Thursday, May 3, 2012

Agree 1000% with Ryan Murphy on this

"This" being functionalism.

As an undergraduate, I was an economics and sociology double major. It was a valuable educational experience. I was always surprised I was one of the few that did that. My sociology advisor, who served on my thesis committee, said she had never known of a sociology professor to sit on an economics student's thesis committee.

And they all hated functionalism.

And probably for much the same reasons that Murphy elaborated on, I always thought that functionalism not only seemed right, but it was damned near tautological in most cases where it applied. In our theory class, the response to functionalism was always conflict theory (that's Marxian social theory with a more palatable name). Conflict theory is quite good sociology too. On one occassion I remember explicitly pointing out how one conflict or another actually served a fairly obvious function in society (aside from the interests of the two sides, of course). I forget what the example was now, but needless to say it didn't go over well - and it went over less well with my classmates than my professor.

The problem, I think, is that sociologists can have a bad habit of turning things into what Krugman has called a "morality play". Economics is not a morality play. Extending that, human social experience is not a morality play. We can have value judgements about the way things are, but that's a different question entirely.


  1. The famous sociologist Lewis Coser wrote a book called The Functions of Social Conflict (1956), so the idea has been out there for some time. Likewise, Durkheim noted that deviance and social conflict have social functions in that they help society find the discover the boundaries of what is right, wrong, appropriate, etc.

  2. Hi Daniel,

    I'm sorry to heckle you like this, but the comment I left on Bob's blog (and yours) is something I've been wondering about for a long time, and I've never had a Keynesian (or someone who leans that way) answer it. Since you've got so much experience battling it out with Bob, I hope you can maybe give me some clarity.

    So, about Krugman (and Keynesianism in general).

    This is the guy who in all seriousness said that if we could get the world’s scientist to band together and convince everyone that we were facing an alien invation, it would enable the governments to spend endless amounts of money on military build-up. This unlimited spending would get us out of the present slump within 18 months.

    He actually said this. On national TV. And he wasn’t kidding. Massive amounts of spending on military build-up to thwart a non-existant alien invasion threat would get us out of the recession in 18 months. This may be one of the most outlandish things I've ever heard.

    Of course, he faces stiff competetion from other Keynesians. It is no small feat to top Paul Samuelson’s claim that the USSR would overtake the US by 1990, 2015 at the latest. A claim he stuck to from the early 1970s up until 1989. If there ever was such a thing as “epic fail”, this is surely it.

    These are not isolated incidents. Who was that Keynesian who was abhorred at the thought of cutting military spending (i.e. stop building battleships, bombs and tanks) just because the WWII had ended? And that other guy who in the late 1960s declared that Keynsian economic policy had vanquished the business cycle forever?

    The real kicker is that all these fantastic errors make perfect sense from a Keynesian perspective and using Keynesian methodology. Samuelson wasn’t merely guessing about the USSR, he applied Keynesian theory and methodology and that lead him to his insane conclusion, one he never waivered from. So did the other guys. They weren’t spitballing, they presented their view based on Keynesian theory using Keynesian methodology. As did Krugman with his alien invasion theory, an obvious analogy to Keynes idea about putting FED-notes in glass jars and burying them in abandoned mines so that people could dig them up.

    It is amazing to me how anyone still can claim Keynesian theory makes sense and that Krugman is right on just about everything he says, considering the mindblowing epic failures that so many prominent Keynesians have fallen prey to. Even Keynes own Bretton Woods system was colossal disaster.

    You obviously believe that Keynesianism works, or at least that most of it is sound. Can you please explain to me how you can think that, or how anyone can think that, considering that the past 100 years is littered with monuments of Keynsian failure?

    1. I agree with the anonymous commenter - there's not much here - but let me say a few things:

      1. Krugman is right about the aliens. Obviously there would be other issues with that scenario (just like money spent on digging up bank notes might not be the best use of resources), but the point is right in both cases.

      2. The Samuelson/USSR thing is something I've always wanted to look into in more detail. I'm not sure exactly why he said it. You seem to think it's a fundamentally Keynesian argument. Could you explain what you mean by that? That's the first I heard of it. One thing I read made me think that it had to do with an exercise on forecasting growth rates, which of course would have much less to do with the sort of validation of communism that a lot of people attribute to it. I just don't know - I'd have to check out the argument in more detail. But you seem to know something about it, so I'd be interested in hearing more.

      3. It was also Samuelson who worried about the end of war spending. He was actually somewhat alone in these concerns. Many Keynesians, including Keynes himself, said just the opposite. I imagine you've conveniently omitted that from your view of Keynesians.

      4. Obviously we haven't conquered the business cycle. Needless to say some rash guy in the 60s doesn't speak for all of us anymore than the people in the 1990s who said we beat the business cycle speak for the New Classicals. This is not really an argument.

      5. Keynes did not approve of the Bretton Woods system. This is very widely known, Kaj. The Americans basically took Keynes's plan and changed a lot around to (what they thought would be) their benefit. Keynes highlighted the problem that would later be known as the Triffin Dilemma, and why it could threaten the sustainability of the Bretton Woods system. And guess what - most people agree he was right about that. I am hesitant on one aspect of Keynes's international monetary views, and that is the concern with stabilizing trade deficits.

      re: "how anyone can think that, considering that the past 100 years is littered with monuments of Keynsian failure?"

      I genuinely have no idea what you're talking about. The "failures" that are most apparent (say, the Old Keynesian Phillip's Curve) get fixed over time, like happens with all science.

  3. Those who follow Keynes believe Krugman is wrong on economic theory, although correct on the short term politics. Clearly you don't understand Keynes, Keynesianism, or even how to construct an argument. Calling a statement outlandish is not an argument. And one should not expect a response to a reference to "that other guy who..."

    And if you want to go on about what economists building on Keynes were saying in the late 1960s and early 1970s, consider Joan Robinson. She talked about the "Second crisis" of economic theory. According to her, economists needed to worry more about what spending, including public spending, was spent on.

  4. Anonymous

    I don't understand your attitude. I asked a question. I didn't argue for anything, I pointed out some pretty significant failures on the part of Keynesians and asked a Keynesian to comment on them.

    Since you had absolutely nothing to contribute, I don't understand why bothered commenting at all. This is typical Krugmania. Attack and smear and distort, never answer honest questions.

    You should be careful about critizicing others, as you clearly can't even disntinguish between a question and an argument.

    I could argue you you under the table any time. Pick a topic.

    1. Kaj, your post was about a few really tired talking points and you obviously don't have a very good understanding of a couple of them. I gave you my thoughts on all your points - take it or leave it. Don't complain about "attitude" when you come here talking about "Krugmania", "attak and smear", and suggest that we're ignoring "monumental" failures.

      If you can't deal with people telling you you have not made a convincing argument, don't make the argument in the first place Kaj.

  5. Dan, a somewhat related question.

    As an economics/sociology double major, and a current economics Phd student now, when did you take the math courses necessary to complete a Phd? As a current double major in math/econ, I was always told that you need to take alot of math courses during your undegraduate years. Did you also do that, or were you able to take them as a graduate?

    1. I had all the calc, linear algebra, ODE, and a bunch of statistics in undergrad - so really the minimum an undergrad has in preparation for phd. Math/econ would have been a better choice than sociology/econ in retrospect, but I wasn't thinking about grad school much in my freshman or sophomore year. This probably contributed to me not being very successful applying to doctoral programs out of undergrad (which in retrospect was nice because I got a lot out of my five years at the Urban Institute and I have a much better sense of what I want to do with my life from that).

      After getting my master's in public policy at GW I took some more math classes. I re-took linear algebra to keep fresh, and then took PDE and Real Analysis. That's still a weaker (and more spread out) math record than a lot of applicants, which I think limited my opportunities with doctoral programs (I only got into GW and American, although I only applied to Georgetown, Maryland, and JHU in addition to that - so I (knowingly) cast a very narrow net).

      If you want to really shoot for an academic route, definitely the math/econ is the way to go. I'm not a good role model on that point at all. But it's hard for me to regret all that too much. I've pieced together a pretty satisfying career, even though it has meant that I wasn't successful getting into more competitive programs.

    2. btw - Noah Smith had an interesting post the other day about how he finds the math easy but the intuition hard in economics. Noah is a much smarter guy than me, but I find my experience to be the opposite - I feel like my economic intuition is fairly good but the math I have to work at more.

    3. I would agree with your intuition. I think the economic concepts are easy (relative to the math) to understand, and that you actually don't need the math to understand the economic ideas. From what I understand, it just seems that you need the math to comprehend and utilize economic tools and the way they present their theories (in mathematical form).

    4. The math is critical when you're juggling a lot of balls at once. It's one thing to have an intuition about how one thing affects another thing. When you consider the general equilibrium properties of everything impacting everything else, anyone who dismisses the role of math in keeping those effects straight doesn't really know what they're talking about.

    5. When you consider the general equilibrium properties of everything impacting everything else, anyone who dismisses the role of math in keeping those effects straight doesn't really know what they're talking about.

      Made me giggle.

      So for people who disagree with you on the usefulness of mathematics in economic theory, just resort to "they don't know what they're talking about?"

  6. Thank you Daniel.

    On the alien-question. I take it that merely stating an opinion as if it was a fact qualifies as argument in your view? How exactly would spending enormous amounts of money on military equipment to thwart a threat that doesn’t exist end the slump? How much money is needed exactly, considering that Obama has run well over trillion dollar deficits every year and that the FED has created some 15 trillion the past few years? If printing money is all we need to do, how much more would we need to print? Or where would the money come from?

    One of the main factors guiding his analysis were the Soviet GDP-figures. He saw a great increase in output = rapid economic growth. He evidently didn’t question the validity of the Soviet statistics, but took them at face value. Nor did he look at WHAT the Soviets were producing. One would think that if economy A is producing microchips and computers while economy B is producing steel and concrete that this would be important to consider. Not according to Samuelson, which is completely in line with the Keynesian idea of aggregates. The individual components of the production doesn’t matter, just the aggregate volumes. Capital is just K. Consumption is just C. Export is just X. This works well with Krugman’s and Keynes’ spending plans. It really doesn’t matter who spends the money, where it comes from or what it is spent on. The only thing that matters is the spending itself.

    Even Robert Gordon admits that Samuelson’s worry about demobilization was the mainstream view. It was prominent Keynesian Alvin Hansen who said that the government can’t disband the army and stop military spending. Who were these “many Keynesians” said the opposite?

    It wasn’t “some rash guy”. It was Arthur Okun, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and professor at Yale who said that the business cycle is no more. In addition to sharing Samuelson’s admiration for the USSR, he also wrote a book about the greatness of the 1960s and how they had rid the world of the business cycle. And then came the stagflation of the 1970s.

    And again, I’m pointing out some pretty colossal failures of prominent Keynesian economists, Keynes included, and asking how it is that Keynesians are pretty much pretending they didn’t happen, or it was just some “rash guys”. Just imagine of Mises, Hayek or Rothbard would have committed blundered like this? They would have been ridiculed out of existence, now they’re just ignored because they have been spot on every time the Keynesians have been completely off target. Doesn't that give you any pause for thought?

    Keynes designed the Bretton Woods system, Daniel. It is true that he didn’t get exactly what he wanted, but claim it had nothing to do with Keynes and his theories is simply dishonest. It was actually Henry Hazlitt who in 1944 and 1945 explained that the BW-system was destined to fail, and why that wast the case.

    “I genuinely have no idea what you're talking about. The "failures" that are most apparent (say, the Old Keynesian Phillip's Curve) get fixed over time, like happens with all science.”

    This is what I mean when I talk about denial. I’ve just listed a few very prominent examples of Keynesian failures, and I didn’t even bother to mention the Phillip’s Curve. I highly recommend listening to Thomas Woods’ talk “Keynesian predictions vs. American history”. You’ll find it on google.

    The point is that I see very little fixing, and very little if any admission that there has ever been any need for fixing. The Keynesian still don’t understand that financial crises don’t just appear without reason. No Keynesian seem to recognize that the 2008 bust was largely a result of the huge stimulus to alleviate the bursting of the bubble. Bernanke and the others were cheering on the US economy in 2007 and even 2008, and now the prolonged recession is blamed on too LITTLE spending.

    1. re: "I take it that merely stating an opinion as if it was a fact qualifies as argument in your view?"

      To be honest I have absolutely no clue what your objection to that point was. You just said it was "outlandish". What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

      I'm quickly getting tired of this, and getting accused of being in denial or being dishonest, particularly because all of these points have been addressed before (with the possible exception of Samuelson on the USSR, which as I said is one I've always wanted to look into more closely).

      Kaj, if you want to pique my interest (1.) stop calling me dishonest, (2.) bring me an argument I haven't heard before, (3.) actually make an argument - which you haven't on many of these points.

  7. Daniel,

    to me, claiming that spending an undetermined but massive amount of money on weapons, bombs and military equipment to thwart an alien invasion threat that doesn't exist would end the economic slump in 18 months is outlandish. And I'll tell you why. It doesn't answer these questions:

    Why would this spending end the economic slump?

    How much money would have to be spent, considering that the trillions spent thus far hasn't helped?

    Where would this money come from?

    Where would this money go?

    What would happened to the price level?

    How would it affect economic calculation?

    What would happened to people's savings?

    Can you please explain to me why Krugman is right, why this military spending would end the slump and bring about stable, sound economic growth? This is the question I asked you, so I don't understand why you hang yourself up on the "outlandish" part.

    I have specifically not accused you of being dishonest. You are obviously very honest, which is why I'm turning to you with my questions. I don't understand why we just can't keep to the issues instead of haggling about all these irrelevant things.

    Thus far, you haven't answered any of my questions. Nor have you addressed any of the points above. Arthur Okun wasn't some "rash guy", nor was Alvin Hansen or Paul Samuelson.

    What they said and believed makes perfect sense from a Keynesian perspective, as I have explained. They used Keynesian theory and methodology, being Keynsians and all, and reached their conclusions. If I'm wrong, show how these men, all prominent Keynesian (the most prominent in fact) where out of touch with Keynesian theory and methodology.

    I have been completely honest and upfront with you, Daniel, so don't suggest otherwise. I've asked honest questions and I have argued for my positions much more than you have. So please don't make this a personal isssue, because it isn't.

    1. I think I've answered every question - but it's true when you repeat the question again I don't necessarily answer it the second time.

      Okun was being quite rash when he said that.

      I'd encourage you to use the search function on the blog - we've talked at length on all of these points before, which probably explains why I'm crabby about rehashing old arguments (particularly since it doesn't have anything to do with the post or with Bob's post for that matter).

  8. Daniel

    I'm very sorry if I've missed some of your comments. Could you please direct me to the comment/comments in which you've addressed the list of questions regarding Krugman's alien claim?

    On this page, the only answers I see in relation to this are the following:

    "1. Krugman is right about the aliens. Obviously there would be other issues with that scenario (just like money spent on digging up bank notes might not be the best use of resources), but the point is right in both cases."


    "To be honest I have absolutely no clue what your objection to that point was. You just said it was "outlandish". What the hell am I supposed to do with that?"

    I don't see how any of these answers anything about the alien-question, but maybe you have answered somewhere else? On another thread maybe? I tried to search the blog but didn't find anything.

    And I know it isn't related to Bob's post, I posted it on your blog in the hope of catching your attention.

    1. The only question you asked me initially (besides the rhetorical ones on Samuelson and Okun) was: "Can you please explain to me how you can think that, or how anyone can think that, considering that the past 100 years is littered with monuments of Keynsian failure?"

      I think did that for each point. Moreover, I simply noted that I don't accept the premise of the question.

      Yes, I think we did address the alien quote before so you should be able to find it in the post history.

  9. Thank you Daniel

    I understand you don't accept the premise, but in my view, the past 100 years are in fact littered with Keynesian failures. The ones mentioned here are not the only ones.

    What gives them so much gravity is not only the scale of the failures or how utterly disproven they have been, but how prominent the people were. Okun was not rash, he was an extremely distinguished Keynesian economist. He didn't spitball, he reached a very thought-through conclusion. As did Hansen and Samuelson.

    Looking at the bubble and the housing bubble, certainly the latter was prescribed by Keynesians, by Krugman himself. The only problem Keynesians seem to have with the current economic policy is that it isn't Keynesian enough. How can anyone look back at the past decade and a half and claim that the economic policy, by and large Keynesian, has not been a disaster?

    The failure becomes even more apparante when compared to the Austrian's track record over the past 100 years. Yet Krugman holds himself to high to debate an Austrian. This is misplaced arrogance if there ever was one.

    And about the claim, I can't find the answers you are referring to. Would it be at all possible for you to humor me and answer them again? I would very much appreciated, and I'm sure I wouldn't be the only one.

  10. Kaj,

    Here's my attempt at Krugman's answer (obvious caveats are obvious):

    What's the problem we're trying to solve here? Well, unemployment is too high. So let the government buy up idle labour and use it to produce some X. We can all agree that this is possible in principle. X can be anything, it's arbitrary--again, in principle--so whatever the government chooses to produce is fine. If that happens to be space ships and lazers, well and good. From the point of view of lower unemployment, it doesn't really matter.

  11. Vimothy

    Thanks for the answer!

    However, I don't agree (big surprise I know :))

    1. Unemployment isn't the problem, it is merely a symptom. It is a symptom of a capital structure that is completely out of whack. You don't cure that with having government spend massive amounts on X, because when the spending stops, chances are the umemployment rate will shoot up to even higher levels, because none of the jobs had a market demand and can thus not be sustained without the spending.

    2. The government obviously dosesn't have any money to spend, so whatever money is allocated to this X-spending must either come from new taxes, new borrowing or new inflation. In the first case, the money taken is money away from (presumably) productive private projects. In the second case, the increased borrowing will raise the interest costs, and when the spending stops you are back to the same unemployment with a larger debt and higher costs. In the third place, you bring on a new host of economic distortions, rising prices and diluted savings, making everything that much worse.

    3. You can only get rid of a symptom by curing the underlying cause. The US economy has gone from a stock market bubble in the 90s, to a housing bubble in the 2000s to a bond bubble in the 2010s. Every bubble orders of magnitude larger than the prior one.

    The bubbles represent malinvestments and these malinvestments keep labor and other resources trapped in unproductive projects (look at Japan). This causes two things:

    First, it keeps people employed where they shouldn't be, because there is no demand for it.
    Second, it keeps people from being hired elsewhere because the resources to needed for that is tied up in the unproductive projects.

    As long as this is the case, there can be no real growth, which means that no NEW jobs can be created, market driven jobs that would bring down the unemployment in a sustainable, long term way. Instead, the number of productive jobs is slowly sinking.

    So in short, Krugmans alien-idea does nothing to cure the actual problem, instead it prolongs it. It actively hinders the correction to take place. This is what Bush/Greenspan did after the crash and 9/11, and it is what Bush/Obama/Bernanke did when the financial crisis hit in 2008. This is why there has been no real growth in the US for the past decade or so.

    One thing has grown though, and that is the national debt. In August 2011, it was 14.3 Trillion, now, nine months later, it is 15.7. Ten percent growth in nine months. Something to think about.

  12. The cranks your blog seems to attract by trolling are hilarious, Daniel.

    1. Cranks and trolls, huh?

      Yes, that is the typical way for Keynesians to describe people who ask simple, straightforward questions. For heaven's sake don't answer the questions and arguments, just attack, smear and distort.

  13. I wrote about Krugman and his Aliens in an article that shifts between science fiction and capital theory a bit too swiftly....

  14. Kaj,

    I don’t necessarily agree either; I just thought it might be fun to try to come up with an answer. In that spirit, let me see if I can (quickly, ineptly) defend what I wrote:

    Who says that unemployment is merely a symptom? Not the unemployed. Their problem is precisely that they are unemployed, and they can hardly be expected to give much of a fig for the capital structure or its degree of whackness.

    If bringing the capital structure back in whack will get me my old job back, well and good. If not, then we must do something else. A particular capital structure is not an end in itself.

    If you mean to tell me that I can’t have my old job at the NYT back, but instead have to retrain and find new employment—driving a taxi perhaps, or designing algorithmic trading platforms for Goldman Sachs—, you’ll understand if I prefer the welcoming arms of our new alien overlords.

    And of course, many things are true under the sun. Perhaps even with the adjusted capital structure, equilibria are still socially inefficient. In this case there might still be a place for some activist, Pareto improving government policy.

    You claim that the government can’t afford it, but why not? Most of your arguments here are not binding in practice. If the government taxes and uses this revenue to correct some kind of market failure, which leads to a more efficient equilibrium, by definition everyone (weakly) gains. If the government borrows and does the same, then the same argument applies.

    In any case, debt sold at real rates beneath the growth rate of the economy is a free lunch that should be eaten by the government. And if the government succeeds in raising growth as a result of its spending programme, then why should interest rates rise and not fall?

    It seems that your argument rests on a series of premises that are contested and not given: the problem is malinvestment; allow the market to correct the malinvestment and everything else will follow from that; interfere and the self-correcting properties of the economy will be hindered. For those of us that do not accept these premises, it merely begs the question.

    1. I agree Vimothy.

      But I would add one thing.... Debt sold at real rates beneath the *sustainable* growth rate of the economy is a free lunch. Debt sold below the real rates currently occurring could be a free lunch or may not be, it depends on what happens in the future.

      Growth only measures change in GDP, and GDP is about trade. GDP can be high because people are needlessly trading with each other. If that's what's happening then encouraging it is destructive. The state can, for example, redistribute wealth in such a way that many people want to convert one asset into another. So, the assets are bought and sold and "growth" occurs. But, this isn't necessarily sustainable growth. (The same is true if the redistribution is from the rich to the poor or from the poor to the rich).

    2. Vimothy and Current

      Unemployment isn’t a root cause, it is a consequence. Unemployment doesn't just appear, it follows from something. It can be high minimum wage rates, high employment costs, lack of resources or a great many other things and combinations of things.

      The unemployed are the people who suffer from that consequence. They may not care about capital structure, but if they want productive, sustainable and long-term employment, they should. They are not helped by make-work programs, because they never last and when they end the economy is that much worse for it. For the unemployed it is crucially important that resources are freed up and allocated to productive use, because that is the only way real growth can occur. It is incredible irresponsible to “not care” about fundamentals. You do it at your own peril, and the peril of others.

      A sound, market based capital structure is indeed an end of itself, how can you claim otherwise? The less sound and marked based the capital structure is, the more scarce resources are being wasted and destroyed. Just look at the enormous waste of resourced occurred during the housing bubble and bust, all because the capital structure was out of whack. Again, you may not care, but to say that the capital structure isn’t important is really irresponsible, and demonstrably false.

      Why you would prefer alien overlords over normal employment is beyond me, can you maybe elaborate?

      Why the government can’t afford it? Look at the national debt, look at the tens of trillion in unfunded liabilities. How can you say that my arguments aren't binding in practice and the proceed with a what-if scenario in which the government, who evidently knows the hearts, minds, desires and dreams of 300 million people better than the people themselves, can “correct” a “market failure” by taking resources away from the people and putting them to better use. Is that what you call an argument that is “binding in practice”? You know Vimothy, just claiming that my arguments don’t hold water isn’t enough, you have to show it, and that sort of what-if fantasy simply doesn’t fly, and let me tell you why:

      To assume that the government can do this is to assume that politicians and bureaucrats know exactly what the capital structure should be at any given time, what should be produced, in what quantities, how and where, know exactly what actions must be taken to attain the perfect structrue, and are able to execute those actions with pin-point accuracy, hitting the exact right place at the exact right time. And that they can keep doing that day after day in perpetuity. Does that seem plausible to you? You might as well say that God could come down and make everything right.

      The national debt rose 10 percent in 9 months. Again you just assume that the government could do X and suddenly paradise arrives. Tell me, what possible reason could you have for entertaining that possibility for even a second? Of course it can’t, for reasons explained above and every time it tries it causes enormous damage and suffering. What people often fail to understand is that the government represent actors, people who do certain things. The market is just the sum of human action. Therefore, there can't be any such thing as "market failure", because it is just the sum of people's actions, reflecting their preferences at a given point in time. These are always changing and people are constantly reacting to these changes. The more government meddles in that process, the more misguided the reactions become. This is what causes malinvestment and waste of resources.

      If you don’t accept my premise, then explain why. Don’t give a series of what-if fantasies that assume politicians and bureaucrats to be gods who know things that no human being or group of human beings can know.

  15. First, who the heck thought there wasn't enough interesting stuff in here and felt the need to launch into a battle over Krugman and Keynesianism? Let that be a lesson to you Dan. Don't mention Krugman unless you REALLY have to.

    While I took no sociology courses, I am married to a cultural anthropologist and so I have acquired some basic knowledge in the area. From a 10,000 feet view, I agree that some sociologists (or bad sociologists as my wife would say) are prone to turn their research in morality plays. Overall, I think economics is fairly unique in its emphasis on positive v normative research. The difference between positive and normative is the first thing I learned in economics class and it was constantly reinforced throughout my studies. I don't believe there are many other disciplines which make such a big deal of the distinction. (Even if sometimes, that distinction is an illusion which hides our biases) That said, sociology is nowhere near as bad as anything involving critical theory.

    I am unsure why functionalism has such a bad name. But my understanding is that at least some schools of functionalism involve assigning not just function, but also purpose to social phenomena. It's not hard to see why that is highly problematic.

    1. I don't know much about it myself... But, it looks to me like the situation is similar to evolutionary psychology. There are lots of people who think evopsych is useful, but who don't think it can be brought directly to bear on any situation by logic. That is, you can't say X does Y for an evolutionary reason, even if logically such a reason exists. Evolution is such an imperfect process that the argument isn't robust. Proponents of evopsych never go quite that far, but sometimes they come close.

      The same is true of cultural evolution, and so the same problem applies and the same (valid) complaints arise.

      I think though that a lot of the complaining sociologists do here is likely to be due to their left wing views too.

  16. At Vimothy and DK,

    How is Vimothy's explanation of May 4th at 9:14am not just an elaboration of the Broken Window Fallacy?


    I have been reading this blog for some time, and I have indeed not seen a explanation or discussion of how moving high explosives to outside the earth's orbit, whether aliens are present or not, could lift the US from their current financial slump. Might this same approach also work for Greece? The Germans could surely help on that, as they have some history with rockets used to move explosives.

    It is clear from PKs statement that he is not talking just about unemployment, so let's not get distracted by just fixing unemployment. (Draft everyone who can't find work. Outlaw mail trucks and have all mail hand carried everywhere. Ban semi trucks and have all goods delivered in Ford F150s. The list of ways to inefficiently fix unemployment are nearly infinite.)

    To be sure we are all talking about the same thing, here is the actual quote:

    "If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months. And then if we discovered, oops, we made a mistake, there aren't any aliens, we'd be better...(interrupted) ...there was a "Twilight Zone" episode like this in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace. Well, this time, we don't need it, we need it in order to get some fiscal stimulus."

    Moments before in the same interview, PK said, "Infrastructure spending, if it were well-spent, that's great. I'm all for that. I'd borrow for that, assuming we're not paying Boston Big Dig kind of prices for the infrastructure."

    So, the Big Dig, which yielded a tunnel that is used by tens of thousands of cars per day, is implied to be poorly spent infrastructure spending. But sending high explosives out of the earth's orbit would 'get us out of the slump in 18 months'.

    I would argue that those two ideas are utterly irreconcilable. The latter provides no lasting benefit to anyone beyond salary earned in those 18 months. The former yielded something very useful, albeit very expensive, but the whole point is to pump money into the economy, with "inflation and budget deficits (taking) second place to that (spending)."

    Two specific questions:
    (1) How is the Aliens idea not just an elaborate version of The Broken Window fallacy?
    (2) If blowing up aliens that don't need to exist is 'good' stimulus spending, how can any money possibly be poorly spent, as it apparently was on the Big Dig?

    Serious questions.

    Daniel, you often say you "don't get" (fill in the blank).
    This is one of my "I don't get that" items.


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