7/31/2019

Nobody hijacked Israel. It’s just not what its pioneers thought they’d created

"Friedman, 41, is an acclaimed Canadian-born Israeli author (“The Aleppo Codex,” “Pumpkinflowers”) who recently published a most unusual book, “Spies of No Country,” about Israeli espionage at the time of the state’s founding — unusual in that its protagonists are Israelis born in the Arab world who ventured back there, into what was at once familiar and highly dangerous territory, in the service of the nascent state. Friedman chose to focus on the heroes of what was sometimes known as “the Black Section” of Israel’s bare-bones initial intelligence apparatus because, he told The Times of Israel in an interview last week, “I thought we needed stories that better reflect the real Israel — not just stories of secular Ashkenazi pioneers and survivors of Warsaw.”

That “real” Israel, Friedman argues, is the Middle Eastern Israel, Israel as “part of the continuum of Judaism in the Muslim world.” The more you understand and internalize that, he says, the better you understand this country — everything from its cuisine and its music to its behavior and, crucially, its politics."

The Towering Statesmanship of George Washington

"The evidence of Marshall’s lifelong attachment to Washington is how hard he worked to express it over so many years. Following Washington’s death in December 1799, Marshall was given access, for purposes of writing a biography, to the first president’s papers, which he had bequeathed to his nephew, Justice Bushrod Washington. No doubt Marshall’s subsequent appointment to the Supreme Court in 1801 impeded his progress in writing The Life of George Washington, yet he still produced a five-volume work (with a slender sixth volume of accompanying maps), which was published from 1804 to 1807.

Marshall was not satisfied with the work. He labored to produce corrected printings of the first three volumes while still writing the final ones. The first volume, in which Washington did not even appear, he later republished separately as a history of the colonies. And with much trimming and revision of the remaining four volumes, he produced a two-volume second edition in 1832, which was much more successful and went through many printings. Still devoted in his final years to bringing the example of Washington before the eyes of the rising generation, he cut and rewrote yet again, producing a one-volume edition intended to be used in schools—though it was by no means a “children’s version” of his massive work."

The Adventures of Boris

"Boris, being Boris, refused to apologise or comment further, instead plying reporters camped outside his house with tea in an odd assortment of mugs. Both then and during the leadership campaign he made the fairly basic point that if a politician has a particular schtick he is entitled to use it. Boris’s stock-in-trade is mockery and being a wind-up merchant. Politician engages in politics. News at 6.

He also received support from unexpected quarters. Comedian Rowan Atkinson — while taking care not to show his political views — wrote a letter to The Times saying he thought “Boris Johnson’s joke … a pretty good one. An almost perfect visual simile.” He went on to note “all jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them.”

Atkinson’s intervention outraged Twitter’s offendotrons, who — chagrined that their target isn’t on the platform so can’t be abused — whipped themselves into paroxysms of hate, fuelled in many cases by burning copies of Blackadder and Mr Bean. If nothing else, this discloses how many lefties simply do not understand capitalism. Atkinson, of course, already has their money."

- 'The Adventures of Boris'

“The Pilgrim’s Regress”: The Allegory of C.S. Lewis’s Conversion

"During the thirty-one years that C.S. Lewis practiced Christianity, he offered three stories—or variations on a single story, depending on the angle one wishes to take—regarding the reason for his conversion. Critically, too, the three stories overlapped and played off one another. The first, the fulfillment of his paganism—and paganism in general. The second, his regress from modernity. And, third, the persistence of joy.
...
Though drastically uneven in its ability to convey Lewis’s successes (and failures), The Pilgrim’s Regress possesses not a dull moment, though, in parts, it is viciously scathing toward opponents of Christianity and those whom Lewis disliked. Upon writing it originally, he claimed to be mocking “Anglo Catholicism, Materialism, Sitwellism, Psychoanalysis, and T.S. Eliot.”[3] At times, the book is gentle, and, at times, brutal, especially in its descriptions of immorality and its attacks upon ideas and persons Lewis disliked. “The sole merit I claim for this book is that it is written by one who has proved them [his opponents] all to be wrong,” he explained in 1943. “There is no room for vanity in the claim: I know them to be wrong not by intelligence but by experience, such experience as would not have come my way if my youth had been wiser, more virtuous, and less self-centered than it was.”[4] Lewis believed, in the interwar period, that while all of the various schools of thought hated one another, they set aside their personal dislikes for their general hatred of anything that seemed, however slight, romantic, dismissing romanticism as mere “nostalgia.”[5]"

7/30/2019

The Online Tipping Outrage

"There are exceptions. In some industries, such as bartending, the quality of the service can vary dramatically by worker and tips help to reward that extra quality when it is difficult to observe by the firm. In these industries, however, both the workers, at least the high quality workers, and the firms want tips. If the firms themselves are removing tips that is a sign that they think that the worker has little control over quality and thus tips serve no purpose other than to more or less randomly reward workers. Since random pay is less valuable than certain pay and firms are less risk averse than workers it makes sense for the firm to take on the risk of tips and instead pay a higher base (again, with the net being in line with what similar workers earn elsewhere).


In short, a job is a package of work characteristics and benefits and it’s better to let firms and workers choose those characteristics and benefits to reach efficient solutions than it is to try to move one characteristic on the incorrect assumption that all other characteristics will then remain the same, to do so is the happy meal fallacy in another guise."


No nation for conservatives: In Indian politics and intellectual life, the conservative temperament is all but absent

"Despite sometimes being described as conservative, there’s nothing remotely Burkean about BJP. It has presided over the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj, and slapped Bharatiya Jana Sangh (the predecessor to BJP) leader Deendayal Upadhyaya’s name on the iconic Mughalsarai station. Race Course Road became Lok Kalyan Marg. The party seeks to change the way history is taught and remake India in its image.

