Generation gaps

Back around 1989, I drew my father’s attention to a $40,000 Infiniti automobile, which passed us on the highway. My dad (a WWII vet) couldn’t even comprehend how the Japanese could sell a car at that price point. He associated Japan with cheap stuff. (He died a year later.)

I had a similar feeling when I saw this FT headline:

Vietnamese electric-car maker worth more than Ford or GM after US listing

Lossmaking VinFast’s market capitalisation tops $85bn following New York debut

When I was first old enough to notice cars, GM was a colossus, controlling roughly 50% of the US car market. It was our most dominant company—our Apple. Vietnam was regarded (wrongly) as a tiny country full of primitive people who lived in the jungle. If in 1965 you’d showed the average American this headline from 2023 their jaw would have dropped.

[They would also have assumed the communists lost the war. And they’d wonder what an “electric-car” was. Perhaps in a sense the communists did lose the war, after winning the battle.]

As I get older, I’m increasing aware that every generation lives in a different world. This tweet caught my eye:

I presume that Yglesias is more in tune with what’s currently “creepy and weird”, but I actually liked this film. It does have some uncomfortable moments (a 12-year old girl exposed to some pretty intense violence), but I’ve seen enough similar examples that it no longer fazes me. Remember Taxi Driver? Why not make this sort of film today?

On these sorts of subjective questions, I try to maintain both an inside view and an outside view. Each generation will have standards that seem appalling to the subsequent generation. In many cases, such as slavery, the views of the newer generation tend to prevail in the long run. In other cases, the reforms are later reversed. Thus the Victorians probably saw themselves as progressives, who rose above the more lascivious culture of Georgian-period England. Later generations saw the Victorians as foolish prudes—sexual reactionaries.

As I came of age, young people were increasingly mocking the censorship of the 1950s, a time when Hollywood showed married couples sleeping in separate twin beds. By the 1970s, “anything goes” was viewed as the hip position. Now younger people often decry a lack of censorship in the old. Where will things be in 50 years? I have no idea.

So my inside view is that Yglesias is wrong—Léon is a perfectly respectable film. (If I were Trump, I’d say the film is “perfect”.) My outside view is that Yglesias is probably correct and I’m probably wrong. That’s based on two factors:

1. No one can evaluate their own values in an objective fashion.

2. “The arc of history is long and it bends toward justice.” In other words, the Whig view of history is correct. The younger generation generally has superior views of what is right.

The inside/outside dichotomy relates the the efficient markets hypothesis. Each person should form a view as to the value of a given asset, say Bitcoin. Each person should also recognize that the market view is probably superior to their (inside) view. But that knowledge should not cause individuals to abandon their inside view. If the public blindly accepted the market view, then people would no longer contribute the local views required to form an efficient market in the first place. Thus, in a well functioning system people should hold both views—their own view based on their personal information set and a dispassionate understanding that the consensus view is usually superior.

I disagree with Yglesias about Léon, but I also believe that he’s probably correct. I’m probably just a creepy and weird old boomer.

PS. It’s rated at 74% by critics at Rotten Tomatoes. The general audience is especially creepy and weird, coming in at 95%. I suppose only a boomer would be unhip enough to frequent Rotten Tomatoes.

PPS. I wrote this post a couple week ago. Yesterday I was reading Chateaubriand’s Memoirs, and came across this (from Google):

Paul Auster called this memoir “The best autobiography ever written.”



24 Responses to “Generation gaps”

  1. Gravatar of Garrett Garrett
    6. September 2023 at 17:57

    Outside view: Auster is probably right

    Inside view: I haven’t written mine yet ;p

  2. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    6. September 2023 at 18:11

    Great post. I was just advised not to screen the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’ scene from the film, “A Beautiful Mind” ( as a teaching aid when explaining game theory to younger non-economist colleagues. The younger generation may a closer affinity with justice than the middle-aged, but I’m not sure what else they have an affinity to.

  3. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    6. September 2023 at 20:20

    BTW, what’s your ‘outside view’ on why the majority of the macroeconomics profession has not jettisoned New Keynesianism in favour of market monetarism and continue to make the mistake of conflating the level of and changes in interest rates with the stance of monetary policy?

  4. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    6. September 2023 at 20:30

    Garrett, Don’t expect one from me.

    Rajat, To give you a sense of how out of it I am, I’m not even sure why you were discouraged from showing that clip. I can’t disagree with their reasoning, because I don’t even know what the worriers were worried about.

