“Death in Venice”: The Problem of Romantic Reaction

"In Mann’s use, decadence seems to me to be a way of being dependent on one’s time; perhaps the very fact of dependence is itself the essential aspect. The dependence consists of this: There is a sickness of, and by reason of, the times which becomes a preoccupation and always amounts to this, that received goods have lost their savor, that there is irritability and boredom with the forms of life of the community, a feeling that time must be killed, and a consequent search for relief in the forms of excess or perversion—in short, a permanent sort of crisis. “Decadence” has, furthermore, the property that the attempt of those caught up in this condition to overcome it, which attempt might be called “reactionary decadence,” nearly always takes the form of a kind of brutality, be it exuberant or mean."

The Statistical Errors of the Reparations Agenda

"The main takeaways are that (1) the actual percentage of GDP derived from slavery is measured from final goods and services that involved slave-based production, and (2) Ed Baptist clearly did not understand what he was doing when he calculated his statistic. Cotton was by far the biggest item on the list of final goods and services, and, while its output varied year by year, it is probably reasonable to place slave-based goods in the mid to high single digits, not the 50 percent claim that Coates repeated."

The Machiavelli of Maryland

"In 1957, at the age of 15, he quit school, temporarily cut off contacts with his parents, and moved to London, where he worked in a teashop in Piccadilly and enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company, a territorial regiment quartered in London. Luttwak claims to have first seen military action in 1958, as 16-year-old in the jungles of North Borneo, where a small British force was sent in a clandestine operation to prop up the native Dayaks against Chinese communists. But then, according to Luttwak, the world would be a very different place without him: he claims a significant hand in a large proportion of the most momentous events of the postwar era: from the decision to throw molotov cocktails at Soviet tanks in the Prague Spring, to Iran’s 1981 release of American hostages, to the existence of the Toyota Prius."

China’s Social Credit System Is More Kafka Than Orwell

"What if you built a terrifying 21st century surveillance-and-control system and no one cared?

That’s what appears to be happening with China’s social-credit program. The plan gives citizens a credit score similar to those calculated by the likes of Experian Plc, but then adds rewards and penalties for behavior. That means your ability to buy railway tickets and get preferential rates on a loan could be contingent on whether you drop litter, park your car illegally – or even, in theory, criticize the government on social media.

This is often regarded as a sort of Orwellian nightmare, giving a monolithic government minute control over the lives of its citizens. In truth, though, it’s more like the nonsensical, disorganized oppression experienced by the protagonists of Franz Kafka’s stories."


The Influence of Irving Babbitt’s Humanism

"During his first two years of college, under Clark’s tutorship, Kirk devoured all six of Babbitt’s books and a significant number of his articles and reviews. The young man even joked with one of his closest friends that he bent his knee at the shrine of Babbitt. “When I read Babbitt,” Kirk confessed to a crowd in the early 1980s, “a conscience spoke to a conscience,” noting, especially, a “strong sympathy of mind and character.” Even more than Christopher Dawson and T.S. Eliot, Kirk claimed, Babbitt “influenced me more strongly than has any other writer of the twentieth century.” The Conservative Mind especially was influenced by “Babbitt, as much as Burke,” Kirk admitted. As far as Kirk—as a young man and as an elder scholar—was concerned, Irving Babbitt stood with Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Virgil, Confucius, and Horace as one of the greats of world civilization, “one of the sages of antiquity,” Kirk proclaimed.[7] Despite the many disparate Occidental and Oriental cultures from which Babbitt drew, “he is one of the most thoroughly native of American writers,” Kirk thought.[8] Babbitt never strove to be the leader of a movement, but he found himself as one, the younger man noted, being duly impressed with such an achievement. No one in the twentieth century within western civilization, Kirk concluded, better exemplified a mature conservatism than did Babbitt."

Bastiat on Story Telling and Other Rhetorical Devices

"I was struck by the same thing as I was editing Economic Harmonies and decided to count the stories: I counted 55, which I think is surprisingly large -- and see how he compares to other economists, such as Adam Smith, J.B. Say, and John Stuart Mill.[56] Did they tell economic stories in the same way, or were they more "expositional" in their analyses? One might further ask, does economic storytelling have a place in modern economic theory, or is this approach now out of date and thus to be avoided? Previously, I had realized that storytelling was an important part of Bastiat's approach to "applied economics" in his journalism and described this as Bastiat's "rhetoric of liberty," which he used brilliantly in the Economic Sophisms."[57] But had not fully realized he also used this approach in his main work of theory."

Trump Is Wrong About the Dollar — and So Is Warren

"It is true that in the short run, currency manipulation can serve as useful stimulus for an economy with an aggregate demand shortfall. But the complainers here are not talking about the short run. Rather, Trump and Warren are alleging a decades-long pattern in which China, Germany and other nations have accumulated unjustified trade surpluses. In this context, the currency manipulation explanation just doesn’t wash."

