Friday, September 27, 2013

'Uncertain' Science: Judith Curry's Take On Climate Change

A nice Hayekean view of the future and perhaps a warning . . .

I highly recommend a listen, Curry is very thoughtful and reflects and understanding of adaptive efficiency.

A small sample:

Economics Vs. Science Curry started her own blog, which is a forum for outsiders to weigh in on climate science. She sees it as democratizing the discussion.

"All we can do is be as objective as we can about the evidence and help the politicians evaluate proposed solutions," she says. If that means doing nothing, "I can't say myself that that isn't the best solution."

And this is where Curry parts company most clearly with her peers. For example, the leading scientific organization for earth scientists, the American Geophysical Union, says in a position statement that climate change "requires urgent action." It concludes that despite some uncertainties, there's no scenario where climate change will be inconsequential.

Curry's dissent from this position is as much about the economics as about the science.

"I have six nieces and nephews who have recently graduated from college," she says. "Not easy finding jobs in this economy. Are we going to jeopardize their economic future, and we don't know if they're going to care and if this is going to matter?"

Thursday, September 26, 2013

David Landes wrote: Family Guys

Given the reflections on David Landes, I'd love to have our ASET book club consider reading one of his fine books.

I recommend this short essay for a taste of his perspective, analysis and skill as a writer.

Max Weber began his scholarly career as an historian of the ancient world and grew into a wonder of diversified social science--a wonder that still holds good and justifies this year's centennial celebration. In 1905 he published one of the most influential and provocative essays ever written: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. His thesis: that Protestantism, more specifically its Calvinist branches, promoted the rise of modern capitalism--that is, the industrial capitalism he knew from his native Germany. Protestantism did this, he said, not by easing or abolishing those aspects of the Roman faith that had deterred or constrained free economic activity (the prohibition of lending at interest, for example), nor by encouraging the pursuit of wealth, but by defining and sanctioning an ethic of everyday behavior that conduced to economic success, individually and for the community as a whole. . . .

The point here is the success of family business in an economy that is supposed to have left such older patterns behind. Modern students stress the advantage of managerial, corporate organization: the firm as a collection of talent. Family firms are seen as obsolete, and so noncompetitive. Yet the family, with its experience of trust, mutual support and traditional obligation, has more than held its own in those areas where these virtues matter; or where managerial teams are wanting, as in developing economies; or in Weberian strongholds like Alsace; and so on and on.

Culture counts, as Weber understood--and no one has understood it better.

- See more at:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Quotation of the day: The educational octopus

Quotation of the day: The educational octopus

Another possible ASET book club book.

The God of the Machine presents an original theory of history and a bold defense of individualism as the source of moral and political progress. When it was published in 1943, Isabel Paterson's work provided fresh intellectual support for the endangered American belief in individual rights, limited government, and economic freedom. The crisis of today's collectivized nations would not have surprised Paterson; in The God of the Machine, she had explored the reasons for collectivism's failure. Her book placed her in the vanguard of the free-enterprise movement now sweeping the world.

Paterson sees the individual creative mind as the dynamo of history, and respect for the individual's God-given rights as the precondition for the enormous release of energy that produced the modern world. She sees capitalist institutions as the machinery through which human energy works, and government as a device properly used merely to cut off power to activities that threaten personal liberty.

Paterson applies her general theory to particular issues in contemporary life, such as education, .social welfare, and the causes of economic distress. She severely criticizes all but minimal application of government, including governmental interventions that most people have long taken for granted. The God of the Machine offers a challenging perspective on the continuing, worldwide debate about the nature of freedom, the uses of power, and the prospects of human betterment.

Stephen Cox's substantial introduction to The God of the Machine is a comprehensive and enlightening account of Paterson's colorful life and work. He describes The God of the Machine as "not just theory, but rhapsody, satire, diatribe, poetic narrative." Paterson's work continues to be relevant because "it exposes the moral and practical failures of collectivism, failures that are now almost universally acknowledged but are still far from universally understood." The book will be essential to students of American history, political theory, and literature.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A moving obiturary

This obituary by Landes' son is moving. I am reading a biography of AO Hirshmann whose life, in some ways, reflects that of Landes.

In part, his son writes:

In a sense, his entire oeuvre was dedicated to answering the question “why the West?” (or more specifically, how is it that the West generated a culture of economic development that most other cultures have difficulty imitating?) His students and family would joke that his course on economic history was unofficially entitled “The West and the Rest.”

He was, accordingly, admired and denounced for being a Eurocentric historian, a perspective increasingly considered not politically correct, even as the evidence for the uniqueness of the West continued (and continues) to pile up.

His Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are so Rich and Some are so Poor (1998) embodies his approach to the importance of culture in contributing to either economic development or poverty.

