Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Gordon Willis, 82.

And some good stuff, which certainly isn't what I would have called that new Star Trek movie. Wow, what a clunker...

1. Correlation, or causation? Close call -- from Chris Blattman.

2. I think Paul Krugman is essentially correct on differences right now between liberals and conservatives -- and that it's not an inherent difference, but one that happens to be the case now, essentially through (in my view) historical accident.

3. On the Monkey Cage: David Schleicher on the direct election of US Senators. Interesting.

4. And Monica Gray brings us Memorial Day speeches from old presidents.


  1. I thought this was very interesting: Private and public payroll movement under the past few presidents. Bush the Elder was the only one to see private payrolls stagnate, and not to coincidentally, the only one to serve only one term.


  2. Still torn on the new Star Trek. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I loved the shout-outs to the earlier films and series, but it does seem pretty messy in retrospect.

    1. I enjoyed the first one just fine. This one? Ugh. *Way* too many enormous character and plot holes.

      Not as bad at ST V, and maybe not as bad as ST I and that last Next Generation one, but for me not nearly enough fun stuff to get around the big, gaping, problems.

      Also: I've always dislike Carol Marcus, and I really resent this movie for making me want to defend her for what they did to her.

    2. Now, how about the new Arrested Devlopments?

    3. You've always disliked Carol Marcus? Why?

      While we're on the subject, upon repeat viewing, ST I is actually a very solid one-hour episode, unfortunately buried within 2.5 hours of basically watching Shatner stare at a screen. If you could arrange a trade where "Into Darkness" gets some of ST I's exploration and wonderment, and ST I gets some of "Into Darkness"'s action, you'd have two very good pictures.

    4. Carol Marcus: Really unfortunate performance. Especially that line about showing him something that would make him feel young, like when the earth was new...ugh. I know, that's not fair to blame it on the character, but there you are.

      My memory of ST 1 (other than the five hours of watching Shatner stare at a screen) was that it would still have two fairly large flaws: 1. Too much focus on non-regular cast, and 2. Why are the crew all wearing their pajamas on the bridge? With (2) being far more distracting than you would think. But then again, I haven't been able to sit through more than half an hour at a time for years, so I could be wrong about both.

      Also I really hated the dress uniforms in the new one.

  3. BTW, Jon:
    I think there's actually plenty of evidence from psychology that conservatives are simply more prone to having closed minds than liberals; it's part of the personality profile, linked both to "conscientiousness" and to "openness to experience", the two (of the "big 5") personality dimensions on which liberals and conservatives differ the most from each other.

    1. BTW, this has little to do with left and right, and much more to do with conservative and liberal. Those who favor the market over the state in one system would be conservative, and in another would be liberal. It's the relationship to the existing status quo that matters. Liberals want to change the status quo; conservatives don't. In the US, that lines up pretty neatly with left and right, but in a country coming out from communism, the "conservatives" would be on the left, and "liberals" on the right.

  4. As someone only vaguely away of Star Trek's history (I'm a bad sci-fi geek), I enjoyed Into Darkness. Jamelle Bouie had some good points as to how it could have been more. And it's very possible the more I think about it the more the problems will become more apparently. But I liked it, and more than Iron Man 3, which everyone seemed to love.

    I also agree with Matt. There do seem to be legit differences between conservatives and liberals. Though I'm not sure how big the effects between the differences that cause different reactions. I'd suspect they aren't as big as some like to believe.

  5. @Matt and Dave -- otoh, my conservative parents will explain a friend's poor decision with a shrugging: "well, she's a political liberal -- I guess she's just more comfortable with top-down authority and less independent ..."

    How we pick out personality traits is not stable. (What counts as bravery? Who's more sensible, a person of strong passions or a person of moderate passions? &c.) How we construe personality traits once we've picked them out is not stable. (Consider Coleridge reading Milton, not quite able to accept that Milton intended Satan as the bad guy.) These factors are unstable because they're massively theory-laden. And, on the other side of the proposed correlation: at a societal and individual level political labels are always changing, and in most cases people who aren't professionally involved in politics are not closely attuned to the ways people who think about politics all the time are using those labels. (Hence poll results in which 10% of Romney voters in x state identify themselves as liberal, and that sort of thing.) -- I could go on, but CSH would do a better job reminding us all to be wary about research that shows us look we were right all along!, and backyardfoundry has lots to say about confirmation bias .....

  6. er, in case it wasn't clear, I meant that empirically correlating a whole bunch of unstable and unmeasurable qualities is not going to get you anywhere near certainty, no matter how plausible the position defended seems.

    1. Yeah, I pretty strongly agree with the classicist on this one.

  7. Putting aside those two examples (which, true or not, come nowhere close to Krugman's "consensus of experts" standard)...

    It's not clear whether Summers lost his job because of those comments -- but it's certainly not true that it made him unacceptable to liberals; he wound up with a high-profile, high-importance job in the next Democratic administration.

  8. I just read Professor Krugman's column, and I found it to be a bit boilerplate, though not in a particularly derogatory way. To the right of his column was a popup advertisement for Angie's List.

    The ad featured Angie herself, with a big ol' smile on her face, and a quote from her saying "My favorite thing about Angie's List is the reviews are from real people!" (and not, perhaps, that her options are mostly vested or her salary is huge).

    Perhaps the difference between a conservative and a liberal is that a conservative sees that ad and her eyes roll as she sighs "Oh, please..." By contrast, perhaps a liberal sees that ad and says "Hm, Angie's list - the reviewers are real! Who knew?"

  9. Speaking of Krugman, Carmen Reinhart reminded us the other day that the counterargument to Krugman's certainty about stimulus in this high-debt environment comes from, well, Krugman. (As I understand it, the debt overhang thing was career-making for him, a quarter-century ago.)

    I'm not suggesting that Krugman is either right or wrong now or then, but do liberals ask him to reconcile the shift in his position over 25 years? Do y'all say but what about that debt overhang thing that a) made you famous and b) seems to counter your current position? Do liberals resist blindly following Krugman before he explains the internal inconsistency of going from "stimulus bad in high debt environment" to "stimulus so obviously good"?

    Friendly suggestion: try not to break your arms patting yourselves on the back for your open-mindedness and intellectual engagement.

    1. First off, Reinhart was being dishonest--the difference between them and Krugman is not that Krugman doesn't think debt is ever a drag on growth, but that Krugman doesn't think there's a "critical" 90% threshold at which debt becomes a much more serious problem.

      Secondly, there isn't any need to "reconcile" the concept of debt overhang with a call for fiscal stimulus when the economy is slow and monetary policy is trying and failing to produce inflation. There's no inconsistency there.

      I'm not saying that liberals are always exemplars of open-mindedness, but maybe it's telling that the first counter-example you provide is this weak.

    2. Consumatopia:

      Krugman (1988, from the link): Debt overhang characterizes a situation in which this future debt burden is perceived to be so high that it acts as a disincentive to current investment, as investors think that the proceeds of any new project will be taxed away to service the pre-existing debt.

      Krugman (2013, describing the situation in America) - the way to solve the current jobs crisis (i.e. get people hiring again) is to incur further debt in the current high debt environment.

      As I said above...maybe. If you find those two views internally consistent enough that you need no further explanation, well, whatever's comfortable, I guess.

    3. CSH, you're being obtuse. There's no contradiction between the theoretical possibility of debt overhang, and supporting fiscal stimulus when monetary policy isn't producing inflation in a slow economy. Your subjective determination of "high debt environment" has nothing to do with debt overhang. Not even Reinhart/Rogoff were claiming that the USA today is in the kind of situation Krugman was talking about back then ("Today, the growth bind of advanced countries in the periphery of the eurozone has a great deal in common with that of emerging market economies of the 1980s.")

      The inconsistency you really want to see just isn't there. That you're doubling down on this is all the more absurd.

      Furthermore, if expectations of future debt burden is the problem, that has a lot more to do with entitlement obligations than fiscal stimulus. Combining stimulative infrastructure investment--stuff that would pay dividends in the future--with entitlement reforms that would take effect in later years should take care of this. (Which isn't actually completely at odds with with what Reinhart/Rogoff would support.)

  10. Which was after Summers capitulated totally to prog demands to apologize and show women the money for his very mild statements. Here's a typical prog response:

    "Does $50 million get Summers out of the doghouse? It certainly seems like a step in the right direction to me."


    An apology tour and $50 million had some effect.

  11. "Remember, Larry Summers merely spit-balled about the greater variation in male IQ than female IQ and lost his job. "

    Not merely spitballing IQ variance, but using that speculation as an excuse for gender discrepancies in the organization he was president of.

