Category: Law

The origins of WEIRD psychology

This is one of the most important topics, right?  Well, here is a new and quite thorough paper by Jonathan Schulz, Duman Bahrami-Rad, Jonathan Beauchamp, and Joseph Henrich.  Here is the abstract:

Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of populations that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD). We propose that much of this variation arose as people psychologically adapted to differing kin-based institutions—the set of social norms governing descent, marriage, residence and related domains. We further propose that part of the variation in these institutions arose historically from the Catholic Church’s marriage and family policies, which contributed to the dissolution of Europe’s traditional kin-based institutions, leading eventually to the predominance of nuclear families and impersonal institutions. By combining data on 20 psychological outcomes with historical measures of both kinship and Church exposure, we find support for these ideas in a comprehensive array of analyses across countries, among European regions and between individuals with different cultural backgrounds.

As you might expect, a paper like this is fairly qualitative by its nature, and this one will not convince everybody.  Who can separate out all those causal pathways?  Even in a paper that is basically a short book.

Object all you want, but there is some chance that this is one of the half dozen most important social science and/or history papers ever written.  So maybe a few of you should read it.

And the print in the references to the supplementary materials is small, so maybe I missed it, but I don’t think there is any citation to Steve Sailer, who has been pushing a version of this idea for many years.

The slippery slope

Members of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ family were followed by the owner of the restaurant they were kicked out of over the weekend after they settled an alternative place to dine.

During an interview Monday on Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s radio show, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the father of the press secretary, said Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., tailed Sanders’ in-laws across the street and along with a number of other people protested their presence at the restaurant to which they had migrated.

Sanders and her husband were said to not be present at the second restaurant.

Here is more.  I still believe in freedom of association in matters such as this, but I also think you should, as a personal decision, serve Republicans at the lunch counter.  This is what starts to happen when you don’t..  Civility remains underrated, and is this a good time to apply just a little behavioral economics to how the interactions might escalate.

Via Megan.

Solve for the “not a detention center” equilibrium

A spokesman for Southwest Key, Jeff Eller, said on Sunday it could not legally require children to stay on the premises if they sought to leave, and that “from time to time” children had left several of its 27 shelters for immigrant children.

“We are not a detention center,” Mr. Eller said in a statement. “We talk to them and try to get them to stay. If they leave the property, we call law enforcement.”

Federal officials echoed that position, saying they could not stop a child who attempted to leave. The officials did not respond to a question about how many children had walked away from migrant centers nationwide.

Here is the rest of the NYT article, it has further points of interest.

Was the Colombian peace deal so wonderful?

It seems to be increasingly unpopular with the Colombian electorate, and now there is this report:

Hundreds of Colombian farmers, activists, and community organisers have been killed over the past 18 months, despite the landmark peace deal that supposedly ended 52 years of war. For them, and for local leaders in the former conflict zones, the war – which left an estimated 220,000 dead and seven million displaced over five decades – didn’t end: it only became worse.

“Whenever we hear talk of peace, we worry,” says Anadelia Trochez, 43, president of the community council in El Ceral, a village in the Cauca Valley, the most productive coca-growing area in the country. “Out here, that usually means more trouble.”

Of course that is not the final word, but the evidence increasingly suggests it is a perspective to be taken seriously.  I recall how many outsiders swooned when the initial Colombian peace deal was first announced, and how tragic they considered it when the Colombian electorate rejected the first version of the deal.  Critics of the deal were considered warmongers.  Those are classic signs of mood affiliation.

The pointer is from Tom Murphy.

Is the bilateral approach to trade liberalization really so bad?

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

It seems we are bureaucratizing trade as much as liberating it. Perhaps that is no surprise. If you wish to induce numerous nations to sign on to a deal, you will have to offer exceptions, clauses and conditions for them. The eventual result is that a free-trade treaty morphs into a managed-trade treaty. I still believe that the various trade agreements that have been passed or drawn up are for the better, but I also can’t help being disappointed by them. Note also that progress through the World Trade Organization had ground to a halt even before the election of Trump.

We are now in a setting where the world’s No. 2 economy — China, on its way to being No. 1 — is strongly opposed to free-trade ideals and free flows of information, especially for its own home market.

