Category Archives: Misc

Tuesday July 13, 2021 links

  1. A Burial At Ornans
  2. Like Goya, a ‘renegade’: exploring Bob Thompson’s high-octane challenges to Western art
  3. #assumptions – Built solar assets are ‘chronically underperforming’ and modules degrading faster than expected, research finds
  4. Mdou Moctar: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert – youtube
  5. “The problem with ‘risk’ is that it only addresses the downside — you say there’s a good chance of winning the lottery or of something good happening . . . I much prefer thinking in terms of potential benefits and harms, which is clumsier but really expresses what we’re faced with in every decision that we make.” – FT Alphaville link
  6. “…we wanted to start an empirical literature on the question whether we can draw a line between ‘very rich’ and ‘too rich’” – Crooked Timber link
  7. “The constitution is paper, bayonets are steel.”

Tradeoffs: Growth / Stagnation

If the cold calls aren’t about non-existent accidents, they’re about my computer viruses, unpaid tax, my pension, or the impending disconnection of my broadband. Fraud and mis-selling are on the rise.

Why? Because in a world of secular stagnation there are fewer legitimate business opportunities – which diverts some entrepreneurs towards crime. Of course, some people are wrong’uns who’ll be fraudsters anyway, and some are moral paragons who never will be. At the margin, however, costs and benefits determine behaviour and so stagnation promotes fraud.

Good Stumbling and Mumbling post laying out examples of the negative impacts of a stagnating economy compared to a growing one. Stagnations shifts many tradeoffs towards the undesirable end of the spectrum:

  • Entrepreneurship shifts towards fraud
  • “Normal” valuations shift towards detached-from-fundamentals valuations
  • Accessible housing stock shifts towards speculation over limited property
  • Open access to career opportunities for the less traditionally credentialed shifts towards exclusive hiring tracks
  • Positive sum politics shifts towards zero sum politics

Which is why I can’t support the de-growth movement. Shifting from (say) 2% to zero trend growth isn’t merely a small difference in degree. It has all manner of cultural and political effects, many of them unpleasant. And of course, there is a constituency which supports this – not just financial and political grifters, but social conservatives, (some) home-owners and parts of financial capital which profit from the ultra-low interest rates caused by stagnation.

What we need is an alternative to this – one which sees that the cause of many of our social and political problems is capitalist stagnation, and which offers an alternative to this. This need not be a very leftist programme: it should reprise Blairite themes of modernity, hope and optimism. Such a project, however, requires an opposition – which we do not have.

Not all growth is created equal but I will take growth over stagnation every time.

Practice and theory: Rhetoric as legal realism

And, indeed, however much private study may contribute to success, there is still a peculiar proficiency that the courts alone can give: for there the atmosphere is changed and the reality of the peril puts a different complexion on things, while, if it is impossible to combine the two, practice without theory is more useful than theory without practice.

This is from the Lapham’s series on commencement speeches… by Quintillian.

And also this, which could be right out of The Bramble Bush:

Consequently, some who have grown old in the schools lose their heads when confronted by the novelty of the law courts and wish that it were possible to reproduce all the conditions under which they delivered their exercises. But there sits the judge in silence, their opponent bellows at them, no rash utterance passes unnoticed and all assumptions must be proved, the clock cuts short the speech that has been laboriously pieced together at the cost of hours of study both by day and night, and there are certain cases which require simplicity of language and the abandonment of the perpetual bombast of the schools, a fact which these fluent fellows completely fail to realize. And so you will find some persons who regard themselves as too eloquent to speak in the courts.

What is it artists do?

Now this gathering is a work of art. The teacher whose name I thought of when we all remembered good teachers asked me one time, “What is it artists do?” And I mumbled something. “They do two things,” he said. “First, they admit they can’t straighten out the whole universe. And then second, they make at least one little part of it exactly as it should be. A blob of clay, a square of canvas, a piece of paper, or whatever.” We have all worked so hard and well to make these moments and this place exactly what it should be.

That is from this Kurt Vonnegut commencement speech. And this: “There have never been any “Good Old Days,” there have just been days.

Good Advice

N.S.: If you could give some advice — career advice, or otherwise — to a smart 23-year-old American today, what would it be?

M.A.: Don’t follow your passion. Seriously. Don’t follow your passion. Your passion is likely more dumb and useless than anything else. Your passion should be your hobby, not your work. Do it in your spare time.

Instead, at work, seek to contribute. Find the hottest, most vibrant part of the economy you can and figure out how you can contribute best and most. Make yourself of value to the people around you, to your customers and coworkers, and try to increase that value every day.

It can sometimes feel that all the exciting things have already happened, that the frontier is closed, that we’re at the end of technological history and there’s nothing left to do but maintain what already exists. This is just a failure of imagination. In fact, the opposite is true. We’re surrounding by rotting incumbents that will all need to be replaced by new technologies. Let’s get on it.

For all intensive purposes there is nothing new under the sun

All intents and purposes I had forgotten that the phrase “there is nothing new under the sun” comes from Ecclesiastes. I also was not aware of the phrase “chasing after wind.”

The word Ecclesiastes derives from the Greek ekklesiastes, or “one who addresses an assembly.” That is from a recent reframing of the book from Lapham’s Quarterly. It is part of a series of piece by the magazine looking at advice from across history in the context of graduation season and its associated commencement addresses.

“[Ecclesiastes’ author’s] advice for readers is to accept the futility of their lives and welcome the knowledge that all human actions are “vanity” or “vapor.” He suggests (perhaps influenced by the Greek philosophy of Epicureanism) that the best course of action is to pursue tranquility and pleasure.”

Lapham’s also points to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 59:

If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, laboring for invention, bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child!
O, that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some antique book,
Since mind at first in character was done!
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composed wonder of your frame;
Whether we are mended, or whether better they,
Or whether revolution be the same.
    O, sure I am, the wits of former days
    To subjects worse have given admiring praise.