Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Do they know what they are signaling?

It is not uncommon for many in the top twenty, ten, one percent of the population, to spend much time and effort signaling that they are not just wealthier but brighter, more morally rectitudinous, wiser, and generally superior to the hoi polloi. Among economist and others, this is known as virtue signaling and there are many forms.

It is not for everyone. Indeed, The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley reveals that the great majority of the wealthy and successful keep a remarkably low profile. They spend their money carefully but are often intensely involved in their community where their contributions can have immediate effect.

Then there are the splashy few who are intensely committed to using the media to highlight a perceived problem or who are very eager for the government to use its coercive powers to deprive one group of citizens in order to solve the perceived problems of another group. This pathological altruism is often catastrophic and harmful, based on its prioritization of emotionalism over actual knowledge,

As a consequence, the virtue signalers end up signaling something entirely different than they intended, often feeding quite negative perceptions of them and their motives.

A recent example is that of the Google doodles. As you might be aware, Google often places drawings on their beautifully clean homepage. The background is here.
Doodles are the fun, surprising, and sometimes spontaneous changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists.
A harmless enough idea. It is the choices, execution and unintended conjunctions which can create problems. Google is eliciting an increasing level of concern in many circles. We know that they frequently adjust their algorithms to yield "better" search results. No issue in that other than what constitutes "better." We know that they have experimented with how to change views on hot topics but they declare that they do not use the knowledge gained from those experiments to influence elections. There are no particular reasons that these assurances bring to mind Shakespeare's funeral oration by Anthony of Caesar.
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
No reason other than life experience.

Some are concerned that Google has become the latest in a long line of outside revolutionaries (Don't be Evil) to go over to the dark side and become crony capitalists by currying regulatory favor from the established powers-that-be. A concern that is fanned by the 427 visits by Google executives to the White House, the several dozens of White House and Congressional insiders who have taken executive positions with Google and the couple of dozen Google executives who have been given leaves of absence to serve in the Administration. Again,
For Google is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
I am sure.

One of the common themes among critics is that we have the worst political class in generations in cahoots with the most hypocritical elite in a long time. A group together that are both alienated from the great majority of Americans and condescending, dismissive and unconcerned with the welfare and well-being of America and Americans. A little bit of an exaggeration I think, but an argument that is relatively easily made, particularly given the virtue signaling proclivities of the self-anointed.

Google had a doodle on May 19th, commemorating the 95th birthday of Yuri Kochiyama, a little known and controversial political activist.

Those who are proponents of strong criticism of the USA and its many failings see Kochiyama as a civil rights icon. Virtually no one else is even aware of her. For those who do become aware, most would describe her as a communist, racist, Anti-American and/or Islamic terrorist. With more or less good grounds for all those accusations. The Washington Post, reporting on the Google Doodle controversy, tried to put the best gloss they could on this exercise in elitist virtue signaling (see, we are so open minded, we even celebrate the birthday of those who hate America), but ended their report with an anemic:
She lived a long and complicated, deeply political life.
Well, yes, there's that. If by "deeply complicated political life" we mean hateful, destructive, etc. Brings to mind George Orwell's comment in Notes on Nationalism in 1945,
One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.
The average American has an atavistic aversion to all concentrations of power and self-ennoblement, of which virtue signaling is so often a symptom. They know what the elite think of them and sense how estranged the self-anointed are from the beliefs of the citizenry. Not just estrangement but revulsion on the part of the elite to anything that smacks of the masses.

On May 19th, Google celebrates a political activist who's long life was spent reviling America. On May 30th, Memorial Day, we officially honor those who gave their lives in service of America. Google celebrates this holiday, and the service of the 22 million living veterans with this doodle.

Click to enlarge. Really enlarge.

No doodle, just a footnoted flag with a yellow ribbon. It is something, but understated. Apparently this is a long established policy, of sorts, on the part of Google. I see a google forum discussion back in 2011 complaining about the lack of recognition of Memorial Day.

So the contrast is between a virtually forgotten, deeply divisive, highly questionable political activist who gets the banner treatment on May 19th and nearly no acknowledgment 11 days later on a national holiday to memorialize the 1.1 million Americans who have given their lives in all our wars for their fellow Americans.

I am sure there is a logic in there somewhere on the part of Google but it sure comes across as intellectual virtue signaling on the one hand and dismissive disdain of the common man's patriotism on the other.

McArthur Wheeler - Index Case for the Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning–Kruger effect has popped up in a couple of articles I read in the past week. It is not uncommon that when a specialized term enters the common vernacular it is either misunderstood and/or not correct. Think of the example of the Implicit Association Test which burst on the scene a decade or so ago with an easy explanation for why we are all racists (its all subconscious prejudice which the test reveals). It played so nicely to the advocacy narrative that it was a few years before robust studies revealed that there was no correlation between IAT results and actual racist actions.

Seeing the increase in the frequency of allusion to Dunning-Kruger, I thought it prudent to check and see whether the earlier tests and research had lately become undermined. From the Wikipedia article, it appears not. Dunning Kruger remains a real effect though our understanding is deepening and refining. As a reminder:
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately. Their research also suggests corollaries: highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.
It is often lost in common parlance that Dunning-Krueger is symmetrical. High capacity individuals underestimate their competence while low capacity individuals overestimate their competence. Most the popular conversation centers on the latter phenomenon.

Perhaps that is not surprising since we have suffered nearly a decade of political Dunning-Krugerism writ large. Our political elite seem to suffer under the impression that their catastrophic bumblings have actually been wise and beneficial for everyone. The electorate clearly thinks otherwise, returning presidential candidates who are 1) an android serial liar and near felon several updates behind in their empathy and ethics modules running as a human Democrat, 2) a declared socialist running as a Democrat, 3) a former Democrat bombast running as a Republican, and 4) a former Republican running as a Libertarian. If that is not symptomatic of an electorate rejecting their Dunning-Kruger plagued political establishment, I don't know what is.

I was amused, in reading the Wikipedia entry, to discover the origin story for Dunning and Kruger's original research, what gave them the idea in the first place.
The phenomenon was first experimentally observed in a series of experiments by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the department of psychology at Cornell University in 1999. The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras. The authors noted that earlier studies suggested that ignorance of standards of performance lies behind a great deal of incorrect self-assessment of competence.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Fasces - We are stronger together

I am seeing a number of observations about Hillary Clinton's new campaign slogan. There have been so many slip-ups you have to wonder about the quality of whomever is running the communications department. So many needless own-goals. The new slogan is "We are stronger together" and it appears completely blind to Western Civilization and any historical knowledge.

It has the benefit of echoing her long ago book It Takes a Village to Raise a Child. Consistency - check.

The problem is that for anyone center, or right of center, that particular title can be a red flag for feel good socialism. Being reminded of that title is therefore not necessarily a plus if you are campaigning for the whole electorate. It only makes sense if you are focusing on the 20% of the electorate who self-identify as liberal. That makes sense at the beginning of the primary season when you have to appeal to the base. Late in the season, though? Whatever is said now will bleed into the general election.

The other problem, the bigger problem, is that it doesn't take much cultural depth to pick up on the subliminal implications of "We are stronger together." Ann Althouse has probably the best round-up of the sotto voce issue. Her blog post is titled "No one wakes up with a passion to pursue togetherness. Half of the country is comprised of introverts, loners, and competitive a-holes", quoting Scott Adams.

The real problem centers on Fasces, a bundle of sticks. In the West, the symbolism of sticks goes back to the Romans and Etruscans. A single stick is easily broken but a bundle of sticks, fasces, is much stronger and indeed often near impossible to break. They are stronger together. It is a metaphor adopted over the centuries by innumerable authoritarian and totalitarian movements, parties and leaders.

From Wikipedia:
Fasces (/ˈfæsiːz/, (Italian: Fasci, Latin pronunciation: [ˈfa.skeːs], a plurale tantum, from the Latin word fascis, meaning "bundle")[1] is a bound bundle of wooden rods, sometimes including an axe with its blade emerging. The fasces had its origin in the Etruscan civilization, and was passed on to ancient Rome, where it symbolized a magistrate's power and jurisdiction. The image has survived in the modern world as a representation of magisterial or collective power. The fasces frequently occurs as a charge in heraldry, it is present on an older design of the Mercury dime and behind the podium in the United States House of Representatives, it is used as the symbol of a number of Italian syndicalist groups, including the Unione Sindacale Italiana, and it was the origin of the name of the National Fascist Party in Italy (from which the term fascism is derived).
Collective power - the very antithesis of the American constitution, designed, in part, to divide power and decision-making so that the citizenry might never suffer from the rod of unconstrained authority.

You would think that a candidate already dogged by accusations of illegal and extra-legal activities and frequently charged with coercive authoritarianism would seek to avoid associating herself with well established symbols of fascism. Particularly when she is wanting to make those charges against her political adversary.

Never have so many, owed so much, to so few.

In memory and gratitude to all our living 22 million veterans who have served these United States, in whatever capacity and to those who have given their lives.

Click to enlarge

Sunday, May 29, 2016

It is politics-as-novel, rather than politics-as-system

From Don't Blame the Republican Party for the Rise of Trump by Megan McArdle.
So whose fault is Trump then, if not the leadership of the Republican Party and the conservative movement?

I tend to think that’s a bad question. It is politics-as-novel, rather than politics-as-system. We are a large, fractious nation full of clashing interest groups and wildly differing opinions, as well as differing levels of engagement with politics. That system will often spit out results that most of us don’t like very much. Trying to ascribe those results to a person, or even a small group, is like blaming the weatherman because it’s raining, or an economist for a recession. You have selected the most visible target, not the most likely one. And, in the case of Democrats who fault Republicans for Trump, a very convenient target as well.
I like that phrase, "It is politics-as-novel, rather than politics-as-system."

This relates to an informal fallacy first identified, as far as I am aware, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.
Or increases our impression of certainty.

But McArdle's twist is a useful one, politics-as-novel, rather than politics-as-system. It is much easier to construct a narrative hypothesis that is cognitively digestible and emotionally pleasing than it is to rigorously test the complex, dynamic, non-linear system which is human activities. The complex system spits out a result we don't understand and that is less acceptable than a logical narrative despite both having no factual basis, one way or the other.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Natural resources only have value in the context of human technology and goals

From Wealth, Poverty, and Politics by Thomas Sowell. Page 13.
Deserts are another geographic factor isolating peoples. The largest of the world's deserts by far is the Sahara Desert, which is a negative factor for the peoples of North Africa but a devastating handicap for the peoples to the south, black Africans in tropical, sub-Saharan Africa. This incomparably vast desert - slightly larger than the 48 contiguous states of the United States - has been for centuries the largest single factor isolating the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa from the rest of the world. The dearth of good harbors in tropical Africa also limited contacts with overseas cultures. As Fernand Braudel put it, "external influence filtered only very slowly, drop by drop, into the vast African continent South of the Sahara."

Despite geographic influences, there can be no geographic determinism because, where peoples are in touch with other peoples, even an unchanging geographic setting interacts with changing human knowledge and differing human cultures that have different values and aspirations, producing very different outcomes at different times and places. Most of what are natural resources for us today were not natural resources for the cave man, who had not yet acquired the knowledge of how these things could be used for his own purposes. There have been vast deposits of petroleum in the Middle East from time immemorial. But it was only after science and technology had advanced to a level that created industrial nations elsewhere that the Middle East's oil became a valuable asset, profoundly changing life in both the Middle East and in the industrial nations.

Individual geographic influences cannot be considered in isolation, since their interactions crucially affect outcomes. The relationship between rainfall and soil is just one example of these interactions. Not only does rainfall vary greatly from one place to another, so odes the ability of the soil to hold water that rains down on it. This crucial ability to hold water is much less in the limestone soils of the Balkans than in the loess soils of northern China. Since climate and soil affect how well different crops can be grown in different places, that has virtually precluded equal prosperity in all regions of the world during the millennia when agriculture was the most important economic activity around the world, and the basis for the urban development of different societies and peoples.

Bad English habits

It has been pointed out to me that apparently I picked up some bad habits as a child in England in the 1960's. This seems to be corroborated:

Recently, having had a half day demonstration of a groundbreaking new technology, I summarized my response to the team with, what I thought, was an effusive "Neat". Seeing the crestfallen faces, I amended it with a yet more effusive "Pretty neat." I am still being mocked.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The real problem of poverty is not a problem of "distribution" but of production

From Wealth, Poverty, and Politics by Thomas Sowell. Page 7.
Among the many possible causes of differences in income and wealth, whether among peoples, regions or nations, one of the most obvious is often ignored. As economist Henry Hazlitt put it:
The real problem of poverty is not a problem of "distribution" but of production. The poor are poor not because something is being withheld from them but because, for whatever reason, they are not producing enough.
What seemed obvious to Henry Hazlitt was not obvious to many others, who had alternative visions, with agendas as corollaries for those visions. The difference between seeing economic disparities due to differences in the production of wealth and seeing those disparities due to the transfer of wealth from some people to other people is fundamental.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Language and the long generations of humanity

Linguistics - the presumption of a science with the fascination of history combined with the intrigue of a mystery.

From Walt Whitman's essay, Slang in America.
Language, be it remembered, is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground. Its final decisions are made by the masses, people nearest the concrete, having most to do with actual land and sea. It impermeates all, the Past as well as the present, and is the grandest triumph of the human intellect. "Those mighty works of art," says Addington Symonds, "which we call languages, in the construction of which whole peoples unconsciously co-operated, the forms of which were determined not by individual genius, but by the instincts of successive generations, acting to one end, inherent in the nature of the race, those poems of pure thought and fancy, cadenced not in words, but in living imagery, fountain-heads of inspiration, mirrors of the mind of nascent nations, which we call Mythologies, these surely are more marvellous in their infantine spontaneity than any more mature production of the races which evolved them. Yet we are utterly ignorant of their embryology; the true science of Origins is yet in its cradle."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reality - hard to avoid

Ms. Economics is on fire with the harshness of data against utopian fantasies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed

From an interview with William Gibson by NPR, a science fiction author.
The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.

Monday, May 23, 2016

New Testament progressives versus authoritarian continental ideologies of the left

I think this is the second time I have done this in the past twenty years.

I go into a used bookstore. I spot a book by Cecil Woodham-Smith. I read her The Reason Why (historical investigation of the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War) and The Great Hunger: Ireland: 1845-1849 (a history of the great Irish potato famine in the 1840s). I enjoyed both those books and am happy to read more of her writing.

Buy book and bring it home.

One page in I realize that this isn't a book by Cecil Woodham-Smith, a British historian writing from the 1950s on. This is a book by C. Vann Woodward, an American Historian of the South. His two most famous books are The Strange Career of Jim Crow and Origins of the New South, 1877-1913. The book I picked up was his autobiographical essays, Thinking Back: The Perils of Writing History. Looks good, so I'll probably read it anyway. I do wish though, that I would quit making this mistake. I guess its the names that throw me off, Cecil Woodham-Smith vs. C. Vann Woodward. Not really that similar but multi-barrel names with Wood in them. Not much of an excuse, but that's all I have.

In thinking about Woodward's journey from Left to Right, a journey so common in the US as to be a trope, it led me to the following formulation. In the 20th century, especially the early decades, we had a lot of New Testament civil rights progressives whose political views were jolted rightward by the Frankfurt School and its derivative ideological children of the left. The authoritarian, dogmatic, and repressive dogma of the Continental Left was too incompatible with the New Testament progressives which is what drove them rightwards. What is notable, to me, is that most these New Testament progressives never really lost their idealism, and were not really ever natively of the right. They simply had no where else to go.

I don't know if that is true but it seems to apply to a handful of cases of which I can think.

As for Cecil Woodham-Smith, I do admire this biographical note from Wikipedia:
She attended the Royal School for Officers' Daughters in Bath, until her expulsion for taking unannounced leave for a trip to the National Gallery.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

This assemblage of sloth, sleep, and littleness

In looking up one John Adams' quotation, I find another that increased my admiration for him yet further. From his diaries:
By my physical constitution I am but an ordinary man … Yet some great events, some cutting expressions, some mean hypocracies, have at times thrown this assemblage of sloth, sleep, and littleness into rage like a lion.

Frequency Illusion - William Petty's Plate of Shrimp

William Petty was unknown to me a week ago. At least, I think so. Then, in the space of a dozen days, I come across him twice. I first mentioned him here, The poor Inventor runs the Gantloop of all petulent wits.

Then, perusing How Rich Nations Got Rich and Why Poor Nations Stay Poor by Erik S. Reinert, I come across this passage on page 75:
Not only was it a necessary precondition for wealth to have a large and growing population, the concentration of this population was also exceedingly important. English economist William Petty (1623-87) therefore suggested moving the population of Scotland and other then peripheral areas to London, where the people would contribute much more to economic growth than they were able to do in the empty fringes of the island.
The import of Petty's recommendation is not what is at issue.

My coming across an obscure British economist of 350 years ago in the space of week is. Now I have hundreds of books of English history, economic development and economic history. It is not improbable that I have come across Petty before and am simply failing to recall him.

Still, his popping up is an example of the Frequency Illusion or the Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, described, colloguially in the 1987 movie, Repo Man,
A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, "plate," or "shrimp," or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.
I remember little else of the movie these near thirty years later, but that scene stuck for describing a known but little discussed phenomenon. The humorous aspect, of course, was that throughout the remainder of the movie, "plate of shrimp" made numerous sotto voce cameos as background.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fox Butterfield and economics

Ms. Economics is pithier than I am but it is the same point.

Longer versions:

Feminist policies are actually pro-natal policies in disguise

The poor Inventor runs the Gantloop of all petulent wits

From A Treatise of and Contributions by Sir William Petty, 1662.

Even before the industrial revolution, the dead hand of vested interests was suppressing progress as Sir William describes below. In fact, given that the history of man until the past five hundred years was essentially of non-progress, perhaps Sir William casts a different light. The argument might be made that until five hundred years ago, the dead hand of fear and obstruction had virtually always had the upper hand, delaying the adoption of new changes long enough that they died a natural death. Progress, in this rendering, is simply a matter of relaxing the vice grip of vested interests in order to trial new ideas.
Where note by the way, that few new Inventions were ever rewarded by a Monopoly; for although the Inventor oftentimes drunk with the opinion of his own merit, thinks all the world will invade and incroach upon him, yet I have observed, that the generality of men will scarce be hired to make use of new practices, which themselves have not throughly tried, and which length of time hath not vindicated from latent inconveniences; so as when a new Invention is first propounded, in the beginning every man objects, and the poor Inventor runs the Gantloop of all petulent wits; every man finding his several flaw, no man approving it, unless mended according to his own advice: Now not one of an hundred out-lives this torture, and those that do, are at length so changed by the various contrivances of others, that not any one man can pretend to the Invention of the whole, nor well agree about their respective shares in the parts. And moreover, this commonly is so long a doing, that the poor Inventor is either dead, or disabled by the debts contracted to pursue his design; and withall railed upon as a Projector, or worse, by those who joyned their money in partnership with his wit; so as the said Inventor and his pretences are wholly lost and vanisht.

Friday, May 20, 2016

We can look forward to its continued citation regardless of its evisceration

From Remember that study saying America is an oligarchy? 3 rebuttals say it's wrong. by Dylan Matthews.
In 2014, a slew of headlines seemed to confirm what many had long suspected — that the rich were actually the ones in control and the rest of us chumps were just along for the ride:

"Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy"; "Princeton Study: US No Longer An Actual Democracy"; "Study: You Have 'Near-Zero' Impact on US Policy"; "Study: Politicians listen to rich people, not you"; "Rich people rule!"

All of these stories were about a study by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, modestly titled, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens."

Their conclusion was explosive: "Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."
I believe rent-seeking and regulatory capture are pernicious problems that undermine our republican democracy and that the wealthy, in general, are the primary beneficiaries of such activities. But that is not what Gillens and Page were claiming. They were not claiming that the rich are gaming the system but that the rich are determining electoral outcomes. Without conducting an analysis, that seemed an improbable claim to support. There were just too many counter-examples.

I saw this study when it came out but did not engage with it on the grounds that the dramatic claims would likely not be supported by the data. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and my suspicion was that this would not pass that test. And so, it seems, that has proven to be the case.

Read the whole article for the ins-and-outs but the evidence against the original analysis and conclusions is reasonably comprehensive and damning. That won't mean that this study is dispatched to the outer realms of cognitive pollution where it belongs. The original study fit too neatly with several entrenched ideologies. Consequently, we can look forward to its continued citation regardless of its evisceration.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Patrician Pathological Altruists

From Countries with Higher Levels of Gender Equality Show Larger National Sex Differences in Mathematics Anxiety and Relatively Lower Parental Mathematics Valuation for Girls by Gijsbert Stoet, et al.

This hurts some of the progressive memes.
Despite international advancements in gender equality across a variety of societal domains, the underrepresentation of girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields persists. In this study, we explored the possibility that the sex difference in mathematics anxiety contributes to this disparity. More specifically, we tested a number of predictions from the prominent gender stratification model, which is the leading psychological theory of cross-national patterns of sex differences in mathematics anxiety and performance. To this end, we analyzed data from 761,655 15-year old students across 68 nations who participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Most importantly and contra predictions, we showed that economically developed and more gender equal countries have a lower overall level of mathematics anxiety, and yet a larger national sex difference in mathematics anxiety relative to less developed countries. Further, although relatively more mothers work in STEM fields in more developed countries, these parents valued, on average, mathematical competence more in their sons than their daughters. The proportion of mothers working in STEM was unrelated to sex differences in mathematics anxiety or performance. We propose that the gender stratification model fails to account for these national patterns and that an alternative model is needed. In the discussion, we suggest how an interaction between socio-cultural values and sex-specific psychological traits can better explain these patterns. We also discuss implications for policies aiming to increase girls’ STEM participation.
So the most progressive nations have the highest degree of gender difference in mathematics anxiety compared to all other countries.

"We also discuss implications for policies aiming to increase girls’ STEM participation." So the Patrician Pathological Altruists strike once again, imposing solutions to solve problems that don't exist. They have decided that there should be proportional representation in the field regardless of what actual women actually want.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators

I don't know why they come to mind this morning, but they do. Two quotes from P.J. O'Rourke.

Succinct as he often is.
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
It's really hard to disagree.

Feminist policies are actually pro-natal policies in disguise

*The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox* by Tyler Cowen commenting on a new book about a phenomenon I have mentioned a number of times over the years. The countries with the most pro-female policies, (family leave, quotas, free day care, etc.) have policies that look very pro-natal in nature and impact. Most these countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, France, Netherlands, etc., also have much more restrictive approaches to abortion, at least compared to the US. The even greater paradox is that these policies lead to workforce outcomes the very opposite of what pro-female activist groups believe will happen. The more female affirmative the nation's policies, the less represented women are in competitive industries, the fewer achievements in any field and the greater presence they hold in lower paying, but secure, government jobs.

America, much derided by the bien pensant, has the most open system to women to achieve top performance in the largest and widest number of fields of endeavor.

