Philosophy

When Cruz was thirteen his father brought him to Rolland Storey, a kindly and charismatic septuagenarian who ran a conservative foundation aimed at teaching youth about economics and government.  Storey educated his pupils about the brightest minds of free market economics: they pored over Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, and marveled at Frederic Bastiat’s denunciations of socialism as legal plunder.  A veteran of vaudeville, Storey liked to re-create constitutional conventions and assign students to play delegates in mock debates.  Many of his students were gifted, but none could keep up with Cruz in terms of passion and inherent ability.  Thrust into some of the momentous scenes from world history, the thirteen-year-old was perfectly at home.

That anecdote is from McKay Coppins, The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House, a fun read with lots of background information I did not know.

I will never forget the time Gregory Rehmke took me to meet Rolland Storey in Houston.  But that is a story for another place and time…

I don’t like most Tarantino movies, except for Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill, vol.I.; I usually find his style too mannered and self-conscious.  And I read so many negative or lukewarm reviews in the American press.  But more positive evaluations started to trickle in, as the British Guardian, Telegraph, and FT all gave it five stars, and some of my friends seemed to like it.  One of my canonical views is that when critics have split views on a talented director, you should go see the movie.  I am very glad I did.

Think of the film as a retelling of John Locke’s social compact story, except the individuals are not tabula rasa in terms of history, but rather they bring ineradicable racial and historical backgrounds to the table, epistemically uncertain backgrounds as well.  The game-theoretic solution concepts unfold accordingly.  The setting and details of the story are then set up to spoof Agatha Christie and the British haunted house tradition, except with snow, guns, and the American West as props.

Recommended, even for skeptics, Straussian throughout.

I don’t think climate change is the right framing for this effect, nonetheless this is an interesting result, with the subtitle “Evidence from a billion tweets.”  Here is the abstract:

What is the welfare cost of environmental stress? The change in amenity values resulting from temperature increases may be a substantial unaccounted-for cost of climate change. Because there is no explicit market for climate, prior work has relied on cross-sectional variation or survey data to identify this cost. This paper presents an alternative method of estimating preferences over nonmarket goods which accounts for unobserved cross-sectional and temporal variation and allows for precise estimates of nonlinear effects. Specifically, I create a rich dataset on hedonic state: a geographically and temporally dense collection of updates from the social media platform Twitter, scored using a set of both human- and machine-trained sentiment analysis algorithms. Using this dataset, I find limited evidence of temperature effects on hedonic state in low temperatures and strong evidence of a sharp decline in hedonic state above 70◦F. This finding is robust across all measures of hedonic state and to a variety of specifications.

That is the job market paper (pdf) by Patrick Baylis, a job candidate from UC Berkeley.

And here is a new result that Canadians are more polite on Twitter, I wonder what happens if you control for temperature…

For the pointer I thank Samir Varma.

The author is Lars Mytting, and the subtitle is Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way.  If only every book could be this good and to the point!  Here is your Norway fact of the day:

Even in oil-rich Norway, as astonishing 25 percent of the energy used to heat private homes comes from wood, and half of that is wood chopped by private individuals.

In per capita terms, however, Bhutan is number one for wood chopping.  Yet in the 1960s, the government of Norway had its own advisory body for the burning of wood chips.

I enjoyed this segue:

Although it may seem strange today, chain saws were regarded with suspicion at that time and there was much resistance to their use…

There were quite a few colorful players in the early days of the chain-saw industry in the 1950s.  The competition was hard and the business attracted people with a fiery temperament.  One legendary character was John Svensson (alias Chain Saw Svensson), who imported saws made by the Canadian firm Beaver.  He had been arrested and tortured during the war and for the rest of his life suffered pains in his arms and joints; when demonstrating the Beaver saws he always made a point of stressing how the vibrations that passed up through the handle brought a welcome relief to his aching joints.

Svensson was not a man to take professional disappointments lying down.  On one occasion he was so annoyed when a visiting government delegation refused to let him demonstrate his chain saw to them that he felled five trees across the road to stop them from leaving.

The interest of a Norwegian man in his firewood often rises sharply in his sixties.  Perhaps this sentence from the book says it all:

It took a while, but that didn’t bother them, as long as it turned out the way they wanted.

