Ash Navabi's blog mostly about economics, intellectual property, and politics. But also some language and culture.

If Famous Economists Were Bodybuilders

Imagine if all your favourite economists were also bodybuilders, power lifters, or just generally into fitness. What would their names be?

John Maynard Gains (famous for his Gainsian Crossfit)
Milton Frieweights
Ludwig von Mirin
Murray Rothbuff
Friedrich Biyek
Thomas Swole
Ben Bulknanke
Pump Krugman
Joseph Stigliftz
Alan Growspan
Janet Flexen
Elinor Ostrong
David Ricardio
Adam “invisible gains” Smith Machine

The Etymologies of Gender-specific English Words

One of my least favourite fallacies is the so-called “etymological fallacy“. Basically, it refers to the idea that just because a certain word (or idea, or trend, or meme) had a specific meaning when it first came about, then that word (or idea or whatever) must mean the same thing today. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember that a word is merely a sound (or shapes written down). Words come about to convey a meaning. But the meaning existed before the word. In other words, someone wanted to express a certain idea, and thought that a certain sound or series of shapes would be best to communicate that idea to others, others understood the meaning of the new sound/shapes, and thus a word was born.

But exactly because meaning precedes words, it is the case that words change their meaning over time. A few famous examples of this are “awful” (which meant “full of awe”), “terrific” (which originally meant “terrifying”), and “hussy” (which originally referred to just a housewife).

Gender issues seem to be popular these days, so I thought I’d give some etymological histories on some gender-specific words (the source of all these etymologies is  Read the rest of this entry »

Are Culture, Education, Technology, Public Transport, and Law Public Goods?

So-called “public goods” are one of the most confusing aspects of economics. But just what is a public good?

In economics, a public good is defined as having three properties:

  1. It is a good: meaning that it’s a thing people want;
  2. It is non-rivalrous: meaning that if one person uses it, then another person can use it without taking away the quality or quantity of the good; and
  3. It is non-excludable: meaning that no one can physically stop other people from using the sa
    me thing.

Now, does “culture” satisfy all of the above? Let’s use a quick example.  Read the rest of this entry »

On Symbolism in Science


[Originally posted on]

[Note: Many economists justify their use of unrealistic mathematical models by reference to “the map and the territory”: that mathematical models are merely a map to the territory of the real world, and that a “perfect” map wouldn’t be a map at all. The origin of this metaphor is an extremely short (only 145 words!) story called “On Exactitude in Science,” which recounts an ancient myth of map makers who made the perfect map as big as the empire, which unsurprisingly turned out to be useless. However, I have recently uncovered a second part to this legendary tale, which elaborates on what happened when the map-makers abandoned their desire for realism….]

… The New Cartographers, having long ago abandoned their obsession with exactitude, had a new focus: prediction. Thus, they crafted a System of Symbols to simplify and minimize the size of their Maps, while maximizing their predictive Power. But the Symbolism became so complex and divorced from Reality that, instead of occupying a small Corner, Map Legends occupied many Pages—and required trained Expertise for interpretation. Hiring Teams of Map Interpreters became the norm for Travelers, creating many Employment Opportunities for the New Cartographers. Yet the Maps were so confusing, that even with Professional help, Travelers still lost their way in spectacular Fashion. In fact, as the Symbolism grew more complex, and the Fees of the New Cartographers skyrocketed, more Travelers failed to ever reach their Destination. And soon, for Reasons of Self-Preservation and Economy, both the New Maps and the New Cartographers were discarded.

–Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLVI, Lerida, 1658

Should Everyone Vote?


[Originally posted on]

To ask it another way: Is it really a good thing to tell people who are ignorant of law (so they don’t know which proposed policies are illegal), and/or ignorant of economics (so they don’t know what the actual outcomes of proposed policies will be), and/or ignorant of political science (so they don’t know which proposed policies are politically feasible with the actual people and institutions we already have)?

If politics is serious business, shouldn’t people have more than causal understanding law, economics, and political science before voting? How are people supposed to judge platforms otherwise–by what “feels right”? Read the rest of this entry »

Reminder: Patent trolls are among the least bad features of IP

johnoliver_hbo[Originally posted on]

Patent trolls are companies whose entire business model is to file patent suits against legitimate businesses, in order to extort them for money. Patent trolls are bad.

However, they are not the worst thing about the current intellectual property regime.

In fact, they may be one of its best features. Read the rest of this entry »

Are Austrian Criticisms of Mainstream Economics Still Relevant?

[Originally published on]

RothbardOccasionally, when Austrians try to distinguish their brand of doing economics from the mainstream, they get hit with accusations that they are attacking straw men; that no one believes what Austrians claim is the mainstream approach.

Is this true? Are Austrians attacking enemies that don’t exist anymore? I say no. While it might be true that many of the top economists may in general agree with broad Austrian methodological conclusions, the typical economist is much more likely to either (a) explicitly deny the Austrian criticisms, or (b) implicitly or casually invoke these fallacies during their analyses for reasons I shall explain below. Let’s look at the evidence. Read the rest of this entry »