From the monthly archives:

January 2004

There’s a wide spread of political opinions at Crooked Timber; as you can tell, we run the gamut from social democrat to democratic socialist. All sorts, I tell you. But I think that there’s one issue which divides us neatly into two groups. Or rather, into one group consisting of me, and one group consisting of all the others. And that’s the fact that I’m a nationalist. Horrible to admit it but it’s true. I genuinely do believe that, according to my standards (and who else’s standards might I use?), Britain is the best place to live that there is, and the British are the finest people in the world. After that, Irish, Turks, Czechs, Danes and French in that order, and after that there’s quite a steep drop-off. Sorry, where was I? Anyway, yes, the British are best.

If I were to criticise my fellow countrymen at all, however, it would be to say that we do have something of a tendency to panic when we see two flakes of frost sticking together. Look at this bloody circus. It snowed for precisely one hour yesterday evening round our way, a snowfall that had been forecast a week in advance, and left about half an inch of light white dust on the ground, which promptly started to melt. I was four hours late getting into work this morning because the trains couldn’t cope with it. The bloody Russians run trains across Siberia, for Christ’s sake. I actually watched an interview with some London Transport bod on the TV explaining that the Metropolitan line had to be shut down because of “severe weather”, in which it was possible to see over his shoulder a beautiful clear blue cloudless sky. As Peter Cook remarked, the arrival of winter, while usually quite generally expected, seems to always catch London Transport by surprise.

A look back at the history of the Crimean campaign reveals that this has been a bit of a blind spot for the Sons of Albion for quite a while.

UPDATE] I’ve just been told that we’re running “emergency trains” this evening, 24 hours after the event and with the snow entirely melted. Apparently the “severe icy weather conditions” have had serious effects on “both trains and infrastructure”. Apparently water freezes. Who’d a thunk it?

Political correctness as civility

by John Q on January 29, 2004

In my experience there is a close to 100 per cent correlation between the stated belief that society is suffering from a decline in “civility” and a willingness to proclaim that we are all being oppressed by “political correctness”. Australian PM John Howard neatly illustrates this. A week or two ago, he was denouncing public schools as hotbeds of political correctness, and the excessive concern with offending religious minorities that (allegedly) led to the curtailment of Christmas celebrations. Now he’s calling for more civility.

The common analysis underlying both demands for “political correctness” (this actual phrase was never used, except jocularly as far as I know, until critics seized on it, but terms such as “sensitivity” or “inclusive language” cover much the same ground) and for “civility”, is that offensive words give rise to offensive acts. In both cases, there’s some ambiguity over whether the problem is with the offence to the recipient or with the reinforcement of the hostile/prejudiced attitudes of the speaker, but the central claim is that modes of speech are an appropriate subject of concern and that some form of government action to encourage more socially appropriate modes of speech, ranging from subtle pressure to direct coercion, is desirable. The only difference between the two positions is that they have different lists of inappropriate words.

I don’t have a sharply defined position on any of this, except that I find people who think that being “politically incorrect” is exceptionally brave and witty to be among the most tiresome of bores. I doubt that changes in speech will, of themselves, produce changes in attitudes. The obvious evidence for this is the rate at which euphemisms wear out and become as offensive as the terms they replaced (for example, ‘handicapped’ for ‘crippled’). On the other hand, I think there’s a lot to be said for avoiding offensive words and forms of speech and can see a place for (tightly drafted and cautiously applied) laws prohibiting or penalising various forms of collective defamation.

[Posted with ecto]

Inequality and the Varieties of Capitalism

by Kieran Healy on January 29, 2004

My department has a job offer out to Emory’s Lane Kenworthy, a comparative macro-sociologist. We hope he accepts, of course, because his stuff is very interesting. His homepage has a list of his papers, along with various datasets. He also has a complete draft of a forthcoming book, Egalitarian Capitalism [2mb PDF]. It’s an examination of trends in growth, employment and income in 20 of the advanced capitalist democracies. The analytical focus is on whether there is a tradeoff between each of these desirable goals, on the one hand, and income equality, on the other. The general conclusion is that there is no such tradeoff — or at least, the kind of income distribution that would look very good to egalitarians can be achieved without growth taking a big hit. Egalitarian Capitalism is very accessible to the general reader, I think, and relevant to the question “If not the New Economy, then what?” that’s been suggested by our ongoing discussion of Doug Henwood’s book.

