From the monthly archives:

April 2012

The coming boom in inherited wealth

by John Q on April 16, 2012

As everyone who has been paying attention knows, the news on inequality is nearly all bad. Not only has inequality increased dramatically in the US, but intergenerational economic mobility is declining[1]. And, where the US leads, the rest of the world looks likely to follow. The top 1 per cent lost more than most during the crisis of 2008-09 but, as Stephen Rattner reports here (drawing on work by Piketty and Saez), that was just a blip. A stunning 93 percent of the additional income created in the US in 2010, compared to 2009, went to the top 1 per cent, and there’s no reason to think things were much better in 2011 – average real earnings have fallen yet again, and employment growth, though positive, was still modest. Wealth inequality is also high, though it has not increased as much as income inequality.

The one bright spot mentioned by Rattner is that ” those at the top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches”. Since I’m already noticing that point popping up in the places you might expect to see it (can’t find a link right now), let me point out that Rattner’s explanation, that “the rapid growth of new American industries — from technology to financial services — has increased the need for highly educated and skilled workers” is wrong, and that there is every reason to expect a boom in inherited wealth.

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Needless To Say, Part II

by John Holbo on April 14, 2012

Contrary to early indications, NR folks have had quite a bit to say about the Derbyshire firing. I thought this probably wouldn’t happen because then they would have to say that the Derb was basically in the right on the intellectual merits, tone issues aside. Which would be awkward. But they have gone there (to their intellectual credit and/or moral discredit – you decide). For example, here’s the latest from John O’Sullivan:

The paradoxical result is that a piece that begins as a criticism of anti-white racism gradually morphs into something akin to an expression of white racism. It therefore strengthens the anti-white racism it is meant to satirize which, as it happens, is a growing problem in the U.S. — not in the suburbs or backwoods but in the corporate executive suites, the media elites, the courts, the bureaucracy, and of course the entire industry of sensitivity training which used to go under the more honest title of “Political Reeducation” in the gulag. Combined with class snobbery, as it usually is, anti-white racism produces bigotry and discrimination against innocent persons too, less viciously than past discriminations perhaps, but also more unanswerably because it operates under the virtuous disguise of anti-discrimination and social justice.

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by Brian on April 12, 2012

Thought is a new philosophy journal dedicated to publishing short (4500 words or under) papers in metaphysics, epistemology, logic and related areas. It is going to be open access for the first two years. After that unfortunately it will be closed, but the funds from it will be used to support the activities of the Northern Institute of Philosophy. The first issue is now up, and as I said it’s open for now, so if you’re interested, pop over and have a look.

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Crowdsource Duncan Black!

by Henry Farrell on April 12, 2012

Duncan Black – aka ‘Atrios’ – is trying to identify the wankers of the decade, and finding that reliving the trauma is hard.

bq. I’ve been a bit jokey about the difficulties of writing the wanker posts, but in truth it has been difficult, though not because it’s hard work or similar. The ESCHATON DECADE has been a pretty fucked up decade, a time when this country stopped even bothering to pretend to live up to many of its supposed ideals. We go to war and kill lots of people for no good reason, elites have eliminated any accountability for themselves for criminal wrongdoing, we’ve tortured and assassinated people, and the response to massive economic suffering and related criminal fraud has been to give lots of free money to the people who caused it all. And one premise of his blog is that all of this shit happens, in part, because of the fucking wankers who rule our public discourse. Paying too much attention to it every day can be bad enough sometimes, but reliving it all again is actually a bit painful.

I don’t know how you _could_ deal with this stuff without being jokey – it both helps you deal with the anger and gets the point across better than frustration and rage. Then, I don’t understand how he’s been able to do this day in, day out, for ten years either. Which is why I’m suggesting that people give him a hand.

We have seen seven of the ten wankers of the decade so far: in order, they’re:

9th runner up Megan McArdle.1
8th runner up Richard Cohen.
7th runner up Diane Sawyer.
6th runner up Jonah Goldberg.
5th runner up Lord Saletan.
4th runner up Mark Halperin.

