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Showing posts from 2015

Bourgeois Society

"To say that the market economy belongs to a basically bourgeois total order implies that it presupposes a society which is the opposite of proletarianized society, in the wide and pregnant sense which it is my continual endeavor to explain, and also the opposite of mass society as discussed in the preceding chapter. Independence, ownership, individual reserves, saving, the sense of responsibility, rational planning of one's own life -- all that is alien, if not repulsive, to proletarianized mass society." -- Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy, p. 99

The American Conservative Book Symposium

Here, including a contribution by yours truly.

Why Trump Is Popular

A very good analysis from David Frum, here.

I'd add that it's not so much his particular policies, as the fact he ticks off the "right" people.

Linear Programming Bleg

I am working on learning how to do linear programming in Excel; I would like to do this for my production possibility frontier model. Is there anyone out there who wouldn't mind mentoring me a little on this?

Some Macro Models

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In Excel, posted to GitHub. Right now I have:
A real growth vs. nominal growth vs. inflation spreadsheetA Keynesian Cross spreadsheet; andA Production Possibility Frontier spreadsheet. All of them are built on a minimal data entry paradigm; for instance, for the Keynesian Cross, you only need enter autonomous consumption, marginal propensity to consume, and intended investment, and the whole kit and caboodle recalculates from there. For the PPF, you just enter a maximum number of units, and everything recalculates: great for showing a collapsing or expanding PPF.

Models are not about "essentials"...

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They are abstractions that highlight an aspect of the thing being modeled.

That is why I deny that, by making a model of a recession in which "recessions are not about output and employment and saving and investment and borrowing and lending and interest rates and time and uncertainty... the only essential things are a decline in monetary exchange caused by an excess demand for the medium of exchange," Nick Rowe has shown that in real recessions, those are the only essential things.

For instance, what about the proposition that "The Ptolemaic model of the solar system proves that it is not about rock-and-ice-and-gas planets orbiting a giant plasma orb: The only essential thing is pure circular movement"?

But perhaps the problem there is that that is not a good model. So let's say we get a better one: Newton's. Now we have a planet as a point mass, orbiting the Sun, another point mass. Is this the "essence" of the solar system? That doesn't se…

Rational eating

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I encountered an article recently -- I am not going to bother even looking it up and linking to it, because similar sentiments are a dime a dozen -- arguing that the American way of using a fork while eating is "inefficient," and thus should be replaced by a more European style.

But... what does "efficiency" have to do with table manners? If our goal, when sitting down at the table, was to simply get food as "efficiently" as possible into our mouths, we would just plunge our face down into our dish, the same way our dogs eat.

Civilized eating is precisely about checking our tendency to eat like an animal, and constraining our appetite according to cultural rules as to how we may eat. To evaluate our table manners based on whether the American way of eating with a fork is more or less "efficient" than eating with chopsticks, or one's fingers, is to completely misconstrue what table manners are about: they exist to reduce our "efficiency…

"You're so behind the times!"

Intellectually, the above is the equivalent of "You think differently than we do in my province!"

"The times" is just the province of the ages that we happen to live in.

Vanishing comments

All Blogger comments get emailed to me... and always wind up in my spam folder.

So I just go through the Blogger interface and approve all those that are not spam.

Except now I was looking in my mail spam folder, and I see comments in there that I never saw in Blogger! I don't know how this could happen, but it means some comments aren't appearing at all, and I have no idea why.

Especially, I saw Kevin Quinn and Prateek in my spam mail folder, but I can't find their comments anywhere in Blogger.

My apologies.

The Incoherence of "Non-Discrimination" as a Foundational Principle

'Things are made more complex still by the inclusion, in all European provisions, of “non-discrimination” as a human right. When offering a benefit, a contract of employment, a place in a college, or a bed in a hospital, you are commanded not to discriminate on grounds of…there then follows a list derived from the victims of recent history: race, ethnic group, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and whatever is next to be discovered. But all coherent societies are based on discrimination: A society is an “in-group,” however large and however hospitable to newcomers.' -- Roger Scruton


Liberals All

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Here:

"What’s a liberal? Someone who 'respects . . . individual existence' so much that he 'attempt[s] to leave as much moral and political space around every human person as is compatible with the demands of social life.' Liberalism so understood is 'the official ideology of the Western world.' It is the ideology of 'the free, self-fulfilling individual,' which is equally at the foundation of the thought of Milton Friedman and Karl Marx. For the libertarian and the Marxist alike, utopia, when it arrives, will be marked by perfectly individualistic spontaneity or the immediate and unobsessive gratification of personal preferences without authoritative guidance from social or relational structures, without the limitations that used to be associated with birth, personal love, and death."

The Devil

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Satan continually tempts me into cleverness as a substitute for wisdom. To cover his tracks, he whispers in my ear that the preceding sentence is just a metaphor.

