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August 2018

Aspen—Maroon Bells

Aspen: Approaches to Fragility: This started as a joke-of-the-moment, in response to talking about "fragile states" in which farmers fight with herders. But it is more. This is Colorado. However, this is the American West. And of the American West we remember that, at least in Broadway's version of Oklahoma, the farmer and the cowman can be friends. But the farmer and the cowman can be friends only when there is a matriarch with a shotgun in the picture.

One reading of world history is that a huge amount of the civilizing process is accomplished when people's mothers and aunts gain social power. The academe that we have has not thought very hard about how it is mothers and aunts gaining social power, or about what we can do to assist this process in the states me regard as fragile...

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The Rise of the Robots: Some Fairly-Recent Must- and Should-Reads

  • Very wise words from close to where the rubber meets the road about how the Rise of the Robots is likely to work out for the labor market over the next generation or so: Shane Greenstein: Adjusting to Autonomous Trucking: "Let’s come into contact with a grounded sense of the future.... Humans have invented tools for repetitive tasks, and some of those tools are becoming less expensive and more reliable...

  • The answer is: probably in the late 1960s: Joe McMahon: When was the last time all the computing power in the world equaled one iPhone?: "When was the last time all the computing power in the world equaled one iPhone?...

  • IMHO, the "long run" problems Martin discusses need to be postponed: we don't know enough about the future to even begin to think intelligently about them. The "medium run" problems, by contrast, deserve a lot of attention right now: Martin Wolf: Work in the age of intelligent machines: "How do you organise a society in which few people do anything economically productive?...

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Sharply distinguishing "ideology" from "partisanship" seems to me to be a potentially fatal flaw in what is otherwise an absolutely brilliant essay. We East African Plains Apes think in groups: we outsource a great deal of what we believe to others whom we trust. Thus "partisanship" and "ideology" reinforce each other massively. But that also means that when thought-leader elites change what the partisans with access to audiences say, people's "ideologies" will change as well—without the thinking about it much, if it all: Nathan P. Kalmoe: Uses & Abuses of Ideology: "Ideology is a central construct in political psychology, and researchers claim large majorities of the public are ideological, but most fail to grapple with evidence of ideological innocence in most citizens...

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The key to a well-functioning society is feedback: the market economy is truly excellent at feedback—at identifying what is going wrong to the people who can take action to correct it: Cosma Shalizi (2012): In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You: "There’s lots to say about Red Plenty as a work of literature; I won’t do so.... The first of the two political problems. The objective function in the plan is an expression of values or preferences, and people have different preferences. How are these to be reconciled?...

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I am swinging toward thinking that disequilibrium foundations of equilibrium economics is the only useful macro theory standing: Seppo Honkapohja and Kaushik Mitra: Price Level Targeting with Evolving Credibility: "We examine global dynamics under learning in a nonlinear New Keynesian model when monetary policy uses price-level targeting and compare it to inflation targeting...

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Hoisted from the Archives: James Scott and Friedrich Hayek

Il Quarto Stato

James Scott and Friedrich Hayek: My review of James Scott (1998), Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press: 0300070160):


I. Introduction

There is a lot that is excellent in James Scott's Seeing Like a State.

On one level, it is an extraordinary well-written and well-argued tour through the various forms of damage that have been done in the twentieth century by centrally-planned social-engineering projects—by what James Scott calls 'high modernism' and the attempt to use high modernist principles and practices to build utopia. As such, every economist who reads it will see it as marking the final stage in the intellectual struggle that the Austrian tradition has long waged against apostles of central planning. Heaven knows that I am no Austrian—I am a liberal Keynesian and a social democrat—but within economics even liberal Keynesian social democrats acknowledge that the Austrians won victory in their intellectual debate with the central planners long ago.

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Herbert Hoover: As Bad to Ally with Stalin and Churchill Against Hitler as to Ally with Hitler Against Stalin and Churchill

Clowns (ICP)

I was reading Herbert Hoover (1964): Freedom Betrayed on the plane, and it is really clear to me why nobody wanted Hoover to publish it during his lifetime and why his heirs buried it for half a century:

I will tell you what I think. I think Hoover does not quite dare say:

When Hitler attacked Stalin in June 1941, the U.S. should have told Britain to cool it—embargoed Britain until and offered it security guarantees when it made peace with Germany—and then the U.S. should have supported Hitler in his war on Communism, by far the worst of the three totalitarianism of Communism, Naziism, and New Dealism. Afterwards, Hitler and his successors would have had their hands full ruling their Eurasian empire, and Naziism would have normalized itself, and Communism would be gone. Too bad about Nazi rule over the French, Belgians, Dutch, Danes, and Norwegians, but that would have been a price well worth paying.

He does not quite dare say it, but he is thinking it, and almost gets there...

Herbert Hoover:

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