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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Psychlogical Theories of the Cycle

As long ago as 2003, in response to some Austrians whom I saw mocking "psychological" takes on the business cycle, I was stressing that there is no reason to view structural or monetary theories and psychological theories as rivals: they can complement each other, as Roger and I argued in the paper linked to above.

But, once again, Gottfried Haberler beat me there:

"But the distinction between the writers who give prominence to these 'psychological' factors and the writers so far reviewed is, taken as a whole, a distinction of emphasis rather than of kind. The 'psychological' factors are put forward as supplemental to the monetary and other economic factors and not as alternative elements of causation, while on the other hand they are in no sense overlooked by the writers of the other group, or most of them, though they may be assigned a less prominent place in the chain of causation." -- Prosperity and Depression, p. 150

What Browsers Need...

is a "What the heck is playing that ad?" button. I just had some ad playing somewhere, but I clicked through every tab and could not find it. Luckily it just stopped on its own before I had to reboot.

Yet Another Mussolini Fan

The founder of the Boy Scouts.

The point being, through the 1920s and 1930s, a lot of people were taken in. It happens.

Soon, All Words Will Be Quoted

A note on the building's door this morning:

'Dear FedEx person: Please leave packages for "2L" with "3G".'

Why have the put the apartment numbers in quotes? Are those not their real apartment numbers? Is it a code they have with the FedEx person? People have lost track of what quotation marks are for, and just stick them around random strings in what they write.

"Soon," "all" "words" "will" "be" "quoted." And someone will have to invent a punctuation character for when we are quoting someone else.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

We Can Become Ill in Different Ways

Imagine a bunch of nutritionists, each one of whom kept insisting that there was only a single form of nutritional problem. One tells us: "It's overeating! People only go wrong nutritionally when they have too many calories." Another says: "No, it is undereating! People become too frail." Yet another insists that the only problem is a diet with too much protein and not enough carbohydrates, and yet another that the only difficulty is the reverse.

I think that this is analogous to wars (often ideological) over the theory of the business cycle. Why should we believe there is only a single way in which the macroeconomy can become "ill"? And Gottfried Haberler agrees:

"Vertical maladjustments of each type on the one hand and horizontal maladjustments and insufficiency of total demand (insufficiency of money supply) on the other are quite compatible. To a certain extent they probably always go together and are frequently difficult to distinguish. Since many writers do not carefully distinguish these cases, it is often difficult to know which they have in mind." -- Prosperity and Depression, p. 132

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Pets as NeoDarwinian Theorists

Commenting on this post, in which I speculated on what it is like to be a cat, a commenter responds:

"The cat sounds like it's merely trying to survive so it will be able to breed more kittens and pass its genes onto the next generation."

I could not have imagined: My cat knows about genes, which we humans hadn't discovered until the 19th century, and furthermore she is worried about passing them on! But, as bright as she is, apparently she isn't aware of the import of that little operation she had a few years ago.

From the perspective of NeoDarwinian theory, we may interpret the cat's actions in the way this commenter did: I have no problem with that. But to posit that that is what my cat, from her own point of view, is "trying" to do, is ludicrous. Whatever in the world is going on from her perspective -- as I noted, I was merely speculating -- it most certainly is not a concern about "passing on genes"!

I don't post this to mock the commenter -- who, after all, is only making a mistake that we are all prone to make -- but to note once again how easy it is to confuse the map (our abstract theories) with the territory (the real world).

UPDATE: Consider this situation: Joe runs across Mary, whom he finds irresistible. Therefore, he tries to seduce her. Let us further suppose that Mary is 60, and Joe knows she is well past child-bearing age. Now, if an evolutionary theorist wants to say, "Well, Joe has this urge because his evolutionary past has programmed him with such desires, since they enable him to pass on his genes," I won't accuse him of absurdity: perhaps that is what is going on. But if the theorist instead says "Joe is trying to pass on his genes," then I will so accuse him. Because, no, what Joe is trying to do is to seduce Mary. What produced that urge in him is one thing; what Joe is attempting, in light of having that urge, is quite another. The language of "trying" has no place in an evolutionary account; rather, it is part of a universe of discourse that deals with an agent's choices. As Donald Davidson would put it, we haven't explained what Joe is trying to do by talking evolution; no, what we have done is to change the subject.

(Not So) Mixed Emotions

My daughter, last night, asked me, "What's for dinner?"
"Rabbit," I answered. (Stewed with raisins, pine nuts, and olives.)
The first thing she said was "Awwwww," making a "poor, cute little bunny" face. The next thing she said was, "But, yummmmm!"
She then ate two bowls of the cute little bunny stew.

Why Does This Persist?

If I have to share a public bathroom while I am in it, I prefer it to be a men's room, not a mixed-sex loo. But many establishments in New York have two bathrooms, each with only one toilet, and a door that locks, but still sex segregate them. This clearly costs patrons either time or embarrassment: occasionally "your" bathroom is occupied for a while when you need to go, while "their" bathroom is not: then, you either fidget with an unused toilet a few feet away, or risk plunging into the "wrong" bathroom, and getting a dirty look when you come out to find someone is upset that you took "her" ("his") rightful place in line.
So why does this practice persist? I considered the idea that people don't like even serially sharing a toilet with strangers of the other sex, but that doesn't seem right: Haven't we all done so repeatedly, since we were children, every time we've gone to a large party in a private home? Why would the fact the building says "restaurant" on the outside suddenly make us go all squeamish?

Madison on the "Necessary and Proper" Clause in the U.S. Constitution

Madison's commentary (reproduced below) is interesting. And it is underscored by the following fact: During the drafting of the Bill of Rights, people kept slipping "expressly" into the tenth amendment, and Madison kept taking it back out. Article I section 8 was deliberately vague, and Madison meant to keep it that way! The clause was meant to be understood as, "Do whatever you really have to do, but try to keep it within limits, OK?"

Getting a constitution drafted was contentious and tricky business. Whenever an issue was particularly difficult to reach consensus upon, the preferred solution was, "Write it up in a vague manner, and leave it for others to sort out."

In any case, here is Madison, from Federalist 44:
There are four other possible methods which the Constitution might have taken on this subject. They might have copied the second article of the existing Confederation, which would have prohibited the exercise of any power not EXPRESSLY delegated; they might have attempted a positive enumeration of the powers comprehended under the general terms "necessary and proper"; they might have attempted a negative enumeration of them, by specifying the powers excepted from the general definition; they might have been altogether silent on the subject, leaving these necessary and proper powers to construction and inference.

