Showing posts from 2012

She Calls My Office All the Time!

During a hospital ad just now, a doctor who had successfully operated on a cancer patient said, "She loves life! She calls me all the time, just to let me know what she is doing!"

Let's give that a try: Start calling your doctor "all the time," just to give him little updates on your day. Let me know how that goes.

Röpke on the Price System and Laissez-Faire

"The tying of prices to costs, which many regard as one of the stupid quirks of 'capitalism,' thus assumes a function which is central to any economic system, whatever its organization: the function, namely, of effecting the best possible allocation of the nation's productive resources. This does not in the least imply that our economic system founded for the most part on the price system, is perfect. For in the price system, only those individual demands count which are backed up by the requisite purchasing power. Even if the price system functioned ideally, the factors of production would be employed in the 'best possible' manner only in relation to the existing (and unequal) distribution of income. No one will seriously pretend that our present distribution of income is the best possible. As the result of such unequal distribution a rich cat fancier, to take one example, can buy milk to feed her animals while milk is denied to the mother of a family of poo…

You're Out of Touch, You're Out of Context

A very cheap complaint often made here on the InterWebs is, "You're setting up a straw man by quoting out of context!"

Well, unless one is going to paste the entirety of an author's life work into a post, every quote has obviously been removed from its context! The key to when this charge is valid and when it isn't is, "Was there something important in the context that significantly changes how one reads the quote?"

For instance, Rothbard claimed one of Mises' favorite quotes on fractional reserve banking was "Free trade in banking is free trade in swindling." But when we read the context, we see Mises liked the quote as an example of a popular error:
It is a mistake to associate with the notion of free banking the image of a state of affairs under which everybody is free to issue banknotes and to cheat the public ad libitum. People often refer to the dictum of an anonymous american quoted by Tooke: "Free trade in banking is free tra…

Thanks for the Heads Up!

My phone has sent me multiple alerts about the fact that tomorrow... is New Year's Day!

Who knew?

It's good to warm my bones beside the fire

In the snowy Poconos, sitting in front of a blazing fire in my wood stove, feet up, sipping some port and reading the new A Companion to Michael Oakeshott: does life get any better?

(I've limited Internet access here, but I am piling up posts for when I return to the civilization of Brooklyn.)



Eek, That Was Embarrassing!

Two days after re-listening to Susan Boyle sing "I Deamed a Dream," I got to "enjoy" hearing Anne Hathaway performing it from the movie soundtrack. Apparently the idea was that histrionic acting might work as a substitute for singing ability.

What Twentieth-Century Intellectual...

Was conducting essentially simultaneous love affairs with Iris Murdoch, the wife of H.L.A. Hart, and the wife of Fred Hoyle?

Philosophy Questions Presuppositions

"Bosanquet asked himself what a philosophical inquiry implies. His answer was that everyone knows a flower is a different thing when understood by the botanist, chemist or artist, and philosophy cannot hope to compete with these specialists in their own terms. Instead, the philosopher takes the flower, interrogates it, and determines its place and significance in the totality of experience: 'And this we call studying it, as it is, and for its own sake, without reservation or presupposition.'" -- David Boucher, from A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

Efficient Markets? That Is a Presupposition, Not a Finding!

Pete Boettke points us to a wonderful passage from David Glasner:
An especially pretentious conceit of the modern macroeconomics of the last 40 years is that the extreme assumptions on which it rests are the essential microfoundations without which macroeconomics lacks any scientific standing. That’s preposterous. Perfect foresight and rational expectations are assumptions required for finding the solution to a system of equations describing a general equilibrium. They are not essential properties of a system consistent with the basic rationality propositions of microeconomics. To insist that a macroeconomic theory must correspond to the extreme assumptions necessary to prove the existence of a unique stable general equilibrium is to guarantee in advance the sterility and uselessness of that theory, because the entire field of study called macroeconomics is the result of long historical experience strongly suggesting that persistent, even cumulative, deviations from general equilibri…

Why Conspiracy Theories Are Often Otiose

Stephen M. Walt gives us a good example here:
Here's the basic structure of the situation. If you're a politically ambitious commander like Petraeus, you want good advice. But you also want to make sure that you and your decisions are portrayed in a positive light. So you invite some well-connected civilians to visit your operation, and you make sure you select people who aren't known for being critical of the war and who will be easy to co-opt if need be. And when the consultants come to visit for a few days or weeks, you make sure they receive briefings that give the impression things are going well even if they are not.

Next, consider how this looks from the consultants' perspective. If you're an inside-the-Beltway think-tanker (and especially if you're someone who depends on soft money), it's a big deal to be invited to go to Afghanistan or Iraq and advise the commander. It makes you look more important to your colleagues, your boss, and your board,…

Making Consciousness Useless and Inexplicable

Consider these quotes:

In his new book Free Will, Sam Harris says, "This [neuroscientific] understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet." Jerry Coyne asserts in a USAToday column: "The ineluctable scientific conclusion is that although we feel that we’re characters in the play of our lives, rewriting our parts as we go along, in reality we’re puppets performing scripted parts written by the laws of physics."

At least these fellows understand the logical implication of reductionist materialism: if reductionist materialism is true, consciousness is both useless and inexplicable. "Evolving consciousness" certainly cannot aid a "biochemical puppet" in any way whatsoever: his consciousness will have no influence whatsoever on what his body actually does, and so cannot possibly give him an evolutionary edge.

As you can see from these quotes, this is no straw man I have invented: those are the words of two of the very leading lights of reduct…

You Should Just Watch This...

at least once a year, OK?

