From the monthly archives:

February 2004

Using Hayek against free markets

by Henry on February 29, 2004

I’ve been re-reading James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State: Why Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed”:″. It’s a wonderful book; I especially recommend it to libertarians who find it hard to believe that lefties too can be opposed to big government. I hope to blog more about its relationship to Hernando de Soto’s proposals for property rights reform in the developing world (see “here”:, “here”: and “here”: ) sometime in the next few weeks. For the moment, I just want to highlight one implication of Scott’s argument; that free markets may be flawed from a Hayekian point of view. Scott doesn’t pay as much attention to markets as he perhaps ought to, but it’s quite clear that he sees the process of state-building as going hand-in-hand with the creation of national and transnational markets. In particular, both states and markets need commonly agreed formal standards (of quality, measurement etc), which allow non-local exchange between people who don’t know each other. The historical evidence is emphatic – creating universal standards is an important part of the state-building process, not only in autocratic regimes, but also in more market-oriented societies (see, for example, John Brewer’s exemplary study of the building of the British state, _The Sinews of Power_).

But here’s the rub. Scott very clearly shows that national, written standards are going to be “thin.” By their very nature, they’re unavoidably going to leave out many of the important forms of tacit knowledge that local, consensual, unwritten standards and rules can incorporate. The Hayekian case for free markets, as I understand it, is based less on the ideal of competition, than the ideal of information exchange; i.e. that markets allow the transmission of tacit knowledge more effectively than formal organizations. But Scott’s argument suggests that Hayek on tacit knowledge contradicts Hayek on free markets.[1] If you want to have non-local exchange (i.e. properly competitive impersonal markets), you have to do so on the basis of universal standards. But these standards fail to live up to the Hayekian ideal. Ergo, you can construct a Hayekian case against the creation of competitive impersonal markets, insofar as these markets involve the destruction of the kinds of tacit knowledge that are embedded in informal local standards. I’m not a Hayek expert, so I’ll throw this out to the people who know Hayek better than I do (Dan for one), but I think that there’s a serious argument here to be fleshed out.

fn1. Cass Sunstein, in his review of Scott’s book, seems to “suggest”: that Scott’s use of Hayek is self-contradictory. I suspect that the contradiction is in Hayek rather than in Scott.

Did someone say..

by Eszter Hargittai on February 29, 2004

.. Jewish conspiracy?

Sweezy dies

by Chris Bertram on February 29, 2004

Over at The Virtual Stoa, “Chris Brooke reports”: that Paul M. Sweezy, author of _The Theory of Capitalist Development_ and editor of the Monthly Review for many decades has died. Chris will be posting links to obituaries as they appear.

Don’t be Misled

by Brian on February 29, 2004

This is what I need more of – theoretical justifications for __not__ reading things.

bq. “Neil Levy”:, “Open-Mindedness and the Duty to Gather Evidence; Or, Reflections Upon Not Reading the Volokh Conspiracy (For Instance)”: (PDF)

At times Neil comes perilously close to endorsing Kripke’s paradox. Assume __p__ is something I know. So any evidence against __p__ is evidence for something false. Evidence for something false is misleading evidence. It’s bad to attend to misleading evidence. So I shouldn’t attend to evidence against __p__. So more generally I should ignore evidence that tells against things I know.

But Neil’s main point is more subtle than that. It’s that it can be a bad idea to approach a topic as an expert when in fact you’re not one. And that seems like good advice, even if you really should be reading “the Volokh Conspiracy”: (for instance).

