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  1. Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

    • Gee, I wonder why this survey didn’t ask question about things like monopsony, the money multiplier effect of government spending, the free ride problem with public goods, natural monopolies, positive and negative externalities, etc. It is almost like the questions were cherry picked to get conservatives to do better than liberals! Was this funded by some right wing think tank?

    • 6 comments
    • First comment 10 Jun 2010 by N. Joseph Potts
    • Last comment 16 Nov 2015 by wargames83
  2. 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
  3. Dissing "The Theory of Moral Sentiments": Twenty-Six Critics, from 1765 to 1949

    • I discovered something that is a maybe:
      Hugh Murray, Enquiries Historical and Moral, Respecting the Character of Nations, and the Progress of Society (Edinburgh, 1808).

      Of “the science which analyses the faculties of the human mind,” he writes:

      “The progress of this science accordingly, has been still slower than that of physics. It is only recently indeed that it has reached its <i>acme</i> of corruption, and has with difficulty found any sure ground on which to rest its foot.”

      For a couple of reasons, I think he might have Ed. 6 of TMS in mind as the acme of corruption.

      In the next paragraph he looks forward to the sciene’s “establishment on a firm and permanent foundation.”

      In the book he mentions (just once each, I believe) Kames, Hume, Ferguson, and Millar, but never Smith.

      He makes some remarks against conjectural history (167), the drift being that we should seek facts, not make things up.

      Several pages of his description of savages reminds one strongly of Smith, “death song”, etc. pp. 276ff.

    • 6 comments
    • First comment 11 Jun 2018 by Daniel Klein
    • Last comment 22 Aug 2018 by Daniel Klein
  4. Mankiw vs. DeLong and Krugman on the CEA’s Real GDP Forecasts in Early 2009: What Might a Time Series Econometrician Have Said?

    • And which econometrician will regard this blatant misrepresentation of the facts as proof that the economics profession has been hijacked by corporate speaking engagement fees and simplistic right wingers who have a criticism for everything, but reverence for only the practice of doing less (so the ‘free market’ can work its magic, don’t you see?) I really hope the state of economics improves to the point where people like Cushman and Mankiw will be held to account for their lies, but remembering Nial Ferguson’s hack journalism in Newsweek reminds me that their are lots more inane fact manipulating liars to go through first. Oh yeah, and Phil Gramm has something to say about the economy in the WSJ. I assume its not that we are still in a “mental recession” as this “nation of whiners” was in 2008? Jeez, the fact these people even get writing gigs anymore makes me want to steal things from 7 eleven.

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

    • I found this to be a stimulating and useful article. However I find two major shortcomings. Firstly it could provide more substance to illustrate various religious taboos. Secondly it could examine beyond hard religion and look at social taboos/ tabus as projected by groups less formally spiritually aligned.
      I am partial to the perspective shared by Harari in his recent book “Sapiens” (and before that by others) that like most human concepts and beliefs, religions are simply self-serving myths that either evolved or were constructed for various reasons – control and power, security, resilience, etc. Most of the mainstream, monotheistic religions – which the authors focus most closely on – arose out of various distillations of incorporated belief systems. For instance the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity incorporated various beliefs and myths from other sources, as reflected by various branches of those religions. For instance Catholics consume fish on Fridays but Protestants are less likely to. Alligator is considered a fish by New Orleans Catholics, reflecting one of many local belief systems. These various belief systems are largely reflected by the various sects of the Abrahamic (and other) religions.

      What is interesting for me, as a scholar of food, agriculture and diet, are the prohibitions, which can also be expressed as taboos in other non-Abrahamic cultural / spiritual beliefs, on consumption of various varieties of food, or the mixing of various foods.

      This is particularly strong in the Jewish Kosher tradition, around shellfish, mixing of milk products with meats, consumption of pork and so on.

      This prohibition is echoed in the Islamic fatwa against the consumption of pork as haraam (forbidden). If we consider why these particular foodstuffs have been forbidden, we can propose that there are good reasons for doing so. Pigs have long been considered dirty, although this is largely a condition of their domestication and scavenging nature. Imagine also, in the Middle East, pork would have been more likely to spoil, given the associated pathogens from its living in close association with humans, exacerbated by the hot climate.

