Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

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Jeremy Egerer says this “In Defense of a Beautiful Boss” (American Thinker, February 8, 2015):

Leftists have been waging a war against nearly every personal advantage for years: if they aren’t upset because your parents are rich, they’ll insult you because your parents are white, or maybe because you have a penis.  In their most unreasonable moments, they might even be upset that you deserve your own job.  It seems only reasonable to expect that sooner or later, they would be complaining about whether or not our bosses keep themselves in shape.

This is because at the heart of all leftism lies an unreasonable envy of all advantage (disguised as an advocacy of the disadvantaged) and an unhealthy hatred of actual diversity (disguised as an appreciation of difference).  They call life a meritocracy when your successful parents raise you to win, which is a lot like complaining that your parents raised you at all.  It’s almost enough to make you wonder whether they loathe the laws of cause and effect.  In the fight against all odds – not his, but everyone’s – the leftist hasn’t only forgotten that different people breed different people; he’s forgotten that different people are diversity itself, and that diversity, the thing he claims to be championing, means that someone is going to have natural advantages.

Spot on. I have addressed the left’s war on “lookism” in “How to Combat Beauty-ism” and “An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly.”

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John Ray tackles “Conservative and Liberal Brains Again” (A Western Heart, February 14, 2015):

Most such reports [Current Biology 21, 677–680, April 26, 2011 ª2011. DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017] are … parsimoniously interpreted as conservatives being more cautious, which is hardly a discovery. And if there is something wrong with caution then there is everything wrong with a lot of things.  Science, for instance, is a sustained exercise in caution. So conservatives are born more cautious and Leftist brains miss most of that out.  So [a commentary that conservatives are] “sensitive to fear” … could be equally well restated as “cautious”.  And the finding that liberals “have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts” is pure guesswork [on the part of the commentators].  As the report authors note, that is just “one of the functions of the anterior cingulate cortex”.

Despite the apparent even-handedness of the authors of the study cited by Dr. Ray, the field of psychology has long had a pro-left tilt. See, for example, my posts “Conservatism, Libertarianism, and the ‘Authoritarian Personality’,” “The F Scale, Revisited,” and “The Psychologist Who Played God.”

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Income inequality is another item in the long list of subjects about which leftists obsess, despite the facts of the matter. Mark J. Perry, as usual, deals in facts: “US Middle Class Has Disappeared into Higher-Income Groups; Recent Stagnation Explained by Changing Household Demographics?” (AEI.org, February 4, 2015) and “Evidence Shows That Affluence in the US Is Much More Fluid and Widespread Than The Rigid Class Structure Narrative Suggests” (AEI.org, February 25, 2015). The only problem with these two posts is Perry’s unnecessary inclusion of a question mark in the title of the first one. For more on the subject, plus long lists of related posts and readings, see my post, “Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes.”

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Speaking of leftists who obsess about income inequality — and get it wrong — there’s Thomas Piketty, author of the much-rebutted Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I have much to say about Deidre McCloskey’s take-down of Piketty in “McCloskey on Piketty.” David Henderson, whose review of Capital is among the several related readings listed in my post, has more to say; for example:

McCloskey’s review is a masterpiece. She beautifully weaves together economic history, simple price theory, basic moral philosophy, and history of economic thought. Whereas I had mentally put aside an hour to read and think, it took only about 20 minutes. I highly recommend it. (“McCloskey on Piketty,” EconLog, February 25, 2015)

Henderson continues by sampling some of Piketty’s many errors of fact, logic, and economic theory that McCloskey exposes.

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Although it won’t matter to committed leftists, Piketty seems to have taken some of this critics to heart. James Pethokoukis writes:

[I]n a new paper, Piketty takes a step or two backward. He now denies that he views his simple economic formula “as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century, or for forecasting the path of income and wealth inequality in the 21st century.” Seems his fundamental law isn’t so fundamental after all once you factor in things like how some of that wealth is (a) spent on super-yachts and bad investments; (b) divided among children through the generations; and (c) already taxed fairly heavily. In particular, the rise in income inequality, as opposed to wealth inequality, has “little to do” with “r > g,” he says….

