The Role of “We” Versus the Role of “I” (Econlib)
Also, armchair public policy analysis. Caveat emptor: may contain BS
Not posting here could be due to good reasons, or nasty reasons. Fortunately, it was a very good reason that kept me from posting for few weeks (hint: it was expected, and involves diapers). The (invisible to the naked eye) gap was covered via a spontaneous, à la WWE tag team display by Brandon (who, btw, restarted nightcapping, yay! And then got tarpitted again, nay).
Has the U.S. Supreme Court Effectively Overruled Roe v. Wade? (Verfassungsblog)
A take on the recent abortions slugfest. A decisive overturn of the post – 70s judicial status will probably spell similar changes elsewhere. The shadows have been stirring, the battlefront is wide, the divisions remain deep. Only recently, a proxy “skirmish” took place in Greece: A so-called “1st Panhellenic Conference on Fertility” or something got cancelled, after its anachronistic/ derogatory undertones provoked a digital uproar:
This metal feminist slogan came to mind:
Nolite te bastardes carborundorumThe Handmaid’s Tale
I have not read the book (nor watched the series), but this mock-Latin line rings timely and has an interesting history itself.
Lynn Parramore at INET argues that modern libertarians tend to overlook the subject, while the likes of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard were assertive in defending the right to abortion as part of the self-determination of one’s body/ life in general:
Why Aren’t Libertarians Protesting the Freedom-Busting Texas Abortion Law? (Institute for New Economic Thinking)
INET is not particularly fond of the liberty creed, but still, the picture is disheartening. What’s worse, it fits my own troubling perception (incomplete as it is, based on limited observations) that this kind of intrusion into individual freedom ranks lower than others. The whole issue seems mostly relegated to a “feminist” or “gender” only thing, bogged down by religion and politics, an underdog among individual rights (Scott Lemieux over at Lawyers, Guns & Money also notes something along this lines. LGM has been consistently slamming the Texas law and the SCOTUS response). And that’s why I did not exactly lament the conference cancellation, even if it borderline breached freedom of speech. It rhymed with an underway underhand undoing of that underdog.
A post in RCL (picked by Brandon here) makes an interesting case regarding the feasibility of free choice for both parts of the equation, doctor and patient. However, it also reminded me of this haunting story, and the possibility of a gap between elegant theory and brutal reality:
Italian doctors on trial for manslaughter after refusing abortion (Financial Times)
The FT article also showcases the heavy information asymmetries that plague healthcare services-at-large, which serve as a foundation for state intervention, be it regulation, public supply or whatnot. At least in the realm of textbook econ as I remember it.
The other day, I used the same apparatus – old reliable econ – peppered with some basic public choice insights to smite a couple of state initiatives (in my head, that is).
(1) The Greek government recently ramped-up the vaccination push through mandates, prohibitions and fines. More heavy – handed intervention will beget more bottom-up webs that game the system, I decreed (right, late Mancur Olson documented this in his Power and Prosperity book, especially if the public’s trust is lacking, just pushing open an already unbarred door here). As it turns out:
(2) A law enacted in early 2020 awards a one-off allowance of EUR 2,000 (that would be like four times the Greek minimum wage) for every childbirth (there are some conditions to be met, income level, residence etc, but they are quite lax). So, a generous gesture, meant to incentivize people to have children, and also to offer support with child-rearing costs, according to the relevant explanatory memorandum. The law is seated in the state’s duty to protect “family…motherhood and childhood”, somewhere in the underbelly of our Constitution’s list of individual and social rights.
At the face of all these, the free-market credo in my econ grasp whispered:
I will not fail in my strike, warrior. I will not fail in my strike.The Last Mythal
I unfolded my offensive in two lines. First, the smell test: Nudging a life-changing decision with just a hand-out seems overstretched (a scheme of consistent financial aid is a different beast). And second, the econ-kick-in: This subsidy (you can actually feel my contempt here) will have the fate of other transfers that mess with the price mechanism. Will not the maternity services providers just jack-up prices to take a slice? Presto! (I left the actual cost – organizing/ funding – of implementing the policy plus the arbitrariness of the sum out, as too easy targets).