Party supporters often applaud gratuitous change: university students at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur abandoning Western style academic gowns in favour of Indian outfits, or the army’s decision a couple of years back to substitute martial music inherited from the Raj with Bollywood tunes. BJP is not connected to the past in the sense of preserving a tradition you inherited from your grandmother. The past that moves its members is the idea of a golden pre-Islamic age."

Sprint and T-Mobile: The road ahead following Justice Department approval

"The complex settlement involved Dish Network, a maverick pay television company that had heretofore opposed the merger. Like its peers, Dish has suffered significant declines for years in its core satellite business, falling from 14 million subscribers in 2014 to less than 10 million today. Its visionary chairman, Charlie Ergen, has hatched several plans over the years for the company to break out of its death spiral, including stockpiling spectrum and exploring mergers with LightSquared, DirecTV, Sprint, and T-Mobile. But the company never quite figured out how to realize its ambitions.

Now Dish may finally have the opening it needs to break into the wireless business. Under the settlement Dish will pay $5 billion to acquire Sprint’s 9.3 million prepaid wireless customers and Sprint’s 800 Mhz spectrum. T-Mobile will allow Dish to use its network for the next seven years as Dish combines this spectrum with its own assets to build a 5G network. The agreement comes just in the nick of time for Dish, which was facing a March 2020 deadline to deploy a wireless network or risk forfeiting billions of dollars of spectrum holdings to the Federal Communications Commission. Dish has now committed to deploying a 5G network that serves 70 percent of Americans by 2023 and seeks to modify its licenses accordingly. It’s a promise with bite: if Dish fails to meet this commitment, it must pay the government a $2.2 billion penalty."

7/29/2019

Liberalism Misunderstood

"The intimate relationship between the evolution of liberalism in political, social and economic affairs is critical to understanding various important basic facts in human history. This is a theme highlighted in Lionel Robbins's The Theory of Economic Policy in English Classical Political Economy (1952). But this understanding of liberalism came under severe criticism throughout the late 19th and throughout the 20th century. Many intellectuals argued that due the inherent tendencies of unhampered capitalism toward monopolistic power, microeconomic inefficiency and macroeconomic instability, liberal political values and freedoms would be threatened by the powerful and indifferent to human suffering. They had to be socialists in their economics, they insisted to remain liberals in their politics.

It is against this line of argument that F. A. Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom, and why his dedication in that book to socialists of all parties is not ironic in the least. He was trying to persuade his fellow liberals that this move would introduce a new era of oppression and dogma. His message is a warning of the possibility of a tragic ending -- liberals who fought so hard to overcome the oppression and dogma of an earlier age only to usher in a new era of oppression and dogma. But tragedy could be avoided, if -- and only if -- the warning was heeded and the socialist path was rejected."

Corporate Profits as a Percentage of GDP (Falling since 2012)

7/27/2019

Mass Protests Force the Resignation of Puerto Rico's Scandal-Plagued Governor

"The governor's resignation came two days after a massive march in San Juan—reportedly one of the largest in the island's history—which saw protestors filling the city's main freeway demanding that Rosselló step down.

Earlier in the month, local media published some 900 pages of group texts involving the governor and senior members of his administration in which they made misogynistic remarks about female politicians, mocked victims of recent hurricanes, and expressed disdain for a federal oversight board that's been set up to guide the island out of its severe debt and pension crisis.
...
The island's economy has essentially been in recession since the mid-2000s and roughly 500,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island over the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center. Population loss and a shrinking private sector have only made it harder for Puerto Rico to cope with its government debt crisis. The island owes some $74 billion in debt and another $50 billion in pension obligations, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial."

Humpback whales make stunning comeback in southern Africa

"Overall, the preliminary analysis of the 2018 survey indicates humpback group numbers in the high hundreds, if not the low thousands. That sample passing by Cape Vidal suggests, based on an early extrapolation, that the broader humpback population in the western Indian Ocean has surged to more than 30,000 individual whales.

The estimate is considerably higher than models have predicted as the carrying capacity for the region.

“It’s a surprising number,” Harris says. Scientists still aren’t sure what accounts for the difference between the model predictions and reality."

Many academics give advice to their younger selves

"Many academics give advice to their younger selves — many sad, pathetic and whiny, self-pitying answers, really an indictment of sorts. Why did so few of the respondents say: “I had one of the most remarkable guaranteed jobs in history, and I used it somewhat to help the world, but I wish I had used it so much more”?"

The politics of CEOs

In the age of 'woke capitalism':

"Our study finds that public-company CEOs consistently prefer Republican candidates. Most CEOs donate to both Democrats and Republicans. However, even for CEOs who donate to both parties, how they split the contributions between the two parties can display partisan preferences."

7/26/2019

Don’t Lump Boris Johnson Together with Donald Trump

"May’s authoritarian streak was personified by a deeply illiberal immigration policy. She championed capping net migration with a crude target and creating a “really hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, replete with “Go Home” vans deployed in highly concentrated ethnic minority neighborhoods. As home secretary, she oversaw the Windrush scandal, which resulted in legal migrants from the 1970s denied rights and in some cases even deported wrongfully.


Johnson’s instincts, in contrast, are liberal and permissive. He’s an optimist, pro-free trade and pro-immigration. He even actively championed the idea of an amnesty for illegal immigrants during the Brexit referendum campaign. Today he wants a shift to an Australian-style points-based immigration system, which former May staffers oppose."


