Print Story I'm from the murder capital, where we murder for capital
By TheophileEscargot (Wed Aug 25, 2010 at 01:08:43 PM EST) Reading, Listening, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "Thinking About Capitalism". Watching. Links.

What I'm Listening To
Latest TTC course was Thinking About Capitalism by Jerry Z. Muller. Not about economics, it's more about the social and philosophical effects of capitalism. Goes through various thinkers, roughly in chronological order

As often happens, found the first few lectures a bit too basic as I've already read a certain amount about them. So, it doesn't come as a great shock to learn that Adam Smith wasn't actually an extreme small-government market fundamentalist as he's sometimes portrayed. This quote from his "Lectures on Jurisprudence" was new to me though:

We may observe that the government in a civilized country is much more expensive than in a barbarous one; and when we say that one government is more expensive than another, it is the same as if we said that the one country is farther advanced in improvement... There are many expenses necessary in a civilized country for which there is no occasion in [one] that is barbarous."
A lot of the time it seems the same debates about capitalism have rumbled on for centuries. One big question is how it affects peoples' characters. Some argue that by forcing people to deal with those that are different, and to consider the other's point of view, it makes us better and more sociable people. Others say that it degrades character by making us more acquisitive of luxuries. It's interesting to see how the lists of luxurious items changes though. In the 18th Century Justus Moser complained that peddlers were encouraging the peasantry to desire: silk kerchiefs, linen, leather gloves, wool stockings, metal buttons, mirrors, cotton caps, knives and needles.

Found the later lectures much more interesting as they had new information to me. Hayek comes across much better than I expected: Muller thinks that "The Road to Serfdom" was one of his weaker works and he made stronger arguments elsewhere. I thought he had a good insight that the market doesn't just coordinate just "economic values" as there's no such thing: the market is what allows us to prioritise all our values. So any attempt to plan the whole market means planning all our values for us.

Ernest Gellner views on Capitalism and Nationalism seemed interesting too. He reckons that multi-linguistic empires were more practical before capitalism, but when there's more trade a single language is much more useful. It's also suggested that the creative destruction of capitalism weakens local emotional ties, leaving nationalism more emotionally important.

Muller mentions the "Fertility Transition" which wasn't new to me. As societies develop economically, at first there's a surge in birth rates as people keep having children despite low infant mortality. This then fades away as people gradually realise they don't need a load of kids to work on the farm anymore, and they have to be educated to be of any use. What was new was the way he pointed out that fertility rates have oscillated since then. In the Thirties there was a panic about low birth rates, with some on the left blaming Capitalist selfishness, which led to child/parent benefits. From the late Forties to the early Sixties however birth rates bounced back into a baby boom, by the end of which there were scares over overpopulation "Make Room! Make Room!" was published in 1966 and filmed as "Soylent Green".

Also found the categorization of the different types of Welfare State interesting.

A. The first model is the liberal welfare state, such as the one in the United States, which tends to minimize the role of the state in keeping with a market-oriented political culture.
B. The second model shows the influence of social democracy, the sort of paradigm that exists in the Nordic countries. It tends to provide comprehensive government coverage of risks, a generous level of benefits, and egalitarian tax policies.
C. The third model is the conservative (or Catholic) model, which shows the influence of Catholic social teaching. It is primarily found in Germany, Italy, and southern Europe and is characterized by familialism.
I think that explains a bit about the German response to the recession: that kind of welfare system emphasizes keeping a family breadwinner in work, rather than supporting them while unemployed.

Muller's view, which he makes convincingly, is that there's no one single Best Way to run capitalism or a welfare system: that different cultures have different priorities. He also suggests that internationally these can be complementary: if you live in a low-risk, low-reward society, you can choose to invest your money in a high-risk, high-reward economy overseas if you prefer.

Overall, a good course, pretty thought-provoking once you get past the basics.

What I'm Watching
Saw Dead Snow on DVD. Pretty decent horror/comedy, with a bunch of students in an isolated ski holiday cabin under attack by Nazi zombies.