Well, the jury is still out about the first part, since it’s mostly an issue of empirical analysis. It surely made a nice PR exercise (that could also have a positive effect, and maybe this was the main point from the start). My price call went out of the window, though. The relevant costs have barely budged from the last time we needed maternity services, few years ago. First-hand observation is not statistics, but it did the trick. Nice, neat and clean inferences can still be BS, obviously.
So late that went live on Tuesday
But Who Tells Them What To Sing? (Longreads)
On film choruses. There is so much behind this curtain. An excerpt:
I wanted to find out who among this massive group would be the one to say “hey, let’s add a chorus and have it sung in Sanskrit” or something along those lines. The answer turns out to be: Pretty much any of them can and sometimes do. What film choruses offer us is a perfect synecdoche for the collective, frenzied, and deeply mercenary magic that creates movies in the first place. It’s as likely that a director had the screenwriter invent specific lyrics early in post-production as that a subcontractor, assistant composer, or orchestrator jotted down some words or went on a Wikipedia deep-dive eight weeks out from release in a desperate late-night quest for a non-copyrighted text to use with a cue that might please a bunch of suits half a world away.
Thinking like a conservative (Claremont Review of Books)
Symposium: Washington Consensus Revisited (Journal of Economic Perspectives)
Three Days at Camp David: The Fiftieth Anniversary (The International Economy)
Friends, Romans, Countrymen (Lapham’s Quarterly)
Japan’s Offbeat Olympics Opening Ceremony (Hyperallergic)
The Best-Selling Car in America, Every Year Since 1978 (Visual Capitalist)
Although the sentiment may seem paradoxical, libertarians should cheer this week’s decision by a federal judge upholding Indiana University’s vaccine mandate for students.
So argues professor Stephen L. Carter in this interesting piece. In short, a mandate checks the boxes if it is instated in a decentralized and narrow fashion.
Dismal Economics (Project Syndicate).
A review of four books challenging mainstream, neoclassical economics. In The Corruption of Economics, the author Mason Gaffney (btw, he passed away just over a year ago) proposes that the 19th century’s American universities perceived Georgist ideas as a threat to their vested interest in land-owning, and actively suppressed them. His work on the Stratagem against Henry George has been referenced in a NOL piece by – the also late – Fred Foldvary.
Also lingo. And beards.
Why Cuba is having an economic crisis (Noahpinion)
The Language of Totalitarian Dehumanization (Quillette)
On the Cuba events. Governments and protests, now that’s a strained relationship. Talking about the so-called “Second World” countries, Nikita Khrushchev did not even know what booing is, until he encountered it in his visit to London in 1956.
Few years later, during a massive strike in the Russian city of Novocherkassk, a crowd stormed the central police station. Whether it was a genuine assault, or a naive display of defiance from a people inexperienced in protesting, the government’s fearful puzzlement turned to cold, brutal aggression. Unarmed protesters at the center of the city, mistakenly thinking that those days were over, remained steadfast at the face of warnings to disperse. That is, until security forces opened direct fire against them. The ensuing massacre was covered-up for three decades. Since this was an à la Orwell un-event, no high-ranking officials’ records were stained.
Khrushchev’s aloof ignorance strikes a nerve, contrasted with the people’s heartbreaking one. Both glimpses are captured in the brilliant (though somewhat uneven) Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford.
The Greek government, like its French counterpart, is escalating the push for vaccinations. As constitutional scholars argue the limits of state power regarding personal freedom and the public good, historical precedents are brought forth (for the US, c. early 1900s), involving mandatory vaccinations, quarantines and discrimination. The discussion draws from equal protection of the laws jurisprudence and smoothly led me to Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886):
The decision set a milestone and has been cited some 150 times.
The backdrop of the case is rich. As it turns out,
An 1880 ordinance of the city of San Francisco required all laundries in wooden buildings to hold a permit issued by the city’s Board of Supervisors. The board had total discretion over who would be issued a permit. Although workers of Chinese descent operated 89 percent of the city’s laundry businesses, not a single Chinese owner was granted a permit.Oyez
The regulation was one in a series of many that reflected the anti-immigrant (especially anti-Chinese) sentiment, following the influx due to the Gold Rush (1849).
