Posts filed under ‘Cultural Conservatism’
| Peter Klein |
Quote of the day, from Peter Gumbel’s France’s Got Talent: The Woeful Consequences of French Elitism, an interesting first-person account of the French educational system:
[T]he patterns of behavior established at [French] school appear to continue in later life, reproducing themselves most obviously in the workplace. If you learn from an early age that volunteering answers at school may prompt humiliating put-downs from your teachers, how active a participant will you be in office strategy discussions in the presence of an authoritarian boss? If working together in groups was discouraged as a child, how good a team player will you be as a grown-up? If you are made to believe as a 10-year-old that it’s worse to give a wrong answer than to give no answer at all, how will that influence your inclination to take risks?
I won’t repeat the apocryphal George W. Bush quote that “the problem with France’s economy is that the French have no word for entrepreneur,” but I will say that I have found French university students to be less aggressive than their US or Scandinavian equivalents. To be fair, when I’ve taught in France it has been in English, and I initially attributed the students’ reluctance to speak up, to answer questions, and to challenge the instructor to worries about English proficiency. But talking to French colleagues, and reading accounts like Gumbel’s (based on his experiences teaching at Sciences Po), I think the problem is largely cultural. The French system tends to favor conformity and memorization over creativity and spontaneity, which may or may not have a harmful effect on the performance of French organizations and French attitudes toward entrepreneurship and innovation.
I’m curious to know what our French readers think (but don’t hammer me with Bourdieu or Crozier references, please).
| Peter Klein |
I have little to add to this press release, summarizing a call by sociologists to treat the individual and social disease of failing to take climate change seriously:
LONDON — (March 26, 2012) — Resistance at individual and societal levels must be recognized and treated before real action can be taken to effectively address threats facing the planet from human-caused contributions to climate change.
That’s the message to this week’s Planet Under Pressure Conference by a group of speakers led by Kari Marie Norgaard, professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of Oregon. . . .
“We find a profound misfit between dire scientific predictions of ongoing and future climate changes and scientific assessments of needed emissions reductions on the one hand, and weak political, social or policy response on the other,” Norgaard said. Serious discussions about solutions, she added, are mired in cultural inertia “that exists across spheres of the individual, social interaction, culture and institutions.”
“Climate change poses a massive threat to our present social, economic and political order. From a sociological perspective, resistance to change is to be expected,” she said. “People are individually and collectively habituated to the ways we act and think. This habituation must be recognized and simultaneously addressed at the individual, cultural and societal level — how we think the world works and how we think it should work.”
In their paper, Norgaard and co-authors Robert Brulle of Drexel University in Philadelphia and Randolph Haluza-DeLay of The King’s University College in Canada draw from the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) to describe social mechanisms that maintain social stability or cultural inertia in the face of climate change at the three levels. . . .
I note that the lead author recently published Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life (MIT Press, 2011), which sounds like a reasonable, balanced, and objective look at the climate-change debate.
| Peter Klein |
Did you know 2012 is the centenary of Charles Dickens’s birth? Dickens is often lumped with Carlyle, Shaw, Ruskin, etc. as a Romantic, Victorian, literary anti-capitalist. (Carlyle indeed disliked capitalism, but not for the usual reasons.) But Dickens, as I originally learned from Paul Cantor, was a wildly successful capitalist and entrepreneur, a driving force behind the great nineteenth-century innovation of the serialized, commercial novel. Consider the following from one Dickens scholar:
Stephen Marcus has called Dickens “the first capitalist of literature” in the sense that he worked within apparently adverse conditions to take advantage of new technologies and markets, creating, in effect, an entirely new role for fiction. In Charles Dickens and His Publishers, Robert Patten quotes Oscar Dystel (president and chief executive of Bantam Paperbacks) on the three “key factors” in his development of a successful paperback line: availability of new material, introduction of the rubber plate rotary press, and development of magazine wholesalers as a distribution arm. As Patten points out, parallel factors operated in the Victorian era: a plethora of writers, new technologies, and expanded distribution. And as methods of papermaking, printing, and platemaking increased in efficiency, so did means of transportation. By 1836, a crucial network of wholesale book outlets in the Strand, peddlers, provincial shops, and the royal mailmade possible by the development of paved roads, fast coaches, and eventually the national railway systemhad been consolidated. The final task facing early publishers was, then, to develop the newly accessible market for their commodity. By lowering prices, emphasizing illustrations and sensational elements, and increasing variety of both form and content, publishers created readers within the largest demographic groups: the rising middle and working classes, where readers had essentially not existed before. . . . (more…)
| Peter Lewin |
I am envious. My brother in law and my nephew are in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. He is sending short reports via his Blackberry. His descriptions are graphic — he is awe-struck. Sounds incredible, beyond imagination — to those of us veteran Africans used to having to search hard for game on our game park safaris. In the Serengeti there is game in exaggerated profusion. Lions, leopards, and cheetah virtually next to each other. Huge migrations of herds, hundreds of thousands strong. A trip for a lifetime. I should live so long.
