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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Libertarians Are So Worked Up About Abortion Rights

It is puzzling that so many libertarian thinkers get so worked up if you suggest the obvious fact that abortion is, you know, killing, and that the fetus has not been liberated from anything but life. (There are, of course, refreshing exceptions to this rule.)

The reason, I believe, is the issue of obligation: If abortion really is wrong, that implies that one could have an obligation to care for one of one's fellow beings into which one has not voluntarily contracted. Denying that any such obligation can exist is part of establishing the reign of the ego over reality, of the ego installing itself as Supreme Being. Yes, the libertarian ego realizes it must compromise with other egos that occupy bodies out and walking around in the world, since they might have guns and could kill one. But fetuses can't kill you! If they become a barrier to the ego's desires they can be chopped up at your pleasure.

No Way Out

James Kalb describes why political action can't get us out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Individualism, the Good Form

Sheldon Richman blogs about the good version of individualism. So good that there is no reason to call it individualism!

'Human agency and social structure then presuppose each other. Neither can be reduced to, identified with, or explained completely in terms of the other, for each requires the other.' -- Tony Lawson

'Let us take a man, an Englishman as he is now, and try to point out that, apart from what he has in common with others, apart from his sameness with others, he is not an Englishman—nor a man at all; that if you take him as something by himself, he is not what he is… What we mean to say is that he is what he is because he is a born and educated social being, and a member of an individual social organism, that if you make abstraction from all this which is the same in him as in others what you have left is not an Englishman nor a man, but some, I know not what, residuum which never has existed by itself and does not so exist.' -- F.H. Bradley

All the News That Fits the Story

So, what does an ideologue make of an experiment that shows how little we still know about the atmosphere? Well, it's conclusive evidence that AGW is a hoax, of course!

Regime Uncertainty

"I know that uncertainty about future tax rates was as great in 2006, when the unemployment rate was 4.5%, as it is today when unemployment is 9%. So was uncertainty about what the government was going to do to solve its long-run health-care spending problems, deal with global warming, deal with dependence on foreign energy sources, and regulate finance. Yet--as Allan Meltzer surely knows--investors weren't holding cash in 2006." -- Brad Delong

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fiat Currency

it turns out, preceded commodity currency! Well, there goes The Theory of Money and Credit out the window*. (Hat tip to Jim Henley. [Jim, let's see how many layers deep we can drive this cross-linkfest!])

* -- I hope it is obvious that I am being facetious -- there is valuable information left in that book that is not overturned by these findings. But clearly, the regression theorem is kaput. That is simply not what happened. It turns out a priorism is not a good way to do history!

Thoughts for the Day

"Members admitted to a community at birth cannot be given a free choice of their premises; they have to be educated in some terms or other, without consultation of any preference of their own." -- Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith and Society, p. 72

"E, veramente, se in qualche modo non si sapesse che cosa essa è, non si potrebbe neppure muovere quella domanda, perché ogni domanda importa una certa notizia della cosa di cui si domanda, designata nella domanda, e perciò qualificata e conosciuta." -- Benedetto Croce, Breviario di estetica


Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Coming of the Fir

Post-Meaningful Textual Discourse

The Language Log points us to this amazing blog post.

Anthropogenic Global Warming

On the one hand, people who say "man-made global warming is a fact" are really not too savvy on the nature of scientific theories. On the other hand, with consensus amongst climate scientists running at about 98% that AGW is real, I don't see how a lay person can do other than operate on the assumption that it is so. Of course scientific consensus is wrong on occasion. But as lay people, you and I are in no position to judge when this may be so. Unless you are willing to devote several years of full-time study to this topic, you just aren't going to understand the literature and the issues the way the pros do; no, in a field in which one is not an expert, and in which there is an overwhelming expert consensus, to differ from that consensus is sheer stubbornness or wishful thinking.

How Did the Animals Know...

Most Ridiculous Ad Campaign?

How about the new American Express campaign touting their member points as "the social currency"!

As if their ever could have been any such thing as a "non-social currency." What, one just trades it with oneself?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Goodnight, Irene

Let us imagine an isolated valley. In that valley live an extremely wealthy loner, in a vast mansion with extensive grounds, and a large number of extremely poor subsitence farmers. They had been prosperous during the days when the loner had been constructing his estate, but now he is done, and there is no other work around.

