Bitcoin’s zero-sum game

by John Quiggin on January 23, 2018

That’s the title of my latest piece in Inside Story. Nothing that will surprise anyone who’s been paying attention to what I’ve written on this, so I’ll just cite the conclusion

Since bitcoins are not useful as a medium of exchange, or desirable in themselves, their true value is zero. The highest price at which bitcoins have traded is around $20,000. At the time of writing, the market price is halfway between that level and zero. Pay your money (or not) and take your chances.

{ 5 comments }

Adam Smith against nativist immigration policy

by Chris Bertram on January 21, 2018

Paul Sagar has a very nice piece at Aeon about Adam Smith, his legacy, and his contemporary relevance. Towards the end of his essay, he quotes a famous passage from Smith’s Theory of the Moral Sentiments:

[The man of system] seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chessboard have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chessboard of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

An arresting passage when considered against the background of the nativist immigration policies of countries like the United Kingdom and the United States and one that underlines the utopian (in a bad way) nature of natonalist projects. At present our governments are conducting a war against migrants. In the UK, “foreign criminals” (who may or may not have been convicted of actual crimes) are deported to countries they may be utterly unfamiliar with, landlords and employers are threatened with fines if they house or employ people without the right of residency (and deprive many others of opportunities because they look or sound as if they might be “foreign”), asylum seekers are deported to war zones like Afghanistan (a “safe country”) and thousands of people are separated from partners or children because they don’t earn enough for a spousal visa. Brexit Britain has now cast this shroud of insecurity over EU nationals too. In the United States, Trump is still going on about his wall, thousands of young people who are functionally Americans can’t rest secure because politicians can’t agree how to regularize their status, whilst others who came as children are ripped from their families and deported.

And yet we will win. The “game” is going on “miserably” and human beings who have principles of motion of their own, altogether different from those that polticians seek to impress on them, will carry on moving, fleeing, working, associating, trading with, and loving those of nationalities other than their own, because human beings always have and always will. When we talk of freer movement, of more open borders, of a global order that works for everyone and isn’t just in hock to nativist anxieties in wealthy countries, the conventional wisdom is that this is unrealistic and utopian. Yet the true unrealism and utopianism is the project of keeping human beings in self-contained political orders with others “like them”.

My book, Does the State Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants, comes out with Polity on May 25th.

{ 59 comments }

Istanbul - Medusa Head in the Basilica Cistern

{ 4 comments }

A taxonomy of never-Trumpers

by John Quiggin on January 21, 2018

I’m a sucker for taxonomies, and Ross Douthat has quite a good one in the New York Times

Like any strange and quarrelsome sect, the church of anti-Trump conservatism has divided and subdivided since Donald Trump’s election. Some members have apostatized and joined the ranks of Trumpists; others have marched leftward, with anti-Trumpism as a gateway drug to wokeness. There is a faction that is notionally skeptical of Trump but functionally anti-anti-Trump, a faction that insists it’s just calling “balls and strikes” and a faction screaming that the president rigged the game and needs to be thrown out.

What’s interesting is that, from my observation, he has the factions about right in order of size. The group who have gone left is probably smaller than its ranking suggests, but contains most of what was left of serious thought on the conservative/libertarian side of politics. The smallest group, and the one treated most dismissively, consists of those who have remained politicaly conservative while being unremittingly hostile to Trump. Its members are either out of active politics already (like the Bushes) or are kicking Trump on the way out (like Corker and Flake). By 2020, it will probably be an empty set. That obviously raises the question of what will remain of the conservative movement when and if Trump is defeated.

A point of purely sporting interest is to classify Douthat himself. I’d say, some mixture of “anti-anti-Trump” and “balls and strikes”. The main part of his column, arguing that Trump is more of a joke than a menace, is consistent with this, I think.

{ 12 comments }

Yeah, I know, the free stuff is what you want. So here you go. [click to continue…]

{ 0 comments }

Academic political science blog?

Never had I seen a clearer bat signal lighted to the effect that I am letting down the side in terms of comicsblogging.

(I was going to post something about political science, but screw that noise!) [click to continue…]

{ 15 comments }

A while ago I had one of those “Someone on the Internet is Wrong” arguments with the authors of an article arguing that we would need massively more evidence before we could conclude that autonomous cars are safer than those driven by humans. Rather than dig back to find those arguments again, I thought I’d link to this Bloomberg piece and, in particular the following passage

GM’s autonomous test cars were in 22 accidents in California last year, according to data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles … In a November interview, GM President Dan Ammann attributed the accidents to testing in a dense urban environment and noted the company’s cars weren’t at fault in any of the incidents.

