It is now 20 years since David Brin wrote The Transparent Society. Book holds up very well, all things considering: CFP Panel on the Transparent Society: David Brin's Book Ten Years Later: Michael Froomkin:
The Transparent Society Ten Years Later : This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of David Brin's controversial book, "The Transparent Society". The book argues that in the face of the explosion of sensors, cheap storage, and cheap data processing we should adopt strategies of vision over concealment. A world in which not just transactional information, but essentially all information about us will be collected, stored, and sorted is, Brin says, inevitable. The only issue left to be decided is who will have access to this information; he argues that freedom, and even some privacy, are more likely to flourish if everybody - not just elites - has access to this flood of data. The book remains controversial and much-talked-about. The panel will explore how Brin's claims hold up ten years later and whether (or how far) we're on the road to a Transparent Society.
Here is my presentation:
"How is Harvard like socialist Yugoslavia, comrade?" "I do not know: how is Harvard like socialist Yugoslavia, comrade?" "Like socialist Yugoslavia, the value of the outputs is less than the value of the input, comrade."
: Alma Mater Blogging...: Greg Mankiw's desire to move Harvard to someplace better adapted to human life than Massachusetts was triggered by:
Jared Diamond on Easter Island's Collapse: Needless to say, most societies—or at least most societies that we are aware of because they hang around for long enough to leave stone, pottery, or papyrus trails—do not behave this way. They evolve a social institution called private property to give individuals both control over scarce and exhaustible resources and an incentive to ensure wise and balanced extraction and careful and efficient use. It appears that the Easter Island people somehow failed to do so...
Warranted Stock Market Valuations and the Price-Earnings Equation Once Again: It can be shown http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/05/a_teaching_note.html that the "right" way to value the stock market is with the price-earnings equation: P = E/[r - (1/θ - 1)ρ]. Here: (1) E are the earnings—the sustainable permanent cyclically-adjusted and correctly accounted for Haig-Simons earnings—paid on the index, (2) r is the appropriate real rate at which to discount cash flows of the riskiness of the stock market, (3) θ is the payout ratio of dividends to earnings, and (4) ρ is the wedge (which may be positive or negative) between the appropriate external real interest rate r and the internal rate of return the firm can earn on its reinvested earnings. If we are willing to assume that ρ is close to zero, than this equation is approximately: P/E = 1/r. The price-to-permanent earnings ratio is one divided by the market's expected discount rate. It's just worth pointing out that whenever the stock market is at valuation ratios that Gongloff and company consider "normal" then equities are an absolutely amazing deal relative to all kinds of bonds...
Monday Smackdown/Hoisted from the Archives (August 2015): "We Always Thanked Robert Lucas for Giving Us a... Monopoly" Over Valuable Macroeconomics: The extremely sharp Paul Romer gets something, I think, very very wrong...
1870: The Real Industrial Revolution?:: The most important fact to grasp about the world economy of 1870 is that the economy then belonged much more to its past of the Middle Ages than to its future of—well, of us, and what our successors eventually decide they want to use as an overarching term with which to label our age of fuel, machine, and digit.
Martin Feldstein (1979): Introduction to The American Economy in Transition: "The post-[World] War [II] period began in an atmosphere of doubt and fear...
The Wall Street Journal works for its sources, not its readers: Susanne Craig: Lehman's Straight Shooter: "Finance Chief Callan Brings Cool Jolt of Confidence To Credit-Rattled Street.... After sifting through the numbers for nearly an hour, Ms. Callan coolly answered more than 20 analyst questions. Then she strode down to Lehman's bond-trading desk and high-fived trading executive Peter Hornick. Later that day, bond traders gave her a standing ovation, a Wall Street rite typically reserved for CEOs. Profit had plunged, yet Lehman shares surged 46%.... The 42-year-old Ms. Callan is emerging as a galvanizing force at Lehman and a finance chief who topples much of the conventional wisdom about CFOs. She also is the highest-ranking woman on Wall Street. Many Lehman insiders consider her among the contenders to become the firm's president someday. Unlike Lehman's two previous CFOs, Ms. Callan isn't an accountant and had never worked in the finance department. She embraces television, appearing frequently. She receives a slimmer daily financial summary than her predecessors, relying more on data from the trading-floor contacts built during her 13-year Lehman career...
In Grasping Reality:
True then; true now: After the Examination All Professors Are Sad: A Dialogue About Teaching the Wrong Thing: Looking back over my syllabus this semester, I realized that I spent five full weeks... teaching them the Solow growth model... [which] doesn't tell us anything first-order about the world—aside from post-WWII Japanese convergence from a bouncing-rubble B-29 testfield to a prosperous OECD economy...
Someone who wishes me ill reminds me of this from six years ago.
