Friday, December 30, 2011

Time Horizons

Interesting post by Ryan Avent that addresses time horizons.

Problem With Memoirs -- The Big Assumption

Flavia:
That's what's wrong, I think, with so many memoirs: they assume that their particulars are, if not universal, at least of universal interest--while not actually being able to capture the truly universal or imagine anything beyond the author's own experience. Maybe that's only due modesty, when the subject is oneself. Maybe fiction is a better place for reflecting on how personal pasts intersect with national ones, or for making claims about the human condition.

FLG'll will just post a previous passage of his verbatim:
Since FLG is an irrepressible egotist, this made him think of his post about the purposes of liberal education. To wit:

First, one particular assumption must be disproven. [...] This assumption is: The experiences that constitute my individual life are representative of the entire human condition
.


Then, FLG argues that the best outcome that comes from disproving the Big Assumption is:

The third outcome is when the failure of the Big Assumption leads to the never-ending search for the universal in the human condition. Oddly enough, the second step in a liberal education is exactly the same as the first. The student examines ideas, feelings, beliefs, and experiences via literature, philosophy, art, and history, which are so foreign to their own life that they can find what is universally present in the human condition. This is the ultimate goal of a liberal education. I believe the difficulty in recognizing this goal is that both the first and second step are superficially the same activities.


BTW, rereading that liberal education post reminds FLG that he wants to consolidate all his theories in one post for easy reference. That and edit out his weird ramblings that in hindsight he agrees with but make him seem like a bit of a kook, which he is but doesn't want to advertise.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Forget what FLG wrote yesterday, when he thinks of Christmas the first iconic image that pops in his head is the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! God Bless!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mele Kalikimaka

Not that the FLGs are in Hawaii or anything, but Christmas in Hawaii always sounds so appealing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

For Those Of You Wondering

...if FLG helped Miss FLG Maior make a gingerbread house.  The answer is yes:

Kim Jong Il

Shocked FLG today. Good riddance.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Note To Self

When you are in a job interview and the first answer that you form in your head to a question begins with "That reminds me of the anecdote about the invention of writing at the end of Plato's Phaedrus" you might want to take a second and hope something else pops in your head.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Wreathing In Pain

FLG is still trying to uphold his annual wreath making tradition, and each year he remembers anew how annoying the holly leaves are. This year, however, instead of pure holly, FLG went around the Manor and collected some pine and magnolia leaves to add a bit more pizazz.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wreaths

FLG drove by Arlington Cemetery today and teared up at the sight of all the wreaths.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Quote of the day

Stephen Williamson:
What we need here is a dynamic general equilibrium model that can take account of the short run and long run effects of a change in the income tax schedule.


h/t

FLG is currently listening to



Correspondence

A reader writes:
Your recent Adam Smith and Suffering post is the worst you've ever posted. I would've written written but the majority of the words were Smith's.

Thank you for the kind words. The post was cobbled together quickly during my lunch break. Perhaps I should've waited to post it, but it is what it is.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

GU Hipsters

Via Mrs. FLG, FLG learns that Georgetown was rated tenth most hipster university.  Something might have to be done about this.

Adam Smith And Suffering

FLG just read this post over at Anti-Climacus, which references a post by Steven L. Taylor and also one by Todd Seavey detailing how Helen Rittelmeyer is Maleficent, the mistress of all evil.  Anyway, here's Anti-Climacus :
Back when postmodern conservatism was a thing, the one part with which I was most uncomfortable concerned the relative disinterest in the suffering of others (or, the alternative, that suffering was beautiful and thus ennobling). The impulse to not give a fig about others is strong, and abetted by the notion that people receive approximately what they deserve in life.* In my experience it usually takes the form of dropping a premise from an otherwise valid argument: "the world is such that people often have to suffer" "suffering is bad" "good things can often come out of suffering," in which the middle premise is referred to in a cursory way or dropped, with the end result being the belief that suffering is somehow inherently virtuous, a test of God that you're meant to pass. But in purely theological terms, suffering is bad: better to have lived in a world without it, and one does well to remember that there will be no suffering after judgment. The Christian who can't tell the difference between a blow and a caress is in a bad way.

FLG immediately thought, not of theology, but of Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the beginning of which argues that sympathy is the basis of morality. FLG thought of it because it combines the topic of suffering with FLG's favorite - time horizons.

We can only imagine what others are feeling...

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imaginations copy. By the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them. His agonies, when they are thus brought home to ourselves, when we have thus adopted and made them our own, begin at last to affect us, and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what he feels. For as to be in pain or distress of any kind excites the most excessive sorrow, so to conceive or to imagine that we are in it, excites some degree of the same emotion, in proportion to the vivacity or dulness of the conception.

Those suffering expect imagination in proportion to what they are feeling...

if you have either no fellow-feeling for the misfortunes I have met with, or none that bears any proportion to the grief which distracts me; or if you have either no indignation at the injuries I have suffered, or none that bears any proportion to the resentment which transports me, we can no longer converse upon these subjects. We become intolerable to one another. I can neither support your company, nor you mine. You are confounded at my violence and passion, and I am enraged at your cold insensibility and want of feeling.

Yet, a bystander cannot really imagine it in that proportion, but the function of society doesn't require such a high bar as imagining with the suffering with the same urgency as the sufferer themselves is feeling...

the emotions of the spectator will still be very apt to fall short of the violence of what is felt by the sufferer. Mankind, though naturally sympathetic, never conceive, for what has befallen another, that degree of passion which naturally animates the person principally concerned. That imaginary change of situation, upon which their sympathy is founded, is but momentary. The thought of their own safety, the thought that they themselves are not really the sufferers, continually intrudes itself upon them; and though it does not hinder them from conceiving a passion somewhat analogous to what is felt by the sufferer, hinders them from conceiving any thing that approaches to the same degree of violence. The person principally concerned is sensible of this, and at the same time passionately desires a more complete sympathy. He longs for that relief which nothing can afford him but the entire concord of the affections of the spectators with his own. To see the emotions of their hearts, in every respect, beat time to his own, in the violent and disagreeable passions, constitutes his sole consolation. But he can only hope to obtain this by lowering his passion to that pitch, in which the spectators are capable of going along with him. He must flatten, if I may be allowed to say so, the sharpness of its natural tone, in order to reduce it to harmony and concord with the emotions of those who are about him. What they feel, will, indeed, always be, in some respects, different from what he feels, and compassion can never be exactly the same with original sorrow; because the secret consciousness that the change of situations, from which the sympathetic sentiment arises, is but imaginary, not only lowers it in degree, but, in some measure, varies it in kind, and gives it a quite different modification. These two sentiments, however, may, it is evident, have such a correspondence with one another, as is sufficient for the harmony of society. Though they will never be unisons, they may be concords, and this is all that is wanted or required.

But, and here's where the time horizons come into play, it's not the immediate pain that actually causes the most suffering, but the imagination that creates fear and anxiety of remembered pain...

Nothing is so soon forgot as pain. The moment it is gone the whole agony of it is over, and the thought of it can no longer give us any sort of disturbance. We ourselves cannot then enter into the anxiety and anguish which we had before conceived. An unguarded word from a friend will occasion a more durable uneasiness. The agony which this creates is by no means over with the word. What at first disturbs us is not the object of the senses, but the idea of the imagination. As it is an idea, therefore, which occasions our uneasiness, till time and other accidents have in some measure effaced it from our memory, the imagination continues to fret and rankle within, from the thought of it.

Perhaps the most striking example is a mother and baby...

