5/07/2020

It’s All in the Presentation: A New Look at Schopenhauer

"Richard Equila, in his new translation for Longman Press (with collaboration by David Carus), believes that we will not understand Schopenhauer properly unless we at the very least recognize the work by a new title: “The World as Will and Presentation.” “Idea,” “Representation,” and “Presentation” are all acceptable renderings of “Vorstellung.” However, it’s the notion of a performance or a theatrical presentation that is key here. The world that we perceive is a “presentation” of objects in the theatre of our own mind; we, the “subject,” craft the show with our own stage managers, stagehands, sets, lighting, code of dress, pay scale, etc. The other part of the world, the Will, or “thing in itself,” not perceivable as a presentation, exists outside time, space, and causality. Aquila tries to make these distinctions as linguistically precise as possible; he also attempts to replicate Schopenhauer’s compelling prose style by diverging from the literalness of other translations—a rather risky and brave move. But, Aquila hopes, that by making this tome as lively as possible, and by dazzling us with his “presentation,” Schopenhauer might get to be as good a read as he was from 1860 to 1950."

4/09/2020

Life after the Plague?

"The extraordinary indebtedness of tertiary institutions in many developed countries is emblematic of a wider debt crisis, and it’s no good trying to assign specific blame to governments, the private sector, or households. Debt is immense everywhere, and there’s a serious case to be made that a fair bit of the prosperity sites like Human Progress or Our World in Data document is partly or even wholly debt-fuelled. As coronavirus emerged, the Saudis and Russia also pointed their fuel pumps at each other, collapsing the price of Brent Crude. Whether Donald Trump’s recent interventions are enough to save all the shale oil paper out there remains to be seen. One suspects the merry-go-round is about to stop as a lot of debt becomes unpayable and even unserviceable (hence worthless)."

4/04/2020

On Digital Minimalism and Pandemics

"In this current situation, for most people, the constant monitoring of online news about the virus is providing pure fuel to the ignoble steed, dragging the allegorical chariot away from what’s good and awe-inspiring about life — even during turmoil — and toward bottom-less anxiety and pseudo-paralysis. The ignoble steed always craves more of this attention-catching information. What if something extra terrible just happened? What if I find a link that makes me feel better? But in this feverish pursuit, the charioteer loses control."

4/01/2020

Taste for Makers

"In art, the highest place has traditionally been given to paintings of people. There is something to this tradition, and not just because pictures of faces get to press buttons in our brains that other pictures don't. We are so good at looking at faces that we force anyone who draws them to work hard to satisfy us. If you draw a tree and you change the angle of a branch five degrees, no one will know. When you change the angle of someone's eye five degrees, people notice.

When Bauhaus designers adopted Sullivan's "form follows function," what they meant was, form should follow function. And if function is hard enough, form is forced to follow it, because there is no effort to spare for error. Wild animals are beautiful because they have hard lives."

3/26/2020

"Nothing In Life Is As Important As You Think It Is, While You Are Thinking About It"

"Education is an important determinant of income — one of the most important — but it is less important than most people think. If everyone had the same education, the inequality of income would be reduced by less than 10%. When you focus on education you neglect the myriad other factors that determine income. The differences of income among people who have the same education are huge.

Income is an important determinant of people's satisfaction with their lives, but it is far less important than most people think. If everyone had the same income, the differences among people in life satisfaction would be reduced by less than 5%.

Income is even less important as a determinant of emotional happiness. Winning the lottery is a happy event, but the elation does not last. On average, individuals with high income are in a better mood than people with lower income, but the difference is about 1/3 as large as most people expect. When you think of rich and poor people, your thoughts are inevitably focused on circumstances in which their income is important. But happiness depends on other factors more than it depends on income."

2/06/2020

The Markets Don’t Know What to Make of Coronavirus Yet

"Tedeschi pins the start of major worries among market participants at Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend; the quantity of stories on the Bloomberg terminal about the outbreak was “an order of magnitude” higher on Tuesday, January 21, than Friday, January 17, he says. And from January 17 through January 31, market expectations for short-term interest rates at year-end fell by 0.26 percent, meaning investors had shifted their views to expect the Fed to offer an additional quarter-point cut, right as they were getting more nervous about coronavirus.

It is important to note, market expectations about future interest rates are probabilistic. The shift didn’t mean market participants were sure coronavirus would hurt the U.S. economy enough to require exactly one additional rate cut; rather, it was a measure that incorporated a significant possibility of no major economic effects and no additional rate cuts, and also a possibility of significant economic effects requiring several rate cuts."

2/05/2020

The Infallibility of Popes and Presidents

"In the lead-up to his impeachment trial, U.S. President Donald Trump, who excels at terrifying his own followers, has also shown himself equal to Pius’s claims of power. Last July, he declared that Article II of the Constitution gave him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” During the impeachment trial, his lawyers have made similar claims. Most notably, Alan Dershowitz asserted that “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” Dershowitz has since scrambled to explain his remark, but it perfectly distills the ethos of the president and his enablers. 

Pius failed to stem the tide of change. When he died eight years later, the anti-clerical government of a unified Italy had made Rome its capital, confining Pius to the hundred acres of the Vatican. Yet the juridical powers he had assumed remained in force, frightening not just other European states, but even many devout Catholics. 

Among them was the English Catholic politician and historian Lord John Acton. Sitting in the spectator’s gallery to the First Council, Acton was filled with horror at Pius’s pretensions. Several years later, Acton he explained his reaction to a fellow historian, writing that he could never accept that we “are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility.”"

Mentoring: The Rationality of Fear

"The problem, of course, is that mentoring is too informal to easily monitor. Unless someone loudly announces, “I refuse to mentor women,” there’s not much you can do to him. Mentoring quotas are likely to flop for the same reason.

The alternative is obvious, but unpalatable for activists: Put the frightened people whose assistance you need at ease. Be friendly and calm, gracious and grateful. Take the ubiquity of misunderstandings seriously. Don’t zealously advocate for yourself, and don’t rush to take sides. Instead, strive to deescalate conflict whenever a misunderstanding arises. This would obviously work best as a coordinated cultural shift toward good manners, but you don’t have to wait for the world to come to its senses. You can start building your personal reputation for collegiality today – so why wait to get potential mentors on your side?

