Religion

JR, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

Your loyal readers, such as myself, know of your love for mormons. This made me curious whether you think the tithing requirement in mormonism have have the same incentive effects as a tax.

On one view, people will only bother giving if they are actually pleased about being able to contribute to church so the tithing is a form of consumption, not a tax.

On another view the tithing is a price you pay to maintain social status in your group. You may be able to cheat a little, but not too much on the requirement before the church notices that you are not paying a sum that corresponds to your apparent income. In that case one would expect it to act more like a tax.

Finally one can speculate that even if one has internalized the requirement to pay the tithe, and really, truly believes it, it might still act as a tax. One might feel it like a duty to pay, but feel any guilt over not maximizing ones income in order to pay more.

What is your take? There are many religions with tithing requirements including Islam so it ought to be of general economic interest to figure out its effects.

I would model tithing as similar to paying a tax, except that a) the act of payment itself yields utility, and b) there may be a kink at the level of the suggested tithe.  For instance you know that if you pay ten percent, you are respected within the church community.  Paying eleven percent does not get you proportionately more respect, however.  In such a model, tax incidence theory changes.  It would matter which side of the market a tax is levied upon, to give one concrete example.  You don’t just care about “how much the church gets,” you also care about “how much you give to the church,” and with the kink  you’ll try to stay at ten percent whether the supply side or demand side of a donation is taxed.  Thus if there is a tax on the demand side you will give more, but not if your contribution is taxed on the side of the church.

This kind of tithing motives also weakens the crowding out of donations if the government subsidizes the church, for instance.  You’ll stick at ten percent even if the church coffers are overflowing from the subsidy.  Or tax subsidies to giving may not push many people over ten percent, because ten percent suffices to earn most of the respect on tap.

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.

PAGLIA: Yes.

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.

Camille

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.

That is the new book by John S. Strong, which I recommend highly.  It won’t charm you or interest you in the subject if you don’t already care, but the already-motivated can learn a great deal from it.

I find most books on Buddhism frustrating.  One you know the basics, they just feed you the same blah blah blah, running your mind in empty circles.  But perhaps Buddhism is like macroeconomics — you can’t understand it until you know what people argue about, and that is what John S. Strong clues us in on.  Here is one typical summary passage:

We have, in this chapter, sought to explore various iterations of the Middle Way, a notion which the Buddha sets forth at the start of his First Sermon.  In order to unravel the many implications of this principle and its applicability to other Buddhist doctrines (something the Buddha did not do in his sermon), I have presented several of its expressions and sought to set them within the context of various philosophical and religious movements that may have been around at the time of the Buddha.  Thus, early Buddhists can be seen as finding their way between karma-deniers and karmic absolutists; and as combining views of saṃsāra both as a real material trap and as an illusory trap; and as shying away from the extremes of affirmation of an Absolute Self and denial of personal continuity.  The Middle Way, however, is not the only thing set forth in the First Sermon as we have it, a text which is mostly devoted to the doctrine of the Four Truths, to which we shall now turn.

Another good way to read about Buddhism is to look at up through p.59 in Nicholas Ostler’s Passwords to Paradise: How Languages Have Re-Invented World Religions.  It covers the differential historical spread of Buddhism through the languages of Pali, Gandhari, Sanskrit, and Chinese.  Ostler himself claims to have a working knowledge of eighteen different languages.

Here is a Berkeley class on Buddhist economics.

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 mercatus.org/conversations.

It has been suggested to me that perhaps North Dakota is the most obscure state in the Union.  Maybe so!  Let’s take a look:

1. Author: William Gass would be a possible pick, but I do not enjoy his work.  Same with Louis L’Amour.

2. Humorist: Chuck Klosterman.

3. Sociologist of religion: Rodney Stark.

4. Painter: Clifford Styll is the obvious pick, except I don’t much like his work.  If you were wondering, he dominates so many rooms in American museums because of restrictions placed on grants of his paintings from the artist’s own collection.  I suspect some curators have come to resent this, but often the grants were made propitiously near the peak of Styll’s reputation.  I suppose I’ll opt for James Rosenquist, although I am not a huge fan of his work either.

5. Evening television bandleader and toastmaster: Lawrence Welk.  I can’t even think of a clear runner-up, with or without bubbles; this video will show you why he was a favorite of so many.

