Tyler Cowen

That is the new Michael Walzer book, with the subtitle Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions.  The stated paradox is fairly simple, yet worthy of sustained attention:

Why have the leaders and militants of secular liberation not been able to consolidate their achievement and reproduce themselves in successive generations?  Over the past several decades, Indian intellectuals and academics have been debating this question in its local version: “Why is it,” one of them asks, “that the Nehruvian vision of a secular India failed to take hold?”

Other cases considered include Israel, Palestine, and Algeria, as well as the Middle East more generally.  Walzer doesn’t much try to answer his own question, but this book is very stimulating and worth the short amount of time it takes to read it.  I would modify the paradox however: I see various European nations which do consolidate and maintain largely secular nationalist movements.  How about Denmark or France?  If you find those examples troublesome, try Serbia or for that Vietnam or China.  There may be a more general issue of morphing, above and beyond the religious vs. secular issue.

United States fact of the day

by on March 6, 2015 at 11:04 am in Data Source, History | Permalink

Percentage of annual net electricity generation by renewables in 1948: 32

Percentage of annual net electricity generation by renewables in 2005: 11

The main difference of course is the fall in the relative import of hydroelectric power.

By the way, those numbers are read off a graph and thus are approximate.  They are from p.67 of Mara Prentiss, Energy Revolution: The Physics and the Promise of Efficient Technology, new and noteworthy from The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, recommended.

Friday assorted links

by on March 6, 2015 at 8:05 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Ross Douthat on King v. Burwell.

2. The most American headline ever?

3. Japan may legalize noisy children.

4. David Brooks on the continuing importance of education.

5. Vincent van Gogh’s reds have been turning white.

Jean Pisani-Ferry makes a few good arguments, this is the most interesting:

…an exit would force European policymakers to formalize their so-far unwritten and even unspecified rules for divorce. Beyond broad principles of international law – for example, that what matters for deciding an asset’s post-divorce currency denomination are the law governing the underlying contract and the corresponding jurisdiction – there are no agreed rules for deciding how conversion into a new currency would be carried out. A Grexit would force these rules to be defined, therefore making it clear what a euro is worth, depending on where it is held, by whom, and in what form. Indeed this would not only make the break-up risk more imaginable; it would also make it much more concrete.

The entire piece is here.  File under “The End of Creative Ambiguity.”  That file is growing larger all the time.

That is a new paper (pdf) by Xianchi Dai and Ayelet Fishbach,the abstract is here:

The proposed model suggests that desire depends on the length of nonconsumption of a good and the presence of salient alternatives, and that desire is at least partially constructed. In the absence of salient alternatives, a longer nonconsumption period results in stronger desire for the unconsumed good. However, in the presence of salient alternatives, individuals infer that they have developed new tastes, and thus a longer nonconsumption period results in a weaker desire for the unconsumed good. Five studies support this model across nonconsumption of various  goods: food from home when attending college (study 1); chametz food during the Passover holiday (study 2); social media (i.e., abstaining from Facebook; study 3); and cultural foods (i.e., forgoing Japanese food, study 4; and Thai food, study 5). We discuss implications of our findings for when and how the experience of desire is constructed and situationally determined.

The copyright on Mein Kampf is running out in 2016, so what will Germany do?  Here is the latest:

The Institut für Zeitgeschichte got the call, and apparently their critical edition should be available already shortly after the copyright runs out, in January 2016. In Die Zeit they report on some of the details — including that the two-volume edition might extend to 2000 pages, some 780 of actual text and the rest taken up largely by the up to 5000 explanatory notes.

That is from Literary Saloon.

Thursday assorted links

by on March 5, 2015 at 11:58 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. More on why greater unionization won’t make much of a dent in inequality.

2. What happens when you crash the Ivy League for four years without registering?

3. The professionalization of fourth grade sports.

4. How standards of living have evolved over time, the real stuff.

5. Thomas Edsall on Larry Summers and populism.

6. Who gets the Sweet Briar endowment?

7. New data on what finger length might mean.

8. Ryan Decker is taking a job at the Fed.

Paul E. Smaldino and Joshua M. Epstein have a new paper, note they are not responsible for my blog post heading, they called it “Social conformity despite individual preferences for distinctiveness.”  The abstract is here:

We demonstrate that individual behaviours directed at the attainment of distinctiveness can in fact produce complete social conformity. We thus offer an unexpected generative mechanism for this central social phenomenon. Specifically, we establish that agents who have fixed needs to be distinct and adapt their positions to achieve distinctiveness goals, can nevertheless self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity. This seemingly paradoxical result is deduced formally from a small number of natural assumptions and is then explored at length computationally. Interesting departures from this conformity equilibrium are also possible, including divergence in positions. The effect of extremist minorities on these dynamics is discussed. A simple extension is then introduced, which allows the model to generate and maintain social diversity, including multimodal distinctiveness distributions. The paper contributes formal definitions, analytical deductions and counterintuitive findings to the literature on individual distinctiveness and social conformity.

