Friday, October 16, 2009

AI Found a Blog, Was Disappointed, But In an Interesting Way

I ran across a history blog ("Muhlberger's Early History") and I thought I should have a crack at evaluating it, as it would be nice to have a history source that isn't Mencius Moldbug.

It's an official university blog. Strike one; the primary goal of the blog is institutional brownie points, not truth. On the Obama prize, Muhlberger links approvingly to Daily Kos. Strike two; although everyone makes mistakes.

Then I ran across this:

"If you want to slam academia... don't need to go after advanced literary theory. In fact there are juicier and more important targets."

"Well, I promised myself I'd finish this before the sequel appeared in the shops, and the conclusion has been made, shall we say, somewhat easier by the fact that the burden of my conclusion - that there is something terribly, horribly wrong with the state of modern economics - has become somewhat of an open door to push against."

""When future generations ask the economics profession 'What were you doing while the great bubble built up ahead of the Second Great Depression?', and we have to reply 'Lots and lots of quirky little working papers about sumo wrestling and speed-dating', it is going to be really, really, fucking embarrassing""

Strike three was a critical. I was hoping for a...slightly...more substantial criticism. Even if this one is true, I would just respond, "What, that's it? That's your slamming of 'academia?'"

I'll accept the Democratic axiom for the moment. Further, I'll accept that scientists should determine public policy. Even given this, there's a serious mismatch between the conclusions of economics and policy. (And it seems slamming academia is getting trendy.) However, the above pretty clearly isn't it.

To clearly see why I say so, compare this paper to the above:

"Economists have been complaining about anti-market, anti-foreign, make-work, and pessimistic biases for centuries."
"At the government agency where I have worked and where agency lawyers and agency microeconomists interact with each other . . . the lawyers are often exasperated, not only by the frequency with which agency economists attack their proposals but also by the unanimity among the agency economists in their opposition. The lawyers tend to (incorrectly) attribute this opposition to failure to hire “a broad enough spectrum” of economists, and to beg the economists, if they can’t support the lawyers’ proposals, at least to give them “the best economic arguments” in favor of them. . . . The economists’ answer is typically something like, “There are no good economic arguments for your proposal.”"

I can come up with at least four possible reasons why economics papers are focusing on niche topics. The first is that they're tired of being ignored, and are focusing on topics which aren't farts in the wind. Second is that they already unanimously agree on all the serious topics, have already weighed in, are spending time on other things. Third, the layman has no idea how relevant these topics are (speed dating) as models for fundamental economic theories. Finally, Daniel Davies actually has no idea what economics papers are on, (he admits to not reading The Economist, presumably he can admit to ignorance of other things as well) and is therefore misrepresenting the field.

Naturally, none of these are addressed by Davies. The simplistic thought on display here is a typical feature of ignorance, often indulged in by smart people analyzing anything that isn't in their actual field of study. (Which is troubling, as his whole blog appears to be about economics.) I'm probably committing this exact error right now to some degree, although the difference is that I'm eager to rectify my ignorance.

As a bonus, now I know I'm right for skipping Freakonomics. ("The basic problem with the Freakonomics era was that the profession abandoned the study of production, consumption and exchange." If that's what Freakonomics is, say no more, I'll be over here...)


Notably the blog seems very light on actual history, although the pictures are quite nice. On the front page as of now, there are only two posts about actual early history, on the same topic, and both are teasers for other websites.

If you really want to study what's wrong in the state of Denmark, the first step is to divide economics into microeconomics and macroeconomics. The second is to realize that the Austrian school is legitimate, and you must deal with it, pro or con, if you want to be a real thinker on economics. Just from this you have a 2x2 matrix, 11, 10, 01, 00, and you need to figure out which one is true. The full matix of questions you need to answer is much bigger, of course, but this is a good start.

I could add tone/attitude to my little comparison; you may want to do so yourself.

Turns out Davids writes for Crooked Timber. Ouch, that must suck.

I should clarify that I don't have much issue with Daily Kos' ideas, however the attitude and general epistemological ability of the place are in the pits somewhere. I've seen the ideas put forward politely and coherently elsewhere, places where I can respectfully disagree (and yes I disagree) without being labelled a heretic and exiled. If you want to make Daily Kos' points, you should find those places and link to them instead, unless you want brownie points instead of debate. Daily Kos is awesome for brownie points.


nick said...

I've got some articles on history that may interest you and your readers, e.g. History and the Security of Property ( I have to fix several of the images there, sorry. I've also written extensively on legal history.

(BTW I've also left a comment on your August 2009 post on evolutionary psychology).

Alrenous said...

Yup, I've read and love that article. I've taken it farther - I've decided security is ownership. For example, nobody charges for air simply because nobody can secure amounts of air and thus own it. It answers questions such as - who owns the moon? The first person to secure it, clearly.

My favourites are still Shelling Out and A Measure of Sacrifice, though, and I have them bookmarked to make sure I can always find A Measure of Sacrifice stopped me thinking wage slavery is a fundamentally real thing. Shelling Out, plus how humans react so viscerally to currency, makes me think that money is actually written into our genetic code, that it's actually part of our instinctive tapestry.

I've also read a lot of your legal history - I think I heard about moot courts from you, but sadly I was dumb that day and didn't bookmark the relevant articles.

I do especially like your analysis of the Magna Carta. By actually translating the Carta, it marks the series clearly with expertise and lack of romantization, showing in detail a great deal of the actual legal climate, the common assumptions and rights that existed at the time.

Combining the two articles: I'm paying the state to secure my wallet, owning it by proxy, although like fee simple, it would probably benefit both of us to unbundle these rights from my citizenship. We should select (or create) a township and test it - though of course such actions are politically impossible.

With my effusive praise out of the way, let me get our main disagreement up front.

You think common law needs to evolve. I think it is approximating a single, simple principle, and having found that principle, all law can be vetted by that principle.

To be clear, I refer only the actual proscribed behaviours. I do not mean best practises in court, nor in general any other adjunct of the justice system.

Regardless, this comment has gotten a bit unwiedly, and mainly I wanted to say that you don't seem to be continuously writing about legal history, which means I've read most of your stuff that deals with it. (Do let me know if I've missed something.)

nick said...

Thanks. One couldn't possibly mention even a major fraction of what I've written in a short note. Here are links to my politcally-related articles. Many of them discuss some history and all are based on my readings of history, especially legal history.

nick said...

By "single, simple principle" are you referring to the non-aggression principle? I'd call it _presumptively_ true for substantive law: that is, law that doesn't follow it has the burden of proof. But there is some important useful substantive law that does meet that burden of proof. And procedural law, which doesn't and can't follow the principle, is very important, and intimately related to political structure (or constitutional structure, if you like). I'm not sure we have a huge disagreement here, perhaps just differences in level of detail and emphasis.

Alrenous said...

Thanks for that list, there do seem to be some I've missed on it.

I didn't name my single, simple principle because I'm still working on it, actually, which means it's not properly nameable. At the moment, it is similar to non-aggression, except that it looks like it wants to go one up and define aggression.

I think there's still some bugs, though.

I have a question for you, actually, near this topic. I think it's worthy of articlizing it, though, so I'm going to put that one on the queue. (Already half-written, actually.)