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I think everyone should read Ezra Klein’s interview with Tyler Cowen, because Tyler is one of the greatest minds of our times. 

“I have never come across a mind quite like Tyler Cowen’s. The George Mason University economist, and Marginal Revolution blogger, has an interesting opinion on, well, everything.”

But Tyler said something about the rationality community which I don’t agree with at all—And this is so typical of him.

Ezra Klein

The rationality community.

Tyler Cowen

Well, tell me a little more what you mean. You mean Eliezer Yudkowsky?

Ezra Klein

Yeah, I mean Less Wrong, Slate Star Codex. Julia Galef, Robin Hanson. Sometimes Bryan Caplan is grouped in here. The community of people who are frontloading ideas like signaling, cognitive biases, etc.

Tyler Cowen

Well, I enjoy all those sources, and I read them. That’s obviously a kind of endorsement. But I would approve of them much more if they called themselves the irrationality community. Because it is just another kind of religion. A different set of ethoses. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the notion that this is, like, the true, objective vantage point I find highly objectionable. And that pops up in some of those people more than others. But I think it needs to be realized it’s an extremely culturally specific way of viewing the world, and that’s one of the main things travel can teach you.”

I read about half a dozen blogs every day, and Ezra seems to have covered almost all. Here’s my list. 

Bryan Caplan’s blog on Econlog is my favorite blog.  I’ve been reading Bryan for over 13 years. Bryan is the most objective thinker I’ve read, and I learned much of what I know from there. That’s because a blogger can add many dimensions to a blog post. Bryan also introduced me to many other thinkers like Thomas Szasz, Michael Huemer, Robin Hanson, Tyler Cowen, Steven Pinker, Timur Kuran and Daniel Kahneman. Bryan changed my views on parenting, economics, and philosophy—and many other fields.

Robin Hanson’s Overcoming Bias is just too good. I haven’t read anyone who looks at human nature so objectively and perceptively as Robin does. Economists and other social scientists don’t take office politics very seriously. Robin is a rare, honorable exception. Robin’s book “The Elephant In The Brain” will be out in January 2018. I’ve started reading it, and it’s quite good.  Robin is an economist who is far too ahead of his time. 

Scott Alexander is another brilliant blogger. I find his way of looking at the world truly compassionate and perceptive. His understanding of the world is more in sync with human nature than most other great intellectuals. 

I just discovered Julia Galef. She’s young and is pretty good. I’ll soon read more of her. Julia Galef has a great book list here. 

Tyler cowen and Alex Tabarrok run Marginal Revolution, one of the best economics blogs. Their stuff on India is more informed than the work of Indian intellectuals.  Alex is in Mumbai now, and I met him over a month ago. I started taking Tyler seriously after I read his work on Asperger. I didn’t know what I was missing. Read my interview with Tyler. 

Less Wrong is, again, great, great stuff. Generalizing from one example is my favorite article. That kind of thing makes me see everything in a different light.

 

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UntitledMore than a year ago, I wrote:

“In professions in which perceptions matter, real skills are not valued much. But, no amount of rationalization can change the fact that real skills do matter. In economics, theoretical competence matters. Intelligence and rationality matters. Raghuram Rajan is supposed to take charge as the Reserve Bank Of India governor today. On Twitter, I see many people who question his citizenship and lack of central banking experience. But, Raghuram Rajan is an extremely competent economist. In India, this is not the norm. Ben Bernanke, the current chairman of the Federal Reserve is a talented American economist who understands the importance of inflation targeting. Perhaps it is true that Bernanke and Greenspan did not live up to their potential. But, the first essay on monetary economics many Econ nerds read when they were teens was the previous Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s “Gold and Economic Freedom”, because it was published in Ayn Rand’s non-fiction collection. Almost everything that is being written on inflation in the mainstream media is nonsense, but this paper of Raghuram Rajan and Eswar Prasad is brilliant.

Untitled2A lot of people were saying that one man alone cannot do anything, as if inflation is beyond the control of the RBI. But, look at the results.

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Nietzsche compared himself to the flame that insatiably consumes and destroys itself.

“Far above the millions that come and pass away tower the pioneers, the men whose deeds and ideas cut out new paths for mankind. For the pioneering genius to create is the essence of life. To live means for him to create.

