Category: History

Claims about American economic growth

From Naomi R. Lamoreaux and John Joseph Wallis:

Before the middle of the nineteenth century most laws enacted in the United States were special bills that granted favors to specific individuals, groups, or localities. This fundamentally inegalitarian system provided political elites with important tools that they could use to reward supporters, and as a result, they were only willing to modify it under very special circumstances. In the early 1840s, however, a major fiscal crisis forced a number of states to default on their bonded debt, unleashing a political earthquake that swept this system away. Starting with Indiana in 1851, states revised their constitutions to ban the most common types of special legislation and, at the same time, mandate that all laws be general in their application. These provisions dramatically changed the way government and the economy worked and interacted, giving rise to the modern regulatory state, interest-group politics, and a more dynamic form of capitalism.

Here is the NBER working paper, titled “Economic Crisis, General Laws, and the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Transformation of American Political Economy,” via Ilya Novak.

Juneteenth: Celebrate Freedom!

I have long favored a new national holiday so I am delighted that VA has recognized Juneteenth and I look forward to this being a national holiday. Juneteenth is a good bookend to July 4, a second day of independence that helped to fulfill the promise of the first. The National Museum of African American History and Culture notes:

Although the Emancipation Proclamation officially took effect on January 1, 1863, freedom did not immediately come for all enslaved people because Confederate-controlled states refused to implement it. Freedom finally came nationally on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved people in the state were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth” by the newly freed people in Texas.

The museum has an excellent online exhibit and tour.

That was then, this is now

About 55 percent of British servicemen [in World War II] were married.

Furthermore, by mid-1943, British military units were dealing with almost one hundred cases of “family anxiety” a day, with about two-thirds of those being infidelity issues, summing yearly to about 7.5 percent of the married British servicemen in North Africa and the Middle East at that time.

That is from Daniel Todman’s Britain’s War 1942-1947, a book I already have reviewed positively.  Reading further, it remains excellent and interesting on every page, is still grossly under-reviewed by MSM, and would make the top five or even top three non-fiction books of the year list since I have started blogging.

Which figures from 1968/1969 look good in retrospect?

Andrew writes to me:

I just wanted to propose a question for your blog, which I’ve read since it launched. Given how the current atmosphere seems a bit like 1968, I was curious who you think comes out of 1968 looking good (or bad) in retrospect. I’m particularly interested in people at universities (my own case), but I’d be curious in general.

A former professor of mine (George Kateb) claimed that my generation (born 1970) was embarrassed by the sixties and I guess particularly by the more radical parts. That’s my impression as well and I assumed that the more radical parts of the sixties and the intellectuals who went along with them would come out looking the worst in retrospect. Is this right? Whose position at the time looks most “correct” today?

It is tough, if only because so many people from both parties then were bad on the Vietnam War issue.  Here are a few who, in my judgment, came out of the era looking good, in no particular order:

1. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor), Billie Jean-King, and Curt Flood.

2. Bob Dylan: pro-civil rights and anti-war, and for all of his phases he never went in for the bad, crazy stuff.

3. Paul McCartney: universalist, anti-war, neoliberal integrationist, and the saner part of the Beatles.  Some minus points on the drugs front, however.

4. Julian Bond.  And a variety of other civil rights leaders, but MLK not living long enough to “fit” the question as stated.

5. Harry Edwards (who?).

6. Seán Lemass (who?)  Elsewhere across the waters there is Raymond Aron.

7. Marshall McLuhan

9. Lucille Ball

9. Gene Roddenberry and the rest of Star Trek, including the script writers.

10. Thomas Pynchon: So many others look bad, at least he knew not to say too much or to hang around for too long.

11. Ayn Rand.  With qualifications on a number of fronts, but yes.  She was in fact good on the major issues of those years.

12. These people from the Bay Area.  They are not public figures, but still they deserve mention.

Who else?

