27 August 2014

The Coase "Theorem" in Real Life ...

At The New York Times today, Josh Barro offers this good example of the temdency to mistake "models" for real life. (I will overlook the fact that the Coase Theorem is not one - meaning not a theorem.)

But let's embrace Barro's conceit. Two problems:

(1) The good Mr. Barro assumes well-defined property rights here. (actually, he mistakenly asserts that they are well defined.) As the reclined upon, I am not just "bothered" by his reclining. I arguably have purchased a property right to the space my lower extremities occupy. And his reclining infringes my property right. (Here I am just stating the converse of Barro's claim that he has a property right to the recline function.) 

And (2) Coase assumes NO transaction costs, no "low" ones.

At this point I'd almost be willing to pay Barro to zip it! If you are going to pose as social science literate, please at least try to get things right.

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23 August 2014

Freedom to Assemble

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 
Too often complaints about how government agencies violate the first amendment there is a narrow focus on 'free speech' to the exclusion of concern for the right to "peaceably ... assemble." I've said this here before. This report from the ACLU has that quality. It concludes: "Our words, our voices, and our pictures are the most devastating weapons of all to entrenched systems of injustice." What about our collective presence?

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21 August 2014

Throwing Like a Girl?

I have been keeping this blog for quite a while. Very early on I posted this comment, noting the death of political theorist Iris Marion Young. I remarked at the time that the title of one of Iris's essays "Throwing Like a Girl" seemed to capture her personality quite well. I suspect that the cover photo for SI this week would have pleased Iris no end.

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The Right to Take Photographs (Yet Another in a Recurring Series)

I have posted here multiple times on this and related themes. But given the arrest of journalists in Ferguson and the general attitude of law enforcement regarding constitutionally protected rights, it is important to be clear about those rights. This post from the ACLU underscores the rights of citizens (professional photographers or not!) to make images in public places - including images of law enforcement performing their "duties." This is common knowledge that law enforcement likes to ignore.

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19 August 2014

James Foley

The Gawker reports here that an American photojournalist, James Foley, has been executed (beheaded) by ISIS in response to recent U.S. military activities in Iraq.You can find another report here at The New York Times.

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16 August 2014

Local Event(s) @ Writers & Books: Diane Ravitch

Writers and Books is running this reading group this fall, focusing on a recent book by education historian Diane Ravitch. An accomplished historian of education and vigorous critic of what currently passes for education reform in the U.S., Ravitch is extremely provocative in large part because she is relatively conservative and once was an advocate of many of the reforms she now objects to. Her change in mind came from actually looking at the evidence!

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14 August 2014


(1) A reminder for the local officials in Ferguson, MO (and their repressive counterparts in all the other cities and towns like Ferguson): not just religion and speech, but peaceable assembly and petitioning for redress are constitutionally protected.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
 (2) Here is a brief reflection from Raymond Geuss on his early book The Idea of Critical Theory.

(3) At The Nation symposium of short interventions on the importance of gender in thinking about political-economic inequality.

(4) A Project Syndicate essay by Dani Rodrik underscoring how insidious consensus among economists can be.

(5) Finally, this essay from The Atlantic on Jane Austin and Adam Smith ... no, they're not an item.

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13 August 2014

Censorship American Style

So, this afternoon I am sitting on the floor playing with Esme and listening to The World Cafe on NPR. David Dye plays Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" where the second verse goes like this:
"Candy came from out on the Island
In the back room she was everybody's darling
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving [SILENCE]
She says, 'Hey, babe,
Take a walk on the wild side.'"
And I think "Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to not notice?" Did anyone else notice? I am sure that this slight of ear was taken in order to avoid transgressing this or that FCC regulation concerning naughty talk on the radio. In other words it was taken in order to keep the censors happy. Walk on the Wild Side Indeed!

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Mathematics & Beauty

As The Guardian reports Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian born mathematician now teaching at Stanford is the first woman to ever win the Fields Medal. This is a milestone for the discipline, obviously. But it is an opportunity to underscore a point Hilary Putnam makes in The Collapse of the Fact Value Dichotomy and Other Essays (Harvard UP, 2004), namely that, despite popular misconceptions, scientific inquiry is shot through with values and that the latter is not a homogenous category. Consider what Mirzakhani says in this 2008 interview:
"I don’t think that everyone should become a mathematician, but I do believe that many students don’t give mathematics a real chance. I did poorly in math for a couple of years in middle school; I was just not interested in thinking about it. I can see that without being excited mathematics can look pointless and cold. The beauty of mathematics only shows itself to more patient followers."
Beauty, of course, is an aesthetic value. And here Mirzakhani seems to be making it a central characteristic of mathematics and an animating reason for her intellectual pursuits.

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12 August 2014

Parchment Barriers

This report from The Daily News is good news. However, I suspect the real problem is that the police already know what the memo lays out - namely, that citizens have a constitutionally protected right to photograph police operations so long as they do not interfere with those operations - but they simply do not give a hoot. Whether they ignore our rights blatantly or trump up reasons why the photographer is or might be interfering, the officers find ways to  prevent images of their interactions with the public.

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11 August 2014

Libertarian Fantasy Indeed!

