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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

McMindfulness is the commodified, marketised and reductionist version of mindfulness practice which consists in the construction of courses, “apps”, books, and other items for sale to the public.

There is more here, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

1. The subtitle is A New Theory of Chinese History, and volume one has just been translated and published from the Chinese.

2. The author, Dingxin Zhao, now is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago.

3. The book has a curious 19th century air to its intellectual influences.  The main argument uses Herbert Spencer to revise Michael Mann, a 20th century British sociologist who wrote on the sources of power.  Lamarckian ideas are deployed frequently.

4. The Western model has had four independent power sources: states, churches, aristocracy, and the urban bourgeoisie.

5. Neither merchants nor religion had much of a strong, independent role in early Chinese politics.  Only the state and the aristocracy were powerful actors.

6. In the model of this book, the dual forces of competition and institutionalization drive historical change.  More than anything else, individuals maximize power.

7. The empowerment of economic power by ideology is the most fundamental feature of modernity.

8. “Three pivotal institutions of Western Zhou origin exerted an enduring impact on the history of China: the Mandate of Heaven, the kinship-based “feudal” system, and lineage law.” (p.79)

This is not an easy work to parse, but it is a book of substance and it reflects a considerable amount of careful thought.

Markets in everything

by on February 4, 2016 at 1:08 pm in Books, Religion | Permalink

From my email Inbox:

Greetings T. Cowen,

I’m L. Ron Gardner and I’ve just published a mind-blowing novel/libertarian manifesto — Kill Jesus: The Shocking Return of the Chosen One — that you might want to review at your site. It is about Jesus reincarnating and attempting to end the Fed, which his father controls. The book, which has been described as “Atlas Shrugged on ‘roids,” is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Here is the video, the podcast, and the transcript.  Kareem really opened up.  Here is the summary:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on segregation, Islam, Harlem vs. LA, Earl Manigault, jazz, fighting Bruce Lee, Kareem’s conservatism, dancing with Thelonious Monk, and why no one today can shoot a skyhook.

Maybe you think of Kareem as a basketball player, but here is my introduction:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of America’s leading public intellectuals. I would describe him as an offshoot of the Harlem Renaissance, and what he and I share in common is a fascination with the character of Mycroft Holmes, the subject of Kareem’s latest book — and that of course, is Sherlock Holmes’s brother.

Here is Kareem:

I did know Amiri [Baraka]. I think the difference is I believe in what happened in Europe during what they call the Enlightenment. That needs to happen to black Americans, absolutely a type of enlightenment where they get a grasp of what is afflicting them and what the cures are.

I think that the American model is the best in the world but in order to get everybody involved in it we have to have it open to everyone. That hasn’t always been the case.

The most under-appreciated Miles Davis album?

For me [Kareem], the most under-appreciated one is Seven Steps to Heaven. And that shows, I think, Miles’ best group. There’s a big argument, what was Miles’ best group, the one that had Cannonball Adderley, Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Philly Joe Jones and Red Garland or Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter?…number two is Porgy and Bess.

He cites Chester Himes as the underappreciated figure of the Harlem Renaissance.  And Kareem thinks like an economist:

It [my instruction] was going well with Andrew Bynum, but Andrew finally got to sign his contract for $50 million, and then at that point Andrew thought that I didn’t know anything and that he didn’t have to listen to me, and we don’t know where Andrew is right now.

Read or hear also his very interesting remarks on Islam, and where its next Enlightenment is likely to come from, not to mention Kareem on the resource curse and of course his new book (and my Straussian read of it).  And Kareem on his favorite movies, starting with The Maltese Falcon.  Self-recommending!


Too Good to Be True

by on January 21, 2016 at 7:25 am in Economics, Law, Religion | Permalink

In ancient Israel a court of 23 judges called the Sanhedrin would decide matters of importance such as death penalty cases. The Talmud prescribes a surprising rule for the court. If a majority vote for death then death is imposed except, “If the Sanhedrin unanimously find guilty, he is acquitted.” Why the peculiar rule?

