November 22, 2008

Weekend special: Denny Dimwit on the economic crisis

In view of the current economic crisis, Goat Rope has invited a veteran animal commentator to shed light on the situation. Long-time readers will no doubt remember bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit.

Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Public Policy Foundation, a fellow at many libertarian and conservative think tanks, and has served as a senior economic advisor to the Bush administration. His credentials are such that we feel very honored to have him as our resident scholar (and are somewhat surprised that he hasn't been hired by WVU).

It is our hope that, by providing space for (bio)diverse viewpoints, we are elevating the level of public discourse and creating a climate of mutual respect and deep listening.


Crudawackadingdong! What's all this stupid crap you've put in this blog lately, anyway? I've picked the seeds out of better piles than this!

All this whining about a recession--get over it! The market knows what it's doing. It always does. It knows everything. And if the market wants to dookie in your dinner bucket, suck it up!

Extending unemployment benefits and regulating the financial industry? No way! Haven't you dingles ever heard of supply and demand? They always balance out--see? And that's good for everybody, even if you're dead.

I can prove it empiroeconomicallistically. Check out the picture. The handsome little guy in the front is me. Pretty sharp, huh? I bet you wish you were more like me--too bad that's not going to happen.

OK, so I represent demand. Now, check out who's in the picture with me. That's right, I'm talking BIG hen. Ginormous. Yowza! She represents supply--and she's with me, bub, got it? That's what I'm talking about. That proves there's no problem. Perfect equilibrium, baby!

That's the beauty of the market. And that's the truth. You bet your cloaca.


November 21, 2008

Acting bad

The toy monkey insulted this man's honor.

El Cabrero is musing this week about how some cultures evolved in situations which promoted the use or threat of violence as a survival asset. Let me state again that people who want to make the world less violent would do well to try to understand the factors that contribute to violence.

As I mentioned yesterday, the researchers Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen came up with some interesting findings as reported in their book, Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South. I consider Appalachia to be a distinct cultural area from the deep south but they discuss that region as well.

The authors note that one leading cause of male violence is

the sense of threat to one of his most valued possessions, namely, his reputation for strength and toughness. In many of the world's cultures, social status, economic well-being, and life itself are linked to such a reputation. This is true wherever gaining resources, or keeping them, depends on the community's believing that the individual is capable of defending himself against predation. If resources are abundant or are not subject to theft (like those of most traditional farming peoples, for example), then a reputation for toughness has little value. But if resources are in a scarce or unpredictable supply, and if they are sufficiently portable that theft is a practicable route to bounty, then toughness has great economic value. Potential predators will go elsewhere rather than risk dealing with a man who knows how to defend himself and his possessions and who appears to be not afraid to die.

Again, such cultural values tend to develop in herding societies, where wealth is mobile, but they can last long after social conditions have changed.

I would write more about this subject today, but I'm off on a cattle raid...

UNEMPLOYMENT. The US Senate yesterday approved an extension of unemployment benefits. unemployment benefits. Here's some information showing why that's a good idea.

SITTING HERE IN LIMBO. Waiting for decisive action on the economy even for a few months could be really, really bad, as Paul Krugman argues in today's op-ed.

THINKING BIG. From Foreign Policy, here's an interview on the state of things with economist Jeffrey Sachs.

CAR TALK. Here's Dean Baker on the proposed bailout to the automotive industry.



November 20, 2008

Cultures of honor

Stewpot Rooster was always ready to defend his honor.

Lately Goat Rope is looking at how cultural factors can shape people's attitudes towards violence. As noted previously, in societies where the good things of life are scarce and easily stolen, people often develop attitudes that support the use or threat of violence to defend goods, status and respect.

Social scientists refer to such societies as "cultures of honor," but that term may require a little unpacking. The term honor, after all, has many meanings. In this case, we are not referring to honor in terms of moral rectitude or virtue such as Samuel Johnson did in his dictionary. Johnson defined honor as "nobility of soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness."

Instead, as Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen argue in Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South, the term refers to societies in which

The individual is prepared to protect his reputation--for probity or strength or both--by resort to violence. Such cultures seem to be particularly likely to develop where (1) the individual is at economic risk from his fellows and (2) the state is weak or nonexistent and thus cannot prevent or punish theft of property.

Think Wild West, prisons, rough city neighborhoods or schools, isolated but dangerous rural areas, herding societies, etc. Cultures (and subcultures) of honor have developed in many parts of the world where similar conditions prevail. And once a culture acquires certain traits, they can often endure long after the conditions that engendered them have changed.

ON A RELATED NOTE, here's a article about the influence of war on human evolution.

WHAT HE SAID. Here's Gazette columnist and economics professor John David writing in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

HUNGRY PLANET. From the New Yorker, this is an interesting take on the global food crisis that takes a swipe or two at market fundamentalism.

SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE don't watch a whole lot of television.

FAILED CHARM OFFENSIVE. Here's what Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship had to say about the recent settlement of a lawsuit by the widows of the Aracoma mine fire.

WOOLY MAMMOTHS, ANYONE? Scientists are talking seriously about cooking one up.


November 19, 2008

I herd that

Don't even think about it.

Sometimes one good book will lead to another. I recently read and highly recommend Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, even though I'm sure it will bust the bubbles of many readers who are uncomfortable about our animal origins.

In that book, he pretty much demolishes some cherished ideas, such as the belief that all human behaviors are purely social constructions ("the blank slate"), that all nasty human traits are the result of culture ("the noble savage"), and that our minds are somehow floating ghosts that haunt the region of our heads ("the ghost in the machine").

In one part of the book, Pinker revisited the ideas of Thomas Hobbes and referred to a study by Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen that found that

violent cultures arise in societies that are beyond the reach of law and in which precious assets are easily stolen. Societies that herd animals meet both conditions. Herders tend to live in territories that are unsuitable for growing crops and thus far from the centers of government. And their major asset, livestock, is easier to steal than the major asset of farmers, land. In herding societies a man can be stripped of his wealth (and of his ability to acquire wealth) in a blink. Men in that milieu cultivate a hair trigger for violent retaliation, not just against rustlers, but against anyone who would test their resolve by signs of disrespect that could reveal them to be easy pickings for rustlers.

Golly willikers, I wonder what it would be like to grow up in a culture like that? And keep your hands of my goats, bub...

But seriously, that is an interesting idea. Sometimes cultural norms often long outlive the situation that gave birth to them. But if you think about it, many people all over the US and the world live in situations where there is no positive relationship with a governing authority and where all the perceived good things of life--from respect and status to money and valuables--can be taken away.

CRYSTAL BALL. Here is one prediction about the near future of the economy in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. Short version: bad but maybe not as bad as the nation as a whole. That'd be a switch.

OWN TO RENT. Economist Deal Baker proposes a simple solution to the foreclosure crisis here.


THE SOUL IN THE STONE. An archaeological artifact reveals ancient attitudes towards immortality.


November 18, 2008

Chips and blocks

Roosters are not generally known for their conflict resolution skills.

Lately, Goat Rope has been exploring the cultural influences that shape how different people tend to think about violence and fighting.

My own family has deep roots in the gizzard of Appalachia. This is a nice place, but some of us around here descend from long lines of...shall we say...spirited Scotch-Irish people and even more spirited Celts. Some of the really crazy ones were on my father's side.

Those people were interesting, fun and colorful characters. They could be extremely generous and very gracious hosts and could really turn a phrase (provided you didn't mind some artful profanity). But many of them had what we might call a liberal attitude about scrapping when provoked.

There was even a saying in one branch of my family that people would say when someone displayed a lack of courage or spirit: "Where's your fightin' Gillespie?"

I wonder about the force of tradition and heredity. I am generally speaking a peaceful person. My day job consists of working for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization tolerant enough to hire me and even let me do this blog. I've spent a lot of time working on various ways of non-violently resolving conflict.

However, I've spent decades studying and practicing the fighting arts and would do it all the time if I could get away with it, bad knees and all. I love a good tussle, although generally of the non-physical variety.

My daughter (La Cabrita), a Ph. D. student in psychology, observed that I seemed prouder of her when she recently defeated a more advanced opponent at a karate tournament than for anything else she'd done. What can I say?--her kicks were awesome! My son (El Cabrito) could relate similar stories.

When they were little kids, La Cabrita out of the blue kicked El Cabrito across the room with a picture perfect side thrust kick. I am embarrassed to say that the first words that escaped my lips were "Good kick!"

That was something my great grandfather might have said...

Anyhow, I've recently read some interesting social science research on that might explain how some cultures (such as my own) got to be that way. As I've frequently argued, those who want to make the world less violent would do well to understand the things that contribute to violence. About which more tomorrow.

DADDY, WHAT'S A TRAIN? was a Utah Phillips song my kids enjoyed when they were little (and weren't kicking each other). On that note, here is an interesting take on the auto bailout currently being discussed and a call for investments in mass transit.

UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM on taxes and economic growth here.

ARACOMA. Widows of two men killed in the Massey Energy mine fire in 2006 settled their suit yesterday.



November 17, 2008

Hill people

Note to email subscribers: I hit the wrong button and accidentally published an earlier draft that may have wound up in your mailbox. My bad!

Several years ago, a friend loaned me a copy of James Webb's Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. El Cabrero is himself a member of that bellicose tribe, as are many of my fellow Appalachians.

(This was before Webb launched his political career and I remember thinking at the time that I kind of liked this guy--too bad he was a Reaganite. That issue has since been resolved.)

While I am normally averse to ethnic generalizations, our people do have a pretty long and deep combative heritage. After all, the Roman emperor Hadrian built his wall to keep our kind out--and I can't say I blame him all that much.

Looking back at my own family, it seems like I had ancestors in every major American war going back to the Revolution (generally although not always on the side of the United States). They probably invented some of their own as well.

When I came of age, I felt the tug of that tradition. The main reason I didn't enlist was that this was the beginning of the Reagan era and I didn't think that killing poor Latin American workers and farmers in the interests of the wealthy--a realistic possibility at the time--was just or legitimate.

I had to get my hillbilly ya yas out in a different way. But they didn't go away.

More along this line to come...

SIGNS OF THE TIMES. It's no surprise that bankruptcies are on the way up.

THEN AND NOW. Here's a look at the Great Depression and some lessons from it that could apply now.

THIS COULD GET INTERESTING. From the Charleston Gazette:

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Friday to hear an appeal of whether West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin should have stepped aside in a case involving Massey Energy, after Massey's chief executive spent millions of dollars to unseat Benjamin's opponent in the 2004 election.

As sheer random chance would have it, Benjamin tends to rule in Massey's favor. In an editorial last week, the NY Times had this to say about tainted justice. Here's hoping the court ends this disgraceful fiasco.

MEANWHILE BACK AT THE RANCH, here's the latest on the lawsuit filed by the widows of the 2006 Massey Aracoma mine fire.