Month: April 2007

The Improving State of the World

The subtitle is Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet, and it is written by Indur M. Goklany.  Imagine an up-to-date version of Aaron Wildavsky and Julian Simon, in easily digestible form.  On global warming, it won’t make Tim Lambert happy, but it not "denialist" either.  A useful resource, recommended.  Here is the book’s home page.  Here are papers by Goklany.

Left-wingers should be the real supply-siders

This post is pure provocation, take it as you will.

The left often stresses how wealthy people have superior opportunities in life.  They can save more, avoid debt, buy better educations, they have a better chance to start a company, and so on.  Furthermore this is seen as unfair.  Right?

To put the point in simple quantitative terms, equity yields an average of about seven percent, while holding debt claims yields a bit over one percent.  Most poor people don’t hold much equity, or for that matter they tend to take out debt rather than hold it.  Smart rich people stock their portfolios with equity quite heavily.  So on average rich people get richer.  That is even more unfair.  Right?

OK, to oversimplifiy the numbers just a bit, rich people earn — at least — six to seven times more on their money than do poor people.  Many of the poor earn negative rates of return.

The contemporary left often seeks to remedy this unfairness, but in the meantime it is true true true.  Right?

So for each extra dollar we leave with rich people, the economy earns six or seven times more in net terms — at least — than if that dollar had been given to the poor.

"The rich people’s economy" doubles in size about every ten years or so.  "The poor people’s economy" doubles in size about every sixty years or so, at best.  After sixty years have passed, "the rich people’s economy" has done at least six times better, relative to its original starting point. 

Now trickle-down effects from rich people are possibly quite slight.  If a rich person creates a dollar’s worth of investment, the consumer surplus and wage-boosting effects from those investments won’t be more than 25 cents on the dollar, right?  That means poor people get…

Well, it depends upon your assumptions.  But how do you feel about this claim? 

"I favor redistribution from the rich to the poor.  It will make the poor better off for a few decades, but no more.  After that point, the poor are worse off, forever, and by more each year."


The more you emphasize the unfair differences between the capabilities of the rich and the poor, the more easily you fall into this trap.  Redistribution is good for the poor only in the short run, and we haven’t even considered the traditional negative incentive effects on the rich.

Supply-side economics doesn’t have to be about assuming unrealistically large elasticities of substitution on the part of the wealthy.  The real supply side story is about how different social classes use resources in different ways and to achieve different rates of return.


My favorite things German, Richard Wagner edition

1. Music: Riches galore, most of all gamelan music.  My favorite CD of the soft, dreamy Javanese gamelan is Javanese Court Gamelan, on Nonesuch.  Most gamelan music is from Bali.  Golden Rain is one good pick of many, but virtually any gamelan CD without a half-naked woman on the cover will be excellent.  Look for the French and Japanese labels in this area.  For other areas of Indonesian music, there is a very good Smithsonian set of 20 CDs; the acoustic guitar music is especially interesting.  Here is a one-CD sampler from that set.

2. Novel: Pramoedya Toer’s Buru Quartet (four volumes, but quite readable) is perhaps the least read great novel of the 20th century.  On the surface it concerns imperialism but it is actually about what a life really consists of and how that life is defined.  Reading each volume redefines the one that came before it.  Like gamelan music, very highly recommended.  The author "wrote" most of it during his 14-year stint in Buru prison, but most of the time without the benefit of pen or paper.

3. Food dish: This is a no brainer, Beef Rendang.  In general the food from Sumatra is spicier.  Get Sumatran Rijstafel when you can, it is better than Javanese though both are wonderful.

4. Textiles: A rich area, but the subtle colors and textures of Sumatra are tops.  The early twentieth century is an especially strong time but the quality continues to be high.  Textiles from Timor are not to be overlooked, although of course now they are independent.  Here is one Sumatran image.  Here is another nice piece.  Try this one too.

5. Film: I have never seen an Indonesian movie, though in my defense I have never turned down an opportunity to see one either.  Nia Dinata is currently a renowned Indonesian filmmaker.  The reasonably good Year of Living Dangerously is the only movie I know set in Indonesia.  Can you all help out here?

6. Painter: I like the Naive Art of Bali, so how about Nyoman Lesug?  Sadly he is not well represented on the web.  Dewa Putu Bedi is perhaps better known.  Anak Agung Gede Sobrat is another option.  Here are some other names to start with.  But it is increasingly difficult to run across the better stuff.

The bottom line: Most people underexplore tthe culture of this region, relative to the quality of their best offerings.  I am not yet sure, however, whether we should call it a "country."

The Old Way

Sharing was perhaps the most important element of the social fabric.  Fear that others would not share was the constant preoccupation of many people.  I remember a woman talking about sharing: "I am sick," said the woman as if speaking to herself although in fact she was speaking to my mother, who was nearby.  "That is why I don’t go out for plant foods.  I want my mother to give me some and she does not give me any.  I am lying down sick.  I am starving.  If my mother were here, she would give me some plant foods…That place is far…The people who stay there are not people who favor others.  Not sympathetic.  They do not give food.  When they see people from a far place coming to their place, their hearts do not feel good.  I do not want to go to see those people."

That is from Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, The Old Way: A Story of the First People, a fascinating study of a hunter-gatherer society, the Ju/wasi in the Kalahari.

My favorite things Venice

1. Painting.  This is, of course, a bit ridiculous.  Three is gobs and gobs and gobs, but I have to opt for late Titian as the peak of painting, ever, by anyone.  Except for Velazquez.  Here is one image, here is another.  Moving past the Renaissance, Tiepolo remains underrated; visit Wurzburg for one of Europe’s best artistic thrills.  Rosalbe Carriera portraits are underrated.

2. Work of fiction, set in: Death in Venice, Thomas Mann, is the obvious pick, here is a long list of fiction set in Venice.  There is Calvino’s Invisible Cities, and Henry James, The Aspern Papers, I’ll give the nod to the latter, unless we can count bits of Proust.

3. Movie, set in: Scroll down for a list.  I love the best parts of From Russia with Love, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (really), but the clear winner is Orson Welles’s Othello.

4. Play, set in: Duh.

5. Techno group, named after: Venetian Snares, juicy stuff, high information content.  Not for the faint hearted.

6. Music: Monteverdi will get his own post, Vivaldi bores me, Gabrieli is OK.  Luigi Nono comes next, I like the Pollini recording of his work for piano and tape.  There is Bruno Maderna as well.

7. Theatre: Carlo Goldoni, I once saw The Stag Hunt and loved it.

8. Writer: Casanova is fun to browse, more conceptual than you might think.

9. Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote Don Giovanni for Mozart.

The bottom line: Making this list was more interesting than I had expected.  I have never felt "near" to Venice, but perhaps this trip — for a UNESCO conference — will change that.