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24 января, 00:44

We're Number 11, We're Number 11!, by David Henderson

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In "Top 100 Economics Blogs And Websites For Economists," EconLog is ranked #11 out of the 100 blogs and websites listed. I'm not sure how they came up with the ranking, but notice that we're only 2 positions below Marginal Revolution at #9. I'll take it. HT2 Alvin Rabushka. (3 COMMENTS)

23 января, 22:44

A Deal on Immigration is Most Unwise, by Bryan Caplan

Last week, Will Wilkinson published a piece in the New York Times on the political strategy of immigration.  While Will assumes a moderate persona, he's long been in favor of large increases in immigration.  In terms of ultimate goals, then, we're fellow travelers.  But in terms of strategy, we're worlds apart.  The heart of Will's position:So a deal that includes money for the wall ought to be a no-brainer for Democrats. Every viable proposal under discussion includes a hefty "border security" element, but not any of them include a literal solid wall spanning the entire southern border..Democrats should also be willing to make reasonable concessions on family reunification (so-called chain migration) and the diversity lottery (intended to bring immigrants from underrepresented countries). Shifting visas from certain family-reunification to merit-based categories should be similarly tolerable.But Democrats should reject a DACA compromise that would reduce the overall level of immigration. Immigrants yet to arrive matter too. Consistent worst-case-scenario thinking means assuming new legislation will set immigration policy for the foreseeable future. A DACA fix that cuts legal immigration could eventually deprive at least as many people as are currently covered by DACA from ever having a shot at the American dream.Two key points:1. Chain migration is the root cause of relatively high immigration, at least in the U.S.  The 1965 immigration act accidentally liberalized immigration; most of what we've seen since is the product of this glorious accident.  As Gjelten explains in his A Nation of Nations:Perhaps the most important factor explaining [the 1965 Act's] relatively easy passage was that both the immigration reformers and the immigration restrictionists managed to convince themselves and each other that the legislation would not change the immigration picture all that much.  In future years, the advocates of tighter immigration controls would look back at the passage of the 1965 Act as a major cause of the immigration wave that followed, with millions of Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners, and Latin Americans moving to the United States.  The administration officials who insisted that no such inflow would occur were proved wrong, but they were not alone.  Ironically, it was Congressman Michael Feighan, a long-time supporter of the national origins quotas and a close ally of the immigration restrictionists, who was most responsible for opening the United States to more non-European foreigners... Fifty years later, about two thirds of all immigrants entering the United States legally were family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and the 1965 law was even known in some quarters as "the brothers and sisters act." While it's theoretically possible the U.S. could scale back chain migration without cutting overall immigration, it's extremely unlikely.  Under current law, anyone with relatives in the U.S. has a built-in team of lobbyists and well-wishers.  My wife and father-in-law got in because my mother-in-law was already here, pleading with her Congressman's office for help.  The H1-B gives employers some incentive to play the same role, but it doesn't seem nearly as effective.  I'll admit that's speculative, but this isn't: Chain migration is the mechanism that's actually allowed relatively high immigration these past fifty years.  It has worked.  It does work.  If we keep it, it will keep working.  If you favor immigration, giving it up in exchange for legislative promises is folly.2. What will happen without a deal?  Will urges worst-case thinking:When the legal protection of 800,000 people is at stake, Democrats need to expect the worst, even while hoping for the best. That means assuming that if DACA expires without a fix, the administration will be aggressive about deportations, the Senate will remain Republican, judicial stopgaps will fail, a Republican will win the White House in 2020, hundreds of thousands will be pushed into the shadows and many tens of thousands will be rounded up, detained and ejected from the country.If you're trying to craft a prudent strategy, though, you should focus on what's likely, not what's scary.  And Will's scenario is highly unlikely.  Why?  Because Dreamers are sympathetic.  Very sympathetic.  They're kids who look and sound as American as apple pie.  As a result, they are less politically vulnerable than virtually any other non-citizen.  And even if Will were right, there's a silver lining: Any politician who targets Dreamers doesn't just endanger his own career.  The optics are bad enough to endanger the cause of immigration restriction itself.  Visualize the deportation of the heroic Jose Antonio Vargas.  I absolutely do not want to make any martyrs, but the blood of the martyrs is still the seed of the church.Furthermore, if we're going to indulge in worst-case thinking, why not tell a story where compromise costs pro-immigration forces the moral high ground, leading to a slippery slope into 1920's era nativism?  This is hardly fanciful.  Remember: the 1965 liberalization was a glorious accident that still managed to lock-in relatively high immigration for a half century and counting.  A deal with restrictionists really could hand them what they want for decades to come.Compromise is particularly foolish because time is on the pro-immigration side.  The fraction of Americans who favor more immigration has tripled since 2002.  Nativists have a temporary advantage, but so far they've disappointed their base and disgusted moderates.  If you care about immigration, the best path is just to stonewall and wait a few years.  Instead of a mixed bag of "reform," we can get something worth fighting for: liberalization. (4 COMMENTS)

