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Science, PseudoScience and Society

Advance of Zombie ideas in XX and XXI centuries

News Recommended books Recommended Links Financial_skeptic Political skeptic Groupthink Neoliberalism as a New Form of Corporatism
Lysenkoism and politization of science Harvard Mafia Cargo Cult Science Cargo cult programming IT offshoring Skeptic Deception Deception as an art form
Obscurantism and Mayberry Machiavelli Mayberry Machiavellians Leo Strauss and the Neocons Pseudoscience and Scientific Press Pollyanna creep Belief coercion within religious groups  
Casino Capitalism Corruption of Regulators Neoclassical Pseudo Theories and Crooked and Bought Economists as Fifth Column of Financial Oligarchy Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks: The efficient markets hypothesis Friedman --founder of Chicago school of deification of market Supply Side or Trickle down economics Invisible Hand Hypothesys: The Theory of Self-regulation of the Markets
Neoliberal Brainwashing -- Journalism in the Service of the Powerful Few In Foreign Events Coverage The Guardian Presstitutes Slip Beyond the Reach of Embarrassment Neo-theocracy as a False Drive to a Simpler Society Dumbing down america Information Technology Wonderland Pseudoscience and Scientific Press Scientific Fraud
Skeptical view on Programmers Health Secular Humanism Anti-intellectualism Skeptical quotes Humor Financial Humor Etc

Science has been misused for political purposes many times in history. However, the most glaring examples of politically motivated pseudoscience happened just recently, in XX century. That means that it is useful to review historic examples of "Zombie ideas" used for political purposes and the pattern that defines that abuse.

The important lesson of XX century is that discredited economic and political ideas, no matter how absurd,  don't die as long as they serve well power that be.  In a way they are real living dead, sucking blood from humans.  Those ideas that should have died long ago, still shamble forward, like Zombies. Usage of such ideas is one of the most dangerous deception schemes practiced  by modern elites

It's not easy to write about pseudo science. The problem has to do with the fluid nature of the concept. It has no single, precise meaning and there is little agreement about its constituent elements. But first and foremost it involved subjugation of scientific aims to political goals and deliberate attempt in deception and subsequent cover up. But recently almost all social and economic science became political and all politics involved deception: to say that a politician is not lying is the same as to say that an alcoholic is not drinking. Still there are different degrees of lies and different level of density of the "cloud of deception".

Discredited ideas with political support or "Zombies" can be extremely dangerous for people who oppose them.  Lysenkoism probably represents classic early example when an set of obvious lies was supported by repressive apparatus of state and dissenters were prosecuted and sentenced to Gulag.  For nearly 45 years, the Soviet government used propaganda to foster unproven theories of agriculture promoted by Trofim Lysenko. Scientists seeking favor with the Soviet hierarchy produced fake experimental data in support of Lysenko’s false claims. Contradicting scientific evidence from the fields of biology and genetics was simply banned. University programs taught only Lysenkoism . This state supported attempt to suppress generics  continued for over forty years, until 1964, and even managed to spread to other communist countries, such as  China.

What we saw it as a tragedy in Stalin's Russia genetics, we now see it as a farce in USA economics with neo-classical economics flourishing with the supportive guidance of neoliberal state and financial oligarchy.

The whole neoclassical economics is essentially a set of zombie ideas which are kept in the forefront by financial oligarchy. The financial crisis of 2008 buried key ideas of  'free market liberalism' (aka neoliberalism), such as the 'Efficient Markets Hypothesis', yet these zombie ideas still were dug our, dressed and continue to be sold via major newspapers and journals. Much like Lysenkoism in the USSR by CPSU. See

This is  a real Faustian bargain for academic scholars. One can trade the independence for political influence, good salary and other perks. It is also helps in the power grab. And despite popular image of scientists, they proved to be as corruptible, if not more corruptible, as anybody else. Historically the scientific community is generally held together and all its affairs are peacefully managed through its joint acceptance of the same fundamental scientific beliefs. Science is best practiced in a voluntary, peaceful and free atmosphere.

But that idyllic arrangement firmly belongs to  the past. Now we can talk only about the level of political pressure on scientists via research grants, not so much about presence or absence of such a pressure.  What really matters as far as politics and science is concerned is what type of environment the individual scientists have to work in and what degree of freedom they can enjoy.

Historically the situation changed irrevocably since early XX contrary, which signified discovery of atomic particles.  It should be understood that the modern scientist, built in the modern "neoliberal" democracies, is at the same time - and it is possible that even in the first place - a political agent, a manipulator. For the unwashed masses a public scientist represent the ultimate carrier of truth for a given discipline, so his opinion have a distinct political weight. And the architects of these systems use this values of scientists to the fullest extent possible. Like we can see with neoclassical economics, scientists have turned into an instrument of cognitive manipulation, when  under the guise of science financial oligarchy promote beneficial to itself a false and simplistic picture of the world, which brainwash the masses into "correct" thinking.

In this sense one can say that Lysenkoism represented a natural side effect of  shrinking of freedom of the scientific community and growing influence of political power on science. As by Frederick Seitz noted in his The Present Danger To Science and Society

Everyone knows that the scientific community faces financial problems at the present time. If that were its only problem, some form of restructuring and allocation of funds, perhaps along lines well tested in Europe and modified in characteristic American ways, might provide solutions that would lead to stability and balance well into the next century. Unfortunately, the situation is more complex, made so by the fact that the scientific establishment has become the object of controversy from both outside and inside its special domain. The most important aspects of the controversy are of a new kind and direct attention away from matters that are sufficiently urgent to be the focus of a great deal of the community's attention.

The assaults on science from the outside arise from such movements as the ugly form of "political correctness" that has taken root in important portions of our academic community. There are to be found, in addition, certain tendencies toward a home-grown variant of the anti-intellectual Lysenkoism that afflicted science in the Stalinist Soviet Union. So-called fraud cases are being dealt with in new, bureaucratic ways that cut across the traditional methods of arriving at truth in science. From inside the scientific community, meanwhile, there are challenges that go far beyond those that arise from the intense competition for the limited funds that are available to nourish the country's scientific endeavor.

The critical issue of arriving at a balanced approach to funding for science is being subordinated to issues made to seem urgent by unhealthy alliances of scientists and bureaucrats. Science and the integrity of its practitioners are under attack and, increasingly, legislators and bureaucrats shape the decisions that determine which paths scientific research should take. There is, in addition, a sinister tendency, especially in environmental affairs, toward considering the undertaking of expensive projects that are proposed by some scientists to remedy worst-case formulations of problems before the radical and expensive remedies are proven to be needed. They are viewed seriously though they are based on the advice of opportunistic alarmists in science who leap ahead of what is learned from solid research to encourage support for the expensive remedies they perceive to be necessary. The potential for very great damage to science and society is real.

Of course, the rise of 'Lysenkoism' in the Soviet Union in the late 40th of the twentieth century is one of the most tragic pages of the history of science.  Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet agronomist, came to prominence as the proponent of a theory of heredity that stood in direct opposition to Mendelianism. The details of this theory need not concern us, except to note that it was 'Larmarckist' in its contention that it is possible for organisms to inherit acquired characteristics.  This was wrong and the principles of Mendelianism - the theory of heredity - were well understood by then. But Lysenko theory fitted nicely with the Soviet ideology. Particularly, the idea that acquired characteristics could be inherited held out the promise of the perfectibility of mankind which as strange as it may sound was the necessary precondition to irreversible victory of socialism/communism (later when nationalistic forces  tore apart the USSR  it became clear that such hopes are completely misplaced). 

So the Stalinist state intervened in the pre-exiting scientific struggle by declaring the victor and the consequences, certainly for many of the scientists involved and arguably also for the USSR agriculture, were disastrous.  The essence of Lysenkoism is that pseudo-scientific theory became a pseudo-religious cult and the power of state was used to suppress dissidents. Many scientists were exiled; some killed. Unfortunately we cannot dismiss the obviously pernicious use of ideology by Lysenko and his supporters simply as an aberration of the era that is often brushed aside as 'the cult of personality' (with or without naming the personality in question). This proved to be much more dangerous and at the same time remarkably resilient phenomenon that survived the dissolution of the USSR. Actually the situation repeated with the USA economics when anything that was not neo-classic was suppressed was by-and-large similar although this time this time it happened without any killings.

Do not fool yourself that Lysenkoism is irrevocably connected with communist ideology. The link was poorly accidental. In reality Lysenkoism emerged more like a cult which was extremely convenient for the control freaks in high position in government. It's not a secret that a lot of high-level administrators in academic institutions belong to the category of micromanagers and as such they are naturally predisposed to Lysenkoism.  

In general "Lysenkovisation of  science" occurs when the state tries to control both the methodologies and goals of scientific activity and that happens all over the world, although to different degree.

In the USSR huge bureaucratic institutions such as VASKhNIL and VIEM had been set up with the specific goal to control resources and, especially, scientific press.  Part of the reason that Lysenkoism gained official support in the Soviet Union was because the Mendelian approach to genetics contradicted official ideology, in particular, Engels's dialectical materialism. In early 50th, just before his death Stalin began to sense that Lysenkoism can hinder practical science by interfering with the academic atmosphere of toleration of dissent most conducive to scientific accomplishment. He even went as far as to declare that

“no science can develop and proper without the clash of opinions, without freedom of criticism.”

But it was too late...

Other governments are also far from being immune from this kind of tendency to select between scientific theories on the basis of ideology rather than the balance of evidence.

More benign variant of Lysenkoism that does not rely on the power of the state is usually called Cargo Cult ScienceAnother related term is "Mayberry Machiavellis". A long time ago -- well, actually it was just a year, but it seems like a lot longer than that -- a former Bush advisor John DiIulio got into quite a bit of trouble for revealing to Esquire that the White House did not possess, in any conventional definition of the term, a policy-making process:

...on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking—discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue...

This gave rise to what you might call Mayberry Machiavellis—staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible.

Dan Gardner - Senior Writer for The Ottawa Citizen writes: "Cabinet meetings were scripted, Mr. O'Neill discovered, by White House staffers who sent advance notes to cabinet secretaries telling them when they were 'supposed to speak, about what, and for how long.'" Is this the shadow of Politburo or what?

There are also strong analogies between Reaganomics and Lysenkoism. Useful discussion is at  "The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics"

The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics, by David Colander, Hans Föllmer, Armin Haas, Michael Goldberg, Katarina Juselius, Alan Kirman, and Thomas Lux: [From the conclusion] ..."We believe that economics has been trapped in a sub-optimal equilibrium in which much of its research efforts are not directed towards the most prevalent needs of society. Paradoxically self-reinforcing feedback effects within the profession may have led to the dominance of a paradigm that has no solid methodological basis and whose empirical performance is, to say the least, modest. Defining away the most prevalent economic problems of modern economies and failing to communicate the limitations and assumptions of its popular models, the economics profession bears some responsibility for the current crisis. It has failed in its duty to society to provide as much insight as possible into the workings of the economy and in providing warnings about the tools it created. It has also been reluctant to emphasize the limitations of its analysis. We believe that the failure to even envisage the current problems of the worldwide financial system and the inability of standard macro and finance models to provide any insight into ongoing events make a strong case for a major reorientation in these areas and a reconsideration of their basic premises."

While at the surface it looks like rent-seeking behavior of dishonest economists the analogy is pretty strong. A broad critique of Neoclassical economics has been put forward in the book Debunking Economics by Steve Keen  See, for example:

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov

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If history repeats incapable must Man be of learning from experience

George Bernard Shaw

"No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power."

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974),
British scientist, author.
Encounter (London, July 1971).

[Oct 02, 2015] Critical Realism Mathematics versus Mythematics in Economics

"... I argue here that it's the abuse of mathematics by Neoclassical economists -- who practice what I have dubbed "Mythematics" rather than Mathematics--and that some phenomena are uncovered by mathematical logic that can't be discovered by verbal logic alone. ..."
"... A lady in the audi­ence named Barb Jacobson suggested that using the name Neo-Classical gives it a cer­tain degree of cache and wants you guys to start call­ing it for what it is: "Scorched Earth Economics." What a great name to use and doesn't it ring true? ..."
Oct 02, 2015 |


This is the brief talk I gave at a conference celebrating 25 years of the Critical Realist seminar series at Cambridge University. Critical realists argue against the use of mathematics in economics; I argue here that it's the abuse of mathematics by Neoclassical economists -- who practice what I have dubbed "Mythematics" rather than Mathematics--and that some phenomena are uncovered by mathematical logic that can't be discovered by verbal logic alone.

I give the example of my own model of Minsky's Financial Instability Hypothesis, which revealed the possibility of a "Great Moderation" preceding a "Great Recession" before either event had happened.

David Milburn, September 12, 2015 at 9:38 am


Last week Prof Bill Mitchell was in London where he gave a talk on re-framing the language used in the media that carried on the myth of the main­stream groupthink. A lady in the audi­ence named Barb Jacobson suggested that using the name Neo-Classical gives it a cer­tain degree of cache and wants you guys to start call­ing it for what it is: "Scorched Earth Economics." What a great name to use and doesn't it ring true? Barb Jacobson is spot on!

Sue Madden, September 13, 2015 at 8:28 am

Hi Steve,
I was really amused to see an inter­view a while back in the New Sci­en­tist, with the "research chief" (!!) at the B of E. If you haven't seen it, you really must:

Opinion Interview with Andy Haldane: "Sackcloth and Ashes on Thread needle Street" New Scientist 25 March 2015

Corbyn was elected leader!!!! Now the sparks will fly. At least a pub­lic debate wor­thy of the name might at last be heard in our sad country.…

Thanks for your work in trying to enlighten us!!

[Sep 19, 2015]The myth of Ronald Reagan: pragmatic moderate or radical conservative?

"...he changed American politics forever by demonstrating that style was more important than substance. In fact, he showed that style was everything and substance utterly unimportant. He was the figurehead while his handlers did the dirty work of Iran-Contra, ballooning deficits, and tanking unemployment."
"...Conservatives used "bracket creep" to convince the middle class that reducing marginal rates on the top tax brackets along with their own would be a good idea, then with the assistance of Democrats replaced the revenue with a huge increase in FICA so that the Social Security Trust Fund could finance the deficit in the rest of the budget. The result was a huge boon to the richest, little difference for the middle class, and a far greater burden for the working poor."
"...Any conversation about who the fantasy-projection "Reagan" was, misses an important reality: He was a hologram, fabricated by a kaleidoscope of various sorts of so-called "conservative" handlers and puppeteers. It was those "puppeteers" who ranged from heartlessly, stunningly "conservative" (destroya-tive), all the way further right to the kind of militaristic, macho, crackpots who have finally emerged from under their rocks at this year's "candidates.""
"...The article seems to present Reagan as an theatrical figure. I disagree. Reagan, President of the United States, was a criminal; as such, he was among the most corrupt and anti democratic person to hold the office POTUS. The fact that he tripled the national debt, raised taxes and skewed the tax schedules to benifit the wealthy, are comparitively minor. Reagan's crimes and anti democratic acts:
1. POTUS: CIA smuggling cocaine into the U.S., passing the drug to wholesalers, who then processed the drug and distributed crack to Black communities. At the same time Reagan's "War on Crime" insured that the Black youth who bought "Central Intelligenc Agencie's" cocaine were criminalized and handed lengthy prison sentences.
2. POTUS supported SOUTH AMERICAN terrorist, and the genocidal atrocities commited by terrorist in Chili, Guatamala, El Mazote, etc.
3. POTUS supported SOUTH AFRICAN apartheid, and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela as well. Vetoing a bill that would express condemnation of South Africa.
4. POTUS sold Arms to Iran.
5. POTUS used taxpayer dollars to influence election outcomes.
6. POTUS rigged government grants to enrich his cronies.
7. POTUS thew mental patients onto the streets.
8. POTUS supported McCarthyism, witch hunts, etc.
9. POTUS created and supported Islamic terrorist--fore runners of al Queada, ISIS, etc."
The Guardian

cgoodwood 19 Sep 2015 11:40

Do not contradict the memories of all the old teabaggers who desperately need the myth of Saint Ronnie to justify their Greed is Good declining mentality and years.

When Reagan cut-and-ran on Lebanon he showed rare discretion. A lot of the puffery stuff was B-Movie grade, but there was a lot of cross-the-aisle ventures, too.

He was a politician. The current GOP is just a bunch of white Fundie bullies, actually and metaphorically (e.g., Carson).

Zepp -> thedono 19 Sep 2015 11:37

Well, compared to Cruz, or Santorum, or Huckabee, he's a moderate. Of course, compared to the right people, you can describe Mussolini or Khruschev as moderates...

mastermisanthrope 19 Sep 2015 11:37

Lifelong shill

LostintheUS -> William J Rood 19 Sep 2015 11:36

Reagan underwent a political conversion when Nancy broke up his marriage with Jane Wyman and married him.

LostintheUS 19 Sep 2015 11:33

Here is the Reagan administration in a five second video clip:

LostintheUS -> inchoateruffian 19 Sep 2015 11:32

Here is the video clip where Don Regan (former CEO of Merrill Lynch) tells PRESIDENT Reagan to "speed it up".

RightSaid -> ID3732233 19 Sep 2015 11:31

The cold war ended while Reagan was president, but he did not win the cold war. His rhetoric and strategy was wishful thinking - there's no way he could have had the definitive intelligence about the entire military-political-economic that would have justified the confidence he projected. He merely lucked out, significantly damaging the US economy by trying (and luckily succeeding) to out-militarize the soviets.

pretzelattack -> kattw 19 Sep 2015 11:31

both clinton and obama have showed a willingness to "reform social security". try naked capitalism, there are probably a number of articles in the archives.

LostintheUS -> piethein 19 Sep 2015 11:29

And that the emergency room federally funded program that saved his life was soon after him.

LostintheUS -> pretzelattack 19 Sep 2015 11:28

Many of us saw through him...I noted the senility during his speeches during his first did many people I knew.

pretzelattack -> 4Queeen4country 19 Sep 2015 11:27

thatcher said of reagan "bit of a dim bulb..."

Jim Loftus 19 Sep 2015 11:26

Dementia masquerading as politics.
But you can't say anything negative about Saint Ronald!

Peter Davis -> Peter Davis 19 Sep 2015 11:22

I believe Reagan also is responsible for creating the Hollywood notion in American politics and political thinking that life works just like a movie--with good guys and bad guys. And all one needs is a gun and you can save the world. That sort of delusional thinking has been at the heart of the modern GOP ever since.

loljahlol -> ID3732233 19 Sep 2015 11:21

Reagan did not end the Cold War. Brezhnev rule solidified the Soviet death. Their corrupt, inefficient form of capitalism could not compete with the globalization of Western capitalism.

John78745 19 Sep 2015 11:21

There's not much nuance to Reagan. He was a coward, a bully and a loser. He got hundreds of U.S. Marines killed then he ran from the terrorists in Beirut and on the Archille Lauro personally creating the seeds of the morass of terrorists we now live with. He fostered the republican traditions of sending U.S. jobs overseas at the expense of U.S. taxpayers and of invading helpless, hapless nations, a tradition so adeptly followed by Bush I & II. He also promised that there would never be a need for another amnesty.

I guess it's true that he talked mean to the Russians, broke unions, and helped make the military industrial complex into the insatiable war machine that it is today. Remember murderous Iran-Contra (a real) scandal where he and his minions worked in secret without congressional authorization to overthrow a democratically elected government while conspiring to supply arms to the dastardly Iranians!

We could also say that he bravely fought to save the U.S. from socialized medicine and to expunge the tradition of free tuition for California students. Whatta hero!

thankgodimanatheist 19 Sep 2015 11:19

Reagan, the acting President, was the worst President since WWII until the Cheney/Bush debacle.

Most of the problems we face today can be directly traced to his voodoo economics, huge deficit spending, deregulation, and in retrospect disastrous foreign policies.

LostintheUS 19 Sep 2015 11:17

"these days everyone seems to love Ronald."

Absolutely, not true. The farther along we go in time, the more Americans realize the damage this man and his backers did to America and the world. The inversion of the tax tables, the undoing of union laws, the polarization of Americans against each other so the plutocrats had no real opposition and on and on. His camp stole the election in 1980 through making a back door deal with the Iranian government to hold onto the American hostages until the election when Jimmy Carter had negotiated an end to the hostage crisis, which was the undoing of Jimmy Carter's administration.

"Behind Carter's back, the Reagan campaign worked out a deal with the leader of Iran's radical faction - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini - to keep the hostages in captivity until after the 1980 Presidential election." This is, unquestionably, treason.

No, Reagan marks the downward turn for our country and has resulted in the economic and social mess we still have not clawed our way back out of. No, Reagan is no hero, he is an American nemesis and a traitor. Reagan raised taxes three times while slashing the tax rate of the super rich...starting the downward spiral of the middle-class and the funneling of money toward the 1%. Thus his reputation as a "tax cutter", yeah, if you were a multi-millionaire.

Check this out for a synopsis of the damage:

namora -> nogapsallowed 19 Sep 2015 11:15

Never thought of Reagan as the first Shrub but it fits. I wonder if future pundits will sing the Dub's praises as well. I think I'm gonna be sick for a bit.

kattw -> namora 19 Sep 2015 11:10

Pretzel is maybe talking about the 'strengthen SS' bandwagon? Perhaps? Not entirely sure myself, but yeah - one of the major democrat platform planks is that SS should NOT be privatized, and that if people want to invest in stocks, they can do that on their own. The whole point of SS is to be a mattress full of cash that is NOT vulnerable to the vagaries of the market, and will always have some cash in it to be used as needed.

SS would be totally secure, too, if congress would stop robbing it for other projects, or pay back all they've borrowed. As it is, I wish *I* was as broke as republicans claim SS is - I wouldn't mind having a few billion in the bank.

William J Rood 19 Sep 2015 11:08

Reagan was former president of the Screen Actors' Guild. Obviously, he thought unions for highly educated workers were great. Meatpackers? Not so much.

RealSoothsayer 19 Sep 2015 11:04

This article does not mention the fact that in his last couple of years as President at least, his mental state had seriously deteriorated. He could not remember his own policies, names, etc. CBS' Leslie Stahl should be prosecuted for not being honest with her everyone when she found out.

Peter Davis 19 Sep 2015 11:04

Reagan was a failed president who nonetheless managed to convince people that he was great. He was a professional actor, after all. And he acted his way into the White House. Most importantly, he changed American politics forever by demonstrating that style was more important than substance. In fact, he showed that style was everything and substance utterly unimportant. He was the figurehead while his handlers did the dirty work of Iran-Contra, ballooning deficits, and tanking unemployment.

nishville 19 Sep 2015 11:03

For me, he was a pioneer. He was the first sock-puppet president, starting a noble tradition that reached its climax with W.

mbidding -> hackerkat 19 Sep 2015 11:03

In addition to:

Treasonous traitor when, as a presidential candidate, he negotiated with Khomeini to hold the hostages till after the election.

Subverter of the Constitution via the Iran-Contra scandal.

Destroyer of social cohesion by turning JFK's famous admonishment of "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" on its head with his meme that all evil emanates from the government and taxation represents stealing rather than a social obligation for any civilized society that wishes to continue to develop in a sound fashion that lifts all boats.

Incarcerator in Chief through his tough on crime and war on drugs policies, not to mention defunding mental health care.

Pisser in Chief through his successful efforts to imbed trickle down economics as the economic thought du jour which even its original architects, notably Stockman, now confirm is a failed theory that we nonetheless cling to to this day.

Ignoramus in Chief by gutting real federal financial aid for higher education leading to the obscene amounts of student debt our college students now incur.

Terrorist creator extraordinaire not only with the creation of the Latin American death squads you note, but the creation, support, trading, and funding of the mujahedin and Bin Laden himself, now known as the Taliban, Al Qa'ida, and ISIS, only the most notable among others.

namora -> trholland1 19 Sep 2015 10:59

That is not taking into account his greatest role for which he was ignored for a much deserved Oscar, Golden Globe or any of the other awards passed out by the entertainment industry, President of The United States of America. He absolutely nailed that one.

William J Rood 19 Sep 2015 10:58

Conservatives used "bracket creep" to convince the middle class that reducing marginal rates on the top tax brackets along with their own would be a good idea, then with the assistance of Democrats replaced the revenue with a huge increase in FICA so that the Social Security Trust Fund could finance the deficit in the rest of the budget. The result was a huge boon to the richest, little difference for the middle class, and a far greater burden for the working poor.

Tax brackets could have been indexed to inflation, but that wouldn't have been so great for Reagans real supporters.

Doueman 19 Sep 2015 10:55

What sad comments by these armchair experts.

They don't gel with my experiences in North America during this period at all. When Reagan ran for the presidency he was generally ridiculed by much of the press in the US and just about all of the press in the UK for being a right wing fanatic, a lightweight, too old, uninformed and even worse an actor. I found this rather curious and watched him specifically on TV in unscripted scenarios to form my own impression as to how such a person, with supposedly limited abilities, could possibly run for President of the US. I get a bit suspicious when organisations and individuals protest and ridicule too much.

My reaction was that he handled himself well and gradually concluded that the mainly Eastern liberal press in the US couldn't really stomach a California actor since they themselves were meant to know everything. He actually was pretty well read ( visitors were later astonished to read his multiple annotations in heavy weight books in his library). He was a clever and astute union negotiator dealing with some of the toughest Hollywood moguls who would eat most negotiators for dinner. He had become Governor of California and had done a fine job. I thought it was unlikely he was the simpleton many portrayed. He couldn't be easily categorised as he embraced many good aspects of the Democrats and the Republicans. Life wasn't so polarised then.

The US had left leaning Republicans and right wing Democrats. A political party as Churchill noted was simply a charger to ride into action.

In my view, his presidential record was pretty remarkable. A charming, fair minded charismatic man without the advantage of a wealthy background or influential family. The world was lucky to have him.

raffine -> particle 19 Sep 2015 10:50

Reagan's second term was a disaster. But as someone below mentioned, conservative pundits and their financers engaged in a campaign to make Reagan into a right-wing FDR. The most effective, albeit bogus, claim on Reagan's behalf was that he had ended the Cold War.

jpsartreny 19 Sep 2015 14:22

Reagan is the shadow governments greatest triumph. After the adolescent Kennedy, egomaniacs Johnson and Nixon , they needed front guys who followed orders instead .

The experiment with the peanut farmer from Georgia provided disastrous to Zebrew Brzezinski and the liberals. The conservatives had better luck with a B- movie actor with an great talent to read of the teleprompter.

RealSoothsayer -> semper12 19 Sep 2015 14:19

How? By talking? Gobachev brought down the USSR with his 'Glasnost' and 'Perestroika' policies. His vision was what communist China later on achieved: mixed economy that flies a red flag. Reagan was just an observer, absolutely nothing more. Tito of Yugoslavia was even more instrumental.

Marc Herlands 19 Sep 2015 14:17

IMHO Reagan was the second most successful president, behind FDR and ahead of LBJ. Not that I liked anything about him, but he moved this country to the right and set the play book. He lowered taxes on the wealthy, the corporations, capital gains, and estate taxes. He reduced growth in programs for the poor, and made it impossible to increase their funding after his presidency because of he left huge federal deficits caused by lowering taxes and increasing outlays on the military. This Republican playbook still is their way of making sure that the Democrats can't give the poor more money after they lose power. Also, he enlarged the program for deregulating industries, doing away with antitrust laws, hindering labor laws, encouraged anti-union behavior, and did nothing for AIDS research. He was a scoundrel who did a deal with Iran to prevent Carter from being re-elected. He directly disobeyed Congressional laws not to intervene in Nicaragua. He set the tone for US interventions after him.

bloggod 19 Sep 2015 14:17

Obama, Clinton, and the Bushes all hope to be forgiven for their unpardonable crimes.

Popularity is created. It is not populism, or informed consent of the pubic as approval for more of the same collusion.

It is a One Party hoe down.

bloggod -> SigmetSue 19 Sep 2015 14:12


the indicted Sec of Defense Weinberger; the indicted head of the CIA Casey who "died" as he was due to testify: Mcfarlane, Abrams, Clair George, Oilyver North, Richard Secord, Albert Hakim

Reagan had no genius, he had Bush-CIA and the Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, and the "immoral majority" of anti-abortion war profiteers.

Marios Antoniou Lattimore 19 Sep 2015 13:52

I agree with everything you mentioned, and I intensely dislike Reagan YET the point of the article wasn't that Reagan was good, it rather points to the fact that Republicans have shifted so far to the right that Reagan would appear moderate compared to the current batch.

Rainer Jansohn pretzelattack 19 Sep 2015 13:52

Interesting had been his speeches during the Cold War.Scientists have subsumed it under "Social Religion",a special form of political theology.Simple dialectical:UDSSR the incarnation of the evil/hell on the other side USA :the country of God himself.A tradition in USA working until now.There is no separation between government and church as in good old centuries sincetwo centuries resulting from enlightening per Philosophie/Voltaire/Kant/Hume/Descartes and so on.Look at Obamas speeches/God is always mixed in!

talenttruth 19 Sep 2015 13:49

Any conversation about who the fantasy-projection "Reagan" was, misses an important reality: He was a hologram, fabricated by a kaleidoscope of various sorts of so-called "conservative" handlers and puppeteers. It was those "puppeteers" who ranged from heartlessly, stunningly "conservative" (destroya-tive), all the way further right to the kind of militaristic, macho, crackpots who have finally emerged from under their rocks at this year's "candidates."

The fact that Reagan was going ga-ga – definitely in his second term, and likely for part of the first – was entirely convenient for his Non-Human-Based-Crackpot-Right-Holographers, since he had was not actually "driven" to vacuousness by a tragic mental condition (dementia) – THAT change was merely a "short putt" – from his entire previous life.

Regarding his Great Achievement, the collapse of the Soviet Union? After decades of monstrous over-spending by the USA's Military-Industrial-Complex, the bogus and equally insane USSR finally bankrupted itself trying to "compete" and fell. Reagan (and his puppeteer handlers), always excellent at Taking Credit for anything, showed up with exquisite cynical timing, and indeed Took Credit.

Lest anyone forget, Reagan got elected in 1980, via a totally illegal and stunningly immoral "side deal" with the Iranians, in which they agreed to not release our hostages to make Carter look like a feeble old man. Then we got Reagan who WAS a "feeble old man" (ESPECIALLY intellectually and morally). Reagan "won," the hostages were "released" and he of course took credit for that too.

So all these so-called "candidates" ARE the heirs of all the very worst of Ronald Reagan: they are all simpleminded, they are totally beholden to Hidden Sociopathic Billionaires hiding behind various curtains, and they all have NO CLUE what the word "ethics" means. Vacuous, anti-intellectual, scheming, appealing only to morons, and puppets all. Perfect "Reaganites."

Bill Ehrhorn -> semper12 19 Sep 2015 13:32

It seems that the teabaggers and their ilk give only Reagan credit.

SigmetSue 19 Sep 2015 13:16

They called him the Teflon President because nothing ever stuck. It still doesn't. That was his genius -- and I'm no fan.

Lattimore 19 Sep 2015 13:13

The article seems to present Reagan as an theatrical figure. I disagree. Reagan, President of the United States, was a criminal; as such, he was among the most corrupt and anti democratic person to hold the office POTUS. The fact that he tripled the national debt, raised taxes and skewed the tax schedules to benifit the wealthy, are comparitively minor.
Reagan's crimes and anti democratic acts:
1. POTUS: CIA smuggling cocaine into the U.S., passing the drug to wholesalers, who then processed the drug and distributed crack to Black communities. At the same time Reagan's "War on Crime" insured that the Black youth who bought "Central Intelligenc Agencie's" cocaine were criminalized and handed lengthy prison sentences.
2. POTUS supported SOUTH AMERICAN terrorist, and the genocidal atrocities commited by terrorist in Chili, Guatamala, El Mazote, etc.
3. POTUS supported SOUTH AFRICAN apartheid, and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela as well. Vetoing a bill that would express condemnation of South Africa.
4. POTUS sold Arms to Iran.
5. POTUS used taxpayer dollars to influence election outcomes.
6. POTUS rigged government grants to enrich his cronies.
7. POTUS thew mental patients onto the streets.
8. POTUS supported McCarthyism, witch hunts, etc.
9. POTUS created and supported Islamic terrorist--fore runners of al Queada, ISIS, etc.

Niko2 LostintheUS 19 Sep 2015 13:12

I don't have much love for Nancy, but she did not break up this marriage, to be fair. And she actually got rid off the extreme right wingers in Reagan's administration, like Haig and Regan, whom she called "extra chromosome republicans". Surely she was a vain and greedy flotus with no empathy whatsoever for people not in her Bel Air circles (I can easily imagine her, "Do I really have to go and see these Aids-Babies, I'd rather shop at Rodeo Drive, lose the scheduler") but she realized at an early stage that hubbies shtick-it-to-the-commies policies would do him no favour. Maybe she's the unsung heroine of his presidency.

tommydog -> MtnClimber 19 Sep 2015 13:04

The principle subsidies to big oil are probably the strategic oil reserve and subsidies to low income people for winter heating oil. You can choose which of those you'd like to cut. After that you're arguing about whether exploration costs should be expensed in the year incurred or capitalized and amortized over time.

WilliamK 19 Sep 2015 13:03

He was one of J Edgar Hoover's red baiting fascist admiring boys along with Richard Nixon and Walt Disney used to destroy the labor unions, control the propaganda machine of Hollywood and used to knuckle under the television networks and undermine as much as possible the New Deal polices of Franklin Roosevelt. An actor groomed by the General Electric Corporation and their fellow travelers. "Living better through electricity" was his mantra and he played the role of President to push forward their right wing agenda. Now we are in new stage in our "political development" in America. The era of the "reality television star" with Hollywood in bed with the military industrial complex, selling guns, violence and sex to the fool hardy and their children and prime time television ads push pharmaceutical drugs, children hear warnings of four hour erections, pop-stars flash their tits and asses and a billionaire takes center stage as the media cashes in and goes along for the ride. Yeah Ronnie was a second tier film star and with his little starlet Nancy by his side become one of America's greatest salesman.

Backbutton 19 Sep 2015 12:57

LOL! Reagan was a walking script renderer, with lines written by others, and a phony because he was just acting the part of POTUS. His speeches were all crafted, and he had good writers.

He was no Abraham Lincoln.

And now these morons running for office all want to rub off his "great communicator" fix.

Good help America!

Milwaukee Broad 19 Sep 2015 12:49

Ronald Reagan was an actor whom the depressingly overwhelming majority of American voters thought was a messiah. They so believed in him that they re-elected him to a second term. Nothing positive whatsoever became of his administration, yet he is still worshiped by millions of lost souls (conservatives).

Have a nice day.

Michael Williams 19 Sep 2015 12:48

The US was the world's leading creditor when Reagan took office. The US was the world's leading debtor by the time Bush 1 was tossed out of office.

This is what Republicans cannot seem to remember.

All of the other scandals pale in comparison, even as we deal with the blowback from most of these original, idiotic policies.

Reagan was an actor, mouthing words he barely understood, especially as his dementia progressed.

This is the exact reason the history is so poorly taught in the US.
People might make connections....

Jessica Roth 19 Sep 2015 12:46

Oh, he had holes in his brain long before the dementia. "Facts are stupid things", trees cause pollution, and so on.

A pathetic turncoat who sold out his original party (the one that kept his dad in work throughout the Great Depression via a series of WPA jobs) because Nancy allegedly "gave the best head in Hollywood" and who believed that only 144,000 people were going to Heaven, presumably accounting for his uncaring treatment of the less-well-off.

His administration was full of corruption, from Richard Allen's $1000 in an envelope (and three wristwatches) that he claimed was an inappropriate gift for Mrs. Reagan he had "intercepted" and then "forgotten" to report to William Casey trading over $3,000,000 worth of stocks while CIA director. (Knowing about changes in the oil market ahead of time sure came in handy.) You had an attorney general who took a $50,000 "severance payment" (never done before) from the board of a corporation he resigned from to avoid conflict of interest charges…and this was William French Smith; his successor, Edwin Meese, was the one with real scandals (about the sale of his home).

Hell, Reagan himself put his ranch hand (Dennis LeBlanc) on the federal payroll as an "advisor" to the Commerce Department. I didn't know the Commerce Dept needed "advice" on clearing wood from St. Ronnie's ranch, but LeBlanc got a $58,500 salary out of the deal. (Roughly £98,000 at today's prices.) Nice work if you can get it.

Meanwhile, RR "talked tough" at the Soviets (resulting in the world nearly ending in 1983 due to a false alarm about a US nuclear attack) while propping up any rightwing dictator they could find, from the South African racists to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (after they had Aquino assassinated at the airport) to Roberto "Death Squad" D'Aubuisson in El Salvador (the man who masterminded the assassination of Archbishop Romero while he was performing Mass).

Oh, and while Carter did a nice job of shooting himself in the foot, Reagan benefited in the election not only from his treasonous dealings with the Iranian hostage-takers (shades of Nixon making a deal with North Viet Nam to stall the peace talks until after the 1968 elections, promising them better terms) but through more pedestrian means such as his campaign's stealing of Carter's briefing book for the campaign's only debate, Reagan being coached for the debate by a supposedly neutral journalist (George Will, of ABC and The Washington Post), who then went on television afterwards (in the days when there were only three commercial channels) and "analysed" how successful Reagan had been in executing his "game plan" and seeming "Presidential" without either Will or ABC bothering to mention that Will had coached Reagan and designed the "game plan" in question. The "liberal bias" in the media, no doubt.

Always a joke, only looking slightly better by the dross that has followed him. (Including Bill "Third Way" Clinton and his over-£50,000,000 in post-Presidential "speaking fees" graft, and Barack Obama, drone-murderer of children in over a dozen countries and serial-summary-executioner of U.S. citizens. When Gordon-effing-Brown is the best that's held office on either side of the Atlantic since 1979, you can see how this planet is in the state it's in.)

pretzelattack DukeofMelbourne 19 Sep 2015 12:45

his stand on russia was inconsistent, and he didn't cause it to collapse. his economic programs were a failure. his foreign policy generally a disaster. he set the blueprint for the current mess.

pretzelattack semper12 19 Sep 2015 12:38

a total crock. reagan let murdering thugs run rampant as long as they paid lip service to democracy, the world over from africa to central america. the ussr watched this coward put 240 marines to die in lebanon, and then cut and run, exactly the pattern he was so ready to condemn as treason in others, and was so ready to portray as showing weakness, and you think the ussr was terrified of him. he was a hollywood actor playing a role, and you bought it.

Tycho1961 19 Sep 2015 12:13

No President exists in a political vacuum. While he was in office, Reagan had a large Democrat majority in the House of Representatives and a small Republican majority in the Senate. The Supreme Court was firmly liberal. Whatever his political agenda Reagan knew he had to constructively engage with people of both parties that were in opposition to him. If he didn't he would suffer the same fate as Carter, marginalized by even his own party. His greatest strength was as a negotiator. Reagan's greatest failures were when he tried to be clever and he and his advisors were found to be rather ham handed about it.

RichardNYC 19 Sep 2015 11:57

The principal legacy of Ronald Reagan is the still prevalent view that corporate interests supersede individual interests.

Harry Haff 19 Sep 2015 11:45

Reagan did many horrible things while in office, committed felonies and supported murderous regimes in Central America that murdered tens of thousands of people with the blessing of the US chief executive. he sold arms to Iran and despoiled the natural environment whenever possible. But given those horrendous accomplishments, he could not now get a seat at the table with the current GOP. He would be considered a RINO, that most stupid and inaccurate term, at best, and a closet liberal somewhere down the line. The current GOP is more to the right than the politicians in the South after the Civil War.

[Sep 18, 2015] I would summarize the Keynesian view in terms of four points

I would summarize the Keynesian view in terms of four points:
1. Economies sometimes produce much less than they could, and employ many fewer workers than they should, because there just isn't enough spending. Such episodes can happen for a variety of reasons; the question is how to respond.
2. There are normally forces that tend to push the economy back toward full employment. But they work slowly; a hands-off policy toward depressed economies means accepting a long, unnecessary period of pain.
3. It is often possible to drastically shorten this period of pain and greatly reduce the human and financial losses by "printing money", using the central bank's power of currency creation to push interest rates down.
4. Sometimes, however, monetary policy loses its effectiveness, especially when rates are close to zero. In that case temporary deficit spending can provide a useful boost. And conversely, fiscal austerity in a depressed economy imposes large economic losses.
Is this a complicated, convoluted doctrine? ...
But strange things happen in the minds of critics. Again and again we see the following bogus claims about what Keynesians believe:
B1: Any economic recovery, no matter how slow and how delayed, proves Keynesian economics wrong. See [2] above for why that's illiterate.
B2: Keynesians believe that printing money solves all problems. See [3]: printing money can solve one specific problem, an economy operating far below capacity. Nobody said that it can conjure up higher productivity, or cure the common cold.
B3: Keynesians always favor deficit spending, under all conditions. See [4]: The case for fiscal stimulus is quite restrictive, requiring both a depressed economy and severe limits to monetary policy. That just happens to be the world we've been living in lately.
I have no illusions that saying this obvious stuff will stop the usual suspects from engaging in the usual bogosity. But maybe this will help others respond when they do.

I would add:

5. Keynesian are not opposed to supply-side, growth enhancing policy. They types of taxes that are imposed matters, entrepreneurial activity should be encouraged, and so on. But these arguments should not be used as cover for redistribution of income to the wealthy through tax cuts and other means, or as a means of arguing for cuts to important social service programs. Not should they be used only to support tax cuts. Infrastructure spending is important for growth, an educated, healthy workforce is more productive, etc., etc. Economic growth is about much more than tax cuts for wealthy political donors.

On the other side, I would have added a point to B3:

B3a: Keynesians do not favor large government. They believe that deficits should be used to stimulate the economy in severe recessions (when monetary policy alone is not enough), but they also believe that the deficits should be paid for during good times (shave the peaks to fill the troughs and stabilize the path of GDP and employment). We haven't been very good at the pay for it during good times part, but Democrats can hardly be blamed for that (see tax cuts for the wealthy for openers).

Anything else, e.g. perhaps something like "Keynesians do not believe that helping people in need undermines their desire to work"?

Axel Merk Warns Investors Are In For A Rude Awakening Zero Hedge


LOL! Almost. You really think that growth can continue forever and ever in a biosphere with finite resources?

Tell us another fairytale and good luck with that!

But yes, let the truly insolvent fucks and worthless fucks go to the guillotine already!

Bro of the Sorrowful

using metrics in economics and applying mathamatical formulas to quantify all aspects of the economy has been a major and far reaching disaster. none worse, perhaps with the exception of unemployment and inflation, than the totally fraudulent metric "GDP". youll notice in von mises' magnum opus human action that there is not a single formula.

were it not for the measurement of the ambiguous "GDP", we would not be so concerned with growth.


We sure as hell would be concerned with growth.

Expansion is what is required by our monetary system.

That is why inflation of 2% is "stable prices" and everyone and their mother talks about growth.

Fraction reserve currency requires expansion (exponential) to function.

No growth=no currency system.

That is why sustainability is a no go right out of the gate.


Bro of the Sorrowful Figure's picture

i was speaking more of an ideal world in which we would be operating under a sound monetary system. my problem with using economic metrics for everything is that it takes the focus off of real problems and gives huge power to the international banking cartel by allowing them to manipulate the numbers without end. we start from a false monetary system, then apply a metric system based on false logic to justify that monetary system, while also making those metrics esoteric enough that the average person simply stops paying attention or freezes up when such metrics are mentioned. that way the economy can be absolute shit, with obvious signs to anyone with eyes, and yet your average person will still say, well GDP is up and unemployment is down so things must be good.

Harry Balzak

Are you implying that reality exists without accounting?

Blasphemy! Burn him!

[Sep 09, 2015] Neoclassical economic reforms were colossal failures

"...The reason the Friedmanian era turned out to be vastly different from the Keynesian era was because the neoclassical economic reforms were colossal failures."
"...Nothing in the history of the universe has failed more than neoclassical ideology. If one is to call that failure, one would have to redefined the word failure to include all other failures that pale by comparison. But according to the Medieval Barbers, their policies were a resounding success. Anyone who questions them is a philistine. Thankfully, these modern high priests aren't able to burn dissenters at the stake like their forebears. "
"..."Krugan's free-trade ideology rhetoric shows he's more New Keynesian (neoclassical synthesis) than Keynesian. More neoliberal than liberal.""
"...Modern Monetary Theology brought back pre-Keynesian boom-to-bust business cycles, drove down real incomes and the employment rate (now expect a decade before the economy can recover from a recession.) "
"...China is in hot water because neoclassical reforms have killed demand in the Western economy. Its economy is founded on importing more and more Western jobs and manufacturing, not to mention GHG emissions. "

EMichael said in reply to Ron Waller, September 07, 2015 at 09:52 AM

I see no purpose in comparing the present with a period of time so vastly different from the present.

Ron Waller said in reply to EMichael, September 07, 2015 at 10:27 AM

Yes the laws of physics change every 35 years too.

The reason the Friedmanian era turned out to be vastly different from the Keynesian era was because the neoclassical economic reforms were colossal failures.

Tax cuts did not pay for themselves or create prosperity, they created skyrocketing government debt. Deregulation didn't create prosperity, but produced numerous disasters including financial meltdowns. Free-trade exported wealth and jobs and killed real income growth. Modern Monetary Theology brought back pre-Keynesian boom-to-bust business cycles, drove down real incomes and the employment rate (now expect a decade before the economy can recover from a recession.)

Nothing in the history of the universe has failed more than neoclassical ideology. If one is to call that failure, one would have to redefined the word failure to include all other failures that pale by comparison.

But according to the Medieval Barbers, their policies were a resounding success. Anyone who questions them is a philistine. Thankfully, these modern high priests aren't able to burn dissenters at the stake like their forebears.

EMichael said in reply to Ron Waller, September 07, 2015 at 10:35 AM

No, the Laws of Physics do not change.

Economic facts do. Are you trying to state there has not been a sea change in the world economy since the post WWII era?

Sorry, but Japan, China and Europe are an awful lot different than they were in 1950. And that is not saying that I disagree with everything you say. Actually, I agree with a lot of it.

But thinking solutions lie in the policies of the 50s and 60s ignore that the problems that exist did not exist in the 50s and the 60s.

Bruce Webb said in reply to EMichael, September 07, 2015 at 11:02 AM

"But thinking solutions lie in the policies of the 50s and 60s ignore that the problems that exist did not exist in the 50s and the 60s."

EMichael there is a logical hole here. I am not sure I disagree with you on the substance but there is a coherent argument that the problems that exist NOW are precisely BECAUSE of changes away from the polices of the 50s and 60s. And that the reason we didn't have the same problems then is that the policies prevented them. And that a change back to those policies would serve to ameliorate them.

What you would need to do to rescue your argument is to prove that current problems could NOT have existed in the 50's and 60's, that there is something unique to today's problems that make them resistant to yesterday's solutions.

I am not saying you couldn't do that. Merely that you haven't attempted it. Instead you present a circular argument. What EXACTLY about today's problems make them incurable by yesterday's solutions?

EMichael said in reply to Bruce Webb, September 07, 2015 at 01:33 PM

The main thing that did not exist in the US was competition for labor. Free trade is a marvelous thing when you are the only one selling.

Take a look at trade balances from that period and the last couple of decades.

You can almost trace the trade balance changes to the changes(or lack of changes) to the income of the vast majority of Americans.

People in here(and myself) talk about the need for a tighter labor market. And we applaud the actions that create one. But I am almost totally committed to the idea that the only way to create a tight labor market is protectionism. We have to protect our workers.

Of course there is a price to be paid, but I think the increased costs of some goods will be overwhelmed by the benefits to be gained by a tight labor market.

Then again, we would be harming other countries trying to move into a industrialized state. But the last time I looked, none of them were helping me pay for SS; or Medicare; or education; or the keep the street lights working.

I know it is not politically correct, but charity begins at home. Especially in a home which has seen such decline in only three or four decades.

cm said in reply to Bruce Webb, September 08, 2015 at 09:51 AM

Economic policy doesn't happen in a vacuum. Before the 90's there was no internet. There were its precursors of a sort, e.g. fax and data transmission over the phone, and computer networks/links based on that (90's comms technology existed but only in the lab or at the high end). In the post-WW2 decades, there weren't built out telephone networks at the national and international level, only few high end players could arrange to make instant international calls. Even electrification wasn't completed.

This meant obviously more bottlenecks and more intermediation and control, barriers to globally distributed operations, and in addition everything happened at a slower speed.

In addition most of the world, including large parts of Europe and the US, was agricultural or sparsely populated and un"developed".

In the decades after, the "second" and "third" world invested big time in education and technological development. It really took off when international business logistics and global IT/telecom became ubiquitous, and "first world" companies eagerly "helped" build the offshore know-how.

Ron Waller said in reply to EMichael, September 07, 2015 at 11:14 AM

Generalizations don't identify any problems, provide any solutions, justify failed policies or rule out successful policies. Japan and Europe are in hot water because of bad economic policy. (Not demand-side Keynesian economic policy.)

China is in hot water because neoclassical reforms have killed demand in the Western economy. Its economy is founded on importing more and more Western jobs and manufacturing, not to mention GHG emissions.

It's only a matter of time before the entire house of cards collapses. Then people will be looking to the 1930s for policy solutions

Peter K. said in reply to EMichael, September 07, 2015 at 01:27 PM

I agree with the others. To say that the economy was different back then is to minimize the manner in which policy has changed for the worse.

I don't think fundamentally the laws of economics have changed that much because of technology or globalization or vague "productivity changes."

This is like being like Martin Feldstein who says we should be happy with what we got. No policy has changed much to the worse since the 1950s and 1960s. For one thing unions have been politically destroyed.

EMichael said in reply to Peter K

Not the laws of economics, the facts. Y'know the old Keynes thing(supposedly):

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

I'll give you one change.

In the 70's China had almost no foreign exchange reserves. Now they have around $4 Trillion.

That is a real fact. And the reasons behind it are obvious.

Reply September 07, 2015 at 01:40 PM
likbez said in reply to Ron Waller

"Krugan's free-trade ideology rhetoric shows he's more New Keynesian (neoclassical synthesis) than Keynesian. More neoliberal than liberal."

Very true. Thank you

[Sep 07, 2015] The Thirty-Year Boom

September 06, 2015 | Economist's View

Part of an essay by David Warsh:

... For the old lions, Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman, the '80s meant a bittersweet departure from the center stage of economics after forty years of dominating the scene. The two had entered their sixties; neither was out of steam. But the leaders of the next generation had become apparent: Lucas, in macroeconomics; Kenneth Arrow in nearly everything else.

The election of Ronald Reagan was a triumph for Friedman; they had known each other since Friedman spent a quarter at the University of California at Los Angeles, shortly after Reagan had been elected Governor of California.He was invited to lecture in China. And the international success of Free to Choose kept Friedman in the public eye.

But Paul Volcker took a different approach to monetary policy from the one Friedman advocated, and Friedman's forecasts became markedly worse. The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal adopted as its champion Friedman's long-time rival in currency matters, Robert Mundell, now teaching at Columbia University, and went all in for Mundell's young associate, consultant Arthur Laffer. A research appointment at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco was not the same platform as the University of Chicago. Friedman still had his membership on the President's Economic Policy Board, but after he "savaged" Volcker to his face before the president in a meeting in 1983, both men lost influence. Pointing a finger at Volcker, Friedman said (according to Newsweek's account), "because of the policies of the Fed under that man we have had an inflationary surge in the money supply that is going to have to be corrected." Volcker was not reappointed. Edward Nelson, of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is writing a scientific biography of Friedman. It will make interesting reading when it is done.

In March 1981, Friedman wrote his Newsweek column in the form of a letter to Philip Handler, president of the National Academy of Sciences, advocating major cuts in the budget of the National Science Foundation, as a step towards the abolition of the NSF. The Reagan administration had proposed sharp cuts in the economics program. Friedman argued the government shouldn't pay for any scientific research. True, the NSF had funded much good science; but it had paid for much bad science, too, including, he wrote, overmuch mathematical economics. The great scientists of the past had done without NSF funding. Einstein did his work in a government patent office; general relativity might never have made it past a peer-review panel. "The innovative ideas that have stirred controversy in economics since NSF funding of economics began two decades ago owe little or nothing to NSF funding," he wrote.

Thus did Friedman dismiss the agency that Paul Samuelson had brought to life in 1945. Perhaps more important, by extension he dismissed the program of government fellowships, awarded by competitive exam, that had sent Samuelson to graduate school in 1935, all expenses paid – and countless others since, many of them as impecunious as Friedman had been in 1932. The NSF ran similar programs in mathematics and many ciences, and the principle had been extended, by Sen. Jacob Javits (R-NY) to humanities. NSF research grants funding had helped build the Massachusetts Institute of Technology into a powerhouse to rival Harvard, and played a similar role at many other public and private universities.

No Samuelson column followed Friedman's. Samuelson never wrote again for Newsweek . He resigned the column he written for fifteen years. When, many years later, I asked him about his timing, he firmly denied that it had anything to do with Friedman's column, and wrote me a letter for the file the next day repeating what he had said. I have always wondered if he sought to defuse the matter out of habit. That he and Friedman had remained on civil terms for seventy-five years was clearly a source of pride, though privately he grew less tolerant of his rival after 1980.

Samuelson, too, was in mild recession in the '80s. Keynesian economics hadn't yet rebounded from the biting criticism of the New Classicals in the '70s. Tensions were growing within the MIT department over appointments and the direction of future research. Samuelson formally retired in 1985, at 70, to make room for others. He had plenty to engage his professional attention. Commodities Corp., which had discovered such natural traders as Paul Tudor Jones and Bruce Kovner, was winding down, but Samuelson's interest in Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway was gearing up. The Vanguard Group, whose godfather he had been ever since founder John Bogle introduced the first index fund, was thriving. Samuelson's friends and colleagues James Tobin, Franco Modigliani, and Robert Solow received Nobel Prizes.

Young Lions at Large

To the young lions of Keynesian economics in the '80s, rational- expectations macroeconomics and real business cycle theory posed a considerable bar. To work in the new traditions required a considerable investment in new tools and mathematical techniques, and, even fully teched-up, didn't seem to speak very directly to policy. A strong corps of economists went to work to fashion a "new Keynesian" version of the latest general equilibrium economics. But gradually one rising star of saltwater economics after another left academia for a policy job.

Martin Feldstein, of Harvard University, was the first. As something of an acolyte of Milton Friedman, Feldstein was never very high in salinity, but he demonstrated plenty of professional backbone as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Ronald Reagan for two years in the early days of the controversies over deficits before returning in 1984 to Harvard and his position as president of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Stanley Fischer, of MIT, was next, wrapping up a highly successful research career in order to serve as chief economist of the World Bank (a path that led to leadership positions in the International Monetary Fund, governor of the Bank of Israel and, currently, vice chairman of the Fed). Lawrence Summers, Feldstein's student, served as campaign economist to Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign and succeeded Fischer at the World Bank before joining the Clinton administration, where he advanced to Secretary of the Treasury.

Soon the flood was on: Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, Olivier Blanchard, Kenneth Rogoff, Gregory Mankiw, Glen Hubbard, and Christina Romer were among those MIT- or Harvard-trained economists who served in government jobs or NGO positions. Paul Krugman retooled as a journalist. Lists of MIT and Harvard graduates in high positions in European, South American, and Asian governments were even longer. Did this differ in kind, and not degree, from the trajectory of academic economists dating back to to the New Frontier, if not the New Deal? I think so.

In 2006, Harvard's Mankiw, in an article for the Journal of Economic Perspectives argued, as I did in a book, that the differences in interests among economists were best understood as being similar to those between scientists and engineers. The early macroeconomists, led by Samuelson and Friedman, had resembled engineers seeking to solve practical problems, Mankiw wrote; macroeconomists of the past several decades, led by Tjalling Koopmans, Jacob Marschak, Kenneth Arrow, and others had been more interested in developing analytic tools and establishing theoretical principles. Their students the '80s had joined teams along similar lines. "Recently Paul Romer, of New York University, introduced a different distinction to elucidate some of the controversies in present-day macro – between bench science and clinical medicine. Both analogies will get plenty of elaboration in future years, for this is what changed in kind in the '80s: economics developed a clinical/engineering wing.

... ... ...

likbez said...

Due to his role in neoliberal transformation of Chile after Pinochet coup of 1973, Friedman can be viewed as a one of the first economic hitman for multinationals, member of organized crime disguised as an economist. According to the 1975 report of a United States Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, the Chilean economic plan was prepared in collaboration with the CIA. In 1987 45% of Chile's population was below poverty line. From Wikipedia:

==Start of quote ===
Milton Friedman gave some lectures advocating free market economic policies in Universidad Católica de Chile. In 1975, two years after the coup, he met with Pinochet for 45 minutes, where the general "indicated very little indeed about his own or the government's feeling" and the president asked Friedman to write him a letter laying out what he thought Chile's economic policies should be, which he also did.[26] To stop inflation, Friedman proposed reduction of government deficits that had increased in the past years and a flat commitment by government that after six months it will no longer finance government spending by creating money. He proposed relief of cases of real hardship among poorest classes.[2] In October 1975 the New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis declared that "the Chilean junta's economic policy is based on the ideas of Milton Friedman…and his Chicago School".[26]
=== End of quote ===

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein criticized Friedman's recipe for neoliberal scheme of the economic rape of the countries under disguise of transformation toward "free" market economics -- the neoliberal restructuring that followed the military coups in several countries using suspiciously similar schemes. She suggested that the primary role of neoliberalism was to be an ideological cover for capital accumulation by multinationals. Chilean economist Orlando Letelier considered that the main driving force behind Pinochet's dictatorship violence toward opponents was the level of opposition to Chicago School policies in Chile.

And Friedman himself was a coward who never personally acknowledged his role in the events. After a 1991 speech on drug legalization, Friedman answered a question on his involvement with the Pinochet regime, saying that he was never an advisor to Pinochet (also mentioned in his 1984 Iceland interview), but that only his students (Chicago boys) were involved.

He was followed by Harvard mafia with their economic rape of Russia in early 90th. Probably also prepared in collaboration with the CIA...

It is interesting that the paper does not mention Galbraith who was important opponent of Friedman (see "Friedman on Galbraith, and on curing the British disease", 1977) . In those two lectures Friedman disagrees with Galbraith's four most popular works: "Countervailing Power," "The Great Crash of 1929," "The Affluent Society," and "The New Industrial State". Friedman consistently repeats the neoliberal dogma that it is unfettered free market, with minimal rules and regulations, is the best economic system.

So it might be useful to distinguish between two instances of Friedman: the first is Friedman before "Capitalism and Freedom" and the second is after. Friedman after Capitalism and Freedom is a pitiful figure of a prostitute to power that be.

chris herbert said...

The best observation was the one by Wojnilower that the animals in the zoo were let out of their cages.. They are still roaming around, not yet put back in their regulatory cages. The list of financial crises beginning in the 1980s looks as bad and as frequent as those of the 1800s. Technology gives a sheen to the past 35 years or so, but underneath there's been immense intellectual damage. A degradation of morals and honesty. Today, greed is good. I'll be gone, you'll be gone (IBGUBG), rules politics and finance today. The animals are still lose, more trouble will visit the Kingdom.

bakho said...

Interesting history lesson.
Needs more links.
Friedman's spat with Volcker:

In Friedman's view, Volcker was too vulnerable to political pressures from Congress and the White House, Condemned by liberals and conservatives for plunging the country into recession and worried that continued high interest rates would cause massive default by Third World debtors, Volcker in mid-1982 shifted his sights away from the monetarist approach, loosening the Fed's targets for money growth and restoring interest-rate manipulation as a policy tool. In the five months before the November 1984 elections, the Fed increased the money supply to bring down interest rates and thus fuel the recovery to better Reagan's chances at re-election. After Reagan's reelection victor in November, the Fed again tightened the money supply, "This is not monetarist policy," Friedman says, "The key element of monetarism is to define what you are going to do and then stick with it."

For any Fed chairman, Friedman thinks, the temptation to linker with money-supply targets is probably irresistible. According to the monetarist doctrine, the Fed chairman's job is purely technical, "a matter of every month looking at the money base and making sure it increases by about a quarter of one percent," Friedman explains, "If the Fed chairman were to do a good job, he would become an unknown, a faceless bureaucrat."

Cooper, M. H. (1987). Economics after Reaganomics. Editorial research reports 1987 (Vol. II). Washington, DC: CQ Press. Retrieved from

I wonder if so many of the young economist went into policy because the people involved: Volcker, Friedman, Laffer etc were pretty clueless and made bad predictions.

bakho said...

Just how wrong was Friedman?
DARPA turned the internet over to NSF and NSF spun it off into a large commercial engine.

NSF funds high risk investment, the kind that most corporations cannot. High risk research means many projects that don'r pan out, a small pool of winners and a handful that hit jackpot. It takes a large organization with very deep pockets to fund enough high risk research over long periods to have a good likelihood of getting a large hit. Industry cannot fund at that level, government can.

Another example: NSF funded obscure biochemistry into esoteric research on enzymes that could degrade DNA. That research became the foundation of genetic engineering. Who could have known?

pgl said in reply to Paine ...

Warsh did write an incredible amount of BS in this silly essay. I didn't think Mundell ever endorsed Laffer's stupid cocktail napkin.

Lafayette said...


From WikiP: {According to Keynesian economists, a combination of deficit spending and the lowering of interest rates slowly led to economic recovery. However, conservatives insist that the significantly lower tax rates caused the recovery. From a high of 10.8% in December 1982, unemployment gradually improved until it fell to 7.2% on Election Day in 1984.}

Even Reagan, a good friend of Friedman, when push-came-to-shove, indulged is stimulus spending to get his presidency out of the deep-doodoo.
Which the Replicants stonewalled in 2010 when a Great Recession was in full sway, but the PotUS was a Democrat ...

pgl said in reply to Lafayette...

Wikipedia gets another wrong. It was Reagan's 1981 tax cut (deficit spending) that led Volcker to do round 2 of his tight money. Volcker kept trying to make a deal withe White House - reverse the fiscal stimulus in exchange for lower interest rates. The White House did not even know what was going on. And Wikipedia does not either.

[Sep 05, 2015] Range of reactions to realism about the social world by Daniel Little

My recent post on realism in the social realm generated quite a bit of commentary, which I'd like to address here.

Brad Delong offered an incredulous response -- he seems to think that any form of scientific realism is ridiculous (link). He refers to the predictive success of Ptolemy's epicycles, and then says, "But just because your theory is good does not mean that the entities in your theory are "really there", whatever that might mean...." I responded on Twitter: "Delong doesn't like scientific realism -- really? Electrons, photons, curvature of space - all convenient fictions?" The position of instrumentalism is intellectually untenable, in my opinion -- the idea that scientific theories are just convenient computational devices for summarizing a range of observations. It is hard to see why we would have confidence in any complex technology depending on electricity, light, gravity, the properties of metals and semiconductors, if we didn't think that our scientific theories of these things were approximately true of real things in the world. So general rejection of scientific realism seems irrational to me. But the whole point of the post was that this reasoning doesn't extend over to the social sciences very easily; if we are to be realists about social entities, it needs to be on a different basis than the overall success of theories like Keynsianism, Marxism, or Parsonian sociology. They just aren't that successful!

There were quite a few comments (71) when Mark Thoma reposted this piece on economistsview. A number of the commentators were particularly interested in the question of the realism of economic knowledge. Daniel Hausman addresses the question of realism in economics in his article on the philosophy of economics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (link):

Economic methodologists have paid little attention to debates within philosophy of science between realists and anti-realists (van Fraassen 1980, Boyd 1984), because economic theories rarely postulate the existence of unobservable entities or properties, apart from variants of "everyday unobservables," such as beliefs and desires. Methodologists have, on the other hand, vigorously debated the goals of economics, but those who argue that the ultimate goals are predictive (such as Milton Friedman) do so because of their interest in policy, not because they seek to avoid or resolve epistemological and semantic puzzles concerning references to unobservables.

Examples of economic concepts that commentators seemed to think could be interpreted realistically include concepts such as "economic disparity". But this isn't a particularly arcane or unobservable theoretical concept. There is a lot of back-and-forth on the meaning of investment in Keynes's theory -- is it a well-defined concept? Is it a concept that can be understood realistically? The question of whether economics consists of a body of theory that might be interpreted realistically is a complicated one. Many technical economic concepts seem not to be referential; instead, they seem to be abstract concepts summarizing the results of large numbers of interactions by economic agents.

The most famous discussion of realism in economics is that offered by Milton Friedman in relation to the idea of economic rationality (Essays in Positive Economics); he doubts that economists need to assume that real economic actors do so on the basis of economic rationality. Rather, according to Friedman this is just a simplifying assumption to allow us to summarize a vast range of behavior. This is a hard position to accept, though; if agents are not making calculating choices about costs and benefits, then why should we expect a market to work in the ways our theories say it should? (Here is a good critique by Bruce Caldwell of Friedman's instrumentalism; link.)

And what about the concept of a market itself? Can we understand this concept realistically? Do markets really exist? Maybe the most we can say is something like this: there are many social settings where stuff is produced and exchanged. When exchange is solely or primarily governed by the individual self-interest of the buyers and sellers, we can say that a market exists. But we must also be careful to add that there are many different institutional and social settings where this condition is satisfied, so there is great variation across the particular "market settings" of different societies and communities. As a result, we need to be careful not to reify the concept of a market across all settings.

[Sep 05, 2015] Tribes

"...Personally, I think he senses that RE/New Classicalism is in decline, not comprehending why, struggling to understand, looking for scapegoats (Solow, tribal behaviour, mathiness) and is essentially mourning its demise."
" Kuhn famous book on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he argues persuasively (or shows definitively, for those who prefer), that "Competition between segments of the scientific community [tribes?] is the only historical process that ever actually results in the rejection of one previously accepted theory or in the adoption of another," though at the same time, most progress comes from working within an established paradigm. My own intuition is that economics if very much like physics in both those respects. "
Sep 04, 2015 | Stephen Williamson New Monetarist Economics

So, within economics, is macro unusual? Of course not. Indeed, the whole emphasis of post-1970 macroeconomics is to do it like everyone else. Before 1970, no one would have been discussing macro and Dixit-Stiglitz in the same sentence. Should economics work like physics? Of course not. We're studying very different problems requiring very different methods. Why would you expect economists to behave like physicists?

What's my bottom line? Romer is just leading us through an unproductive conversation - one that's not going to persuade anyone of anything.

Anonymous, September 4, 2015 at 4:42 PM

"Romer is just leading us through an unproductive conversation - one that's not going to persuade anyone of anything."

It's almost as if Romer is wandering around testing the waters seeing how far he can push things before he actually says what he wants to say coherently.

Anonymous September 4, 2015 at 5:38 PM

Personally, I think he senses that RE/New Classicalism is in decline, not comprehending why, struggling to understand, looking for scapegoats (Solow, tribal behaviour, mathiness) and is essentially mourning its demise.


Constantine Alexandrakis, September 4, 2015 at 6:16 PM
Steve, Solow agrees with you on Romer's contribution.

Norman, September 5, 2015 at 4:45 AM

Actually, Romer doesn't argue that physicists are not tribalists – he just asserts it, on the basis of a thought experiment based on two particular statements. It may well be true that there is a lot of consensus on the particular physics statements in his post, but no doubt you could also find a couple of statements in economics that most economists agree about. For evidence of tribalism in physics, google "superstring controversy," or at a more personal level, Newton and Hooke, Einstein and Lenard.

Or read Kuhn famous book on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he argues persuasively (or shows definitively, for those who prefer), that "Competition between segments of the scientific community [tribes?] is the only historical process that ever actually results in the rejection of one previously accepted theory or in the adoption of another," though at the same time, most progress comes from working within an established paradigm. My own intuition is that economics if very much like physics in both those respects.

As to how tribalism has arisen in economics, the answer is easy: economists are people, and people are tribal. Search the psychology of "ingroup bias".

[Sep 04, 2015] Four-fifths of the Economy is a Complete Waste of Time


Four-fifths of the "Economy" is a Complete Waste of Time

There are really two questions we are dealing with here. First, do inputs to production earn their marginal product? Second, do the owners of non-rival ideas have market power or not? -- Dietz Vollrath "What Assumptions Matter for Growth Theory?"
Dietz Vollrath has a new post that goes a long way toward clarifying the battle lines in the fight over the foundations of growth theory. -- Paul Romer, "The Assumptions in Growth Theory"
Huh? These fellows omit the main assumption, the analogy -- "growth is a concept whose proper domicile is the study of organic units..." (Kuznets, 1947). Kuznets cited with approval Sidney Hook's discussion of the dangers of the use of this analogy.
As an argument it is formally worthless and never logically compelling. An argument from analogy can be countered usually with another argument from analogy which leads to a diametrically opposed conclusion.... The belief that society is an organism is an old but fanciful notion. It can only be seriously entertained by closing the eye to all the respects in which a group of separate individuals differs from a system of connected cells, and by violently redefining terms like 'birth,' 'reproduction,' and 'death.'
Growth "theory" gets around this objection to the uncritical use of analogy by ignoring it -- by 'closing the eye' to explicit caveats in the seminal contribution to the measurement of growth. Let's pretend that the economy really is an organism that grows perpetually but never dies.

Name one.

Carry on, growth theorists.

[Aug 22, 2015] Scientists Do Not Demonize Dissenters. Nor Do They Worship Heroes.

Paul Romer's latest entry on "mathiness" in economics ends with:
Reactions to Solow's Choice: ...Politics maps directly onto our innate moral machinery. Faced with any disagreement, our moral systems respond by classifying people into our in-group and the out-group. They encourage us to be loyal to members of the in-group and hostile to members of the out-group. The leaders of an in-group demand deference and respect. In selecting leaders, we prize unwavering conviction.
Science can't function with the personalization of disagreement that these reactions encourage. The question of whether Joan Robinson is someone who is admired and respected as a scientist has to be separated from the question about whether she was right that economists could reason about rates of return in a model that does not have an explicit time dimension.
The only in-group versus out-group distinction that matters in science is the one that distinguishes people who can live by the norms of science from those who cannot. Feynman integrity is the marker of an insider.
In this group, it is flexibility that commands respect, not unwavering conviction. Clearly articulated disagreement is encouraged. Anyone's claim is subject to challenge. Someone who is right about A can be wrong about B.
Scientists do not demonize dissenters. Nor do they worship heroes.

[The reference to Joan Robinson is clarified in the full text.]

Adam Eran said...

Max Planck would disagree: "The truth never triumphs. Its opponents simply die out. Science advances one funeral at a time."

Friday, August 21, 2015 at 04:02 PM

anne said in reply to Adam Eran...


A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

-- Max Planck

[ Thomas Kuhn would later write of this. ]

likbez said...

Now science became highly political occupation. This is especially true about economics.

So dismal behavior of scientists and flourishing of pseudoscience are to be expected. Rewards offered to conformists are just too great not to seduce people.

Actually it looks like Lysenkoism is the mark of the present and the future, not so much of the past.

[Aug 19, 2015] Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas Cass R. Sunstein

"...the prospect of being subject to the conspiracy theorist smear remains a potent weapon for intimidating authors, journalists, and scholars from interrogating complex events, policies, and other potentially controversial subject matter.""

Harold Saive "Hsaive" on May 22, 2014

Cracking The "Conspiracy Theories'" Psycholinguistic Code: The Witch Hunt against Independent Research and Analysis

Conspiracy theories not backed by credible evidence would ordinarily be ignored as harmless ramblings.

But when the government goes to extreme lengths to discredit an alternate (conspiracy) theory about how Global warming is not supported by the data or that the Twin Towers collapsed at near free-fall speed due to controlled demolition - suddenly these theories - backed by thousands of pages of forensic evidence - are too dangerous for Sunstein, Obama and Bush to laugh at.

Laugh, indeed.

The American people are waking up to being repeatedly punked by corpse media propaganda.

Professor, James Tracy has this to say:

"A new crusade appears to be underway to target independent research and analysis available via alternative news media. This March saw the release of "cognitive infiltration" advocate Cass Sunstein's new book, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas. In April, the confirmed federal intelligence-gathering arm, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), released a new report, "Agenda 21: The UN, Sustainability, and Right Wing Conspiracy Theory." Most recently, Newsweek magazine carried a cover story, titled, "The Plots to Destroy America: Conspiracy Theories Are a Clear and Present Danger."

As its discourse suggests, this propaganda campaign is using the now familiar "conspiracy theory" label, as outlined in Central Intelligence Agency Document 1035-960, the 1967 memo laying out a strategy for CIA "media assets" to counter criticism of the Warren Commission and attack independent investigators of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. At that time the targets included attorney Mark Lane and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who were routinely defamed and lampooned in major US news outlets.

Declassified government documents have proven Lane and Garrison's allegations of CIA-involvement in the assassination largely accurate. Nevertheless, the prospect of being subject to the conspiracy theorist smear remains a potent weapon for intimidating authors, journalists, and scholars from interrogating complex events, policies, and other potentially controversial subject matter."

Archilochus on June 16, 2015

Cass Sunstein And This Little Book Are Downright Silly ... Read Who Really Owns Your Gold, Third Ed. By William Garner Instead

From the abstract of the original paper by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule:

"Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or some terrible event. A recent example is the belief, widespread in some parts of the world, that the attacks of 9/11 were carried out not by Al Qaeda, but by Israel or the United States. Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law . . . Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a 'crippled epistemology,' in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups."

First, I find the title of the book and paper downright silly, just as I do the man himself. Sunstein is a Jesuit tool.

Second, threatening to infiltrate groups that seek to uncover and disclose the accurate truth about events in America tells us much about the powers who manipulate these very events. All despots, martinets and dictators over the centuries have done the same, even worse, to those who have spoken out against acts of tyranny and terror committed by those who govern the masses.

Conspiracy "THEORIES"? Are you serious?

After all, no good scientist or researcher would ever immediately elevate his hypothesis to the level of a "theory" without careful thought, experimentation and analysis.

The label "conspiracy theorist" makes the threat to the "powers that be" more immediately credible and elevates it to a very high and visible level, because it says that this "conspiracy guy" has some very plausible and perhaps damning evidence, and the powers should silence him.

If the guy were just stating some simple hypothesis, no one would even notice, let alone react to him or it.

But when someone comes along and states they have credible "theories" about certain significant events, that raises eyebrows and hackles among those in power. It also provides the powers that be with "legal authority" to silence that person and enact new laws that restrict, if not outlaw, further dissemination of so-called "conspiracy theories."

Or so guys like Cass Sunstein would like us to believe.

I recommend this silly book to all Americans as an example of disinformation from the powers that be. I do not, however, recommend spending any money on it. It is not worth the paper it is printed on.

robbie eisler on March 22, 2014

This is a nonsensical approach to a subject that throws the baby out with the bathwater. It is a wholesale, hackneyed, down-the-line mainstream piece of propaganda that sophistically mixes clearly insane, paranoid conspiracy theories with certainly plausible ones. It's as if he keeps hoping the uninformed and the misinformed will continue to stay uninformed and misinformed--and manipulated. But, who, two years ago, would have thought the leader of Germany's conversations with her grandchildren were being recorded by an American governmental agency or that British intelligence would have tens of thousands of film frames of nude people on Yahoo webcams? We live in an age where the implausible and the outrageous unfortunately sometime turn out to be even more outrageous than one could have imagined. Sunstein, a Martha's Vineyard sycophant, has no time for these thoughts.

Plattsoon April 19, 2014

Dangerous To Whom?

Conspiracy Theories are not about a type of person,
that is, a person who "believes" in some theories.
Conspiracy Theories are about a type of crime.
The type which perpetrators plan beforehand to commit.

Typical of "debunkers" and propagandists, here all manner of Theories are
lumped together, and the Conspiratorial Type of Person is assumed.
This Person is flawed. Wrong. Incorrect. Crippled. Effed up.
We would like to figure out how these false ideas are spread among the Effed Up People.

This analysis is pathetic and inane.

As for some particular theory being "demonstrably false", I would very much like to see Mr. Sunstein
engage in a discussion with the major proponents of said theory and please, do demonstrate its falseness.

Incidentally, that the United States Government conspired to kill Martin Luther King Jr is not a conspiracy theory,
but a legal finding.

Ralph Yateson April 6, 2014

Disinformation As Policy

The American government has suffered a plague since the CIA's assassination of President Kennedy. While the CIA and powers that be managed to abuse their power and control the official story the American people would not lose their free thinking so quickly and soon knew something was rotten. Ever since the inception of the Central Intelligence Agency America has been battling a force that exists with a written charter to undermine and undo ever single fundamental principle of representational democracy in America and elsewhere replacing it with an ugly cold-skinned changeling covertly overseen by its CIA creators and their sponsors. We live in that nation now and Cass Sunstein is its ultimate evil spawn, sent here to convince the populace that its healthy sense of government corruption is due to some bizarre personal failing or psychological flaw on the behalf of those people.

A month to the day after the Kennedy assassination the creator of the CIA, Harry Truman, sent an editorial to the Washington Post saying he regretted signing the agency into being and that he had created a monster that had gone way beyond its original intended purpose and gotten out of control. The editorial was yanked from the second edition and quietly buried. The timing of Truman's editorial and its message exactly one month after Kennedy's assassination was not unintentional. The national security state had made its move and was now taking over. America was now becoming a safe place for the Cass Sunstein's and Allen Dulles's.

This book suggests the true facts about the Kennedy assassinations, TWA 800, and 9-11 were all nutty conspiracy theories all handily explained by Mr Sunstein who calmly attributes all those wicked events to perfectly reasonable explanations that all so happen to fit the government version. We owe thanks to the free speech we still have even though Mr Sunstein was actively trying to undo American free speech and make any accusations of conspiracy against the government illegal. Thank goodness for Amazon where we can still legally buy books that expose the truth behind these events without any Orwellian nightmare like Sunstein forcing us to accept the legal official version at threat of punishment. The only thing Sunstein was honest about was the Masonic eye of the pyramid staring back at you from his book and mocking you. Sort of like the eye of Sauron trying to convince you the tales people are telling you about it aren't true. The ultimate Orwellian oracle unashamedly unveiled.

[Aug 12, 2015]The Macroeconomic Divide

"...Too much of macro is ideologically driven conjecture, or worse. None of it rises to the level of demonstrated reliability necessary to ethically inform decision-making. Confronting that reality and the limits of the profession's knowledge and ability, and reining-in it's obsession to intervene in things it doesn't actually understand except at a political level - that will permit the profession to at long last begin to honor its highest ethical duty ... 'First, do no harm.'"
Economist's View
Paul Krugman:
Trash Talk and the Macroeconomic Divide: ... In Lucas and Sargent, much is made of stagflation; the coexistence of inflation and high unemployment is their main, indeed pretty much only, piece of evidence that all of Keynesian economics is useless. That was wrong, but never mind; how did they respond in the face of strong evidence that their own approach didn't work?
Such evidence wasn't long in coming. In the early 1980s the Federal Reserve sharply tightened monetary policy; it did so openly, with much public discussion, and anyone who opened a newspaper should have been aware of what was happening. The clear implication of Lucas-type models was that such an announced, well-understood monetary change should have had no real effect, being reflected only in the price level.
In fact, however, there was a very severe recession — and a dramatic recovery once the Fed, again quite openly, shifted toward monetary expansion.
These events definitely showed that Lucas-type models were wrong, and also that anticipated monetary shocks have real effects. But there was no reconsideration on the part of the freshwater economists; my guess is that they were in part trapped by their earlier trash-talking. Instead, they plunged into real business cycle theory (which had no explanation for the obvious real effects of Fed policy) and shut themselves off from outside ideas. ...

RogerFox said...

Both sides in this macro cat-fight have succeeded in demolishing the credibility of their opponents, at the expense of being demolished themselves - meaning none of them are left standing in the eyes of anyone except their own partisan groupies, who are well-represented on this site. That's nothing but good.

Too much of macro is ideologically driven conjecture, or worse. None of it rises to the level of demonstrated reliability necessary to ethically inform decision-making. Confronting that reality and the limits of the profession's knowledge and ability, and reining-in it's obsession to intervene in things it doesn't actually understand except at a political level - that will permit the profession to at long last begin to honor its highest ethical duty ... 'First, do no harm.'

RC AKA Darryl, Ron said in reply to RogerFox...

Confronting that reality and the limits of the profession's knowledge and ability, and reining-in it's obsession to intervene in things it doesn't actually understand except at a political level - that will permit the profession to at long last begin to honor its highest ethical duty ... 'First, do no harm.'

[That is some pretty ironic BS that you are totin' around. The profession does a very good job of NOT intervening in things that any one with half a brain should understand. How on earth do you think the 2008 financial crisis ever even happened? Economists could not intervene because they had black swans squatting on their hands, particularly those economist like Greenspan and Bernanke that were actually in a position to do something to prevent the crisis. Krugman wrote some articles warning about the risk, but undersold his case even to himself. Only Mike Stathis (an investments adviser and trader - not an economist) formally warned (in America's Financial Apocalypse: How to Profit from the Next Great Depression. 2006. ISBN 978-0-9755776-5-3) of the full scope of the coming disaster and that formal warning came a bit late and was almost entirely ignored. Nouriel Roubini (a.k.a. Doctor Doom), who is an economist, ran Stathis a close second on getting it correct. Dean Baker, also an economist, was in there too. It was entirely ignored by Greenspan and Bernanke, although I believe they knew what was going to happen but would rather clean up the mess than stop the party and get blamed for the fallout.

After the crisis several economists recognized the scale of the necessary stimulus to get the economy back on track, but a world of idiots, some of whom you may know, precluded an adequate response to prevent prolonged high unemployment.

Are you a market trader or just a rich man's tool? Anything else would make you just a plain ol' fool.]

DrDick said in reply to RogerFox...

"Both sides in this macro cat-fight have succeeded in demolishing the credibility of their opponents"

You, on the other hand. never had any credibility to begin with.

"Confronting that reality and the limits of the profession's knowledge and ability, and reining-in it's obsession to intervene in things it doesn't actually understand except at a political level"

You might take your own advice, as it is evident that you know nothing about economics or policy.

Peter K. said in reply to RogerFox...

Partisan groupies? Nope. We're the objective ones in this discussion.

Mr. Fox has no criteria upon which to judge and measure things, so of course he has no basis to criticize.

"First do no harm." How can you tell that harm has been done when you don't believe in anything?

You automatically believe that taking no action and the sin of omission is the better choice? But you have no basis on which to make that assumption.

"First do no harm" when it comes to government policy is conservative propaganda.

Paine said in reply to RogerFox...

If rog refuses to entertain any notion of macro nautic efficacy

He. Has taken his position
And perhaps he ought to be left to
sit on it
as long as he likes


If he has a test of say Lerner's
fiscal injections model he'd like to propose
A test that if past would change is mind

> Paine said in reply to Paine ...

Cockney takes over
when I sez his
it comes out is

RogerFox said in reply to Paine ...

I don't have a dog in this fight - but I do know that it's dangerously irresponsible and unprofessional to offer advice, or act on it, unless there is adequate evidence to justify the opinion that the advice will not plausibly make the situation worse than it is otherwise destined to be. The compiled track record of all theories of macro demonstrate that none of them yet meet that test - and this ongoing internecine cat-fight has done much to reinforce that view IMO.

Academics need to understand what real economy people who give advice professionally know very well - that an idea or theory could well be right and beneficial isn't enough to justify acting on it without proper consideration to the consequences should the approach prove to be wrong. Candidly assessing down-side risks seems to be anathema to all academics - almost as if they regard the entire matter as some sort of affront to their dignity.

The Crash of '08 and the Crash of '29 both happened, with academic macro-mavens leading us straight into both of them - eyes wide shut. Better for everyone if they'd just kept their mouths shut too.


"In the early 1980s the Federal Reserve sharply tightened monetary policy; it did so openly, with much public discussion, and anyone who opened a newspaper should have been aware of what was happening. The clear implication of Lucas-type models was that such an announced, well-understood monetary change should have had no real effect, being reflected only in the price level.In fact, however, there was a very severe recession — and a dramatic recovery once the Fed, again quite openly, shifted toward monetary expansion. These events definitely showed that Lucas-type models were wrong, and also that anticipated monetary shocks have real effects."

Note Krugman is referring to the 2nd Volcker monetary restraint which happened under Reagan's watch. Rusty needs to get his calendar out as he thinks this was all Carter. Actually Volcker was following the advise of JohnH. How did the early 1980's work out for workers?

Back in 1982/3 I heard some economist seriously saying that this recession was due to some notion that people still had high expected inflation. When I asked them WTF - they response was the Reagan deficits.

Yes macroeconomics confuses some people terribly. Look at a lot of the comments here for how confused some people get.

Paine said in reply to pgl...

Confused or partisan ?

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke said...

No divide
Comment on 'The Macroeconomic Divide'

Keynes's employment function was indeed incomplete (2012). So far, Lucas/Sargent had a point. But the NAIRU expectation-wish-wash was even worse. So far, Krugman has a point. The deeper reason is that economics not only has no valid employment theory but that it is a failed science.

Neither the loudspeakers of the profession nor the representative economists of the various schools have a clue about how the actual economy works. What unites the camps is scientific incompetence.*

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2012). Keynes's Employment Function and the Gratuitous Phillips Curve Desaster. SSRN Working Paper Series, 2130421: 1–19. URL

*For details see the cross-references

[Aug 12, 2015] Unwavering Fealty to a Failed Theory

"...Looking beyond the rhetoric and individual policies, however, lies the Republican Party's major problem: unwavering fealty to trickle-down economics. Virtually all Republicans since Ronald Reagan was elected president have run on a platform of supply-side policies, and the 2016 election will be no different. But it should be, because there is now a growing recognition that trickle-down economics has failed...."
"...Republican economic "thinking" is akin to a religion. No deviation from the gospel is allowed or you become an apostate.
Like Huckabee, who is running for president, believes that the world (universe?) is only 6500 years old. "

"...Just as FDR laid out the solution in 1935: you start by paying workers to build productive assets that will earn the money needed to pay the workers."
Aug 12, 2015 | Economist's View
Bad economic theory (but good if you are rich) has trickled down to this cycle's Republican presidential candidates:
Unwavering Fealty to a Failed Theory, by David Madland, US News and World Report: With their first debate set for tonight, Republican candidates have been trying mightily to claim they can help address the economic problems most Americans face. ...

While Jeb Bush declared in February that "the opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time," more recently he's been forced to backtrack from his statement that Americans "need to work longer hours" in order to boost their incomes. Sen. Marco Rubio's argument that if the United States is to "remain an exceptional nation, we must close this gap in opportunity," rings a bit hollow next to his tax plan that disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Gov. Scott Walker says he wants to help families achieve the "American Dream," but thinks the minimum wage is "lame," has stripped the words "living wage" from state laws, and has attacked workers' right to join together to collectively bargain for better wages.

Looking beyond the rhetoric and individual policies, however, lies the Republican Party's major problem: unwavering fealty to trickle-down economics. Virtually all Republicans since Ronald Reagan was elected president have run on a platform of supply-side policies, and the 2016 election will be no different. But it should be, because there is now a growing recognition that trickle-down economics has failed....

Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, August 6, 2015 at 10:16 AM in Economics, Politics, Taxes | Permalink Comments (21)

pgl :

The following is exactly right. We should note that a few pretend progressives around here are praising Jeb! for this 4% proposal even if what Jeb! is really proposing is the same old Art Laffer lies:

"Looking beyond the rhetoric and individual policies, however, lies the Republican Party's major problem: unwavering fealty to trickle-down economics. Virtually all Republicans since Ronald Reagan was elected president have run on a platform of supply-side policies, and the 2016 election will be no different. But it should be, because there is now a growing recognition that trickle-down economics has failed due to the fact that it rests on a fundamentally flawed premise. Trickle-down economics, the misguided theory that has controlled economic policymaking for more than three decades, is built on the idea that high levels of economic inequality are good. Tax cuts for the rich and less regulation of business supposedly provide incentives for the wealthy to invest and work more. Enabling "job creators" to get richer helps us all, the theory goes. So the fact that the top 1 percent now take home a greater share of the nation's income than they ever have, while incomes for the typical household are lower than they were in 1989, is not a problem in this way of thinking. In the trickle-down mindset, these facts are seen as good for the economy."

mulp said in reply to JohnH...

I see you, JohnH are equally brainwashed or brain damaged by the dominant free lunch economics principles that avoids the TANSTAAFL nature of the dismal science.

You stated absolutely nothing as an alternative that works because you do not want to pay anything, but just want a free lunch.

Just as FDR laid out the solution in 1935: you start by paying workers to build productive assets that will earn the money needed to pay the workers.

Given government is putting people to work who the private sector will not pay, the way they get paid is with taxes and fees associated with the things they build.

Conservatives call it tax and spend, but its really invest and tax.

Republicans totally oppose the bill that Reagan spoke of glowingly in 1983 which hiked taxes 125% to pay to create probably a million jobs building transportation capital assets.

Obama picked up the conservative free lunch alternative to invest and tax: public private partnerships. But conservatives expecting free lunch political solutions realized it was just dismal science: corporations would be collecting tolls that are higher than taxes would be to pay for monopoly profits.

Taxes and fees need to be higher on everyone.

Sorry Bernie, TANSTAAFL - taxing the rich is not the solution.

djb :

so much of this seems to come from the impact of Milton Friedman

his academic papers may have be somewhat restrained, but when you see him on tape talking, he sounds just like any supply sider or right wing politician talking today

especially negative on any possibility of fiscal interventions, and ridicules the concept that interventions can improve aggregate demand and thus the economy

according to Keynes, Ricardo did not believe that inadequate aggregate demand was even possible

David :

I don't think the appeal of trickle down is based on econ or empirical evidence, and as such whether it fails or not is completely irrelevant to the right.

It is a perversion of identity politics as a moral prejudice. Rich people by dint of their wealth are superior and poor people are inferior and deserve their lot. Race is key here. Poor Southern whites on Medicaid and food stamps vote against their interest bc they're not those people.

It's always divide and conquer with the right.

Fred C. Dobbs

(This ought to be a prominent Dem issue,
but it isn't. Why is that? The GOPsters
will pervert it, make it about turning
1%ers into .01%ers)

Why the New Research on Mobility Matters:
An Economist's View
via @UpshotNYT - Justin Wolfers - May 4

Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that the odds of economic success vary across neighborhoods. The far more difficult question is whether that's because neighborhoods nurture success (or failure), or whether they just attract those who would succeed (or fail) anyway.

A new study by the Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, when read in combination with an important study they wrote with Lawrence Katz, makes the most compelling case to date that good neighborhoods nurture success. ...

reason :

How about an alternative, bubble up economics. Money doesn't flow down - it flows UP. Spread money around and it will spent on things that companies owned by the wealthy produce, instead of concentrating on cutting costs, those companies can concentrate instead on increasing productivity and expanding production. The trick is that the market will pick the best producers, but the best producers of WHAT. Goods for everyman or trinkets for the wealthy.

gunste :

Republican economic "thinking" is akin to a religion. No deviation from the gospel is allowed or you become an apostate.
Like Huckabee, who is running for president, believes that the world (universe?) is only 6500 years old.

[Aug 08, 2015] Quacks - Fakers & Charlatans in Medicine (Revealing History) Roy Porter

Aug 08, 2015 |

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Tempus (September 1, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0752425900
ISBN-13: 978-0752425900
Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.3 x 7.8 inches

By Amanda Chesworth on June 12, 2005

Enlightening & Entertaining

Format: Paperback
Surprisingly, this book is relatively unknown in medical circles, not to mention the public at large. And yet - the subject matter presented draws so many unmentioned parallels to the situation of "quacks" to be found in modern day.

Roy Porter is a brilliant historian. His form of writing is exceptional. Initially I noticed he would repeat certain information in subsequent chapters and though it was always written differently I wondered "doesn't he know he has already made reference to this?" But then I realized how beneficial this can be to learning. The important points that are repeated are far easier to digest, understand and remember and for those of us afflicted with poor memory, this is a welcome characteristic in a non-fiction book and it appears to be more of an intentional tool than an oversight. Regardless, the amount of original information to be found within this book is immense and as usual, Roy Porter fills his pages with powerful prose that afford such a sweeping field to be explored and grasped. Though I allude to the fact this book should be referenced more within the medical arena - the book is indeed written for the everyman (and woman) and few people will find it a difficult read. I do, however, think it should be mandatory reading for medical students.

_Quacks_ chronicles the highly lucrative occupation of nostrum mongers - traveling across Europe (most notably in Britain) selling potions, philosophies, herbs, and all manner of "cures" for the various ills of society. The tactics they use are rich and entertaining - the pulpit, the monkey, the jester, magic, on-the-spot dental repairs and laying on the hands healing. Some even operated booths outside the Bethlam asylum.

By Darryl R. Morris on August 27, 2010

A balanced and entertaining history of quackery in England

Format: Paperback
This was an entertaining history of the men and women who were labeled as quacks in Britain during the 17th to the early 19th centuries. The term "quack" was applied to men and women who were accused of practicing medicine (Physic) in bad faith, those who traveled from town to town and gave public performances and demonstrations, sold nostrums that proclaimed to cure numerous unrelated diseases from 'Rheumatick Defluctions' to 'Wind Cholick' to 'Ptisick or shortnesse of breath', advertised widely in newspapers, or made outrageous claims about their clientele (many claimed to be the personal physician to kings and queens throughout Europe), their cure rates and the efficacy of their medicines.

However, Porter shows us that several practitioners who were labeled as quacks received medical degrees from Oxford, Cambridge or other renowned schools, and nearly all subscribed to the same medical theories and treatments used by the regular physicians. Many of the standard medical providers also used the same techniques as the quacks, such as advertising, frequent use of nostrums to purge the body of toxins that were the cause of illness, and frequent self promotion. The success of quackery was also aided by the lack of regulation, as neither the courts nor town officials sought to enforce standards on practitioners until the early 19th century, and by the state of medical knowledge in the 17th and 18th centuries, which was dominated by theories beliefs rather than proven fact.

Quackery slowly fell out of fashion in the early and mid 19th century in England, as alternative medical movements such as homeopathy, naturopathy and medical botany took hold, and as allopathic (standard) medical practice became more regulated and restricted.

"Quacks" contains several detailed accounts of notable practitioners, along with detailed etchings and engravings of quacks as they beguile and entertain potential customers. The book was overly repetitive at times, especially in the sections about advertising and nostrums, but overall it was a well written and balanced look at quackery in Britain.

[Jul 25, 2015] Brainwashing as a key component of the US social system

"...Why do Americans believe "official sources" despite the proven fact that "official sources" lie repeatedly and never tell the truth?"
"...The failure of the American character has had tremendous and disastrous consequences for ourselves and for the world. At home Americans have a police state in which all Constitutional protections have vanished. Abroad, Iraq and Libya, two formerly prosperous countries, have been destroyed. Libya no longer exists as a country. One million dead Iraqis, four million displaced abroad, hundreds of thousands of orphans and birth defects from the American ordnance, and continuing ongoing violence from factions fighting over the remains. These facts are incontestable. Yet the United States Government claims to have brought "freedom and democracy" to Iraq. "Mission accomplished," declared one of the mass murderers of the 21st century, George W. Bush."
"...Americans with good character are being maneuvered into a position of helplessness."
"...When Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was asked if the Clinton's regime's sanctions, which had claimed the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children, were justified, she obviously expected no outrage from the American people when she replied in the affirmative."
"...No, I don't think Americans are intentionally ignorant, any more than other nationalities. What they are tribal. Tribal peoples don't care whether their policies are right or wrong; they are instinctively loyal to them and to those who formulate them."
Jul 25, 2015 | Zero Hedge

Original title: The Eroding Character Of The American People

Paul Craig Roberts

How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.—Bob Dylan, "Hurricane"

Attorney John W. Whitehead opens a recent posting on his Rutherford Institute website with these words from a song by Bob Dylan. Why don't all of us feel ashamed? Why only Bob Dylan?

I wonder how many of Bob Dylan's fans understand what he is telling them. American justice has nothing to do with innocence or guilt. It only has to do with the prosecutor's conviction rate, which builds his political career. Considering the gullibility of the American people, American jurors are the last people to whom an innocent defendant should trust his fate. The jury will betray the innocent almost every time.

As Lawrence Stratton and I show in our book (2000, 2008) there is no justice in America. We titled our book, "How the Law Was Lost." It is a description of how the protective features in law that made law a shield of the innocent was transformed over time into a weapon in the hands of the government, a weapon used against the people. The loss of law as a shield occurred prior to 9/11, which "our representative government" used to construct a police state.

The marketing department of our publisher did not appreciate our title and instead came up with "The Tyranny of Good Intentions." We asked what this title meant. The marketing department answered that we showed that the war on crime, which gave us the abuses of RICO, the war on child abusers, which gave us show trials of total innocents that bested Joseph Stalin's show trials of the heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the war on drugs, which gave "Freedom and Democracy America" broken families and by far the highest incarceration rate in the world all resulted from good intentions to combat crime, to combat drugs, and to combat child abuse. The publisher's title apparently succeeded, because 15 years later the book is still in print. It has sold enough copies over these years that, had the sales occurred upon publication would have made the book a "best seller." The book, had it been a best seller, would have gained more attention, and perhaps law schools and bar associations could have used it to hold the police state at bay.

Whitehead documents how hard a not guilty verdict is to come by for an innocent defendant. Even if the falsely accused defendant and his attorney survive the prosecutor's pressure to negotiate a plea bargain and arrive at a trial, they are confronted with jurors who are unable to doubt prosecutors, police, or witnesses paid to lie against the innocent defendant. Jurors even convicted the few survivors of the Clinton regime's assault on the Branch Davidians of Waco, the few who were not gassed, shot, or burned to death by US federal forces. This religious sect was demonized by Washington and the presstitute media as child abusers who were manufacturing automatic weapons while they raped children. The charges proved to be false, like Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction," and so forth, but only after all of the innocents were dead or in prison.

The question is: why do Americans not only sit silently while the lives of innocents are destroyed, but also actually support the destruction of the lives of innocents? Why do Americans believe "official sources" despite the proven fact that "official sources" lie repeatedly and never tell the truth?

The only conclusion that one can come to is that the American people have failed. We have failed Justice. We have failed Mercy. We have failed the US Constitution. We have failed Truth. We have failed Democracy and representative government. We have failed ourselves and humanity. We have failed the confidence that our Founding Fathers put in us. We have failed God. If we ever had the character that we are told we had, we have obviously lost it. Little, if anything, remains of the "American character."

Was the American character present in the torture prisons of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and hidden CIA torture dungeons where US military and CIA personnel provided photographic evidence of their delight in torturing and abusing prisoners? Official reports have concluded that along with torture went rape, sodomy, and murder. All of this was presided over by American psychologists with Ph.D. degrees.

We see the same inhumanity in the American police who respond to women children, the elderly, the physically and mentally handicapped, with gratuitous violence. For no reason whatsoever, police murder, taser, beat, and abuse US citizens. Every day there are more reports, and despite the reports the violence goes on and on and on. Clearly, the police enjoy inflicting pain and death on citizens whom the police are supposed to serve and protect. There have always been bullies in the police force, but the wanton police violence of our time indicates a complete collapse of the American character.

The failure of the American character has had tremendous and disastrous consequences for ourselves and for the world. At home Americans have a police state in which all Constitutional protections have vanished. Abroad, Iraq and Libya, two formerly prosperous countries, have been destroyed. Libya no longer exists as a country. One million dead Iraqis, four million displaced abroad, hundreds of thousands of orphans and birth defects from the American ordnance, and continuing ongoing violence from factions fighting over the remains. These facts are incontestable. Yet the United States Government claims to have brought "freedom and democracy" to Iraq. "Mission accomplished," declared one of the mass murderers of the 21st century, George W. Bush.

The question is: how can the US government make such an obviously false outrageous claim without being shouted down by the rest of the world and by its own population? Is the answer that good character has disappeared from the world?

Or is the rest of the world too afraid to protest? Washington can force supposedly sovereign countries to acquiesce to its will or be cut off from the international payments mechanism that Washington controls, and/or be sanctioned, and/or be bombed, droned, or invaded, and/or be assassinated or overthrown in a coup. On the entire planet Earth there are only two countries capable of standing up to Washington, Russia and China, and neither wants to stand up if they can avoid it.

For whatever the reasons, not only Americans but most of the world as well accommodate Washington's evil and are thereby complicit in the evil. Those humans with a moral conscience are gradually being positioned by Washington and London as "domestic extremists" who might have to be rounded up and placed in detention centers. Examine the recent statements by General Wesley Clark and British Prime Minister Cameron and remember Janet Napolitano's statement that the Department of Homeland Security has shifted its focus from terrorists to domestic extremists, an undefined and open-ended term.

Americans with good character are being maneuvered into a position of helplessness. As John Whitehead makes clear, the American people cannot even prevent "their police," paid by their tax payments, from murdering 3 Americans each day, and this is only the officially reported murders. The actual account is likely higher.

What Whitehead describes and what I have noticed for many years is that the American people have lost, in addition to their own sense of truth and falsity, any sense of mercy and justice for other peoples. Americans accept no sense of responsibility for the millions of peoples that Washington has exterminated over the past two decades dating back to the second term of Clinton. Every one of the millions of deaths is based on a Washington lie.

When Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was asked if the Clinton's regime's sanctions, which had claimed the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children, were justified, she obviously expected no outrage from the American people when she replied in the affirmative.

Americans need to face the facts. The loss of character means the loss of liberty and the transformation of government into a criminal enterprise.


The American people have been scientifically mis-educated, propagandized, and beaten down. A disproportionate number of the under 30's are societal DOAs thanks to ... weaponized TV. But I am being too optimistic...


... Americans are "intentionally ignorant" of other countries' rights and sovereignty while other countries had been well-informed of America's malicious intents of destroying other countries' rights and sovereignty ...


No, I don't think Americans are intentionally ignorant, any more than other nationalities. What they are tribal. Tribal peoples don't care whether their policies are right or wrong; they are instinctively loyal to them and to those who formulate them.

Also, I have to say that I believe the US empire is a long, long, way from collapse. It is still expanding, for goodness sake. Empires collapse only when the shrinking process is well under way. (The recent Soviet Empire was exceptional, in this regard.) It will take several more generations before the darkness lifts, I'm afraid.


The only conclusion that one can come to is that the American people have failed.

It's now official, PCR is a complete dipshit.

Hey Paul, how about you get your head out of the clouds and stop looking down your nose at everyone long enough to read a couple of books about brain washing and then get back to us. Maybe you start with this:

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind."
-- Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda


"Americans need to face the facts. The loss of character means the loss of liberty and the transformation of government into a criminal enterprise."

I think that happened August 13, 1971, but didn't get fully organized (as in Mafia) until 2000.


The majority have their nose to the grind stone and as such can not see past the grind stone. They rely on "official sources" to put the rest of the world in order for them, but have no time to audit the "official sources". Would public education suffer if mothers and fathers were monitoring what the children were learning? But who has got time for that when both parents are working? How many non-work organizations were your parents and grand-parents involved in (both the wage-earner and the housekeeper)? How many organizations are you involved in?

Do you constantly hassle your local politicians or do you just say, "I'll vote 'em out in four years time"? (Yes, I know, you just don't vote. Fair enough, this question is for the voters.)

Yes, some of us are guilty of not fighting back. We had "Shut up and do as you're told" and "Well, if you're not happy with what you've got then work harder" beaten into us. Some of us are a little awake because, despite all our efforts, the grind stone was removed from us and then we got to see the larger picture of what lies behind the grind stone. Others are still busy, nose to the wheel, and all they see is the wheel.

And that is before we even consider HypnoToad on the Idiot Box. Some "need" the idiot box to help them wind down. Some can no longer enjoy the silence. (Remember Brave New World? It's true. Many people can no longer stand to be around silence, with nothing but their own thoughts.) I tell everyone that TV is crap. Radio is crap. Newspapers are crap. Turn that shit off for six months to a year, then go back to it and see what you really think of it. But they can't handle the thought of being away from "the background noise".

Ever spoken to grandparents who remember wars and depressions? And even amongst the rations and the hardships they still find positive memories? Time to talk to them again. Or not. I guess we'll get first-hand experience soon enough.


Allow me for a moment to share a brief anecdote about the new "American Character".

Last Sunday I was at the local supermarket. I was at the bakery counter, when suddenly a nicely dressed, Sunday best, non-Caucasian woman barrels into my cart riding a fat scooter. She rudely demands from the counter person a single cinnamon bun and then wheels off towards the front. Curious, I follow her up the aisle as she scarfs down the pastry in three bites. She then proceeds to stuff the empty bag between some soda bottles and scooters through the checkout without paying for her item. In the parking lot she then disembarks from her scooter, easily lifts it into the trunk of her Cadillac and walks to the drivers side, gets in and speeds off with her kids, who were in the back seat.

Amazed at what I had just witnessed, I went back into the store, retrieved the empty bag, included it in my few items at checkout and then went to the manager to share this story with him. He laughed and said there was nothing he could do.

The new "American Character" is that of a sense of entitlement and apathy.
I weep for the future.


Having character is not politically correct. Plus there's no need to develop character anymore because there's no jobs requiring any!

Consumption is the ONLY value of the inDUHvidual today.

And the less character they have, the more shit they'll consume to feel fulfilled cause they can't get that from themselves.

clymer Sat, 07/25/2015 - 07:34

Macholatte, i don't think PCR is writing from a point of view that is haughty and contemptful of the American people, per se, but rather from a perspective that is hopeless and thoroughly depressed after contemplating what the American people of many generations ago has taken for themselves as natural rights from a tyrranical government, only to see the nation slowly morph into something even worse than what was rejected by the founders.

"A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within...
He rots the soul of a nation; he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist."


"The loss of character means the loss of liberty and the transformation of government into a criminal enterprise. "

"I think that happened August 13, 1971 "

The entirety of the Western Hemisphere, not just 'The United States', was seized by invaders from Europe.

It is not an 'American' disease: it is a European disease and always was.

The indiginous populations of the Western Hemisphere were suystemaically and with forethought expropriated, ensalved, and slaughtered. The indiginous persons that dwelled within the geographical domain that presently comprise the USA were still being margialized, forcibly relocated, and murdered, long after the so-called 'American Civil War' had been decided.

...& As much as it is fashionable and/or politically expedient to vilify and blame the 'white' Europeans both for this history and extenuate that history to inform the present state of affairs, the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese, and the Spanish ( most eggregiously IMHO) were brutal and savage.

Look at the demographics of the Western Hemisphere.

If you have a shred of honesty you just can't hang the blame on 'whites', put it on a bumper sticker or a #shittyhashtagmeme and go back to fucking off.

The disgusting fraud of Manifest Destiny was a fig leaf to hide the enormity of these crimes; but, they are most obviously European crimes.

...& has Europe changed since the West was settled? Did Europeans even stop their warring amonsgst themselves?

See for yourself:

That would be: Hell NO.

Neither in Europe itself, nor in the settled West.

The Pacific Ocean wasn't named for calm waters.

It was named thusly because it is the natural geographic boundary where the mayhem and brutality and genocide ceased, if only because the greedy and ruthless Europeans had run out of land in the Western Hemisphere with people upon it to plunder and murder...

El Vaquero

The US will collapse within the next decade if some serious new technology is not developed and the infrastructure to use it is put in. There is too much debt and not enough material resources to continue growing the ponzi scheme that is our monetary system at an exponential rate without something breaking. The question is, will it be at the end of this boom-bust cycle, or the next? And if you look at what is being done on the financial front, which is the backbone of our neo-empire, that is shrinking.

The USD is slowly falling out of favor. There will come a point where that rapidly accelerates. We've been in a state of collapse for 15 years.


ignorance is choice these days and Americans love it.


Not only a choice, but the ONLY choice they are prepared to accept. Cognitive Dissonance at it's finest. And to make matters worse, in only the best American fashion, we've asked if if it can be Supersized to go along with the Freedom Lies we feed ourselves.

I've seen the enemy, and....

But only if I'm willing to look in the mirror. Today's American doesn't look for what's right there in front of him/her, we look for all the new 'Social Norms' that we aren't living up to. This article is completely on target, and I hope Roberts hasn't decided to do any remodeling, cause too many idle nails guns make for a great Evening News sidebar mention.

Damnit all to hell.

Fun Facts

Fun Facts's picture

  • protocol #1 - Take control of the media and use it in propaganda for our plans
  • protocol #2 - Start fights between different races, classes and religions
  • ... ... ...
  • protocol #13 - Use our media to create entertaining distractions
  • protocol #14 - Corrupt minds with filth and perversion
  • protocol #15 - Encourage people to spy on one another


We educators began seeing this shift towards "me-ism" around 1995-6. Students from low to middle income families became either apathetic towards "education" or followed their parent's sense of "entitlement." Simultaneously, the tech age captured both population's attention. Respecting "an education" dwindled.

Fast forward to the present: following the 2007-8 crash, we noted clear divisions between low income vs middle/upper class students based on their school behavior. Low to slightly middle income students brought to school family tensions and the turmoil of parents losing their jobs. A rise in non-functioning students increase for teachers while the few well performing students decline significantly.

Significant societal, financial shifts in America can always be observed in the student population.


Mission Accomplished.

"When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility."

- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985


"The American people have been scientifically mis-educated".

You've got the answer there. The education system is the root cause of the problem. I'm from Europe, but if I've understood correctly, the US education policy is to teach as little as possible to children, and expect them to fill in the gaps in the Universities, past a certain age.

Only, it can't work. Children WILL learn, as childhood is the time when most informations are stored. If the schools don't provide the knowledge, they will get it from the television, movies or games, with the consequences we can see: ignorance, obsession with TV and movies stars, inability to differentiate life from movies, and over-simplistic reasoning (if any).

In Europe, we knew full well children learn fast and a lot, and that was why the schools focused on teaching them as much general knowldge as possible before 18 years old, which is when - it is scientifically proved - the human brain learns best.

Recently, the EU leading countries have understood that having educated masses doesn't pay if you want to lead them like sheep, so they are perfidiously trying to lower the standards... to the dismay of parents.

My advice, if I may presume to give any, would be to you USA people: teach your children what they won't learn at school, history, geography, literature (US, European and even Asian, why not), a foreign language if you can, arts, music, etc; and keep them away from the TV, movies and games.

And please adapt what you teach them to their age.


Bang on! One anecdotal example: insisting that all 3rd graders use calculators "to learn" their multiplication tables. If I didn't do flashcards at home with my kids they wouldn't know them.

As somebody who majored in engineering and took many many advanced math courses, I always felt that knowing your 'times tables' was essential to being successful in math.

What better way to dumb down otherwise intelligent children by creating a situation where the kid can't divide 32 by 4 without a calculator.

Trigonometry? Calculus? Linear Algebra? Fuggedaboudit.


The CB's and MIC have Americans right where they want them.

the consequences of 3-4 generations of force feeding Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny


Some of US were never fucking asleep. Some of us were born with our eyes and minds open.

We were, and are: hated, and reviled, and marginalized, and disowned for it.

The intellectual repression was, and is, fucking insane and brutal.

Words such as ethics and logic exist for what purpose?

What are these expressions of? A bygone time? Abstractions?

Those that have tried to preserve their self awareness, empathy, and rationality have been ruthlessly systematically demeaned and condemed for confronting our families, our culture and institutions.

We all have a right to be angry and disgusted and distrustful of the people and institutions around us.

I am very fucking angry, and disgusted, and distrustful of the people and institutions around me.

But I still have hope.

Nothing lasts forever..

This self-righteous nation called The United States, this twisted fraud of a culture called America, is most dangerously overdue for receipt of chastisment and retribution.

It would be best if the citizenry of the United States taught themselves a lesson in stead of inviting Other nations and cultures to educate them.

A serious self education may be tedious and imperfect; but, it would be far far cheaper than forcing someone to come all the way over those oceans to educate Americans at the price they will be demanding for those lessons...

I do not require representation. I will speak my own mind and act of my own accord.

Every time other so-called Americans take a shit on me for thinking and speaking and acting differently it is a badge of honor and a confirmation of my spiritual and intellectual liberty. They don't know it but they are all gonna run out of shit before I run out of being free.


"The loss of character means the loss of liberty and the transformation of government into a criminal enterprise. "

"I think that happened August 13, 1971 "

The entirety of the Western Hemisphere, not just 'The United States', was seized by invaders from Europe.

It is not an 'American' disease: it is a European disease and always was.

The indiginous populations of the Western Hemisphere were suystemaically and with forethought expropriated, ensalved, and slaughtered. The indiginous persons that dwelled within the geographical domain that presently comprise the USA were still being margialized, forcibly relocated, and murdered, long after the so-called 'American Civil War' had been decided.

...& As much as it is fashionable and/or politically expedient to vilify and blame the 'white' Europeans both for this history and extenuate that history to inform the present state of affairs, the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese, and the Spanish ( most eggregiously IMHO) were brutal and savage.

Look at the demographics of the Western Hemisphere.

If you have a shred of honesty you just can't hang the blame on 'whites', put it on a bumper sticker or a #shittyhashtagmeme and go back to fucking off.

The disgusting fraud of Manifest Destiny was a fig leaf to hide the enormity of these crimes; but, they are most obviously European crimes.

...& has Europe changed since the West was settled? Did Europeans even stop their warring amonsgst themselves?

See for yourself:

That would be: Hell NO.

Neither in Europe itself, nor in the settled West.

The Pacific Ocean wasn't named for calm waters.

It was named thusly because it is the natural geographic boundary where the mayhem and brutality and genocide ceased, if only because the greedy and ruthless Europeans had run out of land in the Western Hemisphere with people upon it to plunder and murder...


"The loss of character means the loss of liberty and the transformation of government into a criminal enterprise."

I agree with the first part. As for the latter, "government," by definition, is a criminal enterprise. It doesn't start out pure as the driven snow and then change into something nefarious over time. Its very essence requires the initiation of violence or its threat. Government without the gun in the ribs is a contradiction.

The fact that those in power got more votes than the losing criminals does not magically morph these people into paragons of virtue. They are almost without exception thoroughly deranged human beings. Lying is second nature to them. Looting is part of the job description. Killing is an end to their means: the acquisition and aggrandizement of power over others, no matter how much death and destruction results.

These people are sick bastards. To expect something virtuous from them after an endless string of wanton slaughter, theft and abuse, is simply wishful thinking.

Jack Burton

I agree with Paul Craig Roberts. He asks "Why" and "How." Well, Paul, here is my answer. Decades of Public Education and over 50 years of mass media monopoly. In an age where FOX is the top rated News station and CNN is considered liberal? Where kids in Public school are offered Chocolate milk and frozen pizza for school breakfast before going to class rooms with 30-40 kids. When Texas political appointees chose school text book content for the nation? A nation where service has ended, replaced with volunteer soldiers signing up for pay and benefits, instead of just serving as service, like we did in the 70's?

Paul Craig Roberts points out the police war against the people. That comes right from the very top, orders filter down to street cops. Street Cops are recruited from groups of young men our fathers generation would have labeled mental! But now they are hired across the board, shaved heads, tatoos, and a code of silence and Cops Above Justice.

  • Schools
  • Media
  • Crazed Cops
  • And a corporate owned government.

The people have allowed the elites to rule in their place, never bothering to question the two fake candidates we are allowed to vote for.


There is a difference between IGNORANCE and STUPIDITY. As Ron White said, "YOU CAN'T FIX STUPID".

In todays information age, ignorance is a choice.

Part of the problem that no one is talking about or addressing is the population explosion. And it's not linear. Those who are the least educated, fully dependent others for their survival (welfare), the most complacent, and often with violent criminal records are breeding the fastest.

Evolution is not guaranteed. It can be argued that the apathy we experience today is a sign of the human race de-evolving. It takes a certain amount of cognitive ability to observe and question what is going on.

Further, the society we have created where "60 is the new 40" creates very little time to pay attention to what is going on in the world. Many people rely on mainstream media which is not really news any more. When six corporations control more than 90% of the news, it's the message of the corporate elite that we are fed. This becomes painfully obvious when you start turning to other sources for information like social media and independent news. Mainstream media today is full of opinion bias - injecting opinion as though it were fact. They also appeal to the lowest commmon denominator by focusing on emotionally charged topics and words rather than boring facts. Finally, the mainstream media is extremely guilty of propaganda by omission, ignoring important events altogether or only presenting one side of the story as is being done with regard to ISIS, Syria, and Ukraine today. People who watch the mainstream media have no idea that the US played a significant role in arming ISIS and aided in their rise to power. They have no idea that it was likely ISIS that used chemical weapons in Syria. They have no idea that the US has propped up real life neo nazis in high government positions in Ukraine. And they have ignored the continuing Fukushima disaster that is STILL dumping millions of gallons of radioactive water into the ocean every single day.

To sum up, democracies only work when people pay attention and participate. People are either too stupid, too overworked, are are looking to the wrong sources for information.

Until we break up mainstream media, remove incentives for those who cannot even care for themselves to stop breeding, and make fundamental changes to our society that affords people the time to focus on what is happening in the world, it will only get worse.

Much worse.


A dying empire is like a wounded, cornered animal.

It will lash out uncontrollably and without remorse in a futile effort to save itself from certain death.

Enough Already

The problem is that we have no "Constitution." That is a fable. The constitution of the separation of powers has been undermined from almost day one. Witness the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.

In the centuries since then, there has been no "separation of powers." Marbury v Madison (1803) gave the Supreme Court the right to "decide" what the "law" was. Although, only in the 20th century did the "Supreme" court really start "legislating" from the bench.

We're just peons to the Overall Federal Power; the three "separate" parts of the federal government have been in collusion from the first.

But like all empires, this one is in the final stage of collapse; it has just gotten too big.


Yes sir. Globalization has failed us. The infinite growth paradigm has failed us, as we knew it would. Castro's Cuba, based in a localized agrarian economy, is looking pretty good about now. Localization is the only way back to sustainability.


Books? Who said books? You mean reading books? Let me throw a couple out there:

I read 'The Image: A Guide To Pseudo-Events In America' last year, it was published 50+ years ago by a very recommended writer and accomplished historian. Boorstin's observations are truer today and even more concerning thanks to our modern, ubiquitous "connectivity".

Another by Boorstin, The Discoverers was my fav, like Bryson's 'Short History' on steroids:

I'm currently trying to fathom all of the historical implications of the claims Menzies is making in his book '1434', where apparently everything I learned about history is a lie. While he's making a lot of claims(hoping some sticks?) I'm not truly convinced. It is a very good, believable thought experiment. It almost makes perfect sense given the anglo/euro history of deceit & dishonesty, but I digress:

This one took a long time to grok, Dr Mandelbrot tried to warn us:

Benoit's friend & protege tried to warn us too:

Put them together and you get the financial meltdown's 'Don't say we didn't warn you' manifesto from 2006(not a book, but a compelling read):

OK, I'm tired. Time to unplug.


Adorno famously pointed out in 1940 that the "Mass culture is psychoanalysis in reverse." It takes 75 years for someone such as PCR to reiterate. He doesn't blame the masses because he simply points out the fact that Americans are completely ignorant and blindly believe anything MSM spoon-fed to them.

George Orwell once remarked that the average person today is about as naive as was the average person in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages people believed in the authority of their religion, no matter what. Today, we believe in the authority of what Adorno called Culture Industry and MSM, no matter what. Today we are indeed in another Dark Age


"Americans" are not one person. Individuals are not fungible. Reasoning from the "average American" leads to false conclusions.


Jacques Derrida says, "The individualism of technological civilization relies precisely on a misunderstanding of the unique self. It is the individualism of a role and not of a person. In other words it might be called the individualism of a masque or persona, a character [personnage] and not a person." There are many Americans but they all play the same role in the Pursuit of Happiness, aka wage slaves, career slaves, debt slaves, information junkies, and passive consumers.


Paul Craig Roberts believe that the people are capable of creating a better and more just society. Instead the people have voted against their own best interest and overwhelmingly believe the propaganda.

When do the people or the society take responsibility for its greater good or own the crimes of those they put into power?

Blaming the aristocracy or the oligarchs seems like a scapegoat when the people have never stood up to the corruption in a cohesive or concerted way. imho, After a few generations of abuse and corruption the people need to take responsibility for their future. I expect that most will just buy into the charade and live the lie, on that basis as a society we are doomed to live in a corporatocracy fascist state.

Aldous Huxley called it a scientific dictatorship, Edward Bernays referred to us as a herd.


In the USA being white, monied and having the capacity to afford a good education is privileged. To his credit he speaks to the greater population, the 'average citizen' and not the plutocratic class.


What we have is the result of conditioning and commoditizing a population. The country is filled with consumers, not citizens. Teach the acquisition of money and goods as the main goal and individualism as the only acceptable social unit. We end up with a nation of insatiable sociopaths, ruled by power-hungry psychopaths.

Divisive politics, jackbooted authority from the DC scumpond down to the cop on the beat, the constant preaching of the cult of the individual as a sustitute for true liberty... all of these have served to destroy a sense of community and decentness between Americans.

The ONLY thing that could threaten the ruling class is a banding together of the people - in large numbers. 'They' have purposefully and effectively quashed that.


When you let jews run your society this is what happens. Go Goy go!!!!!


Shifting responsibility to the usual suspects is simply a manifestation of the American moral collapse. Man up and do some self evaluation.


"what I have noticed for many years is that the American people have lost, in addition to their own sense of truth and falsity, any sense of mercy and justice for other peoples"

Unfortunately, Paul, the American people have lost any sense of mercy and justice for their own people.


Painful as it may be, we need to rationally look at US history/society. The nascent US was formed by stealing land from the native population and using human capital (read African Slaves) to generate wealth (it took a civil war with circa 500K casualties to stop this- one could argue the US "civil war" never ended). More recently, the US has been almost continuously at war since 1940, we dropped atomic bombs on Japan. Currently, the US/NATO war theater extends from the Levant, to Caspian Basin, Persian Gulf, China Sea, Indian Ocean, Horn of Africa (Saudi/US war on Yemen), the Maghreb and E Europe and Russian Border.

Radical Marijuana

"... the transformation of government into a criminal enterprise ..."

Governments were created by the history of warfare, which was always organized crime developing on larger and larger scales. In the context, the greater problem is that people like Paul Craig Roberts are reactionary revolutionaries, who provide relatively good analysis, followed by bogus "solutions" based upon impossible ideals.

The "American People" are the victims of the best scientific brainwashing that money could buy. As Cognitive Dissonance has previously stated on Zero Hedge: "The absolute best controlled opposition is one that doesn't know they are controlled."

It is practically impossible to exaggerate the degree to which that is so, on such profound levels, because of the ways that most people want to continue to believe that false fundamental dichotomies and impossible ideals are valid, and should be applied to their problems, despite that those mistaken ideas cause the opposite to happen in the real world, because those who promote those kinds of false fundamental dichotomies and their related impossible ideals, ARE "controlled opposition."

Rather, the place to begin would be by recognizing that all human beings and civilizations must necessarily operate as entropic pumps of energy flows, which necessarily are systems of organized lies operating robberies. Everyone has some power to rob, and power to kill to back that up. Governments assembled and channeled those powers. There was never a time when governments were not organized crime. There could never be any time when governments were not organized crime. The only things that exist are the dynamic equilibria between different systems of organized lies operating robberies. Those dynamic equilibria have become extremely unbalanced due the degree that the best organized gangs of criminals were able to control their opposition.

Paul Craig Roberts, as well as pretty well all of the rest of the content published on Zero Hedge, are presentations of various kinds of controlled opposition groups, most of which do not recognize that they are being controlled by the language that they use, and the philosophy of science that they take for granted. THAT is the greatest failure of the American People, as well as most of the rest of the people everywhere else. They believe in false fundamental dichotomies, and the related impossible ideals, and therefore, their bogus "solutions" always necessarily backfire badly, and cause the opposite to happen in the real world.

After all, the overwhelming vast majority of the American People operate as the controlled opposition to the best organized gangs of criminals that most control the government of the USA. Therefore, the FAILURES of the American People are far more profound and problematic than what is superficially presented by guys like Paul Craig Roberts, and also, of course, his suggested bogus "solutions" are similarly superficial.

The ONLY things which can actually exist are the dynamic equilibrium between different systems of organized lies operating robberies. The degree to which the American People, as well as most of the rest of the people in the world, FAIL to understand that is the degree to which they enable the best organized gangs of criminals to control them, due to the vast majority of people being members of various controlled opposition groups. Controlled opposition always presents relatively superficial analysis of the political problems, which are superficially correct. However, they then follow that up with similarly superficial "solutions." Therefore, magical words are bandied about, that express their dualities, through false fundamental dichotomies, and the related impossible ideals.

Governments must exist because organized crime must exist. Better governments could be achieved through better organized crime. However, mostly what get presented in the public places are the utter bullshit of the biggest bullies, who dominate the society because they were the best organized gangs of criminals, who were also able to dominate their apparent opposition. Therefore, instead of more realistic, better balancing of the dynamic equilibria between different systems of organized lies operating robberies, we get runaway developments of the best organized gangs of criminals being able to control governments, whose only apparent opposition is controlled to stay within the same bullshit frame of reference regarding everything that was actually happening.

The mainline of the FAILURES of the American People have been the ways that the international bankers were able to recapture control over the American public "money" supply. After that, everything else was leveraged up, through the funding of the political processes, schools, and mass media, etc., being more and more dominated by that fundamentally fraudulent financial accounting system. Of course, that FAILURE has now become more than 99% ... Therefore, no political possible ways appear to exist to pull out of that flaming spiral nose dive, since we have already gone beyond the event horizon into that social black hole.

Most of the content on Zero Hedge which is based upon recognizing that set of problems still acts as controlled opposition in that regard too. Therefore, the bogus "solutions" here continue to deliberately ignore that money is necessarily measurement backed by murder. Instead of accepting that, the controlled opposition groups like to promote various kinds of "monetary reforms." However, meanwhile, we are actually already headed towards the established debt slavery systems having generated debt insanities, which are going to provoke death insanities.

In that context, the only realistic resolutions to the real problems would necessarily have to be monetary revolutions, that may emerge out of the future situations, after the runaway debt insanities have provoked death insanities. Indeed, the only genuine solutions to the problems are to develop different death control systems, to back up different debt control systems, which must necessarily be done within the context that governments are the biggest forms of organized crime, controlled by the best organized gangs of criminals.

The various controlled opposition groups do not want to face those social facts. Rather, they continue to want to believe in the dualities expressed as false fundamental dichotomies and the related impossible ideals, which is their greatest overall FAILURE. In my view, the article above by Roberts contained a lot of nostalgic nonsense. There was never a time when there were any governments which were not based on the applications of the principles and methods of organized crime, and there could never be any time in the future when that could be stopped from being the case.

The greatest FAILURE of the American People, as well as most of the rest of the world's people, has been to become so brainwashed to believe in the biggest bullies' bullshit world view, that there is no significant opposition that is not controlled by thinking inside of the box of that bullshit. The government did NOT transform into a criminal enterprise. The government was necessarily ALWAYS a criminal enterprise. That criminal enterprise has become more and more severely UNBALANCED due to the FAILURE of the people to understand that they were actually members of an organized crime gang, called their country. Instead, they were more and more scientifically brainwashed to believe in bullshit about everything, including their country.

The ONLY connection between human laws and the laws of nature is the ability to back up lies with violence. The development of the government of the USA has been the developed of integrated systems of legalized lies, backed by legalized violence. Those systems of ENFORCED FRAUDS have been able to become more extremely unbalanced because there is almost nothing which is publicly significant surrounding that core of organized crime but various controlled opposition groups.

Of course, it seems politically impossible for my recommendations to actually happen within the foreseeable future, as the current systems of debt slavery drive through debt insanities to become death insanities, but nevertheless, the only theoretically valid ideas to raise to respond to the real problems would have to based upon a series of intellectual scientific revolutions. However, since we have apparently run out of time to go through those sorts of paradigm shifts sufficiently, we are stuck in the deepening ruts of political problems which guys like Roberts correctly present to be the case


Rather, we should start with the concept of SUBTRACTION, which then leads to robbery. We should start with the recognition that governments are necessarily, by definition, the biggest forms of organized crime. Governments did NOT transform into being that. Governments were always that. The political problems we have now are due to the best organized gangs of criminals, which currently are primarily the biggest gangsters, which can rightly be referred to as the banksters, having dominated all aspects of the funding of politics, enough to capture control over all sociopolitical institutions, so that the American People would more and more be subjected to the best scientific brainwashing that money could buy, which was built on top of thousands of years of previous history of Neolithic Civilizations being based on backing up lies with violence.

The runaway systems of ENFORCED FRAUDS, or the integrated systems of legalized lies, backed by legalized violence, that more and more dominate the lives of the American People are due to the applications of the methods of organized crime, and could not be effectively counter-balanced in any other ways. However, the standing social situation is that there is no publicly significant opposition that is not controlled to stay within the same frame of reference of the biggest bullies, which is now primarily the frame of reference of the banksters. Indeed, to the degree to which people's lives are controlled by the monetary system, they are debt slaves. Moreover, the degree to which they do not understand, and do not want to understand, that money is necessarily measurement backed by murder, then they think like controlled opposition groups, who have their mechanisms absurdly backwards, when they turn from their superficial analysis of what the political problems, to then promote their superficial solutions of those problems.

I AGREE that "Americans need to face the facts." However, those facts are that citizens are members of an organized crime gang, called their country. "Their" country is currently controlled by the best organized gangs of criminals. However, there are no genuine resolutions for those problems other than to develop better organized crime. Since the controlled opposition groups that are publicly significant do not admit any of the deeper levels of the scientific facts regarding human beings and civilizations operating as entropic pumps of energy flows, but rather, continue to perceive all of that in the most absurdly backward ways possible, the current dynamic equilibria between the different systems of organized lies operating robberies continue to become more and more extremely UNBALANCED.

In the case of the article above, Roberts does NOT "face the facts" that governments were always forms of organized crime, and must necessarily be so, because human beings must live as entropic pumps of energy flows. Rather, Roberts tends to illustrate how the controlled opposition takes for granted certain magical words and phrases, such as "Liberty" or "Constitution," that have no adequate operational definitions to connect them to the material world.

We are living inside of an oxymoronic scientific dictatorship, which has applied the progress in science primarily to become better at backing up lies with violence, while refusing to allow scientific methods to admit and address how and why that has been what has actually happened. Therefore, almost all of the language that we use to communicate, as well as almost all of the philosophy of science that we take for granted, was based on the biggest bullies' bullshit, which is now primarily manifested as the banksters' bullshit, as that bullshit developed in America to become ENFORCED FRAUDS.

ALL of the various churches, corporations, and countries are necessarily various systems of organized lies operating robberies. Those which are the biggest now were historically the ones that were the best at doing that. The INTENSE PARADOXES are due to human systems necessarily being organized lies operating robberies, wherein the greatest social successfulness has been achieved by those who were the best professional liars and immaculate hypocrites. That flows throughout ALL of the established systems, which are a core of organized crime, surrounded by controlled opposition groups.

The degree to which the American People, as well as the rest of the world's people, have been more and more scientifically brainwashed to believe in bullshit about governments in particular, and human beings and civilizations in general, is the degree to which the established systems based upon ENFORCED FRAUDS are headed towards some series of psychotic breakdowns. For all practical purposes, it is politically impossible to get enough people to stop acting like incompetent political idiots, and instead start acting more like competent citizens, because they do not understand, and moreover have been conditioned to not want to understand that governments are necessarily organized crime.

Roberts ironically illustrated the deeper nature of the political problems that he also shares, when he perceives that governments have somehow transformed into being criminal enterprise, when governments were always necessarily criminal enterprises. Similarly, with those who recognize that, but then promote the impossible solutions based upon somehow stopping that from being the case, which is as absurdly backwards as stopping human beings from operating as entropic pumps of energy flows, which then also presumes that it would be possible to stop human civilizations from being entropic pumps of energy flows.

Rather, the deeper sorts of intellectual scientific revolutions that we should go through require becoming much more critical of the language that we use to communicate with, and more critical about the philosophy of science that we presumed was correct. Actually, we were collectively brainwashed to believe in the biggest bullies' bullshit, which is as absurdly backwards as it could possibly be. However, due to the collective FAILURES of people to understand that, as reflected by the ways that the core of organized crime is surrounded by nothing which is publicly significant than layers of controlled opposition, there are no reasonable ways to doubt that the established debt slavery systems will continue to drive even worse debt insanities, which will provoke much worse death insanities. Therefore, to be more realistic about the foreseeable future, the development of new death control systems will emerge out of the context of crazy collapses into chaos, wherein the runaway death insanities provide the possible opportunities for new death controls to emerge out of that situation.

Of course, the about 99% FAILURE of the American People to want to understand anything that I have outlined above indicates that the foreseeable future for subsequent generations shall not too likely be catalyzed transformations towards enough people better understanding their political problems, in order to better resolve those problems. Rather, what I mostly expect is for the psychotic breakdowns of the previous systems of ENFORCED FRAUDS to give opportunities to some possible groups of controlled opposition to take advantage of that, to perhaps emerge as the new version of professional liars and immaculate hypocrites, who will be able to operate some new version of organized lies, operating robberies, who may mostly still get away with being some modified versions of still oxymoronic scientific dictatorship, due to social success still being based upon the best available professional liars and immaculate hypocrites, who were able to survive through those transformations, so that the new systems arise from some of the seeds of the old systems.

At the present time, it is extremely difficult to imagine how the human species could possibly reconcile progress in physical science by surpassing that with progress in political science. Rather, what mostly exists now is the core of organized crime, which gets away with spouting the bullshit about itself, such as how the banksters dominate the mass media, and the lives of everyone else who depend upon the established monetary system (which is dominated by the current ways that governments ENFORCE FRAUDS by privately controlled banks), while that core of organized crime has no publicly significant opposition that is not controlled by the ways that they think, which ways stay within the basic bullshit world view, as promoted by the biggest bullies for thousands of years, and as more and more scientifically promoted to brainwash the vast majority of people to believe in that kind of bullshit so completely that it mostly does not occur to them that they are doing that, and certainly almost never occurs to them that they are doing that in the most profoundly absurd and backward ways possible.

That is how and why it is possible for an author like Roberts to correctly point out the ways in which the government of the USA is transforming into being more blatantly based on organized crime ... HOWEVER, Roberts is not willing and able to go through deeper levels of intellectual scientific revolutions, in order to recognize how and why governments were always necessarily manifestations of organized crime. Therefore, as is typically the case, Roberts does not recognize how ironically he recommends that Americans should "face the facts," while he himself does not fully do so.

The whole history of Neolithic Civilizations was social pyramid systems based on being able to back up lies with violence, becoming more sophisticated systems of legalized lies, backed by legalized violence, which currently manifest as the globalized electronic frauds of the banksters, were are backed up by the governments (that those banksters effectively control) having atomic bombs. Those are the astronomically amplified magnitudes of the currently existing combined money/murder systems. Therefore, it appears to be politically impossible at the present time to develop better governments, due to the degree that almost everyone is either a member of the core groups of organized crime, or members of the surrounding layers of groups of controlled opposition, both of which want to stay within the same overall bullshit frame of reference, because, so far, their lives have been socially successful by being professional liars and immaculate hypocrites.

Ironically, I doubt that someone like Roberts, or pretty well everyone else whose material is published on Zero Hedge is able and willing to recognize the degree to which they are actually controlled opposition. Indeed, even more ironically, as I have repeated before, even Cognitive Dissonance, when he previously stated on Zero Hedge: "The absolute best controlled opposition is one that doesn't know they are controlled." DOES NOT "GET IT" regarding the degree to which he too is controlled opposition, even while superficially attempting to recognize and struggle with that situation. (Indeed, of course, that includes me too, since I am still communicating using the English language, which was the natural language that most developed to express the biggest bullies' bullshit world view.)

