For only 23,500 euros (who says you can’t take it with you?):
Sweden’s Catacombo Sound System is a funeral casket that eternally plays the deceased’s choice of tracks while they’re six feet under.
Created by Pause Ljud & Bild, the system consists of three different parts. Firstly, users create an account through the online CataPlay platform, which connects to Spotify and enables customers to curate a playlist for their own coffin or get friends and family to choose the tracks when they’re gone. The CataTomb is a 4G-enabled gravestone that receives the music from CataPlay and display the current track — along with details and tributes to the deceased — through a 7-inch LCD Display. Finally, the CataCoffin is where the parted will themselves enjoy two-way front speakers, 4-inch midbass drivers and an 8-inch sub-bass element that deliver dimensional high-fidelity audio tailored to the acoustics of the casket. The video below explains more about the concept…
Of course I want Brahms’s German Requiem, the Rudolf Kempe recording. I am afraid, however, that I (in some form) will last longer than Spotify does.
For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.
That is the new Robert M. Gates book, which of course has been widely reviewed. I was very impressed with this work. I read it as a meditation on the question of what kinds of martial virtue (or lack thereof) are possible in our contemporary age, updating Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch through the medium of the reigns and rules of the two Bushes, Cheney, Rice, Obama (most of all), Hillary, Biden, and of course Gates himself with a bit of Petraeus tossed in.
Here is one excerpt:
I was put off by the way the president closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, “For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decisions about Israel or Iran, Joe [Biden], you be my witness.” I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.
As is usual when the president makes a momentous decision, the White House wanted key cabinet members blanketing the Sunday talk shows…As I was flying back to Washington on March 25, the White House communications gurus proposed I go on all three network shows the next Sunday to defend the president’s decision on Libya. Exhausted by the trip, I agreed to do two of the three. then I took a call from Bill Daley, who pushed me hard to do the third show. I told Daley I’d make him a deal — I would do the third show if he’s agree to get funding for the Libya operation included in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) appropriation (the war supplemental). I said, “I’ll do Jake Tapper if you’ll do OMB.” Daley whined, “I thought it would cost me a bottle of vodka.” I shot back, “Bullshit. It’s going to cost you $1 billion.” Daley had the last laugh. The president and OMB director Jack Lew refused to approve moving the Libya funding into the OCO. The Defense Department had to eat the entire cost of the Libya operation.
And finally, this:
As I had told President Bush and Condi Rice early in 2007, the challenge of the early twenty-first century is that crises don’t come and go — they seem to come and stay.
The book has come under a good deal of criticism for its revelations about a sitting president and commander-in-chief and for its communication of inside discussions, which presumably at the time were considered to be confidential. I am not sufficiently informed about the appropriate norms to make a final judgment here, but I can readily imagine that Gates is in this regard quite in the wrong. Good books are not always based on good behavior. Furthermore, the overall portrait of Obama is, in my view, quite a favorable one and indeed I would say a profound one (the same cannot be said for Biden or for Congress).
Here is part of Will’s new post:
…the fact is, mundane liberalism is flatly incompatible with the security state, as we know it. That anyone spurred to action against the illiberal security state by the democratic jusificatory ethos of mundane liberalism has come to seem a little “libertarian,” and may even therefore confess some personal “libertarian” sympathies, suggests to me a problem with “liberalism” as it is embodied in actual political discourse and practice. It suggests that liberalism is effectively a corrupt form of statist institutional conservatism, and that the democratic justificatory ethos of mundane liberalism has somehow survived within the ethos of “libertarianism,” even if, as an explicit doctrinal matter, libertarians are generally hostile to the ideas of democracy and the legitimate liberal state. It’s nice that libertarians have kept liberalism alive, but it would be even nicer if it were possible for liberals to espouse liberalism without therefore being confused for libertarians.
We all hope for more.