He served as Chairman of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East in the 1970s. He was devoted to Judaism, the Jewish people and the land of Israel, a legacy continued by his descendants.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

200 most influential economics blogs

I was very, very surprised by number 1 and the top 10. Although, this ranking, if accurate, goes a long way toward confirming the role of public intellectuals in shaping public opinion.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Another possible ASET book club selection

From the above review:

Behind every coalition promise to "get tough on single mothers", behind every Daily Mail story about Britain's "handout culture", or Mitt Romney's notorious comments about "the 47%", there lies an assumption: that being poor is a failure of character. Awkwardly, for those who find this obnoxious, the research sometimes makes it seem true. People who are less well-off really do appear to give in more readily to temptation, making the very purchases they can't afford; to make unwise financial decisions; to use less effective parenting techniques; or to fail to take life-saving drugs, even when they're free. Is this a deep-seated weakness of will, made worse by a "culture of dependency"? The Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and the Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir reject that idea, and some of the most familiar leftwing responses, too. Poverty, they argue, is indeed a matter of willpower and bad decisions, but the Mail has it back-to-front. It's not that foolish choices make you poor; it's that poverty's effects on the mind lead to bad choices. Living with too little imposes huge psychic costs, reducing our mental bandwidth and distorting our decisionmaking in ways that dig us deeper into a bad situation.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Another interesting book recommendation for ASET book club

The System of Liberty

July 18, 2013

by Jerry O’Driscoll

I have just completed George Smith’s The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism. I recommend it highly to all. It is a tour de force, and an essential read for all those interested in classical liberal ideas. Many of the debates today on the political right have their origin in the debates over classical liberalism.

The book is co-published by the Cato Institute and Cambridge University Press. This is the second book this year jointly published by Cato and Cambridge, and is a coup for Cato. The other one is Richard Timberlake’s Constitutional Money: A Review of the Supreme Court’s Monetary Decisions.

Smith tells us that “’classical liberalism’ refers to a political philosophy in which liberty plays the central role.” A great deal is packed into that definition, and much of the book is devoted to developing and explicating all the issues. These include, among other issues, concepts such as order, justice, rights and freedom. It includes such monumental controversies, some still with us, as natural rights versus utilitarianism.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Writer William T. Vollmann Uncovers His FBI File

This has been a banner week for NPR (hard to believe I wrote this)

Below is a sample, I recommend the interview and I will be locating Harpers to read his article.

GREENE: In an essay out today in Harper's magazine, William T. Vollmann details his first brush with the FBI. It was in 1990, after he was connected to the controversial photographer Jock Sturges, whose work includes nudes of adolescent girls and their families. At the time, Sturges was being investigated by the agency. He was later cleared.

Perhaps most alarming, he discovered in his heavily redacted file that he was considered a terrorist suspect even after the Unabomber had been apprehended in 1996. After the 9/11 attacks, he realizes, “I had graduated from being a Unabomber suspect to being an anthrax suspect.” Even today, his international mail often arrives opened. A private investigator explains to him: “Once you’re a suspect and you’re in the system, that ain’t goin’ away. . . . Anytime there’s a terrorist investigation, your name’s gonna come up.”

It’s a terrifying essay, only sporadically leavened by gallows humor. Vollmann admits that he’s hardly the worst victim of our overzealous government. But anyone who cares about the unraveling of our civil rights and the destruction of the American way of life should heed this chilling and deeply personal story. What he describes is a mostly invisible and completely impervious class of bureaucrats — he calls them “the Unamericans” — who systematically violate our privacy and disregard the presumption of innocence. The worst irony, of course, is they do this under the guise of protecting us.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Five books on the causes of the 2008 financial crisis

One of my favorite sites is Five Books a web site with book recommendations, interviews and discussions of books that range widely over a variety of subjects and topics. I love to read mystery novels and have found wonderful authors that I otherwise might not have encountered. The site has an active set of recommendations of books dealing with social science, economics and current events.

This posting, by Barry Ritholtz a Wall Street money manager and Washington Post columnist who writes a popular investment-focused blog, The Big Picture, includes his comments on the crisis, recommendations for 5 books and a thoughtful and provocative set of assertions about the market. His blog is more widely ranging than merely an investment focus and I follow that blog as well.

This excerpt from the Five Book interview really reminds me of my friend and colleague Bill Boyes:

The Wall Street money manager diagnoses the ills of America’s political and economic system in a fizzing, irreverent analysis (with promised f-bombs thrown in)

I originally thought we were going to be talking about Wall Street today. But I got the sense from some of your book choices that one of the biggest offenders wasn’t based on Wall Street at all, but on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC.

