Saturday, July 31, 2010

Please Stop Blogging Fucking Plato Before You Fucking Kill Me

Rufus F, still doggedly and stupidly reading and interpreting Plato, takes on Ion:
It matters though because the implications of this short piece shed light on one of the most troubling ideas in Plato’s corpus: that the ideal city would exile its poets. Living after the twentieth century, it’s hard to accept the proposal that a leader could make his citizens better people by banning art. It’s also hard to understand the idea given Socrates’s deep admiration for poets, especially Homer. Although he expels the poets from his ideal city, it is also clear that he does so with great regret. So what exactly is the problem with poetry?

Now, to be clear before FLG begins, Rufus explicitly acknowledges what FLG's major problem with his interpretations always have been -- he cannot break out of the specifics of his particular milieu. Rufus is, to put it bluntly, one of those people who is trapped in the cave looking at shadows and when Plato tries to pull him toward the light it is too painful and scary. But what's interesting to FLG is that it's not just that Plato pulls one toward the light, it's scary and painful and you must endure, but that once you've accustomed yourself to the light Plato is trying to bring, you realize that it isn't the light at all. That Plato has, to continue the allegory, only brought you to another cave, which admittedly has more light. And so, as FLG has always maintained, it's never about society really, but about your individual soul.

The reason poets must be banned is that "the tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth" as Socrates says in the Republic.

Put simply, poets create the illusion of knowing something about the human condition though emotion. But emotion is inferior to reason, and not a path to the Good. Understood in this light, this passage from Ion makes more sense:
Many are the noble words in which poets speak concerning the actions of men; but like yourself when speaking about Homer, they do not speak of them by any rules of art: they are simply inspired to utter that to which the Muse impels them, and that only; and when inspired, one of them will make dithyrambs, another hymns of praise, another choral strains, another epic or iambic verses- and he who is good at one is not good any other kind of verse: for not by art does the poet sing, but by power divine. Had he learned by rules of art, he would have known how to speak not of one theme only, but of all; and therefore God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, as he also uses diviners and holy prophets, in order that we who hear them may know them to be speaking not of themselves who utter these priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that God himself is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us. And Tynnichus the Chalcidian affords a striking instance of what I am saying: he wrote nothing that any one would care to remember but the famous paean which; in every one's mouth, one of the finest poems ever written, simply an invention of the Muses, as he himself says. For in this way, the God would seem to indicate to us and not allow us to doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, or the work of man, but divine and the work of God; and that the poets are only the interpreters of the Gods by whom they are severally possessed. Was not this the lesson which the God intended to teach when by the mouth of the worst of poets he sang the best of songs? Am I not right, Ion?

Emotion is a guide, but not the path to Truth. The poets aren't in their right mind. They aren't using reason. A good example of this whole concept is a passage from Phaedrus about how lust leads to love when philosophy prevails:
the fountain of that stream, which Zeus when he was in love with Ganymede named Desire, overflows upon the lover, and some enters into his soul, and some when he is filled flows out again; and as a breeze or an echo rebounds from the smooth rocks and returns whence it came, so does the stream of beauty, passing through the eyes which are the windows of the soul, come back to the beautiful one; there arriving and quickening the passages of the wings, watering. them and inclining them to grow, and filling the soul of the beloved also with love. And thus he loves, but he knows not what; he does not understand and cannot explain his own state; he appears to have caught the infection of blindness from another; the lover is his mirror in whom he is beholding himself, but he is not aware of this. When he is with the lover, both cease from their pain, but when he is away then he longs as he is longed for, and has love's image, love for love (Anteros) lodging in his breast, which he calls and believes to be not love but friendship only, and his desire is as the desire of the other, but weaker; he wants to see him, touch him, kiss him, embrace him, and probably not long afterwards his desire is accomplished. When they meet, the wanton steed of the lover has a word to say to the charioteer; he would like to have a little pleasure in return for many pains, but the wanton steed of the beloved says not a word, for he is bursting with passion which he understands not;-he throws his arms round the lover and embraces him as his dearest friend; and, when they are side by side, he is not in it state in which he can refuse the lover anything, if he ask him; although his fellow-steed and the charioteer oppose him with the arguments of shame and reason.

After this their happiness depends upon their self-control; if the better elements of the mind which lead to order and philosophy prevail, then they pass their life here in happiness and harmony-masters of themselves and orderly-enslaving the vicious and emancipating the virtuous elements of the soul; and when the end comes, they are light and winged for flight, having conquered in one of the three heavenly or truly Olympian victories; nor can human discipline or divine inspiration confer any greater blessing on man than this. If, on the other hand, they leave philosophy and lead the lower life of ambition, then probably, after wine or in some other careless hour, the two wanton animals take the two souls when off their guard and bring them together, and they accomplish that desire of their hearts which to the many is bliss; and this having once enjoyed they continue to enjoy, yet rarely because they have not the approval of the whole soul.

The point, therefore, of banishing the poets isn't actually banishing the poets, you fucking moron, but to understand that the passions, upon which poets prey, are only the starting point toward Truth, it will not take you all the way there. Moreover, it is a fucking allegory for doing this within your own soul.

Now, perhaps it was unkind to call Rufus a moron, but FLG cannot stomach people who read Plato at length but don't get it at all.

Friday, July 30, 2010

In Case You Didn't Know: Dante Edition

Who knew there was a statue of Dante in DC? Not FLG.

Gas Tax, Innovation, And A Question

Ryan Avent responds to Jim Manzi's contention that high gas prices in Europe haven't sparked innovation toward a low carbon fuel source:
In general, Europeans do drive different automobiles, which tend to be smaller and more efficient. Some of these have been innovative enough in their design to generate raised eyebrows from American tourists (see: the Smart car). In Europe, the scooter is far more popular and differentiated (the scooter with roof is a common sight). Bicycles are also more common and differentiated, and the institutional supports for cyclists are more highly developed (cycle superhighways are old news in Europe).

And then there’s public transport. From buses to trams to trains to high-speed rail, Europe is well ahead of America. When American transit systems go shopping for vehicles, they generally look to European manufacturers. When the District sought a technology that would allow the city to run streetcars without using overhead wires, it looked to France’s Alstom and Canada’s Bombardier (Canadian gas tax rates are considerably higher than those in America). And transit innovation goes beyond vehicle technologies. It includes fare-gathering methods, scheduling, system design and maintenance, and so on.

And then, of course, there are innovations in the physical structure of the landscape. Europeans do density well. So do some Canadians (Vancouver has the country’s highest gas tax rate and some of the world’s finest urban design).

And so on. The end result is that Europeans use a lot less gas, as Manzi acknowledges. But they don’t just reduce their consumption, as he intimates. They don’t lead lives exactly like ours, only they opt to sit at home while Americans go for Sunday drives. They have adapted and innovated their way around higher gas prices.

I'm of mixed mind on this. What Ryan is describing isn't innovation really. Innovation would be, I think in both my mind as well as Jim Manzi, a way to do the same thing with less carbon. Think a Hummer powered by a fuel cell as the ultimate expression. Driving smaller cars and driving less aren't innovation as much as merely adaption.

The question I have is whether this reduction make us worse off? Are people worse of driving smaller cars or not driving when they otherwise would without a tax? The answer, I'm pretty sure, is yes. In fact, that's pretty much the description of a deadweight loss, no? Plus, smaller cars lead to increased traffic deaths. Although, driving less would probably offset that anyway.

Then, if I'm correct there about the worse off, the question is whether this loss, as well as additional losses in foregone economic growth moving forward, are worth the benefits of mitigating or ameliorating global warming? Sure could be. Especially given new data. But I think Ryan is conflating adaption, doing less or something else, with innovation, doing the same thing without the carbon.