That is the new University of Chicago Press volume of Hayek’s collected works, this time volume 15. It is the best single-volume introduction to Hayek’s thought, if you are going to buy or read only one. It has the best of the early essays, as you might find in Individualism and Economic Order, and then the best later essays which build upon those earlier insights.
Here is Bruce Caldwell’s introduction to the volume, for e-purchase. The book’s table of contents is here. Here is our MRU course on Friedrich Hayek.
One of the most common fallacies in the economics blogosphere — and elsewhere — is what I call “devalue and dismiss.” That is, a writer will come up with some critique of another argument, let us call that argument X, and then dismiss that argument altogether. Afterwards, the thought processes of the dismisser run unencumbered by any consideration of X, which after all is what dismissal means. Sometimes “X” will be a person or a source rather than an argument, of course.
The “devalue” part of this chain may well be justified. But it should lead to “devalue and downgrade,” rather than “devalue and dismiss.”
“Devalue and dismiss” is much easier of course, because there then will be fewer constraints on what one can believe and with what level of certainty. “Devalue and downgrade” keeps a lot of balls in the air and that can be tiresome and also unsatisfying, especially for those of us trained to look for neat, intuitive explanations.
Enter DSGE models. There are plenty of good arguments against them. Still, they provide a useful discipline and they pinpoint rather ruthlessly what it is they we still do not understand. We can and should devalue them in a variety of ways, and for a variety of reasons, but still we should not dismiss them. Better yet than “devalue and downgrade” might be “devalue, downgrade, and…yet…de-dogmatize,” because these models usually point out the limits of our understanding. Those models defeat us, and thus it is odd when we attempt to portray the situation as us defeating them.
Note that very smart people are often good at “devalue and dismiss” because they can come up with a lot of good reasons to devalue the arguments or frameworks of others. But still they should not leap so quickly to the “dismiss.”
I would mention that Alex, while he did criticize DSGE models yesterday, also appreciates their uses.
Addendum: Here is Chris House, defending DSGE models.
That is a new volume edited by Sandra J. Peart and David M. Levy.
More than just the usual blah blah blah about Hayek, this book is full of original material. The book’s home page, with table of contents, is here.
And here is our recent MRUniversity class on Friedrich A. Hayek, and his Individualism and Economic Order.
One study of 7,000 New York Times articles by two professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School found that sad stories were the least shared because sadness is a low-arousal, negative state. People were more likely to share positive stories because it was a way to show generosity and boost their reputations. Sharing pleasant things in public made them appear nice themselves.
Following up on Noah Smith’s earlier blog post, we discussed this question at lunch. Noah cites Japan as a country where there is a high degree of respect granted, and a relatively high equality of respect, and very likely that is true for artisans, manufacturing workers, foreign dignitaries, and foxes. But is it true more generally if we take into the position of women, who are often locked out of good jobs? How about the position of the young “lost generation,” namely all those guys with virtual girlfriends, who have given up on real sex and won’t leave their apartments? How about various minorities in Japanese society, such as the ethnic Koreans? Does Japan lose out on the forms of respect that come from large, extended families, as you might find say in Sicily?
Those judgments have some subjective elements, but I do think they bring Japan down a few notches when it comes to respect and equality of respect.
Oddly I think of the United States as a country with a fair degree of both respect and equality of respect. The diversity of niches and the diverse geography create many pathways for being thought highly of, or for thinking highly of oneself, and there are many insulations from the overweening standards of elites. And we have plenty of indifference, which is a kind of equality of respect, albeit not to be confused with respect per se.
Arguably the most powerful and influential men find plenty of respect in just about any society. A lot of the cross-national variation in respect might come on the female side of the ledger. That would likely favor the Nordic countries and Iceland in a ranking of respect.
Cowen’s Third Law says there is a literature on everything, but the most obvious Google searches did not yield concrete results. (There is however Richard Sennett’s Respect in a World of Inequality.) Can any MR readers speak to the empirical knowledge on this question? We all know the literature on happiness across nations, but here we are interested specifically in respect, where people are respected the most, and where equality of respect is most robust.
