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The benefits of greater freedom are latent and diffuse. They exist as opportunities that each of us will discern and value differently. It is hard for people to come together to defend this freedom. But when we want to restrict freedom, there is some specific problem or offense that is very blatant and hurts a very specific set of people. These can easily organise to restrict the offending freedom.
Toggle Commented Jan 9, 2015 on Freedom's supporters at Stumbling and Mumbling
@An Alien Visitor I agree with you. I don't mean to demean things like the frequency of bin collections. In fact, competently doing "little" things like this day in day out affect our welfare more than more headline-grabbing events and initiatives. And I agree that it is a happy day when the nation's greatest worry is bin collections. "Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes" etc. And you seem to agree with me - "but in a sober manner". This was may real criticism of the piece. Not the substance, but the emotional language. What hope is there of a sober debate over emotive issues like immigration and terrorism if we can't talk soberly of more prosaic issues like bin collections.
Toggle Commented Jan 8, 2015 on Hyperbole in politics at Stumbling and Mumbling
It's the narcissism of small differences. As political parties and politicians become ever closer together in terms of policy, background and mindset, all differences need to be exaggerated. In a world where the average person gives little thought to politics, big, striking messages are needed to get through to get attention (at the expense of truth and sense of proportion). No wonder the press and politicians supply them. I remember a Daily Mail front page a few months ago: "Bin Collections: The Great Betrayal!". If Judas Iscariot's worst crime was decreasing the frequency of bin collections, I doubt Dante would have placed him in the centre of Hell, having his head chewed by Satan.
Toggle Commented Jan 7, 2015 on Hyperbole in politics at Stumbling and Mumbling
What about Bob Shiller's ideas for livelihood insurance and macro markets? If the welfare state is where goverments own shares of our human capital, can you foresee a world where such shares can be bought, sold and diversified by private entities?
Toggle Commented Jan 4, 2015 on Who bears risk? at Stumbling and Mumbling
Regarding that last sentence, hasn't this happened to the political system as a whole. Lacking any broad consensus about what politics is about or what it can or should achieve, we live in a hyperreal polity. We are waiting for a strong leader to control the deficit and immigration without wondering whether they could do these things or understanding the consequences even if they could. Despite whatever sense these leaders may have, they have to go along with the pretence. The cycle of a disappointed public, and foolish leaders goes ever on...
For those interested in issues around land and the economy, and LVT, I've been involved in a group called the Labour Land Campaign which aims to understand these issues and raise them among parties of the Left and unions:
Toggle Commented Dec 11, 2014 on For worker control at Stumbling and Mumbling
I'm a big fan of LVT in theory, but I doubt it's practical politics. I quite like Tim Leunig's idea of Community Land Auctions, which uses the uplift in land values once planning permission is granted to give to local authorities (who can dangle enough incentives in front of voters to buy-off NIMBYism) - which might be one good way of increasing housing supply: A couple of points on topic: * Workers already have their human capital invested in their firm, won't this just invest their financial capital in the same firm, thus forgoing diversification? * Why isn't their more worker control in the economy as it is? Are their barriers specifically preventing it? Or is it just one of those path-dependent things - hierarchical firms are historically dominant, so many people aren't aware of such alternatives in order to give it a go?
Toggle Commented Dec 10, 2014 on For worker control at Stumbling and Mumbling
To what degree do pre-existing firms adapt to a changed environment, or do new firms emerge in a new environment they are better fitted to? (i.e. to stretch the evolution analogy a little too far- is there a lot of Lamarckian evolution, with firms changing drastically to fit a changed environment, as giraffes were supposed to have stretched their necks the more they reached high leaves?!)
Toggle Commented Dec 8, 2014 on Against competition at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Guano The world economy is not such a simple thing that if X was known about it in 2007, then it could confidently be predicted that Y would happen in such a way in such a timeframe. One may very well know of certain risks, but you can't say with any certainty that they will occur and have these effects. It is one thing to know that speeding cars pose a risk, another to predict that on the 20th November a blue Ford will collide with a red Honda on the M5 leading to a delay from 15:23 to 17:27.
Here's an interesting article by Noah Smith on what it means to have "predicted the crisis":
I wonder how much of the negative assessment of Brown stems from personal animus? He was a dour, intellectual, socially awkward outsider who didn't follow the usual channels to power. The products of England's private schools and Oxbridge, with their breezy confidence and sense of entitlement, who populate the press (and other parts of the Establishment) never saw him as being 'one of us'. Of course, this comment is just an excuse to wheel out P.G. Wodehouse's immortal line, "It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine."
@Luis There is much in what I said there that is wrong, imprecise and incomplete. I was just trying to recast Chris's distinction in view of what I'm reading about. I think there is a mindset that aims to control the world, to conform it to some pattern it has in mind. Another mindset is more ambivalent about particular outcomes and patterns, but is interested in what emerges from the free interplay of constituent parts. I believe economics is predisposed to this second mindset - I certainly shouldn't have claimed more than that.
I'm reading Nozick's 'Anarchy, State, and Utopia'. He distinguishes between end-state principles and process principles. I think many of the public judge politics on end-state principles. Does the world conform to some pattern I approve of? It may be an economic pattern (distributions of income and wealth) or it may be a social pattern (certain ethnic groups and values). Economics is more concerned with process principles. As long as there are voluntary transfers in free markets with defined and enforced property rights, whatever outcome emerges is just and efficient. If regions and industries decline - well it was the result of a just process. If foreigners settle here in large numbers - it was the result of a just process. I think end-state principles are more natural to human psychology - we judge the world as we see it. To look behind at the processes creating the world requires a level of abstraction, and a certain level of a certain kind of education.
