December 31, 2017

Review Corner

Behavioral economics, as this flourishing movement is called, has in its own turn generated new policies and new critics. It purports to come closer to adding the human dimension to economic models, but as we will show, although it has made some advances, it does nothing of the kind. The human beings it imagines behave just as mechanically, only less efficiently (judged by the same criteria as traditional economists use). They are still abstract monads shaped by no particular culture. You still don't need stories to understand them. In short, they bear as much resemblance to real people as stick figures do to the heroines of George Eliot or Leo Tolstoy.
Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities is an ambitious book. Nortwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Slavic languages and literatures Prof. Gary Saul Morson bridge the divide between economics and humanities. What can economics learn from the humanities' depth and story-telling? What can the humanities pick up from economics' rigor? [Bojack Horseman fans will say "Let's find out!"]

The model for "Cents & Sensibility" is the dichotomy between Adam Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentoments" and "Wealth of Nations." I'm more skeptical of the gulf between the two works than most, but it's a fair backdrop for the task at hand.

Human lives do not just unfold in a purely predictable fashion the way Mars orbits the sun . Contingency, idiosyncrasy, and choices -- all of which allow for alternatives \-- play an indispensable role. That is why, as the great novelists recognized, personhood and sociality demand biography and history. Novels are a distinct way of knowing; and the very shape of the stories they tell -- what sorts of events are represented as plausible, effective, or important -- conveys vital, if elusive, information.

Shapiro is not an economist in the libertarian, lassiez-faire mold. He represents the discipline well, but I would have enjoyed more push-back on the morality of individualism and freedom. He does get points for dropping St. Deirdre:
The third area -- ethics -- has attracted the attention of a number of interesting recent thinkers. We are particularly impressed with ideas long promoted by Deirdre McCloskey, who argues for an ethics based on the virtues, a way of thinking newly important among philosophers.

And a bit of Karl Popper and William Easterly lurking in the shadows. It is the "expert" pointy-headed economist dictating lives and behaviours which attract the authors' scorn.
For a proposition to be meaningful, let alone scientific, it must in principle allow for circumstances in which it could be tested and so proven false. But if it is true by definition, it can't be tested. Those who argue this way literally play fast and loose --- a phrase in which the word "fast" is used in its older sense of "close" or "tight," as in the expression "hold fast." When they want to make a prediction, they use a tight definition so they can make one prediction rather than another; but when the wolf is at the door, they switch to a loose one so they cannot be wrong. These objections did not convince the social scientists.

Not to pile on Shapiro, but here's where I'd like to see the Hayekian wing promoted, as it makes more room for the human nuances they seek in literature.
Plato represents the archetypal hedgehog, Aristotle the perfect fox . As Plato looked to the world of mathematics, Aristotle was fascinated by the amazing variety and complexity of biological organisms. Plato composed the first utopia, Aristotle surveyed existing constitutions and examined how they fared in practice. Dante, Leibniz, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Bentham, Einstein, and Skinner exemplify hedgehogism; for foxiness we turn to Montaigne, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Hume, Darwin, George Eliot, William ( and Henry ) James, and Wittgenstein. The hedgehogs sound like Leibniz: "God does nothing which is not orderly, and that it is not even possible to conceive of events which are not regular." 19 Wittgenstein speaks for the foxes: Don't say something must be the case but "look and see." 20

A few quibblles about a thoughtful and engaging book which I would heartily recommend. Four stars. For better or worse, it finally forced me to read "War & Peace." As I struggle to complete 2017 Review Corners, Tolstoy is next.

Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at 12:11 PM | What do you think? [1]
But jk thinks:

Fred Smith @ FEE reviews this same book today.

Posted by: jk at January 3, 2018 4:10 PM

Review Corner

Justice William Brennan was absolutely correct when he remarked in 1986 that the Constitution belongs to "a world dead and dead gone." The day of Constitutionalism is over. Or, at least, old-fashioned, original intent Constitutionalism. Today is the day of the bureaucrat. The government administrator. The regulator. Today is your day,

You have important work to do. You will guide citizens as they live their lives. You will protect them from dangers seen and unseen. You will make sure they get the best deals for their dollars and that the products they buy are safe, sound, and environmentally friendly. And you'll make sure that no one's feelings are hurt when they walk into any business, even before they buy something.

