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Showing posts from January, 2013

Psychlogical Theories of the Cycle

As long ago as 2003, in response to some Austrians whom I saw mocking "psychological" takes on the business cycle, I was stressing that there is no reason to view structural or monetary theories and psychological theories as rivals: they can complement each other, as Roger and I argued in the paper linked to above.

But, once again, Gottfried Haberler beat me there:

"But the distinction between the writers who give prominence to these 'psychological' factors and the writers so far reviewed is, taken as a whole, a distinction of emphasis rather than of kind. The 'psychological' factors are put forward as supplemental to the monetary and other economic factors and not as alternative elements of causation, while on the other hand they are in no sense overlooked by the writers of the other group, or most of them, though they may be assigned a less prominent place in the chain of causation." -- Prosperity and Depression, p. 150

What Browsers Need...

is a "What the heck is playing that ad?" button. I just had some ad playing somewhere, but I clicked through every tab and could not find it. Luckily it just stopped on its own before I had to reboot.

Yet Another Mussolini Fan

The founder of the Boy Scouts.

The point being, through the 1920s and 1930s, a lot of people were taken in. It happens.

Soon, All Words Will Be Quoted

A note on the building's door this morning:

'Dear FedEx person: Please leave packages for "2L" with "3G".'

Why have the put the apartment numbers in quotes? Are those not their real apartment numbers? Is it a code they have with the FedEx person? People have lost track of what quotation marks are for, and just stick them around random strings in what they write.

"Soon," "all" "words" "will" "be" "quoted." And someone will have to invent a punctuation character for when we are quoting someone else.

We Can Become Ill in Different Ways

Imagine a bunch of nutritionists, each one of whom kept insisting that there was only a single form of nutritional problem. One tells us: "It's overeating! People only go wrong nutritionally when they have too many calories." Another says: "No, it is undereating! People become too frail." Yet another insists that the only problem is a diet with too much protein and not enough carbohydrates, and yet another that the only difficulty is the reverse.

I think that this is analogous to wars (often ideological) over the theory of the business cycle. Why should we believe there is only a single way in which the macroeconomy can become "ill"? And Gottfried Haberler agrees:

"Vertical maladjustments of each type on the one hand and horizontal maladjustments and insufficiency of total demand (insufficiency of money supply) on the other are quite compatible. To a certain extent they probably always go together and are frequently difficult to distinguish. Sin…

Our Pets as NeoDarwinian Theorists

Commenting on this post, in which I speculated on what it is like to be a cat, a commenter responds:

"The cat sounds like it's merely trying to survive so it will be able to breed more kittens and pass its genes onto the next generation."

I could not have imagined: My cat knows about genes, which we humans hadn't discovered until the 19th century, and furthermore she is worried about passing them on! But, as bright as she is, apparently she isn't aware of the import of that little operation she had a few years ago.

From the perspective of NeoDarwinian theory, we may interpret the cat's actions in the way this commenter did: I have no problem with that. But to posit that that is what my cat, from her own point of view, is "trying" to do, is ludicrous. Whatever in the world is going on from her perspective -- as I noted, I was merely speculating -- it most certainly is not a concern about "passing on genes"!

I don't post this to mock th…

(Not So) Mixed Emotions

My daughter, last night, asked me, "What's for dinner?"
"Rabbit," I answered. (Stewed with raisins, pine nuts, and olives.)
The first thing she said was "Awwwww," making a "poor, cute little bunny" face. The next thing she said was, "But, yummmmm!"
She then ate two bowls of the cute little bunny stew.

Why Does This Persist?

If I have to share a public bathroom while I am in it, I prefer it to be a men's room, not a mixed-sex loo. But many establishments in New York have two bathrooms, each with only one toilet, and a door that locks, but still sex segregate them. This clearly costs patrons either time or embarrassment: occasionally "your" bathroom is occupied for a while when you need to go, while "their" bathroom is not: then, you either fidget with an unused toilet a few feet away, or risk plunging into the "wrong" bathroom, and getting a dirty look when you come out to find someone is upset that you took "her" ("his") rightful place in line.
So why does this practice persist? I considered the idea that people don't like even serially sharing a toilet with strangers of the other sex, but that doesn't seem right: Haven't we all done so repeatedly, since we were children, every time we've gone to a large party in a private home? Why w…

Madison on the "Necessary and Proper" Clause in the U.S. Constitution

Madison's commentary (reproduced below) is interesting. And it is underscored by the following fact: During the drafting of the Bill of Rights, people kept slipping "expressly" into the tenth amendment, and Madison kept taking it back out. Article I section 8 was deliberately vague, and Madison meant to keep it that way! The clause was meant to be understood as, "Do whatever you really have to do, but try to keep it within limits, OK?"

