Sunday, May 31, 2009

More from Herbert Gintis
Mike Rappaport

This man used to be a Marxist, but not any longer.  His Amazon reviews are numerous and quite a fun read.  This is from a recent review of Vernon Smith's autobiography:

Vernon's discussion of the power of university administration to foster either excellence or mediocrity also strikes home, as my experience has been quite similar. Most deans prefer mediocrity, because it involves lower job pressure, you don't make enemies, and you can rise up the academic hierarchy by moving from university to university. Sticking your neck out with creative ideas may benefit the larger academic community, but it makes enemies and makes you persona non grata in the university administrative community. Examples of creative leadership are Dean Alfange, who brought a bunch of crazy radicals to the University of Massachusetts, Larry Summers, who tried to bring Harvard University in the Twenty-First Century and was fired for it, and Yehuda Elkana, my rector at Central European University, who has pioneered the development of an American style university in the heart of bureaucratic Europe with its ossified university systems (yes, European university are even worse that American, because there is virtually no inter-university competition, and the faculty is complicit with the administration in the repression of excellence).

Update: In another review, Gintis says about Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom: 

Capitalism and Freedom is the product of a lecture series given by Milton Friedman in 1956 and published in book form in 1962. It is Friedman's greatest work in political philosophy, and it may take its place in history beside side the works of Hobbes, Hume, Locke, and Mill. The past half-century has produced nothing else of its caliber in the realm of political economy. Friedman's intellectual mentor, Friedrich von Hayek, wrote important works in this area in an earlier period, but his writings are today mostly of historical interest except to the expert. Capitalism and Freedom vibrates with life and relevance, and may do so for a very long time.

I don't want to suggest that Gintis is now a free market economist -- he seems closer to the center to me -- but he is very far from where he used to be. 

Further Update: Tom questions how centrist Gintis is.  My sense is that he is critical of what he regards as the ideological left and right.  Here is an excerpt to give one the flavor of his analysis:

The main problem [with this analysis] is that the social democratic vision has not been turned back, but rather has been largely realized in the form of (a) the end of legalized discrimination against African-Americans; (b) the huge increase in the rights of women against the claims of patriarchy; (c) the rise of a culture that asserts racial tolerance and affirms gender equality; (d) a wide-spread system of social safety nets in the form of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance; and (e) a vigorous system of laws and social institutions protecting the rights of children against sexual and physical violence. I would argue that there are several new social priorities that have arisen given the basic resolution of the aforementioned social problems, but that social democracy has not shown itself popular among voters in solving these problems. Moreover, some of the old social democratic institutions, such a support for labor unions, were merely a means of forging a political united front of a labor aristocracy and the political social democrats that worked to the detriment of the majority of voters, including most workers.

Recognizing that most of the social democratic vision has been achieved and that unions are generally a force for bad takes one a long way towards the center.

May 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tom Smith

I'm looking forward to trying Microsoft's new search engine, Bing.  I have been hoping for a long time that somebody would take on Google on its own terms, and it looks like Microsoft is going to give it a credible shot.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt that Google has been trading at least as much on its hat as its cattle.  It's search product is good, but it could be a lot better and the only way things get better is through competition.  A lot of Google's success also seemed to depend uncomfortably on positive feedback effects, effects that promote a network monopoly.  So, to get lots of visits to your site, the most important thing was your Google ranking in certain keyword searches.  But this meant that you had to optimize your site for Google, which might mean making it difficult to use competing products.  Many think not running Google AdSense on your site, for example, is a good way to lower your PageRank.  But since the ranking algorithm is a holy of holy secret, good luck trying to prove that.  Moreover, some critics claim that there is something pernicious in Bing's "decision engine" approach -- Bing puts on top the results it thinks will help you make a decision in certain categories, such as picking a travel destination or finding a doctor.  Google, on the other hand, is supposed to keep all this under the hood, and rank results by a mysterious but highly Scientific process, that's even better for humans being out of the loop.  The Google approach is said to be more objective and less eliteist somehow.  But I don't buy it.  My suscipion is that the Science going on is the science of maximizing ad revenues.  My guess is that has a lot to do with what a "high quality" site is.  By making it explicit that somebody is making their best guess about what you are looking for and pushing some restaurants or airlines to the top, Bing is being more transparent, not less.  Bing can compete on whether it delivers what people are looking for.  That, not cuteness, or not doing evilness, or hipness, or coolness, ought to be the measure of a search service.  If this turns into a competition about service to us, and not brands, we will be the beneficiary.  It is not from the benevolence of high tech companies that we should expect good search results.  Let the war begin.

May 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

Even WaPo doubts wisdom of GM nationalization
Tom Smith

Well, at least we can call it nationalization now.  Seems like a long time ago when the politically correct were saying, oh, it is not nationalization.  It's just a loan!  Now, Uncle Samantha is going to own 70 percent of our great American Brontomanufacturus, and if that's not nationalization, I don't know what is. And $50 billion?  Goodness, this is starting to seem like real money.  Still, it will be a useful experiment to prove government can do an even worse job than GM did already.  We may get something out of this -- a concrete symbol of our time, the way the Yugo was an expression of Yugoslavian socialism, the kind I was taught in the 'seventies we should get all dewey eyed over.  God, those of us who lived through the seventies could tell you lots of reasons not to do it again, but whatever.  I predict a green car few people will want to buy, even at a highly subsidized price, but we'll see.  It's interesting that even the Washington Post is starting to ask WTF is going on here.

