A longtime faithful MR reader sends me this:

Here’s a question I seem to recall you asking before (What? Me search?) but could probably use an update…What are the phrases which allow you to stop reading, safe in the knowledge that you won’t learn anything?  My classic examples are “bankster” and “feminazi,” which were great when they were current because they normally appeared so quickly in any given argument. But they’re both a little dated now, so while they’re still accurate, their base rates are too low to be really useful.

My current favorites are “Drumpf” and “media bias,” the latter being particularly strong since it negates both Trump AND Sanders adherents. I’m also fond of “obstructionist” but you usually have to read a ways to get to it. Anything that suggests that any officeholder or candidate is unintelligent works great, but there’s no catchphrase, and “stupid” can appear with enough honest referents that it doesn’t work on it’s own. (I’m tempted to add “prior_approval,” but that’s cheating.)
Thoughts? (Or those of your readers if you’re inclined to ask.)

A few points:

1. Simple lack of content is by far the number one reason why I simply “stop reading,” not objectionable catchphrases.

2. Perhaps more arrogantly, I like to think my pre-selection filters already keep me away from such cases, or they have indicated to me I have some reason for reading on nonetheless.

3. As of late I have found the word “extreme” to be a special turn-off, at least in the context of politics.  Better to just sub in the phrase “I feel it has to be wrong but I am not going to tell you why, so I’ll just snobbily hint at its inappropriateness, while simultaneously and falsely pretending to have a connection to what is commonly thought.”

I also am not keen on reading the two words “Main Street,” unless it is a biography of Sinclair Lewis, or perhaps something actually did happen on Main Street somewhere.  Even then I wonder.  Nonetheless my favorite Afghan restaurant — with halal fish and chips by the way — is on…Main Street, Fairfax.

Your thoughts?  What do the bankster feminazis out there have to say on this?

The idea of a general confusion about the nature of capitalism and what its alternatives really look like was revisited later on by Tyler Cowen.

“I would focus most of all on the issue of ideas,” he said. “Do the people of this country still believe in capitalism? And I know that if you listen to Bernie Sanders, or look at some polls, a lot of young people have more sympathy for what they call ‘socialism’ than ever before, but I don’t think they mean real socialism. If you ask Americans questions such as ‘Do you support trade?’ the answers are more positive today than they were five years ago. …So if you look at a lot of basic issues of tolerance, belief in the system, people accepting consumerism, heralding innovation, I think, mostly, people here believe in capitalism.

Here is the full report, also including John Taylor and Alan Krueger and others.  Here is Fortune’s take on me on Trump and Sanders.  They caught me on an optimistic day.  Here is the video link for the whole session.

If you’re ever invited to the Milken Institute Los Angeles conference, I recommend it highly.  They have about the highest quality presentations and presenters I can recall hearing in a long time, maybe ever.  One reason for this is simply that they do not let people go on for too long.

I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with him, June 15, late afternoon, Washington D.C., location to be announced.

So what should I ask?  I already know which is his favorite novel…and plan to ask about that…and of course we will cover his new forthcoming book The World According to Star Wars.

I very much like this book, it is one of my favorites of the year so far.  It resists being excerpted, as it is an old-style think piece in the style of Montaigne, or for that matter Robert Burton.  Every page is idea-rich and should be read carefully and slowly, and that is rare these days.  Here is just one bit:

Melancholics are prominent…precisely because they are too full of life; because of them, existence overflows itself.  This explains their unappeasable sense of absence: since they have left the world of moderation, overflowing is inconceivable without being emptied.  The universe is damaged in their person; hence, melancholics’ sense of being among the elect, but also their self-hatred to the point of self-annihilation.  That makes them strong and outstanding, but also exceedingly frail.  Their strength is infinite, because they have gained knowledge of the end, but they are unhappy, since having experienced the ephemeral nature of humans, they have lost their trust in existence.  Their strength and frailty, their unhappiness and their heroism, cannot be detached from each other.  This leads us back once again to the starting point of our argument, to the Aristotelian question “Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholic?”

Definitely recommended.

What drives you?

by on April 28, 2016 at 2:26 am in Economics, Philosophy | Permalink

In fact, over the years, Mr. Gross has consistently asked one question of prospective employees: What drives you?

The twist is that they must pick one of three answers: money, power or fame.

Strangely to him, no one has ever picked fame.

“It is the one thing I have always wanted,” he said. “When I was starting out at Pimco in 1972, I told my mother and father that I was going to become the most famous bond manager in the world.”

