A modern central heating system wasn’t installed until Harry S. Truman’s term, but the AC comes first.

Navy engineers built America’s first air-conditioning system in a desperate attempt to save President James Garfield’s life. Garfield was actually on his way to escaping the heat and humidity of Washington when he was shot by an assassin in a train station on July 2, 1881. In her bookDestiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President,” Candice Millard describes a contraption comprising a fan pumping air through screens of cheesecloth bathed in ice water. The cooled air was then piped into Garfield’s room, bringing the temperature down to about 80 degrees. Garfield died anyway.


When electricity was installed in the White House in 1891, then-President Benjamin Harrison was so afraid of being shocked that he refused to touch the circular switches controlling the current in each room. Gas lighting was still used in conjunction with electric for some time.

The article, by Gillian Brockell, is interesting throughout.

Ben was wildly charming and charismatic before the crowd.  My questions tried to get at how he thinks rather than the hot button issues of the day.  Here is the transcript, audio, and video.  We covered Kansas vs. Nebraska, famous Nebraskans, Chaucer and Luther, unicameral legislatures, the decline of small towns, Ben’s prize-winning Yale Ph.d thesis on the origins of conservatism,  what he learned as a university president, Stephen Curry, Chevy Chase, Margaret Chase Smith, and much more.

Here is one bit from Ben:

Neverland and Peter Pan is a dystopian hell. Neverland is not a good place. You don’t want to get to the place where you’re physically an adult and you have no moral sense, you have no awareness of history, you have no interest in the future. Peter Pan is killing people, and he doesn’t really care; he doesn’t remember their names. It’s a really dystopian thing. Perpetual adolescence is the bad thing.

Adolescence is special. We need to figure out how to use adolescence; it’s a means to an end. So that’s what the book’s about.

I am an Augustinian in my anthropology, but Rousseau is a romantic. I think he’s wrong about lots and lots and lots of things, but I think he’s really, really smart. You have to engage him, and you have to engage people who have ideas that are different than yours because you may ultimately be converted to their view, and you need to encounter things that are big and challenging and threatening to your worldview. Or you may sometimes come to believe you’re right and be able to respond to the counterarguments, while your argument will be better. You’ll grow through it, and you’ll become more persuasive to others through it.

So I think Rousseau’s fundamental anthropological understanding of why we feel that things are broken in our soul is, he’s got a reason to blame society for everything we feel is wrong in the world, and I think there’s a lot of brokenness deep inside all of us, and so, that’s the Augustinian versus Rousseauvian sense of what’s wrong.

But I think the Emile is brilliant, both because it forces me to wrestle with ideas that I don’t agree with, or mostly don’t agree with, but I think it’s also just an incredibly good read.

Then there was this:

COWEN: …Might one argue that the more one thinks and writes about sex, the more you’re led to Rousseauian conclusions that a certain kind of constraint will prove impossible, and then one is pulled away further from Ben Sasse–like conclusions.

SASSE: That’s a really fair question. I wanted to stay away from sex 100 percent, and then ultimately I couldn’t do it.

COWEN: There’s three pages in your book about sex.

SASSE: Yeah.

COWEN: And page 33 mentions it once.

You’ll have to read the whole thing to see where Ben took that line of inquiry, his answer was excellent.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, more or less, here is one bit from it:

That leaving is so difficult, however, may in part explain the desire to leave. In the most sophisticated cases for Brexit, there is no acceptable resolution to the negotiating dilemmas. Rather many Brexiteers think their nation’s culture and legal system need to take their own courses. For better or worse, they think England in particular simply can’t become that much more “continental.” What appeared to be a wonderful deal — free trade but no euro — actually was viewed as a Trojan horse for the disappearance of British uniqueness. Over time the encroachments of EU law and governance will clash more and more with the underlying institutions and culture of the U.K., and something will have to give. Law and culture eventually must prove congruent, but EU legal and bureaucratic powers will inevitably grow, ultimately clashing with the notion of Britain as an idiosyncratic and independent nation. Culture and law cannot remain so separate forever.

