Some interesting links from around the web:
There are four effects that I've heard about recently that I think are worth mentioning. I don't know the extent to which these effects account for the growth in income inequality, but I've heard compelling arguments that they have a significant effect:
Regardless of where you end up on the philosophical spectrum (egalitarian to Walzerian to Rawlsian to sufficientarian) these effects should inform the discussion of how much is too much. If anyone has more information on attempts to quantify these effects, I'd love to hear it.
UPDATE: I've added some charts below.
Here's a chart I found at Brad DeLong's site. Though only obliquely relevant to this discussion, it is interesting:
Second, here's one that speaks to Mike comment below on global issues:
Sorry about the slow days. I was away for the weekend, and I've been working on two big posts that aren't quite ready for publication, but have been taking up some of my time. Plus, the day job has made a few demands too....
Anyway, I'll try to get a few quickies done tonight. Hopefully the bigger posts will be ready soon.
So I'm halfway through The Intentional Stance by Daniel Dennett and I wanted to get some thoughts down before I lose them. I'll try to update this when I finish the book.
I read Freedom Evolves earlier in the summer. I enjoyed it but felt that while jumping from interesting point to interesting point, it didn't tie everything together in a way I would have liked (I'll try to post more on it later). Since it references many of his earlier works, I decided to read a few in order to see if I was just missing some fundamental thing that would bring his argument together. So I picked up this book. In it, Dennett tries to give his view of belief, desire, intentions and how we understand them.
The book, as you'd guess, is about the intentional stance. Dennett defines this as a strategy that one adopts to try to predict the behavior of a system. It is one of several different stances that we humans are wont to adopt. In the physical stance we predict behavior based on the laws of physics: gravity, inertia, friction, etc. This obviously works well, but is extremely cumbersome, if not impossible, with complicated systems. In the design stance, we abstract things and assume that components of the system will act "as they were designed to". In this stance, we can predict the behavior of a car when we turn the steering wheel (without doing complicated equations of motions) because we know that that's what a steering wheel is for. Likewise, we can predict that setting an alarm clock will make a noise at the correct time without knowing the diagram of the circuit board and whether it has a quartz mechanism or uses atomic resonance.
In the intentional stance we assume that the system (e.g. person, animal, artifact) that we're trying to predict has beliefs and will act rationally to achieve its desires. What does it believe? It believes true beliefs, i.e. beliefs it ought to believe. What does it desire? It desires what it ought to desire. This may sound a bit circular but it's the way we do a lot of reasoning about interactions we have everyday. With other people, with our pets, with our anthropomorphized computers.
In my mind (though I'm stretching a bit here) it's an extension of the principle of charity. The principle of charity purports to explain how we can bootstrap communication with other people without a universal, shared set of meanings. We basically have to assume that we mean the same things by certain signifiers (e.g. words), before we can understand enough to know that we mean different things by some of them. Likewise with intentions, we have to assume that someone else believes the true and desires the good (for her) or we have no common ground to start from. Any false beliefs or irrational desires that we attribute need to have "special explanations" — a reason or a cause for them to exist.
With this definition, Dennett calls any system whose behavior can be predicted from the intentional stance an "intentional system", and humans, he claims, are the best examples around.
So now is where he gets controversial. He claims that all it means (all it can mean) to say that something or someone (let's call them X) believes something is that X's behavior is predictable using the intentional stance and attributing that belief to X. This is obviously an instrumentalist position to take. He's claiming that there is no more meaning in the concept of belief than the fact that it's useful in predicting behavior.
He stakes all of this out in "True Believers", one of the first essays in the book. He then spends an extremely long time trying show that this assertion doesn't back him into two corners that he finds unattractive: subjectivism and anti-realism.
The first problem is showing that saying that X has belief P is an objective statement. By defining the belief by its usefulness in prediction, haven't we put belief in the eye of the beholder? Dennett wants to squirm away from that relativism and say that objectively X either believes that P or she doesn't. For me, this is the least compelling part of his argument (though he, as usual, makes some interesting points that I find hard to do justice to in this space). In the end, he clings to his objectivism tightly.
