Philosophy

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.

And:

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?

And:

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.

Yes, the survey of “works of reaction” will continue, at what speed I am not sure.  I picked up Julius Evola, in particular his Revolt Against the Modern World, because of a recent NYT article claiming Evola’s influence over Steve Bannon.  I don’t consider the cited evidence for a connection as anything other than tenuous, but still the book was only a click away and Evola was a well-known Italian fascist and I’ve been reading in that area anyway (read in areas clusters!).  I read about 70-80 pages of it, and pawed some of the rest.  I was frustrated.  Upon revisiting the book, here is the passage I opened up to at random:

If on the one hand the original synthesis of the two powers is reestablished in the person of the consecrated king, on the other hand, the nature of the hierarchical relationships existing in every normal social order between royalty and priestly case (or church), which is merely the mediator of supernatural influences, is very clearly defined: regality enjoys primacy over the priesthood, just as, symbolically speaking, the sun has primacy over the moon and the man over the woman.

He then went on about sacrifices and “the priestly regality of Melchizedek.”  In later life, Evola sported a monocle over his left eye, and if you are wondering he did have a reputation as an anti-feminist theorist.  Oh give me the clarity of Mosley and Dugin!

I’ve been pawing through de Maistre and de Bonald as well, I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting there.  In the meantime, someone needs to write an Atlantic article about the much-neglected connection between Alt Right and mystical ideas.

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 a question from Kevin Burke, who emailed it to me rather than going up to a microphone and asking.  His exact wording was “Why don’t we have better formats for soliciting audience feedback than going up in front of a microphone?”

First, I have seen event organizers move away from the questions at a microphone format to some degree.  They prefer either no Q&A, to draw upon written or social media questions, or to conduct the entire event as an interview with a single questioner or panel.  (Personally, I like to receive handwritten questions.)

That said, this format still persists.  The Hansonian point would be that questioning isn’t about questions (or answers!), or however else you might wish to put it.  Rather the point is to show various constituencies that they are being recognized by the process and given some voice.  The more cumbersome and inefficient the questioning period, the more effective this signal may be.  There are, however, problems with this approach, one of them being that the Q&A period can be hijacked by weirdos, rather than remaining the province of the boring drones you wish to placate.   Furthermore, social media-generated questions, if manipulated, may serve the signaling function more directly, as you can ensure that some specific interest group is recognized as doing the asking (“And Mildred, from the teachers union in Ohio, sent in a question about caring for the children…”)

These days there are more and better ways to ask questions than ever before, including of course Reddit and Quora.  That means audience Q&A at the mike is less about information than it used to be.  I predict a kind of bifurcation, in which events either will run away from the format altogether or embrace it all the more firmly, and that is I think what we are seeing.  How about a limiting case for the signaling approach, whereby you invite a famous person, and simply make him or her submit to audience questions, with not even a chance to respond?

Saradhu Dhivar, 57, an unemployed villager, said he had daily spats with Mr. Koshle’s associates, arguing that Nimora had ample space to go “freestyle.” His food entitlements were withheld for a month, he said, until he built a toilet. It took days “to get used to this style,” he said.

There is much more:

In October, Mr. Koshle sealed a gap in the walls of a school whose large, grass-covered grounds had become a bathroom of choice. Dozens marched to his home in protest, wielding water buckets they carry for outside duty. They demolished the wall.

In December, Mr. Koshle got his police friends to stage the faux arrest of four locals he had instructed to relieve themselves outside—an attempt to strike fear, he said. He rented an auto-rickshaw with a loudspeaker, announcing that transgressors’ electricity supply would be cut.

Recently, teams of saree-clad women kept daily vigil around lakes and grassy fields from 4:30 a.m., shouting pro-toilet slogans and blowing whistles at offenders.

“Going to the toilet has become very political,” said Mr. Koshle. “You can’t imagine the hostility we’ve encountered.”

Don’t forget this:

“I like to take a walk,” said Luv Nishad, 35, a laborer in the village of Nagar, “and do my business away from where we sleep and pray.”

Here is the Niharika Mandhana WSJ story, via the excellent Samir Varma.

1. Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War.  A vivid and entertaining look at a major European fascist who remains neglected by Americans (I don’t even think this book has a U.S. edition).  I was surprised how readable this book was, given its length and subject matter.  The words “rollicking” and “psychopath” come to mind.  He was nonetheless one of the most influential European writers of his time.

2. Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism 1914-1945.  One of the classics, readable and comprehensive and one of the best places to start.  One thing I learned from this pile of books is how hard some of those leaders worked to have the mid-level bureaucracy on their side.  The centralization often occurred at higher levels, for instance Mussolini had 72 cabinet meetings in 1933, but only 4 in 1936.  The Italian Fascist party, by the way, was disproportionately Jewish, at least pre-1938.

3. Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism.  Along with Payne, one of the core books to read, stronger on analysis while Payne has more historical detail.  He is especially clear on how the fascists built up and refined their political coalitions over time, and the conflicting roles of party and nation in the history of fascism.

4. R.J.B. Bosworth, Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Dictatorship.  I’ve only read parts of this one, but it seems to be the best detailed historical account of a non-Nazi fascist regime.  If you wish to know, for instance, how and why the Italian fascists reformed Italian public holidays, this is your go-to source.

5. Alexander de Grand, Italian Fascism: Its Origin and Development.  Highly focused and to the point, also has an A+ quality annotated bibliography.  It considers regions of Italy, demographic issues, looks at the arts, and for such a short book gives the reader a remarkably broad and multi-faceted perspective.  Overall this book emphasizes how deeply rooted fascism was in so many other Italian institutions and ways of life.

6. I’ve also been reading plenty of Benedetto Croce, including his history of Naples and History, its Theory and Practice.  He is oddly boring and non-concrete, but was a consistent opponent of the Italian fascist regime, except for the first two years of Mussolini’s rule (he later claimed that was for tactical reasons).  In any case, the reader learns that the opposing side doesn’t always have a good ability to articulate why bad events are happening.  I can recommend Fabio Fernando Rizi’s very good history and survey, Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism.

7. Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.  This beautiful short novel (also a movie) is especially good on anti-Semitism in Italy, how youth process political collapse in their countries, and how events can outrace your expectations and leave you in a haze.

Some books on Italian futurism are coming in the mail.

Overall I did not conclude that we Americans are careening toward fascist outcomes.  I do not think that notion is well-suited to the great complexity of contemporary bureaucracy, nor to our more feminized and also older societies.  Furthermore, in America democracy has taken much deeper roots and the system of checks and balances, whatever its flaws, has stood for a few hundred years, contra either Italy or Germany in their fascist phases.

Still, I did not find this reading reassuring, as people will support many bad things in politics.  The Italian war in Ethiopian was remarkably popular, but exactly why?  We Americans could (again) do something quite bad, but without being fascists.

Less directly on fascism, but by no means irrelevant to the topic, I can recommend two new books:

Andrzej Franaszek, Milosz: A Biography. Long, thorough, but readable treatment, focusing on more on his poetry than the political writings.

And I have been enjoying my ongoing browse of Robert E. Lerner, Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life.

A few days ago you all were speculating about which fictional objects you might wish to own.  I was struck by how the more extravagant answers seemed to fail, and partly because of what my early teacher Ludwig Lachmann called “the complementarity of capital.”

Say you had a time machine to visit the past.  Sounds like fun, right?  But consider the violence in earlier eras, trying to understand their languages, or avoiding nasty germs and infections.  How can you return to the current day without a risk of bringing back a plague that will kill many people?  Markets have not provided the complementary goods to make these trips work.

How about a pen that creates any object you might try to draw with it?  Expect a knock on the door from McLean, or if you are less lucky some polonium in your Product 19.  I wonder for how long you could keep such a device secret, and do you always know when there is CCTV?  I wonder for how long you could stay alive.

A transporter might kill you through the act of copying you, but that aside how would you know you are not putting yourself into moving traffic or a lake?  What kind of monitoring stations do you hope to make use of?  How many cultures would attack the arriving visitor for witchcraft?  Maybe there is a way to plop down in open fields only, but at that point you might wish to consider a business class ticket along with checked bag.

