October 20, 2012

Gregory Clark on "Surnames and the Laws of Social Mobility"

Economist Gregory Clark, author of A Farewell to Alms, has a new draft paper (via Marginal Revolution) called Surnames and the Laws of Social Mobility, with lots of of fun facts about surnames in England, America, Sweden, India, and China.

For example, in the U.S., surnames that are at least 90% black include Washington, Smalls, Merriweather, and Stepney. Using Jewish and black surnames and their frequency on the American Medical Association roster relative to their frequency in the overall population, we can see that blacks are becoming less under-represented as doctors and Jew less over-represented.

Decade Jewish Black
1970-9    5.72    0.19
1980-9    4.96    0.22
1990-9    3.59    0.26
2000-9    3.30    0.28

Unfortunately, Clark doesn't cite in his references either of the pathbreaking books of surname analysis by Nathaniel Weyl (1910-2005). His initial studies, which he published in 1963 in a book co-written by Jerry Pournelle's mentor Stefan Possony called The Geography of Intellect, were published in Mankind Quarterly in the early 1960s. You can find them at Unz.org here

Weyl then updated and extended his work in 1990's The Geography of American Achievement.

Weyl was a swashbuckling figure, who was a Communist in the 1930s until the Hitler-Stalin pact, and provided corroboration for Whitaker Chambers' testimony against Alger Hiss. His name occasionally comes up in JFK conspiracy theories. 

Weyl worked through many of the issues that Clark is stumbling upon, such as the need for more than one measure of social mobility. For example, more black surnames becoming doctors is a good sign of upward social mobility, but it's not clear that fewer Jewish names becoming doctors is a sign of downward mobility among Jews, because you can also exit upward or sideways.

For example, Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, is the non-M.D. son of an M.D. (a highly distinguished one, too). Is he an example of downward or upward mobility? 

Weyl's solution to this kind of puzzle was to present multiple data sources to allow the reader to make up his own mind, which is something that Clark should study.

P.S. Dr. Clark emails to assure that Weyl will be cited in the final draft.

October 18, 2012

Dept. of Not Getting Moynihan's Joke about the Canadian Border

From The New Republic, an elaborate article that doesn't seem to notice how literal its titular metaphor actually is:
Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala 
A theory of a divided nation. 
Jonathan Cohn October 5, 2012 | 12:00 am 
... We’ve come to think of “blue” and “red” states as political and cultural categories. The rift, though, goes much deeper than partisan differences of opinion. The borders of the United States contain two different forms of government, based on two different visions of the social contract. In blue America, state government costs more—and it spends more to ensure that everybody can pay for basic necessities such as food, housing, and health care. It invests more heavily in the long-term welfare of its population, with better-funded public schools, subsidized day care, and support for people with disabilities. In some cases, in fact, state lawmakers have decided that the social contract provided by the federal government is not generous enough. It was a blue state that first established universal health insurance and, today, it is a handful of blue states that offer paid family and medical leave. 
In the red states, government is cheaper, which means the people who live there pay lower taxes. But they also get a lot less in return. The unemployment checks run out more quickly and the schools generally aren’t as good. 
Assistance with health care, child care, and housing is skimpier, if it exists at all. The result of this divergence is that one half of the country looks more and more like Scandinavia, while the other increasingly resembles a social Darwinist’s paradise. 
Americans have been arguing over which system is morally and economically superior since the beginning of the republic. But every now and then, the worldviews have clashed and forced a reckoning. The 2012 election is one of those moments. ...
THE QUINTESSENTIAL blue state is, of course, Massachusetts. There, health care is available to almost everybody, regardless of income or preexisting medical conditions. Welfare benefits are among the most generous in the country, and the state spends hundreds of millions on public housing each year. These programs don’t always lift people out of poverty or protect them from financial catastrophe. Still, Massachusetts’s residents get a lot more help from their state government than people who live elsewhere in the United States. It is reliably at the forefront of efforts at the state level to do what the federal government will not.  
In colonial times, during their fabled town meetings, New Englanders established America’s first public schools and worked to look after those who had fallen on hard times, even though it meant higher taxes. In Albion’s Seed, a history of colonial settlement patterns, David Hackett Fischer writes that efforts to care for the vulnerable “went beyond the minimum.” 

