Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

That Old-fashioned, A Priori History

Now, whatever one thinks of Mises view of economics as an a priori science, one must give him this: He never for a moment thought that history was an a priori science. But many of his followers are far less astute. Oh, the many times I've been in some Internet discussion and seen some Mises epigone write, "Well, it seems logical to assume the [Jefferson / Lincoln / Lenin / whoever ] did not..."

It seems logical?! That's how you're doing history? Well, here is an example I came across today:

'To be sure, fractional-reserve banking is not, as Mr. Wolf notes, "a natural consequence of market forces." It is a result of, and has been upheld by, government law.'

Now, of course, in one sense, shops and private farms and many other market institutions are "the result of, and have been upheld by, government law." But that meaning is trivial. No, Mr. Polleit seems to mean that fractional reserve banking was created by government fiat.

But that is just made up. You only need to go to Wikipedia for about thirty seconds to set that story straight.

Now look, just because someone is in favour of free markets doesn't mean that you have to be in favour of every single thing that arose on a market. Nigerian Internet scams were not developed by any government, but one can still be against them. But it is just ridiculous to make up the history you would like to have happened because it fits with your ideology.

Missing the Trees for the Forest

A man all too willing to believe in massive conspiracies ironically bilked by a little conspiracy (aka, the kind of conspiracies that actually exist).

Abridging the Freedom of Speech

First amendment absolutists like to cite the text of that amendment and then smugly declare the case decided, for instance:

"Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. Now get over it."

But have these people thought about what "abridge" means?
"abridge: to reduce in scope, extent, etc.; shorten"

So, this amendment does not in the least say that the freedom of speech is absolute; instead, it says that, whatever that freedom is, Congress may not reduce it.

And if you read a little history it is clear that no Founder thought that right was anything like absolute. Not a single one of them thought that, for instance, laws banning pornography were unconstitutional.

It is one thing to argue that they were wrong, and that the freedom of speech should be considered absolute. It is quite another to make the blatantly false historical claim that the Founders did think it was absolute.

The Smallest Integer Not Discoverable via Google Search

How would one discover it? Discussion here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Tight...

Christmas! Or at least Jason Peters is.

Economism in Action

You often here economists denying that economics reduces the subjects it studies to having only base, material motives. And in the hands of some economists, it doesn't. But in the hands of lots more it sure does. Take, for instance, this piece, in which Karl Smith tries to solve the problem of "revolving doors" between the public and private sectors, in which people pick up inside knowledge and contacts working in government, then cash in on those assets by moving into the industry they had formerly regulated. Smith recommends higher pay for public officials as the solution, and then cautions:

"I do hope that economically oriented folks aren’t suggesting that we use moral suasion to control government corruption. People respond to incentives. If you don’t want them to sell you out then you have to pay them more."

In other words, for Smith, the mere desire to act morally cannot possibly be an incentive: incentives mean "material incentives" and only material incentives.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weird English Advertising

Now having TV access for the first time in years, I'm noticing an odd new trend in advertising... or, at least it seems to be a trend. For instance, there is some bladder control ad featuring animated women made of plumbing fixtures, in which the following two sentences occur:

"I have better things to do than only go to the bathroom."

"You have better things to join than always a line for the bathroom."

Now, it's one thing for an ad to be ungrammatical in a homey sort of way, to get in touch with the common Joe, e.g., "I ain't got no time for none of that."

But the two sentences quoted above are not constructed the way any native English speaker would speak in the placement of "always" and "only." (Although if ads like this keep running I assume that soon native English speakers will begin speaking like this.) Now the copywriters had to have know that they were writing very weirdly, so that means it was a strategic move... so what is the strategy?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Steve, They Aren't Listening

My friend Steve Horwitz tried to explain what Austrian economics is and isn't.

But I fear Steve casts pearls before swine; see this article, in which the author "defines" Austrian economics as:

"What's more, Paul is a big believer in Austrian economic thought – the idea that government has no role in regulating the economy."

Because, you know, that's exactly what Friedrich von Wieser thought.

Kirznerian Baseball

is described here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Arnold Kling on One-Sided Bets

Here.

Money quote:
'If I offer flood insurance in New Orleans on behalf of my company, my bet might be "There won't be another Katrina in 2011." Let's say that we lose $1 billion if I am wrong, and we win $1 million (in insurance premiums) if I am right. If the chance of another Katrina is one out of 1000, that is a fair bet. But I can choose to make that bet even if the chance is 1 out of 50. The chances are 49 out of 50 that this deal will show a nice profit and I can get a fat bonus, and 1 out of 50 that I lose my job and the shareholders take big losses. A reasonable deal--at least for me.'

This sort of thing goes on in financial companies all the time. Traders make bets far, far more risky (given the payoffs) than they would if it were their own money. But you could make one of these a year for fifty years and the odds would be you're fine. Until the 51st year, when you bring down Barings.

How Many Stupid Things Can You Say in One Sentence?

Listen to Bob Beckel below, starting at about 1:00. He calls for Julian Assange's assassination (because Bob's not in favour of the death penalty!), and then says (I'm transcribing as accurately as I can, but probably got a word or two wrong):

"a dead man can't leak stuff..."
-- Ahem, Bob, the whole point of the threat is that if he is killed, then he will leak more stuff, because, you know, he already has it and it's already on hundreds of servers.

"this guy is a traitor"
-- Er, Bob, he's not a US citizen.

"a treasonist"

-- Er, Bob, he's not a US citizen.

"and he has broken every law of the United States"
-- 1) he's not under US jurisdiction, Bob; and
2) every law?! Does Bob mean he thinks Assange has shot bald eagles, counterfeited US money, cheated on his taxes, brought a minor across state lines for illicit purposes, trafficked in cocaine, etc. etc.?

Now, amusingly, while one part of the US media openly calls for Assange's assassination, another part of it attacks him for having been in hiding!



(Hat tip to Murphy.)

Reflection No. 17

There are days when I think this narcissism business is all about me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

HFCS

Here is a little slide show on high fructose corn syrup which makes the point I would have though obvious: it's sugar, folks!

'"Really, it's just sugar in liquid form—no different biochemically from common table sugar," explains Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.'

But there are some rather surprising assertions made:

'But it also lurks in other types of foods that may come as a surprise: ketchup, frozen dinners, salad dressing, bread, marinades, cereal, canned vegetables—the list goes on and on. "About 30 to 40 percent of all products in the center of the grocery store have high-fructose corn syrup. And people don't expect any sugar in these foods," points out Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru.'

There are people who don't know that Captain Crunch contains sugar?!

And here's Lempert again: '"We have no idea what real food tastes like anymore because of all the sugar being added," says Lempert.'

So, adding sugar makes food imaginary?

Hey, and iVillage: It's really obnoxious to glom your little ad onto all text copied from your site.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Piece on the Paradox at the Heart of Conservatism...

here, by Patrick Deneen.

What I Meant Was, You Should See...

these works I've listed, not that I have seen them.

That was my thought on reading yet another book whose references consist in footnotes that list only the author and year of a dozen or so other works, works from which not a single quote is used, of which no analysis is performed, and which are never referenced again in the work being read.1

1 For early works on how to pile up an impressive number of references in your work without actually reading any of them, see Smith(1692), Jones (1743), Johnson (1894), and Filbert (1902). For more modern approaches to padding your bibliography, consult Murphy (1963), Mangrove-Throatwarbler (1975), Fitzsimmons (1987) and Depardieu (2001). A game theoretic approach to pretending you've read any number of books you've never even laid eyes upon is discussed in Bozo (1999), Hunter (2002), Lesh (2004), and Alias (2007).

Was Your Wish for the Holidays...

to hear Vampire Weekend up to twenty times per day, often accompanied by a bunch of preppy douches acting really stupidly? Then I bet you're having a good holiday!