Getting a constitution drafted was contentious and tricky business. Whenever an issue was particularly difficult to reach consensus upon, the preferred solution was, "Write it up in a vague manner, and leave it for others to sort out."

In any case, here is Madison, from Federalist 44:
There are four other possible methods which the Constitution might have taken on this subject. They might have copied the second article of the existing Confederation, which would have prohibited the exercise of any power not EXPRESSLY de…

May All of Your Errors Be Interesting!

In responding to this post, Bob Murphy makes an interesting error. He says:

"Hang on a second Gene. Why stop at society? How about this way of blowing up Boettke et al.?"

"What about money, a social institution par excellence? No individual acted 'rationally' to pick something as money, weighing the marginal costs and benefits of a transition to a common medium of exchange. So clearly these guys are terrible economists."

"That wouldn't work, right?"

What Bob is thinking (I believe) is that money was not intended by anyone, but was the unintended outcome of individuals doing cost-benefit analysis. And just the same, of course no one said "Let me create human society," but it too was the unintentional outcome of individuals doing cost-benefit analysis.

But while the former could be the case, the latter is historical nonsense and, if we believe Wittgenstein, impossible to boot. That is because:

1) Historically speaking, there never …

Every Notable Figure in the Past...

spoke in a exaggerated, histrionic voice.

How do I know this? Because I listen to lectures by historians on the way to work almost every day, and every time they read a passage from Madison, or Jefferson, or Cromwell, or Locke, or Cramer, or More, or Adams, or.. whoever, they read it in an exaggerated, histrionic way.

What is up with that? The lecturers might defend themselves by saying, "We're just trying to give life to the writer's words!"

But, if that is the case, why don't they give their own lecture in the same voice? Do they not want to "give life" to their own lecture? This is a silly custom that ought to be abandoned.

Does Anyone Think This Was Likely to Work?

Seventy-one-year-old Westport woman charged with prostitution.

And she lived in Westport, CT, one of the wealthiest towns in the country! Couldn't she have just moved to Norwalk, a mile or two away, and saved enough that she wouldn't have to try to work as an escort at 71?

The Economic Way of Thinking

I'm teaching Micro I this semester, in a situation where my textbook was chosen before I was the instructor. The book is Heyne, Boettke, and Prychitko's The Economic Way of Thinking. So far I like the book... but not every bit of it. For instance, in the first chapter, the authors claim:

"[The economic way of thinking ] can be best summarized as a set of concepts derived from one fundamental presupposition: All social phenomena emerge from the actions and interactions of individuals who are choosing in response to expected additional benefits and costs to themselves."

That presupposition strikes me as both:

1) Unnecessary; and
2) Clearly false.

Let us take up the second point first. All we need note to conclusively show the presupposition is false is that society itself, the social phenomena par excellence, certainly did not come about through such individual weighing of costs and benefits. The individual of rational choice theory only came to exist historically (to…

Office Hours

I am teaching five days a week this semester. Should I put my office hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday?

Then, I can post on my office door: "Office Hours: WTF."

Two Bars in Storyville

A friend lives in Storyville [a pseudonym], out on Staten Island. There are two bars in his town. (Here, "town" should be understood as in the context of London, which is a city through the aggregation of a multitude of little towns.) One of them is operated by an old-timer from the neighborhood. Another is owned by a woman who lives one town away, about a mile-and-a-half distant. Therefore, she is an "outsider," interfering in the natural order of the neighborhood. And, as a result, a couple of biker thugs hang out in her bar frequently, threatening people who come in, and telling them they should go drink at the bar down the street.

What dedication to xenophobia! Because a woman from a town less than 10,000 feet away opened a bar in "their" neighborhood, these guys are willing to hang out in the bar they don't like in order to drive people to the one they do.

Utopian schemes based on the "brotherhood of man" are surely doomed if living a …

Yes!

Ken McIntyre reviewedOakeshott on Rome and America for The American Conservative. I just got a hold of my author copies, and...

He really liked it! The review is behind a paywall right now, but I'll get a link here ASAP.

