Thursday, January 8, 2015

We Should Focus on Deception, Not Lying | Mother Jones

This strikes me as relevant to anyone doing interpretive social science.

We Should Focus on Deception, Not Lying | Mother Jones:

A better approach is to focus instead on attempts to mislead. But how do you judge that? A few years ago I developed a three-part test that I use to check my immediate emotional reaction to things politicians say. I've found it pretty useful in practice, though it's not perfect and it doesn't apply to every kind of slippery statement. Here it is:
  • What was the speaker trying to imply? This is necessarily a judgment call, but it's what gets us away from "lying" and instead focuses our attention on how badly a speaker is trying to mislead us.
  • What would it take to state things accurately? This is the most important part of the exercise. Without getting deep in the weeds (nobody expects politicians to speak in white paper-ese), what would it take to restate things reasonably accurately?
  • How much would accuracy damage the speaker's point? Obviously, if accuracy dents the speaker's point only a bit, not much harm has been done. If it demolishes the speaker's point completely, it's as bad as an actual lie.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Interview with Gregory Clark

Everyone likes the idea of equal opportunity. This economist thinks it’s a fantasy. - The Washington Post:

The surname data suggests that you will not be able to do much to increase social mobility through social policies of any type. We already live in societies of massive social intervention in terms of the provision of education and health care. Yet we have not been able to raise social mobility rates above those of the pre-industrial era. Even the most interventionist societies such as Sweden have such low social mobility rates.
But if we're learning that we can predict the majority of people's outcomes at conception, that should lead us to reexamine our assumption that whatever income distribution comes out in society is fine. Because if it's the case that a lot of this is determined before someone enters the game, it weakens the case for letting the market determine the distribution. You'd be much more likely to favor a society with much less inequality.
And that's where Sweden's system does provide advantages over the U.S.'s. They haven't changed mobility rates, but they've changed the consequences, strongly, of ending up at various points in the distribution. It's a much better place for people who end up at the bottom of the distribution.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Aamir Khan as Oracle

Jai Arjun Singh on Aamir Khan as an oracle (and PK): 

For anyone who has been left fatigued by Aamir Khan’s messiah persona in films like 3 Idiotsand Taare Zameen Par as well as in television’s Satyamev Jayate, the obvious joke about his role in PK is that this is inspired casting because in most of his recent films (notable exception:Talaash) he has played an extraterrestrial or an automaton or God Incarnate anyway, the only problem was the film itself didn't know it.
And then later:

Much like Chetan Bhagat, who has self-consciously moved from being “just” a storyteller to being a writer who Sets Out to Make a Difference and Herald Change, Aamir now has a clearly defined image. In an email exchange, a friend who is something of an insider in the film industry made this observation about the difference between PK / 3 Idiots and Rajkumar Hirani’s Munnabhai films: that the relatable, human qualities of Munnabhai and the detached, nearly omniscient status of PK and Rancho are offshoots of the personalities and approaches of the lead actors – Sanjay Dutt being a malleable, non-cerebral performer who won't ask many big, weighty questions like “What is the ultimate purpose of this scene?” and Aamir being a control freak who will try to ensure that everything he does is Meaningful in a clearly observable, quantifiable sense. With Munnabhai, we are invested in his own personal growth and we don't feel like the film is preaching at us through him; with the Aamir roles, it is hard to escape the sense that we are being talked down to. No wonder PK starts to slacken (at least for those of us who think we are already knowledgeable about the hazards of Godmen etc) around the point that the protagonist goes from being a wide-eyed outsider learning new things to being the smug know-it-all spreading the message of peace and oneness.