      Further, as scavengers pigs are prone to infection by various helminths (worms) such as tapeworm and roundworm, which are readily passed onto those who consume their meat, weakening and often killing people if not treated.

      It is also interesting to consider the fact that pork, is said to be closest to human flesh (in Polynesia humans were called “long pig”) when cooked and consumed, so a further, obvious reason for taboo can be postulated.

      Considering shellfish, why would these be forbidden? Look no further than dinoflagellate toxins (caused by so called red tides, a fairly common global event) that can cause paralysis and death – and are impossible to detect without modern laboratory equipment. Shellfish are also readily prone to spoilage if not kept properly without refrigeration. Crustacea such as crayfish, lobster and prawns are bottom feeders, literally and scientifically, consuming detritus at the bottom of the food chain. Crayfish and lobster, for instance are noted to congregate around sewer outfalls and are also prone to rapid spoilage.

      Cholera outbreaks are associated with the consumption of raw shellfish, particularly in Peru, Chile and Ecuador (ceviche, etc.) where this is a common practice. So again, using religion to reinforce this absolute interdict, followers are protected and are more likely to survive than those who do not follow that religious belief. This provides an evolutionary as well as an economic advantage. Because the population will be less prone to infections, plagues or parasites, it is less likely to be unwell and able to be economically productive and to be able to contribute to the community, the church, the faith, etc. Therefore an evolutionary advantage emerges from such an interdict, providing increased resilience or a tendency to reinforce antifragility in individuals, in communities and in religions, benefiting all who subscribe to these interdicts. So while the religion may be based on a myth, the related interdicts and taboos reinforce the power of those who have logically and experientially curated and evolved the heuristics to improve on the lot of those who follow these shared belief systems. Those on the margins or those cast out or rejecting such systems would become prone to genetic and economic erosion and extinction.

      I thought I would share these considerations with the authors as I believe they provide some useful practical examples of application of the sort of heuristics, expressed as a religious taboo or interdict, able to confer practical and real social advantages. Given the nature of this forum I don’t really want to go much further beside say that these examples can be extended to other foods, seeds, poison fruits, mixing of dairy and other foods, ways of food storage and treatment, etc. that have bearing on the how risk and religion are managed and analysed.

    • 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

    • I totally concur with this article. I had three kids of mine go through AP economics, both micro and macro. I was appalled – the material was 30 years behind the times, both micro and macro. AP economics is confirming the worst stereotypes of what economics is about. And it was boring, boring, boring, even to me.

    • 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 flows effortlessly, enumerating the distinctions between ancient and modern conceptions of liberty. Ancient liberty “consisted in exercising collectively, but not directly, several parts of the sovereignty” and “with this collective freedom [came] the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community” (66). Under ancient liberty, “[a]ll private actions were submitted to a severe surveillance” and “[n]o importance was given to individual independence” (66). Modern liberty exists in a system of representative government, rather than direct participation. Modern liberty is “the right to be subjected only to the laws” (66). Constant summaries the key distinction nicely: “[A]mong the ancients the individual, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in all his private relations” (67). “Among the moderns, on the contrary, the individual, independent in his private life, is, even in the freest of states, sovereign only in appearance” (67). A paradox seems to emerge with respect to ancient and modern liberty. While we want modern liberty, it is still necessary to keep ancient liberty in the background. “The danger of modern liberty is that, absorbed in the enjoyment of our private independence, and in the pursuit of our particular interests, we should surrender our right to share in political power too easily” (70). Constant warns against putting too much faith in authority figures. He pleads that “we must not leave it to them. No matter how touching such a tender commitment may be, let us ask the authorities to keep within their limits. Let them confine themselves to being just. We shall assume the responsibility of being happy for ourselves” (70). It seems that the dangers of modern liberty are very real and present today. Individuals often look for the government to be more than just. The government is regulating personal happiness through various policies that go against liberty. It’s a slippery slope and Constant would call for us to take responsibility.

