Miles from home

Miles Kimball has a very nice post pointing out that he and I grew up very close to each other, and that his brother Chris Kimball was in my elementary school class in Madison, Wisconsin. He also includes an email exchange where we discuss both our past and his negative interest on money proposal.  Just seeing the picture of Madison makes me homesick.  Later today I’ll put up a demographic post on Madison that I wrote a while back and never posted, figuring no one was interested.  But now I know at least Miles will be interested.

A note about my family background.  I grew up in the standard baby boom family with a mom at home and two siblings, all born 2 1/2 years apart in the mid-1950s.  You can’t get much more average than that!  I was a bit too late to truly experience the “60s”, but I certainly recall the period.  My dad had a small store and then later became a self-employed real estate salesman.  Because he was pretty smart and thrifty he was able to gradually move us from an apartment to a house to a quite nice house, actually way above his modest income.  So I’m not really sure whether I should consider myself middle of upper middle class.  The best two houses were upper middle class, but that left us with no money for things like vacations involving airplanes and/or hotels.  Allowance was 15 cents a week.  I suppose class is a state of mind to some extent.

My extended family on my dad’s side was sort of interesting.  They were very liberal; some of my cousins and second cousins married blacks as far back as the 1960s and 1970s, when it was unusual.  I’m told some of my ancestors were abolitionists.  My uncle was a journalist and my grandfather a journalism prof at Wisconsin.  The debates in the extended family get togethers where often very political–so I suppose that might relate in some way to how I turned out.  Although I’m viewed as a “conservative,” that’s really only because of my free market views, otherwise I have a somewhat liberal sensibility about politics, art, cosmopolitanism, etc.

PS.  In one of my emails to Miles I see an error; I implied we moved out of the neighborhood when I was 11. Actually we moved to a smaller house nearby, and only much later to an apartment.  Even after the divorce we were not poor.

PPS.  A commenter named “Name” sent me a post that provides a “musical taste proof” for the claim that market monetarism is superior to all other schools of thought:

  • Scott Sumner. The main (?) blogger for “market monetarism”. He has repeatedly brought up his love of Icelandic music, especially Sigur Ros. Finally someone who makes sense! And finally an excuse to mention Sigur Ros since this blog is normally exclusive to music on bandcamp. There’s all sorts of great music in the world, but only Sigur Ros seems consistently beyond what humans should be capable of creating. And the absolute pinnacle of all music is experiencing the end of this song in person. For months afterward I could just think about it and get covered in goosebumps.

So there you have it: musical proof that we should give market monetarism a chance.

PS. Yes I realize Tyler Cowen also said good things about Sigur Ros in the same link where he talked about Bjork. But he also said they “never quite lived up to their initial promise”. Not acceptable!

Naturally I’m flattered, and I got goosebumps too, but I’m afraid this guy is letting his love of Sigur Ros get in the way of good judgment.  With one notable exception, Tyler Cowen’s taste in music is so far above mine it’s ridiculous.

[Perhaps Tyler likes Dear Doctor because it is in some sense the essence of the Stones.  People with excellent taste are no longer impressed with all the bells and whistles in spectacular songs like Gimme Shelter, which still impress lesser mortals like me.  Just the pure undistilled Stones.]

PPPS.  An anecdote about my dad.  When the banks were closed in 1933 his dad (the prof) temporarily had no cash to spend.  My dad went upstairs and got a couple hundred dollars he had set aside.  He had earned the money (a lot in those days) wheeling and dealing things like industrial scrap.  He was 11 years old.



19 Responses to “Miles from home”

  1. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    11. December 2013 at 09:14

    Your family history doesn’t strike me as a rags to riches story, but rather a scrap to scrip one.

  2. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    11. December 2013 at 09:54

    I particularly like your story of you dad collecting and selling scrap metal as a child. It seems that children from this era were far more resourceful than modern kids.

    My grandfather collected the coal that fell off of trains and sell it back to the railroad.

    The family legend is that my great-grandfather sold newspapers to the customers at the brothel so that they could cover their face when the exited.

  3. Gravatar of J.V. Dubois J.V. Dubois
    11. December 2013 at 10:33

    That musical taste proof was really funny. But I have to say that the guy did his share of research on economics bloggers anyways. I follow all blogs of everyone on the list and couple more because most of the time it is possible to imagine that being said make actually sense even if there is some disagreement. And of course it cannot harm to be on the safe side of confirmation bias.