It seems clear that this wonder of nature (a giant crater-bubble full of wild life) would not exist in the absence of the revenue from international tourism. Though government managed, it is subject to vigorous competition from other game parks in that part of Africa. The area is the traditional homeland of the legendary Masai tribe, who have a cattle-based economy. Population growth, technological change, and the pace of modernity threatened to destroy their world. Now they seem to be flourishing. The Masai have turned out to be successful entrepreneurs! I wonder if this is an instance of Ostrom’s successful local initiatives.
More generally, the preservation of wild-life in Africa has turned on the successful management of a plethora of wild-life game parks (many of them quite small relatively speaking), some having the status of super luxury hotels. There is an irony in there somewhere. (I wonder what it is like to have to manage a wild-life park as a business firm).
Of course most of the environmentalists never tell you about the preservation successes of market competition.
| Peter Klein |
Wikipedia on market fundamentalism: “a pejorative term applied to an exaggerated religious-like faith in the ability of unfettered laissez-faire or free market economic views or policies to solve economic and social problems.”
I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize [my model of Christian epistemology]. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term “fundamentalist.” On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like “son of a bitch,” more exactly “sonovabitch,” or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) “sumbitch.” When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of “fundamentalist” (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like “stupid sumbitch” (or maybe “fascist sumbitch”?) than “sumbitch” simpliciter. . . . The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like “stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine.”
Maybe I should be more careful calling people “Keynesians.”
| Peter Klein |
Just to show that econometric models apply anywhere and everywhere, check out this new Barro paper (via Danny Sokol):
Saints Marching In, 1590-2009
Robert J. Barro, Rachel M. McCleary
NBER Working Paper No. 16769
The Catholic Church has been making saints for centuries, typically in a two-stage process featuring beatification and canonization. We analyze determinants of rates of beatification and canonization (for non-martyrs) over time and across six world regions. The research uses a recently assembled data set on numbers and characteristics of beatifieds and saints chosen since 1590. We classify these blessed persons regionally in accordance with residence at death. These data are combined with time-series estimates of regional populations of Catholics, broadly-defined Protestants, Orthodox, and Evangelicals (mostly a sub-set of Protestants). Regression estimates indicate that the canonization rate depends strongly on the number of candidates, gauged by a region’s stock of beatifieds who have not yet been canonized. The beatification rate depends positively on the region’s stock of persons previously canonized. The last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (the only non-Italians in our sample), are outliers, choosing blessed persons at a much higher rate than that of their predecessors. Since around 1900, the naming of blessed persons seems to reflect a response by the Catholic Church to competition from Protestantism or Evangelicalism. We find no evidence, at least since 1590, of competition between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
| Peter Klein |
This month’s Fast Company profiles Willow Creek, perhaps the world’s most famous megachurch. The article opens by describing a conversation between Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels and management guru Peter Drucker:
Hybels decided that one of his unique contributions [to ministry] could be to create a resource for pastors who didn’t have firsthand access to thinkers like Drucker. The need was clear. A 1993 survey of evangelical pastors by seven seminaries found that while they said their education had prepped them well in church history and theology, they felt undertrained in administration, management, and strategic planning. “In the 1950s, a pastor preached on Sundays, did weddings and funerals, and visited the sick,” says Dennis Baril, senior pastor of the Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, which hosts a satellite summit site every year. “I have almost 50 ministries that need to be put together, scheduled, organized, and led. It’s a different skill set.”
Church conferences did little to address that need. “Most of them are pastors learning from pastors,” says Jim Mellado, who wrote a 1991 Harvard Business School case study on Willow Creek. “If you only hear preaching from the choir, you’re never stretched. You never see things from another perspective.”
Sounds a bit like university administrators, most of whom learn administration from, well, other university administrators. (Who may have been English professors in a previous life.)
