Keeping up with the FITs, 5/17
TLP watch; Tyler Cowen on how to get rich; Bill Galston on abortion politics; Matt Yglesias on Democrats moving left; Glenn Greenwald on arms for Ukraine
In the WSJ, Allysia Finley writes,
He describes himself in a Zoom interview as a “bleeding-heart liberal when it comes to caring for the vulnerable, a libertarian when it comes to being passionate about freedom, but a conservative when it comes to taking care of our civilization.”
He is Michael Shellenberger, running as an independent for governor of California. I note that he has touched all of the axes of the three-axes model in The Three Languages of Politics. To me, he comes across as an intelligent, moderate wonk, with no constituency whatsoever. His opponent is insufferably annoying, sort of a male version of Hillary. But still he has no chance.
Here are three of the main ways to beat market returns:
1. Build a new product and sell it successfully.
2. Assemble and maintain an especially talented team of quants. (It is a separate but still relevant question at what scale you can do this and thus how rich you can become.)
3. “See” something about the market, at least for a limited period of time, that other people do not and invest accordingly. That might be falling interest rates, the rise of consumer tech, or the persistence of low inflation (all until recently!). Note that #3 requires you to have some money in the first place, and for your run to be long enough that you truly become rich.
He is dealing with the issue of why economists are not spectacularly rich. I think that we tend to be risk averse and have too much self-doubt. Last night, when I discussed with two other economists the current state of financial markets, we came up with a lot of reasons to by put options on stocks and bonds. But none of us had done so. During the Q&A, someone in the audience said that as soon as the high inflation numbers started to come out, he had bought puts on bonds.
In my view, there is a set of people who were good/lucky once and then doubled down. Some got good/lucky again, but most did not. Some of those who got good/lucky a second time doubled down again. And again. The rich people are those who kept doubling down and kept getting good/lucky.
I got good/lucky once. I didn’t double down. That is a road not taken, and occasionally I wonder what would have happened had I taken it. But if one believes in diminishing marginal returns to monetary wealth, one stops doubling down before one gets spectacularly rich (or takes a big loss). Economists are likely to fall into that camp.
A Pew Research Center survey found that, absent special circumstances, Americans oppose abortion by a 2-to-1 margin after 24 weeks, when the fetus has reached the age of viability.
I don’t believe that you can legislate the age of viability, nor do I want a court to have to determine what qualifies as special circumstances. I think that abortion should be always legal. The problem that Democrats have is that they make “always legal” sound like the whole point is to demonize religious people. I think that they could get more people to accept “always legal” if they stopped screaming in front of Justice Kavanaugh’s house and instead used my pragmatic libertarian argument that the woman involved is in a better position to know the circumstances than a judge or a legislator or a poll of the people not involved.
Matt Yglesias and Milan Singh wade into the controversy over whether the Democrats have moved left. They dare to offer an evidence-based approach, comparing the party platform in 2020 with that in 2012.
The 2020 platform is more progressive than the 2012 platform on economics, but it’s also more progressive on climate change and racial justice and abortion and guns and voting rights. And while the 2012 platform is mostly talking about economic issues, the 2020 platform has something to say about lots of different issues. It’s not that the party has just gotten more socially liberal over the last decade — it’s shifted left across the board.
. . .That’s not a commentary on the wisdom of the ideas or of adopting them, but the shift pretty clearly happened. It’s very hard to reason clearly about the world if you don’t start by acknowledging the reality.
A reader points me to Glenn Greenwald writing on arms for Ukraine.
But as gargantuan as Biden's already-spent and newly requested sums are — for a ten-week war in which the U.S. claims not to be a belligerent — it was apparently woefully inadequate in the eyes of the bipartisan establishment in Congress, who is ostensibly elected to serve the needs and interests of American citizens, not Ukrainians. Leaders of both parties instantly decreed that Biden's $33 billion request was not enough. They thus raised it to $40 billion — a more than 20% increase over the White House's request — and are now working together to create an accelerated procedure to ensure immediate passage and disbursement of these weapons and funds to the war zone in Ukraine.
. . .While it is extremely difficult to isolate any benefit to ordinary American citizens from all of this, it requires no effort to see that there is a tiny group of Americans who do benefit greatly from this massive expenditure of funds. That is the industry of weapons manufacturers.
Greenwald is in the minority as of now, when everyone is enthusiastic to see Putin get slapped around. But I have warned before, and I must warn again, that as wars drag on, the excitement fades and disillusionment sets in.
A very unpopular view these days is that Western actions provoked the Russian invasion. But Benjamin Abelow is willing to be unpopular.
Had Russia taken equivalent actions with respect to U.S. territory — say, placing its military forces in Canada or Mexico — Washington would have gone to war and explained that war as a defensive response to the military encroachment of a foreign power.
When viewed through this lens, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is seen not as the unbridled expansionism of a malevolent Russian leader but as a violent and destructive reaction to misguided Western policies: an attempt to reestablish a zone around Russia’s western border that is devoid of offensive threats from the United States and its allies. Having misunderstood why Russia invaded Ukraine, the West is now basing existential decisions on false premises. In doing so, it is deepening the crisis and may be sleepwalking toward nuclear war.
I myself am not inclined to put this much emphasis on the provocative role of past Western policies. But regardless of how we got here, I fear that our current policy of feeding the war machine and trying to inflict maximum defeat on Russia will not end well. I fear that our countrymen have caught war fever, and I wish that could be cured.
"The problem that Democrats have is that they make “always legal” sound like the whole point is to demonize religious people."
The whole point is to defend a maximalist interpretation of individualism and sexual telos that is at odds with most people and requires a genocide to maintain.
People don't just want abortions. They want ABSOLUTION. They want to be told that their abortion was CORRECT. That there was NOTHING WRONG WITH IT. Further, there was NOTHING WRONG WITH THE ACTIONS THAT LED TO THE ABORTION.
"Safe, legal, rare" doesn't absolve guilt or justify modern sexual mores, so it's a non starter. Pragmatic libertarian arguments don't make hooking up on tinder and getting knocked up something one shouldn't be ashamed of.
One of the biggest reasons I stopped being a libertarian is I found their views on social issues to be wrong. Especially sexual morality. The traditional views about sex and marriage are just superior in every way to the libertarian ones. We've got enough data at this point to realize that the sexual revolution had too many externalities to it for it to have been freedom enhancing overall.
The trouble with economists, and other social scientists, is that they only demonstrate their humble self doubt when it comes to their own money. When it comes to dealing with everyone else's lives they are more than willing to get up to their elbows in there and tell us how we should be making decisions.
There is something a little strange to me about how much the American left keeps arguing that it hasn't moved left. Conservatives constantly bemoan that their politicians have drifted left, or at least are not moving right enough, but somehow with the left the defense is "Hey, we are not nearly so serious about our ideological commitments as you think!" Possibly it is a defensive reaction to how unpopular the far left progressive politics have become, but one wonders too how much is driven by a "don't look behind the curtain" desire to hide what they actually want to do. That is, they don't need to convince their base that they are moving in their direction, but rather convince everyone from the middle to the right that they are not trying to do a lot of things they definitely do not like.