As Fischer pointed out, New England Puritans tended to be, literally, "from Scandinavia:" their English-born ancestors were concentrated in the Danelaw region of a thousand years ago in eastern England. Isaac Newton, for instance, a classic eastern English Puritan, looked rather like Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap.
About a century later, a wave of immigrants from central, southern, and eastern Europe arrived in the Northeast and upper Midwest, grafting Catholic notions of social justice and Jewish notions of social responsibility onto the old Yankee sense of mutual obligation.
... The South was slower to industrialize and slower to take measures to protect the vulnerable. By the time of the Great Depression, most Southern state governments did not provide any form of cash assistance to people in poverty. 
One likely reason was the region’s own equally distinctive colonial ancestry. Appalachia had attracted fiercely individualistic immigrants from the Scottish and Irish woodlands. Virginia’s founders, meanwhile, were a group of well-educated elites who, unlike the Puritans, wanted to recreate the society they left behind, including its class divisions. ... 
But something else had soured the South on social welfare: race. Programs to help poor people were, inevitably, programs to help African Americans. Southern whites wanted nothing to do with helping former slaves get an equal footing in society. They did embrace the New Deal, in part because Franklin Roosevelt and his allies went out of their way to accommodate their racial sensibilities: Social Security, for example, initially exempted agricultural and domestic workers. By the 1950s, however, the South was once more under attack for its denial of civil rights to African Americans. Later, it came to see the anti-poverty programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society as yet another effort to redistribute money to blacks (even though, like the New Deal, it also helped many whites). 
... The biggest victory for these counterrevolutionaries came in 1996, when Republicans passed a bill, signed by Bill Clinton, to “end welfare as we know it.” The legislation gave states wide leeway over how to manage benefits and, over time, gave them less money to spend.
... This was fitting, because, just as Massachusetts is the model for the blue state, Texas is the model for the red. 
Today, Texas doesn’t even try to provide the kind of protection for its vulnerable residents that Massachusetts does. ... 
THIS PATTERN generally holds for the red states and the blue states overall. ... “The story is pretty clear,” Meyers says. “If you are poor, you want to live in a blue state.”  
By nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states It’s impossible to prove that this is the direct result of government spending. But the correlation is hard to dismiss. The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. (The fifth is New Mexico, which has turned blue.) And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue: New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, and Hawaii. The numbers on infant mortality, life expectancy, teen pregnancy, and obesity break down in similar ways. A recent study by researchers at the American Institute for Physics evaluated how well-prepared high schoolers were for careers in math and science. Massachusetts was best, followed closely by Minnesota and New Jersey. Mississippi was worst, along with Louisiana and West Virginia. In fact, it is difficult to find any indicator of well-being in which red states consistently do better than blue states.

Or, perhaps, the causality of the correlation works in the opposite direction: that wealthier states, having fewer poor people, can afford to be more generous to their poor?

And what makes states healthier, wealthier, and wiser? As Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out: proximity to the Canadian border -- i.e., being whiter. For example, Massachusetts is only 18% Non-Asian Minority, while Texas is 51% NAM (which, of course raises the metaphysical question, when Non-Asian Minorities are no longer a minority, what are they?)

So, TNR's lesson is that if Democrats want the whole country to be more like Massachusetts, Democrats should back an immigration policy of letting in more Scandinavians and fewer Guatemalans, right?

By the way, when speaking about Massachusetts, it's important to keep in mind that a major reason it doesn't have many blacks and that its blacks aren't as big of a problem as elsewhere is because it has an abundance of violent, tribalist, anti-black Irish to keep the blacks down. Boston is the only place I've seen in the U.S. where blacks appeared to be afraid of white civilians walking down the street. Having a lot of scary Irish around makes theorizing at Harvard a lot more pleasant.

In contrast, poor Milwaukee, a nice German social-democratic town (as Alice Cooper points out in Wayne's World, Socialist candidates were elected mayor of Milwaukee three times in the 1920s), had high welfare and a direct rail line from the Mississippi Delta, and it just got the worst of Southern blacks.

Correlation does not prove causation, but correlation does prove correlation

It took a surprisingly long time for the modern statistical concept of correlation to emerge. It was implicit for a long time, but Francis Galton worked out the basics in 1888 (when, by the way, he was 66 years old). 

So, it's not surprising that people aren't really good yet at thinking about correlation.

In recent years, the cliche "Correlation does not prove causation" has emerged as a staple of Internet discussions, which I guess is a good thing, although it often appears in the more questionable form "Correlation does not imply causation."

In truth, correlation suggests causation. If A correlates with B, then perhaps A causes B. Or maybe B causes A. Quite possibly, some C causes both A and B, or various combinations.

Now, it could be that a finding that A correlates with B to some extent might be just a coincidence due to a limited sample size. Fortunately, we have good statistical techniques for measuring that possibility, and we have the test of replication. Similarly, attempts at replication can help weed out apparent correlations cause by incompetence, fraud, unconscious bias, and the like, although they can never be ruled out completely.

But, keeping those caveats in mind, we can say (with only a reasonable degree of overstatement):

Correlation does prove correlation.

For example, illegal immigration is correlated with many important social measures. This doesn't prove that illegal immigration "causes" high or low high or low school achievement. As we've all heard, "Correlation does not prove causation!"

But, few have heard, "Correlation does prove correlation."