Enter bilateralism. The smartest case for trade bilateralism is that trade in many goods is already fairly free, but some egregious examples of tariffs and trade barriers remain. Look at agriculture, European restrictions on beef hormones in beef, and the Chinese unwillingness to allow in foreign companies. Targeted strategic bargaining, backed by concrete threats emanating from a relatively powerful nation — in this case the U.S. — could demand removal of those restrictions. Furthermore, the negotiating process would be more directly transactional and less cartelized and bureaucratic.

My colleague John Nye, an economist at George Mason University, has argued that the free-trade revolution of the 19th century came about because of a major trade agreement between Britain and France in 1860. Other European nations were fearful of being locked out of subsequent deals, and they hurried to sign bilateral trade treaties with Britain and France. There was a competition to make deals rather than cartelization of the process.

That said, our current pursuit of this approach does not seem to have enough allies on our side, and thus I doubt if it will work.  There is much more in the rest of the column.

Will the European Union ruin the internet?

A committee of MEPs has voted to accept major changes to European copyright law, which experts say could change the nature of the internet.

They voted to approve the controversial Article 13, which critics warn could put an end to memes, remixes and other user-generated content.

Article 11, requiring online platforms to pay publishers a fee if they link to their news content, was also approved.

One organisation opposed to the changes called it a “dark day”.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs voted by 15 votes to 10 to adopt Article 13 and by 13 votes to 12 to adopt Article 11.

It will now go to the wider European Parliament to vote on in July.

…Article 11 has been called the “link tax” by opponents.

Here is further information.  If ever there was a case for Brexit…

For the pointer I thank Saku.

Is democracy in danger?

From the highly regarded Daniel Treisman:

Influential voices in academia and the media contend that democracy is in decline worldwide and threatened in the US. Using a variety of measures, I show that the global proportion of democracies is actually at or near an all-time high; that the current rate of backsliding is not historically unusual; and that this rate is well explained by the economic characteristics of existing democracies. I confirm that breakdowns tend to occur in countries that are poor, have had relatively little democratic experience, and are in economic crisis. Extrapolating from historical data, I show that the estimated hazard of failure in a democracy as developed and seasoned as the US is extremely low — far lower than in any democracy that has ended in the past. Some suggest that undemocratic public attitudes and erosion of elite norms threaten US institutions, but there is little evidence that these factors cause democratic breakdown. While deterioration in the quality of democracy in countries such as Hungary and Poland is itself cause for concern — as is the reversion to authoritarianism in Russia and Turkey — alarm about a global slide into autocracy is inconsistent with current evidence.

The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Debating Space

Should there be more publicly funded space exploration? Noa Ovadia recently argued that money should be spent on more pressing needs than space travel. An expert from IBM smacked that argument down pretty convincingly:

It is very easy to say that there are more important things to spend money on, and I do not dispute this. No one is claiming that this is the only item on our expense list. But that is beside the point. As subsidizing space exploration would clearly benefit society, I maintain that this is something the government should pursue.

Oh, did I mention the expert was Dr. Watson?

*Empire of Guns*

The author is Priya Satia, and the subtitle is The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution.  Here is one good bit:

In fact, there were so many transitions between peace and war that it is difficult to establish what “normal” economic conditions were.  Eighteenth-century Europeans accepted war as “inevitable, an ordinary fact of human existence.”  It was an utterly unexceptional state of affairs.  For Britons in particular, war was something that happened abroad and that kept truly damaging disruption — invasion or rebellion — at bay.  Wars that were disruptive elsewhere were understood as preservationist in Britain…Adam Smith’s complaints about the costs of war, about the “ruinous expedient” of perpetual funding and high public debt in peacetime, staked out a contrarian position; The Wealth of Nations (1776) was a work of persuasion.  His and other voices in favor of pacific development grew louder from the margins.  By denormalizing war, liberal political economy raised the stakes of the century’s long final wars from 1793 to 1815, which could be stomached only as an exceptional, apocalyptic stage on the way to permanent peace.

In their wake, nineteenth-century Britain packaged their empire as a primarily civilian enterprise focused on liberty, forgetting the earlier collective investment in and profit from the wars that had produced it..