In an excellent new paper, Too Good to Be True, Lachlan J. Gunn et al. show that more evidence can reduce confidence. The basic idea is simple. We expect that in most processes there will normally be some noise so absence of noise suggests a kind of systemic failure. The police are familiar with one type of example. When the eyewitnesses to a crime all report exactly the same story that reduces confidence that the story is true. Eyewitness stories that match too closely suggests not truth but a kind a systemic failure, namely the witnesses have collaborated on telling a lie.

police lineupWhat Gunn et al. show is that the accumulation of consistent (non-noisy) evidence can reverse one’s confidence surprisingly quickly. Consider a police lineup but now consider a more likely cause of systemic failure than witness conspiracy. Suppose that there is a small probability, say 1%, that the police arrange the lineup, either on purpose or by accident, so that the “suspect” is the only one who is close to matching the description of the criminal. Now consider what happens to our rational (Bayesian) probability that the suspect is guilwitnessty as the number of eyewitnesses saying “that’s the guy” increases. The first eyewitness to identify the suspect increases our confidence that the suspect is guilty and our confidence increases when the second and third eyewitness corroborate but when a fourth eyewitness points to the same man our rational confidence should actually

Even though the systemic failure rate is only 1%, that small probability starts to weigh more heavily the more consistent (less noisy) the evidence becomes. The red line in the graph at right shows–using a 1% systemic failure rate and realistic probabilities of eyewitness identification–that after 3 witnesses more evidence decreases our confidence and when more than 10 witnesses identify the same suspect we should be less certain of guilt than when one witness identifies the suspect! The yellow line shows how certainty increases when there is no possibility of systemic failure which is what most people imagine is the case. Notice from the green line that even when the probability of systemic failure is tiny (.01%) it begins to dominate the results quite early.

What matters is not that the probability of systemic failure is tiny but how it compares to the probability of consistency which, with any reasonable estimate of noise, is itself getting tinier and tinier as evidence accumulates. In another application, the authors show how even the miniscule probability of a stray cosmic ray flipping a bit in machine code can materially reduce our confidence in common cryptographic procedures.

In summary, the peculiar rule of the Talmud receives support from Bayesian analysis–too much consistency is suspect of failure.

From Jessica Shiwen Cheng and Fernando Lozano:

What is the role of religious institutions and religious workers in the racial earnings gap in the United States? In this paper we explore the relationship between childhood exposure to religious density, as measured with the number of religious workers at the state level, and the labor market outcomes of the worker thirty years later. We use data that spans over fifty years to identify changes in earnings due to early exposure to religion: our first source of identification uses changes in these two variables within states, and our second source of identification uses states’ differences by following workers who moved to a different state. Our results suggest that living in a state with a an extra clergy member for each 1,000 habitants increases the earnings of black workers by 1.7 to 3.6 percentage points relative to white workers.. In addition we show that this relationship is robust to different measures of exposure to religious density, and that these estimates increase to 7.6 percentage points when the change on religious density is defined exclusively increasing an extra black religious workers for each 1,000 habitants. Finally, we estimate a series of robustness tests that suggest that these results are not due to spatial sorting across states, nor to secular time trends associated with changes in labor market outcomes for black American workers.

You can find a copy of the paper if you dig through this link to the AEA program, look under Jan 03, 2016 12:30 pm, Hilton Union Square, Powell A & B, National Economic Association/American Society of Hispanic Economist.  The title of the paper is”Racial/Ethnic Differences in Self-Identification and Income Inequality,” but do any of you know a better, more direct link?

As I see things, to overgeneralize perhaps rather grossly, Democratic economists are more concerned with social and intellectual status, often in good ways, than are many conservatives.  The former group therefore is led to violate strictures of science through the omission of inconvenient truths, rather than through outright denialism or simply “making things up.”  The benefits of religion, including sometimes extreme religion, are one example of that.  On the Left, redistribution is a popular remedy for poverty, religion much less so.

Stephen Smith, a well-known urban blogger, writes in the comments to Interfluidity:

Finally, I think you’re not giving us enough credit for thinking through the political challenges to urban land use deregulation. I’m well aware of the entrenched interests opposing it, and the most promising solution I’ve seen is to shift the level of governance upwards. Washington and Oregon have much stronger state-level planning laws than California, and permit about twice as much housing as a result, with much lower urban housing prices. Ontario also has strong provincial planning, and Toronto has a torrential housing stock growth rate and very low housing prices compared to similar US cities. And in Japan, the central government has a huge hand in land use regulation and localities are relatively powerless, and Japan is literally the market urbanist promised land, which a mind-blowing housing stock growth rate in Tokyo, to the point where their private railroads are profitable and one is able to undertake an incredible capital expansion project, practically without subsidies.

The pointer is from Reihan.  And here is a story from my own northern Virginia: “The century-old congregation decided to sell its building, parking lot and grounds to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, which will tear down the stone structure and replace it with 173 affordable apartments.”  Bravo.