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The incomparable Michelle Vaughan, who did the typography for this marvelous piece of work as well as 100 tweets has done a much more affordable limited run of Rupert Murdoch’s tweets. I recommend them to all discerning readers with a spare $30 (plus S&H) looking for some frameable wit. (Murdoch would surely like you to think of him as framed.)
Finishing up a research trip to the archives in London, I have a number of notes.
- When you are walking down the street in the center of London (aka the “Tourist Zone”), if a large group of tourists stop suddenly, causing you to have to either a) cannon into them, or b) jump sideways to avoid them, they are almost invariably Germans. Today, Covent Garden, tomorrow, Lebensraum.
- The most exciting moments of several days at the National Army Museum Templer Study Center were a) discovering a picture of Japanese officers with freshly-decapitated Chinese prisoners in front of them, and b) the moment an elderly gentleman, getting his collection of militaria appraised, unwrapped the hand grenade. (Archivist: “Has that been disarmed?” Gentleman: “I suppose so. It hasn’t gone off in 40 years.”)
- The congestion charge has reduced traffic in London enormously and made it much more livable. It has also made the bus system usable again.
- The Public Records Office (which the British have renamed the “National Archives” not realizing that no serious historian will call it anything but the “PRO.” Silly British.) has revamped its ordering and document production process so remarkably that it actually makes it a pleasure to use.
- The Tank At The End Of The Road Where I Used To Live And Now Visit: Still there. Its name is ‘Stompie.’ It’s currently painted with white stripes, aka ‘The Lion King.’
- British Prime Ministers cannot seem to manage their relations with U.S. Presidents to the satisfaction of the British. First, Blair was Bush’s poodle. Now, Gordon Brown isn’t getting good enough gifts from Obama.
- British pubs are heaven for beer drinkers. Even the nastiest, lowest, sleaziest pub has something good on tap. It’s embarrassing just thinking about mass-produced American beer over here.
Another Boxer Post this coming week.
(Posted from Heathrow Departure Lounge)
Two of the texts hiding in the prayer book have not appeared in any other copy of Archimedes’s work, so no one but Heiberg had studied them until now. One of them, titled The Method, has special historical significance. It could be considered the earliest known work on calculus. [...]
The Greek philosopher Aristotle built defenses against infinity’s vexing qualities by distinguishing between the “potential infinite” and the “actual infinite.” An infinitely long line would be actually infinite, whereas a line that could always be extended would be potentially infinite. Aristotle argued that the actual infinite didn’t exist.
Archimedes developed rigorous methods of dealing with infinity—still used today—in which he followed Aristotle’s injunction. For example, Archimedes proved that the area of a section of a parabola is four-thirds the area of the triangle inside it (shown in red in the diagram below). To do so, he built a straight-lined figure that’s an approximation of the curvy one. Then he showed that he could make the approximation as close as anyone could ever demand to both the section of the parabola and to four-thirds the area of the triangle.
The writings had been hiding in plain sight, in a palimpsest underneath a book of prayer. One wonders about the monk who scraped the parchment clean. Did he have any idea? Could he have…?
The postulation of a lost age, where human beings had made great advances in science, medicine, and mathematics, has always made for wondrous fiction (especially when the ancients had steampunk spaceships.) This discovery leaves me despairing at the fragility of progress.
Everyone knows that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (a) isn’t very good and (b) is largely borrowed from/an homage to Gunga Din.
Now, it is almost as widely assented that Gunga Din is good, or at least not very bad. Why is this so?
Partly, I think, this is because it was made in the 1930s, instead of set in the 1930s; set in the c19, a story about British imperial rule over India and crackdown on Thuggee makes some sense. Whereas the same story set in the 1930s (hi, Gandhi) and made in the 1980s, doesn’t.
Partly I think this is because, well, even if you don’t think Cary Grant is obviously cooler than Harrison Ford, you must concede that Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are cooler than Willie and Short Round.
Finally, we should note that “Gunga Din” gives this post its title, in a phrase that George MacDonald Fraser used for his memoirs of World War II—in case you thought he was funning you with Flashman’s value system, he wasn’t.
Balmy California, with year-round outdoor swimming. (AKA, “this morning at 6:55 AM or so, air temperature around freezing….”)
