The IQ of Nations

In a twelve-year-old post, “The Main Causes of Prosperity,” I drew on statistics (sourced and described in the post) to find a statistically significant relationship between a nation’s real, per-capita GDP and three variables:

Y =  – 23,518 + 2,316L – 259T  + 253I

Where,
Y = GDP in 1998 dollars (U.S.)
L = Index for rule of law
T = Index for mean tariff rate
I = Verbal IQ

The r-squared of the regression equation is 0.89 and the p-values for the intercept and independent variables are 8.52E-07, 4.70E-10, 1.72E-04, and 3.96E-05.

The effect of IQ, by itself, is strong enough to merit a place of honor:

per-capita-gdp-and-average-verbal-iq

Another relationship struck me when I revisited the IQ numbers. There seems to be a strong correlation between IQ and distance from the equator. That correlation, however, may be an artifact of the strong (negative) correlation between blackness and IQ: The countries whose citizens are predominantly black are generally closer to the equator than the countries whose citizens are predominantly of other races.

Because of the strong (negative) correlation between blackness and IQ, and the geographic grouping of predominantly black countries, it’s not possible to find a statistically significant regression equation that accounts for national IQ as a function of the distance of nations from the equator and their dominant racial composition.

The most significant regression equation omits distance from the equator and admits race:

I = 84.0 – 13.2B + 12.4W + 20.7EA

Where,
I = national average IQ
B = predominantly black
W = predominantly white (i.e., residents are European or of European origin)
EA = East Asian (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, which is largely populated by persons of Chinese descent)

The r-squared of the equation is 0.78 and the p-values of the intercept and coefficients are all less than 1E-17. The F-value of the equation is 8.24E-51. The standard error of the estimate is 5.6, which means that the 95-percent confidence interval is plus or minus 11 — a smaller number than any of the coefficients.

The intercept applies to all “other” countries that aren’t predominantly black, white, or East Asian in their racial composition. There are 66 such countries in the sample, which comprises 159 countries. The 66 “other” countries span the Middle East; North Africa; South Asia; Southeast Asia; island-states in Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans; and most of the nations of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Despite the range of racial and ethnic mixtures in those 66 countries, their average IQs cluster fairly tightly around 84. By the same token, there’s a definite clustering of the black countries around 71 (84.0 – 13.2), of the white countries around 96 (84.0 + 12.4), and of the East Asian countries around 105 (84.0 + 20.7).

Thus this graph, where each “row” (from bottom to top) corresponds to black, “other,” white, and East Asian:

estimated-vs-actual-iq

The dotted line represents a perfect correlation. The regression yields a less-than-perfect relationship between race and IQ, but a strong one. That strong relationship is also seen in the following graph:

iq-vs-distance-from-the-equator

There’s a definite pattern — if a somewhat loose one — that goes from low-IQ black countries near the equator to higher IQ white countries farther from the equator. The position  of East Asian countries, which is toward the middle latitudes rather than the highest ones, points to something special in the relationship between East Asian genetic heritage and IQ.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
“Conversing” about Race
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
Let’s Have That “Conversation” about Race

The Shy Republican Supporters

UPDATED 02/09/17

There was much talk during the recent presidential election campaign about “shy” Trump supporters. Scott Adams theorized about them on September 9, 2016:

It’s hard to count people who are intentionally hiding [a preference for Trump]. But just for fun, let’s see if we can deduce how many so-called Shy Trump Supporters are out there.

For starters, we can say with certainty that they exist. I have a better ear for that than most of you because of my Trump blogging and my public endorsement of Clinton for my personal safety. People feel comfortable telling me privately, and also anonymously online, that they hide their Trump support from their spouse and coworkers. So we know they exist. We just don’t know how many.

We know that sometimes robocall surveys and online surveys show more Trump support than human-to-human polling. So that might be an indicator, but we don’t know what other variables are in play.

In a recent Reuters poll, 7% of respondents “refused” to vote for either Trump or Clinton. I’m guessing some Shy Trump Supporters “park” their votes with Gary Johnson (polling at 9.3%) or Jill Stein (polling at 3.3%).

But I wonder if the Shy Trump supporters are mostly parked with Johnson because of gender (consciously or unconsciously), whereas Stein is more of a real protest vote against Clinton. Anecdotally, Shy Trump Supporters tell me they do park their pre-vote preferences with Johnson. So far, none have told me they are parking their vote with Stein. (This is anecdotal, and a small sample of perhaps a dozen.)

Then you also have the question of turnout. Trump is clearly generating the most enthusiasm in public appearances. I would think that translates into more new voters.

Most of my predictions so far this election cycle have been based on what I call the Master Persuader Hypothesis. I’ll depart from that model for this prediction because this one is based on a gut feel – which I understand in my rational mind to feel identical to confirmation bias. Therefore, you should place zero confidence in my prediction.

I predict that 3% of voters are Shy Trump Supporters. As polls continue to tighten, especially in battleground states, that will be enough for an electoral landslide for Trump.

And it was an electoral landslide, popular-vote totals to the contrary notwithstanding. See my analysis in “H.L. Mencken’s Final Legacy.”

In a commentary about Adams’s post, “The ‘Shy Trump Supporter’ Hypothesis” (September 10, 2016), I said this:

So I believe that Scott Adams is right. A lot of “shy Trump supporters” are claiming that they’ll vote for Johnson, but most of them will vote — if they do vote — for Trump. My evidence? Trump’s standing in Rasmussen’s poll is strongly (r-squared = 0.6) and negatively correlated with Johnson’s standing. As voters decide that they aren’t going to waste votes on Johnson, they’ll turn (mainly) to Trump….

If Johnson’s popular-vote share slips from its current 9 percent to 3 percent on election day — which is 3 times better than his showing in 2012 — Trump would pick up 3 percentage points. On the other hand, if Stein’s support slips from its current 2 percent to 1 percent on election day — 3 times better than her showing in 2012 — Clinton would pick up 0.7 percentage point. So far, so good, for Trump.

My forecasts of Johnson’s and Stein’s slippage were just about on the money. But I was nevertheless pessimistic about Trump’s chances:

[A]s the “other-undecided” vote shrinks from its present level of 7 percent to 1 percent (a bit higher than in recent elections), Clinton will pick up 5.5 percentage points while Trump picks up only 1.3 percentage point.

Adding it up, there’s a likely gain for Trump of 4+ percentage points and a likely gain for Clinton of 6+ percentage points. Adding those numbers to Rasmussen’s latest results for Trump (39 percent) and Clinton (43 percent) yields something like 43 or 44 percent for Trump and 49 or 50 percent for Clinton.

And I was wrong. As the outcome of the recent election attests, there are a lot of shy Republicans lurking in the ranks of nominally unaffiliated voters.

How many? I have estimated their strength by analyzing the Gallup poll of party affiliations. For 303 polls conducted from January 2004 to January 2017, here are the relationships between the non-aligned respondents and those who claimed a Democrat or Republican affiliation. The non-aligned respondents are those who claimed to be independents plus the small fraction of other respondents not claiming to be Democrat, Republican, or independent:

party-affiliation-democrats-vs-independents-others

There’s a somewhat stronger, mirror-image relationship for Republicans:

party-affiliation-republcans-vs-independents-others

As the size of the non-aligned block shrinks, more members of that bloc choose the Republican label than choose the Democrat label. For example, referring to the first graph, a drop in the fraction claiming independent/other status from the maximum of 49 percent to the minimum of 28 percent results in a gain for Democrats of 8 percentage points. Referring to the second graph, the same reduction in the independent/other fraction results in a gain for Republicans of 13 percentage points.

The equations represent long-run averages, of course, and Democrats have had their share of success among nominally unaligned voters, especially around the time of Obama’s win in 2008. The underestimation of latent support for Democrats at that time shows up in the following graph, which represents the actual results of the 303 Gallup polls and the results derived from the equations in the first two graphs:

party-affiliation-actual-and-estimated

The key to the outcome of the 2016 election is the net change in voters claiming GOP and Democrat affiliation since the high-water mark of those claiming independent-other status, which occurred in December 2013. From then until November 2016, the percentage of voters claiming independent-other status went from 48 to 41, a drop of 7 percentage points. Of the 7 points , the Republican Party added 4.7 while the Democrat Party added 2.3. As a result, Clinton’s long-expected national landslide became a hollow, California-based, popular-vote victory — and a comfortable electoral-vote win for Trump.

A Non-Tribute to Fidel

The death of Fidel Castro, which came 90 years too late for the suffering people of Cuba, rates a musical celebration. Here are links to some snappy tunes of the 1920s and 1930s that have “Cuba” or “Cuban” in the title (RealPlayer required):

http://www.redhotjazz.com/songs/whiteman/cubanlovesong.ra

http://www.redhotjazz.com/Songs/hickman/cubanmoon.ra

http://www.redhotjazz.com/songs/lewis/illseeyouincuba.ra

http://www.redhotjazz.com/Songs/Louie/lao/Cubanpete.ra

H.L. Mencken’s Final Legacy

I used to think of H.L. Mencken as a supremely witty person. My intellectual infatuation began with his Chrestomathy, which I read with relish many years ago.

In recent decades my infatuation with Mencken’s acerbic wit dimmed and died, for the reason given by Fred Siegel in The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. There, Siegel rightly observes that Mencken “learned from [George Bernard] Shaw how to be narrow-minded in a witty, superior way.”

I was reminded of that passage by Peter Berger’s recent account of Mencken’s role in the marginalization of Evangelicals:

The Evangelical sense of marginalization can be conveniently dated—1925. Until then Evangelical Protestantism was at the core of American culture. Think of the role it played in the anti-slavery and temperance movements. Between 1910 and 1915 a series of four books was published under the title The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. The term “fundamentalism” derives from this title—today a pejorative term applied to all kinds of religious extremes. The aforementioned books were hardly extreme. They came out of the heart of mainline Protestantism, which today would be called Evangelical. Many of the authors were orthodox Presbyterians, then-centered at Princeton Theological Seminary, which in the 1920s split into an orthodox Calvinist and a “modernist” faculty. What happened in 1925 was a watershed in the history of American Evangelicalism—the so-called “monkey trial.”

Under the influence of a conservative Protestant/Evangelical lobby the state of Tennessee passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. John Scopes, a school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was charged with having violated the law. The trial turned into a celebrity event. William Jennings Bryan, former presidential candidate and prominent Evangelical leader, volunteered to act for the prosecution, and the famous trial lawyer Clarence Darrow defended Scopes. The trial had virtually nothing to do with the offence in question (which was not in doubt). Bryan used it to defend his literal understanding of the Bible, Darrow to make Bryan ridiculous. In this he succeeded, reducing Bryan to petulant babbling. Both men were propagandists for two forms of “fundamentalism,” a primitive view of the Bible against a primitive view of science. Unfortunately for Bryan’s reputation, the brilliant satirist H.L. Mencken covered the trial for the Baltimore Sun. His account was widely reprinted and read. He was contemptuous not only of Bryan but of Christianity and of the local people (he called them “yokels”). The event had an enormous effect on American Evangelicals. It demoralized them, making them feel marginalized in a hostile environment. The result was an Evangelical subculture, turned inward and defensive in its relation to the outside society. Mark Noll sums this up in the title of one of his books, The Closing of the Evangelical Mind. [“Religion, Class, and the Evangelical Vote,” The American Interest, November 23, 2016]

I would have to read and consider Noll’s book before I sign on to Berger’s claim that it was Mencken’s account of the “monkey trial” which demoralized and marginalized Evangelicals. But it didn’t help, and it ushered in 90 years of Mencken-like portrayals of Evangelicals and, more generally, of the mid-to-low-income whites who populate much of what’s referred to sneeringly as flyover country. As Berger observes,

During the 2008 campaign Obama slipped out this description of people in economically deprived small towns: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” And during the just-concluded presidential campaign Clinton described Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables.”

Is it any surprise that Trump — who appealed strongly to the kinds of people disparaged by Mencken, Obama, and Clinton — carried these States?

  • Florida — won by Obama in 2008 and 2012
  • Pennsylvania — the first time for a GOP presidential candidate since 1988
  • Ohio — won by Obama in 2008 and 2012
  • Michigan — the first GOP presidential win since 1988
  • Wisconsin — last won by a GOP candidate in 1984
  • Iowa — won by the Democrat presidential candidate in every election (but one) since 1984.

And how did Trump do it? Mainly by running strongly in the areas outside big cities. It’s true that Clinton outpolled Trump nationally, but so what? It’s the electoral vote that matters, and that’s what the candidates strive to win. Trump won it on the strength of his appeal to the descendants of Mencken’s yokels: Obama’s gun-clingers and Clinton’s deplorables.

A digression about election statistics is in order:

Based on total popular votes cast, 2016 surpasses all previous elections by more than 5 million votes (they’re still being counted in some places). Trump now holds the record for the most votes cast for a GOP presidential candidate. Clinton, however, probably won’t match Obama’s 2012 total, and certainly won’t match his 2008 total (the size of which testifies to the gullibility of a large fraction of the electorate).

Did the big turnout for Gary Johnson (pseudo-libertarian) and the somewhat-better-than 2012 turnout for Jill Stein (socialist crank) take votes that “should have been” Clinton’s? Obviously not. Those who cast their ballots for Johnson and Stein were, by definition, voting against Clinton (and Trump).

