History

American military commanders rarely seek out deserters and even more rarely punish them.  At the height of the Iraq War, fewer than 5 percent of deserters received a court-martial, and fewer than one percent served prison time.

And:

…the only deserters who have consistently been punished by the American military are those who went to Canada.

The full article, by Wil S. Hylton, is interesting throughout.

Stone Age Britons imported wheat about 8,000 years ago in a surprising sign of sophistication for primitive hunter-gatherers long viewed as isolated from European agriculture, a study showed on Thursday.

British scientists found traces of wheat DNA in a Stone Age site off the south coast of England near the Isle of Wight, giving an unexpected sign of contact between ancient hunter-gatherers and farmers who eventually replaced them.

The wheat DNA was dated to 8,000 years ago, 2,000 years before Stone Age people in mainland Britain started growing cereals and 400 years before farming reached what is now northern Germany or France, they wrote in the journal Science.

“We were surprised to find wheat,” co-author Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick told Reuters of finds at Bouldnor Cliff.

“This is a smoking gun of cultural interaction,” between primitive hunter-gatherers in Britain and farmers in Europe, he said of the findings in the journal Science.

The find of wheat “will make us re-evaluate the relationships between farmers and hunter-gatherers,” he told Reuters.

There is more here, and the original research is here.  As I’ve said in the past, believing that early trade and globalization were more extensive than is usually believed is one of my “crank views.”

*The Age of the Crisis of Man*

by on March 1, 2015 at 3:01 am in Books, History, Philosophy | Permalink

That is the new book by Mark Greif, and the subtitle is Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973.  I very much enjoyed grappling with this one.  One of my more recent views is that the thinkers of the mid-twentieth century are in fact, as a whole, extremely underrated.  They are not old enough to be classic and not new enough to be trendy or on the frontier.  Their world faced problems which seemed totally strange to us in the 1990s, but which are starting to sound scarily relevant and contemporary.  Yet our world is largely ignorant of their wisdom and creativity, in part because they often sounded dumb or schlocky or maybe they even were in some ways.

This book is sprawling, and while clearly written at the sentence-to-sentence level, it assumes some fair degree of background knowledge.  Nonetheless for an intellectually-minded reader it is an excellent way to jump into the world inhabited by Karl Jaspers, Ortega y Gasset, Flannery O’Connor, and Thomas Pynchon.

Leon Wieseltier has some interesting remarks on the book.  Here is another interesting (if overlong) review, by Richard Marshall.  Here is an excellent Adam Kirsch review, the best review as review.

Michael Pettis has an excellent short essay on this point, here is one (scary) excerpt:

A debt crisis must be resolved quickly because there is a self-reinforcing component within the process that can be extraordinarily harmful. High levels of sovereign debt create uncertainty about how the costs of resolving the debt will ultimately be assigned. This uncertainty causes growth to slow by adversely changing the behavior of a wide variety of stakeholders in the economy (as I will describe later). As the economy slows, contingent liabilities within the banking system rise, tax revenues decline and fiscal expenditures rise, all of which push up sovereign debt levels even further and increase both the cost of resolving the debt and the uncertainty about how the costs will be assigned. The consequence of this self-reinforcing deterioration in the sovereign balance sheet is, at first, a slow grinding away of the economy until the market reaches some point, after which the process accelerates and debt can spiral out of control.

Hat tip goes to the ever-excellent The Browser.

That is the new Robert D. Putnam book and it focuses on the widening opportunity gap among America’s young.  Much of the work is narrative and case studies, starting with Port Clinton, Ohio but not stopping there.  Any Putnam book is an event, and this one is the natural sequel to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.  The writing and the underlying intelligence are of an extremely high quality.

One significant theme is that upward mobility results from a mingling of the upper and lower income classes, and such mingling is more scarce than in the immediate postwar era.  You can think of it as case study evidence for the cross-sectional statistical regularities stressed by Chetty et.al.  Contra Chetty, however, Putnam believes that declines in socioeconomic mobility will start to show up in the data as current generations age.

