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August 31, 2014

John Jacob Astor on Why His Son Gave More to Charity

John Jacob Astor . . . enjoyed making fun of his own foibles, including his carefully restrained charitable instincts. One day when a man dropped by his office to solicit a contribution to some worthy cause, Astor grumpily wrote out a check. Looking at the paltry amount from the richest man in the country in some dismay, the man said that Astor's son, William, had already given twice as much.

"Ah, well," replied Astor, "but then William has a rich man for a father."


Klepper, Michael, and Robert Gunther. "The American Heritage 40." American Heritage 49, no. 6 (Oct. 1998): 56-66.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 30, 2014

Rollin King Found Legal Way to Avoid Fed's Regulations

(p. 25) Rollin W. King, a co-founder of Southwest Airlines, the low-cost carrier that helped to change the way Americans travel, died Thursday [June 26, 2014] in Dallas. He was 83.

. . .

The concept for Southwest came to Mr. King when he noticed that businessmen in Texas were willing to charter planes instead of paying the high fares of the domestic airlines.

At the time that Mr. King first proposed the idea to Mr. Kelleher over drinks, the federal government regulated the fares, schedules and routes of interstate airlines, and the mandated prices were high.

Competitors like Texas International Airlines, Braniff International Airways and Continental Airlines waged a protracted legal battle before Southwest could make its first flight. By not flying across state borders, Southwest was able to get around prices set by the Civil Aeronautics Board.

For the full obituary, see:

MICHAEL CORKERY. "Rollin King, 83, Pilot Who Helped Start Southwest Airlines." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., June 29, 2014): 25.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 28, 2014, and has the title "Rollin King, Texas Pilot Who Helped Start Southwest, Dies at 83.")

August 29, 2014

Notaries Were Useful in a Contractual Society

(p. 111) Notaries were not figures of great dignity, but in a contractual and intensely litigious culture, they were legion. The Florentine notary Lapo Mazzei describes six or seven hundred of them crowded into (p. 112) the town hall, carrying under their arms bundles of documents, " each folder thick as half a bible." Their knowledge of the law enabled them to draw up local regulations, arrange village elections, compose letters of complaint. Town officials who were meant to administer justice often had no clue how to proceed; the notaries would whisper in their ears what they were meant to say and would write the necessary documents. They were useful people to have around.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

August 28, 2014

"A Few Really Good Artisanal Cheese Shops Is No Substitute for a Strong School System"

(p. 836) Moretti's writing on the "creative class" takes issue with policies associated with Richard Florida, who has exerted a considerable influence on local policymakers worldwide. Moretti uses the example of Berlin, which is a cool place full of creative types but still isn't much of an economic powerhouse, to make the case against Florida's recommendations.

. . .

A problem exists if city governments start thinking that their main job is to be hip rather than competent. Having a few really good artisanal cheese shops is no substitute for a strong school system. Local leaders would do well to remember that an externality-creating skilled resident is as likely to be a forty-two-year-old mother who works in (p. 837) a lab as a twenty-five-year-old looking for a good time. The forty-two-year-old's tastes in local amenities are likely to be quite different from those of the twenty-five-year-old. If Moretti's caution against creative class policies achieves that end, then it will have done something quite positive.

For the full review, see:

Glaeser, Edward. "A Review of Enrico Moretti's the New Geography of Jobs." Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 3 (Sept. 2013): 825-37.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book under review is:

Moretti, Enrico. The New Geography of Jobs. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2012.

August 27, 2014

Big Increase in Costs of Adhering to Moore's Law

(p. 219) Harald Bauer, Jan Veira, and Florian Weig consider "Moore's Law: Repeal or Renewal?" "Moore's law states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years, and for the past four decades it has set the pace for progress in the semiconductor industry. . . . Adherence to Moore's law has led to continuously falling semiconductor prices. Per-bit prices of dynamic random-access memory chips, for example, have fallen by as much as 30 to 35 percent a year for several decades. . . . Some estimates ascribe up to 40 percent of the global productivity growth achieved during the last two decades to the expansion of information and communication technologies made possible by semiconductor performance and cost improvements." But this continued technological progress comes at an ever-higher price. "A McKinsey analysis shows that moving from 32nm (p. 220) to 22nm nodes on 300-millimeter (mm) wafers causes typical fabrication costs to grow by roughly 40 percent. It also boosts the costs associated with process development by about 45 percent and with chip design by up to 50 percent. These dramatic increases will lead to process-development costs that exceed $1 billion for nodes below 20nm. In addition, the state-of-the art fabs needed to produce them will likely cost $10 billion or more. As a result, the number of companies capable of financing next-generation nodes and fabs will likely dwindle." McKinsey Global Institute, December 2013, http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/moores_law_repeal_or_renewal.


Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 213-20.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

August 26, 2014

Butter Is Back

(p. B1) Changing views of nutrition are turning butter into one of the great comeback stories in U.S. food history.

. . .

The revival flows in part from new legions of home gourmets inspired by celebrity chefs and cooking shows with butter-rich recipes. Butter makers have encouraged the trend, using food channels and websites to promote what they say is their products' natural simplicity.

Butter's shifting fortunes also reflect the vicissitudes of thinking on healthy eating that rattle the national diet. Families for decades opted for vegetable spreads because of concerns about butter's high concentration of saturated fat, only to be told more recently that the trans fats traditionally contained in margarine are just as unhealthy. Many Americans also have altered their thinking on how important reducing all fat is for controlling weight.

For the full story, see:

KELSEY GEE. "Butter Makes Comeback as Margarine Loses Favor." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 26, 2014): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the last quoted sentence was in the online, but not the print, version.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 25, 2014, and has the title "Butter Makes Comeback as Margarine Loses Favor.")

August 25, 2014

Human Freedom and Dignity Lived in Florence

(p. 125) Ancona was, like Florence, an independent commune, and Salutati was urging its citizens to revolt against the papal government that had been imposed upon them: " Will you always stand in the darkness of slavery? Do you not consider, O best of men, how sweet liberty is? Our ancestors, indeed the whole Italian race, fought for five hundred years . . . so that liberty would not be lost ." The revolt he was trying to incite was, of course, in Florence's strategic interest, but in attempting to arouse a spirit of liberty, Salutati was not being merely cynical. He seems genuinely to have believed that Florence was the heir to the republicanism on which ancient Roman greatness had been founded. That greatness, the proud claim of human freedom and dignity, had all but vanished from the broken, dirty streets of Rome, the debased staging ground of sordid clerical intrigues, but it lived, in Salutati's view, in Florence. And he was its principal voice.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

August 24, 2014

U.S. Constitution Reflects Lockean Natural Rights

(p. A13) Over the past three decades, Richard A. Epstein has repeatedly argued--with analytical rigor and astonishing erudition--that governments govern best when they limit their actions to protecting liberty and property. He is perhaps best known for "Takings," his 1995 book on the losses that regulations impose on property owners. Of late, he has exposed the flaws of a government-administered health system.

In "The Classical Liberal Constitution," Mr. Epstein takes up the political logic of our fundamental law. The Constitution, he says, reflects above all John Locke's insistence on protecting natural rights--rights that we possess simply by virtue of our humanity. Their protection takes concrete form in the Constitution by restricting the federal government to specific, freedom-advancing and property-protecting tasks, such as establishing a procedurally fair justice system, minting money as a stable repository of value, preserving a national trade zone among the states, and, not least, guarding the rights listed in the Bill of Rights.

For the full review, see:

JOHN O. MCGINNIS. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Classical Liberal Constitution,' by Richard A. Epstein; Our understanding of the Constitution lost its way when we embraced the idea that rights are created by a benevolent state." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 23, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 23, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Classical Liberal Constitution,' by Richard A. Epstein; Our understanding of the Constitution lost its way when we embraced the idea that rights are created by a benevolent state.")

The book under review is:

Epstein, Richard A. The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

August 23, 2014

The Vagueness and Regulatory Discretion of Dodd-Frank Is "a Recipe for Cronyism"

(p. 218) Aaron Steelman has an "Interview" with John Cochrane. On Dodd-Frank: "I think Dodd-Frank repeats the same things we've been trying over and over again that have failed, in bigger and bigger ways. . . . The deeper problem is the idea that we just need more regulation--as if regulation is something you pour into a glass like water--not smarter and better designed regulation. Dodd-Frank is pretty bad in that department. It is a long and vague law that spawns a mountain of vague rules, which give regulators huge discretion to tell banks what to do. It's a recipe for cronyism and for banks to game the system to limit competition." On how to stop bailing out large financial institutions: "You have to set up the system ahead of time so that you either can't or won't need to conduct bailouts. Ideally, both. . . . The worst possible system is one in which everyone thinks bailouts are coming, but the government in fact does not have the legal authority to bail out." . . . Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Third Quarter 2013, pp. 34-38. https://www.richmondfed


Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

(Note: italics, and first two ellipses, are in original; the last ellipsis is added.)