Could the Swedish academy please stop giving nobel prizes to economists—like Eugene Fama—who lack basic historical literacy? This isn't rocket science, after all. I really do not think that this is very much to ask: Paul Krugman (2011): Boom For Whom: "While I’m talking about inequality and the crisis, I realized recently that there’s another channel not usually talked about, via the misperception of success...
Weekend Reading: Teresa Nielsen Hayden (2005): Some things I know about moderating conversations in virtual space: "Getting online just gets easier and easier...
...It’s an inescapable truth that for some people, the most interesting way to participate in online discourse is to kick holes in the conversation. Others—many of them young, but some, alas, old enough to know better—have a sense of entitlement that leads them to believe that their having an opinion means the rest of us are obliged to listen to it. Still others plainly get off on verbally abusing others, and seek out conversations that will offer them opportunities to do so. And so on and so forth: the whole online bestiary:
Weekend Reading: Abraham Lincoln (December 3, 1861): First State of the Union Message: "It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government--the rights of the people...
Abraham Lincoln (1855): Letter to Joshua Speed: "Dear Speed: You know what a poor correspondent I am...
...Ever since I received your very agreeable letter of the 22nd of May I have been intending to write you in answer to it.
This is what I want when I call for a better class of DeLong Smackdowns! How do we think this looks not just nine years after my optimism in 2009 back at the end of the American century but five years after Matt wrote?:
Hoisted from the Archives: Matthew Yglesias (2013): May Day Marxism: Capitalism is looking pretty shabby: "DeLong reposted a very interesting 2009 talk... "Understanding Karl Marx"... that I would have enthusiastically endorsed in 2009 but which look weaker four years later...
May 10, 2018 at 05:57 AM in Economics: Health, Economics: History, Economics: Inequality, History, Moral Responsibility, Philosophy: Moral, Political Economy, Politics, Streams: (Monday) Smackdown Watch, Streams: (Tuesday) Hoisted from Archives, Streams: Cycle, Streams: Economics, Streams: Equitable Growth, Streams: Highlighted | Permalink | Comments (0)
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John Taylor is not just wrong, but wrong in a way that it is impossible to be if you are attempting to argue in good faith from any coherent set of economic principles and models: Miles Kimball: Contra John Taylor: "[Taylor] is just wrong...
...The Fed is promising to shift the demand curve for assets in the future and thereby get to a particular equilibrium interest rate. This is not at all like rent control. The right analogy is... getting rents to come down by reducing making it easier to get a building permit, or by subsidizing the building of new apartments.... There is a world of difference between a market intervention in which the government contributes to supply and demand and a price floor or ceiling. By buying assets, and promising to buy them in the future, the Fed is lowering an equilibrium interest rate. The details of the pattern of buying assets and promising to buy them in the future tends to keep the equilibrium interest rate at a certain level. The fact that the Fed acts by changing the equilibrium interest rate matters, because John’s claim that lowering the interest rate will reduce the quantity of investment would hold only if what the Fed is doing really did act like an interest rate ceiling that makes asset demand lower than asset supply...
Why would it ever occur to John Taylor to claim that open market operations are like price controls? I cannot imagine the circumstances under which anyone would be tempted to do this: Paul Krugman: More Artificial Unintelligence: "David Beckworth pleads with fellow free-marketeers to stop claiming that low interest rates are 'artificial' and comparing them to price controls...
It's time to normalize Karl Marx: "For elite American economists, Marx has long been viewed as absolutely anathema, if not some kind of demon...
Never forget how pig-ignorant stupid the High Priests of Liquidationist Chicago were in 2009: Paul Krugman (2009): The lost generation: "Matthew Yglesias catches Eugene Fama making a strange assertion...
Weekend Reading: Can somebody please tell me why Sam Harris was supposed to be interesting and smart?" Jeet Heer: "An addendum to the Ezra Klein and Sam Harris debate about Charles Murray. Harris uses Glenn Loury as a human shield, which is ironic given Loury's history with Murray...
...In his defense, Harris mentions he had the "fantastic" Loury "who happens to be black" on his show. Some of his best podcast guests are black! As it happens, Glenn Loury and Charles Murray have an interesting and salient history.
Weekend Reading: I would have said that the Dark Age is over. But the behavior of professional Republican economists formerly of note and reputation—and I am looking at you, Robert Barro, Harvey Rosen, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Larry Lindsey, John Taylor, John Cochrane Glenn Hubbard, Michael Boskin, Charlie Calomiris, Jim Miller, Jagdish Bhagwati, and George Shultz: you know better. And, Marty Feldstein, you really should not have written your defense of Trump's China tariffs. The 2009-2014 Dark Age looks to me, mostly, like a deliberate decision to be stupid and not think issues through. This one looks like a last, vain attempt to gain some influence on Republican policy: Mark Thoma (2009): "A Dark Age of Macroeconomics": "Quoting an email [from Paul Krugman], economists who...
