Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Assault of Thoughts - 7/6/2011

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK

- Gene Callahan discusses Aquinas on property rights: the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

- David Glasner is blogging (HT Scott Sumner). He's a monetary economist.

- Rare earth metals, which are essential for manufacturing many electronics, have been found on the ocean floor. Many deposits are comparable to or richer than those currently mined in China. As the price of rare earths continue to go up, mining the ocean floor will become more viable. This is a map of what they found, and this is an article on rare earths published in National Geographic recently.

- And speaking of shortages in specific commodities, Fitch ratings has warned about specific labor shortages despite a generally slack labor market. This happened during the Great Depression as well - in fact the Great Depression was one of the first times you heard people worry about shortages of engineers. Fitch points to the oil and gas extraction industry as a major area of shortages. This is something that my NBER co-author and I have looked at as well. He is authoring another chapter in the engineering workforce volume specifically on recent developments for petroleum engineers (which I've helped him on) discussing the recent spike in petroleum engineer demand and what it's doing to wages and enrollment.


  1. We're still all burning to know, did Aquinas actually levitate?

  2. I put an Aquinas post up at my own blog:

  3. Anyway, property rights and Aquinas reminded me of this discussion at Cato Unbound:

    Are property rights "natural" to human beings (the concept that is - not the particular forms) or is it an invention? I'd say the former. Human beings are just animals and all we have to work with is a couple of pounds of grey matter; and since free will is a pretty constrained thing the momentum we have as the result of our evolutionary background (including genetics, epigenetics, etc.) leads to certain general ends. That's what sounds most plausible to me at least.

  4. I'm not sure why you introduce these as alternatives. I'd imagine it is natural to us and its an invention.

    Vision and the interpretation of visual data is "natural" to us, and it's precisely because it's natural that we've generated inventions to enhance that natural proclivity. What comes naturally to us and the fuller expression and deeper enhancement of our natural instincts seems to me to be a driving force behind most of our inventions.

  5. Daniel,

    Didn't I just say that? Yeah, I did.

    "Are property rights 'natural' to human beings (the concept that is - not the particular forms) or is it an invention?"

    And by rights I'm not really thinking of it in any sort of legalistic or modern sense. Anthropology has shown that property came about as soon as any sort of hierarchy came into being anywhere on the planet (and it need not be material in nature - in some societies a lineage might own the right to worship a particular deity) and hierarchies aren't difficult to build even in hunter-gatherer population groups.

    As to why people invent stuff (why we have technology), that's a sticky issue I'd say. Human beings went many thousands of years inventing very little to nothing and of course many societies have retreated from invention and technology. In the couple of History of Technology courses I took we went round and round that subject without coming to any firm conclusion in my mind.

  6. Sorry - for some reason I thought you said you thought it was the former.

  7. It is the former. Property rights based on hierarchy contexts seem to be natural; how that works in its particular forms is invention. Maybe that is different from what you are saying. Generally speaking though, invention is associated with the concept of novelity; that's partly why I distinguish the two.

  8. Property is natural. (Including communal property, the most common form in early human life.) Property rights are an invention.

  9. How can property exist without property owners?


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