MR.S. in Economics

“These same decades (the last five) also witnessed an upsurge in the number of students majoring in economics, which is now the most popular concentration at two-thirds of the 40 top-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges.”

—George Scialabba, “Class and the Classroom: How Elite Universities Are Hurting America,” Foreign Affairs, Mar.–Apr. 2015.

This proves that economics is, clearly, the psychology for 21st century college students. That is, the default for those who don’t know what to study; almost as valuable as that venerable MR.S. degree.

And people wonder why I don’t believe in economists.

Go to war with Iran? You’re serious?

I couldn’t believe I was reading Joshua Muravchik’s column published online 13 March. I just received it in my Kindle edition today. He seriously advocates for war with Iran? This isn’t satire? No, he isn’t trying to be funny. One of the largest papers in our nation — the daily paper of the nation’s capital — ran his argument for war with Iran. You have to take that fairly seriously.

Muravchik argues the only way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state is to go to war with them. Airstrikes for sure, ground forces if necessary. In his own words:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal.

The fourth paragraph into his column he invokes Nazism — which we all know is a rather poor rhetorical ploy. But he’s right. Iran’s system of government is based on an ideology. As is the United States’ — constitutional republicanism. (If you’re a member of certain U.S. factions, you believe the country was founded as a “Christian nation,” which is even more clearly ideological). For what is ideology but an outlook upon life?

Destabilizing Iraq was, obviously, going to destabilize the region and leave an opening for Iran. It’s only natural that they try to fill that void. And, supposing he’s correct that Shiite Iran is trying to take over the region — which I don’t buy, though I do believe it wants significant regional influence, just as Sunni Saudi Arabia has — what would make them that much different from us? The war in Iraq was nothing if not, as President George W. Bush has said, an effort to create a democracy a bit like our own. (In result, “nothing” looms larger every day.)

I think he makes a mistake when he equates Iran with North Korea. Iran is a far more open society — it isn’t closed off from the world. Thus, it doesn’t have a nickname similar to that of the “hermit kingdom.” Iranians are modern, though some of us find their legal system and some cultural and religious beliefs to be rather ancient in practice and origin. The ideal of Iran is to function as a modern Islamic state; not a modern Western state. Whether or not that is being accomplished or can be accomplished with sanctions and the current ruling regime is a different question.

He uses Iraq, Libya and Syria as examples of how using force disarms countries of nuclear weapons. Not exactly the best examples, given their current situations.

In the end, Muravchik is willing to sacrifice further American blood and treasure on another folly in the Middle East. Indeed, he urges it. Iran may be an Islamic state, but it isn’t the Islamic State (IS). And it isn’t trying to create a caliphate, as IS has declared to have done. In fact, Iran is fighting hard against the group, just as we are. You know what that means?

A nuclear deal, a rollback of some sanctions, a cooling of tensions may just be what’s needed in the region. We’re already allies with Saudi Arabia. Why shouldn’t we, ultimately, balance our bets and ally with Iran? That won’t happen in the near future, but this deal is a first step.

 

This is why it disappoints me that you have to have a certain title, letters behind your name or work at the right place to have your opinion taken seriously. This guy is so clearly wrong and knuckleheaded, but the Post will publish his nonsense. My nonsense sits here in the ether — even though it has more sense than he does.

Warren Chisum & Bitcoin

A couple of things about money.

First, an amazing story from What Money Can’t Buy:

One viatical investor was Warren Chisum, a conservative Texas state legislator and “well-known crusader against homosexuality.” He led a successful effort to reinstate criminal penalties for sodomy in Texas, opposed sex education, and voted against programs to help AIDS victims. In 1994, Chisum proudly proclaimed that he had invested $200,000 to buy the life insurance policies of six AIDS victims. “My gamble is that it’ll make not less than 17 percent and sometimes considerably better,” he told The Houston Post. “If they die in one month, you know, they [the investments] do really good.”

Some accused the Texas lawmaker of voting for policies from which he stood to profit personally. But this charge was misdirected; his money was following his convictions, not the other way around. This was no classic conflict of interest. It was actually something worse — a morally twisted version of socially conscious investing.

Continue reading

More Poisonous: E-cigs or Economists?

I know certain people (C.Z.) will say that I should have already canceled my subscription to and stopped reading The New York Times. But I just can’t. I need that weekly fix of newsprint on my fingers, forehead and doors. Regularly, though, I find myself frustrated by what I’m reading. And so I retire to this blog to piss and moan about it.

Look, e-cigarettes are dangerous. But “Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes” is a bit hyperbolic. Especially when you go on to say, “The problems with adults, like those with children, owe to carelessness and lack of understanding of the risks.”

I mean, poison? As someone who just started smoking an e-cig in place of regular cigarettes (haven’t had one since I walked into the vaporizer shop a month or so ago), I was a bit worried. But if you’re only telling me I shouldn’t drink it, inject it or allow much on my skin because it’s transdermal, let’s not call it a poison. Legit e-cigarette sellers tell you this when you buy your first e-cig. Good places walk you through everything as if you were buying a new car. It can take up to 45 minutes.

Everyone likes to say, “But it hasn’t been proven . . .” Exactly. Nothing has been proven about e-cigs. You can’t say they hurt you anymore than you can say they can. So let’s just back off a little and not get our whities in a wad just because those who vape happen to exhale a visible water vapor.

On the other hand, there was finally some honesty from an economist in yesterday’s Times:

Do you want to know a dirty little secret of economists who give policy advice? When we do so, we are often speaking not just as economic scientists, but also as political philosophers. Our recommendations are based not only on our understanding of how the world works, but also on our judgments about what makes a good society.

Now, of course, that isn’t the entire truth. The entire truth is that “scientists” shouldn’t be put after the word “economic” in anything but satire. The dismal science isn’t dismal. It isn’t a science. At best, it belongs in the social science department. It may well belong in the humanities alongside literary criticism, philosophy and rhetoric. But it sure as hell isn’t a science.

Economists are just lacking politicians. They cloak their personal beliefs and ideologies in the shroud of some numbers and present their biased policy proposals. Half of them operate from a purely fictional Adam Smith/Milton Friedman premise. We’d do better to listen to anthropologists. Seriously.

So I’m glad the Times published this piece. At least one of them has come clean, even if he did far overuse the word “scientist” in his piece. He should never consider himself a real scientist. His are beliefs. Often wrong beliefs — like his argument on the minimum wage. But that’s just him being intellectually dishonest and, at the same time, encouraging readers not to believe other economists who agree with a minimum wage hike. Quite clever, actually.

But let’s be done with this, too: Economists are not scientists. They have no special view into the economy or its future or what this or that policy action may do to it. They’re just wannabe politicians. Take their opinions thusly.

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