Weekend Reading: This still cuts me to the quick. I am not at all a depressive personality—but if I were, this would have me pulling an Oblomov every time I remember that I am part of a professional discipline that was, collectively, so useless in 2009-12, and that I used to praise the analytical acumen and tell people to listen to and take seriously so many of those who made us so useless: Paul Krugman (2012): Economics in the Crisis: "We’re now in the fourth year of a truly nightmarish economic crisis. I like to think that I was more prepared than most for the possibility that such a thing might happen; developments in Asia in the late 1990s badly shook my faith in the widely accepted proposition that events like those of the 1930s could never happen again. But even pessimists like me, even those who realized that the age of bank runs and liquidity traps was not yet over, failed to realize how bad a crisis was waiting to happen–and how grossly inadequate the policy response would be when it did happen...
Ed Kilgore: Kevin Williamson Won’t Answer Questions About Abortion Punishment: "Conservative political writer Kevin Williamson... his recent dismissal by The Atlantic... column... mostly about the... 'Twitter mob' intimidating The Atlantic into un-hiring him...
Alexandra Petri: It is too bad I have been silenced: "It is with a heavy heart, and profound regret for the current state of media in America, that I have dragged my laptop to a Starbucks to pen this column...
Weekend Reading: John Quiggin: Hackery or heresy: "Henry’s recent post on the irrelevance of conservative intellectuals reminded me of this one from 2013, which concluded...
...Conservative reform of the Republican party is a project that has already failed. The only question is whether the remaining participants will choose hackery or heresy.
Overwhelmingly, the choice has been hackery (or, a little more honorably, silence).
Weekend Reading: Hoisted from the Archives: Convincing fifteen years ago. Convincing today. Telling just-so stories to reinforce prejudicial hierarchical judgments you won't examine rationally is no way to go through life, son: Daniel Davies (2002): D-squared Digest: "Move over son, the professionals are here... http://blog.danieldavies.com/2002/10/: I've just rediscovered this article by Val Dusek, which is the best thing I've read on the whole debate...
...It also reminded me what a perfect s--- Stephen Pinker looks when you know a little bit of the background to some of the things he says about Margaret Mead. Print out and read on the train home, that's my advice.
UPADATE: God damn that article's good. I'm amazed to discover the extent to which I'd subconsciously plagiarised it. UPDATE AGAIN: Damn me, it's good. I think I'll excerpt a non-representative chunk here, because it sort of buries a point which is, I think, profoundly important:
What Dennett would have to counter is Lewontin and Sober's argument that when selection coefficients of genes are context-dependent and selection acts on gene complexes, the artificially constructed selection coefficients of genes do not play a causal role. (Sober and Lewontin, 1984). It is true that if one claims that what is selected are not genes but replicators as the later Dawkins does, then whole genomes, incorporating all the contextual effects of genes on each other, might be the object of selection. This would preserve the restriction of selection to the genic level, but it would give up the atomization of modular traits with which evolutionary psychologists work.
Massively important, given that now we have the results of the Human Genome Project in, we know that most inherited human behavioural traits will have to have been selected through gene-complexes rather than individual genes. I have not yet seen the EP defence of their core doctrine that traits are modular in the face of this new development; I'd appreciate any pointers to the literature if there are good arguments that the doctrine either can be preserved, or is not actually necessary to the theory.
Tits on a Peacock: Evolutionary Psychology week continues... I'd note in this context that I don't have a complete knock-down argument against evolutionary psychology, mainly because if I did, it would also presumably be a knock-down argument against ethology, which would be damn close to a knock-down argument against evolution. More or less everyone agrees that behaviour can be subject to natural selection, and that's all you need to believe in before you're committed to some sort of belief in some kinds of explanation of psychological phenomena as evolved responses. What I'm most concerned with arguing against is "Neo-Darwinian Sociology", a close cousin of evolutionary psychology, and one which has repeatedly interbred with its less reputable cousin, with predictable results. (Yes I know, I know. That was invective. In actual face, most medical opinion appears to be that the marginal risk of deformed offspring from copulation between first cousins is actually pretty negligible. So go for it if that's what you want, but don't tell the judge I told you to.)
