes the country's position on the world map. <br></p>
The Kingdom at the Middle of the World<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTkwODEzMX0.SGrAZBH6iJVggFYSaIahzv9GvfEh17y1SwUNINbVicQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1774c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99790d80a909d17a948f7c5d463d7d98" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Early Japanese color copy of Ricci's world map
Image: public domain<p>China's name for itself is <em>Zhōngguó</em>, which means 'Central State' or 'Middle Kingdom', reflecting its ancient self-image as the civilized center (<em>Huá</em>) of the world, with wild tribes (<em>Yí</em>) at the edge. That view is not unique to China. Vietnam, for example, at certain times also styled itself as the "central state" (<em>Trung Quóc</em>) – considering the Chinese in turn as the uncouth outsiders.</p><p>It may be surprising to recall, but Europeans themselves once considered their own continent a relative backwater, viewing Jerusalem as the true center of the world. That changed with the Age of Discovery, which placed Europe at the center of an ever-expanding world. Maps reflected that worldview, and largely continue to do so. That's why today's standard world map still has Europe at its center – with China off toward the periphery on the map's right-hand side. </p><p>The most notable feature of the very first major modern world map produced in China, the <em>Kunyu Wanguo Quantu</em> (1602), is that it places China firmly at the center of the world. Produced for the Chinese emperor by Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, it was the first map ever to combine that perspective with modern western knowledge: it was the first Chinese map to show the Americas, for instance. </p><p>That representation may not have taken off elsewhere, but it will be instantly recognizable to Chinese students, as it's the standard format for world maps in China's schools today.<br></p>
America on its head<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg2My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzQ5NTc0MH0.EqadI2Yp-2dPwi3VccFZelIDK4V9t0ZOfTfHjdB6wVw/img.jpg?width=980" id="97104" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b66e8de389b3d736bc28e019e445cd0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Upside down you turn me: North America on its head, in Chinese characters
Image: Prior Probability<p>For those used to "classic" Eurocentric world maps, Europe's marginalization may come across as a bit of an upset. America's new position on the horizontal Chinese world map is less jarring: It merely moves from the left- to the right-hand side of the picture. But then there's this vertical world map, which deals a similar blow to the American land mass: divided in two and pushed to the upper and lower edges of the map.</p><p>Unfamiliar? Sure. Shocking? Perhaps. Wrong? Not really. First off, no world map is totally right, since it's mathematically impossible to transfer the surface of a three-dimensional object onto a flat surface without some distortion. And since the world is a globe, where you center that map is a matter of purely subjective choice.<br></p><p>Those choices have historical reasons. Mercator's map was not specifically designed to put an inflated Europe at the center of the world. That was just a side effect; its main purpose was to aid shipping: Straight lines on the map correspond to straight lines sailed on the seas.</p>
By 2050, a completely melted Arctic could enable the Transpolar Passage, shortening trade routes between Asia and Europe and boosting business for Alaskan ports like Nome and Dutch Harbor.
Image: The Maritime Executive<p>The vertical world map, showing the relative proximity of China (and the rest of Asia) to Europe and (even the East Coast of) North America, has a similarly maritime <em>raison d'être</em>, or it will have by mid-century. <a href="https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/the-arctic-shipping-route-no-one-s-talking-about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Experts project</a> that by 2050 (if not sooner), the Arctic will be sufficiently ice-free to enable the so-called Transpolar Passage, i.e. shipping straight across the North Pole. </p><p>That would shave more than three weeks off a traditional sea voyage between Europe and Asia, via the Suez Canal – and even be significantly faster than other northern alternatives like the Northwest Passage (via Canada) or the Northern Sea Route (hugging the Siberian coast). Since ships would not need to go through locks or pass over shallow waters, it would also remove current restrictions on tonnage per ship. <br></p><p>The only country seriously preparing for such a future: China. None of the other Arctic powers is giving the Transpolar route any strategic thought. On the other hand, China's Arctic Policy document, released in January 2018, already matter-of-factly refers to the Transpolar route as the 'Central Passage' – one of several 'Polar Silk Roads' that China seems to want to develop. And they already have the world map to go with it.</p>
A large-scale study from King's College London explores the link between genetics and sun-seeking behaviors.
- There are a number of physical and mental health benefits to sun exposure, such as boosted vitamin D and serotonin levels and stronger bones.
- Addictions are multi-step conditions that, by definition, require exposure to the addictive agent and have also been proven to have a genetic factor. Countless people are exposed to addictive things, but not all become addicted. This is because of the genetic component of addiction.
- This large-scale study explores the link between sun-seeking behaviors and the genetic markers for addiction.
