Philosophy

So it’s official. As of today we are no longer a libertarian think tank. We’re neoliberals. And maybe you are too.

Here is the link.  Here Sam Bowman, the Executive Director, explains:

And I think to most people in Britain the word libertarian connotes a sort of unflexible extremeness – a preoccupation with hard-and-fast rules over policies that actually make people’s lives better. It was this misconception that allowed the Prime Minister get away with equating the libertarian right with the socialist left, as if the two were somehow comparable…

So in embracing the term neoliberal, we’re hoping that we’re being a little clearer about what we already believe in and do. We fight for free markets, property rights, globalisation and an open society, all based on real-world evidence. Those are what have given us the rich, peaceful, prosperous world we live in, and with more of them we can help to make things even better. It’s time for us neoliberals to start going on the offensive and fight for the world we have helped to create.

I do not have sufficient background on the situation to parse this, but perhaps it is also one way of signaling that they are anti-Brexit, and the word libertarian would not do that, and might even suggest they favored Brexit as a means for arriving at a more libertarian society (which by the way is not how things are running).  A neoliberal one would think favors arrangements for free trade and migration.

Addendum: Here is their home page.

That is the next Conversation with Tyler, October 24th, at George Mason in Arlington, you can register here.

What should I ask him?  I thank you all in advance.

The very beginning is a little slow, but I thought Ezra was one of the very best guests.  The topics include the nature and future of media, including virtual reality, the nature of leadership (including Ezra’s own), how running a project shapes your political views, a wee bit on health care, what he thinks are the Obama and Clinton models of the world, Robert Putnam’s research on the costs of diversity, the proper role of shame in society, animal welfare, and of course Ezra’s underrated and overrated, with takes on Bob Dylan, The Matrix, William F. Buckley, Joe Biden, and more.  There is no video but here is the podcast and transcript.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: …Now Putman, let me ask you about Putnam, and how Putnam relates to Donald Trump. As you know, Robert Putnam at Harvard, he has some work showing that when ethnic diversity goes up that there’s less trust, less cooperation, less social capital.

If you think of yourself in the role of an editor, so you have an American society, diversity has gone up, and a lot of people have reacted to this I would say rather badly — and I think you would agree with me they’ve reacted rather badly — but there’s still a way in which the issue could be framed that while diversity is actually a problem, we can’t handle diversity.

Putnam almost says as such, and do you think there’s currently a language in the media where you have readers who are themselves diverse, where it’s possible not to just be blaming the bigots, but to actually present the positive view, “Look, people are imperfect. A society can only handle so much diversity, and we need to learn this.” What’s your take on that?

KLEIN: I strongly agree. We do not have a language for demographic anxiety that is not a language that is about racism. And we need one. I really believe this, and I believe it’s been a problem, particularly this year. It is clear, the evidence is clear. Donald Trump is not about “economic anxiety.”

COWEN: A bit, but not mainly, I agree.

KLEIN: That said, I think that the way it’s presented is a choice between economic anxiety and racism. And one I don’t think that’s quite right, and two I don’t think that’s a productive way of having that conversation.

COWEN: Why don’t we have that language? Where did it go, or did we ever have it?

And:

COWEN: You see this with Medicaid. A lot of people don’t sign up. They don’t have addresses. You can’t even get them, whatever.

KLEIN: They don’t like doctors. They’re afraid of doctors.

COWEN: This is me.

KLEIN: You’re afraid of doctors?

COWEN: “Afraid” isn’t the word.

KLEIN: Averse. [laughs]

COWEN: Maybe dislike. Averse. [laughs] They should be afraid of me, perhaps.

Definitely recommended.  The same dialogue, with a different introduction, is included in The Ezra Klein Show podcast.

And these days, that means today is a Messy day:

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives celebrates the benefits that messiness has in our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it instead. Using research from neuroscience, psychology, social science, as well as tales of inspiring people doing extraordinary things, I explain that the human qualities we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – are integral to the disorder, confusion, and disarray that produce them.

As I wrote the book, I grappled with the way Martin Luther King’s speechmaking style evolved from careful preparation to impromptu genius. I tried to tease out the connections between the brilliant panzer commander Erwin Rommel, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, and the primary campaign of Donald Trump. I interviewed Stewart Brand about the world’s most creative messy building – and Brian Eno about the way David Bowie would reject perfection in favour of something flawed and interesting every time.

I loved writing this book.

As I’ve already written, it is Tim’s best and deepest book.  Here is the book’s home page.  You can order the book here, it is out today a messy day it must be.