Notes: Marxists, Maoists, and advocates of violence are not going to win.  There were plenty of excellent economists back then, but most had a different focus than commenting on the major events of those years, and if memory serves (please correct me if I am wrong) Milton Friedman’s very meritorious anti-draft work came slightly later.  I would have to reread the major feminist book authors to pick the best one, but I do mean for at least one to be on the list, I am simply not sure at the moment which one.  Ralph Nader too?  The astronauts?  They knew to keep their mouths shut once they were finished.

*Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition*

That is the new, excellent, and timely book by Hollis Robbins, the title is descriptive, here is one excerpt:

“If We Must Die” calls for resistance to violence in an environment of violence. The power of [Claude] McKay’s sonnet—Shakespearean and yet with modern diction—is the tension between the measured lines and rhyme, the poetic phrases and the brutal words, the combination of enjambments and exclamation points in the octave, and the more deliberate and determined pace of the sestet. “If We Must Die” is a defiant call to action. The rage of the poem is made more potent by the tension of the sonnet form straining to contain it.

The book argues for the centrality of sonnet writing to African American poetry, and that the African American tradition was not simply parasitic on European models.  A “sestet,” by the way, is the last six lines of a sonnet, but not a good Scrabble word because you have to waste two “s’s” to play it.

The Spanish Inquisition and the learning curve

Empirical evidence on contemporary torture is sparse. The archives of the Spanish Inquisition provide a detailed historical source of quantitative and qualitative information about interrogational torture. The inquisition tortured brutally and systematically, willing to torment all who it deemed as withholding evidence. This torture yielded information that was often reliable: witnesses in the torture chamber and witnesses that were not tortured provided corresponding information about collaborators, locations, events, and practices. Nonetheless, inquisitors treated the results of interrogations in the torture chamber with skepticism. This bureaucratized torture stands in stark contrast to the “ticking bomb” philosophy that has motivated US torture policy in the aftermath of 9/11. Evidence from the archives of the Spanish Inquisition suggests torture affords no middle ground: one cannot improvise quick, amateurish, and half-hearted torture sessions, motivated by anger and fear, and hope to extract reliable intelligence.

Here is the full piece by Ron E. Hassner, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

What should I ask Melissa Dell?

She is a professor of economics at Harvard, and winner of the most recent John Bates Clark medal.  I would describe her as a both a rising star and an already-risen star.  From Wikipedia:

Melissa Dell’s research interests include development economics, economic history and political economy. Her work has mainly focused on explaining economic development through the persistence of historical institutions and climate. She has also investigated the effect of conflict on labor market and political outcomes and vice versa. Much of her research has focused on Latin America and Southeast Asia. She was one of the first economists to use a spatial regression discontinuity design, in her paper on the long-term effects of Peru’s Mining Mita.

Her broader biography is interesting as well (see Wikipedia).  Here is previous MR coverage of Melissa Dell, and here is the very good Clark medal summary of her research.

So what should I ask her?

Rewatching *Serpico*

When I was 12 it was one of my favorite books (by Peter Maas), and shortly thereafter I saw and liked the movie as well.  On this viewing I was struck by the excellent understanding of the culture of corruption, the notion that the mayor is beholden to the police who can threaten to shirk, the performance of Al Pacino, and the wonderful scenes of early 1970s New York City (yes that is Soho you are seeing).

The last quarter of the film should have been shortened.  And for all of its attempts to be a politically correct film, the degree of casual racism and sexism still is astonishing to the modern eye, specifically how either black criminals or attractive women are shown on screen.

Nonetheless recommended, and in particular as historical backdrop for understanding 2020.  Here is a John Arnold thread on the primary of culture in police departments.  And here is the police response to the recent protests.

Here is the Wikipedia page of the actual Frank Serpico, still speaking out against police abuses at age 84.

*The Address Book*

The author is Deirdre Mask and the subtitle is What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power.  The opening bit would have fit under “New York City fact of the day”:

In some years,  more than 40 percent of all local laws passed by the New York City Council have been street name changes.

