My friend Alan Nelson recently posted a link on facebook to the following article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/business/economic-view-when-the-scientist-is-also-a-philosopher.html with an appropriately snarky note that the author, N. Gregory Mankiw (the Chair of the econ department at Harvard, natch), seemed to be arguing that the only changes to the status quo permissible are those that are verifiably Perato efficient improvements. An obvious corollary is that, since every reasonably substantive and complex policy change will have winners and losers, we should never change policies at all.
... in Turkey. I suppose no one should be surprised by what Recep Tayyip Erdogan is capable of by now, but this is definitely a new low. Below is a short BBC video narrating the chronology of events, and here is a piece in the Guardian from the point of view of those fighting back against the suppression of internet freedom in Turkey (H/T Lucas Thorpe for both).
I invite well informed readers to offer further elements on the situation in comments below.
The news has just been released that Rev. Fred Phelps, founder and lifelong shepherd of the Westboro Baptist Church (in Topeka, Kansas) has died at the age of 84. I find it difficult, I confess, to summon the normal human compassion that usually accompanies news of another's death in this case, largely because Phelps dedicated his life to broadcasting his rejection of-- not to mention enlisting others, including children, to stage carnival-like circuses around his rejection of-- what most people would consider even the most minimally-decent exhibitions of human compassion. Fred Phelps was one of the most infamous, outrageous, dishonorable and genuinely despicable hatemongers of my generation. And, what is more, Fred Phelps' hate was as ferocious and vicious as it was blind. Through the prism of his delusional and evangelical abhorrence, the Westboro congregants en masse considered themselves justified in casting an unjustifiably wide net of Judgment. Caught in that net were many: ranging from bona fide innocents against whom no reasonable person could or ought cast aspersions, like Matthew Shepard, to a whole host of other "collateral-damage" victims of Phelps' quasi-political positions who found themselves the inadvertent and inauspicious targets of his his flock's detestation.
I say again: I find it very, very difficult to summon the normal human compassion that ought to accompany the news of Fred Phelps' passing.
Nevertheless, these are the moments when our inclination toward Schadenfreude, however deeply affirming and deeply satisfactory indulging that sentiment may feel, ought to be on principle squelched.
This is just a short note to express my hope that all the celebrities and ordinary folks celebrating the two former members of pussy riot will recall that there are political prisoners rotting in US prisons as well. This is not to criticize TFMPR - I don't really understand the issues behind the split, but that aside, I take it that their primary moral responsibility is to stand up to abuses in Russia. On the other hand, while there is nothing at all wrong with cheering on these efforts from the safe Brooklyn sidelines, this is not the primary moral responsibility of someone in the US. For those who would like to learn more about US political prisoners, there are quite a few excellent resources Here
Is an African American political prisoner in the US. He was convicted of killing a police officer in the course of resistance work with the armed wing of the New African Liberation Army. He has been held in solitary confinement for the last 30 years, in violation of numerious international agreements, and under conditions that clearly constitute torture. Below is a letter from various Nobel Laureates calling for his release into the general population, and information on how to support him.
He is gone. When someone is 94, you can't call it a surprise. But when someone has always been there as a part of just about everything you cared about politically your entire life, it somehow is. We are much the poorer.
There is a theme I'm seeing over and over in the coverage of Mandela's funeral - in everything from mainstream press, to "expert" commentators both inside and outside the press, and essays on the left. People note how brilliant, effective, humane, democratic, strategic, etc. Mandela was when leading the resistance movement. Then they note that he was less effective, less strategic, less brilliant, less democratic as president. (Those on the left add that he began collaborating with international corporations, imperialist or otherwise disreputable states, etc.) And then they move onto how much this negative trend has continued and in some cases wonder whether there is a leader who can bring South Africa back to the excitement and progress of the revolution.
What is striking is that everyone takes this history to reflect on Mandela, on Mandela's legacy as a person. It is if the main observation is that this guy was great for a time and only good later, to be followed by people who were massively worse. And so we are led to take from this the lesson that we need to find someone who is as he was earlier but able to maintain this disciplined humanity as president.
