Papers by Hans O. Melberg

Papers and observations on economics, politics, Russian history and social science in general


Navigation
Papers by Melberg
Elster Page
Ph.D work

About this web
Why?
Who am I?
Recommended
Statistics
Mail me
Subscribe
Search papers
List of titles only
Categorised titles

General Themes
Ph.D. in progress
Economics
Russia
Political Theory
Statistics/Econometrics
Various papers

The Questions
Ph.D Work
Introduction
Cost-Benefit
Statistical Problems
Social Interaction
Centralization vs. Decentralization

Economics
Define economics!
Models, Formalism
Fluctuations, Crisis
Psychology

Statistics
Econometrics

Review of textbooks

Belief formation
Inifinite regress
Rationality

Russia
Collapse of Communism
Political Culture
Reviews

Political Science
State Intervention
Justice/Rights/Paternalism
Nationalism/Ethnic Violence

Various
Yearly reviews

Philosophy
Explanation=?
Methodology

 

A chronological list of all the papers

2002

How much gossip is needed to make science interesting
David Bodanis’ book e=mc2 is a good read. It is entertaining because of its anecdotes about the people involved and it is understandable for non-scientists because of its use of analogies and examples. Although good, the book is not perfect. Occasionally I found myself suspecting that the pictures painted of several individuals were overly black and white. Also some of the analogies (inevitably) left some details quite hazy and sometimes they may make the reader feel that she understands more than she really does. Moreover, I sometimes found myself strongly doubting his more speculative arguments about why people came up with certain ideas. These weaknesses, however, are relatively minor and my main message is that this is a very readable and useful book.(24. September, 2002) (107)

2001

Social interaction, treatment and modelling changes in the number of drug user
An attempt to create a formal model of social interaction/observational learning and recruitment to drug use. Potential users observe what happened to existing users (who are either happy or unhappy) before they decide to use drugs. Surprising implication: Treatment does not affect the overall number of users! (6. October, 2001) (106) (.pdf format; Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Social Interaction and Cost-Benefit Analysis: Inital observations
What is social interaction? In what way - and how much - does social interaction matter when you are doing a cost-benefit analysis of drug abuse treatment?  (7. September, 2001) (105)

Centralization and Decentralization: Sources of information and one idea
What should you read if you want to know more about the positive and negative effects of centralization? In this observation I will simply "think aloud" about the answer to this question. I will also try to explore one of the ideas in more detail, namely how principal agent theory could be used to say something about the effects of centralization. (1. September, 2001) (104)

What is the value of information in a centralized structure if people behave like “yes-men?
When information goes through many links it may easily be distorted - intentionally or unintentionally. This may have some implications as to the benefits and costs of a centralized vs. a decentralized structure. Its importance, however, is reduced if the quality of information does not matter much for the quality of the decision. (Observation, 24. August, 2001) (103)

Optimal centralization: More links and mechanisms
I turn the argument from last week upside down: Maybe there are ways in which centralization improves the quality of information and decision-making. And, maybe centralization increases the amount of labour needed to do the job?
(Observation, 7. July 2001)  (102)

What is the optimal degree of centralization?
Recently the Minister of Justice in Norway announced that the number of police districts in Norway should be reduced from 19 to 5. I asked myself why (if) 5 was "better" than 19? This led me to reflect on the problem of determining the optimal degree of centralization in general - for instance when designing a system for treating drug addicts. This is the first observation in a series of papers on the topic of centralization vs. decentralization.
(Observation, 1 July 2001)  (101)

2000

A cost-benefit analysis of different treatment programs for drug addicts: Theory and application
This is the project description for my Ph.D. work. In short, I have divided the main question ("What is the best treatment for drug addiction from a cost-benefit perspective?") into four parts:
(1) Cost-Benefit analysis: Should all questions of public policy money should be guided by cost-benefit analysis? Do we have enough information to do cost-benefit analysis?
(2) The problem of spurious correlation: How to reduce the risk of making misleading claims about costs and benefits (and effects of treatment) when analysing survey data; Simpson's paradox; correlation and causation.
(3) Addiction, theory and modelling: How to model agents that are less than perfectly rational in an environment where interaction is important (so we cannot assume a representative agent)?
(4) The market for treatment: The market for treatment is dominated by instututions that claim not to be motivated by profit. Moreover the market is governed by a set of rules (e.g. about who is responsible for payment and the length of contracts). What kind og incentive system is created by these rules? Do they encourage efficiency?

 Comments about relevant articles and books are welcome!

A critical discussion of Jon Elster's arguments about rational choice, infinite regress and the collection of information
This is the final version my thesis (well, at least for the time being). The underlying question is: How much information should you collect before making a decision. More specifically this involves arguments about whether it is logically possible to collect an optimal amount of information (since you need to collect information about information about information and so on forever) and several other problems involved in estimating the value of information. Potential readers might want to download the paper in .pdf format since the HTML version is less than perfect (click here to download in Adobe .pdf format). Comments are, as always, very much appreciated since I will eventually try to turn some of this into an article (Article, 26. August) (99)

1999

Consumer theory - As evaluated by three economists: Blaug, Sugden and Hausman
This is a short reflection on consumer theory. What is it about? What is the use of spending time on the formal axioms if these cannot even justify the downward sloping demand curves?. (Observation, 11 June 1999) (98)

