October 2011


A few posts back, Hopefully Anonymous wrote “Although the USSR was counterintuitively shitty at a range of things where better use of markets and decentralized autonomy would’ve helped (consumer manufacturing, etc.) they seem to me to have been scientifically productive well beyond the space program. It’s not all Lysenko, it seems to me -but my intuition would probably benefit a lot from more knowledge about USSR history during this period.”

Paul Johnson thought otherwise, at least during the tail end of Stalin’s rule. In “Modern Times” he wrote the following:
From 1948 on, theoretical physics, cosmology, chemistry, genetics, medicine, psychology and cybernetics were all systematically raked over. Relativity theory was condemned, not (as in Nazi Germany) because Einstein was a Jew but for equally irrelevant reasons: Marx had said the universe was infinite, and Einstein had got some ideas from Mach, who had been proscribed by Lenin. […] Thousands of intellectuals lost their jobs. Thousands more went into the camps. Their places were taken by creatures still more pliable, cranks and frauds. Soviet biology fell into the hands of the fanatical eccentric T. D. Lysenko […] Scientific genetics was savaged as a ‘bourgeois pseudo-science’, ‘anti-Marxist’, leading to ‘sabotage’ of the Soviet economy: those who practised it had their laboratories closed down. Glorying in the reign of terror was another agricultural quack, V. R. Williams. In medicine, a woman called O. B. Lepeshinskaya preached that old age could be postponed by bicarbonate of soda enemas – an idea that briefly appealed to Stalin. In linguistics, N. Y. Marr argued that all human speech could be reduced to four basic elements: sal, ber, yon and rosh.

I’d rather not just take Johnson’s word, so if anyone has links on Soviet science, tell us about them in the comments.

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From Paul Johnson’s “Modern Times”:
“There were as many (5,000) French officials in Indo-China as in the whole of British India, with fifteen times the population, and they were closely with the French colon planters.”
Alternatively, this could reflect the docility of Indians relative to Indo-Chinese or the supervisory requirements of different forms of resource extraction. But shortly afterward he notes that there were 15,000 French officials in Morocco.
(more…)

I gave a task to my readers and before I knew it Handle carried it out. I copy his findings below. (more…)

Bizarrely enough, the one attempted comment I made at Yglesias that I bothered to copy before posting actually got through anyway. You can find the comment here, but I’ll reproduce it below.
“I just read Kuhn’s book and his account sounds different from yours. It did mention neo-Platonism, but I don’t recall it saying Copernicus was a member of any cult as a young man. Copernicus did not set out to abolish epicycles, he had to include a lot of them to make the predictions of his model fit the data. And the problem with his theory wasn’t just that orbits are ellipses rather than perfect circles like he assumed, it was also the case that a lot of the old data he was relying on was inaccurate and we needed new and better data from Tycho Brahe (still a Ptolemaist who had the sun go around the earth while most planets went around the sun) to get an accurate picture.”
To elaborate on what I wrote above, the innovation produced by Ptolemy that Copernicus really rejected was the equant. He rejected it because he (incorrectly) insisted on uniform circular motion and the way he replaced it was with epicycles, which Yglesias incorrectly states that Copernicus abolished! He seems to be repeating the myths that Kuhn set out to debunk. Kuhn also noted that Copernicus’ epicycles were of the “minor” variety, but I think that distinction may post-date the heliocentric model.

There was a somewhat crazy blogger on the fringes of Austrian economics I used to link to, who erased his blog because he didn’t want his name associated with his previous dorkier interests (I won’t censor any comments, but I request that folks not say who it is right here). He said he had saved all his posts for possible republication, but there were actually comments of my own over there I linked to in a number of places because I better expressed some ideas that I can’t even remember now (I have a vague recollection that I touched on the consciousness of vegetables). Well the good news is that his original posts have reappeared, although the new blog name isn’t as snazzy as the old.