For example, it does prove (to the extent that anything can be proved)  that illegal immigration is correlated with low school achievement. Moreover, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of illegal immigrants tend to have below average school performance.

Furthermore, these correlations have been around for as long as they've been measured.

Now, it is conceivable that these correlations will vanish tomorrow.  Thus, the insistence is widespread that the burden of proof must be on those pointing out the correlations to prove causality beyond any doubt.

But, shouldn't the burden of proof be on the people asserting that the correlations will vanish to come up with at least a prima facie theory of why that will happen?

George McGovern

The 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate is gravely ill at age 90. From a reader review of popular military historian Stephen Ambrose's book The Wild Blue:
This book has two central characters and is mostly a story about their shared experiences. The first subject is 2nd Lt. George McGovern, who in 1944 was just a typical US Army Air Force pilot; nothing here hints at the man, who, nearly 30 years later, would run for US president. The second is a machine, the B-24 Liberator, and one plane in particular - McGovern's "Dakota Queen", which he piloted on 35 bombing missions over Germany from his base in Cerignola, Italy, as part of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group. ...

35 bombing missions (30 as pilot) over occupied Europe was a lot. The brass tried to set the number required so that an airman had better than a 50% chance of surviving. But not a whole lot better.
The Liberator comes by it's neglected treatment in history, and it's earned reputation as an ugly duckling quite fairly, as the following description of conditions in the plane attests. "Steering the four-engined airplane was difficult and exhausting, as there was no power except the pilot's muscles. It had no windshield wipers, so the pilot had to stick his head out the side window to see during a rain...there was no heat, despite temperatures that at 20,000 feet and higher got as low as 40 or 50 degrees below zero...the seats were not padded, could not be reclined, and were cramped into so small a space that a man had almost no chance to stretch and none whatsoever to relax. Absolutely nothing was done to make it comfortable for the pilot, co-pilot, or the other eight men in the crew..." Yet, as with all ugly ducklings, it had it's day and earned it's admirers. There were more B-24's built than any other US airplane and Ambrose says "it would be an exaggeration to say that the B-24 won the war for the Allies. But don't ask how they could have won the war without it." 
The greater emphasis of the book is on McGovern and his crew's experiences and it's in the telling of these stories where Ambrose's skills always shine; allowing the personal recollections of the participants to make the events come alive for us the readers. We follow the crew from induction through training to their arrival in Italy in 1944. There was danger from the outset. The book reveals that in basic and advanced flight training over 3,500 men lost their lives, 824 in 1943 alone; survival was an issue even before entering combat.

The number of non-combat (training and transport) aerial deaths in WWII was staggering by today's standards.
McGovern and his crew experienced their fair share of adventures on missions. On one flight an engine quit, then another was hit by flak; on two engines he was losing altitude rapidly but McGovern managed to nurse the bomber down for an emergency landing on an airstrip less than half the length the B-24 normally required. For this feat McGovern earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. By highlighting McGovern's experiences are we to believe that the book is portraying him as exceptional? Not at all. The reality is that when he arrived in Italy in 1944, McGovern was a 21 year old pilot. His co-pilot and navigator were the same age and half his crew were teenagers. What Ambrose sees as extraordinary is that these stories of survival, skill, courage, fortitude, bravery, and duty, are all, each and every single one, the exploits of very young men - even boys. Indeed he says "in the twenty-first century, adults would hardly give such youngsters the key to the family car, but in the first half of the 1940's the adults sent them out to play a critical role in saving the world."

McGovern was not, by nature, a physically fearless man, so 35 missions was quite a psychological challenge for him to overcome.

I'm reminded of Frank Capra's account of a publicity tour he made with Colonel Jimmy Stewart in 1946 to promote It's a Wonderful Life. They had hired a private plane and pilot to get them to a Texas city in time for a parade in their honor, but the flight encountered, at various points, electrical storms, high winds, fog, dust storm, night, running low on fuel, mechanical problems, and losing track of where the airport might be. Capra, who knew nothing about flying, found the experience worrisome, but Stewart, who had commanded at least 20 bomber missions over Germany and knew every single thing that could kill an airman, was utterly terrified.

October 17, 2012

Daron Acemoglu is kryptonite to clear thought

The ruins of the slums of Venice, a mere 417 years after La Serrata
Some celebrated thinkers are so dumb that even when they are more or less right in their politics, they drive the thinking man crazy with their amazing ability to come up with stupid examples for what ought to be easy positions to validate. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu is making himself the Malcolm Gladwell of the 2010s, with a nearly infallible nose for sniffing out the worst possible argument and then putting it forward triumphantly.

Here's the beginning of a recent article inspired by Acemoglu that was the most emailed NYT article last week:
The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent

Published: October 13, 2012 
IN the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages. 
Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy. 
The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. 
By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink. 
The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. 
Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness. 
The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken.