A critical discussion of Jon Elster's arguments about rational choice, infinite regress and the collection of information
This is a working paper version of my thesis. The underlying question is: How much information should you collect before making a decision. More specifically this involves arguments about whether it is logically possible to collect an optimal amount of information (since you need to collect information about information about information and so on forever) and several other problems involved in estimating the value of information. The footnotes and some other details were lost in the conversion to HTML, so potential readers might want to download the paper in Word format (at www.reocities.com/hmelberg/papers/infinite.doc) (click here to download). Comments are, as always, very much appreciated as I am planning to revise the paper one more time before it is submitted (before May 1999). (Article, 23 March 1999) (97)

What is important and what is true? Reviewing textbooks on the history of the Soviet Union
This is the first part of the review. Although I found Suny's book informative, I do not think it is the best possible textbook on the topic. In my opinion, it is both imbalanced in its choice of topics and the analysis of the selected topics could be closer to what I believe is the truth about the causal connections. (Review, 23 March 1999) (96)

Rational Choice, Uncertainty and Search Theory
This is the second draft of chapter two in my thesis. It is still very much a draft - and it is not for citation Basically the aim is to say something about the role of rationality and uncertainty in economics, to limit my question and to argue that the "correct" definition of rationality must include the collection of information (Draft, 16 March 1999) (95)

Critical reflections on Elster's arguments about the impossibility of rational collection of information: Infinite regress and problems of estimation
This is the second version of chapter three in my thesis (the first was paper no. 91). It is far from perfect and comments are welcome. (Article, 3 March 1999) (94)

Jon Elster and the problem of estimating the value of information
I believe the second part of chapter three (see Critical reflections on Elster's arguments ... below) of my thesis was too weak. Here is a better version. The main emphasis is on non-existence of probabilities, subjective vs. objective probability and weak-probabilities. (Article, 21 February 1999) (93)

A note on Keynes' "animal spirits"
Critical notes on the use of Keynes' suggestion that animal spirits can "explain" economic instability. (Observation, 14 February 1999) (92)

Critical reflections on Elster's arguments about the impossibility of rational collection of information: Infinite regress and problems of estimation
This is a preliminary draft of chapter three in my thesis. Please do not quote this version - much of it needs to be rewritten. Comments are very much appreciated. (Draft Article, 28 January 1999) (91)

How much information should you collect before making a decision?
This is a preliminary draft of the introduction and the first chapter in a forthcoming larger paper. Comments are very much appreciated. (Article, 19 January 1999) (90)

1998: The year in review: Which questions are worth asking and answering?
I reflect on the papers from 1998, provide statistics on the fifteen most popular papers and try to discover the underlying themes. (Review, 6 January 1999) (89)

 

1998

Decision making and infinite regress: More complicated than I thought is was!
There are at least three problems: 1. Deciding how to decide (and how to decide how to decide about how to decide ...); 2. Deciding how much information to gather about how much information to gather and so on; 3. Forming beliefs in a strategic environment (Observation, 20 December 1998) (88)

Rent seeking, social waste and economic models
Can formal models generate insights that are unavailable to verbal reasoning? In the observation I use a short, easy and formal model of rent seeking to explore this question (Observation, 8 December 1998) (87)

Definitions of economics: A short and uncritical introduction
I discovered that there was no list of definitions of economics available on the Net, so I tried to make one. This is a first draft, contributions are welcome. Essentially the argument is that it is pointless to argue about who's definition is "correct" while it may be fruitful to discuss the implications and consequences of various assumptions. (Draft Observation, 23 November 1998) (86)

Explanation, benchmarks, Bayes rule and logical impossibility: Notes related to economic fluctuations
This is a first attempt to understand Charles I. Plosser's remark that it is logically impossible to explain economic fluctuations unless we first work out the implications of a perfectly working economy. The argument is advanced by showing what kind of information Bayes rule requires us to have before we can estimate a probabiity. I also touch D. Hendry's argument that we should start from a general model and simplify instead of starting from a simple model and extent this. (Observation, 17 November 1998) (85)

Psychology and economic fluctuations: Pigou, Mill and Keynes
A short comment on how economic fluctuations can be explained using psychological mechanisms. (Observation, 2 November 1998) (84)

Political culture as an explanatory variable - A (very) brief historical overview
In short: 1. Pre-modern writings; 2. Journalistic impressions, travelers' accounts; 3. National-character approach (social-psychology); 4. Political culture (quantitative focus); 5. Political culture revival in the late 1980s (qualitative focus). (Observation, 26 October 1998) (83)

Is it logically possible to make a rational decision? Optimal collection of information and "as-if" arguments
Is it possible to rationally decide how much information to collect? Is it true that competition and natural selection justfies analysing the economy based on the assumption that people act "as-if" they were rational? The first depends on whether the value of information decreases, the second on whether the speed of the selection mechnism is greater than the speed of the environmental change (Observation, 17 October 1998) (82)

More popular than it deserves: A Review of Kindleberger's "Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises"
Although this bok is informative and suggestive I felt the reasoning was slightly ad hoc. Moreover, alternative theories of crisis were not compared and tested in a systematic fashion. (Review, 6 October 1998) (81)

Entertaining and suggestive about the business cycle - Review of L. Tvede: Business Cycles: From John Law to Chaos theory
This is a good book but a bad review. The book is good because it contains a wealth of mechanisms that might help explain economic fluctuations. The review is bad because it does not go deep enough, it is not critical enough and the structure is flawed. (Review, 16 September 1998) (80)

