Notes from the Pow Wow

This past weekend I attended both the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow and the Nizhoni Days Pow Wow. Some observations:

1. Like any large gathering of people who self-identify in a common way, a lot of the fun seems to be seeing people like you and feeling the sense of community that can be hard to feel when you know abstractly that they’re out there but can’t see them. In normal life you have to adapt to society, but here, for a little while, you are society. Outsiders (like me) were only a small percentage of attendees.

2. The participants came from all over the place. Most were from the American and Canadian Plains and West, where one would expect, but not all. Not all are living in or near tribal communities. This one wasn’t too surprising but it was nice to see.

3. The Gathering of Nations is structured around several competitions: a few categories of dancing, hand drum (with singing, mostly in English), the Miss Indian World competition. This seems like a very efficient way to organize large gatherings that don’t have a very specific mission.

4. Though the participants come from many different backgrounds, the dance competitions featured a few standardized Pan-Indian styles of dance. The interesting part is that these are not “traditional” but relatively recent. For example the “fancy dance” was developed in the 1920s and ’30s in Oklahoma and quickly became a major style throughout the US and Canada. On a related note synthetic materials made up the majority of the costumes. Many people had quality moccasins or leather goods but these are living, adapting cultures even if they keep selling authentic stuff to tourists (and using it themselves, naturally). Almost all of the hand drum competitors wore street clothes, as did the drummers who play during the dances.

5. At some point we have to talk about words. Specifically endonyms. “Native” or “Native American” is common, but also “Indian” and (infrequently) “indigenous” in addition to the various tribal names. However one refers to this community the name debate seems much less heated than the politicized debate outside of it indicates.

6. I am always interested in seeing what sports teams people like, to make a mental map of sports fandom I suppose, and I couldn’t help noticing here as well. The Dallas Cowboys seem to have a plurality of football fans but that’s mainly due to so many of the people living in areas where the team is popular anyway. Next up was the Arizona Cardinals for the same reason. Likewise, teams with national followings, e.g. Green Bay or Pittsburgh, were also well represented. The noteworthy thing was that there were a lot of fans of other teams you wouldn’t necessarily expect: Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs. Cleveland in particular had a lot of fans. Based on the participant lists almost nobody was from these areas, so these are people who went out of their way to be fans of these franchises. This, too, is a big debate outside of the community that doesn’t seem to be nearly so important inside of it. (It happens but not all the time and opinions are far from uniform, as we’ve seen.) It’s possible that some of them were wearing these items more for style than for actual interest in sports—think of how common the New York Yankees logo is—but that makes the point even stronger.

To people with exposure to modern Indian culture none of this should be surprising. To people without such exposure a kind of “Indigenism” is common akin to what Edward Said called “Orientalism” in another context. Indigenism is motivated by the desire to be respectful but still treats Indian cultures as overly exotic, monolithic, stylized, and essentially fragile. They aren’t.

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Wednesday nexus

Freddie deBoer bemoans writing and discussing things on the internet. From my limited perspective what he describes is more of a problem for left-wing folks on the internet than for other groups, but the problem applies all over.

David Friedman debunks another misrepresentation of something Darwin wrote. Darwin seems to be one of the biggest targets of this kind of misrepresentation. The other is Herbert Spencer.

The FBI admits flaws in its hair matching analysis over several decades. That it happened for so long is disappointing but not shocking. That they admitted it is encouraging and shocking. I guess the pressure was too much. I covered a similar story recently.

Odd notes in a 1990 NFL scouting report.

The West Lothian question from the outside

The West Lothian question is an interesting window into British politics. The summary from Wikipedia:

The West Lothian question refers to whether MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, sitting in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, should be able to vote on matters that affect only England, while MPs from England are unable to vote on matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

Take a moment to think about this. (If you’re British or otherwise familiar with the issue, try to step outside of that frame.) On the surface it seems perfectly reasonable to mandate that England-only laws get the same treatment from the UK parliament as the others. One possible counterargument is that, with England making up the major part of the UK at 83.9% of its total 2011 population, an English assembly would become the de facto decision-making body, although (a) constitutionally, matters that affect all the constituent countries are voted on by MPs from all of them and (b) the political parties can and usually do cross the internal borders, so this is probably of minimal practical concern. There might be other counterarguments that are also reasonable from a third-party view; I’m not an expert on the topic and I’m open to making a different judgment with more data. But country X votes for country X laws makes sense in the abstract.

So why is it a simmering, unresolved issue? I got a vague sense of it reading the article until somewhere after the halfway point when it was stated clearly: the Labour [sic] Party is disproportionately well-represented outside England and resists changing this part of the system. In fact, on some votes on England-only issues they don’t get a majority of the English MPs but get a majority overall. Maybe their justifications are the most convincing but they don’t seem particularly strong to me, an outside observer with no dog in the fight. (Or if I have one I can’t identify which one it is.)

As an aside, this is particularly interesting in light of the Scottish referendum on independence last year. My own personal preference is for more and smaller states rather than fewer and larger states, ceteris paribus, although in this specific case I wasn’t even remotely informed and didn’t get a vote anyway. I read a variety of takes, including some making the classical liberal argument for voting No in the referendum by saying essentially that the SNP is less classically liberal than what they’re getting now, so even if independence is appealing in the abstract staying in the union was the least bad option. As Scotland was long dominated by Labour and as Labour is steadily losing ground to SNP, maybe this will tip the scales in the future.

The West Lothian question is reminiscent of an issue in US politics, but I’ll save that for a future post.

Social science dialogue with Bockman and Boettke

Earlier today I watched a presentation on the crisis in the social sciences, with Johanna Bockman representing sociology and Pete Boettke representing economics. Boettke brought his usual social science ecumenicism to the table—anybody familiar with his work on the Ostroms?*—and Bockman gave what I presume to be the less enthusiastic but similar answer from a sociological perspective. I don’t have enough background to know what somebody representing the discipline as a whole would say. There was an odd amount of talk about doing sociology on social media, but I digress.

I don’t want to recap the whole thing, but there are a few points I thought were interesting.

1. Critics of Hayek have a very different perception of his influence than fans of Hayek. He was at one point an incredibly influential economist, no doubt, and even long after this influence waned he was still respected for his work even if this respect was more formal than heartfelt. The Thatcher and Reagan governments paid lip service to his ideas, which is where I think the confusion comes from, but as a fan of Hayek I don’t see much beyond talking points to indicate any deeper understanding or commitment. The collapse of the Soviet bloc made Hayek popular again outside of the small group of people who kept the flame during the Samuelsonian domination.

From Ebenstein’s biography of Hayek:

Hayek’s following was strongest at LSE and, by the later 1930s, almost all of those who had been Hayekians a few years before had shifted to Keynes. Ludwig Lachmann, an Austrian-oriented economist who studied with Hayek during this period, recalled that when he arrived at LSE in the early ’30s, “everybody was a Hayekian; at the end of the decade there were only two of us: Hayek and myself.” Hicks wrote that Hayek’s “audience dispersed.”

Bockman mentioned more than once that despite his interest in spontaneous order he was on the boards of “hundreds” of organizations, think tanks, etc., implying that he was a hypocrite. Boettke was too polite to really give this charge the refutation it deserved, but in short when almost all of the powerful forces in society are trying to plan things centrally it might take constant effort to promote the ideas that would lead to institutional settings whereby order beyond the most basic could emerge. (It’s my personal opinion that most people who criticize the idea of spontaneous order, or emergent order as I prefer to call it, don’t really understand it.) Add to this the fact that being on the board of an organization does not mean the organization dances to your tune. Sometimes people like to get big names associated with their organization even if they don’t do much of the work. Hayek’s day still had 24 hours in it just like ours. What Boettke did point out rightly was that you need to compare this to others in the field. When you do that you find Hayek’s influence being very minimal next to Keynes, Samuelson, and Stanley Fischer, the last two being Boettke’s examples. In his words, Hayek was “peeing in the ocean.”

Hayek’s critics also don’t understand the vast influence of Hayek’s opponents on policy worldwide, nor the fact that failures in Keynesian-Samuelsonian policy and in Soviet central planning were what led, respectively, to Western economists and then to economists the world over being receptive to Hayek’s ideas again. His books where still on the shelves, people simply weren’t reading them.