August 22, 2014

The Great Lakes Return to Greatness

(p. 16) But after reaching historic lows in 2013, water levels in the Great Lakes are now abruptly on the rise, a development that has startled scientists and thrilled just about everybody with a stake in the waterfront, including owners of beach houses, retailers in tourist areas and dockmasters who run marinas on the lakeshore.

Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior are at least a foot higher than they were a year ago, and are expected to rise three more inches over the next month. Lake Ontario and Lake Erie are seven to nine inches higher than a year ago.

For the full story, see:

JULIE BOSMAN. "Creeping Up on Unsuspecting Shores: The Great Lakes, in a Welcome Turnaround." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JUNE 29, 2014): 16 & 20.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 28, 2014.)

August 21, 2014

Salutati Defended the Independence of Florence

(p. 124) The independence of Florence--the fact that it was not a client of another state, that it was not dependent on the papacy, and that it was not ruled by a king, a tyrant, or a prelate but governed by a body of its own citizens--was for Salutati what most mattered in the world. His letters, dispatches, protocols, and manifestos, written on behalf of the ruling priors of Florence, are stirring documents, and they were read and copied throughout Italy.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

August 20, 2014

The Process Innovation Called "Fracking"

(p. B1) I have come to North Dakota to observe the fracking of the Irene Kovaloff 11-18H, a well on the southern edge of the Bakken Shale. It is one of one hundred wells that will be fracked in the U.S. on this particular day in October 2012, 10 in North Dakota alone.

. . .

(p. B2) The hydraulic heart of fracking is the liquid pumped into the well. Almost all of it is water: snowmelt from the upper Rockies. In the Bakken and elsewhere, companies transform the water into a viscous liquid designed to carry sand deep into the new fractures. As it heats up underground, the gel reverts to a watery state. This change allows the sand to drop out and remain in the fractures, holding them open like pillars in a coal mine. The water flows back out.

. . .

Water and guar make up about 99.1% of the liquid; the chemicals are the rest.

. . .

The next night, the 30th frack of the Irene Kovaloff is completed. It takes three hours longer than expected, but otherwise the well is a success. Soon came light, sweet Bakken crude mixed with the water. On its first full day, it produced 800 barrels of crude--a good, but not great, result. By early 2013, Marathon had pulled 20,000 barrels of crude from the well. Considering that the oil had been locked away until the frack, it was good enough.

For the full article, see:

RUSSELL GOLD. "Book Excerpt: A Look Inside America's Fracking Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2014): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 7, 2014, and has the title "Book Excerpt: A Look Inside America's Fracking Boom.")

Gold's article was excerpted from his book:

Gold, Russell. The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

August 19, 2014

Political Entrepreneurs Can Find Ways to Overcome Vested Interests

[p. 202] In their recent book, Leighton and López (2013) place special emphasis on political entrepreneurship in making policy reform possible. For new ideas to overcome vested interests, they write (p. 134), it must be the case that "entrepreneurs notice and exploit those loose spots in the structure of ideas, institutions, and incentives." They provide four case studies of this process: spectrum license auctions, airline deregulation, welfare reform, and housing finance. In their words (p. 178): "[T]he public face of political change may be that of a madman, an intellectual, or an academic scribbler. But whatever form these leaders may take, they are political entrepreneurs--people whose ideas and actions are focused on producing change." As these authors stress, political entrepreneurship can be socially harmful, as when the pursuit of individual rents comes at the expense of overall inefficiency. But the returns from shifting the political transformation frontier out can be very large as well.

. . .

(p. 206) I owe a special debt to the recent book by Edward López and Wayne Leighton (2012 sic) for stimulating me to put down on paper a number of ideas I had been mulling over for some time.


Rodrik, Dani. "When Ideas Trump Interests: Preferences, Worldviews, and Policy Innovations." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 189-208.

(Note: the bracketed page number refers to the Rodrik article; the page number in parentheses refers to the Leighton and López book; ellipsis added; italics, and the bracketed letter, in the original.)

The book Rodrik discusses is:

Leighton, Wayne A., and Edward J. López. Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.

August 18, 2014

"The Lone Commando Who Answers to No One and Breaks Rules to Save Patients Is No Longer a Viable Job Description"

(p. D5) A keen sense of loss permeates "Code Black," an affecting love letter from a young doctor to his hospital. Over the years, plenty of similar romances have been immortalized in book form, but this may be the first to play out as a documentary, and is surely the first to emerge from our newly reformed health care climate. You'd think you'd be in for some celebration.