Skewering “the Pretense of Knowledge” in the Financial Realm

"And he asks good questions. For example, what is real? In the bubble preceding the Great Recession of late 2007 to 2009, “much of the profit and wealth turned out to be illusory,” Pollock observes. The collateral for a mortgage loan is not really the house itself, a real thing (in a sense), “but the price of the house,” which “has no objective existence.” The same goes for “liquidity.” What is it? It disappears when a financial bubble—such as the increase in house prices that preceded the Great Recession—bursts. Liquidity “is about group behavior and group belief in the solvency of counterparties and the reliability of prices.”

The entities that accounting deals with are not facts, but opinions. Accounting figures are based on subjective estimates of unknowable future events, theories about these events, and even political influences (when accounting standards are decided). Pollock quotes an expert in accounting theory, Professor Baruch Lev: “Despite widely held beliefs that corporate financial statements convey historical, objective facts, practically every material item on the balance sheet and income statement, with the exception of cash, is based on subjective estimates about future events.”"


Tearing Up an Economics Textbook

"The market for principles textbooks, however, is competitive and there are alternatives to Mankiw. Krugman and Wells, for example, have a lot of very interesting boxes on the world economy and historical events. Modern Principles of Economics doesn't use boxes but we illustrate the principles of economics with historical events and, of course, we use tech companies such as Facebook and Apple to discuss network effects and coordination games. Samuelson is a bit harsh on Mankiw, however, because it's very easy to overwhelm students with details. Like physics, economics is powerful because it explains many things with a handful of principles. It's true that Mankiw's book doesn't have much history or color--his paradigmatic market is the market for ice cream--but abstraction can focus attention. The tradeoff, of course, is that it can also lead to vanilla economics. But the Mankiw text is clearly written and the micro text is especially well organized, one reason we chose a similar organization for Modern Principles.

In Modern Principles we illustrate the ideas with more interesting markets but we work with them repeatedly so students don't become overwhelmed. Our paradigmatic market is the market for oil. We use it to teach supply and demand, cartels, and the importance of real macroeconomic shocks. Using the market for oil also lets us teach about some important events in world history such as the OPEC oil crisis and the industrialization of China."

Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds

"Much of the books’ resonance, however, comes from the fact that they also offer a faithful portrait of China’s stringently hierarchical bureaucracy, that labyrinthine product of Communism. August Cole, a co-author of “Ghost Fleet,” a techno-thriller about a war between the U.S. and China, told me that, for him, Liu’s work was crucial to understanding contemporary China, “because it synthesizes multiple angles of looking at the country, from the anthropological to the political to the social.” Although physics furnishes the novels’ premises, it is politics that drives the plots. At every turn, the characters are forced to make brutal calculations in which moral absolutism is pitted against the greater good. In their pursuit of survival, men and women employ Machiavellian game theory and adopt a bleak consequentialism. In Liu’s fictional universe, idealism is fatal and kindness an exorbitant luxury. As one general says in the trilogy, “In a time of war, we can’t afford to be too scrupulous.” Indeed, it is usually when people do not play by the rules of Realpolitik that the most lives are lost."

What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane

"Gibson opted for Mozambique because he had not been there before and could bag it as his 177th country. He chose a town called Vilanculos, because it seemed safe and had nice beaches. He got there in February 2016. As he recalls, he asked for advice from local fishermen, and was told of a sandbank called Paluma that lay beyond a reef, where fishermen would go to collect nets and buoys that washed in from the Indian Ocean. Gibson paid a boatman named Suleman to take him there. They found all sorts of junk, mostly plastic. Suleman called Gibson over. Holding up a gray triangular scrap about two feet across, he asked, “Is this 370?” The scrap had a honeycomb structure and the stenciled words no step on one surface. Gibson’s first impression was that it could not have come from a large airplane. To me he said, “So my mind was telling me it’s not from the plane, but my heart was telling me it’s from the plane. Then we had to take the boat back. And here we get into the personal thing. Two dolphins appeared and helped lead us off that sandbank—my mother’s spirit animal. When I saw those dolphins, I thought, This is from the plane.”"

How Beethoven went from Napoleon’s biggest fan to his worst critic

"Then, in spring 1804, as he was finishing the symphony, news came to Vienna that Napoleon had declared himself emperor of France. Beethoven’s response, according to his protégé Ferdinand Ries, was a furious diatribe against his former hero: “Now he, too, will tread underfoot all the rights of man [to] indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men [and] become a tyrant!” A page in the preserved score shows where the word Bonaparte has been heavily struck through with a pen."


