Assorted links

by on June 27, 2013 at 12:40 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. 210 reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire, and the Chinese vision for the future of humanity, short film promotional video with Dwight Howard and Scottie Pippen among others; subtle, Straussian, involves genetic engineering.

2. Claims about self-control and happiness.

3. Why apes cannot pitch, and there will soon be a new Bruno Latour book, two of them in fact.

4. Markets in everything: a company with professional liars.

5. Raghuram Rajan on unconventional monetary policy after the crisis, much wisdom in this talk.

6. Recent disputes over measuring inequality.

prior_approval June 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I thought the Company only employed professional liars.

FXKLM June 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I applied, but they turned me down when everything on my resume checked out.

JWatts June 27, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I told you to jazz it up, but you just wouldn’t listen.

Alexei Sadeski June 27, 2013 at 1:08 pm

The reported inequality differential between the US and Europe has always been bunk for anyone who cares to look.

Rob June 27, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Re 2, I’m sure the authors somehow manage to control for these things, but I surely would have guessed that happier people have better self control as a consequence and not as a cause of their happiness.

dan in philly June 27, 2013 at 1:57 pm

The debate over the fall of the RE is far more interesting than the conclusion. As usual in historical arguments, the conclusions tell more about the concluders than the subject.
It’s the fault of Christianity seems to be congenial to those scarred by religious wars such as 18th century Germans.
It’s the fault of hedonism is popular among Christians.
It’s the fault of internal strife reflects the opinions of those who find too much internal strife in their own state.
Etc.

JWatts June 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I’d like to see a ranking of the list by historians. The Roman Empire’s fall has always been a weird topic, because of the whole East vs West situation. I still tend to think that the Roman Empire fell in 1453, though I realize the Byzantine Empire wasn’t the “same” after 1,000 years. Still, how similar was the Roman Empire of 400AD to the Republic of Rome in 500BC?

dan in philly June 27, 2013 at 4:13 pm

It reminds me of the interesting mental excercise of a ship being repaired one piece at a time. At the end, the ship is still the ship, and the owner of the ship still owns this vessel, but every single piece of the ship is new. Is it the same ship or is it a new different one? If different, when do we designate it as having changed?
So too with a multi century continuous politic such as Rome. When did it stop being one thing and start being another? When the Republic fell? When the last Roman Empire was deposed? When the Byzantine Emperors stopped speaking Latin? The 4th crusade? Your head can spin.

zbicyclist June 27, 2013 at 4:32 pm

The classic joke along these lines:

I have George Washington’s original axe that chopped down the cherry tree; however, the handle has been replaced 3 times and the head has been replaced twice

Myron June 28, 2013 at 2:57 am

This is an excellent description of what the historical process was.

Many historians have pointed out that the Roman Empire was unique for not “falling”. Crisises and setbacks that would have eliminated other states and societies were coped with by the late Romans and Byznantines, but in ways that crisis by crisis transformed “Rome” into something unrecognizable. The fifth century crisis was big, but not the biggest or most damaging. The biggest and most damaging might have been the crisis that finished off the Republic and created the “empire” in the first place.

There is also a bias among English language historians relating to the time and circumnstances surrounding the abandomnent of England by the central government.

Most of Gibbon’s book is actually about the Byzantine Empire, depending on when you date the origins of the Byzantine Empire, and about the Middle Ages. And these parts are well researched and entertaining, though they have a major problem in that if you deliberately set out to create a figure least sympathetic to medieval civilization (East or West), it would be an English 18th century intellectual.

Dan in Philly June 28, 2013 at 11:33 am

Histories always reveal at least as much about the historian as it does the subject.

Andreas Moser June 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm

That*s the ship of Theseus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus

Go Kings, Go! June 27, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I like to think that the Roman Empire fell in 1204 to a horde of French Christians, fighting on behalf of Venetian creditors. The Turks just mopped up afterward.

Adrian Ratnapala June 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm

But eighty years later, the Greeks just walked back in, neither much stronger nor much weaker than they were before the crusaders.

Adrian Ratnapala June 27, 2013 at 4:57 pm

The events around the fall of the West are more interesting because:

(1) The Byzantine empire was just another medieval monarchy, barely more a contiOnuation of the RE than France or Spain (albeit with more continuity).

(2) The process which brought the eastern empire down to that level was more or less the same that knocked out the western empire entirely.

Of course that is all a gross simplification. Nonetheless, asking why the Ottomans beat the Byzantines is a different – and more parochial question – than asking what the hell happened to Augustus’ empire.

