22 Jun 2017


Contra Krugman, Potpourri 30 Comments

==> On Contra Krugman ep. 91 we have a lot of fun. I don’t have time to give a timestamp guide, but during the summary, Tom tells us how to pronounce “Qatar.” Then I point out Krugman’s unbelievable flip-flopping regarding health insurance premiums. Then Tom talks about foreign policy, and finally I talk about dollar strength.

==> I am starting a series at IER on “Clarifying Paris.” This is Part 1. An excerpt:

We see here the fundamental inconsistency in the descriptions put forth by the pro-Paris crowd: On the one hand, they argued that it was a historic agreement, one of the crowning achievements of the Obama Administration (and other governments), which was a vital part of humanity’s response to climate change.

Yet on the other hand, when President Trump says the costs outweigh the benefits for the US, the critics argue that the Paris Agreement was just a non-binding pledge and so there’s no point to pulling out; no big whoop. How can one possibly reconcile these two views?

These analogies are never perfect, but let’s try this one: Imagine a wife agrees that she and her husband will go on a vacation with their friends, and she verbally commits to splitting the cost of the beach house rental. Then the wife tells her husband what she did, and he says, “No way, that’s too expensive for us right now, I’ll call and cancel.” But the wife objects and says, “I didn’t actually sign a contract with them. Let’s still go on the trip, and when they ask us to pay our share of the bill, we’ll point out they can’t force us to, legally.” In this analogy, clearly the wife’s strategy is duplicitous; it is better for the husband to outright cancel the trip, even if the other couple has started making plans and will be really upset at the flip-flop. If the husband and wife have no intention of following through on her verbal pledge, better to let everybody know that upfront than to go on the vacation and have their friends guilt trip them the entire time.

==> This Scott Alexander post ran back in May, but it is amazing. He is pushing back against a piece at Vox concerning the press’ treatment of Donald Trump. (How can you not read it now?) I dawdled this long because I wanted to “do it justice,” but alas I am too swamped. But at least check out these great excerpts:

And whenever I mention this sort of thing, people protest “But Fox and Breitbart are worse!” And so they are. But I feel like Vox has aspirations to be something more than just a mirror image of Fox with a left-wing slant and a voiced fricative. It’s trying to be a neutral gatekeeper institution. If some weird conservative echo chamber is biased, well, what did you expect? If a neutral gatekeeper institution is biased, now we have a problem.

Roberts writes that “the right has not sought greater fairness in mainstream institutions; it has defected to create its own”. This is a bizarre claim, given the existence of groups like Accuracy In Media, Media Research Center,Newsbusters, Heterodox Academy, et cetera which are all about the right seeking greater fairness in mainstream institutions, some of which are almost fifty years old. Really “it’s too bad conservatives never complained about liberal bias in academia or the mainstream media” seems kind of like the opposite of how I remember the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The way I remember it, conservatives spent about thirty years alternately pleading, demanding, suing, legislating, and literally praying for greater fairness in mainstream institutions, and it was basically all just hitting their heads against a brick wall. Then they defected to create their own.


In the hospital where I work, there’s a RESIST TRUMP poster on the bulletin board in our break room. I don’t know who put it there, but I know that anybody who demanded that it be taken down would be tarred as a troublemaker, and anyone who tried to put a SUPPORT TRUMP poster up next to it would be lectured about how politics are inappropriate at work. This is true even though I think at least a third of my colleagues are Trump supporters.

and then his amazing conclusion:

David Roberts ends by noting that he doesn’t really know what to do here, and I agree. I don’t know what to do here either.

But one simple heuristic: if everything you’ve tried so far has failed, maybe you should try something different. Right now, the neutral gatekeeper institutions have tried being biased against conservatives. They’ve tried showing anti-conservative bias. They’ve tried ramping up the conservativism-related bias level. They’ve tried taking articles, and biasing them against conservative positions. I appreciate their commitment to multiple diverse strategies, but I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a possibility they’ve missed.

