by Tyler Cowen
on May 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm
1. Are used TVs being overpriced?
2. The science of love in the 1920s, from Hugo Gernsback.
3. The dark side of Irving Fisher.
4. New sensory organ discovered in whales.
5. Freakonomics interview on the economics of food, including also Michael Pollan and others.
#3: ‘In the 1920s, leading thinkers—including the greatest economist America ever produced—focused their efforts on eugenics, preserving the Nordic stock, and the problem of “race suicide.”’
I don’t recall Milton Friedman supporting eugenics.
The funny part is that it was actually Friedman himself who called Fisher “the greatest economist America ever produced.” There’s that saying about “standing on the shoulders of giants,” and, in many ways, Fisher was Friedman’s giant:
And, not to nit-pick too much, but Milton Friedman was just a teenager in the 1920’s.
This reminds me of a wonderful satirical piece by H.L. Mencken, “Asepsis. A Deduction in Scherzo Form” (available here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22145/22145-h/22145-h.htm#IX_ASEPSIS), in which he parodies the early-20th Century obsession with sterility and infection, and the idea that science can be applied to human relationships.
(referring to #2)
The rise and fall of the adoption of eugenics by academia (did it really fall or is it still around in an altered state?) may be a precursor of the pseudo-intelligencia’s love affair with AGW. After all, pre-WWI it was the “consensus” that these immigrants were a lower order of humanity.
Africa For The Chinese.
To The Editor of The London Times.
June 5, 1873
“The natural capacity of the Chinaman shows itself by the success with which, notwithstanding his timidity, he competes with strangers, wherever he may reside. The Chinese emigrants possess an extraordinary instinct for political and social organization; they contrive to establish for themselves a police and internal government, and they give no trouble to their rulers so long as they are left to manage those matters by themselves. They are good-tempered, frugal, industrious, saving, commercially inclined, and extraordinarily prolific. They thrive in all countries, the natives of the Southern provinces being perfectly able to labor and multiply in the hottest climates. Of all known varieties or mankind there is none so appropriate as the Chinaman to become the future occupant of the enormous regions which lie between the tropics, whose extent is far more vast than it appears, from the cramped manner in which those latitudes are pictured in the ordinary maps of the world.”
It will be interesting to see whether in the 21st Century rich Chinese settle Africa more than poor Africans illegally immigrate to China.
Side-stepping the AGW debate, this analogy doesn’t work on its own terms. Eugenics is a political theory that holds it is desirable for the government to interfere in reproduction either by sterilizing those judged “unfit” or else by trying to encourage those with desirable traits to pair off and make lots of babies.
AGW is a scientific hypothesis about the size of positive feedback loops when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increased. Someone could accept AGW but hold the government shouldn’t do anything about it and some do indeed make this argument. Someone could likewise accept the idea that humans probably can be selectively bred for certain traits (Richard Dawkins accepts this, for instance) while disputing the desirability of doing so.
There is a lot of deliberate muddling of the scientific and political questions, on both of these.
It’s common to see anyone who comments that humans can be selectively bred castigated for “peddling discredited eugenic pseudoscience” or some such… It’s common also for those who think X%GDP might be better spent on 3rd world birth control than on carbon capture, etc, to be labelled as “deniers of the scientific consensus”.
Read this and prepare to be freaked out.
Global warming is a claim about reality, and there is a similar kind of claim about reality from the proponents of eugenics. These claims about reality can be right or wrong. (The Flynn effect seems like a pretty big hole in the model proposed by eugenicists, much as AGW will look a lot less plausible if global temperatures drop for the next 20 years.)
Global warming is also connected to a broad political movement to respond to it, with particular ideas (and differences of opinion) about how to do so. Similarly, one might believe the model of the world of eugenicists in some form, but have various approaches for how to respond to what that model tells you.
The brand of eugenics that favors using the coercive powers of the state strikes me as overwhelmingly evil, even if the model of reality is correct. But it’s important to distinguish those evil policies from the model of the world, which looks wrong in a pretty fundamental prediction, but which isn’t at all crazy or evil. It’s too damned easy to decide that facts or claims about reality are wrong because you don’t like their implications or don’t like the people making the claims.
It’s funny how so many brilliant minds of the past were wrong about eugenics when it’s completely obvious to the smug mediocrities of the present.