When you get bit by a dog, you don’t just look at the dog, you have to look at the owner who is holding the leash. To me, a lot of the regulatory changes, and a lot of what the Federal Reserve did, stand on their own as a major factor. But if you’ve read David Hume, if you’ve studied the philosophy of causation, you have to look at what motivated those changes. I have these debates with friends. One group blames everything on big government; the other group blames everything on big corporations. The sad news is that there’s really no difference between the two: Big government and big corporations work hand-in-hand. If you want to know who is the puppet and who is the puppet master, it sure looks like Wall Street has been pulling the strings of Congress for many, many, many years. I remember the Dick Durbin quote, right in the middle of the crisis. He was astonished at all the bankers and bank lobbyists running around the halls of Congress, and said, “I can’t believe these guys – they act as if they own the place.” The fact is, it’s not an act – they do own the place.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Becker channels Schumpeter

Anti trust policy should recognize that dynamic competition is often a powerful force when static competition is weak. The big policy question then is whether it is worthwhile to bring expensive and time consuming anti trust cases against still innovating firms that have considerable profits and monopoly power, given the significant probability that new competitors will before long greatly erode this power through different products? I believe the answer to that is no, and that policy should often rely on dynamic competition, even when that allows dominant firms only temporarily to enjoy economic power.

Amen - read the full post here.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Economics of Entrepreneurship: Keys to Prosperity

The Economics of Entrepreneurship: Keys to Prosperity

ACEE and our NEW Center for Economic Education at Paradise Valley Community College are partnering together to bring you this brand-new full-day workshop.

What makes a successful entrepreneur? How can an individual recognize opportunities then transform them into successful new ventures? How do entrepreneurs decide what to produce and how much?

Using standards-based, hands-on activities, correlated to the Common Core, this workshop will help you get your students out of their seats and engaged. You will receive pedagogy training and curriculum resources you can use in your classroom right away. There will also be a panel discussion with successful local entrepreneurs about their personal experiences. For teachers of grades 8-12.

Workshop Date/Location:

Saturday, September 21, 2013, 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Paradise Valley Community College, Phoenix

Registration Fee $20.00

Register HERE

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cool online book club site

In preparing for our book club discussion next month of The Righteous Mind I found this online book club site. Very interesting and the post on our book has a nice summary with a couple of good discussion questions.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Another possible book club choice

This sounds interesting in light of our ASET book club read of The Race between Education and Technology.

From the reviews:

To the point, current, and insightful. Great links throughout the book. Easy enough for almost everyone who can sit down for 2 hours to read in one sitting.

I am generally no fan of Hayek and/or Schumpeter, but these authors show how some of the thinking offers a refreshing alternative to Reich and Krugman by showing that policy need not be configured for cataclysmic austerity to support innovation and growth. They encourage investment in education and infrastructure as well as a sturdy safety net, while pointing out that the realities are that some jobs and benefits are gone forever.

Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy

98 pages

Monday, September 9, 2013

ASET book club - Sept. 12 at 5:45

Our first book of the 2013-14 school year will be The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Please join us for thoughtful discussion, great company, and light refreshments. Date: Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Time: 5:45 - 7:45 p.m.

Location: Arizona Council on Economic Education office

3260 North Hayden Road, Suite 207

Scottsdale, Arizona 85251

Oct. 9 meeting

Our good friend Kathy Ratte is in town in Oct. We had discussed meeting Oct 9 to include her so reserve that date and we will confirm date and book at our Sept. 12 meeting. We had discussed reading The Cost Disease by William Baumol

The October meeting date is Wednesday rather than Thursday. Bill has indicated that Thursdays are a bad night for him, we might consider shifting our future meetings to another night so he can participate.

We might also discuss the remainder of the semester - do we want to meet in November or December.

Look forward to seeing everyone on the 12th.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Righteous Mind . . . conclusion

Haidt closes the book with some suggestions to answer the opening question of the book: “Can we all get along?” Haidt is slightly naive in his hope that understanding someone else’s moral foundation will reduce conflict, but some of his other throw away ideas, such as having the families of legislators live in the same neighbourhoods to build civility, are interesting – although as Haidt suggests, we might be too far gone for that. If nothing else, his framework might help meet Haidt’s initial goal of understanding conservative morality and allow the Democrats write some better speeches with broad appeal.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What MLK Can Teach Obama About Needless Foreign Wars

What MLK Can Teach Obama About Needless Foreign WarsAbsolutely true and worth a read.
The irony was striking. There was President Barack Obama on Wednesday, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s remarkable “I Have a Dream” speech. The irony lay not in Obama’s banality, but in the fact that as he spoke, his war council was planning to bomb Syria.
While King’s speech on Aug. 28, 1963, was about equality before the law and the plight of the poor, less than four years later (and one year before his assassination), in April 1967, he made news by denouncing the U.S. war in Vietnam. It’s not difficult to imagine how King would view fellow Nobel Peace Prize–winner Obama’s intention with respect to Syria, not to mention the broader militarism of the administration. I know such things just aren’t done — alas — but it would have been heartening had a member of King’s family criticized Obama’s war program during the tributes to MLK that day.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Haidt on religion

In Part 3, Haidt notes the grouping instincts of humans. In times of crisis, such as after 9/11, people act less selfish and pull together as a group. This groupish behaviour can act as a barrier to understanding others and is parochial, but Haidt argues that there are ways to increase group cohesiveness in ways that are not necessarily harmful to outgroups. We should be looking for ways to trigger this cohesiveness.