The activities of these prodigious men cannot be fully subsumed under the praxeological concept of labor. They are not labor because they are for the genius not means, but ends in themselves. He lives in creating and inventing. For him there is not leisure, only intermissions of temporary sterility and frustration. His incentive is not the desire to bring about a result, but the act of producing it. The accomplishment gratifies him neither mediately nor immediately. It does not gratify him mediately because his fellow men at best are unconcerned about it, more often even greet it with taunts, sneers, and persecution. Many a genius could have used his gifts to render his life agreeable and joyful; he did not even consider such a possibility and chose the thorny path without hesitation. The genius wants to accomplish what he considers his mission, even if he knows that he moves toward his own disaster.

Neither does the genius derive immediate gratification from his creative activities. Creating is for him agony and torment, a ceaseless excruciating struggle against internal and external obstacles; it consumes and crushes him. The Austrian poet Grillparzer has depicted this in a touching poem “Farewell to Gastein.” We may assume that in writing it he thought not only of his own sorrows and tribulations but also of the greater sufferings of a much greater man, of Beethoven, whose fate resembled his own and whom he understood, through devoted affection and sympathetic appreciation, better than any other of his contemporaries. Nietzsche compared himself to the flame that insatiably consumes and destroys itself. Such agonies are phenomena which have nothing in common with the connotations generally attached to the notions of work and labor, production and success, breadwinning and enjoyment of life.

The achievements of the creative innovator, his thoughts and theories, his poems, paintings, and compositions, cannot be classified praxeologically as products of labor. They are not the outcome of the employment of labor which could have been devoted to the production of other amenities for the “production” of a masterpiece of philosophy, art, or literature. Thinkers, poets, and artists are sometimes unfit to accomplish any other work. At any rate, the time and toil which they devote to creative activities are not withheld from employment for other purposes. Conditions may sometimes doom to sterility a man who would have had the power to bring forth things unheard of; they may leave him no alternative other than to die from starvation or to use all his forces in the struggle for mere physical survival. But if the genius succeeds in achieving his goals, nobody but himself pays the “costs” incurred. Goethe was perhaps in some respects hampered by his functions at the court of Weimar. But certainly he would not have accomplished more in his official duties as minister of state, theater manager, and administrator of mines if he had not written his plays, poems, and novels.

It is, furthermore, impossible to substitute other people’s work for that of the creators. If Dante and Beethoven had not existed, one would not have been in a position to produce the Divina Commedia or the Ninth Symphony by assigning other men to these tasks. Neither society nor single individuals can substantially further the genius and his work. The highest intensity of the “demand” and the most peremptory order of the government are ineffectual. The genius does not deliver to order. Men cannot improve the natural and social conditions which bring about the creator and his creation. It is impossible to rear geniuses by eugenics, to train them by schooling, or to organize their activities. But, of course, one can organize society in such a way that no room is left for pioneers and their path-breaking.

The creative accomplishment of the genius is an ultimate fact for praxeology. It comes to pass in history as a free gift of destiny. It is by no means the result of production in the sense in which economics uses this term.”-Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action.

Beautiful, beautiful prose. Mises was one of the heroes of my early youth.

 

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unemployedmanRothbard was a wonder. At the conferences he would rarely appear until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. He would then give a great lecture on economics or history. Long after the other faculty members had retired for the evening, Rothbard would remain going strong. I remember one time when around midnight he declared that he was hungry. “Let’s go!” he said with his infectious enthusiasm and he, myself, and a handful of other students hopped in cars and proceeded to a local restaurant where we talked and debated for hours. At the time this seemed natural but in retrospect I am amazed that a man with such knowledge would be willing to spend so much time discussing ideas with quite ignorant people. I should add that Rothbard never encouraged sycophants and his manner was such that no one was ever afraid to debate with him.

I learned later one reason why Rothbard was pleased to talk with students at the Mises Institute summer conferences. He had no students to speak of during the rest of the year. As a naïve young person seeking out a university for graduate studies I immediately thought of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute where Rothbard was then teaching. I remember vividly the day I called BPI for an application to the graduate economics department. “But Sir, we don’t have an economics department,” the secretary told me. “What,” I said incredulously, “you must have an economics department; you have one of the world’s best economists on staff.” But sadly it was true. I still find this a damning indictment of my profession and the American university system.”

