Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Potter

...looks awesome:

Spies' Computer Security FAIL

They used unencrypted WiFi and, FLG couldn't make this up if he tried, wrote the password for their encrypted hard drive on a piece of paper near their computer. Seriously.

More On Gender Roles

The other day, FLG was in the doctor's office and picked up a copy of Parenting magazine during the wait. It contained several articles on the issues surrounding girls, pink, and princesses and boys, blue, and trucks. Today, FLG came across this article on gender roles in The Times.

In her book, [Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – and What We Can Do About It,] Eliot says that Brizendine’s statement that baby boys do not bond as easily as baby girls with their parents “is not only wrong, it’s downright subversive”. If parents think that boys are less social, they are likely to interact less with them, thus making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. She is equally derisive about the idea that females are alone in their ability to read faces, defuse conflict and form deep friendships whereas boys are hard-wired for aggression and are less empathetic.

Not that Eliot is claiming that boys’ and girls’ brains are identical. Only that we as a culture exaggerate minor differences until they become major ones. “Our philosophy about these things actually shapes our parenting and our culture: if you believe that boys and girls are fundamentally different, it can’t help but alter the way we act and the expectations we have. Of course, genes and hormones play a role in creating boy/girl differences, but they are only the beginning. Social factors are proving to be far more powerful than we previously realised.”


Again, I think most of us realize that we are the product of both Nature and Nurture. The extent to which we are of each is open to debate, and will probably never truly be known or proven. However, there is a tendency for those that want thing to be different to believe that Nurture plays more of a role than Nature and those who want things to stay the same to believe the converse.

Both have their problems. Believing things are Nurture can lead people to thinking that they can change things, when in fact they are forcing something contrary to Nature. Perhaps in immoral and painful ways. On the other hand, we tend to assume that things that common and pre-existing things are Natural when they might not be. Also, even if something is natural, it doesn't make it right or good.

My point? In the absence of definitive proof, we tend to see what we want to see. As a relatively conservative person, I lean toward the Nature side. People who want change lean toward the Nurture side. It's definitely both, but your own personal bias must be taken into account. All of this is less Nature than I probably believe it to be. It's also probably not as much Nurture as Dance or the neuroscientist quoted in the article believe it to be.

FLG is currently listening to



...which Dance sent over in honor of the on-going discussion about gender roles.

A Conversation

Miss FLG: Daddy!

FLG: What is it, sweetie? I'm trying to drive.

Miss FLG: Aah-pull!

FLG: Huh?

Miss FLG: Aah-pull!

FLG: Oh, you've found my old iPod. Yes, it has an apple on it.

Miss FLG: Help!

FLG: Help? Okay, I'm at a light. Lemme see it. iPod Diagnostic mode? How the heck did you do this? Remind me to tell you a story about monkeys and typewriters when you get older. Alright, I've reset it. It's rebooting. The apple is coming up, here.

Miss FLG: Aah-pull! He he.

FLG: Yes, it's an apple.

Miss FLG: Applesauce!

thud

FLG: Uh, we don't make Apple iPod sauce in this family, sweetie.

Alexander the Great: Home Improvement Edition

FLG all of a sudden thought, "Hey, an Alexander the Great door knocker would be fucking awesome!" A quick Google search returned this, but FLG has no idea how they know it's Alexander. And to tell you the truth, FLG isn't too happy with the style.

FLG is currently listening to

Monday, June 28, 2010

Question of the day

The Ancient writes over at A&J:
Unlike FLG, I take a dim view of Georgetown students, in that in 30 plus years of intermittent polling, I have never met even one who knew when the Civil War was fought. And my sample size exceeds one hundred.

Question:
Are you trying to say that FLG can't name the years during which the American Civil War took place?

To get the proper tone with which the question is asked, think of that scene from Major League when the guy asks about Jesus Christ and the curveball. Also, FLG cannot believe that President Palmer worshiped Jo-Bu. Haven't seen the movie in years. Didn't know it was him.

Quote of the day

When asked about sex in space:
"We treat each other with respect and we have a great working relationship. Personal relationships are not ... an issue," said a serious-faced Mr Poindexter. "We don't have them and we won't."

How priceless is the guy's name?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Conversation

Mrs. FLG: Who are you talking to? Do you have an imaginary friend?

Miss FLG: Yeah!

Mrs. FLG: You do?

Miss FLG: Yeah.

Mrs. FLG: What's his name?

Miss FLG: Daddy!

I don't know whether to be flattered that her imaginary friend is named Daddy or offended that she created an imaginary Daddy.  In either case actually, I'm pretty sure she had no idea what Mrs. FLG was asking anyway.  

Oppression In DC

Mid and late summer is usually pretty damn horrible in DC, as the millions of Americans who've ever walked on the Mall during those months can testify. But if the normal heat is oppressive, then this last week, and today especially, felt like Stalin or Mao or maybe Genghis Fucking Khan had coldcocked Mother Nature and were taking the fucking screws to Our Nation's Capital. Then again, it could be the fucking pirates. FLG doesn't know. In any case, it's fucking horrible and he wants it to stop. He'd've moved to the Amazon if he'd wanted to live like this.

Why FLG Doesn't Consider Himself An Economics Blogger

FLG writes about economics topics often and just as often makes strong statements, but he doesn't consider himself an economics blogger, mostly because he just doesn't know enough about the topic. And then, from Greg Mankiw's blog, FLG discovers this paper, which articulates roughly how FLG feels:
The following is a letter to open-minded consumers of the economics blogosphere. In the wake of the recent financial crisis, bloggers seem unable to resist commentating routinely about economic events. It may always have been thus, but in recent times, the manifold dimensions of the financial crisis and associated recession have given fillip to something bigger than a cottage industry. Examples include Matt Yglesias, John Stossel, Robert Samuelson, and Robert Reich. In what follows I will argue that it is exceedingly unlikely that these authors have anything interesting to say about economic policy. This sounds mean-spirited, but it’s not meant to be, and I’ll explain why.

[...]

Deficits, short-term interest rate targets, sovereign debt are all chewed over with
a level of self-assuredness that only someone who doesn’t know more could. The list of those exhibiting this zest also includes, in addition to those mentioned above, some who might know better. They are the patron saints of the “Macroeconomic Policy is Easy: Only Idiots Don’t Think So” movement: Paul Krugman and Brad Delong. Either of these men will assure their readers that it’s all really very simple (and may even be found in Keynes’ writings).

FLG doesn't agree, however, that the conversation should be limited to experts:
writers who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams), cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy. Taken literally, I am almost certainly wrong. Some of them have great ideas, for sure. But this is irrelevant. The real issue is that there is extremely low likelihood that the speculations of the untrained, on a topic almost pathologically riddled by dynamic considerations and feedback effects, will offer anything new. Moreover, there is a substantial likelihood that it will instead offer something incoherent or misleading. Note also that intelligence is not the issue. Many of those I am telling you not to listen to will more than successfully be able to match wits, in any generalized sense, with me. This is irrelevant. The question is: can they provide you, the reader, with an internally consistent analysis of a dynamic system subject to random shocks populated by thoughtful actors whose collective actions must be rendered feasible? For many questions, I and my colleagues can, and for those that the profession cannot, the blogging crowd probably can’t either.

FLG thinks economics bloggers or people, like himself, who just blog about economics some of the time have something useful to offer the conversation, and that is writing about economics without using terms like dynamic considerations and feedback effects. Moreover, the experts may advance the conversation about what the policy options are and their costs and benefits, but the public does need to be involved and informed of the menu of choices offered by the experts for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the economics discipline contains normative assumptions, and consequently all of the people to whom the author wants to say the conversation ought to be limited are influenced by them.

FLG thinks this is wise advice, and he always tries to adhere to it:
my hope is that the broader public will ask for a slightly higher bar when it comes to economics, rather than self-selecting into blogs that merely confirm half-baked views that might have been acquired from elsewhere. And I hope that non-economists who write about economics start routinely to do so in a way that references and discusses the premises that lead to particular conclusions about a given issue. Economics is full of this sort of “if-then” knowledge, which, if communicated well, could significantly sharpen the public discussion. This is not asking a lot, it is asking just enough.

