Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday's Best Reading

Links and excerpts:

"The Laffer Curve Straw Man," by Daniel Mitchell (Cato-at-Liberty)
The real issue is whether certain changes in tax policy will have some impact on economic activity. If an increase (decrease) in tax rates changes behavior and causes a reduction (increase) in taxable income, then revenues will not rise (fall) as much as “static” revenue-estimating models would predict. This is hardly a radical concept, and evidence of Laffer-Curve effects is very well established in the academic literature.

"Sociologists Discover Religion," by Heyecan Veziorglu (
Associate Professor Dr. Jeffrey Ulmer from Pennsylvania State University examines the degree to which religiosity increases self-control. He points out that religious observance builds self-control and substance use is lower in stronger moral communities.

"Eminent Scientist Censored for Truth-Telling [about genes and IQ]," by John J. Ray (Tongue Tied 3)
...There is no inconsistency in saying that blacks as a whole are less intelligent while also acknowledging that some individual blacks are very intelligent. What is true of most need not be true of all.

Scientists have spent decades looking for holes in the evidence [Dr. James] Watson [of DNA fame] was referring to but all the proposed "holes" have been shown not to be so. There is NO argument against his conclusions that has not been meticulously examined by skeptics already. And all objections have been shown not to hold up. There is an introduction to the studies concerned here.

Some commentators have mentioned that old Marxist propagandist, Stephen Jay Gould, as refuting what Watson said. Here is just one comment pointing out what a klutz Gould was. And for an exhaustive scientific refutation of Gould by an expert in the field, see here. [Highly recommended: LC.] Gould's distortions of the facts really are quite breathtaking.

"Hanson Joins Cult," by Robin Hanson (Overcoming Bias)

Rumors of a weird cult of "Straussians" obsessed with hidden meanings in classic texts have long amused me. Imagine my jaw-dropping surprise then to read an articulate and persuasive Straussian paper by Arthur Melzer in the November Journal of Politics:

Leo Strauss...argued that, prior to the rise of liberal regimes and freedom of thought in the nineteenth century, almost all great thinkers wrote esoterically: they placed their most important reflections "between the lines" of their writings, hidden behind a veneer of conventional pieties. They did so for one or more of the following reasons: to defend themselves from persecution, to protect society from harm, to promote some positive political scheme, and to increase the effectiveness of their philosophical pedagogy....

Melzer convinced me with data:

By now we have seen a good number of explicit statements by past thinkers acknowledging and praising the use of esoteric writing for pedagogical purposes. What is perhaps even more striking in this context is that I have been unable to find any statements, prior to the nineteenth century, criticizing esotericism for the aforementioned problem, or indeed for any other.

This great transition is my best bet for the essential change underlying the industrial revolution:

In The Flight from Ambiguity, the distinguished sociologist Donald Levine writes: "The movement against ambiguity led by Western intellectuals since the seventeenth century figures as a unique development in world history. There is nothing like it in any premodern culture known to me". This remarkable transformation of our intellectual culture was produced by a variety of factors, but most obviously by the rise of the modern scientific paradigm of knowledge which encouraged the view that, in all fields, intellectual progress required the wholesale reform of language and discourse, replacing ordinary parlance with an artificial, technical, univocal mode of communication

Modern growth began when enough intellectuals gained status not from ambiguity but from clarity, forming a network of specialists exchanging clear concise summaries of new insights.