Kavanaugh Accuses Gorsuch of Judicial Activism in Criminal Justice Case

The case is United States v. Davis. At issue is a federal statute which, in the Court's words, "threatens long prison sentences for anyone who uses a firearm in connection with certain other federal crimes. But which other federal crimes?" That is where the debate over vagueness comes in. The law itself calls for enhanced sentencing in cases involving felonies "that by [their] nature, involv[e] a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense."

And what exactly does that mean? Opinions differ. And therein lies the problem. As Justice Gorsuch pointed out in his majority opinion, "even the government admits that this language, read in the way nearly everyone (including the government) has long understood it, provides no reliable way to determine which offenses qualify as crimes of violence." And "in our constitutional order," Gorsuch observed, "a vague law is no law at all" because it violates the core constitutional requirement that all federal statutes "give ordinary people fair warning about what the law demands of them."

Telling Lies

"So I think I need to say something in favor of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy derives from the Greek work for actor, hypokritēs. It is a necessary part of adult conduct because it prevents something worse. Hamlet urges his adulterous mother to “assume a virtue, if you have it not.” (III. iv, 158) She is to make a pretense of purity so that it might turn into truth. There is a stage of badness beyond being bad, and it is not caring how one looks. Hypocrisy, they say, is the compliment vice pays to virtue."

The Pursuit of Happiness Rightly Understood

"Far from being a “glittering generality” or a euphemism for property, the “pursuit of happiness” had a distinct and widely understood meaning in the eighteenth century. It “refers to man’s ability to know the law of nature as it pertains to man,” Conklin concludes, “and man’s unalienable right to then choose to pursue a life of virtue or, in other words, a life lived in harmony with those natural law principles.” This broadly Aristotelian understanding of the pursuit of happiness cut across the eclectic intellectual traditions that informed the American founding, including the classical Greek and Roman traditions, Christianity, the English common law, and Newtonian science."

Artificial islands older than Stonehenge stump scientists

"Neolithic Britons loved building things with big rocks, but the crannogs are unlike settlements or other monuments. “Who would want to spend all of their time putting stones in a loch?” Cummings asks, pointing to the fact that some of the stones used to build crannogs weigh around 550 pounds. “It’s a crazy thing to spend your time doing.”"


Oberlin Has Been Ordered to Pay $44 Million in a Defamation Lawsuit. The Punishment Doesn't Fit the Crime.

"A jury has awarded a whopping $44 million in damages to a bakery that accused Oberlin College of defamation after students launched a dishonest campaign against the store for racial discrimination.

It's not hard to sympathize with Gibson's Bakery: The actions of student activists were contemptible, and it appears Oberlin may have encouraged their behavior. According to leaked texts, for instance, Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo—who was also accused of passing out fliers at a student protest—expressed her desire to "unleash the students" on a professor emeritus who publicly sided with the bakery."

In Defense of the Teaching Mission

"Theoretical social science is required precisely because intentions do not equal results, and thus we can have both “Private vices translate into public virtues” and “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” Sorting out the reasons why some situations tend one or the other way is complicated and requires detailed analysis of both the pure logic of choice and the institutional analysis of situational logic, and provides the subject matter at the core theory of our discipline."

New Evidence that Soaring Inequality is a Myth

"As can be clearly seen, only the Saez-Zucman series depicts the inequality spiral that has taken hold of the modern political conversation. The other two measures are either flat (in the case of estate taxes) or modestly rising (as in the new DFA series). While some commentators have already begun spinning the DFA as new evidence of a pressing inequality problem in the United States, the deeper story is how it actually tempers the inequality alarmism of the past several years by showing a much more subdued pattern."

Three Cheers for the Articles of Confederation

"Yes, the Articles had problems, but the Constitution has had more. Under the Articles, we defeated the greatest empire in the world, we maintained stability (and unity) at home, and we passed the greatest law ever passed in a republic, the Old Northwest Ordinance, with its pro-Indian, anti-slavery, pro-Common Law, and anti-imperial provisions. Not bad for a brand-new republic. Indeed, not bad for any government, anywhere or anytime."


The Un-Burkean Economic Policy of Edmund Burke

"The issue at the time was one of a supply shortage arising primarily from bad harvests and perhaps to some extent from the war against France which particularly adversely affected agricultural workers. The question was how provisions were to be increased. Redistribution from the rich to the poor is one possibility, but Burke dismissed this with the argument that such a redistribution would hardly improve the lot of the poor. There simply wasn’t enough to go around. But he also addressed three additional, though overlapping, concerns that imply a redistribution: (1) the price of labour which was set in the market; (2) government intervention in the labour market which was as futile as it was unnecessary; and (3) the necessary harmony of interests between contracting parties."

