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Jugglers and Face-painters

What do Deadwood, The Aristrocrats, the Oscars, and nanny-state meddlers have in common? Frank Rich makes the connection, and in the process gives passionate praise to the greatest show in television history. [via Will Wilkinson] Read more »


The Economics of DDT

Reader Joe Miller points to this Letter to the Editor debunking the myth that the environmental movement, led by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, is responsible for millions of needless deaths from malaria as a result of the ban on the insecticide DDT. Read more »


The End of Poverty

The cover story in TIME this week is a heart-wrenching excerpt [subscription only] from Jeffrey Sachs' forthcoming book, The End of Poverty.

The presence of death in Thandire has been overwhelming in recent years. The grandmothers whom we meet are guardians for their orphaned grandchildren. The margin of survival is extraordinarily narrow; sometimes it closes entirely. One woman we meet in front of her mud hut has 15 orphaned grandchildren. Her small farm plot, a little more than an acre in all, would be too small to feed her family even if the rains had been plentiful. The soil nutrients have been depleted so significantly in this part of Malawi that crop yields reach only about a half-ton per acre, about one-third of normal. This year, because of the drought, she will get almost nothing. She reaches into her apron and pulls out a handful of semi-rotten, bug-infested millet, which will be the basis for the gruel she will prepare for the meal that evening. It will be the one meal the children have that day. [...]

Children with no home other than this sleep in a train station in Jakarta, Indonesia

A few centuries ago, vast divides in wealth and poverty around the world did not exist. Just about everybody was poor, with the exception of a very small minority of rulers and large landowners.

Life was as difficult in much of Europe as it was in India or China.


What\'s In Your Wallet?


Defending The Undefendable

At the risk of attracting the sort of attention Eugene Volokh has received for defending the free speech rights of anti-Semites, something really fishy is going on with Matthew Hale. In a TIME Magazine article discussing suspects in the murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow's husband and mother, we find that

The investigation has included a close look at Matthew Hale, one of the U.S.'s most notorious neo-Nazis, who is awaiting sentencing for soliciting Judge Lefkow's murder in 2002. Hale, 33, is the leader of a white-supremacist group formerly known as the World Church of the Creator. From prison, 10 miles from the Lefkows' home, he issued a statement denying any involvement in last week's murders in his weekly phone call to his mother Evelyn Hutcheson, who read his message to a TIME reporter in the tiny kitchen of her East Peoria home: "I totally condemn it ... Only an idiot would think that I would do this." Hutcheson defends her son: "He's a racist. He has a poison mouth. But he's not guilty of this."

Hale has always denied soliciting Lefkow's murder. The two first crossed paths several years ago, when she handled a trademark case filed against his group by a church with the same name. Initially she ruled in Hale's favor, but after the verdict was overturned by an appeals court, she had no choice but to order him to change the name. Hale grew enraged at the reversal. Days after her ruling, he wrote an e-mail to his followers declaring a "state of war" with the judge and blaming "Jew vermin" for the outcome. (Lefkow is Episcopalian, as was her husband, but extremists insist that one or both of them must be Jewish.)

Hale, who has a law degree, sued Lefkow, accusing her of violating his right to practice his religion. And he asked his security chief to find her home address. When the security chief, who turned out to be an FBI informant, suggested that they should "exterminate the rat," Hale said, on tape, "My position's always been that, you know, I'm gonna fight within the law ... If you wish to, ah, do anything yourself, you can, you know?" A jury interpreted that as tacit approval and convicted him. Hale faces up to 40 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 6 by a judge imported from Indiana.

Whatever Hale's intent, his followers are not famous for restraint. In 1999, days after Hale was denied a license to practice law in Illinois because of his racist views, Ben Smith, one of his most devoted aides, went on a three-day shooting spree, killing two and wounding nine--all minorities--before killing himself. Hale was never charged in connection with the murders.

Assuming this account is accurate, Hale faces 40 years in prison... for what? Asking his security chief to find Lefkow's home address? Telling a government informant that he intends to obey the law? His "tacit approval" of assassination? Read more »


No Possible Analogue?

Glen Whitman believes that all abortion analogies fail. That sounds like a challenge!

I've been saving the following abortion analogy for a while now, but have not yet felt a need to use it. Please feel free to do with it as you please, either pro or con, and let us know if you can create a situation that satisfies all of Glen's objections and avoids any other important distinctions. Read more »


Small Is Beautiful

Melissa Fay Greene, a talented author and close family friend, had a heart-warming essay in the New Yord Times a few months ago. It's about a bare-bones summer baseball clinic her 16-year-old son and his friends created to teach younger kids the love of the game. She contrasts this with the institutionalized, all-too-serious baseball camps that are now an essential part of the soccer-mom generation.

