The uselessness of “bubble” talk

By Lorenzo

This is based on a comment I made here.

If turning points in asset prices could be reliably predicted, they wouldn’t happen (since no none would buy at the “about to be seriously undercut” price).

The “bubble” folk don’t seem to understand that calling it a “bubble”:

(1) entails not knowing when the turning point will happen;

(2) means prices are reflecting current information, not information that hasn’t become available yet.

Given that it is a principle of modern physics that there is no information from the future, it hardly seems likely that economics can squeeze out such information.

The most one can squeeze out is that there may be herd effects in asset prices (i.e. people think prices will rise, act on that shared belief, so prices rise). But as we have no idea when the herd effect will stop happening (see [1]), that doesn’t get us very far. After all, herd effects (possibly “flock effects”, as the mechanisms seem similar to bird flock movements: a manifestation of the perennial human habit of adopting social heuristics that economise on information) can operate in either direction.

Identifying what is driving current asset prices movements, and how robust those factors are, is useful, but that is useful without adding in the “bubble” usage.

So, all a “bubble” claim ends up doing is something saying something like “I believe current asset prices are based on thinly grounded expectations which will collapse at some unspecified (indeed, unknown) point in the future”. Doesn’t seem to get us very far–apart from being an awful basis for monetary policy both given the (fairly disastrous) track record for such actions: which is hardly surprising as deliberately creating asset price instability is hardly a good basis for a stable growth path for an economy.

 

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

The “race” delusion in American politics and society.

By Lorenzo

Ron Unz has produced two pieces of statistical analysis on ethnicity and crime in the US providing evidence that there is no distinctive tendency among Hispanics to have a higher crime rate, once other factors are controlled for, while there is clearly a much higher crime rate among African-Americans.

This being an American piece, anything to do with African-Americans is treated as a “race” issue, a “black” and “white” issue. Which is precisely where the whole debate goes wrong right from the beginning.

African-Americans are not, in any useful sense, a “racial” group. They are a cultural group: better labelled in a more distinctive way, such as Ebonic-Americans, so as to be distinguished from recent African migrants or even Afro-Caribbean migrants, who are culturally distinct groups with distinctively different histories and cultural legacies. Ebonic-Americans are group born out of the experience of mass slavery and the consequent trajectory of the descendants of those slaves in the US. That is precisely the distinctive social trajectory that creates an ethnic group and identity.

Those called “white” Americans are, in fact, European-Americans or Euro-Americans, an amalgam of ethnic groups who can reasonably be identified as a series of separate “American nations”, as was famously done by historian David Hackett Fisher in Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America and more broadly by journalist Colin Woodward in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. (See summary article here.) The wave of European settlement created an amalgam population distinct from the indigenous inhabitants and those imported from Africa as slaves. The obvious way to distinguish them was by skin colour, hence the “white” and “black” appellations.

But skin colour does not act in social affairs (though reactions to skin colour can do so). It is an easy marker of (entirely unearned) status (for good or ill), but not an analytically useful term. Thus the contemporary use of “white” in academic and progressivist circles is typically a misdirecting technique wiping out any notion of cultural heritage or civilisational achievement.

Humans are primed to notice ethnic cues. Small children will generally befriend someone of a different race who speaks the same dialect before they will do so (pdf) to someone of the same race who speaks a different dialect. This is hardly surprising: our hominid ancestors were forming ethnic groups deep in our prehistory: it allowed us, the cultural species, to cooperate beyond the foraging band (the Biblical story of shibboleth is all about ethnic cues.)

We began to systematically interact across the continent-wide groups we call races much more recently: far too recently and intermittently for it to be “hard-wired” into our cognitive architecture. Attempts to use implicit bias to show some deep racist cognitive programming suffers from the problem that the Implicit Association Test (IAT) has consistently failed to show the reliability (consistency across measurement) or the validity (connection to behaviour/social outcomes) to justify such use. Other attempts to make much of similarity bias have also failed to reach those benchmarks. Evidence suggests it is also relatively easy to (pdf) make other group markers trump race among adults.

Origins of racism

Due to our evolutionary history, we do have a deep tendency to tribalism or groupism. But this is a potentially “free-floating” tendency which can attach itself to all sorts of groups (such as, for example, political parties).

Racism as such was originally a product of the combination of mass slavery and universalising morality. In all its forms, racism originated as a justificatory explanation for what people were doing for other reasons. So, the first racist discourses grew up in the context of the mass slaving of sub-Saharan Africans and only appeared after the development of universalising morality (specifically, Christianity and Islam) because only a universalising morality is likely to have any problem with the systematic enslaving of others.

