The NBA’s reopening is a warning sign

There’s only one problem: An increasing number of players do not seem very interested in being guinea pigs in this experiment. At first the secessions were a trickle. Now they are picking up steam. Davis Bertrans, arguably the second-best active player on my home team the Washington Wizards, will not play because he doesn’t want […]

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Flesh & Soul, Economics & Liberal Arts

On our sister website Law & Liberty, Jennifer Frey (U. of South Carolina) has a remarkable review of what seems to be a remarkable book by Zena Hitz. With Hitz, Frey defends the “monkish virtues”—and liberal arts—that David Hume attacked in the name of utility and economics. Monks, however, should also learn some economics.

The reviewed book (which I have not read) is Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Princeton University Press, 2020). Every economist should read Frey’s article, a vibrant defense of the “solitude of contemplative life.” A couple of excerpts from her review:

… the compelling case that the cultivation of our inner lives, which requires many of the monkish virtues that Hume dismissed, is fundamental to authentic human flourishing.

Hitz found herself increasingly alienated from academic life, which had trained her to fear rejection and prize prestige and status far more than it had cultivated her thrill for learning or her love for truth.

It is central to Hitz’s argument that love of learning is intrinsically, rather than instrumentally, valuable.

But leisure and contemplation are not, on Hitz’s vision, reserved for an elite, leisured class with a special kind of elite training or pedigree.

[Hitz] writes of Malcolm X, who discovered a love of learning while imprisoned as a young man.

We can either stay skimming along the surfaces of our lives, lost in the thrall of spectacles, the ambitious drive for status and prestige, and the satisfactions of the flesh, or we can choose to be serious and plunge ourselves into the depths of reality, an activity which calls us out of ourselves and demands a kind of faithful obedience to the task of understanding it more completely.

Her discussion of Dorothy Day—one of the highlights of the book—underscores the deep and important connections between solitude, silence, and solidarity.

I would argue that the flesh should be celebrated too and reconciled with monkish virtues, although I am not totally sure how the reconciliation can be done.

I would also challenge Dorothy Day‘s simplistic social and political thought—like Catholic “social” teaching in general—which would strongly benefit from some economics. Individuals have different preferences, resources are scarce relative to human desires, incentives matter, the “common good” is not easy to define, the philosophers’ “highest good” is even more ambiguous, the “we” is a collection of “I”‘s, and Day’s anarchist ideal cannot abolish these realities.

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Two countries, going in opposite directions

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the Covid-19 situation in the US and China:

In recent days, many U.S. states have been forced to reverse course and shut down restaurants and bars and require face coverings in public settings as new daily infections surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday for the first time.

The new wave of coronavirus infections and restrictions on business activity threatens to throw a nascent recovery off course, after the U.S. on Thursday reported a second straight monthly drop in the jobless rate in June.

That doesn’t sound good. Meanwhile, in China the virus seems under control:

In China, meantime, health authorities have aggressively attacked even small outbreaks as they emerge across the country. The most recent cluster, which broke out at Beijing’s largest wholesale food market last month, prompted a swift and vigorous response from the local government, including the testing of millions of citizens and new restrictions on people’s movements in and out of the capital.

On Friday, Chinese health authorities reported just two new locally transmitted infections in the country for the previous day, both of them in Beijing.

This may allow the Chinese economy to boom in the second half:

The Chinese economic data released on Friday showed the number of total new businesses rising at the sharpest rate since August 2010, as service providers made plans for increases in consumer demand in the coming months, Caixin said. . . .

Sporadic outbreaks in China shouldn’t derail its economic recovery, said Lian Ping, an economist at Zhixin Investment Research Institute. The Shanghai-based economist is forecasting year-over-year economic growth of more than 6% in the latter half of 2020—roughly in line with the 6.1% gross domestic product growth rate China reported in 2019.

Of course there are much better models than China, such as Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The bottom line is that it’s misleading to speak of a trade-off between a healthy population and a healthy economy.  The two go hand in hand.

Happy Fourth of July!

PS.  Note that while China was taken by surprise by Covid-19, the US had several months to prepare a response.  How did we spend that time?

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