Suppose that in any crash between autonomous cars and humans, each is equally likely to be at fault. What is the probability of seeing 22 crashes caused by humans and none by autonomous cars. Obviously, it’s the same as that of a fair coin showing 22 heads in a row, which is 2^-22 or about 1 in 10 million.

Of course, the drivers involved in the crashes aren’t likely to be a random sample of the population. As is standard in such things, the 80/20 rule applies: 20 per cent of drivers are responsible for 80 per cent of crashes and traffic infringements. The 80/20 rule is derived from a Pareto distribution, and we can apply it a second time to say that 20 per cent of the remaining 80 per cent of drivers are responsible for 80 per cent of the remaining 20 per cent of crashes. That is, 36 per cent of drivers are responsible for 96 per cent of crashes. On that basis, it’s perfectly possible that the remaining 64 per cent of good drivers are as good as autonomous cars or even better.

It might also be argued that autonomous vehicles may fail in defensive driving, that is, in reducing harm in a crash caused by the failure of another driver.

Still, it seems pretty clear that autonomous cars are a lot better than the drivers responsible for most crashes and infringements. It isn’t that hard to identify a lot of these drivers before they kill themselves someone else, since prior driving record variables, particularly a driver’s prior traffic citation history, are the most consistent and powerful predictors of subsequent accident risk. Now that cars don’t need steering wheels or pedals any more, there’s no obvious reason to put people with bad driving records back in charge of them. Bad drivers should have their cars driven by robots.

{ 91 comments }

Sunday photoblogging: each to his own

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2018

From nearly a decade ago.

Each to his own

{ 12 comments }

Trump’s power is shakier than American democracy

by Corey Robin on January 13, 2018

“As soon as Trump became a serious contender for the presidency, journalists and historians began analogizing him to Hitler. Even the formulator of Godwin’s Law, which was meant to put a check on the reductio ad Hitlerumsaid: ‘Go ahead and refer to Hitler when you talk about Trump.’ After Trump’s election, the comparisons mounted, for understandable reasons.

{ 146 comments }

The Rational Grounds for (Anti-Racist) Optimism

by Gina Schouten on January 12, 2018

Thanks to the Crooked Timber bloggers for this opportunity! I’m very excited to be joining the group!

I just finished reading the twentieth anniversary edition of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, a 2017 update to the 1997 book by Beverly Daniel Tatum about racial identity development. Tatum begins the long and excellent prologue to the new edition with the question: Are things getting better? In reading the prologue, one gets the sense that the answer is quite clearly that they are not, and indeed, Tatum confirms this at the end of the book:

“As I was writing the prologue for the twentieth-anniversary edition of this book, I was struck by how much bad news there was in it. The events of the last two decades have done little to improve the quality of life for those most negatively impacted by the structural racism of our society. Recognizing and acknowledging the persistence of residential and school segregation; the economic inequality that grows from limited access to socioeconomically diverse social networks and high-quality education as well as continued discrimination in the workplace; and the stranglehold of mass incarceration, unequal justice, and growing voter disenfranchisement left me feeling disheartened. But I am an optimist by nature and I have lived long enough to know that meaningful change is possible. I was determined not to give in to a sense of despair but rather to actively seek out signs of hope—stories of people making a difference and promising practices that could move others to meaningful action. I found that these signs of hope are everywhere” (343).

Tatum goes on, in the epilogue, to “share some of what I found in hopes that the examples will uplift you as they uplifted me” (343).

Tatum’s stories are uplifting. But they don’t make me feel optimistic about the future. Some are about local initiatives like the Atlanta Friendship Initiative or the Community Coalition on Race in the towns of South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey. Most are about things taking place on elite and liberal arts college campuses. But if Tatum is right, in the rest of her book, about how our racial identities form and when, developmentally, things begin to go wrong (spoiler alert: childhood and adolescence matter, a lot), then I don’t see why isolated anti-racist efforts of the type that she catalogues should give us much hope.

[click to continue…]

{ 25 comments }

Net Neutrality is a New Deal issue

by Astra Taylor on January 9, 2018

First, a sincere thanks to the Crooked Timber gang, especially Henry, for inviting me to join the party. While I’ve been a long time lurker, I’ve never left a comment on this site—but then again, I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment anywhere online outside of Facebook or Twitter. Which is a sure sign that I’ve never blogged before. But what better time to start then at a moment it seems quaint, even antiquated? From what I can tell with a quick Google search, blogging has been dead since 2014. So writing this isn’t exactly like being one of those guys who sit in Washington Square Park writing poetry on their typewriters, but close enough.

I’ll also admit that I did briefly entertain the idea of blogging a few years back, and my basic concept was that I would write about things only after they had totally exited the news cycle, reflecting on whatever was in the headlines 30 days, or maybe even 365 days, prior.

