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Self in Society Roundup 40

Great economists, police reporting, sympathy for victims, higher ed, evangelical Trumpism, global development, darts, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
December 7, 2023; ported here on January 1, 2024

Great Economists

Russ Roberts interviews Tyler Cowen about Cowen's online book. Very interesting. Incidentally, during the interview, Cowen suggests that you ask the interactive Chat that is integrated with the book how Cowen would fare by his own standards. So I asked, "How would Cowen's book rate Cowen as an economist?" Here is how EconGOAT GPT-4 replied:

Ah, a bit of meta-analysis of sorts! Tyler Cowen, in writing "GOAT: Who is the Greatest Economist of All Time and Why Does it Matter?", would likely exercise a healthy dose of humility and self-awareness. The book does not include a self-evaluation section where Tyler rates himself; he's assessing the heavyweights of economic thought, after all. Given his wide-ranging knowledge and contributions to economics, particularly in the realm of cultural economics and the economics of the arts, Tyler is certainly a respected economist. However, the GOAT contenders are historical figures of monumental influence.

Tyler's work often incorporates an understanding of the nuanced, interwoven fabric of economy and culture. He acknowledges that economics isn't just about money—it involves our choices, culture, and the evolution of society at large. This perspective has framed much of his work, and he appreciates the complexity of what makes an economist truly 'great.'

In evaluating his own place, Tyler might argue that he hasn't quite shifted paradigms or overhauled economic thought in the way that figures like Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, or Milton Friedman have. These are the juggernauts who laid foundational theories, and their works have stood the test of time.

Therefore, if Tyler were applying his own criteria from "GOAT" to himself, he might note the difference between being a highly competent and influential contemporary economist, which he is, and being a once-in-a-generation mind whose theories become cornerstones of economic thought, which is the bar the book sets for GOAT status. Tyler would probably place a premium on originality, impact, and the durability of an economist's ideas when considering their GOAT-worthiness—criteria that he, with characteristic candor, might question in evaluating his own legacy at this time.

Perhaps I could pull specifics out if it if I tried.

I notice that Marginal Revolution University already has a lengthy video series on the history of economic thought.

Related: Roberts used to work (with Cowen) at GMU, then he moved to Israel not long ago. After the war started up there, he started a Substack about it.

Devils in Details

Consider these two clashing, recent statements from two prominent libertarians. Bryan Caplan writes, "I never sympathized with BLM, but when I learned that the total number of unarmed blacks fatally shot by U.S. police in 2019 was 14, even I was astounded by BLM innumeracy." There's a lot wrong with this; for example, police killed Elijah McClain without shooting him.

Contrast Caplan's statistical approach with Radley Balko's highly detailed approach:

In the summer of 2021, the body of 29-year-old Damien Cameron was delivered to the crime lab in Jackson, Mississippi. Cameron, a Black man, had died after a struggle with police. His face was swollen and bloodied, and there was bleeding in his neck. Witnesses described seeing two deputies kneeling on Cameron for more than 10 minutes. Yet Staci Turner, the state's medical examiner, ruled Cameron's manner of death to be "undetermined." That decision effectively headed off any further investigation. The officers returned to work. . . . In a subsequent review, three separate medical examiners said that Turner was wrong. . . . They say it was clearly a homicide.

I think which approach is more insightful is obvious.

Sympathy for the Victim

Scott Alexander's review of René Girard's I See Satan Fall Like Lightning is . . . something! Basically, according to Alexander, Girard is saying that Christianity is trying to condemn scapegoating and get people to sympathize with victims.

But this misses the crucial element that Jesus's sacrifice was (according to the story) part of God's plan to enable forgiveness of human sins. So Christianity sees the crucifixion of Jesus on one hand as a great evil and on the other hand as the fulfillment of God's plans. Jesus basically is a replacement for previous animal (and human) sacrifices, the ultimate scapegoat.

Obviously, important elements of Christianity encourage us to sympathize with people who are being treated unfairly. (Institutional Christianity has treated a lot of people unfairly, but that's a different story.) Sympathizing with victims is way better than thinking "might makes right," and never mind the victims.

Then the problem is properly identifying victims. The socialists, for example, basically think that all property owners and employers are victimizing the people who rent from them or work for them. This perverse doctrine led to real and widespread victimization in the Twentieth Century. Some Christians today demean LGBTQ people while pretending that the victims of bigotry are the ones harming others.

Anyway, there is a lot of interesting detail in Alexander's review; I especially appreciated his reference to Biblical stories that seem to run contrary to Girard's thesis. Example:

Or what about Numbers 25? The Israelites intermarry with the idolatrous Moabites. God sends a plague as punishment. 24,000 people die. Then Phinehas kills the leader of the intermarriers, and the plague ends.

Quick Takes

Higher Ed: Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate codes of conduct at various universities? Watch this short video of Congressional testimony. Tyler Cowen is pissed, and that is a rare thing: "Overall this was a dark day for American higher education. I want you to keep in mind that the incentives you saw on display rule so many other parts of the system, albeit usually invisibly." On the other hand, Ken White warns about offering a "one-word answer" to questions more subtle than they seem.

Evangelical Trumpism: David French: "After Trump won, folks in the pews warmed up to him considerably, especially those who were most firmly ensconced in evangelical America. Most home-schooling families I knew became militantly pro-Trump. I watched many segments of Christian media become militantly pro-Trump. And I always noticed the same trend: the more fundamentalist the Christians, the more likely they were to be all in. . . . [Trump's] fundamentalist supporters are certain that he is fulfilling a divine purpose." French predicts that evangelical Trumpism eventually will collapse "under the weight of its own rage and sin." We'll see when, and whether, that happens.

Global Development: Here's an optimistic note! "Over the next two generations the tide is likely to be flowing strongly toward near-universal global development." This is a summary point for a new podcast from Brad DeLong and Noah Smith. The podcast episode itself, however, starts off rather grimly with the recent history of relative deglobalization. They refer to this paper. Part of the story is China building more-technological capabilities; part of it is India's growing prominence. Two smart guys; lots of interesting detail.

Pandemic: Alex Tabarrok: "The biggest policy of them all, lockdowns, had little to no scientific backing. . . . The bottom line is that vaccines worked and everything else was a sideshow. . . . The lesson is that we should fund further vaccine R&D, create a library of prototype vaccines against potential pandemic threats, streamline our regulatory systems for rapid response, agree now on protocols for human challenge trials and keep warm rapid development systems so that we can produce vaccines not in 11 months but in 100 days."

Women's Darts: Why is there "women's darts" in the first place? Strength isn't really relevant. I guess it's not impossible that men on average have some sort of biological advantage here, but I can't imagine what it would be. A Conversation article plausibly suggests that men on average are better at throwing heavier things and throwing things faster, but I don't see how those abilities pertain to darts, which involve light objects thrown short distances. My guess is that, due to cultural factors, men are on average better at darts than women. But that wouldn't explain why we need women's darts. My take is that the sport should embrace non-gendered tiers of competition. Then if men dominate the higher tiers (or if they don't), so what?

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