In honest fact, using the phrase "Neo-Darwinian Sociology" is actually an act of extreme politeness on my part, because the more concise phrase would be "Social Darwinism", the age-old and known horrible theory without a shit-eating, disingenuous and self-consciously pious denunciation of which, no pop EP book is complete. (Matt Ridley, I'm looking at you. Daniel Dennet, you can wipe that smile off your face too). It's kind of like the paramilitary wing of evolutionary psychology; the default position of a serious ethologist when confronted with the possibility of earning a quick two hundred quid for 400 words on some current issue in the Sunday papers (Richard Dawkins, I'm looking at you, and pointing at you). Basically, in so far as these pieces have any message which doesn't consist of laughing at people more intelligent than the author for believing in God, the message boils down to:
Psychology of individuals is sociology; there is nothing to be understood about social phenomena other than individual behaviour. (The main argument for this proposition is that sociology is carried out by sociologists. The secondary argument is that some sociologists vote for left-wing political parties. Don't ask me, I'm only here for the beer)
Genetic explanations are the most important kind of explanations. If something could have come about through sexual selection of a gene, then it is overwhelmingly likely did come about in that way. Any other kind of explanation is very much second-best, and is probably about to be proved false by the discovery of a "proper" explanation. (The argument for this is rarely spelt out; as far as I can tell, it is some degenerate version of Occam's Razor)
Although just-so stories about hypothesised past development are no more than indicative initial hypotheses when we're doing proper rigorous ethology, they're strong enough that you can draw massive overarching social policy conclusions from them when you're talking to the plebs. (There is no argument for this at all, but I'm guessing it's part of the organisational pathology which gets these things into print)
Push them on any of these points, however, and they immediately retreat to vastly more defensible ground, only talking about specific results, qualifying all their statements and pretending that their sentences should never be (could never possibly have been) taken to imply things which they quite obviously say. Of course, given that we're dealing with Dawkins, Pinker, and arseholes of similar magnitude here, they tend to carry out this retreat with the full pomp and circumstance of a Roman triumphal parade, insulting people's intelligence, taking every opportunity to revive assertions they've walked away from and if at all possible, trying to imply that their interlocutor is either a sociologist or a believer in God. I see that it will take a separate post on the roots of this behaviour in philosophy of science to drain away all my bitterness.
But anyway, that's "Neo-Darwinian Sociology", and I actually believe that I do have a knock-down argument against that, which I will outline in the next-but-one post in this series. For the time being, just note that I think I can support the claims that
if it wasn't for their occasional forays into N-DS, the EP crowd would be a very obscure bunch of scientists indeed.
NeoDarwinian Sociology is on a much weaker scientific footing than the rest of EP; those parts of EP which have impinged on the public consciousness are in general pieces of research which are distinctly suspect as works of science; and therefore :
The entire existence of evolutionary psychology as a fact of public life rather than an obscure academic discipline depends on the willingness of some scientists to drop all their scientific standards at crucial moments. (In particular, I find it quite scandalous that Richard Dawkins is quite so unconcerned about the distortions of scientific method which are regularly indulged in by people he regards as his allies. Despite what he thinks, he is Oxford University's Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, not the Public Proselytisation of Atheism). I am also prepared to argue for:
The fact that it's the evolutionary psychologists who have achieved such prominence through such means is, as they say, no coincidence; the entire method of inquiry of EP tends to inculcate habits of mind which are too quick to latch onto hypotheses and call them explanations, and which discourage rigorous system thinking in favour of particular anecdotes. In their professional work, practitioners seem to recognise these dangers and guard against them; in their popular work and their policy advocacy, they drop their guard. As you can tell, I'm working toward a theory of how a book as bad as "Blank Slates" by Stephen Pinker came to be written.
It's in support of (4) that I am currently working. As with yesterday's post on symmetry and beauty, I want to provide an example not so much of questions answered wrongly, but of questions never asked in the first place; of theories adopted for a particular case because of the attractive story, but which were not applied to other cases, because they didn't fit the story being told. If I can establish that there are cases when, working near the borders of ethology and sociology but on the scientific side, evolutionary psychologists lost their critical faculties, I think I'll have supported my case that when they move closer to politics, they tend to be even worse. Tomorrow's example is going to be just a freaking doozy (Randy Thornhill's theory of rape), but for the time being, let's take a look at womens' breasts and peacocks' tails.
OK, I didn't get many takers for peacocks' tails. But let's start off with them.
There's a fairly common theory about why peacocks have tails; it's not the only one in the literature, but's it's pretty well supported and it is frequently used by the EP crowd when they want to make an analogy to certain kinds of male behaviour. The theory is basically, that the male peacock's tail is so big not in spite of its inconvenience to the bird, but because of that inconvenience. The idea is that it's a sexual signalling device; the peacock is signalling:
Look at me, I'm so big and strong and genetically ace that I can carry around this huge great fucking ridiculous tail and still live a relatively normal avian life.
So, the selfish genes of the peahen latch onto that signal, because they want to hitch a ride on this unstoppable Range Rover of peacock genetic goodness. It's quite a clever little theory; controversial as hell among bird biologists, but certainly not without supporters.
So anyway, a theory like that is too good to waste on peacocks, so it gets brought into service in explaining otherwise damnably stupid behaviour by human males with "peacock" tendencies. Bungee jumping, driving cars quickly, etc, etc. Jared Diamond (in an uncharacteristic slip; a terrible chapter of an otherwise good book called The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee) claimed that kung fu experts in Indonesia drink paraffin. The idea being presumably, to show off to any females present "HEY, LOOK AT ME! I'M ACTING LIKE AN IDIOT! I MUST HAVE GREAT GENES TO HAVE SURVIVED TO ADULTHOOD, I'M SO FUCKING STUPID! IT'S A MIRACLE I'M NOT EATING THROUGH A STRAW, BUT I'M NOT, SO THERE MUST BE SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT ME! COME ON AND GET ME YOU KNOW YOU WANT IT!".