This example offers a powerful historical lesson, especially if you are completely unaware that, even after 1315, Venice survived as a rich and independent state for another 482 years. (It took the military of Revolutionary France, under the direction of General N. Bonaparte, to finally overthrow Venice in 1797.) After all, who has ever heard of such post-1315 Venetians as Titian, Tiepolo, Tintoretto Veronese, Canaletto, Palladio, Aldus Manutius, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Casanova, or Da Ponte?

In 1802, five years after Napoleon's coup, Wordsworth wrote:
On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic

ONCE did she hold the gorgeous East in fee;
  And was the safeguard of the West: the worth
  Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
She was a maiden City, bright and free;
  No guile seduced, no force could violate;
  And, when she took unto herself a mate,
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
  Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
  When her long life hath reach'd its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
  Of that which once was great is pass'd away.

Baseball gentrification

GL Piggy offers an analysis of class at baseball stadiums, triggered by the decline in cheering at New York Yankees home games, featuring this quote:
The new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, at a cost of $1.3 billion to build. To pay for it, the Yankees established a block of field-level box seats that cannot be accessed by fans in cheaper seats, who were able to bring their children down to the front row to pursue autographs before games in the old stadium. ... 
O’Connor, author of the biography “The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter,” remembers sitting just behind that moat with his son this season and watching as Jeter jogged in from batting practice with a ball he was looking to present to a youngster, something he often did in the old stadium. But there were no children around the dugout. 
“So he ended up flipping the ball to Donald Trump,” O’Connor said. “I think that’s the perfect example of what’s happened.

Jeter is good at making quick decisions. Out of all the billionaires in attendance, Trump was no doubt the most childlike and therefore got the biggest blast out of having Derek Jeter toss him a baseball. Chuck writes:
In a simple model of a team’s fan base, you have proles and fat-cats.  The Yankees are probably the best example of a team which has appealed to both groups.  The storied history of the team is a source of pride for locals of all classes, and transplants are able to leech off of this legacy of success by donning a Yankee cap. 
But fat cat fans are reserved, not just in their seating arrangements but also in their ballpark demeanor.  The polite opera-friendly behavior cited in the pieces above is a good indicator of the trend.  On the flip side, prole fans are tribalists out for blood.  They are the heart and the spirit of any team.  Fat cats appreciate that the proles are in attendance.  They add diversity and authenticity, but NIMBY – over in the cheap seats instead (while they last). 
Fat cats increase revenue, but proles increase the type of experience valued by what are the baseball version of the music-snob hipster.  As with the arts and other modes of culture – of which New York City is the U.S.’s chief manufacturer – there is a feedback loop between the two groups.  Proles provide a lot of the color; fat cats provide the funds.  The two groups have maintained a silent if not contentious balance, and any tilt towards one extreme or the other threatens to uproot the symbiotic relationship. Building a fancy new stadium full of comfortable amenities is a shock to this relationship.

A few comments:

White American proles were always much better behaved at sports events than, say, British soccer fans, whose awful behavior twice led to massive death tolls in the 1980s. (British soccer then went upscale with vast success.) If you go back to baseball in the 1890s, when the Irish influence was at its peak, there was a fair amount of violence in the stands (and on the field). But even then, British custom of using sports events as pre-planned occasions for communal riots was alien.

(By the way, riotousness was one reason for the founding of the American League in 1901 and its rapid success. Ban Johnson intended for the American League to be the clean, orderly alternative to the riotous National League. Johnson gave absolute backing to umpires and in general put out a product appealing to respectable middle class Americans.)

A baseball franchise can coast for a long time on the myth of prole tribalism. For example, when I was living in Santa Monica in 1981, I went to a local version of the play "Bleacher Bums" about Cub fans at Wrigley Field on Chicago's North Side.. The play was dreamed up in 1977 by the Organic Theater Company of Chicago, and launched the careers of Joe Mantegna and Dennis Franz. But by the time I first went to a Wrigley Field game in 1983, however, it was clear that Wrigley Field fans tended to be yuppies like myself, looking for a sociological excuse (let's pretend to be proles!) for daytime drinking in a place where you could (prudently, like the good yuppies we actually were) walk home without getting a DUI or getting mugged by locals.

In contrast, the White Sox's Comiskey Park on the South Side really did attract prole fans, but it was almost never fashionable. I attended the last game at that historic ballpark in 1991, which I always found better-looking than the overrated Wrigley Field, but Comiskey was next to a depressing black housing project of vast scale.

Another difference between Wrigley and Comiskey was that the Cubs had started broadcasting all their homegames on the cable superstation WGN during the 1970s. The White Sox had stuck with the traditional view that giving games away on television would drive down ballpark attendance. That era is when Wrigley ascended to cultural icon status. Why? Because it was on TV.