    I’m two generations removed from college students.

    My outside view is that the New Keynesians are probably right–otherwise why would so many smart economists hold those views?

  5. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    7. September 2023 at 05:30

    The Vietnamese car company market value is pure market chicanery. The price is already down precipitously and will continue to fall.

    I think the unease people have with Leon is more to do with paedophilia than the violence.

    Chateaubriand’s Memoirs are amazing. I can’t remember if the English translation is complete, however. I know the NYRB version from a few years ago is not complete, but hopefully the 19th century original translation is. Definitely my favourite autobiography. Glad you’re enjoying!

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. September 2023 at 09:26

    Tacticus. Was there paedophilia? It’s been a while since I saw the film, but I honestly don’t recall any.

    I’m reading the NYRB version, which at 1300 pages is “complete enough” for my slow pace of reading.

    Have you profited from shorting Vinfast?

  7. Gravatar of Ilverin Ilverin
    7. September 2023 at 12:00

    The controversy over Leon is driven by the international version of the movie, which is 25 minutes longer, and those 25 minutes include a specific mention of the possibility of pedophilic sexual relations between the 2 main characters. Also, the director did marry a 15 year old.

  8. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    7. September 2023 at 12:32

    As Ilverin notes, the American version was edited down significantly to get passed the censors/rating agency. In the international version, at least, maybe it’s not in the American version, Portman’s character tries to seduce Leon by dressing as Marilyn Monroe and saying she loves him, as I recall. And there is also a scene that hints that they may have just had sex. It’s pretty icky, especially considering Portman’s age at the time of filming and that the director said her character was based on his relationship with his wife…

    Even when it came out, some critics thought it was gross. I think that’s Matt’s point when he says that it was creepy and gross in 1994 too and it is remarkable it was made.

    I think it’s a great film, for what it’s worth. Some great films just happen to be creepy and gross.

    I have not profited from shorting VinFast – because my broker won’t let me! Most short opportunities right now are charging about -5% interest (you make money from the T-Bill collateral), but I was quoted 700% to short VinFast – and when I inquired further I was told that actually it wasn’t possible. The float is only like 1% of shares ‘outstanding.’ I will note, however, that the stock fell 27% today – in line with my prediction.

    The VinFast situation is a prime example of why many practitioners dislike the EMH. It doesn’t take into account the real world, practical complexities of investing.

  9. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    7. September 2023 at 20:11

    Re A Beautiful Mind, at least, Scott, I knew enough to ask! Younger female (and more ‘woke’) colleagues have said they would have just shown the snippet, but as a middle-aged male, I tell them they have ‘female privilege’ 🙂 To be honest, when one works in the environment where these things are likely to be an issue, one naturally absorbs that sensibility to some extent. I wonder if it had not yet got traction at Bentley when you were still there, or whether you were just lucky that you hadn’t been confronted with the same sorts of problems.

    I haven’t seen Leon, but I doubt even the Lolita remake (1997) could be made today, at least in the way it presented Nabokov’s story.

  10. Gravatar of David S David S
    7. September 2023 at 23:40

    I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that incoming college freshmen were born FOUR years after 9/11. For them, the pandemic has been their primary generational shock. Because it was such a disruption to normal social interactions we seem to be purging it from our collective memory. I find it odd whenever I see faded signs in restaurant bathrooms with social distancing directives–what is that for?!

    The Great Recession, and the lessons that have been learned and not learned from it, feels almost like a fictional period. And Trump? He’s definitely just a bad acid trip. I’ll turn 50 at the end of his second term.

  11. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    8. September 2023 at 08:30

    Of course, you can look at some values in an objective fashion.

    Universality is predicated upon reason; the fundamental truths that humans deduct from pure reason are cross cultural.

    Humans, and the animal kingdom more broadly, set out to create certain cultural precepts (values) that are passed down from one generation to the next with the goal of preserving some degree of harmony; and in the process, permit procreation, innovation, and progress that hopefully makes the newer generation better off than the previous generation. That’s the nature of the things.

    Even dogs have cultural values; they have been taught from birth to live in packs, because that is the wisdom passed down to them through the ages.

    Any species departing signficantly from cultural precepts threatens its own existence.

    Furthermore, not every generation progresses. The middle ages are a good example of stagnation and regression, from the fundamental truths found by the greeks centuries before them. It should go without saying that nobody in ancient greece would have burned so-called “witches” at the stake.

