Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quotes of the day

To promote an efficient allocation of scarce resources, relative prices should reflect true social costs. Shielding consumers via the regulatory process, rather than through tax cuts, fails to achieve that goal and, as a result, makes environmental protection more costly than it needs to be.--Greg Mankiw

The big remaining issue is the [insurance] subsidies. Make them too big, and your constituents will murder you because their taxes will go up. Make them too small, and your constituents will murder you because they have an expensive new mandate to buy insurance. I'm not sure there is any "just right" in this scenario.--Megan McArdle

Earlier I alluded to cases where liberals (including me) do not slavishly adhere to utilitarianism. One case I could cite for myself would be seat-belt laws. I think these laws probably do “work,” but they offend my sense of dignity. The government treats adults like children. Of course I could argue that “dignity” should go into my utility function; but that would be unfair, it would turn utilitarianism into a virtual tautology. So I’d rather just grant Bryan [Caplan]’s point in that case. BTW, most real world liberals do support seat-belt laws, precisely for utilitarian reasons. So I’d rather just grant Bryan’s point in that case. BTW, most real world liberals do support seat-belt laws, precisely for utilitarian reasons. I recently had lunch with Brink Lindsey, and he gave me a good example of where liberalism and utilitarianism diverge. He noted that liberals would oppose a system of requiring prisoners to donate kidneys, even though it could save many lives. I agree.--Scott Sumner

Polymaths were the product of a particular time, when great learning was a mark of distinction and few people had money and leisure. Their moment has passed, like great houses or the horse-drawn carriage. The world may well be a better place for the specialisation that has come along instead. The pity is that progress has to come at a price. Civilisation has put up fences that people can no longer leap across; a certain type of mind is worth less. The choices modern life imposes are duller, more cramped. The question is whether their loss has affected the course of human thought. Polymaths possess something that monomaths do not. Time and again, innovations come from a fresh eye or from another discipline. Most scientists devote their careers to solving the everyday problems in their specialism. Everyone knows what they are and it takes ingenuity and perseverance to crack them. But breakthroughs—the sort of idea that opens up whole sets of new problems—often come from other fields. The work in the early 20th century that showed how nerves work and, later, how DNA is structured originally came from a marriage of physics and biology. ... Isaiah Berlin once divided thinkers into two types. Foxes, he wrote, know many things; whereas hedgehogs know one big thing. The foxes used to roam free across the hills. Today the hedgehogs rule. --Edward Carr

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