Look. I read Twitter. I know the sorts of complaints people have about this blog. I’m some kind of crypto-conservative, I’m a traitor to liberalism, I’m too quick to sell out under the guise of “compromise”. And I understand the sentiment. I write a lot about how we shouldn’t get our enemies fired lest they try to fire us, how we shouldn’t get our enemies’ campus speakers disinvited lest they try to disinvite ours, how we shouldn’t use deceit and hyperbole to push our policies lest our enemies try to push theirs the same way. And people very reasonably ask – hey, I notice my side kind of controls all of this stuff, the situation is actually asymmetrical, they have no way of retaliating, maybe we should just grind our enemies beneath our boots this one time.

And then when it turns out that the enemies can just leave and start their own institutions, with horrendous results for everybody, the cry goes up “Wait, that’s unfair! Nobody ever said you could do that! Come back so we can grind you beneath our boots some more!”

Conservatives aren’t stuck in here with us. We’re stuck in here with them. And so far it’s not going so well. I’m not sure if any of this can be reversed. But I think maybe we should consider to what degree we are in a hole, and if so, to what degree we want to stop digging.

30 Responses to “Potpourri”

  1. Craw says:

    Someone needs to write a Scott Alexander Compressor program.

    Interesting article. I have little experience of Fox but I heartily doubt they are less slanted and dishonest than CNN or NBC. I think he is proving the maxim that if you don’t see the bias it is because you share it. But since he doesn’t insist or argue from his impression I guess it’s not a major quibble.

    What to do? Actually pretty obvious. Stop using politics to prove what a good person you are. Stop making it a litmus test for respect-worthiness. Stop calling people irredeemable deplorables. But his “we’re stuck here with them” suggests this possibility has not yet occurred to him.

    • Darien says:

      Yeah, I definitely agree that Alexander’s article lost a lot of punch because of his weirdo “don’t mistake me for one of *those people*” routine. Maybe step one of “what to do here” would be to stop behaving like the world is a fantasy novel, and all people are either noble high elves or evil orcs.

    • Tel says:

      I think he is proving the maxim that if you don’t see the bias it is because you share it.

      Did you know I’m the only person on Earth who speaks with no accent whatsoever?

  2. Tel says:

    If the husband and wife have no intention of following through on her verbal pledge, better to let everybody know that upfront than to go on the vacation and have their friends guilt trip them the entire time.

    A closer analogy to the Paris agreement would be a whole bunch of couples who talked about going on vacation, and most of them pledged a vague contribution but no specific amount, some (e.g. the Chinese couple) explicitly pledged NOT to pay, because they didn’t feel they should have to; while some of the poorer couples not only didn’t want to pay, they also expected everyone else should buy them drinks, even to show up at all. For a while it was looking like the vacation just wasn’t going to happen, but then the American wife jumped up and pledged a whole lot, because she wanted everyone to think she was cool.

    At the same time, most of the couples have been wondering whether the holiday destination even exists… but they don’t want to say that too loudly (especially if those free drinks are still available).

  3. Harold says:

    ” How can one possibly reconcile these two views?”
    Because getting every country in the world to formally agree about just about anything is a staggeringly big achievement.

    • Matt M says:

      Every country in the world didn’t agree on one thing. They all agreed to their own individual things. Bob does a great job explaining this on the episode of Contra Krugman that dealt with it.

      Pakistan, for instance, agreed to “reduce emissions after it reaches its emissions peak” (which, as Bob pointed out, is merely simply defining what an emissions peak is rather than committing to any real meaningful course of action)

      • Harold says:

        They all agreed to sign the same thing. That is a staggering achievement. Ask every country to agree that black is black you will proably get some that disagree.

        Ask every country to agree that there is a particular thing that is a threat to all of them, it is quite staggering that they all agree, even if some are not required to do much as yet.

        You may not agree, but you must concieve that some reasonable people can believe this, and thus reconcile these two views.

        • Dan says:

          “Ask every country to agree that there is a particular thing that is a threat to all of them, it is quite staggering that they all agree, even if some are not required to do much as yet.”

          It’s not staggering to get someone to sign something that gives them billions of dollars without having to do anything upfront and when you can always drop out latter. That’s just politics.

        • Matt M says:

          “They all agreed to sign the same thing. That is a staggering achievement.”

          How about this?

          We lock a bunch of conservatives and a bunch of liberals in a room to sign an agreement on what is to be done about abortion.