Overall, I REPEAT, the deeper problems are due to progress in physical science, NOT being surpassed by progress in political science. Instead, while there EXIST globalized electronic frauds, backed by atomic bombs, practically nothing regarding the ways of thinking that made that science and those technologies possible has found any significant expression through political science, because political science would have to go through even more profound paradigm shifts within itself in order to do that.

The INTENSE PARADOXES continue to be the manifestation of the oxymoronic scientific dictatorship, that deliberately refuses to become any more genuinely scientific about itself. Therefore, the banksters have been able to pay for the best scientific brainwashing that money could buy, for generation after generation, in order to more and more brainwash most of the American People to believe in the banksters' bullshit world view. While there exist electronic frauds, backed by atomic bombs, practically nothing regarding the physical science paradigm shifts that made that possible have even the slightest degree of public appreciation within the realms of politics today, which are almost totally dominated by the biggest bullies' bullshit world view, despite that being as absurdly backwards as possible, while the controlled opposition groups, mostly in the form of old-fashioned religions and ideologies, continue to stay within that same bullshit world view, and adamantly refuse to change their perceptual paradigms regarding political problems.

However, I REPEAT, the issues we face are NOT that governments have transformed to become criminal enterprises, but that governments were always necessarily criminal enterprises, which had the power to legalized their own lies, and then back those lies up with legalized violence. Thereby, the best organized criminals, the international bankers, as the biggest gangsters, or the banksters, were able to apply the methods of organized crime through the political processes. Meanwhile, the only "opposition" that was allowed to be publicly significant was controlled, to basically stay within the same bullshit world view, which is what Roberts has done in his series of articles, as well as what is almost always presented in the content published on Zero Hedge.

The NEXT LEVEL of "the need to face the facts" is to recognize that the political economy is based upon ENFORCED FRAUDS, or systems of debt slavery backed by wars based on deceits. However, the NEXT LEVEL "the need to face the facts" is the that the only possible changes are to change the dynamic equilibria between the different systems of organized lies operating robberies, i.e., change those ENFORCED FRAUDS, in ways which CAN NOT STOP THOSE FROM STILL BEING ENFORCED FRAUDS, because of the degree to which money is necessarily measurement backed by murder.

For the American People, as well as the rest of the world's people, to stop being such dismal FAILURES would require them to become more competent citizens. However, at the present time they appear to be totally unable to do that, because they are unwilling to go through the profound paradigm shifts that it would take them to become more competent citizens inside of world where there exist globalized electronic frauds, backed by atomic bombs. The vast majority of the American People would not like to go through the severe cognitive dissonance that would be required, to not only recognize that "their" government was a criminal enterprise, but that it also must be, and that they too must necessarily be members of that organized crime gang. However, without that degree of perceptual paradigm shifts of the political problems, then enough of the American People could not become more competent citizens.

Somehow, most people continue to count on themselves never having to think about how and why progress was achieved in physical science, by going through series of profound paradigm shifts in the ways that we perceived the world. Most people continue to presume that it is not necessary for their perception of politics to go through profound paradigm shifts, that surpass those which have already been achieved in physical science. We continue to live in an oxymoronic scientific dictatorship, that employs science and technology to become better at being dishonest and violent, but does not apply science and technology to "face the facts" about that scientific dictatorship as a whole.

At the present time, technologies which have become trillions of times more capable and powerful are primarily used as special effects within the context of repeating the same old-fashioned, stupid social stories, such as promoted by the biggest bullies, and their surrounding controlled opposition groups. Ironically, especially when it comes to politics, that tends to manifest the most atavistic throwbacks to old-fashioned religions and ideologies being relied upon to propose bogus "solutions," despite that those kinds of social stories adamantly refuse to change their paradigms in light of the profound paradigms shifts which have been achieved in physical science.

The article above was another illustration of the ways that the typical reactionary revolutionaries, Black Sheeple, or controlled opposition groups, respond to recognizing the more and more blatant degrees to which there has been an accelerating "transformation of government into a criminal enterprise." THE PROBLEM IS THAT THEY CONTINUE TO STAY WITHIN THE SAME OLD-FASHIONED BULLSHIT-BASED FRAME OF REFERENCE, INSTEAD, AROUND AND AROUND WE GO, STUCK IN THE SAME DEEPENING RUTS, since they do NOT more fully "face the facts" regarding how and why the only realistic solutions to the real problems would require developing better organized crime. INSTEAD, they continue to promote the same dualities based upon false fundamental dichotomies, and the associate bogus "solutions" based upon impossible ideals ...

Given that overall situation, that there there almost nothing which is publicly significant than the core of organized crime, surrounded by controlled opposition groups, I see no reasonable hopes for the foreseeable material future of a civilization controlled by ENFORCED FRAUDS, since there is no publicly possible ways to develop better dynamic equilibria between the different systems of organized lies operating robberies, since the biggest forms of doing that were most able to get away with pretending that they are not doing that, which was facilitated by their controlled opposition promoting the opinions that nobody should do that, while actually everyone must be doing that.

Roberts' article above, to me, was another typical example of superficially correct analysis, which implies some bogus "solutions" because those are based upon the same superficiality. It is NOT good enough to recognize "transformation of government into a criminal enterprise," unless one goes through deeper levels of analysis regarding how and why that is what actually exists, and then, one should continue to be consistent with that deeper analysis when one turns to proposing genuine solutions to those problems, namely, I REPEAT THAT the only realistic resolutions to the real political problems requires the transformation of government into a better organized criminal enterprise, which ideally should be based upon enough citizens who are competent enough to understand that they are members of an organized crime gang, which should assert themselves to make sure that their country becomes better organized crime.

Young Economists Feel They Have to be Very Cautious'

From an interview of Paul Romer in the WSJ:

...Q: What kind of feedback have you received from colleagues in the profession?

A: I tried these ideas on a few people, and the reaction I basically got was "don't make waves." As people have had time to react, I've been hearing a bit more from people who appreciate me bringing these issues to the forefront. The most interesting feedback is from young economists who say that they feel that they have to be very cautious, and they don't want to get somebody cross at them. There's a concern by young economists that if they deviate from what's acceptable, they'll get in trouble. That also seemed to me to be a sign of something that is really wrong. Young people are the ones who often come in and say, "You all have been thinking about this the wrong way, here's a better way to think about it."

... ... ...

Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, August 23, 2015 at 12:27 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Methodology | Permalink Comments (7)

pgl said...

Very interesting interview on many fronts. What you highlighted - "The most interesting feedback is from young economists who say that they feel that they have to be very cautious, and they don't want to get somebody cross at them. There's a concern by young economists that if they deviate from what's acceptable, they'll get in trouble." - is itself troubling. Young scholars should dare to be different. Fama and Shiller viewed financial economics from very different perspectives and we are all the better for it as the Nobel Prize committee recognized.

djb said...

For young economists caution is a rational approach

Preferably get an advisor whose work you agree with or encourages your intellectual explorations

But the formula: Get on, get honored, get honest is probably the best approach

tom said...

The story is true for young academics in general. As in many areas, the rules don't apply to the superstars, or to those expressing the views held by the establishment....

Peter K. said in reply to tom...

"The story is true for young academics in general."

Or many jobs or careers in general? It's a nice by-product of loose labor markets where employers hold all of the cards.

Go along to get along. Don't make waves.

DeDude said...

This is one of the unfortunate side-effects of human tribalism. When you challenge the tribe you belong to (or say something in support of a competing tribe), you are viewed as "one of them" rather than "one of us". That will inevitably make you less likely to gain support from the tribe you belong to and in early stage careers that could be detrimental to your success. Tribalism is a basic human character flaw that we cannot get rid of no matter how much we would like. Maybe we could try to create a "tribe of truth" where the thing that will get you "one of them'ed" is a failure to seek the truths, regardless. I know -99% of scientist will claim that this is exactly what they are doing (just like they will claim they are above average). But how about holding their feet to the fire on that.

Benedict@Large said...

When I first heard the expression "dismal science", I thought, what is so dismal about economics? Now that I've learned economics however, whenever i hear the the expression "dismal economics", I think, what is so science about it?

Lafayette said...

{There's a concern by young economists that if they deviate from what's acceptable, they'll get in trouble.}

Sad, very sad. Whatever happened to Intellectual Freedom in the US?

It's hidden in a blog behind a pseudonym?

1984! Group Think!

I submit this trend started with the Rabid Right and Reckless Ronnie in the 1980s. Let's hope it is coming to its well-deserved end.

But, maybe not ...

[Jun 08, 2015] The Attack on Truth By Lee McIntyre

Jun 08, 2015 | The Chronicle Review

We have entered an age of willful ignorance

To see how we treat the concept of truth these days, one might think we just don't care anymore. ...many commentators in the media — and even some in our universities — have all but abandoned their responsibility to set the record straight...

... ... ...

Plato here teaches a central lesson about the philosopher's search for knowledge, which has ramifications for any quest for true belief. The real enemy is not ignorance, doubt, or even disbelief. It is false knowledge. When we profess to know something even in the face of absent or contradicting evidence, that is when we stop looking for the truth. If we are ignorant, perhaps we will be motivated to learn. If we are skeptical, we can continue to search for answers. If we disbelieve, maybe others can convince us. And perhaps even if we are honestly wrong, and put forward a proposition that is open to refutation, we may learn something when our earlier belief is overthrown.

But when we choose to insulate ourselves from new ideas or evidence because we think that we already know what is true, that is when we are most likely to believe a falsehood. It is not mere disbelief that explains why truth is so often disrespected. It is one's attitude.

In a recent paper, "Why Do Humans Reason?," Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, both of them philosophers and cognitive scientists, argue that the point of human reason is not and never has been to lead to truth, but is rather to win arguments. If that is correct, the discovery of truth is only a byproduct.

... ... ...

To fight back, we should remember the basic principles of evidence-based belief and true skepticism that got us out of the Dark Ages. Although behavioral economists, among other scholars, have amply shown that human reason is not perfect, that is no excuse for lazy thinking. Even if our brains are not wired to search for truth, we can still pursue a path that might lead to better answers than those supplied by Kahneman's "fast" part of our brain.

Truth may not be automatic, but it is still an option. Socrates taught us as much long before we knew anything about cognitive science: Good reasoning is a skill that can be learned.

Reythia > lharasim

Facts alone do not equal truth. But factual evidence IS what allows us to determine what is "true" or "actual" or "real" and what is not. Which is the entire point of science in particular, and learning in general.

Secondly, seriously, you're either being immensely picky with your dictionary definitions, or making this author's point about the mindset difference between scientists and liberal arts people.

Basically, people are welcome to believe whatever they want. If someone wants to believe that trains are angels sent down by God in Heaven to communicate in corporeal form with us, they're welcome to. That's "belief", and if you want to have a philosophical argument about its "truth" to a sincere believer, go ahead. But as a scientist, I'm going to tell you that "truth" is that if that believer walks in front of a fast-moving train, his "belief" that the angel will commune harmlessly with him will be trumped by my "fact" that F = ma. Squish. That's "truth".

lairdwilcox > lharasim

...I am far more comfortable with a notion of "truth" that is subject to revision when new evidence appears or old evidence is successfully refuted. Dogma and ideology, both of which are attempts to simplify reality and to false certainty where this cannot be done, are the enemies of responsible education everywhere.

What we have done is so thoroughly moralize some points of view, like global warming, race and gender differences among others, to the point where any kind of honest discussion or debate is impossible. Even to suggest that current dogma may be biased or flawed can on savage attacks by people who cannot tolerate dissent.

C. E. M. Joad, in his The Recovery of Belief (1952) observed:

"There are those who feel an imperative need to believe, for whom the values of a belief are proportionate, not to its truth, but to its definiteness. Incapable of either admitting the existence of contrary judgments or of suspending their own, they supply the place of knowledge by turning other men's conjectures into dogmas."

When this kind of moralizing fanaticism occurs you are in a dangerous predicament -- even if you think you have honest criticism of a prevailing idea you become fearful of expressing it because of retaliation. The pages of CHE are full of cases where academics have paid a terrible price for this.

selfdeflection > lairdwilcox

There is a significant difference between one's point of view (deliberately not using truth, belief, fact, etc.) AFTER having carefully consumed, reviewed, evaluated and weighed all the relevant evidence for an issue and one's point of view absent that review and analysis. So many conflate those two types of "believers", but they could not be more different and the power of their perspectives should be regarded differently as well.

alsotps > lharasim

As I remember the story, someone responded to idealists with their idea that reality was only (note only) a human construct by suggesting they walk off the top floor of a tall building to see what would happen.

As for the issue here, read Camus, Ortega y Gassett and even better the symbolic interactionists who looked at how people create the meanings with which they make sense out of the world. For political science types, read Quincy Wright's Study Of War in which he looks at the symbolic roots of warring. For literary types, read Joan Dideon's The White Album's first page: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."

The point: facts, like objects, are real; how they are interpreted and used is a construction, part individual and part social (and political).

A quote attributed to George Orwell seems to say it all: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth in a revolutionary Act."

Time we become revolutionaries.

Andrew Norman > kathden

Bruno Latour had the courage to critically examine the overall thrust of his work in science studies, and admit that it might have actually been a mistake to reflexively assume that any claim to objective knowledge is the real enemy. He now has the courage to admit that the postmodern relativism he long championed is (along with religious dogmatism) an enormous threat to genuine, accountable inquiry. That is the import of McIntyre's quote from Latour, and Kathden would do well to emulate Latour's courage. It is not McIntyre's treatment of the subject, but Kathden's dismissal of it, that is naive.

Thomas Edward Wictor > Andrew Norman

Why should we celebrate the "courage" of people who now admit that their incredibly stupid, destructive ideas are incredibly stupid and destructive?

... ... ...

[May 26, 2015] Scientific Collaboration, Then and Now

May 25, 2015 |

To the Editor:

"The Greatest Generation of Scientists," by Joe Nocera (column, May 16), was a wonderful celebration of the life of Alexander Rich, one of the founders of molecular biology — and my colleague since I joined M.I.T.'s biology faculty 25 years ago. There was only one false note: Mr. Nocera's assertion that today's molecular biologists no longer collaborate and share information.

Many counterexamples show that collaboration is getting stronger, not weaker. In the 1990s, the Human Genome Project involved scientists across six countries making their data freely available to the world every day. More recently, scientists from 20 countries last year cracked open the genetic basis of schizophrenia by sharing DNA samples from 150,000 patients and controls.

With breathtaking advances in biomedical technology, young scientists know that they could be the generation that turns the tide against cancer, mental illness and other diseases — but only if they work together and share data. They are inspired by the beauty of biology and a sense of mission to transform human health; they're not so different from Alex Rich.


Cambridge, Mass.

The writer is director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard and co-chairman of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

To the Editor:

Joe Nocera describes biomedical research today as easy compared with the second half of the 20th century because of the handing out of grants by the government, but less collaborative and more competitive because of the push to become famous and rich instead of just enjoying the thrill of discovery.

But James Watson in "The Double Helix" portrays the cutthroat side of the "greatest generation" of scientists, whose world was far from idyllic. Today research funding is becoming more and more dependent upon the promise of short-term practical and financial returns.

Basic research is often labeled a little pejoratively as "curiosity-driven" research, which our society can no longer afford to indulge, and a career in basic research is becoming increasingly difficult to pull off. Our world is built upon the work of the scientists of the past, and this situation does not bode well for our future.


Edmonton, Alberta

The writer is professor emeritus of cell biology at the University of Alberta.

To the Editor:

"The Greatest Generation of Scientists" recounts the passing of Alexander Rich, and with him a golden age of science. Dr. Rich and his colleagues made monumental discoveries about nucleic acid structure and function.

As we recognize that unique period of scientific exploration, two truths also deserve acknowledgment. One is that those highest echelons of science often excluded women, as well as international scientists not based in Britain or the United States.

The other truth is that funding for science remains challenging. Contrary to Mr. Nocera's assertion, today our federal government does not freely "hand out grants to scientists." Thanks to congressional budget stagnation, federal funding for basic scientific exploration is at an all-time low.

The low rates of grant success drive current and future generations of scientists away from academic science careers.

As we honor the contributions of Dr. Rich and his peers, idealization of scientific pursuit should extend neither to the past nor to the present. Fundamental science remains a hard row to hoe.


New York

The writer is a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center.

To the Editor:

Joe Nocera's gallery of pioneering biologists should have included Rosalind Franklin, the scientist whom many consider having been deprived of credit along with Francis Crick and James Watson for the DNA discovery, for which they won the Nobel Prize in 1962 (Dr. Franklin died in 1958 and was therefore not eligible for the prize).

Dr. Franklin, who was patronized by many male colleagues throughout her career, provided advances in X-ray crystallography essential to the DNA discovery.


New York

[May 15, 2015] Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth

May 15, 2015 | Economist's View

Paul Romer:

My Paper "Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth": I have a new paper in the Papers and Proceedings Volume of the AER that is out in print and on the AER website. A short version of the supporting appendix is available here. It should eventually be available on the AER website but has not been posted yet. A longer version with more details behind the calculations is available here.

The point of the paper is that if we want economics to be a science, we have to recognize that it is not ok for macroeconomists to hole up in separate camps, one that supports its version of the geocentric model of the solar system and another that supports the heliocentric model. As scientists, we have to hold ourselves to a standard that requires us to reach a consensus about which model is right, and then to move on to other questions.

The alternative to science is academic politics, where persistent disagreement is encouraged as a way to create distinctive sub-group identities.

The usual way to protect a scientific discussion from the factionalism of academic politics is to exclude people who opt out of the norms of science. The challenge lies in knowing how to identify them.

From my paper:

The style that I am calling mathiness lets academic politics masquerade as science. Like mathematical theory, mathiness uses a mixture of words and symbols, but instead of making tight links, it leaves ample room for slippage between statements in natural versus formal language and between statements with theoretical as opposed to empirical content.

Persistent disagreement is a sign that some of the participants in a discussion are not committed to the norms of science. Mathiness is a symptom of this deeper problem, but one that is particularly damaging because it can generate a broad backlash against the genuine mathematical theory that it mimics. If the participants in a discussion are committed to science, mathematical theory can encourage a unique clarity and precision in both reasoning and communication. It would be a serious setback for our discipline if economists lose their commitment to careful mathematical reasoning.

I focus on mathiness in growth models because growth is the field I know best, one that gave me a chance to observe closely the behavior I describe. ...

The goal in starting this discussion is to ensure that economics is a science that makes progress toward truth. ... Science is the most important human accomplishment. An investment in science can offer a higher social rate of return than any other a person can make. It would be tragic if economists did not stay current on the periodic maintenance needed to protect our shared norms of science from infection by the norms of politics.

[I cut quite a bit -- see the full post for more.]

Sandwichman said...

Ceteris paribus, mathiness is only the symptom of a deeper, long-standing disconnect between ideology and pretense.

Sandwichman said in reply to anne...

Yep, Syaloch got my drift. When push comes to shove, economists' ideological priors trump. Not that there is anything wrong with having convictions. It's fine to have convictions.

The problem arises with the methodological bobbing and weaving that goes on when the evidence doesn't confirm those convictions. ANY evidence can be made to fit ANY theory if you're willing to play fast and loose enough with weasel words and cherry-picked evidence. Even if somebody proves you wrong, just stonewall and pretend nothing happened.

I'll have to take another look at just what Romer has to say lately about growth theory. Last time I looked, I objected to the absence of "land" [i.e., natural resources] in his canonical 1986 article, "Increasing Returns and Long-Run Growth."

In my book, one element of "land" is the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb greenhouse gases. They're not making any more atmosphere.

"Growth" is a stock/flow question. The standard analysis equates growing income with growth, which is wrong at a very fundamental systems conceptual level. See the work of Booth-Sweeney and Sterman. If the "outflow" of nature services exceeds the inflow of produced goods and services then there hasn't been growth.

Is Romer up to speed on bathtub dynamics?

mulp said in reply to Roger Gathmann...

Capitalism is required to explain economics just as matter is required to explain nature. And like nature now explains matter as just energy in another state, capital is labor in a different state, and one can produce energy from matter and produce work from capital.

Energy in matter gets locked up and "owned" by individual bits of matter, just as labor locked up in capital is "owned" by an agent of the economy.

Free lunch economists have tried to redefine nature (no human caused climate change) and capitalism: I own a gun which is capital which entitle me to take money from you: your money or your life! The Islamic State qualifies under free lunch economics as capitalists - they have capital they use to make money and take capital which they sell to pay gunman to take more capital. I don't see a fundamental difference between coal mine operators and Islamic State.

anne said...

May 15, 2015

Podemos and the Economic Future of Spain
How Should Economics be Taught?

Interview by students at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics:

Q. There is little doubt that neoclassical economics has contributed to a very large extent to the study of economics and social sciences. Nevertheless, it seems that this neoclassical school of thought has monopolized the economic syllabus in top Universities around the United States and Europe, leaving alternative economic perspectives ignored.

You suggest in a number of articles that many of the economic policies that are being implemented currently in Europe come from specific power relations within the Eurozone (European Central Bank and the IMF against antiausterity movements in Greece, Spain, etc.). In relation to the study of economics, how does the lack of teaching about institutions and politics in the economic curriculum, as well as the lack of debate against the foundations of neoclassical theories are limiting our understanding of today's economic and political scene?

Navarro: One of the major problems we encounter in the production of economic knowledge is its excessive disciplinary approach. Actually, the academic institutions are usually divided by departments based on disciplines, one of them being economics. The reality that surrounds us, however, cannot be understood following the disciplinary approach. The understanding of our realities, including the economic ones, calls for a multidisciplinary analysis, with the understandings of the historical, political and social forces that shape and determine that reality. In order to understand the current Great Recession, for example, we have to understand how power—class power, race power, gender power, national power—is produced and reproduced through political institutions, as well as social and cultural ones. In other words, we have to comprehend how power relations shape the governance of our societies, including their economies.

The current economics, for the most part, do not do that. They specialize in branches of the tree without understanding, or even less, questioning, the nature of the forest. Moreover, they have given great emphasis to the methods, depoliticizing the realities of the economic phenomenon. Today, modern economics is used as a way of confusing and/or ignoring the political realities that shape the economy. Currently, most of the major economic problems we face are basically political.

You cannot understand, for example, the current crisis in Europe without understanding the decline of labor income, and, thus, of domestic demand; this is the result of the changing power relations—primarily class power relations—that have occurred in the last thirty years. You can also not explain the crisis without understanding the enormous influence of financial capital on the European Central Bank. To try to explain reality by referring to the working of the financial markets as a point of departure is profoundly wrong and naïve. Financial markets have very little to do with markets. It was enough for Mario Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank, to speak a sentence, to reduce the interest rates dramatically.

The absence of the study of the political and social context, determined historically, makes current economics an apologetic message for current power relations, mystifying, hiding, and/or confusing the understanding of the economic phenomena. It is not surprising, therefore, that the critical traditions within economies are completely ignored or marginalized. It is predictable that current economists did not perceive the arrival of the current recession, which is a Great Depression for millions of Europeans. Only analysts from critical traditions were able to predict it. And we did it....

Vincent Navarro is professor of Public and Social Policy in The John Hopkins University USA and the Pompeu Fabra University Catalonia, Spain and also the Director of the JHU-UPF Public Policy Center in Barcelona, Spain.

mulp said in reply to anne...

"You cannot understand, for example, the current crisis in Europe without understanding the decline of labor income, and, thus, of domestic demand; this is the result of the changing power relations—primarily class power relations—that have occurred in the last thirty years."

So, Navarro is saying that the class power struggle has been about reducing GDP.

Presumably the people with the power, the corporations, want lower and lower GDP.

And conversely, the masses are blindly seeking exponential growth in GDP.

For this to be false, the Navarro is a free lunch economist in believing that it is rational to believe that slashing wages will lead to higher GDP growth instead of sharp decline in GDP.

From "You cannot understand, for example, the current crisis in Europe without understanding the decline of labor income, and, thus, of domestic demand..." it is clear that profits are causing recession and economics must return to the 60s when economists called profits a sign the economy want inefficient, not working, reducing welfare.

[Mar 12, 2015] The Rape of the American Mind
"He who dictates and formulates the words and phrases we use, he who is master of the press and radio, is master of the mind. Repeat mechanically your assumptions and suggestions, diminish the opportunity for communicating dissent and opposition. This is the formula for political conditioning of the masses.

The big lie and monotonously repeated nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason.

The continual intrusion into our minds of the hammering noises of arguments and propaganda can lead to two kinds of reactions. It may lead to apathy and indifference, the I-dont-care reaction, or to a more intensified desire to study and to understand. Unfortunately, the first reaction is the more popular one. Confusing a targeted audience is one of the necessary ingredients for effective mind control."

Joost Meerloo, The Rape of the Mind

There is going to be another financial crisis within the next two years, and it will be global, and it may be much more consequential than the other two or three we have seen since the Fed embarked on this course of its long and checkered career.

It is also avoidable, and in their quiet, private moments the really good economists can see it coming. Why don't they say anything? Ennui of the bureaucrat, entropy of an inability to change, and the credibility trap of failed ideologies in a failing empire.

They did not get to where they are by 'rocking the boat.' And so they will be quiet, unless they see some advantage in it for them, most ordinarily in a pay for say.

Not so for the financiers and their minions. They will not be quiet, alas. The more badly they behave, the louder they seem to become.

They are short term, and almost infantile in the self-centered reasoning. Although a child is limited by lack of faculty and experience, the speculator is hampered by vanity, a self-imposed lack of human development, and an almost obsessive preoccupation with drinking, favorite objects, and teats.

They see something and they want it, they know only what they can feel in the desire of the moment, morally they are undeveloped, and when they make a mess they cry loudly, until an adult comes to clean it up for them. But unlike a child they have no gratitude, no sense of their own dependency, or natural affection for others.

Have a pleasant evening

[Feb 02, 2015] Postmodernism and the Assault on Truth

Sep 20, 2007 | Good Reason

Logic. I began with a look at the history of logic. The ancient Greek philosophers known as Sophists would argue for or against any case for money. Socrates questioned whether people really understood what they were saying, by asking them to define what they meant by a particular concept and then showing that their assumptions led to unwelcome conclusions. Aristotle was the first to develop definite principles of logic. They depend on words having definite meanings.

One of the great achievements of the ancient Greeks was Euclid's Elements which synthesised the geometrical knowledge of the time by stating clear initial assumptions and deducing complex geometrical theorems by simple logical steps. This was an important advance in science. Archimedes to some extent added the further element of experiment, needed for scientific progress, in his engineering work. This however, with power shifting to the Romans who were not theoretically minded, and with the rise of Christian and Islamic religion, was not followed up until the Renaissance some 1500 years later.

The scientific revolution associated with such figures as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes and Newton depended on Aristotelian logic and Euclidean geometry, enhanced by new mathematical methods, like coordinates and calculus and was very sucessful in physics.

Dialectic. However, there were problems applying the same methods to people and society. Philosophers such as Fichter and Hegel, working around 1800, developed a new scheme of logic known as Dialectic for this purpose. Dialectic is supposed to proceed by a process of analysis into thesis and antithesis leading to synthesis. This way of thinking was influential on Marx, Engels and others.

In the twentieth century something seems to have gone wrong with the dialectic approach. Philosophers lost sight of the pursuit of truth. Perhaps it is inherent in the idea of dialectic itself.

Public Relations and Propaganda. The first world war saw the development of PR and propaganda. Woodrow Wilson who had promised not to get the US involved in the war was forced to change his mind, and set up a panel (the Creel Committee) involving journalists Walter Lippmann and Ivy Lee, to explain this turn-abount to the electorate. These people developed the ideas of Public Relations. Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, wrote two influential books The Engineering of Consent which sought to use insights from psychology and sociology to manipulate public opinion, and Propaganda which saw the conscious manipulation of information as an important element in government. Needless to say this was a significant influence on Joseph Goebbels, among many others. National Socialism (ostensibly left-wing) was also fascism (right-wing). George Orwell's 'Newspeak' in his novel 1984 satirised the soviet communist propaganda methods of Stalin.

Postmodernism. Based on the German philosophers Friedrich Nietsche (1844 - 1900), Max Weber (1864 - 1920) and Martin Heidegger (1889 - 1970), postmodernism and other related isms such as Social Constructivism, were developed mainly by a series of French writers: Paul Ricoeur (1913 - ), Roland Barthes (1913 - 1980), Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924 - 1998), Jean Baudrillard (1929 - ) and Jacques Derrida (1930 - 2004). They raised the supposed difficulty of finding a 'privileged position' from which the 'real meaning' of a text or culture can be discovered. Social constructivism holds that truth is constructed by social processes, and is in part shaped by the power struggles within a community. It is believed that concepts like race, sexuality and gender are socially constructed.

Jacques Derrida (1930 - 2004) is associated with the idea of deconstruction. When asked to define it he stated (1983): "I have no simple and formalisable response to this question. All my essays are attempts to have it out with this formidable question". The University of Cambridge (1992) awarded Derrida an honorary doctorate, despite opposition from members of its philosophy faculty and a letter of protest signed by 18 professors from other institutions. They claimed Derrida's work "does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigour" and described it as being composed of "tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dadaists". He tries to give an appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical (Searl 1994).

The Sokal Hoax. In 1996 Alan Sokal, professor of physics at New York University, submitted a paper to the postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text published by Duke University. It's title was "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity". On the day of publication Sokal announced in another magazine that the article was a hoax, calling his paper "a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense" which was "structured around the silliest quotations I could find about mathematics and physics" made by humanities academics. This publication won the journal the 1996 IgNobel Prize for literature.

Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont subsequently (1998) published a book on Intellectual Impostures. It was memorably reviewed by Richard Dawkins (reprinted in A Devil's Chaplain). In that he wrote (p.147): "You can buy any number of books on 'quantum healing', not to mention quantum psychology, quantum responsibility, quantum morality, quantum aesthetics, quantum immortality and quantum theology. I heven't found a book on quantum feminism, quantum financial management or Afro-quantum theory, but give it time." Lo and behold! Carolyn G. Guertin, Senior McLuhan Fellow, University of Toronto, duly obliged with "Quantum Feminist Mnemotechnics: The Archival Text, Digital Narrative and the Limits of Memory". Another book attacking postmodernism is Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom.

The Postmodernism Generator. Sokal noted that, in addition to numerous half-truths, falsehoods and non sequiturs, his original article contained some "syntactically correct sentences that have no meaning whatsoever". He regretted not having the knack of writing more of these. Thanks to Andrew C. Bulhak who programmed a postmodernism generator he could now use a computer to generate such sentences at will. Every time you visit the site it will generate for you a new postmodern discourse.

Enemies of Truth. Another current practitioner of postmodernism is Steve Fuller, Professor of Social Science at Warwick University, who has used it to support claims of 'intelligent design' to be scientific. Alan Munslow says "The past is not discovered or found. It is created and represented by the historian as text". Keith Jenkins believes that "history is just ideology". Hans Kellner complains that historians "routinely behave as though their researches were into the past. ... The past is unknowable; all we can know about is historians' writings". Of course it is right to say that we can never know the whole truth about anything in the past, but it does not follow that there is no such thing as the truth at all.

[Jan 15, 2015] Reactionary postmodernism

Sep 27, 2012 }

There's one thing not happening today which should be. People are not ridiculing Nick Clegg, at least no more so than usual. But they should be, because one part at least of his speech yesterday was downright stupid:

Who suffers most when governments go bust? When they can no longer pay salaries, benefits and pensions? Not the bankers and the hedge fund managers, that's for sure. No, it would be the poor...

Of course, this is plain wrong. In countries with their own central banks, governments cannot go bust because the central bank can simply print money to buy government debt: this is what QE is. Of course, this might or might not be a bad idea. But Clegg didn't argue this. He just made a prat of himself.

However, my point is not to condemn Clegg; I'll not flog that dead horse. Instead, it's to note that the MSM seem to have ignored this. His speech was reported with the usual post-conference bromides rather than along the lines of "Deputy Prime Minister shows himself to be crass idiot."

There are two things going on here.

First, the Overton window has shifted so far away from rational policy discussion that blatant falsehoods not only do not provoke the derision they deserve, but actually go unchallenged.

Secondly, this is another example of fact-free politics. Despite Edward Docx's obituary last year, postmodernism is alive and well.

Which brings me to what's really troubling about Clegg's remark.Docx claims that postmodernism was a good thing because:

Once you are in the business of challenging the dominant discourse, you are also in the business of giving hitherto marginalised and subordinate groups their voice.

The fact that Clegg can get away with errant nonsense challenges this optimism. In a postmodern world in which all all discourses are equally valid regardless of their truth-value, the claims of the ruling class are not exposed for the lies and imbecilities they are. Postmodernism as it actually exists - that is, with a supine media - thus helps to serve a reactionary function.

[Jan 15, 2015] Fact-free politics

But my impression is that "fact free" politics is really a cover for an unwillingness to discuss the available facts, because they are unpleasant, as they relate to nasty self interest and distributional issues.

Sep 24, 2012 |
Chris Skidmore, one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, says:

People aren't interested in looking at medians and graphs. We have a duty to try and broaden that message outside of the think tank zone.

I don't know what to make of this. It could be that Skidmore is recommending that politicians use social science in the way Paul Krugman urges economists to use maths - you base your policy upon it, but then find a way of advocating the policy in more populist language.

Sadly, though, it is not at all obvious that Britannia Unchained's authors are using this reasonable approach. They seem instead to have skipped the science and evidence and gone straight to the populism.

This suggests an unkinder interpretation - that Skidmore thinks formal science has no place in politics. What matters is what sells, not what's right.

The problem here is that there is no strong obstacle to this descent into post-modern politics. The anti-scientific culture of our mainstream media means they will not call politicians out on their abuse of facts, unless the abuser is not in their tribe - as Jonathan complained in noting the press's reaction to Britannia Unchained.

But does this matter? In one sense, maybe not. Expert support and empirical evidence does not guarantee that a policy will be a success - though I suspect it improves the odds.

Instead, what worries me is that this threatens to further corrode the standard of political discourse. Fact-free politics need not be the sole preserve of the right; some of my readers will have the name of Richard Murphy in their minds. And if we go down this road, we'll end up with one tribe thinking the poor are all scroungers and the other thinking our economic problem can be solved by a crackdown on tax dodging. And the two tribes will just be throwing insults at each other. And there's a few of us who think this would be dull.

BenSix | September 22, 2012 at 12:09 PM

I don't think that's what Skidmore's saying but nor do I think that what he's saying is any less silly. He replies to charges of slipshod research and laziness by saying...
"'s a 116-page book, there's 433 footnotes to it."

I see this a lot: the implicit claim that the merit of work can be judged by the amount of references that it contains. Yet that says nothing about the quality of its research or interpretation. I could argue that I'm God and add 433 footnotes that reference self-published blogposts in which I proclaim that I'm a deity but it wouldn't make it a work of scholarship.

Chris | September 22, 2012 at 10:05 PM

"Fact-free politics need not be the sole preserve of the right"
They need not be, but they are.

Blissex | September 23, 2012 at 12:47 PM

Continuing my previous comment on voter hypocrisy, yes there are many voters who consider politics a spectator sport, a source of entertainment, just like news.

But my impression is that "fact free" politics is really a cover for an unwillingness to discuss the available facts, because they are unpleasant, as they relate to nasty self interest and distributional issues.

Politics thus may be fact free because the facts cannot be be discussed in a politically correct way, and therefore dog whistling abounds.

It is not a question of tribes, but of interests, even if these interests relate fairly directly to culture and in particular theology (most "culture" is the corrupted legacy of some dead theologian).

Consider this quote:

"When I was at university, a one-time very senior Tory figure put it succinctly at an off-the-record gathering: the Conservative Party, he explained, was a "coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to just enough other people"."

Sam | September 24, 2012 at 05:31 PM

But my impression is that "fact free" politics is really a cover for an unwillingness to discuss the available facts, because they are unpleasant, as they relate to nasty self interest and distributional issues.

Perhaps. It could also be that looking at the facts will force you to realize that your simplistic 1D-model of how things work doesn't actually fit the available data.

[Jan 11, 2015] Links for 01-11-15

Economist's View

anne -> anne...

Milton Friedman lived till 2006 and was intellectually active till then, writing an essay for the Wall Street Journal advising the privatizing of the New Orleans schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A typical application of "shock doctrine" policy for New Orleans.

I know of no instance in which Milton Friedman criticized conservative economic thinking from the 1980s to 2000s, and would be interested to learn of any instance.

anne -> anne...

September 9, 2007

The Shock Doctrine
By Naomi Klein - Guardian

One of those who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was the late Milton Friedman, grand guru of unfettered capitalism and credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hyper-mobile global economy. Ninety-three years old and in failing health, "Uncle Miltie", as he was known to his followers, found the strength to write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal three months after the levees broke. "Most New Orleans schools are in ruins," Friedman observed, "as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity."

Friedman's radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans' existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions.

In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans' school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools....

Privatising the school system of a mid-size American city may seem a modest preoccupation for the man hailed as the most influential economist of the past half century. Yet his determination to exploit the crisis in New Orleans to advance a fundamentalist version of capitalism was also an oddly fitting farewell. For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock.

In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism's core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as "the shock doctrine". He observed that "only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change". When that crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters; Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas. And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the "tyranny of the status quo". A variation on Machiavelli's advice that "injuries" should be inflicted "all at once", this is one of Friedman's most lasting legacies....

[Jan 11, 2015] Where Are The Friedmans Of Yesteryear

Compared to Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore are employees of Bernie Madoff selling a free lunch ponzie scheme that keeps drawing paying customers. Laffer and Moore take no risk in selling therapuetic economics to the believers of tax cut magic. The believers take no risk because the losses are shifted from them to the public. Laffer and Moore never go to jail because their bosses never goes to jail as the ponzie scheme rolls on. Even Milton Friedman would out them as voodoo tax fraud criminals.

January 10, 2015 |

I never got around to commenting on the infamous Economist list of influential economists; they've been given plenty of deserved grief, to which I needn't add. But I think I might have something useful to say about a fact that is really unmistakable when you look at a list corrected by removing central bankers, or make a more subjective judgment: these days, the economist as public intellectual is overwhelmingly likely to be a liberal.

As Noah Smith says, it was not always thus. He argues that the field of economics has changed, with greater emphasis on market failures, and there's arguably something to that. I'd also argue that the descent of right-leaning macroeconomics into hermetic absurdity matters quite a lot, because macro looms larger in the public sphere than it does within the academy.

But there's another important factor. Modern conservatism doesn't have Friedman-like figures — people who would be prominent economists thanks to their research whatever their politics, who are also public intellectuals– because it doesn't want them. The movement prefers hacks, who needn't be even minimally competent but can be counted on to defend the party line without any risk of taking an independent stand.

Let me offer my own two short subjective lists. I think if you were going to name the two current econoheroes of U.S. liberals they would probably be Joe Stiglitz and yours truly. (Thomas Piketty has made a huge and well-deserved splash, but so far only on one issue.) The thing that is obvious about Joe is that before becoming a public figure with a political following he established his reputation with vast amounts of widely cited academic research; you can get a sense of what he did by looking at his top entries on Google Scholar. And here are mine.

Now, who would be the conservative counterparts? Who gets cited by, say, Republican governors seeking authority for their tax cuts, or published on a regular basis on conservative opinion pages? I'd say Stephen Moore and Arthur Laffer. No point in looking them up on Google Scholar, although Laffer does show up, marginally, for a 1971 paper co-authored with Eugene Fama.

And it's not as if Moore and Laffer are guys who may lack academic cred but have proved themselves as working analysts. On the contrary, they're guys who can't even cook numbers without screwing up, who have spent years telling us to get ready for soaring interest and inflation rates. But it doesn't matter; being right is not what they're paid for.

So in trying to understand where the Milton Friedmans of yore have gone, you want to look at the demand side. The right lacks heavyweight economists with independent reputations partly because they are hard to find, but also because it doesn't want them. Only hacks need apply.

Mark Thomason, Clawson, MI

"Modern conservatism doesn't have Friedman-like figures — people who would be prominent economists thanks to their research whatever their politics, who are also public intellectuals– because it doesn't want them. The movement prefers hacks, who needn't be even minimally competent but can be counted on to defend the party line"

That is very true.

It is true in more than just economics. We have people commenting on nuclear arms and war who have no qualifications except that they will say what conservatives want to hear. They want wars. The make stuff up to get wars. They did in Iraq, and they are still doing it.

Our own economic future would be much improved if we find an answer to this behavior. That future would be much improved by reduction of war and rumors of war if we did the same in other fields.

The conservative worship of ignorance and conformity is doing a vast amount of harm in all fields. It is triumphant just now. It is tearing down what has been best of America for Americans.

Steve Bolger, New York City 8 hours

Someday there may be a Nobel Prize for the economist who can explain why the Federal Reserve Bank cannot fulfill a dual mandate to maintain a constant currency value and full employment at the same time with monetary policy alone, but apparently the whole idea is unmentionable now, as was Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift in geophysics back in the 1950s.

LG Phillips, California 9

These very different descriptions of "reality" coming from a well known liberal and a well known conservative may correspondingly apply to understanding the difference between liberal and conservative economists:

"Reality has a liberal bias." - Stephen Colbert

"[T]he reality-based community..believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. " - Karl Rove

In other worlds, liberals delve in real reality (aka empiricism), while conservatives delve in virtual reality (aka megalomaniacal fantasy).

Jason, Down

The friedmanites need to go the way of the community it's when it comes to discoveries. MMT will allow us; in my and others beliefs too.

We can aim much closer to full employment than currently simply by using the money making qualities of sovereign fiat countries i.e. those that print their own notes and keep debts in that currency as much as possible! Including private debts keep them in your own currency as much as possible.

Combine that with inflation control, appropriate independence from the government of the day to override the fundamental principals: a mission in itself I imagine.

QED We wont need austerity ever again!

Oh and we could then invest in science and education again and actually help each other. That's also a hard part I admit but if we can empower the international institutions that bush II prostituted to the monied elites in the 1%'s. Anyways I digress...

I suggest start here for an amazing summary in the guardian:

Repeat after me: the Australian economy is not like a household budget

Also bill Mitchell's blog for more theory:

If you are down under then please support the Australian progressives for fact based and science respecting government policy.

Jerry Hough, Durham, NC

Actually, the leading liberal public economist is Joseph Stigllitz. The leading conservative economist is Paul Krugman, with the even more conservative Larry Summers is a close second.

Krugman is a strong partisan of the Obama Administration and it is totally dominated by Wall Street, mainly Citigroup and Robert Rubin. The Sect of Treasury Jack Law was in charge of the riskiest (alternative) investments at Citi in the crash.The de facto head of the Fed, first dep chair Stanley Fischer, was a VP of Citigroup. The head of the National Economic Council (Summers old job) is Jeffrey Zients. a top investment banker who came out of Bain. The Undersect of Treasury for Foreign Economic Policy is Nathans Sheets, previously Global Head of Foreign Economics at Citi. The nominee for Undersect for Domestic Policy is opposed by Elizabeth Warren because of a similar background. The Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers is Jason Furman, long close to Rubin.

There are differences within the group.Fischer and Rubin are worry about a stock bubble while Krugman prefers a continuation of zero rates to keep the market going. Many do not want higher taxes on the top .1 of 1%, but even Krugman never proposes a concrete tax on, e.g., hedge fund operators.

Krugman is a respectable conservative, unlike the crazies, but basically he represents the economic interests of the NY Times owners.

Naturally he favors the conservative Hillary over the more liberal Nixon Republican Warren.

joel, oakland

Jerry, please cite PK's "favoring" Hillary over Warren. I don't recall reading anything about it. Yes, he favored Hillary over what he perceived as a conservative Obama, back in 07-08. Your decades of Kremlin watching, assuming that everything that mattered was said between the lines, appears to make you think that PK must be similarly scrutinized to understand his agenda.

His agenda seems pretty clear to me: the country's so deeply polarized, that until one side or the other knocks the other one out for the count, not much other than posturing will get done; meanwhile the plutocrats (who thrive on the polarization) continue to keep a firm grip on the levers of power. Like you, however, he's also a contrarian of sorts, and he didn't go with crowd to crown Obama the king of liberalism, nor has he gone along with the notion that Obama has no interest in any progressive agenda items. Too bad the Dems didn't follow his lead last election.

My reading is that he doesn't bother much with policy details in the US because political gridlock is here for the foreseeable future, so why waste column inches?

As for low fed interest rates, their main beneficial effect has been to keep at bay the powers that want to raise rates, so that the ultra wealthy can better live on the interest on their interest, while the higher rates on mortgages, car loans, home equity loans, etc send us back into recession, lower wages, and further reduced demand, as per Europe. That's a fight going on now.

Thomas M. Cole JD, Montecito CA

Well said. The financial class funds economists that agree with them. Here in agreement is PK urging debt as prosperity.

j.l, overseas

I agree with the comments on right wing economists making money.

Liberal thinking sees the movement of money as to the public good, which then requires highly educated specialists when dealing with huge market economies. Hence liberal economists.

Conservatives see the economy for personal gain, so all of their geniuses aren't writing papers to prove their integrity and worth. They are making money.

A good liberal economist, of course, could point out how the making of money by a few damages the public good, which is how I profit by reading Krugman's columns. Thank you, Mr. Krugman.

Steve Bolger, New York City

There evidently isn't much academic demand for economists who advocate limiting wealth concentration, probably because most university endowments are funded from concentrated wealth.

David, San Francisco, Calif.

Barry Goldwater conservatives embraced Milton Friedman economists because both wanted to lead the nation to a better place for the greater good of the country.

They were men of integrity. I didn't usually agree with them but I respected their views. On occasion they informed my views. On occasion they embraced the views I held.

Today's conservative movement is an unholy alliance of for-profit religious fervor and a movement to protect the monied interests for the benefit of the few.

Barry Goldwater foresaw the decline of the Republican party in his lifetime:

"When you say "radical right" today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye. -Barry Goldwater

It is funded by the Koch brothers, who have convinced the poor white uneducated masses in the South to vote for their religious and racial biases over their family's economic interests.

The Republican party is run by tacticians who don't want a better economic system for the benefit of the country.

Their masters are few and they are well paid to betray the nation for the oligopoly.

Since you can't fool all the people all the time they focus on suppressing the vote and gerrymandering what is left with the help of a partisan 5-4 Supreme Court.

They don't want or need true scholars since they don't run campaign on facts to informed voters.

Andrew, Portland

The one issue where conservatives talk about market failures is with finance, but its always about "government interference" at the macro level. Turn over a few rocks and you get conservatives extending their populist arguments to discussions about Wall Street, but in both cases it's just an entré into LaRoucheite cryptofascism.

There's no courage on their side about the global epidemic of market failures in physical product markets, no courage about market failures in labor markets, no courage about market failures that degrade democratic sovereignty, nothing. It's purely a bunch of coded dog whistling to try to maintain solidarity with angry white dudes. And that demographic eat it up because they refuse to vote their own economic interests. For 99.9 percent of people, voting their own interests might mean that someone they don't like would get the help they need to fully participate in society.

The fetish for cruelty among the right was only ever moderated by the backlash against things like Nazism, the Klan, or the right-wing elements of the governments of people like Stalin. When that fades, they always go back to obsessing over bringing back cruelty to society.

jmc, Stamford

Your reference to "the fetish for cruelty" is dead on, but I might argue with "only ever moderated by the backlash" to inject "only ever moderated by their fear of the backlash against" the various manifestations.

But your point is right - and thoughtful. The conservatives have been for more than a century little more than reactionaries who sought and seek to turn back the clock on any form of social or economic progress.

Whether tis TR or FDR, Truman or even Ike, their direction always runs backwards and to the benefit of the few at the expense of the nation.

As you say, they are obsessed "over bringing back cruelty to society."

mshea29120, Boston, MA

Those folks who only view human activity with a detached eye on the numbers - those gauges detailing personal profit - don't really have an interest in whether or not their actions are cruel.

But if encouraging society to fragment into multiple groups and pitting those groups against each other is such an effective way to turn a profit, there will always be people enthused about doing just that. And it's easiest to do when the majority of people are having a hard time surviving.

The idea of "cruel" doesn't really occur to them.

The idea of "proactive assertion and savvy strategic positioning" might.

JaaaaayCeeeee, Palo Alto, ca

If hack economists funded by Republicans were our big problem, Democrats arguing for technocrats would have won since Michael Dukakis. Economists like Stephen Moore or Art Laffer are just cleverer than Rick Santorum, who told values voters in 2012, "We will never have the elite smart people on our side, because they believe they should have the power to tell you what to do."

Much cleverer are Larry Summers, spokesmen for the best funded pols, and reporters clever enough to find narratives that ignore our most urgent problems and that ignore evidence (or at least crowd it out). It's not just Republicans that benefit from buying unlimited free speech, influence, regulators, hacks, and those capable of ignoring the public's needs when implementing public policy. Your hacks don't explain why voters matter only during elections.

Your own newspaper claims central banks are the policy makers responsible for stimulating economies after bubbles collapse, when even the IMF now admits deficit spending is required. 92% of voters get their information from corporate news media, which claims wage stagnation and unimproved EPOP are mysteries, that bailouts prevented another great depression, that globalization and technological progress inevitably and naturally evolve into fewer jobs at lower pay, and that sincerely held beliefs and ideology explain why there is no alternative to more austerity and voodoo economics.

GOP hacks might be less clever, but they are not our biggest problem.

Meredith, NYC

What is the link between 'reporters clever enough to find narratives that ignore our most urgent problems and that ignore evidence' ---and the huge profits reaped by US broadcasters from the campaign ad avalanche, worse every cycle, funded by check writing billionaires donors?

Is this why we see little reference to campaign finance reform in the Times or certainly not on TV? Though there are groups in various states pushing it?

Why no coverage of the senate vote against citizens United months ago?

Why no comparisons to our own past when lower cost elections weren't swamped by big money, and our lawmakers were freed up to respond to the majority needs.

And why no reporting on other countries with free campaign media and tax funded short, cheap elections? In the article on the last French election of Hollande , 1 line mentioned in passing that all candidates had free TV time mandated. That may have been the most significant item in the article.

Our reporters don't have to be told -- the pressure to conform stemming from profits does the job.

Michael O'Neill, Bandon, Oregon

It seems likely the right has no chance of finding another Milton Friedman simply because it was Rose Friedman (née Director) who really made the man.

I think it rather rude to call people hacks simply because they are overly proud of their limited capacity. While yes they have allowed themselves to be thrust forward and are certainly dupes they are not in fact blunt axes chopping away indiscriminately. They are not the wielders of less then sharp tools. They are in fact just tools.

The hacks are men like Mike Lee and Paul Ryan who should have the decency to follow their glib statements that they are "not scientists" with a like utterance that they are "not economists".


Too bad the hacks are winning.

It's not like economic academic research garners a lot or respect outside the closed community of mainstream economists. That's probably because it's pretty much nothing more than a minor sub-field of mathematics where equations that have little to do with the reality of the economic world we live in are manipulated. To keep up appearances, some attempt to add another epicycle every once in a while so that from the outside looking in it doesn't look so ridiculous. Just sayin'.

Economist's View 'More Piling On Cochrane'

Barkley Rosser:
More Piling On Cochrane: Why He Cannot Go Back To Being Taken Seriously Even About Asset Pricing: Oh, I cannot resist. Since his effort to dump on Keynesians in the WSJ, lots of people have been piling on John Cochrane, showing that nearly all his claims are not only laughingly bogus, but seriously unsupported even in his own column, such as failing even to mention a single supposedly Keynesian economist who forecast a return to recession as a result of budget sequestration, a centerpiece of his embarrassing column. A sampling can be found Mark Thoma's links for today at economistsview, sort of a Christmas Eve special.
In any case, what caught my attention and is pushing me into the piling on as well is a remark Brad DeLong made in his post at the link entitled "Cochrane ought to simply say..." He suggests that Cochrane has made such a big fool of himself out of all this that he should just go back to working on asset pricing. I am going to argue that even in that arena, he has made a bit of a fool of himself and should also be ignored to some extent, even though he has a long and respectable publication record in the area.
So, what is his problem? ...

pgl said...

Cochrane does better at finance (even though Barkley has point) than he doe at macroeconomics. On the latter - he really is clueless.

pgl -> Darryl FKA Ron...

Yep - Matt not understanding that the Great Recession led to higher transfer payments. We've asked Matt many times to read E. Cary Brown's 1954 AER paper on how to measure fiscal policy. Obviously he has not bothered to read that either. Too busy babbling on and on and on and on!

Darryl FKA Ron -> pgl...

Yeah, I know but usually I just scroll on by. It's the correct thing to do. THis comment on Rosser's article after his too dumb to even be in kindergarten comment yesterday just snagged my tripwire and set me off.

Darryl FKA Ron said...

"Why He (Cochrane) Cannot Go Back To Being Taken Seriously Even About Asset Pricing"

[You cannot go BACK to where you have never been. OK, someone apparently has taken Cochrane seriously in the past. Sounds like a personal problem to me.]

pgl said...

Here is the gist of Barkley's post:

"He is one of the leading figures in finance who has simply ignored dealing seriously with the phenomenon of "fat tails," more properly known as kurtosis (or even as leptokurtosis), which are widely known to be ubiquitous in many financial time series. This is more a subject for Nassim Taleb, although he pushes things further to talk about full-blown Keynesian-Knightian uncertainty that he calls "black swans," arguing that modeling fat tails is a matter of "grey swans" because we can estimate various probability distributions that show them, and that the crash of 2008 was obviously coming, whereas true black swan uncertainty involves there being no probability distribution at all."

pgl said...

Double bonus coverage. Dave Weigel notes that not only has the price of oil been falling but so has gold and silver prices. So those of you who follow investment advice from Glenn Beck - you're broke:

But go to that clip of Mitt the Twit Romney talking about how Republicans actually wanted fiscal stimulus. Really? Oh yea - they want lots and lots of war so military Keynesianism rules.

Economist's View Links for 12-24-14

pgl said...

'I said that "Mr. Elmendorf's traditional economic views are too mainstream for those conservatives pining for the good old days of Reagan-era supply-side economics" and called him a "dead man walking" as far as his CBO position was concerned.'

Elmendorf is a Republican but he is not a Laffer Curve nutcase. We did cut taxes during the Reagan years. The deficit mushroomed, real interest rates went up substantially, and investment demand fell as a result. During the Reagan-Bush41 era, real GDP grew by 3% per year as opposed to the 3.5% growth rate for the 1947-1980 period and the 3.6% rate during the Clinton years.

Supply-side economics is junk science but thanks to the Republicans, the CBO will be just as plagued with junk science as the JCT currently is.

pgl said...

Frances Coppola calls John Cochrane the Gullible Economist:

Cochrane cites George Osborne as an economic expert? Seriously - it was one of the worst opeds ever. Coppola understands more about the UK economic performance since 2007 than Osborne and Cochrane combined. But then Osborne is not economist and one has to wonder why anyone would consider Cochrane to be one as well.

Darryl FKA Ron -> pgl...

"...But then Osborne is not economist and one has to wonder why anyone would consider Cochrane to be one as well."


Cochrane received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1986, after having obtained a B.S. in Physics from MIT in 1979 and having served as a junior economist on the Council of Economic Advisers (1984–1985). He was hired by the University of Chicago economics department in 1986 and moved to the business school in 1993.

Cochrane has served as head of the National Bureau of Economic Research asset pricing group, and was the editor of the Journal of Political Economy from 1998 to 2003. He was elected Fellow of the Econometric Society in 2001, served as vice-president of the American Finance Association in 2008, and was elected president of this learned society for the 2010 term.


From MIT physics to Berkeley economics during the Reagan years. The University of Chicago economics department to the business school in 1993. Head of the National Bureau of Economic Research **asset pricing group.** Vice-president of the American Finance Association in 2008, and was elected president of this learned society for the 2010 term.

So, what does that all add up to? Seems prepped to work at a major hedge fund or investment bank or just serve as an academic shill for Wall Street.]

pgl -> Darryl FKA Ron...

An impressive resume. So what the hell happened to him? I guess the allure of supporting the wishes of rich people warped his brain.

Roger Gathmann -> pgl...

Well, I take that resume more as an x ray of economics as a discipline during the Great Moderation, when the field's center of gravity shifted towards the far right, and neo-Keynesianism of all things became the representative of the left. CVs are, after all, documents that represent norms first, and merit second.

I like to think of the cvs of the major British physicians who, in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, were worried that British ship captains were copying the continental superstition of Dutch and Portugese sailors and stocking up on limes to prevent scurvy. This, the British establishment, well trained in humoral medicine, was useless. Bleeding, work, and vinegar were the ticket to correct humoral imbalances. David Wooton's excellent book,

"Ships' captains had an effective way of preventing scurvy, but the doctors and the ships' surgeons persuaded the captains that they did not know what they were doing, and that the doctors and surgeons (who were quite incapable of preventing scurvy) knew better. Bad knowledge drove out good. We can actually see this happening. There is no letter from a ship's surgeon to his captain telling him to leave the lemons on the dock, but we do know that the Admiralty formally asked the College of Physicians for advice on how to combat scurvy. In 1740 they recommended vinegar, which is completely ineffectual, but now became standard issue on navy ships. In 1753 Ward's Drop and Pill also became standard issue."

Standard medical history credits James Lind with being the first one to discover that lemons and limes prevented scurvy. Unfortunately, as Wooten points out, he soon retracted his advice, since he decided to treat the fruits in the best chemical fashion by boiling them, which dissipated the vitamin c, before giving them to scurvy patients. So he relapsed into advising bleeding and vinegar.
But Lind's CV was excellent. So was that of the physician to the fleet, Sir William Cockburn, who in his textbook on Sea Diseases in 1736 spotted the true cause of scurvy: laziness! Whether in economics or medicine, the upper class's intellectuals have always had a sharp eye out of the essential laziness of the peasants. Sir William advised that the disease could be cured by making the patient work harder.
I'm sure Sir William died content and believing his own bs completely. And why shouldn't he? Cochrane, with his excellent CV and his access to the higher media, will never have a reason to disbelieve his own theories, or the fact that the lower classes are incorrigibly lazy. He'll no doubt retire content with his work, and be honored by the American economics association for the huge advances he has made in our knowledge of economics. So it goes.
Incidentally, it is estimated more British sailors died of scurvy in the 18th century than died in battle. So it goes with the poor tars, too.

Julio -> Roger Gathmann...

They probably had a saying "nobody loses his job by prescribing vinegar".

Darryl FKA Ron -> pgl...

"An impressive resume."


[Not my idea of it. I like Roger's take. Cochrane's resume is expressive of his love for the rentier culture and its artifacts. Likewise it is repressive of any tendency to humanity and higher moral motives. "Seems prepped to work at a major hedge fund or investment bank or just serve as an academic shill for Wall Street" is not my idea of impressive.]

[Dec 24, 2014] Invisible Hands The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal by Kim Phillips-Fein

While this dismantling of the New Deal is at one level a perfectly rational act of capitalist self-interest, the book also illuminates its scarier, conflicted, nihilistic side. Books
Reveals the intellectual foundations of the conservative movement, May 23, 2009

"Invisible Hands" by Kim Phillips-Fein is an illuminating account of conservatism's rise from obscurity to become America's predominant ideology during the latter part of 20th century. Combining impressive scholarly research with profound insights into American culture, politics and history, Ms. Phillips-Fein's brilliant work reveals the intellectual foundations of the conservative movement as it has rarely been seen or understood before. The result is a fascinating and highly accessible book that should appeal to a wide audience of inquisitive readers.

Ms. Phillips-Fein recounts how America once perceived conservatism as a mere representation of the upper class' narrow self-interests. She recalls how the collapse of the economy during the Great Depression and its stabilization by the New Deal led to a widely-held consensus that the capitalist system required an interventionist government to function properly, if at all. In fact, the author recounts how some of the conservative-flavored political and public relations projects promoted at that time were rebuffed by a citizenry that was highly skeptical of businesspeople and valued the role of unions and government in securing their economic lives.

Interestingly, Ms. Phillips-Fein suggests that the presumption of an unassailable Keynesian worldview led to increasing levels of mathematical abstractionism in many university economics departments; whereas upstart conservative economists such as Ludwig Von Mises, Friederch Von Hayek and Milton Friedman could remain committed to an economics that retained a strong socio-political identity. Ms. Phillips-Fein shares how individuals such as Ayn Rand, William F Buckley and Billy Graham along with conservative think tanks including the American Enterprise Institute drew inspiration from the conservative economists and gained attention by defining the New Deal as a socialist threat to individual freedom. The author profiles the extraordinary carreer of Lem Boulware who is credited with architecting General Electric's effective and widely influential strategy of union busting and human resource management. While Ms. Phillips-Fein writes that the conservative political project remained unfulfilled as the voting public remained committed to the New Deal on account of its success in ensuring the nation's continued economic expansion and prosperity, she writes that the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign enabled an activist conservative constituency to make significant, long-lasting inroads into the Republican Party.

Ms. Phillips-Fein demonstrates that the convergence of social issues with conservative economics, along with the growing failures of New Deal liberalism to resolve the intractable economic crises of the 1970s, eventually led to the political ascendancy of conservatism starting with the election of Ronald Reagan to the U.S. presidency in 1980. Among the influential persons who shaped events in this period -- including Arthur Laffer, George Gilder, Joseph Coors, Jack Kemp, Justin Dart, and many others -- Jesse Helms emerges as a pivotal figure for successfully fusing the rhetoric of free markets with the politics of racial segregation, thereby winning over large numbers of southern white voters to the conservative cause. A political realignment was ultimately achieved by gaining the support of religious organizations such as the Moral Majority who leveraged white working-class discomfort with public school integration, busing and other cultural issues into a more generalized hostility against big government. Ms. Phillips-Fein suggests that the Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. administrations subsequently affirmed the conservative consensus as unions found themselves steadily losing influence and with business lobbyists increasingly shaping the legislative agenda, think tanks defining major issues in the media, and the contributions of businesspeople valued and esteemed.

Today, as we find ourselves witness to yet another financial collapse of the capitalist system and evidence of an increasingly post-racial American society marked by the election of Barack Obama, it might seem that the era of conservative politics is over. But the perspective gained from Ms. Phillips-Fein's book suggests that conservatives will continue to find audiences to market their solutions as long as economic self-interest and social anxieties persist; in this light, to underestimate the appeal of conservative ideas might well be a perilous mistake.

I highly recommend this remarkably insightful, informative and entertaining book to everyone.

Giordano Bruno

That Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, July 7, 2009

...which our former First Lady so fatuously denounced in defense of her wandering spouse, wasn't really such a flight of fancy. After all, the entire history of partisan politics in America began with the conspiracy of Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin and others which came to be known as the Democratic Republican Party. Author Kim Phillips-Fein presents detailed and thoroughly convincing evidence, in this eye-opening book, that `conspiratorial' activities among a small group of American businessmen opposed to the goals and values of New Deal liberalism succeeded, over decades, in building a political movement and "....changing the world. Long before the `culture wars' of the 1960s sparked the Republican backlash against cultural liberalism, these high-powered individuals actively resisted New Deal economics and sought to educate and organize their peers [i.e. wealthy businessmen] as a political force. They fundraised, helf conferences, supported sympathetic scholars and media outlets, founded institutes, fought unions, and recruited candidates for high office -- all with the aim of rescuing America, and their profit margins...." Author Phillips-Fein, please understand, does not mean to imply that such conspiracy is inherently malicious or misbehavior. Working for one's ideals behind the scenes is obviously a democratic right, indeed, the properest behavior of an individual in a political society. Nevertheless, a very disturbing tale is documented in this book: of deception and hypocricy; of corruption of the electoral, judicial, and legislative processes; of the ruthless use of power and money; of indifference to the welfare of ordinary people; of ideological fanaticism; of the exploitation of dangerous social divisions for political advantage; of skillfully camouflaged Class Warfare against the `lower' classes and their champions; of plutocracy in the saddle.

William Baroody? Lemuel Boulware? Ralph Cordiner, Pierre du Pont, Clarence Manion, Leonard Read, Richard Viguerie, F. Clinton White? How many of these names are familiar to most of us, and yet they were all movers and shakers of American politics without ever holding office or confronting an election.

ACU? American Conservative Union! AEA, later AEI? American Enterprise Institute! American Liberty League, Business Roundtable, Cato Institute, Committee for Economic Development, Foundation for Economic Education, Hoover Institution, J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust, Manion Forum of Opinion, Mont Pelerin Society, NAIB, NAM, NCAC, NICB, NRWC, Olin Foundation, Ripon Society, and oh yeah, the John Birch Society, let's not forget! These and many others, of transient or permanent influence, were the frontline agencies of the capitalists' crusade against New Deal liberalism. Often the directors and spokesmen they supported turned out to be the campaign managers, advisors, powers behind the thrones of elected "leaders."

This is a difficult book to review! I feel I'd need to transcribe half the text of it to do it justice. There's so much that I didn't know in it. So much that I suspected but couldn't prove! So many aha! moments of history revealed! Readers over thirty? You think you know what happened? This is a `story' you'd better read!

Let's spot a few key pages:

Page 10: In July 1934, the du Pont brothers organized the Liberty League, a "property-holders' association to disseminate information as to the dangers to investors posed by the New Deal...." which they hoped "would be able to make alliance with other organizations... that defended the Constitution, such as the American Legion and even the Ku Klux Klan."

Page 57: "The businessmen of the NAM, those who contributed to the Mont pelerin Society, the small manufacturers and retired executives and management men who resnted the power of unions -- all reacted to Eisenhower's endorsement of the basic principles and framework of the New Deal with shocked dismay. Few went as far as Robert Welch... founder of the John Birch Society, who suggested that Eisenhower was literally a communist agent..." [Sound familiar in 2009, when right wing voices are screaming that Barack Obama is another communist agent, i.e. another Eisenhower?] There is no question that a labor union is as much a `conspiracy' as the Chamber of Commerce. Blame isn't the issue here. Anti-union stances and actions have been one of the contants of the Conservative movement, and they have been painfully effective. From Eisenhower's blandly supportive stance toward unionism, to Reagan's vigorous anti-labor interventions, the Republican/conservative movement has used fair and unfair tactics, honest expression and dishonest media manipulation, to curtail the struggles of labor and the employees of America to improve their economic status.

Pages 72/73: The alignment of libertarian capitalist ideology with conservative Christian, and later fundamentalist Christian, beliefs has older, deeper roots than most people now suppose. The Mont Pelerin Society and "The Family" have interlocking visions... and donors. Here's Abraham Vereide: "There has always been one man or a small core who have caught the vision for their country and become aware of what `a leadership led by God' could mean spiritually to the nation and the world." the presidency of George W Bush would seem to have been exactly what Vereide had in mind.

Page 84/85: The author turns to the example of the Manion Forum to reveal how parallel capitalist/libertarian ideology has always run to racism, to the perverted social Darwinism that rages against "the descent of the Nation into the Marxist Welfare state." Funny isn't it, how libertarianism and eugenicism can blend in operation... Racist and rabid anti-communist Clarence Manion was one of the founders of William Buckley's National Review, while Buckley hismelf donated money to the manion Forum.

Some much material! Let's leap toward the present, to 1971:
Pages 156/165: Super-rich department store magnate Eugene Sydnor asked his lawyer friend Lewis Powell, his neighbor in Richmond VA, to write a "memorandum for the Chamber of Commerce, outlinig a thoroughgoing political strategy that the business community could use to confront" the threats of liberalism. Powell complied with a bold document titled The Attack on the Free Enterprise System, in which he denounced not only "extremists from the left [but also] perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians." Among the measures Powell advocated was... JUDICIAL ACTIVISM: "The judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic, and political change." Two months after the confidential circulation of Powell's memorandum, Richard Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court; in the confirmation hearings, Powell was reticent -- read `hypocritical' -- about his ideological positions, making no mention of his Chamber of Commerce memorandum. In fact, that document was not made public until columnist Jack Anderson leaked portions of it in the Washington Post. Powell, the stealth candidate, was of course confirmed and played a major role in Court decisions thwarting campaign finance reform.

The culmination of the movement Phillips-Fein chronicles was obviously the election of Ronald Reagan and the installation of anti-New Deal economic conservatism as the orthodoxy of American political thinking, a semi-consensus that lasted through the presidencies of Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. That it finally collapsed under the second Bush is beyond the scope of this book.