Nietzsche and Gibson, Locke and Pasolini

by Chris Bertram on February 29, 2004

I recently read Nietzsche’s “The Genealogy of Morality”: with a group of colleagues. To the extent to which I understood the book (and despite the book’s brevity I’m feeling somewhat sympathetic to those snakes who have to sit around whilst they digest a large mammal), my comprehension was greatly assisted by Brian Leiter’s excellent “Nietzsche on Morality”: . Reading the reviews and commentary on Mel Gibson’s Passion, I was immediately reminded of a passage from the second essay, where Nietzsche is writing about the genesis of guilt from the sense of indebtedness (at first to ancestors) and remarks on the further excruciating twist that Christianity brings: on the pretext of having their debts forgiven, believers are put in a postition of psychological indebtedness from which they can _never_ recover (He sent his only son, and we _killed_ Him):

bq. …. we confront the paradoxical and horrifying expedient with which a martyred humanity found temporary relief, that stroke of genius of Christianity—God’s sacrifice of himself for the guilt of human beings, God paying himself back with himself, God as the only one who can redeem man from what for human beings has become impossible to redeem—the creditor sacrifices himself for the debtor, out of love (can people believe that?), out of love for his debtor! (sec. 21)

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Reading from left to right

by John Quiggin on February 29, 2004

Valdis Krebs presents this map of purchasing habits for political books, using the techniques of cluster analysis. leftright
Krebs’ main point is that the books divide readers into two sharply separate clusters, color-coded on the assumption that one group of readers are Democrats and the other are Republicans. The diagram also coincides with the standard left-right coding.

I have a couple of observations on this. The first is the trivial one that this color-coding is the exact opposite of the one that would naturally be used in Australia or the UK (back in my days as a folksinger, one of my more successful pieces (this is a highly relative term) was about a Labour leader who “went in [to office] Red and came out Blue”.) Without wanting to load too much on to arbitrary signifiers, this does seem to me to support my view that there’s a bigger gulf between liberals and the radical left in the US than elsewhere. Even if the mainstream left party in other countries does not adopt the red banner of Marxism there’s sufficient continuity along the political spectrum to make it’s adoption by the right unlikely.

The second thing that’s striking is that, on the left-right orientation, I come out as a centrist. I’ve read nearly all the blue books that are within one or two links of the red zone, and none of those on the far left of the diagram. On the right, I’ve read only Letters to a Young Conservative .

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Game Theory on the Spot

by Brian on February 29, 2004

I’ve never understood a lot of the attraction behind game theory. In particular, I’ve never heard a convincing argument for why Nash equilibria should be considered especially interesting. The only argument I know of for choosing your side of a Nas equilibria in a one-shot game involves assuming, while deciding what to do, that the other guy knows what decision you will make. This doesn’t even make sense as an idealisation. There’s a better chance of defending the importance of Nash equilibria in repeated games, and I think this is what evolutionary game theorists make a living from. But even there it doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the most famous game of all, Prisoner’s Dilemma, we know that the best strategy in repeated games is __not__ to choose the equilbrium option, but instead to uphold mutual cooperation for as long as possible.

The only time Nash equilibria even look like being important is in repeated zero-sum games. In that case I can almost understand the argument for choosing an equilibrium option. (At least, I can see why that’s a not altogether ridiculous heuristic.) One of the many benefits of the existence of professional sports is that we get a large sample of repeated zero-sum games. And in one relatively easy to model game, penalty kicks, it turns out players really do act like they are playing their side of the equilibrium position, even in surprising ways.

bq. Testing Mixed Strategy Equilibria When Players Are Heterogeneous: The Case of Penalty Kicks in Soccer (P.A. Chiappori, S. Levitt, T. Groseclose). (paper, tables) (Hat tip: Tangotiger)

Some of you will have seen this before, because it was published in __American Economic Review__, but I think it will be news to enough people to post here. The results are interesting, but mostly I’m just jealous that those guys got to spend research time talking to footballers and watching game video. I haven’t heard any work that sounded less like research since I heard about that UC Davis prof whose research consists in part of making porn movies.

New Paltz

by Jon Mandle on February 29, 2004

As you no doubt know, on Friday, Feb.27, the mayor of the village of New Paltz, New York, conducted marriage ceremonies for 21 gay couples in front of a cheering crowd. (Click here and then click again to enlarge the glorious picture.) He was quoted as saying, “Absolutely, I’ll be doing this again.” (For more on the mayor, look here – tip to Kevin Drum.)