Drugs and Deterrence

by Kieran Healy on January 28, 2004

Mark Kleiman notes that the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program has been killed. This was a useful dataset on patterns of drug-use amongst criminals. In his post, Mark quotes John Coleman, a former bigwig at the DEA, who says

The importance of ADAM always has been its stark statistics showing the large percentage of criminals high on drugs and alcohol at the time of their crimes. ADAM surveyed arrested felons and then drug-tested them to confirm their statements about drug use. It was all voluntary but showed, nonetheless, extraordinary levels in some cases of drug use by criminals.

This confirms my non-expert belief that there’s a great deal of evidence telling us that a big chunk of violent crime happens when the perpetrators have been using alcohol or some other drug. People under the influence of drugs tend to have a diminished capacity for rational decision-making. This makes me skeptical about, e.g., fiendishly clever analyses of the rational deterrent effect of prison sentences on crime rates. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the detail of such analyses per se, it’s that they throw away reliable knowledge before they begin. Ignoring information of the sort that ADAM provides may make an elegant theory of crime more tractable, but it makes a true theory of crime less likely.

Odds and ends

by Ted on January 28, 2004

I’ve been heavily involved in work production related activities, but I should point to Daniel Drezner, who is blogging about a potentially huge story.

The Bush administration, deeply concerned about recent assassination attempts against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and a resurgence of Taliban forces in neighboring Afghanistan, is preparing a U.S. military offensive that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network, military sources said.

U.S. Central Command is assembling a team of military intelligence officers that would be posted in Pakistan ahead of the operation, according to sources familiar with details of the plan and internal military communications. The sources spoke on the condition they not be identified.

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Look just buy the bloody thing will you

by Daniel on January 28, 2004

My contribution to Henwood week will be up tomorrow … meanwhile, London-based CT readers can see the man himself give a talk on the general subject of the New Economy, tonight for one night only. The venue is 72 Great Eastern Street, kicking off at 7pm. I won’t be there myself because I’ve developed a really shocking head cold, but it ought to be fun. The nearest tube is Old Street or Liverpool Street, and here’s a map.

The New Economy lives

by John Q on January 28, 2004

Having finally managed positive earnings over a full year, Amazon shares have now acquired that most basic measurement of value, a price-earnings ratio. With shares at $53 and earnings of 17 cents per share, it’s a bit over 300 to 1, which suggests that perhaps the New Economy is not dead after all. With revenues growing at 20 to 30 cent per year, and slowing, it’s hard to see how Amazon can deliver the four or five successive doublings in profit that would be needed to justify this price.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to get hold of Doug Henwood’s book After the New Economy so I can’t relate this directly to Kieran’s review> But I will make the point that, especially on first acquaintance, the Internet is like a magic mirror. More precisely, it’s like Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised, which shows the viewer whatever they most want to see. Among the academics and other geeks who built the Internet this was a co-operative world in which sharing based on mutual esteem would displace the profit motive and render large corporations obsolete. In the United States, where stock market mania predated the dotcom boom, the mirror showed a route to instant riches. (Thomas Frank’s One Market Under God, which I reviewed here along with what I found a very disappointing book from William Baumol, The Free Market Innovation Machine, is very good on all this).

After starting this post, I thought it would be a good idea to read the comments on Kieran’s, and I notice that Brad de Long has offered an Amazon book prize to the first member of Crooked Timber to follow Kieran up. I don’t suppose I could ask for a copy of After the New Economy, could I?

Update I’ve fixed a couple of typos noted by commentators. Thanks for that. I’ve also attended to a problem arising from my inexperience with ecto, that led to duplication of part of the post

Walking Trees

by Henry Farrell on January 28, 2004

As part of our never-ending “quest”: to increase shareholder value, I’ve munged up a stripped down version of Crooked Timber for people with mobile devices of one sort or another; it’s available at “”: (there’s a link in our left sidebar too). Comments from people who actually live in the 21st century and have mobile devices with Internet access would be appreciated. Thanks to “Dive Into Mark”: for the basic templates.

Top up fees (yet more dissent)

by John Q on January 27, 2004

I’m not clear enough on the workings of the British Parliament to know whether Blair’s 5-vote win on the second reading of his education bill means that the political fight is over, but I thought I’d have my say anyway.

First, I’ll respond to other CT bloggers who’ve discussed this issue. Chris primarily makes the argument that, given that money isn’t going to come from anywhere else, or on any other terms, it’s better to take what’s on offer than to refuse on the basis that the terms are bad ones. I suppose I agree with this, but it’s not a helpful basis on which to discuss policy. Assuming you don’t want the Tories back, the same argument could be used for acquiescence in whatever policy Blair chooses to propose. Chris also dismisses concerns about variable fees, and I’ll return to this.