Jeppe Trolle Linnet, an anthropologist at the University of Southern Denmark, argues that hygge is not the great social leveller it appears. Danes dislike acknowledging class differences, but his research finds that the habits of hygge vary by income and social status. For some, hygge is a bottle of burgundy with soft jazz on the hi-fi; for others it is a can of beer while watching football on telly. Worse, different groups are uncomfortable with others’ interpretations of hygge. Mr Linnet calls it a “vehicle of social control”, involving “a negative stereotyping of social groups who are perceived as unable to create hygge”.

…A recent report on the quality of life for expatriates in 67 countries, compiled by an organisation called InterNations, bears this out. Denmark’s own natives may rank it top for happiness, but the immigrants in the survey ranked it 60th in terms of friendliness, 64th for being made to feel welcome, and 67th for the ease of finding friends. Finishing just ahead of Denmark on the finding-friends measure was Norway, the country from which the Danes imported the word hygge. If cultures are obsessed with the joys of relaxing with old friends, perhaps it is because they find it stressful to make new ones.

That is from The Economist.

According to Donner: “The whole point of the game [is] to prevent an artistic performance.” The former world champion Garry Kasparov makes the same point. “The highest art of the chess player,” he says, “lies in not allowing your opponent to show you what he can do.” Always the other player is there trying to wreck your masterpiece. Chess, Donner insists, is a struggle, a fight to the death. “When one of the two players has imposed his will on the other and can at last begin to be freely creative, the game is over. That is the moment when, among masters, the opponent resigns. That is why chess is not art. No, chess cannot be compared with anything. Many things can be compared with chess, but chess is only chess.”

That is Stephen Moss at The Guardian.  Along related lines, I very much enjoyed Daniel Gormally’s Insanity, Passion, and Addiction: A Year Inside the Chess World.  It’s one of my favorite books of the year so far, but it’s so miserable I can’t recommend it to anyone.  It’s a book about chess, and it doesn’t even focus on the great players.  It’s about the players who are good enough to make a living — ever so barely — but not do any better.  It serves up sentences such as:

Surely the money in chess is so bad that this can’t be all you do for a living?  But in fact in my experience, the majority of chess players rated over 2400 tend to just do chess.  If not playing, then something related to it, like coaching or DVDs.  That’s because we’re lazy, so making the monumental effort of a complete change in career is just too frightening a prospect.  So we stick with chess, even though the pay tends to be lousy, because most of our friends and contacts are chess players.  Our life is chess.  As a rough estimate, I would say there are as many 2600 players making less than £20,000 a year.

And:

Stability. I had this conversation with German number one Arkadij Naidisch at a blitz tournament in Scotland about a year ago. (there I go, name-dropping again.)  He suggested that a lot of people don’t achieve their goals because they just aren’t stable enough.  They’ll have a fantastic result somewhere, but then that’ll be let down by a terrible tournament somewhere else.

…The problem is it’s hard to break out of the habits of a lifetime.  Many times at home I’ve said to myself while sitting around depressed about my future and where my chess is going, “tomorrow will be different.  I’ll get up and study six-eight hours studying chess.”  But it never happens.

Overall biography and autobiography are far too specialized in the lives of the famous and successful.

The Department of Justice has sent a letter to UC Berkeley threatening a lawsuit unless the university modifies all of its free online educational materials to meet conditions of accessibility. In response the Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education writes:

…we have attempted to maximize the accessibility of free, online content that we have made available to the public. Nevertheless, the Department of Justice has recently asserted that the University is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because, in its view, not all of the free course and lecture content UC Berkeley makes available on certain online platforms is fully accessible to individuals with hearing, visual or manual disabilities.

…We look forward to continued dialog with the Department of Justice regarding the requirements of the ADA and options for compliance. Yet we do so with the realization that, due to our current financial constraints, we might not be able to continue to provide free public content under the conditions laid out by the Department of Justice to the extent we have in the past.

In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free. We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access.

In short, the DOJ is saying that unless all have access, none can and UC Berkeley is replying that none will. I sympathize with UC Berkeley’s position. The cost of making materials accessible can be high and the cost is extremely high per disabled student. It would likely be much cheaper to help each disabled student on an individual basis than requiring all the material to be rewritten, re-formatted and reprogrammed (ala one famous example).

An even greater absurdity is that online materials are typically much easier to access than classroom materials even when they do not fully meet accessibility rules. How many teachers, for example, come with captions? (And in multiple languages?) How about volume control? How easy is it for the blind to get to campus? In theory, in-class materials are also subject to the ADA but in practice everyone knows that that is basically unworkable. I guarantee, for example, that professors throughout the UC-system routinely show videos or use powerpoints that do not meet accessibility guidelines. Thus, by raising the costs of online education, the most accessible educational format, the ADA may have the unintended consequence of slowing access. Put simply, raising the costs of online education makes it more difficult for anyone to access educational materials including the disabled.