If you’re tempted to respond, “Why should I have to put them at ease?,” the honest answer is: Because you’re the one asking for help."

Acton Institute ranks among world’s best in 2019 think tank report

"The University of Pennsylvania released its “2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report” last Friday. This year, the annual report – which was “designed to identify and recognize centers of excellence in all the major areas of public policy research” – opened the ratings to all 8,248 think tanks in its database.

The report has recognized the Acton Institute since 2010, and, once again, Acton ranked well in the categories with which it has become most closely identified.

In “Top Social Policy Think Tanks,” the category Acton values most dearly, the report rated the Acton Institute in the top 20 worldwide. This year, the Acton Institute moved up one spot to number 12 – behind the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, but ahead of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI, 14) and the UK-based Civitas (31)."

An anonymous reader on talent misallocation and bureaucratization

"My own experience at GE and a top management consulting firm is a good example of this in action. I joined GE through one of its leadership development programs but found my peers to be less talented and hard-working than I had hoped. Unsurprisingly, I also found the roles to be uninspiring and poor uses of my time. After less than two years, I left to join a top consulting firm. I was challenged from day one and at times was not sure if I would make it. My bosses asked much more of me, but they also better resourced me. My productivity was an order of magnitude higher than at GE, and I was accordingly paid nearly twice as much.

For further evidence, consider that 90% of US companies have predefined pay bands based on experience. Given one’s experience level, it is difficult to make considerably more than one’s peers in the first few years (which is the purpose of pay bands). Contrast that with consulting: an average graduate with an engineering degree (the highest earning of all degrees) earns $69k but a new associate at McKinsey earns $105k. The disparity only widens for lower-earning degrees."

Liberal Practice v. Liberal Theory

"On the other hand, Western critics of liberalism have also touched a nerve because people do not like seeing painful but true observations used to justify outrageous conclusions. It is very strange to watch grown adults who enjoy liberalism's blessings appear to fantasize about rejecting those blessings. And rejecting them in favor of what, exactly? Believable answers are rarely forthcoming.

Yet liberalism's critics rightly insist that such commonplace rejoinders fail to engage their real arguments. Liberalism's defenders, for their part, often feel themselves in the position of the theologian confronted with an atheist: The "liberalism" they hear attacked is one that they, too, do not believe in. Thus the parties have often been talking past each other, and not only because of an above-average amount of strawmanning on both sides. What one party sincerely regards as its clinching argument will seem a trivial observation to the other, and vice versa.

Many good-faith misunderstandings within these debates can be traced to an ambiguity in the term "liberalism." It refers, on the one hand, to a set of political practices, and on the other hand, to a political theory that purports to explain those practices. Defenders of liberalism are thinking first and foremost about liberal political practice, which they (almost all) defend by drawing selectively on liberal theory. Critics of liberalism are thinking first and foremost about liberal political theory, which they (almost all) attack by pointing selectively to liberal practice."

McCloskey’s Brief Against Antiliberalism

"Here’s the thing. McCloskey’s central criticism of Polanyi is that, contrary to Polanyi’s historical claim, the rise of market society is NOT a Western novelty of the nineteenth century. Continuity reigns with earlier economies. But McCloskey’s central claim in Why Liberalism Works is that the rise of the market in the first half of the nineteenth century was a unique historical event: The development of the market during this period was fundamentally discontinuous from the economic life before this period, both quantitatively and qualitatively.


Polanyi thinks the Great Transformation is a bad thing; McCloskey thinks “the great expansion” is a good thing. But contrary to McCloskey’s criticism of Polanyi, they both now seem to agree that this historical period was qualitatively unique and pivotal for markets and for society. The argument is not whether the great transformation occurred, the argument is over the consequences of that transformation.

Polanyi’s black and white line between the pre-market economy before 1800 and the market economy after 1800 is incorrect. But taking issue with Polanyi’s rhetorical excess is just a debater’s point if Polanyi’s central historical claim can be made substantially true with the addition of a few weasel words."


Invoking the Tradition: Catholic Social Teaching in Policy Debates


"In fact, the same features that make CST helpful can also make it difficult to invoke the tradition well. Most of the social encyclicals deal primarily with principles and aims rather than specific courses of action, and CST acknowledges a variety of goods in society, such as freedom and justice, that may be in tension and must be balanced. Determining how to do so requires prudential judgments based on particular situations. And, as Rubio notes, CST is not reducible to a particular party platform or ideological persuasion.

These features are salutary, but they make CST amenable to appropriation in support of a variety of policy agendas. There is a temptation to emphasize only the elements of the tradition that appear to support a predetermined policy preference. If that happens, interpretations of CST will become another source of partisan wrangling. Invocations of CST could even exacerbate such wrangling, because partisans might claim that anyone who disagrees on a policy issue is disagreeing with the Church and God."


Calculating the Californication

"What set the Berkeley poll apart is that it also asked residents their party affiliation and how they characterized themselves politically—revealing a sharp divide. Conservatives and moderates are the most unhappy with the state and most anxious to leave. Liberals, by contrast, are mostly staying put, and some think life in California is just great. Only 38 percent of Democrats said that they were considering leaving, compared with 55 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans. Similarly, those characterizing themselves as “somewhat liberal” were least likely to say that they want to go—fewer than four in ten are considering leaving. But 53 percent of moderates, 66 percent of the “somewhat conservative,” and 74 percent of the “very conservative” would like to migrate. Political affiliation, in fact, was more of a predictor of who wants to go or stay than other demographic information, such as race. The poll found, for instance, that 56 percent of white residents and 58 percent of African-Americans would like to leave; and 54 percent of men, compared with 50 percent of women, are thinking of going."

The Zoning Straight-Jacket

"I’m in India and they have similar problem, except in India it’s agricultural land that is frozen in place and made difficult to transform to new uses (in the process depriving farmers of the true value of one of their only assets and creating opportunities for regulatory arbitrage that politically-connected special interests exploit by buying at the farm price, obtaining approvals to convert that other cannot obtain and then selling at the much higher post-conversion price.)