Here's what the teenagers didn't require of their players: tryouts; advance registrations; birth certificates; assignments to teams by age, sex and skill level; uniforms or team names; parent volunteers; snack schedules; and commuting to fields in distant counties in search of the appropriate level of competition.

Here's what the players didn't miss: almost none of the above. (Uniforms are pretty cool.)

The charge for each clinic was $5 per kid per day. The news was spread by a single flier tacked up at a neighborhood pool and word of mouth. I was unsure such a last-minute ad hoc approach would work, since many children in our community seem to have been booked into summer camps and enrichment programs by the end of the previous January. And an entire generation is being raised to expect sports training to resemble that of professional-league players, unfolding on well-maintained fields under the direction of paid coaches.

But just before 5 p.m. every afternoon, a swarm of children from about 7 to 12 years old appeared on foot or on bike at the top of the grassy hill leading to the playground and fanned out into the field. Their numbers increased daily. I sat in a folding chair at the far edge of the playground in a singing haze of mosquitoes. I collected the five-dollar bills in a shoe box. Also I was in charge of the box of Band-Aids.

To my amazement, a few of the obviously sporty boys drew back, balked, even shed a few anxious tears, on their first day. ''He's never played baseball before,'' a mom would explain apologetically. Or just one word sufficed: ''Soccer.'' I understood. The outdoor lives of today's children -- like their inner lives -- have fallen to adult dictatorship. Early and intense specialization is part of the package. Twice- or thrice-a-week practices plus two games a weekend send young players barreling across green fields, fit and competent. But parents sometimes forget to pencil in the days on which the child is allowed to dabble in hopscotch or roller-skating, jump-rope or jacks, fort-building or hide-and-seek, or pickup neighborhood baseball.

Although she doesn't discuss it, I think something similar is happening with schooling in general. Read more »


Christmas Came Early This Year

Will Wilkinson's long awaited third Letter to a Young Objectivist on the subject of ethics is now online. The previous two were on free-will and human sociality, respectively. I'm printing this one out to read while I go outside to smoke a cigarette. I suggest you all do the same. Read more »


Mathematical Hazing: Protecting Economists From Competition

Arnold Kling, in his much acclaimed TCS article this week, touches on an idea I wrote about last April.

The most distinctive trend in economic research over the past hundred years has been the increased use of mathematics. In the wake of Paul Samuelson's (Nobel 1970) Ph.D dissertation, published in 1948, calculus became a requirement for anyone wishing to obtain an economics degree. By 1980, every serious graduate student was expected to be able to understand the work of Kenneth Arrow (Nobel 1972) and Gerard Debreu (Nobel 1983), which required mathematics several semesters beyond first-year calculus.

Today, the "theory sequence" at most top-tier graduate schools in economics is controlled by math bigots. As a result, it is impossible to survive as an economics graduate student with a math background that is less than that of an undergraduate math major. In fact, I have heard that at this year's American Economic Association meetings, at a seminar on graduate education one professor quite proudly said that he ignored prospective students' grades in economics courses, because their math proficiency was the key predictor of their ability to pass the coursework required to obtain an advanced degree.

The raising of the mathematical bar in graduate schools over the past several decades has driven many intelligent men and women (perhaps women especially) to pursue other fields. The graduate training process filters out students who might contribute from a perspective of anthropology, biology, psychology, history, or even intense curiosity about economic issues. Instead, the top graduate schools behave as if their goal were to produce a sort of idiot-savant, capable of appreciating and adding to the mathematical contributions of other idiot-savants, but not necessarily possessed of any interest in or ability to comprehend the world to which an economist ought to pay attention.

Kling concludes:

In higher education, no well-known university or college has gone out of business in my memory. Over this same period, countless corporate giants have bitten the dust. To me, this says that the incumbent protection racket in higher education works really well. There is hardly any entry, and hardly any exit. No surprise, then, that dousing this sector with subsidies leads primarily to inflation.

One of the best incumbent-protection rackets going today is for mathematical theorists in economics departments. The top departments will not certify someone as being qualified to have an advanced degree without first subjecting the student to the most rigorous mathematical economic theory. The rationale for this is reminiscent of fraternity hazing. "We went through it, so should they."

Mathematical hazing persists even though there are signs that the prestige of math is on the decline within the profession. The important Clark Medal, awarded to the most accomplished American economist under the age of 40, has not gone to a mathematical theorist since 1989.

These hazing rituals can have real consequences. In medicine, the controversial tradition of long work hours for medical residents has come under scrutiny over the last few years. In economics, mathematical hazing is not causing immediate harm to medical patients. But it probably is working to the long-term detriment of the profession.

Compare to what I wrote last April:

Economists love to talk about how licensing for doctors and lawyers is a form of monopoly power: doctors and lawyers don’t need to be licensed to protect consumers as much as they need to be licensed to protect their own wages. By making it more difficult for people to become and remain doctors and lawyers, these two groups shield themselves from further competition, and by reducing the supply of labor, they increase their own wages.