How much of the abortion debate is eugenics thinly disguised? In Asian countries it is used openly to choose the most desirable offspring. Not too long ago someone posited that crime rates in the US have been affected by the aborting of the less desirable.
Economics genius Steven Levitt made himself a celebrity in 1999, paving the way for his lucrative Freakonomics empire, by arguing that legalizing abortion in the early 1970s had reduced crime in the 1990s by disproportionately eliminating the criminally inclined. Levitt’s theory was hugely popular with reviewers, even though it was based on programming errors Levitt had made.
I thought even after the errors were corrected it held up, but then someone pointed out the whole thing suffered from a massive endogeneity problem (or something similar) in the construction of the statistical model.
No, when Foote and Goetz of the Boston Fed corrected the errors that Levitt had made, the entire abortion-cut-crime effect disappeared. Levitt then reworked his whole model to make his celebrated effect reappear.
Probably not all that much. It looks to me like the main driver of wanting legal abortion is the idea that women, as individuals, ought to be able to decide not to have a baby when they don’t want it. Whatever the history is, I don’t think any significant fraction of its support is based on eugenic concerns.
Such is the cumulative nature of human knowledge.
Despite many fewer contributions to humanity and likely extremely diminished gifts in comparison, I could run rings around Aristotle in the field of scientific/natural knowledge. If you’re implying something, I’d consider the above first. It’s the basic plot to Army of Darkness, after all.
Ash, “This is my boomstick”.
In 2000 W.D. Hamilton observed: “Almost all of the worries of the early eugenicists were wellfounded in spite of the relative paucity of their evidence at the time. Correct both in their intuitions and in their assessment of the tentative data available, for most of the past hundred years…they have been unfairly derided.”
Well they were “were wrong about eugenics” in the sense that they believed such policies would soon be a common and uncontroversial feature of western countries. This is politics not natural science.
You “could run rings around Aristotle in the field of scientific/natural knowledge”… but on political questions you’d be reduced to telling stories about what ideas your time found horrifying, and what was accepted as the way things just were.
Do you think you could use economics to convince him that slavery is actually a bad idea? If you could… well I’m trying to say there is some overlap between these realms, which perhaps gives some hope of there being progress, not just fashion.
#1 makes many valid points, but they really only examine the supply side of the market. What about the demand side? Are people actually buying used TVs at these “inflated” used prices?
They do say: “It’s likely the size of the used TV market is only a fraction of how large it ought to be.” I infer that the authors may be implying that not many folks are buying either, and if they were, more sellers would enter the market and the market would function more efficiently.
That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t buy a used TV if none are for sale. There is a used market for most things, I am sure if the used TVs were reasonably priced they would be purchased.
Cliff: what doesn’t make any sense? Clearly some people are buying these TVs, otherwise there would not be an “inflated” market for them to analyze.
I understand what their main points about the supply side pricing mentality, but there are 2 sides to this market, and they only examine 1. For this situation to persist for any length of time someone must be buying, which to me is the more interesting part of the story.
This situation persists, because the sellers listing their televisions on craigslist are highly likely to be ignorant of market-clearing prices when they list their televisions, and, when the sellers finally figure out that their televisions are largely worthless, basic human loss aversion prevents a large number of them from re-listing the television at market-clearing prices. This situation prevails in any market where most sellers have no prior experience as sellers, the goods being sold are personal to the seller, and the type of good being sold loses value but not utility quickly.
On Craigslist? Can you even tell what people successfully sold them for there? It’s not exactly ebay or Amazon markets
Re #1 We don’t know if and at what price the televisions ultimately sell. Some of the TVs might be be selling at a lower best offer.
The authors could have simply visited ebay to get actual prices that people paid but that story may not have been as interesting. But it would be more useful. .
“Are people actually buying used TVs at these “inflated” used prices?”
Not quite an answer, but I tried to donate a 40″ CRT television to Goodwill (after trying to sell it on Craigslist for $15) and they said no one buys TVs not made in the past few years so they would not accept the donation. The less fortunate are not even interested in a very cheap and still quite good TV.
#1. The main point seems to be that people base their “used” selling price on what they once paid for the new TV, not the current market price for TV’s. I noticed something similar when the New iPad came out. A lot of Apple fans were trying to sell their used iPad 2’s so they could upgrade. Of course, Apple discounted a “new” iPad2 when they released New iPad. Yet, when I searched Craigslist, this fact seemed to have gone entirely unnoticed by those trying to sell their used ones. The vast majority of people were trying to sell a used iPad2 for MORE than what Apple was charging for a brand new one (after they discounted it.) Their price points seemed to be based more on the price they once paid for the device, not the current market price.
Actually, looking right now, I can see an iPad 2 (white, wi-fi only, 64gb) on my local Craigslist for $100 MORE than what it’d cost to buy that same device from Apple directly.
You’re overlooking the valuable service that the seller is providing: He or she has lovingly reinforced the RDF surrounding the iPad. What more proof do you need than the fact that they believe that it’s worth $100 more than a brand new device?
Seriously though, I once had a buddy who considered a career in arbitrage, buying up Apple-branded devices outside California and selling them via Craigslist in the Bay Area.
#3. This is precisely the reason why history should be taught in schools…it will save Steve Sailer and his troop of “scientists” a lot of wasted time.
What do you mean by that? You think Steve Sailor does not know the history and if he did his views would change?
This woman I once knew believed that the Rothschild family controlled the secret one world government headquarted at Yale University, and she knew more about the Rothschilds and Yale than anyone I’ve ever known.
Re: Used TVs
Something similar explains one reason why used car prices are so insane. From what I can tell many folks insist on comparing the price of a used car to a new cars MSRP – even for cars that have thousands of dollars in incentives.
Folks buy a 2010 Camry for 18,500 thinking they saved 5,500 vs. new. Not realized that with incentives they could get a new Camry for $20,500.
Depends what kind of cars you’re talking about, I suspect. Used luxury car prices have been quite good for several years. You can get some really good deals, and not just on basic stuff, but things like the Mercedes G-class and Lexus LS 430/460
The current high prices of used cars in the U.S. are a triumph of free trade: Mexico finally opened its borders to used American cars in about 2005, so demand for used cars has gone way up. Seems like a win-win proposition.
Scraping a bunch of used cars in cash for clunkers didn’t hurt used prices either.
Increased buying from Mexico and the rest of the world makes prices somewhat higher, but missing essentially a year’s worth of new-car sales over the past four years is the real culprit.
No, making sure 2 out of 5 americans have credit scored bad enough the best play to buy a car is “no credit check, $50 a week” is a far better way to push used cars.
used car nationalism?
Speaking of the many economists who endorsed eugenics, will Paul Krugman ever address his hero J.M. Keynes’ lifelong efforts in favor of eugenics? A serious consideration by Krugman might provide a more balanced perspective than the hit-pieces we usually get.
Krugman is so upset by the phrase ” the greatest economist America ever produced” used to describe Fisher that it might take him awhile to address anything at all.
Real used car prices are a great leading indicator of new car sales.
Keynes was a eugenics activist from about 1911 up through the year of his death, 1946. From Wikipedia:
“Keynes was a proponent of eugenics. He served as Director of the British Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944. As late as 1946, shortly before his death, Keynes declared eugenics to be “the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists.””
Keynes’ younger brother married a granddaughter of Charles Darwin. There have been lots of prominent Darwin-Keynes, such as the late Cambridge prof Richard Darwin Keynes, and the actor who plays Edmund in the Narnia movies, Xander Keynes, the great-great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin.
Similarly, the family of Darwin’s bulldog, T.H. Huxley, married into the Arnold family of Thomas Arnold and Matthew Arnold, T.H. Huxley’s grandsons include biologist Julian Huxley, novelist Aldous Huxley, and the least known, Arnold Huxley (who won the 1963 Nobel Prize in chemistry).
Of course, as we all know now, this eugenic notion of breeding for intelligence and other good traits CANNOT POSSIBLY WORK.
Thanks Steve. You didn’t disappoint.
The obsessiveness is truly awe-inspiring
I came across that information about Keynes and decided not to use it because a) as noted above by Van Carter, so many other intelligent social scientists were interested in eugenics at the time, and b) it might look like a cheap triumph against today’s Keynesian socialists. Actually if you look around you can find a telling overlap between interest in eugenics and membership of the Fabian Society, e.g. HG Wells.
