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The big problem China will face in a decade is this: an aging near-absolute monarch who does not dare dismount is itself a huge source of instability.

The problem is worse than the standard historical pattern that imperial succession has never delivered more than five good emperors in a row. The problem is the aging of an emperor. Before modern medicine one could hope that the time of chaos between when the grip on the reins of the old emperor loosened and the grip of the new emperor tightened would be short. But in the age of modern medicine that is certainly not the way to bet.

Thus monarchy looks no more attractive than demagoguery today.

We can help to build or restore or remember our “republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government“. An autocracy faced with the succession and the dotage problems does not have this option. Once they abandon collective aristocratic leadership in order to manage the succession problem, I see little possibility of a solution.

And this brings me to Martin Wolf. China's current trajectory is not designed to generate durable political stability: Martin Wolf: How the west should judge the claim sof a rising China: “Chinese political stability is fragile...

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After the Next Nuclear Fire...: Hoisted from 2007

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Hoisted from the Archives: Rather more urgent than I thought it would be 27 months ago: After the Next Nuclear Fire...: In the early 1980s the U.S. NSA—or perhaps it was the Defense Department—loved to play games with Russian air defense. They would send probe planes in from the Pacific to fly over Siberia. And they would watch and listen: Where were the gaps in Russian sensor coverage? How far could U.S. planes penetrate before being spotted? What were Russian command-and-control procedures to intercept intruders? And so on, and so forth.

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David Watkins, I think, nails it: a lot of right-wingers project either what they are doing or what they wish they could do onto the left. They do not understand that we are, in fact, different from them: David Watkins: "Today in: 'every accusation a confession'... Scott Lemieux: "Did Niall 'try to ratfuck students with the temerity to disagree with me' Ferguson churn out a rote 'campus PC is the biggest threat to free speech in America' column? I think you know the answer!... https://t.co/mP1OFXkm1G

America’s Founders vs. Trump: Now Live at Project Syndicate

Signing of the Constitution by Louis S Glanzman Teaching American History

Project Syndicate: America’s Founders vs. Trump: In the early years of the American republic, James Madison warned his fellow countrymen that their chosen system of governance would only survive if they adhered to the principles of representation and kept factionalism in check. In the era of Donald Trump, it would seem that these two conditions are no longer being met...

Yes, Stanford Has a Serious Intellectual Quality Problem Here: Why Do You Ask?

Yes, Stanford has a very serious quality control problem with its Hoover Institution: Brian Contreras, Ada Statler, and Courtney Douglas: Leaked emails show Hoover academic conspiring with College Republicans to conduct ‘opposition research’ on student: "Emails between the Hoover Institution’s Niall Ferguson and well-known Republican student activists John Rice-Cameron ’20 and Max Minshull ’20 reveal coordination on 'opposition research' against progressive activist Michael Ocon ’20...

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Not all conservatives are Milo. Very few conservatives are Milo, in fact: Rakesh Bhandari: "Some conservative Cal students have falsely complained that they are penalized by GSI's or Profs for their political views. One student falsely said an econ prof forced him to write in favor of open borders; another complained that he was penalized for a realism paper in IR..."

To be overly fair, it is very difficult to make an anti-open borders argument within the framework of rootless cosmopolite neoclassical economics.

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How Is a Functioning Republic Possible?: What Alexander Hamilton and James Madison Had to Say...

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Alexander Hamilton and James Madison: The Federalist Papers No. 9: "It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the... state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy...

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Some Fairly Recent Must- and Should-Reads About: Political Economy

Preview of Some Fairly Recent Must and Should Reads About Economic Inequality

  • David Glasner: Neo- and Other Liberalisms: "The point of neoliberalism 1.0 was to moderate classical laissez-faire liberal orthodoxy...

  • Not quite true. It is what the Left New Dealers' consensus was. They had lost power in the U.S. But enough of them made it across the Atlantic to do a lot of good: Daniel Davies: If you like the German social, political and economic model, it's worth remembering that what it really represents is the consensus of American opinion on how to build a stable non-Communist polity if you were starting from scratch, circa 1945..."

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Not quite true. It is what the Left New Dealers' consensus was. They had lost power in the U.S. But enough of them made it across the Atlantic to do a lot of good: Daniel Davies: "If you like the German social, political and economic model, it's worth remembering that what it really represents is the consensus of American opinion on how to build a stable non-Communist polity if you were starting from scratch, circa 1945..."