Arguments searching for proofs: A Review of Galbraith's A Short History of Financial Euphoria
This book is good in the sense that it suggests some potentially important psychological mechanisms that create financial disasters. The verdict, however, is not only favourable since the suggested mechanisms are not empirically proven. (Review, 9 September 1998) (79)

Explaining the appeal of protectionism: From mercantilism to today's popular opinion
This is a follow up on "Why don't people believe free trade is good" using historical sources to document the four psychological mechanisms that I think are important (zero-sum bias, money fetishism, indirect links and focal points). (Article, 11 August 1998) (78)

Searching for the surprising and reliable truths: A review of Schelling
A good argument should be non-obvious, important, and reliable. Thomas Schelling's Micromotives and Macrobehaviour comes close to this ideal. The main focus is on how different individual motivations interact to produce macro outcomes. (Review, 18 June 1998) (77)

Is ethnic conflict the outcome of individually rational actions?
A critical examination of three "big" theories that have been used to explain why people cooperate in groups (selective incentives, reputation in dynamic games of incomplete information and a preference for cooperating) and two small mechanisms supposed to explain ethnic violence (uncertain balance of power and the impossibility of making credible promises to minorities). Conclusion: Rational choice alone does not explain ethnic violence. (Article, 22 May 1998) (76)

Twisting the concept of rationality to fit collective action in ethnic conflicts
This is the draft of a review of a book that I regret spending so much time on. In short, I felt that Russell Hardin's book One for All: The Logic of Group Conflict was both confusing and often wrong. Two major criticisms are: A too wide definition of rational behaviour and not enough attention to emotional factors (Review, 2 April 1998) (75)

Principal-agent theory: What happens when we have lazy, risk-averse and dishonest people who know more than us?
This week I present yet another example of models in economics. After presenting the best possible contract under symmetric and asymmetric information, I speculate whether the results show that private property is a good thing. I am sorry if the papers the last three weeks have been too mathematical for some of you. I will retuRn to my regular "verbal" presentations soon! (Observation, 19 March 1998) (74)

Cooperatives: A short model with surprising implications
As promised last week, here is another example of formal reasoning in economics. This time the question is what happens to the optimal number of workers in a cooperative when the price of their product increases. As last week, I will base my observation on notes from K. O. Moene (University of Oslo). (Observation, 9 March 1998) (73)

Pay according to need or effort? About models in economics
For some time I have intended to examine the value of models in economics and the best way of doing so - I think - is to start by presenting some models. In this review I want to examine a model by Amarthya Sen which tries to clarify the problem of pay according to need or effort. The model I will use is a simplified version of Sen's which was developed by K. O. Moene. (Observation, 3 March 1998) (72)

Visual presentation of non-linear correlation in n-dimensions: A speculation
Is is possible to visualize more than three dimensions, and would this be useful? (Observation, 19 February 1998) (71)

Why (not) use the cultural approach? Review of Tucker, Part II
Read Part I first. In part II: Why Lenin should not be viewed as a nice and patient tutor, some good and bad points, and conclusion. (Review, 10 February 1998) (70b)

Why (not) use the cultural approach? Review of Tucker, Part I
Tucker wants to use the cultural approach as the main approach to understand Russian history, and I disagree with him. Used as an explanatory variable, culture is not very reliable. Tucker then argues the concept of culture can be rescued by using it as a frame, but I failed to understand how. (Review, 5 February 1998) (70a)


1997


Using popularity as a judge of quality - The year in review 1997
Here is a list of the twelve most popular papers, a list of some papers that I though were OK (not always the same as the most popular papers), some thoughts on why the two lists diverge, and reflections on this page in general (Observation, 22. December 1997) (69)

Nationalism: Is it definable, important and worthy of attention?
A review of Walker Connor's Ethnonationalism: The Quest for Understanding. I find nationalism both roughly definable and important, but I am less certain about the reliability of explanations based on nationalism and even more so of the utility of stydying nationalism to find good and feasible policy recommendations (Review, 10. December 1997) (68)

Justifying the welfare state: Biased but useful (review of Barr)
This is a useful book since it is clear, systematic and rigorous. It is biased because it leaves out certain arguments and are more critical of opposing arguments than arguments in favour of the welfare state. Included in the review: A mathematical model of the non-linear cost of taxation and an appendix with a model of the insurance market, including the problem of adverse selection. (Draft review, 27. November 1997) (67)

The assumption of rational selfishness - How can it be justified? When should it be rejected?
The answer depends on your aim (to explain, predict, or aid policy formation). Justifications are: High value on parsimony and reliability when explaining; that predictions based on "as-if" rationality are more accurate than the alternatives; that the policy of changing the incentive strucure has a more certain and greater effect than attempts to change attitudes. Ultimately the question of rejecting the assumption it is an empirical matter. (Observation, 17. November 1997) (66)

How vague may a theory of justice be?
This is a reflection on the criteria for a good theory of justice using Rawls as a starting point. I want a theory of justice to give clear and concrete answers to the question "What is just?" in as many situations as possible. Second, these answers must be good, defined here as intuitive, feasible and stable. Measured aganst this I find Rawls theory restricted, vague, sometimes counter-intuitive, demanding too much too be feasible and unstable since people may well break the contract as soon as they know their own position in society (Review, 5. November 1997) (65)