  4. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    11. December 2013 at 10:41

    The Dear Doctor/Gimme Shelter comp is perfect. Yes, some bluesy/folky noodling is better than any of Keith’s “will live a 1000 years” pop riffs. I think Tyler likes to troll his readers a bit.

    Gimme Shelter is perfect because I think it’s the Stones tune that even people who don’t think that much of the Stones, really find amazing. My favorite choice for “best Stones tune” (which is not to say it’s their best tune, necessarily) would be Citadel, because it’s not so much like other Stones tunes as it is reminiscent of what bands were doing 10 or 15 years later. (H/t: Borges, “Kafka and His Precursors,” where IIRC the precursors come after Kafka). Plus it’s just brilliant.

    The Tyler Cowen music post that still has me shaking my head is this one:

    Like, c’mon on! Caplan’s question is ridiculous, there’s almost no such thing as a “punk” band, except for a few niche bands. It’s meaningless to list The Clash as your fave punk band, when they were punk for such a brief time. It would have been interesting had Tyler listed his 10 favorite punk *songs* or *recordings*, but listing your favorite punk *bands* is silly. He’s quickly mentioning all kinds of people that were either never punk, or only arguably punk.

    For example, if I were to list my own favorites, which no one would care much about, even me, because I’m not that conversant with the punk canon, I’d put Fairytale in the Supermarket on the list, but I believe it’s the Raincoats’ only punk song! They did the one, and moved on. There’s almost no such thing as a punk band, only bands that were punk. Even The Ramones became quickly much less punky.

    (Obviously I am perhaps using my own definition of punk, as I believe it’s a sort of anarchic fast-tempo pop).

  5. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    11. December 2013 at 10:57

    ‘It seems that children from this era were far more resourceful than modern kids.’

    Well, modern kids can’t even sell lemonade on the sidewalk or mistletoe in a park without the police stepping in.

  6. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    11. December 2013 at 11:37

    I’m cross-posting because I’d really like quick responses from Scott and Miles.

    What if in 2000, 20% of Real Growth was deflationary?

    What if today 50% of Real Growth is deflationary?

    What if in 2020, 80% of Real Growth is deflationary?

    Meaning almost all the productivity gains flow to cheaper prices, because each year a larger piece of the our economy goes digital and ALL digital productivity gains drive consumer costs to zero.

    When we talk about “Real Growth” thats the true good stuff we want, and when I run thru my list of what good stuff comes in future, its almost all digital.

    Infact, our single biggest atomic want – cheap energy – might INCREASE the speed adoption of digital consumption over atomic consumption.

    To stay on a level target, the more Real Growth we get, the more inflation we have to eat.

    If the above trend is true, a 5% NGDPLT target would means we’d have to have QE forever right?

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. December 2013 at 11:38

    Doug, I love those stories from the old days.

    anon/portly, Good point about punk. But your Stones comment has me scratching my head. You mock Dear Doctor and then come up with Citadel?” As I said, I don’t have good taste in music, but Citadel? Seriously? Better than Satisfaction, GetOffofMyCloud, PaintitBlank, JumpingJackFlash, GimmeShelter, BrownSugar, Happy? I don’t think so.

    For some reason I’m blanking out on Kafka. Are you sure it wasn’t that his precursors were retroactively seen as Kafkaesque? It’s been years since I read the essay.

    Patrick, Yes, that’s one reason I’m an old reactionary. I worked when I was young–what’s wrong with child labor?

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. December 2013 at 11:40

    Morgan, I’m not sure what you are asking. Growth is growth. Whether it is deflationary depends on the speed NGDP rises, not the type of growth. Inflation is just NGDP growth minus RGDP growth. Ask it in a different way.

  9. Gravatar of dlr dlr
    11. December 2013 at 12:11

    Scott, can you explain what you mean when you say you don’t have good taste in music? Normally, I wouldn’t ask such a crazy question, but I am convinced you will have an interesting answer. If you had the world’s most acute ability to discriminate sound patterns and draw connections between them, but preferred the simple, repetitive stuff that people with very low discrimination liked, would you still have bad taste?

  10. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    11. December 2013 at 12:16


    If we take all of the Ivy League Schools and put their classes online, let anyone who wants take the classes for free, and only pay $10 to have test graded.

    And make it illegal to classify a difference between on an campus and online degree…

    And over next ten years, college loans drop by 80%, and all the teachers are fired, and college buildings are turned into housing and data centers.

    We have effectively taken a $200K education and given it to as many of 300M people who want it for $1K in test grading.

    So $1T in college spending today is $50B in ten years.