Even owning something as simple as the Mona Lisa would be problematic.  You would have to protect it and install climate control — who is going to pay for that?  How might they rezone your house?  Or would you never ever tell anyone, and thus keep all your friends at a distance?  For what gain, ultimately?

Having one extra thing is devilishly hard to make extremely valuable, even if you are allowed to invent something that doesn’t exist or violate the physical laws of our universe.  The real gains in this world are from cooperation and networks of support, and having something unique doesn’t much plug you into those.  In other words, trying to bypass market evolution isn’t nearly as powerful as you might think.

That is an emailed question from Cory M.

Yes, I’ve read Lord of the Rings, but no I don’t want to be corrupted.  I’m assuming that either “life extension pill” or “piles of money” are too trivial to be interesting answers.  I’m afraid that taking a Star Trek transporter trip would be akin to killing myself, plus the receiving stations would not exist.  Nor do I want an invisibility cloak.

One Reddit answer is “a key that can open any door” — nope.

A memory eraser?

How much would the Ark auction for?  Hamlet’s tunic?  How would Sotheby’s certify either one?

Varun says: “…whatever you draw with this pencil that particular thing or person becomes real…”

Let’s stick with the physical laws of this universe.  Proust’s madeleine would spoil, so how about Ahab’s harpoon?

In 2015, to make extra point plays after touchdowns more uncertain, the NFL moved the extra point distance from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line. Since the rule change, the expected points from an extra point attempt has fallen from 0.99 (averaging between the 2002 and 2014 NFL seasons) to 0.94 (averaging the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons) while the expected points from the two point conversion remains 0.95 (averaging between 2002 and 2016 NFL seasons). While the total number of two point conversion attempts per season has almost doubled, most coaches still rarely attempt 2 point conversions when it would be point maximizing (and win maximizing under risk neutral or risk seeking preferences). Using dynamic programming, this paper argues that this result is evidence of a conservative bias and that teams could improve expected wins by attempting more two point conversions.

Hartley is at the Wharton School, here is the link (pdf).

Neglected big problems

by on February 6, 2017 at 1:01 am in History, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

Relearn Every Generation – We must each relearn many basic life lessons during our individual lifetimes, lessons that millions or billions of others already learned in their previous lifetimes, or that millions or billions of others are currently learning in parallel with us. There seem huge potential gains from finding better ways to learn from our ancestors and colleagues.

Changing World – Early in life we read the world around us and choose life plans and paths matched to that world. During our life the world around us changes, and we make some adaptations to that, but they seem insufficient. For example, we often seek to achieve in ways that were awarded with high status when we were young, to find that our achievements are much less valued by the new world.

Poor Matching – We match people as friends, lovers, spouses, and workers. Our distant ancestors only had a few available options for matches, and we inherited many intuitive mechanisms appropriate for that situation. But we now have a vast world with far more matches possible, and it seems like we don’t use that larger scope very well. We still rely heavily on inherited informal mechanisms. I see so many lonely and otherwise mismatched people.

Varied Commitment – We must each choose how much to commit to our careers, friends, lovers, neighborhoods, brands, etc. We do commit somewhat, but we also switch on occasion. But it isn’t remotely clear that we do this well. We must each match our commitment to the commitment choices of folks around us, and we often lack ways to commit to avoid temptations.

That is from Robin Hanson.

https://econjwatch.org/issues/volume-14-issue-1-january-2017

Volume 14, Issue 1, January 2017

In Memoriam (.pdf)

Government Propaganda Watch: Three investigations of economic discourse and research issued by governments and government agencies:

Classical liberal economic thought in Italy, since 1860: Alberto Mingardi contributes the 13th article of the “Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country” series.

Econ 101 Morality: J. R. Clark and Dwight Lee tell teachers to embrace a moral purpose and to teach students where their instincts came from and why instincts often mislead.

Must moral judgment involve sympathy? Thomas Brown’s 1820 critique of Adam Smith.

Mitchell Langbert and coauthors rectify a coverage error in their study of faculty voter registration.