Freezing agricultural land in place seems backward because ubanization is clearly India’s future but it’s no less backward than what has happened in the United States. In both cases, an important right in the land bundle was expropriated and collectivized and the market process of creative destruction impeded."

2/04/2020

Raj Chetty and the New Scientism: Big Data, Economic Engineering, and the Failure of Economic Education

"Hayek cautioned would-be central planners that “the number of separate variables which in any particular social phenomenon will determine the result of a given change will as a rule be far too large for any human mind to master and manipulate them effectively” (CRS 73). Might Big Data and AI overcome the limitations of the human mind, so that central planning is now possible? No—but why? First, as explained above, acting humans are not predictable atoms. Second, there is more to spontaneous order than merely aggregation of information. Prices provide information and coordination, but they also provide incentives; the market mechanism rests on property prices to promote socially useful behavior (ITF 12).

Chetty’s approach holds much promise—if it follows two conditions: first, that Big Data be combined with sound economic theory; and second, that social scientists act very carefully before they use Big Data to act as economic engineers. They would indeed do well to remember Hayek’s warning that it “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they know about the systems they purport to design” (TFC, 76). This is also exemplified in a rich literature on expert failure and the tyranny of experts."

He Tells Us It's the Institutions

"A number of questions arise at the outset of the book. Are contemporary problems unusual? Can these problems be traced to a decline of institutions? For that matter, what is the definition of an institution?

In answering the first question, Levin begins on page 2 with a long quotation from Robert Nisbet’s Twilight of Authority. Nisbet speaks darkly of “twilight ages… Processes of decline and erosion… a vacuum obtains in the moral order… Retreat from the major to the minor, from the noble to the trivial, the communal to the personal, and from the objective to the subjective… degradation of values and of corruption of culture… estrangement from community.”

Levin wishes to borrow Nisbet’s rhetoric to describe our current predicament. But a careful reader will note that Twilight of Authority appeared in 1975, which is close to what Levin will later suggest was a high point for trust in American institutions. In that respect, the quotation subtly goes against Levin’s thesis that institutional decay is a distinctively contemporary phenomenon."

Why Did Armen Alchian Have to Teach Economists About Property Rights?

"Alchian’s unique positioning within the economics profession is largely a consequence of the particularities of his time. To an earlier generation of economists educated in the late 19th and early 20th century, many of his insights were just common-knowledge among serious students of classical and early neoclassical economics. But to the generations educated in the post WWII era, Alchian’s insights were so alien to their way of thinking that either he was dismissed as a relic of an earlier age, or exalted to the status of one of the most clever and creative thinkers in the profession. My position is that Alchian was both—a relic of that earlier age, and a clever and creative thinker in possession of unique insights. The evolution of economic theory between 1930 and 1950 sought to squeeze out the analysis of property, prices, and profit-and-loss, and I might add people and politics as well. All the things studied by the great classical political economists from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill were now pushed aside as economics became too aggregative, with the consequent loss of the individual and the exchange relationships forged in the market. Economics became too formal in presentation, with the loss of nuance, processes, and institutional framing due to a preoccupation with analytical tractability."

The Irony that Our Creed Is Our Culture: On Reno, Lowry, and National Conservatism

"It will also help us if we remember that liberalism and love are not entirely as unmixable as oil and water. When Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg in 1863, he spoke of America as a nation, but one “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” This is surely as liberal a description of the American polity as any Lockean could have devised. As he uttered those words, though, he was looking over a cemetery filled with 3,500 Union dead, fully a third of them unknowns. They were clerks and farm boys, blacksmiths and lawyers, deckhands and bricklayers, Boston Brahmins from the 20th Massachusetts, and Irish Catholics from the 69th New York. They were not like the Duke of Wellington’s “scum of the earth” at Waterloo, who had taken their shilling and their chance, and died. They had volunteered. They had fought for an idea, an idea that was their country, an idea that was their family, and one that they—yes—loved.

Is America a creed or a culture? Reno and Lowry’s books are both healthy reminders that Americans do, in fact, need to have a culture, that the culture needs to have heroes, and that historians need to delineate them for us, or else they stand as nothing more than spavined Machiavellian cynics. The irony, though, is that our creed is our culture."

The Pretense of Intuition

"Joe's excellent critique of "state capacity libertarianism" picks up on something I also noticed when reading Tyler Cowen's piece. As Joe puts it, Cowen's ideal state is "a nonmarginal actor whose task is to achieve certain collective outcomes intuited by Cowen or some other political philosopher." Cowen provides a laundry list of societal challenges he claims only a highly capable state can solve—traffic congestion, secondary education, climate change, etc.—without discussing any in detail. Of course, each issue has been analyzed many times in the libertarian literature, using the standard concepts, theories, and frameworks such as marginal analysis, demonstrated preference, opportunity costs, Austrian price theory, comparative institutional analysis, and so on, and no evidence for "market failure" has surfaced. But Cowen's intuition tells him markets aren't good enough in one area or another. 

This is actually Cowen's long-held view. You may remember his 2014 article "The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth," which echoed the Mariana Mazzucato position that government spending is the main source of technological progress. I remember a friendly argument with Cowen some twenty years ago about NASA, which he insisted was an example of benevolent government intervention. I brought up the standard counterarguments—theoretical (how do you measure benefits and costs, including opportunity costs?), empirical (lots of case study evidence suggesting widespread waste, fraud, and long-term negative effects on the direction of science and technology), and deontological (is it okay to coerce people to support transfer payments that they see as against their self interest?). He wasn't buying it. Space exploration is just so cool that the usual arguments don't apply."

Flu Remains the Real Danger

"Familiarity breeds complacency—“oh, it’s just the flu”—but seasonal influenza is a serious public health problem, causing widespread illness, hospitalizations, and death. The Council of Economic Advisers recently estimated that in a typical flu season, 27 million Americans will get sick; 59,000 will die, while another 368,000 will be hospitalized. The total cost will be $361 billion per year, primarily due to the value of lives lost.