The only bad thing I can say about Save the Swamp: Career Guidebook for Budding Bureaucrats by Thomas Krannawitter is that it was eclipsed by his live presentation to Liberty on the Rocks -- Flatirons last month. Dr. Krannawitter hopes to ridicule the Administrative State into submission. It's a tall task and I am deeply skeptical -- but I must admit it to be easier to get somebody to read "Save the Swamp" than Mises's "Liberalism."

Many of the things I hold dear have been eroded by the steady drip, drip, drip emanating from Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. Dr. K is as funny as either. And his "handbook for the budding bureaucrat" hits awfully close to home:

Here it becomes important that you never forget the calling that led you to a career in government. You should never forget that you do not trust citizens, mainly because they don't deserve to be trusted. You know citizens will hurt each other, steal from each other, and rip each other off any chance they get. And the most vulnerable among U.S are the poor, who tend to be the least educated (despite the bureaucrat-conceived, government-administered, and government-monitored, single-payer, universal education system now available to all Americans).

A chapter and keep insight is "Results Don't Matter." Once his budding students accept that, a happy career is ensured.

I fear the author might underestimate the institutional biases against him. Stewart got laughs by telling people what they wanted to hear and appealed to snobbery of thinking what was already accepted. But it is a well crafted, amusing read with much truth embedded between the laughs. I've no doubt every ThreeSourcer would dig it. Five stars.

Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at 11:32 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 30, 2017

More Trump Revolution

One last olive branch of fairness to close out 2017: from me and the WSJ Ed Page. Well, James Freeman at least. He gives the President fulsome "Rookie of the Year" honors:

Donald Trump is not the most dignified man to occupy the Oval Office, but it's hard to argue with the results of his rookie year. 2017 has been an exceptional year for liberty in the United States, and especially for economic liberty.

The largest rate cut in the history of the U.S. corporate income tax, along with individual tax cuts up and down the income scale, arrive on top of a year-long effort to reduce America's regulatory burden.

On Friday Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute tallied the results on this the final federal workday of the year. Mr. Crews counts 61,950 pages of new and proposed rules in the Federal Register as of this morning. The results are nothing less than historic

Our Grouchy Adversaries

A PhD buddy posts this on Facebbok:

"Just the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey café mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top. No wonder it costs so much." -- Vowell

How do these people get out of bed in the morning? I had been thinking frequently of my biological brother and his friend, wondering if they are as miserable as their public personae.

I know the friend only through Facebook; he seems rather humorless, but I might be missing something. My brother has a humor quite similar to mine. He has turned me onto offbeat cartoonists and we share appreciation for the unusual and abstruse. We both enjoy Monty Python, but he has an encyclopedic knowledge of "Beyond the Fringe" whom I know only from the "Secret Policeman's Ball" concerts.

I hope they're both happy, as my friend, Doctor-Sad-At-Imperialism seems. It seems a crushing weight. I hate to see my generation discard the benefits of liberty, but the SJW burden seems far more severe.

Ah well -- another Mocha Latté?

UPDATE: I did not recognize the name. Apperantly it is author. historian, and NPR celeb Sarah Vowell.

But johngalt thinks:

And now that Apple Inc. has admitted that they intentionally throttled performance on user's phones, coldly succumbing to the Evil Corporate Profit Motive, nothing produced by that once acceptable business must ever be tolerated.

Hell, being a true SJW is even harder than being a vegan.

Posted by: johngalt at January 2, 2018 3:21 PM
But jk thinks:

I was once a vegan, but I've never been a true SJW -- I think that proves it.

Posted by: jk at January 2, 2018 6:26 PM

December 27, 2017

Capitalism is Winning

Yesterday's "Tough Times for Liberals..." post segues to a NYT piece about "the GOPs contempt for democracy." Reading through with an "it's about time" mindset, I found it quite open and honest about the tension between property rights and democracy, if not fully complete. Author Will Wilkinson never addresses two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner, but he does give fair treatment to the moral philosophies of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard. And acknowledges Buckley's temporary strategy that "banished radical libertarians to the fringes of the conservative movement to mingle with the other unclubbables." But as Reagan predicted, libertarianism has finally triumphed and realized its first big win in the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" of 2017.

Consequently, Wilkinson performs some philosophical gymnastics to make protection of property rights an achievement of democracy, not of libertarianism.

It's easy to say that everyone ought to have certain rights. Democracy is how we come to get and protect them. Far from endangering property rights by facilitating redistribution, inclusive democratic institutions limit the "organized banditry" of the elite-dominated state by bringing everyone inside the charmed circle of legally enforced rights.