          After several weeks, they come out and announce they’ve reached a truly historic agreement. The conservatives all agree to do everything they can to ensure that abortion is illegal in their jurisdictions, and the liberals agree to do everything they can that abortion on demand is given away for free at taxpayer expense for any reason in their jurisdictions!

          But they agreed on it! How historic! What an achievement!

          • Harold says:

            Matt M. If they all agreed that abortion was a problem and left and right should be working together to eradicate it, and these were the ways they were going to attempt that, then your analogy is not too bad.

            • Matt M says:

              But that’s not what the Paris accord is. They didn’t all agree on how to eradicate climate change. They all individually agreed on what they, individually as nations, would do to eradicate climate change. In the case of some (like Pakistan) the answer was essentially “nothing at all.”

              Token statements that everyone “recognizes it as a problem” don’t impress me at all. The left *often* claims it agrees with the right’s stated goal of minimizing the total amount of abortions performed.

            • Harold says:

              Matt, they all agreed it was a problem that should be solved. If you look back you will see that your different parties were doing actions that were the exact opposite of reducing or eliminating abortion.

              Token statements might not impress you but they are very difficult to obtain in some situations.

  4. Matt M says:


    Some slight pushback on your vacation analogy.

    Let’s say that you are a HUGE believer in vacations. You believe that vacations are a super awesome thing that most people do not properly value. Perhaps you believe that if some critical mass of people do not go on vacation, the Earth itself will be destroyed.

    In this case, perhaps it IS better to signal that you are totally going on this vacation, in the hopes that it will inspire your friends and family to do so as well, even if your ultimate intention is to pull out at the last minute and not go. Whereas, if the most popular family in the group says today that they aren’t going, it’s likely other families will drop out along the way as well.

    • Harold says:

      Yeah, the whole vacation analogy is too flawed from the start to make it work properly.

      We have to start from a percieved threat. Someone believing vacations are required to stave off armageddon doesn’t do it for me. This has to be a threat that even if it is wrong is backed up by science and believed by most. We have examples from the economic literature to draw from. Tragedy of the commons is probably good one to use.

      The wife of the richest farmer in the locality sees that everybody grazing on the common is degrading it. She thinks that her husbands huge herds whch have been grazing for decades, have caused significant damage. The collective down the road has just recently caught up with the number of cattle owned by her husband, but they have far fewer resources. There are also many small farmer who graze their few cattle on the common. This degradation will cause economic harm to all as a resource will be lost. She not only believes this, but commissions a study by scientists to study this. Yes, they agree that degradation is happening (although 3 out of the hundred she hired disagree).

      She works hard to get everyone to see this. After many, many meetings she gets all the other cattle owners to agree that this is a problem, and each will agree to cut back on using the common. This will entail them using some of their own land for grazing, or switching from cattle. Some people have very little grazing land, but they also have few cattle, so they agree that these will be allowed to use the common as before for a short period to allow then to develop their land to grazing or diversify out of cattle. Since the richest farmer has over the years obtained by far the greatest benefit from the common, and as they have the greatest resources to manage the change, the wife agrees that they will start very modest reductions immediately. The key factor is that everyone recognises the problem and agrees to cooperate.

      All agree and sign the accord, even though some are not immediately required to stop or reduce their grazing. This is the first time all the farmers have agreed about anything.

      Then the husband – the wealthiest farmer in the locality – overrides the wife. I am not agreeing to this, I will graze as many cattle as I like on the common! It is my right! To do otherwise will cost us money using our own land for grazing. Anyway, I don’t believe the common is degrading – look at these 3 scientists that disagreed. I prefer to believe them, so why should I take any loss? Make the farm great again!

      Many of his farm workers agree that this was ok, because after all, their farm would have to take a bigger share of the costs and some farmers were not expected to reduce their grazing at all (for the moment). Some of them agreed with the boss that there was no harm from overgrazing, so the whole exercise was pointless anyway. Far more of the workers on this farm believed there was no problem than anywhere else. For some reason they seem to believe the 3 scientists who disagrree rather than the 97 who agree. Why could this be? I will leave that for another discussion.