Oh Holy Night

"The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you." -- Werner Heisenberg

"If you study science deep enough and long enough, it will force you to believe in God." -- Lord Kelvin

"As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter." -- Max Planck

"Those who say that the study of science makes a man an atheist must be rather silly. Something which is against natural laws seems to me rather out of the question because it would be a depress…

The Maple Syrup Cartel

Did you know there is one?

Why Have a Driver...

if he can't do anything?

Let's say a manufacturer's rep tells you his company has developed an automobile that it entirely self-operated: in fact, there is not even any mechanism by which a human could intervene in the car's operations.

But when he shows you the vehicle, there is someone sitting in the "driver's" seat.

"What's he there for?"

"Well, he could prove useful."

"How is that?"

"In case something goes wrong."

"But you told me the car is a causally closed system: there is no way for something from outside the car itself to guide its operations."

"That's right."

"So how could the driver be useful?"

"You know, he can reflect on what is going on. Be aware of the environment. Spot dangers."

"So then he could take control of the car, based on the trouble he spots?"

"Oh, no, impossible. The vehicle runs completely automatically."

At this point yo…


The vintage goods stores in my area now frequently have stacks of 40-and-50-year-old Playboy magazines for sale... I guess so hipsters can wank ironically.

Hurray, Thoreau!

Not against all sensible gun control, but against destructive nonsense passed in the emotional wake of a horrible event. (I deliberately refuse to use "tragedy" in reference to any event like Sandy Hook, because the word has its own meaning that is diluted by using it for every single happening we don't like.)

In particular, pro-gun-control progressives, how will we make sure that new laws passed are not assaults on the civil rights of our already-most-assaulted demographic, poor, young black males?

A Moral/Practical Conundrum

Walking home tonight, I found a significant sum of money lying on the sidewalk. (Thus refuting neoclassical economics. :-)

It is nothing like the sort of sum one could retire on, or anything like that, but it could buy you a nice meal with wine at a good restaurant.

My conundrum is this: If I could with any certainty identify who dropped the money I would gladly -- well, at least not begrudgingly -- give that person back their money. On the other hand, if anyone else at all is to have the money, I figure it should be me: as Kirzner says, finders keepers. Better me than someone who is going to lie and try to claim the money under false pretenses. At least I came by it honestly.

So, the question is, how do I maximize the chances of getting the money back to its rightful owner while minimizing the chances some liar will trick me? This guy tells me that in these circumstances I should just accept it as a gift from fortuna. What do you think?

I See Garth Hudsons Everywhere!

The latest hipster trend here in Brooklyn is that all the hipster guys look like they are preparing to tryout for a "The Band" cover band. (Man, that name makes talking about them awkward sometimes, don't it?)

That's Garth Hudson on our far left: most of the time, it looks like they're planning on getting the Garth Hudson role.

DeLong Takes Down Douthat

Brad DeLong is disgusted with Ross Douthat for making the following assertion:

"FOR a week after the Newtown shooting, the conversation was dominated by the self-righteous certainties of the American center-left…"

What a crazy thing to say! No one would have jumped on an event like this to push their pre-existing policy agenda. In fact: "No, Ross Douthat. For a week after the Newtown shooting the conversation was dominated by grief, terror, and sorrow."

"What kind of a sociopathic nut writes such a lead?"

And we can turn to the writings of DeLong himself to show how wrong Douthat is. Look at the outpouring of sorrow and grief in the very first post he wrote relating to the shootings.

Ouch, wait a second! That post had nothing to do with grief, terror, and sorrow. It was a heavily sarcastic post using the shooting to push DeLong's pre-existing policy agenda.

Well, at least in his second post related to the shootings he didn't do that.

Gulp! No, hi…

Episcopalian Paradise

In his sermon today, our priest was examining the Christmas manger scene. He said, "The quiet of the manger, with people of different nations and different stations in life gathered peacefully together, harmoniously focused on a single person, is an image of that first earthly paradise, in England... ah, I mean, Eden!"

Why a Mechanistic Evolutionary Theory Is Logically Incapable of Explaining Consciousness

The very attractiveness of Darwinian and NeoDarwinian theories of evolution was that they show how mechanisms can reproduce with alterations that continually fit them to the environment. The process was posited to take place without any design, and with no conscious intention on the part of the mechanisms to survive or to modify themselves. All teleology is forbidden.

It should be obvious that while such a theory might account wonderfully for the appearance of ever more sophisticated and complex mechanisms, it is logically, not empirically, incapable of explaining why any of those mechanisms should ever become self-aware. All of the action in the theory is in the mechanisms: self-awareness cannot possibly make any difference to the fitness of these mechanisms, by the very postulates that made the theory attractive in the first place. At best, consciousness is some sort of accidental, weird by-product of mechanistic evolution, something totally useless with which we are nonetheless sa…

You Probably Did Not Know This About Me, But...

I have worked on numerous films... and been dead for over twenty years!

Why Online Instruction...

is no substitute for the real thing:

"Plato’s Socrates called this activity periagoge, where one experiences a conversion in wonder to pursue truth. Teaching is not the student’s reception of doctrine, whether conservative or otherwise, but the attempt to pass the embodied experience of wonder, where the teacher’s presence becomes as important as the ideas that he or she is communicating."

Of course, this does not apply to the transmission of merely technical knowledge: for instance, I can imagine learning structural engineering just fine online. But not a liberal education.

American Exceptionalism...

is true in at least this sense: few peoples have ever talked as much about their own exceptionalsim for as long as have Americans! (The Romans might be a comparable case.)

Marx and Rothbard, Sitting in a Tree?