Democracy is fundamentally about protecting the middle and lower classes from redistribution by establishing the equality of basic rights that makes it possible for everyone to be a capitalist. Democracy doesn't strangle the golden goose of free enterprise through redistributive taxation; it fattens the goose by releasing the talent, ingenuity and effort of otherwise abused and exploited people.

Except for the fact that wealthy non-elites don't seem to be included in Wilkinson's "everyone" whose rights are protected, this sounds pretty good.

I hope readers can add to my interpretation. Most encouraging to me however, is the approbation he gives to the ideas of property rights and capitalism. We're making progress if a defender of liberal democracy wants any share of the credit for them.

But jk thinks:

The holiday spirit has truly infused my blog brother with the milk of human kindness. By all means, let us continue the interpretation.

Wilkinson describes the idea of some people keeping a bit of their money thusly:

At a time when America’s faith in democracy is flagging, the Republicans elected to treat the United States Senate, and the citizens it represents, with all the respect college guys accord public restrooms.

I read it as a defense, not of property rights, but of placing democratic, majoritarian guard rails on them.

Posted by: jk at December 27, 2017 5:16 PM

December 26, 2017


First some background, from the article itself:

News24 reports that Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party launched the land reforms in 2000, taking over white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks. Mugabe said the reforms were meant to correct colonial land ownership imbalances.

At least 4 000 white commercial farmers were evicted from their farms.

The land seizures were often violent, claiming the lives of several white farmers during clashes with veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation struggle.

Critics of the reforms have blamed the programme for low production on the farms as the majority of the beneficiaries lacked the means and skills to work the land.

But a funny thing happened on the way to "social justice" - poverty and famine.

Crisis-hit Zimbabwe is begging the white farmers they forcibly evicted to return and reclaim their farms, as the southern African nation's economy continues to deteriorate.

This comes fifteen years after Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwean government seized large swaths of land from white farmers in the country -- a move that triggered a rapid downturn in the country's economy.

Better fifteen years late than never, but damn! Proof again that dictators only care about their own survival. To hell with "the people." This south African spring was only made possible by the impending death of Robert Mugabe, and the relative weakness of his wife, who attempted to maintain his iron grip of power.

Speaking of South Africa, they still haven't learned. From the same article:

The news comes as South Africa threatens to follow in Zimbabwe's doomed footsteps in kicking white farmers off their land.

South Africa is teetering on the brink of a race war after President Jacob Zuma called on parliament to pass a law allowing white-owned land to be "confiscated" by blacks without any form of compensation.

Something tells me that more than a few of those farmers will resist, given the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia example nearby.

But jk thinks:

[Moved to correct post]

Posted by: jk at December 27, 2017 11:48 AM
But johngalt thinks:

I'm not sure I understand the preceding comment. Was it intended for this post?

Posted by: johngalt at December 27, 2017 4:02 PM
But jk thinks:

Ummm, no. That's a little abstruse even for me (moved down one post...)

Posted by: jk at December 27, 2017 4:50 PM
But nanobrewer thinks:

This is great:

But a funny thing happened on the way to "social justice" - poverty and famine.
I will use it sometime!

Posted by: nanobrewer at January 4, 2018 10:52 PM

Tough Times for Liberals Mean It's Time to Toughen Up

Who says? A Liberal.*

The system is slowly working, and evolving to higher standards -- at least in one part of the American cultureplex.

The timing, however, is brutal. With Trumpism on the march -- even if it's occasionally a Chaplinesque march -- liberal redoubts of news and culture have been tarnished by their own guardians.

No liberal (or anyone else, apparently) laments Weinstein's departure from the red carpet, and Rose's interviews won't be hard to surpass. But the collective house-cleaning is bracing, and disorienting, nonetheless.

But said liberal editorialist remains undaunted. [Gender-neutral pronoun] believes the unequal distribution of #MeToo casualties leaning heavily left is a good thing.

To preserve the institutions they revere, and on which civil society depends, liberals have to shed some ungainly weight, muscle up and step into the ring. If the fight goes well, they can pick up their pledge-drive potholder after the republic is secure.


P.S. We "less democratic, more fearful and more aggressive" conservatives capitalize the word "Republic" when we talk about securing the one given us by the Founders. It's a proper name, referring to a single republic - the only one in the world that isn't "democratic" or "people's" or "socialist."

And isn't it curious to see a "liberal" so eager to "secure" or preserve and protect something?

But jk thinks:

Hmm, looks like "we need to stop raping so that we can fight the eeevil Republicans" less than seeking honest dialog or intellectual consistency.

