Showing posts from April, 2018

Subjectivity: a matter of scope

Kirzner on Social Evolution, Menger, etc.

In "Knowledge Problems and Their Solutions," Kirzner makes the important distinction between type A and type B knowledge problems.

Type A problems involve undue optimism, and are self-correcting: if I think I can sell my programming services for $1 million per hour, I surely will be disappointed, and, if wise, I will lower my price. My very attempt to act on my over-optimistic beliefs reveals their falsity.
Type B problems, on the other hand, involve undue pessimism, and are not self-correcting. I may believe that my current boss, who is paying me $50 per hour, is the best employer I can find. But, unbeknownst to me, just down the block is someone who would happily pay me $100 per hour, if he knew of my existence. And I would happily go work for him, if I knew of his. For type B problems to be "corrected" requires entrepreneurial action, perhaps, say, a job placement firm that will alert both the potential new employer and me to each other's presence in the ma…

"Objective Facts"

If we take the distinction between more subjective ("Vanilla ice cream is yucky!") and more objective ("Mongolia is in Asia.") beliefs as a genuine difference in kind, then we must, if we are to be logically consistent, admit that every assertion that something is an objective fact is, itself, a mere subjective belief!

"Well," you protest, "it is an objective fact that the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun: it's been measured by scientists!"
But did you "measure" your belief that the mileage has been measured? Because if quantitative measurement is the lodestar of objectivity, then your belief that the Sun-Earth distance is an objective fact is itself completely subjective: you can't measure the degree to which that fact was determined by measurement, or, even if you could, you would just be stuck in an infinite regress: you'd have to measure the degree to which the belief in that second measurement was a result of me…


"Taylorism was based on trying to replace the implicit knowledge of the workmen with mass production methods developed, planned, monitored, and controlled by managers. 'Under scientific management,' [Taylor] wrote, 'the managers assume... the burden of gathering together all the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen and then of classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, formulae... Thus all of the planning which under the old system was done by the workmen, must of necessity under the new system be done by management in accordance with the laws of science.' -- Jerry Muller, The Tyranny of Metrics, pp.32-33.

Mulling over my Kirzner review

Well, now I have a problem: when I agreed to review Kirzner, I thought the book would be new material. No, it is good material, but 80% of it I had read before. So I am not plowing through it at the speed I thought I would be moving at. And meanwhile, Jerry Muller's excellent book, The Tyranny of Metrics, which I also am slated to review, arrived in the mail.

So, I guess I am going to review Muller first... well, except I also just got asked to review a paper on WebAssembly, so... I don't know: maybe I should write a joint review, interspersing my take on all three together?

In any case, let's start in on Muller: this book has a target, which Muller calls "metric fixation." Muller's critique of metric fixation overlaps my work on rationalism, as shown by his statement of one of the "key components" of metric fixation: "the belief that it is possible and desirable to replace judgment, acquired by personal experience and talent, with numerical i…

I've Got You Under My Skin

My review of Nassim Taleb's new book is online at Modern Age.

Biking in the city

The common view among New York City bicyclists is that there activity is a very noble one. So noble, in fact that it can negate any ignoble action done while biking. So if a biker, running a red light, going the wrong way down a one-way street, runs over an old woman on a walker and breaks her hip, all of that is OK, because he did it with a low carbon footprint.

The Failure of Anti-Liberalism

A good essay from John Medaille.

The limits of the model of perfect competition

"The model cannot be used to 'explain' market prices; the model presumes that everyone has, somehow, correctly and self-fulfilling guessed what the market price is going to be. The circumstance that (quite apart from the assumed correctness of the anticipated price) the model treats each market participant as a price-taker further underscores the uselessness of the model as an explanation for the manner in which prices are adjusted. No one in the model ever does change his price bids or offers." -- Israel Kirzner, Competition, Economic Planning, and the Knowledge Problem, p. 52

As Bob Murphy once  told me once, in the model of perfect competition, it is as though the local grocer wakes up in the morning and is suddenly surprised to find that he is now offering milk at a new price.

Didn't he realize that *he* was a carbon-based fuel source?


I've got you surrounded!

For a moment, let us suppose that some form of religious universalism is true, e.g., "All major religions are different paths up the same mountain."

Nevertheless, the way most people act, among those who accept this thesis, still makes no sense if one wishes to reach the peak: even if many paths lead up a mountain, one must still pick one of them, and follow it, to get to the top!

What most "universalists" do instead is to wander around and around at the foot of the mountain, sampling each path for a couple of hundred feet, and then heading back down to the flatlands.

Bucket Lists

What a sad sack of an idea: in a life defined by consumption as the highest good, people can think of nothing better to do with their last few months than a spectacular bout of consumption!

Coming around, coming in circles

I'm now reviewing Israel Kirzner's Competition, Economic Planning, and the Knowledge Problem for Review of Political Economy. So naturally I'll be posting some thoughts here as I proceed. Here's the first quote I will note:

"Now Mises himself never did focus explicitly on plan-coordination in all of his work; he never did focus on the dispersed character of knowledge, and on the consequent coordination problem. (this does not mean that Mises' seminal insights [on the business cycle and the socialist calculation problem] cannot be faithfully articulated in plan-coordination terms; it merely means that Mises himself never explicitly recognized this possible articulation" ("Hedgehog or Fox," p. 145).

Mises explained to us the calculation problem; Hayek showed us why the problem exists. The whole "dehomogenization" nonsense is purely a marketing driven effort made to differentiate that "hardcore" libertarians at the Mises Instit…