There was no moral problem about slavery for Romans–slaves were losers, Romans were winners, slavery was just a mark of losing. Indeed, there was so little problem that Romans ran one of the most open slave systems (pdf) in history, as freed slaves became full citizens. So much so, that people would sometimes use slavery as a path to Roman citizenship. Aristotle‘s attempt to provide a moral justification for slavery (as his ethical system did have a universalising tendency: hence its later incorporation into monotheist thought) just struck the Romans as Greek nonsense.

Once folk are all “children of God”, then slavery causes a moral problem–why are you treating children of God as property? While there are some glimmers of racist discourse in the Roman Empire after the adoption of Christianity, the first significant racist discourse (that is, a systematic denigration by race) comes out of Islam. For example, in a C11th book of geography by geographer Said al-Andalusi (1029-1070) Al‐tarif bi-tabaqat al-umam (Book of the Categories of Nations):

Chapter 3: Nations having no interest in science

The rest of this [category], which showed no interest in science, resembles animals more than human beings. Those among them who live in the extreme North, between the last of the seven regions and the end of the populated world to the north, suffered from being too far from the sun; their air is cold and their skies are cloudy. As a result, their temperament is cool and their behavior is rude. Consequently, their bodies become enormous, their color turned white, and their hair drooped down. They have lost keenness of understanding and sharpness of perception. They were overcome by ignorance and laziness, infested by fatigue and stupidity. Such as the Slavonians, Bulgarians and neighboring people.

Also in this category are the people who live close to the equinoctial line and behind it to the populated world to the south. Because the sun remain close to their heads for long periods, their air and their climate has become hot: they are of hot temperament and fiery behavior. Their color turned black and their hair turned kinky. As a result, they have lost the value of patience and firmness of perception. They are overcome by foolishness and ignorance. These are the people of Sudan who inhabited the far reaches of Ethiopia, Nubia, the Zini, and others.

Chapter 5: Science in India

The Indians, as known to all nations for many centuries, are the metal [essence] of wisdom, the source of fairness and objectivity. They are peoples of sublime pensiveness, universal apologues, and useful and rare inventions. In spite of the fact that their colour is in the first stage of blackness, which puts them in the same category as the blacks, Allah in His glory, did not give them the low characters, the poor manners, or the inferior principles, associated with this group and ranked them above a large number of white and brown peoples.

Why were Slavs and sub-Saharan Africans being systematically enslaved rather than being conquered and/or converted to Islam (which would make them no longer able to be enslaved)? Because, the explanatory justification of racism went, slavery was what they were fit for.

Catholics were not supposed to enslave folk: so said Pope Paul III (r.1534-1549) in his 1537 encyclical Sublimus Dei. But they (and Christians generally) could trade and own slaves that other people had enslaved, so there was still a moral problem of owning fellow children of God. Add in Enlightenment notions about the rights of man and an even more serious moral dilemma was created, leading to a fairly intense racist discourse of explanation and justification–hence the Antebellum South running one of the most closed systems of slavery in human history: especially as freeing the slaves en masse would, in system based on citizen election of officials, create a serious political issue for the existing voters. Hence also the Constitution of the Confederate States of America absolutely entrenched slavery while the Jim Crow system tried to insulate Euro-Americans in the South from the political and employment implications of the end of slavery.

Western racist discourses also arose out of the cleanliness of the blood laws in Reconquista Spain, blocking the children of Jewish converts from various positions and social benefits, creating a social cartel for the “Old Christians” and their descendants in Iberia and then in Spain and Portugal’s American colonies. This language of inherited contempt, independent of religion, was then extended elsewhere in Europe to create specifically anti-Jewish (rather than anti-Judaic) discourses as a response to the disturbing social flux of modernisation and the creation of mass nationalisms.

European empires at their maximum extent.

The last source of Western racism grew out of noticing that by the C19th Europeans dominated the globe, and trying to find language to both justify and explain it. It is not the case that racism caused slavery or imperialism or social cartelisation: racism was created to justify and explain the slavery, imperialism and social cartelisation that people were already doing for other reasons. (It is worth noting that the problem with Jim Crow was not that it was racist, but that it was oppressive–“race” was simply the dimension across which oppression was organised.)

As any sort of explanation for any of this, race is truly awful. Imperialism was just what states do when they can and when there is a return in it. Europe created particularly effective states, so particularly effective imperialism (much of which was directed against fellow Europeans).

Slavery is a response to control of people being more valuable than control of land (see economist Evsey Domar’s classic essay on the subject) and there not being sufficient local population to bind to the land (if there is, some form of serfdom typically arises).

People can form social cartels on all sort of bases. (The current debates about the increasing lack of cognitive diversity in Western academe is precisely about a form of social cartelisation.)

As a way of creating unearned status and effortless virtue, and justifying treating other people badly, however, racism works very well. The modern innovation is to discover that discourses of anti-racism can work just as well as techniques for moral and political exclusion: we can ignore and despise them, they’re racists! (Or even a basket of deplorables.)

Illusions of race

But racist discourses of justificatory explanation left a legacy of seeing people, and talking of people, in terms of race rather than ethnicity or meta-ethnicity. Such race-talk turns out to be very useful if you want to strip away any notion of cultural heritage or civilisational achievement. Which is really useful if you want to maximise your despite of fellow citizens–you just “explain” any bad social outcome on the basis of the presumption of malice: default explanation of differentiated social outcomes in terms of the malice (i.e., racism, misogyny, various phobic views) of fellow citizens (or civilisation members). It is an excellent basis for assertion of superior status: though much less useful for serious analysis as it relies on ignoring, explaining away or otherwise discounting differences between groups that lead to variable social outcomes.

Such talk has the great virtue of simplicity—you do not have to know the details, merely what are the correct signals. (And there is no more powerful contemporary signal than hostility to racism, defined so as to function as a social signal, not for careful analysis.) In an information-dense society, where displaying cognitive competence is at a premium, such [piety display] allows massive economising on information as well as providing reputation protection and expectation convergence. Hence its particular importance for participants in transnational networks and workers in areas with a premium on cognitive competence. It has the wider disadvantage of committing people to social narratives that support such signals and so blocking consideration of contrary facts or concerns.

The two unspeakable truths of “race” in the US are:

(1) If African-Americans had the same average IQ and the same crime rates as other Americans, the “race” issue would disappear (as the experience of Asian-Americans and recent African immigrants demonstrates); and

(2) it is not a “race” issue but an ethnic one–Ebonic-Americans are a distinct ethnic group while “white” Americans are Euro-Americans, an amalgam of ethnic groups.

IQ but not genes

The moment one talks of differences in average IQ between groups, the automatic assumption is that one is “really” talking about genes (and so “race”). Not so, as the evidence strongly suggests that the role of genes in inter-group differences in IQ is relatively small. For example, urbanisation had its normal effect (after a lag) in significantly raising (pdf) the average IQ of Ebonic-Americans. Moreover, children of an Ebonic-American father and Euro-American mother have significantly higher average IQ than Ebonic-Americans generally and are not significantly distinguishable in average social outcomes (pdf) than other Americans while, in the case of reverse pairings, children of an Euro-American father and Ebonic-American mothers have much the same patterns as Ebonic-Americans in average IQ and social outcomes.

It is very unlikely that these results have a genetic explanation: it is very likely that there is a cultural-experiential explanation for the first result and a cultural explanation for the last two results–likely due to the experience of slavery being highly adverse to the development of social or human capital, or mechanisms for generating the same, as well as mothering practices, given that sub-Saharan parenting patterns are very distinctive (pdf).

Indeed, sub-Saharan parenting patterns, particularly the reliance on siblings to raise younger siblings and the very limited role of fathers in parenting and the unusually low levels of maternal attention, seems somewhat programmed to, in the right circumstances, generate gang culture, which fulfil a somewhat similar role (albeit rather pathologically) to that ritual societies perform in their origin cultures.

So, Barack Hussein Obama is not Ebonic-American (his father was a, temporary, Kenyan immigrant, his mother was Euro-American). Indeed, culturally, he had a Euro-American upbringing. Hence, the US has not yet had an Ebonic-American President. Instead, from 2009-2017, the US had a two-term culturally Euro-American President of partly African descent; which fits right in with the results from the studies cited above.

If the social outcomes of African-Americans continue to be discussed in racial terms, then the debate will continue to be deeply dysfunctional, as it will direct attention to all the wrong places.

Culture as a basis for friendship and social combination, or social friction, is much more rational than skin colour. The “it’s all about race” presumes “people are identical except for race” (that being only skin deep). But they are not culturally identical, with all the implications of that.

A comment by Malcolm Gladwell is apposite:

Well, yeah, there is something — well, I hesitate to say under-theorized, but there is something under-theorized about the differences between West Indian and American black culture, the psychological difference between what it means to come from those two places. I think only when you look very closely at that difference do you understand the heavy weight that particular American heritage places on African-Americans. What’s funny about West Indians is, they can always spot another West Indian. And at a certain point you wonder, “How do they always know?” It’s because after a while you get good at spotting the absence of that weight.

And it explains as well the well-known phenomenon of how disproportionately successful West Indians are when they come to the United States because they seem to be better equipped to deal with the particular pathologies attached to race in this country — my mother being a very good example. But of course there are a million examples.