Is Politics Getting to the Fed?

"The danger, then, is that the Fed will be tempted to cut rates as a result of external pressure, on the assumption that it can always rationalize cuts by pointing to variables that seemed to augur a growth slowdown sometime in the future. It is telling that Powell has not mentioned (at least that I have heard) the fact that the nominal and real federal funds rates remain well below long-term normal values. (This deviation is even more apparent for interest rates in some other advanced countries, such as Germany and Japan.)

The desire to restore normalcy should still be putting upward pressure on rates, just as it did during the period of rate increases between December 2016 and December 2018. Indeed, it was Bernanke’s earlier failure to initiate the normalization process that made things more difficult than necessary for Yellen and Powell.

My view is that the shift in 2019 away from normalization is primarily due to the intense opposition to further rate increases last December, when the loudest objections came, notably, from stock-market analysts and the Trump administration."

Protecting the integrity of the scientific record from a new kind of academic misconduct

"Our team in Russia received a tip from the local research community to a new form of publication fraud. The tip led to a website, http://123mi.ru set up by unscrupulous operators to serve as a virtual marketplace where authors can buy or sell authorship in academic manuscripts accepted for publication. This kind of peer-to-peer sharing, in “broad daylight” is not something we’ve seen before – so we conducted a quick analysis of the site, and its data, before taking swift action to alert our friends and colleagues in the scientific community.

There are no author names, or journal names indicated on the site – the journal name is available to buyers only. Sometimes as many as five authorships in a single article are offered for sale, with prices varying depending on place in the list of authors."

Sound Money in Theory and Practice

"Let me return to the classical idea of sound money. Sound money is a rule, but of a different kind than modern monetary rules such as the Taylor Rule or NGDP targeting. Sound Money was not a rule based on empirical relationships among economic variables. It was not invented, but discovered. It is more analogous to the rule of law. Mises (1971: 414) made this point clearly. “Ideologically it [sound money] belongs in the same class with political constitutions and bills of rights. The demand for constitutional guarantees and bills of rights was a reaction against arbitrary rule and non-observance of old customs by kings.”


The argument for sound money is not merely a technical economic argument, but a political economy and even constitutional argument. When classical economists contended that commodity standards were a bulwark against inflation, they did not suggest that there would be no variability of inflation under a gold standard. Their own experience told them otherwise. Rather, they recognized that a gold standard was protection against arbitrary actions by sovereigns to depreciate the currency. Protection against arbitrary and capricious governmental actions is what constitutions are meant to provide."


7/25/2019

Debunking Disagreement Over Cost-Of-Living Adjustment

"The chart shows that from 1969 to 2012, the PCE and my extended C-CPI-U series indicate that prices rose by a factor of 5, while the CPI-U-RS gives the ratio as 5.5 and the CPI-U as 6.3. These distinctions are important. If nominal income—income prior to taking the rising cost of living into account—rose by a factor of 7.2 over this period (as my own estimates suggest), using the CPI-U to adjust for inflation would give the conclusion that “real” income rose by 16 percent. Using the PCE or C-CPI-U, we would conclude that real income rose by 45 percent—nearly three times as much. For comparison, the CPI-U-RS would indicate a 31 percent increase—substantially lower than the estimate from indices that fully take substitution into account."

Fernandez-Villaverde on Spain's Economic Success

"On July 21, 1959, Franco’s government approved an executive order that implemented the “Plan de Estabilización” (the “Stabilization Plan”). The result of a memorandum of understanding with the IMF, the World Bank, and the OECD, the “stability plan” committed Spain to a rather standard program of fiscal and monetary stability, opening to international trade and foreign investment, and growing integration with international economic organizations. Simultaneously, the government had undertaken, in 1957, an administrative reform that enhanced state capability and an extremely efficient top civil service was established. Forget about the guy giving you a driving license at the local DMV; what matters is the quality of the senior permanent secretary of the Treasury, which has been outstanding since 1957 without interruption.

The “stability plan” broke an inward-looking development model with growing barriers to trade that had been followed since 1874. By 1959 Spain was poor for much deeper reasons than the 1936-1939 Civil War. Most recent releases of Maddison’s NIPA data for Spain, helped by the work of top researchers such as Leandro Prado de la Escosura show, that by 1929, Spain had fallen dramatically behind its European peers except Portugal and Greece.

The combination of macroeconomic stability, freer flow of goods and capital, and stronger state capability triggered several decades of fast economic growth. Most people would naively mention tourism. These observers forget that Spain became a magnet for the European car industry. In 2017, Spain produced more passenger cars than France or the U.K. and nearly as many as the U.S. (although the U.S. number is biased by the importance of pickup trucks in the U.S. production mix). Even more importantly, Spain is one of leading world producers of car parts."

A Sympathetic Liberty

"Unfair? Perhaps. Libertarianism, rightly understood, has more than adequate historical and philosophical resources to articulate both a concern for the poor and sound anti-poverty policy. I comfort myself with the fact that many libertarians seem relatively uninformed about the full possibilities of their own philosophy.

Over the past year, I have become convinced that a broader and more robust understanding of the classical liberal project embodied in the totality of Adam Smith’s work—The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations—might hold the seeds of, if not peace, perhaps a rapprochement, or at least a greater mutual appreciation. Smith’s view of the centrality of the human person and how human beings develop is the starting point for this conservative-libertarian convergence. This new understanding would be undergirded by Smith’s concept of “sympathy” as the source of both the mutuality and interdependence cherished by conservatives and the properties of “emergent order” so valued by libertarians."

