Journaltalk - Most Active Discussions

Most Active Discussions

Browse discussions ranked by number of comments posted.

  1. Dissing "The Theory of Moral Sentiments": Twenty-Six Critics, from 1765 to 1949

    • On “Circa 1800,” another two thoughts:

      1. Deirdre McCloskey. 2008. Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists. History of Political Economy 40(1): 43-71, maintains that Smith was more or less the last to treat ethics in terms of virtues.

      2. In the decade or so after Smith’s death, natural jurisprudence was no longer taught in the Scottish universities. See pp. 314-316, implicating Dugald Stewart, of James Moore. 2006. Natural Rights in the Scottish Enlightenment. In Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought, eds M. Goldie and R. Wokler. CUP: 291-316.

    • 10 comments
    • First comment 11 Jun 2018 by Daniel Klein
    • Last comment 08 Aug 2019 by Daniel Klein
  2. Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

    • That this “survey” passes for anything other than the ridiculous crock it is is extremely troubling. 8 agree or disagree statements, with and admitted political bias (In what way does asking questions which only challenge liberal mentalities give any kind of a useful result measured against political ideology?). What’s more, all but two of the questions could be correctly answered by simply following the “all government action bad” philosophy.

      Especially troubling are the following two questions: “Third-world workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited,” and “Free trade leads to unemployment.” The first question is WAY too open to interpretation as to the meaning of the word “exploited,” while the second should certainly be qualified by a statement either limiting it to immediate effect (assuming that this does not contribute positively to specialization, allowing new industries to develop which might suck up the surplus), or at least noting noting that it does not refer to a poorer country which signs a free trade agreement with a richer one.

      The two remaining questions, which aren’t simple “government bad” types, aren’t terrible, but any test that you can score highly on with no knowledge other than “biggest market share does not necessarily equal monopoly, government is bad, and stuff is better than it was” can hardly be said to be an indicator of economic knowledge.

      I don’t know if the authors are trying to push a political ideology as grounded in fact (an easy conclusion to reach, given the giddy, masturbatory response the study has had on arch conservative online publications such as “American Spectator”), but this survey should be fully discounted by every respectable publication as the crock it is. This is the first thing I’ve come across on Econ Journal Watch, so maybe it’s a joke publication, but if not, for shame.

    • 6 comments
    • First comment 10 Jun 2010 by N. Joseph Potts
    • Last comment 16 Nov 2015 by wargames83
  3. Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists

    • McCloskey faults the project of the Enlightenment philosophers, Smith included, for neglecting two of the seven virtues of Thomas Aquinas: hope and faith (though she does claim these were smuggled in through the back door of their philosophies). I must admit to being puzzled about what use a secular moral philosopher should have for either virtue, both of which being explicitly based in religion.

      McCloskey describes hope and faith as two sides of the same coin, the forward-looking imagination and backward-looking imagination, respectively. Without hope, she tells us, there can be no ‘human project.’ Without faith, no ‘human identity.’ They do not, she asserts with no further explanation, ‘have to be theological.’ She implies that without hope as an independent virtue, suicide would be our only recourse, and without faith as an independent virtue, we would forget our identities. She claims that this makes the two virtues intelligible in secular terms, but as I can make no sense of any of it, I have to disagree.

      The ability to carry on projects that will bear fruit in the future does require a kind of simple “hope” that one’s plans will succeed. However, surely if this is all that hope consists of, skepticism must be a coequal virtue, otherwise the wasting of resources on impossible projects would be laudable and proper. And neither hope nor skepticism is an independent virtue, as hope could be described as prudence plus courage in imagination, and skepticism, prudence plus temperance in the same. Indeed, to an atheist, praying for eternal life perfectly fits the idea of “wasting resources on an impossible project.” I can understand hope as an independent virtue only in a specific theological context. The ancient pagan virtue ethicists also distrusted hope as a virtue, pointing out that hope adopted as a stable habit of mind would lead to continual bitter disappointment.

