Quotes from The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer

September 27, 2015

Eric Hoffer is a very interesting thinker, and I very much enjoyed his The Ordeal of Change. If possible, I would quote large parts of the book, but have to settle for some short excerpts. Many of them demonstrate Hoffer’s deep understanding of the human psyche. I try to quote generously rather than commenting too much.

It has been often said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the fruits of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them They feel our generosity as oppression. […] Nor can we win the weak by sharing our hope, pride, or even hatred with them. […] Our healing gift to the weak is the capacity for self-help. We must learn how to impart to them the technical, social, and political skills which would enable them to get bread, human dignity, freedom, and strength by their own efforts [pp. 11-12*].

While written more than fifty years ago, certain parts feel oddly relevant for the present-day social media driven self-realization epidemic:

An autonomous existence is heavily burdened and beset with fears, and can be endured only when bolstered by confidence and self-esteem. The individual’s most vital need is to prove his worth, and this usually means an insatiable hunger for action. For it is only the few who can acquire a sense of worth by developing and employing their capacities and talents. The majority prove their worth by keeping busy. A busy life is the nearest thing to a purposeful life. But whether the individual takes the path of self-realization or the easier one of self-justification by action he remains unbalanced and restless. For he has to prove his worth anew each day [p. 25].

On creativity of the intellectual:

There is no unequivocal evidence that the intellectual is at his creative best when left wholly on his own. It is not at all certain that individual freedom is a vital factor in the release of creative energies in literature, art, music, and science. Many of the outstanding achievements in these fields were not realized in an atmosphere of absolute freedom. […] There is a chronic insecurity at the core of the creative person, and he needs a milieu that will nourish his confidence and sense of uniqueness. Discerning appreciation and a modicum of deference and acclaim are probably more vital for his creative flow than freedom to fend for himself. Thus a despotism that recognizes and subsidizes excellence might be more favorable for the performance of the intellectual than a free society that does not take him seriously. […] It is of course conceivable that a wholly free society might become imbued with a reverence for the fine arts; but up to now the indications have been that where common folk have room enough there is not much room for the dignity and rank of the typical writer, artist, and intellectual in general [pp. 31-32].

More on the intellectual:

One cannot escape the impression that the intellectual’s most fundamental incompatibility is with the masses. He has managed to thrive in social orders dominated by kings, nobles, priests, and merchants, but not in societies suffused with the tastes and values of the masses. The trespassing by the masses into the domain of culture and onto the stage of history is seen even by the best among the intellectuals as a calamity [pp. 42-43].

Ordeal is not really a book in the typical sense, but rather a collection of essays that revolve around a common theme. Thus, Hoffer ranges far and wide in topics and relations, and takes the opportunity to comment on, for example, history:

From their first appearance civilizations almost everywhere were preoccupied with the spectacular, the fantastic, the sublime, the absurd, and the playful—with hardly a trickle of ingenuity seeping into the practical and useful. The prehistoric discoveries and inventions remained the basis of everyday life in most countries down to our time. Technologically, the Neolithic Age lasted even in Western Europe down to the end of the eighteenth century [p. 48].

In an essay on ‘the brotherhood of men’, Hoffer points out a surprisingly accurate contrast between my relationship with those close and humanity in general. (But I remain ambivalent, and my relationships are repeatedly turned up side down. Perhaps I need the maturity of Hoffer to settle.)

It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbor. There may even be a certain antagonism between love of humanity and love of neighbor; a low capacity for getting along with those near us often goes hand in hand with a high receptivity to the idea of the brotherhood of men. […] The capacity for getting along with our neighbor depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves. The self-respecting individual will try to be as tolerant of his neighbor’s shortcomings as he is of his own. Self-righteousness is a manifestation of self-contempt. When we are conscious of our worthlessness, we naturally expect others to be finer and better than we are, and it is as if we wished to be disappointed in them. Rudeness luxuriates in the absence of self-respect [pp. 74-75].

According to Hoffer, modern man strives with self-respect, and with a certain grandeur, he connects it with global conflict.

