PODCAST: Hexapodia IV: Checks for (Almost) Everyone! Wiþ Noah Smith & Brad DeLong

AUDIO: <https://braddelong.substack.com/p/podcast-hexapodia-iv-checks-for-almost>

The classical British social insurance state took large chunks of human activity out of the marketplace and attempted to distribute them to each according to his or her need. The classical American social insurance state was targeted and grouchy, attempting to elicit proper behavior. Now we have a turn that we regard as very hopeful: recognizing that the problem of the poor is primarily the problem of too-little social power, that money brings social power, hence the solution is to get the money to the people...

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READING: Abraham Lincoln (1860-02-27): Cooper Union Address

Would William Seward have been able to beat Stephen Douglass for the North's electoral votes in 1860 had Lincoln not wowed Republicans with his Cooper Union speech? And, had Douglass won, how would a “Popular Sovereignty” United States have evolved thereafter?


But:

Harold Holzer: ‘Abraham Lincoln did triumph in New York. He delivered a learned, witty, and exquisitely reasoned address that electrified his elite audience and, more important, reverberated in newspapers and pamphlets alike until it reached tens of thousands of Republican voters across the North. He had arrived at Cooper Union a politician with more defeats than victories, but he departed politically reborn…’

<https://www.americanheritage.com/speech-made-man>


Abraham LincolnCooper Union Address: ‘Mr. President and fellow citizens of New York: -

The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make of them. If there shall be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the facts, and the inferences and observations following that presentation.

Continue reading "READING: Abraham Lincoln (1860-02-27): Cooper Union Address" »


BRIEFLY NOTED: for 2021-03-01 Mo

Things that went whizzing by that I want to remember...

First:

Michael Kremer, Jack Willis, & Yang YouConverging to Convergence: ‘Neoclassical theory predicts convergence towards steady-state income, determined by policies, institutions, and culture. Empirical tests… in the 1990s found that conditioning on institutions mattered: unconditionally, the norm was divergence…. We revisit…. First, there has been a trend towards unconditional convergence since the 1960s, leading to convergence since the early 2000s. Second, policies and institutions have converged… towards… institutions… associated… with higher levels of income. Third, the institutional changes are larger… than those predicted by the cross-sectional income-institution slope; while the slope itself has remained stable. Fourth, the growth-institution slope… has decreased substantially, resulting in a shrinking in the gap between conditional and unconditional convergence…

LINK: <https://iems.ust.hk/events/academic-seminar/2021/kremer-converging-to-convergence-distinguished-speakers-economics-nobel-laureates>


Very Briefly Noted:


One Video Very Much Worth Watching:

Grant Sanderson: But What Is the Fourier transform?:


Six Paragraphs:

Andrew SprungWhat Change Looks Like in America: ‘Cohn takes us back to a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, in which Democrats still hoped to win Republican support for major legislation. Notwithstanding that by early 2009, Mitch McConnell had already announced the Republican minority’s intentions to block any legislative achievements, many Democrats in Congress had a history of co-authoring legislation with Republicans and put more stock in that past personal experience…. Cohn reports that Democrats never seriously considered passing health care reform using budget reconciliation…. Several administration officials shared Baucus’s belief that bipartisan reform would be easier to sustain…. Moving quickly to reconciliation could alienate more conservative Democrats, who desperately craved the political cover a bipartisan bill would provide. “There were a whole bunch of senators who were hoping that this would be bipartisan both substantively and politically for their own electoral outcomes,” Peter Orszag said to me later…

LINK: https://prospect.org/culture/books/what-change-looks-like-in-america-cohn-ten-year-war/


Dennis RoddyJust Our Bill [Rehnquist]: ‘Charlie Stevens, then the head of the local Young Republicans, said he got a phone call…. The guy wanted to know why Charlie hadn’t joined Operation Eagle Eye. “I think they called them flying squads,” Stevens said. “It was perfectly legal. The law at the time was that you had to be able to read English and interpret what you read.” But he didn’t like the idea and he told Bill this. “My parents were immigrants,” Stevens said. They’d settled in Cleveland, Ohio, a pair of Greeks driven out of Turkey who arrived in the United States with broken English…. Charlie Tsoukalas became Charlie Stevens. “I didn’t think it was proper to challenge my dad or my mother to interpret the Constitution,” Stevens said. “Even people who are born here have trouble interpreting the Constitution. Lawyers have trouble interpreting it.”… Eventually, Arizona changed the laws that had allowed the kind of challenges that had devolved into bullying…. Stevens became a prosperous and well-regarded lawyer… helped Sandra Day O’Connor get her start in law…. Bill Rehnquist… chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States… denied personally intimidating voters and gave the explanation that he might have been called to polling places on Election Day to arbitrate disputes over voter qualifications. Fifteen years later, three more witnesses, including a deputy U.S. attorney, told of being called to polling places and having angry voters point to Rehnquist as their tormentor. His defenders suggested it was a case of mistaken identity… 