I have myself been strongly pro-Remain, but I don’t dismiss the Leavers as a bunch of ill-informed voters or hapless victims of globalization. Counterintuitively, it is the supposedly undereducated Leavers who have the more theoretical and historical perspective. It doesn’t help that they initially were promised a much weaker set of ties with the EU, and so mistrust makes all of the complaints more potent.

On top of all this, many Brexiteers suspect there won’t be any better time to leave than now, and so “Remain” is for them an impossible stance over the longer run. Returning to history, ejecting James II seemed risky and destabilizing at the time, but for the most part the decision wasn’t regretted and it was better not to have hesitated.

Do read the whole thing.

An excellent book by Brian Merchant.  Two neat things I learned that I hadn’t known before.  First, when you are typing the software guesses which letters might be coming next and gives you extra latitude in hitting those keys.  (I believe this oddly makes the QWERTY keyboard efficient once again, also.)  Second, there are non-disclosure agreements for reading a possible non-disclosure agreement to sign (or not).  You have to sign one of those before you even get to see the non-disclosure agreement for the work at hand, in other words if you don’t sign the NDA you can’t even report on how much secrecy they were demanding from you.  Apple used those.

That is a forthcoming volume edited by Cass Sunstein.  The contributors include Cass, myself, Timur Kuran, Duncan Watts, Martha Minow, Bruce Ackerman, Jack Goldsmith, Geoffrey Stone, and Noah Feldman, among others.  Self-recommending, if anything ever was…

My essay, by the way, says no, it cannot happen here.  Counterintuitively, American government is too bureaucratized and too feminized to be captured and turned toward old-style fascism.  I encourage you to pre-order.

You don’t see many luxury goods shops, as the region has been deindustrializing since the 1990s.  There are modernist 1920s cement buildings scattered in some of the old central parts of the city, but nowhere is it attractive.  There is a nine-hour Chinese movie about the city falling on hard economic times, with its three segments called “Rust,” “Remnants,” and “Rails.”

If you travel a lot, you should not restrict yourself to “nice” places, which are more likely to disappoint.

Many of the city’s faces seem to have Korean, Japanese, or Turkic elements, befitting the location and the history.

The main sight is the Manchu imperial palace, a smaller, more accessible, and more atmospheric version of Beijing’s Forbidden City, but with hints of 17th century Manchurian and Tibetan styles.  This city ruled China in the early years of the Qing Dynasty, before the torch was passed to Beijing.

Embedded in Marshal Zhang’s Mansion is the best museum of money and currency I have seen; the Marshal was a heroic leader in the war against Japan, but later made “a wrong choice” and spent much of his 100-year life under house arrest.

The two major tombs in the city have little to offer except long walks on flat plains leading essentially nowhere.

For food the city shines, even by Chinese standards.  Laobian Dumpling serves what are perhaps the best dumplings I have had, and Xin Fen Tian is the place for fine regional specialties.  The city’s cuisine blends meat-heavy, dumpling-related Manchu dishes, rich and earthy casseroles, stews, and mushrooms, and finally Shandong-inspired seafood styles, stemming from the proximity to the coast.  The quality of the local fruit is high, blueberries and cherries included, and the nuts are famous throughout China.

Here is Wikipedia on the Soviet-Sino conflict of 1929, in which Shenyang (then Mukden) played a significant role.  The Mukden incident of 1931 was used to provoke/excuse the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.  Nowadays, Shenyang is a major stop on the North Korean refugee route to Laos (China returns them to NK, but some other countries will send them to SK).

Hardly any non-Chinese tourists come here, and that seems unlikely to change.  Yet this is a rich corner of history and cuisine, a former leader of Asian industrialization, a major seat of historic conflict, a crossroads of cultures, and now a mostly forgotten piece of turf.  What more could a boy want?

If Shenyang stays sleepy, the world will remain safe!