This leaves three wankers yet to be chosen. I would be startled if Thomas Friedman isn’t one of them (surely, he has to be odds-on favorite to take the grand prize). I’m also hopeful that Charles Krauthammer won’t be overlooked. But there are many others who are surely worthy of consideration, and volumes and volumes of material to be gone through, all likely to cause anger and increased blood pressure. Hence my suggestion: I encourage CT readers with the time and inclination to document the _very worst_ atrocities of likely nominees, with hyperlinks and all, so as to help ease the anguish of Duncan Black’s trip down Memory Lane. The comment section is yours.

1 McMuddle must be disappointed with her poor finish behind Richard Cohen. Perhaps she’ll find consolation in the publicity for her forthcoming book, “PERMISSION TO SUCK, about “how risk aversion is sapping America of its core strengths.”” (We all have permission to suck, but Comrade McArdle abuses the privilege).

Ahmed Ben Bella is dead

by Chris Bertram on April 12, 2012

Ben Bella is dead, as the charismatic leader of the FLN in the Algerian war of independence, he was one of the great (though flawed) figures of the wave of post-war revolutionary decolonisation. Obituaries and reports in the New York Times , Guardian, Le Monde .

Well Bless Her Poor Little Heart

by Belle Waring on April 10, 2012

I’ve already gone over my looking at words limit today, so this will be brief. I thought this odd problem was caused by watching a bad TV show in which some of the characters have Southern accents. Nope. In wending my way through the various neuroscience labs and so forth I have learned that they basically don’t know jack about migraines. But in any case migraines are exhausting. So I am strongly inclined to make curious mistakes, wrong words, spoonerisms, aphasia, whatever. (I couldn’t remember the word “tesseract” the other day. My doctor laughed at me when I brought this up as a complaint.) And to regress. But regress to what, when I was 6? I never have had a Southern accent as an adult. I speak overly quickly, but with a normal East Coast accent. Except under the strain of continual pain and electric storms in the brain I…have a Southern accent now? My daughter said “ain’t” the other day? What in the everlovin’ blue-eyed world is that, I ask you. My family is going to give me constant hell from the minute I see them till moment I leave. I’m afraid to go home to DC! I’ll go to S.C. sure, no one will notice.

My Chinese business partner loves it, she thinks Southern accents are the cutest things in the world, and it also means I talk at about…2/3 the speed of my previous rate. Maybe even 1/2. It’s just, really weird. I can feel it; I can actively fight it with concentration. It varies throughout the day, depending on pain and so forth. The funny thing is that I used to be unable to produce a Southern accent on demand. If she asked me to do it, I couldn’t, I would just freeze up somehow, it felt like I was pretending something. Oh well, ain’t is a perfectly fine word.

Nordic incontinence

by Chris Bertram on April 9, 2012

I’ve just finished the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s _A Death in the Family_, the first volume of his sequence of autobiographical novels, _My Struggle_ . The novel, if novel is the best word for it, is at once brilliant and horrible. Brilliant, because of Knausgaard’s talents for description and for self-observation; horrible because of the meticulous way in which he sets out the decline of his father and grandmother. In the novel, and doubtless in real life, Knausgaard’s father is an alcoholic, who at the end of his life, barricades himself into the house of his semi-demented mother and drinks himself to death amidst his own waste. The final third of the book consists of the author’s description of himself and his brother cleaning up the mess and preparing for the funeral. Incomprehensible to the author – and to the reader – is his father’s sudden mid-life transformation from being reserved, proper, distant and controlling, first to would-be bohemian and then to hopeless drunk. Though this change provides the organizing principle of the novel, it is only one of its parts. Much of the “action” (if action there is) consists of an alienated Knausgaard recalling his adolescence and observing himself struggling to write somewhere in Stockholm. In the course of this, we get his reflections on art – and what it does for him – his feelings towards his pregnant girlfriend and children (less warm than he thinks they should be), on death, alcohol, music and much besides. I can’t say that it is anything other than compelling, even though simultaneously revolting. Of course we cannot know what Knausgaard holds back, but he gives a good impression of total candour: he notices the difference between what he ought to feel and think and what he does, actually, feel and think, and tells us anyway.
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Good History Books For 10-Year Old Girls?

