Time for a new tailor

by John Q on August 16, 2011

It’s rare to take on Paul Krugman in an argument and win, and I agree with him most of the time anyway (these two facts are correlated!). So, this is the first time, and will probably be the last, when I can claim a win in such an argument.

Krugman has long criticised the eurozone on the grounds that it is not an optimal currency area and that the European Central Bank must therefore pursue an unsatisfactory “one size fits all” policy, too contractionary for economies that are doing badly and too expansionary for those that are doing well. Back in February, I argued that in fact ECB policy was “One size fits nobody” and that even Germany was vulnerable to its contractionary effects.

The latest statistics suggest that German growth was already stalling then. Today, Krugman is also pointing to a “one size fits none” policy.

At this point, it’s time for a suit of clothes, and that means a new tailor. And, in that respect, the bad news may have a silver lining.

[click to continue…]

The Civil War as Tragedy

by Henry Farrell on August 16, 2011

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been writing about whether the Civil War should be considered a tragedy or not (his take is emphatically on the ‘not’ side of the ledger). One way to think about this is to think about what would America have looked like if the Civil War hadn’t taken place? This is the kind of counter-factual that both philosophers and science-fiction writers use – and as it happens, there’s a fine and moving short story by the science fiction author Robert Charles Wilson on this topic, “This Peaceable Land: Or The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe.” (it’s first published in the Other Earths anthology, and also available in a couple of ‘Best of 2009’ round-up SF collections). The story takes place in an America where the Civil War was barely averted, and where the South saw a gradual depopulation of African Americans, hastened greatly by a kind of quiet Holocaust in which many of them were murdered as slavery ceased to be economically viable. The nub of the story is precisely the difficulty that white abolitionist liberals have in seeing that the war that was avoided may have been a lesser tragedy than the unheralded war that was not.

bq. “That is a decent white woman,” Ephraim said when he had heard the letter and given it some thought. … “But I don’t know what she’s so troubled about … This idea that there was no war. I suppose there wasn’t, if by war you mean the children of white men fighting the children of white men. But, sir, I have seen the guns, sir, and I have seen them used, sir, all my life – _all_ my life. And in my father’s time, and before him. Isn’t that war? And if it _is_ war, how can she say war was avoided? There were many casualties, sir, though their
names are not generally recorded; many graves, though not marked; and many battlefields, though not admitted to the history books.”

Or as Coates puts it:

bq. Taken together, the slave system was, itself, a Leviathan–a force with deep roots in the economic, social and political system of this country. From the black perspective it was the nation-state mobilized for more than two and half centuries as a war-machine against that which so many regard as the foundation of humanity, itself–the family. And I do not merely mean the biological nuclear family: The slave system subjected family, in all its permutations–adoptive, same-sex, parent-less, child-less–to consistent, if capricious, violence. If there is such a thing as an African-American people–and I believe there is–then it must be said that that for 250 years, that people lived in a state of war.

We exist.

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 16, 2011

We exist. That’s the subtitle of a new blog, Disabled Philosophers, a blog which wants to make disabled philosophers more visible. I think this is a great thing to do. Do have a look, and if you feel you fit the description of a disabled philosopher, or a philosopher who cares for/shares their live with a disabled person, do consider submitting your description. I think bringing this out in the open will do a great service to all those who are struggling with these issues, or those who want to know more. In fact, I think a blog like this makes academia (and, by extension, the world) a little bit more humane, since it shows people as they are, not as we imagine them to be.

How likely that your second child will have autism too?

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 16, 2011

Since my older son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 3, I read many books on autism. From those books I learnt that the chance that a sibling would also have/develop an ASD was about 5%, compared with the 1% chance for anyone in the population (that is, about 1% of children are officially diagnosed with autism, but I think one can seriously doubt whether that figure is not an underestimation due to under-diagnosis).

I always thought that this 5% figure was odd, since it didn’t correspond at all to my observation at the special-needs-daycare/school of my son or in online parent support groups or in accounts of families affected by ASDs that I read, where many parents report to have several children with an ASD. I noticed just way too many children who also had siblings with an ASD to make that figure of 5% correspond to reality. And now, there’s a study just published in Pediatrics, confirming my observation: if a parent has a child with autism, the chance of a sibling also developing an ASD is almost 20%. That’s what the authors found in a large American sample, and I don’t see any reason why it would be different for other parts of the world.

Not sure how that will change the way we look at autism (if it will make any difference at all), but I find it a striking (but not surprising) figure.