To sum up:
FLG agrees that people, including Krugman and Delong, too blithely address macroeconomic policy issues. On the other hand, the answer isn't to leave this to a sacred band of experts who police themselves. Lastly, FLG always tries to explicitly place the assumptions he is operating under on the table.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Technology Patents

Timothy B. Lee, filling in for Megan, posts about patents, and software patents in particular. He writes:
Microsoft, for example, has charged that the Linux operating system infringes 235 of its patents. This isn't a sign that Linux developers stole Microsoft source code, it's simply a reflection of the fact that Microsoft holds so many patents that it's essentially impossible to create a non-trivial software program without infringing some of them.

FLG remains convinced that every piece of software running on any computer anywhere today is covered by some patent locked in an IBM vault somewhere. He guess these things have run out, but he'd never get into a software patent fight with IBM. Other people haven't been as smart as FLG.

Hideous Choice

A post over at Photon Courier left FLG with a horrendous thought about Western Europe. What if, when push comes to shove, there must be a choice with anti-Semitic Islamic radicals on one hand and Jews on the other? Do they make the choice out of fear of exacerbating violence in the short-term? Or do they make the choice that violent groups have no place in an open democracy?

Time Horizons Again

Paul Krugman again goes to the Keynesian well and writes, "in the long run we are still all dead."

FLG has mentioned this quotation before in support of his time horizons thesis. But you know what never struck FLG is how almost hedonistic this view is:
I mean, why shouldn’t we be focused on the business cycle? We’ve suffered the worst cyclical downturn since the Great Depression; in terms of unemployment and output gaps, we have recovered almost none of the lost ground. Millions of willing workers are idle because of lack of demand; let them stay idle, and we can turn this into a long-term structural problem, but right now it is precisely a short-term, cyclical problem.

So saying that we need to focus on the long term, and not worry our little heads about trivial short-term issues like the highest long-term unemployment rate since the Great Depression, may sound like wisdom — but it’s actually folly.

We've suffered. Let's run up debt. We'll be dead and won't care anyway. Sure, but what about our children and grandchildren? It's pretty damn selfish if you ask me. On the other hand, Krugman could argue that it's heartless not to try to help people who are suffering. But even if we agree upon that, then there's the question of whether the policies designed to stimulate the economy are in fact effective.

Just so you know, my theory about time horizons isn't to label leftists as stupid. It's my attempt to try to understand their motivation and first principles. For a while, in my teens and twenties, I just thought they were stupid and ignorant of economics. But I asked myself how could so many smart people, and there are very smart Lefties, be so self-evidently wrong?

Well, my answer isn't that they are self-evidently wrong. They just place different values on time, which is a reasonable point of disagreement. He wishes that many of them could return the favor of understanding this. Not that the Right is in any way a bastion of understanding and tolerance, but they're supposed to be ignorant and stupid anyway, right?

What Kind Of Students Go To Georgetown?

FLG received several emails with this question in one form or another over the last month or so. Broadly, there are three types.

Type 1:
Aspiring bureaucrats -- Kids who want to go into government-related careers, including non-profits and international affairs. These kids want to go to school in Washington, DC. They major in government, economics, and related fields.

Type 2:
Prestige kids -- Georgetown was the best school they got into. Perhaps they applied to a couple of Ivy League schools and didn't get in. Or maybe they decided they'd rather be in a city than Hanover, NH. FLG thinks the majority of the business school and maybe even the college are kids like this.

Type 3:
Catholic kids -- They go to Georgetown because of its Catholic tradition.

Now, please understand, each of these is a prototype. Most kids chose based on a combination of factors, but often it's a combination of the above factors. A kid wants to go into government, or at least study it, Georgetown was the best or nearly the best school they got into, and perhaps they're also Catholic. There are some one-offs, but mostly they fall into one or more of the above types.

A Response To Dance

Dance writes:
Keep in mind that I am a historian (although, I do not do either gender or women's history, just FYI).

Please offer up an example of a gender role for women that has not had pernicious effects, in practice.

In general, I'm against ALL roles that constrict what people can do and in favor of letting individuals follow their preferences--I try to apply this consistently, so I'm against "boys don't wear pink" "black people don't swim but must race track" "smart kids are only truly successful if they can get to the Ivy League", etc.

I am very unsure what you mean by this:And also if they aren't to be treated the same always, then why isn't her description a gender role, albeit a different or more limited one?

So, this offer up a gender role for women that has not had pernicious effects in practice is a good question, but also, I think, a leading one. I didn't argue that gender roles were entirely benign. Like everything they have good and bad to them. But what stacks the deck is to focus only on women. Gender roles are part of how you interact with society. So, the question is whether gender roles have, on balance, been a net benefit or net cost to society. Given that most societies have settled upon broadly equivalent gender roles, women staying home and nurturing/men going out and fighting or politics or business, I've gotta think there's some net benefit to them.

Perhaps though, like slavery, it was one of those things that was morally repugnant, but economically or socially necessary. Or perhaps, as that recent Atlantic article argues, changes in the economy make women's skills as or more valued than men's. Nevertheless, I think it's wrong to only focus on the effects upon women when benefits could be society wide. So, perhaps ultimately this is an individual autonomy versus interests of society disagreement, as you make explicit in your third sentence that you value individual autonomy.

And in regards to:
if they aren't to be treated the same always, then why isn't her description a gender role, albeit a different or more limited one?

My question is this: Do you believe men and women should always be treated exactly the same? If you don't, then you favor gender roles, right?

Also, I think we're not actually that far apart on this in reality because I am worried somebody will tell Miss FLG that she can't do math. We're just both taking the somewhat extreme positions.

UPDATE: If I had to sum up my stance, then it would be this: Gender roles have negative effects, but they've also served society historically, which counts for something, so let's not throw the baby out with the bath water by getting rid of them altogether. Let's focus on where they manifest negative consequences.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quote of the day

Adam Elkus:
perhaps more important than a brilliant grand strategy per se is the cushion for error you have available at any given time

Funny. FLG said something similar almost a year ago to the day and Adam questioned it.

People need to recognize that despite FLG's cursing and incoherence, deep down, he's one prescient, profound, and prophetic motherfucking genius.

FLG Isn't Quite Sure Why

...but he believes for no rational reason whatsoever that these jams are better than anything he can find in the local supermarket.

FLG Never Knows Quite What To Make Of Pascal Lamy

He's the head of the WTO. Anyway, this interview in Le Monde is a good example.

The headline contains this quotation:
Les pays les plus pro-mondialisation sont les plus pauvres

Which translates to "the countries most in favor globalization are the poorest." But he's not saying what I first thought he was saying, which is that globalization friendly policies make you poorer. No, he's saying that poor countries see globalization as a way out of poverty, which makes perfect sense to FLG. (There's also the issue that it just doesn't make any sense almost ever for small countries, ones that cannot affect world prices, to inhibit free trade.)

Later he says this:
Je n'ai jamais parlé de mondialisation heureuse. J'ai toujours parlé de la nécessité de la maîtriser. Avec la révolution des technologies de l'information, nous vivons une révolution comparable à l'invention de la machine à vapeur ou de l'électricité : une croissance inédite, poussée par la technologie et l'expansion territoriale des économies. Le résultat est là : des centaines de millions de personnes sont sorties de la pauvreté.

Roughly translated:
I never spoke of happy globalization. I always spoke of the need to master it. With the technology and information revolution, we are living through a revolution comparable to the invention of steam power and electricity: a new growth, pushed by technology and the territorial expansion of economies. The result: tens of millions of people have left poverty.

So far, so good, but then the various next paragraph:
En contrepartie, il faut lutter contre les inégalités. Si l'on veut que la politique rattrape l'économie, il faut davantage de régulation et de redistribution nationale et, si possible, supranationale.

Translate to:
On the other hand, we must fight inequality. If one wants politics to catch up with economics, then there must be more regulation and redistribution, even supranational if possible.