Obviously, the questions a) "has there ever really been an 'evolutionary adaptive environment' in which purposefully endangering your own life for no reason hasn't been a gene that sensible selfish maximisers would want to avoid like the plague?" and b) "does it not strike people who advance this 'hazard theory' as perhaps surprising that much of the very most stupid and show-offish male behaviour in the world is channelled into initiation rituals of exclusively male secret societies of one kind or another?" are quibbles, and prove that the person asking them is a sociologist, and probably believes in God.
Anyway, I sense that my audience is getting bored at this point, so on to the more popular topic of womens' breasts.
As everyone knows, men like women with big, prominent breasts because they indicate that the woman upon whom they are located will be really good at feeding a child, thus propagating their genes to the next generation. Unfortunately, the bust size of a woman who has never given birth bears more or less no relationship whatever to the size at the end of pregnancy (breasts of nonlactating women are made mostly of fat, and it takes about eight months to properly shape them up to serve drinks), and this has been the case for a very long time in human evolution. This immediately rules out a lot of the "sub-pop" science commentators who use this kind of cargo-cult science theory of female pulchritude when they want to make some sort of point about sexual harassment in the workplace or the appeal of Pamela Anderson or whatever needs half a col. written about it by two-thirty prompt, but that's hardly a body blow to the EP crowd; most of these people are either editorial writers half-remembering the last pop science book they read, or people like Eric Raymond who are so damnably ignorant on every single subject except computers that it can't be blamed purely on "The Selfish Gene".
On the other hand, there are a lot of commentators who know better, who still basically come up with theories of the breast which involve some sort of signalling about fertility (not all; here's a list of theories on this issue, not all of which are vulnerable to the current critique). And here, we come to a conundrum.
If the theory of doing dangerous things in order to show how genetically fit you are is generally applicable, perhaps it could be applied to women as well as men? So, let's think... what would be an extremely physically demanding and dangerous thing that a woman could do, which would work well to demonstrate her fertility? Well... perhaps it's a bit off-the-wall, but here's one suggestion... how about... giving birth to a baby?!
Think about it. Some women are infertile, and can never give birth. Some women are not physically up to the rigours of childbirth, and this must have been even more true "out on the plains of Africa", to use the hackneyed and racially loaded catchphrase. One way, as a woman, of proving that this isn't true of you, is to actually step up to the plate and walk the talk. So, on this reasoning, men should be really turned on by single mothers... is that your experience?
Furthermore, if we extend this theory to go back to our original question about fashions in bust shapes, we can note that the stresses and strains of feeding the first child will certainly, pre the invention of the brassiere, have taken their toll on a maidenly chest. So, one could construct a convincing argument on evolutionary psychology grounds, that a female human equivalent to the display of the peacock's tail would be a large bust which drooped to somewhere south of the navel area. By putting on the Gossard Wonderbra and its competitor products, women appear to be attempting to signal to men that their fertility is a completely unknown property, and so is their vulnerability to death in parturition.
There is something decidedly funny about a grab-bag of intellectual tools which puports to explain the reason why things are the way they are, but which could simultaneously be used (as above) to explain why they were the way they were even if they were some other way. And there is something funny about a group of people who talk nine yards to Sunday week about the "intellectual rigour" they are bringing to a discipline like sociology, but who never seem to bother to generalise propositions, or to explain why mechanisms work in one case but not another. And there is something extremely funny about the way that a bunch of male commentators have been so quick to jump on board with a theory that, if it were not for the fact that it helps to bolster a number of propositions about sexual morality which they wanted to assert anyway, would be recognised as being about as likely and as useful, as tits on a peacock.
Thy Bloody Awful Symmetry: As well as the whole Michael Hardt/ David Hasselhoff thing below, my mind was turned to thoughts of evolutionary psychology by an article in yesterday's New York Times.
Fundamentally, it's exactly the sort of work I was planning on doing; somebody's taking a look at the actual experimental methodology that supports such convenient factoids as "men are more concerned about sexual jealousy, while women worry more about emotional infidelity". It turns out that this "result" is incredibly fragile as to the situation of the experiment; if you sit people down, ask them the question straight out, and give them time to think, then men and women assign themselves correctly to their gender roles, whereas if you catch them off guard in order to get a more "instinctive" response, the differentiation "predicted" by an amazingly tendentious just-so story about cavemen in Africa just doesn't show up. (I'd note in passing that the EP crowd are often in the forefront of moaning about "double-blind trials" when they're on the attack on some other point; the methodology of having an experimenter with an agenda ask a question face to face and then write the answer down himself is about as far from double blind as it gets).