Nice Shootin', Tex

Northern Illinois, a Division I men's basketball team, scored 4 points in the first half Saturday, missed 29 straight shots, and with just over three minutes left in the game had only 13 points.

Earlier in the year, the team had set the previous record-low by scoring only 5 in a half.

Thomas Payne and Sortation

Did you know that Thomas Paine recommended selecting the U.S. President partially using sortition?

But what's with the spelling of my title? Will, when I sent myself a note via Siri to blog about this Siri decided I wanted a note about "Thomas Payne" and "Sortation." Two out of three words wrong. Voice recognition is still not up to snuff for serious writing projects.

Irony in Davos

News from Davos is that a group of women were arrested for a topless protest. But, of course, if Dominique Strauss-Kahn is any indication, at the same time some attendees were doubtlessly paying women to take off their tops (and more) for them.

Lesson to women: don't take off your top for free around the economic elite. It confuses them. Get them to pay you, and they will feel more comfortable.

John Bolton, Shill for Defense Contractors

In Tuesday's New York Post, John Bolton complained about the "massive defense cuts of Obama's first term."

Well, defense spending has gone up under Obama. Not only were there not "massive" cuts, there weren't even teeny-weeny cuts. But the Post apparently thinks it's just fine to give Bolton's lying a platform.



Time for a Swim?

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What Is It?

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The Flying Lobster

Why my friend Neil Ganic named his wine bar the above. (And according to another friend who was there on the night of the infamous lobster incident, the lobster actually was thrown.)

What Do Illness and Macroeconomics Have in Common?

A student this morning sat through forty minutes of a pathology lecture before he realized he was not in my macroeconomics class.

My Review of Two Cheers for Anarchism...

is online at The American Conservative.

Winch and His Modes

"The distinction between a general category of action—a mode of social life—and a particular sort of act falling within such a category, is of central importance to the distinction between non-logical and illogical behaviour. An illogical act presumably involves a mistake in logic; but to call something non-logical should be to deny that criteria of logic apply to it at all. That is, it does not make sense to say of non-logical conduct that it is either logical or illogical, just as it does not make sense to say of something non-spatial (such as virtue) that it is either big or small. But Pareto does not follow through the implications of this. For instance, he tries to use the term ‘non-logical’ in a logically pejorative sense, which is like concluding from the fact that virtue is not big that it must be small. A large part of the trouble here arises from the fact that he has not seen the point around which the main argument of this monograph revolves: that criteria of logic ar…

U.S. Diversity?

Contra Obama, Foreign Policy reports that Canada is significantly more ethnically diverse than the U.S., and so is most of Africa:

"Is the U.S. very diverse? Not really, according to Stanford political scientist James Fearon. Fearon tried to measure diversity in 160 countries around the world in a 2003 study, and (with all the appropriate caveats that ethnicity is a difficult thing to define) found that the the U.S. comes in as the 85th most diverse country in the world. The most diverse western country is actually Canada, with an "ethnic fractionalization index" of .596 (the U.S.'s is .491), and we're outranked by almost every country in sub-saharan Africa, as well as Brazil (.549), Mexico (.542) and Israel (.526), among others."

For the Sake of American Productivity...

it should be illegal to post a link called "NFL Top 10 Trick Plays" during the work day.

Obama: Definitely Not a Socialist!

Jeffrey Polet gets Obama right:

"While nothing suggests Obama is a socialist, those of us who have read our Marx may see in him features of late capitalism: concentration of wealth, cooperation between the state and owners, greater wealth inequality."

Yes: While I favored Obama over Romney in the recent election, this was not based on any illusion that Obama was a "man of the people": No, I simply thought he was a slightly more decent and reasonable capitalist overlord than Romney! And, as a conservative, I thought that was the best we could hope for, and that the best we could hope for is all that we should hope for. In the City of Man, you take what you can get.

Winch on Philosophy as Experience Without Reservation or Arrest

"The embarrassment in which [Pareto] is thus placed illustrates what I wanted to emphasize in maintaining that the type of problem with which he is here concerned belongs more properly to philosophy than it does to science. This has to do with the peculiar sense in which philosophy is uncommitted enquiry. I noted in the first chapter how philosophy is concerned with elucidating and comparing the ways in which the world is made intelligible in different intellectual disciplines; and how this leads on to the elucidation and comparison of different forms of life. The uncommittedness of philosophy comes out here in the fact that it is equally concerned to elucidate its own account of things; the concern of philosophy with its own being is thus not an unhealthy Narcissistic aberration, but an essential part of what it is trying to do. In performing this task the philosopher will in particular be alert to deflate the pretensions of any form of enquiry to enshrine the essence of intell…