What are the pangs of a mother, when she hears the moanings of her infant that during the agony of disease cannot express what it feels? In her idea of what it suffers, she joins, to its real helplessness, her own consciousness of that helplessness, and her own terrors for the unknown consequences of its disorder; and out of all these, forms, for her own sorrow, the most complete image of misery and distress. The infant, however, feels only the uneasiness of the present instant, which can never be great. With regard to the future, it is perfectly secure, and in its thoughtlessness and want of foresight, possesses an antidote against fear and anxiety, the great tormentors of the human breast, from which reason and philosophy will, in vain, attempt to defend it, when it grows up to a man.

The baby, without a concept of past or future, lives only in the present. So, as soon as the pain is relieved, all is well. The mother, who remembers prior pain and worries of pain in the future, actually suffers more.

So, what's FLG's point here?

The basis of human morality, at least in Smith's conception here, is sympathy. Sympathy is ultimately a product of the imagination. Imagination requires similar sensory experience to draw from, and the imagination, mental suffering, is in some ways both less intense and worse than the physical.

Looking at the immediate effects of suffering, therefore, leads to one conclusion only - suffering is bad. However, if we look at the potential effects of suffering over the longer-term, then perhaps there are ennobling aspects. For example, isn't the suffering of the Depression often cited as a key contributing factor to the formation of the Greatest Generation?

Therefore, on one hand, FLG agrees with Anti-Climacus that the Your Privilege Is Showing (YPIS) aspect of Taylor's attack on Santorum isn't all that interesting. It's not particularly relevant whether Santorum is presently and immediately suffering, but whether he has sufficient experience to imagine it and consequently sympathize.

On the other hand, FLG has some questions on Anti-Climacus' point here, "But in purely theological terms, suffering is bad: better to have lived in a world without it, and one does well to remember that there will be no suffering after judgment."

Was Jesus' suffering bad? Noble? Both?  If it is noble, then why?  Because he was suffering for others, for some purpose, rather than due to the whims of Fate?
Does time even exist after judgment?* If time doesn't exist, then can we even suffer? Isn't suffering inherently temporal?


--------------------
* FLG knows this is his little pet proclivity, so he's stretching this here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dear Mrs. FLG:

Up for moving to Paris?

Sure, you don't speak French and we'd probably have to sell the house and uproot the kids, but it's the city of light, right?


Sincerely,
FLG

Sanitary Advice

FLG always laughs when he thinks of this scene:

FLG Still Learning Stuff About French

From The Cigarette Smoking Blog:
La langue de bois (“the wooden tongue”) is a very useful French term for platitudinous windbaggery that combines the worst qualities of politician-speak and bureaucratese.

Quote of the day

The Hoya:
English isn't the only major we should cut. Let's turn to the other worst offenders — those majors that have been found to have a connection with the highest unemployment rates by The Wall Street Journal.

History, after English, can be the second to go. With 15.1 percent of history majors now unemployed, it's clear that these graduates need a new way to apply their detail-oriented minds. In fact, they could work perfectly well as archivists for accounting firms. With so much data in the modern economy, someone needs to sort it all into folders.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Don't Knock Concrete

Instapundit linked to a degree program in concrete management. FLG knows what some of you are thinking, can courses in concrete project estimation, ordering and delivering, and blueprint reading be rigorous?

Two things.

First, let's not kid ourselves about the rigors of liberal arts as opposed to this type of vocational training. Georgetown has a course on Jay-Z. FLG likes Jay-Z and all, but those types of classes can swing between very rigorous and student pandering, frequently toward the latter.

Second, FLG has asked several Vegas cab drivers which convention is the best, and each time they said the World of Concrete, those guys know how to party. So, there's that going for the program.

Occupy Wall Street

Monty Python Edition

Monday, December 5, 2011

Quote of the day

Andrew Stevens:
I think it makes a great deal of difference whether one grew up on Sesame Street or Barney.

Please Make It Stop

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sustainable Annoyingness

WaPo:
Michael Patterson, 21, of Anchorage, said the structure was meant to symbolize the need to house the homeless. It had been covered with a blue tarp until shortly before the arrests.

“It is counterrevolutionary to occupy space with a permit,” Patterson told the crowd. “Why don’t the cops care about sheltering the homeless in the streets?”

Other demonstrators said the building was designed to provide demonstrators a place to go when it gets cold, and they were planning to build an “eco-friendly” heating device to make the structure sustainable. Group chants escalated through the early afternoon, and there was an increasing amount of scuffling, shouting and shoving.

Patterson later approached police shouted in their faces, urging them to arrest him. And they did, dragging him away from the square as he shouted: “I didn’t serve in Iraq to have this happen to me.”

A few quick points:
1) Serving in Iraq, while admirable and the country appreciates it, doesn't entitle a person to be a huge jackass forever and always, including to cops in the midst of a somewhat pressure-filled situation.

2) The structure they are erecting in the park is certainly not going to be permanent, so the idea that it will be sustainable because it will have eco-friendly heating is idiotic.

3) Will that eco-friendly heating solution dried protestor poop? Because a shit powered protest would be awesome.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Quick Round-up

Dear Maryland drivers:

FLG will start by saying he doesn't know much about the licensure process in Maryland, but in any case he'd like you to know that the red things with eight sides that have the word "STOP" on them are called Stop Signs. They typically indicate there is an intersection, a place where two roads meet and there are often crosswalks (those are where people are supposed to cross the street), and that you are supposed to bring your car to a full and complete stop. A somewhat common practice is to slow down dramatically, but not completely stop. This is sometimes referred to as a California Stop or, less frequently, a Rhode Island roll. These are not exactly legal, but far better than ignoring the signs entirely, which seems to be the preferred approach of Maryland drivers. Therefore, FLG became concerned that this might be a lack of training. So, remember the signs with STOP on them indicate that you are to stop the car before proceeding. If, like many Maryland residents, you can't read, then just remember that red signs with eight sides mean stop. You don't even have to take your shoes off to count that high.

Sincerely,
FLG

-----------------------------------------------

The FLGs went down to Shirlington on Thursday for some sort of Christmas celebration. They had carriage rides, ballon animals, and Santa. You get the idea. However, on the way back to the car, the FLGs passed through a phallanx of Secret Service because John Boehner decided to step out to have a smoke.

As a former smoker, FLG is sympathetic to the plight of smokers who have to shuffle outside in the cold, but there is something very pathetic and sad about the person who is third in line to the presidency in a shirt and tie huddled up in an tiny alcove to smoke a cigarette. Maybe Obama stands next to a column on the Truman Balcony to find some relief on a cold, windy night, but the image is harder to imagine.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Interesting Video

Tom Kaplan talking about America's time horizons. FLG isn't sure he would agrees entirely, but does like the sentiment.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Conversation

Miss FLG Maior: Daddy, you got a package today! Here it is. Open it! Open it! Is it a present for me?

FLG: Let's see.

Miss FLG Maior: It's a book! A special book! What kind of book is it?

FLG: Stochastic Calculus.

Miss FLG Maior: Oh...

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day

Yuval Levin:
At that point, progressive and conservative American liberals parted ways — the former drawn to post-liberal philosophies of utopian ends (often translated from German) while the latter continued to defend the restraining mechanisms of classical-liberal institutions and the skeptical worldview that underlies them.

FLG actually LOL'd at the parenthetical remark. Similarly, every once and a while, out of nowhere, FLG mutters the names Horkheimer and Adorno under his breath like a curse. Although, FLG's real ire is directed toward Auguste Comte because, as regular readers know, FLG blames the French intellectual tradition for almost everything, including the financial crisis.

Financial Crisis Podcast

FLG listened to the most recent EconTalk with Simon Johnson about the financial crisis.  Coincided nicely with FLG's analysis, except he never argued for a hard, arbitrary cap on the size of banks, but it makes sense.

Conversation

Miss FLG Maior:  Daddy, daddy!  I want to be a rock pit.

FLG:  You want to be a quarry?