To illustrate this, Haidt dedicates a chapter to religion, the ultimate in groupish behaviour. He argues that religion is an evolved cultural trait, not a maladaptive meme, as religion binds people into groups, suppresses freeriding and supports cooperation (he even goes as far as putting religion into the group selection basket, but I will also save that issue for my later post). It is not an argument that will win fans among the new atheists.

I really found this portion of the analysis striking. Many in the circles in which I work are hostile toward religion. Higher ed is characterized by a strong liberal, interventionist ideology and I have found it troubling that many of those in my profession, acquaintances and family members focus on the costs of organized religion and minimize or deny the benefits. In thinking about the importance of social capital and the role played by institutions it seems to be short sighted to minimize the positive role played by religion over time. This is not to minimize the costs, rather to argue that over time the benefits and costs of this institution are important to consider.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Haidt . . . liberals, conservatives and libertarians

What do you think?

Looking forward to our discussion of The Righteous Mind next week and a consideration of this and other provocative issues raised by Haidt.

Liberal morality tends to rest on the care/harm and to a lesser extent on the fairness/cheating (equality) and liberty/oppression dimensions.

Conservative morality tends to rely on all six, with an emphasis on proportionality for the fairness/cheating dimension.

The libertarian moral framework rests almost entirely on the liberty/oppression dimension (with a small dose of fairness/cheating thrown in).

Haidt suggests that this gives conservatives the edge in understanding the concerns of the full political spectrum. It is not that conservatives don’t care about harm. They simply weight it differently. When conservatives and liberals undertake an ideological Turing test, where they had to answer questions as though they were the other, conservatives and moderates do better than liberals.

Haidt does not delve into the consequences of the narrow libertarian moral foundations in detail, but it raises the question of libertarian’s ability to understand and communicate with other audiences.

Interesting, this may well be on to the challenge that libertarians encounter in dialogue. I am thinking of Rand Paul's recent comment in which he referenced the "liberal wing" of the Republican Party. My reaction was one of confusion, amazement and amusement. If you hear his comment I wonder what your reaction might have been.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Righteous Mind . . .should we judge what you do with a chicken?

Haidt starts Part 2 with a story about an experiment in which he exposes a subject to a novel moral dilemma and makes them justify their moral judgement. One story involves a man who buys a chicken from the supermarket (already dead) and has sex with it before he cooks and eats it.

As no-one is harmed, someone rationalizing the story under the scrutiny of an interviewer might ultimately decide that there was no moral transgression. When Haidt moved beyond his usual WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic) experimental subjects to people entering a suburban McDonald’s, he found that there was astonishment at the interviewer’s questions as to whether the action was wrong. Why do you even need to ask?

From this picture, Haidt argues that there is more to morality than fairness and harm, the staples of liberal morality (liberal in the sense it is used in the United States – and how I will use it for the rest of this post). There are six foundations to morality – care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. An extra wrinkle is that fairness contains equality and proportionality elements.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Capital Day

Happy Capital Day

Haidt's data collection . . . test for your moral justifications

Click the above link if you are interested in where you might fall on Haidt's morality index.

Welcome to, where you can learn about your own morality, ethics, and/or values, while also contributing to scientific research. We are a group of professors and graduate students in social psychology at the University of Virginia, The University of California (Irvine), and the University of Southern California. (See us here.)

Our goal is to understand the way our "moral minds" work. Why do people disagree so passionately about what is right? Why, in particular, is there such hostility and incomprehension between members of different political parties? By filling out a few of our surveys, you'll help us answer those questions We, in return, will give you an immediate report on how you scored on each study, quiz, or survey. We'll show you how your responses compare to others and we'll tell you what that might say about you.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

ASET Book Club - Sept. 12, 2013 5:45-7:45

Our first book of the 2013-14 school year will be The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Please join us for thoughtful discussion, great company, and light refreshments.

Date:Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Time: 5:45 - 7:45 p.m.

Location:Arizona Council on Economic Education office

3260 North Hayden Road, Suite 207

Scottsdale, Arizona 85251

More on EcoMath