From Cowen's post:
That is the new and quite interesting book by Nima Sanandaji. The main point is that there are plenty of Nordic women in politics, or on company boards, but few CEOs or senior managers. In fact the OECD country with the highest share of women as senior managers is the United States, coming in at 43 percent compared to 31 percent in the Nordics. More generally, countries with more equal gender norms do not have a higher share of women in senior management positions. Within Europe, Bulgaria does best and other than Cyprus, Denmark and Sweden do the worst in this regard.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Man everywhere and at all times, . . . has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated.

From Notes From The Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Book 5. Written in 1864. I am not sure whether Dostoyevsky is responding to Marx or anticipating him. Certainly, though, pertinent to the emerging utopianist totalitarians who were convinced man was perfectible according to logic and scientific laws.
They say that Cleopatra (excuse an instance from Roman history) was fond of sticking gold pins into her slave-girls' breasts and derived gratification from their screams and writhings. You will say that that was in the comparatively barbarous times; that these are barbarous times too, because also, comparatively speaking, pins are stuck in even now; that though man has now learned to see more clearly than in barbarous ages, he is still far from having learnt to act as reason and science would dictate. But yet you are fully convinced that he will be sure to learn when he gets rid of certain old bad habits, and when common sense and science have completely re-educated human nature and turned it in a normal direction. You are confident that then man will cease from INTENTIONAL error and will, so to say, be compelled not to want to set his will against his normal interests. That is not all; then, you say, science itself will teach man (though to my mind it's a superfluous luxury) that he never has really had any caprice or will of his own, and that he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of an organ, and that there are, besides, things called the laws of nature; so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature. Consequently we have only to discover these laws of nature, and man will no longer have to answer for his actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him. All human actions will then, of course, be tabulated according to these laws, mathematically, like tables of logarithms up to 108,000, and entered in an index; or, better still, there would be published certain edifying works of the nature of encyclopaedic lexicons, in which everything will be so clearly calculated and explained that there will be no more incidents or adventures in the world.


And all that for the most foolish reason, which, one would think, was hardly worth mentioning: that is, that man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one’s own interests, and sometimes one POSITIVELY OUGHT (that is my idea). One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy—is that very ‘most advantageous advantage’ which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.

Disturbingly relevant

Monday, May 16, 2016

Yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it

From Book II of History of the Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides
The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


In their eagerness to advance some preferred narrative, the New York Times frequently gets things wrong, omits critical information or ignores context and subsequently have to issue a footnoted correction. Sometimes they are quite marvelous and perhaps someday someone will write a book consisting only of NYT corrections.

In the meantime, this particular correction certainly merits consideration for inclusion.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Those who do not have a strong need for intellectual consistency

At the margin, it is in fact possible to do both in a large enough firm but the underlying point of the diagram is still well-taken.

Lysenkoism is the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias

There are a handful of blogs I read where the commenters are as interesting as the blog host. I am amazed at the detailed knowledge that resides out there.

The originating article in this instance is Sex and State Power — What’s Behind Obama’s Transgender Push by Bookworm. Not a blog I have ever come across before but an interesting argument in the post and interesting comments.

I had originally assumed that the administration's whipping up of hysteria over transgender bathroom policies was simply a political ploy to distract attention from the election cycle and from the accumulating disasters around Syria, Iran, ISIS, Libya, ACA, the economy, the budget, crime, etc. I can understand, given the consequences of the past seven years, why they would want people to focus on anything else. Bookworm sees a different motivation, that of the administration advancing the cause of state displacement of the individual. More of an extreme position than I would lean towards but Bookworm argues well in the essay. I am still inclined towards my explanation but there is food for thought.

One commenter, though, links much of our public debate in recent years to Lysenkoism, a connection I had never made. Once the dots are connected, it becomes almost instantly credible. I knew of Lysenko from his agricultural work and rejection of Darwinism and genetics, but had never considered the wider implications of his approach. It did not really matter what the scientific principle was, Lysenko's approach was to subordinate fact and science to ideology.

From Wikipedia:
Lysenkoism (Russian: Лысе́нковщина) was a political campaign against genetics and science-based agriculture conducted by Trofim Lysenko, his followers and Soviet authorities. Lysenko was the director of the Soviet Union's Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Lysenkoism began in the late 1920s and formally ended in 1964. The term Lysenkoism is also used metaphorically to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.

The pseudo-scientific ideas of Lysenkoism were built on Lamarckan heritability of acquired characteristics. Lysenko's theory rejected Mendelian inheritance, the concept of the "gene" and departed from Darwinian evolutionary theory by rejecting natural selection. Proponents falsely claimed to have discovered, among many other things, that rye could transform into wheat and wheat into barley, that weeds spontaneously transmute into food grains, and that "natural cooperation" was observed in nature as opposed to "natural selection". Lysenkoism promised extraordinary advances in breeding and agriculture that never came about.

The campaign was supported by Joseph Stalin. More than 3,000 mainstream biologists were sent to prison, fired, or executed as a part of this campaign instigated by Lysenko to suppress his scientific opponents. The president of the Agriculture Academy was sent to prison and died there, while the scientific research in the field of genetics was effectively destroyed until the death of Stalin in 1953. Research and teaching in the fields of neurophysiology, cell biology, and many other biological disciplines was also negatively affected or banned.
The current campaign by a handful of state Attorney's General to bring charges against ExxonMobil and others for questioning the science behind the ideology of Anthropogenic Global Warming sounds frighteningly similar to a "campaign instigated by Lysenko to suppress his scientific opponents."

How did we get here? How did our political establishment become modern advocates of lysenkoism without anyone noticing?

The topics that come under the heading of lysenkoism are legion. Anthropogenic Global Warming is one where the scientific method shows reliably that we still do not have any good models forecasting climate and yet we treat all the ideological policy recommendations as if they had a firm scientific foundation. IQ is another area where we ideologically shy away from what the science tells us. Gender wage gaps, campus rape hysteria, education policy, affirmative action, etc. are all instances of lysenkoism where empirical evidence tells us one thing but we subordinate facts to ideology in order to do another.

No matter how stridently we declare that the science is settled, we still do not remotely understand the causes and consequences of homosexuality much less transgenderism. We simply don't understand the phenomenon in any meaningful way.

Of course the fact that we don't understand something about people doesn't have any particular baring. All citizens are equal in their natural rights and it is civil to advance empathy and openness to all until it is demonstrated that that empathy is betrayed or unwarranted. But the will to power by totalitarians requires coercive actions and coercive actions politically require some fig leaf. Transgenderism, despite our ignorance becomes a matter of national importance by converting it into a civil rights matter based on "science." But the science being offered up is that of Lysenko - an ideologically arrived at determination masquerading as empirically settled science.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Reason, justice, & equity never had weight enough on the face of the earth to govern the councils of men

From Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Debates in Congress, 30 July -- 1 Aug. 1776Papers 1:323--27. He is quoting John Adams in the debate about bicameralism.
Reason, justice, & equity never had weight enough on the face of the earth to govern the councils of men. It is interest alone which does it, and it is interest alone which can be trusted.
Shades of Adam Smith:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
Which is from Wealth of Nations, published in March of 1776. So did John Adams get his hands on an early copy of Wealth of Nations between its publication in Britain in March and the debate in America in July. Possible but I suspect that this was an example of great minds with parallel thoughts.

It would be easy to speculate that to some degree both renditions are a development of the traditional Latin question, "Cui bono?" (Who benefits?) attributed to Lucius Cassius Longinus Ravilla, a Roman consul in 127 BC.

Adams' larger point is as true today as it was 240 years ago. People answer a lot more diligently to incentives and their interests than they guide their actions and decisions by reason, justice, and equity.

People seem to be noticing

There was an odd long article in the Sunday New York Times interviewing Ben Rhodes, White House Deputy National Security Advisor, and brother of David Rhodes, president of CBS News.

The article reveals arrogance, ignorance and incompetence in equal parts. It reveals knowing and blatant lying as a standard tool for advancing policy. It reveals a disdain for the press. In fact, it reveals that many of the accusations of conservatives about White House practices are true and right leaning news outlets are making much ado about the article.

The article is odd because it was also startlingly revealing of a self-serving, self-absorbed mindset in the heart of the White House from a newspaper generally highly insistent on only positive coverage and no negative coverage for the administration.

Reading the article, there is a bare possibility that no one at the Times, not the journalist or the editors, appreciated just how revealing it was. Perhaps the echo chamber between the White House and the mainstream media is so strong that they could not perceive how others outside the bubble would react. You get the feeling a number of times of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge between the author and the subject of the interview, Ben Rhodes. But otherwise it seems completely out of character for the Times to have run such a damaging report.

One of the specific revelations was the White House manipulation of reporters in feeding them a known-to-be-untrue timeline and justification of the Iranian talks centering on the embargo and the Iranian nuclear program. Basically, the White House lied to the American public about the circumstances in order to increase the odds of getting a deal done, regardless of whether it was beneficial to American interests.

In all the outrage that has followed, I have not yet seen anyone point out two parallel instances.

It is known and empirically quantified that this is the most information unfriendly White House in modern times as measured by the infrequency of White House Press conferences, the frequency of prosecutions against whistle blowers, and the persistent reluctance and delays in responding to Freedom of Information Act court ordered information requests.

The act of lying to the public might seem culturally consistent with this abuse of public trust but simply a one-off exception of behavior taken too far. But it is not.

I have not yet seen anyone connect Rhodes' behavior with that of Clinton and that of Gruber.

Hillary Clinton, in coordination with the White House, deliberately sought to ascribe the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi (in which four Americans were killed, including the ambassador) to a mob response to an obscure video trailer on the internet, despite knowing at the time of the attack that this was in fact an attack planned and executed by an Islamic terrorist group. The White House sent members of the administration out to the various Sunday news shows to peddle the lie of an unplanned mob action and continued to perpetrate the known lie for another couple of weeks before it became untenable.

An even stronger parallel was the behavior of the White House contracted economist Jonathan Gruber who subsequently was revealed to have knowingly lied, in coordination with the White House, about the costs and consequences of the Affordable Care Act in order to facilitate its passage by Congress. Material lies, which had they been known at the time, likely would have sunk the ACA.

In the case of both Rhodes and Gruber, as White House agents, there is mockery of the stupidity of the American public for believing the lies which were being told to them. Rhodes and Gruber both exhibit a pride in themselves as political operators and their accomplishment in having changed the course of history to achieve political goals through blatant falsehoods.

Is it any wonder that there is such mistrust of our political institutions and is it any wonder that improbable outsiders have arisen as the nominee for the Republicans and possible nominee for the Democrats? The political establishment with its media enablers appear to be rotten to the core and people seem to be noticing.

UPDATE: I write my post sometimes a week or two in advance and then schedule them for posting, as was the case in this instance. Coincidentally, the day after this publishes, I see the first article tying the lying about the Iranian Nuclear Deal to the same behavior exhibited with the selling of Obamacare - The Selling of the Iran Deal by Mark Hemingway.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral

Melvin Krantzberg sounds like he was an interesting guy. I came across him while researching the origins of what turns out to have been the first of his six laws of technology. From Wikipedia.
Kranzberg's laws of technology
Melvin Kranzberg's six laws of technology state:
1. Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
2. Invention is the mother of necessity.
3. Technology comes in packages, big and small.
4. Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
5. All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
6. Technology is a very human activity - and so is the history of technology.

Feeling better about one’s self by punishing others is an addictive pleasure

The article as a whole is so-so but there is an interesting insight in Political Correctness Is War By Other Means by Angelo Codevilla.
Because feeling better about one’s self by punishing others is an addictive pleasure, victories can never satiate those who wage identity politics as war.
My perspective of those infected with political correctness has been that they are callow virtue signalers and moral preeners. They do what they do for their own self-serving ends, not out of respect for others. In many cases this extreme narcissism takes the form of fanaticism. Arguing with those tainted by the fanaticism of political correctness is a fool's errand. They have no logical, rational or evidentiary grounds for their linguistic position. It is pure linguistic theatrics, and puerile theatrics at that. Until their own cognitive system rids itself of the infection of political correctness, there is nothing you can do for them. All you can do is save yourself the time of arguing with them.

Codevilla offers a variant explanation which I suspect has merit. He doesn't address virtue signaling but posits that there is a darker motive at work - vindictiveness. It is a well established psychological condition that, as inherently social animals, we are genetically disposed not only to reward good behavior, but to actively punish bad behavior. In economics, experiments have yielded quantifications indicating that people are willing to expend resources in order to punish rule-breakers, even when there is no yield in benefit back to the punisher. That is just our genetic inheritance. We are collaborative and everyone else should be as well, at risk of punishment.

So people get a rush by punishing others whom they think "deserve it." And those infected by political correctness have elaborate ideological justifications for punishing others who are less linguistically or emotionally refined than themselves. They have lots of latitude to generate the emotional thrill to themselves by punishing those whom they deem lesser spirits. A latitude which they fully exploit. An addictive pleasure indeed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

With delicate lady-words? with gloved gentlemen words?

Walt Whitman wrote an essay back in the mid 1850s that was eventually published in 1908 in Atlantic Magazine. The essay was The American Primer and it is a celebration of language. I am not a particular fan of Whitman's works, dipping in and out. I have never read Leaves of Grass in its entirety though there are masterful phrasings with deep insight in it such as
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
I also like his poem O Captain! My Captain!, Whitman's mourning poem for the passing of Lincoln, which opens
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
Whitman often verges too far into the mystical for my tastes. I have wondered sometimes whether there was a settled mind behind his works. In The American Primer, it makes me wonder whether he might have been a synesthete with a form of synesthesia in which words were physically experienced.

Lots of wonderful passages.
In a little while, in the United States, the English language, enriched with contributions from all languages, old and new, will be spoken by a hundred millions of people: perhaps a hundred thousand words ("seventy or eighty thousand words"—Noah Webster).

The Americans are going to be the most fluent and melodious voiced people in the world—and the most perfect users of words. Words follow character,—nativity, independence, individuality.

I see that the time is nigh when the etiquette of salons is to be discharged that great thing, the renovated English speech in America. The occasions of the English speech in America are immense, profound—stretch over ten thousand vast cities, over through thousands of years, millions of miles of meadows, mountains, men. The occasions of salons are for a coterie, a bon soir or two—involve waiters standing behind chairs, silent, obedient, with backs that can bend and must often bend.

What beauty there is in words! What a lurking curious charm in the sound of some words! Then voices! Five or six times in a lifetime (perhaps not so often) you have heard from men and women such voices, as they spoke the most common word! What can it be that from those few men and women made so much out of the most common word! Geography, shipping, steam, the mint, the electric telegraph, railroads, and so forth, have many strong and beautiful words. Mines—iron works—the sugar plantations—the cotton crop and the rice crop—Illinois wheat—Ohio pork—Maine lumber—all these sprout in hundreds and hundreds of words, all tangible and clean-lived, all having texture and beauty.


These States are rapidly supplying themselves with new words, called for by new occasions, new facts, new politics, new combinations. Far plentier additions will be needed, and, of course, will be supplied.

Because it is a truth that the words continually used among the people are, in numberless cases, not the words used in writing, or recorded in the dictionaries by authority, there are just as many words in daily use, not inscribed in the dictionary, and seldom or never in any Print. Also, the forms of grammar are never persistently obeyed, and cannot be.


Character makes words. The English stock, full enough of faults, but averse to all folderol, equable, instinctively just, latent with pride and melancholy, ready with brawned arms, with free speech, with the knife-blade for tyrants and the reached hand for slaves—have put all these in words. We have them in America,—they are the body of the whole of the past. We are to justify our inheritance,—we are to pass it on to those who are to come after us, a thousand years hence, as we have grown out of the English of a thousand years ago: American geography—the plenteousness and variety of the great nations of the Union—the thousands of settlements—the seacoast—the Canadian North—the Mexican South—California and Oregon—the inland seas—the mountains—Arizona—the prairies—the immense rivers.


In America an immense number of new words are needed to embody the new political facts, the compact of the Declaration of Independence, and of the Constitution—the union of the States—the new States—the Congress—the modes of election—the stump speech—the ways of electioneering—addressing the people—stating all that is to be said in modes that fit the life and experience of the Indianian, the Michiganian, the Vermonter, the men of Maine. Also words to answer the modern, rapidly spreading faith of the vital equality of women with men, and that they are to be placed on an exact plane, politically, socially, and in business, with men. Words are wanted to supply the copious trains of facts, and flanges of facts, arguments, and adjectival facts, growing out of all new knowledges. (Phrenology.)


The English tongue is full of strong words native or adopted to express the blood-born passion of the race for rudeness and resistance, as against polish and all acts to give in: Robust, brawny, athletic, muscular, acrid, harsh, rugged, severe, pluck, grit, effrontery, stern, resistance, bracing, rude, rugged, rough, shaggy, bearded, arrogant, haughty. These words are alive and sinewy,—they walk, look, step, with an air of command. They will often lead the rest,—they will not follow. How can they follow? They will appear strange in company unlike themselves.


The appetite of the people of these States, in popular speeches and writings, for unhemmed latitude, coarseness, directness, live epithets, expletives, words of opprobrium, resistance. This I understand because I have the taste myself as large, as largely, as any one. I have pleasure in the use, on fit occasions, of—traitor, coward, liar, shyster, skulk, doughface, trickster, mean cuss, backslider, thief, impotent, lickspittle.


I like limber, lasting, fierce words. I like them applied to myself,—and I like them in newspapers, courts, debates, congress. Do you suppose the liberties and the brawn of these States have to do only with delicate lady-words? with gloved gentlemen words? Bad Presidents, bad judges, bad clients, bad editors, owners of slaves, and the long ranks of Northern political suckers (robbers, traitors, suborned), monopolists, infidels.... shaved persons, supplejacks, ecclesiastics, men not fond of women, women not fond of men, cry down the use of strong, cutting, beautiful, rude words. To the manly instincts of the People they will forever be welcome.


Never will I allude to the English Language or tongue without exultation. This is the tongue that spurns laws, as the greatest tongue must. It is the most capacious vital tongue of all,—full of ease, definiteness, and power,—full of sustenance,—an enormous treasure house, or ranges of treasure houses, arsenals, granary, chock full of so many contributions from the north and from the south, from Scandinavia, from Greece and Rome-—from Spaniards, Italians, and the French—that its own sturdy home-dated Angles-bred words have long been outnumbered by the foreigners whom they lead—which is all good enough, and indeed must be. America owes immeasurable respect and love to the past, and to many ancestries, for many inheritances,—but of all that America has received from the past from the mothers and fathers of laws, arts, letters, etc., by far the greatest inheritance is the English Language—so long in growing—so fitted.


All the greatness of any land, at any time, lies folded in its names. Would I recall some particular country or age? the most ancient? the greatest? I recall a few names—a mountain or sierra of mountains—a sea or bay—a river, some mighty city—some deed of persons, friends or enemies,—some event, a great war, perhaps a greater peace—some time-marking and place-marking philosoph, divine person, king, bard, goddess, captain, discoverer, or the like. Thus does history in all things hang around a few names. Thus does all human interest hang around names. All men experience it, but no man ciphers it out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No F's = No signal

I cannot embed it because his account is locked, but I did like John Nye's May fifth Twitter comment.
STEM grads do better because other majors no longer guarantee minimal quality control. No F's = No signal
An interesting insight. In this respect, part of the STEM grads' success is that, within majors, they are the ones most likely to perform as a crude IQ test.

In Theater, as an example, there is likely some normal distribution curve of IQs. Some of those majoring in Theater are deeply intelligent and serious about the subject, while others are skating.

In STEM degrees such as Physics and Chemistry, there are few skaters. The distribution curve is likely left skewed and with a higher mean. Nobody below a certain degree of IQ is likely to be able to major in Chemistry or Physics and therefore those majors serve as a closer proxy to IQ than would a normally distributed degree such as Theater or Communications or Sociology.

Data trump assumptions

Well that's interesting. The Mythology Of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support by Nate Silver.
It’s been extremely common for news accounts to portray Donald Trump’s candidacy as a “working-class” rebellion against Republican elites. There are elements of truth in this perspective: Republican voters, especially Trump supporters, are unhappy about the direction of the economy. Trump voters have lower incomes than supporters of John Kasich or Marco Rubio. And things have gone so badly for the Republican “establishment” that the party may be facing an existential crisis.

But the definition of “working class” and similar terms is fuzzy, and narratives like these risk obscuring an important and perhaps counterintuitive fact about Trump’s voters: As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.


Trump voters’ median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states, sometimes narrowly (as in New Hampshire or Missouri) but sometimes substantially. In Florida, for instance, the median household income for Trump voters was about $70,000, compared with $48,000 for the state as a whole. The differences are usually larger in states with substantial non-white populations, as black and Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly Democratic and tend to have lower incomes. In South Carolina, for example, the median Trump supporter had a household income of $72,000, while the median for Clinton supporters was $39,000.


Many of the differences reflect that Republican voters are wealthier overall than Democratic ones, and also that wealthier Americans are more likely to turn out to vote, especially in the primaries. However, while Republican turnout has considerably increased overall from four years ago, there’s no sign of a particularly heavy turnout among “working-class” or lower-income Republicans. On average in states where exit polls were conducted both this year and in the Republican campaign four years ago, 29 percent of GOP voters have had household incomes below $50,000 this year, compared with 31 percent in 2012.

Likewise, although about 44 percent of Trump supporters have college degrees, according to exit polls — lower than the 50 percent for Cruz supporters or 64 percent for Kasich supporters — that’s still higher than the 33 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, or the 29 percent of American adults overall, who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Very interesting. Was I wrong in remembering exit polls indicating otherwise. Did I simply pick up on a narrative without really investigating it sufficiently. Or is Silver simply wrong. He has been wrong about Trump the entire election cycle.

I am pretty comfortable writing off the third explanation. Silver is a bright guy and has already done a postmortem on his own primary forecasting failure. Still, are his data samples wrong?

I don't know. But a great reminder to check your data before you rely on your assumptions. Particularly assumptions you may have picked up from the mainstream media.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The underlying issue is crony-capitalism

An interesting piece in The Economist, The party winds down. A couple of years ago they attempted to create a crony-capitalism index.
Behind the crony index is the idea that some industries are prone to “rent seeking”. This is the term economists use when the owners of an input of production—land, labour, machines, capital—extract more profit than they would get in a competitive market. Cartels, monopolies and lobbying are common ways to extract rents. Industries that are vulnerable often involve a lot of interaction with the state, or are licensed by it: for example telecoms, natural resources, real estate, construction and defence. (For a full list of the industries we include, see article.) Rent-seeking can involve corruption, but very often it is legal.

Our index builds on work by Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton of Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, among others. It uses data on billionaires’ fortunes from rankings by Forbes. We label each billionaire as a crony or not, based on the industry in which he is most active. We compare countries’ total crony wealth to their GDP. We show results for 22 economies: the five largest rich ones, the ten biggest emerging ones for which reliable data are available and a selection of other countries where cronyism is a problem (see chart 3). The index does not attempt to capture petty graft, for example bribes for expediting forms or avoiding traffic penalties, which is endemic in many countries.
The attempted index is an extremely crude proxy for crony-capitalism and only has value as a catalyst to create a better index and in comparison to the non-existent alternative indices.

According to the current version, world crony-capitalism is declining and the USA has a comparatively low crony-capitalism problem. I respect The Economist for its effort but I think their index hides the magnitude of the problem.
Wall Street continues to be controversial in America but its tycoons feature more prominently in populist politicians’ stump speeches than in the billionaire rankings. We classify deposit-taking banking as a crony industry because of its implicit state guarantee, but if we lumped in hedge-fund billionaires and other financiers, too, the share of American billionaire wealth from crony industries would rise from 14% to 28%. George Soros, by far the richest man in the hedge-fund game, is worth the same as Phil Knight, a relative unknown who sells Nike training shoes. Mr Soros’s fortune is only a third as large as the technology derived fortune of Bill Gates.
So one of the most regulated industries, finance, which, in combination with and on behest of government policy, created the circumstances leading to the Great Recession of 2007, is not included as a crony industry. That seems a pretty major omission.

Likewise with technology.
The final reason for vigilance is technology. In our index we assume that the industry is relatively free of government involvement, and thus less susceptible to rent-seeking. But that assumption is being tested. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has become one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington and is in constant negotiations in Europe over anti-trust rules and tax. Uber has regulatory tussles all over the world. Jack Ma, the boss of Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant, is protected by the state from foreign competition, and now owes much of his wealth to his stake in Ant Financial, an affiliated payments firm worth $60 billion, whose biggest outside investors are China’s sovereign wealth and social security funds.

If technology were to be classified as a crony industry, rent-seeking wealth would be higher and rising steadily in the Western world. Whether technology evolves in this direction remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure. Cronies, like capitalism itself, will adapt.
Technology is not a rent-seeking industry? The 427 weekly visits of Google executives to White House over the past seven years along with the dozens of executives joining the federal government and even larger numbers of federal regulators gaining jobs with Google would suggest otherwise. Combine that with the fact the the technology titans Facebook and Google have both conducted projects to determine the extent to which they can use their algorithms to affect customer preferences and it suggests that there are in fact good reasons to consider the technology industry a crony capitalist reserve.

We know from the article that including the finance industry would raise the percentage of billionaires who had made their fortune in industries subject to rent seeking from 14% to 28%. Imagine what that number might be if you were to include technology. 40%? 50%?

I think The Economist should be lauded for attempting to quantify the difficult issue of crony-capitalism but that their initial efforts shed light on the fact that the problem is much larger than is being acknowledged, for the USA and all other countries.

I believe that the record high unfavorables ratings for Clinton and Trump are related to the fact that both are long established crony capitalists whose achievements (meager in the former case and questionable in the latter's) are entirely due to the fact that their records are besmirched with many and well documented instances of insider dealing and crony-capitalism. I also think this is why the media have done such a poor job reporting on this election cycle. They live in the interior of the rent seeking enabling political establishment, and like fish with water and humans with air, are little aware of the essence of their immediate environment.

They are astonished that so many people hate political establishment candidate Clinton for her incapacity to the tell the truth and her constant financial self-advancement through political favors. They are even more astonished by the fact that a political outsider like Trump, the very off-spring of a crony capitalism, could con so many people into believing that he is anything but the same as Clinton but without the political insider experience.

I think the mainstream media are blinded by their own blinkers. No one believes that either Clinton or Trump is anything but a crony-capitalist, always seeking to advance their own interests through the power of the state and at the expense of ordinary citizens. The only difference is that Clinton's track record in that regard is entirely well-established when it comes to politics. Trumps's track record is only established in regards to private commerce. There is a remote chance that he won't be a political crony-capitalist if given the chance.

That remains to be seen. The underlying issue is crony-capitalism and the unwillingness of the establishment - Big Business, Big Government, Big Media, and Big Labor - to either acknowledge the issue or address it.

Educational conundrum

Interesting. Who Likes Testing? by Walter Russell Mead.

Gallup has released a new study on the attitudes of parents and students to the testing regime in schools (here)

Mead observes:
First, contrary to the common perception, a large majority of students, and a narrow majority of parents, do not believe that there is too much testing. Anti-testing sentiment is much more pronounced among higher education professionals (whose pay and status can sometimes be tied to student scores):
This study identifies an important contrast in views of testing time: Three-quarters of students and more than half of their parents (52%) say students spend the right amount of time or too little time taking assessments. Meanwhile, more than seven in 10 teachers, principals and superintendents say that students spend too much time on assessments.
On the one hand, this result lends support to suspicions that teachers and administrators fight assessment standards as a means of avoiding accountability for learning outcomes. On the other hand, as the authors of the report emphasize, teachers are not hostile to all forms of assessment—while they oppose standardized tests, they are more favorably disposed to various classroom assessments—leaving open the possibility of a reformed testing regime that would be more amenable to teachers while preserving accountability. (Given the intransigence of teachers’ unions in the face of virtually any policy change that could threaten their seniority-based, tenure-for-life system, we are skeptical).
I find that very interesting. From the general media, you would gain the impression that there is overwhelming opposition on the part of everyone to too much testing. Sounds like that the overwhelming opposition is from those being held accountable via test results.
Second, parents in lower-income households are twice as supportive of standardized testing as their higher-income counterparts:
Lower-income parents are more likely than higher- income parents to agree or strongly agree that state tests improve learning. One-third of parents (33%) with a household income under $60,000 agree or strongly agree that state tests improve learning, compared with 16% of parents with an income of $60,000-$89,999; 17% of parents with an income of $90,000-$119,999; 21% of parents with an income of $120,000- $179,999; and 15% of parents with an income above $180,000.
This result likely reflects a sense among poor and working-class parents that their children are getting a raw deal from the public education system, and that standardized testing is an important tool for exposing and resolving inequities. (For upper-middle class parents whose children go to good schools, state testing might seem like at best a waste of time, and at worst an encroachment on their children’s precious individuality). So this is one area where America’s much-maligned “bipartisan elites,” who tend to push a more testing-friendly education reform agenda, really are responding to the policy preferences of ordinary families—even if, by pushing through clunky and needlessly bureaucratic federal testing bills, they are going about it the wrong way.
This is a great insight and makes sense. If you are poor, one of the few means, other than through sports accomplishments, for a child of ability to stand out is via education, a path followed by innumerable immigrant groups in the past to their great personal benefit and to that of our nation.

We spend vast amounts on K-12 education but in the more dysfunctional neighborhoods, the schools seem almost to have become means of denying children opportunity rather than creating it. Testing is one means of finding those who are talented and giving them a chance to escape their circumstances.

But, as Mead points out, testing is not a solution in-and-of itself. Teachers and school administrations need to act on testing results, which they are reluctant to do. Likewise, parents also need to act. Gallup reveals that 61% of parents rarely or never discuss test results with their children. To me, this reveals the crux of the problem. Not completely schools, not completely parents, but a sad mix of inappropriate behaviors between the two of them and to the detriment of the children. It is inappropriate of schools to "fix" parents who send their children to school without a good cultural infrastructure to support them. It appears that schools are incapable of overcoming the consequences of those parental behaviors. That is the conundrum.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the internet.

I am reading The End of Absence by Michael Harris. We'll see. I like the premise but it seems a little ooey-gooey. In his opening chapter he wonders:
Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the internet. What does the unavoidable fact mean?

For those billions who come next, it may not mean anything very obvious. Our online technologies, taken as a whole, will have become a kind of foundational myth — a story people are barely conscious of, something natural and, therefore, unnoticed. Just as previous generations were charmed by televisions until their sets were left always on, murmuring as consolingly as the radios before them, future generations will be so immersed in the internet that questions about is basic purpose or meaning will have faded from notice. Something tremendous will be missing from their lives - a mind-set that their ancestors took entirely for granted - but they will hardly be able to notice its disappearance. Nor can we blame them.
Not soon enough? We are already there.

I caught the leading edge of the first wave, coming through high-school in the late seventies and learning to program in a couple of languages and seeing some old card reading machines shoved over in the corner of computer labs in college. I wired up one of the first LAN networks in Atlanta and lobbied hard for standardizing on Macintoshes. I recall the thrill of receiving a beta 5 meg external hard drive, almost unimaginable storage capacity when you were accustomed to, what were they, 128k floppies?

I am working with a Silicon Valley start-up and the young (25-30) kids struggle to envision a world without smartphones and the internet much less a world of command line entry computers.

I think it is The Second Machine Age in which they discuss the disorienting pace of change arising from Moore's Law. It is not just the doubling of capacity every two years, it is the aggregate capability that this exponential growth creates.

The cycle time between capacity and product is disappearing.

Yes, that slower world has disappeared in the cutting edges of civilizational advancement such as big cities and I am sure that there is much adjusting to be done. But I suspect past experience provides some counterbalance to panic.

My parents grew up as children of the Great Depression and those stories of deprivation and hardship were passed to my generation and then through us, to our younger generation coming of age now. My children have not experienced the disruptions and want and uncertainty that my parents experienced circa 1935-45 but they know of it.

The observable consequence is a general inclination among my generation of siblings and cousins to save and to live within means. There is an inclination to recycle and not waste that long preceded the trends of sustainability and recycling.

There is a complicating factor which calls into question whether these traits are a consequence of the Great Depression. There is a lot of Scottish ancestry in the family and perhaps this is a family culture of Scottish Calvinist prudence and carefulness. Notably, our ancestral Clan Lamont has the family motto - Neither Spare nor Dispose. You can't get more Scottish than that I don't think.

So perhaps there is some familial culture that is being handed down, but I do think that there was a strong reinforcement during the Great Depression which echoes on today.

So I suspect that some of what Harris is expressing concern about is a real risk, particularly to those from fractured or dysfunctional backgrounds. But those from intact families, particularly story-telling families are likely somewhat insulated from this feared amnesia.

The effect size from their perspective is that much smaller than from yours

Somewhere among these many posts, I have speculated about the connection between where news media outlets are located and the representation of America in the media. This is more than an issue of "fly-over" country. Specifically, my speculation was that the fact that most national news media organs are located in a handful of major cities (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the ilk) predisposes reporters/journalists to assume that the rest of America looks like the urban America with which they are familiar.

Cities have historically been unrepresentative of the population of the countries in which they are located. They tend to be more socially liberal and more accommodating of personal privacy. Among the top 25 cities in the US, many have significantly disproportionate LGBT populations, criminal activities, Jews, Muslims (and other religious minorities), and ethnic minorities.

I speculate that the experience of reporters in their residential demographics filters into their assumptions of their reporting and that this accounts for the dramatic misestimation on the part of the public of minority populations. For example, 17% of the population thinks that African-Americans are in the majority and the average estimate is that African-Americans are 33% of the population as opposed to their actual representation of 14% (see Gallup). Similarly but to an even greater degree, the public dramatically overestimates the share of the LGBT population in the nation. Whereas LGBT are between 1-5% of the population (depending on definitions and surveying mechanism), the public estimates that 25% of the population is LGBT.

These overestimations are of such a magnitude as to boggle the mind. Statistically it is impossible for people to be sampling their own social networks and be deriving these elevated estimations. Instead, they have to be generating these estimates from other impressions. Hence my guess as to the outsize influence of unrepresentative cities as the basis for misimpressions transmitted via the media. Reporters (and talking heads) live in cities that are disproportionately foreign born, African-American, LGBT, etc. When they communicate in articles and reports, that is the frame of assumptions which they are communicating and which everyone else picks up on. Hence the overestimations.

Even for cities these are dramatic overestimates but not quite as wide of the mark as for the country as a whole.

All this is brought to mind by a Charles Murray post following up on his Bubble Quizz (the degree to which people can and do create unrepresentative cognitive environments which lead them astray). His post is Where White America Lives. Murray often focuses on class, culture and behavior and therefore focuses only on the white population in order to avoid complicating the issue with other races/ethnic groups. In other words, he can say things about whites that cannot be said about others.
The Bubble Quiz has gotten a lot of attention since I started posting results from the people who took it on the NewsHour’s website. Some have recently complained that the Bubble Quiz ignores the real America, which is urban and racially diverse. The website FiveThirtyEight, bringing its formidable quantitative skills to bear, has determined that the most “normal” American setting is a place like Tampa.

None of this is relevant to the Bubble Quiz, which is explicitly intended to illustrate how isolated the new upper class (overwhelmingly white) is from mainstream white America, but the complaints made me curious: Where does the typical non-Latino white American live?

If you’re asking about the mean population of the places where white Americans live, the answer is a city of 647,700 people — a big city. The mean is meaningless, however. If you have a sample of 10 Americans, one from New York City, population 8.5 million, and 9 from villages of 100 people, the mean population of the ten is 850,090 people. That doesn’t tell you much.

If you’re asking about the median population of the places where white Americans live, the answer is 45,200. That’s not Tampa. That’s the size of Wallingford, Connecticut, a town between New Haven and Hartford and home to Choate, the famous prep school.

Let’s be clear about what that median represents, because it’s a pretty astonishing result: Fully half of white Americans live in places smaller than 45,200 people.

It’s so astonishingly low that you should be suspicious. Specifically, a place can be called a “city” with its own mayor and city council, but for practical purposes it is part of a dense urban area. Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, is technically a city of 107,000 people, but it is contiguous to Boston, and you definitely feel like you’re in an urban area. Belmont, only three miles to the west, is listed at 24,700. It is a residential community with a small-town shopping center and doesn’t have the feel of a city, but it is a suburb of Boston.
Murray then goes through the exercise of segmenting town/cities/suburbs and comes up with:
That leaves the twenty largest urban areas, all of which are larger than 1.2 million, including all the cities that come first to mind when we think of urban America: Greater Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Dallas, and Atlanta.

Sprinkled among the top twenty are other places that may surprise you: Minneapolis, Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio, Sacramento, Orlando, and San Jose.

Here’s how the breakdown for where white Americans live works out:
Rural areas–Newton IA (0–15,000) - 26.4%

Newton–Wallingford CT (15,000–45,000) - 18.9%

Wallingford–Des Moines (45,000–370,000) - 20.9%

Des Moines–Indianapolis (370,000–1.2 million) - 11.8%

Suburbs of cities - 11.6%

The top twenty cities 10.5%
More than a quarter of all white Americans live in small towns (or no town at all) and almost two-thirds live in cities smaller than Des Moines. Only 10.5% of white Americans live within the top twenty cities. So the lesson for today is that white America is still, by a substantial majority, an America of rural areas, small towns and small cities.

Since 17% of the entire American population lives in the 20 largest cities compared with less than 11% of white Americans, isn’t the implication that the residential profile for nonwhite America is radically different from the one for white America? It is indeed.
I suspect this sheds some light on several things. There is clearly an elite bubble issue based on class and income and exacerbated by the fact that elites tend to live in the big cities.

I suspect that this information on where people live also shapes assumptions in ways that are not explicit. America is whiter, straighter, more community oriented and more native born than you would understand if you take your reference only from big cities. That is difficult for elites to process along with their own cognitive bubbles.

Similarly, advocacy groups tend also to be highly concentrated in big urban environments. It would make sense that their sense of injustice might be inflated by the anchoring effect of their own urban environs compared to the country at large.

Say you are an LGBT advocate and based on your neighborhood in your city, you have the perspective that 25% of the population are LGBT. Whatever the issue you might be focused on, your estimate of its importance is going to be an order of magnitude greater than everyone else in the country because your population estimate is off by an order of magnitude (2.5% versus 25%). So the passion you bring to your advocacy seems out of proportion to everyone else, not because they disagree or because they are intolerant or because they are bigoted - simply because the effect size from their perspective is that much smaller than from yours.

Very interesting.