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May 2015

Monday Smackdown: The Slow Death of the University. And Oxford High Table IS ON IT!!

I must say, if Terry Eagleton wants to make the case and elicit sympathy for the Oxford of his youth as it exists in his imagination, this is not at all the way to go about it:

Terry Eagleton: The Slow Death of the University: "I was being shown around a large, very technologically advanced university in Asia by its proud president...

...flanked by two burly young minders... who for all I knew were carrying Kalashnikovs under their jackets.... The president paused to permit me a few words of fulsome praise. I remarked instead that there seemed to be no critical studies of any kind on his campus. He looked at me bemusedly, as though I had asked him how many Ph.D.’s in pole dancing they awarded each year, and replied rather stiffly 'Your comment will be noted.' He then took a small piece of cutting-edge technology out of his pocket, flicked it open and spoke a few curt words of Korean into it, probably 'Kill him'....

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Must-Read: There are, I think, six things that Paul Romer is objecting to, all gathered together under the portmanteau of "mathiness":

  1. Claiming that, as a matter of methodology, "good science" requires assumptions that bake my politics into the cake.
  2. Claiming that a theory is in some sense "confirmed" when in fact it makes no claims about anything observable.
  3. Hiding your reasoning in a blizzard of irrelevant algebra.
  4. Uncritically applying to the real world conclusions based on dubious assumptions.
  5. Focusing on internal consistency rather than external relevance.
  6. Foundations that are fake--that assume agents and markets that are not in the appropriate sense like the real agents and markets.

The problem with his paper, I think, is that while these six are correlated things, they are six different an distinct things.

Simon Wren-Lewis: Paul Romer and Microfoundations: "A distinction between scientific consensus and political discourse...

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Noah Smith, Paul Romer, "Mathiness", and Baking the Politics into the Microfoundations...

Over at Equitable Growth: I see that over on the Twitter machine Noah Smith is engaging Paul Romer, in an attempt to get Paul to elucidate his "Mathiness" paper. I think Noah Smith misunderstands Paul Romer.

As I see it, Paul Romer believes that George Stigler laid down the methodological principal that one should always assume perfect competition in one's microfoundations, and in so doing Stigler was acting as an ideologue rather than a technocrat, and that this is harmful.

It seems to me that Paul is more right than wrong.

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Mark Schmitt for Democracy Journal: Democratic Romanticism and Its Critics

Mark Schmitt: Democratic Romanticism and Its Critics: "Who speaks for partisanship, patronage, corruption, or secrecy?...

...But the new skeptics of reform are not hacks, and they raise valuable critiques that deserve a hearing, even if they are sometimes vulnerable to romanticism, naïveté, and nostalgia of their own. Besides La Raja and Pildes... Bruce Cain... Jonathan Rauch... and Jason Grumet.... These books and articles vary greatly in tone and depth, ranging from Cain’s cool-eyed analysis of paradoxes in dozens of aspects of political reform at the state and federal level, to Grumet’s nostalgia for the era when handshake agreements were made in adjoining chairs in the Senate barbershop.

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Weekend Reading: John Quiggin: Economic Policy for the 21st Century

John Quiggin: Economic Policy for the 21st Century:


  • Policy debate dominated by discussions of ‘reform’
  • Policy agenda set in 1980s
>* Irrelevant or counterproductive today
  • We need a 21st century policy agenda
  • Previous reform era provides a way to think about this.

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Weekend Reading: Mario Draghi: The ECB’s Recent Monetary Policy Measures: Effectiveness and Challenges

Mario Draghi: ECB: The ECB’s Recent Monetary Policy Measures: Effectiveness and Challenges: "Over the past year the ECB has taken a series of major monetary policy measures...

...culminating in our decision in January this year to expand our asset purchases towards public sector securities. While the aim of these measures is the same as it has always been – maintaining price stability over the medium-term – their form is unprecedented for our central bank. And as such our policy decisions have become more complex in two key ways.