But what if Johnson and Stein hadn’t been on the ballot and some of the votes that went them had gone instead to Clinton and Trump? My analyses of several polls leads me to the conclusion that the presence of Johnson and Stein hurt Trump more than Clinton. Johnson voters would have defected to Trump more often than to Clinton. Stein voters would have defected to Clinton more often than to Trump. On balance, because there were three times as many Johnson voters as Stein voters, Trump (not Clinton) would have done better if the election had been a two-person race. Moreover, Trump improved slightly on recent GOP showings among blacks and Hispanics.

What about Clinton’s popular-vote “victory”? As of today (11/24/16) she’s running ahead of Trump by 2.1 million votes nationally, and by 3.8 million votes in California and 1.5 million votes in New York. That leaves Trump ahead of Clinton by 3.2 million votes in the other 48 States and D.C. I could go on about D.C. and the Northeast in general, but you get the idea. Clinton’s “appeal” (for want of a better word) was narrow; Trump’s was much broader (e.g., winning a higher percentage than Romney did of the two-party vote in 39 States). Arguably, it was broader than that of every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan won a second term in 1984.

The election of 2016 probably rang down the final curtain on the New Deal alliance of white Southerners (long-since defected), union members (a dying breed), and other denizens of the mid-to-low-income brackets. The alliance was built on the illusory success  of FDR’s New Deal, which prolonged the Great Depression by several years. But FDR, his henchmen, his sycophants in the media and academe, and those tens of millions who were gulled by him didn’t know that. And so the Democrat Party became the majority party for the most of final eight decades of the 20th century, and has enjoyed periods of resurgence in the 21st century.

The modern Democrat Party — the one that arose in the 1950s with Adlai Stevenson at its helm — long held the allegiance of the yokels, even as it was betraying them by buying the votes of blacks and Hispanics and trolling for the votes of marginal groups (queers, Muslims, and “liberal arts” majors) in order to wear the mantle of moral superiority. The yokels were taken for granted. Worse than that, they were openly disdained in Menckian language.

Trump wisely avoided the Democrat-lite stance of recent GOP candidates — the two Bushes, McCain, and Romney (Dole was simply a ballot-filler) — and went after the modern descendants of the yokels. And in response to that unaccustomed attention, huge numbers of mid-to-low-income voters  — joined by those traditional Republicans who wisely refused to abandon Trump — produced a stunning electoral upset that encompassed most of the country.

As for Mencken, where he is remembered at all it is mainly as a curmudgeonly quipster with views that wouldn’t pass muster among today’s smart set. Though Mencken’s flirtation with anti-Semitism might commend him to the alt-left.

Here, then, is H.L. Mencken’s lasting legacy: There has arisen a huge bloc of voters whose members are through with being ridiculed and ignored by the pseudo-sophisticates who lead and populate the Democrat Party. It is now up to Trump and the Republican Party to retain the allegiance of that bloc. And if they do not, a third party will arise, and — for the first time in American history — it will be a third party with long-lasting clout. Think of it as a more muscular incarnation of the Tea Party, which was its vanguard.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Mike Lee, “Conservatives Should Embrace Principled Populism,” National Review, November 24. 2016
Yuval Levin, “The New Republican Coalition,” National Review, November 17, 2016
Henry Olsen, “For Trump Voters There Is No Left or Right,The Washington Post, November 18, 2016
Fred Reed, “Uniquely Talented: Only the Democrats Could Have Lost to Trump,” Fred on Everything, November 24, 2016 (Published after this post, and eerily similar, in keeping with the adage that great minds think alike.)

*     *      *

Related posts:
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
Winners and Losers
“Fairness”
Pontius Pilate: Modern Politician
Should You Vote for a Third-Party Candidate?
My Platform
How America Has Changed
Civil War?

Dissension at the Heterodox Academy?

UPDATED on 11/24/16, 11/29/16, and 12/02/16

A new site called Professor Watchlist has sprung up. Its mission

is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.

Help us identify, and expose more professors who have demonstrated liberal bias in the classroom.

The Watchlist directory, as of now, lists about 150 professors who have been “turned in.”

Heterodox Academy bills itself as

a politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities.

We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

To reverse this process, we have come together to advocate for a more intellectually diverse and heterodox academy.

This post appeared briefly today (11/22/16) on the blog of Heterodox Academy:

To The Heterodox Academy Community,

Heterodox Academy exists to promote viewpoint diversity in higher education. We believe that viewpoint diversity is necessary to the pursuit of truth and that suppression of viewpoints based on the content of speech is counter to the mission of higher education. To that end, we are opposed to any efforts on either side of the political aisle to stifle debate through intimidation or public shaming.

Executive Team at Heterodox Academy recently became aware of “The Professor Watch List” by Turning Point, USA.

The Executive Team does not speak for our members as a collective, though we do feel obligated to resist the disapprobation of academics. The Professor Watch List exists only to suggest that liberals are dangerous classroom leaders, discourage certain viewpoints and place professors- who have no opportunity to counter the claim- in a list colored by ignominy.

We condemn The Professor Watch List and all attempts to limit academic discourse. We call upon Turning Point, USA to suspend this list and affirm its commitment to free speech, open inquiry, and the honest exchange of ideas.

In Heterodoxy,

The Executive Team

Jonathan Haidt, New York University
April Kelly-Woessner, Elizabethtown College
Scott Lilienfeld, Emory University
Chris Martin, Emory University
Nicholas Rosenkranz, Georgetown University
Sean Stevens, New York University
Jeremy Willinger, New York University

It disappeared soon after its publication.

Why? The statement disapproving Professor Watchlist seems reasonable enough, especially for noting that the listed professors (probably) had no opportunity to counter the claim that they discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.

I wouldn’t be surprised if all 150 professors do promote anti-American values (at least to the same extent as Barack Obama), and that they do advance leftist propaganda in the classroom. But what else is new? A list of professors at U.S. universities who do such things could easily number in the thousands. A much shorter list could be compiled of professors who don’t do such things, and most of them would be in STEM disciplines.

The most serious charge is that the listed professors discriminate against conservative students. In that respect, Heterodox Academy is right to condemn Professor Watchlist for engaging in “guilty until proven innocent” tactics. Not that I would expect formal hearings, but the inclusion of statements by students would do much to dispel the suggestion that the list is nothing more than a vendetta against leftist professors. [Edited on 12/02/16: I discovered belatedly that the entries for each of the professors on the list includes statements about them, with links to supporting sources. My fault for not looking closely enough at the entries. My discovery was due to an article by Rod Dreher that just came to my attention, and which I excerpt below.]

So what happened to Heterodox Academy‘s condemnation of Professor Watchlist? Inquiring, heterodox minds want to know why the Executive Team’s statement disappeared.

UPDATE 11/24/16

The Executive Team at Heterodox Academy has republished its condemnation of Professor Watchlist. The new statement is longer and more detailed than the original one. Here’s the heart of it:

Turning Point USA [the operation behind the watchlist] has a constitutionally protected right to publicize and criticize the words and actions of professors that it finds offensive. But we think that this project will only exacerbate a problem we are trying to address at Heterodox Academy: professors and students are increasingly afraid of voicing and debating opinions in the classroom. For this reason, we–the executive committee of Heterodox Academy–believe that Professor Watchlist is pernicious and misguided. We expect it to have the same speech-chilling effects as do many of the “Bias Response Teams” that are being implemented nationwide, which encourage students to report professors and fellow students for anything—including sincerely expressed opinions—that they interpret or misinterpret as offensive.

We call on everyone who is concerned about the state of higher education to stop devising ways that members of an academic community can report or punish each other for classroom speech.

Whether the reporting is done to a campus authority, setting in motion weeks of time-draining bureaucratic procedure that is often far removed from common sense, or whether the reporting is done to the Internet at large, triggering public shaming campaigns and a cascade of threatening tweets and emails, such reporting systems encourage everyone to walk on eggshells. This kind of fearful climate deprives everyone of the vigorous debate and disagreement that is essential for learning and scholarship.

Rather than seeking to discourage certain voices on campus, we think the better approach is to encourage a variety of voices—heterodox voices—so that bad arguments can be answered with good ones and scholarly ideas can be tested by the strongest minds on both sides. [Underlining indicates emphasis in the original. — TEA]

The new statement is consistent with the stated aims of Heterodox Academy. It is, however, naive. Leftists, for the most part, won’t relent in their persecution and suppression of conservative ideas just because conservatives are nice to leftists. So, as usual, most of the academy will remain what it has become — an incubator of and echo chamber for sometimes silly but often socially and economically destructive left-wing ideas.

In short, the “marketplace” of ideas is a stupid concept to which conservatives should quit paying homage. (See “The ‘Marketplace’ of Ideas” and “Revisiting the ‘Marketplace’ of Ideas.“) What’s really needed, as I say in “Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty” is a thorough cleaning of the Augean Stables:

If there is a professional class that is almost solidly aligned against liberty it is the teachers and administrators who control the ideas that are pumped into the minds of students from kindergarten through graduate school. How are they aligned against liberty? Most of them are leftists, which means that they are statists who are dedicated to the suppression of liberty in favor of current left-wing orthodoxies. These almost always include the coddling of criminals, unrequited love for America’s enemies, redistribution of income and jobs toward less-productive (and non-productive) persons, restrictions on speech, and the destruction of civil society’s bulwarks: religion, marriage, and family….

So gulled are Americans by the education lobby that voters routinely approve bond issues and elect legislators who promise to spend more on brick-and-mortar, high-tech monuments to educators’ egos. As a result, per-student spending** by public-school systems (K-12) — in constant dollars — was 2.5 times higher in 2010 than in 1970; in public colleges and universities, it was 1.6 times higher. Has education improved that much in 40 years? To ask the question is to answer it….

And what do tax-paying Americans get for their money? A strong left-wing bias, which is inculcated at universities and spreads throughout public schools (and a lot of private schools). This has been going on, in earnest, since the end of World War II. And, yet, the populace is roughly divided between hard-headed conservatives and squishy-minded “liberals.” The persistence of the divide speaks well for the dominance of nature over nurture. But it does not change the fact that American taxpayers have been subsidizing the enemies of liberty who dominate the so-called education system in this country.

It’s time to cut the subsidy, drastically, from Kindergarten through graduate school. It’s time to stop sending stupid people to college, where most of them become the Democrat Party’s pod people. As I say in “How America Has Changed,” it’s an all-around waste:

[College used to be for] the brightest — those who were most likely to use it to advance science, technology, the world of commerce, and so on. It wasn’t for everyone. In fact, when I went to college in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were already too many dumb students there.

The push to get more and more dumb people into college is rationalized, in large part, by the correlation between income and level of education. But level of education used to be a sign of drive and intelligence, which are the very things that strongly determine one’s income. Now, level of education is too often a sign that an unqualified person has been pushed into college.

Pushing more and more people into college, which necessarily means taxing productive persons to subsidize the educations of dumber and dumber people, accomplishes several things, all of them bad:

  • There are fewer workers who could be doing something remunerative but not demanding of high intelligence (e.g., plumbing), but who instead are qualified only to do nothing more than the kind of work they could have done without going to college (e.g., waiting on tables and flipping burgers).
  • Which means that they’ve ended up driving down the wages of people who didn’t go to college.
  • And which also means that the tax dollars wasted on subsidizing their useless college educations could have been spent instead on investments in business creation and expansion that would have created more jobs and higher incomes for all.

Cut the subsidy. Cut the waste. Eradicate a major source of the left-wing scourge.

UPDATE 11/29/16

As noted in a new post at Heterodox Academy, Robert Mather has opined about the matter in “Politics in the Professoriate and the Professor Watchlist” (Psychology Today, November 27, 2016). At one point he hits the nail on the head:

While there may be unpleasant implications of a Professor Watchlist for liberal professors who stifle viewpoint diversity, free speech is a double edged sword and conservative professors have felt the sharp edge of blacklisted ideology for many years. Shields and Dunn (2016) described this in detail in Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University. Note that in their extensive study of conservative faculty, anonymity was the only way to get participants because of the ramifications of being a public conservative professor in academia.

Precisely. As I say above, leftists won’t relent in their persecution and suppression of conservative ideas just because conservatives are nice to leftists.

Mather ends with this:

[I]t is an uncomfortable time to be a conservative professor, given the recent U.S. political tensions and an ideological minority position within the academy.

The Professor Watchlist will be useful only to those conservative students who are interested in what professors they will avoid taking for their own personal reasons, and hopefully will not lead to targeted harassment. Unfortunately, it is a mild glimpse for progressive liberal professors into the day to day life of conservative professors in a close-minded academy that on most days does not value ideological diversity, on its best days does, and on its worst (all too common lately) days actively suppresses it.

Cutting through Mather’s tangled syntax: It’s a bad time to be an academic conservative. (No surprise there.) The watchlist will be helpful to conservative students who wish to avoid harassment by left-wing professors. (Though I must ask how one avoids left-wing professors, given their overwhelming presence, at least outside the STEM disciplines.) And he agrees that the academy (these days) actively suppresses conservative views. (What else is new?)

All of this too-ing and fro-ing is pointless. Academic niceties are for academics. It’s way past time to quit subsidizing the enemies of liberty. Just quit. Period.