This is the most enlightening study of American political history I've read in decades. Don't dismiss it on the basis of any established political alignments! It's not an attack on the right wing. It's not a doctrinaire manifesto of any faction. It's good, honest scholarship.

S Wood (Scotland) - See all my reviews

Fifty Years of American "Conservatism", July 3, 2013

New York University professor, occasional contributor to the Baffler and The Nation, Kim Phillips-Fein takes as her subject in "Invisible Hands" the history of the modern Conservative movement in the United States from its origins in opposition to the New Deal to the inauguration of the Reagan administration.

While I'm pretty sure Phillips-Feins sympathies are to the left, she manages to deal with the motley crew of Conservative activists, politicians and businessmen who make up the Conservative movement during the half century she covers in an impartial manner. She details the movement from its roots in opposition to the New Deal: that particular change in the political environment after the inauguration of FDR in 1933 to one that was conducive to the growth in the influence of ordinary working people (in particular their Unions), and a growing trend for (some) politicians to recognise that the ordinary Americans interest was not always identical to that of American Businesses.

The story continues with the second world war (during which conservative/business interests regained a degree of power and influence), the gradual post-war roll back of Unions and Liberal politics during the oppressive years of McCarthyism, through to the Goldwater run for the presidency in 1964. Goldwater failed in his run, but the victor - Lyndon Johnson - failed to keep out of Vietnam: the growing involvement in that miserable War and the financial costs undermined his "Great Society" program, the last substantial attempt by an American President to govern with a relatively Liberal domestic policy (which in a European sense would be roughly equivalent to a diluted version of Social Democracy). Within fifteen years of the Goldwater failure, the movement is backed by serious money, has parlayed that money into substantially successful attempts to win the war of ideas (through well funded think tanks and foundations), turned the focus of popular politics away from socio-economic issues to those of the so-called "Culture Wars", and has a congenial figurehead for the 1980 election campaign: Ronald Reagan. The rest is another story. . .

"Invisible Hands" is also excellent on the individuals involved from the ostensibly cerebral Milton Friedman and the Mont-Pelerin Society of von Hayek and von Mises, to the more combative characters such as Jesse Helms and Barry Goldwater. But this is far more than a study of individuals: it tells the story of the movement as it grew, and how the connections between the disparate elements of the movement coalesced (she plausibly makes a case for the failed Goldwater run for president in 1964 being critically important to that process) eventually leading to the Reagan presidency.

Kim Phillips-Fein has written a fine and scholarly work, which contains a substantial amount of research, is written in a clear and comprehensible manner, and it's her first book length publication. It is one I'd thoroughly recommend to anyone who has an interest in how Politics actually functions as opposed to the simplified storytelling which by and large passes for news.

Another excellent book on American Conservatism I'd recommend, though it leaps forward to the post-Reagan era, would be Thomas Franks account of Conservatives in power: The Wrecking Crew.

Todd Carlsen - See all my reviews
Outstanding Book on the Laissez-Faire Conservative Movement Culminating in Ronald Reagan, November 6, 2011

This is an excellent and unbiased history from the 1930s onward of the efforts by a group of laissez-faire business leaders, such as the du Ponts and Lemuel Boulware, to react against the New Deal (some would say overreacting), promote a new vision of anti-government and pro-business ideas, and build a broader coalition beyond them that could win elections. It explains their activities, such as the Liberty League and conservative think tanks, and the economic philosophies they espoused, such as the respected Nobel Prize winning economist F. A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, and the more extreme philosophy (some would call it extreme selfishness) of Ayn Rand called objectivism. It explains the electoral coalitions with religious groups and other social conservatives, which turned the southern states from Democrat to Republican. This culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan. This is an exceptional history of the conservative movement in America in the second half of the 20th Century to roll-back unions, promote free exercise of business competition, and what Nobel Prize Winning economist Paul Krugman called "the great compression" in The Conscience of a Liberal. It also is an essential history of Ronald Reagan. Highly recommended! My only quibble is that it could have said more about the Great Society. This book received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews called this book "The riveting story of how economic conservatism became one of the leading strands in American political thought... from its birth as a big-business reaction to the New Deal to its zenith as a key element of the Reagan Revolution in the early '80s... focusing instead on the unique individuals behind the movement... the wealthy du Pont family... Friedrich von Hayek... big-business associations as the Liberty League and the National Association of Manufacturers... the colorful characters who brought conservatism into mainstream popular culture during the '50s, including National Review editor William F. Buckley and novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand... General Electric executive Lemuel Ricketts Boulware... GE employee Ronald Reagan... the merging of economic conservatism, anticommunism and religious and moral thought... evangelists like Jerry Falwell... Barry Goldwater... Reagan... Engaging history."

Publisher Weekly said, "Looking beyond the usual roster of right-wing Christians, anticommunist neo-cons and disgruntled working-class whites, this incisive study examines the unsung role of "a political movement of businessmen" in leading America's post-1960s rightward turn. Historian Phillips-Fein traces the hidden history of the Reagan revolution to a coterie of business executives, including General Electric official and Reagan mentor Lemuel Boulware, who saw labor unions, government regulation, high taxes and welfare spending as dire threats to their profits and power. From the 1930s onward, the author argues, they provided the money, organization and fervor for a decades-long war against New Deal liberalism--funding campaigns, think tanks, magazines and lobbying groups, and indoctrinating employees in the virtues of unfettered capitalism. Theirs was also a battle of ideas, she contends; the business vanguard nurtured conservative thinkers like economist Friedrich von Hayek and his secretive Mont Pellerin Society associates, who developed a populist free-market ideology that persuaded workers to side with their bosses against the liberal state. Combining piquant profiles of corporate firebrands with a trenchant historical analysis that puts economic conflict at the heart of political change, Phillips-Fein makes an important contribution to our understanding of American conservatism."

Booklist (Gilbert Taylor) said, "Although many books have been written about American conservatism, most concern its cultural or political manifestations, and almost all bring bias to the subject. The contribution of Phillips-Fein to this literature is distinctive in two respects: she maintains neutrality and produces original research on American business executives and public-relations specialists who created conservative organizations from 1933 to 1980. Although scholarly in tone (her work originated as a dissertation), the book is highly readable for its absorbing historical background about contemporary conservative advocacy outfits, such as the American Enterprise Institute. In their variety of characters and degrees of indignation about the iniquities of the New Deal and its descendants, the individuals introduced range from the reasonable to the strange, which enlivens a narrative of free-market conservatism's incubation in the 1940s and 1950s. Detecting a union-busting agenda behind the liberty-proclaiming rhetoric of business leaders, Phillips-Fein nevertheless allows them a fair hearing about their roles in, ultimately, the electoral victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980. A valuable addition to the history of conservatism."

I also highly recommend the related The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism for another perspective of this same history, except it is centered on Ronald Reagan. That unbiased book was written by a Republican attorney who worked in the Reagan administration. Also read Ronald Reagan's autobiography An American Life to learn a more nuanced interpretation of his views than you would think. He says he was not trying to undo the New Deal and he idolized FDR. He said government went beyond what FDR had intended and Reagan's main quibble was with 1960 liberalism. To learn how free markets are best most of the time in a way that anyone can understand, read Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science.

Also read The Conscience of a Liberal by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman with an alternative interpretation of why Reagan Democrats switched to voting Republican (namely a reaction to 1960s and 1970s liberalism and civil rights).

For context, read a reputable biography of FDR or a reputable history of the New Deal, warts and all, (not one of the smear books of the New Deal) to learn more about the periods preceding this economic conservative movement to know how it came about. Learn the real mistakes and enduring achievements of the New Deal. Also read a good biography of Dwight Eisenhower to learn about a more moderate and mainstream Republican view from that era.

As a contrast, an interesting book from the Eisenhower era is How to Be Rich, written by the richest business man in the world at the time, J. Paul Getty. It accepts the more moderate view of mainstream Republicans and makes an interesting contrast to the views of the du Ponts and Boulware. Also, The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie and The Gospel of Wealth by Carnegie is strikingly different. The conservative movement described in the book was definitely a departure from that thinking.

William R. Neil (Rockville, MD United States) - See all my reviews

Where Fundamentalist Religion Meets Fundamentalist Economics, January 12, 2010

No deep appreciation of the dynamics of the American political economy in 2009-2010 is possible without understanding the importance of economists Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, as well as religious fundamentalists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Throw in some fascinating background on George Gilder, and the politics of the past two years begin to make much more sense, and we have Kim Phillips-Fein to thank for that. And for pointing out what American Progressives probably don't want to hear, but need to: that "the most striking and lasting victories of the right have come in the realm of political economy rather than that of culture."

Phillips-Fein also makes two fascinating observations about these Austrian economists in Invisible Hands, important for the major concerns of this essay: how The Market has assumed religious dimensions and attributes, especially here in the United States, and how it "assumes" different "moods" or attributes - projections if you would prefer - of its human inventors, recalling our wonderment at the anthropomorphic projections upon the Greek or Roman deities, or the Calvinist constructions of the 16th century. The first is Hayek's admission, in his famous Road To Serfdom, that "at times modern man would feel subordinated to the market and would chafe against economic forces that he could not control. But he argued that submission to the marketplace was infinitely preferable to deference to a ruler. `Unless this complex society is to be destroyed, the only alternative to submission to the impersonal and seemingly irrational forces of the market is submission to an equally uncontrollable and therefore arbitrary power of other men.'"(Page 37.) Now that's what I call "market fundamentalism," with not much room left for the politics of democracy (freedom in his view, comes from The Market), much less Social Democracy with its mixed economy and deep and open involvement in a fully recognized "political economy." The other stunning comment here, on what I will call the "brittle Prometheanism" of The Market, is the attribute that insists upon "hands off!" from government interventions. It has two features: that the market is spontaneous, "a complex system that came into existence without forethought or planning...the robust force that generated all of life and human production and a terribly fragile entity, threatened on all desperate need of protection..."(Ibid.)

Although there is a great deal else that happens to build conservative momentum inside the economics profession, especially the development of the rational expectations school and the efficient market hypothesis, readers wondering about our nation's strange 40 years' wanderings towards the edge of the economic cliff won't stray far from the path if they will remember these key features bequeathed by the Austrians. Yet as important as they for our understanding, they nonetheless don't tell the full story. For that, we must turn to the nature of the response from the religious fundamentalists to what is going on in the turbulent world of the 1970's - economic events, certainly, but also cultural ones as well.

Building the Conservative Coalition
As Kim Phillips-Fein lays out for us in Invisible Hands, political conservatives, especially business conservatives, were lamenting their lack of a grass-roots movement to counteract the power of labor which grew out of the organizing successes of the 1930's and the legal sanction bestowed by the New Deal. Protestant churches were the logical place to turn, but the climate in their pulpits, in the wake of the New Deal, and indeed, ever since the rise of the Social Gospel in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Progressive Era, was not very receptive. "The basic argument was that Christianity had too long been associated with altruism, selflessness, and a devotion to helping the poor - principles that might lead good Christians to advocate government intervention in the economy. To counter this idea, Spiritual Mobilization insisted that Christianity was rightly associated with shrinking the welfare state." (Page 74). Spiritual Mobilization was, among other things, an attempted collaboration between J.Howard Pew's Sun Oil-generated money and the religious organizing genius of James Fifield, a dynamic Congregational minister with a huge parish in Los Angles, who had originally founded Mobilization in the 1930's. And one of the first outreach efforts is to mail out free copies of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom in an attempt to gauge the mood amongst the ministers. Although it faltered in the 1950's, Spiritual Mobilization foreshadowed the framework for the conservative alliance in the 1980's.

Although most of my readers will be familiar with religious fundamentalism's focus on personal morality - crime, sexual transgressions, gender roles and abortion - much less attention has been paid to its attitudes towards economic questions and the role of the federal government. Because they have been part of powerful national political coalition, the Republican Right, since the late 1970's, and one where it is not clear that the leadership positions on economic questions fit comfortably with the economic needs of many in their congregations, nor where the steady green light given to rapid economic changes fits logically with the biblical and theological inflexibility, it behooves Progressives to take a closer look at how this coalition handles these tensions. All the more so during times when core portions of the national identity - the American Way of Life - Economic Abundance and Leadership, Moral Leadership, Success in War - seemed to be in decline. Indeed, as we will see, the relation of alleged moral decline linked to various forms of real or perceived national decline, is a theme that runs right back to the nation's Puritan roots in 17th century New England, and is in turn, closely linked to the Protestant Ethic and the earliest capitalist traditions of the nation.

We have stressed the importance of the various national shocks of the 1970's; so how did two of the most important fundamentalist religious leaders react to them, since both Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell would play key roles in putting together the Republican Right coalition? First, we have to note, in partial answer to the seeming incongruity of fixed-theology fundamentalists advocating a permanent green light for the creative destruction of restless capitalism, that these religious leaders were businessmen as well as evangelists, familiar with the cutting edge technologies they utilized to spread their message by print, radio, and especially, television. It may have been for Falwell the nostalgia dripping title of the "Old-Time Gospel Hour," but it was also an example of electronic savvy and a cash-cow. In 1978, he began publishing a newspaper called the Journal-Champion which went heavily political, with a surprising dose of economic issues. Of course it had the standard pleas to "cleanse America of sexual sin," but it also took positions against federal bureaucratic interventions (OSHA), in favor of the California property tax revolt (Proposition 13), and against a federal bail-out of NY City. On the alarming national inflation of the 1970's, Falwell wrote that "God is bringing the entire nation to its financial knees. If we want to control inflation, we should set our spiritual house in order." (Phillips-Klein, Pages 228-230.) (Contrast that to Galbraith's remedy, never applied, of complex wage and prices controls, structured to account for the large firm/small business dichotomies in the US economy, and biographer Parker's call for - and the implied military threat - to force a roll-back of the OPEC oil price shocks - something he said Kissinger and Nixon wouldn't countenance for fear of roiling the tinderbox of the Middle-East).

And 30 years ago, in 1979, Pat Robertson issued his "Christian Action Plan to Heal Our Land in the 1980's." In one respect, it seems like it was a reversal of Falwell's diagnosis of cause-and-effect: "Robertson indicated that the moral illness threatening the United States in the late 1970's had its roots in the nation's political economy." It's timing was 50 years after the onset of the Great Depression, and it's pretty clear that Robertson blamed the liberal tools set in motion by the New Deal for the ills of the 1970's: "`a powerful central anti-business bias in the country...powerful unions' and most important of all, `the belief in the economic policy of British scholar John Maynard Keynes...'" He conceded some positive good to them in curing the Great Depression, but "fifty years later they were responsible for the `sickness of the `70's - the devaluation of the dollar, inflation, the decline in productivity." The remedy? A "`profound moral revival'" and the election of those who would "`reduce the size of government, eliminate federal deficits, free our productive capacity, ensure sound currency.'" (Phillips-Fein, Page 225).

As noted, the cause and effect between economic decline and moral failings may get switched with less than airtight rigor within the worldview of even these two major fundamentalist leaders, but if we recall that in the 1970's and 1980's the charge was often made by conservatives that the liberal welfare state, especially its Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program (AFDC), aka as "welfare," was undermining both morals and marriage, then the seeming inconsistency here can be clarified. And who better to further shine a light on these matters of the moral economy, than the fascinating figure of George Gilder.

George Gilder and a Morality Enforced by The Market
This writer didn't know, until reading Invisible Hands, that Mr. Gilder was raised, after the death of his father, with the help of the Rockefeller family, especially David, who was a roommate of his father's at Harvard, nor was I aware of his two books published before the famous Wealth and Poverty of 1981. Wikipedia also notes that he attended a private school in NY City, Hamilton, then Phillips Exeter Academy and finally Harvard. I note these biographical features with interest because, as Thomas Frank tells us in One Market Under God (2000), Gilder was a proponent, among many notions, of the idea of class warfare "between righteous new money, the entrepreneurs who created wealth, and bitter frustrated old money..." The new entrepreneurs "were both society's `greatest benefactors' and yet also the `victims of some of society's greatest brutalities'" at the hands of "`the mob'" which turns out to be incited by... "...the very rich, the people of inherited but declining wealth whom, Gilder imagined, controlled `the media and the foundations, the universities and the government.'" (Page 35). Gilder's background is also ironic in light of his high flights into the realm of market populism, especially with the rise of the Internet and its entrepreneurs. But that's a digression from Invisible Hand's reminder of his earlier works.

The language Phillips-Fein uses to describe the early Gilder is revealing for the purposes of this essay. Gilder "wrote passionate jeremiads against modern liberalism's effect not only on the economy but on culture, sexual relationships, and morality...His first book, Sexual Suicide (1973), was a harsh critique of the women's movement; his second, Naked Nomads (1974), catalogued the hazard that single, unattached men posed to social order."(Page 177, My Emphasis.) In Wealth and Poverty, however, Gilder was trying "to demonstrate that capitalism was an inherently moral economic order." These were not entrepreneurs driven by greed; "they wanted merely to have the `freedom to consummate their entrepreneurial ideas,'" driven by "a spirit closely akin to altruism...'" (Ibid.) But then, like a turn in Zeus's mood, the market shows us another face, and becomes "a measuring stick for morality that meted out rewards to people who lived virtuous lives while punishing those who violated codes of decency. `Work, family, and faith' were the only solutions to poverty." And now for Gilder's main thrust:
that "the real danger of the welfare state was that it created a mode of subsistence and survival free of the morality enforced by the market." (Page 178. My Emphasis.)

Readers who would like to read more about the importance of Invisible Hands can find it as part of a longer essay, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Market" [...]

William Neil
Rockville, MD

The Oz Effect

When science turns into a sect this is Lysenkoism, plain and simple. Most neoclassical economists are 100% pure sectants.

jev, los angeles, ca 8 hours ago

I've mentioned this perspective before in my comments, so I am glad Paul has decided to flesh the matter out a bit.
Economics as entertainment, or entertainment posing as economic discourse, is the logical follow-on to entertainment as politics, which has been with us for centuries.

Both these notions remind us, painfully so, that the average American cannot be bothered to properly analyze matters presented to them in the firehose of media that douses them daily. In fact, they are numbed by the torrents, allowing entertainment to override truths, thereby becoming even more susceptible to simply accepting fabrications as truths.

Hello George Orwell.

waztec, Seattle 9 hours ago

You make an interesting side point when you say that people who are good at entertainment might not be good at pouring over records and data. I have always marveled at the attacks from the right with regard to the liberal nature of academia. The rail and fulminate about the lack of conservative representation in faculties. Is it possible that it is just a matter of self sorting? People who are drawn to academic rigor seek the truth, but are lousy at selling snake oil.

Money doesn't drive them, finding knowledge does. On the other hand, liberals are probably underrepresented in banking and business. There, acquisition is the goal and the search for verifiable truth, not so important, unless it generates a profit center. I say all this realizing that a recent study found that bankers lie frequently. An outlook difference such as this explains a great deal of what conservatives do when it comes to deriding science, for example. Conservatives are on Mars and Liberals!

Gregory Pijanowski, Buffalo, NY Yesterday

Entertainers and pundits rarely, as Brad Delong might say, mark their beliefs to market. Corporate decision makers do in their annual reports. How do economists in the corporate world still make a living while giving really bad advice? That can be partly answered with how the pain of a poor decision is dished out in the current corporate culture.

If an economist makes a poor decision, the worst-case scenario is a loss of their job. However, that person is typically high enough in the company food chain to receive a substantial severance package plus a quick job offer from another firm using their existing network of contacts in the industry.

The punishment for the poor advise is transferred down to the operations level by layoffs (with minimal, if any, severance). Those left behind are rewarded with increased workloads, reduced benefits, and no pay increases. The really unlucky ones have to endure multiple lectures on the value of meritocracy.

Why would anyone worry about giving bad advice when its heads I win, tails you lose?

elvislevel, tokyo Yesterday

There is a strong tendency to read evidence until you find the result you want and then stop. Some are aware of this and try to resist it. Others consider it a useful tool - a way to appear dispassionate while being a complete hack.

trustfundbabywannabe, Los Angeles Yesterday

This is true about political punditry, too. Read right-wing blogs and pundits, and you see they live in an imaginary world in which what's true is less important than what might be true, or could be said to be true, sort of. (It's Colbert's "truthiness.") One quality they all share is the inability, or indisposition, to read what they've written and, before publishing, ask, "Okay, but is this really true?" Then again, they're not analysts or journalists or scholars, but propagandists. So we get what their masters pay for.

big fat ted, usa Yesterday

"It's not cruelty; it's strategy."

Well put.

(But a little extra cruelty on occasion, is OK with me.)

Robert Baesemann, Los Angeles CA Yesterday

Almost fifty years ago, Prof. Jerzy Karcz told me story of how the KGB approached him while he visited his mother in Poland. Men in dark leather jackets had offered him a substantial sum to write a report comparing soviet and American agriculture. I asked why he refused, and he explained that if you take their money for anything, they will blackmail you with the fact that you dealt with them, regardless of what you did or said. The principle is that the simple fact of doing business with someone can be held over your head.

When I read about competent economists repeatedly saying foolish incorrect things, I think of Prof. Karcz and the KGB. For current economists, the deals need not be consulting contracts or monetary payoffs, they might have been promised high-level government positions, visiting appointments at think tanks, or a return to the limelight. One cannot be sure, but those economists seem to have taken the first bite of the apple. After that they appear to be restricted to two choices: 1.) Toe the party line and continue saying what they are told to say; or 2.) Face up to the very embarrassing exposure of their agreement to say things for which they had little or no scientific basis. To their credit, it was easy to jump to conclusions in 2008 or 2009, but those fairly innocent early bargains gave the puppet masters all of the leverage they need. Hence their willingness to spend seven years predicting dire outcomes that have never happened.

seeing the obvious, NJ Yesterday

The speakers fees are just another example of affinity fraud. I think most entertainment experiences of the wolfs of wall street involve costly bottles of wine, recreational drugs and high priced hookers.

Christopher Neyland, is a trusted commenter Jackson, MS Yesterday

These charlatans have no shame. They are not so ignorant of the truth of history that their tables tell them things that reality disproves. They manipulate the data on purpose, and when caught, they go silent for a while and then crawl back from under their rocks to sling more nonsense to the true believers who cannot be swayed by evidence.

Now, I'm not a psychiatrist, but maybe Dr. Oz can diagnose what is wrong with these people that they have no capacity for shame.

Well, maybe not Dr. Oz, but perhaps someone who knows what he or she is talking about.

Jason Mason, Walden Pond Yesterday

Since when do propagandists care about facts? Indeed, it their role to convince the rubes of their "truth" only.

Laffer, for example, enabled Reagan to claim that tax cuts would decrease deficits, if anyone cares to remember.

gemli, is a trusted commenter Boston Yesterday

All religions, whether they spring from theology, politics, economics, or medicine, work the same way: charismatic personalities pander to the insecurities of the uninformed in order to get them to open their hearts and wallets. Only when we think that Dr. Oz is about health, or that conservative economists are about economics, will we be surprised by their behavior.

mfuchs12, Philadelphia, PA Yesterday

Of course, PK is right about the general case. Dr. Oz is a special situation, though, I think.

Unlike other hucksters, he is actually a talented and respected heart surgeon who still operates successfully at Columbia Presbyterian, not exactly a schlocky place. I'm sure he reads and contributes to medical journals in his specialty, and is a true scientist in that sphere.

On the other hand, his wife, Lisa, is a naturalist, alternative medicine advocate and self-styled expert. And, on the third hand, he has an MBA from Wharton. Why?

I think Dr. Oz is motivated by three things: (1) a genuine, but also grandiose and narcissistic, desire to reach out and connect with millions of "patients," (2) an extreme case of devotion to his anti-scientific wife, and (3) an unhealthy attraction to money.

Dan, NJ Yesterday

Naming names s inappropriate here. I once worked with a number of PhD economists in an internal consulting group in a large firm. Some of the PhDs could reason their ways out of a paper bag, others were stupider than the proverbial fence post. It is far from clear earning a PhD in economics requires any intellectual capacity.

On another topic, I've worked for two large firms that had chief economists supported by staffs. Their economics groups didn't publish newsletters, they published forecasts of a variety of economic measures to be used in business cases. In both firms business cases that used unofficial economic forecasts were rejected summarily.

Stephane, Montreal Yesterday

Let me work through the problem using economists as an expample.

While people such Lucas and Cochrane made some rather bogus claims, I wouldn't suggest that it is out of incompetence. In his critique, Lucas circa 1976 exhibited the very skills we would expect from a critical thinker. So, it certainly is not out of a binding constraint on his cognitive ability that he laid out a silly argument against fiscal policy using Ricardian Equivalence. Besides, his own work is filled with instances where he properly handles summations -- so, again, it's not because he's short of being able to do it. The same applies to most economists: it is hard to imagine how someone incapable of abstract thought could earn a PhD and most of their work profess the very abilities that apparently failed them in specific circumstances.

This directly implies that proper education and skill acquisition might sometimes not be enough. The diffusion of information does not always suffice to bring about greater understanding, even when the recipients of this information are capable of using it properly -- Lucas being a prime example of just that.

However, their mistakes seem to happen only in specific settings. This could be explained by cognitive biases, attitudes, social norms and values, etc.

theodora30, Charlotte NC 11 hours ago

The first two reasons you give could explain everything. It is entirely possible for a genuinely nice person to do what Dr. Oz does. I think he is at heart a wishful thinker who wants to believe these things will help people because he does care and that makes him very seductive. (Either that or he is a great actor.) Despite his medical training he is a magical thinker. People really can compartmentalize their minds and be very rational in some areas but use emotion based thinking in others. Money may be a big motivator but it is not necessary. There are a lot of doctors and scientists who are very rational in their careers but believe things like miracles really happen, Jesus rose from the dead, etc.

I think this distinction is important in dealing with these kinds of people. A true believer needs to be dealt with differently than a snake oil salesman.

I would bet Paul Ryan is a true believer while guys like Karl Rove are admittedly not. Rove openly uses spinmeisters like Frank Luntz to deliberately mislead people. For example turning SS and education over to Wall Street profiteers is sold with the market tested term "privatization" to deliberately mislead the public. It was Rove, apparently, who said that while liberals were living in the reality based world he and his compatriots created their own reality.

P.M., Summerville, GA Yesterday

The phenomenon of Dr. Oz's influence on American society is duplicated many times in many different areas. Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, any Kardashian - all distribute nonsense and non-fact based information.

They are able to do so because somehow they gained a media platform and people began paying attention to them - and other media outlets give them face time just because they are famous.

P.T. Barnum explained what is going on here more than 100 years ago.

[Dec 21, 2014] The Oz Effect by Paul Krugman

Second Best, December 21, 2014 at 01:58 AM

'But I now also suspect that the personality traits you need to be an effective entertainer on inherently not-so-much-fun subjects like health or monetary policy are inherently at odds with the traits you need to be even halfway competent. If Dr. Oz were the kind of guy who pores over medical evidence to be sure he knows what he's talking about, he probably couldn't project the persona that wins him such a large audience. Similarly, a hired-gun economist who actually knows how to download charts from FRED probably wouldn't have the kind of blithe certainty in right-wing dogma his employers want.'


The audience prefers the entertainer over the professional despite losing their bets on the economy. The entertainer is selling, the professional is explaining. Some can do both but it is a rare professional who is selling in identical fashion what would be explained absent additional benefit.

Much economics encompasses all occupations while particular occupations do not necessarily encompass the reach of economics. A favorite endless cheap shot of glib entertainers is to separate themselves from serious economists as 'working up close and personal in the real world' where economists 'never go'.

This gives entertainers license to mock economic predictions at will as they bond with the audience who pays them for therapy over professional advice. It is win-win for the audience and entertainer all around even as they lose their bets against the likes of inflation, interest rates and other predictions validated in hindsight.

The entertainer is regarded as a 'sincere' member of the tribe who believed in his or her predictions and went down with the ship, only to survive repeatedly and show up with more entertainment.

anne said -> Second Best...

December 20, 2014

The Oz Effect
By Paul Krugman

So more than half of the health advice Dr. Oz gives is either baseless — there's no evidence for his claims — or wrong — there is evidence, and it contradicts what he says. Julia Belluz tells us not to be surprised: *

"He is, after all, in the business of entertainment."

But the thing is, there are a lot of Ozzes out there, including in areas you might not consider the entertainment business.

Recently some conference planners tried to recruit me for an event in which I would be presenting the alternative view to the main experts — Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore. This would be the Art Laffer who among other things warned about soaring inflation and interest rates thanks to the rapid growth in the monetary base (ask the Swiss), and the Stephen Moore who was caught using fake numbers to promote state-level tax cuts.

Obviously these "experts" appeal to the political prejudices of a business audience, but taking their advice would have cost you a lot of money. So why isn't their popularity dented by the repeated pratfalls? Are they, also, in the entertainment business?

To some extent, the answer is yes. Simon Wren-Lewis had an interesting piece on why the financial sector buys into really bad macroeconomics; he suggested that financial firms aren't really interested in anything but very short-term forecasting, and that:

"economists working for financial institutions spend rather more time talking to their institution's clients than to market traders. They earn their money by telling stories that interest and impress their clients. To do that it helps if they have the same worldview as their clients."

Thinking about Dr. Oz also, I'd suggest, helps explain a related puzzle: even if you grant that the right wants alleged experts who toe the ideological line, why can't it get guys who are at least competent? Why do they recruit and continue to employ people who can't do basic job calculations, or read their own tables and notice that they're making ridiculous unemployment projections, and so on?

My answer has been that anyone competent enough to avoid these mistakes would also be unreliable — he or she might at some point actually take a stand on principle, or at least balk at completely abandoning professional ethics. And I still think that's part of the story.

But I now also suspect that the personality traits you need to be an effective entertainer on inherently not-so-much-fun subjects like health or monetary policy are inherently at odds with the traits you need to be even halfway competent. If Dr. Oz were the kind of guy who pores over medical evidence to be sure he knows what he's talking about, he probably couldn't project the persona that wins him such a large audience. Similarly, a hired-gun economist who actually knows how to download charts from FRED probably wouldn't have the kind of blithe certainty in right-wing dogma his employers want.

So how do those of us who aren't so glib respond? With ridicule, obviously. It's not cruelty; it's strategy.


[Dec 03, 2014] Economists aren't 'superior' just because

Economists are well paid in the same way high level prostitutes are well paid. They are need to provide intellectual capture of regulators. Much of the assumed authority of economists is socially constructed by financial oligarchy with a very specific purpose. From comments: "All the evidence it contains is consistent with economics being a hierarchy-obsessed cargo cult. But all its evidence is also consistent with economists having better and more consistent quality criteria, better sorting, and larger grad programs at the top. "
Dec 02, 2014 | Crooked Timber

One especially unfortunate aspect of economics is that its penchant for just-so stories can reinforce its imperialist blindnesses.

If you've been trained systematically to look for examples of market efficiency winning out, you'll likely be inclined to treat your own, and your discipline's success as examples of market efficiency in action.

George Mason University law school's Moneybollocks mythology provides one cautionary tale as to how this can lead one to systematically overlook the role of politics in determining who wins and who loses.

The underlying point of the Fourcade et al. article is that politics and power play a far larger role in determining both the success of economics and the success of economics than economists are prepared to admit in public. Or, more succinctly, sociology provides a much better account of economics' success than economics itself does. Obviously, that's a claim that's going to be uncongenial to economists, as well as one that many economists will have difficulty in absorbing (they usually aren't trained to think in that way). If they were better versed in sociology, and also somewhat paranoid, they might want to treat the piece as a meta-Bourdieuian Trojan horse, that inherently elevates sociology at the expense of economics (although these imaginary well-read paranoid economists would still somehow have to deal with Fourcade's previous work, which has tacitly rebuked economic sociology for its obsession with disproving economics). But the point would still remain – that the internal structures of economics, as well as its external influence, are very far indeed from a free market.

Ben 12.02.14 at 9:24 pm

In other word, economics has done a better job of cozying up to power.

Which is not entirely the discipline's own fault, given that the powerful have always seen it as an important tool for their legitimation. (e.g. see here)

js 12.02.14 at 10:40 pm

It's a great paper. And man, further confirmation—if any were needed—that business schools majorly suck!

Sasha Clarkson 12.02.14 at 11:13 pm

"… It's probably because…drumroll…economics is the discipline that studies the economy. "

Economics is not the discipline: it is a set of disciplines which share a name, some jargon and common ideas: not unlike, say, evolutionary biology and "intelligent" design creationism. Except that in economics there is more than one form of creationism: Marxism and Austrianism come to mind. Creationist economics studies the world(s) some people believe ought to exist. Austrianists even define "inflation" in their own unique way, but then try to coerce everyone else's reality to match their theology.

The economics of the real world has evolved since Keynes, just as biology has changed since Darwin and cosmology since Kepler. But the key thing about non-creationist economics is that evidence matters and will lead to the model being modified accordingly. After Tycho Brahe died, in 1601, Johannes Kepler tried to develop a new cosmological theory based on circular orbits around an off-centre sun. After years of work, he rejected his beloved theory because it was incorrect about Mars' position by 8 minutes of arc: 2/15 of a degree. Kepler wrote: "Because these 8′ could not be ignored, they alone have led to a total reformation of astronomy."* He then spent several more years developing his theory of elliptical orbits which made predictions accurate enough to satisfy him.

Some "economists" have been predicting US hyperinflation for years: it's failure to materialise is a vast error compared with Kepler's 8 minutes of arc: but there has been no urge to modify the theory.

*Translated by Arthur Koestler in The Sleepwalkers.

door 12.02.14 at 11:21 pm

The root problem is that economists, and economics, frequently make policy prescriptions — normative judgments — even though they have very little knowledge of or training in normative ethics and moral philosophical argumentation. The real normative action is instead often concealed under technical phrases and axioms and simplifications that when scrutinized lack convincing justification and tend to be biased towards right-wing policies and the status quo distribution of power and wealth.

Rakesh 12.03.14 at 12:59 am

Another great thing is the comfort economics gives me that amidst all the chaos of unemployment, bankruptcies, and cycles there is an equilibrium that markets are just about to achieve, perhaps with just a little expert guidance and the right human sacrifices at the right time.

JanieM 12.03.14 at 4:38 am

"The economy" has become like this mythical, but nonetheless terribly important and pitifully fragile, little flower, that we can't ever actually see or touch, but all have to look after and think about and be terrifically careful of, otherwise it will just suddenly die and take us all with it. It's nonsense. We should be thinking about how we, as human beings, look after each other and the earth that sustains us.

Well said.

John Emerson 12.03.14 at 5:11 am

Suppose a Pol Pot came to power and all economists were liquidated. How much would the economy suffer? Would the economics profession be revived in its present form, or would something strikingly different be developed which did all the jobs economics does, but without the arrogance and the ideological and methodological dead weight?

This is a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT, not a suggestion. Like a trolley car problem. There are no actual trolley cars with fat men being pushed in front of them, and there is no actual Pol Pot in the offing. Perhaps I should have hypothesized that The Rapture carried off every economist in the world, but no one else, but that's even less realistic. Let's just assume that all economists were pensioned off at twice their present salary on the condition that they quit doing economics. That would be both humane and practical.

Bruce Wilder 12.03.14 at 6:02 am

Rakesh @ 19 — I admit it: I got that far before catching on.

Tom @ 16:

Economists have quant skills (as Smith says) and also their skills can be used in sectors where there is a lot of money. Finance, first of all. . . . That is why they make more than statisticians and that is why actuaries make more than economists. And that is why math and engineering people who study finance end up making a fair amount of money. . . . Obviously expertise is a matter of legitimation . . .

Economists have legitimated making a lot of money in finance, even though making a lot of money in finance is pretty obviously deleterious for society, aka the vast majority of people. It is kind of circular: bad economics opens opportunities for bad economists to make a lot of money doing bad economic things.

Commenter @ 13: All the evidence it contains is consistent with economics being a hierarchy-obsessed cargo cult. But all its evidence is also consistent with economists having better and more consistent quality criteria, better sorting, and larger grad programs at the top.

Two mints in one! Policy macroeconomics pretty much is a cargo cult, as far as its content is concerned. This is widely acknowledged in Naked Emperor remarks and so on, but it doesn't seem to matter. Which, I suppose figures in the motivations for the research of Fourcade et alia. It is the contrast between outside political critiques and "derision" directed at economics and the arrogant confidence of its inside practitioners about which the authors are most curious.

Tabasco @ 9

You don't need to know anything about the economy to be a highly successful economist, in the sense of the getting papers published in the best journals. And knowing a lot about the economy not only is no guarantee of career success, it invites condescension from economists who wear the ignorance about the economy as a badge of honor and sneer openly that economists who study the economy are just journalists.

Said as plainly and bluntly as that, it can seem like superficial sarcasm, but it is so accurate a description. The emphasis on "rigor" and the pride in irrelevant maths becomes a remarkable absence of curiosity and a doctrinal rigidity in a sizeable and highly influential minority of economists. And, all that is compounded by the rank corruption afforded by those fabled consulting opportunities.

A H 12.03.14 at 7:05 am

The market is for private sector PhD economists is not that large, so I don't think there is a direct outside demand pulling up econ wages. If anything, PhDs have a reputation for being awful at making money in finance.* Though it is pretty easy for a new PhD to jump into a consulting career.

I would guess is that where wages are getting driven up is in the demand for business school teachers. As inequality increases, MBAs become a path to the 1% and B schools become profit centers. They need lots of econ profs hence wages go up in Econ.

*Here is a fun recent example

Creationism Conference at Michigan State University Stirs Unease

October 27, 2014 |

samzenpus, October 27, 2014

A creationist conference set for a major research campus — Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing — is creating unease among some of the school's students and faculty, which includes several prominent evolutionary biologists. The event, called the Origins Summit, is sponsored by Creation Summit, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit Christian group that believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and was founded to "challenge evolution and all such theories predicated on chance." The one-day conference will include eight workshops, according the event's website, including discussion of how evolutionary theory influenced Adolf Hitler's worldview, why "the Big Bang is fake," and why "natural selection is NOT evolution." News of the event caught MSU's scientific community largely by surprise. Creation Summit secured a room at the university's business school through a student religious group, but the student group did not learn about the details of the program—or the sometimes provocative talk titles — until later.

[Sep 27, 2014] Seven Bad ideas

Sep 27, 2014 | Economist's View

Paul Krugman reviews Jeff Madrick's book "Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World":

Seven Bad Ideas: The economics profession has not, to say the least, covered itself in glory these past six years. Hardly any economists predicted the 2008 crisis — and the handful who did tended to be people who also predicted crises that didn't happen. More significant, many and arguably most economists were claiming, right up to the moment of collapse, that nothing like this could even happen.
Furthermore, once crisis struck economists seemed unable to agree on a response. They'd had 75 years since the Great Depression to figure out what to do if something similar happened again, but the profession was utterly divided when the moment of truth arrived.
In "Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World," Jeff Madrick — a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and a frequent writer on matters economic — argues that the professional failures since 2008 didn't come out of the blue but were rooted in decades of intellectual malfeasance. ...

This is what happens when professionals become addicted to the pursuit of money and personal power. Granted it was the prevailing compulsion of the age of greed, and economists were hardly the worst, being more enablers than perpetrators.

So what ought professional thought leaders do next?

-examine past errors with the help of an objective advisor;
-make amends for these errors;
-learn to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
-help others who suffer from the same compulsions especially in the area of finance and politics, and from the damages that have been inflicted on them.


This is a book we all need to read.

ilsm -> pgl:

Historical context:

Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present by Jeff Madrick (Author) (C) 2011.

anne :

September 26, 2014

Europe's Austerity Zombies
By Joseph E. Stiglitz

NEW YORK – "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the theory," goes the old adage. But too often it is easier to keep the theory and change the facts – or so German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other pro-austerity European leaders appear to believe. Though facts keep staring them in the face, they continue to deny reality.

Austerity has failed. But its defenders are willing to claim victory on the basis of the weakest possible evidence: the economy is no longer collapsing, so austerity must be working! But if that is the benchmark, we could say that jumping off a cliff is the best way to get down from a mountain; after all, the descent has been stopped.

But every downturn comes to an end. Success should not be measured by the fact that recovery eventually occurs, but by how quickly it takes hold and how extensive the damage caused by the slump.

Viewed in these terms, austerity has been an utter and unmitigated disaster, which has become increasingly apparent as European Union economies once again face stagnation, if not a triple-dip recession, with unemployment persisting at record highs and per capita real (inflation-adjusted) GDP in many countries remaining below pre-recession levels. In even the best-performing economies, such as Germany, growth since the 2008 crisis has been so slow that, in any other circumstance, it would be rated as dismal.

The most afflicted countries are in a depression. There is no other word to describe an economy like that of Spain or Greece, where nearly one in four people – and more than 50% of young people – cannot find work. To say that the medicine is working because the unemployment rate has decreased by a couple of percentage points, or because one can see a glimmer of meager growth, is akin to a medieval barber saying that a bloodletting is working, because the patient has not died yet.

Extrapolating Europe's modest growth from 1980 onwards, my calculations show that output in the eurozone today is more than 15% below where it would have been had the 2008 financial crisis not occurred, implying a loss of some $1.6 trillion this year alone, and a cumulative loss of more than $6.5 trillion. Even more disturbing, the gap is widening, not closing (as one would expect following a downturn, when growth is typically faster than normal as the economy makes up lost ground).

Simply put, the long recession is lowering Europe's potential growth. Young people who should be accumulating skills are not. There is overwhelming evidence that they face the prospect of significantly lower lifetime income than if they had come of age in a period of full employment.

Meanwhile, Germany is forcing other countries to follow policies that are weakening their economies – and their democracies. When citizens repeatedly vote for a change of policy – and few policies matter more to citizens than those that affect their standard of living – but are told that these matters are determined elsewhere or that they have no choice, both democracy and faith in the European project suffer.

France voted to change course three years ago. Instead, voters have been given another dose of pro-business austerity. One of the longest-standing propositions in economics is the balanced-budget multiplier – increasing taxes and expenditures in tandem stimulates the economy. And if taxes target the rich, and spending targets the poor, the multiplier can be especially high. But France's so-called socialist government is lowering corporate taxes and cutting expenditures – a recipe almost guaranteed to weaken the economy, but one that wins accolades from Germany.

The hope is that lower corporate taxes will stimulate investment. This is sheer nonsense. What is holding back investment (both in the United States and Europe) is lack of demand, not high taxes. Indeed, given that most investment is financed by debt, and that interest payments are tax-deductible, the level of corporate taxation has little effect on investment.

Likewise, Italy is being encouraged to accelerate privatization. But Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has the good sense to recognize that selling national assets at fire-sale prices makes little sense. Long-run considerations, not short-run financial exigencies, should determine which activities occur in the private sector. The decision should be based on where activities are carried out most efficiently, serving the interests of most citizens the best.

Privatization of pensions, for example, has proved costly in those countries that have tried the experiment. America's mostly private health-care system is the least efficient in the world. These are hard questions, but it is easy to show that selling state-owned assets at low prices is not a good way to improve long-run financial strength.

All of the suffering in Europe – inflicted in the service of a man-made artifice, the euro – is even more tragic for being unnecessary. Though the evidence that austerity is not working continues to mount, Germany and the other hawks have doubled down on it, betting Europe's future on a long-discredited theory. Why provide economists with more facts to prove the point?

Joseph E. Stiglitz is a Nobel laureate in economics and University Professor at Columbia University.

Sandwichman :

According to Krugman "Madrick is able to claim that Say's Law is pervasive in mainstream economics only by lumping it together with a number of other concepts that, correct or not, are actually quite different." Krugman asks: "But is this 'mainstream economics'?"

Well, yes and no. Not literally or in Keynes's "supply creates its own demand" caricature. But Nassau W. Senior reformulated Say's argument (which wasn't presented by Say as a law) in terms of a "first fundamental proposition" that he described as a law with the same universality and certainty as the law of gravity in physics.

It might not sound like "supply creates its own demand" on first hearing but Senior deduces the same conclusion of an impossibility of a general glut from it. Senior's proposition IS widely taken for granted or propounded in mainstream economics. It states :

"That every man is desirous to obtain, with as little sacrifice as possible, as much as possible of the articles of wealth."

One might even detect an affinity with Lionel Robbins's definition of economics as "the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses." In a word, it's the maximization principle.

In "Expectation and Rational Conduct" (1937) Terence Hutchison argued that Senior's first fundamental proposition shared "one remarkable characteristic" with "almost all" formulations of the utilitarian maximization doctrine: "they appear further to postulate, and only are applicable if the further postulate is made, that all expectations are perfectly correct." In these formulations, uncertainty is relegated to an ambiguous ceteris paribus alibi which makes the utilitarian calculus immune from criticism.

anne -> Sandwichman:

September 27, 2014

No. 2 on Madrick's bad idea list is Say's Law, which states that savings are automatically invested, so that there cannot be an overall shortfall in demand. A further implication of Say's Law is that government stimulus can never do any good, because deficit spending by the public sector will always crowd out an equal amount of private spending.

But is this "mainstream economics"? Madrick cites two University of Chicago professors, Casey Mulligan and John Cochrane, who did indeed echo Say's Law when arguing against the Obama stimulus. But these economists were outliers within the profession. Chicago's own business school regularly polls a representative sample of influential economists for their views on policy issues; when it asked whether the Obama stimulus had reduced the unemployment rate, 92 percent of the respondents said that it had. Madrick is able to claim that Say's Law is pervasive in mainstream economics only by lumping it together with a number of other concepts that, correct or not, are actually quite different....

-- Paul Krugman

Sandwichman -> anne:

Say's Law DOESN'T state that savings are automatically invested. It both assumes it and implies it, though -- because it is a tautology it implies what it assumes. Say stated that every product brought to the market opens up a market for (other) goods to the full extent of its value.

anne -> Sandwichman:

"A further implication of Say's Law is that government stimulus can never do any good, because deficit spending by the public sector will always crowd out an equal amount of private spending."

-- Paul Krugman

[ This is the passage that I mean to argue against. ]

Main Street Muse :

The devotion some economists have for idealistic visions like "the invisible hand," etc. is appalling.

And some still trot out that failed BS called "trickle down" - despite the fact that evidence has never supported the trickle down theory.

But who needs facts when ideology trumps all? At least that's how it seems when looking at practitioners of that dismal science.

[Sep 26, 2014] 'The New Classical Clique'

Economist's View

Paul Krugman continues the conversation on New Classical economics::

The New Classical Clique: Simon Wren-Lewis thinks some more about macroeconomics gone astray; Robert J. Waldmann weighs in. For those new to this conversation, the question is why starting in the 1970s much of academic macroeconomics was taken over by a school of thought that began by denying any useful role for policies to raise demand in a slump, and eventually coalesced around denial that the demand side of the economy has any role in causing slumps.
I was a grad student and then an assistant professor as this was happening, albeit doing international economics – and international macro went in a different direction, for reasons I'll get to in a bit. So I have some sense of what was really going on. And while both Wren-Lewis and Waldmann hit on most of the main points, neither I think gets at the important role of personal self-interest. New classical macro was and still is many things – an ideological bludgeon against liberals, a showcase for fancy math, a haven for people who want some kind of intellectual purity in a messy world. But it's also a self-promoting clique. ...

Regarding Waldmann's remark about the ideological proclivities of, among others, Martin Feldstein, at the recent NBER meetings in D.C. he presented a paper on reducing tax expenditures to lower the deficit, wherein no tax expenditure favoring saving or investment fell to his axe. When someone in the audience mentioned that tax expenditures for saving probably reduced saving more than increased it (since the cost to the Gov exceeds the marginal effect on saving), he professed ignorance of whether or not that is true. (It is.)

bakho :

In the 70s models were started in a lot of fields in addition to economics including biology, environmental science, ecology. In part it looks to have been physics envy. But the physicists made models of systems that were far more simple than economics. Modelers in the 70s went to work using computers that filled whole rooms but had less computing power than my laptop. By necessity they had to make assumptions that made the models crude predictors. But computing power was increasing and the optimists believed that eventually it would be possible to model such complex systems as economics using micro foundations, a lifetimes work.............. Not. Micro founded models make about as much sense as building a weather model based on individual atoms. Computers still are not there yet and may never be. The modelers of the 70s were overoptimistic about what they could deliver and buffaloed many people into thinking they were hot stuff. It was an exclusive club with higher math skills required as a ticket to admission. It is most difficult to cut losses on sunk costs, but that is their legacy.

Rather than detailed models that provide insights to the minutiae of economies, models have many short cuts and assumptions that assume as givens what might be important insights. They assumed the economy of the time: Full employment and supply limited. The models of the 70s fell apart with the 80s recession but regained their footing after the recovery and great moderation when the economy was in a sweet spot that required little action for the Fed. Thus the models had several decades to coast along without major fail. We hit an economy that was demand limited and high unemployment. The things many models simply assumed away were the very problems that needed addressing.

The 70s models belong on the dust heap of history in the company of many failed models in other disciplines that have long since been abandoned. As the Nobel Laureate Max Planck noted, "Science advances one funeral at a time."

bakho -> bakho...

SWL wonders why Keynes was dismissed in the 70s.

Very wealthy special interests disliked Keynes, disliked the New Deal and spent some of their money to support academics and intellectuals that could dismiss Keynes or show that his policies were in error. They funded people to work on the project of undermining Keynes and still do. Wealthy elites were eager to support economists to work on economics projects that denounced Keynes. Researchers of all striped try to keep their patrons happy. If refutation of Keynes was the price demanded in order to build up a computer based economics from micro foundations so be it. Keynes wasn't needed for micro foundations. Keynes was an impediment to funding. It is not surprising that Keynes was jettisoned. When micro foundations sputtered, there was too much crow to be eaten. Better to double down than die of embarrassment.

[Feb 01, 2014] 1,400 Sue General Electric, Toshiba and Hitachi for Fukushima Disaster

Zero Hedge
Submitted by George Washington on 01/31/2014 19:16 -0500
We've previously noted that General Electric should be held partially responsible for the Fukushima reactor because General Electric knew that its reactors were unsafe:

5 of the 6 nuclear reactors at Fukushima are General Electric Mark 1 reactors.

GE knew decades ago that the design was faulty.

ABC News reported in 2011:

Thirty-five years ago, Dale G. Bridenbaugh and two of his colleagues at General Electric resigned from their jobs after becoming increasingly convinced that the nuclear reactor design they were reviewing — the Mark 1 — was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident.

Questions persisted for decades about the ability of the Mark 1 to handle the immense pressures that would result if the reactor lost cooling power, and today that design is being put to the ultimate test in Japan. Five of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which has been wracked since Friday's earthquake with explosions and radiation leaks, are Mark 1s.

"The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant," Bridenbaugh told ABC News in an interview. "The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release."


Still, concerns about the Mark 1 design have resurfaced occasionally in the years since Bridenbaugh came forward. In 1986, for instance, Harold Denton, then the director of NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, spoke critically about the design during an industry conference.

"I don't have the same warm feeling about GE containment that I do about the larger dry containments," he said, according to a report at the time that was referenced Tuesday in The Washington Post.

"There is a wide spectrum of ability to cope with severe accidents at GE plants," Denton said. "And I urge you to think seriously about the ability to cope with such an event if it occurred at your plant."


When asked if [the remedial measures performed on the Fukushima reactors by GE before 2011] was sufficient, he paused. "What I would say is, the Mark 1 is still a little more susceptible to an accident that would result in a loss of containment."

The New York Times reported that other government officials warned about the dangers inherent in GE's Mark 1 design:

In 1972, Stephen H. Hanauer, then a safety official with the Atomic Energy Commission, recommended that the Mark 1 system be discontinued because it presented unacceptable safety risks. Among the concerns cited was the smaller containment design, which was more susceptible to explosion and rupture from a buildup in hydrogen — a situation that may have unfolded at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Later that same year, Joseph Hendrie, who would later become chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a successor agency to the atomic commission, said the idea of a ban on such systems was attractive. But the technology had been so widely accepted by the industry and regulatory officials, he said, that "reversal of this hallowed policy, particularly at this time, could well be the end of nuclear power."

This faulty design has made the Fukushima disaster much worse.

Specifically, the several reactors exploded scattering clumps of radioactive fuel far and wide.

In addition, the Mark 1 included an absolutely insane design element: storing huge quantities of radioactive fuel rods 100 feet up in the air.

The Christian Science Monitor noted:

A particular feature of the 40-year old General Electric Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor model – such as the six reactors at the Fukushima site – is that each reactor has a separate spent-fuel pool. These sit near the top of each reactor and adjacent to it ….

Indeed, the fuel pools have caught fires several times, and now constitute an enormous danger. [More.]


Heck of a job, GE …

Unfortunately, there are 23 virtually-identical GE Mark 1 reactors in the U.S.

This is not to say that Tepco and the Japanese government are not to blame also. They are.

But GE and the American government are largely responsible as well.

Greenpeace pointed out in in 2013:

Former Babcock-Hitachi engineer Mitsuhiko Tanaka said in a Greenpeace video about a flawed reactor vessel Hitachi made for Fukushima: "when the stakes are raised to such a height, a company will not choose what is safe and legal. Even if it is dangerous they will choose to save the company from destruction."

And Toshiba built 2 of the Fukushima reactors- including reactor number 3 - which is now rubble:

Investigative reporter Greg Palast also notes that Toshiba was one of the main designers of the failed diesel generators which failed during the earthquake and tsunami ... and that the generator design was faulty.

A 1,400-person lawsuit has just been filed to hold GE – as well as 2 other companies responsible for Fukushima reactor construction, Toshiba and Hitachi – responsible.

AP reports:

About 1,400 people filed a joint lawsuit Thursday against three companies that manufactured reactors at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant ….

The 1,415 plaintiffs, including 38 Fukushima residents and 357 people from outside Japan, said the manufacturers — Toshiba, GE and Hitachi — failed to make needed safety improvements to the four decade-old reactors at the Fukushima plant ….

Are they doing it for the money?


They are seeking compensation of 100 yen ($1) each, saying their main goal is to raise awareness of the problem.

Postscript: If these companies are not held accountable, they will do it again and again. For example, the Department of Justice announced earlier this month:

General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy Americas LLC (GE Hitachi) has agreed to pay $2.7 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that it made false statements and claims to the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) concerning an advanced nuclear reactor design. GE Hitachi, a provider of nuclear energy products and services headquartered in Wilmington, N.C., is a subsidiary of General Electric Company (GE) that is also partially owned by Hitachi Ltd., a multinational engineering and manufacturing firm headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. GE is headquartered in Fairfield, Conn.


The government alleged that GE Hitachi concealed known flaws in its steam dryer analysis and falsely represented that it had properly analyzed the steam dryer in accordance with applicable standards and had verified the accuracy of its modeling using reliable data.

[Jan 16, 2014] Economics for idiots by Associate Professor Evan Jones

September 30, 2013 | Independent Australia

...The truth is that the Neoclassical paradigm is a fraud. The Neoclassical paradigm's dominance of the tertiary Economics syllabus is a monumental scandal. Perennial dissent in the discipline has perennially been marginalised, crushed or colonised. Ergas here is merely embodying a long tradition of the Inquisition against heresy. Neoclassical economics is not the Queen of the Social Sciences, but a religion.

Ironically, the hegemony of Neoclassical economics is not primarily for ideological reasons. Neoclassical economic theory has a loose relationship with but is distinct from the politically influential neoliberal ideology. Both are rooted in a priori axioms, for which evidence is irrelevant. The latter, self-sufficient, appeals to vested interests and those seeking simple catechisms for a complex world.

Neoclassical economics is hegemonic predominantly for reasons of attractive analytical technique — grownups playing games with each other. Another school of thought, Austrian economics, is more transparently aligned to a pro-unrestrained capitalist ideology, but it remains marginalised or non-existent in the conventional syllabus.

Neoclassical economics is centred on a pure theory (or theories) of the market mechanism. But the theories do not explicate real-world markets. Bizarrely, a tertiary economics education serves not to explicitly articulate (and possibly defend) the character of the capitalist system but to obfuscate its character by ignoring it.

The vacuum that is created in terms of understanding wage labour and the labour 'market' is particularly pernicious. It is for this reason that distinct Departments of Industrial Relations were gradually established in universities after World War II, only to now have the vacuum recreated as those Departments are refashioned under the rubric of 'Human Relations Management'.

Thus economics graduates (save for exposure to optional and disappearing courses in history/institutions/empirics) come out professionally ill-equipped to work in fields which presume substantive training under the label. Learning on the job and self-education have to fill the cavernous hole, but perennially a socialised ignorance remains.

[Jan 14, 2014] 9-11 Truth The Mysterious Collapse of WTC Seven

In 12 years, like was the case with JFK assassination, the complex interplay of political forces which could benefit from the event gradually started to come to the surface. As well as related pressure on the researchers. For example a scientist who formerly worked for NIST has reported that the investigation has been "fully hijacked from the scientific into the political realm," with the result that scientists working for NIST "lost [their] scientific independence, and became little more than 'hired guns.'"11
Global Research

NIST and Scientific Fraud

With regard to the question of science: Far from being supported by good science, NIST's report repeatedly makes its case by resorting to scientific fraud.

Before going into details, let me point out that, if NIST did engage in fraudulent science, this would not be particularly surprising. NIST is an agency of the US Department of Commerce. During the years it was writing its World Trade Center reports, therefore, it was an agency of the Bush-Cheney administration. In 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists put out a document charging this administration with "distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends." By the end of the Bush administration, this document had been signed by over 15,000 scientists, including 52 Nobel Laureates and 63 recipients of the National Medal of Science. [10]

Moreover, a scientist who formerly worked for NIST has reported that it has been "fully hijacked from the scientific into the political realm," with the result that scientists working for NIST "lost [their] scientific independence, and became little more than 'hired guns.'"11

Referring in particular to NIST's work on the World Trade Center, he said everything had to be approved by the Department of Commerce, the National Security Agency, and the Office of Management and Budget—"an arm of the Executive Office of the President," which "had a policy person specifically delegated to provide oversight on [NIST's] work." [12]

One of the general principles of scientific work is that its conclusions must not be dictated by nonscientific concerns – in other words, by any concern other than that of discovering the truth. This former NIST employee's statement gives us reason to suspect that NIST, while preparing its report on WTC 7, would have been functioning as a political, not a scientific, agency. The amount of fraud in this report suggests that this was indeed the case.

According to the National Science Foundation, the major types of scientific fraud are fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. There is no sign that NIST is guilty of plagiarism, but it is certainly guilty of fabrication, which can be defined as "making up results," and falsification, which means either "changing or omitting data." [13]

The omission of evidence by NIST is so massive, in fact, that I treat it as a distinct type of scientific fraud. As philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said in his 1925 book, Science and the Modern World: "It is easy enough to find a [self-consistent] theory . . . , provided that you are content to disregard half your evidence." The "moral temper required for the pursuit of truth," he added, includes "[a]n unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account." [14]

NIST, however, seemed to manifest an unflinching determination to disregard half of the relevant evidence.

See also Mayberry Machiavellians

[Dec 31, 2013] Academics Who Defend Wall St. Reap Reward By DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI

The efforts by the financial players, the interviews show, are part of a sweeping campaign to beat back regulation and shape policies that affect the prices that people around the world pay for essentials like food, fuel and cotton... Underwriting researchers and academic institutions is one part of Wall Street's efforts to fend off regulation.
December 27, 2013 |
Published: 440 Comments

Signs of the energy business are inescapable in and around Houston — the pipelines, refineries and tankers that crowd the harbor, and the gleaming office towers where oil companies and energy traders have transformed the skyline.

And in a squat glass building on the University of Houston campus, a measure of the industry's pre-eminence can also be found in the person of Craig Pirrong, a professor of finance, who sits at the nexus of commerce and academia.

As energy companies and traders have reaped fortunes by buying and selling oil and other commodities during the recent boom in the commodity markets, Mr. Pirrong has positioned himself as the hard-nosed defender of financial speculators — the combative, occasionally acerbic academic authority to call upon when difficult questions arise in Congress and elsewhere about the multitrillion-dollar global commodities trade.

Do financial speculators and commodity index funds drive up prices of oil and other essentials, ultimately costing consumers? Since 2006, Mr. Pirrong has written a flurry of influential letters to federal agencies arguing that the answer to that question is an emphatic no. He has testified before Congress to that effect, hosted seminars with traders and government regulators, and given countless interviews for financial publications absolving Wall Street speculation of any appreciable role in the price spikes.

What Mr. Pirrong has routinely left out of most of his public pronouncements in favor of speculation is that he has reaped financial benefits from speculators and some of the largest players in the commodities business, The New York Times has found.

While his university's financial ties to speculators have been the subject of scrutiny by the news media and others, it was not until last month, after repeated requests by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, that the University of Houston, a public institution, insisted that Mr. Pirrong submit disclosure forms that shed some light on those financial ties.

Governments and regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe have been gradually moving to restrict speculation by major banks. The Federal Reserve, concerned about the risks, is reviewing whether it should tighten regulations and limit the activities of banks in the commodities world.

But interviews with dozens of academics and traders, and a review of hundreds of emails and other documents involving two highly visible professors in the commodities field — Mr. Pirrong and Professor Scott H. Irwin at the University of Illinois — show how major players on Wall Street and elsewhere have been aggressive in underwriting and promoting academic work.

The efforts by the financial players, the interviews show, are part of a sweeping campaign to beat back regulation and shape policies that affect the prices that people around the world pay for essentials like food, fuel and cotton.

Professors Pirrong and Irwin say that industry backing did not color their opinions.

Mr. Pirrong's research was cited extensively by the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by Wall Street interests in 2011 that for two years has blocked the limits on speculation that had been approved by Congress as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. During that same time period, Mr. Pirrong has worked as a paid research consultant for one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, according to his disclosure form.

While he customarily identifies himself solely as an academic, Mr. Pirrong has been compensated in the last several years by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the commodities trading house Trafigura, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and a handful of companies that speculate in energy, according to the disclosure forms.

The disclosure forms do not require Mr. Pirrong to reveal how much money he made from his consulting work, and a university spokesman said that the university believed it was strengthened by the financial support it received from the business community. When asked about the financial benefits of his outside activities, Mr. Pirrong replied, "That's between me and the I.R.S."

Debating to a Stalemate

No one disputes that a substantial portion of price increases in oil and food over the last decade were caused by fundamental market factors: increased demand from China and other industrializing countries, extreme weather, currency fluctuations and the diversion of grain to biofuel.

But so much speculative money poured into markets — from $13 billion in 2003 to $317 billion at a peak in 2008 — that many economists, and even some commodities traders and investment banks, say the flood became a factor of its own in distorting prices.

Others assert that commodities markets have historically gone through intermittent price bubbles and that the most recent gyrations were not caused by the influx of speculative money. Mr. Pirrong has also argued that the huge inflow of Wall Street money may actually lower costs by decreasing what commodities producers pay to manage their risk.

Mr. Pirrong and the University of Houston are not alone in publicly defending speculation while accepting financial help from speculators. Other researchers have received funding or paid consulting jobs courtesy of major commodities traders including AIG Financial Products, banks including the Royal Bank of Canada or financial industry groups like the Futures Industry Association.

One of the most widely quoted defenders of speculation in agricultural markets, Mr. Irwin of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, consults for a business that serves hedge funds, investment banks and other commodities speculators, according to information received by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act. The business school at the University of Illinois has received more than a million dollars in donations from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and several major commodities traders, to pay for scholarships and classes and to build a laboratory that resembles a trading floor at the commodities market.

Mr. Irwin, the University of Illinois and the Chicago exchange all say that his research is not related to the financial support.

Underwriting researchers and academic institutions is one part of Wall Street's efforts to fend off regulation.

The industry has also spent millions on lobbyists and lawyers to promote its views in Congress and with government regulators. Major financial companies have also funded magazines and websites to promote academics with friendly points of view. When two studies commissioned by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the financial regulatory agency, raised questions about the possible drawbacks of speculation and of high-frequency trading, lawyers for the Chicago exchange wrote a letter of complaint, saying that its members' proprietary trading information was at risk of disclosure, and the research program was shut down.

The result of the various Wall Street efforts has been a policy stalemate that has allowed intensive speculation in commodities to continue despite growing concern that it may harm consumers and, for example, worsen food shortages. After a two-year legal delay, the futures trading commission this month introduced plans for new limits on speculation. Some European banks have stopped speculating in food, fearing it might contribute to worldwide hunger.

Mr. Pirrong, Mr. Irwin and other scholars say that financial considerations have not influenced their work. In some cases they have gone against the industry's interests. They also say that other researchers with no known financial ties to the industry have also raised doubts about any link involving speculation and soaring prices.

But ethics experts say that when academics fail to disclose financial ties, they do a disservice to the public and undermine the perception of impartiality.

"If those that are creating the culture around financial regulation also have a significant, if hidden, conflict of interest, our public is not likely to be well served," said Gerald Epstein, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who in 2010 released a study about conflicts of interest among academics who advised the federal government after the financial crisis.

Speculation in the Market

Financial ties among professors promoting speculation and the banks and trading firms that profit from it date back to the beginning of the recent commodities boom, which got an intellectual kick-start from academia.

After Congress and the Clinton administration deregulated the commodities markets in 2000, and the Securities and Exchange Commission lowered capital requirements on investment banks in 2004, the financial giants began developing new funds to capitalize on the opportunity.

AIG Financial Products commissioned two highly respected Yale University professors in 2004 to analyze the performance of commodities markets over a half-century. The professors — who prominently acknowledged the financial support — concluded that commodities markets "work well when they are needed most," namely when the stock and bond markets falter.

Money flowed into the commodities markets, and although the markets have cooled in the last two years, the price of oil is now four times what it was a decade ago, and corn, wheat and soybeans are all more than twice as expensive.

A public uproar about the rising prices became heated in the spring of 2008, as oil soared and gas prices became an issue in the presidential campaign. Congress scheduled public hearings to explore whether speculation had become so excessive it was distorting prices.

Financial speculators are investors who bet on price swings without any intention of taking delivery of the physical commodity. They can help smooth the volatility of the market by adding capital, spreading risk and offering buyers and sellers a kind of price insurance. But an assortment of studies by academics, congressional committees and consumer advocate groups had found evidence suggesting that the wave of speculation that accelerated in 2003 had at times overwhelmed the market.

Financial speculators accounted for 30 percent of commodities markets in 2002, and 70 percent in 2008. As gasoline topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008, Congress tried to soothe angry motorists by pushing for restrictions on oil speculation.

Mr. Pirrong jumped into the fray. He wrote papers, blog posts and opinion pieces for publications like The Wall Street Journal, calling the concern about speculation "a witch hunt."

Mr. Pirrong also testified before the House of Representatives in 2008 and, identifying himself as an academic who had worked for commodities exchanges a decade earlier, he warned that congressional plans to rein in speculators would only make matters worse.

"Indeed, such policies are likely to harm U.S. consumers and producers," he said. When oil company executives, traders and investment banks cited speculation as a major cause of surging prices which, by some estimates, was costing American consumers more than $300 billion a year, Mr. Pirrong dutifully contradicted them.

Mr. Pirrong's profile grew as he sat on advisory panels and hosted conferences with senior executives from the trading world as well as top federal regulators. Last year, Blythe Masters, head of commodity trading at JPMorgan Chase, approached him to write a report for a global bank lobbying group, the Global Financial Markets Association.

The report was completed in July 2012, but the association declined to release it. Mr. Pirrong said it was because he had reached the conclusion that banks should be regulated more heavily than other commodity traders. "I wouldn't change the call, so they sat on the report," he wrote on his blog, The Streetwise Professor.

What Mr. Pirrong did not reveal in his public statements about the report is that he had financial ties to both sides of that debate: the commodities traders as well as the banks. Ms. Masters declined to comment. Over the years, Mr. Pirrong has resisted releasing details of his own financial dealings with speculators, and when The Times first requested his disclosure forms in March, the University of Houston said that none were required of him. The disclosure forms Mr. Pirrong ultimately filed in November indicate that since 2011, he has been paid for outside work involving 11 different clients. Some fees are for his work as an expert witness, testifying in court cases on behalf of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and a bank and a company that makes futures-trading software. The commodities firm Trafigura contracted him to conduct a research project.