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Liveblogging the American Revolution: May 16, 1777: Thomas Jefferson to John Adams

Thomas Jefferson: Williamsburgh May 16. 1777:

Dear Sir

Matters in our part of the continent are too much in quiet to send you news from hence. Our battalions for the Continental service were some time ago so far filled as rendered the recommendation of a draught from the militia hardly requisite, and the more so as in this country it ever was the most unpopular and impracticable thing that could be attempted. Our people even under the monarchical government had learnt to consider it as the last of all oppressions.

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Must-Read: As I often say, you win the game of economic theory working in the Chicago tradition if you come up with a theoretical reason why a situation that appears rife with externalities and market failures is in fact one in which the bare-market allocation is in some sense Pareto Optimal. People who start out from the belief the governments are incompetent by necessity and that private property as always the greatest thing--even greater than sliced bread--should not work in the Chicago tradition, as what they produce is lousy. (conversely, you win the game of economic theory working in the Berkeley tradition if you come up with a theoretical reason why a situation in which it looks like the market works is actually rife with market failures and externalities. People who start out from the belief the government failure does not exist do not do good work in the Berkeley tradition.)

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What Is the American Principles Project?

Live from La Farine: How does opposition to contraception and abortion and advocacy of discrimination against homosexuals get tied up with the gold standard and the elimination of the pro-poor redistributionist social ethic of Jesus Christ? It is a mystery.

First, what is the American Principles Project. Well, the American Principles Project's founder is Robert P. George. Enough said.

UPDATE: No, not enough said. Thanks to the Idler for finding this true gem in First Things:

Robert P. George: Killing Abortionists: A Symposium: "I am personally opposed to killing abortionists...

....However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in a sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view. Of course, I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go so far as to support mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even nonjudgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity-not a good, but a lesser evil. In short, I am moderately pro-choice...

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Noted for Your Nighttime Procrastination for May 15, 2015

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Must- and Should-Reads:

Over at Equitable Growth--The Equitablog


And Over Here:

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Must-Read: The more I look at the British labor market, the more likely it seems to me that low productivity growth is the result of two things: (a) the reduction in financial services's profitability in London, and (b) a reemployment system gone mad which is creating an awful lot of low productivity matches between workers and jobs: people who are to be holding out for a job with more hours at which they could be more productive, but were being driven to take whatever will get the social insurance system off their backs--hence the huge number of zero-hour jobs and the large number of people who are not employed, really, but are rather casual labor who might be called on next week. And if aggregate demand in Britain picked up, my guess would be that a lot of the low productivity would turn out to be a mirage.

Martin Sandbu: Free Lunch: Below potential, But How Far?: "The central issue in the Inflation Report published yesterday by the Bank of England is...

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David Brooks: Hoisted from the Archives from Nine Years Ago

Ben: Unfogged: "Since people are talking about David Brooks...

...and his obsession with 'values' and 'meaning' and whatnot, let's all pause to recall that he's a shameless liar and fantasist who doesn't even have the grace to acknowledge it when he's caught. (I mean, in addition to the fact that he has the intelligence of a sea slug and the moral sophistication of a stoat.)

Sasha Issenberg: [Boo-Boos in Paradise( "I called Brooks to see if I was misreading his work...

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Must-Read: It used to be the bookstores collected order flow and then ordered books from distributors who ordered them from publishers who edited and printed them from manuscript by authors. Then Amazon appeared and is still seeking to eliminate as many intermediaries between authors and book readers as it can. Is Facebook about to try the same thing? And how long before reporters with followings start collecting their paychecks from Facebook directly? Interesting questions...

John Herrmann: Notes on the Surrender at Menlo Park: "Platforms grow by incorporating the labor of users and partners...

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Live from the Roasterie: Quite an extraordinary piece of rhetoric from a Bush-scion Chickenhawk who thought back in 1971 that he might have a Jeb considered filing for conscientious-objector status to avoid the war, according to Barbara Bush. She said in an interview with United Press International in 1984 that her husband told Jeb, 'Whatever you decide... I will back you 100 percent.' Jeb eventually decided to submit to the draft, she said.">conscientious objection to military service:

Brian Buetler: "After facing the most predictable question of the election cycle...

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Liveblogging World War II: May 15, 1945: Harry S. Truman Press Conference

Harry S. Truman: The President's News Conference:

THE PRESIDENT. I am very sure that the first thing you are principally interested in is the free press in Germany. I would like to read a little statement here, and if you want to ask me some questions about it, I will try to answer them.

