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Thursday, March 08, 2018


I am so thrilled that I cyber-know two of the four finalists in THE GARY COHN MEMORIAL NEOLIBERAL SHILL BRACKET --- that I wrote a fight song

It's the i of the tiger,

it's the shill in the fight

Risin' up to the challenge of their rival

And the last two survivors

snark their prey in the night

And their watchin' our votes

with the eye of the tiger

Face to face, out here to tweat

Hangin' tough, stayin' hungry

They stack the odds 'till we beg them to tweet

For the kill with the skill to survive

It's the i of the tiger,

it's the shill in the fight

Risin' up to the challenge of their rival

And the last two survivors

snark their prey in the night

And their watchin' our votes

with the eye of the tiger

Rising up, straight to the top

Had the guts, got the glory

Went the distance, now the're not going to stop

Just two men and their will to survive

It's the i of the tiger,

it's the shill in the fight

Risin' up to the challenge of their rival

And the last two survivors

snark their prey in the night

And their watchin' our votes

with the eye of the tiger

i of the tiger

i of the tiger

i of the tiger

i of the tiger

Monday, March 05, 2018

In the middle of a very courteous, diplomatic, and insightful post about Modern Monetary Theory Simon Wren-Lewis recalls his student days "I was told as a student that neoclassical economics was fundamentally flawed, and would soon be replaced in some kind of Kuhnian revolution. I know how easy it is to follow your political instincts and thereby miss out on so much important and useful knowledge." I first thought "exactly what important and useful knowledge" and "odd that he assumes that rejection of neoclassical economics is based on "political instincts" and not evidence. But now I want to focus on "Kuhnian".

I'd say that, since I was a student, microeconomics has changed fundamentally, but that there hasn't been a Kuhnian revolution at all. Back then courses were mostly theory with occasional empirical examples (which don't come to mind). The key features were well defined utility functions and rational utility maximization. Only later (in then current research) was there a mix of purely theoretical articles (which are still being written) and empirical work. The empirical work would rely on a lot of theory, including typically dubious assumptions needed to identify parameters of interest. Referees and discussants would note that among there interesting critiques there would be the standard questions about identification.

Some economists whom I had the fortune to meet, were looking for natural experiments. They argued that a valid instrument which captured a tiny fraction of the variance of the explanatory variable was more useful than an invalid instrument which gave smaller standard errors and biased estimates.

The point of this post (if any) is that this was not a revolutionary storming of baricades. Each article which used good instruments justified by common sense was uncontroversial. Exactly because the theory needed for identification was plausible and simple -- easily explained to non-specialists who would find the argument convincing and unintimidating -- it wasn't controversial within the profession either. A paper about the effect of unemployment insurance cost of living adjustments on unemployment duration was threatening to no one. The new empirical economics whose (always necessary) theoritical assumptions were plausible and obvious infiltrated and took over. I can't even say when it happened -- it appears as a trend not a break.

OK so I just googled [Noah Smith empirical revolution] and got the perfectly titled "A paradigm shift in empirical economics?"

There is the phrase made famous by Kuhn "paradigm shift" . My answer is maybe yes. I would be better able to answer if I had a clue what people mean when they write "paradigm," but there clearly wasn't a scientific revolution. The field evolved into something almost unrecognizably different. I suspect that this may be the rule rather than the exception. I think the example of the quantum revolution in physics is roughly as extraordinary as it seems to be. Trying to think of other examples, I come up with plate tectonics aka continental drift. Also, I guess, Darwin (and the three independent co-discoverers of evolution by natural selection) were revolutionary.

But now I want to type about Kuhn and "paradigm". I think the very best part of "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (later editions)" is the afterword in which Kuhn apologises for his abuse of the word. He says he used it with many different meanings in the main body of the book and that he should have stuck to the original definition which is based on the paradigm of a paradigm -- illustrations in texctbooks. This (potentially useful term) shows bow important typical illlustrative examples are to our understanding of theories and the world to which they attempt to correspond. So Special relativity have implications for everyday life which are almost identical numerically, but the typical example of motion in modern introductory textbooks is relative motion of about half the speed of light where they are very different. The revolution triumphs when the typical example is something which had been new and strange. This is a useful point. Sadly this potential useful use "paradigm" was permanently blocked by Kuhn and his many fans. I think it is best to just talk about "the illustrations in textbooks" preferably with examples (paradigms of paradigmatic paradigms).