When it was published, I missed this essay of Alexander Tabarrok in Walter Block’s “I Chose Liberty”.

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ArvindKejriwal2While speaking to the public, politicians usually “wimp out”, whatever the ethical aspects of the matter, there is nothing unusual about this. There is no successful politician on earth who has not done that, in one way or the other. Although, it is disputable whether Kejriwal’s economic philosophy is sound but, it is indisputably true that every shrewd politician keeps his sensible views to himself. If Kejriwal speaks the truth, and nothing but the truth, he would soon cease to be a politician. This is true of politics, not just in India, but across the world. Such is human nature. Such is the nature of politics. The median Indian citizen is touchier than the kings and queens of the past, but he expects his political representatives to wear their heart on their sleeves which is not fair. there is near unanimous agreement that Kejriwal knows very little, if anything at all about economics and political philosophy. But, the Delhi legislative assembly elections have proven beyond reasonable doubt that he knows a great deal about electability. Arvind Kejriwal is the living proof of the wise dictum that politics is not about policy. In a sane world, people would have found this bizarre, but this did not really annoy anyone, expect some gentlemen in the upper levels of the society. What bothers the people in a democratic society is the glimpse of a skeleton in a politician’s closet, though every successful politician has many in his ever-growing collection.

Read my column in DNA 

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Orphic-egg
Source: Wikipedia

Years ago, when I first read that there is a strong relationship between welfare payments for single mothers, and the number of welfare mothers, I found it surprising. I have no doubt that this is true, and this fits in so well with my cynical view of the world. But, I still find it hard to believe that many teenagers are willing to bear illegitimate children for a measly welfare cheque. This is a common mistake. Intellectuals often grossly underestimate the lure of the welfare cheque. It is hard for them to imagine that there are people who find the life of a welfare bum tempting. The fact that there are teenagers who are willing to bear illegitimate children for a welfare cheque is just too unbelievable.

But, economists are quite vocal about their belief that monetary incentives can influence many decisions we take in our personal lives, including “baby making”. Free market economists are unusually likely to think so. But, I do not think this is because economists find this easier to imagine than other social scientists. If introspection can fail other intellectuals, it can fail economists too. I believe it is because economists are far less romantic. Economists are often more interested in the truth than politicians, policy analysts and journalists. They look into observable facts of reality.

Economists are also unusually likely to see the influence of monetary incentives in the everyday things we take for granted. In his The Freeman article The Mystery Of The Mundane, Peter Boettke argues that economics students should be more open to the mystery of the mundane: Continue Reading

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1) Journalists often claim that Economics “has not been very successful in predicting the trends in history, and that this suggests that Economics is far from being a science.”  When I read a journalist who makes this claim, it is clear to me that he is a fraud, a total fake. I have never read a serious economist who believes that this is the purpose of the economic science or even that economists can forecast the future.  But, you do not have to be an economist to know this. It is obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with the subject. This does not, of course, mean that we know nothing about the future, or that we cannot anticipate certain trends. Decent economists never encourage this tendency of journalists, and tell them that the monthly changes in economic indicators are not as important as they believe. But, their attitude is “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”. This is a classic case of projecting ones own inferiority onto others. They assume that this is the goal of economics. Then, they blame the economists for not living up to their expectations. These critics of economics cannot even describe the content of economics with reasonable accuracy. This is true of all such frauds.

2) When I read a writer who claims that a particular view is not “subtle” or “nuanced”, or that it is a “black-and-white” perspective, I assume that he is a fake.  People who love the truth have no use for this sort of criticism. People want to believe that a view that they disagree with is not “subtle” or “nuanced”, whatever that means. Often, these people have no understanding of the complexity of the position that they criticize. They simply assume that it is a childish view, because they do not like it, because it appears extreme, or because they hate good prose. Again, this is a projection of ones own inferiority onto others. Continue Reading

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Morbid Thinking

We often accuse each other of wishful thinking.  Only rarely, though, do we accuse each other of the opposite cognitive vice: morbid thinking.  You might think that the disparity reflects the greater prevalence of wishful thinking relative to morbid thinking, but that’s hard to buy either.  The media is notoriously negative; as a rule, good news just isn’t news.  Academics, policy analysts, story-tellers, and religious leaders also tend to focus on the negative.  Academics and policy analysts write about social problems; story-telling can’t get off the ground unless bad stuff happens; religious leaders tirelessly inveigh against sin. My preferred explanation is simple: People neglect the danger of morbid thinking because most people are morbid thinkers!  While wishful thinking does exist, vocal wishful thinkers quickly provoke pushback: “Open your eyes, daydreamer!”  Vocal morbid thinkers, in contrast, typically evoke morbid support: “It’s even worse than you say.” You could respond, “Bryan only says this because he’s a wishful thinker himself.”  But what’s so wishful about decrying the ubiquity of morbid thinking?