Q. Will you read slowly, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. I will read it very slowly.

General Eisenhower has advised me that he has issued no policy or order dealing with the importation of publications into Germany. The General has expressed the personal opinion that a free press and a free flow of information and ideas should prevail in Germany in a manner consistent with military security.

General Eisenhower has emphasized, however, that there can be no restoration of a free German press in Germany until the elimination of Nazi and militarist influence has been completed. We are not going to lose the peace by giving license to racialist Pan-Germans, Nazis and militarists, so that they can misuse democratic rights in order to attack Democracy as Hitler did.

Now I agree with General Eisenhower on that.

And if you want to ask me some questions, why fire away.

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"Neoliberalisms", Left and Right

Over at Equitable Growth]1 Today's best piece I have read on the internet is by the extremely sharp John Quiggin:

John Quiggin: The Last Gasp of (US) [Left-]Neoliberalism: "US neoliberalism is... closer to Blair’s Third Way than to Thatcher....

...[US] neoliberalism maintained and even extended ‘social liberalism’, in the US sense of support for equal marriage, reproductive choice and so on. In economic terms, its central claim was that the goals of the New Deal... could best be pursued through market-friendly policies that would earn the support of the financial sector.... [The] signature issues for US neoliberals were free trade, cuts in ‘entitlement’ spending, and school reform... a ‘grand bargain’, in which Republicans would accept minimal increases in taxation in return for the abandonment of most of the Democratic program. The Clinton administration was explicitly neoliberal.... And, while Obama’s 2008 election campaign was masterfully ambiguous, his first Administration neoliberal through and through.... But developments since then, including the global financial crisis, the failure of school reform and increasing awareness of entrenched inequality have destroyed the appeal of neoliberalism...

I think that John Quiggin is largely correct--if you correct "abandonment" to "reconfiguration". READ MOAR

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Live from the Palace of Westminster: David Cameron**: "For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society...

...saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance. This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach...

Must-Read: The key negotiating questions on TPP are how to make the pharmaceutical IP carve-out work, and how to make sure ISDS levels regulatory playing fields up rather than down. The judgment call from a technocratic point of view is how much are these worth--should they be put forward as negotiating-position dealbreakers, and should they really be dealbreakers?

Ezra Klein: Why Adam Posen Thinks Obama’s TPP Is Worth Passing: "Companies, Posen continues, have taken ISDS...

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Must-Read: My assorted progeny complain that I have not referred enough things from Ta-Nehisi Coates recently. They are correct. In America today, unfortunately, formally race-blind policy discourse on poverty and inequality is and will not for a long time be truly race-blind at all:

Ta-Nehisi Coates: President Obama on Color-Blind Policy and Color-Conscious Morality: "You will hear no policy targeted toward black people...

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Choose Your Heterodoxy: Farmer vs. Krugman

Over at Equitable Growth: Paul Krugman digs in in defense of old economic thinking: behavioral finance to explain bubbles, money illusion plus anchoring to explain wage and price inertia, and then the three-commodity--outside money, bonds, and currently-produced goods and services--temporary-equilibrium model of Hicks and Metzler to provide the backbone of a useful macroeconomics:

Paul Krugman: Choose Your Heterodoxy: "I’m pretty sure Roger Farmer is subtweeting me... when he says:

There are still a number of self-professed Keynesian bloggers out there who see the world through the lens of 1950s theory...

And it’s true!... Farmer wants us to think in terms of models with: READ MOAR*

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Noted for Your Nighttime Procrastination for May 13, 2015

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Must- and Should-Reads:

Over at Equitable Growth--The Equitablog


And Over Here:

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Across the Wide Missouri: $4.50 toast comes to Kansas City!

Heirloom Bakery & Hearth

White-bread (actually whole-wheat millet, multigrain, sunflower flax, molasses raisin walnut, rosemary-wheat, cheesy pesto, cinnamon-swirl brioche, challah, and homestyle white-bread) yuppie culture continues to spread across the land!