But not in the least. In fact, among all its familiar themes, the film's most striking is the profound sense of estrangement between the young doctors on the screen and all the recent efforts at improving the health care system. The spirit that brought them to medicine and keeps them there, they say over and over, was never even part of the national discussion.

. . .

. . . , as their department chairman points out, the day of the cowboy doctor is over; the lone commando who answers to no one and breaks rules to save patients is no longer a viable job description. Newly smothered in paperwork and quality control, many of these young doctors grieve for a self-image that has ridden off into the sunset.

For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D.. "Saving Lives and Pushing Paper." The New York Times (Tues., July 1, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 30, 2014.)

August 17, 2014

Salutati Imitated Antiquity "in Order to Produce Something New"

(p. 124) " I have always believed," Salutati wrote . . . , that "I must imitate antiquity not simply to reproduce it, but in order to produce something new. . . ."


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: first ellipsis added, second ellipsis in original.)

August 16, 2014

Process Innovations, Allowed by Deregulation, Creatively Destroyed Railroads

(p. A11) In "American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century," transportation economists Robert E. Gallamore and John R. Meyer provide a comprehensive account of both the decline and the revival.   . . .    They point to excessive government regulation of railroad rates and services as the catalyst for the industry's decay.

. . .

. . . deregulation, Mr. Gallamore and Meyer demonstrate, was a process of creative destruction. Conrail was created by the government in 1976 in a risky, last-ditch attempt to rescue Penn Central and other bankrupt Eastern railroads. It was quickly losing $1 million a day, and its plight helped make the case for the major revamp of railroad regulation that came in 1980. A wave of mergers followed, and the new companies slashed routes and employees on the way to profitability. The shrinking of the national rail system helped, too, as freight companies consolidated traffic on a smaller (and therefore cheaper) network. Freight-train crews were cut to two or three people from four or five. Cabooses were replaced by electronic gear at the end of freight trains.

For the full review, see:

DANIEL MACHALABA. "BOOKSHELF; Long Train Runnin'; Track conditions got so bad in the 1970s that stationary freight cars were falling off the rails thanks to rotting crossties." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 9, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 8, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'American Railroads' by Robert E. Gallamore and John R. Meyer; Track conditions got so bad in the 1970s that stationary freight cars were falling off the rails thanks to rotting crossties.")

The book under review is:

Gallamore, Robert E., and John R. Meyer. American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

August 15, 2014

Flexibility of System of Industrial Relations Makes German Economy Strong

(p. 183) We have argued that the remarkable transformation of the German economy from the "sick man of Europe" to a lean and highly competitive economy within little more than a decade is rooted in the inherent flexibility of the German system of industrial relations. This system allowed German industry to react appropriately and flexibly over time to the demands of German unification, and the global challenges of a new world economy.


Dustmann, Christian, Bernd Fitzenberger, Uta Schoenberg, and Alexandra Spitz-Oener. "From Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar: Germany's Resurgent Economy." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 167-88.

August 14, 2014

Dogs, and Movie About Dog, Banned in Iran

(p. D6) In Jafar Panahi's new movie, a writer in Iran smuggles his pet dog into his home inside a tote bag. The film, "Closed Curtain," addresses Iranian lawmakers' recent ban on dog-walking in public, part of an effort to curb perceived Western influences including keeping pets. For two decades, Mr. Panahi has captured such vagaries of life in his native country.

"Closed Curtain," which won the best screenplay award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, opens at New York City's Film Forum on July 9. It is Mr. Panahi's second film since December 2010, when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court banned him from making movies for 20 years.

For the interview with Panahi, see:

TOBIAS GREY. "An Iranian Director's Best Friend." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 27, 2014): D6.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 26, 2014, an has the title "Iranian Director Flouts Ban on Filming.")

August 13, 2014

"In the Name of God and of Profit"

Writing of the period of the mid to late 1300s in the area of Florence:

(p. 114) The surviving archive of a single great merchant of this period, Francesco di Marco Datini of nearby Prato--not, by any means, the greatest of these early capitalists--contains some 150,000 letters, along with 500 account books or ledgers, 300 deeds of partnership, 400 insurance policies, several thousand bills of lading, letters of advice, bills of exchange, and checks. On the first pages of Datini's ledgers were inscribed the words: "In the name of God and of profit."