Why culture should not be treated as a residual: Positive proof vs. Proofs by default
This is an obvious and repetitive observation which does not deserve much attention! I only wrote it because I read several books and articles in which people made the mistake interpreting rejection of one theory as (positive) proof for another theory. (Observation, 25. October 1997) (64)

What is economics? A method or a topic?
Should economists try to explain suicide and other non-economic phenomena? Should economists worry more about norms and sociological theories in general? Who should study the formation of beliefs and preferences - economists or psychologists? (Article (draft), 18. October 1997) (63)

Why don't people believe that free trade is good?
I discuss four mechanisms that distort our beliefs about free trade: Zero-sum bias, Money fetishism, Concentrated costs & distributed benefits, Short run vs. Long run confusion. (Observation, 13. September 1997) (62)

Right, Left or Meaningless
A review of Robert J. Barro's Getting it Right. I focus on three issues: Barro vs. Krugman (on supply-side economics, monetary expansion, and inequality), state-intervention, and meaningless quantification. (Review, 26. August 1997) (61)

Lessons from History: The collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War
This is a revised version of a lecture I gave at the Red Cross Nordic United World College. Somewhat over-ambitiously, I try to provide a few interesting points on four very big questions: Capitalism vs. Socialism, Democracy vs. Authoritarianism, Free vs. Managed trade, and Realpolitik vs. Idealpolitik. I also discuss whether it is possible to "learn" from history. (Lecture, 18. August 1997) (60)

Economic sense and non-sense: A review of Krugman's Peddling Prosperity
A short reflection on three topics discussed in Paul Krugman's Peddling Prosperity: Was Keynes right about the nature of recession? Why do bad economics appeal to politicians? Why some common impressions about the economy are wrong. (Review, 14. July 1997) (59)

The value of fictional literature for the social sciences - A case study of Gogol's Dead Souls
Fiction should primarily be read for its own pleasure. Nevertheless, a social scientist may use examples from fiction in at least three ways: to illustrate an argument, to prove a point (e.g. about cultural traits), and to discover social mechanisms. I try to demonstrate this using Gogol's Dead Souls. (Review, 7. July 1997) (58)

The pros and cons of state intervention
I review Robert Skidelsky's book The World After Communism. The book deals mainly with two issues. First, why did people believe in the idea of state intervention (or collectivism, as Skidelsky calls it). Second, is state intervention good or bad. I argue that the first part is better than the second. (Review, 30. June 1997) (57)

Culture - An explanatory variable or an interpretive approach?
This is a long review of Stephen Welch's book The Concept of Political Culture. I argue that the phenomenological approach should not be viewed as a separate approach to culture, but as a complementary part of the approach in which culture is used as an explanatory variable. (Review/Article, 23. June 1997) (56)

Anti-Justice: Cold, No exclusive priority, Self-defeating
To use ther words of I. Berlin: I deplore the current emphasis on justice. I give three reasons: First, it leaves no room for desireable features such as mercy and love. Second - and related - it ignores that there are many alternative ideals - e.g freedom and peace. Third, the current emphasis neglects the complexities of justice - that local justice may lead to global injustice. (Observation, 16. June 1997) (55)

Five short ideas: Nurses, Keynes, Hirschman, Popper and Akerlof
I discuss: 1. Viscous circles to explain a shortage of nurses. 2. Was Keynes wrong? 3.Was Hirschman wrong (with thanks to Ole J. Rogeberg). 4. Popper and unfalsifiable theories. 5. Prices as signals: Some problems with the price-mechanism. (Observation, 9. June 1997) (54)

A Neutral State?
A political party in Norway recently called for reduced support of private schools. However, when the delegates discovered that their "own" private schools would be hurt, they wanted to change the resolution so it would only apply to the schools they disliked. I was greatly provoced, but more reflection revealed the complexities of demanding state neutrality. (Observation, 26. May 1997) (53)

Advanced Econometrics for beginners - A review of Maddala
Introduction to Econometrics is a comprehensive and critical treatment of standard and modern econometrics. Its main strength is the presentation of recent developments in econometrics in terms accessible to advanced undergraduates (cointegration, exogeneity, model selection). However, it is too advanced to be used as a book for beginners. (Included in the review: An example of error correction models.) (Review, 19. May 1997) (52)

Words, Figures or Mathematics - A review of Rødseth's Consumer Theory
As an introduction to standard neo-classical consumer theory, this is a very good book. However, it also exemplifies the problems of this approach: its excessive emphasis on mathematics, and the consequent focus on technical as opposed to substantive issues. Included in this review: A worked example of Cobb-Douglas preferences. (Review, 12. May 1997) (51)

Critical Statistics - A Review of "Statistical Concepts and Methods" by Bhattachryya and Johnson
The authors' extensive use of real-life examples, and the excellent exercises, makes this a very good book for an introductory course in statistics. On the negative side, I emphasise its somewhat over-detailed explanations of basic concepts - which in turn makes this a rather long book. I also criticised the book for not being good enough at fostering a critical attitude toward statistical methods. (Review, 7. May 1997) (50)

Pushkin or Baumol - Poets, Economists and Contestable Markets
The poet Pushkin knew about contestable markets long before the economist Baumol. Moreover, Pushkin's description of contestable markets fits the real world more than Baumol's theory. (Observation, 5. May 1997) (49)

Russians about Russians - A sample of views on cultural traits
What do Russians think is typically Russian? I present some of their views, and a few relections on the quotations. The most interesting idea being that how you get your income (how fast and by what kind of activity) also determines how you spend your money (what kind of goods you buy and how fast you spend your money). (Observation, 1. May 1997) (48)

