Tuesday, November 30, 2010

FLG is currently listening to

The Musty Smell Of Derrida

Not too long ago, over at Duck of Minerva, Laura Sjoberg wrote an open letter to some unnamed journal that rejected her work in which she accused said journal of bias against her sub-discipline -- feminist poststructuralist international relations theory. In part two of that letter, she writes:
I do feminist work because I'm interested in deconstructing gender hierarchies in IR as a discipline and in global politics more generally. I think that such a move would benefit everyone in IR/global politics, not just women (a category I'm not particularly fond of).

Now, to be perfectly honest, FLG thinks that's all a bunch of foo-foo nonsense that has little to no practical, useful, or even interesting bearing on actual international relations, which is probably because he's been so inculcated heteronormativity that he can't get passed it. Then again, FLG has been castigated by IR social constructivist grad students on several occasions for poo-poo-ing Jody Williams' work banning land mines as convincing nations to ban something that has little to no useful value to modern armies. So, maybe it's probably not just FLG's inherent heteronormativity, but also his deep disdain for social constructivism as an IR theory. (Well, that's not quite true. He does use Wendt's three cultures of anarchy to think through long-term issues sometimes.)

Getting back to Laura Sjoberg, she followed up her two part rant with a continuing series of posts entitled "Feminist IR 101." FLG admits he was biased against the entire idea from the get-go, but he gave as best an open mind as he could. The first two and so far only posts have been largely definitional.

The problem is, although this is unsurprising given the poststructuralism, the whole thing wreaks of Derrida, whom FLG loathes for a variety of reasons including that his entire idea of deconstruction is a load of shit that leads to nihilism because everything is inherently self-contradictory. But FLG has a more superficial objection to this poststructural/deconstruction bullshit -- aesthetics. Because deconstruction basically rips apart everybody's thoughts, those influenced by deconstruction are timid and explicit in their writing until it becomes a big pile of shit on a purely aesthetic level, even forgetting the content entirely.

Look at these definition for fuck's sake:
gender (noun?): 1) not equivalent to "sex." 2) (actual definitional discussion) Gender is a system of symbolic meaning that creates social/material hierarchies based on perceived associations with masculinity/ies and femininity/ies (most often assigned by the shorthand of perceived biological sex). It is expectations, assumptions, and outcomes assigned to people, things, concepts, and ideas based on their association with one of those categories (and often their assumed membership in sex categories). People, things, concepts, and ideas that are associated with masculinity (including but not limited to most "men") are usually valued differently than and often valued above people, things, concepts, and ideas associated with femininity (including but not limited to most "women"). Traits often associated with masculinity/ies include, but are not limited to, strength, rationality, autonomy, independence, aggression, protector-ability, assuredness, and the public sphere. Traits often associated with femininity/ies include, but are not limited to, helplessness, emotion, vulnerability/dependence, interdependence, peacefulness, maternalism/care, sensitivity, and the private sphere. These traits, and their gender-associations, vary over time and place.

cissexism (n.) - the belief that trasngendered or transsexual identifications are inferior to or less authentic than those of cisgender or cissexual persons; including (in Julia Serrano's words) trans-fascimiliation(viewing or portraying transsexuals as merely imitating, emulating, or impersonating cissexual male or female genders), trans-exclusion (refusing to acknowledge and respect a transsexual’s identified gender, or denying them, access to spaces, organizations, or events designed for that gender), trans-objectification (when people reduce trans people to their body parts, the medical procedures they’ve undertaken, or get hung up on, disturbed by, or obsessed over supposed discrepancies that exist between a transsexual’s physical sex and identified gender), and trans-interrogation (when people bring a transsexual’s identified gender into question by asking them to answer personal questions about their life story, their motives for transitioning, medical procedures they have undertaken, or when they obsess over what causes transsexuality – such questions reduce transsexuals to the status of objects of inquiry.

These are big, unwieldy definitions that lack what FLG admires above all else in writing -- parsimony.

FLG will grant that the feminist poststructuralist IR theorist's road is a harder one to hoe given that, from their perspective, we're all blinded by our inherent biases. Therefore, they not only have to convince people of their argument, but also to some extent illuminate the need for the argument in the first place. But Jeh-Zus, is a 200-something word definition of sex really necessary?

Ultimately, FLG objects to the entire existence of poststructuralist feminist IR theory for three reasons. As mentioned earlier, his objections to poststructuralism and deconstruction generally, 1) the nonsense of basing a theory on the premise that everything is self-contradictory and 2) the awful aesthetics of trying to write from those assumptions. And he thinks he mention this earlier as well, 3) FLG doesn't think this stuff matters in so far as international relations is concerned. It's more a cultural/anthropological thing, not so much international. Oh, sure, people are sexing the borders even as you are reading this, but FLG doesn't know what it means. Moreover, when FLG thinks about international relations issues cissexism is probably dead last in his priority list. He's more worried about trade and security issues, you know, issues that matter in the big scheme of things. Not to say that transgendered people don't suffer discrimination of all sorts, but it ain't an IR issue. Perhaps a comparativist issue, but not IR theory.

The only time a professor brought up a topic where FLG thought feminist IR theory might be even the least bit useful was with sex trafficking. But even then FLG couldn't really see much use in specifically applying these theories. Kidnapping a person and bringing them over a border for whatever reason is wrong. Forcing people into prositution is wrong. In fact, deconstruction and poststructuralism only serve to confuse and undermine the issue.

So, while FLG feels for Ms. Sjoberg and her frustration with journals publishing her work, at the end of the day deconstructing gender hierarchies in international relations is irrelevant bullshit. Now, in complete fairness, lots of IR consists of irrelevant bullshit (and FLG might add lots is also aesthetically unpleasing), so poststructuralist feminist IR theory is no worse on that score than much of the discipline.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Plain, Simple Language

FLG is in favor of plain, simple language. So, he greets the announcement that some people in the UK are fighting back against meaningless and confusing jargon with glee:
Pompous words such as "facilitate" and "utilise" should be replaced by their shorter, more common versions "help" and "use", the council has said.

Meaningless phrases such as "close proximity" and "forward planning" should be shelved, while the phrase that has become ubiquitous over the last decade – "stakeholder engagement" – should be replaced with the far more straightforward "talking to people".

Bravo, but it gets better:
Dressing up policies and documents with long words and jargon frequently hides the fact that the local council officers do no understand what they are saying, it added.


It urges active rather than passive sentences such as please tell us instead of you are requested.

God bless them.

Unfortunately, FLG fears this progress in his war on meaningless, confusing bullshit writing comes at the price of his quest to defend Latin. Perhaps FLG's readers will remember this story:
A number of local councils in Britain have banned their staff from using Latin words, because they say they might confuse people.

Several local authorities have ruled that phrases like "vice versa", "pro rata", and even "via" should not be used, in speech or in writing.

FLG Isn't Sure It Matters

Alpheus writes in the comments:
people like to make quick decisions on the basis of easily observable markers, and as long as the average Harvard student is superior to the average student from, say, Wesleyan, it's not going to matter that much that the top fifty students from Wesleyan are light years ahead of the bottom fifty students at Harvard.

This isn't really to contradict the main thrust of Alpheus' comment, and perhaps FLG, as a Georgetown grad, is self-interested or self-deluded here, but his personal observations indicate that there's no real difference between the capabilities of students at, say, the top 50 schools.

Sure, Harvard students have higher SAT scores, etc, but the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in at some point, and that's well before the difference between the average student at Wesleyan and Harvard. So, perhaps Harvard students are better according to some metrics, but FLG isn't convinced that they are relevant metrics in 99.99% of situations.

French Brain Drain

A few days ago, FLG read this article about French academic stars coming to the States. It didn't really surprise him. Today, FLG found a discussion of the topic on NYTimes.com. He only got halfway through the first opinion before yelling at the screen.

Apparently, Peter Baldwin, "a professor of history at University of California, Los Angeles, and the author, most recently, of “The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike," isn't familiar with basic logical reasoning.

He writes:
Steady now, let’s resist being overwhelmed by smugness. Brain drains to U.S. universities are nothing new.

Ok, fair enough.