On occasion, new influenza viruses emerge containing significant genetic changes to which people have little or no immunologic memory or protection. These viruses can spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way, leading to a pandemic with higher rates of illness, serious complications, and mortality than seasonal influenza. The past 100 years have seen four influenza pandemics—1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009—leading to worldwide deaths totaling, respectively, 50 million, more than 1 million, 1 million, and 151,700–575,000. The CEA estimates that a future influenza pandemic would cause $413 billion to $3.79 trillion worth of economic damage in the U.S., depending on the transmission efficiency and virulence of the pandemic virus. U.S. fatalities in the most serious scenario would exceed half a million."

California Says No to the Future

"In the wake of SB50’s failure, the next steps for California are uncertain. Governor Gavin Newsom campaigned on a fanciful pledge of getting 3.5 million new homes built by 2025. The state has passed some housing bills, including a package of 15 in 2017, but these address only the margins of the problem and are unlikely to have any major effect. SB50 was broadly designed, with the big changes to zoning, but narrowly applied, with the many exemptions. A better approach would be narrowly designed but broadly applied, such as a series of bills, each changing one specific rule but applying it to the whole state.

One option is eliminating single-family zoning statewide, as Oregon recently did. Unlike towering apartment buildings, duplexes and triplexes don’t provoke much opposition, as numerous recent laws legalizing or liberalizing accessory units reflect. If other zoning requirements on height and setbacks are maintained, people may not even notice that a building that looks like a single-family home has two or three front doors. Another step could be making minimum lot size one-eighth or one-sixth of an acre. This will be more controversial, but smaller lot sizes are not unknown in the suburbs (the original Levittown was built on one-eighth-acre lots). Taken together, these two steps could see housing developments with 12-24 units per acre, which would be sufficient for the needs of many parts of the state."

American Exceptionalism and the Benefits of Statehood: An Analysis of the Growth Effects of Joining the United States of America



"This paper quantifies the economic benefits of joining the United States. Adapting extant static synthetic control models into a dynamic model similar to Arellano and Bond (1991), we are able to construct the counterfactual growth paths of Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada had they not joined the USA. We show that the real growth path outperforms the counterfactuals substantially in all cases. In the same way, we construct counterfactual growth paths of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Greenland in the scenario where they joined the USA at times in history where this might have been a (remote) possibility. We find counterfactual growth to be substantially higher than the actual growth. Having established the positive economic effects of US membership, we subsequently assess the sources of this added growth, distinguishing between a class of explanations related to internal market access and a class of explanations related to institutional quality. Using a large number of determinants of institutional quality, we find that the institutional quality of the USA as a whole matches the quality predicted for New England most closely. This suggests that upon accession, states imported the institutional quality of New England, which was typically superior to what they would have likely developed by themselves. We show that this institutional bonus accounts for the bulk of the growth benefits of US accession."

Best Classical Pianists: Top 25 Greatest All Time

"Few pianists have ever achieved such a cult following as the elusive Canadian Glenn Gould, one of the greatest pianists. His extraordinary if quirky intelligence and imagination led him in unusual directions: after an impressive start to his performing career, he withdrew from the concert platform entirely and devoted himself to recording. While other artists might miss the effects of adrenaline away from a live audience, Gould saw the recording studio as the best way to exploit his musical perfectionism. Famed for his hypochondria, his low seat at the piano and his eclectic brilliance of thought, his fascinating character has attracted attention from numerous different film-makers. Though his repertoire was huge, as was the quantity of his recordings, it is for his Bach playing that he is best remembered today."

2/03/2020

Wokeademia

"So, the point is as much about internal political battles as it is about hiring "diverse" faculty. Squashing the "resistance" by the "small number" of "senior" faculty members actually willing to risk their necks by speaking out about this. "Bringing together" the faculty -- and staff! -- who "share a common passion and set of goals." Forming a "group of allies." Achieving a "cultural and procedural tipping point."

I'm interested here in the politicization of our institutions. It is interesting that not everyone is on board this project, even in the UC system. There are still Jerry Coynes and Abigail Thompsons at major universities. Much of the project is to force political conformity and silence their dissent within the institution."

The Economist as Scapegoat

"The bottom line: it is absurd to think that somehow Friedman’s free-market ideology triumphed and the time has come to roll back his polices. Most of them have never been tried. Over the last 50 years government has gotten larger, not smaller. Government is mostly more intrusive not less, when it comes to regulations facing a new business, the labor market, and in key areas like housing, education, and health."

Against the Young Fogeys

"Victorian menswear, then, is for Dawson the ugly and unnatural expression of a cruel and inhuman culture. And Dawson was hardly alone in his opinions. Tolkien quotes Dawson’s assessment with approval in “On Fairy Stories”; for him, the “full Victorian panoply” is part of the ugly, mechanistic modernity that Fantasy helps us escape. Tolkien’s hostility towards refined fashion is, perhaps, not too surprising: as Humphrey Carpenter notes, both Lewis and Tolkien practiced a deliberate indifference to fashion; Michael White claims that both friends “frowned on any form of stylish or fashionable dress.”"

Insider Trading and Nontrading

"In late 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Insider Trading Prohibitions Act with the intent of further restricting stock market trading based on nonpublic information, by seeking to clarify what constitutes “insider trading.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Lyle Roberts recently criticized the bill for making the law more confusing ( “The Insider Trading Law is Bad. Will Congress Make It Worse?,” Jan. 10).

Maybe so. My concern is more general, that basic insider trading law maintains the distorting effect of a legal asymmetry that was pointed out years ago by my former colleague (and close friend) at Clemson University, the late Myles Wallace: Corporate officers can’t benefit legally from insider information through trading, but they can gain from nonpublic information through “insider nontrading” (which can be hidden from SEC scrutiny)."