Visual econometrics - A review of Wonnacott and Wonnacott
This is a good book which deserves a new edition to cover some recent developments. I give a detailed critique of their treatment of autocorrelation, and I speculate on whether MAD estimators - Minimization of Absolute Deviations - are better than OLS? (Review, 25. April 1997) (47)

About reviewing econometric textbooks
In short: clarity of explanation, rigour, completeness, honesty about the limitations of econometrics, and style. (Observation, 25. April 1997) (46)

More on internal and external negation. A follow up
What is the opposite (the negation) of "I am a Christian?" Is it "I am an atheist", "I am an agnostic" or "I am a Satanist"? Moreover, what is the practical importance of making the distinctions (or failing to do so)? Can we use this to explain and maybe cure some psychiatric problems like paranoia? (Observation, 19. April 1997) (45)

True and False at the same time? Russian religiousness and statistical theory
Are the Russians more or less religious than, say, the Norwegians? And, is it possible that the Russians are both more religious and more anti-religious than the Norwegians? I argue that this is possible and I base this on the difference between external and internal negation. I then try to speculate on the implications of this (with litte success). (Observation, 9. April 1997) (44)

Non-utopian utopians? John Roemer's Coupon System
The second version of a review of John Roemer's A Future for Socialism. I try to criticise his plan for reforming society by pointing to some weaknesses concerning efficiency, liberty and risk. I also discuss some insights such as the concepts of social-republican property and psychologically stable systems. Thanks to Steven Jay Blatt for interesting comments on the first draft of this review (Review, 8. April 1997) (43)

Profit maximizing publishing - A review of Coase's Essays on Economics and Economists
Coase is an economists I admire, but this book failed to live up to my expectations. The topics of several papers were rather uninteresting, and some of the other essays contained arguments that are (too?) well known. (Review, 27. March 1997) (42)

Why (dis)believe rational expectations? A review of Sheffrin's Rational Expectations
Sheffrin is good at summarizing material, but I am less convinced by his arguments in favour of rational expectations. In addition I try to play the role of the devil's advocate to find some weak points. (Review, 7. March 1997) (41)

The criteria for good academic work - 1996: My aim and the year in review
A good piece of work should be surprising, convincing, important, honest and well written. In expanding on these labels, I shall also try to comment on some of my own works from 1996 in order to see where I can improve. (3. March 1997) (40)

Non-utopian utopians? John Roemer's Coupon System
Please, see above (8. April) for a more recent version of this review. (Review, 20. February 1997) (39)

How bureaucracies waste resources - And how it could be avoided
A short piece starting with a news-story of a patient who received more in compensation for travelling expenses to a far-away hospital than it would cost to buy the dialysis machine he needed. (Observation, 10. February 1997) (38)

What should we believe? A reflection on the flawed use of traditional hypothesis-testing
I argue against the distinction between significant and insignificant in statistics using two concrete examples. First, whether the Americans have different attitudes than the Russians. Second, if you should believe in rational expectations. (Observation, 1. February 1997) (37)

Three statistical examples: Boeing, sex and education
This is a follow up on last week's How many examples do you need to make generalizations. I give three more examples involving Boeing airplanes, sex among Christians and how educational achievement is related to the number of books in your family. (Observation, 27. January 1997) (36)

Bees, marbles and generalizations based on one example: A reflection on the concept of statistical significance
How many examples do we need before we can make a reliable generalization? I give two examples - involving bees and marbles - which point to different conclusions. This makes me conclude that the answer depends on the context i.e. our background beliefs about how things are causally related. (Observation, 17. January 1997) (35)

Evolution or Creationism: Does science and religion compete in the same arena?
I venture into the unknown to review Richard Dawkins' book River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. I was pleasantly surprised to find a well written book which destroyed some of my somewhat unconscious beliefs, but I also found Dawkins anti-religious emotions a bit too strong and - closely related - his scientific optimism slightly exaggerated. (Review, 16. January 1997) (34)

Reply to Egge's Comments on my review of his book on Russian history
I admit it was wrong of me to label Egge's book as a whole "seriously flawed." Yet, I still disagree with him on the substantial issues (the coup vs. revolution and the circumstances vs. ideology debates). I also object to some of his arguments - such as the review being "unacademic" or inspired by extreme right-wing Americans - since these are not relevant to the truth-value of the statements we are discussing. (Review, 8. January 1997) (33)
Click here to read Egge's comments on my review of his book (note: in Norwegian)

How (not) to explain puzzling Russian behaviour - A Review of R. Hingley's The Russian Mind
I express my doubts on using the psychology of a nation to explain the history or the behaviour of a people. First, I doubt whether it is possible to prove that a nation has a certain psychological trait. Second, I doubt the link between the trait and its claimed consequences. Six concrete examples are discussed: Disproportionate reactions, absurd propaganda, the idealisation of the peasants and the "going to the people" in 1874, lying for amusement, the show trials, and the totalitarian state. (Review, 6. January 1997 ) (32)

 

1996

How to measure degrees of democracy and causal importance? The case of Czechoslovakia
I was recently made aware that my knowledge of Czechoslovkia around 1938 and 1948 left much to be desired. This is a small effort to improve the situation. First, I present a factual overview. Second, I discuss the causes of the collapse in 1938 (arguing that external factors were most important). Third, I question whether it is true that Czechoslovakia remained democratic in the inter-war period (arguing that Czechoslovakia at least does not qualify to be labelled undemocratic). (Observation, 20. December 1996) (31)

