Month: March 2017

Demovote 101, the future polity that is Danish?

What are we doing

We are devising a way to hack direct democracy into representative without changing the rules by building two things: 1) A web-based platform for Danish citizens to vote on all legislature put forth in parliament. 2) A political party to vote according to the general vote on the platform.

Why are we doing it

We believe that the current representative democracy holds a faulty incentive structure for politicians making it inefficient. We follow politics closely and see a need for reform. Giving back decision making powers to the public makes it impossible to block legislation that citizens want and pass legislation that they do not. By taking agency out of the equations, everyone shares a common goal.

Here is the link.  Wouldn’t it be funny if this party did not win every election?

Who’s complacent?

Not Jordan Peterson:

Raised and toughened in the frigid wastelands of Northern Alberta, Jordan Peterson has flown a hammer-head roll in a carbon-fiber stunt plane, piloted a mahogany racing sailboat around Alcatraz Island, explored an Arizona meteorite crater with a group of astronauts, built a Native American Long-House on the upper floor of his Toronto home, and been inducted into the coastal Pacific Kwakwaka’wakw tribe.

He’s been a dishwasher, gas jockey, bartender, short-order cook, beekeeper, oil derrick bit re-tipper, plywood mill labourer and railway line worker. He’s taught mythology to lawyers, doctors and businessmen, consulted for the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Sustainable Development, helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia, served as an advisor to senior partners of major Canadian law firms, identified thousands of promising entrepreneurs on six different continents, and lectured extensively in North America and Europe.

With his students and colleagues, Dr Peterson has published more than a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, and revolutionized the psychology of religion with his now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. As a Harvard professor, he was nominated for the prestigious Levinson Teaching Prize, and is regarded by his current University of Toronto students as one of three truly life-changing teachers.

…Dr. Peterson’s online self-help program, The Self Authoring Suite, featured in O: The Oprah Magazine, CBC radio, and NPR’s national website, has helped tens of thousands of people resolve the problems of their past and radically improve their future.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank Adam Kazan.

Public Choice Outreach Conference!

The annual Public Choice Outreach Conference is June 16-18th, at the Hyatt Arlington in Rosslyn, VA! Submit an application and please do encourage your students to apply. Here’s some more information.

What is the Public Choice Outreach Conference?
The Public Choice Outreach Conference is a compact lecture series designed as a “crash course” in Public Choice for students planning careers in academia, journalism, law, or public policy. Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Many past participants of the Outreach seminar have gone on to notable careers in academia, law and business.

Who can apply?
Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Students majoring in economics, history, international studies, law, philosophy political science, psychology, public administration, religious studies, and sociology have attended past conferences. Advanced degree students with a demonstrated interest in political economy or demonstrated interest in political economy are invited to apply. Applicants unfamiliar with Public Choice and students from outside of George Mason University are especially encouraged. Download a 2017 application here.

What are the fees involved?
Outreach has no conference fee – it is free to attend. Room and meals are included for all participants. However, ALL travel costs are the responsibility of the participants.

If you have any questions please contact:
Lisa Hill-Corley, Outreach Conference Coordinator
(703) 993-2316
email: lhillcor <at> gmu <dot> edu

Heligoland fact and video of the day

In 1947 British forces set off here the largest non-nuclear explosion on record, blowing up what was left of Hitler’s island fortress.

That is from the new (and recommended) book Heligoland: Britain, Germany, and the Struggle for the North Sea, by Jan Ruger.

Here is further information, the blast was estimated to be one-third the power of Hiroshima, note that Heligoland is a holiday resort once again.

Saturday assorted links

1. Ryan Avent: “Given the structure of our social safety net, automation tends to increase poverty and inequality rather than unemployment.”  And Ryan on unemployment and video games.

2. Looking back on Norman Podhoretz (NYT).

3. Complacency and cheeseburgers.  “Cowen is optimistic in general, but not necessarily for you.”

4. Jodi Ettenberg reviews Matt Levine.

5. Why might the new Netflix rating system throw out information?

6. Meals on Wheels mood affiliation.

Churchgoing and tolerance

For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were. (This may be true in Europe as well. A recent thesis at Sweden’s Uppsala University, by an undergraduate named Ludvig Broomé, compared supporters of the far-right Swedish Democrats with people who voted for mainstream candidates. The former were less likely to attend church, or belong to any other community organization.)