CFP Panel on the Transparent Society: David Brin's Book Ten Years Later: Hoisted Ten Years Later

Panopticon Google Search

It is now 20 years since David Brin wrote The Transparent Society. Book holds up very well, all things considering: CFP Panel on the Transparent Society: David Brin's Book Ten Years Later: Michael Froomkin:

The Transparent Society Ten Years Later : This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of David Brin's controversial book, "The Transparent Society". The book argues that in the face of the explosion of sensors, cheap storage, and cheap data processing we should adopt strategies of vision over concealment. A world in which not just transactional information, but essentially all information about us will be collected, stored, and sorted is, Brin says, inevitable. The only issue left to be decided is who will have access to this information; he argues that freedom, and even some privacy, are more likely to flourish if everybody - not just elites - has access to this flood of data. The book remains controversial and much-talked-about. The panel will explore how Brin's claims hold up ten years later and whether (or how far) we're on the road to a Transparent Society.

Here is my presentation:

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Dark Satanic Millian Liberalism from John Stuart Mill

Curvelearn com William Blake Poetry Analysis GCSE

John Holbo used to talk about “Dark Satanic Millian Liberalism“. But what he never said was that it has its origins in John Stuart Mill himself.

Here are three passages from Principles of Political Economy I find interesting:

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Ten Years Ago at Grasping Reality: May 19, 2008

  • A Spontaneous Order: Women and the Invisible Fist: RadGeek produces what I can only call the intellectual love child of Susan Brownmiller and Friedrich Hayek. Extremely well done: "When a large enough minority of men choose to commit widespread, intense, random acts of violence against a large enough number of women. And it can happen quite naturally without the raping men, or the protecting men, or the women in the society ever intending for any particular large-scale social outcome to come about. But what will come about, quite naturally, is that women’s social being—how women appear and act, as women, in public—will be systematically and profoundly circumscribed by a diffuse, decentralized threat of violence. And, as a natural but unintended consequence of many small, self-interested actions, some vicious and violent (as in the case of men who rape women), some worthwhile in their origins but easily and quickly corrupted (as in the case of men who try to protect women from rape), and some entirely rational responses to an irrational and dangerous situation (as in the case of women who limit their action and seek protection from men), the existence and activities of the police-blotter rapist serve to constrain women’s behavior and to become dependent on some men—and thus dependent on keeping those men pleased and serving those men’s priorities—for physical protection from other men. That kind of dependence can just as easily become frustrating and confining for the woman, and that kind of power can just as easily become corrupting and exploitative for the man, as any other form of dependence and power. (Libertarians and anarchists who easily see this dynamic when it comes to government police and military protection of a disarmed populace, shouldn’t have any trouble seeing it, if they are willing to see it, when it comes to male 'protection' of women)..."

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Comparative Deaths in Murder and Childbed: Dark Thoughts for a Royal Wedding Day: Note to Self

  • 8 of 35 Monarchs of England from 1066 to 1850 dead in war or murder: 23%...

  • 7 of 44 Queens of England from 1066 to 1850 dead and childbirth: 16%...

I am somewhat surprised: I had thought childbed would be a higher risk than war/murder. (But then there are Queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard who get murdered... Are there any more?)

Listening to Morris Dees: Notes to Self on "Forgiveness" and Social Action...

6 Places In D C To Reflect On Rev Martin Luther King Jr WAMU

Listening at the Amherst College graduation to: Morris Dees: One Nation with Liberty and Justice for All. It struck me that Morris Dees of the SPLC speaks not as a lawyer but as a prophet. But when he spoke of "forgiveness" and of Martin Luther King, Jr., I found myself thinking that he wasn't expressing what he wanted to say very well—certainly not nearly as well as Martin Luther King, Jr., had...

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Martin Feldstein (1979): Introduction to The American Economy in Transition: Weekend Reading

Martin Feldstein (1979): Introduction to The American Economy in Transition: "The post-[World] War [II] period began in an atmosphere of doubt and fear...

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I Hope Very Much the Republican Party Is Destroying Itself. If It Isn't, We Are in Big Trouble...

Cohen and the Oligarchs New Evidence that American Corporations Might Be Bribing Trump Politics Features Donald Trump Paste

No longer fresh at Project Syndicate: The Destruction of the Republican Party: There can no longer be any doubt that America has an unhinged, unqualified kleptocrat presiding in the White House. Nor can there be any question that the Republicans who put him there may be sealing their party's fate as the manifestation of Trumpism, rather than traditional conservatism.

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Remembering Suzanne Scotchmer: Delong Morning Coffee Podcast

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Those of us who do digital economics owe Suzanne Scotchman a lot as we stand on her gigantic shoulders. Those of us who seek a free and equal society are deeply indebted to Suzanne along other dimensions as well...

Remembering Suzanne Scotchmer

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100 Economists This Moronic? And This Easily Grifted?

