Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How the Protestant Reformation misfired

"The Reform began with the program of submitting the secular sphere to the control of the saints and ended with the relegation of the saints to the corner of 'a free and voluntary society.' The moving sectarians have won their freedom of conscience at the price of keeping quiet and not bothering the political community with their affairs." -- Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, Volume 7, pp. 142-143

Is Pre-School Classroom a Privacy Issue?

La Repubblica recently was examining the topic of placing webcams in pre-school classrooms so that parents can check in on their kids. One Antonello Soro, president of a data privacy group, is against these, because they violate the privacy of the children and the liberty of the teachers.

Look, I don't know if these cameras are good ideas or not. But what sort of "privacy" do four-year-olds have a right to expect in a pre-K classroom? The webcams aren't being put in the toilet, after all. More disturbingly, what do the teachers want the liberty to be doing that they can't do if there is a webcam around?

Consider this: when I coached youth swimming my practices were always open for parents to watch. Had I somehow lost some of my liberty because of this? Sure, parents might sometimes try to interfere with my coaching methods. I would just tell them, "If you want me as your coach, you have to let me coach my way. If you want a different coach, you are free to lobby for one."

Jesus Warns Against the Ideology of *Traditionalism*

respect tradition, but don't turn it into an idol. I noted this was done by the traditionalists at the end of the Roman Republic, hastening its demise. Rod Dreher points out that Jesus beat me to this by 2000 years.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Euler's Theorem

Why do base-n pseudoprimes exist?

Well, since it is a topic in discrete mathematics, I suppose I shouldn't talk about it too much. "Mums" the word!

Public key cryptography

Yes, the odds are that this will never happen before the world ends, but what if my message turned into a number just should happen to turn out to be a multiple of one of the secret primes p or q? Would the process fail? Silas? Shonk? Wabulon?

Self-Refuting Sign?

As I drive to work I pass a billboard that reads "The Loss of This Billboard Cost NYC Jobs and Money."

But it's not lost: there it is, right by the roadside. It's not even unused: It is displaying the above message. What does it all mean?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

If It Is Immoral for Me to Sleep with Your Wife...

it doesn't suddenly become moral when you sleep with her.

A very stupid argument, right?

And yet I see anarchists forwarding essentially the same argument again and again: If it would be immoral for you to do X as a private citizen, it doesn't suddenly become moral when the state does it.

The thrust of the argument is that social roles should have no effect on our evaluation of an action... which is obviously complete nonsense. Otherwise, if it is immoral for me to break into your house, then it would be immoral for you to do so as well. If it is immoral for me to shut a stranger in a room, then it must be immoral for a parent to send a child to his room as well. If it is immoral for a student to alter another student's grade, then it must be immoral for the teacher to do so as well.

Not all of what we may properly do depends on our social roles, but much does. That certainly does not mean everything, or even anything, the state does is OK. But the notion that a change in social role cannot possibly affect the morality of an action is laughable.

Greenwald on the mark


"Third, when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why Do They Do It in the Road?

With "do it," in this case, being walk and jog.

My campus has boatloads of grassy verges along every roadway, well-trimmed, relatively free of dog poop, and just generally pleasant. So why do 90% of those out for a constitutional or a jog stay strictly on the asphalt? Today I watched a woman force a full-sized bus to swerve out into my lane, so I was driving straight at it, by staying in the bus's lane, despite having a fifteen-foot-wide area of grass just two feet away.

And what's more, it must be far better for runner's joints to run on grass than on tarmac. It is as though the joggers are more afraid of dandelions than of several-ton motorized vehicles moving at high speed.

All my life's a circle

"What we called today the historical course of the Egyptian society was not a course for the Egyptians, but a rhythmical repetition of cosmogony in the imperially organized humanity which existed at the center of the cosmos. The prolonged disturbances and revolt, for instance between the Old and the Middle kingdoms, were not epochs of history from which order in new form could arise, but simply disruptions of the cosmological form to be borne with nothing but the hope that the same type of order would ultimately be somehow restored." -- Eric Voegelin, Order and History, Volume II, p 50

In the Wake of Boston...

Ann Coulter said that women should be arrested for wearing hijabs.

So please, tell me how I was wrong to caution against overreacting to Boston again?

HT to Ken for the spelling fix.

How Do Firms Really Choose Prices?

An interesting study here. An excerpt:
The economics profession has remained mostly unpersuaded. A recent paper by Al-Najjar, Baliga, and Besanko (2008, hereinafter ABB) continues the long tradition of economists examining the pricing practices of firms and finding them wanting. ABB note that economic theory "offers the unambiguous prescription that only marginal cost is relevant for profit-maximizing pricing decisions" and contrast this with the findings of survey researchers such as Hall and Hitch and with statements in textbooks of managerial and cost accounting that "overwhelmingly, companies around the globe use full costs rather than variable costs" to set prices – i.e. they mistakenly "treat fixed and sunk costs as relevant for pricing decisions."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why Is Google Translate Obsessed with the Second Person Plural?

Translating second-person statements in English into a Romance language is doubtlessly difficult: standard English has only one second person form for formal and informal singular and plural uses of the second person. (Non-standard forms sometimes have a second person plural: "y'all" and "youse" being famous examples.)

But Google translate seems to render every single second-person English sentence into Italian as a request for that sentence in second-person plural. Every single time. What the heck is up with that? Surely, in almost any language, when we address "you," we address a single "you" far more often the we address a multitude. So why does Google always default to the plural you in translating English sentences into Italian? (I don't know if it does this from English into other Romance languages as well: perhaps someone could check?)

Avoid Weather Blasphemy!

This morning, with a temperature of 41 degrees at 5:30, I heard a guy at the gas station in PA saying, "Summer better come soon: I can't take this shit much longer!"

My friend Clayon Gordon, the reggae sage, corrected this attitude perfectly: Whenever he heard such belly-aching, he would say, "Well, since I can't create any weather, I don't feel I'm in a position to criticize any of it."

Agrarian Authoritarians

Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson has apparently had his foot invaded by some sort of agricultural fascists! They will no doubt start a war between his foot and some Ethiopean's foot soon.