Mr. Pirrong is also a member of the advisory board for TruMarx Partners, a company that sells software to energy traders, a position that entitles him to a stock option package.

It was reported in The Nation magazine in November that the University of Houston's Global Energy Management Institute, where Mr. Pirrong serves as a director, has also received funding from the Chicago exchange, as well as financial institutions that profit from speculation, including Citibank and Bank of America.

On his blog, Mr. Pirrong has dismissed suggestions that his work for a school that trains future oil industry executives creates a conflict of interest.

"Uhm, no, dipstick," he wrote in 2011, replying to a reader who had questioned his objectivity. "I call 'em like I see 'em." In a telephone interview last week, Mr. Pirrong said that his consulting work gave him insight into the kind of real-world case studies that improve his research and teaching. "My compensation doesn't depend on my conclusions," he said.

When asked about Mr. Pirrong's disclosure, Richard Bonnin, a university spokesman said only that all employees were given annual training on the school's policy, which requires researchers to report paid outside consultant work.

Professors as Pitchmen

Concerns about academic conflicts of interest have become a major issue among business professors and economists since the financial crisis. In 2010, the documentary "Inside Job" blasted a handful of prominent academic economists who did not reveal Wall Street's financial backing of studies which, in some cases, extolled the virtues of financially unsound assets. Two years later, the American Economic Association adopted tougher disclosure rules.

Even with the guidelines, however, financial firms have been able to use the resources and credibility of academia to shape the political debate.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, at times blur the line between research and public relations.

The exchange's public relations staff has helped Mr. Irwin shop his pro-speculation essays to newspaper op-ed pages, according to emails reviewed by The Times. His studies, writings, videotaped speeches and interviews have been displayed on the exchange's website and its online magazine.

In June 2009, when a Senate subcommittee released a report about speculation in the wheat market that raised concerns about new regulations, executives at the Chicago exchange turned to Mr. Irwin and his University of Illinois colleagues to come up with a response.

Dr. Paul Ellinger, department head of agriculture and consumer economics, said, "The interactions that have occurred here are common among researchers."

A spokesman for the exchange said that Mr. Irwin was just one of a "large and growing pool of esteemed academics, governmental editors and editors in the mainstream press" whose work it follows and posts on its various publications. While the C.M.E. has given more than $1.4 million to the University of Illinois since 2008, most has gone to the business school and none to the School of Agriculture and Consumer Economics, where Mr. Irwin teaches. And when Mr. Irwin asked the exchange's foundation for $25,000 several years ago to sponsor a website he runs to inform farmers about agricultural conditions and regulations, his request was denied.

Still, some of Mr. Irwin's recent research has been funded by major players in the commodities world. Last year, he was paid $50,000 as a consultant for Gresham Investment Management in Chicago, which manages $16 billion and runs its own commodities index fund. He noted Gresham's sponsorship in the paper and on his disclosure form, and said it gave him the opportunity to use new data and test new hypotheses.

Mr. Irwin also works for a business called Yieldcast that caters to agricultural producers, investments banks and other speculators, selling them predictions of corn and soybean yields. Mr. Irwin has said he does not consider it a conflict because he works only with the mathematical forecasting models and never consults with clients.

"The debate about financialization is primarily about the large index funds, none of whom are clients," he said.

Mr. Irwin declined to provide a list of his clients, and the university said its disclosure requirements did not compel him to do so.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 31, 2013

An article on Saturday about financial rewards from Wall Street to academic experts whose research supports the financial community's views on commodity trading misidentified a Canadian bank and commodities trader that financed the work of academic researchers or paid consultants. It is the Royal Bank of Canada, not the Bank of Canada, which is that nation's central bank. The article also rendered incorrectly the university affiliation of Scott H. Irwin, a prominent defender of speculation in agricultural markets. He is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — not Champaign-Urbana. And a picture caption with the continuation of the article misidentified the subject of one of several pictures. The lower right photograph showed the atrium of the University of Illinois's business school — not its Market Information Lab, which was shown behind Professor Irwin in the photograph at the left.


[Dec 18, 2013] 'Four Missing Ingredients in Macroeconomic Models'

Dec 17, 2013 | Economist's View

Antonio Fatas:

Four missing ingredients in macroeconomic models: It is refreshing to see top academics questioning some of the assumptions that economists have been using in their models. Krugman, Brad DeLong and many others are opening a methodological debate about what constitute an acceptable economic model and how to validate its predictions. The role of micro foundations, the existence of a natural state towards the economy gravitates,... are all very interesting debates that tend to be ignored (or assumed away) in academic research.

I would like to go further and add a few items to their list... In random order:

1. The business cycle is not symmetric. ... Interestingly, it was Milton Friedman who put forward the "plucking" model of business cycles as an alternative to the notion that fluctuations are symmetric. In Friedman's model output can only be below potential or maximum. If we were to rely on asymmetric models of the business cycle, our views on potential output and the natural rate of unemployment would be radically different. We would not be rewriting history to claim that in 2007 GDP was above potential in most OECD economies and we would not be arguing that the natural unemployment rate in Southern Europe is very close to its actual.

2. ...most academic research is produced around models where small and frequent shocks drive economic fluctuations, as opposed to large and infrequent events. The disconnect comes probably from the fact that it is so much easier to write models with small and frequent shocks than having to define a (stochastic?) process for large events. It gets even worse if one thinks that recessions are caused by the dynamics generated during expansions. Most economic models rely on unexpected events to generate crisis, and not on the internal dynamics that precede the crisis.

[A little bit of self-promotion: my paper with Ilian Mihov on the shape and length of recoveries presents some evidence in favor of these two hypothesis.]

3. There has to be more than price rigidity. ...

4. The notion that co-ordination across economic agents matters to explain the dynamics of business cycles receives very limited attention in academic research. ...

I am aware that they are plenty of papers that deal with these four issues, some of them published in the best academic journals. But most of these papers are not mainstream. Most economists are sympathetic to these assumption but avoid writing papers using them because they are afraid they will be told that their assumptions are ad-hoc and that the model does not have enough micro foundations (for the best criticism of this argument, read the latest post of Simon Wren-Lewis). Time for a change?

On the plucking model, see here and here.

Jeffrey Stewart

"Krugman, Brad DeLong and many others are opening a methodological debate about what constitute an acceptable economic model and how to validate its predictions." -M. Thoma

The major problem is right here. Predictions as a theory evaluation criterion is misguided, ideological bunk. As long as neoclassical economists are focused on predictions, they are free to avoid analyzing capitalism as it really exists.

The main topic for scientific economics is EXPLAINING the normal, profitable operation of capitalism and why it breaks down. Neoclassical economists will never uncover the truth about capitalism as long as they utilize models whose exact relationship to capitalist reality is at best unknown and at worst absurd. That is, as long as they focus on predictions instead of explanations they are engaged in a apologetics and not science.


4. The notion that co-ordination across economic agents matters to explain the dynamics of business cycles receives very limited attention in academic research. ...

And who exactly does the coordinating? well, families of course, and managers and owners and corporations - with in whatever rules and societal norms exist - AND the Government.

The Government is a central component of a modern economy including and centrally as a coordinating agent on behalf of all the little agents. The Reagan revolution solved the 70s by throwing out government - who will save us from the 00s and increase effective coordination???

Also, can we just through out the idea of equilibrium? It's not all bad, but somehow I have a strong suspicion that Econ would be better off without it.


I think he is really on target with the issue of the systematic connection between the dynamics of booms and the following crisis, as well as the stochastic elements in the business cycle. Both seem well supported by the observed patterns over the past 40 years. I also think far too little attention has been given to economic collusion, despite the fact the Adam Smith observed that it is near universal among capital.


One of the keys to recession is the change in velocity. In the last recession we saw great increase in the money supply reflected in decreases in velocity. Models that considered velocity nearly constant failed.

Is Economics a Science or a Religion - by Mark Buchanan

Jul 17, 2013 | Bloomberg

Is economics a science or a religion? Its practitioners like to think of it as akin to the former. The blind faith with which many do so suggests it has become too much like the latter, with potentially dire consequences for the real people the discipline is intended to help.

The idea of economics as religion harks back to at least 2001, when economist Robert Nelson published a book on the subject. Nelson argued that the policy advice economists draw from their theories is never "value-neutral" but foists their values, dressed up to look like objective science, on the rest of us.

Take, for example, free trade. In judging its desirability, economists weigh projected costs and benefits, an approach that superficially seems objective. Yet economists decide what enters the analysis and what gets ignored. Such things as savings in wages or transport lend themselves easily to measurement in monetary terms, while others, such as the social disruption of a community, do not. The mathematical calculations give the analysis a scientific wrapping, even when the content is just an expression of values.

Similar biases influence policy considerations on everything from labor laws to climate change. As Nelson put it, "the priesthood of a modern secular religion of economic progress" has pushed a narrow vision of economic "efficiency," wholly undeterred by a history of disastrous outcomes.

Rational Responses

The economic zeal reached its peak several years back, when a number of economists openly celebrated what they called economic imperialism -- the notion that the inherent superiority of their way of thinking would lead it to displace all other social sciences. Academics sought to bring the advanced calculus of rationality -- with its assumption that everything can be explained by people's perfectly rational responses to incentives -- to the primitives in fields ranging from sociology to anthropology.

The imperial adventure lost much of its momentum in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. More attention has turned to the psychological, or behavioral, revolution, which has established that the rational ideal of economic theory isn't even a good starting point as a crude caricature of the way real people act. We're often goal-oriented, of course, but we seek those goals through imperfect heuristic rules and trial and error, learning as we go. If anything, rationality is the anomaly in human life.

Of equal significance is a growing acceptance of Nelson's larger point: that economics is riddled with hidden value judgments that make its advice far from scientific. In one notable development, the Journal of Economic Perspectives published a paper by economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson that examines how value judgments -- in this case, the dismissal of political repercussions -- have undermined well-intentioned economic interventions.

Most economists, for instance, see the weakening of trade unions in the U.S. and other Western nations in the past few decades as a good thing, because unions' monopoly power over wages impairs companies' ability to adapt to the demands of the market. As Acemoglu and Robinson point out, however, unions do a lot more than influence the supply and cost of labor. In particular, they have historically played a prominent role in creating and supporting democracy, in limiting the political power of corporations, and in mitigating income inequality.

Narrow policy analyses have repeatedly led economists to push for policies that have had unexpected consequences for the balance of political power. Acemoglu and Robinson cite the push to privatize industries in Russia in the 1990s. The idea was that private ownership, no matter how it came about, would ultimately benefit the entire economy. In practice, a rigged process gave rise to an illegitimate oligarchy and an increase in inequality that set the stage for the ascendance of President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime.

Tragic Flaw

More recently, the gospel of economic efficiency helped lay the groundwork for the financial crisis, mostly by encouraging overconfidence in the wonders of financial engineering. Theory-induced dreams of market discipline provided justification for stripping away entirely sensible regulations, such as barriers between commercial and investment banking, and for avoiding oversight of the booming trade in derivatives. One result was an extremely wealthy financial lobby that is still working hard to block reform.

In all these cases, the tragic flaw lies in the heady confidence that comes with a one-size-fits-all theoretical framework. There's a real danger in seeing economics as an objective science from which all values have been stripped. Nelson preferred an older, more modest perspective on economics espoused by Frank Knight, a founder of the University of Chicago's free-market school of thought. Knight expressed the view that truly careful social and economic analysis emphasizes the limits to human knowledge and "the fatuousness of over-sanguine expectations" from economic-policy designs, including those favoring free enterprise.

In short, economists would do well to derive their prescriptions from observations of how the world really works, with a healthy respect for its complexity. Faith is no substitute for informed inquiry.

(Mark Buchanan, a theoretical physicist and the author of "Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology and the Natural Sciences Can Teach Us About Economics," is a Bloomberg View columnist.)

To contact the writer of this article: Mark Buchanan at

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Mark Whitehouse at

About Mark Buchanan"

Mark Buchanan, a theoretical physicist, is the author of the book "Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology and the ... MORE

More from Mark Buchanan:

[Dec 9, 2013] How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science by Randy Schekman

December 9, 2013 |

The Guardian, Monday 14.30 EST
Jump to comments (228)

We all know what distorting incentives have done to finance and banking. The incentives my colleagues face are not huge bonuses, but the professional rewards that accompany publication in prestigious journals – chiefly Nature, Cell and Science.

These luxury journals are supposed to be the epitome of quality, publishing only the best research. Because funding and appointment panels often use place of publication as a proxy for quality of science, appearing in these titles often leads to grants and professorships. But the big journals' reputations are only partly warranted. While they publish many outstanding papers, they do not publish only outstanding papers. Neither are they the only publishers of outstanding research.

These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept. The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called "impact factor" – a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research. Better papers, the theory goes, are cited more often, so better journals boast higher scores. Yet it is a deeply flawed measure, pursuing which has become an end in itself – and is as damaging to science as the bonus culture is to banking.

It is common, and encouraged by many journals, for research to be judged by the impact factor of the journal that publishes it. But as a journal's score is an average, it says little about the quality of any individual piece of research. What is more, citation is sometimes, but not always, linked to quality. A paper can become highly cited because it is good science – or because it is eye-catching, provocative or wrong. Luxury-journal editors know this, so they accept papers that will make waves because they explore sexy subjects or make challenging claims. This influences the science that scientists do. It builds bubbles in fashionable fields where researchers can make the bold claims these journals want, while discouraging other important work, such as replication studies.

In extreme cases, the lure of the luxury journal can encourage the cutting of corners, and contribute to the escalating number of papers that are retracted as flawed or fraudulent. Science alone has recently retracted high-profile papers reporting cloned human embryos, links between littering and violence, and the genetic profiles of centenarians. Perhaps worse, it has not retracted claims that a microbe is able to use arsenic in its DNA instead of phosphorus, despite overwhelming scientific criticism.

There is a better way, through the new breed of open-access journals that are free for anybody to read, and have no expensive subscriptions to promote. Born on the web, they can accept all papers that meet quality standards, with no artificial caps. Many are edited by working scientists, who can assess the worth of papers without regard for citations. As I know from my editorship of eLife, an open access journal funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Society, they are publishing world-class science every week.

[Oct 26, 2013] Bad Science

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but Ben Goldacre's book "Bad Science" is an interesting and relevant read

In the early days of the EFQM I believe they did some research that showed how the Dunning-Kruger effect inflated self assessment scores from less mature organisations to a level that would be a major achievement for a world class organisation.

James Finister

[Oct 22, 2013] Economist's View The Worst Ex-Central Banker in the World

Benedict@Large : \

On an adjacent post, someone remarked that economics wasn't a science. This isn't true. The problem is that too many of the people practicing economics (including most of the mainstream ... present company excepted) aren't scientists, and are only doing so because monied interests are paying their way to be in the way.

[Oct 21, 2013] Pseudoscience - Psychology Wiki

Pseudoscience is a term commonly applied to any body of knowledge, methodology, or practice that is portrayed as scientific but diverges substantially from the required standards for scientific work or is unsupported by scientific research.[1] (See Scientific method.)

The term "pseudoscience" generally has negative connotations because it asserts that things so labeled are inaccurately or deceptively described as science. As such, those labeled as practicing or advocating a "pseudoscience" almost always reject this classification.

[Aug 24, 2013] The Age of Denial and the Marketplace of Ideas

Economist's View
Mike the Mad Biologist:

The Age of Denial and the Marketplace of Ideas: I probably should have written "The Age of Denial Results from the Marketplace of Ideas." Physicist Adam Frank at the NY Times tackles the topic of denialism and science ...

Mark Thoma lists a bunch of reasons why this might be the case (boldface mine):

•The cranks have always been there, but today digital technology makes it easier to gain a platform.
•The stakes are higher, so winning is the only thing.
•Scientists have pushed too far and offered evidence as though it were fact, only to have to reverse themselves later (e.g. types of food that are harmful/helpful) eroding trust.
•Science education is so bad that the typical reporter has no idea how to tell fact from "manufactured doubt," and the resulting he said, she said journalism leaves the impression that both sides have a valid point.
•Scientists became too arrogant and self-important to interact with the lowly public, and it has cost them.
The political sphere has become ever more polarized and insular making it much easier for false ideas intended to promote political or economic gain to reverberate within the groups.
•Nothing has really changed, old people always think their age was the golden one.

I would add to the list:

•The opposition to certain fields and findings of science is central to self-identity and part of a larger world view and way of life (e.g., fundamentalist doctrines). It transcends data-driven assessment of single issues. Typically, people will resist changing their minds and only do so after a trauma or betrayal (personal or group) forces them to confront their inconsistencies.

I would argue the widespread acceptance of racism–I mean the flat-out, stone cold kind, not subtle prejudice–for much of the twentieth century has to be one of the dumbest displays of denialism. And it was certainly tied into notions of self-identity ("If you ain't better than a…, then who are you better than?"). So the oldsters, like Tolstoy's unhappy families, were stupid in their own ways.

But I want to return to the notion of a marketplace of ideas. I dislike that metaphor because it implies ideas are judged not on their validity, but on how well they are marketed. The implication of this is that once some rich wacko decides to fund a 'faith-tank', that entity essentially becomes a Self-Perpetuating Bullshit Machine, and is unstoppable. It's relatively cheap to 'put ideas out there.' More importantly, there's no way to stop them from doing so, nor do the individual actors pushing these ideas have any incentive to stop.

One more way we have commodified the previously uncommodifiable*.

*Or least to a recently unprecedented extent.


The key problem IMHO is that the science became political.

And well organized minority with money can dictate the political discourse to the less organized majority. That's how societies are organized (Iron law of oligarchy).

That means that well financed cranks employed in think tanks by elite for particular (often nefarious) purposes are now the feature not an aberration. They are an integral part of the modern social landscape.

Remember Academician Trofim Lysenko who pioneered the use a totalitarian state to suppress all research in genetics for almost three decades(1935-1965). Looks like his methods found a lot of talented followers in the West ;-)

Now we have Lysenkoism as a mainstream phenomenon. In other words parts of the science are now organized like high demand cult.


The Grand Old Party has fallen prey to a boatload of goofy economic ideas and become the Goofy Old Party. Trickle down, giving rich people tax cuts makes money for everyone else, rising tide lifts all boats (everyone has boats? who knew?), firing people creates more jobs, cutting pay and benefits increases spending and demand, closing voting locations in poor areas increases voting election integrity. But it gets worse, goofy ideas crowd out good ideas.

Romneycare works but the Goofy party has become so goofy it opposed it's own plan in Obamacare. Government spending is all waste. Goofy. So we can't have infrastructure spending that would create good jobs for millions of Americans. Goofy crowds out good. Government R&D is wasteful. Goofy. State funded R&D was the primary innovation force for the past 50 years: Internet, chip technology, Siri, touch screen, and pretty much everything Apple sells, nanotechnology, biotechnology, the algorithm that created Google--the list is almost comprehensive. Goofy crowds out good. But money talks louder than anything else, it seems. And if goofy is what's needed to get that big money happy, then it's goofy we get. From the Goofy Old Party.


I think the biggest factor is the internet giving fools and knaves a huge megaphone. That combined with confusion and distraction go a long way towards explaining this.

As regards science confusion, science is too hard. Only nerds are interested.


"But I want to return to the notion of a marketplace of ideas. I dislike that metaphor because it implies ideas are judged not on their validity, but on how well they are marketed."

You might not like it, but can you explain how that isn't an accurate depiction of reality? When faced with the kind of decisions that ordinary people cannot possibly understand, they will tend to choose the better marketing so long as it comes from people that seem to be experts.

For example, if you, an economist, are trying to decide between 2 different personal computer purchases, how do you go about doing it? I doubt you carefully weigh the pros and cons of various RAM sockets and SSD hard drives, but instead talk to someone who you trust who seems like s/he knows what that all means. And the thing is, because you aren't an expert, you can't know if that expert is lying to you.

The same phenomenon happens to most people on matters of public policy. If all the apparent experts you're exposed to are saying global warming is a myth cooked up by Al Gore to convince America to give up their freedom, then you're going to believe it.


The world has become complicated enough that no one can master the facts of more than one or two of a number of technically complicated but highly significant issues.

For instance, consider the question of whether waste material from nuclear power can be disposed of safely. I believe it can solely on the basis of an NSF study, which is the best information I know of. I am totally unable to evaluate the question myself.

Studies of the psychology of denialism have identified the choice of who qualifies as an expert to be a crucial variable. People tend to choose those who give answers that fit the rest of their world view. Present company excepted, of course.

But the only alternative to relying on experts is to be an expert, and this is impossible.


Some of these goofy ideas turn out to be good investments. Millions of Rubes will pay top dollar to see statues of Adam and Eve next to the dinosaurs. WTF/


Unfortunately we seem to be unable to convince the rest of the world to be science deniers.

Just another reason our economy is being shipped overseas.

Bill Tozier:

Has nobody ever read John Dewey on the importance of habit in psychology? Because yes, of course, and I'm pretty sure he even said why, and how to go about changing it.

And the missing link was:

Dismalist :

Well, another market failure! OK, let's abolish the market in ideas. Expression only with Genehmigung. By whom?


" I dislike that metaphor because it implies ideas are judged not on their validity, but on how well they are marketed."

The people who first used this metaphor cheerfully assumed that high quality wins in the marketplace, at least eventually.

We now doubt this. What is the alternative?

[Jul 18, 2013] Is Economics a Science or a Religion - by Mark Buchanan

Jul 17, 2013 | Bloomberg

Is economics a science or a religion? Its practitioners like to think of it as akin to the former. The blind faith with which many do so suggests it has become too much like the latter, with potentially dire consequences for the real people the discipline is intended to help.

The idea of economics as religion harks back to at least 2001, when economist Robert Nelson published a book on the subject. Nelson argued that the policy advice economists draw from their theories is never "value-neutral" but foists their values, dressed up to look like objective science, on the rest of us.

Take, for example, free trade. In judging its desirability, economists weigh projected costs and benefits, an approach that superficially seems objective. Yet economists decide what enters the analysis and what gets ignored. Such things as savings in wages or transport lend themselves easily to measurement in monetary terms, while others, such as the social disruption of a community, do not. The mathematical calculations give the analysis a scientific wrapping, even when the content is just an expression of values.

Similar biases influence policy considerations on everything from labor laws to climate change. As Nelson put it, "the priesthood of a modern secular religion of economic progress" has pushed a narrow vision of economic "efficiency," wholly undeterred by a history of disastrous outcomes.

Rational Responses

The economic zeal reached its peak several years back, when a number of economists openly celebrated what they called economic imperialism -- the notion that the inherent superiority of their way of thinking would lead it to displace all other social sciences. Academics sought to bring the advanced calculus of rationality -- with its assumption that everything can be explained by people's perfectly rational responses to incentives -- to the primitives in fields ranging from sociology to anthropology.

The imperial adventure lost much of its momentum in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. More attention has turned to the psychological, or behavioral, revolution, which has established that the rational ideal of economic theory isn't even a good starting point as a crude caricature of the way real people act. We're often goal-oriented, of course, but we seek those goals through imperfect heuristic rules and trial and error, learning as we go. If anything, rationality is the anomaly in human life.

Of equal significance is a growing acceptance of Nelson's larger point: that economics is riddled with hidden value judgments that make its advice far from scientific. In one notable development, the Journal of Economic Perspectives published a paper by economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson that examines how value judgments -- in this case, the dismissal of political repercussions -- have undermined well-intentioned economic interventions.

Most economists, for instance, see the weakening of trade unions in the U.S. and other Western nations in the past few decades as a good thing, because unions' monopoly power over wages impairs companies' ability to adapt to the demands of the market. As Acemoglu and Robinson point out, however, unions do a lot more than influence the supply and cost of labor. In particular, they have historically played a prominent role in creating and supporting democracy, in limiting the political power of corporations, and in mitigating income inequality.

Narrow policy analyses have repeatedly led economists to push for policies that have had unexpected consequences for the balance of political power. Acemoglu and Robinson cite the push to privatize industries in Russia in the 1990s. The idea was that private ownership, no matter how it came about, would ultimately benefit the entire economy. In practice, a rigged process gave rise to an illegitimate oligarchy and an increase in inequality that set the stage for the ascendance of President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime.

Tragic Flaw

More recently, the gospel of economic efficiency helped lay the groundwork for the financial crisis, mostly by encouraging overconfidence in the wonders of financial engineering. Theory-induced dreams of market discipline provided justification for stripping away entirely sensible regulations, such as barriers between commercial and investment banking, and for avoiding oversight of the booming trade in derivatives. One result was an extremely wealthy financial lobby that is still working hard to block reform.

In all these cases, the tragic flaw lies in the heady confidence that comes with a one-size-fits-all theoretical framework. There's a real danger in seeing economics as an objective science from which all values have been stripped. Nelson preferred an older, more modest perspective on economics espoused by Frank Knight, a founder of the University of Chicago's free-market school of thought. Knight expressed the view that truly careful social and economic analysis emphasizes the limits to human knowledge and "the fatuousness of over-sanguine expectations" from economic-policy designs, including those favoring free enterprise.

In short, economists would do well to derive their prescriptions from observations of how the world really works, with a healthy respect for its complexity. Faith is no substitute for informed inquiry.

(Mark Buchanan, a theoretical physicist and the author of "Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology and the Natural Sciences Can Teach Us About Economics," is a Bloomberg View columnist.)

To contact the writer of this article: Mark Buchanan at

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Mark Whitehouse at

About Mark Buchanan"

Mark Buchanan, a theoretical physicist, is the author of the book "Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology and the ... MORE

More from Mark Buchanan:

[Jul 14, 2013] The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney

Republican/Dominionist Science in an Era of Burgeoning Totalitarianism, June 20, 2013

Chris Mooney's book reviews some aspects of what he called in its time "the Bush administration's war on science," and he was right. To please a constituency located on the far right of the political spectrum that usually abuses the Christian religion to impose their views on a plural and democratic society, Mr Bush and his allies simply denied science and the results of scientific studies that did not flatter their partisanship. So, where do we go now? The book, maybe, gives an idea that should be developed; Chris Mooney describes the Bush administration as the first post-modern, post-scientific administration. The author is kind enough to write that the Bush administration did not understand the scientific process.

Frankly, I concluded after the reading of this book that the partisanship of the Bush era, the misinterpretations, the unscientific attacks against the rights of women and gays (among other minorities), were simply premeditated acts to satisfy the totalitarian agenda of the Christian Dominionists (and of some really rich persons who put their interests first, ignoring what science dictates for the preservation of humankind).

My present writing leads me naturally to the present time, with its abuses of privacy that some whistle-blowers proved that the Bush administration began... Considering the degree of technological discoveries that have been made by military and military sponsored researchers, will we some day add a missing part to the scientific puzzle that Chris Mooney begins to put together in this book, although his posterior writings rather try to describe the conservative mind?

Whatever, when I was a child I was told that Nazi science was abominable, and I laughed at communist science. Today, what could we say of the "Republican Science"?

A Patriotic Professor

Can't Recommend This Book Enough August 31, 2005

I've been psyched about the release of this book for months now, and it doesn't disappoint. Far from it: this is an unbelievably thorough, balanced, and well-researched study of a phenomenon that ALL Americans need to be concerned about, no matter what their political stripes are. While the title may mislead you into thinking that this is a partisan book, Mooney's dedication here is to the integrity of the scientific research process, and not at all to politics. Indeed, his argument is that the politicization of the scientific research process is bad no matter which party does it, but that the Bush Administration and the current incarnation of the Republican Party is particularly culpable of abusing science for partisan gain. Indeed, Mooney heaps praise on the Nixon administration science policies, which were much better than what we have under the current president.

Read this book. It's leaps and bounds better than any other political book out today- Coulter AND Franken included.

Dylan Otto Krider

An important and balanced book August 30, 2005

Mooney does a good job at meticulously showing the politicization of science by both sides, but as the title shows, he refuses to make the common journalistic mistake of imposing "false balance" where it is not warranted. Just as you wouldn't say, "people differ on roundness of the Earth", Mooney has the courage and the wherewithall to call a spade a spade - and he doesn't ask you to take his word for it.

The facts are here for anyone with eyes to see. The "perfect storm" of anti-regulatory conservatives and fundamentalist Christians have combined to wage a unified war against science with a vengeance that the disorganized "frankenfood" liberals can only dream of.

Mooney's objective, scientific approach to making his case only makes his partisan conclusions that much more compelling and impossible to deny. In this war of reason vs. ideology, Mooney plants himself firmly on the side of reason, while always being fair. After reading his book, anyone who values science and critical thinking will do the same.

Fred Bortz "Dr. Fred"

A Call to Action for People Who Care About Science September 2, 2005

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

That oft-quoted statement from Carl Sagan captures the essence of the scientific approach to knowledge. Before an idea can achieve the revered status of "theory," it must survive round after round of skeptical criticism.

Evolution, for example, has withstood nearly 150 years of challenges. With minor modifications to Darwin's seminal ideas, it has become perhaps the most robust theory in all of science.

Religious fundamentalists, who oppose that theory as well as abortion and embryonic stem cell research, are major combatants in what journalist Chris Mooney describes in his new book as The Republican War on Science. Allied with them is a force of neo-conservative soldiers who resist the conclusions of environmental research, especially about global climate change.

Yet neither religion nor business is fundamentally opposed to science. Probably a majority of American scientists guide their lives by faith in a Creator, but they do not consider their houses of worship as observatories or laboratories in which to test the existence of a deity. And most modern businesses rely on science and technology to make a profit.

Thus most readers of this book, including liberal Democrats, will consider Mr. Mooney's brash thesis extraordinary. Though they may view it an interesting model of what is happening in American politics today, they will demand extraordinary research before declaring it a viable theory.

Indeed, the evidence supporting the existence of a partisan War on Science will never measure up to the Sagan criterion. The most the author can hope for is that open-minded people will consider his ideas compelling. In that, he has succeeded admirably.

By the time readers finish this book they will understand who the opponents of science are and how they have taken control of the Republican Party. The Party's rightist base has adopted positions that are antithetical to science, not because they oppose science per se but because government policies suggested by the scientific consensus threaten their religious beliefs, their economic status, or their societal influence.

Readers will also see the very effective political strategy that this alliance has evolved: to redefine science, to undermine science, and to misconstrue science even to the point of dismissing scientific consensus in favor of increasingly discredited fringe ideas.

The United States may not be embroiled in a war on science, but that phrase describes a useful model for understanding the dangers of the current administration's antiscientific tactics to our nation's future and its character. For that Republicans and Democrats, scientists and people of faith should be grateful to Chris Mooney.

[Jul 10, 2013] Fundamentalist Christians, Science, and the Democracy by Lawrence Davidson


The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has published an updated study entitled Lobbying for the Faithful: Religious Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C. According to the study, as of May 2012. there are some 200 organizations engaged in "religious lobbying" and they address about 300 different issues and causes. 18% of them are described as "evangelical Christian" which have a particular interest in "bioethics and life issues." These include stem cell research and the teaching of evolution.

It is difficult to know the exact numbers these special interests collectively represent. We do know that some 22% of Americans identify themselves as fundamentalist Christians.[1] In terms of a media presence, Pat Robertson's 700 Club, a fundamentalist Christian media effort which started in 1961 and is still broadcasting, is the longest running program on TV and has millions of viewers worldwide.[2] There can be no doubt that when well organized and directed, this constituency represents a politically powerful force. Here are two examples of how they use their influence.

... ... ...

The LA Times had been moved to its florid description of the issue by the actions of President George W Bush. 2001 was the first year of Bush's presidency, and being a fundamentalist Christian he had instituted prayer sessions and bible study in the White House. Therefore, it came as no surprise that one of Bush's first major actions was to try to devise a policy toward federal funding of embryonic stem cell research that would meet most of the objections of his Christian compatriots while not totally alienating the medical research community. His compromise was to allow funding on self-reproducing embryonic stem cell lines that the research community had already brought into existence. That is lines of cells created from embryos already destroyed or, as Bush put it, where "the life and death decision has already been made." There would be no federal funding for research on any new embryonic stem cell lines.

In 2005, Congress (more liberal then than it is today) tried to broadened Bush's executive order and passed a Stem Cell Enhancement Act permitting federal funding to support stem cell research using embryos bound for disposal by fertility clinics with the written consent of the donor. However, the fundamentalist Christian interest groups objected and President Bush vetoed the bill the day after it was passed. Congress tried again in 2007 and passed the same legislation adding instructions to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to investigate alternative forms of stem cell sourcing. Again President Bush vetoed the bill. This standoff lasted until 2009 when a newly elected President Barak Obama issued his own executive order lifting restrictions on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and the number self-reproducing stem cell lines available to researches quickly grew.

What this story tells us is that there exists in the United States significant numbers of fundamentalist Christians for whom certain lines of scientific inquiry, including stem cell research, are ideologically anathema. As Dr. Ray Bohlin, author of The Natural Limits of Biological Change, has put it, the embryos from which stem cells are harvested are "of infinite value to God. We are not going to redeem them by killing them for research."[4] Such Christians are politically well organized and thus, under certain circumstances, able to shape government policy to fit their outlook.

... ... ...

In a democracy like the United States people can believe what they wish as long as their beliefs do not lead to criminal behavior. And, it is within that environment of democratic freedom that fundamentalist Christians have chosen to organize themselves for an effort to forbade the teaching of scientifically based evolution in the public school system, or alternatively, to require the teaching of their bible based version of creation as a valid alternative alongside evolution.

This effort has been on-going since the end of World War I. At that time the scientific theory of evolution was incorrectly thought to have been one of the motivators of the German monarchy's decision to go to war. This, along with their fundamentalist reading of the bible, led some famous and influential American Christian leaders, such as Williams Jennings Bryan, to crusade against evolution. The result was that, in the 1920s, several states passed laws making it illegal to teach the fact of human evolution. This in turn led to the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925. Scopes was a biology teacher who was prosecuted under such a law in a trial that became a national media event. Paralleling the legislative effort against teaching evolution in the classroom was public pressure that led the major textbook publishers to leave evolution out of their texts until the 1960s.

The major organizations presently involved in this anti-evolution effort are the non-profit Discovery Institute based in Seattle which budgets about $1 million a year to push the notion of intelligent design; the Creation Studies Institute in Florida; Answers in Genesis in Kentucky; and Liberty University in Virginia. A stereotypical motivation for all of this was given by the Southern Baptist Minister Terry Fox who, referring to the effort of the Kansas State Board of Education to allow the teaching of alternatives to evolution, declared that "most people in Kansas don't think we came from monkeys" (a notion that evolution does not put forth). Fox is correct in that a large majority of Americans believe that God created human beings. Of course, the fact that a majority of people believe something (for instance, that the sun revolves around the earth which itself stands motionless in the heavens) does not mean that it is true.

The laws against teaching evolution in the public schools eventually ran afoul of court decisions which labeled them violations of the separation of church and state. This turn of events has motivated fundamentalist Christians to create the notion of "scientific creationism" and later "intelligent design." Claiming that these concepts are not derived from religious belief, they have campaigned for them to be taught in the schools as equally valid ideas alongside evolution. All such efforts have been found unconstitutional by the courts and therefore blocked. This has led to resentment and an increased enrollment in Christian schools. As one fundamentalist mother who pulled her children out of public school rather curiously put it, "if students only have one thing to consider, one option, that's really more brainwashing."[5]

More importantly, prior to (and also following) all the court decisions against the Christian position, fundamentalists were successful in passing their demands into law in a large number of state legislatures. Indeed, as of 2012, twenty six states have on-going legislative challenges to the teaching of evolution.

Utopia by Stephen Eric Bronner


Freedom and human dignity mark any serious rendering of utopia. Politics only sets the stage: utopian thinking necessarily privileges the individual in terms of exploring his desires, expanding his interests, and taking control over his life. So, for example, Marx never equated communism with any regime, not even the Paris Commune, but instead with the end of "pre-history" and a world where "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." In such a world, he believed, humanity can finally democratically determine its fate in common, consciously and without reference to external determinants like economic interest. Perhaps even more important, however, the classless society must serve as a society in which individualism would flourish.

This vision initially influenced the Bolsheviks who, after all, gained power in 1917 under the slogan: "All Power to the Soviets!" Left-wing radicals still exhibit nostalgia for the "heroic stage" of the Russian Revolution (1918-1921) when it seemed that all things were possible: the cultural avant-garde working for the people, the abolition of money, the transformation of the nuclear family, the end of hierarchy, and international revolution intent upon creating regimes based on soviets or workers' councils. The arbitrary exercises of power, the bloodshed, the confusion, the cruelty, and the poverty of those times vanish.

Only an idealized vision remains of what are today completely anachronistic institutions such as soviets in which, as it was once put to me, "everyone will control everything" (naturally without considering the number of meetings this would entail). Many contemporary radicals are inspired only by the image of that "new man" who once seemed ready to take the stage. Trotsky crystallized this utopian communist outlook in his Literature and Revolution (1924) by insisting that ultimately: "Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser, and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise."

Utopian experiments undertaken in the past cast a dark shadow over the seemingly pedestrian politics in the present. According to this mode of thinking, differences between existing parties and movements appear negligible. There is only mass society with its culture industry and commercialism. The drama is gone. The existing ensemble of social relations turns into a seamless whole threatening all forms of critical reflection and individuality. The "system" (not class society) is now seen as the problem and anything tainted by instrumental reason or bureaucracy is suspect. Grand narratives are considered mere manipulative props for mass movements, authoritarian parties, and overweening states. Tempering the imbalances of political and economic power is no longer the priority. Nothing associated with real politics is radical enough and, in this way, the perfect becomes an enemy of the good. Staunch belief in utopian ideals excuses indifference to building a better future. As an all or nothing proposition, therefore, utopia can justify passivity as well as fanaticism.


"Staunch belief in utopian ideals excuses indifference to building a better future. As an all or nothing proposition, therefore, utopia can justify passivity as well as fanaticism."

Well said. I think is fanaticism, not passivity is the essence of utopian thinking. The arbitrary exercises of power, the bloodshed, the confusion, the cruelty, and the poverty naturally follow.

Along with the Authoritarian personality we can probably talk about "True believers" as another important type of personality, that deserve careful study. When organized this , it is a dangerous type of personality although in a different way then Authoritarians, or, say, psychopaths.

[Jul 08, 2013] Logos Spring 2013: vol. 12, no. 2 Democracy and Science

Alan Sokal: What Is Science and Why Should We Care?

Margaret C. Jacob: The Left, Right and Science: Relativists and Materialists

Philip Kitcher: Plato's Revenge: An Undemocratic Report from an Overheated Planet

Michael Ruse: Democracy and Pseudo-Science

Barbara Forrest: Rejecting the Founders' Legacy: Democracy as a Weapon Against Science

Lawrence Davidson: Fundamentalist Christians, Science, and the Democracy

[May 30, 2013] Democracy and Pseudo-Science by Michael Ruse


As Aristotle rightly noted, one swallow does not make a summer. But I use this little personal story for some more general points I want to make about science and democracy, or more particularly – for I consider this to be true of much of the Steiner output – pseudo-science and democracy. Let me lay out what seem to me to be some pretty basic points.

First, if democracy means anything then it means letting people have some pretty silly thoughts (Mill 1859). Of course, what counts as "pretty silly" is a comparative term, but that is no big issue. Even if you are a minority of one in thinking something pretty silly, you are still obligated to let others have them. While I find the idea of turning water into wine a very attractive prospect, I don't think it is true, and moreover I think anyone who believes this has a pretty silly belief. I am fully aware that most people in the part of the world where I live would not agree, but whether I am a minority of one or a majority faced with but one believer, I should not prevent that person from having those beliefs. I take it for granted that what I am saying is hedged with the usual caveats. Personally I find the idea of sex with young children rather silly – rather disgusting actually – but I take it that for the obvious reasons (exploitation and so forth) the tolerance I am expressing does not apply here. I shall have more to say shortly about the boundaries of tolerance.

Second, pretty silliness is not entirely a subjective matter. Let's leave religion on one side (because that is not the topic now) and turn to the realm of the empirical, the world of science. I take it that down through the centuries philosophers and others interested in the nature of science have managed to articulate a fairly robust set of criteria for distinguishing between genuine science and false or bogus or pseudo-science. At the risk of seeming intolerably self-serving, but pointing out that they were accepted in a court of law – in an anti-Creationism trial in Arkansas in 1981 — let me give you the criteria that I favor for real science.

  1. It is guided by natural law;
  2. It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law;
  3. It is testable against the empirical world;
  4. Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
  5. It is falsifiable. (Ruse 1988)

I take it that Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection fits these sorts of criteria (Ruse 2006). It appeals to law – both natural selection and the laws of genetics (formerly Mendelian and now molecular). It can be tested. For instance, one can run models to see how efficiently an ant nest uses its resources and then check your results against actual nests. It is always open to revision – is it selection working here or just random factors (genetic drift)? And sometimes it is seen to be false or at least potentially so. The newly discovered little human-like creature, Homo floriensis (nicknamed the "hobbit") might turn out just to be a diseased, regular Homo sapiens, and not a new species at all.

I take it that something like so-called Creation Science that supposes that Genesis is literally true does not satisfy these criteria. It appeals to miracles – God created Adam and Eve. It is certainly not testable nor are its conclusions tentative. Nothing would persuade its enthusiasts that Noah's Flood was not literally true. And it is certainly not falsifiable. How could it be? It is based on the Word of God.

Third, I take it that tolerance about people's beliefs does not extend to letting this sort of stuff be taught in science classrooms in state-supported schools. I am not sure that I would go as far as Richard Dawkins (2007) as to say that all forms of religious education are just excuses for child abuse. Although I am not comfortable with many of these things, I don't think I would want to close down private schools that taught what I (and others) regard as pseudo-science. But there are good reasons for preferring regular science over pseudo-science, not the least being that the former works and the latter does not. I want children taught the best that we have, not any odd idea because someone is sincere about it. Put the matter this way. In medical schools would you want equal time given over to Christian Science and the Jehovah's Witnesses on blood transfusions and the anthroposophists on vaccinations? I want children taught what works. I certainly do not want children – or medical students – taught things that are positively false and potentially very harmful. (I am leaving on one side constitutional questions. In the USA, Creation Science cannot be taught in state schools because it violates the separation of Church and State as mandated by the First Ammendment. Here I am trying to make a more general, philosophical argument, not win a court case.)

Fourth and finally, let me draw your attention to the fact that pseudo-science rarely comes without a philosophy attached (Ruse 2013). It stands to reason in a way. There has to be something driving people to go out into the wilderness beyond respectability. In the case of anthroposophy, it is a vision of human nature, one bound up with astral forces as we develop and try to respond to the unseen. It is deeply holistic, seeing the whole of nature including humans as part of one integrated whole. This is all very much in the spirit of Romanticism seeing all as one. Wordsworth expressed it well in his poem Tintern Abbey.

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

Ultimately of course it all goes back to Plato and his theory of forms, with the Good standing above and integrating all things. Anthroposophists are not above suggesting that Rudolf Steiner is Plato reincarnated. Since apparently we alternate sexes in our incarnations, one wonders who was the woman in the middle. One presumes that the Virgin Mary was not an option.

In the case of Creation Science, obviously there is (what I would consider) the somewhat distorted version of Christianity that carries with it those values that lie near and dear to the hearts of American evangelicals (Ruse 2005). To be candid, I doubt anyone has ever really worried about gaps in the fossil record. But they do worry about abortion on demand and gay marriage and the abolition of the death penalty and (very much) feminism. (They worry a lot less about divorce perhaps because the evangelical record in this respect is truly dreadful – undoubtedly in major part a function of people marrying far too young in order to enjoy the delights of connubial bliss and to avoid the snare of fornication.[i])


Now, I think that tolerance demands that one accept the views of others in this respect, meaning that they have a perfect right to hold them, although frankly I am not sure that the other side would reciprocate. (I suspect that the value of letting others have their values is one of the values at issue here.) But it doesn't mean that I have to accept them in a quiescent sort of way or have no right to argue against them or to try politically to prevent their ideas and values prevailing. I can do everything in my ability to block them – as indeed I personally have done for the past thirty years with respect to all forms of Creationism.

Democracy is a precious thing and there are always forces trying to prevent it or to circumscribe it – in our own society particularly, when you think of the grotesque gerrymandering that goes on when drawing up congressional districts or the absurd qualifications that are demanded before one is allowed to vote. It is a nice balance between recognizing that democracy means that others can believe and do what one finds offensive – pretty silly, as I have said – and making sure that no one abuses that right to try to stop you holding ideas that they find offensive – pretty silly. Remembering also that democracy does not mean that every idea deserves a level playing field. We have the right and the obligation to judge ideas in the light of past experience and if they fail the test then they should be so judged.

None of this sounds very easy, but whoever said that the important things are easy?

[Mar 22, 2013] Study Finds Universe Is 100 Million Years Older Than Previously Thought

This is a special message for evangelical rednecks ;-)

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-don't-look-a-day-over-13-billion dept.

skade88 writes "Reuters is reporting that scientists now say the universe is 100 million years older than previously thought after they took a closer look at leftover radiation from the Big Bang. This puts the age of the Universe at 13.8 billion years. The new findings are the direct results from analyzing data provided by the European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft.

The spacecraft is providing the most detailed look to date at the remnant microwave radiation that permeates the universe. 'It's as if we've gone from a standard television to a high-definition television. New and important details have become crystal clear,' Paul Hertz, NASA's director of astrophysics, told reporters on a conference call."

5 Shocking Ways the Christian Right Has Forced the Bible Into America's Schools

Jan 28, 2013 | Alternet

Of all the Religious Right's schemes, the constant promotion of Bible-based creationism in schools is one of its most nefarious.

Not only does replacing science with biblical literalism violate the separation of church and stat irst day they walk into freshman Biology 101.

In fact, a failure to understand evolution can make it harder for high school students to get into the best colleges. Try passing the Advanced Placement Biology exam when you know nothing of natural selection. A poor grounding in evolution can choke off entire career paths for young people.

Despite these high stakes, some states, school districts and individual teachers insist on doing students a disservice by promoting scientific illiteracy.

Anyone who thinks this issue died with the Scopes trial in 1925 hasn't been keeping up. Creationists have continued to spread ignorance and attempt to infiltrate public education. Examples are legion, but here are five prominent (and outrageous) attempts by creationists to disrupt the education of America's budding scholars.

1. Texas: In one of the creationists' sneakiest moves to date, in 2007 a phalanx of anti-science fundamentalist groups swamped the Texas legislature and lobbied for a law allowing elective courses "about" the Bible in public schools.

At first glance, it sounded like it might work. The courses were supposed to be objective and not promote any one version of faith over others. But Texas lawmakers refused to allocate any money for teacher training, leaving the matter in the hands of local school districts.

You can guess what happened – in most districts, no training was offered. About 60 public school districts and charter schools adopted the classes, and many of them ended up with instruction that had the flavor of fundamentalist Sunday School lessons.

A recent report by the Texas Freedom Network authored by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Dallas' Southern Methodist University, found that many schools are teaching that the Earth is 6,000 years old, a key concept of creationism. Chancey found two districts that went so far as to teach that modern racial diversity can be traced back to Noah's sons, another creationist standby. Another district used videos from YouTube arguing that people's lifespans began to drop "due to major environmental changes brought about by [Noah's] flood."

Most of the Bible courses, Chancey reported, were taught from a default conservative Protestant perspective. Most claimed that the Bible is literally true, and some even included anti-Jewish bias.

Observed Chancey, "Courts have repeatedly ruled that advocating creation science in public school science courses is unconstitutional….Nonetheless, several courses incorporate pseudoscientific material, presenting inaccurate information to their students and exposing their districts to the risk of litigation."

2. Louisiana: In the early 1980s, Louisiana legislators decided to pass a law mandating that when evolution was taught in public schools, "creation science" must be as well. Scientists, educators and advocates of church-state separation were appalled and blasted the so-called "balanced treatment" measure, but lawmakers, led by state Sen. Bill Keith, plowed ahead. The bill was soon law.

Advocates of the new law didn't even bother to disguise their religious motivations. Keith asserted that evolution is a tenet of "secular humanism, theological liberalism and atheism." Paul Ellwanger, a creationist who helped author the bill, said he viewed the struggle as "one between God and anti-God forces."

A legal challenge was promptly filed, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fundamentalist religious groups bombarded the high court with legal briefs urging the justices to uphold the law, arguing that it was merely an attempt to promote "academic freedom" and present both sides of a controversial issue.

But the justices weren't fooled. In a 7-2 ruling in Edwards v. Aguillard, the court struck down the law. Writing for the majority, Justice William Brennan observed, "Families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family."

Unfortunately, Louisiana learned little from the experience, and legislators there have continued to pass bills designed to eviscerate the teaching of evolution. Most recently, the legislature in 2008 approved a "Science Education Act" that has little to do with actual science or useful education. The law allows teachers to use "supplemental" materials – code for creationist propaganda – in science classes.

Zack Kopplin, a former high school student in Baton Rouge who now attends Rice University, put it well during a 2011 pro-science rally: "Louisiana," he said, "is addicted to creationism."

... ... ...

Economist's View

From a review of Bob Woodward's new book at the Washington Post:

But his failure to consistently work his will on Congress surely has less to do with his individual failings, as Woodward suggests, than with larger forces, chief among them the radicalization of the GOP — a party that actually seems to believe its depiction of a moderate, pragmatic president as some kind of wild-eyed collectivist, a party whose members, in their loathing for government, were willing to risk, in some cases to welcome, the economic armageddon of a debt default as an opportunity, a catharsis, a shock to the body politic. In Woodward's book, "the caucus" and the tea party are little more than bit players, but for Obama — and no less for Boehner — their rigidity is the central, unalterable fact of political life. The manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling was their proud creation, and their zealotry has extended it right to the edge of the cliff. Congress is one thing — how does a man work his will on a crusade?

It's important to view Woodward's statements through a "Very Serious" lens that assumes a particular kind of grand bargain -- one that is tough on social programs for one thing -- is highly desirable. His idea of good and bad outcomes - e.g. whether standing up for certain principles in a negotiation is honorable or obstructionist - must be seen in this light.

[Sep 08, 2012] Meet Barack Obama

Barack Obama is a cynical opportunist who serves the interests of wealth and privilege and whose policies more effectively promote those interests than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan could ever hope to.


Mitt Romney's Vice Presidential pick, Paul Ryan, as with himself, is an uninformed opportunist who was born into wealth and privilege and whose proposed policies aim to perpetuate that privilege at the expense of the rest of the population with whom he nominally shares a national identity. Barack Obama is a cynical opportunist who serves the interests of wealth and privilege and whose policies more effectively promote those interests than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan could ever hope to.

Those circling the wagons to get Mr. Obama re-elected should spend a bit of time getting to know their guy.

... ... ...

In his effort to save particular culpable bankers while leaving the banking system corrupt, fragile, predatory and dysfunctional, Mr. Obama spared the victims of banker malfeasance no inconvenience, misdirection, unnecessary effort or cost. As part of the bank 'bailouts' Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner developed an entire program (HAMP– Home Affordable Modification Program) (link) to intentionally dupe hundreds of thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure into wasting a year or more of their lives 'negotiating' with banks that had no intention of modifying mortgages. The result was to inflict economic, legal and moral harm onto already distressed citizens solely to benefit the banks. That Mr. Geithner could have accomplished the same goal by fiat without torturing the already victimized citizenry illustrates what utter contempt he and Mr. Obama have for the American people.

... ... ...

After several decades of the Washington political establishment opportunistically trotting out the 'budget deficit' canard in the lull between launching expensive wars for the benefit of their corporate benefactors, creating expensive giveaways to connected industries (Pharma) and enacting exorbitant tax cuts for the ascendant plutocracy, Barack Obama upped the ante by laying Social Security and Medicare on the table to be sacrificed without even the pretense of having been forced to do so. The only likely reason why he didn't beat Paul Ryan to the punch in trying to privatize Social Security, as Bill Clinton had wanted to do, is that the matter polled poorly following George W. Bush's bungling of the matter.

... ... ...

In every dimension as president Barack Obama has proven himself a loyal servant of the global ruling class—bankers, corporate CEOs and oil and gas industry executives, against the rest of humanity. And through his faux-populist rhetoric and crude-materialist presence (black Democrat) he has been able to promote ruling class interests more effectively than conspicuous aristocrats like Mitt Romney could hope to. More to the point, as a trained technocrat, Mr. Obama can avoid the overreach of crude ideologues like Paul Ryan by knowing exactly who his benefactors are. (Mr. Ryan would hit a brick wall thirty seconds into trying to cut the government programs that the ruling class feeds off of. Mr. Obama will stick to de-funding only those who lack social power).

Finally, my condolences to Mr. Obama's supporters on the coming disappointments should he be re-elected. Sure Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would be 'worse.' But should Mr. Romney win there would be less delusion around whose interests any president will serve. The ruling class declared war on the rest of us forty years ago. Mitt Romney clearly represents the ruling class. Mr. Obama does the same with less evident intent.

[Sep 08, 2012] Wall Street's War on the Cities by Michael Hudson


... Wall Street strategists view this state and local budget squeeze as a godsend. As Rahm Emanuel has put matters, a crisis is too good an opportunity to waste – and the fiscal crisis gives creditors financial leverage to push through anti-labor policies and privatization grabs. The ground is being prepared for a neoliberal "cure": cutting back pensions and health care, defaulting on pension promises to labor, and selling off the public sector, letting the new proprietors to put up tollbooths on everything from roads to schools. The new term of the moment is "rent extraction."

[Sep 08, 2012] Dumb and dumber by John Feffer

Sep 7, 2012 | Asia Times

After eight years of cowboy globalism under George W Bush, Americans went for the "smart power" pledged by Barack Obama - resurrecting US prestige overseas, using diplomacy first and violence as a last resort. That was the promise; the reality has been different, with enemies even angrier and friends becoming foes.

Come November, Americans must vote again - an unenviable choice between Obama's "dumb power" and Mitt Romney's alternative.

(Used with permission TomDispatch.)

[Aug 28, 2012]Economists for Romney – A Closer Look by Pavlina Tcherneva

August 27, 2012 | naked capitalism

Yves here. Paul Krugman already pounced on a major, and disturbing, deception on behalf of the Romney economics team: that Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, and John Taylor (along with Kevin Hassett) published a white paper which grossly misrepresented the research of multiple economists. In other words, they are willing to flat out lie to create the impression their policies ideas have wide-spread support among economists.

Pavlina Tcherneva makes separate observations about the key advisors in Romney's camp and how well their ideas have fared in our depression-in-the-making.

She also makes sure to include Gary Becker, and with good reason. Becker was among the speakers at a keynote session at the Milken Conference in 2008 which I attended. It was the first time I'd seen toads hop out of someone's mouth when speaking.

By Pavlina Tcherneva, Assistant Professor of Economics at Franklin and Marshall College, Research Scholar at The Levy Economics Institute, and Senior Research Associate at the Center for Full Employment and Price Stability. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney boasts support from the scientific community for his supply-side trickle-down economic proposal. It is outlined here, along with the list of economists endorsing the plan.

Several Nobel Prize winners grace the top of the list. Here is a quick look at some of these luminaries and their contributions to some of the most pressing problems of our time.


Perhaps no one bears more responsibility for the general apathy among mainstream economists towards the problem of unemployment than Robert Lucas. He is the economist who argued that there was no point in distinguishing between voluntary and involuntary unemployment because agents were 'perfectly rational' and the jobless essentially 'chose' their condition (1978, 242). (Yes, according to Lucas, even during the Great Depression, 25% of the working population opted for leisure rather than work!) This is not some minor claim, but a signature argument by Lucas and the entire New Classical School of economic thought to which he belongs. This is the school whose second core assumption — that of 'continuous market clearing' — together with the 'rational expectations hypothesis' has been used to render the condition of involuntary unemployment a virtual impossibility.

Why spend any effort looking for solutions to a problem which has been assumed away?

THE DOWNTURN: Edward Prescott

Edward Prescott is a prominent member of the Real Business Cycle School (a spin-off of the New Classical School), which also embraces the assumptions of continuous market clearing and rational expectations. Prescott and his colleague Kydland shared the Nobel Prize for "their contributions to dynamic macroeconomics". They are the brainpower behind the most dominant mainstream macroeconomic model—the Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium model. Yes, this is the same model that failed to predict the latest crisis and prompted the Queen of England to ask "Why didn't anyone see it coming?" This same DSGE model has no money, no default, no financial institutions, no debt… in other words, nothing of interest to those who are interested in the real world. Prescott too subscribes to the idea that the unemployed are simply substituting leisure for work during business cycles and that the government shouldn't do anything about it. Indeed, all that the government safety-nets do is introduce moral hazard (as in, unemployment insurance removes the incentive to look for work). Prescott further maintains that if flood protection were not offered, rational agents would stop living in flood- and hurricane-prone regions.

Surely those troublesome food stamps that go to 47 million Americans disincentivize them from foraging.


Robert Mundell is the father of the signature theory (Optimal Currency Areas) that rationalized the design of the European Monetary Union. Under the OCA model, there is no reason for currencies to be connected to nation states. Indeed Mundell claimed that single currency areas would increase economic performance and efficiency. We all know how well this experiment turned out and even the mainstream today recognizes the need for nation states to control their own currencies for the purposes of policy making. The best analysis of the OCA model can be found in Charles Goodhart's seminal article "The two concepts of money: implications for the analysis of optimal currency areas", which is a required reading for anyone interested in MMT or wanting to understand why Europe is in such a mess.


Myron Scholes (along with his collaborator Robert Merton) shared the Nobel for "developing a new method for valuing derivatives". This method gave birth to the trading model used by Long Term Capital Management in the 90s. Remember LTCM? The hedge fund that almost brought the financial system to its knees in 1998 were it not for the Fed-orchestrated bailout. 10 years later derivatives trading managed to finish the job and produce a far bigger crisis. Scholes himself was accused by LTCH vs. US of using illegal tax shelters to hide profits from the hedge fund.

No, these are not some obscure economists pushing some obscure ideas. These are the men whose work has defined much of the mainstream economics profession and provided the 'rationale' for supply-side, trickle-down economic policy.

These are men whose ideas have stood the test of time and have failed. What can we expect from the economic plan of a man who has their support?


A bonus: Gary Becker

(Though Becker's contributions do not bear direct relevance to the current crisis, it is emblematic of the warped logic used by many mainstream economists.)

Gary Becker is the economist who developed a pricing model for kidneys and other human organs. Since efficient markets solve all problems—economic or social—monetizing organ donation, in this economist's view, makes perfect sense. He is better known for his theory on human capital investment. One extension of this work deals with the question of child-rearing. According to Becker, parents choose to have children because they fear that their retirement portfolios are inadequate to support them in their old age…hence, the kids. Some parents opt to have a few "high-quality kids", while others – many "low quality kids", depending on the family's time preference. I am not joking and these are not my words; they are his. This theory has given birth to the "rotten-kid theorem", which says that because of these financial incentives, parents are "altruistic" even (even?!) towards their spoiled-rotten and selfish kids, because they are essentially trying to maximize their own return. In sum, according to Becker, all social, economic, environmental, health, and other problems can be solved if all human activity is monetized and financial incentives are 'properly aligned'.

(As I suspect every other rational parent has done, I too have been crunching numbers since I had my daughter 2 months ago. Would she yield the return I'm expecting of her or should I increase my contributions to my retirement portfolio? Ah, where is that perfect information when you need it!?)


[Aug 25, 2012] Niall Ferguson and the Rage Against the Thought-Leader Machine by Justin Fox

Harvard Business Review

Harvard historian Niall Ferguson ran into an online buzzsaw this week. He says the "liberal blogosphere" was out to do him in, and that was part of it. But there's something bigger at work: a groundswell of resentment for and frustration with the "thought leaders" who craft our conventional wisdom, get paid big speaking fees for it, yet often behave in ways that don't accord with this status. First Jonah Lehrer, then Fareed Zakaria, now this — and surely there will be more such brouhahas to come. It may be that this groundswell is driven entirely by frustrated would-be speechmaking thought leaders. But I think it's more than that (then again, as a would-be speechmaking thought leader, I would).

What got Ferguson — whom I know, although not well, and like — in trouble was his Newsweek cover story "Hit the Road, Barack." The article looks like something a smart, busy guy who really likes Paul Ryan, kind of dislikes the President, and loves to tweak the American liberal establishment — but hasn't had much time to delve into the issues lately — might throw off in a couple of days while vacationing on Martha's Vineyard. It's not good, but it's not exactly an abomination, either.

So why the firestorm of criticism? A lot of it had to do with one little passage about the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare:

The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012-22 period.

What Ferguson left out is that the Congressional Budget Office also said that other provisions of the law (reductions in Medicare spending and increases in taxes) will more than make up for that cost, resulting in a net reduction in the deficit. His wording was clearly misleading: Obama's "health-care reform" included both the insurance-coverage provisions and the other provisions. When Princeton economist and frequent Ferguson sparring partner Paul Krugman pointed this out, Ferguson could have easily said something like Oops, I worded that poorly. But the point stands that increasing health coverage is going to cost a lot. Instead, he doubled down and argued that because he'd written "insurance-cost provisions" he'd been entirely correct. Along the way, he again selectively quoted from the CBO in a way that completely misrepresented the meaning of the passage he cited. Which was when the piling on really began.

Some of it was clearly partisan: I have tried and failed to imagine a situation where a sloppy pro-Obama or anti-Romney screed by a Harvard professor would have caused the Atlantic's James Fallows to declare, "As a Harvard Alum, I Apologize." But it was also driven by people like Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal, Politico's Dylan Byers, and Slate's Dave Weigel who had no political axe to grind but were flabbergasted at Ferguson's sheer shamelessness. These are all leading members of a rising digital media elite, closely connected via social media, who are pretty sure their peers and readers would never let them get away with nonsense like that.

Which is where my thought leader idea comes in. Ferguson is a great financial historian — his history of the Rothschild family is brilliant. In recent years he's become more of a generalist, and has focused more on current events. That's not a bad thing — I'm all for experts broadening their reach and sharing their knowledge. But Ferguson has been so good at it, and can express himself so charmingly, and handsomely, and swashbucklingly, that some people are willing to pay him to yammer on about pretty much anything. Tina Brown of Newsweek/The Daily Beast is one of those people, but far more important, as Stephen Marche pointed out on, are the conference organizers who are pay Ferguson $50,000 to $75,000 to entertain and edify a hotel ballroom full of business types about "Chimerica" or "the six killer apps of Western civilization."

That's the link with Lehrer and Zakaria, who are (or probably were, in Lehrer's case) big on the speaking circuit as well. Zakaria is a hugely accomplished thinker and writer (go back and read his breathtakingly good October 2001 Newsweek cover story "Why Do They Hate Us?" for a sample) who seems to have stretched himself too thin. Lehrer is a smart young upstart — his third book, Imagine: The Art and Science of Creativity, had been tearing up the bestseller lists before scandal hit — who seems to have made good storytelling a higher priority than the truth. That progression may tell a lot. The path to lucrative thought-leaderdom blazed over the past couple of decades was to establish yourself with dense, serious work (or a big, important job) and then move on to catch-phrase manufacturing (I spent a few weeks following Tom Friedman around in 2005, and learned that he had made this transition very deliberately). Nowadays ambitious young people looking to break into the circuit often just aim straight for the catch-phrases. Speakers bureaus need pithy sales pitches, not complex erudition — and while speaking fees might be spare change for Mitt Romney, for journalists and academics they often represent their only real shot at a top-tax-bracket income.

The result is an intellectual environment that seems to increasingly reward the superficial, and keeps rewarding those who make it into the magic circle of top-flight speakers even if they don't have anything new or interesting to say. Or at least: a part of the intellectual environment is like that. There's also a lively, seemingly much more meritocratic intellectual scene in the blogosphere and on Twitter. "The growth of online venues," wrote blogger and international relations scholar Daniel W. Drezner in a journal article in 2008 "has stimulated rather than retarded the quality and diversity of public intellectuals."

Where things get combustible is when the two scenes collide — when speaker's-bureau pundits get called out online for misdeeds, errors, or just inanities. (For a bracingly nasty recent example of the latter, check out think tanker Evgeny Morozov's recent New Republic evisceration of the TED ethos.) I don't know if this marks a changing of the guard, an uprising, or just a bunch of Twitter chatter that we should all ignore and get back to work. But it's fair to say that our thought leaders have as a group done a disastrously poor job of leading our thoughts over the past decade, so some kind of shake up is in order. (I should credit futurist Eric Garland, who has been making this argument a lot lately.)

All of which means that if you're a high-profile thought leader like Niall Ferguson, or Fareed Zakaria, or Jonah Lehrer, watch out. What got you there may not keep you there.

Update: Dan Drezner has a great piece, posted about 20 minutes before this one, that explores the same topic.

Justin Fox is editorial director of the Harvard Business Review Group and author of The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street.

Robert Waldmann

You are very very very much too kind to Drezner. His post is fundamentally different from yours because it contains nothing along the lines of " Along the way, he again selectively quoted from the CBO in a way that completely misrepresented the meaning of the passage he cited. " Drezner not only ignores this fact but asserts that Brad DeLong ignored it too. Drezner claimed that DeLong discussed the possible revocation of Ferguson's tenure for being "tendentious"Justin Fox (his word).

In fact, DeLong only raised the possibility when Ferguson went on to commit gross intellectual fraud. Drezner libeled DeLong by grossly miss-representing what DeLong wrote (he must know what DeLong wrote as he discusses it).

I really don't think you should link to Drezner again. He has demonstrated an inability )really unwillingness( to distinguish the false and the tendentious. He seems to have no idea that historians consider accurate quotation of primary sources important. I don't see how anyone can imagine that Drezner has anything useful to contribute to any discussion. The same, of course, goes for Ferguson.

Bryan Simpson
Justin, I was lead here by someone who referred to your article as a rare mature and thoughtful look at Niall Ferguson's latest internet dust up. It is correct your write up of Ferguson is fair, but you are a wolf in sheep's clothing. You have cut Ferguson like no one I've read. You do everything short of putting thought leader in quotation marks, it's truly a step down for a serious thinker to be considered a thought leader in the context you have drawn out. I too have enjoyed some of Ferguson's histories but I can't say I now recognized the man who wrote them. That Ferguson no longer exists. He has joined the lazy pablum pushers the like of Thomas Friedman. The next famous "thought leader" to screw up better hope you aren't there to explain what happened. Well done.
You state "Ferguson is a great financial historian". Does this go all the way back to 2010? Ferguson on Bloomberg: "Well, that's not really a part of the argument I made in the piece. The point I made in the piece was that the stimulus had a very short-term effect, which is very clear if you look , for example, at the Federal employment numbers there's a huge spike in early 2010 and then it falls back down."

Krugman explains the spike is due to census hiring and then writes: "For what it's worth, in this case I don't think we're looking at a blatant attempt to mislead; I suspect that we're just looking at raw ignorance."

Justin Fox
Although intentionally misrepresenting source material, as Ferguson seems to have done in the article and definitely did in the subsequent exchange, belongs somewhere on the same scale as plagiarism, doesn't it? show more show less
In fact what Ferguson did is worse. Plagiarism does not intentionally mislead one's readers, contrary to what Ferguson has done. A clarification. Plagiarism does not intentionally mislead one's readers as to the substantive content of the writing although it does mislead as to the source of the writing. However, to most readers whether the statement is true or false is far more important than whose statement it is. show more show less
They're both forms of intellectual fraud.

[Aug 14, 2012] The Understanding Stupidity

This systematic distortion of information makes human societies characteristically self-deceptive, with people disposed to believe they are living up to their ideals, particularly when they are not. The existing schematic dissonance is usually subconscious, due to the misleading nature of words, so society stumbles smugly along while at odds with itself, its environment and its equally stupid neighbors. In fact, the only really effective control of development comes not from inside but from physical limitations (what cannot be done) and competition with other groups which are also out of touch with themselves.