Even the French have been coming for a long time: Michel Foucault was likely infected with AIDS in San Francisco’s bathhouses during his stints at U.C. Berkeley in the 80's. Jacques Derrida, obscurantist philosopher of post-structuralism, pontificated at U.C. Irvine for years before his death, Olivier Zunz has been firmly ensconced at Virginia for decades.

Uh, okay. Perhaps you could've just said that Foucault taught at Berkeley. Not sure the AIDS and bathhouses connection was relevant.

But it goes the other way too. Berkeley has just lost the Nobel prize-winning astrophysicist George Smoot to Paris; my brother, an eminent biochemist, is at Jena; Lorraine Daston, a historian of science, runs an institute in Berlin; Peter Mandler – erstwhile Californian – is at Cambridge. Richard Sennett decamped from even New York to London.

Not sure the numbers cancel out exactly, but point taken.

And within Europe, British universities have long been soaking up all the talented, English-proficient, but domestically unemployable products of German universities. The faculty of the ETH Zurich (Europe’s M.I.T.) is well over half foreign-born, while only 5 percent of Stanford’s is. So let’s not exaggerate the direction of the flows.

This is where FLG lost it. ETH is in, you guessed it, Zurich, which in turn is in Switzerland, a country of, wait for it, 7,623,438 people. Stanford is in a country with 310,232,863. Stanford has a much better chance of creating a world-class university with only domestic professors.

This point is so fucking stupid that it destroyed the entire essay for FLG even though he was inclined to agree with it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Tom Friedman writes a lot of dumb shit, including in today's column, but FLG was struck by this sentence:
We need to cut Medicare and Social Security entitlements at the same time as we make new investments in infrastructure, schools and government-financed research programs that will spawn the next Google and Intel.

Uh, call FLG crazy, but he doesn't think Google or Intel were spawned by government-financed research programs. Google was written in a dorm room. Intel was founded, if FLG remembers correctly, by two or three guys who left Fairchild Semiconductor. Perhaps they benefited indirectly from government-financed research, but if you are offering that as part of the solution, then it would probably be wise to offer something that came out directly, you know, like that world changing product -- Tang.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


FLG was watching Spike and this commercial came on:

FLG isn't quite sure why this was on Spike. Wouldn't Lifetime or Oxygen provide the ideal demo?


Last night, the FLGs watched The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters:

Good documentary, especially if you like old school games. But why is FLG surprised that 40ish year-old geeky men have the emotional maturity of 13 year-old girls?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Admissions By Lottery

FLG brought this idea up years ago:
I think that I've used this example before, but it's instructive here:
Since economic inequality makes the American high school educational system unfair, let's assign spaces in the freshman class at Harvard according to lottery. Every hs senior in America is automatically entered, and a computer randomly selects who get to go to Harvard. It's completely fair. Everybody has an exactly equal chance. But if it's completely random, then are potential high-achieving hs students going to study their butts off to get straight A's? I don't think so. I'm sure there's lots of other things they would rather be doing than calculus homework. So, it's fair in that it's equal, but as J.S. Mill feared, that equality breeds mediocrity.

Matt Yglesias points out that Dylan Matthews has put the idea, with some important wrinkles up for offer in the Harvard Crimson:
High school seniors would apply to a single admissions body and list their school preferences in order. Schools would set a minimum SAT score and high school GPA so that they do not admit students who truly cannot handle the work, but, otherwise, schools are randomly matched with students who list them as a preference.

Harvard probably has enough sway to launch such a system, but barring that it should set its own minimum threshold and then randomly cull from that vast majority of applicants who meet it. William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, Harvard’s long-time dean of admissions and financial aid, has said that 80 to 90 percent of Harvard applicants are qualified to be here. Harvard should identify that 80 to 90 percent, and then randomly accept 1600-1700 of them.

Some will no doubt object that this will undermine the “excellence” of Harvard’s student body. It will, and that’s exactly the point. For one thing, “excellence” in the Harvard admissions process—and at Harvard—has a lot less to do with virtuous character traits than with an ability to game the system.

Matthews then writes:
There is a deeper moral question here as well. Harvard’s current admissions policies serve to entrench a caste system that grants advantages to the “talented” due to factors beyond their control. No one chooses to be naturally brilliant or to have parents who invest heavily in their pre-K-12 education. Nevertheless, one’s success in life seems contingent on these arbitrary factors, due in part to the existence of institutions like Harvard that reward such unchosen “talent.”

Dylan's proposal is an interesting thought experiments that FLG thinks is ridiculous in practice. Ultimately, the moral case that "No one chooses to be naturally brilliant or to have parents who invest heavily in their pre-K-12 education" undermines the minimum standard argument. There are a whole bunch of people who weren't innately smart enough or given the proper educational resources in K-12 to meet the minimum standards. Isn't the system, therefore, still irredeemably unfair?

Don't get FLG wrong. He agrees with Dylan that the entire system of "meritocracy" encourages people who are very good at excelling in tangible activities that can be listed on paper, Dylan uses the quote “aptitude for showing aptitude," not real scholars or deep thinkers.

But deep down the equality Dylan desires will kill the excellence of Harvard, no matter how you measure or define excellence. They are irreconcilable goals.

Quote of the day

Bad debts are being passed up the chain, from private investors to banks, and from commercial banks to central banks and governments. The debts aren't any more likely to be serviced once they have changed hands. And a central bank's ability to absorb losses is not infinite.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Time Horizons: International Politics Edition

B. R. Meyers opens an Op-Ed thusly:
WHILE it is cowardly and foolish not to resist an act of aggression, the best way to deal with a provocation is to ignore it — or so we are taught. By refusing to be provoked, one frustrates and therefore “beats” the provoker; generations of bullied children have been consoled with this logic. And so it is that the South Korean and American governments usually refer to North Korea’s acts of aggression as “provocations.”

Meyers later explains how this is playing out in the Korean case:
South Korea’s left-wing press, which tends to shape young opinion, is describing the shelling of the island as the inevitable product of “misunderstandings” resulting from a lack of dialogue.

Sadly, South Korea’s subdued response to such incidents makes them more likely to happen again. This poses a serious problem for the United States; we have already been drawn into one war on the peninsula because our ally seemed unlikely to defend itself.

Unsurprisingly, and as the post title hints, FLG sees this through the time horizon prism. Turning the other cheek prevents escalation of that particular event, which is a good strategy from minimizing violence in the short-term. However, it very well may encourage subsequent violence. Don't respond to a torpedo. Well, then, no big deal if we shell an island either.

Likewise, any particular international incident can always be explained away as the product of particular misunderstandings. But when you look at the long-term trends, the misunderstandings argument loses bite:
Since a first naval skirmish in the Yellow Sea near Yeonpyeong in 1999, there has been a steady escalation in North Korea’s efforts to destabilize the peninsula. In 2002, another naval skirmish killed at least four South Korean sailors; in 2006 the North conducted an underground nuclear test; in 2009 it launched missiles over the Sea of Japan, had another nuclear test and declared the Korean War armistice invalid; and in March the Cheonan was sun

Meyers sums up:
There is no easy solution to the North Korea problem, but to begin to solve it, we must realize that its behavior is aggressive, not provocative, and that its aggression is ideologically built in. Pyongyang is thus virtually predestined to push Seoul and Washington too far, thereby bringing about its own ruin.

The Chinese should take note of this, since their rationalization for continuing to support North Korea derives from the vain hope that they can prop it up indefinitely. The military-first state is going to collapse at some stage; let’s do what we can to make that happen sooner rather than later.

Contrast this with, that idiot, President Carter's view, where each incident is precipitated separately and almost entirely by American action or inaction. Maybe, just maybe, the North Koreans are, over the long run, just a belligerent, dangerous, and evil nation, and everybody else in the world knows it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Conversation

FLG and his coworker driving the opposite way of the pre-Thanksgiving traffic on M Street.

FLG: See that guy yelling at the car in front of him?

Coworker: The one in the white Infiniti?

FLG: I think it's an Acura, but yes.

Coworker: He looks pissed. What about him?

FLG: I'm pretty sure it's David Gregory.

Coworker: Who's David Gregory?

FLG: Fair enough.

