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

    • I neglected to give page cite for the Viner quotation (“I will endeavor…”); it is p. 201.

    • 9 comments
    • First comment 11 Jun 2018 by Daniel Klein
    • Last comment 23 Jan 2019 by Daniel Klein
  2. Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

  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

    • On the Modigliani-Miller Theorem:
      “Economists calling this result a “theorem” when it is fragile to change of assumptions caused it to be taken more seriously than was warranted.” Actually, a statement is a theorem ONLY if it is fragile. The idea of a theorem is that you specify the exact conditions under which the conclusion is true. The most satisfactory theorems, for theory, say, “If and only if X is true, then Y is true also.” The MM theorem says that capital structure doesn’t matter under certain conditions, including that there is no corporate income tax and no moral hazard. The problem is with people who don’t know what “theorem” means and who think of mathematics and science as magic rather than ways of thinking, or who know better but are trying to fool less sophisticated people (which was more important in the case of the Li copula formula is still unclear to me).

    • 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

    • Oh yes, I should add that I teach principles of economics. And it has changed a lot… Just one example – the theory of growth is very different and more prominent in principles courses compared to 30 years ago. And I expect that most principles instructors have changed their treatment of this topic.

    • 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

    • In an 1819 lecture, Constant calls on his listeners to realize that there is a fundamental difference between what people of antiquity considered liberty and what the concept means for the modern person. For the former, liberty consists of taking full advantage of collective political rights; liberty to the latter is the conducting of his private affairs without interference. He argues that the liberty of the moderns must be carefully guarded and not forgotten for the sake of political rights. In the course of his argument, Constant also defends the French Revolution as beginning with the right perspective on liberty but later confusing the liberty of ancients with that of moderns, which contributed to the disastrous results. Surprisingly, he praises Rousseau as a lover of liberty who was led into error by the confusion over ancient liberty as opposed to modern liberty.
      Constant offers a point-by-point comparison of the two concepts of liberty that is very illuminating. His main concern is that people would unwisely sacrifice modern liberty as the ancients often did, when in a modern nation, political rights are much less significant and valuable than in a small city-state. His contention that political rights used to be the more valuable of the two in ancient times because people were limited in their economic activity is one of his most striking points. It most clearly highlights the rationale behind people trying to acquire political power at the cost of personal and economic freedoms but also leads to a slightly conflicting message. Constant asserts that private activity is more important and valuable than public activity in modern society yet urges people not to ignore the political process. He anticipates the concept of the rationally ignorant voter by noting that many people will prefer to attend to matters that benefit them most and argues for citizens to be informed and watchful instead.
      It is worth noting that Constant often seems to be sanctioning the liberty of the ancients, where the society had the moral authority to control people’s private behavior, as morally acceptable for that time and the particular conditions. It weakens his argument, since his own concept of modern liberty could become dated in the same way unless it were justified by something other than the current political and economic systems being too large and complex for it to be otherwise.

    • 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

    • Great study, The next step should be finding “WHY”?
      First of all, we know scientists and faculties are likely to be less religious and more atheists, what about atheists’ political leaning, how much of “atheists” explains the D:R distribution.
      Second, majority of the Faculties are “secondary value generation” which means they do not produce goods and services directly, rather, they are supposed to “enable others to create more value”. We also know people working in “secondary value generation” industries (I.e. journalism, acting, etc) are also more politically leaning to the left.
      Third, “narcissistic intelligence”, which means how much people consider their own political believes and their intelligence is superior than others, and what are the typical political learning for people with “higher than normal self-confidence in their own believes”.
      Fourth, “political openness” what is the likelihood of people with D or R political leaning hire peole who are not politically aligned with them.

    • 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

    • When I was a cadet in my senior year, we had to take a class with the senior officer in charge of the ROTC department. One of the concepts that I remember him trying to drive home was that we were preparing to enter a “profession”. At the time it struck me that he was grinding some sense of inadequacy, looking for a word that would make his own career more significant in the way some janitors want to be called “sanitary engineers”. However, two elements of his definition of a profession have remained with me (I’m sure there were more). In the colonel’s definition, a career field was a profession if it had a body of knowledge and an ethical code of conduct. Merely having an expert knowledge of a field made you a technician, not a professional. The ethical code of conduct instructed you on how you were to use your expert knowledge, and provided purpose for professional practice.

      In the quote above, Davis is referring to what the important work of the economics profession is, rather than what is important to be successful in the profession in this particular quote, but in an ideal world, the latter should flow from the former. I believe many people come to the social sciences with a desire to make society better (we may not all agree on what “better” means, but that is a separate issue). The dissatisfaction I read, overtly and between the lines, is that the “profession” of economics, in its pursuit of the air of positive science, has lost its ethical code of conduct and has devolved to a technical career field. The statement, “The economics profession is a bad joke. More and more economists are saying less and less to fewer and fewer people. And they conceal their vacuity in abstruse language and mathematical formulae” (p. 364), strikes at the heart of the loss of a professional ethic in the field. What is the ultimate purpose of economics but ultimately to increase society’s understanding of the economy and thereby guide policymakers to make effective policies? This does not necessarily mean that a lay person should be able to pick up an economics journal whose audience is intended to be professional economists and understand it fully any more than a lay person should be able to pick up a copy of the New England Journal of Medicine and expect to fully understand it. Every profession must have an introspective element that works to extend the professional knowledge, and a means of communicating that new professional knowledge.
      Davis paraphrases respondents who say collectively “The bifurcation of the economics profession into researchers, teachers, and policy-makers has gotten worse and the number of individuals who are respected for contributions in all three areas gotten fewer and farther between” (364). I am not sure this is actually a problem – it sounds like a matter of comparative advantage for the individuals involved. We are after all the field that promotes specialization of labor. The real problem seems to be that the economics field has been overwhelmed by its pursuit of the professional body of knowledge, and in particular a very narrow portion of the body of knowledge as defined by the use of mathematical methodology, and has lost its commitment to the ethic of betterment that defines social science practitioners as professionals rather than as mere technicians.

