Gender inequality
This is a HUGE problem.
  Ok, I don't want to be a Diamond fan, but...
Jared Diamond seems to irk everybody. I've had problems with him because, as a natural scientist, he assumes economics follows ecological rules. He's a Malthusian (boo, hiss).

Apparently, historians and anthropologist don't like him for a very different reason. The fact that he's after the truth seems to get their goad. From the comments here:
...The idea that recovering an accurate history of Japanese-Korean origins will have an effect on contemporary politics is a real leap of faith...
Because politics has its own logic, a logic that is completely disassociated with reality? Facts play no part in political discourse? Really?
...I would be bit worried if the methods and conclusions of his research are taken up in the political sphere, as is what he seems to be suggesting in the essay I read. If understood without a critical eye, it can essentialize cultural difference and possibly provide justification for ethnic conflict...
The truth might be used for bad purposes. Therefore, we shouldn't seek it. Right.
...the idea that revealing the truth about the prehistoric past will end Japan-Korea tensions - upon further reflection, this idea is so outlandish that I can’t really even believe that Diamond himself takes it seriously...
Wait. So everyone that wants to effect change through political process should pack up and go home? How exactly does one go about easing tensions between Japan and Korea? Have a wrestling match? Spitting contest? Oh, I know... get both sides to sit down and try to figure out what the hell Foucault was talking about! (It will at least keep 'em busy.)

And finally, from the body of the post comes my biggest complaint. It may be a complaint about the whole field of Japanese Anthropology, but I'll just take the one small bite here. Here's the quote:
The myth of racial homogeneity has been dismantled by Japan historians, most recently by Eiji Oguma in his A Genealogy of Japanese Self-Image, a translation of the 1995 discipline-defining work 『単一民族神話の起源―「日本人」の自画像の系譜』. This racism, which snugly fit with the emperor cult of seeing all Japanese subjects as having a common ancestor, is generally understood to have peaked during Japanese imperialism.

There are also frightening parallels in the history of Japanese fascism to the kind of environmental determinism used by Diamond. Take the example of Watsuji Tetsuro, who despite his engagement with Heidegger’s critique of ontology (or perhaps because of it), produced his 1936 work 『風土 人間学的考察』 (translated as Climate and Culture: A Philosophical Study). Some Japanese critics have interpreted this book as using the argument of environmental determinism to claim Japanese racial superiority: he writes that certain climatic factors lend themselves better to philosophical and ethical inquiry. And of course, the monsoon climate, with which the Japanese race nourished itself, allowed for the highest form of cultural development. Sounds pretty racist.

Now Diamond does not argue this. But he shares with Watsuji a basic methodology of relying on environmental factors as a way to typologize groups of people according to “race.”
The issue of the uniqueness of Japan is popular in Japanese scholarship. How is Japan "uniquely unique"? How isn't it? Why is asking whether or not its unique missing the point and counterproductive? And so on and so forth.

One of the ways that Japan is seen to be unique is the supposed ethnic homogeneity of the people. All kinds of things are supposed to be a result of the "pure blood" of the Japanese people. Their 'miraculous' economic growth or their uncanny ability to get along to name a few.

The problem is that there isn't an objective Japanese race, of course. The point about homogeneity is moot. But let's say you could define a Japanese race... ummm... let's say if you're 99.999% genetically similar to Prime Minister Koizumi, then you're Japanese. Even then, the fact is there are large groups of minorities (Korean, Chinese, Okinawan, Ainu, etc) on the Japanese archipelago and there's many more Japanese speakers around the world. So Japanese ethnic homogeneity is a myth. Great.

Great, but so what! Does that mean we can't talk about Japan or the Japanese people? I hope not. I consider myself a budding Japanese scholar. I'd be disappointed to find out that my subject doesn't exist (or worse, it does, but I can't talk about it).

I think many folks make the mistake of assuming that because there are fuzzy lines between social objects (e.g. race, nations, countries, political borders, languages, professions, institutions, histories, genders, social classes, generations, markets, games, cultures, individuals(!), etc), we can't talk about them. Or worse... they counter an argument that uses one of the objects as a unit of analysis by saying that the unit of analysis doesn't exist objectively. Well, duh!

The question is: do social scientists admit that their objects of study are "socially constructed" and then give up because they can't be objectively studied? Or do they admit that they are social constructed and continue on, hoping to shed some light on the human condition? I vote for the latter and further, I hope that social scientist can expose so much truth about their subjects that that truth would be used for positive change in... gasp... the political process.

In other words, if Diamond says "the Japanese do X and here's why", he's not saying that every person that may be considered Japanese or that might consider themselves Japanese (or however else you might define Japaneseness) does X. He is making a simplifying assumption to help explain a phenomenon that happens in and around many people that are considered or that consider themselves Japanese. This seems useful in a context where we talk about "Japanese Korean tensions." (Did you notice how the word "Japanese" plays a prominent role in that phrase? Yeah, it might be useful to understand the social object behind that word.)

Of course I'm not saying that he's right in the assertions he makes. In fact, I've said that he's wrong. However, he's wrong for the right reasons.
  More mention of Prof. Clark's book
Prof. Clark's new book is mentioned at my favorite econ blog, Marginal Revolution, and Brad DeLong links to it a couple times.
  There's that dang TFP, again...
I'm going to have to get my head around this thing... total factor productivity.
  Professor Clark's book mentioned at the New Economist
A positive review of Professor Clark's forthcoming book over at New Economist (a regular read of mine).
  Puzzeling to me, one theory or three?
Ok, now I'm confused. Professor Clark has completely and utterly convinced me that human economic life is properly explained, through most of history, via Malthusian theory. This may come as a surprise to some who've seen previous posts where, for example, I lambaste Jared Diamond for being a Malthusian and I provide data on how it can't be the case that inputs are linearly growing while demand grows exponentially.

In Professor Clark's upcoming book, "Conquest of Nature," he lays out the implications of the Malthusian way of looking at things (see specifically "Malthusian Equilibrium" in chapter two). According to this model, standard of living is only dependent on a culturally fixed birth rate and a death rate that inversely depends on the standard of living (i.e. if standards of living increase, the death rate decreases). Technology change is just a shift in the technology schedule such that for each population level there's a higher standard of living. Improved technology improves living standards which has the effect of increasing people's life span. The increased life span means that there's more people around, in turn decreasing the standard of living (e.g. the amount of food per person goes down). The decreased standard of living, decreases the death rate until the population is back into equilibrium (births equals deaths).

The only effect of the improved technology was to permanently increase the number of mouths to feed.

Worst for my anti-Malthusian case is that the data is there to back that theory up. The only effect of increases in technology through, let's say, the 17th century was to increase the population. Shocks to the society (e.g. plagues, new farming techniques, even moving from a hunter/gathering to an agrarian society) resulted in unsustained changes in the standard of living. Clark has convinced me that Malthus was right.

At the same time, I'm also convinced that countries experience a demographic transition as they modernize. The timing differ from country to country but the pattern is clear. Countries start with high birth/death rates and these rates are generally equal (i.e. the population is stable). As countries first begin to develop their death rates fall and then a couple generations later their birth rates fall. This results in an s-curve expansion of population. Population quickly starts to increase as death rates decline, then the rate of increase slows as the birth rate begins to decline and then the population tops out when death rates equal birth rates again. We see this pattern over and over again, across countries and time.

Of course, these data don't comport with the Malthusian model. Birth rate doesn't change in that model and decreases in the death rate don't coincide with increases in the standard of living. But there the data is...

There's support for Malthus' model before about 1800. There's sustained and repeated demographic transitions after that date. What gives?

Are historians content with having two models of development (or lack there of). One that describes the world before the industrial revolution and one, incompatible with the first, that describes the world after the industrial revolution? Of course, you'd need a third theory that describes the transition. If I were a historian, I wouldn't be happy with this situation at all. I'd want one theory, not three.
  New laptop
Well, I've broke down and ordered a laptop... I'll no longer be a slave to the whims of the UC Davis Economics Department Information Technology Group's Software Committee. No, I will just steal their wireless bandwidth... Muhahahaha!
  Why don't the UC Davis Econ Labs have ghostview!!!??!!
Arg. Luckily, I found this neat app to convert .ps files to .pdf files.
  Estimating GDP per worker via acres per worker data
In History class today we discussed the problem of getting GDP data for countries BEFORE those data where collected. Since GDP wasn't collected during most of the period that economic historians are interested in, historians have to estimate this information.

Let Q = the quantity produced or the GDP or the total income for a country, L = the number of workers in the country, K = the capital (i.e. machines), Z = the amount of worked land in the country and A = the productivity of labor, capital and land taken together (A is called the total factor productivity). A is just a single measure for the productivity of all the inputs to the economy. Also, let lower case letters represent the 'per worker' value of that variable. For example, q = Q / L.

First, a common production function used is called the Cobbs-Douglas function, Q = A L^a K^b Z^c where a+b+c = 1. The 'a' is the share of the total income that labor gets (i.e. total wages divided by the total income). 'b' is the share for capital and 'c' the share for land (i.e. rent). You can see why these need to add up to 1.

This function is relatively easy to get your head around and more complex production functions share some interesting economic properties with it. Economists tend to like to use it.

If a+b+c = 1, then a = 1 - b - c. So, Q = A L^a K^b Z^c = A L^(1 - b - c) K^b Z^c. Just substituting the 'a' out.

Also, if you're interested in per worker numbers than the production looks like this:
Q/L = (A L^(1 - b - c) K^b Z^c)/L
= A (L^(1 - b - c)/L) K^b Z^c
= (A K^b Z^c) / (L^( b+ c))
= (A K^b Z^c )/ (L^bL^ c)
= A (K/L)^b (Z/L)^c

Thus, q = A k^b z^c. In other words, the GDP per worker is a function of the capital per worker and the land per worker.

If you assume that capital always gets the same percentage (j) of total outcome over time (which I suspect is empirically true), then q = A (jq)^b z^c.

A fancy trick that economist like to make to get the percentage change in something is to take the log and then the derivative. Taking the log: ln(q) = ln(A (jq)^b z^c) = ln A + b ln (jq) + c ln z. (Using the laws of logarithms.)

Differentiating q'/q = A'/A + (b j q'/jq) + c z'/z = A'/A + b q'/q + c z'/z. Here, "x'/x" just means the percent change in the variable x.

But we can bring all the q's on one side... q'/q - b q'/q = q'/q (1 - b) = A'/A + c z'/z. This means q'/q = (A'/A + c z'/z)/(1 - b).

Now we got it. The change in GDP per worker as a function of the change in total factor productivity, the shares of income for capital and land and the change in land per worker.

Presumably, these data are easy to get... Just don't ask me where to get total factor productivity data, though.
  RSS/Atom Feed to JS
Neato script.
  Teaching blog
  Thin veneer
After a month in Math Camp listening to Professor Silvestre lecture on Envelope Theorems, homothetic functions, convex sets and what not, it was awkward listening to him lecture on the philosophy of economics for the first hour of the first day of graduate micro on Thursday. As he spoke of "normative vs. positive" economics and on his philosophy of the distinction between micro and macro (there isn't one... its all micro), his forced smile gave away his desire to dive back into the math.

Luckily, the second half of class was just that. Preference relations and "rationality" (transitivity and completeness) in regards to a choice set started our introduction to modelling rational behavior of individuals (people, corporations or otherwise). And so it begins. Safe again, we are within the certitudes of mathematics.

I suspect that first hour will be the last for such formal discussions of philosophy. It will be up to me to bring economic meaning to such exercises in tautologies that will be taking up my time. I guess I'll have to teach myself the economics. But how?
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