LINK: <http://old.post-gazette.com/columnists/20001202roddy.asp>


Eric Phipps: Diary 1935-04-01: ‘Over two years have now elapsed since the electorate of this country, stam- peded by the Reichstag fire, voted for the abolition of the Parliamentary régime and the establishment of a National Socialist dictatorship. During these two years, Adolf Hitler, without losing the loyalty of his old followers to any alarming extent, has won over the great mass of the Opposition to himself and his policy both internal and external…. He has obtained work (or what amounts to work so far as the individual is concerned) for 3 million people… torn up Part V of the Treaty of Versailles… liberated Germany from the clutches of his own National Socialist gangsters…. The return to more normal conditions during the last six months has indeed been so rapid and so marked that the great bulk of Hitler’s one-time opponents are now, to say the least of it, reconciled to his rule if not to National Socialism…. It is now dawning upon friends and enemies alike that a benevolent despotism has immeasurable advantages… over the travesty of a parliamentary system known as the Weimar Republic…. Many intelligent Germans are now of opinion that it is preferable to the French and British systems of representative government…. A country… anxious to free itself from the shackles of an oppressive treaty has better prospects if it is prepared to accept a restriction of individual liberty and a concentration of all powers in one hand, provided of course the hand be firm and wise…. His mysterious programme for coping with unemployment… consists not merely of public works of the normal kind but of the very important work of rearming Germany…. Now that Hitler has put his bold plan into execution his influence is highest in those very quarters where it was at first regarded with most suspicion, namely the Reichswehr Higher Command, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, permanent officialdom and responsible circles generally. The Germans are not disposed to minimise their difficulties. But they regard Herr Hitler as a prophet and the majority expect with calm obedience that he will find the way to the promised land…. So far as I can see, only economics and finance can be expected to counter these proud plans, but economics and finance have in the past proved so elastic as to defy all expert prophecy…

LINK: <https://github.com/braddelong/public-files/blob/master/readings/book-phipps-diary.pdf>


CatRamboOpinion: On Baen Books, Moderating Discussion Boards, & Political Expression: ‘Boards have to have moderators and rules…. Talking about politics has always been fraught…. There are plenty of places online where people can talk politics…. Free speech is a great ideal, up to the point where it’s being used to promote killing people. Popper’s Paradox applies…. Some people are getting pretty hot under the collar about an attack on the publisher, when it’s an article that talks specifically about the message boards and the behavior happening on them…. Stochastic terrorism is a thing, and it’s one that some of the “my wishing you were dead wasn’t really a death threat because I didn’t say I’d do it personally” yahoos are hoping for. That hope that someone will be hurt as a result of their rhetoric flickers dimly in the depths of their creepy little souls, even when they claim otherwise, because here in America, it’s a possibility every time they stir up an audience to think of their opponents as NPCs rather than people…

LINK: http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/2021/02/18/opinion-on-baen-books-moderating-discussion-boards-political-expression/


Ray DalioAre We In a Stock Market Bubble?: ‘A bubble is an unsustainably high price, and how I measure it is with the following six measures. (1) How high are prices relative to traditional measures? (2) Are prices discounting unsustainable conditions? (3) How many new buyers (i.e., those who weren’t previously in the market) have entered the market? (4) How broadly bullish is sentiment? (5) Are purchases being financed by high leverage? (6) Have buyers made exceptionally extended forward purchases (e.g., built inventory, contracted forward purchases, etc.) to speculate or protect themselves against future price gains? Each of these six influences is measured using a number of stats that are combined into gauges…. In brief, the aggregate bubble gauge is around the 77th percentile today for the US stock market overall. In the bubble of 2000 and the bubble of 1929 this aggregate gauge had a 100th percentile read… LINK: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/we-stock-market-bubble-ray-dalio/


