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Nov 27 12

Books of the Year 2012

Ken B

1. Haidt, Righteous Mind

2. Barry, Roger Williams

3. Tim Holland on the origins of Islam

Nov 5 12

Moving to

Ken B

This blog is moving here:

Oct 29 12

The Great FreeAdvice Debt War of 2012

Ken B

A war on public debt and Paul Krugman has been raging over at FreeAdvice.
On the one side are Krugman’s defenders, principally me and Gene Callahan, versus his critics, principally Bob Murphy, Nick Rowe and Major_Freedom.  The debate has spread over many threads, and even some other blogs,  and become so diffuse and shambling that I want to summarize my case for Krugman here.

Krugman argues that internally held debt cannot in any direct way impoverish America as a whole. Internal borrowing rather than taxing imposes no extra burden on any future America in toto, because both are transfers between then living Americans.   Internally held debt represents a flow of assets is within a given pool, and so the pool is not directly diminished by the debt.

Krugman gives a good analogy: Imagine a “Santorum tax” that just transfers funds between Americans.  Leaving an internally held debt is just like a Santorum tax.

I think Krugman’s argument is sound, convincing, and correct. But Bob Murphy and Nick Rowe insist, reasonably enough, that the claim be tested against some models to see if they can disprove it.  Bob presents his model, and claimed counter-example, here.  The rest of the discussion takes place within the context of this model.

At first blush it looks like Bob has made a point.  We do indeed see people who eat fewer apples. But in fact this is not a counter example at all.  I’ll come back to why but we must first translate Krugman’s claim into this model.

Krugman talks about future states of America.  The natural and correct interpretation of Krugman here is that a state of the whole country at any moment corresponds to a row in the table, and a period of time corresponds to a contiguous block of rows.  (We know this is what he means because he tells us so with the Santorum tax).
Krugman’s assertion is that at no point in time and for no period of time is a future America impoverished. This is plainly true in the model: each row (point in time) has 200 apples.  The period claim follows from the point in time claim. If that’s what a future state really is, then Krugman’s claim holds in this model.

So the question reduces to: is this the appropriate definition of future state?

Bob’s example assumes not. Rather than level sections, Bob presents diagonal sections.
He includes for example Young Frank, Old Frank, Young George, Old George but not Young Hank or Old Eddy, slicing diagonally through the table. In any of his slices there is always one person from the first level and one from the last level omitted.  And this is the problem.

At no point in time and for no period of time are the people and assets of a diagonal section co-extensive with the population and assets of the Island.  In the real world a slice like this might include all the people whose names end in vowels who were born before 2012 and all those who names do not end in vowels who were born after 1970. That diagonal section never, not for a moment, not for a period, is all and only the population of the country.  A diagonal section is not a state of the country.  Bob’s diagonal sections may be interesting — I will return to this point — but they do not correspond to a future state of the country. Since they do not refer to what Krugman is talking about – future states – they cannot be counterexamples to Krugman’s claim.

So Bob’s construction is not a counterexample after all.

But don’t Bob diagonal sections show something? After all he seems to show

a loan impoverishing 65 generations. Doesn’t that prove something? No, not about the aggregate consequences of debt anyway.

First Bob’s example does not show one loan affecting 65 generations. He shows 65 consecutive loans affecting 65 consecutive generations. In each case the whole daisy chain would be ended unless each generation takes from the next  while both are alive. Gene Callahan put this well: I can eat my son’s desert, and when I am dead he can eat his own son’s desert, but that doesn’t mean I ate my grandson’s desert.  I explicate this point in detail in comments on that thread. Borrowing from Young Hank does not burden the future, it burdens Hank.

Do Bob’s diagonal sections correspond to anything meaningful? Perhaps they do, but not for the purpose of looking at the aggregate effect of debt or transfers. I illustrate this with an example where imposing a debt on a diagonal section seems to enrich it. This is pretty odd if you want to argue the section corresponds to something meaningful, which is burdened by the infliction of a debt.  But a diagonal section is really just an incomplete set of accounts. There is no mystery why you can make an incomplete set of accounts seem unbalanced in odd ways.

So Krugman is right, in detail, and Rowe and Murphy have merely exhibited a combinatorial artifact, which they misinterpret.

UPDATE: To comment do NOTenter an email. The email verification seems broken. Just pick a name and comment.

Oct 25 12

Counter counter for Bob Murphy

Ken B

My latest salvo in the ongoing war at Free Advice.

Here it is. I hope the formatting is decent:

Can a debt *enrich* the future? By Bob’s criteria it can.

Let’s look at the example of Apple Atol, just a few miles from Apple Island where their policies differ.

