Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hobbes and GameTheory

In Hobbled by Hobbes Christopher Ryan argues that the anthropological and archeological evidence is inconsistent with Steven Pinker’s interpretation of long term trends in violence. I don’t yet have a firm opinion about that issue, but Ryan also refers to Pinker and others as neo-Hobbesian. He explains that

For reasons having nothing to do with scientific accuracy, Hobbes’ dire sloganeering about the misery of pre-civilized human life echoes down the centuries. Who among us, three and a half centuries later, has not heard that our ancestors’ lives were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”? This demonization of human existence in pre-state societies is essential to preserving the legitimacy of God and country—both of which run a protection racket promising to guard us against our own demonic inner nature. Hobbes’ infectious meme is certainly among the most famous phrases ever penned in the English language, and it shows no sign of fading. Indeed, his dismal view of human nature is still being enthusiastically spread by neo-Hobbesian presidents, pundits and professors.

I have thought for some time that Hobbes view of human nature has been somewhat misinterpreted. In Chapter 11 of Leviathan he describes his view of human nature:

So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power that ceaseth only in death.”

 That does sound like a pretty dismal view of human nature, but then he explains:

“And the cause of this is, is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to; or that he cannot be content with a moderate amount of power; but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath at present without the acquisition of more.”

In Hobbes view the problem was less our demonic human nature than that people are essentially a prisoners’ dilemma type game, a multi-person arms race.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Just make it up

I have written several times about how Edward Baptist just makes up numbers for his estimate of the importance of slavery to American economic development. It turns out that he is on to something. Just making things up seems to be very popular in the social sciences now. Here is some recent just making things up in sociology, and here is some recent just making things up in political science. All of these examples share three things in common:

1.       They just made stuff up.

2.       It wasn’t that hard to see that they just made things up.

3.       The all got glowing reviews or awards because their conclusions confirmed the beliefs of the reviewers.

Of course, this isn’t really new

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sort of related to economic history

We just spent the weekend driving from Fredericksburg to St. Louis and back (for Mary's parents 60th anniversary). We stayed a night in Louisville because we wanted to eat at 610 Magnolia. The meal was very good, but we wished that there had been more Smoke and Pickles. We stayed a few blocks away from the restaurant at the Culbertson Mansion on 3rd Street, one of the many amazing homes built along that street in the 1880s and 1890s. Our brief stay made me curious about the economic history of Louisville, particularly the Southern Exposition.

In St. Louis, we discovered the Urban Chestnut Brewing Company. While living in M√ľnchen  in the summer of 1997 I discovered that I had a taste for weissbier, and Urban Chestnut makes a very good one, though Schneider Weisse is still my favorite. If you are in St. Louis, the food at their Bierhall is also quite good.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Some big picture economic history

Robin Grier talks with Marshall Poe about The Long Process of Development: Building Markets and States in Pre Industrial England, Spain and the Colonies her new book with Jerry Hough at the New Books Network. She argues that state capability is an essential (though hard to develop) ingredient for economic growth.

Jeremy Adelman considers “What Caused Capitalism?” as he reviews some recent books.