Erik SchatzkerCathie Wood Sees Control Fight Ending, Lifting Cloud Over Ark: ‘Tesla, Bitcoin Bull Cathie Wood Targets 20% ETF Returns…. In addition to the $30.5 billion of assets in its seven ETFs, Ark manages accounts for retail and institutional clients as well as funds in non-U.S. markets. Its ETF revenue alone adds up to at least $225 million a year. That puts Ark, founded in 2014, in a league with long-established firms such as Mario Gabelli’s Gamco Investors Inc. and underscores the stakes in Wood’s fight with Resolute Investment Managers…. Her $16.4 billion Ark Innovation ETF has returned 152% in 2020. Three other ETFs have more than doubled…. Wood, 65, founded the firm expressly to invest in disruptive innovation… artificial intelligence, robotics, energy storage, DNA sequencing and blockchain…. “The biggest upside surprises are going to come from the genomic space,” Wood said in the interview. “That’s because the convergence of DNA sequencing, artificial intelligence and gene therapies, importantly Crispr gene editing, is going to cure disease.”… The idea for active ETFs based on disruptive technology first occurred to Wood while she was chief investment officer for global thematic strategies at AllianceBernstein Holding LP…

LINK: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-18/cathie-wood-sees-control-fight-ending-lifting-cloud-over-ark


Hoisted from the Archives

2019A Note on Reading Big, Difficult Books… <https://www.bradford-delong.com/2019/12/a-note-on-reading-big-difficult-books.html>: Knowledge system and cognitive science guru Andy Matuschak writes a rant called Why Books Don’t Workhttps://andymatuschak.org/books/, about big, difficult books that take him six to nine hours each to read….

Medieval-reading

His points have strong relevance for students in U.C. Berkeley’s Econ 105: History of Economic Thought: Do we live in a Smithian, Marxian or Keynesian World? The core of the course is an assisted reading of three big books that are d—-ably difficult: Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Karl Marx’s Capital, and John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

These are all big, difficult, flawed, incredibly insightful, genius books. And it is a principal task of a successful modern university to teach people how to read such things. Indeed, it might be said that one of the few key competencies we here at the university have to teach—our counterpart or the medieval triad of rhetoric, logic, grammar and then quadriad of arithmetic, geometry, music and astrology—is how to read and absorb a theoretical argument made by a hard, worthwhile, flawed book. People need to understand what an argument is, and the only way to do that is actually go through an argument—to read the argument and try to make sense of it. People need to be able to tell the difference between an argument and an assertion. People need to be able to do more than just say whether they liked the conclusion or not: they need to be able to specify whether the argument hangs together given the premises, and where it is the premises, and where it is the premises themselves that need to be challenged. People need to learn that while you can disagree, you need to be able to specify why and how you disagree.

The first order task is to teach people how to read difficult books. Teaching people five facts about some thinker's theoretical perspective is subordinate: those five facts will not stick with them over the years. Teaching them how to read difficult books will stick with them over the years. Knowing what to do with a book that makes an important, an interesting, but also a flawed argument—that is a key skill…. We have our recommended ten-stage process for reading such big books: 

  1. Figure out beforehand what the author is trying to accomplish in the book.

  2. Orient yourself by becoming the kind of reader the book is directed at—the kind of person with whom the arguments would resonate.

  3. Read through the book actively, taking notes.

  4. “Steelman” the argument, reworking it so that you find it as convincing and clear as you can possibly make it.

  5. Find someone else—usually a roommate—and bore them to death by making them listen to you set out your “steelmanned” version of the argument. 

  6. Go back over the book again, giving it a sympathetic but not credulous reading

  7. Then you will be in a good position to figure out what the weak points of this strongest-possible argument version might be.

  8. Test the major assertions and interpretations against reality: do they actually make sense of and in the context of the world as it truly is?

  9. Decide what you think of the whole.

  10. Then comes the task of cementing your interpretation, your reading, into your mind so that it becomes part of your intellectual panoply for the future.

Follow this process, and your reading becomes active. Then you have the greatest possible chance of learning the books—of thereafter being able to summon up sub-Turing instantiations of the thinkers Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes and then running them on your wetware….


From Smith, Marx, Keynes: Cement Your Knowledgehttps://www.icloud.com/pages/0yyHboa030OEohMkflwYE1u5w

 


READING: On Dietrich von der Glezze: Der Siegesgürtel

Not your standard Tannhäuser...