Paul Krugman has written this column at The New York Times aiming to deflate this credulous story about the flourishing of libertarianism that appeared in the newspaper's magazine this past weekend.
He is, however, far too kind in at least one respect. It is not just that free markets can't solve all our problems. As Jack Knight and I have argued for many years* - we cannot rely on the various market mimicking decentralized solutions (Coasian bargaining, community, incentive compatible mechanisms, etc.) that libertarians peddle for much either. Why? The models that suggest otherwise tend to rely on incredibly restrictive assumptions. In some instances the underlying mechanism the models invoke operate a cross purposes.  Conversely, as Tim Besley has recently argued**, the well known difficulties underscored by principle-agent models in no way sanction any wholesale reliance on decentralized solutions either. So, while Krugman makes his point on the basis of homely examples, there is good reason in theory to think his conclusions are quite general.
* See our paper in APSR (2007) and the book length version The Priority of Democracy: Political Consequences of Pragmatism (Princeton, 2011).
** See Tim Besley. Principled Agents? The  Political Economy of Good Government (Oxford 2007). I recommend reading the final couple of paragraphs first, then working through the book from the beginning.

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10 August 2014

Selling Sex

A couple of pieces from The Economist - here and here - on how the internet is making prostitution safer and more profitable. Maybe. But even The Economist acknowledges that as many as 20% of prostitutes work the streets. So those women remain at high risk. And, of course, the question remains as to how women who do advertise and coordinate liaisons on line are pressed into service in the first place. Here is a bit of an antidote. A plausible market requires that participants are parametric - meaning that no one can influence the choices others make. So why people buy and sell sex, we  surely don't have markets for sex now. It is unlikely that the internet will do much to change that.

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09 August 2014

War Photography - The Impact of Images?

"It’s hard to calculate the consequences of a photograph’s absence. But sanitized images of warfare, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf argues, make it “easier … to accept bloodless language” such as 1991 references to “surgical strikes” or modern-day terminology like “kinetic warfare.” The Vietnam War, in contrast, was notable for its catalog of chilling and iconic war photography. Some images, like Ron Haeberle’s pictures of the My Lai massacre, were initially kept from the public, but other violent images—Nick Ut’s scene of child napalm victims and Eddie Adams’s photo of a Vietcong man’s execution —won Pulitzer Prizes and had a tremendous impact on the outcome of the war."*
I can understand how the My Lai images could've impacted the prosecution of the war as evidence in or impetus to a legal proceeding. But I regularly here people say that the Ut and Adams images had a major impact on the prosecution of the war. How? I'd like to be persuaded. But I'd also like to have some way of justifying the claim. Did those images impact public opinion in a discernible way? Did they simply scare elected officials who thought they might lose their jobs for supporting (or not opposing) the war?

I happen to agree with Friedersdorf's claim about diffuse consequences for public discourse. But the more specific claim about the Vietnam images , while maybe plausible, seems under-supported. (note that the latter claim is empirical and causal.)

If we cannot cash out the claim that actual images have impact on politics, it is difficult - maybe impossible - to think how we can make the counter-factual case - namely that withholding images somehow has a specific impact.
* This is a passage from this important piece at The Atlantic.

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06 August 2014

From Animal Rights to Animal Copyright? Sounds like Monkey Business to Me.

At The Guardian we have this missive, an intervention in the ongoing debate over who, if anyone, holds, or even can hold, copyright to this image:

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05 August 2014

What Could Be More Glamorus than a Gang Rape?

I am not totally dismissive of fashion photography or of those, like Steve Meisel or Mario Testino for instance, who ply that trade in especially self-aggrandizing ways. No. I take that back. I am. And here is a new entry into the lineage of moral and political tone-deafness that seems to plague the profession.

In this offering, published in Vogue Italia, photographer Raj Shetye* mixes glamor and sexual violence  - a woman attacked by a group of men on a bus, just like the real world - and when criticized for the series, expresses disbelief that anyone could object to his work.
* All four images © Raj Shetye Studio 2014

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Not a Socialist Plot

"The fact that S&P, an apolitical organization that aims to produce reliable research for bond investors and others, is raising alarms about the risks that emerge from income inequality is a small but important sign of how a debate that has been largely confined to the academic world and left-of-center political circles is becoming more mainstream." ~ NY Times

"Our review of the data, as well as a wealth of research on this matter, leads us to conclude that the current level of income inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world's biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population." ~ Standard & Poors Finacial Serves, LLCs

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LEGO Straightens Out

So, in the past I have made it known how addicted my boy August is to LEGO. And I have criticized the company for marketing pink and purple to girls. So it is important to give credit where it is due. Here is a report on NPR about how LEGO has responded to the criticisms about gender bias. Since Esme has arrived these things are even more important to me.

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03 August 2014

Digest - Gaza

Here are two political theorists Michael Walzer and Francis Kamm offering their views on the Israeli invasion of Gaza. And here is Israeli writer Amos Oz making a novel proposal for how the Israelis ought to approach the Palestinians. Actually, the proposal only seems novel and utopian in the current state of the world. And comments by David Shulman, Israeli intellectual and solidarity activist (solidarity with Palestinians!) on, by turns dispiriting and hopeful current political tendencies on the ground in Israel and the West Bank. Martin Shaw here offers a thoughtful reflection on his changing view of BDS.
P.S.: (4 August 2014) New Politics has published this pointed response to Walzer's attempt to justify the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
P.S.2: (4 August 2014) An unimpressive assessment here by Peter Singer.

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