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October 2017

Weekend Reading: Polybius on His Relationship with Scipio Aemilianus, Plus Cato on Roman Luxury...

Scipio Aemilianus young Google Search

Polybius XXXI.23 ff.: "Now that the progress of my narrative and the date call our special attention to this family...

...I wish in order to satisfy the reader's curiosity to execute a promise I made in the previous book and left unfulfilled, and this was that I would tell how and why the fame of Scipio in Rome advanced so far and became so brilliant more quickly than it should, and to tell also how his friendship and intimacy with the author grew so great that this report about them not only spread to Italy and Greece, but that even further afield their liking and intercourse were a matter of common knowledge.

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Should-Read: I share some of Carolyn Sissoko's concerns here. IMHO, there is great and enormous value in a "Talmudic" style of intellectual engagement.

But in order for it to work, it requires that:

  • senior members give junior members points for challenging them—even if the challenge ultimately reveals only the junior's ignorance or lack of experience thinking things through.
  • senior members hold to the "democracy of ideas": "that's an interesting idea you have set forward; thank you; let's think about how to find out whether it is right or not..."
    • which entails a willingness to mark their beliefs to market, and ask themselves questions like: "we have taken the residual from a production function and called it our driving independent variable for forty years now; has this been a productive thing to do?"
  • seminar questions typically take one of several forms:
    • a question designed to allow the speaker to repair a hole that has opened in his or her presentation
    • a question designed to demarcate where the argument applies from where the argument does not apply
    • a question designed to allow the speaker to move on to his or her next topic
    • never questions designed to blow up the argument completely, rather than to rescue as much of it as can be rescued.

The problem with macroeconomics, of course, is that people who can run such a properly "Talmudic" seminar are extremely rare. Tobin could. Dornbusch could. Solow can. Fischer is absolutely world class in his ability to do so. But both Stigler and Friedman were so-so. And Lucas and Prescott are awful:

Carolyn Sissoko: On the Value of an “Aggressive” Academic Culture [Updated]: "This morning’s procrastination included a few tweets and blogposts on the 'women in economics' debate, and the twist the discussion is taking concerns me...

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Must-Read: Smart meditations by the extremely sharp Danny Quah. I find myself wishing that he would engage with Habermas on the "public sphere" here, somehow...

Danny Quah: When Open Societies Fail: "Why is Wikipedia mostly OK, but so many comments at the end of newspaper articles make you weep for humanity’s future – when both are open for everyone to write?...

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Monday DeLong Smackdown Watch: Still Looking for a High Quality DeLong Smackdown Over the Past Month (or Earlier) Kevin Hassett Edition

Anybody have any suggestions?

UPDATE: OK. There are no suggestions for high quality DeLong smackdowns. And there is one request in comments for a Kevin Hassett smackdown, with a link. So here goes:

Jim Tankerley: Trump’s Top Economist Says Corporate Tax Cuts Will Lift Workers’ Wages: "[Kevin Hassett of] the Trump administration on Monday... ignor[ed]... studies that showed few benefits from corporate tax cuts for average workers and relyi[ed]... on research that supported a politically desirable result...

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Links and Such for the Week of October 15, 2017


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For the Weekend: Stephen Vincent Benet: The Devil and Daniel Webster VII

Daniel Webster

For the Weekend: Stephen Vincent Benet: The Devil and Daniel Webster VII "'Foreign?' said the stranger. 'And who calls me a foreigner?'...

..."Well, I never yet heard of the dev—of your claiming American citizenship," said Dan'l Webster with surprise.

"And who with better right?" said the stranger, with one of his terrible smiles. "When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on her deck. Am I not in your books and stories and beliefs, from the first settlements on? Am I not spoken of, still, in every church in New England? 'Tis true the North claims me for a Southerner, and the South for a Northerner, but I am neither. I am merely an honest American like yourself—and of the best descent—for, to tell the truth, Mr. Webster, though I don't like to boast of it, my name is older in this country than yours."

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Procrastination for October 15, 2017

We re All Public Intellectuals Now The National Interest

Over at Equitable Growth: Must- and Should-Reads:

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Should-Read: This piece by the interesting Geoffrey Pulham seems to start out non-optimally.

There is a difference between (1) true "AI" on the one hand and (2) successful voice/text interface to database search on the other. At the moment (2) is easy. And we should implement (2)—which requires that humans do a little bit of adjusting in order not to use "not", for figuring out within which superset of results any particular "not" is asking for the complement is genuinely hard, and does require true or nearly-true "AI".

Thus to solve Pulham's problem, all you have to do is ask two queries: (i) "Which UK papers are part of the Murdoch empire?"; (ii) "What are the major UK papers?"; take the complement of (i) within (ii) and you immediately get a completely serviceable and useful answer to your question.

That you need to do two rather than one query is because Google has not set itself up to produce short lists as possible answers to (ii) and (i), and then subtract (i) from (ii), and that the reason that it has not done that is a hard AI problem rather than the brute-force-and-massive-ignorance word-frequency-plus-internet-attention that is Google shtick.

But what amazes me is that Google can get so close—not that "true AI" is really hard.

And maybe that is Pelham's real point:

Geoffrey Pulham (2013): Why Are We Still Waiting for Natural Language Processing?: "Try typing this, or any question with roughly the same meaning, into the Google search box...

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Should-Read: I really wish that the FT would stop calling it "populism" and start calling it "fascism". "Populism" is a set of policies—some good on net, some bad—to redistribute income downward. Fascism is something much uglier. Fascism is what we have. Nobody thinks Trump or his Republican enablers or their allies and fellow travelers elsewhere are interested in redistributing income downward:

Martin Wolf: A political shadow looms over the world economy: "Optimism about the global economy is tempered by fears of populism...

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Must-Read: I read this as saying, in one respect: "the neoclassical synthesis, and the resulting decision by MIT Keynesians to focus on the errors of Cambridge Keynesians and to build bridges not to them but to Chicago monetarists was, in retrospect, a big mistake". I remember Larry saying in, I think 1981, "there are a lots of careers to be made and knowledge to be gained by mathing up Keynes's General Theory properly". Yet, the honorable examples of Roger Farmer and a number of others notwithstanding, too much macro has instead been off chasing squirrels for two generations:

Olivier Blanchard and Lawrence Summers: Rethinking macro stabilization: Back to the future: "Lessons from past crises...

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Should-Read: Anybody like John Taylor who has been wrong about just about everything since 2007—and who has refused to do anything to mark his beliefs to market—would be a really lousy choice as Federal Reserve Chair:

Paul Krugman (2015): QE Truthers: "Everyone knows about the infamous open letter warning Ben Bernanke not to engage in quantitative easing...

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Procrastinating on October 12, 2017

We re All Public Intellectuals Now The National Interest

Over at Equitable Growth: Must- and Should-Reads:

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Should-Read: Our political democracy has not been obviously covering itself in glory since... I would argue 1981, when the Republican Party made what then-senator Howard Baker called the "riverboat gamble" on big deficits and tax cuts, on which it has then doubled down and subsequently reinforced with foreign wars to busy giddy minds and what can now only be called authoritarian white supremacy. But others can blame the downward political spiral on other, later events: the rise of Newt Gingrich in 1993, the coalescence behind the unqualified George W. Bush in 2000, the embrace of Mitch McConnell's destructive opposition strategy in 2009, or the embrace of Donald Trump in 2016. Why should any in China's leadership class today believe that it should be moving toward our kind of political democracy? That authoritarians have a much worse lower tail is true. But the Chinese government can argue that its controls on that bad lower tail are now at least as good as ours. And what do we see back? I believe that our system is better, but what arguments convincing to them can I make? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

The very sharp Karl Smith:

Karl Smith: Pax Sinica: What Is To Be done?: "Tyler Cowen reminds me of an issue I used to think a lot about...

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Live from the Orange-Haired Baboon Cage: I endorse Duncan Black here. I am not going to ignore that this is a situation that calls for the removal of the President immediately via the Amendment 25 process. And shame on everybody else who pretends not to notice this:

May 11, 2017: Degenerative: "Time keeps on ticking..."

October 12, 2017: Sundown: "It's a bit more... mainstream... now...

...but I posted this at the time because it was obvious and no one in "serious" journalism could say it or even really suggest it. I don't mean I'm a sort of brave truthteller, I just mean I'm a dumb blogger who can say what he wants and journalists, for better or for worse, "can't" always (sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not).

Must-Read: Yes, I know that every serious Republican interested in monetary policy is whispering that Kevin Warsh would be a disastrous Fed Chair appointment unless the technostructure could rein him in. And I even know that some non-serious Republicans interested in monetary policy are adding to the whispers—John Taylor, for example (but he may want it for himself). But more strong, open, public opposition from Republicans and bipartisans would be very welcome now.

Tim Duy readeth the lesson:

Tim Duy: Kevin Warsh, Very Serious Person: "Scott Sumner is perplexed by... Kevin Warsh['s in 2010]...

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Should-Read: Does Michael Strain really believe that theTrump Administration and the Congressional Republican caucus have mistakenly fuzzed the "details" of their tax plan? They have deliberately fuzzed the "details" because they have calculated that their plan is more popular with the details fuzzed. Saying exactly what you want to do is not a way to keep critics from assuming "the worst" if your intentions are in fact "the worst"—and if the goal is to keep the professional centrists from saying: "yep: the critics are right". Michael Strain wants his party to play policy ball. But his party wants to play Calvinball.

And, of course, his blithe assumption that they really want to play policy ball is a form of meta-Calvinball itself:

Michael Strain: Republicans, It's Way Past Time for a Real Tax Plan: "The way to keep critics from assuming the worst about your intentions is to say exactly what you want to do..."

Should-Read: I think Paul Krugman gets this one wrong because he fails to distinguish between two versions of the Efficient Financial Markets Hypothesis. The first version, which is right, is that “asset price movements are unpredictable, that patterns are subtle, unstable, and hard to make money off of”. The second version, which is wrong, is that financial markets are optional aggregators of information that get prices right. The first has done good. The second has done a lot of harm. Distinguish!

Paul Krugman: Rationality and Rabbit Holes: "Like the vast majority of economists, I was delighted to see Richard Thaler get the Nobel...

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