I wish I could write like this.

Stephen Marche at Esquire titled this piece, The State of the Culture Is… Sacred?

Just look at our current slate of horror films. Scary movies serve the same function in the 20th and 21st centuries that fairy tales served the children of an earlier age — to make our broadest and vaguest terrors into something concrete and therefore confrontable. In the 1950s, radioactive mutation and the threat of nuclear annihilation became Godzilla, The Blob, the gigantic ants of “Them!” The McCarthy hearings gave rise to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the mindless consumerism of the 1970s to the zombies outside the mall in Dawn of the Dead. The 1990s saw Natasha Henstridge in Species become the cipher for brand-new anxieties about genetic manipulation. Horror movies purge us of the fears we inhale every day off the front pages of the newspapers. That’s their job. So it should come as no surprise that this year’s frights stem from knowing wit

hout understanding. And boxes. Stay with me here: In the new Nicolas Cage thriller, Knowing, the hero uncovers a time capsule, a container, in which he finds predictions of all the world’s catastrophes. He knows but he doesn’t understand: That’s his and our terror. In The Box, out later this year from Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly, a married couple receives a plain wooden machine that provides them with $1 million every time they push a button, with the stipulation that every time they use it, someone they don’t know, somewhere in the world, will die.

I’d add to Marche’s films, the internet marketing sensation, Cloverfield. What ever will the monster look like? And M. Knight’s The Happening – What the hell is going on?

These plain boxes, which in simpler times could’ve simply been sources of mystery or intrigue, become instruments of terror, but it’s better our heroes confront fantasy boxes than the boxes that real people actually have to deal with, on the New York subway, on the beaches in Tel Aviv, hidden under a seat in a train station in Mumbai, which are much more terrifying…

The post description sums it up nicely, “Wall Street isn’t the only place with a fearful lack of understanding these days.” And Marche’s closing words are pleasantly Hayekian.

Maybe that’s the solution to all this. Maybe we need to lose our fear of the unknown and show a little humility about the limitations of knowledge. Because if nothing else, that might point us to the fragility and glory of the world we live in. After each bombing, we worry about the vulnerability of our cities, but we’re also shown just how magnificent they are.

In Defense of Jindal

Last night president Obama gave a formal address – arguably a prelude for the next four years of government spending, intervention and regulation. The Wall Street Journal commented that his vague allusions to industry regulations and bailouts were interpreted as increases in risk and uncertainty and thus decreases in the DJI.
After Obama’s address Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal delivered the Republican response. Along with Jindal’s recent denial of stimulus money earmarked for unemployment and wellfare increases, Jindal’s response has been scoffed by both left-wing media pundits and Paul Krugman.
I saw the interview when Jindal declined the portion of unemployment stimulus money for Louisiana and only briefly caught his response last night. My reaction, “way to go Bobby!” Jindal’s approach is complementary to a general impression I have gathered after moving back to New Orleans after four years in graduate school. Louisianians and New Orleanians in particular have one thing going for them. After years of ineffective, corrupt and at times even criminal government officials, we do nut suffer from Nirvana fallacies, we do not treat government as a black box. A local friend whose mother resides out of the state mentioned that she had said to him, “wow it looks like Obama will do great things for Louisiana with the stimulus bill.” His response: “that money won’t help the politicians will just drive fancier cars.” Last weekends Mardi Gras celebrations and every year I’ve had the privilege of attending echo this hostile and cynical vision of local and national politics.
New Orleanians also have a realist perspective when it comes to social welfare programs. Public housing, food stamps and public education have not eliminated poverty in this town – barely a dent – barely in the right direction. Does anyone seriously think that expanding the Magnolia housing projects is a good idea? There’s obviously still work to be done in New Orleans, and few if any of our residents are willing to endure any more idleness induced by subsidy.

A question for Bryan Caplan

In The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan explains that, much of today’s bad economic policies can be blamed on the systematic biased beliefs that voters hold concerning issues of economics. A way of rephrasing Bryan’s insight – ideas matter.
Bryan makes the metaphor between politics and religion explicit – but I’m curious if we could get tractable results by looking at some of people’s more specific religious beliefs. Take the belief in an “end of days,” or apocalypse scenario. If people truly believe that the world will come to an end, either in their own lifetimes or even within the lifetimes of a few future generations then there are obvious economic implications. Why save for tomorrow when there may be no tomorrow?
Now the obvious objection would be, “people don’t really believe that.” But I suppose we could test for it. Is there an observed difference in savings rates between people who admit to an “end of days” dogma compared to those who don’t? Secondly, some people believe it. Are they a big enough biased group to sway policy outcomes?