Preview of 100 Economists This Moronic And This Easily Grifted

"Economists for Trump"—I do not know whether to be gratified that only 100 economists would sign this, or horrified that even 100 economists would sign this. It is certainly a remarkable document—one that I do not think anybody who was not both 100% cynical and 100% deluded could sign. Cynical: you have to genuinely not care about whether you are making contrary-to-fact assertions. Deluded: you have to believe that what you say will be credited by anybody other than partisan Trumpist ideologues and the professional opinions-of-shape-of-earth-differ crowd:

  • At this point, you need to be cynical and deluded to be willing to claim that the TCJA is a middle-class tax cut that will boost economic growth, rather than an upward redistribution of income with more than 100% of the value of the small growth effects it will have going to foreigners.

  • At this point, you need to be cynical and deluded to be willing to claim that Trump offers regulatory relief rather than a Berlusconi-like corrupt advantaging of favored clients.

  • At this point, you need to be cynical and deluded to be willing to claim that Trump is for "reciprocal free trade with lower trade barriers on all sides". To the extent that Trump is for anything, it is for managed trade with bilateral trade balanced or in export surplus for the U.S.

  • At this point, you need to be cynical and deluded to be willing to claim that there are any signs that "President Trump's negotiations on trade are working".

  • At this point, you need to be cynical and deluded to be willing to claim that there has been an "improvement in the economic growth trajectory" or that CBO's estimates justify such a claim.

I look at this, and I cannot help but think: I know that America has lots of easily-grifted morons on it. But this moronic? And this easily grifted?: Economists for Trump: A ECONOMISTS LETTER IN SUPPORT OF PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ECONOMIC POLICY AGENDA : "We enthusiastically endorse President Trump's economic agenda to create jobs and restore economic growth...

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Misapplied History: Aye Yie Yie!: Delong Morning Coffee Podcast

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No, the Roman Republic did not fall because its leaders like wild parties. Any further questions?...

Misapplied History-Aye Yie Yie!

Thx to Wavelength and the very interesting micro.blog http://delong.micro.blog/2018/04/21/misapplied-history-aye.html

Text: http://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/03/niall-ferguson-fetch-the-purple-toga-emperor-trump-is-herehttpswwwthetimescoukarticlefetch-the-purple-toga-e.html

Abraham Lincoln (December 3, 1861): First State of the Union Message: Weekend Reading

What We Can Learn from Abraham Lincoln s Public Speaking History Part 1 Speakout Inc

Weekend Reading: Abraham Lincoln (December 3, 1861): First State of the Union Message: "It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government--the rights of the people...

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Abraham Lincoln: 1855 Letter to Joshua Speed: Weekend Reading

What We Can Learn from Abraham Lincoln s Public Speaking History Part 1 Speakout Inc

Abraham Lincoln (1855): Letter to Joshua Speed: "Dear Speed: You know what a poor correspondent I am...

...Ever since I received your very agreeable letter of the 22nd of May I have been intending to write you in answer to it.

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Understanding Karl Marx

So I woke up this morning bright and early ready to work... and I promptly let myself get distracted and procrastinated for an hour tracing links from Noah Smith's denunciation of Karl Marx:

Noah Smith: Remember Karl Marx for the many things he got wrong: "Marx didn’t make it to 200, but the ideas he injected into the global conversation and the ideologies that bear his name far outlasted the German economist and philosopher...

I, of course, agree with Noah—he does cite me favorably, after all. And then I realized that I had never put my "Understanding Karl Marx" lecture slides up anywhere...

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Matthew Yglesias on Marxism: Capitalism is looking pretty shabby: (Late) Monday DeLong Smackdown/Hoisted

Preview of Procrastinating on November 29 2016

This is what I want when I call for a better class of DeLong Smackdowns! How do we think this looks not just nine years after my optimism in 2009 back at the end of the American century but five years after Matt wrote?:

Hoisted from the Archives: Matthew Yglesias (2013): May Day Marxism: Capitalism is looking pretty shabby: "DeLong reposted a very interesting 2009 talk... "Understanding Karl Marx"... that I would have enthusiastically endorsed in 2009 but which look weaker four years later...

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John Taylor is not just wrong, but wrong in a way that it is impossible to be if you are attempting to argue in good faith from any coherent set of economic principles and models: Miles Kimball: Contra John Taylor: "[Taylor] is just wrong...

...The Fed is promising to shift the demand curve for assets in the future and thereby get to a particular equilibrium interest rate. This is not at all like rent control. The right analogy is... getting rents to come down by reducing making it easier to get a building permit, or by subsidizing the building of new apartments.... There is a world of difference between a market intervention in which the government contributes to supply and demand and a price floor or ceiling. By buying assets, and promising to buy them in the future, the Fed is lowering an equilibrium interest rate. The details of the pattern of buying assets and promising to buy them in the future tends to keep the equilibrium interest rate at a certain level. The fact that the Fed acts by changing the equilibrium interest rate matters, because John’s claim that lowering the interest rate will reduce the quantity of investment would hold only if what the Fed is doing really did act like an interest rate ceiling that makes asset demand lower than asset supply...


