Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Assault of thoughts - 2/29/2012

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

- Proudhon and Callahan both get it - as the former said, "property is theft". Gene discusses John Locke as a philosophical apologist for this "theft" here. Of course, just because property is "theft" does not mean that property is a bad idea. I happen to think it's a good idea. And indeed, much like "taxation is theft", the point of saying "property is theft" ought to be for insight rather than for taking literally (I take arguments that we shouldn't have taxation because "taxation is theft" about as seriously as I take arguments that we shouldn't have private property because "property is theft" - that is to say, I don't take it seriously at all). What's better to say (if we're taking things literally) is "property and taxation are both coercive", because clearly "theft" is a word we've reserved for quite different activities than simply owning property or raising tax revenue.

- Don Boudreaux links to the Selgin, Lastrapes, and White paper on the Fed. As I've noted here before, this paper is a great piece of economic history but it bothers me a great deal when it's tossed around as an evaluation of the performance of the Fed. It is nothing more than a pre-post test, and therefore entirely incapable of making such a claim. I strongly encourage any students looking for dissertation ideas to take the paper and perform a difference-in-differences or some other widely acknowledged non-experimental evaluation technique. I'd love to but I'm not sure I'd get around to it any time soon. As it stands, this is not a sufficient approach to evaluating the Fed.

- I have a short article on underemployment among engineers that's been sitting around waiting to be polished up and sent into a newspaper or magazine (hopefully this weekend). My point is that engineers have very low unemployment rates, but that can often conceal labor market troubles. Labor market problems for engineers often show up in underemployment indicators - particularly how hard it is for those with engineering skills to find a job working as an engineer. Anyway, medical students apparently have the same issue (which surprised me - I think of this as a high demand occupation). This Science Careers post indicates that more medical students are turning to prostitution to make ends meet. Say what you will about whether it's a legitimate line of work - but it's certainly an example of underemployment and low skill utilization.

- And speaking of the sale of sexual content: Playboy is thinking about the possibility of opening a club in space.


  1. Good links and good thoughts. But what are your dissertation ideas, since you mention them in your post?

    Also, will you talk about engineering in general? Will you mention your petroleum engineering project that you have in your works?

    1. That's a ways off. I'm applying for some Sloan Foundation money right now with my petro paper co-author, with the idea being that my portion of that project will turn into one of the three essays. That will be on rational vs. myopic labor market expectations for early career scientists and engineers. Since I'm doing the macro track I expect that I'll do one of the essays on a more solidly macro theme - probably some sort of endogenous growth model with human capital. I've been interested lately in how these models relate human capital depreciation rates to technological growth... that could be fun to look into, although it may have already been explored. The third will likely be another labor econ paper having to do with skills in some way.

      No, I'm not talking about the petro paper in this.

  2. The concept of theft requires the concept of property. Theft is impossible where there is no property. So far from property being theft, property is the logical antecedent to theft. You cannot be stolen from if you own nothing.

    I can't believe you still argue that property is coercive. You have never even defined coercion. How can the simple act of ownership (owning one's body even) be coercive?

  3. Awaiting an answer to Guttenburg... he has got 'em in a corner!

  4. Mattheus,

    Presumably someone who would argue using the Proudhon quote means "individual private property rights" are invalid or at least thieving from some kind of natural universal ownership (to be fair I've never read Proudhon so that may be a complete mis-characterization).

    Personally I think that's absurd, but I'm pretty sure Daniel wasn't saying that. Daniel was probably referring to the method by which such claims are enforced.


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