Who Runs the AEA?

That is a new paper by Kevin D. Hoover and Andrej Svorenčík: The leadership structure of the American Economics Association is documented using a biographical database covering every officer and losing candidate for AEA offices from 1950 to 2019. The analysis focuses on institutional affiliations by education and employment. The structure is strongly hierarchical. A […]

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The Stargate Project

The Stargate Project was a long-running program, funded under various names, by the CIA, Army, and Defense Intelligence Agency to investigate and use psychic powers to defeat enemies of the United States, foreign and domestic. The program can be dated back to the end of World War II but it picked up in the 1970s […]

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SCOTUS, houses of worship, and the pandemic

The Supreme Court has sided with religious institutions (NYT) against some of the pandemic restrictions of state and local governments: The opinion said the state had treated secular businesses more favorably than houses of worship. “The list of ‘essential’ businesses includes things such as acupuncture facilities, camp grounds, garages, as well as many whose services […]

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The Pivotal Justice in the Supreme Court Decision?

It is, in my opinion, difficult to disagree with the Supreme Court decision that prevented the governor of New York from imposing strict limits on religious attendance for public health reasons—while litigation on the substance of the case continues. But I wish to emphasize two subsidiary points, one being a quibble with the Wall Street Journal’s subtitle: “Justice Amy Coney Barrett cast the pivotal vote to depart from past cases” (“Supreme Court Blocks Covid-19 Restrictions on Religious Services in New York,” November 26, 2020).

The majority in the 5-to-4 decision was made of Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Barrett. It’s not false to say that Barrett was a pivotal judge, but is slightly misleading to focus on her and say that she was the pivotal judge if the word is used in the sense of “decisive.” With a majority of one, every Justice who voted on that side was pivotal.

Another example: Suppose that Joe Biden had won the popular vote against Donald Trump not by 6,000,000 votes but by a single vote. The probability of that is infinitesimal, but let’s just assume it materialized. Then, each and every voter would have been pivotal. It would not have been false to say that Joe next door was the pivotal voter, but not very enlightening. (Note that recounts and challenges would very likely have switched the majority back and forth a few times, but this is not my point.)

In defense of the Journal, however, there is one reason to focus on Justice Barrett as a pivotal judge since she was the latest one nominated by Trump, in controversial circumstances shortly before the November election. If that seat had been left vacant, the Supreme Court would presumably have tied 4-to-4, and the lower court decision would have remained in force, at least for now, supporting Cuomo’s restrictions (if I understand correctly).

An observation of a different sort is that all three Justices nominated by outgoing president Donald Trump voted to defend freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment, which is a good point in his favor—although he himself, to say the least, did not demonstrate strong preferences for the free-speech protections in the same amendment. The Supreme Court decision also suggests that conservative judges are often more likely to protect individual liberties than “liberal” ones, even if caveats are in order, including regarding Justice Roberts in this case. We are told that Trump consulted the Federalist Society on judicial nominations instead of relying on his empty and dangerous intuitions. One wishes he had done the same on trade and other economic matters.

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What should I ask Benjamin M. Friedman?

As noted, Ben has a new and very interesting book coming out Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.  He is also the author of the superb The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, and the earlier Day of Reckoning, about the economic policies of the Reagan administration.  Ben has been a leading macroeconomist since the 1970s, […]

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Secularization and the Tribulations of the American Working-Class

That is a work in progress by Brian Wheaton, job market candidate from Harvard University.  Here is the abstract: Over the past several decades, working-class America has been plagued by multiple adverse trends: a sharp increase in social isolation, an even sharper increase in single parenthood, a decline in male labor force participation rates, and […]

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My Conversation with Edwidge Danticat

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is the CWT summary: She joined Tyler to discuss the reasons Haitian identity and culture will likely persist in America, the vibrant Haitian art scenes, why Haiti has the best food in the Caribbean, how radio is remaining central to Haitian politics, why teaching in Creole would […]

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*Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton*

That is the new book by Nicholas McDowell, and it is one of my favorite non-fiction works this year.  Milton is today more relevant than he has been in a long time, excerpt: Milton’s political development is shaped by his evolving understanding of the ways in which ‘tyranny’ — defined initially in ecclesiastical and clerical […]

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