Friday, December 10, 2010

More Ridley

And here is the always sharp John Gray, making some of the points I made on Ridley and more besides:
Whatever political goals it is used to promote, the idea of cultural evolution is not much more than a misleading metaphor. Laissez-faire was not the result of any spontaneous process of social evolution; it was imposed on society through the use of state power. Memes are just a pseudo-scientific way of talking about ideas, not actually existing physical entities. There is nothing in society that resembles the natural selection of random genetic mutations; even if such a mechanism existed, there is nothing to say its workings would be benign. Bad ideas do not evolve into better ones. They tend to recur, as racist memes are doing at present in parts of the world where economic dis­location is reviving hatred of minorities and immigrants. Knowledge advances, but in ethics and politics the same old rubbish keeps on piling up. The idea of social evolution is rubbish of this kind, a virulent meme that continues to reproduce and spread despite having been refuted time and time again.
The best evidence against Ridley’s claim that ideas evolve is the existence of this book, which reproduces some of the most pernicious myths of social Darwinism. Spencer and his disciples thought evolution was a progressive movement from lower to higher forms of life. But natural selection has nothing to do with pro­gress – as Darwin put it in his Autobiography, it is like the wind, which blows without any design or purpose. Certainly human development has been affected by the material environment – geography, climate and resource scarcity, for example. But rather than evolving, societies regularly break down, and what comes next is determined by power, chance and (occasionally) human choices rather than any supposed evolutionary laws. Evolution is one thing, progress another, and human history something else again.
Disdainful or ignorant of the past, Ridley is uninterested in the forces that shape events. He writes hundreds of pages about the wealth-increasing virtues of free markets, but allots post-Mao China only a few lines. This brevity is symptomatic, as China falsifies Ridley’s central thesis; the largest burst of continuous economic growth in history has occurred without the benefit of free markets. Wealth has been created as never before, not as a result of evolutionary change, but as a product of revolution and dictatorship.

How Did Ridley Happen?

It's always surprising to me how someone who keeps saying very silly things can find the stars align with his silliness, and he's really big for a couple of years. Recent case in point: Matt Ridley.

Here Ridley tries to compare the role of trade in "social evolution" to that of sex in biological evolution:
The notion that exchange stimulated innovation by bringing together different ideas has a close parallel in biological evolution. The Darwinian process by which creatures change depends crucially on sexual reproduction, which brings together mutations from different lineages. Without sex, the best mutations defeat the second best, which then get lost to posterity. With sex, they come together and join the same team. So sex makes evolution a collective and cumulative process...
Well, this is all very good. Or would be, if not for the facts that:
1) The "Darwinian process" cooked along fine for a couple of billion years without sexual reproduction, so it could hardly "depend crucially" upon it; and
2) In the Darwinian model, there is nothing to "accumulate" -- that implies a telos and some idea of progress, neither of which have any place in Darwin's model.

So, once we take 1) and 2) into account, Ridley is just babbling pseudo-scientific rubbish, in order to give a scientific veneer to his ideas about trade.

And then I came across this piece, in which Ridley tries to make a case that it really wasn't ideas that spawned the Industrial Revolution, but "material forces":
As Gregory Clark has reminded us, it was only in the nineteenth century, when fossil fuels amplified human labor, that wages really began to rise. The rest of the world then borrowed this innovation — fossil energy — and its ability to produce increasing returns through new technology. Today the average citizen of planet earth uses fossil energy equivalent to having 150 slaves working continuous eight-hour shifts on his or her behalf. That is why we are all so rich and that is why per capita economic growth turned upwards so sharply after 1800.
As I say, a materialist explanation.
Because, as we all know, coal did not exist on our planet before 1800, at which point it  arrived from space and began mining and combusting its own bad self.

Say what?! The coal had always been there? And what was new was the fact that people had developed the technology for getting it out of the ground and making use of it? In other words, it was new ideas that were responsible for this change?

As I say, an idealistic explanation.

Is There Really a Market for...

OK, there is a company that is marketing a whole line of Mark Twain / Nikola Tesla goods "for all fans of the two geniuses that have strongly influenced our modern world."

Is it remotely possible that this is a viable product line? Now, I've never met a Mark Twain fan (no, not just someone who liked Tom Sawyer, but someone who wants to wear a Twain t-shirt), nor a Nikola Tesla fan. But this product line assumes there is a fair number of people who want both men on their t-shirt, since every product features both of them.

Have I missed a huge surge in Twain / Tesla joint fanship?

I'm Rationally Addicted!



Bob Murphy sent me:

Well, I'd Like to Read This, But...

My friends Pete Boettke and Pete Leeson have edited The Legacy of Ludwig Von Mises, which I'd like to read, except:
1) Amazon is not offering a Table of Contents, so I can't really tell if what is in it is new to me; but, more importantly...
2) The price is... wait for it... $590.

Aaargh, the pirate in me says -- my opportunity cost for buying this is 10 or 20 normally priced books.

F****n Spell Checker!

This site is pretty funny. I really like the one where some guy used the word “Badonkadonk” once, after which his phone "decided it was important and now replaces many words with [it]."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Oakeshott on Rome and America

I have reached an agreement with Imprint Academic to publish my new book, which currently has the title above, in the first half of 2012.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Doug Casey, Shining the Light on Sociopaths...

Turns it on himself:

"I’m fond of saying, 'Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the law – but be prepared to accept the consequences.'"

Yes, well, Doug, someone who regards that as the whole of the law would pretty much be... a sociopath, hey?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Discovery of the Decade? Century?

Detailed here. If this is actually as it's being reported, it is a phenomenal, science-shattering find. When thinking of a discovery with which to compare this one, I came up with SN 1572.

UPDATE: One of the paper's authors is Paul Davies!

David Gordon Reveals a Disturbing Fact

He details how, when people were not directly under the control of Rothbard, they started to think for themselves!

"There is indeed an Austrian program at George Mason, but Rothbard was proved correct. Absent his guidance, the program veered from his ideas."

I remember that L. Ron Hubbard used to complain about this all the time: as soon as he gave up direct control of any Scientology organization, people started "squirreling," meaning thinking for themselves. What bad news.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Great Glenn Greenwald

exposes Susan Molinari and Jonathan Capehart as tools:

Our "Democracy"

John Médaille pulls the covers off of it, and reveals the ugly truth underneath: "both [American] parties are really the same party with cosmetic differences for the entertainment and manipulation of the public."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Riding MetroNorth...

to work, and the conductor collecting tickets advances one row up the aisle, shouts "TICKETS!", collects them, advances one more row, and booms out "TICKETS!" once again. For every single row through the entire car.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Three-for Day!

Read my new post over at Think Markets, on scientism.

Accepting the Idea of a General Glut: A Heresy?

I've been going through Roger Garrison's absolutely wonderful Powerpoint presentations on Keynes versus Hayek (how the heck does he do all that stuff, anyway?!), and the process has brought to the fore something that has been in the back of my mind for a while now: Bob Murphy has referred to himself and me as "heretics" for concluding that a general glut is possible, contra some interpretations of Say's Law. But if we are, we are in good company, as Garrison's models allowing an economy to be "temporarily beyond the PPF" are exactly what Malthus and Sismondi were talking about back in the early nineteenth century -- it is possible for a person, or even the people making up an economy in general, to produce at "too high" a rate, in that the production will only be sold at a loss, and people later will regret having worked so much for the meagre benefits received. In fact, Roger and I, in our 2003 paper on the dot-com boom-and-bust, gave specific examples of this (as I recall!), for instance, a software engineer who worked 90-hour weeks at a dot-com startup in anticipation of huge returns when the company went public, only to regret her decision later, when the bust came and made that IPO impossible.

In any case, I thought I was doing pretty well with Powerpoint in preparing my lectures this semester, but Roger's skill blows me away. And he uses Powerpoint in what I think is the "right" way -- to add visual elements to a lecture, not to merely repeat it on screen.

Have Aliens Taken Over...

making our oven mitts? Because every time I try to buy a pair they either have no thumbs, or thumbs in the middle of the palm, so I'm thinking two alien species are exporting these here for us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Economics of... Anarchy?

I received this in the mail today:

2010 FEE Prize for best book in Austrian Economics

Peter Leeson, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics Pirates, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Third, and perhaps most importantly given the goals of the SDAE, Leeson makes an important contribution to the growing literature on the 'economics of anarchy.' This area of research attempts to understand how order can emerge in the absence of a formal state. What mechanisms facilitate interaction and cooperation where formal rules and regulations are either non-existent or dysfunctional? The power of Leeson’s analysis is to illuminate some of the mechanisms creating order where we would least expect it to emerge. Pirates, of course, were criminals—they stole from others and relied on violence where necessary. Given this, it is logical to assume that the anarchy in which pirates operated was disorderly and chaotic. In reality, however, pirate behavior was orderly and cooperative.

