As with the last post, these are reads that have accumulated over the last several months that I’m only just now writing up.
As I shared video footage with friends in Puerto Rico, they remarked, ‘I know the sound of that wind.’
‘It’s all gone. What we’re doing to Mother Earth and the way this turns around on areas like here… I just can’t. Never… never in my life. My heart is broken. I’m in shock… We are the biggest victims of climate change. But how can we fight for ourselves against bigger, global countries? How do we move forward?’
Back in September, there was a mid-sized economics Twitter response to this article by Andrew Oswald and Nick Stern which criticized the field for its silence on climate change. They charge that economists have “contributed disturbingly little to discussions about climate change” and “are failing human civilisation, including their own grandchildren.” (See also Stern’s more recent opinion piece published with Naomi Oreskes)
Particularly provocative was their observation that the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the field’s most cited journal, has published zero articles on climate change ever. They and others point out that other mainstream journals are not much better . There was some pushback from agricultural economists who felt their work was being overlooked in this sweeping indictment of the discipline and also from economists from other subfields who mined the annals to find examples of climate-adjacent articles in those journals. On the latter, I wasn’t convinced by any counterexamples that surfaced: there do exist environmental and energy papers in those journals, but they were not remotely climate papers. Regardless, the point stands unless you think the dearth is explained mostly by papers choosing to publish in science journals for its wide reach and quick turnarounds. Seems unlikely to me.
I side most with Oswald and Stern, though I empathize with the agricultural economists’ grievances (see Dr. Whitehead’s embedded tweet thread). Doing so unfortunately feeds into a view that economists have contributed literally nothing to climate change understanding, which I vehemently disagree with despite my qualms. This seems to implicitly equate climate economics with the unresolved/unresolvable debate over damage discounting and the overly conservative foundations of ad hoc damage estimation that still haunt the subfield at large.
I do object to what I see as overly generous revisionism by economists from other subfields who I think are too proud of the field’s successfully modeling the problem as an externality. That’s a low bar to say the least. It is easy to reach consensus on carbon taxes when you don’t specify what those taxes should look or model its political economy. On climate, economists have a tendency to view the failure of an intermediate-economics level theory of carbon taxes as an indictment of reality, it’s so bizarre.
One part of the answer is that part of environmental grew out of ag Econ departments. Land grant university Econ vs Ag Econ turf battles and the farm Econ stigma have constrained environmental.— John Whitehead (@johnwhitehead81) September 17, 2019
1. Economists (and integrated assessment models of economists) have generally suggested smaller action necessary than climate scientists— Arin Dube (@arindube) September 20, 2019
2. Economists favor carbon taxes even though they have had a pretty bad political track record.
We economists shouldn't be Panglossian here. https://t.co/yy613E5zF0
Thought this was terrific and very creatively delivered by way of a critical review of the various memoirs his staffers have been publishing (Samantha Power’s came too late to be included). Even as someone who liked Ben Rhodes’ memoir, the jabs at the self-presentations of the “Obamanauts” as plucky Sorkinesque underdogs are well-taken and devastating. Excerpts getting to the heart of the piece:
Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan won election by promising to crush a systemic social malignancy: the slaveocracy, economic royalists, a parasitic class of liberal elites. Unlike these transformative presidents of left and right, Obama disavowed any structural transformations of society or the economy.
So perhaps Obama’s most important legacy will be one of productive disappointment: energizing a multiracial coalition of young voters whose subsequent disaffections with Obamaism and inclinations toward socialism are today remaking the left.
Can’t read this recapping this past Summer 2019 in American news without some horror at how we just… move on. Second or third LRB article I’ve come across to use this patchwork style of news commentary and it’s devastatingly effective each time. Even in writing this blog post, I’m revisiting articles I read one or two months ago that alarmed me at the time before just being forgotten.
A+ title, I had to co-opt it.
