by Tyler Cowen
on April 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm
1. How to attract a puffin.
2. Stepping into the Wilkinson-Caplan debate on kids, and here.
3. Via Chris F. Masse, new quantum teleportation results.
4. Skeptical response on the origin of language.
5. Markets in everything: The Inflatable Crowd Company.
6. How relations with Brazil are changing, and why.
On the matter of the African origin of languages study by Atkinson, the criticism linked to here seems to focus on something quite secondary, the apparent
claim of a link between population size and phoneme (or more broadly linguistic) diversity. I have not read the original paper, but the reports I have seen
have said nothing about that and have emphasized something else, namely the parallel with genetic diversity, that the older a population the more genetic
diversity it has, with groups splitting off more recently having less of it due in effect to founder effects.
I can imagine reasons why this argument might not carry over fully to languages from genetics, but it clearly has absolutely nothing to do with
population size. If Atkinson pushed this, is a red herring and distraction from the more convincing argument. As it is, while I do not know if the
claim about the supposedly phonemic simplicity of South American Indian and Oceanic peoples’ languages is correct or not, there is little doubt
that the languages of the Khoi-San of southern Africa. often thought of as being the closest of living humans to our common ancestors from there
have the most phonemic diversity, containing numerous sounds not appearing in other languages, most famously the numerous “click” sounds
#5 “P.S. In case you are curious about our successful defense in the patent lawsuit filed against us by Crowd in a Box in 2007”
So they are leading puffins back to a place where they will probably be eaten by rats? That seems like a good idea.
They said several times times they said that the island was free of rats again. Of course, keeping places rat-free is tricky, but obviously the community there has made it a sort of priority…
> Skeptical response on the origin of language.
Now, that is more like it! Two more links:
Not sure why Wilkinson thinks he is getting a lot of traction by reasoning from the rationality assumption here. Haven’t read the book but I think BC is claiming: (1) costs of child rearing are overstated; (2) benefits of having adult children are overlooked.
For (1): Caplan’s error is not that its impossible for people to miscalculate something so important, per Wilkinson. BC’s error is that most of the cost of child rearing (for yuppies, his audience) is not incurred to maximize the welfare of the child. Note that most of the fretting over childcare closely resembles how vain and insecure people fret over their own appearance to others. Vain upper middle class people over-invest in child-rearing for the same reason they over-invest in washing their BMW (even though it drives just as well with a little dust).
A shot at (2): People aren’t overlooking the benefits of children in old age, they are just not that altruistic towards their future selves. People are probably as careful about securing the benefits of a large family in their sixties as they are about securing the benefits of healthy lungs or arteries.
Finally, Wilkinson’s HD tv example is just embarrassing. How can you lecture an economist on rational choice grounds when you can’t even wrap your head around the “people make decisions at the margin” concept.
This is a much better critique of Caplan than Wilkinson’s.
That may be the least crappy Walter Russell Mead column I’ve read, although admittedly I don’t make it a point to read him.
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