Heard on the Radio

1) At the opening of the presidential library today -- by the way, what do you think is in Dubya's library? -- Barbara Bush was asked if Jeb should run for president. She responded "We've had enough Bushes."

Amen, Mama!

2) A diet expert was quoted as saying if you have a tendency to pick at the food on your plate despite being full, "don't just throw it out, wreck it": by dumping salt or your drink on the food. Seriously?! There are people for whom simply throwing their food out is not enough? They sit at the table and think, "Hmm, I bet those fries didn't touch anything to nasty: let me go have a nibble"?

Did you know…

That China is an island in the Pacific ocean?

Sugar, Sugar, Aw Honey, Honey...

On the radio this morning the announcer said "New research supports Bloomberg's war on sugary drinks."

The research showed lots of sugar is bad for you.

But really, is there anyone fighting Bloomberg on this who doesn't know this already?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Did you know...

That Africans understood and practiced vaccination long before it was "discovered" by Western medicine?

They expect us to believe anything, don't they?

The surviving terror suspect from Boston says their attacks were motivated by "US wars." What a joke! Foreigners love being bombed by the US: That is not even a possible motive for an attack on us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What is going on with this plant?

Obvously it is not in good shape, but for weeks now it has kept about half-a-dozen branches with green needles. It is disconcerting, like seeing a person for whom only seven toes and one ear seem to be alive. Does anyone know enough about plants to explain this?

What did the Indians know?

Here's a question on my mind, which I think I might have a hard time finding the answer to: How far did the knowledge of the Americas of different American Indian groups range? It is clear, for instance, that groups living in what is now the northeastern United States knew the area well up into Canada and down at least as far as Virginia or North Carolina. But did they know anything about Florida? Texas? Where they aware that there was an Aztec civilization somewhere in the far distance? Would they have known of the Arctic regions to the north of them?

Even in the Internet age, This sort of fact can be hard to find, because it's not clear, at least to me, just how to ask for it from a search engine

Monday, April 22, 2013

The true horror of being captured by Indians

Apparently, for many 17th- and 18th-century New England Congregationalists, the true horror lay not in being kidnapped or led on a forced march through the woods, but in the fact that at the end of their journey they would be encountering… Catholics! (They were often brought to New France.)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

That's an Ad Hominem Appeal to Authority!

In an Internet discussion, all one has to do is mention "Well, Einstein certainly understood relativity the way I describe it!" and you can just count on some person who knows nothing about logic immediately posting "Appeal to authority fallacy!" Of course, here it is not a fallacy, but perfectly legitimate.

Similarly, when someone acts like a complete jerk, and you write: "You are being a jerk: go away," you can bet they will respond "Ad hominem!" Once again, this is ad hominem, but not, in this case, a fallacy: you are not trying to settle the argument with your remark, but to tell the person you are done arguing, and just why that is so.

Edward Feser makes both points nicely in this post. Here is a passage I particularly liked:

"Or suppose someone gains a reputation for expertise on some important matter of public controversy when in fact his views about the matter are laughably off-base and demonstrably ill-informed. Suppose further that he manifests extreme arrogance and dismissiveness toward those who actually do have expertise on the matter, where the fact of his unjustified self-confidence only serves to reinforce, in those who don’t know any better, the false impression that he must know what he is talking about. Here too an attack on the person himself is legitimate precisely because what is at issue is one of his personal qualities, viz. his arrogant pretense of expertise. Indeed, ridicule and other polemical methods can be legitimate tools in such an attack, since arrogant pretense can often effectively be countered in no other way, and treating the offender more gently might only reinforce the false impression that he and his views are respectable. Hence it is, for example, not only legitimate, but in my view imperative, not only to refute the sophistries of smug hacks like Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, but to administer a severe rhetorical beating as one does so."

Intertemporal coordination and general gluts

A number of people were scathing about my post on general gluts, saying something to the effect of, "Well, Callahan made it easy for himself, picking a one-good economy!"

But the exact opposite is true: I picked a one-good economy with no money because that was the hardest case I could think of. The reason is that a general glut is an instance of an intertemporal coordination failure. The simplest case for intertemporal coordination is where I produce one good for myself. (I really should have left out the other two actors in my example to make it even more effective.) If a general glut is conceivable in that case, well, a fortiori it is conceivable in cases with more actors, more goods, and especially, with money.

The other thing people became very worked up about is the relationship of this possibility to "Say's Law." Well, the first thing to note is there just is no single "Say's Law." In classical economics, there were at least seven or eight distinct propositions held by Say and his allies (both Mills and Ricardo, among others) in the general glut debate. No concise statement of a "law" was given at the time. That didn't really happen until the 20th-century, and even then, different versions were given different formulations by different authors under different names: "Say's Identity," Walras's Identity," "Say's Law."

So, part of what you think my example means will depend upon how you want to formulate Say's Law. One way to do so and have it still hold in my example would be to say, "Sure, there was a surplus of fish, but there was simultaneously a shortage of leisure." Similarly, you could look at all booms as shortages of leisure, and the unemployment during the bust as the remedy for that deficiency.

And I can't say that is wrong: a definition can't be wrong. But that way of looking at things certainly would not have appealed to anyone in the original debate over the existence of general gluts: Say, Mill Sr. and Ricardo would have rejected this formulation as firmly as Malthus and Sismondi. The above formulation essential concedes Malthus was right, but then changes the target so that he loses after all.

Anachronism in Monty Python

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a pretty funny movie. But, in the tradition of dumping everything bad from the past in the Middle Ages, they show a trial for witchcraft as a stereotypical medieval happening. In fact, these were very rare in the Middle Ages, and only really got going in the Early Modern period. Interest in magic, alchemy, and astrology also all rose significantly at about that time.

The Middle Ages were largely an age of reason.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spring Is Springing

Named by one's enemies

This is happened a number of times to political and religious factions. Offhand, I can think of the following:

Trickle-down economics

Any other examples?