So, today (Saturday, Feb.28), my wife and I packed up our 3-1/2 year old to drive the hour south, hoping to be part of the celebration. We were going to have our daughter pass out flowers. Alas, the village offices were quiet. Still, we had a pleasant day – the town seemed to be buzzing, and we overheard bits of several conversations along the lines of: “Wasn’t it great how everybody turned out together in support.”

The legality of the marriages is not obvious – the New York State Consolidated Laws on Domestic Relations are surprisingly unclear on the issue of gender. I found what I would consider to be an implicit assumption that marriages are between a man and a woman in several places, such as article 4, section 50: “Property, real or personal … owned by a woman at the time of her marriage … shall not be subject to her husband’s control or disposal nor liable for his debts.” I’m no lawyer, but this hardly seems definitive.

Stonewall was over 30 years ago. I don’t know how these particular cases will eventually be decided, but here’s hoping that in 30 more years, we’ll look back at these past few weeks as another turning point.

What can you say about a story like this?

(“This way to the libertarian recruitment center” comes to mind, actually.)

You and what army

by Ted on February 28, 2004

Good catch from Uggabugga:

We took a quick spin around the Internet looking at religious-conservative sites to see what their reaction was to Bush’s proposal of a constitutional amendment about marriage. What did they have to say at 8:30 PM EST? (on Tuesday, the day the of Bush’s announcement of support for the FMA- Ted)

* Coral Ridge Ministries: no mention
* Christian Broadcasting Network: no mention
* The 700 Club (subset of CBN): no mention
* Focus on the Family: a tiny link to a short statement
* Concerned Women for America: no mention (but an old link to a page defending the term “marriage”)
* Family Research Council: Yes, a featured summary on the front page, and a link to a short statement

That’s a pretty tepid response. Where was the coordination by the White House?

It could very well be that socially conservative organizations just don’t have their act together when it comes to the web. I was struck at the failure of the American Family Association to drum up more support for their poll on gay marriage. Sure, a lot of liberal (and socially liberal) organizations and pages linked to the survey, but so did social conservative organizations and pages. They’ve got their mailing lists, and the support of a network of online socially conservative activist groups. Still, the most conservative option, opposing civil unions and gay marriage, lost 2-1.

Still, interesting.


by Ted on February 28, 2004

For the record:

Wesley Clark didn’t spread the rumor about John Kerry.

We also spoke to a couple other reporters and pieced together what happened: at a press conference at a Nashville restaurant, Clark made a passing reference to an upcoming National Enquirer story about Kerry’s past. The story wasn’t about an intern at all, and Clark brought it up in the context of his own campaign plans. He was staying in, he said, in part because the expected story might damage the Kerry campaign. According to one reporter, it appeared Clark didn’t have any idea what the allegations might be.

There’s a commercial on Bush’s campaign website that claims that Kerry took “more special interest money than any other senator.” That’s a very difficult statement to defend. (The commercial is still there.)

When you combine money from paid lobbyists and PACs–which makes sense, since they’re both conduits for “special interests”–Kerry actually ranks ninety-second out of 100 U.S. senators. That doesn’t make him pure, but it makes him purer than most serious candidates for the White House. And it puts him on a different planet from President Bush, who accepted more money from lobbyists last year alone than Kerry has in the last 15.

There was a commonly circulated story that Saddam Hussein used to murder people by lowering them into industrial plastic shredders. It should not add any luster to the terrible dictator’s reputation to point out that this story was thinly sourced at best. (via No More Mister Nice Blog)

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Damn you, Bill Gates!

by John Holbo on February 28, 2004

Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty” contains a sentence fragment, which, in context, constitutes an answer to some such question as ‘what are we on about, eh?’ Typed it in today, and had occasion to consult MS-Word about spelling overall. And no way to do that without getting two-cents worth about grammar. So what do you suppose the Beast of Redmond thinks we should do about “That which a man cannot give up without offending against the essence of his human nature”? Answer: “consider revising.”

