Monthly Archives: April 2006

Language Log between soft covers

The Language Log goes into books, against type: “Naturally, Mark and I see ourselves as being basically of the post-print era. Cyber-aware, web-initiated, silicon-sinewed, HTML-savvy guys. Books, for us, are those old, musty things bound in calf skin that line the walls of the studies of older scholars. Books are for geezers. We do most of our research through web browsers, like everybody else now. We belong to the 21st century, not the 14th. We are much too modern for books. Oh, sure, we do keep a few books around, but just a few that we care about. Roughly four or five thousand each, I estimate, looking at the bookshelves in his Philadelphia apartment, and recalling the shelves in the Santa Cruz house and office that I will be returning to this July. The Cambridge Grammar; Syntactic Structures; a first edition of Dracula; that sort of thing. But mostly we are postbiblic.”

Buy Far From the Madding Gerund now to help them fight the good fight and soar ahead of Dan Brown in the charts.

The earth didn't move

Living in the Bay Area, it’s been impossible to avoid the many commemorations of the great San Francisco earthquake, which struck 100 years ago this morning. Fortunately, today the earth didn’t move. At least, not so that I could feel it: there are hundreds of imperceptible quakes each week in California and I’m sure today was no exception.

My wife can’t understand why I don’t go to bed fearful of the Big One striking while we sleep. We live, after all, a very short walk from the Hayward fault, which is seismologists’ best bet for the next major quake in California. I may just be oblivious, but I am also aware of how shaky statistics such as “there’s a 30% chance of the Big One hitting the Bay Area in the next 30 years” are. Maybe yes, maybe no.

Brad DeLong versus Amanda Congden? Easy choice

Perhaps stung by the popularity of Amanda Congden’s Rocketboom, Berkeley economist Brad DeLong seems to have added a regular video element to his essential weblog. The first installments of Morning Coffee are as good as I expected, but I wonder why Brad seems to be imbedding the QuickTime video in his blog, rather than making it available in his full-text feed as an enclosure.

Piffle on copyright

Ian Anderson, from Jethro Tull, has a complete piece of piffle on copyright in today’s Financial Times (fortunately for subscribers only, so most people will miss it). His point? Europe “only” provides 50 years of copyright for recordings, compared to 95 years in the US and 70 years in Australia, Singapore and Brazil. “Under UK and European legislation, the band’s first album, This Was (1968), is due to fall out of copyright in just 12 years’ time.” More terrifyingly, “Sir Cliff Richard’s first recordings start to fall out of copyright protection in just over two years’ time.”
Anderson argues that “thousands of working musicians” are harmed by this premature loss of copyright. Needless to say, no real figures are given.

The musicians who are fortunate enough to be earning royalties 50 years after their work’s release are not artists starving in chilly garrets. Almost by definition, those works that still have considerable commercial value 50 years on have made their creators very wealthy individuals indeed. I’m sure Larry Lessig has run the numbers on this kind of argument, but I’d wager that a tiny slice of total royalty income comes from work more than 10 years old, and a nearly infinitessimal amount comes from work more than 40 years old.

There must be an editor at the FT who is a Jethro Tull fan from way back, because I can’t figure why else this nonsense would be granted valuable column inches.

Martin Wolf looks at Europe and gets depressed

Martin Wolf, never the sunniest of economic commentators, is very worried at the state of Europe. He examines the “big three” of continental Europe — Germany, France and Italy — and finds weak, timid governments (subscribers only: I’ll repeat again that Wolf is the single columnist most grievously ill-served by a subscription firewall. His audience should be in the millions, not the mere handful, however powerful, that read the FT):

It is not that reforms have been absent; it is rather that they have been grossly inadequate. It is also not that policymaking elites are unaware of the challenges; it is rather that they are unwilling to expound them. In France, remarkably, the population seems to believe that everybody can – and should – be treated just like a civil servant. They seek a miraculous combination of almost absolute job security with rising prosperity. In a rapidly changing world, this is a form of collective cognitive disorder.

Administrative centralism tempered by popular upheaval has been the historic characteristic of France. Localism and clientelism have similarly characterised Italy’s politics. In Germany, unification has also made the country less governable: without it a grand coalition would presumably have been unnecessary. None of these countries has found it easy to change direction without turmoil. France is even achieving turmoil and no change in direction.

The world must now contemplate a future in which the continent’s most important countries have fragile governments presiding over disgruntled populations. Given their weight, these countries can make it impossible for the EU to function, by undermining the effectiveness of the European Commission, assailing the single market, resisting enlargement and opposing concessions needed to complete multilateral trade negotiations inside the World Trade Organisation. These governments augur ill, therefore, not just for domestic reform, but for the fate of the eurozone, the EU, and the EU’s role in the world. Failures of domestic politics and of public education on this scale cause more than a few little local difficulties. They have malign consequences for the wider world.

Not flat

Ed Leamer’s review of Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, in the Journal of Economic Literature, provides a wonderful review of economic geography and trade theory, while making it clear just how bumpy the world really is. I’ve been largely unsuccessful explaining to a number of friends why Friedman’s latest makes my blood pressure rise, but now I have something wonderful to point to (via Marginal Revolution).

Physically, culturally, and economically the world is not flat. Never has been, never will be. There may be vast flat plains inhabited by indistinguishable hoi polloi doing mundane tasks, but there will also be hills and mountains from which the favored will look down on the masses. Our most important gifts to our offspring are firm footholds on those hills and mountains, far from the flat part of the competitive landscape. Living in the United States helps a lot, and will continue to. Though personal pleasure is our real goal, as a byproduct, we provide our children highly loaded dice to roll at the genetic craps table. Beyond the all-important luck of the draw, it takes the kind of education that releases rather than constrains their natural talent. We send our children to good private schools and then on to UCLA. The rest is up to them.

Leamer’s 55-page review has far more content than Friedman’s easily digested 608 pages. It takes serious concentration to read, but it’s well worth the effort. I wish, however, the editor had blue-pencilled the cutesy opening two pages. One cutesy paragraph, good, two pages, too much.