Editor's Choice

Private knowledge's value

Krugman's NYT Magazine article, which looks at shortcomings of economics as a discipline, reminded me of a question I have been mulling over. Does macroeconomics, in aggregating and potentially canceling out more localized movements in opposite directions within the data, gloss over the questions that are significant to individuals, which are typically a matter of where they stand in relation to other individuals? Macro data flattens out much of the relative differences in between individuals, but such differences are what register to those individuals and determine to large degree their sense of how the economy is faring and what their prospects are. So when economists and econojournalists begin prognosticating based on the macro data, they create a picture of reality that excludes everyday experience and alienates those whose relative story doesn't fit the general trends. Or what individuals experience as lost opportunities or jobs or wages may show up in aggregate data as something more hopeful about society generally. This means a disconnect between what passes for the truth about society and what people experience in everyday life can grow and deepen, intensifying the perceived antagonism between the two.

To make this less abstract: I couldn't accept the premise reported on in this Christian Science Monitor story that reducing the number of roads for drivers might cut traffic delays.

It all hinges on something called Braess’s Paradox, which states that adding capacity to a network in which all the moving entities rationally seek the most efficient route can sometimes reduce the network’s overall efficiency.... The price of anarchy drops if you close a few roads, because individual drivers are less able to selfishly optimize their routes. In their analysis, the authors identified six streets in Boston and Cambridge: By closing those streets, they say, the optimal collective travel time would decrease between the two points.

Granted, but we as individuals don't care about the overall efficiency of the system; freedom, from our limited point of view, is being able to use our wits (and alternate routes) to beat the system, or at least believe we are. When roads are closed, even if it helps the overall efficiency, it may appear to us as an arbitrary nuisance thwarting our creativity and improvisational skills. We may think, relative to other drivers, we know more and can get through a busy traffic network more quickly. If the state intervenes and negates the value of that knowledge, we are likely to feel unnecessarily frustrated, thwarted in our personal potential.

The stock market, and the efficient markets hypothesis (which Krugman covers, and is discussed at length in Justin Fox's The Myth of the Rational Market), is somewhat analogous -- individuals participate in the market because they believe they can beat it, even though financial theory (in its most dogmatic form) holds that any advantageous information is already priced in. Imagine if the state stepped in and forced investors to accept that they couldn't beat the market, on the idea that it would be more efficient socially to have a few large institutions allocate a country's collective capital. Would all that knowledge that those individual investors believe that they have be wasted -- or are they all deluded in their belief in that knowledge and would thereby be prevented from harming society by acting on it? And would the theoretical gains in efficiency outweigh the enforced impotence that individuals would experience?

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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