So the relevance of the Occupy Wall Street movement can’t be denied, at least as a talking point.  Its popularity is strong among my Facebook peers, who are totally on board when the the issue comes up. As much as some liberaltarians believe OWS is on the right track, and that they just need to be seen the light – or rather the darkness – at the center of it all, I really don’t see much by the way of fruitful engagement. OWS is a smorgasbord of demands and sentiments, of which anger at TARP is only one, and the whole anti-Fed thing  seemingly exclusive to the Ron Paul contingent.  According to a Forbes survey of the OWS crowd, they’re all about the following:

  • 80% of those polled said that the rich should pay higher taxes and that it’s fair that approximately the top 10% of tax payers pay more than 70% of the taxes in the US and about 40% of employed people pay no income tax.
  • 93% say that student loan debt should be forgiven
  • 98% believe that health care should be free
  • 98% believe that Insurance companies make too much money and some of their profits should be taken to pay for more healthcare for others
  • 95% believe that drug prices should be controlled
  • 32.5% think the government will do a bad job managing healthcare
  • 44% believe that instead of spending money on ObamaCare, we should spend it on jobs today, while 30% believe that we should do both, and 27% say ObamaCare was fine use of money
  • 88% agree with the statement that “The government should put some controls on CEO pay – like limited to 20x or 30x the lowest paid employee.”
  • 93% believe that communications like cell phone and internet access be a right and not just reserved for the rich and we should have free internet and cell phone service as a national goal.
  • 54% do not believe that the Obama stimulus program was a good idea.
  • 84% said they think that if a bank decides to implement a $5 debit card fee, the government should not allow it, while 16% said let them do what they want – customers can move.

It matters that OWS reaches libertarian conclusions, when they do, only accidentally, for example in their (relative) lack of support for the stimulus. And as evidenced by everything else on this list, it’s probably only criticized for not doing anything to help the OWS folks find jobs.  The above list is a shining example of runaway rights talk that is remarkable for its parochialism (really, the outlawing of 5$ debit card fees?). And if they actually believe that cell phone service and internet access is even remotely close to being in danger of becoming restricted to the rich, and, even worse, that this should be a reason for nationalizing them, then their removal from basic (and not even right-wing) economic theory and history is IMHO practically scandalous.

The Tea Party may have been hypocritical and inconsistent (which is really kind of the same thing I guess), but don’t deny it has more in common with libertarians in their “economic mode” than does OWS. And really, the economic mode just is libertarianism,  seeing as how so many libertarians only come to their radical views on foreign policy through their conception of free exchange. For the OWS folks, a constellation of issues all centered around “this sucks” rules the day, with little concern for how it all ties together apart from a general lack of trust between the occupiers and big, large institutions. Especially institutions that deal in finance, something the OWS isn’t personally familiar with, judging from the characteristics of their emerging spokespersons (lots of journalists, humanities majors, and performance artist types). It’s obvious they’re far more motivated by income inequality than political inequality.

OWS may focus on many of the same targets in this politicized economy that’s given us the current state of affairs (and even then), but their misunderstanding of what leads to what – and their plans going forward, as seen above – makes me dubious about any kind of alliance. (As if I give two whits about political activism, but you know, hypothetically speaking.) Libertarians that focus on civil liberties and war will have a better time finding overlap with some in the OWS, but as this shows, good luck getting the latter to forgo occupying something, if not Afghanistan.

I see OWS as an expression of strong moral discontent with the  impersonal cash nexus by people who were predisposed to act on those feelings well before the recession, and not a truly populist movement, just as the Tea Party was overwhelmingly made up of conservatives even before they all got together.

This discontent has been made more salient than ever in the wake of a shitty economy and the gains of the super wealthy, whose mere existence anger the OWS crowd in a way the as-long-as-it’s-voluntary crowd  doesn’t get. You’ll notice OWS is upset with the rich per se, not just those that have benefited from crony capitalism.

* This guy apparently infiltrated OWS, got pepper sprayed, and believes he deserved it. I guess that wasn’t enough to shake him out of false capitalist consciousness, eh?

A while back Mitchell Porter decided it was less important to blog about climate change because nanotechnology will kill us all. Now he’s blogging about n=4 super-Yang-Mills theory, whatever that is. Chris from Mixing Memory is alive and well according to an unnamed internet person. I think the last name I mentioned Mitchell I also brought up Vichy’s new blog, but now that’s the old one and the new one is here, although testing now it appears to be private. Youtube user page here.