You can order the book here, recommended.

2016 Law and Literature reading list

by on January 10, 2016 at 12:47 am in Books, Film, Law, Philosophy | Permalink

The New English Bible, Oxford Study Edition

Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Albert Camus, The Stranger

Kamel Daoud, The Meursault Investigation

Janet Malcolm, The Crime of Sheila McGough

Njal’s Saga (on-line version is fine)

Glaspell’s Trifles, available on-line

Year’s Best SF 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, used or Kindle edition is recommended

The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka, edited and translated by Joachim Neugroschel

In the Belly of the Beast, by Jack Henry Abbott

Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Novels and Stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, volume 1, also on-line

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

Moby Dick, by Hermann Melville, excerpts, chapters 89 and 90, available on-line

Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman

The Pledge, Friedrich Durrenmatt

Ian McEwan, The Children Act

We also will see some films and cover some very short on-line readings, as I will distribute at the appropriate times; your papers may draw on these as well.

This is from Eliana Zeballos, who is on the job market this year from UC Davis and appears to be a very interesting candidate.  Here is part of the abstract of her job market paper (pdf):

The experimental games were conducted in Bolivia among285 dairy farmers. Results show that when participants were presented with their ranking and the earnings of others in their group, those below the group mean increased their effort whereas those above the group mean decreased their effort. When destructive actions were allowed, 55 percent of the participants were willing to forego own-consumption in order to burn others’ output; 58 percent were victims of destructive actions and lost, on average, a third of their earnings. There is an asymmetry in the direction of destruction: almost all of the highest earners suffered some destruction while only a quarter of the lowest earners were victims of destructive actions. Finally, the threat of destructive actions reduced the highest earning participants’ effort by 5.8 percent.

bolivia

For the pointer I thank Ben Southwood.

This was the year when it became clear that much of Eastern Europe probably won’t end up as free societies.  It’s not just semi-fascism in Hungary.  Poland and Slovakia, arguably the two most successful economies and societies in Eastern Europe, took big steps backward toward illiberal governance.  How can one be optimistic about the Balkans?  I imagine a future where African and North African refugees are bottled up there, and Balkan politics becomes slowly worse.  As for Ukraine, a mix of Russia and an “own goal” has made the place ungovernable.  Where is the bright spot in this part of the world?

Nothing good happened in China’s economy, although more fingers have been inserted into more dikes.  I am not hopeful on the cyclical side, though longer term I remain optimistic, due to their investments in human capital and the growing importance of scale.

I have grown accustomed to the idea that Asian mega-cities represent the future of the world — have you?

Syria won’t recover.

This was the year of the rise of Ted Cruz.

It was an awful year for movies, decent but unpredictable for books.  The idea that Facebook and social media rob the rest of our culture of its centrality, or its ability to find traction, is the default status quo.  Not even that idea has gained much traction.  Cable TV started to receive its financial comeuppance.  Yet on the aesthetic side, television is at an all-time peak, with lots of experimentation and independent content provision, all for the better.  I suspect this is one reason why movies are worse, namely brain drain, but I am hoping for longer-run elasticities of adjustment into the broader talent pool.

Against all odds, Homeland was excellent in its fifth season.

I became even more afraid to move my cursor around a web page, and in terms of content, more MSM sites became worse than better.  Banning photos would solve twenty percent of this problem.

Stephen Curry and Magnus Carlsen were the two (public) individuals I thought about the most and followed the most closely.  Each has a unique talent which no one had come close to before.  For Curry it is three point shooting at great range and with little warning; for Carlsen it is a deep understanding of the endgame as the true tactical phase of chess, and how to use the middlegame as prep to get there.  It wasn’t long ago Curry’s weapons were “trick” shots, perhaps suitable for the Harlem Globetrotters; similarly, players such as Aronian thought Carlsen’s “grind ’em down” style could not succeed at a top five level.  Everyone was wrong.

But here’s what I am wondering.  Standard theory claims that with a thicker market, the #2 talents, or for that matter the #5s, will move ever closer to the #1s.  That is not what we are seeing in basketball or chess.  So what feature of the problem is the standard model missing?  And how general is this phenomenon of a truly special #1 who breaks some of the old rules?  Does Mark Zuckerberg count too?