      With regard to faith, to twist it into a secular virtue when its commonplace meaning is the belief in a religion is to do violence to language and reason. McCloskey attempts to describe a physicist’s assumption of the orderliness of the universe as piety and faith (a faith slipped in stealthily whenever an Enlightenment philosopher refers to Nature), but it is nothing of the sort. She uses this poor argument against Rosalind Hursthouse’s reasonable contention that religious piety is “based on a complete illusion” from an atheist’s point of view and then rolls on to blame our uptight refusal to recognize the existence of hope and faith as independent virtues in Western philosophy for the rise of Bolshevism, Hitler, and “all our woe.” Despite violating Godwin’s law here, she declares her position defying two centuries of philosophy evidently correct, and “warmly recommends” her own flavor of non-secular hope and faith.

      McCloskey points out another way God allegedly sneaks in the back door in Smithian moral philosophy: through the idea of an impartial spectator. She claims: “The impartial spectator…is not merely [a behavioral observation] about how people develop ethically. [It is a recommendation.]” This assertion stands in baffling contradiction to much of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which painstakingly describes a positive process of an individual judging the propriety of actions he observes or proposes to undertake with recourse to sympathizing with an imagined impartial spectator. TMS is not a long harangue from “an urbane resident of Edinburgh…hopeful for a rather better society, loving sweetly the imagined result” exhorting its readers to follow a system of virtues. It is principally a description of a positive system of moral philosophy: how we in fact judge the propriety of actions, not how we ought to. Though Smith often lets his values and opinions leak through to color the text, to an extent unfashionable among modern philosophers but charming in this case, the meat of the book is about how humans act, not how Smith believes they should.

    • 6 comments
    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Steve Kunath
    • Last comment 14 Nov 2012 by Todd Peckarsky
  4. Mankiw vs. DeLong and Krugman on the CEA’s Real GDP Forecasts in Early 2009: What Might a Time Series Econometrician Have Said?

    • Oh, please, please, please give us a link to where Paul Krugman said the 2009 stimulus was going to lead to “strong growth”.

      (And if you are unable to, does that mean you are, as Krugman contends, making it up?

    • 5 comments
    • First comment 23 Sep 2012 by Brooks
    • Last comment 24 Sep 2012 by Alex Nash
  5. Religion, Heuristics, and Intergenerational Risk Management

    • This article suffers from several flaws. First, the authors fail to make a compelling case for religion as a mechanism to avoid “silent risks.” The only case noted is debt, and a strict prohibition on debt might well prevent debt-related catastrophic failures, but given the centrality of credit and debt to the world economic system, this seems like a disproportionate “cure.” Furthermore, the authors give us no mechanism, other than perhaps the most stubborn conservatism, how religion per se actually would prevent silent risk.

      The most glaring problem, though, is that the authors fail to offer a good definition of religion. They point out that religion shares features of every social institution, i.e. intergenerational propagation of norms, but fail to adequately distinguish religious from secular institutions beyond mentioning the label “God.” But what do they actually mean by “God”? Their preamble is unhelpful: what precisely do they mean by “true religion” and “genuine spirituality”? The authors are silent.

      Finally, the authors insistence on the irrelevance of the epistemic basis of religion, indeed even of its truth, seems deeply problematic. Should we not try to understand how and why systems of ideas (i.e. ideologies) work and don’t work? Should we not make our best effort, albeit imperfectly, to base our worldview on truth? Is the understanding that some ideologies rest on obviously untrue beliefs about the world not at least raising an important problem? The authors’ handwaving away of epistemic analysis seems also in contrast to Taleb’s other work, which offers a sharp and perspicacious critique of the epistemic problems in science, and especially economics and political economy.

      I have a more thorough analysis on my blog: Religion as risk management

    • 5 comments
    • First comment 30 May 2014 by Tom Garnett
    • Last comment 15 Aug 2015 by G. Ashton
  6. Advanced Placement Economics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    • Excellent article. I concur with Paul Johnson. Very sad that AP Economics includes so little real economics and so much of the bogus mechanistic/mathematical type.