Today's Economic History: John Maynard Keynes's Obituary of Alfred Marshall

John Maynard Keynes (1924): Obituary for Alfred Marshall: "ALFRED MARSHALL was born at Clapham on July 26, 1842...

...the son of William Marshall, a cashier in the Bank of England, by his marriage with Rebecca Oliver. The Marshalls were a clerical family of the West, sprung from William Marshall, incumbent of Saltash, Cornwall, at the end of the seventeenth century. Alfred was the great-great-grandson of the Reverend William Marshall, the half-legendary herculean parson of Devonshire, who, by twisting horseshoes with his hands, frightened local blacksmiths into fearing that they blew their bellows for the devil. His great-grandfather was the Reverend John Marshall, Headmaster of Exeter Grammar School, who married Mary Hawtrey, daughter of the Reverend Charles Hawtrey, Sub-Dean and Canon of Exeter, and aunt of the Provost of Eton.


Re-Reading My Weblog: October 2005

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In October 2005 I was surprised to see a member of the Bush family--the smart one, Jeb ("John Ellis"--but what a Connecticut Yankee is doing choosing a nickname and thus calling himself after a rebel cavalry general who spent his time in Pennsylvania catching free Blacks to sell as slaves, rather than being Lee's army's eyes, is beyond me)--simply failing to get the point of what his father was saying on the tennis court when George H.W. Bush would threaten to "unleash Chiang":

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Liveblogging World War II: May 13, 1945: Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill: Speech of May 13, 1945

It was five years ago on Thursday last that His Majesty the King commissioned me to form a National Government of all parties to carry on our affairs. Five years is a long time in human life, especially when there is no remission for good conduct. However, this National Government was sustained by Parliament and by the entire British nation at home and by all our fighting men abroad, and by the unswerving co-operation of the Dominions far across the oceans and of our Empire in every quarter of the globe.

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Noted for Your Evening Procrastination for May 12, 2015

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Must- and Should-Reads:

Over at Equitable Growth--The Equitablog


And Over Here:

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Mark Bauerlein Has Written Another Book, So Let Me Hoist This from the Archives from Nine Years Ago

Lord, Enlighten Thou Our Enemies: Let us start with John Stuart Mill's prayer:

'Lord, enlighten thou our enemies,' prayed nineteenth-century British economist and moral philosopher John Stuarrt MIll:

Sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions, and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers: we are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom; their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength...

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Science Fiction: Jim Baen

Re: John Scalzi: The Myth of SF/F Publishing House Exceptionalism

I don't doubt that Baen Books under Jim Baen was primarily a print-good-stories-that-Jim-Baen-thinks-will-sell-and-get-people-to-buy-more-Baen-books enterprise. And I don't doubt that Jim Baen was very good to John Ringo.


Consider three things:

First, Walter Jon Williams's take. Walter Jon Williams tells stories of unhappy dealings with Jim Baen. WJW is a very, very good writer indeed who writes cracking good stories that have a beginning, a middle, and a (more than satisfactory end--in fact, who writes stories that are so good that everyone would benefit from some more serious publisher marketing muscle behind him. He casts a rather different light on Baen. See, on life in the days when Jim Baen was both an editor at Tom Doherty's Tor Boks and running his own Baen Software computer-game company: "Those were the days when there were only three people in the Tor offices. Jim Baen the editor, Tom Doherty the publisher, and Mrs. Doherty the bookkeeper....

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Department of "Huh?!": Noah Smith Claims the British Economy Today Is Not in a Keynesian Slump

Over at Equitable Growth: Real production in Great Britain is far below what we thought back in 2007 it would be today if British growth proceeded according to trend:

Graph Gross Domestic Product by Expenditure in Constant Prices Total Gross Domestic Product for the United Kingdom© FRED St Louis Fed


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Must-Read: The truly extraordinary thing about California's Proposition 13 was not that it nearly froze residential real estate taxes as long as residents owned the property, but that it nearly froze commercial and industrial real estate taxes essentially forever. I do not understand how that provision made it into Jarvis-Gann in the first place--or how it has survived in California for so long...

Dan Walters: Finally, war on Prop. 13 breaks out: "A political war over taxes that’s been brewing for nearly four decades finally erupted Thursday--maybe...

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