Dueling declined as state capacity, measured by post offices, expanded:
Abstract: Scholars have long tried to understand the conditions under which actors choose to use violent versus non-violent means to settle disputes, and many argue that violence is more likely in weakly-institutionalized settings. Yet, there is little evidence showing that increases in state capacity lowers the use of violent informal institutions to resolve disputes. Utilizing a novel dataset of violence — specifically, duels — across American states in the 19th Century, we use the spread of federal post offices as an identification strategy to investigate the importance of state capacity for the incidence of violent dispute resolution. We find that post office density is a strong, consistent, and negative predictor of dueling behavior. Our evidence contributes to a burgeoning literature on the importance of state capacity for development outcomes.
Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.
Let’s assume, for purposes of argument, that basically all of the complaints about social media are correct. Then let’s also imagine, as Matt Yglesias periodically suggests on Twitter, that Facebook is shut down altogether, toss in Twitter and the others as well.
What would happen?
One possibility is that America would move toward a Chinese-style solution, with heavy censorship of the internet. Still, I think both public opinion and the First Amendment make that outcome unlikely. Furthermore, while the Chinese solution has been relatively practicable (as opposed to desirable) to date, there is no guarantee that will continue to be the case.
Alternatively, without tight censorship substitutes for Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter will arise, possibly based in other countries if regulation so dictates. They might be less ad-funded, less profitable, and less easy to use, but the basic technologies for “putting every single idea out there” are already out of the box. Furthermore, it won’t be that hard to find and circulate those ideas, including the very bad ones, through a mix of aggregation and search and focused spread and redistribution.
The first question is whether anyone actually thinks that such a world of less heavily capitalized communications entities would lead to greater responsibility. The first cut answer, drawing on basic economics, would seem to be no.
The broader point is the relative popularities of various ideas and sources still will be upended, just as the printing press and radio also had some fairly radical (and not entirely positive) effects in their times. In essence, various intellectual and ideological debates will need to be re-litigated and re-fought over the internet, just as they were redone over television and radio, or earlier through papyrus and also clay tablets, of course with somewhat different results each time.
Many people hate that reality, but a reality it is. Let’s even say you are right to hate that reality (NB: not exactly my view).
a) Go after the companies that make the clay tablets?
b) Go after the clay tablets and try to smash them?
c) Equip yourself to try to win the new intellectual and ideological battles for hearts and minds?
And what should we infer about the spiritual vigor of a society that might so heavily promote options a) and b)?
It seems so:
A voluntary army’s quality exceeds or falls below a drafted army’s average quality depending on whether selection is advantageous or adverse. Using a collection of data sets that cover the majority of the US Army soldiers during World War II, we test for adverse selection into the army. Rather, we find advantageous selection: volunteers and drafted men showed no significant difference in fatalities, but volunteers earned distinguished awards at a higher rate than drafted men, particularly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Analyses at the level of units concur with our findings based on enlistment records.
That is from a newly published article by Javier A. Birchenall and Thomas G. Koch, via Robin Hanson.
For sale on eBay: what’s claimed to be “maybe the only” young Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered for $2.95 million. Paleontologists decried the sale, saying that the specimen’s cost was artificially inflating the cost of other valuable fossils. “Only casts and other replicas of vertebrate fossils should be traded, not the fossils themselves,” an open letter from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Bethesda, Maryland. read. “Scientifically important fossils like the juvenile tyrannosaur are clues to our collective natural heritage and deserve to be held in public trust.”
…“The asking price is just absurd,” one researcher said.
Here is the full story, via Ze’ev. Might this increase the incentive to find such fossils?
This thesis examines the implicit costs of building the Gothic churches of the Paris Basin built between 1100-1250, and attempts to estimate the percentage of the regional economy that was devoted to build them. I estimate that over this 150-year period, on average, 21.5 percent of the regional economy was devoted to the construction of these Gothic churches, 1.5 percent of which is directly related to the implicit cost of labor.