Miss FLG Maior:  No!  A! Rock! Pit!

FLG:  Great, sweetie.

Miss FLG Maior:  Look at me kick.

FLG:  Oh, you want to be a Rockette!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Quote of the day

Telegraph:
It is basically a finishing school for rich Eurotrash.

Guess Who Is Excited Thanksgiving Is Over And Christmas Is Coming?


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Quote of the day

Ariel Rubinstein:
If you have a really good idea, my advice is to limit yourself to 15 double-spaced pages. I have not seen any paper in Economics which deserved more than that and yours is no exception. It is true that papers in Economics are long, but then almost all of then are deathly boring.

H/t

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone has a safe and happy turkey day.

In Utero

I'll dispense with my normal third person narrative for this post, as it would probably only make me sound crazier.

I have a vivid, visceral memory of my soul entering my body. Actually, forced into my body is probably more accurate. I've had this memory, obviously, for as long as I can remember. Indeed, one of my earliest memories as a child was when my mother was pregnant with my brother, so I was about three, and trying to explain to her about this past memory so that I could make sense of it.

She largely dismissed or misunderstood what I was saying, which is understandable given that I remember being frustrated that I couldn't fully articulate my experience, what with my limited cognitive and verbal skills at the time. Plus, having an almost three year-old myself, it's not hard to imagine my mother thinking that the three year-old me was making stuff up or confused or even had no idea what I was talking about. I haven't asked her about it since, and don't know if she'd even remember. In fact, I don't think I've talked about it to anybody since. I did mention it in passing to Mrs. FLG once when we were both pretty drunk and she probably doesn't remember. To be honest, I don't really like to talk about it at all because I know it sounds crazy. I'll get to why I am talking about it now later.

As for the memory itself, as vivid as it is, it has still faded somewhat with time. The sense of the physical sensation sticks most strongly, as the experience was extremely unpleasant and disorienting. The best way I can describe my memory of the physical sensation is that of having a bottle of whiskey forced down your throat, stuffed into a suitcase, and thrown in a freezer, then an oven, and finally placed on several amusement park rides.

My memory of the mental side of the experience has dimmed more. I remember the sense of what I was thinking, but the specific thoughts, which I remember remembering as a kid, have unfortunately slipped away. The basic gist goes like this:
Wow, this is very unpleasant. I don't like this. I wasn't ready. I think I made a mistake. My thinking is becoming muddled. I'm forgetting stuff already. Pretty soon I won't remember anything. It'll all be over soon. Try to remember. It's important to remember.

Then it fades out, and the rest of my memory of my life is what I think is pretty normal. A couple of snippets around 2-3, gradually building over time.

Honestly, my scientific mind recoils from this. This really shouldn't be possible, and there are so many possible psychological explanations for how this is all a fantasy created by my mind that I'd find it unbelievable if somebody else told me this story.

I do know these things: I still remember it pretty clearly, although the memory is fading with time. As a small child, again around three, I was completely convinced that I existed before my body had, which seems like an awfully odd thing for three year-old even to contemplate, forget believing completely. Plus, there was a deep sense of two other things. First, I was far more knowledgeable and intelligent in my previous form. Second, there was something or someone forcing me into the body. Not so much against my will, but that's just how it has to be done.

One more detail that I think might be relevant is that this occurred after my entire body had been formed. I'm not quite sure why I think this exactly, but sense of this is deeply-rooted in the memory.

Anyway, so if I'm so hesitant to talk about this, then why now and why on the blog? Good questions.

I can answer why now pretty easily. I happen to be up late with the baby, and all this came rushing back for some reason. It's always there in the back of my mind, but I haven't felt compelled to reflect upon it in years. Last time was probably back when Miss FLG Maior was Ann infant.

As to why on the blog, well, I don't quite know. Maybe I feel better writing it all down at once. Plus, I can post whatever I want here and I don't need to lead into some conversation with "hey, I believe I remember my soul entering my body." Just doesn't come up in conversation naturally all that much without sounding like a freakin' crazy person. To be completely honest, I'm not quite sure why I'm posting it and I realize I still probably sound like a crazy person. If this blog wasn't pseudonymous, then I wouldn't be posting it.

Again, I could come up with countless ways to explain this away psychologically, but I don't believe that I'm misremembering or fantasizing. Never have. And I remember remembering it since as far as I can remember.

Perhaps paradoxically, the thing that bothers me most about the memory is my desire, strong desire, within the memory to remember. Indeed, the memory itself feels like the result of an overwhelming expression of will by my soul, before it was subsumed by my physical body, to etch something into my memory. It just feels so massively egotistical, which I guess does explain a lot about me. Then again, maybe it is important that I remember for so other reason, who knows.

By the way, I've never really looked into the idea of existing before one's body. I've run across near death experience reports in the media, of course, and I'm vaguely aware of the idea of preexistence, but I've never really investigated it. I'm sure there's some literature on it and a quick google search would reveal a whole host of reports of this, but I've never been interested.

There it is and that's about it. Never fear though, FLG is now back to his more familiar brand of insanity on foreign affairs, economics, time horizons, Plato, pirates, hating NATO and object sex.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Time Horizons

God edition

Time Horizons: Marginal Income Tax Rates

Paul Krugman points readers to a paper arguing that the marginal income tax rate should be around 70%.

OK, I hear loud screams from the right side of the room. Parsing those screams, I hear the following arguments:

1. Theft! Tyranny! OK, I hear you. This can’t be argued on rational grounds; I think there are a lot more important moral issues in the world than defending the right of the rich to keep their money, but whatever.

2. They’ll go Galt! This amounts to saying that D&S’s estimate of the “behavioral elasticity” is too low. Maybe, but they’re pretty careful about that, and your gut isn’t better than their econometrics.

3. You’ll kill job creation! This is where it gets interesting.

FLG's concern is 2. It is too low. And, using FLG's time horizons theory, he can say exactly why -- the econometrics that Krugman hangs his hat on only deal with short-term effects. What, pray tell, do the authors of the paper have to say about long-term effects?


Perhaps most critically, does an estimate based on a single period model still apply when recognizing that people earn and pay income taxes year after year? First, earlier decisions such as education and career choices affect later earnings opportunities. It is conceivable that a more progressive tax system could reduce incentives to accumulate human capital in the first place. The logic of the equity–efficiency tradeoff would still carry through, but the elasticity e should reflect not only short-run labor supply responses but also long-run responses through education and career choices. While there is a sizable multi-period optimal tax literature using life-cycle models and generating insights, we unfortunately have little compelling empirical evidence to assess whether taxes affect earnings through those long-run channels.

Just because there isn't any compelling evidence doesn't mean that the logic that under a 70% tax rate fewer people will become cardiologists, or other human capital intensive professions, and that those who are will, with enough time to plan, decide to retire earlier than they would've otherwise.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Woo-hoo!

Mrs. FLG found Cheez Doodles at, of all places, a dollar store.

Quote of the day

Reihan:
One of the main differences between these two approaches concerns the appropriate timescale?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Obama's China Diplo-Success

FLG started drafting a post about how he was totally gobsmacked by the Obama administration's diplomatic offensive against China when he read this post by Walter Russell Mead and figured why reinvent the wheel?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Elite Insanity

FLG read this post about hiring at elite firms the other day. As Megan says, much of it isn't very shocking, but some of it is just crazy. Here are a few random thoughts:

1) Look, anybody who doesn't know that having Harvard on your resume is almost a prerequisite to get a job at McKinsey isn't paying attention, and it sure helps a lot at places like Goldman Sachs and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Nothing surprising there.