And this:

At night he will wake up as many as three times to check on global markets, he says.

And this:

“My whole evening is dependent on whether I beat them [Pimco, his former employer],” Mr. Gross said. “You see, I have to prove it all over again. Every day.”

The Landon Thomas Jr. NYT Dealbook post is interesting throughout.  And here is a 2008 profile of Gross.

Here is the transcript, the video, and the podcast.  We covered a good deal of ground, here is one bit:

COWEN: You once wrote, I quote, “My substitute for LSD was Indian food,” and by that, you meant lamb vindaloo.


COWEN: You stand by this.

PAGLIA: Yes, I’ve been in a rut on lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: A rut, tell us.

PAGLIA: It’s a horrible rut.

COWEN: It’s not a horrible rut, it may be a rut.

PAGLIA: No, it’s a horrible rut. It’s a 40-year rut. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I say “Now, I’m going to try something new.” But, no, I must go back to the lamb vindaloo.

All I know is it’s like an ecstasy for me, the lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: Like De Quincey, tell us, what are the effects of lamb vindaloo?

PAGLIA: What can I say? I attain nirvana.

And this:

COWEN: This is Sexual Personae, your best known book, which I recommend to everyone, if you haven’t already read it.

PAGLIA: It took 20 years.

COWEN: Read all of it. My favorite chapter is the Edmund Spenser chapter, by the way.

PAGLIA: Really? Why? How strange.

COWEN: That brought Spenser to life for me.

PAGLIA: Oh, my goodness.

COWEN: I realized it was a wonderful book.

PAGLIA: Oh, my God.

COWEN: I had no idea. I thought of it as old and fusty and stuffy.

PAGLIA: Oh, yes.

COWEN: And 100 percent because of you.

PAGLIA: We should tell them that The Faerie Queene is quite forgotten now, but it had enormous impact, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, on Shakespeare, and on the Romantic poets, and so on, and so forth. The Faerie Queene had been taught in this very moralistic way. But in my chapter, I showed that it was entirely a work of pornography, equal to the Marquis de Sade.

COWEN: [laughs]

PAGLIA: How interesting that you would be drawn to that.

COWEN: Very interesting.


You also can read or hear Camille on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Byrds, Foucault, Suzanne Pleshette vs. Tippi Hendren, dating, Brazil, Silicon Valley, Harold Bloom, LSD, her teaching career, and much, much more.

Typically a Conversation with Tyler is about ten thousand words, this one is closer to fifteen thousand.

My favorite (readily available) American chocolate bar is the dark Chocolove XoXoX, but recently they changed it.  The packaging went from very dark to to gold, and the flavor is now a little sweeter and less nutty.  The cocoa content is higher, but somehow it doesn’t quite shine through as strongly.  It still might be the best on the American market, but now I wonder, because it is modestly worse than before.

I no longer find the old bars in supermarkets, and an Amazon order of the old bars brought a shipment of the new bars instead.  But when I go to bookstores which sell chocolate, their supply turns over not so quickly, and so some of them still carry versions of the old bar.  For now.

I have five copies of the old bar left in the cupboard, and no guarantee for when I might replace them.

Chocolove Xoxox Premium Chocolate Bar - Dark Chocolate - Strong - 3.2 oz Bars - Case of 12 - Kosher - 70% Cocoa

My intuition is to eat them next in sequence, rather than postpone the exhaustion of their supply.  Eventually I will engage in an optimal forgetting of their very fine taste, and it is best that happens sooner rather than later.  To cite George Constantinides, that would be an optimal smoothing of habit-forming consumption.

An alternative philosophy is to consume them later in life, as late as spoilage costs will allow, so as to spread out aesthetic peaks over time.

Yet another alternative is give them away to latter-day customers who only have known the slightly inferior bar, and thus wreck their lives for sport.

So long, good Samaritans.

In the first study of its kind, Cornell sociologists have found that people who have a medical emergency in a public place can’t necessarily rely on the kindness of strangers. Only 2.5 percent of people, or 1 in 39, got help from strangers before emergency medical personnel arrived, in research published April 14 in the American Journal of Public Health.

For African-Americans, these dismal findings only get worse. African-Americans were less than half as likely as Caucasians to get help from a bystander, regardless of the type of symptoms or illness they were suffering – only 1.8 percent, or fewer than 1 in 55 African-Americans, received assistance. For Caucasians, the corresponding number was 4.2 percent, or 1 in 24.