23 января, 16:59

The Laughable, the Divine, and the Baseball Diamond, by Contributing Guest

by Sarah Skwire Both economists and writers, then, are drawn to baseball by its rich complexities, and by the sense that this game, somehow, is bigger than us, yet also tells us something about what it means to be human and to make choices. I think my favorite part of last week's episode of EconTalk is how Bill James and Russ Roberts share such a deep appreciation for the complexities and the unpredictabilities of baseball and the way the game mirrors in miniature the complexities and unpredictabilities of human life. As Bill James says: "in baseball the universe is small enough and closed enough that we have a *chance* to figure it out. Whereas real life is so messy and so complicated that we have little chance to figure it out." The unofficial poet laureate of baseball, Marianne Moore, has similar praise for the intricacies of baseball: Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting and baseball is like writing. You can never tell with either how it will go or what you will do; That idea of baseball as a marginally more manageable microcosm of the complicated and unpredictable real world that attracts economists to the sport is, I think, part of what attracts so many writers to it as well. Baseball is, for both groups, something of a model of how the world works, but on a smaller scale and with a tighter narrative. Besides, how can any writer resist the appeal of a game first played in Hoboken at a place called Elysian Fields? The combination of the laughable and the divine seem, again, like a perfect microcosm of human life. It's no accident then, that when Philip Roth sat down to write the book he titled "The Great American Novel" he chose baseball as its theme. On his fictional diamond the racial, religious, and political rivalries of America are worked out by the worst baseball team in history, a group of players who will do anything and everything possible to score a run. These players are, as he puts it, "the weak and the lowly and the desperate and the fearful and the deprived, to name but a few who come to mind...the ordinary fucking outcasts of this world - who happen to comprise ninety percent of the human race!" But with last names like Mazda, Gofannon, and Gamesh (first name "Gil") these hapless losers are also gods on earth. Once more, Hoboken meets the Elysian Fields! The same sense of epic concerns being worked out on a smaller scale pervades Bernard Malamud's "The Natural." Here, a young player's first major league hit ends not only a team's drought, but also a drought plaguing the natural world. "Wonderboy flashed in the sun. It caught the sphere where it was biggest. A noise like a twenty-one gun salute cracked the sky. There was a straining, ripping sound and a few drops of rain spattered to the ground. ...Somebody then shouted it was raining cats and dogs. ... By the time Roy got in from second he was wading in water ankle deep." Both economists and writers, then, are drawn to baseball by its rich complexities, and by the sense that this game, somehow, is bigger than us, yet also tells us something about what it means to be human and to make choices. We return and return to it, hoping that its rich data set will tell us who we are and maybe help us find a way to think through our troubles. But when Russ Roberts and Bill James move to a discussion about how to make baseball games shorter, I suspect the novelists and poets will lodge some objections. For them, there is beauty in the idea that a ballgame could--in theory, at least--go on forever. William Carlos Williams writes of the crowd at a ballpark that they are moved: by a spirit of uselessness which delights them-- all the exciting detail of the chase and the escape, the error the flash of genius-- all to no end save beauty the eternal-- Katherine Harer's poem "The Cure" claims bluntly that "baseball is a good antidote for death." Economists might see the benefits to a quicker game and speedier play, but writers don't want the game to be any faster. We don't want October to ever come. And surely, it can't be time to come inside just yet. ... today the sky is blue, summer is in our bones, and so many things don't count yet. --Mark Lukeman, from "Playing Stickball with Robbie Shea" Sarah Skwire is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc., and the co-author of the college writing textbook, Writing with a Thesis, which is in its 12th edition. Sarah has published a range of academic articles on subjects from Shakespeare to zombies and the broken window fallacy. She writes regularly for FEE and blogs occasionally for the Fraser Institute and Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Sarah's work on literature and economics has also appeared in Newsweek, The Freeman, and in Cato Unbound, and she lectures for IHS, SFL, and other organizations. (1 COMMENTS)