I'm reading a review of Capital, the State, and the Monetary Mode of Power in The Review of Political Economy, and I am really struck by how similar the Marxist view of credit creation is to that of the 100%-reservists: basically, it is a way of bestowing claims to goods upon certain (undeserving) people. This certainly is not an argument against either the Marxist or Rothbardian view... in fact, some people might be encouraged that someone arrived at the same finish line from a different starting point. But I wonder how many people in either camp are aware of this similar conclusion?

All Statistical Knowledge Is Built upon Historical Knowledge

Sometimes we encounter the contention that statistical studies in the social sciences are "rigorous," as opposed to the kind of "soft" knowledge we get from "merely" narrative history. This is mistaken in several ways, but probably the most fundamental is that any validity and significance of any statistical study in the social sciences are themselves based upon historical understanding.

For instance, if we are studying industrial output in the Soviet Union, we have to know that data on such things was systematically doctored: and knowing that is a matter of historical understanding. Similarly, if we want to correct for this false reporting and try to get at the true figures, we must examine plant records, diaries, post-Soviet interviews, and so on: again, an historical inquiry.

"Ah," you ask, "but what about where there wasn't such data distortion?" Well, we can only determine that there wasn't through... historical understan…

Hagelian Dialectics

I'm starting to think this Hagel-nomination business could be pretty important: read Scott McConnell as to why.

Seriously, when mentioning that one is an American, not an Israeli, senator supposedly disqualifies one from higher office, I think it is time to push back.

Like a Bored Orangutan

Ever wonder what story might lead up to this line?

"Well kids, the reason you can't come downstairs on Christmas Eve is because an obese wizard from Lapland who happens to be the moral custodian of the human race is spraying his genetic material all over the walls like a bored orangutan."

Then wonder no more.

The First African-American President, Sure...

but isn't the Obama's presidency even a little more remarkable than that?

I thought of this while reading Oggi today*: the reporter remarked the Obama was the first black president of the United States. And I thought, "Yes, but it's not like we were last our anything: Italy hasn't elected any Africans as prime minister, has it?"

And then my thoughts went even further: has any nation with a population mostly of European descent ever elected someone largely not of European descent as head of state, prior to Obama? So, the criteria: the country has a population over 50% of which are European in ancestry, and they have elected a head of state of at least 50% non-European ancestry. Had it happened before 2008?

Here's one possibility, but a tough case to decide: Fujimori in Peru. The reason it is tough is that the population has a very high proportion of people of mixed descent, so it is not clear to me if it counts as a country with a majority European popula…

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

The thing is, as I'm discovering while trying to get grading done on 70 finals and 20 term papers, it does not seem to slow down when you're not having fun.

It's Ironic About Irony, Isn't It?

I noticed this when I was at the apartment of a friend who collected the plastic figurines they give away at fast food places. He collected them ironically, of course. But this, I noted with curiosity, didn't change the fact that he was eating at fast food places a hundred times a year, and had filled his apartment with ugly-looking junk.

The Last Psychiatrist dissects this phenomena here: irony, he notes, is a way to pretend to be distant from something while actually being all in: Did my friend think the fast food companies cared whether he was giving them his money ironically or not? The irony with which he handed over his pay to them did not, I imagine, spoil the view the CEO of QuickyChix enjoyed from his seaside villa one little bit.

Toward a Truly Free Market

My review of John C. Médaille's recent book with the above title is online here. Taylor and Francis loads this link up with fifty free views, and then you pay, so read it free while you can.

I Don't Know Exactly What to Do About Guns

But I do know this: I don't trust anyone who pretends the following facts simply don't exist:

"In 1954, there were only a dozen armed robberies in London but, by the 1990s-- after decades of ever tightening gun ownership restrictions-- there were more than a hundred times as many armed robberies.

"Gun control zealots' choice of Britain for comparison with the United States has been wholly tendentious, not only because it ignored the history of the two countries, but also because it ignored other countries with stronger gun control laws than the United States, such as Russia, Brazil and Mexico. All of these countries have higher murder rates than the United States.

"You could compare other sets of countries and get similar results. Gun ownership has been three times as high in Switzerland as in Germany, but the Swiss have had lower murder rates. Other countries with high rates of gun ownership and low murder rates include Israel, New Zealand, and Finland.&…

Republicans Try to Slide the Blame

One Denis Boyles writes, in the Claremont Institutes Christmas book review:
"As the economy began collapsing first under Bush in 2008, then under Obama in 2009-10..."

Although the recession ended in June 2009, the economy was still "collapsing" in 2010! And I bet that initial yard market will slowly slide forward as well: if Boyles could get away with it, he would have the recession starting after Bush gloriously left office in the midst of plenty and boom times for all.

Look, it's one thing to say "The recovery would have been faster if not for Obama's policies." Maybe. But it is just lying to claim the economy was still "collapsing" in 2010.

How to Shut Down a Conversation with Bullying

As soon as someone deviates an iota from your preferred position, shout "Racist!" And make sure a powerful lobby is ready to back you up in making the charge.

A House of Cards, as Viewed by Saltwater and Freshwater Economists

Saltwater: If we just keep injecting glue everywhere the cards meet, we can keep building higher!

Freshwater: Those cards blowing around all over the place? That's progress!

What Does Everything Depend Upon?


'"It's all riding on it all right there," [Ryan] said.'

Malthus on Savings

"No political economist of the present day can by saving mean mere hoarding." -- Principles of Political Economy, p. 38

Some commenters have taken me to be endorsing Malthus when I post quotes from him or try to create a model that duplicates what he was thinking: I swear, I am only attempting to understand him at present. Once I do that, I might endorse him or not!

Wow, Sensible Discussion of Gun Control!