Postal Banking Isn’t the Fix for Financial Inclusion

"Postal banking is not a new idea. In the United States, the post office offered small-dollar savings accounts from 1911 to 1966. Modern proposals are more ambitious than merely offering savings accounts, but the contours of a functioning postal banking system remain fuzzy. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal is a mere six pages long, but it is much more ambitious than the earlier version of the postal bank, which offered only small savings account services. Her proposal would authorize the post office to offer basic financial services such as check-cashing, money orders, and remittances, checking and savings accounts, and to even offer small-dollar loans as an alternative to current payday loans."

Elizabeth Warren's Big Ideas Have One Big Problem

"But the more big ideas someone has, the more likely it is that some of them are very bad ones. It is a potential that Senator Warren has realized. And some of her ideas are downright demagogic."


The idea of criminalising prostitutes’ clients is spreading

"In 1999 Sweden banned the purchase—but not the sale—of sex. A curious coalition of feminists and Christians backed the law. They argued that it would wipe out prostitution by eliminating demand, and that this would be a good thing because all sex work is exploitative. Anyone selling sex is a victim, even if she denies it. As for the men who pay for sex, they are predators who should be punished, campaigners believe."

The Hip Sobriety Story.

"Sobriety isn't just about quitting alcohol and drugs. It's about getting after your best life and having everything you ever dreamed of. It's about living the way other people won't live, so you can live the way most people can't."

Meet the Carousing, Harmonica-Playing Texan Who Won a Nobel for his Cancer Breakthrough

"From his reading in the library, Allison knew that researchers had found these blobby amoeba-like cells to be more than just garbagemen; they were also frontline reporters bringing back updates from the constant battle against disease. When they found something interesting and foreign, they carried pieces of those strange, non-self proteins (or “antigens”) back to the lymph nodes, to show them around like wanted posters. (Lymph nodes are like Rick’s in Casablanca. Good guys, bad guys, reporters and soldiers, macrophages, dendritic cells, T and B cells, and even diseased cells, everyone goes to Rick’s.) The information triggered other cells in the adaptive immune system to ramp up into a massive clone army in specific response."


Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard

"Chinese must also be one of the most dictionary-intensive languages on earth. I currently have more than twenty Chinese dictionaries of various kinds on my desk, and they all have a specific and distinct use. There are dictionaries with simplified characters used on the mainland, dictionaries with the traditional characters used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and dictionaries with both. There are dictionaries that use the Wade-Giles romanization, dictionaries that use pinyin, and dictionaries that use other more surrealistic romanization methods. There are dictionaries of classical Chinese particles, dictionaries of Beijing dialect, dictionaries of chéngyǔ (four-character idioms), dictionaries of xiēhòuyǔ(special allegorical two-part sayings), dictionaries of yànyǔ (proverbs), dictionaries of Chinese communist terms, dictionaries of Buddhist terms, reverse dictionaries... on and on. An exhaustive hunt for some elusive or problematic lexical item can leave one's desk "strewn with dictionaries as numerous as dead soldiers on a battlefield.""

Henry Adams & Modernity: A Philosophy of History for Our Times

"Studies in the philosophy of history and the philosophy of time have an interesting relationship to twentieth-century critics of modernity. It is well known that T.S. Eliot, for example, was intellectually influenced by philosopher Henri Bergson’s writings on duration and time. The protagonist for this essay, Henry Adams, also had a fascination with the effects that his modern age—its distortion of time, place, and meaning—had on our culture. Culture, after all, is evocative of our social metaphysic; how we understand our existence and how we view our place in the world. History, correspondingly, is how we explain our culture through narratives and stories. Or so it was. Adams wrote that the task of the historian is to arrange the sequences in time that we call stories, or histories. The value in the historian’s analysis, then, is that it assumes a causal relationship between such sequences. Or so it did. Adams wrote three books that related his experience living during a pivotal moment in history, during the complete transition from the pre-modern world to the new, arguing that history was no longer a field through which man could attempt to understand himself and his society."

The Divisiveness of Cohesion

"Instead of preaching cohesion, reach out to Group B. Unilaterally show them respect. Unilaterally show them friendliness. They’ll be distrustful at first, but cohesion can’t be built in a day. If respect and friendliness fail, try, try, and try again. There are no guarantees in life, but human beings are born reciprocators. If you stubbornly ask to shake a man’s hand, odds are he’ll eventually offer his in return. Once enough people walk this path of unilateral respect and friendliness, differences fade away – and cohesion silently takes its place."


The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years

"Today, roughly half the world’s population speaks an Indo-European language. That family includes 440 languages spoken across the globe, including English. The word yoga, for example, which comes from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, is a distant relative of the English word yoke. The nature of this relationship puzzled historical linguists for two centuries."

Can any team possibly replicate what the Raptors just pulled off in the NBA Finals?

"Most championship teams have clear through lines that trace their journey to the top: They draft a foundational player who defines everything that comes next, or acquire one who agrees before stepping in the door to stay for a long time.