Curiosity And Humility

In my experience, humble people are sheep.  They aren’t curious about the world; instead, they look to other people for guidance.  It is hard for them to question conventional wisdom, because their inner voice taunts, “What makes you think you’re so special?” True, if you’re so arrogant that you think you’ve got the whole world figured out, you’re not going to be very curious either.  But it takes a lot of confidence – even arrogance – to ask a question your peers aren’t asking, and insist that it deserves an answer. Continue Reading

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Who knows what the stupid people would vote?

Capitalism is just another form of discrimination. It discriminates against people who don’t want to work hard or who are not capable. Why should they be discriminated against? We have internalized that it’s the only kind of discrimination that is OK. You couldn’t discriminate against skin color, age, and disability. Why could you discriminate against someone who is stupid? There’s no reason. It’s just we’ve all agreed–and by we I mean the people who are not so stupid. If everybody voted, I’m sure the stupid people would–well, who knows what the stupid people would vote?-Scott Adams, Reason Magazine Interview With Virginia Postrel

“There is actually no more evidence for the wisdom of the inferior man, nor for his virtue, than there is for the notion that Friday is an unlucky day. There was, perhaps, some excuse for believing in these phantasms in the days when they were first heard of in the world, for it was then difficult to put them to the test, and what cannot be tried and disproved has always had a lascivious lure for illogical man. But now we know a great deal more about the content and character of the human mind than we used to know. There are minds which start out with a superior equipment, and proceed to high and arduous deeds; there are minds which never get any further than a sort of insensate sweating, like that of a kidney. We not only observe such differences; we also begin to chart them with more or less accuracy.”-Notes On Democracy, H. L. Mencken Continue Reading

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India is as hostile to the domestic accumulation of capital as it is to foreign capitalists.

My engineering mechanics lecturer loved to say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I never found this convincing.  Many think that economics is dry and boring, but they are surprised when they hear that there were great economists who never used a graph or a chart, and that their work was far more important than that of the large majority of the economists who used them.

The great 20th century economist Ludwig Von Mises never used a graph or a chart in any of his works. I was an instant convert to Mises’ worldview because the “Library of Economics and Liberty” described him as an economist who believed that all sorts of government interventions lead to harmful consequences. It just made a lot of sense to me. Mises believed that statistics is not economics, and cannot produce economic theorems. I too believed this with some strength of conviction in my late teens and early 20s, though I no longer think that empirical data is worthless.

It is easy to find fault with Mises’ anti-empirical stance, but as Bryan Caplan says, Mises’ take on democracy is sounder than standard public choice, not because he had more data, but because he paid attention to the date he had. He had no illusions about the virtues or wisdom of the common man.

Most Indians, for instance, might think that his views on India are silly, and that he does not really understand India: Continue Reading

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The “India is Unique” argument is intellectually bankrupt.

In professions in which perceptions matter, real skills are not valued much. But, no amount of rationalization can change the fact that real skills do matter. In economics, theoretical competence matters. Intelligence and rationality matters. Raghuram Rajan is supposed to take charge as the Reserve Bank Of India governor today. On Twitter, I see many people who question his citizenship and lack of central banking experience. But, Raghuram Rajan is an extremely competent economist. In India, this is not the norm. Ben Bernanke, the current chairman of the Federal Reserve is a talented American economist who understands the importance of inflation targeting. Perhaps it is true that Bernanke and Greenspan did not live up to their potential. But, the first essay on monetary economics many Econ nerds read when they were teens was the previous Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s “Gold and Economic Freedom”, because it was published in Ayn Rand’s non-fiction collection. Almost everything that is being written on inflation in the mainstream media is nonsense, but this paper of Raghuram Rajan and Eswar Prasad is brilliant. Continue Reading