Dynamic counterfactual correlations
Some comments on B. Caplan's "The Mensheviks' Critique of Bolshevism and the Bolshevik State". I mainly agree with his position (that the difference between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks has been exaggerated), but I question the reliability of his counterfactual analysis of what would have happened if the Mensheviks had been in power instead of the Bolsheviks (Review, 14. December 1996) (30)

Testing cultural differences: Four experiments
Are the Russians more concerned about justice, more extreme in their belief-formation, more risk-averse and less trustful than the people of other countries? I present five experiments which could be conducted to test the reliability of explanations based on these cultural traits. (Observation, 9. December 1996) (29)

The NAIRU approach to unemployment: An application for a Nobel Prize?
A review of The Unemployment Crisis by Richard Layard, Stephen Nickell, Richard Jackman. I focus on presenting the NAIRU approach and I offer some criticism on the way expectations are treated in their model and the lack of mechanism for convergence to the NAIRU. (Observation, 1. December 1996) (28)

The Blaming Game: Does Gorbachev deserve praise for the peaceful end of the Cold War?
This observation is about some of the conditions under which a person deserves blame or credit for an action. It involves Gorbachev, a man hitting another, and Calvin & Hobbes. It is only a few reflections, not a systematic attempt to discuss all the factors involved in the moral evaluation of actions. (Review, 23. November 1996) (27)

A Question of Style
A review of Arne Kommisrud's State, Nation, Empire: The Habsburg Monarchy, Tsar-Russia and the Soviet Union. I focus on criticising his style which I believe seriously weakens the book, despite the occasionally informative content. (Review, 18. November 1996) (26)

The Cultural Approach to Russian History - How reliable?
This is an updated version of a previous paper. In short, it is a long (20 pages) working paper about the cultural approach to Russian history. The approach tries to explain and predict the course of Russian history using cultural traits as explanatory variables. For example, it is argued that there are cultural barriers which prevents the Russians from creating a democracy and a market economy. In the working paper I try to examine the reliability of these explanations and predictions. (Article, 9. November 1996) (25)

Rational Irrationality? Describing and explaining the extreme right in Russia
This paper started as a review of Walter Laqueur's book Black Hundred and ended up as a mixture of the mentioned review and some reflections on how to explain irrational beliefs (Review/Article, 25. October 1996). (24)

The Cultural Approach to Russian History - How reliable?
See above for the most recent version of this paper (Article, 20. October 1996). (23)

About confusing the explanandum and the explanans: Should behaviour be included in the definition of political culture?
A review of Stephen White's book "Political Culture and Soviet Politics". My main criticism is that White uses a wide definition of political culture which includes features we want to explain, not describe, using the concept of political culture. (Review, 26. September 1996) (22)

What can we infer from a black square? Religion as a cause of the distinctiveness of the Russian culture
A critical review of Per-Arne Bodin's book "Ryssland och Europa" ("Russia and Europe"). My main two criticisms: Speculative over-interpretations of evidence and lack of focus on causal connections/rival approaches. (Review, 20. September 1996) (21)

Culture and decision making: A review of an article by F. Gaenslen
A few reflections on a very good article by F. Gaenslen. Basically it uses statistical analysis of 1000 conflicts as described by 272 different authors to reveal whether the American culture is more individualistic than the cultures of Japan, China and Russia. (Review, 4. September 1996) (20)

Investments and Psychology: Why not all profitable investments are exploited right away
In short, because people are irrational and want to see a few changes every year instead of one year with many improvements and then none the next years (Observation, 23. August 1996). (19)

A Good Monopoly: An anecdote about lukewarm showers and market structures
I use Hirschman's arguments from his book "Exit, Voice and Loyalty" to illustrate a concrete example in which a monopoly gives better results than a duopoly (Observation, 23. August 1996) (18)

Norms and capitalism: How norms of fairness may inhibit economic growth
Some people are unwilling to buy a good (even when the trade would increase their utility) because they think the price is unfair. I then speculate whether these norms are stronger in some cultures (such as the Russian) and if this could be a cause of slow economic growth. (Observation, 20. August 1996) (17)

Social engineering and rational choice theory
I discuss how Jon Elster's proof that it is sometimes impossible to act rationally (even when we want to) affects the argument that predictable social engineering is possible. (Observation, 10. June 1996) (16)

Should historians make ethical judgements?
I discuss a fundamental disagreement between historians (such as Edward H. Carr and Richard Pipes) on how to approach history: the dispassionate and the ethical approach. I argue in favour of the ethical approach. (Observation, 3. June 1996) (15)

The Russians
I present ten cultural traits that are supposed to be typical Russian. After examining the use of discussing such traits, I briefly question their reliability. Lastly, I present two methods for increasing the reliability of cultural explanations. (Observation, 27. May 1996) (14)

The fallacy of black and white arguments
I start with the question of how much a person should get in compensation after being fired (for invalid reasons). I conclude that some arguments are fallacious because they fail to consider marginal effects. I have to admit that this is rather obvious, hence I do not think this is a paper worth spending too much time on. (Observation, 20. May 1996) (13)

Interpreting history
A review of Aa. Egge's book From Alexander II to Boris Yeltsin. I focus on two questions. First, whether October 1917 was a coup or a revolution. Second, whether the main causal factor determining the nature of the Bolshevik regime was ideology or circumstances. (Review, 9. May 1996) (12)

Egge's comments on the review
Egge's comments (in Norwegian). I wish to thank Aasmund Egge for taking the time to write the reply.