Here’s the HBS case on Willow Creek, and here are Mike Porter’s PowerPoint slides from his 2007 presentation at Willow Creek’s leadership summit. Interesting factoid from the Economist via Wikipedia: in 2007, five of the world’s ten largest Protestant churches were in South Korea.
| Peter Klein |
Co-bloggers Nicolai and Lasse probably speak better English than I do, despite the handicap of Scandinavian birth, but I sure like it. So does Rishidev Chaudhuri:
To me, the most striking thing about English is its diversity of vowels, something I only noticed after many years of speaking the language. English, in many dialects, has about 15 vowels (not counting diphtongs). Listen to the vowels through these words: a, kit, dress, trap, lot, strut, foot, bath, nurse, fleece, thought, goose, goat, north. There are languages that have more (Germanic ones tend to be vowel rich), but there aren’t many of them, and none that I know well enough to frame a sentence in. And compare this vowel list to the relative paucity of vowels in so many other languages. Hindi really has only about 9 or 10 vowels; Bengali, which has lost several long-short distinctions has slightly fewer (though lots of diphtongs). Some languages (including these two) do include extra vowels formed by nasalizing existing ones; these nasalized vowels often sound lovely, but feel very similar to their base vowels. It’s more a flourish than a genuinely new creation. Japanese and Spanish have about 4 or 5 apiece, and I’m told that Mandarin and Arabic have about 6.
English, then, is capable of exceptionally rich assonance and exuberant plays on vowel sound.
I mean, savor the delights of “methodological individualism” or “apodictic certainty” or “heteroskedasticity consistent standard errors” and tell me it isn’t sheer poetry!
| Nicolai Foss |
| Nicolai Foss |
History of econ nerds (wonks?) will know that John Stuart Mill was trained by his father (James Mill) from the age of three in the Greek and Latin languages. Since Mill, economists’ Latin capabilities have deteriorated rather badly (a result of the dominance of Greek notation? ;-)). In fact, most economists only know two Latin sentences (or rather, dicta) that, however, they love to blurt out, often with a smug smile. One is a sound analytical principle, namely the ceteris paribus principle. The other is a much more problematic (if applied outside of economics) claim, made famous to economists by George Stigler and Gary Becker, namely “de gustibus non est disputandum.”
I have always been surprised by the readiness of many economists to endorse this claim as a general claim that goes beyond the simple implication that in economics we take preferences as given and applies on the aesthetic domain (perhaps this simply reflects the fact that many people nowadays subscribe to total or near-total relativism in aesthetics). However, understood as an aesthetic claim, “de gustibus non est disputandum” lies entirely outside of the orbit of economics (and economists-as-economists should shut up), and is emphatically not implied by subjective value theory, or any related branch of subjectivism in economics. (more…)
| Peter Klein |
Even very famous ones. The Dundee Courier (what, you don’t read it?) reports that Adam Smith’s gravestone, in the courtyard of Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh, is in bad shape: “Smith’s gravestone could be in danger of deterioration after years of exposure to the elements, vandalism and neglect” (HT: MGK). According to a spokesperson for the World Monument Fund, cemeteries in the central parts of cities like Edinburgh have become “unsafe environment[s] home to illicit activities.” Apparently David Hume’s grave, elsewhere in Edinburgh, is also threatened. How ironic that we put dead politicians in great cathedrals and mausoleums (and, while living, give them Nobel Prizes), while actual heroes are abandoned and forgotten.
| Peter Klein |
So, let me get this straight. We’re in a major recession triggered by a collapse in the housing market, itself the inevitable result of government policies, led by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to get the wrong loans to the wrong people so they could buy the wrong houses. The Obama Administration’s remedy is not to let Fannie and Freddie die a long-overdue and merciful death, but to prop them up, to give them additional powers, and to subsidize private mortgage lenders who extend yet more credit to more borrowers who can’t pay it back, thus making what might have been a temporary misallocation of the housing stock into a permanent one. Brilliant!
I am bewildered. But, more than that, I am angry. I can’t count how many news accounts I’ve seen about the poor, struggling homeowners who can’t make the monthly mortgage payment, are about to be foreclosed, and risk losing the family home, yard, white picket fence, and piece of the American Dream. But I haven’t heard one word about the poor, struggling renters, the ones who scrimped and saved and put money away each month towards a down payment, who kept the credit cards paid off, stayed out of trouble, and lived modestly, and thought that maybe, just maybe, the fall in housing prices meant that they, finally, could afford a house — maybe one of those foreclosed units down the street. These people are Bastiat’s unseen. For them, Obama’s housing plan is a giant slap in the face. To hell with the prudent. Party on, profligate! Now that’s what I call moral hazard.
| Peter Klein |
Railing against corporate dictatorship, delocator.net helps consumers find locally-owned cafes, bookstores, and movie theatres in their area — alternatives to the “invasion” of Starbucks, Borders, and their ilk. The site itself is actually quite an interesting capitalist idea in its freshness and creativity, and people certainly should eat or drink or shop where they are most comfortable. That’s the beauty of competition! And the kind of community-building that often takes place at familiar, time-tested, local shops is to be encouraged.