First of all, congratulations, Pete.

But, secondly, I am puzzled. Now, I admit that I haven't read the book yet (sorry, Pete), but I have heard Pete discuss it several times, and I must say, I don't get this talk about anarchy. What Pete describes, as far as I can tell, is that the pirates established their own government on each ship. They had laws, punishments, a captain, voting, and certainly no one was free to opt out this mini-state without emigrating -- why isn't this a story about the inevitably of government, rather than about anarchy?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Leftover Turkey Casserole

This came out very nicely:

1 lb. ziti
1 lb. leftover turkey, shredded
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 large carrots, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 chicken bullion cube
1 can cannellini
1 can stewed tomatoes
Italian gouda, Italian fontina, and asiago to taste (roughly 1/4 lb. each)
Pepper and Italian herbs to taste

Cook ziti per package instructions.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute carrots, onion, and garlic in olive oil. Sprinkle with Italian herbs and pepper. Once the carrots are softened and the onion translucent, stir in tomato paste, bullion cube, and half a cup of boiling water. Mix to make a thick sauce and then turn off heat and cover.

Rinse cannellini to remove mucus-like liquid that ships in the can.

Combine sauteed vegetables, pasta, turkey, tomatoes, and beans in casserole dish. Spread cheese out across top, then cover with foil.

Bake for 35 minutes, then remove foil and bake 10 minutes more.

Yum!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Laughing at Laffer

I recenty ran across, for the umpteenth time, a comment thread where some left-leaning person was saying, "Conservatives actually believe you can INCREASE government revenues by LOWERING taxes."

Now, if there is some conservative who thinks you can always raise revenues by lowering taxes, they are obviously nuts. (If the tax is at, say, 1%, you cannot get more revenue by lowering it to 0%.) But if some liberal thinks you can never increase revenues by lowering taxes, they are every bit as nuts. Essentially, the latter position involves the belief that price has no effect on demand. An nice example of a case where raising a tax caused revenues to plunge is the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.

Now, whether Arthur Laffer was right that, in 1980, taxes were high enough that lowering them would increase revenues is an empirical question. But the notion of the Laffer Curve, meaning that there is some level at which a decrease in taxes will raise revenues, is a simple matter of economic logic.

Monday, November 22, 2010

You Can Devise...

the most crude caricature of economism on the part of an economist you wish to make up.

But Bryan Caplan can still top you. (Hat tip to Scineram.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What Is Up...

with the new McRib commercials? It looks like the people on screen are enjoying a nice diarrhea sandwich.

Who Dat Monster?

My daughter was watching a cartoon with some space alien monsters in it. The brown one with three eyes said to the two little ice-cream-cone monsters, "Sure, your theories were all wrong, but they led you to explore and find out new things."

"Emma," I said, "is that the Karl Popper monster?"

Friday, November 19, 2010

History of Economic Thought: Marx and Menger

Here are PFDs of my PowerPoint presentations on Marx and Menger:
Marx
Menger

The presentations have a bit of animation missing from the PDFs. Feel free to employ anything you find useful for your own lectures, etc. All images are public domain according to Wikipedia. Thanks to Bob Murphy for hosting.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wicksteed on Marginalism

Some wonderful quotes from Common Sense, in which Philip Wicksteed explains marginalism as it applies to household management, brought to my attention by Sandra Peart and David Levy:
This task of home administration is not of uniform difficulty. Materfamilias will not mind who gets hold of the bread though she will exercise a general watchfulness against its being wasted, but when she has begun her first purchases of new potatoes for the year, she will be very careful to keep the dish under her own direct control and not let one of the children determine, at his own discretion, what is his proper share; for if she did there would be disproportionate gratification and disproportionate privation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How to Design a Vibrant City

NOT:

The above is a picture of Astana, Kazakhstan's new, rationalistically designed capital city. Just look at the life pouring across that central square!

(Hat-tip to Peter Hitchens.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Most Hilarious Paper Conclusion?

Here:

"It is therefore possible to undo the effects of historical circumstances, though the results in this paper indicate that this process can take several decades."

So, in other words, we can "undo" the effects of historical circumstances with... a whole bunch of other historical circumstances! But of course, to the author, liberal, capitalist democracy is not a historical condition at all, but the logical pinnacle of human life.

Let Me Knock the Ladder Out from Under Myself for You

I recently was told about a conversation in which a Popperian assured his interlocutor that, "The only valid form of reasoning is deductive reasoning, so if someone says, 'I'm not using deductive reasoning,' that means they are admitting they are using invalid reasoning."

Now, the first bit of stupidity present in this argument is that... not one bit of it is deductive! In other words, by the arguer's own argument, his argument is itself invalid.

When it comes to the practical consequences of believing such rubbish, it is difficult to know what to say. Popperians, of course, regularly employ inductive reasoning, or not one of them would be left alive today. I recall one Popperian telling me, on hearing that I was moving to Hackney (in London), "Do you have any idea what the crime rate is there?" Clearly, this Popperian thought the past crime rate in Hackney would be a good predictor of the future crime rate there, about as plainly an inductive argument as we might hope to see.

In any case, I'm presently reading Stephen Toulmin's The Uses of Argument, and he lists the following examples of problems, for each of which defending one's answer to the problem requires different "logical types" of arguments:

"who will be selected to play in the American Davis Cup team against Australia, whether Crippen was justly found guilty of the murder of his wife, whether the painter Piero della Francesca fully deserves the praise which Sir Kenneth Clark bestows upon him, whether Professor Fröhlich's of super-conductivity is really satisfactory, when the next eclipse of the moon will take place, or the exact nature of the relation between the squares on the different side of a right-angled triangle."

Now, the only one of these case for which an appropriate defense of one's answer is deductive in nature is the geometric one; presumably, our insouciant Popperian mentioned above would have to hold that any argument put forward in any of the other cases was invalid; all that one can do in any of those cases is put forward a 'bold conjecture' and see if it falsified.

How would he react if he were in Crippen's shoes, and the judge told him, as he stood in the dock, "Look, there is no deductive method of proving you guilty or not, and any other method of 'reasoning' is merely a defective attempt at deductive reasoning. So I'm just going to put out the bold conjecture that you are guilty, and have you executed. Then I'll wait to see if my conjecture is refuted"? Or what if he and I are planning to travel to Phoenix, and I tell him, "Fine, that train has gotten passengers to Arizona in the past, but that is no reason to think it will continue to do so in the future. Instead, I put forward the bold conjecture that there are magical fairies who will transport us there if we just stand here long enough, clicking our heels together and repeating, "There's no place like Phoenix; there's no place like Phoenix."

No one would entertain this nonsense for a moment but for the fact that it holds out the promise of easy answers for vexing philosophical problems. But, as we know, there ain't no easy answers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

One of Those Trick Philosophy Questions

I was attending a philosophy conference at NYU today. I arrived at the registration desk and searched for my badge. I found it, but...

"Excuse me," I told the woman working the desk, "this is my badge, but the affiliation is wrong." (They had me from Sarah Lawrence College.)

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "Is the name wrong as well?"

I think we could have had a Wittgenstein moment if I had answered, "Yes, the name and affiliation are both wrong, but I'm still sure it's my badge."

When You Live in La-La-Land

the real world looks so strange:

"By the way, according to the New York State seat belt law, Police/Fire and Ambulances (along with Taxis, Liveries, and Buses other than School Buses—I wonder what’s up with that) are exempt from having to wear seat belts. Again, control for you and me, but not for the State’s “chosen.” Or perhaps the State just doesn’t love police, firemen, EMTs, cabbies, and bus drivers as much as it loves us?"

Perhaps David Kramer is unaware of this, but New York allows anyone, even LRC writers, to ride in buses, cabs, and livery vehicles. So, the "State's chosen" turns out to be... everyone! Hurray!

