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Showing posts from December, 2015

Bourgeois Society

"To say that the market economy belongs to a basically bourgeois total order implies that it presupposes a society which is the opposite of proletarianized society, in the wide and pregnant sense which it is my continual endeavor to explain, and also the opposite of mass society as discussed in the preceding chapter. Independence, ownership, individual reserves, saving, the sense of responsibility, rational planning of one's own life -- all that is alien, if not repulsive, to proletarianized mass society." -- Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy, p. 99

The American Conservative Book Symposium

Here, including a contribution by yours truly.

Why Trump Is Popular

A very good analysis from David Frum, here.

I'd add that it's not so much his particular policies, as the fact he ticks off the "right" people.

Linear Programming Bleg

I am working on learning how to do linear programming in Excel; I would like to do this for my production possibility frontier model. Is there anyone out there who wouldn't mind mentoring me a little on this?

Some Macro Models

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In Excel, posted to GitHub. Right now I have:
A real growth vs. nominal growth vs. inflation spreadsheetA Keynesian Cross spreadsheet; andA Production Possibility Frontier spreadsheet. All of them are built on a minimal data entry paradigm; for instance, for the Keynesian Cross, you only need enter autonomous consumption, marginal propensity to consume, and intended investment, and the whole kit and caboodle recalculates from there. For the PPF, you just enter a maximum number of units, and everything recalculates: great for showing a collapsing or expanding PPF.

Models are not about "essentials"...

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They are abstractions that highlight an aspect of the thing being modeled.

That is why I deny that, by making a model of a recession in which "recessions are not about output and employment and saving and investment and borrowing and lending and interest rates and time and uncertainty... the only essential things are a decline in monetary exchange caused by an excess demand for the medium of exchange," Nick Rowe has shown that in real recessions, those are the only essential things.

For instance, what about the proposition that "The Ptolemaic model of the solar system proves that it is not about rock-and-ice-and-gas planets orbiting a giant plasma orb: The only essential thing is pure circular movement"?

But perhaps the problem there is that that is not a good model. So let's say we get a better one: Newton's. Now we have a planet as a point mass, orbiting the Sun, another point mass. Is this the "essence" of the solar system? That doesn't se…

Rational eating

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I encountered an article recently -- I am not going to bother even looking it up and linking to it, because similar sentiments are a dime a dozen -- arguing that the American way of using a fork while eating is "inefficient," and thus should be replaced by a more European style.

But... what does "efficiency" have to do with table manners? If our goal, when sitting down at the table, was to simply get food as "efficiently" as possible into our mouths, we would just plunge our face down into our dish, the same way our dogs eat.

Civilized eating is precisely about checking our tendency to eat like an animal, and constraining our appetite according to cultural rules as to how we may eat. To evaluate our table manners based on whether the American way of eating with a fork is more or less "efficient" than eating with chopsticks, or one's fingers, is to completely misconstrue what table manners are about: they exist to reduce our "efficiency…

"You're so behind the times!"

Intellectually, the above is the equivalent of "You think differently than we do in my province!"

"The times" is just the province of the ages that we happen to live in.

Vanishing comments

All Blogger comments get emailed to me... and always wind up in my spam folder.

So I just go through the Blogger interface and approve all those that are not spam.

Except now I was looking in my mail spam folder, and I see comments in there that I never saw in Blogger! I don't know how this could happen, but it means some comments aren't appearing at all, and I have no idea why.

Especially, I saw Kevin Quinn and Prateek in my spam mail folder, but I can't find their comments anywhere in Blogger.

My apologies.

The Incoherence of "Non-Discrimination" as a Foundational Principle

'Things are made more complex still by the inclusion, in all European provisions, of “non-discrimination” as a human right. When offering a benefit, a contract of employment, a place in a college, or a bed in a hospital, you are commanded not to discriminate on grounds of…there then follows a list derived from the victims of recent history: race, ethnic group, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and whatever is next to be discovered. But all coherent societies are based on discrimination: A society is an “in-group,” however large and however hospitable to newcomers.' -- Roger Scruton


Liberals All

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Here:

"What’s a liberal? Someone who 'respects . . . individual existence' so much that he 'attempt[s] to leave as much moral and political space around every human person as is compatible with the demands of social life.' Liberalism so understood is 'the official ideology of the Western world.' It is the ideology of 'the free, self-fulfilling individual,' which is equally at the foundation of the thought of Milton Friedman and Karl Marx. For the libertarian and the Marxist alike, utopia, when it arrives, will be marked by perfectly individualistic spontaneity or the immediate and unobsessive gratification of personal preferences without authoritative guidance from social or relational structures, without the limitations that used to be associated with birth, personal love, and death."