Paradise waits

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"These people would have us believe that everything is as it should be and that paradise is just around the corner: The paradise of a society whose idea of bliss is leisure, gadgets, and continuous fast displacement on concrete highways." -- Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy, p. 37

What a pageant!

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A friend of mine remarked on Facebook, about Miss Universe: "Holding a pageant to rank the worth of human beings in 2015: what a funny idea!"

I think he has actually offered a great characterization of progressive politics: A pageant to rank the worth of human beings. Whoever displays the most concern and guilt wins!


Pas-ta Facts on the Left-Hand Side

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Here: "[Pasta] was originally a failed Italian attempt to copy Chinese noodles..."

Sigh. Noah Smith apparently thinks "history" means whatever rumors he heard about the past when he was a kid. Because "Jeffrey Steingarten asserts that Arabs introduced pasta in the Emirate of Sicily in the ninth century, mentioning also that traces of pasta have been found in ancient Greece and that Jane Grigson believed the Marco Polo story to have originated in the 1920s or 30s in an advertisement for a Canadian spaghetti company."

So, something originating as a Canadian spaghetti ad is now a "fact" of the past... a.

As soon as someone calls something "reactionary"...

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I stop listening:

"He adamantly refused to replace the primordial human distinction between good and evil with the pernicious ideological distinction between Progress and Reaction."

From a nice article here.

The "Problem" of Evil, II

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"But I can easily imagine a world without evil! It would be perfect."

"No, it has a very grave defect: it is imaginary. No one can live and nothing can exist in an imaginary world!"

A world with only good and no evil may be like a world with only up and no down: purely impossible.

But until you can make your own universe, it is not appropriate to criticize someone else's!

The "Problem" of Evil

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I don't really think there is such a problem. But I understand how worries about such a possible problem arise. And the best answer to those worries was written long ago:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said:

Who is this who darkens counsel
with words of ignorance?
Gird up your loins now, like a man;
I will question you, and you tell me the answers!
Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size? Surely you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
Into what were its pedestals sunk,
and who laid its cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb,
When I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
And said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves stop?
Have you ever in your lifetime…

The Threat of "All White" Elite Colleges

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A progressive friend recently wrote me and said, "If affirmative action is ended, America's elite colleges will again be all white."

First of all, let me note that I am fine with "limited" affirmative action: if there is basically a tie between two students seeking admission to a college, I think it is OK to use minority status to break the tie.

But what I really want to remark upon is the amazing claim that only affirmative action prevents America's elite universities from being "all white." UC Berkeley is a pretty elite place, and affirmative action is illegal in the California. Here are its most recent enrollment statistics.

Say what?! Whites make up only 24.3% of the admitted students! Chinese students are at 19.5%, nearly the same level as whites, and this despite the fact the whites outnumber Chinese in California by about 22 to 1. South Asians are another 9% of the admissions: over a third of the number of white admittees, despite whites o…

Atheism: An Evolutionary Disaster

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Here:

“It is a great irony but evolution appears to discriminate against atheists and favour those with religious beliefs,” said Michael Blume, a researcher at the University of Jena in Germany who carried out the study. “Most societies or communities that have espoused atheistic beliefs have not survived more than a century.”

An Easy Fix for All Crimes!

I just saw a prominent libertarian posting on Facebook: "We can easily fix the problem of illegal immigrants by abolishing borders."

Yes, and we can "fix" the problem of trespassing by abolishing property lines. And we can "fix" the problem of theft by abolishing all property rights.

Some terrible arguments for raising the minimum wage...

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Are on offer here.

First, try this on for size:
Those against raising the minimum wage often argue that it will hurt young people the most and that they “need the experience” of working at the minimum wage. But notice that the youth unemployment rate in Germany is 7.8 percent, and in Switzerland, it is 8.5 percent. In contrast, youth unemployment is 15.5 percent in the U.S., even though the U.S.’s minimum wage (using Purchasing Power Parities exchange rates) is below that of these Germany’s and Switzerland’s $10 and $9.20 an hour respectively. In other words, both have higher minimum wages, but much lower youth unemployment rates. Their overall unemployment rate is also lower: 4.5 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively. The minimum wage makes no difference on unemployment. Now, if we want to be naive empiricists, we'd have to say that Komlos is clearly wrong. A higher minimum wage makes a big difference in unemployment: it makes it much lower! But Komlos doesn't say that. W…

The scientists who ignored Miller's evidence for the ether were not just correct in retrospect...

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they were correct at that time.

That is the point Michael Polanyi (and I following him) are making about Miller's experiments. To note that they were correct in retrospect presents no evidence for determining good scientific practice. Consider someone who in 1700 believed that there were planets beyond Saturn because in an opium trance he had a vision of some outer planets. Maybe this was a "true vision," or maybe not, but in any case, it was not a good scientific reason for holding the proposition. And that is not because it is a vision -- we will see that visions are what inspire great scientists -- but because it is not a vision offering a rational, scientific explanation of previously unexplained phenomena. And thus the fact that in retrospect, that person turned out to be correct says nothing about how scientists ought to proceed in practice.