Thought it started off well with some good suspense, but dissolves a bit later on though into silly gross-out humour. Others might like that sort of thing more though.

Overall, not bad, worth a look if you like Evil Dead type movies.

Driving up to see the family for the Bank Holiday weekend. I think I still need the driving practice as still find city traffic a bit nerve-wracking, and my mother's out of the country so they might find a car handy as my brother and father can't drive.

Dreading the bank holiday traffic though.

City Car Club seem to have retired the Kia C'eed, so I'm taking the Vauxhall Corsa: automatic so should be easier.

City Car Club Vauxhall Corsa 6364

Socioeconomics. IFS confirms ConDem budget hits poor hardest: BBC, long PDFs, graph. Canadian cops attempt to discredit safe-injection-centre study (via)

Video. John Cage on TV in 1960. Taiwan news animation: Bright ideas to cut budget from the British Public. Cyriak Simon Cowell mashup. Early colour film tests, about via.

Prurience. These Euronutters are claiming William Hague is gay. Mail mentions the advisor but doesn't say anything about that. Just a rumour or is there an injunction?

Politics. Redstate and Frumforum response to the New Yorker Kochtopus article. Gordon Brown’s legal landmines may slow the Coalition’s advance.

Random. Metafilter's most-deleted domains. Draw-the-snow skiing game.

Pics. Racy mending from early 20th century, phwoaar, check out the ankles on that. Hungover owls.

< time flies | TWO IPHONES 4?? >
I'm from the murder capital, where we murder for capital | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)
William Hague by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #1 Wed Aug 25, 2010 at 02:02:54 PM EST

His wife is fit though, it would be a bit of a waste if she was just a beard.


Dead Snow is one of the few zombie films I've enjoyed over the last couple of years. Unbvelievably, most of them still take themselves very seriously. It has the dignity to be stupid, unobtrusive fun.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Can't help but muse on subtext of the allegation by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #6 Wed Aug 25, 2010 at 11:59:58 PM EST
.. given the source. Are gay people more likely to support European integration in practice? Was Oscar Wilde on record as being pro-Euro? Do you count Frederick the Great as a nationalist or an integrationist? I wonder how far the silliness can be taken.

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
Cops by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #2 Wed Aug 25, 2010 at 03:04:10 PM EST
should be forbidden to lobby over any topic related to the War on Some Drugs. Bad Cop. No Timbits.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Economics by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #4 Wed Aug 25, 2010 at 10:00:19 PM EST
As societies develop economically, at first there's a surge in birth rates as people keep having children despite low infant mortality.

This has always struck me as a "just so" story and I've never bought it.  I personally think the emancipation of women had more to do with it.

He reckons that multi-linguistic empires were more practical before capitalism, but when there's more trade a single language is much more useful.

Is there any actual evidence for this?  Certainly not an empire, but is Switzerland non-conducive to capitalism?
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

Switzerland lies in the junction by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #8 Thu Aug 26, 2010 at 02:22:25 AM EST
of three very large imperial Venn diagrams. The Swiss were successful capitalists, in part, due to ability to expedite trade between those empires.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
Yes, I know. by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #11 Thu Aug 26, 2010 at 11:32:31 AM EST
That's kinda my point.  Trade facilitated not with a single language, but with multiple languages.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Stuff by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Thu Aug 26, 2010 at 06:58:39 AM EST
The Demographic Transition is pretty well studied. The role of women is pretty complicated though. Some reckon that women's participation in the workforce contributed to the rise in fertility after WW2: when women can work and support themselves rather than being burdens you have to marry off, you're more willing to have children despite the risk of having daughters. So later on, you might see a correlation between women's education and higher fertility.

Regarding empires and nation states, over the Nineteenth century you had both the decline and collapse of previously stable empires like the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires; and the unification of nations like Italy and Germany. It's true that there were expanding empires in the Scramble for Africa, but they were largely based on asymmetric military force (this course explains that well).

