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Showing posts from March, 2015

The nature of economic laws

"To make economics a science is to suppose that its conclusions, even if hypothetical, have the same certainty as, for instance, those of physics; to assume, in other words that the same constancy which is discoverable in the dropping of the stone and its fall to the ground, is also discoverable in the relation between the imposition of tariffs and the movement of prices. This latter relationship is not one between abstract concepts, but between men's acts, and human ingenuity is continually altering relations between them. In short, when the economist professes to give us universality, he forget that an economic law is not merely like a physical law, one which man can understand and use, it is also one that he can alter. For the laws intended to cover man's asked and all of those he, unlike the stone that is dropped, it is conscious, and this very consciousness involves freedom to act differently. A law of human action can therefore be at best no more than a statistical…

Economic History

"to tear economic history out of its context and to study it by itself as if the economic activities of the epoch were something separate or separable from its other activities, or as if economic institutions had a history of their own, is to make it unintelligible or else to reduce it to propaganda in favor of the dubious dogma of the materialist interpretation of history." -- T.M Knox, "The Study of Economic Activity," Philosophy, 1936

Stapidity

We need to have a name for the pairing, in current sports reporting, of absolute worship of "statistics" combined with absolute ignorance about how to do probabilistic reasoning. "Stapidity"?

For instance, the NBA draft lottery is a domain in which we can be sure pure probabilistic reasoning applies, since it is deliberately set up that way. If a team has a 42.3% chance of getting the top pick, that's that: there is no point looking at "recent history" to see how teams in that position did, since in a random sampling, we expect to see subsets with different distributions of results than we will get as our sample size approaches infinity. And we know with certainty (unless we suspect the NBA has a broken random number generator) that in the limit, 42.3% of such teams will wind up with the top pick. And yet:

"And as the fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information pointed out, recent history says not to be too confident the Lakers will keep the pi…

Smith on Human Capital

J.A. Smith, that is:

"Is labour capital? If a labour meeting labor in act, "labouring," certainly not. But the strengths, etc., which is employed in labor certainly is actual capital when it is in use, potential capital before it is in use. The labourer is therefore just as much and as really "a capitalist" as the employer. More exactly, the abilities, etc. presupposed by economic labour are capital, and their possessor is 'a capitalist.' But they are not usually recognized as, or named, capital... The refusal to call them capital wrongly separates them from other parts of wealth." -- J.A. Smith, “Further Notes on Some Fundamental Notions of Economics: Capital,” Economic Review, 1914.

Although Smith does not use the term "human capital," it clearly is what he is talking about. Of course people, such as Adam Smith, had earlier noted that increases in human skills play an important part in increases in production. But had anyone earlier t…

An Interesting Way of Viewing Consumption

"Consumption is the inverse of production, and 'the consumer' the inverse of 'the producer.' To consume, in the economic sense, is to diminish, and in the end to destroy, the utility or 'commodiousness' of a commodity, and 'the consumer' is the person who has legally the final right to do this." -- J.A. Smith, “On Some Fundamental Notions of Economics,” Economic Review, 1913.

This definition helps to illuminate the notion of household production, and clarifies just what are producer goods and what consumer goods. So putting a piece of bread in the toaster is an act of production, and the untoasted bread still a producer's good: the good's utility is still increasing. It is only the toasted and buttered piece that is a consumer good, and it becomes that in the process of having its utility destroyed.

J.A. Smith on Why a Market for Establishing Property Rights Is a Nonsensical Idea

"in the establishment of my wealth presupposes a system of recognized and established rights. What I own (by law or custom) consists of rights and nothing else; my wealth therefore consists of rights and nothing else." -- J.A. Smith, “On Some Fundamental Notions of Economics,” Economic Review, 1913.

Alfred Marshall leading us by the nose in a circle

'we are told [by Marshall] that [wealth] consists of two classes of goods, which together constitute "economic goods." If we ask what quote economic goods" far, we are informed that quote economic goods" include quote those goods, and only those, which come clearly within the scope of economic science, as defined in Book I." (p. 127). But as "economic science" is there defined as "the study of Wealth," we are clearly being led by the nose in a circle. Wealth is defined as consisting of all those goods, and those only, which come clearly within the scope of the Science of Wealth.' -- J.A. Smith, “On Some Fundamental Notions of Economics,” Economic Review, 1913.