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

August 12, 2014

The "Miasmic Smog" of Europe's Nostalgia "Stifled the Imaginations of Those Who Stayed"

(p. D12) Most people remember Mr. Drucker, a longtime contributor to the Journal who died in 2005, as the most influential management consultant of the 20th century. What they may not know is that, like Mr. Zweig, he was born in Austria and fled from the Nazis when Hitler came to power. What's more, Mr. Drucker's memories of prewar Vienna, which he compared in "Adventures of a Bystander" to Atlantis, Plato's imaginary island paradise that fell from favor with the gods and disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean, are no less richly evocative than those in "The World of Yesterday."

. . .

Born in 1909, three decades after Mr. Zweig, [Drucker] concluded as a young man that Europe's nostalgia for its prewar past was a "miasmic smog" that stifled the imaginations of those who stayed there. So he emigrated to the U.S., where he found an open society that was bumptiously naive but also vital and forward-looking: "Unlike Europe, where it was felt that 'the center cannot hold,' the 'center' held in America. Society and community were sound, hale, indeed triumphant." And whereas Mr. Zweig succumbed at last to despair, Mr. Drucker unhesitatingly embraced America's democratic culture and flourished, building a new career for himself.

For the full essay/review, see:

TERRY TEACHOUT. "SIGHTINGS; One War, Two Fates." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 6, 2014): D12.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay/review has the date June 5, 2014.)

The Drucker book discussed by Teachout is:

Drucker, Peter F. Adventures of a Bystander. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

August 11, 2014

Lynas Apologizes for Organizing Anti-GM (Genetic Modification) Movement

(p. 115) More than a decade and a half since the commercialization of first-generation agricultural biotechnology, concerns about transgenic crop impacts on human and environmental health remain, even though the experience across a cumulative 1.25 billion hectares suggests the relative safety of first-generation genetically engineered seed. The risks posed by agricultural biotechnology warrant continued attention, and new transgenic crops may pose different and bigger risks. Weighing against uncertain risks are benefits from increased food production, reduced insecticide use, and avoided health risks to food consumers and farm workers. At the same time, adoption is shown to increase herbicide use while reducing herbicide toxicity, save land by boosting yields while also making previously unfarmed lands profitable. Adoption benefits food consumers and farmers but also enriches seed companies that enjoy property right protections over new seed varieties. The (p. 116) balance of scientific knowledge weighs in favor of continued adoption of genetically engineered seed, which may explain why some longtime critics have reversed course. For example, Lord Melchett, who was the head of Greenpeace, has been advising biotechnology companies on overcoming constraints to the technology (St. Clair and Frank forthcoming). Mark Lynas, a journalist and organizer of the anti-GM (genetic modification) movement, publicly apologized for helping start the movement in his "Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference" (2013).

Agricultural biotechnology remains regulated by regimes developed at the introduction of the technology. Whereas precaution may have been appropriate before the relative magnitudes of risks and benefits could be empirically observed, accumulated knowledge suggests overregulation is inhibiting the introduction of new transgenic varieties. Regulation also discourages developing-country applications, where benefits are likely greatest. In the future, new genetic traits may promise greater benefits while also posing novel risks of greater magnitudes than existing traits. Efficient innovation and technology adoption will require different and, perhaps, more stringent regulation in the future, as well as continued insights from researchers, including economists, in order to assess evolving costs and benefits.


Barrows, Geoffrey, Steven Sexton, and David Zilberman. "Agricultural Biotechnology: The Promise and Prospects of Genetically Modified Crops." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 99-120.

August 10, 2014

McCloskey's "Great Fact" of "the Ice-Hockey Stick"


Source of image: http://www.bombayharbor.com/productImage/Ice_Hockey_Stick/Ice_Hockey_Stick.jpg

(p. 2) Economic history has looked like an ice-hockey stick lying on the ground. It had a long, long horizontal handle at $3 a day extending through the two-hundred-thousand-year history of Homo sapiens to 1800, with little bumps upward on the handle in ancient Rome and the early medieval Arab world and high medieval Europe, with regressions to $3 afterward--then a wholly unexpected blade, leaping up in the last two out of the two thousand centuries, to $30 a day and in many places well beyond.

. . .

