Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fiduciary history

In the July issue of Research, my article "Fiduciary Matters," on the history behind the current controversy over whether brokers and financial advisors should be held to a uniform fiduciary standard requiring them to put their customers' interests before their own. Excerpt:
The word “fiduciary” derives from the Latin words for “faith” (fides) and “trust” (fiducia). Roman law recognized various fiducia contracts in which a person held property in safekeeping or otherwise acted on another’s behalf. Failure to uphold such trust could result not just in monetary penalties but also a formal “infamy” (infamia), in which you lost such rights as to hold public office or be a witness in a legal case.

However, the fiduciary idea arose well before Rome. The Code of Hammurabi, carved into stone in ancient Babylon, required a merchant’s agent to keep receipts and to pay triple damages for failing to provide promised goods (though it allowed an exemption if the loss was due to enemy attack during a journey).
Whole thing here.

Hamilton exhibit

Readers interested in financial history will enjoy the Museum of American Finance's exhibit "Alexander Hamilton: Lineage and Legacy." See the gallery here. On the way out, be sure to catch Lin-Manuel Miranda's performance of "The Hamilton Mixtape" (or see it here), which also closed the recent documentary Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton, which film I also recommend by the way (having a higher opinion of it than found in this review).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Physics, hippy, spacey links

A bit of stream of consciousness: Here's an interesting excerpt of How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, by David Kaiser. Here's physicist/critic Peter Woit's review. Here's what The Weekly Standard thinks about hippies, as reflected in their covers over the years. Here is the opening of the one piece I ever wrote for the Standard: "Leftists in Orbit," about the Cassini space probe and its leftist opponents. Here is my piece for Reason on Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Here are my pieces for FrumForum on Reason, physics and space probes. Here's Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit dissing us "Frumites." Here, through the magic of the Internet archive, is the March 2000 piece I commissioned from Reynolds when I ran the opinion page at "Satellite Pics Are Free Speech." (I use the term "commissioned" loosely, in that I was not allowed to pay contributors.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My true-life libertarian story

At FrumForum, I review The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America and offer some further thoughts on Reason magazine and libertarianism. Opening:
Last fall, I wrote for FrumForum about “How I Joined the Vast RINO Conspiracy,” tracing how I, a longtime self-described “libertarian conservative,” got out of step with the right as the right moved further right and as I moved toward the center. Some readers applauded my independent thinking and others invited me to drag my backside out of the Republican Party (something I’ve declined to do).
A new book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America, by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, respectively the editors of and Reason magazine, has given me much to contemplate, on how libertarianism fits into American politics, how Reason fits into libertarianism, and why I, a onetime fairly regular contributor to that magazine, eventually failed to fit in at Reason.
Whole thing here.

UPDATE 6/19: Nick Gillespie has some kind words about my "respectful though mixed" review.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Evolutionary psych Weinergate

A few years ago, I wrote a review for Scientific American Mind of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, a not very good book touting evolutionary psychology. (The review's behind a paywall, though the start of it is here.) I still think the book is overly reductionist in its view of human nature, but one assertion strikes me now as meriting more credence than I gave it at the time. That's the assertion that male politicians get caught up in sex scandals not despite their careers, but because their careers are fundamentally aimed at maximizing their reproductive fitness, i.e., attracting lots of women. The same drive that makes them successful politicians is what makes them fall. Still seems something of an overstatement, but less so as I think about it and see scandals that would be hard to explain if this evo psych tendency weren't at least a factor. All of which is to say, soon enough I expect, goodbye Anthony Weiner.