Bretton Woods and Our Current Economic Distemper

"Without question, the American people are longing for something like the era of Bretton Woods. They pine for the time when it seemed that everyone had a good job or could get one; when manufacturing, not finance, was the dominant economic sector; when the next generation did better than the last—the time of postwar prosperity.

Moreover, since the early 1970s, Americans have experienced grave doubts about the dollar. The inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, regularly in the double-digits per year, made the dollar a laughingstock for the first time in its history, dispatching―for good as it turned out―the phrase “sound as a dollar” from American parlance. The mania over saving for retirement, which began in the 1970s, is in large part the result of expectations about the depreciative nature of the dollar after the era of Bretton Woods. The purpose of saving for retirement in 401(k) accounts is not merely to corral stock-market gains, but to get a long-term return that beats inflation, costs, and taxes. Financial advisors and investment strategies (and the costs they imply), now the property of the masses, were a boutique industry prior to the 1970s. Finally, the Federal Reserve has attracted popular derision and skepticism, as exemplified by former Rep. Ron Paul’s “end the Fed” movement, the viral Ben Bernanke videos after the 2008 crisis, and the big increases in purchases of gold."

7/24/2019

Challenging the Social Media Moral Panic: Preserving Free Expression under Hypertransparency

"Social media are now widely criticized after enjoying a long period of public approbation. The kinds of human activities that are coordinated through social media, good as well as bad, have always existed. However, these activities were not visible or accessible to the whole of society. As conversation, socialization, and commerce are aggregated into large-scale, public commercial platforms, they become highly visible to the public and generate storable, searchable records. Social media make human interactions hypertransparent and displace the responsibility for societal acts from the perpetrators to the platform that makes them visible.


This hypertransparency is fostering a moral panic around social media. Internet platforms, like earlier new media technologies such as TV and radio, now stand accused of a stunning array of evils: addiction, fostering terrorism and extremism, facilitating ethnic cleansing, and even the destruction of democracy. The social-psychological dynamics of hypertransparency lend themselves to the conclusion that social media cause the problems they reveal and that society would be improved by regulating the intermediaries that facilitate unwanted activities."


Notes from a nameless conference

"The future will be determined not by vast, impersonal forces but by an accumulation of individual choices. Ultimately, the elites must lead the way. Whether selected by the public or self-anointed and self-perpetuating, they hold in hand the institutional levers of change: that’s just how the world works in a complex civilization. We will not transcend our petty and immobile present with protests or referendums."

The Lesson of Bretton Woods

"Consider the broader history of monetary and financial institutions. The gold standard (and sometimes bi-metallic) regime that marked the Western world from 1815-1914 was without precedent. In medieval times, gold, silver, copper and bills of exchange — from multiple issuers — all circulated as means of payment, and often there was no single dominant form of money. As the gold standard evolved, however, claims to gold became a global means of settling claims and easing foreign trade and investment. While the system was based on some central bank intervention, most notably from the Bank of England, it was self-regulating to a remarkable degree, and it formed the backbone of one of the West’s most successful eras of economic growth. It was not obvious that the West would arrive at such a felicitous arrangement.

Now fast forward to the current day. Currencies are fiat, the ties to gold are gone, and most exchange rates for the major currencies are freely floating, with periodic central bank intervention to manipulate exchange rates. For all the criticism it receives, this arrangement has also proved to be a viable global monetary order, and it has been accompanied by an excellent overall record for global growth."

The Past-Present

"When I say that we do not care about the past I am not particularly thinking of the fact that we do not study history as a field. After all, we do not study any of the other normal university disciplines either sociology, geology, psychology. We do read the two authors who are generally agreed to be the founders of history; however, it is not clear just how much interest these writers had in the past. Herodotus introduced the word history, historia, for his composition concerning the Persian War, but the Greek word means primarily an inquiry. It has the same origin as the verb for knowing: A histor is someone who knows, not necessarily things remote in time. Even when it is taken in the current sense, history has a relation to the past, which is anything but straightforward. After all, History with a capital H, that is, the public memory of events in the past, comes into being after history with a small h, the work of reconstructing the past, has been done. Some people go so far as to claim that historians, in telling their plausible and timely tales, do not reconstruct so much as construct the past, so that the past is an invention of the present. I might say that I cannot quite believe so extreme a claim because I know of some historians who are less truthful than others, and therefore of others who are more truthful in trying to determine the deeds done (these are called facts) and the times assigned to them (these are called dates). Facts and dates form, of course, the skeleton of history. I do believe that something definite in fact happened at a certain date, but I doubt that it is in principle or in practice possible to find out what that was, and I am pretty sure that it ought not to be our business here to learn what others thought happened nor to try to find out for ourselves. The reason is that the recovery of the past from its fragments is a practically infinite and intellectually tricky task, which requires a completed liberal education. In short, you learn to do it in graduate school.
...
And that seems to me to be the main attraction of the past—that it adds worlds to my world, and bygone beauties to a present diminishing in beauty. It does so much as does fiction, only with the strangely moving modifier of real past existence. I read history dutifully for information, I consult historians somewhat skeptically for illumination, but I am in the past uncritically as in a romance, like Bernal Diaz when he saw Tenochtitlan. For the past is primarily a place (we will see that all talk of time is infected by spatial metaphor), a romantic place, as the present is prosaic and the future uncanny."