by John Holbo on April 8, 2012

Our 10-year old daughter is only now becoming a serious reader. She had terrible trouble for a long time. We thought she had dyslexia, and maybe she does. Or maybe it’s an eye thing. One a bit lazy. Anyway, lots of letter reversals. b’s and d’s. p’s and q’s reduced her to tears. Reading made her literally sick to her stomach and exhausted for a long time. For her any reading was like reading in a car for anyone else. On the other hand, she could read stuff upside down just as easily as right-side up. Which is to say: not very easily, but better than you would expect. And then she got over it. Now I’m looking for good history books, or history-themed (possibly fictional) books for 10-year old girls, because Zoe has gotten more curious about that and she doesn’t get much history in school, somehow. US history. World history. Ancient history. Modern history. I’m flexible, so long as it seems like the treatment is likely to be entertaining to a bright 10-year old girl.

Accordingly, I’ve taken a flutter on this Kickstarter project that got BoingBoing’ed this morning. Seems like the right idea.


Re the whole learning to like reading thing. It does seem that somehow she just outgrew or worked through whatever problem she was having, but Harry Potter seems to have played a not-inconsiderable part in the drama. I used to have a theory that the Harry Potter books just got freakishly lucky, being as popular as they were. Sure, they were good, but not that good. I thought it was more a social thing. Once everyone got into Harry, everyone got into getting into Harry and the snowball rolled down the hill into an avalanche. But my daughter is a counter-example to that. Harry Potter electrified her brain as nothing really had before, and it was nice that some of her friends liked it, too. But the books were the thing. It seems that J.K. Rowling’s formula is, simply, the perfect formula. Good to know.

Hugo Nominees

by Henry Farrell on April 7, 2012

are “here”: List of the fiction awards below the fold with brief reactions.

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Needless To Say?

by John Holbo on April 7, 2012

I’m a bit puzzled by Rich Lowry’s degree of confidence that no one at NR agrees with what the Derb wrote. After all, the Derb himself is at NR. He was posting there as of two days ago. Does this mean he’s out at NR? Is Radio Derb going to cease broadcasting its message of freedom? Kremlin watchers want to know.

I’m curious to see how comments to Lowry’s post shape up. [UPDATE: no such luck. They’re closed.] What is wrong with Derb’s version of ‘the talk’, after all? He has the courage to speak Bell Curve truth to liberal power? He has the keen-eyed discernment to see race hucksterism and political correctness for what they really are? His remedy consists entirely of the rigorous practice of freedom of association? “Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.” I’m not seeing the problem here.

The Derb is a veritable Gandhi of passive resistance to injustice – compared to George Zimmerman, just for example. In a season in which reasonable conservatives are debating whether Zimmerman was is the right, surely they can at least come together in agreeing that the whole sorry situation – and the President’s shameful if perhaps inevitable insertion of race into the mix – could have been avoided if only someone had taken Zimmerman aside, at an earlier point in his life, and given him the Derb’s version of the Talk. [click to continue…]

Ben X, and other films about autism

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 6, 2012

Following up on the last post on Autism, one important way to get some glimpses, or some partial sense, of what it can be to living with autism, are movies. If you ask the vast majority of people whether they have every seen a movie on autism, I suspect they will say they’ve seen Rain Man. I haven’t seen this movie for many years, so shouldn’t talk about it in detail, but what I can say is that it so much skewed my understanding of autism that I wonder whether it may have been better if I had not seen this movie at all. I have, by now, met many people with autism, but not a single one that resembles Rain Man. Yet it does point to a much more general issue, which is that given how radically different people with autism can be, one single portrait of a person with autism will inevitably lead to a very limited understanding of what autism is. But except if one were to make a movie on an organization (a school, or a company) that has many members who have autism, I don’t see a way around this problem.

So, here are two other movies I’ve seen recently, that I’d like to mention for different reasons.
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Philosophy Podcasts

by Brian on April 5, 2012

Recently Kevin Drum asked his readers for podcast recommendations. I learned two big things from his “nice summary of the replies”:

One is that the “In Our Time”: archives have now been made available. This is a very nice thing for the BBC to do, and I suspect I’ll be spending a lot of time listening to them over the forthcoming months.

