Category: Liberal Arts

Economics – Law – Philosophy – etc.

Shortage and storage

With the recent spike in food prices, a three year old post demands new life. Here it is: Clearly, were there to be a famine, a one year food supply in the basement would look really good. What may be slightly less obvious is that the presence of food storage, even if nobody ever uses any of it for an emergency, can stop a famine from ever actually happening.

Coase on Abortion

Estimates suggest that, on average, Americans behave as if they value a year of their life at, more or less, $100,000. This would put an average American life at a “revealed preferred” value of somewhere around $7 million.

Religious Pragmatism

Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” [1] In various writings, he expanded that claim, contrasting a natural law approach to justifying legal and ethical rules of conduct with his own more modest approach rooted in history and experience and falling under the broad perspective labeled pragmatism. Since religion in general and Mormonism in particular have many rules of conduct for which a variety of justifications grounded in natural law, experience, and history are held out, Holmes’ approach may shed some light on how we do this.

Summer Seminar update

For those interested in the BYU summer seminar, I’ve revised the post, adding the titles of and abstracts for the papers.

BYU Summer Seminar

The annual summer symposium, this year “Joseph Smith and His Times,” will be held on Thursday, August 9, 2007. The symposium will feature papers by twelve summer seminar fellows on the theme “Mormon Thinkers, 1890-1930,” covering topics ranging from the influence of Herbert Spencer on Mormon thought to Mormonism and Modernity.

Markets and Consumer Activism

With fair regularity, one hears someone talking of efforts to buy less of some commercial product, either out of a desire for global conservation or because he doesn’t like how it is produced or whatever. Invariably, he comments that his own effect on the market is small, but he wishes to “send a message” or help along some broader movement. Within a plausible model of markets. there are easily understood conditions under which this small effect is actually zero, and remains zero even if he is joined by many like-minded individuals. At which point one wonders if the “message” being sent is “I don’t understand how markets work”.

Fixing the Minimum Wage

It seems pretty clear that we are heading for a hike in the minimum wage. For the many of us who care about poverty reduction, which would be basically all of us, this could be a big deal. The problems with the minimum wage are that it:

The Opportunity Cost of Publishing

In this excellent post, Rosalynde talks about the gender differences in subject material among Deseret Book writers. This renews the discussion brought up by Taryn Nelson-Seawright on the same difference existing in other Mormon outlets. Explanations abound for this phenomena, ranging from differing preferences to piggy discrimination, but most of them are sort of boring. Here’s one that is at least slightly more interesting:

Why Europeans look lazy

It is a well established fact that Europeans perform vastly less formal market work than Americans. A less known fact is that this is a recent development— in the late 50s, Europeans worked about 10% more hours, but this has been in steady decline for 40 years, until now they work about 30% fewer hours than Americans.

Camels, Needles, Heaven

Rich people who pay tithing are, by all accounts, still losers compared to the poor. Or, anyway, though their ten percent is a lot more money, it is money that had little effect on their life and so is not a very impressive sacrifice. Thus their salvation is put in jeapardy by diminishing marginal returns! How does the Kingdom deal with this?

Peak oil and taxes

On the Urban thread, Jonathan Green pointed out that the major issue with oil scarcity may not be how much oil we have in the ground, but how much we can pump in a given year. If we are maxed out on supply for a year, any oil disaster creates a huge crunch.

The Real Danger?

[NOTE: After initially posting this, I soon removed it because I was made aware that it was unnecessarily divisive. This was not my intent. However, I am putting it back up, unaltered, in the interest of debate. Additionally, one commenter pointed out that it was unfair to delete the post after people had commented, something I hadn’t considered when I took the post down. “For the record,” therefore, if for no other reason, I am reposting this.]

Tomorrow morning, at 2 AM

Once a year, after enduring a grueling six hours of church in one day, I lay down to sleep knowing that during the wee hours of the night I will be robbed of one whole hour. It is time to forever abolish Daylight Saving Time.

Defining terrorism

By request, this morning I am going to talk about defining terrorism. The first important thing you need to realize is that there is no single widely accepted definition, either in academia or in the policy world. Everyone uses their own. So we’re going to talk about how you can build your own definition of terrorism.

Prophecy vs. History

Not too long ago, I stumbled across the PBS presentation of Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel (2d ed. 1999). It reminded me of dealing with the book at college and enjoying the ideas presented and the sweeping take of world history that it offered. But while watching the presentation and contemplating the message of the book itself, I was reminded about how much Diamond’s whole analysis depends solely on inference from extremely scant historical evidence.[1]

And Justice for All

I apologize in advance for writing about a topic that is at least closely related to, if not the same as Nate’s. But it is his fault. He made me start thinking about the question of freedom and its relation to justice.

The Mormon Bankrupt

Utah has a very high rate of bankruptcy. In 2000 it hovered at around 7 filings per thousand people– twice the national average. This lonely fact has launched a thousand explanations for why Mormons have such a problem with defaulting on their creditors. Clearly, the thinking seems to be, this shows some of the rot in the Kingdom. Just as clearly, this view has very little support in the data.

Is Poverty Satanic?

One of the most important scriptural texts for the theological consideration of poverty is to be found in Alma 32. This chapter discusses Alma’s mission to the Zoramites. During a sermon on the hill Onidah, Alma is approached by a group of impoverished individuals who were “poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world” (v. 4). In effect, because of poverty and social exclusion, these people had become an ideal audience for Alma’s missionary efforts. So the question arises: Is poverty therefore a virtuous force, bringing people to Christ who would otherwise reject the gospel message?