Then Hurricane Irene comes along. It causes extensive damage to the loner's estate. Suddenly, he has need to employ all of those other people in the valley again. The economy "picks up."

Now, economic science has nothing to say about whether the valley is better off after the hurricane than it was before -- doing so would require interpersonal comparisons of utility. But it is clear that there is now more economic activity than there was before.

The point of this? Bastiat's "broken window fallacy" is not an a priori truth. It is more or less true, depending on the amount of crowding out that occurs in repairing the broken window. I have carefully contrived a scenario with 0% crowding out. It is implausible, but not impossible, and shows clearly the empirical component of Bastiat's story. Bastiat himself, as Bob Murphy demonstrates, assumed 100% crowding out. That, also, is implausible (at least in a recession), but not impossible.

The extent to which Bastiat's model applies to any real situation is an empirical matter, depending on the particular circumstances of time and place.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bob Murphy on Evolution

Bob makes a good point on how many people misuse the biological theory of evolution to say silly things.

A self-refuting claim: "We are just apes." (It is the "just" that is the problem: that we are apes I have no doubt.)

No other ape than man ever claimed this. No other ape even has the concept of "ape."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Credo Ut Intelligam

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God...
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life..."

If I say these words, what do I mean? I am asserting that I have some secret knowledge that others do not? Do I believe these things like I believe it will rain tonight?

No, I asserting that, by meditating on these symbols, I believe I will come to understand better what I now know only through a glass darkly.

I believe that I may understand.

The Coming of the Fir

In the beginning was Rallituva, the One. And Rallituva created Dara, the world that is, and he populated it with many plants and creatures of the land, the sea, and the air. But Rallituva wanted companions, and so first, at the northern pole of Dara, he created the first race of sentient beings, the Diai. They awoke with no history, no biological nature, and no other sentient beings around in the world. Each one of them is completely self-sufficient, and interacts with the others only for amusement. Rallituva was pleased, but realized that he had sought something different: These beings had too little desire for companionship, and he was lonely still.

So at the southern pole of Dara he created another race of sentient beings, the Ainmhithe. Their consciousness was very tightly tied to their bodily being, and that being to their existence in the collective they called the coilíneacht, to which their life was devoted. They lacked any individuality, and any good except the common good. The coilíneacht would happily sacrifice as many of them as necessary to save itself. Rallituva was pleased, but realized that he had sought something different: These beings had too little independence, too little personality, for them to even be companions.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chickening Out or Prudence? You Decide

Hannah Arendt, who happened to be Jewish, did her PhD under studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger. She also had a tumultuous affair with him.

Heidegger became probably the foremost intellectual in the world to back the Nazi Party. Arendt went on to write a book called The Origins of Totalitarianism, in which she discusses the rise of Nazism at some length, and talks about Nazi theorists such as Carl Schmitt.

There is no index entry for "Heidegger."

Is this cowardice? Or is it prudent, as any negative comments about Heidegger could be seen as personally biased?

UPDATE: A reader notes her PhD was actually supervised by Karl Jaspers.

There's a Lot of Space Between the Poles

North Pole: The Elves awaken on the shore of Cuiviénen, with no history, no biological nature, and no other sentient beings around in the world. They each pick out a plot of land for themselves -- plenty to go around, no need to fuss! -- and settle down. When there is some need for collective action, they all get together and chat. Whoever wants to chip in does.

South Pole: You are born as a worker ant. Your entire life is devoted to the collective. You lack any individuality, and any good except the common good. The collective will happily sacrifice you, and as many of your comrades as necessary, to save itself.