These data reveal that, in half of the Congresses over the past two decades, successful filibustering minorities usually represented more people than the majorities they defeated.
That is from Benjamin Eidelson in Yale Law Review, note that he is covering only 1991-2010.
No, I do not favor a gold standard, for reasons explained in this Bloomberg column. Still, it is sad/funny to watch the mood affiliation circus of those trying to suggest, in more or less the same breath, that Trump’s Fed picks are dangerous and terrible, and also that the gold standard is the worst idea ever. Here is one point of mine:
Historical data indicates that industrial production volatility was not higher before 1914, when the U.S. was on the gold standard, compared to after 1947, when it mostly wasn’t. And there are similar results for the volatility of unemployment. That’s not quite an argument for the gold standard, but it should cause opponents of the gold standard to think twice. Whatever the imperfections of a gold standard might be, monetary authorities make a lot of mistakes, too.
And here is the closer:
Most generally, I still think central bank governance can do a better job than a gold-based system that sometimes creates excess deflationary pressures.
Nonetheless, the contemporary world is always testing my belief in central banking. Exactly how will matters unfold when so many world leaders are not behaving as responsibly as they should? Might that irresponsibility seep into monetary policy? After all, populations are aging and debt is accumulating. Surely it is reasonable to worry that some of these governments will seek to monetize their debts and move toward excessively easy money.
Oh, but wait — I forgot one big new argument in favor of a gold standard: President Trump himself. Perhaps his management of central bank affairs is somewhat … erratic? Might it not be a good idea to have the operation of monetary policy protected by a greater reliance on rules? My personal preference is for a nominal GDP rule, but the irony is this: At the end of the day, the advocates of the gold standard, and their possible presence on the Federal Reserve Board, are themselves the best argument for … the gold standard.
This paper examines the effect of party affiliation on an individual’s political views. To do this, we exploit the party realignment that occurred in the U.S. due to abortion becoming a more prominent and highly partisan issue over time. We show that abortion was not a highly partisan issue in 1982, but a person’s abortion views in 1982 led many to switch parties over time as the two main parties diverged in their stances on this issue. We find that voting for a given political party in 1996, due to the individual’s initial views on abortion in 1982, has a substantial effect on a person’s political, social, and economic attitudes in 1997. These findings are stronger for highly partisan political issues, and are robust to controlling for a host of personal views and characteristics in 1982 and 1997. As individuals realigned their party affiliation in accordance with their initial abortion views, their other political views followed suit.
p.s. don’t call it “tribalism,” that is something else.
Not only have those who identify on the census as Indian risen from about 200,000 in 1900 to over 2 million by 2010; another 3 million identify as Native and something else. Of this ever-increasing population, in 2010 more than 70 percent lived in urban areas, continuing the trend begun in the years after World War II. Indians are young, too: 32 percent are under age eighteen, compared with 24 percent of the overall population. On reservations, the median age is twenty-six, compared with thirty-seven for the nation at large…Between 1990 and 2000, the income of Americans Indians grew by 33 percent, and the poverty rate dropped by 7 percent. There was no marked difference in income between Indians from casino-rich tribes and those from poorer tribes without casinos. Between 1990 and 1997 the number of Indian-owned businesses grew by 84 percent. And the number of Native kids enrolled in college has doubled in the last thirty years.
That is from David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present.
It is undeniable that China since the late 1950s has deployed hard and soft power in its determination to exert influence over Africa. In the Mao era this translated into enormous aid budgets. By 1975, China was throwing ‘more than’ — in Zhou Enlai’s revealingly hazy formulation — 5 per cent of its national budget into foreign aid; in fact, two years earlier it had reached 6.92 per cent. Compare this proportion with the 0.7 percent of national income that the much wealthier UK annually reserves for international aid..It thus seems certain that Mao-era china spent a greater proportion of income on foreign aid — including in Africa — than did either the US (around 1.5 per cent of the federal budget in 1977) or the USSR (0.9 per cent of GNP in 1976).
