Wednesday, January 16, 2019

My New Book is Now Out

Legal Systems Very Different from Ours, mostly by me but with one chapter each by Peter Leeson and David Skarbek, is now available on Amazon, both as a paperback and as a kindle.

 One of the nice things about current publishing technology is that revision is pretty much costless. So if any of you get a copy and spot something wrong, a typo, an index reference that is wrong, a mistaken fact, let me know and if I agree I can fix it.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Facts Rarely Speak for Themselves

The richest families in Florence in 1427 are still the richest families in Florence 

is the headline of a story describing some interesting research in economic history. I have not read the article it is based on but, assuming the report is correct, its conclusion is that there is a close correlation between the last names of the wealthiest Florentine families in 1427 and the last names of those currently wealthy.

There are at least two quite different interpretations of the reported facts. One is that families are surprisingly good at passing wealth and status down from one generation to another. The other is that the characteristics that produce wealth and status are to a large extent heritable.

One problem for the second is that last names are passed down in the male line, while talents are passed down through both sons and daughters—a fact observed by Galton more than a century ago. A family could choose to exclude daughters from inheritance of wealth but not of talent. But that is a less serious problem than it at first appears, because high status women mostly married high status men. The daughter of a wealthy Florentine family would usually combine her genetic heritage with the last name of a husband from a different wealthy Florentine family. Hence both genetic advantages and wealth would for the most part remain, from generation to generation, associated with the same pool of last names.

The story illustrates a general point: Facts rarely speak for themselves. How you interpret new facts depends on the picture of the world you fit them into.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

My new book, Legal Systems very Different from Ours (with one chapter by Peter Leeson and one by David Skarbek), appears to be available on Amazon now as a paperback (meaning that I haven’t actually gotten a copy), and I’m in the process of using Calibre to turn it into a Kindle. One tricky bit is the index. 

Which raises a question–should a Kindle have an index? I can, with some work, produce an index where each entry is linked to the corresponding point in the text. On the other hand, since it’s an ebook someone looking for a word can always search for it, so perhaps an index is superfluous.

Opinions?

Saturday, December 01, 2018

All My Economics Jokes

I mentioned, here and on FaceBook, a new addition to my very small collection of economics jokes, not jokes about economics but jokes that teach economics. Enough people were interested so I decided to post all six of them:

1. Two economists walked past a Porsche showroom with an elegant sports car visible through the window:

First Economist: "I really want that car."

Second Economist: "Obviously not."

2. An economist and a businessman were walking in the wood when they encountered a large and hungry bear. The economist turned to run.

Businessman: "You don't think you can outrun a bear, do you?"

Economist: "No. But I might be able to outrun you."

(Contributed by Dennis Hanseman, editor of my Price Theory)

3. What is sweeter than honey?

Free vinegar.

(From a Middle Eastern cookbook by Claudia Roden)

4. An economics professor is in a car driven by one of his students; she asks him to put on his seat belt.

"Why do you want me to put on my seat belt?"

"To make it less likely that you will be injured in an accident."

"Then why don't you take yours off?"

(From Allen Sanderson)

5. Jose had robbed a bank in Texas and fled south across the Rio Grande with the Texas Rangers in hot pursuit. They caught up with him in a town in Old Mexico, only to discover that Jose spoke no English and none of the pursuers spoke any Spanish. They drafted one of the locals – the school teacher – to act as a translator.

“Tell Jose that he must tell us where he has hidden the loot from the bank robbery.”

“The gringos say to ask where you have hidden the loot.”

“Tell the gringos I will never tell them.”

“Jose says he will never tell you.”

The Rangers pull out their six-guns, cock them, and point them at Jose.

“Tell Jose if he does not tell us where he has hidden the loot, we will kill him.”

“The gringos say if you do not tell them where you have hidden the loot they will kill you.”

Jose begins to tremble with fear.

“I buried it by the old oak tree on the other side of the bridge.”

“Jose says he is not afraid to die.”

(my favorite—I don't remember where I got it)

6. The zoo director noticed that one of the elephants was coughing. So he decided to add vodka to this elephant's bucket of water. The next morning that elephant was completely healthy, but the other three elephants began to cough.

(Russian joke, contributed by Anna Krupitsky on FB a few days ago)

Explanations are left as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Looking for a Cover Artist


I am nearly finished with Legal Systems Very Different From Ours and am in search of a cover. There seems to be general agreement that my ideas for what to put on the cover, discussed in a previous post don't work, so I am looking for something better.

The book consists of thirteen system chapters, each of which looks at some legal system, past or present, plus additional thread chapters, each of which looks at some issue that runs through multiple systems. A late draft is webbed for comments and probably worth looking at for anyone who might consider designing a cover.

Another Economics Joke

I have a very small collection of economics jokes, not jokes about economics but jokes that teach economics. It just occurred to me that there is another I should add:

An economics professor is in a car driven by one of his students; she asks him to put on his seat belt.

"Why do you want me to put on my seat belt?"

"To make it less likely that you will be injured in an accident."

"Then why don't you take yours off?"

I got this one from Allen Sanderson, who teaches introductory economics at Chicago. It may, for all I know, be a true story.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Eugenic Bogeyman

It looks as though some scientists in China have produced two infants from ova edited using Crispr. The objective was to disable a gene associated with vulnerability to AIDS. A good deal of the commentary on the report is negative, with talk of eugenics and risking the human gene pool and such. I find it hard to see much basis for such concern. There are obviously risks which the parents should have been, it is claimed were, informed of, but then there are risks to producing a child by the usual technology as well. 

I am particularly unsympathetic with the way in which “eugenics” is used as a bogey word, since it confuses two quite different things. Eugenics in the sense of some people deciding what children other people will have is a bad thing, especially when it involves some people deciding that other people will not be permitted to have children. Eugenics in the sense of couples trying to improve the quality of the children they have seems like a reasonable and unobjectionable activity. At the individual level it happens every time someone includes, in the choice of whom to marry, the consideration of what sort of children the proposed spouse will produce.

My favorite version of eugenics is the one described in an early Heinlein novel (Beyond This Horizon). It was a technology that let a couple select on both egg and sperm, thus choosing, among the children they could have, which ones they did have.

Comments? Any readers inclined to defend the arguments against this sort of technology?