The real world of humans is always somewhere between these poles. Let's start in the rough neighborhood of the equator. We meet a group of beings who awaken to political conscious in the presence of a customary allotment of duties and obligations, honed and arrived at through millions of pre-political years of evolution. For instance, in this group, a hunter who brings back a kill allots it amongst the tribe in some traditional distribution (but probably gets the choicest portion for himself). Those who can hunt and gather are understood to have an obligation to feed those unable to do so, e.g., the elderly. If a child is orphaned, it is understood the tribe will find a way to raise it. And someone who refuses to honor those customs suffers a punishment, generally, banishment. But there is a great deal of room for individuality: each tribe member has her own personality, and each sings, dances, and so on in a unique fashion. There is room for private possessions: one's hut, one's spear, a favorite talisman. It is obvious (to me) that it is ludicrous to call those mutual obligations to share that exist in the above group "looting," or the punishment allotted to the non-compliant some form of "aggression" against them.

All human societies have wandered between these two poles, sometimes closer to one, sometimes the other. Although there is no a priori "right" place on the globe for humanity, both the far north and the far south are inhospitable places for humans to live. Societies that drift too far in one direction or the other naturally produce a reaction, and at such times, descriptions of the wonders of the more distant pole may serve a beneficial purpose. But either pole, if ever per impossible achieved, would end humans' existence as human beings.

And given that last fact, it is clear that anyone who seriously advocates either pole as a livable place, who communicates politically by shouting angry slogans such as "All taxation is theft!" or "All property is theft!" has lost himself in a dream of an exotic, beautiful location which he never has and never will visit. Anyone who believes that, say, any location the least distance from the north pole is "totalitarian collectivism" or that the Soviet Union is essentially the same as Switzerland has become lost in such a dream. And to be lost to reality in a dream is, of course, a sort of madness.

It is not easy to awaken from such madness, since the logic of the dreamworld it creates is all inclusive, and every bump or cry from reality is re-interpreted from within the context of the dream. The falls and bruises produced by the attempt to head, as the crow flies, straight towards one pole or the other, ignoring every feature of the real world one stumbles over along the way, is recast as "Opposition from the [statists/capitalists]!" or as a failure to head south/north swiftly or unwaveringly enough. Those who call to the dreamer from the waking world are interpreted as being, themselves, dreaming. The dream gives a single, simple answer to every political question: "Head north!" or "Head south!" To abandon such an unambiguous form of guidance is no trivial matter.

But a dreamworld is no place to spend your life.

UPDATE: Just in case someone thinks I've erected a strawman in this regard, I just ran across the assertion that "all government is the same." That's right, between Hitler's Germany and present-day Sweden, there is not the least difference.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Capitalism Run Amock

One Bad Apple

Let's discuss some dubious retail practices. I intend these as ethical, not political questions, i.e., I'm not interested in whatever legal actions should result should these actions be discovered, but in what you should do if faced with a similar situation.

I often get home a package of some fresh item only to find that while the part on display looked great, the bits hidden by the packaging are grim. Now, this may happen sometimes as a result of the packaging itself, I guess, but I worked in a retail grocery store, and I know that it is also often done deliberately, to hide bad products from the customer.

My first question is: If you are an employee, and told to do something like this by a manager, what would you do? (Let's posit you're not going to kill anyone with the bad bits, just put them off a little and cause them to trim them away.)

Would it make a difference if times are bad, and there are few jobs available? Should it?

Would it make a difference if you were the sole financial support for young children? Should it?

The Wonders of Digital, Broadcast TV

So, I needed TV last February, as I knew UConn would win the national basketball championship, and I would have felt like a fool if we had missed that. But I didn't want to get cable, as there would be way to many things on to watch. (The monthly fee was a consideration, but a secondary one.) So we got a digital antenna.

You get the old broadcast networks, but also a lot of things I never imagined were being broadcast. My oldest son and I have been flipping through the stations. We found a station that seemed to be showing the Revolutionary People's Army singing Chinese opera. But what really was fascinating was the channel showing this elderly woman alternately walking around France, dressed like Liberace, saying things like "Here is the town hall of Toulousse, built in 1785," and then playing a pipe organ for two or three minutes, dressed like Liberace. The relationship of the organ music and the travel snippets was entirely obscure.

There is also a channel that sometimes broadcasts a program about an opera-singing superhero.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Cat Surrenders



Why Anarchism Is Going Nowhere, Example No. 1232

Check out this post from Tom Knapp about a pair of British criminals: "Folks, this is not an edge case — “fire in a crowded theater” or “fighting words” spoken while brandishing molotov cocktails. It’s a clear matter of people sitting in front of computers, typing things intended to be read by other people sitting in front of other computers."