FLG Thought Paul Ryan Was Supposed To Be Smart

He says:
We need to do things to free up credit. We need regulatory forbearance there. Right now, the policymakers and regulators are doing opposite things. So you’re right that there’s a lot of capital parked out there, and we need to coax it out into the markets. I think literally that if we raised the federal funds rate by a point, it would help push money into the economy, as right now, the safest play is to stay with the federal money and federal paper.

And a lot of this is psychological. The people who have capital are sitting on their hands: I just talked to a guy who builds nurseries and canceled three construction projects next year because he just doesn’t know what’s happening. People are just too nervous, they don’t know what the economy will be, what the regulations will be, what the taxes will be, and to the extent you can increase certainty, you can unlock some of that credit.

FLG actually agrees with Matt Yglesias writes:
The analysis of the “safest play” here is right, but raising interest rates would exacerbate that problem. He’s talking about paying banks a higher yield on the reserves they keep parked at the Fed. This is what central banks do when they want to suck money out of the system.

Perhaps he misspoke and meant to say something else, but my suspicion is that Ryan is really just outlining an underpants gnome theory of growth here.

BTW, federal paper is always the safest play.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What An HD Plasma TV And Surround Sound Are For

Most men would probably say some big action or SciFi movie. FLG, however, is currently enjoying this in all its glory. Although, FLG does object to contemporary, urban setting in this production.

Prop Trading

Felix Salmon:
If everybody on Wall Street knew that Goldman was short volatility, it’s pretty obvious what was going on. Goldman was selling a lot of volatility to clients, it thought that the price of volatility was more likely to go down rather than up, and so it happily sat on its short-vol position over most of the quarter, looking to make money as the price went down. Instead, the price went up, and it lost an estimated $250 million on those trades.

That’s prop trading. Yes, the equity derivatives desk was indeed meeting client needs, but it was also taking a proprietary directional position on where it thought volatility was headed. Viniar, on the conference call, was essentially saying to regulators, “you can’t prove this is prop trading, we’re just going to say that it was all on behalf of clients, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.” I suspect he’s right.

FLG said from the beginning that this concern about prop trading is fruitless. Salmon explains it pretty simply, you just can't separate trades to service clients from trades taken to give the bank a position.

But, and FLG has said this again and again, this is all a distraction from the important issue - leverage. The concerns about prop trading are that it's risky, and consequently puts the bank at risk, which in turn puts the financial system at risk. Well, instead of saying this trade is good and bad, which involves all sorts of value judgments without a consensus, let's just worry about how exposed they are in general, i.e. the leverage. Capital and collateral requirements simultaneously decrease the size of the position that can be taken (because you have to put a correspondingly larger portion captial on the table to take a large position) and also decreases the risk that a single bank failure will lead to systematic failure (because the collateral would make the counterparty at least partially whole.) It's both futile and a distraction from the real issue to try and determine about whether a trade is proprietary or not.

On Superstition

Tyler Cowen links to a paper about Gypsies, and argues that, contrary to the author's contention, their superstitions are inefficient. (Incidentally, the paper is by another George Mason professor who wrote Invisible Hook about the economics of piracy. Now, he writing another book about one of FLG's other interests, superstition. FLG might have to contact the guy.) From the paper:
Gypsies believe the lower half of the human body is invisibly polluted, that supernatural defilement is physically contagious, and that non-Gypsies are spiritually toxic. I argue that Gypsies use these beliefs, which on the surface regulate their invisible world, to regulate their visible one. They use superstition to create and enforce law and order. Gypsies do this in three ways. First, they make worldly crimes supernatural ones, leveraging fear of the latter to prevent the former. Second, they marshal the belief that spiritual pollution is contagious to incentivize collective punishment of antisocial behavior. Third, they recruit the belief that non-Gypsies are supernatural cesspools to augment such punishment. Gypsies use superstition to substitute for traditional institutions of law and order. Their bizarre belief system is an efficient institutional response to the constraints they face on their choice of mechanisms of social control.

FLG has long maintained that all superstitions have a rational basis at their inception. Even if they seem silly or inefficient now that doesn't mean they were always silly of inefficient. From one of FLG's first posts:
Before science, the determination of cause and effect was unsystematic, but it still yielded positive results. Humans controlled fire, invented agriculture, built roads, designed boats, etc. But this cause and effect goes beyond technology.

A 60 minutes story about the response of "boat people" during the tsunami is a great example. These boat people associated the warning signs of a tsunami with a wave monster who was coming to eat them. When they recognized the signs of the wave monster, they ran for higher ground. Sure, they didn't know the particulars of plate tectonics or fluid dynamics, but this myth saved their lives.

Other superstitions can be explained in a similar manner. Opening an umbrella indoors is highly correlated with breaking something. Breaking a mirror before the invention of a vacuum meant that people would be stepping on shards of glass for eight years. Others, such as a black cat being bad luck or throwing salt over the shoulder, were probably created within a context that is now lost to us. Perhaps dirty cats carried the Plague or Black Death, and these dirty cats became black cats as the superstition was passed down. I don't know, but it doesn't matter.

Likewise, Kosher food laws can be explained in the same way. The Old Testament focuses primarily on types of things that are unclean. Dead things, sexual activity, leprosy, and certain foods, such as shellfish and pork. All four are carriers of disease. It is not surprising that ancient people could identify the cause and effect of these being associated with disease. Kosher food laws are the product of accumulated knowledge about food safety in the middle east prior to refrigeration. They didn't need to understand microbiology to come up with them, only cause and effect.

In fact, whether the belief explains the cause and effect accurately is almost irrelevant. The fear of a wave monster is easier to explain to children than the specifics of a plate tectonics. Moreover, childhood fears remain with us well into adulthood. There are a lot of adults who are still afraid of clowns. This fear ensures that the cause and effect lesson will endure.

In fact, FLG wrote a paper, admittedly not a very good one, examining witchcraft in this fashion.

However, Plato agrees, but doesn't think it matters:
Phaedr. I should like to know, Socrates, whether the place is not somewhere here at which Boreas is said to have carried off Orithyia from the banks of the Ilissus?

Soc. Such is the tradition.

Phaedr. And is this the exact spot? The little stream is delightfully clear and bright; I can fancy that there might be maidens playing near.

Soc. I believe that the spot is not exactly here, but about a quarter of a mile lower down, where you cross to the temple of Artemis, and there is, I think, some sort of an altar of Boreas at the place.

Phaedr. I have never noticed it; but I beseech you to tell me, Socrates, do you believe this tale?

Soc. The wise are doubtful, and I should not be singular if, like them, I too doubted. I might have a rational explanation that Orithyia was playing with Pharmacia, when a northern gust carried her over the neighbouring rocks; and this being the manner of her death, she was said to have been carried away by Boreas. There is a discrepancy, however, about the locality; according to another version of the story she was taken from Areopagus, and not from this place. Now I quite acknowledge that these allegories are very nice, but he is not to be envied who has to invent them; much labour and ingenuity will be required of him; and when he has once begun, he must go on and rehabilitate Hippocentaurs and chimeras dire. Gorgons and winged steeds flow in apace, and numberless other inconceivable and portentous natures. And if he is sceptical about them, and would fain reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of crude philosophy will take up a great deal of time. Now I have no leisure for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous. And therefore I bid farewell to all this; the common opinion is enough for me.

Anyway, the interesting question for FLG isn't necessarily whether the superstition is efficient now, at this moment, but whether it effectively achieved some goal in the past and perhaps still in the present and into the future.. This goal doesn't even have to be economic. Let's assume that gypsies have been willing to forgo economic growth that comes with interaction and trade with the mainstream of society for an form of autarky to keep their community safe from dilution or destruction.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quote of the day

Via Arethusa, FLG learns of a new suspected sultry Russian spy who "has been seen dressed up as a sexy pirate."

FLG is currently listening to

Why FLG Isnt' Fit For A Career In Blogging Or Journalism

Because if FLG were Reihan, then he'd have simply said "Go fuck yourself, you fucking fuckhead."