I guess that is because garbage collection, education, and policing are running so smoothly.  Does any other fact so well sum up the pathology of our time?

In Paris, only 2.6 percent of the street names commemorate women, and this is expected to be a “growth sector,” as they say.  I liked this sentence:

Tantner is perhaps the world’s leading expert on house numbers.

House numbers were in fact one of the more important results of the 18th century Enlightenment.  For all their benefits in enabling mail, or finding your way, there was a dark side because they also made it easier to tax or imprison you, sometimes a good thing but not always.

Number streets are an especially American phenomenon, and today “every American city with more than a half million people has numerical street names.  Second Street is the most common street name in America…”

Recommended, you can order it here.

That was then, this is now, *Mayday 1971* edition

That forthcoming book is authored by Lawrence Roberts, and the subtitle is A White House at War, A Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest.  Here is one excerpt:

The president had made his wishes clear.  That was why Kleindienst was pushing a military solution.  The police chief made one last attempt to dissuade him.  Let’s just suppose the crowd is big enough to shut down the government, Jerry said.  Wouldn’t it be better for us, he gently suggested, if the militants could crow only that they had defeated the police, rather than the mighty U.S. military?  An army official chimed in on Jerry’s side.  Why not wait a day, see if the troops were really necessary?

Recommended.

That was then, this is now, Minneapolis racial animus edition

Are you familiar with the earlier history of Minneapolis, say from the 1960s and 1970s?  From an article by Jeffrey T. Manuel and Andrew Urban, here is one passage about two mayors:

In 1969, four-term Democratic-Farmer Labor (DFL) mayor and former University of Minnesota political science professor Arthur Naftalin declined to run for a fifth two-year term as the mayor of Minneapolis, leaving the contest open amid the social turbulence of the late 1960s. Naftalin was a close associate of former Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey and a practitioner of Humphrey’s brand of liberalism. They believed that government’s role was to manage and coordinate different interest groups within society, such as business leaders, members of organized labor, and racial minorities, so that the city would function efficiently and social conflict could be avoided. By allocating money to various social programs, they believed urban problems such as crime and poverty could be solved. In an unexpected move, Charles Stenvig, a 41-year-old detective in the Minneapolis police department and president of the police federation, threw his hat into the ring as an independent candidate for mayor. Running an unconventional campaign that spent little money and relied on volunteer labor, Stenvig won the 1 969 election by pledging to “take the handcuffs off the police” and to crack down on “racial militants,” criminals, and student protesters. Capturing 62 percent of the vote against a moderate Republican opponent, Stenvig shocked the city’s political establishment with his convincing victory. Running again as an independent in 1971, Stenvig defeated Harry Davis, Minneapolis ‘s first black mayoral candidate, receiving a remarkable 71 percent of the vote.

And:

Naftalin’s connection with academia was a sharp contrast to Stenvig’s open animosity toward higher education.

And:

Naftalin argued that with “proper computers,” a single executive authority could easily – and rationally – control a widely- scattered metropolitan area. For Naftalin, a rational executive would have to make unpopular decisions based on his or her expert knowledge of what was best…

And:

Thus, at several points during his career Stenvig tried to censor what he believed were immoral publications…

And this:

At the national level, many observers were surprised that race could even be a political issue in Minneapolis given the city’s numerically small minority population… Although the city’s African American population was relatively small it was concentrated in several neighborhoods, which led to frequent incidents of alleged police harassment and the belief that residents of black neighborhoods were treated unfairly by the overwhelmingly white police force.

And:

When a 12-year-old African-American boy was attacked by a police dog and dragged down the street by two policemen, many saw it as confirmation of Stenvig’s attitude toward blacks.

Finally:

Far from a naïve reactionary, Stenvig presented a political ideology that was sharply critical of liberalism and rejected social scientific knowledge and abstractions as useful guides for governance.

The article is interesting throughout, and is likely to remain so.  And you can read here about the 1967 race riots in northern Minneapolis.