The scientists who were presented with Miller's evidence in 1926 did not have the luxury of saying, "Well, let'…

The American View of the Irish, Circa 1870

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Lest one think it was only in England we saw images like this, here is one from America, from a popular weekly:


The Difference Between Mises and Röpke

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Here:
During the Second World War the city of Geneva had allocated garden plots along the line of the vanished city walls to citizens wishing to grow their own vegetables in a time of food shortages. This use of public land turned out to be popular; the city continued the allocation of plots after the war.

Röpke heartily approved of this undertaking, which both enabled people to obtain independently part of their own sustenance and provided the satisfaction of healthy achievement outside factory walls. When Ludwig von Mises came to visit Röpke at Geneva, Röpke took his guest to inspect those garden plots.

Mises sadly shook his head: “A very inefficient way of producing foodstuffs!”

“But perhaps a very efficient way of producing human happiness,” Röpke told him. Perhaps needless to say, I am with Röpke here.

Our bizarre obsession with words

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An English depiction of an Irishman.
Sitting in my landlord's backyard in England the subject of oats came up. I mentioned that there is a reason the Irish and Scots eat oats.

With great disdain in his voice, he remarked, "Well, the Irish eat oats because they're stupid!"

Then he looked at me in panic. I could see that, for the first time since I had known him, he had suddenly connected my last name with my ancestry. He immediately began trying to suck the words back into his mouth: "Of course, I'm joking! I'm joking!"

I smiled sardonically, and gave a little shrug. "Looks like rain tomorrow, hey?" I asked. The conversation moved on.

And if I wanted to obsess over such trivia, I could probably fill a notebook with hundreds of other "micro-aggressions" against my background: "You're Irish, so you must love to drink, right?" Wait a second, in fact, every St. Patrick's Day, I could walk around New York and record t…

Manners, not esotericism!

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At the recommendation of a reader, I am reviewing Arthur M. Melzer's Philosophy between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing (Chicago and London: University Of Chicago Press, 2014). Melzer is a Straussian who has latched onto Strauss's idea that philosophers commonly hid their "true doctrine" (their esoteric teaching) while giving lip service to common pieties. I must say that so far I find Melzer's case quite a stretch, as it seems to me he regularly interprets passages as evidence of esotericism that appear to have far more straight-forward readings.
For instance, Melzer quotes Erasmus criticizing Luther:

“For seeing that truth of itself has a bitter taste for most people, and that it is of itself a subversive thing to uproot what has long been commonly accepted, it would have been wiser to soften a naturally painful subject by the courtesy of one’s handing than to pile one cause of hatred on another…A prudent steward will husband the truth – to br…

The rationality of science

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The great figures of the Scientific Revolution -- Galileo, Kepler, Newton -- were crystal clear on why science could be a rational enterprise: scientists were reading Nature, "the book of God"... and God being the supremely rational mind, naturally the book had a rational design, one that, with effort, our more limited minds could follow.

The major part of the history of the philosophy of science since the 18th-century has been the hunt to find some other, any other, basis for science's rationality. Once Hume destroyed the purely empiricist case for science, the search had an air of desperation to it. Instrumentalism, verificationism, falsificationism: all were attempts to patch up the whole Hume had noted.

All these attempts have failed.

Pundit = Shallow?

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My friend Kenneth McIntyre takes apart David Brooks here. An excerpt:
The final question or concern is whether the book’s argument is ultimately unconvincing in the way that it is produced by Brooks. There is an old joke that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who classify the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t. Brooks is most definitely in the former class. We get the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues, along with Adam I and Adam II. (Adam I prefers the résumé virtues.) There is a contrast between utilitarian logic and moral logic, which leaves the reader unclear whether Brooks is aware that utilitarianism is an actual theory of moral action. (He may not think that it is a convincing one—I don’t either—but utilitarians offer their theories not as alternatives to moral life but as accounts of moral life.) There are the cultures of self-effacement and self-promotion, which lead to the characters “Little Me” and “Big Me.” There is the party of reticenc…

Why scientists *cannot* "Revise what they know" in the face of every piece of adverse evidence

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As Paul Feyerabendnoted, all scientific theories are born falsified: at the very moment of their creation, there exist data that "falsifies" the theory. (See, for instance, Special Relativity and the Michelson-Morley experiment, or Copernican astronomy and the absence of visible stellar parallax.) But if the theory seems to solve enough other problems, and especially if it seems rationally satisfying, explaining a range of phenomena in an elegant manner, scientists will (correctly) ignore the "falsifying" data and plunge ahead using the theory, hoping that one day the recalcitrant data can be made to behave.