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 25 Jan 2011 by Paul Johnson
    • Last comment 16 Mar 2011 by David B
  7. The Ideological Profile of Harvard University Press: Categorizing 494 Books Published 2000-2010

    • My two lines about Professor Luft’s book are perfectly accurate and not disputed by him. He does call for compulsory insurance to cover most medical costs. He thinks that this does not justify classifying his book as “left”, because he limits the compulsory coverage to certain conditions and wishes to rely on market mechanisms for other things. I stand by my classification, but this is a difference of opinion, not a failure on my part to get my facts straight.

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 24 Jan 2011 by Hal Luft
    • Last comment 16 Feb 2011 by Milo Schield
  8. The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns

    • Constant’s speech discusses the tradeoffs that are imposed by the modern idea of individual liberty. In most representative governments today, individuals are left to make choices about how involved in the political process they chose to be. If Jack thinks that dedicating his afternoons to discussing policy is more costly than going to his job, he essentially outsources his political power—he votes (or chooses not to vote) and expects that his representative will act with similar interests to his own. The price that is paid for not censoring the public and not requiring full political participation (as was the practice of the liberty of the ancients) means that some people will, by choice, decide that their own private pursuits are more profitable. The profit Jack receives could simply be more time to spend engaging in discourse that is not political, it is not necessarily a monetary profit.

      The problem with trading political power for more individual liberty is that as more power is giving to legislators, they can exert more control over Jack’s individual pursuits, through regulation, taxation and other governmental controls. As an individual, he will find it more difficult to engage society in reforming these actions. A presumption of liberty needs to be maintained in the political sphere and also needs to be protected by legal rights of the individual. Otherwise, direct government involvement in the market process will begin to offset the betterment that Jack was pursuing in the first place by choosing a smaller amount of political power over his individual liberty.

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 15 Apr 2011 by Ariel Nerbovig
    • Last comment 06 May 2011 by Stephanie Myla Helmick
  9. Entrepreneurship and Islam: An Overview

    • Are you aware of English language resources which make apparent the main schools of thought and areas of unresolved discussion in current religious and/or secular debates in Islamic entrepreneurship and/or finance?

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 31 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen
    • Last comment 03 Jun 2014 by Nathan W
  10. Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology

    • John Quiggin: Thanks for your comment on Pew. You have a good point about the importance of baseline numbers. Unfortunately the Pew survey is unclear as to who its survey respondents are. They indicate that they surveyed the membership of the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS publishes journals, and it includes a large share of academics. Also, its membership includes many outside the hard sciences, specifically in the notorious field of psychology. Hence, the Pew survey isn’t useful as a baseline. I just finished a study in which I actually found a higher rate of D affiliation among hard scientists in elite liberal arts colleges than in the Pew survey, so there is something wrong with it. In fact. some of the past AAAS presidents have been psychologists. A good survey of nonacademic scientists would be a good baseline. When you find one, please let me know. Thanks. ML

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 02 Oct 2016 by John Quiggin
    • Last comment 17 Oct 2017 by Mitchell_Langbert
  11. Preference Falsification in the Economics Profession

    • Preference falsification is equivalent to the term “pluralistic ignorance” used in social psychology. There have been a number of studies that have isolated this phenomenon (e.g., public versus private views of drinking habits on college campuses in Prentice and Miller 1993) and suggestions regarding how to alleviate it. For example, Halbesleben et al. (2005) conducted a study on business school students. Previously, it was observed that private views on ethical conduct in business diverged significantly from public views. In general, everyone wanted to be more ethical, but believed everyone else would behave unethically. The researchers administered ethics surveys several times during a semester to students in two classes. The surveys required students to indicate what they would do given a particular situation and what they thought others would do in that situation. In one of the classes, the lecturers spent one session teaching pluralistic ignorance, although not linking this lesson to the surveys or business ethics in general. The researchers found that, in business settings, the class receiving the pluralistic ignorance lesson reduced pluralistic ignorance on the ethics surveys and responded more ethically to surveys.