That is from Julia Lovell, Maoism: A Global History, so far my favorite book of the year. One implication of course is that One Belt, One Road isn’t as new as you might think, and that contemporary China has more in common with the Mao era — and I’m not just referring to the censorship element — than many people realize.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, noting that lately Mexico has been demanding an apology from Spain for colonialism. Here is one bit:
Some features of good apologies are sincerity, overall compatibility with what the apologizer now stands for in other contexts, and a broad social willingness to accept that something indeed has been settled for the better.
OK, so how about Spain and Mexico? I am skeptical of this proposed apology, partly because it seems like a political maneuver by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to garner political support and distract from his likely failure to successfully reform Mexico’s economy. The current Spanish government also is not a close descendant of the conquistadors, as it is a full-blown democracy and the conquest was almost 500 years ago. One can acknowledge the massive injustices of the history without thinking that current Spanish citizens necessarily should feel so guilty. And (until recently) Spain-Mexico relations have not been problematic, so it is not clear exactly what problem this apology is supposed to solve.
The current demand for an apology is a distraction from the enduring injustice of Mexico’s segregation. If Spaniards found their own reasons for wishing to apologize, that would be a good result. But on this demand, they are correct to give it a pass.
I also consider the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Rwanda.
That question has been floating around Twitter, here are my picks:
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.
Janet Frame, Autobiography.
Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own.
Marjane Satrapi, The Complete Persepolis.
Golda Meir, My Life.
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking.
Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Dirt Road.
Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures.
Am I allowed to say Virginia Woolf, corpus?
Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope: A Memoir.
Helen Keller, The Story of My Life.
Anne Frank of course.
What else? Maybe Carrie Fisher? Maya Angelou? Erica Jong? St. Therese of Liseaux? (I Am Rigoberto Menchu turned out to be a fraud.) There are a variety of important feminist books that read like quasi-autobiographies, but maybe they don’t quite fit the category. What is a memoir and what is an autobiography in this context? Do leave your suggestions in the comments.
It is also worth thinking about how these differ from well-known male autobiographies…
By Julia Lovell, so far this is clearly the best book of the year. I’ll have more to say about it, here is one excerpt:
Mao’s lack of enthusiasm for a risky conflict in Korea is understandable: the CCP’s military capacity was clustered around the south-east coast, perched for an invasion of Taiwan. A Cold War conflagration on the north-east border would require the shifting of all these offensive troops to defence in the north-east — from one end of the country to another. Drafts of telegrams and notes of conversations unearthed from archives make clear that Mao came within a whisker of refusing to help the Koreans…
Mao therefore was bounced into the Korean War — not as part of a long-term conspiracy, but through Stalin’s self-interested impulses and instinct for playing on Mao’s status-conscious desire to claim leadership of the Asian revolution. Given that Mao and his immediate lieutenants had already committed themselves publicly to leading the world revolution — wit their Beijing training courses, their proclamations about the relevance of China to oppressed people in Asia — their revolutionary credentials would have been shredded had they not stepped into the war. Stalin and Kim, in short, created a conflict that impinged not only on one of China’s most sensitive, complex frontiers — the Korean-Soviet-Chinese border — but also on Mao’s self-image. The Chinese were thus forced to rescue Kim when the war turned against the North Koreans.
The book also covers Indonesia, Africa, Vietnam and Cambodia, Peru, Nepal, and more, all with an emphasis on China’s earlier foreign policy role. Every chapter is full of fascinating information with strong but not overreaching conceptual framings. Very strongly recommended, it comes out in America in September, I ordered my copy from the UK, available now and cheaper too. Here is a review from The Economist.
