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

    • Glory Liu kindly brought to my attention a review of TMS, on the occasion of an 1817 Boston edition, by Levi Frisbie (1783-1822) in the North-American Review 8(23), 1819: 371-396. The piece is republished in an 1823 volume of Frisbie’s miscellaneous writings, edited by Andrew Norton. The piece too should be quoted in the compilation. For example, Frisbie writes: “And that can never be an ultimate standard, which is itself to be judged by one more so” (382).

    • 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

    • It would appear that assessments of economic awareness (enlightenment, literacy, understanding – the noun is critical) is a growing industry including, of course, the analysis of estimated awareness in terms of the respondents’ socioeconomic indicators (income, education, political affiliation, etc.). One might hope, over time, to see some intelligent “standardization” of questions, methodology, etc. in what absolutely should be at least an annual exercise.

      Toward this hoped-for standardization (not meaning necessarily any single standard), this study is positively groundbreaking. I am so impressed with its methodology that I hope at least one of the standards evolves from it.

      This is not to say that what I’ll call the Year One version of the study was perfect. The article notes a shortcoming that I would regard as the greatest one I can think of: the lack of propositions chosen or worded so as to challenge respondents of a conservative/libertarian bent. For example: “By raising drug prices, government intervention in distribution of illicit drugs reduces their use.” Enlightened answer is “Yes,” but government intervention challenges libertarians’ beliefs (and favors conservative ones). The eight questions in the survey did not have any questions like this, as the article noted.

      The indictments of the American academy on the score of promoting (or frustrating) economic literacy are among the most-valuable products of this inquiry, and its conclusions along this line provide by far the most-attractive object for attention by college students, their parents, professors, and college administrators.

      The distortion and dismissal of economics as a study essential to the material and spiritual welbeing of mankind may be the most vital element on the cultural/didactic agenda of this century.

    • 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

    • To judge McCloskey’s paper in terms of Smithian virtue, I think that she ought to be praised for bringing uncommon judgment and insight to the analysis of Smith’s mission as a moral philosopher, and vision as a social scientist. The goal of rescuing Smith from the purely economic and modern point of view is worthy and relevant still today. Her recognition of his shared perspective with the virtue ethicists of ancient and medieval times and her argument that he can only be understood through this prism are valuable and largely correct.

      However, I believe McCloskey falls somewhat short of the ideal in terms of her argument simply because the comparison cannot be stretched as far as she seems to hope. If Adam Smith was a virtue ethicist, he was a virtue ethicist of a very different kind than his ancient or medieval predecessors. And though there are important differences between Aristotle and Aquinas, it is clear that in significant ways, these two are closer to each other than either is to Smith.

      An important division between Smith and his predecessors is the way he sees virtue cultivated. For Aristotle and Aquinas, we discover virtue by examining man’s end, or ultimate purpose, and then by discovering the types of habits which will lead to the fulfillment of that end. Though these habits may be similar in kind to Smithian virtues, they are approached by way of reason rather than observation. Smith, in contrast, has very little to say about the content of man’s nature, other than that we are inclined (perhaps in universal agreement) to praise some actions and blame others. Smith seems to remain agnostic about whether this is an end in the mode of Aristotle, or merely a consequence of natural forces.

      Smith’s departure from Aristotle, and his adoption of enlightenment epistemology, makes McCloskey’s argument slightly misleading. And this does become especially apparent, as the previous comments have pointed out, when she attempts to make a place for hope and faith in Smith’s enlightenment virtue system. Here I agree with Steve Kunath that McCloskey is mistaken in her appeal to Aquinas. For to Aquinas, faith and hope are very specific theological virtues, both forward looking, and both connected specifically with man’s end in an exclusively Christian sense. They are not the secular-friendly virtues McCloskey would make them.

      And it is only in this very theological sense that faith and hope can exist as “primary colors,” as McCloskey defines Smith’s five essential virtues. Brian Bedient is right is to classify McCloskey’s versions of faith and hope as secondary virtues. The hope for a better future that Smith envisions is substantially different from Aquinas’ hope for the mercy of God. While I think Smith does indeed have every intention of recommending virtuous existence (rather than merely providing a descriptive account of human action), I believe that faith and hope as they existed in earlier virtue ethics have no place in his work. The faith and hope which appear in McCloskey’s article are of an entirely different kind, and do not need to be added to Smith’s list of primary virtues.

