09 May 2009

Talk About a Softball

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I am in the middle of doing a radio show Saturday night to promote my book. When the show went to its first commercial break, all of a sudden I couldn’t hear anything. Yet, I could tell I was still on the line.

So I called the station from my cell phone, while holding the landline to my other ear. I got the producer and explained the situation. He said, “Well, we’re still showing you on hold, so let’s keep your cell open too. If we don’t have you when we come back from break, we’ll switch to your cell without missing a beat.”

So anyway once the show came back (I could hear the commercials on my cell phone), the landline came back on; I could hear everything. So I hung up my cell.

Then I heard the host say, “Welcome back folks we’re talking to Dr. Robert Murphy about his new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal. If you’d like to ask Dr. Murphy a question…oh, we just lost the caller. Well if you’d like to ask Dr. Murphy about our current crisis, the toll-free number is…”

I had a hilarious idea because of the above episode. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

09 May 2009

Why the Editor of The New Republic Hasn’t Quieted My Inflation Fears

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Bob Roddis sends me this short video of TNR Senior Editor Noam Sheiber explaining why Allan Meltzer was wrong to worry about inflation:

When I get some time, I want to return and pick apart the fallacy in the Phillips Curve–the alleged tradeoff between unemployment and price inflation. My starting point will be Brad DeLong’s recent class notes which omit a key period from his historical scatter plots; someone please remind me if I forget to come back to this during the next week.

But for now, here are some points I’d like Sheiber to explain:

* If we can’t have inflation now because of an output gap, then what happened in the 1970s? (I don’t mean that as a finishing move; if the Keynesians have a story to explain away stagflation, I’d like to know what the story is.)

* If the 25% unemployment of 1933 (and yes it was just in that year, not throughout the 1930s as Sheiber implies) were due to a deflationary spiral, then why wasn’t unemployment higher during the much more severe deflation during the 1920-1921 depression?

* If the worst thing in the world would be falling prices–since they lead people to postpone purchases, etc.–then what happened during the late 1920s, when prices fell every year from 1926-1928? I’m pretty sure businesses made a lot of sales during this period.

==> I predict that Sheiber’s video here is going to make him look as ridiculous as all the analysts (like Ben Stein etc.) who told us not to worry about the housing boom and to go buy stocks. (And yes, I made my own mea culpa here, in case newcomers think they are going to bust me for hypocrisy.) And to make my own position falsifiable, here you go: If the non-seasonally adjusted CPI rises at less than a 5% annualized rate in 4q 2009, I will admit I have been a fool for my warnings, and that I clearly don’t know what I am talking about. I am going to be extremely surprised if all of the money printing and unbelievable deficit spending don’t start pushing up US prices this year.

(Note that I may have made more aggressive inflation predictions elsewhere; this is not to be seen as backing away from them, I just don’t want to look them up right now.)

09 May 2009

Don’t Call It a Comeback

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Please excuse the lag in posting, but I had quite a hectic schedule this past week. I was in Houston for two events related to my book; below are pictures of me with my chaperone and host David Hutzelman (and a Texas-sized gift basket from Rob and Nancy Bradley) and then with Barry Klein, who organized the Friday event at which more than 100 people showed up.

Just a reminder, for those in the Nashville area, I am giving a book talk this coming Monday evening, and for those in the Bismarck area, I will be at the North Dakota Policy Council this coming Saturday. Details here.

But now I’m back, and there are plenty of things to catch up on. Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, Gavin at RealClimate, and all my friends have been busy beavers in my absence.

Oh and don’t forget, tomorrow is Mother’s Day! If you forget to call her…well let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

05 May 2009

Murphy Media

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Here is the mp3 of my appearance on the G. Gordon Liddy show. He was actually a really sweet guy, no lie. But during the commercial break somehow it came up that he and other FBI agents were once asked to provide extra security for President Eisenhower. Liddy said that he had been chosen because they had electronically clocked it that he could go from holster to shot in 64 hundredths of a second.

Then here is the video of the Heritage panel on green jobs. (Note that two of us are hardcore Rothbardians! The melding of theory and policy!)

Incidentally, Joe Romm deconstructed us at the blog Tom Friedman finds “indispensable.” I’m not being sarcastic, I really don’t even understand Romm’s post. Is that him writing? What’s with the italics, and why is he crossing out words? If he’s correcting somebody else’s commentary, whose is it?

04 May 2009

Hotel Follies

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I’m back in the hotel (briefly) before heading out to dinner with the other members of the truth commission participating in Heritage’s “green jobs” panel. I also have some good anecdotes from G. Gordon Liddy’s show this morning. But I’ll post the links and stories later.

For now, two hotel points:

* Does the Embassy Suites know game theory? See, I want to watch the movie Taken later tonight when I get back from dinner. But IER is taking care of the hotel bill. So is it going to show up as “Taken,” or just “A movie Monday night”? Because I hear–”really baby it’s not mine”–that hotels don’t put naughty titles on your hotel bill. But if they do list the titles of normal movies (which just feature good wholesome things like adult kidnappings and information derived through torture), then that defeats the purpose. So, I’m basically wondering if the expense department at IER is going to receive a signal of poor quality. I’m sure there is a Bayesian joke in here somewhere.

* You know how when you watch X-Men you wish you had a mutant power? Well I have realized over several hotel stays that one of my powers is the ability to demagnetize hotel room keys even that are nowhere near my cell phone. Not sure when this will prove useful. If I am able to levitate metal objects as well, I’ve yet to figure out how.

03 May 2009

Radical Libertarian Fiction

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I don’t have the time right now to read fiction, but J. L. Bryan is giving away–that’s right giving away folks!–his latest novel concerning the completely unrealistic scenario where the US government becomes tyrannical.

03 May 2009

Barro on the Great Depression

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Here’s a pretty interesting interview with Robert Barro on the Great Depression (HT2MR). He actually makes a distinction that you don’t normally see (and which I didn’t get into in my book). Normally the issue is, “Do we print more money or run higher deficits?” But here is a more nuanced take:

[Browser]: So what is the thrust of [Bernanke's book on the Great Depression] and why is it important?

[Robert Barro]: It’s focusing on the Great Depression as a credit explosion, not so much the money supply, which Friedman and Schwartz had emphasized, but a somewhat related phenomenon, which is credit availability. That had been imploding from 1929 through to the trough, early in 1933. So it’s really focusing on the credit aspects and trying to measure that, particularly by looking at patterns in interest rates.

Today, for example, if you look at the spread between lower quality bonds – like B-rated corporate bonds, say – and compare those to treasury yields, that’s a good indicator of the extent of stress in the credit markets. And actually the recent period is going back to the kinds of spreads that you saw in the early 1930’s. Well, perhaps not quite as much, but certainly reminiscent of that. So he’s focused on that as a measure of the extent of the credit stress, and on the other side he focused on how what turned things around was when the credit problems were being eased.

This was my favorite part of the interview:

B: And yet neo-Keynesians—which include White House economics adviser Christina Romer–often cite the [Keynesian multiplier] as being 1.5, and you say in your article that the Obama administration is using 1.5 as a basis for its fiscal stimulus policies. How do they come up with that then?

RB: Oh they pulled that out of the air. I have the advantage of having at least a little bit of empirical evidence, as I said, it’s based particularly on military purchases. So even though that evidence is not that great, it’s infinitely better than the alternatives, which are no evidence.

From my limited forays into this area, I think Barro is being completely fair. Tyler Cowen has been asking his readers for one actual historical case of Keynesian pump priming pulling an economy out of recession, and in the comments I think the only case people pointed to was World War II.

Well, Barro’s WSJ article specifically focused on WWII, and he found that the data don’t support a multiplier above 1. (I.e. government deficit spending at that time didn’t seem to boost GDP more than the spending itself.)

In response, did the Keynesians challenge his numbers (which I couldn’t reproduce, by the way, just to warn you)? No, Paul Krugman said we have always been at war with World War II as an example of pump priming. Apparently it was a right-wing strawman that Barro was relying on, and no Keynesian had ever said World War II military spending was an example of stimulus working. (Really, read Krugman’s reaction. I’m not making this up.)

03 May 2009

Does Religion Belong in Science and Politics?

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In my curmudgeonly post on the Miss California controversy–fired off after a few days of little sleep–I provoked cries for clarification from my readers. So at the risk of digging myself deeper, let me use this Sunday’s “religious post” to elaborate.

First off, I hate the very notion of the government having anything to do with marriage. If I wanted to be glib, I’d say, “I don’t want justices of the peace marrying homosexuals, but I don’t want them marrying heterosexuals either.”

But obviously this is a bit too simplistic. I’m trying to think of an analogy, so here goes: If government schools (aka “public schools”) didn’t allow homosexuals (or Vietnamese or left handed people etc.) I could definitely understand advocacy groups flipping out. And in that context, it would obviously be rather obnoxious for a libertarian to say, “Quit your whining, you don’t have any right to taxpayer dollars for your schooling. We should stop letting in straight WASPs too.”