The book’s problem is finding a new note to strike.  Putnam stresses this is a story of social forces rather than personal villains, but, for all the merits of his text, he identifies no new culprits or solutions.  Inequality of opportunity seems to have more to do with parents than schools, but how to control parents?  This book does not flirt with the so-called Neoreaction.  Putnam favors increased access to contraception, professional coaching of poor parents, prison sentencing reform and more emphasis on rehabilitation, eliminating fees for school extracurricular activities, mentoring programs, and greater investment in vocational education; contra Krugman he gives a lot of evidence for skills mismatch (pp.232-233).  More generally, he asks for federalist solutions and lots of experimentation.  Maybe those are good paths to go, but the reader feels (once again) that matters will get worse before they get better.  There is very little on either political economy or the evolution of technology.

Do read this book, but by the end Putnam himself seems to come away deflated from dealing with some of America’s toughest problems.

Most days on MR we try to bring you something new, whether it be a report or an opinion of ours.  Even if it is not truly new, perhaps it is at least new relative to the discourse on most other web sites.  We are reluctant to recycle old posts, even though I am still thinking about whether a lot of food tastes better when you eat it with your fingers.

But maybe telling you something conventional can be new in a way too.  So here are a few totally conventional views which I hold, or still hold, but otherwise don’t bother reporting very often if at all:

1. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush are the most likely candidates to win the GOP nomination.

2. The GOP won’t try to repeal Obamacare, see #Syriza.

2b. Obamacare hasn’t made us healthier (yet?), but it has served as an inefficient form of wealth insurance for some lower-income groups.  On net, the negative health consequences of the disemployment effects of the law could easily counterbalance the direct positive health care access effects.  Imagine that, a health care reform that doesn’t even boost health.  Given their utility functions, many of the law’s backers should be happy with it, but they shouldn’t think I am impressed with their numerous “victory lap” blog posts.  Here is my 2009 post on what we should have done instead.  I still think that, noting that I remain happy with the cost control parts of what was done.

3. The Supreme Court will rule against the current version of Obamacare and send the matter back to Congress.  Confusion will result.

4. During the upward phase of the recovery, monetary policy just doesn’t matter that much.

5. We are still in the great stagnation, for the most part.  But with nominal gdp well, well above its pre-crash peak, it is not demand-based “secular stagnation.”  It just isn’t, I don’t know how else to put it.  And the liquidity trap is still irrelevant and has been since about 2009.

6. There is modest good news on the wage front, but so far it doesn’t amount to a fundamental shift in regime.  Following the monthly squiggles doesn’t tell us much.  And since wage trouble dates from 1999 and arguably earlier, I don’t attribute much of it to debt overhang from the recession.

7. Edward Snowden is both a hero and a traitor.

8. Syriza still has to try to make a Greek economy work with roughly the same means their predecessors had.  I don’t think they can do it, and I am sticking with my recent Grexit prediction, which by the way had an 18-month time horizon on it (see my earlier Twitter response to Felix Salmon).

9. No one knows what to do about ISIS or Putin.  The latter is a bigger danger than the former.  Confusion will result.

If you’re not excited, fine, that’s the point.  The predictable is a kind of news, too.  But hold on and come back, because tomorrow you might just hear more about remote-controlled, cyber cockroaches.

Here is evidence for the Roberts Higgs thesis and, if I recall correctly, some recent remarks by Thomas Piketty on revolution and tax progressivity (does anyone know the link?).  Juliana Londoño Vélez writes:

Abstract    I argue that progressive income taxation in the twentieth century is a product of the exigency of war and not of democracy. I obtain long-run series of the top marginal personal income tax rate for a large sample of OECD countries, and use data on wars of mass mobilization and democracy from the Correlates of War data set and Scheve & Stasavage (2012) to test this hypothesis. My results suggest that wars of mass mobilization (i.e. wars in which more than 2% of the population served in the military) cause substantial increases in tax progressivity. These effects are persistent and do not vanish upon the conclusion of war.

The full paper is here (pdf), taken from the generally interesting Berkeley Economic History Lab list, as cited by Barry Eichengreen.  As Barry notes, see also the revised and much improved version of Lemin Wu’s paper on the Malthusian trap (pdf).

I have not read their new paper, but here it is (pdf), along with the abstract:

This paper takes a retrospective look at the U.S. government’s effort to rescue and restructure General Motors and Chrysler in the midst of the 2009 economic and financial crisis. The paper describes how two of the largest industrial companies in the world came to seek a bailout from the U.S. government, the analysis used to evaluate their request, and the steps taken by the government to rescue them. The paper also summarizes the performance of the U.S. auto industry since the bailout and draws some general lessons from the episode.
This is in any case a topic worthy of study.

Also, unlike Silicon Valley, the Stasi was regulated.