The Devil

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Satan continually tempts me into cleverness as a substitute for wisdom. To cover his tracks, he whispers in my ear that the preceding sentence is just a metaphor.

Paradise waits

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"These people would have us believe that everything is as it should be and that paradise is just around the corner: The paradise of a society whose idea of bliss is leisure, gadgets, and continuous fast displacement on concrete highways." -- Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy, p. 37

What a pageant!

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A friend of mine remarked on Facebook, about Miss Universe: "Holding a pageant to rank the worth of human beings in 2015: what a funny idea!"

I think he has actually offered a great characterization of progressive politics: A pageant to rank the worth of human beings. Whoever displays the most concern and guilt wins!


Pas-ta Facts on the Left-Hand Side

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Here: "[Pasta] was originally a failed Italian attempt to copy Chinese noodles..."

Sigh. Noah Smith apparently thinks "history" means whatever rumors he heard about the past when he was a kid. Because "Jeffrey Steingarten asserts that Arabs introduced pasta in the Emirate of Sicily in the ninth century, mentioning also that traces of pasta have been found in ancient Greece and that Jane Grigson believed the Marco Polo story to have originated in the 1920s or 30s in an advertisement for a Canadian spaghetti company."

So, something originating as a Canadian spaghetti ad is now a "fact" of the past... a.

As soon as someone calls something "reactionary"...

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I stop listening:

"He adamantly refused to replace the primordial human distinction between good and evil with the pernicious ideological distinction between Progress and Reaction."

From a nice article here.

The "Problem" of Evil, II

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"But I can easily imagine a world without evil! It would be perfect."

"No, it has a very grave defect: it is imaginary. No one can live and nothing can exist in an imaginary world!"

A world with only good and no evil may be like a world with only up and no down: purely impossible.

But until you can make your own universe, it is not appropriate to criticize someone else's!

The "Problem" of Evil

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I don't really think there is such a problem. But I understand how worries about such a possible problem arise. And the best answer to those worries was written long ago:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said:

Who is this who darkens counsel
with words of ignorance?
Gird up your loins now, like a man;
I will question you, and you tell me the answers!
Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size? Surely you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
Into what were its pedestals sunk,
and who laid its cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb,
When I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
And said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves stop?
Have you ever in your lifetime…

The Threat of "All White" Elite Colleges

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A progressive friend recently wrote me and said, "If affirmative action is ended, America's elite colleges will again be all white."

First of all, let me note that I am fine with "limited" affirmative action: if there is basically a tie between two students seeking admission to a college, I think it is OK to use minority status to break the tie.

But what I really want to remark upon is the amazing claim that only affirmative action prevents America's elite universities from being "all white." UC Berkeley is a pretty elite place, and affirmative action is illegal in the California. Here are its most recent enrollment statistics.

Say what?! Whites make up only 24.3% of the admitted students! Chinese students are at 19.5%, nearly the same level as whites, and this despite the fact the whites outnumber Chinese in California by about 22 to 1. South Asians are another 9% of the admissions: over a third of the number of white admittees, despite whites o…

Atheism: An Evolutionary Disaster

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Here:

“It is a great irony but evolution appears to discriminate against atheists and favour those with religious beliefs,” said Michael Blume, a researcher at the University of Jena in Germany who carried out the study. “Most societies or communities that have espoused atheistic beliefs have not survived more than a century.”

An Easy Fix for All Crimes!

I just saw a prominent libertarian posting on Facebook: "We can easily fix the problem of illegal immigrants by abolishing borders."

Yes, and we can "fix" the problem of trespassing by abolishing property lines. And we can "fix" the problem of theft by abolishing all property rights.

Some terrible arguments for raising the minimum wage...

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Are on offer here.

First, try this on for size:
Those against raising the minimum wage often argue that it will hurt young people the most and that they “need the experience” of working at the minimum wage. But notice that the youth unemployment rate in Germany is 7.8 percent, and in Switzerland, it is 8.5 percent. In contrast, youth unemployment is 15.5 percent in the U.S., even though the U.S.’s minimum wage (using Purchasing Power Parities exchange rates) is below that of these Germany’s and Switzerland’s $10 and $9.20 an hour respectively. In other words, both have higher minimum wages, but much lower youth unemployment rates. Their overall unemployment rate is also lower: 4.5 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively. The minimum wage makes no difference on unemployment. Now, if we want to be naive empiricists, we'd have to say that Komlos is clearly wrong. A higher minimum wage makes a big difference in unemployment: it makes it much lower! But Komlos doesn't say that. W…

The scientists who ignored Miller's evidence for the ether were not just correct in retrospect...