C. inquires:

Why do we live in the golden age of economic history? Was there something identifiable that caused the subfield to grow in esteem? Some new technology that changed the costs of research (not that I can see)? Something else?

Mark Koyama should write a Medium essay on this, but in the meantime here are my thoughts:

1. We now know much, much more about the earlier economic histories of China, India, and some other locales.  The rise of more and better graduate students from the emerging economies, or for that matter from Europe, has been essential here.

2. Some of the turn toward economic history came with the financial crisis, and the search for longer-term parallels, which meant looking back in history, most of all to the Great Depression.

3. Although the advance of cliometrics started a long time ago, we are now finally at intergenerational margins where economic historians are as quantitatively well-equipped as most parts of the applied micro spectrum.

4. The stranger the time period, the more people will have to look to broader stretches of history for understanding.  Yes, this one is an uh-oh.

5. Some applied micro fields have become a little more boring, so that has helped a partial shift of status to economic history.  Public data sets have been exhausted, and a lot of economic history data sets are “weird or idiosyncratic” data sets, which now are “in” and I predict will stay “in” for a long while to come because they offer the possibilities of both new discoveries and moats.

6. An academic trend that hasn’t yet been exploited usually ends up exploited, sooner or later, once the right nudge comes along.

5b, 6b. In chess, the top players are opting for the Giuoco Piano once again.

7. Competing economic models are more “allowed” in the subfield — not everything must be neoclassical — which has opened economic historians to more wide-ranging questions.  Economic history remains a good place to pursue the questions about economics that initially interested many people as undergraduates.

8. Academic attention is more media-driven these days, and good economic history papers usually have a story of some kind, and perhaps also a historical personage, event, or institution of broader interest.

I am of course excited about this, as his 1491 and 1493 are two of my favorite books:

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World

Here is the Amazon summary:

In forty years, Earth’s population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups–Wizards and Prophets, as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced, authoritative, nonpolemical new book. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding environmentalist who believed that in using more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose! The Wizards are the heirs of Norman Borlaug, whose research, in effect, wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation. Innovate! was Borlaug’s cry. Only in that way can everyone win! Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces–food, water, energy, climate change–grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. With our civilization on the line, the author’s insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded Earth.

I pre-ordered mine but a moment ago.

It was a forty-minute chat (podcast, no transcript), most of all about the decline of liberalism, based around Ed’s new and very well-received book The Retreat of Western Liberalism.  We also covered what a future liberalism will look like, to what extent current populism is an Anglo-American phenomenon, Modi’s India, whether Kubrick, Hitchcock, and John Lennon are overrated or underrated, and what it is like to be a speechwriter for Larry Summers, among other topics.  Here is the opening bit:

COWEN: Having a taste for the esoteric, I’d like to start with a question. If we go back to the 1680s and James II takes the throne, then, William of Orange comes over from what we now call the Netherlands and pushes him out — was that a liberal development or an illiberal development?

LUCE: At the time, it was very much a liberal development. Of course, we then get the bill of rights. We then get a further restriction of the power of the monarchy that comes with this new Dutch co-monarchy, William and Mary.

In retrospect, given the fact that this is very much the Protestant fundamentalist, the Battle of the Boyne, the victory of the Orange forces, William of Orange. In retrospect, I think it’s being celebrated in a pretty illiberal manner.

Of course, that’s very germane right now in Britain, given that Theresa May is trying to form a government in which the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party are going to make up the difference between being a minority government and majority government.

It depends which bit of history you’re looking at it from is my answer.

And then I toss him this question:

COWEN: Let’s say we take the British election that was just held. So many people are calling it a mess, chaos, no-good results but, say, I offered you a revisionist view, how would you respond?

I would say it’s the first real election where voting by class has essentially fallen away. You even have Kensington in London going Labour for the first time since 1974.

Voting is now much more by age. You’ve more female representatives than ever before. You’ve 15 Muslims elected, 7 of those being female. More LGBT individuals. Maybe the new liberalism is reflected by that kind of elevation.