It turns out that what modern Americans want to do is to see with their own eyes the things they've seen on TV a lot, such as Wrigley Field. This explain the economics of the lecture circuit, on which the highest paid are the people who are on TV the most and thus presumably have the least new stuff to share with paying in-person audiences.

October 16, 2012

Post-Apocalypto: Mel Gibson in "Get the Gringo"

From my new movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Among literary critics, a controversy has been raging tepidly over what purpose reviewing might hold in this age of crowdsourcing. Why rely upon one fallible pundit’s thumbs up or thumbs down when you can access the wisdom of crowds by averaging many ratings, whether elite or mass? 
As a 21st-century movie reviewer, I’ve always found this catcall hard to dismiss, which is why I try to only write about movies where I can explain something more interesting than whether I liked it or not. While I take a backseat to no one in admiration of my own taste, I have to admit that the aggregation sites are reasonably reliable. 
Consider Mel Gibson’s new crime movie Get the Gringo, which debuted in Israeli theaters back in March but is finally out now on Netflix and DVD here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Debate comment thread

Tell me about it.

How we got here

Here's an early 2005 post by a bar blogger named Manhattan Transfer that lucidly summarizes some of the ideological transformations of the last two decades:
In college I somehow got mixed-up in the conservative movement... The main targets of campus conservatism were political correctness. relativism and multiculturalism. Nowadays everyone has some idea what these are but in the early nineties we were still discovering them.
The conservatives countered political correctness with a vigorous support for academic freedom, free speech and free press. The best argument of the proponents of political correctness was that political correctness didn’t exist, that it was a figment of right-wing paranoia. This was defeated through endless anecdote—it’s hard to maintain something doesn’t exist when every few weeks a new example became a national scandal. The latest uproar at Harvard [Larry Summers] is as good an example as any of the censorious mentality that infects so many college campuses. 
The conservatives countered relativism with what the left called “ethnocentrism” but the right considered moral universalism. The proposition was that the values of the West might have arisen historically in the Europe but were universally applicable to humans because the Creator or Nature had endowed all men with certain rights and obligations. You can see the appeal of this way of thinking for a conservative—it combines patriotism with a certain kind of high-mindedness. Our ways are the best but not because they are ours but because they are everybody’s. 
This was related to the fight against multiculturalism, with its emphasis on the rights of minority groups. In various ways, the Left’s emphasis on valuing the perspectives and protecting or advancing the status of minorities was presented as a rejection of the American tradition of moral universalism, equality before the law, and individualism. The left wanted a society keenly attuned to the differences and diversity of our people; the right wanted color-blindness, merit-based promotion and an emphasis on both our national unity and individual accomplishments. In the mind of a campus conservative, we wanted a society of character while the multiculturalists wanted a society of race and gender. 
If they had issued conservative movement cards, I certainly would have been a card-carrying member. Nonetheless, I could not persuade myself that there wasn’t something wrong with the conservative ideology. It insisted that diversity wasn’t an important fact about our country or the world, when all my life’s experiences taught me the opposite. [Manhattan Transfer attended public school in the Lower East Side during the worst of the crack years.] When they did speak up for diversity, conservatives insisted that they stood for a different kind of diversity—diversity of ideology rather than ethnic or sex diversity. But this is one of the least interesting kinds of diversity in the world. Which three women would you rather be stuck in an elevator with: A Stalinist, a neoconservative and a feminist or a Brazillian, a Norwegian and a Thai? What’s worse, no-one mentioned religious diversity, although this has since proven to be extremely salient. 
... At some point I started to look at the campus wars of the nineties with a jaded eye. The rhetoric of both sides seemed to conceal what was really going on. The left was engaged in a strategy of subversion in which political correctness, relativism, multiculturalism and feminism were tactics to undermine traditional rules and modes of behavior in American life. The right had adopted what was essentially leftist rhetoric of the early twentieth century—equality and universalism—in an effort ameliorate the effects of the subversion. In other words, the right was trying to use moderate leftist rhetoric to combat extreme leftism. What's worse is that the right hadn't persuaded many leftists but had persuaded themselves--they had adopted their own rhetoric as an ideology. 
I wasn’t any sort of leftist. In fact, I was well on my way to becoming a decadent reactionary. The pursuit of whiskey, women and wealth seemed to me honorable ways of stooping below the struggle between the forces of leftism past and leftism future.

Consider the concept of "colorblindness," which conservatives have come to extol in reaction to racial preferences. But is blindness, on the whole, a good thing? Is blindness a desirable attribute in, say, astronomers? How do you keep blindness from turning into ignorance and obliviousness?

There's a fairly simple solution to this conundrum, but it's one that seems to be beyond the conservative mindset: no, blindness isn't a good general policy. Overall, as Faber College said in Animal House: "Knowledge is good." On the other hand, the metaphor of blindness can be a useful tool in certain policy situations: "Justice is blind."

