History

Chinese is an imperial language that has always loaned more than it borrowed. In the Max Planck Institute’s World Loanword Database, Mandarin Chinese has the lowest percentage of borrowings of all 41 languages studied, only 2 percent. (English, with one of the highest, has 42 percent.) In part because of the difficulty of translating alphabet-based languages into Chinese characters, it’s common to see what are called “calques”—nonphonetic literal translations like “re gou” for “hot dog” or “zhi zhu ren” for “Spiderman.” Despite (or because of) the vast appetite among the Chinese for learning English as a foreign language, Chinese ministers have recently cracked down on loanwords. And yet Chinese people still say “baibai” and “sorry”; “e-mail” is just a lot easier than “dianzi youjian,” the official substitute.

I also liked this bit:

…Japan often adapts words in ways that make them nearly unrecognizable to English-speakers. Über-Japanese media franchise Pokémon actually takes its name from English (“pocket monster”). Japan’s “puroresu” is another abbreviated compound, from “professional wrestling”; similarly, the extra syllables required to pronounce English consonants have given rise to “purasuchikku” (“plastic”) and “furai” (“fry”). Then there are loans where a word stays intact but the meaning shifts. A “smoking” is French for a tuxedo, and a “dressman” is a German male model. Chinese people say they want to “high” when they want to have a (non-drug-related) good time.

That is from Britt Peterson, there is more here, hat tip goes to The Browser.

1. Back then, if you didn’t use your prostitute and then tried to underpay her, she would call you a “crumb-bum.”

2. It really does have passages like: “”Most guys at Pencey just talked about having sexual intercourse with girls all the time — like Ackley, for instance — but old Stradlater really did it.  I was personally acquainted with at least two girls he gave the time to.  That’s the truth.”  And the “crumby,” squirting water passage on p.70 sounds really bad but in fact ties into what the novel is really about, which I say is impotence and also post-traumatic stress disorder.  Read p.156 with this in mind.

2. Here is the original Robert Burns poem connected to the book’s title, mostly about sex, unlike its use in the novel, which I take to mean saving young men from the grim reaper (p.191) in a manner reminiscent of a Winslow Homer painting.  So the book is saying America is not yet ready to fuck, not really, not in 1951, Fed-Treasury Accord or not.  And in the final section of the book “fuck you” is the phrase which Holden is determined to wipe out.

3. Salinger took part in the D-Day invasion with part of the manuscript in his backpack.  Salinger also fought in some of the toughest battles of WWII and later in his life sought extreme withdrawal.  Here is more about Salinger at war.  It all supports the notion of WWII as the major event in his life and one which he never got over.  It is no accident that the deceased younger brother is named Allie.

4. Back then, they still called it Atlantic Monthly.  pp.134-135 reflect the earlier fascination with dioramas in museums.

5. There is a corniness to how people thought and spoke back then which the book captures remarkably well.

6. Here is a recent re-read of the book which picks up on a lot of its funny slang.  Here is a recent polemic against the book.

7. The Amazon site for the book is here.  Here is the Wikipedia page, the book still sells about 250,000 copies a year.  Steven Spielberg once bid for the movie rights.

I expected not to like the re-read, but overall I thought it was pretty damn good and almost universally misunderstood.

Next up: John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. and maybe also Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy.

Here is one of them, coming to me in an email from the Sinocism China Newsletter, about the growing demands for democracy in Hong Kong:

Any public suggestion that the People’s Liberation Army might intervene here was politically unacceptable until very recently, but it is now raised as a possibility by some of Beijing’s advisers. “A showdown is getting more and more inevitable by the day, and some degree of violence is imminent,” said Lau Nai-keung, one of Beijing’s most prominent allies in Hong Kong. “If worst comes to worst, the P.L.A. will come out of its barracks.” Mr. Lau is one of the six Hong Kong members of the Basic Law Committee, a group under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing that sets policies relating to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

An associated NYT story is here.  Uighur terrorism has been another story that has snuck up on us.  How many more China stories will be sneaking up on us this year?  Next?

War: What is it Good for? The Role of Conflict in Civilisation, from Primates to Robots, by Ian Morris, Profile, RRP£25/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$30

In this remarkable book, historian Morris argues not only that war is a source of technological advance but that it brings peace. Through war, more powerful and effective states emerge and these in turn do not merely offer the blessings of peace, but impose it. The thesis is disturbingly persuasive. But, in a nuclear age, the great powers will have to try something else.