That is from Bryan Appleyard.

That is the newly published volume 16 of The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, edited by Sandra J. Peart.  Of course this is splendid from beginning to end, including Peart’s introduction, the letters, Hayek’s commentary, and assorted documents, and the book even contains three very nice poems written by Harriet Taylor.

Is Hayek here blaming Taylor for moving Mill in a collectivist direction?  Is that the Straussian reading of this book and the reason why Hayek did it?

If there were a phrase for “one step above and beyond self-recommending,” this volume would get it.

Oceanic average is over

by on February 20, 2015 at 1:41 am in History, Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

The animals in the ocean have been getting bigger, on average, since the Cambrian period – and not by chance.

That is the finding of a huge new survey of marine life past and present, published in the journal Science.

It describes a pattern of increasing body size that cannot be explained by random “drift”, but suggests bigger animals generally fare better at sea.

In the past 542 million years, the average size of a marine animal has gone up by a factor of 150.

It appears that the explosion of different life forms near the start of that time window eventually skewed decisively towards bulkier animals.

Today’s tiniest sea critter is less than 10 times smaller than its Cambrian counterpart, measured in terms of volume; both are minuscule crustaceans. But at the other end of the scale, the mighty blue whale is more than 100,000 times the size of the largest animal the Cambrian could offer: another crustacean with a clam-like, hinged shell.

There is more here, and here is Wikipedia on Cope’s Rule.  Here is one possible explanation.  Does the Rule apply to dinosaurs?  I wonder if the risk-adjusted returns to species size also are going up.

Inequality vs. the productivity slowdown

by on February 20, 2015 at 12:37 am in Economics, History | Permalink

Greg Mankiw writes:

The Economic Report of the President was released today.  A friend draws my attention to Table 1-3 on page 34, which presents several historical counterfactuals.  It finds:

1. If productivity growth had not slowed after 1973, the median household would have $30,000 of additional income today.
2. If income inequality had not increased after 1973, the median household would have $9,000 of additional income today.

So, which is the bigger problem?

The military that is German

by on February 19, 2015 at 2:11 pm in Current Affairs, History | Permalink

The German army has faced a shortage of equipment for years, but the situation has recently become so precarious that some soldiers took matters into their own hands.

On Tuesday, German broadcaster ARD revealed that German soldiers tried to hide the lack of arms by replacing heavy machine guns with broomsticks during a NATO exercise last year. After painting the wooden sticks black, the German soldiers swiftly attached them to the top of armored vehicles, according to a confidential army report which was leaked to ARD.

…To make matters worse, the broom-equipped German soldiers belong to a crucial, joint NATO task force and would be the first to be deployed in case of an attack.

There is more here.

In 1971 — when the North Sea oil was just beginning to flow — the average Norwegian was about as poor as the average Greek…

That is from Matthew C. Klein at the FT, the post on Norway is interesting more generally.  Here are my earlier remarks on whether Norway is an economically overvalued country.

Addendum: See the comments, it is not obvious this is true, I will look into the matter (but must teach shortly).  You can see in this OECD data source that, in 1971, Finland is only barely richer than Greece per capita, ppp-adjusted.  Via Klein on Twitter, here is the original source, from Norges Bank through BIS, but it seems to run counter to the other numbers.  Matt has some follow-up tweets here.

Syriza will deal. As with the “troika,” there’ll be a change in vocabulary so they can minimize loss of face, but they’ll deal. They simply don’t have a choice if they plan to remain in power very long.

Not only do most Greeks oppose Grexit, but the sympathies of far too much of the Greek army and law enforcement agencies are, frankly, not with Syriza. Nobody knows if they’ll acquiesce to being paid in drachmae and not deutschmarks by the grandsons of “anarcho-communists.”

Neither, incidentally, do the rest of the EU gain anything from another failed state and/or Russian client in the Balkans.

By now, they’ll have told Varoufakis, in some form, formally (during discussions) and informally (during networking breaks):

“Yanis. We get it. You’ve made your point. Greece is a miserable place right now. There’s a lot of it going around. Listen to us. Please. We secretly care about Greece enough not to want another 1967 or Balkan war. You don’t have to believe that, but it’s true.

“We may have overdone it. Fine. We’re flexible. But seriously—if you walk away we’re looking at another 1967 when you run out of cash. Greece will become an even more miserable place real fast. Do you want our help or not?”

That is from Richard Besserer.