The unattainability of self-respect has […] grave consequences. In man’s life the lack of an essential component usually leads to the adoption of a substitute. The substitute is usually embraced with vehemence and extremism, for we have to convince ourselves that what we took as second choice is the best there ever was. Thus blind faith is to a considerable extent a substitue for the lost faith in ourselves; insatiable desire a substitute for hope; accumulation a substitute for growth; fervent hustling a substitute for purposeful action; and pride a substitute for unattainable self-respect .The pride that at present pervades the world is the claim that one is a member of a chose group—be it a nation, race, church, or party. No other attitude has so impaired the oneness of the human species and contributed so much to the savage strife of our time [p. 76].

On the writer:

To the genuine writer the word is an end in itself and the center of his existence. He may dream of spectacular action and be lured to play an active role, but in the long run he does not feel at home in the whirl of busy life. […] It is only when the creative flow within him materializes in serried ranks of words that he feels at home in the world [p. 87].

Playfulness and creativity:

[…] the tendency to carry youthful characteristics into adult life, which renders man perpetually immature and unfinished, is at the root of his uniqueness in the universe, and is particularly pronounced in the creative individual. Youth has been called a perishable talent, but perhaps talent and originality are always aspects of youth, and the creative individual is an imperishable juvenile. When the Greeks said, “Whom the gods love die young” they probably meant, as Lord Sankey suggested, that those favored by the gods stay young till the day they die; young and playful [p. 93].

* Page numbers refer to the limited edition printed by Buccaneer Books, Inc. The Ordeal of Change was first published in 1963.

Related post:

Qualifications for an economist

September 25, 2015

In The Worldly Philosophers, Robert L. Heilbroner brings this quote from Keynes on the qualifications for an economist. I’ve posted parts of this before, but it is worth repeating:

The study of economics does not seem to require any specialized gifts of an unusual high order. Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy or pure science? An easy subject, at which very few excel!  The paradox finds its explanation, perhaps, in that the master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher – in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purpose of the future. No part of man’s nature of his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, vet sometimes as near the earth as a politician.

The Ensemble Kalman Filter for Multidimensional Bioeconomic Models

September 22, 2015

Natural Resource ModelingIn the recent issue of Natural Resource Modeling, I have an article together with my old boss. The idea is to apply the ensemble Kalman filter to fit multidimensional foodweb models to data for use in bioeconomic analysis. The abstract:

To integrate economic considerations into management decisions in ecosystem frameworks, we need to build models that capture observed system dynamics and incorporate existing knowledge of ecosystems, while at the same time accommodating economic analysis. The main constraint for models to serve in economic analysis is dimensionality. In addition, to apply in long-term management analysis, models should be stable in terms of adjustments to new observations. We use the ensemble Kalman filter to fit relatively simple models to ecosystem or foodweb data and estimate parameters that are stable over the observed variability in the data. The filter also provides a lower bound on the noise terms that a stochastic analysis requires. In this paper, we apply the filter to model the main interactions in the Barents Sea ecosystem. In a comparison, our method outperforms a regression-based approach.

Classic Style according to Steven Pinker

August 6, 2015

Steven Pinker has a piece on chronicle.com that has much of the essence of his book The Sense of Style. In the Chronicle-piece, he describes classic style, which he promotes as the best style for academic writing, more condensed and, honestly, more quotable than I ever remember from Sense:

The guiding metaphor of classic style is seeing the world. The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, and he orients the reader so she can see for herself. The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity. The truth can be known and is not the same as the language that reveals it; prose is a window onto the world. The writer knows the truth before putting it into words; he is not using the occasion of writing to sort out what he thinks. The writer and the reader are equals: The reader can recognize the truth when she sees it, as long as she is given an unobstructed view. And the process of directing the reader’s gaze takes the form of a conversation.

Prose is a Window Onto the World!

I will let the problems of ‘truth’ lie for the moment, but I do think writing and thinking is intertwined and one promotes the other. Writing can be used to sort out what one thinks. (I have this idea from good, old McCloskey and find it compelling.) But this is not to say that the final, rewritten, rewritten, and edited text should read as if the writer sorted out thoughts along the way, which I presume is what Pinker has in mind and with which I agree.