In any case, the main point of the article linked above is to show what total and utter patronising knobheads evolutionary psychologists can be when pulled up on a point of science (read it, honestly, the guy starts comparing himself to Galileo!). But it dovetails quite nicely with a couple of points I'd like to make about some other sacred cows of evolutionary psychology; specifically, some of those claims which the pop science gang like to make about the "genetic" foundations of human beauty.
It's a shame that I'm too mean to cough up for the version of this weblog which would allow me to put up pictures, but there you go... but you don't have to search far on the web to find someone claiming it to be an established "fact" that facial attractiveness is a function of facial symmetry. Coincidentally, you also don't have to go far on the web to find a picture of Elvis Presley (bloody great asymmetric sneer) or Cindy Crawford (bloody great asymmetric mole on face). So what gives?
Apparently people with symmetric bodies have "good genes". Don't ask me, I'm a stranger here myself. But let's assume for the meantime that in some way, a little glitch in the building of the face of a foetus is evidence of a deep-seated horrible lurgey in the genes which is just waiting to show up as sickle-cell anaemia or low resistance to malaria or something. The question I'm interested in is, how did anyone find out that people with symmetrical faces are the most beautiful people of all?
Note at this stage, that I'm not interested in studies which claim to have shown that symmetrical people have more sex than anyone else. Randy Thornhill claims that this is the case, and it might be the case even though the experiments which claim to demonstrate it come from the same guy who brought you a theory of rape which doesn't work at all as a theory of sexual assault not involving penetration. Personally, I think that Thornhill is all over the place, and I'll explain why in future (there's a clue in this sentence for the impatient), but I want to establish that it doesn't effect my current argument if the symmetrical are shagging wild all over the place. The claim that "beauty" is "whatever gets you laid" is one that the EP crowd is committed to, not me. But this is by the by.
Absent the sex life studies, the evidence for "beauty" being this, that, or the other, has to come from what actual people judge to be beautiful. So, the best method for carrying out this experiment would have to be to get a bunch of people, show them a bunch of photographs of people, and get them to pick out the beautiful ones. Then you count the number of points each photograph gets and have a look at which ones are picked the most often, right?
If you ask people to pick out the photographs from a set which strike them as the most beautiful, you're actually asking them to perform cognitive acts, not one. You're asking your experimental subjects to:
- notice a picture of a face
- judge whether it's beautiful or not.
The first of these is not a trivial act, as anyone who's observed a baby younger than about two months will testify. The extent to which you're going to carry out the act of picking a picture for the beautiful pile depends on the extent to which it catches your attention as well as what you actually think of the face. There will be an error in your results from people "misclassifying" faces because they weren't really paying attention to them. There are all sorts of misjudgements that it's possible to make when looking at a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object; as the post below demonstrates, I quite seriously misclassified a picture of Michael Hardt's hairstyle as "bouffant" when it wasn't.
So far so good. Now, readers with extremely advanced degrees in econometrics won't be asking... what do we know about this error? Importantly, is it unbiased—can we assume for modelling purposes that it can be ignored as something that will in a large enough sample?
I'm arguing, no. One of the things that, broadly construed, evolutionary psychology has usefully done for us is to dig up some important insights into the neuropsychology of visual perception. Particularly, it's been noted (as in, anatomically observed) that there is a mechanism in the brain which is specifically adapted for distinguishing between symmetrical things and non-symmetrical things. I find the "evolutionary psychology" (in actual fact, ethology, the rather more serious parent discipline which looks at behaviour without making tendentious and unsupported claims) argument quite convincing in this regard. The reason we have a symmetry-detector is that very few things in nature are symmetrical except animals, and animals are only symmetric when they're looking straight at you. Since the fact that something is looking at you is almost always a useful thing to know, we have been provided with a very acute sense of whether a thing is exactly symmetrical or not. Symmetry is a property which "jumps out of the page".
So, given that photographs of symmetrical faces are more likely to be noticed, the errors are not going to be evenly distributed. In any study which is asking you to pick out a "noticeable" characteristic the symmetrical pictures are always going to be over-represented, because symmetry is a noticeable property. Furthermore, this property is highly likely to account for the fact that babies tend to look longer at the same photos which adults pick out of a pile as being most attractive, another factoid often advanced as evidence for the beauty=symmetry hypothesis.
I have no particular investment in believing that there is nothing aesthetically attractive about symmetry; I spend a lot of time with a sneer on my face, but that's mainly because I read a lot of right-wing weblogs. But the fact that nobody saw fit to inquire into this possible source of experimental failure tends to suggest to me that people want to believe in the "evolutionary" arguments for reasons other than those of pure science. And when you get people like Todd Shackelford responding to the Northeastern study by just saying "I guess, to state it plainly, I think the paper is in large part ludicrous.... It's clear to me that they have an agenda they're pushing", I think I'm on to something...