These two stances aren't mutually exclusive by any means, it's just most Anglo-Saxons aren't generally for free trade and pro-supranational redistribution.

Great Post

This is a great post on Krugman, Delong and the deficit.

FLG Must Object

This is not a pillbox hat.

Derivatives

FLG largely agrees with the NYTimes editorial on derivatives regulation. He can't really disagree with this part:
The largely unregulated, multitrillion-dollar market in derivatives fed the bubble, intensified the bust and led to the bailouts. Unreformed, it will do so again.

And the recommended solution is reasonable in FLG's eyes as well:
The final bill must ensure that derivatives are traded on transparent exchanges and processed through third-party clearinghouses to guarantee payment in case of default.

The problem FLG has with the NYTimes' analysis is this -- they're looking at derivatives as super complicated instruments that 1) allow banks to make huge profits by pulling stuff over on customers or making risky bets and 2) largely divorced from the real economy.
That would end the opacity that masks the size and risk of derivatives deals, like those that caused the bailout of the American International Group.

For FLG, the issue, and he's said this over and over again, is leverage. Pure and simple. The unregulated, opaque market allowed companies to overleverage. That's where the systematic risk is. The whole "it's a complicated casino with no real benefit to the economy" stuff that so many people seem to believe leads them into the wrong direction.

This is where FLG gets concerned, and also where he thinks viewing derivatives as a casino misleads many people:
Finally, lawmakers must find a way to separate banks’ derivatives dealing from federally insured deposits. Ideally, that would involve spinning off derivatives businesses into separate entities. A lite version of reform would involve setting up a separate derivatives affiliate within the bank holding company. What is crucial is that derivatives operations are supported by adequate capital of their own, and that there are no loopholes allowing federally backed banks to keep dealing in derivatives.

The problem is, for the gazillionth time, leverage. The exchange/clearinghouse solution makes the leverage rather explicit. Moreover, the Times is okay with the exception to allow "commercial businesses [to] use [derivatives] to hedge legitimate risks." The big question for FLG is whether commercial banks could use derivatives to hedge legitimate risks? His guess is that the Times would call that a "loophole." Also, who is defining legitimate?

The point of all this is that systematic financial risk comes from leverage. Derivatives aren't risky; overleverage is. We can regulate the amount of leverage that banks take on without getting into rules banning banks dealing in derivatives. Broad-based capital requirements at the firm level and collateral requirements on the exchanges inhibit leverage. It makes much more sense to simply deal with leverage than to have somebody making value judgments about what is and is not legitimate.

FLG's sense is, however, that the NYTimes and other people of the Left don't simply want to prevent another crisis, but also, in fact, do want to make value judgments about and have some control over financial transactions and how capital is allocated. Indeed, there is a long history on the Left of viewing the financial economy as morally inferior to the real economy. But FLG thinks he's mentioned all this before.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Making A Business Card Disappear

FLG saw somebody do this at a convention once and has been fascinated by it ever since. He's been practicing it most of the day today.

Deadliest Warriors: Pirates

FLG likes the show, but doesn't watch it regularly. Apparently, there's a pirate versus knight episode, and, which made FLG chuckle, a Somali pirates versus a Medellin Drug Cartel.

Pirate Toast

Holyfuckingshit, Pirate Toast!

The Stupidity Of Tariffs To Protect Jobs

Matt Yglesias linked to an article in the WaPo about the last ironing board plant in America and writes about a tariff on imported ironing boards:
[The tax's] purpose is to protect the $15/hour jobs of 200 factory workers along with the profits of Chicago-based Home Products International.

What I would like to say is that this is a bad reason to impose extra costs on those of us who iron things from time to time. That if you repeal the tax, the profits will flow away from Home Products International and toward retailers like Target and Wal-Mart. Consumers will spend less money on ironing boards and will either spend more money on other things, or else will save more money generating extra investment funds. Either way, 200 people will lose their jobs but new jobs will be created from the extra investment and consumption financed by cheaper ironing boards. All-in-all, throughout the economy resources would be better-allocated and the vast majority of people will end up better off.

FLG completely agrees. However, then Matt goes off the rails:
The problem for me is that with unemployment at nearly 10 percent and projected by the Powers That Be to stay above 8 percent for years it’s really hard for anyone to say with a straight face that if the factory closes down the employees will be able to find new jobs. Those adjustments are always difficult to make, but given healthy labor markets they’re very possible. Given today’s labor market, I don’t think you can say that with a straight face. Which means the longer elevated unemployment persists, the more random trade barriers we’re going to see, not just in this country but in countries all around the world.

First, there is the positive statement -- we will see more trade barriers. FLG hopes it won't come true, but there's nothing wrong with assuming they will. Second, and where FLG has an issue, is the more normative aspect -- given today's labor market and the difficulty in finding new jobs, Matt seems to think that we ought not get rid of the tariff.

Let's do some math. According to the article, Americans "buy an estimated 7 million ironing boards each year" and "the United States levied anti-dumping taxes of 70 to more than 150 percent on its Chinese rivals." FLG did a search for ironing boards at the Target website and the median price is roughly $15. To be conservative, let's take the low tariff of 70%. The non-tariff cost is then determined by 15 = 1.70x. So, x = 15 / 1.7, which means the cost of an ironing board is $8.8 Since the cost plus the tariff equals 15, then the tariff equals 15 - 8.8 or 8.8 * .7, both of which equal $6.2. That means the direct cost to the American economy of the tariff is 7 million multiplied by $6.6, which is 46.2 million.

Now, FLG wants to be completely clear that he used the lowest possible tariff and ignored the deadweight loss to the economy that the increased prices create. However, he did assume that all boards were imported when they aren't, so perhaps it all evens out. Anyway, according to this back of the envelope calculation, protecting 200 $15/hour jobs costs the economy $46.2 million dollars.

If we assume that those workers work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, then their salaries are 15 * 40 * 50 = $30,000. $30,000 times 200 equals $6 million dollars. If you factor in benefits, then maybe it bumps up to $10 million.

In any case, we're talking about costing the economy $46.2 million dollars to protect 200 jobs that pay somewhere around $10 million at the high end. That's self-evidently fucking stupid. And consequently Matt's seeming reluctance is too. It would be far better to allow free trade in ironing boards and just pay the workers $10 million.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Verbs That Are Proper Nouns

FLG thinks he's mentioned that he loves verbs that are proper nouns, and his favorite is possibly limoger, which means to send a person to Limoges or far more commonly to fire somebody. For example, FLG read this today:
Obama "n'exclut pas" de limoger le général McChrystal

Dinner From The Garden

The FLGs had dinner from the garden last night.  Well, not all of it, but the squash was.

Mrs. FLG turned this:


Into this:

Economic Lessons

Matt writes:
Substantively, skimping on short-term stimulus doesn’t reduce the growth rate of health costs nor does it slow the aging of the population, so you’re not achieving anything on long-term fiscal challenges.

This is kinda like saying there's no reason not to spend money today because I'm still going to have trouble making the mortgage payment next month anyway. Apparently, Matt has never heard of the first law of holes -- If you find yourself in one, then you stop digging.

FLG is currently listening to

Funny

FLG thought this Snoop Dogg video about True Blood was hilarious:


FLG does doubt that Bill would never know if they did it in the daytime. Is FLG the only person who assumes there's a Snoop Dogg funk that isn't easily washed off?

Quote of the day II

Ross Douthat:
It’s now conventional wisdom among Obama’s liberal critics that the White House has been insufficiently ambitious about deficit spending. The economy is stuck in neutral, they argue, because Obama didn’t push last year’s recovery act up over a trillion dollars, and hasn’t pressed hard enough for a second major stimulus.

Technically, they could be right — but only in the same way that it’s possible that the Iraq War would have been a ringing success if only we’d invaded with a million extra soldiers. The theory is unfalsifiable because the policy course is imaginary.

FLG is currently listening to

More On Social Construction

For those of you who haven't been following, Dance and I had a back and forth in the comments about the social construction of gender roles. I think I found a couple of sentences that are key to our disagreement:
I cannot eliminate the national belief that only females wear dresses, for example, but I can damn sure control what is said and marketed to my (hypothetical) kid. I can keep gender roles as confined as possible, because the smaller they are, the less damage they can do.