A particularly badass line, from the unanimous opinion authored by Justice Stanley Matthews, shows that the Court did not hold back:
Though the law itself be fair on its face and impartial in appearance, yet, if it is applied and administered by public authority with an evil eye and an unequal hand, so as practically to make unjust and illegal discriminations between persons in similar circumstances, material to their rights, the denial of equal justice is still within the prohibition of the Constitution.
Gangsters vs. Nazis (Tablet)
How the Jewish mob fought American admirers of the Third Reich. An excerpt:
Judd Teller, a reporter for a New York Jewish daily, relates how he met one day with “several men who said they were from ‘Murder, Incorporated’ and wanted a list of ‘Nazi bastards who should be rubbed out.’” Teller took the request to Jewish communal leaders. They told Teller that if the plan would be put in motion, “the police would be informed promptly.” Teller relayed this warning to his Murder, Inc. contact. Upon hearing this, the mobster angrily replied, “Tell them to keep their shirts on. OK, we won’t ice [murder] the bodies; only marinate them.” According to Teller, this is exactly what they did. He said the attacks by the Jewish mobsters was sufficient “marination” to drastically reduce attendance at Nazi Bund meetings, and discouraged Bundists “from appearing in uniform singly in the streets.”
The Inimitable Orwell (Commonweal)
On the Politics and the English Language essay. I try to stick to the six rules, but I fear I am not totally “outright barbarous”-proof. Another list with writing rules – a more light-hearted one – comes from Umberto Eco, the noted Italian scholar:
Umberto Eco’s 36 Rules for Writing Well (Openculture)
[W]hether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.
Now, I may have found the second prospective opening for my public policy course, should I ever offer one (the absurd part is that I lack almost everything else to supply it, demand included). It is pithy, sharp and, importantly, timeless. The alternative one-liner I would possibly pen day one at the imaginary class:
Property imposes obligations. Its use by its owner shall at the same time serve the public good.Weimar Constitution (1919), art. 153(c)
While not as punchy as Spooner’s aphorism, it has qualities and can raise eyebrows. Both phrases are metal. Independent of context, they have more or less exactly what it takes to pick and stick. Perhaps both of them should set the opening, leaving the audience free to choose the way forward.
Back to Spooner. Another prominent figure (of American individualist tradition this time) I had not heard of till this day.
Lysander Spooner (Online Library of Liberty). The particular passage comes from his No Treason. No. VI. The Constitution of No Authority (1870).
I took note that he challenged the government monopoly in mail services (a field with quasi-military structure, typically used as a matrix to consolidate state bureaucracy/ power, btw) with his American Letter Mail Company, on ethical and economic grounds. The state finally forced him out of business in 1851, though competition temporarily drove fees down.
(If you care about post stamps – I don’t – USPS to issue Ursula K. Le Guin stamp this month (Book Riot). I enjoyed Le Guin’s Earthsea and plan to read The Dispossessed, a veiled study of social systems I hear, before summer end)
If anything, Spooner seems to have shared the fiery convictions and language of his contemporaries at the First International. That was a time of memorable lines, obviously. This easily comes to mind:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.The Communist Manifesto (1848)
They also sported some serious beards. Those of Spooner and Marx are respectable, but I would award James Guillaume’s bonus points for the extra menacing vibe.
YES — Is the Fed Getting Burned Again? (Project Syndicate)
NO — In the Fed We Trust (Foreign Affairs)
TENTATIVE — Is the Phillips Curve Back? When Should We Start to Worry About Inflation? (Niskanen Center)
Boom and Gloom (Claremont Review of Books)
Huge Diego Rivera mural about to go up at SFMOMA (The Mercury News)
Redefining Death (National Review)
Monetary Meld (IMF)
And, inspired by this NOL discussion here,
A History of My Economic Opinions (Deirdre McCloskey)
This is a long, but enrapturing piece (I am not familiar with McCloskey’s work, which was also referenced en passant in another fresh NOL post). An excerpt:
I happened in 1958 to devour in the Andrew-Carnegie financed public library of Wakefield, Massachusetts the Russian prince Pyotr Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902) and the gullible American journalist John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World (1919). If I had instead come across Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom (1943) or Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) I suppose I would have gotten a better grasp of market pricing, earlier. Many market-loving classical liberals came to liberalism by that free-market path, and were never socialists. Yet the socialism-to-liberalism route is very common in 20th century political biographies, such as Leszek Kołakowski’s or Robert Nozick’s or, to descend a couple of notches, D. N. McCloskey’s. (The contrary route from market liberal to state socialist is vanishingly rare.)