The full list is here, possibly gated.  They also recommend the Adam Tooze book on the post WWI era, which I now have finished and really like and also find to be quite Sumnerian.  Adam Minter’s Junkyard Planet is an excellent read as well.

In the major fields of domestic policy responsibility assigned to the new devolved institutions, such as health, education, local government, there have been remarkably few initiatives. A system of local government, reorganised in 1996 on the basis of 32 multi-purpose local authorities and designed by the preceding Conservative UK government, has been largely left untouched. As in England a grossly inadequate system of council tax inherited from the preceding Conservative government and crying out for reform, has been left untouched by the first two Labour/Liberal Democratic administrations and the two successor SNP administrations. And under the latter the system has been shored up by Scottish government funding to facilitate a council tax freeze and containment of local government expenditure.

Or try this:

A 2012 Audit Scotland report has also indicated little change in health inequalities within Scotland in the last decade. Despite avoiding the major structural reorganisations experienced by the NHS in England, and being more generously endowed with public funds, the NHS in Scotland does not seem to have made, under devolution, any fundamental change to the pattern of relatively poor health outcomes. Devolution did not involve much change in the governance of health in Scotland in as much as the ministerial, civil service and medical leadership continued as before but within a new ministerial structure. What was new was the Scottish Parliament and it does not seem to have made much difference.

There is more here, by Norman Bonney, interesting throughout.  The pointer is from www.macrodigest.com.

I interviewed him.  You will find the full version here, the edited version here.  Not surprisingly, I prefer the full version.  Here is one excerpt:

TC: If I look back at your career, I see you’ve been fighting various kinds of wars or struggles against a lot of different injustices. If you look back on all those decades, during which time you’ve been right about many things, what do you think is the main thing you’ve been wrong about?

RN: Oh, a lot of things. Nobody goes through these kinds of controversies without making bad predictions. I underestimated the power of corporations to crumble the countervailing force we call government. We always knew corporations like to have their adherents to become elected officials; that has been going on for a long time. But I never foresaw the insinuation of corporatism as a policy in one agency after another in government. Franklin Delano Roosevelt foresaw some of this when he sent a message to Congress when he started the temporary national economic commission to investigate consecrated corporate power. That was in 1938. In his message he said that whenever the government is controlled by private economic power, that’s facism. Now, there isn’t a department or agency in Washington where anyone has more power—over it and in it, through their appointees, and on Congress, through lobbyists and political action committees. Nobody comes close. There’s no organized force that comes close to the daily power to twist government in the favor of Wall Street and corporatism, and to disable government from adequately defending the health, safety and economic well-being of the American people.

TC: Let’s say we look at the U.S. corporate income tax. The rate on paper is 35 percent, which is quite high. When you look at how much they actually pay after various forms of maneuvering or evasion, maybe they pay 17–18 percent, which is more or less in the middle of the pack of OECD nations. So if corporations have so much political power in the United States, why is our corporate income tax still so high?

…Sweden, a country you cited favorably, taxes capital income much more lightly than the United States does—not just on paper but in terms of what’s actually paid.

I also ask him about the Flynn effect, whether America needs a new kind of sports participation, and how much American churches have resisted corruption through corporatization, among a variety of other topics.  I tried to avoid the predictable questions.

By the way, you can buy Nader’s new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.  I very much enjoyed my preparation for this interview, which involved reading or rereading a bunch of his books and also a few biographies of him.

He has an NBER review essay on the book.  Here is one bit:

Piketty’s “r > g” device, for all its amazing rhetorical power, does not take us very far. Our task of explaining and predicting inequality movements is not made any easier by the requirement that we must first predict both a “rate of return” and the growth rate of the economy. The formula r – g takes us no further than we were transported fifty years ago by the concept of total factor productivity as a “source” of growth. It will be another “measure of our ignorance.”

Here is more:

Oddly, however, for the twentieth century trends that he and his collaborators have documented so well, the relevance of the wealth/income and capital/income ratios for the income distribution is less compelling. Across countries, the levels and movements of this ratio do not correlate well with those in income inequality. Over time, there is more correlation, within Britain, or France, or Germany, or the United States. Yet, as we shall see later, the same overall movements will show up when we look at the inequality movements in incomes that have little to do with wealth, such as wage rates or in middle/lower income ratios.

The essay is interesting throughout and you will see at the end that Lindert is no friend of inequality and no enemy of highly progressive taxation.  By the way, here is a Lindert essay on three centuries of inequality in Britain and America (pdf).  Here is Lindert, with Williamson, on whether globalization makes the world more unequal.  He knows this area very well.