Then on top of that, the election definitely thwarted Scottish independence. It probably helped a soft border for Ireland. We hope it’s helping a soft Brexit.

No Corbyn, no UKIP. Wasn’t it exactly the vote we needed and the most liberal outcome you could have imagined, at least relative to all the initial constraints? Or not?

Ed is extremely interesting and articulate throughout.

Again, you can subscribe to the whole series here, we will be doing more bonus offerings of this nature.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is just one excerpt:

I see Trump as not a ruler but rather akin to the various fools, jesters or, in the case of Lear, the character of Edgar, who appears before the king in disguise and warns him of his enemies. Don’t interpret the word “fool” too literally here. The most common features of these characters is that they speak between the cracks in the action and utter sentiments that no one else dares  to voice. That’s Trump on Twitter. Would the word “covfefe” be so out of place in one of those poetic rants?


And looking forward, what might a study of Shakespeare tell us to watch for in the evolution of the Trump administration? How’s this for a start?:

  • Blood may be thicker than water, but nonetheless power struggles can break family bonds rather easily.
  • Power cannot be given away and still retained.
  • Don’t overweight legitimacy and birth order in determining succession.
  • Love is a wild card.
  • There is no maximum limit to chaos.

Do read the whole thing.

The true Thomas Bayes

by on June 20, 2017 at 12:12 am in History, Religion, Science | Permalink

Rational or irrational?

Thomas Bayes was a Presbyterian minister.

Bayes’s first publication was a theological work, entitled Divine Benevolence ([Bayes], 1731). Since no author appears on the title page of the book, or anywhere else, it is sometimes considered to be of doubtful authorship. For example, the National Union Catalog of the United States ascribes authorship to Joshua Bayes. However, Thomas Bayes was the author of this work. Bayes’s friend, Richard Price refers to the book in his own work A Review of the Principal Questions in Morals (Price, 1948, p. 248) and says that it was written by Thomas Bayes. In Divine Benevolence Bayes was trying to answer the question of the motivating source of God’s actions in the world.

The essay dealt with how to handle the problem of evil in the world.  It is also believed that Bayes was an Arian.

That is from a D.R. Bellhouse paper (pdf), with a relevant pointer from Asher Meir.

The superb Michael Hofmann

by on June 18, 2017 at 12:39 pm in Books, History | Permalink

…the outstanding recent life of Brecht was by Stephen Parker; while in 1991 and 2000 the Cambridge scholar Nicholas Boyle brought out the first two volumes of what will surely be the definitive life of Goethe (1749-1832), at 800 and 950 pages; with luck, Boyle will live to Goethe’s age (82) or beyond, and complete the third and concluding volume. When Boyle tells you in his first paragraph that “the mail from London to Edinburgh took over a week, Moët and Chandon had begun to export the recently invented champagne, and a pineapple cost as much as a horse,” I for one signed up for all two or three thousand pages.

That is from his NYT review of Rüdiger Safranski’s Goethe: Life as a Work of Art.  It is so far my favorite review of the year.  Here is another good part:

When the young duke reeled him in, the barely older Goethe performed the duties of a cabinet minister. He built roads. He oversaw mines. He was put in charge of a theater. He shrank the deficit. He was someone at court. He put Weimar on the map. He met Napoleon, he met Beethoven. He corresponded with Wilhelm von Humboldt. He helped Schiller run a literary magazine. He was, Safranski writes, “a remarkable event in German intellectual history” — but “an event without consequences,” as Nietzsche said, sounding more than usual like Oscar Wilde.

