The conservation of coercion?

Aug. 24th, 2017 04:46 am
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Posted by Tyler Cowen

These aspects raise an uncomfortable possibility for libertarians: is there a sort of law of conservation of coercion in well-functioning societies? A community with a minimal state can only function if it is thick enough and homogeneous enough to enforce sanctions for antisocial behavior that are almost state-like in their severity, and, furthermore, can make them stick. Freeing individuals from their smothering parochialisms will lead to a compensating increase in the scope and reach of the state as people search for a new solution to social dilemmas formerly handled via informal means. Conversely, attempts to suddenly curtail state power may lead to chaos in the intervening period when social institutions have not yet reasserted themselves. Principled libertarians might still have good reasons to prefer the non-state forms of compulsion—among them the arguments from public choice economics and a federalist preference for decisions being made at the lowest feasible level, where actors are most likely to have relevant information. But “increased freedom” may not be one of them.

Here is more:

Kuznicki thinks the engineering mindset in political theory is an antidote to what he sees as a philosophical tradition of abstract theorizing that puts the state on a pedestal and makes it into an almost metaphysical nexus of the human condition. But as I look around, much of the vapid theorizing seems to be in favor of liberalism writ large, while the best current example of a state built on hard-nosed pragmatism is Singapore. Kuznicki himself is a representative of a currently fashionable sort of cosmopolitan libertarianism that has never existed in governmental form, and which I suspect is the least likely form of government ever to exist. What if a practical politics that took account of human frailty implied a world formed from a combination of cosmopolitan but illiberal city-states, unified but homogeneous nation-states, and sprawling empires that vacillate between centrifugal and centripetal tendencies? In fact, this is the world that has existed for most of recorded history. Perhaps the real ideological blinders are those which tell us that we have transcended this condition and can replace it with something else.

That is from William Wilson in American Affairs, hat tip goes to Garett Jones and Rogue WPA Staff.  Here is Jason Kuznicki’s new book, which I have not yet seen.

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Canada fact of the day

Aug. 23rd, 2017 06:13 pm
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Posted by Tyler Cowen

That means the top 10 universities in the United States – a country of over 315 million people – at any given time are educating a grand total of only 62,150 students.

By contrast, here are the rough numbers of undergraduates at the top 3 Canadian universities:

McGill: 30,000

UBC: 47,500

UofT: 67,000

That is from Joseph Heath, via Alessandro S.  Now, you might wish to argue that the United States is optimally anti-egalitarian in having relatively small classes for its best elite universities.  But then I wonder how much more widely that logic might generalize.  I, for one, still favor Harvard and other top schools trying to do 3x or 5x with respect to their admissions.

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Wednesday assorted links

Aug. 23rd, 2017 04:13 pm
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Posted by Tyler Cowen

1. NYT reports on Shenyang.

2. On political anger (pdf).  And methods to limit violence at demonstrationsAnd “Do black Americans have the courage and conviction to look the hateful monsters in the eye and offer a love so radical that it reminds them their hatred does not define them?”

3. “Users would be able to earn “Karma Coins” by meditating and teaching Buddhism. The coins could be spent within a special Buddhist community called the “Lotos Network.”” Link here.

4. Millennials don’t care about classic movies.

5. Gelato sushi > sushi gelato, or so it is claimed.  And the Neptune forecast is for diamond rain.

6. Receiving welfare does not seem to dis-incentivize future achievement.

7. Kevin Drum offers a rebuttal on market power, but he cedes the entire ground on mark-ups.  Concentration is up somewhat, but that is not the debate at hand.  Bookstores are an excellent example of where concentration has gone up, and real choice has gone up too.  Nor do I see a big problem with pricing (Amazon used anyone?), though of course the marginal cost of producing an extra book copy is pretty low and thus the measured mark-up should be high.  Pharma?  A given drug has falling mark-ups over time, for new drugs the price falls from infinity.  For phone service, these days prices are tumbling.  Airfares falling too.  Search engines?  p = 0.  An unusual “fail” from Kevin.

