Author: Thomas

The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule in Outliers: The Story of Success. According to the Wikipedia article about the book,

…Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours….

…[T]he “10,000-Hour Rule” [is] based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples….

Reemphasizing his theme, Gladwell continuously reminds the reader that genius is not the only or even the most important thing when determining a person’s success….

For “genius” read “genes.” Gladwell’s borrowed theme reinforces the left’s never-ending effort to sell the idea that all men and women are born with the same potential. And, of course, it’s the task of the almighty state to ensure that outcomes (e.g., housing, jobs, college admissions, and income) conform to nature’s design.

I encountered the 10,000-hour rule several years ago, and referred to it in this post, where I observed that “outcomes are skewed … because talent is distributed unevenly.” By “talent” I mean inherent ability of a particular kind — high intelligence and athletic prowess, for example — the possession of which obviously varies from person to person and (on average) from gender to gender and race to race. Efforts to deny such variations are nothing less than anti-scientific. They exemplify the left’s penchant for magical thinking.

There’s plenty of evidence of the strong link between inherent ability to success in any endeavor. I’ve offered some evidence here, here, here, and here. Now comes “Practice Does Not Make Perfect” by , , and (Slate, September 28, 2014). The piece veers off into social policy (with a leftish tinge) and an anemic attempt to rebut the race-IQ correlation, but it’s good on the facts. First, the authors frame the issue:

…What makes someone rise to the top in music, games, sports, business, or science? This question is the subject of one of psychology’s oldest debates.

The “debate” began sensibly enough:

In the late 1800s, Francis Galton—founder of the scientific study of intelligence and a cousin of Charles Darwin—analyzed the genealogical records of hundreds of scholars, artists, musicians, and other professionals and found that greatness tends to run in families. For example, he counted more than 20 eminent musicians in the Bach family. (Johann Sebastian was just the most famous.) Galton concluded that experts are “born.”

Then came the experts-are-made view and the 10,000-hour rule:

Nearly half a century later, the behaviorist John Watson countered that experts are “made” when he famously guaranteed that he could take any infant at random and “train him to become any type of specialist [he] might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents.”

The experts-are-made view has dominated the discussion in recent decades. In a pivotal 1993 article published in Psychological Review—psychology’s most prestigious journal—the Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues proposed that performance differences across people in domains such as music and chess largely reflect differences in the amount of time people have spent engaging in “deliberate practice,” or training exercises specifically designed to improve performance…. For example, the average for elite violinists was about 10,000 hours, compared with only about 5,000 hours for the least accomplished group. In a second study, the difference for pianists was even greater—an average of more than 10,000 hours for experts compared with only about 2,000 hours for amateurs. Based on these findings, Ericsson and colleagues argued that prolonged effort, not innate talent, explained differences between experts and novices.

But reality has a way of making itself known:

[R]ecent research has demonstrated that deliberate practice, while undeniably important, is only one piece of the expertise puzzle—and not necessarily the biggest piece. In the first study to convincingly make this point, the cognitive psychologists Fernand Gobet and Guillermo Campitelli found that chess players differed greatly in the amount of deliberate practice they needed to reach a given skill level in chess. For example, the number of hours of deliberate practice to first reach “master” status (a very high level of skill) ranged from 728 hours to 16,120 hours. This means that one player needed 22 times more deliberate practice than another player to become a master.

A recent meta-analysis by Case Western Reserve University psychologist Brooke Macnamara and her colleagues (including the first author of this article for Slate) came to the same conclusion. We searched through more than 9,000 potentially relevant publications and ultimately identified 88 studies that collected measures of activities interpretable as deliberate practice and reported their relationships to corresponding measures of skill…. [P]eople who reported practicing a lot tended to perform better than those who reported practicing less. But the correlations were far from perfect: Deliberate practice left more of the variation in skill unexplained than it explained. For example, deliberate practice explained 26 percent of the variation for games such as chess, 21 percent for music, and 18 percent for sports. So, deliberate practice did not explain all, nearly all, or even most of the performance variation in these fields. In concrete terms, what this evidence means is that racking up a lot of deliberate practice is no guarantee that you’ll become an expert. Other factors matter.

Genes are among the other factors:

There is now compelling evidence that genes matter for success, too. In a study led by the King’s College London psychologist Robert Plomin, more than 15,000 twins in the United Kingdom were identified through birth records and recruited to perform a battery of tests and questionnaires, including a test of drawing ability in which the children were asked to sketch a person. In a recently published analysis of the data, researchers found that there was a stronger correspondence in drawing ability for the identical twins than for the fraternal twins. In other words, if one identical twin was good at drawing, it was quite likely that his or her identical sibling was, too. Because identical twins share 100 percent of their genes, whereas fraternal twins share only 50 percent on average, this finding indicates that differences across people in basic artistic ability are in part due to genes. In a separate study based on this U.K. sample, well over half of the variation between expert and less skilled readers was found to be due to genes.

In another study, a team of researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden led by psychologist Miriam Mosing had more than 10,000 twins estimate the amount of time they had devoted to music practice and complete tests of basic music abilities, such as determining whether two melodies carry the same rhythm. The surprising discovery of this study was that although the music abilities were influenced by genes—to the tune of about 38 percent, on average—there was no evidence they were influenced by practice. For a pair of identical twins, the twin who practiced music more did not do better on the tests than the twin who practiced less. This finding does not imply that there is no point in practicing if you want to become a musician. The sort of abilities captured by the tests used in this study aren’t the only things necessary for playing music at a high level; things such as being able to read music, finger a keyboard, and commit music to memory also matter, and they require practice. But it does imply that there are limits on the transformative power of practice. As Mosing and her colleagues concluded, practice does not make perfect.

This is bad news for the blank-slate crowd on the left:

Ever since John Locke laid the groundwork for the Enlightenment by proposing that we are born as tabula rasa—blank slates—the idea that we are created equal has been the central tenet of the “modern” worldview. Enshrined as it is in the Declaration of Independence as a “self-evident truth,” this idea has special significance for Americans. Indeed, it is the cornerstone of the American dream—the belief that anyone can become anything they want with enough determination….

Wouldn’t it be better to just act as if we are equal, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding? That way, no people will be discouraged from chasing their dreams—competing in the Olympics or performing at Carnegie Hall or winning a Nobel Prize. The answer is no, for two reasons. The first is that failure is costly, both to society and to individuals. Pretending that all people are equal in their abilities will not change the fact that a person with an average IQ is unlikely to become a theoretical physicist, or the fact that a person with a low level of music ability is unlikely to become a concert pianist. It makes more sense to pay attention to people’s abilities and their likelihood of achieving certain goals, so people can make good decisions about the goals they want to spend their time, money, and energy pursuing…. Pushing someone into a career for which he or she is genetically unsuited will likely not work.

With regard to the latter point, Richard Sander has shown that aspiring blacks are chief among the victims of the form of “pushing” known as affirmative action. A few years ago, Sander was a guest blogger at The Volokh Conspiracy, where he posted thrice on the subject. In his first post, Sander writes:

As some readers will recall, a little more than seven years ago I published an analysis of law school affirmative action in the Stanford Law Review. The article was the first to present detailed data on the operation and effects of racial preferences in law schools (focusing on blacks).

I also laid out evidence suggesting that large preferences seemed to be worsening black outcomes. I argued that this was plausibly due to a “mismatch effect”; students receiving large preferences (for whatever reason) were likely to find themselves in academic environments where they had to struggle just to keep up; professor instruction would typically be aimed at the “median” student, so students with weaker academic preparation would tend to fall behind, and, even if they did not become discouraged and give up, would tend to learn less than they would have learned in an environment where their level of academic preparation was closer to the class median.

I suggested that the “mismatch effect” could explain as much as half of the black-white gap in first-time bar passage rates (the full gap is thirty to forty percentage points). I also suggested that “mismatch” might so worsen black outcomes that, on net, contemporary affirmative action was not adding to the total number of black lawyers, and might even be lowering the total number of new, licensed black attorneys.

This is from Sander’s second post:

Some of the most significant recent work on affirmative action concerns a phenomenon called “science mismatch”. The idea behind science mismatch is very intuitive: if you are a high school senior interested in becoming, for example, a chemist, you may seriously harm your chances of success by attending a school where most of the other would-be chemists have stronger academic preparation than you do. Professors will tend to pitch their class at the median student, not you; and if you struggle or fall behind in the first semester of inorganic chemistry, you will be in even worse shape in the second semester, and in very serious trouble when you hit organic chemistry. You are likely to get bad grades and to either transfer out of chemistry or fail to graduate altogether….

Duke economists Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, and Ken Spenner last year completed a study that looked at a number of ways that differences in admissions standards at Duke affected academic outcomes. In one of many useful analyses they did, they found that 54% of black men at Duke who, as freshmen, had been interested in STEM fields or economics, had switched out of those fields before graduation; the comparative rate for white men was 8%. Importantly, they found that “these cross-race differences in switching patterns can be fully explained by differences in academic background.” In other words, preferences – not race – was the culprit.

In research conducted by FTC economist Marc Luppino and me, using data from the University of California, we have found important peer effects and mismatch effects that affect students of all races; our results show that one’s chances of completing a science degree fall sharply, at a given level of academic preparation, as one attends more and more elite schools within the UC system. At Berkeley, there is a seven-fold difference in STEM degree completion between students with high and low pre-college credentials.

As is always the case with affirmative action, ironies abound. Although young blacks are about one-seventh as likely as young whites to eventually earn a Ph.D. in STEM fields, academically strong blacks in high school are more likely than similar whites to aspire to science careers. And although a U.S. Civil Rights Commission report in 2010 documented the “science mismatch” phenomenon in some detail, President Obama’s new initiative to improve the nation’s production of scientists neither recognizes nor addresses mismatch….

Science mismatch is, of course, relevant to the general affirmative action debate in showing that preferences can boomerang on their intended beneficiaries. But it also has a special relevance to Fisher v. University of Texas. The university’s main announced purpose in reintroducing racial preferences in 2004 was to increase “classroom” diversity. The university contended that, even though over a fifth of its undergraduates were black or Hispanic, many classrooms had no underrepresented minorities. It sought to use direct (and very large) racial preferences to increase campus URM numbers and thus increase the number of URMs in classes that lacked them. But science mismatch shows that this strategy, too, can be self-defeating. The larger a university’s preferences, the more likely it is that preferenced students will have trouble competing in STEM fields and other majors that are demanding and grade sternly. These students will tend to drop out of the tough fields and congregate in comparatively less demanding ones. Large preferences, in other words, can increase racial segregation across majors and courses within a university, and thus hurt classroom diversity.

And this is from Sander’s third post:

[In the previous post] I discussed a body of research – all of it uncontroverted – that documents a serious flaw in affirmative action programs pursued by elite colleges. Students who receive large preferences and arrive on campus hoping to major in STEM fields (e.g., Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) tend to migrate out of those fields at very high rates, or, if they remain in those fields, often either fail to graduate or graduate with very low GPAs. There is thus a strong tension between receiving a large admissions preference to a more elite school, and one’s ability to pursue a STEM career.