Addendum: By the way, if you are wondering, all of MRU’s videos for our Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics courses are captioned in English and most are also professionally captioned in Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

Haven’t you noticed this?

I have a simple hypothesis.  No matter what the media tells you their job is, the feature of media that actually draws viewer interest is how media stories either raise or lower particular individuals in status.  (It’s a bit like “politics isn’t about policy.”)  That’s even true for this blog, though of course that is never my direct intention.

But now you can see why people get so teed off at the media.  The status ranking of individuals implied by a particular media source is never the same as yours, and often not even close.  You hold more of a grudge from the status slights than you get a positive and memorable charge from the status agreements.

In essence, (some) media is insulting your own personal status rankings all the time.  You might even say the media is insulting you.  Indeed that is why other people enjoy those media sources, because they take pleasure in your status, and the status of your allies, being lowered.  It’s like they get to throw a media pie in your face.

In return you resent the media.

A good rule of thumb is that if you resent the media “lots,” you are probably making a number of other emotional mistakes in your political thought.

I will second Bryan Caplan’s post:

Last week, my colleague Dan Klein kicked off the Public Choice Seminar series.  During the introduction, I recalled some of his early work.  But only after did I realize how visionary he’s been.

In 1999, when internet commerce was still in its infancy, Klein published Reputation: Studies in the Voluntary Elicitation of Good ConductSeventeen years later, e-commerce towers before us, resting on a foundation of reputational incentives – everything from old-fashioned repeat business to two-sided smartphone reviews.

In 2003, long before Uber, Airbnb, or serious talk of driverless cars, Klein published The Half-Life of Policy Rationales: How New Technology Affects Old Policy Issues.  This remarkable work explores how technological change keeps making old markets failures – and the regulations that arguably address them – obsolete.  (Here’s the intro, co-authored with Fred Foldvary).  Fourteen years later, the relevance of Klein’s thesis is all around us.  Transactions costs no longer preclude peakload pricing for roads, decentralized taxis and home rentals, or full-blown caveat emptor for consumer goods.  So why not?

I’m not going to say that Klein caused these amazing 21st-century developments.  But he did foresee them more clearly than almost anyone.  Hail Dan Klein!

Some of Dan’s work, and later work (much of which is covered at MR), you will find here and here.  For instance, his later work on academic bias also was well ahead of its time and prefigured subsequent events, so this is actually a running streak.

It seems so, at least subject to the usual caveats about happiness studies:

In spite of the great U-turn that saw income inequality rise in Western countries in the 1980s, happiness inequality has fallen in countries that have experienced income growth (but not in those that did not). Modern growth has reduced the share of both the “very unhappy” and the “perfectly happy”. Lower happiness inequality is found both between and within countries, and between and within individuals. Our cross-country regression results argue that the extension of various public goods helps to explain this greater happiness homogeneity. This new stylised fact arguably comes as a bonus to the Easterlin paradox, offering a somewhat brighter perspective for developing countries.

That is from a new paper by Clark AE1, Flèche S2, Senik C3. via Neuroskeptic.  In other words, for the variable that really matters for welfarism, inequality is down not up.  Shout it from the rooftops…

1. Jacobs was born in Scranton, PA, but moved to NYC in 1932 and as early as 1935 she had published some of her impressions of the city in a multi-part series in Vogue magazine.  Earlier, she had written poetry for the Girl Scouts’s magazine, American Girl.

2. She published a 1941 book on the intellectual foundations of the American Constitution, with Columbia University Press under her maiden name Jane Butzner and the title Constitutional Chaff.  At about the same time her manuscript was being accepted, she was kicked out of Columbia for taking too many extended studies classes, and not allowed admission to Barnard.

3. In 1940 she wrote an article based on her study of the embossed acronyms on manhole covers.

4. She then worked as writer during WWII for the Office of War Information and the State Department.  Before Pearl Harbor, she had been an isolationist.

5. Henri Pirenne’s work on medieval cities was one of the biggest influences on her.

6. In the 1940s, she also worked for a metals industry magazine, and smoked a pipe in her office.  They started to wonder whether she was a troublemaker.

7. She married an architect in 1944, then taking the name Jacobs.  They enjoyed bicycling and sociometry together.  She had sons in 1948 and 1950.