There is something almost clownishly omni-competent about Goethe. He was a great beginner who ultimately finished most of the things he began. (“Faust,” which he had on the go for about 60 years, was completed in the last year of his life; Rilke’s “Duino Elegies” look by comparison like something finished the following morning.) He was interested in geology and anatomy, he developed a theory of color, he made watercolors and sketches himself, 3,000 of them. He went looking for something called the Urpflanze — the basic, or original, or prototypical, plant. He acted in his own plays. He wrote poems in many modes effortlessly. They entered the language (German, that is). When he finally grew frustrated with his married friend Charlotte von Stein, he eloped with Italy for a couple of years. He buried his wife; he buried his one surviving son. He buried his best friend, who died at 45. Near the end of his life, he gave perhaps the best description of himself, as “a collective singular consisting of several persons with the same name.” We rarely see or feel the hand in the many glove-puppets.

Here are earlier MR posts on Hofmann, one of the most underrated writers and thinkers today.

India, Modernity, and the Great Divergence: Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.) is exactly what the title promises.  This 700 pp. or so book by Kaveh Yazdani, teaching in South Africa, is not published within the traditional network of outlets.  Yet from my perusal of the first 100 pp. or so it seemed quite promising, plus it has excellent endorsements, for instance:

“Yazdani has made a great addition to scholarship on the Great Divergence. His analysis of military, economic, technical, and political advances in Mysore and Gujarat – two of the most commercially advanced areas of 17th and 18th century India – sheds new light on the nature and complexity of the differences between contemporary Indian and European states. No analysis of the Great Divergence will be credible without taking Yazdani’s research, and Indian developments, into account.”
– Jack A. Goldstone, Hazel Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax

Recommended, to some of you, let’s hope it gets a broader circulation.  We do indeed live in a golden age for economic history.

He has a new paper on that topic, here is the abstract:

During the Neolithic Revolution, seven populations independently invented agriculture. In this paper, I argue that this innovation was a response to a large increase in climatic seasonality. Hunter-gatherers in the most affected regions became sedentary in order to store food and smooth their consumption. I present a model capturing the key incentives for adopting agriculture, and I test the resulting predictions against a global panel dataset of climate conditions and Neolithic adoption dates. I find that invention and adoption were both systematically more likely in places with higher seasonality. The findings of this paper imply that seasonality patterns 10,000 years ago were amongst the major determinants of the present day global distribution of crop productivities, ethnic groups, cultural traditions, and political institutions.

The pointer is from Jesus Alfaro.  And via Kevin Lewis, here is an interesting paper “Geography, Transparency, and Institutions,” by Mayshar, Moav, and Neeman:

We propose a theory in which geographic attributes explain cross-regional institutional differences in (1) the scale of the state, (2) the distribution of power within state hierarchy, and (3) property rights to land. In this theory, geography and technology affect the transparency of farming, and transparency, in turn, affects the elite’s ability to appropriate revenue from the farming sector, thus affecting institutions. We apply the theory to explain differences between the institutions of ancient Egypt, southern Mesopotamia, and northern Mesopotamia, and also discuss its relevance to modern phenomena.

All of a sudden we are seeing ongoing advances, admittedly connected to speculative hypotheses, in our understanding of this era.

A new paper by Ronald Q. Doeswijk, Trevin Lam, and Laurentius (Laurens) Adrianus Petrus Swinkels addresses exactly this question:

Using a newly constructed unique dataset, this study is the first to document returns of the market portfolio for a long period and with a high level of detail. Our market portfolio basically contains all assets in which financial investors have invested. We analyze nominal, real, and excess return and risk characteristics of this global multi-asset market portfolio and the asset categories over the period 1960 to 2015. The global market portfolio realizes a compounded real return of 4.38% with a standard deviation of 11.6% from 1960 until 2015. In the inflationary period from 1960 to 1979, the compounded real return of the GMP is 2.27%, while this is 5.57% in the disinflationary period from 1980 to 2015. The reward for the average investor is a compounded return of 3.24%-points above the saver’s. We also compare the performance of an investor who holds the market portfolio with an investor who uses simple heuristics for the portfolio allocation. Our results suggest that the market portfolio is close to the mean-variance frontier, but our heuristic allocations achieve a significantly higher reward for risk.

Do note that is for many countries, not just the United States.  For the pointer I thank Samir Varma.