Gladwell is talking here of people of common African descent, but who come from very different experiences because of distinct historical legacies that go with, and help create, culture. For good or ill.

If we talked about race a lot less, and talked about social capital, human capital, family formation, parenting practices, and other features of culture, much more, there might actually be some progress. But the story would also become more complex, and not create an easy basis for despising fellow citizens or setting up linguistic trip-wires (micro-aggressions anyone?) in the service of moralised status games. Moreover, a people who wait for others to redeem them will wait forever. But the primary role of the modern secular religion of antiracism is not to solve problems, it is to been seen to care and play the consequent games of moralised status and despite.

Note that nothing I write above implies that oppression is not a key part of that historical trajectory of Ebonic-American culture: on the contrary, it is crucial to understanding that legacy—hence “the weight” that Gladwell speaks of. But a legacy where the multi-dimensional burden of slavery and the social exclusions of Jim Crow are crucial, with racism as justificatory overlay.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

No, Ibn Khaldun is not the father of economics

By Lorenzo

I am a great admirer of work of the C14th Muslim intellectual Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (1332-1406), known as Ibn Khaldun. I gave a paper on his thought to the University of Melbourne Medieval Roundtable in April 2016, I will be giving another examining the course of the Ottoman Empire in the light of his analysis in August 2017. Widening the circle of those acquainted with his thought is laudable.

First complete scholarly edition in Europe of the Muqaddimah (1858).

Overstating the case, however, is not. Such as claiming that he is the real originator of economic thinking: particularly via his Muqaddimah (1377) (sometimes also called his Prolegomena). Now, apart from the piece being an instance of the unlovely contemporary habit where people cannot be just factually wrong, or have made some analytical error, they must be morally delinquent, the claim is misconceived.

That Ibn Khaldun was a serious and perceptive economic thinker is clearly true, as is discussed in this 1988 contribution explicitly suggesting he was “the father of economics”. But a key characteristic of any sort of father, metaphorical or otherwise, is that they have intellectual progeny, as is pointed out here. In this case, intellectual progeny specifically in the field of economic analysis. Within the Muslim world, Ibn Khaldun failed to do so.

It is not that Muslim intellectuals were not aware of his work. In The Muslim Discovery of Europe, Bernard Lewis instances Ottoman officials attempting to analyse European states via use of Ibn Khaldun’s model of the path of states. It is simply that they failed to follow in his intellectual footsteps.

What makes Adam Smith (1723-1790) the father of economics, and originator of modern economic thinking, is not Adam Smith or even The Wealth of Nations (1775), it is Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), David Ricardo (1772-1823), Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi (1773-1842) and all those who followed on after. It was that Adam Smith had intellectual progeny, and, in the matter of economic analysis, Ibn Khaldun didn’t.

The National Gain (1765) by Anders Chydenius.

It is worth noting that one reason that The Wealth of Nations had such an impact (apart from a book in the world of printing having a profound advantage over a book in the world of scribes) was that Great Britain was a parliamentary state, with the government by discussion that involves, and Smith’s ideas rapidly became part of the political and policy debate. Conversely, Finnish priest and politician Anders Chydenius‘s (1729-1803) pamphlet The National Gain (1765), which preceded The Wealth of Nations and apparently advocated very similar ideas, was likely hampered in having an effect by Sweden being a more peripheral state, that Chydenius himself was a controversial political figure and Gustav III’s coup of 1772, which abolished Parliamentary rule until it was restored in 1809.

If it turned out that Ibn Khaldun’s ideas influenced Adam Smith, that might make him the Grandfather of Economics (vaguely possible, but not terribly likely; especially as the first complete scholarly edition of the Muqaddimah in Europe was not until 1858, part of the long-term scholarly impact of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798), but the temporal distance to intellectual progeny would still preclude him from being, in any useful sense, the Father of Economics or the originator of modern economic thinking.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

The Earth Below – to be published by Ligature publishing

By Legal Eagle

I’m delighted to announce that my Young Adult dystopian fiction book, ‘The Earth Below’ will be published by ligatu.re, hopefully next year.

The book had already been highly commended in the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Awards in 2016. I had a publisher and some agents express an interest in the book, but after some months, it transpired that was not going to work. This was when Helen Dale mentioned my work to Matt Rubinstein at ligatu.re.

If you want to know more about the book, here is the website.

Image result for underground train tunnels

 

Don’t trust anyone over 47

By skepticlawyer

Theresa May, according to disgruntled former Chancellor and now editor of the Evening Standard George Osborne – is a ‘dead woman walking’. It is possible, by the time you read these words, she will have been deposed and Boris Johnson or Sajid Javid installed in her place.

On June 8, she lead the Conservative Party into the humiliation of a hung parliament and minority government, squandering David Cameron’s 2015 majority in an election she had no need to call.

The Tories are currently playing footsie with a Northern Irish sectarian outfit (the Democratic Unionist Party) while Labour is sitting on the sidelines lobbing rocks in their general direction.

This result is especially remarkable given the Conservative vote share increased by 5.5% (to 43.5%), while the Labour vote share increased by 9.5% (to 40.5%): the largest improvement in Labour vote share since Attlee’s landslide in 1945. Both major parties are now extraordinarily popular electorally but neither can govern – at least, not without a great deal of help.

To translate those figures into ‘Australian’: the ALP would kill for 40.5% of the primary vote, and the Liberals would kill for 43.5% of the primary vote.

Labour’s two main sources of new votes were younger people, who turned out in huge numbers, along with three fifths of former UKIP voters. The Tories gained a decent but not exceptional working-class vote, especially in the North, and made huge inroads in Scotland.

Given May’s Labour opponent was the socialist Jeremy Corbyn, a man hated by much of his own party as much as by any Conservative, it is worth asking the question: what happened? I mean, in terms of votes won, May beat Thatcher. Corbyn beat Blair.

The Conservative campaign was dreadful: robotic and stage-managed, insulting the UK electorate. Given voting is non–compulsory here, Britons could show their displeasure with it most easily by failing to appear: Tory Remainers, in particular, stayed home.

Crosby-Textor, of course, mucked up the Coalition campaign in 2016. And, as despairing British friends were driven mad by May’s endless focus on ‘strong and stable’ (immediately parodied as ‘weak and wobbly’, Brits being what they are), I introduced them to ‘jobs and growth’ and ‘innovative and agile’. And prayed that eyeballs wouldn’t become detached from eye-stalks, so dramatic was the rolling.

Lynton Crosby is increasingly looking like one of those past-his-best football managers who can’t repeat his previous success but insists on doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.

Meanwhile, some Labour types are insisting the Tory campaign was so bad that, had a quasi-Marxist not led them – if they’d instead opted for a sensible centrist like Liz Kendall or Chuka Umunna – they’d have pissed it in.

This is wishful thinking. Blairism is dead. Labour improved its position because of Corbyn, and not in spite of him.

Part of the reason Corbyn did well is because he refused to give up speaking in complete sentences and was willing to explain his ideas. Precisely because he is an ideologue, he has been thinking and speaking about those ideas for decades, and talks about them very fluently when pressed.

Not only do 18–24 year olds not remember the Winter of Discontent – where Britain’s heavily unionised workforce left bodies unburied, rubbish uncollected, and regularly turned the lights off – they do not recall the IRA and have no memory of a Labour government other than that of Tony Blair. And he, of course, undid much of his appeal by invading Iraq.

They were also unmoved by various attempts to hang shit on Corbyn – both by the Israel lobby and, separately, by the Tories – over his fondness for Hamas and his mateyness with the anti-Israel, pro-Palestine wing of his party. I’m interested in politics and found it rather niche. Young voters likely thought they all had a weird obsession with hummus.

The other main source of Labour’s improved vote was around three fifths of former UKIP voters. Demographically, many of these voters are post-industrial working class folk who opposed immigration (and so voted Leave) because it drew policy attention and public resources to other parts of the country.

The Conservatives did make gains among working class voters and improved their vote significantly in a lot of Midlands and Northern industrial seats. Their problem was that they didn’t do it enough, and the UKIP vote had a habit of going back to Labour in seats where UKIP didn’t stand (supposedly to help pro-Brexit Tories).

This confirms what opinion surveys have shown for a long time: UKIP voters are significantly more left of centre on economics than the average. Consequently, in seat after seat up North and in the Midlands, while the Conservative vote went up, the Labour vote went up more.

The erstwhile ‘Kippers’ were attracted by Corbyn’s clear focus on workers’ rights and public spending, and annoyed because May never really offered them anything to make their great victory last year against the urban political class feel worthwhile.

However, Corbyn’s masterstroke was the very thing that most enraged his Blairite MPs and provoked them into trying to dump him last year: his response to Brexit. He respected the result and supported Brexit. At the same time, he said he wanted both a soft Brexit with tariff-free access to the single market and an end to free movement. This meant he neutralised the identity issue (which immigration is a proxy for) among a large number of working class voters in the North and allowed Leavers to vote according to their economic views.

At the same time, he presented himself as opposed to the Conservative view of Brexit and so got the Remain vote (largely Southern) onside as well. Quite an achievement, but made possible by the failure of the Tories to have a proper debate on the issue.

