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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.)