Efficient markets (addendum)

by Daniel on July 22, 2004

This is more of a footnote to John’s post on the subject than a substantive contribution, but it struck me that, despite John having made the point otherwise, the debate in comments (here and on Asymmetrical Information still seemed to be based on a few commonly held fallacies about the efficient markets theory;

  • that it is basically a neutral, academic theory with few implications for the real world
  • that it is basically all about the stock market (to be honest, most of the discussion revolved around the US stock market)
  • and that, to quote James Surowiecki, “whether or not markets are perfectly efficient, they’re better than any other capital allocation method that you can think of.

None of these are true.

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Shut up

by Ted on July 22, 2004

Need a fresh reason to dislike Bill O’Reilly?

O’Reilly scolds guest who outed gays, then calls judge a lesbian

Fox News Channel’s star talk-show personality, Bill O’Reilly, says he is uncomfortable with the practice of outing gay political figures–except, it seems, when he is doing the outing.

On his show Monday night, O’Reilly chastised guest Michael Rogers for maintaining a Web site publicizing the names of gay staffers working for politicians who oppose gay marriage….

But on the same show–and for at least the third time in the last year–O’Reilly described one of the justices on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as a lesbian, a claim that the justice herself, through a spokeswoman, denies.

For the record, I am opposed to outing, whether it’s done by Bill O’Reilly or by people on my side.

UPDATE: “I gave up the homosexual lifestyle four years ago.” Terrific New Republic first-person story on gay marriage.


by Ted on July 22, 2004

Dwight Merideth had an excellent post the other day called “The Top 10 Ways To Change The Tone in Washington (For the Worse).” He could not have anticipated that the White House would have such a spectacular topper:

The White House helped to block a Republican-brokered deal on Wednesday to extend several middle-class tax cuts, fearful of a bill that could draw Democratic votes and dilute a Republican campaign theme, Republican negotiators said.

The White House blocked a package of tax cuts, targeted at middle- and lower-income taxpayers, because the bill was moderate enough to attract Democratic votes. They chose to fail, by their own principles, rather than allow a small amount of concilliation with the other party. I have a hard time thinking of a more effective way to give the finger to the principle of bipartisanship.

Michael Froomkin says, “This may be one of the most cynical ploys in US politics I ever read about. And I read a lot.” Paperwight has much more; he makes a good comparison to the Republican refusal to accept a Democratic deal to confirm most of Bush’s judicial appointments. And, he notices that the White House is attempting to soothe tempers by allowing more pork in the budget.

These guys have got to go.

Mr Mee

by Chris Bertram on July 22, 2004

I’m in the middle of reading Andrew Crumey’s rather intruiging novel “Mr Mee”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312268033/junius-20 at the moment. One minor point of interest is that this may be the first work of fiction to contain a description of the Monty Hall problem (see “Brian’s post below”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002210.html ) in the form of a letter, supposedly written in 1759 from a Jean-Bernard Rosier to the Encyclopedist d’Alembert:

bq. Sir, you may know that many years ago one of our countrymen was taken prisoner in a remote and barren region of Asia noted only for the savagery of its inhabitants. The man’s captors, uncertain what to do with him, chose to settle the issue by means of a ring hidden beneath one of three wooden cups. If the prisoner could correctly guess which cup hid the gold band, he would be thrown out to face the dubious tenderness of the wolves; otherwise he was to be killed on the spot. By placing bets on the outcome, his cruel hosts could enjoy some brief diversion from the harsh austerity of their nomadic and brutal existence.

bq. The leader of the tribe, having hidden his own ring, commanded that the unfortunate prisoner be brought forward to make his awful choice. After considerable hesitation, and perhaps a silent prayer, the wretch placed his trembling hand upon the middle cup. Bets were placed; then the leader, still wishing to prolong the painful moment of uncertainty which so delighted his audience, lifted the rightmost cup, beneath which no ring was found. The captive gave a gasp of hope, and amidst rising laughter from the crowd, the leader now reached for the left, saying that before turning it over he would allow his prisoner a final opportunity to change his choice. Imagine yourself to be in that poor man’s position, Monsieur D’Alembert, and tell me, what would you now do?