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23 января, 03:43

Henderson on Tillerson, by David Henderson

Someone not familiar with the ISIS story might conclude that Tillerson was saying that the US government defeated ISIS. Of course, if you read his speech carefully, you'll see that he didn't say that. What he said was that the US government had a plan and had been active in defeating ISIS. He didn't list other entities that had fought ISIS. What ones did he leave out? Two major ones: the Russian government and the Syrian government under Assad. Why? I think it's obvious: it didn't fit Tillerson's narrative. The narrative is: Assad is bad; the US government needs to get rid of him. If Tillerson had admitted what I'm sure he knows well--that the Russian government has helped Assad go after ISIS--then he would have introduced complexity into what he wanted to tell as a simple story: Assad bad; let's get rid of him. This is from David R. Henderson, "Rex Tillerson at Hoover," Antiwar.com, January 22, 2018. Another excerpt: Sanctions tend to hurt and, in this case, kill largely innocent people. One thing I'm quite confident of is that the sanctions won't cause North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-un, to miss a meal. What else will they do? One of Tillerson's predecessors as Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, when asked whether half a million children killed by sanctions in Iraq "is worth it," said that it was. (We don't know what the real number was: Matt Welch claims, with some evidence, that it was substantially lower than 500,000; Matt Barganier challenges Matt Welch. But we do know two things: (1) the number of children killed was very high and (2) Albright believed that even the number of deaths really had been 500,000, she thought it was a worthwhile price.) Does Tillerson believe that the horrible effects of these sanctions are worth it? I wish someone would ask him. Read the whole thing. (10 COMMENTS)

23 января, 02:22

Friedman's Presidential Address after 50 years, by Scott Sumner

At the recent AEA meetings in Philadelphia, there was a panel discussing Friedman's famous AEA presidential address, which occurred 50 years ago. Thus I decided to reread this famous article. It's just as impressive as I remember. Although just 17 pages and containing no equations, it is perhaps the best macroeconomics article ever published---written by the world's greatest macroeconomist when he was at the peak of his game. Here's something that caught my eye, where Friedman is discussing the effect of a monetary expansion that boosts nominal spending: To begin with, much or most of the rise in income will take the form of an increase in output and employment rather than in prices. People have been expecting prices to be stable, and prices and wages have been set for some time in the future on that basis. It takes time for people to adjust to a new state of demand. Producers will tend to react to the initial expansion in aggregate demand by increasing output, employees by working longer hours, and the unemployed, by taking jobs now offered at former nominal wages. This much is pretty standard doctrine. But it describes only the initial effects. Because selling prices of products typically respond to an unanticipated rise in nominal demand faster than prices of factors of production, real wages received have gone down-though real wages anticipated by employees went up, since employees implicitly evaluated the wages offered at the earlier price level. Indeed, the simultaneous fall ex post in real wages to employers and rise ex ante in real wages to employees is what enabled employment to increase. But the decline ex post in real wages will soon come to affect anticipations. Employees will start to reckon on rising prices of the things they buy and to demand higher nominal wages for the future. "Market" unemployment is below the "natural" level. There is an excess demand for labor so real wages will tend to rise toward their initial level. There are two ways to visualize causation in the Phillips Curve relationship. The standard view (NAIRU) seems to be that low unemployment causes rising inflation. I've always assumed that Friedman saw causation in the opposite direction (as do I.) Unexpectedly high inflation (usually this means rising inflation) causes low unemployment. Interestingly, the two paragraphs quoted above seem to support both interpretations. In the first paragraph, output and employment respond before prices. That makes it seem like the eventual response of prices is caused by output gaps. In the second paragraph, however, Friedman emphasizes that prices respond more quickly than wages. It is the rise in prices following monetary stimulus that reduces real wages, because nominal wages are assumed to be even stickier than prices. Indeed the fall in real wages caused by unexpected inflation can be seen as having "enabled" the rise in employment. That's also my view. [As an aside, some have argued that studies of real wage cyclicality are inconsistent with sticky wage models of the business cycle. In 1989, Steve Silver and I published an article in the JPE that showed why this is not true. Observed real wage cyclicality is fully consistent with the sticky wage model of the business cycle, which was the standard (pre-Keynesian) model of the interwar era.] So which is it? Do output gaps cause inflation, or does inflation cause output gaps? As Janet Yellen has recently discovered, the first interpretation is not particularly useful as a forecasting technique. And not just in 2017, the NAIRU model has had trouble forecasting under a wide range of circumstances. On the other hand, price stickiness does exist, and thus there are real problems with simply viewing causality going from unexpected inflation to output. Obviously, if I claim that "a Fed policy of suddenly driving the economy into severe deflation would cause mass unemployment", most people know what I mean. But inflation/deflation is probably not the best way of visualizing this process, a point that George Selgin often emphasizes. Once we replace inflation with NGDP growth, these conundrums all go away. And I find that fact to be pretty interesting, as NGDP targeting is now widely seen as a plausible alternative to inflation targeting. Thus when discussing monetary policy, inflation and NGDP growth are simply viewed as two alternative nominal aggregates. Pick one. But if I switch over to the Phillips Curve model, and tell economists that we should replace inflation with NGDP growth, they often seem kind of puzzled. Thus I argue that unexpected NGDP growth drives the unemployment rate lower, and unexpectedly low NGDP growth raises unemployment. It's not that they disagree; rather they don't see the point I am making. Most economists view NGDP growth as a sort of centaur, half man/half beast. They see it as the sum of inflation and real growth. So if you start with a model where real growth causes inflation, then how in the world are we to think about a model where (growth in) the causal variable (NGDP) is the sum of those two primary macroeconomic aggregates---P & Y? The same economists who can't imagine how high inflation could cause low unemployment, have no trouble visualizing how high NGDP could cause low unemployment. But they don't see NGDP as the sort of variable we should be talking about. Indeed my claim almost seems like a tautology to some people, even though the case of Zimbabwe 2008 shows that it's anything but a tautology. I have another post on this paper over at TheMoneyIllusion. P.S. There were also centauresses? Who knew? (5 COMMENTS)

