History

*Hitler’s Soldiers*

by on September 25, 2016 at 11:37 am in Books, History, Political Science | Permalink

The author is Ben H. Shepherd and the subtitle is The German Army in the Third Reich.  That may seem like a timeworn topic, but I found this book consistently fresh and interesting, also well-written, analytic throughout, one of the year’s best non-fiction studies.  Here is one bit:

Two occupied populations whom the German army particularly tried to cultivate were the Muslim peoples of the Crimea and the Caucasus.  The Sunni Tatars comprised a quarter of the Crimea’s population, and German army administrators saw them, as they would also come to see their Muslim brethren in the Caucasus, as presenting an opportunity to woo Islam in the Soviet Union for political and military gain.  The Germans granted the Tatars religious rights and concessions and reintroduced major religious holidays, and Manstein’s otherwise infamous November 1941 order required his troops to treat the Tatars with respect…the Germans appointed a Muslim committee to re-establish the religious infrastructure.

…Yet the failings of German occupation were soon apparent to these Muslim peoples.

Overall the message is that the German army was less effective and less moral [sic] than many other historians had suggested.  Recommended.

Here is one bit from a very good column:

She’s always been the duller, unfashionable foil.

Her donor base and fund-raising style is out of another era. Obama and Sanders tapped into the energized populist base, but Clinton has Barbra Streisand, Cher and a cast of Wall Street plutocrats. Her campaign proposals sidestep the cutting issues that have driven Trump, Sanders, Brexit and the other key movements of modern politics. Her ideas for reducing poverty are fine, but they are circa Ed Muskie: more public works jobs, housing tax credits, more money for Head Start.

Interesting throughout.  Here were my earlier thoughts on the matter, cited by David too.  Here are thoughts from John Judis.

Londonderry Derry

by on September 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm in History, Law, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

The city’s name is a point of political dispute, with unionists advocating the longer name, and nationalists advocating the shorter. A common attempt at compromise is to refer to the county as “Londonderry” and the city as “Derry”, but this is by no means universally accepted. Because of this, a peculiar situation arises as there is no common consensus either in politics or elsewhere as to which name is preferred; the city council is officially known as “Derry”, but the city is officially recognised as “Londonderry” by the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK government. Whilst road signs in the Republic of Ireland use “Derry”, alongside the Irish language translation “Doire”, road signs in Northern Ireland will always read (unless vandalised) “Londonderry”.

Here is the link.  I hope someday to go.

Lewis Davis has a newly published paper on that topic with the more elegant title “Individual Responsibility and Economic Development: Evidence from Rainfall Data.”  Here is the abstract:

This paper estimates the effect of individual responsibility on economic development using an instrument derived from rainfall data. I argue that a taste for collective responsibility was adaptive in preindustrial societies that were exposed to high levels of agricultural risk, and that these attitudes continue to influence contemporary social norms and economic outcomes. The link between agricultural risk and collective responsibility is formalized in a model of optimal parental socialization effort. Empirically, I find a robust negative correlation between rainfall variation, a measure of exogenous agricultural risk, and a measure of individual responsibility. Using rainfall variation as an instrument, I find that individual responsibility has a large positive effect on economic development. The relationships between rainfall variation, individual responsibility and economic development are robust to the inclusion of variables related to climate and agricultural and institutional development.

This kind of investigation is always going to be fraught with uncertainty and also controversy, given imperfections of data and methods.  Nonetheless I find this one of the more plausible macro-historical hypotheses, perhaps because of my own experience in central Mexico, where varying rainfall still is the most important economic event of the year, though it is rapidly being supplanted by the variability of tourist demand for arts and crafts.  And yes, they are largely collectivist, at least at the clan level, with extensive systems of informal social insurance and very high implicit social marginal tax rates on accumulated wealth.

Have you noticed it rains a lot in England?

Here are earlier and ungated/less gated versions of the paper.

Paul Krugman is upset that many Millennials are toying with the idea of voting for Gary Johnson rather than Hillary Clinton.  He offers a number of arguments, here is one of them:

What really struck me, however, was what the [Libertarian Party] platform says about the environment. It opposes any kind of regulation; instead, it argues that we can rely on the courts. Is a giant corporation poisoning the air you breathe or the water you drink? Just sue: “Where damages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.” Ordinary citizens against teams of high-priced corporate lawyers — what could go wrong?

