“Take the story of Robin Hood, amp up the character count to the level of, say, the Illiad. Add in a dash of the X-men, where every superhero has his or her own special powers. Mix with some of the elements of brotherhood and magic from Lord of the Rings. Infuse it with the bloodthirstiness of the HBO series Rome, and set it against the historical backdrop of one of the golden ages of one of the world’s great empires, and you will arrive at some approximation of the Water Margin… It’s no exaggeration to say that basically every Chinese person is familiar with at least the novel’s main characters. The colorful stories from the novel have been told and retold for centuries, in tea houses of the Ming Dynasty, on opera stages, on radio programs, in television shows, on the movie screen, and in countless Chinese homes generation after generation.”
For a grimmer COVID-19 mood-affiliation, you could try Joseph Bottum’s lament for “The Way We Read Now,” an essay adapted from his new book The Decline of the Novel. “The decline of the novel’s prestige reflects a new crisis born of our culture’s increasing failure of intellectual nerve and its terminal doubt about its own progress.”
“I feel enmeshed, I feel deeply involved. It’s no wonder they call this thing the airborne toxic event. It’s an event all right. It marks the end of uneventful things. This is just the beginning. Wait and see.”
And then there is the case of Philip Roth, in whose magnificent “American Pastoral,” the American Dream is laid low by the cultural plague of the 1960s. Ted Gioia:
“This is a brilliant novel on a grand scale. You can marvel here at the most delicate effects—Levov’s visitor tour of his glove factory could almost serve as a case study in how a great novelist handles the smallest details with loving precision—but it is the big picture vision that you will remember long after you have finished this panoramic book. Other novelists may celebrate the American dream or dismiss it a ruse, but Roth avoids both extremes in a nuanced work that deconstructs our ideals and exposes their vulnerabilities, while still keeping them intact. And if this doesn’t add up to The Great American Novel … it gets pretty darn close.”
Olivier Blanchard sees three jobs for fiscal policy: spending to control the infection (a no brainer), disaster relief to get funds to cash-strapped households and firms (also a no brainer), and supporting aggregate demand, which is trickier. At least governments in advanced countries needn’t worry about public debt, which will remain sustainable because of zero or negative real interest rates. He is “much less sanguine about emerging-market and developing economies though.”
In “Notes on the Coronacoma (Wonkish),” Paul Krugman treats us to a column relatively free of the dreaded Trump-derangement virus, and, instead, uncorks his incomparable talent for explaining complex economic problems in plain English. (For the complicated version, see, for example, here.) This is not a conventional recession brought on by a slump in aggregate demand. It is “the economic equivalent of a medically induced coma, in which some brain functions are deliberately shut down to give the patient time to heal.” During this deliberate coma, the government mainly needs to provide “disaster relief” to jobless workers and firms on the edge of bankruptcy rather than a big stimulus package. The Trump Administration’s $2 trillion ‘CARES’ fiscal package is, Krugman admits, mainly on target with disaster relief.
The Fed's programs woulds add to firms' debts, though, slowing recovery from the recession. Jordi Gali and Willem Buiter advocate for 'helicopter money' - money creation by the central bank to pay for straight cash grants to households and firms. Bonardi et al want fast-disbursing 'corona loans' with a hefty grant element to help small and medium firms cover capital costs, like rent, maintenance, storage, depreciation and interest. David Beckworth thinks we need A Three-Step Plan to Overhaul the Fed's Operating Framework. Steps 2 and 3: A so-called Nominal GDP Level Target that aims to stabilize the growth path of total dollar incomes, and a standing fiscal facility for helicopter money drops.
Who Invented Science?
Probably our hunter-gatherer hominid ancestors some two million years ago, says Larry Arnhart in “The Paleolithic Origin of Science and Philosophy in the Art of Tracking.” Persistence hunting, the practice of chasing the hunted animal for hours until it collapses from overheating and exhaustion, was probably the earliest form of hunting, before the invention of hunting technologies like bows and arrows.
