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Heaven forbid if it were. Happy 100th Anniversary!

The following is from “the secret archive,” published as “The Unknown Lenin” (1996), and the entry is dated March 1922: “It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) …” At this point the unversed reader might pause to wonder how the sentence will go forward.

That must be radical conspiracy talk by threatened opponents, right? Indeed, the entire experiment, both in theory and practice, is not a good idea, and it is high time that became the “consensus.” The soft socialism that people wish to be embraced by today is certainly not “real” socialism, nor of course in its extreme form ends up soft either.

Ran into this on the twitter machine. My grandparents and their parents came over here in various stages in the early 1900s, including some family members who seemed to have come illegally in the 1930s.  Reprinted in full below:

It’s a trope to say America has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants. This is only partially true. It also has a long tradition of treating immigrants with open discrimination and even violent hostility.

The current debate over whether to accept Syrian refugees has echoes of a different time when another wave of people were leaving a Mediterranean country. They were seen by some Americans as being so alien in religion, culture, education, politics and law, that they could never be assimilated. They were even suspected of ties to terrorism. These were the Italians.

On March 14, 1891 one of the worst mass lynchings in US history occurred, in downtown New Orleans. Eleven men were hung or shot to death by a mob seeking ‘justice’ for a murdered policeman. The victims were all Italians.

The case was not isolated. All five Italians living in Tallulah, Louisiana, were lynched in 1899 after a disagreement over a goat. In all, about 50 lynchings of Italians have been documented in the period from 1890 to 1920.

This kind of violence shows the animosity felt by some Americans toward Italians at this time. But prejudices appear to have been acceptable in polite circles as well. In response to the New Orleans lynchings, the New York Times wrote in an editorial:

“These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigation. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they…  Lynch law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans to stay the issue of a new license to the Mafia to continue its bloody practices.”

The reporting of the story and the editorial make for very uncomfortable reading today. If you have a Times subscription, you can see the original editorial here (Page Four, Column Three)

A more liberal view came from the Rochester Union Advertizer, which found “the whole affair deplorable. … We are not unfriendly to the men of any foreign land who come here to be Americanized, and all we ask is that they shall not bring murderous plots and vendetta along with them.”

Incidentally, the word Mafia first becomes widespread in English in the aftermath of the New Orleans incident.

Richard Gambino, former director of Italian American Studies at Queens College, in New York, wrote a pioneering study of the Italian American experience in 1974. It’s mostly positive, but the legacy of discrimination and stereotyping remains heavy.  He writes how in the aftermath of the New Orleans tragedy that: “Americans debated whether all Italian-Americans were somehow all disposed to criminality by their genetic endowment or cultural inheritance.”

These are the bare facts: Italians started migrating to the United States in large numbers in the 1880s, and the migration grew steadily down to 1921 when Congress passed a law to restrict immigration. About 80 percent of them were from the impoverished south of Italy or from Sicily. Only about 50 percent were literate. And only about 30 percent were women. Mostly these were men coming for work, hoping to make enough money to go home and buy their own farm. Numbers are hard to estimate, because so many men did return home, but it’s in the region of 4 million.

The immigrants were portrayed in parts of the media as ignorant, insular, superstitious, lazy, prone to crime, ignorant of the law, ignorant of democracy and prone to righting wrongs with personal vendettas and acts of violence. Even their food was seen as alien. One popular book published in 1907 stated baldly that “immigrants from eastern and southern Europe are storming the Nordic ramparts of the United States and mongrelizing the good old American stock.”

More: Another time in history that the US created travel bans — against Italians

Their form of Catholicism was also seen as different. All Catholics faced prejudice in America, but in the Mediterranean, faith was blended with other kinds of beliefs, some of them pre-Christian, such as belief in the evil eye, and in good and evil spirits. The Italian Festas — annual public celebrations and parades of the saints — were also glaring novelties at the time.

Modern research has found that there was no basis for any of these prejudices. Italians appear to have been as productive as any other workers. Police arrest records indicate nothing unusual in the number of Italians involved in crime.