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they were correct at that time.

That is the point Michael Polanyi (and I following him) are making about Miller's experiments. To note that they were correct in retrospect presents no evidence for determining good scientific practice. Consider someone who in 1700 believed that there were planets beyond Saturn because in an opium trance he had a vision of some outer planets. Maybe this was a "true vision," or maybe not, but in any case, it was not a good scientific reason for holding the proposition. And that is not because it is a vision -- we will see that visions are what inspire great scientists -- but because it is not a vision offering a rational, scientific explanation of previously unexplained phenomena. And thus the fact that in retrospect, that person turned out to be correct says nothing about how scientists ought to proceed in practice.

The scientists who were presented with Miller's evidence in 1926 did not have the luxury of saying, "Well, let'…

The American View of the Irish, Circa 1870

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Lest one think it was only in England we saw images like this, here is one from America, from a popular weekly:


The Difference Between Mises and Röpke

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Here:
During the Second World War the city of Geneva had allocated garden plots along the line of the vanished city walls to citizens wishing to grow their own vegetables in a time of food shortages. This use of public land turned out to be popular; the city continued the allocation of plots after the war.

Röpke heartily approved of this undertaking, which both enabled people to obtain independently part of their own sustenance and provided the satisfaction of healthy achievement outside factory walls. When Ludwig von Mises came to visit Röpke at Geneva, Röpke took his guest to inspect those garden plots.

Mises sadly shook his head: “A very inefficient way of producing foodstuffs!”

“But perhaps a very efficient way of producing human happiness,” Röpke told him. Perhaps needless to say, I am with Röpke here.

Our bizarre obsession with words

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An English depiction of an Irishman.
Sitting in my landlord's backyard in England the subject of oats came up. I mentioned that there is a reason the Irish and Scots eat oats.

With great disdain in his voice, he remarked, "Well, the Irish eat oats because they're stupid!"

Then he looked at me in panic. I could see that, for the first time since I had known him, he had suddenly connected my last name with my ancestry. He immediately began trying to suck the words back into his mouth: "Of course, I'm joking! I'm joking!"

I smiled sardonically, and gave a little shrug. "Looks like rain tomorrow, hey?" I asked. The conversation moved on.

And if I wanted to obsess over such trivia, I could probably fill a notebook with hundreds of other "micro-aggressions" against my background: "You're Irish, so you must love to drink, right?" Wait a second, in fact, every St. Patrick's Day, I could walk around New York and record t…

Manners, not esotericism!

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At the recommendation of a reader, I am reviewing Arthur M. Melzer's Philosophy between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing (Chicago and London: University Of Chicago Press, 2014). Melzer is a Straussian who has latched onto Strauss's idea that philosophers commonly hid their "true doctrine" (their esoteric teaching) while giving lip service to common pieties. I must say that so far I find Melzer's case quite a stretch, as it seems to me he regularly interprets passages as evidence of esotericism that appear to have far more straight-forward readings.
For instance, Melzer quotes Erasmus criticizing Luther:

“For seeing that truth of itself has a bitter taste for most people, and that it is of itself a subversive thing to uproot what has long been commonly accepted, it would have been wiser to soften a naturally painful subject by the courtesy of one’s handing than to pile one cause of hatred on another…A prudent steward will husband the truth – to br…

The rationality of science

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The great figures of the Scientific Revolution -- Galileo, Kepler, Newton -- were crystal clear on why science could be a rational enterprise: scientists were reading Nature, "the book of God"... and God being the supremely rational mind, naturally the book had a rational design, one that, with effort, our more limited minds could follow.

The major part of the history of the philosophy of science since the 18th-century has been the hunt to find some other, any other, basis for science's rationality. Once Hume destroyed the purely empiricist case for science, the search had an air of desperation to it. Instrumentalism, verificationism, falsificationism: all were attempts to patch up the whole Hume had noted.

All these attempts have failed.

Pundit = Shallow?

