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April 2018

Do We Really Care Whether Profits from American Slavery Were Reinvested to Spur Faster Economic Growth?: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast

Brad delong morning coffee Google Search

Whether American growth was much faster because of slavery is a third order issue in the history of slavery. Nevertheless, it is one I talk about because I know something about it. I think that the overwhelming beneficiaries from slavery were slaveowners and the consumers of slave-produced goods, not those of us further down the timeline who would have benefited from faster economic growth.

Do We Really Care Whether Profits from American Slavery Were Reinvested to Spur Faster Economic Growth?


Thx to Wavelength and the very interesting


Without short selling, the current price of a speculative asset is the expected maximum valuation that will ever be given it by the non-forward looking. When the valuations by the non-forward looking become extrapolative, Katie bar the door!: Noah Smith: Lessons on Bubbles From Bitcoin: "Until there is a way to bet against an asset, its price will be set by the most upbeat buyer...

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This is an extremely strange piece: that if the "New Democrats" of the late-1980s and early 1990s tried to turn the Democrats into Eisenhower Republicans, Kabaservice wants to rescue the Republican Party by turning Republicans into New Deal Democrats: Geoffrey Kabaservice: The Dream of a Republican New Deal: "Kansas... Governor Sam Brownback’s 'real live experiment' in reckless tax cuts...

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Matthew Yglesias: "In defense of Trump,: I learned in my deductive logic class that any conditional statement with a false predicate is true."

A great many tears and a great deal of terror have been created by the fact that formal logic has called its two state values true and false rather than 1 and 0, grue and bleen, or even T and F...


Should-Read: Leonardo Bursztyn, Thomas Fujiwara, and Amanda Pallais: 'Acting Wife': Marriage Market Incentives and Labor Market Investments: "Do single women avoid career-enhancing actions because these actions signal undesirable traits, like ambition, to the marriage market?...

...While married and unmarried female MBA students perform similarly when their performance is unobserved by classmates (on exams and problem sets), unmarried women have lower participation grades. In a field experiment, single female students reported lower desired salaries and willingness to travel and work long hours on a real-stakes placement questionnaire when they expected their classmates to see their preferences. Other groups' responses were unaffected by peer observability. A second experiment indicates the effects are driven by observability by single male peers.

Should-Read: One of the several disastrous consequences of Robert Lucas was the severe downweighting of the "disequilibrium foundations of equilibrium" agenda of Frank Fisher and company. But George Evans and company have revived it: George W. Evans and Bruce McGough: Equilibrium Selection, Observability and Backward-stable Solutions: "We examine robustness of stability under learning to observability of exogenous shocks...

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Trump's Tariffs: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast

1e07f4c60c.mp3Brad delong morning coffee Google Search

Last Wednesday night at Ars Technica LIVE! at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland—located beneath where the eight-lane Interstate 580 crosses the ten-lane California Highway 24—there were three demands from the People of the Internet Appearing in Meatspace for a return of the Morning Coffee podcast.

So why not?

Trump's Tariffs: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast:

Why don’t Republican plutocrats, and the senators and representatives they have bought, recognize that plutocrats are not the allies of kleptocrats but rather the prey of kleptocracts?

Trump's Tariffs


Thx to Wavelength and the very interesting


Joseph Schumpeter’s Liquidationist Errors: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast

Brad delong morning coffee Google Search

Last Wednesday night at Ars Technica LIVE! at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland—located beneath where the eight-lane Interstate 580 crosses the ten-lane California Highway 24—there were three demands from the People of the Internet Appearing in Meatspace for a return of the Morning Coffee podcast.

So why not?

Joseph Schumpeter’s Liquidationist Errors: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast:

Joseph Schumpeter was wrong in his claim the depressions were things to be suffered rather than cured. But how much smarter Schumpeter was than our modern day austerians!!

Joseph Schumpeter’s Liquidationist Errors

RSS: The easiest way to create podcasts appears to be to wander around the campus dictating things to Wavelength which then automatically posts them to the very interesting


How can this possibly end other than with the bulk of the administration in jail?: Caroline O. @RVAwonk: "NEW: Trump reportedly raged at staffers when the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats was announced. He was so furious about the # of diplomats & about the U.S. being portrayed as taking a tough stance on Russia that he screamed expletives at WH officials."


