catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for January 2006

Search No Evil – An Update

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Some updates on Google’s censoring of searches in China. In brief – some of the “censorship” may in fact have just been glitches with Google’s filtering solution. Google meanwhile, is yet to accept an invitation to appear before a US congressional caucus on human rights. Congress representatives want to talk to Google and other tech firms about their cooperation with the Chinese government. The Sunday Times takes the opportunity to give us a timely (no pun intended) article on the history of Google and it’s potential for both good and evil.

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January 31, 2006 at 7:44 am

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Bastiat remembered

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A reminder of the life and work of the great French pamphleteer for free trade and economic rationalism, Frederic Bastiat.

Bastiat lived in a revolutionary period. He was fourteen when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena. He lived through the Revolution of 1830. But what first inspired his pamphleteering activity was his interest in the work of Cobden and the English Anti-Corn-Law League against protection. In 1844 he rose to immediate prominence with the publication of his article on “The Influence of French and English Tariffs on the Future of the Two Peoples” in the Journal des économistes.

Then began the outpouring of a brilliant series of articles, pamphlets, and books that did not cease till his premature death in 1850. There came first of all the first series of Sophismes économiques, then the various essays and the second series of Sophismes, and finally, in the last year of his life, the Harmonies économiques.

But the list of Bastiat’s writings in this short span of six years does not begin to measure his activities. He was one of the chief organizers of the first French Free Trade Association at Bordeaux; he became secretary of a similar organization formed in Paris; he collected funds, edited a weekly journal, addressed meetings, gave lecture courses — in brief, he poured out his limited energies unsparingly in all directions. He contracted a lung infection. He could breathe and nourish himself only with difficulty. Finally, too late, his ill-health forced him to Italy, and he died at Rome, at the age of forty-nine, on Christmas Eve, 1850.

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January 31, 2006 at 6:23 am

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A dig at POMO

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This is Luke Slattery’s column from the Fin Review last Friday, it appears to be subscription only but the whole thing was reproduced on the skeptics discussion group.

“So much for that theory” by Luke Slattery

Australian Financial Review, Review section
Fri 27 Jan 2006

Luke Slattery is the AFR’s education editor and the author of Dating Aphrodite: Modern Adventures in the Ancient World (ABC Books).

Luke Slattery discovers a powerful weapon against the dark arts of postmodernism
For the better part of two decades now university humanities departments have been dominated – not merely influenced, but truly brought to heel – by a particular intellectual dispensation. It sometimes goes by the name postmodernism, and at others poststructuralism, and beneath its rubric sit the schools of cultural studies, feminism, postcolonialism, queer studies and deconstruction. Academics, for the most part, seem to prefer the catch-all “Theory”.

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January 30, 2006 at 11:13 pm

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Thanks Jason

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This should have gone up in December to mark 12 months on the site. Thanks for the opportunity Jason!

It is strange to recall that I was nervous about the challenge and indeed did not take it up some months previously when Jason gave me guest blogger status.

Most of the stuff that I wrote before that time went through endless revisions and it was hard to face the demand for almost instant turn-around of stuff in order to be topical and timely.

Thanks to all the commentators who helped!

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January 30, 2006 at 5:22 pm

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Grogblogging shots

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Tim Lambert has put up some pictures from Saturday night’s Grogblogging here. Don Arthur has a short post on it here.

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January 30, 2006 at 10:21 am

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Does it matter if there are genetic racial differences?

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Belief that one race is better than another is distinctly minority opinion these days. The most recent poll I can find (2001) had 12% disagreeing with the proposition that ‘all races are equal’. Yet as an op-ed in The Age warns today (and the same piece was in the SMH a week or two ago) racial science is coming back:

Racial science has discovered the art, and the power, of flattery. Last year, three scholars published a paper, Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, in which they argued that Ashkenazi Jews were considerably more intelligent than other Europeans because their history of moneylending and other financial occupations favoured genes associated with cleverness. The principle at stake was essentially the same as the one underlying The Bell Curve, a provocative tome in which Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein suggested that black people might be innately less intelligent than white people, that race is biologically real and that some races are intellectually superior to others.

The ABC is also worried about this, running a series that repeatedly reminds us that despite different skin colour, hair etc we really are the same underneath.

But does racial science have the dangerous implications people think it does? It seems pretty clear that even if some systematic variances other than appearance were found the differences within groups would still be much greater -and internal variance is so obvious that the general population will not need scientists to convice them of it. Nor would genetic variance undermine the again well-established fact that environment and individual attitudes etc have big effects on outcomes, and so it would not justify a policy of benign neglect of groups that are underperforming.

Racism does not need assumptions of genetic difference. Keith Windschuttle’s book on the White Australia Policy may have understated the role of distinctly racial assumptions, but he is right that people have long made non-genetic arguments based on cultural difference or a desire to avoid labour market competition. The earlier discrediting of racial science probably played only a minor role in the long-term decline of racism, with a negative reaction to the horrors of racial genocide and a positive reaction to inter-ethnic social relations probably the more important causes.

I suspect racial differences are an area of science we may be better-off not researching any further. If we stop now science will always confirm the least politically troublesome result. But if as seems likely curiosity keeps scientists going and they do find more differences than previously recognised I don’t believe curiosity will kill the anti-racist cat.

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January 30, 2006 at 6:33 am

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Myths of the Marshall Plan

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Under the Marshall Plan the US provided massive financial assistance to European nations to help them rebuild after World War II. This is almost universally regarded as a great success and among other triumphs it is credited with the “German Miracle” when the most damaged nation of all recovered in spectacular fashion. It also provided the model for most of the programs of international economic aid from that time to the present day.

Tyler Cowen has demonstrated that the usual view of the Plan is quite wrong. Just to give two examples before proceeding to more details. (1) the Belgians recovered before the Germans and both were on the rise before any aid arrived. (2) Britain received more aid per capita than any other state but had the slowest rate of economic recovery. That incidentally kills another widespread myth that it was the losers and bystanders rather than gallant Britain who got the best deal after the war.

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January 28, 2006 at 4:10 pm

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