Had the convention taken the first method of adopting the second article of Confederation, it is evident that the new Congress would be continually exposed, as their predecessors have been, to the alternative of construing the term "EXPRESSLY" with so much rigor, as to disarm the government of all real authority whatever, or with so much latitude as to destroy altogether the force of the restriction. It would be easy to show, if it were necessary, that no important power, delegated by the articles of Confederation, has been or can be executed by Congress, without recurring more or less to the doctrine of CONSTRUCTION or IMPLICATION. As the powers delegated under the new system are more extensive, the government which is to administer it would find itself still more distressed with the alternative of betraying the public interests by doing nothing, or of violating the Constitution by exercising powers indispensably necessary and proper, but, at the same time, not EXPRESSLY granted.

Had the convention attempted a positive enumeration of the powers necessary and proper for carrying their other powers into effect, the attempt would have involved a complete digest of laws on every subject to which the Constitution relates; accommodated too, not only to the existing state of things, but to all the possible changes which futurity may produce; for in every new application of a general power, the PARTICULAR POWERS, which are the means of attaining the OBJECT of the general power, must always necessarily vary with that object, and be often properly varied whilst the object remains the same. Had they attempted to enumerate the particular powers or means not necessary or proper for carrying the general powers into execution, the task would have been no less chimerical; and would have been liable to this further objection, that every defect in the enumeration would have been equivalent to a positive grant of authority. If, to avoid this consequence, they had attempted a partial enumeration of the exceptions, and described the residue by the general terms, NOT NECESSARY OR PROPER, it must have happened that the enumeration would comprehend a few of the excepted powers only; that these would be such as would be least likely to be assumed or tolerated, because the enumeration would of course select such as would be least necessary or proper; and that the unnecessary and improper powers included in the residuum, would be less forcibly excepted, than if no partial enumeration had been made.

Had the Constitution been silent on this head, there can be no doubt that all the particular powers requisite as means of executing the general powers would have resulted to the government, by unavoidable implication. No axiom is more clearly established in law, or in reason, than that wherever the end is required, the means are authorized; wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power necessary for doing it is included. Had this last method, therefore, been pursued by the convention, every objection now urged against their plan would remain in all its plausibility; and the real inconveniency would be incurred of not removing a pretext which may be seized on critical occasions for drawing into question the essential powers of the Union.

May All of Your Errors Be Interesting!

In responding to this post, Bob Murphy makes an interesting error. He says:

"Hang on a second Gene. Why stop at society? How about this way of blowing up Boettke et al.?"

"What about money, a social institution par excellence? No individual acted 'rationally' to pick something as money, weighing the marginal costs and benefits of a transition to a common medium of exchange. So clearly these guys are terrible economists."

"That wouldn't work, right?"

What Bob is thinking (I believe) is that money was not intended by anyone, but was the unintended outcome of individuals doing cost-benefit analysis. And just the same, of course no one said "Let me create human society," but it too was the unintentional outcome of individuals doing cost-benefit analysis.

But while the former could be the case, the latter is historical nonsense and, if we believe Wittgenstein, impossible to boot. That is because:

1) Historically speaking, there never existed a period of isolated human individuals roaming around, slowly coalescing to form human society by analyzing whether it was worthwhile to interact. (On the other hand, there certainly were economic actors before there was money.) No, long before we were human, we were social. Our minds matured to the point where we could even consider performing a cost-benefit analysis only after we had been social animals for millions of years.

2) To perform cost-benefit analysis requires the concepts of cost and benefit. Unsocialized humans would have no such concepts, since a private language is impossible, as I think Wittgenstein showed.

"But," you say, "what about my cat? I put a delicious fish somewhat close to a scary dog. My cat approaches the fish very hesitantly, seeming to me like it is weighing the costs and benefits."

Allora, si', la parola chiave in questa frase e' "seems." The cat seems to weigh costs and benefits. But I really don't think it has such concepts to weigh, do you? I believe what is happening is the cat is in a state of emotional tension. The fish makes it want to approach, but the dog to flee. I think what happens is that the cat walks a tightrope between those two actions until one emotion overwhelms the other and triggers the corresponding outcome. For your cat these conflicting emotions play the role that cost-benefit analysis can play for humans. But a wide gulf separates fleeing in terror from a horrifying figure springing up in the dark (something both cats and humans can do) and contemplating whether to lease or to buy one's new car, which I don't believe cats are capable of. In the first case I think it is an abuse of language to say the terrified creature weighed the costs and benefits of sticking around!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Every Notable Figure in the Past...

spoke in a exaggerated, histrionic voice.

How do I know this? Because I listen to lectures by historians on the way to work almost every day, and every time they read a passage from Madison, or Jefferson, or Cromwell, or Locke, or Cramer, or More, or Adams, or.. whoever, they read it in an exaggerated, histrionic way.

What is up with that? The lecturers might defend themselves by saying, "We're just trying to give life to the writer's words!"

But, if that is the case, why don't they give their own lecture in the same voice? Do they not want to "give life" to their own lecture? This is a silly custom that ought to be abandoned.

Does Anyone Think This Was Likely to Work?

Seventy-one-year-old Westport woman charged with prostitution.

And she lived in Westport, CT, one of the wealthiest towns in the country! Couldn't she have just moved to Norwalk, a mile or two away, and saved enough that she wouldn't have to try to work as an escort at 71?

The Economic Way of Thinking

I'm teaching Micro I this semester, in a situation where my textbook was chosen before I was the instructor. The book is Heyne, Boettke, and Prychitko's The Economic Way of Thinking. So far I like the book... but not every bit of it. For instance, in the first chapter, the authors claim:

"[The economic way of thinking ] can be best summarized as a set of concepts derived from one fundamental presupposition: All social phenomena emerge from the actions and interactions of individuals who are choosing in response to expected additional benefits and costs to themselves."

That presupposition strikes me as both:

1) Unnecessary; and
2) Clearly false.

Let us take up the second point first. All we need note to conclusively show the presupposition is false is that society itself, the social phenomena par excellence, certainly did not come about through such individual weighing of costs and benefits. The individual of rational choice theory only came to exist historically (to the extent it does) in a pre-existing social setting. And even today each new individual is socialized long before they have any power to choose whether it will benefit them or not. For example, I certainly did not learn to speak English as my native tongue rather than Swahili because I carefully weighed the costs and benefits of so choosing.

But why is it necessary to make such a strong claim anyway? What about this weaker version:

At least some social phenomena emerge from the actions and interactions of individuals who are choosing in response to expected additional benefits and costs to themselves. And for any social phenomenon we certainly may approach it with this framework in mind and see if it proves useful in understanding it.

Doesn't this get us everything we need to do economics? Why is the stronger statement thought to be necessary?


Office Hours

I am teaching five days a week this semester. Should I put my office hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday?