Trump's Tariffs: No Longer Fresh at Project Syndicate

Trump s Tax on America by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

Project Syndicate: Trump’s Tax on America: After a year of serving as a useful idiot for congressional Republicans and their wealthy donors to push through tax cuts and deregulation, US President Donald Trump is now following through on his protectionist promises. Sooner or later, Republicans might realize that inept kleptocracy is not the best form of government after all:

Continue reading "Trump's Tariffs: No Longer Fresh at Project Syndicate" »

Crisis, Rinse, Repeat: No Longer Fresh at Project Syndicate

Crisis Rinse Repeat by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

Crisis, Rinse, Repeat: Key economic data from the periods following the 1929 stock-market crash and the 2007-2008 financial crisis suggest that the current recovery has been unnecessarily anemic. If policymakers refuse to heed the lessons of the New Deal era, then the next crisis is destined to be as prolonged as the last.

Continue reading "Crisis, Rinse, Repeat: No Longer Fresh at Project Syndicate" »

Should-Read: That prime-age employment-to-population has been increasing without vacancies increasing tells us, I think, that the economy is not "overheating", but rather getting closer to some medium-run concept of full employment as the hysteresis effects of the Great Recession are slowly being repaired: Nick Bunker: "What does this tell us?: ".@de1ong asked so here it is: the Beveridge Curve with the prime employment rate instead of U3...

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Should-Read: Justin Fox is right in noting that Paul Ryan was always running a con game—that his aim was a more unequal country with lower taxes on the rich, not a country in which the federal government balanced its budget. But I would quarrel slightly with how he sets up this article. "Entitlement crisis" is a political framing that appeals not just to "very wealthy people and/or those with excellent health insurance": it also appeals to lazy centrist journalists with no understanding of demography or policy, and no desire to learn. We never had—and do not have—a Social Security crisis. We had—but apparently no longer have (but it may return)—a health care cost explosion crisis. We still have a we-pay-too-much-for-the-health-care-we-as-a-country-get crisis. "Entitlement crisis" leads us away from getting value for our social insurance spending, and toward an unequal and unhappy society: Justin Fox: Paul Ryan's Roadmap Was an Epic Fiscal Failure: "Paul Ryan did not cause the financial crisis. He has nonetheless failed pretty spectacularly... his actions have made the situation much worse than it had to be...

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Should-Read: When 70% of newly employed workers are people who were not previously looking for a job, defining the labor force as the sum of employed and actively searching not employed makes very little sense: Josh Bivens: The fuzzy line between “unemployed” and “not in the labor force” and what it means for job creation strategies and the Federal Reserve: "Jobless people are classified into... either unemployed or not in the labor force...

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Should-Read: Yes, the African-American experience puts the lie to any claim that it is "class not race" that is the overwhelmingly important factor. Any other questions?: Liz Hipple: New research on the relationship between race, place, and opportunity in the United States: "Raj Chetty and fellow researchers Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie R. Jones, and Sonya R. Porter released... “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective”...

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Globalization: What Did Krugman Miss?: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast

Brad delong morning coffee Google Search

Wednesday night at Ars Technica LIVE! at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland—located beneath where the eight-lane Interstate 580 crosses the ten-lane California Highway 24—there were three demands from the People of the Internet Appearing in Meatspace for a return of the Morning Coffee podcast.

So why not?

Globalization: What Did Krugman Miss?: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast:

Paul Krugman has a very nice short “framework for thinking about globalization and the world” piece derived from a talk he gave at the IMF last fall.


Globalization: What Did Krugman Miss?: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast

Continue reading "Globalization: What Did Krugman Miss?: DeLong Morning Coffee Podcast" »

Should-Read: The eminent Robert Skidelsky identifies three groups of economists who gave what ex post was clearly bad advice, and bad advice that mattered about fiscal policy, from 2009 on:

  1. Alberto Alesina and company with their "expansionary austerity" doctrines,
  2. Ken Rogoff and company with their "short-term-pain-for-long-run-gain" doctrines, and
  3. Ricardo Haussman and company with the "no choice but austerity" doctrines.

All three groups, however, had reasons for their arguments and were thinking hard—albeit, in my view, not as hard and as deeply as they ought to have and had a responsibility to do—and genuinely believed what they were putting forward.

