History

I remember a very interesting debate that my father was involved in, where there was a water beetle that can’t travel very far and can’t fly. You have these in the north coast of Australia, and in millions of years, they haven’t been able to travel from one stream to another. And it came up that in the north coast of New Guinea, you have the same water beetle, with slight variations. The only way that could have happened was if New Guinea came off Australia and turned around, that the north coast of New Guinea used to be attached to the coast of Australia. It was very interesting seeing the reaction of the geologists to this argument, which was that ‘beetles can’t move continents.’ They refused to look at the evidence.

That is Geoffrey Hinton, being interviewed by Adrian Lee, mostly about AI and Go, interesting throughout.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

It has been suggested to me that perhaps North Dakota is the most obscure state in the Union.  Maybe so!  Let’s take a look:

1. Author: William Gass would be a possible pick, but I do not enjoy his work.  Same with Louis L’Amour.

2. Humorist: Chuck Klosterman.

3. Sociologist of religion: Rodney Stark.

4. Painter: Clifford Styll is the obvious pick, except I don’t much like his work.  If you were wondering, he dominates so many rooms in American museums because of restrictions placed on grants of his paintings from the artist’s own collection.  I suspect some curators have come to resent this, but often the grants were made propitiously near the peak of Styll’s reputation.  I suppose I’ll opt for James Rosenquist, although I am not a huge fan of his work either.

5. Evening television bandleader and toastmaster: Lawrence Welk.  I can’t even think of a clear runner-up, with or without bubbles; this video will show you why he was a favorite of so many.

6. Movie and TV show, set in: Fargo duh. Otherwise it is Man in the Wilderness, which was the original and in some ways superior source material for The Revenant.

7. Actress: Angie Dickinson comes to mind, Dressed to Kill is a good movie.

8. gdp per capitaThat can set many things right, although 2016 may not be as good as was 2014.

The bottom line: Hm..but yet we must consider Delaware and Rhode Island!

Words of wisdom

by on April 4, 2016 at 10:20 am in Economics, History | Permalink

We conclude that the new Keynesian model is a poor guide to the effects of supply-side shocks in depressed economies.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Jérémie Cohen-Setton, Joshua K. Hausman, and Johannes F. Wieland.

For the pointer I thank David Levey.

It is well written and consists mostly of reasoned economic arguments about the unworkability of various aspects of EU and eurozone affairs.  It is not a kiss and tell memoir about what really happened or did not happen in Greece in the critical months of last year.

Here is a good FT Martin Sandbu review of the book, excerpt:

He [Varoufakis] clearly, and correctly, thinks Greece should have defaulted on its sovereign debt and Ireland should have restructured its banks in 2010. But if alternative policies did in fact exist, which leaders could have pursued but chose not to, then a fatalistic monetary theory that blames everything on the euro’s design serves, paradoxically, to exonerate the mistakes of those leaders. That may not be his intention, but Varoufakis glosses over why national governments repeatedly declined to restructure debt before it was refinanced by the rescue funds. Above all he does not mention why he, as finance minister, did not restructure Greece’s banks early in his tenure, so as to undo their dependence on the European Central Bank, which last summer forced Athens to accept a third bailout by shutting down banking liquidity. This very partial focus is why Varoufakis’s literary references are so telling. The rage expressed by Thomas and Thucydides’ Melians is not a constructive anger but a cover for helplessness. Neither death nor the Athenians are moved by their rage. Nor, I suspect, will eurozone decision makers be moved by Varoufakis’s.

You can order the book here, it is titled And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe’s Crisis and America’s Future.

Plenty of American films had Soviet or Soviet-linked villains, but the opposite was not true.  Here is one excerpt from Ignatiy Vishnevetsky:

The Soviet and American mainstreams expressed themselves in radically different ways, with different fears. Being a single party state, the Soviet Union was always factionalist and unsustainable, and could only perpetuate itself through cycles of repression and repudiation. Its anxieties were mostly directed toward itself; as the Americans made fantasies of threat, the USSR made fantasies of stability and global standing. The Soviet Union was also dominated by Russian culture, and inherited its taste for oblique metaphor and indirect address. (It should be noted that the three greatest filmmakers to come out of the Soviet Union—Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Aleksei German—never completed a film set in the present day.)