    • 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

    • Say, you need 100% of underlying good for Islamic finance. What about 90%? 80%? How low do reserves go before it breaks Shari’ah law? Does the first dollar lent out of monetary deposits rather than lent on the back of real world collateral render the financial institution as counter to Shari’ah?

    • 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

    • While I agree with the overall point that Davis presents in the paper—that of preference falsification existing within the economics profession, I’m really wondering if the division into scholastic and public-discourse sections is nothing more than a division of labor, and as such should not be “changed” by the lay person. Granted, I’m not spending much time reading articles out of the top journals, because I honestly couldn’t understand the math anyway, but it seems likely that those articles get published, hopefully separating at least somewhat the wheat from the chaff, then some professor or researcher with good scholastic and nominal communication skills writes to other professors who have less scholastic and better communication skills, and then the Russ Roberts’ of the world apply the relevant research to public topics. If that flow of information could be possible, then the part that is self-referential, -validating, and -perpetuating is only the original publishing tier, while the professor/communicator levels are more and more responsive to the lay person’s choice (if it really is the lay person that should be choosing what is discussed, but that’s another question). It is probably always going to be true that the best researchers will not be the best communicators, though Davis’ paper seems to imply that the two orientations of the economics profession should be inhabited by the same person. While that sort of super-human-ness certainly is nice, it seems rare that one would be able to skillfully perform both roles, and so a revolution toward such a system would be attended by very few people.

      Now, one could say that a piece of work may become “less relevant” (and I think that is one of the main points here, that the profession/top journals are becoming less relevant) because it becomes less understandable to others, or because it becomes full of information that is not true. My ‘division of labor’ notion is based on the understanding that when Davis says on p. 363 “economic science has not improved its explanatory capacity of the last several years” and reports comments from survey-takers on p. 364 that the profession “fails to explain observable events,” “gain[s] an elegance of sorts but at the expense of relevance,” he is saying something about how more and more, in the top journals, there is high-theory/math-heavy work that is not understandable to the intelligent layperson (or the masters student). “People want to understand the economy, but we are not helping them.” That is; the top journals are not helping them. I think that that is a fine situation. If there is anything to be gained by model-production and heavy statistical analysis, then better mathematicians and scientists can produce those results, and other people can do a better job than they can in transmitting the results.

      If Davis and his respondents are stressing that not only has the top-tier journal become more incomprehensible, but more full of false or inconsequential information, and the preference falsification is supporting this propagation of nonsense, then obviously a view of the profession as division of labor would fall short, as the input stage is being fed by garbage. Davis doesn’t quite make clear whether the “less relevance” of the scholastic tradition is producing true and potentially useful data that is incomprehensible, or false and irrelevant data.

    • 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

    • Much of this introductory chapter to Hayek’s 1948 work deserves ample praise: that rationalist epistemology leads to an ever-encroaching desire to design state-imposed solutions; that individualism recognizes that man in a free state will achieve more than is possible laboring under centralized intelligent design; that true individualism is only selfish in the sense that the individual self directs his own affairs, whatever his egoist or altruist intentions; and that equality is a two-sided coin such that pursuing equality of treatment necessitates inequality of results, and vice versa.

      Unlike some other individualist theorists, his attack on state authority and especially its roots in rationalism is made largely on practical terms. He doesn’t say that statism encroaches on man’s “rights” or on moral principles. Rather, he makes the simple observation that individuals should direct their own affairs because they each are aware of the particulars and the intended objective of those affairs. Society at large and bureaucrats as its representatives simply can not know the ends that men seek in their several endeavors and can not devise all the practical means to achieve them.

      Certainly arguing for a liberal social order from a rights-centered perspective (like that of Locke, Rand, or Nozick) has its own pitfalls. But what if the problem is not with Hayek’s airtight reasoning of matching the actor with his wants, but with his presumption that the correct object of analysis is the individual and not society? If the reader believes that social goals are more aspiring than individual goals, Hayek’s arguments could be used against him: just as it is more practical for individuals to know and direct the pursuits of the individual, it is likewise more practical for society to know and direct the pursuits of society. It is not clear that Hayek has established methodological individualism before arguing for political individualism.

      This should not be a difficult proposition. As societies have become less autocratic and more responsive to democratic impulse, they have also become more tailored towards individualistic ends. Post-war rationalist planners (conservative and liberal) emphasize large welfare states to achieve largely individual goals instead of leviathan state actors to achieve collectivist goals. In other words, history is on the side of the methodological individualist. Yet Hayek did not know this in 1948, and should stress that point more.

      What logically follows from this is that rationalist planners would reduce the ends (and the means) of human pursuits to a least common denominator. As Hayek puts it, “The concentration of all decisions in the hands of authority itself produces a state of affairs in which what structure society still possesses is imposed upon it by government and in which individuals have become interchangeable units with no other definite or durable relations to one another than those determined by the all-comprehensive organization.” (p.27) What is lost is individuality and the localized functions of civil society. Even for those who have communitarian or anti-individualist preconceptions, this is a tragic development.

    • 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

    • How did you intend the word “purported” to be interpreted, with respect to your article?

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

    • I hope to add to, and hopefully not just echo, what Erik has already pointed out.

      It would seem that Smith’s use of the “invisible hand” allegory in both The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations is used to illustrate the edict of nature and society that direct economic activity. Whereas, in the History of Astronomy the “invisible hand” is used to explain the unexplainable— the events that are beyond the natural laws of the secular world. On the surface, the “invisible hand” reference takes on a slightly different connotation in the three Smith pieces mention above. In The Wealth of Nations it can be interpreted as the natural laws that manage markets and society; in The Theory of Moral Sentiments it can be seen as a divine set of universal rules directing a just and virtuous society; and, in the History of Astronomy it can take on the role of a divine authority overriding these rules and laws. I believe, as I deem Erik does, that the latter use of the “invisible hand” also shows up in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Consider the following few lines from The Theory of Moral Sentiments: “The rich…only consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life…had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants…”. Although “selfishness and rapacity” would seem to be characteristics that would not direct society in the way of justice or virtues, the industrious individual’s “natural” penchant to serve his own interest ultimately benefits society—the mean may not appear agreeable, but the end is. Is this “natural” penchant toward “selfishness and rapacity” not assumed to be put in place by a precocious, divine authority? It certainly can be interpreted that way. If we except that the “invisible hand” is the work of a higher authority, who has directed the butcher and the brewer to act in their own self interest, and who has provided society with nature ethics and virtues to govern themselves, and who makes it “lightening” and “thunder”, then the metaphor is consistent in all three of Smith’s works referenced above. Since this heavenly intention or intervention is not observable, Smith does not bother with a speculative explanation, simply calling it the “invisible hand”.

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

    • Hi, T. My wife’s family moved away from Winnipeg, so I haven’t been back for quite a few years now. I enjoyed your article, which makes an interesting pairing with mine for comparison of where we agree and disagree. You make me feel I should read some of Whately’s work.

      I like the idea that the Invisible Hand is evidence of God’s Providence, similar to the wonders of the human body. It is a natural process, to be sure—- but isn’t it wonderful that we live in a world where the Invisible Hand works? It’s a bit like the physicists’ Fine-Tuned Universe. Your article made me realize that William Paley, of Watchmaker fame, wrote a book about “social science” as well as one about natural science. His Evidences of Christianity (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14780) is about arguments from history and sociology, e.g. why were the early Christians so willing to suffer persecution if the Gospels were falsehoods, and why did Christianity spread so much in the world? Economics can try to address those, just as evolution tries to address the Watchmaker, and, indeed, I’d count Rodney Stark as an honorary economist.
    • 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

    • In his 2002 book, Calculated Risks, Gerd Gigerenzer addresses the muddy headed thinking that results from innumeracy and illustrates with telling anecdotes. This (p. 210) is one of my favorites:

      In the late 1970s, the Mexican government faced the problem of how to increase the capacity of the Viaducto, a four-lane motorway. Rather than building a new highway or extending the existing one, the government implemented a clever, inexpensive solution: It had the lines on the four-lane highway repainted to make it six-lanes wide. Increasing the number of lanes from four to six meant a 50 percent increase in capacity. Unfortunately, the much narrower lanes also resulted in an increase in traffic fatalities, which, after a year, forced the government to turn the highway back into a four-lane road. Reducing the number of lanes from six to four mean a 33 percent decrease in capacity. In an effort at touting its progress in improving the country’s infrastructure, the government subtracted the decrease from the increase and reported that its actions had increased the capacity of the road by 17 percent.

      As amusing as it is to chuckle over the transparent flimflammery of the Mexican government, it is considerably more distressing to see one’s fellow economists taken in by the same fallacy. This is precisely what is happening in John Humphreys’ recent publication in Econ Journal Watch, “Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data.” Suppose for the sake of illustration that male college graduates earn $4000 a year in Cambodia, high school graduates earn $2000 a year, and someone entirely uneducated earns $1000 a year. These numbers, it should be clear, are picked for ease of exposition, not for accuracy. Using the usual formula for percentage changes, one would say that university graduates earn 100% more than high school graduates ((400-200)/200 = 1). It would be fallacious to say that college graduates earn 300% ((400-100)/100 =3) more than the uneducated, and high school graduates earn 100% more than the uneducated ((200-100)/100) = 1), so that college graduates earn 200% (300% – 100%) more than high school graduates, yet this is precisely what Mr. Humphrey’s technique does. He computes a percentage premium of college graduates over the base category, and then subtracts a percentage premium of high school graduates over the same base category.
      References:

      Gigerenzer, Gerd. (2002). Calculated Risks. New York: Simon & Schuster.

      Humphreys, John (2015). “Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data,” Econ Journal Watch, 12 (3), pp. 339-45.

    • 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

    • Hmmm. I entirely agree with the premise of this article: Uber is obviously an economic improvement and all efforts of the incumbent cartel to stymie it should be resisted. Admirably, all of the economists polled, regardless of political orientation, agreed. And indeed it would be nice if some of the more progressive of them spoke up about this. And any article taking Krugman’s ideological blinders to task is worth reading.

      But all that said, it seems that faulting left-leaning economists for remaining silent about Uber on their blogs just goes too far. Maybe they are afraid of ideological reprisal and so keep quiet. That would be shameful.

      But maybe they just feel that they have nothing particularly important to add to the economist consensus on Uber? That seems quite possible. For among the silent, are such as David Friedman, Greg Mankiw, Robin Hanson, and Steven Landsburg.

      Would anybody suspect any of these of being afraid of left-wing political reprisals for as anodyne a policy as supporting Uber? Any of their readers can see them voluntarily waving much bigger red flags at Progressive bulls on a frequent basis.

      In fact, their silence is some evidence that they just agree with the pro-Uber consensus. For any of these worthies had convinced himself that for some curious, clever reason Uber was the rare example where they oppose liberalized markets, they would have been sure to blog about it.

      So, if we can attribute the silence of “conservative” econ bloggers to blameless reasons, why not give those on the other side the same courtesy?

      That said, influential progressive Econ bloggers should be particularly encouraged to voice their support for Uber, even they have nothing novel or clever to add. A few such posts would do a great deal more for the common cause, than a hundred eloquent posts by econ bloggers on the other side of the spectrum preaching to the choir.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Michael Maloney
    • Last comment 24 Oct 2015 by Carl Edman
  20. The Social Science Citation Index: A Black Box—with an Ideological Bias?

    • Hoover Institution publication Policy Review just printed its last issue this month (2/2013). That’s one less conservative SSCI journal cited in the Klein and Chiang article. Will any of the remaining conservative academic journals (such as ANAMNESIS, Academic Questions, First Things or Modern Age) ever obtain SSCI?

    • 2 comments
    • First comment 01 Nov 2011 by Alex Littlefield
    • Last comment 11 Feb 2013 by Alex Littlefield

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