Religion

Murat Iyigun has a new book out titled War, Peace & Prosperity in the Name of God.  I haven’t read it yet, but Timur Kuran’s blurb seems helpful:

“Challenging many prominent theories of human history, this captivating book shows that competition among the world’s leading monotheistic religions was a more powerful driver of development than competition within them. Cogently argued, insightful, and entertaining throughout, it demonstrates that struggles between Islam and Christianity produced momentous transformations not only in Muslim-governed lands but also in Europe.”

The New England Conference of United Methodist Churches, a group of 600 churches, has issued a resolution calling for an end to the war on drugs. The resolution draws on ethical principles and also a remarkably astute reading of economics and social science:

Whereas: The public policy of prohibition of certain narcotics and psychoactive substances, sometimes called the “War on Drugs,” has failed to achieve the goal of eliminating, or even reducing, substance abuse and;

Whereas: There have been a large number of unintentional negative consequences as a result of this failed public policy and;

Whereas: One of those consequences is a huge and violent criminal enterprise that has sprung up surrounding the Underground Market dealing in these prohibited substances and;

Whereas: Many lives have been lost as a result of the violence surrounding this criminal enterprise, including innocent citizens and police officers and;

Whereas: Many more lives have been lost to overdose because there is no regulation of potency, purity or adulteration in the production of illicit drugs and;

Whereas: Our court system has been severely degraded due to the overload caused by prohibition cases and;

Whereas: Our prisons are overcrowded with persons, many of whom are non-violent, convicted of violation of the prohibition laws and;

Whereas: Many of our citizens now suffer from serious diseases, contracted through the use of unsanitary needles, which now threaten our population at large and;

Whereas: To people of color, the “War on Drugs” has arguably been the single most devastating, dysfunctional social policy since slavery and;

Whereas: Huge sums of our national treasury are wasted on this failed public policy and;

Whereas: Other countries, such as Portugal and Switzerland, have dramatically reduced the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by utilizing means other than prohibition to address the problem of substance abuse and;

Whereas: The primary mission of our criminal justice system is to prevent violence to our citizens and their property, and to ensure their safety, therefore;

Be it Resolved: That the New England Annual Conference supports seeking means other than prohibition to address the problem of substance abuse; and is further resolved to support the mission of the international educational organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to reduce the multitude of unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ending drug prohibition.

Stephen Hawking fears that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk and Bill Gates offer similar warnings. Many researchers in artificial intelligence are less concerned primarily because they think that the technology is not advancing as quickly as doom scenarios imagine, as Ramez Naam discussed. I have a different objection.

Why should we be worried about the end of the human race? Oh sure, there are some Terminator like scenarios in which many future-people die in horrible ways and I’d feel good if we avoided those scenarios. The more likely scenario, however, is a glide path to extinction in which most people adopt a variety of bionic and germ-line modifications that over-time evolve them into post-human cyborgs. A few holdouts to the old ways would remain but birth rates would be low and the non-adapted would be regarded as quaint, as we regard the Amish today. Eventually the last humans would go extinct and 46andMe customers would kid each other over how much of their DNA was of the primitive kind while holo-commercials advertised products “so easy a homo sapiens could do it”.  I see nothing objectionable in this scenario.

Aside from greater plausibility, a glide path means that dealing with the Terminator scenario is easier. In the Terminator scenario, humans must continually be on guard. In the glide path scenario we only have to avoid the Terminator until we become them and then the problem is resolved with little fuss. No human race but no mass murder either.

More generally, what’s so great about the human race? I agree, there are lots of great things to point to such as the works of Shakespeare, Mozart, and Grothendieck. We should revere the greatness of the works, however, not the substrate on which the works were created. If what is great about humanity is the great things that we have done then the future may hold greater things yet. If we work to pass on our best values and aspirations to our technological progeny then we can be proud of future generations even if they differ from us in some ways. I delight to think of the marvels that future generations may produce. But I see no reason to hope that such marvels will be produced by beings indistinguishable from myself, indeed that would seem rather disappointing.