No one that I have seen has so much as entertained the possibility that this difference might imply not changes in Mandela, but the difference between democratic voluntary movement coalitions and institutionalized states, even ones with marvelous constitutions like that of South Africa. If we did consider seriously this other possibility - that it is the structures that were the independent variable in this experiment - might we possibly be led to the thought that the way such revolutions are organized is a better model for society than the way states are?
My own involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle began in the mid 1980s when I was a graduate student at Pitt. It was a formative period for me, a time when I was learning to be an activist and organizer, and taking that on as part of my life and identity. throughout that time, Mandela was a symbol more than a real live figure. We read his speeches and analysis, studied his life. But locked up in prison, he was not someone we interacted with, even from a distance. Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, and many others were the ongoing partners in our thinking. Numerous less well known representatives came to our campuses and engaged with us directly. Mandela was this figure on "free Nelson Mandela" posters, but nonetheless important for all that. Of course this change with his release from prison and the transformation of roles that he took on as a result. In this first post, I want to reflect on the importance that this time had for me, by passing on a few little vignettes. I invite others to do the same in comments. this might seem odd, talking about my own life on the occasion of the passing of one of the world-historical greats. But as I see it, a good measure of the importance of Mandela lies in the changes he brought about in so many thousands of less significant people like me.
This is my first foray into newAPPS waters-- and I thank the newAPPS coterie for the invitation!-- so I thought I’d start by tossing out a fairly straightforward philosophical claim: Tolerance is not a virtue.
When I say that tolerance is not a virtue, to be clear, I don’t mean to imply that tolerance is a vice. No reasonable moral agent, certainly no moral philosopher worth his or her salt, would concede that. Rather, I only want to point out that “being tolerant” requires at most little if not nothing more than refraining from being vicious. Not only is it the case that we don’t define any other virtue in this explicitly negative way, but we also don't generally ascribe any particular kind of moral credit to persons who are merely refraining from being vicious.
Aside from the nauseating mythological reminiscences of the Kennedy presidency, news today is dominated by discussion of the US Senate's decision to eliminate the possibility of filibuster for certain nomination votes. All manner of dire consequence has been suggested on both sides of this procedural issue. (Has there ever been a more hyperbolic characterization of anything than calling this change in voting procedures a "nuclear option"?) It seems to me that there is a deeper issue here that points to a rather depressingly misguided focus of intellectual thought on collective rationality, one that cuts across a wide variety of disciplines.
In the end, that’s the real danger we are now facing. Not just the
shutdown, but the rise of the shutdown strategy. By unraveling the
threads of our joint commitment to shared governance, it raises the
chances those threads will be rewoven into something else: something
deeply, and tragically, undemocratic.--Michael Lynch, Opinionator, New York Times, 10/15/2013
Plato's most important observation in political philosophy is that no constitutional system lasts forever. As Michael Lynch discerns in the important piece that I quote above (it's the concluding paragraph), there are dynamics internal to the democratic process that may lead to its own unraveling. Lynch mentions three distinct ones: (i) if "legislative gridlock" becomes "a fixture of American
political life, it will be more tempting, more reasonable, to think that
someone should “step in” to make the decisions. The chorus
calling for action — for the president, for example, to go around the
Congress — will only increase." (ii) When politics stops being perceived to be about (Madisonian) give-and-take, then the sense of shared identity will unravel. (iii) A permanent albeit powerful minority systematically makes normal state functioning impossible--the so-called regular "shut-down strategy." [In (iii) I blend Lynch and Schliesser.]