Piketty’s modest retreat isn’t all that surprising, given the withering academic assault on his research. In a survey of top economists late last year, 81 percent disagreed with his thesis. And several used fairly rough language — at least for scholars — such as “weak” and not “particularly useful,” with one accusing Piketty of “poor theory” and “negligible empirics.”

This is all rather bad news for what I have termed the Unified Economic Theory of Modern Liberalism: Not only are the rich getting richer — and will continue to do so because, you know, capitalism — but this growing gap is hurting economic growth. Redistribution must commence, tout de suite!

But Piketty’s clarification isn’t this politically convenient theory’s only problem. The part about inequality and growth has also suffered a setback. The link between the two is a key part of the “secular stagnation” theory of superstar Democratic economist Lawrence Summers. Since the rich save more than the middle class, growing income inequality is sapping the economy of consumer demand. So government must tax more and spend more. But Summers recently offered an updated view, saying that while boosting consumer demand is necessary, it is not sufficient for strong economic growth. Washington must also do the sort of “supply-side” stuff that Republicans kvetch about, such as business tax reform.

…[C]oncern about the income gap shouldn’t be used an excuse to ignore America’s real top problem, a possible permanent downshift in the growth potential of the U.S. economy. At least Piketty got half his equation right. [“The Politically Convenient but Largely Bogus Unified Economic Theory of Modern Liberalism,” The Week, March 11, 2015]

About that bogus inequality-hurts-growth meme, see my post, “Income Inequality and Economic Growth.”

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Harvard’s Robert Putnam is another class warrior, whose propagandistic effusion “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“ I skewer in “Society and the State” and “Genetic Kinship and Society.” I was therefore gratified to read in Henry Harpending’s post, “Charles Murray and Robert Putnam on Class” (West Hunter, March 20, 2015) some things said by John Derbyshire about Putnam’s paper:

That paper has a very curious structure. After a brief introduction (two pages), there are three main sections, headed as follows:

The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

I’ve had some mild amusement here at my desk trying to think up imaginary research papers similarly structured. One for publication in a health journal, perhaps, with three sections titled:

Health benefits of drinking green tea
Green tea causes intestinal cancer
Making the switch to green tea

Social science research in our universities cries out for a modern Jonathan Swift to lampoon its absurdities.

Amen.

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Putnam is a big booster of “diversity,” which — in the left’s interpretation — doesn’t mean diversity of political, social, and economic views. What it means is the forced association of persons of irreconcilably opposed social norms. I say some things about that in “Society and the State” and “Genetic Kinship and Society.” Fred Reed has much more to say in a recent column:

In Ferguson blacks are shooting policemen as others cheer. It does a curmudgeon’s soul good: Everything gets worse, the collapse continues, and unreasoning stupidity goes thundering into the future.

We will hear I suppose that it wasn’t racial, that teens did it, that discrimination  caused it, white privilege, racism, institutional racism, slavery, colonialism, bigots, Southerners, rednecks—everything but the hatred of blacks for whites.

And thus we will avoid the unavoidable, that racial relations are a disaster, will remain a disaster, will get worse, are getting worse, and will lead to some awful denouement no matter how much we lie, preen, vituperate, chatter like Barbary apes, or admire ourselves.

It isn’t working. There is no sign that it ever will. What now?

The only solution, if there is a solution, would seem to be an amicable separation. This methinks would be greatly better than the slow-motion, intensifying racial war we now see, and pretend not to see. When the races mix, there is trouble. So, don’t mix them….

The racial hostility of blacks for whites can be seen elsewhere, for example in targeting of crime, most starkly in interracial rates of rape…. The numbers on rape, almost entirely black on white, also check out as cold fact… This has been analyzed to death, and ignored to death, but perhaps the most readable account is Jim Goad’s For Whom the Cat Calls (the numbers of note come below the ads).