That is the opposite of the correct criticism.  The main problem with classical libertarianism is that it doesn’t allow enough pollution.  Under libertarian theory, pollution is a form of violent aggression that should be banned, as Murray Rothbard insisted numerous times.  OK, but what about actual practice, once all those special interest groups start having their say?  Historically, under the more limited government of the 19th century, it was big business that wanted to move away from unpredictable local and litigation-driven methods of control, and toward a more systematic regulatory approach at the national level.  There is a significant literature on this development, starting with Morton Horwitz’s The Transformation of American Common Law.

If you think about it, this accords with standard industrial organization intuitions.  Established incumbents prefer regulations that take the form of predictable, upfront high fixed costs, if only to limit entry.  And to some extent they can pass those costs along to consumers and workers.  The “maybe you can sue me, maybe you can’t” regime is more the favorite of thinly capitalized upstarts that have little to lose.

So under the pure libertarian regime, big business would come running to the federal government asking for systematic regulation in return for protection against the uncertain depredations of the lower-level courts.  It is fine to argue the court-heavy libertarian regime would be unworkable for this reason, or perhaps it would collapse into a version of the status quo.

That would be a much more fun column: “Libertarian view untenable, implies too high a burden on polluters.”  I’m not sure that would sway the Bernie Brothers however.

Some of the criticisms of libertarianism strike me as under-argued:

And if parents don’t want their children educated, or want them indoctrinated in a cult…Not our problem.

Rates of high school completion were below 70% for decades, until recently, in spite of compulsory education.  Parents rescuing children from the neglect of the state seems at least as common to me as vice versa.

And what is the status quo policy on taking children away from parents who belong to “cults”?  Unusual religions can be a factor in contested child custody cases (pdf), but in the absence of evidence of concrete harm, such as beatings or sexual abuse, the American government does not generally take children away from their parents, cult or not.  Germany and Norway differ on this a bit, for the most part this is, for better or worse, the American way.  That’s without electing Gary Johnson.

By the way, Gary Johnson slightly helps Hillary Clinton.  Although probably not with New York Times readers.

Bowling alone and for peanuts too:

In 1964, “bowling legend” Don Carter was the first athlete in any sport to receive a $1 million endorsement deal ($7.6 million today). In return, bowling manufacturing company Ebonite got the rights to release the bowler’s signature model ball. At the time, the offer was 200x what professional golfer Arnold Palmer got for his endorsement with Wilson, and 100x what football star Joe Namath got from his deal with Schick razor. Additionally, Carter was already making $100,000 ($750,000) per year through tournaments, exhibitions, television appearances, and other endorsements, including Miller, Viceroys, and Wonder Bread.

…Of the 300 bowlers who competed in PBA events during the 2012-2013 season, a select few did surprisingly well. The average yearly salary of the top ten competitors was just below $155,000, with Sean Rash topping the list at $248,317. Even so, in the 1960s, top bowlers made twice as much as top football stars — today, as the highest grossing professional bowler in the world, Sean Rash makes significantly less than a rookie NFL player’s minimum base salary of $375,000.

In 1982, the bowler ranked 20th on the PBA’s money list made $51,690; today, the bowler ranked 20th earns $26,645.

The article, by Zachary Crockett, suggests numerous hypotheses for the economic decline of bowling, but ultimately the answer is not clear to me.  I would suggest the null of “non-bowling is better and now it is better yet.”  A more subtle point is that perhaps bowling had Baumol’s “cost disease,” but under some assumptions about elasticities a cost disease sector can shrink rather than ballooning as a share of gdp.

For the pointer I thank Mike Donohoo.

A good sentence to ponder

by on September 14, 2016 at 7:07 pm in History, Music, The Arts | Permalink

Bach heard the St. Matthew Passion four times at most.

That is George Chien, from the September/October issue of Fanfare.

The elephant chart is the tool, developed by Branko Milanovic, often used to show that globalization has hurt the interests of much of the middle class, presumably due to competition with lower wage countries, most notably China.  Now from the Resolution Foundation there is a new study of the matter, based in part on updated data from Milanovic, here are excerpts from Chris Giles and Shawn Donnan at the FT:

The Resolution Foundation found that faster population growth in emerging markets made it difficult to compare the incomes of the lower middle classes over time because their position in global income rankings changed. The larger number of Chinese families made it appear that the US poor were further up the global income scale in 2008 than they were in 1988.

If incomes were unchanged in every country, this population effect alone would lead to apparent drops of 25 per cent in parts of the global income scale associated with poorer people in rich countries. That generated the characteristic “elephant” shape, according to the Resolution Foundation.

These results were exacerbated by outlying factors, such as the former Soviet states of eastern Europe, which had incomes in the same zone and saw them collapse after the fall of communism.

