Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My Europe Trip: Schedule

My schedule is now definite.

4/13-15 Belgrade: ESFL Feud Law, Liberland event Reputational Enforcement 
4/17 Prague Feud Law. Video of the talk 
4/19 Bucharest Market Failure—An Argument Both for and Against Government
4/21 Sofia: Bulgarian Libertarian Society An Economic Analysis of the Market for Law

4/24 Budapest (at Corvinus University) A Positive Account of Rights
4/26 Maastricht: MSFL Population, Climate, and the Problem With Externality Arguments
4/28 Oslo: Capitalist Party in Norway Market Failure
4/30 Oxford: Oxford Union Market Failure: An Argument Both for and Against Government

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

My Europe Trip: Tentative Schedule

It looks as though the schedule for my talks is:

4/14 Belgrade: ESFL
4/17 Prague hosted by Institute of Cryptoanarchy and Paralelní Polis
4/19 Bucharest
4/21 Sofia: Bulgarian Libertarian Society
4/24 Budapest
4/26 Maastricht: MSFL
4/28 Oslo: Capitalist Party in Norway
4/30 Oxford: Oxford Union

I would appreciate it if the people hosting the talks would check that this fits their view of the schedule and let me know if I have anything wrong—coordinating this many talks can get confusing.

I would also like information for each talk on where and when it will be, assuming that's known, and whether it will be open, so that people reading this blog who happen to be in the area can come to any open talks if they wish. Also the identity of the hosting organization if I don't already have that here.

I don't seem to have any detailed information from Ste in Bucharest, so would appreciate an email from him or a comment here with his email address.
(Email received, Bucharest talk definite for the 19th)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wanted: Beta Readers for a Novel

I have completed a draft of Brothers, my third novel, the sequel to Salamander, and am looking for beta readers. Both books are fantasies of the sort where magic is a science.

Beta readers may, but need not, have read Salamander. I am interested in how well the sequel works both for those who have and those who have not.

Monday, March 05, 2018

My Europe Trip in April

I have been trying to work out the details of my speaking trip next month, complicated by issues of how to get from point A to point B in Europe. The current fixed points are the three weekends:

April 13-15 ESFL Belgrade
April 21 Sofia
April 28th Oslo

I have at least tentative invitations to speak in:

Maastricht, Netherlands
Prague, Czech Republic

My first thought was that Maastricht was close to Oslo so I should go there a couple of days before my Oslo talk. A little online research showed me my error--distance in miles, distance in hours, and distance in dollars have only a loose relationship. It is faster and less expensive, as best I can tell, to fly between Maastricht and Warsaw, Maastricht and Barcelona, Maastricht and Rome, ...  than between Maastricht and Oslo.

By my calculations, I have time for four more talks, assuming one day for travel between each pair of talks. It looks as though all of the likely locations other than Maastricht have reasonably good air connections to each other and some of them have tolerable connections to Maastricht.

The next step is for anyone who wants a talk and is willing to pay my expenses–a hotel room plus air fare to their location from whichever of the other locations I end up flying from–to let me know what days would work and what city I would be flying into and out of. I can then calculate a reasonable schedule.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Alfred Marshall on the Use of Mathematics in Economics

I retired at the end of last year and have finally finished clearing out my office. In the process I found a number of interesting things, including a printout of a book on transport economics that I wrote thirty some years ago when teaching a course on the subject but never published and thought was lost.

I also found the original of a passage in a letter by Marshall that I have been misquoting for many years. Here it is.

Balliol Croft, Cambridge
27. ii. 06

My dear Bowley,

     I have not been able to lay my hands on any notes as to Mathematico-economics that would be of any use to you: and I have very indistinct memories of what I used to think on the subject. I never read mathematics now: in fact I have forgotten even how to integrate a good many things.
     But I know I had a growing feeling in the later years of my work at the subject that a good mathematical theorem dealing with economic hypotheses was very unlikely to be good economics: and I went more and more on the rules—(1) Use mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than as an engine of inquiry. (2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate  by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics. (6) If you can't succeed in 4, burn 3. This last I did often.
     I believe in Newton's Principia Methods, because they carry so much of the ordinary mind with them. Mathematics used in a Fellowship thesis by a man who is not a mathematician by nature—and I have come across a good deal of that—seems to be an unmixed evil. And I think you should do all you can to prevent people from using Mathematics in cases in which the English Language is as short as the Mathematical.....
Which leaves me wondering how much of the economics of the next century went into Marshall's fireplace.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Slandering the Past

I recently attended a Jewish wedding, part of which was the signing of the ketubah. At one point the Rabbi commented that in the old days the ketubah would specify how many chickens and goats the groom was paying the bride's father for his daughter, whereas this modern ketubah stated the promises of bride and groom to each other.