Rationalism in ethics

I believe I was the first person to note in print just how Aristotelian Oakeshott's analysis of rationalism is, although I must credit Noel O'Sullivan for dropping the hint that got me going in that direction. Here is the kind of thing I was getting at:

"At the start of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle observes that moral action does not arise from deliberation. In order to think clearly about virtue, one must first already have a virtuous disposition formed by good habits. Aristotle drily remarks that the endless ethical debate of some philosophers is really just a sophisticated way of doing nothing. You become virtuous – and thus able to understand virtue – by acting virtuously. Nobody ever reasoned their way into right living."

"...the endless ethical debate of some philosophers is really just a sophisticated way of doing nothing": Peter Singer springs instantly into my mind!

Humpty Dumpty

Reading traditional Catholics is an interesting experience for me. I often agree with their analysis of what has gone wrong and how it went wrong. But I find their remedy implausible: Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, and all the king's horses, and all the king's men, can't put Humpty together again.


John Locke

"The confused man's Hobbes" -- C.B. Macpherson

A Bayesian Spirit Catcher

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Since myrecentposts on material and spiritual explanations have been so egregiously misunderstood by some commenters, let me try again, with a new tack.

Bayesian inference is given by the rule:


Our H is: "Hildegard of Bingen had visions sent from God."

Our E is that we discover that Hildegard was suffering from migraines. (By the way, this idea is just sheer speculation on the part of Oliver Sacks, with little evidence behind it. But let us imagine it confirmed.)

Let us say someone like my friend Ben Kay has the prior P(H) that Hildegard experienced divine visions of 0. (Ben is a committed atheist.) Then E arrives. Ben touts it as, "See, she just had migraines." But this is insincere: with a P(H) of 0, for any evidence that arrives, Ben will have a P(H | E) of 0!

I have another friend, an Inuit fellow named Nahallak, who thinks Hildegard's life story makes her report of divine visions likely, so that he has a P(H) of .8. But he is also convinced that if someon…

Galen Strawson on Consciousness

Those superstitious ancients

In the ancient days, people thought that Babe Ruth was a "great home run hitter." But now science has determined that all that was going on was a cylindrical piece of wood was striking a canvas and cork sphere and imparting a velocity to it that caused it to travel over a wooden barrier. They were so superstitious in New York in the 20s!

I'm Possessed by a Spirit...

of massive frustration. Modern forms of superstition, such as materialism and scientism, are apparently completely immune to reason. And the people who embrace the myths put forward in establishing these superstitions hold to them with a tenacity that exceeds that of any Young Earth Creationist.

Consider:

The Ancient Greeks thought epilepsy involved possession by a spirit.

Today, we "know" that epilepsy occurs when physiological processes X, Y, and Z take place.

So this contradicts the Greek view, correct?

It is almost unbelievable that people think that with such assurance, since there is absolutely no logic supporting the conviction.

What?! Don't these views posit mutually exclusive explanations for the same thing?

Of course they do not. It is a symptom of the complete confusion people have been put into by the rise of scientism and positivism that anyone even suspects that they do. Let us first imagine what an ancient Greek thought, and then see if we can detect even…

AI hype as job security for software engineers

My student told me, "My setup is exactly the same as Brian's, but his works and mine doesn't."

"No," I replied, "if your setup does not work, that is because it is different than Brian's."

We got online so I could see his screen. Brian and I had set "PYTHONPATH" to point to a particular directory. When I asked to see the other student's value for "PYTHONPATH," he said, "Oh, I used 'PATH' for that. I thought it wouldn't matter."

So he had set the wrong variable. But rather than seeing the box in front of him as a dumb machine, where you have to set each switch properly or it won't work, he viewed it as something semi-magical that would just "know" that by 'PATH' he meant 'PYTHONPATH.' And if it wasn't working, well, the likely explanation was that the box was busy thinking about something else, like world domination, rather than it just being a dumb machine, in whi…

The myth of liberal neutrality

I made the stupid mistake of writing a serious comment on a Facebook post. Immediately, a good liberal--call him "Wilson"--popped up, robotically chanting about how "religious people" want to force their values on others. (I am quite sure he believed he was "thinking for himself" in repeating this mantra.)