Erik WadeOn Twitter: "Have I got a wild medieval story for you. A woman sleeps with someone in exchange for presents, and her husband gets mad. So she sets out to prove that her husband would ALSO allow a man to have sex with him in exchange for presents https://t.co/tCaZ8ilw58:

This is a 13th-century German story by a writer named Dietrich of the Glezze/Gletze. And it is a LOT. It’s also a fascinating insight in how complicated medieval ideas of sexuality and gender could be. So. There’s a married couple, both beautiful and virtuous. One day, while her husband is gone, the woman is sitting in her garden. A strange knight passes by, is lovestruck by her beauty, and approaches her. Basically, he confesses his love and begs her for sex. She refuses. He offers her increasingly lavish presents—a goshawk! two greyhounds! a horse!—pleading with her. She turns them down, until he offers her his belt, which is magic: the wearer will win any fight. He also throws in all the other presents to sweeten the deal.

It’s hard to know how to read this scene. Is it meant to be romantic or threatening? The powerful stranger intruding into her garden, demanding sex, feels deeply alarming. She doesn’t seem frightened of him, just insulted, however. She even tells him to be quiet and go away. When she finally agrees, she sends away her servants, and she and the knight have sex. The sex is apparently so good that the trees rustle, birds start singing about it, and roses bloom from the ground where they are lying down.

Then she tells the knight that she got the better of the deal and sends him away forever. 

Unfortunately, a servant spotted her and tells her husband, who is furious and leaves her. She sort of shrugs and says she deserves it but he will soon get over it.

This is when the story really gets wild. 

She waits a few months, then gets all her presents—hawk, greyhounds, horse, belt—and some money, and sets off to win him back. She stays in an inn, where she sends her servants home before she begins Her Plan.

She tells the innkeeper that she’s actually a man in disguise, and that he needs to go out and buy her men’s clothes, weapons, and armor. He accepts this and buys her everything. She cuts her hair, dons the clothes (which look GREAT on her), and puts on her magic belt. Then she goes to her husband’s court and announces herself as Sir Henry of Swabia. 

At this point, the narrator switches pronouns and names, describing Sir Henry consistently as a man.

The husband and Sir Henry do everything together. They go hunting, and Sir Henry’s greyhounds are so good at it that the husband begs Sir Henry for them. Henry refuses. Henry’s hawk is such a good hunter that the husband also begs for that. Henry refuses. Then they race their horses home, and Sir Henry easily beats the husband. The husband again offers enormous amounts of money for the horse, which Henry refuses.

There’s a tournament, where an amazing Briton beats everyone. The husband warns Sir Henry not to fight the Briton. Sir Henry insists on doing so and beats the Briton easily. The husband BEGS Sir Henry to teach him and to give him his amazing animals.

Sir Henry refuses at first, but the husband keeps offering things. Then Sir Henry finally relents and says the husband can have everything if he agrees to Henry’s request. The husband says he will do anything. Sir Henry says “My desire is a small matter: I love men.” The husband says it’s sad that such a wonderful knight should love men and not women. 

Sir Henry tells him that he must fulfill Henry’s wish if he wants all these presents. The husband asks what the wish is. Sir Henry says he wants to have sex with the husband. The request is fascinating. Henry says the husband should “lie down” with him, and that Henry “will do all the wonderful things that [he] can imagine and think of.” But especially Henry will do what a man does to his wife (aka, intercourse).

The husband immediately agrees and says he will “suffer everything and not refuse anything.” He adds—and I think this is really telling—“I want to and have to accept it all in return for the greyhounds and the bird of prey.”

“I want to”.

Sir Henry says that they will do it right then and there. He tells the husband to lie down on his back. The husband does. Then Sir Henry calls him a loser. Sir Henry announces that he’s the wife and CHEWS the husband out for agreeing to be a “heretic” with another man. The wife, basically: “Yes, what I did was bad, but this is SO MUCH WORSE, you loser. Also, I held out for a LOT more presents than you.”

Then she tells her husband that they are going home and that they will agree to forget this, because—as she says—he “bore the greatest guilt.” And then they go home and live happily ever after!