FLG's King's College Confusion

There are a lot of King's Colleges. But until today FLG thought if somebody referred to King's College in New York City, then they were using an anachronistic name for Columbia.

Apparently, there is another school, which isn't Columbia but is also in NYC, called The King's College. It's all too confusing for FLG and he has half a mind to demand that they all choose unique names.

Supply and Demand

I have mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating. Cap-N-Trade is not some sort of magical market bullet that will solve global warming by determining a price for carbon. The best case scenario for Cap-N-Trade is that all permits are effectively auctioned off, in which case you get the exact same results as a correctly chosen carbon tax.

Take a look at your standard supply and demand graph:

Notice the two axes. One says price, the other quantity.

Under cap and trade, a quantity is chosen and corresponding number of permits is allocated.  The price change is then determined by the market.  But it's not some market price determined by, for lack of a better word, natural supply and demand.  No.  It's the market price determined by a government imposed scarcity.

Let me put it another way.  The amount of carbon that will be emitted is determined, ultimately, by political processes.  The market will then, after the quantity has already been decided, determine how much this is all going to cost in increased prices.

A carbon tax goes the other way.  We decide, again through political processes, how much we are willing to raise prices to fight global warming.  The reduction in carbon is then determined by the market.

So, carbon tax determines the prices first, then lowers carbon.  Cap and trade commits us to some carbon reduction, but we only know the price increase afterward.   Personally, I'd prefer to know the cost rise first.

Additionally, cap and trade brings complications when it comes to how the permits will be allocated.  If they are auctioned, like I mentioned above, then the revenue goes to the government and you have the same result as a carbon tax.  If, however, you give away the permits to favored industries, then you get something different.  Something worse. 

I'm not arguing that we don't need to fight global warming, although I do have some doubts about whether forgoing economic growth is worth it.    But in any case if we are going to do something, then let's not delude ourselves that the price resulting from an artificial, politically-imposed scarcity is somehow the miracle of the market at work.  In reality, it is a way to hide the costs of carbon reductions or provide political favors.  Best just to be upfront about the increase in prices, impose a tax, and adjust it accordingly to get the carbon reductions.

An Email Conversation

FLG has been having a rough go of it today.

Dear Big Wig,

I understand you want to do Y. Doing Y also means doing X. X is bad. Maybe Y is better than X is bad, but I want you to understand and acknowledge that X is bad.



Thanks for the note. Y doesn't mean we have to do X.


Dear Big Wig,

Actually, Y necessitates X. Again, X is bad. It doesn't mean we shouldn't do Y, but you need to realize that Y also means X comes along for the ride.



I've conferred with one of my employees. Apparently, Y does necessitate X. Luckily, we are all in agreement that X is not that bad.


Dear Big Wig,

I'm glad you acknowledge that Y also means X. However, I fear you've misunderstood my previous emails. X is bad. Not "not bad." Bad bad. If you think the benefits of Y outweigh the badness of X, then fine. But X is bad.

I look forward to your response.



Thanks for your note. You think X is bad? When did your stance on this change?


Dear Big Wig,

I've always said X is bad.



We all agree X is bad. However, I'm not sure why we're discussing it at all. I want to do Y.



william randolph brafford writes:
I would love it if mathematics through a full semester of calculus were part of a core college curriculum, and I think it could be taught in such a way that it strengthens a liberal education, but the problems run way down to elementary and middle school education, not to mention the travesty of geometry as it's currently taught in high schools. Still, it blows my mind that there are supposedly educated people who don't understand the significance of the achievements of Gauss.

The Ancient writes:
That mandatory curriculum of yours needs more economics and math -- even if the latter comes in the form of statistics.

Here's something that I posted a while back that was sorta like a core curriculum:
As I am entering my final semester, I have been thinking about the classes that I think every college student should take. Classes such as English 101, which are usually required, have been left off.

Statistics - Mark Twain said, "Lies, damn lies, and statistics." Without some understanding of statistics one cannot make good judgments about their validity. Given that many judgments are made based on statistical data, that presents the possibility of a lot of bad judgements.
Calculus - At least one semester to understand derivatives and integrals
Principles of Microeconomics and Macroeconomics - Usually offered as two separate one semester courses, these are useful for the same reason that statistics are -- to prevent you from being duped by data in the newspaper.
Introduction to Political Philosophy/Political Theory - Forces the student to think about an individual's role in society.
A non-western, regional history that you find interesting. American students get some Western Civ in high school, but very rarely anything beyond that.
Introduction to Logic - Helps to expose common fallacies committed by people everyday.
Intro to Finance - This is just to explain the concept of the time value of money, etc so that the student is not completely ignorant of the financial system at a time when retirement savings are increasingly controlled by the individual.
A classics class - This may be my own personal bias, but classics provided insight into what people thought, felt, and how they lived prior to the impact of Christianity. This allows for thoughtful analysis of topics such as, religion, slavery, war, love, greed, and politics.


Buttonwood mentioned Michael Mauboussin, Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason and a fellow Hoya, and it reminded FLG that he wanted to pickup Mauboussin's book:

Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Correspondence Continued

I got another one of those emails from a new reader who is confused about how I write about supposedly high brow topics, but then swear or post about object sex or pirates.

Listen, I don't consider this blog particularly high brow, nor intellectual. I remember hearing that the Monty Python guys, or at least one of them, were asked why they make poop and fart jokes when they also do high brow jokes about, you know, for example, Nietzsche or Latin verb conjugation.

The response was something like "Our only criteria is whether it's funny. High or low brow isn't important. Poop jokes have been, are, and always will be funny."

Something similar applies in this space, except it's not about funny. It's about what fascinates, intrigues, or upsets me. Sometimes that's Plato. Sometimes it's transvestites having sex with dogs in a castle moat. Buy the ticket, take the ride.


A reader asked me to explain my statement that Greif was arguing, contrary to what he believes, along a more Aristotelian line than a Lockean one.

Here's a key passage from the Greif piece:
A rich person—continuing to draw $100,000 a year in income—stays rich, but puts part of it into his own home and bank account and part into the needs and luxuries he may actually use. This sum will be converted reasonably into the proper, the personal, without any absurdity. A superrich person, however, who takes in $1 million, $10 million, or $100 million, will not and can never spend it on any sane vision of the necessities of life, at least not without a parasitic order in which normal goods (a home, a dinner) are overpriced (by the existence of those who will compete to pay for them) and other goods are made to be abnormal and bloated (like the multiacre mansion).

Here's the Cliff's Notes of Locke's view of property from the Second Treatise. I've heavily edited for space reasons, but trying to keep the argument intact:
Whether we consider natural reason, which tells us, that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their subsistence: or revelation, which gives us an account of those grants God made of the world to Adam, and to Noah, and his sons


Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.


God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him.


He that gathered a hundred bushels of acorns or apples, had thereby a property in them, they were his goods as soon as gathered. He was only to look, that he used them before they spoiled, else he took more than his share, and robbed others. And indeed it was a foolish thing, as well as dishonest, to hoard up more than he could make use of. If he gave away a part to any body else, so that it perished not uselesly in his possession, these he also made use of. And if he also bartered away plums, that would have rotted in a week, for nuts that would last good for his eating a whole year, he did no injury; he wasted not the common stock; destroyed no part of the portion of goods that belonged to others, so long as nothing perished uselesly in his hands. Again, if he would give his nuts for a piece of metal, pleased with its colour; or exchange his sheep for shells, or wool for a sparkling pebble or a diamond, and keep those by him all his life he invaded not the right of others, he might heap up as much of these durable things as he pleased; the exceeding of the bounds of his just property not lying in the largeness of his possession, but the perishing of any thing uselesly in it.

Sec. 47. And thus came in the use of money, some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling, and that by mutual consent men would take in exchange for the truly useful, but perishable supports of life.