23 января, 01:45

"Ice is not Nice" and the Limits of Conversation, by Contributing Guest

by Pierre Lemieux Why do apparently serious academics publish such muddled, postmodern stuff? They may seriously believe in their ideology--although if everything is "socially constructed," their theories must be too. One of the benefits of Facebook is that your friends often link to articles that you would otherwise miss. Were it not for Bill Evers, I would have missed the following pearl. An article by Professor Donna Riley in the January issue of Engineering Studies argues that rigor in engineering (and other) studies is "the enemy of inclusive education" and serves the dirty deed of "demonstrating white male heterosexual privilege" (this last bit quoted from the article abstract). "[O]ur standards of rigor," the author explains, "work to reinforce gender, race, and class hierarchies in engineering, and further maintain invisibility of queer and disabled engineering students." Professor Riley also has something against mathematics: "In engineering disciplines," she writes, "rigor is most closely associated with mathematical content; the 'higher' the math, the more rigorous the approach." We may question whether this is a good recipe for building solid bridges or manufacturing efficient printing presses for academic journals. Riley is currently Head of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She seems to be a pillar of the intellectual establishment. Her college website states: Dr. Riley's research interests include engineering and social justice; engineering ethics; social inequality in engineering education; the liberal education of engineers; and engineering studies. She was program director for Engineering Education at the National Science Foundation and is described as a "thought leader in the field." Continuing with her Engineering Studies article, we read: One of rigor's purposes is, to put it bluntly, a thinly veiled assertion of white male (hetero) sexuality. The term has a historical lineage of being about hardness, stiffness, and erectness; its sexual connotations--and links to masculinity in particular--are undeniable. ... there is a masculine eroticism in the 'clean, hard, fast' values of engineering. Sigmund Freud might have had something to add. Riley also writes: For those of us who work on engineering identity development, rigor may be a defining tool, revealing how structural forces of power and privilege operate to exclude men of color and women, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, first-generation and low-income students, and non-traditionally aged students. It is difficult not to view this as ideological mumbo jumbo. For another example, consider a recent article in another academic journal, Progress in Human Geology, under the title "Glaciers, Gender, and Science: A Feminist Glaciology Framework for Global Environmental Change Research." The academic authors, Mark Carey et al., argue against "stereotypical and masculinist practices of glaciology" linked to "imperial and hegemonic capitalist agendas." The authors, who were supported by a National Science Foundation grant, declare: Ice is not just ice. The dominant way Western societies understand it through the science of glaciology is not a neutral representation of nature. The feminist glaciology framework draws attention to those who dominate and frame the production of glaciological knowledge, the gendered discourses of science and knowledge, and the way in which colonial, military, and geopolitical domination co-constitute glaciological knowledge. This reminds me of the famous hoax pulled by New York University physicist Alan Sokal. Sokal submitted to Social Text, another academic journal, an article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity." After the article was published in 1996, Sokal revealed that he had intentionally written it as meaningless postmodernist jargon. About his article, Sokal says: Nowhere in all this is there anything resembling a logical sequence of thought; one finds only citations of authority, plays on words, strained analogies, and bald assertions... I go on to suggest that science ... in order to be "liberatory," must be subordinated to political strategies. One advantage of economics is that its rigorous theories and empirical testing protect us from such social and ideological unrealism. We can't say just about anything. Having a subject, a verb, and a complement is not a sufficient condition for a proposition to be true. But out there, in the politically correct ivory towers, there is a whole world of language alchemy used by pretended scholars cross-citing each other with all (or some of) the bells and whistles of scientific discourse. In Riley's 16-page article, "scholar" and its derivative appear 14 times, mostly referring to her own views or others who share them. Even more invisible than, say, the queer or "non traditionally aged" students, is the exploitation of the taxpaying people through public subsidization of higher education and research. Professor Riley must be confusedly aware that the taxpayer is paying part of the subsidized researchers' incomes, or else she thinks that abundance will come as manna from heaven (like in Venezuela?): [R]igor feeds on competition for scarce resources and rewards. If we can create abundance, we can make room for additional voices; this means new journals, new funding sources. Why do apparently serious academics publish such muddled, postmodern stuff? They may seriously believe in their ideology--although if everything is "socially constructed," their theories must be too. A demand for this sort of thing may exist, but it is doubtful that much of it would be met with voluntary supply if it were not subsidized and its academic producers had to be financed by their own readers or students. Mainstream publishers produce useless journals only because they can obtain free articles from subsidized academics. Perhaps the main functions of these writings is rent-seeking for subsidies and academic sinecures, and signaling that the scribblers belong to the right intellectual crowd. Although they should be pushed as far as possible, limits to productive conversation exist. De gustibus non est disputandum is a soft limit: discussing the personal preferences or hang-ups of one conversation participant won't lead you very far--except if you are a psychiatrist. A harder limit is that conversation requires bona fide participants, as opposed to blind ideologues or propagandists. A still harder limit appears when one conversant wants to forcibly impose his views on another one: a conversation on the benefits of slavery between a master and his slave would rapidly reach its limit, at least from the point of view of the slave. The sort of diversity that socialist postmodernists want to impose through state coercion is not the product of individual liberty; it is a disguised homogeneity defined by their own mob. Everybody must conform to the high priests' preferred lifestyles and modes of thought. This ideology has nothing to do with the empowerment of ordinary people, but everything to do with the empowerment of faddish intelligentsia members. The slaves in this case are those who would prefer to follow other (peaceful) moral rules, live differently, or use their money for other purposes than financing political correctness. Even when conversation is difficult or impossible, as in the cases illustrated above, there exist decisive arguments for maintaining free speech in all cases. But free speech is not subsidized speech. There is a problem when the taxpayer-slave is forced to subsidize his intelligentsia-masters' speech. Would this be one of the main causes of the populist reaction? (8 COMMENTS)

