Category: Culture

On “Rationality,” Other Misinterpreted Words, and Cultural Exceptions

A long-time friend and colleague writes (in French, so my own loose translation follows):


I was thinking about your post on rationality, a concept whose [economic] definition differs from its popular definition.

Other examples: “structural,” “public good,” or “efficiency.” In the limit, “profit” and “rent.”

Is it the layperson’s job to learn accurate definitions, or the economist’s job to be more precise about their vocabulary?

I think it’s our job to define the terms we use when we engage in public debates, for two reasons. First, because I believe the onus is always on the writer to be understood by his readers. That belief of mine probably stems from studying philosophy in college in a French-speaking university, and from the allergic reaction I got from being exposed to some of the most willingly obfuscating writing ever published (see Derrida, Jacques; or don’t.) Continue reading

The Importance of Food in Quentin Tarantino’s Movies

Via Open Culture, a mini documentary about the importance of food in Quentin Tarantino’s movies.

From the restaurant scene in which tipping is discussed at length in Reservoir Dogs to Calvin Candie’s seeming addiction to sweets in Django Unchained and from Big Kahuna Burgers (“The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast!”) in Pulp Fiction to the apple strudel in Inglourious Basterds, it’s all there:

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Is Culture Useless as an Explanation for Behavior?

Economists are generally suspicious of explanations for behavior relying on culture. This likely stems from the fact that individual rationality, whose twin assumptions of completeness and transitivity constitute the cornerstone of economics and of much of modern social science, are not context-dependent.

The typical economist’s skepticism regarding culture as an explanation for behavior also stems from the fact that most economists fundamentally believe a human being is a human being the world over, and only economic circumstances change to provide a different set of incentives, which themselves explain variations in behavior. It is in that sense that no matter what its critics might say, economics remains very much a humanistic discipline.

Not only is invoking culture as an explanation for behavior the hallmark of lazy thinking, it is also unscientific. A few weeks ago, Frances Woolley wrote: Continue reading

Quinoa Nonsense, or Why the World Still Needs Agricultural Economists

Cooked Red Quinoa. (Source: WikiMedia Commons.)









First came this post by Joanna Blythman on The Guardian‘s Comment Is Free blog:

Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the “miracle grain of the Andes,” a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider’s larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn’t feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarefied black, red and “royal” types commanding particularly handsome premiums.

But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fueled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture. Continue reading

Why Three Meals a Day? And Why Those Three?

Duke political science doctoral candidate Matt Dickenson had a great post last week in which he looked at the micro-institutions we call “meals.”

Inspired by the traditional American thanksgiving “dinner,” which is often eaten around 3PM (i.e., between the usual times for lunch and dinner in the United States), Matt asked why most of us eat three meals a day, and why are those three meals breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Here’s an excerpt from his post: Continue reading