But the real reason I leave eugenics alone is that I find it repugnant. I can’t say exactly why because I don’t know why. It’s just… sort of… disgusting. I’m very pleased to say that Joseph Schumpeter my hero economist and sociologist of the 1930s (high tide of eugenics) said almost nothing about it. Just once as far as I know, followed by this comment: “Roaming [these untilled fields like eugenics] one often has a strange feeling one is dealing with relative side issues; as though some day the things we now believe will be discounted”. Until that day comes — it has not yet — it’s wise to follow his example and steer clear of the subject. Even the most outlandish idea like world government can be discussed rationally without recourse to the science of controlled breeding. How much time have you spent on farms?
…. meant as reply to Steve Stailer.
Now that’s a new spelling.
Well of course there was an overlap between the Fabian society and those interested in eugenics. The early socialists knew that if you provided welfare, you would destroy incentives and create something like an underclass. It was a commonplace in British political discourse since well before Malthus. What to do to stop the middle class becoming feckless and being outbred by the underclass? The answer was obvious – sterilize the lazy. It was a more liberal solution than the alternative tried in many European countries – sending them to labor camps. Genuine labor camps, not fake ones a la the USSR. Notice that F. D. Roosevelt tried the labor camp idea.
Which is why the countries with the longest running sterilization programs were solidly Social Democratic ones. Like Sweden that did not stop until the 1970s. Or Switzerland which is politically more complicated. Or why it was so popular among the more liberal states in the US and Canada – although Virginia usually gets all the criticism with everyone conveniently forgetting its liberal roots.
No doubt Fisher will be savaged for this. It is not as if he actively supported Pol Pot or anything. Or worked for Stalin’s counter-intelligence units. Do that and Academia will shower you with honors. Do this and everyone will despise you. Even though the Left are perfectly willing to support Margaret Sanger’s life long obsession with reducing African-American births for exactly the same reasons. But Planned Parenthood is heroic, right?
There were plenty of moderate Republicans who supported birth control and abortion. I assume most did for just these reasons. George H. W. Bush for one presumably supped from the same dish at the same institution?
Yeah, I’m sure you chose a crack whore to bear you children. What a fraud.
Absolutely not! Capital always gains in price. Wall Street is built on this truth. Capital never depreciates or falls in price.
And to create incentives for prices on all capital to gain in price, capital gains taxes should be eliminated. The you would be able to buy a TV, use it for a year, then sell it at a profit.
Fisher was ahead of his time, look at the problems low IQ blacks have brought.
I remember reading Michael Crichton comparing belief in global warming to the “discredited” theory of eugenics, and I thought to myself “When was it actually scientifically debunked rather than tainted by association with the Nazis?” And of course there’s plenty of good reasons why the Nazis were horrifying whereas the Swedish and northern U.S state governments had eugenics programs most people accepted. Especially weird since the early eugenicists like Galton tended toward “positive eugenics” rather than coercion.
We’ve had dysgenic fertility patterns for more than a century in the first world. We still have to renorm IQ scores every few years to deal with rising raw scores.
The logic behind the eugenics model of the world seems sound–IQ is partly heritable, smarter people tend to have lower fertility than dumber people–but it’s not too clear to me, as a non-expert looking at what data I can see and understand, how what we observe squares at all with that model.
But the model of the world is independent of the political beliefs of the people who advocated for it.
It’s fascinating how the Volkswagen Beetle is never tainted by association with the Nazis, even though its development was specified by Hitler. From Wikipedia:
“In 1933, Adolf Hitler gave the order to Ferdinand Porsche to develop a Volkswagen (literally, “people’s car” in German, pronounced [ˈfɔlksvaːɡən]). The epithet Volks- literally, “people’s-” had been previously applied to other Nazi sponsored consumer goods such as the Volksempfänger (“people’s radio”). Hitler required a basic vehicle capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph).”
Why did Hitler feel that Germany, a relatively small, densely populated country that could have been well served by public transportation, need all those private cars to get around in, as if they were Americans with a whole continent’s resources to draw upon and drive around in?
Well, the plans for the VW Bug were tied in with plans for expanding German lebensraum to the Urals. A Greater Reich would need VW Bugs and the potential of the VW Bug made a Greater Reich more desirable.
Maybe the eugenicists should have hired David Ogilivy to write advertising copy for them the way VW hired Ogilvy to promote the Bug.
