Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Calling all Economists: A Case Study for Privatization of Government Functions?

I was visiting Poland last Christmas and saw a stack of thick sheet-metal cut into squares on the table. I asked my hosts what they were. Turns out they are used to make mail heavier. 

This sounded sufficiently Kafkaesque - or perhaps Alice in Wonderland-ish - to me (and reminded me of something like Harrison Bergeron for letters as well) to make me think: Why in the world...?

So they explained: Private mail companies are not allowed to carry letters below a certain weight. Normal letters are thus reserved for the national postal service. But apparently the private companies are so much faster that people are willing to insert metal weights into their mail to bring them to "package" weights eligible for private service and pay the substantial difference for the faster service. I observed that this is a very common practice. 
Now, a disclaimer - I believe there are fundamental mistakes with "free market" critiques of government services, particularly networks of all kinds (and health care). They fail to take into account that the value to society of whole networks, even with many unprofitable lines, is far greater than the sum of its parts. 

But seeing these metal weights I couldn't help but think that this is an economist's wet dream classroom example of the free market. I am sure there is more to the story but I was not able to follow up on the situation in greater detail. If any one else is, it could make an interesting case study of economic theory. On the face of it it supports privatization of public services, although again, I think there might be something more going on.    

In China

If my posts seems rushed and erratic - I am currently behind the "Great Firewall of China" w curtailed net access. Here to learn firsthand more about the economy here.
I can get on blocked websites (which includes Blogger, Facebook, Wordpress, Youtube) about 5 minutes a day. Problem is, I don't even know WHICH 5 minutes. So it is really erratic. 
Really interesting so far. 

Anyway, being here is greatly limiting what I can get done on this project. 
But I think in the long run it is worth it to better understand important aspects of the world economy. I will report when I can, although my focus on this blog is a long term/large scale look at the social sciences and not specifically global economics. OK, I better hit "publish" while I can, I have already been signed in to Blogger for a few minutes, and my Facebook just went down, which means the rest will soon as well. 
More later, Clint 

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Studying criticisms of one school of thought by another in a discipline often provides the clearest statements of problems in a discipline. I gave the example previously of how the criticisms of frequentist statistics by Bayesians and vice versa – taken as a whole - provide the clearest account of what is wrong with both of these approaches and more importantly, inferential statistics in general in the social sciences. I also mentioned how the debate between mainstream and Austrian School economists, for example, provides a good viewpoint on the use of math in economics (which is even fuller if other heterodox views are also studied).
So the goal of this post is to point the way to clear discussions of some important debates. The post now is just a brief outline and placeholder. I will add to it as I run across various sources (sorry this page is quite messy still - slowly sorting it out/growing it). 

  •  Methodenstreit
  • Nomothetic - Idiographic debate
  • Reductionism
  • "Scientism"
  • Determinism
Controversy & Personal Debates (Some of these are in other fields, but have implications for the philosophy of the social sciences).
  •  Dawkins - Gould
  •  Dawkins - Wilson
  • Gould's mismeasures (Morton's Skulls)
  • The Hoxby-Rothstein debate 
  • Ron Martin - Paul Krugman, ("Economic Geography" or "Geographic Economics")
  •  Hartshorne-Schaefer debate
  •  The Tierney Affair
  • The McCloskey & Ziliak - Hoover & Siegler debate (significance testing in economics/social science)
  • Wilson - Lewontin/Gould/Rose (sociobiology)  
The Hoxby-Rothstein debate

Novel Way to Assess School Competition Stirs Academic Row: To Do So, Harvard Economist Counts Streams in Cities; A Princetonian Takes Issue (Wall Street Journal)

The McCloskey & Ziliak - Hoover & Siegler debate (significance testing in economics/social science)

The Cult of Statistical Significance. Stephen T. Ziliak and Deirdre N. McCloskey Link

Sound and fury: McCloskey and significance testing in economics. Kevin D. Hoover and Mark V. Siegler Link

Signifying Nothing: Reply to Hoover and Siegler. Deirdre N. McCloskey and Stephen T. Ziliak Link 

"Geographical Economics" 
Martin, Ron and Peter Sunley. 1996.Paul Krugman’s Geographical Economics and Its Implications for Regional Development Theory: A Critical Assessment. Economic Geography, 72: 259-292. Link

Martin, Ron.1999. The ‘New Economic Geography’: Challenge or Irrelevance? Transactions Institute of British Geographers 24:387-391. JSTOR

Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate. Oxford UP, 2000. Ullica SegerstrÃ¥le  Amazon "Look Inside" and Reviews
Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest. Kim Sterelny. Wikipedia summary 

The Tierney Affair
Jungle Fever: Did two U.S. scientists start a genocidal epidemic in the Amazon, or was The New Yorker duped? By John Tooby|Posted Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2000. Slate.com Link

Gregor, T. A., & Gross, D. R. (2004). Guilt by association: the culture of accusation and the American Anthropological Association’s investigation of Darkness in El Dorado. AmericanAnthropologist, 106(4), 687–698. Link

Dreger, Alice. 2011. Darkness’s Descent on the American Anthropological Association: A Cautionary Tale. Human Nature, 22: 225–246. Link

Statement on the Publication of Alice Dreger’s Investigation, Darkness’s Descent on the American Anthropological Association: A Cautionary Tale. Jane B. Lancaster & Raymond Hames. Human Nature, 2011. Link
Gould’s mismeasures

Gould's skulls: Is bias inevitable in science?

25 July 2011 by David DeGusta and Jason E. Lewis


Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim, Nicholas Wade, June 13, 2011

Study Debunks Stephen Jay Gould's Claim of Racism on Morton

Lewis JE, DeGusta D, Meyer MR, Monge JM, Mann AE, et al. (2011) The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias. PLoS Biol 9(6): e1001071. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001071
Published: June 7, 2011

Like the "Post Autistic" movement in Economics  and at about the same time and for the same reasons there was the "Perestroika" movement in Political Science

 Cohn, Jonathan. 1999. “Irrational Exuberance: When Did Political Science Forget About Politics?” The New Republic, October 25, pp. 25-31. Link
“Perestroika” Lost: Why the Latest “Reform” Movement in Political Science. Should Fail. Stephen Bennett 2002. Link

Why Political Scientists Aren’t Public Intellectuals. 2002. PS: Political Science & Politics. Andrew Stark Link
Monroe, Kristen Renwick, ed. 2005. Perestroika! The Raucous Rebellion in Political Science. New Haven: Yale University Press.