The "Message" of the Elections

From Michael Kinsley:

"Everybody will be talking in the next few days about the “message” of the elections. They mean, of course, the message from the voters. This is one of the treasured conventions of political journalism. Yesterday, the story was all about artifice and manipulation, the possible effect of the latest attack ad or absurd lie. Today, all that melts away. The election results are deemed to reflect grand historical trends. But my colleague Joe Scarborough got it right in these pages last week when he argued that the 2010 elections, for all their passion and vitriol, are basically irrelevant. Some people are voting Tuesday for calorie-free chocolate cake, and some are voting for fat-free ice cream. Neither option is actually available. Neither party’s candidates seriously addressed the national debt, except with proposals to make it even worse. Scarborough might have added that neither party’s candidates had much to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (except that they “support our troops,” a flabby formulation that leaves Americans killing and dying in faraway wars that politicians won’t defend explicitly). Politicians are silent on both these issues for the same reason: There is no solution that American voters will tolerate. Why can’t we have calorie-free chocolate cake? We’re Americans!" (Hat-tip to Caleb Stegall.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Dispute and Illustrate Your Opponent's Thesis in the Same Breath

In the latest issue of The Cato Journal, Richard L. Gordon reviews The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America by Robert H. Nelson. He first asserts, contrary to the author of the book under review, that "Economic theory is not a religion..." In the very next paragraph he states, "The first is that economics is the only source of sensible appraisal of policies about the environment or other issues."

The only source?! I'd say that's a view with which a fundamentalist of any flavour could sympathize.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Continuing the War Against 'Meme'

In a rather interesting article on Islamaphobia, you can find the following:

'Zogby says President Bush may have “kept a lid on” the worst of the backlash after 9/11, however selfishly, by promoting the meme that his military invasions were not a “war on Muslims.”'

Sigh. Would there have been anything lost by using the word 'idea' in that sentence, instead of 'meme,' besides an air of trendy, pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Hold a Mirror Up to Rush Limbaugh and What Do You Get?

Rachel Maddow!

The State of Writing

From ESPN.com:

"Sanchez and the Jets, though, were explosive enough to score 10 points in the last 2:46 and on the opening drive of OT."

So they scored 10 points in the last 2:46 and another 10 on the opening drive of OT? That's a lot of points on one drive!

"Detroit got off to a good start and led for much of the game, but couldn't make enough winning plays on both sides of the ball to snap New York's seven-game winning streak on the road."

Not only could Detroit not make "enough" winning plays, they couldn't make any. Because, you know, if you make a winning play, you win. And they didn't win.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

James Surowiecki

on procrastination and akrasia in The New Yorker.

St. Paul, Rejecting Methodological Individualism (and Holism)

For a dynamic, dialectical view of the relationship between individual and society:

“to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all... For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body... When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. Or when one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." (12:7-12:26)

(Hat tip to Patrick J. Deneen.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

IHTS

Oh boy. I'm five pages into Fodor and Piatelli-Palmarini's What Darwin Got Wrong and they have already introduced five entirely gratuitous acronyms, so that I'm reading sentences like (and here I exaggerate a little, but very little, for effect), "If we are correct that in ET, NS is separable from GS and, in its reliance on S-R, analogous to OT, then our case is made."

Why, oh why, do analytical philosophers write like this?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Inexplicable NFL Calls

The Vikings had the ball with a handful of seconds left in the first half. They tried a long bomb to Randy Moss. He caught it, but got called for pass interference. The Vikings then let the clock run out, although they had time for two more bombs.

One of the announcers was so puzzled that she went and asked Minnesota's head coach about it at halftime. His explanation? "We decided we were going to take one shot at it."

That's an explanation?! That describes what they did, but certainly does not explain it. You just saw Randy Moss could beat his defender. Why not let him try again? (And Moss agreed with me: He was clearly exasperated when the Vikings ran out the clock.) I see teams do this a lot. But why isn't it a straight probability calculation: Yes, there is some chance a bomb will be intercepted and returned for a touchdown, but isn't that a miniscule probability compared to the (still tiny) chance that your team will score?

Also: Brett Favre is done. Stick a fork in him. His desire to be the hero is destroying him. Both recent interceptions (I write this in Q 3) never should have been thrown at all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aristotle the Utopian

Having assigned my students a paper on Aristotle's economic thought, I was shocked to see how many of them characterized the Philosopher as "utopian" and "an idealist." I puzzled over this until I realized the cause: Any check, moral or legal, on acquisitiveness is seen by young people today as utopian! They cannot conceive that acquiring a certain amount of wealth, while often necessary to living a good life, is not sufficient; for them the good life simply is getting lots of stuff.

Markets are wonderful tools that promote allocative efficiency. But this is what happens when markets are allowed to run untrammeled over society: instead of being properly understood as tools, the tools are worshipped as ends in and of themselves. The moneychangers don't just have a booth in the temple; they are now the priests running it.

The Wellspring of Religious Tolerance

I was thinking about a recent post by Bob Murphy when I came across this:

"Since no name can apprehend the divine, or exhaust its meaning, it can therefore be conceded, on the other hand, that all names, in so far as they proceed from a genuine religious conviction and are conscious of their limited and mediate capacity, may be assured of a certain relationship to the divine. Thus apparent scepticism first opens the way to variety, freedom and scope in moral and religious ways of life, and transfers the centre of religious 'truth' from gogma to the ways of life themselves. Henceforth, neither variety nor contradiction in religion need give offence." -- Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England (Cassirer is here discussing the work of Nicolas of Cusa.)

Thus, religious tolerance and a frank admiration for religious diversity can be based not just upon a wishy-washy reluctance to hurt anyone's feelings, but also upon a sophisticated acknowledgement of the fact that we are talking about the ineffable, and it just can't be effed the way subway directions to the Bronx can be simply right or wrong. ("No, if you follow those directions, you will wind up on Staten Island.") From this point of view, asking "Which is the correct religion?" is somewhat like asking "What is the correct style of music?"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our Boys

During WWII, a large flight of planes took off from two aircraft carriers. While they were away, one was sunk. Too many planes returned. When the hold was filled, the crew started tipping planes over the side so that others could land. This was duly reported in the stateside press, with the editorialization that this illustrated how much value our army put on the lives of our fighting men. Why did Martin, who told me this story, laugh?

How to (Subtly) Lie with Statistics

Look, I suspect the main thesis of this article is spot-on: Americans are less connected to their communities than they were a generation or two ago. But note the bogus maneuver executed in this paragraph:

"Moreover, the current that Putnam observed has, according to more recent studies, only intensified in the last decade. One study found that Americans had one-third fewer nonfamily confidants than they had 20 years earlier, and 25% had no one in whom to confide whatsoever. Another study of 3,000 Americans found that on average they had only four close social contacts, but these included family members like one's own spouse."

The theme of the paragraph is how Americans' isolation has "intensified in the last decade." And then several studies are cited to back that point. But, in fact, the last study cited, on its own, is totally irrelevant to the point at hand. It only describes the current state of American society, and gives us absolutely no traction for answering the question "Does this state of society represent an intensification of the trend Putnam observed?" Perhaps a decade ago, Americans had, on the average, only two close social contacts, so that this statistic represents a reversal of the "current" that Putnam observed. Now, I'm not saying that is the case: I'm only pointing out that a statistic that is essentially a static snapshot cannot tell us anything about the direction of a dynamic process, and that this author either was too dull to realize this or was deliberately bullshitting us by including it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When Primate Experts Try to Ape Philosophy

Yikes, the results are ugly. Let's start with this:

"For those who believe that morality comes straight from God the creator, acceptance of evolution would open a moral abyss."

Yes, is why the Catholic Church has refused to accept evolution all these... Wait, say what? The Catholic Church never rejected Darwin's theories, and now fully accepts that humans evolved from primates? And what, St. Augustine actually anticipated Darwin by some 1400 years?

Oh, never mind.

OK, but what about this little proof of the (basic) irrelevance of God to morality?

"Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked social norms before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal? Humans must have worried about the functioning of their communities well before the current religions arose, which is only a few thousand years ago. Not that religion is irrelevant — I will get to this — but it is an add-on rather than the wellspring of morality."