The other thing he clings to is his materialism. Everything that goes on in the human mind happens because of something in the human brain, which happens because of material circumstances and physical processes. So, since he's spent several chapters arguing that beliefs are only instrumental, he wants to assure that he's still a realist. He believes (or at least you can predict his behavior if you attribute this belief to him) that there are "real" things going on in our heads when we believe things.... it's just not proper to call them beliefs. This is where he threads the needle and distances himself from the capital-R Realists who think that we actually have structures, patterns, whatever in our brains that are our beliefs. Dennett holds that there is no reason to assume that what goes on in our head is homologous or has a one-to-one mapping with beliefs. But, not willing to join the anti-realist camp, he also claims that something happens in our brains that explains the fact tht we have beliefs (are predictable when attributed beliefs).
Anyway, that's where I am now, both in the book and my understanding of what he's saying. I'll update this post when I make more progress. Re-reading this, I'm not sure I'm doing his arguments justice. For someone who hasn't read the book, it may not be that useful. For those who have, comments, clarifications, and corrections would be appreciated.
Phutatorius is thirty and vowing to settle down (even if The Dengue doesn't force him to).
Interesting article from Jacob Levy over at the The New Republic: Ducking the Question. He points out that the same strategy is used in many political debates (from volunteer army vs. draft, to school choice, to entitlement programs, to tax policy):
The general form of these arguments ("lucky duckies" as well as the arguments from the left) is: If we subject everyone to the same rules, institutions, or conditions, then there will be political demand to make them fair or otherwise tolerable. If we only subject some people to them, then some may be unfairly singled out or burdened; there will be opportunities to divide the citizenry, play the interests of some against those of others, and to undermine the overall desirable outcome. The only detail that changes from argument to argument is the class to which one tries to yoke people--the class of taxpayers, the class of potential soldiers, the class of recipients of government checks, etc.
Though he's not trying to defend the Wall Street Journal op-ed that ruffled so many feathers (the "lucky ducky" one about the lower-class workers who pay no taxes), I'm sure it won't go over well that he's likening it to all of the other arguments — and claiming that they are equally flawed. But he does point to the political effectiveness of this tactic, regardless of its defensability.
It's a nice insight into the political invulnerability of Social Security — precisely because it treats everyone nearly the same and doesn't discriminate (i.e. use means testing to take into account need) it's incredibly popular.
This is a pretty interesting graph:
The original source is from a paper by Michael Kremer in the Quarterly Journal of Economics called Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990.
If I had the time, I'd read more about the methodology, but as it is, it makes you wonder about every little blip — wars, plagues, famines....
Plus, the sharp drop off at around 1975 or so.
Brad DeLong comments about the sweet spot in income levels for population growth — too low and people die off, too high and people choose not to reproduce as much. He's got another graph that shows a modern-day spread of population growth vs. per capita GDP showing the highest growth between $1,000 and $3,000.
Frodo could have just clicked for Walking Directions....
Thanks to Volokh for the pointer.
Well, a couple of changes to point out, for those who care.
First, I added a books section over on the left-hand side and on their own page (yeah, the formatting needs some work). I'll try to add reviews and comments from time to time. If this ever catches on, I may join Amazon associates so I can make some money off any of you saps who click through and buy....
Second, I've added Overlawyered to the list of blogs on the side. Walter Olson, the main poster, wrote a book called The Rule of Lawyers: How the New Litigation Elite Threatens America's Rule of Law about (how did you guess?) the out-of-control legal system, lawyers, and frivolous suits.
Had an interesting conversation with my friend MA [I'll use initials unless people tell me otherwise...] the other night about the state of the economy. He's a hedge fund manager, so he's fairly in tune with this stuff. We talked a bit about the recent jobless productivity gains and the new figures projecting 4% plus annualized growth for the third quarter.
MA thinks that this growth will be jobless for the forseeable future, since most of the productivity gains are due to outsourcing, offshoring and other structural employment changes. He's convinced that once the jobs go away, they won't come back.
MA painted a pretty bleak picture, arguing that unlike the offshoring of manufacturing jobs, the move of service jobs will happen extremely quickly, overwhelming even the legendary resilience of the US economy.
Dan Drezner points to The Institute for International Economics recent indication that they think there's some good news ahead, including "substantial numbers of new US jobs in the fourth quarter of this year."
Forbes is also reporting that of 16,000 employers surveyed, 22% said they plan to increase their workforce in Q4.
But back to the larger issue....
Yesterday, I saw this article in CIO Magazine about the backlash against, and twice-thinking going on about, outsourcing IT services. I think it's part of the larger phenomenon that it's harder than people think (for educational, cultural, geographic, etc. reasons) to replace an American with a foreign worker. Certainly, manufacturing jobs didn't leave as quickly as free-trade opponents said they would for many of the same reasons (though they've sense picked up speed, I think).