Is it possible for contemporary American universities to engage constructively with this type of research? …

Colleges and universities are committed to the mythology that diversity happens merely because they want it and put resources into it, and that all admitted students arrive with all the prerequisites necessary to flourish in any way they choose. Administrators work hard to conceal the actual differences in academic preparation that almost invariably accompany the aggressive use of preferences. Any research that documents the operation and effects of affirmative action therefore violates this “color-blind” mythology and accompanying norms; minority students are upset, correctly realizing that either the research is wrong or that administrators have misled them. In this scenario, administrators invariably resort to the same strategy: dismiss the research without actually lying about it; reassure the students that the researchers are misguided, but that the university can’t actually punish the researchers because of “academic freedom”….

Leftists — academic and other — cannot abide the truth when it refutes their prejudices. Affirmative action, as it turns out, is harmful to aspiring blacks. Most leftists will deny it because their leftist faith — their magical thinking– is more important to them than the well-being of those whose cause they claim to champion.

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Election 2014: E-Day Minus 3 Weeks

Can the GOP repeat or improve on its showing in the 2010 mid-term election? Four years ago, the GOP won 242 House seats, a gain of 64 and more than enough to retake the majority. Over in the Senate, the GOP gained 6 seats, a good rebound but not enough for a majority.

Despite the loss of 8 House seats in 2012, the GOP retained a comfortable majority. And it’s almost certain that the GOP will hold a larger majority when all the votes are counted in November.

The outlook for the Senate is less clear, though there’s good reason to expect a GOP gain of 6 seats (or more) — enough to restore GOP control of the Senate.

I base my optimism on some indicators that I’ll continue to update as election day approaches. They’re drawn from the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s doing about as well as he was four years ago at this time.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval. Obama’s strong-approval rating is below the pace of four years ago, which is a good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring much worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

Some words of caution: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

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Another Look at Election 2014

I’ve been running a series of poll-based posts about the November election. The most recent post is here; an update is due tomorrow. The numbers, to date, suggest a re-run of the mid-term election of 2010, when the GOP won 242 House seats and gained 6 Senate seats.

As a cross-check on the polls, I ran a statistical analysis of House results for 1946-2012, that is, for all 34 elections since World War II.* I won’t bore you with the details of the analysis, but I will share the results, in graphical form:

House seats won by GOP - actual and estimated

The light gray lines represent the 95-percent confidence interval around the estimates.

The estimate for 2014 is 257 GOP seats — a number that would be a post-war record if it comes to pass. The high end of the 95-percent confidence interval is 295 seats; the low end is 218 seats. If I were a bettor, I’d put my money on 257, plus or minus 5 percent, that is, 244-270 seats.

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* I revised this post 5 hours after its initial publication, to incorporate the result of a more robust statistical analysis. The projected number of House seats won by the GOP in 2014 has been revised downward by 6, from 263 to 257.

On Writing: Part One

Lynn Patra offers some writing tips in her post “On Becoming a Better Writer,” and invites readers to add their tips in the comments section. This post will appear while I’m taking a break from the keyboard, so I won’t be able to place it in the comments section of Lynn’s post. Consider this a virtual comment.

This is the first of Lynn’s tips:

Voraciously read the work of great writers and allow yourself to be guided by whatever subjects interest you. If you love to read, this the most enjoyable and engaging way to learn how to write well. With continuous exposure to good writing, your mind will absorb the various lessons that school teachers tried to impart the boring way.

That’s excellent advice. A related bit of advice is to heed what great writers have to say about writing.

W. Somerset Maugham (English, 1874-1965) was a prolific and popular playwright, novelist, short-story writer, and author of non-fiction works. He reflected on his life and career as a writer in The Summing Up. It appeared in 1938, when Maugham was 64 years old and more than 40 years into his very long career. I first read The Summing Up about 40 years ago, and immediately became an admirer of Maugham’s candor and insight. This led me to become an avid reader of Maugham’s novels and short-story collections. And I have continued to consult The Summing Up for booster shots of Maugham’s wisdom.

I offer the following excerpts of the early pages of The Summing Up, where Maugham discusses the craft of writing:

I have never had much patience with the writers who claim from the reader an effort to understand their meaning…. There are two sorts of obscurity that you find in writers. One is due to negligence and the other to wilfulness. People often write obscurely because they have never taken the trouble to learn to write clearly. This sort of obscurity you find too often in modern philosophers, in men of science, and even in literary critics. Here it is indeed strange. You would have thought that men who passed their lives in the study of the great masters of literature would be sufficiently sensitive to the beauty of language to write if not beautifully at least with perspicuity. Yet you will find in their works sentence after sentence that you must read twice to discover the sense. Often you can only guess at it, for the writers have evidently not said what they intended.

Another cause of obscurity is that the writer is himself not quite sure of his meaning. He has a vague impression of what he wants to say, but has not, either from lack of mental power or from laziness, exactly formulated it in his mind and it is natural enough that he should not find a precise expression for a confused idea. This is due largely to the fact that many writers think, not before, but as they write. The pen originates the thought. …. From this there is only a little way to go to fall into the habit of setting down one’s impressions in all their original vagueness. Fools can always be found to discover a hidden sense in them….

Simplicity is not such an obvious merit as lucidity. I have aimed at it because I have no gift for richness. Within limits I admire richness in others, though I find it difficult to digest in quantity. I can read one page of Ruskin with delight, but twenty only with weariness. The rolling period, the stately epithet, the noun rich in poetic associations, the subordinate clauses that give the sentence weight and magnificence, the grandeur like that of wave following wave in the open sea; there is no doubt that in all this there is something inspiring. Words thus strung together fall on the ear like music. The appeal is sensuous rather than intellectual, and the beauty of the sound leads you easily to conclude that you need not bother about the meaning. But words are tyrannical things, they exist for their meanings, and if you will not pay attention to these, you cannot pay attention at all. Your mind wanders…..

But if richness needs gifts with which everyone is not endowed, simplicity by no means comes by nature. To achieve it needs rigid discipline…. To my mind King James’s Bible has been a very harmful influence on English prose. I am not so stupid as to deny its great beauty, and it is obvious that there are passages in it of a simplicity which is deeply moving. But the Bible is an oriental book. Its alien imagery has nothing to do with us. Those hyperboles, those luscious metaphors, are foreign to our genius…. The plain, honest English speech was overwhelmed with ornament. Blunt Englishmen twisted their tongues to speak like Hebrew prophets. There was evidently something in the English temper to which this was congenial, perhaps a native lack of precision in thought, perhaps a naive delight in fine words for their own sake, an innate eccentricity and love of embroidery, I do not know; but the fact remains that ever since, English prose has had to struggle against the tendency to luxuriance…. It is obvious that the grand style is more striking than the plain. Indeed many people think that a style that does not attract notice is not style…. But I suppose that if a man has a confused mind he will write in a confused way, if his temper is capricious his prose will be fantastical, and if he has a quick, darting intelligence that is reminded by the matter in hand of a hundred things he will, unless he has great self-control, load his pages with metaphor and simile….

Whether you ascribe importance to euphony … must depend on the sensitiveness of your ear. A great many readers, and many admirable writers, are devoid of this quality. Poets as we know have always made a great use of alliteration. They are persuaded that the repetition of a sound gives an effect of beauty. I do not think it does so in prose. It seems to me that in prose alliteration should be used only for a special reason; when used by accident it falls on the ear very disagreeably. But its accidental use is so common that one can only suppose that the sound of it is not universally offensive. Many writers without distress will put two rhyming words together, join a monstrous long adjective to a monstrous long noun, or between the end of one word and the beginning of another have a conjunction of consonants that almost breaks your jaw. These are trivial and obvious instances. I mention them only to prove that if careful writers can do such things it is only because they have no ear. Words have weight, sound and appearance; it is only by considering these that you can write a sentence that is good to look at and good to listen to.

I have read many books on English prose, but have found it hard to profit by them; for the most part they are vague, unduly theoretical, and often scolding. But you cannot say this of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It is a valuable work. I do not think anyone writes so well that he cannot learn much from it. It is lively reading. Fowler liked simplicity, straightforwardness and common sense. He had no patience with pretentiousness. He had a sound feeling that idiom was the backbone of a language and he was all for the racy phrase. He was no slavish admirer of logic and was willing enough to give usage right of way through the exact demesnes of grammar. English grammar is very difficult and few writers have avoided making mistakes in it….

But Fowler had no ear. He did not see that simplicity may sometimes make concessions to euphony. I do not think a far-fetched, an archaic or even an affected word is out of place when it sounds better than the blunt, obvious one or when it gives a sentence a better balance. But, I hasten to add, though I think you may without misgiving make this concession to pleasant sound, I think you should make none to what may obscure your meaning. Anything is better than not to write clearly. There is nothing to be said against lucidity, and against simplicity only the possibility of dryness. This is a risk that is well worth taking when you reflect how much better it is to be bald than to wear a curly wig. But there is in euphony a danger that must be considered. It is very likely to be monotonous…. I do not know how one can guard against this. I suppose the best chance is to have a more lively faculty of boredom than one’s readers so that one is wearied before they are. One must always be on the watch for mannerisms and when certain cadences come too easily to the pen ask oneself whether they have not become mechanical. It is very hard to discover the exact point where the idiom one has formed to express oneself has lost its tang….

If you could write lucidly, simply, euphoniously and yet with liveliness you would write perfectly: you would write like Voltaire. And yet we know how fatal the pursuit of liveliness may be: it may result in the tiresome acrobatics of Meredith. Macaulay and Carlyle were in their different ways arresting; but at the heavy cost of naturalness. Their flashy effects distract the mind. They destroy their persuasiveness; you would not believe a man was very intent on ploughing a furrow if he carried a hoop with him and jumped through it at every other step. A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident….

Ruminations on the Left in America

I deplore the adage that “we get the kind of government that we deserve.” I’m not part of the “we,” nor are the millions of other Americans who despise the kind of government that’s been forced upon us. The adage should be “We — who despise big government — have gotten the kind of government that others want and therefore deserve.”

On of their government’s favorite themes is “racism.” It’s threadbare from use; it’s the “global warming” of the 2010s. Another favorite theme is “inequality,” which is as threadbare as “racism.” What’s more, the loudest voices against “inequality” are the very persons who could do something about it, personally, inasmuch as they’re left-wing 1-percenters with plenty of money to hand out. I wonder how many homeless persons they have invited into their homes. I wonder how many of those homeless persons are black.

Speaking of “global warming” — or whatever it’s called nowadays — did you follow the recent march against it? Neither did I, though I couldn’t avoid seeing a few mentions of it in “news” outlets. The marchers looked like a roundup of the usual suspects: overenthusiastic youth; naive believers in the power of government to do good (a lot of overlap with overenthusiastic youth); granola-munching, sandal-wearing Luddites who think they’d like to live in the Dark Ages, but with smart phones, of course; and all manner of lefties who think they’d like to live in a place where an all-wise dictator to tells everyone what to do — though I’ve noticed that they’re not flocking to Cuba.

By now, you may have surmised that hypocrisy rankles me. And because it does, I despise most politicians, media types, and celebrities — and all affluent lefties. But I also despise less-than-affluent lefties who simply want to feed at a trough that’s filled by the efforts of others, and who like to chalk up their failures to “society” and discrimination of one kind and another. Those various kinds of discrimination must, of course, be alleviated by government-granted privileges of one kind and another. The idea of making the best of one’s lot, by dint of determination and effort, seems to have vanished from the mental makeup of most Americans (in emulation of Europeans). Claims of victimhood and demands for special treatment by government have become de rigeur.