Other sources for paper drafts are here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Ms Schneider reckons that more than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs.

That is from The Economist, via Scott Sumner, whose post is of interest more generally on numerous matters.  Scott also cites The Economist for telling us that in China smaller cities are more densely populated than larger cities.

Here is the GMU press release:

Marginal Revolution University’s “Everyday Economics” video series has been nominated for an International Academy of Web Television award in the Best Documentary or Educational Series category.

There is more information here.

Just to repeat myself….

by on March 4, 2015 at 9:21 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

1. The obviously correct legal answer is to toss at least part of ACA back into the hands of Congress for a rewrite.  (There is rarely a well-defined “intent of the legislature” in most matters of detail, yet the wording itself is clear.)  But since many people do not like what Congress would do (or not do) in this situation, this is an option which cannot be discussed very much.  The critics would have to let on that they do not consider the current Congress to be a legitimate governing body.

2. Along the lines of my recent blog post, it is remarkable how many “ugly” pictures of Hillary Clinton I have seen since the email scandal broke.  Aren’t there pretty pictures of Hillary with a Blackberry?

Labor union sentences to ponder

by on March 4, 2015 at 2:14 am in Economics | Permalink

to raise labor share, unions have to decrease markups or the cost of capital; don’t see evidence or mechanism there

That is from A Macroeconomist, on Twitter.  A union which simply grabs for more from the employer will raise marginal cost and induce an offsetting boost in the price, restoring capital’s share (to some degree, depending on assumptions), and of course passing some of the burden along to consumers, most of whom are workers.  The tweeter did also note that unions might decrease income inequality within the category of labor, however.  Nick Bunker comments on that.  Via Kevin Lewis, here is a new and interesting paper on how unions might reduce wage inequality.  David Henderson comments on unions and prices.

I am often struck by the conflict between one supposition and one fact.  First, employers are supposed to be reaping some big surplus from hiring unskilled labor.  Second, when a downturn comes, it is unskilled labor who are laid off.

I used to think it was a decent enough school, and now:

Sweet Briar College announced today that it is shutting down at the end of this academic year.

Small colleges close or merge from time to time, more frequently since the economic downturn started in 2008. But the move is unusual in that Sweet Briar still has a $94 million endowment, regional accreditation and some well-respected programs. But college officials said that the trend lines were too unfavorable, and that efforts to consider different strategies didn’t yield any viable options. So the college decided to close now, with some sense of order, rather than dragging out the process for several more years, as it could have done.

The story is here, and this is not the last such event of its kind.  Why is it failing financially?  Here is one take:

Sweet Briar officials cited overarching challenges that the college has been unable to handle: the lack of interest from female high school students in attending a women’s college like Sweet Briar, declining interest in liberal arts colleges generally and declining interest in attending colleges in rural areas. Sweet Briar is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. “We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks,” said James F. Jones Jr., president of the college.

It seems to me that many other small colleges are in a far worse position, but are instead papering over the cracks, for how long I do not know.  Update: This revised version of the story has additional information.

Tuesday assorted links

by on March 3, 2015 at 2:29 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The New Rambler, a new book review journal, edited by Eric Posner, Arian Vermeule, and Blakey Vermeule, looks very good plus I owe them a review.

2. Toulouse School of Economics magazine (pdf).

3. WaPo covers the best places to visit internationally, now that the dollar is stronger.

4. How much did ATMs displace bank tellers?

5. It’s all about the land, not the capital-output ratio.

So the problem is not that austerity was tried and failed in Greece. It is that, despite unprecedented international generosity, fiscal policy was completely out of control and needed major adjustments. Insufficient spending was never an issue. From 1998 to 2007, Greece’s annual per capita GDP growth averaged 3.8%, the second fastest in Western Europe, behind only Ireland.

…Unsustainable growth paths often end in a sudden stop of capital inflows, forcing countries to bring their spending back in line with production. In Greece, however, official lenders’ unprecedented munificence made the adjustment more gradual than in, say, Latvia or Ireland.

There are many other good points at the link.  Hausmann makes this point:

Greece never had the productive structure to be as rich as it was: its income was inflated by massive amounts of borrowed money that was not used to upgrade its productive capacity.

And then the closer can only be described as an “ouch”!:

Unfortunately, this is not what many Greeks (or Spaniards) believe. A large plurality of them voted for Syriza, which wants to reallocate resources to wage increases and subsidies and does not even mention exports in its growth strategy. They would be wise to remember that having Stiglitz as a cheerleader and Podemos as advisers did not save Venezuela from its current hyper-inflationary catastrophe.

As I’ve said before, that out of control Greek government spending and borrowing has been converted into a (supposed) cautionary tale about the dangers of fiscal conservatism is one of the greatest (and most unfortunate) public relations triumphs of modern times.  That said, I would have preferred it if Hausmann had paid more attention to monetary policy.