“… in difficult terrain, the hunters had to imagine the likely route the animal might take so that they might reconstruct the animal's behavior and decide in advance where they might find signs. This would require what Liebenberg calls "speculative tracking" that uses "hypothetico-deductive reasoning." … Similarly, ancient hunters tracking an antelope had to interpret visible tracks as signs to be explained by hypotheses about the invisible movements of the antelope. This abstract mental capacity for hypothetical reasoning could evolve by natural selection because those hunters who were good at this were more likely to have antelope for dinner.”
Here is a video of trackers in the Kalahari Desert, on an eight-hour persistence hunt for a kudu bull.
If you’re looking for just one person who invented science, though, how about Aristotle? Modern “Neo-Aristotelians” assert that no one has thought more productively about the fundamental concepts and methods of scientific explanation. In “The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science,” the evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi recounts Aristotle’s exhaustive study of animal anatomies – sea urchins, snails, marsh birds, dolphins, and fish - and of how these structures serve the functions of life. A review of Leroi’s book says this about Darwin’s appreciation for his great predecessor:
“Darwin knew almost nothing of Aristotle until 1882, when William Ogle, physician and classicist, sent him a copy of The Parts of Animals he'd just translated. In his note of thanks, Darwin wrote: ‘From quotations which I had seen I had a high notion of Aristotle's merits, but I had not the most remote notion of what a wonderful man he was. Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though in very different ways, but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle.’”
“Aristotle’s physics does not enjoy good press. It is commonly called “intuitive”, and at the same time “blatantly wrong”. For instance, it is commonly said to state that heavier objects fall faster when every high-school kid should know they fall at the same speed… From the perspective of a modern physicist such as myself, this widespread and simplistic dismissal of Aristotelian physics is profoundly misleading... I argue here that contrary to common claims Aristotle’s physics is counterintuitive, based on observation, and correct (in its domain of validity) in the same sense in which Newtonian physics is correct (in its domain).”
“Since 2000, the combination of stagnation, widening inequality, and the increasing cost of maintaining elite status has arguably had a more pronounced impact on the professional elite than on the working class, which was already largely marginalized by that point. Elites outside of the very top found themselves falling further behind their supposed cultural peers, without being able to look forward to rapidly rising incomes for themselves. This underappreciated reality at least partially explains one of the apparent puzzles of American politics in recent years: namely, that members of the elite often seem far more radical than the working class, both in their candidate choices and overall outlook. Although better off than the working class, lower-level elites appear to be experiencing far more intense status anxiety.”
Also at American Affairs, Michael Lind draws the critical battle line in The New Class War elsewhere: the super-rich and the managerial elite allied against the rest:
“If I am correct, the post–Cold War period has come to a close, and the industrial democracies of North America and Europe have entered a new and turbulent era. The managerial class has destroyed the social settlements that constrained it temporarily in the second half of the twentieth century and created a new kind of politics, largely insulated from popular participation and electoral democracy, based on large donors and shifting coalitions within a highly homogeneous coalition of allied Western elites. Following two decades of increasing consolidation of the power of the managerial class, the populist and nationalist wave on both sides of the Atlantic is a predictable rebellion by working-class outsiders against managerial-class insiders and their domestic allies, who are often recruited from native minorities or immigrant diasporas.”
“Politicians across the Western world like to speak fondly of the “middle class” as if it is one large constituency with common interests and aspirations. But, as Karl Marx observed, the middle class has always been divided by sources of wealth and worldview. Today, it is split into two distinct, and often opposing, middle classes. First there is the yeomanry or the traditional middle class, which consists of small business owners, minor landowners, craftspeople, and artisans, or what we would define historically as the bourgeoisie, or the old French Third Estate, deeply embedded in the private economy. The other middle class, now in ascendency, is the clerisy, a group that makes its living largely in quasi-public institutions, notably universities, media, the non-profit world, and the upper bureaucracy.”
“On average across OECD countries, the share of people in middle-income households, defined as households earning between 75% and 200% of the median national income, fell from 64% to 61% between the mid-1980s and mid-2010s. The economic influence of the middle class and its role as “centre of economic gravity” has also weakened. The aggregate income of all middle-income households was 4 times the aggregate income of upper-income households three decades ago; today, this ratio is less than 3.”