    History has shown that societies can move away from truth. And when they do, death and destruction and degeneracy will follow, and the psuedoscientists and charlatans will take over — usually for a while — until a new age of enlightenment emerges.

  12. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    8. September 2023 at 12:14

    Tacitus, Thanks, I must have seen the censored version. I won’t comment on something I didn’t see.

    I will say that the young girl in Taxi Driver played a prostitute. But perhaps that film is also something that would not be made today. I’m not the person to ask, I’ve got one foot in the grave.

    Rajat, Lolita is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. God help us if it gets cancelled.

    I had no PC related problems at Bentley, but I knew colleagues that got in hot water over innocuous comments relating to race.

    I’m kind of surprised I don’t get attacked for this blog—perhaps woke people simply ignore me. It’s the Putin puppies that go after me.

    David, At my age, time goes far faster than at your age. A decade flies by in the blink of an eye.

    Sara, You said:

    “pure reason”

    Sounds wonderful, where can I get some?

  13. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. September 2023 at 14:45

    Great post as always.

    I’ve never seen Leon, but note that “Imdb registered users” give it an 8.5, and their second highest rated Besson film is The Fifth Element at 7.6.

    I’ve not seen A Beautiful Mind either, but I’ve been told (by multiple sources, I think) that the Nash Equilibrium (Rajat says “Prisoner’s Dilemma;” I thought it was supposed to be a NE) is not actually Nash. Is that not so? I always thought that was funny (and sorta perfect), so I hope it is.

  14. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. September 2023 at 14:57

    “My outside view is that the New Keynesians are probably right–otherwise why would so many smart economists hold those views?”

    I am skeptical of both halves of this one – it’s admirable to consider things from this inside/outside perspective, but you can only take that so far. And there are so many possible answers to the question.

    The first answer I recall encountering was back in Junior High – thanks, Google:

    “From now on I’m thinking only of me.”

    Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.”

    “Then,” said Yossarian, “I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?”

  15. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. September 2023 at 16:05

    Okay, I watched the clip Rajat linked to, and it’s a little unclear.

    Rajat says it’s a PD but the Nash character doesn’t explicitly say that if one of them cheats on the cooperative equilibrium (where none of them go for the blonde) and goes for the blonde, they’ll get her, which would make it a PD. And PD’s are not NE’s, of course – that’s the “dilemma.”

    But I guess that’s what the critique I’ve heard means – it’s implied that if one of them goes for the blonde, they’ll get her, so Rajat is correct, and it is a PD. And thus it isn’t a NE. (Which I still think is funny – “hey, it was too hard for us to figure out how to dramatize a Nash Equilibrium, so we substituted this other thing”).

    Of course they’re also getting Smith wrong, but that almost goes without saying.

  16. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. September 2023 at 16:15

    Pardon me, the cheating equilibrium in a PD *is* a NE, the cooperative equilibrium in a PD *is not* a NE. And the film seems to be describing or pointing to the cooperative equilibrium as where Nash is supposed to be correcting Smith.

    (Sorry for all the dumb comments – I should have just suggested Rajat explain all this).

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. September 2023 at 08:33

    anon/portly, You said:

    “Of course they’re also getting Smith wrong, but that almost goes without saying.”

    Yup, and the book is far more interesting than the film.

    Keep in mind that my holding an outside view doesn’t preclude me from holding an inside view. My inside view remains that I’m right and the rest of the economics profession is horribly misguided.

  18. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    9. September 2023 at 19:33

    It’s just a valuation. It’s not reality.

    Tesla, was worth more than all other car manufacturers combined, just a few years ago, despite selling fewer cars than GM.

    The price is only what investors are willing to pay, and when a product is hyped up, they pay a lot. It’s a bubble.

    Btw, Sumner appears to be implying that Vietnam is wonderful, just like his beloved China.

    Reality check. It’s not.

    If you disagree with the government, you disappear. The last time I was there, in 2021, they had the military paroling the streets. Four military men knocked on my hotel door and demanded in loud voices to see my passport immediately because the hotel reported that a “white person” was in there.

    It’s a totalitarian shit-hole, much like China. The only reason production is moving to Vietnam is because sick and twisted globalists want to pay $200 a month instead of $500 a month. The same sick and twisted globalists that told RFK jr. that if he campaigned in Iowa before campaigning in New Hampshire that they would strip him of his votes.

