28 April 2009

Wise Words

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

--John Dryden, "
Happy the Man" (1685)


[Hat tip:
Arthur Brooks]

23 April 2009

Looking for Suggestions

I am teaching a class this summer for the Fund for American Studies. The class is on the ethics of philanthropy, intended for advanced undergraduate students. What books or articles would you recommend including on the syllabus?

Please put your suggestions in the comments section or e-mail them to me at jimotteson (at) gmail (dot) com. I will list some of the suggestions I receive in a future post.

16 April 2009

Worth a Look

NYU development economist William Easterly's blog, "Aid Watch." It has the eminently sensible, but surprisingly little heeded, motto, "Just Asking that Aid Benefit the Poor."

Worth a Look

A new series published by Continuum Press: Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers. The general editor is John Meadowcroft, and the list of authors is, if I do say so myself, impressive.

(Here is the Amazon.com link.)

Wise Words

Reading some of John Adams's work reminded me of this passage from John Locke's 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

"The candle, that is set up in us, shines bright enough for all our purposes. The discoveries we can make with this, ought to satisfy us; and we shall then use our understandings right, when we entertain all objects in that way and proportion that they are suited to our faculties, and upon those grounds they are capable of being proposed to us, and not peremptorily, or intemperately require demonstration, and demand certainty, where probability only is to be had, and which is sufficient to govern all our concernments" (bk. 1, chap. 1, Introduction, sect. 5).

15 April 2009

Obama and Socialism

President Obama spoke at Georgetown University yesterday, April 14th. I entered the lottery to get tickets, but unfortunately my number was not selected. Here is the full text of his speech. The Wall Street Journal has not been particularly happy with the President's speeches recently (here is yesterday's reaction, which includes the picture at left), but they've had nothing to say about this speech in particular.

In other news, because today is April 15th, tax day, the various "Tea Party" tax protests around the country are getting a lot of press. Here is one event not getting much press: This weekend the Party for Socialism and Liberation is holding a panel discussion at Georgetown under the title "Capitalism Is Organized Crime!" Here is a link to the event announcement (and the rather dramatic poster, pictured at right). I will not, again unfortunately, be able to attend this event. Whatever its faults or shortcomings, I do not think capitalism is organized crime; but it would have been interesting to hear what they had to say.

13 April 2009

Worth a Look

Updating a previous post, the Atlas Foundation has put up a page on its website for the keynote talk I gave at its conference in New Orleans, this past March 27th. The page hosts a podcast of my talk as well, including Atlas President Alex Chafuen's introduction of me. This link takes you to the site and the podcast.

Note: The text of the talk is not yet available, but it will be shortly.

07 April 2009

What I Am Reading

Readers have given me lots of good suggestions of books to read. Here are a few.

I have completed reading Theodore Dalrymple's latest excellent collection of essays,
Not with a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline. Dalrymple is one of the greatest living essayists; I highly recommend his work.

Dorron Katzin recommends Marci A. Hamilton's
Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children.

One of my best students, who hails from Italy, recommends Roberto Saviano's
Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System.

Several readers have recommended Amity Shlaes's
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. I must add here my own recommendation of William Graham Sumner's excellent essay "The Forgotten Man," from which Shlaes gets her book's title. Sumner's essay is contained in On Liberty, Society, and Politics: The Essential Essays of William Graham Sumner.

I have received many more suggestions, too many to list; but I will give one more: Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel's
Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations. With a title like that, it must be good!

As always, I welcome other suggestions. Send them to me at jimotteson (at) gmail (dot) com.

This Just In

A reader alerted me to the existence of what looks like an interesting book by one Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen entitled Signs of Logic: Peircean Themes on the Philosophy of Language, Games, and Communication. To my surprise, I am cited in it.

Charles Peirce is one of the great and least appreciated of American philosophers, so I am happy to be mentioned in connection with him. I will take a look at the book and report my findings.

06 April 2009

Worth a Look

Peter Berger's article "Predicting the Past" in the April 1, 2009 edition of Education Week. Berger says the new rage of redesigning the educational curriculum to train students in "21st century skills" and prepare them for "21st century competition" is a recursion to the discredited pedagogical follies from thirty years ago. Berger concludes: "If most students today were mastering a rigorous 20th-century education, the 21st century wouldn’t look as bleak as it does."

[Hat tip: Martin Rochester.]

02 April 2009

This Just In

I discovered that the introduction I wrote to my 2004 edited volume Adam Smith: Selected Philosophical Writings is reproduced on the Answers.com site under "Adam Smith." View it here (scroll down to "History 1450-1789: Adam Smith"). I presume they received permission to do so . . . .

Wise Words

"It is the interest of every man to live as much at ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does, or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest, at least as it is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it altogether, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in as careless and slovenly a manner as that authority will permit. If he is naturally active and a lover of labour, it is his interest to employ that activity in any way, from which he can derive some advantage, rather than in the performance of his duty, from which he can derive none."--Adam Smith, Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776; V.i.f.7)

01 April 2009

How's That Again?

Last month, Sir David Omand GCB, former Home Office Permanent Secretary, former security adviser to Tony Blair, and now visiting professor in the department of war studies in King's College, London, presented a report to Gordon Brown entitled "National Security Strategy: Implications for the UK Intelligence Community" (available here).

This passage struck me particularly (emphasis supplied):

The realm of intelligence operations is of course a zone to which the ethical rules that we might hope to govern private conduct as individuals in society cannot fully apply. Finding out other people’s secrets is going to involve breaking everyday moral rules. So public trust in the essential reasonableness of UK police, security and intelligence agency activity will continue to be essential. A significant challenge supporting the National Security Strategy will be how the intelligence community can access the full range of data relating to individuals, their movements, activities and associations in a timely, accurate, proportionate and legal way, and one acceptable in a democratic and free society, including appropriate oversight and means of independent investigation and redress in cases of alleged abuse of power.

[Hat tip: John Adams.]

Worth a Look

If you have not yet heard of John Adams (the risk expert, not the American president), then you should investigate. Among his more controversial claims are that mandatory seat-belt laws do not, in fact, reduce accident fatalities, and they might even raise certain risks--from which he concludes they should be repealed.

See
here for a recent summary of his work on seat-belt laws; see also his excellent book Risk; and, finally, see his website, "Risk in a Hypermobile World."