See also My reply to Egge's comments

A review of reviews: Making Sense of Marx
I try to review Jon Elster's book Making Sense of Marx. There is little new here for the "expert", but the review might be of value for an undergraduate who wants a short introduction and critique of Marx (especially his theory of history and critique of capitalism). (Review, 6. May 1996) (11)

Externalities, bureaucracies and tradable budgets
Bureaucratic structures create externalities, thus there is a need to integrate them. Here is an example. (Observation, 29. April 1996) (10)

Human Nature and 2500 years of accumulated wisdom
A Review article of R. Pipes (1994): Communism: The Vanished Spectre (Review Article, 22.04.96) (9)

Against correlation
I try to categorize the problems involved in using statistical correlations to form beliefs. (Article, 15.04.96) (8)

Counterproductive
Why do many plans turn out to have the opposite of the intended effects? (Observation, 09.04.96) (7)

Organic explanations
A review of Z. Brzezinski (1989): The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century (Review, 09.04.96) (6)

Logical Logic?
A review of M. Malia (1994): The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia (Review, 05.04.96) (5)

Social science as correlation between vague macro-concepts
A critical review of L. Holmes (1993): The End of Communist Power: Anti-Corruption Campaigns and Legitimation Crisis. (Review, 21.03.96) (4)

Backward Induction, the false counterfactual and terrorism
What should a person who always believe he is wrong believe? (Observation, 21.03.96) (3)

Why unfalsifiable theories are also worth considering
In short because they may still (sometimes) be judged more or less probable (Observation, 21.03.96) (2)

The information required for perfect prediction
I identify eleven categories of information required for perfect predictions in the social sciences. (Article, 13.03.96) (1)

Before 1996

Two approaches to explanation: Verstehen or Correlation? (Article, 23.04.94)
This paper contains a sympathetic and critical discussion of Jon Elster's discussion of functionalism. The reader should be warned that this was one of the first serious papers I wrote on methodology. Both my views and the quality of my arguments have changed since then.

The Soviet system and model building (Article, 01.03.94)
This paper complements and overlaps with the paper "Sovietology: Why the totalitarian model is the best"

Sovietology: Why the totalitarian model is the best (Article, 01.10.93)
The title should be self-explanatory. I did quite a lot of reading and thinking for this paper and I since I am still interested in this I would like to receive comments on it.

Four distinctive aspects of Soviet and Russian Military Thinking (Article, 28.09.93)
This is not a very original paper since most of the arguments are collected from various books. However, it represents an attempt to make this information available in a more systematic form.

Three arguments about rational choice theory in sociology (Article, 20.05.93)
This essay does not present any new and revolutionary ideas. It is probably best suited for undergradutes who simply want to read a short paper about rational choice in sociology.

Inflation: An overview of theories and solutions (Article, 01.12.92)
This paper is best suited for undergraduates who want a short, non-technical overview of theories of, and solutions to, inflation.

Unemployment: Micro- or Macro-theories? (Article, 20.11.92)
This paper is not the best I have ever written and it should not be read as a general overview of unemployment theories and their weaknesses. The reason why I have published it here is that it includes an attempt to distinguish between micro- and macro- theories which I still think is valuable.





List of titles only

2001

What is the optimal degree of centralization? (101)

2000

A cost-benefit analysis of different treatment programs for drug addicts: Theory and application (100)

A critical discussion of Jon Elster's arguments about rational choice, infinite regress and the collection of information (click here to download in Adobe .pdf format).  (99)


1999

Consumer theory - As evaluated by three economists: Blaug, Sugden and Hausman (98)

What is important and what is true? Reviewing textbooks on the history of the Soviet Union (97)

Rational Choice, Uncertainty and Search Theory(96)

Critical reflections on Elster's arguments about the impossibility of rational collection of information: Infinite regress and problems of estimation(95)

Jon Elster and the problem of estimating the value of information(94)

A note on Keynes' "animal spirits"(93)

Critical reflections on Elster's arguments about the impossibility of rational collection of information: Infinite regress and problems of estimation (91)

How much information should you collect before making a decision? (90)

1998: The year in review: Which questions are worth asking and answering? (89)

1998

Rent seeking, social waste and economic models(87)

Definitions of economics: A short and uncritical introduction (86)

Explanation, benchmarks, Bayes rule and logical impossibility: Notes related to economic fluctuations (85)

Psychology and economic fluctuations: Pigou, Mill and Keynes (84)

Political culture as an explanatory variable - A (very) brief historical overview (83)

Is it logically possible to make a rational decision? Optimal collection of information and "as-if" arguments (82)

Not bad, but more popular than it deserves: A Review of Kindleberger's "Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises" (81)

Entertaining and suggestive about the business cycle - Review of Lars Tvede: Business Cycles: From John Law to Chaos theory (80)

Arguments searching for proofs: A Review of Galbraith's A Short History of Financial Euphoria (79)

Explaining the appeal of protectionism: From mercantilism to today's popular opinion (78)

Searching for the surprising and reliable truths: A review of Schelling (77)

Is ethnic conflict the outcome of individually rational actions? (76)

Twisting the concept of rationality to fit collective action in ethnic conflicts (75)