      This study provides reason for optimism for the economics profession. Merely educating students about the phenomenon of pluralistic ignorance (or preference falsification) reduces the phenomenon somewhat. The researchers did not even link the concept of pluralistic ignorance with the ethics surveys. Surely, educating economists on pluralistic ignorance and presenting results of studies similar to Davis’s should greatly reduce pluralistic ignorance in the economics profession. Moreover, one would suspect that the Internet, a medium that strongly promotes the exchange of ideas and internal viewpoints, would also alleviate the “ignorance” of the majority viewpoint. Davis describes that pluralistic ignorance can perpetuate social undesirable practices, but then “can suddenly, and dramatically change” those practices. Perhaps, the economics profession will soon undergo such a change.

      References
      Halbesleben, R. B., A. R. Wheeler, and M. R. Buckley (2005). “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? Pluralistic Ignorance and Business Ethics Education.” Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 56, No. 4, pgs. 385-398.
      Prentice, D. A. and D. T. Miller (1993). “Pluralistic Ignorance and Alcohol Use on Campus: Some Consequences of Misperceiving the Social Norm.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 64, No. 2, pgs. 243–256.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 21 Apr 2010 by Jon Goldstein
    • Last comment 22 Apr 2010 by Shawn Reed
  12. A Life among the Econ, Particularly at UCLA

    • On Bill Allen: One day, when I was an economics graduate student at UCLA, I was waiting for the Bunche Hall elevator. Prof. Allen was waiting as well. I didn’t know him, he had been on leave when I was an undergraduate. Waiting for the elevator, he was friendly and talkative. Afterwards, I asked someone who he was. When they told me he was an economics professor, I was surprised because he had been so friendly and nice!
      I enjoyed listening to the interview, thanks to all involved in putting it together.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 08 Sep 2010 by morrie goldman
    • Last comment 17 May 2011 by josil
  13. Individualism: True and False

    • Using the contrast between two philosophies that both have been referred to as individualism, Hayek outlines many of the usual justifications for a government and an economic system built around precepts of individual liberty. He tracks the intellectual history of the word “individualism”, claiming that what he calls false individualism leads inevitably to socialism and collectivism. He praises true individualism as worthy because it produces the most desirable results; false individualism has been wrongly associated with it and thus usurped its meaning.
      Hayek argues that the basic principle dividing the two philosophies is their differing conceptions of human nature. False individualism is more or less an overconfident humanism, while true individualism freely admits to human foibles and limitations. Thus, people who subscribe to false individualism have inflated expectations that men can rationally design the perfect society. Hayek argues for property rights, limited government, free exchange of goods and services, and the price mechanism built on the idea that men are fallible. The order in society develops unintentionally from the choices that free people make. Hayek’s defense of a classical liberal society on these grounds is utilitarian and compelling.
      It is somewhat surprising the particular battle lines Hayek drew. He equates true individualism with the Anglo-American culture and its associated thinkers, like Adam Smith and Hume, while pointing to French thinkers following in the tradition of Descartes as the primary source of false individualism. Hayek claims that German culture has yet another sense of the word individualism, which is the rejection of historical tradition as a source of authority over one’s behavior. It is an interesting division but a little difficult to believe that nationality follows the divisions between the intellectual traditions so simply.
      The most surprising point in the essay is Hayek’s effort to demonstrate that liberty and cultural traditions are consistently compatible. Cultural norms develop from a spontaneous order that reflects the process of the market. Hayek argues that respect for naturally evolving norms, rather than designed ones, encourages respect for the power of spontaneous order to produce the most desirable outcomes. His assertions seem to match the historical outcomes of the French Revolution, which ended with a military dictatorship, and the American Revolution, which resulted in a system of government with a strong presumption of liberty. The former tried to radically remake the society but the latter was simply an assertion of principles deeply ingrained culturally.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Tony Quain
    • Last comment 10 May 2013 by Matt
  14. "The Two Faces of Adam Smith"