In response to (i) the Cato's Institute's Roger Pilon, remarks: "Well, that’s already happening – witness the many lawless changes to the
Obamacare law that have been unilaterally imposed by the president,
without so much as a notice to Congress. But it’s not because of any
shutdown threat. It’s because (iv) respect for constitutional limits is today
so atrophied." [HT Jason Stanley on Facebook] From context, it is clear that Pilon is thinking of the growth of the welfare state ("special interest juggernaut poured through with one redistributive
program after another, leading to the unsustainable war of all against
all we see today.") Given his focus on limitations, it is surprising that Pilon does not express concern about the limitless growth of executive power that leads to permanent foreign wars and the surveillance state. Either way, we can recognize in (iv) Hayek's old road to serfdom thesis. But with this particular twist that, rather than edging our way toward totalitarianism, we have already returned to the state of nature ("war of all against
all.") Obviously, if we are in the state of nature then the need for a Hobbesian sovereign to get us out of it will be embraced by all minimally rational agents.
Following on Eric's post about the Nobel in economics, a brief comment on the latest Peace Prize. A number of recent prizes have been truly bizarre - given to Obama in 2009 for, I guess, getting elected and not being Bush; to the EU in 2012 for, I guess, not totally dissolving, and now to the UNs Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for, I guess, being pressed into service in Syria where they might, at some future date, possibly do something useful as that country dissolves into chaos and mass death. But as an award to the person (well, nevermind) who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses" color me skeptical. In particular, it is worth remembering the role this body was assigned by the UN in the leadup to the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Neil has an interesting analysis of "why Congressional Republicans are taking extreme bargaining positions
that shut down the government and risk defaulting on debt." He points to Republican "primary problem, which "makes Republican officeholders do the crazy things that the Tea
Party likes, because they fear losing their primaries even more than
they fear losing the general election." This has it backward in two important respects. First, it fails to understand the rationality of the Tea Party caucus. Second, by demonizing the Tea Party as "crazy," it facilitates the far more dangerous tendency among educated people to grow impatient with democracy and pine for rule by experts.
First, since 1988, the Republicans have won the popular vote once: in 2004. Their House majority is now primarily a product of gerrymandering and superior mid-term turn-out. If you look at the congressional Tea Party heartland (see this good map at the New Yorker), it is primarily rural, elderly, white, and Evangelical. With the exception of 'Evangelical,' perhaps, this is not the future of America. And even born again America is remarkably fluid when it comes to so-called 'life-style' choices--the generational shift of opinion on Gay Marriage has been phenomenally fast. That is to say, these are folk that know they will loose national elections time and again. Obviously Republicans can still put together winning national coalitions, but as the Tea Party heartland learned under the three Bush presidencies, these will not reflect their values and interests. They are not acting as co-partners in government awaiting their turn at the helm, but as the legal opposition. They are playing a lousy hand superbly and -- best of all -- by democratic means.
That's not crazy.
We sought ways around the gridlock of current debates over the role
of religion in public life by examining the way an early 18th century
philosopher and theologian had responded to similar circumstances by
refashioning the concept of God to accommodate modern ways of thought.
The Australian Research Council’s panel of experts, acting on the advice
of independent specialist assessors, deemed it worth pursuing. On the
basis of its title alone, however, Briggs deems it “ridiculous”.
Just as Hannah Arendt saw that the combined action of loyal managers can
give rise to unspeakable systemic evil, so too generation W has seen
that complicity within the surveillance state can give rise to evil as
well — not the horrific evil that Eichmann’s bureaucratic efficiency
brought us, but still an Orwellian future that must be avoided at all
costs.--Peter Ludlow, "The Banality of Systematic Evil" in the NYT's The Stone.
This splendid review by Kelly Sorensen of Wolterstorff's recent volume of essays (edited by the distinguished philosopher, Terence Cuneo [this goes unremarked in the review]) calls attention to six "arguments against public reason liberalism." The first two are described as follows:
First, public reason liberalism actually is not realistic
enough. One's capable adult fellow citizens clearly do not universally
endorse the same reasons. So public reason liberalism has to idealize --
it has to imagine what reasons capable adult fellow citizens would endorse
if they met certain hypothetical conditions, with the presumption that a
consensus or convergence about these reasons would emerge. The
hypothetical conditions vary from one brand of public reason liberalism
to another...Why think
disagreement about these reasons will disappear under idealization? ... So public reason liberalism is not realistic
enough: we are stuck with pluralism, and we cannot idealize our way out
Second, public reason liberalism is paternalistic and patronizing,
despite its lip service to respect. Suppose Jones favors some policy on
religious reasons that do not qualify as public reasons. Smith, a fan of
public reason liberalism, is stuck with telling Jones, "You shouldn't
express your reasons in public discussion, and you shouldn't vote on
them. Here instead are the kinds of reasons that count -- reasons you
would endorse if you were not under-informed and rationally impaired."