But the point (if any) of this tangent is that Kuhn was rewarded for his mistake. In fact, he became a super star scholar exactly because of it. His carely abuse of "paradigm" made it possible for others to impress the impressionable by using an oddly spelled word which came to English from Greek not mere Latin or merer German. The vagueness forcess me to use another technical term (which has bovine not Greek origins) Bullshit. Megatons of bullshit.

Which Kuhn regretted (not that he minded being a star).

You're so Vain Thou Probably Thinkest this Song is About Thee

Showing my age, I am remembering Carly Simon's "You're so Vain" when it was new and constantly played on the radio.

I was 11 years old then (really showing my age exactly. I was born November 9 1960 the day after Kennedy was elected). I was very confused by the refrain "You're so Vain. You probably think this song is about you." It seemed to my logic infatuated mind that, whomever might be the referent of "you", the song was about him.

My sister (not then when she was --- uh look she's cool but you just don't blog women's ages) has a theory that the point is the song isn't about the guy, and is about Carly Simon's learning to appreciate and assert herself.

I had another thought just now. Maybe there are many jerks like that in Hollywood (very safe assumption) and Simon guesses that each assumes he is The vain one who angered her enough to inspire a song. Thus the problem that you != you is solved using old fashioned English.

You are (all) so vain that thou (in particular) probably thinkest this song is About Thee makes sense. There are lots of you when zero would be plenty, and each and every single one of you thinks that he and he alone is the special one who has earned by special contempt. This makes logical sense.

On the other hand, I realize there is a more elementary solution. "You probably think this song is about you" does not logically imply that the song isn't about you. It might be that the less rythmic lyric would be "You probably correctly assume that this song is about you, but you don't know that, you are sure of your (correct) guess because you're so vain". It does make sense. If the referent of "you" is such an arrogant asshole that he is sure that he is most arrogant asshole ever to be involved with Carly Simon, and in fact he is, then he must be pretty damn vain.

Do click the link above. It was huge on AM radio, but it's a very good song.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

In which I agree with Jonah Goldberg and the World Didn't end (if you are reading this)

@JewishCoffeeH tweeted

The part that's not a joke is that he thinks lifetime presidential terms are desirable, whether he was referring to China or everywhere. Trump is the first president who openly disdains basic American Constitutional values.

The part that's not a joke is that he thinks lifetime presidential terms are desirable, whether he was referring to China or everywhere. Trump is the first president who openly disdains basic American Constitutional values.

Jonah Goldberg (author of "liberal Fascism") responded

I think Trump is hostile to, and ignorant of, the Constitution. But Woodrow Wilson openly disparaged and dismissed the Bill of Rights.

I Should only say that I never called Woodrow Wilson a liberal (segregation is not a liberal policy by any of many definitions given to the word over the centuries)

But I write that Goldberg is correct and that I can think of a few other examples off the top of my head

1) George Washington acting as President of the Constitutional Convention very openly disdained the constitution of the day -- the Articles of Confederation. That constitution had procedures for amendment that were ignored. The writing and ratification of our current Constitution requrired treating an earlier constitution as irrelevant.*

2) John Adams

a) Signed the Sedition Act which declared it illegal to "Rail against any Just act of Congress". A more direct attempt to repeal freedom of speech and the press by mere legislation is not possible.

b) ordered a US Naval vessel to fight French ships in the Caribbean ignoring Congress's exclusive authority to declare war or issue "letters of Marque and Reprisal" which words must have been clearer to the delegates at the Convention than they are to me.

3) Thomas Jefferson fought an undeclared war involving an attack on Tripoli (some things never change).* Also he (and contemorary Democrats) introduced the concept of nullification in response to Adams's attack on the constitution which almost destroyed the whole thing.*

4) James Madison *

5) James Monroe *

6) John Quincy Adams made a deal to defeat the winner of a plurality of votes and electoral votes. Constitutional but offensive to the spirit (he's basically #1 constitution respecter so far)

7) Deprived the Cherokee's of their property (and for a while liberty) & also (may have said) Justice Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it. which would be a direct rejection of constitutionality of any kind (and even if he didn't say it out loud he acted as if he believed it). *

8) Martin Van Buren I don't know watch "Amistad"

9) William Henry Harrison didn't violate the constitution during his 1 month presidency which he spent dying.