The Impossibility of Predictive Social Science

"The development of a historical tradition may involve deliberation, argument, the canvassing of rival interpretations, followed perhaps by the adoption of some agreed compromise or the springing up of rival schools. Consider, for instance, the relation between the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven; or the rival schools of political thought which all claim, with some show of reason, to be based on the Marxist tradition. Think of the interplay between orthodoxy and heresy in the development of religion; or of the way in which the game of football was revolutionized by the Rugby boy who picked up the ball and ran. It would certainly not have been possible to predict that revolution from knowledge of the preceding state of the game any more than it would have been possible to predict the philosophy of Hume from the philosophies of his predecessors. It may help here to recall Humphrey Lyttleton’s rejoinder to someone who asked him where Jazz was going: ‘If I knew where Jazz was g…

He May Huff and He May Puff...

But P.S. cannot blow my case down.

He writes: "It is possible that science will one day provide powerful evidence that the brain and body function in a perfectly deterministic manner. That discovery would leave little opening for free will."

But this is based upon a misunderstanding of the relationship of science to the entirety of experience, and results in a flawed "free will of the gaps" understanding of the concept: free will is some mysterious "other" thing that operates in the "gaps" between causal physical processes, and if there are no gaps, there is no "room" for free will. Note: This is exactly the sort of flawed understanding of free will that leads many scientifically minded people to reject the concept, since it posits some "spooky" force jiggering around with physical processes.

The fact is that a finding that "the brain and body function in a perfectly deterministic manner" would say nothing at all a…

A Man Who Knew How to Party!

Today's Gospel reading was John 2:1-11: the wedding party in Cana.

Now, I had always known the story of Jesus turning water into wine, but I had never contemplated just how much wine he provided. There were six jars, each of which held 20 to 30 gallons, that were first filled with water, then made into wine. That's roughly 750 bottles of wine! And this was at a point where the guests had already been drinking for some hours.

Rumor has it that after seeing that, the host came up to Jesus and remarked, "Jesus, I have heard mumblings that, well, many of the guests are, ahem, out of blow as well." However Jesus, reluctant to hear all of those people telling the same joke every half hour for the rest of the night, declined to perform a second miracle.

Science Cannot Answer Philosophical Problems, and Philosophy Cannot Answer Scientific Ones

Peter Winch, in The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy, writes:
Burnet puts the point very well in his book on Greek Philosophy when he points out (on pages 11 and 12) that the sense in which the philosopher asks ‘What is real?’ involves the problem of man’s relation to reality, which takes us beyond pure science. ‘We have to ask whether the mind of man can have any contact with reality at all, and, if it can, what difference this will make to his life’. Now to think that this question of Burnet’s could be settled by experimental methods involves just as serious a mistake as to think that philosophy, with its a priori methods of reasoning, could possibly compete with experimental science on its own ground. For it is not an empirical question at all, but a conceptual one. It has to do with the force of the concept of reality. An appeal to the results of an experiment would necessarily beg the important question, since the philosopher would be bound to ask by what …

State Policies Never Work?!

Here's part of the abstract of a paper by Manuel Eisner:
Research on the history of crime from the thirteenth century until the end of the twentieth has burgeoned and has greatly increased understanding of historical trends in crime and crime control. Serious interpersonal violence decreased remarkably in Europe between the mid-sixteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Different long-term trajectories in the decline of homicide can be distinguished between various European regions. Age and sex patterns in serious violent offending, however, have changed very little over several centuries. The long-term decline in homicide rates seems to go along with a disproportionate decline in elite homicide and a drop in male-to-male conflicts in public space. The anarchist story that the state is the source of some huge increase in violence are empirically false. By empirical measures, the state take-over of crime prevention from private persons seems to have succeeded "remarkably.&q…

Find Out What a Cissexual Is...

Here.

The Authority of Neuroscientists on Philosophical Questions...

may be valid if scientism (the idea that all knowledge is scientific knowledge) is true.

What neuroscientists say about philosophical questions certainly can't be used as evidence that scientism is true, since it presumes that very conclusion!

Alvin Platinga Shreds...

Sam Harris's case against free will.

Of course, as philosopher Kevin Vallier notes, that is really shooting fish in a barrel.