Sullivan lists some sensible possibilities. (I'm not sure they are good ideas, but they strike me as plausibly good ideas!) And here is a very good quote from David Frum:

"When thinking about gun measures and mental health measures, the right question to ask isn't: will such-and-such a measure prevent all killings? The right question is: will it contribute to reducing the number of killings as we have previously successfully reduced automobile fatalities?"

This is a nice contrast to the dream-world commenter at Rod Dreher's blog, who, in response to Dreher's rather truistic comment that it is not possible to create a world in events like Sandy Hook can't happen, responds, "That’s hardly a reason not to try."

Right, that it is impossible for a human being to jump to the moon using only their muscle power is "hardly a reason not to try"!

It's this sort of mad thinking that drives ventures like the "Drug Free America Foundatio…

Progressives, How Did That Rush to Legislate Work Out for You?

Some people seem to think that, if I urge calming down, in the wake of Sandy Hook, before legislating in response to it, I am really just trying to delay better gun control forever. Well, no.

But since it is often self-described progressives who are most enthusiastic about better gun control, those of them who wish to use the emotions of this massacre to push through some legislation might consider an earlier time when a high-emotion event was used to push through someone's pre-existing legislative agenda because, by God, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING, and don't you care about murder victims?!

I'm talking about a little piece of legislation called The Patriot Act, a huge bill giving those who wanted vastly expanded law enforcement powers a laundry list of goodies they had already desired well before 9/11, passed by Congress barely a month after the attacks, and clearly passed without anyone in Congress having had time to read the whole bill.

Do you really think it was better th…

A Semi-Regular Sight in My Hood

A full US mail cart, sitting unattended in the middle of the sidewalk:

Where's the mail carrier? At a bar down the street? Getting his Christmas tip from the owner of the house nearby? In any case that cart sat unattended at leastthe whole time I was writing this post.

Occasional Churchgoers

My wife came to mass yesterday. I said, "I bet the church will be crowded today: a lot of people like you will be showing up."
"Yup," she said, "the Christmas, Easter, and post-massacre crew will all be there today."

Adam Lanza, the Perfect Cypher upon Whom We Can Project Our Agendas

"Tough cases make bad law," it is often said. I suggest a corollary: extreme events make bad legislation.

Adam Lanza seems to offer us a mystery (since no one seems to have any idea what drove him to this massacre) onto which everyone can project their already-arrived-at conclusions:

He used a gun to commit his crimes. We need stricter gun control!

He committed his crimes in a state with strict (by American standards) gun-control laws, in a place that was designed to be "gun free": so right-to-carry laws are the solution!

He was home schooled (for a time): home schooling should be forbidden!

He was home schooled because he had been in public schools and had had difficulties there: public schools are the problem!

He played violent video games: ban violent video games!

His parents were divorced: we need to promote stronger family values!

This is why I reject using the immediate aftermath of such events to promote one's pre-existing agenda: even if you get your w…

Malthus on the Labor Theory of Value

"But it seems very strange and incorrect to consider mere labour as wealth. No one would give anything for it if he were sure that it would yield no gratifying result. It is in the expectation of this result alone that labour is employed. The sick man employs a physician, not because he's pleased with the trouble which he gives him, but because he expects that his health may be benefited by the advice which he receives." -- Principles of Political Economy, pp. 28-29

Reductionist Materialism Is Obviously Wrong, and...

non-reductionist materialism tends to wind up being not materialism:
The question is whether they can reject reductionism consistent with maintaining a position that can in any interesting sense be called “naturalistic.” In particular, non-reductionistic versions of materialism have a tendency to collapse into either property dualism -- the sort of view defended by Chalmers -- or a quasi-Aristotelian commitment to formal and final causes -- which (as I noted in my own review of Nagel) is essentially what Nagel is defending. So, if one rejects both Chalmers’ and Nagel’s views (as, of course, Dupré does) it is no good to note that most naturalists are no longer reductionists, and leave it at that. One needs to show that this anti-reductionism doesn’t effectively put these naturalists precisely into either Chalmers’ camp or Nagel’s; and Dupré does nothing to show this. Note: This is Feser's response to John Dupré's complaint that Nagel shouldn't be addressing reductionis…

OK, Progressives, Can You Think About This?

I have a friend in the neighborhood: let us call him "Herman."

When I met Herman, I thought he was probably homeless. He dressed kind of like he was, his dental state looked like he might be, and he seemed to just do odd jobs for a neighborhood grocery store. But, whatever: Herman was friendly, liked a good joke, and told some himself, so he was alright by me.

But gradually, I saw Herman more and more places in the neighborhood, taking out the trash, sweeping the sidewalk, moving a piece of furniture. Well, a very energetic homeless man.

Then he told me he was renting a place in the neighborhood for his business. We chatted a little about that, but it didn't make much of an impression on me.

Yesterday I saw him blocks from his usual stomping grounds. "Herman, what are you doing up here?"

"Oh, I have so much new business. I'm all over. I just got a couple of dozen buildings in Park Slope."

"What? How can you do all that?"

"Oh, I hav…

Malthus on Production and Consumption

"The same tendency to simplify and generalize, produces a still greater disinclination to allow of modifications, limitations, and exceptions to any rule or proposition...

"To explain myself by an instance. Adam Smith has stated, that capitals are increased by parsimony, that every frugal man is a public benefactor, and that the increase of wealth depends upon the balance of produce above consumption. That these propositions are true to a great extent is perfectly unquestionable. No considerable and continued increase of wealth could possibly take place without that degree of frugality which occasions, annually, the conversion of some revenue into capital, and creates a balance of produce above consumption; but it is quite obvious that they are not true to an indefinite extent, and that the principle of saving, pushed to excess, would destroy the motive to production. If every person were satisfied with the simplest food, the poorest clothing, and the meanest houses, it is…

Yes, the Connecticut Shootings Were a Bad Thing

The man who did the shootings was evil. Evil can rear its head anywhere, even in a tony suburb: one shocked resident was quoted as saying "I thought I lived in the safest place on Earth!"