UPDATES (from the readers):
Know-Nothing Party

Friday, April 19, 2013

A questionable assertion by David Lewis

Consider the following:

"The state of nature need not be a state in which we achieve coordination equilibria conforming to a regularity. Certainly Hobbes's state of nature is not: battles in the war of all against all do not result in equilibria (since the loser will wish he had adopted a different strategy), let alone coordination equilibria." -- Conventions, p. 95

The first part of this conclusion seems curious to me: In a Hobbesian state of nature, if some big guy shows up, kicks my butt, and takes my stuff, what "different strategy" would I wish I had adopted? "Don't get your butt kicked"?

Don't Run Your Furnace!

It just drives down the outside temperature.

Nick Rowe explains.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Mistake Often Committed by Social Scientists

Social scientists usually think we can't possibly understand individual historical episodes unless we can place them in some general category and under some general law. But the exact opposite is true: there is no way we could place historical events in general categories and draw them together under some law unless we already understood them individually!

Not to pick on Mises, but in Theory and History he made this mistake in a very explicit manner: he claimed that, without theoretical categories, we could never understand historical events. This is logically absurd: what he is claiming is that there are agglomerations of historical events about which we understand nothing individually, but then we come and slap upon them a theoretical framework, and only then can we begin to do history. But without already having an understanding of these events as historical episodes, how would we possibly know what theoretical principles might apply to them or what agglomerations are sane and which insane?

Consider: I say to you, "Here is my group of events: Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, Caesar crossing the Rubicon, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the fall of Constantinople, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. OK, now let us draw up what theory connects them."

You will naturally tell me I am talking rubbish. Why? Because you first understood these events historically, as unique events. Only after having done so could you have any basis for rejecting my arbitrary grouping: otherwise, how in the world could you characterize it as arbitrary?

Social scientific understanding is always parasitic on historical understanding.

The Country Bird and the City Bird, Redux

In this post, I asked what economic principle would illuminate the change in bird behavior shown between country birds and city birds. In class, I used this to illustrate marginalism: in any population, their will be individuals living at different margins of the species range, whether that is a geographical range or a range of behaviors. In this case, there must always have been some birds who lived close to the margin where a human would snatch them if they were any more daring: after all, there is food to be had at that margin! If their offspring were just a little more daring... lunch!

But as humans settled in cities and hunting became less important too them, the safe distance would move a little closer. Now those supra-marginal birds survive, and get the pickings available just a bit closer to humans. And so on.

Evolution is driven at the margin.

Not all knowledge is discursive knowledge

"[We may have] irredeemably nonverbal knowledge. We recall the rowers in Hume's boat… If I am one of the rowers who going to certain rhythm bypassing contemporary convention, I have evidence that we have a convention to row in that rhythm. Our success enrolling in that rhythm for the last two strokes as evidence by which I arrived at my expectation that you will continue to row thus; And that you expect me to go on rowing thus. And it is evidence that you observe the same evidence. I can use such evidence, I can expect you to use it, and so on; but I cannot describe it. I cannot say how we are rowing — say, one stroke every 2.3 seconds — but I can keep on rowing that way; I can tell whether you keep on rowing that way; later, I could probably demonstrate somebody what rhythm it was; I would be surprised if you began to throw differently; and so on. Now there is a description that can identify the way we are rowing. We take 1.4+ or -.05 seconds for the stroke and .9 ± .1 for the return, exerting a peak force of 70+ or -10 pounds near the beginning of each stroke, moving the oars from 32° plus or -6° forward  to 29° plus or -4° back, and so on, in as much detail as you please. But, as we row, we have no use for this sort of description. We can either give it nor tell whether it is true if somehow it is given. We would need instruments, and even if we had them we could not go on rowing as we were while we took the measurements." -- David Lewis, Conventions, pp. 63-64

Policy IS a Competition

After I posted some thoughts on Boston to Facebook, someone sent me this annoying article indicating that I was being "self-righteous" by treating tragedy as a "competition," in that I was trying to "one-up" the Boston tragedy with some other one with which I was more concerned.

What neither Benincasa nor my correspondent seem to grasp is that while tragedy is not a competition, policy certainly is one. If we spend a billion dollars on new security measures in response to the Boston attack, that is a billion dollars we are not spending on better inner-city schools, or discovering a cure for cancer. Benincasa snidely notes:

"You are allowed to feel bad for bombing victims in Boston and drone strike victims in Pakistan. You are even allowed to hold these two thoughts in your head at the same time. Unlike your friend, who seems to see life as an either/or proposition..."

Well, Sara, one can certainly feel sad about two things at once. But one cannot devote one's cake to stronger anti-terrorism measures while at the same time devoting the same cake to eradicating hunger. Unfortunately, in a world of scarcity we must choose. Allocating scarce resources is an either/or proposition. And when Peter King is already ramping up to use Boston as an excuse for bombing more of the Muslim world, I believe I have a right and a duty to protest that this is not a very wise choice, whether Sara Benincasa tut-tuts at me for doing so or not.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wrapping up Rethinking the Keynesian Revolution

Here is part of Goodspeed's last paragraph:
But, more than that, so polemics surrounding the "Keynes versus Hayek" debate have tended to obfuscate the very issues at which both economists were driving. For both economists, as for Wicksell before them, the concept of equilibrium was useful not as the description any actual terminal state, but rather as an analytical stepping stone toward explaining economic dynamics outside of equilibrium, given that in any real-world historical process, disequilibrium, particularly of the intertemporal variety, is the rule rather than the exception. -- p. 16

*Was* Boston a terror attack?

On the news everyone seems to be treating it as if it was obviously one. From CNN:

'"Any time bombs are used to target civilians, it is an act of terrorism," Obama said, adding that it remained unclear who carried out the attack and why.'

But I don't think this is right: I think it is important to differentiate a terror attack, which has a political aim, from mere psychopathy, where someone just wants to kill lots of people because it excites them. What difference does the weapon make? If Jack the Ripper kills many people with a knife, he is a psychopathic serial killer. If an IRA member went around knifing people in London and sent messages afterwards demanding Britain leave Ulster, those are terrorist attacks. Isn't this an important distinction? Won't we pursue very different courses in response to these incidents? Why lump these quite differently motivated actions together, other than under the already existing, broad category of "murder"?

