AUT boycott follow-up

by Eszter Hargittai on May 16, 2005

From the APSA:

“The American Political Science Association, through action by its Council and its Committee on Professional Ethics, Rights, and Freedoms, supports the views expressed in the May 3, 2005 statement by the AAUP against academic boycotts. We join in condemning the resolutions of the AUT that damage academic freedom and we call for their repeal.”

I am waiting for the American Sociological Association to follow with a similar statement. According to Jeff Weintraub, the ASA Council has taken the matter under consideration, but no outcome so far.

UPDATE: The Middle East Studies Association joins in: “We strongly urge the Association to withdraw or rescind this resolution to boycott these universities and blacklist their faculty at the very earliest opportunity.”

Sophists, economists and calculators

by Henry Farrell on May 16, 2005

John Sutherland “splutters indignantly”:,3604,1484604,00.html in _The Guardian_ that Steve Levitt’s Freakonomics, hides “hard-core Reagonism [sic] and Thatcherism” under a mask of playfulness. His evidence for this? First, that Levitt is an economist:

bq. Fun as it is to read, Levitt’s vision of the human condition is cold. The solution to every problem, whether political, moral, social or spiritual, is economics. The human animal is a rational-choice machine, driven by incentives and self-interest.

Second, that Reagan’s tax-cuts were “highly freakonomical” because they were counter-intuitive.

bq. Cut the taxes for the rich, and the poor will benefit. How? Because of trickle-down. And the government will pull in more revenue. Why? Compliance: people don’t mind paying taxes, they mind paying excessive taxes. History has proved Freaky Ron wrong on the first count and perhaps right on the second.

Now fulminating opinion-pieces should perhaps be held to a lower standard of truth than serious journalism. But even so, this is still an exceptionally silly article. First, even if Levitt’s view of the human condition is cold and based on economics, this is by no means evidence that he’s a right-wing jihadist. If Sutherland really wants to see the argument that “the solution to every problem, whether political, moral, social or spiritual, is economics” developed at length, he only needs to go back and read Marx’s _Capital_. Second, Reaganite economics didn’t have much of anything to do with the kinds of arguments that Levitt is putting forward. Indeed, in an important way, they’re antithetical to the kind of social science that Levitt is trying to do. _Contra_ Sutherland, the intellectual justification for Reagan’s tax cuts was, insofar as it was anything, the Laffer curve. To state it politely, the idea behind this curve was not driven by data. Levitt’s work, in contrast, isn’t scrawled down “on the back of a restaurant napkin”: ; it’s driven by what the data show. This, I suspect, is why Levitt has some harsh words for John Lott in the book – cooking your numbers is a mortal sin.

I’ve read _Freakonomics_ pretty carefully (you’ll be seeing more on this topic before the end of the week). My guess is that Levitt is somewhere to the right of the political center, but it’s only a guess. His broad political orientation is impossible to discern from his writing on economics. Sutherland’s article is completely off the mark, and is, in a certain way, anti-intellectual. He identifies a particular style of thought that he doesn’t like, and then damns it on the basis of its purported link to a right wing political agenda. And in so doing, he seems to argue that the examination of incentives and what they tell us about how to make policy is fundamentally morally problematic. That’s a far reaching claim, and, I believe, one that is deeply misconceived. Sutherland is usually a good book reviewer, but he’s gotten this one very badly wrong indeed.

(Thanks to Chris for the link).

Tweedle needle weedle

by Kieran Healy on May 16, 2005

What’s that sound? Why, it’s the world’s smallest violin playing quietly in the background as the NYT “counsels the neediest cases:”:

bq. Q. You’re a single worker without children, and your company is very family-friendly. Many colleagues with children take advantage of flextime to attend soccer games or school plays. You feel that you’re constantly picking up the slack because you don’t have family commitments to provide an excuse to leave at 5 p.m. Is this just part of paying your dues, or should you speak up?

A: My heart bleeds for ya, buddy. Speak up! You are the Rosa Parks of corporate America.

bq. Q. What should you do if you feel that you’re being exploited?

Go to bathroom, stick your head in the toilet bowl and flush. There. Things should now be back in perspective.

bq. Q. Won’t declining cast you as a poor team player?

No, because if you’re feeling gypped cheated over all the advantages that co-workers with children enjoy, chances are everyone already thinks you’re a langer.

More on Mieville

by Henry Farrell on May 16, 2005

China Miéville has just won the “Arthur C. Clarke award”: for _Iron Council_, which we ran a “seminar”: on in January. He seems to be on a bit of a roll the last month or two; he’s also interviewed in the “current issue”: of _The Believer_. Look out next month for some more Miéville-related goodness.

On Bullshit

by Harry on May 16, 2005

After featuring on 60 minutes last night, On Bullshit climbed from #21 (when I checked at the start of the segment) in the Amazon charts to #3 (when I checked 5 minutes ago). I have no idea what this means in terms of numbers, but the commissioning editor must be feeling pretty smug. As must Harry Frankfurt, I’d guess.