David Glasner: James Buchanan Calling the Kettle Black: Weekend Reading

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IIR, back in 1986 I was one of two two people at the MIT economics Wednesday faculty lunch willing to say that I thought the award of the Nobel Prize to James Buchanan was not a travesty and a mistake. I would now like to withdraw that opinion.

Buchanan was a hedgehog. Hedgehogs are wise in one big thing and very stupid otherwise. They may be intellectually useful for a community, or they may be tremendously destructive—it depends. But they are not wise. And they should not be given prizes that lead outsiders to think that they are wise:

David Glasner: James Buchanan Calling the Kettle Black: "In the wake of the tragic death of Alan Krueger, attention has been drawn to an implicitly defamatory statement by James Buchanan about those who, like Krueger, dared question the orthodox position taken by most economists that minimum-wage laws increase unemployment among low-wage, low-skilled workers whose productivity, at the margin, is less than the minimum wage that employers are required to pay employees. Here is Buchanan’s statement...

...The inverse relationship between quantity demanded and price is the core proposition in economic science, which embodies the presupposition that human choice behavior is sufficiently relational to allow predictions to be made. Just as no physicist would claim that “water runs uphill,” no self-respecting economist would claim that increases in the minimum wage increase employment. Such a claim, if seriously advanced, becomes equivalent to a denial that there is even minimal scientific content in economics, and that, in consequence, economists can do nothing but write as advocates for ideological interests. Fortunately, only a handful of economists are willing to throw over the teachings of two centuries; we have not yet become a bevy of camp-following whores.

Wholly apart from its odious metaphorical characterization of those he was criticizing, Buchanan’s assertion was substantively problematic....

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The Fed Board Unmoored: Live at Project Syndicate

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Live at Project Syndicate: The Fed Board Unmoored: "In December 2015, the right-wing commentator Stephen Moore, US President Donald Trump’s pick to fill a vacancy on the US Federal Reserve Board of Governors, savagely attacked then-Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, for maintaining loose monetary policies in the years following the 'Great Recession'.... On December 26, 2018, he savagely attacked Yellen’s successor, Jerome Powell, for raising interest rates to unwind the very approach that he had condemned three years earlier. 'If you cut engine power too far on a jetliner', he warned, 'it will stall and drop out of the sky'. Moore complained that after having 'risen by 382 points on hopes that the Fed would listen to Trump and stop cutting power', the Dow Jones Industrial Average had “plunged by 895 points” on the news of another interest-rate hike. This, he concluded, was evidence that 'the Fed’s monetary policy has come unhinged'...

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Fairly Recently: Must- and Should-Reads, and Writings... (March 25, 2019)

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  1. Margaret Leslie Davis: The Quest to Acquire the Oldest, Most Expensive Book on the Planet: "The price of the book when it left the printer’s workshop was believed to be about thirty florins, equivalent to a clerk’s wages for three years...

  2. George A. Akerlof: Sins of Omission and the Practice of Economics: "Economics, as a discipline, gives rewards that favor the 'Hard' and disfavor the 'Soft', Such bias leads economic research to ignore important topics and problems that are difficult to approach in a 'Hard' way—thereby resulting in 'sins of omission'.... Greatly increased tolerance in norms for publication and promotion... [is] one way of alleviating narrow methodological biases...

  3. Wikipedia: Quantum Logic Gates

  4. Andy Matuschak: "I want to expand the reach of human knowledge and ability...

  5. Michael Nielsen: Neural Networks and Deep Learning

  6. Michael Nielsen: Interesting problems: The Church-Turing-Deutsch Principle: "Deutsch... propose[d] a revision of the Church-Turing thesis... that every physical process can be simulated by a universal computing device...

  7. Alain Aspect: The future of Quantum Technologies: The Second Quantum Revolution

  8. Barbara Tuchman: “A Single British Soldier…”: "'What is the smallest British military force that would be of any practical assistance to you?' Wilson asked. Like a rapier flash came Foch’s reply, 'A single British soldier—and we will see to it that he is killed'...

  9. Michael Andersen: Six Secrets From the Planner of Sevilla’s Lightning Bike Network: "Sevilla, Spain: It went from having about as much biking as Oklahoma City to having about as much biking as Portland, Oregon. It did this over the course of four years...