And what were they typing? Well, they were organizing looting and riots! In other words, they were using Facebook, "typing things intended to be read by other people sitting in front of other computers," in order to organize those others to maybe beat up some Pakis, smash shop windows, burn cars, and spread fear and mayhem. It sure isn't an edge case! And when the state steps in and protects us from these thugs, Tom is outraged!

The disconnect from reality is just stunning.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bob Weir and the Marin Symphony Choir

Perform "Attics of My Life":


Dropping Gs.

In a link provided by Bob Murphy, Tommy Christopher writes "Maybe I just never noticed it before, but it’s also interesting that, after only a few days of covering folksy and authentic Rick Perry, Chuck is already droppin’ a few of his Gs."

I know this is the standard way of putting this, but the funny thing is that NO English speakers make a 'g' sound at the end of "ing" words like "walking" or "stopping," so there is no G to drop!

Back in the Day...

I used to write a lot of HTML "code." (Real code is assembler. C is a high-level scripting language.) A lot of the beauty of it was its simplicity.

Not no more. Have you ever looked at the code automatically "generated" by Blogger or MS Word? ("Generated" is in quotes because it resembles an abortion more than a birth.) Here is the luger I found blogger spitting out recently -- notice that it is creating this mess despite the fact that there is no text of mine in these "spans"!

UPDATE: Had to pull out the angle brackets to get the code to show up!

span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 13px;" span

div style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-color: initial; border-left-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-top-width: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: 13px; font-style: inherit; font-weight: inherit; line-height: inherit; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-top: 0px; outline-color: initial; outline-style: initial; outline-width: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-top: 0px;"

span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 13px;"span class="Apple-style-span" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-color: initial; border-left-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-top-width: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: 15px; font-style: inherit; font-weight: inherit; line-height: 20px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-top: 0px; outline-color: initial; outline-style: initial; outline-width: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-top: 0px;"

div style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-color: initial; border-left-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-top-width: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: 13px; font-style: inherit; font-weight: inherit; line-height: inherit; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-top: 0px; outline-color: initial; outline-style: initial; outline-width: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-top: 0px;"

span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 13px;"span class="Apple-style-span" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-color: initial; border-left-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-top-width: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: 15px; font-style: inherit; font-weight: inherit; line-height: 20px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-top: 0px; outline-color: initial; outline-style: initial; outline-width: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-top: 0px;"

Homesteading

Reading James C. Scott's excellent Seeing Like a State. He gives, as an example of how land was traditionally held, the following: "Rural living in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Denmark, for example, was organized by ejerlav, whose members had certain rights for using local arable, waste, and forest land. It would had have been impossible in such a community to associate a household or individual with a particular holding on a cadastral map."

This is just an example of the way land was typically held before the current system of clearly defined freehold of lots was imposed by the state on a reluctant society, and not by any process of "mixing one's labor" with virgin land. Land was owned by communities first.*

* I fully anticipate the objection, "But communities can't own anything!" Like "Only individuals choose," this is an obvious falsehood which is embraced precisely because it defends radically individualistic property arrangements against the force of historical truths such as those noted by Scott.

Hypnocracy

Over at Coordination Problem, one J. Oxman writes, "Total demand and aggregate prices are not economic phenomena that affect human action, other than by policy makers. They are statistical constructs that don't have real economic counterparts."

You see the kind of thing often. It is amazing the rubbish one can convince oneself of in the interest of buttressing one's ideology. So no worker has ever asked for a 4% raise because there is 4% inflation? No business has ever cancelled a planned expansion because GDP is falling? No one has ever sold his house because he thinks there is a housing bubble?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Times Are Hard

Just watched a dude picking the choicest butts out of the ashtray at Stewart's on Rt. 17 and then sitting down at the picnic table for a (or several) nice smoke.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Arendt on Competition

"the liberal belief that competition will automatically set up its own stabilizing predetermined limits before one competitor has liquidated all the others. This happy balance, however, had hardly been the inevitable outcome of mysterious economic laws, but had relied heavily on political, and even more on police institutions that prevented competitors from using revolvers." -- The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 126

I have brought this point up before, but I like the witty way Arendt puts it. If the State is eliminated, why in the world should we expect private companies not to behave the way the British East India Company did in India, once it was out from under the thumb of the British state, or the way the Mafia or drug gangs do every day? Of course, old habits die hard: at first, most corporations would be slow to turn into armed gangs. But once of few did, the rest would have to do so to survive, or else live under the control of a corporation that is armed.