I realized Western China is the best part of the world to visit right now.  The food trends where I live were Filipino and Yemeni, which I found welcome.  Virginia now has a Uighur restaurant in Crystal City, and the aging San Antonio Spurs continue to defy all expectations.  Kobe Bryant, who “ranks among the league’s top 5 percent of shot-takers and its bottom 5 percent of shot-makers,” has redefined the retirement announcement, among other things.

Top curling teams say they won’t use high-tech brooms.  Just wait.

AnandCarlsen

Dustin P. writes to me:

I would enjoy a blog post discussing under what circumstances you feel guilt, and how you respond. I am especially interested in instances where you feel a portion of some collective guilt – family actions, neighborhood failures, national politics. 

I’ll focus on the social, collective, and intellectual sides of this problem, rather than my own (numerous) personal failings.

I feel the most guilt when eating the meat of intelligent animals raised under poor or tortured conditions.  I am not opposed to all meat-eating per se, but most meat-eating in today’s America does not meet satisfactory moral standards.  I still do it because I am not that good a person, at least not in this regard.  I am struck by the title of the forthcoming book by Frans de Waal: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

I don’t feel so much collective guilt about the course of history.  None from my Irish or Irish-American backgrounds, in part because I know very little about my ancestors.  I also don’t feel personal guilt for earlier history, such as the genocide against Native Americans.  I don’t feel responsible for it.  Perhaps irrationally, I do feel some guilt for Americans being such world bullies, even when that is necessary or beneficial for the broader fate of civilization.  I feel that indirectly I partake in that, if only by representing what are broadly American points of view in global settings, including on this blog.

I feel guilt for not giving more money to poor people, even though a) I probably give more than average to poor people, typically in Mexico, and b) I don’t hold an extreme Singerian view about our obligations in that regard.  I still feel I am failing at the margin.

Overall it is possible that I treat guilt as many voters treat gasoline prices.  I am perhaps overly bothered by fairly visible, repeated small transactions of a rather obvious salience.

So now, as a result of thinking about this blog post, I feel guilt about my guilt.

But only to a point. Furthermore guilt is often a substitute for action, rather than a spur to action, which gives me further reason to feel guilt about my guilt, though not in the right action-inducing way.

The latest Freakonomics radio podcast grapples with the question Is Migration a Basic Human Right? (itunes) As usual, Stephen Dubner and his team have put together a compelling story with multiple-angles and perspectives. I provide the jumping off point:

There are fundamental human rights. There are rights which accrue to everyone, no matter who they are, no matter where they are on the globe. Those rights include the right to free expression. They include the right to freedom of religion. And I believe they should also include the right to move about the Earth.

but many other voices are also heard including Madeleine Albright, the great Michael Clemens, Casey Mulligan, refugee Basel Esa and others.

By the way, a new book on global justice is of interest, Justice at a Distance, by philosopher Loren Lomasky and legal scholar Fernando Teson.

How is that for a provocative, comment-inducing article title?  That’s a new piece in Intelligence by Noah Carl, the abstract is this:

It is well known that individuals with so-called liberal or leftist views are overrepresented in American academia. By bringing together data on American academics, the general population and a high-IQ population, the present study investigates how much of this overrepresentation can be explained by intelligence. It finds that intelligence can account for most of the disparity between academics and the general population on the issues of abortion, homosexuality and traditional gender roles. By contrast, it finds that intelligence cannot account for any of the disparity between academics and the general population on the issue of income inequality. But for methodological reasons, this finding is tentative. Furthermore, the paper finds that intelligence may account for less than half of the disparity on liberal versus conservative ideology, and much less than half the disparity on Democrat versus Republican identity. Following the analysis, eight alternative explanations for liberal and leftist overrepresentation are reviewed.

Do please note that the “intelligent” point of view need not be the correct one, it is simply the view held by individuals who measure as intelligent.

Most of all, modern America has a not-very-self-aware academic culture, which is far more insular than it likes to believe.  A good deal of what American academics believe springs from their culture, not from their intelligence per se.

For the pointer I thank Daniel B. Klein.