That is from Peter Beinart, more of interest at the link.

Deuteronomy and complacency

A few of you have been asking me about the Straussian readings of The Complacent Class.  One of them refers to Deuteronomy 4:25-26:

“When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything, thus doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. “

Here is external commentary on the passage: “It may be surprising that the result of complacency is not atheism but idolatry.”

Friday assorted links

1. Siberian barter markets in everything if only they had stabilized nominal gdp.  It might mean less sex.

2. Spatial competition and the Great Divergence.

3. Steve Keen turns to crowdfunding to pay his salary.

4. Noah Smith responds on empiricism and humility.  Many good points, though I think who is “ideological” is not as simple as this seems to indicate.  Even if no one person acts or feels like an ideologue, a system that is not asking all the right questions is in fact highly ideological.  When was the last time there was a significant study of child satisfaction with school vouchers?  How much attention is given to the economics of animal welfare?  And so on.

5. The federal agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate.

6. 49:45 for my riff on deathbed regrets.

7. Me on Facebook Live, Monday 7 p.m., EST.  Here is the Facebook event page.

The Baffling Politics of Paid Maternity Leave in India

Policy makers and intellectuals in India are well informed about politics and intellectual developments in the United States and Europe. Among this group, for example, one can easily strike up a conversation about say Angus Deaton on RCTs versus structural econometric modelling. The similarity in the conversation extends far beyond the scientific, however, in ways that I sometimes find baffling.

When I gave a lecture at a local university, for example, I apparently shocked the students when I said matter-of-factly:

India would be a better country if it were richer and more unequal.

I think India’s extreme poverty makes this obviously true in a utilitarian sense, i.e. better for Indians, but it wasn’t so obvious to the students some-of-whom discussed inequality in terms that could easily have been duplicated at Berkeley. The inequality conversation has jumped the pond in ways that seem to me to be completely inappropriate.

Writing in the Times of India, Rupa Subramanya gives another example, a bill for paid maternity leave that has just passed the Indian parliament (waiting only on the president’s signature). As I pointed out earlier, by far the majority of Indians are self-employed and in the informal sector. The very idea of paid maternity leave, therefore, is bizarre. Is the right hand to pay the left?

As Subramanya writes, even fewer women than men work in the formal sector:

[W]omen’s labour force participation in India is 25% or less, as variously estimated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and from India’s National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data. What is more, estimates by MLE and ILO suggest that less than 5% of female workers aged 15-49 are in the formal or organized sector. What this implies is that effectively those covered by paid maternity leave whether the old or the new provision are at best a small number of relatively privileged women working in formal sector jobs. The vast number of women working in the informal sector effectively have no social protections at all, forget about paid maternity leave benefits.

Add to this the well-known reality of poor implementation and even poorer monitoring and the truth is relatively few women benefit from paid maternity leave now, and by definition, therefore, very few stand to gain from the benefits being increased.

…Legislating generous benefits in a still poor country is putting the cart before the horse and is sure to fail. All that will happen are more frustrated women unable to find work, employers unwilling to hire women, and more non-compliance and non-enforcement of existing laws for a state that is already stretched thin trying to do far too many things with too few resources.

So why pass a bill which is so at odds with the real issues facing women on the ground? I think Subramanya is correct:

It’s hard to escape the impression that the main purpose of the increased maternity leave benefits is public relations, either aimed at educated urban women or targeted for international consumption where India is approvingly clubbed with rich countries like Norway and Canada as having the highest paid maternity leave in the world.

Solve for the (drone) equilibrium

A Patriot missile – usually priced at about $3m (£2.5m) – was used to shoot down a small quadcopter drone, according to a US general.

The strike was made by a US ally, Gen David Perkins told a military symposium.

“That quadcopter that cost 200 bucks from did not stand a chance against a Patriot,” he said.

Patriots are radar-targeted weapons more commonly used to shoot down enemy aircraft and ballistic missiles.