I asked about this already in the comments, but the issue, I think, is this: If Dance believes that the existence of gender roles, in and of themselves, is pernicious, then I can see why telling girls to take the pink toothbrush is detrimental.

I, however, don't see the existence of gender roles as concerning. I believe certain aspects of them are. Consequently, I believe that focusing on those aspects is what is important.

But then if Dance objects to gender roles, and again I'm hypothesizing here so I very well could be wrong, then I need a clarification as to whether men and women or boys and girls should always be treated the same. And also if they aren't to be treated the same always, then why isn't her description a gender role, albeit a different or more limited one?

Quote of the day

Withywindle:
The ostriches in the Great Adventure Wild Safari will peck the vinyl loose on your car. Then the baboons will tear off the loose strips.

Ah, the baboons at the Great Adventure drive-thru Wild Safari. Good Times.

The Rumors Of America's Decline Are Greatly Exaggerated

Today, Bob Herbet brings up a laundry list of times where he says America has failed to step up in the last ten years or so when the opportunities presented themselves. Bush didn't build a more peaceful international order during the sympathy after 9/11. Then he didn't rebuild New Orleans in a sustainable way after Katrina. We didn't reorganize our economic system after the crash. Pres. Obama hasn't used the oil spill to seriously push to get us off fossil fuels. Detroit is destroying homes rather than rebuilding them. The list goes on...

He writes:
We are submitting to this debacle with the same pathetic lack of creativity and helpless mind-set that now seems to be the default position of Americans in the 21st century.

A pretty bleak picture all in all. But wait. This declining nation is the same one that brought you Google, Facebook, Twitter (fucking Twitter), iPod, iPad, etc, etc. The problem isn't that America lacks creativity or is helpless. It's that the government has had a lack of creativity and is bungling. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the private sector is somehow faultless. The banking collapse and the oil spill were private creations.

It's not really government's fault either. In an industrial society, where large amounts of resources and capital are required and consequently large firms are created, the government can more easily play a role. The long development cycles and ramp up time for industrial products, measured in years, allow government to assist and intervene. Although, the question of whether or not it's a good idea is a different matter. Moreover, the large firms are run by a bureaucracy just like governments. A corporate middle manager in a big firm and a government bureaucrat are like long-lost cousins.

The development cycle of the post-industrial economy, which is measured in months or days rather than years, doesn't lend itself to government intervention or regulation. Furthermore, the types of people who run a Silicon Valley start-up speak a completely different language and have a foreign culture compared to government bureaucrats. Instead of long-lost cousins, it's more like the Hatfields and McCoys.

Measuring America's decline by whether the government is creative is entirely misleading. Governments aren't all that creative, except in times of war. They take ideas and then can apply resources to scale it up. For example, rockets were invented during the war, then the US government took the idea and scaled it up so that they could go to the moon, incidentally, as part of a front in another war. Likewise, Eisenhower saw the military usefulness of the the Autobahn and decided the US needed something similar in the event of war. In fact, the basis for the system was the Pershing Map. That's Pershing, as in John J. But both of these were industrial projects that required the application of lots of resources to a problem that had pretty much already been solved.

FLG has said it many times and will say it again - Government is like the United States Marine Corps; if you want something done for a short amount of time, it requires lots of manpower and resources, and you don't care too much that it's done very efficiently and cheaply, then government option should be considered. If you want something sustained, varying use of resources, and care about cost and efficiency, then government should be the last resort.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Long-Term Perspective

FLG went over the Arts & Letters Daily and found this article. This part is fantastic:
For the moment, the neo-Keynesian blog posts bear the same relationship to the crisis as cognitive behavioral therapy does to a patient’s troubles. Here is something insightful, helpful; listen carefully and it might save your life. But when the acute pain passes you will be left with the chronic problem of who and what you are. The suffering individual has psychoanalysis to turn to. In economics, the analogous route is Marxism, which like psychoanalysis has a dubious reputation—and an explanatory power and long-term perspective that its rivals can’t touch. With luck, the next intellectual consequence of the crisis will be to pry the lid off Marx’s tomb, since it is only from a Marxian standpoint that the recent credit bubble can be understood in terms of the structural problems it affected to solve as well as those it has created.

Here's the thing about Marxism for FLG. The long-term perspective thing does hold in parts and where it does FLG thinks Marx has a lot of explanatory power. But it's all predicated on a short-term analysis, which is to say that at any given moment there are classes in a struggle with each other. And at any given moment the members of the classes are static; whereas in real life people can move from rich to poor and vice versa. Moreover, the classes are too broadly defined. Not all the bourgeoisie don't have unified interests.

FLG's point here is that Marxism does have its insights. But the supposedly long-term perspective is an illusion created with oversimplified dots, much like a Seurat painting. People are too simply placed in categories that create the illusion that there is a constant struggle that drives history.

The Desire To Return To Glass-Steagall Still Not Explained

I was listening to MarketPlace on Friday and heard Heidi Moore say (jump to the 9:30 mark or so), "All we really want to do is bring back the old Glass-Steagall Act that separated risk taking in banks...derivatives and swaps and all that...from commercial banking, where banks lend out to companies and people."

Really? That's all we want to do? Then why aren't we simply doing that? Must be because all the evil banks are lobbying too hard and effectively to prevent what everybody knows is the right thing to do.

FLG, as you probably guess, thinks this is simplistic bullshit that misunderstands what's going on. The banking world has changed because of technology and financial inventions. We now have financial products that are hybrids between the previous financial sectors. Let's take one example of why we wouldn't want the bright line described above:
Commercial banks lend to companies and people. Let's say the bank decides that it has too much of its loan book in fixed interest rates. Well, it can use an interest rate swap to cheaply and easily turn those loans, for all intents and purposes, into flexible rate loans. Sure, the commercial bank could sell or swap the actual loans, but that means that the a) need to find a bank willing to buy fixed rate loans, then b) have them look over the loan book that they want to swap or sell. This takes time. On the other hand, they could buy swaps almost immediately and at relatively low cost.

Moreover, Glass-Steagall helped in the crisis because it allowed commercial banks to buy the troubled investment banks. The risky investment banks were the ones who were going down and we didn't let them. Well, we did let one go and it almost brought everything down.

All told, FLG hasn't seen anybody make a compelling case that reinstating Glass-Steagall 1) is desirable or 2) would solve the problem of systematic risk. The issue is leverage. Not derivatives or investment versus commercial banking. And again anybody who says anything other than the issue is leverage is either misinformed, dumb, or has a political agenda.

Social Construction

Dance begins her post with the crux of the issue:
A long while back, I asked FLG for a real counter-argument to the social constructionist approach that even little things matter and are worth addressing and protesting, such as the notion that pink is for girls.

I don't know if I ever presented a real counter-argument. Also, Dance was also nice enough to dig up the history of posts over here that pertain. So be sure to click over there for the full background.

But to get back to the post:
But FLG also gave me several responses, and I am overdue in responding to them.

"If the tiniest human interaction is part and parcel of a social construction and is consequently tremendously important then nothing is important.“

First of all, there’s no reason you can’t have priorities within “important”, different angles of attack for one large problem, or specialize in what’s doable rather than what’s ideal. Indeed, those are techniques useful in any problem—rejecting them doesn’t scale.

But more importantly, this is hardly better than “sometimes it’s just a toothbrush.” It’s a rather more sophisticated version of “we can’t worry about everything,” that conflates “matters” with “everything is tremendously important.”

Part of this is a question of judgment. Concern about the color of little girls' toothbrushes in the context of their career choices year or decades seems ill-placed.

Dance responds to this at the end of the post:
Creating the notion that certain colors, toys, and activities are for girls while others are for boys helps “girls don’t do science” land on fallow ground—”girls don’t take computer science” becomes an extension of a pattern that already exists. Different form, but same function. Girls hear “girls aren’t good at math” and accept that it makes sense, because it fits with other things—”girls don’t play trucks, girls don’t like blue”—they’ve been told all their life. That’s direct enough for me.

