The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, and here is the opening bit of the summary:

Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains were designed not just to gather and hunt, but also to get ahead socially, often by devious means. The problem is that we like to pretend otherwise; we’re afraid to acknowledge the extent of our own selfishness. And this makes it hard for us to think clearly about ourselves and our behavior.

The Elephant in the Brain aims to fix this introspective blind spot by blasting floodlights into the dark corners of our minds. Only when everything is out in the open can we really begin to understand ourselves: Why do humans laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do people brag about travel? Why do we so often prefer to speak rather than listen?

Like all psychology books, The Elephant in the Brain examines many quirks of human cognition. But this book also ventures where others fear to tread: into social critique. The authors show how hidden selfish motives lie at the very heart of venerated institutions like Art, Education, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion.

Acknowledging these hidden motives has the potential to upend the usual political debates and cast fatal doubt on many polite fictions. You won’t see yourself — or the world — the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.

Due out January 1, 2018, of course this is essential reading.

…only a tiny fraction of all living Americans ever convicted of a felony is actually incarcerated at this very moment. Quite the contrary: Maybe 90 percent of all sentenced felons today are out of confinement and living more or less among us. The reason: the basic arithmetic of sentencing and incarceration in America today. Correctional release and sentenced community supervision (probation and parole) guarantee a steady annual “flow” of convicted felons back into society to augment the very considerable “stock” of felons and ex-felons already there. And this “stock” is by now truly enormous.

…Very rough calculations might therefore suggest that at this writing, America’s population of non-institutionalized adults with a felony conviction somewhere in their past has almost certainly broken the 20 million mark by the end of 2016. A little more rough arithmetic suggests that about 17 million men in our general population have a felony conviction somewhere in their CV. That works out to one of every eight adult males in America today.

That is by Nicholas N. Eberstadt, via Arnold Kling.  The broader piece is a useful litany of everything that has gone wrong since 1999 in this country.

The Indonesian woman arrested for suspected involvement in the killing of the North Korean leader’s half brother in Malaysia was duped into thinking she was part of a comedy show prank, Indonesia’s national police chief said Friday, citing information received from Malaysian authorities.

Tito Karnavian told reporters in Indonesia’s Aceh province that Siti Aisyah, 25, was paid to be involved in “Just For Laughs” style pranks, a reference to a popular hidden camera show.

He said she and another woman performed stunts which involved convincing men to close their eyes and then spraying them with water.

Here is the story, via Ray Lopez.

That is the new and excellent book by Jonathan Buchsbaum, offering the first comprehensive history of the debates over free trade and the “cultural exception,” as it has been called.  It is thorough, readable, and goes well beyond the other sources on this topic.

To be sure, I disagree with Buchsbaum’s basic stance.  He views “advertising dollars” as something attached to Hollywood movies like glue, giving them an unassailable competitive advantage, rather than an endogenous response to what viewers might wish to watch.  The notion that French or other movie-makers could possibly thrive by innovating and exploring new quality dimensions seems too far from his thought.  And he writes sentences such as: “France sought quickly to regulate multiplex development,” yet without wincing.

Perhaps his best sentence is the uncharacteristic: “Other commentators during the 1980s observed wryly that the only real European films were U.S. films, for only U.S. films succeeded in crossing borders in Europe.”

He spends a fair amount of time criticizing me, usually a positive feature in a book.  Furthermore, he delivers very strongly on the basic history and narrative, and draws upon a wide variety of sources.  So this one is definitely recommended to anyone with an interest in these topics.

China has banned almost 7m people from taking flights and high-speed trains over the past four years as a penalty for not repaying their debts, the country’s Supreme Court has announced.

The penalty system is part of efforts to build a nationwide “social credit” system that will eventually rate every Chinese citizen by collecting big data on financial, legal or social misdeeds. The debtors’ travel ban has been touted as an important first step for building the structural links needed to implement such a comprehensive monitoring programme.

“We have signed a memorandum . . . [with over] 44 government departments in order to limit ‘discredited’ people on multiple levels,” Meng Xiang, head of the executive department of the Supreme Court, told state media on Wednesday.

…In addition to not paying debts on time, one can also be blacklisted for lying in court, hiding one’s assets and a host of other crimes. The Supreme Court said on Tuesday it was working on adding new forms of penalties.

Here is the FT story by Yuan Yang.  Keep in mind that the country does not have a real personal bankruptcy law, nor well-developed credit institution penalties, so this is viewed as one of the few options available.