FLG wishes he was on campus still because he had full access to the article there, but, according to the paper, recruiters viewed Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford as very elite. Okay, fine. Where FLG had a bigger issue was that they then seemed to draw a bright line between graduates of the vaunted HPYS and even the rest of the Ivies. Several comments explicitly stated that there is some sort weakness in one or more areas inherent to candidates at the other Ivies.

This made FLG ask, in what sort of fucked up world do people really believe that thetr is some material difference between the average student at Harvard and Columbia or Dartmouth? Seriously? Really? (Questioning Brown, okay, FLG gets that, nobody likes Brown.) FLG knows people who have attended all of the Ivies and there are some who are very impressive, some who are less so, and some who make FLG scratch his head. There are all sorts of reasons that a student would choose Columbia over Harvard, access to NYC being top among them. The only logic that says idiots choose Columbia over Harvard is straight up prestige whoring, which FLG thinks makes some sense given that we are talking about elite firms, which brings FLG to...

2) Who is shocked that elite organizations are full of elitists assholes?

3) There's a sort of irony here. Nobody in their right mind thinks ALL and ONLY the best people attend HYPS. Or even top 25 schools for that matter. So, what these elite firms are actually saying is that we have a baseline, it's a pretty high baseline, but still a baseline, not a demand for the best exactly, and since we have a larger selection of people from these institutions who meet that threshold than we can hire, we'll just do that and say we're hiring the best. When, as Megan put it, they're focused on hiring the very, very good. It's the self-delusion going on here that FLG finds so crazy.

4) Another thing FLG thought was just batshit nuts was the idea that being an Olympic athlete or world class pianist made a candidate "well-rounded" and "well-adjusted." It certainly shows drive, dedication, and ambition outside academics, which are great traits, but FLG finds the idea that somebody who, for example, does four hours of ice skating practice six days a week for ten years is therefore fantastically interesting and adjusted as a person silly on its face.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Quote Of The Day

ZeroHedge:
Those officials in Brussels have no idea what they are unleashing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Aristotle And PowerPoint

Via Anti-Climacus, FLG read this post by Megan McArdle about PowerPoint. FLG agrees with almost every word, but what is most striking is that Megan's advice is almost unchanged from Aristotle's advice:
The reason that it doesn't matter whether you are perfectly complete and orderly is that people aren't going to remember your whole talk.  They are going to remember whether you got them interested in the subject--whether you convinced them it matters.  They are going to remember the general flow--did it have massive, ugly logical holes, or make confusing references to facts not in evidence?--and one or two facts.  And they are going to remember anything you said that was engaging or funny--which you are much more likely to do if you are relaxed and looking at them, than if you are staring at the screen, or the seven sheets of 8.5X11 that you brought.

Here, again is Aristotle:
Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. This kind of persuasion, like the others, should be achieved by what the speaker says, not by what people think of his character before he begins to speak. It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses. Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile. It is towards producing these effects, as we maintain, that present-day writers on rhetoric direct the whole of their efforts. This subject shall be treated in detail when we come to speak of the emotions. Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.

Isn't It A Solvency Crisis?

FLG doesn't understand why people are referring to the issues in Europe as a liquidity crisis. Seems to FLG that this is focusing on the trees, not the forest. Yes, the proximate issue is liquidity, but isn't the more fundamental issue that banks are at risk of taking haircuts on sovereign debt? Therefore, the value of their capital is in question. That is a solvency, not a liquidity issue.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

STEM Versus Liberal Arts

FLG watched this Malcolm Gladwell video about the Norden Bombsight. The last few minutes really emphasized a point that FLG thinks is too seldom recognized when people discuss STEM versus liberal arts education:
We think the things we make can solve our problems, but our problems are much more complex than that. The issue isn't the accuracy of the bombs you have; it's how you use the bombs you have and, more importantly, whether you ought to use bombs at all. There is postscript to the story of Carl Norden and his fabulous bombsight, and that is, on August 6th, 1945, a B-29 bomber, called the Enola Gay, flew over Japan and using a Norden Bombsight dropped a very large thermonuclear device on the City of Hiroshima. And as was typical with the Norden Bombsight, the bomb actually missed its target by 800 feet, but of course it didn't matter. And that's the greatest irony of all when it comes to the Norden Bombsight. The air force's $1.5 billion bombsight was used to drop its $3 billion bomb which didn't need a bombsight at all. Meanwhile, back in New York, nobody told Carl Norden that his bombsight had been used over Hiroshima. He was a committed Christian that had reduced something that would reduce the total suffering in war. It would've broken his heart.

Here's the thing -- science, engineering, math, technology are about what is and what can be done to manipulate what is. It says nothing about why, how, or whether we should use that knowledge.

The best that technology can do is try to determine relevance to people, but it cannot determine what is meaningful to people. Meaning is not something technology or science can provide or interpret or analyze. Meaning is intrinsically and inherently human. How we derive meaning, sometimes religion, sometimes philosophy, sometimes just raw emotion, cannot be synthesized. But it is ultimately what is meaningful that is important, not the technological ability to do something.

FLG has written this before, but he believes very strongly that those are educated in the STEM fields, both to do self-selection and the habituation of that type of education, are in important ways less capable of interpreting the meaning of the scientific and technical knowledge because they lack the requisite insight into what is meaningful to people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oh, Time Horizons

...how FLG loves thee.

China's Problems

FLG read this post about China with some interest and he agrees with it, but thinks Mead misses the larger picture somewhat.

Long-time readers know that FLG sees a lot of problems with China's economy. Firstly, if you've read Krugman's The Myth Of Asia's Miracle, then you'd have seen this passage about the USSR, but applies just as well to China:
This economic analysis had two crucial implications. First, most of the speculation about the superiority of the communist system--including the popular view that Western economies could painlessly accelerate their own growth by borrowing some aspects of that system--was off base. Rapid Soviet economic growth was based entirely on one attribute: the willingness to save, to sacrifice current consumption for the sake of future production. The communist example offered no hint of a free lunch.

Second, the economic analysis of communist countries' growth implied some future limits to their industrial expansion--in other words, implied that a naive projection of their past growth rates into the future was likely to greatly overstate their real prospects. Economic growth that is based on expansion of inputs, rather than on growth in output per unit of input, is inevitable subject to diminishing returns. It was simply not possible for the Soviet economies to sustain the rates of growth of labor force participation, average education levels, and above all the physical capital stock that had prevailed in previous years. Communist growth would predictably slow down, perhaps drastically.

To put this in the simplest of terms, China's economic growth over the past few decades has been because farmers with shovels became factory workers with machines. As far as FLG is concern, this is great news. It has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. But, contrary to what lots of so-called sophisticated people like Thom Friedman think, China isn't some sort of technocratic miracle.

So, overall, China's rise, while important and impressive, doesn't end up being all that interesting, at least in terms economic growth. However, what is more interesting to FLG, unsurprisingly, is this part:
the willingness to save, to sacrifice current consumption for the sake of future production.

One of the first lessons in economics is that saving equals investment S=I. Ah, but what turns that savings into investment? The Financial System. Well, China's financial system is a complete mess that has had to be recapitalized several times.

Herman Schwartz argues in Subprime Nation that, to overcome their financial system's piss poor performance at doing anything with savings, the Chinese funneled dollars right back into the US financial system, which in turn financed housing, which in turn created demand for Chinese products. Thus, the Chinese, knowing their banking system sucked, sort of borrowed ours. (If FLG remembers correct, Schwartz has an note about how as long as the Chinese stay with treasuries, then all's well. Worry when they start taking equity stakes.)

Ultimately, there's only so much concrete that the Chinese can pour to keep their economy going.

Fucking Up People's Commute

...is going to help build support how exactly?

FLG is not happy.

In Case You Didn't Know: FLG Is A Fucking Genius

His time horizons theory plays out again.

Stimulus would have "a net negative effect on the growth of GDP over 10 years."

