Links 3/24/11


  1. Philip Pilkington

    That article on economics and biology is very interesting. From the piece that the blogger is criticising:

    “I have often said that economics, to the extent it is a science, is like biology rather than physics.”

    Now that quote comes from a site called ‘Cafe Hayek’ – and yet the assertions the author make look far more like one of those godawful spin-offs of institutionalism that take Veblen’s evolutionary metaphors a bit too literally.

    Of course, as anyone who has actually read up on the history of economic thought as it relates to the other sciences (insert gratuitous Philip Mirowski plug here…) knows, economics has FAR more in common with physics, especially 19th century energy physics, than it does with biology.

    In fact, the last time economics truly took any central metaphors from biology was back in… wait for this… the 17th century, when William Petty – a doctor by training – took over David Harvey’s innovations in the area of blood circulation to describe how economic systems work. An important metaphor for economics to gain, no doubt, but a little… erm… dated at this stage.

    But the days of borrowing from biology are well and truly over. Indeed, they ended in the early 19th century.

    I hate free-market types (read: crass ideologues). They have no sense of history. In fact, they usually just write their own. They remind me of that figure in Orwell, sitting at a desk – not in front of a pneumatic tube, but instead a laptop with WordPress open – rewriting little pieces of history as they see fit.

    “Whoops, don’t like that at all…” *airbrush* *airbrush* airbrush*, “Feeling a little bored today – think I’ll make a random assertion without any prior research…”

    1. Philip Pilkington

      “when William Petty – a doctor by training – took over David Harvey’s innovations in the area of blood circulation to describe how economic systems work”

      Uh… I meant William Harvey – David Harvey’s a Marxist geographer. Too many Williams – too few edit buttons…

    2. Rex

      I just read the article you are referencing. It makes a whole lot more sense to me than whatever point(s) you might have been trying to make.

      “economics has FAR more in common with physics, especially 19th century energy physics, than it does with biology.”

      Really? Your mind sees things very differently than mine does.

        1. alex

          No fair pulling “facts” and “history” into the debate.

          BTW, your original post was spot on. One point I’d clarify is that, while neoclassical (i.e. mainstream) economics may have originally borrowed various ideas from 19th century physics, after that they part company. Because physicists are actual scientists who think that a failure of their theories to jibe with reality means the theory is wrong, whereas most economists think it means reality is wrong, physics has progressed as a science where economics has mostly become a cult that indulges in scientism.

          1. Sufferin' Succotash

            Whether economics borrows from physics depends on the physics. Adam Smith seems to have been heavily influenced by Newtonian physics–not surprising considering the time in which he lived. If economics resembles any sort of physical theory from William Clark Maxwell on, I haven’t noticed it.

        2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          The physicists say everything derives from physics.

          For example, ‘trickle down economics’ is based on Galileo’s work at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

          The reason why whealth doesn’t trickle down at 32 ft per second per second is biologoical in nauture though – human interference with plenty of help from vampire squids and zombies.

          So, for me, I would venture to guess that it’s a bit of everything…physics, biology, theology, robotics, psychology, voodoo magic, astrology, etc.

    3. Jesse

      Economics has more in common with sociology than either biology or physics. Or maybe astrology. Sometimes it is hard to tell.

    4. notexactlyhuman

      It’s no coincidence that free market fanatics (not the con-men, but the dupes) are heavily superstitious. “Invisible hands” and revisionist history. What a ruse.

  2. Rex

    “Birds have four [colour-sensitive cells] known as cones in their retinas, while humans only have three.”

    “This additional cone in birds is sensitive to ultraviolet wavelengths [of light]. As a result, birds can see a wider range of colours than humans can.”

    Who’da thunk I would have learned that here. So the proverbial bird’s-eye view has even more going for it than I knew.

    And the antidote is in keeping with the theme.

  3. eightnine2718281828mu5

    Behind Reactor Battle, Legion of Grunts


    Since it’s the WSJ I guess we should be impressed that they didn’t characterize them as ‘blue-collar thugs’.

    1. mcgee

      Minimal education grunts too boot.

      WSJ only sees the worth of a human being as their networth and position in the corporate hierarchy.

      Those employees are literally giving their lives to save others. The WSJ should have done a hero worship piece but instead chose to do a piece insulting the sacrifice being given by these people and ultimately their families.

      Of course if the TEPCO board of directors and management team were at Fukushima leading from the front and putting their lives at risk they would be enshrined forever as heroes of humanity. Luckily that is an impossibility.

  4. sal

    Osborne’s not really cutting the corporation tax because of Ireland; he’s just a Conservative, and so likes to cut taxes for corporations. But when every country’s corporation tax is 12.5% just like Ireland’s, Ireland will be no better off. Only the corporations will be happy. Race you to the bottom!

  5. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I once thought 1/2 million year old living bacteria were news.

    Then I learned about DNA from some 419 million year old bacteria.

    I am not suprised we now have some 50 million old reptile skin protein residue.

  6. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Speaking of cuckoo arms race, biological battles rage on all fronts, including ‘search and kill’ sperms that hunt down and kill enemy sperms.

  7. john

    > Scott Walker: Bad for Wisconsin Business

    I’m a FIB (f’n Illinois bastard) who loves visiting Milwaukee and Madison, but I’m not spending a dime in that state until Walker is gone. Doing my part.

  8. Hugh

    The WSJ story on Miranda restrictions seems to have re-stirred the pot, but this story has been around nearly a year. From May 2010

    and January 2011

    I would also note SCOTUS in Berghius v. Thompkins (June 2010) weakened Miranda when it ruled that a suspect must explicitly invoke his/her right to remain silent. This is an example of burden shifting. In the past, it was up to law enforcement to get an explicit waiver of Miranda rights from a suspect. It was not the suspect’s responsibility to invoke their Miranda rights. This view should have prevailed but did not and shows how far we have fallen. Being mirandized does not confer rights on you. It is a reminder of rights you should already enjoy.

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