Oh well, it's a start.

Posted by: jk at December 27, 2017 4:48 PM

December 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

It appears that the only ones entitled to Ms. Gillibrand's silence were Bill and Hillary Clinton, who enjoyed Ms. Gillibrandís enthusiastic support for more than a decade while they were politically useful. To stay, it seems that Mr. Franken will need to show how he too can be useful to the New York senator. -- James Freeman

December 13, 2017

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

As measured and objective a voice there is, Victor Davis Hanson has reached a conclusion on the Russiagate - Trump Dossier - Fusion GPS - FBI and DOJ political hatchet job situation that has come to light in dribs and drabs since about the time that Representative Devin Nunes made a hasty trip to the White House, his complexion as pale as his destination, to share information he had recently received as Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

After a brief a summary as possible of the tangled web of events and apparent conspirators, VDH concludes:

Indeed, the only remaining trajectory by which Mueller and his investigators can escape with their reputations intact is to dismiss those staff attorneys who have exhibited clear anti-Trump political sympathies, reboot the investigation, and then focus on what now seems the most likely criminal conduct: Russian and Clinton-campaign collusion in the creation of the anti-Trump Fusion GPS dossier and later possible U.S. government participation in the dissemination of it. If such a fraudulent document was used to gain court approval to surveil Trump associates, and under such cover to unmask and leak names of private U.S. citizens -- at first to warp a U.S. election, and then later to thwart the work of an incoming elected administration -- then Mueller will be tasked with getting to the bottom of one of the greatest political scandals in recent U.S. history. Indeed, his legacy may not be that he welcomed in known pro-Clinton, anti-Trump attorneys to investigate the Trump 2016 campaign where there was little likelihood of criminality, but that he ignored the most egregious case of government wrongdoing in the last half-century.

Let us pray that "Heaven will direct it."

UPDATE [14DEC]: WSJ Ed Page piles on.

Evidence is building instead that some officials at the FBI -- who have worked for him -- may have interfered in an American presidential election.

So the man in charge of investigating interference in an American presidential election, did so using officials who may have interfered in that same presidential election.

Fair hearing: The NY Times says, however, that "None of these attacks or insinuations are grounded in good faith. The anti-Mueller brigade cares not a whit about possible bias in the Justice Department or the F.B.I. It simply wants the investigation shut down out of a fear of what it might reveal."

The primary purpose of Mr. Mueller's investigation is not to take down Mr. Trump. It's to protect America's national security and the integrity of its elections by determining whether a presidential campaign conspired with a foreign adversary to influence the 2016 election -- a proposition that grows more plausible every day.

Okay, so maybe taking down Trump is only a secondary purpose of Mr. Mueller. Fair enough. After replacing every compromised investigator with unbiased officials, carry on with the fishing expedition. Meanwhile, as WSJ concludes regarding evidence of FBI and DOJ's dangerously flawed integrity, "Congress needs to insist on its rights as a co-equal branch of government to discover the truth."

But jk thinks:

Superb post. Jim Geraghty hits very similar points to the WSJ.

I know there's a lot going on, with Senator Warren calling Sen Gillibrand a slut and all, but one wonders how long this story can be relegated to right-of-center media.

Posted by: jk at December 14, 2017 4:21 PM

Dodged a Bullet!

Do Moore's defenders not realize the extent to which religious freedom in this nation depends on a host of progressive judges and government officials complying with lawful court orders? For example, the ability to hire and fire pastors according to the dictates of the church and not the federal government was only recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. What if some state judge, somewhere, disagrees? If you accept Moore's behavior on the bench, you must accept that any judge can defy the Supreme Court whenever he sees fit. -- David French
Don't worry, Bannoniites! The master has promised to work his Alabama magic in every Senate race except Ted Cruz's. (Presumably, leaving Ted as the sole GOP Senator.)

December 7, 2017

More Trump Revolution

"We have never seen this kind of intensity around job creation in the 44-year history of the NFIB Jobs Report," says NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan. "This is a powerful signal that small business is roaring back to life and ready to lead another period of economic expansion." -- James Freeman

While we're all hailing Freeman (from the same column):


But johngalt thinks:

Q: If an economy expands and no reporters choose to write about it, does it still make a sound?

A: Yes. The sound of falling snowflakes.

Posted by: johngalt at December 7, 2017 2:49 PM

With Apologies to South Park


Okay, I may have doctored it a little bit.