One of my favorites, David was great, here is the link to the podcast, video, and transcript.  Here is the opening summary of the chat:

Named one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of our time, Rabbi David Wolpe joins Tyler in a conversation on flawed leaders, Jewish identity in the modern world, the many portrayals of David, what’s missing in rabbinical training, playing chess on the Sabbath, Srugim, Hasidic philosophy, living in Israel and of course, the durability of creation.

Here are a few bits:

WOLPE: So as my friend Joseph Telushkin says, “Polygamy does exist in the Bible, it’s just never successful.” David does have many wives, and very strained and interesting and complex relationships with women. David has the most complicated and most described relationships with women of any character in the Hebrew Bible.

Those qualities that can be negative, in David are to some extent positive. One of the things that draws David out of the charge of simple narcissism is that he really listens, he pays attention — he pays attention to women over and over again. He listens to what they say and changes himself because of it. And that’s not a characteristic of men in the ancient world or the modern one that you can rely on.


COWEN: So again, I’m an outsider in this dialogue, but say I were thinking of converting to Judaism and I were asking you about Hasidic philosophy. Now in terms of some social connections, I probably would fit better into your congregation than into a Hasidic congregation. But if I ask you, on theological grounds alone, is there a reason why I should be hesitant about Hasidic philosophy? From the point of view of theology, what do you think is the greatest weakness there, or your biggest difference with it, given how much you like Heschel?


COWEN: How would you alter or improve rabbinical training?

WOLPE: I’ve given this a lot of thought. Let me just mention one area. When I speak to rabbinical students, I tell them all the time that the single most valuable commodity you have as a rabbi . . . you can answer that yourself, and then I’ll tell you what I think: your voice. Most people are going to come in contact with you when you speak to them. Not all of them, but most. There’ll be more people who come to your services than the number of people at whose bedside you will sit as they die.

And yet, most rabbis — most people — don’t know how to speak.

There is much more at the link, including about Israeli TV, where to visit in Israel, whether King David parallels Trump, the future of biblical commentary in a world of context-less social media, whether Canadian Jews are more likely to stick with the faith, whether Los Angeles is underrated, what is beautiful and significant in Islam, and the Iran nuclear deal and the settlements, among other topics.  Self-recommending…

And again, here is David Wolpe’s most recent book David: The Divided Heart, which was the centerpiece for the first part of the discussion.

For years, muscular dystrophy patients in the United States have been purchasing the drug deflazacort — used to stabilize muscle strength and keep patients mobile for a period of time — from companies in the United Kingdom at a manageable price of $1,600 a year.

But because an American company just got approval from the Food and Drug Administration to sell the drug in the United States, the price of the drug will soar to a staggering $89,000 annually, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

Because the FDA restricts the importing of drugs from overseas if a version is available domestically, patients are stuck with the new, expensive version. This makes deflazacort the perfect case for advocates of international drug reciprocity — a reform that would make it easier for consumers to buy drugs that have been approved in other developed countries.

That is the introduction to an interview with yours truly in the Washington Post. I discuss thalidomide and the race to the bottom argument. Here is one other bit:

IT: Do you have any thoughts about the potential for FDA reform under this new administration and Congress?

AT: Peter Thiel’s speech at the Republican National Convention reminded us that we used to take big, bold risks — like going to the moon. Today, to say a project is a “moon shot” is almost a put-down, as if going to the moon never happened. We have become risk-averse and complacent, to borrow a term from my colleague Tyler Cowen. The result of the incessant focus on safety is playgrounds without teeter totters, armed guards at our schools and national monuments, infrastructure projects that no longer get built, and pharmaceutical breakthroughs that never happen.

The new administration is unpredictable, but when it comes to the FDA, unpredictable is better than business as usual.

The administration has yet to appoint a great FDA commissioner. Early names floated included Balaji Srinivasan, Jim O’Neill, Joseph Gulfo, and Scott Gottlieb but Srinivasan seems to have removed himself from the running. O’Neill would be great but I don’t think the US is ready, so that leaves Gulfo and Gottlieb. My suspicion is that Trump will like Gulfo because of Gulfo’s entrepreneurial experience but, as I said, the new administration is unpredictable.