The Raptors have neither. There is no apparent modern precedent for a team trading for its only top-five player in a walk year -- without free-agency matching rights, without signing said player to an extension as part of the trade -- and having that player take the team to a title that same season. Led by Kawhi Leonard, Toronto might be the most unconventionally constructed championship team in basketball history, and its six-game win over the Golden State Warriors has insiders across the league asking: Is there anything we can learn? Can we replicate what Toronto just did?"

Philip K. Dick, Lord Acton, and the nineteenth century that never ended

"A recurring theme in these diary entries is his strange Gnostic notion that history itself had been stopped in the first century AD, that our world is in fact merely an illusion, and that, “the Empire never ended.” These bizarre theories found their way into his late semi-autobiographical novels and I was reminded of them when preparing for my lecture at next week’s Acton University.

My talk, ‘Lord Acton, Liberty, Conscience, and the Social Order,’has a section dealing with what Lord Acton saw as the major threats to liberty in his day which are, alas, still major threats in our own. The nineteenth century never ended."


Macroeconomic Forecasting Seems Pretty Hopeless

"Forecasts of interest rates appear pretty awful, and this is a market where vast profits are at stake so there are big incentives to get it right. I’ve noted (here and here) that economists are also lousy at predicting economic growth.

What are the policy implications? The economy is too complex and uncertain for even the best economists to predict, so politicians stand no chance. It seems unlikely that political schemes from Washington to manage and manipulate our future economy would work."

What Hong Kong’s Freedom Means to the World

"Hong Kong still ranks near or at the top of several indices of economic freedom. But that may be a sign these indices have lost touch with the nature of liberty. In Hong Kong, the notion of a credible commitment to the future ceased to have meaning some time ago. Not only is there the specter of Chinese intervention, but there is also a broader understanding that the rules of the game can change at any time, including of course when it comes to extradition procedures. Meanwhile, many Hong Kong residents know their behavior is being monitored and graded, and they know the role of the Chinese government will only grow."

America’s Uneven Legacy of Religious Freedom

"Maryland provides the fascinating exception that proves the rule. Founded by a small group of Catholics in the 1630s, Maryland grew increasingly tolerant of all Christian (and non-Christian) sects throughout the 1630s, 1640s, and 1650s. It did so, however, through a tradeoff. The colony could not recognize freedom of religious worship with freedom of speech and privileged the former against the latter. By 1649, the colony of Maryland possessed, arguably, the most tolerant attitude anywhere in the modern world regarding religion. Any person—as a resident or as a sojourner—enjoyed complete and utter religious freedom to choose or not choose as one saw fit. (N.B. If any other place in the world—in Western or Eastern civilization—so lovingly protected religious freedom, I have yet to identify it.) As a way to protect religious freedom in the April 21, 1649 “Act of Toleration,” the colony also passed a number of speech codes and restrictions. First, no person could publicly in any way, shape, or form denigrate the name, the essence, or the attributes of God in His monotheistic and Trinitarian forms. Second, no person could publicly mock the Blessed Virgin Mary or any of the twelve apostles, with the exception, of course, of Judas."


Mexico Deported More Central Americans Than the U.S. in 2018

"Indeed, from 2004 to 2018, Mexico deported 1.7 million Central Americans back to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The comparable U.S. figure was just 1.1 million. As Figure 1 shows, the gap has narrowed in recent years, but in 2018, Mexico still deported 6,177 more Northern Triangle migrants than the United States did in that year. Mexico also deported more in 2015, 2016, and 2017."

Keep Unions Out of Grad School

"One core reason to have unions is to boost the real wages of needy workers. But graduate students are not employees in the traditional sense. They are receiving training, often on very favorable terms. Typically a university is investing large sums of money to make those students employable and successful, usually on the academic market; the University of Chicago says it invests more than $500,000 per doctoral student. If those students demanded and received higher wages for their teaching, the university would not necessarily increase its investment in them at all; it could simply reallocate existing funds. Thus it is misleading to think there is a real bargaining situation here."

Sympathy as social virtue: Adam Smith’s solution for disruption

"In our workplaces and economic partnerships, for example, Smith observed sympathy at work. “Colleagues in office, partners in trade, call one another brothers; and frequently feel towards one another as if they really were so,” Smith writes. “Their good agreement is an advantage to all; and, if they are tolerably reasonable people, they are naturally disposed to agree. We expect that they should do so; and their disagreement is a sort of a small scandal.” What if we embodied those partnerships with more intentionality in our empathy and attitudes—building, rather than settling, on that basic foundation?"


Why I Have Not Yet Retired

"In this sense, my students and I, and all the authors we read and discuss, are equals. We come together to make mutual meaning. We come together, in William James's words, because it is the "tiny, invisible loving human forces" that "rend the hardest monuments of human pride." We come together to delight in each other’s company, to experience joy and illumination in the mutual conversations and explorations regarding our stories, and to flourish in the sense that we get the opportunity to become all that we can become with special people who make us feel safe and significant -- yet always intellectually stimulated."