  10. I wish it were so, but I see only one professional Republican economist—Greg Mankiw—coming out in opposition to Moore. The rest are very quiet. All honor to Greg Mankiw, yes, but where are the others?: Brendan Greeley: Swift Pushback on Stephen Moore, Trump's Latest Pick for the Fed: "Stephen Moore drew swift and unusually pointed criticism after President Donald Trump picked him to be a governor of the U.S. Federal Reserve, with at least one prominent Republican economist calling on the Senate to block the appointment. 'He does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job', Greg Mankiw, a Harvard professor who was chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, wrote in a blog post on Friday. 'It is time for senators to do their job. Mr. Moore should not be confirmed'...

  11. Paul Krugman Twitter: https://twitter.com/paulkrugman/with_replies

  12. Stephen Moore Twitter: https://twitter.com/search?vertical=default&q=Stephen%20Moore&src=typd

  13. Wikipedia: Battle of Mycale

  14. Wikipedia: Battle of Plataea

  15. Roman expeditions to Sub-Saharan Africa

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The very sharp Tim Duy comes over to my position on the Fed: Tim Duy: Fed Needs to Get With The Program: "An inverted yield curve is a well-known recession indicator.... Either embrace that relationship in your analysis or reject it on the basis that any signals from the term structure are hopelessly hidden by the massive injections of global quantitative easing.... I... choose the former.... Recession indicator... probability models based on some combination of yield spreads and other leading indicators. Most will be raising red flags like this estimate of the probability of recession in six months...

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Branko Milanovic: A Grand Fresco: Francis Fukuym's "The Origins of Political Order': "When does the political order decay? When the state is incapable to reform itself  to respond to new challenges (say, a powerful neighbor) and when it gets repatrimonalized.  The decay section is not exactly novel (to  be unable to reform is not very original), but the emphasis on repatrimonization as the source of decay allows us to better see that the state remains an unnatural organization in the sense that it is permanently in danger of succumbing to the more atavistic instincts of human nature—to prefer own kin rather than be subject to impersonal rules...

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Any New York Times Employees Go Up to Bennet and Baquet Today to Say "You Are Really Screwing the Pooch by Keeping Bret Stephens on!"?

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Bret Stephens is an ass. As are his bosses. Sister Souljah in context: 1992: In Her Own Disputed Words; Transcript of Interview That Spawned Souljah's Story:

Sister Souljah. Black people from the underclass and the so-called lower class do not respect the institutions of white America, which is why you can cart as many black people out on the television as you want to tell people in the lower and underclass that that was stupid, but they don't care what you say. You don't care about their lives, haven't added anything to the quality of their lives, haven't affectuated anything for the quality of their lives, and then expect them to respond to your opinions which mean absolutely nothing? Why would they?

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Monday Smackdown/Hoisted from Others' Archives from Six -and-a-HalfYears Ago: Dan Drezner on Chuck Lane

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Every time I try to get out, they drag me back in...

Now I am being told that nobody with any audience ever thought 15/hour in California was a really bad idea. So time to recall this:

Monday Smackdown/Hoisted from Others' Archives: A correspondent asks me for help: Chuck Lane is being used as an authority on the California's 15/hr by 2023 minimum wage proposal. And Chuck Lane says:

A hot concept in wonkdom these days is “evidence-based policymaking.”… Gov. Jerry Brown and the state’s labor leaders have announced legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage… to $15 per hour…. Whatever else might be said about this plan, it does not represent an exercise in evidence-based policymaking. To the contrary: There’s a total lack of evidence that the potential benefits would outweigh potential costs—and ample reason to worry they would not…

Dan Drezner: Why I Don’t Need to Take Charles Lane Seriously: "The Washington Post’s Chuck Lane wrote an op-ed arguing in favor of Jeff Flake’s amendment...

...to cut National Science Foundation funding for political science. In fact, Lane raised the ante, arguing that NSF should stop funding all of the social sciences, full stop. Now, I can respect someone who tries to make the argument that the opportunity costs of funding the social sciences are big enough that this is where a budget cut should take place.  It’s harder, however, to respect someone who: 

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Over the past three centuries success at economic development has always gone with an absolute conception of property rights. in China today, however ,your property rights are always conditional on your service to the state and on the power of your friends in the party. Thus American corporations and their American shareholders are going to find serving China’s market a very interesting thing indeed over the next generation:

Ben Thompson: China Blocks Bing; Tencent, China, and Apple;: "The warning signs for Apple are flashing bright red: not only is Apple the most successful hardware company in China (and, relatedly, the most successful software company), the company also runs by far the most profitable service. China is the biggest market for the App Store, and it is fair to wonder how long China will tolerate Apple’s total control of app installation for the iPhone...