Preventing Suicide by Higher Education

"That the freedom of speech is under attack on many campuses should not be surprising, given that the freedom of the mind, of which speech is the expression, is rarely understood as their purpose any longer. Without that purpose, most American universities no longer serve the public good for which they were created and for which they continue to be publicly funded. Their transformation, which in turn has led to the transformation of the nation, has taken place with the unwitting assistance of American taxpayers — and amounts to defrauding the public. If citizens are compelled to pay for others to go to college, it should be to the benefit of the entire nation — forming good citizens and advancing useful sciences, rather than teaching the rising generation that the nation is irredeemably evil. Taxpayers have funded the research, bankrolled the student loans (including generous forgiveness programs), and allowed the universities and their enormous endowments to operate without paying taxes. These funding sources are the operational life blood of universities, but they can no longer be justified. In fact, it seems likely that the nation would be better off if the vast majority of America's more than 3,000 colleges and universities closed down."

Being a Noob

"It's not pleasant to feel like a noob. And the word "noob" is certainly not a compliment. And yet today I realized something encouraging about being a noob: the more of a noob you are locally, the less of a noob you are globally.

For example, if you stay in your home country, you'll feel less of a noob than if you move to Farawavia, where everything works differently. And yet you'll know more if you move. So the feeling of being a noob is inversely correlated with actual ignorance."

How Will You Measure Your Life?

"When I finished the minimill story, Grove said, “OK, I get it. What it means for Intel is…,” and then went on to articulate what would become the company’s strategy for going to the bottom of the market to launch the Celeron processor.

I’ve thought about that a million times since. If I had been suckered into telling Andy Grove what he should think about the microprocessor business, I’d have been killed. But instead of telling him what to think, I taught him how to think—and then he reached what I felt was the correct decision on his own."

The Positive Side of Shame

"Jennifer Jacquet argues in Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses For An Old Tool that we’re not quite through with shame yet. In fact, if we adapt it for the current era, it can help us to solve some of the most pressing problems we face. Shame gives the weak greater power. The difference is that we must shift shame from individuals to institutions, organizations, and powerful individuals. Jacquet states that her book “explores the origins and future of shame. It aims to examine how shaming—exposing a transgressor to public disapproval—a tool many of us find discomforting, might be retrofitted to serve us in new ways.”"

Who will answer the call in the next outbreak? Drug makers feel burned by string of vaccine pleas

"Every few years an alarming disease launches a furious, out-of-the-blue attack on people, triggering a high-level emergency response. SARS. The H1N1 flu pandemic. West Nile and Zika. The nightmarish West African Ebola epidemic.

In nearly each case, major vaccine producers have risen to the challenge, setting aside their day-to-day profit-making activities to try to meet a pressing societal need. With each successive crisis, they have done so despite mounting concerns that the threat will dissipate and with it the demand for the vaccine they are racing to develop.

Now, manufacturers are expressing concern about their ability to afford these costly disruptions to their profit-seeking operations. As a result, when the bat-signal next flares against the night sky, there may not be anyone to respond."

2/01/2020

Espinoza v. Montana can reverse 150 years of anti-Catholic prejudice

"Perhaps the only prejudice in U.S. history not highlighted by the Woke is America’s pervasive anti-Catholicism. John Winthrop wrote in 1631 that the first reason the Pilgrims wished to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony was “to raise a Bulwark against the kingdom of AntiChrist which the Jesuits labour to rear up in those parts.” Anti-Catholic bigots worried aloud that Catholicism was incompatible with the American experiment (a position they strangely share with today’s Catholic Integralists). As a result, North Carolina did not allow Roman Catholics to hold public office until 1835.

The same year, abolitionist Lyman Beecher encapsulated this view when he wrote that Catholicism is a “despotic religion” that “never prospered but in alliance with despotic governments … and at this moment is the main stay of the battle against republican institutions.” (Emphasis in original.) The hub of the purported conspiracy, he wrote, lay in Catholic parochial schools. “Catholic powers are determined to take advantage” of American children “by thrusting in professional instructors and underbidding us in the cheapness of education – calculating that for a morsel of meat we shall sell our birth-right,” he wrote."

A Threat to Humanity

"When a new virus emerges, it takes months to create a vaccine for treatment. In the interim, only time and isolation can manage infection rates. Nor is there any remedy other than medicines that ease symptoms. The highly respected French epidemiologist Robert Sebag told me that, judging from past experience, it’s conceivable that up to 15 percent of those who contract the Wuhan virus could die. Chinese officials, though conceding that the virus is highly contagious (and more so than SARS), maintain that the more likely figure is 3.5 percent. This is, of course, largely guesswork for the time being. The only effective measure against the virus at this point is to isolate the sick to control contagion. But the source remains unknown, making management difficult; and not enough Chinese doctors exist—and not all are competent—to contain an illness spreading from city markets to the countryside.

Chinese Communism worsens the problem. According to Communist Party logic, all is well, and news that reflects poorly on the government must be suppressed. Any negative development, from a train accident to an epidemic, is harmful to the Party’s glorious and progressive image. Dissimulation is the norm throughout the land. In 2003, for example, China denied the SARS epidemic; once the virus had spread beyond its borders, Beijing’s admission came too late to do any good."

Even a partial dose of democratic socialism seems to be economic poison

"The closest Cembalest could find to a true democratic socialist state, at least by his definition, is Argentina, “which has defaulted 7 times since its independence in 1816, which has seen the largest relative standard of living decline in the world since 1900, and which is on the brink of political and economic chaos again in 2019.” Double ouch.

Argentina met most of the following criteria: a) higher personal and corporate tax rates, and higher government spending; b) more worker protections restricting the ability of companies to hire and fire, and less flexibility for companies to set wages based on worker productivity and/or to hire foreign labor; c) more reliance on regulation, more constraints on real estate development; d) more anti-trust enforcement and more state intervention in product markets; and a shift away from a shareholder-centric business model; e) protections for workers and domestic industries through tariff and non-tariff barriers, and more constraints on capital inflows and outflows."

Remembering Kobe Bryant

"Other aspects of Bryant’s life, beyond basketball, had a special salience for my husband and me. He was our age. His second child was named Gianna, which is our daughter’s name, and she was roughly the same age, went by the same nickname, Gigi, and, like our daughter, loved to play basketball. Like us, Bryant was a Roman Catholic, trying to raise his kids in the faith.