7/23/2019

Top Ten Conservative Books, 1924-1954

"First, Irving Babbitt’s only book dealing with politics, Democracy and Leadership (1924). No one would accuse Babbitt of writing well. Equally true, however, no one would accuse the man of thinking poorly. Reading Babbitt sets one on edge, as his razor sharp logic slices through everything around him. The book itself is an intellectual journey, filled with beauties and wonders, as well as with sobering prophecies. In thought and structure, especially, it guided Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, itself a worthy and much better written sequel to Democracy and Leadership. The greatest thing a man can do, Babbitt argued, is restrain himself. But, he can only do this through the assertion of will."

How Legal Marijuana Is Helping the Black Market

"What’s happening to Meguerian is a window into one widespread side effect of marijuana legalization in the U.S.: In many cases it has fueled, rather than eliminated, the black market. In Los Angeles, unlicensed businesses greatly outnumber legal ones; in Oregon, a glut of low-priced legal cannabis has pushed illegal growers to export their goods across borders into other states where it’s still illegal, leaving law enforcement overwhelmed. Three years after Massachusetts voters approved full legalization of marijuana, most of the cannabis economy consists of unlicensed “private clubs,” home growing operations and illicit sales."

Hating Netanyahu

"But a river of fire divides the two sides of Israeli politics from each other. The Israeli left, which was in charge of the country for most of its first forty-five years, is quite capable of launching wars, savagely repressing Arabs, and all other kinds of grave sins which nice liberals deplore. But it still manages to regard itself as high-minded, peace-loving, morally austere, and idealistic. The Israeli right, which has gradually gained the ascendancy in modern times, is less two-faced. It has, in the past, openly embraced terrorism and massacre when doing so suited it. It has never imagined that a Jewish State could be established or sustained in the Arab, Muslim Middle East without ruthless violence. What really earns it the resentment of gentle and humane people is that it does not seem to mind all that much."

The Curious Mystical Text Behind Marianne Williamson’s Presidential Bid

"The book drew from older traditions like Christian Science and New Thought, a related 19th-century metaphysical movement. It also incorporated Freudian language. Reality, it taught, was illusory; conflicts dissolve when one realizes the power of love and forgiveness. This change in perception, the book’s narrator says, produces miracles.

It opens cryptically: “Nothing unreal exists. Nothing real can be threatened. Herein lies the peace of God.”"

7/22/2019

Neal Stephenson on Depictions of Reality (Ep. 71)

"COWEN: How did you train yourself to learn storytelling?

STEPHENSON: I think that part of it begins with empathy because, in order to tell somebody a thing, you need to know and understand what it’s like to not already know that thing, which seems kind of obvious."

Eight Things I Learned from Peter Thiel’s Zero To One

"In a static world, a monopolist is just a rent collector. If you corner the market for something, you can jack up the price; others will have no choice but to buy from you. Think of the famous board game: Deeds are shuffled around from player to player, but the board never changes. There is no way to win by inventing a better kind of real-estate development. The relative values of the properties are fixed for all time, so all you can do is try to buy them up.

But the world we live in is dynamic: We can invent new and better things. Creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world. Creative monopolies aren’t just good for the rest of society; they’re powerful engines for making it better."

The first Europeans weren’t who you might think



"Three major movements of people, it now seems clear, shaped the course of European prehistory. Immigrants brought art and music, farming and cities, domesticated horses and the wheel. They introduced the Indo-European languages spoken across much of the continent today. They may have even brought the plague. The last major contributors to western and central Europe’s genetic makeup—the last of the first Europeans, so to speak—arrived from the Russian steppe as Stonehenge was being built, nearly 5,000 years ago. They finished the job."

Markets Can Give Us Both Greater Income Equality and Greater Economic Growth

"Thomas Piketty is correct that World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II are the three primary events which most of the industrial world had in common, along with the Spanish Flu. These events were also episodes that destroyed or suppressed vast amounts of capital around the world. They were also events that killed or disabled more than one million Americans and tens of millions of young adults around the world who would have been highly likely to get married and have children. In the case of the Great Depression, family formation and child bearing decreased precipitously. The population growth rate was about half the normal level. So, the fact that labor gained while the income from capital relatively fell is not big surprise. Labor income also increased as a result of the Black Plague. Harsh immigration restrictions stopped the flow immigrants and this largely explained the gains to low-skilled workers vs. high skilled workers. Notice that immigrants are not permanently low-skilled, low-wage workers, but often move up the income distribution ladder."

7/20/2019

By Moving to the Suburbs, Millennials Are Pushing Back Against Bureaucrats

"The housing crisis that is hitting all major cities across the country is pushing millennials to consider their options. As a result, they are fleeing the densely populated urban centers in search of affordable housing. But unlike baby boomers, who also fled to the suburbs for roughly the same reason, millennials are doing so a bit later. Furthermore, they aren't simply going to the suburbs; they are being selective in their search as well, looking for housing mostly in the Sun Belt region, the Southern and Southwestern portions of the country that stretch from Florida to California, because of both the weather and the business opportunities. As a result, these suburbs are growing twice as fast as neighboring cities."

Facebook’s Crypto Annoys Everyone

"That’s not Facebook’s approach. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Shira Ovide tweeted, “Facebook basically revamped its vanity in-app payments system, dressed up with a vague white paper with hand-waving about virtual currency, and now is in the absolute muck over this. This is the most Facebook thing that ever Facebook-ed.” It’s weird, right? And unnecessarily, maximally confrontational."

Reflections from Spain

"10. Spanish housing regulation is especially crazy, however, because the country is unbelievably empty. You can see vast unused lands even ten miles from Madrid. The train trip to Barcelona passes through hundreds of miles of desert. Yes, the U.S. has even lower population density, but Spain is empty even in regions where many millions of people would plausibly like to live. Indeed, population density in Spain is actually lower than in the contiguous U.S.