UPDATE 12/02/16

Rod Dreher wrote about Professor Watchlist on November 28, though I just learned of his piece today. It’s “Watching the Professors” at The American Conservative. It’s a long and carefully written piece that begins with Dreher’s initial reservations about the list. It turns into something close to admiration when Dreher samples the material supporting the inclusion of names on the list and follows the links to hellish corners of the leftist derangement. Dreher comes around to this view:

Professor Watchlist clearly needs to be edited more professionally. For example, it ought to link to original sources when possible, not to other aggregators. But based on the entries I looked at, the problem left-wing critics have with the site is not that it makes things up, but that it holds left-wing professors publicly accountable for their words and deeds.

I would hold them accountable by eliminating their jobs.

Civil War?

I follow American Thinker because the articles and posts there are usually provocative. A lot of it is wild-eyed speculation by right-wingers. But even the most wild-eyed stuff sometimes has a tangential relationship to a plausible idea.

This is from Robert Arvay’s “Will the Left Actually Incite a Civil War?” (November 21, 2016):

It is … not entirely impossible for me to peer into the minds of the anti-Trump protesters, since their dread has actually materialized – as a Clinton defeat at the polls.  So far, their angst has been manifested mostly in tears, whining, and cowering – but there is a violent element among them.  Their fears are enormous, some imaginary, some real, but in either case, those fears will motivate them.  The imaginary fears include the predicted assembly of illegal immigrants into concentration camps.  The real fears include loss of political power and all its perquisites, including the dictatorial ability to force bakers to serve cakes at same-sex ceremonies, an ability that portends much worse to come.

Be assured that every failure of liberal policies (such as the implosion of the Obama health care system) will now be blamed on Republicans, and particularly on the man they despise most, Donald Trump.  The Democrat ministry of propaganda (formerly the mainstream news media) will headline every unfortunate instance of a child suffering from disease, and loudly proclaim that the child would be in perfect health had not Trump cruelly withheld the funds to save that child.  Such diatribes cannot help but incite violent emotions.

Calls for assassination will be made, as in fact they already have been, including by educators.  God help us should something tragic result.

From my side of the front lines, I still view the republic as at risk.  From their side, many may now feel they have nothing to lose.  Had Clinton won, I would very likely feel the same.

I don’t know how any of the things that Arvay mentions would incite a civil war. It’s true (I hope) that Trump will clamp down on political correctness, and that a Supreme Court with the addition of a Trump nominee would reverse the anti-free speech laws that have sprung up in some States. But would violence ensue? I doubt it.

Yes, the MSM will continue to be the Democrat ministry of propaganda — nothing new there — and will double down on its portrayal of Republicans as heartless and cruel — nothing new there, either.

If Trump were assassinated by a leftist, or a cabal of leftists, would that lead to civil war? It might lead to anti-leftist violence by the kind of people who are drawn to Richard B. Spencer. But a violent response, if any, would most likely come from black militants, who are leftists only in the sense that they are loyal to the Democrat Party and its patronizing policies toward blacks. The resulting conflict would shed a lot of blood, but it could be mopped up quickly by police forces and National Guard units empowered to do so by the governors of States where violence erupts. And under a President Pence, they probably would feel empowered to do so, not constrained by the specter of a civil-rights investigations by the Department of Justice. I would expect Pence to do everything in his power (and perhaps more) to support local and State authorities in their efforts to quell violence. He would have nothing to gain and much to lose if it weren’t quelled. Failure to do so would undermine his authority as the newly fledged president.

What’s much more likely than a civil war is a growing secessionist movement on the left. As I argue in “Polarization and De-Facto Partition,” such a movement could be exploited to advance the cause of liberty:

Given the increasing polarization of the country — political and geographic — something like a negotiated partition seems like the only way to make the left and the right happier.

And then it occurred to me that a kind of partition could be achieved by constitutional means; that is, by revising the Constitution to return to its original plan of true federalism. The central government would, once again, be responsible for the defense of liberty and free trade. Each State would, within the framework of liberty, make its own decisions about the extent to which it intervenes in the economic and social affairs of its citizens.

How might that come to pass?

There are today in this land millions — probably tens of millions — of depressed leftists who foresee at least four years of GOP rule dedicated to the diminution of the regulatory-welfare state….

The shoe is now on the other foot. A lot of leftists will want out (see this for example), just as Northern abolitionists wanted separation from the South in the 1830s and 1840s. Let’s give them a way out while the giving is good, that is, while the GOP controls the federal government. The way out for the left is also the way out for conservatives.

Congress, namely, its Republican majorities, can all an Article V convention of the States….

The convention would be controlled by Republicans, who control a majority of State legislatures. The Republican majority should make it clear from the outset that the sole purpose of the convention is to devolve power to the States. For example, if a State government wants to establish its own version of Social Security to supplement what remains of it after future benefits have been scaled back to match projected future revenues, that State government wouldn’t be prevented from doing so. And it could design that program — and any others — as it wishes, free from interference on by the central government.

For more (much more) read the whole thing, and then read my version of a revised Constitution: “A Constitution for the 21st Century.”

 

Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War

David Henderson writes at EconLog about “Noah Smith on the Islamic Civil War“:

Noah Smith has a beautifully numerate discussion of wars being fought by radical Muslims. He does it in the context of analyzing Trump advisor Steve Bannon, and that analysis is not bad.

But what really struck me was his response to this claim of Bannon:

[I]t’s a very unpleasant topic, but we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it…
. . .I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam…If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places… It bequeathed to use [sic] the great institution that is the church of the West.

Smith then reports on the numbers on deaths from some Islamic groups fighting others. H writes:

Let’s look at the main wars currently being fought by radical Islamic forces. These are:Syrian Civil War (~470,000 dead)
2nd Iraqi Civil War (~56,000 dead)
Boko Haram Insurgency (~28,000 dead)
War in Afghanistan (126,000 dead)
Somali Civil War (~500,000 dead)
War in Northwest Pakistan (~60,000 dead)
Libyan Civil War (~14,000 dead)
Yemeni Civil War (~11,000 dead)
Sinai Insurgency (~4,500 dead)

Smith adds:

This is a lot of dead people – maybe about 2 million in all, counting all the smaller conflicts I didn’t list. But almost all of these dead people are Muslims – either radical Islamists, or their moderate Muslim opponents. Compare these death tolls to the radical Islamist terror attacks in the West. 9/11 killed about 3,000. The ISIS attack in Paris killed 130. The death tolls in the West from radical Islam have been three orders of magnitude smaller than the deaths in the Muslim world.Three orders of magnitude is an almost inconceivable difference in size. What it means is that only a tiny, tiny part of the wars of radical Islam is bleeding over into the West. What we’re seeing is not a clash of civilizations, it’s a global Islamic civil war. The enemy isn’t at the gates of Vienna – it’s at the gates of Mosul, Raqqa, and Kabul.

And radical Islam is losing the global Islamic civil war. In Syria and Iraq, ISIS is losing. In Nigeria, Boko Haram is losing. In all of these wars except for possibly Afghanistan, radical Islamic forces have been defeated by moderate Islamic forces.

Sometimes that’s because of Western aid to the moderates. But much of it is just because a medievalist regime holds very, very little appeal for the average Muslim in any country. Practically no one wants to live under the sadist, totalitarian control of groups like ISIS. These groups are fierce, but their manpower is small and their popular support is not very large anywhere.

How tragic it would be if Steve Bannon’s innumeracy helped cause the U.S. government to embroil itself in the Middle East even more than Bush and Obama did.

Henderson’s counsel to avoid “embroilment” overlooks Iran.

There sometimes comes a point at which it makes sense to become embroiled in a distant war. Take World War II, for example. FDR’s economic policies were disastrous for the U.S. — of that there’s never been any doubt in my mind. But I give FDR credit for his ability to see that if Germany and Japan gained dominance over Europe and the Pacific, the U.S. would eventually be squeezed into submission, economically and militarily. My point is that not all “embroilments” are necessarily bad.

Which brings me to the Middle East. If the U.S. allows Iran to develop nuclear weapons — which seems to be certain given Obama’s supine attitude toward Iran — disaster will follow. Iran will be able to control the region through nuclear blackmail, and given its reserves of oil and the willingness of its leaders to accept economic isolation, it (meaning its leaders) will be able to disrupt life in the West because of its ability to shut off the supply of oil to the West.

To paraphrase Andy Granatelli, the U.S. can stop Iran now, before it has done what Obama is allowing it to do, or the U.S. can stop it later, after it has done great economic damage, which the U.S. won’t escape inasmuch as the market for oil is unitary. Nor will the U.S. escape human damage if the U.S. doesn’t act until after Iran becomes capable of attacking the U.S.

It doesn’t matter who did what to cause Iran’s leaders to view the U.S. as “the great Satan.” (Sunk costs are sunk.) There’s no longer an option to butt out of Iran’s affairs. Given the fanatical enmity of Iran’s leaders toward the U.S. (which isn’t dispelled by superficial cordiality), it’s beyond belief that Iran isn’t steadily striving to acquire the ability to strike the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction — nuclear missiles, perhaps delivered from off-shore vessels instead of by ICBMs; “suitcase” bombs; coordinated strikes on the power grid, oil-production facilities, and water supplies; and much more that the U.S. intelligence apparatus should but may not anticipate, and which the U.S. government’s leaders may in any event fail to prepare for.

I may be wrong about all of this, but it’s the kind of thinking that should be done — even by economists — instead of latching onto Noah Smith’s superficial numeracy.

Andrew Cuomo’s Fatuous Casuistry

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, is quoted as saying that

[i]f there is a move to deport immigrants, then I say start with me. I am a son of immigrants. If we deport immigrants then I ask, ‘Who is safe and who will be left?’ Because we are all immigrants. If we deport immigrants then the only ones left will be the Iroquois, the Sioux and the Cherokee and the Apache.

What I want to know is what his lordship has against persons of the Sioux, Cherokee, and Apache persuasion. He makes it sound as if there’s something wrong with being such a person. In the parlance of the day, that’s r-a-a-a-cist!

Let’s parse the rest of his excellency’s statement. First, he’s not a son of immigrants. His father, the late, overrated Mario Cuomo, was born in New York City, as was his mother, Matilda Raffa Cuomo. It was their parents who were immigrants.

But Andrew is just exercising his poetic license, to which liberals are entitled by virtue of their self-defined moral superiority. By the same standard (poetic license, that is) I am the son of immigrants because my paternal grandparents were born in Canada, though they were of non-exotic English-Scots-Irish descent. But my maternal great-grandfathers and all of my maternal great-greats and beyond were born in exotic French Canada and France. Voilà.

It’s obvious that Andrew, like his parents, is a lawyer. His lawyerly mind slides over the word “illegal.” Thus he implies that Mr. Trump would deport all immigrants, even though Mr. Trump has said only that he would deport illegal immigrants.

In any event, Herr Governor Cuomo isn’t an immigrant (supra, as they say in legalese). So he wouldn’t be deported even if he were correct in his lawyerly casuistry regarding Mr. Trump’s stated intentions.

But if he would like to be deported to prove a point (whatever it is), I’ll gladly pack his bag.

Words Fail Us

Regular readers of this blog know that I seldom use “us” and “we.” Those words are too often appropriated by writers who say such things as “we the people,” and who characterize as “society” the geopolitical entity known as the United States. There is no such thing as “we the people,” and the United States is about as far from being a “society” as Hillary Clinton is from being president (I hope).

There are nevertheless some things that are so close to being universal that it’s fair to refer to them as characteristics of “us” and “we.” The inadequacy of language is one of those things.

Why is that the case? Try to describe in words a person who is beautiful or handsome to you, and why. It’s hard to do, if not impossible. There’s something about the combination of that person’s features, coloring, expression, etc., that defies anything like a complete description. You may have an image of that person in your mind, and you may know that — to you — the person is beautiful or handsome. But you just can’t capture in words all of those attributes. Why? Because the person’s beauty or handsomeness is a whole thing. It’s everything taken together, including subtle things that nestle in your subconscious mind but don’t readily swim to the surface. One such thing could be the relative size of the person’s upper and lower lips in the context of that particular person’s face; whereas, the same lips on another face might convey plainness or ugliness.

Words are inadequate because they describe one thing at a time — the shape of a nose, the slant of a brow, the prominence of a cheekbone. And the sum of those words isn’t the same thing as your image of the beautiful or handsome person. In fact, the sum of those words may be meaningless to a third party, who can’t begin to translate your words into an image of the person you think of as beautiful or handsome.

Yes, there are (supposedly) general rules about beauty and handsomeness. One of them is the symmetry of a person’s features. But that leaves a lot of ground uncovered. And it focuses on one aspect of a person’s face, rather than all of its aspects, which are what you take into account when you judge a person beautiful or handsome.

And, of course, there are many disagreements about who is beautiful or handsome. It’s a matter of taste. Where does the taste come from? Who knows? I have a theory about why I prefer dark-haired women to women whose hair is blonde, red, or medium-to-light brown: My mother was dark-haired, and photographs of her show that she was beautiful (in my opinion) as a young woman. (Despite that, I never thought of her as beautiful because she was just Mom to me.) You can come up with your own theories — and I expect that no two of them will be the same.

What about facts? Isn’t it possible to put facts into words? Not really, and for much the same reason that it’s impossible to describe beauty, handsomeness, love, hate, or anything “subjective” or “emotional.” Facts, at bottom, are subjective, and sometimes even emotional.

Let’s take a “fact” at random: the color red. We can all agree as to whether something looks red, can’t we? Even putting aside people who are color-blind, the answer is: not necessarily. For one thing red is defined as having a “predominant light wavelength of roughly 620–740 nanometers.” “Predominant” and “roughly” are weasel-words. Clearly, there’s no definite point on the visible spectrum where light changes from orange to red. If you think there is, just look at this chart and tell me where it happens. So red comes in shades, which various people describe variously: orange-red and reddish-orange, for example.

Not only that, but the visible spectrum

does not … contain all the colors that the human eyes and brain can distinguish. Unsaturated colors such as pink, or purple variations such as magenta, are absent, for example, because they can be made only by a mix of multiple wavelengths.

Thus we have magenta, fuchsia, blood-red, scarlet, crimson, vermillion, maroon, ruby, and even the many shades of pink — some are blends, some are represented by narrow segments of the light spectrum. Do all of those kinds of red have a clear definition, or are they defined by the beholder? Well, some may be easy to distinguish from others, but the distinctions between them remain arbitrary. Where does scarlet or magenta become vermillion?

In any event, how do you describe a color (whatever you call it) in words? Referring to its wavelength or composition in terms of other colors or its relation to other colors is no help. Wavelength really is meaningless unless you can show an image of the visible spectrum to someone who perceives colors exactly as you do, and point to red — or what you call red. In doing so, you will have pointed to a range of colors, not to red, because there is no red red and no definite boundary between orange and red (or yellow and orange, or green and yellow, etc.).

Further, you won’t have described red in words. And you can’t — without descending into tautologies — because red (as you visualize it) is what’s in your mind. It’s not an objective fact.

My point is that description isn’t the same as definition. You can define red (however vaguely) as a color which has a predominant light wavelength of roughly 620–740 nanometers. But you can’t describe it. Why? Because red is just a concept.

A concept isn’t a real thing that you can see, hear, taste, touch, smell, eat, drink from, drive, etc. How do you describe a concept? You define it in terms of other concepts.

Moving on from color, I’ll take gross domestic product (GDP) as another example. GDP is an estimate of the dollar value of the output of finished goods and services produced in the United States during a particular period of time. Wow, what a string of concepts. And every one of them must be defined, in turn. Some of them can be illustrated by referring to real things; a haircut is a kind of service, for example. But it’s impossible to describe GDP and its underlying concepts because they’re all abstractions, or representations of indescribable conglomerations of real things.

All right, you say, it’s impossible to describe concepts, but surely it’s possible to describe things. People do it all the time. See that ugly, dark-haired, tall guy standing over there? I’ve already dealt with ugly, indirectly, in my discussion of beauty or handsomeness. Ugliness, like beauty, is just a concept, the idea of which differs from person to person. What about tall? It’s a relative term, isn’t it? You can measure a person’s height, but whether or not you consider him tall depends on where and when you live and the range of heights you’re used to encountering. A person who seems tall to you may not seem tall to your taller brother. Dark-haired will evoke different pictures in different minds — ranging from jet-black to dark brown and even auburn.

But if you point to the guy you call ugly, dark-haired, tall guy, I may agree with you that he’s ugly, dark-haired, and tall. Or I may disagree with you, but gain some understanding of what you mean by ugly, dark-haired, and tall.

And therein lies the tale of how people are able to communicate with each other, despite their inability to describe concepts or to define them without going in endless circles and chains of definitions. First, human beings possess central nervous systems and sensory organs that are much alike, though within a wide range of variations (e.g., many people must wear glasses with an almost-infinite variety of corrections, hearing aids are programmed to an almost-infinite variety of settings, sensitivity to touch varies widely, reaction times vary widely). Nevertheless, most people seem to perceive the same color when light with a wavelength of, say, 700 nanometers strikes the retina. The same goes for sounds, tastes, smells, etc., as various external stimuli are detected by various receptors. Those perceptions then acquire agreed definitions through acculturation. For example, an object that reflects light with a wavelength of 700 nanometers becomes known as red; a sound with a certain frequency becomes known as middle C; a certain taste is characterized as bitter, sweet, or sour.

Objects acquire names in the same way: for example: a square piece of cloth that’s wrapped around a person’s head or neck becomes a bandana, and a longish, curved, yellow-skinned fruit with a soft interior becomes a banana. And so I can visualize a woman wearing a red bandana and eating a banana.

There is less agreement about “soft” concepts (e.g., beauty) because they’re based not just on “hard” facts (e.g., the wavelength of light), but on judgments that vary from person to person. A face that’s cute to one person may be beautiful to another person, but there’s no rigorous division between cute and beautiful. Both convey a sense of physical attractiveness that many persons will agree upon, but which won’t yield a consistent image. A very large percentage of Caucasian males (of a certain age) would agree that Ingrid Bergman and Hedy Lamarr were beautiful, but there’s nothing like a consensus about Katharine Hepburn (perhaps striking but not beautiful) or Jean Arthur (perhaps cute but not beautiful).

Other concepts, like GDP, acquire seemingly rigorous definitions, but they’re based on strings of seemingly rigorous definitions, the underpinnings of which may be as squishy as the flesh of a banana (e.g., the omission of housework and the effects of pollution from GDP). So if you’re familiar with the definitions of the definitions, you have a good grasp of the concepts. If you aren’t, you don’t. But if you have a good grasp of the numbers underlying the definitions of definitions, you know that the top-level concept is actually vague and hard to pin down. The numbers not only omit important things but are only estimates, and often are estimates of disparate things that are grouped because they’re judged to “alike enough.”

Acculturation in the form of education is a way of getting people to grasp concepts that have widely agreed definitions. Mathematics, for example, is nothing but concepts, all the way down. And to venture beyond arithmetic is to venture into a world of ideas that’s held together by definitions that rest upon definitions and end in nothing real. Unless you’re one of those people who insists that mathematics is the “real” stuff of which the universe is made, which is nothing more than a leap of faith. (Math, by the way, is nothing but words in shorthand.)

And so, human beings are able to communicate and (usually) understand each other because of their physical and cultural similarities, which include education in various and sundry subjects. Those similarities also enable people of different cultures and languages to translate their concepts (and the words that define them) from one language to another.

Those similarities also enable people to “feel” what another person is feeling when he says that he’s happy, sad, drunk, or whatever. There’s the physical similarity — the physiological changes that usually occur when a person becomes what he thinks of as happy, etc. And there’s acculturation — the acquired knowledge that people feel happy (or whatever) for certain reasons (e.g., a marriage, the birth of a child) and display their happiness in certain ways (e.g., a broad smile, a “jump for joy”).

A good novelist, in my view, is one who knows how to use words that evoke vivid mental images of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of characters, and the settings in which the characters act out the plot of a novel. A novelist who can do that and also tell a good story — one with an engaging or suspenseful plot — is thereby a great novelist. I submit that a good or great novelist (an admittedly vague concept) is worth almost any number of psychologists and psychiatrists, whose vision of the human mind is too rigid to grasp the subtleties that give it life.

But good and great novelists are thin on the ground. That is to say, there are relatively few persons among us who are able to grasp and communicate effectively a broad range of the kinds of thoughts and feelings that lurk in the minds of human beings. And even those few have their blind spots. Most of them, it seems to me, are persons of the left, and are therefore unable to empathize with the thoughts and feelings of the working-class people who seethe with resentment about fawning over and favoritism toward blacks, illegal immigrants, gender-confused persons, and other so-called victims. In fact, those few otherwise perceptive and articulate writers make it a point to write off the working-class people as racists, bigots, and ignoramuses.

There are exceptions, of course. A contemporary exception is Tom Wolfe. But his approach to class issues is top-down rather than bottom-up.

Which just underscores my point that we human beings find it hard to formulate and organize our own thoughts and feelings about the world around us and the other people in it. And we’re practically tongue-tied when it comes to expressing those thoughts and feelings to others. We just don’t know ourselves well enough to explain ourselves to others. And our feelings — such as our political preferences, which probably are based more on temperament than on facts — get in the way.

Love, to take a leading example, is a feeling that just is. The why and wherefore of it is beyond our ability to understand and explain. Some of the feelings attached to it can be expressed in prose, poetry, and song, but those are superficial expressions that don’t capture the depth of love and why it exists.

The world of science is of no real help. Even if feelings of love could be expressed in scientific terms — the action of hormone A on brain region X — that would be worse than useless. It would reduce love to chemistry, when we know that there’s more to it than that. Why, for example, is hormone A activated by the presence or thought of person M but not person N, even when they’re identical twins?

The world of science is of no real help about “getting to the bottom of things.” Science is an infinite regress. S is explained in terms of T, which is explained in terms of U, which is explained in terms of V, and on and on. For example, there was the “indivisible” atom, which turned out to consist of electrons, protons, and neutrons. But electrons have turned out to be more complicated than originally believed, and protons and neutrons have been found to be made of smaller particles with distinctive characteristics. So it’s reasonable to ask if all of the particles now considered elementary are really indivisible. Perhaps there other more-elementary particles yet to be hypothesized and discovered. And even if all of the truly elementary particles are discovered, scientists will still be unable to explain what those particles really “are.”

Words fail us.

*      *      *

Related reading:
Modeling Is Not Science
Physics Envy
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Pinker Commits Scientism
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
“Settled Science” and the Monty Hall Problem
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Some Thoughts about Probability
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
My War on the Misuse of Probability
Ty Cobb and the State of Science
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas
The Technocratic Illusion
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
Is Science Self-Correcting?
“Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings”
Taleb’s Ruinous Rhetoric

How to Forecast the National Elections in 2020

UPDATED 11/20/16 (to incorporate latest results of Election 2016)

My algorithms, adjusted for the results of 2016’s general elections, are given in the following graphs. The gray lines mark the upper and lower bounds of the 95-percent confidence intervals around each of the regression lines.

election-algorithms-electoral-votes

Before this year’s election, there was a slight Republican advantage; that is, a GOP candidate could expect to win slightly more than 50 percent of the electoral vote with slightly less than 50 percent of the popular vote. That edge was due mainly to George W. Bush’s narrow win in 2000 (a bare majority of electoral votes based on 49.7 percent of the two-party popular vote). Trump’s victory — 57 percent of electoral votes with 48.9 percent of the two-party popular popular vote — pushed the regression line upward and to the left.

Next, the House of Representatives:

election-algorithms-house-seats

In the graph above, the unlabeled point just below the point for 2000 is the result for 2016. (Excel refused to add the label — perhaps reflecting the politics of Microsoft.) The fairly wide range of uncertainty around the regression line (plus or minus 7 percent) supports the old saw that all politics are local.

The graph below shows a similar range of uncertainty about the results of Senate races, which — if anything — are more idiosyncratic than House races.

election-algorithms-senate-seats

All of the algorithms are cast in terms of Republican shares of electoral votes and changes in the numbers of seats held by Republicans. If you’re interested in Democrats, just estimate the numbers for Republicans and then do the appropriate conversions. Here are some examples:

  • If you estimate or guess that the Republican candidate will win 55 percent of the two-party popular vote, it’s a good bet that he will win somewhere around 78 percent of electoral votes (from the equation in the first graph).  That’s 420 electoral votes (0.78 x 538) for the Republican, leaving 118 for the Democrat (538 – 420).
  • If the Republican candidate gets 55 percent of the two-party popular vote, the GOP will add about 2.3 percent to the number of House seats that it holds (from the equation in the second graph). If the GOP starts with 240 seats, that number will rise by 5 (after rounding) to 245, leaving 190 for the Democrats (435 – 245).
  • A Republican gain of 2.3 percent in the House means approximately no gain in the Senate (from the equation in the third graph). If the GOP starts with 52 of the 100 Senate seats, it keeps that number, leaving 48 for Democrats (including “independents” who caucus with Democrats).

Those are baseline estimates, around which there’s some degree of uncertainty, which you can estimate by referring to the gray lines that delineate the 95-percent confidence intervals.

The biggest hurdle is coming up with a reasonable estimate of the GOP candidate’s share of the two-party popular vote, that is, the GOP share divided by the GOP share plus the Democrat share. (It is this share, rather than share of total popular vote, which yields the best estimate of electoral-vote share.)

You can pull a number out of the air. You can go with your favorite poll. Or you can go with an aggregation of polls, such as the aggregations at FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics. I did it with several polls and aggregations of polls this year. Here’s my method for using FiveThirtyEight:

Start tracking the polling results around August 1, or after the major-party conventions and related “bounces.” In the case of FiveThirtyEight, follow the link and scroll down to “How the forecast has changed” and select “Popular vote.” By hovering your cursor over the graphic, you’ll get daily estimates of the popular-vote shares of the Republican and Democrat candidates and the leading third-party candidate, if there is one. This year, FiveThiryEight kept tabs on Gary Johnson’s poll numbers.

Set up an Excel spreadsheet and keep a daily tally of the numbers posted for each candidate. While you’re at it, also keep track of “other” by finding the difference between the totals for the named candidates and 100 percent. This year, that meant subtracting the Clinton, Trump, and Johnson shares from 100 percent.

Also compute the daily spread between the Democrat and Republican candidate. For the sake of this illustration, I’ll use a Republican minus Democrat (R-D) spread.

When you have enough observations — 15 or 20, say — run an Excel regression with R-D as the dependent variable. The explanatory variable(s) is (are) the shares going to candidate(s) other than the Democrat or Republican. This yields an estimate of how the R-D spread changes as voter shift away or toward from other choices. It’s a way of finding “shy” voters who don’t want to admit that they favor one of the major candidates, and it’s a way of detecting which major candidate stands to gain (or lose) the most as undecided voters make up their minds.

This year, I was able to use two explanatory variables: Johnson’s share (as reported by FiveThirtyEight) and the share for “other” (computed by subtracting the Clinton, Trump, and Johnson shares from 100 percent). If there’s no major third-party candidate, the only explanatory variable will be the share going to “other.”

How do you know what values to enter for the shares of the third-party and/or other candidates? Create a graph of the daily share(s) and add trend line(s) to it, projecting them out to election day. You can then choose the projected value(s) on election day, the most recent value(s), or your best guess(es).

The regression yields an estimate of the R-D spread, as a function of the explanatory variable(s). Divide the resulting estimate of the R-D spread by 2 and add the result to 50 percent (or subtract it from 50 percent if it’s negative), which gives the Republican candidate’s projected share of the two-party vote.

Keep updating the poll numbers, running the regressions, and plugging in your estimates of the values of the explanatory variable(s) until you’re confident of your results. I wasn’t confident until the day before election day because of the late shifts in polling results due to the FBI’s on-again, off-again investigation of Clinton’s e-mails.

In the end, because there’s statistical uncertainty about the relationships, you’ll have to make some judgment calls based on your knowledge of particular aspects of the election; for example:

  • whether the incumbents in some key Senate races are especially vulnerable
  • whether a popular presidential candidate is likely to have “coattails” that will help to swing a lot of House races
  • whether a presidential candidate is likely to do worse than normal because she (I’m thinking of Clinton) is generally viewed unfavorably.

Got it? If not, leave a comment or e-mail me (instructions in the sidebar), and I try to make it clearer.

Intelligence, Assortative Mating, and Social Engineering

UPDATED 11/18/16 (AT THE END)

What is intelligence? Why does it matter in “real life”? Are intelligence-driven “real life” outcomes — disparities in education and income — driving Americans apart? In particular, is the intermarriage of smart, educated professionals giving rise to a new hereditary class whose members have nothing in common with less-intelligent, poorly educated Americans, who will fall farther and farther behind economically? And if so, what should be done about it, if anything?

INTELLIGENCE AND WHY IT MATTERS IN “REAL LIFE”

Thanks to a post at Dr. James Thompson’s blog, Psychological comments, I found Dr. Linda Gottredson‘s paper, “Why g Matters: The Complexity of Everyday Life” (Intelligence 24:1, 79-132, 1997). The g factor — or just plain g — is general intelligence. I quote Gottredson’s article at length because it makes several key points about intelligence and why it matters in “real life.” For ease of reading, I’ve skipped over the many citations and supporting tables than lend authority to the article.

[W]hy does g have such pervasive practical utility? For example, why is a higher level of g a substantial advantage in carpentry, managing people, and navigating vehicles of all kinds? And, very importantly, why do those advantages vary in the ways they do? Why is g more helpful in repairing trucks than in driving them for a living? Or more for doing well in school than staying out of trouble?…

Also, can we presume that similar activities in other venues might be similarly affected by intelligence? For example, if differences in intelligence change the odds of effectively managing and motivating people on the job, do they also change the odds of successfully dealing with one’s own children? If so, why, and how much?

The heart of the argument I develop here is this: For practical purposes, g is the ability to deal with cognitive complexity — in particular, with complex information processing. All tasks in life involve some complexity, that is, some information processing. Life tasks, like job duties, vary greatly in their complexity (g loadedness). This means that the advantages of higher g are large in some situations and small in others, but probably never zero….

Although researchers disagree on how they define intelligence, there is virtual unanimity that it reflects the ability to reason, solve problems, think abstractly, and acquire knowledge. Intelligence is not the amount of information people know, but their ability to recognize, acquire, organize, update, select, and apply it effectively. In educational contexts, these complex mental behaviors are referred to as higher order thinking skills.

Stated at a more molecular level, g is the ability to mentally manipulate information — “to fill a gap, turn something over in one’s mind, make comparisons, transform the input to arrive at the output”….

[T]he active ingredient in test items seems to reside in their complexity. Any kind of item content-words, numbers, figures, pictures, symbols, blocks, mazes, and so on-can be used to create less to more g-loaded tests and test items. Differences in g loading seem to arise from variations in items’ cognitive complexity and thus the amount of mental manipulation they require….

Life is replete with uncertainty, change, confusion, and misinformation, sometimes minor and at times massive. From birth to death, life continually requires us to master abstractions, solve problems, draw inferences, and make judgments on the basis of inadequate information. Such demands may be especially intense in school, but they hardly cease when one walks out the school door. A close look at job duties in the workplace shows why….

When job analysis data for any large set of jobs are factor analyzed, they always reveal the major distinction among jobs to be the mental complexity of the work they require workers to perform. Arvey’s job analysis is particularly informative in showing that job complexity is quintessentially a demand for g….

Not surprisingly, jobs high in overall complexity require more education, .86 and .88, training, .76 and .51, and experience, .62 — and are viewed as the most prestigious, . 82. These correlations have sometimes been cited in support of the training hypothesis discussed earlier, namely, that sufficient training can render differences in g moot.

However, prior training and experience in a job never fully prepare workers for all contingencies. This is especially so for complex jobs, partly because they require workers to continually update job knowledge, .85. As already suggested, complex tasks often involve not only the appropriate application of old knowledge, but also the quick apprehension and use of new information in changing environments….

Many of the duties that correlate highly with overall job complexity suffuse our lives: advising, planning, negotiating, persuading, supervising others, to name just a few….

The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) of 26,000 persons aged 16 and older is one in a series of national literacy assessments developed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) for the U.S. Department of Education. It is a direct descendent, both conceptually and methodologically, of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) studies of reading among school-aged children and literacy among adults aged 21 to 25.

NALS, like its NAEP predecessors, is extremely valuable in understanding the complexity of everyday life and the advantages that higher g provides. In particular, NALS provides estimates of the proportion of adults who are able to perform everyday tasks of different complexity levels….

A look at the items in Figure 2 reveals their general relevance to social life. These are not obscure skills or bits of knowledge whose value is limited to academic pursuits. They are skills needed to carry out routine transactions with banks, social welfare agencies, restaurants, the post office, and credit card agencies; to understand contrasting views on public issues (fuel efficiency, parental involvement in schools); and to comprehend the events of the day (sports stories, trends in oil exports) and one’s personal options (welfare benefits, discount for early payment of bills, relative merits between two credit cards)….

[A]lthough the NALS items represent skills that are valuable in themselves, they are merely samples from broad domains of such skill. As already suggested, scores on the NALS reflect people’s more general ability (the latent trait) to master on a routine basis skills of different information-processing complexity….

[I]ndeed, the five levels of NALS literacy are associated with very different odds of economic well-being….

Each higher level of proficiency substantially improves the odds of economic well-being, generally halving the percentage living in poverty and doubling the percentage employed in the professions or management….

The effects of intelligence-like other psychological traits-are probabilistic, not deterministic. Higher intelligence improves the odds of success in school and work. It is an advantage, not a guarantee. Many other things matter.

However, the odds disfavor low-IQ people just about everywhere they turn. The differences in odds are relatively small in some aspects of life (law-abidingness), moderate in some (income), and large in others (educational, occupational attainment). But they are consistent. At a minimum (say, under conditions of simple tasks and equal prior knowledge), higher levels of intelligence act like the small percentage (2.7%) favoring the house in roulette at Monte Carlo — it yields enormous gains over the long run. Similarly, all of us make stupid mistakes from time to time, but higher intelligence helps protect us from accumulating a long, debilitating record of them.

To mitigate unfavorable odds attributable to low IQ, an individual must have some equally pervasive compensatory advantage-family wealth, winning personality, enormous resolve, strength of character, an advocate or benefactor, and the like. Such compensatory advantages may frequently soften but probably never eliminate the cumulative impact of low IQ. Conversely, high IQ acts like a cushion against some of life’s adverse circumstances, perhaps partly accounting for
why some children are more resilient than others in the face of deprivation and abuse….

For the top 5% of the population (over IQ 125), success is really “yours to lose.” These people meet the minimum intelligence requirements of all occupations, are highly sought after for their extreme trainability, and have a relatively easy time with the normal cognitive demands of life. Their jobs are often high pressure, emotionally draining, and socially demanding …, but these jobs are prestigious and generally pay well. Although very high IQ individuals share many of the vicissitudes of life, such as divorce, illness, and occasional unemployment, they rarely become trapped in poverty or social pathology. They may be saints or sinners, healthy or unhealthy, content or emotionally troubled. They may or may not work hard and apply their talents to get ahead, and some will fail miserably. But their lot in life and their prospects for living comfortably are comparatively rosy.

There are, of course, multiple causes of different social and economic outcomes in life. However, g seems to be at the center of the causal nexus for many. Indeed, g is more important than social class background in predicting whether White adults obtain college degrees, live in poverty, are unemployed, go on welfare temporarily, divorce, bear children out of wedlock, and commit crimes.

There are many other valued human traits besides g, but none seems to affect individuals’ life chances so systematically and so powerfully in modern life as does g. To the extent that one is concerned about inequality in life chances, one must be concerned about differences in g….

Society has become more complex-and g loaded-as we have entered the information age and postindustrial economy. Major reports on the U.S. schools, workforce, and economy routinely argue, in particular, that the complexity of work is rising.

Where the old industrial economy rewarded mass production of standardized products for large markets, the new postindustrial economy rewards the timely customization and delivery of high-quality, convenient products for increasingly specialized markets. Where the old economy broke work into narrow, routinized, and closely supervised tasks, the new economy increasingly requires workers to work in cross-functional teams, gather information, make decisions, and undertake diverse, changing, and challenging sets of tasks in a fast-changing and dynamic global market….

Such reports emphasize that the new workplace puts a premium on higher order thinking, learning, and information-processing skills — in other words, on intelligence. Gone are the many simple farm and factory jobs where a strong back and willing disposition were sufficient to sustain a respected livelihood, regardless of IQ. Fading too is the need for highly developed perceptual-motor skills, which were once critical for operating and monitoring machines, as technology advances.

Daily life also seems to have become considerably more complex. For instance, we now have a largely moneyless economy-checkbooks, credit cards, and charge accounts-that requires more abstract thought, foresight, and complex management. More self-service, whether in banks or hardware stores, throws individuals back onto their own capabilities. We struggle today with a truly vast array of continually evolving complexities: the changing welter of social services across diverse, large bureaucracies; increasing options for health insurance, cable, and phone service; the steady flow of debate over health hazards in our food and environment; the maze of transportation systems and schedules; the mushrooming array of over-the-counter medicines in the typical drugstore; new technologies (computers) and forms of communication (cyberspace) for home as well as office.

Brighter individuals, families, and communities will be better able to capitalize on the new opportunities this increased complexity brings. The least bright will use them less effectively, if at all, and so fail to reap in comparable measure any benefits they offer. There is evidence that increasing proportions of individuals with below-average IQs are having trouble adapting to our increasingly complex modern life and that social inequality along IQ lines is increasing.

CHARLES MURRAY AND FISHTOWN VS. BELMONT

At the end of the last sentence, Gottfredson refers to Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994). In a later book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (2012), Murray tackles the issue of social (and economic) inequality. Kay S. Hymowitz summarizes Murray’s thesis:

According to Murray, the last 50 years have seen the emergence of a “new upper class.” By this he means something quite different from the 1 percent that makes the Occupy Wall Streeters shake their pitchforks. He refers, rather, to the cognitive elite that he and his coauthor Richard Herrnstein warned about in The Bell Curve. This elite is blessed with diplomas from top colleges and with jobs that allow them to afford homes in Nassau County, New York and Fairfax County, Virginia. They’ve earned these things not through trust funds, Murray explains, but because of the high IQs that the postindustrial economy so richly rewards.

Murray creates a fictional town, Belmont, to illustrate the demographics and culture of the new upper class. Belmont looks nothing like the well-heeled but corrupt, godless enclave of the populist imagination. On the contrary: the top 20 percent of citizens in income and education exemplify the core founding virtues Murray defines as industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religious observance….

The American virtues are not doing so well in Fishtown, Murray’s fictional working-class counterpart to Belmont. In fact, Fishtown is home to a “new lower class” whose lifestyle resembles The Wire more than Roseanne. Murray uncovers a five-fold increase in the percentage of white male workers on disability insurance since 1960, a tripling of prime-age men out of the labor force—almost all with a high school degree or less—and a doubling in the percentage of Fishtown men working less than full-time…..

Most disastrous for Fishtown residents has been the collapse of the family, which Murray believes is now “approaching a point of no return.” For a while after the 1960s, the working class hung on to its traditional ways. That changed dramatically by the 1990s. Today, under 50 percent of Fishtown 30- to 49-year-olds are married; in Belmont, the number is 84 percent. About a third of Fishtowners of that age are divorced, compared with 10 percent of Belmonters. Murray estimates that 45 percent of Fishtown babies are born to unmarried mothers, versus 6 to 8 percent of those in Belmont.

And so it follows: Fishtown kids are far less likely to be living with their two biological parents. One survey of mothers who turned 40 in the late nineties and early 2000s suggests the number to be only about 30 percent in Fishtown. In Belmont? Ninety percent—yes, ninety—were living with both mother and father….