So, if someone proposed to de Waal that gravity is essential to our bodies staying planted on the earth, I suppose his comeback would be, "Ha! Humans stayed on the surface of the earth long before Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity! So gravity is at most an add-on."

And he goes on to show that many animals exhibit forms of what we would consider moral behaviour. Which goes to show that God can't be the root of moral behaviour, since, as religious people admit, animals have nothing to do with God. Or, as de Waal puts it:

"I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today."

Yes, and it is clear that animal life doesn't depend on oxygen either, since oxygen was only discovered in the 1790s, and animal life existed long before then!

In short, de Waal has thoroughly confused the proposition "Morality springs from God" with the proposition "Morality springs from the idea of God."

What a muddle!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sir Isaac Newton, Part-Time Scientist

(I just found this in a comment and thought it should appear at the top level in the blog.)

Newton's priorities, in descending order of importance, seemed to be:

1) Perform dangerous alchemical experiments;
2) Work out odd theories of biblical exegesis;
3) Scheme to get his way within the Royal Society;
4) Run the mint;
5) Engage in priority disputes over 6) and 7);
6) Physical research, including other dangerous experiments such as inserting sharp needles deep into his eye socket; and
7) Mathematical research.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How's That, Chuck?

There is presently a controversy over counting absentee ballots from military personnel in New York -- details unimportant for our purposes. Chuck Schumer came on TV to comment on it, and said (I quote from memory) "These young men and women are fighting for our right to vote, and it's wrong to deny them theirs."

Ah, yes, Chuck, so the main platform of the Taliban is to deny American citizens the vote, is it?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Isn't Amazing...

how the evolutionary junta have no problem spouting off on philosophy (often, as in the case of Dawkins, really, really badly), but when a philosopher comments on the philosophy of evolutionary theory, throw a fit?

From the post:
"Of course, Fodor is not the first author to be on the receiving end of this “argument from professional jurisdiction.” This is the first rhetorical tick of any Darwinian when their theories are challenged; instantly, they complain that the critic has not properly understood evolutionary theory, and loudly lament the intrusion of the unscientific mind upon such topics."

The Presidential Election of 2008...

says something great about the spirit of the American people. To elect another Irishman so soon after Reagan was truly a healing gesture:

Instead of Working for Actually Possible Improvements...

it's more fun, and much, much easier, to sit back and dump on those who do!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Conoscete che cosa mi importuna?

I menu di DVD, quello è che cosa mi importuna. Sono progettati dalla gente che non ha utilizzato mai un computer? Il modo che queste cose dovrebbero lavorare è stato sistemato gli anni fa!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Holy Crap!

I walked out on the porch in PA last night. When I turned the corner of the house I found myself face to face with:


(This photo was taken after I scooted back inside, out the second floor window.) Although you can only see two in this photo, there were three -- one guy was busy digging up my newly planted daffodils in the front.

The worst part of the whole episode is that they pulled my pants off the clothesline... and pissed on them! Thems fightin' actions!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Cie

Slex voana irre menenthoushelie ktasthoeithadnrmen. De se sre naihk doeloeketrietie.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Signs of the Times


Man, for $25 I want my dinner post-fixed, not pre-fixed.


What?! You don't have a honey, luggage, and clothing store near you? What do you wear?

My Breakthrough Invention

So, my friend Gerry Scott and I are talking about how people wander around in a mobile-device-addiction haze. He said this very morning he saw someone step right in front of a city bus while texting on their iPhone. The guy behind him caught his collar and yanked the hapless pedestrian out of the way... and the fellow turned on his saviour and yelled, "What the hell are you doing?"

Gerry intervened, and said, "You were almost killed there, buddy -- you stepped right in front of a bus."

Gerry said the guy was stunned -- he had had no idea a bus was nearby. Which leads to my multi-million dollar invention: an IPhone app that alerts you when something is about to hit you. That way, you never, ever have to look up. You already have text there, sports scores, weather, your current location, voice mail, e-mail, and that beautiful sunset in the distance, why, you have a screensaver just like that! If I can just make this little app that flashes up and says, "Step back immediately!" or "Duck!" you're good to go.

Difficoltà che aggiunge le osservazioni

Blogger sembra incontrare difficoltà con l'aggiunta delle vostre osservazioni. Ci scusiamo.

(Trouble adding comments, mates.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Il genio di Hegel

"The only difference between being caught up in a system of opinions and prejudices based on personal conviction, and being caught up in one based on the authority of others, lies in the added conceit that is innate in the former position."

"The conceit which understands how to belittle every truth, in order to turn back into itself and gloat over its own understanding, which knows how to dissolve every thought and always find the same barren Ego instead of any content -- this is a satisfaction which we must leave to itself, for it flees the universal, and seeks only to be for itself."

Meanwhile, Here in the World of Actually Existing Capitalism

Our insurance company was disputing with us about where we lived (Brooklyn or Pennsylvania). Finally, we seemed to convince the person on the phone that the car is in Pennsylvania enough of the time that we qualify for insurance there. We were all set -- we thought.

The next we heard from them, it was a notice saying our insurance had been cancelled -- for several months! So, we called to sort this out. The lady on the phone explained that it was the fault of vague notes taken during the previous conversation, and our insurance would be restored.

"So," she added, "what we'll do is give you retroactive coverage for the time you had no insurance, and you can pay for that."

"But why," I asked, "do I need retroactive coverage, when I think there is little chance I will have a retroactive accident?"

"Well, otherwise, you'd have a break in coverage, and we'd have to charge you a lot more to restore your coverage."

"You mean, because you accidentally cancelled my coverage, I will have to pay a lot to have it restored, unless I now pay you for the time you weren't actually covering me?"

"Yes, that's right."

Ah, sweet freedom whispered in my ear, "You're a butterfly."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hey, Progressives...

are you a little bothered by Obama ordering hits on US citizens, and that, as Greenwald notes, "not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality"?

The Idea of a Pciture

Staring out the frames of the windows at my campus library yesterday, I wondered, "Did we get the idea of a picture from staring out of a cave and seeing a 'snapshot' of the world framed in the cave entrance? Is it a coincidence that the first painting appear amongst people who dwelt in caves?"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Do You Know About...

the Battle of Plassey, in which a private company fought the ruler of Bengal and used its victory to gain rule over the subcontinent of India! But... but... I thought private companies only engaged in voluntary transactions, and only governments conquered territories!

Might and Meaning

Might and Meaning

The mood took me over the hill,
Giving me some suchness to consider,
But I didn't. Fuck suchness, and fuck
The almighty God-worn meaning.

I honor those who study meaning;
That is a lost cause, for meaning
Cannot be rectified, no matter what
Your lexicographers are telling you,

O mighty one. Speaking of meaning,
I didn't mean this to be an appeal
To you for support, O mighty one,
But now that it is, please give generously.

Can we not describe this differently,
O mighty one? I shall of course
Lie however blatantly you desire,
O mighty one. But, if I may presume,

Think of your subject public: it may not matter
What they think, but their collective fear
Is like smog, and, as for smog,
Can be wiped away with good rule.

Why We're Fat

Jim Henley explains that it's the scum at CNN.

What Is So Austrian About Austrian Economics?

I'm really starting to like Emerald Publishing -- it seems like they're intending to publish several papers of mine per week. Today, we have The role of ideal types in Austrian business cycle theory.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Malthus and Sismondi Were Thinking re a General Glut

So, now that I think I understand what these folks were thinking about, thanks to Thomas Sowell's On Classical Economics, let me describe the sort of scenario I believe that they had in mind.

Imagine Bob Murphy, Silas Barta and I are living on a desert island. First Bob and I set Silas adrift at sea on a small raft while he's sleeping. (Just kidding, Silas! We love you, man.) Then we set about catching fish from the island's lagoon with our rough-hewn spears. In three hours a day, we each catch about five or six fish, enough to feed us well. Then we spend the rest of the day discussing teleology.

One day, Silas says, "Guys, we don't work that much. We could really increase our productivity if we worked six hours a day." Bob and I reluctantly go along. That day, we each catch a dozen fish, but are too tired to discuss teleology.