Jimmy Carter, Still A Sanctimonious Idiot

The moron writes:
Desiring to resolve the crisis through direct talks with the United States, Kim invited me to Pyongyang to discuss the outstanding issues. With approval from President Bill Clinton, I went, and reported the positive results of these one-on-one discussions to the White House. Direct negotiations ensued in Geneva between a U.S. special envoy and a North Korean delegation, resulting in an "agreed framework" that stopped North Korea's fuel-cell reprocessing and restored IAEA inspection for eight years.

With evidence that Pyongyang was acquiring enriched uranium in violation of the agreed framework, President George W. Bush - who had already declared North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and a potential target - made discussions with North Korea contingent on its complete rejection of a nuclear explosives program and terminated monthly shipments of fuel oil. Subsequently, North Korea expelled nuclear inspectors and resumed reprocessing its fuel rods. It has acquired enough plutonium for perhaps seven nuclear weapons.

FLG sees. So, North Korea violated the framework, but it was Bush's fault that things turned sour.

This past July I was invited to return to Pyongyang to secure the release of an American, Aijalon Gomes, with the proviso that my visit would last long enough for substantive talks with top North Korean officials. They spelled out in detail their desire to develop a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and a permanent cease-fire, based on the 1994 agreements and the terms adopted by the six powers in September 2005. With no authority to mediate any disputes, I relayed this message to the State Department and White House. Chinese leaders indicated support of this bilateral discussion.

FLG sees. So, North Korea says it wants to deal, but Carter didn't have any authority. Well, there's a reason nobody gives you authority any more, Mr. President, you're a gullible moron who would give away the farm at the slightest hint that people will hold off on violence for ten seconds.

North Korean officials have given the same message to other recent American visitors and have permitted access by nuclear experts to an advanced facility for purifying uranium. The same officials had made it clear to me that this array of centrifuges would be "on the table" for discussions with the United States, although uranium purification - a very slow process - was not covered in the 1994 agreements.

FLG sees. Look how reasonable the North Koreans are. They're even open to discussing things not covered in the 1994 agreement. Hey, dumbfuck! The violated the agreement with that uranium enrichment plant, in spirit if not in letter.

Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the "temporary" cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer. The unfortunate alternative is for North Koreans to take whatever actions they consider necessary to defend themselves from what they claim to fear most: a military attack supported by the United States, along with efforts to change the political regime.

Mr. President, are you really this fucking stupid? Throughout your entire Op-Ed you insinuate that America was the unreasonable party and North Korea is perfectly reasonable and willing to deal, if only the Americans would wake up. That's fucking stupid. Everybody, and FLG means everybody, even the Chinese, thinks the North Koreans are unreasonable nutjobs.

FLG realizes that you have short-time horizons and so in your natural analytical framework you only see proximate causes and weigh the possibility of conflict extremely highly. FLG hates to break this to you, but you're a sucker. North Korea is dicking us around. Has been dicking us around. And you are the person they love to dick around most. Because you are a gullible idiot who should stay out of international politics entirely and focus on Habitat for Humanity. You make us less safe in the long run, Mr. President, because, well, you're a fucking idiot.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

FLG Isn't So Sure

Eugene Robinson writes:
What the critics really mean is not that the TSA should let underwear bombers board planes. What they're saying is: Don't search me, and don't search my grandmother. Just search the potential terrorists.

In other words, they want profiling. That's a seductive idea, I suppose, if you don't spend a lot of time worrying about civil liberties. But it couldn't possibly work. Our terrorist enemies may be evil, but they're not stupid.

If we only search people who "look like terrorists," al-Qaeda will send people who don't fit the profile. It's no accident that most of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were from Saudi Arabia; at the time, it was easier for Saudi nationals to get U.S. visas than it was for citizens of other Arab countries. If terrorists are clever enough to hide powerful explosives in ink cartridges, then eventually they'll find a suicide bomber who looks just like you, me or Granny.

FLG is conflicted on this profiling business. On one side, there's the civil liberties issue of picking out specific types of people for additional screening. It'd suck for the vast, vast majority of the types of people chosen for more scrutiny who aren't terrorists.

On the other hand, it's hard to deny that pulling people named Abdulmutallab or who look like this aside for additional screening instead of touching everybody's junk and wasting time with granny is very appealing. Sure, it violates some people's civil liberties in an unequal way, but the equality of getting everybody's junk touched or going through a machine that shows the whoopdidoos seems like a pretty big violation too. That said, when FLG is flying he's a white male with a white female and a little white baby girl, so if there's gonna be extra screening based upon profile, then he ain't gonna get it. So, no really skin off his back. But then again, isn't that kinda the point? FLG ain't a fucking terrorist. He's a dad traveling with his family. Likewise, none of the families traveling in and out of DC airports are terrorists either. And if they are, then they're probably not blowing up that flight.

That then brings FLG to Robinson's last point. If we start screening the Abdulmutallab's of the world, then the terrorists will just switch to John Smiths. FLG isn't so sure. Seems like it would be much harder to find a ready supply of middle aged or elderly white people to be suicide bombers. Clearly it's not outside the realm of possibility, but FLG ain't exactly worried about Granny. FLG can't see any Granny he knows being convinced that blowing themselves up to kill other people is a good idea. That's more a young person's thing. And in particular a young male thing. Granted, an increasing number of females are becoming involved in the jihad movement, but the vast majority are men under forty with Muslim-sounding names or crazy looks in their eyes, not Betty White.

Still, as appealing as that sounds to FLG, he still cannot get fully behind it.

FLG's Head Almost Exploded

Congress is off for Thanksgiving vacation, but when it returns, the big question will be what to do about the Bush tax cuts. They're set to expire at the end of December.

Many economists say they unfairly benefit wealthy Americans. Millionaires and billionaires save hundreds of thousands of dollars and more on their annual tax bills.

Emphasis FLG's.

As y'all know, the word "fair" drives FLG nuts. If many economists (and FLG wonders how many is many? and is it a majority of economists?) think something is fair or unfair, then they aren't doing it in their role as economists. Economics strives to be positive, not normative. Now, whether a discipline can be purely positive is an open question, and as a matter of fact FLG seriously doubts. But economists are only acting as economist insofar as they say that the Bush tax cuts do or do not benefit people either absolutely or relatively. Making normative claims about the fairness or unfairness is outside of the realm of economics.


FLG has received a couple of emails asking his thoughts on the Irish crisis.

Basically, it followed the same path as most financial crises. Low interest rates->real estate market bubble->unrealistic expectations of future real estate prices->lots of leverage->bubble pops->leveraging occurring->everybody pretty much screwed->government steps in to pick up the pieces. Although, in this case, there are two interesting wrinkles -- the scale relative to the government and the euro.

One bank's losses, Anglo-Irish Bank, were about 1/5th of GDP. (That was a old story, and FLG thinks the tally might have gone up.) Ireland just isn't big enough to swallow that pill.

Then there's the euro issue. This is the more interesting one The low eurozone interest rates fueled the real estate bubble in Ireland, just like it did in Spain and Portugal. And they almost certain exacerbated, or at the very least delayed the reckoning, of the fiscal problems in Greece. And now that the shit has hit the fan they cannot devalue their way out of the problem. FLG does wonder whether the euro will hold up long-term.

On the other hand, FLG isn't sure that limiting devaluation is necessarily a bad thing. Liberals, like Krugman and Yglesias, have written posts lamenting the inability of Greece to devalue its way out of the problem.* But if Greece devalued, then it would've just sped up the dominoes and Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and the UK would all have to eventually devalue and you're back where you started to some extent.

* In case you are wondering, FLG has identified two reasons why Krugman and Yglesias are so keen on devaluation. The first is philosophical. It would've allowed Greece to maintain much of its government size. The second is epistemological -- time horizons. They see the short-term, and so the pain from austerity to them is irrational. Instead, just devalue. However, there are long run implications from devaluation, such as inflation and an increased risk premium for future government borrowing.

Irrational Actors

North Korea is fully gone now.

FLG is sure that from some hideous, warped perspective this makes sense, but we really need to start treating North Korea as a completely irrational actor, as if that weren't obvious previously.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Conversation

FLG: How do Bertrand and Cournot competition models inform this subject?