Richard Davis requests

Here are some answers, I put his questions — from Request for Requests – in bold:

Melancholy among academics.

We’re a pretty sorry bunch, and many of us don’t have so much professionally to live for, at least not at the relevant margin — it is easy to lose forward momentum and never recover it, given the constraints and incentives in the profession and broader pressures toward conformity.  Rates of depression in academia, and especially in graduate school, are fairly high.  Many of the core processes are demoralizing rather than inspiring.  It is remarkable to me how much other people simply have accepted that is how things ought to be and perhaps they believe matters cannot be that different.  I view the high rates of depression in academic life as a “canary in the coal mine” that doesn’t get enough attention as an indicator of bigger, more systemic problems in the entire enterprise.  What are you doing with your lifetime sinecure?

Your favorite things Soviet.

Shostakovich.  And the Romantic pianists, most of all Richter and Gilels.  Constructivist art and ballet up through the late 1920s.  The early chess games of Tal.  Magnitogorsk.  War memorials, most of all in Leningrad.  Tarkovsky.  I admire the “great” Soviet novels, but I don’t love them, except for Solzhenitsyn, whom I would rather read then Dostoyevsky.  Probably the poetry is amazing, but my Russian is too limited to appreciate it.

The optimal number of math PhDs worldwide.

I would think fairly few.  I am happy having lots of mathematicians, with independent tests of quality.  But is the Ph.D such a great test or marker of quality?  Did Euclid have one?  Euler?  Does it show you will be a great teacher?  Maybe we should work toward abolishing the math PhD concept, but out of respect for the profession, not out of hostility toward math.

What historical works of art were anticipated to be great prior to creation, were immediately declared to be great at creation and have continued to be judged great ever since?

Overall it is striking how popular how many of the great revolutionaries have been.  Michelangelo was a major figure of renown.  Mozart was quite popular, though not fully appreciated.  Beethoven was a legend in his time, and every Wagner opera was an event.  Goethe ruled his time as a titan.  A significant percentage of the very best writers were well known and loved during their careers, though of course there was uncertainty how well they would stand up to the test of time.

The future of Northern New Jersey.

Much like the present, plus defaults on the pension obligations and over time the Indian food may get worse, due to acculturation.  The Sopranos will fade into distant memory, I am sorry to say, as will Bruce Springsteen.  So many young people already don’t know them or care.  I feel lucky to have grown up during the region’s cultural peak.

Who are the greats that still walk among us (other than McCartney)?

The major tech founders and CEOs, Stephan Wolfram, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella and Richard Serra and Gerhardt Richter and Robert Gober, a number of other classic rock stars (Dylan, Brian Wilson, Jagger, Eno, etc.), Philip Glass, Richard D. James, and note most of the greatest classical musicians who have ever lived are alive and playing today (Uchida anyone?), at least once Covid goes away.  Many of the major architects.  Ferrante and Knausgaard and Alice Munro.  Many of the figures who built up East Asia and Singapore.  Perelman.  Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.  Magnus Carlsen and all sorts of figures in sports.  A bunch of other people whom Eric Weinstein would list.

Why

Why not?

Rewatching *Dirty Harry* (no real spoilers)

Released in 1971, as usual with San Francisco movies one can see the reach of NIMBY — the city doesn’t look much larger or busier today.  The subtext of the film is that law and order is collapsing, yet San Francisco was far cleaner back then and street harassment never is presented as a risk.  Even the red light district of 1971 seemed better kept than many of the nicer parts circa 2020.

You can see how much the debate has shifted from “how the police treat the guilty” to “how the police treat the innocent.”

It is startling to see actual San Francisco children in the movie — they did not seem to be hired extras.

Yana was shocked that Clint Eastwood did not direct the movie, I was amazed when he started directing.

Overall it held up remarkably well I thought.  Virtually every scene is good, and its ability to offend both sides (and indeed other sides too) remains evident.