Assorted links


I am first! And I like this part from #4:

Is this TC? LOL he is a literati and academic! Ergo a rentier.

The rentier -- even though he or she is entirely committed to the capitalist system which provides the sources of all their income -- is typically hopeless at the hard and creative work required to run an enterprise. In an angry critique of easy-going German middle class “philistines” who snobbishly despise law and order and the ethics of hard work, Weber likens the mentality of rentiers to state-employed prebendary and idealistic literati or academics “who judge the hard daily struggle of their fellow citizens who are engaged in physical and mental work against standards dreamed up at their writing desks”.

#5 Good article on Modi. Ed Luce is perhaps the best journalist covering the India beat.

Not quite. He has a long history of getting india wrong, over and again. He wrote a book on india (inspite of the gods) when he left the india desk for the washington desk, and about half a decade on, its clear he got every prediction wrong. His 'facts' are a joke. 59 people were killed in godhra train burning, not 85. Nathuram Godse was a member of Hindu Mahasabha, not RSS. The mahasabha was far more militant than RSS and was highly critical of RSS because of its perceived unwillingness to use force to achieve hindu liberation. The 'action reaction' speech is a figment of media imagination, which was constructed long after the riots, by delhi based pro-congress journos, mainly in preparation for the gujarat elections after the riots. There is no such speech that anyone has actually heard of. There's no question Modi taunted muslims after the riots -- mainly muslim radicals who he saw as instigators of the riots, but that's another story. As for killing 'secularism' in gujarat is concerned, over 20% muslims voted for Modi in last assembly elections. Nothing to brag about, but lets not forget, less than 8% blacks voted for Mitt Romney. I doubt Ed Luce would see the american racial compact collapse the day another Republican was elected to office (most likely with less than 20% black vote). The people who are really scared of Modi are not the muslims, but the indian left and its apologists.


"Tens of thousands (muslims) have fled the state altogether." Is this true? I think it is not.

Also to add to GBZ's points I don't like this habit of judging individuals raised in a very different milieu by modern western standards of politeness and etiquette.

Modi is unsophisticated, blunt, crude, rude. But so are MOST Indians. What Luce regards are a terrible media statement is the sort that is extremely commonplace in India in the public domain. Also as GBZ points out the action-reaction statement was partly misphrased by journalists to make it sound worse than it was.

Let's not expect Indian politicians (especially ones with a very humble background and lacking a proper well-rounded education) to live up to Emily Post's standards of etiquette.

2002 will remain a blot on Modi's escutcheon. Having said that, there's only so much one can do when you have uncivilized people on the rampage. Mr Nehru, a paragon of secularism and "modern" values, oversaw much much worse communal riots/massacres in 1947 at the time of partition. When normal, generally law abiding people decide to kill one another en masse, there's not much to be done.

The deeper issues with Indian secularism are not around the odd personality like Modi but with the inability of Hindus and Muslims to live in peace even after 1200 years of exposure to one another.

Now why has it been so challenging to find Hindu-Muslim peace in India. There are very deeply rooted historical reasons for it. For nearly 600+ years, Islam was the religion favored by the state in very large parts of the Indian subcontinent.Though India is a Hindu-majority country till date (even if one includes Pak/Bdesh), the culture of the country especially north India is heavily influenced by Islam. The food people eat, the dresses they wear, the language spoken.

But after 600 years of hegemony, the Islamic cultural predominance received a jolt with the coming of the British. 1857 was a crucial year - marking the death of old India of nawabs and sultans and the birth of a new one - a more meritocratic country run by erudite bureaucrats! In this new India of the Raj, the Muslim fortunes suffered while the Hindu ascendance began partly because of the willingness of the Hindu upper-castes to embrace English education and more crucially western values. Power shifted from old, rent seeking landlords (often Muslim) to new meritocratic English-educated middle-classes (predominantly Hindu). The process that began back then has continued unabated. Hindu ascendance has gone on uninterrupted while the Muslims have languished culturally, economically and politically. This process was accentuated by the Partition during which the more enterprising and affluent Muslims migrated to the newly formed Pakistan leaving India with a Muslim population which was predominantly poor.