So if that’s as far as we take the analogy, then yes, I don’t think the government should be singling out particular people as eligible for state-sanctioned marriage. It should go without saying–but I will say it anyway–that private organizations such as churches should still be able to do whatever they wanted, without fear of legal reprisal. But for the government to refuse to marry certain people, especially if that decision emanates from particular religious views, is a very dangerous thing. In that respect, it would be just as troubling as government schools refusing to admit an atheist or a Buddhist etc., and I think even most right-wing Bible thumpers might hesitate to go that far.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. If you are someone who takes the Christian Bible seriously, then the difficulty is that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman. So to return to our analogy–and don’t flip out on me in the comments, please, but I need to make this point–what if someone wanted his poodle to go to 3rd grade to learn the times tables? We wouldn’t have a problem if school officials said no.

To take it closer to the actual controversy, suppose some spinster wants the justice of the peace to marry her and her favorite cat. Presumably we wouldn’t chalk it up to pure hatred and bigotry if the government officials said, “Uh, no, marriage is between two homo sapiens.”

So this whole issue is extremely complicated. I actually don’t think there is a resolution, save to get the government out of marriage altogether.


OK I also implied in the last post that the typical banishment of God from science is mistaken. What did I mean by that? Surely I don’t think particle physicists should be citing cyclotron data as well as Deuteronomy, right?

Of course they shouldn’t do that. And anyone who has read my formal journal articles would know that I “play the game” within the rules established by a scholarly group. I can write journal articles intended for mainstream game theorists without bringing up libertarianism–even though I believe in liberty very strongly–and by the same token a devout Christian who is a chemist doesn’t need to bring up the Bible in his professional work.

But that’s not the type of thing I’m talking about. I was referring to this desire by many atheists to reduce God to a harmless personal preference. So in this worldview, to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” has just as much signifance and impact on your daily life as saying, “I like Disney movies.” Yes, you spend time in church on Sundays if you have the former preference, and you spend time in particular movie theaters if you have the latter. But your Disney tastes don’t affect your views on evolution or who would make a good president, and neither should your religious preferences. (So goes the typical view.)

But that’s crazy. Suppose for the sake of argument that a powerful being really did create the earth and designed all of its life forms. Well, that would be a physical fact and would have all sorts of implications that would influence the observations of the natural sciences.

I don’t have a good quote to illustrate the view, but some of the more extreme anti-Intelligent-Design arguments almost say, “Even if there were a God and even if he did invent all life forms, it would be unscientific to entertain this hypothesis so we should assume that’s not what happened.”

Now let me be clear: I AM NOT SAYING BIOLOGISTS SHOULD BRING UP GENESIS IN THEIR PAPERS OR CLASSROOM. By the same token, when I taught at Hillsdale I never brought up the Bible, except to use an analogy that I thought most of the students would understand. I didn’t bring it up because I was teaching economics, and economic science per se does not rely on the validity of the Bible.

Devout Christians are supremely confident that there is a God; in fact many of them have what they would describe as a personal relationship with Him. So they are in a position analogous to a researcher who was abducted by aliens and now is working on SETI (search for extraterrestrial life intelligence). Some of his colleagues might write scathing critiques saying, “We’ve been searching the cosmos for signs of intelligence for decades, and nothing. This is fruitless.”

In response, the guy who was abducted can’t say, “I know they exist! Look at this probe scar!” The reason he can’t say that is that it’s not a valid scientific argument; it is not reproducible (or at least we hope not). But the point is, the existence of aliens is itself something that can be approached with the tools of science.

So in particular, if there are non-believers in aliens who publish “proofs” of their nonexistence, this guy knows those papers CAN’T be right. And using the tools of science, he should be able to show what the flaws are. Through it all, he is guided of course by his personal experience, but he still needs to communicate with the commonly accepted tools of his colleagues.

In conclusion, it’s the same for Bible-thumping biologists. They KNOW that God ultimately designed all life forms. Now perhaps His design manifests itself through common descent. In fact it would be very elegant if God imparted the “information” stressed by Dembski in the lifeless environment, such that “random” mutation and natural selection “just so happened” to give rise to humans, and then eventually to the birth of Jesus Christ–and through it all, each individual atom obeys a very sparse set of physical laws. That is absolutely amazing to comprehend, if that’s how it played out.

Now some secular humanist biologists will tell you, “That’s fine, you can have whatever background story you want, the important thing is that you agree it was most likely common descent arising from mutation and natural selection.” But no that’s not really true. Most evolutionists will tell you that if you think evolution has a goal or a plan, or that humans are a higher form of life, THEN YOU ARE WRONG AND YOU HAVE MISUNDERSTOOD DARWIN’S THEORY.

See? Today’s Darwinists are not simply making claims about natural science. They are going further, and making (anti-)teleological claims about reality and the purpose of life. This is what scares those simplistic Christians who view Darwin as the devil.