Across the Wide Missouri The first sign on whether Zanny Minton Beddoes has managed to improve the Economist that John Micklethwaite handed her is a "no":
Scott Eric Kaufman: The Economist: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” is “just good enough to get away with” justifying its existence: "Wrestling with the ideas contained in a book that’s difficult for many people to read...
George Orwell: - Confessions of a Book Reviewer - Essay: "In a cold but stuffy bed-sitting room littered with...
...cigarette ends and half-empty cups of tea, a man in a moth-eaten dressing-gown sits at a rickety table, trying to find room for his typewriter among the piles of dusty papers that surround it. He cannot throw the papers away because the wastepaper basket is already overflowing, and besides, somewhere among the unanswered letters and unpaid bills it is possible that there is a cheque for two guineas which he is nearly certain he forgot to pay into the bank. There are also letters with addresses which ought to be entered in his address book. He has lost his address book, and the thought of looking for it, or indeed of looking for anything, afflicts him with acute suicidal impulses.
It’s always the books I like the most that I feel I haven’t done justice to when I write about them.
Gaudy Night was published in 1936. It’s still in print, and more than that, it’s still relevant. It’s not science fiction or fantasy by any stretch, its genre is cosy detective story. It’s about a series of incidents in a women’s college in Oxford in which someone is trying to provoke a scandal. But what it’s really about is the difficult balance between love and work and whether it is possible for a woman to lead a life of the mind wholeheartedly, and whether it’s possible for her to do this and have love and a family. Sayers examines this seriously and with examples. You might think that the issues might be dated. Some of the attitudes are, but on the whole the fulcrum point of ‘having it all’, marrying as an equal and not as a helpmeet, is still an interesting question.
Live from Evans Hall: An unexpected surprise! I get to spend this afternoon with evocations of George Akerlof and Bob Shiller!
Admittedly, the evocations are sub-Turing ones. But as long as you are willing to go with it and not test their bounds to the breaking point, the illusion of learning from and interacting with other minds--other minds clearly smarter than me--is well-nigh complete!
A question of special interest to me right now because the departmental powers-that-be have decided to ask me to go back onto the 700-person Econ 1 Wheeler teaching line next spring...
Chris Y.: A colleague (middle grade civil servant) has sent this request to Mrs Y:
Comment of the Day: Ajay: Guest Post: Mad Max: "The only time I ever got my bag searched at airport security in the US...
...it contained the following books: 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb' - Richard Rhodes. 'The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War' - Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester Grau.
I thought that my number was finally up. Fortunately it also contained 'Last Call' by Tim Powers, and the security guy was a fan, so he didn't search any deeper and we just had a nice chat about modern fantasy novels.
Live from the Glaswegian Mists: Ken Macleod: Ralph Miliband (Pére): "[Miliband pére's] essays are hard-headed, sober, nuanced....
Note to Self: Rereading Etienne Mantoux: La Paix Calomniée, ou les Conséquences Économiques de M. Keynes. "The Calumniated Peace" of Versailles. OK. So why is the title of the English translation The Carthaginian Peace? Who decided to replace "Caluminiated" with "Carthaginian", and why?
With his fascination Keynes combines another of the serpent's attributes--his disconcerting ability to molt at more or less frequent intervals, leaving his former conceptions behind him like so many old integuments from which the reader, somewhat disconcerted, must extract himself, having previously been at no little trouble to get in.... We are to witness a revolution. At least so one would gather from some of the more enthusiastic reviews, which go so far as to make Keynes (much to his disgust no doubt) the direct successor of Karl Marx. "My undertaking is one that has no equal, that none will ever equal. I would change the basis of society, shift the axis of civilization..." Is that facetious to place Proudhon's ironic boasts beside Keynes' ambitious sureness? Yet their two proposals are not so very unlike, for it is by decline of the rate of interest to zero that the latter would see our economic ills remedied. Curious that the most sharp-tongued economist of our time should come back, by this unexpected route, to the thought of the famous inventor of "credit gratuit"...