Jones will of course find this condescending and patronizing.
Some might wish to explore the degree public reason Liberalism (Rawls, Larmore, etc.) can respond to these problems or needs to be amended by what Sorensen calls "aspirational public reason liberalism." That's not my concern here. Rather, it's fascinating (to me) to see the embrace of political pluralism by a central figure in Reformed philosophy and theology. (Now, one might claim that this just continues Dooyeweerd's embrace of pluralism in a religiously divided society, but Dooyeweerd's philosophy has its own problem(s) with paternalism. [Recall this on Dooyeweerd & Plantinga.]) Progressive and Conservative American protestant political thought is generally characterized by monistic conceptions of the good, which animate a variety of (often noble) moral 'crusades.'
Over lunch my dad asked me why the use of chemical weapons is thought morally worse than other weapons (some of which capable of tremendous carnage and deaths). I couldn't do much better than, "it's against international law." Upon reflection my answer is not entirely silly (I return to that below). It is worth nothing that as so-called 'weapons of mass destruction' go chemical weapons are by no means the worst in killing potential. First I turn to Owen Schaefer, who wrote a very thoughtful blog post with a purported answer:
It is indeed generally worse to be killed by a chemical weapon than a conventional one. Chemical agents such as nerve gas typically cause significant suffering before death – choking, vomiting, chemical burns, defecation, convulsions and the like. For those lucky enough to survive, chronic neurological damage can be expected. Conventional weapons are not pleasant either, to be sure, and can similarly cause severe burns, painful wounds, infections, loss of limbs and so on. Nevertheless, the suffering is pretty much inevitable in a chemical attack, whereas at least those killed by conventional weapons may be killed quickly, even instantly. What’s more, chemical weapons are more dispersive than most conventional weapons, more likely to cause collateral damage to noncombatants. These factors indicate we have strong pro tanto reasons to prefer, if a conflict is going to occur at all, that conventional rather than chemical weapons be used.--Schaefer.
I doubt this answer will fully satisfy my dad (a Holocaust survivor who has seen his share of horrors). For Schaefer does not really address the hypocrisy charge given the fact that the legal status quo on the use of Nuclear weapons is -- pace this advisory opinion -- far more permissive. (I am no expert, so feel free to correct me.) Because I am skeptical about the 'more likely to cause collateral damage' claim, it appears that the main moral rationale for focused outrage over the use of chemical weapons is that we prefer our mass killing without prior suffering to the killed. It is, thus, in the spirit of the displacement of torture and needless suffering in 'civilized' penal codes (suggested by Foucault) since the late Enlightenment.
It is, of course, no argument against this anti-suffering ethic to note that it fits a common anesthized (or aestheticized) picture of war. Yet, if consequences matter (as they clearly do in Schaefer's analysis), we also need to ask ourselves if we are taking all the relevant consequences into considerations.
Most of you will have seen this fine Slate article praising
Stevie Wonder for his boycott of Florida as long as the ‘Stand your Ground’ law
is in place. It starts by pointing out the paradox of the position of African
Americans in the US society: American music (and one might add, sports) has
been dominated by African Americans for decades, which means that a small group
of African Americans are among the most respected and praised citizens of the
country, and yet as a group African Americans suffer systematic injustice and
exclusion at several levels. (Recall for example that they constitute an
absolutely disproportionate percentage of the prison population.)