JWatts June 27, 2013 at 5:12 pm

But that kind of ignores the “Byzantine” empire under Justinian. By his death, the Italian peninsula including Rome was back in the empire. It was quite a bit more expansive than a medieval monarchy.

http://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/lecture_mid_civ.htm

Nonetheless, asking why the Ottomans beat the Byzantines is a different – and more parochial question – than asking what the hell happened to Augustus’ empire.

True, but again that’s 1,000 years later, with a lot of decline over the centuries.

dan in philly June 27, 2013 at 7:44 pm

The late empire fell because the Turks had cannons, which rendered the defenses of constantanople useless.

Zachary June 27, 2013 at 2:01 pm

#6
I see nothing wrong with including accrued capital gains as income for the purposes of measured inequality. So liquid are our financial institutions that people can expend the value of their capital gains by borrowing against the value of a house. That people do not spend this available income is more indicative of a systemic preference manifested as a social convention (failure to exploit financial markets). I’m not ready to say people are poorer simply because the prefer no to spend what they have.

JWatts June 27, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Personally, I monitor my own wealth on an annual accrual basis. So, I obviously believe it’s an intelligent way to do it.

However, I suspect the dramatic difference is between using the top 1% vs using the top 5% as your grouping. Burkhauser uses the top 5% whereas all the other sources are looking at the top 1%.

Bender Bending Rodriguez June 27, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Emmanuel Saez, a University of California, Berkeley, economist considered by many to be a leading expert on income trends, wrote:

For the U.S., you should not trust any paper on top incomes that uses Current Population Survey data. Survey data cannot get at top incomes well because the surveys have too small samples of top earners to be reliable. That’s the very basic reason why our research on top incomes estimated with tax data adds value. In a nutshell, Burkhauser et al. will never say anything interesting about top incomes if they start from CPS data, although they might say interesting things on bottom 99 percent incomes.

Shorter Saez: Who gives a shit if the bottom 99% are improving? Class warfare requires ammunition!

Matt June 27, 2013 at 2:31 pm

The problem with the fall of the Roman Empire is that the reason is too simple: relentless invasions by much better organized and equipped barbarians than in the past eventually ran it into the ground. You had a lot of little contributing factors as well, but without the barbarians Rome doesn’t collapse.

dan in philly June 27, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Without relentless civil war, Rome can handle the barbarians.

JWatts June 27, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I tend to think the Civil Wars were far more influential than the barbarians.

The East half of the empire didn’t fall to barbarians for another 1,000 years. I don’t think the difference in barbarians between Rome and Constantinople were as great as the ability of the cities to defend themselves and their provinces.

dan in philly June 27, 2013 at 4:01 pm

This argument goes to my original point. Rome fell to barbarians therefore it was due to the barbarians they fell. But why then if they had been surrounded by barbarians for centuries? Internal strife? If so, what was the cause? The cause of that? And so on until one discovers Aristotle was correct and its all due to the first cause, the Diest God.
So one can make a rational argument of many things which caused Rome to fall. And thus what one settles on is generally more indicative of ones view of the world than actual proof.

JWatts June 27, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I’m more inclined to believe it was a multi-factor thing and that it’s possible to come up with a top 10 list and assign a relative ranking to them and be pretty close to accurate.

But of course, one can’t really prove such a thing, because you can’t re-run history.

Matt June 27, 2013 at 8:36 pm

The barbarians learned a lot from Rome over the centuries, including the areas of agriculture allowing their populations to grow and warfare, especially siegecraft. While barbarian invasion was nothing new, the sheer number and scale of the invasions in the fourth and fifth centuries was unprecedented. Even if driven off, the devastation from the most recent invasion was never repaired because all resources went into bolstering the military to meet the next invasion. By the end they were taking anyone who could stand up to serve in the army, and eventually there was no one left to fight and no more wealth to buy them off.

The other factors are not meaningless. For example, If Majorian hadn’t been betrayed and killed then there may have been a chance to recover at least some territory and stave off the end. Various diplomatic blunders just enraged this or that tribe of barbarians and caused them to go on a pillaging spree. But put all the other things together and take away the barbarians and Rome survives. Take all the other factors away and add just the barbarians, and it isn’t obvious that Rome survives even then.

Myron June 28, 2013 at 3:05 am

The argument that the Eastern provinces were in inherently a better strategic position than the western provinces is suspect. This might be a true statement, but it is not nearly as well supported by the evidence as most people think.