Comment of the Day: Robert Waldmann: Links and Tweets...: "I am not going to type that...
...'the real Peter Baelish would never leave Sansa Stark at the mercy of Boltons', because I'm not quite far enough gone to forget that 'A Song of Ice and Fire is fiction'. Yet.
Live from La Farine: Game of Thrones Blogging:
People: "Game of Thrones" Is Horror!:
In the very first scene of the very first episode of the very first season of "Game of Thrones", three members of the Night's Watch--an older veteran-type Gared, and two callow-youth types, one in command named Waymar Royce and the other named Will--set out on patrol. By 2:45 the point rider Will has encountered horrible evil. By 3:30 the veteran-type Gared has told the two callow-youth types that they need to head back to their base. By 5:50 they learn that the evil is supernatural, and start to die. By 6:15 the survivors' courage has broken and they are running south as fast as they can. By 7:00 there is only one survivor--the un-arrogant callow youth Will.
Lord, Enlighten Thou Our Enemies: Let us start with John Stuart Mill's prayer:
'Lord, enlighten thou our enemies,' prayed nineteenth-century British economist and moral philosopher John Stuarrt MIll: http://olldownload.libertyfund.org/Texts/MillJS0172/Works/Vol10/PDFs/Mill_1277.pdf:
Sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions, and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers: we are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom; their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength...
Re: John Scalzi: The Myth of SF/F Publishing House Exceptionalism
I don't doubt that Baen Books under Jim Baen was primarily a print-good-stories-that-Jim-Baen-thinks-will-sell-and-get-people-to-buy-more-Baen-books enterprise. And I don't doubt that Jim Baen was very good to John Ringo.
Consider three things:
First, Walter Jon Williams's take. Walter Jon Williams tells stories of unhappy dealings with Jim Baen. WJW is a very, very good writer indeed who writes cracking good stories that have a beginning, a middle, and a (more than satisfactory end--in fact, who writes stories that are so good that everyone would benefit from some more serious publisher marketing muscle behind him. He casts a rather different light on Baen. See http://www.walterjonwilliams.net/2011/04/1983-the-writers-life/, on life in the days when Jim Baen was both an editor at Tom Doherty's Tor Boks and running his own Baen Software computer-game company: "Those were the days when there were only three people in the Tor offices. Jim Baen the editor, Tom Doherty the publisher, and Mrs. Doherty the bookkeeper....
...about the ways in which war has become worse for soldiers--continuous through the night, continuous through the year, louder, the danger is more random... and the punchline was that some have compared war to hunting, but for soldiers in a modern war, it's more like being prey.
I have always been struck by the thoughtfulness of the actors involved in playing the standardized patients, often lingering after class to ask me for feedback on their performance. Now comes Leslie Jamison with the title essay of her collection 'The Empathy Exams' offering insight into her work as a medical actor, her life experiences as a medical patient, and her observations of those attempting to boost their empathy quotient. 'The Empathy Exams' is exquisite. One passage, where Leslie Jamison talks about empathy as a choice has stayed with me for days:
Critics... well, probably better to call them "friends" have pointed out to me that last summer I didn't spend enough time linking to Dan Kervick's and Matt Brunig's contributions to the Piketty debate. I remember reading them at the time. And I cannot figure out why I didn't focus more on them--save probably because both seemed to me to be thinking along the lines I was thinking along, I didn't think that there was much new there. But usually I am anxious to promote people saying things that I think are smart and right, so it is a puzzle...
Sir Terry Pratchett: April 28, 1948-March 12, 2015:
Terry Pratchett: The Pratchett Quote File v6.0: "You can't make people happy by law. If you said to a bunch of average people two hundred years ago 'Would you be happy in a world where medical care is widely available, houses are clean, the world's music and sights and foods can be brought into your home at small cost, travelling even 100 miles is easy, childbirth is generally not fatal to mother or child, you don't have to die of dental abcesses and you don't have to do what the squire tells you' they'd think you were talking about the New Jerusalem and say 'yes'.
