Request from MR commentator “Is disaggregate the word I want?”

A short while ago, he asked this:

taking requests? I doubt if, but here goes anyway – charisma half-life of Taylor Swift, Jorge Bergoglio, and James Levine as seen fifty years from now; when will the unquestionably converging IQs of point guards, quarterbacks, and chess champions meet up; what would life be like for a tenured economics professor who decides to spend a year studying midAtlantic Lepidoptera in the wild and learning Norwegian; Peter Hitchens versus Christopher Hitchens – who was or is less deceptive and deceived, assuming an ability to consider them as intellectual equals; how old was TC when he read “all of Harold Bloom’s canon” leaving out some of the Icelandic sagas. Not that any of these topics will be taken up, but if TC or Alex takes one of them seriously how about the Hitchens one, which has the whole Pascalian eternal potential return thing going for it.

The expected creative powers of female musical artists are continuing to increase, especially when it comes to composition.  Taylor Swift therefore will produce another album of good songs, though the burden of extreme fame, and the accompanying difficulty of replenishing her creative wells, will hold her back from five more such albums.  Bergoglio will pass and be forgotten, as he has not built the necessary coalition within the Vatican and also I do not predict the triumph of liberal religion.  Many future conductors will sound like James Levine and he, for all his talents, will not be remembered, even though his Mahler’s 3rd is perfect.  If you treat intelligence as sufficiently multi-dimensional, and grasp how much of the human brain is used to coordinate our bodies, you see the chess champion may never catch up to Magic Johnson circa 1984.  An economics professor cannot these days learn good Norwegian because the butterflies all speak English to him.  The two Hitchens brothers fought an obsolete battle, in any case “society” needs to believe in something and in this regard actually neither Peter nor Christopher — taking his lived theology into account — was in the running with an alternative.  Perhaps “emotional stance” is sometimes a more useful category than “belief” and I consider myself increasingly detached from that entire question.  Not long ago I was reading more of the sagas.

Happy New Year’s Eve!  And yes, I think disaggregate is indeed the word you want.

Note that Alex’s answers may differ from these.

Any more reader requests?


'Bergoglio will pass and be forgotten, as he has not built the necessary coalition within the Vatican and also I do not predict the triumph of liberal religion.'

1. He was a papabile back when Ratzinger won the race (rumors suggested he was runner up), and then became a pope when Ratzinger 'retired.' (The quotes are there for any number of reasons - including the idea that a long running power struggle finally turned against Ratzinger, who was apparently on the edge of death according to German media reports when he 'retired'). Nobody who plays and then wins the right to be called 'pope' lacks the necessary coalition.

2. The current pope may not be a reactionary like Ratzinger, but he is very far from being part of any current of 'liberal' religion. Though possibly, when looking at a South American pope concerned with the plight of the poor, a certain slice of American thought would see this as being 'liberal.' Older fashioned people familiar with the actual words that are attributed to Jesus can certainly think that the pope is surprisingly more Christian than anyone would expect a pope to be. A concern with social justice does not make a Christian 'liberal' - it just means they understand the written words putatively recording the utterances of the person they consider to be the son of god.

3. The first South American pope is not completely likely to be so easily 'forgotten.' Unless no one remembers the first Polish pope these days. Admittedly, how long Francis remains pope is another question, and one that will certainly play a role in how he is remembered.

Everyone is concerned about the plight of the poor. Some people put their money where their mouth is, and further have a track record of success. Others, not so much (i.e. Europe, where no one gives money to charity and the average person is poor by U.S. standards).

"Poor by U.S. standards" and yet living longer and producing as much per hour worked seems doubtful at best.

Building a coalition to win != holding a coalition to govern, let alone to enact change. But if nothing else, this pope is a good reminder that you can't really be completely Republican or Democrat, at least if you're large-C Catholic. The mental gymnastics required to show loyalty to Team R or Team D must be tiresome. (Recent Pew survey showed fewer Republicans than before now 'believe' the statement that humans "evolved over time.")

Name the book that you find most similar to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

One of my twentysomething year old relatives was complaining that New Year's Eve is always a let down. In truth, it lacks the traditions and activities of other holidays. What are some traditions we should add to New Year's Eve that will make it less boring and more festive?

Per the book "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout, sociopaths are becoming more common in America. Do you think this is true? Is this the case for the economics profession?

Do we spend too much time and effort trying to forecast the future rather than being better prepared for potential surprises? What are the most important guiding principles for the latter? "Diversification" comes to mind, but are there others?

Shouldn't this be the issue of the day for any economist?

