BRIEFLY NOTED: For 2021-06-11

Things that went whizzing by that I want to remember...

First:

Wise words from Josh Marshall:

Josh MarshallLab Leaks, Contrarians & the Semiotics of Lying Your Ass Off: ‘Probably unwisely, I have waded back into the “media got it wrong about a lab leak” debate with my friends Matt Yglesias and and Jon Chait. They’re not the worst on this. But as is often the case in life you’re most ticked by people you think should know better but apparently don’t…. Last year… some commentators went from saying this was a claim with zero evidence… that… was very unlikely to calling it a ‘conspiracy theory’ which had been ‘debunked’. These aren’t the same things. But they aren’t terribly far apart either. That is especially so when the people making the claims have a history of being chronic liars….

This is one reason it’s so important to keep tabs on the discussions in right wing media… pushing… the idea that Anthony Fauci was behind the research that caused the alleged lab leak and then conspired with China to cover up the origins of virus. That’s why he should definitely be fired and possibly imprisoned… what Rand Paul and Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley are arguing now when they demand Fauci resign and be investigated. Most reporters don’t know the storyline so the hints and accusations fly over their heads…. For the authoritarian right, high velocity lying is not only a tactic. It’s strategic. John-Paul Sartre captures some of this in a passage from his 1946 book Anti-Semite and Jew:

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past…

Right-wing authoritarians are not identical to anti-Semites. But they’re closely related….. Trump backers made confident and aggressive claims for which they had no evidence. They did so because it was helpful politically to do so. They confused the matter by making a range of assertions ranging from the possible but unlikely to the defamatory and nonsensical…. We’d be fools not to be cautious because the loudest voices are still the habitual liars…

LINK: <https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/lab-leaks-contrarians-and-the-semiotics-of-lying-your-ass-off/sharetoken/Vje7D8EV7A3x>

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This is an absolutely brilliant talk:

David H. AutorWork of the Past, Work of the Future: ‘… LINK: <https://www.aeaweb.org/webcasts/2019/aea-distinguished-lecture-work-of-the-past-work-of-the-future>

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Noah is, I think, right here. But I would make two cautions: (i) this is no longer a development strategy that can make you rich, it can only make you un-poor; and (ii) there is really not that much space in this particular niche, and Bangladesh looks to have filled it for the next decade:

Noah SmithBangladesh Is the New Asian Tiger: ‘It’s succeeding using the classic formula, and defying the skeptics…. When it comes to developing countries outside East Asia or the periphery of Europe, I find that discussions of their growth prospects suddenly turn gloomy…. The official reason for pessimism is “premature deindustrialization”, and there’s some concern that labor-intensive manufacturing will be automated away. But really I think the reason is much simpler and more intuitive—we haven’t seen many countries outside of Europe or East Asia industrialize yet (the main exceptions being Malaysia, Turkey, and Israel), so it’s just not a thing people expect to happen. All those skeptics should take a look at Bangladesh. The compact but populous South Asian country has quietly been powering ahead using a very traditional-looking growth model…. How is Bangladesh managing this feat? Did it manage to create a new type of development model based on?… Nope. In fact, it’s doing the very same thing that Britain did when it became the first country to industrialize, over two centuries ago. It’s making and selling a bunch of clothes… a hub of the world’s garment industry…. This strategy didn’t just happen; it was intentional…. Bangladesh picked a traditional labor-intensive light manufacturing industry, laid out plans for promoting that industry, and successfully built a dominant position in that industry…. It’s a big victory for industrial policy…. Make no mistake—this is still a very poor country, with a per capita GDP (PPP) of only around $5800, similar to that of Ghana or Honduras…. For Americans, Bangladesh’s growth should remind us that globalization is still an incredibly powerful force for good. Access to European and U.S. export markets has been crucial…

LINK: <https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/bangladesh-is-the-new-asian-tiger>


What makes a (hu)man? And if you have never read Doug Jones’s Logarithmic History over the course of a year, you really should:

Doug JonesHomo Erectus: ’he time 1.8 million years ago has a good claim to be the time when human beings began… the new species Homo erectus, albeit somewhat shorter and smaller-brained than later erectus…. H. erectus has a bigger brain than earlier forms, and reduced jaws and teeth. And there are dramatic changes below the neck. Erectus has a body shape and size quite similar to ours. Strikingly, the changes in body form seem to be systematically related to distance running. Tendons in the feet and calves turn into springs that put a bounce in our running stride (but also rule out serious tree-climbing). Our neck gets longer and shoulders and head get more independent so we can swing arms for balance without twisting our heads from side to side. And the gluteus maximus becomes the largest muscle in the body, to prevent our bodies from toppling forward with each step. Homo erectus is the first hominin with a serious butt…. We guess… Homo erectus had shifted to a new diet and a new mode of acquiring food… a persistence hunter, running after prey until they were exhausted… Fire may or may not have played a significant role at this early stage…

LINK: <https://logarithmichistory.wordpress.com/2021/06/09/homo-erectus-6/>

Ian BurumaThe Man Who Got It Right: ‘When Confucius was asked by one of his disciples what he would do if he were given his own territory to govern, the Master replied that he would “rectify the names,” that is, make words correspond to reality. He explained (in [Simon] Leys’s translation): “If the names are not correct, if they do not match realities, language has no object. If language is without an object, action becomes impossible—and therefore, all human affairs disintegrate and their management becomes pointless. ”Leys comments that Orwell and Chesterton “would have immediately understood and approved of the idea”… LINK: <https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2013/08/15/simon-leys-man-who-got-it-right/>

Tim Duy: _Consider the Potential Sources of Spending Power: ’Strong job growth, rapid wage growth, a decrease in the savings rate, the separate issue of the ability to spend from accumulated excess saving, and the ability to tap into housing wealth via cash-out refinancing. There will be no shortage of consumer spending power this year or next. Meanwhile, PCE price inflation followed the CPI higher with core-PCE rising at an annualized 8.3% rate in April. No one really believes that inflation will be sustained at an 8.3% rate…. At this point, we can be fairly certain the economy is experiencing a substantial level shift upward in prices and wages. It is premature to say much more than that because we are not going to experience a regime change in the underlying inflation dynamics over the course of one or two or even several months. Sustained higher inflation is something that will only happen over the course of many months if demand pressure in the labor market builds into faster wage growth that feeds into faster inflation…


Luke O’NeilCommuting Is Psychological Tortured: ’“I am never going back to that commute five days a week every single week again,” a friend told me recently. Before Covid he was spending about three hours a day in his car…. “I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don’t need to actually be in an office every day to perform at a very high level at my job,” he said…. “I got used to the commute, but it was like Stockholm Syndrome,” he said. “I just talked myself into thinking it wasn’t so bad. But it was. It was. Not doing that commute gave me 15 hours per week of my life back”… a common refrain from the dozens of people I heard from this week… LINK: <https://luke.substack.com/p/commuting-is-psychological-torture>

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John Stuart MillPrinciples of Political Economy: ‘the Protectionist doctrine finds support in particular cases, from considerations which, when really in point, involve greater interests than mere saving of labour; the interests of national subsistence and of national defence. The discussions on the Corn Laws have familiarized everybody with the plea, that we ought to be independent of foreigners for the food of the people; and the Navigation Laws were grounded, in theory and profession, on the necessity of keeping up a “nursery of seamen” for the navy. On this last subject I at once admit, that the object is worth the sacrifice; and that a country exposed to invasion by sea, if it cannot otherwise have sufficient ships and sailors of its own to secure the means of manning on an emergency an adequate fleet, is quite right in obtaining those means, even at an economical sacrifice in point of cheapness of transport. When the English Navigation Laws were enacted, the Dutch, from their maritime skill and their low rate of profit at home, were able to carry for other nations, England included, at cheaper rates than those nations could carry for themselves: which placed all other countries at a great comparative disadvantage in obtaining experienced seamen for their ships of war. The Navigation Laws, by which this deficiency was remedied, and at the same time a blow struck against the maritime power of a nation with which England was then frequently engaged in hostilities, were probably, though economically disadvantageous, politically expedient. But English ships and sailors can now navigate as cheaply as those of any other country; maintaining at least an equal competition with the other maritime nations even in their own trade. The ends which may once have justified Navigation Laws, require them no longer, and afforded no reason for maintaining this invidious exception to the general rule of free trade.

