Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Noah Smith, from Farrell 
To a lot of people, the empirics revolution must seem like a step backward. We look back to the huge successes of chemistry and physics and medicine in the last few centuries, and the rock-solid theories they generated, and we compare it to the regressions economists are running nowadays, and we say "Ugh, this isn't science!" We look at the progression from history to experiment, and we think that new methods (if they exist) should go the same way - i.e., they should lead us to deeper understanding. But empirics, instead, goes in the direction of wider applicability with less-deep understanding, and that rankles some people.

I don't think they should be rankled. Empirics is an innovation that allows us to know some things about big phenomena that previously we could only understand through written history. It's not a substitute for experiments, it's a complement. It's a valuable addition to humanity's toolkit, whether you want to call it "science" or not.
my comment repeating the obvious.
If history were a science we would have "solved" many questions of the past by now. But there will always be just one more book about Henry IV or Abraham Lincoln. In describing the past we describe the present.

Similarly there's a feedback loop in economics. If we take self-interest for granted then we increase our tendency to self-interest. If we assume self-interest is crude or vulgar we mitigate against it. Georges Lefebvre notes that the majority of the aristocracy were not rich and did not know how, or want, to become rich. They wanted their privileges but not more. This has been lost on defenders of contemporary economic "science".

There's no reinforcement in geology.
repeats. Lefebvre and Crooked Timber, and...

"the empirics revolution" is big data. Back to Moretti and Shalizi

Lefebvre, The Coming of the French Revolution
The great majority of nobles either did not know how, or did not wish, to get rich. The great majority of younger sons had no desire to "derogate." They sought the remedy elsewhere, in a growing exclusiveness. Some held that the nobility should form a body like the clergy and be constituted as a closed caste. For the last time, in stating grievances in 1789, they were to demand a verification of titles of nobility and the suppression of automatic creation of nobility through the sale of offices. Likewise it was held that, if the king was to count on "his loyal nobility," he should recognize that they alone had the necessary rank to advise him and to command in his name; he should grant them a monopoly of employments compatible with their dignity, together with free education for their sons.
Aristotle, Politics,  Book 4
The distribution of offices according to merit is a special characteristic of aristocracy, for the principle of an aristocracy is virtue, as wealth is of an oligarchy, and freedom of a democracy. In all of them there of course exists the right of the majority, and whatever seems good to the majority of those who share in the government has authority. Now in most states the form called polity exists, for the fusion goes no further than the attempt to unite the freedom of the poor and the wealth of the rich, who commonly take the place of the noble. But as there are three grounds on which men claim an equal share in the government, freedom, wealth, and virtue (for the fourth or good birth is the result of the two last, being only ancient wealth and virtue), it is clear that the admixture of the two elements, that is to say, of the rich and poor, is to be called a polity or constitutional government; and the union of the three is to be called aristocracy or the government of the best, and more than any other form of government, except the true and ideal, has a right to this name.
Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Book Five, Chapter One
We have just seen that the laws of education should have a relation to the principle of each government. It is the same for the laws the legislator gives to the society as a whole. This relation between the laws and the principle tightens all the springs of the government, and the principle in turn receives a new force from the laws. Thus, in physical motion, an action is always followed by a reaction. We shall examine this relation in each government, and we shall begin with the republican state, which has virtue for its principle.
Montesquieu contra Aristotle, virtue contra "science".
I've been meaning to tack the Montesquieu bit onto the others for awhile now.

Political scientists, philosophers and economists are lousy scholars. Just lousy. I'm a lazy amateur. I don't know shit. But they indulge more than I do.

R.B. Bernstein. From the forward to my copy of The Federalist
Beginning in the 1950s and blossoming since 1961, a major scholarly controversy has sucked The Federalist into its gravitational field: What was its role in the great shift from republicanism to liberalism in American political thought? These complex bodies of ideas and practices have almost no direct links to today’s Republican party or modern American liberalism; moreover, these terms have become so vague that many historians have abandoned both words as useless.

Desiring to preserve liberty and to achieve the common good, Americans established republican forms of government—in which the people held ultimate political power, entrusting it to representatives responsible to them. Every previous republic, however, had collapsed into anarchy or tyranny. The precondition for a successful republic, therefore, was to maintain the people's virtue —their willingness to sacrifice special interests in the service of the public interest.

By contrast, those who espoused liberalism favored each person's right to pursue his or her talents and abilities to the fullest extent possible. The strongest case for a republic, they argued, was precisely that it would enable each citizen to develop those talents; a republic should take the greatest possible pains not to restrain that process but to
guide it so that individuals‘ pursuit of their own interests would foster the public interest.

Scholars who identify a great transition from republicanism to liberalism marked by the making of the Constitution and those who insist that the Constitution maintained the American commitment to republicanism find ammunition in The Federalist. That they can read it for such clashing purposes. however. undermines this argument's usefulness for understanding The Federalist or the historical context that produced it. Today, historians and legal scholars such as Jack N. Rakove, Bruce Ackerman, William E. Nelson, and the present writer are moving beyond this debate's stale polarities. Instead. they suggest, American constitutionalism embodies an ever-shifting balance between these two bodies of thought; there was thus no dramatic sea-change from one to the other.
The sea-change is real, and the victory of liberalism over republicanism connects to the victory of technocracy and scientism. Virtue is an explicit prior. There's no way it could be expected to prevail in the age of objectivity, reason, and "value free" science. But capitalism can thrive.

Technocracy is not democracy. It's become a stock phrase for me. And though Ackerman and Balkin, et al. (again) make arguments founded in republicanism, in Balkin's case at least I've always said he's never made arguments forcefully enough. Spencer Coxe: "The ACLU is a conservative organization" Another stock phrase, though sometimes I write "institution".  Republicanism is conservative. The focus is on the freedom of a people, not on freedom of persons: on the plural, not the singular. In the context of modern American political debate, republicanism is the moral equivalent of Stalinism. None of the writers above claim to be anything but liberal.
related, continuing.

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