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Articles by Peter Dorman

Escape from Muddle Land

March 20, 2023

Escape from Muddle Land, Econospeak, Peter Dorman

Let’s get the up-or-down part of this review over with quickly: Escape from Model Land: How Mathematical Models Can Lead Us Astray and What We Can Do About It by Erica Thompson is a poorly written, mostly vacuous rumination on mathematical modeling, and you would do well to ignore it.

Now that that’s done, we can get on with the interesting aspect of this book, its adaptation of trendy radical subjectivism for the world of modeling and empirical analysis.  The framework I’m referring to goes something like this: Each of us exists in our own bubble, a product of our experiences and perspectives.  Our thoughts express this subjective world, and they are true in relation to it but false beyond its

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Economic Insomnia? A Review of “The Guest Lecture”

March 16, 2023

Peter Dorman’s critical review of “The Guest Lecture.” His review was first posted at Econospeak.

Economic Insomnia? A Review of “The Guest Lecture” by Martin Riker.

It’s a rare day when an economist plays the key role in a novel, and even rarer when one of the supporting players is John Maynard Keynes himself.  So, spurred on by enthusiastic reviews, I sailed through Martin Riker’s The Guest Lecture this week, a novel in which a woman, just denied tenure by the all-male economics department at her university, lies awake at night in a hotel room, rehearsing a lecture she’ll be giving the next day while re-evaluating the twists and turns of her life’s trajectory.  Maybe it’s a risk to read insomnia fiction at bedtime, but I definitely enjoyed

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Escape from Muddle Land

March 14, 2023

Let’s get the up-or-down part of this review over with quickly: Escape from Model Land: How Mathematical Models Can Lead Us Astray and What We Can Do About It by Erica Thompson is a poorly written, mostly vacuous rumination on mathematical modeling, and you would do well to ignore it.Now that that’s done, we can get on with the interesting aspect of this book, its adaptation of trendy radical subjectivism for the world of modeling and empirical analysis.  The framework I’m referring to goes something like this: Each of us exists in our own bubble, a product of our experiences and perspectives.  Our thoughts express this subjective world, and they are true in relation to it but false beyond its boundaries.  This means no one has the right to speak for nor criticize anyone else.  In some

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Economic Insomnia? A Review of “The Guest Lecture” by Martin Riker.

March 12, 2023

It’s a rare day when an economist plays the key role in a novel, and even rarer when one of the supporting players is John Maynard Keynes himself.  So, spurred on by enthusiastic reviews, I sailed through Martin Riker’s The Guest Lecture this week, a novel in which a woman, just denied tenure by the all-male economics department at her university, lies awake at night in a hotel room, rehearsing a lecture she’ll be giving the next day while re-evaluating the twists and turns of her life’s trajectory.  Maybe it’s a risk to read insomnia fiction at bedtime, but I definitely enjoyed myself, laughing out loud several times and rereading especially zingy paragraphs.Yet I was disappointed, and I’ll use this post to explore how and why.  The first part of the disappointment is obvious and

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This Is What Happens When Progressives Look the Other Way

February 9, 2023

This Is What Happens When Progressives Look the Other Way

– Peter Dorman @Econospeak

Recent events in Florida—the “Stop WOKE” Act, the rejection of AP African American Studies, the hostile takeover of New College—and the publication of an excellent op-ed about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the Chronicle of Higher Education have me returning to a topic I blogged on several years ago, but in a new light.

It was obvious, and I mean Emperor’s New Clothes obvious, right from the outset that DEI ideology was predicated on the flimsiest of foundations.  The confusion of inequality and privilege, the epistemological mess known as standpoint theory, and the positive affect theory of human rights (all people, or at least people from

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This Is What Happens When Progressives Look the Other Way

February 7, 2023

Recent events in Florida—the “Stop WOKE” Act, the rejection of AP African American Studies, the hostile takeover of New College—and the publication of an excellent op-ed about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the Chronicle of Higher Education have me returning to a topic I blogged on several years ago, but in a new light.It was obvious, and I mean Emperor’s New Clothes obvious, right from the outset that DEI ideology was predicated on the flimsiest of foundations.  The confusion of inequality and privilege, the epistemological mess known as standpoint theory, and the positive affect theory of human rights (all people, or at least people from historically oppressed groups, have a right to be free of psychic discomfort) are individually indefensible and collectively toxic.  Above

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No More Noma

January 30, 2023

No More Noma

Eating is a necessity and can be a great pleasure.  It also has a symbolic dimension in every culture.  In the long history of European civilization, going back at least to the Romans, it has been a form of status distinction, allowing the elites at the top to display their separation from the masses below.