      The agreement among the rest was left shaken. If the richest farmer and the greatest contributor to the degradation was pulling out, should they continue with this cooperative project? It would benefit everyone in the long run, so they believed, but only if everyone pulled together. If some cheated on the deal it would mean those remaining would have to make a bigger contribution and the benefits would all go to the cheater. Now the biggest contributer to date, the richest and most able to absorb any costs had pulled out, why should anyone else stay in? Maybe now is the time to abandon cooperation and cheat? After all, if the second largest current contributor, the most able to pay for adaptations and the hstorically biggest cause of the degradation can argue that their contribution makes no difference, why should anyone else stay in? The thing that was holding it together was that everyone had agreed that there was a problem and everyone was going to do something, however small, to contribute. A rare example of cooperation that could avoid the tragedy of the commons.

      The accountant for the rich farmer said that their contribution was only 10% at present, so it would make no appreciable difference if they pulled out. Better to pull out now than not do what we said we were going to do later, he said.

      Somehow failing to realise that by declaring their abandonment of the cooperative project they had shaken the foundations the cooperation needed for it to succeed.

      Many commentators decried the public announcement of pulling out. “This makes maintaining cooperation much more difficult and jeapordises the whole project.” said a spokesperson, A. Hole. (pronounced the Norwegian way).

      The tragedy of the commons had looked like being avoided. Now it was much closer to playing out the same old, self-interested-but-ultimateley-destructive way. If only people could see the bigger picture and understand that rational self interest fucks everyone in some situations and figure out it is not always a zero sum game.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Harold, the supreme virtue of my vacation analogy was that it isolated the ONE PARTICULAR CONTRADICTION in (some) of the commentary on Paris: Namely, that people were ripping Trump because he apparently didn’t realize that there were no consequences of staying in the agreement, and still “doing nothing.”

        You wrote 903 words (yes I pasted into Word to count) to offer a better analogy, and yet you didn’t include that crucial point.

        So yeah, call it a tragedy of the commons etc. etc. And then when the bad guy in your story wants to pull out, the other people say, “Huh? You can stay in the agreement and not have our cattle cut back their grazing at all. Even though we’re the richest people on the block. Let’s just stay in this agreement and do nothing. That will do wonders for solving the problem.”

        • Harold says:

          Yes, my rambling analogy attempted to be too comprehensive and missed that point entirely. Well spotted. A good rule of analogies is to have a simple point, lest the analogy gets more complicated than the thing it is intended to illustrate.

          The wife would indeed be very upset that all her hard work getting everyone to agree had been undermined to no effect.

          Is it more likely to get eventual action if the rich guy accepts the principle that everyone should work together and share the pain, or if the rich guy rejects that principle and says “stuff you lot, I am not going to do anything that might cost me anything”.

          I think the latter poisons the well and makes eventual action less likely.

          If you don’t think there is a problem this won’t bother you at all, but there are lots of people who do think there is a problem, and therefore see USA pulling out as a significant set-back in eventually dealing with the problem.

          Perhaps a better analogy is keeping the train on the tracks, even if it has not yet gone anywhere.

          • Bob Murphy says:

            Harold wrote:

            Yes, my rambling analogy attempted to be too comprehensive and missed that point entirely. Well spotted. A good rule of analogies is to have a simple point, lest the analogy gets more complicated than the thing it is intended to illustrate.

            The wife would indeed be very upset that all her hard work getting everyone to agree had been undermined to no effect.

            Harold, I am sorry to say that you STILL are not getting my very simple point.

            It’s not about the wife being upset at her hard work being undermined. Rather, it’s about the wife claiming that they should go ahead and “stay in the agreement,” even with no intention of following through with the commitment she made.

            You keep coming back to the idea that the wife’s commitment was a good idea, and the husband is a fool for not seeing that. OK fine. But then she certainly forfeits the ability to say, “My commitment doesn’t constrain us in any way, we might as well stay in.”

            • Craw says:

              Give it up Bob. Twelve replies from now Harold will just redefine “vacation” to mean serving on a chain-gang anyway.

            • Harold says:

              I am sorry, I thought I had made it clear.

              The whole thing is a process. Paris is not the end of that process. Keeping the process on track is important. Maintaining unity on the Paris accord makes it more likely that meaningful action will eventually be taken. Pulling out of the agreement makes it less likely.

