Why historians worry more about Trump than economists do

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is one excerpt:

…historians stress the importance of contingency, that things really could have gone another way. The decisions of a solitary assassin or the outcome of a single battle can shift the course of history. Particular leadership decisions might have avoided or limited World War I. Or what if the Germans had not, in 1917, put Lenin on a train back into Russia? The Bolshevik Revolution might have been avoided and probably the entire course of history would have been different. A shrewder President Paul von Hindenburg might have prevented the rise of Adolf Hitler.

If you think about these questions enough, you can end up very nervous indeed. Historians have seen too many modest mistakes spiral out of control and turn into disasters.

Economists, in contrast, work more with general models than with concrete historical situations, and those models emphasize underlying structural forces. Economies have fairly set populations, birth rates, natural resources, capital stocks, savings rates, trading partners, and so on. So to an economist, the final outcomes are closer to necessary than contingent…

And when it comes to politics, economists of the “public choice” variety tend to see outcomes as controlled by a fairly tight structure of voter preferences and interest groups, variables which a president can change only at the margin and with great effort.

So which perspective is correct — the historian’s or the economist’s?

There is much more at the link, including a discussion of how Paul Krugman’s strong anti-Trump stance fits into this picture.


..."The Bolshevik Revolution might have been avoided..."
Not very familiar with this , but skeptical that history is wrought only by "great" men.

You should read then, because what happened was fascinating, and was intended as a move to make Russia a less capable opponent on the part of the Germans - 'In February 1917, the February Revolution broke out in St. Petersburg – renamed Petrograd at the beginning of the First World War – as industrial workers went on strike over food shortages and deteriorating factory conditions. The unrest spread to other parts of Russia, and fearing that he would be violently overthrown, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. The State Duma took over control of the country, establishing a Provisional Government and converting the Empire into a new Russian Republic. When Lenin learned of this from his base in Switzerland, he celebrated with other dissidents. He decided to return to Russia to take charge of the Bolsheviks, but found that most passages into the country were blocked due to the ongoing conflict. He organised a plan with other dissidents to negotiate a passage for them through Germany, with whom Russia was then at war. Recognising that these dissidents could cause problems for their Russian enemies, the German government agreed to permit 32 Russian citizens to travel in a "sealed" train carriage through their territory, among them Lenin and his wife. The group travelled by train from Zürich to Sassnitz, proceeding by ferry to Trelleborg, Sweden, and from there to the Haparanda–Tornio border crossing and then to Helsinki before taking the final train to Petrograd.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Lenin#February_Revolution_and_the_July_Days:_1917

You are welcome to be skeptical of simplistic 'great men' narratives, but to ignore that decisions and actions have consequences is not very useful.

The armored train! Still very popular with communists (North Korea has one for its leader).

However, if you use innovation as a guide (Google "Oruktor Amphibolos"), "Great Men" are produced by their society, they are products of their time. If it wasn't Lenin, it would have been somebody else. Recall the Reds beat the Whites in the Russian civil war, despite the USA, Japan, others helping the Whites, so the 'time was ripe' for a communist takeover. Plus the Russian peasants understood collectivism (communism) not unlike today's American sheeple.

But even before that, it's arguably the case that without Helmuth von Moltke there would have been no WWI (and therefore no Bolshevik revolution, no Hitler, and no WWII).

"skeptical that history is wrought only by "great" men." Perhaps, and like many conjectures, unfalsifiable.

BUT, it's impossible to wave away assertions like "No Hitler, no Holocaust." For the holocaust didn't really become inevitable until the Wannsee Conference in Jan. 1942, and it wouldn't have happened if Hitler hadn't ordered it.

Would the Weimar Republic have collapsed anyway, and been replaced by a different authoritative government if Hitler had been killed in WWI? Perhaps, perhaps probably. And perhaps WWII as well. But, the holocaust was hardly inevitable, and while a more rational fuhrer might still have used Jew-hatred for political purposes, a more rational fuhrer would never have ordered this senseless slaughter.

Or have invaded the USSR, for that matter.

There was a genocide in Armenia despite Hitler not being there. Hitler didn't create the Holodomor or the Cultural Revolution. Hitler wasn't a member of the Khmer Rouge, nor has Hitler kept three generations of totalitarian rulers in power in North Korea.

My point being, it's meaningless to say "no Hitler, no Holocaust." Lots of different factors can bring someone like Hitler to power, where they can cause something like the Holocaust.

But anti-Semitism was a powerful political tool, for someone else if Hitler hadn't been there. Where it would have led we can't know, of course, but where it did lead is at least a clue.

Besides, what do you posit as the limit of rationality? What other things would a "more rational" fuhrer not have done?

Was an attempt to seize the Caucasus really irrational?

The counterfactual is useful here. Could Hitler have *prevented* the Holocaust by ordering that no Jews be killed? If the answer is yes, then we also have to assign a significant amount of value to a great man.

These historical what ifs, always remind me of the Dune series.

Perhaps but you might want to check out a German documentary called The Unknown Soldier (Der unbechenten Soldaten -- probably grossly misspelled). One of the interesting revelation was that there really was not any strong pressure by Hitler and the Nazi regime for many of the attroscities committed by the military. The officers that engaged in what we all take to be the NAZI party line did not really see any particular advancement over those officers who did not follow along.

Seems that perhaps the better way to view Hitler here is as someone who sort of showed everyone the door but never really required anyone to go through it. Those that did did so for their own reasons.

"Or what if the Germans had not, in 1917, put Lenin on a train back into Russia?" Then very likely Lenin would have found another way to go to Russia. Evidence: the vast majority of the leaders of the Bolshevick party as well as the other revolutionary parties, were in exil in March 2017 when the February revolution began. A few months later, they were all in Petrograd. For instance, Trotsky was in NYC when the revolution began, and his ship was intercepted by the British navy and he became a British kind of POW. Then "after initial hesitation and facing pressure from the workers' and peasants' soviets, the Russian foreign minister Pavel Milyukov was compelled to demand the release of Trotsky as a Russian citizen, and the British government freed him on 29 April 1917," (wikipedia) and he went safely to Russia through Scandinavia.

Historians regarding Trump himself as uniquely dangerous would be following the "Great man" theory of history, which they have rejected consistently for some time. More recently they criticised a project to assess the merits of colonialism by stating that it was not in the scope of historians to make value judgements on history ("Good and evil may be meaningful terms of analysis for theologians. They are useless to historians."). Neither do today's historians appear to concede academic respectability to the old motive of studying history - as a guide for predicting future consequences. (Of course I understand that they may regard any opportunity of scoring against Trump worth making exceptions for). I heard a lecturer in International Relations claim that a shift of students from History to International Relations was precisely because his students were credible when they applied to jobs saying that their studies would actually be useful, whereas History students were not.