The other is that there is a lot of demand out there for philosophy podcasting. As well as In Our Time (which has over 60 philosophy programs in its archive), there were a lot of recommendations for David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton’s “Philosophy Bites”:

So in the interest of satisfying that demand, I thought I’d post a link to a couple more philosophy podcasts, and see if CT readers had suggestions for more.

“Philosopher’s Zone”: is a weekly philosophy show on Australia’s Radio National. It features a mixture of public lectures, interviews with philosophers, and programs on specific topics.

“The 10-Minute Puzzle”: is a new podcast series out of the Northern Institute of Philosophy centre in Aberdeen. It basically does what it says on the tin: introduce a philosophy puzzle and some of the natural solutions to it in 10 minutes.

The links I’ve posted so far have a pretty high concentration of male presenters. But I’m sure that if I knew more about what was available, that imbalance would be somewhat corrected. So, any further suggestions?

Because: Imperialism!

by Henry Farrell on April 4, 2012

Preliminary throat-clearing: as promised, a reply to David Graeber’s reply below, or rather, to the particular bits of it that concerned me. Before getting into the substance, let me briefly clear up that I won’t be talking at any length about what I think of his general conduct, style of argument in which he claims that serious critics are liars out to delegitimize him and so on. As you may imagine, I am very unhappy with his behavior – but I also believe that for purposes of analysis one ought to separate the person from the work. Worse people have written better books. I will, however, note (since Gabriel Rossman is too nice to do this himself) that Graeber’s account of their Twitter interactions is extremely tendentious, to the point of being more or less unrecognizable to me.

Warning: what comes below is rather long. The first section will look at the specific complaints in Graeber’s reply, each in its turn. The second will return to the book chapter in question. The third will look at broader issues of how to study imperialism.

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Can a neurotypical understand what autism is?

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 3, 2012

I have recently become more and more interested in the relevance of an epistemological question for its consequences for social and political philosophy, namely: To what extent are certain types of knowledge only accessible to those who have had certain experiences? And how do one’s values, judgements, etc. change (or not) after having lived through certain experiences? Intuitively, it seems so obvious to me that some sorts of knowledge (or perhaps ‘understanding’ is a better word?) cannot, or can only in an extremely difficult way, be reached without having had certain relevant experiences. We can all think of concrete examples in our own lives (e.g. how one’s views on death and sorrow change if for the first time one loses a very dear loved one; how views on human vulnerability change if one becomes a parent etc). But this also holds for knowledge/understanding of less personal and more social/political issues. For example, my colleague Constanze Binder once lived with Indigenous women in Oaxaca in Mexico, and recently wrote a short piece about how their practice to switch roles between men and women one day a year (on international women’s day) has lead to most progress in the fulfillment of their demands. Understanding can be an important factor in creating willingness to chance.

How does this question of knowing and understanding applies to autism?
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Bottle the Inflation Monster!

by niamh on April 3, 2012

Do you know what the ECB does? It fights the Inflation Monster! Which used to rampage around in some indeterminate quasi-Dickensian era (evidently standing in for ‘the past’). Hilarious video is here.

Because ‘Lower interest rates generally spur economic activity, while higher interest rates slow inflation down’.

Now I know that these materials are produced for educational purposes and they aren’t going to get too complicated, and the mandate of the ECB is inflation-targeting. But reading them, you might be left wondering where this economic activity was to come from, what generated demand, how growth comes about. You wouldn’t easily pick up that interest rates are currently at extraordinarily low levels in the midst of a savage economic downturn (recession in Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal), or that there are big debates about how monetary and fiscal policy link together. Nor would you get much insight into the problems entailed by having a currency union with a central bank that can’t pool lending risks or act as lender of last resort to governments, but which has taken on this role for the private sector through an extraordinary surge in liquidity provision, since keeping banks solvent is less politically controversial.

Furthermore this seems to me to play once again into the view that ‘economics’ is technical and has right answers, while ‘politics’ is emotive and contested, so students of the EU don’t have to talk about it.

Q: ‘What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?’
A:  ‘<2%’.

It seems – it is – a very long time since Helmut Schmidt famously stated that ‘five percent inflation is easier to bear than five percent unemployment.’