Even without the (inevitable) racial hostility, togetherheid would not work well. The races have little or nothing in common. They do not want the same things. Whites come from a literate European tradition dating at least from the Iliad in 800 BC, a tradition characterized by literature, mathematics, architecture, philosophy, and the sciences. Africa, having a very different social traditions, was barely touched by this, and today blacks still show little interest. Even in the degenerate America of today, whites put far more emphasis on education than do blacks.

The media paint the problems of blacks as consequent to discrimination, but they clearly are not. If blacks in white schools wanted to do the work, or could, whites would applaud. If in black schools they demanded thicker textbooks with bigger words and smaller pictures, no white would refuse. The illiteracy, the very high rates of illegitimacy, the crime in general, the constant killing of young black men by young black men in particular—whites do not do these. They are either genetic, and irremediable, or cultural, and remediable, if at all, only in the very long run. We live in the short run.

Would it then not be reasonable to encourage a voluntary segregation? Having only black policemen in black regions would slow the burning of cities. If we let people live among their own, let them study what they chose to study, let them police themselves and order their schools as they chose, considerable calm would fall over the country.

If the races had the choice of running their own lives apart, they would. If this is not true, why do we have to spend such effort trying to force them together?

It is a great fallacy to think that because we ought to love one another, we will; or that because bloodshed among groups makes no sense, it won’t happen. The disparate seldom get along, whether Tamils and Sinhalese or Hindus and Moslems or Protestants and Catholics or Jews and Palestinians. The greater the cultural and genetic difference, the greater the likelihood and intensity of conflict. Blacks and whites are very, very different….

Separation does not imply disadvantage. The assertion that “separate is inherently unequal” is a catchiphrastic embodiment of the Supreme Court’s characteristic blowing in the political wind. A college for girls is not inherently inferior to a college for boys, nor a yeshiva for Jews inherently inferior to a parish school for Catholics. And maybe it is the business of girls and boys, Catholics and Jews, to decide what and where they want to study—not the government’s business….

Anger hangs over the country. Not everyone white is a professor or collegiate sophomore or network anchor. Not every white—not by a long shot—in Congress or the federal bureaucracy is a Mother Jones liberal, not in private conversation. They say aloud what they have to say. But in the Great Plains and small-town South, in corner bars in Chicago and Denver, in the black enclaves of the cities, a lot of people are ready to rumble. Read the comments section of the St. Louis papers after the riots. We can call the commenters whatever names we choose but when we finish, they will still be there. The shooting of policemen for racial reasons–at least four to date–is not a good sign. We will do nothing about it but chatter. [“The Symptoms Worsen,” Fred on Everything, March 15, 2015]

See also Reed’s column “Diversity: Koom. Bah. Humbug” (January 13, 2015) and my posts, “Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications,” “The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln.”, “‘Conversing’ about Race,” “‘Wading’ into Race, Culture, and IQ,” “Round Up the Usual Suspects,”and “Evolution, Culture, and ‘Diversity’.”

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In “The Fallacy of Human Progress” I address at length the thesis of Steven Pinker’s ludicrous The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In rebuttal to Pinker, I cite John Gray, author of The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths:

Gray’s book — published  18 months after Better Angels — could be read as a refutation of Pinker’s book, though Gray doesn’t mention Pinker or his book.

Well, Gray recently published a refutation of Pinker’s book, which I can’t resist quoting at length:

The Better Angels of Our Nature: a history of violence and humanity (2011) has not only been an international bestseller – more than a thousand pages long and containing a formidable array of graphs and statistics, the book has established something akin to a contemporary orthodoxy. It is now not uncommon to find it stated, as though it were a matter of fact, that human beings are becoming less violent and more altruistic. Ranging freely from human pre-history to the present day, Pinker presents his case with voluminous erudition. Part of his argument consists in showing that the past was more violent than we tend to imagine…. This “civilising process” – a term Pinker borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias – has come about largely as a result of the increasing power of the state, which in the most advanced countries has secured a near-monopoly of force. Other causes of the decline in violence include the invention of printing, the empowerment of women, enhanced powers of reasoning and expanding capacities for empathy in modern populations, and the growing influence of Enlightenment ideals….