    As Trump says: “These people are sick”

  19. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    10. September 2023 at 10:55

    Leon is the dumber version of Cassavetes’ Gloria. And Maiwenn has said that it basically reflects her relationship with Besson.
    Taxi Driver is different from Leon. The protagonist is killing the people involved with sexually exploiting a child… but it’s still a more morally gray film than something like You Were Never Really Here because we know he’s actually a nut who attempted to assassinate a political candidate and is mistakenly viewed as a hero (and the girl in question is horrified as he’s killing everyone around her, begging him not to). The title character in Leon is idealized, and Besson romanticizes his relationship with a young girl because, as noted, he himself had just married & knocked up a girl of similar age.
    As for the arc of history and justice, I see no reason to believe in the existence of either. Whatever will happen, will happen, regardless of whether anyone regards it as just or not. If humanity continues to exist (not a guarantee, even if someone thinks of extinction as unjust) some people will attempt to rationalize whatever happened.

  20. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    10. September 2023 at 14:41

    I think Taxi Driver would still be made today, albeit maybe it would be an HBO mini-series or something like that.

    I went down a whole Leon rabbit-hole a few years back and even in some of the original reviews, reviewers were unfavourably comparing it to Taxi Driver, noting that Besson was nowhere near as thoughtful as Scorsese when it came to the sexual aspects.

    A lot has to do with the gaze of the director, where Scorsese is not sexualizing Foster, but Besson appears to do so with Portman at times.

    Re: Chateaubriand, I see that the NYRB have put out another volume last year. Hopefully that means they’ll be doing the whole thing after all, then. I had thought they had decided to just do the beginning years of his life and that was all.

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. September 2023 at 08:58

    TGGP, Again, I never saw the version of the film that you are describing. There was no sexual relationship in the (apparently censored) version that I saw.

    I won’t defend Besson, who I know almost nothing about. But I will note that his girlfriend was 15, the age of consent in France. The girl in the film was 12–so it’s not quite the same. Maybe 15 is too low in the modern world—I don’t have strong views on the appropriate cutoff point for age of consent laws. But Besson didn’t violate any laws in that particular case. (Later he was accused of rape. He was acquitted, but according to Wikipedia there are other disturbing accusations revolving around him. He certainly seems like a questionable character.)

    Tacitus, I am currently in the middle of volume 2 (1800-15). How many volumes are out there?

  22. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    11. September 2023 at 22:38


    the version of Leon that I saw, and I must assume it was the international one, and of course as of my own reading, made it appear like both characters are unsure of their sexuality. They are attracted w/o knowing exactly how and why. The girl plays with her emerging sexuality and appears to try and seduce him, w/o necessarily knowing that she is doing that, dressing up for seduction w/o knowing what sex is. And he seems to be uncomfortable in his attraction to her and trying to take his distance. In fact as a viewer you expect a relationship to happen, but it doesn’t, both characters being too “innocent” for lack of a better word, to do it. Leon almost comes across as an incel, a virgin himself too.


    I didn’t read these two films the same way. Taxi Driver to me was about the quintessential American Weirdo Missionary-Savior: a self-righteous man with a savior complex who wants to save someone of whom he idolizes their “innocence” and victimhood. All the while the person he is projecting his visions of unspoiled victimhood upon, the girl, does not necessarily want to be saved. That girl isn’t innocent either. To me in Taxi Driver, both protagonists are broken, part of the chaos that they live in. In Leon, both characters are “pure” living unspoiled in the midst of chaos that they transcend.

  23. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    12. September 2023 at 05:45

    They NYRB has only put out those two volumes so far, but the memoirs end in 1841, so I imagine/hope they will do 2 more volumes (1815-1830) and (1830-1841).

    The 1902 English edition was 6 volumes; the original French in 1848 was 12 volumes. I don’t remember where, in time, they broke from one volume to the next, however. Been about a decade since I read the whole thing.

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. September 2023 at 07:11

    mbka, Thanks. That may be the version that I saw. What you describe doesn’t seem particularly offensive to me. Certainly in real life you would not want a girl exposed to that situation, but films often portray things that would be bad in real life (such as murder). But I don’t recall it as a film that indulged in pedophilia. I recall Leon as being a bit protective of the girl.

    Tacitus, I hope to live long enough to see those two volumes.

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