Or, some Monday links on flavors, figurative flags and fails
I mean, it would be impossible to have a business like this in the States, a wood-burning fire – illegal, the meat – illegal, the dog – illegal, the cheese sitting out uncovered – illegal. Basically, everything that makes this place good would be illegal in the United States.Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations ep. 1 – 01 France: Why the French don’t suck (Jul. 2005)
The other day, Brandon highlighted (the review of) a cultural history book, one that documents the postwar shift of cultural gravitas from Paris to New York. So, the talk is about the big league, the respectful duo of countries that gave us, among other things, modern constitutionalism and an understanding of the natural hue of fundamental rights. Here, I venture to present a sincere, if arbitrary (and somewhat superficial, since I never learned French, to my mother’s disappointment) selection of other Franco-American bites, that shadowed greater trends, or even shaped them.
160 years ago, chef Charles Ranhofer, a Frenchman, traveled to the US for a second time. A year and a false dawn at another premise after, he was hired at Delmonico’s in New York, an already established name. There, he proceeded in making it the definite flagship of American fine dining for the next 30-35 years.
His achievements include the invention of renowned dishes, innovations in the dining business model and a massive Franco-American culinary encyclopedia (The Epicurean, 1894, complete with nearly 1000 dishes and thorough guidelines for the proper tables/ menu setting, depending on the occasion). The story fits well in the Gilded Age picture, though I would guess not at front center.
Our own Escoffier (Los Angeles Times)
My pastry trilogy came a full circle only last year, having started some ten years ago: a Mississippi mud pie, a cheesecake (early 2010s, both under the guidance of my wife) and a tarte Tatin (May ‘20 lockdown, unsupervised, our then nearly-5-year old provided merry company). Of the three creations, the final was the most refined, as deserves to a French recipe from late 19th century. Like, it needed some real – if basic – technique, not the average ingredient gathering I was used to. It was also a mild failure. I followed a modern take, one to safely blame without retort. Will try again, someday. There are relevant recipes aplenty, though not in its contemporary Epicurean.
Deconstructing tarte tatin, the classic French dessert (National Geographic)
The Gilded Age was nearing its end when the famous Lochner v New York decision was delivered (1905). The Supreme Court struck down a New York state law on regulating working hours, as a breach of the liberty of contract, which was protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A few decades later, in United States v Carolene Products Company (1938), an interstate trade case, the Court lowered the standard of review for economic legislation, effectively demoting economic liberty vis-à-vis the other personal liberties.
Both decisions refer to the food industry, bakeries and milk manufacturers respectively. They hold vast importance and warrant further study (for starters – note to self – judicial activism in Lochner, individual rights in Carolene).
As a certain minstrel in a certain fantasy realm would have it, the truth of these decisions became something bigger than the facts. The two cases work as handy banners of the paradigm shift from “unrestrained economic liberty” to “state interventionism”, which happened as right/ left-wing totalitarianisms convincingly challenged the prewar liberal order. Liberal-minded thinkers from the two sides of the Atlantic tried to revitalize the liberal creed in the interwar years. Some of them convened at Paris – few months after the Carolene decision – to honor the visit of the American journalist/ author Walter Lippmann, a notable critic of the New Deal.
There were deep differences, but also a strong agreement on the threat posed by central planning and some tentative overlapping on the perceived failings of “old” classical liberalism and, interestingly, the potential of the state in enhancing personal freedom by pursuing limited social goals. The – middle – way forward needed free markets in a solid, impartial legal frame, which would enforce competition and even provide for a modicum of social justice. By one account, it was during this meeting that the term “neo-liberalism” took root (other ideas included “left-wing” or “constructive” liberalism. Chicago theorists – not represented at the Colloque Lippmann- had previously written about “positive” liberalism), though the term is older. The resolution led to nowhere in particular, since World War II broke out shortly after. It is nonetheless considered a kind-of precursor to the Mont Pelerin Society, the well-known organization founded after a conference in 1947, at the invitation of Hayek.