Supposedly they were built to guard the tomb of an emperor:

terracotta-army-pit1-l

So what’s up?

1. The emperor had a state-dependent utility function (e.g., money is worth less when you are dead), and this was the ancient equivalent of cryonics.  If there was a chance you might be called back to life, spend a lot of resources protecting your corpse and its burial site.

2. The emperor was signaling (sorry Noah!) his ability to assemble such an impressive row of life-size figures, and of course the original had many more than what has been restored to date.

3. This was a form of fiscal policy, to stimulate the economy in slow times, by employing craftsmen.

4. The guild of said craftsmen was an influential interest group.

5. It was intended as a gift to a distant future; what else could they have done that would be of more value to us today?

6. Because the emperor could.

What else?

Wealthy Hindu temples such as this one are repositories for much of the $1 trillion worth of privately held gold in India — about 22,000 tons, according to an estimate from the World Gold Council. In 2011, one temple in south India was found to have more than $22 billion in gold hidden away in locked rooms rumored to be filled with snakes. Another has enough gold to rival the riches stashed at the Vatican, experts say.

There is more here, the main theme of the article is that some are calling for the gold reserves to be mobilized, a running theme in economic debate since Keynes and earlier in the nineteenth century as well.

After the pagan fighters left their stronghold, a crowd of  Christian Alexandrians and soldiers swarmed the hill.  One of them took an axe and with all his strength struck the jaw of the monumental statue of Serapis…The crowd then hacked the rest of the statue into pieces and dragged the fragments off to each of the city’s regions to be burned.

…The destruction of the Serapeum [A.D. 392] was a momentous event, second perhaps only to the Gothic sack of Rome in 410 for the amount of attention it received from contemporary sources.

That is from the new and excellent book The Final Pagan Generation, by Edward J. Watts.  Watts tries to reconstruct the worldviews and impressions of the pagans who witnessed the onset of Roman state-sanctioned Christianity; an underlying theme of the work is how weak a sense we have of what is truly significant in our time, or not.  I often find Roman histories to be difficult to parse, but this one is a model of lucidity.

Here is Wikipedia on that temple and its destruction.  Here is another discussion.

Serapeum

 

Fans of Game of Thrones know that “a Lannister always pays his debts.” So too do nearly all alumni from Notre Dame, Vassar, Harvey Mudd, and Brigham Young, at least when it comes to federal student loans.

There is more here, from Brookings, via Matthew C. Klein.  Ahem…and for whatever reason, students from St. Johns do well too…

You will find it here.  Here is one excerpt:

TYLER COWEN: New York City, overrated or underrated?

PETER THIEL: That’s massively overrated.

TYLER COWEN: Why?

PETER THIEL: We had a 25-year boom in finance, from ’82 to ’07. I think that’s slowly ebbing, slowly abating. It’s going to be increasingly regulated, and so if you want a long/short blue state trade, you want to be long California, short New York. The long/short red state trade, by the way, is you want to be long Texas, short Virginia.

If you ask, what do Virginia and New York have in common, and what do Texas and California have in common? Both Texas and California are very inward-focused places. California, both the Hollywood version and the Silicon Valley version, are very focused in on themselves. Texas is also a very inward-focused place.

What Virginia and New York, or let’s say DC and New York City, have in common is that they’re centers of globalization. Finance is an industry that’s fundamentally leveraged to globalization, and DC is fundamentally leveraged to international geopolitics.

I would bet on globalization slowly being in abeyance. I think with the benefit of hindsight, we will realize that 2007 was not just the peak year of the finance boom, but also the peak year of globalization, like maybe 1913. Happily, it hasn’t resulted in a world war, at least not yet, but I think we are in this period where globalization is steadily pulling back.

And so you want to be in places or industries that are levered to things other than globalization.