6. Movie and TV show, set in: Fargo duh. Otherwise it is Man in the Wilderness, which was the original and in some ways superior source material for The Revenant.

7. Actress: Angie Dickinson comes to mind, Dressed to Kill is a good movie.

8. gdp per capitaThat can set many things right, although 2016 may not be as good as was 2014.

The bottom line: Hm..but yet we must consider Delaware and Rhode Island!

The paper title is Believing there is no free will corrupts intuitive cooperation, and the authors are John Protzko, Brett Ouimette, and Jonathan Schooler.  The abstract is this:

Regardless of whether free will exists, believing that it does affects one’s behavior. When an individual’s belief in free will is challenged, one can become more likely to act in an uncooperative manner. The mechanism behind the relationship between one’s belief in free will and behavior is still debated. The current study uses an economic contribution game under varying time constraints to elucidate whether reducing belief in free will allows one to justify negative behavior or if the effects occur at a more intuitive level of processing. Here we show that although people are intuitively cooperative, challenging their belief in free will corrupts this behavior, leading to impulsive selfishness. If given time to think, however, people are able to override the initial inclination toward self-interest induced by discouraging a belief in free will.

I would say that we need a large swathe of society to believe in ideals of free will and individual responsibility, even though such concepts are not entirely faultless from a metaphysical point of view.  For a given thinker, it is worth asking whether he or she adds to or takes away from that social belief.  For some writers, the concepts of individual blame and responsibility apply only to their intellectual adversaries!

For the pointer I thank Ben Southwood.

Here are some key parts:

This email is to let you know that I’m going back to long-form journalism, as I hoped to, at New York Magazine, edited by the incomparable Adam Moss (with whom I’ve worked, on and off, since the late 1980s). I start today and am already working on an essay on Trump. I’ll also be blogging the Democratic and Republican conventions – two discrete, unmissable moments for bloggery in real time. I know, I know. But if I keep the blogging restricted to two bouts of four days each, I’m hoping I won’t relapse.

My other news is that I’ve also committed to two new books. The first, with the working title of “Keeping Faith,” is a spiritual memoir and theological argument about the future and meaning of Christianity in the 21st Century. The second, called “Thinking Out Loud,” is a collection of my essays and reviews and posts over the last thirty years. I’m excited to be published by Simon and Schuster, with Ben Loehnen as my editor. I’ll keep you posted as these projects unfold.

This one is transcript and podcast only, no video, and we will be doing some more in that format.  Jonathan was in top form, here are a few bits:

COWEN: If we get to a very fundamental question — left‑wing individuals and right‑wing individuals, and let’s take, for now, only America. As people, in other ways, how different do you think they are?

Or, is it just there are these semi‑accidental triggers which have set off certain modules in the left‑wingers and different modules in the right‑wingers, but otherwise they’re going to dress the same, they’re going to treat their spouses the same way, or not? Are they fundamentally different?

HAIDT: Not fundamentally different, but different in predispositions. The most important finding in psychology in the last 50 to 100 years, I would say, is the finding that everything you can measure is heritable. The heritability coefficients vary between 0.3 and 0.6, or 30 to 60 percent of the variance, under some assumptions, can be explained by the genes. It’s the largest piece of variance we can explain.

If you and I were twins separated at birth and raised in different families, our families would pick which religions we were raised in and they would pick how often we go to church or synagogue, but once we’re out on our own, we’re going to both converge on our brain’s natural level of religiosity.

Same with politics, whether you’re on the right or left is not determined by your genes, but you’re predisposed.

And:

COWEN: If you’re in a swing state in, say, proverbial southern Ohio and in a natural setting you meet a person. With what probability do you think you can guess or forecast if they’re left‑wing or right‑wing? Even-up would be 0.5.

HAIDT: Probably 0.58, 0.57. People are incredibly variable.

And:

COWEN: Would it be a partial test of your theory if we looked at a lot of different cultures and asked, “Who are the people who dress neatly and who have a lot of calendars and stamps?” to measure whether those were typically the conservatives?

HAIDT: Yes, that would be a test.

And:

COWEN: For gay individuals, maybe not all minorities, but many minorities this is very much a positive thing. If morality is fundamentally so nonrational or arational in some key ways, is it not the case we’re always either undershooting or overshooting the target, that we can never hit it just right?