    • The Adam Smith Problem has beset philosophers and economists since the time of the man who is its source. What is the best way to integrate the insights of the Wealth of Nations with the ethical theory of the Theory of Moral Sentiments? While consensus has not yet been reached authors still try to resolve the tension. Vernon Smith, the father of experimental economics, attempted to resolve the problem by making an appeal to Adam Smith’s description of the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange.

      The propensity that Vernon Smith points to is certainly a component of Adam’s system, but in attempting to resolve the Adam Smith Problem by simply highlighting this propensity seems to ask forces other questions into focus. Assuming that Adam Smith had a singular vision of human nature in some sense, where does the individual’s propensity to exchange emerge? According to David Hume reason is a slave to the passions, which Adam Smith would have been familiar with as it affected the development of his own moral theory. Here a problem arises, if the propensity to exchange is simply the result of an innate principle of action, as Vernon Smith implies, then one needs to determine if this action falls under ethical scrutiny or not. If Adam Smith does not consider natural and uncontrolled actions of the individual, e.g. sneezing, twitching, worthy of ethical consideration as they fall outside of the realm of the individual’s control and thereby are incapable of being done in sympathy with the Impartial Spectator, then how does one square a natural principle with ethical analysis? Perhaps if Vernon Smith had described the propensity to exchange as some type of irreducible good then we could see that it could then serve as a reason for action that would first be described by and ethical system, i.e. it would be fitting to discuss in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and then followed by sound advice on instantiating the good in ones affairs, i.e. the Wealth of Nations would give advice on making it a reality. The point of all this is to say that while Vernon Smith seems to be making a contribution to solving the Adam Smith Question, we are left with further questions that need to be answered.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 25 Apr 2011 by Echo Keif
    • Last comment 06 May 2011 by Steve Kunath
  15. Economic Enlightenment Revisited: New Results Again Find Little Relationship Between Education and Economic Enlightenment but Vitiate Prior Evidence of the Left Being Worse

    • I think many of the questions were worded in a way to elicit the wrong response. In a public policy discussion context I think there is an implicit “to a meaningful degree that in any way justifies the cost” modifier to be understood. If you add such a modifier appropriate to each question the answers become understandable. Conversely if you added “to any degree at all” or some such to each question I would guess you would get a different answer. People understand communication in context to make it make sense which results in their adding an impllicit modifier such as I mention.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 17 May 2011 by rihir akidan
    • Last comment 28 Apr 2012 by Moshe
  16. The Invisible Hand of Jupiter

    • The main point of Macfie’s article, The Invisible Hand of Jupiter (1971), is to analyze, and attempt to reconcile, Smith’s various uses of the famous, yet mysterious, “invisible hand” metaphor throughout his work.

      The original use of the invisible hand is in Smith’s History of Astronomy, an early essay written by Smith, which was published posthumously. In History of Astronomy, the invisible hand belongs to the Roman god Jupiter, and is used by polytheistic “savages” to explain seemingly irregular natural phenomena that interrupt the status quo (e.g., lightning, thunder). In The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) and Wealth of Nations (WN), the invisible hand, assumed by Macfie, among others, to belong to the Christian Deity, is a mechanism of coordination that guides people’s self-love in order to achieve universal benevolence.

      While the uses of the invisible hand seem contradictory, Macfie contends they are not. He suggests that the use of the invisible hand in History of Astronomy was merely where Smith first coined the phrase, and has no significant bearing on its later use in TMS and WN. Macfie interprets the invisible hand metaphor in TMS and WN to be Smith’s attempt to express “his own view as to the relation between divine guidance, the system of nature, and human behavior”, accordingly becoming the energizer of his entire system of thought (pp.598-99).