It seems so:

Despite the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed uprising in Ukraine and turmoil in other hot spots in the Middle East and Africa, one of war’s most insidious weapons — antipersonnel land mines — have been largely outlawed and drastically reduced, a monitoring group said in a report released Monday.

In the 15 years since a global treaty prohibiting these weapons took effect, the use and production of the mines has nearly stopped, new casualties have plummeted, and more than two dozen countries once contaminated by land mines buried since old wars have removed them, said the report by the group, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

“The Mine Ban Treaty remains an ongoing success in stigmatizing the use of land mines and mitigating the suffering they cause,” said Jeff Abramson, the project manager of Landmine Monitor, the group’s research unit.

There is more here.  The United States, however, still has not signed the treaty.

An excellent new book drawn from some 2011 lectures he gave in China.  Macfarlane of course is a highly esteemed historian who has made critical breakthroughs in understanding the medieval roots of later English success, but he also has written extensively on Nepal, Japan, and China, including from anthropological perspectives. His status is high, and his works are generally quite readable, but somehow he has missed out on the recent interest in popular yet serious non-fiction books.

This work is not written as a book (thank goodness), it is more as if he is simply sitting down and telling you what you want to know.  He runs through all of the different factors that helped motivate the Industrial Revolution and the British breakthrough.  Here is one excerpt:

England was part of one of the most war-like civilizations in history.  The constant warfare in Europe was different from the long periods of peace in Japan or China.  The constant recurrent strife led to rapid technological and scientific evolution through a process of Darwinian selectionary  pressures — the survival of the “fittest.”  Guns, boats, navigation, knowledge of physics and chemistry, all rapidly improved.  The ships which crushed the Chinese in the Opium Wars in the nineteenth century were enormously different from the primitive medieval boats which would have been no match for a Chinese armada in the fourteenth century.  So England benefited from the positive effects — but others paid the cost.  Thus, at the battle of Omdurman, the British had six Maxim guns.  The result was 28 British dead, and eleven thousand of their enemies were slaughtered.

…So we need to understand that central imperial phase — the worst of all Empires, except perhaps the rest which were even worse.  The cost in terms of lives destroyed in slavery, opium and conquest is unbearable.  Yet it was also the context which allowed the most massive material and economic transformation in human history since the discovery of agriculture to occur, namely the Industrial Revolution.

His discussion of the importance of the legal system is also very good.  You can buy the book here.

One good answer is from Tim O’Neill:

People were generally very familiar with the Bible pre-1900, so the figures usually cited as the epitome of evil tended to be Judas Iscariot, Herod the Great or, most commonly, the Pharaoh of the story of Moses in Exodus. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote: “No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April, 1775 [the date of the Lexington massacre], but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen Pharaoh of England forever.”  The Confederates referred to Abraham Lincoln as “the northern Pharaoh” and abolitionists in turn called slaveowners “modern Pharaohs”.  Americans also referred to all tyrants by comparing them to King George III and Napoleon was often cited as the ultimate bogeyman in Britain.  But generally it was Pharaoh who was used the way we use Hitler.

Did they have something akin to Godwin’s Law back then: “if you have to mention the Pharaoh, you’ve lost the argument!”  Somehow I don’t think so.  A link to the Quora forum is here.

Update: It seems Brian Palmer deserves credit for the information behind that answer.

I would cite a few:

1. Berlin

2. Kuala Lumpur

3. Mexico City

4. San Francisco

5. Seoul

6. Toronto

7. Stockholm

8. Lagos

Higher living standards count toward this designation, but they are not enough.  Vienna’s general excellence was higher in the 20s, even though the city was much poorer back then, and so Vienna cannot make the list.

Los Angeles probably peaked in the 80s and New York arguably peaked in the postwar period through the 1970s or 80s.  Chicago might have a claim.  Can you think of others?  Does Shanghai have a chance, or did it peak around 2000 or so, before it got so polluted and crowded?

I have a new piece for The Upshot on that topic, here is one excerpt:

Counterintuitive though it may sound, the greater peacefulness of the world may make the attainment of higher rates of economic growth less urgent and thus less likely. This view does not claim that fighting wars improves economies, as of course the actual conflict brings death and destruction. The claim is also distinct from the Keynesian argument that preparing for war lifts government spending and puts people to work. Rather, the very possibility of war focuses the attention of governments on getting some basic decisions right — whether investing in science or simply liberalizing the economy. Such focus ends up improving a nation’s longer-run prospects.