Interestingly, although it's not entirely clear, but FLG believes Elmendorf was initially trying to argue that it wasn't the level but the rate of growth, .i.e first derivative, in ten years that would be more negative than it otherwise would've been without the stimulus, but eventually restated and clarified that it was the level.

BTW, is there anybody willing to read The Corner so that FLG doesn't have to? Kathryn Jean Lopez kindles an almost uncontrollable urge for autodefenstration in FLG's id.

FLG is currently listening to

Cyberattack Response Protocol

MSNBC:
The United States reserves the right to retaliate with military force against a cyber attack and is working to sharpen its ability to track down the source of any attack, the Pentagon said in a report made public on Tuesday.

Even though he doesn't write about cyberwarfare all that often, it is something that FLG has been focused on since the beginning of this blog.   So, the announcement is no surprise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Weird Dolls

Mrs. FLG saw my Barbie post and sent FLG this link to completely fucked up dolls.

FLG is currently listening to

Beer Enemas

Radley Balko:
The “rectal beer funneling” seems particularly silly. High school boys tend to be pretty homophobic. I find it hard to believe there’s an epidemic of them dropping trow at parties, then helping one another pour beer into their rectums. (Logistically, I would think this is more than a one-man job.) Especially when they can just, you know, drink the stuff through their mouths.
FLG thinks rectal beer funneling is a myth, but isn't convinced by Balko's logic.

FLG finally has a valid reason to post the following video, a video which always has him in stitches.  If high school boys will drop trow at a party and then help one another insert bottle rockets into their rectums, then it would seem beer is well within the realm of possibility.




Hamlet

FLG was up with Miss FLG Minor a couple of nights ago and caught part of a Charlie Rose on Hamlet.  At very end, Oskar Eustis claims that Shakespeare doesn't provide definitive instructions on whether Hamlet is feigning madness or is actually mad. 

Now, FLG isn't a Shakespeare expert or anything, but he did yell "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." at the screen.  Seems hard to argue that's not definitive.  Unless, of course, one wants to argue that Hamlet was mad, he was seeing ghosts and all, but didn't think himself mad.    Or maybe one could argue that in Act II, Scene 2 he was feigning madness but is eventually driven mad.

Maybe FLG got upset because he steadfastly refuses to believe that Hamlet was mad.

Uses Of A Classical Education

Helen Rittelmeyer is way smarter and far better read than FLG, but he'll tell you one thing, FLG knows more about drinking than Westbrook Pegler:
In the late thirties, a New York distilling company issued some publicity to the effect that hangovers from blended whiskies were less severe than bonded whiskies. Two or three days later, they received a note from Pegler on his New Canaan, Connecticut, stationery reading: “My interest in a prophylaxis or cure for hangover is not academic and information on your marvelous discovery would be gratefully received.” An employee of the company passed the letter to a member of the [Heywood] Broun crowd which enjoyed a laugh at the columnist’s expense.

You see, FLG knows from Diodorus Siculus that it's better to drink blended or mixed alcohol:
There he drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles, and finally, filling a huge beaker, downed it at a gulp. Instantly he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow and was conducted by his Friends, who led him by the hand back to his apartments. His chamberlains put him to bed and attended him closely, but the pain increased and the physicians were summoned. No one was able to do anything helpful and Alexander continued in great discomfort and acute suffering.

BTW, FLG loves this sentence a little bit later:
Since some historians disagree about the death of Alexander, and state that this occurred in consequence of a draught of poison, it seems necessary for us to mention their account also.

Nevertheless, the lesson here is clear -- it's best to drink mixed, blended, and unpoisoned alcohol.

Finally, FLG knows some of you are undoubtedly thinking,  "FLG, you didn't have to go through all that to prove you knew more about anything. You could've just written:

Pegler lived in New Canaan;
FLG never has;
Therefore, FLG knows more about everything.

QED."

To which FLG responds, quite right and tut-tut.

(With FLG's apologies to Goldberry.)

The Renegade Motorcycle Daredevil Sex Cult

For some reason, C.S. Perry's old Renegade Motorcycle Daredevil Sex Cult post popped into FLG's head today and he started laughing uncontrollably.

FLG might have to contact Mr. Perry to see if he'd be willing to write a guest post here at Fear and Loathing in Georgetown in his old style.

FLG Was In The Toy Store The Other Day

And said, "Dude, What The Fuck?"

Dynasty Barbie?

Oh, and BTW, this is just offensive.

Although, FLG must admit the idea of a Pussy Galore Barbie does make him chuckle.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quote of the day II

Frank Miller:
Everybody’s been too damn polite about this nonsense:

The “Occupy” movement, whether displaying itself on Wall Street or in the streets of Oakland (which has, with unspeakable cowardice, embraced it) is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment. “Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.

[...]

Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached

Quote of the day

Jeff Bezos:
It’s all about the long term. If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue.

HT: William

Time Horizons: Reading Hayek Edition

Buried down a relatively long list of takeways from the Euro Crisis by Tyler Cowen, FLG saw this sentence:
Hayek really was right about French rationalist constructivism (see chapter one).

Now, some of you will remember that FLG blames the entire financial collapse on the French. So, this immediately piqued FLG' interest. FLG had never read Individualism and Economic Order.

FLG's Time Horizons Theory comes into play straight away:
To ADVOCATE any clear-cut principles of social order is today
an almost certain way to incur the stigma of being an unpractical
doctrinaire. It has come to be regarded as'-the sign of the judicious
mind that in social matters one does not adhere to fixed principles but decides each question "on its merits"; that one is generally guided by expediency and is ready to compromise between opposed views.

For clarity's sake, FLG views clear-cut principles as long run and deciding each question as short run, as emphasized by the word "expediency." Moreover, FLG thinks this hints at the corollary to FLG's theory, which states that conservatives are rational while liberals are inherently more empirical. Looking at this case, the liberals point to this case on its merits, .i.e. more of an empirical question, while conservatives apply a rational principle. Perhaps FLG is stretching this a bit far, but he thinks it's all in there.

But Withywindle raised a good point a while back about how FLG's corollary actually is somewhat contrary to the self-perceptions of conservatives and liberals. Conservatives see themselves as those who see how it is (and FLG would add,always will be, to further emphasize his time horizons theory).

Here's what Hayek wrote:
The antirationalistic approach, which regards man not as a highly rational and intelligent but as a very irrational and fallible being, whose individual errors are corrected only in the course of a social process, and which aims at making the best of a very imperfect material, is probably the most characteristic feature of English individualism.

Okay, so FLG needed to find something in Hayek that would square the circle, and he thinks he found it here:
human Reason, with a capital R, does not exist in the singular, as given or available to any particular person, as the rationalist approach seems to assume, but must be conceived as an interpersonal process in which anyone's contribution is tested and corrected by others.

Reason, thus, only reveals itself, such as it is, in a Burkean fashion, over the long-term. This Reason then produces general principles that can be applied in future cases over and above the narrow empirical reality of the case in question.

And so FLG's Time Horizons Theory is still totally boss!

Fucking Boomers

Walter Russell Mead has a great post up arguing that the kids are starting to notice how the Boomers screwed up everything.

Reminded FLG of this again:
Every once and a while, FLG recognizes how much the Boomers fucked up pretty much everything, and he has an overwhelming urge to go out onto the street, find one, and beat the shit out of them as a microcosm of intergenerational justice.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Would Think

...that FLG would like this analysis, but he doesn't:
Plato, in his still provocative “Republic,” proposed that there are five types of government: aristocracy (rule by the “best”, that is, by experts specially trained at governance), timarchy (rule by those guided by their courage and sense of honor), oligarchy (rule by a wealthy minority), democracy (rule by the people as a whole—a “mob” as Plato saw it), and tyranny (rule by a despot answerable to no one but himself). Plato’s categorization is a good starting point for thinking about the nature of our government. Although we don’t fit precisely any one of these type, each seems to express an element of our political system.