Wishing away problems is rarely a workable solution, and violence is a human, not a state, problem.

Hannah Arendt on Ideology

"An ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims either to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the "riddles of the universe," or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man." -- The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 159

This is a fantastic book, by the way. Just the right blend of theory and history for my tastes.

News from England

A friend of mine with whom I hung out when I lived in Stoke-Newington just wrote me about the rioting. Now, Howie is a long-time resident of Stokey, who lived in squats for much of the eighties when he was playing in punk bands -- in other words, this isn't a rich aristocratic looking down his nose at the masses from his mansion:

"Stokey's ok I think. Hackney Central copped it a bit. I'm so ashamed of how my country looks. Buildings that escaped the Blitz have been burned down by these little shits. This ain't about poverty. It's opportunistic greed. Poor people don't steal Nike's. They make them for a buck a day. It ain't about politics. The Brigado Rossi didn't clean out the corner newsagent. These fucks ain't never, and will never work, they claim the dole and the rent, and hold their hands out for more. Then they do this to their own communities. Shopkeepers are getting tooled up now and defending their patch."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Understanding Nature

In the Italian reader I am working through at present, the essay on the Renaissance declared (I translate from memory) "During the Renaissance, the idea arose that nature was not a mystery but something that humans could comprehend."

You see this idea around often... and it is nonsense. Thinkers in the Middle Ages certainly believed that nature is comprehensible. The quote in Latin currently at the top of this blog is from the Middle Ages, and it can be translated:

All the world's creatures
As a book and a picture
Are to us as a mirror

The natural world was a book, written by God. It was rational and comprehensible because it was authored by a rational mind, albeit a mind far greater than ours, so that the book might be challenging to read.

Now, it is true that the Scientific Revolution brought a great change in the human attitude towards nature. But the change was not from dumbfounded incomprehension to comprehension, but was in the way one was to go about understanding nature. Francis Bacon summed up the change nicely as follows:

"My only earthly wish is... to stretch the deporably narrow limits of man's dominion over the universe to their promised bounds... [nature will be] bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets."

Rather than observed and contemplated, nature was to be forced to reveal her secrets. This change in attitude brought remarkable results, some good and some bad: penicillin and the atomic bomb, space telescopes and concentration camps. If we want to understand the change, and perhaps mitigate its evils while retaining its benefits, it is important that we don't adopt a false picture of what the change was.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I'm an Idea Man, Chuck

I get ideas; sometimes I get so many ideas that I can't even fight them off!

1) Niagara Falls seems to be doing OK, but things are starting to look a little run-down, a little shabby.

2) The US government is way deep in debt, and has just been downgraded by S&P.

Can we solve both these problems at once? (Hint: Think Citifield, or Staples Center.)

The solution: Corporate sponsorship. Billions to the US government, and a face lift for the towns and the park.

And who better to be that sponsor than Pfizer? Rename the falls, and the two cities... Viagra Falls! Just think of the symbolic power of that gush of water pouring into that deep ravine! Not only that, notice, on the right in the photo below, that the Canadians have already erected the "Viagra Tower":

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Memo: To New Editorial Staff

From: John Shrillshirk, Editor, USA Yesterday

It has come to my attention that, since we hired all of you last week, you have, on occasion, and contrary to USA Yesterday policy, been writing editorials that contain nuggets of substance.

This must stop immediately. Let me review the standard USA Yesterday editorial format, that must be followed in all editorials. Here is one of our templates -- the rest can be found on the employee web site -- your job is simply and only to fill in the variables:

The crisis arising from [SITUATION X] is a time for all members of [INSTITUTION Y] to set aside their squabbling and act boldly, in unison. They must sit down, consider the best ideas coming from each side of the table, and adopt the best features of all of them in a way that sets our nation on the right course. If they cannot do so, then a pox on both [SIDES OF Y]! Right now, what are our so-called leaders doing? Pointing their fingers at the other side! They just don't get it.