    • 6 comments
    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Steve Kunath
    • Last comment 14 Nov 2012 by Todd Peckarsky
    • 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. The Ideological Profile of Harvard University Press: Categorizing 494 Books Published 2000-2010

    • Quick question about cause and effect… I’m sympathetic to the argument here, and the social psychology literature demonstrates, quite well, that we read things more critically when they run counter to our own ideological perspectives, so clearly conservative books would have a more difficult time in the peer review process. However, I’m wondering if Harvard could defend its publication list by arguing that the number of conservative books published is actually proportional to the number of conservatives in academia. I’m noticing, for example, that some of the numbers here seem to mirror data about the number of conservatives in each discipline. So if field X is comprised of 10% conservatives, and 10% of HUP’s publications in that field fall right of center, couldn’t they argue that conservatives have the same chance of being published as liberals? Is there any way to see a sample of submissions and or rejections?
      April Kelly-Woessner

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 24 Jan 2011 by Hal Luft
    • Last comment 16 Feb 2011 by Milo Schield
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology

    • Sean T. Stevens, in preparing a blog post for Heterodox Academy about the Langbert, Quain, and Klein article in EJW, scrutinized the article and caught a problem, and then kindly sent us a query about it.

      Sean noticed that in footnote 5 (p. 424) we list University of Florida and University of Miami as among those universities that, though ranked high enough by U.S. News to be included in our investigation, were not included because they sit in states not covered by Aristotle (the database used for the study).

      But Sean noticed that in footnote 4 (p. 423), listing the states not included in Aristotle, Florida is not listed. In fact, Florida is covered by Aristotle. In fact, those two Florida universities should have been included in our investigation.

      To rectify the problem, we need to investigate the two universities that have been mistakenly left out of our analysis, which covered 40 universities. Although our subscription to Aristotle had expired, Aristotle has generously restored to us temporary access, to rectify the problem. We are proceeding now and will report back on the findings; look for a notice here at EJW News.

      We are grateful to Sean for catching our error and bringing it to our attention!

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 02 Oct 2016 by John Quiggin
    • Last comment 17 Oct 2017 by Mitchell_Langbert
  10. 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
  11. A Life among the Econ, Particularly at UCLA

    • As a student during this period (PhD 1972) I was extremely fortunate to have been taught by these professors. Well remembered is the BSU bomb incident at the department as well as tenured faculty guarding halls against crazies disrupting classes. Learning to reason as an economist was paramount. On one qualifying exam, I felt one question assumed away the problem and rather than give an answer I pointed out the error. This risky strategy was well received. Alchian was on my dissertation committee but was slow to read the work. Knowing his keen interest in market transactions and since i was facing a deadline for a fellowship stipend, I made him a non serious offer. If he would just read it, I would split any stipend with him. This was not asking for an approval, just a reading. Obviously he would never accept any money, but as i knew he would, the market spirit of the offer was appreciated. During meetings of my nonacademic career, my annoying market based queries would often elicit the query “Where did you come from?”. I now know that the answer should have been “The Golden Age of Alchian’s UCLA Economics Department”.

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

    • Hayek does well to remind people of the true definition of individualism in his opening chapter. Many assume the common meaning of terms and concepts such as “individualism” without evaluating the meaning of the term or concept as it was used in a past age. However, Hayek does not seem to dive deep into the Bible to understand its methods or how they were supposed to work. He assumes that history has proven that biblical methods of economics do not work. He does acknowledge the usefulness of biblical principles, but does not see biblical methods as legitimate. Maybe the reason biblical methods have not worked is because governments and nations refuse to implement certain practices? Hayek does not take time to wonder what would happen if a Year of Jubilee was practiced. Finally, Hayek does not address biblical assumptions about man and how he works either. Men’s hearts are corrupt according to the Bible. Hence, greed and usury is prevalent. Hayek does a wonderful job of defining individualism, but makes too many assumptions about how the Bible should be used in regards to an economic system.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Tony Quain
    • Last comment 10 May 2013 by Matt
  13. "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
  14. 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
  15. 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 Kucha?
    • Last comment 15 Nov 2012 by Francis Conlon
    • 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
  16. Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data

    • Thanks for your comment Ronald.

      You give me too much credit. The approach I used was not my technique, but the conventional approach used in the literature.

      As it happens, I agree with you that the conventional approach to reporting education level premiums can be misleading. I’ve made the same point elsewhere. Unfortunately for you and I… if we want to make comparisons with other estimates around the world or through history, then we need to use the same approach as others.

      Perhaps we can help change that convention over time. Good luck to us. But the point of this paper was more modest.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Ronald Michener
    • Last comment 30 Oct 2015 by Ronald Michener
    • 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
    • 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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