This makes sense, but goes back to what I wrote in one of the series of posts on this topic -- doesn't this implicate the entire idea of gender roles? If one can't say girls do this and boys do that, then there isn't really a distinction between them. Any policy or person that treats girls different than boys contributes to "a pattern that already exists" and of which "girls don't take computer science" is an extension.

My take on this is more, for lack of a better word, practical. And perhaps it might be illustrative to explain about Miss FLG. Her room is pink and there are Barbie pictures on the walls. She loves Bell, so bought her a Belle doll. (Although, she's mildly afraid of it because, as Mrs. FLG says, it's funny lookin'.) On the other hand, she also has a toy bus. Loves transportation stuff, which is usually boyish. In case anybody is wondering, her toothbrush is yellow, and I think also blue, and has a lion on it.

I guess my point in all this is that, yes, she has a pink room with Barbies on the wall. But no way am I going to discourage her from playing with stuff that's traditionally boyish. Nor am I going to tolerate anybody telling that little girl she cannot study computer science because she's a girl. If I ever hear her say something like that, then we are going to have a long talk. If she wants to be a Disney princess when she's five, then no big deal. She's five. If she's fifteen, then there's a problem.

The step from pink toothbrush to limited career choices makes sense if you include every way in which girls and boys are treated differently in what limits girls' later career choices. This is too broad a scope and ultimately includes things that have little to nothing to do with the other.

Dance also writes:
First of all, there’s no reason you can’t have priorities within “important”, different angles of attack for one large problem, or specialize in what’s doable rather than what’s ideal. Indeed, those are techniques useful in any problem—rejecting them doesn’t scale.

I guess I don't follow here. Or more to the point I think it becomes a linguistic difference without real difference when you say lots of things are important, but then some are merely important while others are very important and perhaps others are super-duper important. And the colors of childhood toothbrushes does not seem an important determinant of adult career goals.

But Dance address tries to address this as well:
I have known men to run circles around me or elbow me out of the way because they apparently believe women are not allowed to expend simple human courtesy in the act of opening a door for a man. Do I have to wait until I actually trip over them and fall before such behavior escapes the label “the tiniest human interaction”?
If one endorses FLG’s statement as a general principle, then the list of things not worth doing includes:

* holding a door open for anyone at all
* the military practice of saluting officers and calling them sir
* starting emails to a stranger with Dear So-and-So

Either small things matter, or they don’t. You can’t say “the ones I believe in matter but the ones I don’t believe in are too unimportant for anyone to worry about.”

My only explanation here is that it depends what you are referring to as matter. Holding the door for people matters for cordiality in society. It's nice if people are nicer to each other. It makes life a bit easier if somebody holds the door for somebody with their hands full or starts an email Dear So-and-so. On the other hand, I don't think it matters to the existence of a patriarchy or some broader political consequences. A similar thing for the saluting and sir. It helps foster and environment where officers are respected, and this helps the military run more smoothly overall. But does saluting win wars? Probably not.

Don't get me wrong. I acknowledge the social construction argument makes sense and has validity. Where I object is that everything is part of this and is important. To resurrect a section from a previous post:
Pink toothbrushes are in the class of things that construct gender roles.
Gender roles are at least partially responsible for a whole host of choices made regarding careers.
Therefore, pink toothbrushes are partially responsible for women's later career choices.

This makes sense in theory, but there's a flaw that fails to attribute a reasonable scale to things. The idea that girls aren't good at math has MUCH WORSE and MORE DIRECT consequences than the color of their toothbrushes. Therefore, worrying about the color of their toothbrushes raises a question of judgment and priorities.

The issue isn't the color of toothbrushes or even that girls and boys are treated differently. The problem is when girls are deemed less capable or valuable either in a specific endeavor or in the aggregate. That is what needs to be addressed and conquered. To the extent that ideas and images perpetuate this, then they need to be addressed. The girls don't do computer science thing is such an idea. Pink toothbrushes? Not so much. Ditto for pink toys generally.

And also, from a practical matter, people who worry about the color of toothbrushes appear, even to me as one can easily surmise from my statements, to have questionable judgment and perspective. It's a "If they're worried about the color of toothbrushes, then why should I even listen to what else they have to say?" kind of thing. The world has real problems that we need to deal with.

Rhetorical Hoodwinking

There's a technique some people use to bamboozle other people when making arguments. They use rather esoteric references to create the illusion that they possess expertise in an area even though they don't.

So, for example, FLG could make some allusion to references to the "Good Old Cause" in Milton's writing, and if you've never heard of that then you think FLG knows something about the English Civil War and the literature of the period. In truth, however, he knows next to nothing about them.

FLG feels that is what Matt often does when writing about economics. For example, he began an explanation recently with this sentence:
There are a lot of merits to this, but one downside is that it still doesn’t do much of anything to alter the exchange rate impacts associated with so-called “Dutch Disease.”

Perhaps FLG is biased, but Matt's offered up some dumb economic writing previously. Things that make FLG think Matt is completely out of his element when writing about economics. It's kinda like he's said two plus two equals five in previous posts, but then brings up, I dunno, Taylor series, Gram–Schmidt process, or Dirichlet functions.

FLG's somewhat kinder explanation? The two plus two equals five that often comes up is Matt's own and the more complicated shit is lifted from somebody who actually knows what they are talking about, say liberal think tank economists, with little to no attribution.

Paris Se Libre: Part Deux

FLG has historically taken a strong, mocking stand against the Paris se libre myth. However, he watched this piece on BBC News in honor of the 70th anniversary of de Gaulle's address from London and came away slight more sympathetic. He especially liked the Giscard d'Estaing's honesty:
I asked the former president, Mr Giscard d'Estaing, who once worked for Gen de Gaulle as a junior minister, whether post-war France had been honest about its war time history.

"A very indiscreet question - it is a question that the British of course can still ask," Mr Giscard d'Estaing said, before giving his answer: "No."

Why not?

"Because it was a defeat.

"If it was a victory you accept the victory. You tell your children, your parents [about] the part you took in the victory. If it's a defeat you hide it, of course."

That reflects a lot of what FLG finds simultaneously fascinating and revolting about French society; there's this view that lies and deceit are the glue that holds society together and perhaps the sugar that sweetens it as well. Actually, if you really pressed FLG to sum up what he is trying to say, then it is this -- what is so fascinating and revolting about French society is that it is so honest about its lying and cheating. For but one of numerous examples beyond the Paris se libre, see Mitterand's funeral.

FLG's Theory Of Time Horizons Summed Up In One Sentence

Paul Krugman:
Spend now, while the economy remains depressed; save later, once it has recovered.

There are several questions surrounding this beyond time horizons. For example, one must buy into the idea that the spending now will help the economy recover. More than than, one must buy that it will help the economy recover in a cost effective manner. Proponents of another stimulus point to the consensus among economists that the previous stimulus worked. Even FLG agrees that it boosted the economy, but the question is whether the additional debt was worth it?

Just because something accomplishes what it was set out to do doesn't mean it worked. If a demolition expert is tasked with taking down one building and takes down the one next door with it, then it wasn't a successful day.

What makes this worse is that many of the people in currently in favor of stimulus are simply saying, let's just get people to work. Doesn't matter what they do.

As an example, Matt writes:
People should write laws that involve spending government funds on hiring people to do stuff.

That's right. Hire people to do stuff. Not specifically to do things that will provide a long-term economic return for the taxpayer's money and help the economy grow in the future. No, they just need to do stuff.

That's great economic policy right there. But then again, let's be honest. This isn't about economic policy. This is about the result of short time horizons that see people are out of work and we need to do something, anything to solve the problem. We'll worry about paying for it later.

To be completely honest, FLG cannot deny that Krugman has a point. It would be much better if we could use fiscal policy to get us out of this slump faster. But you know what? Once the economy recovers, and the coffers begin to fill up again, politicians, being politicians, are going to be talking about how to spend it, which they will.