We each eat six of the fish and feel decently full. We eat three more each, and now we're stuffed. We take our last three and bury them in the sand, thinking perhaps they'll make the soil more fertile. Then we talk about the increased work load, and all decide, "Man, that just wasn't worth it! It was better when we had more leisure time to discuss teleology."

We just had a general glut. Now, according to Sowell, Malthus and Sismondi understood that we could get rid of all of our production at some price, for instance, the "price" we receive in more fertile soil for burying some of the fish, i.e., we sold our all of our product, but at a loss. The problem is that price isn't sufficient to prompt us to continue that level of production. They also both realized that with better technology, a new production possibilities frontier would emerge, and what once represented a glut would no longer do so. (For instance, if Bob, Silas and I had pans for extracting sea salt from the ocean through evaporation, we might have salted four or five of the fish we caught, and eaten our preserved catch later when we spent a day making fishing nets instead of fishing.)

Does this really happen in an advanced economy? Good question. But, at the least, it's now clear to me that Malthus and Sismondi were not talking theoretical nonsense, as Mill and later Rothbard contended. A general glut, as they defined it, is certainly a theoretical possibility.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

There's Thinking, Then There's Thinking...

I was watching The Visitor (a movie that starts with an economist leaving Connecticut to present a paper at NYU -- at first I thought it might be a movie about Bill Butos), which turned out to be a very nice movie, despite being about feelings. But there was one scene where the younger Syrian drummer who is a major character is giving the economist drum lessons, and he says to him: "Walter, you're a very smart guy, but I have to tell you, don't think. Thinking only gets in the way of drumming."

Man, the errors one can fall into through a lack of study of British Idealist philosophers! You hear the same thing regarding athletics, and its equally wrong in both areas. Having had some minor success as a musician and a swimmer, I can say you perform best when you are thinking intensively, exclusively, about your playing or swimming. But you have to be thinking musically or swimmingly, and not thinking abstract, verbal thoughts about playing or swimming. That's what's really meant by these admonitions "Don't think!" It is confusing thinking tout court with abstract, verbal reasoning that leads to this mistake. If only these people had read more Oakeshott, they wouldn't make these errors. In fact, perhaps they should read Oakeshott while drumming, since they don't need to think while playing!

Say What, Murray?

I am reading Thomas Sowell's On Classical Economics, which I have thoroughly enjoyed so far. He was describing the debate between J.B. Say, on one side, and Thomas Malthus and Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi, on the other, over Say's Law. Sowell notes that these critics of Say's Law never suggested the possibility of a "permanent glut," but merely that there is an equilibrium level of aggregate income, and production might overshoot that at times. But John Stuart Mill never bothered to read Malthus or Sismondi on this point (he thought his father and Say had decisively refuted them, so there was no need), and he falsely attributed to them the idea of the permanent glut.

"Hmm," I said to myself, "a vulgar, popular distortion of the ideas of economists who might appear to be market critics? I bet I know who gleefully repeated that!" So I pulled Rothbard's Classical Economics off of the shelf, and... man, I think I'm four-for-four in these bets now. Not only does Rothbard attribute the permanent glut idea to Say's critics, but he goes further in doing a little character assassination of Sismondi. He calls him a "socialist" -- Sowell, who has actually read Sismondi, reports, "While Sismondi accepted laissez-faire as a principle, he opposed it as a dogma" -- in other words, he was some sort of mild interventionist. Rothbard then relates a little tale to make Sismondi appear "dotty": he says that to guard against over-production he deliberately employed very incompetent workers on his farm. Now, that smells like the kind of tale a critic makes up to satirize an opponent's views, not like reality. So where did Rothbard discover this? There is no reference at all! As long as it makes Rothbard's target look bad, who needs references?

But I've saved the punchline for the end: Rothbard describes how Say's counter-arguments crushed Malthus and Sismondi, so that since that time, Say's Law has been "challenged only by cranks and crackpots." So, guess who one of those cranks (whom Rothbard does not mention) was?

J.B. Say! That's right: in his later works, as Sowell documents, Say admitted that Malthus and Sismondi were correct, and a general glut is a possibility.

I'm starting to think that, since Rothbard claims Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, I'd better double check that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Well, You Get Wabulon, Don't You?

As explained here.

Instituting a Government of Laws, Not Men

Is an attempt to replace human beings with "political machinery."

The Private Security Guard Is Not Your Friend

There has, of late, been a spate of Internet writing maintaining that "the policeman is not your friend."

Well, a listen a what me a see. I was book shopping at Waterstone's in Cardiff, checking out the "Staff Picks" near the front of the store. I noticed a couple of security guards furtively peering out upon the public square beyond the storefront and talking on their Secret-Service headsets. This got my attention. I paid for my book and went out and took a seat in the square. I sat down and pretended to read while I watched the action. There were three 12-year-olds being plenty furtive themselves, hiding behind trees, peeking at some bicycles. (I had heard security say, "They're going to take the orange one," and there was, indeed, an orange bike, so I knew I had my "men.") I stared at the obvious ringleader and shook my head a bit. Rather than getting my message, that he'd been spotted and should back off, he stared back and said, "What the fuck you lookin' at?" I shrugged my shoulders and thought, "You, getting arrested."

A minute later, with a fairly smooth move, he used the orange bike as a lever to break its own chain, and hopped on it to ride off. Well, he was going for about 20 feet when security converged on him from three different shops. (That's how stupidly, obviously suspicious these kids were acting.) The first guy who reached the kid was about 6'2'' and 200 pounds or so. He hooked the 5'2'', 100 pound pre-teen under the chin with his arm, lifting him off the bike by his neck. Then he slammed him into the pavement. Another guy jumped on the kid's back and shoved his face against the tarmac. He then dragged the kid's hands behind his back, as if he were about to handcuff him, perhaps forgetting that, being private security, he had no handcuffs. Finally, realizing the absolute pointlessness (in terms of an arrest, anyway) of holding someone on the ground in the place-the-cuffs-on position when you have no cuffs, he and a couple of other of the "arresting officers" dragged the kid off.

It is hard for me to imagine that this kid wouldn't have had a far less violent arrest if it had been a couple of bobbies in the square instead. I suppose if you entirely ignore the behavior of private security forces, like the gangs of mercenaries that roamed the countryside in the Middle Ages, like private security in Iraq, the actions of bar bouncers, such as the one who murdered Jaco Pastorius, the drug cartels terrorizing Mexico, the Mafia, etc., etc., then you might be able to convince yourself that the problem all comes down to "the State." (Make a suitably frightening noise here.)

But if it becomes difficult to sustain this willful blindness, here, I think, is a more reasonable summary of our situation:

1) Society needs a warrior class.
2) That warrior class easily can itself become a danger to society, whether that class is paid through public or private funds. It's just the nature of the beast. These are people with a propensity for violence, after all.

Easy answers? Ain't no easy answers, not even precisely obeying the precepts of Spencer, Mises, and Hayek.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Winning Reliever Signs Adam's Ball





Adam Interviewed by NY1





Stupid Willow Tree

Stupid Willow Tree

Stupid willow tree, your branches hang
Down upon the muddy swampland,
And I thrust myself into the situation,
Wondering what it means
To look like a shower of rain.

In this dark water, like ghosts,
Willow trees and their kin
Add to the beautiful confusion
Where no one can know
What actually happened.

Who cares? The sight is seen, the shallow
Green water conceals nothing. And then?
Onward into the next bayou. And then?

One Kiloyear

One Kiloyear

One millisecond = one kiloyear divided by twenty-nine trillion four hundred and ninety-one billion two hundred million.

One centisecond = one kiloyear divided by two trillion nine hundred and forty-nine billion one hundred and twenty million.

One decisecond = one kiloyear divided by two hundred and ninety-four billion nine hundred and twelve million.

One second = one kiloyear divided by twenty-nine billion four hundred and ninety-one million two hundred thousand.

One dekasecond = one kiloyear divided by two billion nine hundred and forty-nine million one hundred and twenty thousand.

One hectosecond = one kiloyear divided by two hundred and ninety-four million nine hundred and twelve thousend.

