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Krugman’s gadget interpretation of economics

from Lars Syll

Paul Krugman has often been criticized by people like yours truly for getting things pretty wrong on  the economics of John Maynard Keynes.

When Krugman has responded to the critique, by himself rather gratuitously portrayed as about “What Keynes Really Meant,” the overall conclusion is — “Krugman Doesn’t Care.”Responding to a post up here on Krugman not being a real Keynesian, Krugman writes:

Skrugmanurely we don’t want to do economics via textual analysis of the masters. The questions one should ask about
any economic approach are whether it helps us understand what’s going on, and whether it provides useful guidance for decisions.

So I don’t care whether Hicksian IS-LM is Keynesian in the sense that Keynes himself would have approved of it, and neither should you.

The reason for this rather debonair attitude seems to be that history of economic thought may be OK, but what really counts is if reading Keynes gives birth to new and interesting insights and ideas.

No serious economist would question that explaining and understanding “what’s going on” in our economies is the most important task economists can set themselves — but it is not the only task.  And to compare one’s favourite economic gadget model to what “austerians” and other madmen from Chicago have conjured up, well, that’s like playing tennis with the nets down, and we have to have higher aspirations as scientists.

Although I have a lot of sympathy for Krugman’s view on authority, there is also a somewhat disturbing and unbecoming coquetting in his attitude towards the great forerunners he is discussing. Krugman is a great economist, but it smacks not so little of hubris to simply say “if where you take the idea is very different from what the great man said somewhere else in his book, so what?” Physicists arguing like that when discussing Newton, Einstein, Bohr or Feynman would not be taken seriously.

Krugman’s comment on this issue is interesting, however, because it sheds light on a kind of inconsistency in his own art of argumentation. During a couple of years Krugman has in more than one article criticized mainstream economics for using to much (bad) mathematics and axiomatics in their model-building endeavours. But when it comes to defending his own position on various issues, he usually himself ultimately falls back on the same kind of models. Models that actually, when it comes to methodology and assumptions, have a lot in common with the kind of model-building he otherwise criticizes. And although Krugman repeatedly says that he is a strong believer in “simple models,” those models are far from simple (at least not in any interesting meaning of the word).

But I think the absolute all-time low in Krugman’s response is this remarkable passage:

Has declaring uncertainty to be unquantifiable, and mathematical modeling in any form foolish, been productive? Remember, that’s what the Austrians say too.

won’t comment on the shameful guilt-by-association part of the quote, but re uncertainty it’s absolutely gobsmacking how Krugman manages to mix up the ontological question — is the economy permeated by calculable risk or by genuine and often uncalculable uncertainty — with the epistemological question — how do we manage to analyze/understand/explain/model such an economy. Here Krugman seems to say — much in the spirit of Robert Lucas — that if reality is uncertain and non-ergodic, well then let’s just pretend it’s ergodic and susceptible to standard probabilistic analysis, so that we can go on with our FORTRAN programs and mathematical models! In other areas of science that would rightfully be considered fraud, but in “modern” neoclassical mainstream economics it’s obviously thought of as an unprobematical and justified procedure.

And then, of course, not really trying to clinch the deep theoretical issue at stake, Krugman for the n:th time puts forward his IS-LM gadget interpretation of economics.

Being able to model a “gadget world” — a world that somehow could be considered real or similar to the real world — is not the same as investigating the real world. Even though all theories are false, since they simplify, they may still possibly serve our pursuit of truth. But then they cannot be unrealistic or false in any way. The falsehood or unrealisticness has to be qualified.

No matter how many convoluted refinements of concepts made in the gadget model, if the “successive approximations” do not result in models similar to reality in the appropriate respects (such as structure, isomorphism etc), the surrogate gadget system becomes a substitute system that does not bridge to the world, but rather misses its target.

So — constructing gadgets like IS-LM macroeconomic models as “stylized facts” somehow “successively approximating” macroeconomic reality, is a rather unimpressive attempt at legitimizing using fictitious idealizations for reasons more to do with model tractability than with a genuine interest of understanding and explaining features of real economies. Many of the model assumptions made in IS-LM models and “New Keynesian” DSGE models are restrictive rather than harmless and could a fortiori anyway not in any sensible meaning be considered approximations at all.

Where does all this leave us? Well, I for one, is not the least impressed by Krugman’s gadget interpretation of economics. And if labels are as uninteresting as he says — well, then I suggest Krugman and other “New Keynesians” stop calling themselves Keynesians at all. I’m pretty sure Keynes would have appreciated not having his theories and thoughts being referred to by people having preciously little to do with those theories and thoughts.

Studying great forerunners like Keynes may help us to construct better and more relevant economic models – models that really help us to explain and understand reality. So when Krugman writes

Second — and this plays a surprisingly big role in my own pedagogical thinking — we do want, somewhere along the way, to get across the notion of the self-correcting economy, the notion that in the long run, we may all be dead, but that we also have a tendency to return to full employment via price flexibility

I would certainly recommend him to compare his own statement with what Keynes himself wrote:

Though we all started out in the same direction, we soon parted company into two main groups. What made the cleavage that thus divided us?

On the one side were those who believed that the existing economic system is in the long run self-adjusting, though with creaks and groans and jerks, and interrupted by time-lags, outside interference and mistakes … These economists did not, of course, believe that the system is automatic or immediately self-adjusting, but they did maintain that it has an inherent tendency towards self-adjustment, if it is not interfered with, and if the action of change and chance is not too rapid.

John Maynard KeynesThose on the other side of the gulf, however, rejected the idea that the existing economic system is, in any significant sense, self-adjusting. They believed that the failure of effective demand to reach the full potentialities of supply, in spite of human psychological demand being immensely far from satisfied for the vast majority of individuals, is due to much more fundamental causes …

The gulf between these two schools of thought is deeper, I believe, than most of those on either side of it realize. On which side does the essential truth lie?

The strength of the self-adjusting school depends on its having behind it almost the whole body of organized economic thinking and doctrine of the last hundred years. This is a formidable power. It is the product of acute minds and has persuaded and convinced the great majority of the intelligent and disinterested persons who have studied it. It has vast prestige and a more far-reaching influence than is obvious. For it lies behind the education and the habitual modes of thought, not only of economists but of bankers and business men and civil servants and politicians of all parties …

Thus, if the heretics on the other side of the gulf are to demolish the forces of nineteenth-century orthodoxy … they must attack them in their citadel … Now I range myself with the heretics. I believe their flair and their instinct move them towards the right conclusion. But I was brought up in the citadel and I recognize its power and might … For me, therefore, it is impossible to rest satisfied until I can put my finger on the flaw in the part of the orthodox reasoning that leads to the conclusions that for various reasons seem to me to be inacceptable. I believe that I am on my way to do so. There is, I am convinced, a fatal flaw in that part of the orthodox reasoning that deals with the theory of what determines the level of effective demand and the volume of aggregate employment …

John Maynard Keynes (1934)

  1. September 3, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    JMK was all about uncertainty. Starting with Treatise.
    Aside from his founding of macroeconomics, the most important true legacy of Keynes is, in my opinion (approved by R. Skidelsky), contained in three principles, as follows.
    I. Economics is based on logic of choice under uncertainty and scarcity, with uncertainty playing the main role.
    II. There is no “universal economics”: different economic approaches should be applied under different states of the society.
    III. The market activities at a lower level of the economy should be controlled and constrained by a higher-level non-market entity, which deals with resulting externalities.

    But, e.g., in his Int-l Economics with Obstfeld, Krugman’s 12 First Principles do not include uncertainty. In Glossary, no uncertainty. There is one-liner “risk uncertainty about future outcomes.” There are three definitions of risk-averse, risk-aversion, and risk-neutral. That’s all.
    As I recall, no uncertainty in the Index either.

    By the way, Mankiw is no better. In his Principles of Economic, the 10 Principles do not include uncertainty. No uncertainty in the Index. In Glossary, one line: “risk aversion a dislike of uncertaity.”

    At least, the “old Samuelson” had a chapter on the theory of games to deal with uncerainty, whatever its worth in economics.

    Mankiw keeps current though. In 1998, it was the basketball star who had two skills – to play ball and to mow grass. Then it became Tiger Woods. With his sex scandal, he was replaced by Tom Brady. With the ball deflation scandal, Mankiv will need a new edition (the 13th?).

  2. Paul Davidson
    September 3, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I define a “classic” in economics as a book everyone cites but no one reads! Krugman truly believes that Keynes’s GENERAL THEORY is a “classic”.

    • anobserver
      September 3, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      Add to this Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, and Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital”.

      And that “rule of the classics” is not just valid in economics. Works such as “De la démocratie en Amérique” by Alexis de Tocqueville, or “Vom Kriege” by Carl von Clausewitz are duly and liberally referred to by pundits — but never read.

  3. September 3, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Well, American economists do not follow JMK and Minsky on uncertainty. What Schackle?

  4. September 4, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Just a couple of comments. How do we manage to analyze/understand/explain/model an economy permeated by both calculable risk and genuine and often uncalculable uncertainty? One answer is to pretend that that the uncertain and non-ergodic economy is ergodic and susceptible to standard probabilistic (statistical) analysis. Something by the way scientists in all areas do all the time. This division is wholly artificial. It is created for a lot of reasons, including something for economists to argue about and on which to hang their research and reputations. All economies that we know of sometimes behave ergodically, and other times not. All contain risk that can be measured and assessed, and also uncertainty that cannot be measured or assessed. And these are combined in complex ways. This is why examining the history of economies is so important. It is in their histories that we find the patterns of interactions that got us to what we see today and help us map out possible current and future structures and functions of an economy which can then be compared to actual observations. Keynes from my reading of his works understood this, although he did not express that understanding well. Today economists have painted themselves into corners by dividing themselves into opposing camps of “self-adjusters” and “uncertaintyists.” What they really need to focus on is how to combine the two, since actual economies always include both. Finding out how the two function together, and describing their interactions would not only be exciting work but would help economists understand and perhaps explain “what’s going on” in economies. Including the many factors in an economy that fit into neither of these camps. Besides there is no other way to “know” what an economy is without looking first. There is no a priori answer to this question that does not require testing.

  5. September 4, 2016 at 8:02 am


    You are right. But there is another way to deal with the situation. Economics is no more than a part of the system of decision-making. And you can make decent decisions without reducing uncertainty to probabilities.

    • September 4, 2016 at 8:59 am

      Vladimir, I agree 100%. Convincing social scientists who’ve been indoctrinated in statistical/probability thinking is difficult, however. And convincing economists that everything does not revolve their discipline is even more difficult.

  6. September 4, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Ken, my email is skipandscan@optonline.net. I think we should talk.

  7. dmf
  8. September 4, 2016 at 11:12 pm


    Note the second last sentence in ths comment by Christine McMorrow:

    “Fascinating and absolutely horrifying story, no longer science fiction. The utter intransigence of Republican Congressmen and women is more than irresponsible. they will end up costing the nation far more even a few years from now than if they acted now.

    ”The future of naval bases is particularly concerning. How can Navy officers respect these bunch of know nothings, particularly those trained in marine sciences? It’s incomprehensible how these politicians can get elected over and over, not despite but because of, their proud rejection of anything involving data or scientific calculations. Ignorance is now a badge of honor.”

    Despite the really interesting story about the candy store for economists, what ought to be an economist’s real concern right now? That according to the prevailing theories, mankind cannot afford to “go Dutch”, build sea walls, and go back to school to learn how self-control actually works? The mathematics of this cannot be captured in the FORTRAN programs Lars refers to, though arguably it can be in Algol68 programs organised round error detection, prevention and correction, and doing the right thing at the right time, “so a stitch in time saves nine”.

    If I mention Malthusian population economics, is that so far back in time that most economists have never heard of it, so don’t think of it as part of their job? The Malthusian population problem will only be consigned to history if economists organise honest money and the information feedbacks needed to make possible a population’s self-control. That is needed right now for the timely defence and eventual graceful depopulation of endangered townships.

  9. September 5, 2016 at 6:33 am

    I’ll tell you precisely who and what most economists serve. In his biography of the Koch brothers “Son of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty,” Daniel Schulman describes Charles Koch, the dominant force in the company with these words (with my comments). “Schooled by his conservative (actually Nazi during WWII) father in the evils of government, Charles gravitated to libertarianism, a philosophy that advocates the maximum of personal and corporate freedom (mostly for rich folks) and the most minimal government, if only to tend to the defense of these liberties (especially the liberty to get rich and stay rich at the expense of anyone or anything, even the country of your birth). He grew to believe zealously (and absolutely) in the power of markets to guide human behavior (unless you want to be socialist or support government aid for anyone, except the rich, or just want to hold on to democracy), and to loathe the government regulations and subsidies that distorted markets (except for the taxes rich folks should not pay) – and behavior itself – by trying to impose false order (meaning any order that was not libertarian). Blending the ideas of the libertarian movement’s intellectual forefathers, Charles devised a unique management philosophy that places a relentless emphasis on the bottom line (underline relentless and add absolute), where even the lowliest pipefitter was meant to envision himself (emphasis on him) as an entrepreneur (again, so long as he was willing to be libertarian). This system, which Charles called Market-Based Management, helped him to build a conglomerate (an economic trust) that generates massive profits (for those inside the trust), but which has often found itself in regulators’ crosshairs after blood (sometimes lots of it) was spilled or waterways (farmland, air, people’s lungs and hearts, etc. etc.) were contaminated (have to give up some lesser important things to maximize the bottom line).” Because of this system Charles and his brother David amazed personal fortunes of at least $40 billion each and are using that money (particularly Charles) to redesign the United States into a libertarian utopia. And most economists are enabling this insanity, if not actively helping. The sons’ father, Fred was a member of the John Birch Society, a group that William F. Buckley said risked having all conservatives branded as “cranks and kooks.” To follow the equation out this means two grossly wealthy cranks and kooks are in the process of successful remolding America. Like the Jews and Gypsies in Hitler’s Germany the rest of us will not like the new America and may not live through it.