Facebook and Antitrust, Part 1: What Is the Relevant Market?

"Even if one thinks intervention is needed, it is still difficult to determine what the relevant market is for antitrust purposes. If broadly defined as social media, it is easy to identify other large and successful market competitors like Twitter. Similarly, even more narrow services like encrypted messaging offered by Facebook-owned WhatsApp have significant competitors like Signal and Telegram.

In many cases, these substitutes show that using Facebook is a consumer choice for reasons of familiarity and convenience, but users can and will make other choices. For example, Telegram reported three million new signups when WhatsApp and Facebook experienced outage and connectivity problems in March. Similarly, 43 percent of adults surveyed had left a social media platform at some point, and the number is even higher for younger demographics. Many others are “on” Facebook and count as users, but rarely use the service after signing up. What is clear is, however it is defined, this market is volatile, constantly-evolving, and “contestable” in economic terms."

The folly of ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’

"The phrase “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” is another example of the Left’s ongoing campaign to affiliate socialism with … anything except real-life socialist societies. Bastani’s attempt to associate Marxism, which dug the graves of 100 million people in less than a century, with a cognitively positive term echoes British viral celebrity Ash Sarkar’s efforts to brand her ideology “fun Communism” – or even the young Fr. Robert Sirico’s naïve belief that, under socialism, “We’ll all shop at Gucci.” Yet linking socialism, which decimated the economy and physical environment of numerous nations by eliminating the price mechanism, with “luxury” borders on the Orwellian."


Are children their parents’ property?

"So when someone feels “icky” when it is suggested that they should be able to genetically engineer their children, a more charitable interpretation would be that their conscience is bearing witness to the truth that all people are free by nature, and therefore to edit someone’s genes and impose one’s will upon the fabric of their being would quite literally be unnatural. Babies are not iPhones. One does not have a right to customize them however one pleases."

What If the U.S. Could Fight Only One War at a Time?

"Over the past 18 months, the Pentagon has been pursuing a radical change in U.S. defense strategy. The Department of Defense has been working to overhaul the “two-war” defense strategy of the past quarter-century, in favor of one that focuses on winning a single high-stakes fight against China or Russia. This one-war strategy is rooted in an entirely correct judgment that defeating a great-power adversary would be far more difficult than anything the U.S. military has done in decades. Yet it also runs the risk that America won’t have enough military power to deal with a world in which it could face two or more major threats at the same time."

A Market of Intangibles

"In Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy, Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake explore the crazy world around us in two very different ways. Half the book is a swashbuckling adventure, full of engaging examples. The other half is an accountant’s dream, complete with tables, charts, and acronyms. Frequently thought provoking but not always enjoyable—perhaps that’s how I should put it. They recognize the challenge of marrying the two approaches, at one point writing, “Modern economists, displaying an admirable flair for taking something exciting and giving it a boring name, called this trend ‘skills-biased technical change.’”

So what’s the book’s thesis? Intangible investments shape the economic world we inhabit, and understanding intangibles can help us better explain that world, specifically innovation and growth, inequality, management, and reform. “It is unlikely that the shift to intangibles is the only cause of any of these widespread and complex phenomena,” they say at the book’s end, “but we hope that we have shown that it may play a role—a role that for the most part has not been widely recognized.” Having spent time with Capitalism without Capital, let me say I think Haskel and Westlake have succeeded in these hopes. I find myself reflecting on, and talking about, intangibles in unexpected ways."


The Dispassionate Study of the Passions

"Plato’s dialogue Gorgias ends with a long speech culminating in a rousing cry by an aroused Socrates. He is speaking to Gorgias’s student Callicles about his swaggering opinionatedness and their common uneducatedness. The words he uses are neanieusthai, ‟to act like a youth,” to behave like a kid, and apaideusia, ‟lack of teaching,” ignorance. And then he concludes with a condemnation of Callicles’s whole ‟way of life”—tropos tou biou—‟to which you summon me, believing in it”—hōi su pisteuōn eme parakaleis. esti gar oudenos axios, ō Kallikleis—‟For it is worth nothing, Callicles!” My fine 1922 edition of the Gorgias by the classicist Otto Apelt rightly translates the address O Kallikleis, jingling in the Gorgian manner with parakaleis, as ‟My Callicles,” for there is a curious, straining intimacy in Socrates’s peroration. The rest is silence. It is a favorite question of mine to ask our freshmen at St. John’s College, who all read this dialogue, what happened that night at home, when Callicles was, perhaps, by himself."