So in honor of that not very good (and thus left to languish) idea for a blog and the fact I’m writing my first post approximately two decades after the word “weblog” was invented, I thought I’d share some recent thoughts about the Internet, specifically net neutrality, and the major blow dealt by FCC chairman Ajit Pai just before the new year. [click to continue…]

{ 10 comments }

New Bloggers

by Henry on January 9, 2018

So as part of a general process of reinvigoration, we are bringing three new bloggers on board.

  • Serene Khader is the Jay Newman Chair in Philosophy of Culture at Brooklyn College and Associate Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her research focuses on moral and political issues relevant to women in the global South. Her areas of research within philosophy include ethics and moral psychology, political philosophy, and feminist philosophy. She also works in the interdisciplinary field of development ethics, studying practices such as microcredit, small-scale development interventions, and commercial gestational surrogacy.
  • Her work on adaptive preferences, including her first book Adaptive Preferences and Women’s Empowerment (Oxford University Press 2011), develops an approach to responding to choices made by oppressed and deprived people that perpetuate their own oppression and deprivation. Her second book, Decolonizing Universalism, Transnational Feminist Ethics (under contract with Oxford University Press), concerns the normative commitments required for cross-border feminist solidarity. When she’s not philosophizing, she can often be found lifting heavy weights and cultivating her love of New York City.
  • Gina Schouten grew up near Indianapolis and went to college at Ball State University. Before beginning graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she taught kindergarten in Colorado. Following that, she taught philosophy for three years at Illinois State University. She now teaches philosophy at Harvard. Her research interests include gender justice, educational justice, and political legitimacy, and she is currently working on a book tentatively called Liberalism, Neutrality, and the Gendered Division of Labor.
  • Astra Taylor is an activist, writer, musician, documentary film maker and general shit stirrer. She was involved in the Occupy movement, co-editing Occupy! with Sarah Leonard and Keith Gessen, as well as helping to found Rolling Jubilee, an organization that purchases and expunges debt. Her movies include Zizek! and Examined Life, a series of dialogues with modern philosophers and thinkers, which appeared with a book of the same name. She has written for a wide variety of places – her book on culture in the digital era, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age is written up at Crooked Timber here. Astra’s new documentary, Democracy, interviews Silvia Federici, Cornel West, Wendy Brown, Angela Davis, trauma surgeons, activists, factory workers, asylum seekers, former prime ministers, and others, asking what democracy is, how it can work under conditions of inequality, and how people can reclaim their power. It’s going to be out really soon.

We’re really happy to have them all join.

{ 15 comments }

The Rise and Fall of Keynesianism after the GFC

by John Quiggin on January 8, 2018

International Studies Quarterly has just published a symposium responding to a paper by Henry and me, which has been released from behind the paywall for the occasion. Our paper has the fairly self-explanatory title “Consensus, Dissensus, and Economic Ideas: Economic Crisis and the Rise and Fall of Keynesianism ” In our paper we looked at the resurgence of fiscal Keynesianism in the immediate aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis and of the successful counterthrust leading to the adoption of austerity policies in the US and Europe.

The symposium has comments from a multidisciplinary group of political scientists, sociologists and economists: Abraham Newman, Andrew Baker, Elizabeth Popp Berman, Paul Krugman, Stephen K. Nelson along with a response from us. It’s great to get these different disciplinary perspectives all in one place, since they all have key pieces of the puzzle, and we are very happy they have chosen to engage with us.

{ 11 comments }

Sunday photoblogging: the ‘hood

by Chris Bertram on January 7, 2018

Cannon Street, BS3

{ 3 comments }

Where do people put the riches-line?

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 6, 2018

I’ve written here before about the research I’ve been developing on ‘limitarianism’ – the view that we put upper limits or caps on how much of some valuable resource people can have or use. One thing that struck me when giving talks about limitarianism of financial resources/wealth, is that there’s always someone in the audience shouting: “Give me a number!” If the claim is that there should be an upper limit to how much income and wealth someone can have, people want to know what those limits are. Also, I’ve noted that whether or not someone finds the financial limitarian view plausible depends, among other things, on where exactly that ceiling would be put.

One question one could ask, is whether within a political community, there is something of a shared view (or dominant view), of where that ceiling should be (assuming people hold that there should be such a ceiling in the first place, obviously). So I decided to team up with a colleague from economic sociology who has ample experience with conducting surveys, and try to measure, among the Dutch population, whether they hold the view that there should be an upper limit to wealth, and if so, where they would put the cut-off line between ‘rich’ and ‘extremely rich’. Is there a level of material affluence at which we find that people are having not just a lot, but too much? [click to continue…]

{ 125 comments }