Simply put, it wasn’t an environment that was primed to depict the Cold War directly. But it was also an environment with a Cold War mythos that was very different from that of the West. The Soviets did have a “worthy villain,” whom they beat year after year on the big screen: the Nazis. The Soviet Union was the hero who slew the dragon; defeating the Third Reich was a point of national pride. There would never be a more important opponent. The Soviets couldn’t reasonably elevate the Americans to the same status, or even to the status of the White Guard of the bloody Russian Civil War—the USSR’s origin-story villains, in a way.

…Americans couldn’t be expected to kill or die for their cause, because—as the 1965 spy film Game With No Rules, set in Berlin at the start of the Cold War, suggests—they didn’t have a cause to begin with. Instead, the rare American antagonists of popular Soviet film were portrayed as pawns of business interests, military-industrial collusion, or, of course, the Nazis. Portraying a monolithic United States of true believers, focused on the eradication of the USSR, would have gone against two essential aspects of the mythology of Soviet propaganda: the defeat of Nazism, which rid the world of an evil the likes of which it would never see, and the notion of communism as a self-evident ideal.

For decades, Soviet media attacked the United States—with varying degrees of subtlety—as a broken society, its failure obvious. Capitalism and Western democracy weren’t values that could inspire the same kind of commitment as communism, and the only reason anyone would fight for them was because they’d didn’t know better.

Here is the full piece, via someone in my Twitter feed sorry I can no longer find it.

Here is a 42-minute video of a talk I gave on that topic at Duke University recently.

I start with Keynes’s prediction that we will be working 15 hours a week by 2030 and ask why it doesn’t seem to be coming true.  Along the way, I consider the dominance of the substitution effect over the income effect for labor supply, and ponder why we don’t all have more sex.  I conclude that progress is real rather than illusory, and we are not all caught up in a destructive rat race.

A paper on the same is forthcoming.

It is sad to see so many people, including those on the Left or in the Democratic Party, criticize the idea of a Trump presidency without ever uttering the phrase: “No man or woman should have so much political power over others.”  I agree with many of the moral criticisms of Trump as a leader, but don’t let them distract you from this broader truth.

It is strange but instructive how many Democratic criticisms of Trump circle back into criticisms of other, earlier, and now often irrelevant Republicans.  That is simply a language of attack they are more comfortable with.

The good news, if that is what one should call it, is that the best criticisms of Trump involve the concept of individual liberty and freedom from arbitrary legal authority and pure presidential discretion.  The bad news is that so few intellectuals have the relevant ideological vocabulary in that regard.

*Money Changes Everything*

by on March 31, 2016 at 3:15 pm in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

The author is William N. Goetzmann, and the subtitle is How Finance Made Civilization Possible.  This is a very good general history about the useful role finance has played through the ages.

I also have been enjoying Robert Teitelman’s Bloodsport: When Ruthless Dealmakers, Shrewd Ideologues, and Brawling Lawyers Toppled the Corporate Establishment, a general history of American corporate deal-making.

There are still more than 800,000 jobs in the American auto sector. And there is a good case to be made that without Nafta, there might not be much left of Detroit at all.

“Without the ability to move lower wage jobs to Mexico we would have lost the whole industry,” said Gordon Hanson of the University of California, San Diego, who has been studying the impact of Nafta on industries and workers since its inception more than two decades ago.

Even in the narrowest sense — to protect jobs in car assembly plants — a wall of tariffs against America’s southern neighbor would probably do more harm than good.

And this:

The Honda CR-V assembled in El Salto, Jalisco, for example, uses an American-made motor and transmission. Roughly 70 percent of its content is either American or Canadian, according to government statistics.

This regional integration gave the United States-based auto industry a competitive edge that was critical to its survival. “There was a concern 20 years ago that an auto industry production chain would develop across Asia, including China and Taiwan and Southeast Asia,” Professor Hanson said. “Maybe Nafta saved us from that.”

That is from Eduardo Porter at the NYT.

If it is the most obscure state, I thought it worth a ponder and profile of what they have produced.  And the answers are surprisingly strong:

1. Author: I’ll take Willa Cather over Raymond Chandler, but neither puts the state to shame.  I don’t care for Nicholas Sparks’s writings, but he makes the list.  Malcolm X wrote one of the great memoirs of American history.

2. Actors and actresses: There is Brando, Harold Lloyd, Hilary Swank, Henry Fonda, Montgomery Clift, and James Coburn.  What a strong category.