Social Construction

Dance was nice enough to offer up a response to the Pink Wars that raged here a few months ago. FLG will try to respond sometime today or tomorrow, but until then go over there and read.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quote of the day

Heard this on NPR the other day:
I believe there may be some things that some people may know for certain, but I also believe that these knowable things aren’t what matters most to any human being. A good mathematician may know the truth about numbers, and a good engineer may know how to make physical forces serve his purposes. But the engineer and the mathematician are human beings first—so for them, as well as for me, what matters most is not one’s knowledge and skill, but one’s relations with other people. We don’t all have to be engineers or mathematicians, but we do all have to deal with other people. And these relations of ours with each other, which are the really important things in life, are also the really difficult things, because it is here that the question of right and wrong comes in.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cell Phones

FLG stopped reading Jamelle Bouie when he was blogging over at the League because it was unbearable. Today, FLG learns via TNC's blog that Bouie is blogging over at True/Slant about cell phones:
When I was guest-blogging for Matt Yglesias a few weeks ago, I wrote a post criticizing the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson for his claim that cell phones are indicative of rising living standards among the poor. I argued that cell phones are both very cheap — cheaper than a landline, in fact — and essential to navigating the world of low-wage service jobs. Without some way to contact employers (or vice-versa), it’s nearly impossible to find a job.

[...]

For people who are instinctively rankled by the sight of a poor person with a cell phone, I think simple ignorance is the culprit. In this world of iPhones and pocket-sized computers, it’s easy to forget that with less than $100, you can buy a fairly reliable phone and minutes for the month.

That said, if you fear “subsidizing texting and sexting among the poor,” your problem isn’t ignorance — or at least not that kind of ignorance — your problem is that you hold a pretty ugly view of the poor and poverty. For these conservatives, poverty is purely the result of individual behavior; if you are poor, you have obviously done something to deserve it, “Of course poor people would use phone-handouts for texting and sexting, they wouldn’t be poor if they didn’t have degenerate habits like communication, or sexual expression.” To repeat, cell phones are not a luxury. But even if they were, there’s nothing about poverty that disentitles you to enjoying your life. If you are one of the few people who don’t need a cell phone, but get one because it would improve your quality of life, that doesn’t make you any less “deserving” of help than someone who chooses to go without. This idea that we should control the pleasure of those on the bottom is both baffling and pretty offensive.

A few things.

First, FLG went for years without a cell phone and almost never carries or even turns on the one he has. So, he questions whether they are a necessity.

Second, Jamelle seemingly argues that even if they are a luxury, then it is somehow poor bashing to hold the position that they ought not be subsidized. It's one thing to say that poor people have a right to use some of their meager resources on things that aren't directly profitable toward alleviating their poverty. Say a drink now and then or a pack of smokes or a maybe a cell phone. It's entirely another thing to say those things ought to be subsidized. If Jamelle really wants a welfare state where people are not only entitled to necessities but also luxuries, then he's going down a political and economic dead end.

Third, FLG recognizes the first case that Jamelle makes. There are numerous situations he can envision where cell phones could be incredibly useful for poor people in finding employment. Therefore, it makes sense for poor people to get them. But there are a whole bunch of questions surrounding a policy that subsidizes poor people's phones. Is it the most efficient way to increase employment? What sort of cost-benefit model are we looking at?

Science And Engineering

FLG was reading the comments over at Ferule & Fescule and came across this question:
To what extent should people in the humanities, or, really, people in general - such as voting citizens - be required to have some education in scientific or engineering decision-making?

FLG has both taken the core curriculum for an engineering degree and completed a liberal arts degree. If we are talking about the best education for voting citizens, then the liberal arts degree is better. Full Stop. Even, as is the case with the SFS, science isn't required.

There are a variety of reasons. First and foremost in FLG's mind is the way that science and engineering educations form the students' minds. There's a deterministic vision -- every problem can be solved with the correct formula or algorithm -- that is antithetical to how people think, work, and live

A key example here is how poor most engineers are at designing user interfaces. The polish of the modern computer's graphical user interface is largely the result of calligraphy class Steve Jobs took.* For most programmers or engineers, the key problem in designing a device is efficiency and elegance of how it accomplishes its task. How it interacts with human beings is almost always an afterthought, with the engineers figuring out the simplest way to get human commands into the device. Please note, FLG doesn't mean that engineers are concerned about creating the simplest and most intuitive way for human beings to get their commands into the device. He means engineers find the simplest way for them to solve the problem of getting human commands into the system or device.

For copious evidence of this see almost any open source application. Many are fantastic at what they do. Oftentimes the code is very efficient and elegant. (Sometimes it's not.) But the user interface is almost always the last thing they worry about and it's a complete kludge.

On the other hand, most liberal arts students are confronted with what is meaningful and relevant to people. They look at art, literature, history, etc and explore the myriad manifestations and flaws of the human experience. Most don't think human problems can be solved with some simple algorithm or formula.

But FLG, we live in an increasing technical and scientific age. Shouldn't people be familiar with science and technology? Maybe. But FLG doubts Biology 101 will really help people make better decisions about esoteric topics in genetic engineering. Obviously, people would need a very basic understanding of genes, but what's important isn't the technical details. The A, C, G, and T of DNA is irrelevant. Rather it's what does this mean for society that's important.

FLG isn't sure that much scientific knowledge is required to understand the relevance to society. One doesn't need to understand the intricacies of nuclear fusion or fission to understand the implications of a nuclear bomb on society. You just need to know it's a really, really powerful bomb. Would a semester in physics really help with that? FLG doesn't think so.

All that said, FLG isn't arguing in favor of no or less science education. Shit, he took his share.

-----

* Real geeks will object and say that engineers at Xerox PARC invented the GUI, which is true, but Apple made it workable for the mass market.

Blasphemer!

Maximum Leader writes:
Monica Bellucci is the only reason your Maximum Leader bothered to watch “Shoot ‘em up.” It was a horrible film, made slightly less horrible by Ms. Bellucci being in it.

It's a fantastic movie. The first kill is made with a fucking carrot! A fucking carrot! That's pure fucking genius:

Three Minute Philosophy

FLG discovered this series on YouTube this morning and been laughing ever since. Although, he doesn't think the Aristotle one is fair.





Thursday, June 17, 2010

FLG is currently listening to





He's on a Natalie Merchant kick; what can he say?

Wile E Coyote Plans Continued

Remember when I said these plans to clean the oil sounded like Wile E Coyote and ACME were involved in the planning? Well, jump to the 45 second mark in this video and watch the reporter explain how they light the oil on fire with two milk jugs filled with diesel fuel duct-taped to a couple of pieces of foam and a flare and tell me it doesn't look like some harebrained cartoonish scheme.

A Bit More From The Ferguson Speech

Two other interesting things in that speech The Ancient linked to. First, in response to a question getting at what measures can we look at to predict sovereign crises:
The thing to answer the first part of your question is really hard, is to find some kind of threshold in terms of debt to gross domestic product. Now that’s the measure that people always tend to cite but I spent a long time sitting in the Bank of England in the late 1990s running regressions on all the debt-GDP numbers I could get my hands on and there just was no pattern at all. In fact, I don’t think that is a significant measure of fiscal sustainability. What looks more promising is this interest payments as a share of revenue

This makes a lot of sense. Crises are acute. Therefore, the trouble arises when there is an acute difficulty in making a specific payment. Oftentimes, these things build up over time, but countries are usually assumed to be creditworthy until at some point it becomes clear they're not. This means that interest payments as a share of revenue does make sense.

Incidentally, it's also how FLG thinks most people deal with debt. Generally, people don't worry about how much they're borrowing only if they can maintain the payments to service it. Low interest rate environments screw up people's decisions on this type of stuff. When interest rates go up, then they're fucked. Same with governments.

Then on investment strategy he says to look to Asian, specifically India. FLG tries to spread his investments by share of world GDP anyway, so he's somewhat diversified. But this was interesting:
Finally, I guess one just has to ask oneself what’s going to happen in the world of dodgy paper currencies, of fiat monies, because you could quite easily get burned if ultimately we do get a crisis not just of the euro but of fiat currencies generally. And I keep thinking that maybe I should be valuing my portfolio not in terms of this or that currency but in terms of the barrel or the ounce—in terms of commodities like oil and gold.