Then, I can post on my office door: "Office Hours: WTF."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Two Bars in Storyville

A friend lives in Storyville [a pseudonym], out on Staten Island. There are two bars in his town. (Here, "town" should be understood as in the context of London, which is a city through the aggregation of a multitude of little towns.) One of them is operated by an old-timer from the neighborhood. Another is owned by a woman who lives one town away, about a mile-and-a-half distant. Therefore, she is an "outsider," interfering in the natural order of the neighborhood. And, as a result, a couple of biker thugs hang out in her bar frequently, threatening people who come in, and telling them they should go drink at the bar down the street.

What dedication to xenophobia! Because a woman from a town less than 10,000 feet away opened a bar in "their" neighborhood, these guys are willing to hang out in the bar they don't like in order to drive people to the one they do.

Utopian schemes based on the "brotherhood of man" are surely doomed if living a couple of klicks apart on Staten Island marks people as being from alien cultures that can't get along!

Yes!

Ken McIntyre reviewed Oakeshott on Rome and America for The American Conservative. I just got a hold of my author copies, and...

He really liked it! The review is behind a paywall right now, but I'll get a link here ASAP.

Nice Shootin', Tex

Northern Illinois, a Division I men's basketball team, scored 4 points in the first half Saturday, missed 29 straight shots, and with just over three minutes left in the game had only 13 points.

Earlier in the year, the team had set the previous record-low by scoring only 5 in a half.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thomas Payne and Sortation

Did you know that Thomas Paine recommended selecting the U.S. President partially using sortition?

But what's with the spelling of my title? Will, when I sent myself a note via Siri to blog about this Siri decided I wanted a note about "Thomas Payne" and "Sortation." Two out of three words wrong. Voice recognition is still not up to snuff for serious writing projects.

Irony in Davos

News from Davos is that a group of women were arrested for a topless protest. But, of course, if Dominique Strauss-Kahn is any indication, at the same time some attendees were doubtlessly paying women to take off their tops (and more) for them.

Lesson to women: don't take off your top for free around the economic elite. It confuses them. Get them to pay you, and they will feel more comfortable.

Friday, January 25, 2013

John Bolton, Shill for Defense Contractors

In Tuesday's New York Post, John Bolton complained about the "massive defense cuts of Obama's first term."

Well, defense spending has gone up under Obama. Not only were there not "massive" cuts, there weren't even teeny-weeny cuts. But the Post apparently thinks it's just fine to give Bolton's lying a platform.



Time for a Swim?



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winch and His Modes

"The distinction between a general category of action—a mode of social life—and a particular sort of act falling within such a category, is of central importance to the distinction between non-logical and illogical behaviour. An illogical act presumably involves a mistake in logic; but to call something non-logical should be to deny that criteria of logic apply to it at all. That is, it does not make sense to say of non-logical conduct that it is either logical or illogical, just as it does not make sense to say of something non-spatial (such as virtue) that it is either big or small. But Pareto does not follow through the implications of this. For instance, he tries to use the term ‘non-logical’ in a logically pejorative sense, which is like concluding from the fact that virtue is not big that it must be small. A large part of the trouble here arises from the fact that he has not seen the point around which the main argument of this monograph revolves: that criteria of logic are not a direct gift of God, but arise out of, and are only intelligible in the context of, ways of living or modes of social life. It follows that one cannot apply criteria of logic to modes of social life as such. For instance, science is one such mode and religion is another; and each has criteria of intelligibility peculiar to itself. So within science or religion actions can be logical or illogical: in science, for example, it would be illogical to refuse to be bound by the results of a properly carried out experiment; in religion it would be illogical to suppose that one could pit one’s own strength against God’s; and so on. But we cannot sensibly say that either the practice of science itself or that of religion is either illogical or logical; both are non-logical." -- The Idea of a Social Science, p. 94

This bears an obvious similarity to Oakeshott's discussion of modality in Experience and Its Modes.

U.S. Diversity?

Contra Obama, Foreign Policy reports that Canada is significantly more ethnically diverse than the U.S., and so is most of Africa:

"Is the U.S. very diverse? Not really, according to Stanford political scientist James Fearon. Fearon tried to measure diversity in 160 countries around the world in a 2003 study, and (with all the appropriate caveats that ethnicity is a difficult thing to define) found that the the U.S. comes in as the 85th most diverse country in the world. The most diverse western country is actually Canada, with an "ethnic fractionalization index" of .596 (the U.S.'s is .491), and we're outranked by almost every country in sub-saharan Africa, as well as Brazil (.549), Mexico (.542) and Israel (.526), among others."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For the Sake of American Productivity...

it should be illegal to post a link called "NFL Top 10 Trick Plays" during the work day.

Obama: Definitely Not a Socialist!

Jeffrey Polet gets Obama right:

"While nothing suggests Obama is a socialist, those of us who have read our Marx may see in him features of late capitalism: concentration of wealth, cooperation between the state and owners, greater wealth inequality."

Yes: While I favored Obama over Romney in the recent election, this was not based on any illusion that Obama was a "man of the people": No, I simply thought he was a slightly more decent and reasonable capitalist overlord than Romney! And, as a conservative, I thought that was the best we could hope for, and that the best we could hope for is all that we should hope for. In the City of Man, you take what you can get.

Winch on Philosophy as Experience Without Reservation or Arrest

"The embarrassment in which [Pareto] is thus placed illustrates what I wanted to emphasize in maintaining that the type of problem with which he is here concerned belongs more properly to philosophy than it does to science. This has to do with the peculiar sense in which philosophy is uncommitted enquiry. I noted in the first chapter how philosophy is concerned with elucidating and comparing the ways in which the world is made intelligible in different intellectual disciplines; and how this leads on to the elucidation and comparison of different forms of life. The uncommittedness of philosophy comes out here in the fact that it is equally concerned to elucidate its own account of things; the concern of philosophy with its own being is thus not an unhealthy Narcissistic aberration, but an essential part of what it is trying to do. In performing this task the philosopher will in particular be alert to deflate the pretensions of any form of enquiry to enshrine the essence of intelligibility as such, to possess the key to reality. For connected with the realization that intelligibility takes many and varied forms is the realization that reality has no key. But Pareto is committing just this mistake: his way of discussing the distinction between logical and non-logical conduct involves setting up scientific intelligibility (or rather, his own misconception of it) as the norm for intelligibility in general; he is claiming that science possesses the key to reality." -- (The Idea of a Social Science, pp. 95-96)

Of course, I am characterizing Winch's position here in Oakeshottian (or, more broadly, idealist) terms, but what I am working on is a comparative thought paper, so please forgive me! But I think he is groping towards Oakeshott's essential insight here: science, practice, history, and other modal forms of experience are committed: committed to a particular abstraction from the whole of experience. Only philosophy is experience without arrest or reservation.

