The paradox of Markovits’s critique of meritocracy

Check out Kay Hymowitz’s excellent review of Daniel Markovits’ new book (pictured below), which is titled The Meritocracy Trap (Penguin, 2019). Here is one revealing excerpt from her review of Markovits’s book: “As economist (yes, Harvard-educated) Tyler Cowen has quipped: ‘The best critiques of the meritocracy have come from those with extreme merit.’ I’ll come back to this puzzle later, for it’s one that Markovits’s book, like others in the genre, doesn’t fully explore.”

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Variance flashcards

Check out the entire set of “machine learning flash cards” here. They were created by data scientist Chris Albon (@chrisalbon).

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Also: Free Havana, Free Hanoi, Free Caracas, and Free Pyongyang! In other words, what if every socialist economy had at least one free city so that the people in that economy could vote with their feet, and vice versa, what if every market economy had a socialist enclave for the Bernies and AOCs of this world …?

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Does economics need a Nobel prize?

In anticipation of today’s announcement of “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel,” check out this fascinating survey essay by Allen R. Sanderson and John J. Siegfried titled “The Nobel Prize in Economics Turns 50,” which was published in American Economist, Vol. 64, No. 2 (2019), pp. 167–182, and is available here. In the words of Sanderson and Siegfried, “as a well-known quip has it, economics is the only field in which two people can share a Nobel Prize for saying opposing things,” such as the 1972 econ Nobel awarded to Gunnar Myrdal and F. A. Hayek or the 2013 prize awarded to Eugene Fama and Robert Shiller. Also, check out this critique of the other Nobel prizes. In any case, no person born in Africa, Latin America, or Oceania has ever won a Nobel prize in economics. Hat tip: Timothy Taylor.

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Tampa: a hellscape of highways?

Tampa, Florida is a case study of the decline of streetcars and the corresponding rise of massive roadways in North American cities. In 1920, for example, Tampa had an elaborate streetcar system consisting of 13 lines owned and operated by the Tampa Electric Co. Today, Tampa is a veritable “hellscape of highways,” a traffic-congested city bisected by three intrusive interstate expressways (4, 75, and 275) as well as an elevated toll road, while only one streetcar line is left up and running. To visualize this radical difference, compare the top map of modern-day Tampa with the bottom map of Tampa circa 1920. (Hat tip: Jake Berman, u/fiftythreestudio.) In addition, check out Jake Berman’s website titled “The Lost Subways of North America.”

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Gouldian finches

We interrupt our series of blog posts on Ramos v. Louisiana and the Insular Cases to share this beautiful picture of Australian Gouldian finch birds (hat tip: @pickover). According to Dr Leah Williams and Dr Claudia Mettke-Hofmann, these finches adjust their behavior according to the personality of their partners. Here is a summary of their research; here is their full report.

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Culture and constitutional law

Balzac v. Porto Rico was not the first time (cf. Dred Scott), nor would it be the last (cf. Roe v. Wade), that a decision repugnant to the Constitution would be made–not by Congress nor by the President–but by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). But let’s focus on the Balzac case here: why did SCOTUS decide to deny Jesus Maria Balzac his constitutional right to a jury trial in this historic case? The most charitable reason is legal culture. After all, juries are a “common law” institution originating in medieval England centuries ago, while such newly-acquired U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the Philippines, former colonies of Spain, followed the Roman or “civil law” tradition of continental Europe. On this view, because Puerto Rico’s legal culture was so different than that of other U.S. territories (where the right to a jury trial did apply), Puerto Rico’s insular government should not be compelled as a matter of constitutional law to adopt a jury system. Or, in the cynical words Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who wrote the Court’s unanimous opinion in this case: Continue reading

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