This is not a libertarian moment. Still, I think that libertarians have a lot to contribute to the public debate. What we should do is remind others that (a) the political process almost never adopts an ideal policy or executes a policy well and (b) policies that seem good today can have unintended consequences tomorrow.

Those are from Arnold Kling.  In the meantime, Arnold asks you: where would you put your chips?

Chris Blattman cites a recent estimate that Americans own 42% of the civilian guns in the world.

You’ll also see estimates that America accounts for about half of the world’s defense spending.  I believe those numbers are a misuse of purchasing power parity comparisons, but with proper adjustments it is not implausible to believe that America accounts for…about 42% of the defense spending.  Or thereabouts.

I see those two numbers, and their rough similarity, as the most neglected fact in current debates about gun control.

I see many people who want to lower or perhaps raise those numbers, but I don’t see enough people analyzing the two as an integrated whole.

I don’t myself so often ask “should Americans have fewer guns?”, as that begs the question of how one might ever get there, which indeed has proven daunting by all accounts.  But I do often ask myself “should America be a less martial country in in its ideological orientation?”

Note that the parts of the country with the most guns, namely the South, are especially prominent in the military and support for the military.

More importantly, if America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry.  And that culture is not going to be “Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism,” or “George Kennan’s Letter X,” or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War.  Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public.  And so it must be backed by…a fairly martial culture amongst the American citizenry.  And that probably will mean a fairly high level of gun ownership and a fairly high degree of skepticism about gun control.

If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case.  But I am skeptical.  I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

So who’s in this debate?

1. There are the anti-gun modern Democrats, who want Americans to own many fewer firearms, and who maybe favor slight cuts in defense spending, in order to spend more on redistribution.  They don’t come to terms with the reality that their vision for America’s international state requires a fairly martial supporting culture at home, including strong attachments to gun ownership.

By the way, citations of the Australian gun control experience are a good indicator of this position and its partial naivete; Australian pacifism can to some extent free ride upon American martial interest.  Another “warning sign” is if someone is incredulous that the San Bernardino attack is strengthening America’s attachment to a relatively martial internal culture, rather than leading to gun control.  That person is out of touch, even if he or she is right about the substance of the issue.

2. There is the radical, anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex, semi-pacifist, anti-gun Left.  Their positions on these issues are quite consistent, though this branch of the Left has disappeared almost entirely.

3. There are the libertarians, who hate martial culture on the international scene, but who wish to allow it or maybe even encourage it (personally, not through the government) at home, through the medium of guns.  They are inconsistent, and they should consider being more pro-gun control than is currently the case.  But I don’t expect them to budge: they will see this issue only through the lens of liberty, rather than through the lens of culture as well.  They end up getting a lot of the gun liberties they wish to keep, but losing the broader cultural battle and somehow are perpetually surprised by this mix of outcomes.

I except non-American libertarians from these charges, and indeed many of them, albeit under the table, in fact support gun control as a libertarian and indeed pro-peace position.

4. There are the “right-wing conservatives.”  They support a martial ethic, they support America’s active foreign policy abroad, and they are anti-gun control for the most part.  And they find their greatest strength in the relatively martial American South.  Like the old anti-war Left, their positions are consistent, and their positions are rooted in a cultural understanding of the issue.  They see the gun control movement as a war on America’s greatness, America’s martial culture and the material embodiments of said culture.  They don’t understand why “the world’s greatest nation” should give up its superpower role, and its supporting internal martial culture, all for the sake of limiting the number of suicides and maybe stopping a few shootings too.  To them it’s not close to being worth it.

OK, now look at who is winning this debate in terms of actual policy changes.  It is the conservatives, for the most part.  No matter how much you may disagree with them, they have the most coherent cultural and intellectual position, apart from the old anti-war Left.  And in a fight between the right-wing conservatives, and the old anti-war Left, for the hearts and minds of the American people, we already know that, for better or worse, the conservatives usually will win.

I find that pro-gun control Democrats, and libertarians, are incapable of understanding the issue in these cultural terms.  But if you read something by a “really stupid conservative” on gun control, the more emotive and manipulative the text the better, it is often pretty close to the mark on the actual substance of what is at stake here.