Left-wing populism, as much as right-wing populism, is a thing. Corbyn’s gains showed it’s possible to hold a mix of left and right populist ideas (being anti-immigration but pro public ownership and a big welfare state, for example).

May thus overestimated her support and overplayed her hand by calling the election at the time she did. British voters don’t like being treated as short-term instruments in the games of their higher-uppers.

However, the election result is significant for other reasons, and in today’s Weekend Australian, I set out why. 

This story, like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, begins simply, with a house.

The house is something few young or young-ish Britons or Americans can afford, despite doing everything their wealthier elders told them to: studying hard, going to university, working hard, not doing drugs, delaying parenthood.

Their parents, by contrast, have houses. From time-to-time those houseless young and young-ish people are forced to call on their parents to stabilise their own financial position.

They do so because real incomes for U.K. residents 60 and over grew 11% between 2007 and 2014, while those 30 and under suffered a 7% loss. In the U.S., the share of young Americans earning more than their parents did by age 30 has plunged from 9 in 10 for those born in the 1940s to barely half for those born in the 1980s.

Deprived of a place in an almost-as-bonkers-as-Sydney housing market, the young have started voting for free stuff – particularly promises of free university tuition – by way of recompense.

Last week, homeowners voted Conservative by 53 to 32. Renters voted Labour by 51 to 31. British politics, if not in a nutshell, at least in a house – or the lack of one.

They have voted this way in two countries, in support of two candidates: Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned for free tertiary education. If you break down both the 2016 Democratic Primary and the 2017 General Election by income, occupation, and constituency, you discover it was often young professionals who should be in their first home who supported both men.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Women & gays: understand how much they hate you

By skepticlawyer

I have taken a few pops at feminism of late, because I don’t think it’s doing its core job: defending the civil rights of women and girls. However, sniping from the sidelines is only useful up to a point.

Here I am in the Weekend Australian modelling how I think feminism ought to be done.

I thought those who argued Manchester was an attack on women and girls having fun had a point, and should not have been scoffed at. Most of them, however, refused to bell the cat.

I indulged in no such refusal.

Islamists do not “hate our freedom” in a nice, uncomplicated way. Would that it were so; they would be easier to fight. They hate women and gays; it is our freedom they especially hate. Even unto little girls.

The monster that lay in wait in the Manchester Arena foyer really did believe Ariana Grande was a “Dangerous Woman”. In his mind, dangerous because she deals with the devil (and doesn’t just sing about it), her fans are “hoes”, she is “uncovered meat”. She is dangerous because she is free, because she owns herself, because she has a huge voice, because no man possesses her. And because she is loved by legions of little girls and teenagers (and not a few gay lads) who wish to emulate her.

Islamic extremism is religion made in hell for male losers, men who cannot get women like Grande or any of her fans to sleep with them. It is a war on women who choose their own way. “You choose not to sleep with me, not to obey me, so I will kill you.”

For that reason, opposition to Islamism must not only be in the name of civilisation or of liberty, but also of libertinism. In the name of women who like to be sexy (and who don’t think “sexy” means “sexist”), of the glistening gay boys in their underwear on a Mardi Gras float, or the Frenchman bleeding yellow on the cover of Charlie Hebdo: “They may have guns, but fuck them, we have champagne.”

Even in its more modest forms, Islam spends an inordinate amount of time inveighing against the empire of the senses in the name of the next world, rather than seeking to live in the only world we have. The only world we know we have for certain.

It is still at the stage of moral ­development where it wishes to substitute its choices for yours and mine. That’s why in some majority-Muslim countries apostates — those who choose their own way — are killed.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Note: this is paywalled, although links sometimes work when you click them. This particular outlet pays its writers properly, so the paywall is worth it if you want more good writing.

Manchester, my second home

By Legal Eagle

[Cartoon by UK Daily Telegraph cartoonist, Blower]

It was an exodus, a journey to the land of our forebears. And then I got there and I thought, “Why the bloody hell did we bother? I can see why my ancestors left.”

You see, I’m Australian, but my family and I lived in Manchester from 1991 to 1994. I completed my high schooling there.

For the first year, I was miserable, as miserable as I’d ever been in my life. The rain poured, and I never saw the sun. The clouds were so low it felt as if I could reach up and touch them. People had difficulty understanding my accent, and I couldn’t understand them. It didn’t help that my sister was hit and injured by a car outside school on our second day at our new school, and that I blamed myself for not looking after her better. Also, it’s pretty bloody hard to move countries and schools when you’re fourteen years old, I can tell you that now. Particularly when you go to a selective school and discover that you’re behind everyone else, when you’d been able to sail through with no effort and study in Australia. I studied hard and fast to catch up, and it was the making of me.