If the members of [Y] cannot work together for the common good, then it just may be time to throw the rascals out. The people's voice must be heard. And before we risk [Z, e.g., American lives, our financial future, the safety of our children, a new outbreak of swine flu, etc.] on [SITUATION X] again, politicians should make sure they have the nation's support united behind them and that the goal is truly vital to the nation's interest.

Now, This Is Pretty Evil!

Michael Moore calls for Obama to arrest the head of S&P. For, you know, saying what he thinks about US credit worthiness. Which is his job. Maybe the rating downgrade was a terrible mistake, but how is this exercise of free speech a crime in Moore's eyes?

Moore's comment is not nearly as evil as Goebbels, but it is pretty damned bad.

Berry, Berry Funny

Watching an ad for the Ninja 1100 "kitchen system." The announcer says they have "slashed" -- get it, slashed! -- the price under $200. It turns out it is only 5 easy payments of $39.95. Then he says that they've eliminated one of those payments, leaving you only four.

Why did they stop at "eliminating" one? Why not announce it is "Only two hundred easy payments of $39.95," and then boast "But we've eliminated 196 of them!"

I guess the ploy would become too transparent.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Cornell






Ithaca








Stupidest Vacation Ever?

No, not the one I'm one right now, where I'm busy blogging, but this one. These people pay someone to lead them into a muddy creek filled with water moccasins and copperheads, find holes in the bank into which they plunge their bodies, using their bodies as bait to catch catfish!

This is why I don't have cable at home: I really didn't need to know that there are people who would pay to be abused like this.

The Mises Institute...

absolutely loves to go over the top throwing around terms like "evil" and "heroic." (They even called ME heroic once or twice!) But they're really outdone themselves this time, as Daniel Kuehn notes.

"Get Your Act Together!"

One of the great perks to being in a hotel is the high quality reading one receives, for free. Like USA Today. This morning, they have solved the global panic. It's very easy, you see: All we need is for "leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to get their acts together."

Well, there you have it. The world economy is like a teen who has been sleeping in late and cutting classes, and the editors of USA Today are his mom.

The difficulty is that the editors are vary vague about how this act needs to be gotten together, and with good reason: The people who know the most about macroeconomics express vastly diverse views about what needs to be done. We have a clearly sick patient, for whom some doctors are prescribing much more medicine and others going cold turkey off of all medicine. The editors of USA Today basically prescribe splitting the difference: deficit reduction and stimulus. Of course, this sort of wobbling inconsistently between different objectives is exactly how policy has been proceeding! So, politicians, get serious, by continuing exactly as you have done.

This is how the editorial writers put on a "serious person" costume without any need to do any serious thinking.

Blaming S&P

Being in a hotel right now, I have cable TV. Therefore, I get to see a number of pundits who seem to be blaming S&P for the ongoing market turmoil. My initial reaction is that this is a bit like a guy who eats bacon and mayonnaise sandwiches three meals a day, smokes two packs of cigarettes, doesn't exercise, and then blames the doctor who reports his high blood pressure for his insurance being cancelled.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Stanley Fish Recognizes That Modern Philosophy Is Sophistry

Here:

'Now it could be said (and some philosophers will say it) that the person who deliberates without self-conscious recourse to deep philosophical views is nevertheless relying on or resting in such views even though he is not aware of doing so. To say this is to assert that doing philosophy is an activity that underlies our thinking at every point, and to imply that if we want to think clearly about anything we should either become philosophers or sit at the feet of philosophers. But  philosophy is not the name of, or the site of, thought  generally; it is a special, insular form of thought and  its propositions have weight and value only in the precincts of its game . Points are awarded in that game to the player who has the best argument going (“best” is a disciplinary judgment) for moral relativism or its opposite or some other position considered “major.” When it’s not the game of philosophy that is being played, but some other — energy policy, trade policy, debt reduction, military strategy, domestic life — grand philosophical theses like “there are no moral absolutes” or “yes there are” will at best be rhetorical flourishes; they will not be genuine currency  or do any decisive work.  Believing or disbelieving in moral absolutes is a philosophical position, not a recipe for living.'