Stochastically Induced Critical Depensation and Risk of Stock Collapse

July 9, 2015

mreMy research team has published a paper in the latest issue of Marine Resource Economics (vol. 30, no. 3). The paper is called Stochastically Induced Critical Depensation and Risk of Stock Collapse and discusses how stochasticity induces depensation in fisheries models. We also develop a measure of stock collapse risk and apply it to a model with an optimal harvest rate. The abstract reads as follows:

This article investigates the risk of stock collapse due to stochastically induced critical depensation in managed fisheries. We use a continuous-time surplus production model and an economic model with downwardsloping demand and stock-dependent costs. First, we derive an optimal exploitation policy as a feedback control rule by applying the Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman approach and analyze the effects of stochasticity on the optimal policy. Then, we characterize the long-term sustainable optimal state and estimate the risk of stock collapse due to stochastically induced critical depensation. We find that the optimal harvest policy in the stochastic setting is conservative at low stochasticity and approaches the myopic solution at high stochasticity. The risk of stock collapse is increasing with the stochasticity and decreasing with stock sizes.

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

June 11, 2015

Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style is one of the best books about writing that I have read. (Not that I have read that many books about writing, but I have read some. Those that comes to mind are Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style — didn’t leave much of an impression — Deidre McCloskey’s Economical Writing — did leave a huge impression — much of Barzun’s Simple & Direct and William’s Style — that I didn’t finish them says a lot — Stephen King’s On Writing and the edited volume Ernest Hemingway On Writing — King and Hemingway are not exclusively, but still largely, on writing. Further reading on rhetorics are McCloskey’s The Rhetorics of Economics and Cicero’s De Oratore. Books about reading — surprisingly readable — include Nick Hornby’s Shakespeare Wrote for Money and Stephen Jay Gould’s The Urchin in the StormUrchin is a collection of essays where Gould pursues a special kind of book review, discussing books in an idea-wide scope; as instructive as anything. But I get carried away.)

Pinker’s The Sense of Style is great, perhaps only surpassed by McCloskey’s Economical Writing, in part because of McCloskey’s brevity. But Pinker has so much knowledge and so much to tell; he will be forgiven. What I get from McCloskey and that I miss in Pinker is an account of, and introduction to, the struggle of writing — writing obviously comes easily to Pinker and it seemingly never struck him that people struggle with it and that dealing with this struggle is, sometimes, half the job. Further, McCloskey tells us of the importance of reading well in order to write well; I think McCloskey has an important point that is missed by many, and I would appreciate Pinker’s views on it. Another minor thing pointed out by McCloskey is the value of prudence when it comes to visual effects like italics and bold face, and the disadvantage of distractions like footnotes (the latter pertains in particular to non-fictional writing, of course); I also miss these perspectives in Pinker.

But (again) Pinker is a very great book on writing. He starts out by providing samples of great writing (one example here) and then explaining, in details, what’s so particularly great about the specific examples. (Pinker uses a lot of examples — perhaps too much.) Next, he introduces the classic style, the style of writing he recommend, in particular for clear, non-fictional writing.

Classic style is an ideal. Not all prose should be classic, and not all writers can carry off the pretense. But knowing the hallmarks of classic style will make anyone a better writer, and it is the strongest cure I know for the disease that enfeebles academic, bureaucratic, corporate, legal, and official prose [p. 31*].

To just adopt the classic style is not all that easy, however, and this is one place where I wish Pinker would take a lesson from McCloskey. While Pinker teaches us what the classic style is and why it works, I missed something on how to achieve it. (Perhaps it’s all there, but I didn’t get it?)

Pinker moves on to discuss the curse of knowledge that is the difficulty involved in understanding what your reader knows and what your reader does not know, and our tendency to overestimate what is known. Pinker advice to “always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mindset and find out how other people think and feel” (p. 76).

Then Pinker turns to grammar, that old-fashioned subject that will bore you to death (or so must they think, those who think the grammar support provided by most word processing softwares nowadays is sufficient):

But grammar should not be thought of as an ordeal of jargon and drudgery […] It should be thought of instead as one of the extraordinary adaptations in the living world: our species’ solution to the problem of getting complicated thoughts from one head to another. Thinking of grammar as the original sharing app makes it much more interesting and much more useful. By understanding how the various features of grammar are designed to make sharing possible, we can put them to use in writing more clearly, correctly, and gracefully [p. 79].