(p. 48) The heart of the matter is sixteen. Real income per head nowadays exceeds that around 1700 or 1800 in, say, Britain and in other countries that have experienced modern economic growth by such a large factor as sixteen, at least. You, oh average participant in the British economy, go through at least sixteen times more food and clothing and housing and education in a day than an ancestor of yours did two or three centuries ago. Not sixteen percent more, but sixteen multiplied by the old standard of living. You in the American or the South Korean economy, compared to the wretchedness of former Smiths in 1653 or Kims in 1953, have done even better. And if such novelties as jet travel and vitamin pills and instant messaging are accounted at their proper value, the factor of material improvement climbs even higher than sixteen--to eighteen, or thirty, or far beyond. No previous episode of enrichment for the average person approaches it, not the China of the Song Dynasty or the Egypt of the New Kingdom, not the glory of Greece or the grandeur of Rome.

No competent economist, regardless of her politics, denies the Great Fact.


McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 9, 2014

20 Years Before Fall of Rome, Ammianus Described "a World Exhausted by Crushing Taxes"

(p. 48) . . . ghosts surged up from the Roman past. An ancient literary critic who had flourished during Nero's reign and had written notes and glosses on classical authors; another critic who quoted extensively from lost epics written in imitation of (p. 49) Homer; a grammarian who wrote a treatise on spelling that Poggio knew his Latin-obsessed friends in Florence would find thrilling. Yet another manuscript was a discovery whose thrill might have been tinged for him with melancholy: a large fragment of a hitherto unknown history of the Roman Empire written by a high-ranking officer in the imperial army, Ammianus Marcellinus. The melancholy would have arisen not only from the fact that the first thirteen of the original thirty-one books were missing from the manuscript Poggio copied by hand--and these lost books have never been found--but also from the fact that the work was written on the eve of the empire's collapse. A clearheaded, thoughtful, and unusually impartial historian, Ammianus seems to have sensed the impending end. His description of a world exhausted by crushing taxes, the financial ruin of large segments of the population, and the dangerous decline in the army's morale vividly conjured up the conditions that made it possible, some twenty years after his death, for the Goths to sack Rome.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 8, 2014

Lack of Innovation, Not Globalization, Killed U.S. Furniture Industry

The following is from a review by Marc Levinson, one of our leading experts on process innovation. I'm guessing that there is more wisdom in the review than in the book being reviewed:

(p. C6) . . . it was not by chance that the U.S. furniture industry provided easy pickings for foreign manufacturers.

In the 1990s, U.S. furniture making was a backward industry. Its productivity--the efficiency with which capital and labor are put to use--grew only one-third as fast as in manufacturing overall. While firms in other industries were investing in laser cutters and five-axis milling machines, furniture makers were devoting only 2.6% of their revenue to capital investment. Instead, they relied heavily on cheap labor, paying their average worker 29% less than the average in all manufacturing.

Nor was there much innovation. When Ikea's flat-pack furniture, designed to minimize shipping costs and leave assembly to the purchaser, arrived in the United States in 1985, American manufacturers had nothing like it. Ms. Macy reports that Universal Furniture cut costs by designing for efficient production at high volume; U.S. manufacturers did not. Similarly, when JBIII countered the distant Chinese by guaranteeing that Vaughan-Bassett would deliver orders within a week, his own company's credit and delivery departments couldn't cope.

Globalization takes the blame for many ills these days. But the implosion that Ms. Macy chronicles owes less to import competition than to executives in a sheltered industry who failed to keep up with a changing world.

For the full, largely negative, review, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "Made in America; It's not easy to copyright a furniture design--and somebody will always come along and make it for less." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Factory Man' by Beth Macy; It's not easy to copyright a furniture design--and somebody will always come along and make it for less.")

The book being mainly panned is:

Macy, Beth. Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.

August 7, 2014

Nobel-Prize-Winner Views Success as Rigged (Except for Nobel Prizes)

(p. 245) . . . , Solow interprets the evidence on intergenerational mobility as showing that the economy is not very meritocratic. (Oddly, he exempts the economics profession. He seems to believe that lack of success is often the result of bad luck or a rigged system, unless you are an economist, in which case it's your own fault.) Although I noted in my article that those born into extreme poverty face particularly difficult obstacles, I view the rest of the economy as more meritocratic than Solow does. In addition to the Kaplan and Rauh study, I recommend a popular book called The Millionaire Next Door (Stanley and Danko 1996). Written by two marketing professors who extensively surveyed high net worth individuals, the book reports that the typical millionaire is not someone who was born into wealth but rather is someone who has worked hard and lived frugally.


