Building arguments from a predetermined endpoint — whether it be in constitutional law or comparative history — no matter how moral it may be or otherwise desired by the author, may make for an effective polemic, at least for the ideologically converted, but leaves much to be desired as a work of scholarship.
Much ink has been spilled over the origins of the European Renaissance but not nearly as much on the causes of the contemporaneous stagnation in the Islamic world. Among such causes can be counted the continual replacement of the Arab and Persian elites by the successive waves of conquest, first by the Mongols, who irretrievably damaged the vitality of the Islamic, followed by the newly arrived Turks, themselves not much different from their close predecessors. While the Arabs were still in awe of Roman past, Mongols and Turks where strong despisers of all things urban, and consequently they were much less interested in preservation of the conquered people’s past than in the traditions of their own. By the time of their complete ensconcement — when they began to grow native — the damage had been done and Europe was already far ahead.
Despite assertions to the contrary, the only thing that crowds predict well is their own imminent behavior. Thus it is no surprise that betting markets fail to forecast the actions of an unrelated group in camera.
It seems that there is a disturbing trend in scientific discourse to ever-greater use of argumentation from authority. A case in point is the ongoing and very public spat between E.O. Wilson on one side and Richard Dawkins, along with other luminaries such as Steven Pinker on the other. Continue reading
The debate around remedies for excessive healthcare costs in the United States usually aligns along one of two arguments: expansion of fiscal support for patients, up to and including introduction of single-payer insurance, or else eliminating or reducing third-party payments altogether. Both of these solutions attack only the demand side of the equation, however, and so both are powerless to resolve the issue. Continue reading
Conducting social, economic and international policy according to theory and treating it as proven fact amounts to conducting experiments on the unsuspecting public, as if they are nothing more than Guinea pigs, but without any scientific rigor that one would at least expect in the conduct of any respectable experiment.
The endless arguments in the ongoing war between the Right and Left, not to mention between East and West and among any number of other bifurcations, ultimately resolve to the question of what their respective adherents believe about human nature. This implies that, broadly, all culture flows out of its founding myth, and may in fact be comprised of the mythology believed by the adherents. Since all mythology of necessity simplifies or falsifies complex reality to fit the framework, all culture in thus a way is rooted in a lie, a lie about itself and a complementary one about its opponents. Since foundational mythologies are hard indeed to shake off, the prospect of peaceful coexistence among cultures is no brighter in the future than is has been in the past.
For all the work being done in macroeconomics, it seems that much of the conflict between the various prescriptions is caused by a lack of a realistic definition of economic growth. The current reliance on the change in real GDP is misleading because it is based on a deflator that does not take into account all drivers of monetary inflation, most notably asset values, and understates appreciation due to technological change. Additionally, it does not take into account the leverage imposed on the economy in the course of doing business. Accordingly, it becomes just as easy to advocate policies that buy current growth at the expense of future as it is to advocate current over-investment without regard for the inevitable reckoning. Until a good measure of inflation that reflects reality is introduced and a measure of growth can be developed that accounts for the changes in leverage and population, we will continue to suffer from short-termism in prescriptions and the resulting conflicts among the producing and investing interests.