One kilosecond = one kiloyear divided by twenty-nine million four hundred and ninety-one thousand two hundred.

One myriasecond = one kiloyear divided by two million nine hundred and forty-nine thousand one hundred and twenty.

God Visits Hell

God Visits Hell

God, in the Person of Jesus,
Harrowed Hell. Does He ever go back?
If He doesn't, what's the difference
Between a billion and a trillion?
Stupid priests: After awhile, how can
Longer and more be worse?
That's hardly eternal suffering;
That's just eternity--not the same.
Here's suffering: God calls down,
"Can you meet Me for dinner?"
Once every millisecond,
Or every thousand years, for ever
And ever. That's suffering. Stupid priests,
May your drabs be dragged in God's mud.

Good news!

Our financial masters have finally succeeding in stopping the loss of low-wage jobs to India, China, etc. By making the population of the US rust belt as poor as third-worlders, they can now practice near-sourcing!

Friday, September 10, 2010

It Don't Mean That!

It's amazing how many people have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that you can criticize an argument independently of whether you think the conclusion is sound. If someone says, "I believe the earth is round, because I like round things, and I like the earth!" they've presented a terrible argument. If you point that out to them, it's nonsense for them to come back with, "Ah, so you believe the earth is flat!"

Racial Feud

Is perhaps an alternate name for the TV game show Family Feud, since every single time I've seen it, it features a black family against a white family. I even caught the French version the other night, and the French, not reluctant to follow us in this regard, also had a white versus black match.

Silence Is Goulden

Just finished Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life, his description of the Cambrian explosion and what he sees as the philosophical implications arising from those distant events. The science writing is very good, although I understand his conclusions are still disputed.

But when Gould goes to draw the "implications" of the events he describes, what we get is typical scientistic nonsense. For instance, Gould contends that the very long time life has existed on Earth compared to the very short time, relatively speaking, that humans have existed demonstrates that the telos of life cannot been to have create humans. Yes, and I suppose if we can show that a composer spent twenty years composing, and then comes out with a one hour symphony, this demonstrates that the purpose of all that composing could not possibly have been the symphony, since the composing lasted so much longer than the symphony!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Source of Science

"There is but one source for science: It must come from the Medieval insistence on the rationality of God." -- Alfred North Whitehead

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Judgement Goes with Instinct

"True eloquence has no time for eloquence, true morality has no time for morality. In other words, the morality of judgement has no time for the random morality of mind.

"For judgement is what goes with instinct, just as knowledge goes with mind. Intuition falls to the lot of judgmement, mathematics to that of mind." -- Pascal, Pensées

UPDATE: I think Pascal is basically correct, but I would put this a little differently: I would say that instinct is a form of thought, and what he calls "mind" I would term "abstract thought."

Those Curious French Folks

In my hotel room there are two sinks and a shower. Both sinks are next to dispensers of hair and body wash. The only hand wash I can find is... in the shower!

Also of note: The handles by which one opens the shower doors are not knobs but... holes. Now, I´m not one of those freedom fries people, but this is clearly an instance where, say, a Brooklyn construction manager would have come in handy: "Listen, Jean Pierre Avantgarde, do you realize the purpose of them friggin doors is to keep the water in the shower, and if youse cuts holes in em, youse defeatin the point?"

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Positive Externality...

from trying to speak French in Paris: Lots and lots of free language lessons!

The Global Position of English

Who could have predicted, in, say 1300, that English would be the most widely spoken language in the world in a few hundred years? At that point the language was not only spoken on just one medium-sized island. It was also just one of the four major languages of that island (which included Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish), and it was not even the language of the rulers of the English people themselves. (They spoke Norman French.)

Insomniac TV News

* The UK seems to have a show on that consists entirely in showing people sleeping. It was on two channels throughout much of the night.

* An announcer on the BBC show Breakfast said, "And in disturbing news, it seems that four out of every ten victims of domestic violence are men." I was very unclear about what he found "disturbing" -- is it more women or more men he thinks should be victims?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Internet Explorer: It Still Blows!

I am forced to use Internet Explorer 8 right now, because that is what Manchester Metropolitcan University has installed, and man, is it still awful. Crash Landing's new fonts look miserable. Both Crash Landing and blogger.com repeatedly crash the browser. Me.com runs like molasses. I have used Firefox, Safari, and Chrome at all these sites, and none of them crash, and they all run snappily. I am stunned that the eigth version of a Microsoft product can be so bad.

But I shouldn't be: Word after 20 years still can't get styles right, and, as far as I know, Microsoft still hasn't figured out that the command line window should have scroll bars!

The Battle of the Historical Myths

One guy writes that Glenn Beck teaches "his viewers the much-debunked idea that America's creation was rooted in Christianity." In response, another guy writes that it was so founded on Christianity.

But no serious scholar of the period agrees with either of these disputants. The American Founding was along-simmered stew containing a variety of ingredients, amongst which 1) classical republicanism, 2) non-conformist Protestant ideology, and 3) Deist-tending Enlightenment philosophy were the most potent. Of course, any partisan can dig up a bunch of quotes from 2) and "demonstrate" that we are a Christian nation, or, from 3), to "debunk" that claim.

And neither side, I'd guess, has any interest in hearing the truth. "Well, it's complicated," is not a position that can easily be turned into propaganda to hurl at your political foes.

A Confession

I, too, thought of sacking Gordon Brown in 2004, and began drinking to put up with him.

What Further Evidence Could One Want?

From the front page of today's Metro:

"This picture of a cuasually dressed [British Foreign Secretary] Mr. Hague with adviser Christopher Myers fuelled rumours of an affair."

He was dressed casually while he was with the guy?! Well, that's that, then.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stop Gramercy Green!

as Roderick Long declares we must.

"The Stagirite"? "Onassis"?

I called a used bookstore and asked if they had a copy of Aristotle's Politics.

The clerk on the line asked, "Can you spell his last name for me?"

So, what would you prefer: A highly informed psychopath or someone uninformed, but very pleasant?

UPDATE: OK, so I'm living in a Seinfeld episode. I go out to buy the book I need, and then walk into the health food store next door... and there's the guy from Atlantic Bookshop! And he recognize me, but only as some customer, and not the phone confrontation guy! Ah! If only I had Kramer with me, we could have cooked up some excellent stunt that would have backfired and cost us $500.

Stavo Leggendo...

questo rapporto da ABC News, quando ho notato qualche cosa di interessante: Tutti quattro contributori sono donne. "And the times they are a' changin'."

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Non È Sempre L'ignoranza Economica...

[English follows.]

Quello è dietro le critiche del mercato. Per esempio, consideri Karl Polanyi, un uomo che ha conosciuto molto bene il suoi Mises e Hayek. E Polanyi non nega mai gli argomenti di Mises e di Hayek riguardo alla efficienza del mercato. Invece, si contende che questo efficienza viene ad un tal prezzo che gli esseri umani sempre ribelleranno ed agiranno per ostacolare il mercato. Ed è d'accordo con Mises e Hayek che tali manovre distruggono il buon funzionamento del mercato. Nota semplicemente che l'alternativa è che il mercato distrugge la società umana.

*******

It is not always ignorance of economics that is behind market critics. For example, consider Karl Polanyi, who knows his Mises and Hayek well. And Polanyi does not deny the arguments of Mises and Hayek regarding the efficiency of the market. Instead, he contends that this efficiency comes at such a high price that humans always rebel and act to hinder the market. And he is in accord with Mises and Hayek that such maneuvers destroy the smooth working of the market. He simply notes that the alternative is to have the market destroy human society.

The Mind of a Muslim-Hater, Such As It Is...

Just saw this circulating on Facebook:

"I tend to not be tolerable of people who's religion tells them to kill me."

And I tend to be not tolerabable of people whose isn't able to form gud English sentences.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

OK, Blogger Has Been Having Some Severe Troubles Today

For ten minutes, I was totally shut out of posting or commenting on my own blog. And now, attempting to post a comment, I keep getting a message saying that, "The requested URL is too large." What the hell is that supposed to mean? There is no URL in my post at all.

Ah, actually existing capitalism...