Craig Pirrong on his vilification in the NYT this weekend:
"[...] this kind of ad hominem attack will have the effect (which is likely intended) of serving as a warning to other academics who cross powerful political interests with their academic research, and who have the temerity to speak out on controversial matters. How can this be seen as anything other than having a chilling effect on other academic researchers in the the financial and commodity markets? But maybe that’s exactly the point."

Why did you choose to attend college at George Mason?

Why should a current high school senior choose to attend George Mason?

Why do the top, average, and marginal students choose to attend George Mason?

"An economics professor cannot these days learn good Norwegian because the butterflies all speak English to him."

+1, insightful, you win the internet today sir.

Vladimir Nabokov unavailable for comment.

When are you obligated to add your grain of sand to a morally desirable Sorites heap(non-heap)? Or to avoid tossing your grain onto a morally undesirable heap? Or to remove your already-sitting grain from an undesireable heap?

More concrete sub-questions, to which your answers may vary:
1. Do you ever vote?
2. Do you ever litter a tiny amount that nobody will notice, e.g. spitting out gum?
3. Do you try to avoid overusing common-pool resources, even when others are abusing them?

This blog is obviously called *marginal* revolution, but you seem to allow a lot of wiggle room in what you consider to be impactful on the margin--for example, you once said that burning a dollar leaves greater real resources available for another, at least stochastically. So unless that was intended as an obscure criticism of inflation targeting/Fed offset, it seems like you're open to the idea that small-but-questionably-decisive choices still matter.

I'm not asking you to resolve the paradox, I'm just asking about how you deal with it in your own life when thinking about morality and consequences.

How long are the cold war era coalitions among the Republicans and Democrats likely to hold? In the Reagan era, religion and belief in the magic of the market was a natural foil to the Soviets, but the social and economic coalitions in both parties are losing their logic in the 21st century. Commenters on this blog are a good example of those who break the old party paradigms: lots of libertarians but also plenty of those who are socially conservative and distrustful of the free market. What would it take for a realignment of coalitions among the two most powerful political parties in America?

What will force a realignment is the nasty reality of government having to live within it's means. I don't think that the US is quite at that point, but the cost of maintaining stagnation will become too onerous to maintain, and the cost of debt servicing will rise. The hard reality of high fixed costs along with high debt servicing will prevent both military expansion and social service program expansion. One party will become the party representing those who live off government, and the other will represent those who don't. The obamacare effect will accentuate this division; there are those who benefit, but there are lots more who are displaced and who pay substantially more. The crony capitalism side of this equation will factor in as well; the lines will not be clearly divided. I don't think it is clear which side is which yet. The Democrats are facing a Chicago style dysfunctional civil administration with the seemingly unlimited ability to maintain power, and the interesting battles will be fought after Obama is out of office. The civil service lobby pulling resources from worthy progressive initiatives is another flash point. The breakdown of cities under Democratic control will generate unrest from core groups that are solid dependable Democrat constituencies, and some response that will pit one interest group against another will occur. The young technically savvy Democrat with libertarian leanings will chafe under the old Democrat ward politics, and will force change. Uber against the long established and deeply entrenched in city influence lobbies.

If Canada is any indication, those battles happened publicly and openly while the Liberals held power, and led to the dismantling of the power base that the Liberals had held for a generation. This was preceded by a major restructuring of the conservative political establishment, where the old Tories were annihilated, and replaced by a more vigorous conservatism that was not content to be a moderating influence on the progressive agenda, but to dismantle it. We already see those trends in the Republicans, and the battles are fierce both within and without the party.

I don't think we will see major movement by any of the core constituencies for the simple reason that the divisions are too wide. Socially conservatives may want a more active government, but would they sit next to Planned Parenthood? I doubt it. Would African Americans abandon the Democrats for the Republicans? I doubt it. I see more of a not showing up movement among these groups, which has already happened. As well as localized uprising that scares the living daylights out of the respective party establishments, effecting policy direction.

I think we will see some spin off third party initiatives that will create disarray and drive the agenda. The Reform Party in Canada didn't ever win power but defined the agenda. The parties in power presented a more moderate version of the Reform agenda. A similar dynamic happened with Ross Perot affecting both the Clinton Democrats and the Gingrich Republicans.

Happy New Year Marginal Revolution!