This means that a few prominent African Americans such as
Stevie Wonder may be in a position to campaign (and be heard) against the
systematic exclusion of African Americans, and in particular to hit the
establishment where it hurts: hit them with music, or more precisely with the lack
thereof. Such a simple and yet coherent idea: as long as some segments of the
population do not treat African Americans with respect, they don’t get to enjoy
their music either. It’s only fair!
Suppose that you want to defend someone or some institution from criticism that it has engaged in unacceptable behavior of type t. Here's a common rhetorical strategy understood by all professional pundits: First, you define some spectrum, relevant to t. Then you find a way to identify demons at the right and left-hand ends of that spectrum that will allow you to place your hero in the rational middle. It helps if one of the demons can be associated - even if unfairly - with actual people, preferably people that are already demonized by your likely readers. Balancing that first demon needn't actually be real people. Rather, you can use some vague phrase that suggests demonizable extremism. Such non-referential vaguery is useful because it allows you to suggest to readers that real critics fit this extreme, without having to actually defend claims about what they really say. Next you assume the middle, with high fanfare and moral certainty. Finally, you rhetorically assimilate your spectrum to three discrete points: point occupied by you and your hero; the crazies on one end, and all critics on the other.
Voila: Hero defended without having to actually address any of the substantive criticisms. No one who is a crazy spectrum-ending demon needs to be engaged with seriously.
It is not only in Turkey that police
brutality is being deployed against protesters: last Thursday, a protest
against an increase in bus and subway fares in São Paulo turned very sour, with
the police using the well-known arsenal of tear gas, rubber bullets etc. against
peaceful protesters holding flowers. In particular, many journalists were badly
hurt and/or detained while covering the events. (To be clear, what happened in
São Paulo does not come anywhere near the severity of the current situation in
Turkey, but there are some striking similarities.) Since then, protests in
other Brazilian cities have erupted, indicating a general situation of
There are two factors worth pointing out to
explain how such events could have come about. The first is the fact that,
while there has been undeniable prosperity in Brazil over the last decade, and
much has been done to fight social and economic inequality (such as the
successful ‘Bolsa Familia’ program), prices have ski-rocketed everywhere, especially in cities such as Rio and São Paulo. (I remember when we went to
Brazil on holiday 10 years ago, and everything was so much cheaper than in Europe. Now, I don’t even bother converting the prices into Euros, otherwise
I’d be constantly in shock and would not enjoy the vacation.) Public transport,
in particular, came to represent a big toll in a family’s monthly expenses, but
dissatisfaction with the higher transport fares represents dissatisfaction with
outrageous prices everywhere, for everything.
I write this as the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, appears to have ordered the police assault to empty Gezi park from the brave citizens that taught the whole world lessons in civil society and decency. In doing so, Erdoğan has precipitated his own eventual downfall. For, youth movements that attract a generation's best and
brightest tend to win the war of ideas (and subsequent political power) in the medium-term. At Taksim square Turkish civil society was given an inspiring, attractive, and courageous face with people cleaning up
together, nurturing each other by way of mutual discussion and participation on topics of shared concern. Along the way, lawyers
and doctors rediscovered their professions as calling while they aided and tended to the victims of oppression at considerable risk to their personal safety. These
are not small matters.
Arresting (I almost wrote"Providential") evidence for claim in the previous paragraph is that, this week the Iranian people voted in huge numbers for a reformist establishment cleric (not a revolutionary),
who promised a “civil rights charter." Evidently, the Iranian, clerical elite learned some
lessons from their own Green Movement.
Meanwhile, the Erdoğan myth has been shattered--for all of his undeniable achievements of the last decade, he cannot be said to stand for the future of Turkey, democratic and islamic, anymore. Turkey is a complex and dynamic society too large to be ruled by authoritarian methods if one does not have access to (oil) wealth to buy off potential challengers (or a common, threatening foreign enemy). For, Erdoğan's allies will be cautious about entrusting him with more personal power (he humiliated some of his closest advisors in public during the last few weeks). Moreover, even if Erdoğan gets to build his mall in Taksim square, the prudential businessman and ordinary folk that have supported him throughout his rise will quietly work to introduce sensible zoning laws into major urban centers--zoning laws reduce the cost of uncertainty over doing business. So, while it is not impossible that Erdoğan wins another general election (due to the lack of talent in the opposition parties), his brutal, unnecessary overreach against unarmed and peaceful citizens is a self-inflicted wound from which he never will recover.