Going Mad: SMTP Problem

I have certain emails that my mail program refuses to send, over and over again, saying it can't connect to my SMTP server. But other emails go out just fine -- and I only have one SMTP server in my list!

What the heck could be causing this?

UPDATE: Solved! I tried to add my university account to Apple mail, and it seems that the program sort of randomly sent certain mails from that account (so they didn't have my account / password info correct for Apple), while for most of my mail it used my Apple account. Once I noticed the different from address it was easy.

In the New Issue...

of The American Conservative, I both review and am reviewed. Turn around is fair play, I guess!

The Prince Must Maintain His Rule!

And if what it takes is a padlock on the back door, well, so be it!

A Sign of the Collapse of Western Civilization

Even academics cannot differentiate between raising a question and begging a question:

"'At the end of the day, it begs the question of what was she thinking,' Windmeyer said."

Stephen Masty Explains Why We Don't Need Conspiracy Theories...

to understand the elite consensus.

It is class analysis that is the key: the elite attend the same cocktail parties, read the same editorials, send their kids to the same schools, and just naturally come to understand the world in the same way. Sure, conspiracies take place from time to time, but it is otiose to posit a conspiracy every time the elite agree on some issue: of course they agree, they are acting in their class interest!

Northface Coats

OK, I guess they are warm, and I'd wear one if I was hiking in the Arctic. But don't they make the person wearing them look a bit like they are wrapped in packing material?

Cultural Marxism

A conversation at my local the other night got me thinking about Marx and Engels would have made of notions like "white privilege" and so forth that are used in what is often referred to as "cultural Marxism." The context was that the bartender and another patron (a mildly impoverished young man), both of whom had talked about Marxist analysis a moment before, seemed to be taking the idea of "white privilege" very seriously.

Here's my guess: Marx and Engels would have thought this was a great ruse on the part of the ruling class: convince some white guys making $10 or $15 per hour that they are "privileged," and that Vernon Jordan, Colin Powell, and Barack Obama are victims of their privilege, and the rulers have them right where they want them.

UPDATE: Changed to give Vernon Jordan the correct last name.

The Defeat of the Anti-Semiters!

Described here.

They lost when mainstream Jewish commentators began calling the smear campaign against Hagel "disgusting" "character assassination."

Sometimes the good guys win.

Those Hypocritical Puritans!

My son's U.S. history textbook claims, "But the Puritans were hypocrites: the religious freedom they wanted for themselves they denied to others."

Sigh. What about using history to actually understand the way people in the past would have seen this issue, rather than shoving them into our own mindsets and categories? The Puritans wanted to be able to practice what they thought was the scripturally correct religion, not have "freedom of religion" for themselves. They wanted everyone to be free to worship God correctly (which they thought they understood how to do) and no one, themselves included, to be free to worship incorrectly. If you asked a Puritan, "Would you want to have freedom of religion for yourself if tomorrow you became a Satanist?" the Puritan would have said, "No! The civil authorities should force me back onto the path of righteousness if they can, and if they cannot they should keep me from corrupting others, by whatever force th…

What Global Warming?

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It's perfectly normal on January 13, in New York City, to see:


Bulbs emerging!


Parsley from last summer still going strong outdoors!


Flowers in bloom!

Come on, you global warming "alarmists," nothing to see here: move along!

Dear Americans

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Dear Americans,
The makers of Shooter were having you on. Ethiopeans look like this:

Not like this:

(It just really annoys me when filmakers don't even bother to get someone from the right part of Africa to play a part: "Hey, they all look the same down there, right?")

Is All Subtitling This Bad?

I'm watching Il Commissario Montalbano on DVD. I can now understand enough spoken Italian that I can often compare what is being said with the subtitles. All the time, the subtitler is doing things like translating "She was 15 or 16" to "She was 15."

It's not like this is ambiguous, or the English is just a different wording, or something. The medical examiner said the corpse had been 15 or 16 when she died. The subtitle is just wrong: if you gave this translation in Italian class, you would get half credit.

How can that happen?

More on Yglesias and Buchanan

The dead are not immune from criticism. And while alive, James Buchanan was not and should not have been immune from criticism: there is an entire section of my book Oakeshott on Rome and America devoted to criticizing The Calculus of Consent.

But Buchanan was a serious scholar who made serious contributions to social science. To see some Internet asshat like Yglesias dump on him on the day of his death is disgusting. In one hundred years, people will still be studying Buchanan. In one hundred years, the only people discussing Yglesias will be his great-grandkids, and that will just be to ask, "Do you remember how weird the way great-grandpa sucked on his own fingers was?"