The list of small-person or one-person innovators is long…[long list follows]…
The reason so few people can have such an outsize impact, Andreessen argues, is that when you’re creating a weird new prototype of an app, the mental castle building is most efficiently done inside one or two isolated brains. The 10X productivity comes from being in the zone and staying there and from having a remarkable ability to visualize a complex architecture. “If they’re physical capable of staying awake, they can get really far,” he says. “The limits are awake time. It takes you two hours to get the whole thing loaded into your head, and then you get like 10 or 12 or 14 hours where you can function at that level.” The 10Xers he has known also tend to be “systems thinkers,” insatiably curious about every part of the technology stack, from the way currents flow in computer processors to the latency of touchscreen button presses. “It’s some combination of curiosity, drive, and the need to understand. They find it intolerable if they don’t understand some part of how the system works.”
The subtitle is The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World, I enjoyed the book very much, you can order it here.
She is a classics scholar and the translator of my favorite edition of Homer’s Odyssey, here is the audio and transcript. Here is part of the CWT summary:
She and Tyler discuss these [translation] questions and more, including why Silicon Valley loves Stoicism, whether Plato made Socrates sound smarter than he was, the future of classics education, the effect of AI on translation, how to make academia more friendly to women, whether she’d choose to ‘overlive’, and the importance of having a big Ikea desk and a huge orange cat.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Let’s jump right in on the Odyssey. I want you to explain the whole book to me, but let’s start small. Does Odysseus even want to return home?
WILSON: [laughs] He does as the poem starts. As the poem starts, he spent the last seven years on the island of a goddess called Calypso, originally, the poem implies, quite willingly. So, it seems as if he’s changed his mind about whether or not he wants to go home. But as the poem begins, he does want to get back home to Ithaca, to his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus.
COWEN: Do you think he means it? Or is he just self-deceiving? Because he takes the detour into the underworld. He hangs around with Circe for many years. There’s a contrast with Menelaus, who acts as if he actually does want to get home. Who’s lying to whom in this story?
WILSON: Odysseus, of course, is lying all the time, so it’s very hard for the reader to get a firm grasp on what are his motives. Also, when he tells Calypso that he desperately wants to get back home, it’s very striking to me that he doesn’t give his motives. He says to Calypso, “You’re much more beautiful than my wife is, and you’ve promised to make me immortal. It’s a great offer, but I want to go home.” He doesn’t explain what is it that drives that desire to go home.
And you’re quite right: he makes many detours. He spends another year, quite willingly, with Circe, another goddess. So it seems as if he’s easily distractible from the quest, for sure.
COWEN: Should we consider electing politicians by lot today? Is it such a crazy idea?
WILSON: I think it’s a great idea.
COWEN: Great idea?
WILSON: Yes, yeah.
COWEN: Now, you have another well-known book. It’s called Seneca: A Life. On reading it, this is my reaction: why are the Stoics so hypocritical? Seneca spends his life sucking up to power. He’s very well off, extremely political, and possibly involved in murder plots, right?
WILSON: [laughs] Yes, that’s right. Yes.
COWEN: What is there about Stoicism? Marcus Aurelius is somewhat bloodthirsty, it seems. So, are the Stoics all just hypocrites, and they wrote this to cover over their wrongdoings? Or how should we think about the actual history of Stoicism?
WILSON: I see Seneca and Marcus Aurelius as very, very different characters. Marcus Aurelius was militaristic, bloodthirsty, and an expander of the Roman Empire. He was happy to slaughter many barbarians. He was fairly consistent about thinking that was a good idea, and also fairly consistent in associating his dream of culture and military imperialism with Stoic models of virtue.
Whereas Seneca was very much constantly unable to fully act out the ideals that he had. One of the reasons he’s so interesting as a writer is that he’s so precise in articulating what it means to have a very, very clear vision of the good life and to be completely unable to follow through on living the good life.
COWEN: But why would you accumulate so much wealth if you’re a true Stoic?
You can buy Emily’s translation of Homer here, and she is now working on doing The Iliad as well.