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Writing Worth Reading

Are Liberals Rescuing Marriage?

The conventional wisdom of 1960s and 1970s America was that liberal values undermined marriage. But now the reverse seems to be true: educated liberals are the ones who get married, stay married, and care for their children; whereas “uneducated Americans” are “abandoning marriage and two-parent child-rearing”. Perhaps liberal morality is “better adapted for creating stable two-parent families in a post-industrialized world” (850 words)

Helping China To Fight Global Warming

Obama’s proposed rules to clean up US coal-fired power plants are wise and affordable. But most new carbon emission happens in China. The next stage is for America to encourage China to cut back, which America can do in two main ways: First, transfer fracking technology to China, so China can use more domestic natural gas; second, tax carbon-intensive imports, to give China’s factories a hard nudge (890 words)

Why Government Cuts Usually Backfire

Cutting the size of government does not make for more efficient government, all other things being equal; rather the opposite. Government is inefficient because of incentive structures, not size. The units most likely to survive any general cutbacks are the “parasitical” ones that have “figured out how to game the political process to make themselves secure” — and are probably the very ones you don’t want to keep (630 words)

Mom In Hell

Theodicy. How might you be happy in Heaven, if someone you loved — your mother, for example — were in Hell? “If people only cared about themselves, then it would make sense, but we care about other people too. And it’s just flat-out impossible for most people to be totally happy while knowing that someone they love is being tortured eternally in the most horrific concentration camp in the cosmos” (580 words)

The Culture Wars Are Over

Legalization and broad acceptance of gay marriage means that the “last great bastion of government-supported traditionalism in Western society has been swept away”. Religion is declining, marijuana is rising, gender roles are equalising. The Culture Wars are over, the liberals have won. In victory they should reach out to conservatives and build a new consensus around families, employment, and religious tolerance (1,130 words)

The Lessons Of China’s Collapse

China was “by far the greatest nation on the planet” in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its subsequent fall and stagnation may hold lessons for America. China lost out to Europe, culturally and economically, because it turned inward, and turned against science. America is listing in that same direction. It is geographically isolated. Its tech companies “import engineers much as China imported Jesuit mathematicians” (1,040 words)

What If Preferences Are Unstable?

Bad news for rational choice theory. New experiments show that “choices can be re-framed to obtain the dreaded negative time preferences, where people care more about the future than the present. Negative time preferences would cause most of our economic models to explode, and if these preferences can be created with simple re-framing, then it bodes ill for the entire project of trying to model individuals’ choices over time” (840 words)

Myths Of The Japanese Economy

Interview. Much conventional wisdom about the Japanese economy is wrong, by virtue of being out of date. Exports aren’t all that important. Households don’t save much. “Japan is just not as rich of a country as the United States. Productivity is significantly lower, and Japan is also not endowed with natural resources. That means prices will tend to be higher relative to incomes — that’s the definition of being poor” (2,170 words)

Redistribute Respect

A dream of social justice. Don’t obsess about redistribution of money. Redistribution of respect would be a big step towards a happier world. “I want to move back toward a society where the hard work of an unskilled labourer is considered worthwhile in social interactions; a society where being a good parent or a friendly neighbour earns as much respect as making a hundred million dollars on Wall Street” (1,228 words)

Four Levels Of Science

Short and highly readable note on the virtues of lab experiments versus natural experiments. Lab experiments are — in principle — easy to repeat, and you can control the variables so as to get a better idea of cause and effect, as opposed to mere correlation. But it’s always open to question how well lab experiments map to the real world. That’s where natural experiments score higher. The best course is to use both (1,200 words)

The Iraq War: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

Admirers of Mark Steyn will not enjoy the tirade in the first paragraph, nor perhaps this piece in general. But otherwise it’s a useful and straightforward attempt to provide an inventory of the costs and consequences of America’s war in Iraq — human, political, economic. Perversely, the “benefits”, to a liberal at least, may be said to include a revival of American liberalism. But that hardly counts. “You should never start a war in the hope that you’ll be defeated and that your defeat will invigorate the forces of good” (1,235 words)

How To Protect Workers From The Rise of Robots

The coming of intelligent robots will change the historic relationship between labour and capital in a way that previous technologies did not. Value of labour will collapse. How best to distribute income and wealth fairly? By making all of us entrepreneurs—so we all have our own robots

The End Of Global Warming: How To Save The Earth In 2 Easy Steps

US carbon emissions are decreasing rapidly. Within two decades, solar could be cheaper than coal and gas. “Global warming might still destroy the world. But technology has given us a fighting chance if we do the right things now”

In Defense Of Private Equity: Japan

“Although American critics of private equity have valid points, I think they should look to Japan before they denounce the role that Bain Capital and company have played in our economic and social development”

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