Another View of the History of Economic Thought

When I read my friend Pete Boettke's syllabus for his history of economic thought course (there is a link to the syllabus in the post) and compared it to mine, I found the difference fascinating. The way I'd characterize it is that Pete is teaching an economist's history of economic thought, while I'm teaching a philosopher's history of economic thought. As I see it, Pete is teaching economists-in-training the history of their subject that is most relevant to their discipline as it is currently practiced, while I am looking at thinkers irrelevant from that point of view because I am trying to locate the place of economics in human knowledge as a whole. Both approaches, I think, are valid, and, given that Pete is training professional economists and not philosophers, his strikes me as appropriate for his setting. I just found the difference interesting.

By the way, given that Pete's post is a defense of the study of the history of thought, it led me to recall sitting in the faculty dining room at LSE with Pete and a good portion of the LSE economics department in 2004, and hearing one of the faculty members present declare that "A progressive discipline forgets its history." I think that view is very short-sighted. It is true that one can be a competent worker at what Kuhn would call "normal science" and know little of the history of one's discipline. But the scientists who formulate breakthrough ideas almost always know their history -- Newton, for instance, credited his discovery of the calculus to looking back to the ancient Greeks and ignoring the work of the modern "bunglers in analysis" who practiced algebra! Since a newer theory is always devised to solve problems in an older theory, I'd say that one cannot fully understand current theory unless one knows what problems it was intended to solve, and that means knowing history.

Lady Liberty Is the Target...

on several approach shots.

Competing, Non-Territorial Defense Agencies

Existed for several hundred years. The structure in which they existed is today called "the feudal system."

How did it work out? The agencies were continually fighting each other. Quite often, the way they fought was to try to kill as many of the clients of another agency as possible, so as to convince them that the agency they were with was terrible. But it was difficult to get the clients to defect, as often their own defense agency held them as virtual slaves (called "serfs"). The violence was so brutal and widespread that it led to the Peace of God movement.

So, let's try that again!

UPDATE: By the way, I understand: The competing defense agencies in your imagination don't behave anything like those nasty real ones did! Why, the imaginary ones, for instance, would never dream of enslaving their own clients, because... because, well, they'd look in The Ethics of Liberty, and it wouldn't be in there!

I have been reassured similarly by many Marxists that the Marxist utopias in their imaginations are nothing like the USSR.

What Are Those Things on My Shelves?

Those slim volumes of bound paper with words printed all over them? I can't say.

Worst Financial Commentary Ever?

When I worked at a hedge fund, the taders were constantly mocking the "explanations" for price movements being offered in the financial press. But today I saw perhaps the "best" "explanation" I have encoutered. I don't think CNN offers an embed link to this video -- and once you listen to the pearls of financial wisdom, you'll understand why. Explaining the reason gold prices are rising, Carter Evans reveals the secrets of high finance:

"[Gold is going up] because the amount of gold can actually be accounted for whereas stocks and paper currency are really just a representation."

So there you have it folks: gold is going up because there is no possible way of knowing just how much IBM stock there is out there, while for gold, we know the exact quantity to the ounce, even of the undiscovered bits still in the ground.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Semiotics and GUI Design

In an effort to keep track of old material, I again link to the new location of Semiotics and GUI Design.

Our Wise Leaders!

Wow, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions thinks "the founders" wrote the 14th amendment -- in 1868! Those were some longed-lived dudes!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
You're Welcome - Constitutional Crisis
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

To be fair, Jon Stewart is being a little silly in his comments, though. Of course, someone can both:
1) Be for a strict enforcement of the Constitution; but
2) Think it should be amended.

(Hat tip to the Murphmeister for the link.)

Quando è che sto lavorando?

A volte è una domanda difficile. Per esempio, stavo "surfing" Facebook un momento fa, quando ho trovato una grande citazione per utilizzare in una carta di miei. Stavo lavorando o fare lo stupido?

La Società Tollerante e Pacifica di Libertario

"As soon as mature members of society habitually express acceptance or even advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy (majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members, and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively and, in the case of continued nonconformity, exclude and ultimately expel these members from society. In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society." -- Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God That Failed

(Molte grazie a Daniel McCarthy per rimettere questo alla mia attenzione.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Il Ruolo del Dittatore nella Repubblica Romana

Bob Murphy mi ha dato un tempo difficile per la mia approvazione dell'ufficio del dittatore nella Repubblica romana. Gli ho detto di imparare che cosa questo ufficio era nella repubblica. Ma, dato che è poco disposto a agire in tal modo, descriverò il modo che l'ufficio ha funzionato qui.

La dittatura era un ufficio temporaneo e limitato nel Repubblica romana. Il senato ha nominato un dittatore per indirizzare una singola crisi. Per esempio, quando Hannibal stava seminando la distruzione in tutto l'Italia, il senato ha nominato un dittatore per occuparsi del problema di Hannibal. Non è stato autorizzato ad approvare le nuove leggi per quanto riguarda il furto o a pavimentare una nuova strada da Roma a Firenze. Quando la crisi è stata finita, così erano le potenzi del dittatore.

Noti bene che cosa questo ufficio ha impedetto: il "ratchet effect" descritto da Bob Higgs nel Crisis and Leviathan. È vero che tardi nella repubblica questo ufficio è stato abusato, per esempio, da Sulla e da Caesar. (Sulla si è nominato dictator legibus faciendis et rei publicae constituendae causa, e Caesar si è nominato dittatore per vita.) E allora? Ma da quel punto ogni ufficio nella repubblica stava abusando.

*******

Bob Murphy has been giving me a difficult time about my approval of the office of dictator in the Roman Republic. I have told him to study what this office was in the republic, but, since he is recalcitrant, I will write it up here:

The dictator was a limited and temporary office in the Republic. The Senate appointed a dictator to deal with a single crisis. For example, when Hannibal was rampaging through Italy, the Senate nominated a dictator to deal with the problem of Hannibal. He was not authorized to pass new laws about robbery or have a road paved from Rome to Florence. When the crisis was over, so were the dictator's powers.

Notice what this prevents: the "ratchet effect" described by Bob Higgs in Crisis and Leviathan. It is true that late in the Republic this office was abused, by Sulla, who had himself appointed "dictator over the laws and constitution," and Caesar, who had himself appointed dictator for life. So what? By that point, all offices were being abused!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

La Differenza fra Oakeshott e Hayek su Razionalismo

(With a special section for Bob at the end.)

Mentre stavo leggendo Vernon Smith sulla "constructivist rationality" e "environmental rationality," ho diventare cosciente della differenza profonda fra Hayek (e Smith) e Oakeshott quando discutono il razionalismo.

Per esempio, Smith scrive, "constructivist" razionalismo avversario, "think of institutions as algorithms..." ma questo è precisamente che cosa Oakeshott significa da razionalismo. Per Oakeshott, la differenza fra razionalismo ed il suo opposto non è uno fra le regole coscienti ed incoscienti, ma uno fra la comprensione corretta che l'attività precede le regole e la comprensione incorretta che l'attività è formulato secondo le regole. Per Oakeshott, le regole sono le astrazioni da attività che necessariamente precede le regole.. Per Hayek e Smith, le regole guidano sempre l'attività, ed è semplicemente un aspetto di se quelle regole sono coscienti o incoscienti. E la ragione Oakeshott può concepire il problema al modo che fa è a causa del suo idealismo filosofico.

*****

For Bob:

While reading Vernon Smith on "constructivist rationality" and "environmental rationality," I have become aware of the profound difference between Hayek (and Smith) and Oakeshott when they discuss rationalism.

For example, Smith writes, against constructivist rationalism, "think of institutions as algorithms..." but this is precisely the kind of thing Oakeshott means by rationalism. For Oakeshott, the difference between rationalism and its opposite is not between conscious and unconscious rules, but one between the correct understanding that activity always precedes rules and the incorrect view that activity is formulated according to rules. For him, rules are abstracted from activity that necessarily precedes the rules. For Hayek and Smith, rules always dictate activity, and it is simply a matter of whether the rules are conscious or unconscious. And the reason Oakeshott can conceive the problem in his terms is his philosophical idealism.

An orgy

“The advancement of science and the rationality of politics are interwoven in a social process that, in the perspective of a more distant f...