Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dan Jones – The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors

Dan Jones – The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors

An utterly conventional kings-and-battles account of the period. It’s a good survey of the period, but readers will have to go elsewhere if they want memorable portraits of the personalities involved, what everyday life was like in castle or court, or for the soldiers and their families, what the period’s economy and technology were like, what intellectual or religious life were like, or even the larger historical significance of the York-Lancaster rivalry.

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Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson – The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life

Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson – The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life

Brutal honesty has been a running theme of Hanson’s career, and he has caused some controversy because of it, though it is nearly always overblown. Simler has a similar approach in his research, and the two make a good pair in this book. Mostly a blend of psychology and economics, Simler and Hanson explore why people lie to themselves as well as to others in justifying their actions in a number of spheres, from work to romance to everyday life.

The drawbacks of this are obvious, from the lies themselves to the bad behaviors they can enable and rationalize. But the benefits are an avoidance of cognitive dissonance and negative views of self and others. Total honesty would decimate nearly everyone’s sense of self-worth, as well as peoples’ ability to trust and interact with others.

In that sense, Hanson and Simler have put together a view of human nature that mixes Hobbe’s nasty and brutish view of human nature with a David Hume- or Adam Smith-style emphasis on humanity’s inherent need for social interaction. As Smith put it, people need both to love and be lovely (by which Smith means worthy of being loved). Reconciling the two is a messy business, but Hanson and Simler do it uncomfortably well, backing their arguments with plenty of empirical research.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

Washington, D.C.’s flash flood was followed up by a heat wave; this week could bring even worse during Congress’ final week in session before the August recess. As the Federal Register surpasses 35,000 pages on the year, rulemaking agencies were still able to publish new regulations ranging from jet routes to worsted wool.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 53 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 49 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every 3 hours and 10 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 1,540 final regulations in 2019. At that pace, there will be 2,770 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 3,367 regulations.
  • Last week, agencies published 421 notices, for a total of 12,000 in 2019. At that pace, there will be 21,583 new notices this year. Last year’s total was 21,656.
  • Last week, 1,310 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,432 pages the previous week.
  • The 2019 Federal Register totals 34,788 pages. It is on pace for 62,569 pages. The 2018 total was 68,082 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Two such rules have been published this year. Six such rules were published in 2018.
  • The running compliance cost tally for 2019’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from $205.1 million to $294.8 million. The 2018 total ranges from $220.1 million to $2.54 billion, depending on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 38 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year. 2018’s total was 108 significant final rules.
  • So far in 2019, 265 new rules affect small businesses; 14 of them are classified as significant. 2018’s totals were 660 rules affecting small businesses, with 29 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new final regulations:

For more data, see “Ten Thousand Commandments” and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

Inequality in History

Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, had a personal allowance of one thirteenth of national income, per p. 292 of Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman.

By way of context, this would be equivalent to about $2.7 trillion per year in the modern United States. This annual income is more than the combined lifetime fortunes of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest entrepreneurs. While that mathematical ratio isn’t particularly interesting, from an ethical standpoint it is crucial that Catherine did not earn this income by creating value for others. She took it away from them in a zero-sum game.

Today’s entrepreneurs gain wealth by creating value for others in exchange–about 50-fold more than their own earnings, by William Nordhaus’ estimate. Rent-seeking remains a significant problem, but fortunately is less severe than in Catherine the Great’s time.

Today’s economy has much room for improvement, but reformers on all sides would benefit from taking stock of how much things have improved over the last few centuries, and why.

David Salsburg – The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century

David Salsburg – The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century

A history of the discipline of statistics that I found immensely useful. Rather than memorizing by rote what a p-statistic is or what regression does, this book tells the stories behind them. Salsburg tells the why and the how, rather than explaining the what and being done with it. Salsburg tells the stories of the people who invented modern statistical techniques and concepts, their historical context, why their innovations were needed, what types of problems they were built to solve, and what their techniques’ drawbacks and limitations are, as well as their positives. This book was recommended by Michael Munger, who heads Duke University’s Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) program, and I am glad I listened.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

Washington, D.C. was hit by a flash flood, but agencies were still able to publish new regulations ranging from electric program procedures to Fort Ord dog management.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 49 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 73 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every 3 hours and 26 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 1,482 final regulations in 2019. At that pace, there will be 2,765 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 3,367 regulations.
  • Last week, agencies published 405 notices, for a total of 11,579 in 2019. At that pace, there will be 21,668 new notices this year. Last year’s total was 21,656.
  • Last week, 1,432 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,084 pages the previous week.
  • The 2019 Federal Register totals 33,492 pages. It is on pace for 62,486 pages. The 2018 total was 68,082 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Two such rules have been published this year. Six such rules were published in 2018.
  • The running compliance cost tally for 2019’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from $205.1 million to $294.8 million. The 2018 total ranges from $220.1 million to $2.54 billion, depending on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 37 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year. 2018’s total was 108 significant final rules.
  • So far in 2019, 256 new rules affect small businesses; 14 of them are classified as significant. 2018’s totals were 660 rules affecting small businesses, with 29 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new final regulations:

For more data, see “Ten Thousand Commandments” and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

Stephen Greenblatt – The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Stephen Greenblatt – The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

This book-about-a-book is a colorful history of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things with the larger purpose of shedding light on the origins of modernity. Lucretius argued for a materialist view of science and philosophy that has far more in common with modern thought than with early Christian doctrine.

Perhaps not coincidentally, On the Nature of Things was nearly lost for nearly a millennium. During this long post-Roman dormant period, Lucretius was occasionally copied by monks and forgotten by the secular public. But a nascent humanist movement led to a growing number of book-hunters interested in finding and reviving old texts.

This movement eventually became the Renaissance, and Lucretius was unknowingly one of its leading intellectual inspirations. As far as afterlives go, Lucretius has had a good one.

Greenblatt writes well, and his accounts of the early humanist bookhunters and their interactions with disinterested monks in their monasteries are particularly vivid, though the contrast between the two camps was probably not quite as dramatic as he portrays it. He also has a good eye for the big picture, and traces the arc of Lucretius’ influence over an impossibly long timeframe. If you ever doubt the power of books, Greenblatt puts up a strong affirmative case.

The Swerve would pair well with Christpher Krebs’ similar but rather darker A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich.