New Book Review Mentions Kleroteria

From Walter Isaacson’s review of Bettany Hughes’ The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life (New York Times, February 11, 2011):

Hughes intersperses the story of Socrates’ trial in 399 B.C. with some wonderful details. We learn, for example, about the workings of the mechanical device that randomly selected, from 6,000 names, the jury of 500 Athenian citizens (yes, 500) that assembled at the law court to hear the case. This kleroterion, a replica of which can be viewed at the Agora Museum in Athens, was a proto-computer that used carved slots to send metal disks down a chute. “Every means possible has been thought of to prevent corruption,” Hughes writes. “Alphabetical blocks of seats, secret ballots, random-selection machines.” Her quest for authentic detail even leads her to grind up hemlock and sniff it. “It releases a nose-wrinkling sour smell,” she reports.

The review can be found here–

Big shot, Nobel prize-winning, New York Times-op-ed-writing, Princeton-teaching economist vs. person-on-the-street

Paul Krugman, on the way to a rather funny punchline, takes an off-handed swipe at the irrational person-on-the-street. Apparently, Americans can’t decide how they want to make ends meet. They don’t want to cut spending and they don’t want to increase taxes. Krugman himself knows better. He is not worried about current deficits, but in the long run he thinks a VAT (a version of a sales tax, which he admits would be regressive but is not particularly concerned about this) would be the way to go.

This position is a classic noblesse oblige maneuver. While ostensibly attacking those other elite members – those who have no sense of social duty – Krugman is effectively asserting that policy should not be set by the irrational masses. And, sometime in the not too distant future, regressive taxes would be the solution.
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