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The great and the good of America's establishment have been unwilling to use the F-word as a label for the political movement that now rules in places like Hungary, Poland, India, and Brazil. But Madeleine Albright goes there: Sean Illing: "Fascism: A Warning" from Madeleine Albright: "A seasoned US diplomat is not someone you’d expect to write a book with the ominous title Fascism: A Warning. But that is what Madeleine Albright, who served as the first female secretary of state from 1997 to 2001, has done—and it’s not a reassuring read. In it, she sounds the alarm about the erosion of liberal democracy, both in the US and across the world, and the rise of what she describes as a 'fascist threat'. And yes, she talks about President Donald Trump...

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Via Adrienne Porter Felt: A "SMASH THAT LIKE BUTTON!!' from 1355: William: William and the Werewolf:

...And there he saw the lovely child, weeping in that horrible hollow, clothed like a king's son.

So ends the first part of this tale. All who would like to hear more should offer an 'Our Father' to the High King of Heaven for the noble Earl of Hereford, Sir Humphrey de Bohun, nephew of old King Edward who lies at Gloucester. For he is the first to have this tale translated from French into English for the benefit of all Englishmen; whoever prays thus, may God grant him bliss!

The cowherd's wife looked after the little boy as though he were her own son...

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I do not think that Steve Moore was "an amiable guy" to the people of Kansas (except for those who benefitted from his pass-through loophole). I would accept "a seemingly-amiable grifter", but "an amiable guy" seems to me to miss the mark...

Now where are all the other professional Republican economists? Coming out against Moore-to-the-Fed is a really cheap and easy virtue signal to make even if you are not virtuous at all. Failing to come out against Moore-to-the-Fed is to send a strong vice signal to the administration, and the world:

Greg Mankiw: Memo to Senate: Just Say No: "The president nominates Stephen Moore to be a Fed governor. Steve is a perfectly amiable guy, but he does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job.... It is time for Senators to do their job. Mr. Moore should not be confirmed...

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Leonid Bershidsky: Russia's Annexation of Crimea 5 Years Ago Has Cost Putin Dearly - Bloomberg: "His overconfidence after the successful annexation lured him into a trap where he lost all bargaining power: Five years ago, on March 16, 2014, the Kremlin held a fake referendum in Crimea to justify after the fact the peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine.... The highest cost to Putin came in bargaining power rather than in cash. Immediately after Crimea, geopolitical bargains were still possible for Putin.... After the eastern Ukraine adventure, and especially after the downing of Flight MH17 and all the laughable Russian denials that followed, his credibility was shot. Nobody knew if he would keep his end of any bargain.... Putin’s lack of credibility is an important reason he can’t build any alliances at all.... At the same time, Russians’ post-Crimea enthusiasm is gone, eroded by six years of falling incomes.... Russia, the world and, likely, parts of the Russian establishment are waiting for Putin to go, even if no one can make him leave.... Meanwhile, Fortress Russia is locked and no one’s coming to parley...

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I confess, I do not understand any of these three objections: (1) Weinberg is disturbed by many-worlds just as earlier physicists were disturbed by quantum waves, but the universe does not care and does not avoid every feature that might disturb East African Plains Apes. (2) The Born rule is a problem for all formulations of quantum mechanics, but many-worlds has come closer to it than any other formulation and may well have derived it. (3) The non-locality of EPR, "entanglement", and "spukhafte Fernwirkung" is not a problem for many-worlds, but rather a problem for all other formulations—including instrumentalist ones—as Sidney Coleman said, it's either "quantum mechanics in your face" or non-locality; it's not "quantum mechanics in your face" and non-locality: Steven Weinberg: The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics: "The realist approach has a very strange implication... Hugh Everett... The vista of all these parallel histories is deeply unsettling, and like many other physicists I would prefer a single history. There is another thing that is unsatisfactory about the realist approach.... We can still talk of probabilities as the fractions of the time that various possible results are found when measurements are performed many times in any one history.... Several attempts following the realist approach have come close to deducing rules like the Born rule that we know work well experimentally, but I think without final success. The realist approach to quantum mechanics had already run into a different sort of trouble... Einstein... Podolsky and... Rosen... 'entanglement'.... Strange as it is, the entanglement entailed by quantum mechanics is actually observed experimentally. But how can something so nonlocal represent reality?...