When I noted that he was just as willing to force his values on others in the legislation he backed, he became outraged: "I am not the one who wants a special exemption from anti-discrimination laws!"

So in Wilson's picture of the world, when a Christian cake-maker declines to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, she is "forcing her values" on them. But when Wilson endorses using the full power of the law to shut down her business if she won't cater gay weddings, well, that is just common sense!

Note that the point here is not about who is right in these disputes or what discrimination should be legally permitted. For insta…

Our Established Church: Americanism

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"it is clear that Madison and Jefferson, under the guise of religious neutrality, were arguing for the imposition of a new theology of the State in preference to the old one involving some form of Church-State alliance." -- Christopher A. Ferrara, Liberty: The God That Failed, p. 560

Of note in this regard: The founders of the new republic placed a newly invented goddess, Liberty, on almost all American coinage up until the 20th century. They knew they were founding a new religion.

An unjust price

The concept of a "just price," and by contrast of an unjust price, have sometimes been harshly criticized by libertarians. But it is really not too hard a concept to grasp, and I think even the critics know, in their heart-of-hearts, that it is possible for "voluntary" exchange to be unjust.

To offer an example: last night, while falling asleep watching Perry Mason, I caught an add for "pure gold" Buffalo "coins." There were charts about the price of gold, and history about the American Buffalo shooting up to $3000 in price. (I cannot see they ever actually were that high, but...)

Then, quickly mumbled, was a bit about the good for offer not being the American Buffalo, but a non-monetary copy. Louder again about the gold being 99.99% pure, and then something real quick about the actual amount of gold in these "coins," which turned out to be 14... milligrams! That is about 5/10000 of an ounce, or about 70 cents worth of gold.

And these…

Avicenna: An Early Oakeshott?

Avicenna is widely regarded as one of the two or three greatest Muslim philosophers. He also reportedly loved wine and promiscuous sex.

When asked about this odd combination of traits, he apparently would reply something along the lines of, "God gave me the capacities to enjoy wine and women, and it would be ungrateful of me to let those capacities go to waste."

The five ways and the five second dismissals

After Aquinas formulated his "Quinque Viae," students would often spend weeks studying each "way," as an introduction to these ideas.

Today, students spend five seconds having some professor guffaw, "Ha, if everything has a cause, what caused God?!" (Showing the professor himself has no idea what the second way claims.)

But to take this argument seriously, to spend the time necessary to grasp it, would start to produce doubts: maybe Aquinas was on to something! And we don't want that.

Learning history through movies

To learn about the 1960s, don't watch Mad Men: watch shows produced during the 1960s.

A show produced in the 1960s that is purportedly about the Middle Ages is likely to tell us more about the 1960s then will a show produced today that is purportedly about the 1960s.

The worst argument for open borders ever made?

Jason Brennan links to a new paper. I have only
read Brennan's summary, so the paper may be much better than he depicts it (more
on that later), but anyway, here is how he summarizes its argument: 



“Freiman says to readers
(again, a paraphrase, not a real quotation): ‘Okay, so you believe it’s
permissible to prohibit foreigners from moving to your country (even when
there’s someone who wants to hire them or let them lease a house), but it’s not
permissible to deport current citizens. Fine. Give me some feature F that
citizens have, which non-citizens lack, that plausibly explains why it’s
permissible to exclude one but not to deport the other. Or give me some feature
G that non-citizens have, but citizens lack, that explains why it’s permissible
to exclude foreigners but not deport citizens. Let’s confine ourselves to cases
where the harm done to the foreigner by excluding him is equal to the harm done
to the citizen by deporting her. And, no, you can’t just say F = is a citize…

A Plague of Locusts in My Brain

I have heard that Ken B. and rob are going for a hike in the mountains. I decide to put a stop to their stream of repetitive comments once and for all: I sneak up onto a path above them, and, as they pass, I cause an avalanche to descend upon them, killing them.

Now, avalanches happen without anyone intending them. And my defense attorney will surely bring that point up at my trial: yes, it is interesting to know that there are other possibilities than "Gene killed them" at play.

1) But what would be nonsense for him to argue would be, "Ah, Gene didn't kill them! It was an avalanche that killed them!"