Adjusting the chart for constant populations and removing China, ex-Soviet states and Japan shows a relatively even spread of income growth across the world. China is a clear outlier in performing very strongly.

“Globalisation is not to blame for all the ills of the world,” Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said.

Is it “elephant chart,” “elephant curve,” or “elephant graph”?  I would stress two points.  First, I am not sure the highly aggregated elephant “thing” was so useful to begin with, and indeed you will not see much of it in the MR archives.  Second, there still may be significant cases where globalization has depressed or held down middle class wages.  This is an important revision to how we organize the data, but maybe not a big revision to how we should think about the world.

Here is the actual report, go to Figure 10 on p.23 (this pdf), or try this link, the Resolution Foundation is on a roll these days.

Might growing deconcentration possibly be either a partial cause or symptom of the Great Stagnation? Yasin Ozcan and Shane Greenstein report:

Using patents as indicators of inventive activity, this article characterizes the concentration of origins of invention from 1976 to 2010, and how these changed over time. The analysis finds pervasive deconcentration in virtually every area related to ICT, but it can explain only a small part of this trend. Deconcentration happens despite the role of lateral entry by existing firms. New firm entry drives part of the deconcentration, but this alone cannot explain the change. A single supply factor in the market for ideas, such as the breakup of AT&T, also cannot explain the trend. Finally, eleven percent of patents change hands through mergers and acquisitions activity, but this does not make up for the declines in concentration in the origins of invention.

Worth a ponder…

I hadn’t known Ed “Let’s take the con out of econometrics” Leamer was the VP on the Larry Kotlikoff ticket.

The quality, and popularity, of Sully raises anew the question of why Hollywood doesn’t make more such movies.  Which is the scarce input?  The script?  Yet virtually every Clint Eastwood movie seems to come up with a good script.  I suspect “a recognized auteur with bargaining clout” is what is scarce.

Insects are not so scarce, but the marketing is tough:

Aketta grows its crickets in the United States and fills orders on a first come, first serve basis with weekly harvests. The company sells cricket flour and whole-roasted crickets. Flour is made from 100% milled crickets and has a “deep, earthy, umami flavor with hints of raw cocoa.” Sold in small batches of 1 to 1.5 lbs. Order online.

Here are many more insect food sources, but the claim is that the most innovative insect-selling start-ups are in Europe.

This story has scary good photos:

The Bund reached the height of its prominence on February 20, 1939, when some 20,000 members held a “Pro-America Rally” in Madison Square Garden.

Inside, jackbooted Nazi supporters filled the aisles while speakers ranted against President “Frank D. Rosenfeld” and his “Jew Deal.”

Outside, some 80,000 anti-Nazi demonstrators furiously protested the event, clashing with police and attempting to gain entry to the arena and shut it down.

The Bund called George Washington “the first fascist.”

Chileans remain upset at their semi-privatized pension system (NYT), and I say that is now the country to sell short.

1. Jacobs was born in Scranton, PA, but moved to NYC in 1932 and as early as 1935 she had published some of her impressions of the city in a multi-part series in Vogue magazine.  Earlier, she had written poetry for the Girl Scouts’s magazine, American Girl.

2. She published a 1941 book on the intellectual foundations of the American Constitution, with Columbia University Press under her maiden name Jane Butzner and the title Constitutional Chaff.  At about the same time her manuscript was being accepted, she was kicked out of Columbia for taking too many extended studies classes, and not allowed admission to Barnard.

3. In 1940 she wrote an article based on her study of the embossed acronyms on manhole covers.

4. She then worked as writer during WWII for the Office of War Information and the State Department.  Before Pearl Harbor, she had been an isolationist.

5. Henri Pirenne’s work on medieval cities was one of the biggest influences on her.

6. In the 1940s, she also worked for a metals industry magazine, and smoked a pipe in her office.  They started to wonder whether she was a troublemaker.

7. She married an architect in 1944, then taking the name Jacobs.  They enjoyed bicycling and sociometry together.  She had sons in 1948 and 1950.

8. Alger Hiss had been her superior at the State Department, and in the late 1940s Jacobs was investigated for possible Communist ties, in part because she had tried to apply for a visa to Siberia, using Hiss as her contact.  She stated in response that she abhorred communism and favored radical decentralization.

There is much more!  But that is a taste from the new and excellent Becoming Jane Jacobs, a runs-up-through 1972 biography by Peter L. Laurence, definitely one of the best books of the year.  This is the biography of Jacobs I have wanted to read for forty years.

Addendum: There is a new Jane Jacobs movie coming to the Toronto film festival.