Grammar brings together three things: “the web of ideas in our head, the string of words that comes out of our mouth or fingers, and the tree of syntax that converts the first into the second” (p. 79). Pinker spends considerable time on the tree-like structure of sentences; probably both important and useful, but I honestly have forgotten most of it.

One important lesson I do remember, so important that Pinker returns to it on several occasions, is that the passive voice do have a place in good writing, and is even necessary at times:

[Earlier] we saw one of the benefits of the passive, namely that the agent of the event, expressed in the by-phrase, can go unmentioned. This is handy for mistake-makers who are trying to keep their names out of the spot-light and for narrators who want you to know that helicopters were used to put out some fires but don’t think you need to know that it was a guy named Bob who flew one of the helicopters. Now we see the other major benefit of the passive: it allows the doer to be mentioned later in the sentence than the done-to. […] The passive allows a writer to postpone the mention of a doer that is heavy, old news, or both [p. 132].

I find this lesson about the passive extraordinarily important. Ever since I read McCloskey, who dismisses the passive in forceful turns, I have avoided it like the plague. Now, I relax a little bit, knowing that submitting to a passive phrase does not have to mean that I am a useless writer.

Appreciating the treelike nature of a text can also help you understand one of the few devices available in nontechnical prose to visually mark the structure of discourse: the paragraph break. Many writing guides provide detailed instructions on how to build a paragraph. But the instructions are misguided, because there is no such thing as a paragraph. That is, there is no item in an outline, no branch of a tree, no unit of discourse that consistently corresponds to a block of text delimited by a blank line or an indentation. What does exist is the paragraph break: a visual bookmark that allows the reader to pause, take a breather, assimilate what he has read, and then find his place again on the page [p. 145].

Two cents from McCloskey here: Align, in Pinker’s words, the units of discourse with your paragraphs: One idea, one unit of thought, per paragraph, and the structure of your argument will become more clear.

On page 156 and onward, Pinker discusses the imperative Avoid Elegant Variation in the context of one of his many examples. He does, however, also point to situations where it is necessary to avoid repeating words, for example to avoid confusion. But the general advice is still to avoid variation for variation’s sake. Pinker is in full agreement with McCloskey here, who is rather stern if I remember correctly. Variation leads Pinker onto a discussion of coherence, of utmost important to good writers, of course. And coherence is related to the curse of knowledge:

Figuring out the right level of explicitness for coherence relations is a major reason that a writer needs to think hard about the state of knowledge of her readers and show a few of them a draft to see whether she got it right. It’s an aspect of the art of writing which depends on intuition, experience, and guesswork, but there is also an overarching guideline. Humans are cursed with attributing  too much of their own knowledge to others [curse of knowledge], which means that overall there is a greater danger of prose being confusing because it has too few connectives than pedantic because it has too many. When in doubt, connect [pp. 167-168].

I have a rumor (among me and myself, at least) for being pedantic when it comes to writing. Mostly, I find it a valuable trait.

Pinker end up concluding that coherence amounts to design:

There is a big difference between a coherent passage of writing and a flaunting of one’s erudition, a running journal of one’s thoughts, or a published version of one’s notes. A coherent text is a designed object: an ordered tree of sections within sections, crisscrossed by arcs that track topics, points, actors, and themes, and held together by connectors that tie one proposition to the next. Like other designed objects, it comes about not by accident but by drafting a blueprint, attending to details, and maintaining a sense of harmony and balance [p. 186].

I tend to agree.

The final chapter of Pinker’s Style is devoted to a list of hundred common issues in grammar, word choice, and punctuation, with Pinker’s advice on how to navigate them. Among them, the dreaded dangling modifiers, that versus which, a fun story of when fear of a split infinitive lead to a crisis of governance (in the US, of course), and ninety seven more valuable lessons that I am glad I now have available in my office.

I hope to have convinced you that dealing with matters of usage is not like playing chess, proving theorems, or solving textbook problems in physics, where the rules are clear and flouting them is an error. It is more like research, journalism, criticism, and other exercises of discernment. In considering questions of usage, a writer must critically evaluate claims of correctness, discount the dubious ones, and make choices which inevitably trade off conflicting values [p. 300].