Now this is what rankles the Muslims - a community with a deep sense of history. A country which was once ruled by their co-religionists (in which HIndus often had second-class citizen rights) is now one where they are out-gunned by the "effeminate, vegetarian" Hindu in the marketplace. It's an insult to their ego, their sense of self.

India today is remarkably secular and modern providing all communities an opportunity to do well in life, including provisions of affirmative action to "disadvantaged" groups. Yet sadly that's not enough to palliate the deep historical wounds (both real and imagined) nursed by the South Asian muslim population. And that's what makes the peaceful co-existence of these two religious groups so very difficult.

Think you for background. I think it is right. And I think it can explain how it motivates some angry young Muslim men to carry out terrorist atrocities -- especially when others like them are doing it all over the world.

But it does not explain why masses of Hindus should respond with pogroms. Perhaps a bit more effeminate vegitarianism would is needed. Though I expect vegitarians are at least as violent everyone else.

Whether Godse belonged to RSS or Hindu Mahasabha is pedantic nitpicking. Worse, you seem factually wrong (pardon my trusting Wikipedia more than your credentials)

Funnily, in spite of all this I'm not strongly anti-Modi but that's because all alternatives are equally crappy & inane. But there's a difference between a calculated risk & willful ignorance of facts. Ed Luce is frank enough to acknowledge that Modi's future actions on these issues may not necessarily mirror his past.

PS. In Spite of the Gods was a great book. Notwithstanding @gbz's vitriolic, highly recommended insight into Indian ground realities.

Godse was formerly associated with RSS, but not at the time of Gandhi's assasination. But what's the big deal.

We've had murderers in political parties / cultural organizations before. The Communist Party has a history of fostering mass murderers - far more notorious than insignificant footnotes of history like Godse!

Absolutely. I'm not saying the Commies nor the INC is any better. And the AAP guys are a massive joke.

Basically, we've the devils alternative.

'If you tax capital at zero, in the long run you will have much more of it.'

Such a fascinating use of the pronoun 'you.'

Almost as if Prof. Cowen is aware of how many of his readers are temporarily embarassed capitalists.

Which use of the pronoun "you"? "I" don't tax capital (or anything else). Clearly, the lesson here is that Cowen is writing only to people who work for the IRS and people who have pierced the veil of maya and rejected the illusion of separateness.

(In smaller words: prior_approval is an idiot).

He is indeed, but he never fails at baiting us.

Such a fascinating use of the pronoun ‘us.’

Seth's work seemed to me to have two potentially fertile aspects First, he was a hypothesis-generator. Any psychologist or nutritionist who doesn't want to look at the same hypotheses as everyone else should consider investigating Seth's. Secondly, he argued that what matters to you may not be what matters to the average person roped into large randomised trials. Maybe he was right: just how diverse is the human race? It's entertaining that the idea of individual diversity rather than group diversity wasn't very welcome in academia.

He must not have read any of the literature on endothelial dysfunction, otherwise he wouldn't have come up with his sugar-water diet. Sugar (especially spikes in blood sugar) causes oxidative stress in the endothelium, which causes endothelial dysfunction, which evidence strongly suggests is the initial event in development of atherosclerotic lesions. It is also implicated in the insulin resistance which causes type 2 diabetes mellitus, and it may play a role in the early events that lead to Alzheimer's disease. I doubt he studied the literature very thoroughly before embarking on his adventures, which is always a big mistake.

Do we know yet what killed him?

This was the killer paragraph at #6 (it's hard to blog for an audience that wants to be entertained):

On his blog and elsewhere Seth reported success with various self-experiments, most recently a claim of improved brain function after eating half a stick of butter a day. I’m skeptical, partly because of his increasing rate of claimed successes. It took Seth close to 10 years of sustained experimentation to fix his sleep problems, but in recent years it seemed that all sorts of different things he tried were effective. His apparent success rate was implausibly high. What was going on? One problem is that sleep hours and weight can be measured fairly objectively, whereas if you measure brain function by giving yourself little quizzes, it doesn’t seem hard at all for a bit of unconscious bias to drive all your results. I also wonder if Seth’s blog audience was a problem: if you have people cheering on your every move, it can be that much easier to fool yourself

It strikes me that Seth was a rebel in the truest sense, in that he did not conform to his professional or society norms much. You would advise any young person not to behave like Seth if they wanted an academic career. But despite his lack of success in a classical academic sense, with few papers published and few citations you get the idea from these warm obituaries that he actually was a greatly deal more influential in the real world than the vast majority of his academic colleagues that stuck to the true path. So should more people be more like Seth I wonder? It does make me sad a little to see these fantastic minds disappear into the academic world of social science, publishing papers that have almost no readership beyond a select group of their colleagues and on aggregate, almost no impact on the world. You do think what a waste of talent.