For many centuries elite food was set apart by its ingredients, like caviar, choice cuts of meat, difficult to procure spices and rich dairy products.  Restaurants in times past would announce their status appeal not only through their prices, but also menus that advertised rarity and bounty.

Today this emphasis on ingredients is not enough.  A general increase in prosperity and the rise of a large middle-to-upper class that

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No More Noma

January 29, 2023

Eating is a necessity and can be a great pleasure.  It also has a symbolic dimension in every culture.  In the long history of European civilization, going back at least to the Romans, it has been a form of status distinction, allowing the elites at the top to display their separation from the masses below.For many centuries elite food was set apart by its ingredients, like caviar, choice cuts of meat, difficult to procure spices and rich dairy products.  Restaurants in times past would announce their status appeal not only through their prices, but also menus that advertised rarity and bounty.Today this emphasis on ingredients is not enough.  A general increase in prosperity and the rise of a large middle-to-upper class that can afford them means that status distinction must now rest on

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Extending Capital to Nature, Reducing Nature to Capital

January 25, 2023

Extending Capital to Nature, Reducing Nature to Capital

The Biden administration has announced it is inaugurating a program to incorporate the value of natural resources and ecological services into national income accounts.  The New York Times article reporting this development predictably portrays the response as divided between two camps: on the one side are environmentalists, who think this will lead to more informed decision-making, and on the other Republicans and business interests who fear it is just a stalking horse for more regulation.

For the record, here is one environmentalist (me) who thinks it’s a bad idea—not completely, but mostly.

Are the quality of our environment and the availability of natural resources crucial to our

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Extending Capital to Nature, Reducing Nature to Capital

January 21, 2023

The Biden administration has announced it is inaugurating a program to incorporate the value of natural resources and ecological services into national income accounts.  The New York Times article reporting this development predictably portrays the response as divided between two camps: on the one side are environmentalists, who think this will lead to more informed decision-making, and on the other Republicans and business interests who fear it is just a stalking horse for more regulation.For the record, here is one environmentalist (me) who thinks it’s a bad idea—not completely, but mostly.Are the quality of our environment and the availability of natural resources crucial to our well-being?  Certainly.  Can these effects be captured by economic measurement?  Mostly no.  The monetary

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Barkley Rosser, 1948-2023

January 11, 2023

I’ve just learned that Barkley Rosser, the mainstay of this blog, died yesterday.  I’d crossed paths with him in Madison, WI in the early 70s and then reconnected in the late 1980s, even coauthoring a paper with his wife Marina in 1990 (I think).Barkley and I would get together for a meal most years during the economics meetings.  He was a human tornado, quick and vociferous, backed up by a vault of reading, study and thinking.  He was uncommonly wide-ranging: although his reputation rested primarily on his work in complexity theory and nonlinear dynamics, he was a textbook coauthor in comparative systems and served as editor of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.  Of course, if you read his blog posts here, you would know how wide his horizons were.Bark had a great sense

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Herb Gintis, 1940-2023

January 8, 2023

Herb Gintis, 1940-2023

Peter Dorman @ Econospeak

My dissertation chair, Herb Gintis, died yesterday in Northampton, Mass.  We didn’t stay in touch after I graduated—our interests and perspectives diverged—but I will always appreciate what he gave of himself at a difficult time in my life.

After my first dissertation went awry (don’t ask!), Herb, who had been on my committee, stepped in and helped me identify a new topic.  I had to learn a new set of tools, and he was patient as I stumbled through what I now recognize as elementary technical hurdles.  He even watched my kid on a couple of occasions, so I could have a few hours of freedom.  I’ve heard dissertation advisors don’t always do this!

I confess that our final session together was

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Why the Battle over Electing a House Speaker

January 7, 2023

AB is about a day late on this commentary by Peter. Still a great commentary and read.

Why the Battle over Electing a House Speaker

by Peter Dorman @ Econospeak

I don’t know how this will turn out, and maybe what I’m about to say will be disproved by events, but here goes:

I think the Republicans face a difficulty in electing a Speaker that the Democrats wouldn’t have, and it will be hard to overcome.  Democrats may disagree intensely, but they all have legislative agendas to pursue, and in the end they are likely to compromise in order to get at least some of what they want.  Republicans have little to no agenda.  In the last presidential election they didn’t even have a party platform.  Thus there is no incentive to compromise.  If

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Herb Gintis, 1940-2023

January 6, 2023

My dissertation chair, Herb Gintis, died yesterday in Northampton, Mass.  We didn’t stay in touch after I graduated—our interests and perspectives diverged—but I will always appreciate what he gave of himself at a difficult time in my life.After my first dissertation went awry (don’t ask!), Herb, who had been on my committee, stepped in and helped me identify a new topic.  I had to learn a new set of tools, and he was patient as I stumbled through what I now recognize as elementary technical hurdles.  He even watched my kid on a couple of occasions, so I could have a few hours of freedom.  I’ve heard dissertation advisors don’t always do this!I confess that our final session together was rocky.  At my dissertation defense I attacked my own work, and it was Herb who defended it.  He even

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Why the Battle over Electing a House Speaker

January 4, 2023

I don’t know how this will turn out, and maybe what I’m about to say will be disproved by events, but here goes:I think the Republicans face a difficulty in electing a Speaker that the Democrats wouldn’t have, and it will be hard to overcome.  Democrats may disagree intensely, but they all have legislative agendas to pursue, and in the end they are likely to compromise in order to get at least some of what they want.  Republicans have little to no agenda.  In the last presidential election they didn’t even have a party platform.  Thus there is no incentive to compromise.  If you’re a Republican congressman eager to cement your brand as a “patriot” who won’t settle for RINO’s like Kevin McCarthy, what would motivate you to vote for him?True, representatives, even very right wing ones,

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The Political Economy of Effective Altruism

December 16, 2022

The Political Economy of Effective Altruism

by Peter Dorman @ EconoSpeak

Back in the day, I used to give talks on child labor.  I would always begin by saying that boycotts and shaming of corporations, while understandable as an emotional response, were unlikely to do much for the world’s children.  This was because very little child labor is employed in making internationally tradeable products.  Moreover, simple prohibitions don’t get at the root causes, which need to be identified and addressed with national and international policies.  Most of the talk would be about those causes, and I would end with a call for people in the audience to get involved politically, so that US policy would at least not reinforce the conditions that impose

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The Political Economy of Effective Altruism

December 16, 2022

Back in the day, I used to give talks on child labor.  I would always begin by saying that boycotts and shaming of corporations, while understandable as an emotional response, were unlikely to do much for the world’s children.  This was because very little child labor is employed in making internationally tradeable products.  Moreover, simple prohibitions don’t get at the root causes, which need to be identified and addressed with national and international policies.  Most of the talk would be about those causes, and I would end with a call for people in the audience to get involved politically, so that US policy would at least not reinforce the conditions that impose poverty and insecurity on much of the world’s population.  I would give a list of specific demands.Feeling like I had

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The Anti-Racism of Fools

November 21, 2022

Peter Dorman at Econospeak

The Anti-Racism of Fools

Antisemitism has long been intermingled with movements against injustice and elite control.  This is because the most widespread image in the mind of antisemites is the existence of a secretive cabal of Jews who control global finance and promote liberal-sounding ideas only because it serves their nefarious goals.  Hatred of Jews therefore deflects radical inclinations that might otherwise fuel movements against real domination.  This understanding was summed up in the expression that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools”, often voiced in socialist circles the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Now that class is no longer regarded as the ur-oppression from which all others stem, new

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The Anti-Racism of Fools

November 20, 2022

Antisemitism has long been intermingled with movements against injustice and elite control.  This is because the most widespread image in the mind of antisemites is the existence of a secretive cabal of Jews who control global finance and promote liberal-sounding ideas only because it serves their nefarious goals.  Hatred of Jews therefore deflects radical inclinations that might otherwise fuel movements against real domination.  This understanding was summed up in the expression that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools”, often voiced in socialist circles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.Now that class is no longer regarded as the ur-oppression from which all others stem, new reservoirs of fools can be tapped to keep antisemitism in business.  This is apparent in the ongoing

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Patagonia: Life Imitates Theory

October 14, 2022

“Patagonia: Life Imitates Theory,” Econospeak

by Peter Dorman

 When Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, completed the transfer of that company’s ownership to an environmental trust fund, it was front-page news across the country.  It came as something less than a shock to me, however, because I had described a very similar structure in a paper I wrote a few years ago about “pluralist social ownership”.