But since gold and silver, being little useful to the life of man in proportion to food, raiment, and carriage, has its value only from the consent of men, whereof labour yet makes, in great part, the measure, it is plain, that men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having, by a tacit and voluntary consent, found out, a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of, by receiving in exchange for the overplus gold and silver, which may be hoarded up without injury to any one; these metals not spoiling or decaying in the hands of the possessor. This partage of things in an inequality of private possessions, men have made practicable out of the bounds of society, and without compact, only by putting a value on gold and silver, and tacitly agreeing in the use of money: for in governments, the laws regulate the right of property, and the possession of land is determined by positive constitutions.

God gave the Earth to Man. Man has a duty to labor and he has a right to the fruits of his labor. To the extent that the fruits of his labor are perishable he is foolish, wasteful even, not to exchange it for something non-perishable. Using this non-perishable wealth he can, "without injury to any one," "possess more land than he can himself use the product of." Call me crazy, but I read that as pretty much the exact opposite of what Greif is arguing. So much so that I question whether Greif as ever read Locke.

If he'd pointed to Aristotle, then it would've made more sense. Here's a relevant section from the Politics:
When the use of coin had once been discovered, out of the barter of necessary articles arose the other art of wealth getting, namely, retail trade; which was at first probably a simple matter, but became more complicated as soon as men learned by experience whence and by what exchanges the greatest profit might be made. Originating in the use of coin, the art of getting wealth is generally thought to be chiefly concerned with it, and to be the art which produces riches and wealth; having to consider how they may be accumulated. Indeed, riches is assumed by many to be only a quantity of coin, because the arts of getting wealth and retail trade are concerned with coin. Others maintain that coined money is a mere sham, a thing not natural, but conventional only, because, if the users substitute another commodity for it, it is worthless, and because it is not useful as a means to any of the necessities of life, and, indeed, he who is rich in coin may often be in want of necessary food. But how can that be wealth of which a man may have a great abundance and yet perish with hunger, like Midas in the fable, whose insatiable prayer turned everything that was set before him into gold?

Hence men seek after a better notion of riches and of the art of getting wealth than the mere acquisition of coin, and they are right. For natural riches and the natural art of wealth-getting are a different thing; in their true form they are part of the management of a household; whereas retail trade is the art of producing wealth, not in every way, but by exchange. And it is thought to be concerned with coin; for coin is the unit of exchange and the measure or limit of it. And there is no bound to the riches which spring from this art of wealth getting. As in the art of medicine there is no limit to the pursuit of health, and as in the other arts there is no limit to the pursuit of their several ends, for they aim at accomplishing their ends to the uttermost (but of the means there is a limit, for the end is always the limit), so, too, in this art of wealth-getting there is no limit of the end, which is riches of the spurious kind, and the acquisition of wealth. But the art of wealth-getting which consists in household management, on the other hand, has a limit; the unlimited acquisition of wealth is not its business. And, therefore, in one point of view, all riches must have a limit; nevertheless, as a matter of fact, we find the opposite to be the case; for all getters of wealth increase their hoard of coin without limit. The source of the confusion is the near connection between the two kinds of wealth-getting; in either, the instrument is the same, although the use is different, and so they pass into one another; for each is a use of the same property, but with a difference: accumulation is the end in the one case, but there is a further end in the other.


There are two sorts of wealth-getting, as I have said; one is a part of household management, the other is retail trade: the former necessary and honorable, while that which consists in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another. The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of an modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.

That sounds pretty much exactly what he's saying.

FLG Heard Somebody Playing This Today

He hadn't heard that song in a long time.

FLG is currently listening to

Nutjobs And Time Horizons

Matt Yglesias linked to this piece in N+1 and FLG doesn't think he could find a more concise example of all the things he has been writing here at liberals even if he wrote it himself. It's got the short time horizons. It even has evidence for FLG's claim that the goal of Marxism is a bastardized form of Aristotelian Leisure that "means the ability to pursue one's goals free from constraints. Those constraints could be cultural, economic, or political."

Let's take each in turn. Short time horizons first.
§ Principle: The purpose of government is to share out money so that there are no poor citizens—therefore no one for whom we must feel guilty because of the arbitrariness of fate. The purpose of life is to free individuals for individualism. Individualism is the project of making your own life as appealing as you can, as remarkable as you like, without the encumbrances of an unequal society, which renders your successes undeserved. Government is the outside corrective that leaves us free for life.

§ Legislative Initiative No.1: Add a tax bracket of 100 percent to cut off individual income at a fixed ceiling, allowing any individual to bring home a maximum of $100,000 a year from all sources and no more.

§ Legislative Initiative No.2: Give every citizen a total of $10,000 a year from the government revenues, paid as a monthly award, in recognition of being an adult in the United States.

Again, sharing income is a short-term thing. It creates disincentives to work over the long-term. The author anticipates this.

It is an active redistribution to help dissolve the two portions of society whose existence is antithetical to democracy and civilization, and which harm the members of each of these classes: the obscenely poor and the absurdly rich. Each group must be helped. That means not only ending poverty, but ending absurd wealth. Obscene poverty doesn’t motivate the poor or please the rest of us; it makes the poor desperate, criminal, and unhappy. Absurd wealth doesn’t help the rich or motivate the rest of us, it makes the rich (for the most part good, decent, hardworking and talented people) into selfish guilty parties, responsible for social evil. It is cruel to rig our system to create these extremes, and cast fellow citizens into the two sewers that border the national road. For all of us, both superwealth and superpoverty make achievement trivial and unreal, and finally destroy the American principles of hard work and just deserts. Luckily, eradicating one (individual superwealth) might help eradicate the other (superpoverty).

Now, there are a few problems here. As Matt points out, the author kinda assumes a paycheck mentality. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, would be seriously discouraged. And most of the super-wealthy founded their own businesses. If you could only make $100k a year, then people wouldn't start and expand businesses. Nor would people probably want to work very hard for them.

Also, I'm not sure how it holds that a system where pretty much whatever you do you still get as much money as everybody else helps foster hard work and just deserts. Seems that it does precisely the opposite.

The threat from those who oppose this line of thought is that, without “incentives,” people will stop working. The worst-case scenario is that tens of thousands of people who hold jobs in finance, corporate management, and the professions (not to mention professional sports and acting) will quit their jobs and end their careers because they did not truly want to be bankers, lawyers, CEOs, actors, ballplayers, et cetera.


If there is anyone working a job who would stop doing that job should his income—and all his richest compatriots’ incomes—drop to $100,000 a year, he should not be doing that job. He should never have been doing that job—for his own life’s sake. It’s just not a life, to do work you don’t want to do when you have other choices, and can think of something better (and have a $10,000 cushion to supplement a different choice of life)

What's interesting, getting back to the Aristotelian thing, is that the author tries to defend this limit using Locke:
True property is that which is proper to you: what you mix your hands into (Locke), what is characteristic of you and no one else, and would change state in anyone else’s possession. It is your clothes, your domicile, the things you touch and use, the land you personally walk.


A rich person—continuing to draw $100,000 a year in income—stays rich, but puts part of it into his own home and bank account and part into the needs and luxuries he may actually use. This sum will be converted reasonably into the proper, the personal, without any absurdity. A superrich person, however, who takes in $1 million, $10 million, or $100 million, will not and can never spend it on any sane vision of the necessities of life, at least not without a parasitic order in which normal goods (a home, a dinner) are overpriced (by the existence of those who will compete to pay for them) and other goods are made to be abnormal and bloated (like the multiacre mansion).

Personally, as I've stated above, I think this really is more an Aristolean thing. But I'll leave the philosophical issues aside.

There are a gazillion problems here. To the point where this isn't even a fruitful intellectual exercise. I mean, it's simply fucktarded.

The author half-heartedly tries to argue the world wouldn't end:
The supposed collapse of the economy without unlimited income levels is one of the most suspicious aspects of commonplace economic psychology. Ask yourself, for once, if you believe it. Does the inventor just not bother to invent any more if inventions still benefit larger collectivities—a company, a society—but do not lead to a jump in his or any other inventor’s already satisfactory personal income? Do the professions really collapse if doctors and lawyers work for life and justice and $100,000, rather than $1 million? Will the arts and entertainment collapse if the actors, writers, and producers work for glory and $100,000? Do ballplayers go into some other line and stop playing? If you’re panicking because you can’t imagine a ceiling of $100,000, well, make it $150,000. Our whole system is predicated on the erroneous idea that individuals are likely to hate the work they have chosen, but overwhelmingly love money.

I've posted a lot here, but the fundamental problem is this -- The author wants a world where we are free of financial and economic constraints. A world in which each citizen is unencumbered by economic necessity and can flourish according to their own desires. However, an irreducible fact is that there are limited resources and finite wants. It would be great if we could all simply spend our lives doing what we want in perfect leisure, but there is shit that just needs to get done that people don't want to do. Sure, some people will want to spend years studying hard to become a doctor and help people because they like helping people, but there wouldn't be enough of them when they only can make $100k and everybody is paid $10k no matter what. Likewise, there may be people who like being farmers, but they probably wouldn't be able to grow enough food. Or rather they wouldn't bother growing more than $100k worth. You get the idea. There'd be lots of artists, but not enough food, electricity, or whatever else.

Update: I wanted to point this out, but look at the two modes of analysis. He's asking whether a $100k limit will make existing lawyers, doctors, and ballplayers close up shop and do something else. I'm worried not only about current, but more importantly the future supply of doctors.

And, in the final analysis, the author concedes:
intentional de-development might be the best thing that can occur. The eradication of diseases is not something you would like to see end; nor would you want to lose the food supply, transportation, and good order of the law and defense. On the other hand, more cell phones and wireless, an expanded total entertainment environment, more computerization for consumer tracking, greater concentrations of capital and better exploitation of “inefficiencies” in the trading of securities, the final throes of extraction and gas-guzzling and—to hell with it. I’d rather live in a more equal world at a slower pace.

Right, so basically he's saying reverting back to a subsistence economic system, where everybody is pretty much equally miserable, is preferable. (Really, that's not the real choice. I think he's talking about forgoing future economic growth in exchange for more equality, i.e. following my theory that liberals value the present more than the future. In any case...)

I seriously try to understand other points of view. I've spent a good portion of my posts on this blog trying to understand liberal and progressive positions in an evenhanded and non-judgemental way with varying degrees of success. The differing values placed on future economic growth versus present suffering. Choices versus fate. Etc. But then you get a completely fucked idea that other liberals and progressives think is at all useful, even as a thought experiment, and I begin to question their judgment and even sanity.

On Well-Known Phrases

Last night, while I was driving home, I was thinking about well-known phrases people use. Too often people have no idea where they come from. The two most common sources are, in order, the Bible and Shakespeare. In fact, if somebody is holding a gun to your head and will kill you unless you identify the source of some quotation, within three guesses, you'll want to start with the the Bible, then Shakespeare, then either Mark Twain, Will Rogers, or Yogi Berra depending on the circumstances.

Anyway, today I came across this post by Claire Berlinski articulating what she believes a college core curriculum ought to be. I disagree with some of it. For example, "English literature from Chaucer to the present" over two terms is a bit much. "Mathematics through a full year of calculus" is a waste of time unless you will be heading into some quantitative field. Although, I might be persuaded that a semester of calc should be required. "One term of physics, one of chemistry, one of biology" is at least one course too many. Overall though, I do generally agree. And, in point of fact, I have completed that entire core curriculum.

Where I do concur wholeheartedly is that "No one should graduate without being able to recognize any obvious reference to the Old and New Testaments." And "No one should graduate without being able to recognize any obvious reference to Shakespeare."

Monday, July 26, 2010

FLG is currently watching

BTW, FLG still holds out hope that Morrison has spent the last four decades as a bartender at some hellhole Parisian jazz club.

Quote of the day II

Reihan Salam:
My operating assumption is that very few elected officials are terribly bright, and politics as a profession seems perfectly designed to attract power-hungry narcissists

Time Horizons: Class Offerings Edition

So, in the continuing series about how liberals value the present and short-term more than conservatives, FLG presents two courses offered at Georgetown.

WWI in International Politics

This class will introduce students to major historical and theoretical debates regarding the causes, conduct, and impact of WWI on international politics. This class will analyze historical examples from WWI as test cases for evaluating International Relations theory and contemporary politics. Topics covered will include: the outbreak of war, combat tactics and strategic culture, peace negotiations, and the historical legacy and ramifications of the conflict.

Political Theory and the Global Order

This course is an introduction to a select number of themes within international political theory. This branch of normative political theory deals with the moral dilemmas, tensions and contradictions posed by the emerging global political order. We will not spend a great deal of time examining the institutions of the international order themselves.


Instead, our goal in this course is to think through the moral implications of our present condition. That is to say, we will explore and assess the social, political and cultural forces which govern the international movement of people, capital and political authority in the modern world. In order to so do, we will examine several of the responses to globalization adopted by contemporary political philosophers. For the purposes of this seminar, I have divided these into nationalist and cosmopolitan responses. Some nationalists have responded to world events by attempting to reassert the ethical value of nationalist sentiment, regarding it as a necessary and valuable restriction upon the kinds of moral duties we owe to those outside our own national borders (Miller). On the other hand, thinkers broadly operating under the banner of cosmopolitanism have sought to specify what the global rich owe to the global poor, notwithstanding the lack of a shared national identity (Pogge), how the international order ought to be restructured according to principles of a global democratic theory (Held), or how cosmopolitan norms can be grafted onto national democratic politics in the form of rights of hospitality (Benhabib). Others still have sought to transcend the distributivist paradigm by arguing that a theory of global justice ought to attend to the idea of cultural recognition at the level of international politics (Fraser). After surveying these trends, we will finish the course by speculating on some of the connections between ideology, violence and global terror.

The first uses words like "historical," "legacy," and "ramifications." Ergo, conservative. The second will examine, apparently at length and with much verbosity, the present condition with the help of contemporary philosophers. In other words...a Godless communist.

But wait, FLG, isn't there a Marxist historiography? Sure, but don't worry about that right now.

Quote of the day

Strategy Page:
The U.S. State Department is organizing a mercenary army to protect American interests in Iraq after U.S. troops have left

The article isn't exactly clear on the definition of American interests. If it's just protecting the embassy and other diplomatic posts, then isn't that what Marines are for? (God bless 'em.) And if it's a broader definition of interests throughout Iraq, then is the State Dept the one to do it? Either way something doesn't sound right.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


FLG saw this the other day when the FLGs were at the Zoo, and he immediately thought of Alan.

Dear Maryland Drivers:

When you are not in the middle lane on a highway and approaching the merge area for an on-ramp, you don't get over into the far right hand lane because, well, must of us with license plates from other states already know why because we aren't unbelievable fucktards.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Shirlington Again

James Poulos wrote about that David Brooks piece:
Full disclosure: I used to hang out in Shirlington all the time. I nibbled the spring rolls. I sampled the microbrews. I bought fresh bread and a specialty cup of coffee. I did not feel like an aristocrat within my own Olympus. I felt like a new dad at the start of a steep learning curve -- possibly the opposite physical and psychological condition. I did not feel like expressing myself through consumerism. I felt like finally getting out of the house that day.

Which reminded FLG that a few months back the Poulos clan was having breakfast at Luna at the exact same time as the FLGs, including his mother-in-law. No, FLG didn't say hi. FLG never says hi to anybody.

Anyway, Shirlington is some sort of weird crossroads.