This week it was Slate (and BuzzFeed ); at other times it’s been the Guardian and Gawker ; several times , it’s been VICE . It goes on and on, with the Times running stories that other people already have and not acknowledging them for seemingly no better reason than the paper’s institutional belief that a thing does not exist until the paper has deemed it noteworthy.
Some reporters and editors at the paper say that individual instances of not properly crediting are attributable not to a policy of not linking to rival news outlets, but just to harried journalists not getting around to doing so, green reporters not knowing to do so, and editors not being aware of previous reporting and not doing the research needed to add links. Others just throw their hands up.
‘I wish you great luck,’ a current Times employee said, ‘in shaming people out of this policy.’
Reporter April Glaser:
I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I worked hard to break the Kickstarter Union story and gain the trust of sources. Why won’t the NYT or WaPo cite who broke it? This is my career.
In the nineteen-nineties, researchers found that forty-one per cent of male officers admitted that, in the previous year, they’d been physically aggressive toward their spouses, and nearly ten per cent acknowledged choking, strangling, or using—or threatening to use—a knife or a gun. But there are almost no empirical studies examining the prevalence of this sort of abuse today.
This year, an independent panel found that the typical penalty for New York City police officers found guilty of domestic violence—some had punched, kicked, choked, or threatened their victims with guns—was thirty lost vacation days . In nearly a third of cases, the officers already had a domestic-violence incident—and, in one case, eight—in their records. In the Puerto Rico Police Department, ninety-eight police officers were arrested for domestic violence between 2007 and 2010; three of them had shot and killed their wives. Only eight were fired.
Ariel Rubinstein on game theory (h/t Tim)
Q: Looking at the flipside, was there ever a situation in which you were pleasantly surprised at what game theory was able to deliver?**
AR*: None. Not only none, but my point would be that categorically game theory cannot do it. Maybe somewhere in a Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie story there was a situation where the detective was very clever and he applied some logical trick that somehow caught the criminal, something like that. You know in America there was a programme on CBS, called Numbers, written ‘Numb3rs’, with the ’e’ reversed... But outside such programmes, I categorically cannot see any case where game theory could be helpful.*
The choice of the name “theory of games” was brilliant as a marketing device. The word “game” has friendly, enjoyable associations. It gives a good feeling to people. It reminds us of our childhood, of chess and checkers, of children’s games*. The associations are very light, not heavy, even though you may be trying to deal with issues like nuclear deterrence. I think it’s a very tempting idea for people, that they can take something simple and apply it to situations that are very complicated, like the economic crisis or nuclear deterrence. But this is an illusion. Now my views, I have to say, are extreme compared to many of my colleagues. I believe that game theory is very interesting. I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about it, but I don’t respect the claims that it has direct applications.*
My thinking was that formal models could help in this respect, from an intellectual point of view. And that’s all. If you ask me now whether I would repeat my life in this way, I don’t think so. If I could repeat my life, I would probably follow my unfulfilled dream to be a lawyer.
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: I’m an expert on a hypothetical particle called the axion. This axion might be the particle that explains dark matter. It could compose all of the dark matter.
Lawrence Ware: So it is a hypothetical particle? It doesn’t exist? Are you an expert in stuff that exists or stuff that doesn’t exist?
CP: That’s an interesting question. My job is as a theoretical physicist. So I’m not someone who collects data, right?
LW: Wait, wait, wait, you don’t collect data?
CP: No. I don’t collect data out in the world. I collect data in my mind.
LW: Keep going, keep going, I’m listening.
CP: My job is real, okay?
LW: I know it’s real.
Parasite (2019), dir. Bong Joon-ho
My favorite movie of the year so far and by a large margin. The New York Times had four articles on the movie in October alone, the last one effusive to an OTT degree:
“What makes Parasite the movie of the year—what might make Bong the filmmaker of the century—is the way it succeeds in being at once fantastical and true to life.”
Thematically and visually, this succeeds in all the ways I thought Us (2019) far undershot its ambitions. It’s also hilarious. Don’t read anything else about it if you can watch it.