He doesn't like it because it omits the most important aspect of the Republic -- that each of these has a corresponding soul type, which at least according to FLG, is far more important that the regime type.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Quote of the day

Bremmer and Roubini:
But the longer-term future appears much brighter for the U.S. than for either Europe or China. America is still the leader in the kind of cutting-edge technology that expands a nation's long-term economic potential, from renewable energy and medical devices to nanotechnology and cloud computing. Over time, these advantages will yield more robust economic growth.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quote of the day

WWTDD:
I don’t like the Japanese having all the invisibility. Japan is great, Japan is awesome, but they’re also perverts. I worry that they only care about invisibility so businessmen can go places and jack off. They could be behind you right now, jacking off, and you wouldn’t even know it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

FLG is currently listening to

Quick PSA

FLG is seldom wrong, but never in doubt.

Anybody Read This?

Plight of the Fortune Tellers: Why We Need to Manage Financial Risk Differently by Riccardo Rebonato

If so, is it worth getting?

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day

Anti-Climacus:
If you're reading Plato and not, on some level, unsettled, then something has gone wrong.

Whenever this comes up, FLG always thinks of F. Scott's statement:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function

FLG thinks this comes down to a difference between aristocratic souls and democratic ones. Because what is unsettling in Plato and Aristotle, FLG believes, is the contradiction between Plato's and Aristotle's views, which were born of an aristocratic city-state, versus our more democratic sensibilities. FLG thinks aristocrats are, by nature and necessity, more comfortable with contradiction, and even unfortunately hypocrisy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Conversation

Mrs. FLG: Have you seen what your brother posts on Facebook?

FLG: No, you know that I almost never log on there. What does he say?

Mrs. FLG: Look.

FLG: Wow, he's calling people pinkos and commies. What a wacko!

Mrs. FLG: Whoa. Glass houses. And pot, kettle.

FLG: huh?

Mrs. FLG: Isn't your dream to be invited to appear on an econ-blogger panel and then show up with an eye patch, peg leg, and parrot?

FLG: Yes, but only if it's on CSPAN.

Mrs. FLG: Wack-Oh!

A Great Question

Prof. Mondo addresses a question FLG has been asking himself on and off for the last few years:
What’s the point of U.S. citizenship and is it worth it?

Just this morning, in fact, FLG asked Mrs. FLG if she could countenance the idea of overseas retirement. But FLG has actually been thinking about expatriation issues on and off since the Obamacare debate.

Don't get FLG wrong, it was not really Obamacare exactly. It's just since then FLG has wondered about what it would take for him to leave the country.

FLG doesn't think of himself as a highly-skilled person, but he guesses that on paper he could be considered one. In any case, he's confident that he could live and find work in any number of places around the globe, as could Mrs. FLG. Neither are tied to any particular place, although English as the dominant language would certainly be helpful but not a deal breaker.

FLG has strong emotional, cultural, and political ties to the United States, but given the long run fiscal and demographic factors at play here in the United States, it might become very appealing from a strictly economic and financial perspective to relocate and renounce American citizenship. If the government, for example, introduces a VAT, jacks up income taxes, and introduces single payer health insurance to try deal with the rising costs of health care, then FLG would seriously consider moving out.

But FLG you cannot just leave because you don't agree tax rates and economic policy! Why not? At some point, it's not just economic and financial, but the very character of the nation that has changed. If FLG feels that the country itself no longer reflects his values, has a dim future, and is entirely beyond his ability to ameliorate that situation in the least, then it's a free country and he should be able to leave.

FLG doesn't know where the point of no return for himself is exactly. It's certainly not even the fullest manifestation of the goals of the Obama Administration, but there's a point at which FLG could see himself leaving. And FLG doesn't think he's alone.

The question then arises, where would FLG go that's better than the United States? Well, let's be clear, FLG isn't talking about the United States as it stands now, but some hypothetical future United States. At that point, some other country might begin to look very attractive.

FLG is currently listening to

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Surprising Conclusion

WaPo:
The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said Tuesday it has “serious concerns” that Iran is secretly working toward building a nuclear bomb, citing documents pointing to Iranian scientists’ extensive and possibly ongoing efforts to master the technology needed for atomic weapons.

FLG is shocked, shocked.

Almost Forgot

FLG's recent poll revealed that he has 17 readers who could be bothered to click on a button, but over 70% have at the very least attended grad school (70% if you count the Other vote because that person listed themselves as having a PhD).

So, FLG thinks Withywindle was correct when he wrote:
You have fewer, but better, readers.

Plus a riff-raff with an unhealthy interest in Lindsay Lohan and Level 1 Google powers.

Well, better readers or over-educated, pretentious fuckwads. FLG guesses it really depends on one's perspective.

FLG must admit, however, that he is a tad saddened that traffic has indeed fallen. When these things happen FLG never blames his poor blogging skills, i.e. repetitiveness and lack of any actual insight, but instead always looks to the Beavergate explanation, which put simply is that other people are too easily offended.

Therefore, FLG will thus declare, with much alliterative flair, (and rhyming) that the plastic pirate pussy post is Beavergate III.

Correspondence

Flavia brings up an important point:
It's all very well to say that some people just want a vocational education, or a piece of paper that will entitle them to a pencil-pushing white-collar job, but students who simply aren't aware that they can do better/different shouldn't be forced to settle for that--for whatever their dumb uncle or high school guidance counselor told them was their best course.

In short, tracking students--especially if we're talking about 18-20 year-olds--into two different kinds of degree, one of them a "lite" degree meant for students of more modest ability or ambition, seems to be to be saying that kids who went to crappy high schools, or who were academic screw-ups or just immature in high school, aren't capable of intellectual change and growth in college. And my experience (and I think your own?) suggests otherwise.

Last night, FLG responded that this is why he isn't advocating eliminating these requirements altogether, but instead reducing it from two years to one. But something about Flavia's point has stuck in FLG's head.

On one hand, there's something to this. One doesn't know what one doesn't know, and 18 year-olds certainly don't know what they don't know. FLG was lucky enough to be exposed to a variety of cultural pursuits that led him to value the liberal arts. And it is unfortunate if students who would flourish personally, intellectually, and professionally after having been exposed to humanities never have the experience.

On the other hand, FLG remembered this passage from Plato:
And, therefore, calculation and geometry and all the other elements of instruction, which are a preparation for dialectic, should be presented to the mind in childhood; not, however, under any notion of forcing our system of education.

Why not?

Because a freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

There's A Reason

...that FLG doesn't write about, say Norwegian folk music, and that's because he knows fuckall about it. FLG wishes Erik Kain would understand this same lesson when he writes about economics. Now, FLG knows The Ancient will be disappointed that FLG isn't aiming higher and is instead getting pissed about economic ignoramuses, but whatever. Anyway, Erik riffs off a post by Matt Yglesias, another fucking economic genius who thinks that mumbling Baumol's cost disease and Red Queen's Race makes him sound sophisticated, on Bastiat's "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen."

Regular readers will know that FLG cites this essay from time to time, which is unsurprising given FLG's time horizons theory and this passage:
There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

Here's Erik:
[Matt] goes on:

The bulk of his early cases proceed by referring to a number of situations in which apparently wealth-creating activities are not in fact creating wealth because the money to finance them has to be taken away from somebody else. This, of course, is precisely why fiscal stimulus doesn’t consist of simultaneously increasing taxes and spending. Instead the idea of stimulative policies is to either borrow money or else actually increase the stock of money. This basically covers the points about broken windows, demobilized soldiers, and public works. And note that on public works, even Bastiat explicitly says that increasing public works spending during hard times is smart policy even if it merely shifts prosperity from the future to the present.