Professor: That's a great question. More research is probably needed in that area.

FLG: You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?

Professor: No.

Friday, November 19, 2010

FLG Weeps

...as NATO agrees to ballistic missile defense plan. Really, though, what did anybody expect an organization that needs to find a raison, any raison, d'etre, before people wake up and smell its rotting, anachronistic, useless corpse to do?

Dan Nexon adds:
The more NATO presents a united front, the more likely the Russians are to cooperate on BMD and BMD-related issues, which not only reduces an irritant in relations but mitigates against some of the potentially destabilizing implications of BMD deployment.

Afterthought: might also help with New START ratification. Harder to argue that Obama is selling out BMD when he's accomplished something no Republican ever did: convince NATO to make it part of its mission.

NATO delenda est.

FLG Isn't Quite Sure

...if he'd prefer the Lego pirate cuff links or tie pin. And he's partially tempted to get his ears pierced just to wear the earrings.

Maximus, Friend Of The Wu Tang Clan?

Who knew Russell Crowe was friends with Rza? (Jump to the 44:00 mark.)

Not FLG, but that's pretty awesome.

A Bridge Too Far

D.A. Ridgely
Much of the intellectual history of the West got off on the wrong foot when Socrates (or Plato using Socrates as his philosophical sock puppet) insisted that words and their underlying concepts do have essential meanings. (See, e.g., the discussion of virtue in the Meno.) We are forever indebted to classical Greece for much of our intellectual heritage, but as parents are wont to do, they left us with some unfortunate intellectual baggage, too. Again excluding technical terms stipulatively defined, the meanings or correct uses of words simply don’t have sharp borders. At least none of the really interesting words like beauty, justice, God, etc. The question whether a word is being correctly used in a doubtful or unfamiliar case ultimately depends not on any further discovery or finding of facts but on a decision resulting from a weighing of the facts already known. And, as such, because reasonable people can reasonably disagree about such decisions, what we mean by one side in such a dispute being right or wrong (two more of those philosophically interesting words, by the way) is thus less about truth or falsehood (two more!) than about, for lack of a better term, appropriateness.

Which perhaps seems like a pretty trivial point. Until you consider how much blood has been shed by those who have failed to grasp it.

FLG concedes there is ambiguity in language, but Mr. Ridgely is getting too close to relativism. Yes, language can be ambiguous, but let's not overstate this ambiguity to such an extent that it is irreconcilable or impossible to overcome. If FLG uses the word virtue, and there is ambiguity, then FLG can further explain what he means by the word. So, yes, each word's meaning can be ambiguous, but meaning can be conveyed.

What makes FLG so uncomfortable is that Mr. Ridgely seems to be offering something akin to this:
The meaning of words are ambiguous.
We use words to communicate with other people.
Therefore, we cannot definitively communicate essential meaning.
Consequently, truth, itself a word, does not exist. Or if it does, we'll never be able to come to some agreed understanding of it.

As a somebody who admires Platonic Realism/Idealism, FLG obviously strenuously objects to this line of argument.

Quote of the day

the bottom line is that, so far, QE2 isn't working

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quote of the day

Jim Manzi:
In practice, the problem of excessive abstraction by economic theory that Brooks identifies becomes increasingly severe as we try to evaluate the effects of proposed interventions and programs over years and decades, rather than months and quarters.

Most of you know what FLG'd say, so he won't.

FLG is currently listening to

Reihan Salam Anti-saccharine Society

Remember when FLG had that autodialectic conversation in which he said, "We agree with him more than probably any other person. In fact, a lot of the time Reihan's posts are pretty much exactly what went through FLG's mind on that topic, including the references to various books and papers."

Well, FLG is starting to get sick and tired of Reihan's sugarcoating a post with compliments before disagreeing. Here are a few recent examples:

Example 1:
This is certainly an interesting story, and one can see how it resonates with Henry's priors -- and I should stress that Henry is a very sharp guy, who is deeply familiar with Irish political economy. But I wonder if Henry's ideological notions are getting in the way of sound analysis.

Example 2:
Though I understand Brad's concern, I don't think 21% is an unreasonable cap.

Example 3:
My friend Mike Konczal is pessimistic about U.S. prospects for returning to full employment in the near future.

Example 4:
Tyler Cowen, one of my favorite bloggers and thinkers,

Example 5:
Dylan Matthews, the terrific Washington Post blogger,

Example 6:
Steven Pearlstein, a great economics columnist by all accounts,

Steven Pearlstein is a great economic columnist in comparison to a goat with late stage syphilis. Sure, he won a Pulitzer, but that's just because everybody at the Post gets one sooner or later and it was his turn.

Look, FLG gets it. He's a dick and Reihan is nice. FLG's mother always said, if you have nothing nice to say, then don't say anything at all. Advice that FLG obviously neglects. But Reihan's sugary sweet pleasantries have become cloying.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Repeating Himself

FLG feels like he's just been repeating himself over and over, going back to the same wells.  He thinks he might just take a break from blogging until he has something new and interesting to say.  He's never really had all that much new and interesting to say, so it might be a longish break.

Or maybe he'll wake up tomorrow and explode at something over at LOG.  But he's gonna try to step back for a bit.

The Green Economy Strategic Opportunities Illusion

FLG listened to this interview (mp3) with Gregory Unruh about green corporate strategy. The most fascinating thing is what is glossed over. Throughout the interview, Unruh talks about corporate social responsibility and partnering with NGOs, and how these create opportunities for profit. They do to the extent that customers care about these things or, more commonly, regulation occurs because let's be honest, all other things being equal, green products are more expensive. So, people need to care about those green factors more than price or be forced into buying them.

But the key moment comes towards the end when they talk about the move from incandescent to fluorescent light bulbs. As you probably know, this move has been legislated. But some Republicans want to roll this back, saying that this is a freedom issue. The interviewer mentions how the industry said, let's not go back. We've already committed by investing in the new production facilities.

Now, Unruh's response is idiotic. He says, that this is all ideologically driven and not based on internally consistent rational decisions. Further, he says, if we are going to go back to incandescent lightbulbs, then why not also say we should go back to kerosene lamps and whale oil.

Well, FLG can still buy kerosene lamps. They weren't banned by law. But let's leave that aside because a little bit later the crux of the issue arises.

Unruh says (FLG had to transcribe so it's not verbatim):
The political noise is problematic, but especially for the companies that have figured out how to take advantage. So, a lot of companies are moving away from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent and other types of lighting because there is more profit in it. The old incandescent technology has run its course and it's a low margin business. And companies have made the investment and see better opportunities, new markets by moving to these more sophisticated, more advanced light bulbs. I think what you see is that the companies who have made this decision, have identified opportunities. For example, in the energy sector in general, there are a number of companies, electricity utilities and others, that recognize climate change is a real problem and it's not going to go away. It is, from a strategic risk management position, good to take steps now, and they have already begun to make those kinds of investments partially expecting that the regulatory environment will come along and to have those expectation ripped out from under them and provide that kind of chaos and uncertainty in the marketplace is a real problem. What you want to do for long-term, capital intensive strategic planning is have some kind of stable environment by which you can make some forecasting. The other companies that have not decided to make the investment or sustainability, well, they benefit obviously by the chaos because it just puts off any kind of political initiative as well. Again, there's two sets of companies we're seeing, the companies that have identified sustainability as a persistent future trend that's not going to go away, and one in which they can see opportunities to profit. And then other companies that only see it as a threat. They don't see how they can move to given their existing investments, infrastructure, capital, and business model. The innovative companies are the ones who are hurt most by this political football we're seeing now around the environment and climate change and sustainability in general.
This exemplifies exactly what FLG has been saying.  Green demand is not like ordinary economic demand.  It's a politically imposed demand.  Here Unruh takes a normative stance that companies who buy into the green economy idea are innovative and that the ones who don't are presumably behind the curve.  

But if Unruh's claim that incandescent has run its course and isn't profitable anymore, then why do we need the regulatory impetus?   If these so-called innovative companies, who saw greater profit potential in the new florescent market are so great, then why do they care if the less lucrative, less attractive market is still around?  Sure, they're substitute products, but obviously there's something fishy about the story that says regulatory barriers need to be imposed to make the shift.  It's not some natural, organic market outcome.