The Impossibility of Predictive Social Science

"The development of a historical tradition may involve deliberation, argument, the canvassing of rival interpretations, followed perhaps by the adoption of some agreed compromise or the springing up of rival schools. Consider, for instance, the relation between the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven; or the rival schools of political thought which all claim, with some show of reason, to be based on the Marxist tradition. Think of the interplay between orthodoxy and heresy in the development of religion; or of the way in which the game of football was revolutionized by the Rugby boy who picked up the ball and ran. It would certainly not have been possible to predict that revolution from knowledge of the preceding state of the game any more than it would have been possible to predict the philosophy of Hume from the philosophies of his predecessors. It may help here to recall Humphrey Lyttleton’s rejoinder to someone who asked him where Jazz was going: ‘If I knew where Jazz was going I’d be there already’.

"Maurice Cranston makes essentially the same point when he notices that to predict the writing of a piece of poetry or the making of a new invention would involve writing the poem or making the invention oneself. And if one has already done this oneself then it is impossible to predict that someone else will make up that poem or discover that invention. ‘He could not predict it because he could not say it was going to happen before it happened.’ (8: p. 166.)

"It would be a mistake, though tempting, to regard this as a piece of trivial logic-chopping. One appears to be attempting an impossible task of a priori legislation against a purely empirical possibility. What in fact one is showing, however, is that the central concepts which belong to our understanding of social life are incompatible with concepts central to the activity of scientific prediction. When we speak of the possibility of scientific prediction of social developments of this sort, we literally do not understand what we are saying. We cannot understand it, because it has no sense." -- Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science, pp. 87-88

Yes, of course: science is a modal qualification of experience achieved through abstraction. As such it cannot ever be taken as the whole of experience without serious error.

Monday, January 21, 2013

He May Huff and He May Puff...

But P.S. cannot blow my case down.

He writes: "It is possible that science will one day provide powerful evidence that the brain and body function in a perfectly deterministic manner. That discovery would leave little opening for free will."

But this is based upon a misunderstanding of the relationship of science to the entirety of experience, and results in a flawed "free will of the gaps" understanding of the concept: free will is some mysterious "other" thing that operates in the "gaps" between causal physical processes, and if there are no gaps, there is no "room" for free will. Note: This is exactly the sort of flawed understanding of free will that leads many scientifically minded people to reject the concept, since it posits some "spooky" force jiggering around with physical processes.

The fact is that a finding that "the brain and body function in a perfectly deterministic manner" would say nothing at all about free will. The world of science is an abstraction from the totality of experience, and, as such, does not speak of that totality, but only of its own, abstract world. But a statement such as "I have free will" is a statement about the totality of experience, and thus  is not impacted at all by any conclusion from the world of science. In fact, to reach a scientific conclusion such as "the body is perfectly deterministic" assumes free will: one has concluded x only when one could have concluded y instead: one must choose a conclusion. But for it to have been possible to have chosen one course but for another to have been chosen is just what "having free will" means. Free will is assumed by scientific reasoning, and, as such, certainly can't be disproven by it.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Man Who Knew How to Party!

Today's Gospel reading was John 2:1-11: the wedding party in Cana.

Now, I had always known the story of Jesus turning water into wine, but I had never contemplated just how much wine he provided. There were six jars, each of which held 20 to 30 gallons, that were first filled with water, then made into wine. That's roughly 750 bottles of wine! And this was at a point where the guests had already been drinking for some hours.

Rumor has it that after seeing that, the host came up to Jesus and remarked, "Jesus, I have heard mumblings that, well, many of the guests are, ahem, out of blow as well." However Jesus, reluctant to hear all of those people telling the same joke every half hour for the rest of the night, declined to perform a second miracle.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Science Cannot Answer Philosophical Problems, and Philosophy Cannot Answer Scientific Ones

Peter Winch, in The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy, writes:
Burnet puts the point very well in his book on Greek Philosophy when he points out (on pages 11 and 12) that the sense in which the philosopher asks ‘What is real?’ involves the problem of man’s relation to reality, which takes us beyond pure science. ‘We have to ask whether the mind of man can have any contact with reality at all, and, if it can, what difference this will make to his life’. Now to think that this question of Burnet’s could be settled by experimental methods involves just as serious a mistake as to think that philosophy, with its a priori methods of reasoning, could possibly compete with experimental science on its own ground. For it is not an empirical question at all, but a conceptual one. It has to do with the force of the concept of reality. An appeal to the results of an experiment would necessarily beg the important question, since the philosopher would be bound to ask by what token those results themselves are accepted as ‘reality’. (pp. 8-9)
The same considerations apply to the notion that neuroscience has something to say about whether or not the concept of "free will" applies to human beings. What do people who think neuroscience can answer (or more mysteriously, "contribute" to the answer to) such a question believe neuroscientists will do? Do they think neuroscientists will suddenly discover the "free will" neuron? Do they perhaps think that showing that everything occurring in the brain has a biochemical cause would illustrate that there is no free will? (If they do, let me note that I suspect pretty much every philosopher who says it is correct to consider human beings as having free will already believes that all brain activities have a biochemical cause.) Do they expect that one day neuroscientists might see a little ghostly soul waving up at them from somewhere in the brain?

What a muddle these folks have gotten themselves into! It as though, because everything that happens in my automobile engine is "automechanically caused," they believe that automotive engineers have something important to say about whether people do or don't freely choose their destination for car trips!

Neuroscientists are to brains as automotive engineers are to car engines. When it comes to what goes on inside an internal combustion engine, I defer without question to automotive engineers. When it comes to what goes on in a brain, I defer without question to neuroscientists. But I don't look to automotive engineers to give me any special insight as to whether my drive to Milford was freely chosen, and neuroscientists equally have no special insight to offer as to whether, given I just chose to have a glass of wine, I could have chosen differently.

State Policies Never Work?!

Here's part of the abstract of a paper by Manuel Eisner:
Research on the history of crime from the thirteenth century until the end of the twentieth has burgeoned and has greatly increased understanding of historical trends in crime and crime control. Serious interpersonal violence decreased remarkably in Europe between the mid-sixteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Different long-term trajectories in the decline of homicide can be distinguished between various European regions. Age and sex patterns in serious violent offending, however, have changed very little over several centuries. The long-term decline in homicide rates seems to go along with a disproportionate decline in elite homicide and a drop in male-to-male conflicts in public space.
The anarchist story that the state is the source of some huge increase in violence are empirically false. By empirical measures, the state take-over of crime prevention from private persons seems to have succeeded "remarkably." And despite absolutely awful outbursts of state violence from time to time, violent death as a whole has also kept dropping since the creation of the state. And, we have excellent theoretical case for just why this has happened: see Augustine, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, etc.