In general, internal criticism is of limited value as a control mechanism for growth and development of a social system. There usually tend to be few, if any, effective critics within any organization. When not dismissed out of hand as a crank or an outsider, anyone with valid criticism is made an outsider, as ostracism is a common reward for honesty, accuracy and integrity. Thus, criticism without power is largely wasted, producing little but woe for the bewildered critic himself.

Perhaps there are so few effective critics because anyone with any brains at all quickly finds that most human organizations just are not set up for effective criticism. The basic working assumption is that everything is just fine. Outside criticism is deflected and internal feedback is supposed to be positive reinforcement from "Yes men" promoting their careers by corrupting the mighty. At best, criticism has a place on the fringe, where cranks and comics can be tolerated as amusing diversions.

The resistance of organizations to criticism is inherent in the human condition. Criticism is invariably disruptive, since group spirit, if nothing else, is disrupted when unrecognized problems are made explicit. Such disturbances are unwelcome to those in power. While a critic may think he is performing a service by calling attention to an obvious problem, he is often treated as if he caused it. Actually, critics should be considered society's early warning systems, sensing symptoms of problems before

[Aug 10, 2012] Religious Fundamentalism and the Art of Motorcycle Club Maintenance by Donald Cox

August 5, 2002 | Donald Cox

Unless you belong to a motorcycle club, you probably don't think they have much to do with your life or with the world at large. I'm going to try to convince you otherwise. The logic of motorcycle clubs (members don't like the word "gangs") applies to many spheres, sublime and nasty, from religion to academic pursuits to terrorism.

"Generically, then, here are two similarities between motorcycle clubs and academic clubs:
  • each screens out the less zealous
  • and each discourages members from mingling with outsiders"

I don't expect you to be convinced right away, especially in light of some of the clubs' practices. Consider the initiation rites of the Hells' Angels in their mid-60's ascendancy, as reported by Hunter Thompson in his famous biker ethnography, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga:

Every Angel recruit comes to his initiation wearing a new pair of Levi's and a matching jacket with the sleeves cut off and a spotless emblem on the back. The ceremony varies from one chapter to another but the main feature is always the defiling of the initiate's new uniform. A bucket of dung and urine will be collected during the meeting, then poured on the newcomer's head in a solemn baptismal. Or he will take off his clothes and stand naked while the bucket of slop is poured over them and the others stomp it in. These are his 'originals,' to be worn every day until they rot. The Levi's are dipped in oil, then hung out to dry in the sun—or left under the motorcycle at night to absorb the crankcase drippings. When they become too ragged to be functional, they are worn over other, newer Levi's. Many of the jackets are so dirty that the colors are barely visible, but they aren't discarded until they literally fall apart. The condition of the originals is a sign of status. It takes a year or two before they get ripe enough to make a man feel he has really made the grade. [pp. 45-46]

Now, where were we? Oh yes, academic pursuits. At the end of the first year of my studies for a Ph.D. my 20 or so classmates and I were given two exams (the "cores") designed not so much to test academic skills but to weed out those lacking the maniacal endurance to study economics past the point of all reason. It worked—by the second year only a half dozen of us remained, and a couple more dropped out before finishing the Ph.D. I wouldn't say the cores were a bucket of slop, exactly, but they did seem to cross the line from pedagogy into hazing.

Maybe you're thinking that a closer analogy might have to do with the sartorial habits of bikers and academic economists. While economists tend to avoid the dung-caked look, they're not exactly snappy dressers, and their uniforms often seem no less rigid than those of bikers. But I think there is a subtler connection. Stinky clothes prevent a biker from consorting with the non-biker world; he can forget about being, for example, a part-time bank teller or Gap salesperson. A seemingly crazy tradition serves a rational purpose, by making it easier for members to concentrate on the world of motorcycles full time.

Likewise, academics are sometimes discouraged from working in the non-academic world. For example, in the upper echelons of academe, "outside" consulting—the term itself belies boundaries—garners little prestige for the free-lancer and, if anything, is often looked down upon by peers. Norms against consulting serve the same purpose as non-standard clothing by making it harder for the club members to stray from the fold.

Generically, then, here are two similarities between motorcycle clubs and academic clubs: each screens out the less zealous and each discourages members from mingling with outsiders.

This line of thinking comes from a theory proposed by economist Laurence Iannaccone, who tried to explain two puzzles connected with religious sects:

The sacrifices are wasteful, and, to outsiders at least, the stigmas often appear downright weird.

Iannaccone solved these puzzles by turning the logic of the economic theory of clubs on its head. Up to that point, economists focused mainly on how clubs might seek to prevent congestion by limiting membership, as a golf or tennis club might. But for some clubs the problem is not preventing congestion by keeping people out, but achieving critical mass by keeping people in. Small motorcycle clubs risk losing a barfight; tiny choirs are not very uplifting; poorly attended seminars are dull. The last item rationalizes the norms against consulting in academe. The less time my colleagues spend at law firms and corporate offices, the more time they have for lectures and seminars.

But it's not just about numbers; quality matters too: fellow bikers who fight hard, choir members who sing their hearts out, seminar participants who stay awake (and maybe even pay attention). Plus, many clubs—the Hell's Angels included—are beehives of redistribution and mutual insurance. In Thompson's words, "According to the code, there's no such thing as one Angel imposing on another." (p. 173) Iannaccone argues that the sacrifice demanded of prospective members helps screen out potential free-riders—those who might take advantage of the club's benefits without contributing their fair share. Hence the hazing, to weed out those less than fully committed. In the words of one Hell's Angel

"We're the one percenters, man—the one percent that don't fit and don't care....We've punched our way out of a hundred rumbles, stayed alive with our boots and our fists. We're royalty among motorcycle outlaws, baby." (Thompson, p. 4)

Nothing could be more different from a life of riding motorcycles than a life of studying the Talmud. Yet, as Eli Berman's recent study of Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Jews shows, the logic of Iannaccone's model applies with equal force to groups whose behavior it was originally formulated to explain—religious sects. The twin concerns of screening out free riders—who might be tempted to take advantage of redistribution—and attaining a critical mass—in order to make prayer and study more gratifying—each apply.

On redistribution: "No sick member is without visitors, and no single member is without an arranged match. Charity is ubiquitous, and interest-free loans abound, both in money and in kind..." (Berman, p. 911). On critical mass: "...praying is much more satisfying the more participants there are, especially when the tenth man arrives to make a prayer quorum (minyan)." (Berman, p. 921).

Berman also addresses a paradox: with worldwide income growth and technical progress, why the rise in religious fundamentalism and increased stringency of fundamentalist groups?

An easy way to resolve the paradox is to return to the example of bikers. If being a bank teller were the only alternative to participating in club activities, requiring members to wear dung-caked jackets effectively closes off that option. But what if technology brings about a new, more accessible alternative, such as, for example, telemarketing? The stigma from the jacket could prove useless for thwarting temptation; a biker might be able to work out of his home. The ante would have to be upped to something more radical (tongue piercing, maybe?).

Berman emphasizes that modern culture is an anathema to many religious sects, such as the Mennonites, the Amish, the radical Islam, in addition to Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Iannaccone's model explains why. TV, professional sports, Britney Spears, Ozzy Osbourne—all these compete for the attention of group members, especially younger ones.

About three weeks into my freshman year at a Catholic high school the "disciplinarian"—a humorless, black-robed cleric—showed up unannounced in the middle of a religion class to give an impromptu lecture on the evils of "Beatle-ism." Beatle-ism, apparently, had mainly to do with clothing: wide belts and pants without cuffs were deemed especially pernicious. (The rule on mandatory cuffs was quietly rescinded when it turned out that the local clothing store lacked the inventory to supply the entire student body.)

The root problem, of course, was that the Beatles were quite effective in competing for our attention. (To add insult to injury, whatever enthusiasm they may have had for saying the rosary or doing trigonometry, they kept well hidden.) But the proximate solution, as I think our disciplinarian reasoned, could well have to do with superficial trappings like clothing and hairstyles. If regulating them could prevent us from consorting with kids who espoused the Beatles' values, maybe we would knuckle down to work and pray harder.

I don't mean to sound churlish, and I don't bear a grudge against Brother Marcel, the disciplinarian. He was just following an economically rational policy. (Further, I'm eternally grateful to him and his prohibitions on long hair, which probably prevented me from joining a rock band and forgetting what little math I knew at the time.)

The clash between Brother Marcel and the Beatles is a microcosm of the perennial and increasingly pressing cat-and-mouse game between the Old Guard and the New Wave. The latter is the machinery—from places like Hollywood, New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts—that churns out new gadgets and ideas. I think some are great (new findings in neurobiology are a personal favorite) and some are crap (violent summer blockbuster movies). Accordingly, I feel ambivalent toward the Old Guard. If Brother Marcel were alive today he'd probably be laboring to stanch the flow of gameboys into my high school, something I'd be inclined to support. But I'd also be uncomfortable knowing that, as a member of the Old Guard, he occupies a proverbial slippery slope that can lead to coercive practices of, for example, the Taliban.

The New Wave is becoming cheaper and more accessible all the time. The Old Guard will respond by closing ranks ever so tightly. Where it all leads depends in part on the resolution of these mighty forces. Whether rising fundamentalism will persist in the face of the expanding reach of secular temptation also depends on those old economic mainstays, technology, tastes and incomes. Clearly the New Wave, with its focus groups and market surveys, pays attention to this. But as long as club participation remains voluntary, the Old Guard will have to pay attention as well.

I must confess I'm rooting for the New Wave. In hindsight, I would have preferred spending more time listening to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and less time studying the Baltimore Catechism. But it's a tricky call—all those re-runs of Gilligan's Island burned up a lot of time that would have been better spent on pre-calculus. My three-year-old daughter is starting to like Beatles and that's just fine with me. I do wonder, though, what ol' Marce would have had to say about Barney.


Berman, Eli. "Sect, Subsidy and Sacrifice: An Economist's View of Ultra-Orthodox Jews." Quarterly Journal of Economics 115 (August 2000): 905-953.

Buchanan, James M. "An Economic Theory of Clubs." Economica 32 (February 1965): 1-14.

Iannaccone, Laurence R. "Sacrifice and Stigma: Reducing Free-riding in Cults, Communes, and Other Collectives." Journal of Political Economy 100 (April 1992): 271-291.

Thompson, Hunter S. Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. New York: Ballentine Books, 1966.

* Donald Cox is Professor of Economics at Boston College. His email address is

[Jul 02, 2012] 'Science' without Falsification

Economist's View

Bryan Caplan is tired of being sneered at by "high-status academic economists":

The Curious Ethos of the Academic/Appointee, by Bryan Caplan: High-status academic economists often look down on economists who engage in blogging and punditry. Their view: If you can't "definitively prove" your claims, you should remain silent.

At the same time, though, high-status academic economists often receive top political appointments. Part of their job is to stand behind the administration's party line. They don't merely make claims they can't definitively prove; to keep their positions, appointees have to make claims they don't even believe! Yet high-status academic economists are proud to accept these jobs - and their colleagues admire them for doing so. ...

Noah Smith has something to say about "definitive proof":

"Science" without falsification is no science, by Noah Smith: Simon Wren-Lewis notes that although plenty of new macroeconomics has been added in response to the recent crisis/depression, nothing has been thrown out...

Four years after a huge deflationary shock with no apparent shock to technology, asset-pricing papers and labor search papers and international finance papers and even some business-cycle papers continue to use models in which business cycles are driven by technology shocks. No theory seems to have been thrown out. And these are young economists writing these papers, so it's not a generational effect. ...

If smart people don't agree, it may because they are waiting for new evidence or because they don't understand each other's math. But if enough time passes and people are still having the same arguments they had a hundred years ago - as is exactly the case in macro today - then we have to conclude that very little is being accomplished in the field. The creation of new theories does not represent scientific progress until it is matched by the rejection of failed alternative theories.

The root problem here is that macroeconomics seems to have no commonly agreed-upon criteria for falsification of hypotheses. Time-series data - in other words, watching history go by and trying to pick out recurring patterns - does not seem to be persuasive enough to kill any existing theory. Nobody seems to believe in cross-country regressions. And there are basically no macro experiments. ...

So as things stand, macro is mostly a "science" without falsification. In other words, it is barely a science at all. Microeconomists know this. The educated public knows this. And that is why the prestige of the macro field is falling. The solution is for macroeconomists to A) admit their ignorance more often (see this Mankiw article and this Cochrane article for good examples of how to do this), and B) search for better ways to falsify macro theories in a convincing way.

[Jun 30, 2012] Neocon Like Me: How I Spent A Year In Iraq Teaching With The Bush-Cheney Crazies By John Dolan

October 11, 2010 |

The hero of this story is the $100 bill — or rather, the wad of $100 bills. My first meeting with those lovely $100 bills came at the end of my interview for a job teaching English at the American University of Iraq Sulaimaniya (AUIS). At the end of the interview, the Chancellor, Joshua Mitchell asked me what my travel expenses had been and pulled out a wad of $100 bills. He peeled off 11 of them — the cost of my ticket — and slapped them down on the table, snarling, "There, that's how I do business!"

It certainly wasn't the way most American academics do business. Most Americans are horrified by the sight of large amounts of cash, and American academics, an even more squeamish lot than most, would never have slapped that much money down on a table without asking for a receipt or any other formality. I was impressed; there's something appealing about raw gangsterism popping up when you expected overcautious pedantry — especially when that raw gangsterism is giving you cash.

Any scruples I might have had about joining the occupation vanished with the last of our cash. My wife Katherine and I had been truly poor in the preceding three years — homeless, begging at food banks, the whole deal. I even published some helpful hints in AlterNet for those experiencing real poverty for the first time.

We went to Iraq to make money, not because we believed the neocon talk about training Iraq's future leaders in the great ideals of the West.

And once we got to know our colleagues at AUIS, we found that nearly all the faculty was there for the same reason. Oh, they knew the talking points — democracy, Great Books, transforming an authoritarian culture — but they were in Iraq to make money. Well, to make money and to drink. In fact, when the talk got boozy, as it almost always did at faculty gatherings, the nonsense about bringing democracy disappeared and people started talking openly about SUVs and houses in the country.

AUIS bloomed in the Northern Iraqi desert, a very artificial growth sustained hydroponically with US tax dollars. One night, at a very boozy faculty party, some veteran AUIS teachers told us the secret story of how the place was created. They claimed that AUIS was born when John Agresto, a right-wing academic and vassal of the Cheney clan, drove over the Turkish border with $500,000 cash taped to his body. There was something grotesque about this legend, because Agresto is a notably fat man, and once you'd heard the legend of his cash-strapped trip across the border, you couldn't help imagining him bulging with cash on top of his other bulges, like a wombat infested with botfly larvae.

John Agresto: From disgraced Lynne Cheney lapdog to diabetic cash mule, you've come a long way, baby!

Bizarre as that story sounds, it's probably true. Stranger things, involving much bigger stashes of tax money, have happened throughout the US occupation of Iraq — and Agresto certainly had the political connections to score that kind of cash. In the early stages of the US occupation after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Agresto was in charge of "reforming" the Iraqi education system on good Republican principles. To his credit, he wrote a reasonably honest book about the experience called Mugged by Reality. Unfortunately, the mugging didn't take; Agresto has gone back to his right-wing roots, avoiding that disrespectful thug, Reality, as much as possible.

Agresto has a very typical right-wing biography, steeped in resentment and nourishing long, slow, vengeful designs on the academic profession which had humiliated him. He was a Reagan appointee to the National Endowment for the Humanities in the mid-1980s, joining his patron, Bill Bennett, in the project to de-fund the Left. But when he was nominated as Deputy head, a job that required congressional confirmation, Agresto was bitterly humiliated. He was criticized as a "mediocre political appointment" by the American Studies Association, with a dozen academic organizations joining up to issue a statement deploring his "decidedly partisan reputation." There were also raised evebrows at the fact that a witness who testified for Agresto at his confirmation hearings had recently been given a large grant at Agresto's behest. After these bruising revelations, his nomination was dropped.

Humiliation was the theme of all Agresto's memories of venturing into the wider world, beyond the tiny enclave of neocon academics. Even his ideological allies seemed to hurt him; he once described Lynne Cheney, his boss at the NEH, as "gruff and manly," then repeated with real hatred in his voice, "Gruff…she was gruff."

All that bitterness, and all those wads of taxpayer cash, ended up in the creation of AUIS. It was planned, as we new faculty were told, as a three-campus system, with branches in Baghdad and Southern Iraq. But Reality mugged that plan savagely; any attempt to stroll the groves of academe in any part of Iraq other than the Kurdish far north would have been interrupted with a lesson in practical physics from an IED.

Agresto took that money to Sulaimaniya, in the Kurdish zone of Northern Iraq, and set up AUIS, with himself in charge. He apparently chose Kurdistan for the simple reason that Baghdad, the natural place to put an American university in Iraq, was already too dangerous for Americans.

So AUIS was sited in Sulaimaniya, a quiet Kurdish town near the Iranian border with a long reputation of separatism towards the rest of Iraq, especially Arab Iraq. Saddam recognized Sulaimaniya's tradition of fierce independence, once saying that "the head of the serpent lies in Sulaimaniya."

"Suli," as we expats called it, is a quiet, dusty town. When you fly into the Suli airport, the city seems almost invisible, because the favorite building material is concrete, and the beige and tan blocky houses blend perfectly with the dry brown hills. It's hot in the summer and cold and damp in the winter and there's very little to do. One of my colleagues described living there as "sensory deprivation."

I arrived, with a dozen other new hires, in September 2009. We flew in on the same plane and were taken to our hotels on the same bus. Most of us were pretty flinchyll at first, wincing at every loud noise.But we soon learned there was nothing to fear from terrorists or even street hawkers. The Pesh Merga, the Kurdish militia who run security, are extremely effective, and the Kurds themselves are a polite, phlegmatic people.We soon realized the only danger in Suli was crossing the street. Everybody who's anybody in Suli has an SUV — Kia Sportages for the middle class, Toyota Landcruisers for the rich — and very few locals know how to drive. But there is no violence against foreigners, as far as I know. We learned to go back to sleep after hearing bursts of AK fire, the established manner of celebrating a wedding or an election or just the fact that it's Friday night. The only time I really flinched, once we were settled in, was when a bolt of lightning detonated directly above our hotel in the middle of the night. And even then, though I assumed it was a bomb, I wasn't worried for our safety; my first thought was, "Agh, they'll send us home and I won't get any more of that money."

In fact, I want to say clearly here how much I like and admire the people of Suli, my students in particular. They were a wonderful change from the timid, bland kids I've encountered in my recent North American teaching experiences. Most of the students at AUIS could name relatives tortured or killed by Saddam, or in the vicious Kurdish civil war of the 1990s, and nearly all of them were studying in an alien language they'd had little chance to learn properly. Yet they were smart, funny and without self-pity.

It was my fellow Americans who were the problem. And I was not alone in that opinion. I once asked a colleague at AUIS if she had any trouble getting respect from male Kurdish students. She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Absolutely not. Are you kidding? The problem around here isn't the students, it's the assholes in the Main Building."

The Main Building dominated the campus. In fact, the campus was divided in two like an ante-bellum plantation: there was the Main Building and the cabins. The cabins were cheap, prefabricated white metal shacks, shimmering in the bright sunlight, laid out like an army camp inside a square of blast walls. All the actual teaching, and all the teachers' offices, were in the cabins. The Main Building, a big stone Soviet-style edifice, was reserved for the administrators' vast offices.

American taxpayer dollars at work: Sure there's no money for Social Security or Medicare or health insurance, but hey, look on the bright side: Tens of millions of American dollars produced this gorgeous scene!

That was the real campus. It wasn't the one we'd seen online. That was the first shock of our arrival: finding out that the huge, luxurious campus on the AUIS website — the one you could fly around on a "virtual tour" that swooped along tiled walkways connecting grand buildings labeled "Presidential Building" and "Student Housing" — didn't exist.

Oh, there's a construction site, sitting on a dry hillside just out of town. And for years, AUIS shamelessly showed a "virtual video" of that site as it's supposed to look, if and when it's ever finished, as if it already were the campus. It may never be finished; already the university hired and finally fired a local construction firm which missed every deadline it was set. A Turkish company has the contract now, adding to the Turks' domination of all business in Iraqi Kurdistan.

When anyone at AUIS dared to suggest that it wasn't very honest to keep up the "virtual tour" fiction, Mitchell and Agresto had a stock response: "We're a startup operation!" It reminded me of a stand-up comic's line: "I try to remain new on the job as long as possible."

One reason we accepted shocks like the nonexistent campus so docilely was that, when our minders met us at the Suli airport, they gave us a nice little packet containing a cellphone and $5000 cash "to help [us] settle in."

Next day, they took us to the real campus and assigned us to one of the white cabins. We soon discovered that these cabins were damn near fictions themselves. They were so shoddily built that the door handles came off nearly every one of them at some point in my year at AUIS. Mine decided to fall off at the worst possible moment, after a morning of grading essays with the help of way too much coffee, just when my aging bladder decided it had had enough. I walked quickly to the door and — clunk. The door handle had become a souvenir, a key chain.

The shoddiness of the cabins came in handy at that point, because all I had to do was bang on the wall we shared with professors in the other half of the cabin, and one of my colleagues obligingly came over and opened the door from the outside. He knew what that banging on the wall meant; the same thing had happened to him a week earlier. It all made for a kind of cheerful roughing-it camaraderie, but it also underlined the strange sense of falseness, that you were living and teaching in a stage set.

All the claims AUIS made had the same stagey, silly feel, a boastful absurdity typical of the US in Iraq. The claims made for our mission were ridiculous; we were supposed to be transforming Iraq's culture, teaching its future leaders a new and democratic way of thinking. But the university had only 200-odd students, and was straining to accommodate that number. It was hard to see how a group this size would transform a country of more than 26 million people.

And when I taught my first classes, I learned that those few students were woefully unprepared for university courses in English. We'd been told — another lie, of course — that the university's ESL program produced fluent speakers and writers of English. That was a joke. Had I graded my students at the same level as in an American university — another one of our official fictions — at least two-thirds of them would have failed. A better man would no doubt have done the principled thing; I wanted those $100 bills and simply handed out a lot of generous C's and B-'s.

Total fabrication; that's what it all seems like now. We were supposed to be bridging the great ethnic divides of Iraq, but in that first semester, I taught a Composition course that consisted of what I thought of as a "Wall of Kurds" and a "Wall of Arabs." The class was almost entirely male, and had the feel of a gang fight in hibernation. On one side of the room was the Wall of Kurds, a half dozen tough-looking, rural Kurdish students who spoke very little English; and on the other, a half-dozen much more urbane but much wimpier Arab students from Baghdad who wore a permanent flinch. The Arabs spoke and wrote much better English, the beneficiaries of Saddam's preferential treatment of Baghdad, and the Kurds resented every sentence their erstwhile tormentors got right.

Both groups regarded me as an ephemeral inconvenience — a real surprise for me, because Agresto had assured me in the job interview that we were the biggest thing in these kids' lives, the transformative yeast in the Iraqi loaf. At AUIS, he had told me (and every other new teacher), we'd see the total dedication to learning that we had longed for, and missed, in American students.

It never appeared. What I saw was several hundred lively, intelligent adolescents who were tremendously excited about living away from home, talking to members of the opposite sex, and trying on new identities. Classic adolescent stuff. There were times, in good weather, when the panorama of fevered social cliques occupying their few square meters of turf on the steps of the Main Building made the place look like a teen movie or a live-action Archie comic — all those family-ridden kids, burdened with having to be somebody's son or daughter, brother or cousin, all their lives, suddenly allowed to be characters out of Heathers or Clueless.

There was an even bigger problem with fulfilling our messianic mission: the faculty. We were not an impressive bunch. There were good teachers at AUIS — I won't name them, because praise from me might get them fired–but they survived by lying low; being bright and a good teacher made you suspect in a place where center stage was firmly occupied by a clique of loud, provincial rightwing nuts. In this sense, AUIS was an excellent microcosm of the American polity that had produced it: the best lacked all conviction, while the worst (with apologies to Yeats) raked in the cash and talked nonsense.

Successful Profs: Red-State Brown-Nosers with No Qualifikashuns

There was a clear, simple formula for success at AUIS: be a Southern white male Republican with a talent for flattery, an undistinguished academic record, and very little experience in university-level teaching.

Some of the faculty were so dismally unqualified and shameless that even our students, mostly reverent toward foreign authority-figures, saw through them.

The man Agresto hired to teach American History makes a perfect Exhibit A in any list of what's wrong with AUIS. The first sign that he was not exactly committed to intellectual integrity was his choice of textbook for the course: an abominable book called America: The Last Best Hope, by William Bennett. Yes, THE William Bennett, Reagan's Secretary of Education, the buffoon who sermonized on virtue until his gambling losses added up so high that they drowned out his pomposities, the man who once scolded a child in public for wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt.

Bennett's title sums up the thesis of his textbook clearly: America is literally, simply, the last and best hope for the human species. Tough luck, China — or Burma, or Ecuador, or any other nation on the planet — because we R it, the alpha and omega. It's a classic reactionary thesis: "I can't imagine any nation ever being as great as America; therefore no nation ever will be." Argument by lack of imagination — a favorite among opponents of evolution, biological or historical.

My students used to leave this book on their desks between classes, so I had a chance to flip through it. I expected it to be awful, but it was even worse than I could have guessed. Bennett gives sleazy imperial apologists a bad name. If you want to see this thing done well, try Hitchens or Paul Johnston, the British neo-imperialist historian from the Thatcher era. Bennett, who can't write worth a damn and has never done original research in his life, is the worst of that very bad lot.

One student, the son of prominent Kurdish freedom-fighters and a genuine believer in things like intellectual freedom, saw through Bennett and had the courage to complain about the book. The teacher replied, "Well, this is a conservative university and it's my job to give you the conservative perspective." A simpler, more honest answer would have been: "Look, kid, I got this job by sucking up to John Agresto, who happens to be a close friend of William Bennett, so my hugely-inflated salary depends on feeding you this crap." I still remember the disgusted shrug the student gave after telling me the story. He was learning about Western standards of intellectual integrity, all right — but not the way he was supposed to be.

Luckily for the students in American History, they spent most of their time watching war movies rather than reading Bennett's Sunday School tales. Since I taught in the same cabin as our American History instructor, separated from his class by a flimsy metal wall, I got to listen to a whole semester's worth of bad WW II films. Three long months of trying to teach my students to use the simple present, rather than the present progressive, in their essays, shouting to be heard over the corny dialogue coming through the wall: "I'm hit, Sarge! Uh…go on without me!"… usually followed by explosions that rocked the thin metal wall, as Sarge and friends took their revenge for the Gipper.

His one criterion was "bad language." He wouldn't show any movie with swearing in it (thus eliminating every decent war movie ever made). That scruple served him in place of any squeamishness about giving his teaching to the likes of William Bennett and John Wayne.

And for this, he was paid about $15,000 per month. The only reason I know he made that much is that he was a terrible braggart. We'd just been paid our first month's salary, in cash, and as he walked with me among the cabins, he crowed, "Here I am walkin' along with $15,000 cash in my pocket!"

He didn't rate that sort of money because of his qualifications. As in, he didn't got none. Not even a Ph.D. (though he claimed later to have picked one up from an online degree mill). He had no recent teaching experience, and no academic publications. Even by the lax standards of AUIS, the disparity between his rank and his qualifications became the object of speculation.

It was only through his habit of boasting that we found out the truth. As the winter break approached, he started strutting around telling everyone how he was going home to lobby Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, his home state, to send AUIS a big grant. He liked to boast while grooming himself in the stinking men's room of the Cabins, which always stank like a chicken coop in hot weather. Standing at the urinal, he boasted to anyone trying to empty their bladders in his vicinity that his wife was one of the richest women in the state and a close friend of the Senator. He'd have no trouble getting an audience with Chambliss.

So that $15,000/mo. salary was only nominally for teaching; the man was actually a lobbyist with connections to the sleaziest and most lucrative crannies of the Southern rightwing elite. When I heard him boasting about his connections to Chambliss, I looked up the good senator and got another involuntary lesson in the utter falseness of the ideals holding up AUIS and its constituency. Saxby Chambliss was elected to the Senate in 2002 thanks to campaign ads showing the incumbent, Max Cleland, next to photos of Osama bin Laden. Even John McCain called the ads "reprehensible." But that's not the worst of it: Max Cleland, whose patriotism Chambliss impugned, lost three limbs to a grenade while fighting in Viet Nam. Saxby Chambliss never served, supposedly because he had a bad knee from playing high school football. The knee, of course, miraculously recovered once ol' Saxby was past draft age.

Jack | October 12th, 2010 at 9:22 am

American academia is like some kind of sick disease that even though the body it's parasited is in its death throes is spreading across the globe in the form of these Amerikun Biznez schools subsidaries of international educational corporations that are peddling their product all over the globe.

The unemployment department in the country where I'm living forced me to take a job with them. Some of the kids weren't too bad but most of them were just to poor students to get into a National University but for some reason thought they were destined to be managers and give orders to people. I came to work drunk every day and made them watch American Psycho and learn the lyrics of GG Allin songs; especially I Kill Everything I Fuck.

[Jun 15, 2012] Michel Santi Science économique ou subjectivité économique

Google translation from French

The crisis has been triggered largely because contemporary economists Keynes had rejected in favor of Chicago School represented by Milton Friedman? Friedman believed that Keynes was wrong when he claimed that every crisis could be resolved by a gradual expansion of the money supply. So he set out the principle that tax policies - and thus government spending to stimulate the economy - were not necessary. For his part, Keynes was inspired by the Great Depression and blamed precisely the policy of contraction in money supply initiated by the Federal Reserve at the time who should have instead adopted a logical expansion. He was so convinced that recessions and depressions that were mainly caused by a fall in consumption.

The remedy advocated by Keynes was logically in a substantial reduction in interest rates allow a recovery in consumption. The cash would be generously provided by the State which would therefore a key role in activating its printing press in spite of deficits that are transient, however, because the stimulus would go to ... According to the Keynesians (as Paul Krugman), the onset of the crisis in 2007 would indeed be a textbook case since the implosion of the housing bubble has devalued the mortgage securities held by banks had immediately sunk the savings into recession draining the credit.

Macroeconomic lessons are certainly valid to study the Great Depression while leaning on the theory of business cycles. However, analyzing the current crisis (started in 2007) against these same criteria - despite their intellectual elegance - would result in dramatic commit the same mistakes. Economists have forgotten that the economy must first serve man and society because the world of contemporary economics is overrun with financial mathematics exercising a tyranny leaving no room for the social sciences! The economist said mischievously that Heilbroner had instilled a rigorous mathematics to economics before killing her! Unless this is the use which has been made which led to the present tendencies since the condemnation of the followers of Keynes in favor of Chicago does not mean progress.

This is the entire profession must now recognize that it was mistaken in its assessment of a highly complex system ... it still does not understand completely! Yet we have learned a lot. That our financial system is even more dangerous as some Bankers delight in pushing their off-balance sheet ratios and the risk that their mechanical explode at any moment. That even the States are obliged to cheat! We also know that this mismanagement is not a coincidence - or accident - but rather the result of a perverse pressure exerted continuously on a profession that is asked time and again the figure ... However, and this is a major lesson of this crisis, these behaviors to limit the criminal is only possible thanks to lax - or complicity? - The regulator and lawmakers believe that what is good for banks is necessarily good for the country.

From his perspective, Krugman is right to defend Keynes because it conforms well to the creed current among elites consisting spend lavishly in order to save a profession and a system without which themselves no longer exist! What Greenspan did after the collapse of technology stocks drastically reducing interest rates in 2001, Bernanke (his successor as head of the Fed) and saving the printing press began in 2007 on a scale more massive, a prelude to all types of risky behavior to come. In other words, the financial system of tomorrow will be even more dangerous than yesterday because this crisis tells first failure of any caste could not economists warn against the formation or against the devastating implosion of bubbles and suspicious behavior. It is true that the debate is mostly limited to crocodiles that frequent the same lake ...

Can "Science" of economic one day share the fate of anthropology or phrenology? In other words, this science of economics does become a science fossil vaguely respected for it has brought but completely outdated? Meanwhile, economists form a sort of caste of Brahmins or omens waving equations hyper sophisticated and always quick to give their opinions on political decisions. Their sole ambition: to be occult advisors to Princes mandarins. They live in fact backed by the powers that be, having their own system of recognition. While waiting for their inevitable fossilization.

[Jun 04, 2012] Krugman and Stiglitz: Our Most Widely Ignored Public Intellectuals

June 04, 2012 | Economist's View
Why don't those in power listen to Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman?:
Our Most Widely Ignored Public Intellectuals, by Robert Kuttner: ...As the most prestigious economic dissenters of this era, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman form a category of two: astonishingly prescient, widely read, and largely ignored by those in power. ...

If these eminent thinkers are at the edge of economic orthodoxy, why are they marginalized within the corridors of power? One reason is that politics, not surprisingly, tends to get personal. Both Stiglitz and Krugman have decided to air their views in public rather than operating as discreet outside members of a kitchen cabinet... Stiglitz, even more than Krugman, has not been shy about criticizing Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner by name, and the disfavor has been richly returned. Though Krugman's column praises the Obama administration when the president gives Krugman half a reason to do so, the White House accurately perceives him and Stiglitz as off-message and part of the opposition.

More fundamental to their marginalization is the relative radicalism of what Krugman and Stiglitz are advocating in our conservative era, one in which even Democratic presidents have done little to reverse unconstrained finance, shrunken government, and deepening inequality. To embrace their wisdom would require something close to a political revolution. So two of our most lauded economists remain prophets with little power to change events. America would be a far healthier country if they broke through.

Jeffrey Stewart:

This is a relatively easy puzzle to solve. It absolutely doesn't matter to politicians and those funding their campaigns that Krugman and Stiglitz are 100% correct. If Krugman and Stiglitz were advocating policies that benefited the wealthy rather than the majority of the population, they would be listened to and have influential positions in any administration. There is a near complete capture of the state by capital. This means that only policies that directly benefit financial, industrial and commercial capitalist and only indirectly the working class, e.g., trickle down economics of tax cuts and deregulation get a hearing and are considered "serious," "responsible" and in the "mainstream" i.e., not "radical" or "extreme."

"In the domain of Political Economy, free scientific inquiry meets not merely the same enemies as in all other domains. The peculiar nature of the materials it deals with, summons as foes into the field of battle the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the human breast, the Furies of private interest."

MRJ -> Darryl FKA Ron...

I like your comment about them being like each other.

One example: The right wing today includes a large contingent who actively desire and promote the failure of the US, both economically and politically, so that their side can win the up-coming election, which is strikingly reminiscent of Lenin's tactics prior to the Russian Revolution.

Seth -> Jeffrey Stewart...

Correct. Krugman and Stiglitz are not being ignored by accident or simple misunderstanding. They are being studiously ignored. They are met with deep sighs and 'polite' eyes are averted in the hope that K & S will tire themselves out and simply shut up.

Here was my reaction to Krugman's recent "I'm Not Clubbable" post:

Clubbable is a synonym for Very Serious: it means taking social cues from higher status peers as the basis for evaluating information. Rather than evaluating claims by reference to facts and their logical connections, a VSP understands that demonstrating loyalty to the status hierarchy will better serve their personal interests. Demonstrated failure to conform to social expectations by stubbornly sticking with conclusions drawn from reasoned argument will make clubbable people acutely uncomfortable. They need to disassociate themselves lest they gain a reputation as a 'fellow-traveller' with disloyal types.

This is why economics went seriously wrong -- indeed the discipline quite simply 'sold out' -- when it abandoned attempts to take account of power. Power *constrains* economic outcomes, markets merely optimize within the constraints set by power.

The irony is that this sell-out is what gives economics professors the cache required to have an audience among the powerful in the first place. But when you try to speak the truth, you begin to sound uncomfortably like those scary Marxists the VSP's thought they had managed to purge many years ago.

Policy is made by [the most senior] members of the club. Your role in their world is to justify the policies they derive from their need to reinforce the status quo power structure. I'm glad you refuse to play that sycophantic part in their little morality play, but it isn't at all mysterious why you are treated the way Cassandra was.

Jeffrey Stewart

An excellent example of this pro-capitalist bias is the capitalist, corporate media and VSP fawning over the Ryan budget while the Progressive Caucus' Budget For All received...crickets.


"It's been really frustrating to watch policymakers listen to the people who got it wrong again and again, not just before the crisis but during it as well, while ignoring the people who largely got things right, and then wonder why the policies weren't more effective. If they'd listened, and it's not too late to start, things could be better today." The policymakers wanted it wrong. The goal is to establish Ayn Rand's vision for America where the sociopath is the most venerated leader of all in business or politics. A well managed pseudo-crisis works wonders for scaring the masses into the slaughterhouses.

Charlie Baker:

Paul Krugman: Things I Didn't Say

From John Heilemann's article about the falling out between Obama and Wall Street:

After countless rehearsals of the options, Obama wanted to hear a broader range of voices. So in April, a dinner was set up at the White House with the president and a clutch of big-name economists: Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Alan Blinder, Kenneth Rogoff. "That turned out to be a defining moment in the debate," Geithner told me. "Partly because they were all disagreeing with each other, and partly because they knew what they were against but not exactly what they were for and what it entailed—except Krugman. He was the only one willing to say, 'Look, there's a good case for nationalizing, but if you do, you have to understand two things: One, it's incredibly expensive, it'll cost trillions; and two, you have to guarantee everything.' " Once again, Obama cast his lot with Geithner. Uh, no. I never said that it would cost trillions of dollars. On the contrary, I didn't think taking over Citi or B of A, which had near-zero market caps at the time, would cost much at all. I did say that we'd have to guarantee the debts of the seized banks, much as the Swedes did; but I think I said then, and certainly believed, that we were de facto guaranteeing those debts anyway — that we had already socialized the possible losses, and that the point was to give taxpayers a share of the potential gains.

I'm glad to get credit for being more realistic than the other guys — but Geithner seems to be putting a spin on what I actually said.

John Heilmann's article here:

Mark A. Sadowski:

"Given his support for Hillary Clinton, it is hard to take Krugman seriously when he lambaste the Obama administration for centrism and compromising progressive values."

As Krugman has pointed out again and again Obama didn't pose as a Nation-type progressive, then suddenly turn to the right after he won the Democratic nomination. He was always slightly less progressive than Hillary Clinton on domestic issues, and more than slightly on health care.

Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur


Oh please the Hill and Barry different in practice

Hill would use the same people and get the same results or less Given her cave factor under pressure

Mark A. Sadowski:

"Given her cave factor under pressure"

Give me a break.

Obama routinely stakes out a postion just to the left of the opposition, not because he's planning any grand Bill Clintonesque triangulation strategies, but because he *really is* the Republican-lite he's always said that he was.

But then he *always* gives into the Republicans and throws a pony into the deal for good measure.

Barry should write a book on "The Art of the Cave-In" when this thing is all over.

Mike -> Sarah...

It is not just Obama. In general, modern day Democrats are to the right of Nixon. They are not liberal or progressive.

I have debated with many on the so-called left about how poor Obama's economic policies have been, and they either typically defend his policies or outright champion them.

It is flat out bizarre, but this is the land of confusion where Democrats are anything but liberal and Republicans are anything but conservative. Neither party takes kindly to criticism since they are too busy looking to blame the other party for their poor performance since it is their best chance to retain power.

Darryl FKA Ron:

Ignoring intellectuals is nothing new or singular in the US. Frederick Perls was out-voted by big pharma in the AMA/APA. Ian Mitroff has met much the same resistance as Peter Drucker. Drucker received much acclaim, but almost no one ever applied his practices. They were managing for different results. Ignored intellectuals are a dime a dozen. I prefer the Stig myself, but neither one should feel like the lone ranger. Now Joe Schumpeter was an intellectual that did not get ignored. So, it just depends upon what you are selling.

John Hulls:

The real irony of this is that the purpose of government should actually be to protect the one percent from themselves and preserve the economy for all. As a retired history professor friend recently told me, the way to understand the current Greek econodrama is to read Arisophanes 'The Acharnians', which I wrote about in a piece entitled 'Hedging the Apocalypse' at which is mostly raises the question as to why the financial community fails to learn from others about management of high risk situations, such as nuclear weapons and aircraft safety.

What is so disturbing is that what is going to happen is pretty apparent if you take a look from a perspective outside the current economic debate, and alternate methods of modeling the economy. (I'm interested in analog simulations to illuminate environmental and resource utilization) I can't resist posting a link to a piece that I wrote in 2008, from 'Too Big to Fail to Too Large to Care' at

Krugman and Stiglitz are sadly right, but tend to put their answers in mostly economic terms, which don't really seem to resonate with the public, as did Roosevelt's specific programs, such as the REA and federal power projects. As Brad Delong's wife said in a recent post on his blog, referring to the REA "Thankee Mr. Roosevelt"

ilsm -> John Hulls...

The foundation of the democratic party goes back to Andrew Jackson or before, Jefferson.

Jackson fought the bank because the US bank threatened to bribe the lower chanber from being the peoples' house.

There was always the feeling that the elites were filled with vice and would corrupt the virtues that the masses would fit to the republic.

TR and FDR were fans of Jackson as was Truman.

A respect for Old Hickory is in order.

Darryl FKA Ron -> John Hulls...


Pretty kool dude. Cross disciplinary science is a must in a modern world, but the econ world has not all got on board with that yet. I just had time to skim the first article, but was smiling the whole time.

Are you familiar with Ian Mitroff?

Here is a list of his books copied from Wiki - just to give you some idea of his range:

  • 1974. The Subjective Side of Science: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Psychology of the Apollo Moon Scientists. Elsevier, Amsterdam (reissued in 1984 by Intersystems Publishers, Seaside, California).
  • 1978. Methodological Approaches to Social Science: Integrating Divergent Concepts and Theories. With Ralph Kilmann. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
  • 1981. Challenging Strategic Planning Assumptions, Theory, Cases, and Techniques. With Richard O. Mason. John Wiley, New York.
  • 1982. Creating A Dialectical Social Science: Concepts, Methods, and Models. With Richard O. Mason and D. Reidel. John Wiley, New York.
  • 1983 The 1980 Census: Policymaking Amid Turbulence. With Richard O. Mason and V.P. Barabba. Lexington Books, Massachusetts.
  • 1983. Stakeholders of the Organizational Mind: Toward A New View of Policy Making. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
  • 1984. Corporate Tragedies, Product Tampering, Sabotage, and Other Catastrophes. With Ralph Kilmann. Praeger, New York.
  • 1987. Business Not As Usual, Rethinking Our Individual, Corporate, and Industrial Strategies for Global Competition. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
  • 1988. Break-Away Thinking, How To Challenge Your Business Assumptions. John Wiley, New York.
  • 1989. The Unreality Industry, The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What It Is Doing to Our Lives. With Bennis, Warren. Birch Lane Press, New York.
  • 1990. We're So Big And Powerful Nothing Bad Can Happen To Us: An Investigation of America's Crisis-Prone Corporations. With Thierry Pauchant. Birch Lane Press, New York.
  • 1992. The Unbounded Mind: Breaking the Chains of Traditional Business Thinking. With Harold A. Linstone. Oxford University Press.
  • 1992. Transforming the Crisis-Prone Organization. With Thierry Pauchant. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
  • 1993. Crisis Management: A Diagnostic Guide for Improving Your Organization's Crisis-Preparedness. With Christine M. Pearson. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
  • 1994. The Challenge of the 21st Century: Managing Technology and Ourselves in a Shrinking World. With Harold A Linstone. State University of New York Press, Albany, New York.
  • 1994. Framebreak: The Radical Redesign of American Business. With Richard O. Mason, and Christine M. Pearson. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
  • 1996. The Essential Guide to Managing Corporate Crises.
  • 1998. Smart Thinking for Crazy Times: The Art of Solving the Right Problems. With Christine M. Pearson, and Katharine L. Harrington. Oxford University Press, New York. The Management of Crises and Paradoxes: Preventing the Destructive Effects of Organizations (in French). H.E.C., Montreal, Canada.
  • 1999. A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America: A Hard Look at Spirituality, Religion, and Values in the Workplace. With Elizabeth A. Denton. Jossey-Bass Publishers Inc., San Francisco.
  • 2000. Managing Crises Before They Happen: What Every Executive Needs to Know About Crisis Management. With Gus Anagnos. AMACOM, New York.
  • 2003. Crisis Leadership: Planning for the Unthinkable. John Wiley, New York.
  • 2005. Why Some Companies Emerge Stronger And Better From a Crisis: Seven Essential Lessons For Surviving Disaster. AMACOM, New York. Ian I. Mitroff and Abraham Silvers, Dirty Rotten Strategies: How We Trick Ourselves and Others into Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely, Stanford Business Press (2009), hardcover, 210 pages, ISBN 978-0-8047-5996-0
  • 2011. "Swans, Swine, and Swindlers: Coping With The Growing Threat of Mega Crises and Mega Messes". With Can M. Alpaslan. Stanford Business Press.


Dirty Rotten Strategies is pretty good. I am going to have to get We're So Big And Powerful Nothing Bad Can Happen To Us.

Edward Lambert:

Stiglitz is more of an economic hero than Krugman, because Stiglitz talks more about sustainable economics and living wages...

[May 31, 2012] Economic Dark Ages?

Stan Collender is driven to shrillness:

Is This The Economic Dark Ages In The U.S?, by Stan Collender: ...a behavior -- bald-face lying --... has become so blatant and commonplace among Republican policymakers on economic issues that any one of them who is even slightly honest and candid now would be both an absolute rarity and a welcome relief.
And the fact that the GOP lying about the economy...and especially the so accepted and expected means that any Republican who wasn't jump-the-shark ridiculous on these issues wouldn't be allowed to stay in the party much longer. ...
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) ... easily qualifies as the weakest and least effective Speaker in my lifetime and has to be included on the list of the all-time worst in U.S. history, demonstrated yet again that he'll say and do anything to stay speaker even when what he's saying about the budget can easily be shown to be nonsense and when he knowingly and without giving it a second thought threatens the well-being of the U.S. economy.
I'd say this doesn't bode well for the outcome of this year's federal budget debate, but that's both obvious and an understatement. It actually points to the a period in U.S. history that is very likely to be labeled by historians as its economic dark ages.

I think that reporting on economic issues has improved, and that blogs have something to do with that. But when it comes to political reporting on economic (and other) issues, it's just as disappointing as ever. If there's no reputational or other costs associated with this behavior, why stop?

[May 31, 2012] Disbelief in Climate Science: Is It Stupidity?

Tim Haab:

Study rules out stupidity as a cause of disbelief in climate science*:

And the Yale research published today reveals that if Americans knew more basic science and were more proficient in technical reasoning it would still result in a gap between public and scientific consensus.

Indeed, as members of the public become more science literate and numerate, the study found, individuals belonging to opposing cultural groups become even more divided on the risks that climate change poses.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study was conducted by researchers associated with the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School and involved a nationally representative sample of 1500 U.S. adults.

"The aim of the study was to test two hypotheses," said Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School and a member of the study team. "The first attributes political controversy over climate change to the public's limited ability to comprehend science, and the second, to opposing sets of cultural values. The findings supported the second hypothesis and not the first," he said.

"Cultural cognition" is the term used to describe the process by which individuals' group values shape their perceptions of societal risks. It refers to the unconscious tendency of people to fit evidence of risk to positions that predominate in groups to which they belong.

The results of the study were consistent with previous studies that show that individuals with more egalitarian values disagree sharply with individuals who have more individualistic ones on the risks associated with nuclear power, gun possession, and the HPV vaccine for school girls.


*Unless you classify stubbornness as stupidity.

[Feb 26, 2012] Cathy O'Neil: How Big Pharma Cooks Data –The Case of Vioxx and Heart Disease

By Cathy O'Neil, a data scientist who lives in New York City and writes at
Naked Capitalism

Yesterday I caught a lecture at Columbia given by statistics professor David Madigan, who explained to us the story of Vioxx and Merck. It's fascinating and I was lucky to get permission to retell it here.


Madigan has been a paid consultant to work on litigation against Merck. He doesn't consider Merck to be an evil company by any means, and says it does lots of good by producing medicines for people. According to him, the following Vioxx story is "a line of work where they went astray".

Yet Madigan's own data strongly suggests that Merck was well aware of the fatalities resulting from Vioxx, a blockbuster drug that earned them $2.4b in 2003, the year before it "voluntarily" pulled it from the market in September 2004. What you will read below shows that the company set up standard data protection and analysis plans which they later either revoked or didn't follow through with, they gave the FDA misleading statistics to trick them into thinking the drug was safe, and set up a biased filter on an Alzheimer's patient study to make the results look better. They hoodwinked the FDA and the New England Journal of Medicine and took advantage of the public trust which ultimately caused the deaths of thousands of people.

The data for this talk came from published papers, internal Merck documents that he saw through the litigation process, FDA documents, and SAS files with primary data coming from Merck's clinical trials. So not all of the numbers I will state below can be corroborated, unfortunately, due to the fact that this data is not all publicly available. This is particularly outrageous considering the repercussions that this data represents to the public.


The process for getting a drug approved is lengthy, requires three phases of clinical trials before getting FDA approval, and often takes well over a decade. Before the FDA approved Vioxx, less than 20,000 people tried the drug, versus 20,000,000 people after it was approved. Therefore it's natural that rare side effects are harder to see beforehand. Also, it should be kept in mind that for the sake of clinical trials, they choose only people who are healthy outside of the one disease which is under treatment by the drug, and moreover they only take that one drug, in carefully monitored doses. Compare this to after the drug is on the market, where people could be unhealthy in various ways and could be taking other drugs or too much of this drug.

Vioxx was supposed to be a new "NSAID" drug without the bad side effects. NSAID drugs are pain killers like Aleve and ibuprofen and aspirin, but those had the unfortunate side effects of gastro-intestinal problems (but those are only among a subset of long term users, such as people who take painkillers daily to treat chronic pain, such as people with advanced arthritis). The goal was to find a pain-killer without the GI side effects. The underlying scientific goal was to find a COX-2 inhibitor without the COX-1 inhibition, since scientists had realized in 1991 that COX-2 suppression corresponded to pain relief whereas COX-1 suppression corresponded to GI problems.

Vioxx Introduced and Withdrawn From the Market

The timeline for Vioxx's introduction to the market was accelerated: they started work in 1991 and got approval in 1999. They pulled Vioxx from the market in 2004 in the "best interest of the patient". It turned out that it caused heart attacks and strokes. The stock price of Merck plummeted and $30 billion of its market cap was lost. There was also an avalanche of lawsuits, one of the largest resulting in a $5 billion settlement which was essentially a victory for Merck, considering they made a profit of $10 billion on the drug while it was being sold.

The story Merck will tell you is that they "voluntarily withdrew" the drug on September 30, 2004. In a placebo-controlled study of colon polyps in 2004, it was revealed that over a time period of 1200 days, 4% of the Vioxx users suffered a "cardiac, vascular, or thoracic event" (CVT event), which basically means something like a heart attack or stroke, whereas only 2% of the placebo group suffered such an event. In a group of about 2400 people, this was statistically significant, and Merck had no choice but to pull their drug from the market.

It should be noted that, on the one hand Merck should be applauded for checking for CVT events on a colon polyps study, but on the other hand that in 1997, at the International Consensus Meeting on COX-2 Inhibition, a group of leading scientists issued a warning in their Executive Summary that it was "… important to monitor cardiac side effects with selective COX-2 inhibitors". Moreover, in an internal Merck email as early as 1996, it was stated there was a "… substantial chance that CVT will be observed." In other words, Merck knew to look out for such things. Importantly, however, there was no subsequent insert in the medicine's packaging that warned of possible CVT side-effects.

What the CEO of Merck Said

What did Merck say to the world at that point in 2004? You can look for yourself at the four and half hour Congressional hearing (seen on C-SPAN) which took place on November 18, 2004. Starting at 3:27:10, the then-CEO of Merck, Raymond Gilmartin, testifies that Merck "puts patients first" and "acted quickly" when there was reason to believe that Vioxx was causing CVT events. Gilmartin also went on the Charlie Rose show and repeated these claims, even go so far as stating that the 2004 study was the first time they had a study which showed evidence of such side effects.

How quickly did they really act though? Were there warning signs before September 30, 2004?

Arthritis Studies

Let's go back to the time in 1999 when Vioxx was FDA approved. In spite of the fact that it was approved for a rather narrow use, mainly for arthritis sufferers who needed chronic pain management and were having GI problems on other meds (keeping in mind that Vioxx was way more expensive than ibuprofen or aspirin, so why would you use it unless you needed to), Merck nevertheless launched an ad campaign with Dorothy Hamill and spent $160m (compare that with Budweiser which spent $146m or Pepsi which spent $125m in the same time period).

As I mentioned, Vioxx was approved faster than usual. At the time of its approval, the completed clinical studies had only been 6- or 12-week studies; no longer term studies had been completed. However, there was one underway at the time of approval, namely a study which compared Aleve with Vioxx for people suffering from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

What did the arthritis studies show? These results, which were available in late 2003, showed that the CVT events were more than twice as likely with Vioxx as with Aleve (CVT event rates of 32/1304 = 0.0245 with Vioxx, 6/692 = 0.0086 with Aleve, with a p-value of 0.01). As we see this is a direct refutation of the fact that CEO Gilmartin stated that they didn't have evidence until 2004 and acted quickly when they did.

In fact they had evidence even before this, if they bothered to put it together (in fact they stated a plan to do such statistical analyses but it's not clear if they did them- or in any case there's so far no evidence that they actually did these promised analyses).

In a previous study ("Table 13″), available in February of 2002, the could have seen that, comparing Vioxx to placebo, we saw a CVT event rate of 27/1087 = 0.0248 with Vioxx versus 5/633 = 0.0079 with placebo, with a p-value of 0.01. So, three times as likely.

In fact, there was an even earlier study ("1999 plan"), results of which were available in July of 2000, where the Vioxx CVT event rate was 10/427 = 0.0234 versus a placebo event rate of 1/252 = 0.0040, with a p-value of 0.05 (so more than 5 times as likely). This p-value can be taken to be the definition of statistically significant. So actually they knew to be very worried as early as 2000, but maybe they… forgot to do the analysis?

The FDA and Pooled Data

Where was the FDA in all of this?

They showed the FDA some of these numbers. But they did something really tricky. Namely, they kept the "osteoarthritis study" results separate from the "rheumatoid arthritis study" results. Each alone were not quite statistically significant, but together were amply statistically significant. Moreover, they introduced a third category of study, namely the "Alzheimer's study" results, which looked pretty insignificant (more on that below though). When you pooled all three of these study types together, the overall significance was just barely not there.

It should be mentioned that there was no apparent reason to separate the different arthritic studies, and there is evidence that they did pool such study data in other places as a standard method. That they didn't pool those studies for the sake of their FDA report is incredibly suspicious. That the FDA didn't pick up on this is probably due to the fact that they are overworked lawyers, and too trusting on top of that. That's unfortunately not the only mistake the FDA made (more below).

Alzheimer's Study

So the Alzheimer's study kind of "saved the day" here. But let's look into this more. First, note that the average age of the 3,000 patients in the Alzheimer's study was 75, it was a 48-month study, and that the total number of deaths for those on Vioxx was 41 versus 24 on placebo. So actually on the face of it it sounds pretty bad for Vioxx.

There were a few contributing reasons why the numbers got so mild by the time the study's result was pooled with the two arthritis studies. First, when really old people die, there isn't always an autopsy. Second, although there was supposed to be a DSMB as part of the study, and one was part of the original proposal submitted to the FDA, this was dropped surreptitiously in a later FDA update. This meant there was no third party keeping an eye on the data, which is not standard operating procedure for a massive drug study and was a major mistake, possibly the biggest one, by the FDA.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Merck researchers created an added "filter" to the reported CVT events, which meant they needed the doctors who reported the CVT event to send their info to the Merck-paid people ("investigators"), who looked over the documents to decide whether it was a bonafide CVT event or not. The default was to assume it wasn't, even though standard operating procedure would have the default assuming that there was such an event. In all, this filter removed about half the initially reported CVT events, and about twice as often the Vioxx patients had their CVT event status revoked as for the placebo patients. Note that the "investigator" in charge of checking the documents from the reporting doctors is paid $10,000 per patient. So presumably they wanted to continue to work for Merck in the future.

The effect of this "filter" was that, instead of it seeming 1.5 times as likely to have a CVT event if you were taking Voixx, it seemed like it was only 1.03 as likely, with a high p-score.

If you remove the ridiculous filter from the Alzheimer's study, then you see that as of November 2000 there was statistically significant evidence that Vioxx caused CVT events in Alzheimer patients.

By the way, one extra note. Many of the 41 deaths in the Vioxx group were dismissed as "bizarre" and therefore unrelated to Vioxx. Namely, car accidents, falling of ladders, accidentally eating bromide pills. But at this point there's evidence that Vioxx actually accelerates Alzheimer's disease itself, which could explain those so-called bizarre deaths. This is not to say that Merck knew that, but rather that one should not immediately dismiss the concept of statistically significant just because it doesn't make intuitive sense.

VIGOR and the New England Journal of Medicine

One last chapter in this sad story. There was a large-scale study, called the VIGOR study, with 8,000 patients. It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on November 23, 2000. See also this NPR timeline for details. They didn't show the graphs which would have emphasized this point, but they admitted, in a deceptively round-about way, that Vioxx has 4 times the number of CVT events than Aleve. They hinted that this is either because Aleve is protective against CVT events or that Vioxx is bad for it, but left it open.

But Bayer, which owns Aleve, issued a press release saying something like, "if Aleve is protective for CVT events then it's news to us." Bayer, it should be noted, has every reason to want people to think that Aleve is protective against CVT events. This problem, and the dubious reasoning explaining it away, was completely missed by the peer review system; if it had been spotted, Vioxx would have been forced off the market then and there. Instead, Merck purchased 900,000 preprints of this article from the NE Journal of Medicine, which is more than the number of practicing doctors in the U.S.. In other words, the Journal was used as a PR vehicle for Merck.

The paper emphasized that Aleve has twice the rate of ulcers and bleeding, at 4%, whereas Vioxx had a rate of only 2% among chronic users. When you compare that to the elevated rate of heart attack and death (0.4% to 1.2%) of Vioxx over Aleve, though, the reduced ulcer rate doesn't seem all that impressive.

A bit more color on this paper. It was written internally by Merck, after which non-Merck authors were found. One of them is Loren Laine. Loren helped Merck develop a sound-byte interview which was 30 seconds long and was sent to the news media and run like a press interview, even though it actually happened in Merck's New Jersey office (with a backdrop to look like a library) with a Merck employee posing as a neutral interviewer. Some smart lawyer got the outtakes of this video made available as part of the litigation against Merck. Check out this youtube video, where Laine and the fake interviewer scheme about spin and Laine admits they were being "cagey" about the renal failure issues that were poorly addressed in the article.

The Damage Done

Also on the Congress testimony I mentioned above is Dr. David Graham, who speaks passionately from minute 41:11 to minute 53:37 about Vioxx and how it is a symptom of a broken regulatory system. Please take 10 minutes to listen if you can.

He claims a conservative estimate is that 100,000 people have had heart attacks as a result of using Vioxx, leading to between 30,000 and 40,000 deaths (again conservatively estimated). He points out that this 100,000 is 5% of Iowa, and in terms people may understand better, this is like 4 aircraft falling out of the sky every week for 5 years.

According to this blog, the noticeable downwards blip in overall death count nationwide in 2004 is probably due to the fact that Vioxx was taken off the market that year.


Let's face it, nobody comes out looking good in this story. The peer review system failed, the FDA failed, Merck scientists failed, and the CEO of Merck misled Congress and the people who had lost their husbands and wives to this damaging drug. The truth is, we've come to expect this kind of behavior from traders and bankers, but here we're talking about issues of death and quality of life on a massive scale, and we have people playing games with statistics, with academic journals, and with the regulators.

Just as the financial system has to be changed to serve the needs of the people before the needs of the bankers, the drug trial system has to be changed to lower the incentives for cheating (and massive death tolls) just for a quick buck. As I mentioned before, it's still not clear that they would have made less money, even including the penalties, if they had come clean in 2000. They made a bet that the fines they'd need to eventually pay would be smaller than the profits they'd make in the meantime. That sounds familiar to anyone who has been following the fallout from the credit crisis.

One thing that should be changed immediately: the clinical trials for drugs should not be run or reported on by the drug companies themselves. There has to be a third party which is in charge of testing the drugs and has the power to take the drugs off the market immediately if adverse effects (like CVT events) are found. Hopefully they will be given more power than risk firms are currently given in finance (which is none)- in other words, it needs to be more than reporting, it needs to be an active regulatory power, with smart people who understand statistics and do their own state-of-the-art analyses – although as we've seen above even just Stats 101 would sometimes do the trick.

Simon Wren-Lewis: Mistakes and Ideology in Macroeconomics

Via Chris Dillow, this is Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University:

Mistakes and Ideology in Macroeconomics, by Simon Wren-Lewis: Imagine a Nobel Prize winner in physics, who in public debate makes elementary errors that would embarrass a good undergraduate. Now imagine other academic colleagues, from one of the best faculties in the world, making the same errors. It could not happen. However that is exactly what has happened in macro over the last few years.

Where is my evidence for such an outlandish claim? Well here is Nobel prize winner Robert Lucas

But, if we do build the bridge by taking tax money away from somebody else, and using that to pay the bridge builder -- the guys who work on the bridge -- then it's just a wash. It has no first-starter effect. There's no reason to expect any stimulation. And, in some sense, there's nothing to apply a multiplier to. (Laughs.) You apply a multiplier to the bridge builders, then you've got to apply the same multiplier with a minus sign to the people you taxed to build the bridge.

And here is John Cochrane, also a professor at Chicago, and someone who has made important academic contributions to macroeconomic thinking.

Before we spend a trillion dollars or so, it's important to understand how it's supposed to work. Spending supported by taxes pretty obviously won't work: If the government taxes A by $1 and gives the money to B, B can spend $1 more. But A spends $1 less and we are not collectively any better off.

Both make the same simple error. If you spend X at time t to build a bridge, aggregate demand increases by X at time t. If you raise taxes by X at time t, consumers will smooth this effect over time, so their spending at time t will fall by much less than X. Put the two together and aggregate demand rises.

But surely very clever people cannot make simple errors of this kind? Perhaps there is some way to re-interpret such statements so that they make sense. ,,. Brad deLong tries very hard along these lines (see here for example), but just throws up inconsistencies.

I prefer to just note that if any undergraduate or graduate student in the UK wrote this in an exam, they would lose marks. The more interesting question for me is why the errors were made. ...

I want to suggest two answers. The first is familiarity with models. I cannot imagine anyone who teaches New Keynesian economics, or who talked to people who teach New Keynesian economics, making this mistake. This is because, in these models, we do have to worry about aggregate demand. We focus on consumption smoothing, and Ricardian Equivalence... I often tell my first year undergraduate students that if they write anything like 'Ricardian Equivalence says fiscal stimulus will never work', they are in danger of failing. ...

Lack of familiarity with New Keynesian economics may be partly explained by the history of macroeconomic thought that I briefly noted in an earlier post. As New Keynesian theory is an 'add-on' to the basic Ramsey/RBC model, it is possible to teach macro without getting round to teaching New Keynesian theory. However, what many people find difficult to understand is how monetary policy (or at least monetary policy as seen by pretty much every central bank) could be regarded as an optional add-on in macroeconomics.

The second difference between physics and macro that could lead to more mistakes in the latter is ideology. When you are arguing out of ideological conviction, there is a danger that rhetoric will trump rigour. In the next paragraph Cochrane writes

These ideas changed because Keynesian economics was a failure in practice, and not just in theory. Keynes left Britain 30 years of miserable growth. Richard Nixon said, "We are all Keynesians now," just as Keynesian policy led to the inflation and economic dislocation of the 1970s--unexpected by Keynesians but dramatically foretold by Milton Friedman's 1968 AEA address. Keynes disdained investment, where we now all realize that saving and investment are vital to long-run growth. Keynes did not think at all about the incentives effects of taxes. He favored planning, and wrote before Hayek reminded us how modern economies cannot function without price signals. Fiscal stimulus advocates are hanging on to a last little timber from a sunken boat of ideas, ideas that everyone including they abandoned, and from hard experience. ...

Let's not worry about where the idea that Keynes disdained investment comes from, or any of the other questionable statements here. This is just polemic: Keynes=fiscal expansion=planning=macroeconomic failure. It is guilt by association. What on earth does fiscal expansion have to do with planning? Well, they are both undertaken by the state.

I have argued elsewhere that the problem too many macroeconomists have with fiscal stimulus lies not in opposing schools of thought, or the validity of particular theories, or the size of particular parameters, but instead with the fact that it represents intervention by the state designed to improve the working of the market economy. They have an ideological problem with countercyclical fiscal policy. But the central bank is part of the state, and it intervenes to improve how the economy works, so this ideological view would also mean that you played down the role of monetary policy in macroeconomics. So ideology may also help explain a lack of familiarity with the models central banks use to think about monetary policy. In short, an ideological view that distorts economic thinking can lead to mistakes.

"Mechanisms vs Models"

I need to think about this more before signing onto or rejecting this argument, but here is Chris Dillow's response to the post above this one (and it provides a nice complement to the post that follows by Dan Little):

Mechanisms vs models, by Chris Dillow: Simon Wren-Lewis asks a good question about Robert Lucas's and John Cochrane's apparent misunderstanding of the balanced budget multiplier: how can very clever people make silly errors?

He suggests two good answers. I'd like to suggest a third. There are two different ways of thinking about economics - the model paradigm and the mechanism paradigm, and the former has crowded out the latter.

Simon says:

If you spend X at time t to build a bridge, aggregate demand increases by X at time t. If you raise taxes by X at time t, consumers will smooth this effect over time, so their spending at time t will fall by much less than X. Put the two together and aggregate demand rises.

This is clear and true. And it would be obvious to anyone using the mechanism paradigm. If you ask "What is the mechanism whereby higher taxes reduce consumer spending?" you pretty much walk into the notion of consumption smoothing. ...

But lots of brilliant economists don't think merely in terms of mechanisms but rather build impressive models. And like photographers, they tend to fall in love with their models which distracts them both from others' models and from mechanisms.

This matters, because the importance of particular mechanisms varies from time to time. The social sciences, wrote Jon Elster:

can isolate tendencies, propensities and mechanisms and show that they have implications for behaviour that are often surprising and counter-intuitive. What they are more rarely able to do is state necessary and sufficient conditions under which the various mechanisms are switched on. This is [a] reason for emphasizing mechanisms rather than laws. Laws by their nature are general…Mechanisms by contrast make no claim to generality. (Nuts and bolts for the social sciences, p 9-10)

A good example of this lies in the idea of expansionary fiscal contraction. The virtue of this idea is that it draws our attention to mechanisms (a falling exchange rate, better corporate animal spirits, whatever) whereby fiscal contraction might boost the economy. The drawback is that these mechanisms are just unlikely to operate here and now. Yes, there's a model that tells us that expansionary fiscal contraction can work. And there are models that say it can't. But arguing about competing models misses the practical point.

Now, there is an obvious reply to all this. Models have the virtue of ensuring internal consistency, and thus avoiding potentially misleading partial analysis. However, I'm not sure whether this is an argument against mechanisms so much as against poor thinking about them.

When I was a student (back in the 80s!) I learned lots of models (OK, a few), but when I became a practising economist, I found them to be less useful in thinking about the economy than Elsterian thinking about mechanisms.

This is not to dismiss models entirely. I'm just saying that, insofar as they have uses other than as mental gymnastics for torturing students, it is because of the mechanisms contained within them. The parts might be more useful than the sum.

Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 10:02 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Methodology

"Recent Thinking About Scientific Explanation"

Dan Little discusses how the definition of a scientific explanation has changed over time:

Recent thinking about scientific explanation, by Dan Little: What do we want from a scientific explanation? Is there a single answer to this question, or is the field of explanation fundamentally heterogeneous, perhaps by discipline or by research community? Do biologists explain outcomes differently from physicists or sociologists? Is a good explanation within the Anglo-American traditions of science also a good explanation in the German or Chinese research communities? Is the idea of a scientific explanation paradigm-dependent?

