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violence and social orders, ch. 1

D North, J Wallis, and B Weingast (NWW) offer a “conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history” in their new work Violence and Social Orders. As a fan of North’s defining institutional economics work, as well as Weingast’s papers on China, I was pleased that Arnold Kling found so much to like about the new book, and decided to pick it up myself. I am happy to say that Violence lives up to its potential, crystallizing NWW’s earlier work in a simple and useful framework and clearly explaining its application. I found so much to like about the book, that I’ve decided to write up a post on each of the seven chapters. (Will I have the endurance? We’ll see.)
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Filed under: World,

complexity science, wow!

The current recession has induced a barrage of criticism of the economics profession for its failure to foresee the impending crisis. While these criticisms often aim to indict classical liberal economic thought, a more accurate analysis would not label this as a failure of economics, but as a blind spot to all disciplines: the crisis was just the most recent example of a “cascading failure,” a phenomena that no one has done a particularly good job of foreseeing or preventing. Wikipedia cites a few other examples of cascading failure -which the site defines as “a failure in a system of interconnected parts in which the failure of a part can trigger the failure of successive parts”- most appropriately, the power grid failures we’ve all come to know and love, as well as ischemia, a health event I’ve come to known from my time in health care.

I greatly enjoyed Melanie Mitchell’s overview (Complexity: A Guided Tour) of the current state of complexity science for the very reason that complexity scientists are exploring chaos, dynamic, and network theory, which are fundamental to better understanding the dark recesses that frustrate many disciplines. As Duncan Watts says, “Next to the mysteries of dynamics on a network – whether it be epidemics of disease, cascading failures in power systems, or the outbreak of revolutions- the problems of networks that we have encountered up to now are just pebbles on the seashore.” Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: General Welfare

jane jacobs: a model for conciliation

Jane Jacobs ushered in a revolution in city planning with her classic Death and the Life of Great American Cities in 1961, inspiring a generation of urbanites to fight off the technocratic meddling of big government. She fostered an appreciation for the natural ecology of the city, the emergence of an exciting and productive spontaneous order. She rallied against central planning, mounting a Hayekian stand to defeat Robert Moses, the Great Man of NYC development. Jacobs’ New Urbanism represents a unique conciliation of Austrian economics and the political left. In Death and the Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs spins a tale of well-intentioned but brutally wrongheaded urban planners -some of the the smartest folks of the time- whose hubris leads to nothing but destruction and blight. Austrian economists, such as Hayek, have been telling this story for years, in all areas of government, but never managed the success of Jacobs. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economic Policy, Philosophy

on thoreau’s civil disobedience

I had meant to read up on Thoreau for quite some time now, and took the opportunity yesterday to read the Project Gutenberg text of Civil Disobedience on my Kindle. I found the essay well-conceived, enjoyable, and dripping with an arrogance that only comes with a supreme confidence in one’s intellect, moral standing, and social status. That said, while I was impressed by Thoreau’s well-articulated respect for the individual, his moral outrage at the crimes of slavery and the Mexican War, and his criticism of those who recognized the injustice and paid but lip service, I found his Rousseau-like worldview naive and his writing self-indulgent. Below I have written up some of my initial thoughts; they should not be read as conclusive opinions, but hopefully will spark some discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Philosophy