I think it can be a bit tempting to look at some of the disparate old entities like the Hapsburg empires, like Philip II's control of Spain and the Netherlands, like the Normans' control of England and part of France; and think "well duh, obviously that's a weird and unstable combination of territories, how stupid to think that could hold together." But from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Nineteenth Century, that kind of thing was pretty common, and they often lasted for long periods. It was only since then that we started to get the idea that it's normal for a state to be geographically contiguous and monolinguistic. So, something had to happen to make that change, and capitalism is a pretty good candidate.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Things by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #12 Thu Aug 26, 2010 at 11:49:13 AM EST
The trouble is you've got that other variable of increasing technology lurking around.  Better communications (telegraph, telephone, etc.) is going to tend to promote a common language.   In the 17th century, most entertainment in the village was a local singer and the local playhouse.  Today, half the Western world listens to the same singers and watches the same movies.

Look at the Soviet Union, and how Russian was overcoming the other languages Eastern Europe, almost in exact analogy to the rise of English in the West. 

The thing with the Demographic Transition studies is that again, you've got another variable lurking around, because women's rights often tracks very closely with industrialization and urbanization.

I also find it amusing that someone can talk write such a long document on changes in the fertility rate in the last few centuries without making any note of the dramatic improvements in birth control technologies over that period.

As far as the post War boom: I think it is this is a classic case where you can't understand the behavior of people economically, and must look at the behavior psychologically.  After such an upheaval, people were absolutely desperate for normalcy, something which create the fifties vision of the nuclear family.  People didn't have more kids because it was cheaper.  People had more kids in order to try to bury the horrors they'd seen in comfortable family life. 

Honestly, this is a classic case of economics overrating itself, making blanket statements while utterly ignoring both cultural changes and human psychology.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
So by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #13 Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 02:20:18 AM EST
If relief at the end of a war raises birth rates, why the drop in birth rates between WW1 and WW2? Why did countries like Switzerland have a baby boom when they weren't in WW2 in the first place?

There weren't that many improvements in communications technology in the middle of the Nineteenth century to cause the decline of empire and rise of the nation state. Moveable type printing presses had been around for centuries. The telephone was just a rare city centre novelty even by the very end of the century. Telegrams were expensive and rarely used by ordinary people: if anything they might have made it easier to run a large empire than a nation-state.

Remember that German and Italian unification were complete by 1871. Economic factors were important though. In particular the Zollverein free trade zone was both a response to the increasing importance of capitalism and trade in what would become Germany, and an important precursor to German unification.

For fertilty changes, contraception technology is important, but there are other factors too. In particular, late marriage was a big factor in the Demographic Transition in Europe. Increased prosperity meant people could afford to get married earlier, and had more time to have children.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Stuff by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #16 Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 12:12:31 PM EST
There were massive improvements in communications technology in the 19th century.  The most important one was the steam engine.  You could get a letter from New York to San Francisco in 1870 faster than you could get a letter from New York to Philadelphia in 1770.  The railroad had a massive effect on the mobility of people throughout a large empire.  It directly mixed people of different cultural and languages who had not been mixed before.

In WW2, the Swiss were likely not nice and relaxed during WW2, and their trade was certainly entirely fucked up.  Also, remember that psychological reactions are not cut-and-dried things.  After world war I, people reacted with decadence.  Remember that the people who made the banal 50s society weren't just reacting to the war.  These were the people whose parents saw WWI, who saw the free-wheeling 20s, and also the Great Depression,  You might as well be puzzled why the world powers reacted to WWI with reparations and WWII with the martial plan.  People aren't the sort of rational automatons economics predicts.

For fertilty changes, contraception technology is important, but there are other factors too.