May 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Judge Sotomayor's top 50 opinions
Tom Smith

Here are Judge Sotomayor's 50 most important opinions, as judged by the PreCYdent algorithm.  (See also pdf version below.  Our site is running slow these days because we need another server, so if you just want the list, the pdf is probably quicker.)  Our algorithm judges importance in something like the way that Google judges the importance of webpages. For you geeks out there, that means we use a modified Kleinberg algorithm with some special sauces.  So it's not just a matter of how often a case is cited, but how important are the cases that do the citing, among many other factors.

Some of the cases are cases in which Sotomayor was on the panel, but did not write the opinion.  One could skip those or not as one saw fit.  In any event, this list gives interested parties a place to start in looking at the cases J. Sotomayor has written that have had the most influence on federal law.  Since the law is to a signigicant degree an autonomous domain, this doesn't necessarily correspond to what is the most controversial or in the news.

May 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Paul Cassell on Judge Sotomayor
Tom Smith

University of Utah law professor and former US District Court Judge Paul Cassell, not to mention brother in law of RC blogger me, discusses Judge Sotomayor's record. (Unfortunately, the PBS website does not seem to allow me to embed the clip, so you have to go there to watch it.)

I agree with Paul that Sotomayor will be a predictable vote for the left wing of the SCOTUS.  But I wonder how her reportedly challenging personality will mix with that of others on the Court.  I wonder if it will polarize the Court further and what effect that might have on middle players such as Kennedy.  Of course, that would be hard to predict.

May 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Do Obamanians want an argument about racial preferences
Tom Smith

Here's an interesting suggestion, in the last paragraph of this piece in Time.  Yet another iteration of the crazy or crazy like a fox question about our young President.  The idea is, maybe the WH wants to have a national debate about racial preferences because it thinks now is the time to win it.  Seems like a bad idea to me, but I'm not President.

May 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hyperinflation worries
Tom Smith

No joke.

May 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

We are all Wise Latina Women now
Tom Smith

Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor reportedly remarked that she hoped as a wise Latina woman she would be able to make better decisions than a white man.  Others have wondered what people would think if a white man said something like that.  This is a good question.  I would wonder what a white man was doing thinking he was a Latina woman.  But then I would realize, what would I, as a white male man know about what it would be like to walk a mile in the very fashionable footwear of a white man who thought he was a Latina woman? Very little indeed, I should think.  And who would know how wise this man was? Perhaps he would be wiser than us all. Or maybe not.

The first Hispanic Justice designate not counting Sephardic Jews could have said "I am woman, hear me roar" and I think we can all agree that would have been worse.  "Wise Latina woman" is at least a curious phrase.  It makes me think there is some ethnic stereotype at play I am not clued in on.  Is a WLW different or the same as a wise white woman?  Do they know about different herbs or something?  I also must dissent from the implication, if there is one, that white men somehow fall short in the wisdom department.  There is Moses, assuming he was not Sephardic, or rather, pardon me, even if he was. There is Ronald Reagan, Gandalf and Dumbledore, just to name a few, all quite white and quite wise. Trying to come up with the name of a wise Latina woman, the only one I can think of is our Lady of Guadalupe, and I'm not sure she should count, since Hillary Clinton didn't even know who she was.  No doubt I could come up with more were I not a white man, or if I were a wise white man.  But if I were a wise white man, I would probably not be writing this post. Nevertheless, one does wonder, would a wise Latina woman even make the claim that a wise Latina woman could make a better decision than a white man?  So even if this statement is true, might Judge Sotomayor's making it suggest she is not one of them? Food for thought, indeed.

Still you have to admit we have all known people who were so white you really had to doubt their wisdom.  Many of us knew clueless preppies in college, whose idea of diversity was having both a metal and a wood tennis racket.  But I sort of like the idea of a clueless preppy on the Supreme Court, as long as he or Muffy were sufficiently learned in the law.  I am not trying to be racist here, I just think he or she would be kind of cute.  There was a Justice White on the Supreme Court but he was neither clueless nor a preppy, nor cute in the least, though I think you would have to concede that he was white.

May 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

California Budget Crisis
Mike Rappaport

One hears a lot about the California budget crisis, but what are the facts?  One blogger writes:

As a Floridian, I’m looking at California’s budget mess with some amazement.  The state’s 2009-10 budget is $111 billion, up 6% from the prior year, and $25 billion more than the year’s projected revenues of $86 billion.  The budget’s expenditures are 29% greater than projected revenues!  Yes, times are tough, we’re in a recession and all that, but during tough times shouldn’t we tighten our belts?  Instead, California’s expenditures are growing at a fairly good clip, and 29% larger than revenues.  This strikes me as crazy, and I’m happy to be saying this from Florida rather than California.

Think about that -- a 6 percent increase in expenditures from the prior year during a recession/depression.  How can anyone blame this on anything else than excessive government expenditures?  As the post says, "during tough times shouldn’t we tighten our belts?"  Apparently, not.   

May 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

First Female, Black Rabbi
Mike Rappaport

I'm not big on identity politics or identity anything, but I thought this was interesting. 


According to the article:

The 45-year-old single mother of an adopted teenage daughter recently completed rabbinical school and is about to become the first ever black female rabbi. 

"I am blessed," said Stanton, who, on August 1, will become rabbi of Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C., a 53-family congregation affiliated with both the Conservative and Reform movements.

"I was their first choice," she said. "They were my first choice."

The irony of a black woman presiding over a white congregation in the deep south is not lost on Stanton.

"God has a sense of humor," she said.

Hat tip: Manny Kausner.

May 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)