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Comment of the Day: Graydon: "Education could do with much, much more of 'theory informs; practice convinces'. If you want people to exhibit empathy for those whose state is not theirs and whose expertise is different, you need to make most of education involve failure; do this material thing at which you are unskilled. Allowing education to be narrow, and to avoid all reminder that the world is wider and that to a first approximation everyone is utterly incompetent, just encourages arrogance. Arrogance is terrible insecurity management; it makes the other monkeys less inclined to help you. (Yes of course we should overtly teach both insecurity management and band-forming best practices in simple overt language.)...

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Note to Self: There are few enough things in the world or concerning the state of the (non-House) federal government to be thankful for these days. But one i that, despite his enormous deficits and unfitness for the office of president, Donald Trump is not a chickenhawk:

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Hoisted from the Archiyes: Why We Hate Chickenhawks: Selections from SFF Author David Drake

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David Drake, a good chunk of whose work is best classified as horror and is really about his experiences as an interrogator in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the "Blackhorse", when it went through the Cambodian market town of Snuol:

I [now] had much more vivid horrors than Lovecraft's nameless ickinesses to write about.... I wrote about troopers doing their jobs the best they could with tanks that broke down, guns that jammed—and no clue about the Big Picture.... I kept the tone unemotional: I didn't tell the reader that something was horrible, because nobody told me.... Those stories... were different. They didn't fit either of the available molds: "Soldiers are spotless heroes," or... "Soldiers are evil monsters"... [...] The... stories were written with a flat affect, describing cruelty and horror with the detachment of a soldier who's shut down his emotional responses completely in a war zone... as soldiers always do, because otherwise they wouldn't be able to survive. Showing soldiers behaving and thinking as they really do in war was... extremely disquieting to the civilians who were editing magazines...

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Hoisted from the Archives: Why We Have Good Reason to Hate Chickenhawks

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Hard Power, Soft Power, Muscovy, Strategy, and My Once-Again Failure to Understand Where Niall Ferguson Is Coming From: Live from Le Pain Quotidien: In which I once again fail to understand where Niall Ferguson is coming from:

Niall Ferguson: The ‘Divergent’ World of 2015: "Hard power is resilient...

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The Fed Should Buy Recession Insurance: Now Not Quite so Fresh at Project Syndicate

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Now Not Quite so Fresh at Project Syndicate: The Fed Should Buy Recession Insurance: If the United States falls into recession in the next year or two, the US Federal Reserve may have very little room to loosen policy, yet it is not taking any steps to cover that risk. Unless the Fed rectifies this soon, the US–and the world–may well face much bigger problems later.

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Lesson one of central banking: yield curve inversion should only be allowed when the central bank wants to push inflation down. So what does the Fed think it's doing? Is it that confident that the bond market does not know what it is doing? Show me any optimal control exercise that says that right now is a good time to allow yield curve inversion: Vildana Hajric and Sarah Ponczek: Stock Market Today: Dow, S&P Live Updates for March 22, 2019: "U.S. equities fell and Treasuries rose after miserable data from the German manufacturing sector.... The yield on 10-year Treasuries, already at a more-than-one-year low, extended its decline. The three-year/10-year yield curve inverted for the first time since 2007...

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This Has Certainly Been One Crazifying Fed Tightening Cycle...

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This has certainly been one crazifying Fed tightening cycle.

The 10-year nominal Treasury rate is only 0.2%-points higher than it was back in mid-2015, when liftoff appears imminent. the 10-year real rate is back where it started at 0.65, after having gone as low as zero and as high as 1.1%. And—unless it is triggered by strong good growth news—any further increase in the federal funds rate would invert the yield curve, which the Federal Reserve has decided not to do.

I really wish I had some idea of just what the Federal Reserve plans to do to fight the next recession, whenever the next recession come along. It has know since at least mid-2010 that the bond market believes that secular stagnation—at least in its effect on long-term interest rates—is a very real thing.

Presumably the Fed still believes that when the next recession comes it has one job: to drop the 10-year real Treasury rate so that expanded construction and exports can take up some of the emerging labor-market slack and so cushion the downturn. But I have no idea what policies it thinks it will pursue that will accomplish that...

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