Einstein's special theory of relativity was "falsified" *thousands* of times

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"But there yet remains an almost ludicrous part of the story to be told. The Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887... actually did not give the result required by relativity! It admittedly substantiated its authors' claim that the relative motion of the earth and the 'ether' did not exceed a quarter of the earth's orbital velocity. But the actually observed effect was not negligible; or has, at any rate, not been proved negligible up to this day... Moreover, an effect of the same magnitude was reproduced by D. C. Miller and his collaborators in a long series of experiments extending from 1902-1926, in which they repeated the Michaelson-Morley experiment with new, more accurate apparatus, many thousands of times." -- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 12, emphasis mine

Polanyi notes that when Miller announced his results... the general community of scientists simply ignored him. They were already convinced that relativity was correct, and didn't care a…

Cosmos and Taxis call for papers

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Jim Caton and I are editing a special Agent-Based Modeling issue of Cosmos and Taxis. Details are here.

Can "Shonk: The Movie" Be Far Off?

Here is a video of Shonk on hyperspheres, yet another media appearance which neglects to mention that he comments at this blog!

PS: Shonk, you win "Most Mathematician Outfit of 2015": we don't even have to wait for the rest of December!

Dynamic Medieval Science

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From Thony:
Another point that Grant makes is that it’s very difficult to actually say what Aristotelian philosophy was as it changes constantly throughout the High Middle Ages. That Aristotelian Philosophy was some sort of unchanging, unchangeable monster cast in concrete by the Catholic Church with an injunction against all forms of inquiry is a myth perpetuated by people who believe in the Draper-White hypothesis of an eternal war between science and religion.

Let us look at a specific example of that process of change; in fact an area that would play a central role in the creation of modern science in the Early modern period, the laws of motion. Already in the sixth century CE John Philoponus criticised Aristotle theory of motion and introduced the concept of impetus. This stated that the thrower imparted a motive force to the thrown object, impetus, which decreases over time till the object stops moving. Via the Islamic thinker Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji in the twelfth century the the…

Use your models, don't believe them!

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Noah Smith complains:

"And to make it worse, most of the macro theories that economists take halfway seriously are too hard for intro kids, so they end up learning silly stuff like Mundell-Fleming and Keynesian Cross that no one even halfway believes."

But, believing is something one should never do with one's models: they are just models, and as abstractions are necessarily falsifications of the full reality being modeled. A road map is just lines on a piece of paper: it never follows each twist of a road, it doesn't show dangerous potholes, it doesn't let us know the road is now blocked by a slow-moving garbage truck. (Of course, interactive maps may show red dots when a road is backed up, but the basic point stands.)

This was a point we made when I was a partner in an asset-trading firm: our models were something we used, not believed, and as soon as they ceased to be useful, we abandoned them, and sought another useful model, without any silly concern about…

The "Enlightenment"

"The term 'Enlightenment' is an ideological term with no utility in studying the structures of reality. But it has great utility in shutting off debate and preventing inquiry into questions about 'progress' or the roles and limitations of the natural sciences. It purports to describe that era when western civilization freed itself from the 'dark ages.'" -- Fritz Wagner

Tolkein's Trinity

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"It seems that for Tolkien, the creation is envisaged in three stages—music, light, and being—corresponding in some way to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Yet the whole Trinity is involved in every stage, and the Logos or Word, who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, can justly be called the order, harmony and meaning of the cosmos, revealed to the Angels but only expressed in creation through the Breath of God." -- Christopher Morrissey, "The Six Days of Creation: Tolkien’s Account," quoting Stratford Caldecott

Pope Francis on Ideology

"In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost his faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought."

Dying for the telephone company

"The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on it’s behalf… It is like being asked to die for the telephone company…. The shared public goods of the modern nation-state are not the common goods of a genuine nation-wide community and, when the nation-state masquerades as the guardian of such a common good, the outcome is bound to be either ludicrous or disastrous or both." -- Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice, Which Rationality?

Rationalism in International Politics

E. H. Carr critiqued it at a crucial moment in Europe's history.

Americanity

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If you doubt that "Americanism" is a religion, watch the beginning of a football game. A huge religious icon (the American flag) is spread across the field. Everyone puts their hands over their hearts (similar to making the sign of the cross) and then sings a religious hymn ("The Star Spangled Banner"). The singer is surrounded by a coterie of "monks": Marines, Navy SEALs, paratroopers, etc. Then, like a great spectacle in the coliseum from pagan times, two groups of warriors do battle, interspersed with ads touting consumption (the chief sacrament of Americanism) and the mystical ecstasies that can be achieved by total devotion to one's subcult (favorite team).

Every time Nick Rowe writes a macro post...

you should contemplate it very carefully... you will always learn to think about he macroeconomy more deeply.

In Which I Knock the Bottom out of Niall Ferguson

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Here.