And that's the problem with a lot of the reaction I see: too many people think evil is something that exists, perhaps, in far away lands, amongst people with incomprehensible customs and practices, but that ought never to touch me, because I live in a respectable neighborhood in a respectable town in a respectable country! They are like the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings: they think they can ignore those goings on in far-away lands, because the Shire is nice and respectable.

While the shootings in Newtown were certainly awful, don't they pale in comparison to the slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda in a period of a few months? But during the Rwandan genocide, I never recall being approached by neighbors with tears in their eyes, asking me if I had heard what happened. I don'…

Malthus on Empiricism in Economics

The first business of philosophy is to account for things as they are; and till our theories will do this, they ought not to be the ground of any practical conclusion... a frequent appeal to this sort of experience is pre-eminently necessary in most of the subjects of political economy, where various and complicated causes are often in operation, the presence of which can only be ascertained in this way. A theory may appear to be correct, and may really be correct under given premises; it may further appear that these premises are the same as those under which the theory is about to be applied; but a difference which might before have been unobserved, may shew itself in the difference of the results from those which were expected; and the theory may justly be considered as failing, whether this failure arises from an original error in its formation, or from its general inapplicability, or specific misapplication, to actual circumstances. -- Principles of Political Economy, pp. 8-9

The Desire to Simplify

"In political economy, the desire to simplify has occasioned an unwillingness to acknowledge the operation of more causes than one in the production of particular effects; and if one cause would account for a considerable portion of a certain class of phenomena, the whole has been ascribed to it without sufficient attention to the facts..." -- Principles of Political Economy, p. 5

Amen, Reverend Malthus!

The Problem with DOING SOMETHING!!! about a Tragic Event

In response to the shooting in Newtown, my school shut down one of the two entrances to campus.

The problems with this are:

1) The fact that this shooting was much closer to us than other mass shootings gives it emotional wallop, but absolutely no significance for the likelihood of anything similar happening to us; and
2) The entrance that remains open is not guarded: anyone who wanted to could drive a mechanized infantry combat vehicle through it and it wouldn't be noted for five or so minutes. I imagine police might be put there for a couple of days, but even if so, the guns will be in the trunk, and I am sure they are not going to search every car entering campus.

In the emotional wake of a spectacularly bad event, the urge to immediately DO SOMETHING!!! should usually be resisted. (Of course, if there was an earthquake, and you expect an aftershock, or a shooting but the shooter got away, you probably should react swiftly!) The reason is the "something" is likely to…

Essay Versus Multiple Choice Exam

On a multiple choice exam, the first people to leave almost always have the best scores.

On an essay exam, they almost always have the worst.

While Reading This Blog Today...

don't stuff beans up your nose!

And that means you in particular, Fetz!

Former Austrian Bob Murphy "Puts the Boot In"

Over at Nick Rowe's blog:

"I imagine you would see a bunch of different explanations given, if you read Mises, Hayek, Haberler, Rothbard, etc. on the business cycle. And since they would be doing it in words, not a formal model, it would be hard to put our finger on exactly what the claim was."

Ouch, Bob, ouch!

A General Glut in a Three Commodity Economy, with No Money

In honor of Adam Smith, production in this economy will consist of beaver and deer, and, in an addition in honor of Silas, arrows (intended to pierce the heart of blog writers he dislikes).

I produce beaver.

Bob produces deer.

Silas produces arrows.

In period 1, I produce 10 beavers, intending to trade 5 of them with Bob for 10 deer, and 5 of them with Silas for 20 arrows.

In period 1, Bob produces 16 deer, intending to trade 8 of them with me for 6 beavers, and 8 of them with Silas for 20 arrows.

In period 1, Silas produces 30 arrows, intending to trade 15 of them to me for 6 beavers, and 15 of them to Bob for 10 deer.

In period 2, I find Bob only offers 7, not 10, deer for 5 beavers. I find Silas only offers 13 arrows, not 20, for 5 beavers.

In period 2, Bob finds I only offer 4 beavers, not 6, for 8 deer, and Silas only offers 10 arrows, not 20, for 8 deer.

In period 2, Silas finds that I only 3 beavers, not 6, for 15 arrows, and Bob only offers 6 deer, not 10, for 15 arrows.

Ex a…

Aggregate Supply and Aggregate Demand

Sometimes we see people who view themselves as "pro-Say's Law" arguing that "Keynesians are wrong about growth being demand driver: supply has to come before demand."

This is odd, to me, because, while I think it is questionable whether Say's Law always holds (unless one states it as a tautology, in which case, it will always "hold," but trivially so), it certainly is based on a genuine insight: people supply commodities on the market in order to demand others: supply IS demand, just seen from a different perspective. But once one gets that, then it is clear that neither supply nor demand can come first, since they are simply different views of a single action: offering something in exchange for something else.

So, why even separate them in macroeconomic analysis? I am mulling this over, but my current suspicion is that problems may arise with one or another aspect of this single action. For instance, if taxes on income over $10,00 were raised to…

Why Romney Lost

I happened to have to research the famous "you didn't build that" quote; I was stunned once again by how the right-wing punditry deliberately distorted what was the obvious meaning of that speech. Here is a good summary of the "controversy" (aka smear campaign) with a great clip from Jon Stewart -- make sure you watch the Obama-Romney mash-up at the end.The bottom line: when you best campaign strategy was to generate bat-shit crazy misinterpretations of your opponents statements ("grade-school Marxism"!), you really have no campaign of which to speak.

