Markets in everything

by Henry Farrell on April 20, 2004

Want to lower your “Erdös Number”: in a hurry? “Bill Tozier”: is flogging off the “right to co-author”: a scientific paper with him on eBay. An undoubted bargain for social scientists, humanities types and others with high Erdös counts. Given Bill’s chops in complex systems and agent-based modelling, I’m half tempted to bid myself.

Still, prospective bidders should note his strict _caveat emptor_.

bq. However, the seller retains the right to refuse (and publicly ridicule) proposals for research in non-scientific fields, such as “Intelligent Design”. Such kooks need not apply.

Liliputian Lilith

by Eszter Hargittai on April 20, 2004

I really enjoy seeing friends take up blogging because I find it helps us keep connected and it usually means more interesting reading. (I guess one could see that as a bad thing, but I’m working on honing my time-management skills.) The latest arrival is Liliputian Lilith who is a friend from graduate school. She, like me, grew up in Hungary interspersed with years in the U.S. thanks to our academic parents who rarely stayed put for more than a few years. Related to other Timberites’ experience (and I suspect many readers’) are her thoughts about the choice some of us make to live in a country other than the one in which we grew up. She has only been blogging for a few days but already has interesting posts about “mother-books” and air travel, cities, Barbie and beauty queens, and the origin of the Hungarians (related to this post on CT earlier). Today she took on John Holbo’s recent comments about Academic blogging and literary studies. Welcome to blog writing, LL! (I know you’ve been a reader for a while.;)

To think that an old soldier should come to this

by John Holbo on April 20, 2004

I trust you agree with me that advertising is a fascinating subject, for it concerns essentially the nature of the beast. Yet reading its entrails is so tricky. Tonight a passage from David Ogilvy‘s Confessions of an Advertising Man, first published in 1963. In a chapter entitled “Should Advertising Be Abolished?”:

[click to continue…]

The Whig interpretation

by Henry Farrell on April 20, 2004

I’ve just finished Neal Stephenson’s “The Confusion”:, the second volume in a projected trilogy. It’s a lot of fun, albeit a bit more sporadic than the first – a little patchy in the usual fashion of the middle volumes of trilogies where nothing is resolved. Stephenson’s intentions for the trilogy are becoming clearer. He’s making an argument about the historical sources of modernity. In the first volume as I read it, the “key passage”: asks about the nature of the whirlwind, the invisible force not only impelling social and economic change, but also transforming our understanding of who we are, and our place in the universe. In “The Confusion,” Stephenson begins to articulate his answer to this question, when he places Jack Shaftoe in an alley in Cairo, which is perhaps the oldest marketplace in the world.

bq. For this alley was the womb at the center of the Mother of the World, the place where it had all started. The _Messe_ of Linz and the House of the Golden Mercury in Leipzig and the Damplatz of Amsterdam were its young impetuous grandchildren. Like the eye of the hurricane, the alley was dead calm; but around it, he knew, revolved the global maelstrom of liquid silver. Here, there were no Dukes and no Vagabonds; every man was the same, as in the moment before he was born.

For Stephenson, as for many economic historians, the invisible whirlwind is the market. It acts as a Universal Solvent, dissolving social bonds, and uniting an unlikely congeries of characters (including a Vagabond, a Dutch captain, an Armenian, a crypto-Jew, an Electress and a pirate-queen) in the pursuit of wealth. It works further alchemy as King Solomon’s gold and the wellsprings of credit become one and the same thing. The creation of complex financial markets conjures money from thin air, just as alchemists sought to transform lead into gold.

Stephenson’s history is, quite literally, a Whig one – the Whigs and merchants who seek to uproot the rotten pilings of the feudal order are the heroes of his narrative. This has clear costs in terms of historical veracity – Stephenson glosses over the “corruption”: endemic in Whig politics. Yet he continues to succeed in carrying off the difficult task of taking economic history seriously while maintaining an entertaining narrative. Recommended.

Degrees of separation

by John Q on April 20, 2004

Following up the links on Eszter’s last post, I discovered that she shares with me an Erdos number of 3 (Eszter via Aronov and O’Rourke, mine via Fishburn and Wakker). This is pretty good for social science academics.

We thought this was worth a CT post, and came up with another issue. Although Movable Type and other systems encourage group blogging, they don’t, as far as I’m aware, allow for jointly authored posts. This is of particular interest since it’s at least arguable that a joint post would count as co-authorship for Erdos number purposes (this comes back to the question, frequently discussed on this blog, of whether and how blog contributions should be listed on vitas). But more generally, it would seem as if joint posts would be worthwhile for at least some purposes.

The Erdos number site asserts that numbers as high as 15 have been found, but that nearly everyone with a finite Erdos number is below 8. This seems about right, though mean, median and modal numbers must grow over time.