Another proponent of the Long Peace is the well-known utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, who has praised The Better Angels of Our Nature as “a supremely important book … a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline.” In a forthcoming book, The Most Good You Can Do, Singer describes altruism as “an emerging movement” with the potential to fundamentally alter the way humans live….

Among the causes of the outbreak of altruism, Pinker and Singer attach particular importance to the ascendancy of Enlightenment thinking….

…Pinker’s response when confronted with [contrary] evidence is to define the dark side of the Enlightenment out of existence. How could a philosophy of reason and toleration be implicated in mass murder? The cause can only be the sinister influence of counter-Enlightenment ideas….

The picture of declining violence presented by this new orthodoxy is not all it seems to be. As some critics, notably John Arquilla, have pointed out, it’s a mistake to focus too heavily on declining fatalities on the battlefield….

If great powers have avoided direct armed conflict, they have fought one another in many proxy wars. Neocolonial warfare in south-east Asia, the Korean war and the Chinese invasion of Tibet, British counter-insurgency warfare in Malaya and Kenya, the abortive Franco-British invasion of Suez, the Angolan civil war, the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, the Vietnam war, the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf war, covert intervention in the Balkans and the Caucasus, the invasion of Iraq, the use of airpower in Libya, military aid to insurgents in Syria, Russian cyber-attacks in the Baltic states and the proxy war between the US and Russia that is being waged in Ukraine – these are only some of the contexts in which great powers have been involved in continuous warfare against each other while avoiding direct military conflict.

While it is true that war has changed, it has not become less destructive. Rather than a contest between well-organised states that can at some point negotiate peace, it is now more often a many-sided conflict in fractured or collapsed states that no one has the power to end….

It may be true that the modern state’s monopoly of force has led, in some contexts, to declining rates of violent death. But it is also true that the power of the modern state has been used for purposes of mass killing, and one should not pass too quickly over victims of state terror…. Pinker goes so far as to suggest that the 20th-century Hemoclysm might have been a gigantic statistical fluke, and cautions that any history of the last century that represents it as having been especially violent may be “apt to exaggerate the narrative coherence of this history” (the italics are Pinker’s). However, there is an equal or greater risk in abandoning a coherent and truthful narrative of the violence of the last century for the sake of a spurious quantitative precision….

While the seeming exactitude of statistics may be compelling, much of the human cost of war is incalculable…. [T]he statistics presented by those who celebrate the arrival of the Long Peace are morally dubious if not meaningless.

The radically contingent nature of the figures is another reason for not taking them too seriously. (For a critique of Pinker’s statistical methods, see Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay on the Long Peace.)…

Certainly the figures used by Pinker and others are murky, leaving a vast range of casualties of violence unaccounted for. But the value of these numbers for such thinkers comes from their very opacity. Like the obsidian mirrors made by the Aztecs for purposes of divination, these rows of graphs and numbers contain nebulous images of the future – visions that by their very indistinctness can give comfort to believers in human improvement….

Unable to tolerate the prospect that the cycles of conflict will continue, many are anxious to find continuing improvement in the human lot. Who can fail to sympathise with them? Lacking any deeper faith and incapable of living with doubt, it is only natural that believers in reason should turn to the sorcery of numbers. How else can they find meaning in their lives? [“John Gray: Steven Pinker Is Wrong about Violence and War,” The Guardian, March 13, 2015]

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I close this super-sized installment of “Thoughts” by returning to the subject of so-called net neutrality, which I addressed almost nine years ago in “Why ‘Net Neutrality’ Is a Bad Idea.” Now it’s a bad idea that the FCC has imposed on ISPs and their customers — until, one hopes, it’s rejected by the Supreme Court as yet another case of Obamanomic overreach.