You don't have to subscribe to "great man" theory to think that an individual in a position of power can have great influence. Trump's rise was driven by trends in society. Nevertheless, he has shaped the movement that he leads, and his narrow win over Clinton (which easily could have gone the other way) had major consequences.

As for historians, you are misconstruing the article that quote is taken from. It was written by a group of Oxford historians, and they oppose making simplistic value judgements, not any value judgements at all. The very reason for writing the article was their moral outrage at the value judgements other historians were making: http://theconversation.com/ethics-and-empire-an-open-letter-from-oxford-scholars-89333

I call BS on the Oxford historians at the link. Sure, they claim to be opposing simplistic value judgements; " it's all very complicated, nuanced, we continue to re-assess etc etc."

But they were wholly silent when all the "simplistic" moral judgements went the other way and the field was dominated by left-wing polemics. They spoke up only when the reactionary position was argued. Their post is not a call to sophisticated judgement; it outright denies the possibility of such judgement at all. Indeed it contains an explicit refusal to judge "as a balance sheet".

I don't believe their professed concern for sophisticated judgement and think their outrage is entirely motivated by their animus to the position advanced.

Shut your tiny dick

I'm really an emotionally unstable person....

Alastair, I don't wish to comment on the quality of their argument. "Simplistic" is often a lazy way of rejecting opposing arguments without really engaging them, but I don't know enough about this debate to evaluate that here.

My point is that they aren't eschewing value judgements, as A. G. McDowell claims. They are disagreeing with someone else's value judgement.

Fair enough.

Even Tyler has noticed that shouting "Trump!" to explain the convulsions of the western system at the moment is lazy analysis. I put these historians in class of people who would rather treat the symptoms of the malaise rather than confront the deeply uncomfortable causes closer to home.

The easy thing to say would be that history is formed by some combination of trends and individual actions.

It strikes me that this simple explanation is the right one.

There were trends in the Muslim world, but OBL, as one man, shaped the history. GWB, as another man, shaped things again.

.. and now Trump, as a uniquely compromised man, takes his turn.

"as a uniquely compromised man" Weird. Even for you.

Compromised? By uniquely, you must mean that he really doesn't let these things bother him. After what he's done to the Russians (kicking out their spies, bombing their airbase in Syria, increasing sanctions, etc.) I wonder what he would do to them if he wasn't compromised.

"Historians regarding Trump himself as uniquely dangerous would be following the "Great man" theory of history, which they have rejected consistently for some time."

Oh please. Like all of the humanities, the study of history is subject to trends and conformist fashions. Remember that during the Progressive era, the consensus among important historians like Charles Beard was that the primary cause of the American civil war was not slavery, but the differing economic systems of the North and South (and according to the historical materialist outlook subscribed to by those historians, it was inevitable that the modernizing industrial North would defeat the agrarian, reactionary South). Not coincidentally, this consensus formed at a time Americans and foreign immigrants were pouring into the cities to work in factories. Now, though, if you were to suggest that the Civil War was not actually about slavery, many would suggest that you are an apologist for Southern racism, segregation, and even slavery. Again, not coincidentally, much of the current focus in academia, cultural mags, and even politics is on "structures" like structural racism, structural poverty, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and the like. Such is the current zeitgeist.

I am not suggesting that the "Great Man" theory is correct, but the idea that because historians currently reject it for the most part, that we should then regard the idea as wrong, is ignorant of the history of history.

I don't have a strong opinion on the "Great Man" theory, and I agree with your point that we shouldn't reject it just because academic historians do (at least at the moment). But invoking a "Great Man" argument to explain those same historians' views on Trump seems to be missing something.

Put another way, Tyler's description of the historian's lens doesn't match my understanding. Though the fault could easily be with my understanding.

If history is any guide, the historians are right.

Memory bias is driving the conclusion, because "history" is the record of significant things that happened. Hitler is remembered; leaders that seemed dangerous but ended up being insignificant are forgotten. "[M]odest mistakes [that] spiral out of control" are remembered, but the vast majority of modest mistakes, which have modest consequences, are forgotten.

"Memory bias is driving the conclusion"

+1, Historians are a political bunch and prone to in group trends. Wait 20 years and the conclusions will change. Wait 100 years and you might get a better result. Perspective and not living at the time will wash away a lot of the emotional baggage.

Look at the Presidential ranking of Ronald Reagan. Historians in the 1980's gave him some pretty awful rankings, but starting around the year 2000 his rankings jumped 10 to 15 spots upward.

Economists work with a vast array of data gathered on the basis of rules that ensure it objectivity and its representativeness of the entire economy. Historians, OTOH, have no desire or intent to claim a balanced assessment; they focus on narratives that make entertaining and interesting stories. They don't have to consider every alternative; they don't propose and reject hypotheses; they are free to cherry pick, and do so with gusto.

Economists are pseudo scientists and their analysis is almost always ideologically driven. That they are good at playing the objective scientist in public does not make it true. Thanks for the advertisement.

Well put. When the data are vast, the narrative takes over. I have a BA in economics from the 1970s and its study taught me a very useful way of looking at the world. When I look at the field today, it seems lost. TC notes various papers that he finds interesting, but most seem like busy work, often by entry level job seekers. I also see sophisticated but empty empiricism. Does anyone study epistemology and the philosophy of science?

Agreed. A lot of historians are useless. Incapable of systemising in favour of story-telling.

Yeah but economists just spend their time finding spurious correlations in data to justify one or another ideological goal. Neither one is better than he other. At least the historians are usually more entertaining.

Agreed that both professions have deservedly bad reputations for the same reason.

There are some historians and economists who make good attempts at systemisation and truth, but they are in the minority behind the motivated reasoners. T'was ever thus.

What IS systematizing? You can look at any theory of history (even pre-history, even paleontology) and say "That's just a story". It's worse with human history (particularly anything after writing was developed) because "systematizing" would necessarily consist of looking at causal relationships between events, looking at key people involved in those events, and putting them into some sort of rational framework--which looks very much like a story. One can read "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" as much for the narrative as for the facts. "The Silimarillion" demonstrates this point as well.

Early writers clearly _thought_ that you could apply history, and sometimes teachers and others echo their hopes when attempting to sell their subject to those who know no better -

Machiavelli "I have thought fit to note down with respect to all those books of Titus Livius which have escaped the malignity of Time, whatever seems to me essential to a right understanding of ancient and modern affairs; so that any who shall read these remarks of mine, may reap from them that profit for the sake of which a knowledge of History is to be sought. "

Polybius - "In all these cases it is history alone that can supply him with precedents, and teach him how, in the first case, to find supporters and allies; in the second, to incite co-operation; and in the third, to give vigour to the conservative forces which tend to maintain, as he desires, the existing state of things."

