Showing posts from January, 2021


 All predictions of Orwell seem to come true eventually so it shouldn't surprise us that consigning various historical persons to the unperson bin has happened.  What is a bit disappointing is that educational institutions seem to be taking the lead.  Robert Millikan was Caltech's first Nobel Prize winner and the person most responsible for turning it into one of the world's most prestigious universities.  The tallest building on campus used to be called the Millikan Library, but Millikan has had his name deleted from all the major campus features.  It seems that he had subscribed to and promoted some popular eugenic ideas back in the day.  Not sure if his picture and grotto in the Athenaeum (faculty club) have been deleted, or if his works have been scrubbed from the library that used to bear his name. Meanwhile, San Francisco has changed the names of schools named after notorious racists like Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington.  More locally, the high school my sons atten

TOSAIE: More Popperism

 After a long sojourn in sunnier intellectual climes, and most of them are, I returned to Popper and his analysis of the flaws of Marx.  It is a subject that has trouble holding my interest, since I have always considered the flaws manifested in the implementation of his ideas manifest.  Moreover, I don't think much of the historical prediction stuff that seems to be at its heart.   Still, there is some point, I suppose, in looking at the milieu he studied, and its rather catastrophic consequences.  Frankly, I was less inspired by the persecution and execution of Marx than the drive by damage done to classical liberalism.  given my abiding distaste for Hayek, Friedman, and their ilk, I found that encouraging. What is the greater danger to human freedom and welfare?  That is the question that animates the dispute between interventionists like Popper and Libertarians like Hayek.  For Popper (and Marx, so far as I can tell), it is capitalism and control of government by capital.  For

Big Brains and Fingernails

How did the distinctive traits that make us human evolve?   So what are those traits, anyway?   Here are a few: binocular vision, fingers with nails and soft pads instead of claws, fingers adapted to grasping rather than running, upright posture freeing those hands to grasp and manipulate. Roland Ennos, in his fascinating new book, The Age of Wood, notes that all those traits were already present in the bush baby, a tiny primate that looks a bit like a furry human. Though they are similar to us in so many ways, bush babies are only distant relatives. Fossil evidence and DNA analysis show that their lineage split from ours around 50 million years ago. Yet they share with us many key derived characteristics: binocular vision, with the eyes both pointing forward; an upright body posture; differentiation of the limbs between hind legs and feet for locomotion, and arms and hands for gripping; and soft pads and nails on the tips of their digits, instead of claws. We usually think of thes

The Most Neglected Economist

Thomas Malthus was one of the first to write on economics, but he is also almost invisible in conventional economic discussions.  I am inclined to think that this is because his idea is both simple and uncongenial to both Marxist and most Capitalist theories of the economy.  Reduced to its essence, his idea is that humans can reproduce faster than our means of sustenance can increase.  Darwin took this idea and made it the core of his theory of evolution. Neglect of Malthus cannot be explained by lack of confirmatory data.  The Chinese adoption of the "one child" law was draconian, but it is probably the most successful economic policy in human history.  It took decades, but China went from being a high fertility and desperately poor country to an economic superpower.  Many advanced countries achieved the same things by less drastic measures, but the data clearly shows that high fertility destroys economic progress and low fertility promotes it. Low fertility promotes economi

Popper vs. Libertarianism

 Popper thinks that Marx's theory of the state is a fatal flaw, and I certainly agree, but he argues that Marx came by it honestly: For Marx lived, especially in his younger years, in a period of the most shameless and cruel exploitation. And this shameless exploitation was cynically defended by hypocritical apologists who appealed to the principle of human freedom, to the right of man to determinate his own fate, and to enter freely into any contract he considers favourable to his interests. Popper, Karl R.. The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton Classics) . Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.  Of course our libertarian friends continue to say the same things, mostly, I think because they don't want the government interfering with their freedom to deny freedom to everyone else.  The fact that they largely cannot carry out their program in Europe is a big point against the Marxist theory of the state.  Of course the US is a somewhat different story, where the pluto