This is merely a manifestation of the sea-change in the American ethos. Though the origins of the sea-change can be traced to the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and to the New Deal of the 1930s, its inevitability was ensured in the 1960s. It was then that the Great Society enshrined “entitlements” and the media sanctified unwashed, loud-mouthed, quasi-traitors for their trend-setting effort to ensure that government became incapable of doing the one thing that it should do: protect Americans from predators, foreign and domestic.

Closer to home, there’s the People’s Republic of insert-the-name-of-your-municipality (mine is Austin), which hosts dozens of blood-sucking tax-levying jurisdictions in constant search of ways to make life more miserable and expensive for residents (the indolent and dependent excepted, of course); for example:

  • frequent, traffic-jamming street closings for various politically correct observances
  • four weekends of very loud music festivals (the sound carries for miles)
  • tax breaks to attract “jobs,” which means more residents, but not lower taxes per capita
  • a poor road network that could barely handle Austin’s population as it was 10 years ago, but which could have been improved
  • restriction of the inadequate road network’s capacity by adding bike lanes that are used mainly by Yuppies, for exercise
  • a push to install a very expensive urban rail line that will be disruptive while it’s under construction, will displace traffic lanes and parking spaces, and won’t handle more than a tiny fraction of Austin’s transportation needs
  • lack of interest in a rapid bus system because it’s not “sexy” like urban rail
  • “affordable” (i.e., subsidized) housing, to foster “diversity” (i.e., the indolent and crime-prone get to live near and make life “better” for the aspiring and hard-working)
  • expensive “green” energy because it’s “religiously” correct to believe in AGW.

These and other abominations are supported by local lefties, the core constituency of which is the students and faculty of the University of Texas, and a dwindling hippie population that’s being priced out of Austin (an inadequate but welcome recompense). The core has been augmented by the hordes of Californians who have flocked to Austin to escape their home State’s high taxes and onerous regulations. They, of course, favor the programs that yield high taxes and onerous regulations, but are surprised when they figure out (as some of them do) that there’s a link between the programs, on the one hand, and the taxes and regulations, on the other hand. Unless you’re very lucky, you live in a People’s Republic much like Austin.

Which brings me (don’t ask how) to the final part of today’s sermon: euphemisms. These are much-favored by lefties, who seem unable to confront reality (as discussed in the preceding paragraph). Thus, for example:

  • crippled became handicapped, which became disabled and then differently abled or something-challenged
  • stupid became learning disabled, which became special needs (a euphemistic category that houses more than the stupid)
  • poor became underprivileged, which became economically disadvantaged, which became (though isn’t overtly called) entitled (as in entitled to other people’s money)
  • colored persons became Negroes, who became blacks, then African-Americans, and now (often) persons of color.

Why do lefties insist on varnishing the truth? They are — they insist — strong supporters of science, which is (ideally) the pursuit of truth. Well, that’s because they aren’t supporters of science (witness their devotion to the “unsettled” science of AGW). Nor do they want the truth. They simply want to see the world as they would like it to be; for example:

  • a vibrant economy, but without the “too rich” who inevitably accompany it; they should be punished for the sin of being “too rich” (athletes, media stars, and rich benefactors of left-wing causes excluded, of course)
  • redemption for the left’s pets du jour through government programs that never seem to overcome human failings and foibles but always result in well-fed bureaucrats
  • peace on Earth without without swift and certain justice or a strong military, because “we” don’t want to offend a certain racial group or members of a certain religion (who have shown that they hate America, Americans, and some of the left’s pets du jour, namely, emancipated women and homosexuals) — but don’t take away my bodyguard or his .357 Magnum.

And so it goes in what little is left of the Founders’ America. For more about America’s left and the damage it has done to liberty and prosperity, see the related posts listed below.

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Related posts:
Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
It’s Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
The Pathology of Academic Leftism
The People’s Romance
Lefty Profs
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Whiners — Left and Libertarian
Diagnosing the Left
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
The Media, the Left, and War
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Tolerance on the Left
David Brooks, Useful Idiot for the Left
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
The Culture War
Sorkin’s Left-Wing Propaganda Machine
The Pretence of Knowledge

The Obama Effect: Disguised Unemployment

Updated Here.

Two takeaways:

  • The “official” unemployment rate of 5.9 percent is phony. The real rate remains at 12.4 percent, just 1.1 points below the 21st century high-water mark of 13.5 (reached in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013).
  • The real unemployment rate is disguised by the continued decline of the labor-force participation rate — a decline that has accelerated since the onset of Obamanomics. The decline is concentrated among younger workers, and has probably been helped along by Obamacare. (See the final paragraph of the post.)

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The Broader Meaning of a Personal Anniversary

This is the 17th anniversary of my retirement from full-time employment. I’ve discussed the broader implications of this anniversary in three earlier posts: “Patience As a Tool of Strategy” (10/03/11), “Happy Anniversary to Me” (10/03/12), and “More Thoughts about Patience and Its Significance” (10/03/13). The third post covers the ground well. I commend it to you.

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Election 2014: E-Day Minus 5 Weeks

UPDATED VERSION HERE

Can the GOP repeat (or better) its showing in the 2010 mid-term election? In that election, the GOP candidates for the House of Representatives garnered 53.4 percent of the two-party popular vote. As a result, the GOP gained 64 House seats and returned to the majority. Over in the Senate, the GOP gained 6 seats, a good rebound but not enough for a majority.

It’s certain that the mid-term of 2014 will yield a GOP majority in the House. The present 33-seat majority might even become the 49-seat majority that resulted from the 2010 mid-term — or something larger.

The outlook for the Senate is less clear, though there’s good reason to expect a GOP gain of at least 6 seats (as in 2010). It will take a gain of 6 seats (or more) to restore GOP control of the Senate.

I base my optimism on some indicators that I’ll continue to update as election day approaches. They’re based on the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s doing about as well as he was four years ago at this time.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval. Obama’s strong-approval rating is below the pace of four years ago, which is a good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring slightly worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

Some words of caution: In the absence of bad news for Obama (e.g., more beheadings, a military fiasco in the Middle East, a new scandal, a spate of huge increases in health-insurance premiums), his unpopularity may continue to diminish, as it has in recent weeks. If that happens, he won’t be a severe drag on Democrat candidates for the House and Senate. Which means that it will take a lot of hard and effective campaigning if the GOP is to increase its House majority and regain control of the Senate.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

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Competitiveness in Major League Baseball

Yesterday marked the final regular-season games of the 2014 season of major league baseball (MLB), In observance of that event, I’m shifting from politics to competitiveness in MLB. What follows is merely trivia and speculation. If you like baseball, you might enjoy it. If you don’t like baseball, I hope that you don’t think there’s a better team sport. There isn’t one.

Here’s how I compute competitiveness for each league and each season:

INDEX OF COMPETITIVENESS = AVEDEV/AVERAGE; where

AVEDEV = the average of the absolute value of deviations from the average number of games won by a league’s teams in a given season, and

AVERAGE =  the average number of games won by a league’s teams in a given season.

For example, if the average number of wins is 81, and the average of the absolute value of deviations from 81 is 8, the index of competitiveness is 0.1 (rounded to the nearest 0.1). If the average number of wins is 81 and the average of the absolute value of deviations from 81 is 16, the index of competitiveness is 0.2.  The lower the number, the more competitive the league.

With some smoothing, here’s how the numbers look over the long haul:

Index of competitiveness
Based on numbers of wins by season and by team, for the National League and American League, as compiled at Baseball-Reference.com.

I drew a separate line for the American League without the Yankees, to show the effect of the Yankees’ dominance from the early 1920s to the early 1960s, and the 10 years or so beginning around 1995.

The National League grew steadily more competitive from 1940 to 1987, and has slipped only a bit since then. The American League’s climb began in 1951, and peaked in 1989; the AL has since slipped a bit more than the NL, but seems to be rebounding. In any event, there’s no doubt that both leagues are — and in recent decades have been — more competitive than they were in the early to middle decades of the 20th century. Why?

My hypothesis: integration compounded by expansion, with an admixture of free agency and limits on the size of rosters.

Let’s start with integration. The rising competitiveness of the NL after 1940 might have been a temporary thing, but it continued when NL teams (led by the Brooklyn Dodgers) began to integrate, by adding Jackie Robinson in 1947. The Cleveland Indians of the AL followed suit, by adding Larry Doby later in the same season. By the late 1950s, all major league teams (then 16) had integrated, though the NL seems to have integrated faster. The more rapid integration of the NL could explain its earlier ascent to competitiveness. Integration was followed in short order by expansion: The AL began to expand in 1961 and the NL began to expand in 1962.

How did expansion and integration combine to make the leagues more competitive? Several years ago, I opined:

[G]iven the additional competition for talent [following] expansion, teams [became] more willing to recruit players from among the black and Hispanic populations of the U.S. and Latin America. That is to say, teams [came] to draw more heavily on sources of talent that they had (to a large extent) neglected before expansion.

Further, free agency, which began in the mid-1970s,

made baseball more competitive by enabling less successful teams to attract high-quality players by offering them more money than other, more successful, teams. Money can, in some (many?) cases, compensate a player for the loss of psychic satisfaction of playing on a team that, on its record, is likely to be successful.

Finally,

[t]he competitive ramifications of expansion and free agency [are] reinforced by the limited size of team rosters (e.g., each team may carry only 25 players from May through August). No matter how much money an owner has, the limit on the size of his team’s roster constrains his ability to sign all (even a small fraction) of the best players.

It’s not an elegant hypothesis, but it’s my own (as far as I know). I offer it for discussion.

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Other related posts:
The End of a Dynasty
What Makes a Winning Team
More Lessons from Baseball
Not Over the Hill

To Old Age

A mini-tempest in the blogosphere followed upon the recent appearance of Ezekiel Emanuel’s “Why I Hope to Die at 75” (The Atlantic, September 17, 2014). Emanuel, who is a “progressive” brother of the “progressive” Rahm Emanuel, was active in the shaping of Obamacare. For that reason, his pronouncement has been interpreted by some as a sinister policy suggestion, and derided by others as a foolish position. (See, for example, this, this, this, this, and this.)

Emanuel takes pains in his article to deny sinister intent. But some commentators aren’t buying Emanuel’s denial. Here’s Greg Scandlen, for example:

In [Emanuel's] opinion, people older than 75 are annoying. They aren’t as productive as they used to be, don’t “contribute to work, society, the world.” They are more likely to be disabled, “a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived.” Plus, they are a pain in the ass: “they set expectations, render judgments, impose their opinions, interfere, and are generally a looming presence for even adult children.”

Zeke admits there are exceptions to all of this. Why, he even once worked with an 80-year-old economist who was quite useful….

And that may be Zeke’s biggest flaw—he is arbitrary. There is nothing magical about the age of 75. Some people have rich lives long beyond that. Other people become senile well before. But like most Progressives, Zeke sees only cookie-cutter people. In his mind, we are all the same, just a pile of numbers and statistics….