I never intended to put Pinker and McCloskey up against each other, but it kind of turned out that way anyhow. (I remember more from McCloskey than I’m aware!) Which I prefer? I think someone who want to write better should read both, but start with McCloskey, for brevity if for nothing else. They complement each other. And I cannot choose. Pinker provide a much more comprehensive treatment, and is much more an expert. McCloskey is refreshing, in particular when she addresses peculiarities of economic writing, and should not be missed. For all her amateurism, her guide made me appreciate the value and necessity of good writing, and provided me with an understanding that let me navigate other treatises with ease and joy.

* Page numbers refer to the first edition, Allen Lane, 2014.


Mathiness in Economics

June 9, 2015

In the Papers & Proceedings section of American Economic Review, Paul Romer* describes, after revealing formal errors in a couple of recent prestigious articles, what he calls the new equilibrium in economics:

[…] empirical work is science; theory is entertainment. Presenting a model is like doing a card trick. Everybody knows that there will be some sleight of hand. There is no intent to deceive because no one takes it seriously.

At a seminar I attended recently, there was debate about the concept of rationality in economics. It was pointed out that any behavior (in the given case discussed, but the claim holds more generally, if not fully) can be rationalized if just the model is rich enough. But then rationality becomes worthless because we cannot falsify it, to use a Popperian term. This may be to take it too far; one can set up a model for rational behavior and find conflicting behavior. While we cannot conclude that behavior was irrational, we can conclude that the model we not rich enough.

Romer discusses mathiness in economics further on his blog.

*Romer, PM (2015) Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth, American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 105(5): 89-93.

Steven Pinker on ‘that’ vs. ‘which’

May 23, 2015

A recurrent theme for many writers (of English), particularly non-native speakers and especially me, is whether to use ‘that’ or ‘which’. Here is Steven Pinker:

The real decision is not whether to use that or which but whether to use a restrictive or a nonrestrictive clause. If a phrase which expresses a comment about a noun can be omitted without substantially changing the meaning, and if it would be pronounced after a slight pause and with its own intonation contour, then be sure to set it off with commas (or dashes or parentheses): The Cambridge restaurant, which had failed to clean its grease trap, was infested with roaches. Having done so, you don’t have to worry about whether to use that or which, because if you’re tempted to use that it means either that you are more than two hundred years old or that your ear for the English language is so mistuned that the choice of that and which is the least of your worries. [Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style, Allen Lane, 2014.]

I am not two hundred years old, so that or which is the least of my worries; good to know!

Swans in Bergen

May 8, 2015

Friends have been talking about Swans for years, but I haven’t paid attention. Yesterday, however, Swans had my full attention when they played at USF Verftet in Bergen, and it was a grand time. Gira (frontman and protagonist) is the kind of guy that says ‘Let’s play the same chord for ten minutes and see if anything happens.’ And something happens, ofcourse (he ain’t stupid). Parts were magic. And loud. If you happen to be deaf, no worries; Swans made sure to feed the music directly into your spine (unless you are an invertebrate). Otherwise, the stuff is difficult to describe. Not strange, perhaps, with a young Gandalf on guitar, a long-haired Viggo Mortensen on percussion, gong, pipes, trombone, various strings, including a stringed wooden beam that looked like it once washed up on a beach in Transylvania, Francis Begbie on steel, and a hard-working and surprisingly normal-looking comp. Gira himself looks like a forgotten cousin of Mr. Sandman. Dynamic and prog-like avantgarde-drone-jam stuff with a physical presence. In other words, exactly the kind of music I would have made if I was a musician (read one of my research papers; the parallell is obvious; creativity takes many guises). Swans played for two and a half hours, they played perhaps six ‘songs’ (who’s counting, anyway?). The final number lasted more than thirty minutes, including a ten minute noise wall. When we came out, the rain had stopped.



The Paradox of Hot Food

April 17, 2015

I’ve wondered why food abroad (which almost always means somewhere warmer) often is more spicy than the typical, Norwegian cuisine. A part of the explanation is likely that few spices grow north. In David Landes The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, after extensive discussions of European trade and shipping routes across the world from the 1400’s and onwards, with spice as an important commodity, I came across the following anecdote.