In period 1 govt borrows 1  at 100% from young A for old Z.
In period 2 govt borrows 2  at 100% from young B and pays off the loan to old A.

In period 3 govt borrows 4  at 100% from young C and pays off the loan to old B.

In period 4 govt borrows 8  at 100% from young D and pays off the loan to old C.
In period 5 govt borrows 16 at 100% from young E and pays off the loan to old D.

At this point the Atol switches policies to get a steady state. There are many ways to do this.
Govt can tax the youngster 8 and borrow from the youngster 8 at 100%, or borrow from the youngster 16 at 0%.
Let’s use the latter.

In period 6 govt borrows 16  at 0% from young F and pays off the loan to old E.
In period 7 govt borrows 16  at 0% from young G and pays off the loan to old F.
In period 8 govt borrows 16  at 0% from young H and pays off the loan to old G.


I lack Bob’s mad table skills but let me show the resulting data

oq 100 yz 100
oz 101 ya 99
oa 102 yb 98
ob 104 yc 96
oc 108 yd 92
od 116 ye 84
oe 116 yf 84
of 116 yg 84
oh 116 yi 84

Now let’s do Bob’s diagonal sums.
Everyone ends up with at least 200, and some end up with more than 200. C gets 204.
The future, by Bob’s critria, has been enriched.

A few other things to note. This example runs on pure debt, not defaults and not taxes, but there are several ways to produce such examples.
Old Z is better off too, no-one is harmed.

By the Krugmanite criteria, the Atol is not enriched.

For style points, the govt can just destroy the apple it borrows from ya.
Then the chart changes to “oz 100 ya 99″
That leaves Z out of the windfall, but the Bob-defined enrichment still works with no-one losing out *even with an apple destroyed*.
By the Krugmanite criteria the style points apple destruction impoverishes the present, without aiding the future. Broken windows anyone?

I suggest this example shows Bob’s crtiteria are wonky, and that the limits of integration are inappropriate.

Oct 18 12

With costs!

Ken B

A big win for free speech in Canada.

Oct 5 12

The Dread Pineapple of Blasphemy

Ken B


BONUS: Beheaded Buddha

BONUS: War on popsicles

Oct 4 12

An exceptional performance

Ken B

Live, of Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame This is the earliest polyphonic mass.

Oct 2 12


Ken B

It’s 1200. You and your neighbours get together in the biggest wattle and daub hut in the neighbourhood, noticing how few of you live past 40,  and decide … to build

And this happened hundreds of times in northern Europe. There were  hundreds of cathedrals and large abbeys. I sometimes wondered if the English did anything between 1100 and 1500 except carve stone and move it large distances.

Sep 13 12

Protestors in Libya

Ken B

Against the attack. People like this need to be noticed an applauded.

Sep 12 12

Eugene Volokh

Ken B

On the whole embassy thing. Sharp, smart, and brave. As usual.

Sep 11 12


Ken B

Jonathan Kay says Canada is better now than on 11 Sept 2001. I agree.

Sep 4 12


Ken B

HA! My very first post was an empty chair.

Aug 31 12

A Little Sondheim

Ken B

Losing My Mind

From the original cast of Follies, Dorothy Collins.

Bonus: Sondheim teaching ‘Later’

Aug 27 12

Responding to Bob Murphy

Ken B

Bob Murphy invites a discussion:”I have tried on several occasions to explain why I believe faith in the Christian God is actually the most reasonable conclusion
… but please don’t accuse me of firing off a two-sentence syllogism.”

But Bob has presented a syllogism before. He lays out the basis of his faith:

But, I really do think there was a guy Jesus who walked on water, fed thousands of people, and–most crucial–came back from the
 dead after being crucified.
 If one says those things were just metaphors, then my personal faith would collapse.
 It’s OK if, say, you can show that the “story about walking on water” was added centuries later, and so is suspect
 (like Ken B. has brought up, concerning the “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” story), but I’m saying if nothing “miraculous” ever happened,
 then my faith in its present form collapses.
 That’s not just a little tweak.

Sounds reasonable at first. “This is why I believe …”
But I contend it is actually very UNreasonable.
The reason is that Bob systematically rejects all the evidence that the miracles never happened, and he does it in a way that leaves little room for any contrary evidence or argument. We’re edging into the unfalsifiable here.

Consider first how a historian could show that the miracles did occur.
Well, he couldn’t. Almost by definition the simplest explanation is that there was no miracle and thatour sources are wrong: confused, metaphorical, faked, misunderstood — unreliable somehow.
And Bob himself would make this argument about *other* purported miracles. Like Honi the Circle Drawer or tales of Zeus. But for Jesus and hsi purported doings Bob waves this all away. In essence Bob is simply asking for an exception from Jesus from the normal standards of historical inquiry.