But then I started thinking: if this is true for doctors and lawyers, shouldn’t it be true for other highly educated fields as well? Why should economists be immune from their own criticism? Perhaps the continued use of complex mathematics and econometrics even in the face of mediocre results is the method by which economists make it more difficult for the marginal student to enter the field, thereby protecting themselves from further competition. Further, this protects economists from competition with other social scientists, like sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, and philosophers, who do not need and do not have the mathematical background necessary to decipher and challenge the work done by economists.

Luckily, places like George Mason University (where Kling recently began teaching) are bucking the widespread tread of "mathematical hazing," and are instead focusing more on the constantly changing, never static market process, and incorporating important insights from Austrian economics. Let's hope this new trend continues.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Kling's article nicely demonstrates a point I've been trying to make to Catallarchy's own Jonathan Wilde on two different marketing strategies for blogs. Follow below the fold for more... Read more »


Good And Hard

Deb Frisch believes that "there is good reason to allow the market to allocate food and the government to allocate ideas." Responding to Will Wilkinson's extended analogy comparing a monopoly for education to a monopoly for food, Deb writes,


Blogging while high deep thoughts

everytime someone says some stupid story, say, What the fuck? Wer'e talking anarchy here!!!

clapper controls lights and computer, and your loud song contains clapping sound 1 hour in to the cd. You fall aspleep, and about 45 minutes in, when you are in R.E.M, your friends comes outside the door

superfluous plot devices

everyfucking word fucking word that comes out of my mouth, is fucking hilrious. It's a recurssive loop! how will we ever stop it!

necessary means for a necessary means for a higher education

copy and paste, no typing with rave gloves on fingers! Read more »


Georgism of the Jungle

Tyler Cowen provides a much more persuasive argument than David Bernstein for why prospective students should favor George Mason University over higher-ranked schools. And that is so that we can ask Bryan Caplan in person exactly what are his objections to Georgism and not have to suffer through Cowen's obfuscations and misdirections. Read more »


Research Bleg

I just came up with a research topic that may be useful for one or two economics courses I'm currently taking; one is a class on African American entrepreneurship and the other is my senior research paper under the guidance of a professor who specializes in urban and regional economics. The idea is more of a mixture of of these two courses with some sociology of religion thrown in.

I'm blegging for input from anyone who may be familiar with academic research on this topic, especially economists and sociologists, because I have a feeling this idea has already been covered elsewhere. I can't remember where I heard it from, but I know its not entirely original to me. In any case, I still think it will be a fruitful area for research, though of course I'd much prefer if it's as original as possible.

Anyway, here is the idea. When looking at various ethnic minority groups, Jewish communities have been especially successful at fostering social capital - "the collective value of all 'social networks' [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other ['norms of reciprocity'].

The classic example of social capital is taken from Lisa Bernstein in her article, "Opting Out of the Legal System: Extralegal Contractual Relations in the Diamond Industry," 21 JOURNAL OF LEGAL STUDIES, 1992, pp.115-157.]"

Here's David Friedman's summary:

For a more elaborate example of reputational enforcement, consider the New York diamond industry as described in a classic article by Lisa Bernstein. At one point, somewhat before the time she studied it, the industry had been mostly in the hands of orthodox Jews, forbidden by their religious beliefs from suing each other. They settled disputes instead by a system of trusted arbitrators and reputational sanctions. If one party to a dispute refused to accept the arbitrator’s verdict, the information would be rapidly spread through the community, with the result that he would no longer be able to function in that industry. The system of reputational enforcement survived even after membership in the industry became more diverse, with organizations such as the New York Diamond Dealer’s Club providing both trusted arbitration and information spreading.

I wish to expand on this idea, and explain why Jewish communities, particularly Orthodox Jewish communities (those strictly observant of Jewish religious rituals) have been able to foster social capital more so than many other ethnic groups.

My thesis is that there are at least three self-reinforcing religious customs (there may be more than these three, but three is a nice number for now) which force Orthodox Jews to live in close proximity to each other and discourage individuals from (a) living outside the community for extended periods of time and (b) violating those customs while living inside the community. This last point is what I mean by self-reinforcing; by encouraging Orthodox Jews to live in close proximity to each other, these customs are that much more difficult to violate because doing so invites criticism, shame, social ostracism, and in extreme cases, excommunication from the community.

So what are these three customs? Read more »


Twenty-Twenty-Twenty Four Hours To Go

Digamma is doing some 24 blogging.

To me, 24 has always been about one thing: the conflict between duty and humanity.

Right-on. The best part of the show has always been the ethical conundrums. But if they ever start doing plot lines with runaway trains and fat men, I fear it may go the way of Alias. Read more »