It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.

I also discuss new books by Ian Morris, Kwasi Kwarteng, and some research by my colleague Mark Koyama, as well as Azar Gat.  I did not have room in the piece to point out there is an interior solution concerning this issue.  That is, if the chance of war is too high, and property rights are too insecure, that isn’t good for economic growth either.

Matt has what is probably the single best, focused technical critique of Piketty.  Here are his concluding remarks:

Compared to the grand scope of Piketty (2014), the objective of this note has been quite narrow: to systematically explore the relevant evidence on diminishing returns to capital. Technical and uninspiring as this question may be, it is an essential step in knowing whether the prediction of rising capital income and inequality through accumulation—a prediction that gives Capital in the Twenty-First Century its title—will really come to pass. And given the evidence here that Piketty (2014) understates the role of diminishing returns, some skepticism is certainly in order.

But rejection of this specific mechanism does not constitute rejection of all Piketty (2014)’s themes. Inequality of labor income, for instance, is a very different issue—one that remains valid and important. Capital itself remains an important topic of study. Among large developed economies, the remarkably consistent trend toward rising capital values and income is undeniable. As Sections 3.3 and 3.4 establish, this trend is a story of rising capital prices and the ever greater cost of housing—not the secular accumulation emphasized in Capital — but it has distributional consequences all the same. Policymakers would do well to keep this in mind.

The full piece is here (pdf), excellent and on target throughout.

To be perfectly frank on this one, Matt here is completely correct and Piketty has not produced any effective response to this point, either within the book or without.  The internal response “I still think we need to worry about inequality therefore I side with Piketty” simply represents a misunderstanding of Matt’s argument.  Piketty’s mechanism of accumulation, as laid out in his book, is simply the wrong mechanism for understanding growing inequality, both theoretically and empirically.  And it is a shame that the Giles critique from the FT has attracted so much attention because it has distracted everyone from the more serious problems with the argument of the book.

Here is one of the end paragraphs of his “interesting throughout” but unsettling piece in favor of independence:

Which brings me to the punch-line: I’ll be voting “yes” for an independence Scotland in September. Not with great enthusiasm (as I noted earlier, if Devo Max was on the ballot I’d be voting for that) but because everything I see around me suggests that there is some very bad craziness in the near future of England, and I don’t want the little country I live in to be dragged down the rabbit hole by the same dark forces of reaction that are cropping up across Europe, from Hungary to Greece. The failure modes of democracy, it seems to me, are less damaging the smaller the democracy.

Stross is a smart guy and I am an admirer of his writing.  But my view remains pretty straightforward: when dislike of the policy choices of the electorate leads to a serious movement for secession, something has gone deeply wrong with the preconditions for democratic attachment.  The UK is hardly the Third Reich, it has a long tradition of honest elections, and for left-leaning individuals the share of British government in gdp is likely to stay well over 40% in all plausible futures and furthermore most of the conservatives are relatively liberal on social questions.  For those who favor independence for the Scots, what kind of general principle might you lay out for when other peoples also should seek secession?  Do they think that the strongly red states in America also should consider secession?  How about Vermont?  I understand the libertarian case for such secessions, but most supporters of Scottish independence are not arguing from libertarian premises.  How much secession do they think should be happening?  Or do they hold particularist views which do not admit of any generalization at all?  Either way, I consider this a true crisis of governance.

Addendum: Scottish wealth seems to be lower than they have been claiming: “More than 70% of Scotland’s total economic output – excluding banking and finance and the public sector – is controlled by non-Scottish-owned firms, according to Scottish government data.”

Growth mindsets

by on June 12, 2014 at 11:31 am in Economics, History, Philosophy | Permalink

Scott Young writes:

In logarithmic domains, two mindsets are important. In the beginning, high-growth phase, the emphasis needs to be on maintaining long-term habits. Since growth is fast initially, care needs to be taken so that it won’t slide back down once effort is removed.

In the later, low-growth phase, the emphasis needs to be on habit breaking. Since low-growth is often caused by calcifying routines, deliberate effort needs to be taken to break out of that comfort zone.

In exponential domains, the mindset of resilience and endurance are critical. Since feedback is sparse and generally negative during the initial part of the curve, it takes dedication to persist. Part of the reason, entrepreneurs are often consumed by their own vision is that it helps block out the negative feedback until they can reach the exponential part of their growth.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank R.