Because everyone involved agrees there was an avalanche. The question is, "What started the avalanche?" Of course there was some physical cause of their death; what we want to know to reach a verdict was "Did someone intend that cause?"

________________________

In the Bible, when God is trying to persuade the Pharaoh to "let my people go,…

Temple Grandin

She is the top animal handling consultant in the world, and has been instrumental in bringing about more humane treatment of animals in meat production: "Most modern livestock-handling facilities and methods that minimize stress and insecurity to large animals owe their implementation to an autistic person, Dr. Temple Grandin."

She attributes her great understanding of animals to her autism. Ken and rob better get on the horn to her and let her know she doesn't understand animals at all: her brain is just in a peculiar state!

Heloise and Abelard

This pair were hippies way ahead of their time. Not only did Heloise claim that she and Abelard did not need marriage, a mere human institution, to sanctify their cosmic relationship, but they named their kid... Astrolabe! That is like the names of 22-year-olds I met in Berkeley in 1990.


Brain Salad Surgery

A person "sees a tree." He is asked what caused him to see this. "Well, light from the tree coming to my eyes."

A neuro-phile says, "No, what caused you to have that experience was this brain state I detected." *

The neuro-phile is obviously confused: these are not competing explanations, but complementary explanations from different points of view.

If someone asks me, "Gene, why are you in England?" then "I came for a conference" and "This is where the jet landed" are not contradictory answers! They address the question from two different perspectives.

_____________________________

A person experiences strange fits. Doctors are puzzled as to what is occurring, but he is not: Aliens are beaming mind-control waves into his head, totally disrupting his brain patterns.

We may not believe him, but that will be because we doubt aliens are visiting the earth, or something like that. What would be absurd here is to point to his unu…

It was just a migraine

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In a lecture on St. Hildegard, the lecturer mentioned that's some modern "scholars" explain away her spiritual visions as having been caused by migraine headaches.

It is certainly possible that Hildegard may have been having migraines. But what in the world does that have to do with whether or not God was sending her visions? When I see a tree, certain things happen in my brain. But it would be nonsense to point to those neurological phenomena and say, "See, Gene is not seeing a tree: there is just this electrical activity in his brain."

Perhaps visions sent by God are so intense that they cause migraines. Or perhaps migraines are God's way of sending us a vision. I don't know if Hildegard was having genuine revelations or not, but I do know that whether or not she was having migraines has nothing to do with answering the first question.

In any case, here is one of her migraine headaches for your viewing pleasure:




It looks remarkably like the migraine …

The Political Economy of the British Idealists: Introduction

James Connelly and I have begun serious work on our book, The Political Economy of the British Idealists. That means, as usual, my faithful blog readers get to see snippets of it in progress. Here is the start of the introduction:

*************************


There has been a revival of interest in the ideas of the group of thinkers known as "British Idealists" of late, with a stream of books emerging discussing one aspect or another of their broad ranging thought. But this attention has focused chiefly on the metaphysical, ethical, and political philosophy of these figures.

Nevertheless, many British Idealists paid a fair amount of attention to political economy. What is more, while they certainly did not think as a monolithic unit, when one views this body of work as a whole, a characteristic approach to political economy comes to light, featuring a rejection of one-sided abstractions and an attempt to see an issue holistically. And it is an approach that, in out troubled econo…

"Think for yourself"

A very nice essay by Adam Gurri has some gems:

"individual responsibility – like liberty – is itself a concept that emerged within a tradition that had particular groups as its caretakers. Not only do I think that individual responsibility, properly understood, is compatible with the notion that groups can choose; I think that individual responsibility has only ever existed within a space framed by groups."

And:

"It often amazes me how the most committed individualists will speak of 'thinking for yourself' and then will draw on ideas that they learned entirely from other people."

The second quote reminds me of an online conversation I had recently. I encountered an online friend claiming that some physicist had "proved" that time was an illusion.When I mentioned this was nonsense, and that the physicist had confused mathematics with metaphysics, I was met with cries, by him and his buddy, of, "But this guy we are citing knows mathematics!&qu…

Dijkstra on the Middle Ages

Pioneering computer scientist E. W. Dijkstrawrites:

"On the historical evidence I shall be short. Carl Friedrich Gauss, the Prince of Mathematicians but also somewhat of a coward, was certainly aware of the fate of Galileo... when he decided to suppress his discovery of non-Euclidean geometry, thus leaving it to Bolyai and Lobatchewsky to receive the flak. It is probably more illuminating to go a little bit further back, to the Middle Ages. One of its characteristics was that 'reasoning by analogy' was rampant; another characteristic was almost total intellectual stagnation, and we now see why the two go together. A reason for mentioning this is to point out that, by developing a keen ear for unwarranted analogies, one can detect a lot of medieval thinking today."

Similarly, we can go even "further back," to the 20th century. One of its characteristics was that 'doing history by making shit up' was rampant; another characteristic was almost total i…

White privilege; Religion is personal?

Here is a very good John McWhorter piece about "white privilege." I agree with almost everything he says: this obsessing over white privilege, or constant self-auditing as to whether one was ever scared of a few black people, is just self-indulgence, and a means to feel OK about continuing to hang out with one's white liberal friends in Park Slope because one keeps confessing to how privileged one is. McWhorter hits the heart of the issue:

"For example, it’s a safe bet that most black people are more interested in there being adequate public transportation from their neighborhood to where they need to work than that white people attend encounter group sessions where they learn how lucky they are to have cars."

Yes, yes, yes.

But McWhorter does say something he takes for truth but is instead "true of the way people like to think about this today":

"Politics is about society. Religion, however, is personal."

No society in the world before th…

The Fall

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As I have mentioned previously, to mistake a myth for a theory is a terrible error. Genesis I is not a scientific theory of how the world was created, nor is it an historical account. It is a myth about creation: it expresses a mystery that we can't capture in scientific theories or historical accounts, but that we can hint at through poetry such as, "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."

I was prompted to think about this again tonight when one of my online friends was circulating an inspirational poster telling the reader, "There is nothing wrong with you accept what other people tell you is wrong with you."

Of course there is something wrong, and fundamentally wrong, with each of us! That something is expressed again and again in myths: in the Biblical story of the Fall, or Plato's myth of the originally perfect beings that split in two, in the tale of Prometh…

My review of Mary Morgan's...

The World in the Model, is now available at The Review of Austrian Economics.

Joe Jordan Guest Post II: Time and Morality

Gene's post on free will and time makes me think of an idea I was kicking around a while ago about the necessity of Time for us to be moral creatures:

If there was no Time (for us), we would never be compelled to make moral decisions. Since we live in Time, we are forced to make decisions, and those decisions take on moral weight. We are, I guess it can be said, "forced to be free" in the sense that we are compelled to face choices and therefore make moral decisions given the construct of Time (as we experience it). If there was no Time (for us) we wouldn't have to make any choices at all; we could simply accept infinite stasis. Perhaps that's what Hell (or a version thereof) is like? Complete frozen-ness?

To tie a bit of Judeo-Christian "existentialism" into this rumination: it would seem that there is something fundamental in our creaturely nature that requires us to make decisions. We were made to make choices. God wants us to freely choose to love Hi…

The confusion on free will

Despite Augustine having satisfactorily settle this issue 1600 years ago, some people, some of whom even comment this blog, still believe that if God knows what I am going to do, then I must not have free will.

I think I have identified the source of this confusion: if you or I know with 100% certainty that X will occur, then it must be necessary that it will occur. That is because we are beings embedded in time, and we can never know with certainty what contingencies will arise in the future.

But for any sophisticated thinker who has held both divine omniscience and human free will to exist, that is not at all the case for God: God exists outside of time, and sees the past, present, and future all at once. So all contingencies are know to Him at a glance. That fact that He knows with certainty that, say, a butterfly will land on my nose tomorrow in no way means that the butterfly could not have done otherwise. God simply sees what it actually does do.