UPDATE: Greenwald: "The reason there was such confusion and uncertainty about whether this was 'terrorism' is because there is no clear and consistently applied definition of the term. At this point, it's little more than a term of emotionally manipulative propaganda."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why the Objective Nature of Morality Does NOT Imply One Universal Book of Moral Rules

"Let us assume the philosopher to have deformed himself by adopt­ing the belief that the truth of existence is a set of propositions con­cerning the right order of man in society and history, the proposi­tions to be demonstrably true and therefore acceptable to everybody.

"If, holding this belief, he enters the field of symbols, he will be dis­appointed and bewildered. In vain will he look for the one set of true propositions that he may well expect to have emerged from the labors of mankind over a period of five thousand years.

"The his­torical field will present itself rather as a selva oscura of such sets, differing from one another, each claiming to be the only true one, but none of them commanding the universal acceptance it de­mands in the name of truth.

"Far from discovering the permanent values of existence, he will find himself lost in the noisy struggle among the possessors of dogmatic truth–theological, or meta­physical, or ideological.

"If in this confrontation with the dog­matomachy of the field he does not lose his head and join the battle, but holds firmly to his belief that existential truth, if it can be found at all, must be an ultimate catalog of propositions, rules, or values, he will tend toward certain conclusions.

"Intellectually, he will perhaps suspect a search that has been going on for millen­nia without producing the desired result, of being a pursuit of the unknowable that had better be abandoned; if then he contemplates the unedifying spectacle of dogmatomachy–with its frustration, anxiety, alienation, ferocious vituperation, and violence–he will perhaps deem it also morally preferable not to engage further in the search.

"And we shall hardly blame him if in the end he decides that skepticism is the better part of wisdom and becomes an honest rel­ativist and historicist.

"The questionable phase in the philosopher's process of thought is not the skeptical conclusion but the initial belief by which he forces upon the field of symbols the appearance of a perpetual dog­matomachy." -- Eric Voegelin

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Your Wish Is My Command

Bob M. has asked me just where in Mises' idea of methodological individualism is a denial of the possibility of things like the church composing a single body and mind. Ask, and ye shall receive:

"But society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort. It exists nowhere else than in the actions of individual men. It is a delusion to search for it outside the actions of individuals. To speak of a society's autonomous and independent existence, of its life, its soul, and its actions is a metaphor which can easily lead to crass errors." -- Human Action, 998: 143

(Lord Keynes had already noted this passage here.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What methodological individualism means

It is interesting that I continue to see people make the assertion that if one accepts individual explanations as valid, then one is a methodological individualist. That is plain wrong: Methodological individualism, at least as it was presented by Mises, is a doctrine much stronger than that. It says that the only good explanations in the social sciences are explanations at the level of individuals. Explanations that rely on higher-level phenomena, such as national interests, class struggles, collective manias, collective action problems, and so on, all of those are at best shorthands for the true, individual-based explanation. Mises is very, very explicit on this in Human Action.

The equivalent doctrine to methodological individualism in the social sciences is atomic reductionism in the physical sciences. The latter doctrine says that the higher-level sciences only exist because of human mental limitations: it's just too hard for us to calculate what each particle in a hurricane is doing, so we have a science called meteorology, and so on. Rejecting that view of the physical sciences is not equivalent to denying that atoms exist, or asserting that atomic level explanations are universally wrong. Someone who rejects atomic reductionism in the physical sciences may simply contend that chemistry, biology, meteorology and so on will continue to exist no matter how much we know about events at the atomic level, because there are emergent phenomena that happen at these higher levels that simply can't be described solely in terms of atoms. Atoms of iron are not rigid: only iron bars are rigid.

If methodological individualism and methodological holism were the only choices on the table, I suppose I would be a methodological individualist. But there is another option: methodological pluralism. We offer an explanation at whatever level helps us to best understand the phenomenon we are interested. If consumer choice, say, is best understood at the individual level, then we model it at that level. On the other hand, if languages are best understood at the level of speech communities, then we model them at that level.

Friday, April 12, 2013

You can run but you can't hide

I just realized what will occur: my carpal tunnel syndrome will clear up because I am dictating instead of typing, but instead I will develop throat problems from shouting Siri so much.

John Winthrop Was No Methodological Individualist

"Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body..."

This is from the "city on a hill" speech.  By the way, Winthrop meant by that that the Puritans would be under a lot of scrutiny!

These kids really have their units down these days

Overheard in the hallway: "The microseconds are in microseconds, too."

If you're down, and troubled, and you need a helping hand...

Is one of your classmates looking sad?
Call the police on her: That will cheer up almost anyone!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Siri is clearly related to James Joyce

Here is her initial interpretation of part of the previous post:
the first English-language edition sells diet N rent, was explicit in hydrating Excel connection between Heineken king. Referring to the "paradox" the two opposing. "" Excels name, Chacko argued that "the fuck contradiction which two days team to confront each other.
What is strange is the bizarre, uncommon things Siri is sticking in above. And she seems to be in decline: My impression is that this is worse than it was a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps she is getting senile.

Shackle on Hayek and Keynes

'Shackle, in his forward to the first English-language edition of Wicksell's Value, Capital, and Rent (1893), was explicit in highlighting the Wicksell connection between Hayek and Keynes. Referring to the "paradox" that two opposing theories could both invoke Wicksell's name, Shackle argued that "the flat contradiction in which the two theories seemed to confront each other was a illusory; they were no more contradictory than the two statements, if a stone is denser than water it will sink, and if a cork is less dense than water it will float."' -- Goodspeed, Rethinking the Keynesian Revolution, p. 147

I'm a Picture Kind of Guy

Interesting that this got posted yesterday, because I was thinking about it last night as well. I am far on the visual side of the visual / symbolic dichotomy. (In Peircean categories, what we really are looking at is people who think more with iconic signs versus people who think more with symbolic ones.)

I happened to think about this because I was reviewing matrix algebra, and although I could perform matrix multiplication fine simply by following the algorithm, I didn't feel I really had gotten it until until I saw the rows of the first matrix floating over to the second, rotating ninety degrees, and joining with the columns of its "mate." (Yeah, it was kind of like matrix sex.)

Having gotten that image, that's that: until I go senile (OK, Murphy, OK, until I go completely senile), I will never forget how that operation works again.