And my post here has nothing to do with politics. When Paul Krugman dies, there will be some libertarian creep doing just what the liberal creep Yglesias has done. And if I outlive Krugman, I will call that creep out on it as well.


Murphy, Still Befuddled by Interest After All These Years

Y'all know I love Bob, and I am certain he's a very smart guy. But for ten years now, I believe he's been tying himself up in knots on interest, and things are simpler than he is making them out to be. For instance, he writes:

"What’s happening is that the standard r=MPK result–where MPK is defined as the increment in physical output from an additional input of capital into the production function–crucially assumes that the capital and consumption good are the same physical things, or at least, that they are always physically convertible into each other in a constant ratio."

But, I think physical convertibility is not the relevant matter: it is the pricing of the capital good. And how is it priced? By the discounted value of the consumer good flows it will produce in the future. And how are those discounted? By the interest rate. And in equilibrium, that sets r = MPK.

And this formulation is not at all what Bohm-Bawerk was critiquing. It is not that productivity…

Little Hipster Douchebag...

sucking on his own fingers, declares great economist to be over-rated.

UPDATE: I seriously considered taking down this post, which I made in anger: had I gone over the top?

But thinking it over, I decided, no. To post what Yglesias did on the day of a man's death is simply awful. If you want to wait a few weeks and post a serious analysis of how you think Buchanan was over-rated, that's one thing. But on the day of his death, to simply take a pot shot at him? Truly, truly dreadful.

The Booming NASDAQ

The NASDAQ is up to 3103 as I write. In real terms, it is still down about 55% from its peak. If it sees a normal real return of a couple of percent a year, I am figuring that by about 2040 those who invested in the autumn of 2000 will have gotten their principle back.

"Anti-Semite" Jeffrey Goldberg Supports Hagel

Here.

As does the "anti-Semitic" Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.

And so does the rabid "anti-Semite" Thomas Friedman. (Who, along the way, calls attacks on Hagel such as Rubin's "disgusting.")

What Is Black and White, Nasty, Factually Ignorant, and Narrow-Minded?

A very mainstream realist like Stephen Walt reveals the answer:

"By making such ludicrous charges about Hagel, however, neoconservatives and other extremists made it clear just how nasty, factually ignorant, and narrow-minded they are, and how much they believed that the commitment to Israel ought to trump other foreign policy priorities." --Stephen Walt

The answer: Any column from Jennifer Rubin!

Mises and the Completion of His System

Jonathan Finegold Catalán notes that Mises seemed to dismiss Keynes without even really bothering to read him, and wonders why. I suspect the answer is that Mises was done learning new things by the time The General Theory appeared. We see a similar reaction to the emergence of game theory, where the only thing I am aware he ever said about it was the rather dismissive remark: "'Patience' or 'Solitaire' is not a one-person game, but a pastime, a means of escaping boredom. It certainly does not represent a pattern for what is going on in a communistic society, as John von Neumann and Oscar Morgenstern assert." (As if a pastime might not have a similar pattern in it as some serious activity! Solitaire would still have the exact same game pattern if it was played as part of a death match, but it would hardly still be a pastime!)

I don't think there is really even anything wrong with the fact he was not interested in these new avenues of research, except that…

I Suppose Pundits Gotta Pund

But this really is rather silly:

"If [Obama is going to have a major scandal], history tells us we should be on the lookout starting about a year from now, since Year Six of a two-term presidency has been a fruitful time for scandal. Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light in January 1998, at the start of Clinton's sixth year in office. Iran-Contra was revealed in November 1986, in the sixth year of Reagan's presidency. The Watergate break-in occurred in 1972 while Richard Nixon was running for re-election, but the revelations played out slowly enough that he didn't resign until his sixth year in office, in August 1974. Similarly, the Bush administration revealed Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative in 2003, though the scandal wasn't fully over until 2007, when Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and President Bush commuted his sentence."

OK, in January 1998 Clinton had been in office five years. …

A Cautionary Tale of a Drug Monopoly

In the far away land of ancapistan, a problem developed. A rare plant was discovered, erutan foestat, from which a powerful drug called Worpe could be made. The problem was this: on the one hand, in low doses, Worpe was the most powerful anti-cancer drug ever developed, while on the other hand, it was the most addictive substance yet known to man. A single dose at a high enough level would cause full-blown addiction, and so dealers could and would garner clientele simply by slipping people one dose. The addict would then devote his or her life entirely to getting more of the drug.