In searching for an account of how Machiavelli's conclusions match up with more modern theories I was perturbed to find that such little discussion as existed on this subject dated pretty much from his own time, and that modern historians found the idea of this not challenging, not contentious, but simply outside the scope of what they regarded as their subject, and therefore they had not bothered to consider it at all.

Indeed. Older writers were much more ambitious in the scope of history; believing it showed consistent patterns which could be observed and usefully manipulated.

Economic history nowadays shows flashes of this, but mostly the field has been vacated. Where are our Seldonian psychohistorians? I blame the rise of subject matter specialists.

Ah, yes, "data-driven" anecdote? :). At least there is some constraint. !

'historians stress the importance of contingency'

No they don't. Authors interested in popularizing a historical subject, on the other hand ....

'Economies have fairly set populations, birth rates, natural resources, capital stocks, savings rates, trading partners, and so on.'

Except when they don't - WWI, the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise (and fall) of Hitler, etc. Though if an economist wishes to argue that economists not only learn nothing from history, they are simply ignorant of it, far be it from anyone else to dispute such an obvious point.

Here's a thought: what about ECONOMIC historians? What do they think of Trump?

Donald Trump is a Great Man because he is making America great again! #maga2020

I feel that MOST historians are like economists in this regard. The people interested in counterfactual / what-if history tend to be popularisers and, in my experience, tend to be on the hard right of the profession (Niall Ferguson).

what work is "hard" doing for you Millian? Niall Ferguson is on the right, but "hard right"? Why do people have to do this. In an attempt to big up your argument, you undermine words. Have a look at Ukraine's Azov Battalion - that's hard right.

You want to talk about HARD

THIS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJwh3erQlyE
is HARD, everything else is soft in comparison.

Not totally a wrong point I suspect, though I'd differ in explanation: Left wing historians, in general, in experience seem to have a bias to mostly be social historians, and tend not to study individual decision makers too much, except as representatives of a class who have understood interests and are reasonably substitutable, and they tend to have rather thin understanding of any figure as person (ruler X is just an authoritarian, ruler Y is just a representative of the ruling class and so on).

They also tend to have an influence from Marx (when they are not wholly derivative of Marx and Lenin) who was a proto-historical economist, with a tendency to explore history as the outcome of fundamental material forces and inevitable dialectic. Though his models were often rather poor.

Yes. +1. The more left-wing, the more historians de-emphasise contingency, often to the point of deterministic fallacy.

"The more left-wing, the more historians de-emphasise contingency, often to the point of deterministic fallacy."

Hence the leftist preoccupation with the idea of "the right side of history."

There does seem a fair bit of "Our demographic destiny will inevitably heft us towards victory" going on at the moment with the left ("We've got the young. We've got the ethnic minorities. It's only a matter of time til we win!"), at the expense of thinking too much about how things will shake out given the electoral systems in play. Not sure if this is itself actually a deep feature or more contingent matter though.

Maybe. Perhaps those immigrants and minorities will evolve into natives with a desire to preserve the best of their current culture.

My ancestors were immigrants and Democrats, yet I vote Republican and support only legal immigration from the nations of my ancestors. I am ok with deporting cheaters from any country.

The left always wants change, the right wants to preserve the status quo - by definition.

Some things need to be changed, and others are worth preserving. The key is to recognize which is which. Nowadays, it appears the left wants to toss the Constitution and the rule of law and replace both with feelings.

The left is such a broad brush as to be meaningless.

Sure there’s the Crooked Timber demographic, which hates the Democrat party for being too conservative. Maybe they do want to overthrow the constitution etc. But..

Some huge percentage of democrats are either women or minorities. Women are More risk averse and want the government to ensure income, housing, paid maternal leave, and health care for women and their children. Minorities are put off by mass incarceration, law and order politics, immigration law enforcement, and racism.

After that it’s just white men screaming at each other over tax rates.

All those things women want are pretty expensive. Even if we bought and paid for those things China would be waiting in the wings for us to collapse, which we surely would. As for the minorities that dislike the consequences of the rule of law, would they prefer we become like Honduras?

I am pessimistic the center can hold. The last ~250 years have been great. Nothing on the horizon looks very good.

Re; women, my understanding is differences within women are stronger than within men with respect to the effect of education and age. Older women more conservative than older men. It's difficult for me to see risk aversion as being too important when women go from being more supportive of conservative polices and low tax to the opposite. Also not sure there's a split on whether women prefer low taxation to more state services, relative to men. It's not clear than high taxes would be preferred by a risk averse person compared to keeping their money. Women as more risk averse would also probably worry more about state debt.

Re; minorities, I don't think mass incarceration and law and order really are turnoffs exactly. Minorities in Western countries generally go left, so it can't be specific to US incarceration policy, and often they back a harsher stance than the White majority (although Brazil is quite different, think of how Bolsonaro picks up law and order support from minority groups because they disprop. the victims, despite being disprop. the perps; not too different within Western countries).

My impression is that this stuff is mostly driven by a wary consciousness of nationalism and male power networks, and how hard it is for right wing parties to credibly not support those, if they even wanted to. Once those things go away as threats, then the apparent support for left aligned, more redistributive social democrat type policies will probably drop out pretty quickly.

Ok, but my point is most historians are what you describe as "left-wing historians". Just as most economists take the same view. The historians got it from Marx, who got it from other economists. Nowadays, few Marxians are economists and the "hard left" of the economics profession instead believes in local contingencies overruling general laws of behaviour...

Having studied both subjects I can only conclude that modern (that is non-Marxian) historians stress complexity and a broad range of causes to a much greater degree than economists. Sometimes very small mistakes with very major consequences (French Revolution anyone?) and most of the time not. As an example of economists simplifying things to the point of the absurd, your post is spot on of course!

Well, in all fairness, his post is actually intended to provide more readers for his longer column, which undoubtedly provides a broader view and more complexity.

And it was also likely an attempt to dip his toe back into the actual world where Trump is seen as a major problem from any number of perspectives. Because it looks like the SS Trump is in an icefield and the lookouts seem to be ending up pleading guilty and going to jail (or the smarter ones just quitting, of course), making the helmsman ever more erratic and increasingly blind when trying to dodge the next collision.

True that, he's rather good at omnichannel marketing. And the Japan example is a good conveyor of Keynes' sentiment..

'he's rather good at omnichannel marketing'

Quite the understatement. He is even better at presenting himself as simply an individual, carefully erasing any trace of how so much of the marketing is not merely the effort of a single person, but part of a well financed structure. Or various structures, depending on how one views things.

" modern (that is non-Marxian) historians" Both of them?

They are both right: historical events are by definition events that feature a high degree of contingency. Among the many trillions of events that occurred in the past 200 years, historical events such as the decision to send Lenin back to Russia in 1917 are exceptionally contingent events. Actually, since the end of WW2 I don't think anything that has happened has been as historically determinant as the huge discontinuities in the flow of history from 1914 to about 1943 (as the final couple of years of WW2 was a deterministic process of superior forces griding down the Germans).