Noah, lost at sea

Noah Smith is trying to defend empiricism in economics, but when it comes to empirical facts about the history of science... well, those we can just make up to suit our purposes! And so he writes:

"Our most spectacularly successful leaps of theoretical insight - Newton's Principia, Einstein's relativity stuff, Mendel's theory of inheritance - were all very closely guided by data. The general pattern was that some new measurement technology would be invented - telescopes, plant hybridization experiments, etc. - that would provide some new unexplained data. Then some smart theorists would come up with a new theoretical framework (paradigm?) to explain it, and the new framework would then also explain a bunch of other stuff besides, and so people would switch to the new theory."

Now, I haven't studied the history surrounding Mendel much, so I am not going to comment on it (imagine that: choosing not to write about something because one doesn't know much abo…

One-book-itis

One-book-itis is a malady that strikes amateurs in an academic field (e..g. history) when their reading in that field, on a particular topic, is largely restricted to one strong defense of a controversial position about that topic. The amateur simply doesn't know the field (e.g. history) well enough to realize that:

1) Of course any competent professional historian can marshall a strong case for any position he puts forward: he wouldn't put a case forward unless he could marshall strong evidence for it, and his entire professional life has been spent learning how to make the historical case for proposition X strong.

In particular, what the amateur overlooks here is that their champion for this controversial position is in a dialogue with other professional historians. And whatever view he is disputing, those others themselves put forward good cases for the view he is disputing: if they hadn't, he wouldn't even bother disputing it!

2) The professional discussion is nua…

Applications for Agent-Based Modeling

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Hat tip to Leslie Marsh for bring this to my attention:


The Scientific Achievement of the Middle Ages

A few quotes from the work with the above title by Richard C. Dales:

"The really important thing to be noted, however, is the rapidity with which the scientists of the later thirteenth and fourteenth centuries learned to differ with Aristotle..." (quoting Lynn White).

"The striking thing about this [twelfth] century is the attitude of its scientists. These men are daring, original, inventive, skeptical of traditional authorities although sometimes overly impressed by new ones, and above all steadfastly determined to discover purely rational explanations of natural phenomena."

"Despite the fact that many excellent illuminating studies of medieval science, as well as the texts of the works themselves, have been published in easily accessible volumes during the past fifty years, it is not unusual to find even well-educated people abysmally ignorant of the subject. Unfortunately this does not inhibit them from writing authoritatively about it."

My review of The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britian

To appear soon in History: Review of New Books.

****************************************

Floud, Roderick, Jane Humphries, and Paul Johnson. The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain. Volume 1: 1700-1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
This work is an excellent survey of the important region and period of economic history that was Britain’s industrial revolution. It consists of fifteen essays by a variety of top scholars, each taking up a different aspect of the overall subject: nutrition, international trade, technology, ideology, agriculture, transportation, regional variations, occupations, labor markets, finance, social mobility, and political economy. With such a wealth of information on hand, a short review can only sample a few of the abundant offerings in the volume.

Rational heating

Houses used to have radiators. These were "irrational," as it was hotter near the radiator than on the other side of the room. What people wanted was uniform heat over the entire house.

Except, if they have any sense, that's not what they want. Some people will find the uniformly heated room chilly, while others find it stifling. When we had radiators and fires, one could move closer to the heat source, or further from it, and set one's own room temperature. Now we must all have a single temperature, like it or not.

My thermostat is a Presbyterian

I have said before on this blog that if we wish to ascribe thoughts about chess to a chess-playing computer, we should, for the very same reasons, ascribe thoughts about home heating to our thermostats. It is nice to see that one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence agrees with me on this point:

'In 1979 McCarthy wrote an article[22] entitled "Ascribing Mental Qualities to Machines." In it he wrote, "Machines as simple as thermostats can be said to have beliefs..."'

Of course, McCarthy thinks thermostats have beliefs about home heating and Big Blue has beliefs about chess, while I think neither is true, but we agree that the evidence should lead us to decide both cases the same way. (It is like we agree on the proposition, "If Joe is guilty, then Bill is guilty too," but disagree on whether Joe is guilty.)

Lost in the Medicine Cabinet

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13-digit ISBN required, without hyphen

Every time you see a message like this from a web site, a programming angel falls from the sky and is imprisoned on earth until he can get the programmer who wrote that code to stop being a lazy so-and-so. Do you realize how easy it is to strip a hyphen out of a string of text?

Programmers: accept any reasonable format, and change it for the user into the format you need!

Absolute elsewhere in the stones of your mind...

I was in the waiting room at my chiropractor's office. I had a book to read, but the scene playing out in front of me caught my attention:

There was a girl of about seven sitting directly across from me, with a book in her lap. Her mother sat at right angles to both of us, phone in hand, studying the screen and typing. The girl asked, "Mommy, can I read to you?"

Her mother grunted something that might be interpreted as a yes. The girl began reading and the mothers face remained fixed on her phone, her fingers still typing. Every 30 seconds or so, the mother would look up, and give her daughter about a one second glance. At one point, she corrected the girls pronunciation of "Himalaya."