Principal-agent theory: What happens when we have lazy, risk-averse and dishonest people who know more than us? (74)

Cooperatives: A short model with surprising implications (73)

Pay according to need or effort? About models in economics (72)

Visual presentation of non-linear correlation in n-dimensions: A speculation (71)

Why (not) use the cultural approach? Review of Tucker, Part II (70b)

Why (not) use the cultural approach? Review of Tucker, Part I (70a)

1997

Using popularity as a judge of quality - The year in review 1997 (69)

Nationalism: Is it definable, important and worthy of attention? (68)

Justifying the welfare state: Biased but useful (review of Barr) (67)

The assumption of rational selfishness - How can it be justified? When should it be rejected? (66)

How vague may a theory of justice be? (65)

Why culture should not be treated as a residual: Positive proof vs. Proofs by default (64)

What is economics? A method or a topic? (63)

Why don't people believe that free trade is good? (62)

Right, Left or Meaningless: Barro (1996) (61)

Lessons from History: The collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War (60)

Economic sense and non-sense: A review of Krugman's Peddling Prosperity (59)

The value of fictional literature for the social sciences - A case study of Gogol's Dead Souls (58)

The pros and cons of state intervention (57)

Culture - An explanatory variable or an interpretive approach? (56)

Anti-Justice: Cold, No exclusive priority, Self-defeating (55)

Five short ideas: Nurses, Keynes, Hirschman, Popper and Akerlof (54)

A Neutral State? (53)

Advanced Econometrics for beginners - A review of Maddala (52)

Words, Figures or Mathematics - A review of Rødseth's Consumer Theory (51)

Critical Statistics - A Review of "Statistical Concepts and Methods" by Bhattachryya and Johnson (50)

Pushkin or Baumol - Poets, Economists and Contestable Markets (49)

Russians about Russians - A sample of views on cultural traits (48)

Visual econometrics - A review of Wonnacott and Wonnacott (47)

About reviewing econometric textbooks (46)

More on internal and external negation. A follow up (45)

True and False at the same time? Russian religiousness and statistical theory (44)

Non-utopian utopians? John Roemer's Coupon System (43)

Profit maximizing publishing - A review of Coase's Essays on Economics and Economists (42)

Why (dis)belive rational expectations? A review of Sheffrin's Rational Expectations (41)

The criteria for good academic work - 1996: My aim and the year in review (40)

Non-utopian utopians? John Roemer's Coupon System (39)

How bureaucracies waste resources - And how it could be avoided (38)

What should we believe? A reflection on the flawed use of traditional hypothesis-testing(37)

Three statistical examples: Boeing, sex and education (36)

Bees, marbles and generalizations based on one example: A reflection on the concept of statistical significance (35)

Evolution or Creationism: Does science and religion compete in the same arena? (34)

Reply to Egge's Comments on my review of his book on Russian history (33)
Click here to read Egge's comments on my review of his book (note: in Norwegian)

How (not) to explain puzzling Russian behaviour - A Review of R. Hingley's The Russian Mind (32)

1996

How to measure degrees of democracy and causal importance? The case of Czechoslovakia (31)

Dynamic counterfactual correlations (30)

Testing cultural differences: Four experiments (29)

The NAIRU approach to unemployment: An application for a Nobel Prize? (28)

The Blaming Game: Does Gorbachev deserve praise for the peaceful end of the Cold War? (27)

A Question of Style (26)

The Cultural Approach to Russian History - How reliable? (25)

Rational Irrationality? Describing and explaining the extreme right in Russia (24)

About confusing the explanandum and the explanans: Should behaviour be included in the definition of political culture? (22)

What can we infer from a black square? Religion as a cause of the distinctiveness of the Russian culture (21)

Culture and decision making: A review of an article by F. Gaenslen (20)

Investments and Psychology: Why not all profitable investments are exploited right away (19)

A Good Monopoly: An anecdote about lukewarm showers and market structures (18)

Norms and capitalism: How norms of fairness may inhibit economic growth (17)

Social engineering and rational choice theory (16)

Should historians make ethical judgements? (15)

The Russians: Ten cultural traits (14)

The fallacy of black and white arguments (13)

Interpreting history: review of Aa. Egge (12)

Egge's comments on the review (in Norwegian)
See also My reply to Egge's comments

A review of reviews: Making Sense of Marx (11)

Externalities, bureaucracies and tradable budgets (10)

Human Nature and 2500 years of accumulated wisdom (9)

Against correlation (8)

Counterproductive (7)

Organic explanations: Review of Z. Brzezinski (6)

Logical Logic? (5)

Social science as correlation between vague macro-concepts (4)

Backward Induction, the false counterfactual and terrorism (3)

Why unfalsifiable theories are also worth considering (2)

The information required for perfect prediction (1)

Before 1996

Two approaches to explanation: Verstehen or Correlation?

The Soviet system and model building

Sovietology: Why the totalitarian model is the best

Four distinctive aspects of Soviet and Russian Military Thinking

Three arguments about rational choice theory in sociology

Inflation: An overview of theories and solutions

Unemployment: Micro- or Macro-theories?

Search

Search the papers for ...
Search

This SiteThe Web

Get your own free Search Engine

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subscribe

Subscribe to news from this page
Powered by www.egroups.com

 

 

 

 

Buy

Buy books (type author, title or keywords)
Search:
Keywords:
In Association with Amazon.co.uk