Good stuff!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

One small study that explodes the myth that inequality is efficient - Vox

One small study that explodes the myth that inequality is efficient - Vox:

If you want people to consume less water, there are roughly two ways you could do it. One is to raise the price of water, and the other is to simply mandate that everyone cut back on their water consumption.
Either will work, but they work in different ways. And an important recent study from Casey Wichman, Laura Taylor, and Roger von Haefen suggests that the difference in how they work has crucial implications for how we think about a wide variety of issues. When economic inequality is really severe, using prices to regulate the distribution of scarce goods can be seriously unfair. At the same time, using non-price mechanisms can be seriously inefficient.
That means that inequality is preventing us from adopting efficient solutions to a wide variety of problems, ranging from drought response to traffic congestion to climate change.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why Repealing “Push-Out” Doesn’t Matter, and Why It Does | The American Conservative

Why Repealing “Push-Out” Doesn’t Matter, and Why It Does | The American Conservative:

From my perspective, we’ve never grasped the nettle of what we want our banking system to do. Classically, banks turn savings into capital, and classically they do it pretty directly, by taking deposits and lending to businesses and consumers. Banks are supposed to be good at evaluating the individual risks associated with these loans, as well as constructing portfolios of sufficient diversification to minimize the risk of them getting any of those individual evaluations wrong. Bank regulation is supposed to keep banks from pushing the envelope on either front in the interests of higher profit.
In our modern world, most of what banks do is intermediate in more complicated ways. They don’t do a whole lot of evaluation of individual loan decisions; instead, they are expert at aggregating and repackaging financial risk. The upside to this is that a much larger world of borrowers can access a much larger world of lenders, which should push down the cost of lending generally, and thereby facilitate growth. The downside, which has only manifested itself over time, is a financial system with an ever-increasing aversion to real risk (because nobody involved in large institutions can really evaluate it, and small institutions cannot achieve economies of scale to compete effectively with the large ones), coupled with an ever-increasing appetite for complexity that provides inherent reflexive self-justification (you need a really complex and well-paid operation to manage that complexity, so finance can never reliably be shrunk as a percentage of the economy).
I can’t help but believe that financial regulation and innovation in capital rules has facilitated the above development. In a world where hedge funds do more and more of the direct lending to small businesses – the kind of activity that used to be bread-and-butter for FDIC-insured banks – whatever financial regulation is doing, it isn’t forcing insured banks to return to their “proper” core economic function. And the kinds of activities that 716 tries to push out into uninsured subsidiaries are precisely the kinds of activities where much of the real risk lies in the tail of the distribution – the place where crises come from.
The repeal of 716 matters not because “push-out” was such a successful or important reform, but because it shows how the terms of debate have changed. We’re now debating whether it’s “time” to weaken financial reform, and let the banks operate more “efficiently,” when financial reform never actually achieved its core goal of taming finance’s role in the economy.
The core question is not whether uncleared derivatives are too risky to live in an insured bank, but whether we’re creating incentives to take risk or to hide it. Banks are supposed to do the former. They have a lot of natural incentives to do the latter. Financial regulation needs to be exceptionally vigilant about sniffing out that kind of behavior and punishing it. Encouraging banks to stuff those risks in an uninsured subsidiary that could then, in a crisis, bring down an insured bank doesn’t strike me as an especially auspicious solution. Scrapping that solution because it isn’t capital efficient, and replacing it with nothing, is even more alarming, because it implies that no solution is necessary. Bankers and politicians agree: the problem no longer exists. Which is exactly when we should start worrying that it’s about to smack the economy in the face yet again.

Can We Criticize Foucault? | Jacobin

Can We Criticize Foucault? | Jacobin:

I don't claim to understand this interview fully; indeed, it references many thinkers I've never even heard of, let alone read, but still:

Foucault was highly attracted to economic liberalism: he saw in it the possibility of a form of governmentality that was much less normative and authoritarian than the socialist and communist left, which he saw as totally obsolete. He especially saw in neoliberalism a “much less bureaucratic” and “much less disciplinarian” form of politics than that offered by the postwar welfare state. He seemed to imagine a neoliberalism that wouldn’t project its anthropological models on the individual, that would offer individuals greater autonomy vis-à-vis the state.
Foucault seems, then, in the late seventies, to be moving towards the “second left,” that minoritarian but intellectually influential tendency of French socialism, along with figures like Pierre Rosanvallon, whose writings Foucault appreciated. He found seductive this anti-statism and this desire to “de-statify French society.”
Even Colin Gordon, one of Foucault’s principal translators and commentators in the Anglo-Saxon world, has no trouble saying that he sees in Foucault a sort of precursor to the Blairite Third Way, incorporating neoliberal strategy within the social-democratic corpus.