The Spice of Life

People of our day may wonder why pepper and other condiments were worth so much to Europeans of long ago. The reason lay in the problem of food preservation in a world of marginal subsistence. Food supply in the form of cereals barely sufficed, and it was not possible to devote large quantities of grain to animals during long winters, excepting of course breeding stock, draft animals, and horses. Hence the traditional autumnal slaughter. To keep this meat around the calendar, through hot and cold, in a world without artificial refrigeration, it was smoked, corned, spiced, and otherwise preserved; when cooked, the meat was heavily seasoned, the better to hide the taste and odor of spoilage. Hence the paradox that the cuisine of warmer countries is typically “hotter” than that of colder lands–there is more to hide.

Condiments brought a further dividend. The people of that day could not know this, but the stronger spices worked to kill or weaken the bacteria and viruses that promoted and fed on decay. […] Spices, then, were not merely a luxury in medieval Europe but also a necessity, as their market value testified.

Quote of the Day

April 15, 2015

Such in reality is the absurd confidence which almost all men have in their own good fortune, that wherever there is the least probability of success, too great a share of it is apt to go to them […] of its own accord.

– Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book IV, ch. 7, part I

Top Ten

March 13, 2015

Somewhere, I got the idea to list the ten albums that have meant the most to me. So, here they are, in approximate order of appearance (to me):

KeepTheFaithBon Jovi – Keep the Faith (1992). A little bit embarrasing, perhaps, and it have not stood the test of time too well, but I still enjoyed much of it when I gave it a spin last week. Bon Jovi was my first proper favorite artist. Keep the Faith was the first album that really meant something to me and with it I discovered that an album can have more to offer than what one discovers during the first twenty listens. Keep the Faith was the soundtrack of my life for years and made me curious to explore new music. It made me take a deep-dive (to the degree that a fourteen-year-old can take a deep-dive) into the solo career of Richie Sambora.

Motorpsycho-Timothy’s-MonsterMotorpsycho – Timothy’s Monster (1994). Five of the albums on this list could have been Motorpsycho albums, but I will settle for only one and then Timothy’s Monster is the one. It was the first Motorpsycho record I went really deep into and it swept me off my feet. It contains so much, is so varied, and moves from snappy singer-songwriter stuff to pure noise within the first four tracks.  That I discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman around the same time adds to the legend this album is to me. And I still love it, I don’t know why I don’t listen to it more.

rock-actionMogwai – Rock Action (2001). I didn’t really get post rock before Rock Action. Post rock has later given me so much great listening. Mogwai has continued to amaze me and is still a favorite in the post rock genre.




Tonight's the NightNeil Young – Tonight’s the Night (1975). I’ve listened a lot to Neil Young and his presence on this list is obvious. For this list, I am divided between Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and Tonight’s the NightTonight’s is so profound, in rock history and in the life of Neil Young. Neil had won everything and lost everything. Then he made Tonight’s the Night. It moves me.
More on Tonight’s here.

KidARadiohead – Kid A (2000). While I never understood what was so great with OK ComputerKid A made me understand what a great band Radiohead is and that they are devoted to their music in a very profound way. And it made me realize that electronic music can be really great and provided a piece to the puzzle it was to understand that great music, or art for that matter, has nothing really to do with genre or form but with heart and soul and having something to tell.

AADAPMotorpsycho – Angles and Daemons at Play (1997). Ok, I had to put two Motorpsycho records on my list. Last week, I thought I would put Blissard, but then I realized that AADAP means much more to me. Motorpsycho made this record in relief after trying to adhere to certain ideas on Blissard (failing gloriously, I might add). AADAP has everything — it is full of life and creativity — and is a hodgepodge of seemingly unrelated tracks (was first released in secrecy as three EP’s and only later appeared as an album). With the Neil Youngish idea to put different versions of the same track on the same album (Sideway Spiral), the noise wall Heartattack Mac back-to-back with the pop tune Pills, Powders + Passion Plays, a part played on saw(!), a piano ballad (Stalemate), the mythical Un Chien d’espace, and the wild closer Timothy’s Monster, which nods both to Sun Ra, as does the album title, and their own master piece and namesake album, it has everything. Oddly enough, my impression of it is that it is a relatively hard and heavy album, but when I listen to it I realize that mellow parts abound and may well make up the lion’s share of it. In addition, I got it’s texture mixed up with the texture of Erik Fosnes Hansen’s novel Beretninger om Beskyttelse, and this mix makes both more vivid.