Ultimately, Unruh is a committed environmentalist in a business professor's clothing.  The opposition to various environmental regulation is irrational, internally inconsistent, and ideologically driven.  The rational people are on the side of sustainability and environmental regulation.  Innovative companies will follow that path and assume that regulation will be forth coming, and importantly position themselves to take advantage of opportunities that regulation creates. 

FLG doesn't disagree that environmental regulation creates opportunities for individual companies, but he does have three problems with Unruh's normative assumptions.  First, Unruh portrays his normative assumptions as positive ones.  Second, when the opportunities are created by regulation, those opportunities suffer from the vicissitudes of politics.  While it is difficult to predict economic conditions in the future, it is even harder to predict the exact timing and nature of legislation.  Lastly, regulation itself interferes with the mutually-beneficial nature of the free market system.   From  a purely economic standpoint, green regulation and policies are akin to the economic adage of breaking windows to kick start economic activity -- it's a destruction of wealth.  Now, because of externalities and such, we may be better off on the whole because of regulation, but from a GDP point of view we will be worse off.  Green tech and the green economy will create opportunities for individual firms, but is, at it's core, no matter what language people use, including this business professor, a politically created demand that will be imposed through legislation and regulation, not a typical economic demand, and it will make us worse off in strictly economic terms.  So, a business person who tries to find opportunities in the green economy, needs to recognize that they are basically making a political bet.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quote of the day

This passage from Harold J. Berman's Law and Revolution popped into FLG's head today. He cannot remember if he's ever posted it before:
It is the hallmark of the great revolutions of Western history, starting with the Papal Revolution, that they clothe their vision of the radically new in the garments of a remote past, whether those of ancient legal authorities (as in the case of the Papal Revolution), or of an ancient religious text, the Bible (as in the case of the German Reformation), or of an ancient civilization, classical Greece (as in the case of the French Revolution), or of a prehistorical classless society (as in the case of the Russian Revolution). In all of these great upheavals the idea of restoration -- a return, and in that sense a revolution, to an earlier starting point -- was connected with a dynamic concept of the future.

It is easy enough to criticize the historiography of the revolutions as politically biased and, indeed, purely ideological. This, however, is to impose on revolutionaries the standards of objectivity asserted by modern historical scholarship, which is itself a product of its time and has its own biases. Moreover, it is important to recognize that the revolutionaries were perfectly aware that they were reinterpreting the past and adapting historical memories to new circumstances. What is significant is that at the most crucial turning points of Western history a projection into the distant past has been needed to match the projection into the distant future. Both the past and the future have been summoned, so to speak, to fight against the evils of the present.

Time Horizons: Last One For A While Edition

Even FLG is getting sick of his Time Horizons theory, but he did want to point out that if you read these two pieces by Kevin Drum, that Dennis the Peasant tipped FLG off to, and notice how he thinks he's "reality-based" when in fact he's short-term biased.

Kevin writes things like:
Interest rates will remain very low for a very long time. The Fed has made this as clear as any central bank possibly could.

Yes, the Fed will keep rates low for the foreseeable future, but a very long time is pushing it unless you are short-term biased.

There is no possibility in the near future of a carbon tax.

There is no question about the federal government's long-term ability to meet its debt obligations, and even if there were this would have very little effect on short-term investment decisions by American businesses.

Over and over, Kevin acts as if people don't take the long-term into account. And if they do, then it's irrational.

The only significant real uncertainty that American businesses face right now is financial uncertainty: that is, whether there will be enough consumer demand next year to justify hiring more workers and buying more equipment today. PPACA and carbon taxes rank very far down the list.

Kevin, maybe, just maybe, people take a longer term view at things than you do. Specifically, maybe business people plan for the future when it comes to hiring and investment beyond the next five minutes or even five years.

Sometimes I think that we reality-based folks cave in to reality a little too quickly.

Kevin, what you call reality-based FLG calls focusing narrowly on the present. Over and over again. And unfortunately for you, when you define reality only was for sure exists right now and what highly likely will exists in-the-very-near-future, then you are banishing a lot of reasonable people to the land of unreal thinking.

Now, to the extent that the problems of the present overwhelm the problems of the future, perhaps your stance is more correct. But to dismiss reasonable concerns about the future as some sort of irrational or mythological thinking is asinine.

Plagiarism! Part 2

David Brooks ripped off FLG today, but without the benefit of the full Time Horizons theory:
The economic approach embraced by the most prominent liberals over the past few years is mostly mechanical...

Everything is rigorous. Everything is science.

Conservatives, who are usually stereotyped as narrow-eyed business-school types, have gone all Oprah-esque in trying to argue against these liberals. If the government borrows trillions of dollars, this will increase public anxiety and uncertainty, the conservatives worry. The liberal technicians brush aside this soft-headed mush. These psychological concerns are mythological, they say. That’s gaseous blathering from those who lack quantitative rigor.

Monday, November 15, 2010


One of FLG's readers tipped him to this bit of plagiarism:
In my opinion, an amazing number of mysteriously vehement, evidence-defying opinions can be better understood once you understand that the expresser of such opinions is unthinkingly assuming that most others are, in some particular respect, just like him.

Listen, Brian Micklethwait (London) of samizdata.net, FLG already had a name for this -- The Big Assumption. (Which will henceforth be referred to as The Big Assumption©).

Oh, sure. You'll say you've never heard of Fear and Loathing in Georgetown. That you arrived at this conclusion all by yourself. Bullshit!, says FLG.

FLG would point you to other people who have crossed him, but unfortunately none of them are still with us. Poor devils. So, please, a small footnote is vastly preferable to some massive, international incident involving ricin, umbrella guns, and Waterloo Bridge. FLG is a reasonable man, but his patience is limited.

No Shit Sherlock

Instead of the modest and by now familiar surgeon general's warning, the new labels use coffins, diseased lungs and rotting teeth to drive home the health effects of tobacco. The language makes clear that cigarettes are addictive; cause cancer, heart disease and strokes; harm children; and "can kill you."

Does anybody think that there is a single smoker out there who does not know cigarettes "are addictive; cause cancer, heart disease and strokes; harm children; and "can kill you?"

Now, the most reasonable response, as far as FLG can see, is, hey, we're just changing the packaging. It's no big deal, so why worry about it?

Fair enough, but if it's no big deal, then why do it? This isn't a problem of communication. If you want to lower smoking rates, then raise cigarette taxes. But you have to understand that no matter what happens some people are going to smoke. Even if you made them completely illegal, some people are still going to smoke.

Now, you might be saying, why's your dander all up about packaging, FLG? What's the big deal?

It's a complicated answer, but mostly the issue is that the entire idea rests upon a variety of assumptions that FLG finds contemptuous. First, that people are stupid. Everybody knows smoking is bad. Second, and building on the first, it embodies the idea that longer life is always better no matter what must be foregone. Now, in the case of smoking, FLG's personal opinion is that he'd rather live longer than smoke, which is why he quit a couple years back. But he ain't gonna give up steak no matter how many people on TV talk about the horrible health effects of red meat. Third, it reminds FLG how much he hates the sanctimoniousness of public health officials. Given that they have dedicated their careers to health, one must assume that they think IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT. And, yes, health is really important, but so are other things. Health officials would have us living in a completely funless, joyless, and ultimately lifeless world if it meant maximizing health outcomes. These arguments happen at the margin, and each time it seems like such a insignificant intrusion. Smoking, seat belt laws, bike helmet laws, banning lawn darts and chefs knives. Life involves risks, and we can't remove them all. Trying to is both futile and stupid. Lastly, this label change is one of those cheap, stupid, therapeutic things people do to make themselves feel better about themselves. In this case, by people FLG means health officials and busybody do-gooders in our society. The people that'll say, it can't hurt and if it stops one person from smoking, then it was worth it.

Here's another example of what gets FLG pissed from Boston.com:
Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health says Connolly makes a good point. “While I certainly think it’s a good idea to have these graphic warning labels, I do not actually think it’s going to have much of an impact,’’ he said.