There were also three groups of economists giving bad advice who either did not believe what they were saying or had done no thinking at all:

  1. Robert Lucas and company with his "nothing to apply a multiplier to" ideological and unfounded claims that fiscal policy could never be effective;
  2. John Taylor, Marvin Goodfriend, and company with their Bernanke's monetary expansion will produce currency debasement and inflation but will not boost employment; and
  3. a whole host of professional Republicans who ought to have been backing up Bernanke's plans for further monetary stimulus and his call for an end to fiscal austerity headwinds, but were instead very quiet, as Elmer Fudd would say, in part at least not to annoy political masters in the Republican Party.

I think the economics profession could have played a useful role in helping to manage the recovery if those three groups unmentioned by Skidelsky had not been present.

Those of us whom Skidelsky identifies, correctly, as having gotten the big picture right from 2009-present could have won the argument with Alesina and company, Rogoff and company, and Haussman and company. Indeed, we did. Ricardo Haussman now acknowledges the crucial role played by monetary régime in the determination of fiscal space. Ken Rogoff recognizes that there is no cliff at which growth falls sharply and discontinuously when the debt to annual GDP ratio exceeds 90%. Alberto Alesina recognizes the necessity of proper support from monetary and exchange rate policy if fiscal contraction is not to be expansionary. We could have won those debates, and won them in a timely fashion. But we could not carry the field when faced not just with our good faith but our bad faith opponents: whether actively purveying misinformation, lazily not thinking, or sulking in their tents like Akhilleus on a bad day, they put enough sand into the gears so that my profession failed to do its job as the memory and planning department of the human race.

I am kinda surprised they show themselves in polite company: Robert Skidelsky: The Advanced Economies’ Lost Decade: "Policy interventions immediately following the 2008 crash did make a difference.... The 2008 collapse was as steep as that of 1929, but it lasted for a much shorter time...

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Should-Read: It would seem... as if he is more focused on how to advance his future lobbying career than in attempting to maintain legislative majorities made up of his friends and those who believe in or at least vote for the policies he approves: Lisa Mascaro and Bill Barrow: Ryan Retirement Fuels House GOP Desperation To Maintain Control: “'It’s like Eisenhower resigning right before D-Day', said Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia...

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Daniel Davies (2002): Evopsych Considered Harmful!: Weekend Reading/Hoisted from the Archives

Clowns (ICP)

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... 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

  1. if it wasn't for their occasional forays into N-DS, the EP crowd would be a very obscure bunch of scientists indeed.

  2. 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 :

  3. 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:

  4. 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:

  1. notice a picture of a face
  2. 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...

Should-Read: Smart young whippersnapper Nick bunker continues his monthly plotting of the Beveridge Curve. I always find myself once again wishing he would plot the prime-age employment-to-population ratio graph instead of or alongside the graph with the unemployment rate on the horizontal axis. There are weird things going on with prime-age labor force participation. They deserve to be highlighted: Nick Bunker: JOLTS and the Beveridge Curve


I Look at How Bad Professional Republicans Calling Themselves Economists Are Today, and...

Clowns (ICP)

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:

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Note to Self: This needs to go back into the pile to be reread: Jan deVries (2008): The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present (9780521719254): "In the long eighteenth century, new consumer aspirations combined with a new industrious behavior to fundamentally alter the material cultures of northwest Europe and North America...

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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...

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NTU Tariff Letter

NTU Tariff Letter: In 1930, 1,028 economists urged Congress to reject the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. Today, Americans face a host of new protectionist activity, including threats to withdraw from trade agreements, misguided calls for new tariffs in response to trade imbalances, and the imposition of tariffs on washing machines, solar components, and even steel and aluminum used by U.S. manufacturers.

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Joseph Schumpeter on "Liquidationism": Hoisted from the Archives

Clowns (ICP)

Hoisted from the Archives: Joseph Schumpeter on "Liquidationism": Three things strike me while rereading Schumpeter's 1934 "Depressions" (and also his 1927 Explanation of the Business Cycle):

  1. 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!

  2. 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..."

  3. 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.

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Should-Read: Paul Ryan's rumored retirement means that it is time to remind people that Donald Trump is not an exception among Republicans in running a fact-free communications operation—one in which if there is a principal value, it is conscious indifference to the truth. Rather, it has—usually with more rhetorical coherence—become the rule in the past decade. For example, here is Ezra Klein on Paul Ryan six years ago: Ezra Klein (2012): A not-very-truthful speech in a not-very-truthful campaign: "Honestly? I didn't want us to write this piece...