Now, someone can say that this is just a coincidence, and that this violence would have decreased even further without state law enforcement. That's possible; but please, please, stop claiming the state is the cause of a mythical rise in human violence.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Find Out What a Cissexual Is...

The Authority of Neuroscientists on Philosophical Questions...

may be valid if scientism (the idea that all knowledge is scientific knowledge) is true.

What neuroscientists say about philosophical questions certainly can't be used as evidence that scientism is true, since it presumes that very conclusion!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Alvin Platinga Shreds...

Sam Harris's case against free will.

Of course, as philosopher Kevin Vallier notes, that is really shooting fish in a barrel.

Going Mad: SMTP Problem

I have certain emails that my mail program refuses to send, over and over again, saying it can't connect to my SMTP server. But other emails go out just fine -- and I only have one SMTP server in my list!

What the heck could be causing this?

UPDATE: Solved! I tried to add my university account to Apple mail, and it seems that the program sort of randomly sent certain mails from that account (so they didn't have my account / password info correct for Apple), while for most of my mail it used my Apple account. Once I noticed the different from address it was easy.

In the New Issue...

of The American Conservative, I both review and am reviewed. Turn around is fair play, I guess!

The Prince Must Maintain His Rule!

And if what it takes is a padlock on the back door, well, so be it!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Sign of the Collapse of Western Civilization

Even academics cannot differentiate between raising a question and begging a question:

"'At the end of the day, it begs the question of what was she thinking,' Windmeyer said."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Stephen Masty Explains Why We Don't Need Conspiracy Theories...

to understand the elite consensus.

It is class analysis that is the key: the elite attend the same cocktail parties, read the same editorials, send their kids to the same schools, and just naturally come to understand the world in the same way. Sure, conspiracies take place from time to time, but it is otiose to posit a conspiracy every time the elite agree on some issue: of course they agree, they are acting in their class interest!

Northface Coats

OK, I guess they are warm, and I'd wear one if I was hiking in the Arctic. But don't they make the person wearing them look a bit like they are wrapped in packing material?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cultural Marxism

A conversation at my local the other night got me thinking about Marx and Engels would have made of notions like "white privilege" and so forth that are used in what is often referred to as "cultural Marxism." The context was that the bartender and another patron (a mildly impoverished young man), both of whom had talked about Marxist analysis a moment before, seemed to be taking the idea of "white privilege" very seriously.

Here's my guess: Marx and Engels would have thought this was a great ruse on the part of the ruling class: convince some white guys making $10 or $15 per hour that they are "privileged," and that Vernon Jordan, Colin Powell, and Barack Obama are victims of their privilege, and the rulers have them right where they want them.

UPDATE: Changed to give Vernon Jordan the correct last name.

The Defeat of the Anti-Semiters!

Described here.

They lost when mainstream Jewish commentators began calling the smear campaign against Hagel "disgusting" "character assassination."

Sometimes the good guys win.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Those Hypocritical Puritans!

My son's U.S. history textbook claims, "But the Puritans were hypocrites: the religious freedom they wanted for themselves they denied to others."

Sigh. What about using history to actually understand the way people in the past would have seen this issue, rather than shoving them into our own mindsets and categories? The Puritans wanted to be able to practice what they thought was the scripturally correct religion, not have "freedom of religion" for themselves. They wanted everyone to be free to worship God correctly (which they thought they understood how to do) and no one, themselves included, to be free to worship incorrectly. If you asked a Puritan, "Would you want to have freedom of religion for yourself if tomorrow you became a Satanist?" the Puritan would have said, "No! The civil authorities should force me back onto the path of righteousness if they can, and if they cannot they should keep me from corrupting others, by whatever force they need apply."

The Puritans were not hypocrites who thought they should be able to embrace whatever religion they wished while others could not; no, they were more like a math teacher who is sure he has the correct answer to a problem, and demands all of the students get that answer as well.

It is one thing to claim that, say, the Puritans shouldn't have been so arrogant as to be sure they had the correct answer: I'm with you on that one. But it is just silly to deem them hypocrites.

What Global Warming?

It's perfectly normal on January 13, in New York City, to see:


Bulbs emerging!


Parsley from last summer still going strong outdoors!


Flowers in bloom!

Come on, you global warming "alarmists," nothing to see here: move along!

Dear Americans

Dear Americans,
The makers of Shooter were having you on. Ethiopeans look like this:

Not like this:

(It just really annoys me when filmakers don't even bother to get someone from the right part of Africa to play a part: "Hey, they all look the same down there, right?")

Friday, January 11, 2013

Is All Subtitling This Bad?

I'm watching Il Commissario Montalbano on DVD. I can now understand enough spoken Italian that I can often compare what is being said with the subtitles. All the time, the subtitler is doing things like translating "She was 15 or 16" to "She was 15."

It's not like this is ambiguous, or the English is just a different wording, or something. The medical examiner said the corpse had been 15 or 16 when she died. The subtitle is just wrong: if you gave this translation in Italian class, you would get half credit.

How can that happen?

More on Yglesias and Buchanan

The dead are not immune from criticism. And while alive, James Buchanan was not and should not have been immune from criticism: there is an entire section of my book Oakeshott on Rome and America devoted to criticizing The Calculus of Consent.

But Buchanan was a serious scholar who made serious contributions to social science. To see some Internet asshat like Yglesias dump on him on the day of his death is disgusting. In one hundred years, people will still be studying Buchanan. In one hundred years, the only people discussing Yglesias will be his great-grandkids, and that will just be to ask, "Do you remember how weird the way great-grandpa sucked on his own fingers was?"

And my post here has nothing to do with politics. When Paul Krugman dies, there will be some libertarian creep doing just what the liberal creep Yglesias has done. And if I outlive Krugman, I will call that creep out on it as well.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Murphy, Still Befuddled by Interest After All These Years

Y'all know I love Bob, and I am certain he's a very smart guy. But for ten years now, I believe he's been tying himself up in knots on interest, and things are simpler than he is making them out to be. For instance, he writes:

"What’s happening is that the standard r=MPK result–where MPK is defined as the increment in physical output from an additional input of capital into the production function–crucially assumes that the capital and consumption good are the same physical things, or at least, that they are always physically convertible into each other in a constant ratio."

But, I think physical convertibility is not the relevant matter: it is the pricing of the capital good. And how is it priced? By the discounted value of the consumer good flows it will produce in the future. And how are those discounted? By the interest rate. And in equilibrium, that sets r = MPK.