On the web Posted by John Kranz at 1:08 PM | What do you think? [1]
But johngalt thinks:
"The opportunity is to live every dream you have ever had. Now. The problem is that for every dream you realize, you have to relinquish some of your property. And every bit of that property is hard to come by, extraordinarily lucrative, and the single most in-demand thing on the planet earth."

"So, yes, you could be living it up. Instead, you have become addicted to seeing your net worth rise and rise...oh, and rise further, and further, and rise again. And more. The only trick is not to die before you do something with it. That seems pretty easy, for the most part."

-Jeffrey A. Tucker

Posted by: johngalt at December 13, 2017 11:19 AM

December 6, 2017

All Hail Jonah

Rumors that the Republican National Committee was built on the site of an ancient moron burial ground gained new credence this week when it confirmed that it was renewing its support for Alabama's Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.†-- Jonah Goldberg
Okay, it's hard. I am sympathetic to the President and the RNC for being in a tough spot. The rules were followed, the nominee was chosen, and a party exists to push its candidate over the line. I totally get it.

The WSJ Ed Page came out forcefully against Moore today, I think National Review has as well; Jonah does not speak for the board, but his vocality has been unmistakable. That his opponent is not even a moderate, guy-we-can-deal-with, but another Sen. Warren (Pocahontas, MA) has held some back, but I have never seen anything like this.

But jk thinks:

No. (I'll give you a moment to recover from the shock...)

I think the problems with Moore go beyond the more lurid accusations. He was removed from the bench twice and has made several impolitic (I'd say outrageous) comments. I can appreciate keeping support if it is only unproven accusations, but think those who do are playing with fire, or as they say in Alabama, "Faaahr!"

I missed ThreeSourcers' comity this week. Making a similar point in a comment on a Shawn Mitchell post, I was savaged about as badly as I have been from the left. A lefty friend of a co-worker did wish me dead once; the Moore supporter only hoped I would be falsely accused of something.

Let's say my contrarian views were not welcomed.

Posted by: jk at December 11, 2017 6:36 PM
But nanobrewer thinks:

This is ridiculous. Moore (simply accused of weird, but legal behavior, 40 years ago) & Franken who's tacitly admitted to _repeated_ behavior that's on the hairy edge of harassment, which he was a Senator.

WSJ autta have it's cajones checked at the door. Now, OTOH, Moore apparent repeated behavior-behind the bench brings to mind Judge Roy Bean (not in all good ways).

Besides, this really isn't about Moore, it's about Trump... D'UH!!! The WSJ is running around shouting sex-bingo while the DNC is playing 3-D chess. Sheesh.

Posted by: nanobrewer at December 12, 2017 1:06 AM
But jk thinks:

The other Republican Senator from Alabama is not voting for Moore.

Posted by: jk at December 12, 2017 10:19 AM
But johngalt thinks:

At least, not publicly. Did Shelby vote for Moore in the primary? Probably not.

If there ever was a "party over person" electoral race, brother, this is it. This is a choice between a candidate endorsed by Trump or one endorsed by Obama. Alabamians, make your decision.

If Moore is elected then he can face his accusers and have a fair adjudication, rather than a political noose in a tree.

It's just a dad-burned shame that Roy Moore's accusers weren't so eager to prevent his success in the primary election as they are in the general. Or, perhaps they were. Perhaps they told the Washington Post about it then and that august organ chose to wait. Naaah, a major metropolitan newspaper would never do something so nakedly partisan in an election season.

Posted by: johngalt at December 12, 2017 2:39 PM
But jk thinks:

Great speaker at Liberty on the Rocks -- Flatirons last night. No, I put no perfidy beyond the manipulators of the MSM.

But one could conceivably keep quiet in the belief that former-Judge Moore would not win, then suffer the consequences of embarrassing publicity when a Senate seat is actually on the line. That comports with Hanlon's Razor.

Again, I find his public and undisputed-even-by-his-most-fervent-supporters actions disqualifying. His baggage and potential damage to the party go far beyond even these disturbing accusations.

Posted by: jk at December 12, 2017 4:26 PM
But johngalt thinks:

It was doubtless a lose-lose scenario for the GOP.

Posted by: johngalt at December 13, 2017 11:01 AM

December 4, 2017

Christmas Coffeehousin'


I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

John Rox ©1953

Live at the Coffeehouse dot Com


But johngalt thinks:

Bravo! A wonderful family favorite that I can't wait to share.

Posted by: johngalt at December 6, 2017 7:02 PM

Don't click this. Comments (2)