Speaking of which, the FLGs met the self-proclaimed mayor of Shirlington a few years back at the brewery down there. His domestic platform was staunchly pro-microbrew, while his inter-municipal policy consisted primarily of pursuing mutually assured destruction with the neighboring city, Alexandria. It all seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

Quote of the day

Megan McArdle:
As for me, I don't know which is worse: the notion that Elizabeth Warren understood what she was doing, or the notion that she didn't.

FLG is currently listening to

Free Will

Andrew and I covered this topic previously, I believe, but the NYTimes has the logical argument for why we don't have free will:
The argument goes like this.

(1) You do what you do — in the circumstances in which you find yourself—because of the way you then are.

(2) So if you’re going to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you’re going to have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are — at least in certain mental respects.

(3) But you can’t be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all.

(4) So you can’t be ultimately responsible for what you do.

The key move is (3). Why can’t you be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all? In answer, consider an expanded version of the argument.

(a) It’s undeniable that the way you are initially is a result of your genetic inheritance and early experience.

(b) It’s undeniable that these are things for which you can’t be held to be in any way responsible (morally or otherwise).

(c) But you can’t at any later stage of life hope to acquire true or ultimate moral responsibility for the way you are by trying to change the way you already are as a result of genetic inheritance and previous experience.

(d) Why not? Because both the particular ways in which you try to change yourself, and the amount of success you have when trying to change yourself, will be determined by how you already are as a result of your genetic inheritance and previous experience.

(e) And any further changes that you may become able to bring about after you have brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by your genetic inheritance and previous experience.

If I remember correctly, both Andrew and I felt this was an overly complicated logical game with no real relevance to what happens in the real world.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quote of the day

Novelty toy company has just launched an Anna Chapman toy action figure in two different versions: The "The Predator" and The Spy I Could Love", each with a retail price of $29.95.

Stone Age Dildo

Via The Ancient:
Swedish archeologists have uncovered a prehistoric artifact made out of antler bone that looks like a modern dildo.

The phallic-shaped object, which may be as much as 6,000 years old, measures twelve by two centimeters.

Update inspired by Arethusa's comment below:
Swedish-made Stone Age Dildos And Me: This Sort of Thing is My Bag, Baby by Austin Powers

Although her reference was to something entirely different and even made FLG blush.

Half Thought Through Post

Matt Yglesias posted this graph:

He then writes:
The reason the details of housing policy don’t matter, it seems to me, is that our policy errors tended to affect the level of real estate prices whereas the relevant factors in prompting the recession had to do with unsustainable trends. Both sets of problems should be fixed, and it’s good that the recession has increased attention to the misallocation of resources involved in large covert subsidies for owner-occupied housing, but they’re pretty much separate issues as far as I can tell.

So, I'm looking at this graph above and thinking to myself, okay that's prices. But your standard supply and demand has two axes. Price is on the vertical and quantity is the horizontal.

Let's say subsidies or government policy shifts the demand curve. The static analysis says that both prices and supply increase. I've taken the liberty of creating some rudimentary graphs.

Initial Supply and Demand:

After a policy shift that increases demand:
As you can see the intersection of the two lines is at greater price and quantity.

However, the thing that Matt's graph got me thinking about is the slope of the supply curve.  Let's say the supply market was highly competitive and they can increase supply without increasing their costs too much.  Then, the supply curve would be closer to horizontal.  Consequently, the graph might look like this:
In this case, rightward shift in the demand curve wouldn't result in as big a rise in prices as the shift indicated above.  Instead, the quantity supplied would increase.  If we assume that each of the above countries in Matt's graph have differing supply slopes, then the graph is really only telling half the story. 

What does this all mean?

Well, it's possible that the long-standing subsidies of home ownership in the United States created an environment where established firms could refine their processes and become very efficient and competitive. This, combined with the natural benefits of space that the United States has, may have manifested the bubble in an unsustainable increase in both prices and quantity.

Other countries, with less ability to ramp up home production, saw steep increases in prices where some of that manifested as more quantity here.  Consequently, we have an economy that not only has an oversupply of housing, which will eventually clear given some combination of time and price reductions, but also a structural problem whereby we have too much home production capability relative to a reasonable demand moving forward over the medium term while the market rebalances.

All that said, the apparent correlation between multiple countries' prices would indicate at least some international, systematic factors contributed. 

FLG feels like he's missing some crucial point here in his analysis.

FLG is currently listening to

It Has The WiFis

Elizabeth Warren

When FLG sees Elizabeth Warren on TV, he simply changes the channel. This has been pretty much the case since February when FLG saw her on Bill Maher. FLG assumed that Warren had some normative commitments that FLG disagreed with and that this led her, when speaking for a mass audience, to dumb it down precisely in a way that would make FLG's head explode, but that her academic work included strong empirical evidence. FLG never took the time to read through it though.

Well, it turns out Megan McArdle has looked at it and comes away unimpressed:
Does this persistent tendency to choose odd metrics that inflate the case for some left wing cause matter? If Warren worked at a think tank, you'd say, "Ah, well, that's the genre." On the other hand, you'd also tend to regard her stuff with a rather beady eye. It's unlikely to have been splashed across the headline of every newspaper in the United States. Her work gets so much attention because it comes from a Harvard professor. And this isn't Harvard caliber material--not even Harvard undergraduate.


Also, Megan also writes this:
I've also been writing about bankruptcy long enough to know that assigning any one cause to the ultimate financial meltdown is, in many cases, impossible. (If you have nice consumer goods and no health insurance, does a car accident count as a "medical bankruptcy" or a budgeting deficiency? If you lived right up to the edge of your income, was a job loss, or your spending pattern, to blame? How you answer these questions depends on a large number of prior value judgments that are hotly contested in our society.)

FLG agrees with her, but what's interesting here is the prior value judgments. Liberals focus more on the proximate and immediate, the car accident or the loss of the job. Whereas, conservatives point more toward the poor series of choices leading up to the event. Long run, versus short. Bad luck versus poor choices. In truth, life is a bit of both, but it's the relative emphasis that matters.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Weirder Than Object Sex

FLG couldn't make this shit up if he tried:
A transvestite had sex with a dog in the moat of an English Heritage castle.

FLG also couldn't' help but notice that the castle name, Pendennis, is awfully close to penis.

You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

FLG would've shit himself if a whale jumped onto a boat he was on.

"There were bits of skin and blubber left behind."

Do you think it was revenge for Oregon blowing up that whale years ago? Sure, this was in South Africa, but what do whales know about our political distinctions? Not much, I reckon.

Upcoming Changes

FLG's alma mater was nice enough to extend him an invitation to enroll in a graduate business program, thereby breaking his long and distinguished line of graduate admissions denials. Furthermore, and this is the really good part, his employer was also nice enough to agree to pay for the whole thing.

Wait, FLG, didn't you suggest an imaginary dissertation about how "Adverse Selection in the MBA Admissions Process Leads to Ill-Trained, Unthoughtful Douchebags In Charge of American Firms?" Yes. You'll have to resolve that inconsistency on your own. Then again, FLG can be just as ill-trained and unthoughtful of a douchebag as anybody else.

Anyway, getting to the relevant to the readers part, this means that FLG will be working full-time and attending school. Include FLG's most important priorities, Mrs. and Miss FLG, and it doesn't leave much time for blogging. Therefore, he might actually have to enact the Dread Pirate Roberts Succession Plan, start doing lots of coke, or let the blog pretty much lay/lie? fallow starting a month or so from now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Andrew Stevens writes:
In reply to Arethusa, I do think that at certain levels, the best students will be the ones with "blots" on their record. I.e. at a truly elite school, you won't find any students with blots on their record because they couldn't get in. But at a lower level institution, you will find some great students who settled for that institution because of the blot (be it home-schooling, self-taught, or dropping out of high school) and they likely will be the best students at the institution.

Hey, Georgetown let FLG in with a blot.