The turning point came when I went back to Australia. I made the classic expat mistake – told everyone I was coming back – and I spent the whole time booked up with catch ups. Me being me, I ended up exhausted, had an asthma attack and spent an evening in casualty. “This wouldn’t happen if I were back in Australia,” I thought. And then I realised I was back in Australia. I couldn’t blame everything bad that happened on Manchester. When I went back, I looked at my second home with new and appreciative eyes.

Yes, it had been hard to make friends, but they were friends for life, loyal and true. The warmth of Mancunians, the courage and the sheer bloody-mindedness. I loved them, and I still do. Manchester was where I learned to be comfortable in my own skin. I began to see a peculiar kind of beauty in the industrial landscapes, in the grey skies, in the bleak architecture. We drove through Moss Side, an inner city suburb of Manchester, and home to the infamous Hulme Crescents, a 1970s experiment in architecture which was demolished shortly after I arrived there.

One of the buildings in Moss Side had “This is the end” spraypainted on a wall. I was horrified, and looked back at the building.

The Hulme estate in Moss Side.

[The Hulme estate in Moss Side.]

Then I saw the punchline. “This is the other end”, the graffiti proclaimed.

That’s Manchester for you. Humour in the midst of desolation and urban decay. A certain cheek and creativity.

Manchester was also where I was first introduced to terrorism. In 1992, the Provisional IRA bombed the city centre. I was horrified. Everyone at school shrugged. “It’s just the IRA again.”

The next year, the Provisional IRA killed two children in Warrington, near Manchester, after they placed small bombs in rubbish bins outside McDonalds. The children were killed as they fled the first bomb, running into the path of the second. I was horrified by the cruelty of the deaths…but the fact that there was a bombing shocked me less now. I’d realised that this was how life went. Then the Provisional IRA bombed Bishopsgate in London. I don’t recall that I was particularly shocked by this point. I didn’t take special precautions, and I still went into the city and to London regardless. I felt fatalistic. If my time was up, it was up. You can’t let these people stop you from living a normal life. Of course, ironically, the Orange and the Green meets in me. It’s largely ceased to matter in Australia, although it still mattered when my Catholic grandmother married my Anglican grandfather many moons ago.

I left England in 1994, and missed the Provisional IRA’s last hurrah. They bombed the middle of Manchester in 1996 and blew the centre out of it (including the terribly ugly Arndale Centre). When I went back in 2013, I found a city transformed. The 1960s architecture had been destroyed, and replaced by a stylish modern city. Part of me was glad, but part of me was nostalgic as well – this wasn’t the place I knew.

But it still is the place I knew. Recent events have confirmed that. Terror has again touched the heart of Manchester, after a suicide bomber attacked concertgoers at Manchester Arena as they left an Ariana Grande concert. Many of the dead were teenagers, or parents waiting to pick up their children. I cannot imagine how someone could do this. But…local homeless men ran to assist the wounded children. Taxi drivers gave free rides, religious leaders offered food, hotels and residents opened their doors, people gave blood and emergency and medical services worked tirelessly. The generosity and spirit of Mancunians was astounding.

The bomber appears to have been born in Manchester (shortly after I left, so I’ve been gone a long time) to a family of Libyan origin, and to have been motivated by Islamism. I’m always disappointed by the debate which arises after an event like this. Whenever an act of terrorism occurs, one side of politics protest, “The perpetrator was mentally ill, a lone wolf!” and the other side of politics protest, “The perpetrator was motivated by a poisonous ideology, and others who espoused it!” And then, when the identity of the terrorist changes, each side of politics changes their tune. To be honest, I think that the answer is (c) all of the above, plus a bit more. The people who perpetrate such killings are people who look to harm others, as a way of venting their hatred. And they find the excuse for doing so in different places, depending on religion and politics. What worries me after an event like this (a school shooting, a terrorist incident, a rampage) is the way in which the person gains notoriety post mortem. I don’t want him to take up any space in my mind. For once, I agree with Donald Trump – this guy was a loser, a pathetic schmuck who struck out at children and teenagers to express his hatred of their joie de vivre.

I don’t want to think about this perpetrator any more, although I acknowledge that we will have to think about the way in which young men in particular find excuses for this kind of depraved act. I want to focus on the spirit of the city I love. Manchester, you’re my second home. I love your people, and you will survive, as you have survived before.

Yeah, nah, Trump isn’t Hitler

By skepticlawyer

I dislike it when people hyperventilate over politics and political leaders, particularly when there’s an attempt to make a given politician seem better or worse than he or she is in reality.

For that reason, I’ve become very wary of the constant breaking news about Trump’s alleged Russian links, his vulnerability to impeachment, and his sacking of Comey.

The reason I’m wary is because the hyperbole has become so ridiculous I feel as though I’m losing my moorings, and with them my ability to assess coolly and clearly what is actually going on.

Maybe Trump has done enough wrong to be impeached. Maybe he hasn’t. The point is I don’t know, and because of the histrionics, I’m no longer able to make a reasonable, measured assessment.

This hyperventilation has its origins – going back to the moment when Trump threw his hat in the ring for the GOP nomination – in constant comparisons of him to Hitler.

At first I paid attention to the people making this claim, as some were my friends and others were people I respected. However, I have come to the view that the Hitler comparisons are not only wrong but odious, and for that reason I wrote this piece for the Cato Institute.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Cato Unbound’s Jason Kuznicki, who got me thinking about this issue, and who is quoted in the piece. Originally it was going to be for the Speccie, but then I discovered I needed another 500 words, which the Speccie didn’t have to spare. Excerpt:

So why do people insist on comparing their opponents to Hitler? One suggestion I’ve had is “because it feels so satisfying.” However, masturbation is also satisfying and we’ve managed to keep that out of the nation’s newspapers for the most part. Wheeling out the ultimate Big Bad is a Big Thing, a phenomenon deserving of closer examination.

To my mind, part of the problem is that political polarisation in liberal democracies means while we no longer agree on what is good and right, we do agree on what is bad or evil. Hitler is definitely bad and evil, ergo calling a political opponent a Nazi or comparing a politician to Hitler is a shorthand way of consigning him or her to a sort of moral outer darkness. You’d never apply the Hitler epithet to someone with whom you disagreed, but otherwise thought was basically sound.

If you want to figure out the significance of the golfing cat and his swastika pin flag, you’ll have to read the whole thing.

A Roman Industrial Revolution?

By skepticlawyer

Kingdom of the Wicked is set in a Roman Empire that’s had an industrial revolution, something long considered plausible by economic historians. There are all sorts of theories as to why it didn’t actually happen, although the presence of chattel slavery looms large. The Roman society I’ve depicted has abolished slavery; I’ll be frank and admit I did this to make the economics work.

This very fine essay by economist Mark Koyama is an excellent introduction to some of the ideas I drew upon when I was writing the book. It has the benefit of including lots of links to other people’s research, and is well worth your time. Excerpt:

How advanced was the Roman economy? Specifically, how did it compare to the economy of Europe in late medieval or early modern times? Was the Roman economy only as developed as that of Europe circa 1300 or was it as advanced as that of western Europe on the eve of the Industrial Revolution in say 1700?

This question is not mere idle speculation. It matters for our understanding of the causes of long-run economic growth whether an industrial revolution could have happened in Song China or ancient Rome. This type of counterfactual history is crucial for pinning down the causal mechanisms responsible for sustained growth, especially as historians like Bas van Bavel are now proposing explicitly cyclical accounts of growth in societies as varied as early medieval Iraq and the Dutch Republic (see The Invisible Hand? (OUP, 2016))

Temin’s GDP estimates suggest that Roman Italy had comparable per capita income to the Dutch Republic in 1600. The Empire as a whole, he suggests, may have been comparable to Europe in 1700 (Temin 2013, 261).

As they say, read the whole thing.

Well, we’re back

By skepticlawyer

Many moons ago, Katy Barnett (Legal Eagle), Lorenzo M Warby (Lorenzo), and I (skepticlawyer, aka Helen Dale) ran quite a popular blog from this site. Apart from Lorenzo’s sterling efforts, the blog has fallen by the wayside, and we kind of forgot its Facebook ‘fan’ page existed.

However, since all three of us have got books either published or being published, we’ve decided to repurpose the Facebook page and reanimate the blog as quasi author page and general sandpit for the three of us and those who like to read our stuff.

By way of background, my first novel – the one the won the Miles Franklin and caused a massive stink at the time – has been re-issued, while my second novel (in two parts) will be published in October this year. I’ll be doing an Australian author tour to support it. I’m so keen for you to read it I’ve even volunteered to go on Q&A. Yes really.

I’ve had quite a bit of stuff published around the reissue – you can read all about it in The AustralianThe Sydney Morning HeraldThe Daily TelegraphQuillette or you can have a listen to this interview on ABC Radio.

Katy and Lorenzo have books coming out next year. They’ll make announcements here and on the Facebook page in due course.

Because my publisher (Ligature) does the most gorgeous cover art, I’ve decided to put the cover design up for Kingdom of the Wicked, my second novel, to illustrate this post.