    That’s REAL GROWTH, and it sucks $950B in accounted GDP a year out of the economy. (And I have an idea to get rid of that $10 per test thing.)

    Meanwhile, we have driven down the value of an elite school education, basically making obsolete the investment in college that everyone else made before the change.

    People have always talked about you and I just swapping contracts to create fake growth – to get at the issue of “what is growth”

    But when we talk about “market value” and say “well its all really nominal first” and then we gotta figure out “inflation” and then we’ll know the Real Growth.

    That’s tied directly to an atomic construct. One based on scarcity. We find MORE oil. We make MORE tennis shoes. We build MORE houses.

    But if the LONG RUN is jacking Scott into a VR rig and feeding him soylent (the new food replacement I start taking in Jan), and letting him amass a life lived without mush physical movement, that amplies his brain activity, increases his hedonic joy, and decreases the calories he consumes and expends in his life time.

    And that we all know is the LONG RUN.

    Because that is the end of scarcity. In your mind you can eat an unlimited amount of truffles and caviar, because it takes the same amount of electrons to mentally consume virtual spam.

    So we head towards a digital future where REAL GROWTH is constantly and alway ending scarcity, and thereby driving the cost of all things to zero.

    If we are on a 5% NGDPLT today, and half our REAL GROWTH is deflationary (pls tell me you get this from my trend example):

    1. it’s be very hard to see, unless we measured growth differently.

    2. we’d find ourselves printing more and more money just to stay on target.

  11. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    11. December 2013 at 12:17

    Patrick Sullivan,
    One of my friends had his lemonade stand shut down by the police. It was illegal to operate a commercial venture in the town we lived in.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. December 2013 at 13:15

    dlr, That’s easy. I have pretty good taste in the visual arts, so I can see what I am missing in music and poetry. If I did not, I might not realize I have bad taste in music. I “get” almost all styles of visual arts, but only a few types of music. I see what many other people miss in the visual arts, and by analogy I’m missing similar things in music.

    I often meet people who like “impressionist art,” (aka pretty pictures) and think to myself; “yeah, that’s like my taste in music.” In music I like a narrow range of stuff. My brain isn’t wired for certain types of music. I don’t understand why opera singers are considered good, or Frank Sinatra. But I like the sound of Dylan’s voice. Yes, I have very bad taste.

    You asked for an interesting answer, so let me try again. I’m like someone who can discriminate between good and bad impressionist art, but not why Velasquez and Titian are so great. I do have some ability to tell good from bad music within a narrow range. I can often tell why rock critics like certain unpopular bands more than the best sellers, but that’s only with a narrow range. In something like jazz music I don’t have a clue.

  13. Gravatar of 123 123
    11. December 2013 at 13:43

    Early Stones? – Good Times, Bad Times

  14. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    11. December 2013 at 16:37

    I’m curious as to where the scrapping took place. Was it in a big city? I ask because I know so many young people that grew up in a suburb where there were literally no money making opportunities outside of fast food, which required the capital investment of a car to be feasible. Maybe our geography plays a bigger role in society than we realize or can quantify?

  15. Gravatar of Name Name
    11. December 2013 at 18:08

    I don’t doubt that Tyler has listened to more music, enjoys more music, knows more about music, has thought more about music, and has a more refined musical palate. But he still lacks in The One Thing That Matters. He did get an implied second place though.

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. December 2013 at 18:22

    123, I don’t know that one.

    Benny, Madison WI, a small city.

    Name, Oh, so can I assume you are the blogger? I didn’t realize that. Thanks. Well, he’s probably right that A-B was the peak for Sigur Ros, but the stuff since then has been awfully good as well, albeit occasionally a bit repetitive or ponderous.

  17. Gravatar of 123 123
    12. December 2013 at 05:52

    Here it is:

    I’m more a beatles person, but nothing from the second beatles album even comes close, proving that stones have started ahead.

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. December 2013 at 06:22

    123, That’s a very good one. I need to pick up all those older CDs. When I was younger I mostly focused on the stuff from 1968-72.

  19. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    17. December 2013 at 03:01

    “You mock Dear Doctor and then come up with Citadel?” As I said, I don’t have good taste in music, but Citadel? Seriously?”

    -Scott Sumner

    “This one[Citadel]’s the best song the Rolling Stones ever did.”

    -Captain Sensible

    Who should I go with on this issue, some guy who thinks it’s possible to inflate a fiat currency, or CAPTAIN SENSIBLE? Talk about questions that answer themselves.

    Note: I didn’t mean to mock Tyler Cowen, he’s probably on to something….

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