And this formulation is not at all what Bohm-Bawerk was critiquing. It is not that productivity sets the interest rate, it is that we value future productivity according to our time preference, and thus price capital goods so that their marginal productivity will equal the interest rate. Anything else allows pure arbitrage opportunities, which, in equilibrium, can't exist. If r < MPK, you borrow money (or whatever can be borrowed in that model economy) and buy the capital good. If r > MPK, you lend money and short the capital good.

Then I think we get an indifference curve that touches the PPF just where r = MPK. Of course, there are many points on the PPF where r != MPK. But in equilibrium we won't find ourselves at those points, because of how the price of the machine gets set.

Little Hipster Douchebag...

sucking on his own fingers, declares great economist to be over-rated.

UPDATE: I seriously considered taking down this post, which I made in anger: had I gone over the top?

But thinking it over, I decided, no. To post what Yglesias did on the day of a man's death is simply awful. If you want to wait a few weeks and post a serious analysis of how you think Buchanan was over-rated, that's one thing. But on the day of his death, to simply take a pot shot at him? Truly, truly dreadful.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Booming NASDAQ

The NASDAQ is up to 3103 as I write. In real terms, it is still down about 55% from its peak. If it sees a normal real return of a couple of percent a year, I am figuring that by about 2040 those who invested in the autumn of 2000 will have gotten their principle back.

"Anti-Semite" Jeffrey Goldberg Supports Hagel

Here.

As does the "anti-Semitic" Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.

And so does the rabid "anti-Semite" Thomas Friedman. (Who, along the way, calls attacks on Hagel such as Rubin's "disgusting.")

What Is Black and White, Nasty, Factually Ignorant, and Narrow-Minded?

A very mainstream realist like Stephen Walt reveals the answer:

"By making such ludicrous charges about Hagel, however, neoconservatives and other extremists made it clear just how nasty, factually ignorant, and narrow-minded they are, and how much they believed that the commitment to Israel ought to trump other foreign policy priorities." --Stephen Walt

The answer: Any column from Jennifer Rubin!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Mises and the Completion of His System

Jonathan Finegold Catalán notes that Mises seemed to dismiss Keynes without even really bothering to read him, and wonders why. I suspect the answer is that Mises was done learning new things by the time The General Theory appeared. We see a similar reaction to the emergence of game theory, where the only thing I am aware he ever said about it was the rather dismissive remark: "'Patience' or 'Solitaire' is not a one-person game, but a pastime, a means of escaping boredom. It certainly does not represent a pattern for what is going on in a communistic society, as John von Neumann and Oscar Morgenstern assert." (As if a pastime might not have a similar pattern in it as some serious activity! Solitaire would still have the exact same game pattern if it was played as part of a death match, but it would hardly still be a pastime!)

I don't think there is really even anything wrong with the fact he was not interested in these new avenues of research, except that he ought to have said, "I really don't have time to look into these things," rather than dismissing them without really looking into them. Hayek did that explicitly with Oakeshott in the introduction to Law, Legislation, and Liberty, where he says he thinks On Human Conduct is an important work that any future scholars interested in civil society must address, but he is just to far along for it to be him.

We only have so many years on earth: at some point, we may all take a look around and say, "You know, I've learned all I have time to learn: I have to spend the rest of my time writing it all up."

I Suppose Pundits Gotta Pund

But this really is rather silly:

"If [Obama is going to have a major scandal], history tells us we should be on the lookout starting about a year from now, since Year Six of a two-term presidency has been a fruitful time for scandal. Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light in January 1998, at the start of Clinton's sixth year in office. Iran-Contra was revealed in November 1986, in the sixth year of Reagan's presidency. The Watergate break-in occurred in 1972 while Richard Nixon was running for re-election, but the revelations played out slowly enough that he didn't resign until his sixth year in office, in August 1974. Similarly, the Bush administration revealed Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative in 2003, though the scandal wasn't fully over until 2007, when Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and President Bush commuted his sentence."

OK, in January 1998 Clinton had been in office five years. By November 1986, Reagan had been in office almost six years, and Iran-Contra was just being revealed. But for Watergate, the scandal was revealed in Nixon's fourth year, and ended in his sixth. The Plame scandal took from year three to year seven of the Bush administration, so, yes, it happened to run through the sixth year. And these are only the best fits!

Whitewater actually hit in year two of the Clinton administration. Earl Butz resigned in the third year of the Ford administration. The Checkers scandal was in the second year of the Eisenhower administration. Truman had an IRS scandal in his fifth year. Teapot Dome occupied the second and third years of the Harding administration.The Whiskey Ring scandal did hit Grant in his sixth year in office, but he had scandals almost every year. Andrew Johnson was impeached in his third year. Lincoln had a corruption scandal in his second year. The Galphin Affair hit during Zachary Taylor's first year. The XYZ affair was during John Adam's second year.

So given scandals often run several years, and except for FDR no president has served for more than eight, one can probably cherry-pick any year one wants and cobble together a story that "history tells us we should be on the lookout" for a scandal in year X. Perhaps the exception is the first year, because it does take some time to do something scandalous, get caught doing something scandalous, and have an investigation of the scandal launched.




A Cautionary Tale of a Drug Monopoly

In the far away land of ancapistan, a problem developed. A rare plant was discovered, erutan foestat, from which a powerful drug called Worpe could be made. The problem was this: on the one hand, in low doses, Worpe was the most powerful anti-cancer drug ever developed, while on the other hand, it was the most addictive substance yet known to man. A single dose at a high enough level would cause full-blown addiction, and so dealers could and would garner clientele simply by slipping people one dose. The addict would then devote his or her life entirely to getting more of the drug.

What to do? A council of defense agencies was called. They decided they would set up a corporation, in which they all owned an equal share, that would first buy up all of the land suitable for growing erutan, and then control the production of Worpe so that it would only be distributed to legitimate medical users.

The program was wildly successful: almost immediately, addiction rates dropped by 90%. Of course, nothing is perfect. Corrupt officials in the corporation diverted some Worpe to the black market. And seemingly some patches of land where erutan could be grown had been missed, as supply from mysterious sources sometimes was found on the market. But still, almost everyone was very pleased with the result.

However, time passed: in fact, centuries passed. People came to forget how bad the addiction problem had been, or even came to believe it was just a tall tale put out by Nah Taivel Incorporated, the company that had been set up to control Worpe production. And to be fair to those cynics, at times, the control of Nah Taivel had passed into the hands of criminals, who had diverted large portions of the supply of Worpe to the black market. But that always had created such chaos that management would be ousted, and the corporation re-directed to (mostly) fulfill its original mission with, again, the usual amount of corruption, vice and greed found in any group of humans.