Sometimes working papers are better, Ezra, because they have the raw data that journal publishers deem too bulky to publish, but which is of the highest value.
Last night was the brand-new Muppet Christmas special. I haven’t watched it yet, but if you want to, it’s on Hulu.
Harry exhibiting outdoorsdogship.
If you watched the video on Understanding the Financial Crisis, you know I got asked a question something like, when did the RFC retire its bank stock. And I said, well, they’d got rid of about a quarter of it in 1935-36, but I don’t know how long it took to get rid of all of it.
I couldn’t find the answer in any obvious place, so I spent a couple hours this morning pulling it out of the Federal Reserve Bulletin 1932 onwards, and a couple of later audit reports tendered to Congress. I include it here for your interest. (Of course once I post it, I’m confident someone will point out that this is readily available in such-and-such standard reference work, but hey, such is the wages of research.) Most of the figures are as of Oct 31 of the year; the last two figures are as of June 30 and include a bit more than just the preferred stock—also notes and debentures.
Here’s what an audit of the RFC said on the subject in 1950:
The balance of investments in bank stock, notes, and debentures of $157,655,807 [at 1947] represents the unliquidated portion of over $1,125,000,000 of such investments made mainly during 1933 and 1934. At the time the Corporation made investments in bank and trust companies it was anticipated they would be retired over a period of 20 years. On this basis approximately 70 percent would have been retired at June 30, 1947; actually 86 percent had been retired at that date.1
The RFC went into liquidation itself upon an act of 1953.
1Serial Set Vol. No. 11426, Session Vol. No.22, 81st Congress, 2nd Session, H.Doc. 468, Report on audit of Reconstruction Finance Corporation and subsidiaries, p. 52.
“Small towns are where the true Americans live.”
“80% of us moved away from small towns.”
[feigning offense] “But small towns are the source of our traditional values!”
“You cannot fool me. Meth is not a small town value. It is a drug.”
Norton Juster’s The Dot and the Line is an undersung masterpiece. From its dedication—“For Euclid, no matter what they say”—to its moral—“To the vector belong the spoils”—it is a delight from end to end.
If you are so fortunate to have the experience of reading this little book still ahead of you, you should know that it is a romance of at-first unrequited love between a line and a dot. She, alas, loves a squiggle, and regards the line as a bit straight. But creativity begot of discipline prevails in the end. Along the way, the language does every bit as much work as the math (which is what you’d expect from the author of The Phantom Tollbooth).
His worried friends noticed how terribly thin and drawn he had become and did their best to cheer him up.
“She’s not good enough for you.”
“She lacks depth.”
“They all look alike anyway….”
I suppose I can’t tell you that you should love that, but I think it’s hilarious.
And the book’s concluding line makes a sublime statement about a certain kind of love.
This is a lesson in reading the notes.
Carter, Susan B. , “Labor force, employment, and unemployment: 1890–1990.” Table Ba470-477 in Historical Statistics of the United States, Earliest Times to the Present: Millennial Edition, edited by Susan B. Carter, Scott Sigmund Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Olmstead, Richard Sutch, and Gavin Wright. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Read the footnotes! Then have a look at
Weir, David R. “A Century of U.S. Unemployment, 1890-1990: Revised Estimates and Evidence for Stabilization.” Research in Economic History 14 (1992): 301-346.
And, well, you could stop right there, but that would be missing the fun. But inasmuch as neither of these sources is easy to get hold of, let me explain why this is such a fun topic.
Used to be, the unemployment series for the 1930s looked like this:
This is from a series constructed by the distinguished economist Stanley Lebergott in 1964.1
And wow, that looks bad, doesn’t it? The recession of 1937-38 almost completely wipes out any gains of the previous few years. It’s almost as if the New Deal didn’t do anything for anyone, much.
A lot of people looked at these numbers without reading the notes on how they were constructed and concluded just that.
Then in 1976, an economist named Michael R. Darby wrote an article with the delightfully self-explanatory title, “Three-and-a-Half Million U.S. Employees Have Been Mislaid.”2 What Darby did, you see, was read the notes. Here’s what Lebergott had to say about counting unemployment in the 1930s:
These estimates for the years prior to 1940 are intended to measure the number of persons who are totally unemployed, having no work at all. For the 1930′s this concept, however, does include one large group of persons who had both work and income from work—those on emergency work. In the United States we are concerned with measuring lack of regular work and do not minimize the total by excluding persons with made work or emergency jobs. This contrasts sharply, for example, with the German practice during the 1930′s when persons in the labor-force camps were classed as employed, and Soviet practice which includes employment in labor camps, if it includes it at all, as employment.3
Did you catch that? People who painted murals for the WPA fall into the same category as internees in Mauthausen or the gulag. So they count as unemployed!
One could say a few things about that.
(1) Wow, that’s a lot of ideology to cram into a single data series;
(2) if you’re using the unemployment data to answer the question, “did the New Deal help people,” then this data set is going to give you the wrong answer, because it’s going to show people suffering unemployment who in real life had a job, as Lebergott says;
(3) but what if people in emergency work acted like the unemployed—i.e., they were looking for a job and
(4) what about the “real” economy—the private industrial economy—how did it do?
Now, as it happens it looks like the answer to (3) is, mainly they didn’t—people who had an emergency job acted like they had a job (perhaps because they had a job) and probably shouldn’t count as unemployed.4
And if you don’t count these people who held jobs as unemployed, you get a different picture of unemployment in the 1930s. Below, a graph showing the same series as the above, then a new series—from Weir’s table D3, which also appears in Historical Statistics of the United States—that counts only people without jobs as unemployed.
Now, if you look at that, you might think wow, the Depression was really bad, but the New Deal really helped.
Weir also said, if you’re worried about item (4)—if you want to look only at the “real” economy, i.e., private nonfarm jobs—I’ll make it possible for you to do that too, constructing a series of private nonfarm unemployment and leaving the government out of it entirely. If we add that to our graph, we get this:
So again, here, we see significant improvement under the New Deal.
Now, if faced with these alternatives, you chose data based on Lebergott’s assumptions, you would be presenting the data that showed the New Deal in the worst possible light, wouldn’t you.
1Stanley Lebergott, Manpower in Economic Growth: The American Record since 1800 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), table A-3.
2Michael R. Darby, “Three-and-a-Half Million U.S. Employees Have Been Mislaid: Or, an Explanation of Unemployment, 1934-1941,” Journal of Political Economy 84, no. 1 (February 1976): 1-16.
3Cited in Darby, 3; Lebergott, 184-5.
4Robert A. Margo, “The Microeconomics of Depression Unemployment,” NBER Working Paper no. 18, December 1990.
Because I’ve been asked a couple times in the past few weeks, here’s a short reading list on the history of the Federal Reserve System.
Sanders, Elizabeth. Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Read pp. 236-266 and also 471n125.
With this in mind one may then profitably turn to some of the following, depending on your particular interests.
Friedman, Milton and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963. Particularly chapters 4-8.
Galbraith, John Kenneth. Money: Whence it Came, Where it Went. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. Particularly chapter 10.
Meltzer, Allan H. A History of the Federal Reserve, 1913-1951. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
And because the modern Federal Reserve is very much a product of the Great Depression,
Chandler, Lester V. American Monetary Policy, 1928-1941. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
And if needs must: Edward Flaherty on Federal Reserve conspiracy theories.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, of course, but it seems to me a good way to start.
No, really, he is. My Monday just got a lot better.
Scott adds: What was Ari thinking, not linking to Michael’s new profile picture? It’s a thing of great and topical beauty:
About six weeks ago, a friend of mine offered to give me some mature roses he didn’t want. “But it’s the middle of August,” I said. Not exactly, in other words, the best time for a transplant. But it was this or straight to the compost heap. As it happens, six weeks on, five of the seven are doing fine—most recently, the oldest-looking one decided it might as well live.
This is, if I count correctly, the third time someone has made such an offer to me, to get rid of mature roses. There are always various reasons, but they generally include, “they take so much work.” This puzzles me. Any plant that can get uprooted and dumped into the dusty Davis mid-August clay and six weeks later have a full complement of branches and flowers is a pretty hardy thing.
Which has always, both in our old house and here, been the case. Despite appearances, roses are tough and take care of themselves pretty well.
Will Arnett effectively reprising “Gob” Bluth on Sesame Street. If I need to say more, you won’t get it.
Also, if you can find better quality video, lemme know.