Liberalism Is a Rival Religion, Not a Neutral Arbiter Among Religions, Part X

The great Patrick Deneen again:

The "radical" school rejects the view that Catholicism and liberal democracy are fundamentally compatible. Rather, liberalism cannot be understood to be merely neutral and ultimately tolerant toward (and even potentially benefitting from) Catholicism. Rather, liberalism is premised on a contrary view of human nature (and even a competing theology) to Catholicism. Liberalism holds that human beings are essentially separate, sovereign selves who will cooperate based upon grounds of utility. According to this view, liberalism is not a "shell" philosophy that allows a thousand flowers to bloom. Rather, liberalism is constituted by a substantive set of philosophical commitments that are deeply contrary to the basic beliefs of Catholicism, among which (Catholics hold) are the belief that we are by nature relational, social and political creatures; that social units like the family, community and Church are "natural," not merely…

Two thousand cattle

In the early 700s, Ceolfrid, abbot at the Monkwearmouth-Jarrow abbey, sought a land grant for land on which the abbey could raise 2000 head of cattle.

The 2000 cattle were needed to produce... X.

Can you guess what X was?

UPDATE: X is a single unit of a something, so, a good answer would be, "They were going to produce one giant leather dome over their monastery." That is not the right answer, but they were going to produce one of something with these 2000 cattle.

Debugging the Old-Fashioned Way

I can usually see people making fun of using "print" statements to debug code. "That's so old-fashioned: haven't you ever heard of a debugger?"

Debuggers can be fine things. And if you're going to be working with a language a lot, pays take time to learn its debugger.

But the other day I was asked to debug some Perl code for someone. This group had been stuck, for a couple of months, not being able to process some important data because they couldn't figure out how to get this program to handle it.

I haven't worked with Perl for a dozen years. I think that I recall it has a debugger, but I have no memory of how to invoke it, let alone what its commands are. But I looked the code over and inserted a print statement.

Hmm, that's not the problem. Insert a second print.

Nope, not that either. Insert third print.

Bingo! An entry had to be made in a secondary file before the code would process the new data.

It took me less time to find the proble…

Corey Abel and Leslie Marsh Contra Economism

"But the non-instrumental enjoyment of another’s company is the rejection of the entire worldview of economic trade-offs, and is not reducible to it. An economist can understand the activity of friendship in economic terms, but in doing so, he has stripped it of the meaning friendship has for friends. It is like understanding sex as a form of exercise, or marriage as a contract for sex. To understand humans as self-interpreting beings, one has to understand their self understanding, what activities and relationships mean to them." (In Nell, Guinevere Liberty. 2014. Austrian Economic Perspectives on Individualism and Society: Moving beyond Methodological Individualism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan: 131)

The Incoherence of "Non-Judgmentalism"

Here is famed software developer Eric Raymond telling Mozilla not to let the door hit it on the way out to oblivion. Why?

The company "betrayed one of the core covenants of open source." Which was? "One of the central values of the hacker culture from which Mozilla sprang is that you are to be judged by the quality of your work alone."

Which is, of course, exactly what Raymond is not doing in reference to Mozilla! He is judging them because they forced Brendan Eich to resign. But that is very much not their quality of their work (which is mostly Firefox): it was a political decision they made.

Now, I happen to agree with Raymond that Mozilla should have showed a little more spine! But despite my agreement, I am forced to note that is argument is self-undermining: you cannot use a universal ban on "judgmentalism" to judge those who violate it! It simply makes no sense.

Lamarck was right!

Or, at least, not so wrong.* It seems offspring can indeed inherit acquired traits: for instance, male mice were taught to associate the smell of orange blossoms with an electric shock. Their sperm was then used to fertilize in vitro, and it was found that even their grandchildren were startled upon smelling orange blossoms. And there are many, many other cases were it has been shown that this type of inheritance is real.

Which is why I get a kick out of people who learned their biology decades ago, and sternly lecture people on the Internet as to how acquired traits cannot be inherited.

* There is some debate about whether this sort of inheritance is really "Lamarckian."

Libertarians in La-La Land

Here:

"'Smart property,' for example, refers to physical property whose ownership is registered in the blockchain and thus controlled by whoever has the private key. In other words, property rights can be cryptographically defined and self-enforced by code. The owner can sell it simply by transferring the private key to another party."

Sure Ronald! When some men with guns show up to take my land, I can show them my "cryptographically defined" property rights, and they will say, "Ooooohhhh! We didn't know you had a private key showing you own this land! Well, we'll just scurry off then."

Imagine if Native Americans had only had "cryptographically defined" property rights: the Europeans would have just sailed on back home, wouldn't they?