… He says, “We [Americans] are growing old, and our older years are not of high quality.” What an idiotic statement. What is “high quality?” Is it okay with him if my life is not “high” quality but still “pretty good” quality? Is his standard of high quality the same as mine? Are there no younger people with “low-quality” lives?

But he is also naïve. He cites a study of aging, and says “[t]he results show that as people age, there is a progressive erosion of physical functioning.” Good grief. He needed a study to know that? Everyone has known that since the dawn of man.

He writes of his 87-year old father, who had a heart attack about ten years ago. “Since then he has not been the same. Once the prototype of a hyperactive Emanuel, suddenly his walking, his talking, his humor got slower. Today he can swim, read the newspaper, needle his kids on the phone, and still live with my mother in their own house. But everything seems sluggish.” He also quotes his father as saying, “ I have slowed down tremendously. That is a fact. I no longer make rounds at the hospital or teach.” Zeke adds, “Despite this, he also said he was happy.”

The man is 87 and has slowed down, but he is happy. Only Zeke Emanuel would see this as a problem. Apparently, in Zeke’s mind the failure to be hyperactive is worthy of death (“Zeke Emanuel Wants You to Die at 75,” The Federalist, September 23, 2014).

David Henderson adds this:

Scandlen puts his finger accurately, based on what I’ve seen of Emanuel in the past, on Emanuel’s attitude. The way I would sum it up is “Sometimes wrong; never in doubt.” The man (Emanuel) really does seem to think he knows how everyone should live.

It seems clear, for example, that Emanuel would like his father to die….

What I learned from Emanuel’s article is what a narrow view of the good life he has.

Now, this wouldn’t matter much if Emanuel were a random guy saying that he doesn’t want certain kinds of medical tests after age 75. But he’s not. Remember that he was one of the architects of ObamaCare. With his attitude about the importance of people over age 75, can we seriously think that he wouldn’t want to cut off certain health care services for people over age 75?

Emanuel says he’s not advocating any particular health policy based on his views….

“Let me be clear.” Hmmm. Where have we heard that before? Basically, I just don’t believe him….

… Emanuel has never come across as someone who simply wants to persuade people; he has always come across as a life arranger…. (“Zeke Emanuel on Optimal Life Expectancy,” EconLog, September 23, 2014).

A “life arranger.” Perfect description. (Here’s a takedown of Cass Sunstein, another life-arranger associated with Obama, about whose “libertarian” paternalism and other statist urgings I’ve written here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

As an antidote to Emanuel, I offer W. Somerset Maugham (who lived almost 92 years), writing at the age of 64:

I look forward to old age without dismay. When Lawrence of Arabia was killed I read in an article contributed by a friend that it was his habit to ride his motor-bicycle at an excessive speed with the notion that an accident would end his life while he was still in full possession of his powers and so spare him the indignity of old age. If this is true it was a great weakness in that strange and somewhat theatrical character. It showed want of sense. For the complete life, the perfect pattern, includes old age as well as youth and maturity. The beauty of the morning and the radiance of noon are good, but it would be a very silly person who drew the curtains and turned on the light in order to shut out the tranquility of the evening. Old age has its pleasures, which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth. The philosophers have always told us that we are the slaves of our passions, and is it so small a thing to be liberated from their sway? The fool’s old age will be foolish, but so was his youth. The young man turns away from it with horror because he thinks that when he reaches it, he will still yearn for the things that give variety and gusto to his youth. He is mistaken. It is true that the old man will no longer be able to climb an Alp or tumble a pretty girl on a bed; it is true that he can no longer arouse the concupiscence of others. It is something to be free from the pangs of unrequited love and the torment of jealousy. It is something that envy, which so often poisons youth, should be assuaged by the extinction of desire. But these are negative compensations; old age has positive compensations also. Paradoxical as it may sound it has more time. When I was young I was amazed at Plutarch’s statement that the elder Cato began at the age of eighty to learn Greek. I am amazed no longer. Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long. In old age the taste improves and it is possible to enjoy art and literature without the personal bias that in youth warps the judgment. It has the satisfaction of its own fulfillment. It is liberated from the trammels of human egoism; free at last, the soul delights in the passing moment, but does not bid it stay. It has completed the pattern (The Summing Up, Pocket Books Edition, June 1967, pp. 215-16).

I first read The Summing Up about 40 years ago, though I didn’t at the time focus on the quoted passage. (I was interested them, as I still am, by Maugham’s reflections on the craft of writing.) But here I am now, almost a decade older than Maugham was when he wrote The Summing Up, and 16 years older than Emanuel. I can tell you that Maugham is right and Emanuel is wrong, if not about himself then about the legions who are near or beyond the age at which Emanuel wants himself (all of us?) to die.Signature

Greed, Conscience, and Big Government

The financial crisis of 2007-2008, which led to the Great Recession, has been blamed on several things. Financial institutions are leading scapegoats. In particular, there were the retail institutions that lent money at low interest rates (made so by the Fed) to high-risk borrowers (in keeping with government policy), and there were the Wall Street institutions that “poisoned” financial markets by securitizing bundles of high-risk mortgage loans.

In both cases, the institutions are said to have been “greedy” in pursuit of greater profits. That “crime” (which is only a “crime” when someone else commits it) was in fact “committed” in ways that were perfectly legal and passed muster with government regulators. In sum, the financial crisis and subsequent recession were deeply rooted in government failure — not “greed.” For chapter and verse, see Arnold Kling’s monograph, Not What They Had in Mind.

Nevertheless, greed is often blamed for the financial crisis and its aftermath. Why? Because it’s a simple, mindless generalization that plays into the left’s perpetual campaign against “the rich” — a.k.a. biting the hand that feeds them.  And it’s certainly a lot easier for ignoramuses (leftist or otherwise) to parrot “greed” than to seek the truth.

With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at greed and its antecedent, avarice.

Here is the primary definition of greed, as given by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (from The Free Dictionary):

An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.

What about “avarice”? Here is the primary definition from the same source:

Immoderate desire for wealth; cupidity [another word for the same thing].

To call a person (or institutional collective of persons) “greedy” or “avaricious,” one must make normative judgments; that is, the person’s (or collective’s) desire for (material) wealth must be deemed “excessive” or “immoderate” or more than he “deserves.” When I consider the affluent leftists in the academy, the media, and government who make such judgements when they proclaim the “greediness” of bankers (but not film stars or professional athletes), my thoughts turn to John 8:7 — “Whichever of you is free from sin shall cast the first stone….” (It is telling that Paul Krugman, an undeniably affluent leftist, seeks — and fails — to avoid seeming hypocritical by focusing his attacks on persons in the top 0.1 percent of the income distribution.)

For a more thoughtful treatment of greed (properly avarice), I turn to the entry in the The Catholic Encyclopedia:

Avarice (from Latin avarus, “greedy”; “to crave”) is the inordinate love for riches. Its special malice, broadly speaking, lies in that it makes the getting and keeping of money, possessions, and the like, a purpose in itself to live for. It does not see that these things are valuable only as instruments for the conduct of a rational and harmonious life, due regard being paid of course to the special social condition in which one is placed. It is called a capital vice because it has as its object that for the gaining or holding of which many other sins are committed. It is more to be dreaded in that it often cloaks itself as a virtue, or insinuates itself under the pretext of making a decent provision for the future. In so far as avarice is an incentive to injustice in acquiring and retaining of wealth, it is frequently a grievous sin. In itself, however, and in so far as it implies simply an excessive desire of, or pleasure in, riches, it is commonly not a mortal sin.

I take two key points from this definition:

  • Acquisitiveness is bad when it becomes an end in itself, so that one becomes neglectful of family, friends, associates — and God.
  • Acquisitiveness is bad when it is abetted by deeds  that do harm to others (e.g., thieving, cheating, and lying).

In sum: Acquisitiveness isn’t bad per se, and it may be good if it has good effects (e.g., the dispensation of charity, investments in job-producing capital). The potentially bad effects of acquisitiveness are what may make it bad. But the vice of avarice arises only when the bad effects arise.

But the judgment as to whether a person is guilty of avarice is the person’s. No human being can peer into the person’s conscience and say that he acts avariciously. This is not to excuse the person who simply forges ahead in life without examining his conscience. Such a person fears and refuses self-examination because he knows that he is doing wrong. The refusal to confront error is an admission of error.

Consider statist politicians, rule-writing bureaucrats, and the masses of voters who applaud and support them. The latter are avaracious for material goods that they haven’t and won’t earn by their own efforts. (They are spurred by more than a little envy, as well.) Their material avaraciousness is served by the lust for power (and material goods) that is endemic among politicians and bureaucrats, and their cheerleaders in the academy and the media.

Do these avaracious classes ever have more than a passing qualm about how they wield their vast power over the populace as a whole? I doubt it. Instead, they rationalize what they do by pointing to the good results that they expect to flow from various government programs, regulations, and transfer payments. They are ignorant or heedless of the mountains of evidence about the bad results that actually obtain — welfare dependency, fatherless homes, the huge economic costs of regulation, and diminished economic growth, for example. Their avaraciousness blinds them to facts, of which a small sample can be found here. (For much more, see the posts at this link and every issue of Regulation back to its inception in 1977.)

What might they find if they were to the face those facts and examine their consciences? This, if they are diligent:

  • I don’t like others to lie to me, cheat me, or steal from me. Nor do I like being told how I should live my life, especially if I’m not acting in harmful ways.
  • In those respects, I am like most of my fellow citizens.
  • I have no idea which of them, individually, is a liar, cheater, thief, or petty tyrant. Most of them are not all of those things, and few of them are any of those things on a significant scale.
  • Except when it comes to tyranny. Yes, there are many people in business and government who act like petty tyrants toward their subordinates. But those subordinates have the option of finding other jobs if their supervisors continue to tyrannize them.
  • As a citizen, however, I have no practical choice but to pay the taxes demanded of me by government and to obey its rules, even when those taxes support programs of which I disapprove and those rules are unjust and economically damaging.
  • When I use the power of government to get what I want, or to make others act as I wish them to act, I am nothing but a petty tyrant who abets the infliction of harm on others.
  • And a thief. Because government takes money from people who do me no harm.
  • And if government acts like a petty tyrant and thief toward others, it must be doing the same thing to me, on behalf of many of those others.
  • The Golden Rule says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I haven’t been living by that rule, nor have a lot of my fellow citizens. If I begin to live by that rule — begin to demand from government only what it owes me, which is protection from predators — perhaps others will follow my example.
  • And even if they don’t, I will have a clear conscience.
  • P.S. I didn’t mention envy, but I should have. It’s an unattractive trait, and when acted on it can cause harm. For example, I don’t envy highly-paid athletes and movie stars, despite the huge incomes they earn. But I seem to envy highly-paid managers and bankers. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been told so often that the rules of the economic “game” are rigged in favor of highly-paid managers and bankers.
  • That may be true, though it’s hard to tell given the long history and complexity of various laws and regulations. But most of the people who benefit from the “rigging” had nothing to do with it. It was done by politicians and bureaucrats. So the real solution is to undo the complex laws and regulations that support “rigging,” it isn’t to punish hard-working people by taxing them exorbitantly.
  • And while I’m thinking of politicians and bureaucrats, I must mention that they’ve done a very good job of rigging the system in their favor, with salaries, benefits, and pensions that most of them couldn’t command in the private sector. (The affluence of the Washington DC area is an insult to hard-working taxpayers.) The solution is obvious: Cut the bureaucracy that generates the rules that distort and discourage economic activity, and find ways to compensate politicians and bureaucrats according to the value of the private-sector jobs for which they actually qualify.
  • I wonder how avaracious politicians and bureaucrats sleep at night. That sounds judgmental, and I’m aware of the admonition “Do not judge others, or you yourselves will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). But in view of their demonstrated greed, I have no qualms about judging them.

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A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”

This post is based on a column that I wrote for my long-defunct weekly newspaper. The column ran in the March 30, 1977, issue of the paper.

The choice of a topic for this week’s sermon was difficult. I was torn between economists and educators.

Having been raised as a devout economist, I decided not to risk supernatural retribution by poaching on my brethren — this week. But I can’t resist repeating the old saying that a thousand economists laid end-to-end wouldn’t reach a conclusion.

I feel kindly toward teachers, mainly because it’s been almost 60 years since my last involuntary encounter with one. During the interval I have come to understand that the oft-maligned species pedagogus publicus Americanus is a victim of society. (“Society” is an abstraction and doesn’t have victims or do any of the things mentioned here. But this is my blog, so I’m free to blather on about “society” as if I were a demented left-wingnut.)

Through a complex historical process, educators have come to feel that their work is essential to the maintenance of society. Much of society seems to feel that same way, but the feeling is a conditioned reflex.

From the late 1800s through the 1950s, public schools augmented and reinforced the education that most children received in the home — an education not just in the three Rs, but also in how to get along with other human beings.

Many bad things got their start in the 1960s. Among the least harmful are bad hairstyles and terrible clothing. Among the most harmful — in addition to Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare “rights” — is the sharp rise in the numbers of working (outside-the-home) mothers. It was then, no doubt, that most parents came to think (to hope) that education is something that can be packaged and shrink-wrapped.

The fact of the matter is that schools can’t turn out well-mannered, well-spoken, literate human beings if the raw material they’re given to work with is defective. If Johnny can’t read, or if Johnny is a hoodlum, whose fault is it? The natural tendency of parents and school-board members is to blame educators, if not “society.” But that’s the easy way out — like firing the manager of a baseball team because he’s saddled with mediocre players.

Parents are supposed to be members of the education team, too. but how many of them think of themselves as such? (PTA meetings and parent-teacher conference have always struck me as rituals having nothing to do with teamwork.)

If lousy parents could be traded for audio-visual equipment, parents might take their jobs more seriously. Those who aren’t up to the job of parenthood could at least admit to their offspring that it isn’t an occupation that everyone should take up.

How can parents find the time to do a better job? Well, they’ll just have to get their priorities straight, won’t they?

Clearly, some parents don’t have enough time to be good parents because they’re working hard to put bread and Smart Balance® on the table. But they’re in the minority. Most parents are working hard to keep up with the Joneses, who are working hard to keep up with the Browns, who are working hard to keep up with the Smythes. It’s a real rat-race out there, but consider what that makes you if you’re racing to keep up with the other rats.

Anyway, if schools were no longer supported in the style to which they have become accustomed — that is, if the frills were cut off — parents would face lower tax bills. This would make it easier for those who are truly hard-pressed and want to spend more time with their children to do so. (The perceived need to keep up with the other rats is not a valid excuse for neglecting one’s children.)

But I have strayed a long distance from the subject at hand: teachers. There’s no doubt in my mind that teachers — and the teachers of teachers — must shoulder a lot of the blame for the generally abysmal state of “education” in America’s public schools. For one (big) thing, it seems that instead of imparting hard-won knowledge, teachers have become manipulators of “teaching techniques” acquired while satisfying the requirements of various and sundry “education” curricula. I could go on at great length about the failings of public “education” in the U.S. of A., but you can infer the essence of my complaints from the following list of recommended fixes:

Abolish teachers’ unions, which exist mainly to overpay and protect incompetence. (The latest case in point is illustrated here.) Instead, hire and keep (or fire) teachers based on demonstrated subject knowledge, not on mastery of pedagogical techniques.

Eliminate all purely administrative positions, except those that support teachers: secretaries and file clerks (or their computerized equivalents), for example. As with department chairmanships at many universities, the heads of school districts and principals of schools would be teachers who have drawn the short straw and must take up an administrative post for a limited term (no more than two years, say).

Require teachers to take standardized tests that reveal one’s IQ. No one may teach whose IQ is less than 120. That this requirement would eliminate from the ranks of teacherdom vast numbers of certain racial groups would be of no concern if — I say if — the aim of public education were to educate.

Pay teachers according to the market value of their degrees and specialties. (Degrees like B.Ed., M.Ed, and Ed.D. would be deemed worthless.) Thus, for example, teachers of math and science would earn more than teachers of art, history, and English. The latter would protest loudly, and their cries of “unfair” would rend the air. But let them seek employment elsewhere, if they can find it. The objective of such a policy wouldn’t be to penalize anyone, of course, but to play fair with the taxpaying public, and to attract highly-qualified teachers of technical and scientific subjects.

Finally, political correctness and its associated sins would be purged. Evolution, ecology, and other controversial subjects would be taught in a balanced way; that is, the uncertainties would be fully exposed to view. Likewise, there would be no more preaching about the supposed sins of white males of European origin, and a lot less “celebration” of various groups whose contributions to Western civilization have been minimal, when not negative.

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Related posts:
School Vouchers and Teachers’ Unions
Whining about Teachers’ Pay: Another Lesson about the Evils of Public Education
I Used to Be Too Smart to Understand This
Those “Dedicated” Public “Educators”
GIGO
The Public-School Swindle

Posner the Fatuous

Richard Posner, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, recently opined for a unanimous three-judge panel when it tossed Wisconsin and Indiana’s same-sex “marriage” bans.  I certainly can’t improve on Ed Whelan’s commentary about Posner’s opinion (here, here, here, and here). Instead, I’ll examine Posner’s earlier conversion to the cause of same-sex “marriage.”

Posner announced his conversion in a blog post dated May 13, 2012. Here are some excerpts in italics, followed by my commentary in bold:

Beginning in the 1960s and accelerating dramatically in the 1990s and 2000s, legal changes and changes in public attitudes resulted in the dismantling of most public and private discriminatory measures against homosexuals. Why the powerful antipathy toward homosexuality gave ground so rapidly and, it seemed, effortlessly, in the sense that resistance seemed to melt away rather than having to be overcome by militant action, is something of a puzzle. Greatly increased tolerance of nonmarital sex, and of cohabitation as a substitute for marriage, reduced the traditional abhorrence of homosexual sex, which was (and to a large extent still is, since only a handful of states recognize homosexual marriage) nonmarital; and with the decline of prudery, deviant sexual practices created less revulsion in the straight population.

This passage effectively equates the rise of open homosexuality with the decline of sexual morality.

Another factor in increased tolerance is that as homosexuals began feeling less pressure to conceal their homosexuality, and so began to mingle openly with heterosexuals, the latter discovered that homosexuals are for the most part indistinguishable from heterosexuals, and this created sympathy for homosexuals’ desire to be treated equally with heterosexuals both generally and in regard to marriage.

Homosexuals are decidedly different from heterosexuals in their sexuality. How does that essential difference “create[] sympathy for homosexuals’ desire to be treated equally … in regard to marriage”? Posner glosses over the fact of a long, sustained campaign by media and political elites to “celebrate” homosexuality and to recognize same-sex “marriage.” Morally anchorless people are easily swayed by such campaigns because they don’t understand what’s at stake. Same-sex marriage, to the unreflective, is just another “good thing” that government can do for an interest group. Like almost every government program since the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887, the benefits (for some) are visible; the costs are hidden, but real nonetheless.

Moreover, the older view of homosexuality (especially male homosexuality) as a choice … gradually gave way to realization on the part of most people that homosexual preference is innate, rather than chosen or the result of seduction or recruitment.

Perhaps. But causality is irrelevant to the issue of same-sex “marriage.”

If homosexuality is innate, it becomes difficult to see why it should be thought to require regulation. And for the additional reason that the homosexual population is very small. Kinsey’s estimate that 10 percent of the population is homosexual has long been discredited; it appears that no more than 2 to 4 percent is.

If psychopathy is innate, and if there are relatively few psychopaths, why not let psychopaths murder at will? I’m not equating homosexuality with psychopathy, just pointing out the fatuousness of Posner’s analysis.

This small population [of homosexuals] is on the whole law-abiding and productively employed, and having a below-normal fertility rate does not impose the same costs on the education and welfare systems as the heterosexual population does. It is thus not surprising that in response to the President’s announcement of his support for homosexual marriage, Republican leaders cautioned their followers not to be distracted by this issue from the problems of the U.S. economy. This was tacit acknowledgment that homosexual marriage, and homosexual rights in general, have no economic significance. 

This is a side-show of Posner’s invention. Republican leaders certainly want to keep the focus on the state of the economy, but that has nothing to do with the public costs that might result from gay “marriage.”

It seems that the only remaining basis for opposition to homosexual marriage, or to legal equality between homosexuals and heterosexuals in general, is religious. [And blah, blah, blah.]

False. See related posts listed below.

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Related reading: John Finnis, “The Profound Injustice of Judge Posner on Marriage,” Public Discourse,  October 9, 2014

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Related posts:
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
In Defense of Marriage
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty

Election 2014: E-Day Minus 7 Weeks

GO HERE FOR THE NEXT EDITION.

In 2010 the GOP candidates for the House of Representatives garnered 53.4 percent of the two-party popular vote. As a result, the GOP gained 64 House seats. That showing was echoed in the Senate, where the GOP gained 6 seats.

What’s the prognosis for 2014? At seven weeks to election day, it’s too soon to tell for sure. But I’ve concocted some indicators that I’ll update as election day approaches. They’re based on the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s doing slightly better than he was four years ago at this time, though he’s still underwater. Something not shown in the graph is worth noting: Obama’s daily approval rating showed a slight bump in the wake of his non-declaration of non-war against ISIS or ISIL; the bump has been flattened.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval. Obama’s strong approval rating is below the pace of four years ago, which is a good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

As of now, the indicators herald a repetition of the GOP’s resounding victory in the 2010 mid-term election. Unless there’s a drastic change, one way or the other, I expect the GOP to claim a 50-seat majority in the House. The GOP should seize control of the Senate (if only by 51-49), but individual Senate races are harder to handicap than the aggregate outcome of 435 House races.

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The Hopey Changey Mood in 1934

I was reminded by Mark Steyn of Leni Riefenstahl‘s propagandistic masterpiece of 1934, Triumph of the Will. Fräulein Riefenstahl made a media star of Adolf Hitler, and in so doing showed the way for the image-makers who have since given us the likes of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Shallow men all, with images that glowed until the mask was ripped off.

Triumph of the Will reminds me especially of Obama. See it for yourself, here. A segment that begins around 32:00 praises Hitler’s “shovel ready” projects. A segment that begins around 42:00 looks like a preview of the mob hysteria that surrounded Obama’s first inaugural in 2009.

Can a Third Reich happen here? In many respects, it has happened here, though in slow motion, over a span of more than 100 years. Teddy Roosevelt was the first imperial president, but not the most imperious. FDR trumped TR, but FDR had nothing on BHO.