Yes, but that's not my complaint.  Any study that ignores contraception is suspect from the outset.  A scientific study would have to show that this trend happened irrespective of contraceptive availability.  Otherwise, it's as worthless.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #17 Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 01:49:25 PM EST
Nobody's ignoring contraception completely, I just didn't mention the obvious. But as the linked article points out, fertility rates shifted hugely in the Nineteenth century, before modern contraceptives were invented. So a theory that fertility rates are chiefly dependent on modern contraceptives is proven wrong by that evidence. I think since you work in technology you want technology to be important, but the evidence is against it.

So, going back to your theory: wars sometimes cause a rise in fertility afterwards (WW2) sometimes a drop in fertility afterwards (WW1) and sometimes countries that aren't even at war behave as if they were. Not convinced at all. And how could the Swiss baby boom be affected by trade if, as you claim, economic factors aren't important?
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Psyschology by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #18 Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 01:56:07 PM EST
The whole point is that people aren't as predictable as economics makes them out to be.  It is important to know what the limits of human knowledge are.  Too often, economics ignores anything that keeps them from making conclusions.

And again, I am not saying that fertility rates are chiefly dependent on anything...just that any study that doesn't take them into account is worthless.  (Including condoms, not just the pill.)  I am not saying economic factors "aren't important".  I am saying that they are far from the only important factors.  Unfortunately, economic studies tend to only look at economic factors, while ignoring technology, culture and society.  This is a classic case of that.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
What economic study? by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #19 Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 02:05:07 PM EST
As I said right at the start of the review, it's not an economics course. Jerry Z. Muller is a Professor of History, specializing in Modern European Intellectual History, Modern Germany. You're just reflexively assuming that a historian must be wrong about his history because he thinks some historical events have economic causes.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
I'm talking about by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #20 Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 04:41:38 PM EST
The thing you linked to about demographic transitions.

Honestly, I take any claims about "causes" from any historians because history is not made of repeatable experiments.  (And we certainly see wild disagreements about causes over the course of the history of history as a subject.)  Theorizing about causes is certainly interesting, but barring the invention of a parallel universe accessing machine, it's supposition, not fact.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Thanks for the Solipskier game. by muchagecko (4.00 / 1) #5 Wed Aug 25, 2010 at 10:42:33 PM EST
Too bad it's only mobile on the iPhone.

A purpose gives you a reason to wake up every morning.
So a purpose is like a box of powdered donut holes?
My Name is Earl

I thought that name sounded familiar by MillMan (4.00 / 1) #7 Thu Aug 26, 2010 at 12:49:56 AM EST
I've had a half read copy of Muller's "the mind and the market" sitting on my bookshelf for eight years or something silly.

"Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in financial crises." -Krugman

If it's like the course by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #14 Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 02:21:04 AM EST
It gets more interesting in the second half, the first half was a bit basic.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
John Cage's music.... by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #10 Thu Aug 26, 2010 at 11:30:12 AM EST
Long time ago, in a galaxy far far away a teacher of mine introduced us to Cage's music by means of his "Music for prepared Piano" (my teacher spent some time in NY where he met Cage, so he had first hand experience about how to prepare the piano gathered from the great man himself).

Cage was a clown but with a purpose, he was trying on the one hand to liberate music even further from its traditional roots, he gave some of the last blows by introducing true randomness in composition (Mozart had toyed with the idea, but stuck to well known muscial patterns, so the randomness was very constrained) which made him ever more controversial than Stravinsky in pre war Paris, Cage changed  as well the nature of well known sounds by all kind of mechanical means.

Preparing a piano or sitting through 4' 33'' is a very enjoyable experience, his critics missed that point entirely, as well as some of the composers that derided him while they continued composing music that is completely unvolving for both performers and listeners.

4'33" by houser2112 (2.00 / 0) #15 Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 09:26:18 AM EST
If you were sitting through 4'33", how would you know unless someone told you?

[ Parent ]
Because somebody has to play it. by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #21 Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 08:31:36 PM EST
It normally is performed by any arrangement of musicians with any number of instruments.

[ Parent ]
I'm from the murder capital, where we murder for capital | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)