Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lessons from Rome

For Christmas I received a couple books on the rise of the Roman Empire.  I wanted to make a couple notes:

The Good News: Rome's first political personality cult (Tiberius Gracchus) seems to have been in 132 BC, a full 86 years before Rome's first dictator Julius Caesar.  So all this fear mongering about Obama's power grabs may be a little premature ;)

The Bad News: In between, revolts and government overthrowing riots were pretty common.  One purportedly ending with so many bodies in the Tiber river it had to be unclogged to get them to float away.

But, history doesn't repeat does it?

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Side Note on Immigration

I got wrapped up into a lengthy debate today on immigration at the blog of my friend and illustrious economist Bob Murphy.  I thought it was a good conversation, so I'm going to post of my comments and some other responses.

Bob's post and my thoughts are in response to a Cato Institute web video that included a question answer session with famous libertarian economist and blogger Tyler Cowen.  [He notes these comments here] His comments set off a firestorm of anger amongst some of the intellectual libertarians, but I'm not concerned with those issues.  Among them were some sharp rebukes of those who are anti-immigrant.  While I have no time for xenophobic anger or violence, I am becoming increasingly aware that the nativist argument is actually fairly sound.

Def. Nativist - someone who wants to maintain the purity of ones own culture.

Def. Minarchist - referring to minimal or very small government

I am pro-immigration. I believe in open borders. The best way to ensure freedom is to allow people to choose their government. Competition will shrink the size of the state.

However, I have seen noone make a good argument against nativism. Not that I subscribe to the argument, but I don't have a slam dunk reason against it.

My basic nativist argument is this:

You have a democratic minarchist state. The country flourishes economically. Millions of people around the world want to come and enjoy the economic benefits. The minarchist state opens its borders, letting in millions of hard working people who happen to be statists. The minarchist state slowly disappears as the statist immigrants become an increasing part of the voting population.

Blackadder adds:

The issue isn't whether every immigrant will be highly statist, but whether immigrants are likely to be more statist on average. That immigrants are likely to be more statist (and that this effect can last generations) is, I think, amply demonstrated by history.

Then Taylor:

"Is it also possible that these statists, once they arrive and are saturated by a non-statist society, will begin to adopt different principles, rather than the other way around?"

Then Me Again:

Sure, that's possible, but I lean towards Tyler Cowen's comment that culture is "sticky". Voting patterns amongst certain demographics tend to change very slowly over time.

While I am still not a nativist, I can understand their viewpoint.  I won't agree with bigotry anyone who disrespects immigrants as individuals, but for now, I can't really tear down the arguments as I have presented it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

How Paul Krugman Became an Idiot

Recently, my viewpoint of human behavior has been radically expanded by seeing the ubiquitous influence of status.  This line of thinking finally lifted the vale of mystery from a question I've had for so long.  Namely, how can someone be so smart, but believe something that is so ridiculous.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in economics, and NY Times columnist is the patron saint of the left wing economics.  If the Obama started selling our babies to pay off debt to China, Krugman would be complaining that it wasn't toddlers too.  He's so dedicated to giving power to the state that nothing seems beyond reproach.

How did he get that way?

The problem is that we learn and believe what we are motivated to learn and believe.  The primary factor, I believe, is status.  I break down how this happens into 3 types.

First, we like to believe things about ourselves make us better than others.  You have book smarts, but I have the all important common sense.  It's standard ego defense.  If someone tells a child with red hair that red hair is the best, he's likely to believe it because it makes him feel better.  Politically this would be someone who is highly educated who thinks that only highly educated people should be allowed to vote.  Their ideas would give them more power and status.

Secondly, is indirect status.  If I come up with an argument that brown eyes are the best, and you have brown eyes you will reward me with agreement.  If people around me tell me that they agree with me, then I'm more likely to believe that I'm right.  It's not that my ideas are self-serving, they serve the status of others.  This reinforces my line of thinking.  The better my line of thinking the more my own status will be raised by those who these ideas serve.  I can whole heartedly believe that brown eyes are better, even though my own eyes are blue.  This apparent lack of self-interest gives more creedance to my ideas and all the more fuels my own status indirectly.

Politically, we see this all the time.  Paul Krugman is surely heavily influenced byt his.  He gives cover to power grabs by politicians.  His ideas are reinforced by indirect self-interest.

Thirdly, is groupthink.  If you put ten Paul Krugmans in a room they will aid and assist each other.  When one academic makes a good argument that supports the main argument he will be rewarded by his peers.  They reward him because he has assisted the cause that indirectly gives them status.

When thinking this way, this adds to my own beliefs that "scientific" inquiries into the social sciences is fraught with inevitable problems.