Technology and government policy are two different things. Post-war Germany needed industry and since industrial technology need not carry any ideological baggage, the decision not to play up the association of Volkswagen with Nazism seems sound. America’s space program benefited greatly from the technological expertise of Werner von Braun who, of course, got his start in rocket engineering with the V-2 rocket which was mass-produced by concentration camp inmate labor and used to kill thousands of civilians in the war.
On the other hand, eugenics is a political theory and one that was close to the core of Nazi ideology. Indeed, one thing that is apparent from reading up on the subject is that selective breeding is typically associated with animals in captivity and many animals don’t even breed in captivity thwarting any human attempt to selectively breed them. The SS tried to get their men to take eugenic considerations into account when choosing wives (or mistresses) and appear to have mostly failed — as long as people have freedom of choice in sex and reproduction, they tend to exercise that in ways eugenic “experts” don’t like. The implication is that eugenics will tend to be associated with authoritarian or totalitarian political movements and even these movements might not be able to make eugenics work in the real world. It appears to be yet another failed utopian project and while the Nazis did not invent eugenics, the association is hardly unfair as any competent history of Nazism will demonstrate.
Nicely said, about technology vs policy.
While this association may rightly smear “selective breeding … in captivity” and coercive methods like forced sterilisation, it is often invoked much more broadly to shut down any discussion of what direction out societies are drifting, and what policies influence this. For example, those criticising welfare support for children on eugenic grounds are frequently (and unfairly) regarded as being tainted by nazism.
As far as people doing whatever the hell they like, regardless of the eugenic policy de jour, we have an excellent example of this. Fisher may have gone around bemoaning the fact that Yale men only had two thirds of a son each, but he only had three children himself. Not doing the Nordic Race or even the human species much good.
Unless he had another family somewhere else of course.
You don’t need captive species to practice selective breeding though. We are probably doing this with fish. Because we do not take the smaller fish (on the grounds they are probably juveniles) it seems most fish species are shrinking. All the half-pint Sarkozys of the fish world are surviving and breeding. The proper sized ones end up on someone’s wall.
You can do it voluntarily as well. Rabbi Joseph Ekstein lost four children, one after the other, to Tay-Sachs disease – an always lethal genetic disease more commonly found in the Ashkenazi Jewish community. So he founded Dor Yeshorim. It screens Ultra-Orthodox couples. It then recommends a marriage takes place or it does not. As most marriages in the Ultra-Orthodox community are arranged, this means most marriages take place after a test. The rates of Tay-Sachs have plummeted.
But the point is Tay-Sachs is recessive. It needs two parents with the gene. Someone like the Rabbi had four children who all died. Those genes were not passed on. Two other ultra-Orthodox Jews without the gene got married, and none of their children have it either. Had the test been available back then, the Rabbi would have married someone else without the gene, so would his wife. And half the children of the two marriages would have had the gene. Which is the downside – this is a dysgenic policy. It means the genes are spreading in the Jewish community faster than they would have done in the past.
The practices of Dor Yeshorim do not lead to an increase in the frequency of the Tay-Sachs gene.
Really? You have four people. Two of them have T-S. Two of them do not. Without testing, the two who have it marry and produce no surviving children. The two who do not, marry and produce, assuming this is a Frum family, eight or so children who do not have it. Next generation – no T-S gene in the population.
Now DY comes along. They get tested. Which means two couples form, each of one carrier and one non-carrier. Each couple has eight or so children. Sixteen in total. None die. Everyone is happy. Except that in the next generation eight of them carry the T-S gene.
So by all means, tell me how DY does not increase the spread of the gene.
You are an imbecile. Do the math. Have you ever heard of a Punnet square? A single T-S couple is _twice_ as likely to produce carrier children as a T-S and non-carrier couple.
Any policy that discourages T-S couples from marrying should therefore decrease the frequency of the allele throughout the population.
I thought the TV re-sale article interesting data on how fast markets clear. In housing, for example, it was relatively clear housing prices would return to current levels. Yet sellers required more than three years to re-set expectations. Why? What determines the pace of expectation re-setting? Slow re-setting clearly exacts an economic cost.
Fisher’s “dark side”? Tyler is so full of shit it’s not even funny anymore.
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