The whole world is now following the protests in Turkey with much interest. As we know, there is a vibrant philosophical community in Turkey, so I figured NewAPPS could host a forum for our colleagues in Turkey to share their experiences during these events and their vision of the whole situation - that is, if they have some time to spare amidst all the turmoil. So if you are based in Turkey and/or have info on the situation there going beyond what one finds in the usual media channels, please leave a comment below.
So Nine does not simply insist that the collective in question adds
material and symbolic value to the land and is in turn shaped by its
ways of dealing with the land. While land-use patterns are important,
what matters is that these land-use patterns are geared towards the
establishment of just communities. To illustrate, in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings,
the evil Orcs build a sophisticated underground system of dungeons and
mines in preparation for future misdeeds. When the Ents (tree-like
beings that keep the forest) flood and thereby destroy these structures
during the Battle of Isengard, they are disrupting established land-use
patterns. But since the Orcs did not build this system to advance
justice, no loss of moral value occurs.--From this review by Mathias Risse of Cara Nine, Global Justice and Territory.
From Risse's description it is not entirely clear if the example is in Nine's book (a quick search suggests not). Let's stipulate (a) that the Ents waged a just war in self-defense and (b) that as a matter of fact the Orcs' land-use patterns do not advance justice (regardless of the Orcs' views on such matters). I am, however, troubled by the final claim that "no loss of moral value occurs." For it seems that cultural genocide is endorsed in the example. (Quite a few, unnarmed Orc laborers also die--most of the Orc warriors of Saruman were fighting elsewhere.) Here are three reasons for concern: first, we should not be blind to Tolkien's racialized stereotypes--the Orcs are dark-skinned 'others.'
Here is a truly appalling story concerning the rise of corporatism in America. The general issue I want to raise is this: most of those who defend capitalism in the sense that includes allowing for private ownership of the means of production, wage labor, and massive wealth disparities as a result, typically claim that genuine capitalism must be distinguished from "crony-capitalism" and that we cannot allow the government to become an organ for the support of the most economically powerful. But I've simply never understood how this was supposed to work. The whole theory of the beast presupposes that people are self-interested maximizers. Does that not apply to those in government? And if it does, then how exactly do we prevent their corruption? Is there some magical way to take the possibility of graft in all its myriad forms from bending government to the will of those with the most money? In short, if the watchdogs of the level playingfield are just people like us, growing up in a system that encourages self-interest and greed, why would one think there was any hope of stopping the slide from capitalism to corporatism.
Anyway, even if you don't share my concerns about the general issue, I trust that this story is revolting enough to be worth a post on its own.
One brother is dead and the other is in custody in a hospital. Obviously I loathe what they did. Obviously my thoughts are with the victims and their families. Obviously I would have stopped them if I could have, by any means whatsoever. But I also feel enormously sad that a 19 year old boy could come to this. And being a naturalist - that is not believing that things happen magically because of some supernatural force for evil - I believe that there is some explanation for why this happened. Maybe his brain chemicals are at different levels from ours. Maybe he underwent some trauma - either acute or chronic. Maybe he was taken in by an irrational ideology or systematically trained as are government torturers. Maybe all of these. I have no idea, and neither do you. Probably we would never fully understand even if we tried. But something happened, something contingent and potentially avoidable. And I hope that there is a way to redeem some modicum of life for this boy also. I hope that there is a way for all to find restorative, rather than vindictive, justice in this. I hope we can do better than toss one more body on the pile.