My questions mainly have to do with two topics I find very interesting, immigration and food. My first question is why has Thai food gotten so popular in the US? I particularly mean this in comparison to other countries which have sent far larger cohorts to the US and seem to have less impact on our culinary culture. Most notably for me here is the Philippines which according to the Pew Research center has the third highest immigrants population in the US of any country as of 2011 (Thailand is down at 32nd, source: see Table 5). A number of other countries could be mentioned like Jamaica or Iran which had larger immigrant populations but less notable proliferation of ethnic restaurants. So what is it about the Thais? Is it more related to the food itself, Thai culture, or the peculiar demographics of Thai immigrants?

As a follow-up, what country's food do you think would do best in the US market that hasn't already made a major impact and what do you think the most under-appreciated national culinary tradition in the world today?

The Filipino restaurants I've been to have been terrible. The food was like something people living in rural poverty would eat. For example, the chicken is hacked up bones and all before cooking, so you have to pick the bones out as you eat. Also, Filipino food tends to emphasize deep-frying as a cooking method, which is not held in high regard by me or my fellow Californians. Lumpia is like Chinese egg rolls, except they're open at each end so the frying oil saturates the filling. Horrible stuff.

Why does/did England produce a disproportionate amount of great bands? Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Cream, Black Sabbath, The Who, etc.

Thanks for answering, and Happy New Year!

I've got another one. A hypothetical. You're going to hate the idea, but that's kind of the point. The question is whether you can see any positives in it at all:

Imagine the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to plan a brand new city, say halfway between Houston and Austin. We'll call this city The City of the Future, because it will be designed with driverless cars and drones and whatever other new tech is expected to be around the corner. For instance, in this city there would be no parking lots except maybe in remote places. So what would the government build in this new city? Mainly just roads, some other form of public transportation, water, sewage, an electric grid, etc., a major park or two and an airport (am i missing anything?) So you'd have a completely new infrastructure and then hopefully a major business or two would relocate there and then someone would build housing, restaurants and coffee shops would open, etc.

What would be the advantages of The City of the Future over other cities? Please start with the benefits of it, then you can explain why it would be such a bad idea.

I had an idea like that, except an eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire would build it. I called it Slot Car City, because the whole place would have roads wired for power. That eliminates the biggest cost and hazard of an electric car, which is the batteries.

Also, assume a few ideals in terms of the government of the city, at least to start with. It isn't a charter city, of course, but assume that after the infrastructure has been built the city is relatively libertarian on policy issues. How different would this city look 25 years later from older American cities?

What is the formal definition of "mood affiliation"? I just have a hazy notion picked up from its use in context. A Google search was not helpful.

Also, what would The City of the Future look like under different immigration policies? In one case imagine a closed-border policy, in another the sort of immigration policy we have now and in another imagine that any college graduate from around the world would be given instant US citizenship if a company located in The City of the Future hires them (while the rest of the country maintains a more status quo immigration policy).

Why so many English bands?

Easy. American kids liked the English sound that the English kids perfected. Americans didn't like so much the earlier English sounds. There was too little, it didn't sound different, and the artists were too old (although some were great, like Frankie Vaughan and Frank Ifield). English bands from the Beatles generation all focused on perfecting that sound with enough differentiation to establish their own niche. English artists who tried to imitate the American 50's sound went nowhere unless they then went off into the "English" sound (which was a very guitar and vocal harmony intense sound, not so much unlike the vocal harmony groups of the late 1940's). Cliff Richards could not do Elvis as well as Elvis did Elvis.

American bands also tried their absolute best to achieve the English sound, and some did, and prospered. But there were other equally excellent American musical traditions that sort of diluted that English style (which the English groups did for a while for better or worse and then left to focus on their core business, which was the "English" sound.)

Perfect example. The Sir Douglas Quintet was a guy from San Antonio Texas named Doug Sahm. A superior musician who could play any style. But pop success at that time meant the English sound. Unless you were Afro-American, in which case, it generally paid to remain close to the roots.

I'm not a professor. That's my take as a musician who was "there" (England and America) at the time.

What are some big technology trends / successes you see in the near short term future? Say, the next five years?

Can you predict the next genocides or Arab Springs? What's the endgame for the Israel-Palestine conflict? What's one nation you'd not conventionally think of as headed for civil war that will (in the next five years).

If you were a 20-something, smart, college educated American with a choice would you stay put or immigrate. If immigrate to which nation? Why? (How 'bout Norway? )

When you were in grad school, what's an area of economics that you'd never have thought would get as big and important as it is now? What are some underrated academic sectors for the future. Overrated areas?

Will terrorist attacks get novel and if so can you think of some ways how?

I believe you made a post awhile back about the likelihood of rebellions/protests being greater with reformer governments than with full-blown tyrants. I can't seem to find it. Could you repost that? Also, has there been any new data on this based on the revolutions of the past couple of years?


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