I agree with all of this. The entire point of stimulus spending and expanded monetary policy, as opposed to simply paying people to break and fix windows, is to use borrowed money and an increase in the supply of money to boost consumer spending, financial lending, and eventually hiring. I think Bastiat makes some important points about demobilization and I think here and in other works he makes a strong case against protectionism, but I see nothing in this essay or elsewhere that really lays the groundwork for a broad, anti-Keynesian approach to managing a recession.

To be clear, the basic issue in Bastiat is that we can stimulate economic activity by destroying wealth, but it doesn't make society better off. You destroy a window, wealth, and it leads to creates work for a glazier, economic stimulus, but owner of the window is worse off. And while the glazier is better off that comes at the expense of somebody else, a shoemaker.

Now, if you want to look at the specific cases that Bastiat makes and then say that doesn't disprove Keynesian stimulus, well, that's great. Bastiat was long dead before Keynes came around.

Matt and Erik are wrong to say that in the case of deficit financed stimulus the money doesn't have to be taken away from somebody else. Remember, there's not such thing as a free lunch. It does have to be taken away from somebody else, specifically it has to be taken away from taxpayers in the future.

So, there are two questions, given Bastiat's concerns about when the "immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous."

1) How would the deficit finance stimulus effect the economy today?

When making the case for the stimulus, Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein said the multiplier would be 1.57.

2) How would those future tax increases affect the economy in the future? David and Christina, the same Christina, said:
Our baseline specification suggests that an exogenous tax increase of one percent of GDP lowers real GDP by roughly three percent.

Now, FLG understands that in one case we are talking about dollars and the second percentage of GDP. So, if the stimulus results in increased growth over the intervening years, then the size of the dollars used as stimulus as a percentage of GDP, even in real terms, will easier to pay off. But when the multipliers are 1.57 versus -3, that's a big difference to overcome.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Some Things Never Change

Walter Russell Mead is shocked, shocked to see that teenagers are mean to each other, which he seems certain is a very new phenomenon.

In all seriousness, whenever something like this comes up, FLG reminds people of Plutarch's account of the life of Demosthenes:
He was meagre and sickly from the first, and hence had his nickname of Batalus given him, it is said, by the boys, in derision of his appearance; Batalus being, as some tell us, a certain enervated flute-player, in ridicule of whom Antiphanes wrote a play. Others speak of Batalus as a writer of wanton verses and drinking songs. And it would seem that some part of the body, not decent to be named, was at that time called batalus by the Athenians.

Just to be clear, that's a report that kids teased each other back in 300 something B fucking C. Not that we needed evidence that kids are mean to each other and have always been, but just sayin'.

Nobody Asked FLG

...but he'll respond anyway.

As FLG has mentioned before, he attended a flagship state school, a community college, and then an elite, private university. Not just that, but he went from being an engineering student to what FLG would consider a pretty rigorous liberal arts core curriculum. Now, in fairness, FLG did major in International Economics, which is probably perceived as being on the more practical or useful side of the liberal arts/social sciences, but it was nevertheless a major and conscious change.

So, what if any problems are there with the schools FLG attended and higher ed broadly? Well, FLG would actually like to begin with his second favorite Tocqueville quotation:
It is evident that in democratic communities the interest of individuals as well as the security of the commonwealth demands that the education of the greater number should be scientific, commercial, and industrial rather than literary. Greek and Latin should not be taught in all the schools; but it is important that those who, by their natural disposition or their fortune, are destined to cultivate letters or prepared to relish them should find schools where a complete knowledge of ancient literature may be acquired and where the true scholar may be formed. A few excellent universities would do more towards the attainment of this object than a multitude of bad grammar-schools, where superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound instruction in necessary studies.

Replace Greek and Latin with humanities and Tocqueville saw this coming.

A brief digression via another quotation given the Occupy Wall Street crowd's large number of liberal arts and humanities students:
It is important that this point should be clearly understood. A particular study may be useful to the literature of a people without being appropriate to its social and political wants. If men were to persist in teaching nothing but the literature of the dead languages in a community where everyone is habitually led to make vehement exertions to augment or to maintain his fortune, the result would be a very polished, but a very dangerous set of citizens. For as their social and political condition would give them every day a sense of wants, which their education would never teach them to supply, they would perturb the state, in the name of the Greeks and Romans, instead of enriching it by their productive industry.

On one hand, perhaps FLG's somewhat aristocratic soul is what makes him so sanguine about the humanities and liberal arts as being intended for only the elite. We forget that liberal arts is the education of the free man. We forget that this is not only free in the sense of political freedom, but in a very real way the free man was also free from necessity. Which is to say that the liberal arts trains a person to live a life of Aristotlean Leisure - skhole. It makes sense that pre-GI bill and the democratization of higher education, back when just 6% of men and 4% of women had completed college, universities were primarily focused on the liberal arts. But this simply isn't fitting training for the vast majority of people.

Can everybody benefit from reading Plato? Absolutely. But there are two problems. First, just because everybody can benefit doesn't mean everything. We don't live in a world of infinite resources. We are constrained. Therefore, teaching students humanities and liberal arts comes at the expense of something else, both in terms of money and time. Second, like all liberal arts and humanities, the student has to be engaged. Forcing students who are simply trying to get a commercial or industrial, to use Tocqueville's language, credential to study Plato and Aristotle, or Shakespeare, Milton, Cervantes, Gibbon, Dostoevsky, without explicitly explaining how it will benefit them, can be, FLG thinks, like torture.

FLG is certainly not alone in thinking that those in humanities have done a pretty piss poor job of articulating why they are still relevant. Various technical or vocational skills whether they are taught in computer science or science or finance departments seem so much more relevant for finding a job. But FLG thinks this misses the bigger picture.

Almost everything we do in this world we do because of other people. What we where, where we go, what we say, etc, etc is because of our relations with other people. Sure, you can get paid to design a product or code a program, but the real insight comes from how things are meaningful to people. People who eventually pay for the product or service. This is why FLG firmly believes that innovation comes from the liberal arts, not STEM. (And, after being almost done with his MBA, FLG certainly doesn't believe it comes from business education.)

STEM graduates are good at doing things, but NOT at figuring out what things are meaningful to people. FLG likes to point to two examples of this. First, he's been using Steve Jobs' commencement speech to make that case for years. Second, open source software applications, which most of which are the product of STEM graduates left to their own devices, have awful user interfaces. In fact, UI is the last on the list of priorities, even though the entire purpose of software is to help human beings to accomplish some task. To oversimplify, liberal arts gets you Apple, STEM gets you Microsoft.

But even more broadly, humanities become even more important as people progress in their careers. Eventually, if and when, students become leaders, they will be responsible for formulating their own goals. They'll have to do this with incomplete information of a rather nebulous world. Once they have that goal, then they'll need to refine it and then communicate it to others. Finally, they'll have to work with other people to get it accomplished and deal with people trying to stop them. Again, liberal arts excels here.

Take Hamlet, certainly one of the richest if not the richest text in the Western canon. Hamlet alone could teach students massive amount about how to do these things. Is Polonius a nattering old fool or a sinister Svengali? Can how he acts in different contexts and in front of different people give us any insight toward the answer? Does the answer to that question matter to whether his advice to Laertes is trite or insightful? What can we learn about Hamlet from his interaction with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? What does it say about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? It's not a far stretch to see how these types of discussions could help with corporate politics. Or even dealing with people generally.

Then there's the lessons about communication, storytelling, and language -- What insights can be gleaned from the scene with the gravedigger about when and how to introduce humor to a story? What can it tell us about making assumptions about the capabilities of people based upon their station? What does "To be or not to be" tell us about splitting infinitives? FLG could go on and on, but you get the idea.