Being in Brazil this week (but flying back home tonight) allowed me to follow some of the local current debates more closely than I would have otherwise. One of the ‘hot topics' at the moment is the new legislation regulating the working conditions of domestic workers. It is still very common in Brazil for a middle-class family to rely on a wealth of domestic workers, including cleaners, drivers, gardeners and perhaps most importantly, the (almost always female) live-in domestic workers who are responsible for the big chunk of domestic chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring for children), known as ‘empregadas’. (Here is the trailer of a very interesting film/documentary on the phenomenon of a few years ago.)
Up to now, these live-in maids were basically expected to be ‘on call’ 24 hours a day, starting with breakfast early in the morning all the way until washing the dishes after dinner. Needless to say, salaries are usually pretty low, and there was until now no control over the amount of hours they were expected to work; thus the concept of ‘doing extra hours’ did not apply to them. To most foreign eyes, it is a very strange arrangement, which can only be understood as a painful reminiscence of Brazil’s recent slavery past (where slavery was only officially abolished in 1888).
So I’m not going to get into the game of thinking thoughts too many, of
trying to break down the wrong of raping an unconscious person in terms
of psychic discomfort at disapproval. It’s the wrong game to play.--Jacob T. Levy at BHL.
demonstrates, first, the familiar problems with blunt hedonic
utilitarianism that has been detached from utilitarianism’s roots as a
moral theory, and, second, the selection effect about what kinds of
people are attracted to that theory. Lansburg [sic] is entirely too pleased
with himself for being willing to Think Challenging Thoughts (thoughts
that pretty much get covered in a first semester moral philosophy class
as the frosh learns why blunt hedonic utilitarianism is not a very good
theory), and determined to get through his cute hypotheticals for the
fun of it, regardless of whether they convey anything useful or not.
It's just a fact of the matter that economists are not trained to be philosophers (and they are no better at it [recall here and here] than we are at economics [here]). But (not unlike philosophers) they do get socialized into thinking they are really smart boys (recall this). Since the Samuelsonian, revealed preference revolution cut the link between economics and hedonic utilitarianism (utility curves are not supposed to refer to mental pleasure entities entities, they are just a ranking of choices--recall this post), Landsburg is not even bringing any of the standard economic's tools to bear on the case. He is simply out of his depth. (Of course, that's just a daily fact of life in blog-land, the problems start when one forgets this.)
Now, the interesting issues here pertain to Levy's decision to speak up about Landsburg's moral and intellectual obtuseness without giving Landsburg credibility in doing so.
I try to avoid commenting on economic events, and hopefully my pessimism means that the nadir has already been passed.--ES
In order to bail-out Cypriot banks, Cyprus's bank-depositors are being asked to contribute to the bail-out. Not just the rich Russians who treat Cyprus as a money haven, but also local depositors. It is quite predictable this will lead to bank-runs in Cyprus and any other country where citizens have good reason to fear future bank bail-outs (Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy come to mind, but even other countries dealing with the aftermath of real estate bubbles -- the Netherlands and Ireland -- may move back into the danger-zone). This development is quite ironic because nearly all of the European regulators' and politicians' actions since the start of the financial crisis has been in the service of preventing another liquidity crisis rather than confronting the reality that a majority of Europe's politically well-connected banks are insolvent if they were forced to do honest accounting (and absent more bailouts). Given that Europe's technocrats are running out of money and good options in light of ongoing economic sluggishness (and decline), I think the Euro's end may be nearing. We will either see (a) attempts to inflate our way of this (officially unthinkable in Germany); (b) a split-up of the Eurozone (officially unthinkable in Brussels), but not impossible in the aftermath of bankruns; (c) Greece-style austerity in a good chunk of the EU leading to considerable political instability (and more economic decline)--this is being tested in Spain; (d) attempts to postpone the big crisis decisions and muddle through until after 22 September (when Germany holds Federal ections) when German tax-payers can be asked to foot the bill for a genuine restructuring of European banks.
UPDATE: Cyprus' parliament has not approved this yet. Apparently they are trying to change the terms. The banks will stay closed for at least two more days. (They had been closed for a holiday-weekend.) One wonders at what point barter will replace cash.