FLG is currently listening to

This, and is annoyed that the record company disabled embedding. Seriously, it's Duran Duran people.

Quote of the day

Felix Salmon:
The idea of countercyclical capital buffers is a really good one. When credit is expanding faster than GDP, bank regulators slowly increase their capital requirements, signaling those requirements clearly one year in advance. The higher capital requirements serve three main purposes: they help to slow down credit bubbles, they make an economy’s banks stronger, and they offer a way out of the paradox of capital.

This is the type of thing that will really help prevent financial crises. As I've argued over and over, the issue is leverage. Period. Focusing on anything else is the result ignorance or hobby horses. Devils and details and all that with this though.

Best Magazine Ever?

FLG doesn't remember if he's mentioned this before, but recently he saw a copy of magazine called Garden & Gun. If that's not the best name for a magazine ever, then FLG doesn't know what is.

A Bit More On the Journolist

My previous post didn't really address the main point of that article about the Journolist, but an old post from GEC pretty much sums up what I think about it:
I've always had a hard time with journalism's pose at fairness. It's a relatively recent thing. Nobody even made the pretension of being neutral in early American newspapers. Now, they cling to the pose. It's not that people can't or don't try to be even-handed in their reporting. But any coherent idea of fairness always comes out of a shared set of real agreements about our moral universe and scale of values. The minute that breaks down, you've got disagreements about what qualifies as equitable in any given situation.

It's no accident that "professional journalism" donned the veil of neutrality when it did at the turn of the 20th century. That's precisely the point at which intellectual opposition to progressivism more or less died. When the educated elites get together -- hell, when any group of like-minded people assemble -- they start to imagine they understand it all, that no [insert your relevant good adjective] sort of people could think differently.

Only a people possessed with the model of Weberian social science, assuming you could distinguish facts and values evenly, would concoct an idea of scrupulously neutral reporting.

Best to just to be completely upfront about the bias. And for the ten millionth time recently, this plays into FLG's arguments about time horizons. The separation of facts and values is a major part of the empirical pretension held by those on the left.

Biden's Economist

Mrs. P linked to this piece and in it there's this:
Jared Bernstein, who would go on to be Vice President Joe Biden’s top economist when Obama took office, helped, too.

Helped with what, you ask? A statement to accuse ABC of gotcha journalism for asking Obama about Rev. Wright. But that's not what interested FLG. No, what interested FLG is that he'd never heard of Jared Bernstein. Not that FLG imagines the VP's top economist to be a very important job, but nevertheless he'd never heard of Bernstein. A quick check of wikipedia reveals why:
Bernstein graduated from the Manhattan School of Music with Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts where he studied double bass with Orin O'Brien. He earned a Masters Degree in Social Work from the Hunter School of Social Work, and, from Columbia University, he received a Masters Degree in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Social Welfare. He does not have a degree or any formal training in economics.

Calling some guy with degrees in social work an economist is just too much. Not that FLG thinks you have must have a PhD in economics to be an economic policymaker. There are a couple of people with JDs that FLG likes, although Robert Reich isn't one of them. But social work is just too far. Mostly because people with social work training are so confused about all sorts of things economic and, again, are biased toward the present, which makes them all sorts of blind to unintended, indirect, and long-term consequences.

So, FLG guesses his question is whether all VP's economists are ideological hacks?

Perverse Incentives?

Matt Zeitlin:
The problem is that the response to every terrorist attack is to give more money and fund more programs and then giving these intelligence programs and agencies more power to do more and more and more. This creates a weird incentive for people in the intelligence and counterterrorism communities whereby more failures and attacks lead to more money and power. That, needless to say, is not how you want to set up any organization.

What's interesting, to FLG at least, is that conservatives make almost the exact same argument about the progressive programs that Matt favors.

The problem is that the response to every social problem is to give more money and fund more programs and then giving these government bureaucracies and agencies more power to do more and more and more. This creates a weird incentive for people in the government bureaucracies to create more failures and that lead to more money and power. That, needless to say, is not how you want to set up any organization.

Now, in fairness, FLG does think that more effort is given toward determining the effectiveness of social programs. However, he doesn't think this is necessarily some evil conservative plot against the virtuous liberals who want to do the right thing. It's a function of the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of counter-terrorism, which is to say measuring that something didn't happen. Whereas, social programs are usually designed with some specific metric or metrics involved. Then again, perhaps this is because of the inherent nature of conservative versus liberals, But not so much a nefarious plot.

In truth, though, FLG thinks Matt's, as well as the corresponding conservative analysis, is off-point. True, if you look at the intelligence community as a whole, then it has an odd monetary incentive to fail. Likewise, if you look at the public social infrastructure, then so does it. But there are other levels of incentives, such as agency and individual, many of which can be non-monetary. To the extent that agency or individual failures have consequences, then the problems at the more macro-level can be mitigated.

Silly Hypothetical Or Telling Response

The NYTimes called this question "a seemingly silly hypothetical."

FLG, however, disagrees.  He has a problem with a candidate who cannot say the commerce clause does not give the government the power to mandate that people eat fruits and vegetables.  Now, FLG understands that one could then ask why an individual mandate to buy health insurance is any different, and, well, you'd better have an answer that makes sense.

Also, the NYTimes editorial in question also has this:
Lawmakers, anticipating the challenge, explicitly inserted a line in the law that the insurance mandate “substantially affects interstate commerce.” They also say it is based on the government’s fundamental power to tax. It is hard to see how the current court will disagree.

Regardless of the merits, FLG somehow doubts that including the assertion that a law substantially affects interstate commerce is some sort of sufficient protection. It's akin to including a statement at the beginning that says "Congress thinks this law is constitutional," which is already implicit in every bill that it passes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Old School

The library at Georgetown has digitized and published all the series Peter Krogh, former dean of the School of Foreign Service, hosted over the years.

Some gems FLG has watched:
What's interesting to FLG is that many of the interviews seem to have taken place inside the School of Foreign Service library.

The Plastic Presidential Superhero Is Looking Pretty Damn Good

Noah Millman sums it up nicely:
[Palin's] strongest competition [for the 2012 Republican nomination] is Mitt Romney, who is strong where Palin is weak – obvious intelligence, establishment backing, proven ability to run an actual campaign for President, strong organizational skills and a deep political organization – but who is strikingly weak where Palin is strong. In fact, Romney is pretty much exactly the candidate Palin wants to run against: someone who generates little popular enthusiasm, comes off as phony, is a member of the elite and the establishment, is easy to tar as a fence-sitter and position-changer – and a man with surprisingly little sex appeal for somebody so objectively good-looking.

Regardless of Obama's approval ratings, he is going to face and actual candidate; one with weaknesses a generic and faceless Republican candidate doesn't have. But I will say this -- if it's Romney v Obama, then FLG's vote will be for Romney. And since FLG has voted for the winning candidate in every presidential election since he's been able to vote, then that means Romney wins.

Time Horizons and the Stimulus

Martin Neil Baily, from the left:
The key priorities with the stimulus package were to make sure that it went out quickly and that it was large enough to increase total spending. With a total package at $862 billion spent mostly in 2009 and 2010, it met those goals. With only limited guidance from the White House and individual members of Congress each wanting money to come to their district or state, the details of the package were a mess. It was a lot of money, and it did little to deal with longer-term problems, such as the weak infrastructure and an over-dependence on fossil fuels. However, it did contribute to spending at a time when the collapse in aggregate demand was threatening possible depression.

Michael Boskin, from the right:
The stimulus has had a small, short-term impact for very large long-run costs; every dollar of the $862 billion of debt will mean a dollar plus interest of higher future taxes, which will slow future growth. It did prevent--more accurately, delay--some pay cuts and layoffs for state and local government employees, but it had only a small impact on consumer spending and business investment. It has delivered a lot less than the Obama Administration claims.