For the record, let me say that the ten or so Terry Pratchett books that I have read have made me happy:
Over at Equitable Growth: Excellent work from David Frum--reviewing even more excellent work from Adam Tooze.
Let's give David the floor:
The policy debate on the sources, causes and potential solutions to rising income and wealth inequality has intensified in the past few years. Recently, French economist Thomas Piketty’s popular book 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' garnered much attention and ignited further debate about these issues. Piketty argues that wealth will inevitably become more concentrated under capitalism because the returns to wealth are larger than economic growth rates. The solution he proposes is a coordinated global tax on wealth. The Baker Institute's Tax and Expenditure Policy Program will host two renowned economists to discuss the underlying causes and consequences of inequality, evaluate the empirical evidence of rising inequality, and examine potential solutions for dealing with these problems in the United States.
As prepared for delivery:
J. Bradford DeLong :: U.C. Berkeley, NBER, WCEG, INET :: February 3, 2015 :: http://tinyurl.com/dl20150202a
I am very happy to be here, especially as Texas is a state I get to relatively rarely. I have unusually few relatives in it, you see. When the DeLongs got to Wichita they decided to turn north rather than south and wound up in DeKalb County, Illinois. And those who did end up here decamped to North Carolina, leaving me with none until last year when my cousin Annie and her husband moved to Dallas. The last time my wife and I spent any extended time in Texas was on our honeymoon, when we were washed out of our campsite in a swamp near the Louisiana border by a midnight mid-June thunderstorm, so we bypassed Galveston and Houston and then spent a week and a half going Austin-San Antonio-Permian Basin-El Paso.
It is Eric Rauchway in the Times Literary Supplement. My only complaints about the review are:
It was more than just the desire of rapidly-growing emerging markets not to find themselves under the hammer of a 1998 that produced the global savings glut. It was increased income inequality in the North Atlantic core, plus increased wealth in the periphery seeking a North Atlantic bolthole as a form of political risk insurance as well and in addition.
Although Keynes argued that deflation was worse than inflation, he sought to avoid both rather than lean on the inflation side.
Keynes did not win at Bretton Woods: Bretton Woods did not mandate symmetrical adjustment. Keynes's victory was partial, and for the most part came after his death: policy during his life was hardly Keynesian.
Summers served Obama; Summers's preferred policies were not adopted by Obama. But that failure was by no means written in the stars. It was contingent--depending on both a Treasury Secretary and senior political advisors who did not understand the situation and on Obama's imprinting on them rather than on Summers. It was a near-run thing, in the United States at least. A much better world is only a butterfly wing-flap away on some alternative quantum frequency of the multiverse.
Here it is:
Eric Rauchway: Debt Piled Up: "Martin Wolf THE SHIFTS AND THE SHOCKS: What we’ve learned--and still have to learn--from the financial crisis. 496pp. Allen Lane. £25. 978 1 84614 697 8 Published: 29 December 2014:
Over the course of his new book on the current economic unpleasantness, Martin Wolf conveys a sense of increasing frustration. He begins with a sober account of recent history and a capsule proposal for how to solve the malaise with which we are confronted, and then begins to evaluate competing accounts and proposed solutions, often with a single word. Here is a non-exhaustive list of those words: nonsensical, simplistic, mistaken, childish, asinine, self-refuting, nonsense, silly, insouciant and grotesquely dangerous, and--most frequently--wrong (at least once, totally so).
Over at Project Syndicate: For a while the best book on the macroeconomic catastrophe that struck the North Atlantic starting in 2007 was Gary Gorton's Slapped by the Invisible Hand. Them for a while the best book was Alan Blinder's After the Music Stopped. Now these have been superseded by two: the extremely-observant sensible Tory Martin Wolf's The Shifts and the Shocks; and my friend, patron, teacher, and (until the last reshuffle) office neighbor Barry Eichengreen 's Hall of Mirrors. Read and grasp the messages of both of these, and you are in the top 0.001% of the world in terms of understanding what has happened to us--and what the likely scenarios are for what comes next.