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My friend Kenneth McIntyre takes apart David Brooks here. An excerpt:
The final question or concern is whether the book’s argument is ultimately unconvincing in the way that it is produced by Brooks. There is an old joke that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who classify the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t. Brooks is most definitely in the former class. We get the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues, along with Adam I and Adam II. (Adam I prefers the résumé virtues.) There is a contrast between utilitarian logic and moral logic, which leaves the reader unclear whether Brooks is aware that utilitarianism is an actual theory of moral action. (He may not think that it is a convincing one—I don’t either—but utilitarians offer their theories not as alternatives to moral life but as accounts of moral life.) There are the cultures of self-effacement and self-promotion, which lead to the characters “Little Me” and “Big Me.” There is the party of reticenc…

Why scientists *cannot* "Revise what they know" in the face of every piece of adverse evidence

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As Paul Feyerabendnoted, all scientific theories are born falsified: at the very moment of their creation, there exist data that "falsifies" the theory. (See, for instance, Special Relativity and the Michelson-Morley experiment, or Copernican astronomy and the absence of visible stellar parallax.) But if the theory seems to solve enough other problems, and especially if it seems rationally satisfying, explaining a range of phenomena in an elegant manner, scientists will (correctly) ignore the "falsifying" data and plunge ahead using the theory, hoping that one day the recalcitrant data can be made to behave.

Einstein's special theory of relativity was "falsified" *thousands* of times

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"But there yet remains an almost ludicrous part of the story to be told. The Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887... actually did not give the result required by relativity! It admittedly substantiated its authors' claim that the relative motion of the earth and the 'ether' did not exceed a quarter of the earth's orbital velocity. But the actually observed effect was not negligible; or has, at any rate, not been proved negligible up to this day... Moreover, an effect of the same magnitude was reproduced by D. C. Miller and his collaborators in a long series of experiments extending from 1902-1926, in which they repeated the Michaelson-Morley experiment with new, more accurate apparatus, many thousands of times." -- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 12, emphasis mine

Polanyi notes that when Miller announced his results... the general community of scientists simply ignored him. They were already convinced that relativity was correct, and didn't care a…

Cosmos and Taxis call for papers

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Jim Caton and I are editing a special Agent-Based Modeling issue of Cosmos and Taxis. Details are here.

Can "Shonk: The Movie" Be Far Off?

Here is a video of Shonk on hyperspheres, yet another media appearance which neglects to mention that he comments at this blog!

PS: Shonk, you win "Most Mathematician Outfit of 2015": we don't even have to wait for the rest of December!

Dynamic Medieval Science

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From Thony:
Another point that Grant makes is that it’s very difficult to actually say what Aristotelian philosophy was as it changes constantly throughout the High Middle Ages. That Aristotelian Philosophy was some sort of unchanging, unchangeable monster cast in concrete by the Catholic Church with an injunction against all forms of inquiry is a myth perpetuated by people who believe in the Draper-White hypothesis of an eternal war between science and religion.

Let us look at a specific example of that process of change; in fact an area that would play a central role in the creation of modern science in the Early modern period, the laws of motion. Already in the sixth century CE John Philoponus criticised Aristotle theory of motion and introduced the concept of impetus. This stated that the thrower imparted a motive force to the thrown object, impetus, which decreases over time till the object stops moving. Via the Islamic thinker Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji in the twelfth century the the…

Use your models, don't believe them!

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Noah Smith complains:

"And to make it worse, most of the macro theories that economists take halfway seriously are too hard for intro kids, so they end up learning silly stuff like Mundell-Fleming and Keynesian Cross that no one even halfway believes."

But, believing is something one should never do with one's models: they are just models, and as abstractions are necessarily falsifications of the full reality being modeled. A road map is just lines on a piece of paper: it never follows each twist of a road, it doesn't show dangerous potholes, it doesn't let us know the road is now blocked by a slow-moving garbage truck. (Of course, interactive maps may show red dots when a road is backed up, but the basic point stands.)

This was a point we made when I was a partner in an asset-trading firm: our models were something we used, not believed, and as soon as they ceased to be useful, we abandoned them, and sought another useful model, without any silly concern about…

The "Enlightenment"

"The term 'Enlightenment' is an ideological term with no utility in studying the structures of reality. But it has great utility in shutting off debate and preventing inquiry into questions about 'progress' or the roles and limitations of the natural sciences. It purports to describe that era when western civilization freed itself from the 'dark ages.'" -- Fritz Wagner

Tolkein's Trinity

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"It seems that for Tolkien, the creation is envisaged in three stages—music, light, and being—corresponding in some way to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Yet the whole Trinity is involved in every stage, and the Logos or Word, who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, can justly be called the order, harmony and meaning of the cosmos, revealed to the Angels but only expressed in creation through the Breath of God." -- Christopher Morrissey, "The Six Days of Creation: Tolkien’s Account," quoting Stratford Caldecott

Pope Francis on Ideology

"In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost his faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought."