Sunday, July 23, 2017

Jerry Emanuelson’s Algebraic Proof of Ricardo’s Law of Association

Most likely in the summer of 1970, Jerry Emanuelson published a proof showing that if two people work at two tasks at relatively different rates, they can trade their labor for mutual gain, even if one of them does both tasks better than the other.  His work appeared in The Libertarian Connection #13.  It is known to economists as Comparative Advantage, and it was suggested by Adam Smith, but argued forcefully later (1817) by David Ricardo. However, the formal statement was not known outside of academic economics; and it was, of course, compelling to libertarians. So, Jerry worked out several pages of algebraic inequalities for our benefit. As of this posting, it remains a lost work.

The Libertarian Connection was a modeled on the science fiction fanzine. For your subscription, you were allowed to contribute two pages of content. The publishers collated the submissions, copied them, and distributed them to the subscribers.  The magazine came out every six weeks.  Originally, it was mimeographed. Contributors sent their works on stencils. The LC eventually went to photo-offset.

My comments about LC for Rebirth of Reason here:

In those early days, libertarianism was a very small set of people. Dale Haviland, a professional printer, produced the A is A Directory in 1971, which listed just about everyone who wrote an article for a libertarian magazine. He also produced a directory of those publications. That is what made Jerry Emanuelson’s proof important: it influenced a small group of people who themselves went on to become the Libertarian Party, Reason magazine, the Cato Institute, and much else. 

Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, also became famous.  Not only do libertarians know all about it …
… but even Paul Krugman accepts it:

You can find the original treatise On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
(London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street), by David Ricardo, 1817 (third edition, 1821) as a text file here:

You can find the algebraic statements for Comparative Advantage in Wikipedia  The bibliography of sources for that article includes these:
· MacDougall, G. D. A. (1951). “British and American exports: A study suggested by the theory of comparative costs. Part I.”. The Economic Journal. 61 (244). pp. 697–724.
· MacDougall, G. D. A. (1952). “British and American exports: A study suggested by the theory of comparative costs. Part II.”. The Economic Journal. 62 (247). pp. 487–521.
· Stern, Robert M. (1962). “British and American productivity and comparative costs in international trade”. Oxford Economic Papers. pp. 275–296.
· Balassa, Bela. (1963). “An empirical demonstration of classical comparative cost theory”. The Review of Economics and Statistics. pp. 231–238.
· Chipman, John S. (1965). “A Survey of the Theory of International Trade: Part 1, The Classical Theory”. Econometrica 33 (3): 477–519. Section 1.8, p.509.

The theory and its algebra were known, but not widely known to those with great interest in promoting free trade.

It is specifically inequality that makes Comparative Advantage be true.  The governing assumption is not that A is better than B, but that A and B produce what they trade at different comparative costs within their own economies. They have different opportunity costs. In order to maintain autarky (to produce all of their own goods themselves) they each must give up the opportunity to produce more of what they do better.  Even if Nation A or Person A is better at producing both items, it is still in the interests of both A and B to specialize and exchange, rather than attempting to produce everything for themselves.

If all things were equal this would not work. Or so it is claimed.  In fact, I believe that the economists have not considered an important aspect of human nature that supports trade: alleviation of boredom. Eventually, the carpenter buys a bookcase, rather than making one. He can do it cheaper and better, but he has done enough of it that making another costs marginal utility and brings diminishing returns.  This is an old fact. Ancient Greek cities that produced good local wines, exported them, even to other cities that produced good local wines. The wines tasted different, and the difference created value.  Ancient Greek towns named for their wine include Oinoanda in Lycia, Oinoe on the island of Ikaros, and Oiniadai in Akarnania. 

For much more see, for instance, “Ancient Greece and Wine” in Wikipedia
But see, also, modern Greece and wine here:

Erwin S. “Filthy Pierre” Strauss bought The Libertarian Connection from Sky and Natalee, and soon changed its masthead to The Connection.  Filthy is active in science fiction fandom. As neither Jerry nor I can find our archives, I wrote to him to see what his terms and conditions may be.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Not Conned by Seghal’s Coined

A degreed economist (LSE) who works for J. P Morgan, Kabir Sehgal is the author of Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History has Shaped Us. By its title, it is obviously a book with a great breadth of scope for its 257 pages of narrative. However, every story that I already knew was arguable. This is a scissors-and-paste effort, quickly assembled without deep reflection, insight, or questioning. In truth, throughout the book, the author does present the facts approximately. He gets almost all of it almost right. But as we say, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” 

As this is a book about the history of money, the origins of money are important. His narrative is incomplete, coming from secondary sources. Sehgal apparently failed to grasp the central facts of the event. The same is true for the invention of coinage. Sehgal does correctly understand the fact that seems curious to us today, that promissory money, “soft” money, preceded precious metals as hard money by thousands of years. That said, the story of ancient Sumer and the creation of promissory notes (pg. 86) is wrong in so many details that it is wrong in substance. His deepest misunderstanding is the claim that clay balls containing tokens were a form of proto-currency (page 104). They may have been a harbinger or foreshadowing of that, but he completely misses the significance of the contemporaneous invention of writing. For the correct accounting see “Debt: the Seed of Civilization” on this blog, which points to the works of Denise Schmandt-Besserat.  

On the invention of coinage, he again relies on secondary popularizations, rather than the best academic research. And he fails to ask delving questions. He claims (as many do) that coins were invented in Lydia before 630 BCE. But he also identifies the famous hoard of the oldest known coins and coin-like objects, from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Why were the oldest known coins and proto-coins not uncovered within the excavation of Sardis, the royal site of Lydia?  Ephesus, Miletos, and Kolophon have been suggested as possible candidates for the first cities to strike coins, not for commerce, but as bonus payments to mercenaries.

Sehgal never questions the economic motive for the origin of coinage. But if they were invented to facilitate commerce, they would have originated at a center of commerce. And they would have been commercially convenient. In fact, the first coins came from a cultural hinterland, the Turkish coastline of archaic Greece. And they were worth more than anything you could buy with them, as if today, the smallest bills were $1000 and relatively rare, while $10,000 bills were common. And Sehgal completely misunderstands electrum, the naturally occurring alloy, nuggets of which the first coins were struck. Lacking anything like an atomic theory, gold, electrum, and silver were three distinct metals, even though the ancients knew that electrum could be made by alloying gold and silver; and that electrum gold could be parted from electrum silver.  

Seghal never stops to ask why but just keeps going with a facile, though interesting, narrative.  He correctly identifies the fact that coinage is closely tied to the development of democracy, but he misplaces the origin of democracy at Athens.

It does not get any better with his stories about Nero, Diocletian, Lincoln’s greenbacks, or Bretton Woods. 

Kabir Sehgal lavishes praise on the deep knowledge base of the numismatic auction house, Stack’s (pgs 247-249) and rightfully so, but simply cites Q. David Bowers as “David Bowers, legendary numismatist and business partner of Harvey Stack.”  Harvey Stack gets all the credit. And he is worthy, indeed. But everyone in the know calls Q. David Bowers “the dean of American numismatics.”

So, as much as I would like to believe that a cash economy created niche employment for the beggars of Jakarta as extra riders to validate a taxi cab’s right to the high-occupancy high-speed traffic lanes, I have to remain doubtful that Sehgal actually understood what was happening.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Michael Shermer's Moral Arc

The 475 pages are a quick read because it is so easy to agree with the many assertions of fact and moral claims. Also, the typography - extra leading between lines - makes reading this into a downhill jog. The author founded Skeptic magazine and contributes to Scientific American. And he is a political liberal, carrying on the program of the Enlightenment. Moreover, the entire presentation is wholly compatible with the intentions of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

That may well seem paradoxical to both conservatives and progressives for whom reason, reality, ethics, politics, and economics are unrelated. Religious fundamentalists and academic postmodernists both deny the validity of science. While both camps claim the vocabulary of political freedom for their headlines and rubrics, their narratives quickly devolve into further controls and harsher punishments for their respective enemies. Both are racists; they just favor different groups. Both would quickly constrain and ultimately abolish the open global market. 
The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason
Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

by Michael Shermer (Henry Holt and Company, 2015).

“As I documented in The Mind of the Market, trade breaks down the natural animosity between strangers while simultaneously elevating trust between them, and as the economist Paul Zak has demonstrated, trust is among the most powerful factors affecting economic growth.” (page 126)

“The effects of trade have been documented in the real world as well as in the lab. In a 2010 study published in Science titled “Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment,” the psychologist Joseph Henrich and his colleagues engaged more than two thousand people in fifteen small communities around the world in two-player exchange games in which one player is given a sum of money equivalent to a day’s pay and is allowed to keep or share some of it, or all of it, with another person.  You might think that most people would just keep all the money, but in fact, the scientists discovered that people in hunter-gather communities shared about 25 percent, while people in societies who regularly engage in trade gave away about 45 percent.  Although religion was a modest factor in making people more generous, the strongest predictor was “market integration” defined as “the percentage of a household’s total calories that were purchased from the market, as opposed to homegrown, hunted, or fished.”  (page 127) (See "Success of the WEIRD People" on this blog for a review of the wider study.)

That is especially telling as both preppers and greens advocate for economic and ecological self-sufficiency, living from the land and close to the Earth. 

Left: one person, one day;
slow changes over 100,000 years.
Right: Very many people,
very many per day. Rapid changes
over 20 years and still evolving.
Shermer goes into some statistical detail demonstrating that trade leads to democracy, and democratic government lessens the likelihood and damages of war.  He does the same for domestic war, that is, for crime, showing a decrease in violent crime and a concomitant decline in capital punishment.
The economics of capitalism are inseparable from the politics of equality, which in turn rest on the epistemology of reason.  Instead, the conservatives of the 20th century ignored or fought against every opportunity for progress. They still do so today, echoing the protests of Dinesh D’Souza, Ann Coulter, and Glenn Beck, that change is not natural.

On the other hand, Ayn Rand insisted that politics rests on morality which depends on epistemology. For her, the significant struggles were about the theory of knowledge.  Shermer devotes a chapter to the problem of free will, “10: Moral Freedom and Responsibility.”  I believe that ultimately, he does not answer the question.  But he does encase it in four replies: the modular mind; free won’t; degrees of moral freedom; choice as part of the causal net. The facts that he marshals are interesting, though no one is compelling. That, perhaps, is his strongest implicit argument. He never says it, but his approach defeats the attempts at reduction. You cannot have free will, the argument goes, because each action has a cause, and so on…  Shermer cites physiological studies of brain activity to show that your mind is more complicated than that, working deeply in parallel networks, not sequential steps.  And at several junctions, the “you” that is “you” has the ability to say “no” to redirect your own thoughts.  Usually.  He does examine several severe cases of psychopathic behavior and shows them to be materially caused by cephalic defect.  That only raises more questions.  But to me the important feature was recognizing that the essence of material progress is good thinking.

“Again, I am not arguing that reason alone will get us there; we need legislation and laws to enforce civil rights, and a strong police and military to back up the state’s claim to hold a monopoly on the legitimate use of force to back up those laws. But those forces are themselves premised on being grounded in reason, and the legislation is backed by rational arguments.” (page 257)
In Chapter 12, Shermer outlines his “Protopia” not the impossible Utopia, but the world of the actual present in which things are getting better.  Discussing income inequality, for instance, he demonstrates via IRS statistics that in America we still have social mobility. Some of the poorest rise and some of the richest fall, even as most of us remain in the middle three quintiles for most of our lives. “… 60 percent of those in the top 1 percent in the beginning year of each person had dropped to a lower centile by the 10th year.  Less than one-fourth of the individuals in the 1/100th percent in 1996 remained in that in 2005.” (Citing a report from the National Tax Journal.)

Shermer became a scientist late his academic career. His doctoral dissertation (Clarmont Graduate University) was a biography of Alfred Russell Wallace.  However, Shermer was at first a fundamentalist Christian. Not raised that way, he chose it as a teenager. Only the strict requirements Pepperdine for studies in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic kept him from pursuing a D. Th. He was interested in psychology, but although a behaviorist, he was not interested in lab rats. He eventually settled on studying the history of science.  He later produced and hosted Exploring the Unknown for Fox TV.

That lays some foundation for Chapter 4: Why Religion is not the Source of Moral Progress.  He joins Christopher Hitchens (cited twice in that chapter) in a complete refutation of any claim to material or moral value in religion.  Shermer presents two pages of graphs correlating religiosity positively with divorce, homicide, abortion, and suicide.  The narrative only underscores the fact that religion has not led  us to our material comfort or self-satisfied happiness.

The essential arguments in this book that are so easily accepted by the right wing libertarians of the 21st century condemn the traditionalist conservatives of the 20th century.  Ending racial prejudice – even the very idea of “race” – recognizing social equality independent of sex (or gender), and abandoning the irrationality of superstition (especially from self-identified “fundamentalists”) should have been the agenda of the Republican Party. But the GOP never understood individualism; and the Democrats never perceived individuals apart from their special interest groups.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017


The long weekend gave me the opportunity to go out with my telescope for the first time in eight months. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, so the sky that I am comfortable with is about the same as seen from the outer edge of a galactic arm.  Not many stars, but on a good night in the summer, you can find Homeward as steam from the teapot. In the winter, the stars are fewer but brighter: hot, young stars; with some red giants to remind us of our age.
Of course I keep a notebook.
I usually plan for each night I go out.
I typically record while viewing.
The night before last I was just getting familiar again with the process. All I lost in the grass was an eraser. Last night, for the first time, I watched a moon of Jupiter disappear behind the disk. It took about half an hour. I seldom display that much patience. I found a good lens (13 mm for 50x). At the end, I switched to higher power (6mm for 108x) just to see the last glimmer. I was surprised at how close the satellite got and still remained discernible. These old eyes still work.

When I came in and googled “moons of Jupiter tonight” I found a Sky & Telescope page that explained that Io was passing in front of Jupiter. 

As a member of the Austin Astronomical Society for two years, I did go out to their “Eagle Eye Observatory” at Buchanan Lake, about 80 miles from Austin. I earned a certification in telescope operations. I also took my own EQ-130 out there to see what I could see that I could not see from my backyard.  For the first time in my life, I viewed the entire Milky Way from horizon to horizon. But once the sky got completely dark, I had a hard time finding anything. “My God,” Dave said. “It’s full of stars.”  Fortunately, I was there with experts.

My telescope is a Celestron EQ-130 reflector (130 mm ~ 5.25 in). My wife and daughter bought it for me for my birthday in 2014. I shopped and they paid for it. I chose it because it seemed like a good midrange choice, similar to the Criterion 4-inch that I had from ages 10 to 17.  That device was much better by several standards.  (See my “Advice to New Astronomers” here.) 

When I got the telescope, I joined the Austin Astronomical Society and the International Astronomy Forum discussion board. There’s always lots of forums and blogs. The International Astronomy Forum felt best to me. I posted my complaints about my telescope there and got some replies. Going out to the Eagle Eye Observatory was evidence enough that the telescope’s optics were satisfactory. I just live in a city. So, the air is wavy and dirty. Nonetheless, I had to fix some mechanical problems.

On the Astronomy Forum, one of the posters told about the loss of his mirror. He thought that he was adjusting the azimuth when the telescope slid out of the cradle and hit the deck.  I knew why immediately: all of the knobs feel the same. It was a known problem in aviation. So, I fixed that. 

Beer bottle cap glued to knob.
(See "Drunken Astronomers" below.)
The first problem was losing one of the nuts off one of the C-clamps that hold the tube to the mount. It took several trips to Home Depot until I found hardware that would do the job and stand up to continuous use.  I will slide the tube forward or backward several times through the night, to balance it. Also, I take the ‘scope out and bring it in every night. (A couple of summer nights, wanting to go out again very late before dawn, I left it set up, and covered it with a plastic sheet.) And I have to be able to open and close the clamps without other tools.

The need for other tools comes from the fact that the azimuth is spring-loaded; it is not a worm gear.  So, with enough travel used, you have to go into it and with a hex wrench unscrew the bolt to allow further motion.  (With too much turning, it all comes out.)

Another thing that came apart in my hands was the 20mm ocular. About a month after I first used the ‘scope, I returned the motor drive unboxed, and I bought a set of lenses and filters. I thought that the filters would be compatible with the basic equipment. I unscrewed the 20mm eyepiece; and with a handful of little glass lenses I had a new problem. Fortunately, I got a pointer to a Celestron webpage from a poster to Astronomy Forum. Apparently, this is a well-known problem.

The first problem was losing one of the nuts off one of the C-clamps
that hold the tube to the mount.
It took several trips to Home Depot
until I found hardware that would do the job
and stand up to continuous use.
And it is easy to forget… The other night, I had that 20mm in my hand and was unscrewing it to put a filter in it… and I heard a little voice that I actually paid attention to… 

Orion Nebula
looks like this.
All of that aside, backyard astronomy has been my window to the universe. I own microscopes and hand lenses, but my Weltanschauung is mostly outward. The Orion Nebula, the Milky Way, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon are easy reminders of deep truths. The universe is more complicated than we know, but we can know it. Evidentiary facts have rational explanations: they are necessary truths. It is all at once very different from life on Earth, and yet very much like most of it: the same chemicals, molecules, atoms, particles, waves, and fields, agglomerated by mutual attraction into ponderable bodies, at once massive or weighable and worthy of and open to thought. 


Thursday, June 29, 2017


Canon exists. Once you stray from canon, you go from a slippery slope to a reductio ad absurdum in which all you have is an empty name. A Vegetarian Big Mac has no meat.  Alternately - and it is all about alternates - once a new poet recasts a myth, broad reception and acceptance can solidify that new interpretation into a classic. 

In the earliest saga of Sifrit, Brynhilda was a Valkyrie. In the Middle Ages, she was the Queen of Iceland; Hagan and his gang were Burgundians; and the curse of the Nibelungs was effected by Attila the Hun. Richard Wagner reanimated the older epic and made it the new canon. Clash of the Titans is no less canon than the re-imaged work of Apollonius of Rhodes who about 250 BCE borrowed from several ancient legends to build his Argonautica

The core of the Arthurian legends was a handful of separate stories. From them, Chretian of Troyes constructed a new epic for the court of Marie of Champagne, the half sister of Richard Lionheart. Four hundred years later, Sir Thomas Mallory reshaped the story for his own time - though we hardly know the difference between the two periods, both being only "medieval." In the 19th century, the romantic revolution provided the context for Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Two generations later, they were presented as T. H. White's Once and Future King; and in another 20 years, the Broadway musical Camelot by Lerner, Loewe, and Hart came to stand for the Kennedy Administration.

How many times has Superman has been re-imaged? How many timelines and alternate universes exist? Even Bizarro Superman has re-instantiations.  And if Superman is variously vulnerable to the many forms of kryptonite, why is he never affected by his own costume, the space ship that brought him here, or Supergirl? (Riddle me that, Batman.)

In this version by Max Landis, Nick Dragotta, John Workman, and their collaborators, we meet a Superboy with whom Smallville is more or less adapted. Clark Kent's super powers still surprise him. Clark Kent's challenge after moving to Metropolis is to discover the range and limits of his abilities, and how to best use them--for his own good, and perhaps for a greater good. That greater good is also a challenge, though this version has no soul searching.

Superman and Clark Kent meet Batman and Bruce Wayne.  We have the wider field of vision, of course, perhaps even an x-ray vision by which we see their inner processes as they meet. But, again, Max Landis has written without the deep philosophizing of self reflection. As Montag said in Fahrenheit 451, inside each book is a man.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tarzan, the Amazons, and my Mother

Public education ain’t what it used to be.  It is a law of economics that collectivism is inefficient, an entropic downward path. So, it is no surprise that we were better at public education 100 years ago.  The other day at work, referring to “the old college try” someone said, “Siss boom bah” intended as a cheer from the stands. It is a common error, one I once made about 60 years ago and was corrected by my mother. Even though her culture expected her education to prepare her only to be a wife and mother, she did have two years of Latin, along with much else.  “Sic cum pah!” she said, “Thus with oomph.”
Left circa 1945. Right some years later.
 About that same time, give or take a few years, my brother and I were watching an old Tarzan movie on tv, and Mom stopped in.  It was Tarzan and the Amazons, and when they were taken to “Palmyria,” and they called for the Queen, Mom said, “This will be Zenobia.”  (Very much more on this Johnny Weismueller fan site.) I think that she was just eponymously the Queen, but, decades later, studying the numismatics of the Roman Empire, I learned about Zenobia of Palmyra and remembered that moment.

Tarzan returns Athena to the Amazons.
From IMDB Media view here.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fools, Cowards, and Thucydides

The Internet assures that misattributions will always remain a problem.  “A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.” Widely attributed to Thucydides, it was not his statement.  Even the venerable Doctrine Man erred.

The quote comes from General Gordon, a biography of Charles George Gordon by Colonel Sir F. Butler (London: MacMillan & Co., 1891).  And it is so attributed at Wikiquote.

 Doctrine Man is to be found on Facebook. It is humor about the military in particular and politics and current events in general. Who Doctrine Man really is has been the subject of some controversy. It is beyond me, but apparently no few of the snide comments have subtexts that could only have come from conversations in the Pentagon. Doctrine Man is wholly credible, but that only underscores how common this misattributed quotation is.
Charles George Gordon (January 28, 1833 to January 26, 1885) was a Highlander who served as an engineer in the British army. His first action was in the Crimean War. Later, after the defeat of China in the Opium War, he then organized imperial Chinese troops fighting the rebels of the Taiping Revolt, for which he was called "Chinese" Gordon by the press. Gordon later was ordered to Egypt.  He evacuated the British from Khartoum. He then returned (against orders) and was killed defending the city against the armies of Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, the proclaimed Mahdi (redeemer preceding Judgment Day).  

"The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."