Okay, let me get this straight. According to the author, Dr. Siegel made a good point when he said it's a good idea to do something that isn't going to work very well, if at all?

Listen fucktards, FLG's definition of a good idea is one THAT WILL WORK WELL! Things that won't work well are, pretty much by definition, bad ideas! Therefore, saying that doing something that won't work is a good idea is not a good point. It's an idiotic one. And we look to these people as experts?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Quote of the day

Donald Kagan, in answering a question about why no non-Greeks who came into contact with the hoplite phalanx copied it, said:
But that whole subject now is so wonderfully more controversial than it was probably ever before in history, because everything now in history that bears on the western world and its relations with some other world is part of a great political assault by those people who are eager to pull down anything that seems to be admirable or special, or positive about the West.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quote of the day

"The Plumber is clearly smarter than The Ben Bernanke."


FLG Is A Loser

Prof. Mondo links to a series of essays on liberal arts.  FLG knows two of the people personally, which makes him feel like a big loser because he could never write anything like that.

First S'more

Also notice the pirate tattoo on her hand.  Speaking of which, Google has a pirate-themed image today in honor of Robert Louis Stevenson.  Arrrgghh!

Time Horizons: Doubt and Certainty

ED Kain posted about doubt and certainty with an except from Will Wilkinson that touched on FLG's favorite hobby horse -- time horizons:
There is a straightforward conflict between expert macroeconomic management and democracy. This ought to be more openly acknowledged and discussed. When elite economists demand more deference to technocratic consensus, they not so subtly demand that (even more) immense political power be ceded to them and their grad-school pals. To become angry that this power has not been granted, that select expert voices do not drown out the crowd, is to lament that in a liberal society other less expert voices are also heard. The gamble of democracy is that this evidently unwarranted equality of influence may deliver suboptimal policy in the short run, but will deliver the most materially and morally satisfactory results in the long run.

Also, FLG thinks he found why he has so much trouble with E.D. Kain. It's that he's a self-described "dispotional conservative," but fears being wrong. Here's an excerpt:
I wrestle endlessly with my political self-definition, because I am a Steppenwolf, because I have a constant desire for certainty, for an ideological home, for all of that – and at the same time, I know that because of who I am I will never be content with any hard lines drawn around myself. Because I am full of doubt and because I don’t want to attain the sort of certainty that I fear might blind me. Of course, this is not necessarily a call for incrementalism either as some commenters read it – I believe in radical change occasionally as well, and am somewhat radical when it comes to civil liberties. I attempt to temper my own radicalism by acknowledging that we are in a democracy, and so we must muddle through.

If you've been following FLG's time horizon's theory, and if you have been reading this blog then you couldn't have fucking missed it, this leads him to the following conclusion about Mr. Kain -- he's concerned about the long run, but any long run prediction can be wrong, and so he trusts in empirical observation, but that only demonstrates what was, not what is or what will be. And so, he wants muddles back and forth worried about the long run and unsatisfied by empirical proof, ultimately too afraid to take a strong stand, infusing his writing with maybes and perhapses and could and shoulds,  because he may be wrong.  (UPDATE:  Although, in fairness, he has gotten better about this.)

FLG, on the other hand, would rather be fantastically wrong about a Long Run, Big Idea than to muddle making only cautious, incremental (and if you pressed FLG, then he'd probably even include "cowardly," although that's hypocritical from a pseudonym) little steps away from what can be definitively proven. The important things cannot and will not ever be proven in any meaningful or even relevant way. When it comes to human affairs, it is far better to proclaim boldly from the summit of a mountain that you honestly believe in than to whisper from atop an anthill that you are 99.999% certain exists.

Just to be clear, and FLG always makes this explanation, he isn't anti-empiricism. Data, experiments, etc are always a good starting point. But facts in and of themselves lead to no conclusions. One must always apply values and beliefs to facts to reach any conclusion.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Linearity And Predictability

As you've probably noticed, if you read this blog by visiting the site rather than through an RSS feed, The Black Swan has been on FLG's current reading list for what seems like forever. Well, over at Buttonwood's blog, there's an interview with Nassim Taleb in which he makes a point that FLG has been arguing for a while now -- non-linear variables don't lend themselves to prediction.

FLG's point is more along the lines of most people project linearly, and this leads them to horrible and silly mistakes. Taleb goes even further, it seems, and asserts that one cannot predict in a non-linear domain. Consequently, in those cases, one must use either organic protection (redundant systems, for example) or rely upon tradition. This insight has led him to read, wait for it, classical authors.

FLG really needs to read his books.

FLG is currently listening to

...in honor of Thanksgiving:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Time Horizons: Conservatives Aren't Empirical

Ross Douthat linked to this 2005 article by Jonathan Chait arguing that liberals are non-ideological, practical empiricists interested only in producing beneficial outcomes.

Chait's thesis is most clearly stated here:
The contrast between economic liberalism and economic conservatism, then, ultimately lies not only in different values or preferences but in different epistemologies. Liberalism is a more deeply pragmatic governing philosophy--more open to change, more receptive to empiricism, and ultimately better at producing policies that improve the human condition--than conservatism.

As regular readers know, FLG takes the view that liberals are more empirical, but only becuase they focus relatively more strongly on the short-term, tangible, and first order effects and tend to ignore or dismiss long-term, less tangible, and second and third order effects. And by ignore or dismiss, FLG means these arguments are written off as irrelevant or downright irrational. See Alan's bogeymen accusation.

But what's even worse about Chait's stance is that it neglects the fact value distinction. As FLG has mentioned over and over, facts by themselves lead toward no conclusion. A conclusion requires the application of value and preferences. And so, there is no such thing as non-ideological, practical empirical policy or governing. The a priori assumption, which in fairness most of us make, that material conditions and material progress are the most important is itself a ideology.

Look, FLG isn't saying people conservatives aren't ideological. He certainly isn't saying Republican politicians cannot be either ideological or idiots. But the conceit that one's own side is the only rational or intellectually honest one is absurd in the extreme.

Now that FLG thinks about it, he thinks he object to a similar argument from Ezra Klein not too long ago. Look guys, if you think you are non-ideological because you look at data and merely want to improve material conditions, then let me tell you that you are 1) focused only on the short-term, proximate, and tangible and 2) you aren't being very pensive about the very profound extent to which you have an ideology.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Euroskepticism = MEOW

"The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war," [Herman Van Rompuy, the president of Europe] said.

BTW, FLG thinks Van Rompuy ripped off Yoda:
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Time Horizons: Holy Fucking Shit Edition

Matt Yglesias writes what might be the stupidest thing he's ever written:
All the hot bloggers and think tanks are working on their long-term deficit reduction plans, but I have to say I’m a bit confused as to why. It’s definitely true that in principle a country should always have a specific plan for returning to long-term balance. But does that ever actually happen? The budget deficit isn’t currently a problem, but it almost certainly will be in the future and that’s when congress will act to deal with it.

Now, this coincides precisely with FLG's time horizons theory in that Matt is completely baffled about long run concerns. But, Matt, for fuck's sake man, there's this crazy theory out here in the real world that holds that it's better to deal with problems before they became fucking crises. Because, like, crises are bad and stuff.


LOG has a fund raising drive going on.

Fear and Loathing in Georgetown doesn't have financial needs because the generous support of the Two Guns Gas Station is equal to our hosting costs. However, FLG would like to take this opportunity say to his readers that he is running low on beer. Please send some along. He is very thirsty. Thank you.

From The Unanswerable Questions Department

FLG never knew there were animals other than the turtle and owl.

Quote of the day

Megan McArdle:
it's worth keeping this in mind when you hear that we're paying "more money for worse outcomes". Given all the factors outside the health care system that contribute to worse outcomes, that's far from proven.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tax Regime From Scratch

Felix Salmon writes:
If you were building a national taxation structure from scratch, you’d definitely include a carbon tax in there somewhere — and probably some kind of Tobin tax, too, not to mention a wealth tax and possibly some kind of consumption tax as well.

Really? Based upon what criteria exactly? FLG gets the consumption tax argument. That's about tax distortions. But Tobin tax and carbon tax presuppose various assumptions that FLG doesn't agree would automatically be in some magical Utopian tax regime.