How would one go about measuring respect?
Addendum: Justin Wolfers suggest this link, and some Gallup World Poll data, showing respect is positively correlated with wealth:
A short while ago, he asked this:
taking requests? I doubt if, but here goes anyway – charisma half-life of Taylor Swift, Jorge Bergoglio, and James Levine as seen fifty years from now; when will the unquestionably converging IQs of point guards, quarterbacks, and chess champions meet up; what would life be like for a tenured economics professor who decides to spend a year studying midAtlantic Lepidoptera in the wild and learning Norwegian; Peter Hitchens versus Christopher Hitchens – who was or is less deceptive and deceived, assuming an ability to consider them as intellectual equals; how old was TC when he read “all of Harold Bloom’s canon” leaving out some of the Icelandic sagas. Not that any of these topics will be taken up, but if TC or Alex takes one of them seriously how about the Hitchens one, which has the whole Pascalian eternal potential return thing going for it.
Happy New Year’s Eve! And yes, I think disaggregate is indeed the word you want.
Note that Alex’s answers may differ from these.
Any more reader requests?
Gambling is only exciting if you don’t have any money.
That is from the excellent Breakfast with Lucian: The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain’s Great Modern Painter, by Geordie Greig.
I say the goal is to minimize non-convexities, which in this context means avoiding the possibility of no mail or UPS deliveries for two days running. That makes Saturday and Monday especially bad days to have Christmas.
When Christmas is on Wednesday, as it was this year, on that Wednesday you still can be reading the books which arrived on Tuesday and then a new lot comes on Thursday. The public libraries also close for only one day, not two or three in a row.
Christmas on Wednesday also means that the roads are deserted for all the other weekdays, since many people end up leaving town for the entire week. Then you can visit all those ethnic restaurants you wanted to get to in Gaithersburg or Mount Vernon without hassle.
And if you are taking a vacation abroad, and trying to use a limited number of vacation days, you certainly don’t want Christmas to fall on either a Saturday or a Sunday, which in essence wastes a granted day off.
You know what is also good about Christmas on Wednesday? It means New Year’s Day will be on Wednesday too, double your pleasure double your fun.
Science fiction is an inherently political genre, in that any future or alternate history it imagines is a wish about How Things Should Be (even if it’s reflected darkly in a warning about how they might turn out). And How Things Should Be is the central question and struggle of politics. It is also, I’d argue, an inherently liberal genre (its many conservative practitioners notwithstanding), in that it sees the status quo as contingent, a historical accident, whereas conservatism holds it to be inevitable, natural, and therefore just. The meta-premise of all science fiction is that nothing can be taken for granted. That it’s still anybody’s ballgame.
That is from Tim Kreider, who praises the political visions and fiction of Kim Stanley Robinson. Kreider also longs for a more political literature, devoted to such ideas as common stewardship of land and water, and also “small co-ops” instead of “vast, hierarchical, exploitative corporations.” Among other changes. He then writes:
My own bet would be that either your grandchildren are going to be living by some of these precepts, or else they won’t be living at all.
What is a good response to that? Let’s look at the article itself, and we can see sentence which is smarter than Kreider himself seems to realize:
If historians or critics fifty years from now were to read most of our contemporary literary fiction, they might well infer that our main societal problems were issues with our parents, bad relationships, and death.
I would myself note that the politics of science fiction, on average (with exceptions), encourage us to think about “breaking a few eggs,” and not for the better. The reality is that when it comes to the future, we can “see around the corner” only to a limited degree. The upshot is that the rights of the individual — when applicable — should remain paramount, and no I don’t mean Caplanian libertarian rights. You can only rarely be sure you will get such a great gain from violating rights, so why not do the right thing instead? Science fiction inhabits the realm of fiction precisely because the building of grand scenarios is denied to us, for the most part.