    • 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"

    • Echo’s critique is insightful, and touches on Hanley’s recent appraisal of the article. I would like to suggest that while Vernon Smith’s experiments are very interesting, that his jumping off point misses a better way to reconcile Adam Smith’s two works.

      Although Adam Smith does attribute the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange to man as one of his most innate qualities, it is not the most obvious bridge between the two books. As a method of operation in the world, the propensity is important; as an explanation of the origin of our behavior, less so. The Adam Smith of the Theory of Moral Sentiments proposes a picture of man who receives input from the world around him about how he ought to behave. The man wants to be loved and to be loveable out of a concern for his self-interest. Both works address the content of self-interested behavior. The content which makes up self-interest in each book is explained differently, but they both amount to an exploration of self-interest in different frames. Paganelli (2008) even suggests that self-interest is judged with a more friendly result in the Theory of Moral Sentiments than in The Wealth of Nations.

      Self-interest, rather than the propensity to truck and barter, is perhaps the real tie between the two works. In the Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith addresses humanity in the full context of human interactions, while in the Wealth of Nations he addresses that part of society most affected by the virtue of prudence. The method of approach is therefore different, but the starting point for each is not so far apart as is often assumed.

    • 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

    • In The Invisible Hand of Jupiter (1971), Alexander L. Macfie provides an insight on Adam Smiths conception of the relationship between divine guidance, the system of nature and human behavior. The relationship that Smith conceptualizes as the invisible hand appear thrice in his writing. Macfie tries to explain what lead Smith to the reversal of the meaning while noting that, in fact, there is no inconsistency in Smith. The invisible hand of Jupiter is a capricious, energizing force that metaphorically fits the irregularities people have been observing throughout time. The invisible hand of Christian Deity is the order preserving social force that animates orderly development of societies through social individuals.
      While there is no inconsisteny, Macfie is still not satisfied by Smith’s effort to integrate the theological, jurisprudential, ethical and economic arguments. The invisible hand of Jupiter is the innovative force breaking loose of the status quo, whereas the invisible hand of Christian Deity is the conservative force that gravitates towards natural order disturbed by self interested individuals. The invisible hand of Christian Deity appears both in the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and in the Wealth of Nations (1776). Whereas in the Wealth of Nations Smith is concerned with the economic mechanism of the order preserving force that appears in the obvious and simple system of natural liberty which, if perfect, makes itself out in the correspondence of natural and market prices, in the Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith considers the mechanism of distribution of wealth. Smith’s logic is shaky, however, for in the Theory of Moral Sentiments the economic disparity is met by an ethical answer: “In the essentials all the different ranks should be nearly on a level.” While Macfie is aware that Smith distinguishes between benevolence – distributive and esteem justice – and justice – that is commutative justice – and opposes forcing out the levelling of the distribution of essentials, it is not clear whether and how the integration of theological, ethical and economic aspects of Smith’s doctrine bind together and how and whether the invisible hand leads the “rich only [to] select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable […] to make nearly the same distribution […] which would have been made had the earth been divided among equal portions among all its inhabitants (TMS 1759, p. 184).” For Macfie the invisible-hand passage in the Theory of Moral Sentiments remains only an effort, however excellent, to bind the theological ethical and economic arguments into one comprehensive system of thought.

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

    • I do not share Eric’s confidence in perfectly and justly adminsitered providence.

      If we want things to be better on earth, I do not think we should wait for providence. We may have to wait for a very long time, and poor, starving and vulnerable populations worldwide need out compassion and support today, not whenever providence thinks it is time to do it.

    • 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

    • 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. The Social Science Citation Index: A Black Box—with an Ideological Bias?

    • After a Google keyword search of “Commentary Magazine” and “Social Science Citation Index,” I found this article and was introduced to EJW. The bias Klein and Chiang illuminate, exists not only in the slant of the SSCI journals which make and break careers, but also the themes and questions addressed at major conferences and their panels. (Just take a look at the CfP for next year’s APSA annual.) Now finishing up a PhD and finding the same problem on the job market, the research backgrounds often asked for (my area is IR/ IPE) also come from left field. Rather than become disheartened, this state of affairs increases my resolve to follow and intelligently express my conservative convictions in the face of single minded institutionalized opposition. I love a good fight and know the truth will prevail. I’d rather be right than loved, although it would be nice to be both.

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

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