A friendly correspondent points out to me that the "serious and respected" professional Republican economists of 20 years ago were as big bull-------- as those today—and that I was complaining about them, albeit attempting to be more polite, back then.
Case in point: Allan Meltzer: Hoisted from the Archives from Twenty Years Ago: Allan Meltzer Drags Down the Level of the Debate...: He attracted my ire for going beyond a line he should not have gone beyond:
Live from the Orange-Haired Baboon Cage: Sam Harris convinces me that he is not part of what Charles Murray calls the "cognitive elite": Vox: The Sam Harris-Ezra Klein debate - Vox: "Sam Harris: [In] your last piece, you have this whole section on the 'Flynn effect' and how the Flynn effect should be read as accounting for the black-white differences in purely environmental terms. Well, even Flynn rejects that interpretation...
How much smarter Schumpeter is than our modern liquidationists and austerians--he says a great many true things in and amongst the chaff, which is created by his fundamentally mistaken belief that structural adjustment must be triggered by a downturn and a wave of bankruptcies that releases resources into unemployment. How much more fun and useful it would be right now to be debating a Schumpeter right now than the ideologues calling for, say, more austerity for and more unemployment in Greece!
How very strange it is for Schumpeter to be laying out his depressions-cause-structural-change-and-growth theory of business cycles at the very same moment that he is also laying out his entrepreneurs-disrupt-the-circular-flow-and-cause-structural-change-and-growth-theory of enterprise. It is, of course, the second that is correct: Growth comes from entrepreneurs pulling resources into the sectors, enterprises, products, and production methods of the future. It does not come from depressions pushing resources into unemployment. Indeed, as Keynes noted, times of depression and fear of future depression are powerful brakes halting Schumpeterian entrepreneurship: "If effective demand is deficient... the individual enterpriser... is operating with the odds loaded against him. The game of hazard which he plays is furnished with many zeros.... Hitherto the increment of the world’s wealth has fallen short of the aggregate of positive individual savings; and the difference has been made up by the losses of those whose courage and initiative have not been supplemented by exceptional skill or unusual good fortune. But if effective demand is adequate, average skill and average good fortune will be enough..."
How Schumpeter genuinely seems to have no clue at all that the business cycle is a feature of a monetary economy--how very badly indeed he needed to learn, and how he never did learn, what Nick Rowe and company teach today about the effects of monetary stringency on economic coordination.
Weekend Reading: Substantially different from Plato's Socrates: Xenophon: Symposium: "When the tables had been removed...
...and the guests had poured a libation and sung a hymn, there entered a man from Syracuse, to give them an evening's merriment. He had with him a fine flute-girl, a dancing-girl—one of those skilled in acrobatic tricks,—and a very handsome boy, who was expert at playing the cither and at dancing; the Syracusan made money by exhibiting their performances as a spectacle. They now played for the assemblage, the flute-girl on the flute, the boy on the cither; and it was agreed that both furnished capital amusement.
Should-Read: National Security Council (1950): NSC-68, U.S. Objectives and Programs for National Security: "Within the past thirty-five years the world has experienced two global wars of tremendous violence...
I swear, when this showed up in my inbox—sent by somebody who wishes me ill—I really did think it was an April Fools Day parody...
Back up. As the eminent and intelligent John Scalzi says: to play the video game of life—"a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time"—as a straight white male in America is to play it on the lowest difficulty setting: on level one, so to speak.
Everybody else faces bigger obstacles and more distractions. Thus one should not be proud of one's “score“, however one likes to keep score. One should not pat oneself on the back as being in any way "superior" for what one has accomplished. And one should not whinge about how hard one's life is, and about how many obstacles one faces.
And if one starts whingeing—especially if start whingeing when people point out that one has been playing on level one—if one says one is being oppressed by sexist anti-sexists and racist anti-racists because somebody points out that one's score is at the top primarily because one was playing on level one, and that one is actively assisting others of one's ilk in playing on level one...
Well, one should be embarrassed: Such a fragile ego! Such an unwillingness to contemplate the reality in which one is cushioned! Such a sensitive snowflake!
Why, it is positively unmanly...
Should-Read: William Beveridge (1942): Beveridge Report: Social Insurance and Allied Services: "Three guiding principles may be laid down at the outset...
Hoisted from Others' Archives: Let us all remember what George W. Bush was really like: John Rogers (2005): Lunch Discussions #145: The Crazification Factor: "John: ... I mean, what will it take? That last speech literally made no sense. It was crazy drunken bar talk!...