Sorry, I keep bring this up, but it keeps popping up again and again. The individual's discount rate is the primary determinant of their political preferences.

The Sky Is Blue

Water is wet.
Women have secrets.
And Jeremy Siegel is optimistic about stocks.

In all the times FLG has seen or heard Jeremy Siegel over the last ten years or so, there hasn't ever been a time he's been down on stocks. Once he might have been hold, but never sell that FLG can remember.

A New Caravaggio?

The Vatican has discovered what could be a previously unknown painting by Caravaggio among its archives as Rome marked the 400th anniversary of the Renaissance master's death.


So why did you flunk out of college?

Booze, skiing, and a general lack of interest in engineering that I was too stupid to recognize.

I have an image of Wile E. Coyote with a jet pack, skis, a bottle, and a little pin on his shirt saying “Otium!”

I was going to email Withy directly, but decided that I might as well post my response. If any of you stumbled across a blog by the me when I failed out of college you'd have never recognized that it was me. Not simply because I was young and immature, but because I had vastly different intellectual interests.

Part, ok, probably a large part, of my vociferous condemnation of science and engineering as necessary to compete in a global economy comes from my personal experience. My engineering education, which thankfully gave me a good understanding of math and science plus tension versus compression, was devoid of many of the most important things in education. Put simply, almost no attention was paid to human questions. It was all formulas, forces, and functions. Even something as fundamental as writing was represented by a single course, entitled something like "Writing and Communication for Engineers."

Now, I was too stupid to realize at that time that engineering is not where my academic interest lies. Perhaps if I'd spent more time thinking about academics than the current conditions in Vail, then maybe I'd have noticed in time. Nevertheless, I didn't.

It wasn't until years later when I was watching a panel at the Kennedy School at Harvard on C-SPAN. I forget all the people who were on the panel, but I do remember that Bill Bennett and James Woolsey were there. Some LaRouchie stood up and started on some rant about Paul Wolfowitz being a Straussian. Most people simply wanted to shut-off the guy's mic and kick him out. But Bennett demurred. He dissected the guy's argument, then ripped each piece of it to shreds, and finally explained what being a Straussian actually means. Woolsey chimed in a couple of times, if I remember correctly, which is why I remember him being there.

Anyway, I remember thinking that although I knew all sorts of things about the physical world and mathematics, I was largely ignorant about the world of people and political ideas. Moreover, I lacked many of the requisite communication and debating skills to have done what Bill Bennett had done. Ever since my educational goals have been almost entirely the reverse of what I learned in engineering school. Not that the knowledge or skills gained during those years is useless. Quite the contrary, I use much of it everyday. It's just that Bill Bennett seemed educated in the way I wanted to be, even if I didn't agree with him on certain or even many things. Indeed, perhaps not agreeing with him on certain things, and knowing that my ass would be handed to me in a debate with him, was partially what prompted me to change course.

So, none of you asked, but oddly, I know as much about economics and political philosophy as I do today because some dumbass LaRouchie went on a rant almost a decade ago.

Libertarian And Liberal Cohabitation

A commenter over at LOG writes in defense of Libertarian and Liberal common ground:
Libertarianism is a restriction on means – in particular the non-violation of various rights. Modern liberalism is largely about one particular end – the maximization as far as possible of everyone’s positive liberty, There is no fundamental inconsistency between these ideas.

Perhaps no fundamental inconsistency, but certainly one in practice. The maximization of positive liberty often, if not always, involves the diminution of somebody else rights insofar as positive liberty requires positive rights, such as health care and education. Perhaps social and economic issues aren't as separate as we've been led to believe, but there's a reason that we separate them for political purposes. Libertarians and liberals will often disagree on economic issues because liberal economic policies are often distortionary and coercive.

Although, I do agree with both the commenter and the Mark Thompson that the libertarian/conservative coalition doesn't make much more sense in contemporary politics. Although-although, from a more philosophical perspective, for libertarians FLG'd argue that the economics drives the social. Free markets not only exploit mutually-beneficial transactions, but also inculcate various libertarian virtues and dispositions.

Lists And College Towns

Most lists of best places to retire or live disproportionately feature college towns. FLG's always assumed that the way in which the survey quantifies cultural institutions and various performances makes no distinction between university affiliated events and museums and professional and independent ones. Basically, FLG figures The University of Oklahoma's art museum counts as much as the Met. Or a performance by students on-campus counts as much as a professional show.

Now, don't get FLG wrong, many college towns are fantastic places to live and FLG sees the appeal of retiring in one. However, these lists are too biased toward college towns.

Today, FLG sees that it's not only living and retirement, but best places to have a career or do business. Des Moines is first. Provo is number 2. Raleigh 3. Fort Collins fourth. Lincoln, NE is 5.

Again, don't get FLG wrong, many of these are nice places. But you don't launch a career in Fort Collins unless you just graduated from ColoState. DItto Provo and Lincoln.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

FLG's Time Horizons Theory Keeps Getting Reaffirmed

Reihan's post about this Chris Hayes piece falls almost precisely along the lines of liberals care more about and consequently analyze events with more emphasis on the present and short-term, while conservatives care more about the long run. Moreover, liberals couch themselves in the language of empiricism and facts, but ignore that the meaning and relevance of facts are separate from the facts themselves.

Reihan pulls this passage from the Hayes piece:
First, the facts. Nearly the entire deficit for this year and those projected into the near and medium terms are the result of three things: the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush tax cuts and the recession. The solution to our fiscal situation is: end the wars, allow the tax cuts to expire and restore robust growth. Our long-term structural deficits will require us to control healthcare inflation the way countries with single-payer systems do.

So, here we have almost the stereotypical liberal argument based upon FLG's time horizon theory. "First, the facts" couches the entire thing in an empirical basis that presumably is impossible to refute. Then, a short-term analysis on the proximate causes of the problem. So, it's two on-going wars (both of which FLG figures Hayes would portray as Bush's wars), the Bush taxes cuts, and a recession (FLG assumes Hayes attributes to mismanagement and deregulation under the Bush administration). What's interesting though, is these short-term deficits wouldn't be an issue, meaning the bond market* and the population wouldn't worry, if the long-term fiscal health was in order. Temporary deficit spending isn't normally a problem for the bond market; it's the idea that looking forward nobody sees an end to the red ink. As Reihan states specifically, "one could just as easily say that the entire deficit for this year would vanish if we sharply decreased federal entitlement spending."

And then comes the conservative response from Reihan:
Yet it’s not clear that sharply increasing taxes is an effective strategy for restoring robust growth. Indeed, we have good theoretical and empirical evidence that, as Arpit Gupta recently observed, that the tax increases will hinder growth over the long term

The liberal offers short-term analysis of causes and consequences and costs and benefits all couched in the language of facts and empiricism. While the conservative argues based upon the long-term effects that incentives and theories indicate will happen with less eye toward the contemporary specifics and facts. Obviously, FLG is biased and thinks the conservative argument is superior, but again reasonable people can disagree about how to value the present versus the future.


* In fairness, it doesn't seem as if the bond market is terribly worried right now about US solvency.

Why Is It That People On The Left Always Assume People Are Ignorant And Stupid?

In today's WaPo:
It is true that, when asked by pollsters, a majority of respondents say they support the death penalty. It is less clear whether people are well informed about the issue, have given the matter much thought, or have considered alternatives, such as life in prison without parole. But majorities in other Western countries support capital punishment, too. Their political leaders abolished the institution nevertheless.

By the way, FLG doesn't know for sure, but is assuming the author is on the left because, well, he's a sociology professor.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beavergate III

FLG has seen a large dropoff in readers lately. Perhaps it's summer vacations. Who knows? In any case, it's certainly not, like one of the previous times this happened, because FLG linked to a vibrating beaver. But if FLG is going to lose readers wily-nily anyway, then he's going to pull out and go down with a vibrating beaver.
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