Mankiw, N. Gregory. "Correspondence: Response from N. Gregory Mankiw." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 244-45.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

The Stanley and Danko book that Mankiw praises (and I use in my Economics of Entrepreneurship seminar) is:

Stanley, Thomas J., and William D. Danko. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy. First ed. Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1996.

August 6, 2014

"Different Structural Models Can Fit Aggregate Macroeconomic Data About Equally Well"

(p. 1149) There is an apparent lack of encompassing-forecasting and economic models that can explain the facts uniformly well across business cycles. This is perhaps an inevitable outcome given the changing nature of business cycles. The fact that business cycles are not all alike naturally means that variables that predict activity have a performance that is episodic. Notably, we find that term spreads were good predictors of economic activity in the 1970s and 1980s, but that credit spreads have fared better more recently. This is of course a challenge for forecasters, as we do (p. 1150) not know the origins of future business cycle fluctuations. Much needs to be learned to determine which and how financial variables are to be monitored in real time especially in an evolving economy when historical data do not provide adequate guidance.

Explanations for the Great Recessions usually involve some form of nonlinearity. The sudden nature of the downturn following the collapse of Lehman is consistent with nonlinearity being part of the transmission mechanism. At the same time, we lack robust evidence of nonlinearity from aggregate low-frequency macroeconomic data. Essentially, there is an identification issue as different structural models can fit aggregate macroeconomic data about equally well.

For the full article, see:

Ng, Serena, and Jonathan H. Wright. "Facts and Challenges from the Great Recession for Forecasting and Macroeconomic Modeling." Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 4 (Dec. 2013): 1120-54.

August 5, 2014

"A Unique Moment in History . . . When Man Stood Alone"

(p. 71) . . . , something noted in one of his letters by the French novelist Gustave Flaubert: "Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone." No doubt one could quibble with this claim. For many Romans at least, the gods had not actually ceased to be--even the Epicureans, sometimes reputed to be atheists, thought that gods existed, though at a far remove from the affairs of mortals--and the "unique moment" to which Flaubert gestures, from Cicero (106-43 BCE) to Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE), may have been longer or shorter than the time frame he suggests. But the core perception is eloquently borne out by Cicero's dialogues and by the works found in the library of Herculaneum. Many of the early readers of those works evidently lacked a fixed repertory of beliefs and practices reinforced by what was said to be the divine will. They were men and women whose lives were unusually free of the dictates of the gods (or their priests). Standing alone, as Flaubert puts it, they found themselves in the peculiar position of choosing among sharply divergent visions of the nature of things and competing strategies for living.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 4, 2014

Did Intel Succeed in Spite of, or Because of, Tension Between Noyce and Grove?

(p. C5) . . . , much more so than in earlier books on Intel and its principals, the embedded thread of "The Intel Trinity" is the dirty little secret few people outside of Intel knew: Andy Grove really didn't like Bob Noyce.

. . .

(p. C6) . . . there's the argument that one thing a startup needs is an inspiring, swashbuckling boss who lights up a room when he enters it and has the confidence to make anything he's selling seem much bigger and more important than it actually is. And Mr. Malone makes a compelling case that Noyce was the right man for the job in this phase of the company. "Bob Noyce's greatest gift, even more than his talent as a technical visionary," Mr. Malone writes, "was his ability to inspire people to believe in his dreams, in their own abilities, and to follow him on the greatest adventure of their professional lives."

. . .

Noyce hid from Mr. Grove, who was in charge of operations, the fact that Intel had a secret skunk works developing a microprocessor, a single general-purpose chip that would perform multiple functions--logic, calculation, memory and power control. Noyce had the man who was running it report directly to him rather than to Mr. Grove, even though Mr. Grove was his boss on the organizational chart. When Mr. Grove learned what was going on, he became furious, but like the good soldier he was, he snapped to attention and helped recruit a young engineer from Fairchild to be in charge of the project, which ultimately redefined the company.

. . .

Remarkably, none of this discord seemed to have much effect on the company's day-to-day operations. Mr. Malone even suggests that the dysfunction empowered Intel's take-no-prisoners warrior culture.

. . .

So while the humble, self-effacing Mr. Moore, who had his own time in the CEO's chair from 1975 to 1987, played out his role as Intel's big thinker, the brilliant visionary "who could see into the technological future better than anyone alive," Mr. Grove was the kick-ass enforcer. No excuses. For anything.

