Category: History

Milton Friedman was once a Keynesian

In the early 1940s, Friedman’s own analysis of monetary policy adhered closely to the dismissive tone prevalent in much other Keynesian literature of that vintage.  His solo-authored contribution to 1943’s Taxing to Prevent Inflation, written while he was at the Treasury, plotted growth rates of the nominal money stock and nominal income for the United States for the period 1899-1929.  To the modern reader, the scatter plot in Friedman’s paper indicates that the monetary growth/income relationship is clearly positive, and reasonably tight by the standards of rate-of-change data.  That was not, however, the judgment Friedman reached in his 1943 paper, in which he concluded instead that the relationship was “extremely unstable.”

That is from p.95 of the recent Edward Nelson two-volume set on Milton Friedman — one of the best books written on any economist!

Long-term gene–culture coevolution and the human evolutionary transition

It has been suggested that the human species may be undergoing an evolutionary transition in individuality (ETI). But there is disagreement about how to apply the ETI framework to our species, and whether culture is implicated as either cause or consequence. Long-term gene–culture coevolution (GCC) is also poorly understood. Some have argued that culture steers human evolution, while others proposed that genes hold culture on a leash. We review the literature and evidence on long-term GCC in humans and find a set of common themes. First, culture appears to hold greater adaptive potential than genetic inheritance and is probably driving human evolution. The evolutionary impact of culture occurs mainly through culturally organized groups, which have come to dominate human affairs in recent millennia. Second, the role of culture appears to be growing, increasingly bypassing genetic evolution and weakening genetic adaptive potential. Taken together, these findings suggest that human long-term GCC is characterized by an evolutionary transition in inheritance (from genes to culture) which entails a transition in individuality (from genetic individual to cultural group). Thus, research on GCC should focus on the possibility of an ongoing transition in the human inheritance system.

That is by Timothy M. Waring and Zachary T. Wood, via a loyal MR reader.

North vs. South India?

The data set used by Paul and Sridhar starts with the year 1960, when per capita income in Tamil Nadu was 51 per cent higher than UP’s. In the early 1980s, this difference had narrowed to 39 per cent. However, over the following decades the gap began to rapidly grow, and in 2005 an average resident of Tamil Nadu earned 128 per cent more than an average resident of Uttar Pradesh. (Statistics available online suggest that by 2021 the gap has increased to almost 300 per cent.)

Taking the South as a whole and the North as a whole, the book found that while the two regions differed only by 39 per cent in terms of per capita income in 1960-61, forty years later the gap had widened to 101 per cent. Now, in 2021, the gap has widened much further. Currently, the average annual per capita income of the four northern states profiled by Paul and Sridhar is about US $4,000, and of the four southern states, in excess of US $10,000, or roughly 250 per cent higher.

The data analysed by Paul and Sridhar show that there are two areas in which the South has done much better than the North. First, with regard to human development indicators such as female literacy rate, infant mortality and life expectancy. Second, in areas critical to economic development such as technical education, electricity generation, and quality and extent of roads. The first set of factors prepares healthier and better educated citizens to participate in the modern economy, while the second set enables much higher rates of productivity and efficiency in manufacturing and services.

Paul and Sridhar also found that the South fares substantially better than the North on governance indicators.

Here is the full piece by Ramachandra Guha, interesting throughout, with a pointer to Alice Evans, via Paul Novosad.

The Edward Nelson books on Milton Friedman

Two volumes, such a wonderful book, for sure one of the best of the year.  Not quite a biography, more a study of Friedman’s career, but his career was his life so this is a wonderful biography too.  Here is one excerpt:

Friedman was a student of business cycles who was prone to say that he did not believe there was a business cycle.  He was a trenchant critic of reserve requirements as a monetary policy tools and a strong advocate of financial deregulation, yet he had many favorable things to say about moving to a regime of 100 percent reserve requirements.  he stressed the looseness of the relationship between money and the economy, yet critics saw his policy prescriptions as predicated on a tight relationship.  He criticized in detail the way the Federal Reserve allowed the money stock to adjust to the state of the economy, yet he was often characterized as treating empirical money-stock behavior as exogenous.  He made fundamental contributions to the development of Phillips-curve theory, yet he was averse to conducting discussion of inflation prospects using Phillips-curve analysis.  He spent much of his first two decades as a researcher working on labor unions and the use of market power in setting prices, yet for the subsequent five decades he found himself accused by critics of predicating his economic analysis on an atomistic labor market, a one-good model, or perfectly competitive firms.

Here is Scott Sumner on the book.  Highly recommended, here is the Amazon link, and volume II.