First, it’s interesting what Chouinard decided not to do.  He didn’t donate the company to a government agency, although that option is not quite as weird as it sounds.  Environmentally conscious landowners often donate parcels to park administrations or other government units, expressing their faith in the ability of the public sector to

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Patagonia: Life Imitates Theory

October 12, 2022

When Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, completed the transfer of that company’s ownership to an environmental trust fund, it was front-page news across the country.  It came as something less than a shock to me, however, because I had described a very similar structure in a paper I wrote a few years ago about “pluralist social ownership”.First, it’s interesting what Chouinard decided not to do.  He didn’t donate the company to a government agency, although that option is not quite as weird as it sounds.  Environmentally conscious landowners often donate parcels to park administrations or other government units, expressing their faith in the ability of the public sector to safeguard this type of resource and make it available for study and recreation.  If you don’t see the same

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In Ukraine, Use the Weapon the Russians Can’t Match

April 28, 2022

In Ukraine, Use the Weapon the Russians Can’t Match

It’s nowhere near as expensive as it sounds, and much more humane: offer every Russian soldier who defects $100,000 and the right to settle in any EU/North American country of their choice.  It might not work, especially if Russia uses deadly force against soldiers who lay down their arms or violent reprisals against their families back home.  But if a large enough portion of their troops accept the offer, the Russian war effort would be crippled.

Of course, Putin will claim that this is an inducement to the worst sort of betrayal, selling out your country’s fundamental values and interests in exchange for a bribe.  If this were really what’s at stake in the war, he’d be right.  But if not just

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In Ukraine, Use the Weapon the Russians Can’t Match

April 27, 2022

It’s nowhere near as expensive as it sounds, and much more humane: offer every Russian soldier who defects $100,000 and the right to settle in any EU/North American country of their choice.  It might not work, especially if Russia uses deadly force against soldiers who lay down their arms or violent reprisals against their families back home.  But if a large enough portion of their troops accept the offer, the Russian war effort would be crippled.Of course, Putin will claim that this is an inducement to the worst sort of betrayal, selling out your country’s fundamental values and interests in exchange for a bribe.  If this were really what’s at stake in the war, he’d be right.  But if not just a few, but thousands, including whole units, opt for the deal, it sends the message that Putin’s

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Misunderstanding of Climate Change and Why it Matters: The Energy Price Spike

March 13, 2022

Misunderstanding of Climate Change and Why it Matters: The Energy Price Spike

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a spike in oil and gas prices worldwide.  A natural response is for countries with untapped reserves to expand production as quickly as possible, but doesn’t this contradict the pledges they have also made to combat climate change?  This issue is covered at some length in a New York Times article today, and the entire discussion—the arguments used by government officials and energy experts and the assumptions of the journalists who quote them—is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how atmospheric carbon causes global warming.

The claims and counterclaims in the article are about whether short term increases in carbon

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Misunderstanding of Climate Change and Why it Matters: The Energy Price Spike

March 10, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a spike in oil and gas prices worldwide.  A natural response is for countries with untapped reserves to expand production as quickly as possible, but doesn’t this contradict the pledges they have also made to combat climate change?  This issue is covered at some length in a New York Times article today, and the entire discussion—the arguments used by government officials and energy experts and the assumptions of the journalists who quote them—is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how atmospheric carbon causes global warming.The claims and counterclaims in the article are about whether short term increases in carbon emissions will make it easier or hard to reach a net zero target decades into the future.  That would be the right

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Monetary Sovereignty, Sanctions and Russian Economic Policy

March 5, 2022

Monetary Sovereignty, Sanctions and Russian Economic Policy

The central role of economic sanctions in the US/EU strategy against Russia has returned international political economy to the center stage if it had ever left it.  Here are some thoughts occasioned by Adam Tooze’s interesting analysis of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as perceived by the Russian economic policy apparatus, connected to the role of monetary reform in the anti-colonial struggle of the 1930s as documented by Eric Helleiner in Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods.

Let’s start with MMT.  This is usually presented as a set of claims and recommendations that follow from acknowledging the implications of monetary sovereignty: countries whose central banks issue internationally

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