A Selection of Worthwhile Email Messages I Have Written...
J. Bradford DeLong
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
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...
Barlett and Steele, Who Pays the
Taxes? Why you shouldn't trust this book
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
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.
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
we doomed to forever want more stuff? Probably...
How to think about who really pays the taxes the government
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?
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?
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
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...
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...
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