For all their degrees, the upper class in Belmont is pretty ignorant about what’s happening in places like Fishtown. In the past, though the well-to-do had bigger houses and servants, they lived in towns and neighborhoods close to the working class and shared many of their habits and values. Most had never gone to college, and even if they had, they probably married someone who hadn’t. Today’s upper class, on the other hand, has segregated itself into tony ghettos where they can go to Pilates classes with their own kind. They marry each other and pool their incomes so that they can move to “Superzips”—the highest percentiles in income and education, where their children will grow up knowing only kids like themselves and go to college with kids who grew up the same way.

In short, America has become a segregated, caste society, with a born elite and an equally hereditary underclass. A libertarian, Murray believes these facts add up to an argument for limited government. The welfare state has sapped America’s civic energy in places like Fishtown, leaving a population of disengaged, untrusting slackers….

But might Murray lay the groundwork for fatalism of a different sort? “The reason that upper-middle-class children dominate the population of elite schools,” he writes, “is that the parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children.” Murray doesn’t pursue this logic to its next step, and no wonder. If rich, smart people marry other smart people and produce smart children, then it follows that the poor marry—or rather, reproduce with—the less intelligent and produce less intelligent children. [“White Blight,” City Journal, January 25, 2012]

In the last sentence of that quotation, Hymowitz alludes to assortative mating.

ADDING 2 AND 2 TO GET ?

So intelligence is real; it’s not confined to “book learning”; it has a strong influence on one’s education, work, and income (i.e., class); and because of those things it leads to assortative mating, which (on balance) reinforces class differences. Or so the story goes.

But assortative mating is nothing new. What might be new, or more prevalent than in the past, is a greater tendency for intermarriage within the smart-educated-professional class instead of across class lines, and for the smart-educated-professional class to live in “enclaves” with their like, and to produce (generally) bright children who’ll (mostly) follow the lead of their parents.

How great are those tendencies? And in any event, so what? Is there a potential social problem that will  have to be dealt with by government because it poses a severe threat to the nation’s political stability or economic well-being? Or is it just a step in the voluntary social evolution of the United States — perhaps even a beneficial one?

Is there a growing tendency toward intermarriage among the smart-educated-professional class? It depends on how you look at it. Here, for example, are excerpts of commentaries about a paper by Jeremy Greenwood et al., “Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality” (American Economic Review, 104:5, 348-53, May 2014 — also published as NBER Working Paper 19289):

[T]he abstract is this:

Has there been an increase in positive assortative mating? Does assortative mating contribute to household income inequality? Data from the United States Census Bureau suggests there has been a rise in assortative mating. Additionally, assortative mating affects household income inequality. In particular, if matching in 2005 between husbands and wives had been random, instead of the pattern observed in the data, then the Gini coefficient would have fallen from the observed 0.43 to 0.34, so that income inequality would be smaller. Thus, assortative mating is important for income inequality. The high level of married female labor-force participation in 2005 is important for this result.

That is quite a significant effect. [Tyler Cowen, “Assortative Mating and Income Inequality,” Marginal Revolution, January 27, 2014]

__________

The wage gap between highly and barely educated workers has grown, but that could in theory have been offset by the fact that more women now go to college and get good jobs. Had spouses chosen each other at random, many well-paid women would have married ill-paid men and vice versa. Workers would have become more unequal, but households would not. With such “random” matching, the authors estimate that the Gini co-efficient, which is zero at total equality and one at total inequality, would have remained roughly unchanged, at 0.33 in 1960 and 0.34 in 2005.

But in reality the highly educated increasingly married each other. In 1960 25% of men with university degrees married women with degrees; in 2005, 48% did. As a result, the Gini rose from 0.34 in 1960 to 0.43 in 2005.

Assortative mating is hardly mysterious. People with similar education tend to work in similar places and often find each other attractive. On top of this, the economic incentive to marry your peers has increased. A woman with a graduate degree whose husband dropped out of high school in 1960 could still enjoy household income 40% above the national average; by 2005, such a couple would earn 8% below it. In 1960 a household composed of two people with graduate degrees earned 76% above the average; by 2005, they earned 119% more. Women have far more choices than before, and that is one reason why inequality will be hard to reverse. [The Economist, “Sex, Brains, and Inequality,” February 8, 2014]

__________

I’d offer a few caveats:

  • Comparing observed GINI with a hypothetical world in which marriage patterns are completely random is a bit misleading. Marriage patterns weren’t random in 1960 either, and the past popularity of “Cinderella marriages” is more myth than reality. In fact, if you look at the red diagonals [in the accompanying figures], you’ll notice that assortative mating has actually increased only modestly since 1960.
  • So why bother with a comparison to a random counterfactual? That’s a little complicated, but the authors mainly use it to figure out why 1960 is so different from 2005. As it turns out, they conclude that rising income inequality isn’t really due to a rise in assortative mating per se. It’s mostly due to the simple fact that more women work outside the home these days. After all, who a man marries doesn’t affect his household income much if his wife doesn’t have an outside job. But when women with college degrees all started working, it caused a big increase in upper class household incomes regardless of whether assortative mating had increased.
  • This can get to sound like a broken record, but whenever you think about rising income inequality, you always need to keep in mind that over the past three decades it’s mostly been a phenomenon of the top one percent. It’s unlikely that either assortative mating or the rise of working women has had a huge impact at those income levels, and therefore it probably hasn’t had a huge impact on increasing income inequality either. (However, that’s an empirical question. I might be wrong about it.)

[Kevin Drum, “No the Decline of Cinderella Marriages Probably Hasn’t Played a Big Role in Rising Income Inequality,” Mother Jones, January 27, 2014]

In sum:

  • The rate of intermarriage at every level of education rose slightly between 1960 and 2005.
  • But the real change between 1960 and 2005 was that more and more women worked outside the home — a state of affairs that “progressives” applaud. It is that change which has led to a greater disparity between the household incomes of poorly educated couples and those of highly educated couples. (Hereinafter, I omit the “sneer quotes” around “progressives,” “progressive,” and “Progressivism,” but only to eliminate clutter.)
  • While that was going on, the measure of inequality in the incomes of individuals didn’t change. (Go to “In Which We’re Vindicated. Again,” Political Calculations, January 28, 2014, and scroll down to the figure titled “GINI Ratios for U.S. Households, Families, and Individuals, 1947-2010.”)
  • Further, as Kevin Drum notes, the rise in income inequality probably has almost nothing to do with a rise in the rate of assortative mating and much to do with the much higher incomes commanded by executives, athletes, entrepreneurs, financiers, and “techies” — a development that shouldn’t bother anyone, even though it does bother a lot of people. (See my post “Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes,” and follow the many links therein to other posts of mine and to the long list of related readings.)

Moreover, intergenerational mobility in the United States hasn’t changed in the past several decades:

Our analysis of new administrative records on income shows that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution relative to their parents as children born in the 1970s. Putting together our results with evidence from Hertz (2007) and Lee and Solon (2009) that intergenerational elasticities of income did not change significantly between the 1950 and 1970 birth cohorts, we conclude that rank-based measures of social mobility have remained remarkably stable over the second half of the twentieth century in the United States….

The lack of a trend in intergenerational mobility contrasts with the increase in income inequality in recent decades. This contrast may be surprising given the well-known negative correlation between inequality and mobility across countries (Corak 2013). Based on this “Great Gatsby curve,” Krueger (2012) predicted that recent increases in inequality would increase the intergenerational persistence of income by 20% in the U.S. One explanation for why this prediction was not borne out is that much of the increase in inequality has been driven by the extreme upper tail (Piketty and Saez 2003, U.S. Census Bureau 2013). In [Chetty et al. 2014, we show that there is little or no correlation between mobility and extreme upper tail inequality – as measured e.g. by top 1% income shares – both across countries and across areas within the U.S….

The stability of intergenerational mobility is perhaps more surprising in light of evidence that socio-economic gaps in early indicators of success such as test scores (Reardon 2011), parental inputs (Ramey and Ramey 2010), and social connectedness (Putnam, Frederick, and Snellman 2012) have grown over time. Indeed, based on such evidence, Putnam, Frederick, and Snellman predicted that the “adolescents of the 1990s and 2000s are yet to show up in standard studies of intergenerational mobility, but the fact that working class youth are relatively more disconnected from social institutions, and increasingly so, suggests that mobility is poised to plunge dramatically.” An important question for future research is why such a plunge in mobility has not occurred. [Raj Chetty et al., “Is the United States Still a Land of Opportunity? Recent Trends in Intergenerational Mobility,” NBER Working Paper 19844, January 2014]

Figure 3 of the paper by Chetty et al. nails it down:

chetty-et-al-figure-3

The results for ages 29-30 are close to the results for age 26.

What does it all mean? For one thing, it means that the children of top-quintile parents reach the top quintile about 30 percent of the time. For another thing, it means that, unsurprisingly, the children of top-quintile parents reach the top quintile more often than children of second-quintile parents, who reach the top quintile more often than children of third-quintile parents, and so on.

There is nevertheless a growing, quasi-hereditary, smart-educated-professional-affluent class. It’s almost a sure thing, given the rise of the two-professional marriage, and given the correlation between the intelligence of parents and that of their children, which may be as high as 0.8. However, as a fraction of the total population, membership in the new class won’t grow as fast as membership in the “lower” classes because birth rates are inversely related to income.

And the new class probably will be isolated from the “lower” classes. Most members of the new class work and live where their interactions with persons of “lower” classes are restricted to boss-subordinate and employer-employee relationships. Professionals, for the most part, work in office buildings, isolated from the machinery and practitioners of “blue collar” trades.

But the segregation of housing on class lines is nothing new. People earn more, in part, so that they can live in nicer houses in nicer neighborhoods. And the general rise in the real incomes of Americans has made it possible for persons in the higher income brackets to afford more luxurious homes in more luxurious neighborhoods than were available to their parents and grandparents. (The mansions of yore, situated on “Mansion Row,” were occupied by the relatively small number of families whose income and wealth set them widely apart from the professional class of the day.) So economic segregation is, and should be, as unsurprising as a sunrise in the east.

WHAT’S THE PROGRESSIVE SOLUTION TO THE NON-PROBLEM?

None of this will assuage progressives, who like to claim that intelligence (like race) is a social construct (while also claiming that Republicans are stupid); who believe that incomes should be more equal (theirs excepted); who believe in “diversity,” except when it comes to where most of them choose to live and school their children; and who also believe that economic mobility should be greater than it is — just because. In their superior minds, there’s an optimum income distribution and an optimum degree of economic mobility — just as there is an optimum global temperature, which must be less than the ersatz one that’s estimated by combining temperatures measured under various conditions and with various degrees of error.

The irony of it is that the self-segregated, smart-educated-professional-affluent class is increasingly progressive. Consider the changing relationship between party preference and income:

voting-vs-income
Source: K.K. Rebecca Lai et al., “How Trump Won the Election According to Exit Polls,” The New York Times, November 16, 2016.

The elections between 2004 and 2016 are indicated by the elbows in the zig-zag lines for each of the income groups. For example, among voters earning more than $200,000,  the Times estimates that almost 80 percent (+30) voted Republican in 2004, as against 45 percent in 2008, 60 percent in 2012, and just over 50 percent in 2016. Even as voters in the two lowest brackets swung toward the GOP (and Trump) between 2004 and 2016, voters in the three highest brackets were swinging toward the Democrat Party (and Clinton).

Those shifts are consistent with the longer trend among persons with bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees toward identification with the Democrat Party. See, for example, the graphs showing relationships between party affiliation and level of education at “Party Identification Trends, 1992-2014” (Pew Research Center, April 7, 2015). The smart-educated-professional-affluent class consists almost entirely of persons with bachelor’s and advanced degrees.

So I ask progressives, given that you have met the new class and it is you, what do you want to do about it? Is there a social problem that might arise from greater segregation of socio-economic classes, and is it severe enough to warrant government action. Or is the real “problem” the possibility that some people — and their children and children’s children, etc. — might get ahead faster than other people — and their children and children’s children, etc.?

Do you want to apply the usual progressive remedies? Penalize success through progressive (pun intended) personal income-tax rates and the taxation of corporate income; force employers and universities to accept low-income candidates (whites included) ahead of better-qualified ones (e.g., your children) from higher-income brackets; push “diversity” in your neighborhood by expanding the kinds of low-income housing programs that helped to bring about the Great Recession; boost your local property and sales taxes by subsidizing “affordable housing,” mandating the payment of a “living wage” by the local government, and applying that mandate to contractors seeking to do business with the local government; and on and on down the list of progressive policies?

Of course you do, because you’re progressive. And you’ll support such things in the vain hope that they’ll make a difference. But not everyone shares your naive beliefs in blank slates, equal ability, and social homogenization (which you don’t believe either, but are too wedded to your progressive faith to admit). What will actually be accomplished — aside from tokenism — is social distrust and acrimony, which had a lot to do with the electoral victory of Donald J. Trump, and economic stagnation, which hurts the “little people” a lot more than it hurts the smart-educated-professional-affluent class.

Where the progressive view fails, as it usually does, is in its linear view of the world and dependence on government “solutions.” As the late Herbert Stein said, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The top 1-percent doesn’t go on forever; its membership is far more volatile than that of lower income groups. Neither do the top 10-percent or top quintile go on forever. There’s always a top 1-percent, a top 10-percent and top quintile, by definition. But the names change constantly, as the paper by Chetty et al. attests.

