Kevin Bryan posted about a new paper by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson that is a response to Piketty’s much-ballyhooed book on Capitalism. The post is very well done and I have downloaded the paper from the link supplied there, to read when the rush to get ready for the fall semester is past.
This depressed me yesterday. Read it and be depressed yourself today. From Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog on washingtonpost.com:
Henry on Crooked Timber (I just had to repost the whole thing):
Stephen Budiansky, via Cosma Shalizi’s Pinboard feed.
Back in ancient times when I worked at esteemed weekly newsmagazine U.S. News & World Report, I always loathed the annual college rankings report. Like all cash cows, however, the college guide was a sacred cow, so I just shut up about its obvious statistical absurdities and inherent mendacity. As a lesson in the evils of our times, it is perhaps inevitable that the college guide is now the only thing left of U.S. News.
A story in today’s New York Times reports that Claremont McKenna college has now been caught red handed submitting phony data to the college guide to boost its rankings. But the real scandal, as usual, is not the occasional flagrant instance of outright dishonesty but the routine corruption that is shot through the whole thing. … To increase selectivity (one of the statistics that go into U.S. News’s secret mumbo-jumbo formula to produce an overall ranking), many colleges deliberately encourage applications from students who don’t have a prayer of getting in. To increase average SAT scores, colleges offer huge scholarships to un-needy but high scoring applicants to lure them to attend their institution. (The Times story mentioned that other colleges have been offering payments to admitted students to retake the test to increase the school average.)
… One of my favorite bits of absurdity was what a friend on the faculty at Case Law School told me they were doing a few years ago: because one of the U.S. News data points was the percentage of graduates employed in their field, the law school simply hired any recent graduate who could not get a job at a law firm and put him to work in the library. Their other tactic was pure genius: the law school hired as adjunct professors local alumni who already had lucrative careers (thereby increasing the faculty-student ratio, a key U.S. News statistic used in determining ranking), paid them exorbitant salaries they did not need (thereby increasing average faculty salary, another U.S. News data point), then made it understood that since they did not really need all that money they were expected to donate it all back to the school (thereby increasing the alumni giving rate, another U.S. News data point): three birds with one stone! (I gather the new Case law dean has put an end to these shenanigans.)
Worth reading the whole thing (even though Budiansky’s site has one of those annoying and anti-social ‘if you cut and paste text from my site, you will get unasked for cruft about how you ought to click on the original link added to your pasted text’ installations).
(Via Crooked Timber)
Francis Fukuyama has a review of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty in the New York Times. He concludes with this insightful observation:
In the end, there is a deep contradiction in Hayek’s thought. His great insight is that individual human beings muddle along, making progress by planning, experimenting, trying, failing and trying again. They never have as much clarity about the future as they think they do. But Hayek somehow knows with great certainty that when governments, as opposed to individuals, engage in a similar process of innovation and discovery, they will fail. He insists that the dividing line between state and society must be drawn according to a strict abstract principle rather than through empirical adaptation. In so doing, he proves himself to be far more of a hubristic Cartesian than a true Hayekian.
UPDATE (2011-05-09): Although the commenter to this post did not respond to my request to show me who has contradicted Fukuyama online, I did find a whole lot of comments via Easterly’s blog. This one, from beyond the grave, is most entertaining. Do read the comments on Easterly’s blog, too. At the end of the day, Fukuyama’s review, at least the part I quote above, is certainly true about people like Beck and may not be true for Hayek. I stand by my observation in the comment below that Hayek should have looked for the mathematical tools needed to formalize his seminal ideas. (I have almost the same complaint about Keynes’s General Theory, although Keynes was reasonably capable in mathematical modeling. Why did he not try it?)
In a recent post in opendemocracy.net, Aristos Doxiadis presents a thoughtful and detailed look at the historical and structural features of the Greek economy that make Greek society so ineffective and, at least to people like me, one to be far, far away from. His article deserves thoughtful commentary, which I hope to have time for soon. Meanwhile, as a person who was born in Greece and spent the first 25 years of his life there, I can say with confidence that his observations on the Greek society and economy are on-target. I am really surprised that Doxiadis has chosen to continue living in Greece, given the clarity of his vision about the rottenness that pervades that society. I suppose it is admirable that he is trying to reform it for the better. I am more than a little pessimistic about the prospects of success of any such fundamental reform of a society so diseased.
Read this post by Daniel Little and weep. If you care about democracy and the public good, that is. This kind of thing is a main reason that standard economics has done a serious disservice to humanity by emphasizing the private motivations of individuals and not studying public mindedness and the “public good” in general very much. We can still hope to make strides to reverse this inattention to publicness in economics and also in the political sphere. At least, I sincerely hope so.