Elizabeth Warren Should Give Up Her Stake In A Bad Idea

"[G]ranting the government a stake in the business will, in effect, be like an arbitrary tax hike on companies who do utilize public research. On the margin that will mean they find themselves unfavoured relative to low R&D businesses (which in some cases might benefit more heavily from publicly provided roads or education, but who are not expected to give up a business stake in recompense.) If companies are keen to avoid expanding the share of profits attributable to government, they may also curb collaboration with public entities in areas where it might otherwise have been beneficial for consumers."

Copernicus's revolutionary ideas reorganized the heavens

"The Commentariolus’s early findings raised questions and exposed problems with the data. To avoid errors in his calculations and assumptions, Copernicus spent decades of his life finding the strongest evidence to support his epoch- shaking idea. The Commentariolus was only circulated among a few scholars and caused very little commotion.

In the meantime, Copernicus was busy with his duties with the church, whose very foundations were shaken by Martin Luther’s dramatic challenge to papal authority in 1517. Throughout the 1520s he helped steer his diocese through the ensuing conflict, taking part in diplomatic missions and even proposing reforms to the monetary system."


The Astonishing Mess of Academic Publishing

"Academics have peculiar habits about how they spend their time. According to survey data, for the average professor a little more than half of their time goes into teaching — but only during the roughly 32 weeks of the year that comprise the fall and spring semesters. The remainder is split almost evenly between administrative duties and their own research. The productivity of that research is another story, as the median academic in the U.S. typically nets fewer than one publication of any type in a given calendar year. But whatever that research entails, it almost certainly takes precedence over the mostly unpaid task of writing up a report on your article or book."

Inside an All-White Town's Divisive Experiment with Cryptocurrency

"South Africa, in other words, may be uniquely primed for Roodt’s blockchain-based revolution. And here, he explains, people are seeking not just riches but alternatives. The most unequal country in the world, South Africa is already home to barricaded islands of wealth no different from his own estate, Roodt notes; a state-proof economic system that connects those islands is inevitable. “The rest of South Africa is not going to do very well, I’m afraid,” he says."

Russel Kirk's Forgotten “Intelligent Citizen's Guide to Conservatism”

"After that meeting, as well as his growing interest in Catholicism, Kirk decided that his future rested upon his own understanding and exploration of Christian Humanism. Much as The Conservative Mind had followed a train of thought, he hoped to write a prequel to it: The Age of Humanism. It would consider the entire history of humanism from the pre-Socratics through T.S. Eliot, connecting the Stoics to the Medievals as well as to the Christian Humanists of the Renaissance. Just as Kirk had connected Burke to Adams, Hawthorne, Calhoun, and others in 1953’s The Conservative Mind, the next book would define the intellectual, moral, and ethical lineage of Heraclitus and Socrates, tying them to Zeno, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, St. Augustine, Petrarch, and Sir Thomas More."


What exactly is Christian about the Christian’s work?

"The difference between the Christian’s work and the non-Christian’s work seems to lie more in the worker than in the work. The distinctiveness is found primarily in the Christian worker’s understanding of (1) who God is, (2) the nature of work as created, fallen, and redeemed, (3) the way God uses his or her work to serve others, and (4) the ultimate goal of his or her work—namely, the glory of God. This may not produce a distinctively Christian kind of work, product, or business, but it will contribute to the development and sanctification of a distinctively Christian person."

India Rising? Maybe Not.

"The key statistic is not unemployment but labor force participation. In a healthy Indian economy, the labor market would be vibrant enough to maintain high labor force participation despite unavoidably high unemployment. Instead, the just-released data show labor force participation at just 50 percent in 2017–2018, down from a mediocre 56 percent in 2011–2012."

The Enchanted Cosmos With Thomas Aquinas

"“Different kinds of things produce in different ways, those on a higher level producing in a more interior way,” writes Thomas in Summa contra Gentiles (4.11). Thomas’ cosmology and doctrine of the soul are vitalistic. Everything has a particular soul to it, and these souls have particular life-forces destined for particular ends. To untrained eyes and ears, Thomas comes off as crypto-pantheistic; as do a great number of the Church Fathers and medieval mystics and philosophers. However, whereas pantheism sees everything containing the same one soul fallen from the Cosmic Soul, Thomas’ cosmos is made up of “different kind[s]” of souls “produc[ing] in different ways.” Moreover, the souls of created things have created souls with particular ends and are not emanated parts of the Cosmic Soul which make us depreciated instantiations of the One. By having a particularly crafted soul for a particular end, we are naturally deficient instantiations of the One as in pantheism."


Moral and religious people created by God not the state

"Jo Walton, in her novel The Just City (Part of the Thessaly Trilogy), provides a cautionary fantasy tale of just what happens when a political order takes it upon itself to produce moral and religious people. In the book the ancient Greek goddess Athena gathers people from throughout history to make Plato’s Republic a reality. This society constructed from the ground up by the state to make individuals their best selves is unraveled by the questionings and investigations of a time traveling Socrates with the help of some of the children whom the Just City has taken upon itself to form.