The solution to the pseudo-problem of economic inequality is benign neglect, which isn’t a phrase that falls lightly from the lips of progressives. For more than 80 years, a lot of Americans — and too many pundits, professors, and politicians — have been led astray by that one-off phenomenon: the Great Depression. FDR and his sycophants and their successors created and perpetuated the myth that an activist government saved America from ruin and totalitarianism. The truth of the matter is that FDR’s policies prolonged the Great Depression by several years, and ushered in soft despotism, which is just “friendly” fascism. And all of that happened at the behest of people of above-average intelligence and above-average incomes.

Progressivism is the seed-bed of eugenics, and still promotes eugenics through abortion on demand (mainly to rid the world of black babies). My beneficial version of eugenics would be the sterilization of everyone with an IQ above 125 or top-40-percent income who claims to be progressive.

WHAT IS THE REAL PROBLEM? (ADDED 11/18/16)

It’s not the rise of the smart-educated-professional-affluent class. It’s actually a problem that has nothing to do with that. It’s the problem pointed to by Charles Murray, and poignantly underlined by a blogger named Tori:

Over the summer, my little sister had a soccer tournament at Bloomsburg University, located in central Pennsylvania. The drive there was about three hours and many of the towns we drove through shocked me. The conditions of these towns were terrible. Houses were falling apart. Bars and restaurants were boarded up. Scrap metal was thrown across front lawns. White, plastic lawn chairs were out on the drooping front porches. There were no malls. No outlets. Most of these small towns did not have a Walmart, only a dollar store and a few run down thrift stores. In almost every town, there was an abandoned factory.

My father, who was driving the car, turned to me and pointed out a Trump sign stuck in a front yard, surrounded by weeds and dead grass. “This is Trump country, Tori,” He said. “These people are desperate, trapped for life in these small towns with no escape. These people are the ones voting for Trump.”

My father understood Trump’s key to success, even though it would leave the media and half of America baffled and terrified on November 9th. Trump’s presidency has sparked nationwide outrage, disbelief and fear.

And, while I commend the passion many of my fellow millennials feels towards minorities and the fervency they oppose the rhetoric they find dangerous, I do find many of their fears unfounded.  I don’t find their fears unfounded because I negate the potency of racism. Or the potency of oppression. Or the potency of hate.

I find these fears unfounded because these people groups have an army fighting for them. This army is full of celebrities, politicians, billionaires, students, journalists and passionate activists. Trust me, minorities will be fine with an army like this defending them.

And, I would argue, that these minorities aren’t the only ones who need our help. The results of Tuesday night did not expose a red shout of racism but a red shout for help….

The majority of rhetoric going around says that if you’re white, you have an inherent advantage in life. I would argue that, at least for the members of these small impoverished communities, their whiteness only harms them as it keeps their immense struggles out of the public eye.

Rural Americans suffer from a poverty rate that is 3 points higher than the poverty rate found in urban America. In Southern regions, like Appalachia, the poverty rate jumps to 8 points higher than those found in cities. One fifth of the children living in poverty live rural areas. The children in this “forgotten fifth” are more likely to live in extreme poverty and live in poverty longer than their urban counterparts. 57% of these children are white….

Lauren Gurley, a freelance journalist, wrote a piece that focuses on why politicians, namely liberal ones, have written off rural America completely. In this column she quotes Lisa Pruitt, a law professor at the University of California who focuses many of her studies on life in rural America. Pruitt argues that mainstream America ignores poverty stricken rural America because the majority of America associates rural poverty with whiteness. She attributes America’s lack of empathy towards white poverty to the fact that black poverty is attributed to institutionalized racism, while white people have no reason to be poor, unless poor choices were made….

For arguably the first time since President Kennedy in the 1950’s, Donald Trump reached out to rural America. Trump spoke out often about jobs leaving the US, which has been felt deeply by those living in the more rural parts of the country. Trump campaigned in rural areas, while Clinton mostly campaigned in cities. Even if you do not believe Trump will follow through on his promises, he was still one of the few politicians who focused his vision on rural communities and said “I see you, I hear you and I want to help you.”

Trump was the “change” candidate of the 2016 election. Whether Trump proposed a good change or bad change is up to you, but it can’t be denied that Trump offered change. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was the establishment candidate. She ran as an extension of Obama and, even though this appealed to the majority of voters located in cities, those in the country were looking for something else. Obama’s policies did little to help  alleviate the many ailments felt by those in rural communities. In response, these voters came out for the candidate who offered to “make America great again.”

I believe that this is why rural, white communities voted for Trump in droves. I do not believe it was purely racism. I believe it is because no one has listened to these communities’ cries for help. The media and our politicians focus on the poverty and deprivation found in cities and, while bringing these issues to light is immensely important, we have neglected another group of people who are suffering. It is not right to brush off all of these rural counties with words like “deplorable” and not look into why they might have voted for Trump with such desperation.

It was not a racist who voted for Trump, but a father who has no possible way of providing a steady income for his family. It was not a misogynist who voted for Trump, but a mother who is feeding her baby mountain dew out of a bottle. It was not a deplorable who voted for Trump, but a young man who has no possibility of getting out of a small town that is steadily growing smaller.

The people America has forgotten about are the ones who voted for Donald Trump. It does not matter if you agree with Trump. It does not matter if you believe that these people voted for a candidate who won’t actually help them. What matters is that the red electoral college map was a scream for help, and we’re screaming racist so loud we don’t hear them. Hatred didn’t elect Donald Trump; People did. [“Hate Didn’t Elect Donald Trump; People Did,” Tori’s Thought Bubble, November 12, 2016]

Wise words. The best way to help the people of whom Tori writes — the people of Charles Murray’s Fishtown — is to ignore the smart-educated-professional-affluent class. It’s a non-problem, as discussed above. The best way to help the forgotten people of America is to unleash the latent economic power of the United States by removing the dead hand of government from the economy.

 

My Sort-Of Prescience about the Blue Wall

I posted “‘Blue Wall’ Hype” in February of last year. I said, in part:

The right GOP candidate with the right message can win some or all of the States that Obama won narrowly in 2012. In the table below, they’re the States whose electoral votes are highlighted in pale blue in the Tossup column (Florida, Ohio, and Virginia) and the States in the Swing Blue column (Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). If the GOP candidate were to hold all of the States won by Romney and take the additional Tossup and Swing Blue States, he or she would garner 347 electoral votes — a resounding victory.

I won’t reproduce the table here. You can see it by following the link to the post.

As it turned out, Trump was the right candidate, just as Clinton was the wrong candidate (for the Democrat Party). Trump’s appeal to working-class voters behind the Blue Wall and Clinton’s disparagement of them combined into a perfect storm of electoral pyrotechnics.

When the dust settled, Trump had won 306 electoral votes (or the potential for that many, if there are no faithless electors). And Trump did it by holding onto the 206 electoral votes won by Romney and picking up another 100 electoral votes by winning Florida (29), Iowa (6), Michigan (16), Ohio (18) Pennsylvania (20),  Wisconsin (10), and, as a bonus, 1 of Maine’s 4 electoral votes (all of which went to Obama in 2012).

I’m not ready to say that the Blue Wall has crumbled, but Trump made a big hole in it.

Taleb’s Ruinous Rhetoric

A correspondent sent me some links to writings of Nicholas Nassim Taleb. One of them is “The Intellectual Yet Idiot,” in which Taleb makes some acute observations; for example:

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them….

The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life. Why? Simply, in most countries, the government’s role is between five and ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in percentage of GDP)….

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences….

The IYI has been wrong, historically, on Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, low carbohydrate diets, gym machines, behaviorism, transfats, freudianism, portfolio theory, linear regression, Gaussianism, Salafism, dynamic stochastic equilibrium modeling, housing projects, selfish gene, Bernie Madoff (pre-blowup) and p-values. But he is convinced that his current position is right.

That’s all yummy red meat to a person like me, especially in the wake of November 8, which Taleb’s piece predates. But the last paragraph quoted above reminded me that I had read something critical about a paper in which Taleb applies the precautionary principle. So I found the paper, which is by Taleb (lead author) and several others. This is from the abstract:

Here we formalize PP [the precautionary principle], placing it within the statistical and probabilistic structure of “ruin” problems, in which a system is at risk of total failure, and in place of risk we use a formal “fragility” based approach. In these problems, what appear to be small and reasonable risks accumulate inevitably to certain irreversible harm….

Our analysis makes clear that the PP is essential for a limited set of contexts and can be used to justify only a limited set of actions. We discuss the implications for nuclear energy and GMOs. GMOs represent a public risk of global harm, while harm from nuclear energy is comparatively limited and better characterized. PP should be used to prescribe severe limits on GMOs. [“The Precautionary Principle (With Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms),” Extreme Risk Initiative – NYU School of Engineering Working Paper Series]

Jon Entine demurs:

Taleb has recently become the darling of GMO opponents. He and four colleagues–Yaneer Bar-Yam, Rupert Read, Raphael Douady and Joseph Norman–wrote a paper, The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms, released last May and updated last month, in which they claim to bring risk theory and the Precautionary Principle to the issue of whether GMOS might introduce “systemic risk” into the environment….

The crux of his claims: There is no comparison between conventional selective breeding of any kind, including mutagenesis which requires the radiation or chemical dousing of seeds (and has resulted in more than 2500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, almost all available in organic varieties) versus what his calls the top-down engineering that occurs when a gene is taken from an organism and transferred to another (ignoring that some forms of genetic engineering, including gene editing, do not involve gene transfers). Taleb goes on to argue that the chance of ecocide, or the destruction of the environment and potentially of humans, increases incrementally with each additional transgenic trait introduced into the environment. In other words, in his mind genetic engineering is a classic “black swan” scenario.

Neither Taleb nor any of the co-authors has any background in genetics or agriculture or food, or even familiarity with the Precautionary Principle as it applies to biotechology, which they liberally invoke to justify their positions….

One of the paper’s central points displays his clear lack of understanding of modern crop breeding. He claims that the rapidity of the genetic changes using the rDNA technique does not allow the environment to equilibrate. Yet rDNA techniques are actually among the safest crop breeding techniques in use today because each rDNA crop represents only 1-2 genetic changes that are more thoroughly tested than any other crop breeding technique. The number of genetic changes caused by hybridization or mutagensis techniques are orders of magnitude higher than rDNA methods. And no testing is required before widespread monoculture-style release. Even selective breeding likely represents a more rapid change than rDNA techniques because of the more rapid employment of the method today.

In essence. Taleb’s ecocide argument applies just as much to other agricultural techniques in both conventional and organic agriculture. The only difference between GMOs and other forms of breeding is that genetic engineering is closely evaluated, minimizing the potential for unintended consequences. Most geneticists–experts in this field as opposed to Taleb–believe that genetic engineering is far safer than any other form of breeding.

Moreover, as Maxx Chatsko notes, the natural environment has encountered new traits from unthinkable events (extremely rare occurrences of genetic transplantation across continents, species and even planetary objects, or extremely rare single mutations that gave an incredible competitive advantage to a species or virus) that have led to problems and genetic bottlenecks in the past — yet we’re all still here and the biosphere remains tremendously robust and diverse. So much for Mr. Doomsday. [“Is Nassim Taleb a ‘Dangerous Imbecile’ or on [sic] the Pay of Anti-GMO Activists?Genetic Literacy Project, November 13, 2014 — see footnote for an explanation of “dangerous imbecile”]

Gregory Conko also demurs:

The paper received a lot of attention in scientific circles, but was roundly dismissed for being long on overblown rhetoric but conspicuously short on any meaningful reference to the scientific literature describing the risks and safety of genetic engineering, and for containing no understanding of how modern genetic engineering fits within the context of centuries of far more crude genetic modification of plants, animals, and microorganisms.

Well, Taleb is back, this time penning a short essay published on The New York Times’s DealB%k blog with co-author Mark Spitznagel. The authors try to draw comparisons between the recent financial crisis and GMOs, claiming the latter represent another “Too Big to Fail” crisis in waiting. Unfortunately, Taleb’s latest contribution is nothing more than the same sort of evidence-free bombast posing as thoughtful analysis. The result is uninformed and/or unintelligible gibberish….

“In nature, errors stay confined and, critically, isolated.” Ebola, anyone? Avian flu? Or, for examples that are not “in nature” but the “small step” changes Spitznagel and Taleb seem to prefer, how about the introduction of hybrid rice plants into parts of Asia that have led to widespread outcrossing to and increased weediness in wild red rices? Or kudzu? Again, this seems like a bold statement designed to impress. But it is completely untethered to any understanding of what actually occurs in nature or the history of non-genetically engineered crop introductions….

“[T]he risk of G.M.O.s are more severe than those of finance. They can lead to complex chains of unpredictable changes in the ecosystem, while the methods of risk management with G.M.O.s — unlike finance, where some effort was made — are not even primitive.” Again, the authors evince no sense that they understand how extensively breeders have been altering the genetic composition of plants and other organisms for the past century, or what types of risk management practices have evolved to coincide.

In fact, compared with the wholly voluntary (and yet quite robust) risk management practices that are relied upon to manage introductions of mutant varieties, somaclonal variants, wide crosses, and the products of cell fusion, the legally obligatory risk management practices used for genetically engineered plant introductions are vastly over-protective.