I had heard and read so much about Dugin but had never read him.  The subtitle is Introduction to Neo-Eurasianism, and here were a few of my takeaway points:

1. His tone is never hysterical or brutish, and overall this comes across as scholarly (except for the appended pamphlet on “Global Revolution”), albeit at a semi-popular level.

2. He is quite concerned with tracing the lineages of Eurasian thought, thus the “neo” in the subtitle.  Nikolai Trubetzkoy gets a lot of play.  The correct theories of history are cyclical, and the Soviet Union was lacking in spiritual and qualitative development and thus it failed.

3. Dugin is a historical relativist, every civilization has different principles of development, and we must take great care to understand the principles in each case.  Ethnicities and peoples represent “inestimable wealth” and they must be preserved against the logic of a globalized, unipolar world.

4. Geography is primary.  Russia-Eurasia is a “steppe and woods” empire, whereas America is fundamentally an Atlantic, seafaring civilization.  Globalization tries to universalize what is ultimately quite a culture-specific point of view, stemming from the American, Anglo, and Atlantic mindsets.

5. Eurasian philosophy ultimately can contain, in a Hegelian way, anti-global philosophies, as well as the contributions of Foucault, Deleuze, and Debord, not to mention List, Gesell, and Keynes properly understood.

6. “It is vitally imperative for Turkey to establish a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation and Iran.”

7. The integration of the post-Soviet surrounding territories is to occur on a democratic and voluntary basis (p.51).  The nation-state is obsolete, so this is imperative as a means of protecting ethnicities and a multi-polar world against the logic of globalization.  Nonetheless Russia is to be the leader of this process.

8. “America’s influence is the most negative tendency in the world…”, and American think tanks and the media are part of this harmful push toward a unipolar world; transhumanism is worse yet.  Tocqueville, Baudrillard, and Dugin are the three fundamental attempts to make sense of America.  The Statue of Liberty resembles the Greek goddess of hell, Hecate.

9. The Eurasian economy must be subjugated to “higher civilizational spiritual values.”  City-dwellers are often a problem, as they too frequently side with the forces of globalization.

10. “Japan…is the objective leader of the Pacific.”  It must be liberated from the Atlanticist sphere of influence.  Nary a nod to China.

11. On Moldova: “Archaic?  Let it be archaic.  It’s great!”  At times he does deviate from #1 on this list.

12. Putin is his own greatest enemy because he leans too far in the liberal direction.

13. Dugin enjoys writing with bullet points.

14. “Soon the world will descend into chaos.”

Apart from whatever interest you may hold in these and other particulars, this is a good book for rethinking the notion of intellectual influence.  Very very few Anglo-American intellectuals have had real influence, but Dugin has.  That is reason enough to read this tract.

Addendum: Here is good background on what Dugin is up to these days.  His current motto: “Drain the swamp.”

That is the 1936 book by British fascist Oswald Mosley, and it is arguably the clearest first-person introduction to the topic for an Anglo reader, serving up less gobbledygook than most of the Continental sources.  Mosley actually makes arguments for his point of view, and thinks through what possible objections might be, which is not the case with say Marinetti.  Beyond the basics, here are a few points I gleaned from my read:

1. Voting still will occur, at least once every five years, because “The support of the people is far more necessary to a Government of action than to a Democratic Government, which tricks the people into a vote once every five years on an irrelevant issue, and then hopes the Nation will go to sleep for another five years so that the Government can go to sleep as well.”

2. Voting will be organized by occupation, not geographic locality.

3. If an established British fascist government loses a vote, the King will send for new ministers, but not necessarily from the opposing party.

4. The House of Lords is to become much more technical, technocratic, and detailed in its knowledge, drawing more upon science and industry.  The description reminds me of the CCP State Council.

5. A National Council of Corporations will conduct much of economic policy, and as far as I can tell it would stand on a kind of par with Parliament.

6. “M.P.’s will be converted from windbags into men of action.”

7. A special Corporation would be created to represent the interests of women politically.  Women will not be forced to become mothers, but high wages for men will represent a very effective subsidy to childbirth.

8. The government will spend much more money on research and development, with rates of return of “one hundred-fold.”

9. Wages will be boosted considerably by cutting out middlemen and distribution costs.  The resulting higher real wages will maintain aggregate demand.  Cheap, wage-undercutting foreign imports will not be allowed.

10. Foreign investment abroad will be eliminated, as will the gold standard and foreign immigration into Britain.

11. “…foreigners who have not proved themselves worthy citizens of Britain will deported.”  And “Jews will not be afforded the full rights of British citizenship,” as they have deliberately maintained themselves as a distinct foreign community.

