Bet with Bryan Caplan

by John Q on May 28, 2009

Bryan Caplan and I have now agreed on the settlement conditions for a bet on US_EU jobless rates while also agreeing to differ on the interpretation. The stake is $US100 and the agreed criterion is that, for Bryan to win, the average Eurostat harmonised unemployment rate for the EU-15 over the period 2009-18 inclusive should exceed that for the US by at least 1.5 percentage points.

Since the implied difference in the proportion of the population who are unemployed is almost exactly equal* to the difference in the proportion of the population who are incarcerated, I interpret my side the bet as follows

Averaged over 2009-18, the sum of incarceration and unemployment rates in the US will exceed that in the EU-15

Caplan wants to leave incarceration out of the discussion and focus only in unemployment. Since we’re agreed on how to settle the bet, there’s no problem with differing on how to interpret the result.

[click to continue…]

Adventures in Anti-Semitic Implicature

by John Holbo on May 28, 2009

Have you seen this piece in the Boston Review? “Anti-semitism and the financial crisis”. I honestly don’t know what to make of it and would like your sober opinion. Kindly keep non-sober opinions to yourself, however. The internet already has more of those than it can consume locally.

Basically, a weirdly high number of responses to “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?” were in the ‘moderate’ to ‘a great deal’ range. 32% of Democrats and 18% of Republicans ‘blame the Jews’ at least moderately for the financial crisis. I realize there is such a thing as the crazification factor. But that’s still pretty high. (I’m guessing the Republican numbers are lower in part because high numbers of them don’t actually admit there’s a crisis. They might be more willing to blame the Jews if it were made clear that they weren’t thereby committed to conceding the existence of the thing the blame is for. But that’s just an unscientific guess.)

The weird thing, of course, is that people are willing to go with ‘the Jews’ as a cohesive, mass-noun sort of designation. In part, people must be responding the way they do on the basis of a vague awareness that there are lots of Jewish names in the stories about the financial crisis. Bernie Madoff, for example. That is, they are saying: among those responsible (if we assume those at the top of the financial world are responsible) there were a number of Jews. Yes. But suppose you asked people whether to blame ‘the Jews’ for all the bad movies Hollywood keeps making. All the vaguely unfunny romantic comedies that keep being inflicted on innocent Americans – on Mainstreet, if you will. Look at the lists of producer and executive names on these productions. See any Jewish names? I’ll bet you see a couple. I like my Blame The Jews For Unfunny Romantic Comedies as premise for a Mel Brooks movie. Kind of a cross between “The Producers” and “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Some sort of hysterical anti-semitic, McCarthyite rumbling across America. Innocent Jewish producers of unfunny comedies having to go into hiding. And Jewish producers of perfectly funny comedies suffering guilt by association.

Suppose you ask who gets credit for America’s first class higher education system. Would people be willing to say ‘the Jews are somewhat or mostly responsible’, just because lots of professors are Jewish. Suppose you asked people whether ‘people whose names start with ‘M’ are somewhat responsible for the financial crisis’. Literally, that’s probably true, in some analytically vastly uninteresting sense. Madoff. I’m sure I could find other bad actors with names that start with M in the financial sector.

Probably you don’t need me to tell you that ‘blaming the Jews’ for the financial crisis is a bad idea. But I’m really at a loss as to what the hell so many respondents thought they were saying. Did 30% think they should answer ‘somewhat’ if they merely believed there were a number of Jewish individuals in the financial sector in positions of authority? Or do substantial numbers of Americans seriously suspect that there might be Jewish conspiracies afoot?

UPDATE: Malhotra and Margalit respond to critics. See this newer post.