John Stuart Mill on the English

From causes which might be traced in the history and development of English society and government, the general habit and practice of the English mind is compromise.  No idea is carried out to more than a small portion of its legitimate consequences.  Neither by the generality of our speculative thinkers, nor in the practice of the nation, are the principles which are professed ever thoroughly acted upon; something always stops the application half way.  This national habit has consequences of very various character, of which the following is one.  It is natural to minds governed by habit (which is the character of the English more than of any other civilized people) that their tastes and inclinations become accommodated to their habitual practice; and as in England no principle is ever fully carried out, discordance between principles and practice has come to be regarded, not only as the natural, but as the desirable state.  This is no an epigram, or a paradox, but a sober description of the tone of sentiment commonly found in Englishman.  They never feel themselves safe unless they are living under the shadow of some convention fiction — some agreement to say one thing and mean another.

That is from Mill’s Vindication of the French Revolution of February 1848.

*Ages of American Capitalism*

The author is Jonathan Levy (U. Chicago) and the subtitle is A History of the United States, noting it is mostly an economic history from a left-mercantilist, nation-building point of view.  So far on p.95 I quite like the book, here is one excerpt:

Ironically enough, in some respects Jefferson’s Empire of Liberty came to resemble the eighteenth-century British empire.  Congress revoked all internal taxes.  The military budget was cut in half.  A provision of the 1789 Constitution, the Commerce Clause, granted Congress the authority to regulate commerce “among the several states,” forbidding interstate mercantilist discrimination.  The result was to check state discrimination, opening up a unitary commercial space and increasing the extent of markets and thus the demand for goods.  Empires, while forging common political jurisdiction, accommodate pluralism and difference in rule, often so that different elements in the empire might engage in commerce.  In this respect, the Louisiana Purchase, in essence, handed the United States its own version of a West Indies in the lower Mississippi Valley.  By 1810 already 16 percent of the U.S. slave population lived in the trans-Appalachian West.  New slave-based triangular trades appeared on the North American continent, in a great counterclockwise national wheel of commerce.

741 pp. of text in this one, I am curious to see what comes next.  And my colleague Steven Pearlstein wrote a very good review of the book.

John Stuart Mill on the Californian Constitution

From 1850:

The Californians have not been solely occupied with “the diggings.”  They have found time also to construct a set of institutions…It is worthy of remark how instantaneously any body of American emigrants, as soon as they have formed a settlement, proceed to make a constitution; though European authorities of no small account in their own estimation, are never tired of assuring us that constitutions cannot be made.  But while these sages are stoutly denying the possibility of motion, the Americans, one after another, like Diogenes, rise up and walk; and not one stumble has occurred to mar the completeness of the practical confutation.  Whatever other faults have been found with the Anglo-American constitutions, no one has yet said that they will not work; a fate so often denounced against all constitutions except those which, like the British, “are not made but grow,” or, it should rather be said, come together by the fortuitous concourse of clashing forces.

Mill in particular praised that the California Constitution gave women the right to own their own property.  From the Toronto edition of the Collected Works, vol.XXV.

More on Individualism and Benevolence

This paper investigates the role of individualism in charitable giving. Individualistic societies are those that value individual fulfillment, personal responsibility, and relationships with those outside one’s in-group. Though critics suggest individualism undermines virtues such as generosity, we consider contrary mechanisms first developed in the tradition of classical political economy, especially the “doux commerce” hypothesis (Hirschman 1982), which posits that self-interested pursuit of gains through trade has broader, usually positive, effects on the attitudes and behavior (Matson 2020). Originating in French Enlightenment–era works—especially Montesquieu (1777a, XX.2)—and later found in Mandeville (1988 [1714]), Smith (1982 [1759]), and Hume (1994 [1742]), these arguments fell out of favor within mainstream economics for much of the twentieth century (Boettke 1997). But interest in these works has reemerged alongside growing interest in endogenous preferences (Bowles 1998) and the cultural dimensions of economic activity and as experimental evidence identifying success in trade as a cause of prosocial conduct has accumulated (Smith and Wilson 2019).

…To test our hypotheses, we use evidence from a large cross-section of countries and several measures of individualism, including Hofstede’s (2001) individualism-collectivism index, the index of survival versus self-expression from the World Values Survey (WVS) (Inglehart and Oyserman 2004), and measures of generalized tolerance. Each represents a quantitative measure of culture, or what David Hume referred to as national character (Sent and Kroese 2020). Our empirical results show that individualism is indeed associated with charitable giving, as is economic freedom. The results support the argument of classical liberals thatcommercial society and the social and cultural institutions that support it are sources of the common good.

From Cai, Caskey, Cowen, Murtazashvili, Murtazashvili and Salahodjaev. See my previous post(s) on this topic.