But, in the seventies and eighties no one expected a huge, booming service economy to replace fleeing manufacturing jobs. Are we in store for another surprise structural shift, or has our luck run out?
McKinsey Global Institute is relatively bullish in their report: Offshoring: Is it a Win-Win Game?. They calculate that for offshoring $1.00 of US labor costs, $1.45 of value is created globally with $1.12 accruing to the US and $0.33 to the foreign country (India in their example). And they have patented McKinsey waterfall charts to prove it....
Winds of Change has a regional briefing on North Korea up. If you haven't checked this site out, you should. They tend to be a bit gung-ho about everything for my tastes, but the briefings are usually top notch.
Two items to whet your whistle. One sobering:
North Korea has been using Russian technology in developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching any target in the continental United States, an administration official said Thursday.
The official, asking not to be identified, estimated the potential range at 9,400 miles. The distance from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to San Francisco is about 5,500 miles.
In theory at least, the new missile could strike any target on U.S. soil, a potential that becomes all the more ominous if Pyongyang is able to cap the rocket with a nuclear warhead, the official said.
China said Monday that its military has taken over patrolling its frontier with North Korea, but wouldn't disclose why it made the change.
The Foreign Ministry would not confirm reports in Hong Kong media that China moved 150,000 troops to the border to stem crime by North Korean soldiers and to pressure its isolated communist neighbor to halt its nuclear weapons program.
"It is a normal adjustment carried out after many years of preparation by the relevant parties," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement.
It wasn't clear which agency previously patrolled the border, which is off-limits to foreign reporters. But such duties are believed to have been held by the People's Armed Police, a paramilitary force also run by the Defense Ministry.
So the Senate has voted 55-45 to overturn the FCC ownership rule change. It's likely to face some opposition in the House, and the President may even veto the bill.
Just last week I had a rousing e-mail debate with some friends (and strangers) about media consolidation and specifically the new rules.
Here's what I said then, in the heat of the moment. I'll stand by most of it....
Skip down about halfway if you don't want to read the background, philosophical stuff that was part of the discussion.
I agree with almost 100% of AC's analysis [of capitalism and democracy], even though I'm sure our policy conclusions are pretty different. I wouldn't have said that capitalism and democracy are "contrary" -- I would have said "orthogonal", but that may be because I'm a computer geek. I actually think that they have a lot in common, since they both harness self-interest, decentralized decision-making, individual preference, and diffuse, tacit knowledge to create outcomes that are better than any one person (or elite group) could come up with. In my mind, they work for the same reasons. Yes, they butt heads in certain areas (like campaign finance, media, etc.) but, to paraphrase and extend Churchill, they are the worst combined economic/political system, except for all the rest.
But beyond that, contrary to AC, no one worth listening to on the pro-capitalism, pro-business, pro-free-market side of the debate is actually arguing for full-on laissez-faire capitalism. That's a straw man argument from 125 years ago that's easy to beat up on but not really close to anyone's actual position. Similarly, very few on the pro-labor, pro-egalitarian, pro-welfare side of the debate are arguing that full-on central planning is a better idea than some form of market economy any more. Both extremes died in the laboratory of the 20th century -- or should have.
The question is, pragmatically, how do you strike the right balance to achieve your goals (and, of course, what are your goals)? Is it the income gap or absolute standards of living or the poorest, or the average standard of living that should matter? How much inequality is okay? How do you harness the engine of capitalism without losing control to the corporations? How do you provide a meaningful social safety net without "moral hazard" becoming a valid concern? These are all tough problems that reasonable people can disagree on.
I tend to come down on the libertarian, free-market side of the line for a few reasons. Skipping over the philosophical ones, the most important for this discussion is that the world is a dynamic place. All of the things that make 2003 a more pleasant (and healthier) time to live than 1903 or 1803 are here because of innovation, growth, progress, invention -- in short, change. And there's one thing that markets (and other decentralized, networked systems) are good at -- handling change. Central governments, on the other hand, tend to be pretty bad. Whether it's Soviet Gosplan trying to shuffle steel prices to take into account a coal shortage, or the US Patent Office trying to deal with gene sequence patent applications, or copyright law trying to deal with digital media, or the FAA with space flight, or Congress with Internet porn, or.... they tend to muck it up. At best they simply slow everything down, at worst they stymie innovation and force everyone down blind alleys. It gets even worse because companies with entrenched interests in existing regulations fight tooth and nail to keep them the way they are, clinging to the monopoly or competitive advantage the current rules give them. So I generally look sceptically at government regulations.
Now, all that being said, the FCC rule change is an interesting case.
First, rather than a market in tangible property, we have a market created from whole cloth in the licensing provisions of the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934 that superceded it. Since you don't have real, private property rights, but rather renewable licenses in radio spectrum -- you can't just sit back and "let the market work". The government created the scarcity by limiting the number of stations in a geographic area and so needs to regulate the ensuing market. The same law that made the license in the first place, empowered the commission to protect the "public interest, convenience, and necessity." This is not the case in other markets with more Lockean property rights.
Second, I don't think the ownership rule changes are that easy to judge. To my point above about technological change, the current rules are either already out of date, or will be soon. Take the 1975 rule prohibiting "cross-ownership" of newspapers and radio or TV in the same market, for instance. Is this rule actually good for us now? With cable television, satellite TV, and the Internet, newspapers aren't the only place to advertise locally, and many are having a hard time surviving. Some major cities (including the 4th largest) have only one major paper. It's plausible that allowing cross-ownership will increase the number of papers available, which might be a good thing even if they are affiliated with a TV station. Also, the editorial departments of the newspapers could improve the quality of local news coverage on TV. I don't know if this will happen, but it seems possible. Plus, I can still use news.google.com and read any online paper in the world. With satellite TV and cable, why can Discovery, Inc. own 4 channels that I recieve, but a company can't own 2 broadcast channels in the same market? With streaming Internet radio, low-power radio, and XM satellite radio, how much longer is the artificial scarcity of radio broadcast licenses going to be relevant? Is 8 radio stations in a market really that much worse than six? Will it be in 5 years?
Third, in my mind if you really care about this stuff, you should care about the low-power radio rules, and make sure you support ("politically appointed") Powell there. Chairman Powell recently modified the rules to open up thousands of cheap licenses for low-power community radio stations -- a potentially major shift in how music and content is delivered. Maybe he "bought" these changes by caving on the ownership rules -- I don't know. Maybe that wouldn't be a good deal for us, the consumer -- again, I don't know. Regardless, Congress already tried to close this door once before with the Radio Broadcast Preservation Act of 2000, which put many roadblocks in the path of those trying to get the low-power licenses. It's likely that they'll try again -- so make sure any bill that you support to rollback the ownership rule changes doesn't also squash the new low-power rules. More choice is good for everyone.
So where do I come down on this one? I'm actually pretty conflicted. I don't want to see Clear Channel own 100 more stations any more that anyone else does. I'm not convinced that the rules are that great the way they are now, but I don't see a pressing need to change them either. Both the old rules and the new rules will have problems handling the future. I think the government's role as anti-trust watchdog is an incredibly important "check and balance" on the power of the private sphere, but I think our problems in the media space are much larger than just these rules over distribution. Technology will find a way to obsolete and replace the current means of distribution, so the rules governing the distribution aren't that important in the long run.
The larger issue, which no one in Washington wants to touch, is the control of the content. The six media companies that own all the content scare me much more than the distributors. And when they're the same company, it's their content that gives them their power. Increasingly strong copyright laws, protecting content in practical perpetuity, limiting the usefulness of our hardware and software, all bought by the lobbying of the big six -- that is the real danger.
So, yeah, maybe, oppose the rule change. But fight to repeal the DMCA, block the next Copyright Term Extension Act, stop the encroachment on fair use rights, donate to the EFF, etc., etc.
With that, I petered off into sleepless incoherence.
From the New York Times: Pope Accepts Resignation of Cardinal Sin....
I love the blogosphere. An impromptu debate by some really smart guys. You can learn something everyday.
And to think, I played a small part in the first iteration of the debate. Nothing to add this time.... yet.
Well, my good friend Phutatorius is still serving up his chestnuts. But, if I may be so bold to say it, I think he has things completely backwards:
I thought that my unemployment would be the font from which brilliant, imaginative, and insightful blogging would spring. Maybe Day Two will go better.
I predict that as soon as you have some new task to avoid, once the novelty of your free time has worn off, your spumy font will flow again.
Earlier this summer I read Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice. Since I know many people (outside of political philosophy circles) haven't read it, I thought it would be worth doing a quick summary, and add a few thoughts of my own.