UPDATE: In the comments, rob has made me wonder if Bailey only meant "self-enforcing" in reference to things like a computer or automobile, that could be rendered inoperative for anyo…

Is the "Just Price" an Antiquated Notion?

Livio Di Matteo has a nice discussion of the history of supply-and-demand analysis here. Along the way, the idea of a "just price" arises, and is regarded, both by Di Matteo and commenter Bob Murphy (probably no relation to the Murphy we know and love) as an antiquated idea, incompatible with modern price theory.

But perhaps just price theories are not incompatible with supply-and-demand analysis. My reading of Aristotle (from whom Aquinas would have drawn his basic notions) suggests to me that what he was looking at (without having the terms, of course!) was producer and consumer surplus, and the "equality" that had to hold was between these surpluses, so that if I would buy at any price under $2, and Murphy would sell at any price above $1, the just price should be around $1.50. "Unjust" prices would come about when one of us has far greater bargaining power, and "forces" the price to $1.01 or $1.99.

To consider this in more concrete terms, t…

Platonic solids? (She says he's just a friend)

Have you ever met a shape that you tried to measure
But a year to find its sides don't give you no pleasure
Let me tell ya a story of my situation
I was talkin' to this shape from the Platonic nation
The way that I met her: rubber-sheet geometry
She had long sides and loved topology
I bounded onstage drippin' like a closed set
I was walkin' long a plane and guess who I met
I whispered in her ear, "A shape like you I wanna see her
So I ask a question, are ya isotopic to a sphere?"
I asked her her name, she said x-y-z
She had 9/10 edges and great homotopy
I made a couple of transforms and she was enthused
I said, "How you like the show?" she said, "I was very amused"
I started throwin' wind, she started throwin' back fire
But when I sprung the question, she was locally finite
I asked, "Do ya have a mirror image?" she tried to pretend
She said, "No I don't, I only have a friend"
Come on, I'm not even goin&…

Sunlight-stealing aliens invade the Solar System!

Apparently my point in this post was misapprehended. Although I wrote this: "My comments here are from the perspective of the philosophy and history of science, two subjects which I have studied a fair bit. I have absolutely nothing to say about global warming models or these predictions of a new little ice age...," commenters immediately began talking about "forcing factors" in climate models and so forth. Maybe the AGW advocates have underplayed the significance of the sun in their models: I don't know. But if they have, that still would not mean that they were wrong that humans have been creating warming, just that they were wrong about its significance compared to solar activity.

I was making a broader point about testing scientific theories: simply because the predictions of a theory do not pan out does not mean the theory is wrong! Let me create a fantasy scenario to illustrate what I was trying to get across:

Let us imagine that by some miracle mains…

What Is a Model?

Some thoughts:

1) Models are constructed.
2) They are made of distinct parts. (E.g., "a supply curve, a demand curve, an x-axis, a y-axis," or "red lines for highways, black lines for local roads, dashed lines for dirt roads.")
3) The parts are made to fit together. (The supply curve is measured in the same units as the demand curve, and crosses it somewhere. The roads are laid out on the same grid, using the same scale.)
4) We can adjust those parts, either purely mentally, or with our hands (as with an architectural model), or a pencil and eraser (a mechanical drawing), a computer (a weather model), and so on. (In using a map, we actually adjust a "part" we will in: where we are. Sometimes, this part is represented by our finger, as we trace a route, or the mark of a highlighter.)
5) Adjusting the parts produces an "answer" of some sort from the model: "Oh-oh, if we move that wall there, the stairs won't fit," or "If the su…

What Is Most Important About the Sacred Parent-Child Relationship... Rothbard Edition

Here: "In the first place, the overriding fact of parent–child relations is that the child lives on the property of his parents."

There you have it folks: the "overriding fact" of the parent-child bond is that the child is sort of a free-loading tenant of the parent.

Sociology implies Bob Murphy is an atheist

A sociological study finds that the majority of libertarians are atheists. (I think this might be true, but let us just suppose it is.)

Now I turn my attention to Bob Murphy, and discover that he is a libertarian. I write, "Sociology implies that Bob Murphy is an atheist, but I have discovered that he is a theist!"

I present this as a refutation of sociology.

From the comments he has posted recently, apparently Bob thinks that this is a valid form of reasoning. And not only is it valid, I am 100%, unequivocally wrong when I object to it.