Cave Claymation

"This, of course, does not make the world outside of the cave any less real."
(Hat tip Rod Dreher.)

Nut Job Alert!

I just ran across one Erik Rush, who says things like:

"As we got increasingly closer to the 2012 general election, it was my assertion that Obama would not be re-elected without employing widespread fraud of one form or another."

Despite the fact he was leading in almost every poll taken, he was actually trailing!

"The pre-election data simply did not point to such a decisive win for Obama."

Despite the fact that the pre-election data showed almost the exact result that really occurred occurring, it did not "point to" that result!

And finally:

"His latest book, Negrophilia: From Slave Block to Pedestal ~ America’s Racial Obsession, examines the racist policies by which the political left keeps black Americans in thralldom, white Americans guilt-ridden and yielding, and maintains the fallacy that America remains an institutionally racist nation."

So, America has policies that keep blacks in "thralldom" and that also maintain "the…

The Universal Gift Card: Available Since 1000 BCE!

I just heard an ad on the radio for a "universal gift card": you give it to your loved ones, and they can use it to buy anything.

Hasn't this sort of "gift card" been around for a while, though?

At the Deli

ME: Hey boss!
DELI MAN: Hey boss!
M: Do you carry electronic cigarettes?
D: Yes, cigarettes, plain and menthol, and cigars.
M: Just the plain cigarettes.
D: You are trying to quit smoking?
M: No, trying to start. But I'm worried: if I go straight to real cigarettes, they might be too much for me, and I'll just give up. I hate to fail at something, so, I'm planning to start slowly, and work my way up to the real thing.
D [Blank stare for a few seconds.]: OK, boss, whatever you say.

Your Final Exam Questions

Well, at least if you are taking my course on The Great Transformation they are:

1) Describe the division of labor.
What does Adam Smith see as its advantages?
What are some possible disadvantagtes?

2) What is the idea of dialectics as developed by Hegel?
How did Karl Marx apply the idea to history?
How did feudalism trasition into capitalism in this view?

3) How does Max Weber characterize the spirit of capitalism?
Specifically, how is it different from the traditional attitude towards economic life?
How did Lutheranism and Calvinism contribute to that change?

Whew! Finally Done with Madison and Jefferson!

The authors reach a number of interesting conclusions, for which their evidence is quite convincing. Amongst them: Madison and Jefferson should really be regarded as different but equal personalities in the founding period, in contrast to the more common view that treats Madison as Jefferson’s lieutenant. Both men were primarily politicians rather than political theorists: the political theorizing they did was to support their political positions. And that point leads to the next: Madison’s position on constitutional interpretation was whatever it needed to be to advance his political goals: the constitutional views on display in The Federalist are only a small portion of his written output, and later, in the dispute over the Jay Treaty, he took a quite different view: “The only way to appreciate Madison’s constitutional thinking is to measure comprehensible changes in his view in response to specific political problems” (p. 641). (I’m pretty sure “measurable” is being used metaphori…

Oh, So Parents Can Make a Big Difference

Take that, Bryan Caplan!

David Gordon Misconstrues the Linda Problem

Kahneman and Tversky famously posited that there is a "conjunction fallacy": people often assign a higher probability to a "plausible" case with more specific conditions than a general one. That clearly is erroneous.

David Gordon tries to deny Kahneman and Tversky have exposed any error in people's reasoning. He writes:

"I do not think this result demonstrates that the people in the survey have reasoned wrongly. Suppose, when asked about the probability of Linda's occupation, people think it very unlikely that she has chosen to be a bank teller. They think, by contrast, that she very likely identifies with feminism. When asked about Linda's being both a feminist and bank teller, they may not recall their earlier estimate of her being a teller. Rather, they may simply lower their estimate that she is a feminist, to reflect the new information that she is also a teller."

The reason Gordon tries to debunk Kahneman and Tversky is clear: as a mar…

As I Begin to Understand Macroeconomics...

I begin to see how Say's Law is perhaps the most important concept in the subject. In saying that, I am not contending that Say's Law* always holds (nor am I claiming it doesn't!): I am suggesting that many (most?) macroeconomic disputes can be understood as disputes over its applicability.

If we pay attention to the Keynesian model, we see that the "paradox of thrift" occurs when S (savings) > II (intended investment). The model contains no hysteresis, so it makes no difference how that condition came about: it could be a increase in savings not matched by an increase in intended investment, or it could be a drop in intended investment not matched by a drop in savings.

The "right" way to deny that this paradox is of importance is not to say it implies savings is bad, because it doesn't, but to try to show that II shifts along with S, which Bob Murphy understands: "In contrast, a Rothbardian (say) is going to argue that when people save mor…

Why, If I Post on Materialism in the Future, Comments Will Be Closed

I don't in the least mind intelligent objections to my posts on this blog: after all, I continually post comments from many readers who object to this or that view of mine.

However, I have found that when I post something on the topic of materialism, I am flooded with comments that are so dumbfounding to me that I am not sure how to rationally continue to converse with the commenter.

To cite just one example: faced with the challenge to the materialist view of explaining what makes vastly different physical implementations of a "single" algorithm "the same" other than the non-physical idea of the algorithm, one commenter claimed that it was that all such implementations produced the same neural patterns in our brains. And the same thing is true of all of our categorizations: for example, all the furry little critters we call "squirrels" are so called simply because each of them causes similar firings of our neurons.