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22 января, 23:42

Gillespie Interviews Me on The Case Against Education, by Bryan Caplan

My Reason interview with Nick Gillespie on my new book is now up.  Enjoy! (0 COMMENTS)

22 января, 22:37

Elephant in the Brain on Religious Hypocrisy, by Bryan Caplan

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. --Matthew 23: 27-28When Robin Hanson's first book, The Age of Em, came out in 2016, we had an extended debate.  Despite his genius and the value and originality of his topic, I saw (and see) this book as deeply mistaken.  I'm pleased to report, then, that Robin's second book, The Elephant in the Brain (co-authored with Kevin Simler), is vastly more convincing.  My blurb calls it, "Deeply important, wide-ranging, beautifully written, and fundamentally right" - and I mean every word.  Though Hanson-Simler (HS) scrupulously avoid the word "hypocrisy," the concept pervades the book.  Since my objections are about the details rather than the basics, I thought it would be fun to just stroll through their chapter on an area of life where accusations of hypocrisy have been prevalent for millennia: religion.  HS are in blockquotes; I'm not.Religion. There's perhaps no better illustration of the elephant in the brain. In few domains are we more deluded, especially about our own agendas, than in matters of faith and worship. When Henry VIII divorced his first wife under the guise of piety, or when religious leaders launch imperialist crusades, we can be forgiven for questioning their motives. But most of what people do in the name of God isn't so blatantly opportunistic. And yet, as we'll see, there's a self-serving logic to even the most humble and earnest of religious activities.The last sentence seems like a clear case of overstatement.  What about hidden religiosity?  Persecuted religiosity?[R]eligion presents not one but two striking puzzles. In addition to the behaviors, we also have to explain the menagerie of peculiar religious beliefs. A quick tour of the these would include gods, angels, ghosts, demons, talking animals, virgin births, prophecies, possessions, exorcisms, afterlives of all sorts, revelation, reincarnation, transubstantiation, and superaquatic perambulation-- to name just a few...It's tempting to try to collapse these two puzzles into one, by assuming that the strange supernatural beliefs cause the strange behaviors...And yet, as we've seen throughout the book, beliefs aren't always in the driver's seat. Instead, they're often better modeled as symptoms of the underlying incentives, which are frequently social rather than psychological. This is the religious elephant in the brain: We don't worship simply because we believe. Instead, we worship (and believe) because it helps us as social creatures.While this story is plausible, HS don't really grapple with the strongest counter-arguments.  Most obviously, arcane doctrinal disputes seem to be the sparks behind several major historical events.  Take the Protestant Reformation.  Yes, there's plenty of realpolitik under the surface.  But it's hard to deny that Luther, Calvin, and other key figures did put beliefs in the driver's seat: "Sola scriptura!"  And without these belief-centric theologians, it's far from clear that the century of violent realpolitik they inspired would have come to pass.  [W]e engage in a wide variety of activities that have a religious or even cult-like feel to them, but which are entirely devoid of supernatural beliefs. When Muslims face Mecca to pray, we call it "religion," but when American schoolchildren face the flag and chant the Pledge of Allegiance, that's just "patriotism." And when they sing, make T-shirts, and put on parades for homecoming, that's "school spirit." Similarly, it's hard to observe what's happening in North Korea without comparing it to a religion; Kim Jong-un may not have supernatural powers, but he's nevertheless worshipped like a god...The fact that these behavioral patterns are so consistent, and thrive even in the absence of supernatural beliefs, strongly suggests that the beliefs are a secondary factor.I struggle to see the logic here.  Yes, the world's leading religions have much in common with secular movements.  But how does that suggest that what distinguishes these religions from secular movements is "secondary"?  Indeed, doesn't it suggest precisely the opposite conclusion - that supernatural beliefs are what makes leading religions special?  Nevertheless, we think people can generally intuit what's good for them, even if they don't have an analytical understanding of why it's good for them. In particular, they have a keen sense for their concrete self-interest, for when things are working out in their favor versus when they're getting a raw deal. Again, this seems like a rash overstatement.  For starters, if the religious order is stable and powerful, doubts are dangerous.  