Maybe for America to be more tolerant, you need the norms to be quite crude and blunt, and overstated, and we get this political correctness. Yes it’s bad, but maybe it’s less bad then when we used to undershoot the target?

Jonathan had a good answer but it is too long to excerpt.

COWEN: Let’s say you’re Brown or Yale, and students set up a lacrosse team, and they call it the Brown Redskins, and they do some rituals which offend some people. No matter what the intent would be, should Brown or Yale step in and say, “You can’t do that?”

HAIDT: There’s a big, big line between saying, “Brown or Yale should step in and tell people what they can’t — .” In general I think no, in general the idea — .

COWEN: No they shouldn’t step in?

HAIDT: They should not step in. We should be extremely limited when we say that authorities can step in and change things. The very fact of doing that encourages microaggression culture, encourages students to orient themselves towards appealing to these authorities. The point of the microaggression article is young people these days have become moral dependents.

And:

COWEN: Let me try another analogy on you. You mentioned the army, but take private corporations, and Brown and Yale are in a sense private corporations. Harvard was originally. I wouldn’t call them restrictions on free speech, I think that’s the wrong phrase, but if one’s going to use the phrase that way, there are numerous restrictions on free speech within companies, at the work place.

If you went to the water cooler and said a number of offensive things, you would be asked to stop and eventually fired, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. So if we think of Brown, Yale, or Harvard as like a normal company, isn’t there still even with all the nonsense, a lot more free speech on campus than in actual companies?

HAIDT: Yes, and there should be. Again, a company is organized to be effective in the world. Just like the army where their priority is unit cohesion, in a company your goal isn’t to encourage everyone to express their values and criticize each other, your goal is to get them to work together.

There is much much more, including on LSD, Sigmund Freud (overrated or underrated), Cecil Rhodes, how Jonathan would change undergraduate admissions, whether behavioral economics is realizing its full potential, Adam Smith, antiparsimonialism, the replication crisis in psychology, and whether Jonathan enjoys eating insects.

Maria Farrell writes:

The events that precisely triggered the Easter Rising are a little murky. They involve the capture of Roger Casement’s arms shipment, and feature the great hero of the Rising, Padraig Pearse, lying to MacNeill, forging documents and kidnapping and holding his socialist rivals until they acquiesced. Whether the leaders were about to be rounded up and imprisoned is unclear. MacNeill believed it, until he didn’t, but by then it was too late.

How many of you (non-Irish that is, Irish try this) are emotionally stirred by that description, one way or the other?  How many of you recall reading about those events at all?

What I find most striking is how little I, as an Irish-American, emotionally identify with any of the sides in this conflict.  I recall being asked in New Jersey seventh grade, by another Irish-American, whether my family was Protestant or Catholic in background and I wasn’t even sure (Catholic, it turned out, though my paternal grandparents also had been non-believers).

I was born in Kearny, New Jersey, a working class town full of Irish and Scot atavisms, including bars where they raised money for the IRA, fish and chips, and good soccer teams.  My father was more interested in Barry Goldwater, and by the time we moved to the more suburban northern rim of the state all that old country history was forgotten.

On the other side of the water, Ireland is one of the few countries to break through the middle-income trap, and last year it grew at 7.8%, an increasingly embarrassing fact for many “the long run is forever” commentators, not to mention investment up more than 28%.

(Yes, there is fairly rapid post-austerity catch-up growth when institutions are even moderately healthy, and if you are not seeing such growth the economy is probably at its new frontier or structural reforms are required.  And to point out that households are not capturing all of those gains — gdp vs. gnp —  is to save the pessimistic mood at the expense of the theory.  Without a Russian collapse, the Baltics probably would have continued along a similar track.)

Brexit of course would hit both Ireland and Northern Ireland fairly hard; it is strange how the Republic of Ireland has turned out to be the stable political unit in the family.

Here is a BBC piece on how to commemorate 1916.  The embarrassing parallel is that the modern IRA cites the 1916 heroes and considers their more recent terror acts to hold comparable status.  Somehow the balls must be juggled to avoid this conclusion, especially since there has been a recent uptick in unrest in Northern Ireland.