With regard to subsistence, the plea of the Protectionists has been so often and so triumphantly met, that it requires little notice here. That country is the most steadily as well as the most abundantly supplied with food, which draws its supplies from the largest surface. It is ridiculous to found a general system of policy on so improbable a danger as that of being at war with all the nations of the world [921] at once; or to suppose that, even if inferior at sea, a whole country could be blockaded like a town, or that the growers of food in other countries would not be as anxious not to lose an advantageous market, as we should be not to be deprived of their corn. On the subject, however, of subsistence, there is one point which deserves more especial consideration. In cases of actual or apprehended scarcity, many countries of Europe are accustomed to stop the exportation of food. Is this, or not, sound policy? There can be no doubt that in the present state of international morality, a people cannot, any more than an individual, be blamed for not starving itself to feed others. But if the greatest amount of good to mankind on the whole, were the end aimed at in the maxims of international conduct, such collective churlishness would certainly be condemned by them. Suppose that in ordinary circumstances the trade in food were perfectly free, so that the price in one country could not habitually exceed that in any other by more than the cost of carriage, together with a moderate profit to the importer. A general scarcity ensues, affecting all countries, but in unequal degrees. If the price rose in one country more than in others, it would be a proof that in that country the scarcity was severest, and that by permitting food to go freely thither from any other country, it would be spared from a less urgent necessity to relieve a greater. When the interests, therefore, of all countries are considered, free exportation is desirable. To the exporting country considered separately, it may, at least on the particular occasion, be an inconvenience: but taking into account that the country which is now the giver will in some future season be the receiver, and the one that is benefited by the freedom, I cannot but think that even to the apprehension of food rioters it might be made apparent, that in such cases they should do to others what they would wish done to themselves.

In countries in which the Protection theory is [1848] declining, but not yet given up, such as the United States, a doctrine has come into notice which is a sort of compromise between free trade and restriction, namely, that protection for protection’s sake is improper, but that there is nothing objectionable in having as much protection as may incidentally result from a tariff framed solely for revenue. Even in England, regret is sometimes expressed that a “moderate fixed duty” was not preserved on corn, on account of the revenue it would yield. Independently, however, of the general impolicy of taxes on the necessaries of life, this doctrine overlooks the fact, that revenue is received only on the quantity imported, but that the [922] tax is paid on the entire quantity consumed. To make the public pay much that the treasury may receive a little, is not an eligible mode of obtaining a revenue. In the case of manufactured articles the doctrine involves a palpable inconsistency. The object of the duty as a means of revenue, is inconsistent with its affording, even incidentally, any protection. It can only operate as protection in so far as it prevents importation; and to whatever degree it prevents importation, it affords no revenue.

The only case in which, on mere principles of political economy, protecting duties can be defensible, is when they are imposed temporarily (especially in a young and rising nation) in hopes of naturalizing a foreign industry, in itself perfectly suitable to the circumstances of the country. The superiority of one country over another in a branch of production, often arises only from having begun it sooner. There may be no inherent advantage on one part, or disadvantage on the other, but only a present superiority of acquired skill and experience. A country which has this skill and experience yet to acquire, may in other respects be better adapted to the production than those which were earlier in the field: and besides, it is a just remark of Mr. Rae, that nothing has a greater tendency to promote improvements in any branch of production, than its trial under a new set of conditions. But it cannot be expected that individuals should, at their own risk, or rather to their certain loss, introduce a new manufacture, and bear the burthen of carrying it on until the producers have been educated up to the level of those with whom the processes are traditional. A protecting duty, continued for a reasonable time, might1 sometimes be the least inconvenient mode in which the nation can tax itself for the support of such an experiment. But it is essential that the protection should be confined to cases in which there is good ground of assurance that the industry which it fosters will after a time be able to dispense with it; nor should the domestic producers ever be allowed to expect that it will be continued to them beyond the time necessary for a fair trial of what they are capable of accomplishing.… LINK: <https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/mill-principles-of-political-economy-ashley-ed#lf0199_label_1205>