For several decades in the twentieth century there was a dominant answer to this question, that was an outgrowth of the tradition of logical positivism and examples from the natural sciences. This theory of explanation focused on the idea of subsumption of an event or regularity under a higher-level set of laws. The deductive-nomological theory of explanation specified that an outcome is explained when we have produced a deductively valid argument with premises that include at least one general law and that lead to a description of the event as conclusion. Carl Hempel was the most prominent advocate for this theory (Aspects of Scientific Explanation), but it was widely accepted throughout the philosophy of science in the 1950s and 1960s. The "covering law" model was a core dogma for the philosophy of science for several decades.

The D-N theory was subject to many kinds of criticisms, including the obvious point that much explanation involves phenomena that are probabilistic rather than deterministic. Hempel introduced the inductive version of the D-N model to cover probabilistic-statistical explanation, along these lines. An argument provides a scientific explanation of E if it provides at least one probabilistic law and a set of background conditions such that, given the law and conditions, E is highly probable. This model was described as the "Inductive-Statistical" model (I-S model). Wesley Salmon's Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World falls within this tradition but offers important refinements, including his formal definition of causal relevance.

In each case the motivation for the theory of explanation is a plausible one: we explain an event when we show how it was necessary [or highly probable] in the circumstances, given existing conditions and relevant laws of nature. On the logical positivist approach, an explanation is an answer to a "why necessary" question: why did this event occur? In this conception of explanation the idea of necessity or probability is replaced with the idea of deductive or inductive derivability -- a syntactic relationship among sets of sentences.

A different approach to explanation turns to the idea of causation. We provide an explanation of an event or pattern when we succeed in identifying the causal conditions and events that brought it about. This approach can be tied to the D-N approach, if we believe that all causal relations are the manifestation of strict or probabilistic causal regularities. But not all D-N explanations are causal, and not all causal explanations invoke regularities. Derivability is no longer the criterion of explanatory success, and explanation is no longer primarily a syntactic relation between sets of sentences. Instead, substantive theories of causal powers and properties are the foundation of scientific explanation. A leading exponent of this view is Rom Harré in Harré and Madden, Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity. Nancy Cartwright's Nature's Capacities and Their Measurements is also an important contribution to this view. And J. L. Mackie's The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation is an important contribution as well. The causal approach retains the idea that explanation involves showing why an event is necessary or probable, but it turns from derivability from statements of laws of nature, to theories of causal powers and properties.

The causal mechanisms approach to explanation continues the insight that explanations involve demonstrating why an event occurred; but this approach moves even farther away from the idea of a causal law, replacing it with the idea of a discrete causal mechanism. On this approach, we explain an event when we identify a series of causal interactions that lead from some antecedent condition to the outcome of interest. Hedstrom and Swedborg's Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory presents aspects of this theory of explanation in application to the social sciences. One benefit of the social mechanisms approach is that it also provides a basis for answering "how possible" questions: if our puzzlement is that an outcome has occurred that seems inherently unlikely, we can provide an account of a set of causal mechanisms that transpired to bring it about.

The chief line of dispute in the traditions mentioned so far is between the "general laws" camp and the "causal powers" camp. Both are committed to the idea that explanation involves showing how an outcome fits into the ways the world works; but the general laws approach presumes that law-like regularities are fundamental, whereas the causal approach presumes that causal powers and mechanisms are fundamental.

So what has developed in the theory of explanation in the past twenty years? Quite a bit. A recent collection of essays coming largely from the Scandinavian tradition of the philosophy of science is quite helpful in orienting readers to recent developments. This is Johannes Persson and Petri Ylikoski's 2007 Rethinking Explanation. Quite a number of the contributions are worth reading carefully. But Jan Faye's "Pragmatic-Rhetorical Theory of Explanation" is a good place to start. Faye distinguishes among three basic approaches to the theory of explanation: formal-logical, ontological, and pragmatic. The formal-logical approach is essentially the H-D and I-S approaches described above. The ontological approach is the causal-powers approach described above. The pragmatic approach is in a sense the most important recent contribution to the theory of explanation, and represents a significant re-focusing of the debates in post-empiricist philosophy of science. Here is how Faye describes the pragmatic approach to explanation-theory:

The pragmatic view sees scientific explanations to be basically similar to explanations in everyday life. It regards every explanation as an appropriate answer to an explanation-seeking question, emphasising that the context of the discourse, including the explainer's interest and background knowledge, determines the appropriate answer.

And why should we consider a pragmatic approach? Faye offers eight reasons:

First, we have to recognise that even within the natural sciences there exist many different types of accounts, which scientists regard as explanatory.

Second, if one is looking for a prescriptive treatment of explanation, I see no reason why the social sciences and the humanities should be excluded from such a prescription. If they are included, the prescriptive account must include intentional and interpretive explanations, i.e., accounts providing information about either motives or meanings.

Third, the meaning of a why-question alone does not determine whether the answer is relevant or not.

Fourth, John Searle has correctly argued that the meaning of every indicative sentence is context-dependent. He does not deny that many sentences have literal meaning, which is traditionally seen as the semantic content a sentence has independently of any context.

Fifth, many explanations take the form of stories. Arthur Danto has argued that what we want to explain is always a change of some sort. When a change occurs, we have one situation before and another situation after, and the explanation is what connects these two situations. This is the story.

Sixth, a change always takes place in a complex causal field of circumstances each of which is necessary for its occurrence. Writers like P.W. Bridgman, Norwood Russell Hanson, John Mackie, and Bas van Fraassen have all correctly argued that events are enmeshed in a causal network and that it is the salient factors mentioned in an explanation that constitute the causes of that events.

Seventh, the level of explanation depends also on our interest of communication. In science an appropriate nomic or causal account can be given on the basis of different explanatory levels, and which of these levels one selects as informative depends very much on the rhetorical purposes.

Eight, scientific theories are empirically underdetermined by data. It is always possible to develop competing theories that explain things differently and, therefore, it is impossible to set up a crucial experiment that shows which of these theories that yields the correct account of the data available.

Faye then goes on to analyze scientific explanation as a speech act. We need to understand the presuppositions and purposes that the explainer and the listener have, before we can say much about how the explanation works.

Petri Ylikoski's contribution to the volume, "The Idea of Contrastive Explanandum," picks up on one particular but pervasively important feature of the rhetorical situation of explanation, the idea of contrast. When we ask for an explanation of an outcome, often we are not asking simply why it occurred, but rather why it occurred instead of something else. And the contrastive condition is crucial. If we ask "why did the Prussian army win the Franco-Prussian War?", the answer we give will be very different depending on whether we understand the question as:

"Why did the Prussian army [rather than the French army] win the Franco-Prussian War?"


"Why did the Prussian army win [rather than fighting to stalemate] the Franco-Prussian War?"

So scientific explanation is context-dependent in at least this important respect: we need to understand what the question-asker has in mind before we can provide an adequate explanation from his/her point of view. As Henrik Hallsten puts it in his contribution, "What to Ask of an Explanation-Theory",

To summarize: Any explanation-theory must [do] justice to the distinction between objective explanatory relevance and context dependent explanatory relevance or provide good arguments as to why this distinction should not be upheld. (16)

So perhaps the most important recent developments in the theory of scientific explanation fall in a few categories. First, there has been substantial work on refining the idea of causal explanation (link). Second, philosophers have reinforced the idea that explanation has pragmatic and rhetorical aspects that cannot be put aside in favor of syntactic and substantive features of explanation. And third, there is more recognition and acceptance of the idea that explanatory models and standards may reasonably differ across disciplines and research areas. In particular, the social and historical sciences are entitled to offer explanatory frameworks that are well adapted to the particular kinds of why and how questions that are posed in these fields. In each case the philosophy of science has made a very great deal of progress since the state of the debates about explanation that transpired in the 1960s.

[Dec 04, 2011] The Seduction of Science in the Service of Power An Essay on the State of Economics

October 07, 2011 | Jesse's Café Américain

"Tyranny is always better organized than freedom."

-- Charles Peguy

This essay by John Kay excerpted below is a very nice summary of the problem we have in modern economics. It is a bit dry to the layman, but it touches on the distortions that crept in to economic thought and their intellectual sources and in particular the operational rather than political means.

I do not think it was unintentional. Economics served to distort public policy and blind people to unfolding reality. Investments in think tanks and universities encouraged and paid for misleading reports and studies, draping propaganda in the robes of respectable academia and faux science.

This is certainly not the first time this sort of thing has happened. Medicine has a rather checkered history in service to power. These types of distortions can of course cut both ways, and science has been used to justify abuses from all ends of the political spectrum.

The concept to remember then, is that economics and other sciences are no substitutes for public policy. Policy is not an outcome of economic science, but rather, policy is set and renewed from first principles, a commitment to certain ideals and common objectives. Economics and other sciences do play a role in shaping the details of implementation. But we must revisit and determine the effect which those details have on the achievement of first principles.

Unfortunately we must sift those inputs with care, and especially the assumptions on which they are based, because the professions have shown a willingness to misrepresent, distort, and even lie for money and power.

One must always come back to first principles, to some notion of what they, and by extension their community, wish to be. Is the first principle of the US the maximizing of profit? By what measures, and to whom? Or is it something else again.

This is the question that the protesters of Occupy Wall Street are asking. People of the status quo say, 'What do they want? What is their solution?' No, it is they who are asking the question of those comfortable people in power. If they have any statement to make, it is 'The Emperor has no clothes.'

And since the modern day Emperors do not wish to answer the people plainly and honestly, having only their tired old lies, they become uncomfortable and afraid. Instead they ignore, ridicule, and silence the question, offering new lies and scapegoats, claiming all is well. And it is, at least for them.

If the people are ignored and abused long enough they will stop asking questions and begin to make their demands and push them forward, and then it may be too late as these things obtain their own momentum.

Economics is a discredited science at the moment. A few practitioners sold its soul and honor to a small group of wealthy ideologues while the great majority remained silent. But certainly no more discredited than the doctors who served the policies of euthanasia or the Russian abuse of psychiatric wards. And when the destroyers appear on the horizon, the mechanical sciences and their industrialists are generally seen swimming out to meet the boats.

But a caution is that those who promoted false theories for power and money in the service of crony capitalism are still at work, and the results are more difficult to see than piles of dead bodies, or rooms full of broken individuals.

The answer is not to turn away from knowledge, and embrace a hatred of science promoted by a new crop of passionate know-nothings, although that also is a recurrent historical theme, and a phenomenon already evident as a minority theme in the world of politics and a certain status quo. In this modern age they not only have their own magazine but television channels as well.

Science has its proper place. But it is not at the top, dictating outcomes in the social world like the answers to irrefutable equations. And it is especially good that we remember this when science is abused, and used to justify cruelty, selfishness, and plunder.

"The preposterous claim that deviations from market efficiency were not only irrelevant to the recent crisis but could never be relevant is the product of an environment in which deduction has driven out induction and ideology has taken over from observation.

The belief that models are not just useful tools but also are capable of yielding comprehensive and universal descriptions of the world has blinded its proponents to realities that have been staring them in the face. That blindness was an element in our present crisis, and conditions our still ineffectual responses.

Economists – in government agencies as well as universities – were obsessively playing Grand Theft Auto while the world around them was falling apart."

John Kay, An Essay on the State of Economics

This intellectual and financial decline traces back perhaps to the closing of the gold window by Nixon, and the rise of the willful relativism of value with fiat money. But more important is the subsequent rise of the financialization industry, under the flag of efficient markets and deregulation and globalization.

The country became gripped by a preoccupation with aggregating wealth from the real economy by manipulating paper. Not only were their real direct effects, but there were profound long term effects through the malinvestment and diversion of strategic resources. And the absolute worst of it has come from the corporations and those who serve them.

As Satyajit Das puts it in his most recent book interviews:

"The best and brightest went into finance because... it paid better than every other profession. So we had this whole generation of people — who would have been great scientists, great doctors, great creators of other things — attracted to a business which ultimately only provided, to a substantial degree, toxic waste. And that is the tragedy of our time. ... It was this diversion of enormous amounts of talent."
People can point to select innovations like Facebook and the iPod, but in fact America's technical and physical infrastructure has been distorted and has languished because public policy unleashed the financiers, the money magicians, and then became captive to them. And they have willfully led their people into a lingering period of decline.

I hope to have no illusions. Those who give themselves over to the dark impulses of their imagination often prove more impervious to reason with each victory. At some point they are blooded, and it is then they make the decision whether to come back to their senses, or go forward to the bitter end. And in their pathological delusion they might continue to reaffirm their perceived advantages, and mythological self, while standing in the ruins, or on a scaffold, or as they are about to end their bitter compulsions in a bunker.

But there is room for optimism. The ordinary people are starting to wake up and come out of their slumber, most notably in the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. And a number of eminent economists like Thoma, Krugman and Stiglitz are putting forward principled stands for meaningful reform and constructive change for the better. It is the minority that is the problem, because of the silence of the majority which is always slow to stir.

No one knows how this will turn out yet. There is always hope against forces that seem far too powerful at the moment. And tyranny is always better organized than freedom.

At the worst, some day this entire episode may be expressed by those who write history for the young as the madness of the ignorant crowd, acting foolishly despite the best efforts of their leaders and intellectuals to restrain them.

Some inquisitive student may find this little morsel of thought, and his mind will be provoked, and a flickering light of truth will be struck from that spark, to caution ordinary people about the imperfections and corruptibility of even the best, the dark hearts of predators who walk unseen among us, and the danger of too much power in too few hands.

And if not now, then perhaps in some better tomorrow. Nothing is ever wasted in God's economy.

[Mar 30, 2011] Confidence Slips Away as Japan Battles Nuclear Peril

Readers' Comments

Dr Jaan (Tallinn, Estonia)

Soon after GE started production of the type of reactors found in Fukushima, the Mark 1 type reactors, American regulators discovered serious weaknesses. Already in 1972, Stephen H. Hanauer, a safety official with the Atomic Energy Commission, said that the Mark 1 system should be banned. There were a number of concerns, but the greatest problem was that he found that the smaller containment design is too susceptible to explosion and rupture from a buildup of hydrogen. This is exactly what now has happened at Fukushima Daiichi. Moreover it was warned already in 1972, that if a Mark 1 reactor's cooling system failed, the fuel rods would overheat and, because of this, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would burst, spilling radiation into the environment. That is exactly what now happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

General Electric however ignored these warnings. They denied that the reactors were unsafe and continued to produce these reactors. Obviously they were wrong and the question is whether they made an error of judgment or very well knew that the reactors were unsafe but still continued production.

In the late 1980s, Mark 1 reactors in the United States were retrofitted with venting systems. Their purpose is to help ease pressure in overheating situations, after Harold Denton, an expert at the Nuclear Regulatory Committee, warned that Mark 1 reactors had a 90 percent probability of bursting if the fuel rods were to overheat and melt in an accident. This exactly what happened in Japan, so the question is if the Japanese reactors were not retrofitted. If so, in my opinion, a heavy burden falls on General Electric.

(Main source:


Sandy (Pennsylvania)

David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists testified today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Ponder this from his statement:

"And I cannot emphasize enough that the lessons from Japan apply to all US reactors, but just the boiling water reactors like those affected at Fukushima. None are immune to station blackout problems. All must be made less vulnerable to those problems."


"Eleven US reactors are designed to cope with a station blackout lasting eight hours, as were the reactors in Japan. Ninety-three of our reactors are designed to cope for only four hours."

Here's the PDF of his statement: lochbaum-senate-ene...

It doesn't take an earthquake followed by a tsunami, all it takes is for the electricity to go out.


I live in Tokyo and would like to comment that this article is factually incorrect. It states "a plant ravaged by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake." The 9.0 earthquake occurred far out at sea, and the coastal areas where the reactors are experienced a 6+ or 7 earthquake. On a logarithmic scale this is a hundred times different. Please get your facts straight.

sas (new york)

here's a more serious take on the fuku nuke disaster from the hawaii news daily:

When the Fukushima Meltdown Hits Groundwater March 27, 2011 By Dr. Tom Burnett

... ... ...

Fukushima was waiting to happen because of the placement of the emergency generators. If they had not all failed at once by being inundated by a tsunami, Fukushima would not have happened as it did – although it WOULD still have been a nuclear disaster. Every containment in the world is built to withstand a Magnitude 6.9 earthquake; the Japanese chose to ignore the fact that a similar earthquake had hit that same general area in 1896.

Anyway, here is the information that the US doesn't seem to want released. And here is a chart that might help with perspective.

Making matters worse is the MOX in reactor 3. MOX is the street name for 'mixed oxide fuel' which uses ~9% plutonium along with a uranium compound to fuel reactors. This is why it can be used.

The problem is that you don't want to play with this stuff. A nuclear reactor means bring fissile material to a point at which it is hot enough to boil water (in a light-water reactor) and not enough to melt and go supercritical (China syndrome or a Chernobyl incident). You simply cannot let it get away from you because if it does, you can't stop it.

[Mar 29, 2011] Japan's deadly game of nuclear roulette by LEUREN MORET

Due to importance and the possibility that thee article will disappear from the Web it is reproduced entirely...
May 23, 2004 | The Japan Times

Of all the places in all the world where no one in their right mind would build scores of nuclear power plants, Japan would be pretty near the top of the list.

News photo
An aerial view of the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, "the most dangerous nuclear power plant in Japan"

The Japanese archipelago is located on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire, a large active volcanic and tectonic zone ringing North and South America, Asia and island arcs in Southeast Asia. The major earthquakes and active volcanoes occurring there are caused by the westward movement of the Pacific tectonic plate and other plates leading to subduction under Asia.

Japan sits on top of four tectonic plates, at the edge of the subduction zone, and is in one of the most tectonically active regions of the world. It was extreme pressures and temperatures, resulting from the violent plate movements beneath the seafloor, that created the beautiful islands and volcanoes of Japan.

Nonetheless, like many countries around the world -- where General Electric and Westinghouse designs are used in 85 percent of all commercial reactors -- Japan has turned to nuclear power as a major energy source. In fact the three top nuclear-energy countries are the United States, where the existence of 118 reactors was acknowledged by the Department of Energy in 2000, France with 72 and Japan, where 52 active reactors were cited in a December 2003 Cabinet White Paper.

The 52 reactors in Japan -- which generate a little over 30 percent of its electricity -- are located in an area the size of California, many within 150 km of each other and almost all built along the coast where seawater is available to cool them.

However, many of those reactors have been negligently sited on active faults, particularly in the subduction zone along the Pacific coast, where major earthquakes of magnitude 7-8 or more on the Richter scale occur frequently. The periodicity of major earthquakes in Japan is less than 10 years. There is almost no geologic setting in the world more dangerous for nuclear power than Japan -- the third-ranked country in the world for nuclear reactors.

"I think the situation right now is very scary," says Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist and professor at Kobe University. "It's like a kamikaze terrorist wrapped in bombs just waiting to explode."

Last summer, I visited Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, at the request of citizens concerned about the danger of a major earthquake. I spoke about my findings at press conferences afterward.

News photo
A map of Japan annotated by the author, showing the tectonic plates, areas of high ("observed region") and very high ("specially observed") quake risk, and the sites of nuclear reactors

Because Hamaoka sits directly over the subduction zone near the junction of two plates, and is overdue for a major earthquake, it is considered to be the most dangerous nuclear power plant in Japan.

Together with local citizens, I spent the day walking around the facility, collecting rocks, studying the soft sediments it sits on and tracing the nearly vertical faults through the area -- evidence of violent tectonic movements.

The next day I was surprised to see so many reporters attending the two press conferences held at Kakegawa City Hall and Shizuoka Prefecture Hall. When I asked the reporters why they had come so far from Tokyo to hear an American geoscientist, I was told it was because no foreigner had ever come to tell them how dangerous Japan's nuclear power plants are.

I told them that this is the power of gaiatsu (foreign pressure), and because citizens in the United States with similar concerns attract little media attention, we invite a Japanese to speak for us when we want media coverage -- someone like the famous seismologist Professor Ishibashi!

When the geologic evidence was presented confirming the extreme danger at Hamaoka, the attending media were obviously shocked. The aerial map, filed by Chubu Electric Company along with its government application to build and operate the plant, showed major faults going through Hamaoka, and revealed that the company recognized the danger of an earthquake. They had carefully placed each reactor between major fault lines.

"The structures of the nuclear plant are directly rooted in the rock bed and can tolerate a quake of magnitude 8.5 on the Richter scale," the utility claimed on its Web site.

From my research and the investigation I conducted of the rocks in the area, I found that that the sedimentary beds underlying the plant were badly faulted. Some tiny faults I located were less than 1 cm apart.

When I held up samples of the rocks the plant was sitting on, they crumbled like sugar in my fingers. "But the power company told us these were really solid rocks!" the reporters said. I asked, "Do you think these are really solid?' and they started laughing.

On July 7 last year, the same day of my visit to Hamaoka, Ishibashi warned of the danger of an earthquake-induced nuclear disaster, not only to Japan but globally, at an International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics conference held in Sapporo. He said: "The seismic designs of nuclear facilities are based on standards that are too old from the viewpoint of modern seismology and are insufficient. The authorities must admit the possibility that an earthquake-nuclear disaster could happen and weigh the risks objectively."

After the greatest nuclear power plant disaster in Japan's history at Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, in September 1999, large, expensive Emergency Response Centers were built near nuclear power plants to calm nearby residents.

After visiting the center a few kilometers from Hamaoka, I realized that Japan has no real nuclear-disaster plan in the event that an earthquake damaged a reactor's water-cooling system and triggered a reactor meltdown.

Additionally, but not even mentioned by ERC officials, there is an extreme danger of an earthquake causing a loss of water coolant in the pools where spent fuel rods are kept. As reported last year in the journal Science and Global Security, based on a 2001 study by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, if the heat-removing function of those pools is seriously compromised -- by, for example, the water in them draining out -- and the fuel rods heat up enough to combust, the radiation inside them will then be released into the atmosphere. This may create a nuclear disaster even greater than Chernobyl.

If a nuclear disaster occurred, power-plant workers as well as emergency-response personnel in the Hamaoka ERC would immediately be exposed to lethal radiation. During my visit, ERC engineers showed us a tiny shower at the center, which they said would be used for "decontamination' of personnel. However, it would be useless for internally exposed emergency-response workers who inhaled radiation.

When I asked ERC officials how they planned to evacuate millions of people from Shizuoka Prefecture and beyond after a Kobe-magnitude earthquake (Kobe is on the same subduction zone as Hamaoka) destroyed communication lines, roads, railroads, drinking-water supplies and sewage lines, they had no answer.

Last year, James Lee Witt, former director of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, was hired by New York citizens to assess the U.S. government's emergency-response plan for a nuclear power plant disaster. Citizens were shocked to learn that there was no government plan adequate to respond to a disaster at the Indian Point nuclear reactor, just 80 km from New York City.

The Japanese government is no better prepared, because there is no adequate response possible to contain or deal with such a disaster. Prevention is really the only effective measure to consider.

In 1998, Kei Sugaoka, 51, a Japanese-American senior field engineer who worked for General Electric in the United States from 1980 until being dismissed in 1998 for whistle-blowing there, alerted Japanese nuclear regulators to a 1989 reactor inspection problem he claimed had been withheld by GE from their customer, Tokyo Electric Power Company. This led to nuclear-plant shutdowns and reforms of Japan's power industry.

Later it was revealed from GE documents that they had in fact informed TEPCO -- but that company did not notify government regulators of the hazards.

Yoichi Kikuchi, a Japanese nuclear engineer who also became a whistle-blower, has told me personally of many safety problems at Japan's nuclear power plants, such as cracks in pipes in the cooling system from vibrations in the reactor. He said the electric companies are "gambling in a dangerous game to increase profits and decrease government oversight."

Sugaoka agreed, saying, "The scariest thing, on top of all the other problems, is that all nuclear power plants are aging, causing a deterioration of piping and joints which are always exposed to strong radiation and heat."

Like most whistle-blowers, Sugaoka and Kikuchi are citizen heroes, but are now unemployed.

The Radiation and Public Health Project, a group of independent U.S. scientists, has collected 4,000 baby teeth from children living around nuclear power plants. These teeth were then tested to determine their level of Strontium-90, a radioactive fission product that escapes in nuclear power plant emissions.

Unborn children may be exposed to Strontium-90 through drinking water and the diet of the mother. Anyone living near nuclear power plants is internally exposed to chronically low levels of radiation contaminating food and drinking water. Increased rates of cancer, infant mortality and low birth weights leading to cognitive impairment have been linked to radiation exposure for decades.

However, a recent independent report on low-level radiation by the European Committee on Radiation Risk, released for the European Parliament in January 2003, established that the ongoing U.S. Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Studies conducted in Japan by the U.S. government since 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors underestimated the risk of radiation exposure as much as 1,000 times.

Additionally, on March 26 this year -- the eve of the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster in U.S. history, at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania -- the Radiation and Public Health Project released new data on the effects of that event. This showed rises in infant deaths up to 53 percent, and in thyroid cancer of more than 70 percent in downwind counties -- data which, like all that concerning both the short- and long-term health effects, has never been forthcoming from the U.S. government.

It is not a question of whether or not a nuclear disaster will occur in Japan; it is a question of when it will occur.

Like the former Soviet Union after Chernobyl, Japan will become a country suffering from radiation sickness destroying future generations, and widespread contamination of agricultural areas will ensure a public-health disaster. Its economy may never recover.

Considering the extreme danger of major earthquakes, the many serious safety and waste-disposal issues, it is timely and urgent -- with about half its reactors currently shut down -- for Japan to convert nuclear power plants to fossil fuels such as natural gas. This process is less expensive than building new power plants and, with political and other hurdles overcome, natural gas from the huge Siberian reserves could be piped in at relatively low cost. Several U.S. nuclear plants have been converted to natural gas after citizen pressure forced energy companies to make changeovers.

Commenting on this way out of the nuclear trap, Ernest Sternglass, a renowned U.S. scientist who helped to stop atmospheric testing in America, notes that, 'Most recently the Fort St. Vrain reactor in Colorado was converted to fossil fuel, actually natural gas, after repeated problems with the reactor. An earlier reactor was the Zimmer Power Plant in Cincinnati, which was originally designed as a nuclear plant but it was converted to natural gas before it began operating. This conversion can be done on any plant at a small fraction [20-30 percent] of the cost of building a new plant. Existing turbines, transmission facilities and land can be used."

After converting to natural gas, the Fort St. Vrain plant produced twice as much electricity much more efficiently and cheaply than from nuclear energy -- with no nuclear hazard at all, of course.

It is time to make the changeover from nuclear fuel to fossil fuels in order to save future generations and the economy of Japan.

Leuren Moret is a geoscientist who worked at the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Weapons Laboratory on the Yucca Mountain Project, and became a whistle-blower in 1991 by reporting science fraud on the project and at Livermore. She is an independent and international radiation specialist, and the Environmental Commissioner in the city of Berkeley, Calif. She has visited Japan four times to work with Japanese citizens, scientists and elected officials on radiation and peace issues. She can be contacted at

Government Responds to Nuclear Accident by Trying to Raise Acceptable Radiation Levels and Pretending that Radiation is Good For Us

"Sensationalism of any type detracts from credibility and distracts from sober appreciation of the important issues, of the real risks, and of the need for transparency and accountability — not just in the case of nuclear power, but in all matters of public policy."
March 29, 2011 | naked capitalism

Bob Kerns:

A check of the EPA website reveals that they have NOT pulled those 8 monitors, as this article claims. Indeed, I was able to pull up data from the one in San Jose with a click of my mouse.

Rather, the 8 monitors are being reviewed, to understand the readings, for example, whether the change is due to a change in the local environment. This sort of review is essential if we are to trust their accuracy.

This is also part of the reasoning behind having so many of them.

There are a few around the country (7 by my informal count) which are out of service, out of 124 total.

This is very different than what was reported.

On the other hand, I compared what Ann Coulter said, and Lawrence Solomon wrote, to what the scientists wrote — and I can see why you might suspect a concerted propaganda campaign, although you actually present no evidence. I can present no evidence there is not, and their behavior is certainly consistent with such a campaign!

The scientists were searching for whether there's threshold below which radiation damage is no longer linear. Understanding this is part of fundamentally understanding how radiation affects us, and assessing radiation risks, not just from nuclear plants, but from granite countertops in your kitchen.

What they found is a little surprising, and needs to be verified by further experiments. They found that the cancer rate was slightly less at the lowest exposures than in the controls. This could be true, for example, if cancer cells are more susceptible to radiation than normal cells — it could be both causing and curing cancer. (I'm not saying that's the explanation — I'm just illustrating how complex phenomena can interact, especially when dealing with small numbers).

What these "journalists" have done, is take an odd quirk in a scientific finding, and, entirely on their own, turned it into a "plutonium is good for you" argument.

The scientists did not make this argument. THEIR conclusion was, that this suggests that, if a threshold exists, it probably exists in the range of 15-40 cGy. This is over the lifetime (the plutonium stays in place), so we're talking about total exposure, equivalent to a few chest CT scans.

But if there is a threshold, inhaling even tiny amounts of plutonium clearly puts you closer to that threshold — and somebody working in a dusty environment might be exposed to far more. Nobody with a shred of responsibility or credibility is arguing that plutonium is good for you.

Clearly, Ann Coulter and Lawrence Solomon have both shed any remnants of credibility and responsibility they may have had.

Personally, I think the conspiracy here is to sell advertising. There's a lot of past precedent in inflated headlines to draw readers to news outlets. Even CBS has recently succumbed, shouting that "pools of plutonium" have been discovered outside the reactors — as opposed to the reality — traces slightly above the expected background (from atmospheric testing). Even the article didn't make that claim — it was invented by the editor who wrote the headline.

So please don't become a "media shill" yourself, and lump the government scientists in with those pushing sensationalism.

Sensationalism of any type detracts from credibility and distracts from sober appreciation of the important issues, of the real risks, and of the need for transparency and accountability — not just in the case of nuclear power, but in all matters of public policy.

The facts as they stand are scary enough. The prospect of 9 billion people on this planet, all of them demanding energy and food, should give us real pause. Every war fought is a disaster — many far larger than this one. Natural disasters that would have gone unnoticed, will strain already overburdened food supplies, or displace thousands crammed into dangerous locations, simply because they have to live somewhere.

If we're going to address the world's present and future problems, we need to address the risks we face honestly, and as accurately as we can.


Well said, Bob.
Fear seems to be a prevalent, underlying response to much of what gets written at this site. Sensationalism sells more than common sense.

dearieme :

The idea that radiation must damage you, however low its level, is not based on data – it was just an assumption made long ago before there were data. The idea that plutonium is especially scary is rather babyish – it's nasty stuff, all right, but not because of its radioactivity. It's not out of line with other radioisotopes – the problem is a chemical one: it's toxic. And like all toxins, 'the poison is in the dose'.

"uninformed frothing" seems a pretty fair description. Or hysterical pants-wetting would do.


The problem with plutonium is not chemical. Radioactivity is mutagenic/carcinogenic via alpha/beta/gamma particle ionizing interaction with the body, which is not the same as chemical ionization process. Several Plutonium isotopes have long half lives as alpha emitters, which generally have less penetrability than beta and gamma particles. However if inhaled or ingested they have a greater chance of altering a cell than beta or gamma radiation would, as they have slower speed, more mass and energy and thus more chance of absorbtion/interaction with cell structures.


The problem faced by radiation protection officials is that reactors create a massive cocktail of radionuclides with widely differing characteristics and different biochemistry. Some concentrate in muscle, some in bone, teeth and DNA, some in lymph nodes. Some don't concentrate anywhere. Some cause localised damage, others don't. Radioactivity is like poison – there are many different kinds and they operate by myriad biological mechanisms. Accurate modelling of the biological effects of either radioactivity or poison involves understanding the specific variations, but that makes regulation very complex.

For convenience in the 1940s and early '50s nuclear officials decided to treat the energy of the radioactive decays from all kinds of radionuclide as if they were a uniformly distributed dose. Then they quantified the expected disease, dose for dose, by reference to studies of the Japanese survivors of Hiroshima. These people in fact were exposed to a uniformly distributed dose – the flash of the bomb itself – and the effects of unevenly distributed internal radioactivity were excluded from the study by the clever trick of comparing the "exposed" bomb survivors with "unexposed" people ("controls") who lived in the city but had been shielded when the bomb exploded. Thus the controls and the study group had equal amounts of radioactive fallout inside them.


I do think the reactor disaster is a huge concern, primarily for Japan.

However, you have a number of misstatements and conflations in your blog posts. For example, there are quite a few isotopes other that Cs-137 that have been created via manmade nuclear reaction whose halflife is short enough not to be naturally occurring in significant quantities. so it is not unique in that regard.

Background radiation is one effective relative measurement despite differences in isotopes, because the exposure pathway result is the same: direct exposure to external radiation.

So while you do say that the problem is more complex than just relative radiation levels, that's not new information.

There is a field of study already that models all risks from environmental radioactivity releases: radiation risk exposure analysis. It takes into account initial and residual release, dispersion patterns, composition and concentrations of radionuclides, environmental transport pathways, exposure pathways, and generates statistical distributions of both short term and total effective doses.

ResRad is freely available to download if one would like to do their own model, however quite a few international scientific organizations are already doing so.

I think it's difficult for most people to know exactly what to worry about with the reactor disaster and what to do, so I applaud people for getting informed. However, like medical knowledge, a little can be more dangerous than none at all in that it can allow emotion to change our estimation of the real risks.

Chris Rogers:

SteveA, I trust my posting have made clear one does not make light of the Fukushima nuclear crisis – by using the term 'crisis' I suggest one has conveyed how dangerous the situation is, and hopefully, dare I say it, the plant operator has the incident under some meaningful control.

What has annoyed me from day one of the 'crisis' is the outrageous media reporting of this crisis, the scare mongering and absolute crass behaviour of those 1000's of miles away from Fukushima that borders on madness – a madness inspired by the poor reporting of the facts, little knowledge of scientific jargon used and a clear lack of emphasis on the 20,000 deaths attributable to a rather large tsunami.

Rather than 'down play' the incident, most reasoned posters quite rightly have stated that this is a nuclear disaster, one of the worst on record and obviously, many dangers exist and will continue to exists.

Will this disaster lead to a huge loss of life though, my understanding from reading the UNCLEAR report on Chernobyl, is that unlike that disaster, the impact on human's will be limited and a greater danger exists due to panic, rather than various radioactive elements being emitted from the damaged plant.

Lets be clear, generating power from nuclear energy sources is always going to be dangerous and such dangers are taken into account when building these large infrastructures.

In all seriousness, we should all be glad that the plant survived the earthquake intact and that we don't face another Chernobyl catastrophe.

As a reasoned observer, obviously one questions why a nuclear facility is built in a earthquake zone region, why necessary precautions were not taken against a tsunami – I'm referring here to the fact that whilst the plant had a sea wall defence, engineers forgot what would happen if it was breached.

Now, the true cause of this disaster/crisis was a loss of electricity to power cooling – combine this with the fact that the diesel generators were at ground level or in basements, suggests a huge engineering blunder was made, one I trust the Japanese will learn from.

So, we have a real crisis, one that currently seems under control, but a crisis nonetheless.

Does this mean living close to Japan I should panic, obviously not – I note the Korean's have not acted like headless chickens – I wish I could make this claim for many in the USA, unfortunately, following crass reporting standards, many citizens have behaved like headless chickens and purchased large amounts of iodine and bottled water – had they lived in Korea I could understand, that they live more than 5,000 miles away from Fukushima, one questions their sanity – to put it bluntly, those poor desperate fools who supported the Tea Party are the same fools running around like headless chickens who share one brain cell between them.

Thank god I'm British, I note my Embassy is open in Tokyo, which best sums it up – there is little to fear apart from fear itself, yes, we have a crisis, but as stated all along, not a crisis comparable with Chernobyl – hence, the health risks, that's the real ones are less. Risks still exist nonetheless, whether these will result in any deaths is questionable as the UNCLEAR report I keep mentioning makes clear – a link can be found in one of my other posts for this.

[Mar 28, 2011] Radiophobia

"Ignorance of basic scientific concepts remains a persistent problem for supposedly well-educated writers in the mass media." Comment 61 from Confidence Slips Away as Japan Battles Nuclear Peril-

While in discussion of Japan nuclear disaster we all are out of depth, and the facts on the ground are difficult to interpret even for specialists it is important to avoid radiophobia and do not propagate it consciously or unconsciously. .

From pure scientific perspective in no way Japan in 2011 situation is close to Chernobyl (no burning graphite on site) and I think that progress is sufficient to state that full meltdown was avoided.

Now the main danger I think is spreading panic not so much temporary spike in actual radiation.

Information available is distorted due to extremely low level of understanding of the nature of ionizing radiation (which is not uniform and consists of three different types).

The problem of radioactive contamination of food chain (also with several pretty different sources with different half-life periods) is a completely separate problem which is not that different from presence of dioxin, lead, and other heavy metals in food and water. I think many people who post here do not understand the danger of typical levels of radon in basements of NJ and NY and happy go there to do laundry and other household chores on a regular basis.

After all US high schools eliminated physics as a separate subject :-)

Please remember that physicists like Marie Curie, Ernest Rutherford and many others worked with radioactive materials without any precautions and none of them died quickly. Also people forget about lake Karachay problem ( ).

Also the whole planet is contaminated with Caesium-137 (hal-life 30 years) due to atmospheric nuclear testing in 1946-1963, while some parts of the USA territory are additionally contaminated with very toxic DU powder (perfect dirty bomb component) from DU weapons testing ( There was pretty telling incident in which Caesium-137 was distributed ( I think reading this description of human propagated Caesium-137 dirty bomb is enough to stop fear mongering about Japan case.

BTW after 1954 the Castle Bravo radioactive fallout ( one member of the Japaneses fishing boat crew which was in the area died from radiation sickness after returning to the port. So high levels of contamination of both atmosphere and the ocean are not new. BTW there are life forms that learned to use radiation as energy source and live inside Chernobyl sarcophagus.

But panic is deadly and can cause immediate harm to both physical and mental health.

I think that in this particular forum poster under nickname "Maju" can serve as a field manual to this type of phobia. (see for example the statement "As far as I know there was a 40% increase in deadly cancers in Belarus after the Chernobyl accident.". Is not this blatant fear mongering ? What is the source of this figure??? ).

This looks like a pretty widespread, dangerous phobia propagated with the help of MSM and I would advocate extreme restraint in related statements especially from non-specialists.



Panic is really deadly. And fear mongering about Japan nuclear disaster is really dangerous and dishonest: some people already hurt themselves by taking excessive amount iodine pills (they were swiped from the shelves). And this is just a start. A lot of crazy things is going on with this mass radiophobia hysteria that swiped the USA (and not only the USA).

Also we need to understand that coal-burning power plants are more significant source of nuclear poisoning of the USA (see then nuclear plants.

Here are key points that I think people need to think about:

Is this a tragedy. Yes. But lessons learned from it as lessons learned from Chernobyl disaster will increase safety of existing power plants dramatically.

How dangerous is it?. Below level of Chernobyl and influence is by-and-large local. So it is potentially dangerous to Japanese people in the evacuation zone and, especially, workers at the plant. But is this like Chernobyl? No way (amount of radioactive materials released is many times less; absence of burning graphite is the major difference here). After all Japan is an island nation. Not something in the heart of Europe.

Reaction to radiation like reaction of other types of poisoning is highly individual. Some people who were present in control room in Chernobyl are still alive:

Yuri Korneev, Boris Stolyarchuk and Alexander Yuvchenko are the last surviving members of the Reactor No. 4 shift that was on duty at the moment of the catastrophe. Anatoly Dyatlov, who was in charge of the safety experiment at Reactor No. 4, died in 1995 of a heart attack.

High end estimate of the death rate among people who tried to contain Chernobyl disaster (liquidators) and got high or extremely high doses is 10%. That is not that different from natural death rate.

According to Vyacheslav Grishin of the Chernobyl Union, the main organization of liquidators, "25,000 of the Russian liquidators are dead and 70,000 disabled, about the same in Ukraine, and 10,000 dead in Belarus and 25,000 disabled", which makes a total of 60,000 dead (10% of the 600 000, liquidators) and 165,000 disabled.[2]

In 2003 there were 6,328,000 car accidents in the US. There were 2.9 million injuries and 42,643 people were killed in auto accidents.

In 2002, there were an estimated 6,316,000 car accidents in the USA. There were about 2.9 million injuries and 42,815 people were killed in auto accidents in 2002.

There were an estimated 6,356,000 car accidents in the US in 2000. There were about 3.2 million injuries and 41,821 people were killed in auto accidents in 2000 based on data collected by the Federal Highway Administration

As far as I know there were no radiation related death cases for this disaster. So irresponsible fear mongering that heats this mass radiophobia hysteria should be avoided.

[Nov 30, 2010] Guest Post BP Controlling University Research, and Professor Who Downplayed Oil Spill Called a "Shill" By Fellow Professor

naked capitalism

A fellow senior sciences professor at Overton's own LSU, also noted that Overton "does not appear to be an unbiased source of information" and found it laughable that the head of NOAA's chemical hazard assessment team is purporting to provide public comments as an "independent scientist."

"I think that Dr. Overton comes across as being an industry shill," the professor offered bluntly. "He has never said anything that was not in favor of what the industry was saying and continued to minimize the effects from day one about how bad this spill and its effects would be."


Additionally, as professor emeritus, Overton confirmed to Raw Story that he officially retired from LSU and no longer receives a salary from the university; all his income tied to his university association since May 2009 has come through grants and contracts, and mostly through his work for NOAA. The latest NOAA funding for his work was a $1.3 million five-year grant.

Prof. Overton fools himself if he believes that his LSU connections have nothing to do with his ability to obtain funding. Just because he no longer receives an LSU salary does not in any way imply that he no longer benefits from the association. His self-serving excuse does no credit to him.


So what's new?

How many financial reports extolling the safety of derivatives or the financial health of whole countries have been written by paid shills from the universities in the U.S.?

Go see the movie "Inside Job" if you get a chance, read Yves or Nomi Prins books. This country is in the hands of traitors and thieves, and the above is just one more in a long line of transgressions that we are letting them get away with.

[Oct 19, 2010] Doubt is Their Product- How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health

John Mashey

I agree with others that this is dense and long, but I think it is well worth reading, even if you skip parts of chapters.

I would especially suggest study of:
Chapter 13: Daubert: the Most Influential Supreme Court Ruling You've Never Heard Of
Chapter 14: The Institutionalization of Uncertainty
[The Data Access Act (Shelby) and the Data Quality Act]

a) The behaviors of some corporations, PR agencies, product defense organizations can get somewhat redundant. Hill & Knowlton created the tactics 50+ years ago and they've been widely employed.

b) But the legal issues in these two Chapters represent relatively recent…

Read more

[Oct 19, 2010] Merchants of Doubt- How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

John Mashey

You do know, of course, that the same George C. Marshall Institute (GMI) was a key player in recruiting McKitrick, and then McIntyre. They helped pay for trips to Washington, sponsored talks, coached them, introduced them to Singer, Baliunas, Soon, Michaels ... and James Inhofe. They publicized them. They made them GMI "experts." in 2004. example.

So, if you thought "Merchants" was interesting for the history, see the following, which focuses more on the later years, especially the well-orchestrated attack on the hockey stick and Michael Mann, which started as soon as the IPCC TAR came out.

All this was actually part of strategy organized in 1998 by the American Petroleum Institute, with GMI, CEI, Fred Singer, etc. Follow the funding trails, etc, etc.

[Oct 02, 2010] Tea & Crackers Rolling Stone Politics

Buried deep in the anus of the Bible Belt, in a little place called Petersburg, Kentucky, is one of the world's most extraordinary tourist attractions: the Creation Museum, a kind of natural-history museum for people who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. When you visit this impressively massive monument to fundamentalist Christian thought, you get a mind-blowing glimpse into the modern conservative worldview. One exhibit depicts a half-naked Adam and Eve sitting in the bush, cheerfully keeping house next to dinosaurs — which, according to creationist myth, not only lived alongside humans but were peaceful vegetarians until Adam partook of the forbidden fruit. It's hard to imagine a more telling demonstration of this particular demographic's unmatched ability to believe just about anything.

Even more disturbing is an exhibit designed to show how the world has changed since the Scopes trial eradicated religion from popular culture. Visitors to the museum enter a darkened urban scene full of graffiti and garbage, and through a series of windows view video scenes of families in a state of collapse. A teenager, rolling a giant doobie as his God-fearing little brother looks on in horror, surfs porn on the Web instead of reading the Bible. ("A Wide World of Women!" the older brother chuckles.) A girl stares at her home pregnancy test and says into the telephone, "My parents are not going to know!" As you go farther into the exhibit, you find a wooden door, into which an eerie inscription has been carved: "The World's Not Safe Anymore."

Staff members tell me Rand Paul recently visited the museum after-hours. This means nothing in itself, of course, but it serves as an interesting metaphor to explain Paul's success in Kentucky. The Tea Party is many things at once, but one way or another, it almost always comes back to a campaign against that unsafe urban hellscape of godless liberalism we call our modern world. Paul's platform is ultimately about turning back the clock, returning America to the moment of her constitutional creation, when the federal bureaucracy was nonexistent and men were free to roam the Midwestern plains strip-mining coal and erecting office buildings without wheelchair access. Some people pick on Paul for his humorously extreme back-to-Hobbesian-nature platform (a Louisville teachers' union worker named Bill Allison follows Paul around in a "NeanderPaul" cave-man costume shouting things like "Abolish all laws!" and "BP just made mistakes!"), but it's clear when you talk to Paul supporters that what they dig most is his implicit promise to turn back time, an idea that in Kentucky has some fairly obvious implications.

[Sep 04, 2010] Author Simon Singh Puts Up a Fight in the War on Science Magazine By Robert Capps

August 30, 2010 Wired September 2010

'You have to decide who you trust before you decide what to believe.'
Photo: Donald Milne

For a while there, things didn't look too good for British writer Simon Singh. The best-selling author of the science histories Big Bang and Fermat's Enigma knew he was heading into controversial territory when he switched tracks to cowrite a book investigating alternative medicine, Trick or Treatment? What Singh didn't count on, however, was that writing a seemingly innocuous article for London's The Guardian newspaper about especially outrageous chiropractic claims—one of the subjects he researched for the book—would end up threatening his career. The British Chiropractic Association sued Singh, hoping to use Britain's draconian libel laws to force him to withdraw his statements and issue an apology. Losing the case would have cost Singh both his reputation and a substantial amount of his personal wealth. Such is the state of science, where sometimes even stating simple truths (like the fact that there's no reliable evidence chiropractic can alleviate asthma in children) can bring the wrath of the antiscience crowd. What the British chiropractors didn't count on, however, was Singh himself. Having earned a PhD from Cambridge for his work at the Swiss particle physics lab CERN, he wasn't about to back down from a scientific gunfight. Singh spent more than two years and well over $200,000 of his own money battling the case in court, and this past April he finally prevailed. In the process, he became a hero to those challenging the pseudoscience surrounding everything from global warming to vaccines to evolution. It's not necessarily a role he sought for himself, but it's one he has embraced—he's currently touring the world, talking about his case, libel reform, and how important it is to make sure scientists can speak truthfully and openly. Wired spoke with Singh about his case and the struggle against the forces of irrationality.

Wired: The British Chiropractic Association wanted you to apologize for your Guardian article. Why didn't you? What would that have meant?

Simon Singh: It would have meant that whenever somebody typed "Simon Singh" into a Web search, it would say, "science journalist found guilty of libel." People could dismiss anything I'd ever written about alternative medicine. But more important, it would have implied that there is some validity to these claims that chiropractic can help with things like asthma and colic. And that would have an impact on parents and their children. Faced with that, I couldn't apologize. If you've written something that you believe is true, and if you can afford to defend it, then you've got to defend it.

Wired: Do you think that this is part of a broader trend? Is science under assault?

Simon Singh: What shocks me is people who have no expertise championing a view that runs counter to the mainstream scientific consensus. For example, we have a consensus amongst the best medical researchers in the world—the leading authorities and the World Health Organization—that vaccines are a good thing, and that MMR, the triple vaccine, is a really good thing. And yet there are people who are quite willing to challenge that consensus—film stars, celebrities, columnists—all of whom rely solely on the tiny little bit of science that seems to back up their view.

Wired: Yet the celebrities sometimes seem to be winning.

Simon Singh: Part of the problem is that if anybody has a gut reaction about an issue, they can go online and have it backed up. That said, they can also find support for their ideas in the mainstream media—because when the mainstream media gives a so-called balanced view, it's often misleading. The media thinks that because one side says climate change is real and dangerous, the other view is that it's not real and not dangerous. That doesn't reflect the fact that something like 98 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and dangerous. And this happens with everything from genetically modified foods to evolution. But, at the end of the day, all that this misinformation does is slow progress—it doesn't stop it. Antiscientific and pseudoscientific attitudes will get corrected; it's just a question of how painful that process is going to be.

Wired: Should scientists do more to get real science out there?

Simon Singh: Scientists aren't necessarily good communicators, because they aren't trained to be good communicators. A researcher could be doing really important work on global warming, and then somebody writes a column in a national newspaper that completely undermines what they're saying. But the scientist doesn't think the column is important—it's just some nincompoop writing a column—so they don't take that writer to task in the way they should. It's a case of saying, "How do we make a difference?" We certainly don't make a difference by just moaning over coffee the next day.

Wired: What about nonscientists? How are we supposed to know what's true?

Simon Singh: Don't come up with a view, find everybody who agrees with it, and then say, "Look at this, I must be right." Start off by saying, "Who do I trust?" On global warming, for example, I happen to trust climate experts, world academies of science, Nobel laureates, and certain science journalists. You have to decide who you trust before you decide what to believe.

Wired: Why is it so hard to convince people, even when the science is so clear?

Simon Singh: Science has nothing to do with common sense. I believe it was Einstein who said that common sense is a set of prejudices we form by the age of 18. Inject somebody with some viruses and that's going to keep you from getting sick? That's not common sense. We evolved from single-cell organisms? That's not common sense. By driving my car I'm going to cook Earth? None of this is common sense. The commonsense view is what we're fighting against. So somehow you've got to move people away from that with these quite complicated scientific arguments based on even more complicated research. That's why it's such an uphill battle. People start off with a belief and a prejudice—we all do. And the job of science is to set that aside to get to the truth.

Articles editor Robert Capps ( wrote about the advantages of "good enough" technology in issue 17.09.

[Sep 04, 2010] Simon Singh Beware the spinal trap

The Guardian

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: "Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck."

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Professor Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Bearing all of this in mind, I will leave you with one message for Chiropractic Awareness Week - if spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

· Simon Singh is the co-author of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial

This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday April 19 2008 on p26 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 00:06 on April 19 2008.

[Aug 21, 2010] How Much Debt Does the S&P 500 Have zero hedge

"So true. As a working research scientist I can tell you that people believe scientists wouldn't alter results to advance their careers and receive more funding and recognition. But this is very naive as this happens all the time. Corruption and misuse of funds is rampant especially at large national laboratories where power is concentrated."

Cognitive Dissonance:

It makes me laugh/cry to see that it took them 25 years to come to the conclusion that lease accounting was being abused.

Bruce, the biggest failing we as honest and caring humans have is that we don't (wish to) have the capacity of the psychopathic personality. In other words, because we don't want to be a thief (well maybe not a large one) we don't think like a thief. And while we "know" there are thieves out there, we still approach the world on a daily basis assuming the thieves are only 2 or 3 % of the population.

And you would be correct to think so. OK, maybe 5%. But where we really go off the tracks is in assuming the regulators are at least trying to do their job. This is where we are raped and pillaged.

There is no reason for the regulators to be as incompetent and incapable as they consistently are unless it's intended to be this way. It's that simple. And there are hundreds of ways for the powers that be to place roadblock after roadblock in front of the regulators while still making it look like they aren't doing so. Why do you think the recent finreg bill was over 2,000 pages long?

The entire concept of regulators is that they are there simply to keep the honest people coming back to the dice table and the thieves coming to the same table to take advantage of the honest people. The regulators are there to keep selected competition out of "the game" as well as to look the other way when "da playas" are at the table. No more, no less.

Thus if the regulators are just now "discovering" something 25 years later, it's clear that "da playas" have a new game in town and they need to fleece the last of the honest money one more time and then make sure their mosquitoes are caught and locked up for playing a game that's being retired soon for the next best thing.

Pardon my cynical slip for showing.


CD, in this case, the regulators are actually following the rules to the letter. Most lease accounting in the US is based on FASB 13 which, I believe dates back to the late 1950's or early 1960's. Everyone is going by the book in this case and although there have been some attempts at changing the rules, they have been half-hearted, partially because everyone has felt that the rules of the game have been working so well for everyone involved.

Cognitive Dissonance:

I agree. Let me quote myself from above.

And there are hundreds of ways for the powers that be to place roadblock after roadblock in front of the regulators while still making it look like they aren't doing so. Why do you think the recent finreg bill was over 2,000 pages long?

I agree, in this case everyone's going by the book because the book is written to allow the thieving. Oh sure, there really are rules and regs to keep things from completely getting out of hand. After all, there must be rules. BUT the rules are written to favor the few at the expense of the many. And without being insulting in the least to you my friend, most people can't see this fact because they are immersed in the game.

They know the rules so well and have been around it for so long that it all just makes sense. But pull average Joe in off the street or ask a passing space alien what he (she? it?) thinks about the "system" and they will respond in short order with a common consensus.

Rigged. And the regulators are part of the rigged game.

Mitchman :

I di not take it as an insult my dear friend and especially from such a lofty commentator as yourself. (BTW, happy anniversary!). My point was that the rules were written at a point in time when corporate leverage was not the issue that it is today. Remember that in say, 1959, securitization didn't exist. So taking a lease off the balance sheet didn't seem like such a big problem. I might also point out that under international accounting rules, where the auditor's judgment counts a great deal more than it does here in the US, taking a lease obligation off the balance sheet is much more difficult. Here in the US, under the old FASB 13, it was much easier to "game" the system. Thereby further proving your point.


Cognitive Dissonance:

Thereby further proving your point.

And well as yours. The more I pull back to bring the big picture into focus, the more my stomach turns. I fully understand why so many seek drink, drug or other diversions to kill the pain of the ugly truth. Unfortunately it will only change when people begin to talk about the painful truths they so desperately try to avoid. Part of our conditioning is to avoid talking about our conditioning.

Have a good weekend.


As a culture we tend to distance ourselves from people who speak the truth because we would rather live with a known lie than to invite an uncomfortable conflict and a resolution that might hurt the liar. Odd, no?

I recall a weeklong exec financial education trip to Wharton back in the mid-90s. One of the case studies was of Marriott corporation which at the time had superior earnings based on their degree of leverage. The lesson for us was not that we could have a more profitable company with greater leverage, but that there is greater and unreasonable risk associated with leverage.

I guess the financial engineers figure that one out. Create companies that were too big and too connected to the power structure to be allowed to fail and have the saps, errr I mean people, absorb the risk. Problem solved! Superior earnings and no risk.

Cognitive Dissonance

As a culture we tend to distance ourselves from people who speak the truth because we would rather live with a known lie than to invite an uncomfortable conflict and a resolution that might hurt the liar. Odd, no?

Precisely. And also why I selected Cognitive Dissonance as my ID. Because the funny thing about denial is that while we may be (sub)consciously pushing away the pain and dissonance, in the background, our subconscious mind is absorbing everything.

So when the time comes for the student to wake, the teacher will already be present in the form of subconscious knowledge and understanding coming to the surface to be transferred into the conscious awareness. And this often happens (relatively) quicker if there are subliminal reminders of our dissonance present.

Hence my ID.

Odd, no? :>)


I would say, "In a minority, yes" .... Odd? Not to me. I think there will come a time when people will need people who have not been dead or asleep to help them with the new reality.


The mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in a person is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers: the person rejects, explains away, or avoids the new information, persuades himself that no conflict really exists, reconciles the differences, or resorts to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in his conception of the world and of himself. The concept, first introduced in the 1950s, has become a major point of discussion and research.

Man, I should have selected my ID with a bit more thought.


I'm amazed at how I can talk to anyone about corruption inside of some institution that they have personal knowledge about, yet they never extrapolate this corruption out to other institutions. Since they have no personal knowledge of them, they simply trust their faith, because they cannot stand to know the alternative, that we are all fucked.

Bartanist :

The vast majority of people have been brainwashed when young and impressionable to believe that should spend their lives striving to be accepted within the power circle... or at least a well compensated slave (although they do not envision it that way at the time).

Without getting into the extremely esoteric, there is nothing finite about the system that we are living within. Rules are only rules for those that believe them to be rules and do not have the power to ignore them. Is this right? IMO, it is neither right or wrong, but only a means to an end. While the people on this board might be discussing the injustice of something, somewhere in the world there are people discussing larger problems about how to manage the entire herd of humans, somewhere else in the world there are people dying from thirst or starvation and in another part of the world people don't give a damn about materialism and are trying to figure it all out to connect their 3 halves.

Sure, I believe in honesty, personal freedom and treating others with respect. I believe in questioning, understanding doing something about it and growing. Do I really need a financial prison (err system) to help me do that? Probably not. Have I got so much invested in my first 50+ years within the system that it is damn hard to find my way out. You betcha. These prison bars are made of velvet and excrete vodka on the rocks (with an olive) and a nice juicy steak cooked to perfection.


So true. As a working research scientist I can tell you that people believe scientists wouldn't alter results to advance their careers and receive more funding and recognition. But this is very naive as this happens all the time. Corruption and misuse of funds is rampant especially at large national laboratories where power is concentrated.

Book Review 'The Republican War on Science,' by Chris Mooney

New York Times

Mooney's critique has understandably annoyed some of his colleagues. In a review in The Washington Post, the journalist Keay Davidson faults Mooney for not acknowledging how hard it can be to distinguish good science from bad. Philosophers call this the "demarcation problem." Demarcation can indeed be difficult, especially if all the scientists involved are trying in good faith to get at the truth, and Mooney does occasionally imply that demarcation consists simply of checking scientists' party affiliations. But in many of the cases that he examines, demarcation is easy, because one side has an a priori commitment to something other than the truth - God or money, to put it bluntly.

Conservative complaints about federally financed "junk science" may ultimately prove self-fulfilling. Government scientists - and those who receive federal funds - may toe the party line to avoid being punished like the whistleblower Andy Eller (who was rehired last June after he sued for wrongful termination). Increasingly, competent scientists will avoid public service, degrading the quality of advice to policy makers and the public still further. Together, these trends threaten "not just our public health and the environment," Mooney warns, "but the very integrity of American democracy, which relies heavily on scientific and technical expertise to function." If this assessment sounds one-sided, so is the reality that it describes

[Aug 09, 2010] The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney

From Book Review 'The Republican War on Science,' by Chris Mooney - New York Times " This episode makes me more sympathetic than I might otherwise have been to "The Republican War on Science" by the journalist Chris Mooney. As the title indicates, Mooney's book is a diatribe, from start to finish. The prose is often clunky and clichéd, and it suffers from smug, preaching-to-the-choir self-righteousness. But Mooney deserves a hearing in spite of these flaws, because he addresses a vitally important topic and gets it basically right.
Mooney charges George Bush and other conservative Republicans with "science abuse," which he defines as "any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons." Science abuse is not an exclusively right-wing sin, Mooney acknowledges. He condemns Greenpeace for exaggerating the risks of genetically modified "Frankenfoods," animal-rights groups for dismissing the medical benefits of research on animals and John Kerry for overstating the potential of stem cells during his presidential run. " ... "One simple strategy involves filling federal positions on the basis of ideology rather than genuine expertise."

NEARLY FORTY YEARS AGO, in 1966, two talented young political thinkers published an extraordinary book, one that reads, in retrospect, as a profound warning to the Republican Party that went tragically unheeded.

The authors had been roommates at Harvard University, and had participated in the Ripon Society, an upstart group of Republican liberals. They had worked together on Advance, dubbed "the unofficial Republican magazine," which slammed the party from within for catering to segregationists, John Birchers, and other extremists. Following their graduation, both young men moved into the world of journalism and got the chance to further advance their "progressive" Republican campaign in a book for the eminent publisher Alfred A. Knopf. In their spirited 1966 polemic The Party That Lost Its Head, they held nothing back. The book devastatingly critiqued Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential candidacy—the modern conservative movement's primal scene—and dismissed the GOP's embrace of rising star Ronald Reagan as the party's hope to "usurp reality with the fading world of the class-B movie."

Read today, some of the most prophetic passages of The Party That Lost Its Head are those that denounce Goldwater's conservative backers for their rampant and even paranoid distrust of the nation's intellectuals. The book labels the Goldwater campaign a "brute assault on the entire intellectual world" and blames this development on a woefully wrongheaded political tactic: "In recent years the Republicans as a party have been alienating intellectuals deliberately, as a matter of taste and strategy."

The authors charge that Goldwater's campaign had no intellectual heft behind it whatsoever, save the backing of one think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, which they denounce as "an organization heavily financed by extreme rightists." Continuing in the same vein, they slam William F. Buckley, Jr., for his attacks on leading universities and describe the advent of right-wing anti-intellectualism as "crippling" to the Republican Party. The book further deplores conservatives' paranoid distrust of the "liberal" media and the "Eastern Establishment," and worries that without the backing of intellectuals and scholars, the GOP will prove unable to develop "workable programs, distinct from those of the Democrats and responsive to national problems." If the party wants to win back the "national consensus," the authors argue, it must first win back the nation's intellectuals.

Clearly, The Party That Lost Its Head failed in its goal of prompting a broad Republican realignment. The GOP went in precisely the opposite direction from the one these young authors prescribed—which is why the anti-intellectual disposition they so aptly diagnosed in 1966 still persists among many modern conservatives, helping to fuel the current crisis over the politicization of science and expertise. In fact, the chief difference between the Goldwater conservatives and those of today can often seem more cosmetic than real. A massive number of think tanks have now joined the American Enterprise Institute on the right, but in many cases these outlets still provide only a thin veneer of intellectual respectability to ideas that mainstream scholarship rejects.

Certainly, the proliferation of think tanks has not had as a corollary that conservatives now take scientific expertise more seriously. On the contrary, the Right has a strong track record of deliberately attempting to undermine scientific work that might threaten the economic interests of private industry. Perhaps more alarmingly still, similar tactics have also been brought to bear by the Right in the service of a religiously conservative cultural and moral agenda.

The next three chapters demonstrate how cultural conservatives have disregarded, distorted, and abused science on the issues of evolution, embryonic stem cell research, the relation of abortion to health risks for women, and sex education. In the process, we will encounter more ideologically driven think tanks, more questionable science, and more conservative politicians willing to embrace it.

The story begins, however, with a narrative that cuts to the heart of the modern Right's war on science. You see, despite the poignant accuracy of their critique, the authors of The Party That Lost Its Head—Bruce K. Chapman and George Gilder—have since bitten their tongues and morphed from liberal Republicans into staunch conservatives. In fact, you could say that they have become everything they once criticized. Once opponents of right-wing anti-intellectualism, they are now prominent supporters of conservative attacks on the theory of evolution, not just a bedrock of modern science but one of the greatest intellectual achievements of human history. With this transformation, the modern Right's war on intellectuals—including scientists and those possessing expertise in other areas—is truly complete.

Paul Krugman: Who Cooked the Planet?

Economist's View

Why did climate change legislation fail?:

Who Cooked the Planet?, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Never say that the gods lack a sense of humor. I bet they're still chuckling on Olympus over the decision to make the first half of 2010 — the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died — the hottest such stretch on record. ...
So why didn't climate-change legislation get through the Senate? Let's talk first about what didn't cause the failure, because there have been many attempts to blame the wrong people.
First of all, we didn't fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science. Every piece of valid evidence ... points to a continuing, and quite possibly accelerating, rise in global temperatures.
Nor is this evidence tainted by scientific misbehavior. You've probably heard about the accusations leveled against climate researchers —... "Climategate," and so on. What you may not have heard, because it has received much less publicity, is that every one of these supposed scandals was eventually unmasked as a fraud concocted by opponents of climate action...
Did reasonable concerns about the economic impact of climate legislation block action? No. ... All serious estimates suggest that we could phase in limits on greenhouse gas emissions with at most a small impact on the economy's growth rate.
So it wasn't the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?
The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.
If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn't be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.
Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you'll find that they're on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades.
Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer.
By itself, however, greed wouldn't have triumphed. It needed the aid of cowardice — above all, the cowardice of politicians who know how big a threat global warming poses, who supported action in the past, but who deserted their posts at the crucial moment.
There are a number of such climate cowards, but let me single out one in particular: Senator John McCain.
There was a time when Mr. McCain was considered a friend of the environment. Back in 2003 he burnished his maverick image by co-sponsoring legislation that would have created a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. He reaffirmed support for such a system during his presidential campaign, and things might look very different now if he had continued to back climate action once his opponent was in the White House. But he didn't — and it's hard to see his switch as anything other than the act of a man willing to sacrifice his principles, and humanity's future, for the sake of a few years added to his political career.
Alas, Mr. McCain wasn't alone; and there will be no climate bill. Greed, aided by cowardice, has triumphed. And the whole world will pay the price.

BP accused of 'buying academic silence'

BBC News

The head of the American Association of Professors has accused BP of trying to "buy" the best scientists and academics to help its defence against litigation after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"This is really one huge corporation trying to buy faculty silence in a comprehensive way," said Cary Nelson.

BP faces more than 300 lawsuits so far.

In a statement, BP says it has hired more than a dozen national and local scientists "with expertise in the resources of the Gulf of Mexico".

The BBC has obtained a copy of a contract offered to scientists by BP. It says that scientists cannot publish the research they do for BP or speak about the data for at least three years, or until the government gives the final approval to the company's restoration plan for the whole of the Gulf.

It also states scientists may perform research for other agencies as long as it does not conflict with the work they are doing for BP.

And it adds that scientists must take instructions from lawyers offering the contracts and other in-house counsel at BP.

Bob Shipp, the head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama, was one of the scientists approached by BP's lawyers.

They didn't just want him, they wanted his whole department.

"They contacted me and said we would like to have your department interact to develop the best restoration plan possible after this oil spill," he said.

"We laid the ground rules - that any research we did, we would have to take total control of the data, transparency and the freedom to make those data available to other scientists and subject to peer review. They left and we never heard back from them."

What Mr Nelson is concerned about is BP's control over scientific research.

"Our ability to evaluate the disaster and write public policy and make decisions about it as a country can be impacted by the silence of the research scientists who are looking at conditions," he said.

"It's hugely destructive. I mean at some level, this is really BP versus the people of the United States."

In its statement, BP says it "does not place restrictions on academics speaking about scientific data".

'Powerful economic interests'

But New Orleans environmental lawyer Joel Waltzer looked over the contract and said BP's statement did not match up.

Continue reading the main story

"Start Quote

Good scientists, they're going to be giving their opinions based on the facts and they are not going to bias their opinions"

End Quote Professor Irv Mendelssohn Louisiana State University

"They're the ones who control the process. They're depriving the public of the data and the transparency that we all deserve."

But some scientists who have been approached by lawyers acting on behalf of BP are willing to sign up.

Irv Mendelssohn is a professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University.

"What I'm doing wouldn't be any different than if I was consulting with one of the natural resource trustees. I am giving my objective opinion about recovery."

Some scientists approached by BP lawyers have been offered as much as $250 an hour.

Prof Mendelssohn says he would negotiate his normal consulting fee, which is between $150 and $300 an hour. But he says that is not why he is doing it.

"Good scientists, they're going to be giving their opinions based on the facts and they are not going to bias their opinions. What's most important is credibility."

But Cary Nelson is concerned about the relationship between corporations and academia.

"There is a problem for a faculty member who becomes closely associated with a corporation with such powerful financial interests.

"My advice would be: think twice before you sign a contract with a corporation that has such powerful economic interests at stake."

