EU-US convergence ?

by John Quiggin on August 21, 2010

The NYT ran yet another round in the long-running EU vs US series a week or so ago. Although it’s not covered explicitly in the NYT, there is actually some news to report here, in addition to rehearsal of the same old themes.

For quite some time, the US and the leading EU countries have been fairly comparable in terms of output per hour worked. The US has had higher output per person for two reasons: a relatively high employment/population ratio and very high average hours worked per person. The first of these is important because it raises the possibility that EU countries performing well on productivity measures are benefiting from the “Thatcher effect” . If low-skilled workers are excluded from employment, for example by restrictive macro policy, as in Thatcher’s case, or by labor market sclerosis, as claimed by critics of European institutions, then productivity measures are artificially boosted.

This issue is now moot. As a result of the crisis, the US employment/population ratio has dropped sharply, to the point where the US is now little different from the EU. The difference in GDP per person between the US and leading European countries is driven primarily by differences in average hours worked by employed people.
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Philosophy in the New York Times

by Brian on August 21, 2010

There is a small symposium in the New York Times today about the recent trend in analytic philosophy towards “experimental philosophy”:http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/8/19/x-phis-new-take-on-old-problems/unconvincing-results.

As some of the contributors note, it’s easy to overstate the trend that’s going on here. It’s not that for the 20th Century, philosophers used only armchair methods, and with the dawning of the 21st century they are going back to engaging with the sciences. When I was in grad school in the 90s, it was completely common to rely on psychological studies of all of uses, especially studies on dissociability, on developmental patterns, and on what was distinctive about people with autism or with “Capgras Syndrome”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capgras_delusion. And the influence of Peter Singer on work in ethics meant that purely armchair work in ethics was out of the question, whatever one thought of Singer’s conclusions.

This was hardly a distinctive feature of philosophy in south-eastern Australia. Indeed, we were probably more armchair-focussed than contemporary American philosophers. As Ernie Sosa notes in the entry linked above, 20th century metaphysics is shot through with arguments from results in 20th century physics. The importance of objective chance to contemporary nomological theories is obviously related to the role of chance in different branches of physics and biology, and “modern theories of it”:http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chance-randomness/ involve a lot of attention to various sciences. And I’ve lost count of the number of debates I’ve been in in philosophy of language where appeal has been made at one stage or other to cross-linguistic data, which is presumably not armchair evidence unless we assume that the person in the armchair knows every human language. It’s not that I think philosophers do as good a job as they should at drawing on evidence from sources outside traditional philosophy – I’ve even tried to “encourage philosophers”:http://tar.weatherson.org/2010/04/05/extra-curricular-activities/ to do more of this – but they tend to see appeal to other areas of inquiry as a generally acceptable, and often important, kind of move.

So it’s a bit of a stretch to say, as Joshua Knobe does, that in that time “people began to feel that philosophy should be understood as a highly specialized technical field that could be separated off from the rest of the intellectual world.” I’m really not sure which of the great philosophers of the 20th century could be characterised this way. Perhaps if you included mathematics in philosophy and not the “rest of the intellectual world” you can get a couple of great 20th century philosophers in. But I doubt it would get much beyond that.

That’s not to say there’s nothing new or interesting that’s been happening in the last fifteen years or so. In fact I think there are three trends here that are worth noting.
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