When someone says something like t…

Golden Meteors and Cantillon Effects

Let us imagine a world economy entirely on the gold standard. In our imaginary world, gold is scarce, but with a difference: every once in a while, a meteor of pure gold hits the Earth -- and, we might even imagine that these meteors are sometimes of a great enough size that they represent a significant change in the world's gold supply, say, several percent. Furthermore, this is a "finders keepers" world, so whoever happens to discover this lump of gold first owns it.

It is clearly true that these random events will effect relative prices. If Farmer Joe who finds one of these meteorites in his wheat field simply loves Picassos, his find might have a large impact on the price of Picasso's paintings. But would any economist who touts the efficacy of markets and market prices see any terrible difficulty hindering the working of the market process in these events? Isn't it simply the case that there has been a change in effective demand, and market prices will chan…

Why Materialists Crack Me Up

Now, don't get me wrong: I love materialists. Some of my best friends are materialists! But they actually seem to think that idealists, dualists, panpsychists, etc. are unaware of the existence of neurons! So conversations with them go roughly like:

Non-Materialist: [Spends a paragraph explaining Whitehead's panpsychism.]

Materialist: Neurons!

NM: Yes, I am aware of neurons. [Spends a paragraph explaining how Aquinas would have understood the relationship between the brain and our thoughts.]

M: Neural firing patterns!

NM: Yes, I know, there are neural firing patterns associated with our thinking. [Spends a paragraph showing how Berkeley would have fit this into his metaphysics.]

M: Synapses!

NM: OK, I'm not posting any more of these.

M: Close-minded coward!

[By the way, you might think that comments are closed on this post, but that is just some faulty neural wiring causing you to believe that.]

Stupid Human Tricks, Part LXVII

Here is a fun game to play:

Choose a thinker whose ideas you instinctively don't like.

Root around in their biography until you find something unsavory. (It will be there, don't worry.)

Now, you can discredit that person without even having to bother with their ideas! Watch:

"Keynes didn't like Jews!"

"Oakeshott was a womanizer!"

"Jefferson kept slaves!"

"Mises said nice things about Mussolini!"

"Marx was very dirty and neglected his children!"

Why, once you've seen this enough, you might almost start to imagine that we are all fallen sinners.

It's the Same Old DeWrong, with a Different Beat Since Reason's Been Gone

It is always fascinating when one can detect an irrational obsession in an otherwise smart person. I have no doubt Brad DeLong is smart. But when it comes to any questioning of reductionist materialist dogma, DeLong just loses it. For instance, in "responding" to Steve Landsburg, he starts his post off as follows:

"Someone who claims to be a 'friend' makes me aware that others are joining Alvin Plantzinga and Gene Callahan on the side of Thomas Nagel's creationists..." (Is 'friend' perhaps in quotes here because DeLong has no friends and knows this person must be making the claim up? Hahaha, just kidding, Brad, I'm sure you have at least one friend!)

Here, we have hit upon the Paretain "residue" that drives DeLong's irrational rants: he hates creationists. Now, Nagel is not a creationist, I am not a creationist, and Landsburg is not a creationist, but DeLong is afraid, very, very afraid, that some creationists might like some…

Algorithms and Reductionism

Ken B. makes an interesting point in the comments, although not, perhaps the point he intended to make!

The question is, what do we make of an algorithm? Well, if we are true materialist reductionists, we would have to say that an algorithm really just is its physical manifestation, e.g, the microchip on which it is running and the electrons moving about in there: this is what it means to be a materialist reductionist, after all.

But now consider a particular algorithm, say, the Sieve of Eratosthenes. That algorithm can be implemented on an old-time mainframe built with vacuum tubes, on a iPad, with a large set of hot and cold water taps, or even in my brain. These physical structures are about as different as can be, and yet Ken admits that it is the same algorithm implemented on each of them. Therefore, what is the same in these wildly physically divergent cases (which I would call the idea) must, necessarily, be something not physical.

So there are parts of reality which are not p…

Careless Whispers

The guy next to me on the train has been whispering into his phone for fifteen minutes. Ah! I imagine he thinks he's being polite, but it would be much, much less disturbing if he just talked normally.

Steve Horwitz Gives the Best Austrian Response I've Seen on Cantillon Effects


Some people have called me a "born-again Keynesian." Others have said I've "sold out to the dark side."

Uh-uh. What I really am is someone who found out that the "kindergarten Keynesianism" he was spoon-fed by various "pop-Austrian" authors was as inaccurate as the "kindergarten Hayekianism" he found amongst various scribes on the left. (And I discovered that when I had to teach Keynes, and, as an honest teacher, felt I had to really get his ideas as he saw them before I could properly teach them.)

So what I "really" am is a guy who now is working his ass off to grasp this whole debate, including the perspective of the hundreds of economists besides Keynes and Hayek who offered thoughts on the nature of the business cycle.

Whoa-oh, Halfway There...

My efforts to learn Italian are paying off: I was driving to work today, and a flock of dinosaur-descended winged creatures flew past my windshield. My first articulate thought was "gli uccelli."

Yes! There was no translation at all, I simply named the critters in Italian first. Still a long way to go, but I finally feel I will reach the finish line.

Association Football Amongst the Hipsters

Now, I've got nothing against association football (soccer). Hey, I spent a fair amount of time in pubs in the UK, so I had to get into it. I realized that what I had to do was adjust my mindset.

The typical American watches soccer and thinks, "What the hey? These guys hardly ever score! And the crowd seems to get frenzied simply at a shot on goal."

Well, if you are a parent, the solution to this puzzlement is easy: pretend you are at your eight-year-old's basketball game. If anyone even gets a shot off, everyone is very excited. If they actually get their shot near the rim, there are wild applause. And a basket pretty much means "Game over."