None of this, at least so far, rules out liberal arts and humanities being limited to the elite. Not everybody has to be an innovator, nor a leader. Indeed, even one of the quotations that people often cite as an articulation for the democratization of education, and liberal arts in particular, the Preamble to Jefferson's Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge doesn't preclude it:
it is generally true that that people will be happiest whose laws are best, and are best administered, and that laws will be wisely formed, and honestly administered, in proportion as those who form and administer them are wise and honest; whence it becomes expedient for promoting the publick happiness that those persons, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance; but the indigence of the greater number disabling them from so educating, at their own expence, those of their children whom nature hath fitly formed and disposed to become useful instruments for the public, it is better that such should be sought for and educated at the common expence of all

Jefferson is explicitly saying to entrust the scared deposit to those endowed by nature with genius and virtue, which doesn't sound exactly like a democratic state of mind to FLG.

But Flavia brought up something in the discussion of the state of humanities education at here school that interested FLG:
those 1,200-odd English and history majors aren't majoring in our subjects because of a belief in the ennobling or civilizing virtues of the humanities, or even, in some cases, because they're voracious readers or innately curious or whatever else is alleged to bring students to the humanities. A large percentage of our majors have selected English or history because they want teaching jobs--which is partly to say, they want stable, unionized, middle-class jobs. (In my state, unlike many of its neighbors, students can't major in "education"; even students who want to teach kindergarten have to major in an actual academic subject.)

This is all well and good, but that description doesn't sound like a bunch of innovative aspiring leaders. Although, in complete fairness, FLG doesn't think the average business school student is either, despite the selfsame business schools' rhetoric.

Flavia recognizes this:
the humanities will never attract majors--and this is increasingly true, I think, even at elite schools--by blather about how these subjects allow us to think the greatest thoughts, engage with the greatest ideas, etc. Students may be compelled by those arguments once they are humanities majors, but it's not the way to attract first-generation college students or convince their parents. The humanities really need to sell themselves as a smart professional move. In my state, the teachers unions, like all the civil service unions, are still very powerful, so that's a draw. But we need to make a much more powerful and explicit case for the utility of a humanities major for careers in business and other professional fields (and not just by talking vaguely about "critical thinking skills"; our students are concerned about the bottom line, and that's not a failing on their part, but one we have to be able to address directly).

Five or six years ago, although it feels like five or six months ago, FLG and several of his coworkers were all working on finishing their degree. Most of the coworkers were taking business or technical courses online. FLG knew that he wanted a traditional liberal arts education, which is not only unavailable but FLG would argue impossible to deliver online. A few of FLG's coworkers thought he was crazy to quit work to follow a course of study that wasn't directly applicable to his current career path. But that's shortsighted.

Nobody is going to hire FLG because he read, discussed, and wrote about Plato. But the ability to analyze an abstract situation or topic, synthesize the information, and explain conclusions that FLG gained are valuable, even if that doesn't show up on job requirements listing. And will certainly be more valuable in twenty years than the course on Java programing that a coworker was taking. Given all this, there are two problems with higher ed, at least as far as FLG sees it.

First, most people just want immediately and directly applicable skills or a credential. Forcing them to take humanities classes because they are good for them, like their vitamin C or something, has never seemed like a good idea. Maybe, for a select few, the required humanities courses will kindle some flame of learning, but FLG doesn't think it's a very good use of society's resources to force all of them to take classes they think are irrelevant. As long as the option to take liberal arts is there for those who want and are capable, then FLG thinks that's fine. For example, FLG decided to go that route.

Second, liberal arts education is difficult to scale. The best experiences FLG has had were in small seminars with other engaged students and a good instructor, which resulted in a lively discussion of lots of reading and was followed by a lengthy paper.

This isn't how either the flagship state school nor the community college FLG attended went. At the state school, sure some classes were smaller, but even then many students weren't engaged, just fulfilling a requirement. Many introductory classes were in massive lectures and with multiple choice tests. These are far more conducive to proving a student has technical and vocational skills than a solid liberal arts training.

Classes at the community college were generally small and the professors were great, but FLG has only sympathy for his English 102 professor trying to teach A Doll's House and Hamlet to a class of 30 students, 28 of whose mother tongue was not English and were just trying to get an accounting credential. It was painful for FLG, he couldn't imagine how the professor felt. (BTW, FLG knew it was going to be tough when he used the word homage in a discussion and got blank stares and was eventually encouraged to explain the concept.) This isn't to say that FLG didn't learn anything in community college. Quite the contrary. In most classes, he did a goodly amount of reading. FLG isn't sure he had to learn that much though. The examinations were multiple choice and simple identification.

At Georgetown, FLG got tons of reading and papers assigned. Exams were initially tough. For example, one exam said to discuss two sentences Vladimir Putin had said. That's it.

To get full credit, if FLG remembers correctly, a student had to identify the assumption behind Putin's statement was classical realism, mention Morgenthau, detail those assumptions, and spell out the implications of classical realism/Putin's statement. Whatever it was exactly, it was a hell of a lot more complicated than multiple choice. That's great insofar as it sets high standards and demonstrates advanced knowledge of the topic and analytical skills, but it's difficult and expensive to do that.

Given unlimited time and resources, FLG would be fine with forcing everybody to take a liberal arts curriculum. Disproving the Big Assumption is hugely beneficial both for the individual and society, but maybe it's not so important if a person just wants to be a system administrator or an accountant. Maybe they just need vocational and technical training. Forget the liberal arts.

But isn't there a risk that the liberal arts could light a fire of intellectual curiosity in that aspiring accountant? Wouldn't that be a tragedy? FLG thinks yes. But, again, here's the thing - limited time and resources.

FLG has long advocated a three year sort of BA lite that incorporates one year of liberal arts core, instead of the current two, and two toward more technical or vocational. This, FLG guesses, is splitting the difference, but thinks it makes sense. Students who want a vocational or technical training and a credential would flock to a school with a three year BA. Capable and interested students could still do a traditional four year liberal arts curriculum, but that would mostly be reserved for selective schools.

This does bring up the issue of cost. FLG's decision to attend Georgetown was a very costly one, but he did it anyway and made/is making it work. FLG would certainly admit that he has greater than average social, economic, and intellectual capital (well not so much intellecutal), but, in most cases, FLG thinks the elite schools do a good job of getting together financial aid for needy students. If the schools that currently offer four year degrees broke out into two tiers, one consisting of elite schools that offered the four year liberal arts and a second offering three year degrees consisting primarily of vocational training, then the system would work better.

By the way, when FLG says elite universities, he doesn't only mean the Ivies. He also means flagship state schools. They should shift to a more liberal arts focused curriculum. Maybe even drop undergraduate business schools. The State university systems provide the three year degrees. Right now, whether the student just wants the credential or not, all other things being equal, it's generally better to attend the U of Whatever than Whatever State because U of Whatever is more prestigious. When this means an additional year of schooling and cost, and the major offerings are less vocationally oriented, then there's a differentiation. Three years to a credential in a vocationally- or technically-oriented field versus four in a liberal arts environment is a stark difference. Moreover, it would both force the humanities and liberal arts to make the case for relevance and, after a few years of graduating students, provide demonstrable proof of the value of a liberal arts education.

So, in conclusion, while liberal arts and humanities are important, not everybody is cut out for or interesting in liberal arts. By forcing all students into a liberal arts-ish model, even those who are not interested or motivated, both muddies and dilutes the value of liberal arts. Plus, it ignores that society and individuals have limited time and resources. So, break the entire thing up and we should be offering a lot of 3 year BA lites where 4 year degrees are currently required.
 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.