...


12. My biggest epiphany: Spain has more to gain from immigration than virtually any other country on Earth. There are almost 500 million native Spanish speakers on Earth – and only 47 million people in Spain. (Never mind all those non-Spanish speakers who can acquire fluency in less than a year!) Nearly all of these Spanish speakers live in countries that are markedly poorer and more dangerous than Spain, so vast numbers would love to migrate. And due to the low linguistic and cultural barriers, the migrants are ready to hit the ground running. You can already see migration-fueled growth all over Spain, but that’s only a small fraction of Spain’s potential."

How a Leftist Echo Chamber Became the New Norm on Campus

"The leftward skew of students in the humanities stands in sharp contrast with other academic disciplines, and particularly those with actual competency in economic matters. Only 26 percent of economics majors view socialism favorably, while 61 percent have a negative outlook. The further one strays from actually studying and specializing in the analysis of economic behavior, the more positive their outlook on centrally planned economic systems becomes."

7/19/2019

The AEA’s New Data Policy

"The AEA has long had a data repository but no one was responsible for examining the data or replicating a paper’s results and confidential data was treated as an exception. All that is about to change. The AEA has hired a Data Editor, Lars Vilhuber. Vilhuber will be responsible for verifying that the author’s code produces the claimed results from the given data. In some cases Vilhuber will even verify results from raw data all the way to table output.

The new data policy is a significant increase in the requirements to publish in an AEA journal. It takes an immense amount of work to document in a replicable way every step of the empirical process. It’s all to the good, of course, but it is remarkable how little economists train our students in these techniques and make no mistake writing code to be replicable from day one is an art and a science and it needs to be part of the econometrics sequence. All hail Gentzkow and Shapiro!"

Why America could be growing faster than you think. Maybe much faster, thanks to Silicon Valley

"In our central estimate, we estimate that the pace of annual real GDP growth is understated by around 1.0pp of GDP, up from 0.5pp in 2005 and 0.3pp in 1995. While the results contrast with Moulton’s finding that mismeasurement has actually declined—to 0.47pp today in PCE terms vs. 0.95pp in 1996)—the results are not directly comparable. Central issues such as healthcare quality, software quality, smartphone services and free digital goods measurement, and profit-shifting are not explicitly addressed in Moulton’s analysis.

Our results also suggest that nearly half of the slowdown in measured productivity growth since the financial crisis can be explained by measurement issues. We caution that the uncertainty around our estimates is large, particularly that pertaining to free digital goods and healthcare consumer inflation."

Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed Attacks a Fake Version of Liberalism

"Deneen doesn’t define the term liberalism, which isn’t in his index even though it’s littered throughout the book. I have it on reliable authority that one of the peer reviewers of the pre-published manuscript recommended publication to the editors at Yale University Press, provided that Deneen cogently defined liberalism and then cleaned up his sloppy references to it. Deneen ignored this advice, leaving the manuscript as is. His genealogy of liberalism is all the more problematic in light of this refusal to clarify."

Are India and China Booming as Much as They Claim?

"Subramaniam's paper points out that the change in the data sources and methodology for the estimation of real Gross Domestic Product since 2011–2012 has led to a significant overestimation of the growth estimates. The actual growth between 2011 and 2017 is estimated at around 7 percent as per the official sources. However, according to Subramanian, the actual growth may have been only around 4.5 percent. A part of this overestimation according to the paper may be attributed to a key methodological change.
...

Earlier this year, a study reported that China’s economy is about 12 percent smaller than the official figures, and also that the real growth has been exaggerated by about 1.7 percent annually from 2008–2016.

The study was published in the Brookings papers of economic activity by a team of economists namely; Wei Chen, Xilu Chen, Chang-Tai Hsieh, and Zheng (Michael) Song: "China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) adjusts the data provided by local governments to calculate GDP at the national level. The adjustments made by the NBS average 5% of GDP since the mid-2000s.""

7/18/2019

The Lessons of Washington State’s Watered Down ‘Public Option’

"Legislators were in a policy bind. The whole point of the public option was to reduce premiums by cutting health care prices. But if they cut the prices too much, they risked a revolt. Doctors and hospitals could snub the new plan, declining to participate in the network.

“The whole debate was about the rate mechanism,” said Mr. Frockt, the state senator. “With the original bill, with Medicare rates, there was strong opposition from all quarters. The insurers, the hospitals, the doctors, everybody.”

Mr. Frockt and his colleagues ultimately raised the fees for the public option up to 160 percent of Medicare rates."

Spending Addicts Rule the House

"The economy is growing, revenues are growing, unemployment is low, and yet the U.S. government’s budget deficit is exploding. According to the Department of Treasury, nine months into the beginning of the fiscal year, the U.S. budget gap has increased to $747 billion. Since there are another three months to go, it will very likely reach the $1 trillion mark by the end of the fiscal year — a $210 billion increase over last year. If there was ever a case that Uncle Sam has a spending problem, and not a revenue problem, this is it."

Germany, Temporal and Eternal

"National Socialism’s appeal to an idealized and distant past rejected history in favor of the very different phenomenon of mythic memory which collapses time and eschews context. Memory, instead of locating occurrences in their relationship with past, present, and future, creates an eternal now. Clark sees National Socialism as very different on this point from the futurist tendencies of Italian fascism and Soviet communism—both of which sought to realize what they envisioned as history’s promise. Timeless archetypes drawn from Germanic memory served as reference points for National Socialism instead of “history still conceived as a forwards-driving machine of progress.”