As Robert Tracinski notes,

[b]illionaire investor Mark Cuban recently commented, about a push for new regulations on the Internet, that “In my adult life I have never seen a situation that paralleled what I read in Ayn Rand’s books until now with Net Neutrality.” He continued, “If Ayn Rand were an up-and-coming author today, she wouldn’t write about steel or railroads, it would be Net Neutrality.”

She certainly would, but if he thinks this is the first time real life has imitated Ayn Rand’s fiction, he needs to be paying a little more attention. Atlas has been shrugging for a long, long time. [“Net Neutrality: Yes, Mark Cuban, Atlas Is Shrugging,” The Federalist, March 18, 2015]

The rest of the story is outlined by the headings in Tracinski’s article:

The Relationship Between Net Neutrality and Atlas Shrugged

Internet Execs Are Already Uncomfortable with the Net Neutrality They Demanded

The Parallels Extend Into Fracking

Government Shuts Down Any Runaway Success

Atlas Shrugged Is Coming True Before Our Eyes

As I did in my post, Julian Adorney focuses on the economics of net neutrality:

After a number of false starts and under pressure from the White House, the FCC gave in and voted to regulate the Internet as a public utility in order to ban such practices, thus saving the Internet from a variety of boogeymen.

This is a tempting narrative. It has conflict, villains, heroes, and even a happy ending. There’s only one problem: it’s a fairy tale. Such mischief has been legal for decades, and ISPs have almost never behaved this way. Any ISP that created “slow lanes” or blocked content to consumers would be hurting its own bottom line. ISPs make money by seeking to satisfy consumers, not by antagonizing them.

There are two reasons that ISPs have to work to satisfy their customers. First, every company needs repeat business….

For Internet service providers, getting new business is expensive…. Satisfying customers so that they continue subscribing is cheaper, easier, and more profitable than continually replacing them. ISPs’ self-interest pushes them to add value to their customers just to keep them from jumping ship to their competitors.

In fact, this is what we’ve seen. ISPs have invested heavily in new infrastructure, and Internet speeds have increased by leaps and bounds…. These faster speeds have not been limited to big corporate customers: ISPs have routinely improved their services to regular consumers. They didn’t do so because the FCC forced them. For the past twenty years, “slow lanes” have been perfectly legal and almost as perfectly imaginary….

…ISPs shy away from creating slow lanes not because they have to but because they have a vested interest in offering fast service to all customers.

Contrary to the myth about ISPs being localized monopolies, 80 percent of Americans live in markets with access to multiple high-speed ISPs. While expensive regulations can discourage new players from entering the market, competition in most cities is increasingly robust….

ISPs still have to compete with each other for customers. If one ISP sticks them in the slow lane or blocks access to certain sites — or even just refuses to upgrade its service — consumers can simply switch to a competitor.

The second reason that ISPs seek to satisfy customers is that every business wants positive word of mouth. Consumers who receive excellent service talk up the service to their friends, generating new sign-ups. Consumers who receive mediocre service not only leave but badmouth the company to everyone they know.

In fact, this happened in one of the few cases where an ISP chose to discriminate against content. When Verizon blocked text messages from a pro-choice activist group in 2007, claiming the right to block “controversial or unsavory” messages, the backlash was fierce. Consumer Affairs notes that, “after a flurry of criticism, Verizon reversed its policy” on the pro-choice texts. The decision may have been ideological, but more likely Verizon reversed a policy that was driving away consumers, generating bad press, and hurting its bottom line.

In 2010, an FCC order made such “unreasonable discrimination” illegal (until the rule was struck down in 2014), but even without this rule, consumers proved more than capable of standing up to big corporations and handling such discrimination themselves.

In competitive markets, the consumer’s demand for quality prevents companies from cutting corners. Before the FCC imposed public utility regulations on the Internet, ISPs were improving service and abandoning discriminatory practices in order to satisfy their users. Net Neutrality advocates have spent years demanding a government solution to a problem that  markets had already solved. [“Net Nonsense,” The Freeman, March 18, 2015]

Amen, again.