8. Alger Hiss had been her superior at the State Department, and in the late 1940s Jacobs was investigated for possible Communist ties, in part because she had tried to apply for a visa to Siberia, using Hiss as her contact.  She stated in response that she abhorred communism and favored radical decentralization.

There is much more!  But that is a taste from the new and excellent Becoming Jane Jacobs, a runs-up-through 1972 biography by Peter L. Laurence, definitely one of the best books of the year.  This is the biography of Jacobs I have wanted to read for forty years.

Addendum: There is a new Jane Jacobs movie coming to the Toronto film festival.

Strauss’s pedagogical method was famous for its simplicity and directness.  A student would be asked to read a passage from the work being discussed; Strauss would make a comment or two, noting contradictions or discrepancies with earlier passages; a student might then raise a question, which would lead Strauss to digress, taking it to a much higher level and illustrating with with often earthy examples.  (He was particularly fond of examples from a newspaper advice column of the time, “Dear Abby.”)  Then on to the next passage.

That is from Mark Lilla’s new book The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction.  There is also this bit from the book:

Michel Houellebecq is not angry.  He does not have a program, and he is not shaking his fist at the nation’s traitors…He appears genuinely to believe that France has, regrettably and irretrievably, lost its sense of self, but not because of feminism or immigration or the European Union or globalization.  Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be.  For him, that wager has been lost.  And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.  Who remains as remote and as silent as ever.

I enjoy such books.  But in earlier times I preferred Ann Landers to Dear Abby.

A miniature donkey can change your life. Ten of them can change it a lot.

And:

Five years ago, Mr. Stiert was a software engineer at IBM. A bunch of things happened — divorce, a layoff, a sort of reckoning. Now, at 57, he says, “Every day is donkey day.”

And:

Ms. Hill, 26, said she kept returning because donkeys “don’t judge.”

“They understand, even though they don’t talk,” she said.

And the dreaded regulatory state raises its feared hand:

(Before you run out to shop for donkeys yourself, make sure they’re legal in your town. They are not in New York City, for instance, where the Health Code bans “all odd-toed ungulates” — hoofed animals — other than domesticated horses, “including, but not limited to, zebra, rhinoceros and tapir.”)

Those are not the only good sentences about miniature donkey therapy meet-ups, Andy Newman at the NYT has more.  Here is a final winner:

For all their surprising virtues, donkeys can be a little stubborn.

The subtitle is The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, and it is Tim’s best and deepest book.  You’ll be hearing more about it in due time, the publication date is October 4, you can pre-order it here.

Here is the summary:

The stereotypical obituary is a formulaic recitation of facts — dry, boring, and without craft. But Margalit Fox has shown the genre can produce some of the most memorable and moving stories in journalism. Exploiting its “pure narrative arc,” Fox has penned over 1,200 obituaries, covering well-known and obscure subjects with equal aplomb.

In her conversation with Tyler Cowen, Fox reveals not only the process for writing an obituary, but her thoughts on life, death, storytelling, puzzle-solving, her favorite cellist, and how it came to be that an economist sang opera 86 times at the Met.

Here are the transcript, video, and podcast versions of the dialogue.  Here is one excerpt:

FOX: …Things happen. But in general, we try to have a certain level of preparedness with the major figures. We do indeed have the advance obits — all but the top, as it were — written, edited, on file. We have about 1,700.

That said, the vast majority of what my colleagues and I down in the trenches do, probably 90 percent of our working life, are daily obits that are found out about, reported, written, edited, copyedited, put in the paper all in the space of a single day, just like any other article in the paper.

And this:

COWEN: Are there obituaries of economists that stand out in your mind? Or maybe some you’ve written?

FOX: Well, interestingly, there is one. As I said, my original training was in classical music, so my editors almost jumped out of their skins with excitement when they discovered they could assign me the obituary of a Harvard economist named Richard T. Gill.

Now, why did they give that to me? Because as we say in the lede of the obit, “Richard T. Gill, in all statistical probability the only Harvard economist to sing 86 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, died,” etc., etc.

COWEN: Yes, I remember reading that one. That was before I knew that you were you.

FOX: I was me then. You just didn’t know it.

COWEN: Correct.

Do read the whole thing.  I asked her about privacy concerns, how well a famous person is really known by his or her family and friends, whether there should be affirmative action in the obituaries section, who is chosen for this exclusive club and why, what one learns reading obituaries (“death sucks”), what is underrated in life (“silence”), why British obituaries are different, and about her very good books on linguistic code cracking from antiquity and Bedouin sign language.  And more.

Here is the Conversations with Tyler series.  Here is basic information on Margalit Fox.  Here is Margalit Fox on Twitter.