I think there is often also a dichotomy between good economic policy and what feels emotionally right for most people. On tax, many economists would think property and inheritance taxes are less of a disincentive to work than income taxes. But emotionally, people hate paying them (PAYE is less intrusive). Immigration is good economically, but threatens people's sense of cultural continuity. I'm sure you could pick many other examples, but economic reasoning and human psychology often conflict.
Toggle Commented Nov 27, 2014 on Economists vs politicians at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Chris I have 'The New Financial Order' on my 'To Read' pile. I believe it will cover some of the material in 'Macro Markets', but should I read that first? When you talk about social benefits diverging from private ones, we are in the realm of positive externalities - which introductory economics talks about and suggests as a legitimate role of government. I've recently been reading Mancur Olson. In 'The Logic of Collective Action' he shows how hard it is for groups to provide public goods without some selective incentives or State compulsion of some kind. In 'The Rise and Decline of Nations' he shows that groups can more easily form distributional coalitions which distribute resources their way at social cost. Perhaps the financial services sector is one of these coalitions - ripping off others at a huge cost to others (i.e. recessions.) In that book though, he does suggest that some instability is good for weeding out these coalitions. In exposing the bad behaviour of banks, and perhaps in spurring corrective responses, some good may have come out of the crisis.
A good post, but I think you really need to discuss the counter-factual (impossible, I know). How would a bright, working class boy who didn't rise as you did feel? Your options would be far narrower than the ones you've had (although you may have been ignorant of them). Your relative poverty may have made you more materially ambitious. And would you still probably be a bit of an outsider amongst your peers. I suspect you may have felt frustrated that you never reached your potential.
Toggle Commented Nov 12, 2014 on The scars of class at Stumbling and Mumbling
It's perfectly reasonable to talk about the many problems of contemporary Capitalism, but isn't this a little tenuous? If I were to use one of your hobby horses against you, I'd say availability bias is causing you to put to much prominence on a recent dramatic event, and motivated reasoning is leading you to conclusions that don't necessarily follow.
Toggle Commented Nov 3, 2014 on The capitalism question at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Chris I don't disagree, but again you grant the average MP too much latitude to talk sensibly. All it takes is one anecdotal story of some mistake, and on certain issues, the Press is crying blood and demanding Something Be Done. I'd love a political culture that is more reflective and deliberative. That is more humble and discriminating in what it can achieve. There are a few MPs who talk like this, but it would require a push on far more fronts (from the media, voters themselves, political institutions etc) to achieve this change. On a slightly different front, politicians abuse the existence of trade-offs. We've all heard of the triangulation strategy, where a politician puts up a Straw Man on his Left, and a Straw Man on his Right, and declares he alone has found the golden mean between the extremes.
Toggle Commented Oct 30, 2014 on "A culture of mistakes" at Stumbling and Mumbling
To some extent, this should be mitigated by a competitive party system. For example, Labour would favour a more egalitarian tax system, the Tories one that rewards innovation more. Or, the Lib Dems should err on the side of civil liberties, the others on security. The trade-offs come in the jostling for power between parties (and to some extent the coalitions within them).
Toggle Commented Oct 29, 2014 on "A culture of mistakes" at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Chris A characteristically humble comment. What is your response to such criticism? Is the best that the cognitive bias project can do before the fact is to identify some propensities and their possible consequences in some circumstances? Could it only after the fact give a multitude of plausible explanations? Why then is it worth studying? Is its greatest use be to convince us of our poor decision making ability, and so instill a healthy scepticism about our ability to understand, much less control, a deeply complex and uncertain social world? If so, it would be hugely worthwhile, inoculating us against the strongly held, useless gumpf that passes for most opinions. But I fear there will be an inverse relationship between those who are likely to study it and those who would most benefit by studying it.
Toggle Commented Oct 28, 2014 on On false consensus at Stumbling and Mumbling
The response to this post is depressing. The very fact that a post about a celeb writer gets about 5 times the typical replies than other posts lends credence to Chris's statement that we live in a celebocracy.
Toggle Commented Oct 22, 2014 on Facts, & the Establishment at Stumbling and Mumbling
Let's assume that the parties increase the diversity of their candidates - and there's a much bigger ideological spread (skeptics, libertarians and Marxists), and greater representation of jobs and class backgrounds. You've only fixed one part of the system. The Overton window which so limits political possibilities is not all down to the politicians. You'll still face a press that is obsessed with immigrants/Europe/public sector cuts and takes no interest in automation, secular stagnation or any other big issues that we face. You'll still face a public that gives little serious thought to politics. You'll still face powerful vested interests who would threaten bad consequences if certain policies were pursued. I would strongly suspect that politics would return to being as unsatisfactory as it is already, despite the parties' efforts, because it is emergent from the entire political-media system, rather than from the failings of politicians (real though they are.)
Toggle Commented Oct 20, 2014 on Diversity trumps ability at Stumbling and Mumbling
@FATE I wouldn't advocate it for the Commons, but I wouldn't mind an element of sortocracy in the Lords (20%, say, of the Lords, for a term of 1 Parliament).
Toggle Commented Oct 18, 2014 on Diversity trumps ability at Stumbling and Mumbling
Caution is needed in what type of diversity the Labour Party seeks. There is a huge drive to achieve gender equality in representation (no bad thing) and ethnic representation. There is the risk that this just selects more career politicians of the right sex and skin tones, and pushes out those whose background and personality type would add real cognitive diversity.
Toggle Commented Oct 18, 2014 on Diversity trumps ability at Stumbling and Mumbling
I fear you are being as uncharitable to Mr Hunt as he is being to teachers. He is as constrained by systematic forces that prevent good policy making as teachers are constrained by forces out of their control. Politician's failings are more often systematic than individual. (Let's except the Rt. Hon. Mr. Newmark from that last sentence.)