The girl mentioned yetis, and read that they were "apple-like creatures." I was puzzled by this for a moment, and then realized that she had read "ape-like creatures," and did not know that the dash meant that she should break her pronunciation at that point.…

George Will, Bullsh*&^er

As described here.

It is shocking how often the lie that Obama uses the first person a lot in his speeches has been repeated, given how often it has been shown to be false.

Germaine Greer speaks sense

here, but as a trans activist quoted in the article noted, speaking sense is "out of date."

Bonaventure on the Trinity

I have sometimes had commenters remark that my metaphysical interpretations of the Trinity surely must be completely novel, and have nothing to do with any traditional idea about it. Well, here is Ettienne Gilson, commenting on St. Bonaventure's ideas on the Trinity, from about 800 years ago:

"Now, it is clear that within such a substance [as a necessary being] the origin holds the place of principle; the exemplar, of means; the final cause, as its name indicates, of end; and as it likewise appears that the Father is the Principle and the Holy Spirit the End, it follows that the Son is the Means. Thus the Father is the original foundation, the Holy Spirit the completion, and the Son the mental word..." -- "The Spirit of St. Bonaventure"

If we absorb the above, we can see that, for instance, Mises's work on praxeology has a trinitarian basis, even though he would have hated to have heard this!

Hipster "multiculturalism"

At my Italian class, one student, a thirty-something hipster with scraggly beard, skinny arms, and nervous hands, was corrected by the instructor: a woman author is a "scrittrice," not a "scrittore."

In response, he rolled his eyes and mumbled something about how sexist this all was.

Entire languages are subject to condemnation if they do not live up to the standards of the twenty-first century Brooklyn hipster!

(Interestingly, the same fellow often corrects the instructor on basic language points, e.g., "That's not reflexive!" in a case where Italian uses a reflexive verb but English doesn't. Even the logical structure of the language is not up to snuff in his eyes.)

Macro Themes

On my fourth round of teaching macroeconomics, I am really able to tie much of the course together around the theme of "upholders of Say's Law" versus "Keynesians" (with "Keynesians" acting as a synecdoche for "all general glut theorists").

For instance, I was just teaching the chapter of our text on unemployment. When we discussed structural unemployment, I told the class about how the general glut debate initially launched in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. "The defenders of Say's Law were not idiots: they saw that there were idle resources. But their explanation was that after 20 years of fighting, the European economy was structured around war: it would take time to change factories for making cannons into factories for making sweaters."

And then I explained how a similar structural explanation was offered for the recent housing-led downturn. And I noted that the Keynesians needn't deny that these structural imbalance…

The Laffer Curve Is No Joke

I have seen a number of pieces from the American left mocking the very idea of the Laffer Curve, as though it is idiotic to think that lowering taxes could ever raise tax revenue. But pretty much every trained economist would admit that there is such a curve; the only question is where its maximum lies.

Consider:

"One great success was the Commutation Act of 1784 which reduced tea duties from 119% to 12.5%, successfully killing smuggling and enhancing the public revenue, a never to be forgotten lesson." -- Julian Hoppit, "Political how are an British economic life, 1650-1870," from The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, Volume I, p. 360, emphasis mine.

Lionel Robbins Discusses "History"

I didn't have a book to bring to the gym at work today, so I scanned the shelves of my (shared) office and plucked from them Lionel Robbins' A History of Economic Thought. Now mind you, I have no axe to grind with Robbins, and the remarks of his I will highlight below have little bearing on any practical current debate. I only note them to show how very wrong even major thinkers often are when they wander outside their area of expertise.

I started with Robbins' second lecture, on Plato and Aristotle. The first sign of trouble was when Robbins says that in The Laws, Plato has a "fascist conception" of the best society, rather than a communist one as in The Republic. So Robbins is trying to line thinkers of 2400 years ago with the political parties of his day, a completely hopeless task that falsifies the past.

Next up: "Before the Renaissance Plato was not at all well know, whereas "the Philosopher" (Aristotle) was appealed to by most of the writer…

Was It the Government That Was (Chiefly) Responsible for the Low-Fat Diet?

Nutrition science is (apparently) seriously revising its recommendations for the amount of fat we should have in our diets. In response, many of my libertarian Facebook friends have been posting things like, "See: never pay attention to government nutritional guidelines."

But was it really the government that drove these recommendations? My impression -- and I have not studied this history in any depth, so this is only an impression -- is that this was more a matter of nutrition scientists jumping to plausible conclusions with too little evidence at hand. Studies showed that the presence of cholesterol in the blood had a positive correlation with heart disease. Therefore, people should lower their cholesterol intake. This hypothesis proceeded on the sensible idea that if we suffer from having too much of X in our bodies, we should put less X into our bodies.