And yet they faced discrimination in housing and employment, police brutality and so on.

Then there were the suspicions about ties to terrorism. Anti-capitalist anarchism was widespread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in the popular mind it was closely associated with Italians.

One leading guru of violence, or ‘propaganda by deed’, was the charismatic Luigi Galleani, who lived in the US for about 20 years until deported. His followers were blamed for dozens of bombings of police stations, courts and other public places; and shootings of policemen, judges, businessmen and others.

One radicalized New Jersey boy went off to Italy to assassinate King Umberto, in 1900.

The worst incident laid at their feet — although never proven — was the Wall Street bombing in 1920, which resulted in 38 deaths and more than 140 people being wounded. It was the worst act of terror in the US up to that point in history.

In the crackdown that followed, there were thousands of arrests, and about 500 people were deported, mostly Italians.

But the numbers involved in terror were tiny, compared to the 4 million immigrants, almost all of whom of course became loyal hard-working citizens, despite the hostility they faced. And there were anarchist terrorists with German, Polish and English names as well.

Prejudice and discrimination against Italians died a slow death — some argue it persists in subtle forms to this day.

But obviously Italians did assimilate, and today it’s hard to imagine America without the Knights of Columbus, the Sons of Italy, and of course, pizza.

Italian Americans also served heroically in America’s wars. In fact, in World War I, Italians made up an estimated 12 percent of the men who joined the US military — despite being a much smaller proportion of the population.

It’s all food for thought when we consider the next wave of migrants.

See also the PBS series ‘The Italian Americans’.

US Autarky?

Are Tyler and his comment threads suggesting that once a dollar leaves the US, it never makes its way back?

Please explain how, absent a corporate income tax, the US is going to effectively tax foreign investors, if they invest via a US or foreign corporation. This is a major practical problem of eliminating the corporate income tax completely. It would be very difficult to get one’s ounce of tax flesh out of non-US investors and put them on equal footing with US investors (the same issue arises with a system relying solely on consumption tax).

Perhaps I am ,,, oversimplifying, ironically given the comment. But I’d like to understand how a standing exchange market for US dollars can exist if every US dollar is not ultimately consumed here in the US? And if every dollar makes its way back to the US, as it surely must, then why does taxing corporations matter? If you wish to argue that foreign investors take their corporate profits out of the US and then never spend them, then the US price level falls by exactly that much – certainly more effective at “raising revenue for Americans” than trying to tax it away.

An earlier comment by the commetor suggests, correctly in my view, an inevitable iron triangle of taxation. But why should we care so much about corporate tax fairness? After all, many billions of dollars are lost through tax planning and avoidance by corporations, and the corporate tax generates only a small share of US government revenues – so we are going to give up the idea of a truly simple (or zero) corporate tax because of some perceived unfairness in not taxing certain savvy foreign investors?

Heads nod vigorously when it is argued that Americans (and others) “overconsume.” Assume we even know what that means (for example, do I overconsume time playing my guitar? Do I overconsume time on ice with the kids?), I wonder what exactly would be included in such a claim. Do folks who argue that “markets” tend toward overconsumption willingly admit that in addition to us consuming shiny new barbecues and shiny new cars and boats and large houses, that we also consume “too much” health care? After all, are we not told we have a health care crisis? So it should follow that our overconsumption includes not just health care, but also all of the computers, rooms, auditoriums, tests, instruments, concerts, etc. that are part of our educational system, correct? We don’t need iPads in every room do we? Is that out of control run away capitalism that is causing that?

I am ALL IN for reducing consumption of all kinds – including weapons, guns, tanks, K12 teachers, emergency rooms, etc. … who’s with me?


I have this really uneasy feeling these days. That uneasy feeling is coming from the people who are trying to convince me that one of the more serious existential threats we face is the possibility of dangerous, runaway AI. I get it, I do.

We were having a discussion of Asimov’s i,Robot the other day.

And I got more uneasy.