That's soccer. OK? Once you take that mindset, you can enjoy the game.

However, it still puzzles me how Brooklyn hipsters who would disdain American football attentively watch Premiership games. I guess they are just in love with all things European... oh, wait, so am I.

OK, OK, I should just admit I am an over-ag…

Materialism Don't Predict Squat

A very curious claim I just came across is that a good argument for materialism is its track record of successful predictions.

1) Materialism itself is a claim that "There exists nothing but matter." (Or matter and energy, or whatever other moving target materialists choose to shoot at this decade.) To the extent it ever predicted anything, it was that matter is an inert substance behaving in a mechanistic way. Quantum physics wrecked that prediction, but materialists simply shrugged and changed what materialism meant.

2) The person who said this probably meant the predictive success of science, but that is simple confusion: materialism does not equal science, and vice versa. For the first two hundred years after the Scientific Revolution, every major scientist of which I am aware was either a dualist or an idealist. Many of them took their understanding of matter to be proof of dualism!

Furthermore, successful prediction in the physical sciences may be about "material…

Contributing to the Salvation Army

I noticed yesterday that I tend to keep giving a dollar to every Salvation Army volunteer (?) I see throughout the holidays. Why, I wondered, don't I just give twenty dollars to one of them and be done with it?

And that made me realize that I am usually being charitable as much to the person doing the collecting as to whomever they are giving the money to. They standing out there, shivering in the cold, ringing them little bells, and everybody just walking by them... I want to give them a dollar and a hug.

Good Advice on Academic Writing

Found here. (Hat tip Pete Boettke.)

I have found using this blog as a testing ground for ideas to be formally published later as an especially useful tactic! It not only gets me feedback from my wonderful and much appreciated commentariat, it motivates me to write these things down in the first place.

Ooh! Spooooky!

P.S. Huff notes how many prominent 20th century philosophers have rejected materialism... and the majority of them are not "religious" in any usual sense of the term. (Bertrand Russell, for example, was a strident atheist.) One reason is there really has never been forwarded any decent argument for materialism, while it introduces many well known difficulties. Evidence of this lack of good arguments for materialism is the frequent resort of many advocates of materialism to sheer name calling, the most typical name invoked being "spooky," with "magical" perhaps running a close second. Anyone who says, as, for instance, Chalmers does, that consciousness must somehow be a fundamental component of the universe, is accused of invoking "spooky" entities in his metaphysics, and calling upon "magical" causes.

The silliness of this tactic can be readily understood by how easily it is turned around on its practitioners. The universe was original…

Oscar Robertson's Triple-Double Season

Wikipedia reports: "Oscar Robertson is the only player in NBA history to achieve this feat [of averaging a triple-double]. During the 1961–62 season, Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game."

My son said, "But Dad, he only had 181 triple-doubles in his career. Wouldn't this mean 82 of them came that one year?"

I said, "No, those were his averages. He had games below those numbers in each category."

"OK, but shouldn't that still be about 70?"

"Hmm, let's see: if his distribution on each of these is a Bell curve, I'd expect that maybe in 25 or 30 games he'd miss a double in assists, maybe in 20 or so in rebounds, and in a handful in points. So perhaps..."

"Dad, right here..."

"Wait a second! Hmm, perhaps in 40 games he actually had a triple double."

"Dad, right here on the page it gives the actual number: 41!"

Ah, the power of statistical reasoning!

Nick Rowe Cleverly Demonstrates That Cantillon Effects Really Represent Fiscal Policy

What he does is show that for every effect we supposedly generate through monetary policy, we can generate the exact same effect minus monetary policy, using taxation and expenditures alone. So it is the taxation and expenditures, and not the monetary policy, that is generating these effects.

Now, he should do a similar post showing how all re-distributional effects in an Overlapping Generations Model are also due to taxation and expenditures, and not to the debt itself. Because the exact same technique he used for Cantillon effects demonstrates the exact same thing for an OLG model with government debt!

UPDATE: As rob noted in the comments, my original posted was not worded as well as it could have been. Therefore, where I originally wrote "fiscal policy," the post now reads "taxation and expenditures."

That Thar Is Some Fine Programmin', Google

In Blogger's HTML mode, I pasted in some code to embed a video. Then I shifted back to Compose mode. Oh, I realized I wanted to change the embedding code, so I went back to HTML mode... and Blogger shows me this:

I did not get to make the change I wanted.

Might as Well Face It, You're Addicted to...


I left my house to go to the Y without my phone (on purpose). I got about half a block away, and wanted to check my e-mail. Wow, I didn't have my phone!

When I realized how weird that felt, the first thing I wanted to do was... to write a blog post about it. For which I needed... my phone.

Ah! Now the weirdness had doubled down. Oh boy, I really had to talk to someone about this. For which I needed... my phone.

Oh boy. The only thing that might relieve my mounting sense of panic would be a nice game of Angry Birds!

Reductive Materialism Requires Philosophical Ignorance

These paragraphs from Ed Feser lay out the case so clearly that I will quote him at length:
Now, Nagel’s point is not that there is something wrong per se with overthrowing common sense in this way (as Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Locke etc. did).  It is rather that whatever value this method has, it cannot coherently be applied to the explanation of conscious experience itself.  If the reductive method involves ignoring the appearances of a thing and redefining the thing in terms of something other than the appearances, then since our conscious experience of the world just is the way the world appears to us, to ignore the appearances is in this case just to ignore the very phenomenon to be explained rather than to explain it.  Consciousness is for this reason necessarily and uniquely resistant to explanation via the same method scientific reductionism applies to everything else.  For the application of the method in this case, writes Nagel, “does not take us nearer to the real nature…