U.S. Largest Industries, 1890

1. Transportation

2. Agriculture and Related Industries

3. Food, Beverages, and Tobacco Products

4. Metal, Metal Products, and Machinery

5. Textiles, Textile Products, and Clothing

6. Mining and Quarrying

7. Banking

8. Wood, Lumber, and Their Products

9. Leather and Allied Products

10. Slaughtering and Meat Packing

That is from the new and excellent An Illustrated Business History of the United States, by Richard Vague.  How many of you really know everything that is in here?  In that same year Buffalo was the tenth largest U.S. city.  And the most valuable import around that time (1891-1900) was sugar, with coffee #2 and “Hides and skins” #3.

The fly swatter had not yet been invented.

Just remember: picture books are usually better than regular books.

Icelandic fact of the day

This passage concerns the U.S. occupation during World War II:

At its peak, the occupation of Iceland would include the equivalent, statistically speaking, of 55 million foreign troops occupying the United States based on 1940 populations.  There were nearly fifty thousand men and dozens of female nurses, equaling about 40 percent of Icelanders.

By the way, from 1940 to 1946, “the purchasing power of unskilled workers (meaning just about everyone) grew by a whopping 86 percent…”  About two percent of Icelandic women left as brides to American soldiers.  And while Iceland lost about 300 lives during the war (mostly sailors), American servicemen helped to add another 400-500 to the native population.

One of the major political issues in the 1970s was whether the letter “Z” should be included in the Icelandic alphabet, and indeed it was abolished by law in 1973, with an exception being made for the word “pizza.”

That is all from Egill Bjarnason, How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island.  I’ll say it again: single country books are underrated.  Maybe there are no great revelations in this one, but if you have been to Iceland, or are planning a trip, it is probably the first book you would want to pick up to cover the country.

Individualism Promotes Benevolence

NYTimes: On average, people in more individualist countries donate more money, more blood, more bone marrow and more organs. They more often help others in need and treat nonhuman animals more humanely. If individualism were equivalent to selfishness, none of this would make sense.

…individualism promotes a more universalist outlook. In focusing on individual rights and welfare, it reduces the emphasis on groups — and the differences between “us” and “them” that notoriously erode generosity toward those outside one’s own circle.

See also my posts Globalization and the Expanding Moral Circle and Testing Doux Commerce in the Lab.

*Modern Paraguay: South America’s Best Kept Secret*

There should be more books serving as introductions to individual countries, and this one, written by Tomás Mandl, is a fine entry in the genre.

…Paraguay was South America’s first country to get electricity, railroads, and an iron foundry.

The Triple Alliance War of 1864-1870:

Although available data and sources remain contested, estimates put the figure at 25 percent of the Paraguayan population killed on the lower end, and upwards of 60 percent on the higher end…

For purposes of contrast, Poland during WWII saw “only” about 20 percent of the population killed.

Under Stroessner, the torture centers were neither secret nor undercover.  And:

The clear pattern post-Stroessner is one of mild support for democracy: While in 2017 more Paraguayans agreed with the claim “democracy is preferable” than in 1995 (55 percent versus 52 percent, respectively), the average for the period was 46 percent….When Latinobarómetro asked Paraguayans to assess their country’s political regime on a range where 1 is “not democratic” and 10 is “fully democratic,” they have responded “5” consistently in almost every year of the twenty-first century.

With mandatory voting the average turnout rate is about 66 percent in recent times.  And:

Notably, the largest center for Paraguayan studies is located in Argentina.

I enjoyed this sentence:

Unfamiliarity with Paraguay is not new.

Paraguay has very low FDI even by Latin American standards, it is typically rated as the most corrupt country on the continent, and a common saying is “¿Con factura o sin factura?”

Highly recommended, you can pre-order here, and yes the author does speak Guarani and he does also know the Solow growth model and why Singapore is interesting.

Hayek and Keynes: Bomb Throwers

Sometime in the summer of 1942, the economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek spent the night on the roof of the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. The Germans were in the midst of what some called the “Baedeker bombings,” a campaign to destroy the quaint and historical sorts of buildings that might be found in a Baedeker travel guide, in an effort to break the British fighting spirit. The Cambridge faculty volunteered to spend nights protecting their buildings from damage by extinguishing flames from incendiary bombs. Keynes was a long-time fellow of King’s College. Hayek was in Cambridge for the summer, the London School of Economics having closed due to the blitz.

Keynes’ greatest book, his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money had been published in 1936, to the acclaim and fury of the entire field of economics. Hayek had just finished what was to become his greatest book, The Road to Serfdom, but he had yet to find a publisher for it. When he did publish it, the impact would be explosive.

Both men were intellectual bomb throwers; creatively destructive in their attacks on prevailing orthodoxies.

Eric Samuelsen on his play, Clearing Bombs, which somehow I missed when it was performed in Salt Lake City in 2014. Did any of you see it?