Those who know me know that, politically, I'm pretty far from a Walzerian. I think he's got way too much faith in the State's ability to solve problems (my wife would argue that I've got way too much faith in the market's ability to solve them). Regardless, Walzer's got an important core point and a new way of looking at things, one that's worth repeating.
The subtitle makes clear what he's up to: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. Walzer is trying to combine an argument for (a new kind of) equality with the recognition that different social goods have different social meanings and should rightly be distributed according to different rules. These social goods (wealth, education, welfare, punishment, status, work, kinship, leisure, pleasure, etc.) are divided into different "spheres," each of which has it's own kind of distributive justice requirements.
Walzer argues that "simple equality," which he defines as strict egalitarianism within and across these sphere, is not only undesirable, but is also practically impossible. The coercion necessary to maintain the equality would constitute a system that would be unbearable to live in.
To replace simple equality, he argues for "complex equality," a state in which people are unequal within each sphere (but only according to the appropriate distributive laws for that sphere) but everything is still just overall as long as there is no "dominance" of one sphere over the other.
Walzer's dominance is an extension of Pascal's tyrrany: demanding love because you are powerful, power because you are wealthy, or wealth because you are of noble blood. Each improperly uses advantage in one sphere to appropriate goods in another. If we can just figure out ways to banish these border-crossings, we'll have a more just society. (This is, of course, easier said than done, although Walzer lists some social norms that can or have been called to bear in this fight: norms against nepotism, simony, buying love, etc.)
After laying out his thesis, Walzer explores several of the spheres, using historical episodes to illustrate the plurality of ways in which the goods within the sphere have been distributed. He then argues for a specific distributive rule for each sphere: need for health and welfare, deserts for punishment, interest and capacity for specialized education, etc. Given his diachronic, pluralistic account of the social goods and their distribution, one can only assume that his recommendations are themselves historical and therefore appropriate for the 20th century Western world (and hopefully not just 1983...) only — though he's less than clear that this is the case.
So that's his point, and I think it's mostly a good one. Even if you don't buy it on grounds of social justice, it still seems to make sense pragmatically, and it fits nicely with what I call an anti-concentrationist stance, i.e. one that wants to limit the concentration of power in too few hands (which is a big, but so far, under-developed part of my thinking). Limiting dominance between the sphere's is a worthy goal, for the same reason that Constitutional checks and balances and anti-trust laws are.
So a few points of criticism, in no particular order:
Before moving on to things of substance, I'll try to justify the name of the blog.
Yes, I could have just stuck with my name -- and Vermillion does have such a nice ring to it.
Or I could have searched about for some suitable Latin phrase or pseudonym, but the blogosphere is suffering a domain-name-like shortage of Latin phrases, with Crescat Sententia, Arma Virumque, Tacitus, and..., and... Penuria Nomina taking the best.
So, I decided to go with a neologism, stolen unabashedly from the contractor who just finished working on my apartment. He was always doing things "just-in-casionally". I'm not 100% sure what he meant (or how to spell it), but in my mind it was always "just in case something goes wrong, and, honestly, it occasionally does."
I loved that honesty. Certainly more than I liked the things going wrong....
So, when you read the title, take the "if we need it" from the layman's just in case, the logical necessity of the philosopher's just in case, and mingle in a dash of temporality, recurrence, and frequency from plain old occasionally.
So now you know where it started, just-in-casionally it catches on.
Well, it might be something. I'm certainly not going to argue that it will be something completely different. Much more likely to be more of the same, isn't it? We'll just have to see.
Before going on, I should add the standard disclaimers and caveats. Like most others, I shouldn't be doing this -- I have other, "more important" things to do. I have responsibilities, and spouting off is certainly not one of them.
I also have no idea if this will succeed. Not succeed in the sense of getting thousands of readers and international acclaim, but in the sense of actually getting past post #3 without petering out. Here's hoping this doesn't end up in the bottom shelf of my desk along with the first 3 pages of all the books I've fooled myself into thinking I'd write.
Plus, even if I do manage to post every once in a while, it is practically guaranteed to start several fights with my wife, who disagrees with me on most things I'll likely be posting on. Again, we'll have to see if we can all just get along.
But, despite those negatives, I agree with Dan Drezner that this blogosphere thing is as good a way to separate the good ideas from the bad as we can be expected to find in this day and age. So here comes another handful of chaff.... start sorting.