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With his signature charm and searching insight, David Whyte meditates on the frontiers of the past, present and future, sharing two poems inspired by his niece's hike along El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Should Apple and Google Ban Gab?

Aug. 23rd, 2017 11:25 am
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Posted by Alex Tabarrok

Gab is an app similar to twitter but it has a more permissive speech policy. According to company spokesman Utsav Sanduja, “Whatever is permissible under the First Amendment is what Gab allows onto its site.” Gab has attracted some users from the alt-right and seemingly for this reason Gab has been banned by both Google and Apple. I wouldn’t go so far as Aaron Renn who argues that “Google and Apple have used their duopoly status to revoke the First Amendment on mobile phones” but I do find these actions troubling.

I have no problem with Twitter or Facebook policing their sites for content they find objectionable, such as pornography or hate speech, even though these are permitted under the First Amendment. A free market in news doesn’t mean that every newspaper must cover every story. A free market in news means free entry. But free entry is exactly what is now at stake. Gab was created, in part, to combat what was seen as Facebook’s bias against conservative news and views. If Gab or services like cannot be accessed via the big platforms that is a significant barrier to entry.

When Facebook and Twitter regulate what can be said on their platforms and Google and Apple regulate who can provide a platform, we have a big problem. It’s as if the NYTimes and the Washington Post were the only major newspapers and the government regulated who could own a printing press.

In a pure libertarian world, I’d be inclined to say that Google and Apple can also police whom they allow on their platforms. But we live in a world in which Google and Apple are bound up with and in some ways beholden to the government. I worry when a lot of news travels through a handful of choke points.

I also fear that Google and Apple haven’t thought very far down the game tree. One of the arguments for leaving the meta-platforms alone is that they are facially neutral with respect to content. But if Google and Apple are explicitly exercising their power over speech on moral and political grounds then they open themselves up to regulation. If code is law then don’t be surprised when the legislators demand to write the code.

These problems are arising in many fields not just news. As Politico noted, OKCupid has banned users accused of being white supremacists and asked members to report “people involved in hate groups.” AirBnb took it even one step further and “jettisoned the accounts of users it suspected of renting rooms to attendees of the “Unite the Right” event.” So it wasn’t even white supremacists who were banned but people who rented to them. What is next? Will white supremacists be banned from lunch counters? Sure, that prospect might generate a frisson of excitement but is that the kind of society we want to live in? And are we so sure that the tables will never turn again?

Addendum: By the way, LBRY, the censorship-free “blockchain meets youtube” startup (I am an adviser), is up and running in beta. Check it out!

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Posted by Tyler Cowen

Tim reaffirms his status as one of the great (greatest?) contemporary popular writers on economics, this time turning his attention to technology.  From a Smithsonian interview:

So what made you decide to write a book looking at the modern economy through specific inventions? 

I think it was a slight sense of frustration. I’m an economist, and economics often feels abstract and very impersonal, even though I don’t think it’s abstract or impersonal. As an economics writer, I’m also looking for a way to tell a good story and get some ideas across. I realized if I produced a kind of technological history with lots of ideas and examples I could teach some economics lessons through these very specific stories.

What’s your favorite invention in the book?

It varies, but right now it’s paper. I just loved the realization that there was an alternative to talking about the Gutenberg press. Obviously I have nothing but admiration for the Gutenberg press – it’s a tremendously important innovation. But everybody told me, ‘oh, you’ve doing fifty inventions that shaped the world, you must do the Gutenberg press.’ And I thought, ‘yeah, but it’s so obvious.’ Then I was looking at the Gutenberg Bible in the New York Public Library, and thinking, ‘this bible is printed on something. It’s not printed on nothing. It’s printed on a surface.’ It turns out that the Gutenberg press works perfectly well with parchment, technologically speaking, but economically speaking it doesn’t make any sense without paper. Parchment is just too expensive to produce a long print run. So as long as all you’re doing is handwriting bibles and making them look beautiful, there’s no need to use paper at all. But with paper you’ve got a mass-produced writing surface. It’s often the very cheap inventions that get overlooked, but nevertheless change the world.