For the full review, see:

STEWART PINKERTON. "Made in America; A Born Leader, a Frustrated Martinet Built One of Silicon Valley's Giants." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Intel Trinity' by Michael S. Malone; A born leader, an ethereal genius and a tough taskmaster built the most important company on the planet.")

The book under review is:

Malone, Michael S. The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World's Most Important Company. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

August 3, 2014

Locke and Smith Showed How Economic Life Has Moral Value

(p. 241) Andrzej Rapaczynski discusses "The Moral Significance of Economic Life" in the most recent issue of Capitalism and Society. His abstract summarizes the argument (p. 242) compactly: "Much of the modern perception of the role of economic production in human life--whether on the Left or on the Right of the political spectrum--views it as an inferior, instrumental activity oriented toward self-preservation, self-interest, or profit, and thus as essentially distinct from the truly human action concerned with moral values, justice, and various forms of self-fulfillment. This widely shared worldview is rooted, on the one hand, in the Aristotelian tradition that sees labor as a badge of slavery, and freedom as lying in the domain of politics and pure (not technical) knowledge, and, on the other hand, in the aristocratic medieval Christian outlook, which--partly under Aristotle's influence--sees nature as always already adapted (by divine design) to serving human bodily needs, and the purpose of life as directed toward higher, spiritual reality. . . . As against this, liberal thinkers, above all Locke, have developed an elaborate alternative to the Aristotelian worldview, reinterpreting the production process as a moral activity par excellence consisting in a gradual transformation of the alien nature into a genuinely human environment reflecting human design and providing the basis of human autonomy. Adam Smith completed Locke's thought by explaining how production is essentially a form of cooperation among free individuals whose self-interested labor serves the best interest of all. The greatest "culture war" in history is to re-establish the moral significance of economic activity in the consciousness of modern political and cultural elites." Capitalism and Society, December 2013, vol. 8, no. 2, http://capitalism.columbia.edu/volume-8-issue-2.


Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

(Note: italics, and ellipses, in original.)

August 2, 2014

Climate Models Allow "the Modeler to Obtain Almost Any Desired Result"

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) are the commonly-used models that attempt to integrate climate science models with economic effect models. In the passage quoted below, "SCC" stands for "social cost of carbon."

(p. 870) I have argued that IAMs are of little or no value for evaluating alternative climate change policies and estimating the SCC. On the contrary, an IAM-based analysis suggests a level of knowledge and precision that is nonexistent, and allows the modeler to obtain almost any desired result because key inputs can be chosen arbitrarily.

As I have explained, the physical mechanisms that determine climate sensitivity involve crucial feedback loops, and the parameter values that determine the strength of those feedback loops are largely unknown. When it comes to the impact of climate change, we know even less. IAM damage functions are completely made up, with no theoretical or empirical foundation. They simply reflect common beliefs (which might be wrong) regarding the impact of 2º C or 3º C of warming, and can tell us nothing about what might happen if the temperature increases by 5º C or more. And yet those damage functions are taken seriously when IAMs are used to analyze climate policy. Finally, IAMs tell us nothing about the likelihood and nature of catastrophic outcomes, but it is just such outcomes that matter most for climate change policy. Probably the best we can do at this point is come up with plausible estimates for probabilities and possible impacts of catastrophic outcomes. Doing otherwise is to delude ourselves.

For the full article, see:

Pindyck, Robert S. "Climate Change Policy: What Do the Models Tell Us?" Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 3 (Sept. 2013): 860-72.

August 1, 2014

The Unintended Consequences of Requiring Monks to Read

(p. 28) The high walls that hedged about the mental life of the monks--the imposition of silence, the prohibition of questioning, the punishing of debate with slaps or blows of the whip--were all meant to affirm unambiguously that these pious communities were the opposite of the philosophical academies of Greece or Rome, places that had thrived upon the spirit of contradiction and cultivated a restless, wide-ranging curiosity.

All the same, monastic rules did require reading, and that was enough to set in motion an extraordinary chain of consequences. Reading was not optional or desirable or recommended; in a community that took its obligations with deadly seriousness, reading was obligatory. And reading required books. Books that were opened again and again eventually fell apart, however carefully they were handled. Therefore, almost inadvertently , monastic rules necessitated that monks repeatedly purchase or acquire books. In the course of the vicious Gothic Wars of the mid-sixth century and their still more miserable aftermath, the last commercial workshops of book production folded, and the vestiges of the book market fell apart. Therefore, again almost inadvertently, monastic rules necessitated that monks carefully preserve and copy those books that they already possessed.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.


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