To again use Kreider’s own words, societies where “nothing can be taken for granted” are exactly the ones I would never wish to visit, much less live in. I know the radical anarcho-capitalist strand, but is there a Burke-Oakeshott-Hayek science fiction, in the traditionalist and conservative sense of that combination? Or must we resort to the “fantasy” genre to capture such a vision? What would a science fiction account of a macro-level spontaneous order look like? Iain Banks? Frank Herbert?
Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott have a new paper (pdf), here is the abstract:
We study the economic effects of religious practices in the context of the observance of Ramadan fasting, one of the central tenets of Islam. To establish causality, we exploit variation in the length of the fasting period due to the rotating Islamic calendar. We report two key, quantitatively meaningful results: 1) longer Ramadan fasting has a negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries, and 2) it increases subjective well-being among Muslims. We then examine labor market outcomes, and find that these results cannot be primarily explained by a direct reduction in labor productivity due to fasting. Instead, the evidence indicates that Ramadan affects Muslims’ relative preferences regarding work and religiosity, suggesting that the mechanism operates at least partly by changing beliefs and values that influence labor supply and occupational choices beyond the month of Ramadan itself. Together, our results indicate that religious practices can affect labor supply choices in ways that have negative implications for economic performance, but that nevertheless increase subjective well-being among followers.
Asher Meir writes to me:
I enjoyed your post today especially since it is one that actually interfaces with my research and not just my teaching of basic micro/macro.
Israeli Ultra-Orthodox are threshold earners in both the positive sense (they don’t on the whole strive to earn more than some basic level) and also the normative sense (they are really more interested in other things.)
Here is an interesting demonstration, you can easily do it yourself using the Israeli CBS “Social Survey Table Generator”. (surveys.cbs.gov.il/Survey/surveyE.htm)
One thing you can easily verify is that the Haredim (you can find them using Topic = Religion and Religiosity, Variable = Religiosity Jews and value is “Ultra Religious/ Haredi) have a reported life satisfaction that is through the roof. It is hugely higher than that of any other sector. (Get there from: Topic = Satisfaction – general; Variable = Satisfied with life.)
But you might say that could be because even though their economic situation is admittedly dire, they care more about other things. Now check out “Satisfaction economic situation”. They still come out way on top. They are not only happiest despite their economic situation, they are happiest with their economic situation. (I am aware that reported happiness and reported life satisfaction are different, I am just expressing myself briefly.) I’m attaching the spreadsheet.
Now here is the real threshold earner criterion: For each group, figure out the average life satisfaction for each earnings level. Then calculate the correlation between life satisfaction and earnings. For every population group it is positive, except for the Ultra-Orthodox. Their coefficient is not significantly different from zero. (J27 is the coefficient, J28 the standard error.)
I’m attaching an Excel spreadsheet that does this for 2012 but I’ve done it a number of times. I do not include the regressions for other sectors but you can easily do so and verify that the income coefficient is positive.
I calculated life satisfaction using a linear weighting, zero for Not so satisfied, one for Satisfied and two for Very satisfied. (Note that the “Not satisfied at all” column is empty. No ultra-orthodox gave this answer.) I used the middle of the income range for income. But in my experience it doesn’t matter much how you do this.
I played around with this once using the WVS to see if I could find some other group in the world for whom life satisfaction was totally uncorrelated with income. I didn’t find any but I imagine that Hal Varian would find it easy to do so.
Those are intriguing results. One possibility is that (some?) religions make people pretty happy. Another is that lack of money does not make you unhappy, provided that a) you can cite a good reason for having a lower income, b) you have peer and family support for your situation/decision, and c) there is no negative selection into the other lower income individuals you will end up hanging around. Bryan Caplan might cite the large number of children as a source of life satisfaction.
If one was looking for grounds to be skeptical, perhaps extremely religious groups use the concepts of happiness and life satisfaction in different ways. For instance complaining about your life satisfaction might be considering a signal of impiety and thus the extremely religious might put a better gloss on things than their actually happiness would warrant. Of course “pretending to be happy” may itself be a possible source of happiness.