Weekend Reading: I am flashing to C. Julius Caesar sending British academics who talk about the glories of "western civilization" to the Spanish coal mines or to the gladiator schools: "The result of the British war is a source of anxiety.... There isn't a pennyweight of silver in that island, nor any hope of booty except from slaves, among whom I don't suppose you can expect any instructed in literature or music..." (ex quibus nullos puto te litteris aut musicis eruditos exspectare).
Weekend Reading: Trevon D Logan: On Twitter: "Great advice here. (I admit I’m biased though...)"
@DaniaFrancis: Another example of the excellence coming out of Berkeley Econ. I kick myself again.
@TrevonDLogan: I remember your visit. Andrea and I were so hoping you’d come. In the end, there are not good or bad choices but just paths. I knew you’d reach your destination no matter what!
@DaniaFrancis: Thank you! I wasn’t so sure myself, but I’m glad I did!
@KimberlyNFoster: Does anyone love their PhD program? Why is it that we only hear struggle stories from PhD students?
This is a very nice short framework-for-thinking-about-globalization-and-the-world piece by Paul Krugman: Paul Krugman (2018): Globalization: What Did We Miss?
It is excellently written. It contains a number of important insights.
I have, unusually, a number of complaints about it. I will make them stridently:
March 23, 2018 at 11:40 AM in Economics: Growth, Economics: History, Economics: Inequality, Economics: Macro, Philosophy: Moral, Political Economy, Politics, Streams: (BiWeekly) Honest Broker, Streams: Cycle, Streams: Economics, Streams: Equitable Growth, Streams: Highlighted | Permalink | Comments (17)
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I confess that I am a great fan of Applied History. Theoretical arguments and conceptual frameworks are, ultimately, nothing but distilled, crystalized, and chemically cooked history. After all, what else could they possibly be? And it is very important to know whether the distillation, crystallization, and chemical cooking processes that underpin the theory and made the conceptual frameworks were honest ones. And that can be done only by getting good historians into the mix—in a prominent and substantial way.
But if this is what "Applied History" is to be, AY-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI!!!!
Niall Ferguson: Fetch the purple toga: Emperor Trump is here: "Think of Harvey Weinstein, the predator whose behaviour was for years an 'open secret' among precisely the Hollywood types who were so shrill last year in their condemnation of Donald Trump for his boasts about 'grabbing' women by the genitals...
March 16, 2018 at 06:50 PM in Berkeley, Books, Economics: History, History, Moral Responsibility, Philosophy: Moral, Political Economy, Politics, Streams: (BiWeekly) Honest Broker, Streams: (Wednesday) Economic History, Streams: Cycle, Streams: Economics, Streams: Equitable Growth, Streams: Highlighted | Permalink | Comments (23)
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Document: Teddy Roosevelt (1907): Address of President Roosevelt on the occasion of the laying of the corner stone of the Pilgrim memorial monument https://www.icloud.com/keynote/0Ygwj9sjmrS-tI0aypbStC40A: "We can not as a nation be too profoundly grateful for the fact that the Puritan has stamped his influence so deeply on our national life. We need have but scant patience with the men who now rail at the Puritan's faults. They were evident, of course, for it is a quality of strong natures that their failings, like their virtues, should stand out in bold relief; but there is nothing easier than to belittle the great men of the past by dwelling only on the points where they come short of the universally recognized standards of the present...
March 06, 2018 at 10:48 AM in Economics: History, Economics: Inequality, Economics: Information, History, Moral Responsibility, Philosophy: Moral, Political Economy, Politics, Streams: (Wednesday) Economic History, Streams: Cycle, Streams: Economics, Streams: Equitable Growth, Twentieth Century Economic History | Permalink | Comments (4)
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Vachel Lindsay: Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan: "In a nation of one hundred fine, mob-hearted, lynching, relenting, repenting millions,
There are plenty of sweeping, swinging, stinging, gorgeous things to shout about, And knock your old blue devils out...
Should-Read: William Jennings Bryan (1896): Cross of Gold: "I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were but a measuring of ability...
...But this is not a contest among persons.
Should-Read: Winston Churchill (1946): The Sinews of Peace: "President McCluer, ladies and gentlemen, and last, but certainly not least, the President of the United States of America...
I am very glad indeed to come to Westminster College this afternoon, and I am complimented that you should give me a degree from an institution whose reputation has been so solidly established. The name "Westminster" somehow or other seems familiar to me. I feel as if I have heard of it before. Indeed now that I come to think of it, it was at Westminster that I received a very large part of my education in politics, dialectic, rhetoric, and one or two other things. In fact we have both been educated at the same, or similar, or, at any rate, kindred establishments.
Looking Forward to Four Years During Which Most if Not All of America's Potential for Human Progress Is Likely to Be Wasted
With each passing day Donald Trump looks more and more like Silvio Berlusconi: bunga-bunga governance, with a number of unlikely and unforeseen disasters and a major drag on the country--except in states where his policies are neutralized.
Nevertheless, remember: WE ARE WITH HER!
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