M. Polanyi on Apprenticeship

"It follows that an art which has fallen into disuse for the period of a generation is altogether lost. There are hundreds of examples of this to which the process of mechanization is continually adding new ones. These losses are usually irretrievable. It is pathetic to watch the endless efforts—equpped with microscopy and chemistry, with mathematics and electronics—to reproduce a single violin of the kind the half-literate Stradivarius turned out as a matter of routine more than 200 years ago.

"To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyse and account in detail for its effectiveness. By watching the master and emulating his efforts in the presence of his example, the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explictly known to the master himself. These hidden rules can be assimilated only by a person who surrenders himself to that extent uncritically to the imitation of another. A society which wants to preserve a fund of personal knowledge must submit to tradition." -- Personal Knowledge, p. 51

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

M. Polanyi on Subjective Probability

"Thus we would establish a probability relation P(H/E) between two propositions, which is a belief not about events but about a relation between propositions. Some authors describe a result of this kind as conveying a certain degree of belief in H based on the evidence E and symbolize it accordingly by PB(H/E).

"But this analysis does not correspond to actual practice or indeed to any acceptable practice. Darwin's intention was to establish the effect of cross-fertilization on plant growth and the relation of a proposition asserting such an effect to a proposition about observed heights of plants." -- Personal Knowledge, p. 24

M. Polanyi on Maxims

"Maxims are rules, the correct application of which is part of the art which they govern. The true maxims of golfing or of poetry increase our insight into golfing or poetry and may even give valuable guidance to golfers and poets; but these maxims would instantly condemn themselves to absurdity if they tried to replace the golfer's skill or the poets art. Maxims cannot be understood, still less applied by anyone not already possessing a good practical knowledge of the art. They derive their interest from our appreciation of the art and cannot themselves either replace or establish that appreciation." -- Personal Knowledge, p. 31

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner...

Business cycle theory, capital structure, local knowledge:




Time Travel

The introduction of time travel into any plot makes nonsense of it.

The reason: Time is a symbol of eternity, rendered in a form humans can grasp. Time travel makes it a travesty of eternity.

We're Such a Small Part of Such a Big World!

"Ever since [Copernicus], writers eager to drive the lesson home have urged us [...] to abandon all sentimental egoism, and to see ourselves objectively in the true perspective of time and space. What precisely does this mean? In a full 'main feature' film, recapitulating faithfully the complete history of the universe, the rise of human beings from the first beginnings of man to the achievements of the twentieth century would flash by in a single second. Alternatively, if we decided to examine the universe objectively in the sense of paying equal attention to portions of equal mass, this would result in a lifelong preoccupation with interstellar dust, relieved only at brief intervals by a survey of incandescent masses of hydrogen - not in a thousand million lifetimes would the turn come to give man even a second's notice. It goes without saying that no one -- scientists included -- looks at the universe in this way, whatever lip-service is given to 'objectivity.'" -- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge

Phronemophobia

I am sitting in a deli trying to do some work, because the deli has wi-fi. There are three television sets on, tuned to two different programs. No one is watching any of the TVs. The different broadcasts create a jumble of noise in the room. One of the programs is a game show. There is a wheel that spins and, while it does so, it emits a noise quite like a car alarm.

The goal of all this racket is to thwart the terrifying possibility that anyone might find themselves alone with their own thoughts, for even a second.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Narrative Precedes Theory

One sees the claim often, in, for instance, Mises, that one cannot have history without theory. This morning I ran across it in the Review of Austrian Economics, in a book review written by Richard Wagner, where he said something like "Any narrative pre-supposes a theoretical framework needed to comprehend it." (I left my copy home before heading to the Internet cafe, so I quote from memory.)

I think this is false. I think narrative precedes theory, both in human history and in the development of a single human being. Humans had narratives for thousands of years before the first Greeks began to produce theories. Three-year-old children have no problem grasping narratives, but a lot of trouble getting theories!

A problem many rationalists have in understanding myths is that they try to understand them as theories, and wind up deciding they are really awful theories.

Query: Can autism be characterized as an ability to see things theoretically but not narrationally?