EJW Audio

Alberto Mingardi on Liberalism in Italy

Benny Carlson on Swedish Economists

EJW News

Professor Sir Angus Deaton joins EJW Advisory Council.

Got an advance copy. Between my non-manual-labor job, Netflix’s excellent recommendations (The OA is so good), and virtue-signaling to my in-group on Twitter, I guess I just wasn’t feeling it.

Besides, if I did read The Complacent Class, I’d have to write a review. The review would introduce readers to a bunch of new and challenging ideas about how Americans are losing the desire to embrace rapid change, and then I would explore some of the unexpected ways our complacency hurts us as a country, possibly challenging the author, or adding to his thesis with my own insights. Oh, people say they want new and challenging ideas, but they don’t. They’re happy with their current ideas, and why should I make anyone unhappy? No one ever considers whether the boat wants to be rocked.

Or is that Cowen’s game? To point out that our lack of urgency and general NIMBY-ism have led to less migration, more segregation, more inequality, dulled creativity, increased conformity, and faded activism, all of which portends a coming unavoidable chaos? What’s he after? Is Cowen trying to jolt us out of our zombie states so we can live in the sci-fi future of no diseases and flying cars and robot monkey butlers we all dreamed about when we were kids? I don’t know, man. Maybe. Anything’s possible, right? I literally didn’t read the book.

@joedonatelli

Here is the link.  The terms from the previous promotion still hold, you don’t even have to read it.

The tweet subtitle they gave my latest Bloomberg column:

Reading articles from other perspectives isn’t enough.  Try writing one.

My final tag line:

We all need to worry about our own growing grumpiness.

President-elect Donald Trump criticized a cornerstone of House Republicans’ corporate-tax plan, which they had pitched as an alternative to his proposed import tariffs, creating another point of contention between the incoming president and congressional allies.

The measure, known as border adjustment, would tax imports and exempt exports as part of a broader plan to encourage companies to locate jobs and production in the U.S. But Mr. Trump, in his first comments on the subject, called it “too complicated.”

“Anytime I hear border adjustment, I don’t love it,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday. “Because usually it means we’re going to get adjusted into a bad deal. That’s what happens.”

Here is the WSJ piece.  I am not suggesting, however, that I favor his preferred alternative or for that matter most of his other policy ideas.  By the way, here is Trump on heroes.  A willingness to think things through from scratch is in some ways admirable, but dangerous in matters of foreign policy and nuclear weapons, where predictability is at a premium.

And see some related remarks from Conor Sen.

In my latest Bloomberg column I consider William F. Buckley’s old conundrum:

William F. Buckley famously said he would rather be ruled by the first 2,000 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than by the faculty of Harvard University.

Here is part of my take:

For better or worse, direct rule by Buckley’s 2,000 American citizens probably would mean a slower pace of immigration, less emphasis on free trade, more law and order politics, and a blunter form of nationalism in foreign policy.

Those don’t match my policy preferences (I am more of a globalist, and also a professional academic), but I fear what the Harvard faculty could bring. I can imagine an America closer to Bernie Sanders’s vision, with single-payer health insurance, levels of taxation exceeding 50 percent of GDP, levels of immigration unsustainable with a large welfare state, too many aggressive attempts to legislate equal treatment for various groups, excessive fondness for a universal basic income, and too many humanitarian interventions abroad.

Don’t forget:

It’s a good rule of governance that policy cannot race too far ahead of the citizenry, and I don’t view faculty as a class of people well-suited for that kind of humility.

But for the Fed and the EPA, among other areas, I very much want Harvard.  My conclusion is this:

The real issue here isn’t intellectuals versus populism writ large. There is a time and place for populist sentiment, but an excess can be counterproductive on its own terms. As expertise is pushed out the door, the citizenry itself gets a bad name, precisely when we most need it to step up to the plate and demand some excellence.

Do read the whole thing.

I should note that on this topic I have been very much influenced by my colleague David Levy and also his work with Sandra J. Peart, see for instance their newly arrived book Escape from Democracy: The Role of Experts and the Public in Economic Policy.