What to do? A council of defense agencies was called. They decided they would set up a corporation, in which they all owned an equal share, that would first buy up all of the land suitable for growing erutan, and then control the production of Worpe so that it would only be distributed to legitimate medical users.

The program was wildly successful: almost immediately, addiction rates dropped by 90%. Of cour…

Dual Loyalty

The generally nutty Jennifer Rubin goes completely over the top concerning the Chuck Hagel nomination: "Chuck Hagel’s America is a land in which gays would be forced back in the closet and Jews would be accused of dual loyalty."

Let us bracket the gay issue here, while simply noting that Hagel apologized for his fifteen year-old remarks, and look at the other part of her claim: Outside of the neo-Nazi fringe, has anyone ever seen any American political figure claiming "Jews" have dual loyalty? A claim that Rubin and her ilk have dual loyalty is a completely different matter.

Look, I would not like to hear someone claim that Irish-Americans have dual loyalty. But there is no doubt that during the "troubles," some Irish-Americans did have dual loyalty, or worse: they were willing to funnel money to the IRA, despite its terrorist acts, and despite the problems such support created for our relationship with a major ally, Great Britain. There is absolutely no…

Haberler and Loveday on Proleterianization and the Business Cycle

Mr. LOVEDAY then points out that for various reasons these financial rigidities have increased. "In recent years, the joint- stock system, under names varying with the law in different countries, has replaced to a constantly increasing extent the more personal enterprise. . . . Gradually with the growth of the big industrial concern, with the extension of the multiple shop . . . a greater and greater proportion of the population has been thrust out of positions of direct, independent control into the mass of wage-earning and salaried classes. Such persons can no longer invest in themselves; to the extent that they play for safety or apparent safety, and give preference to fixed-interest-bearing obligations over profit-sharing equities, they inevitably add to the rigidity of the financial system. Many forces have induced them to prefer safety to profit..." -- Prosperity and Depression, p. 117 Wilhelm Röpke referred to the treatment for this as the "de-proletarianization…

A Three-way Framework for Classifying Business Cycle Theories?

My colleague in this research and I were considering that we had two major dimensions along which to classify business cycle theories: exogenous versus endogenous, and truly cyclical versus pseudo-cyclical.

Examples:

An exogenous theory would be one that attributed cycles to, say, sunspots effecting agricultural output. An endogenous one would attribute, perhaps, the pessimism of the downturn to an expected reaction to the over-optimism of the boom.

A truly cyclical theory contains an explanation of why boom turns into bust which turns into boom: it explains why these states tend to repeat. A pseudo-cyclical theory (like real business cycle theory) explains the appearance of a cycle as being the result of random disturbances plus, perhaps, hysteresis.

But I think we need a third dimension as well: real versus monetary. At first I thought this could be subsumed under exogenous versus endogenous, where real factors are exogenous and monetary ones are endogenous. But now I see that is i…

Towards Reasonableness in Cycle Theory, II

Haberler said much the same thing as I was pointing at yesterday, of course having arrived at this opinion decades before I did:
It is true, a horizontal maladjustment alone (that is to say, an over-delopment of a particular branch of industry) can explain only a partial -- as opposed to a general -- depression for the reason that, if industry A is over-developed, there must be an industry B which is under-developed and, if A is depressed, B must prosper. But the same is true, as we have seen, of a vertical maldistribution of the factors of production.

In order to explain a general depression, it is necessary to recognize that a deflationary cumulative process can be set in motion by partial dislocation of the productive process. If this is accepted, there is no difficulty in assuming that such a vicious spiral of contraction may be started by a horizontal, as well as by a vertical, maladjustment in the structure of production. -- Prosperity and Depression, p. 111

Towards Reasonableness in Cycle Theory

Here's Scott Sumner: "The recession was mostly caused by a big fall in AD, although real factors such as reallocation out of housing might have played a modest role."

Too often macroeconomics is conducted like warfare, where one's favorite theory has to crush all others and emerge as the "victor." I think this is wrong-headed: it's as though we were doctors, and each held a theory as to what makes people ill: "It's viruses!" "No, bacteria!" "Ridiculous: it's cancer!"

The fact is that all of these things can happen to people. And there is simply no reason in the world an economy can't suffer from both an Austrian-type misallocation of resources and an aggregate demand shortfall, as Sumner correctly notes.