HS's own model suggests that the oppressed would develop pronounced Stockholm Syndrome.  Why?  To avoid social sanctions.  The best way to convince your oppressor that you love him is to love him sincerely.HS acknowledge their broader agenda in this chapter's footnote 15:In other words, we're going to provide a functionalist account of religion...This raises major ambiguities.  Are they saying that religion is functional today - or only that it used to be functional?  Are they saying that religion is functional for rank-and-file adherents, religious elites, the whole society, or what?  But HS usually sound like they're talking about current functionality for whoever belongs to the religion.  Case in point:Groups that are chock full of peaceful, rule-following cooperators are ripe for exploitation. In a religious context, cheaters can take many forms. Some people might put on a show of great piety, but then mistreat others whenever it's convenient-- like a wolf in sheep's clothing, preying on the flock. Others will simply engage in the casual form of cheating known as free-riding. This might entail people taking advantage of church services without giving anything back, or perhaps seeking help from a religious group during their time of need, but then abandoning it as soon as they're back on their feet. Even something as simple as reading email during a sermon could be construed as cheating.To lock in the benefits of cooperation, then, a community also needs robust mechanisms to keep cheaters at bay.Strangely, though, many of the leading religions loudly proclaim that they welcome everyone.  And they live up to this rather naive promise to an amazing degree.  I was raised Catholic for my first sixteen years, and can't recall any anti-cheating mechanism more "robust" than collective scolding.  Preaching blanket forgiveness swamped efforts to stamp out "exploitation."  Catholicism was plainly stricter before my time, but the modern Church didn't invent unconditional love in the 1970s.  It's deeply embedded in the New Testament.Time and energy are perhaps the easiest resources to waste, and we offer them in abundance. Examples include weekly church attendance, sitting shiva, and the Tibetan sand mandalas we saw earlier. This helps explain why people don't browse the web during church. Yes, you probably have "better things to do" than listen to a sermon, which is precisely why you get loyalty points for listening patiently. In other words, the boredom ofsermons may be a feature rather than a bug.Or not.  Mega-churches led by charismatic preachers and packed with audience participation have been doing very well in the religious marketplace.Consider the belief in an all-powerful moralizing deity-- an authoritarian god, perhaps cast as a stern father, who promises to reward us for good behavior and punish us for bad behavior. An analysis of this kind of belief should proceed in three steps. (1) People who believe they risk punishment for disobeying God are more likely to behave well, relative to nonbelievers. (2) It's therefore in everyone's interests to convince others that they believe in God and in the dangers of disobedience. (3) Finally, as we saw in Chapter 5, one of the best ways to convince others of one's belief is to actually believe it. This is how it ends up being in our best interests to believe in a god that we may not have good evidence for.I've often heard economists make claims like this.  But when you look at the real world, it's far from clear that disobedience and belief in divine punishment are even negatively correlated.  Luther and Calvin, the fathers of modern Protestantism, preached predestination with utmost clarity: Your salvation is absolutely beyond your control.   Nevertheless, fundamentalist Protestants have long been known for strict adherence to the rules - especially compared to traditional Catholicism.There's also a peculiar omission in this chapter.  HS barely acknowledge the massive gap between how religious people say they are and how religious they actually are.  How many people announce, "God is the most important thing in my life," yet don't even bother to attend church or learn the basics of the Bible?  On reflection, this is one of the world's best examples of hidden motives.  Since most religious people offer little more than lip service to their own faith, isn't the simplest explanation is that the world is packed with subconscious atheists?  If I were HS, I would have put this stark assertion front and center.To repeat, Elephant in the Brain is a stellar book.  Buy it; read it; live it.  But HS could have done even better.  They're so excited about their own theory that they occasionally forget to be curious about the facts.  And they're so eager to show that strange behavior could be functional that they frequently forget to ask, "Functional when?" and "Functional for whom?" (5 COMMENTS)