Ditto for physics. The conservation of mass raises problems for multiplying loaves.

Ditto for chemistry. You cannot make fish out of air.

Now what about literary and textual criticism? Well Bob has pretty consistently rejected that.
The only concession he has made, about casting the first stone, was because I cited to him *believing christians* who doubt the passage.  To take biblical higher criticism seriously you need to look at people who don’t prejudge the issue, as believers do.
Maybe there is room for movement here. Bob is overall a serious and honest guy. It’s just that god rots the brain.

How does Bob make the case the miracles are real? He cites Biblical passages.
How exactly do I make a case that the miracles are a myth if Bob rejects arguments from history, physics, chemistry, hydrology, biology, and textual criticism?
It looks like we have unfalsifiability here.
Might as well just say he just believes in god and skip the miracles.
So, UNreasonable.

Aug 23 12

Swordfighting Explained

Ken B

Everything you know is wrong.swordplay manual

Aug 23 12

Moby Song

Ken B


Aug 17 12


Ken B

Aug 16 12

Crucifixions in Egypt

Ken B


UPDATE. Open season on Christians.

Aug 8 12


Ken B

“The private contractor can do it cheaper for sure.”

Aug 7 12

Jon Lord

Ken B

Late of Deep Purple, live.

Jul 19 12

Twitter as an art form

Ken B

Jul 18 12

A comment on Murphy’s blog

Ken B

[Awaiting moderation at Bob's blog. Maybe it's the links, Murphy generally doesn't censor. But who knows. I seem to be a special case for him.]

I think some of Bob’s defenders have missed the forest for the trees here.
Here’s the forest. Bob has based much of his view of Jesus, who he was and what he taught, on the injunction ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ from the story in John 8.
There  is doubt about whether Jesus said this, and how firmly Christians should rely on it.
That story is in fact missing from all the earliest and best manuscripts.
<p>Here is what one on-line <a href=””>Bible</a> says “[The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11.]”
</p>Here is what <a href=”” >ChristianityToday</a> says: “Biblical scholars do agree on two things: The Bible story should be set apart with a note, and Christians should be cautious when reading the passage for their personal devotions.”
</p>I also provided many references, including references to believing Christians, including to a site Bob has published on and linked to from FA.
I don’t ask anyone to trust me on this; I ask them to <i>look for themselves.</i>
And *that*, looking for himself, testing the integrity of his own citations, examining the true nature of the sources <i>he</i> relies on, is just what Bob will not do.
More: he claims there is no good reason he should. Must he spend his whole life he asks rhetorically studying church history?
One passage, one you cite repeatedly, is not all of church history Bob.
That is the forest.
I do not see that addressed in any of the defences here. Bob go on at length about me, and Egoist can call me a closet whatever, and  JMF Catalan can say ‘maybe it’s more valuable just to have faith’, and joeftansey can cite Bob’s charity, and Gene Callahan can sneer at Hitchens, but the fact remains that if you rely crucially on the accuracy of a quotation then you should be willing to check its reliability.
And when the quotation is a translation based on old manuscripts, and the translation itself includes a disclaimer, then a refusal to check is not just cavalier and close-minded, it suggests willful blindness and desire not to know.

Jul 16 12

Bob Murphy turns the other cheek

Ken B

I’m famous.

Scroll down for my responses. And RPLong’s too …

Jul 11 12

And I thought a Brazilian was a scary waxing …

Ken B

… an Egyptian sounds worse.

Jul 9 12

Bob Murphy girds for battle!

Ken B

He takes time out from his feverish Krugman debate prep to do battle with me, eventually.

Jul 8 12

More like a religion of ‘we left a desert and called it peace’

Ken B

Timbuktu may get the Bimyan treatment.

UPDATE: It begins.

UPDATER: Who knows what the future holds?

Jul 6 12

It was emphasized to stay in a line and not a circle. “Circles, legally, could be seen as threatening”.

Ken B

I find this story disturbing.  There was no confrontation but it’s hard to not think the intent was to physically block people either coming in or out of the church. The careful and precisely worded concern that they not be seen legally as threatening, suggests to me the intent was to be threatening.  Intimidating idiots for fun  and politics. Everyone else seems to be pumping fists and cheering: The Aggies showed them!  That unthinking mob reaction is the most disturbing thing of all.