People in lower-income and densely populated counties were also less likely to get help, the researchers said. Conversely, those in less-densely populated counties with average socioeconomic levels were most likely to get assistance.

Here is more, via Charles Klingman.

Singapore, 5 May 2015 – The Graciousness Index has continued to move up, from 53 in 2013 to 55 in 2014, and to 61 in 2015. This year’s rise is led by a growing sense of positive perceptions about kindness and graciousness in Singapore, with respondents rating both themselves and others higher when it comes to being considerate, courteous and showing appreciation.

The Graciousness Index is an annual study commissioned by the Singapore Kindness Movement to track experience and perceptions of kindness and graciousness in Singapore, as well as study attitudes towards various pertinent community issues. Over a six-week period from December 2014 to February 2015, a demographically representative sample of 1,850 respondents was asked to share their experiences and perceptions of graciousness in Singapore.

There was a marked increase in optimism, with 44% of respondents indicating that graciousness in Singapore had improved, compared to just 28% last year. 84% rated their own gracious behaviour as either good or excellent, and 69% felt the same about overall Singapore society. They also felt that Singapore was improving across the graciousness pillars of being considerate, being courteous and showing appreciation to others.

Dr. William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, believes that this is a promising sign. “The increase in positive perceptions and overall sense of improvement is encouraging. If we as a nation continue this positive trend, then kindness and graciousness can become part of our norms and national identity.”

That which cannot be measured…

Here is the link, via James Crabtree.

An excellent short essay by Marti Leimbach.  Here is the opening:

My university-aged daughter is always tell me about the “privilege” that people like me have and how it makes it impossible for me to understand and empathise with those whose lives are without such privilege. I do see her point. I’ve never been black or gay or trans- or gender queer or mentally ill.  I don’t know what it would be like to grow up in a derelict building in a dangerous neighbourhood, to have drug addicts for parents, to fear for my safety while walking to school, to be openly despised for being female, denied education or refused employment based on  my skin colour or gender. And while I am have been poor enough not to be able to afford a car or health insurance, I have never been so poor I had to steal food. Clearly, I’ve not suffered the worst of what society can throw at a person.

Nonetheless, this whole notion of  “privilege” vexes me. We talk about it as though we can all recognise what it is. I am not always so sure. I can tell one narrative of my life and it seems to describe someone who grew up without privilege, and I can tell another narrative and it seems almost as though my life was one of ease and privilege from the time I was born.

The story continues…it is hard to excerpt with its various twists and turns, definitely recommended…

Here is her forthcoming novel,The Age of Consent.

It is set for 3:30 EST, the Live Stream will be here.

Update: The full event video, transcript, and audio edition will be released Monday, April 25. Check back here on MR or at

Northern lights, darkness, meatballs and suicide rates are just some of the suggested topics of conversation for a new hotline backed by the Swedish Tourist Association.

Launched this week, call +46 771 SWEDEN from anywhere in the world and you’ll be connected to a random Swede. The service honours the 250th anniversary of the country abolishing censorship and hopes to “connect people in troubled times.”

Here is the full story, which includes a taped conversation with a Swede (but is he random?), via Michelle Dawson.

Long distance charges may apply.

And via Samir Varma, here is one story of someone who called and spoke with a Ugandan.

Let’s say a group of criminal defense lawyers kept a database of their confidential conversations with their clients.  That would include clients charged with murder, robbery, DUI, drug abuse, and so on.  In turn, a hacker would break into that database and post the information from those conversations on Wikileaks.  Of course a lot of those conversations would appear to be incriminating because — let’s face it — most of the people who require defense attorneys on criminal charges are in fact guilty.  When asked why the hack was committed, the hacker would say “Most of those people are guilty.  I want to make sure they do not escape punishment.”

How many of us would approve of that behavior?  Keep in mind the hacker is spreading the information not only to prosecutors but to the entire world, and outside of any process sanctioned by the rule of law.  The hacker is not backed by the serving of any criminal charges or judge-served warrants.

Yet somehow many of us approve when the victims are wealthy and higher status, as is the case with the Panama Papers.  Furthermore most of those individuals probably did nothing illegal, but rather they were trying to minimize their tax burden through (mostly) legal shell corporations.  Admittedly, very often the underlying tax laws should be changed, just as we should repeal the deduction for mortgage interest too.  But in the meantime we are not justified in stealing information about those people, even if some of them are evil and powerful, as is indeed the case for homeowners too.