10) James Tyler was actually extreme given his conflict with Congress but I don't remember what he did.

11) Francis Polk ordered US army troops to enter disputed territory previously recognized to be part of Mexico (before that part of the Spanish Empire) without requesting a declaration of war (which was declared with the Mexicans fought back).

12) Zachary Taylor commanded the troops mentioned in 11). *

13) Millard Filmore ran as a candidate of the Native American Party after holding the office of President as a Whig.

14) Franklin Pierce (I remember the name but nothing else)

15) James Buchanan actually may have respected the Constitution of the Union he very nearly destroyed.

16) Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus almost immediately. Imposed a draft. Basically ignored much of the Constitution to save any of it. Did what he had to do, much of which was unconstitutional.

17) AndreW Johnson completely rejected and fought the 14th amendment. His ingtense conflict with Congress was the second greatest threat to the Constitutional order (after the recently ended Civil War).

Skipping ahead

18) Yeah Woodrow Wilson didn't respect the Constitution

19) Warren G Harding (see W.H. Harrison)

20) Coolidge undeclared war on Nicaragua

21) Hoover (see 20)

22) Roosevelt ordered the incarceration of thousands of US citizens because of their national origin. Authorized fire bombing (or at least the buck stopped there) violating the Geneva Convention which was ratified by the US Senate and, therefore, US law.

23) Truman (see 22 but this time it's atomic) and tried to draft steel workers as "commander in chief in war UN approved mission time.

24) His justice department prosecuted someone for simply being a member of the Communist Party directly assaulting the first amendment. Sent "military advisors" to Vietnam without a declaration of war.

25) Kennedy approved warrantless wiretaps of, among others, Martin Luther King (OK so his little brother did but the buck still stopped there). Invaded Cuba without a declaration of war. see 24

26) Johnson sent the regular US military to Vietnam based on the Tonkin Gulf resolution which he promised as it was being debated did not amount to a declaration of war. Invaded the Dominican Republic without a delaration of war.

27) Nixon invaded Cambodia without a declaration of war. Oh come on, don't make me try to list Nixon's crimes against the constitution.

28) Ford -- Maybe OK

29) Carter did not disdain the Constitution which is part of why he is disdained.

30) Reagan Embezzled US funds to give them to the Contras. Invade Grenada without a declaration of war (not that I'm against doing that).

31) H.W. Bush undeclared war on Panama (see 30 above)

32) Clinton undeclared war vs Serbia. Bombed a TV station (civilian target). Disdained the 8th amendment when governor (ordering the killing of mentally incapacitated Ricky Ray Rector).

33) W. Bush first see Nixon above. When caught wiretapping without warrants he declared himself to be above the law, the law being the Patriot Act which he signed into law. He claimed the ability to declare a US citizen arrested in O'Hare airport an enemy combatant and hold him indefinitely incommunicado without trial. A more direct assault on the 5th and 6th amendments is inconceivable. Claimed the authority to establish a whole new kind of court by executive order without even pretending to name which act of Congress he was pretending to execute. Asked the CIA to see if tough interrogation methods worked violating the Geneva Conventions and the 8th amendment George Bush 2nd President of that name claimed powers not claimed by George Hanover third king of that name. Was an absolutist, that is, a consistent and determined enemy not just of the US Constitution but the whole idea of limited government.

34) B. Obama never openly disdained the constitution, but did mildly, moderately, humbly order the killing of US citizen Anwar Awlaki without a trial and even if he was "far from any combat zone" (quoting from memory of a leak). Sent troops to Syria without a declaration of war. Now these are arguably allowed under the September 2001 authorization for the use of military force with Awlaki a combatant (it's not like killing a prisoner). Syria is a stretch as Daesh is not al Qaeda, and they are in fact fighting al Qaeda along with most of the rest of humanity. Obama did not the Constitutional problem and asked Congress to do something about it.

OK so some have respected the Constitution (one at least partly because he was busy dying) but it is very much the exception not the rule.

*He deprived his slaves of liberty without due process of law (the Constitution was totally hypocritical on this point clearly allowing slavery and pretending to establish a right to due process)