22 января, 18:54

Secession and liberty: A reply to Pierre Lemieux, by Alberto Mingardi

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...it seems to me that what fits within classical liberalism is a defense of the right to secede, and such right should be uphold no matter what is the possible output, when it comes to political economy choices, of the future born state. Pierre Lemieux has written a very thoughtful post in reply to an older post of mine about Catalonia. Pierre makes a series of very interesting arguments, but two stand out. The first one is a somewhat classic discussion. Pierre maintains that a larger state can be less oppressive precisely because it is less homogeneous. The higher degree of homogeneity of a smaller state would make it easier for such homogeneity to be kept, coercively, therefore closing the door to immigrants or ostracizing people whose preferences appear "deviant" as opposed to those dominant in society. This is not a new argument, but it is an important one. It bears some rather obvious exceptions: Hong Kong is freer, more tolerant, and more open to strangers than the Republic of China, for example. And yet this argument sounds compelling, as a general rule. The counter-argument was first advanced by David Hume, in his essay "Of the rise and progress of arts and science". To such progress, Hume argues, a multiplicity of sovereigns is actually agreeable. "Extended governments, where a single person has great influence, soon become absolute", so Hume writes... "but small ones change naturally into commonwealths. A large government is accustomed by degrees to tyranny; because each act of violence is at first performed upon a part, which, being distant from the majority, is not taken notice of, nor excites any violent ferment. ... large states can afford a great expence, in order to support the pomp of majesty; this is a kind of fascination on men, and naturally contributes to the enslaving of them... In a small government, any act of oppression is immediately known throughout the whole: The murmurs and discontents, proceeding from it, are easily communicated: And the indignation arises the higher, because the subjects are not apt to apprehend in such states, that the distance is very wide between themselves and their sovereign". Sure Pierre is speaking of extended governments which are republics, as the United States, and not monarchies. But perhaps bigger states still beat in pomposity little ones. It seems to be that their need to invest in symbols is more marked than smaller governments'. Pierre's second argument is that there is no correlation between "economic freedom" (as it is assessed by international rankings, such as the one published by the Fraser Institute) and state size. He takes "the point correlation is not causation; but neither is non-correlation" but he argues that "from my simple statistical analysis, one conclusion follows: whatever the arguments for the outlook of liberty under secession as opposed to existing national unity, there is no empirical evidence that the size of a country has any effect one way or another". It seems to me that Economic Freedom Indexes tend not to take into account the extent of public spending, even measured as a percentage of GDP. I'd be interested in Pierre looking into correlations (or perhaps lack thereof) between "bigger states" (in the sense of public spending as a percentage of GDP) and population. But my rejoinder would actually be different. Suppose indeed secessionist movements tend to be run by socialists, as Pierre alludes to, thinking of Catalonia but also of Quebec. Would that be enough for libertarians to take a stance against the right to secede? It seems to me that "when in the Course of human events" some people deem it "necessary" for it "to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another", they should be allowed to. The key issue to me becomes for this process to be peaceful, smooth, and governed by rules that avoid a tiny minority imposing upon everybody else. In other words, it seems to me that what fits within classical liberalism is a defense of the right to secede, and such right should be uphold no matter what is the possible output, when it comes to political economy choices, of the future born state. Why? I won't appeal to any higher doctrine. It seems to me rather simply that doing the opposite would be worse, that forcing people to stay together even if they don't want to is less acceptable and less liberal. Pierre's point that size and economic freedom aren't correlated just reminds us that politics is always a dreadfully difficult thing, in which many factors are at play at the same time and, of course, unintended consequences may be more relevant of intended ones. But it doesn't look to me an argument to deny the right to secede to those who want to make use of it. (1 COMMENTS)