Here is an adaptation from the book on the history of barbed wire.  Here is another BBC adaptation on why electricity did not change manufacturing more quickly.  You can pre-order the book here.

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The Rise of Market Power?

Aug. 23rd, 2017 04:17 am
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Posted by Tyler Cowen

I am referring to the new Jan De Loecker and Eeckhout paper that is starting to get some buzz (ungated versions here).  Their major result, quite simply, is:

In 1980, average markups start to rise from 18% above marginal cost to 67% now.

That sounds like big news, and probably it is.  But I don’t think the authors are doing enough to interpret their results.  There are two ways these mark-ups go could up: first there may be more outright monopoly, second there may be more monopolistic competition, with high mark-ups but also high fixed costs, and firms earning close to zero profits.  The two scenarios have very different distributional implications, and different policy implications as well.

Consider my local Chinese restaurant.  Maybe the fixed cost of a restaurant has gone up, due to rising rents and the need to invest in information technology.  That can mean higher fixed costs, but still a positive mark-up at the margin.  The marginal meal ordered there probably is taken from food inventory, representing almost pure profit.  They are happy when I walk in the door!  Yet they are not getting super-rich, rather they are earning the going risk-adjusted rate of return.

Now, if the economy is moving more toward monopolistic competition, higher mark-ups don’t explain other distributional changes in the macro data, such as the decline of labor’s share, as cited by the authors.

The authors consider whether fixed costs have risen in section 3.5.  They note that measured corporate profits have increased significantly, but do not consider these revisions to the data.  Profits haven’t risen by nearly as much as the unmodified TED series might suggest.  I do see super-high profits in firms such as Google and Facebook, however.  Those companies for the most part have lowered margins compared to the status quo ex ante when the relevant service cost infinity.  “Mark-ups over time” measurements become very tricky when new products are being introduced.

The authors argue that the rising value of the stock market (plus dividends) is further evidence for rising profits.  Maybe, but keep in mind that the public market is less and less representative of corporate America.  It also has significant survivorship bias, based on size, as superfirms are rising and the number of small and mid-sized companies listing has plummeted since the 1980s.  I suspect what has really happened is that large firms are way more profitable, partly because of globalization, not because they are doing such a major rip-off of American consumers.  In most areas we have more choice, maybe much more choice, than before.  I would be very surprised if it turned out that most good ol’ normal mid-sized service sectors firms saw a nearly fourfold increase of the profit rate relative to gdp since 1980, as the authors are suggesting might be true for the American economy as a whole.  Health care, maybe, I grant that.

Or consider old-style manufacturing.  The authors report that “Markups have gone up in all industries…”  This is in an environment where numerous other highly credible empirical pieces, backed also by good anecdotal observation, cite rising competition from Chinese and other global suppliers.  How does that all square?  I side with David Autor on that one, yet it is reported that those mark-ups, in the sectors where American business now competes with the Chinese, are rising as measured.  I am worried the paper does not at all try to square this tension.  Surely it means the measures are significantly wrong in some way.

Similarly, the time series for manufacturing output is a pretty straight upward series, especially once you take out the cyclical component.  If there is some massive increase in monopoly power, where does the resulting output restriction show up in that data?  Once you ask that simple question, the whole story just doesn’t add up.

Or ask yourself a simple question — in how many sectors of the American economy do I, as a consumer, feel that concentration has gone up and real choice has gone down?  Hospitals, yes.  Cable TV?  Sort of, but keep in mind that program quality and choice wasn’t available at all not too long ago.  What else?  There are Dollar Stores, Wal-Mart, Amazon, eBay, and used goods on the internet.  Government schools.  Hospitals.  Government.  Did I mention government?

I do think concentration in the American economy is up modestly, as I argue in The Complacent Class, and probably profits are up too, including relative to gdp.  Hospitals are the most significant practical problem in this regard, and again that squares with the anecdotal evidence.  As it stands, I don’t yet see that this paper has established its central claim that measured rising mark-ups indicate truly higher profits in a significant way.

Addendum: The section on macroeconomic implications I think is premature (they cite the declining labor share, declining capital share, decline of low skill wages, declining LFP, declining labor market flows, declining migration rates, and slower productivity growth).  They should try to calibrate this, to see if the postulated effects possibly might work out as suggested, and by the way RBC research really is useful.  And timing matters too!  Given the mechanisms the authors cite, what kind of timing lags are possible?  It would seem for instance that when mark-ups rise, real wages fall right then and there, due to the higher prices.  Is that what the data show?  Do the productivity growth effects, and their weird timing with 1973 and 1995-2004 breaks, fit into the same framework?  And so on.  I would be very surprised if the pieces fit together in even a crude sense.

And here are remarks by Rohan Shah.  I thank Alex and Robin for useful comments and discussion, of course without implicating them.

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Should your driverless car kill you if it means saving five pedestrians? In this primer on the social dilemmas of driverless cars, Iyad Rahwan explores how the technology will challenge our morality and explains his work collecting data from real people on the ethical trade-offs we're willing (and not willing) to make.
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Posted by Tyler Cowen

I have a odd idea to improve diversity in the short run within the current system. Economists should create a convention (not rule) by setting the example that at least one of the reference letter writers should be female. I think this one small move could nudge people towards a big change. Young grad students will be more likely to work with women in a position of authority. Schools will try to find more senior level female economists for the department. And the young male colleagues might just behave a little better, if only to get a better working relationship and a reference from the female economist.

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Algorithms decide who gets a loan, who gets a job interview, who gets insurance and much more -- but they don't automatically make things fair, and they're often far from scientific. Mathematician and data scientist Cathy O'Neil coined a term for algorithms that are secret, important and harmful: "weapons of math destruction." Learn more about the hidden agendas behind these supposedly objective formulas and why we need to start building better ones.

16 ways QR codes are used in China

Aug. 22nd, 2017 05:45 am
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Posted by Tyler Cowen

Yes the Chinese are ahead of us in many ways, here is one bit from an excellent article by Connie Chan:

#11 QR code as call box and information kiosk

Remember those emergency call boxes on the side of freeways? In Nanjing, China, smart street signs with QR codes provide the names and contact info for the local police. They also provide sightseeing guidance with directions, and information on how to handle a residence permit.


Since people in China believe that QR codes are here to stay, even tombstones are engraved with QR codes that memorialize the life-story — through biographies, photographs, and videos — of the deceased. From the leadership of the China Funeral Association: “In modern times, people should commemorate their deceased loved ones in modern ways”.

There is much more at the link.

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Posted by Tyler Cowen

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, the set-up is that the tenure clock and child-bearing plans do not exactly mesh well.  Here is my primary recommendation:

Imagine a greater variety of academic jobs, in areas that are not always valued highly by peer review. They might include jobs devoted to producing policy work, to teaching, to producing materials for online education, and to bringing the lessons of academia to broader audiences, such as through blogs and opinion columns. Furthermore, “up or out” provisions could be weakened, so if an individual didn’t succeed on a research track, but excelled in other areas, employment could be continued with different achievement criteria…Schools could keep some tenured jobs while elevating the quality of these other options.

Here is an interlude:

For all the jawboning about limiting discrimination, without adding good jobs on a significant scale, academia won’t get very far in addressing its imbalances.

Here is the clincher:

I have been struck by the course of debate in the economics profession over the last week, as much (deserved) Twitter ire has been directed at one particular online economics forum with anonymous and frequently misogynistic postings. Such forums probably discourage and demoralize women in the economics profession. But the general consensus among the forum’s critics is that those anonymous posters are the “losers” of the profession, not the deans, departmental chairs and Nobel laureates.

In other words, leading economists have spent a whole week “punching down” at those who are not in charge. I’ve hardly seen any critical self-examination about how the leaders, and the incentives they have created and supported, might also be at fault.


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*The Dawn of Eurasia*

Aug. 21st, 2017 09:34 pm
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Posted by Tyler Cowen

By Bruno Maçães, due out in January.  I was asked to blurb it, I’m going to go “off the reservation” and call it so far the best and most important book I’ve read so far this year.  From Amazon:

In this original and timely book, Bruno Maçães argues that the best word for the emerging global order is ‘Eurasian’, and shows why we need to begin thinking on a super-continental scale. While China and Russia have been quicker to recognise the increasing strategic significance of Eurasia, even Europeans are realizing that their political project is intimately linked to the rest of the supercontinent – and as Maçães shows, they will be stronger for it.

The Kindle edition at least you can pre-order.

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Russia fact of the day

Aug. 21st, 2017 07:13 pm
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Posted by Tyler Cowen

…the wealth held offshore by rich Russians is about three times larger than official net foreign reserves, and is comparable in magnitude to total household financial assets held in Russia.

That is from Novokmet, Piketty, and Zucman.

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Posted by Edward Champion

(This is the sixteenth entry in The Modern Library Nonfiction Challenge, an ambitious project to read and write about the Modern Library Nonfiction books from #100 to #1. There is also The Modern Library Reading Challenge, a fiction-based counterpart to this list. Previous entry: This Boy’s Life.)

She remains a bold and inspiring figure, a galvanizing tonic shimmering into the empty glass of a bleak political clime. She was bright and uncompromising and had piercingly beautiful eyes. She was a stratospheric human spire who stood tall and tough and resolute above a patriarchal sargasso. Three decades after her death, she really should be better known. Her name is Beryl Markham and this extraordinary woman has occupied my time and attentions for many months. She has even haunted my dreams. Forget merely persisting, which implies a life where one settles for the weaker hand. Beryl Markham existed, plowing through nearly every challenge presented to her with an exquisite equipoise as coolly resilient as the Black Lives Matter activist fearlessly approaching thuggish cops in a fluttering dress. I have now read her memoir West with the Night three times. There is a pretty good chance I will pore through its poetic commitment to fate and feats again before the year is up. If you are seeking ways to be braver, West with the Night is your guidebook.

She grew up in Kenya, became an expert horse trainer, and befriended the hunters of her adopted nation, where she smoothly communed with dangerous animals. For Markham, the wilderness was something to be welcomed rather than dreaded. Her natural panorama provided “silences that can speak” that were pregnant with natural wonder even while being sliced up by the cutting whirl of a propeller blade. But Markham believed in being present well before mindfulness became a widely adopted panacea. She cultivated a resilient and uncanny prescience as her instinct galvanized her to live with beasts and brethren of all types. It was a presence mastered through constant motion. “Never turn your back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead,” wrote Markham when considering how to leave a place where one has lived and loved. This sentiment may no longer be possible in an era where one’s every word and move is monitored, exhumed by the easily outraged and the unadventurous for even the faintest malfeasance, but it is still worth holding close to one’s heart.

In her adult life, Markham carried on many scandalous affairs with prominent men (including Denys Finch Hatton, who Markham wooed away from Karen Blixen, the Danish author best known for Out of Africa (to be chronicled in MLNF #58)) and fell almost by accident into a life commanding planes, often scouting landscapes from above for safari hunts. Yet Markham saw the butcherous brio for game as an act of impudence, even as she viewed elephant hunting as no “more brutal than ninety per cent of all other human activities.” This may seem a pessimistic observation, although Markham’s memoir doesn’t feel sour because it always considers the world holistically. At one point, Markham writes, “Nothing is more common than birth: a million creatures are born in the time it takes to turn this page, and another million die.” And this grander vantage point, which would certainly be arrived at by someone who viewed the earth so frequently from the sky, somehow renders Markham’s more brusque views as pragmatic. She preferred the company of men to women, perhaps because her own mother abandoned her at a very young age. Yet I suspect that this fierce lifelong grudge was likely aligned with Markham’s drive to succeed with a carefully honed and almost effortlessly superhuman strength.

Markham endured pain and fear and discomfort without complaint, even when she was attacked by a lion, and somehow remained casual about her vivacious life, even after she became the first person to fly solo without a radio in a buckling plane across the Atlantic from east to west, where she soldiered on through brutal winds and reputational jeers from those who believed she could not make the journey. But she did. Because her habitually adventurous temperament, which always recognized the importance of pushing forward with your gut, would not stop her. And if all this were not enough, Markham wrote a masterpiece so powerful that even the macho egotist Ernest Hemingway was forced to prostrate himself to editor Maxwell Perkins in a letter: “She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.” (Alas, this did not stop Hemingway from undermining her in the same paragraph as “a high-grade bitch” and “very unpleasant” with his typically sexist belittlement, a passage conveniently elided from most citations. Still, there’s something immensely satisfying in knowing that the bloated and overly imitated impostor, who plundered Martha Gellhorn’s column inches in Collier’s because he couldn’t handle his own wife being a far superior journalist, could get knocked off his peg by a woman who simply lived.)

In considering the human relationship to animals, Markham writes, “You cannot discredit truth merely because legend has grown out of it.” She details the beauty of elephants going out of their way to hide their dead, dragging corpses well outside the gaze of ape-descended midgets and other predators. And there is something about Markham’s majestic perspective that causes one to reject popular legends, creating alternative stories about the earth that are rooted in the more reliable soil of intuitive and compassionate experience. For Markham, imagination arrived through adventure rather than dreams. She declares that she “seldom dreamed a dream worth dreaming again, or at least none worth recording,” yet the fatigue of flying does cause her to perceive a rock as “a crumpled plane or a mass of twisted metal.”

Yet this considerable literary accomplishment (to say nothing of Markham’s significant aviation achievements) has been sullied by allegations of plagiarism. It was a scandal that caused even The Rumpus‘s Megan Mayhew Bergman to lose faith in Markham’s bravery. Raoul Schumacher, Markham’s third husband, was an alcoholic and a largely mediocre ghost writer who, much like Derek Stanford to Muriel Spark, could not seem to countenance that his life and work would never measure up to the woman he was with. Fragile male ego is a most curious phenomenon that one often finds when plunging into the lives of great women: not only are these women attracted to dissolute losers who usually fail to produce any noteworthy work of their own, but these men attempt to make up for their failings by installing or inventing themselves as collaborators, later claiming to be the indispensable muse or the true author all along, which is advantageously announced only after a great woman has secured her success. Biographers and critics who write about these incidents years later often accept the male stories (one rarely encounters this in reverse), even when the details contain the distinct whiff of a football field mired in bullshit.

I was not satisfied with the superficial acceptance of these rumors by Wikipedia, Robert O’Brien, and Michiko Kakutani. So I took it upon myself to read two Markham biographies (Mary S. Lovell’s Straight on Till Morning and Errol Trzebinski’s The Lives of Beryl Markham), where I hoped that the sourcing would offer a more reliable explanation.

I discovered that Trzebinski was largely conjectural, distressingly close to the infamous Kitty Kelley with her scabrous insinuations (accusations of illiteracy, suggestions that Markham could not pronounce words), and that Lovell was by far the more doggedly reliable and diligent source. Trzebinski also waited until many of the players were dead before publishing her biography, which is rather convenient timing, given that she relies heavily on conversations she had with them for sources.

The problem with Schumacher’s claim is that one can’t easily resolve the issue by going to a handwritten manuscript. West with the Night‘s manuscript was typed, dictated to Schumacher by Markham (see the above photo). The only photograph I have found (from the Lovell biography) shows Markham offering clear handwritten edits. So there is little physical evidence to suggest that Schumacher was the secret pilot. We have only his word for it and that of the friends he told, who include Scott O’Dell. Trzebinski, who is the main promulgator of these rumors, is slipshod with her sources, relying only upon a nebulous “Fox/Markham/Schumacher data” cluster (with references to “int. the late Scott O’Dell/James Fox, New York, April 1987” and “15/5/87” — presumably the same material drawn upon for James Fox’s “The Beryl Markham Mystery,” which appeared in the March 1987 issue of Vanity Fair, as well as a Scott O’Dell letter that was also published in the magazine) that fails to cite anything specific and relies on hearsay. When one factors in an incredulous story that Trzebinski spread about her own son’s death that the capable detectives at Scotland Yard were unable to corroborate, along with Trzebinski’s insistence on camera in the 1986 documentary World Without Walls that only a woman could have written West with the Night, one gets the sense that Trzebinski is the more unreliable and gossipy biographer. And Lovell offers definitive evidence which cast aspersions on Tzrebinski’s notion that Markham was something of a starry-eyed cipher:

But this proof of editing by Raoul, which some see as evidence that Beryl might not have been the sole author of the book, surely proved only that he acted as editor. Indeed his editing may have been responsible for the minor errors such as the title arap appearing as Arab. Together with the Americanization of Beryl’s Anglicized spelling, such changes could well have been standard editorial conversions (by either Raoul or Lee Barker – Houghton Mifflin’s commissioning editor) for a work aimed primarily at an American readership.

The incorrect spelling of Swahili words has an obvious explanation. In all cases they were written as Beryl pronounced them. She had learned the language as a child from her African friends but had probably never given much thought to the spelling. Neither Raoul nor anyone at Houghton Mifflin would have known either way.

In his letter to Vanity Fair, and in two subsequent telephone conversations with me, Scott O’Dell claimed that after he introduced Beryl and Raoul “they disappeared and surfaced four months later,” when Raoul told him that Beryl had written a memoir and asked what they should do with it. This is at odds with the surviving correspondence and other archived material which proves that the book was in production from early 1941 to January 1942, and that almost from the start Beryl was in contact with Lee Barker of Houghton Mifflin.

When Raoul told his friend that it was he who had written the book, could the explanation not be that he was embittered by his own inability to write without Beryl’s inspiration? That he exaggerated his editorial assistance into authorship to cover his own lack of words as a writer?

From the series of letters between Beryl and Houghton Mifflin, it is clear that Beryl had sent regular batches of work to the publishers before Raoul came into the picture. As explained earlier, Dr. Warren Austin lived in the Bahamas from 1942 to 1944, was physician to HRH the Duke of Windsor and became friends with Major Gray Phillips. Subsequently Dr. Austin lived for a while with Beryl and Raoul whilst he was looking for a house in Santa Barbara. The two often discussed their mutual connections in Raoul’s presence. Dr. Austin is certain that Raoul had never visited the Bahamas, reasoning that it would certainly have been mentioned during these conversations if he had. This speaks for itself. If Raoul was not even present when such a significant quantity of work was produced, then that part – at the very least – must have been written by Beryl.

Lovell’s supportive claims have not gone without challenge. James Fox claimed in The Spectator that he had seen “photostated documents, from the trunk since apparently removed as ‘souvenirs’ and thus not available to Lovell, which show that Schumacher took part in the earliest planning of the contents and the draft outline for the publisher and show whole passages written by Schumacher in handwriting.” But even he is forced to walk the ball back and claim that this “proves nothing in terms of authorship.” Since Fox is so fixated on “seeing” evidence rather than producing it, he may as well declare that he visited Alaska and could see Russia from his AirBnB or that he once observed giant six-legged wombats flying from the deliquescent soup he had for supper. If this is the “Fox/Markham/Schumacher data” that Trzebinski relied upon, then the plagiarism charge is poor scholarship and poor journalism indeed.

So I think it’s safe for us to accept Markham’s authorship unless something provable and concrete appears and still justifiably admire a woman who caused Hemingway to stop in his tracks, a woman who outmatched him in insight and words, a woman – who like many incredible women – was belittled by a sloppy, gossip-peddling, and opportunistic biographer looking to make name for herself (and the puff piece hack who enabled her) rather than providing us with the genuine and deserved insight on a truly remarkable figure of the 20th century.

Next Up: Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie!

© 2017, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.

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"Music is everywhere, and it is in everything," says musician, student and TED-Ed Clubs star Anika Paulson. Guitar in hand, she plays through the beats of her life in an exploration of how music connects us and makes us what we are.


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August 2017


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