Our discussion included a mention of Asimov’s Laws. The laws go something like:

  1. A robot may not injure a human, or via inaction allow a human to be harmed
  2. Robots must obey humans (“the people”) unless such orders conflict with (1)
  3. A robot must protect its existence insofar as it is not at the expense of (1) and (2)

And the reason I am uneasy, is that we spend a LOT more time on the design of AI and robots to follow these laws. But where is the daily conversation, or perhaps obsession, with doing the same for non-robot entities in our lives? Where are Asimov’s Three Laws of the American Presidency? Where are the three laws of Government? Can someone write the new novel, “i,Government?” I know there are dystopian political tomes out there, but I don’t see (1) through (3) being as seriously engaged as other things are. Indeed, much of the most forceful discussions of the role of government celebrate times when (1) is violated by policy. If drone strikes or undeclared wars in the middle east strike you as obeying (1) I don’t quite know what to say. But we can go much farther. Do we think that government actions or inactions do not expressly injure or harm other humans? I am quite sure, for example, that ethanol subsidies kill people. As does exempting the Department of Defense from some of the environmental protection laws that we abide by. And so on.

So I ask again, why not i,Government? Or now does it make me some kind of atomistic zealot to have a hope for humanity that, first, our governments, like our doctors, do no harm?


Perhaps ironic that on a lecture on “Academic and Intellectual Freedom” we get the following:

Throughout his lecture, Mann dissected the ways in which climate change is often portrayed as a debatable phenomenon.

For instance, when climate change is a news show topic, producers will host a scientist alongside a “climate change contrarian,” even though a vast majority of scientists agree climate change “is real, it’s human-caused, it’s already a problem,” he said

That got me thinking about JS Mill’s observations about clashing with error. If you have good ideas and arguments, you should cherish the opportunity to have opponents present wrongheaded views alongside you, no? In a lecture on intellectual freedom, is it not odd to make the case that “climate change” is not a debatable phenomemon? Seriously.

I loved the introduction of the talk from the UM President:

In introducing Mann, President Mark Schlissel said he hopes U-M will always be “an unalienable forum for discovery, debate and discussion — a place where respect and disagreement are complementary, where each makes the other stronger and where we all advocate for and learn from their confluence.”

And again, remember our discussion earlier about what the “consensus” is about and what the honest “debate” is about – you would hope that one of the world’s leading climate scientisits would at least pay lip service to it:

He said denial has several stages, including claiming it does not exist, that it’s natural or self-correcting, or that it’s possibly “a good thing.”

… the hay pile lie in pieces on the ground, smoldering from the decalescent blade of our hero’s sword.

In the Big Chair

One of the most dissatisfying things about the internet and the climate on campus is NOT that folks are hostile to markets, economists and capitalism (all different things by the way). Such dislike is actually quite understandable, and we can explain that in a bit. But what is most dissatisfying is how rarely I encounter really good arguments against markets, economists, and capitalism. Almost everything I read and see on campus and on the internet amounts to well-written cliches, often times with a bit of personal anecdote tossed in.

This is not just boring (though of course if they were GOOD criticisms, I suppose you might argue that one cannot make them often or forceful enough), but borders an being antiscientific. How so? How could it be that there are so many cliche arguments against markets, economists and capitalism, and that they become cliches, yet the only folks who are in the dark about them are we silly economists? Did they not teach us anything in PhD school? Are there curious aspects of knowledge that can be generated in a dormroom bull-session, a student activities group meeting, a non-economics classroom, or barstool theorizing sessions that evades us economists? Do we not also go to the bars? In other words, how is it possible that we idiotic economists are the only folks in the world that have not really gotten the message? Or do we get the message, but are so wedded to our views and understanding that we refuse to do some updating of our ideas?

For a hint as to what might explain this, it is probably useful for our readers to recognize that just about every single deep and insightful criticism of economics, markets, economists and capitalism has come from … economists. What sorts of things did Joe Stiglitz, Richard Thaler, George Akerlof, etc. win Nobels for?