  12. @CSH -- to lay myself open to laceration: in my case the answer is simply that I don't follow economic affairs closely because I don't know enough to evaluate and contextualize either factual claims or arguments. Therefore I rely on the consensus authority of people I trust about other things. To lay liberals on the Internet open to laceration: the empirical reorientation of liberal wonkery in the last couple of generations, which we're rightly proud of, has undermined some forms of authority but shored up others. (The same way the social shifts of the last couple of generations have undermined some older sexual mores but created new ones. Hence the same people who complain/ed about "the new permissiveness" are in many cases the ones who complain/ed about "the new Puritanism," the thicket of new prohibitions that have arisen in re:, like, hostile workplace environment, making rape about nonconsensuality and not just force, etc.) Anything as complicated as American national politics is going to rest on webs of hundreds of presuppositions, both substantive and methodological. Obviously. So you need layers and layers of trust to begin to consider any question of reasonable scope. So, e.g., (as Jeff noted a bit ago) liberals today would not defer to, say, Robert Moses as a decision-maker -- but (as you noted in return) it takes a couple of generations for a consensus like that to solidify when it's based on empirical surveys as opposed to values or speculative reasoning, and in the meantime we often put ourselves at the mercy of the credentialed. A shift in whom to trust about what, but of course still needing to trust lots of people about almost everything.

    This isn't, of course, a problem that can be solved. And it's not always a problem; even had we but world enough and time, we couldn't be fully "open-minded," because you have to start reasoning from some perspective, you have to hold some things constant if you treat others as variables. IRL, still less would trying to figure everything out from scratch be a good use of a person's time. It's a fundamentally conservative insight that we all have to rely on what we're given because we don't have the resources to do otherwise. Some people associate that with Edmund Burke; his Scottish coeval, the radical skeptic and anti-Christian philosopher/politically conservative historian, is a great case study, too -- but anyway, systems of knowledge run on trust like any other human systems. There's nothing objectionably "closed-minded" about that per se; you just have to acknowledge it and be careful.

    (Also, hey CSH! et al.! apparently I am a regular commenter again?)

    1. First of all, classicist, having you as a regular commenter increases the quality of this place severalfold. I agree that we have to go to trusted resources; maybe that's a problem with the partisan era: everyone is selling something, whom can you really trust? Maybe you couldn't even really trust Walter Cronkite, back in the day. But it felt like you could. Which gets to my point...

      There's a hipster trendiness to saying "question everything", as you note, that's impossible. As an alternative, I recommend: "Question the things that make you feel good". Does it make certain folks feel good to be in the Krugman club, regarding with disdain those less enlightened losers cautioning against debt here, that the cool kids know saves lives? Question that. Does it make others feel good to know that they have the right genes, unlike those other races that suck and are clearly (genetically) inferior? Question that.

      Among the many tangled webs of our lives is an endless, quixotic quest for self-justification; I think when you get right down to it the memes that feel good are the ones that serve that quest.

      For overclarification, I don't hold myself up as a role model, in principle my feeling is that the openmindedness that comes from doubting one's own happy places is probably a decent place to focus. What comes after, I'll let you know if I ever get there.

    2. Aww, thanks. I've missed you guys. Well, (1) my husband's officially in remission! and (2) I'm teaching again, the former permitting and the latter nearly ensuring that I'll be around.

      Just one more thought on the subject at hand, from Cynthia Ozick's 1966 story "The Pagan Rabbi." The narrator says:

      "Sheindel, for a woman so pious, you're a great skeptic." ...

      "An atheist's statement," she rejoined. "The more piety, the more skepticism. A religious man comprehends this. Superfluity, excess of custom, and superstition would climb like a choking vine on the Fence of the Law if skepticism did not continually hack them away to make freedom for purity."

    3. Really, really happy to have you back around here, especially since there's good news for you and yours associated with it.

      You were missed!

    4. Thanks for saying so -- and still more emphatic thanks for curating this kind of community. When I started reading regularly (years ago...) I was amazed at the sudden availability of expertise on questions I'd wondered about; then, amazed to have sudden access to so much thought that's been put into questions I hadn't thought to wonder about -- that is to say, access to the broader discipline; and still those, but the give and take here I think amazes me more and more. So thanks for that!

      Oh, and also: thanks for the Watergate series. It's like watching the first season of "Rome" -- you know, "how is it possible that this feels so suspenseful?"


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