Deliverance in disturbances

by Ross Silverman on July 22, 2004

Swift brash flash of blue
Nobly shielding your fledglings
Can’t I mow the lawn?


by John Q on July 22, 2004

As far as I can see, the Right seems to be winning the scandal wars just at the moment. I didn’t follow the Plame-Wilson scandal the first time around, so I can’t really tell how damaging or otherwise the latest claims from US and British intelligence may be to Wilson’s credibility. Similarly, although it seems clear that Sandy Berger has made a fool of himself , I have no idea what this means for anything that might possibly matter. Finally, it appears that last Thanksgiving in Iraq, Bush posed not with a fake turkey, but with a display turkey, never intended for carving but to adorn the buffet line. I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

All this confirms me in the view that the kind of “smoking gun” or “what did X know and when did s/he know it” scandal that has dominated politics since Watergate is a waste of everybody’s time. The real scandals are those that are, for the most part, on the public record.

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More on moiders

by Chris Bertram on July 22, 2004

There’s been much discussion of the Marc Mulholland post that I linked to the other day, though the ratio between heat and light varies somewhat from post to post and from comment to comment. Somewhat frustrating for me has been the fact that the main critics of the original post are people who take themselves to be defenders of liberalism and opponents of moral relativism. Since I think of myself as both of those things, and don’t share their reaction to the original piece, something has gone wrong somewhere. One of the more sympathetic critics has been Norman Geras who points to an ambiguity in Marc Mulholland’s characterization of liberalism:

bq. On the one hand, he says:

bq. bq. It’s worth recalling that liberal modernity is itself a historic and contested construction, not a revelation of reason and human essence.

bq. Again:

bq. bq. Liberals have a tendency to treat their own norms as self-evident and, as [an] expression of ahistorical ‘rights’, not only universally applicable but necessary components of full human morality.

bq. We can read these statements in two ways. They could just be saying what can be said of any cultural or political outlook: that it has a historical genesis and grounding, a social milieu, and so on. It’s not pre-given; it’s not written in the stars. Or Marc’s two quoted statements could be intended as saying, more strongly: (and therefore) liberalism, like every other outlook, is just an outlook, no better or no worse than other outlooks.

I happen to agree with Norm that liberalism is a damn sight better than other outlooks, and with his rejection of moral relativism. But there is a reason for insisting upon the (recent) historical genesis of liberalism which he doesn’t entertain, but which seems to me important, and has to do with a certain inappropriateness of attitude.

The inappropriateness I have in mind is that of the person who used to believe P and now believes not-P, but who now denounces and attacks all those who still believe P as stupid or malicious, since “any fool can see” that P is false. Ex-Marxists of the “God that failed” type are especially prone to this, but it isn’t limited to them. The utterer of self-righteous denunciation seems to hide from himself or herself a due acknowledgement of the fact that he or she used to believe what, apparently, only the stupid or malicious _could_ believe.

There’s a leap from the individual to the group or cultural manifestation of this phenomenon, but it is one that I’m going to make. In his post, Mulholland pointed to a number of attitudes, opinions and values characterisic of “liberal modernity” (note, not “liberalism” as such). They included attitudes towards homosexuality, sex with young teenagers, wealth and celebrity and a whole host of other things. Assume, and it is a pretty big assumption, that the attitudes characteristic of “liberal modernity” on many of these issues are broadly justified. The fact remains that those attitudes weren’t embedded in the public culture “around here” as recently as the mid-1960s. And there are large swathes of “the West”, where some or all of them still aren’t the common cultural currency (those parts of the United States with sodomy laws, for example).

Many of the people who make up the various Muslim communities within Western Europe come from social and cultural backgrounds which reject all or some elements of the newly acquired _conscience collective_ of the West. To the extent to which those elements are good — and obviously I happen to think some of them such as acceptance of homosexuality and equality for women — then rejection of them by Muslims is a bad thing (without qualification). And we ought to say so. But we need to able to do this without saying, in effect “You backward medieval morons for believing that P!”, where P is some belief that very many of “us” held a mere generation or two ago.