History of Economic Growth: Intro to Jupyter Notebooks, & Resources & Global Inequality

Still Experimenting with Interactive Notebooks

Source: <https://github.com/braddelong/econ-135-s-2021-assignments/blob/main/ps-0.1.5.ipynb>
nbViewer: <https://nbviewer.jupyter.org/github/braddelong/econ-135-s-2021-assignments/blob/main/ps-0.1.5-answers.ipynb>
Interactive: <https://mybinder.org/v2/gh/braddelong/econ-135-s-2021-assignments/main?filepath=ps-0.1.5.ipynb>

 


Source: <https://github.com/braddelong/econ-135-s-2021-assignments/blob/main/ps-4.1.5.ipynb>
nbViewer: <https://nbviewer.jupyter.org/github/braddelong/econ-135-s-2021-assignments/blob/main/ps-4.1.5.ipynb>
Interactive: <https://mybinder.org/v2/gh/braddelong/econ-135-s-2021-assignments/main?filepath=ps-4.1.5.ipynb>


BRIEFLY NOTED: for 2021-02-25 Th

Things that went whizzing by, that I want to remember...

 

Very Briefly Noted:


Next: A Video Well Worth Your Watching:

Tony FreethThe Antikythera Mechanism

A marvelous device, that if we could only understood why and how and why not a flood of such instruments following, we would understand a great deal of the world?


Six Paragraphs:

This, I think, gets it very right: even two weeks after your second vaccination dose, do not get together with all of your friends in a damp, hot basement and have a singing party—wait until the virus is genuinely scotched for that:

Emily OsterVaccines & Transmission Redux Redux: ‘What you shouldn’t do—and I think this is really the key to the continued caution in messaging—is get together with all your vaccinated friends in a damp, hot basement and have a singing party. If you have close contact with 1000 people even if they are all vaccinated there is a reasonable chance someone’s carrying some virus around, and they could then carry it out to the rest of us who are waiting on vaccines. In another few months, when cases are lower, this will not be true anymore and we’ll be able to do our hot basement singing…

LINK: <https://emilyoster.substack.com/p/vaccines-and-transmission-redux-redux>


Gertjan VliegheAn Update on the Economic Outlook: ‘The effect of the pandemic on the economy has been unusually uneven. We are really not all in this together…. Should we consider… unspent income as “additional income” or “additional wealth”, or something else altogether? A comparison between UK and US income dynamics is instructive…. In the US, on the other hand, the pandemic stimulus cheques and the increase in unemployment benefits have led to a significant rise in household income relative to its pre-pandemic trajectory. That can more reasonably be interpreted as “additional income” for many. Moreover, it has, by design, been spread more evenly across the income distribution….

The degree to which health risks dissipate later this year will be a key factor in determining to what extent savings are retained or spent. The more there are lingering health risks and associated economic uncertainty, the more it is likely that a larger share of the accumulated savings stock will be retained, and that the desired on-going flow of savings will remain somewhat elevated relative to pre-pandemic flows. Given that we have never experienced an economic situation quite like the one we are now in, a wide range of outcomes are possible. I am genuinely uncertain about this, and it is something that reasonable people can disagree on…

LINK: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/speech/2021/february/an-update-on-the-economic-outlook-speech-by-gertjan-vlieghe.pdf?la=en&hash=4D50354F53FDA4D035082B9B1A844A6B134212D1


Charles DickensLittle Dorrit: ‘The conference was held at four or five o’clock in the afternoon, when all the region of Harley Street, Cavendish Square, was resonant of carriage-wheels and double-knocks. It had reached this point when Mr Merdle came home from his daily occupation of causing the British name to be more and more respected in all parts of the civilised globe capable of the appreciation of world-wide commercial enterprise and gigantic combinations of skill and capital. For, though nobody knew with the least precision what Mr Merdle’s business was, except that it was to coin money, these were the terms in which everybody defined it on all ceremonious occasions, and which it was the last new polite reading of the parable of the camel and the needle’s eye to accept without inquiry…

LINK: <https://www.gutenberg.org/files/963/963-h/963-h.htm>


Kirsten DevineRomance Before Bros: ‘A few months further back I wrote a 5 part Valentine’s Day series on romance novels, a feat of insanity that I am going to repeat this year, only I learned my lesson and am starting it at the beginning of January instead ⅔ of the way through. So hopefully unlike last year I’ll make it through mentally unscathed. This time I’m actually reading GOOD romances instead of trashy ones. It’s a lot of work, and do you know why I’m doing this? It’s because romance MATTERS…