"[Richard Duke of] York ran into severe difficulty in early 1456.... His authority was almost visibly ebbing away. In public he was scorned: a display of five severed dogs’ heads was erected on Fleet Street in London in September, with each dog’s dead mouth bearing a satirical poem against York, 'that man that all men hate'...”
Trying to construct the Just City in the Sewer of Dionysios II:
...and you urge me to aid your cause so far as I can in word and deed. My answer is that, if you have the same opinion and desire as he had, I consent to aid your cause; but if not, I shall think more than once about it.
Now what his purpose and desire was, I can inform you from no mere conjecture but from positive knowledge. For when I made my first visit to Sicily, being then about forty years old, Dion was of the same age as Hipparinos is now, and the opinion which he then formed was that which he always retained, I mean the belief that the Syracusans ought to be free and governed by the best laws. So it is no matter for surprise if some God should make Hipparinos adopt the same opinion as Dion about forms of government. But it is well worth while that you should all, old as well as young, hear the way in which this opinion was formed, and I will attempt to give you an account of it from the beginning. For the present is a suitable opportunity.
J. Bradford DeLong on January 16, 2015 at 09:05 AM in Books, Economics: Growth, Economics: History, Economics: Inequality, History, Moral Responsibility, Philosophy: Moral, Political Economy, Politics, Streams: Across the Wide Missouri, Streams: Economics, Streams: Highlighted | Permalink | Comments (1)
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The School of Athens, Plus Gods and Robots...
Jo Walton: The Just City
...has heard the prayers of all her worshipers through the ages who have read Plato's Republic.... So she summons them all to a volcanic island... doomed to be lost to eruption... ensuring that her tampering... will not unduly disrupt the future, which will only dimly remember the island as Atlantis. In this place, men and women from all times and places set to making a place for the children whom they will raise to be philosopher kings....
I am once again out of DeLong Smackdowns of sufficiently high quality...
That means that it is time to (shudder) read the next page in chapter 11 of David Graeber's Debt: My First 5000 Mistakes.
But I cannot face it.
However, a correspondent sends me a piece from an extremely sharp observer--Ann Leckie, author of the devastatingly-good Ancillary Justice.
She worries that the rot in the book begins much earlier than chapter 11:
From Perry Anderson (1976): Considerations on Western Marxism: "The consequence of this impasse...
...was to be the studied silence of Western Marxism in those areas most central to the classical traditions of historical materialism: scrutiny of the economic laws of motion of capitalism as a mode of production, analysis of the political machinery of the bourgeois state, strategy of the class struggle necessary to overthrow it. Gramsci is the single exception to this rule--and it is the token of his greatness, which sets him apart from all other figures in this tradition....
The raw ingredients out of which J.R.R. Tolkien fashioned The Lord of the Rings are equal parts Norse-Anglo-Saxon-Germanic myth, chivalric romance, and Christian apocalyptics (evil personified and mighty, but also powerful guardian spirits, and over all a God who arranges things so that the highest prizes fall to those who suffer). The mix is extraordinarily powerful.
Over at Democracy Journal:
In 1980, the year Ronald Reagan won his first landslide presidential victory, pollsters at National Opinion Research Corporation asked Americans whether they thought, as Reagan did, that ‘too much’ was being spent on welfare, health, education, environmental, and urban programs. Only 21 percent did—the same percentage as had answered that way in 1976. The number that favored ‘keeping taxes and services about where they are’ was a healthy plurality, 45 percent—the exact same result as in 1975. READ MOAR
From Perry Anderson (1976): Considerations on Western Marxism: "The consequence of this impasse...
...was to be the studied silence of Western Marxism in those areas most central to the classical traditions of historical materialism.... Gramsci is the single exception to this rule--and it is the token of his greatness, which sets him apart from all other figures in this tradition.... For over twenty years after the Second World War, the intellectual record of Western Marxism in original economic or political theory proper--in production of major works in either field--was virtually blank....
Over at Equitable Growth: These days, when people come to me and ask if I will run a reading course for them on Karl Marx, this is what I tend to say:
The world is divided into those who take Karl Marx's work seriously and those who do not.
On the one hand, those who do not take Karl Marx's lifetime work-project seriously are further divided into three groups:
Those who ignore Marx completely.
Those who use selected snippets from his work as Holy Texts, and
Those modern "western Marxists" who find inspiration in the works that Karl Marx wrote exclusively before he was thirty. READ MOAR
J. Bradford DeLong on December 15, 2014 at 07:06 AM in Books, Economics: History, History, Long Form, Moral Responsibility, Philosophy: Moral, Political Economy, Politics, Streams: (BiWeekly) Honest Broker, Streams: Across the Wide Missouri, Streams: Economics, Streams: Equitable Growth, Streams: Highlighted | Permalink | Comments (26)
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What is best in life?
What is best in life is to spend the 11 hours of a Northern Hemisphere polar winter's night one spends in the belly of an A340-300 in transit from SFX to ZRH (a) eating Swiss chocolate, and (b) reading Barry Eichengreen's (2015) brilliant and superb Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 0199392005).
More--hopefully much more--to follow...
Understanding the career of William the Marshal, Comes Pembrokensis jure uxoris Isobel de Clare:
[I]t is naive to suppose that the [Supreme] Court's present difficulties could be cured by appointing Justices determined to give the Constitution its true meaning,' to work at 'finding the law' instead of reforming society. The possibility implied by these comforting phrases does not exist.... History can be of considerable help, but it tells us much too little about the specific intentions of the men who framed, adopted and ratified the great clauses. The record is incomplete, the men involved often had vague or even conflicting intentions, and no one foresaw, or could have foreseen, the disputes that changing social conditions and outlooks would bring before the Court. Robert Bork, Fortune December 1968 p.140-1....
As I went further back into Mr. Bork's intellectual history, I discovered that the arguments in his most recent book followed a formula developed in his earlier writings... a lapsarian pattern.... A state of corruption and decay is identified in some institution or area of law. The rot is traced to a particular departure from the proper state of affairs, a willful violation of an authoritatively decreed scheme of things. A method is prescribed by Mr. Bork which will allow us to escape our current fallen state and return to a condition of righteousness. Mr. Bork speaks strongly in favour of his method, pronouncing it 'inescapable' or 'unavoidable.'... Eventually, he falls silent for a while, only to emerge in two or three years with some new, and newly ineluctable, redemptive method. The process then repeats itself... in the past he has been, successively, a libertarian, a process theorist, a devotee of judicial restraint, a believer in neutral principles, a 'law and economist' and an advocate of two distinct forms of originalism. At the time, each of these theories was offered as being the only possible remedy to the subjectivity and arbitrariness of value judgements in a constitutional democracy and the other theories he had held, or was about to hold, were rejected out of hand...
...eighty miles south of Rome... founded in 529 by St. Benedict of Nursia.... Generations of scribes labored in the abbey’s library to copy texts and preserve artifacts.... From November, 1943, to May, 1944, the hill on which the abbey stood was at the center of one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the Second World War. Monte Cassino was a crucial part of the Gustav Line... ‘fortress strength.’... The Allied command, believing that the Germans were using the abbey as a garrison and ammunition dump, made the controversial decision to bomb Monte Cassino. On February 15, 1944, American B-17s, B-25s, and B-26s dropped more than four hundred tons of explosives on the monastery....
Jo Walton: After Paris: Meta, Irony, Narrative, Frames, and The Princess Bride: [Steven] Brust is definitely writing genre fantasy...
...and he knows what it is, and he is writing it with me as his imagined reader, so that’s great. And he’s always playing with narrative conventions and with ways of telling stories, within the heart of genre fantasy--Teckla is structured as a laundry list, and he constantly plays with narrators, to the point where the Paarfi books have a narrator who addresses the gentle reader directly, and he does all this within the frame of the secondary world fantasy and makes it work admirably.
Jo Walton: After Paris: Meta, Irony, Narrative, Frames, and The Princess Bride: "I am not the intended audience for William Goldman’s The Princess Bride....
I think Goldman wanted to write something like a children’s book with the thrills of a children’s book, but for adults. Many writers have an imaginary reader, and I think Goldman’s imaginary reader for The Princess Bride was a cynic who normally reads John Updike, and a lot of what Goldman is doing in the way he wrote the book is trying to woo that reader. So, with that reader in mind, he wrote it with a very interesting frame. And when he came to make it into a movie, he wrote it with a different and also interesting frame. I might be a long way from Goldman’s imagined reader, but I am the real reader. I love it....
Timothy Noah (2007): Has Jonah Goldberg gone soft on Hillary?: "Her name's been removed from his forthcoming book's subtitle...
Three months ago, I speculated that Jonah Goldberg's forthcoming book, then titled Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton, was the victim of a swift and violent paradigm shift. The 2006 elections and the right's critical drubbing of Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11--which proposed a strategic alliance between Muslim theocrats and the American right against the degenerate American left—had rendered conservatism's lunatic fringe suddenly unfashionable. This couldn't, I thought, be good news for a book that portrayed Hillary Clinton as a goose-stepping brownshirt.
Weekend Reading: Michael Berube (1996): Review of Dinesh D'Souza, "The End of Racism", Transition http://www.jstor.org/stable/2935241?
Strolling through the Detroit International Airport on my way to my parents' home in Virginia Beach, I came upon a newsstand-bookstore that was devoting eight or ten shelves of space-roughly one-quarter, I believe, of its "new bestsellers" wall-to Dinesh D'Souza's The End of Racism. I had heard a great deal about the book before it was published, and had just recently been asked (twice, actually) by the Chicago Tribune to re- view the thing. I declined, partly on the grounds that I've already read more D'Souza than any human should, having perused both Illiberal Education (1991) and his rarely mentioned first (and best) effort, Falwell: Before the Millennium (1984). That's the book where D'Souza writes:
listening to Falwell speak, one gets a sense that something is right about America, after all.
Live Multi Bit Rate Player (1:16 video from September 19, 2014)
Over at the
Grauniad Guardian: Why is Thomas Piketty's 700-page book a bestseller? I like Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century a lot. It follows Larry Summers’s advice – which I have always thought wise--that the further ahead in time we want to forecast, the further back in time we should look. It deals with very big and important questions. It takes a broad moral-philosophical view, rather than a narrow technical-economist view. It combines history, quantitative estimation, social science theory, and a deep concern with societal welfare in a way that is too rare these days.
Andrew Flowers: Martin Wolf’s Grand Theory Of Global Financial Disorder: "As the saying goes (sort of)...
...They had a favorite hammer, so every problem looked like a nail. For Martin Wolf... his hammer is 'global imbalances'.... The Shifts and the Shocks: What We’ve Learned--and Have Still to Learn--from the Financial Crisis... is a great read... will be unsettling to anyone who thinks the financial system is any more stable.... Global imbalances are the patient zero of financial crises, according to Wolf. And Wolf has swung this hammer before.... Wolf does argue smartly for other reforms, but you get the feeling that global imbalances explain everything. Might financial regulation at the domestic level, or China’s investment-heavy mercantilist model, or the skewed incentives of corporate managers, or the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, or... any number of other factors also play a role? Perhaps.
Martin would say– correctly–the global imbalances have been an important part of every story in and by which things have gone badly wrong. Without global imbalances, either things would not have gone wrong or things would've gone wrong in a different, and probably less serious, Way.
That does not mean that there is any easy way to resolve global imbalances. Nevertheless, what Larry Summers said 15 years ago is still true: with global imbalances, they will be resolved, but they can be resolved in either of two ways--by balancing up, or bouncing down.