Maybe one of the lessons of history is that periodically paper currency loses credibility so much that we have to revert to commodity standards, and I think that may well be happening. When you look at what’s happening in the gold market, it’s not so much fundamentals that are driving gold up from a $1,000 towards $2,000. It’s a fact that more and more people feel that they should hold gold as perhaps 10 percent of their portfolios. If everybody thinks that, if that becomes a standard investment strategy, then gold is going to go a lot further than its present price. So I’ve really re-thought my attitude towards gold almost on that momentum basis.

City Of Pigs

The Ancient offered a link to the transcript of a speech by Niall Ferguson at the Institute for International Economics, where incidentally FLG would probably work for free if he didn't have a mortgage and bills and whathaveyou, and this section stuck out:
PIGS are us, ladies and gentlemen, and it really is no consolation to say, but at least we’re not in a monetary union with the Germans, and we can therefore print our way out of this. I don’t find it very reassuring to imagine us printing our way out of a crisis of public debt, because we’ve done that sort of thing in the past, and unless you’ve got a very short memory, you’ll remember where it got us.

Now, PIGS in this case means Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, but it reminded me, probably unsurprisingly, of Plato's Republic:
But, said Glaucon, interposing, you have not given them a relish to their meal.

True, I replied, I had forgotten; of course they must have a relish-salt, and olives, and cheese, and they will boil roots and herbs such as country people prepare; for a dessert we shall give them figs, and peas, and beans; and they will roast myrtle-berries and acorns at the fire, drinking in moderation. And with such a diet they may be expected to live in peace and health to a good old age, and bequeath a similar life to their children after them.

Yes, Socrates, he said, and if you were providing for a city of pigs, how else would you feed the beasts?

But what would you have, Glaucon? I replied.

Why, he said, you should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style.

Yes, I said, now I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a State, but how a luxurious State is created; and possibly there is no harm in this, for in such a State we shall be more likely to see how justice and injustice originate. In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of way They will be for adding sofas, and tables, and other furniture; also dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety; we must go beyond the necessaries of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, and clothes, and shoes: the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured.

True, he said.

Then we must enlarge our borders; for the original healthy State is no longer sufficient.

Orwell and Language

The Ancient linked to Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" in the comments. I've come across it a few times before and each time I realize that my writing could be so much better. I feel especially guilty of pretentious diction.

However, I do think that I'm good on the imagery and avoiding stale metaphors fronts. I mean this is good stuff, no?

It's not like a retarded monkey with a drinking problem could've come up with a plan like that on a cocktail napkin with a crayon.

Time Horizon: A More Practical Explanation

I thought I'd explain how this time horizon thing works out in practice.

If you have a short time horizon, then you hold a view of political-economy that is more shifted toward the political. Interests and resources and pretty much fixed, and the key variable is who has the power. The investigation into who holds the power may lead you into other subtopics, for example various institutional structures or how interests organize themselves, but the key determinant over who gets to control the fixed amount of resources is the arrangement of power among the interests.

In this view, things like the number of votes matter more than rhetoric and ideas. Matt Yglesias analysis of Obama's speech typifies this type of thought:
The most important thing to keep in mind about the sort of “major” presidential speech we saw last night is that they don’t matter. At all. They don’t move votes in Congress. They don’t move public opinion. The bully pulpit method of governance doesn’t work. And that’s about the best I can say about Obama’s speech—even if it had been much better, it wouldn’t have done much good.

And he's generally correct. In the short-term, speeches like this don't often matter. What matters far more is who holds power. Similarly, returning to the Bernstein piece, he sees that concept of individual liberty as a nice story, but what really matters is the exercise, or lack thereof, of power by the state.

It also creates the idea that power, which is often fleeting for any party in a democracy, needs to be used to its fullest and quickly. So, let's get [insert progressive agenda item here] in now. If that means we need to worry about how to pay of it later, then let's worry about that later. Likewise, long-term fiscal problems shouldn't be a reason not to pursue fiscal expansion right now. And really governments can spend now while kicking the can down the road for a long while, which often makes it appear as if politics does trump economics. A similar thing also applies to collective bargaining. Keep pressing for higher wages through political action without regard to the potential long-term health of the firm that supplies the jobs.

A more longer term outlook shifts toward the economic. So, there's a recognition that politics distorts and often hinders economic activity. There are concerns about unintended consequences and paying for stuff. Moreover, there isn't a zero sum game between interests over fixed resources. How has what interests and the amount of resources and wealth shift and change over time. There's also a recognition that ideas matter. A speech by a president might not necessarily change the outcome of the specific political battle, but can influence the debate or our national consciousness over the long run. For example, the influence of Wilson's Fourteen Points only manifested over time. Likewise, if you look at any particular debate, then the idea of Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, Reagan's accusation of the Evil Empire, or whatever, could probably be explained away as far less influential than who or what party held power at any particular moment, but they do matter.

This isn't to say that any particular conservative or liberal politician or party will always adhere to taking the longer or shorter view. Both parties are tempted and often do exercise their power as quickly and forcefully as possible to advance their agenda. See the recent Bush Administration. Both try to make cases that their policies will have long run benefits. For example, Obama talked about how the reason for health care was to bend the cost curve. Nevertheless, I think you can assume something about longer versus shorter term focus and the corresponding instincts from where politicians and parties sit and vice versa. Liberals looks at more direct, short term causes, benefits and consequences. Conservatives looks at longer term and more indirect of the same.

No Best Friends?

Via Amber, FLG learns that various child psychologists, school administrators, and sundry adult busybodies are coming out against best friends. Too exclusionary. They might be hurt.

Still, school officials admit they watch close friendships carefully for adverse effects. “When two children discover a special bond between them, we honor that bond, provided that neither child overtly or covertly excludes or rejects others,” said Jan Mooney, a psychologist at the Town School, a nursery through eighth grade private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “However, the bottom line is that if we find a best friend pairing to be destructive to either child, or to others in the classroom, we will not hesitate to separate children and to work with the children and their parents to ensure healthier relationships in the future.”

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with adults these days? Can't we just let the fucking kids be fucking kids? I'm all for stepping in when common sense dictates that the exclusion has gone too far and becomes bullying, but you know what? Not all exclusion is bullying. Sometimes kids don't like each other. Sometimes it's for no good reason. Sometimes it's for a good reason. Sometimes it lasts forever. Sometimes it lasts ten minutes. Whatever. They don't all have to get along all the time. This is all part of the learning process about how to deal with other people.

FLG suspects that the cause of all this insane hullabaloo is a combination of oversensitive adults trying to prevent kids from dealing with their sense of exclusion when they were kids, a form of social engineering that assumes all people are the same and should get along and any problems can be worked out via communication and increased exposure to one another, lawsuits, and, perhaps most importantly, a complete lack of common sense that manifests itself as hard and fast rules that forbid any interactions that have any possibility of causing the slightest emotional or physical harm.

Come on, adults. Let's worry about important things, you know, like kids Swiss Army and butter knives to school.

It's All About Leverage

Buttonwood:
Asset bubbles and rising debt levels go together

Crises are caused by bubbles.
Bubbles are caused by rising debt levels, i.e. leverage.
Therefore, controlling leverage will control crises.

The more FLG has thought about this, the more he is convinced. If people are talking about financial regulation to mitigate system-wide risk, then they need to be talking about leverage. If they are talking about anything else, then they have a political hobby horse or deeply mistaken about what causes crises.

War Rhetoric

FLG has grown increasingly uncomfortable with the incessant use of military words in political rhetoric. The other night President Obama used a lot of it in his speech about the oil spill:
the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens
We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes.
our battle plan is
there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done.

But it's certainly not just Obama or Democrats. Both parties have engaged in various "wars on" drugs, poverty, cancer, AIDS, etc. Also, many people in international relations are trying to get various issues tangentially related to security, such as migration, climate change, population growth, diseases, etc, into the security discussion. Don't get me wrong, for each of these there is a rationale for how it will impact security. But then again you can make the case that almost any issue that states must contend with might turn into a security issue.