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Related posts:
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Penalizing “Thought Crimes”
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Invoking Hitler
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Presidential Treason
“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly

A Case for Redistribution, Not Made

Jessica Flanigan, one of the bleeders at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, offers this excuse for ripping money out of the hands of some persons and placing it into the hands of other persons:

Lately I’ve been thinking about my reasons for endorsing a UBI [universal basic income], especially given that I also share Michael Huemer’s skepticism about political authority. Consider this case:

  • (1) Anne runs a business called PropertySystem, which manufacturers and maintains a private currency that can be traded for goods and services. The currency exists in users’ private accounts and Anne’s company provides security services for users. If someone tries to hack into the accounts she prevents them from doing so. The company also punishes users who violate the rules of PropertySystem. So if someone steals or tries to steal the currency from users, that person may have some of their currency taken away or they may even be held in one of PropertySystem’s jails. These services are financed through a yearly service fee.

This sounds fine. If everyone consented to join PropertySystem then they can’t really complain that Anne charges a fee for the services. There will be some questions about those who are not PropertySystem members, and how Anne’s company should treat them. But for the membership, consent seems to render what Anne is doing permissible. Next,

  • (2) Anne thinks that it would be morally better if she gave money to poor people. She changes the user agreement for her currency holders to increase her maintenance fee and she gives some of the money to poor people. Or, Anne decides to just print more money and mail it to people so that she doesn’t have to raise fees, even though this could decrease the value of the holdings of her richest clients.

By changing the user agreement or distribution system in this way, Anne doesn’t seem to violate anyone’s rights. And PropertySystem does some good through its currency and protection services by using the company to benefit people who are badly off. Now imagine,

  • (3) Anne decides that she doesn’t like PropertySystem competing with other providers so she compels everyone in a certain territory to use PropertySystem’s currency and protection services and to pay service fees, which she now calls taxes.

 …[T[here are moral reasons in favor of Anne’s policy changes from (1) to (2). She changed the property conventions in ways that did not violate anyone’s pre-political ownership rights while still benefiting the badly off. If Anne implemented policy (2) after she started forcing everyone to join her company (3) it would still be morally better than policy (1) despite the fact that (3) is unjust.This is the reason I favor a basic income. Such a policy balances the reasonable complaints that people may have about the effects of a property system that they never consented to join. Though redistribution cannot justify forcing everyone to join a property system, it can at least compensate people who are very badly off partly because they were forced to join that property system. Some people will do very well under a property system that nevertheless violates their rights. But it is not a further rights violation if a property system doesn’t benefit the rich as much as it possibly could.

Flanigan’s logical confusion is astounding.

To begin with, if (3) is “unjust,” implementing (2) as a subset of (3) almost certainly expands the scope of injustice. Flanigan assumes, without justification, that those who are “very badly off” in are so “partly because they were forced to join the property system.” What’s much more likely is that those who are “very badly off” would be very badly off inside or outside the property system because they lack the mental or physical wherewithal to better themselves. By the same token, most of those who are very well off under the property system — including most members of that despised straw-man class, “crony capitalists” — probably would be very well off outside the property system because they possess the wherewithal to better themselves.

Flanigan, like most leftists, wants to blame a “system” instead of looking to the ability and determination of individual persons. Blaming a “system” justifies (in the minds of Flanigan and her ilk) “fixes” that are intended to favor those whom they assume to be “victims” of the “system.”

Flanigan’s simplistic taxonomy of cases — (1), (2), and (3) — bears no resemblance to political reality, that is, to the “system” that has existed in the United States, or to the “system” that has prevailed in the world at large for eons. Reality looks more like this:

The current “system” — the U.S. under the Constitution that was ratified by some of the people in 1788 — began with the imposition of a more intrusive central government on all of the people living within the geographical area defined as the United States. The constituent jurisdictions — the States and their political subdivisions — were governed to greater and lesser degrees of intrusiveness. But, slaves and indentured servants excpted, Americans were free to move to jurisdictions that they found more congenial. The westward expansion of the United States under minimalist territorial governments made “exit” an especially attractive and viable option from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. With the end of slavery (but not of government-imposed racial discrimination), negative liberty reached an apogee (for whites, at least) during the late 1800s.

The Progressives of the late 1800s and early 1900s — a vocal and eventually powerful minority — then began to use the central government to impose their paternalistic designs on the populace as a whole. There have since been some pauses in the accretion of power by the central government, and a few reversals in selected areas (e.g., limited “deregulation” of some industries). But the centralization of power has grown steadily since the Progressive Era, and the exit option has became almost a nullity.

Plugging that bit of potted history into Flanigan’s taxonomy, I would say that with the adoption of the Constitution Americans were thrust wholesale into stage (3). Because of the opening of the frontier, however, Americans (or a goodly fraction of them) had a shot at something less onerous for a while (call it 3-minus). But with the ascendancy of D.C. over the hinterlands we’ve all been in stage (3) for several decades. And income redistribution — whether it’s called welfare, Social Security, or UBI — is (a) nothing new and (b) nothing more than one among many features of stage (3).

Nor is that the end of the story. It’s impossible to sort the winners and losers under the “system” that’s been in place since 1788 — or 1781 if you prefer to begin with the Articles of Confederation, or 1607 if you prefer to begin with the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. It would require an intricate analysis of the economic and social effects of all the laws and regulations of the the United States — or the Colonies — and their subdivisions. And it would require the allocation of those effects to every person now living.

But that wouldn’t be enough, would it? Total fairness would require an accounting of the conditions in the various lands from which persons came to the United States, or which were absorbed into the United States. How far back should the analysis go? Perhaps not as far back as the origin of life 3.5 billion to 4.5 billion years ago, but certainly as far back as the advent of homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. After all, where human beings are concerned there’s no such thing as a pre-political state of nature. Politics is what human beings “do” to get along with each other and to dominate each other, whether the polity in question numbers two or two billion persons.

Any less-detailed accounting, such as the one suggested by Flanigan, is meant to discriminate in favor of those persons (or classes of persons) favored by bleeding hearts, at the expense of those not favored. Why so? Because bleeding hearts (i.e., “liberals”) jump to conclusions about who’s “deserving” and who’s not. Further, they jump to conclusions about groups, not about individual persons, as if every member of an arbitrarily defined group had emerged from the same background, in every particular.

Slave owners jumped to the same conclusions about African Negroes. The all-powerful state — the state that can tax  X and give the money to Y — is the moral equivalent of a slave-owner. Taxation is a form of slavery.

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Related posts:
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists (Redux)

Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”

The “satirical and opinionated,” but well-read, Fred Reed poses some questions about evolution. He wisely asks John Derbyshire to answer them. In the absence of a response from Derbyshire, I will venture some answers, and then offer some general observations about evolution and two closely related subjects: culture and “diversity.” (The “sneer quotes” mean that “diversity,” as used by leftists, really means favoritism toward their clientele — currently blacks and Hispanics, especially illegal immigrants).

Herewith, Reed’s questions (abridged, in italics) and my answers:

(1) In evolutionary principle, traits that lead to more surviving children proliferate. In practice, when people learn how to have fewer or no children, they do…. [W]hat selective pressures lead to a desire not to reproduce, and how does this fit into a Darwinian framework?

As life becomes less fraught for homo sapiens, reproduction becomes less necessary. First, the ability of the species (and families) to survive and thrive becomes less dependent on sheer numbers and more dependent on technological advances. Second (and consequently), more couples are able to  trade the time and expense of child-rearing for what would have been luxuries in times past (e.g., a nicer home, bigger cars, more luxurious vacations, a more comfortable retirement).

As suggested by the second point, human behavior isn’t determined solely by genes; it has a strong cultural component. There is an interplay between genes and culture, as I’ll discuss, but culture can (and does) influence evolution. An emergent aspect of culture is an inverse relationship between the number of children and social status. Social status is enhanced by the acquisition and display of goods made affordable by limiting family size.

(2) Morality. In evolution as I understand it, there are no absolute moral values: Morals evolved as traits allowing social cooperation, conducing to the survival of the group and therefore to the production of more surviving children….

Question: Why should I not indulge my hobby of torturing to death the severely genetically retarded? This would seem beneficial. We certainly don’t want them to reproduce, they use resources better invested in healthy children, and it makes no evolutionary difference whether they die quietly or screaming.

Here Reed clearly (if tacitly) acknowledges the role of culture as a (but not the) determinant of behavior. Morals may “evolve,” but not in the same way as physiological characteristics. Morals may nevertheless influence the survival of a species, as Reed suggests. Morals may also influence biological evolution to the extent that selective mating favors those who adhere to a beneficial morality, and yields offspring who are genetically predisposed toward that morality.

Religion — especially religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition — fosters beneficial morality. This is from David Sloan Wilson‘s “Beyond Demonic Memes: Why Richard Dawkins Is Wrong about Religion” (eSkeptic.com, July 4, 2007):

On average, religious believers are more prosocial than non-believers, feel better about themselves, use their time more constructively, and engage in long-term planning rather than gratifying their impulsive desires. On a moment-by-moment basis, they report being more happy, active, sociable, involved and excited. Some of these differences remain even when religious and non-religious believers are matched for their degree of prosociality. More fine-grained comparisons reveal fascinating differences between liberal vs. conservative protestant denominations, with more anxiety among the liberals and conservatives feeling better in the company of others than when alone…

In Darwin’s Cathedral, I initiated a survey of religions drawn at random from the 16-volume Encyclopedia of World Religions, edited by the great religious scholar Mircia Eliade. The results are described in an article titled “Testing Major Evolutionary Hypotheses about Religion with a Random Sample,” which was published in the journal Human Nature and is available on my website. The beauty of random sampling is that, barring a freak sampling accident, valid conclusions for the sample apply to all of the religions in the encyclopedia from which the sample was taken. By my assessment, the majority of religions in the sample are centered on practical concerns, especially the definition of social groups and the regulation of social interactions within and between groups. New religious movements usually form when a constituency is not being well served by current social organizations (religious or secular) in practical terms and is better served by the new movement. The seemingly irrational and otherworldly elements of religions in the sample usually make excellent practical sense when judged by the only gold standard that matters from an evolutionary perspective — what they cause the religious believers to do.

What religions do (on the whole) is to cause their adherents to live more positive and productive lives, as Wilson notes in the first part of the quotation.

Despite the decline of religious observance in the West, most Westerners are still strongly influenced by the moral tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why? Because the observance of those traditions fosters beneficial cooperation, and beneficial cooperation fosters happiness and prosperity. (For a detailed exposition of this point, see “Religion and Liberty” in “Facets of Liberty.”)

Therefore, one answer to Reed’s rhetorical question — “Why should I not indulge my hobby of torturing to death the severely genetically retarded?” — is that such behavior doesn’t comport with Judeo-Christian morality. A second answer is that empathy causes most people eschew actions that cause suffering in others (except in the defense of self, kin, and country), and empathy may be a genetic (i.e. evolutionary) trait.