A big problem with the rentier is not that there are economic rents in the economy. Instead, it is that there is no particularly good reason to believe that dumb money are particularly good people in society to manage their wealth. And, if a lot of the aggregate wealth of society is managed by people with no particular skill in doing so, the society may end up significantly worse off. Expert advisers can mitigate this problem, but not solve it.

#3 when they're in poor countries, or when they're economists looking for lunch?

Interesting set of links today. Thanks Tyler. I especially liked the one about 'repugnant transactions'. Also the sad-funny one about 'voices in the wilderness'. And the 2005 perspective piece. That post about the Bad Rentier was just plain hard labour, the kind of work a Good Rentier does I suppose, but how would I know :-)

4. I will just mention that in Nepal women work longer and harder than men and how much physical labor a spouse can perform is clearly correlated with whether or not you and your family go hungry. And people there are fully aware this, on account of the fact that their brains work. And so while there could be some genes influencing mate selection, and no doubt there are, merely paying attention is probably a sufficient explanation. In Australia and I assume Japan a "high estrogen face" is actually correlated with more income than a "high testosterone face" among women. So in Australia paying attention could also be a sufficient explanation, but since Australian men are in the fortunate position of being able to survive even if they don't pay attention, I'd be more inclined to accept there is more genetic influence at work here than in Nepal.

Sorry! The above comment is meant to be for number 3. My appologies.

#4. In Tyler's reposting, two (related) points caught my eye:

5. Larry Summers did the best empirical work on how abolishing capital income taxation would boost living standards.
10. Kevin Drum’s belief in social justice should not necessarily lead him to look for arguments for taxing capital. Even if we accept his normative views, there is the all-important question of incidence.

That got me thinking, which group most consistently advocates for policies that have positive economic incidence on the poor? Unfortunately, I couldn't think of an easily labeled group, just a person: Milton Friedman, with his advocacy of the negative income tax, open borders (in practice if not legally), and school choice vouchers.

Because of tax-avoidance and similar issues, the tax on capital and income should be the same, relatively low and with the fewest loopholes possible. Armies of people work to convert income to capital gains or personal income to corporate income if there is a tax differential. It's not something that can be ignored in practice.

Roth's least plausible prediction IMHO is that elite universities will remain important loci of status signalling and match making in 100 years. Perhaps this is based on their large endowments, which give the Ivy League a lot of staying power -- still, cultural indicators of status can change suddenly. I expect technical and research institutions like MIT and Caltech to persist, but I have less faith that the moreso pure-signalling institutions will still be relevant. Extrapolating from current trends, if anything we're entering an era of effective counter-signalling through rejecting the diploma track. Landing fellowships or spots in lucrative NGOs is becoming more important. With less need to travel, geographical location alone is becoming a status catch-all. Instead of putting away $30k+ a year at a top university, people will use their money to compensate for inflated real-estate prices in the most fashionable regions.

Then again Oxford has persisted for multiple centuries.

Yup - he also had a touching faith in the idea that deans, professors, and tenure would still exist in their current forms in 100 years. With life extension, any lifetime appointment becomes increasingly hard to defend, even if tenure didn't have other "issues". Would you want a faculty in 2500 that includes professors who've been on staff for 400 years?

Take the Census quintile income data from 1966-2012 and calculate change in log(income) from 1966-2012 as a proxy for utility increases. You’ll find that utility increases by quintile have been nearly identical across qunitiles (23%-25%). Note that this is pre-tax, pre-benefit income. After tax and benefits its likely that utility increases calculated this way would be larger for the lower quintuples. Why do all these inequality studies fail to account for marginal utility of income? I don ‘t think these results would change much with any plausible utility function.

#7. So devoid of imagination and speculation as to make a farce of the word "prediction."

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