But nutrition and physiology are very complex subjects, and it seems that this plausible idea was not tested sufficie…

Algorithms and Their Implementations

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As I taught my students the Sieve of Eratosthenes, I described the sieve verbally, then I had them "run" the sieve on paper, then program it in Visual Basic. And as I did so, I contemplated, "What is the sieve itself, apart from its implementations?"

This of course is but one more version of the problem that Plato and Aristotle grappled with, on the relation of the forms to their particulars. Plato's approach was to regard the particulars as inferior "copies" of the forms, which tended to lead to a contempt for the world of particulars, and Gnostic ideas like the creation of the sensible world by an evil demiurge. On the other hand, Aristotle emphasized the particulars, leading him to posit a God who was so totally removed from the world that He did not even know it existed.





The problem, it seemed to me as I contemplated this matter, is that each view is one-sided, and treats the algorithm and its implementations as though they could be pulled apart.…

Psychology

The scientific study of the psyche, undertaken by people who generally do not believe that the psyche exists.

Bryan Caplan Explains the Liberal Attitude Towards Religion

I was at the NYU market process colloquium one day when Caplan was presenting. I challenged his notion of rationality, saying that his own view lacked the resources to say why worrying about material well being is rational, while following Biblical injunctions on behavior is irrational. (Something he nevertheless held to be true.)

Caplan's response was along the lines of, "Oh, so we're supposed to be following the dictates of a bunch of desert shepherds from 3000 years ago?" (I quote from memory, but I certainly do not have the essence of Caplan's response wrong.)

The first thing I will point out is that Israel Kirzner, who is an orthodox rabbi (and many times the economist that Caplan is), was sitting next to me in that room. So Caplan was quite deliberately mocking Kirzner's life choices, and in a forum in which he knew Kirzner could not respond. (Kirzner is, of course, too self-possessed and too much of a gentleman to even show a response to Caplan's …

Teaching Programming Without a Net

This morning I did something I had never done before: I wrote a program in front of an audience.

I had assigned my introduction to programming students the Sieve of Eratosthenes as a problem. I had already written a sieve  in Visual Basic based on Stepanov and Rose's guidelines. But I wanted my students to implement a much simpler version -- they are beginners, after all!

Today, for the first time, I came to class, quite deliberately, without having written the program I was going to show them in advance. I told them, "I want to show you how a programmer thinks through a problem like this."

And I programmed the whole algorithm live, describing each step, and using the Visual Studio debugger to examine what was going on. It was a bit nerve wracking: what if I froze up, and couldn't think of what to do next?

But we got through it, and the students loved it. I will be doing this again.

PS: Having gotten them through the sieve, I need one more algorithm for them to code…

The Segregated Pop Charts?

I've mentioned this before, but I am always befuddled by claims that Michael Jackson was "the first" black artist who could score hits with white audiences. I was reminded of this again when I happened to be pointed to Billboard's list of number one pop singles. Take the year I first started listening to pop music, 1970, and consider that the United States is about 13% black, so it is just about impossible to reach number one on the overall pop chart if you are selling only to black record buyers.

What I see for that year is that black artists occupied the number one spot 19 out of 52 weeks: almost 40% of the time. And it was not one "crossover" artist: it was five different ones. And me, a white kid in the suburbs, owned records by all five.

The previous year, 1969, I count black artists at number one 20 out of 52 weeks. And again it is five different artists, with only two overlaps with 1970 (Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Sly and the Family Stone). An…

The promise that the study of the brain is "on the verge"...

of explaining how the brain "produces" consciousness...

is a check that has been "in the mail" for 250 years now!

If People Are Willing to Pay a Lot for It...

it must be bad?!

That's what town rankings like this one always seem to imply: they penalize towns for being pricey. But towns are pricey precisely because they are desirable places to live!

When Law Goes Private...

it turns out that it favors the wealthy even more than does state-made law!

Who could have imagined that in a market for law, the people who can pay the most for law get the law they want?!

The terrible assumption made in the optimistic case for an anarcho-capitalist justice system is that what people will want to pay for in private law is perfect justice, so far as it can be achieved.

Why in the world should that be the case? Large corporations will pay for law that will favor large corporations. Lawsuits based on corporate malfeasance will be increasingly hard to win. Intellectual property law will be strengthened, tremendously. The few dollars you have to spend on "private defense agencies" are peanuts compared to the billions upon billions large corporations will be able to spend.

And, as in any market, the consumer will win: corporations will get exactly the laws they want.