The real issue is that in our political rhetoric we only have one way of expressing seriousness and that is military, security, and war rhetoric. FLG wonders is this is a product of our culture or history. If he had to guess FLG thinks is probably because the primary and ultimate goal or, to use the annoying buzzwords, core competency of states is maintaining security. Everything else is a nice to have. Therefore, using military rhetoric expresses that this is indeed within the realm of government action, is being taken seriously, and will be successful.

FLG's issue with the rhetoric in general is that it is two-fold. First, it is a sledgehammer. It commits us to domestic policies in ways that aren't helpful. The war on drugs is a good case. The military rhetoric turns into actual paramilitary action. Secondly, with overuse the language loses its power. Making the word war so commonplace opens up the accusation that the War on Terror is an exaggeration. If the war on drugs or poverty aren't really wars, then why should we believe the war on terror is? In fairness, there are concrete reasons to believe that the war on terror isn't a real war. I don't agree with them, but I can see how somebody would believe it is a criminal not military matter. But the overuse of the word war does frame the perception in important ways.

A Conversation

CoID walks over to FLG. (To read a previous conversation with CoID, please click here.)

CoID: Did you hear that Fannie and Freddie delisted from the NYSE?

FLG: No, I hadn't.

CoID: I have shares. What do you think that means?

FLG: Well, it ain't good.

CoID: Will I not be able to sell them?

FLG: You'll be able to sell them OTC.

CoID: OTC?

FLG: Over-the-counter. Basically, computer system trading. Like NASDAQ. The bigger question is what they'll be worth in the future.

CoID: Would you sell?

FLG: I'm biased because I wouldn't have bought them in the first place.

CoID: Do you think I'll lose all my money?

FLG: I hear they're going to need more bailouts. My guess is that private investors are going to get hosed. They'll just be outright nationalized.

CoID: That's not fair.

FLG: Yeah, it is. If it weren't for the bailouts you'd have lost your all your money already. But again, I'm biased. What was your story about how Fannie and Freddie would make you a profit?

CoID: I thought the government would take their bad loans and put them in a bad bank. Then the companies would be in good shape.

FLG: I see. So, just to get this straight, you thought it would be a good idea to invest in a company that needed a government bailout for you to make money?

CoID: I wouldn't put it that way, but yes.

FLG: Good investment strategy. A famous American named P.T. Barnum had a saying...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

FLG Likes Glenn Reynolds A Lot

...but he cannot stand idly by when he puts stuff like this out there:
With a college degree now functioning, essentially, the way a high-school diploma used to, a law degree is the closest graduate equivalent to the traditional liberal-arts B.A.

FLG has never attended law school, but the whole we're the last bastion of the Socratic Method pretension is just too much.

You, Sir, Are No Jack Lord

Jaywalking Punch

FLG thinks the cop was reasonably justified here given what was pictured in the video. The lady who got punch physically intervened between a cop and somebody he was trying to subdue. However, that it was all over a fucking jaywalking ticket makes the entire thing tragically absurd.



h/t

More On Time

Somebody sent this along in response to my Time Horizon post:

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

Another song by them:

And FLG Returns To His Theory Of Time Horizons

Withywindle tried to help explain that insufferable fuckwad whose insufferable fuckwadiness so astonished FLG. First, he offered this post, and FLG thought this piece was crucial:
I take him to be coming from the tradition, going back at least via Marx to Hegel, that 1) explicitly takes philosophy to be situated in its historical context, with its truth emerging from its historical embeddedness; and 2) takes the point of philosophy to be to provide the theory that is prerequisite to praxis, philosophical knowledge that effects political and moral change within history. (E.g., Marx doing bouts of political journalism/political philosophy/philosophy as guide to political action about Louis Napoleon and the Paris Commune.) Follow this philosophy, and you believe 1) that philosophy ought to be aware of current events, such as the Tea Parties, and 2) that a philosopher should provide a philosophical take on all such current events so as to provide this-worldly change. If you a Critical Theorist, as many in the New School all, the this-worldly change you will want will have a programmatic-left edge.

The issue, at least for FLG but he also thinks for Withywindle, is the direct application of philosophical theory to contemporaneous events to manifest change. This goes back to FLG's favorite theory about political differences being largely predicated upon the individual's time horizon. In this case, Bernstein has this mode of analysis and applies it to this political instant. Likewise, Marx and Hegel also had short time horizons.

Since he's read more Marx than Hegel, FLG will focus on him. Perhaps it seems odd to think of Marx as somebody who overvalues the present given that many people have viewed his theory as The Theory of History. However, Marx and Engels largely disavowed this notion.

Anyway, Marx looked at the present conditions at the start of the Industrial Revolution and extrapolated both forward and backward from there. He certainly gleaned some important insights about the effects of capitalism on the backward nations. But his analysis is largely rooted in his contemporaneous milieu and then the teleological philosophy of the Greeks misunderstood and bolted on.

FLG's theory of time horizons most easily applies to things economic. Taking a longer run view of an investment or policy decision, which tries to take into account potential indirect and unanticipated costs, versus the more short-term and direct mode of analysis is easily understood. But FLG views this as not just how people approach economics and finance, but their entire outlook on reality.

For example, a scientific experiment or survey produces a result that is correct for some instant. If you drop two balls from the leaning tower of Piza and they both hit the ground at the same time, then you are only certain that this was true at that very moment. After a number of experiments proving this at various specific moments, then you can assume that it will always hold. But that is an assumption. Perhaps tomorrow gravity will reverse and the balls with fall upward. Or maybe they won't fall at all. Since it appears that the physical laws of the universe don't change all that often, we are pretty safe in making the assumption that they will be the same tomorrow, and people with short time horizons aren't hindered by their bias. It is nevertheless an assumption that these things don't change.

When it comes to social phenomena, it's a whole different ballgame. People react to other actions and you cannot necessarily project linearly from an instantaneous measurement.

FLG's objection to Bernstein's method is that for him it appears, unlike Withywindle's idea of narrative which conveys a sense of continuity, that reality is a set of related, yet discrete moments in time or history. He views individual liberty as a myth because at any given point in time the state has the power. The state can trespass upon individual liberty. If it choose not to, then that's all well and good but the idea of individual liberty is merely a nice story we tell ourselves.

Moreover, the incessant focus on power by left wing thinkers is, FLG believes, a consequence of this short time horizon. At any given moment, the reality is that there are actors with power over other actors. Abstract principles, such as individual liberty, appear silly next to tangible exercises of power between interests.

And perhaps most importantly, the extent to which these principles and traditions contain historical content they interfere with the social reconstruction of society into a form more fitting and just in this particular historical moment. In this view, the story about individual liberty was perhaps a necessary construct to cast off the yoke of monarchy, but that story hinders further progress and should be cast aside as something from a bygone era.

FLG thinks he and Withy are coming at their disagreement with Bernstein from different angles, but arriving at very similar conclusions. Withy writes in a follow-up:
The quarrel, then, is what sort of theory conduces best to creating proper practice. The politics in some senses matters less than the disciplinary quarrels. If I criticize a philosopher like Bernstein, it's as a historian with disciplinary prejudices. I.e., how do you understand the Tea Partiers, and theorize them so as best to guide praxis? Why, as a historian with a wealth of knowledge about Elizabethan and Early Stuart England and a nervous habit of squawking "Rhetoric! Rhetoric! Rawk! Pieces of Eight! Rhetoric!" It's Narrative, you see, and all that historical goodness.

He's arguing for the recognition that we need to expand our approach. Look at a long time horizon and the events from different angles. The narrative of individual liberty is the product of many generations and events. It contains the wisdom of many lessons. Let's not cast it aside because it stands in the way of the straightest line between you and your short-term political goals. Tomorrow, you might just wish you hadn't. That individual liberty story might be useful to you. Or maybe that's FLG putting what he believes on Withywindle's keyboard. Nevertheless, it comes back to short versus long time horizons for FLG.
 
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