Book and movie splat

by on September 28, 2013 at 8:03 am in Books, Film | Permalink

1. Ilya Somin, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter.  From my colleague at GMU Law, I have not yet read this one.

2. Damien Ma and William Adams, In Line Behind a Billion People: How Scarcity Will Define China’s Ascent in the Next Decade.  How often does a book have both a good title and subtitle these days?  The authors are more pessimistic about China long-term than I am, but nonetheless this is a very interesting take on The Middle Kingdom.

3. Clare Jacobson, New Museums in China.  Good text but mostly a picture book, I loved this one.  Stunning architecture, no art, full of lessons in multiple areas, think of it as a Straussian picture book with beauty on its side too.

4. John Durant, The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health.  A useful overview of its topic, with an influence from Art DeVany, but you will not find recipes for either “grubs” nor “worms” here.

5. John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election.  Good, sane tome on how the fundamentals matter and lots of campaigning ends up being cancelled out by the campaign of the other candidate.

From another direction, In a World… is a subtle and entertaining movie with much economics in it, most of all the economics of superstars in the “voiceover” sector.  The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceacescu is mesmerizing, like watching one of the great silent films of the past, and the scenes where the Chinese communists praise the Romanian communists are some of the best ever filmed.

Jan September 28, 2013 at 8:14 am

Does anyone have a good online source that explains Straussianism? I have a general grasp of it, but I see it referred to often (mostly here) and don’t think I fully get it.

For example, I have no idea what it means for a picture book to be Straussian.

Steve Z September 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm

It means that it conveys skepticism about the current regime in a type of semaphore. Like Spinoza, Maimonides, etc. Gnostic political discourse.

de Broglie September 28, 2013 at 6:15 pm

On face it seems to be reviewing the regime positively but if you read between the lines it is actually a criticism.

dearieme September 28, 2013 at 9:28 am

“How often does a book have both a good title and subtitle these days?” Dunno, but that’un doesn’t fill the bill – the subtitle is dud.

dearieme September 28, 2013 at 9:32 am

“you will not find recipes for either “grubs” nor “worms” here”: oh well, just buy an Ozzie book on bush tucker. Witchetty grubs – don’cha love ‘em?

radical centrist blogger September 28, 2013 at 10:37 am

from the blurb from the book about smaller govt being better:
“Somin provocatively argues that people make better decisions when they choose what to purchase in the market or which state or local government to live under, than when they vote at the ballot box, because they have stronger incentives to acquire relevant information and to use it wisely.”

My reply:
I agree that smaller govt is better because it enhances democracy. Here are my (different) reasons for that:
In general, smaller govt is based on smaller voting districts. Smaller voting districts have fewer people, in general. In general, fewer people means a more heterogeneous populations, meaning fewer factions. That means the population, the electorate, in those smaller districts have more common interests shared. That means it is easier for them to elect a politician that shares their own interests. They are also more cohesive than an electorate in a larger district.

More cohesive, more shared interests–that means they can better elect and hold accountable their politicians. More control of the government by the people. That is the essence of democracy.

That is why power should be devolved back to the states, and why the power of all govt’s should be put into the hands of politicians from smaller electoral districts. This is the essence of parliamentarian govts.

radical centrist blogger September 28, 2013 at 10:39 am

oops, replace “more heterogeneous populations” above with “more homogeneous populations”

mike September 28, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I agree, and I think most people would agree at least in principle. The big road block is that union-Americans have been on a power trip since the war, and their entire reason for existence is to tell people in other communities what they are and aren’t allowed to do, and use the Feds to enforce their dictats. So you can understand why sniveling like Somin’s just sounds to them like losers whining about the result of the war, like Cherokee indians complaining about losing “their land” or something.

TommyVee September 28, 2013 at 3:12 pm

“Small government is better” is just a mindless mantra, with no evidence really backing it up.

Why should economies of scale only apply in the private sector but not in the public sector??
The short answer is that there is no reason that economies of scale should only apply in the private sector and not in the public sector also.
So in the public sector, just like in the private sector the appropriate scale for a task depends on that task, on not on some silly pre-conceived notion that smaller is always better.
Can Joe’s garage build better cars than Toyota? If smaller was always better then that ridiculous supposition would hold.

And whether a particular function is most efficient in the public or private sector again depends on that function, and is not constant over time, and gets resolved in the political process continuously.

National regulation typically results from market failures (see health care, insurance regulation, auto safety, product safety, pollution, etc.).
And many market failures can be most efficiently resolved at higher levels of government, for example over-fishing (evident in every ocean fishery) can only be successfully regulated at international levels, and local regulation of fisheries is doomed to failure because fish do not respect local boundaries. Same with air and water, they travel across local government boundaries with impunity, so local pollution regulation is doomed to failure for obvious “tragedy of the the commons” reasons.

As an engineer that designed products for many years, having a single set of national standards to design against is infinitely simpler than having a myriad of local idiosyncrasies to take into account at design time.