The neoliberal position is nicely summarized by Milton Friedman (who was present at the 1947 proceedings) in a short piece from 1951:
Neo-liberalism would accept the nineteenth century liberal emphasis on the fundamental importance of the individual, but it would substitute for the nineteenth century goal of laissez-faire as a means to this end, the goal of the competitive order… The state would police the system, establish conditions favorable to competition and prevent monopoly, provide a stable monetary framework, and relieve acute misery and distress.
Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects (Hoover Institution)
The term can also be found in scholarly papers from 50s-60s, but upon closer inspection they mostly focus on its German variant, “ordoliberalism”, which was closely associated with the “social market economy” – the postwar platform that defined West Germany (though voters could hardly tell what it exactly was).
My understanding is that, at some point postwar, the French involvement dwindled. Also, some German theorists fell from grace in the Mont Pelerin Society context, while US membership increased in number and clamor. The whole approach tilted closer to classical liberal/ libertarian (another note to my – European – self, Edwin van de Haar offers precious nuance regarding such terminology in a fresh post) and away from the “free market, strong state” convictions of Colloque Lippmann. However, Hayek retained cordial relations with the University of Freiburg – where the original ordoliberal theses formed.
Then the shade of neo-liberalism faded, only to be invoked as a nebulous catch-all characterization of free market policies a couple of decades later, almost devoid of its competitive and social security chops. It got a life though, since it was fleshed in the founding Treaties of the EU of the 50s. The institutional apparatus of the Union smugly radiates “free market within the properly defined lines” (the US influence is not be discounted, of course. Case in point, competition law).
EU, as with the Colloque: The French grabbed a coffee with the Americans and threw a party. Then, they took a step back as the Germans stopped being shy and hit the decks.
Back to the kitchen. Late 60s and into the 70s, gastronomic developments trace the retooling of society-at-large. That was the time various “new” national cuisines rose, with the French Nouvelle cuisine once again leading the way and the New American Cuisine taking clue from it (in Greece we usually talk about the “(new) urban cuisine” of that period, as the country experienced a rapid urbanization wave in the preceding decades).
In the meantime: Political turmoil, be it protests or terrorism, there go Bretton Woods arrangements, productivity flattens, environmental concerns kick-in, enter competition from Asia, human rights against the Soviet Block, university studies expand, telecommunications and transport improve, oil crises, the lights go out in Britain and elsewhere, inflation runs, and so on and so forth. The next decade coincided with the emergence of new political leaderships across the West, as the turbulence discredited the previous guard.
The consensus got a drift for privatizations, deregulation and liberalization of international transactions, with US and Britain adhering to it (though to say that they indeed rolled-back the size and scope of State is questionable). This time, the Nobel Memorial Prizes in Economic Sciences awarded to Hayek (1974) and Friedman (1976) served as a flag (or a scarecrow) for the transition to market-based prescriptions.
The endgame was meant to play out in France. In May 1981, Mitterrand won the presidential election on a pretty standard socialist agenda. The program of nationalizations, hiked taxation, capital controls, grants and subsidies run its course till 1983, when the bad results in deficit, employment, inflation and the exchange rate – underlined by an equally poor performance in local elections – prompted a turn to anti-inflationary rigor and a realignment with more market-oriented policies (Spain and Greece, btw, more or less copycatted the French experience).
In a twist in the myth, three Mitterrand guys even went to assume head posts in international bodies, like the IMF (a member of the unholy trinity of the “Washington Consensus”), and promote capital account liberalization from there.
Endnote: The No Reservations show of late Anthony Bourdain had a role in our family’s inconsistent knack for things cooking/ baking. While writing this, I found out that a documentary on the man’s life just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Encore: “To France”, Mike Oldfield’s cover by power metal band Blind Guardian, from their The Forgotten Tales album (1996). Pas mal.
Propagating Propaganda: Franklin Barrett’s Red, White, and Blue Liberty Bond Carp (The Public Domain Review)
Science has become a cartel (Unherd)
The Ghost of Arthur Burns (Project Syndicate)
Free and Worldly (The Baffler)