He wishes for the cloths of Heaven

by Kieran Healy on February 28, 2004

There wasn’t much light pollution when I was growing up in Ireland, but it was cloudy way too often. It wasn’t until I moved to Arizona and got out into the desert at night that I fully appreciated the Milky Way as a celestial object you could look up and see. I remain appallingly “ignorant”: about the constellations, but via “Escadabelle”: comes a superb “photograph”: of the Arizona night sky (see also a “larger version”:[1] If you’re ever in Tucson, make time to get out to the “Kitt Peak National Observatory”: which runs a terrific “Nightly Observing Program”: Here in Australia the night sky is also very clear, outside the cities, but I am even more clueless about its composition.

fn1. Incidentally, I know that this photo wasn’t taken just by strolling out into the desert and pointing a camera in the air. But it conveys the feeling of what it’s like to be out there.

All Mod Cons

by Belle Waring on February 28, 2004

In general I prefer the American, hard-boiled mystery to the cosy English one. Ross Macdonald is my god. I still enjoy a “cosy” murder however, and there may be more well-written ones of this type. Perhaps it’s just that I find derivative “cosy” mysteries tolerable, if kitsch, while derivative hard-boiled mysteries are just brutal. See the works of Mickey Spillane, passim. Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh (not British, really, but it comes to the same thing) — I enjoy all these, Tey particulary. P.D. James is a little precious and over-intellectualized, but that’s not to say I haven’t read them all. I even like Agatha Christie, though her works form their own peculiar class; the puzzles are insoluble because they require characters other than human beings to carry them out. The Christie murderer is someone of insane cunning, capable of planning things to the minutest detail, and simultaneously posessed of incredible, reckless daring, which allows them to seize a random, propitious moment for their scheme.

One thing that always strikes me in reading post-WWII novels set in England is just how incredibly poor it was (yes, and in the few set in Scotland, it’s worse). In novels set in the late ’40’s, people are literally scrounging around for firewood, and everything is rationed. Everyone has that one annoying cousin who married a Yank and sends envy-provoking postcards about their new washing machine. In the Rendell book One Across, Two Down, published in 1971, the main characters don’t even have a refrigerator in their flat, and it is a source of friction when the meat in the larder gets high by Sunday (they are meant to be poor, but not abjectly so). This seems bizarre to me. Nor do I think of the 1970’s as a time of rocketing prosperity for Britain. So, when was the Wirtschaftswunder? When did the UK get to be the rich place it is today? Or should I stop trying to glean reliable sociological details from murder mysteries?

Memo to Peter Jackson, Eugene Volokh, et al.

by Kieran Healy on February 28, 2004

“High Concept”: for a Horror movie: The “Constitution”: _really is_ a “living document”: Key scenes:

* Night. CONSTITUTION escapes from display case in Library of Congress. Seen lurking in alleyway off of Mass Ave. Shadows. Attacks and eats “Cato Institute”: INTERN.
* Day. The NATIONAL GUARD attempt to capture the Constitution on the Mall. Suddenly, ARTICLE III is invoked in a novel way. The GUARDSMEN find themselves guilty of treason and are forced to arrest themselves.
* Morning. Quiet alley. Constitution hides in a dumpster. We hear it interpreting itself in a high-pitched chatter. BABY AMENDMENTS push up the dumpster lid and escape into the city.
* A home office. A MAN sits at a computer. The Constitution moves stealthily behind him, past a banner on the wall reading ‘Proud to be a Resident Scholar at the “AEI”:’ He hears a noise behind him, turns and brandishes a gun. The Constitution quickly reinterprets the SECOND AMENDMENT and the gun disappears. The Man looks at his hand in horror, and then up at the advancing AMENDMENT. Fade Out.
* Day. Golf Course. The EIGHTH AMENDMENT appears from the heavy rough and devours Justice “SCALIA”: from the legs up. Vice President CHENEY putts to save par, makes some adjustments to Scalia’s scorecard, and smiles quietly to himself.

The linking scenes pretty much write themselves. Call me for a complete synopsis.