This Was Extremely Bad Then. This Is Extremely Bad Now. Hoisted from the Archives

Why would it ever occur to John Taylor to claim that open market operations are like price controls? I cannot imagine the circumstances under which anyone would be tempted to do this: Paul Krugman: More Artificial Unintelligence: "David Beckworth pleads with fellow free-marketeers to stop claiming that low interest rates are 'artificial' and comparing them to price controls...

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I Was on Bloomberg Yesterday: "Daybreak Australia"

Bloomberg: Prof. DeLong Says Better If U.S. in TPP Negotiating With China: "University of California at Berkeley Professor Brad DeLong weighs in on U.S and China trade talks, and talks about the makeup of the U.S. negotiating team. DeLong speaks on "Bloomberg Daybreak: Australia..."


My talking points on the China-U.S. trade "negotiations":

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American Economic History: Slides for Wrap-Up Lecture...

Each time I do this I think there must be a way to do it better. But each time I fail to think of one...

Good ideas very welcome...

Here we are https://www.icloud.com/keynote/0AuVq4veo1M_lK-EXXK3kQUwg:


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Your Own Private Intellectual Elysium: Delong Morning Coffee Podcast

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By judiciously muting and blocking people you can create a truly useful individual Internet feed. The problem is that that does nothing to produce a truly useful functioning intellectual community. And that is what we really need...

Your Own Private Intellectual Elysium

Thx to Wavelength and the very interesting micro.blog http://delong.micro.blog/2018/04/21/your-own-private.html

Text: http://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/03/creating-your-own-private-internet-intellectual-elysium.html

The “Let’s Be Agnostic About Race Science” Clowns Are In My Twitter Timeline Again: Delong Morning Coffee Podcast


Do your arithmetic, Sheeple! 1500 generations since radiation from the horn of Africa is really very little indeed...

The “Let’s Be Agnostic About Race Science” Clowns Are In My Twitter Timeline Again

Thx to Wavelength and the very interesting micro.blog http://help.micro.blog/2018/microcasting/ http://delong.micro.blog/2018/04/15/the-lets-be.html

Text: http://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/03/the-lets-be-agnostic-about-race-science-clowns-are-in-my-twitter-timeline-again.html

RSS: http://delong.micro.blog/podcast.xml.

The Tech Boom and the Fate of Democracy: Ars Technica Live: Definitely Not My Morning Coffee

Definitely Not My Morning Coffee: Ars Technica Live: Annalee Newitz and Brad DeLong: The Tech Boom and the Fate of Democracy "Ars Technica Live #21... Filmed by Chris Schodt, produced by Justin Wolfson...

Annalee writes: "Last week, we had lots of questions about the fate of democracy in a world where the Internet feeds us propaganda faster than we can fact check it...

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Clowns (ICP)

Economics Gone Wrong: I swing back and forth between simply thinking that:

  • John Taylor has become unprofessional in writing things like Fed Policy Is a Drag on the Economy in which he claims that Federal Reserve quantitative easing is "imposing an interest-rate ceiling on the longer-term market by saying it will keep the short rate unusually low... much like... a price ceiling in a rental market where landlords reduce the supply of rental housing..."

  • John Taylor is still very professional—but that he is not a professional economist but rather a professional Republican.

Hoisted from the Archives (October 2015): Central Banks Are Not Agricultural Marketing Boards: Depression Economics, Inflation Economics and the Unsustainability of Friedmanism: Insofar as there is any thought behind the claims of John Taylor and others that the Federal Reserve is engaged in "price controls" via its monetary policy actions...

Strike that.

There is no thought at all behind such claims at all.


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?

RSS: http://delong.micro.blog/podcast.xml.

Thx to Wavelength and the very interesting micro.blog http://help.micro.blog/2018/microcasting/ http://delong.micro.blog/2018/04/15/do-we-really.html

Text: http://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/03/do-we-really-care-whether-the-profits-from-american-slavery-were-reinvested-to-spur-faster-american-economic-growth-or-not.html

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

RSS: http://delong.micro.blog/podcast.xml.

Thx to Wavelength and the very interesting micro.blog http://help.micro.blog/2018/microcasting/ http://delong.micro.blog/2018/04/15/trumps-tariffs-delong.html

Text: http://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/04/trumps-tariffs.html

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:

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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.

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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

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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... http://blog.danieldavies.com/2002/10/: 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...

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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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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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 https://tinyurl.com/dl20180402b.

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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"White Ethnicists" and Boston in the 1980s: Note to Self:

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Note to Self: "White Ethnicists" and Boston in the 1980s: Whenever I look at pictures of America’s “white ethnicists“ (one thing they certainly ain’t is American nationalists) on parade, from the openly neo-Nazi to the more "genteel" Atlantic Monthly “the Democrats triggered this by pushing civil rights too far” and all the flavors in between, I am, quite frankly, gobsmacked:

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