Paul KrugmanThe Economic Consequences of Canceling Keynes: ‘What should we be talking about when we talk about cancellation? It certainly doesn’t mean saying mean things — I’m not “canceling” Bitcoin advocates when I suggest that much of what they say is “libertarian derp.” It also doesn’t mean ignoring points of view that have little claim to be taken seriously; The Times is under no obligation to publish guest essays by people claiming that satanic pedophiles control the Democratic Party. But there is a real phenomenon in which powerful interests try to block the dissemination of ideas they find threatening…. Let me talk about one example I know a fair bit about: attempts to cancel Keynesian economics. I say “attempts,” plural, because it has happened twice: an overtly political attempt to block the teaching of Keynesian economics in the 1940s and ’50s, and a subtler freezing out of Keynesian ideas in the decades leading up to the 2008 financial crisis…. In the 1970s some economists began arguing that Keynesianism must be wrong, because the phenomena Keynes described couldn’t happen in an economy of perfectly rational individuals and perfectly functioning markets. You might consider this a weak critique—but in the culture of economics, with its demand for rigorous modeling, it carried weight. Defenders of Keynes, uneasy about a theory that relied on plausible descriptions of behavior rather than ineluctable mathematics, lacked all conviction; enemies of Keynes were filled with a passionate intensity. Just a few years into the anti-Keynesian backlash, influential economists were ridiculing the whole doctrine, declaring that whenever anyone engaged in Keynesian theorizing, “the audience starts to giggle and whisper to one another.”… It soon became common knowledge that major journals would not publish anything overtly Keynesian. During my own early career, I and others simply took it as a fact of life that if you wanted to get tenure, you would have to build your publication record in subfields that steered clear of the core issue of depressions and how they happen; you could sometimes smuggle some Keynesian material into your papers, but only if it came wrapped in a model that seemed to be mainly about something else. So Keynes had in effect been canceled. Then came the 2008 crisis and its aftermath, which demonstrated that Keynes had been right all along. The slump reflected a collapse in demand; governments that responded with deficit spending were able to mitigate the downturn, while those that practiced fiscal austerity made it worse. And the anti-Keynesian theories that had dominated the journals for several decades proved perfectly useless…. But the years of Keynesian cancellation had a heavy cost. Many economists entered the crisis ignorant of basic concepts that had been worked out many decades earlier, because you couldn’t publish those concepts in the journals or teach them in many (not all) graduate programs. This intellectual impoverishment, I’d argue, weakened and distorted the policy response: We had a much worse, much more prolonged slump than we might have had if the ideas needed to fight the slump hadn’t been suppressed. So yes, cancellation can be a serious issue and should be fought. Unfortunately, making that case is harder than it should be when so many privileged people conflate the real thing with not being invited to fancy dinner parties.… LINK: <https://messaging-custom-newsletters.nytimes.com/template/oakv2?CCPAOptOut=true&campaign_id=116&emc=edit_pk_20210601&instance_id=31997&nl=paul-krugman&productCode=PK&regi_id=64675225&segment_id=59554&te=1&uri=nyt%3A%2F%2Fnewsletter%2F41b9ba2a-b998-5d36-9aa2-a79dbdcec326&user_id=8a3fce2ae25b5435f449ab64b4e3e880>

Paul Krugman (2009): A Dark Age of Macroeconomics: ‘Brad DeLong is upset about the stuff coming out of Chicago these days—and understandably so. First Eugene Fama, now John Cochrane, have made the claim that debt-financed government spending necessarily crowds out an equal amount of private spending, even if the economy is depressed—and they claim this not as an empirical result, not as the prediction of some model, but as the ineluctable implication of an accounting identity. There has been a tendency, on the part of other economists, to try to provide cover—to claim that Fama and Cochrane said something more sophisticated than they did. But if you read the original essays, there’s no ambiguity—it’s pure Say’s Law, pure “Treasury view”, in each case. Here’s Fama: “The problem is simple: bailouts and stimulus plans are funded by issuing more government debt. (The money must come from somewhere!) The added debt absorbs savings that would otherwise go to private investment. In the end, despite the existence of idle resources, bailouts and stimulus plans do not add to current resources in use. They just move resources from one use to another…” And here’s Cochrane: “First, if money is not going to be printed, it has to come from somewhere. If the government borrows a dollar from you, that is a dollar that you do not spend, or that you do not lend to a company to spend on new investment. Every dollar of increased government spending must correspond to one less dollar of private spending. Jobs created by stimulus spending are offset by jobs lost from the decline in private spending. We can build roads instead of factories, but fiscal stimulus can’t help us to build more of both.1 This is just accounting, and does not need a complex argument about ‘crowding out’…”. There’s no ambiguity in either case: both Fama and Cochrane are asserting that desired savings are automatically converted into investment spending, and that any government borrowing must come at the expense of investment — period. What’s so mind-boggling about this is that it commits one of the most basic fallacies in economics—interpreting an accounting identity as a behavioral relationship.… LINK: <https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/a-dark-age-of-macroeconomics-wonkish/>