FLG Doesn't Think Matt Has Thought This Through

Matt Yglesias writes:
Now it is of course true that QE2 will have impact on other countries, and foreign policymakers should feel free to whine if they feel that America’s policy choices are inconveniencing them. But that doesn’t mean we should listen to them. In this regard I think it’s worth doing more than Kevin Drum does to distinguish Germany and China. The Germans are merely being hypocritical about this (that’s politics) but the Chinese are being nonsensical. Their problem with QE2 is that they’ve decided to subsidize politically powerful Chinese exporters by yoking their currency to ours in a way that leads them to import our monetary policy. Since they did that, they now want us to run a monetary policy that would be appropriate for China rather than a monetary policy that would be appropriate for the United States of America. But since the United States of America and China are very different places, economically speaking, it would be nuts of us to do this. Fortunately, China can unyoke itself from us any time it wants by letting its currency float more. They’re acting like this currency tether is something we’ve been begging them to do when in fact it’s something we’ve been begging them to stop.

A couple of things. First, FLG isn't sure the statement about importing American monetary policy holds. There's a trillema in international economics that states a country cannot simultaneously have a fixed exchange rate, open capital account, and an independent monetary policy. The US chose to forgo the fixed exchange rate, and so has an open captial account and independent monetary policy. Other countries, choose to fix the currency to the dollar or euro, keep an open capital account, and import the American or European monetary policy. China, chose a third way, as FLG mentioned over in the comments at A&J, they have a fixed exchange rate, but didn't open their captial account. Therefore, they can have an independent monetary policy.

Barry Eichengreen expressed it this way in 2005:
If the authorities wish to limit the rate of growth of bank credit and raise the level of interest rates relative to those prevailing abroad, they can simply issue sterilization bills, thereby sopping up the additional domestic liquidity, and issue directives to the banks instructing them to lend less, as they did in 2004.

Now, in fairness, there is a link, as Eichengreen mentions a little bit later in that paper:
Recent studies have confirmed the existence of a surprisingly strong link between monetary conditions in China and the United States. Ouyang and Rajan (2005) estimate the offset coefficient (the impact of a change in net domestic assets on net foreign assets) by twostage least squares on data starting in 1995, obtaining a coefficient of 0.5, indicating that about half of any domestic monetary impulse is offset by induced capital flows.

But that's only because the capital controls are somewhat porous. So, the Chinese could either float their currency or cramp down on capital flows.

Now, that brings us to the question of whether Matt's insouciance about China floating the currency is in America's interest.

Noah Millman raises some good questions about precisely that:
If the Chinese intend to let their currency float, and if the general assumption that a free-floating Yuan would appreciate significantly against the dollar, they should probably unload their Treasury holdings first, to avoid taking a big loss. Certainly, they should stop buying more of them. But America is producing debt at a prodigious rate. If what QE2 accomplishes is mostly to convince the Chinese to stop subsidizing low interest rates in America, leaving the Fed to basically pick up the slack, how is that going to improve the American economy? Wouldn’t we just wind up with higher inflation and higher nominal interest rates – i.e., stagflation?

FLG won't continue. This was mostly to say that Matt was only partially correct on the pass-through monetary policy and didn't think about the long-term ramifications of a switch to a floating currency.

This isn't to say that China shouldn't float their currency. Indeed, the Eichengreen paper FLG linked to makes precisely that case. (Largely because they're going to lose control of their captial account, and as the Chinese economy becomes less export dependent it would be better to manage the domestic economy via interest rates.)

Time Horizons: International Empirical Analysis

Here's a map that shows the time horizons of various nations. It is only loosely related to FLG's theory for a couple of reasons. First, FLG is talking mostly about Westerners. Second, and related, the factors ascribed to short- versus long-term were created to included Asian values, which don't exactly translate to Western culture. For example, FLG isn't sure that absolute beliefs in good and evil means short-time horizons.

Interesting, nonetheless.

FLG is currently listening to

No Shit Sherlock

The shooter who has targeted three U.S. military sites in Northern Virginia in recent weeks may be a Marine or someone with a grievance against the U.S. Marine Corps, federal officials said Friday.

Boy, FLG is glad the crack minds at the FBI on are on the case.  BTW, FLG thought of this scene as soon as he heard about the shots down in Quantico.

FLG The Foodie Continued

Remember when FLG explained his hot sauce and peppermint extract making skillz? At the time he mentioned mint chocolate chip ice cream. Well, he meant to post a picture, and here it is:
 The little black dots is vanilla.  Yes, Sparky, FLG put vanilla in his mint chocolate chip ice cream.  It brightens up the flavor.

FLG is currently listening to

Male Attractiveness

Amber links to this piece about male attractiveness.

Amber highlights this passage:
Are we as guys lucky not to be evaluated as stringently based on physical attributes as girls are? Sure, I guess. But the downside is, this can make us complacent about how we look. The best strategy is, even if we’re not being judged as harshly as women, imagine that we are. It’s this complacency that makes some guys think stupid shit like “Well, I am a sensitive writer, so not only do I not need to have a nice body, but I should actually avoid having one, because having one would mean that I am not a sensitive writer anymore.”

Look at it this way: when you see a chick who is wearing glasses and a pencil skirt because she is going for a Sexy Librarian thing, do you want her to not have an amazing body just because that is the look she is going for, or do you want her to be going for that look and have an amazing body? Obviously, you want her to also have an amazing body. There is no possible aesthetic for which the equation [given aesthetic] + [amazing body] = [even better] does not hold. So why would girls think of us any differently?

Totally makes sense.

The author then continues:
Girls learn to adopt different vibes for different situations, and boys learn to pick a vibe and stick to it: whereas a girl learns to say “I will look like Dita von Teese at this party, like Shirley Manson at that party next week, like ’80s Madonna for that dance party,” etc. as needed, a guy just decides when he is fifteen or so, “I am like John Lennon, so I will try to look like John Lennon, and that will be my thing every day for the rest of my life.”


The stumbling block for guys is that we are hypervigilant about accurately projecting our personalities—I have to wear “A” and have haircut “B,” so that anyone who sees me can plainly tell that I am XYZ type of person. But people don’t actually need as much help discerning our personalities as we are inclined to believe they do. In fact, occasionally adopting a style that doesn’t instantly telegraph your demographic might be socially beneficial, because it forces you to actually interact with people if you want them to know what you’re like.

I understand the paranoia: maybe this time there would be some chick there who has always been looking for a guy who projects exactly what my “real” personality is, and if I get dressed up all “fake,” she won’t know it’s me.

While the whole it cannot hurt for guys to workout line of argument makes perfect sense, the psychological analysis doesn't resonate with FLG at all. FLG must say he can never remember worrying, ever, that he'd miss out on some girl because he'd project a fake him. In fact, he can't remember ever saying he's like anybody and tried to be like them for the rest of his life. And even if that's a bit of hyperbole, which FLG assumes it is, then it still doesn't resonate. FLG doesn't project people. He wears different stuff because he feels like wearing different stuff. Now, you could say that's because on this day he wants to project a 1940s movie star version of FLG and on this other day the rugged, outdoor individualist version of FLG, but he certainly doesn't consciously think that way. Nor does he ever remember getting an inkling that other guys think this way. The author describes himself as a sensitive writer, which maybe explains this discrepancy. But the whole idea of projection different "selves" makes FLG uncomfortable.

It never hurts to work out. Okay, gotcha. Men need vary their look to take the context of the the social enviroment more into account. Okay, gotcha. Men need to stop worrying about projecting a false self? Yeah, not so much. The whole idea sounds...well, unfortunately FLG doesn't have a better way to describe this, but...gay unmasculine.

Perhaps this just proves the author's point that "men see performativity as silly at best and a form of insincerity at worst" "And that’s how I feel about finally coming to terms with what they referred to in college as “traditional notions of masculinity.”" But you know what, this article, when you boil it down, strikes FLG as if it were written by a woman trying first to explain to men why they should workout, but then also trying to explain psychologically why they don't, incorrectly, of course. Although, as FLG alluded to before, maybe this is simply because FLG is so immersed in traditional norms of masculinity that he's like a fish not knowing he is wet.