But, having forgotten the state of affairs that existed before Nah Taivel had been created, people began to blame the company itself for the problem, as if Worpe had not existed prior to the corporation! They argued, "Look, Nah Taivel was supposedly set up to solve the problem of Worpe. What a farce: for centuries, the company itself has been the major source of Worpe! Every time there is an outbreak of Worpe addiction, who was behind it? Nah Taivel! The solution is to break up this monopoly, and allow free production of Worpe by anyone who wants to enter the business."

It is seemingly no use pointing out to these protesters that, having a monopoly over the production of Worpe, of course Nah Taivel is the main source of bad uses of it! It is no use noting that their solution has already been tried, that we once had competing producers of Worpe, and that we know the situation was far, far worse then. They are annoyed that human nature is not yet perfect, they have found what they see as an easy fix to that imperfection, and therefore they have immunized themselves against any evidence casting doubt on their crusade.

What to do with these well-meaning but seriously mistaken people? Perhaps getting them to see the real situation in a fictional guise might allow them to gain some distance from their obsession? Could we show them things as if in a mirror, or scrambled?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Dual Loyalty

The generally nutty Jennifer Rubin goes completely over the top concerning the Chuck Hagel nomination: "Chuck Hagel’s America is a land in which gays would be forced back in the closet and Jews would be accused of dual loyalty."

Let us bracket the gay issue here, while simply noting that Hagel apologized for his fifteen year-old remarks, and look at the other part of her claim: Outside of the neo-Nazi fringe, has anyone ever seen any American political figure claiming "Jews" have dual loyalty? A claim that Rubin and her ilk have dual loyalty is a completely different matter.

Look, I would not like to hear someone claim that Irish-Americans have dual loyalty. But there is no doubt that during the "troubles," some Irish-Americans did have dual loyalty, or worse: they were willing to funnel money to the IRA, despite its terrorist acts, and despite the problems such support created for our relationship with a major ally, Great Britain. There is absolutely nothing wrong with or racist about calling those people out on their position.

And when people like Rubin demand from any politician "unconditional support" for Israel, and smear them as anti-Semitic if they fail to agree, there is nothing wrong or anti-Jewish about noting that what they call for is insane: how can any country sensibly or morally pledge "unconditional" support for any other country? Such a condition means that even if Israel began systematically nuking its neighbors without provocation, we would have to just keep cheering them on. Any sane foreign policy must take a nation's own interests into account first, and any moral foreign policy must evaluate the morality of other nations' actions.

Many, many American Jews (and many, many Israelis) do not at all share Rubin's extremist views on Israel. This is not about "Jews," Jenny: it is about your extremist, warmongering position. I'm not even sure you have "dual" loyalty: given some columns of yours I have read, I would not be surprised to find that you are a paid agent of the Israeli government. Don't go smearing every Jew who opposes your extremism by claiming any objection to it is an attack on them!

Haberler and Loveday on Proleterianization and the Business Cycle

Mr. LOVEDAY then points out that for various reasons these financial rigidities have increased. "In recent years, the joint- stock system, under names varying with the law in different countries, has replaced to a constantly increasing extent the more personal enterprise. . . . Gradually with the growth of the big industrial concern, with the extension of the multiple shop . . . a greater and greater proportion of the population has been thrust out of positions of direct, independent control into the mass of wage-earning and salaried classes. Such persons can no longer invest in themselves; to the extent that they play for safety or apparent safety, and give preference to fixed-interest-bearing obligations over profit-sharing equities, they inevitably add to the rigidity of the financial system. Many forces have induced them to prefer safety to profit..." -- Prosperity and Depression, p. 117
Wilhelm Röpke referred to the treatment for this as the "de-proletarianization" of society:
And herewith we glimpse the outlines of a policy—going beyond cyclical policy—which seeks to mitigate the sensitivity and instability of our proletarianized, centralized, mass-type society through decentralization, de-proletarianization, the anchoring of men in their own resources, encouragement to small farmers and small business, increased property ownership, and the strengthening of the middle classes. In this way, it would be possible to equip society, internally, with a set of springs with whose help it could withstand even the strongest economic shocks without panic, pauperization, and demoralization. -- Economics of the Free Society, p. 232
I am growing convinced that this is correct: the fact that we need things like NGDP targeting and aggregate demand stimulus to treat recessions (and I think we do) is a symptom of a more general malaise: that we live in a "proletarianized, centralized, mass-type society."

Stimulus does, as some Austrians have noted, resemble another dose of a drug for an addict. But Keynesians and monetarists are also correct: so long as the patient is in the shape he is in, he needs these additional doses. The patient could die of an "Austerian" cure unless his overall health is restored. Simply pulling him off the drug that is keeping him going is not a good treatment plan.*

* And I will note that this position appears to resemble the one at which Minsky arrived.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

A Three-way Framework for Classifying Business Cycle Theories?

My colleague in this research and I were considering that we had two major dimensions along which to classify business cycle theories: exogenous versus endogenous, and truly cyclical versus pseudo-cyclical.

Examples:

An exogenous theory would be one that attributed cycles to, say, sunspots effecting agricultural output. An endogenous one would attribute, perhaps, the pessimism of the downturn to an expected reaction to the over-optimism of the boom.

A truly cyclical theory contains an explanation of why boom turns into bust which turns into boom: it explains why these states tend to repeat. A pseudo-cyclical theory (like real business cycle theory) explains the appearance of a cycle as being the result of random disturbances plus, perhaps, hysteresis.

But I think we need a third dimension as well: real versus monetary. At first I thought this could be subsumed under exogenous versus endogenous, where real factors are exogenous and monetary ones are endogenous. But now I see that is incorrect: a theory could hold that real, endogenous factors drive the cycle (for instance, the exhaustion of investment opportunities leading to a downturn, per Schumpeter or Cowen), while a theory could also regard monetary policy as exogenous (the central bank simply alters the quantity of money available with no causation coming from within the model).

Please excuse me if I am stating the obvious to you: I am learning!

Towards Reasonableness in Cycle Theory, II

Haberler said much the same thing as I was pointing at yesterday, of course having arrived at this opinion decades before I did:
It is true, a horizontal maladjustment alone (that is to say, an over-delopment of a particular branch of industry) can explain only a partial -- as opposed to a general -- depression for the reason that, if industry A is over-developed, there must be an industry B which is under-developed and, if A is depressed, B must prosper. But the same is true, as we have seen, of a vertical maldistribution of the factors of production.

In order to explain a general depression, it is necessary to recognize that a deflationary cumulative process can be set in motion by partial dislocation of the productive process. If this is accepted, there is no difficulty in assuming that such a vicious spiral of contraction may be started by a horizontal, as well as by a vertical, maladjustment in the structure of production. -- Prosperity and Depression, p. 111

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Towards Reasonableness in Cycle Theory

Here's Scott Sumner: "The recession was mostly caused by a big fall in AD, although real factors such as reallocation out of housing might have played a modest role."