12. Any banker who breaks the law will go to jail, just as a poor person would.

13. Inheritance will not be allowed, but private property in land will persist and will be accompanied by with radically egalitarian land reform.

14. To restore the prosperity of coal miners, competition from cheap Polish labor and Polish imports will be eliminated.

15. The small shopkeeper shall be favored over chain stores, especially if the latter are in foreign or Jewish hands.

16. All citizens, rich and poor, are to have the right to an education up through age 18.  Overall there is considerable emphasis on not letting human capital go to waste, and a presumption that there is a lot of implicit slack in the system under the status quo ex ante.

17. Hospitals will be coordinated, but not nationalized.  That would be going too far.

18. Roosevelt’s New Deal is distinct from fascism because a) the American government does not have enough “power to plan,” and b) it relies on “Jewish capital.”

19. The colonies will sell raw materials to Britain, and produce agriculture for themselves, but will not allowed to compete in manufactures.  And this:  “If we failed to hold India, we should be 1/100th the men they were.”

20. By removing the struggle for foreign markets, fascism will bring perpetual peace.

Mosley was later interned from 1940 to 1943.

Here is a description of the proposed rule change.  Felix Salmon asked:

I know nothing about baseball, but wouldn’t this give even more of an advantage to the team batting first?

I would expect the opposite (NB: I am not suggesting a weakness in Felix’s analytical abilities, only that British people don’t usually “get” baseball).  The team batting second in the inning always has more information than the team batting first, because the home team (which bats second) knows what the visitors scored in their half of the inning.

The closer you are to “runs,” the more valuable is this differential in information.  To see this, take those cases where the first-batting team fails to score in the top of the tenth inning.  The home team can then play for “only one run.”  If no one is on base, the strategies for “only one run” and “a bunch of runs” aren’t that different.  You’d like to start with some extra base hits, home runs, etc., in either case.  But with a man already on second (or on third, to see the point more clearly), you can consider some alternate strategies, such as just poking the ball to the opposite field.  You don’t need to swing for a home run so much, or try to stretch a single into a double, and so on.  You can play more conservatively in the offense, because you know that a single run suffices to win the game.

For the team that bats first, playing for “only one run” isn’t the sure-fire clincher, and so this helps the team that bats second in the inning, the home team.

Or so it seems to me.

Addendum: Via J.C. Bradbury, Cowen’s Second Law!

Nicholas R. Parrillo of Yale Law School has a new paper on this topic.  I have not yet read it, but here is the abstract:

Scholars of administrative law focus overwhelmingly on lawsuits to review federal government action while assuming that, if plaintiffs win such lawsuits, the government will do what the court says. But in fact, the federal government’s compliance with court orders is imperfect and fraught, especially with orders compelling the government to act affirmatively. Such orders can strain a federal agency’s resources, interfere with its other legally-required tasks, and force it to make decisions on little information. An agency hit with such an order will often warn the judge that it badly needs more latitude and more time to comply. Judges relent, cutting slack and extending deadlines. The plaintiff who has “won” the suit finds that victory was merely the start of a tough negotiation that can drag on for years.

These compliance negotiations are little understood. Basic questions about them are unexplored, including the most fundamental: What is the endgame? That is, if the judge concludes that the agency has delayed too long and demanded too much, is there anything she can do, at long last, to make the agency comply?

What the judge can do, ultimately, is the same thing as for any disobedient litigant: find the agency (and its high officials) in contempt. But do judges actually make such contempt findings? If so, can judges couple those findings with the sanctions of fine and imprisonment that give contempt its potency against private parties? If not, what use is contempt? The literature is silent on these questions, and conventional research methods, confined to appellate case law, are hopeless for addressing it. There are no opinions of the Supreme Court on the subject, and while the courts of appeals have handled the problem many times, they have dealt with it in a manner calculated to avoid setting clear and general precedent.