What we shouldn't do is reason from the particular to the general. Judges shouldn't play favorites in court, so therefore American policy shouldn't play favorites between, say, American citizens and foreigners.

This really isn't that complicated, but to get the message across it takes a lot of explanation of how it works in different situations and a lot of willingness to be smeared.

Obama: "I am a Golden God!"

A reader points out
Watching the first presidential debate reminded me of Cameron Crowe's movie "Amost Famous" about Stillwater - a fictious rock band purportedly based on Lynard Skynard (?) - and its lead guitarist played by Billy Crudup.  
Crudup, in a moment of LSD induced rapture climbs to a roof overlooking a swimming pool, screams "I am a golden god" and leaps into the pool.  

I'd love to see a sketch with Obama up on the roof, ego rampant: "I am a Transformative Leader!"

But, we won't. The Comedy Gap in American life ... growing ever more dismal since that evening in February 2007 when Obama finally realized it wouldn't be prudent to have Rev. Wright give the invocation at his campaign kickoff the next day like they'd planned.
Enter Barack Obama, our rockstar president. In an attempt to reprise his 2008 convention performance in Denver, the One strode out onstage, bombed before a live audience and then let his posse know that he thought that he done a great job.  
Heck, even A-Rod shows greater self-awareness. ... 
In Almost Famous, the band is flying over Mississippi,  hits rough turbulence and thinks its gonna crash and die. After Crudup tells his bandmates that he loves them, the lead vocalist says that no one in the band loves Crudup because Crudup acts like he's above them. 
My prediction for Debate 2: media consensus is "Solid Obama victory."

October 15, 2012

NYT: There was a sustained lack of productivity growth from 1300 to 1700. Really, what's the NYT printed on?

Thomas Edsall writes in the New York Times about a paper by economist Robert J. Gordon entitled "Is American Economic Growth Over?" Gordon argues that America has benefited from various overlapping waves of technological advance: steam, electricity, electronics. But that doesn't have to keep on happening.
"Gordon’s chart demonstrates that there was a sustained lack of productivity growth from 1300 to 1700, which supports his argument that economic expansion is a relatively recent phenomenon and by no means inevitable."

This may sound persnickety, but it's actually crucially important to understand that there was huge productivity growth in Europe from 1300 to 1700. Most notably, the greatest invention of them all, the printing press from the 1450s onward, seeded Europe with ideas and information. (The single most obvious cause of Islam falling hopelessly behind Christendom was Muslim society and state's hostility to the printing press. Around 1700, as I vaguely recall, there were about as many printing presses in the entire Muslim world as on the Spanish colony of Guam way out in the Pacific.)

But there were many other technological advances, such as the spread of clocks, which allowed life to be much more efficient, much less hurry-up-and-wait. Eyeglasses were another wonderful development, especially as they solved problems (e.g., myopia) worsened by the spread of literacy. 

Thus, the life of, say, an English farmer who owned 160 acres was much more pleasant in 1700 than in 1300. 

The problem was that England was still somewhat in the Malthusian trap, with the bottom half of society, mostly farm laborers, still hungry or at least unable to marry young. Good times led to earlier marriages which led to more babies which led to more mouths to feed which led to hard times on a per capita basis. England didn't have famines, but life was still a serious business. (Compare Pride & Prejudice to Bridget Jones's Diary in their heroines' pursuits of Mr. Darcy.)

Edsall continues:
Intellectually, both the Obama and Romney campaigns are undoubtedly aware of the general line of thinking that lies behind Gordon’s analysis, and of related findings in books like “The Great Stagnation” by Tyler Cowen of George Mason University. Cowen argues that innovation has reached a “technological plateau” that rules out a return to the growth of the 20th century. 
For Obama, the argument that America has run out of string is politically untouchable. In the case of Romney and the Republican Party, something very different appears to be taking place. 
There are two parallel realizations driving policy thinking on the right. The first is the growing consciousness of the threat to the conservative coalition as its core constituency – white voters, and particularly married white Protestants — decreases as a share of the electorate. Similarly, the conservative political class recognizes that the halcyon days of shared growth, with the United States leading the world economy, may be over. 
While Gordon projects a future of exacerbating inequality (as an ever-increasing share of declining productivity growth goes to the top), the wealthy are acutely aware that the political threat to their status and comfort would come from rising popular demand for policies of income redistribution. 
It is for this reason that the Republican Party is determined to protect the Bush tax cuts; to prevent tax hikes; to further cut domestic social spending; and, more broadly, to take a machete to the welfare state. 
Insofar as Republicans prevail in their twin aims of cutting – or even eliminating – social spending, and maintaining or lowering tax rates, they will have succeeded in obstructing the restoration of social insurance programs in the future. 
Affluent Republicans – the donor and policy base of the conservative movement — are on red alert. They want to protect and enhance their position in a future of diminished resources. What really provokes the ferocity with which the right currently fights for regressive tax and spending policies is a deeply pessimistic vision premised on a future of hard times. This vision has prompted the Republican Party to adopt a preemptive strategy that anticipates the end of growth and the onset of sustained austerity – a strategy to make sure that the size of their slice of the pie doesn’t get smaller as the pie shrinks.
This is the underlying and inadequately explored theme of the 2012 election.