      While Macfie’s interpretation may be plausible, there is another way to interpret Smith’s use of his famous metaphor. I believe that Smith used the invisible hand metaphor when talking about things beyond human understanding. In History of Astronomy, the savage ascribes lighting, a natural occurrence that he cannot understand, to the mood swings, and invisible hand of Jupiter. In TMS/WN, Smith employs the same invisible hand metaphor when he talks about markets; in doing so, he suggests that people cannot understand why order emerges spontaneously when people pursue their own ends in free markets, but can merely observe that it does. Perhaps this emergent order in markets can be attributed to a benevolent Deity, but, if the use of the metaphor is consistent with its use in History of Astronomy, Smith argues that the cause of this order is outside the realm of human understanding. With this interpretation of the invisible hand, Smith’s seemingly contradictory uses of the metaphor can indeed be reconciled.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 15 Oct 2011 by Pavel Kuchař
    • Last comment 15 Nov 2012 by Francis Conlon
  17. Can ‘Religion’ Enrich ‘Economics’?

    • Religion may not provide us with analytical tools designed for “sciences”, but it may tell us a lot about the ends to which economic analysis are applied.

      For example, some religious perspectives are easily applied to say that the goal is to maximize bounty, whereas others could say it is to care for the earth, or to provide for the poor and vulnerable. In these senses, I think it is worth asking what direction economic analysis may take from the wise words passed down through religious communities over the ages.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen
    • Last comment 10 Jun 2014 by Nathan W
  18. Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data

    • John, I do not believe you understand my point. Computed as discrete changes, which is what you do, the percentage difference of the premia (college versus high school) is not equal to to the difference of the percentage premia (college versus base minus high school versus base). You are implicitly using a false assumption; it is the same false assumption made by the Mexican government in the example I cited: that the difference of the percentage changes (+50 – 33.3) is the percentage change of the difference. It causes you to greatly overestimate the education premium.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Ronald Michener
    • Last comment 30 Oct 2015 by Ronald Michener
  19. Ideology Über Alles? Economics Bloggers on Uber, Lyft, and Other Transportation Network Companies

    • I am and always have been surprised by the “cartel” view of taxis. No one calls the Maine lobster industry a cartel. Yet surely and appropriately it is. The lobster fishery is a common access resource. So, too, are the streets of a city. Part of the income enjoyed by lobster fishermen is a scarcity rent. So, too, is the price of a taxi and a taxi-cab medallion. Cities for many, obvious political-economy reasons are awful at managing common access to the streets. Nonetheless, the social value of Uber is not to lower the price of a taxi, which should be even higher in some cases, but to offer the consumer a more technologically efficient way of delivering the scare good

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Michael Maloney
    • Last comment 24 Oct 2015 by Carl Edman
  20. To Tolerant England and a Pension from the King: Did Hume Subconsciously Aim to Subvert Rousseau's Legacy?

    • Outstanding, thank you so much Professor Tasset. We are reproducing both pieces in a volume from CL Press, and we are making the correction. The erroneous “I mean myself” is in the 1826 Hume edition, the text of which was used by Project Gutenberg, which is where we lifted the English translations of Rousseau from. Thank you again!

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 28 Dec 2021 by Jose Tasset
    • Last comment 31 Aug 2022 by Daniel Klein

Member login

feed Jt Article Discussions

Most recent article-specific discussions at Journaltalk.

07 Oct

Hemma bast

30 Sep

Several Scattered Hints Concerning Philosophy and Learning Collected Here from My Papers
Adam Smith's View of Man
What Are Your Most Underappreciated Works?: First Tranche of Responses
Classical Liberalism in Finland in the Twentieth Century
A Coming Bounty of Academic Mutinies?
Journaltalk: Opening the journals to civil voices everywhere!

All contents © 2022 by Daniel Klein unless otherwise attributed. All rights reserved.