LINK: <https://ordinary-times.com/2020/01/05/romance-before-bros/>


Ben ThompsonCreation, Consumption, & Clubhouse: ‘That “something” was a combination of factors: First, it’s much easier to get a group of people together for an informal conversation that requires nothing more than the tap of a button than a formal podcast recording. Convenience matters! It matters more than anything. Second, the rhythm and “feel” of a conversation is just fundamentally different than a produced podcast. Zeynep Tufecki wrote about this difference on her Substack, and it was tangible in this conversation. Third, this room wasn’t simply about those who were invited, but multiple others that raised their hands and joined in, sometimes to riff on stories that came before…

LINK: <https://stratechery.com/2021/more-from-daniel-ek-creation-consumption-and-clubhouse-facebook-and-australia-continued/>


Daniel EkOn Clubhouse: ‘My fundamental view is that Clubhouse is really two things. It’s a creative format and it’s super-engaging for creators. It’s very interesting with the interactivity, so we obviously pay a lot of attention to all social and interactive features. The second part is the listening part as well. Long term I believe the major trend on the Internet isn’t linear and live programming, but it’s still time-shifted and on-demand, and to that extent I feel very good about where we’re placed, but obviously, to the extent that creators find interesting ways to interact with their audience that’s definitely something that we’re paying a lot of attention to and looking at and experimenting with as well…

LINK: <https://stratechery.com/2021/more-from-daniel-ek-creation-consumption-and-clubhouse-facebook-and-australia-continued/>


Hoisted from the Archives

2010Is This an April Fool’s Joke?: Charles Lane of the Washington Post:

Some in the antislavery movement were as extreme, in their way, as the Southern “fire-eaters.”… In 1851, a Boston crowd broke into a federal courthouse to free “Shadrach,” a black man being held there by U.S. marshals enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law…. I am not suggesting a moral equivalency between the anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces. But I am suggesting an attitudinal equivalency…

First of all, Shadrach Minkins has a name–which does not deserve to be put into scare quotes. He was a human being. Charles—excuse me, ’Charles’—sees an ‘attitudinal equivalency’ between abolitionists who ‘arrested Minkins from his court officers, carried him off and temporarily hid him in a Beacon Hill attic… Boston black leaders Lewis Hayden, John J. Smith and others helped Minkins escape from Massachusetts, and he eventually found his way to Canada on the Underground Railroad…’ and Jefferson Davis and his ilk who raised armies that killed 400,000 Americans.

I am sorry: those who kill tens of thousands have a different ‘attitude’ than those who set people free without killing anybody. Worst Washington Post writer alive.

LINK: https://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2010/03/is-this-an-april-fools-joke----the-tea-party-and-a-history-of-going-to-extremes.html

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READING: The Beginning of: John Q. Marquand (1937): Think Fast, Mr. Moto

Imperialism & the capital-M capital-E Mysterious East...

John P. Marquand (1937): Think Fast, Mr. Moto: 'It had not taken Wilson Hitchings long to realize that the firm of Hitchings Brothers had its definite place in the commercial aristocracy of the East, and that China had retained a respect for mercantile tradition which had disappeared from the Occidental world. There were still traditions of sailing days and of the pre-treaty days in the transactions of the Shanghai branch of Hitchings Brothers. The position of its office upon the Bund was enough to show it. The brass plate of HITCHINGS BROTHERS was polished each morning by the office coolies so that it glittered golden against the gray stone façade. Near by were the venerable plates of JARDINE MATHESON and of the HONG KONG AND SHANGHAI BANK. The plate of HITCHINGS BROTHERS had the same remote dignity, the same integrity, the same imperviousness to time—which was not unnatural.

That plate had been made when a branch of Hitchings Brothers, under the control of Wilson’s great-grandfather from Salem, had moved up to Shanghai from the factories of Canton during the epoch when the place was little more than a swampy China-coast fishing town. Reluctantly, but accurately, Wilson Hitchings could feel the venerable weight of that tradition. The involuntary respect which the tradition had engendered in the narrow European world that maintained its precarious foothold in the Orient was accorded to Wilson Hitchings himself, in spite of youth and inexperience, simply because he bore the name.