Too often macroeconomics is conducted like warfare, where one's favorite theory has to crush all others and emerge as the "victor." I think this is wrong-headed: it's as though we were doctors, and each held a theory as to what makes people ill: "It's viruses!" "No, bacteria!" "Ridiculous: it's cancer!"

The fact is that all of these things can happen to people. And there is simply no reason in the world an economy can't suffer from both an Austrian-type misallocation of resources and an aggregate demand shortfall, as Sumner correctly notes.

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Violence of Pre-State Warfare

Here:

"As an example of traditional warfare, Diamond discusses the Dani War in New Guinea during the early 1960s, after a series of revenge killings touched off a protracted and bloody struggle between two alliances that spoke the same Dani language and shared the same culture. The Dani War, for Diamond, epitomized the characteristics of traditional war in general: ambushes; massacres; the demonization of enemies; the involvement of the whole population (not just soldiers); the burning and sacking of villages; low military efficiency combined with chronic hostilities, leading to constant anxiety and fear among the populace; and a per capita death toll higher than Europe’s during the world wars."

The problem isn't the State: the problem is human beings. And the problem with admitting that problem is you're not left with an easy slogan with which to get funding: "Hate the State" is catchy, but "Hate the human being" isn't going to get you many speaking engagements.

The Solution to All Serious Social Problems: A Vapid Rock Video!

OK, look, I count myself as a member of a creed that ordains female priests, so obviously I don't have a problem with the practice. But I also don't think creeds that don't do so have abstained because they "hate women" or anything like that: they are seriously concerned about scriptural precedents in this area. And a video like the one below is only likely to reinforce their concerns! (Hat tip Dreher.)

Goose? Gander?

The NBA is 78% black, and I have seen very few protests over this fact. But if an NBA team happens to be two-thirds white... well, that's outrageous!

Also, let us note well: a league that has been over 75% black for two decades is certainly not "at the forefront of diversity among America's professional sports leagues"! I personally think this is just fine: the NBA's teams should be free to hire whomever they think can play ball the best, and if a team is 100% black (as has surely happened), well, so be it: that's their choice for the best team they can field. But it is kind of ludicrous to call that "diversity," don't you think?

Here is a real lack of diversity: "In the present-day NBA, the number of American-born white players continues to diminish -- 85 were on rosters in 1990, 48 by 2005 and nine were regular starters a season ago."

But I don't blame the NBA for this and call for civil rights actions to redress it: the problem is that most American white guys at some point became so intimidated by American black guys that they gave up trying to compete in certain areas: it is the exact same reason that the average white guy, if thrust into a black dance club, either simply won't dance at all, or will do some ironic pseudo-dance in an attempt to refuse to really participate while appearing to take part. (Tonight I watched Jimmy Kimmel, faced with the unbearable task of dancing in front of three black men on stage, respond by doing something that looked like an imitation of a harpooned octopus writhing on a boat deck.) The right solution is not a lawsuit, but, white guys, grow some coglioni!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Dangers and the Limits of the Division of Labor

"It is well known that too intensive a division of labor can result in the atrophy of certain of our vital functions. There are several reasons for this. To begin with, the greatest part of our waking hours is spent on the job which yields us our daily bread. To be compelled to pass these hours in the performance of one narrowly confined operation is to cause the atrophy not only of certain muscles of the body, but of faculties of the mind and spirit as well. The highly specialized man is robbed of the chance to experience the fulness of his own personality; he becomes stunted. The country youth who comes from an unspecialized milieu will quickly adapt himself to city life. Indeed, it is a popular maxim that the “small town boy” makes good in the big city. On the other hand, the specialized industrial worker who goes to the country is, more often than not, a failure. Modern man does less and less by himself for himself. Canned foods replace those that were once prepared at home; ready-made clothes are substituted for those formerly made by mother or wife; the phonograph, the radio, and now television drive out the music once made around the family piano; football “fans” crowd gigantic stadia to experience on the vicarious level thrills that were once procured by genuine participation. And this vicarious way of life is extended even to letting others manufacture our thoughts and our opinions through the instruments of the press, the radio, and the movies. If credence be given to information emanating from certain cities that the demand for illegitimate children for adoption exceeds the supply, then we have reached the point where people even have their children made by others. Thus, as it encroaches on new fields of human activity, the division of labor leads increasingly to mechanization, to monotonous uniformity, to social and spiritual centralization, to the assembly-line production of human beings, to depersonalization, to collectivization—in a word, to complete meaninglessness which may one day generate a terrible revolt of the masses thus victimized." -- Wilhelm Röpke, Economics of the Free Society

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Reviewing A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

My friend Leslie Marsh and veteran Oakeshott scholar Paul Franco have released A Companion to Michael Oakeshott, a collection of essays by various authors (including my PhD adviser David Boucher) with Penn State Press. I'm reviewing it for Collingwood and British Idealism Studies, and so, as usual, I will post about it here as I prepare my review.

The first essay I will discuss is the first one in the book, Robert Grant's "The Pursuit of Intimacy," which details Grant's findings on Oakeshott's love life. Now, I have known for some time that Oakeshott had been a womanizer, but what is described in this essay is far more extreme than anything I had imagined. It turns out that during the late 1940s and the 1950s, Oakeshott was almost never sleeping with fewer than three women at once. A typical "courtship" technique for him was basically to stalk women until they gave in: he would, for instance, sit outside of their workplace all day, or stand outside their bedroom window in any sort of weather, a la Michael Furey. He spent so much time writing love letters that Grant notes it is surprising he ever got any work done.

A remark of a former student of his to me, that she did her PhD "under Oakeshott," takes on a whole new meaning now, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Evidence for Demons


This post isn't actually arguing for the existence of demons; it is actually about the misuse of neuroscience. I was reading Oliver Sachs new book, and he said something (the book is not with me now) along the lines of, "Some people took these feelings of presence as evidence of demons or ghosts, but now we know they are caused by such-and-such neural phenomena."

How in the world does that dispose of the possibility of demons or ghosts existing? (Again, please, this is not an argument for their existence: I am addressing neuroscientists trying to do philosophy, not the spirit world!) Don't, say, trees create particular neural patterns when we look at them? Does that prove that trees aren't real as well? Why can't someone who believes in ghosts say, "See, now we have physical evidence for ghosts: they are able to create those neural patterns you see!"

Look, when it comes to brain functioning, neuro-scientists are beast. (Yeah, I meant to write "beast": it's the way my 12-year-old describes someone who "rules.") When they start doing metaphysics, they are in no better position than plumbers or bridge engineers: a neuro-scientist might coincidentally be a good metaphysician, but if so, it is not because he knows a lot about the brain!