What should be jettisoned from Scholastic philosophy

"Dedicated as they were to the understanding of faith, our theologians accepted without criticism a great deal of ready-made philosophical and scientific knowledge that had no necessary relation to Christian revelation -- and, be it noted, these are precisely the dead and antiquated parts of their work, which we have absolutely no reason to preserve." -- Etienne Gilson, "Historical Research"

I have been trying, apparently without success, to convince the Thomists at Ed Feser's blog of this point, especially concerning the clearly antiquated doctrine of the division of life into non-sentient plants and sentient animals. Forget that this division totally ignores fungii, which are neither plants nor animals, it is also entirely dependent upon "movement" being defined as "movement at the pace at which humans move." Plants move around plenty, just more slowly than we do. And this antiquated division must classify single-celled organisms as "a…

My response to Walter Block

Is online here at Cosmos and Taxis.

Wikiphobia

I was looking at a paper published in the Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, and I found this passage:

"[The South Sea Company's] first act happened to be the successful conversion of 9 million pounds of government debt into company stock. For this service the government undertook to pay interest at 6%.""

This left me a little puzzled: just what was the government paying 6% on, if its bonds had been converted to South Sea Company stock? I wrote a friend who is an expert on the history of money and banking, and he agreed that the passage is confusing, and said, "The Wikipedia entry on the South Sea Company is better."

So, between a peer-reviewed book from Cambridge and Wikipedia... Wikipedia wins!

And high school teachers are still advising their students never to use it.

Sigh.

The Distributist Definition of the Capitalist State

"The two marks, then, defining the Capitalist State are: (i) that the citizens thereof are politically free: i.e. can use or withhold at will their possessions or their labor, but are also (ii) divided into capitalist and proletarian in such proportions that the state as a whole is not characterized by the institution of ownership among free citizens, but by the restriction of ownership to a section markedly less than the whole, or even to a small minority. Such a Capitalist State is essentially divided into two classes of free citizens, the one capitalist or owning, the other propertyless or proletarian." -- Hillaire Belloc, The Servile State, p. 16

The truth about the "subjectivity" of value judgments

Reading Frances Woolley's post about throwing away pumpkin seeds led me to contemplate this point.

By noting that "waste is a value judgment," Woolley seems to imply that it is "merely subjective," and therefore beyond dispute.

The fact that we can, and do, successfully challenge these judgments by others, and sometimes get them to change their mind, shows that this is not the case. But the confusion is understandable: the claim that value judgments are not subjective is often conflated with the notion that everyone whomsoever in any circumstance whatsoever ought to make the same judgment. So, a waste nanny might badger all others about how awful it is for them to throw away their seeds. And that is clearly a mistake.

The truth lies in between: it is either a good idea or a bad idea for me to save and toast my pumpkin seeds. It is not a matter of my whims. But whether or not it is a good or bad idea depends on my "particular circumstances of time and plac…

Neuroscience: Uncovering the "secrets of consciousness"?

An actual neuroscientist (at least one in training) is honest about where things stand. The findings:
We have no f*%king clue how to simulate a brain.

We have no f*%king clue how to wire up a brain.

We have no f*%king clue what makes human brains work so well.

We have no f*%king clue what the parameters are.

We have no f*%king clue what the important thing to simulate is. So, we are just about there, hey?

And note that this person is still a materialist, and still thinks we are dealing with a "machine" that thinks. S/he is just honest enough to admit that we have no clue how that "machine" operates.


More Office bleg

Well, I could not clear up my problems with Office 2011, so I upgraded to 2016... and at least one of my problems has migrated with me!

When I open a document in one of the Office programs, I somewhat regularly get a message "Could not create work file: check your free disk space." (I type the message from memory, so I may have a word or two wrong.)

Well, there are 350 GB free on my primary disk (and over 1 TB free on my backup), and today, the file I was opening was a Word document of about 100 KB, so unless a Word work file is roughly 3.5 million times the size of the actual document, I don't think the amount of free disk space is really the issue.

But does anyone have any idea what the problem really is? And how to make it stop?

Now everything's a little upside down...

I was watching Clear and Present Danger as my movie to fall asleep to. James Earl Jones is the dying director of the CIA, and he is lecturing Harrison Ford as to why, despite the dangers and difficulties, he had to push ahead and expose the corruption he had found.

Jones says, "When you took this job, you swore an oath. And not to me."

Ford nods.

"And not to my boss, the President."

Ford nods.

"You swore an oath to my boss's boss..."

Wow, I thought, a modern movie is really going to walk up the Great Chain of Being, and note that every ruler is ultimately responsible to...

"...the American people."

Doh!

And what about the block headers?

Looking over the proofs for my forthcoming response to Walter Block, I saw a problem with one of the block quotes.

And then I realized that, in this case, every one of my block quotes was a Block quote!

This is not my beautiful code!

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This is from the movie Clear and Present Danger. The code appears very clearly on screen about an hour and 30 minutes into the movie. What struck me about it was that, at first glance, it almost appears as if they took the trouble to put some real code up there. But once I looked more closely, it appears to me to be nonsense. It is like someone who had seen a lot of code imitated what it looks like, in the same way that one of my sons can imitate Tagalog without being able to speak it. Can anyone recognize this as any actual programming language?