And like all of us, Bryant was a sinner. Most notoriously, in 2003, he was arrested after being accused by a young woman of rape. He maintained that he had had consensual sex with her, but apologized to her publicly, acknowledging that she saw it differently, and settled out of court. It was an ugly, and career-threatening, incident, and it must remain a factor in reckoning with Bryant’s life and career. Yet so must Bryant’s response: on the brink of divorce from his wife, Vanessa, he leaned hard on his faith and fought for his marriage, publicly crediting a priest with helping him to save it."

Do you know who’s really worried about Big Tech? America’s lagging economic rivals like Germany

"Perhaps the only people more terrified of Big Tech (AppleMicrosoftAlphabetAmazonFacebook) than American anti-tech activists are America’s economic competitors. Take Germany, for instance. It’s the economic engine of Europe. And for some US politicians, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it’s an example of capitalism done right. Germany makes stuff! It has a trade surplus!

But many German business and political leaders don’t see things that way. Not at all. But how could they, really? As a great new piece in the Financial Times notes, not only is Apple alone worth more than 20 times German industrial giant Siemens, but “at $1.35tn the iPhone maker is worth more than the entire Dax index of Germany’s 30 leading companies.” That disparity, FT reporters Patrick McGee and Guy Chazin continue, “is a striking example of how Europe’s largest economy risks being left behind by the 21st century tech boom.”"

Three Motivations for “State Capacity Libertarianism”

"The second, related impetus I see for “state capacity libertarianism” is simply the growing chasm between the public- and private-sector user experience. With a few taps on my phone, I can hail a car, pay my rent, reserve a table for dinner, and share a video with my friends and family. And if anything goes wrong, a chat-based customer service agent is there to help. But if I want to pay my taxes, order a new passport, transfer a property title, or simply have a question answered about a rule or regulation, the experience is much different. There’s a good chance I’ll need a pen and paper, time to stand in line, and a nine-digit Social Security Number rooted in 1936 technology.

The consequences of this gap are more than personal inconvenience. Inefficient bureaucracies running on legacy systems and processes can become a bottleneck for economic growth and development. And as Donald Moynihan and Pamela Herd argue in their recent book, Administrative Burden, confusing paperwork and complex regulations harm the resource-constrained poor above all."

Is Bernie Sanders a Crypto-Communist? A Bayesian Analysis

"The word “crypto-communist” has a paranoid, McCarthyite connotation. But during the Cold War, numerous communist intellectuals and politicians deliberately concealed their commitment to Marxism-Leninism. Why? To be more successful intellectuals and politicians. A few crypto-communists even managed to become national leaders. Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, but only announced his communism in 1961. Nelson Mandela presented himself as a reasonable democratic reformer. Yet after his death, the African National Congress openly admittedly that Mandela had been on the politburo of the South African Communist Party for decades. Ho Chi Minh joined the Communist Party in 1920, but in 1945 he loudly posed as a moderate democratic reformer – famously quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence to charm the West. Juan Negrin, last prime minister of Republican Spain, was also very likely a crypto-communist.

Which brings me to my question: What about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders? Is he a crypto-communist? Sanders has sent decades worth of frightening signals – praising Soviet bloc regimes, honeymooning in the Soviet Union, and such. Indeed, he’s said and done almost exactly what you would expect a sincere Marxist-Leninist who wanted to be a U.S. Senator would say and do. Note, moreover, that Sanders came of political age during the 60s and 70s, when communism made a big comeback in the U.S. radical left."

Unaccountable Accounting in the Pentagon

"Phrased differently (and more to the point): taxpayers, holders of US dollars, and investors in US government debt securities would, regardless of the underlying circumstances, much rather see the national debt reported to the penny than estimated. Exactness as in this case is almost certainly impossible, but serves an evangelical purpose: the state, Kuznets suggests, must in some ways represent itself as a tirelessly responsible custodian of the funds collected by it or invested in it. 

Or so it was. Clearly that mandate – consider it a principle of good statecraft – has long since been abandoned. Until 2018, in fact, the Pentagon had actually avoided the legal requirement of an annual audit for decades. Yet when, in 2018, it had one, it failed miserably. The response from the deputy secretary of defense? “We failed the audit. We never expected to pass it.”

That kind of response makes spending $7,622 on a coffee pot seem quaint: it was, at least, an accurate number. Maybe. “Improper payments,” defined as funds flowing without approval or documentation, rose to $1.2 billion from $957 million between 2017 and 2018."

The Federalist Society is Under Attack (Again)

"As has been widely reported, a recently-released draft advisory opinion of the Committee on Codes of Conduct of the Judicial Conference of the United States—a 15-member group of judges responsible for fashioning and interpreting ethical rules applicable to the federal judiciary—concluded that membership in the non-partisan Federalist Society by judges, law clerks, and staff attorneys is improper because the group’s ideological orientation would call its members’ impartiality into question. The draft ethics opinion, which was reportedly leaked, is subject to internal discussion within the Committee during a 120-day comment period ending on May 20. For the purposes of full disclosure, I am a longtime member and supporter of the Federalist Society.

The draft opinion included the American Constitution Society, a liberal counterpart to the Federalist Society, in the membership ban. For inexplicable reasons, the draft opinion did not extend the ban to the American Bar Association, even though that left-leaning organization—unlike the Federalist Society—advocates political causes, engages in lobbying, files amicus briefs, and adopts resolutions on a broad range of public policy topics. The ABA essentially serves as a liberal special interest group, but judges are still permitted to be a member while serving on the federal bench."

1/31/2020

Draining the swamp

"1) A naive or cursory look at the history gives a simplistic account: Medicine reduced disease! Science saves lives!

2) A closer look reveals that disease mortality was dropping long before antibiotics or vaccines. So (some hastily conclude) medicine didn’t really matter after all—so much for better living through science!

3) An even closer look shows that actually, the germ theory led to sanitation and hygiene improvements decades before we had specific treatments. So, as with the steam engine, it turns out science was relevant, just not in the obvious first place one might look.

4) Finally, the galaxy-brain take looks not only at direct influences but indirect/cultural ones: The Scientific Revolution led to new ways of experimenting and collecting/analyzing data that led to practical improvements (in waste disposal and insect control) long before we had a fundamental scientific theory."

Extending the Race between Education and Technology

"Note that for the most recent rise in inequality across 2000-2017, most of it has happened within educational groups. The less polite way of putting that — my words not those of the authors — is that the real marginal product of education is explaining less of the variation in earnings, or in other words the higher earners are drawing upon something they are not getting at school.

Students of the “education as signaling” debate also should note that, due to these results, now a) signaling is more relevant for your early wage offer, and b) signaling is less relevant for your eventual wage profile, which in fact is now more determined by your personal level of skill."

Video: E.B. White’s forgotten story about the tyranny of good intentions

"In “The Family that Dwelt Apart” – published in The New Yorker on July 31, 1937 – White tells the story of the Pruitt family, which led an idyllic life of willful isolation in the sleepy New England cove of Barnetuck Bay. One winter, the bay froze and left the Pruitts to live off their supply of preserves, which they were more than content to do.

“The winter would have passed quietly enough had not someone on the mainland remembered that the Pruitts were out there in the frozen bay,” White writes.

The remainder of the tale describes how state officials, acting on an erroneous rumor, harnessed all the power and wisdom of the government to save the family from a non-existent emergency – and the disastrous chain of tragedies that followed."

Liszt and Lamartine: “Apparitions”

"Classical music speaks to us in a way that lyrical music can often obscure. The nature of speech and language, and the effects they have on our minds, imparts a message or describes an environment to which instrumental music becomes subordinate, or at least supplementary. Music in an age of the “self”—of self-absorption, self-aggrandizement, and self-prioritization—makes the verbal medium more necessary in order to express in words how we relate the world to ourselves and others. One might even say that it is the only possible way that art is conveyed today; that is, through verbal explanation where the audience is told how to feel about a particular piece, and explained why. Art, arguably, should not need such facilitation.

Words are only one level at which we can understand the world. And language is, frankly, an empty medium if not interpreted through an initial, alternate sense. Art, for this reason, we say is felt. Music is no exception to this concept. If what we seek in music, or any other form of expression, is self-validation, then language and explicitness are the only options. If what we seek in music, however, is aesthetic challenge in the form of musical art, then classical music can never be dismissed from our libraries. Classical music requires two things that are, perhaps, uncomfortable for us modern men and women: extended patience and long-spanning attention. Not to mention that classical music (superficially) deprives us of the sense on which we so heavily rely today—the visual—and removes the simplest layer of our auditory sense—language—that directly tells us how to feel or think about a certain topic. Instead, it leaves us without direct visuals and without direct audition. This absence of explicit sense exposure and explanation is, I believe, what creates good art, be it visual, musical, or literary."

Venture capital is important to the American economy. Let’s not ruin it.

"Of course, it’s easy to accept the idea that the Golden Age of VC is over when you doubt whether it was really so golden at all. Which brings us back to that curious claim. Which I am not sure even Heller really believes. As he also notes: “Occasionally, though, there is a wild success [with venture capital], and, since the nineteen-seventies, such successes have transformed American business. Venture capital backed Apple and Intel. It funded Google, Amazon, and Facebook before any of them turned a profit.” 

Keep in mind: Those occasional, spotty successes are five of the most important companies on the planet with a combined market value of roughly $4.2 trillion. So unimportant are they that Europe releases a white paper only about every week lamenting its lack of such tech titans and fretting about the absence of a venture capital sector as vibrant as America’s."

Animated chart of the day: World’s top ten manufacturing nations, 1970 to 2018

"1. The USSR was the world’s second-largest manufacturing nation from 1970 until it was surpassed by Japan in 1983, which rose to the No. 2 position.

2. After overtaking Russia in 1983, Japan quickly rose as a manufacturing powerhouse and almost overtook the USA by the mid-1990s including in 1993 when Japan produced 22.1% of world output vs. 22.9% for the USA and in 1995 when Japan produced 22.0% of the world’s manufacturing vs. USA’s 22.2% share.

3. China’s rise to become one of the world’s top manufacturers started in the mid-1990s after a long period of producing a fairly stable share of only 3-4% of the world’s factory output from 1970 to 1995. By 1996, China was out-producing both Italy and France for the first time and outproduced Germany starting in 2001 before surpassing Japan in 2007 and the USA in 2010.

4. Despite falling to the No. 2 position behind China in 2010, the USA is still a global manufacturing powerhouse and produced more manufacturing output in 2018 ($2.32 trillion) than No. 3 Japan, No. 4 Germany and No. 5 Korea combined ($2.27 trillion) and more than No. 4 Germany, No. 5 Korea, No. 6 India, No. 7 Italy, and No. 8 France combined ($2.26 trillion)."

Churches, tax exemption, and the common good

"What is most disturbing about Matzko’s essay is not the economic reductionism but the impoverished sense of the political and common good it demonstrates. It is a classic example of seeing like a state, reducing the complex interdependencies of our social life to a single state-centered public life. It is only by misunderstanding our life together as the bare relationship between citizen and sovereign, subject and ruler, that our contribution to the common good could be calculated by a tax receipt.

The Christian conception of the common good encompasses, as Lord Acton said best, a society beyond the state with individual souls above it. The common good is the product of both individual persons living out their vocations and institutions exercising their God ordained roles, fulfilling their duties, and sharing their own unique gifts."

Improvising for Productivity

"The longer you think about a task without doing it, the less novel it becomes to do. Writing things in your to-do list and coming back to them later helps you focus, but it comes at the cost: you’ve now converted an interesting idea into work. Since you’ve thought about it a little bit, it’s less interesting to work on.
...
my solution is to (somewhat counter-intuitively) not think about the task until I am ready to fully execute it. I do not unwrap the piece of gum until I’m ready to enjoy it in its entirety. I need to save the fun of thinking to pull myself into flow. Practically, this means things like:

  • I try and respond to emails the moment I open them. If it’s something that requires desktop work, I quickly close the email.
  • I don’t write down ideas for posts until I’m ready to write the entire post.
  • I write down a few bullets of what I need out of a meeting, and then refuse to think about it until the actual event.
Etc.

Living in a state of improvisation is more conducive to flow. Unlike Marc’s recommendation, I don’t let myself pursue any idea I have all day (that would be a lot of Wikipedia), but instead I try to make my actual work appear as interesting as a new idea by minimizing the cognitive state buildup I have until I am ready to fully accomplish the task at hand."

The Truth About Income Inequality

"That's important to remember when considering the frequently stated worry that the middle class is disappearing. The middle class is getting smaller—but it's disappearing, for the most part, because it's moving up.

Now, it matters how we define the middle class. If the middle class is defined as the middle three income quintiles, then in 2018 it consisted of households with income between $25,600 and $130,000. In 1967, the middle three quintiles had income ranging from $19,726 to $54,596 (in 2018 dollars). The people in the middle, in other words, are considerably richer than their counterparts a half century ago.

Of course, defining the middle class that way means that exactly 60 percent of households will always qualify. That seems too broad. American Enterprise Institute economist Mark Perry, on his blog Carpe Diem, defines the middle class more narrowly to include any household with an income, in 2018 dollars, of between $35,000 and $100,000. In 1967, he notes, 54 percent of households were in that category; by 2018, that was down to 42 percent. That wasn't because they slipped; it was because they rose. In 1967, only 9.7 percent of U.S. households had income of $100,000 or more (in 2018 dollars). By 2018, that percentage had more than tripled to 30.4 percent."

1/30/2020

Mercatus Scholars' Most Influential Books: Salim Furth

"The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis and Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

A central tension in my philosophy of economics is between the role and limitations of material well-being in promoting human flourishing. In Lewis’ work, as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, technology and opulence are more naturally instruments of slavery than freedom. The alternative view is given by Sen, whose book was important in bridging from the utilitarian values implicit in economics to my deeper Christian and classical moral values. What this means for my research is that housing affordability is as much about allowing community to form as it is about maximizing disposal income."

Music and the Transcendental

"I think we have to begin from this idea that we have inherited a listening culture. Listening is not an easy thing itself to define. There is such a thing as hearing. We hear music all the time around us, but most of us do not pay attention to it—partly because most of it is not worth paying attention to. But there is also overhearing and that is a very common experience. Wherever we are—in restaurants or in the Metro or wherever—we are overhearing music coming at us from all angles, and we are learning how to ignore it. Music was not originally designed to be ignored. But we live in a society where, if we do not learn to ignore it, we cannot also learn to listen to it. This puts an enormous strain on us and it is one reason, of course, for the existence of these special places like symphony halls where one can insulate oneself from the surrounding world."

Abuse of Procedure

"Evidence suggests that the Constitution’s framers believed that any offense deserving of impeachment would also violate established law. Article I, for example, provides that officials removed from office after an impeachment trial would also be liable to trial in the courts—a clarification that wouldn’t be necessary unless the impeachable conduct arises from breaking the law. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 65, explained that the Senate, rather than the Supreme Court, was the best venue for impeachment trials because, upon a successful conviction, it was likely that the removed official would then be subject to criminal trial in federal court “in the ordinary course of law.” It wouldn’t be proper, according to Hamilton, for the federal judiciary to preside over two trials of the same officer “for the same offense.”

An early test of the sort of vague charges at issue in the Trump case surfaced in the 1804 impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, which arose from Jeffersonian opposition to the staunch Federalist. The House had voted to impeach Chase, essentially, for the “crime” of misapplying the law while sitting as a circuit court judge. Chase’s defense counsel, Luther Martin, a delegate at the Constitutional Convention, persuasively argued that impeachment must relate to acts “contrary to law.” In the end, six Jeffersonian Republicans crossed the aisle to acquit Chase."

The Universal Ambitions of China’s Illiberal Confucian Scholars

"This revival of Confucianism has become part of the Zeitgeist of contemporary China. What lies at the core of this project is to redefine the relationship between the Communist Party, the Confucian tradition, and Chinese history, as Gan has done in his syncretism. Liu Xiaofeng, a professor of classics at Renmin University, promotes the idea that the CCP, as an elite group, is the modern incarnation of premodern Confucian literati-bureaucrats, whose superior intellectual and moral virtues entitle them to function as the grand tutor of the people. In contemporary China, argues Liu, the task of the CCP is to uphold lofty moral ideals (moral politics or “the Kingly Way”) in order to resist the nihilism and relativism of liberal modernity, exemplified by the way of life and normative political ideals of the United States.

Many Confucians openly express their excitement when the Party speeches and documents employ quasi-Confucian terms. Chen Ming, an advocate of Confucian civil religion, regards Xi Jinping’s slogan of “the China Dream” as an ideological innovation very friendly toward the basic tenets of Confucianism, and defines his academic task as reinterpreting the China Dream through the Confucian lens. Zeng Yi, a professor of philosophy at Tongji University in Shanghai who praises monarchy and traditional gender hierarchy, explicitly claims that Confucians must actively search for political and ideological supports from the extant regime because Confucianism is by nature a doctrine for the ruling authority. A revival of Confucianism is not complete, according to Zeng, without Confucianism restoring its overarching role of organizing the Chinese way of life on the political level."

The Bad Economics of Non-economists

"A recent example of such ignorance appears in Daniel McCarthy’s January 22nd Law & Liberty essay adorned with the unintentionally ironic title “Economic Nationalism as Political Realism.” In this essay, McCarthy – an American conservative trained, not in economics, but in the classics – unrealistically asserts that we economists and other “market liberals” who support free trade build our case on the “abstraction” of “a pristine market in which there are no pre-existing distortions arising from political influence (or any other source).”

McCarthy fails to offer a single example of any such oblivious real-world market liberal. This failure is unsurprising, for no such market liberal exists; he or she is purely a figment of McCarthy’s imagination. (In a post at my blog I challenge McCarthy to supply evidence of the reality of his alleged “market liberal.”)

No one familiar enough with the economics of trade to be competent to declaim publicly on this topic would write what McCarthy wrote. Indeed, those of us who possess some knowledge of the economics of trade find this particular assertion by McCarthy to be especially bizarre. The reason is that nearly all of the intellectual energy that has been poured over the past few centuries into defending a policy of free trade has been devoted to explaining why free trade is the best policy despite the distortions introduced into markets both by foreign governments and by the home government."