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Created: 2000-03-05
Last Modified: 2000-03-05
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A Selection of Worthwhile Email Messages I Have Written...

J. Bradford DeLong
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/
delong@econ.berkeley.edu


Email is a peculiar form of communication. First of all, it is impolite. Think of it: everyone writes their email in the core of their own personal space. Normally, whenever we enter anyone else's personal space--their home, their office, or their table at a restaurant--we are somewhat deferential. But our email messages are written in our personal space--where we expect to see deference, and are feeling most comfortable, confident, and dominant.

However, our email messages are delivered to their personal space. Thus a tone and manner that is appropriate to our domain is received and read in their domain.

Hence the frequency of flame wars on the internet and in email. People who would get along perfectly well if they met each other in the real world break into venomous exchanges. Everyone expects to be dealt with with the degree of respect and deference that they are accustomed to receive in the core of their own personal space. And everyone deals with others with the degree of dominance and superiority that they are accustomed to deal when in the core of their in personal space.

In addition you have to consider that--as my wife Ann Marie Marciarille says--meetings between groups of males usually have as their subtext the establishment of a dominance hierarchy. I think of an experiment I read about once, long ago. Two butterflies were each trained to think that a hilltop was "theirs" by being let out to flutter about on alternate days (and kept in darkness for their "off" day). Then they were both let out together. We don't think of butterflies as the most aggressive and territorial animals. But each of these knew that it was on its home turf and should not back down. Antennae and legs were ripped off in the struggle that followed...

But email has advantages as well--powerful ones. It combines the immediacy and responsiveness of a conversation with the ability to marshal one's arguments usually confined to written essays. And this means that email is often very much worth reading: you see people using their prose-writing muscles, and doing so not in pursuit of their own intellectual agenda but in reaction to other people's comments.

As I look back over the past several years, some of the most interesting and insightful things I have written have been in email. So I have collected and organized the relatively long and insightful email messages I have written...


Economics

Barlett and Steele, Who Pays the Taxes? Why you shouldn't trust this book at all...

Britain's Industrial Revolution. A few scattered thoughts about why the industrial revolution happened in Britain and not somewhere else.

Clinton's Economic and Social Policies. Why they are mostly good.

The End of Bretton Woods. How the consequences of the end of the Bretton Woods system were surprising to liberals and conservatives alike.

The Environment in the Developing World. What environmental standards should developing economies impose? And who should decide what they should be?

Growth Economics. Scattered thoughts on the causes, consequences, and measurement of economic growth.

What Does the Economics of Growth Have to Say About Public Policy? The title kind of says it...

The IMF and Moral Hazard. Much criticism of the IMF (the Meltzer report, for example) has a loony quality--like that old joke: "The food here is so bad." "Yes, and such small portions."

The IQ Debate. Why you shouldn't believe Charles Murray's claims that most differences in IQ are inevitable because they are written in people's genes.

Journal of Economic Perspectives. Unhappy readers complain about articles in the journal that I edit.

The Marshall Plan. The axis on which twentieth century history turns. A big reason why the world today is (relatively) prosperous, (relatively) peaceful, and (relatively) free.

Neoliberalism. What policies are best for the developing world today?

The New Economy--Some Theses. A very compressed argument about just why today's information and communications technology revolution may really be a big deal.

Price Rigidities and the Great Depression. Would more flexible prices have made the Great Depression less great?

Scarcity. Are we doomed to forever want more stuff? Probably...

Tax Incidence. How to think about who really pays the taxes the government collects.

What Difference Did Columbus Make? If Columbus had never sailed--if America had not existed--would Eurasian history from 1500 to 1800 been much different?

 

Politics

Affirmative Action. Why it's still needed.

Civil Society and Utopia.

Communism: An Assessment. The historical trajectory of a doomed form of economic and politicial organization. Was it a menace or a threat?

The Famine that Followed the Great Leap Forward. An excerpt from Roderick MacFarquahar.

Foreign Policy and the Republican Party. Why Republicans interested in a foreign policy with global reach should flee their party now.

Historical Complicity. Who is responsible today for what?

Nazis. Scattered thoughts on the really bad guys of the century.

Nixon and Soviet Espionage in America. Scattered thoughts on other bad guys.

Power: What Is It? How Does It Work? A short meditation on the different forms that interpersonal and social "power" over others can take...

Reagan: Should He Have Been Impeached? I think he probably should have been impeached--either because he knew about and approved of Iran-Contra, or because he was too out of it to understand what was going on in his own administration.

Slavery in America and Its Consequences. Was Sally Hemings a "sex slave"? Of course...

Vote for the Lesser Evil! Think of the people who wouldn't vote for Humphrey in 1968 because he wouldn't break with LBJ over Johnson's War, and of the people who didn't vote for Carter in 1980 on the grounds that the Democratic Party needed a more liberal standard bearer than the conservative governor of a small southern state...

 

Academics

Academic Standards. What's wrong with teaching America's children about fourteenth-century African emperor Mansa Musa?

Academic Technology: Let Us Cheer For It! Those who condemn the coming of the computer to academia do so with arguments that would have been used to condemn the coming of the printed book as well.

Anti-Post-Modernism. A claim that baleful trends in today's academic discourse are really the fault of the two-century dead David Hume.

Communication: Should We Write to Be Understood? Amazingly enough, I found someone who says "no." I would treat his arguments at greater length, but unfortunately I canot understand them...

 

Science

Global Warming. Beating my head against a brick wall. People who don't believe that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat. People who don't believe we are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. People who believe that carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere is immediately soaked up by plants, or the ocean, or something. People who don't believe that human activity-emitted catalysts created the ozone hole. People who don't believe that they should care about how or if their actions affect the frequency of national disasters in other countries.... And most ironic of all, in the circles in which I usually move I am seen as a dove on global warming issues.


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De Long points out that in a number of cases, Windschuttle fails--embarrassingly so--to interpret certain authors correctly. I find De Long's comments to be instructive. What disappoints me, though, is that De Long seems to grant scant attention to the premise of the book, i.e., the chilling effect "radical" postmodern thought has on professors, graduate students, and the rest of us. I would be quite fascinated to read his opinion on the matter. One wonders if the academic climate is such, due to what Dr. Windschuttle is openly (and imperfectly?) grappling with, that Dr. De Long is unable to express his thoughts and keep his job.

Contributed by Mark Laxer (chimp@radix.net) on September 10, 2000.


I don't see *any* chilling effect at all. In the world I live, it is a lot easier to get people to praise you, give you grants, and invite you to give talks for being an anti-post-modernist than for being a post-modernist...

Contributed by Brad DeLong (delong@econ.berkeley.edu) on September 14, 2000.


Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans Hall, #3880
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax
delong@econ.berkeley.edu
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/

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