Old white-suited gentlemen whom he never recalled meeting previously would suddenly slap him on the back as though he were an Old China Hand. Leather-faced matrons from British compounds would smile at him archly. Sometimes even an unknown, fat Chinese gentleman calling in the outer office would look at him and smile. “Mr. Hitchings,” the old gentleman would say, “so nice you have come here.”

“Gentlemen,” someone would say, toward evening at the bar, “this is young Hitchings, just out from America. He doesn’t know me but I know him. He looks the way old Will did when he came out.… Boy, give Mr. Hitchings a drink.… We have to stick together these days. Anything I can tell you, Mr. Hitchings, simply let me know.”

It had not taken Wilson Hitchings long to realize that he was a public character by right of birth. He grew to understand that the small shopkeeper and the lowest inhabitants of the International Settlement all knew him and that there is no such thing as privacy in the East. Sometimes late at night strange, ragged rickshaw boys would speak to him, in the limpid pidgin English of the place. “Marster Hitchings,” a strange boy would shout. “Please, I take you home. I know where Marster Hitchings lives.”

And sometimes at the street intersections where the pedestrians and the carts and the motors went by in an unending ribbon, the bearded Sikh policeman would bare his white teeth in an unexpected smile. “All right,” the man would say. “All right now, Hitchings Sahib.”

He had begun to realize that a part of Shanghai belonged to him, a part of that rich, monstrous, restive, sinful city where so many races dwelt noisily. It belonged to him because a Hitchings had been there ever since foreigners had come. A Hitchings had seen the city grow out of the East, where China, with that adaptability peculiar alone to itself, had absorbed the conveniences of the West and had made them into something genial and mystic and peculiar. The firm of Hitchings Brothers, on the spot it occupied along the Bund, had become a part of the life. The windows of the firm, never entirely clean in spite of diligent washing, looked out like the eyes of cynical old men upon one of the strangest sights in the world.

Beside the Bund flowed the yellow treacherous currents of the Whangpoo River; warships and huge liners were moored in the river, the last word of Occidental ingenuity, and past them always drifted brown-sailed junks, almost unchanged since the oldest Chinese paintings. Sampans, propelled by a single sculling oar, plied their ways across the river. Scavengers, in the sampans, fought raucously over ships’ garbage; and down on the street beneath, men stripped to the waist struggled like beasts, pulling burdens while limousines passed by. Out of the firm windows one could see all the comedy and tragedy of China struggling in a world of change, all the unbelievable inequality of wealth, ranging from the affluence of fortunate war-lords to a poverty reduced to a limit of existence which no stranger could envisage. It was all beneath the windows, restive and fascinating, something much better accepted than studied.

Wilson Hitchings reluctantly admired his uncle for his cold acceptance of the enigmas which moved about them. Uncle Will Hitchings had grown to accept street riots and homicide as easily as he accepted his whisky-and-soda at the Club, provided dinner was properly and efficiently served as soon as he shouted “Boy!” “My boy,” Uncle Will used to say, “there’s one thing for you to get in your mind—the firm of Hitchings Brothers is an honest firm. It has an excellent reputation upriver. Every Chinese merchant knows us. We seldom lose our customers; you must learn who these customers are; but don’t worry much about the rest. Treat our customers politely, but don’t mix with the natives. It’s confusing to you now. It used to be confusing to me at first, but you’ll get used to it. Don’t try to speak their language. You can’t learn it and it will only make you queer to try. I’ve seen a lot of nice young fellows who have got queer trying to learn Chinese. Just remember our family has got along on pidgin English.

"The main thing is to be seen with the right people. I don’t care how much you drink if you do it with the right people and in the right place; and don’t worry too much about wars and revolutions. Everything is always upset here. All we need is to be sure we get our money, and there’s just one thing more—about women. Be sure you don’t marry a Russian girl. And get as much exercise as you can, and remember I am broad-minded. Come to me when you’re in trouble, remember that nothing will shock me—nothing; and don’t forget you have the firm name. I’ll see you before dinner at the Club.”

It was a strange life, an easy life, and altogether pleasant. In spite of the size of the city, the city was like a country club where everyone of the right sort knew everyone else, where everyone moved in a small busy orbit, surrounded by the unknown, and where everyone was friendly. It did not take him long to realize that it was a responsibility to bear the family name. “You see,” his uncle told him, “we are one of the oldest firms in China and age and name mean a great deal here. I want you to come to dinner to-night. My new cook is very good. I want you to change your cook, he is squeezing you too much. I want you to be sure to be at the Club every afternoon, and I want you to use my tailor. His father and his grandfather have always dressed the Hitchingses.”