In any case, it would be exciting to engage with some better arguments that address specific findings and ideas rather than broad sweeping claims that are themselves internally inconsistent. To take just one such example, as we get near the 100th anniversary of the founding events of the Gulag, Holodomor and the deaths of millions by socialism, you will see anti-cap websites claim breathlessly that “markets kill millions too!” Indeed, I’ve been told that capitalism starves people. And then children are forced to sit through nonsense like this in their school classrooms under the auspices of getting an “education.”

Before I put together the lengthy version of the post, consider how you would react to someone who told you, “I do not give a single penny to charity.” Now, let’s imagine that this person did not ask it, but this is how they answered the question when posed to them. But it should be rather obvious it is not entirely clear how much one “should” give to charity (ignore the moral and religious aspects of this) and if that is obvious it ought to be equally obvious that one can ask the question – dollar by dollar and hour by hour – that the best way to dedicate time and money is.

Evaluation paradigms like GiveWell are obviously an enormous step forward in asking the question, “What is the most effective way to do charity?” But of course, we ought to be concerned about, “What is the most effective way to achieve our goals?” If our goal is simply to do charity well to help people, then this is probably a reasonable approach (though still not to be considered in a vacuum). If our goal is to make other people better off, regardless of how well to do it, then focusing on charity alone cannot tautologically be satisfactory. Why? Because “doing charity” is already in the set of options when we think of “All of the ways” we can help others.

With that little bit to start with – how obvious is the answer to the question of how much time and money should be dedicated explicitly to charitable causes? What other institutions or behaviors by others does your answer depend upon? Can we truly approach this question in the narrow partial-equilibrium way that is traditionally pursued?

More to come.

Halfway to the CAFE

It would be lovely if, when we passed certain rules and regulations, we had procedures in place to review their performance and effectiveness. Today, we sit at the halfway point between the issuance of new CAFE standards as part of the 2009 “Stimulus” package, and the year 2025, the target date for new vehicle fuel economy standards. Remember, the  “law” said that the average fuel economy of the new vehicle fleet should be 54 miles per gallon just 8 more years from now.

  • How close to that goal have we gotten in the 8 years since the legislation was written?
  • Have we evaluated whether or not the CAFE legislation has led to other outcomes not intended by the program?
  • What has been the cost of achieving the CAFE improvements to realize fuel savings (and emissions?) goals relative to other ways of doing it.

Of course, economists have and continue to study these questions. Have the policymakers done it? I’d love to see the Congressional review of this.

(EDIT: note as evidence that I have totally absconded from the news circus, I had missed this when putting the foregoing sentences together).

You’ll notice that the Department of Transportation doesn’t report the ACTUAL data. After digging around on the EPA site, we find this: in 2015, CAFE for actual cars sold was 24.8 miles per gallon. The EPA gleefully cites this as a 5.5mpg improvement since 2004. Well, suppose we double that pace, that gets us to 35 mpg by the year 2028, only 19 mpg short of the goal and 3 years late.

I am sure there will be a lot of accountability when the program does not meet its goals. Lest you think this is harmless symbolism, please do go find the auto workers who lost jobs due to the increased tenure in used cars this creates, and please do find us the families struggling to make their car payments, or all of the people who end up … well, enough for now.

It seems to me that most anti-market voices actually DO understand and appreciate the “virtues” of competition. My sense is that they only see the force of competition working in some places and not others. Think of the fears that some people have from open immigration. Think of the fears people have with the “deskilling” of the American labor force (or the implied worry that all of the new innovations are skill biased). What do these have in common? The commonality is a fear that “competition” among lots and lots and lots of workers is going to drive down wages and working conditions. Implicit in this view is that the institutions on the other side of the market, in this case firms, are going to benefit a great deal from this competition.

I wonder, then, why there is not much more focus on expanding competition among firms in order to improve working conditions and to make the products we get cheaper and better. And we don’t. Just think of the discussions surrounding medical care in the US. Almost the entire conversation is about providing subsidies for consumers of medical care and about how we pay for the care we get (single payer?). But virtually none of the discussion would involve deregulating the supply side in order to promote competition.

So, folks tend to be taking the idea and using it when convenient and discarding it when not. Do you know what would solve this problem? Competition in the world of ideas – but that is sort of lacking too.

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