The Violence of Pre-State Warfare

Here:

"As an example of traditional warfare, Diamond discusses the Dani War in New Guinea during the early 1960s, after a series of revenge killings touched off a protracted and bloody struggle between two alliances that spoke the same Dani language and shared the same culture. The Dani War, for Diamond, epitomized the characteristics of traditional war in general: ambushes; massacres; the demonization of enemies; the involvement of the whole population (not just soldiers); the burning and sacking of villages; low military efficiency combined with chronic hostilities, leading to constant anxiety and fear among the populace; and a per capita death toll higher than Europe’s during the world wars."

The problem isn't the State: the problem is human beings. And the problem with admitting that problem is you're not left with an easy slogan with which to get funding: "Hate the State" is catchy, but "Hate the human being" isn't going to get you many s…

The Solution to All Serious Social Problems: A Vapid Rock Video!

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OK, look, I count myself as a member of a creed that ordains female priests, so obviously I don't have a problem with the practice. But I also don't think creeds that don't do so have abstained because they "hate women" or anything like that: they are seriously concerned about scriptural precedents in this area. And a video like the one below is only likely to reinforce their concerns! (Hat tip Dreher.)

Goose? Gander?

The NBA is 78% black, and I have seen very few protests over this fact. But if an NBA team happens to be two-thirds white... well, that's outrageous!

Also, let us note well: a league that has been over 75% black for two decades is certainly not "at the forefront of diversity among America's professional sports leagues"! I personally think this is just fine: the NBA's teams should be free to hire whomever they think can play ball the best, and if a team is 100% black (as has surely happened), well, so be it: that's their choice for the best team they can field. But it is kind of ludicrous to call that "diversity," don't you think?

Here is a real lack of diversity: "In the present-day NBA, the number of American-born white players continues to diminish -- 85 were on rosters in 1990, 48 by 2005 and nine were regular starters a season ago."

But I don't blame the NBA for this and call for civil rights actions to redress it: the problem…

The Dangers and the Limits of the Division of Labor

"It is well known that too intensive a division of labor can result in the atrophy of certain of our vital functions. There are several reasons for this. To begin with, the greatest part of our waking hours is spent on the job which yields us our daily bread. To be compelled to pass these hours in the performance of one narrowly confined operation is to cause the atrophy not only of certain muscles of the body, but of faculties of the mind and spirit as well. The highly specialized man is robbed of the chance to experience the fulness of his own personality; he becomes stunted. The country youth who comes from an unspecialized milieu will quickly adapt himself to city life. Indeed, it is a popular maxim that the “small town boy” makes good in the big city. On the other hand, the specialized industrial worker who goes to the country is, more often than not, a failure. Modern man does less and less by himself for himself. Canned foods replace those that were once prepared at home;…

Reviewing A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

My friend Leslie Marsh and veteran Oakeshott scholar Paul Franco have released A Companion to Michael Oakeshott, a collection of essays by various authors (including my PhD adviser David Boucher) with Penn State Press. I'm reviewing it for Collingwood and British Idealism Studies, and so, as usual, I will post about it here as I prepare my review.

The first essay I will discuss is the first one in the book, Robert Grant's "The Pursuit of Intimacy," which details Grant's findings on Oakeshott's love life. Now, I have known for some time that Oakeshott had been a womanizer, but what is described in this essay is far more extreme than anything I had imagined. It turns out that during the late 1940s and the 1950s, Oakeshott was almost never sleeping with fewer than three women at once. A typical "courtship" technique for him was basically to stalk women until they gave in: he would, for instance, sit outside of their workplace all day, or stand outside…

The Evidence for Demons

This post isn't actually arguing for the existence of demons; it is actually about the misuse of neuroscience. I was reading Oliver Sachs new book, and he said something (the book is not with me now) along the lines of, "Some people took these feelings of presence as evidence of demons or ghosts, but now we know they are caused by such-and-such neural phenomena."

How in the world does that dispose of the possibility of demons or ghosts existing? (Again, please, this is not an argument for their existence: I am addressing neuroscientists trying to do philosophy, not the spirit world!) Don't, say, trees create particular neural patterns when we look at them? Does that prove that trees aren't real as well? Why can't someone who believes in ghosts say, "See, now we have physical evidence for ghosts: they are able to create those neural patterns you see!"

Look, when it comes to brain functioning, neuro-scientists are beast. (Yeah, I meant to write "…