Various “victim monger” commentators don’t radiate too much sympathy for the Northern Irish republican cause.  Is it because the stereotypical representation of the fighters is a little too male, a little too grizzled, too conservative, too white Christian, too chauvinistic, and maybe even too mumbly?  I have to listen so closely to those movies to understand at all, and in the end they still bore me.  John Lennon’s John Sinclair song never seemed to stick.  Yeats too tried his best.

easter

I am struck by how underrepresented this topic is in my Twitter feed.

…Dante’s fame as a necromancer is also in a certain sense documented.

Such notoriety shouldn’t be surprising. For one thing, he had a reputation as an expert in astrology, and we know that this discipline could easily spill over into magical and necromantic practices.  And then, above all, he was famous after the publication of Inferno for having descended live into the realms of the afterlife and for having encountered devils there, the souls of the damned, and having spoken to them.  It must have been a rumor widely spread and also disturbing.  It seems, according to Boccaccio, that the women who used to pass him in the street would say to each other: Look, “he who goes into Hell, and returns whenever he likes, and brings back news of those who are down there…”

That is from the new Dante biography by Marco Santagata, Belknap Press at Harvard, definitely recommended, it will make my best non-fiction of the year list for sure.

I’ll be doing a Conversations with Tyler with her, Tuesday, April 12.  What should I ask her?

Top 3 states with highest proportion of Mormons: 1. Utah (Trump polling in 3rd) 2. Idaho (Trump lost by 18 points) 3. Wyoming (losing by 53)

The tweet is here, from @mckaycoppins, via Garett Jones.

I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with Jonathan Haidt, but with no public event and no video, transcript and podcast only.

What should I ask him?

No, they didn’t forget to fill in the map for Scandinavia, those are the actual metrics.  Source here.

Paul Krugman has a long post on this question, here is part of his bottom line:

…the Democratic Party…[is] a coalition of teachers’ unions, trial lawyers, birth control advocates, wonkish (not, not “monkish” — down, spell check, down!) economists, etc., often finding common ground but by no means guaranteed to fall in line. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has generally been monolithic, with an orthodoxy nobody dares question. Or at least nobody until you-know-who…

My view is not so far from that, but I would put it a little differently and then push harder on some other dimensions of the distinction (btw Brad DeLong comments).  The Republican Party is held together by the core premise that the status of some traditionally important groups be supported and indeed extended.  That would include “white male producers,” but not only.  You could add soldiers, Christians (many but not all kinds), married mothers, gun owners, and other groups to that list.

(The success of Trump by the way is that he appeals to that revaluation of values directly, and bypasses or revises or ignores a lot of the associated policy positions.  That is why the Republican Party finds it so hard to counter him and also fears it will lose its privileged position, were Trump to win.  The older Republican policy positions haven’t delivered much to people for quite some time.)

Democrats are a looser coalition of interest groups.  They agree less on exactly which groups should rise in status, or why, but they share a skepticism about the Republican program for status allocation, leading many Democrats to dislike the Republicans themselves and to feel superior to them.  In any case, that underlying diversity does mean fewer litmus tests and potentially a much broader political base, as we observe in higher turnout Presidential elections, which Democrats are more likely to win these days.  That also means more room for intellectual flexibility, although in some historical eras this operates as a negative.

Right off the bat, this distinction between the two parties puts most blacks, single women, and most but not all Hispanics in the Democratic camp.  Not-yet-assimilated immigrants have a hard time going Republican, even though a lot of high-achieving Asians might seem like natural conservatives.  No matter how much Republicans talk about broadening their message, the core point is still “we want to raise the status of groups which you don’t belong to!”  That’s a tough sell, and furthermore the Republicans can fall all too readily into the roles of being oppressors, or at least talking like oppressors.

Republicans, who are focused on the status of some core groups at the exclusion of others, are more likely to lack empathy.  Democrats, who oppose some of the previously existing status relations, and who deeply oppose the Republican ideology, are more likely to exhibit neuroticism.

It is easy for Republicans to see the higher neuroticism of Democrats, and easier for Democrats to see the lesser empathy of Republicans.  It is harder for each side to see its own flaws, or to see how the other side recognizes its flaws so accurately.

Academics are one of the interest groups courted by Democrats.  Academics want to appear high status and reasonable, and Democrats offer academics some of those features in the affiliation, including the option to feel they are better than Republicans.  So on issues such as evolution vs. creationism (but not only), Democrats truly are more reasonable and more scientific.  Academics consume those status goods, plus the academics already had some natural tendencies toward neuroticism.