EliteFireside – Elite (2000). The reviews on Firesideometer [which seems to be down, I hope it gets back up, great site] says everything I have to say about this record, and says it better. The title track is just epic,  as is the closer. But what makes the album legendary are not it’s tracks but everything inbetween (if that makes little sense, check it out, discover and understand). Fireside was hard core punk that turned psycho and I bet their fans had a hard time getting to grips with Elite. So did the band, I guess, they poured everything they had into it and ran dry. They never return to the same heights later.

TakkSigur Rós – Takk… (2005). My favorite Sigur Rós album and post rock at it’s best. A mind saver. Cannot be explained, needs to be experienced.




ShapeOfJazzOrnette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959). I have listened a lot to jazz music in my life, but few jazz-albums makes it to this list. Shape, however, finally made me appreciate and understand free jazz, both as an idea and as a mean of expression. Miles’s In a Silent Way would have been the next jazz record if I could make ten last longer.


frances-the-muteThe Mars Volta – Frances the Mute (2005). 
Frances was, and is, my gateway into, and is perhaps also the crown jewel of, the world of the Mars Volta. The way leads further to At the Drive-In, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Life Coach, and the full force of progressive and experimental music at it’s best.

Harvesting in a Fishery with Stochastic Growth and a Mean-Reverting Price

February 14, 2015

EREAt the end of last year, my research team got a study accepted in Environmental & Resource Economics. Our long and unsexy title — Harvesting in a Fishery with Stochastic Growth and a Mean-Reverting Price — tells only part of the story (but as much as we could fit!): We study a fish harvest model in two stochastic state variables (stock and price), where the price further is mean-reverting. Perhaps the most important finding is our demonstration of the complexity that arises in relatively simple models. The complex behavior of the optimal solution that we observe is difficult to understand intuitively, something which gave us a hard time in the peer-review process. As it should be, I guess. Anyway, our abstract reads as follows:

We analyze a continuous, nonlinear bioeconomic model to demonstrate how stochasticity in the growth of fish stocks affects the optimal exploitation policy when prices are stochastic, mean-reverting and possibly harvest dependent. Optimal exploitation has nonlinear responses to the price signal and should be conservative at low levels of biological stochasticity and aggressive at high levels. Price stochasticity induces conservative exploitation with little or no biological uncertainty, but has no strong effect when the biological uncertainty is larger. We further observe that resource exploitation should be conservative when the price reverts slowly to the mean. Simulations show that, in the long run, both the stock level and the exploitation rate are lower than in the deterministic solution. With a harvest-dependent price, the long-run price is higher in the stochastic system. The price mean reversion rate has no influence on the long-run solutions.

Economics of Climate Change: A Problem from Hell

February 13, 2015

The economics demigod Martin Weitzman recently published a review of William Nordhaus’ The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, where he provides the following characterization of the climate change economics problem:

The economics of climate change is a problem from hell. Trying to do a benefit-cost analysis […] of climate change policies bends and stretches the capability of our standard economist’s toolkit up to, and perhaps beyond, the breaking point. First and foremost, disconcertingly large uncertainties are everywhere, including the most challenging kinds of deep structural uncertainties. The climate change problem unfolds over centuries and millennia, a long intergenerational human time frame that most people are entirely unaccustomed to thinking about. With such long time frames, discounting becomes ultra-decisive for [benefit-cost analysis], and there is much debate and confusion about which long-run discount rate should be chosen. Irreversibilities abound, including the very long residence lifetime of atmospheric CO2. To add to the challenge, costs of new carbon-free technologies are uncertain. More importantly, for global mean temperature changes much above about 2 [degrees] C, estimating damages is mostly educated guesswork with a distressingly wide error cone. The evaluation and aggregation of such damages add yet another significant layer of uncertainty; we are even unsure even about what form the “damages function” should take. Climate change due to high [greenhouse gas] levels involves nonnegligible tail risks of low-probability catastrophic outcomes, ranging from “known unknown” tipping points to the “unknown unknowns” of black-swan bad-feedback events that we cannot even imagine today.

Striking. The review was published in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.

Quote of the Day

February 5, 2015



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