Clark finds in this rejection of history a triumph of prophesy over contingency. Instead of viewing history as the interplay of forces that Bismarck had sought to manage, the Nazis understood it as an existential struggle to achieve an authentic existence for their race. Adolf Hitler could and did operate tactically for advantage in domestic and foreign politics, but in formulating ultimate objectives, he looked to end states where the demands of the present would have resolved themselves. He subordinated “conventional means to unconventional ends.” The future, in his imagining, became something that was inherited from the distant past and that was looked back upon in an imagined retrospect. Racial self-realization would be achieved by violent acts of will."

Mysteries of Monetary Policy

"Judging by the US inflation rate over past decades, the Fed’s monetary policy has worked brilliantly. Annual inflation has averaged only 1.5% per year since 2010, slightly below the Fed’s oft-expressed target of 2%, and has been strikingly stable. And yet, the question is how this was achieved. Did inflation remain subdued because everyone believed that anything significantly above the 1.5-2% range would trigger a sharp hike in the federal funds rate?"

7/17/2019

Albert Einstein on Sifting the Essential from the Non-Essential

"The biggest mistake that most of us make is that we try to consume more information. We do this because we feel like we’re missing something. While we can all learn and improve our understanding of something, the constant search for what we don’t have and what we’re missing is also the natural response of someone who doesn’t truly understand what matters and what doesn’t. To understand what I mean consider investors.

The worst investors I know are focused on every news article, blog, or commentary on the company they own. Glued to their screen they look for some esoteric detail that others have missed. And because they are looking, they will eventually find something. Our brain convinces them that all of that effort paid off and they overvalue the new information. In fact, the vast majority of that time (9,999/10,000) that new bit of information won’t matter at all but they’ve lost the forest for the tree. Overvalued insight means unwarranted confidence. You can see where this is going."

Deconstructing cultural codes

"So I thought I would tackle this problem sideways. I figured the best way to understand culture was to try to understand or “crack” as many cultural codes as possible. As many styles of art. As many kinds of music. As many complex novels, and complex classic books, and of course as many economic models as well. Religions, and religious books. Anthropological understandings. I also learned two languages in my adult years, German and Spanish (the former better than the latter). A bit later I realized that figuring out how an economic sector works — if only partially — was really not so different from cracking these other cultural codes. For instance, once I spent three days on a boat (as keynote speaker), exclusively with people from a particular segment of the shipping trade. It was like entering a whole new world and every moment of it was fascinating.

...

Addendum: It occurs to me that the number and diversity of cultural codes is increasing much faster than the ability of any individual to track them, much less master them. In this regard, an understanding of matters cultural is always receding from us."

It Probably Wouldn't Be Particularly 'Grueling' for Justin Amash To Win the Libertarian Party's Presidential Nod

"Because of the unique nature of the Libertarian Party's selection process, the only thing a candidate needs to do is get in front of the maybe 1,000 or so delegates at a convention, let them know he or she wants their vote, and get 500 or so of them to give it. That can take "grueling" months of shaking hands at 50 state conventions where the delegates who get to vote for president at the national convention are selected. But it doesn't have to, especially if you have a name and reputation that most of the delegates will already have heard of, which Amash certainly does."

Netflix Plays New Role: Budget-Conscious

"[Netflix] now routinely ends shows after their second season, even when they’re still popular. Netflix has learned that the first two seasons of a show are key to bringing in subscribers—but the third and later seasons don’t do much to retain or win new subscribers."

7/16/2019

Time is running out for sand

Peak Sand?:


"Sand and gravel make up the most extracted group of materials, even exceeding fossil fuels. Urbanization and global population growth are fuelling an explosion in demand, especially in China, India and Africa. Roughly 32 billion to 50 billion tonnes are used globally each year, mainly for making concrete, glass and electronics. This exceeds the pace of natural renewal such that by mid-century, demand might outstrip supply (see ‘Global scarcity’). A lack of knowledge and oversight is allowing this unsustainable exploitation."


George Will’s Libertarian Turn

"Will’s joining forces with Erler/Jaffa concerning the Declaration as a fount of natural rights is highly ironic because the theory Jaffa midwifed leads in two diametrically opposite directions: Erler/Jaffa construe “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” referenced in the Declaration as embodying fixed and immutable principles of 18th century morality—forbidding, for example, the legalization of abortion or the validation of same-sex marriage, even by legislation. Will, by contrast, adopts the libertarian theory of natural law (advanced by Timothy Sandefur in The Conscience of the Constitution, among others) that confers on all citizens the unenumerated right to be free from majoritarian interference—that is, laws enacted through democratic self-rule. (The Sandefur theory looks suspiciously like a Randian state of nature, not the popular sovereignty—“consent of the governed”—demanded by the Founders.)"

Learn Like an Athlete

"I like Daniel Gross’ framework for learning. When I interviewed him, he told me to build a video game for myself. Like a video game, productive projects have multiple levels. They follow the Goldilocks Principle: not too easy, not too hard. The learning project needs to be challenging enough to demand focus, but easy enough to make consistent progress. That way, you can enter the optimal state of learning. 

If you get stuck, the “video game” is too hard. When this happens, you should stop. Work on a smaller step or retreat to a manageable challenge. Otherwise, you will lose your motivation to continue learning. Conversely, if you’re bored, the video game isn’t difficult enough, so you should attempt a tougher challenge that you haven’t seen before."