It struck me as an unlikely claim, for at least two reasons. Jewish religious law is an extraordinarily well documented system, perhaps the best documented of all the legal systems I have looked at, with detailed interpretation going back to the Mishnah, written nearly two thousand years ago. In everything I have seen, the ketubah is described as a contract stating the husband's obligations to the wife. The one essential term is the amount that goes to the wife from the husband's property if he dies or divorces her.

Further, under Jewish religious law, parental consent was not required for the marriage of an adult--and a woman became an adult at twelve and a half, provided that she had shown some signs of puberty at least six months earlier. This became an issue during the Middle Ages, when Jewish communal courts tried to impose additional requirements in order to permit parents to prevent their daughters from imprudent marriages but faced difficulties due to the fact that the marriage rules were considered part of religious law (Issur) over which they had no authority.

An additional oddity to the Rabbi's account was the idea of a contract specifying a payment in chickens and goats when, as is clear by reading texts on the religious law, payments were routinely specified in money, sometimes with explanations of exactly what sort of money was to be used. 

My conclusion was that the Rabbi's view of the history of the ketubah fitted a pattern I have seen in other contexts--moderns believing in bogus history that supports their self image of superiority to those ignorant and unreasonable people in the past.  

My favorite example is the Columbus myth, the idea that the people who argued against Columbus were ignorant flat-earthers who thought his ships would sail off the edge. That is almost the precise opposite of the truth. By the time Columbus set off, a spherical Earth had been the accepted scientific view for well over a thousand years. Columbus's contemporaries not only knew that the Earth was round, they knew how big around it was, that having been correctly calculated by Eratosthenes in the third century B.C. 

By the fifteenth century they also had a reasonably accurate estimate of the width of Asia. Subtracting the one number from the other they could calculate the distance from where Columbus was starting to where Columbus claimed to be going and correctly conclude that it was much farther than his ships could go before running out of food and water. The scientific ignorance was on the side of Columbus and those who believed him; he was claiming a much smaller circumference for the Earth and a much larger width of Asia, hence a much shorter distance from Spain to the far end of Asia. We will probably never know whether he believed his own numbers or was deliberately misrepresenting the geographical facts in order to get funding for his trip in the hope that he would find land somewhere between Spain and Japan, as in fact he did.

Another example of the same pattern shows up in discussions of medieval cooking, one of my hobbies. Quite a lot of people believe that medieval cooks overspiced their food in order to hide the taste of spoiled meat. A few minutes of thought should be enough to see the consequences for a cook of routinely giving his employer and the employer's guests food poisoning. Also that, with meat available on the hoof, there was no need to keep it until it spoiled and that it made little sense to save on meat, a local product, at the cost of  spices that had to be transported over thousands of miles. 

I should probably add that, as best I can tell, there is no evidence that medieval food was overspiced at all, only that they used spices in different ways than modern European cuisine. But discovering that would actually require a little effort.

Finally, consider the success of H.L. Mencken's bathtub hoax, a wildly implausible story widely believed, at least in part because it made moderns feel superior to their ancestors.

I expect that other readers with historical interests can add other examples.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Anyone want a talk in Europe in April?

I'm planning a speaking trip this April. Since currently it is two weeks and only three or four talks I thought I would see if anyone else was interested. Current plans are:

Students for Liberty, Belgrade, April 13-15
Sofia, Bulgaria, April 21st
Capitalist Party of Norway, Oslo, Norway, April 28th

There is also a possible talk in Italy between Belgrade and Sofia or between Sofia and Norway, details not yet definite.