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21 января, 22:08

Response to a New Zealander, by David Henderson

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A man whom I've become friends with in the last month or so often shares thoughts on email about political issues. He sent along an email he received from a friend and it includes an email from a New Zealand friend. The New Zealander's email contains two confusions. I think they're basic and I worry that most EconLog readers will too, making this post unnecessary. But just in case, I'm posting the exact wording of both the New Zealander's comments (with his name changed to "X" to protect his privacy) and the exact wording of my responses. I wrote to my American friend: I have a different take on X's letter. I think he misunderstands both the political system and the nature of borders. First, the political system. X writes: My understanding is the Trump was quite clear, before being elected, that folk illegally in the US would be returned to the place from whence they came. He said that this is what he would do, he got elected and wants to do it. I don't quite get why the Democrats have a problem with this. My [DRH's] response: They have a problem with it because they don't agree with it. We can talk about why they don't agree, but X seems to be saying that simply because Trump got elected on a promise to build a wall (true) and deport illegal immigrants (true), the Democrats should go along. X lives in a country with a parliamentary system like that of Canada, where I grew up. The executive and legislative branch are the same. In such a system, if the Prime Minister and his party get elected on a platform promise, then yes, that's what they are committed to do. But that's not our system. We have an executive branch that differs from the legislative branch. When politicians in the legislative branch disagree with the President, they are acting within their delegated powers to oppose his policies. I'm not discussing the merits of the wall. I'm simply discussing whether the Democrats are somehow breaking the rules or acting illegitimately by opposing it. Second, secure border. X writes: It seems to me that if you don't have secure and well managed borders you actually don't have a country. My [DRH's] response: I don't think that's true. Think about something we both know something about: the border between Virginia and West Virginia. It's not "well managed." It's not "secure." Does that mean the Virginians don't have a state? (30 COMMENTS)

21 января, 08:51

Hope for Italy?, by David Henderson

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A coalition of center-right parties (market-oriented, low-tax conservative parties in American parlance) agreed to an electoral pact on Thursday, January 18, 2018. Silvio Berlusconi of Forza Italia, Matteo's Salvini of Lega Nord, and Georgia Meloni of Nationalist Brothers of Italy listed ten measures in their joint platform. Topping the list was a single-rate flat tax: Salvini proposes 15%, Berlusconi about 20%, with Meloni concurring in the general concept. Should the coalition form the next Italian government, the flat tax will be the first measure it submits to Parliament. A text of the law already exists, with only the exact rate to be set. It would be relatively easy to select, say, a rate of 18-19%, with an agreement to reduce the rate one percentage point each year to 15% if revenue materializes as projected. This is from Alvin Rabushka, "Prosperità per L'Italia," Thoughtful Ideas, January 20, 2018. Alvin is one of my Hoover colleagues. I wonder what co-blogger Alberto Mingardi thinks are this coalition's chances. (3 COMMENTS)

20 января, 23:45

Just who are those "consumers"?, by Scott Sumner

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While working on a principles of economics textbook, I began wondering how students evaluate terms like "consumer welfare". Who are these consumers? There's a term for people who are not consumers, they are called "corpses". All living people are consumers. So any policy that benefits consumers as a group also must, ipso facto, benefit society as a whole. Right? Not quite, as that's not what economists mean by 'consumers'. We are not talking about a distinct set of people (all people are consumers); we are talking about one aspect of our lives. Thus a policy like price controls affects both consumers and producers, and hence everybody, both in our role as consumers and in our role as producers. [You may object that we are not all producers. But those who are not, such as children and people on welfare, base their consumption on the monetary contributions of people who are producers. So in a deeper sense we all have a stake in both the consumption and production side of the economy.] I'm probably too close to all of this to know whether these points are obvious, so I'd be interested in your take. Let's consider a specific example. Suppose we adopt across-the-board price controls, as in 1971. You can show the impact on "consumers" and "producers" with a supply and demand diagram: In this graph, it looks like "consumers" might gain from price controls. But this doesn't mean that there is some segment of society that actually gains from price controls, rather that people might gain in their role as consumers, lose in the role as producers, and lose overall due to the decline in "total surplus" (due to the deadweight loss.) [As an aside, even consumers qua consumers might not be better off due to queuing costs.] I wonder if students reading these textbooks think "Gee, I'm a consumer, so I better pay close attention to the effects of government policies on consumers." If so, they are missing the bigger picture. Students should be focused on the effects of government policies on total surplus, as consumer and producer surplus are just a subset of each and every person's interest is in both sides of a market. I'd even apply this to individual product markets. It's true that consumers and producers of automobiles might be very different people, but many of the policies that affect individual markets are widely applied. If you are considering the wisdom of trade barriers, it probably makes more sense to think of barriers affecting a wide range of products, as they are unlikely to only be imposed on a single good. Thus if you think to yourself, "I'm a car producer, thus I like tariffs", beware that the tariffs don't end up being imposed on steel and aluminum, for which you are a consumer. Indeed there's a good chance that this is exactly what will happen in the near future, hurting the auto industry, and indeed hurting most of American manufacturing. (14 COMMENTS)