Later this year, roughly 6,000 people in Kenya will receive regular monthly payments of about a dollar a day, no strings attached, as part of a policy experiment commonly known as basic income.

…In a recent GiveDirectly blog post, the charity’s Kenya-based official, Will Le, explains that refusal rates in East Africa have typically held steady between 4% and 6% in past cash transfer trials. They’ve been especially low in countries like Uganda and Rwanda. In one Kenyan region known as Homa Bay, however, the rates have risen as high as 40%.

…GiveDirectly’s investigations have shown that people who refuse the cash are skeptical. They find it “hard to believe that a new organization like GiveDirectly would give roughly a year’s salary in cash, unconditionally,” Le writes. “As a result, many people have created their own narratives to explain the cash, including rumors that the money is associated with cults or devil worship.”

Here is the full story, the pointer is from the excellent Samir Varma.  And here is the GiveDirectly response.

Samir also refers us to this study of why not all states have legalized medical marijuana, here is one result: “If all 50 states had legalized medical marijuana by 2014, according to their estimates, that could translate to savings of $1.5 billion per year in Medicaid spending.”

Strauss’s pedagogical method was famous for its simplicity and directness.  A student would be asked to read a passage from the work being discussed; Strauss would make a comment or two, noting contradictions or discrepancies with earlier passages; a student might then raise a question, which would lead Strauss to digress, taking it to a much higher level and illustrating with with often earthy examples.  (He was particularly fond of examples from a newspaper advice column of the time, “Dear Abby.”)  Then on to the next passage.

That is from Mark Lilla’s new book The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction.  There is also this bit from the book:

Michel Houellebecq is not angry.  He does not have a program, and he is not shaking his fist at the nation’s traitors…He appears genuinely to believe that France has, regrettably and irretrievably, lost its sense of self, but not because of feminism or immigration or the European Union or globalization.  Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be.  For him, that wager has been lost.  And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.  Who remains as remote and as silent as ever.

I enjoy such books.  But in earlier times I preferred Ann Landers to Dear Abby.

*The Fall of Heaven*

by on September 7, 2016 at 12:43 am in Books, History, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

I loved this book, the author is Andrew Scott Cooper, and the subtitle is The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.  It is the best book I know for understanding the Iranian revolution, and it is compulsively readable throughout.  Did you know for instance that the Ayatollahs were deeply disturbed by the presence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and also Rhoda on Iranian TV?

Here is one excerpt:

Iran’s political and economic malaise gave a renewed sense of urgency to the Shah’s top priority, which was to settle the question of the Imperial succession once and for all.  His initial preference was for a European princess who could provide the House of Pahlavi with the luster of dynastic legitimacy.  He soon ran into trouble.  The Windsors rebuffed his interest in Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin Princess Alexandra of Kent, while his favorite, Princess Maria Gabriella, the Catholic daughter of the deposed King Umberto of Italy, was ruled out owing to opposition from the Vatican and Iran’s ulama.

And this, from the Shah himself:

“When everybody in Iran is like everybody in Sweden, then I will rule like the King of Sweden,” he declared.

I would describe this book as relatively sympathetic to the Shah, and also arguing that the oppressions and tortures of Savak are sometimes overstated.

This one makes my best non-fiction of the year list, and it will be in the top tier of that list.

There are separate issues that get muddled up under this label.

1. There’s a semantic debate among mathematical evolutionary biologists about what the best fitness accounting system is (e.g., inclusive fitness as promoted by the Oxford crowd, or a pluralistic approach favored by most other mebs). This debate will seem totally stupid to economists. This debate shouldn’t be confused with the empirical question of whether intergroup competition has shaped genetic or cultural evolution.

2. The difference between genetic vs. cultural evolution, and between cultural group selection and genetic group selection. Many researchers like Boyd and Richerson have argued against the importance of genetic group selection for humans but FOR the importance of intergroup competition shaping cultural evolution. Much modelling suggests that conditions that normally inhibit the importance of GGS in genetic systems are mitigated in cultural evolutionary systems–because of multiple stable equilibrium (think folk theorem with different populations stuck at different equilibrium)

3. Empirically, a lot of evidence suggests that intergroup competition has shaped cultural evolution (institutions, social norms, religions, etc.)

Two recent target articles in BBS with full commentaries and replies are the places to start

http://www.des.ucdavis.edu/faculty/Richerson/CGS%20for%20BBS.pdf

http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~ara/Manuscripts/2016%20Norenzayan%20cultural%20evolution.pdf

I would avoid the opinions of web-publishing non-experts, who have not contributed to the primary literature and don’t understand cultural evolution.

In general I thought the comment thread on group selection was excellent.