Hmm...

Is a Little Ice Age Upon Us?

Some scientists seem to think so.

Thoughts:

1) The headline to the article linked above is sensationalist. The truth (as I gather from the body of the article) is that some scientists at or associated with NASA think we may be entering a little ice age. That is interesting, but not what the headline says.

2) If it is true, it does not mean that global warming theories have been wrong, or a "hoax," as some people absurdly have contended. What it means is, that like all scientific theories, these theories can only account for a certain range of phenomena, and when something outside the scope of the theory enters the picture... well, the theory doesn't account for that.

An example:

The government of Ruritania gives each citizen in its capital of Ruropolis the equivalent of a million dollars of the local currency, which it has just printed. An economist predicts, "Ruritania is about to see some wicked inflation."

The very next day, Ruritania's enemy, Freedonia…

Innately despicable, evil beings

I saw a claim today that I've seen before: basically, that the only thing stopping normal people from doing very bad things is the consequences. See the comment from Stewart Smith herewhere he says, 
Ask your friend what they would do if they had one day to live and could do anything they wanted. See if they don't try and break one law with their last day on earth. I personally have asked this same question to otherwise perfectly upstanding citizens. These 'upstanding individuals' claimed they would literally rape some poor person because there were no consequences, or at the least steal loads of money to fulfil some other harebrained adrenaline rush. My point is that the only thing keeping us humans from committing evil acts is consequence, meaning we as humans are innately despicable, evil beings.

It seems to me that this can be disproven empirically. There are lots of people, right now, who are not bedridden, but know that they are experiencing their last days on eart…

Andy Denis on Hayek and MI

“In his work on the evolution of social orders, Hayek thus abandons the individualist methodology he had proposed in his wartime writings, thereby rectifying the inconsistency that that precept implied for the system of his thought." (From Nell, Guinevere Liberty. 2014. Austrian Economic Perspectives on Individualism and Society: Moving beyond Methodological Individualism, p. 18)

Is there any point to these simulations?

Here is John Hollinger's description of how he gets his NBA playoff predictions:

"As always, the output of a product is only as good as its input, so let's explain a little about how this is derived. The computer starts with the day's Hollinger Power Rankings. Then, in each of the 5,000 times it replays the season, it makes a random adjustment up or down to allow for the possibility that a team will play better or worse than it has done thus far."

I've been trying to think this through: why run simulations at all? The power rankings must establish some relationship between teams, such that, say, when a 94.5 plays an 86.7 it will likely win by three points, or something like that. Now you can produce some random wiggles and determine what the likelihood 94.5 will win is. Then use similarly derived likelihoods for all remaining games to get all of the teams' final records.

In other words, my first impression here is that the run of 5000 simulations is just…

I've Got a Sinking Feeling About This

Mike Munger brings to our attention a paper that purports to "measure" whether sunk costs matter. In the abstract, the authors claim:

"Behavioral economics implies that teams favor players chosen in the lottery and first round of the draft because of the greater financial and psychic commitment to them. Neoclassical economics implies that only current performance matters."

Now, I am not an expert on the literature on sunk costs, but I have taught the topic, and thought about it some. The mainstream view appears to me to fluctuate between:

1) a priori, only future costs can be considered, a proposition which can be made true by defining future costs appropriately; or
2) people do worry about sunk costs, but they really ought to stop doing so.

If we adopt viewpoint one, then "empirical" studies are irrelevant: the proposition is true a priori.

If we adopt viewpoint two, all this study would tell us is that NBA management has gotten this message. It certain…

Chronological Snobbery

I was sitting at my local near someone who is, in fact, a college professor. He happened to bring up how ancient literature is filled with barbaric practices such as crucifixion and stoning, and how "We've advanced past that" today.

"Boy, we sure have!" I thought. Today, we don't mess around taking hours to kill three people by hanging them on crosses! No, we wipe out 100,000 or more with a couple of button pushes, or tens of thousands in a single night, or use efficient, high-tech means to kill 6 million over the course of a few years.

We certainly have "advanced past" those primitive times when books like the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita were being written: today, we can kill thousands using science in the time it took the ancients to kill dozens! Thank God we are not as primitive as they were.

Neeley Talks Sense on Sand

Here.