3. Dancer and singer: Fred Astaire, try this from Swing Time.  For his underrated singing, try “Cheek to Cheek.”

4. Music: I can think only of Elliott Smith, am I missing anything?

5. TV personalities: Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett.  Did you know that Carson learned Swahili on-line after his retirement and became fluent in the language?

6. Painter: Edward Ruscha.

7. Album, set in: Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, favorite song “Open All Night.”

8. Movie, set in: Election.  I feel there are others too, Nebraska for one but presumably a fair number of Westerns too.

9. Investor: Duh.

10. Economist: Lawrence Klein was born in Omaha, although I cannot say his is my favored approach.  How about Edith Abbott?

11. Other: I cannot count L. Ron Hubbard as a positive.  I believe I have neglected some native Americans born in Nebraska, maybe some cowboys too.  I don’t have favorite cowboys.

Ruscha

The bottom line: People, this state should not be so obscure!

This is one of my favorite links of the year so far, namely how every Chinese province got its name.  I cannot recommend it to most of you however, but if you ever have worried about Shanxi vs. Shaanxi, this is the place to go:

Shaanxi is unique amongst Chinese provinces in being the only one whose name is rendered not in Hanyu Pinyin but in Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR), the romanization system used in pre-Communist China. Instead of using accents above letters as in Pinyin, tones in GR were reflected in spelling. In Pinyin, which was invented in 1958, the provinces Shanxi and Shaanxi are indistinguishable in spelling, so the old romanization was retained to remove this ambiguity. However, authorities still tacked on the Pinyin “xi” instead of the GR “shi” to spell out the second character, making Shaanxi’s name even more unusual by combining two entirely different romanization systems within a single name.

I say the most obscure Chinese province is the very small Ningxia 寧夏, outlined in red below, what do you think?  Or does it count only as an autonomous region?  Is Gansu perhaps a runner up?

ningxia

Which is the most obscure American state to an outsider?  Nebraska?  Idaho?  Somewhere else?  (I say it helps the Dakotas that you have two of them.)  I believe the Clintons put Arkansas on the map, globally speaking that is, thereby removing it from contention for this honor.

Maria Farrell writes:

The events that precisely triggered the Easter Rising are a little murky. They involve the capture of Roger Casement’s arms shipment, and feature the great hero of the Rising, Padraig Pearse, lying to MacNeill, forging documents and kidnapping and holding his socialist rivals until they acquiesced. Whether the leaders were about to be rounded up and imprisoned is unclear. MacNeill believed it, until he didn’t, but by then it was too late.

How many of you (non-Irish that is, Irish try this) are emotionally stirred by that description, one way or the other?  How many of you recall reading about those events at all?

What I find most striking is how little I, as an Irish-American, emotionally identify with any of the sides in this conflict.  I recall being asked in New Jersey seventh grade, by another Irish-American, whether my family was Protestant or Catholic in background and I wasn’t even sure (Catholic, it turned out, though my paternal grandparents also had been non-believers).

I was born in Kearny, New Jersey, a working class town full of Irish and Scot atavisms, including bars where they raised money for the IRA, fish and chips, and good soccer teams.  My father was more interested in Barry Goldwater, and by the time we moved to the more suburban northern rim of the state all that old country history was forgotten.

On the other side of the water, Ireland is one of the few countries to break through the middle-income trap, and last year it grew at 7.8%, an increasingly embarrassing fact for many “the long run is forever” commentators, not to mention investment up more than 28%.

(Yes, there is fairly rapid post-austerity catch-up growth when institutions are even moderately healthy, and if you are not seeing such growth the economy is probably at its new frontier or structural reforms are required.  And to point out that households are not capturing all of those gains — gdp vs. gnp —  is to save the pessimistic mood at the expense of the theory.  Without a Russian collapse, the Baltics probably would have continued along a similar track.)

Brexit of course would hit both Ireland and Northern Ireland fairly hard; it is strange how the Republic of Ireland has turned out to be the stable political unit in the family.

Here is a BBC piece on how to commemorate 1916.  The embarrassing parallel is that the modern IRA cites the 1916 heroes and considers their more recent terror acts to hold comparable status.  Somehow the balls must be juggled to avoid this conclusion, especially since there has been a recent uptick in unrest in Northern Ireland.