Once again, politics isn’t about policy, it is about which groups should rise and fall in relative status.  And many people believe the wealthy should fall in status, and so they will entertain the morality of all crimes and threats against them.  These revelations will of course lead to some subsequent cases of blackmail, against Chinese officials for one group.

I had tweeted “Are your views on privacy and consistent? Just asking…” and my goodness what a response, positive and negative.  Most interesting of all, many people had never pondered the question before.  Somehow “good things” such as “privacy” and “transparency” cannot stand in such conflict because all good things, like all bad things, must come together.

Here is a good Kaddim Shubber discussion on FT Alphaville.

Here is Veronique de Rugy on the Panama Papers.

Here is Ray Lopez on the same:

1.  There’s a tension between US and foreign law firms and FATCA (United States Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) has the objective of reducing tax evasion by American taxpayers with foreign accounts).  This is because law firms are exempt from reporting on clients past crimes, not future crimes, however, money laundering is considered a future crime.  When a known criminal is setting up an offshore account with the help of a law firm, is the law firm an accessory to money laundering or not?  The better view is they are not:  it’s up to the client to report any offshore account to the government, and not the law firm’s responsibility.  That’s the better view, but see point #2, which rebuts this.

2.  There’s a tension between client confidentiality and tax treaties.  Check this out:   In New Zealand, which is probably representative of others, a passive non-financial foreign entity–which almost always will be a law firm trust account holding money from a client–has a duty under FATCA to report on the client to the US government (“know your customer” is the buzz phrase banks use, which as you know already are required to ‘spy’ on their customers).

Both points 1, 2 are relevant for the conduct of the law firm of Mossack Fonseca.  Except for the alleged destruction of evidence by them, I don’t see them doing anything that bad (by law firm standards; remember, any law firm of decent size has former crooks as clients, and for a firm in Panama I would say that’s not the exception but the rule!)
Did you know the Guardian media firm is closely connected to shell companies?  According to the FT: “…even the World Bank and other development finance institutions used offshore investment hubs, in a sign they have come to play “a systemic role in international investment flows”.”  Speaking of the FT, Tim Harford suggests some useful tax reforms.

From the comments
, here is Kai:

I practice law in cross-border banking and finance in China. I am puzzled by how non-professionals in this field view offshore jurisdictions as categorically related to criminal activity, embezzlement and corruption, etc.

Almost all cross-border transactions involve offshore jurisdictions at some level. For instance most companies listed on the HK stock exchange are incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Anything to do with Bermuda, Cayman, BVI, etc. in cross border transactions is very, very mundane.

According to the papers, Xi Jinping has relatives who are owners of offshore companies. How is that any sort of evidence of wrongdoing by them (much less of Xi Jinping)? I doubt anyone can provide an intelligent answer.

Maybe yes, maybe no, but I don’t see that the people rendering judgment know more about it than he does.

The authors are Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr. and the subtitle is Conservative Professors in the Progressive University.  I found this book subtle and thought-provoking throughout.  Here is one good bit:

In fact, many conservative academics feel more at home in the progressive academy than in the Republican Party.  This alienation is not because most conservative academics we interviewed are Rockefeller Republicans. In some respects, they are more conservative than self-identified Republicans in the general population.  Instead, the Republican Party tends to trouble even the most conservative professors because they share with the American founders a small-c conservatism that is sensitized to the dangers of democratic movements.  This political orientation inclines conservative professors to look askance at the populism that has shaken up the Republican Party in recent years…

What also comes through in this book is the remarkable diversity of thought among the so-called “intellectual right.”  And I enjoyed this anecdote:

A professor of history at an elite university, meanwhile, turned right after taking a course with the Marxist historian Arno Mayer.  This admiring historian recalled Mayer announcing to his class, “I’m going to assign the book I most disagree with in the twentieth century, and I’m going to ask you not to critique it, but to recreate its arguments with intellectual empathy.”  The book was Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.

If only the blogosphere was always so tolerant.  I feared I would be bored by this book, but I found it a work of quality scholarship, yet highly readable too.  Here is a Jonathan Marks WSJ review.  And here is a relevant column by Virginia Postrel.

Here is a 42-minute video of a talk I gave on that topic at Duke University recently.

I start with Keynes’s prediction that we will be working 15 hours a week by 2030 and ask why it doesn’t seem to be coming true.  Along the way, I consider the dominance of the substitution effect over the income effect for labor supply, and ponder why we don’t all have more sex.  I conclude that progress is real rather than illusory, and we are not all caught up in a destructive rat race.

A paper on the same is forthcoming.