Should we replace the national interstate systems with roads that stop and start at state boundaries, or even worse at municipal or county boundaries? Same with rail, same with air travel, etc.,etc.

But people who mindlessly repeat the “Small government is better” sound-bite ignore all these obvious concerns, in favor of pathetic group-think.
Really it is depressing how political ideology can blind people to obvious practical concerns.

radical centrist blogger September 28, 2013 at 3:43 pm

you wrote:
““Small government is better” is just a mindless mantra, with no evidence really backing it up. ”

why not address my arguments?

The Anti-Gnostic September 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Uniform standards and seamless highways are one thing. Government as a percentage of GDP and levels of complexity is another. Flattening things out to just one layer of federal government rather than 50 idiosyncratic states is probably one of those ideas that looks good on paper. Immigration, for example, is a local phenomenon administered by national policy. Seasonal workers following harvests may work out just fine in rural California. Somali ghettoes in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where they don’t get enough sunlight and have chronic upper respiratory infections, not so much.

Also, the private sector has feedback from profit-and-loss. (Unless you’re TBTF, but that’s another issue). The public sector has a printing press and a military. It will grow to the limits of net tax consumption.

mike September 28, 2013 at 4:37 pm

This is the most perfect example of “straw-manning” that I have ever seen on the internet.

Pete September 28, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I have a somehow more general question: How do you argue with Anarcho-Capitalists?

There are myriad of debates between pro government and anti government camps. I am an economist and I argue my fingers sore. My point is that as much as free markets are preferable, it will not work entirely without any government. Is there any kind of knockout argument against people that think absolutely no government is the solution? What is the strongest argument?


mike September 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm

The slam-dunk answer to any kind of idiotic anarcho/libertarian/individualist nonsense is just to point out that their retarded hippie society will be conquered by a “collectivist” army in short order, just as they have every time for the past 5000 years.

Pete September 29, 2013 at 12:00 am

Yeah, not a bad one, I’ll try that :) However, I guess the counterargument will be that their policy is based non-interventionism so why should any country attack their country. Despite, at least in modern times, not every country with a weak defense system is automatically conquered.

The Anti-Gnostic September 28, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Anarchism is a matter of faith; you are wasting your time. Investment horizons in an anarchist society are extremely limited, which is why the only real world examples they can ever point to are remote peoples living as hunter-gatherers or pastoralists. Most self-styled ‘anarchists’ would get their heads handed to them in actual anarchy. Anarchic tribes wouldn’t host the Berkeley Anarchist Book Fair; they’d burn it to the ground. These people will never get what they really want, which is a society of twelve-year olds where nobody ever tells anybody what to do.

I think the smarter ones eventually come around to a synthesis: states organized around ownership rather than democratic ideals, like the Gulf Arab monarchies and mercantilist city-states like Singapore, which is where I think we are headed. The propositional States like the US and the traditional nation-States like France are in decline due to imperial and fiscal overreach and demographic displacement. They will ultimately be unable to maintain the civil order, so somebody else will.

Neo-feudalism, and it will be here whether the statists or anarcho-capitalists want it or not.

BTW, are you “Pete” from the ancient days of

Pete September 28, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Thx. The problem is that they justify their position mainly with rational reasoning. Many are proud on their Econ 101 knowledge explaining everything with Smith’s invisible hand. I would like to beat them with their own weapons on not on the grounds of faith. My main strategy is “market failures” but unfortunately, what is true to some extent, the counterargument is “government failure”. At the end this debate always ends up in weighing both failures against each other. Finally this ends-up in throwing empirical evidence around, which again exists on both sides and apart thereof in such complex systems as economies empirical evidence is still not a knockout argument.

BTW no, I’m not that Pete, I’m one of the other many Petes :)

The Anti-Gnostic September 29, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I don’t know that you can. Probably, anarcho-capitalism could work among a sufficiently intelligent, homogenous and net producing population. But since people vary wildly in outputs and preferences there’s just no way everybody can walk around with their separate 10,000 page contracts with the rest of the planet. Lone bandits are the only pure anarchists.

Long-term planning and family formation requires a degree of uniformity and stability. If your neighbor can build a steel refinery in his back yard as the whim strikes him, or your joint venture partner can run off to another private security agency with another set of rules when they feel like it, then not very much civilization-building is going to occur. If all government disappeared tomorrow, people would still coalesce into communities of similar values, arrange for defense against their more violent neighbors, and decide on rules for the civil order. Humans are, after all, social and hierarchical animals. Thus, the purest of pure voluntary societies disappears the instant a border is drawn or the first covenant gets written.

Really, the only thing an-caps should concern themselves with is exit rights.

Randall Parker (@futurepundit) September 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Immigration makes the size of the US government bigger. Democracy deteriorates as the polity gets bigger and more diverse.

เกมส์ทำอาหาร October 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

After I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment
is added I get four emails with the exact same comment.
There has to be a way you are able to remove me from that service?
Appreciate it!

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