What also happened were some non-events: people preventing nuclear apocalypse at the last second. And I wouldn't say there were no important people either. Off the top of my head in politics I can think of Mao, Kim, Kabila, Ghandi and many more who were huge influences on humanity. In the arts we could have had a very different world too, without e.g. Elvis or Gloria Estefan. In tech there's definitely Jobs and Gates. In manufacturing, individuals founded companies such as Toyota, and invented products such as instant noodles without which our world would be very different.

+1 for Kabila.

A stronger Congo would really have changed African history.

But that overlooks the deeper and more systemic issue: There isn't really any Congolese polity for one man to strengthen. And that's the result of a hundred years of events encompassing lots and lots of people not just in Africa but in other parts of the world.

I would disagree on your list with Ghandi and Toyota. I think very similar events would have played out w/ or w/o those two. Though admittedly, the future path of politics in India could have been a lot different depending on the exact sequence of events around independence.

I think the "great man" thesis is weakest when looking at the sciences, arts, most businesses, and technical innovation.

Toyota not for the cars but for Japanese line manufacturing technology, the Ohno & Shingo Toyota Production System of the 1970s being the embryo of most if not all all lean manufacturing processes today. If we still used the old American manufacturing philosophies everywhere, which still essentially assume workers = cattle and managers hold all the wisdom of the world, we'd live in a very different work space for manufacturing.

"If we still used the old American manufacturing philosophies everywhere, which still essentially assume workers = cattle and managers hold all the wisdom of the world,"

That's not really correct.

The big lessons learned were to:
Implementing Kaizen, which looks for continuous quality upgrades, such as by identifying defects as far upstream as possible. The general American standard at the time was to check for quality at the end of the production line. Kaizen makes all employees responsible for quality not just a person in the "quality role".

Indeed you use the phrase, "assume workers = cattle and managers hold all the wisdom of the world", but it was Unions that pushed back with expanding workers roles and management that was pushing for it.

Implementing a Kanban system, which is just a local line scheduling and inventory tool that provides feedback. This allowed reduction in inventory amounts and just in time parts delivery.

And as somebody who has worked in both Japanese and American company auto plants, I can assure you that the UAW has consistently pushed back against Japanese business practices.

How about Tojo>Roosevelt>Demming>Japanese manufacturing?

You can draw many lines from the past to the present.

The line I drew was Demming>Japanese manufacturing>American manufacturing. I didn't mention Demming by name, but clearly he was fundamental to the process.

Had similar exposure.

UAW is hugely responsible for the US auto sector’s long and pitiful decline.

The idea that an employee is a skilled worker that takes pride in his work and has a responsibility for both quality and process improvement is viewed more negatively than the Holocaust by American unions.

Indeed, I've worked in UAW plants. The UAW is by far the worst union I've ever dealt with.

"viewed more negatively than the Holocaust by American unions."

No, that's not really fair. Sure the UAW is bad. But I've done plenty of work with IBEW electricians and various construction unions and they are generally fine.

I should add that from 1815 to the present the only period of really big contingencies was 1914 to 1943. Even then, this whole 30 year long trainwreck was all caused by WW1 which by itself was a natural consequence of the high tensions of the 1910s caused by the rise of Germany as Europe's most powerful country in a geopolitical environment where the UK and France were the incumbent powers. Still, WW1 evolved in the most tragic way imaginable with a poorly formulated armistice that sowed the seeds of WW2 as well as the fact the Great Depression, itself caused by tremendously incompetent macro policies, happened to hit Germany just after it was recovering from its hyperinflation, leading to unrest and the rise of Hitler and thus leading to WW2.

What evidence is there that historians or economists have any skills in predicting the future? A good historian brings to life and explains the distant past. A good economist brings to life and explains the recent economic past. But neither have any skills that are applicable to predicting the future. e.g. and for example, I imagine you could dig up various predictions from Paul Krugman to demonstrate how poor he has been at predicting the future. But that isn't even worth the time it would take to do, because nobody in their right mind would expect some economist (or some historian) to know what was going to happen in the future. There premise of Tyler's article is a mistake.

Some economists and some historians will undoubtedly be good (i.e. better than average) at predicting the future. Phil Tetlock for instance sees this talent in about 2% of the human population. Probably not the most vocal economists and historians though, as being a Superforecaster requires not being too hard-headed, which is bad for media attention (which bad forecasters presumably command more of, in any field, just because their decisiveness looks more sexy on TV).

The problem with using the past to predict the future is that, while you can predict general trends, everyone wants specifics. You can say "Countries that institute socialism generally follow this path", but you can't say specifically how fast, who's going to do what, or how it's going to affect your drive to work. These systems are unimaginably complicated, so regional and local conditions can confound even the most precise global predictions.

And both historians and economists are so busy with their abstractions that forget about people. Clever minds before us have a say: Aldous Huxley, Collected Essays, Maine de Biran: The Philosopher in History.

"What is history? Is history something which exists, in its intelligible perfection, only in the minds of historians? Or is it something actually experienced by the men and women who are born into time, live out their lives, die and are succeeded by their sons and daughters?"

Huxley provides and eloquent discussion based on these questions. He concludes that most of our private human experience is conditioned but mostly lived outside "history" (sorry Tyler).

The economist's perspective works "more with general models than with concrete historical situations, and those models emphasize underlying structural forces."......and Huxley warned us that this collectivistic approach produces the temptation to surrender to authority in order to end sorrow in human life.

The link to Huxley's essay: https://www.e-reading.club/chapter.php/72425/52/Huxley_-_Collected_Essays.html

Your column should have been titled “Trump: Bad or Evil”.

And it should have been time-stamped 2015.

"Historians worry that Trump is a Hitlerian monster who will literally destroy the planet. But economists are wise scientists, and recognize that he will merely do deep, lasting damage. Make sure you click through to see what I wrote about Paul Krugman!"

Thanks, Ty, but we're good.

Exactly. I get the feeling Tyler has to write stuff like this every now and then to maintain his standing in the academy and avoid getting tagged as some sort of free-thinker.

I think that TC's reputation as a free-thinker is largely imaginary. His main interest is in the exotic and esoteric as long as it has nothing to do with the right wing.

Cowen is smarter than all of you put together

I'm perfectly willing to believe that. My point goes to the social constraints imposed by his position upon his ability to express himself, not his intellect.

Lest one forget, what we call history is not history, but one's account of the past. That's what historians do, provide an account of the past. Indeed, it's impossible to reproduce the past; the past is inaccessible to us absent a time machine. Economists, I'm sorry to say, have become today's soothsayers, offering predictions of the future, predictions that vary across economists and the ideologies of the economists who provide them. Accounts of the past, predictions of the future, and never the twain shall meet. With the mad hatter in the White House, one may ask whether he is forever changing our country and the world. If one were to read a newspaper, such as the NYT, every jot or tittle is a world altering event. That would be an historian's perspective. As reflected in his many blog posts on the question, Cowen takes the opposing, or economis't view, that these events are jots and tittles and won't have much effect on the future. That's reassuring, especially from someone, Cowen, who rarely if ever plays the role of soothsayer (that's a compliment). To the historian, the past offers a glimpse into the future. But I say making historical analogies is as difficult as making predictions of the future.

To emphsize the point that predictions are difficult, especially as to the future, the great one himself, Milton Friedman, after visiting China, predicted that China's version of state capitalism was bound to fail, and that Chin's future was bleak. Was that prediction coming from an economist's or historian's perspective? Probably a little of both. As for the historian, Friedman could not overlook the past experience of socialist and other forms of mixed economies, as opposed to the miraculous economic growth experienced in what we call free markets. As for me, I'm not an economist and, accordingly, am greatly influenced by history. As I have pointed out, a cursory review of the past reveals a connection between high levels of inequality and financial instability. Whether that connection is a mere correlation or causal is the question, a question the historian answers by making analogies between different points in time while the economist answers by, well, I'm not so sure, but from the point of view that every point in time is different, and different for different reasons.

"China ... bound to fail."

It's not too late to fail.

That said, throughout history, tyranny and slavery has been the norm. The events of 1776 in Britain's North American colonies we're an aberration. I suspect we will revert to the norm, especially since progressives believe statism is the best of all worlds, especially if they get to be the state.

I don't understand why so many otherwise intelligent and educated people don't recognize Trump, Brexit, Italy, and Orban as symptoms and not causes. Do they really believe if, say, Trump is impeached all will return to "normal"?

A long long time ago Krugman was correct, trajectories matter.

We are on a new trajectory.

There's also a bias that historians have to look at contingency on the wrong things - decisions and power politics.

Contingency in ideas seems like it would be more important (contra "Steam Engine Time" ideas - https://definithing.com/steam-engine-time/).

TC: Economists also study “catch-up growth,” which holds that systems tend to be self-repairing. So if some resources are destroyed, GDP will fall but the system will produce new replacement resources more rapidly, just as a lobster might regrow a lopped-off arm. Catch-up growth tends to make economists less nervous about natural disasters or wartime losses

How much do economists really believe in catch up growth?

Note Brexit: Economists, at least as deliver by mass media, talk a lot about a permanent weight on the British economy from disengaging with the EU, which they give at about 0.3-0.5% GDP per year, but which become incalculably large estimated as a steady state into the future.

(You yourself provide: "I’m not going to deny that the world is sustaining damage from some recent electoral results, including Brexit.")

Not much talk about catch up growth or the economy as a complex adaptive system which is robust to trade arrangements.

The tendency I see among economists tends to be more that, much more than historians, they are liable to see long term outcomes as very, very sensitive to even very small variations in trade policy and political structure from what they commonly believe to be the free trade optima. Historians, if anything, are probably more open to the idea that these are not destiny, especially if losing on trade also has the upside of facilitates a generally more able or flexible political response to contingent events.

I always felt part of the reason why economists are less worried about Trump is because economics is somewhat a predictive science. And when you back economics with a few billion dollars (as investment advisors do), you need to be far more pragmatic than idealistic.

So it seems to me the more pragmatic you're required to be, the more you need to look past the social media aspects of this Presidency and look at his actual actions. And what his actions speak to is that--aside from his fiddling with trade alliances (in an experiment which uncertain outcomes), this has been a rather pedestrian conservative President.

I think anyone's defenses of Trump at this point are actually defenses of themselves.

If you can't see, for instance, the ruin of a misbegotten trade war, and if you call that ruin "pedestrian conservatism" .. you must need that framework.

"Some days, I just think I need to — golly, I need to trust what he's doing," one farmer said of President Trump. "Other days, I think, "Golly, I wish this would be over."

Scales firmly attached to eyes.

Trump is an idiot and yes everyone supporting him are just defending their own idiocy. They should all be shamed and ignored. They are a bunch of stupid sexist redneck bigots.

Obviously that is too cruel.

But it is true that surprisingly intelligent people said "it's fine for an idiot to be president because institutions will hold."

Institutions are not Mythic Beings. They do not awaken when summoned by Danger.

Institutions are us, and we all have to do our part to uphold the Constitution and the values in the Declaration.

I mean, if you believe in that kind of thing.

Pushing back on hysteria is important. That’s what Tyler is doing in the piece.

We have an idiot as President. Unfortunate, but so far not disastrous. We’ve had idiots before. We will have idiots again.

When the smoke of hysteria clears, what are we left with? The knowledge that the real power in the presidency is visavis foreign policy.

Trump, for all his tweets, seems much less eager to engage in war thus far. Trade wars are idiotic, as befitting the Orange clown, but thus far also not disastrous.

For all his bluster and pointless cruelty, he cannot do anything about immigration. Judges will block everything. His inane Muslim ban morphed into an Obama era program as it wound its way through the courts. He can rage against asylum but the laws won’t change.

He’s unable to pass any legislation minus a tax cut.

You can point to this comment if he starts a war as an example of how wrong we were, but at this point more American marines/soldiers were dying in a week in 2011 than have died during his entire presidency.


World War seems a pretty high bar to set for "something bad just happened."

What about GM cutting 14,000 employees? Would that have happened in all possible worlds?

Basically, every time someone says "this is not so bad" there is a potential opportunity cost for something that could have been better.

We could have had a change to trade policy that strengthened the position American farmers and American manufacturers.

Hillary would have ensured that GM didn't cut 14,000 employees. Obama showed the way when he restructured GM in 2009. She would have personally chosen a few people to put on the board and prioritized the employees over the profits of management and the share holders.

American farmers are just Trump voting Red staters. The government should immediately cut all agricultural subsidies as well as the billions in explicit subsidies. They should pay sales tax on their diesel. The inheritance tax should be re-instituted and set to a reasonable level so that they can't pass the ill gotten wealth of their farms to their children. The farms were obtained in the first place by genocide against the natives and ensuing theft by white Europeans.

I don't think it would have taken such great interventions into the free market. The U.S. Historical Tariffs on this page show 1.5 percent from 2000 onward,

A uniform tariff of say 5% on all goods, from oranges to cars to iPhones would have given US manufacturers an edge (including against Canada and Mexico).

But at 5% I don't think you are blocking true comparative advantage.

World war? Wut.

The comparison is 2011 not 1944. Libya, Afghanistan etc.

There’s no reason to have auto plants in the US at all, and certainly not churning out cars that have no demand.

5% tariff is idiotic, the appropriate tariff is zero. You’re much closer to Trump than I had realized.

The opportunity cost of his presidency is the stupid tariffs and shittier NAFTA to begin with.

Here's the thing about zero tariff. Imagine that I am a small manufacturer. I own property, I pay for salaries and services. I pay direct and indirect taxes for or through those. When my widget comes to market, it has embedded in it a component of taxes (federal, state, and local). When my widget sells, the protections and services provided by government (federal, state, and local) are paid for.

When a widget shows up at the doc, maybe they have paid some foreign taxes (maybe), but they haven't contributed to the infrastructure in this country. They haven't paid for the protections and services provided by government (federal, state, and local), which having made it to the dock, they enjoy.

Why should I, a good US citizen, pay more embedded tax as I bring my widget to market, than some foreigner who wants to play for free?

(I understand that tariffs are paid by the buyer, and you can tell the story that way was well. Why should the shopper be given the out to buy the widget US tax free, and then the buyer would be avoiding pay for protections and services provided by government (federal, state, and local).)

Your understanding of tax incidence is leading you astray.

Regardless, tariffs cause deadweight loss in the world economy. Everyone is poorer. It’s inefficient, pointless, and stupid.

If a US company makes a product in Mexico and sells it in the US, they’re paying corporate taxes on the profits regardless.

If a Chinese company makes a product and sells it in the US, there’s still a sales tax in most states. Depending on elasticities, it’s paid for by either party.

This is where you get idiots ranting about VATs and how they subsidize exports. They don’t.

If you want a consumption tax, then just advocate for it. Tariffs are insane. Hugely inefficient and hurt the poor more than everyone else.

That sounds like an argument from someone who hopes that some how, some way, we can get away with nobody paying tax. Maybe Santa will put aircraft carriers in the Navy's stocking.

In reality, if you *don't* tax the foreign widget, you tax the domestic widget that much more.

Pay me now or pay me later, and in this case, discourage US production.

What are you even saying?

We have sales taxes. They apply to foreign made goods.

We have corporate and capital gains taxes. For the companies that make goods in other countries.

You can’t be this dumb. Or do I just repeatedly fall for troll bait?

We don’t need a tariff to level the playing field.

The playing field was tilted against US corporations because of our insanely high corporate tax rate. That’s now been fixed.

tl;dr - zero tariff is tax avoidance

And to put it really simply:

If US manufacture costs more because of tax, and low tariff imports cost less, what happens to US manufacture?

I think Clinton would have been worse for our institutions. They have antibodies for Trump. It's hard to say for sure, but we might end up with better ethics laws and norms after Trump.

Clinton's corruption would have metastasized. If Clinton had won, everyone would have a corrupt foundation. This is true even if Clinton's foundation wasn't as corrupt as it appeared

I do have some sympathy for the idea that there could be a sliver lining, with the next generation clamping down hard on high level corruption and white collar crime.

But I think on the Clinton Foundation a lot of people are still falling for the misdirection. One of two Foundations is in court defending crimes. It isn't that one.

It is a fundamental error to talk about the Clinton Foundation as if it is a one-off or outlier, rather than an apex example that was exposed for political leverage

Possibly "I have a campaign, and I have a business, and I have a charitable foundation" is status quo.

After that it is judging what is moral and what is legal - what the entanglements were.

I give the CF props for actually saving lives. Millions, according to the Denver Post. If that was maybe connected to some "access" ... well.

Ah, that was an op-ed, not an ed. Still, a pretty broadly supported contention.

You could think of it as a very simple trolley problem. Turn down this track and you kill millions, turn down this track and some pol gets a listen.

So you are making a means and ends argument, or perhaps more like an omelettes/cracked eggs argument.

A foundation can of course be both effective and corrupt. And as United way, Red Cross, and the Catholic Church show, large philanthropic groups and not immune to large institution pathologies.

At their worst, private foundations can be:
- means to launder influence pedaling
- means to evade taxes
- tax deductible way to provide jobs for idiot sons in laws
- milked for travel and residence expenses
- milked for consulting, investment, and fundraising fees

The above factors are independent of the organization's effectiveness. Although their are clearly a portion of nonprofits that are obvious scams - barely or not at all compliant with the spirit if not letter of the law.

I might be making a shades of grey argument, that is that access to a dinner table for adult conversation is in a different class than child abuse.

More in shades of grey here:


I am not following your logic here, and trying hard to not see it as sophistry. You've set up a horrible false dichotomy, between the adult table and child abuse.

The Clinton Foundation can have both served many needy people, and also been a guilty of 501c abuse and influence peddling.

There's nothing grey about it. Except that it is not particularly rare and currently rarely talked about, although perhaps supersized-sized give the Clinton's influence.

If you accept corruption and influence peddling as a necessary element of global philanthropy, then come out and say that.

The worst claim I've ever heard about the Clintons is that they paired social responsibility with access to politicians. That is, if you helped save millions of people, someone might listen to your pitch.

You came back at me about the Catholic church and child rape.

Is that some stupid argument that "bad is bad, we can't tell the difference?"

The child abuse line came from you.

"I think Clinton would have been worse for our institutions. "

She would have been much worse. The Email scandal provides an indication of what her policies would have been like. She would have done exactly what she wanted to do regardless of what the laws or rules were. She would have used a skilled layer of lawyers backed up by a fawning press to shield herself and her administration. Furthermore, she has a proven track record of using the military as a global policeman. Her policies would have been identical to George W Bush's in that regard, though probably not the scale of the Iraq War.

The fact is that Trump's trade war is chicken shit to the costs of a real war. And the fact is that Trump has been very hesitant to expand foreign interventions by the US military.

"This is true even if Clinton's foundation wasn't as corrupt as it appeared"

The inarguable fact that donations to the Clinton foundation plunged after she lost the election. Granted, I don't think the Clinton foundation is a direct method of corruption. Instead it's used as a method for the Clinton's to legally pay for lavish travel and hotel arrangements around the world and to hobnob with the elite at Foundation events.

The Foundation used almost 10% of it's donations in 2017 to fund travel for a small group of people.

"Travel expenses also dipped, but were still tallied in the millions — with $3,917,419 spent in 2016, and $2,300,601 spent in 2017. The Clinton fly first-class or by private plane, tax filings show."


To be fair, I think Clinton would have been better on trade and far, far better on decorum.

No, it's not too cruel, it is an accurate description. And the Constitution is a living document, it is what we want it to be.

Careful there, bigot.

Yes, we can claim "our institutions" are "us". But! The corollary is that the for every state with weak institutions, "those institutions" are "them"; not something that sits aside from its people and act against their interests.

It also means that you have to think seriously about whether our institutions will survive huge demographic changes, and a rise in a pretty substantial heft of left wing activists who don't care about the procedural commitments of their institutions, want "X% women, Y% African-Americans" right now and view them with outright suspicion and contempt as instruments of oppression.

I stand for the neoliberal project, that all of us with overlapping American cultures can unite for common values.

And my experience in a heavily mixed Southern California is that we certainly can.

The neoliberal that wants to raise tariffs 300%.


My experience in the workplace is the same. But we can't just draw from personal, anecdotal experience, from a strongly selected background subject to much filtering, to understand social institutions.

Some data suggests that institutions will change. In fairness, nation building is complex, and there's no straightforward relationship between diversity and the quality of a state (there's was a great review of this about, if I can find it again).


Note the comment said "less worried" and you read it as "defense of."


You should have read him to the end.

"This has been a rather pedestrian conservative President."

My thought, as I read this yesterday, was that those of us who know Tyler are going to be more sympathetic than the man off the street. We get, or think we get, where he's coming from.

But my gosh, what will the new readers think?

They are told that once Japan buries their dead, rebuilds their burned and flattened cities, and makes a series of apologies, they're all good.

Quite a bit of human suffering is averaged over in the long-term graph of gross national product.

Kind of like now, if separated kids grow up in foster families, they're all good from a GDP perspective.

(In other words, I think the intermediate cruelties matter to general readers.)

You’ve compared firebombing Tokyo (>120,000 dead civilians) and the literal nuking of two Japanese cities to the Trump administration.

Absurd. That and the child abuse metaphor above.

Besides, you support child separation, deportation, and enforcement of immigration laws. And raising tariffs 300%.

I guess you’ve been a Trumpista the whole time ?

This is partisan analysis. A win by a physically infirm and hubristic Clinton could as easily mean we have 100K troops in Syria right now getting shelled on three sides while they stumble around in water treatment plants looking for chlorine.

I have disappointing news for you: humans are perennially making poor choices and bumbling into crises.

It’s fair to say that under Trump vs Clinton we have comparatively toned down posture with Russia and ramped up confrontation with China.

Wrt to trade, its fair to say certain import and export industries are being disrupted into changing capital and resource allocations in significant ways.

Are these big or small changes? Will they revert to mean? How will these ripple into history?

Who can say?

I've wondered whether the history professors antipathy to the great men stories stems from their reaction to Reagan. The new coverage of Reagan was very similar to what we see how with Trump. A fool, going to get us all blown up, uneducated, a silly actor.

His greatest soon, unforgivable by the Marxist leaning academia was to hasten the collapse of the Soviet Union. A comment above said that nothing consequencial happened post ww2.

The idea that Reagan could be a great man requires rethinking the basic premises of an academic discipline.

I think the critique is actually whether the "great man" is a fungible role made possible by conditions.

But if you want to adhere to Reagan as a great man, then perhaps in fact you owe the credit to his wife, who historians tell us had significant influence.

And in the end, doesn't the Soviet collapse narrative owe any credit to Gorbachev? Or, under the glittering Republican narrative you claim, is he invisible, as Russia was during WWII under a conservative narrative?

I think the correct claim is that Reagan's wife's astrologer was a great (wo)man.

The degree to which economists or historians make better predictions depend on contingencies. If no big unexpected thing happens, then the economists are the way to bet. If the historians really think that HRC would handle a crises better than Trump, then I don't have much confidence in their predictive powers. If they are worried that Trump will cause a crisis, they are on more solid ground--Though HRC's Libya decisions show that she is perfectly capable of creating problems, or at least making small ones much, much larger.

It's not obvious to me that things wold have been much different under Hillary. The 2000 election result was surely more momentous. Maybe Gore would have been worse than Bush, but it's hard to see how.

Were these words written by someone who knows where his kids are?

Deported parents may lose kids to adoption, investigation finds

Deportations occurred under Obama too and every other modern president. No doubt children were affected.

History did not begin in Jan., 2017.

Fun fact: Obama and Hillary BOTH voted for the boarder wall as senators.

But those are mere, pesky facts. Never let them get in the way of the story!

You're aware this is left-over Obama policy, correct? Deportation wasn't invented in 2017, its been going on for literally millenia.

I suspect we never would've learned about the border camps should Clinton have been elected. Think about it, media was aware for years under Obama and never published, why would they publish under "Her Turn" Clinton?

" media was aware for years under Obama and never published"

So much so, that the original pictures of kids in cages were actually from the Obama era. Those pictures were quickly updated.

Absolutely not. I have not been playing whack-a-mole with the comments above, but the history is that the Trump administration explicitly changed this policy.


"variables which a president can change only at the margin and with great effort"

Umm, not always. Many examples of Presidents making changes with an appointment and a phone call or two.

For example, look at Bush and The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency at the beginning of his first term. Little doubt that the OCC's interference in state regulators ability to regulate national banks had a huge impact on the size of the bubble and the resultant financial crisis.

The historians emphasize random factors, except for the Marxists who argue for big trends. Well, Marx was an economist.

The economists look for big movements.

The two sides can be reconciled. What if economic history is modeled with grand mathematical models but have "chaotic" elements. Chaos in the mathematical sense. Then the model allows both determination and randomness.

Old issue. Consider the psychohistorians of The Foundation series, including the sequels written by other sci-fi writers. Asimov and his followers had to consider both determinism and randomness.

Historians are far far to the left of economists. They have 33.5 Dem faculty to every one republican. Also, they are fully bought into the cultural marxist paradigm.

Occams razor, historians are more worried about Trump because they are communists. Nothing about their methods.

Historians are deeply stupid while economists are only dumb.

Who would have though that Clinton losing would have broken so many minds.

Who is broken, really?



Left wing journalist writes anti-GOP screed.

Solid economic growth, higher wages, strong stock market, low inflation.

More chaos please.

More Bush 2007 please

Not the economy. 4.6 million new jobs in last two years, an economy that has grown 5.4% over that period, and the S&P500 up 20%. Something genius historian/economist Paul Krugman missed by a mile.

You should be smart enough to draw trend lines from 2009.

And to say I don't care if random cruelties were committed, as long as those trends continue, I think is a bit bankrupt.

What didn't Krugman understand then?

Those trends have significant impact the live of millions of people. Way more relevant than whatever CNN is chattering about right now.

What is the trend line on deportations?

I am not Paul, and I don't fully understand this response.

I mean, reasonable people should be able to have calm conversation about any particular time series, but I don't think that negates that CNN might actually be talking about high crimes and misdemeanors. Right now.


You need to realize, Trump is never getting impeached (Republican Senate). And if the economy is still booming in 2020, he's getting re-elected.

Brian here is referring to Krugman claiming the economy and market would collapse if Trump won.


Collapse and never recover. I still can’t believe he wrote that.

Krugman is the lefty equivalent of the idiots here who don't stop saying stupid shit about Obama and Hillary Clinton. All deranged.

Yes, thank you. Here's where Krugman shows that it is only at the intersection of "economic genius" and "history genius" that true clarity can be achieved:


I can't tell if this is a conversation above or just a monologue.

Yes you've always struggled with that.

Grokking has never been your long suit.

That's funny. msgkings blew his Hmmm cover and now Brian what, missed it, or is in on Brian/msgkings/Hmmm game?

As I say, monologue?

Yes, I love it when guys think I'm someone else. Art Deco thinks I'm a Mercatus intern. Cracks me up how anonymous thinks if he's being trounced from multiple sources it must be one guy. How could so many people not see what a paragon of virtue he is?

I saw your comment on the other thread and got confused. Having a good laugh.

The conspiratorial mindset to me is hilarious. Also the fact that we regularly disagree, but do so amiably.

Cheers msgkings, whoever you are. If you’re in the NE I’ll buy you a beer and explain how wrong I think you are.

Back atcha if you are ever in NorCal

Why should I "need to realize" that claim when I am considering my own moral compass?

Is that what you do? Do you use a claim about the future to check out on moral responsibility today?

Do you, as a citizen of this great republic, punt?

LOL no what I do is think how I think, vote how I vote, post how I post, and somehow refrain from breaking my neck self-fellating for being so moral. You do....the opposite.

That's always your crazy endpoints .. "nobody talk about what's right!"

I'm out.

And that's always yours: "Hey everyone, Trump really sucks! I don't know if I've mentioned it before"

OK bye. See you tomorrow.

Or random lies and crimes!


Economists stress unintended consequences (secondary effects) and an interest in outcomes over good intentions ("... it is not the benevolence of butcher..."). "Modest mistakes that spiral out of control" can just as easily (usually?) be the work of some well-intentioned do-gooder.

The trick isn't to find some good intention behind modest mistakes that spiral out of control. The trick is to find some such mistake that DIDN'T start with good intentions. Real-world people don't sit around link cartoon villains reveling in their own evil; they genuinely believe they're doing what's best.

" Real-world people don't sit around link cartoon villains reveling in their own evil; they genuinely believe they're doing what's best."

Thread winner.

I would never vote for Hillary Clinton, I'm convinced she would have ignored the law and done whatever she wanted to. But it would always have been from a misguided belief that the world would be a better place due to what she did.

We survived Dick Cheney's presidency, we'll survive Trump's as well. Just don't take Trump skeet shooting.

uh, I missed my chance! Correction...

We survived Dick Cheney's presidency, we'll survive Putin's as well.

We did miss the chance of having Hillary Clinton continue the Dick Cheney legacy.

Perhaps Cowan is suggesting we revisit the German Historical School of Economics.

Um.... Let me help you: OUTLIERS. Economists are better at explanation post hoc, and historians are better at prediction, for the simple reason that history consists of the analysis of outliers (opportunities in signal), and economics the analysis of regularities (opportunities in noise).

At present it is painfully clear to me that we are both at the most fragile condition any empire has been in history, and we have a surplus of agitated external competitors, and a surplus of agitated internal males ready to seize the opportunity.

If the economics profession measured ALL capital changes and incentives those changes cause, and demand for it's reallocation, as well as rates of consumption and production, then the profession MIGHT come close to the predictive ability of historians.

But as we have consistently seen, (which I have been measuring since 2002), the opinions of economists (confidence) vary inversely to the predictability of the conditions.

So, it's not an either or proposition.

Bias Confirmation in History, Projection in Psychology, and Cherry Picking in Economics. Next time you hear an economist say 'but we don't try to measure that', inform him that his position is no different from theologians saying 'we don't account for that'.

Bloomberg Opinion: Our reports tell you are the only commentator who hasn't yet compared Trump to nazism. Are you doing anything about it?
TC: working on it..

You're all overthinking this. American history is as we speak an apologetical enterprise from which political dissent has been cleansed. Consider Robert KC Johnson, an admirer of LBJ who would have qualified as a mainline Democrat 25 years ago. On American history faculties, his politics are as we speak right flank. Economics faculties remain politically variegated, though lacking church-and-country conservatives. American history faculties are a bubble where the members talk rot to each other.

That's pretty much what you'd expect when career success is based entirely on the opinion of others in the professions with no other feedback mechanism to force things back to reality. The same thing goes for most of the social sciences with Econ being something of an exception. My guess is that Econ manages to be somewhat more "right wing" because free market ideas are 1) useful to the new corporatist left, and 2) it neuters the right to some extent (i.e., pushing the right toward globalist libertarianism)

Very contrived argument, e.g. Paul Krugman's antipathy to Trump has something to do with some science fiction book? Is his antipathy to all Republican presidents during his lifetime based on that book or some other book?

I've read it's based upon his wife. When he married he either went partisan or came out of the closet as partisan.

Lenin's arrival on the sealed train is an awesome story, but it was an important contingency in the history of... Lenin. There was a revolution coming even if he stayed in Switzerland.

Another nit: Great Men "Candidates" evolve (emerge) in batches, usually over three generations of incentives (really). In other words, the market for great men exists at all times (iron law of oligarchy so to speak). World Communism was such a threat (and it's legacy still is) that it created demand for great men to both take advantage of it, and to oppose it with Fascism. Everything else that occured within those societies was simply utilitarian. whether we get a Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot is merely a function of utility in the sphere of influences.

And as controversial as it might seem today, Hitler and Mussolini if not Stalin and Mao, will be judged by history quite differently. And it is happening already. Science evolves with the death of the advocates of theories.

As a struggle for expansion during an era of western dominance we skew one bias, and as an attempt to save the core of western civilization in a period of anticipation of decline, we skew yet another.

History is unkind to the consensus of an era. That is because consensus is merely utilitarian - rarely true.

Its not uncommon to see informed debate that the anglos should have stayed out of the wars, rather than contributing to cause and conflict.

Probably the least convincing Bloomberg column of Tyler I have ever read.

"Historians stress the importance of contingency, that things really could have gone another way": as has been said above, not all of them, not even the majority. That's the whole premise of the column, and that doesn't hold water.

"Or what if the Germans had not, in 1917, put Lenin on a train back into Russia? The Bolshevik Revolution might have been avoided". Very unlikely. Lenin would have found some other way to Russia, and even without him, the Bolshevik would probably have taken the power under other leadership (e.g. Trotsky).

"A shrewder President Paul von Hindenburg might have prevented the rise of Adolf Hitler." Again, very dubious. According to the norm of parliamentary democracy, Hindenburg should have called the Nazis into power after the 1932 election. He didn't naming a minority government governing with special power. After this government collapsed, and new elections in January 1933 giving the same result, what could he do? Establishing his own dictatorship would probably not have worked.

Basically, people who think about 'the statistical everybody' don't worry too much because 'people' will usually be ok. People who worry about individuals... worry quite a bit.

What's the downside of being overly concerned? What's the downside of not being concerned enough if it's warranted?

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