This is a guest-bleg, inspired by Quiggin’s Zombie Economics project.

I teach in NYU’s Journalism department, where we have strong concentrations in both business and science reporting. I’m looking for some way to label and describe a particular flavor of bad economics reporting, so as to make the students more alert to it, as consumers and possible producers of such reporting.

Here’s the backstory. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Tamar Gendler introduced me to the the problem of easy knowledge, the notion that if you believe a particular assertion, you can produce inductive chains that lead to overstated conclusions. “I own this bike” can be seen as an assertion that the person you bought it from was its previous owner.

But of course you don’t know if that guy in the alley had the right to sell it, so an assertion that you own the bike can generate easy knowledge about whether he did. Instead, “I own this bike” should be seen as shorthand for “If the guy in the alley was the previous rightful owner, then I am its current rightful owner.” (Oddly, this also describes the question of the Elder Wand in Harry Potter Vol. 7, pp 741 ff. Tom Riddle died of easy knowledge.)

I was reminded of easy knowledge while reading Thomas Edsall’s “NY Times column”: on
Can’t We All Be More Like Nordics? Asymmetric Growth and Institutions in an Interdependent World, a paper by the economists Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson and Thierry Verdier. (Acemoglu goes on to discuss this work in a post titled Choosing your own capitalism in a globalised world?.) [click to continue…]

Insubordination and the surveillance state

by Chris Bertram on June 13, 2013

Responding to concern about PRISM and the issue of whether intelligence collaboration with the US enabled British agencies to circumvent legal restrictions, Foreign Secretary William Hague told us that “law-abiding citizens” have nothing to fear. Not only do I not wish to be the kind of person Hague thinks of as “law abiding”, more generally it is social movements that willfully break the law that are most likely to bring about change and to threaten established power and privilege. And it is just such movements, and their leaders, who are at risk from pervasive state surveillance of our communications.
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These columns are discussed in the first part of _Cugel’s Saga._ The villagers of Tustvold, sprung from the dubious stock of fugitives from the Rhab Faag, have a curious social structure in which the women do all the work, and the men spend their days at the tops of columns whence they “absorb a healthful flux from the sunlight.”

>”The higher the column the more pure and rich is the flux, as well as the prestige of place. The women, especially, are consumed with ambition for the altitude of their husbands.”
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