The book offers many points of interest.

Which technological advances have improved the working of autocracy?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

“What have been the really major advances of the past 20 years?” is one of the most common debated questions in my circles. The smartphone is probably nominated most often, while Google, Facebook and fracking have their advocates too. Yet we hardly ever talk about one of the most important developments, perhaps because it raises uncomfortable political issues: the governance technologies and strategies of authoritarian regimes have become much more efficient

The big innovation in authoritarian governance has been this: subsequent autocratic leaders, most of all in China, have found ways of both liberalizing and staying in power. The good news is that people living under authoritarian governments have much, much better lives than before. The corresponding bad news is that autocracy works better than it used to and thus it is more popular and probably also more enduring. The notion that autocratic government would fade away, either in practice or as an ideological competitor to Western liberalism, simply isn’t tenable any more…

A second development was when authoritarian leaders realized that absolute prohibitions on free speech were counterproductive, and they learned how to manage an intermediate solution.  Allowing partial speech rights is useful as a safety valve, it allows major dissidents to be identified and monitored, and absolute speech prohibitions tended to wreck the economy and discourage foreign investment, leading to unpopularity of the government. At the same time, an autocratic government could come down hard on the truly threatening ideas when needed.

Scientific public opinion polling has been another advance in authoritarian states. In 1987, the Economic System Reform Institute of China conducted the first Chinese public opinion survey, a breakthrough event. Under Chairman Mao in contrast, the incentive was to report only the good news. In the 1990s, however, Chinese public opinion surveys boomed and also became much more scientific.

There is much more at the link, one of my more interesting columns as of late.

American families shouldn’t be separated, either

That is the title of my Bloomberg column, here is my basic proposal:

Let’s take one-tenth of those women and move them from prison to house arrest, combined with electronic monitoring. That would allow for proximity to their children. If the U.S. isn’t plagued by a subsequent wave of violent crime — and I don’t think it will be — let us try the same for yet another tenth. Let’s keep on doing this until it’s obviously not working.


According to one 2010 study, more than 1.1 million men and 120,000 women in U.S. jails and prisons have children under the age of 17.


From 1991 to 2007, the number of children with a mother in prison more than doubled, rising 131 percent. About two-thirds of the women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. Sixty percent of those women have children under the age of 18, and in one survey one-quarter of the prisoners’ children were under the age of 4. Forty-one percent of the women in state prison had more than one child…One estimate suggests that 11 percent of the children of imprisoned mothers end up in foster care.

We can do this.

Spatial Competition, the Industrial Revolution and the Great Divergence

There is a new NBER working paper on those topics by Klaus Desmet, Avner Greif, and Stephen Parente:

A market-size-only theory of industrialization cannot explain why England developed nearly two centuries before China. One shortcoming of such a theory is its exclusive focus on producers. We show that once we incorporate the incentives of factor suppliers’ organizations such as craft guilds, industrialization no longer depends on market size, but on spatial competition between the guilds’ jurisdictions. We substantiate our theory (i) by providing historical and empirical evidence on the relation between spatial competition, craft guilds and innovation, and (ii) by showing the calibrated model correctly predicts the timings of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Divergence.

From the body of the paper, I found these two sentences especially useful:

First, using city size and location data, we quantify how spatial competition increased in England between 1600 and 1800.  Using the same metric, we show that China at the end of the nineteenth century was about 200 years behind England.

*Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls*

That is the new book by Tim Marshall, yes Trump and Israel and the like, but it goes much further than that.  Here is one excerpt:

Since 1971, Assam’s population has more than doubled, from 14.6 million to over 30 million, much of which is due to illegal immigration.  Hindu nationalists have argued that the area might have a Muslim majority by 2060.  In 2015 there were 19 million Hindus and 11 million Muslims, nine of the twenty-seven districts being Muslim majority.  Equally importantly, the 2017 census showed that people who are ethnically Assamese are now a minority in the state as a whole, and as people continue to arrive their proportions will continue to drop.

This is a depressing but thought-provoking book.  Bangladesh, by the way, is smaller than the state of Florida, but has 165 million people.  And I had not known there are about 800,000 Nigerians in South Africa.  You can order the book here.