[Jul 07, 2010] Barbie does economics by James Montier

The sheer hubris of many in the economics profession never ceases to amaze me. Take for instance a recent paper by Kartik Athreya of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond[1] entitled "Economics is Hard. Don't let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise". In a move that is eerily reminiscent of the controversial talking Barbie of the early 1990s who fatefully uttered "Math class is tough"[2], Athreya's short paper essentially lays out a quite staggering claim :- that economics should be left to those with a PhD in the subject!

Athreya describes himself as "a worker bee chipping away with known tools". He goes on to say "writers who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department…cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy"[3]. You've got to love the 'decent' in that sentence – it wreaks of intellectual snobbishness of the highest order.

In fact, Athreya's ire isn't limited to what she sees as uninformed debate, he seems to object to anyone who attempts to make the policy issues of the day clear even if they have a PhD. He pejoratively describes both Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong as "Patron saints of the Macroeconomic Policy is Easy" movement.

He argues that we won't expect particularly informed discussion on the causes, consequences and treatments for cancer from non-Oncology specialists, so why we would we expect non-specialists to offer any useful debate on economics.

However, the analogy is false. Modern medicine is based on scientific principles and follows an evidence based approach. Even then some estimate that the majority of published findings in medical journals are false[4]!

Economics starts from a far worse place. It isn't a science, and often seems more interested in twisting the facts to fit a theory rather than the other way around. In fact, as Nassim Taleb has pointed out, economics is more akin to medieval medicine than its current practice, "Medicine used to kill more patients than it saved – just as financial economics endangers the system by creating, not reducing, risk.[5]"

The idea that what we need is more 'worker bees' gaining their PhD's from conducting 'angels on a pin head' like work based on minor alterations to previous research makes me want to cry. Where were the warnings from the orthodox economics establishment ahead of the global financial crisis? Oh, that's right there weren't any.

Indeed many of those who warned of the problems ahead did so because they weren't constrained by the kind of training that an economics PhD suffers. I did my own training in economics a long time ago now, it included a fair amount of equation bending but I was incredibly fortunate that it included generalist topics such as Marxian and post-Keynesian economics, subjects that are oddly absent from the vast majority of syllabi.

In many ways economics as it exists today is largely a victim of learned helplessness - a phenomenon was first documented by Martin Seligman in the 1960s. He was working with dogs (dog lovers look away now) and studying conditioning when he came across something interesting. Seligman was subjecting pairs of dogs to nondamaging but painful electric shocks. However, in each pair of dogs one animal could put an end to the shock by simply pressing the side panels of its container with its head. The other dog was unable to turn off the shock. The electricity was synchronized, starting at the same point for both dogs, and obviously ending when the dog with the control turned off the power.

This gave the each of the pairs of dogs a very different experience. One experienced the pain as controllable, while the other did not. The dogs which had no control soon began to cower and whine (signs of doggy depression) even after the sessions had stopped. The dogs which could control the shocks showed no signs of this behaviour.

In the second phase of the experiments dogs were placed in box with a low wall separating the container into two. One side (the side on which the dog started) was electrified. To avoid the pain the dog simply had to jump the low wall. The dogs which had controlled the shocks in the first round quickly learned to jump the wall. However, the around two-thirds of the dogs who had no control in the first round, simply laid down and suffered the pain, they had learned to become helpless.

Modern day economics is much like these poor animals. Many economists have learnt to become helpless. They would rather lay down and whimper and whine about how unfair the world is, and mutter that everything would be alright if only people behaved like their models, than seek to look outside the narrow confines of their obsession with rationality and mathematics to see if others might just have some useful insight.

The age of the specialist (people who learn more and more about less and less, until they know absolutely everything about nothing) has proved to have some fundamental flaws. Three cheers for the generalists!

[2] For more on the weird and wonderful versions of Barbie that have graced the shelves over the years see
[3] Atherya does have the sense to point out "Taken literally, I am almost certainly wrong."
[4] John Ioannidis (2005) Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Med 2(8): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124
[5] Taleb (2007) The pseudo science hurting markets, Financial Times, 23 October 2007

[May 30, 2010] "The Impact of the Irrelevant on Decision-Making"

Bloggers (and Jon Stewart) need help:

The Impact of the Irrelevant on Decision-Making, by Robert H. Frank, Commentary, NY Times: Textbook economic models assume that people are well informed about all the options they're considering. It's an absurd claim... Even so, when people confront opportunities to improve their position, they're generally quick to seize them. ... So most economists are content with a slightly weaker assumption: that people respond in approximately rational ways to the information available to them.

But behavioral research now challenges even that more limited claim. For example, even patently false or irrelevant information often affects choices in significant ways. ...

Lafayette :


{So most economists are content with a slightly weaker assumption: that people respond in approximately rational ways to the information available to them. }

No, not even this is adequate. More so, it does not justify the use of Disposable Income, aka Consumer Demand. (If you don't know why this is important, than maybe you are in the wrong blog?)

People's decision making can be tweaked around the irrational - and easily so. Impulse buying is one such tweaking that marketing experts employ with amazing usefulness. When you arrive at the check-out of a supermarket, why is there an array of sweets available for your delight. Or the latest "People" journal? Why aren't these products in their proper section? (Two reasons actually, the first of which is that they are "impulse purchases" and secondly they could otherwise likely go unnoticed.)

Thus, impulse and not rational propel you to purchase them - and this is just the simplest of examples.

Conspicuous Consumption has the same motivation that propels one to buy a Beemer or lunch at the most expensive restaurant in town. One MUST be seen only in the right places. Are these impulses rational?

Some would say yes, particularly if they lived in Hollywood, where they are conforming to a lifestyle that is all appearance and little substance. But what is their economic utility as consumption? That is considerably more difficult to substantiate.

(Far more so than, say, a Public Option for decent national Health Care insurance.)

Thus arises the pitfall of economic rationalization as regards our motivations that propel Demand. It ennobles mankind to assume that individual decisions were based uniquely upon logic and rationale. But, alas, those are not the only attributes underlying human decision making. There are others far more base that also propel us to demonstrate some pretty silly consumer behaviour.

[May 29, 2010] Attacking Science to Defend Beliefs

While I can agree with the main thrust of the argument; to label as science the on-and-off-again twenty year Anglo-Saxon campaign to kill the Euro is quixotic at best even if recently this campaign has been leaving some dark blue marks across the eurozone's face. One area where I still hold suspicions though are the Dutch and German banks who bought all that subprime crap from Wall Street. Were they really just stupid euro-country bumpkins or was it more than that? The jury is still out on that one.
May 29, 2010 | naked capitalism

A disconcerting tendency that may also impair adaptability (and this seems to be particularly pronounced in the US) is the tendency to engage in black and white thinking. If (in someone's mind) the only alternative to one view is its polar opposite, that makes it hard to adjust one's perspective.

Ars technica presents a more specific example of this phenomenon, of how people defend their mental models in the face of confounding evidence. A study from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology looked into some of the mechanisms that individuals use to reject scientific information that is at odds with their views. Admittedly, this is a small scale study, so one has to be cautious in generalizing from it. But it does seem consistent with some of the strategies I routinely seem in comments.

From ars technica:

It's hardly a secret that large segments of the population choose not to accept scientific data because it conflicts with their predefined beliefs: economic, political, religious, or otherwise. But many studies have indicated that these same people aren't happy with viewing themselves as anti-science, which can create a state of cognitive dissonance. That has left psychologists pondering the methods that these people use to rationalize the conflict.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology takes a look at one of these methods, which the authors term "scientific impotence"—the decision that science can't actually address the issue at hand properly. It finds evidence that not only supports the scientific impotence model, but suggests that it could be contagious. Once a subject has decided that a given topic is off limits to science, they tend to start applying the same logic to other issues…

Munro polled a set of college students about their feelings about homosexuality, and then exposed them to a series of generic scientific abstracts that presented evidence that it was or wasn't a mental illness (a control group read the same abstracts with nonsense terms in place of sexual identities). By chance, these either challenged or confirmed the students' preconceptions. The subjects were then given the chance to state whether they accepted the information in the abstracts and, if not, why not.

Regardless of whether the information presented confirmed or contradicted the students' existing beliefs, all of them came away from the reading with their beliefs strengthened. As expected, a number of the subjects that had their beliefs challenged chose to indicate that the subject was beyond the ability of science to properly examine. This group then showed a weak tendency to extend that same logic to other areas, like scientific data on astrology and herbal remedies.

A second group went through the same initial abstract-reading process, but were then given an issue to research (the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to violent crime), and offered various sources of information on the issue. The group that chose to discount scientific information on the human behavior issue were more likely than their peers to evaluate nonscientific material when it came to making a decision about the death penalty.

Yves here. I'm not certain whether the authors are being tongue in cheek in this section:

….it might explain why doubts about mainstream science seem to travel in packs. For example, the Discovery Institute, famed for hosting a petition that questions our understanding of evolution, has recently taken up climate change as an additional issue (they don't believe the scientific community on that topic, either). The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine is best known for hosting a petition that questions the scientific consensus on climate change, but the people who run it also promote creationism and question the link between HIV and AIDS.

Yves again. It is worth considering whether some of this "science can't evaluate this area" meme exists is at least in part because it is being marketed. Perhaps I lead a cloistered life, but when I was younger, say 20 years ago, I can't recall encountering this line of argument.

The book Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance gives a detailed account of how the tobacco industry first tried to keep research about smoking-related cancers out of the public eye, and when that started to fail, to attack the science ("Doubt is our product"). One of its late-stage techniques was to promote the idea that the topic wasn't settled when a tally of the then-available research would say otherwise. Given that knowledge is often the product of political and cultural battles, promoting higher-order anti-science ideas ("science has very considerable limits, there are a lot of areas outside its ken") gives those who would seek to reshape mass opinion more freedom of action.

Selected Comments


For instance, early in the days of euro wobbliness, some readers in Europe would go a bit off the deep end at the suggestion that the Eurozone has serious structural weaknesses and that the austerity regimes required of the deficit countries looked unattainable (and even if they could be met, success would be a Pyrrhic victory). It wasn't so much that these readers found weaknesses or shortcomings in the post; it's that its conclusion was clearly deeply offensive to them.

Yes, it's true that many people find the proposition morally deeply repulsive that the non-rich, already beleaguered by job destruction and the shredding of the safety net, should be crushed by "austerity" in order that the banks can be bailed out and the rich can continue evading taxes, such that even if there were reason to believe this course of action would bring broad prosperity 20 years from now they'd still reject the idea.

Of course neoliberalism has been dominant for c. 40 years now, and that broad "prosperity" remains just as much a vapor on the horizon today as it ever was, except to the extent that a debt ponzi scheme could temporarily prop up a version of it.

The fact is that we know by now, empirically, that neoliberalism's version of the "sacrifice today so we'll have utopia tomorrow" lie is the exact same Big Lie as when any other ideology or regime told it. We know for a fact that prosperity will never "trickle down", and that it was never intended to trickle down.

So by now anyone who rejects the predatory prescriptions of the kleptocracy is acting based on the overwhelming evidence, therefore "scientifically" for purposes of this discussion, while anyone who still retains faith in trickle down is truly mired in a cult fundamentalist mindset.

So much for the proposition that broad-based prosperity can be attained by continuing down the neoliberal path. As for whether exponential debt can be forever zombified under any circumstances, let alone whether reality-based growth could ever again be attained, it's the physics of energy which says No, while the cornucopianism of debt and energy is always reduced in the end to the religious proposition, "technology will save us; technology will always find a way".

So there too, whatever emotions may go into the skeptical mindset, science is not on the side of the pollyannas.

Technology did not in fact find much of a way (by modern standards) prior to the fossil fuel age, and a scientifically sober mindset would start with the theory that it will not be able to sustain anything like this level of energy consumption and massive, top-heavy, high-impact centralization post-Peak Oil.

And then there's every other resource limitation. There's the stark unreality of the very concept of exponential growth. Really, it's hard to imagine a less scientific mindset than that which believes there's a way to "grow" out of this already absurdly unsustainable predicament.

JimS :

I think there is a difference between being anti-science with a small "s" and being anti-Science with a capital "S". Few would argue that 2+2=4, but theoretical physicists seem to be evenly divided on string theory. Paradoxically the bigger the picture is, the more binary the beliefs. This is not due to disagreement with the data points but with the underlying principles. Consider the following familiar exchange:

Student: "I've run the regression analysis, and here is my model."

Professor: "Very good, but are you sure you've identified all the variables that might be significant?"

People don't question individual mechanisms; it's whether or not the right mechanisms are being accounted for. In that sense the datum is irrelevant.

What do skeptics and good scientists have in common? They both question if all the significant variables have been found.

As for denial, well, people are fundamentally irrational–that is to say we are only rational to a certain point–but on top of that we're less educated. A friend of mine observes that he learned debate in school, but not logic from which to debate. It seems to me that education is more formulaic these days, sacrificing critical thinking (even though all text books have those grey-background "critical thinking" boxes).

For the record, as a Christian I do not find God and evolution to be mutually exclusive; nor God and quantum physics for that matter. Can God bake a potato so hot that He can't eat it? Is Schrödinger's cat dead or alive?

Kevin de Bruxelles:

While I can agree with the main thrust of the argument; to label as science the on-and-off-again twenty year Anglo-Saxon campaign to kill the Euro is quixotic at best even if recently this campaign has been leaving some dark blue marks across the eurozone's face. The fact is economics is nothing more than religion. And sure, like most religions it certainly contains some nuggets of wisdom. But to pretend that economics and the recent attacks on the euro has anything approaching objectivity is quickly proven wrong by the fact that similar data points in the US or UK are handled differently. For example where are the outcries of the break-up of the dollarzone since California and other US states are imposing austerity programs? Should the mid-western states that have growing ghost towns break off a hillbilly dollar? When the euro goes up it is a sign of disaster, when the euro goes down it is also a sign of disaster. When European trade increases it is called "beggar thy neighbour"; but when the eurozone by its very nature does not allow "beggar thy neighbour" between its members it is called an suboptimal currency area.

According to Robert Nozick, one cannot have knowledge of something if one does not accept that the opposite could also be true. For the eurozone critics it would go like this:

1.Statement Y: The eurozone is doomed to failure

2.Person X believes Y (the eurozone is doomed to failure)

3.If Y were false (the eurozone were not doomed to failure), Person X would accept the eurozone is viable if it were so.

4.If statement Y is true, Person Y would believe it.

Nozick uses the example of a father who "knows" his son is innocent of a crime. After the trial the father cannot really say he "knew" his son was innocent since if the kid had been found guilty he would still have believed him innocent. The same is true of some eurozone critics; they have "known" the eurozone would fail and they will keep on knowing it until the day it eventually happens, one way or the other. They can never accept that the eurozone could survive because this would blunt the force of their attacks. But this doesn't mean that their critiques are false. For example some critics quite correctly point out that the European financial architecture is flawed. But the second anyone moves towards correcting any flaws, these critics will immediately scream about eurozone fascism. The point is that the many of the attacks are only meant to help bring the eurozone down. Other onslaughts against the euro are by the mouthpieces of Anglo-Saxon elites who are more concerned that European style social democracy never again raise its head in the US. They were scared by the recent health care debate where America's unjust and inefficient health care system was openly compared to the more advanced and fair European systems. Anyone who knows how well the rich in America are cared for can understand why they don't want to share any of their advantages with any other social class. The next time any American compares their social benefits to Europe they will be slapped down by the fact that the Euro has obviously collapsed all the way back to the midpoint of its historic value range.

No the battle of the Euro cannot be studied by science any more than the Eastern Front in WW2 could be. The way it has to be studied is as a power struggle.

And as a media campaign the only comparison in recent memory was the wall of noise heard before the invasion of Iraq. The only remaining question is which Anglo-Saxon economist will get to play Colin Powell and make the requisite speech before the UN giving Europe an ultimatum to dismantle the eurozone? And yes some euro-symps lash out and get angry by these insistent attacks on the euro. And this is understandable since arguably the eurozone's recent troubles started when European banks started barebacking loads of infected American subprime paper from their Wall Street beaus. In more vulgar terms the US has given Europe the financial equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease and now as the eurozone's sores and scabs become more apparent the Anglo-Saxon press is shouting with glee about what a skanky debt-ho Europe is! And as a result of the growing Anglo-Saxon infection Europe's financial immune system is weakening and has to undergo some pretty drastic procedures, the shaming and ridicule has risen to a fever pitch.

But while outrage is understandable, people in Europe really need to put their energy into counterattacks and building defences while always understanding that the most natural thing in the world is for the powerful Anglo-Saxons to attack the less powerful Europeans. Thucydides described it well in the Melian Dialogue. The more powerful Athenians decided they were going to invade the island of Melos. They sent a delegation there to convince the local leaders to surrender. One of the arguments they used was:

For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

In the end the Melians declined to surrender and they were subsequently overrun by the Athenians, who killed all the men, and raped some and enslaved all of the women and children.

So Europe has to decide whether it will stand up and fight for the Euro or weakly submit to the Anglo-Saxon attacks. European energy should not go into being outraged by the attacks on the eurozone since this reeks of naivety. Better that the hard decisions be taken. Since WW2 Europe has played the undisciplined child to the US' parental role. Since Europe is still more or less living under the US' roof is it wrong for the US to call the shots like abandoning the Euro? Is Europe ready to finally grow up, become fully independent move out and the US's comfortable and protective house? It will be questions like this, not science, that will decide if the eurozone survives or not.

For example what would be the best European counterattack to the Anglo-Saxon onslaught? Exporting deflation? Perhaps. Which of the main global economic blocks is balanced and stable enough to come through a good bout of deflation? The US – never. China – hardly. Japan – perhaps. Europe – probably.

[Feb 18, 2010] Economist's View Friedman Scientists Should Fight Back

Feb 17, 2010 | Economist's View

Thomas Friedman calls for scientists to go on the offensive against climate change deniers and skeptics:

Global Weirding Is Here, by Thomas Friedman, Commentary, NYTimes: Of the festivals of nonsense that periodically overtake American politics, surely the silliest is the argument that because Washington is having a particularly snowy winter it proves that climate change is a hoax and, therefore, we need not bother with all this girly-man stuff like renewable energy, solar panels and carbon taxes. Just drill, baby, drill.
When you see lawmakers like Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina tweeting that "it is going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries 'uncle,' " or news that the grandchildren of Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma are building an igloo next to the Capitol with a big sign that says "Al Gore's New Home," you really wonder if we can have a serious discussion about the climate-energy issue anymore.
The climate-science community is not blameless. It knew it was up against formidable forces... Therefore, climate experts can't leave themselves vulnerable by citing non-peer-reviewed research or failing to respond to legitimate questions, some of which happened with both the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Selected comments


Until the media starts shining a light on the wealthy special interests behind the disinformation campaign, the public will continue to be confused. It is always more difficult for people to relearn than it is to teach for the first time. The huge amount of money spent on disinformation is a problem that climate change experts cannot overcome on their own.


While the politically motivated bashers of scientists in general and climate scientists especially have been continually at work distorting the findings of scientists and undermining a sense of confidence in the way we approach the findings of scientists, there has been a remarkable political reticience to teach about the nature of what scientists have been finding and to openly support scientists.

President Obama has in no way meaningfully supported the finding of climatologists, and the result will be meaningful climate change legislation which could already have been shaped and passed will be almost impossible to shape and pass this year.


Thomas "we have six months to act in Iraq" (in continuous time!) Friedman thinks the American public can comprehend a scientific argument, e.g., one that depends on the correct understanding of statistical significance. Now that's a LOL.

[Sep 10, 2009] Priceless: How The Federal Reserve Bought The Economics Profession by Ryan Grim

The Huffington Post
The Federal Reserve, through its extensive network of consultants, visiting scholars, alumni and staff economists, so thoroughly dominates the field of economics that real criticism of the central bank has become a career liability for members of the profession, an investigation by the Huffington Post has found.

This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists. In the Fed's thrall, the economists missed it, too.

"The Fed has a lock on the economics world," says Joshua Rosner, a Wall Street analyst who correctly called the meltdown. "There is no room for other views, which I guess is why economists got it so wrong."

One critical way the Fed exerts control on academic economists is through its relationships with the field's gatekeepers. For instance, at the Journal of Monetary Economics, a must-publish venue for rising economists, more than half of the editorial board members are currently on the Fed payroll -- and the rest have been in the past.

The Fed failed to see the housing bubble as it happened, insisting that the rise in housing prices was normal. In 2004, after "flipping" had become a term cops and janitors were using to describe the way to get rich in real estate, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said that "a national severe price distortion [is] most unlikely." A year later, current Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the boom "largely reflect strong economic fundamentals."

The Fed also failed to sufficiently regulate major financial institutions, with Greenspan -- and the dominant economists -- believing that the banks would regulate themselves in their own self-interest.

Despite all this, Bernanke has been nominated for a second term by President Obama.

In the field of economics, the chairman remains a much-heralded figure, lauded for reaction to a crisis generated, in the first place, by the Fed itself. Congress is even considering legislation to greatly expand the powers of the Fed to systemically regulate the financial industry.

Paul Krugman, in Sunday's New York Times magazine, did his own autopsy of economics, asking "How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?" Krugman concludes that "[e]conomics, as a field, got in trouble because economists were seduced by the vision of a perfect, frictionless market system."

So who seduced them?

The Fed did it.

Three Decades of Domination

The Fed has been dominating the profession for about three decades. "For the economics profession that came out of the [second world] war, the Federal Reserve was not a very important place as far as they were concerned, and their views on monetary policy were not framed by a working relationship with the Federal Reserve. So I would date it to maybe the mid-1970s," says University of Texas economics professor -- and Fed critic -- James Galbraith. "The generation that I grew up under, which included both Milton Friedman on the right and Jim Tobin on the left, were independent of the Fed. They sent students to the Fed and they influenced the Fed, but there wasn't a culture of consulting, and it wasn't the same vast network of professional economists working there."

But by 1993, when former Fed Chairman Greenspan provided the House banking committee with a breakdown of the number of economists on contract or employed by the Fed, he reported that 189 worked for the board itself and another 171 for the various regional banks. Adding in statisticians, support staff and "officers" -- who are generally also economists -- the total number came to 730. And then there were the contracts. Over a three-year period ending in October 1994, the Fed awarded 305 contracts to 209 professors worth a total of $3 million.

Just how dominant is the Fed today?

The Federal Reserve's Board of Governors employs 220 PhD economists and a host of researchers and support staff, according to a Fed spokeswoman. The 12 regional banks employ scores more. (HuffPost placed calls to them but was unable to get exact numbers.) The Fed also doles out millions of dollars in contracts to economists for consulting assignments, papers, presentations, workshops, and that plum gig known as a "visiting scholarship." A Fed spokeswoman says that exact figures for the number of economists contracted with weren't available. But, she says, the Federal Reserve spent $389.2 million in 2008 on "monetary and economic policy," money spent on analysis, research, data gathering, and studies on market structure; $433 million is budgeted for 2009.

That's a lot of money for a relatively small number of economists. According to the American Economic Association, a total of only 487 economists list "monetary policy, central banking, and the supply of money and credit," as either their primary or secondary specialty; 310 list "money and interest rates"; and 244 list "macroeconomic policy formation [and] aspects of public finance and general policy." The National Association of Business Economists tells HuffPost that 611 of its roughly 2,400 members are part of their "Financial Roundtable," the closest way they can approximate a focus on monetary policy and central banking.

Robert Auerbach, a former investigator with the House banking committee, spent years looking into the workings of the Fed and published much of what he found in the 2008 book, "Deception
and Abuse at the Fed
". A chapter in that book, excerpted here, provided the impetus for this investigation.

Auerbach found that in 1992, roughly 968 members of the AEA designated "domestic monetary and financial theory and institutions" as their primary field, and 717 designated it as their secondary field. Combining his numbers with the current ones from the AEA and NABE, it's fair to conclude that there are something like 1,000 to 1,500 monetary economists working across the country. Add up the 220 economist jobs at the Board of Governors along with regional bank hires and contracted economists, and the Fed employs or contracts with easily 500 economists at any given time. Add in those who have previously worked for the Fed -- or who hope to one day soon -- and you've accounted for a very significant majority of the field.

Auerbach concludes that the "problems associated with the Fed's employing or contracting with large numbers of economists" arise "when these economists testify as witnesses at legislative hearings or as experts at judicial proceedings, and when they publish their research and views on Fed policies, including in Fed publications."

Gatekeepers On The Payroll

The Fed keeps many of the influential editors of prominent acade>The pharmaceutical industry has similarly worked to control key medical journals, but that involves several companies. In the field of economics, it's just the Fed.

Being on the Fed payroll isn't just about the money, either. A relationship with the Fed carries prestige; invitations to Fed conferences and offers of visiting scholarships with the bank signal a rising star or an economist who has arrived.

Affiliations with the Fed have become the oxygen of academic life for monetary economists. "It's very important, if you are tenure track and don't have tenure, to show that you are valued by the Federal Reserve," says Jane D'Arista, a Fed critic and an economist with the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Robert King, editor in chief of the Journal of Monetary Economics and a visiting scholar at the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, dismisses the notion that his journal was influenced by its Fed connections. "I think that the suggestion is a silly one, based on my own experience at least," he wrote in an e-mail. (His full response is at the bottom.)

Galbraith, a Fed critic, has seen the Fed's influence on academia first hand. He and co-authors Olivier Giovannoni and Ann Russo found that in the year before a presidential election, there is a significantly tighter monetary policy coming from the Fed if a Democrat is in office and a significantly looser policy if a Republican is in office. The effects are both statistically significant, allowing for controls, and economically important.

They submitted a paper with their findings to the Review of Economics and Statistics in 2008, but the paper was rejected. "The editor assigned to it turned out to be a fellow at the Fed and that was after I requested that it not be assigned to someone affiliated with the Fed," Galbraith says.

Publishing in top journals is, like in any discipline, the key to getting tenure. Indeed, pursuing tenure ironically requires a kind of fealty to the dominant economic ideology that is the precise opposite of the purpose of tenure, which is to protect academics who present oppositional perspectives.

And while most academic disciplines and top-tier journals are controlled by some defining paradigm, in an academic field like poetry, that situation can do no harm other than to, perhaps, a forest of trees. Economics, unfortunately, collides with reality -- as it did with the Fed's incorrect reading of the housing bubble and failure to regulate financial institutions. Neither was a matter of incompetence, but both resulted from the Fed's unchallenged assumptions about the way the market worked.

Even the late Milton Friedman, whose monetary economic theories heavily influenced Greenspan, was concerned about the stifled nature of the debate. Friedman, in a 1993 letter to Auerbach that the author quotes in his book, argued that the Fed practice was harming objectivity: "I cannot disagree with you that having something like 500 economists is extremely unhealthy. As you say, it is not conducive to independent, objective research. You and I know there has been censorship of the material published. Equally important, the location of the economists in the Federal Reserve has had a significant influence on the kind of research they do, biasing that research toward noncontroversial technical papers on method as opposed to substantive papers on policy and results," Friedman wrote.

Greenspan told Congress in October 2008 that he was in a state of "shocked disbelief" and that the "whole intellectual edifice" had "collapsed." House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) followed up: "In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working."

"Absolutely, precisely," Greenspan replied. "You know, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well."

But, if the intellectual edifice has collapsed, the intellectual infrastructure remains in place. The same economists who provided Greenspan his "very considerable evidence" are still running the journals and still analyzing the world using the same models that were incapable of seeing the credit boom and the coming collapse.

Rosner, the Wall Street analyst who foresaw the crash, says that the Fed's ideological dominance of the journals hampered his attempt to warn his colleagues about what was to come. Rosner wrote a strikingly prescient paper in 2001 arguing that relaxed lending standards and other factors would lead to a boom in housing prices over the next several years, but that the growth would be highly susceptible to an economic disruption because it was fundamentally unsound.

He expanded on those ideas over the next few years, connecting the dots and concluding that the coming housing collapse would wreak havoc on the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) and mortgage backed securities (MBS) markets, which would have a ripple effect on the rest of the economy. That, of course, is exactly what happened and it took the Fed and the economics field completely by surprise.

"What you're doing is, actually, in order to get published, having to whittle down or narrow what might otherwise be oppositional or expansionary views," says Rosner. "The only way you can actually get in a journal is by subscribing to the views of one of the journals."

When Rosner was casting his paper on CDOs and MBSs about, he knew he needed an academic economist to co-author the paper for a journal to consider it. Seven economists turned him down.

"You don't believe that markets are efficient?" he says they asked, telling him the paper was "outside the bounds" of what could be published. "I would say 'Markets are efficient when there's equal access to information, but that doesn't exist,'" he recalls.

The CDO and MBS markets froze because, as the housing market crashed, buyers didn't trust that they had reliable information about them -- precisely the case Rosner had been making.

He eventually found a co-author, Joseph Mason, an associate Professor of Finance at Drexel University LeBow College of Business, a senior fellow at the Wharton School, and a visiting scholar at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But the pair could only land their papers with the conservative Hudson Institute. In February 2007, they published a paper called "How Resilient Are Mortgage Backed Securities to Collateralized Debt Obligation Market Disruptions?" and in May posted another, "How Misapplied Bond Ratings Cause Mortgage Backed Securities and Collateralized Debt Obligation Market Disruptions."

Together, the two papers offer a better analysis of what led to the crash than the economic journals have managed to put together - and they were published by a non-PhD before the crisis.

Not As Simple As A Pay-Off

Economist Rob Johnson serves on the UN Commission of Experts on Finance and International Monetary Reform and was a top economist on the Senate banking committee under both a Democratic and Republican chairman. He says that the consulting gigs shouldn't be looked at "like it's a payoff, like money. I think it's more being one of, part of, a club -- being respected, invited to the conferences, have a hearing with the chairman, having all the prestige dimensions, as much as a paycheck."

The Fed's hiring of so many economists can be looked at in several ways, Johnson says, because the institution does, of course, need talented analysts. "You can look at it from a telescope, either direction. One, you can say well they're reaching out, they've got a big budget and what they're doing, I'd say, is canvassing as broad a range of talent," he says. "You might call that the 'healthy hypothesis.'"

The other hypothesis, he says, "is that they're essentially using taxpayer money to wrap their arms around everybody that's a critic and therefore muffle or silence the debate. And I would say that probably both dimensions are operative, in reality."

To get a mainstream take, HuffPost called monetary economists at random from the list as members of the AEA. "I think there is a pretty good number of professors of economics who want a very limited use of monetary policy and I don't think that that necessarily has a negative impact on their careers," said Ahmed Ehsan, reached at the economics department at James Madison University. "It's quite possible that if they have some new ideas, that might be attractive to the Federal Reserve."

Ehsan, reflecting on his own career and those of his students, allowed that there is, in fact, something to what the Fed critics are saying. "I don't think [the Fed has too much influence], but then my area is monetary economics and I know my own professors, who were really well known when I was at Michigan State, my adviser, he ended up at the St. Louis Fed," he recalls. "He did lots of work. He was a product of the there is some evidence, but it's not an overwhelming thing."

There's definitely prestige in spending a few years at the Fed that can give a boost to an academic career, he added. "It's one of the better career moves for lots of undergraduate students. It's very competitive."

Press officers for the Federal Reserve's board of governors provided some background information for this article, but declined to make anyone available to comment on its substance.

The Fed's Intolerance For Dissent

When dissent has arisen, the Fed has dealt with it like any other institution that cherishes homogeneity.

Take the case of Alan Blinder. Though he's squarely within the mainstream and considered one of the great economic minds of his generation, he lasted a mere year and a half as vice chairman of the Fed, leaving in January 1996.

Rob Johnson, who watched the Blinder ordeal, says Blinder made the mistake of behaving as if the Fed was a place where competing ideas and assumptions were debated. "Sociologically, what was happening was the Fed staff was really afraid of Blinder. At some level, as an applied empirical economist, Alan Blinder is really brilliant," says Johnson.

In closed-door meetings, Blinder did what so few do: challenged assumptions. "The Fed staff would come out and their ritual is: Greenspan has kind of told them what to conclude and they produce studies in which they conclude this. And Blinder treated it more like an open academic debate when he first got there and he'd come out and say, 'Well, that's not true. If you change this assumption and change this assumption and use this kind of assumption you get a completely different result.' And it just created a stir inside--it was sort of like the whole pipeline of Greenspan-arriving-at-decisions was

It didn't sit well with Greenspan or his staff. "A lot of senior staff...were pissed off about Blinder -- how should we say? -- not playing by the customs that they were accustomed to," Johnson says.

And celebrity is no shield against Fed excommunication. Paul Krugman, in fact, has gotten rough treatment. "I've been blackballed from the Fed summer conference at Jackson Hole, which I used to be a regular at, ever since I criticized him," Krugman said of Greenspan in a 2007 interview with Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! "Nobody really wants to cross him."

An invitation to the annual conference, or some other blessing from the Fed, is a signal to the economic profession that you're a certified member of the club. Even Krugman seems a bit burned by the slight. "And two years ago," he said in 2007, "the conference was devoted to a field, new economic geography, that I invented, and I wasn't invited."

Three years after the conference, Krugman won a Nobel Prize in 2008 for his work in economic geography.

One Journal, In Detail

The Huffington Post reviewed the mastheads of the American Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Economic Literature, the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the Journal of Political Economy and the Journal of Monetary Economics.

HuffPost interns Googled around looking for resumes and otherwise searched for Fed connections for the 190 people on those mastheads. Of the 84 that were affiliated with the Federal Reserve at one point in their careers, 21 were on the Fed payroll even as they served as gatekeepers at prominent journals.

At the Journal of Monetary Economics, every single member of the editorial board is or has been affiliated with the Fed and 14 of the 26 board members are presently on the Fed payroll.

After the top editor, King, comes senior associate editor Marianne Baxter, who has written papers for the Chicago and Minneapolis banks and was a visiting scholar at the Minneapolis bank in '84, '85, at the Richmond bank in '97, and at the board itself in '87. She was an advisor to the president of the New York bank from '02-'05. Tim Geithner, now the Treasury Secretary, became president of the New York bank in '03.

The senior associate editors: Janice C Eberly was a Fed visiting-scholar at Philadelphia ('94), Minneapolis ('97) and the board ('97). Martin Eichenbaum has written several papers for the Fed and is a consultant to the Chicago and Atlanta banks. Sergio Rebelo has written for and was previously a consultant to the board. Stephen Williamson has written for the Cleveland, Minneapolis and Richmond banks, he worked in the Minneapolis bank's research department from '85-'87, he's on the editorial board of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, is the co-organizer of the '09 St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank annual economic policy conference and the co-organizer of the same bank's '08 conference on Money, Credit, and Policy, and has been a visiting scholar at the Richmond bank ever since '98.

And then there are the associate editors. Klaus Adam is a visiting scholar at the San Francisco bank. Yongsung Chang is a research associate at the Cleveland bank and has been working with the Fed in one position or another since '01. Mario Crucini was a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in '08 and has been a senior fellow at the Dallas bank since that year. Huberto Ennis is a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, a position he's held since '00. Jonathan Heathcote is a senior economist at the Minneapolis bank and has been a visiting scholar three times dating back to '01.

Ricardo Lagos is a visiting scholar at the New York bank, a former senior economist for the Minneapolis bank and a visiting scholar at that bank and Cleveland's. In fact, he was a visiting scholar at both the Cleveland and New York banks in '07 and '08. Edward Nelson was the assistant vice president of the St Louis bank from '03-'09.

Esteban Rossi-Hansberg was a visiting scholar at the Philadelphia bank from '05-'09 and similarly served at the Richmond, Minneapolis and New York banks.

Pierre-Daniel Sarte is a senior economist at the Richmond bank, a position he's held since '96. Frank Schorfheide has been a visiting scholar at the Philadelphia bank since '03 and at the New York bank since '07. He's done four such stints at the Atlanta bank and scholared for the board in '03. Alexander Wolman has been a senior economist at the Richmond bank since 1989.

Here is the complete response from King, the journal's editor in chief: "I think that the suggestion is a silly one, based on my own experience at least. In a 1988 article for AEI later republished in the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Review, Marvin Goodfriend (then at FRB Richmond and now at Carnegie Mellon) and I argued that it was very important for the Fed to separate monetary policy decisions (setting of interest rates) and banking policy decisions (loans to banks, via the discount window and otherwise). We argued further that there was little positive case for the Fed to be involved in the latter: broadbased liquidity could always be provided by the former. We also argued that moral hazard was a cost of banking intervention.

"Ben Bernanke understands this distinction well: he and other members of the FOMC have read my perspective and sometimes use exactly this distinction between monetary and banking policies. In difficult times, Bernanke and his fellow FOMC members have chosen to involve the Fed in major financial market interventions, well beyond the traditional banking area, a position that attracts plenty of criticism and support. JME and other economics major journals would certainly publish exciting articles that fell between these two distinct perspectives: no intervention and extensive intervention. An upcoming Carnegie-Rochester conference, with its proceeding published in JME, will host a debate on 'The Future of Central Banking'.

"You may use only the entire quotation above or no quotation at all."

Auerbach, shown King's e-mail, says it's just this simple: "If you're on the Fed payroll there's a conflict of interest."

Elyse Siegel, Julian Hattem, Jeff Muskus and Jenna Staul contributed to this report


Angry Bear

Huffington Post Editorial Standards II

Robert Waldmann

In response to a critical comment, I have decided to actually read the article which I stopped reading when it said the Journal of Monetary Economics was a must publish journal for young economists.

Ryan Grim asserts that economists don't criticize the Fed because the Fed has bought control of the economics profession.

I have three general impressions. First the sourcing is very odd. There are fairly few academic economists quoted and two of them firmly contest Ryan Grim's thesis.

Second it is assumed that the Federal Reserve System is a centrally controlled disciplined organization. Grim explicitly includes regional Federal Reserve Banks. Thus he assumes that the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is identical to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. This is a bold assumption. Finally, he is convinced that the economists who might comment on the FED are "monetary economists." I have met macroeconomists and economists who work on money banking and credit, but I don't recall ever meeting a monetary economist.

I have no idea how much influence the Fed has on the debate in the profession (really) and certainly agree that the economics profession is dangerously in bred and that it is much much much better for an economist to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right (but it's gotten better in the past 20 years).

More detailed comments after the jump.

OK editorial standards. Grims list of the journals that he considers important follows

The Huffington Post reviewed the mastheads of the American Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Economic Literature, the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the Journal of Political Economy and the Journal of Monetary Economics.

The list does not appear to include the American Economic Review which is a bit more important than the American Journal of Economics. It also doesn't include the Quarterly Journal, Econometrica, The Review of Economic Studies, The Journal of Economic Theory or, well, any of the really top journals except for the Journal of Political Economy.

The Journal of Economic Literature is mainly an index of articles. It contains review articles and book reviews (partly I think so that it can be shipped with the special rate for journals). The journal of economic perspectives doesn't really publish research exactly -- articles are meant to be easily understood so its role is, in very large part, divulgative.

Grim attempts to explain why economists didn't warn of the financial crisis before it hit, in part, by having interns google members of the boards of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy

I quote from the Wikipedia

American Economic Journal is a group of four peer-reviewed academic journals published by the American Economic Association. The names of the individual journals consist of the prefix American Economic Journal with a descriptor of the field attached. The four field journals which started in 2009 are Applied Economics, Economic Policy, Macroeconomics, and Microeconomics.
it is a bit harsh to blame the editors of journals which started publishing in 2009 for the failure to warn of the events of September 2008. I think normal courtesy would compel someone to wikipedia a journal title before having interns google its board of editors.

On lumping regional banks in with the board of governors, Grim argues that Bernanke controls the JME partly by noting that many editors of the JME are affiliated with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. This is not a joke.

Now as to the universe of critics the Fed might want to buy off. Grim assumes that it consists of "monetary economists" who are distinct from macroeconomists of finance economists. I don't think there is such a group of people (name one).
Yet oddly, he considers many people who are not monetary economists valid critics of the Fed. He quotes Joshua Rosner, a Wall Street analyst, James Galbraith (who sure knows what he's talking about but probably doesn't "list 'monetary policy, central banking, and the supply of money and credit,' as either their primary or secondary specialty," (I will write "not monetary" below) Robert Auerbach, a former investigator with the House banking committee, Jane D'Arista, a Fed critic and an economist with the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts (not monetary) Robert King (who contests his thesis and is I'd guess not monetary), a letter from Milton Friedman (OK he's got one monetary economist who criticizes the Fed), Economist Rob Johnson (OK maybe two), Ahmed Ehsan a self described monetary economist who disagrees with the thesis, and Paul Krugman (not monetary).

The thesis is that the Fed (including regional banks who take orders from the chairman evidently) controls most people who have standing to criticize the Fed. Journalistic integrity requires checking if the critics of the Fed whose standing Grim considers adequate are on his list of people who have the standing to criticize the Fed. I'd guess that at most one does (Friedman is, sadly, no longer a member of the AEA).

The economics profession is a very large very slow moving target, but it is possible to miss.

David Beckworth

For a more scholarly, even-handed look at the Fed's influence see Lawrence H. White's article on this topic:


I think Waldmann is widely off the mark with his simplistic critique of the article. Nitpicking on shortcomings he misses the whole picture which is the fact that there are perverse "academic kingdoms" in economics which guard their interests and those kingdoms are supported by state (the Fed is just one example of such support). This phenomenon is not new and is called Lysenkoism. Moreover, the fact the neoclassical economics became dominant economic paradigms make is probably one of the most important demonstrations of the fact that Lysenkoism did nor die with the USSR.

In view of this Waldmann's complain about lack of sourcing is completely naive: IMHO few of actually working economists will discuss openly this issue. Ostracism is easy as academic journal space is a very scarce resource.

BTW the unverified argument that Waldman's own articles were supposedly never rejected make his critic even more disingenuous that otherwise. Talent always face opposition from the defenders of status quo or current scientific paradigm as Thomas Kuhn explained. IMHO the only way to have articles never rejected is to became a sycophant of one of the "tsars" of dominant economic school,

[Sep 1, 2009] An Update on C. P. Snow's "Two Cultures" By Lawrence M. Krauss

A new column that examines the intersection between science and society provides an update on the historic essay

There is another factor, one that was on display at the World Science Festival in New York City this summer, which helps to undermine the role of science in society. Amid events on the cosmos, modern biology, quantum mechanics and other areas at the forefront of science, I participated in a panel discussion on science, faith and religion.

Why would such an event be a part of a science festival? We accord a special place to religion, in part thanks to groups such as the Templeton Foundation, which has spent millions annually raising the profile of "big questions," which tend to suggest that science and religious belief are somehow related and should be treated as equals.

The problem is, they are not. Ultimately, science is at best only consistent with a God that does not directly intervene in the daily operations of the cosmos, certainly not the personal and ancient gods associated with the world's great religions. Even though, as physicist Steven Weinberg has emphasized, most people who call themselves religious tend to adhere to only those bits and pieces from scripture that appeal to them, by according undue respect for ancient religious beliefs in general, we nonetheless are suggesting that they are on par with conclusions that have been drawn from centuries of rational empirical investigation.

Snow hoped for a world that is quite different from how we live today, where indifference to science has, through religious fundamentalism, sometimes morphed into open hostility about concepts such as evolution and the big bang.

Snow did not rail against religion, but ignorance. As the moderator in my panel finally understood after an hour of discussion, the only vague notions of God that may be compatible with science ensure that God is essentially irrelevant to both our understanding of nature and our actions based on it. Until we are willing to accept the world the way it is, without miracles that all empirical evidence argues against, without myths that distort our comprehension of nature, we are unlikely to bridge the divide between science and culture and, more important, we are unlikely to be fully ready to address the urgent technical challenges facing humanity.

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "C. P. Snow in New York."


Dr Huddleston:

It is true that a god who does not intervene in the natural world in any manner is compatible with science. But why stop with gods? You can postulate any entity you want with equal plausibility, so long as that entity never interacts with our reality. And nobody will fault you for that, as long as you refrain from

1) indoctrinating children in your arbitrary choice of faith

2) denigrating other people's choices because they conflict with the opinions of your imaginary friend

3) imposing your baseless beliefs on others through violence and law.

Unfortunately, these things are exactly what many people experience as "religion". If you want atheists to remain silent while you spread a system of beliefs that proclaims them sinners who are destined for eternal torment unless they recant, you need a stronger argument than the mere absence of absolute disproof.


"Judeo-Christian" doctrine is a cover phrase for "Evangelical Christian." It's been disproved as a legitimate term for nearly two decades in cultural anthropological circles. The two religions as modes of thought ("doctrines") are distinct and different: Among other things, Judaism employs a reverence for intellect, argument and "play" with its sacred texts, and has an historical ever-evolving notion of "G-d" while Christianity employs a reverence for stasis, predetermination, anti-intellectualism, anti-science, cultural-theological curbs on argumentation or debate, and "play" vis-a-vis its sacred texts means 'leave it alone' and 'God says...'

Historically the connections between the two loosely related religions have been construed by Christians as siblings while Jews see no similarity other than the Christian cultural theft or texts and personalities.

It goes without saying that from an atheist POV, both of those traditions are rife with problems that the intersection of science and cultural anthropology often resolves and thus should suggest alterations thereto. This is actually the fundamental problem with "beliefs"; in many religionisms beliefs dictate empirical facts. Krauss seems to be simply making the observation that if one cannot change beliefs to fit the facts, therein lies the gap between science and religion. That's religion's fault. If that feels "insulting" to good scientists like Huddleston, the rest of us simply have to throw up our hands at the impasse of the religionists' own making.

I know it may be tough for a PhD in physics at a religious (Christian) college to appreciate a humanities oriented distinction but, it's the 21st century and time to drop historically inaccurate canards like "Judeo-Christian." It would be nice to discuss science & culture consistent with at least anthropologically accurate terminology.


katherinebiel at 11:27 AM on 08/31/09

Science is accomplished by breaking down a problem into measurable variables. Whether or not a person believes in God is not part of this 'art' (and yes, I believe the crafting of a good study is an art). The problem with God is that the belief, or the concept, or the deity-whatever on wishes to call it, slops over the parameters of the study. Speaking from the position of a scientist, unless we know exactly the rules by how 'God' works, and take those into account, we cannot explicitly put God into a study! Right now, if one believes in God, it goes into the random error category of a study, because it must according to the rules of science.

*sigh* I guess its a sort of cultural joke. I'm sad that some people won't get it, or will take it the wrong way. I'm sad that although so many people seem to hate science, they use the discoveries of science in their lives every second of every day, and to further their belief systems.

Many of us scientists are artists of one sort or another, often later in our lives (when we aren't working 80-90 hour weeks) and we discover music and the visual arts. Snow would be pleased.

By a joke, I meant more of a mental exercise, putting an all powerful, natural world breaking deity into an experiment......It would make the results of experiments uninterpretable, if we always concluded that an experiment worked, or didn't work because God intervened.

[Aug 28, 2009] Darwin, Strauss and Popper by Robert Waldmann

Neoconservatives have expressed sympathy for "intelligent design theory," that is, creationism. This is well documented by Ronald Bailey's article in "Reason on line." Bailey discusses why neoconservatives might claim they don't believe in evolution by natural selection even though there is no scientific basis for that view.

update: link corrected thanks to VtCodger in comments.

Mainly, he suspects that it is a Strussian "noble lie," roughly that they believe that fundamentalist religion is needed for the good of society, so they pretend to agree with it. He mentions, but is not very fascinated by, the idea that this is partisan hackery -- that neoconservatives think the interests of the Republican party would be harmed if they didn't bend their knees before the fundamentalists. Of course the problem is that once one decides to lie, it is very hard to decide exactly how noble to be about it.

He doesn't mention the collosal arrogance of people who assume that biologists don't know anything relevant about biology which they don't know. I think this is always a risk in people coming from law or social sciences. They just have no clue how much evidence lies behind the claims of natural scientists and assume that they can bluff their way past biologists as they have successfully bluffed their way past say economomists.

In the second part of his article, Bailey argues that there is no scientific case against evolution by natural selection. Naturally it would come first, one normally doesn't question someone's honesty until one has exausted other options (although the NeoCons he quotes are pretty up front about how they start with the conclusion and work back to the evidence). I think the editorial decision makes sense as most Reason on Line readers don't really need to be convinced that modern biology is not all a big mistake.

I think Bailey's arguments for Darwin are weaker than his earlier analysis—not because he doesn't make a convincing case, but because he buries the lede. Basically he has a theoretical disagreement with a mathematician, then speculates about the origin of life, then asks if one can be both a Christian and a Darwinist (hint yes) and only then discusses some of the evidendence for evolution by natural selection.

But Berlinski stoutly declares in Commentary that he is no creationist. He claims merely to be engaged in critiquing the failures of Darwinism. Berlinski is particularly savage about what he regards as Darwinism's tautological character. "Time and again, biologists do explain the survival of an organism by reference to its fitness and the fitness of an organism by reference to its survival, the friction between the two concepts kindling nothing more than the observation that some creatures have been around for a very long time."

In Berlinski's view, evolutionary theory simply says that the ones that survive are the ones that survive. But that is not quite right. But that is not quite right. Darwinian natural selection sifts for useful variations among mutations, thus natural selection generates increased fitness, not just preserving the fittest. This process generates new species, species B being the descendant of earlier species A. This claim is clearly more than a tautology.

Wrong Bailey, the way to argue that something isn't a tautology is to point out a testable implication. Instead Bailey claims the stated theory is not quite right because it didn't include the word "species" even this explanation is incorrect (see below*) but the main thing is that the theory of evolution by natural selection has testable implications because organisms have detectable features which don't make any detectable difference.

The evidence for the theory became vastly vastly enormously gigantically even more immense than it was already when biologists began sequencing DNA. They found patterns explained by the idea some sequences don't matter and drift faster than others which do. Based on those sequences they can redraw the family tree of living things and lo and behold it almost exactly matches the tree drawn based on other features and based on fossils. Oh and one can check that the sequences that don't seem to matter don't matter and, so far, they don't. Before sequencing the evidence was weaker but already overwhelming based on traights which didn't seem important.

There might be another explanation for these facts, but no one has ever pretended to have one. Instead critics of biology like Berlinski and Kristol just ignore the evidence entirely. Bailey mentions it long after speculating at length about the origin of life (OK and I began indignantly typing before I read that far).

Berlinksi's claim is, I think, false as a matter of fact. Biologists do not claim that the survival of this or that species is evidence in favor of evolutionary biology. The evidence all concerns trivial things which are considered evidence of evolutionary history exactly because they have tiny or zero effect on fitness.

The quote of Berlinski (all I have read of his writings) does not disprove the hypothesis that he thinks that modern evolutionary biology is completely summed up by the phrase "the survival of the fittest." That is, indeed, a tautology. It is indeed part of the subtitle of "The Origin of Species." But I mean, to be fair to Darwin, one should at least read the full subtitle. Oh and maybe glance at the book. And to be fair to evolutionary biology, one would have to note that much evidence has been collected since then (not to mention the theory has developed).

I have Popper in the title, because Popper did the same damn thing in "The Open Society and Its Enemies." Popper at least asserted that something wasn't there -- predictions which have since been confirmed, explanations of puzzling facts, you know non tautological science -- which absolutely wasn't there. Popper, I think, assumed that he was brilliant enough to know what is written in a book after reading part (not all) of its subtitle.

* I think a biologist tried to explain this to Bailey and he didn't get it. The non tautological point is that the descendents of species A might belonge to species B and C two different species present at the same time. Now the claim that two different organisms belong to different species is *not* mere terminology -- it has an operational definition -- orgnaisms from two different species can not produce fertile offspring descended from both of them.

If evolution were always new species A replacing now extinct species B, then all we would know is that we choose to use different words for organisms of type A and B. Without a time machine, we can't test if they are two different species.

Now "survival of the fittest" does not logically imply that one species can, over time, split into two. This is a radical idea. It is also, in principle, experimentally testable, although the experiment will take a long time.

I personally think the experiment is under way and it is already clear that one species can split into 2 much more quickly than evolutionary biologists imagined. The experiment is raising fruit flies in laboratories. They are used to study genetics. Normal non mutant flies are called "wild type" but their ancestors haven't been wild for about a century now. They have been bread in labs from each other.

Interestingly when an actual wild male captured in the wild is mated with a lab bread "wild type" female, something happens called "hybrid disgenisis" which means the offspring are messed up. It is known that this is caused by a transposon (basically a very very benign virus) which keeps itself inactive in the

genome of wild fruit flies by making a repressor protein. None of that protein gets into spermatazoa so if the transposon is in one of the male's chromasomes it makes copies of itself and spreads them around inside the chromasomes of the fertilized egg.

Evidently the transposon spread through the wild population after the ancestors of the lab flies were captured.

Some of the offspring survive this process. But already there is a barrier between wild and lab fruit flies after about one century. One can imagine that another hundred years or so, wild males will not be able to produce fertile offspring with lab bread females (just a few more such latent virus like things would do it).

Now to get two whole species it has to be blocked the other way too and the lab population is very isolated (also from other insects) and divided among labs so I mean maybe experimental speciation won't occur in my grandchildren's lifetime. But it's really close.

[Aug 15, 2009] Economic fundamentalism and the minimum wage By Kathy G.

May 11, 2008 | Crooked Timber

Another thing that must be pointed out: given the anti-regulation ideological bias of the economics profession as a whole, it's not hard to imagine that studies that do find that the minimum wage has a disemployment effect are considerably more likely to be published. I'm not accusing anyone of scholarly fraud here. But the fact is, there are lots of different datasets you can use, lots of models to go with, lots of variables to include or leave out, and lots of ways to slice and dice the data. It's not unheard of for researchers to opportunistically try different models and methodologies until they hit upon one that gives them the results they want.

Here is what economist Edward Glaeser had to say in a recent paper about researcher incentives and empirical methods:

Economists are quick to assume opportunistic behavior in almost every walk of life other than our own. Our empirical methods are based on assumptions of human behavior that would not pass muster in any of our models. The solution to this problem is not to expect a mass renunciation of data mining, selective data cleaning or opportunistic methodology selection, but rather to follow Leamer's lead in designing and using techniques that anticipate the behavior of optimizing researchers.
Indeed, Krueger and Card have written a paper that provides strong evidence that "specification searching and publication bias" have led to an overrepresentation of studies that find that the minimum wage has a statistically significant disemployment effect. The ideological character of much of the economics profession in the United States suggests that there are rewards for producing scholarship that confirms the idea that the minimum wage causes unemployment, and punishment for scholarship that finds otherwise.

David Card, a highly regarded economist at Berkeley (among other honors, he won the John Bates Clark Prize, a prestigious award given every two years to the most outstanding economist under 40), has produced many of the best studies taking issue with the old conventional wisdom about the minimum wage. But he stopped studying this subject, to a large degree because the reception his research got was so hostile in some quarters of the economics profession. He said:

I've subsequently stayed away from the minimum wage literature for a number of reasons. First, it cost me a lot of friends. People that I had known for many years, for instance, some of the ones I met at my first job at the University of Chicago, became very angry or disappointed. They thought that in publishing our work we were being traitors to the cause of economics as a whole.

"Traitors to the cause of economics as a whole"! Those are strong words, especially coming from someone who seems, on the basis of interviews at least, to be a fairly mild-mannered, non-drama-queen kind of guy. And if someone who's a tenured full professor and one of the leading lights in his field took so much heat that he abandoned this line of research, what do you think the chances are that aspiring Ph.D.s and ambitious young assistant professors are going to touch this issue with a ten-foot pole?

I mentioned before that I found some of the criticisms by Murphy et al. of the 1994 Krueger and Card study to be quite legitimate. But they made other criticisms that have not been so reasonable. Here is Murphy et al. on what economic theory has to say about the minimum wage:

The implications of the theory are also simple and direct. The prediction that an artificial increase in the price of something causes less of it to be purchased is the most fundamental prediction of economics; it is called the law of demand.
Well, actually, it's not so clear that an "artificial" increase in price will necessarily cause less of the good to be purchased. For one thing, it depends on the elasticity of demand for the good. If demand is perfectly inelastic, an increase in price would not lead to a decrease in demand.

More importantly, though, it's a huge mistake to view the purchase of a unit of human labor as being exactly the same as the purchase of a widget. What economics has done is to take the models of the supply and demand of consumer goods and apply them to the supply and demand of labor. This, I believe, is fundamentally wrong-headed. Human labor and consumer goods are categorically different, and it's a big mistake to treat them as if they were interchangeable. There are a slew of institutions, norms, and other features of labor markets that do not apply to product markets.

[Aug 15, 2009] "Freshwater Rage"

Obstfeld and Rogoff would have been as clueless about the logic of temporary fiscal expansion as these guys have been. Freshwater macro became totally insular.
And hence the most surprising thing in the debate over fiscal stimulus: the raw ignorance that has characterized so many of the freshwater comments. Above all, we've seen the phenomenon of well-known economists "rediscovering" Say's Law and the Treasury view (the view that government cannot affect the overall level of demand), not because they've transcended the Keynesian refutation of these views, but because they were unaware that there had ever been such a debate.
It's a sad story. And the even sadder thing is that it's very unlikely that anything will change: freshwater macro will get even more insular, and its devotees will wonder why nobody in the real world of policy and action pays any attention to what they say.

I am not quite as pessimistic about the prospects for change, but many people have their life's work wrapped up in a particular brand of model and they will defend that work aggressively, so I do agree that it's likely to come in spite of rather than because of the old guard.

Kaleberg says...

I remember when Malcom Forbes died and his son took over his magazine. At first, it didn't change much, but after perhaps a year it lost touch with reality. The articles were all dogma and mindless sloganeering. It suddenly felt horribly familiar. As far as I could tell I was reading a rehash of Pravda. Needless to say, I canceled my subscription.

Freshwater economists and communist economics have much in common than people like to admit. Neither admits reality and both scorn the facts and any critics. They like to think of themselves as opposite poles, but for anyone living on this here earth they were hard to distinguish. The communists brought down the Soviet empire and the freshwater economists are doing their bit to destroy ours.

Bruce Wilder says...

One aspect of this "debate" that has me a little curious is the way in which the antagonists have come down to the wordy, fuzzy, hand-waving, sloganeering, semi-philosophical level, where I live, to have this fight.

Cochrane was actually very angry about the fact that Krugman used "casual" or "popular" expressions of various freshwater types to illustrate his critique, rather than fairly cite the high theory on its own terms: "Paul isn't doing his job. He's supposed to read, explain, and criticize things economists write, and real professional writing, not interviews, opeds and blog posts."

In Cochrane's criticism of the Obama stimulus proposal early in the year, he exposed the conflict between his passionate ideological commitments, where he felt obligated to re-assert the usual conservative shibboleths, on the one hand, his capacity to understand the Keynesian argument on the other. Ideology won out.

But, it raises three points, that I think are important.

One is that, if economics, as a carefully and meticulously vetted way of thinking and assembly of verified facts, is to usefully inform the public discourse, then what one says in op-eds and interviews has to be consistent with the discipline's knowledge.

A second is, that in the public discourse, one ought to be able to state, or re-state, accurately the opponent's view. This is SOP in academic reviews and panels. Yet, conservatives seem to think that it is acceptable, or tactically useful, to deliberately misunderstand progressive arguments. Deafness as a tactic.

A third is that, I suspect, that things have been structured in academic circles, in the realm of high theory and professional research, so that this conflict can never play itself out. It can happen now, in the public policy discourse, because there's a vital public policy problem, that demands a realistic response.

But, in normal academic dispute, things are set up in various ways, to prevent anyone from winning the argument. The argument goes on. But, even when someone is wrong, they don't admit it, and don't have to, and even neutral observers don't have to acknowledge it. Even the existence of a fundamental, if unsettled problem is not acknowledged. An orthodoxy is confirmed in administrative control of journals and departments; a pathetically impotent methodology is adopted. And, inconvenient "facts" are simply ignored.

I've made myself read what Cochrane has written and made available to the general public this year in this dispute. I don't think he's clueless. He can follow the Keynesian argument. But, he has very strong ideological commitments that conflict with acknowledging the Keynesian argument, and, like a lot of conservatives, who follow in the tradition of Milton Friedman (and Cochrane is doing so, explictly), it is A-OK to affirm your ideological commitments in popular writing, without regard to making it fully consistent with your professional knowledge.

Economic analysis, as done in the page of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, is not going to be as sophisticated and subtle as it might be in a professional or academic forum. But, what are the rules that relate the fora? And, why is this controversy playing itself out in the plebian blogosphere?

gordon says...

Well, there is the "life's work" theory and I wouldn't discount it. But there is also ideological bias disguised as objective research, and I wouldn't discount that, either. Kathy G. in this old post

discusses it, and quotes David Card on why he stopped publishing on minimum wages and employment. She quotes him as saying:

"I've subsequently stayed away from the minimum wage literature for a number of reasons. First, it cost me a lot of friends. People that I had known for many years, for instance, some of the ones I met at my first job at the University of Chicago, became very angry or disappointed. They thought that in publishing our work we were being traitors to the cause of economics as a whole".

It seems pretty clear to me, at least, that the role of Govt. in the US economy was an issue that was bitterly fought out in the 1930s and will have to be as bitterly fought out again. I don't see that is because of economics itself, but because of social and political developments and how they interact with the economics profession.

[Jun 4, 2009] The future of innovation

A reader sent me this article from PhysicsWorld, which considers the nature of scientific innovation. I particularly agree with Smolin's comments excerpted below. The reward structure of academic science encourages narrow specialization far too much. Tremendous lip service is paid to interdisciplinary work, but in actuality it is very risky to undertake.

Using Smolin's analogy of hill climbing, the dominant strategy today in science is:

1) self-assess own climbing ability
2) choose suitable hill (perhaps inherited from advisor!)
3) climb to local maximum (write some relevant papers with incremental results)
4) squat on hilltop and defend against all attackers (make sure everyone cites your papers; get embedded in small community of researchers defending that hill)
5) train students and postdocs on your hilltop while secretly wishing you understood what other people were doing on their hilltops -- suppressing the curiosity that originally got you into science.

From personal experience, I can tell you that as soon as you leave your little hill to cross a valley and explore somewhere else, the citations of your previous work will plummet, inhabitants of other hills will try to repel you, and funding agencies will ask why you aren't doing mainstream stuff ("he's not serious -- he keeps jumping around"). Based on this incentive system, it is easy to understand why people behave as they do.

...returns on research investment do not arrive steadily and predictably, but erratically and unpredictably, in a manner akin to intellectual earthquakes. Indeed, this idea seems to be more than merely qualitative. Data on human innovation, whether in basic science or technology or business, show that developments emerge from an erratic process with wild unpredictability. For example, as physicist Didier Sornette of the ETH in Zurich and colleagues showed a few years ago, the statistics describing the gross revenues of Hollywood movies over the past 20 years does not follow normal statistics but a power-law curve — closely resembling the famous Gutenberg— Richter law for earthquakes — with a long tail for high-revenue films. A similar pattern describes the financial returns on new drugs produced by the bio-tech industry, on royalties on patents granted to universities, or stock-market returns from hi-tech start-ups.

What we know of processes with power-law dynamics is that the largest events are hugely disproportionate in their consequences. In the metaphor of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 2007 best seller The Black Swan, it is not the normal events, the mundane and expected "white swans" that matter the most, but the outliers, the completely unexpected "black swans". In the context of history, think 11 September 2001 or the invention of the Web. Similarly, scientific history seems to pivot on the rare seismic shifts that no-one predicts or even has a chance of predicting, and on those utterly profound discoveries that transform worlds. They do not flow out of what the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn called "normal science" — the paradigm-supporting and largely mechanical working out of established ideas — but from "revolutionary", disruptive and risky science.

Squeezing life out of innovation

All of which, as Sornette has been arguing for several years, has important implications for how we think about and judge research investments. If the path to discovery is full of surprises, and if most of the gains come in just a handful of rare but exceptional events, then even judging whether a research programme is well conceived is deeply problematic. "Almost any attempt to assess research impact over a finite time", says Sornette, "will include only a few major discoveries and hence be highly unreliable, even if there is a true long-term positive trend."

This raises an important question: does today's scientific culture respect this reality? Are we doing our best to let the most important and most disruptive discoveries emerge? Or are we becoming too conservative and constrained by social pressure and the demands of rapid and easily measured returns? The latter possibility, it seems, is of growing concern to many scientists, who suggest that modern science is in danger of losing its creativity unless we can find a systematic way to build a more risk-embracing culture.

The voices making this argument vary widely. For example, the physicist Geoffrey West, who is currently president of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) in New Mexico, US, points out that in the years following the Second World War, US industry created a steady stream of paradigm-changing innovations, including the transistor and the laser, and it happened because places such as Bell Labs fostered a culture of enormously free innovation. "They brought together serious scientists — physicists, engineers and mathematicians — from across disciplines", says West, "and created a culture of free thinking without which it's hard to imagine how these ideas could have come about."

Unfortunately, today's academic and corporate cultures seem to be moving in the opposite direction, with practices that stifle risk-taking mavericks who have a broad view of science. At universities and funding agencies, for example, tenure and grant committees take decisions based on narrow criteria (focusing on publication lists, citations and impact factors) or on specific plans for near-term results, all of which inherently favour those working in established fields with well-accepted paradigms. In recent years, tightening business practices and efforts to improve efficiency have also driven corporations in a similar direction. "That may be fine in the accounting department," says West, "but it's squeezing the life out of innovation."

...But physicist Lee Smolin, currently at the Perimeter Institute, suggests that science overall requires a much broader and more coherent approach to risky science. To see the kinds of policies needed, he suggests, it is useful to note that scientists, at least in some rough approximation, follow working styles of two very different kinds, which mirror Kuhn's distinction between normal and revolutionary science.

Some scientists, he suggests, are what we might call "hill climbers". They tend to be highly skilled in technical terms and their work mostly takes established lines of insight that pushes them further; they climb upward into the hills in some abstract space of scientific fitness, always taking small steps to improve the agreement of theory and observation. These scientists do "normal" science. In contrast, other scientists are more radical and adventurous in spirit, and they can be seen as "valley crossers". They may be less skilled technically, but they tend to have strong scientific intuition — the ability to spot hidden assumptions and to look at familiar topics in totally new ways.

To be most effective, Smolin argues, science needs a mix of hill climbers and valley crossers. Too many hill climbers doing normal science, and you end up sooner or later with lots of them stuck on the tops of local hills, each defending their own territory. Science then suffers from a lack of enough valley crossers able to strike out from those intellectually tidy positions to explore further away and find higher peaks.

Posted by Steve Hsu at 7:30 AM 6 comments Links to this post

[May 15, 2009] Scientific Integrity for Economists

I am wondering how CNBC clowns can hold a Ph.D without making economic PH.Ds a joke...
The federal Office of Science and Technology Policy is taking comments on its draft principles of scientific integrity. Here's what I wrote:

I am writing to offer a comment on scientific integrity. As we know, it is important that those whose work is used to provide a scientific basis for policy decisions reveal the sources of their funding so as to avoid conflicts of interest or undisclosed potential bias. This stipulation has made gradual progress in the medical sciences in particular -- something for which we should all be grateful. Unfortunately, in my own field of economics no one makes or enforces such a rule. Economic analysis often plays a central role in decision-making, and economists are often funded by interested parties, but disclosure is nonexistent. It is unlikely that the economics profession will take the lead in remedying this situation, so we have to look to our clients. If OSTP would take a clear stand on this matter it would improve the credibility of analysis entering the regulatory process and would also have a salutary effect on the profession itself.

UPDATE: The rules for biomedical researchers may be tightening. Why can't we do this for economists?

[Apr 21, 2009] Knowledge AND Ignorance: Critique of Neoclassical Economics

Following in the tradition solidified by Samuelson (1947) during the second half of the twentieth century, there have been two trends amongst neoclassical economic theorists. The first is that neoclassical economists increasingly devise compelling, mathematically elegant hypotheses with little interest in their policy implications. The second is their reluctance to engage in conversation with alternative paradigmatic schools (eg. feminists, Marxists, Institutionalists or Post-Keynesians). In doing so they have become, as Samuels recently noted in this Journal, "anti-intellectual, believing that economics is only, or primarily, a set of techniques" (Samuels 1996: 308). Their lack of concern about being unaware of what it is that they don't know, is what I identify as ignorance-squared.

In January 1996, a group of "heterodox economi