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Some Non-Covid Links

John Tierney reviews Edward Slingerland’s new book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization. A slice:

If you ring in the New Year with a raised drink, Edward Slingerland would like you to show proper reverence to the liquid in your glass. Alcohol is not just a tool for celebrating the end of a year, whether pleasant or miserable. It doesn’t merely give you and your friends a pleasant communal buzz. No, what you hold in your glass is the elixir that started civilization and has been essential ever since in enabling human societies to flourish (while, admittedly, enjoying a pleasant buzz).

In Drunk, a witty and erudite homage to alcohol, Slingerland offers a novel explanation to an old evolutionary puzzle: Why do we keep drinking? “Humans are the only species that deliberately, systematically, and regularly gets drunk,” he writes. “The rarity of this behavior is not surprising, given its costs.” The downsides of alcohol have always been obvious: impaired motor skills, wretched decision-making, excruciating headaches, and assorted long-term damage to body and soul. Logically, a society of teetotalers ought to be so much more productive that it would long ago have conquered its drunken neighbors and eventually the rest of the planet. Yet from the ancient world until today, from the wine sipped at Greek philosophers’ symposia to the champagne toasts on New Year’s Eve, the richest and most dynamic societies have given alcohol a central role in their cultures.

Wall Street Journal columnist Joseph Sternberg predicts – hopefully accurately – that 2022 will witness the end of many “climate ambitions.” Here’s his conclusion:

The net-zero gimmick will be with us for a long while yet, alas. The green true believers (or are they bitter clingers?) are busy devising rear-guard actions by which to insulate environmentalism from real-world political pressures, not least by enlisting gullible or cynical titans of finance to do via pension-fund investment allocations what can’t be done honestly via legislation. The political class remains rhetorically wedded to its earlier foolhardy promises, and the media is too enamored of reality-detached activists such as Ms. [Greta] Thunberg.

All the smarter then for politicians to resolve to discuss the matter as little as possible in the year ahead. As starving the atmosphere of carbon dioxide becomes a political liability, starving the issue of political oxygen will become the electoral tactic of choice.

Writing in the Telegraph, Ross Clark observes: “How bizarre that politicians will lecture us on poverty, and will then propose to drive up household bills to reach carbon reduction targets.”

SMU economist Michael Davis ponders David Henderson’s and Steve Globerman’s The Essential UCLA School of Economics – and that school itself. A slice:

From the mid 1960s until at least the 1980s, the UCLA department of economics occupied a unique and important niche in the evolution of economic thought. The UCLA school—led by Armen Alchian, William Allen, Harold Demsetz, George Hilton, Jack Hirshleifer, Benjamin Klein, and others—didn’t just present interesting, provocative research, they advanced a way of thinking about social organization. They showed us what questions are really interesting and how their approach to economics can help find the answers.

The best thing about David Henderson and Steven Globerman’s book (even better than the fact that it’s well-written, interesting, and offered at zero price) is the way it connects research that came out of UCLA to broader ideas. The book is much more than a collection of abstracts from a few dozen books and articles. It is an advocacy for a unifying approach to economics. And ‘advocacy’ is the right word here: both Henderson and Globerman are very much products of the UCLA school, and they very much believe in that worldview.

Say! I think that Pierre Lemieux is on to something, really!

Phil Magness talks with James Harrigan and Antony Davies about critical race theory.

Michael Huemer reveals the illogic of logical positivism…. but see Arnold Kling.

Jason Brennan and Christopher Freiman expose the hypocrisy of champagne socialists (a.k.a. Neiman Marxists). A slice:

But Neiman Marxists who donate their excess income will still live decent lives. Our point is not that they ought to immiserate themselves to become martyrs for their cause. We claim only that they should give away the amount that they themselves regard as appropriate to tax away—money which, by their own standards, they shouldn’t have in the first place. (In 2018, Sanders deducted $18,950 in charitable donations—just 3.3 percent of his total income.)

Lastly, it is especially wrong for someone to usemoral posturing to become rich and famous, and then, instead of avoiding the behavior they claim is wrong, to revel in it or engage in it far more than others. There is something ridiculous and rotten about the fundamentalist Christian pastor who becomes famous for condemning extramarital sex but who also employs a harem of prostitutes. Or consider government leaders who demand social distancing and masking for the masses but have large, unmasked parties while their states are on lockdown. Or the public intellectual who decries the commodification of everything but demands $30,000 and first-class airfare to give guest lectures on commodification. When the disconnect between personal behavior and expressed ideology is this dramatic, and when the person gets rich and famous for expressing that ideology, we have to wonder whether he was ever sincere or was instead merely trying to promote himself.

The reality is that for many people, publicly expressing ideology is not about trying to say what’s right and wrong; it’s about trying to look good to others. It’s moral masturbation, not moral theory. Rather than helping others—which might cost them something!—they advocate helping others. Rather than ameliorating some of the bad effects of injustice—which might cost them something!—they advocate for justice. They then consume the warm glow of cheap altruism and earn the admiration of like-minded peers, all while living a self-centered luxury lifestyle.

Jesse Walker reviews my GMU Econ colleague Jim Bennett’s new book, The History and Politics of Public Radio.

Paul Marshall explains that Progressives are emphatically not liberals. A slice:

What we are seeing today being enacted in the name of liberalism is not liberal at all. Instead, let’s call it by the name which its proponents are prepared to use — progressivism. This is the creed which unites Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, most of the US Democratic Party, most of the British Labour Party and the New York Times. These are not traditional Liberals in any understanding of the term. They are Progressives. They believe humankind is on a permanent upward path of progress. They believe in the rule of experts and in the authority of “the science”.

So where do genuine classical liberals go, faced with the corruption of the creed? Ironically, the attacks on our most ancient freedoms such as freedom of speech, conscience and assembly, make it more important than ever to assert the foundational understanding of liberty. “Classical liberals” need to unite and stand up for their tradition. It has never been so relevant.

Also calling for a reinvigoration of classical liberalism is John O. McGinnis. Here’s his opening paragraph:

The scale of classical liberalism’s retreat became ever more visible in 2021. Its recession is global—spanning the Americas and enveloping Europe and Asia. It is pan-ideological: not only are free nations becoming less free, unfree nations are becoming more unfree. It is not only that the left is moving farther left but the parties of the right, currently the best political hope for classical liberalism, are turning to various forms of illiberalism. And the results for policy have been comprehensively deleterious, threatening to reorient everything from free trade to competition law to social insurance in a more statist direction.

Oliver Wiseman sees ominous signs in the Democrats’ response to the failure of Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. Here’s his conclusion:

Biden himself is certainly capable of overblown rhetoric about the future of American democracy. But so far he has mostly resisted calls from Democrats to go nuclear and change the rules that govern Washington to favour his own party. That refusal grows harder by the day.

Many in his party are rightly concerned that their country is stuck in a downward spiral, but they cannot see their own part in the process. Increasingly, both sides view anything other than victory for themselves as illegitimate. A party that responds to its own perfectly normal legislative woes by doubling down on an all-out battle to rewrite the rules of the system in its favour is not serious about ending that descent into anarchy. And so, the more impotent the Democrats feel, the more dangerous they become.

My GMU Econ and Mercatus Center colleague Pete Boettke riffs on “pandemic productivity.

Here’s a wish-list, from scholars at the James G. Martin Center, for higher education in 2022.