“Do you think there is going to be trouble up North, sir?” Wilson Hitchings asked.

His Uncle Will looked at him urbanely. His broad, red face reminded Wilson of the setting sun. “There is always trouble up North,” Uncle William said. “I want you to get yourself a new mess-jacket. The one you wore last night didn’t fit, and that’s more important than political speculation. You had better go to your desk now. I shall have to read the mail. Well, what is it?”

The man who sat in front of the door of William Hitchings’ private office—a gray-haired Chinese in a gray cotton gown—entered. “Please, sir,” he said, “a Japanese gentleman to see you—the one who came yesterday.”

Uncle William’s face grew redder. “My boy,” he said to Wilson, “these Japanese are always making trouble lately. They’re underselling us all along the line. You may as well sit and listen. How long have you been here now?”

“Six months, sir,” Wilson Hitchings said.

“Well,” his uncle said, “we have important interests in Japan. You had better begin to get used to the Japanese. Yes, sit here and listen.” He waved a heavy hand to the office attendant. “Show the man in,” he said.

Red-faced, white-haired, and growing heavy, William Hitchings sat behind his mahogany table with the propeller-like blades of the electric fan on the ceiling turning lazily above his head. Short as the time had been since he had been sent to China, Wilson could understand that much of his uncle’s attitude was a façade behind which he concealed a shrewd and accurate knowledge. He sat there looking about his room with a heavy placid stupidity which Wilson could suspect was part of his uncle’s stock in trade. Even his bland assumption of ignorance of Chinese was valuable.

His uncle had once admitted, perhaps rightly, that it all gave a sense of confidence, a sense of old-fashioned stability. It had been a long while since the firm had started dealing in cargoes of assorted merchandise; and now its business, largely banking, was varied and extensive. The firm was prepared to sell anything up-country through native merchants who had been connected with it for generations, and the firm was the private banker for many important individuals. Wilson could guess that his uncle knew a great deal about the finances and the intrigues of the Nanking Government, although his conversation was mostly of bridge and dinner.

While they waited Uncle William began opening the pile of letters before him with a green jade paper-cutter. Once he glanced at the clock then at the door and then at his nephew. It was three in the afternoon. “My boy,” said Uncle William, “I want you to listen to this conversation carefully and I want you to tell me what you think of it afterwards. I want you to consider one thing which is very important. You must learn to cultivate a cheerful poker face. That is what you are here for, and it will take you years before you can do it.”

“You have one, sir,” said Wilson.

“Yes, my boy,” said Uncle William, “I rather think I have.” He laid down his paper-cutter and raised his voice a trifle. There were footsteps outside the office door. Uncle William looked at the wall opposite him, which was adorned with an oil painting of the first Hitchings factory at Canton, beside which was a Chinese portrait of a stout gentleman in a purple robe seated with a thin hand resting on either knee. It was the portrait of old Wei Qua, the first hong merchant with whom the Hitchingses had dealt. Wei Qua’s face was enigmatic, untroubled and serene.

“Now in the races to-morrow,” Uncle William said distinctly, “I like Resolution in the third. There are going to be long odds on him to-morrow and he is always good in mud. Yes, I think I shall play Resolution.” The office door was opening and Uncle William pushed back his chair. A Japanese was entering, walking across the room in front of the corpulent Chinese clerk with swift birdlike steps.

“Mr. Moto, if you please,” the Chinese clerk was saying.

Mr. Moto was a small man, delicate, almost fragile. His patent leather shoes squeaked slightly as he walked. He was dressed formally in a morning coat and striped trousers. His black hair was carefully brushed in the Prussian style. He was smiling, showing a row of shiny gold-filled teeth, and as he smiled he drew in his breath with a polite, soft sibilant sound. “It is so kind of you to receive me,” he said. “So very, very kind, since I sent my letter such a short time ago. Thank you very, very much.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Uncle William said. “Thank you, Mr. Moto”...


PODCAST: Hexapodia III: þe Minimum Wage, wiþ Arin Dube, Noah Smith, & Brad DeLong: Should We Be Fighting for $15?

If moderate raises in the minimum wage do not cause unemployment, who can object to them—but why do they not cause higher unemployment, if they in fact do not?