Various “victim monger” commentators don’t radiate too much sympathy for the Northern Irish republican cause.  Is it because the stereotypical representation of the fighters is a little too male, a little too grizzled, too conservative, too white Christian, too chauvinistic, and maybe even too mumbly?  I have to listen so closely to those movies to understand at all, and in the end they still bore me.  John Lennon’s John Sinclair song never seemed to stick.  Yeats too tried his best.

easter

I am struck by how underrepresented this topic is in my Twitter feed.

…Dante’s fame as a necromancer is also in a certain sense documented.

Such notoriety shouldn’t be surprising. For one thing, he had a reputation as an expert in astrology, and we know that this discipline could easily spill over into magical and necromantic practices.  And then, above all, he was famous after the publication of Inferno for having descended live into the realms of the afterlife and for having encountered devils there, the souls of the damned, and having spoken to them.  It must have been a rumor widely spread and also disturbing.  It seems, according to Boccaccio, that the women who used to pass him in the street would say to each other: Look, “he who goes into Hell, and returns whenever he likes, and brings back news of those who are down there…”

That is from the new Dante biography by Marco Santagata, Belknap Press at Harvard, definitely recommended, it will make my best non-fiction of the year list for sure.

No, I am not there but think of this as an act of homage from a distance.  Here goes:

1. Novelist: There is Simenon, Yourcenar, and Amelie Nothomb.  I like them all but do not love them.  Can I pick Julio Cortázar, who was born in Belgium even if he did not come of age there and essentially was Argentinian?  As for a fictional character, how about Hercule Poirot?

2. Playwright: Maurice Maeterlinck, read especially Blue Bird.

3. Composer: César Franck is the obvious modern pick.  There is also Henri Pousseur, and a variety of Renaissance composers, including Heinrich Isaac, Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, and Josquin des Prez.  I’ll pick the violin works of Eugène Ysaÿe, as the Renaissance music is arguably more Burgundian or “Franco-Flemish” than culturally Belgian as it relates to the modern nation.

4. Jazz musician: Django Reinhardt, that one is easy, try this cut.  Toots Thielmans, the jazz harmonica player, is perhaps runner up.

5. Economist: Jacques H. Drèze and Robert Triffin would be the obvious picks.   A dark horse choice would be Jean Drèze, son of Jacques, for his obsessive data work in India.  He still awaits a much-deserved major profile.  Gustav de Molinari, who first wrote about private protection agencies and arguably was the first modern libertarian anarchist.

6. Painter: This has to be the strong suit.  Magritte is an obvious choice, but there is also Gerard David, Hans Memling, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Adriaen Brouwer, Luc Tuymans, Jacob Jordaens, Paul Delvaux, Petrus Christus, Robert Campin, and Pierre Alechinsky, among others.  Jan van Eyck is one of the greater painters ever, but for sheer Belgianness I will opt for James Ensor, see the image below.

7. Sculpture: Marcel Broodthaers.  Right now there is a nice retrospective of his work on at MOMA.

7. Historian: Henri Pirenne, way ahead of his time.

9. NBA point guard: Tony Parker was born there, to American and Dutch parents, that counts for something.

10. Anthropologist: Claude Levi-Strauss.  Tristes Tropiques remains a beautiful book to be read by all.

11. Movie: I cannot think of one I really like, can you help?  And I can’t easily digest the works of Chantal Akerman.

11b. Movie, set in: In Bruges, a fun dark comedy.

12. Violinist: Arthur Grumiaux, but with competition from Sigiswald Kuijken.

Ensor

The bottom line: Once you get into the period where Belgium is a modern nation, it’s all so wonderfully offbeat.

But in March 1963, a month before his final game for the Celtics, [Bob] Cousy complained to the Associated Press, “I think the jump shot is the worst thing that has happened to basketball in ten years.”  Cousy’s objections?  “Any time you can do something on the ground, it’s better,” he said, sounding very much like a coach who would have enjoyed benching Kenny Sailors or Bud Palmer.  “Once you leave the ground, you’ve committed yourself.”  Jump shot critics discouraged players from flying into the air because they feared the indecision that came when someone left their feet.  They feared the bad passes from players who jumped with no clear plan of what they’d do in the air.  Staying grounded meant fewer mistakes.  It was simply a safer way to play the game, if not as exciting.

That is from Shawn Fury’s new and fun Rise and Fire: The Origins, Science, and Evolution of the Jump Shot — and How it Transformed Basketball Forever.  Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone criticize Stephen Curry for taking (and making) so many three point shots.  This is what I call “@pmarca bait.”