2. I don’t know why I never connected these dots before, but people who know about Hayek and don’t like him are the only people I can think of that consistently refer to him as “von Hayek” in speech. I see the tactic: emphasize the noble title to paint him as a defender of the Ancien Regime. This despite the fact that noble titles were banned in Austria in 1919 and that he doesn’t seem to have used it himself after that. (His signature read “F.A. Hayek”.) And despite the fact that he was not a defender of the Ancien Regime. If this seems like a nitpick on my part, it seems deliberate on theirs.

3. Boettke was probably more confusing to the other side of the audience than he realized. In addition to talking about social science broadly and representing the rational choice side, he was also talking about debates within economics, the mainline vs. mainstream stuff he covered at length in Living Economics, in his History of Economic Thought course, and elsewhere. I think they may have gotten some of his point but not all of it. Not that this is a complaint. I can’t think of a way to do it better and still stay on topic, and he didn’t get to pick the topic.

4. One of the audience members who seemed to be on the sociology side of the audience asked what hash tag should be used for live tweets. Somehow the consensus answer from those who spoke up was #firestorm, which I thought was silly and which I haven’t looked up yet but might later. I think they thought it was going to get a lot more heated than it did. I guess they hadn’t seen Boettke speak before and didn’t know how open he is in social science discussions.

There were plenty of other points covered but these were the things I left thinking about. I had to cut out slightly early so I missed a lot of the Q&A, so maybe I’ll hear about a real bombshell when I look up #firestorm later.


* This clause originally read “anybody heard him talk about Ostrom before?” but he took issue with that admittedly informal characterization.

Wednesday nexus

Innovations in governance: Off-world colonies of the Canadian Arctic. Conditions in the Canadian Arctic and on Mars are very different from conditions elsewhere; efficient long-term governance might look very different there. On a related note, Alex Tabarrok defends the company town and private proprietary cities.

The Future of Economic Development: A Conversation Between Tyler Cowen and Jeffrey Sachs. I wasn’t able to be there in person but there’s video.

Nice unintentional prophecy at about 4:30 in this clip of Vin Scully’s radio call of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, the anniversary of which was last week. Also baseball-related: The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule.

FiveThirtyEight credulously shares a poorly-conceived, allegedly economics-based piece about the wage gap. If your results show firms becoming more sexist as the costs of sexism increase you need an explanation beyond “because sexism” to make it work.

[Side note: In general I had high hopes for FiveThirtyEight. I now realize that was premature.]

The History of Byzantium podcast continues to impress.

The Hole-in-the-Wall Pass had a long history of overlapping use by many different outlaw gangs:

Geographically, the hideout had all the advantages needed for a gang attempting to evade the authorities. It was easily defended and impossible for lawmen to access without detection by the outlaws concealed there. It contained an infrastructure, with each gang supplying its own food and livestock, as well as its own horses. A corral, livery stable, and numerous cabins were constructed, one or two for each gang. Anyone operating out of there adhered to certain rules of the camp, to include a certain way in handling disputes with other gang members, and never stealing from another gang’s supplies. There was no leader with each gang adhering to its own chain of command. The hideout was also used for shelter and a place for the outlaws to lay up during the harsh Wyoming winters.

Wednesday nexus

New Mexico’s legislature passed a law ending civil forfeiture. Some commentary. Will the (Republican) governor sign it? I’m a little out of the loop of NM politics but I would be surprised since she has a law-n-order background and obviously wants to run for president soon.

“Everything is problematic”: an insider’s critique of the student activist social justice movement. Very insightful.

Are economics majors anti-social? A study that, to me as an economist, seems remarkably silly even though one of the co-authors is an economist. (He’s also an activist though.) Economics classes make students less likely to donate to left-leaning or generic but ineffectual organizations? Is this a Bad Thing?

The early history of British (free?) trade. Commerce with out-groups is a very old phenomenon.

A program that guesses an author’s gender based on a writing sample. Sort of fun/interesting but not very useful, not for me anyway.