The lesson: Politics cannot save."

Religious faith: it’s a market?

"More importantly, The Wealth of Religions is a valuable reminder of social institutions’ importance. The condition of a nation or group does not simply depend on politics. Individuals express their creativity through a wide range of valuable activities that may be influenced much more by their family, church or synagogue than their government. Under the rule of law, people are able to meet their needs through religious avenues as well as economic opportunities."

The decline of labor’s share

"The attempt to divide all income between labor and capital is a fool’s errand. As I put it,
economists still inhabit the world of the 19th century, in which hordes of interchangeable workers in stark factories toil in the service of the owners of capital

Intangible factors matter more and more in today’s economy. You can choose to label the income that is derived from intangible factors “capital income,” in which case the “labor share” of income is declining. Or you can try to “correct” this by justifying labeling some of the intangible income as “labor” income. But what you really should be doing is abandoning the project of trying to view a modern economy through the lens of an aggregate production function f(K,L). It’s a really popular pastime, but it’s a crock."


Cicero: No Slave of Plato

"Cicero never hid the fact that he wrote his own On the Republic in imitation of, and as a corrective of, Plato’s more famous Republic. Indeed, Cicero reveled in the idea. Yet, his own work is never slavish. In book four of Cicero’s version—of which, sadly, very little survives and much of it only in fragments quoted in other works—Cicero openly criticizes Plato for several things. Even in his criticisms, though, Cicero is playful, with the participants of the dialogue noting that Plato seems to be exempt from all wrong doing."

“Coequal” Is My Trigger Word

"The term coequal does appear several times in the Federalist Papers, but never to describe the relations between Congress and the president. Alexander Hamilton uses it in Federalist 20 to describe the different states as coequal with each other. James Madison does the same in Federalist 39. Hamilton also uses the term in Federalist 32 and 34 to describe a coequal state and federal power to tax. In Federalist 63 he describes the House and Senate as coequal within the Congress. And in Federalist 71 he uses the term in the course of describing attempts by the British House of Commons to wrestle power from the lords and the crown. So both Madison and Hamilton possessed this term in their vocabularies, and both had a lot to say about the relationship of Congress and the president, but neither described that relationship as involving coequal branches."

Israel’s Economic Miracle

"One of the most controversial issues in current Israeli politics is the large number of religious Israelis who are paid to study the Torah and receive military exemptions for their study. I am not trying to assess whether, on theological or political grounds, this is good or bad policy. I would only observe that it is a classic example of microeconomics at work. If you reward people for withdrawing from standard labor markets, you will find that many of them withdraw in exactly the predicted manner."


Classicism Is Not Enough: Politics and Theology in Charles Norris Cochrane

"In his preface Cochrane writes, “The history of Greco-Roman Christianity resolves itself largely into a criticism of [the idea of creative politics, namely]…that it was possible to attain a goal of permanent security, peace and freedom through political action, especially through submission to the ‘virtue and fortune’ of a political leader.” Writing his masterpiece throughout the 1930s, Cochrane recognized that the coming ideological and political crises of the twentieth century were bound up with Christianity’s support for limited government, and its contemporary challenge through growing faith in political aspirations and projects of ideological leaders."

Cold fusion remains elusive—but these scientists may revive the quest

"For a time, Matt Trevithick was part of the club. He had first heard of cold fusion while a student at MIT, and from 2004 to 2005, Trevithick worked for Spindletop, a company that helped with LENR research. So when Trevithick eventually ended up on Google's research team as a program manager, he resolved to revisit the nagging question.

“The story [of cold fusion] was decided in a matter of months, and nothing in science is decided that quickly,” he says. “That’s what stayed in my craw for all these years.”"

The Iran-Iraq War Among Conservatives

"But what if First Things’ manifesto is not what it claims to be either? At least, not for all of its signers. What if some of the people claiming to join this effort to renew American conservatism have another agenda entirely? Remember that on the left, secret Communists used to co-sign “popular front” appeals against Jim Crow, or other real abuses. However, for them, “the issue was never the issue.” They used such abuses and the idealism of real, patriotic reformers opportunistically. To advance their own quite alien priorities. Such as Marxist ideology. And the interests of the Soviet Communist Party.

Let me put this more concretely. Imagine if, alongside the professors from Catholic universities and respected conservative thinkers, we also saw names like “Richard Spencer” or “Paul Nehlen.” Or others who’ve elsewhere made clear their racist worldview. That would change how we read the manifesto, wouldn’t it? Places where it’s hazy would become painfully clear. We’d approach it with a “hermeneutic of suspicion.”

I think that’s what’s called for, alas. Now it’s trying to rebrand itself as a vehicle for socially conservative, responsible populist nationalism. But First Things under its current editor Rusty Reno has been advancing a pack of ideas that have nothing to do with that."