Self-recommending…The YouTube and podcast versions are here.

The YouTube version is here, the podcast version is here.

I was very happy with how it turned out, as I deliberately set out not to copy the content of any of Peter’s other dialogues.  You can learn how he thinks we will leave the “great stagnation,” whether the AI hype is justified, how he would boil his thought down to the smallest number of dimensions, whether NYC is over- or underrated, why globalization is likely to decline and what that means for different regions, the parts of the Bible which have influenced him most, “the Straussian Jesus,” to what age he thinks he will live, why Japan is special, how his German background matters, his favorite opening chess move, how and why company names matter, and even his favorite TV show, which he calls “schlocky.”

And much, much more, with commentary and questions from me throughout.  A transcript is being prepared as well.

Headlines to ponder

by on March 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm in Current Affairs, Economics, Law, Religion | Permalink

Bank of Bird-in-Hand is the only new bank to open in the U.S. since 2010, when the Dodd-Frank law was passed

The WSJ story is here, via Binyamin Appelbaum.

I may not follow any of your suggestions, but just thought I should ask for advice, for my dialogue with Peter next week.  I am the interviewer, he is the interviewee, more or less.  #CowenThiel

The grand confluence of Protestantism has dwindled to a trickle over the past thirty years, and the Great Church of America has come to an end.

…The death of Mainline Protestantism is, as we’ve noted, the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other period in American history.  Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: Mainline Protestantism has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.

That is from Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

The Tea Party, the great stagnation, etc., maybe you can find it all right here.

Don’t worry people, just joking on that one…

This is from his Polemics book:

43. In point of truth, the headscarf law expresses only one thing: fear.  Westerners in general, and the French in particular, are no more than a bunch of shivering cowards.  What are they afraid of?  Barbarians, as usual.  Barbarians both at home, the ‘suburban youths’, and abroad the ‘Islamic terrorists’.  Why are they afraid?  Because they are guilty, but claim to be innocent.  Guilty from the 1980s onward of having renounced and tried to dismantle every politics of emancipation, every revolutionary form of reason, every true assertion of something other than what is.  Guilty of clinging to their miserable privileges.  Guilty of being no more than grown-up kids who play with their many purchases.  Yes, indeed, ‘after a long childhood, they have been made to grow up’.  They are thus afraid of whatever is a little less old than they are, such as, for example, a stubborn young lady.

44. But most of all, Westerners in general, and the French in particular, are afraid of death.  They can no longer even imagine that an idea is something worth taking risks for.  ‘Zero deaths’ is their most important desire.  Well, they see millions of people throughout the world who have no reason to be afraid of death.  And among them, many die for an idea nearly every day.  For the ‘civilized’, that is a source of intimate terror.

I’ve tried a few other Badiou books, but I find this to be the one easiest to make sense of.  Here is Wikipedia on Badiou.  Here is a Guardian article on him.

Our social and political life is awash in unconsciously held Christian ideas broken from the theology that gave them meaning, and it’s hungry for the identification of sinners—the better to prove the virtue of the accusers and, perhaps especially, to demonstrate the sociopolitical power of the accusers.

That is from Joseph Bottum, via PW.

In some recent talks I’ve argued that the future may be coming first to both Israel and Singapore.  Today let’s consider Israel by listing a few features of that country:

1. The tech sector is important, and, partially as a result of that, income inequality is very high; see Paul Krugman’s post on the latter.

2. There is a large segment of lower middle class, intelligent bohemians, whose low incomes do not reflect their real standard of living and orderly lives.  Many of them study Torah, and receive a kind of (selective) guaranteed annual income.

3. The rent is too damn high, and that won’t be changing anytime soon, due to building restrictions.  The bohemian class generally chooses lower rent venues to pursue its preferred lifestyle.

4. Unlike most current North Americans, Israelis do not take geopolitical stability for granted.

5. There is intense and widespread concern with demographics and the economics of population.