Here is my earlier post, The culture of guns, the culture of alcohol.

Here is a new and interesting paper by Philip Rogaway at UC Davis (pdf), here is the abstract:

Cryptography rearranges power: it configures who can do what, from what. This makes cryptography an inherently political tool, and it confers on the field an intrinsically moral dimension. The Snowden revelations motivate a reassessment of the political and moral positioning of cryptography. They lead one to ask if our inability to effectively address mass surveillance constitutes a failure of our field. I believe that it does. I call for a community-wide effort to develop more effective means to resist mass surveillance. I plea for a reinvention of our disciplinary culture to attend not only to puzzles and math, but, also, to the societal implications of our work.

Recommended, the paper has a good deal of substance, via Vitorino Ramos and Will Wilkinson.

I see many comparisons floating around, here are a few:

Muslim refugees become terrorists at a lower rate than Americans become murderers.  And here is Alex on jellybeans.

This article suggests you are more likely to be killed by falling furniture than by a terrorist.

Somewhere in my Twitter feed I saw a claim that an American is more likely to be shot by a toddler than by a terrorist.

By a variety of metrics, European terror attacks were worse in the 1970s and 1980s than today.

Matt Yglesias argues American society is pretty robust to a bunch of people getting shot.

Nonetheless many American (and European) citizens seem to think that a murder by a foreign terrorist is much worse than a murder by a domestic nutcase, and that murder by a foreign terrorist is a major deal, these days at least.  What might be the reasons for that view?

1. A murder by a foreign terrorist occasions more fear of future murders.  Yet if anything this seems to be the opposite of the case.  “Entry” into foreign terrorism in the United States is tightly controlled, and with each murder security procedures are tightened.

2. Foreign terrorists kill us in more painful ways.  Seems unlikely, they want to get the job over with.

3. Allowing foreign terrorists to kill us signals to our foreign enemies that we are weak, and worsens our standing in international relations.  Our alliances and our deterrents become weaker, to the detriment of global peace.

4. The successes of foreign terrorists increase existential risk, so even a “simple murder” by one of them is fraught with high negative expected value.  But note here the difference between inference and causality.  A foreign terrorist murder may indicate that a WMD attack is more likely, but does it cause the likelihood of a WMD attack to up?  In fact, might it not cause that chance to go down, given tighter security precautions?

#3 and #4 at least possibly make sense.  But what’s the actual evidence?  Why don’t we spend our time debating #3 and #4?  Couldn’t we do event studies on those?  Are we willing to reject these hypotheses if the event studies turn up nothing?

And if there is something to #3 and 34, what is the MRS for “death by domestic” vs. “death from a foreign terrorist”?  10 to 1?  100 to 1?  Inquiring minds wish to know.  In other words, it really may be worse if we are killed by foreigners, but don’t we need to set some parameters on that judgment?

By the way, there is also #5: Due to our heritage as African primates, we are programmed to fear violent attacks by outsiders more than we actually need to today.

Enter the Harvard economist Michael Jensen. Dr. Jensen, who is famous in financial circles for championing the concepts of shareholder value and executive stock options, had taken a Landmark course in Boston at the suggestion of his daughter, who mended a rocky relationship with Dr. Jensen after taking the course herself.

“I became convinced we should work to get this kind of transformational material into the academies,” he said, adding that he considers Mr. Erhard “one of the great intellectuals of the century.”

In 2004, with the help of a Landmark official, Dr. Jensen developed an experiential course on integrity in leadership at the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester. The class was offered there for five years, with Mr. Erhard signing on as an instructor during its third year. It has since been taught at several universities around the world as well as at the United States Air Force Academy.

As far as its philosophical underpinnings go, Mr. Erhard struggled a bit to describe the course without resorting to its Delphic phraseology (“ontological pedagogy,” “action as a correlate of the occurring”).

Sitting in front of a bank of computers in his hotel room, he read excerpts from the 1,000-page textbook he is working on, such as: “As linguistic abstractions, leader and leadership create leader and leadership as realms of possibility in which, when you are being a leader, all possible ways of being are available to you.”

The full NYT story, mostly about Erhard, with bits on Heidegger too, is here.  Here is more on Jensen and Erhard.