But to say local businesses possess some kind of moral magic simply by virtue of being family-owned and homey is preposterous.
That’s Brooke Levitske, writing on the Acton PowerBlog. Recently a friend asked what I thought of Wendell Berry and his agrarian, anti-industrial philosophy. My response was similar: If people wish to live according to these principles, more power to them. I object only when materialist urbanites are forbidden by law from pursuing their own path to enlightenment.
Incidentally, does anyone remember the WSJ article a few years back suggesting that local cafes benefit when Starbucks moves to town? The theory is that the presence of a Starbucks increases local demand for premium coffee, providing spillover benefits to local stores. I haven’t seen any systematic evidence on this, however.
| Peter Klein |
Five principles of Jewish economic theory, as described in Judaism, Markets, and Capitalism: Separating Myths from Reality by Corinne Sauer and Robert M. Sauer (forthcoming from the Acton Institute):
- Work, creative activity, and innovation are the avenues through which the divine image is expressed.
- Private property rights are essential and must be protected.
- The accumulation of wealth is a virtue not a vice.
- Man has an obligation to care for the needy through charitable giving.
- Government is inefficient and concentrated power is dangerous.
Sauer and Sauer compare this passage in 1 Samuel to Hayek’s warnings in The Road to Serfdom: (more…)
| Chihmao Hsieh |
Remember the times when families would get together at the dinner table for a meal and little Johnny would yell out, “Can we turn on the TV during dinner?” Ah yes, those were the good ol’ days.
| Peter Klein |
Back to cognitive biases and heuristics. One interesting and common example is a sort of stereotype or social category bias. To make sense out of complex information about people we often think in terms of clusters of attributes, assuming that individuals possessing one trait in the cluster possess the other traits as well. Economics professors, for example, tend to be logical, systematic, nerdy, and socially awkward. If we meet someone who is logical, systematic, and nerdy, we assume he is also socially awkward, even without knowing anything specific about his social skills.
This came to my mind last fall when when reading about Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto. Gibson’s Passion of the Christ made him a hero among conservative Christians. In promoting Apocalypto, an action-adventure set during the twilight of the Mayan empire, Gibson was harshly critical of the Bush White House, likening the US invasion and occupation of Iraq to Mayan imperialism and the death of US soldiers to Mayan human sacrifice. In response, the conservative film critic Michael Medved accused Gibson of selling out to “Hollywood liberals.” (more…)
| Peter Klein |
Dan Hammond shows how economists approach religion with this cheeky summary of Ekelund, Hébert, and Tollison’s Marketplace of Christianity (MIT, 2006).
The Roman Catholic Church had an enviable monopoly for centuries, so powerful that it was able to engage in first degree price discrimination. Like all monopolists, though, it struggled with technical inefficiency and potential entry. The former manifested itself in excess capital investment in beautiful cathedrals and paintings. To forestall entry it practiced usual monopolistic techniques such as limit pricing, but also tortured and killed competitors. By the end of the fifteenth century the Vatican’s pursuit of ever larger monopoly rents against the background of technological progress (the printing press) set the stage for successful entry by an entrepreneurial monk named Martin Luther. Once Luther’s firm got a foothold, all hell broke loose. Actually, it was not all hell; it was all heaven. For as every student of economics learns, when monopoly gives way to competition consumer surplus expands. There were direct gains for consumers as the price fell from the breakup of the Catholic monopoly and, in addition, the entrants lowered real production costs.
The latter welfare gains warrant explanation. What happened is that the entry of Protestant firms reduced the real cost of itch relief by doing away with ornate churches, daily masses, pilgrimages, sacraments, and middlemen confessors. This is a classic case of efficiency gains from entrepreneurial innovation, not unlike the more recent case of Wal-Mart.
And you wonder why people worry about economic imperialism?
| Peter Klein |
Galileo’s head was on the block
the crime was looking up for truth
and as the bombshells of my daily fears explode
I try to trace them to my youth
The chorus, a fortiori, makes Galileo into a sort of secular saint:
How long till my soul gets it right
can any human being ever reach that kind of light
I call on the resting soul of Galileo
king of night vision, king of insight
I’ll buy the “king of night vision” part — Galileo’s greatest achievement, after all, was his improvements to the telescope — but “king of insight” seems a little extreme. (It’s a catchy tune, however.)
| Peter Klein |
The WSJ’s Saturday edition reviews Philip Rieff’s posthumously published Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us. Rieff, the distinguished cultural sociologist who taught at Brandeis, Berkeley, Harvard, and Penn, began the book in the late 1960s but went on to other projects, completing it just before his death earlier this year. Reviewer Adam Wolfson describes the book as a jeremiad against popular culture, much like Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind. (more…)