              It is possible that the wife is thinking she may have a different husband in 4 years and would prefer there to still be an accord to re-commit to.

  5. Bob Roddis says:

    While you are spending all of your time arguing with “Harold”, Lord Keynes has gone full Vox Day on the subjects of “diversity” and immigration.


    Meanwhile, Vox Day has gone all Lord Keynes by declaring Steve Keen “brilliant”, especially in his demolition of “free trade”.


    Because central planners know best regarding where to place capital goods. And who should mate with whom.

    • LK says:

      Vox Day’s opinions about IQ, race etc. are not from Post Keynesianism at all, but the same as Rothbard’s views, or come logically out of ideas Rothbard endorsed:


      • Harold says:

        ” But the Commies were able to use their extensive ideological and propaganda machine during that era to somehow link Nazi persecution of Jews to racism, and with doctrines of racial superiority and inferiority.”

        Gee, how could they possibly have done that? These commies will twist anything!

        Is this really Rothbard, or this a parody? Poe’s Law and all that.

        • Bob Roddis says:

          Purposefully missing Rothbard’s point, Harold?

          In fact, most of the leading racial scientists were Progressives, left-liberals, and New Dealers. In that period, only Communists and other Marxists were egalitarians, for ideological reasons.


          In point of fact, however, it should be clear that Hitler and the Nazis did not PERSECUTE Jews because they believed Jews to be INFERIOR IN INTELLIGENCE.

          Further, Rothbard emphasizes that the NAP is there to protect you as a human being regardless of the truth or falsity of these various theories.

          • Harold says:

            Since when has racism and racial superiority been based only on intelligence? That is absurd.

            You can’t say the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not due to racism and notions of racial superiority BECAUSE it was not based on intelligence. That is simply wrong and stupid. It wasn’t based on shoe size either but that does not make it non-racist.

            The idea that commies had to take the real, non-racist origins of the holocaust and use their propaganda machine to twist these other motives and make them appear racist is laughable. The motives were racist.

            I am sure you do not need references to demonstrate this, but I can provide them if needed.

    • Bob Roddis says:

      Rothbard: Paleos want Big Government off all of our backs, be we smart or dumb, black, brown or white.

      It is truly fascinating that, while liberals and neocons have been deriding paleos for years as notorious “racists,” “fascists,” “sexists,” and all the rest, that actually we, as libertarians, are the last group who deserve such a label: that, in fact, liberals [including Keynesians] and neocons, as people who all stand with the power elite over the ordinary Americans, are far more deserving of the statist-racist-fascist label.

      Vox Day: Realistically, 93 to 94 percent of Infosys’s employees [US based south Asians] should be repatriated. Because not good for the whites.

      LK: There is a simple question these people need to answer:

      With respect to Western countries in Europe like Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, or Belgium, how much diversity is enough?

      Is there any limit to diversity?

      For example, is the pro-diversity Leftist or Conservative willing to set a limit at which we have had enough diversity?

      For example, is it enough diversity when we hit the point when 50% of the total population is of immigrant origin? Or when 60% of the total population is of immigrant origin? Or 70%? Or 80%? Or 90%

      Or 100%?

      I would like to see the pro-diversity multiculturalists – whether Conservatives or Leftists – answer this question.

      Under AnCap, individual property owners can best make those decisions for themselves. They have the personal and specialized knowledge necessary to make the decisions and to impose whatever contractual restrictions they think are necessary in their relationships with “Immigrants”. A majority of immigrants cannot suddenly vote to abolish the private property regime and seize the assets of the new minority as is the case under “social democracy”.

      • Harold says:

        “how much diversity is enough?”

        One can argue sensibly that the better question is the marginal one: “Is a bit more diversity better right now?”

        • Tel says:

          It happens to be the same question.


          • Harold says:

            I don’t think it is the same question. The marginal test asks something like “are we sloping up now?” The other question asks “When does the sign of the slope change?”

            The first is like asking “are we going up hill?” That is quite easy to answer. All you do is look at the ground immediately around you. The second asks “Where is the top of the hill?”. You need to survey ahead to know that.

            Quite different questions. We have enough information to answer one, but not the other.

            • Harold says:

              That last sentence was supposed to read “we *may* have enough information to answer one, but not the other.”

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