The benefits of sunlight<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMjI1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzk0NDUxNH0.lbYbZidJkNXPUcWM6m8cucuzAFOANkqPaIVfJdqkJ4Q/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="d5fcd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f44fcc9a31393c8102803eb50d01a19a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman sitting on dock in the sunlight" />
The mental and physical health benefits of sunlight have been heavily researched.
Credit: eldar nurkovic on Shutterstock<p>The benefits of sunlight have been widely discussed for many years. In fact, there are a number of physical and mental health benefits to sun exposure.</p><p><strong>Sunshine (and the lack of) impacts your hormone levels. </strong></p><p>Sunlight (and alternatively, the lack of sunlight) triggers the release of certain hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase serotonin, which is associated with boosting your mood and helping you feel calm and focused. </p><p>Alternatively, dark lighting triggers melatonin, a hormone that is helpful in allowing you to rest and fall asleep. Without enough sunlight, your serotonin levels can dip - and low serotonin levels have been associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder).</p><p><strong>Sunlight can build strong bones. </strong></p><p>Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun's rays can interact with your skin, causing it to create vitamin D. <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to NHS</a>, vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities or bone pain. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2008 study</a> has shown that even 30 minutes in sunlight (while wearing a bathing suit) can boost vitamin D levels. </p><p><strong>Can sunlight actually prevent cancer? </strong></p><p>Although heavy exposure to sunlight has been proven to contribute to certain skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight has actually been shown to have preventative benefits.</p><p><a href="https://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/3/5/1548.full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to a 2008 study</a> from the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, those who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have some specific cancers (including but not limited to colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer) than those who live in areas with increased daylight hours.</p><p><strong>Additionally, sunlight has been shown to help people with skin conditions such as psoriasis. </strong></p><p><a href="http://www.who.int/uv/faq/uvhealtfac/en/index1.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to the World Health Organization</a>, sun exposure may also be able to help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#benefits" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Some research</a> has also indicated the sun benefits people who struggle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus, and inflammatory bowel disease. </p>
Can you be addicted to the sun?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMjI1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzE5NTMwOX0.pHOWSr3FcIndYkBAVND1UsD8AheTQmxsePKRi3XvYTw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=31%2C0%2C32%2C0&height=700" id="93c87" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="384e08fdcd535ed2b792eef419af9e2c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="hands holding up the sun" />
The large-scale study examines the link between addiction and sunlight, with some surprising results...
Credit: KieferPix on Shutterstock<p>Addictions are multi-step conditions that, by definition, require exposure to the addictive agent. Due to the increase of serotonin (a chemical in the human body <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin" target="_blank">that has been proven</a> to help reduce depression, regulate anxiety, and maintain bone health), it's natural that being exposed to prolonged periods of sunlight could become somewhat addictive to the human body and mind. We crave things that make us feel good, and sometimes those cravings become something we depend on. This is the very nature of addiction.</p><p>Countless people are exposed to addictive things (substances, medications, and yes, even the sun), but not all become addicted. This is because of the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3506170/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">genetic component of addiction</a>. </p><p>A large-scale study from King's College in London examines more than 260,000 people to better understand how sun-seeking behavior in humans can be linked to genes involving addiction, behavior traits, and brain function. </p><p><strong>The study included two phases:</strong></p><p>Phase one suggested genetics play a role in sun-seeking behaviors and phase 2 helped pinpoint what those genetic markers are.</p><p>Phase 1: The researchers studied the detailed health information of 2,500 twins, including their sun-seeking behavior and their genetics. Identical twins in a pair were more likely to have similar sun-seeking behavior than non-identical twins, indicating that genetics plays a role here. </p><p>Phase 2: The team of researchers then were able to identify five key gene markers involved in this sun-seeking behavior from further analysis of 260,000 participants. Some of the genes indicated have been linked to behaviors traits that are associated with risk-taking and addiction (including smoking and alcohol consumption).</p><p><strong>What does this study really prove? </strong></p><p>Some may think it's natural to become addicted to something that makes you feel good. The physical and mental health benefits of the outdoors have been heavily studied...so what does this study really mean? </p><p>First and foremost, it means more research needs to be done to examine the link between human conditions and exposure to sunlight. Senior author Dr. Mario Falchi explains to the <a href="https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/addicted-to-the-sun-its-in-your-genes" target="_blank">King's College London News Center</a>: "Our results suggest that tackling excessive sun exposure or use of tanning beds might be more challenging than expected, as it is influenced by genetic factors. It is important for the public to be aware of this predisposition, as it could make people more mindful of their behavior and the potential harms of excessive sun exposure."</p><p>Additionally, it could mean alternative treatments, and further research needs to be conducted in terms of how we treat certain conditions that are caused or heavily influenced by human exposure to sunlight. </p>