Daniel argues on risk grounds against the repayment mechanism (borrowed from the Australian HECS scheme) and, in my view, gets the risk analysis wrong. For precisely the reasons he outlines for not using NPV rules in assessing the effects of fees, the insurance implicit in the provision that no repayment is required until/unless earnings exceed some percentage of average earnings is considerably more valuable than he suggests. Assuming the proportion is set to give a level higher than the average earnings of non-graduates, it makes education a one-way bet. If you win, by earning more than you would have expected otherwise, you pay back some of your winnings. If you lose, you pay nothing. I don’t know what the actual proportion is, so I should stress that my support for the repayment scheme depends critically on this variable – in the absence of a high threshold substantial insurance, Daniel’s analysis is correct.

The critical sticking point, though, is not the level of fees but the principle of variable fees. If this provision had been dropped, it seems clear that the rest of the package would have passed fairly easily. The claim that these are not the same variable fees that were specifically excluded in the manifesto is nonsense, and the determination with which Blair and Clarke have stuck to them shows this.

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RSS for Blogger Blogs

by Brian on January 27, 2004

Kaye Trammell and James Russell have noted that Blogger now has an inbuilt RSS feed – details here. Third-party RSS feeds for Blogger blogs have been pretty bad in the past, so hopefully this will be better. If you don’t know why RSS is good for you, read Kaye and Dave Winer. Let me add another reason – I (and I think many others) don’t read blogs without RSS feeds. Anyone who is running a Blogger blog should turn on this feature and display the feed link prominently.

Oxford protests

by Micah on January 27, 2004

I just received an email from a student at Oxford saying this:


bq. The University regrets that it is unable, on health and safety
grounds, to make the Examination Schools available for lectures
and classes today (Tuesday 27 January) because there is a
student occupation of the building.

There were a few well publicized cases of fee resistance when I was at Oxford, but nothing this substantial. More

Oxford sit-in

by Micah on January 27, 2004

I just received an email from a student at Oxford with this announcement from the University’s administration:


bq. The University regrets that it is unable, on health and safety
grounds, to make the Examination Schools available for lectures
and classes today (Tuesday 27 January) because there is a
student occupation of the building.

bq. Students and staff should consult the Examination Schools page of
the University web-site for information about arrangements for
Schools lectures and classes from tomorrow onwards.

There were a couple well publicized cases of fee resistance when I was at Oxford a few years ago, but nothing this substantial. The Guardian has more on the student protests, which are still fairly small, “here”:,11032,1132309,00.html.


by Henry Farrell on January 27, 2004

I’m running to catch a plane, so I’m taking the lazy blogger’s way out.


“Steven Berlin Johnson”: and Jack Balkin (“here”: and “here”: on whether the Internet is destroying democracy.

“Ed Felten”: on why Republican Senate file-snoopers may have indeed broken the law.

“Jessa Crispin”: and “About Last Night”: on changes afoot in the NYT Book Review (I’m with both of ’em – read the Washington Post’s “Book World”:, and especially the incomparable “Michael Dirda”: instead).

“Belle Waring”: on wusscore, a rapidly expanding musical genre.

“Amity Wilczek”: on slugporn.

Investment and luck

by Chris Bertram on January 27, 2004

This is really Daniel’s department, but I’ve been waiting for Samuel Brittan to update his website with “his review”: of John Allen Paulos’s “A Mathematician Plays the Market”: for a while, and he’s finally done it. The most bloggable point is borrowed — I think — from Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness”:

bq. In financial discussions you often hear how about Ms.X or Mr.Y who has had a consistently good record in beating the market indices. Paulos shows how such “successful” analysts can emerge purely by chance. Of 1,000 analysts, roughly 500 might be expected to outperform the market next year. Of these another 250 might be expected to do so well for a second year and 125 in the third. Continuing the series we might expect to find one analyst who does well for ten consecutive years by chance alone. But will she do better in the 11th year? Your guess is as good as mine.

After the New Economy

by Kieran Healy on January 27, 2004

This week at Crooked Timber, at the suggestion of Daniel, some of us will be discussing Doug Henwood‘s new book, After the New Economy. It’s an analysis and critique of “New Economy” rhetoric about productivity growth, the transformation of work and the process of globalization. Doug Henwood is probably known to many readers of CT. He’s the editor of the Left Business Observer and the author of Wall Street.

I read the book on a round-trip bus excursion to Sydney last week and wrote up a general review to kick things off. This is a fairly long post. You can get it in a more readable PDF format if you like.

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