Taiwan’s Status is a Geopolitical Absurdity



"Officially, 17 countries recognize Taiwan’s democratic government, which is known as the Republic of China, but the United Nations regards the People’s Republic of China government in Beijing, which has never controlled Taiwan, as speaking for the island. This leads to one of the many absurdities that affect Taiwan: Its 23 million citizens can travel the world on Taiwanese passports—emblazoned with Republic of China (Taiwan)—which are among the most widely accepted documents on the planet, but they cannot enter UN buildings with them. (This is despite the fact that in 1942, the Republic of China was among the first countries to sign the United Nations Declaration.) Washington does not recognize the Republic of China, yet Taiwan is the U.S.’s 11th-largest trading partner, the world’s 22nd-largest economy, and a crucial link in Silicon Valley’s supply chain."

7/15/2019

Dry Humor

"The Gist: 100 years ago, Congress voted for Prohibition. 14 years later, they voted for Repeal. It might not have happened but for the Great Depression and the inflexibility of Prohibitionists."

The Drinking Age

"The Gist: 100 years ago, Congress voted to ban America’s 5th largest industry (and the source of ~40% of government revenue). It took a cultural movement, an income tax, women getting the vote, and World War I."

My two favorite books about management, ever

"Here is my advice on how to find excellent management books and management advice: pick some areas you know fairly well, be it music, sports, military campaigns, a scientific discovery, the making of a historic plane flight, or whatever. Read a very detailed book about that. Think through the lessons of that book(s). Unfortunately, books about corporations so often filter their management information through homilies, hidden agendas, NDAs, ego boosts, paybacks, and other forms of…bullshit. Music and sports books won’t, as they are too concerned with other kinds of stupid filters. But you will get the lowdown on management for the most part."

Whose advice should you take?

"Think of books as the collective advice we have from previous generations. It has the advantage of not being forgotten. We filter the books through the collective process of recommendation. Books that fall out of circulation tend not to be as useful. Advice ought to follow a similar rule. The longer I delay taking recommendations, the more rigorous the test. If my wife can still remember and be bothered to recommend something a year later, it’s probably a good call. She’s less likely to persist with the stuff that isn’t so good."

7/13/2019

How Universities Misuse Donor Dollars

"Sherlock Hibbs, a wealthy alumnus of the school who passed away in 2002, set aside $5 million from his estate to endow up to three chairs and three additional professorships in the study of Austrian economics. The gift’s terms included an awkwardly worded stipulation that the positions must go to “dedicated and articulate disciples” of Ludwig von Mises. The University of Missouri acceded to those terms and accepted the gift. Indeed its failure to follow them would invoke another clause, in which case the money would transfer to Hillsdale College — a small conservative-leaning institution in Michigan that also has an established program in Austrian economics.

At the time, the University of Missouri business school openly touted the purpose of the gift. A 2003 press release announced that Hibbs’s donation was provided in “support of three chairs and three professorships emphasizing the philosophy and tenets of the Austrian School of Economics.”

Missouri took the money and, over the past two decades, used it to endow positions for four faculty members. The recipients specialize in management and marketing. None appear to have any discernible research or teaching interests that even tangentially connect them to Austrian economics or to Mises. As a result of what appears to be a violation of the terms of the original endowment, Hillsdale is now suing Mizzou to invoke the transfer clause."

The Community Reinvestment Act in the Age of Fintech and Bank Competition

'Conversely, mounting evidence suggests the CRA is either ineffective or damaging. Before the financial crisis, community groups touted the act’s influence in lowering lending standards. Empirical research also shows that banks’ risk taking increases ahead of their CRA evaluations — contravening the CRA’s requirement that lending be consistent with bank safety and soundness. In cases where CRA lending is not riskier, evidence suggests that banks may be “skimming the top” — lending to high-income residents of low-income communities, thus meeting their regulatory mandate but failing to reach the people the CRA intends to help.'

Keep It Real

"The great issue for both the Neo-Scholastics and the New Theologians was the turn of Modernists like Loisy to subjectivity, experience, and history. Can one say that Christian doctrines are true, regardless of anyone’s feelings or historical situation? The Neo-­Scholastics said absolutely, yes. Pius X’s Pascendi Dominici Gregisanathematized Modernism as “the synthesis of all heresies,” and that was the end of it. The New Theologians differed: They thought that by an astute use of ­Augustine and his more “­experiential” tradition, and by drawing on nineteenth-century Romantic Catholic theologians such as Johann Adam Möhler, one could ­uncover what was objective and truth-­oriented within interior ­experience. For Loisy, experience is where subjectivity comes to an end (in me); for the Augustinians, ­experience is a means to the end of communicating with the realities outside of me. The self is not a closed box, like a fridge. One goes inward because interiority itself points outward. The New Theologians believed that volition and especially desire are human pointers toward God and supernatural truth. They foregrounded volition and desire in order to make common ground with their secular contemporaries, who were turning from the prosaic realism of the nineteenth century toward existentialism and symbolism. They attempted a kind of phenomenology or examination of conscience and consciousness. Phenomenology is not just “experientialism”: It is the analysis of the logical structure of conscience and consciousness."

Why should Christians support free markets?

"The speculative knowledge of economics should thus guide our practical actions in ethics and politics. To realize our ends (Building a tower or attaining victory) we must consider our means (Count the cost), in other words we must perform an economic analysis. Our means (costs), in order to meaningfully inform our action, must be evaluated according to alternative uses, both our own and our neighbors. Our means of meaningfully calculating such a cost are prices which can only emerge in a free market. As the German economist Wilhelm Röpke explained:
Only a market economy makes it possible for economic science to go beyond those general and platitudinous truths and to discover relationships that have the objective definitiveness and validity which a market economy actually establishes by means of the mechanism of price. Only a market economy makes of economic science an analytical social science rather than a science which is merely a descriptive-understanding one having a logical structure like that of historiography."