Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Tuesday Night Links

  • Economic Growth Makes Physical Stuff Cheap and Time Precious [Byrne Hobart]
  • Our techno-capital machine is a thermodynamic mechanism that systematically hunts for and then maximally exploits the cheapest energy it can find. When it unlocks cheaper energy, first coal, then oil, then gas, and now solar, it drives up the rate of economic growth, due to an expanded spread between energy cost and application value. [Casey Handmer]
  • For those based in the vice-regal capital of Mexico City, everywhere else were the "provinces." Even in the modern era, "Mexico" for many refers solely to Mexico City, with the pejorative view of anywhere but the capital is a hopeless backwater. "Fuera de MĂ©xico, todo es Cuauhtitlán" ("outside of Mexico City, it's all Podunk"). [wiki]
  • For many years, I felt that my slow reading was holding me back. I would be wiser, I would be smarter, I told myself, if I could just read faster. I often keep going back over the same sentences again and again, trying to decipher their inner meaning. This slows me down to a tortoise’s pace—and it’s frustrating. But now I believe slowness was a benefit. My learning was deeper and more mind-expanding because I didn’t rush it. By the way, I did the same thing when I learned jazz piano. I spent months learning things that could have been mastered in days. But by the time I was done, I had internalized my learning at a deep level. Life is not a race. The journey is its own reward. If we could make the trip instantaneously—like they do with those teleporters in Star Trek—it wouldn’t be worth anything. [Ted Gioia]
  • I’ve always had too much reverence for books, and want to keep them pristine. But to get the full benefit of reading, I have to mark them up. I need to underline key passages. I have to add comments in the margins. Sometimes I even insert post-its or cut out reviews of the book from the newspaper and fold them into the pages. The very process of doing this makes me a more attentive reader. As I read, I am constantly on the lookout for key passages or larger connections or surprising statements. But the greater benefit happens later—when I return to that book months or years after I read it. Now my markings allow me to re-experience all my initial impressions. [Ted Gioia]
  • Here’s the conventional wisdom when I was a teenager: The biggest global threat of my lifetime would be the Soviet Union: Everybody absolutely knew this was true—they didn’t even argue about it. The US-Soviet conflict was in the news every day, and served as the undercurrent of virtually every political discussion. In all fairness, there were some serious thinkers who didn’t see the USSR as a threat (more of an opportunity), but even they believed that the very existence of the Soviet Union was the most inescapable and irrefutable political fact of modern life. For those true believers, it was just a matter of time before we all followed in its footsteps—Marx had actually proven that scientifically, they claimed. So I’m not exaggerating when I say that the entire public discourse of the day was driven by the US-Soviet conflict, which would loom over our entire lifetime. [Ted Gioia]
  • In one incident, when our Peruvian nanny was applying for a green card, I was helping her. She had a form to fill out at the immigration office. She had no trouble checking Hispanic as opposed to non-Hispanic, but then it asked for race. And she goes, “What do I put down?” She said she’s mestiza, mixed Spanish and Indian, but of course there’s no mestiza category on American forms, even though that’s a very common identity in Latin America. Now, you might say, “Well, she’s part Indian. Can’t she put down that she’s Native American or Indian?” No; because of lobbying from American Indian groups who don’t want to share the resources of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, American Indians or Native Americans are defined as being of Canadian or U.S. tribal origin. Latin American Indians don’t count. One reason these classifications are so crude and arbitrary is that no one thought too much about them at the time they were made, in the 1970s. If you go back to 1970, the last census year before Directive 15 came into being, the United States still had a largely black-white binary population. About 12 or 13 percent of the population was African American. Over 80 percent was non-Hispanic white, and the 5 percent of the population that was Hispanic (although it wasn’t called that then) was generally classified as also white. Basically, you had a large majority of whites, a significant minority of blacks, and then you had less than 1 percent of the population identified as Native American or Asian. So no one was paying much attention to those categories. [Cato's Letter]
  • The third thing that I think is important about this book is the celebration of what are, in some sense, the greatest forces that have pushed human well-being forward: a combination of technological and scientific inquiry, decentralization and economies of information made possible by markets. It’s an extraordinary truth that I always stress in teaching students economics. There is not a single person anywhere on the planet who, in an entirely self-sufficient way from their own knowledge, could create a ballpoint pen—the ink, the liner, the tip, the packaging, everything with all the inputs to those things. And yet we go into stores without the slightest doubt that we will be able to obtain a ballpoint pen at negligible cost. That idea that things can happen and progress can be made without central direction and without a central plan is a crucial lesson. It is perhaps the most important lesson in a different way from evolutionary biology, and it is the most important lesson that comes out of a contemplation of the market economy. [Cato's Letter]
  • Beginning in the mid-1800s, there began to be a break in the orthodoxy of the more educated, higher-class churches and the more backwoods-type churches. The city-based, mainline Protestant churches began to question key parts of historical faith, including the resurrection, miracles, the afterlife, and biblical accuracy. The backwoods churches responded to this by organizing the fundamentalist movement to restore the fundamentals of the faith. One result of this divide was the loss of intellectual leadership the high churches had provided historically to restrain the backwoods churches from their own worst tendencies. The Roman Catholic Church, in criticizing the Reformation, had charged that the Protestants were trading one pope for a thousand little popes. I think the Catholics were right that it was naive historically to expect that people could responsibly interpret the Bible for themselves. They would tend to gather around charismatic, largely unaccountable Bible teachers who would do it for them, instead of an institutional church to keep everyone on the same page. [The Tom File]

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