(3) Abiogenesis. This is not going to be a fair question as there is no way anyone can know the answer, but I pose it anyway. The theory, which I cannot refute, is that a living, metabolizing, reproducing gadget formed accidentally in the ancient seas. Perhaps it did. I wasn’t there. It seems to me, though, that the more complex one postulates the First Critter to have been, the less likely, probably exponentially so, it would have been to form. The less complex one postulates it to have been, the harder to explain why biochemistry, which these days is highly sophisticated, cannot reproduce the event. Question: How many years would have to pass without replication of the event, if indeed it be not replicated, before one might begin to suspect that it didn’t happen?

How many years? 250 million to 1 billion. That’s roughly the length of time between the formation of Earth and the beginning of life, according to current estimates. (See the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article about abiogenesis.) That could be plenty of time for untold billions of random interactions of matter to have produced a life form that could, with further development, reproduce and become more complex. But who knows? And even if someone in a lab somewhere happens to produce such a “critter,” it may well be different than Reed’s First Critter.

I certainly hew to the possibility that seems to lurk in Reed’s mind; namely, that the First Critter was the handiwork of the Creator, or at least came to be because of the physical laws established by the Creator. (See “Existence and Creation,” possibility 5.)

(4) … Straight-line evolution, for example in which Eohippus gradually gets larger until it reaches Clydesdale, is plausible because each intervening step is a viable animal. In fact this is just selective breeding. Yet many evolutionary transformations seem to require intermediate stages that could not survive.

For example there are two-cycle bugs (insects, arachnids) that lay eggs that hatch into tiny replicas of the adults, which grow, lay eggs, and repeat the cycle. The four-cycle bugs go through egg, larva, pupa, adult. Question: What are the viable steps needed to evolve from one to the other? Or from anything to four-cycle? …

Lacking the technical wherewithal requisite to a specific answer, I fall back on time — the billions of years encompassed in evolution.

(5) … Mr. Derbyshire believes strongly in genetic determinism—that we are what we are and behave as we do because of genetic programming….

… A physical (to include chemical) system cannot make decisions. All subsequent states of a physical system are determined by the initial state. So, if one accepts the electrochemical premise (which, again, seems to be correct) it follows that we do not believe things because they are true, but because we are predestined to believe them. Question: Does not genetic determinism (with which I have no disagreement) lead to a  paradox: that the thoughts we think we are thinking we only think to be thoughts when they are really utterly predetermined by the inexorable working of physics and chemistry?

This smacks of Cartesian dualism, the view that “there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material.” It seems to me easier to believe that the nervous system (with its focal point in the brain). It seems to me that experimental psychologists have amply document the links between brain activity (i.e., mental states) and behavior.

The real question is whether behavior is strictly determined by genes. The obvious answer is “no” because every instance of behavior is conditioned by immediate circumstances, which are not always (usually?) determined by the actor.

Further, free will is consistent with a purely physiological interpretation of behavioral decisions:

Suppose I think that I might want to eat some ice cream. I go to the freezer compartment and pull out an unopened half-gallon of vanilla ice cream and an unopened half-gallon of chocolate ice cream. I can’t decide between vanilla, chocolate, some of each, or none. I ask a friend to decide for me by using his random-number generator, according to rules of his creation. He chooses the following rules:

  • If the random number begins in an odd digit and ends in an odd digit, I will eat vanilla.
  • If the random number begins in an even digit and ends in an even digit, I will eat chocolate.
  • If the random number begins in an odd digit and ends in an even digit, I will eat some of each flavor.
  • If the random number begins in an even digit and ends in an odd digit, I will not eat ice cream.

Suppose that the number generated by my friend begins in an even digit and ends in an even digit: the choice is chocolate. I act accordingly.

I didn’t inevitably choose chocolate because of events that led to the present state of my body’s chemistry, which might otherwise have dictated my choice. That is, I broke any link between my past and my choice about a future action.

I call that free will.

I suspect that our brains are constructed in such a way as to produce the same kind of result in many situations, though certainly not in all situations. That is, we have within us the equivalent of an impartial friend and an (informed) decision-making routine, which together enable us to exercise something we can call free will.

My suspicion is well-founded. The brains of human beings are complex, and consist of many “centers” that perform different functions. That complexity enables self-awareness; a person may “stand back” from himself and view his actions critically. Human beings, in other words, aren’t simple machines that operate according hard-wired routines.

(6) … In principle, traits spread through a population because they lead to the having of greater numbers of children….

… Genes already exist in populations for extraordinary superiority of many sorts—for the intelligence of Stephen Hawking, the body of Mohammed Ali, for 20/5 vision, for the astonishing endurance in running of the Tarahumara Indians, and so on. To my unschooled understanding, these traits offer clear and substantial advantage in survival and reproduction, yet they do not become universal, or even common. The epicanthic fold does. Question: Why do seemingly trivial traits proliferate while clearly important ones do not?

First, survival depends on traits that are suited to the environment in which a group finds itself. Not all — or even most — challenges to survival demand the intelligence of a Hawking, the body of an Ali, etc. Further, cooperative groups find that acting together they possess high intelligence of a kind that’s suited to the group’s situation. Similarly, the strength of many is usually sufficient to overcome obstacles and meet challenges.

Second, mating isn’t driven entirely by a focus on particular traits — high intelligence, superior athletic ability, etc. Such traits therefore remain relatively rare unless they are essential to survival, which might explain the “astonishing endurance running of the Tarahumara Indians.”

(7) … Looking at the human body, I see many things that appear to have no relation to survival or more vigorous reproduction, and that indeed work against it, yet are universal in the species. For example, the kidneys contain the nervous tissue that makes kidney stones agonizingly painful, yet until recently the victim has been able to do nothing about them….

What is the reproductive advantage of crippling pain (migraines can be crippling) about which pre-recently, the sufferer could do nothing?

What is the reproductive advantage of Tay-Sachs disease, which is found disproportionately among Ashkenazi Jews? Here is a reasonable hypothesis:

Gregory Cochran proposes that the mutant alleles causing Tay–Sachs confer higher intelligence when present in carrier form, and provided a selective advantage in the historical period when Jews were restricted to intellectual occupations.[9][10] Peter Frost argues for a similar heterozygote advantage for mutant alleles being responsible for the prevalence of Tay Sachs disease in Eastern Quebec.[11]

In sum, the bad sometimes goes with the good. That’s just the way evolution is. In the case of migraines, it may be that those who are prone to them are also in some way attractive as mates. Who knows? But if every genetic disadvantage worked against survival, human beings would have become extinct long ago.

(8) Finally, the supernatural. Unfairly, as it turned out, in regard to religion I had expected Mr. Derbyshire to strike the standard “Look at me, I’m an atheist, how advanced I am” pose. I was wrong. In fact he says that he believes in a God. (Asked directly, he responded, “Yes, to my own satisfaction, though not necessarily to yours.”) His views are reasoned, intellectually modest, and, though I am not a believer, I see nothing with which to quarrel, though for present purposes this is neither here nor there. Question: If one believes in or suspects the existence of God or gods, how does one exclude the possibility that He, She, or It meddles in the universe—directing evolution, for example?

A belief in gods would seem to leave the door open to Intelligent Design, the belief that the intricacies of life came about not by accident but were crafted by Somebody or Something. The view, anathema in evolutionary circles, is usually regarded as emanating from Christianity, and usually does….

In the piece by Derbyshire to which Reed links, Derbyshire writes:

I belong to the 16 percent of Americans who, in the classification used for a recent survey, believe in a “Critical God.”… He is the Creator….

I am of the same persuasion, though Derbyshire and I may differ in our conception of God’s role in the Universe:

1. There is necessarily a creator of the universe [see this], which comprises all that exists in “nature.”

2. The creator is not part of nature; that is, he stands apart from his creation and is neither of its substance nor governed by its laws. (I use “he” as a term of convenience, not to suggest that the creator is some kind of human or animate being, as we know such beings.)

3. The creator designed the universe, if not in detail then in its parameters. The parameters are what we know as matter-energy (substance) and its various forms, motions, and combinations (the laws that govern the behavior of matter-energy).

4. The parameters determine everything that is possible in the universe. But they do not necessarily dictate precisely the unfolding of events in the universe. Randomness and free will are evidently part of the creator’s design.

5. The human mind and its ability to “do science” — to comprehend the laws of nature through observation and calculation — are artifacts of the creator’s design.

6. Two things probably cannot be known through science: the creator’s involvement in the unfolding of natural events; the essential character of the substance on which the laws of nature operate.

Points 3 and 4 say as much as I am willing to say about Intelligent Design.

I turn now to the interaction of culture and biological evolution, which figures in my answers to several of Reed’s questions. Consider this, from an article by evolutionary psychologist Joseph Henrich (“A Cultural Species: How Culture Drove Human Evolution,” Psychological Science Agenda, American Psychological Association, November 2011; citations omitted):

Once a species is sufficiently reliant on learning from others for at least some aspects of its behavioral repertoire, cultural evolutionary processes can arise, and these processes can alter the environment faced by natural selection acting on genes….

Models of cumulative cultural evolution suggest two important, and perhaps non-intuitive, features of our species. First, our ecological success, technology, and adaptation to diverse environments is not due to our intelligence. Alone and stripped of our culture, we are hopeless as a species. Cumulative cultural evolution has delivered both our fancy technologies as well as the subtle and unconscious ways that humans have adapted their behavior and thinking to tackle environmental challenges. The smartest among us could not in a single lifetime devise even a small fraction of the techniques and technologies that allow any foraging society to survive. Second, the available formal models make clear that the effectiveness of this cumulative cultural evolutionary process depends crucially on the size and interconnectedness of our populations and social networks. It’s the ability to freely exchange information that sparks and accelerates adaptive cultural evolution, and creates innovation…. Sustaining complex technologies depends on maintaining a large and well-interconnected population of minds.

…In the case of ethnic groups, for example, such models explore how genes and culture coevolve. This shows how cultural evolution will, under a wide range of conditions, create a landscape in which different social groups tend to share both similar behavioral expectations and similar arbitrary “ethnic markers” (like dialect or language). In the wake of this culturally constructed world, genes evolve to create minds that are inclined to preferentially interact with and imitate those who share their markers. This guarantees that individuals most effectively coordinate with those who share their culturally learned behavioral expectations (say about marriage or child rearing). These purely theoretical predictions were subsequently confirmed by experiments with both children and adults.

This approach also suggests that cultural evolution readily gives rise to social norms, as long as learners can culturally acquire the standards by which they judge others. Many models robustly demonstrate that cultural evolution can sustain almost any behavior or preference that is common in a population (including cooperation), if it is not too costly. This suggests that different groups will end up with different norms and begin to compete with each other. Competition among groups with different norms will favor those particular norms that lead to success in intergroup competition. My collaborators and I have argued that cultural group selection has shaped the cultural practices, institutions, beliefs and psychologies that are common in the world today, including those associated with anonymous markets, prosocial religions with big moralizing gods, and monogamous marriage. Each of these cultural packages, which have emerged relatively recently in human history, impacts our psychology and behavior. Priming “markets” and “God”, for example, increase trust and giving (respectively) in behavioral experiments, though “God primes” only work on theists. Such research avenues hold the promise of explaining, rather than merely documenting, the patterns of psychological variation observed across human populations.

The cultural evolution of norms over tens or hundreds of thousands of years, and their shaping by cultural group selection, may have driven genetic evolution to create a suite of cognitive adaptations we call norm psychology. This aspect of our evolved psychology emerged and coevolved in response to cultural evolution’s production of norms. This suite facilitates, among other things, our identification and learning of social norms, our expectation of sanctions for norm violations, and our ability to internalize normative behavior as motivations….

Biological evolution continues, and with it, cultural evolution. But there are some “constants” that seem to remain embedded in the norms of most cultural-genetic groups. Among them, moral codes that exclude gratuitous torture of innocent children, a belief in God, and status-consciousness (which, for example, reinforces a diminished need to reproduce for survival of the species).

Henrich hits upon one of the reasons — perhaps the main reason — why efforts to integrate various biological-cultural groups under the banner of “diversity” are doomed to failure:

[G]enes evolve to create minds that are inclined to preferentially interact with and imitate those who share their markers. This guarantees that individuals most effectively coordinate with those who share their culturally learned behavioral expectations (say about marriage or child rearing).

As I say here,

genetic kinship will always be a strong binding force, even where the kinship is primarily racial. Racial kinship boundaries, by the way, are not always and necessarily the broad ones suggested by the classic trichotomy of Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid. (If you want to read for yourself about the long, convoluted, diffuse, and still controversial evolutionary chains that eventuated in the sub-species homo sapiens sapiens, to which all humans are assigned arbitrarily, without regard for their distinctive differences, begin here, here, here, and here.)

The obverse of of genetic kinship is “diversity,” which often is touted as a good thing by anti-tribalist social engineers. But “diversity” is not a good thing when it comes to social bonding.

At that point, I turn to an article by Michael Jonas about a study by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“:

It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings….

…Putnam’s work adds to a growing body of research indicating that more diverse populations seem to extend themselves less on behalf of collective needs and goals….

(That’s from Jonas’s article, “The Downside of diversity,” The Boston Globe (boston.com), August 5, 2007. See this post for more about genetic kinship and “diversity.”)

In a later post, I add this:

Yes, human beings are social animals, but human beings are not “brothers under the skin,” and there is no use in pretending that we are. Trying to make us so, by governmental fiat, isn’t only futile but also wasteful and harmful. The futility of forced socialization is as true of the United States — a vast and varied collection of races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures — as it is of the world.

Despite the blatant reality of America’s irreconcilable diversity, American increasingly are being forced to lead their lives according to the dictates of the central government. Some apologists for this state of affairs will refer to the “common good,” which is a fiction that I address in [“Modern Utilitarianism,” “The Social Welfare Function,” and “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty”].

Human beings, for the most part, may be bigger, stronger, and healthier than ever, but their physical progress depends heavily on technology, and would be reversed by a cataclysm that disables technology. Further, technologically based prosperity masks moral squalor. Strip away that prosperity, and the West would look like the warring regions of Central and South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia: racial and ethnic war without end. Much of urban and suburban America — outside affluent, well-guarded, and mostly “liberal” enclaves — would look like Ferguson.

Human beings are not “brothers under the skin,” and no amount of wishful thinking or forced integration can make us so. That is the lesson to be learned from biological and cultural evolution, which makes human beings different — perhaps irreconcilably so — but not necessarily better.

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Related posts:
Diversity
Crime, Explained
Society and the State
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
“Conversing” about Race
The Fallacy of Human Progress
“We the People” and Big Government
Evolution and Race
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government

The States and the Constitution

The Constitution of the United States is preceded by a famous preamble, which begins with the more-famous phrase, “We the People.” The phrase signifies nothing more than sheer presumption on the part of the signatories to the Constitution. They were not “the people”; they were delegates from 12 of the 13 States who took it upon themselves to draft a new constitution rather than propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation.

Among the myths surrounding the Constitution is one that goes like this: The Constitution became a document of “the people” when it was ratified by delegates to ratification conventions that were held in the various States. I have elsewhere exposed the emptiness of this claim:

1. The Constitution was a contract, but not a contract between “the people.” It was a contract drawn by a small fraction of the populace of twelve States, and put into effect by a small fraction of the populace of nine States. Its purpose, in good part, was to promote the interests of many of the Framers, who cloaked those interests in the glowing rhetoric of the Preamble (“We the People,” etc.). The other four of the original thirteen States could have remained beyond the reach of the Constitution, and would have done so but for the ratifying acts of small fractions of their populations. (With the exception of Texas, formerly a sovereign republic, States later admitted weren’t independent entities, but were carved out of territory controlled by the government of the United States. Figuratively, they were admitted to the union at the point of a gun.)

2. Despite their status as “representatives of the people,” the various fractions of the populace that drafted and ratified the Constitution had no moral authority to bind all of their peers, and certainly no moral authority to bind future generations….

In the same post I counsel a cynical view of the Constitution:

4. The Constitution contains provisions that can be and sometimes have been applied to advance liberty. But such applications have depended on the aims and whims of those then in positions of power.

5. It is convenient to appeal to the Constitution in the cause of liberty, as Spooner did, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Constitution was not and never will be a law enacted by “the people” of the United States or any State thereof.

6. Any person and any government in the United States may therefore, in principle, reject the statutes, executive orders, and judicial holdings of the United States government (or any government) as non-binding….

The Constitution may be a legal fiction, but — as I’ve said — it’s a useful fiction when its promises of liberty can be redeemed.

Nevertheless, it irritates me when I read claims that the Constitution is somehow a creature of “the people” at the time of its adoption. If the Constitution had any legal standing at the time of its adoption, it stood as a contract among the governments of the ratifying States. As I say here:

The Constitution of the United States was born as a contract among nine States. Each of the nine States was authorized to join the new union by a convention of “the people” of their State.

In joining the new union, [the governments and some of] the people of nine States voluntarily created the central government and, at the same time, voluntarily granted certain, limited powers to it…. State subsequently admitted to the union has entered into the same contract with the central government.

Here, for example, is Timothy Sandefur, waxing romantic:

These sources [the writings of several Framers of the original Constiution] reveal how well understood was the central fact that the Constitution was a government of the whole people of the United States, not a league or treaty of states in their corporate capacities, as the compact theory would have it.

That passage is lifted from a paper to which Sandefur refers in this post. Ironically, in the same post Sandefur defers to Lysander Spooner, who disdained the idea that the Constitution was a creature of the “whole people.” In fact, Spooner explicitly characterized the Constitution as a compact (i.e., contract), but one that could bind only those who subscribed to it at the time of its adoption. Spooner saw the Constitution as a useful legal instrument to be wielded against slavery. It was Spooner’s cynicism that inspired my own view of the Constitution as a convenient tool for the advancement of liberty.

Now, to scratch the irritating itch: the claim that the Constitution is something more than a compact between the States.

How could it be anything more, when Article VII of the Constitution leads with this?

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

James Madison, in a letter to Daniel Webster dated March 15, 1833, addresses

the question whether the Constitution of the U.S. was formed by the people or by the States, now under a theoretic discussion by animated partizans.

Madison continues:

It is fortunate when disputed theories, can be decided by undisputed facts. And here the undisputed fact is, that the Constitution was made by the people, but as imbodied into the several states, who were parties to it and therefore made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity…. [emphasis added]

Moving closer in time to the ratification of the Constitution, this is from Madison’s report on the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, a report that was adopted by the General Assembly of Virginia in January 1800:

The third resolution is in the words following:–

“That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact to which the states are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact–as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that, in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose, for arresting the progress of the evil and for maintaining, within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties, appertaining to them.”…

The resolution declares, first, that “it views the powers of the federal government as resulting from the compact to which the states are parties;” in other words, that the federal powers are derived from the Constitution; and that the Constitution is a compact to which the states are parties….

The other position involved in this branch of the resolution, namely, “that the states are parties to the Constitution,” or compact, is, in the judgment of the committee, equally free from objection…. [I]n that sense the Constitution was submitted to the “states;” in that sense the “states” ratified it; and in that sense of the term “states,” they are consequently parties to the compact from which the powers of the federal government result….

The Constitution of the United States was formed by the sanction of the states, given by each in its sovereign capacity…. [emphasis added]

Finally, in The Federalist No. 39, which informed the debates in the various States about ratification,  Madison says that

the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves….

That it will be a federal and not a national act, as these terms are understood by the objectors; the act of the people, as forming so many independent States, not as forming one aggregate nation, is obvious from this single consideration, that it is to result neither from the decision of a majority of the people of the Union, nor from that of a majority of the States. It must result from the unanimous assent of the several States that are parties to it, differing no otherwise from their ordinary assent than in its being expressed, not by the legislative authority, but by that of the people themselves. Were the people regarded in this transaction as forming one nation, the will of the majority of the whole people of the United States would bind the minority, in the same manner as the majority in each State must bind the minority; and the will of the majority must be determined either by a comparison of the individual votes, or by considering the will of the majority of the States as evidence of the will of a majority of the people of the United States. Neither of these rules have been adopted. Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act…. [emphasis added]

Given the foregoing, I conclude that as a matter of law:

  • The Constitution is a contract between the States.
  • Through the Constitution, the federal government is the creature of the States.
  • The States may, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, modify and withdraw from the federal government any powers granted to it, and any powers that it has arrogated to itself despite the limitations of the Constitution.

A key provision is found in Article V:

…[O]n the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, [Congress] shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which … shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress….

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), who will soon retire, plans to push hard for an Article V convention: “Coburn has been in contact with Michael Farris, the chancellor of Patrick Henry College, and Mark Meckler, the president of Citizens for Self Governance, who are leading a push for a convention of the States.” For more information about the effort, visit the website of Citizens for Self Governance, sign up for e-mail updates, and donate to the cause if you can.

An Article V convention isn’t the only possible way to rein in our lawless federal government. I discuss several options here.

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Related reading:
Thomas H. Neale, The Article V Convention to Propose Amendments to the Constitution: Contemporary Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, April 11, 2014
Robert Berry, “Article V Movement Gathers Steam, Critics Seethe,” American Thinker, April 27, 2014
Donald W. Livingston, “Lincoln’s Inversion of the American Union,” The Imaginative Conservative,  August 12, 2014
Tenth Amendment Center, The State of the Nullification Movement, 2014

Related posts:
Who Are the Parties to the Constitutional Contract?
How to Think about Secession
Secession
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Re-Forming the United States
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession, Anyone?
Secession for All Seasons
A New Constitution for a New Republic
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
“We the People” and Big Government
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution

Election 2014: E-Day Minus 60

UPDATED HERE.

In 2010 the GOP candidates for the House of Representatives garnered 53.4 percent of the two-party popular vote. As a result, the GOP gained 64 House seats. That showing was echoed in the Senate, where the GOP gained 6 seats.

What’s the prognosis for 2014? It’s 60 days before the election, so it’s too soon to tell for sure. But I’ve concocted some indicators that I’ll update as election day approaches. They’re based on the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval. Obama’s overall approval rating for 2014 is on a par with his overall approval rating for 2010, which is a good sign for the GOP. Obama’s strong approval rating is running well below the pace of four years ago, which is a very good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

Obama’s overall approve/disapprove ratio is about the same as it was in the runup to the 2010 election, but Obama is faring worse this time around with respect to strong approve/disapprove, enthusiasm, and Obamacare. As of now, the indicators herald a repetition of the GOP’s resounding victory in the 2010 mid-term election. As of now, I expect the GOP to claim a 50-seat majority in the House and control of the Senate (if only by 51-49).