“Now, that worked, they got it, OK, and we love Patriot missiles,” the general said.

Here is more, via Ray Lopez.

Addendum: The Chinese are experimenting with a radio wave gun to bring down drones.

Cyber plus nuclear equals Uh-Oh

Cyber weapons are different. If you are a state and you let potential enemies know about your arsenal of cyber attacks, you are giving them the opportunity to fix their information systems so that they can neutralize the threat. This means that it is very hard to use cyber weapons to make credible threats against other states. As soon as you have made a credibly-specific threat, you have likely given your target enough information to figure out the vulnerability that you want to exploit.

This means that offensive cyber weapons are better for gathering intelligence or actually taking out military targets than for making threats. In this regard, they are the opposite of nuclear weapons, which are more useful as threats than as battlefield options. Nuclear weapons can create stability because they deter attacks. In effect, they create a stable system of beliefs where no state wants to seriously attack a nuclear power, for fear that this might lead to a conflict that would escalate all the way to nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons and cyber attacks don’t mix well.

Unfortunately, this means that the advantages of cyber operations become an important liability for nuclear deterrence when they are used for “left of launch” attacks on nuclear launch systems. By secretly penetrating another state’s launch system, you may undermine the stable system of beliefs that discourages an attack.

Consider what might happen in a tense standoff between two states that both have nuclear weapons, where one state has penetrated the other state’s launch system, so that it could stop a nuclear counter attack. The state that has penetrated the launch system knows that it has a military advantage. However, if  it reveals the advantage to the target state, the target state will be able to patch its system, destroying the advantage. The target state does not know that it is at a disadvantage, and it cannot be told by the attacker.

The result is that the two states have very different perceptions of the situation. The attacker thinks that there is an imbalance of power, where it has the advantage. The target thinks that there is a balance of power, where both states have nuclear weapons and can deter each other. This means that the first state will be less likely to back down, and might escalate conflict, secure in the knowledge that it can neutralize the other state if necessary. However, the target state may too behave in provocative ways that raise the stakes, since it mistakenly believes that at a certain point the other state will have to back down, for fear of nuclear war. Thus, this creates a situation where each side may be more willing to escalate the tense situation, making it more likely that one state will decide to move toward war.

That is from Eric Gartzke and Jon R. Lindsay, there is more interesting material at the link.

Make Northern Ireland Great Again

Northern Ireland of course is much smaller than the southern Republic:

The difference between north and south — in 1926, for example — was crucial, agricultural and manufacturing sectors of the economy playing very different roles in the two jurisdictions.  Almost 35 percent of the workforce in Northern Ireland were engaged in manufacturing, while under 10 percent were engaged in the nationalist Free state; nearly two-thirds of Ireland’s manufacturing employment was in the north.

That is from Richard English, Irish Freedom: The History of Nationalism in Ireland, pp.348-349.  (By the way, this is one of the best books I’ve read in months.  It is a subtle treatment of politics, history, religion, and most of all political psychology; it is especially strong on why the Unionist movement in the north never has perished and why a formal reunification of the two Irelands would be so hard to pull off.)

We also can learn that “In 1969 output per head in the [Northern] region was still around one-fifth higher than in the Republic.”  And in 1984, living standards in Northern Ireland were about 25 higher than in the south.

Today “Northern Ireland’s per capita GDP is similar to that of the Border region of Ireland which is about 38 per cent lower than the national average.”

On Twitter, I suppose that would be #MNIGA.

Ballycastle, Antrim County, Northern Ireland

Ballycastle was named the best place to live in Northern Ireland in a list compiled by The Sunday Times in 2016.

Link here.  77.7% Catholic, with a lovely 18th century church.  The downtown is thriving and intact, with no real signs of hollowing out.  Virtually all of the shops are not major chains.  People seem to be friendly and helpful.

The town sits on water’s edge, with lovely views.


It has one of the most scenic golf courses in Northern Ireland.  Here are further photos, including of the castle.  Here are photos of downtown.


Reasonable, well-ordered homes, only a few minutes drive from the sea, can be had for not much over one hundred thousand pounds sterling.  As my father used to say “What are we waiting for?”

Northern Ireland remains an underrated region.