Siri is very creative!

I mentioned that as a treatment for carpal tunnel I am trying to dictate a lot; so far, not so bad, but the text does need a lot of correcting after I dictate it. Any human secretary who made as many errors would certainly be fired.

One day perhaps I will let all posts go up just as Siri renders them because many of them are very entertaining. Today, for instance, she decided I had said, "whether I need to have that ready for a full sugar charnel or not"!

Any guesses as to what I had really said?

More Thoughts on Real Business Cycle Theory

Real business cycle essentially denies that any true macro economic phenomena exist. We have a collections of representative agents optimizing in response to exogenous shocks. One selling point of the theory is that it lends itself to DSGE models, where we have an economy always in equilibrium being bumped hither and thither by the shocks: we can easily give microfoundations to our macroeconomics  because there really is no macroeconomics per se. It is only the fact that the responses to these shocks display hysteresis that gives rise to the appearance of business cycle; as F.H. Bradley would have put it, the business cycle in RBC is appearance, not reality.

Silly Evidence "Against" Idealism

In the comments, someone stunningly proposed that antidepressants are good evidence against idealism! So, once again, here is perhaps the most famous idealist:

"What entertainment soever the reasoning or notional part may afford the mind, I will venture to say the other part seems so surely calculated to do good to the body that both must be gainers. For if the lute be not well tuned, the musicians fails in his harmony. And, in our present state, the operations of the mind so far depend on the right tone or good condition of its instrument that anything which greatly contributes to preserve or recover the health of the body is well worth the attention of the mind." -- George Berkeley, "Siris," Philosophical Writings, p. 315

Would Berkeley have been surprised by the possibility of anti-depressants? Obviously not: as he saw it, the operation of the mind was greatly dependent on the "right tone or good condition" of the body. No idealist of whom I am aware ever denied this reality, so citing it can't possibly be evidence against idealism; rather, it is a sign the person citing it just doesn't get what is being debated.

My Review of Madison and Jefferson

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Don't know crap about history

Weird Al Yankovic is a very funny man, and I enjoy many of the songs. But I was just thinking about "Amish Paradise," and realized it contained a little piece of historical nonsense. Weird Al has a line that says something about the Amish fellow going medieval on your hiney. Of course, the Amish are actually part of a vast rebellion against the medieval world, called the Protestant Reformation, and are in fact from the radical wing of that rebellion. If there's one thing the Amish are not, it is medieval!

A title can mean a lot

Their follow-up course, "f$&k off in French," was not as successful.

Gardening for Real People, Part IV

If you live in the northeastern United States and garden, one thing you almost certainly will deal with is rock. One technique I found that works quite well for dealing with this problem is at first glance, perhaps, rather surprising.
Here it is: if you are planting a shrub or tree of any size,
plant where there is a big rock. Why? Well, once you dig out that one big rock, you have a rather nice hole to plant in. On the other hand, if there's no big rock there, and your yard is anything like the places I have gardened, there will be lots and lots of small rocks. Believe me on this: it is a lot easier to get out that one big rock than all of those small rocks.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Oy, and Hayek and I weren't the only two who realized this

Okay, so I am liveblogging Goodspeed's book, and I made my last post before reading the following:

"Dennis Robertson and George Shackle would in fact later even go so far as to suggest that Keynes and Hayek were theorizing on opposite sides of the same, Wicksellian coin. Robertson suggested that Hayek's analysis explained the boom and turning point of an inflationary expansion, while Keynes's was necessary to understand the phenomenon of secondary deflation..." -- Goodspeed, Rethinking the Keynesian Revolution, p. 147

So my recent "insights" have been understood by very smart economists for decades. Why, then, are people still talking about Hayek versus Keynes? Partisan political purposes, anyone?

By 1969, Hayek understood his cycle theory and Keynes' as compatible

"Quite simply, Hayek's aim was to analyze the mechanism by which an inflation-fed boom must, sooner or later, be reversed by a decline in investment. 'The cumulative process of contraction,' likely to then set in, however, he wrote in 1969, 'is another matter which must be analyzed by conventional means.' 'Conventional means,' In 1969, mean Keynesian means." -- Goodspeed, Rethinking the Keynesian Revolution, p.145

I have previously made this point on this blog: Hayek explains why the boom must end; Keynes explains why the bust gets as bad as it does. Once again, I see that Hayek got there decades before me.

Interesting Pilgrim facts

First of all, did you know that when the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, there were already two Indians in the area could speak English, despite the fact the nearest English settlement at the time was in Virginia. In fact, one of the two could also speak Spanish, and had spent time in both Spain and England. (By the way, in the link above, note the role of Catholic priests in freeing Indians who Europeans attempted to enslave.)

Secondly, by the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, somewhere between 70 and 90% of the coastal Indians had been wiped out by a plague caught from English traders with whom they had brief contact. The European effect on the Native American population is sometimes described as a "genocide." It is certainly true that Europeans often behaved very badly towards the natives. But the vast majority of the killing was done by germs which the Europeans had no idea even existed, and they certainly had no clue that mere contact with them could affect the Indians in such a way. That is a lot different than deliberately shoving people into gas chambers, and to use the same word to describe both events does not seem very helpful.

Thirdly, in discussions of social contract theory, you sometimes see it said that no political society has ever been founded in such a manner. That is just not true: the Pilgrims founded their polity with just such a social contract, namely the Mayflower Compact. I grant the critics of social contract theory that one case out of all polities is not very many, but still, it has happened.

Save Those Steps!

Here is a whole line of people parked in a no parking zone in a driveway:

There was a ton of valid parking spaces 40 yards further from the entrance.

Guess what these people are here to do?

Workout! They're going into Planet Fitness in Port Jervis. A couple of minutes after they parked, many of them will be walking and walking and walking, for up to 30 or 40 minutes, on a treadmill. But rather than walk about a minute longer on a very pleasant, sunny day outdoors, they used illegal parking spaces and jammed up the driveway.

Humans are such innnnteresting creatures.

Why Do All-You-Can-Eat Buffets Exist?

Adam Ozimek wants to know.
When someone offers all-you-can-eat to any customers, those that show up should be ones for whom the amount that they can eat is worth more than the price they expect to pay. After all, if the buffet costs $10 no matter how much you eat then those who eat the most will get the most value out of it. But the average amount consumed can’t exceed the price, otherwise the restaurant will lose money and go out of business. So if the average amount consumed is $16 worth of food, then the restaurant will have to raise the price to above $16. But this means those who more than $10 but less than $16 worth of food will no longer find it worthwhile to eat there, so they will stop going, and the average customer left will be those who eat more than $16 worth.

This process continues, until there is only one guy left going to the buffet, and he eats $300 worth of fish and is charged exactly $300 for it. In effect, this theory says that all-you-can-eat buffets should not exist. And yet they do
I have three responses:

1) All exchanges take place when evaluations are unequal, not equal: the buffet can be worth $16 to me, but the cost to the restaurant can be less than that.

2) People like to done with friends: the guy who eats $20 dollars of food may come in with two people who eat only $10.

3) My personal reason: I like the variety. I could not eat the same number of foods at an a la carte restaurant for the same price, because I cannot get just a spoonful of this food and a spoonful of that one.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Most modern science is idealist

We already saw at this blog how physicist Max Planck concluded that idealism is implied by quantum physics. Here's a quote addressing some other sciences:

"Any domain of science that asserts the existence of systems, and/or uses the language of ”functionality” and “organization”, in order to explain the existence of components of those systems, is idealist in character. This would include much of biology, systems theory, cybernetics, complex systems theory, ecology, population theory and so on. It would also include the social and psychological sciences, where they rely on functional or systemic explanation, and theories of organization" (Dunham, Grant & Watson, Idealism: The History of a Philosophy).

Be scientific: become an idealist!

Defining Risk as Volatility in the Financial Literature

Definitions are not generally wrong. But in technical subjects they can differ greatly from common use, and it can be genuinely wrong to think the technical definition "captures" the common one when really it has simply given a word a very different meaning in the technical subject.

Consider how risk in finance is often defined as the variance of returns. This is not wrong, but is hardly synonymous with everyday use. Let's I am in a car going over a cliff. If I do nothing, I am dead for sure. But if I leap out, there is a 20% chance I will live. In ordinary talk, we'd say the first option is riskier, since we usually talk of risk as the chance a bad result will occur. But in finance theory, it is jumping out that is risky: it makes the predicted variance of return higher.

And so in auction theory: bidding higher definitely increases the chance of losing money, so in ordinary speech we'd call a bidder "cautious" who makes low bids. But the variance is higher, so auction theory calls the person who bids higher "risk averse." The most risk-averse buyer can simply ridiculously overbid for all items and guarantee huge losses but very low variance! Again, none of this is to say finance theory is wrong; we should just be careful not to think this is just a refinement of the ordinary notion of risk: it is a very different, only loosely related, concept.

The Country Bird and the City Bird

Question for class discussion in microeconomics:

"Country birds" are generally very shy around people, and won't come close to them. "City birds," on the other hand, come quite close to people in the hopes of getting a handout or scooping up some dropped food.

We can assume all bird populations were once more like country birds. How did the city-type birds arise? What economic concept can you use to help explain this happening?

Simply Because an Exchange Happened on a Market...

doesn't mean it is just!

I have been suggesting Aristotle's views on exchange and marginalist economics are not really at odds with each other to the extent that people typically think they are. (Menger was, after all, an Aristotelian!) It is good to see others reaching the same conclusion.

Yes, Immigration Increases the Supply of Workers...

Many people opposed  to relaxed immigration laws note the above, and then conclude that advocates of such relaxations must not care about American workers.

Seem reluctant to mention that immigration also increases the demand for workers. Immigrants need houses and roads and food and schools. What is the net effect of the two "forces"? I don't know. But any analysis that leaves out either force is either dishonest or incompetent and can be dismissed out of hand.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The 19 century idea of evolution was first developed by Idealist philosophers

Idealists were there before Darwin.

Stat of the day

Dwight Howard has missed more free throws this year Steve Nash has missed in his entire 17-year NBA career.

Here's a clever argument

"Idealism is stupid: Theory of evolution!"


"Minds evolved!"


"Well, they evolved from a world that was totally devoid of mind."

"But the idea the world is basically devoid of mind: isn't that just... materialism itself?"


"So you're saying that if we accept the theory of evolution AND assume that materialism is true, then materialism is true. Very convincing."

You know what is really funny?

Parents who lie to their children in order to steal their food. Well, at least American advertising agencies seem to think it's funny. (KFC commercial.)

UPDATE: It is also apparently very admirable to lie if you want to go out for some fast food with your friends. (Taco Bell commercial.)

Idealism in Brief

From philosopher Keith Ward:
What idealists maintain is that the ultimate nature of reality itself is mind-like, and that human and other finite minds are the best clues we have to what objective reality is like. The cosmos is not a mindless, unconscious, valueless, purposeless, yet somehow strangely intelligible, mechanism. Such a view is the result of extrapolating a machine-model, very useful in many scientific contexts, to provide the most comprehensive and adequate picture of the real cosmos.

Idealists propose that the human mind provides a better model from which to extrapolate to the cosmos as a whole. That is not because the cosmos looks like a very large human person or because there is some large person hovering just beyond the cosmos. It is because human minds play a creative and constructive role in producing the phenomenal world. They seem to point to a level of reality that is not merely phenomenal or an appearance to consciousness. Human minds generate an idea of reality as mind-like in a way that far transcends human mentality, yet that does include something like consciousness, value, and purpose as essential parts of its nature. (More Than Matter, p. 58)
 (Hat tip to Lee M.: if you follow the link, there is a video as well.)

If you're bored

Try talking to Siri in English, but forget that your current language setting is Italian. You'll get nice things like:

Sospetteremmo interrogherò Wilford Terrence Ramirez Keir prendevo.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Tufte refutes Tufte

In several places in the early pages of Visual Explanations, Edward Tufte seems to imply that the only good sort of explanation is a quantitative explanation. Consider the following passage (which is just one such example):

"More generally, when scientific images become dequantified, the language of analysis may drift toward credulous descriptions of form, pattern, and configuration — rather than answers to the questions How many? How often? Where? How much? At what rate?"

The funny thing is, Tufte's own book is a stellar refutation of the notion that the only good explanation  is a quantitative explanation. While Tufte's book is about quantitative analysis, it itself is not an exercise in quantitative analysis. And yet it is filled with outstanding, non-quatitative explanations.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Obsessed with perspective

This condition was characteristic of Renaissance paintings: "The stable at Bethlehem often boasts a decorative floor, and St. John finds a small area of tile paving to stand on in the wilderness." -- Quoted in Edward Tufte, Visual Explanations

An amputee from birth

The above bizarre concept was repeated over and over again on CBS news the other day. The announcer was speaking of an "amputee" who had nevertheless triumphed over his disability to become an EMT. She would then add "he was born with this condition."

I guess they are amputating limbs in the womb these days. Or perhaps she actually meant that he was born with only one leg.

Ask the home and garden answer man

Dear home and garden answer man, is there a risk that the rocks in my fire pit might burn up during a hot fire? -- Worried in PA

Dear worried in PA, no there isn't. However, there is a great risk that they might explode. Yours truly, "One-eyed" Callahan

The "scientists" at KFC

KFC has just announced a new sort of boneless chicken nugget thingy. In the announcement, it said that their scientists had spent three years developing this.
I bet these guys really impress the other scientists at big conferences.

"What sort of science do you do?"

"High-energy particle physics. And you?"

"Boneless-chicken-nugget science."

"Whoa! I failed that as an undergrad, and so I went into physics instead.

I am expecting!

My headset just announced in my ear that it has paired successfully with my phone. In a few months there will be some cute little devices popping out of... Well, of which parent they'll be popping out I'm not exactly sure.

More Tension in Subjectivist Economics

Here is a statement from a Powerpoint slide that accompanies The Economic Way of Thinking for instructors:

"People should consider the opportunity costs of their choices." (Emphasis mine.)

I think they should as well. But lecturing people about what they ought to value is not really compatible with methodological subjectivism, is it?

Thursday, April 04, 2013

My Mentor

It is really hard for me to express how much this man has meant to me. He has been my economics mentor, but more than that, he has shown me what it means to be a truly moral human being. I have fallen far short of his example, but I could never thank him enough for what he has done for me:

The Extreme Forms of "Sola Scriptura" Are Very Odd

I ran across the passage quoted below while researching job opportunities, as a pledge that faculty of a certain college must take before they can be employed there:

"The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks."

To my knowledge, the Bible itself never talks about the Bible at all. Therefore it is certainly not something you find in the Bible that your beliefs should be based solely on the Bible. I also don't think anywhere in the Bible it says the entire Bible is uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit (since the Bible never mentions "the Bible"!). I am also not aware of any passages where the Bible says it itself is inerrant.*

So what we seem to have here is a declaration that all our beliefs should be based on the Bible, except for the entire paragraph of beliefs in which I find such declaration!

No text interprets itself: Any Biblical interpretation will be part of a tradition of Biblical interpretation, just as any constitutional interpretation will be part of a tradition of constitutional interpretation. Rationalism in religion is just as much an error as rationalism in politics.

* I have checked with several Protestant friends, and, in fact, they also seem to regard the above passage as unfounded.

Foreign-language speakers under every rock

I learned, from Benny the Irish polyglot, that one can find speakers of most languages in most places if one just keeps looking. Based on that tip, look I did. I now have at least eight native or very fluent speakers of Italian who I see between once and four times per week. This means that every day I am able to converse in Italian with someone who knows the language much better than I do.

Benny was right.

What Makes Someone Truly Wise?

For Aristotle, it is that they can see the "truth in concrete things":
Hence, we must ask the spoudaios, who differs from other men in that he sees "truth in concrete things" (hekastois), for he is, as it were, their standard and measure (kanon kai metron) (NE 1113a34)–a principle of method to which our "empirical" social scientists should pay heed.

The passages dealing with the spoudaios show very clearly that Aristotle cannot view what is right by nature as a natural law, a set of eternal, immutable propositions, because the truth of a concrete action cannot be determined by its subsumption under a general principle, but only by questioning the spoudaios.
Neither Aristotle, nor Voegelin, nor I, were / are against abstraction, which can be very useful. Doing something like a statistical study of economic conditions prior to revolutions might prove interesting. But knowledge of the abstract is inferior to and derivative of knowledge of the concrete.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

A Great Post from Nick Gillespie

Negative externalities

With great regularity, a pile like this gets dumped in the lobby of my apartment building. As far as I can tell, not a single person ever takes one of these things. The next day, the maintenance guy dumps them all in the trash. Really, when it be better if this practice would just banned?

"Odds" Are Not Real Things That Are *Obstacles* to Achievements

Y'all know I'm a big fan of Nate Silver, as a prognosticator.

But as a philosopher of probability, he's pretty darned bad. Consider this: "Some of the historical cases of teams that defied even longer odds are well-known. Pennsylvania, in 1979, overcame what we estimate were 500-to-1 odds against reaching the Final Four."

 Pennsylvania did not "overcome" these odds to reach the Final Four. "The odds" were not out on the court, blocking Penn's shots or grabbing rebounds away from them. Silver should read his Keynes: "500-to-1" is a prognosticator's subjective judgment about what will happen in the future, not something real* that a team must "overcome." The best way to understand such odds is to see them as a statement that the person positing them would be willing to make a 501-to-1 bet that Penn would get in, and a 499-to-1 bet that they would not.

* Yes, as Oakeshott said, everything is real if we do not take it for other than what it is, i.e., dragons are real creatures of the imagination, and Murphy's "boyish good looks" are real in the imagination of that one Austro-libertarian chick at the bar in Auburn. But you know what I mean here: these odds are real thoughts of the prognosticator, but not real factors a team must "overcome"... unless the odds get in the players heads!

Taunted by the DOT

Driving home from work on Monday I found myself in bumper to bumper traffic on the Whitestone Expressway. After enduring that for about five minutes, I looked up to see I was being taunted by the Department of Transportation. Right after the sign below came another one advising me to "Use mass transit." Say what?! I am sitting here, in the midst of the very traffic jam you just mentioned, and your f(*@ing advice to me is "Use mass transit"?! So, if I just abandon my car here and stroll over to the subway, can I mention that I was just following your advice and get out of my ticket?

The Culture That Tries to Pretend It Isn't One

Jonathan Finegold Catalan writes:

"In a modern society there will exist some pluralism in cultural values, and institutions will have to arbitrate between these, and help constrain cultural divergences that may otherwise undermine the political process."

This view, and the very idea that there can be an institution that is somehow above cultures and can "arbitrate" between them, is part of the culture of modernist, liberal secularism.

"Don't try to legislate your morality!" is a moral view that tries to pretend it isn't one, and is perfectly happy to legislatively force others to accept it or pipe down.

"No religion in the public sphere!" is a religious view that tries to pretend it isn't one, while at the same time stifling competition by denying all other religions public space.

The above contentions seem outrageous? Then you need to read a couple of books by Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre.

UPDATE: Just to illustrate.

Over at The Dish, Zoe Pollock, who is A Jew marrying an Italian, really thinks:

"Italians and Jews have enough in common (friends admit my swarthy, neurotic fiance "could pass"), but I understand readers who worry about the disconnect. I’d like to think that’s an important part of the American experience: With each successive generation we become harder and harder to pin down."

No, Zoe, that would be "easier and easier to pin down": everyone becomes more and more a modernist, secular liberal.

What Is Actually Occurring in a Country?

Those are mere "anecdotes."

But numbers made up by a government agency? Facts.

Landsburg's Outrageous Post

Yes, it was outrageous. I objected to it in the comments as soon as I saw it. (Something like, "Steve, position 3 is actually a reductio on your positions 1 and 2.")

Landsburg has neatly demonstrated the repulsiveness of morality as utility calculations. But notice how many of the commenters here, while correctly repulsed by Landsburg's scenario, cannot formulate a coherent reason why it is repulsive: they, too, lack any foundation for morality other than preferences and utility calculations, and so they formulate nonsense objections: "How would Landsburg feel if he were gang-raped by bikers while passed out?"

Huh? How would he "feel" about this if he never knew it happened?! (Which, after all, is one of the conditions of his scenario 3: ""[W]ould you be willing to legalize the rape of the unconscious in cases where the perpetrators take precautions to ensure the victim never learns about it?") Well, if he never knew it happened, he would feel no way about it at all.

You have to reject Landsburg's premises to coherently say why his scenario is repulsive. Failing to do so, the typical secular, left-liberal commenter (with an fairly sound intuitive moral sense) is going to wind up saying, "Eww, yucky libertarian ought to be fired," which was about the level of commentary at DeLong's blog.

And let us use this opportunity to note in passing, once more, the nature of the ugly, snarling beast who writes "Grasping Reality": DeLong makes a point of claiming, in his title, that Landsburg's university has a problem. DeLong wants Landsburg fired. For framing a thought experiment. While, meanwhile, he is silent about the vast number of Marxists on university faculties who actually advocate implementing a system that, whenever it is tried, gets some multiple of a million human beings slaughtered. But hey, it is those nasty libertarians who are the real problem!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Hayek's got my back on this one

'Hayek openly concedes it is impossible to characterize different investment processes as "longer" or "shorter," and thus as more or less capital-intensive, in any unambiguous way, except, perhaps, in the ex post tautological sense of being adopted at a lower interest rate. But it is nonetheless the case that a lower rate of interest means investment projects that would not otherwise be undertaken, either because the volume of their expected output functions was too small, or else the volume of the relevant input functions too large, will now be feasible. The rate of interest, then, determines "only to what point on the schedule investment will be carried," that is, it determines the last investment project that becomes economically viable.' -- Rethinking the Keynesian Revolution, Goodspeed, pp. 134-135

As I understand the above, it agrees with what I wrote here. Hayek had abandoned a "lengthening structure of production" as an important component of his cycle theory 70+ years before I did.

Siri Puzzlers

I'm writing a text to my friend Julian, whose name I just spoke to fill in the "To" field. But in the text, when I say "Julian," Siri "types" "Jewelian." What the...? "Jewelian" isn't even a word or name, as far as I know.

Two days ago, Siri was getting "Hayek" flawlessly. For the last day, she has decided I must really mean "Hyatt." Did she suddenly realize she didn't like Austrian economists?

Monday, April 01, 2013

The ultimate goal of economic analysis

According to Hayek:

"Dynamics," he explains, "refers to an explanation of the economic processes as it proceeds in time, an explanation in terms of causation that must necessarily be treated as a chain of historical sequences." What we then discover "is not mutual interdependence between all phenomena but a unilateral dependence of the succeeding event on the preceeding one. This kind of causal explanation of the process in time is of course the ultimate goal of all economic analysis, and equilibrium analysis is significant only insofar as it is preparatory to this main task." (Quoted in Goodspeed, p. 132)

Honey I tried to leave the bar

But the outdoors was closed!

Have you seen the ads for the Chevrolet Sonic?

The ads focus exclusively on the fact that Siri is integrated into the car. Basically, they are selling you a $25,000 car as a really neat iPhone accessory.

Heard on the Radio

"Did you know... most calcium supplements are made from rock?"

"From rock?"

"Yes! So I'm switching to Blah-Blah-Blah, containing only calcium extracted from plants!"

Wow, and I also just learned most salt comes from CRYSTALS dried from seawater or mined from underground. CRYSTALS! From now on, I'm going to get my salt only from animal urine!

Freedom Rankings Are Useless

Yglesias criticizes the Mercatus Institute rankings of which states are most free here. OK, fine, I think he sometimes notes some bias in the ranking criteria. But the real point he ought to have made is that there is no "objective" ranking possible, absent some normative judgment of what freedoms are important and what ones aren't, a point he attempts to conceal by calling certain judgments that he doesn't like "arbitrary."

But once one makes such a judgment as to what freedoms are really important, any numerical ranking is likely to be otiose.

Old-fashioned excuse: "The dog ate my homework."

Modern excuse: "Dual-factor authentication ate my ability to do my homework."