Academics shouldn’t feel too good about this bargain.  They are being “used” as all party interest groups are, and how much reasonableness they can consume in the Democratic coalition will ebb and flow with objective conditions.  In the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, it was common for Democrats to be more delusional than Republicans, and those days may someday return, though not this year.

Next, we must move beyond the federal level to understand the two parties, and that is also a good litmus test for whether a discussion of the two parties is probing as opposed to self-comforting.

At the state and local level, the governments controlled by Republicans tend to be better run, sometimes much better run, than those controlled by the Democrats (oops).  And a big piece of how American people actually experience government comes at the state and local level.

This superior performance stems from at least two factors.  First, Republican delusions often matter less at the state and local level, and furthermore what the core Republican status groups want from state and local government is actually pretty conducive to decent outcomes.  The Democrats in contrast keep on doling out favors and goodies to their multitude of interest groups, and that often harms outcomes.  The Democrats find it harder to “get tough,” even when that is what is called for, and they have less of a values program to cohere around, for better or worse.

Second, the states with a lot of Democrats are probably on average harder to govern well (with some notable Southern exceptions).  That may excuse the quality of Democratic leadership to some degree, but it is not an entirely favorable truth for the broader Democratic ethos.  Republicans, of course, recognize this reality.  Even a lot of independent voters realize they might prefer local Republican governance, and so in the current equilibrium a strong majority of governors, state legislatures, and the like are Republican.

Think on those facts — or on the state of Illinois — the next time you hear the Democrats described as the reality-oriented community.  That self-description is “the opium of the Democrats.”

If you wish to try to understand Republicans, think of them as seeing a bunch of states, full of Republicans, and ruled by Republicans, and functioning pretty well.  (Go visit Utah!)  They think the rest of America should be much more like those places.  They also find that core intuition stronger than the potential list of views where Democrats are more reasonable or more correct, and that is why they are not much budged by the intellectual Democratic commentary.  Too often the Democrats cannot readily fathom this.

At some level the Republicans might know the Democrats have valid substantive points, but they sooner think “Let’s first put status relations in line, then our debates might get somewhere.  In the meantime, I’m not going to cotton well to a debate designed to lower the status of the really important groups and their values.”  And so the dialogue doesn’t get very far.

Again, both the Democrats and the Republicans have their ready made, mostly true, and repeatedly self-confirming stories about the defects of the other.  They need only read the news to feel better about themselves, and the academic contingent of the Democrats is better at this than are most ordinary citizens.  There is thus a rather large cottage industry of intellectuals interpreting and channeling these stories to Democratic voters and sympathizers.  On the right, you will find an equally large cottage industry, sometimes reeking of intolerance or at least imperfect tolerance, peddling mostly true stories about the failures of Democratic governance, absurd political correctness, tribal loyalties, and so on.  That industry has a smaller role for the intellectuals and a larger role for preachers and talk radio.

It is easier for intelligent foreigners to buy more heavily into the Democratic stories.  They feel more comfortable with the associated status relations, and furthermore foreigners are less likely to be connected to American state and local government, so they don’t have much sense of how the Republicans actually are more sensible in many circumstances.

It would be wrong to conclude that the two parties both ought to be despised.  This is human life, and it is also politics, and politics cannot be avoided.  These are what motivations look like.  Overall these motivations have helped create and support a lot of wonderful lives and a lot of what is noble in the human spirit. We should honor that side of American life, while being truly and yet critically patriotic.

That said, I see no reason to fall for any of these narratives.  The goal is to stand above these biases as much as possible, and communicate some kind of higher synthesis, in the hope of making it all a bit better.

This year, I’m just hoping it doesn’t get too much worse.  In the last few years I have seen some nascent signs that Democrats are becoming less reasonable at the national level, for instance their embrace of the $15 national minimum wage.  I also am seeing signs that the Republicans are becoming less fit to govern at the local level, probably because national-level ideology is shaping too many smaller scale, ostensibly pragmatic decisions.  The Trump fixation also could end up hurting the quality of Republican state and local government.  So this portrait could end up changing fairly rapidly and maybe not for the better.