In any case, the simple fact of the matter is this -- the cost-benefit tradeoff for working out isn't as great for men as it is for women. Working out sucks for both men and women, but women get more benefit because guys notice if you have a nice body and are very attracted to it. Moreover, because other women are also concerned about this, it becomes a bit of a vicious cycle. Dudes on the other hand, don't have so much upside. Yes, chicks dig six-pack abs, but chicks also dig, as the article mentioned, nice suits, nice cars, etc. All things being equal, if you are worried about attracting women, then it's probably better to make money. Now, a rich guy with six-pack abs is better than a rich guy with a beer belly, but over the long-run, it's probably better to invest in making lots of money rather then going for the six-pack. Once you are over a certain age, male physical attractiveness matters less than other factors.

Monday, November 8, 2010

FLG Too Pedantic?

Via Lifehacker, FLG learns of this video that animates and gives voice to an essay by Stephen Fry on language:

FLG is sympathetic to the attacks on pedantic people who point out petty problems. Five or less is no big deal. However, FLG does think that the desire for clarity is a legitimate argument for good grammar and a worthwhile goal of writing generally.


FLG should've added Tim Kowal's blog, Notes From Babel, to his blogroll a while ago, but that's finally been rectified. Anyway, like Prof Mondo, FLG found Tim's post on metaphysics made an important point:
In one of those dragged out, merciless threads about the existence of God and the origins of the universe and the nature of reality and all that heavy stuff, Jason Kuznicki  sticks a pin in and lets some air out.  Somehow, Jason says, we all seem to manage to get along, even while we disagree out this allegedly fundamental stuff.  That “metaphysics has very little to offer except folly.”

I take the general sentiment.  And I enjoy the passage from Candide he shares.  But I cannot agree that our metaphysic, our worldview, our underlying presuppositions about what it means to be a human in this world among other humans, is some trifling matter that has no bearing on human affairs outside the cigar room.  These questions define our starting point on questions of values, on the purposes in our conduct in and attitudes about society, government, politics, the law.

Well put. Although, FLG will say that interests, institutions, and other material factors explain a lot. These attitudes that Tim talks about matter at the margins, which are very important for somebody like FLG who monomanically focuses on time horizons.

It's facile to look at political outcomes and say they were merely the product of a interests competing. Too many people think this is actually a profound thought that is devoid of romantic notions. On the other hand, FLG thinks it is both a overly cynical and static way to look at things, which is to say the wrong way.

Write Like You Mean It

William Brafford, about the only contributor over at LOG who doesn't make FLG want to pour molten silver in his eyes and mouth, examines some changes over there. One of the points stuck in FLG's craw:
A number of our individual contributors have ended up on enemy lists, but only one person has really attacked the League’s fundamental philosophy. That was Helen Rittelmeyer, who thought this blog’s corner of the blogosphere was too “gushy” and “huggy.” Part of the problem seemed to be the way that we got a little carried away praising one another’s work. The word “genius” got thrown around a little too freely. But those were heady days: it seemed like the conservative movement was going to have to turn to center-right intellectual conservatism post-Bush. Alas, it was not to be.

Just to be clear, FLG doesn't have an enemies list. He has a nemesis list, and none of the League made it, but most of the contributors are on fucking notice.

Later William continues:
I’ll go on record now as preferring discussion to debate. I’m blogging to learn, not to win, and I like the idea that even if one of us starts off with a furious rant, we can move to a calmer discussion from there. I hope the League remains a space where this is possible.

Now, FLG's problem with LOG has never so much the hugginess, but the lack of conviction when making arguments. Not so much lately, but previously there were a lot of maybes, coulds, and perhapses that always take the life out of an argument. If you believe something, then state it clearly and definitively.

Anyway, FLG has seen less of those indecisive caveats lately. Many of the League are still wrong, and goodness knows most of the new additions are wrong about damn near everything, but at least they're making definitive statements. FLG hopes that beneficial change is not what is causing William to worry/lament about the state of things over at the League. Concern should be directed more toward Rufus' obviously massive crack habit when he decides to blog Plato.

Lack Of Class

Don't get FLG wrong, he thinks Noam Chomsky is a huge tool. But FLG came across this video of Chomsky discussing William F. Buckley's passing, and the entire tone is surprisingly off-putting:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Time Horizons: Alan's Objection

So, in the midst of a debate about health care reform and the election, Alan writes the following, which I will respond to piece by piece:
Your time horizons argument seems a naked attempt to say "my vision of the future is the only one that counts because I refuse to accept that you even have a vision of the future." It is bunk and a remarkably ironic position for a conservative to hold.

No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that most reasonable people, on both the left and right, acknowledge that the bill was specifically crafted to get a CBO cost and deficit score. Certain provisions were included that few people think will stand. Take these out, and the cost and deficit projection falls apart.

But on the larger point of about conservatives and the future, I'm saying that, again, the most likely outcome will be a cost overrun because these provisions are most likely going to change. I'm not refusing to acknowledge another vision of the future, I'm saying it's unlikely.

And this is a very conservative thing to do. Look, Burke said, that the whole thing about liberté, égalité, and fraternité in the French Revolution sounds so nice, but the path you are going down will lead to people getting their heads chopped off. It won't be pretty. He looked at the long run, and saw the danger.

But, more important, your final paragraph says that besides empirical facts, we also must worry about bogeymen. It expresses a fear of the future that I can reconcile with a conservative viewpoint, but not one that I can reconcile with a privileged long-term view.

In the first paragraph, you say my time horizons theory is bunk. Okay. Let's review what my time horizons theory says. It says that liberals are concerned about empirical fact, which leads them to short-term thinking. Moreover, the concern about the long-term is relatively less important and sometimes concern about the long-term is even viewed as irrational.

Hmmm...that's funny. Because I'm saying that the specific facts of the law are less important than the long-term trajectory of where the law will most likely take us, I'm accused of worrying about "bogeymen." In other words, my focus on the future is viewed by you as irrational. And so, you prove my point with your counter-argument.

Lastly, I'm not afraid of the future. I'm afraid of the future if we go in a direction that gives the state additional power over health, life, and death.

Death panels could come, without regard to foregoing legislation, if death panel advocates were to successfully pass such legislation. I do not understand, however, why people think bleeding heart liberals will write that into law. That fear is about equal to fear of bogeymen.

There are a variety of reasons why this might occur, but mostly because the majority of health care costs are for the very old, near death. I don't have the exact figures, but I think I remember that the 80-20 rule holds, and something like 20% of the oldest account for 80% of the costs. I don't want to get too hung up on the numbers because whatever they are, they account for a large portion of the costs.

Combine this fact with the short-term, empirical analysis of liberals, who want this program and will champion its continuance and drive its expansion, and you get a point where those older people start to look like dead-weight.

Oh, and along the bleeding-heart liberals not doing this comment, it's not like history doesn't have people on the Left calling for sacrifice for the greater good, and by sacrifice I mean people being murdered. Given that murder is more difficult to rationalize than allowing people to die, I can see it happening. But you must understand, I don't think there will be a straight up vote on it. Bureaucratic language and procedures will mask what it really is. They'll call it a health efficiency panel, but it could become a death panel.

And lastly, on the point about the panels could arrive irrespective of the legislation, okay. Great. You generally seem to be saying, look, this bill doesn't have those provisions in it. If at some point in the future people try to do this, then let's worry about that bridge when we come to it, but we ain't there now.

And my response is that this legislation is sending us down a path with a high likelihood that we will come to that bridge, and the concern is that once we get to that bridge the only choice will be to cross it because that same legislation that sent us down this path also lit the forest behind us ablaze.

To put it in more practical terms, let's say the costs are higher than expected. And to be honest, even people on the Left acknowledge the key point was to expand coverage, not cut costs. And that the cost cutting was more or less window dressing. Well, let's say we expand coverage, then we revoke some provisions that will be unpopular, but were supposed to cut costs. So, we do start building up fiscal problems even faster, and have given the government more control. Well, when a massive bill is looking the American people in the face, then a death panel couched in less hideous bureaucratic language might just be something that could get passed.

(Tone surely sounds more antagonistic than I intend as I expect you know.)

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