It was actually the East that took the brunt of the barbarian invasions -they attracted most of the attention of the Huns for example- and had a sort of two front problem because they had to constantly watch the frontier with Persia. The East had Constantinople, but the West had their own unassailable fortress city with Ravenna. The western provinces were as populous as the eastern provinces, they had fewer cities but more agricultural land, and were less racked by religious disputes.

For what it is worth, Western based legions prevailed in most of the Fourth century civil wars.

Alot of the difference is explained by the 5th century Eastern Emporers simply being more competent than their Western counterparts, especially after 450.

Adrian Ratnapala June 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Correct! As you go through Gibbon, the word “Barbarian” goes from meaning an almost stone-age hunter-gatherer, up to a almost medieval knight. Nonetheless, the late empire and fails to defend itself in ways which just would not have happened under the Republic, or the early empire.

j r June 27, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I am pretty sure that Rome died of old age.

Andreas Moser June 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm

But not peacefully.

Philo June 27, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I read Rajan’s piece, but I missed the “wisdom.”

Rajan thinks the Fed’s Large Scale Asset Purchase program is designed simply to lower long-term real interest rates. As such, it is doubtful on theoretical grounds whether it should be successful. But the actual important effect of LSAP is to boost the money supply. In this objective the program is guaranteed to be successful, since it involves withdrawing bonds from the hands of the public and replacing them with money.

F.F. Wiley June 27, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I like #5 but imo Rajan could have gone further. Too much praise for policy actions in ‘08/09 without knowing what would have happened if things had played out differently. Bair badly wanted Citi in resolution (as did Summers) and Bair knows far more about the process than anyone at the Fed and certainly more than Geithner, who ultimately got his way and kept Citi and almost everyone else afloat. (Ironically, the Fed never really bought into Crockett’s views on regulation as excerpted by Rajan and Geithner, especially, took the other side, going so far as to tell Congress he wasn’t a regulator.)

And I’ve yet to see anyone refute Stockman’s case that an AIG default could have easily been contained given the legal structures involved. Just as the key decision makers didn’t know much about resolution, they certainly weren’t on top of things when it came to AIG’s business and structure.

In hindsight, I would have even let Goldman and Morgan Stanley slip out of the net and lived through the short-term turmoil – I know their businesses and they’re not nearly as irreplaceable as they’ve convinced the world they are. The long-term benefits of letting GS & MS fail would have been gigantic and we’d already be reaping them. I would have preferred to see Rajan extend his agnosticism about unconventional measures to the ‘08/’09 period instead of giving the usual lip service to moral hazard but praising everything that was done.

Also, imo the whole notion of a full employment equilibrium real interest rate is dangerously naïve for reasons noted by Rajan and more. It ignores the fact that real interest rates have many effects that play out over many time periods, that the economy is inherently cyclical and never stops at a theoretical equilibrium (stability breeds instability), and that “structural” employment is constantly changing (Arnold Kling’s PSST model is an interesting take on this).

But again, I agree there are many good points in the article and Rajan should be forever applauded for his famous 2005 speech. Maybe he would have done things differently in ‘08/’09 and is just making nice with his peers and colleagues. Thanks for sharing.

Michael Hussey June 27, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Marginal Revolution and TBJ.

Tyler Cowen and Trey Kerby.

My two favorite blogs and bloggers; together at last.

NicholasSmith June 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Well, if we’re just going for influence and not just people we like, I’d say Larry Summers. Barack Obama shouldn’t be overlooked (and given that people like Hitchens are counted as intellectuals, it seems to me Obama certainly qualifies.)

A few worth consideration:
Singer
Kahneman

NicholasSmith June 28, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Oops, that’s supposed to be Peter Singer and Daniel Kahneman.

Careless June 29, 2013 at 12:47 am

I don’t think that was the real “oops” with your post

Careless June 29, 2013 at 12:46 am

3. A 12-year-old human pitcher can easily throw three times that fast.

In the same way that an adult human can easily sprint a 10 second 100m

Joel Nickerson June 29, 2013 at 10:25 pm

fresh markets in everything: named in anticipation of lawsuit

Anticipating that Georgia Power would send him a cease and desist order for violating the Territorial Act, Smith named his company Lower Rates for Customers LLC—court documents listing Georgia Power versus Lower Rates for Customers would undoubtedly generate media attention. So far, Smith hasn’t been sued.

http://www.oxfordamerican.org/articles/2013/jun/07/revolution-will-be-solarized/

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: