Markets in everything

by on January 1, 2013 at 8:05 am in Books, History, Religion | Permalink

Instead of long beards and robes, they wear track suits and T-shirts. Their tablets are electronic, not hewn of stone, and they hold smartphones, not staffs. They may not look the part, but this ragtag group of Israelis is training to become the next generation of prophets.

For just 200 shekels, about $53, and in only 40 short classes, the Cain and Abel School for Prophets says it will certify anyone as a modern-day Jewish soothsayer.

The school, which launched classes this month, has baffled critics, many of whom have dismissed it as a blasphemy or a fraud.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank Asher Meir.  By the way, I found this to be an especially odd and ineffective response:

“There is no way to teach prophecy,” said Rachel Elior, a professor of Jewish thought at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. “It’s like opening a school for becoming Einstein or Mozart.”

I wonder what Bryan Caplan will think of this line:

Hapartzy can’t guarantee his course will give his students a direct line to God. But, he says, the syllabus provides the essential tools to bring out the prophet in anyone.

Here is another oddly incorrect statement:

 Roie Greenvald, a 27-year-old tennis instructor attending the classes, also showed some skepticism. While he expressed interest in the spiritual development the course offers, one crucial detail stands in the way of his religious elevation.

“I’m not going to become a prophet,” he said. “I don’t think it pays very well.”

The school takes on all comers and it is run by a Russian immigrant and software engineer.

Rahul January 1, 2013 at 8:19 am

Is “professor of Jewish thought” a position at mainstream American universities too? How about “Christian thought” / “Islamic thought” etc.? Do these all exist?

Zachary January 1, 2013 at 10:42 am

Yes…

Rahul 2 January 1, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Its called a Divinity School, nearly every major institution has them:

http://www.hds.harvard.edu/

http://www.ptsem.edu/

http://divinity.yale.edu/

prior_approval January 1, 2013 at 8:37 am

Interesting – this link, and its 45 comments, has been disappeared – http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/12/chart-of-the-day.html

Understandable, of course – the posted graph was inaccurate.

But simply disappearing mistakes, without even a mention, does tend to become a simple solution in trying to maintain a certain image. Until the image becomes too important to endanger by acknowledging mistakes.

Anybody who is a more loyal reader than I noticed this before? And if so, is this how falsely posted information is handled? I find this sort of memory hole maintenance one of the most disgusting things about DeLong’s blog – which I’ve refused to read for years due to his endless attempts to disappear anything which does not support his beliefs (especially about himself).

Tyler Cowen January 1, 2013 at 9:05 am

It was absolutely mentioned and with a link, but there is no reason to keep the post up after about twenty hours. See also Twitter.

Roy January 1, 2013 at 10:48 am

I understand what you are getting at, and honestly I am sympathetic. But twenty hours is not a long time and on New Year’s Eve too. I think it would be wiser to adopt the policy of retaining the post with a disclaimer and strike throughs of the disproven information. I know this is a blog, but other blogs such as Volokh Conspiracy and, I think, Matt Yglesias have adopted this sort of internal policy, which is far better than disappearing things down the memory hole.

Tyler Cowen January 1, 2013 at 11:26 am

We do have a consistent policy of publishing corrections. But first correctness needs to be ascertained.

Bill January 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm

How about this.

First, ascertain, before publishing, whether it is correct or say when you post it “I dunno”

Second, if it is not correct, then publish the disclaimer.

Third, if you withdraw claiming that it is is being reviewed for correctness, set a New Years resolution to resolve the issue within x days or post again with a disclaimer or a statement saying I dunno. But, you could shorten this trip around the block by just leaving it up and saying I dunno.

I dunno.

Finally, if you do have a “consistent policy” of publishing corrections, when will the correction be published?

Rahul January 1, 2013 at 1:12 pm

@Bill

It’s a blog for goodness sake not a journal article or legal filing. Give the man some leeway. You can’t post as prolifically as he does and expect to do due diligence on every tiny bit.

Bill January 1, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Rahul, You are corect: blog postings have no attachment to reality. But, then, I wouldn’t say, in defending the withdrawal, “correctness needs to be ascertained” or that “We do have a consistent policy of publishing corrections.” Those sound like representations to me.

I dunno.

And, I do give him slack, and in fact think he does a good job generally when he agrees with me.

Brian Donohue January 1, 2013 at 12:26 pm

The conversation was generated by a faulty premise. I steered clear of the whole thread, figuring it was annoying and wrong-headed, criteria that some may be thankful are not applied to the comment section generally. Good riddance, I say.

You have to judge a site by its totality. Tyler takes a ton of flak here from ankle-biters- I don’t think there’s another econ blogger out there who exercises more forebearance, but I’m all ears.

Claudia January 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Middle ground? I actually thought the whole episode was encouraging (minus, maybe the last step). Look Bill and prior, it’s extremely hard to vet economic analysis in real-time…I know and I only do it in a big team. TC thought the original source of the chart might be Kotlikof (I would trust his empirics too). I saw that tweet and knew the original posts were not on solid ground…yes, you should check sources first. But hey these are blogs…get the conversation going. Anyone wants to argue this was not an important topic to consider? And then the cool thing was across commenters and I suspect inboxes of the bloggers it got figured out. Learning, neat. And now Arnold Kling is blogging about where we can all download the US data. Yes, I will look forward to the follow-up post that adds the new, better information, but I don’t see this as fail, it’s a first draft. And yet, Brian, I’d say if you’ve got 200k+ page views, well you’ve got a higher standard. Some positions are a “blessing and a curse.” I think it was a mistake to pull the page, but I don’t understand the attacks over the original post.

Rahul January 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I agree it was iffy to pull the post. Keep it there and post a warning. On the internet traditionally that’s what Strikethrough’s were for.

Brian Donohue January 1, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I get the whiff of Winston Smith and pneumatic tubes here, but there’s so much clutter and misinformation out there as it is…

I agree that the subject is important and interesting and that the informal blog process is useful in vetting stuff and moving the dialogue along and I look forward to follow-up, but I’d hate to see such a provocative and misleading graph (if it turns out that’s the case) attain critical mass in the misinfosphere.

I diasgree, as usual, with prior_approval’s ubiquituous insinuation of evil here, natch.

Roy January 1, 2013 at 8:49 am

I thought Ms. Elior’s objection was quite sound. This is like saying you can be trained to be a genius, when the root word of genius is divine.

Of course if you are referring to false prophets, I suspect a track suit is much like a sheep’s clothing, except I can’t imagine trusting anyone wearing a track suit.

Bill January 1, 2013 at 9:27 am

Instead of long beards and robes, they wear track suits and T-shirts. Their tablets are electronic, not hewn of stone, and they hold smartphones,

They or their parents pay $40,000 a year for them to attend

Harvard’s Cain and Able School of Economics

Where they are trained to make this New Year’s Economic Forecast, read the entrails of dead economic data,

Or forsee a Great Stagnation,

But, some do not enroll, saying

““I’m not going to become a professor,” … “I don’t think it pays very well.”

John January 1, 2013 at 11:35 am

Prophets are not pastors. Pastors make money. Prophets stand outside the system, living in the wilderness, hated and feared for declaring the judgement of God on corrupt kings and courts. Look at the record of the great Jewish prophets – Jeremiah, Isaiah, Nathan, John the Baptist. They made more enemies than money.

8 January 1, 2013 at 11:36 am

God works in mysterious ways.

John January 1, 2013 at 11:47 am

At $53 for 40 classes, the instructors clearly know that the market for prophetic services is limited and that these budding prophets are not anticipating hitting the career jackpot.

Bill January 1, 2013 at 12:41 pm

That does not include the mandatory textbook assigned by the professor who wrote it.

DocMerlin January 1, 2013 at 1:44 pm

In the Jewish tradition, prophets don’t just see the future, they are often killed for it, and lose all their property. In the Bible, for example, prophets often are often tortured and killed when they make known uncomfortable truths.
Elijah, one of the greatest biblical prophets says this: “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The writer of the book of Hebrews describes them thus:
“They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;”

Jeremiah for example was, was attacked by his own brothers, beaten and put into the stocks by a priest and false prophet, imprisoned by the king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern by Judah’s officials and left there for quite some time trapped in the mud. This was because God ordered him to tell the Israelites that Babylon was going to conquer them and take them into captivity.

The false prophets however prospered, because they told the rich and powerful what they wanted to hear.

Also, on top of their persecution, true prophets had God, who forced them into unpleasant situation either as object lessons to others or when they didn’t comply with what God wanted. Jonah for example was eaten by a large sea creature which then transported him to where God demanded he go.
Hosea was forced to marry a prostitute who constantly ran out on him as an object lesson to the Israelites about how they treated God.

Furthermore the opportunity costs of being a prophet are so high that the prophet doesn’t get a chance to use his knowledge for personal gain. If they have wealth, it is used by God for other causes. The prophet Obediah was a very wealthy man who worked for King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, he used all his wealth (and then borrowed money) to hide and rescue 100 other prophets from Queen Jezebel who wanted them dead. (They didn’t know he was a prophet.)

Brian Donohue January 1, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Let me try my hand at this: “Continuing to run $1 trillion deficits is the road to perdition.”

Commence the stoning.

Rahul January 1, 2013 at 1:57 pm

They should hire Nate Silver as a visiting lecturer.

mike January 1, 2013 at 2:02 pm

“Hapartzy can’t guarantee his course will give his students a direct line to God.”

They just need to figure out the missing step…

1) Go to the Cain and Abel School
2) ????
3) Prophet!

Gary January 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm

“There is no way to teach prophecy,” said Rachel Elior, a professor of Jewish thought at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. “It’s like opening a school for becoming Einstein or Mozart.”

I completely disagree with Tyler on this. I find this to be a perfect response. So far as we know, a prophet is chosen by God and receives wisdom as God reveals it. Others can read and study the prophets, but none have that direct line to God.

Genius is an innate trait. Others can study and make themselves smarter and more effective at their crafts, but genius is genius. Sure, Einstein learned many things in school. School gave him the tools he needed to develop his genius, but the genius was there. If I sat next to Einstein and copied everything he did for his entire life, I would have been smarter for sure, but I would not have been Einstein (top boot, I am a physics teacher).

Connecting this to the sports world. Bo Jackson was 6′ 1″ tall, 230+ pounds, yet he ran a record (still unbeaten) 4.12 in the 40 yard dash at the combine. Other world class athletes stopped to watch Bo. The amazing thing about Bo, he never worked out. Ever. He was a terrible practice player. He stepped out on to the field and was Bo. No teaching/training could reproduce what Bo did. Yet, Bo didn’t have to do any of that.

Bob Knaus January 1, 2013 at 4:22 pm

If being a prophet is not a learned skill, then why did Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha all run schools for prophets? I won’t bore you with the scripture references.

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