Through an examination of thousands of opinions (especially of district courts), docket sheets, briefs, and other filings, plus archival research and interviews, this Article provides the first general assessment of how federal courts handle the federal government’s disobedience. It makes four conclusions. First, the federal judiciary is willing to issue contempt findings against agencies and officials. Second, while several federal judges believe they can (and have tried to) attach sanctions to these findings, the higher courts have exhibited a virtually complete unwillingness to allow sanctions, at times swooping down at the eleventh hour to rescue an agency from incurring a budget-straining fine or its top official from being thrown in jail. Third, the higher courts, even as they unfailingly thwart sanctions in all but a few minor instances, have bent over backward to avoid making pronouncements that sanctions are categorically unavailable, deliberately keeping the sanctions issue in a state of low salience and at least nominal legal uncertainty. Fourth, even though contempt findings are practically devoid of sanctions, they have a shaming effect that gives them substantial if imperfect deterrent power.

The efficacy of litigation against agencies rests on a widespread perception that federal officials simply do not disobey court orders and a concomitant norm that identifies any violation as deviant. Contempt findings, regardless of sanctions, are a means of weaponizing that norm by designating the agency and official as violators and subjecting them to shame. But if judges make too many such findings, and especially if they impose (inevitably publicity-grabbing) sanctions, they may risk undermining the perception that officials always comply and thus the norm that they do so. The judiciary therefore may sometimes pull its punches to preserve the substantial yet limited norm-based power it has.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis, note the link to Kevin is Kevin survey some new and interesting papers on international trade.

India Fact of the Day

by on February 8, 2017 at 7:36 am in Economics, Law, Travels | Permalink

In India it is illegal for the police to arrest a woman after dark. The law apparently stems from a case decades ago when a woman was arrested at night and raped by the police. The law doesn’t seem like the second-best way to prevent police rapes let alone the best way. But what should an enlightened court do? Rape is already illegal. The courts create law but the law doesn’t rule. Thus, instead of obliging the police to control themselves the law gives women the grounds to refuse arrest. Imperfect but perhaps easier to monitor.  In India the state is so weak that third and fourth best solutions may be the only ones possible.

A few days ago Conor Sen tweeted:

It’s close right now, but today might be the lowest close for the VIX since February, 2007.

Here is the broader chart.  How can that be?  Not to mention a high Dow.

The consensus view is that the first two weeks for Trump have been an extreme disaster.  But is that true?  Protest has been robust, and so far checks and balances seem to be working.

He issued a bunch of executive orders that mostly cannot be carried through.  He still hasn’t filled most of the second-tier positions of import, and for the State Department he fired/induced to quit a whole bunch of senior figures.  That militates in favor of not much getting done.  Obamacare abolition and tax reform are being postponed until next year it seems, for better or worse.  The Wall is stupid but won’t matter much and may not even happen, given environmental review, Native American rights, and the preferences of Texas Republicans.

Trump also trampled on just about every sacred icon held by those who inhabit my Twitter feed, most of all by having Bannon insult the press by telling them to shut up for a while, and the steady stream of absurdities continues.  Yet the underlying story (NYT) seems to be about six guys in the White House who don’t know how to use the levers and pulleys of the Executive Branch.

Or consider the assessment of E. Richards:

As of now, however, events since January 20 support the conclusion that Donald Trump is not very sincere about actual, rather than verbal chaos and that his administration will mostly defend the world order status quo.

As for beating up on the marmite crowd, is there a better form of training wheels?

People, I do not favor this kind of experiment with governance or with rhetoric.  And the market is by no means always a correct forecast.  But right now it is worried less than many of you are.  I do understand that America is consuming some of its political and reputational capital.  Yet so far the best prediction is that the relatively manageable scenarios are coming to pass.

Addendum: Just think what kind of embedded embarrassment this is for the Democrats.  Whether you agree with Democratic economic policy or not, and whether you agree with the markets or not, the Democrats in effect cannot convince the markets that their presidential rule is better for capital values than is the…scenario of Trump.  The more stupidities you see, and the more you criticize him, the more painful that ouch should become.

Britain has changed since 1998.

Back then, it only took workers about three years to save enough money for a down-payment on a house. Now it takes 20 years, on average, according to the Resolution Foundation, which published a landmark report on income, housing, and inequality in Britain last week.

Here is further information, via the excellent Samir Varma.

A very good sentence

by on February 6, 2017 at 7:59 am in Current Affairs, Law, Travel | Permalink

“Unless the goal is to have an outright travel ban forever, and we should take the president at his word that that’s not the goal, then let’s just have calmer heads prevail and conduct the security analysis that was going to be conducted during these 90 days.”

Here is the WaPo article, citing Leon Fresco, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Immigration Litigation in Obama’s Justice Department.