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The Captured Economy: Berkeley Blum Center Event Notes


I’m Brad Delong I’m chief economist here at the Blum Center and a professor in the Economics Department. I’m incredibly happy here to have Brink Lindsey and Steve Teles, authors of The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality

How this will work: I’m going to give a short introduction. Then Brink and Steve are going to present their show for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then we have three discussants who will take another twenty minutes.

We have Tom Mann, who was a long time fell senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and is now a refugee out here in California, sitting at the Institute of Governmental Studies. He is the author of books with titles like:

  • The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track
  • It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism
  • One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported
  • and the forthcoming Run for Your Lives!

We have Joseph Lough, who teaches history of economic thought and other things in the Economics Department, who is the author of Weber and the Persistence of Religion: Social Theory, Capitalism and the Sublime.

We have Rakesh Bhandari, who runs ISF, and the works of his I value most are “The Disguises of Wage Labour”, “Historical Materialism: On Luxury Spending in Science and Society”; and “On the Critique of Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man”.

Following that the authors will attack the discussants for misrepresenting their argument, and the discussants will attack the authors for misrepresenting their book.

Following that we will have questions—via Twitter. Hashtag #CapturedEconomyBlum. This is an innovation of the very sharp Josh Barro. Taking questions via Twitter and screening them means that (a) questions are asked, and (b) the questions asked are less than 280 characters.

Following that we will have our reception.

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Time for a Linkdump!

It has been much, much, much too long since I did one of these...

A half dozen cream of the crop

  1. Paul Krugman: "I've always said that white nationalism was the essence of Trumpism. According to this survey, it's more specific: white Christian nationalism. To which the only possible response is, oy vey..."

  2. Kevin Drum: It's A Total Mystery Why There's A Lack of Class And Racial Diversity In Journalism: "All you need is one little sifting device-like unpaid internships requiring that people are funded by the Bank of Parental Units-and the entire pool of potential applicants is skewed.... This is just an obvious one that publications actually have control over..."

  3. (2011): : The Government Needs to Lend to Banks Freely But at a Penalty Rate Blogging

  4. David H. Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon H. Hanson: The China Syndrome: Local Labor Market Effects of Import Competition in the United States: "Rising Chinese import competition... cause[s] higher unemployment, lower labor force participation, and reduced wages... explains one-quarter of the contemporaneous aggregate decline in US manufacturing employment..."

  5. MIT Tech Review: Tencent is putting a robot research lab in China’s manufacturing heartland: "Tencent, the tech titan behind China's biggest social networking and chat platform, WeChat, is about to bring its AI research to life by opening a robotics lab in China's center of manufacturing, Shenzhen..."

  6. Matthew Yglesias: Republicans are reaping the whirlwind: "They’ve synthesized the worst of Trump and the worst of the GOP establishment..."

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Should-Read: From four years ago. Interesting that in Dan's view Beltway types have neither the speed of analysis of the money people nor the depth of knowledge of the academics, and in fact have no strengths at all—unless you want to claim that its major additional weakness, groupthink, is also a strength. The major weaknesses of the other two are nicely phrased: money types tending to oversimplify, and academics to overcomplicate: Dan Drezner (2014): What Nick Kristof Doesn't Get About the Ivory Tower: "Three tribes that dominate the discussion of foreign affairs—academics, Beltway types and money folks...

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On Twitter: Doctrine Man: "Looking for a secret lair with 94 acres of lakeside property? Fort Montgomery is up for sale... for a cool $3 million:

Doctrine Man on Twitter Looking for a secret lair with 94 acres of lakeside property Fort Montgomery is up for sale for a cool 3 million https t co pSIfdK95Xl 

@quantian1: Fortifications built on major trade routes are the only true inflation hedge, to paraphrase @delong, so this is a steal at $3mm...

@Gangst_A_dOGe: you're gunna have to man the battlements tho, when the peasants start rioting ur gunna need some guys to throw rocks and oil to repel them...

Should-Read: Ah: the genteel white ethnicism of the Atlantic Monthly. Under Jeffrey Goldberg and company, if you write for the Atlantic Monthly, there is now a very, very, very high bar you have to surmount to be taken seriously in polite intellectual society: Heidi Moore: "What is going on at the Atlantic?]( 'Too far'?"

It’s the genteel form of white ethnicism...

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