I think the overclass is reasonably pleased with how things are going, especially how the triumph of globalist and diversitarian ideology allows them to push policies cutting themselves free from the broader fate of the American people. Thus, the Big Money swings back and forth between Obama and Romney and Obama. If you are on the Forbes 400, it's all good.

For those interested in their fellow American citizens' welfare, however, we need to recognize that Malthus's insights still apply to some extent, but more relatively than absolutely. Malthusian theory was largely invented not by Thomas Malthus in 1798, but by Benjamin Franklin in 1751 who framed it in happier, more American terms: the Franklinian Theory is not about starvation, it's about affordable family formation. In empty America, people can marry more universally and more youthfully than in crowded Europe. Therefore, Franklin argued, immigration should be restricted.

Few are hungry in today's America, but the steady growth in population, mostly driven by immigration of highly fertile Third Worlders, means that it is increasingly a struggle for average and, especially below average, Americans to attain the basics of middle class respectability: a stable job that pays well enough to afford to marry and a house with a yard in a decent public school district.

Is this really too much to ask?

October 14, 2012

"Sexual Selection, Conspicuous Consumption and Economic Growth"

A new paper:

Jason Collins 

University of Western Australia - UWA Business School

Boris Baer 

University of Western Australia - Plant Energy Biology

Ernst Juerg Weber 

University of Western Australia - UWA Business School

July 13, 2012

The evolution by sexual selection of the male propensity to engage in conspicuous consumption contributed to the emergence of modern rates of economic growth. We develop a model in which males engage in conspicuous consumption to send an honest signal of their quality to females. Males who engage in conspicuous consumption have higher reproductive success than those who do not, as females respond to the costly and honest signal, increasing the prevalence of signalling males in the population over time. As males fund conspicuous consumption through participation in the labour force, the increase in the prevalence of signalling males who engage in conspicuous consumption gives rise to an increase in economic activity that leads to economic growth.

Maybe, except it seems like the wealthiest countries are ones where the men tend toward the drab. Wearing finery gets in the way of working hard, and the richest countries are the ones where the men work hard. In contrast, in countries where the women are out all day hoeing the yam fields while the men sit around dreaming up sexy new ways to display their sexiness, you wind up with a yam-based economy.

Or within a country, which occupation sees the most extreme male conspicuous consumption for purposes of sexual display? Right: pimpin'. But that doesn't seem like a real wealth-creator of an industry.

I think it works more the other way around: cultures where the women engage the most in conspicuous consumption relative to the men tend to be the richest. Conversely, I have this theory that the collapse of the Soviet economy had to do with the lack of opportunities for female conspicuous consumption, which left men with little to work for.

By the way, Jason Collins has an "Evolving Economics" blog.

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Affirmative Action brain puzzlers

At the Supreme Court's oral questioning on affirmative action last week, Chief Justice Roberts kept asking about how much ancestry somebody needs to be A Diverse One: 1/4th, 1/8th, 1/32nd? Meanwhile, Justice Alito kept asking General Verilli of the Obama Administration to admit that under the Texas affirmative action plan, all else being equal, race matters. 

But the defenders of affirmative action kept saying that no two individuals could possibly be equal, so this ceteris paribus question is meaningless.

Let's try this hypothetical: two blue-eyed identical twins raised together apply to the University of Texas. They have equal GPAs, test scores, extracurricular activities and so forth. They differ only in one opinion. Seven of their eight great-grandparents are minor northern European royalty. But the other great-grandparent is the King of Spain. Does this entitle them to check the Hispanic/Latino box on their UT applications? Enquiring minds want to know! Over to you, Justice Sotomayor ...

JayMan on Danish fertility

JayMan's blog is one of the most interesting of HBD blogs to emerge over the last year. Here's a posting on the somewhat tenuous but intriguing evidence that little Denmark has had some success at both driving down Muslim immigrant fertility and maintaining educated white women's fertility not too far below replacement. 

On NPR, an interviewer was congratulating some European Eunion muckety-muck on his Nobel Peace Prize and they got to exulting how this was a stick in the eye for all those horrid European immigration restrictionist parties, specifically namechecking the Danish People's Party, which had been part of the ruling coalition in Denmark for a decade, and helped push through some sensible reforms to limit things like visa fraud via arranged cousin marriages. The left won a recent election there finally, after promising not to undo immigration restriction reforms, but appears to have started to cheat on that. Thank God the Nobel Peace Prize endorses that kind of deviousness, otherwise Denmark would invade Germany to get Schleswig-Holstein back, or something.

At present, the Northern model seems to be working slightly better than the Mediterranean model at keeping up native fertility. It's not just lots of paid maternal leave and the like, but also social expectations that women can walk around in public without being all made-up. In contrast, in Italy, modern women are expected to have it all: a job, be a good cook, and look like Monica Belluci all the time. Not surprisingly, having kids turns out to be something that drops toward the bottom of the priority list. Or an Italian woman has one son and devotes her life to keeping him fed deliciously and his clothes spotless.

Judge Richard Posner on IQ by race and how to rate teachers

Richard Posner is probably the most prominent judge in the U.S. not on the Supreme Court. He has to be the hardest working, as a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and a senior lecturer at the U. of Chicago Law School. The author of approaching 40 books, by one measure he's the most cited judge of the 20th Century. 

Posner has a joint blog with Gary Becker, the Nobel-winning UC economist, where they discuss a topic every week. Awhile back, they took on "Rating Teachers." Judge Posner wrote:
I don’t think varying salaries on the basis of measures of teacher quality are a feasible reform. My reasons for this pessimistic judgment are several. First, teaching below the college level tends not to be attractive to competitive people. I happen to have a job, as a federal court of appeals judge, in which everyone is securely tenured and paid the same salary, even though the judges vary in ability, experience, and effort.

I.e., nobody works as hard as Posner.
There are many jobs of that sort, they have their pluses and their minuses, and it would be a mistake to think that all such jobs would be performed better if they were restructured along the Darwinian lines that prevail in business. It’s a mistake to think that everyone is a natural risk taker. Tenure, a wage that varies with seniority rather than measured output, and long summer vacations create a compensation package that is attractive to a certain kind of person.  
Second, while in a sample of millions, as in the study by Chetty et al. that Becker cites, it may well be inferrable, as the study finds, that teachers vary in the value they add to their students, within an individual school such an inference will be very difficult to draw. The average IQ and home environment of students in different classes may differ significantly, random factors may affect their future success, and there can be spillover effects from other classes. 

I know a lot about the history of the evolution of baseball statistics over the last 150 years, a lot more than I know about the development of teacher rating statistics. Maybe I'm not up to date, but my general impression is that teacher rating stats are about where baseball stats were in the late 1800s.

Here's a concept for a nonfiction book. A lot of books come out that focus on schools, with journalists visiting KIPP schools, charter schools, etc. etc., and there's always talk about value added test scores being used to evaluate teachers, but I've never seen a journalist follow some teachers, sitting in the back of the classroom, and then watch them get back their value-added test scores. Do the value-added scores match up with the journalists' subjective impressions?

You may be saying, "Subjective? Everybody knows we have to trust only objective statistical measures, even if they were just made up this year!" In truth, subjective and objective evaluations improve each other. Right now, we have a bunch of brand new complicated value-added measurement systems with few ways of checking whether they seem plausible or not.
Suppose for example that a mediocre teacher teaches English, and a superb teacher teaches the same students history. Both teachers require essays. The superb teacher improves the students’ writing skills, and that in turn improves their performance in their English class, making the English teacher look better than he or she really is.  
Third, and related, varying teachers’ salaries by some output measure will induce all sorts of wasteful strategizing—office politics—what organization economists call “influence activities,” an aspect of agency costs—by teachers hoping to get a good quality rating. They will angle to get the best students assigned to their classes, even when salary is tied to “value added,” as discussed by Becker, because smarter students are likely to improve more.  
Fourth, although in principle the cost of higher salaries for the better teachers could be offset by reducing the salaries of the worse teachers, that is surely infeasible; so the Darwinian approach would cost more than the existing system, and maybe as much more as raising teacher salaries by a uniform percentage.  
Finally, I am not clear what we should think the problem of American education (below the college level) is. Most children of middle-class (say upper quartile of households, income starting at $80,000) Americans are white or Asian and attend good public or private schools, usually predominantly white. The average white IQ is of course 100 and the Asian (like the Jewish) almost one standard deviation higher, that is, 115. The average black IQ is 85, a full standard deviation below the white average, and the average Hispanic IQ has been estimated recently at 89. 
Black children in particular often come from disordered households, which has a negative effect on ability to learn and perhaps indeed on IQ (which is only partly hereditary) as well. Increasingly, black and Hispanic students find themselves in schools with few white or Asian students. The challenge to American education is to provide a useful education to the large number of Americans who are unlikely to benefit from a college education or from high school courses aimed at preparing students for college. The need is for a different curriculum and for a greater investment in these children’s preschool environment. We should recognize that we have different populations with different schooling needs and that  curricula and teaching methods should be revised accordingly. This recognition and response should precede tinkering with compensations systems.