    • September 5, 2016 at 9:17 am

      Well, Ken, your story needs to be told as well as mine, but it is a bit late for removing the rotten apples from the barrel when they’ve already contaminated so many of the rest.

      My “black humour” reaction earlier, to the likes of what you are describing, was that “after Charles I lost his head the real kings learned to install puppets and keep their own heads well below the parapet”. Whistle-blowing to “unprivatise” these mad emperors is, however, not enough. Almost the only hope is disinfect the barrel with a good dose of truth, contrasting the present insanity with a necessary and still feasible alternative (honest money and timely action).

      • September 5, 2016 at 12:52 pm

        Truth won’t do it. Truth is difficult to establish and always incomplete and unclear. What’s needed in my view is three things tied together. One, is open. honest, and civil dialogue on how to live a good life. Second, respect for others and their ways of life. Three, understanding that conclusions are always partial, never answering all the questions that face us. And we must be willing to fight for these, even with if that means war.

  10. robert locke
    September 5, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    “One, is open. honest, and civil dialogue”

    Right, with all interested parties having a voice at the table, precisely because deriving truth is not an intellectual exercise, but a process of social negotiation.

    • September 5, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      Yes, indeed. And sometimes the negotiations are rough.

  11. September 5, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Truth, untruth, who knows and cares. Napoleon said: If you intend to take Vienna, take Vienna.
    Make decent decisions, not paying much attention to such side issues as economics and other fake sciences. AI may contain a hope – it it fights seduction of the current dodo
    (no self-preservation) paradigm.

    As for persuading economists, only the grave will straighten out a hunchback.
    Thomas Kuhn meant that revolutionary scientists didn’t stand on shoulders of their predecessors – they stood on their heads.

    • September 5, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Beginning in the 1960s Nelson Mandela began studying Afrikaans, the language of white South Africans. Mandela wanted to understand their worldview. He knew that he would end up fighting or negotiating, or both with them. Whichever it was he knew his fate and the fate of black South Africans was tied to the fate of white South Africans. So even thought we don’t agree with it we need to understand the worldview of the “hunchback” economists. Our fate and the fate of much of the world is tied to that worldview. With that knowledge we can reshape the future. But if that’s not possible then we’ll need to “invade Vienna.”

  12. September 5, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Sure we need to know their views. They should form some scenarios in the problem. Perhaps some likely scenarios. But then we should add an immense number of “black swan” and even impossible scenarios. Over that overall range, we should develop a flexible adaptation policy,
    providing first self-preservation.

    Economics would like us to chose between cherries and cranberries for breakfast, given their market prices. Bad climate scenarios would make us to find out whether cherry orchards and cranberry bogs improve climate. If yes, set prices to zero and make eating them desirable and create as big market as possible. So know thy enemy, listen to his advice, and do the contrary.

    Economists did creative destruction of America. Browse through The Globalization Paradox (Rodrik) and Concrete Economics (Cohen and DeLong). With such friends as AEA we do not need enemies.

  13. September 5, 2016 at 11:25 pm


    If, at skipandscan@optonline.net, you give me your email, I’ll send you some relevant materials (abstracts only, don’t be afraid).

  14. September 6, 2016 at 7:03 am

    Ken, Robert, Vladimir, on

    “Whistle-blowing to “unprivatise” these mad emperors is, however, not enough. Almost the only hope is disinfect the barrel with a good dose of truth, contrasting the present insanity with a necessary and still feasible alternative (honest money and timely action).”

    My reaction to you guys’ reaction to this simple comment was close to despair. How can you guys be so competitive when cooperation is so desperately needed? However, the last two comments are at least thinking positively, in terms of Mandela, and knowing the enemy. I’ll persist in trying to be constructive then, invoking Tony Lawson on the need for contrast. The thought occurs, after a spat requiring straight speaking to a child, that perhaps Bob and Ken were right and – what doesn’t come easily to me, as a receptive listener and cooperative reacter – “deriving truth is not an intellectual exercise, but a process of social negotiation … And sometimes the negotiations are rough”. As the Red Queen said to Alice:

    “Be kind and gentle to your child, and beat him if he sneezes.
    He only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases”.

    Perhaps, conversely, there is something for you guys to learn from my response to Vladimir’s initial reaction: “Truth, untruth, who knows and cares. Napoleon said: If you intend to take Vienna, take Vienna”. So do – not the opposite, but what turned out to be prophetic of Churchill’s response to Hitler’s following in the footsteps of Napoleon: what Dorothy L Sayers urged us old folks to do, in “Begin Here” (1940, Gollancz), not to give up and thereby discourage the young. “It is not too much to say that, whoever wins the war, the peace will be won by those who, throughout the struggle, remained alert and ready, with a clear idea of what they wanted and an active plan for bringing it about”. I wish I could quote the whole book at you.

    So, I want truth to prevail, but it seems from Vladimir’s reaction to that he’s only been exposed to the Humean version of ‘truth’, captured in Tarksi’s definition: “‘It is true that ‘Snow is white’, if and only if snow is white”. I worked in computing, where a program was true if it did what it was supposed to. (It is not, of course, supposed to have “garbage in”).

    The difference is immense. The Humean understanding leaves out the whole dimension of action, and hence of the possibility of doing something about it when things go wrong, as they inevitably do. Without that dynamic of truth we keep ending up with malign dictatorship.

    • September 7, 2016 at 6:54 am

      My concerns are more mundane, but I think more frightening. In the movie “The Hunt For Red October” an American Admiral (as portrayed in the movie not a softie on fighting the Russians) watches as the conflict between Russia and US spirals up. As a US war plane crashes on the deck of his carrier he comments, “This business will get out of control. It’ll get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.” That’s the case with most conflicts, whether you call them disinfecting or improving the world. Once begun they’re difficult to control. The “culture wars” between scientists and the social scientists and philosophers trying to understand how science is done and what it is produced not just dumb statements (e.g., social science has no role in understanding science) and accusations of fraud and trying to undermine the work of “real” scientists. Science is social. How can it be otherwise. It is performed by humans. Science itself is historical and anthropological. Again, how could it be otherwise. But no one talked good, or even common sense in these debates. There was too much name calling, animus, and character assassination as people took sides. And it’s well known that if your side is right, then the other side must be wrong. My point is a simple one. Both sides are right and both sides are wrong. Once we admit that then we have a chance to find a solution that works for more than just one group or one ideology.

      • September 7, 2016 at 10:11 am

        Ken, the context of this is immature people being taught by influential people to believe that simplistic strategies which lead to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer are actually good for everyone. It is not a case of both sides being right and both sides being wrong: it is a case of people beginning life immature and needing to trust others, and having different aims at their stage of life – but with some learning from elders seeking to ensure their own security. It is not name-calling but exemplifying to point out that Machiavelli and Hume were bad apples, the problem being they have been influential bad apples in the barrel of humanity. You don’t like the idea of disinfecting the barrel? All right, then, let’s try the analogy of treating the infection with anti-biotics. This is not about conflict with the already dead.

        Where you end, It is not that both sides are right and both wrong: their “solutions” may be appropriate to their aims but with different aims at different times of life the need is not for a one-size-fits all solution but timesharing between the four broadly different types of solution, with priority given to the most urgent needs like feeding, sheltering and educating the young. We do this in multi-user computers: why not in our social interactions? But of course most of us do. Those who don’t are mainly those who have been taught by bad apples to see their only reasonable aim as being provision for their own old age.

  15. September 6, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Absolutely wrong – I am not with Hume. Maybe with Hume, but drastically expanded. Searching not just for a decision, but for a decent survival decision.

    I develop flexible adaptable policy over an immense range of bad scenarios. Self-preservation is to prepare for things going wrong, first and foremost. An antelope first looks around for lions, begins feeding only if coast is clear.

    • September 6, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      Vladimir, I didn’t say you were “with Hume”, only that your dismissal of the significance of truth suggested that the only definition of ‘truth’ you were familiar with was a Humean one, based on individuals agreeing on what they are conscious of.

      Your aims sound very reasonable, so let’s be clear we are arguing here about the meaning of words. To decide something is [already or as-of-now] true is a static judgement, but to “develop a flexible adaptable policy” sounds to me pretty dynamic: a decision to adhere to a program or strategy as [probably] enhancing self-preservation. I’d be very happy to go along with saying we are searching for a decent survival strategy for the human race – though not for my or your self-preservation, for that is already instinctive.

      Where truth comes in to this is where your animal thinks it is safe when it is not. It acts upon the supposition, and the lion – up-wind behind a rock – jumps out and eats it!

      Let me give a more complex human example involving language. My wife is persuaded that sugar is bad for the heart, so in pursuit of our self-preservation she replaces sugar with sweeteners in our tea. I develop bladder cancer. Only later do I hear (via a son in Australia who happened to have been to America) that in America these sweeteners have a warning about risk of bladder cancer on their lid. They didn’t in Britain! As it happens, I survive my cancer and she survives her heart attack, but whatever one is trying to do, surely the truth of what one is given to understand matters, if it affects how well one does it?

      • September 7, 2016 at 7:37 pm

        The examples you give Vladimir illustrate what I’m trying to say. You set up certain “ways of understanding” what is happening and what should be done about it. For example, disinfecting the barrel, treating the infection with antibiotics, and dealing with needs in the order of their priority. But these are all created in processes of interacting actors with a history of negotiation and compromise. And none of the results are absolute or final. All can and will be changed. As an example, your priority of needs would not sit well with my college friend who is a Roman Catholic priest. You may certainly disagree with him as much he disagrees with the priorities you select. But the point is it’s not an appropriate or workable conclusion that he is right and you are wrong, or the reverse. So the question is: how do we work out the conflicting priorities? You could certain try to disinfect him, or even go to war with him. But other paths are available. Right now the US is largely paralyzed in terms of climate policy because people are thinking with ideologies rather than uncertainties of complex life on earth. Hunkering down behind simple, universal, and unchanging ways of life and thinking the issue we face. Changing this is the goal. In one afternoon in 2000 a group of us changed the mind of then Chair of the Texas Public Utility Commission Pat Wood (later Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) about the future importance of electricity generation from wind. And now Texas is the 2nd (soon to be largest) generator of electricity from wind. No disinfectant or antibiotics. Just good information and honest conversation.

      • September 7, 2016 at 11:41 pm

        Ken, I don’t know what Republican American priests prioritise, but here’s a quote from Pope John Paul II:

        “Following recent teaching, the Church’s social doctrine must today have a global outlook. In view of this we have to clarify and re-examine the themes and guidelines which it has dealt with in recent years.

        “One of these, which I here wish to consider, is the option, or preferential love, for the poor. This is an option, or a primacy in Christian charity, to which the Church gives witness down the ages. It affects every Christian who seeks to imitate the life of Christ. But it equally applies to our responsibilities within society, and therefore to our life-style and, if we are to be consistent, to the decisions we make concerning our ownership and use of goods”.

        Ok, he’s talking about poverty, not detailing this in terms of the poverty of independence of the young. Likewise, when I was talking about disinfection and antibiotics: I was talking figuratively, not literally, and intended to convey a principle, not point to an example.

        You say: ” Hunkering down behind simple, universal, and unchanging ways of life and thinking [is] the issue we face. Changing this is the goal”. As I see it, our lives and thinking have changed at detailed level almost beyond recognition during our own lifetimes. Almost the only thing that hasn’t is the common understanding (usually tacit) of the rules of logic. These rules have been shown by Shannon et al to be a special case: things don’t stay as they are or on course unless we keep putting them back that way. But that too has been Catholic Christian practice for centuries, if downplayed of late.

        I’m delighted, of course, to hear you’ve managed to convey the significance of windpower in Texas. However, when specialisation and specifics are the rule, it needs odd-balls like me to keep on emphasising that logic is the exception that proves the rule.

      • September 8, 2016 at 8:55 am

        My priest friend has no beef of course with the Pope or the teachings of the Church you mention. My point is that the Church and my friend emphasize faith above all, even feeding and shelter. And my friend is definitely not Republican. Good to hear it that you were speaking “only” figuratively when talking about disinfection and antibiotics. Even if everyone agreed on what logic is I don’t believe in most instances it provides much useful guidance in “real world” situations. Logic is not the only form of “reasoning” and should not treated as such. I agree completely with your understanding that it’s essential to build and re-build the life we try to share. No other way I know of to keep things going. But that doesn’t insure things will not change. But we hope it makes such change more understandable and more workable for all involved. Finally, agree 100% that energetic and smart oddballs are indeed necessary and useful. I’ve never been able to pull it off.

      • September 8, 2016 at 4:17 pm

        “My point is that the Church and my friend emphasize faith above all, even feeding and shelter”.

        No. “Faith, hope and charity; and the greatest of these is charity”. See 1 Cor 13.

      • September 9, 2016 at 6:18 am

        “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Divine love.

  16. September 6, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    Dave, you seem to read only a part of my message. An antelope may have just a few likely scenarios, but I can have on a computer an immense number of bad scenarios. And the key objective is adaptability to all of them with no catastrophic results. So the danger of a sweetener will be in some scenarios, even if it is not on the label. We simply say – it is a chemical, its features may no have been studied enough. Let us, just in case, assume danger.

    Even some impossible scenarios – contingent transformations of the selected strategy may describe reaction against some “unknown unknowns.” Should be looked upon – to leave them in or to throw out?

    • September 7, 2016 at 11:14 am

      Vladimir, I can perhaps respond by saying you don’t seem to have understood the significance of my phrase “given to understand”. The reality of the human race is that we don’t all have an immense number of scenarios in our brain, but start with just one – the instinct to breathe – and learn others initially from our parents, then our peers, and thereafter primarily as we have need to.

      Right now the human race “needs to”, but our bad as well as good habits are ingrained early and we won’t improve much without plain truths counteracting the lies, misconceptions and put-downs “going viral”. As I’ve just argued for Ken, truth is not simple but complex. Here ‘plain truths’ merely point us to where we can see plainly what we can only say laboriously, if at all. Pointing to Mendella was a good example; I point to Good Pope John. Simple phrases like ‘Cherchez la femme’ or ‘Follow the money’ help simple folk untangle complicated crimes. I keep pointing to the error correction techniques rather than the user strategies embedded in computers, but it seems our animal instincts are still kicking in: “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”.

  17. September 7, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    Dave, I am not arguing with you about human reactions and decisions of individuals. I am talking about a special computer model that, on the one hand, develops reasonably safe strategies for the mankind, and on the other – develops a system of prices and other stimuli to push the mass of individuals to behave (as much as possible) in accordance with these strategies.

    This model can initially have an astronomical number of mostly bad scenarios; in the process of solving the model, the scenarios will be gradually eliminated or curtailed. The process will be iterative, and its main difficulty will be in finding a team of decision-makers to control it properly.

    • September 8, 2016 at 9:56 am

      Vladimir, this horrified me, having had some scientific interest in safety critical software. The methods of centralised bureaucratic government comprise just such a model, and their main difficulties are that nuts like Stalin and Hitler can take over the decision makers, and/or vested interests can eliminate the feedbacks that might result in their activities being eliminated. My objection anyway is that people never become able to think for themselves if they don’t need to. Ishi has another discussing Steve Keen’s musings on energy:

      “I like the math example. I was discussing something like this recently with someone who thouight perfect automation was possible, ie one can write down a production function where labor and capital are perfect subsitutes, so one can dispense with labor and just use computers. The cornucopians argued similarily for natural resources—if we run out of oil or metals or food, one can just use technology and live off information”.

      It seems to me you are hunting for Lewis Carroll’s “Snark”, which in his satirical nonsense poem could have been a computer system: in his day Babbage’s mechanical calculator with Lady Lovelace (the Beaver) its first programmer.

      “As to temper the Jubjub’s a desperate bird.
      Since it lives in perpetual passion,
      Its taste in costume is entirely absurd:
      It is ages ahead of the fashion.

      But it knows any friend it has met once before;
      It never will look at a bribe,
      And in charity-meetings it stands at the door
      And collects – though it does not subscribe.

      and jars being the 17th century unit of static electricity:

      (some think it keeps best in an ivory jar,
      And some in mahogany kegs).

      As for me, I’m a Christian/Chestertonian/”Small is Beautiful” man, believing governments of both project and area communities should be parliaments, not legislatures and executives: more like Bob Locke’s work councils or (despite his misunderstanding of truth as claimed, not constructed) Ken’s three-dimensional recipe above (Sep 5 at 12:52 pm). This worked well enough in Arizmendiarietta’s Mondragon cooperative: at least until its network grew so big it started to employ rather than train up its not-for-profit bankers. See Race Mathews’ “Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society. Alternatives to the Market and the State”.

  18. September 7, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    On climate – very good. You should read the nonsense that British Palmer wrote in Nature 2014 about using the 10-day weather forecasting model for 100-year planning. No uncertainties.
    Just make, in their today’s network of data taking, the distance between points 1 km instead of 100 km! That is, increase amount of data 10,000 times. And a simulation of a single scenarios would take take weeks on a super-duper computer, more than 100 times faster than the existing ones. Etc.

    Written by a major scientist, not a village idiot. But written in expectation that some village idiots will read it. And there were some. Dr. Brinkley or Binkley from Energy Dept cited this problem as one of the most important needs for building that super-duper. And Obama, looking as you expect, approved budget. End of July 2015.

    Simply disgusting.

  19. September 8, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    Dave, you again read only a part of what I am saying. I am trying to make every word count.
    I envisage a democratic market-based system. No compulsion to make specific decisions.
    Only stimuli such as prices. As I said earlier, maybe we need zero (or even negative) prices for cherries and cranberries to improve climate.

    Ken, Dave: Have you seen today’s article on Obama and climate?

  20. September 8, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    In NY Times. Dave, if you are in England and do not have access to NYT, I can forward the article.

    • September 8, 2016 at 7:57 pm

      Vladimir and Dave, saw this article. I think it underlines just how irrelevant economic factors are in survival scenarios. Cost and price curves and Coase’s beautiful equations meaning nothing to a species after it’s extinct. Climate change has the very real potential to make homo Sapiens extinct. Not that the planet would notice. Certainly would be the first or the last species to go extinct while the planet continues. My position is that the species is in the unenviable position of trying to “pay off” certain members to convince them to stop killing the species. Same strategy fails in convincing murders to stop murdering. And they only kill one, or two, or maybe a few million at a time. The attachment to neoliberalism is literally killing us.

  21. September 8, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    Now it is me who agrees 100 percent.

  22. dave taylor
    September 10, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Hi, Ken and Vladimir, due to a computer upgrading this is a belated 100% agreement with Ken on the environmental issue, Yes, Vladimir, I was able to access the article on Obama.

    I would have been very happy for you both to have had the last word in this robust but very civilised debate, but earlier comments on “Divine love” and “strategies” gave me food for thought about my the inadequacy of my own approach. This sparked memories which – in the context of Krugman’s sterile complacency about equilibrium – seem to be worth sharing.

    Ken, of course you are right about “Divine love”, but what is it? St Paul was talking about OUR love in the context of Christ’s re-enacting the love of his father; and fathers have children not in the belief but in the hope they will grow up like them and love them back. Of course we see this as a story, but it is consistent with the scientific story of Christ’s death and resurrection echoing God ‘s seeding creation by blowing himself up in a Big Bang. Energy survived this “death” to be re-incarnated in material objects: ultimately in a son worthy of his self-sacrifice, to the point of re-enacting his death and survival in the hope that this will re-energise at least some [the “salt”] of the rest of us. So St Paul talks of our opportunity to become “adopted children of God”, urging us to work together to re-create the love of God as members [in today’s understanding, cells] of the Mystical Body of Christ. One doesn’t have to be sure this is already or inevitably true to believe it is an objective worth pursuing – especially when the alternative is ISIS-like human sacrifice to satisfy the supposed agents of an unforgiving God of power, wealth or Nature.

    Vladimir, your view of survival strategies got me thinking in terms of chess, with the players able to simulate effect of possible responses to whatever position the previous move has left them in. I’m seeing this as survival day-by-day, but with the aim being just not survival,
    or survival until stalemate, but checkmate, hopefully with the “Father-like” containing the forces of Nature. I saw how this corresponds with the popular Christian strategy of living “day by day”, not worrying or sleeping on a grievance, hoping to be at one with our Father when our game comes to its end; but then how succinctly this is spelled out in the prayer that Jesus taught us, given ‘Heaven’ defined as an intentionally directed energetic state, and
    ‘holy’ as not fearfully respected but gratefully revered:

    “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and [at the end of the day’s move] forgive us our mistakes as we we forgive those whose mistakes affect us; and lead us not into temptation [to seek power, wealth or satisfaction of merely animal urges] but deliver us from evil [seeing the mistaken as true].”

    Amen. So be it! And thanks for the considerate conversation.

  23. September 10, 2016 at 5:46 pm


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