Jul 5 12

Purcell’s Cold Genius

Ken B

Cold Genius is from Henry Purcell’s semi-opera King Arthur.  The Cold Genius is a local god and when he sings shivers. It’s an extraordinary song, and has had an interesting life in recent years. In the original it’s for bass, but as a pop hit for Klaus Nomi sang it as an alto. Now because of Nomi it’s a standard recital piece for counter-tenors not basses. And Michael Nyman recycled it.

Jul 3 12

… he dressed as a nun.

Ken B

Nun costume

But don’t laugh.

Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld, who has died aged 88, escaped from Occupied France to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE); parachuted back on sabotage missions, he twice faced execution, only to escape on both occasions, once dressed as a Nazi guard.

I am always amazed at the number of men and women who escaped from the Gestapo and went back. My generation grew up surrounded by heroes.

Jun 29 12

“We know a ruling is a going to lead to a holy legal mess when it begins like this …”

Ken B

Shikha Dalmia provides a useful antidote to the “John Roberts suuuuuper genius” meme.

Jun 28 12

3 Valued Logic

Ken B


Jun 26 12

Minimalist Plangency, Minimalist Verve

Ken B

Music by Michael Nyman, this is I believe from Man on a Wire but it’s originally from the movie Prospero’s Books, a section called Cornfield.  As ever with Nyman, he does so much with so little.

Here’s a livelier piece, Synchronizing. Sit still for that.

Jun 25 12

Cartoon. Please don’t riot.

Ken B

Jun 22 12

Public Choice Burns

Ken B

 ”teachers are not able to make good decisions about kids safety”

Bad schools have bad policies because they are run for the benefit of unions and administrators.  A telling example.

Jun 21 12

Ridley’s Simon Award Lecture

Ken B

Matt Ridley

I think it boils down to five adjectives: ahistorical, finite, static, vested and complacent. The eco-pessimist view ignores history, misunderstands finiteness, thinks statically, has a vested interest in doom and is complacent about innovation.

The rest is here.


Jun 19 12

How To Tell A Joke

Ken B

First lesson, learn from the masters:

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, responded snappishly, telling reporters: “Frankly, we are not coming [to the G20 summit in Mexico] to receive lessons in terms of democracy and in terms of how to run an economy, because the European Union has a model that we may be very proud of.”

Jun 13 12

Casting stones at Bob Murphy’s favorite story

Ken B

In our last episode, Bob Murphy was, as is his wont, playing WWJD with some of his commenters. They were arguing, over several threads, that Jesus would kill homosexuals. They argued from Jesus’s endorsement, both implicit and explicit, of traditional Jewish law.

Murphy, rather emotionally, rebutted them with a familiar story about Jesus.
There are two problems with Bob’s response: the story isn’t about gays, and it never happened.

The story is, of course, the woman taken in adultery from John 8. Bob bases his argument on Jesus’s dictum “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” This is a story about the law on adultery not homosexuality. Perhaps this dictum would apply to the law on homosexuality too, but then it would presumably apply rather more broadly than Murphy might like. Murder? Rape? Would Jesus tell murderers and thieves to go and sin no more? Is there any criteria we can use to decide?  This is a common problem when playing WWJD.

But there is a more serious problem with Bob’s pericope (to use some jargon). It never happened. It’s a late invention, inserted into John centuries after John was redacted.  It does not occur in any early manuscripts of John.  It does not occur in the best manuscripts.  It does not occur in early discussions of John.  It is not cited in early discussions of adultery. It is not mentioned by any early church writers.  Its language does not match John. It breaks the natural flow of the surrounding text.  It is called late by medieval writers.  It presents an implausible picture of how Jewish law was carried out. It presents an implausible view of the Pharisees.  It simply does not belong in John. It’s a late invention.

That’s not just my opinion, it’s the scholarly consensus. Even my Crossway Bible has a note about the passage. Perhaps Bob should read his Bible …

Here for example is Bruce Metzger on the passage:

The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as Papyrus66.75 Aleph B L N T W X Y D Q Y 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. Codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it is highly probable that neither contained the pericope, for careful measurement discloses that there would not have been space enough on the missing leaves to include the section along with the rest of the text. In the East the passage is absent from the oldest form of the Syriac version (syrc.s. and the best manuscripts of syrp), as well as from the Sahidic and the sub-Achmimic versions and the older Bohairic manuscripts. Some Armenian manuscripts and the old Georgian version omit it. In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts (ita.l*.q). No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospels do not contain it.
When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.

This tale is central to Murphy’s idea of a kinder, gentler Jesus, and that is a major theme on his blog. Bob gets testy when I point out the problems, but he has never responded.

Jun 13 12

Aliens Cause Global Warming

Ken B

A classic by the late Michael Crichton.

Jun 12 12

My friends …

Ken B

Have a seat, the shave is close.