In the end, Spitznagel and Taleb’s argument boils down to a claim that ecosystems are complex and rDNA modification seems pretty mysterious to them, so nobody could possibly understand it. Until they can offer some arguments that take into consideration what we actually know about genetic modification of organisms (by various methods) and why we should consider rDNA modification uniquely risky when other methods result in even greater genetic changes, the rest of us are entitled to ignore them. [“More Unintelligible Gibberish on GMO Risks from Nicholas Nassim Taleb,” Competitive Enterprise Institute, July 16, 2015]

And despite my enjoyment of Taleb’s red-meat commentary about IYIs, I have to admit that I’ve had my fill of Taleb’s probabilistic gibberish. This is from “Fooled by Non-Randomness,” which I wrote seven years ago about Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness:

The first reason that I am unfooled by Fooled… might be called a meta-reason. Standing back from the book, I am able to perceive its essential defect: According to Taleb, human affairs — especially economic affairs, and particularly the operations of financial markets — are dominated by randomness. But if that is so, only a delusional person can truly claim to understand the conduct of human affairs. Taleb claims to understand the conduct of human affairs. Taleb is therefore either delusional or omniscient.

Given Taleb’s humanity, it is more likely that he is delusional — or simply fooled, but not by randomness. He is fooled because he proceeds from the assumption of randomness instead of exploring the ways and means by which humans are actually capable of shaping events. Taleb gives no more than scant attention to those traits which, in combination, set humans apart from other animals: self-awareness, empathy, forward thinking, imagination, abstraction, intentionality, adaptability, complex communication skills, and sheer brain power. Given those traits (in combination) the world of human affairs cannot be random. Yes, human plans can fail of realization for many reasons, including those attributable to human flaws (conflict, imperfect knowledge, the triumph of hope over experience, etc.). But the failure of human plans is due to those flaws — not to the randomness of human behavior.

What Taleb sees as randomness is something else entirely. The trajectory of human affairs often is unpredictable, but it is not random. For it is possible to find patterns in the conduct of human affairs, as Taleb admits (implicitly) when he discusses such phenomena as survivorship bias, skewness, anchoring, and regression to the mean….

[R]andom events as events which are repeatable, convergent on a limiting value, and truly patternless over a large number of repetitions. Evolving economic events (e.g., stock-market trades, economic growth) are not alike (in the way that dice are, for example), they do not converge on limiting values, and they are not patternless, as I will show.

In short, Taleb fails to demonstrate that human affairs in general or financial markets in particular exhibit randomness, properly understood….

A bit of unpredictability (or “luck”) here and there does not make for a random universe, random lives, or random markets. If a bit of unpredictability here and there dominated our actions, we wouldn’t be here to talk about randomness — and Taleb wouldn’t have been able to marshal his thoughts into a published, marketed, and well-sold book.

Human beings are not “designed” for randomness. Human endeavors can yield unpredictable results, but those results do not arise from random processes, they derive from skill or the lack therof, knowledge or the lack thereof (including the kinds of self-delusions about which Taleb writes), and conflicting objectives….

No one believes that Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Christy Matthewson, Warren Spahn, and the dozens of other baseball players who rank among the truly great were lucky. No one believes that the vast majority of the the tens of thousands of minor leaguers who never enjoyed more than the proverbial cup of coffee were unlucky. No one believes that the vast majority of the millions of American males who never made it to the minor leagues were unlucky. Most of them never sought a career in baseball; those who did simply lacked the requisite skills.

In baseball, as in life, “luck” is mainly an excuse and rarely an explanation. We prefer to apply “luck” to outcomes when we don’t like the true explanations for them. In the realm of economic activity and financial markets, one such explanation … is the exogenous imposition of governmental power….

Given what I have said thus far, I find it almost incredible that anyone believes in the randomness of financial markets. It is unclear where Taleb stands on the random-walk hypothesis, but it is clear that he believes financial markets to be driven by randomness. Yet, contradictorily, he seems to attack the efficient-markets hypothesis (see pp. 61-62), which is the foundation of the random-walk hypothesis.

What is the random-walk hypothesis? In brief, it is this: Financial markets are so efficient that they instantaneously reflect all information bearing on the prices of financial instruments that is then available to persons buying and selling those instruments….

When we step back from day-to-day price changes, we are able to see the underlying reality: prices (instead of changes) and price trends (which are the opposite of randomness). This (correct) perspective enables us to see that stock prices (on the whole) are not random, and to identify the factors that influence the broad movements of the stock market. For one thing, if you look at stock prices correctly, you can see that they vary cyclically….

[But] the long-term trend of the stock market (as measured by the S&P 500) is strongly correlated with GDP. And broad swings around that trend can be traced to governmental intervention in the economy….

The wild swings around the trend line began in the uncertain aftermath of World War I, which saw the imposition of production and price controls. The swings continued with the onset of the Great Depression (which can be traced to governmental action), the advent of the anti-business New Deal, and the imposition of production and price controls on a grand scale during World War II. The next downswing was occasioned by the culmination the Great Society, the “oil shocks” of the early 1970s, and the raging inflation that was touched off by — you guessed it — government policy. The latest downswing is owed mainly to the financial crisis born of yet more government policy: loose money and easy loans to low-income borrowers.

And so it goes, wildly but predictably enough if you have the faintest sense of history. The moral of the story: Keep your eye on government and a hand on your wallet.

There is randomness in economic affairs, but they are not dominated by randomness. They are dominated by intentions, including especially the intentions of the politicians and bureaucrats who run governments. Yet, Taleb has no space in his book for the influence of their deeds economic activity and financial markets.

Taleb is right to disparage those traders (professional and amateur) who are lucky enough to catch upswings, but are unprepared for downswings. And he is right to scoff at their readiness to believe that the current upswing (uniquely) will not be followed by a downswing (“this time it’s different”).

But Taleb is wrong to suggest that traders are fooled by randomness. They are fooled to some extent by false hope, but more profoundly by their inablity to perceive the economic damage wrought by government. They are not alone of course; most of the rest of humanity shares their perceptual failings.

Taleb, in that respect, is only somewhat different than most of the rest of humanity. He is not fooled by false hope, but he is fooled by non-randomness — the non-randomness of government’s decisive influence on economic activity and financial markets. In overlooking that influence he overlooks the single most powerful explanation for the behavior of markets in the past 90 years.

I followed up a few days later with “Randomness Is Over-Rated“:

What we often call random events in human affairs really are non-random events whose causes we do not and, in some cases, cannot know. Such events are unpredictable, but they are not random….

Randomness … is found in (a) the results of non-intentional actions, where (b) we lack sufficient knowledge to understand the link between actions and results.

It is unreasonable to reduce intentional human behavior to probabilistic formulas. Humans don’t behave like dice, roulette balls, or similar “random” devices. But that is what Taleb (and others) do when they ascribe unusual success in financial markets to “luck.”…

I say it again: The most successful professionals are not successful because of luck, they are successful because of skill. There is no statistically predetermined percentage of skillful traders; the actual percentage depends on the skills of entrants and their willingness (if skillful) to make a career of it….

The outcomes of human endeavor are skewed because the distribution of human talents is skewed. It would be surprising to find as many as one-half of traders beating the long-run average performance of the various markets in which they operate….

[Taleb] sees an a priori distribution of “winners” and losers,” where “winners” are determined mainly by luck, not skill. Moreover, we — the civilians on the sidelines — labor under the false impression about the relative number of “winners”….

[T]here are no “odds” favoring success — even in financial markets. Financial “players” do what they can do, and most of them — like baseball players — simply don’t have what it takes for great success. Outcomes are skewed, not because of (fictitious) odds but because talent is distributed unevenly.

The real lesson … is not to assume that the “winners” are merely lucky. No, the real lesson is to seek out those “winners” who have proven their skills over a long period of time, through boom and bust and boom and bust.

Those who do well, over the long run, do not do so merely because they have survived. They have survived because they do well.

There’s much more, and you should read the whole thing(s), as they say.

I turn now to Taleb’s version of the precautionary principle, which seems tailored to support the position that Taleb wants to support, namely, that GMOs should be banned. Who gets to decide what “threats” should be included in the “limited set of contexts” where the PP applies? Taleb, of course. Taleb has excreted a circular pile of horse manure; thus:

  • The PP applies only where I (Taleb) say it applies.
  • I (Taleb) say that the PP applies to GMOs.
  • Therefore, the PP applies to GMOs.

I (the proprietor of this blog) say that the PP ought to apply to the works of Nicholas Nassim Taleb. They ought to be banned because they may perniciously influence gullible readers.

I’ll justify my facetious proposal to ban Taleb’s writings by working my way through the “logic” of what Taleb calls the non-naive version of the PP, on which he bases his anti-GMO stance. Here are the main points of Taleb’s argument, extracted from “The Precautionary Principle (With Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms).” Taleb’s statements (with minor, non-substantive elisions) are in roman type, followed by my comments in bold type.

The purpose of the PP is to avoid a certain class of what, in probability and insurance, is called “ruin” problems. A ruin problem is one where outcomes of risks have a non-zero probability of resulting in unrecoverable losses. An often-cited illustrative case is that of a gambler who loses his entire fortune and so cannot return to the game. In biology, an example would be a species that has gone extinct. For nature, “ruin” is ecocide: an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be planetwide.

The extinction of a species is ruinous only if one believes that species shouldn’t become extinct. But they do, because that’s the way nature works. Ruin, as Taleb means it, is avoidable, self-inflicted, and (at some point) irreversibly catastrophic. Let’s stick to that version of it.

Our concern is with public policy. While an individual may be advised to not “bet the farm,” whether or not he does so is generally a matter of individual preferences. Policy makers have a responsibility to avoid catastrophic harm for society as a whole; the focus is on the aggregate, not at the level of single individuals, and on globalsystemic, not idiosyncratic, harm. This is the domain of collective “ruin” problems.

This assumes that government can do something about a potentially catastrophic harm — or should do something about it. The Great Depression, for example, began as a potentially catastrophic harm that government made into a real catastrophic harm (for millions of Americans, though not all of them) and prolonged through its actions. Here Taleb commits the nirvana fallacy, by implicitly ascribing to government the power to anticipate harm without making a Type I or Type II error,  and then to take appropriate and effective action to prevent or ameliorate that harm.

By the ruin theorems, if you incur a tiny probability of ruin as a “one-off” risk, survive it, then do it again (another “one-off” deal), you will eventually go bust with probability 1. Confusion arises because it may seem that the “one-off” risk is reasonable, but that also means that an additional one is reasonable. This can be quantified by recognizing that the probability of ruin approaches 1 as the number of exposures to individually small risks, say one in ten thousand, increases. For this reason a strategy of risk taking is not sustainable and we must consider any genuine risk of total ruin as if it were inevitable.

But you have to know in advance that a particular type of risk will be ruinous. Which means that — given the uncertainty of such knowledge — the perception of (possible) ruin is in the eye of the assessor. (I’ll have a lot more to say about uncertainty.)

A way to formalize the ruin problem in terms of the destructive consequences of actions identifies harm as not about the amount of destruction, but rather a measure of the integrated level of destruction over the time it persists. When the impact of harm extends to all future times, i.e. forever, then the harm is infinite. When the harm is infinite, the product of any non-zero probability and the harm is also infinite, and it cannot be balanced against any potential gains, which are necessarily finite.

As discussed below, the concept of probability is inapplicable here. Further, and granting the use of probability for the sake of argument, Taleb’s contention holds only if there’s no doubt that the harm will be infinite, that is, totally ruinous. If there’s room for doubt, there’s room for disagreement as to the extent of the harm (if any) and the value of attempting to counter it (or not). Otherwise, it would be “rational” to devote as much as the entire economic output of the world to combat so-called catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) because some “expert” says that there’s a non-zero probability of its occurrence. In practical terms, the logic of such a policy is that if you’re going to die of heat stroke, you might as well do it sooner rather than later — which would be one of the consequences of, say, banning the use of fossil fuels. Other consequences would be freezing to death if you live in a cold climate and starving to death because foodstuffs couldn’t be grown, harvested, processed, or transported. Those are also infinite harms, and they arise from Taleb’s preferred policy of acting on little information about a risk because (in someone’s view) it could lead to infinite harm. There’s a relevant cost-benefit analysis for you.

Because the “cost” of ruin is effectively infinite, costbenefit analysis (in which the potential harm and potential gain are multiplied by their probabilities and weighed against each other) is no longer a useful paradigm.

Here, Taleb displays profound ignorance in two fields: economics and probability. His ignorance of economics might be excusable, but his ignorance of probability isn’t, inasmuch as he’s made a name for himself (and probably a lot of money) by parading his “sophisticated” understanding of it in books and on the lecture circuit.

Regarding the economics of cost-benefit analysis (CBA), it’s properly an exercise for individual persons and firms, not governments. When a government undertakes CBA, it implicitly (and arrogantly) assumes that the costs of a project (which are defrayed in the end by taxpayers) can be weighed against the monetary benefits of the project (which aren’t distributed in proportion to the costs and are often deliberately distributed so that taxpayers bear most of the costs and non-taxpayers reap most of the benefits).

Regarding probability, Taleb quite wrongly insists on ascribing probabilities to events that might (or might not) occur in the future. A probability is a statement about a very large number of like events, each of which has an unpredictable (random) outcome. A valid probability is based either on a large number of past “trials” or a mathematical certainty (e.g., a fair coin, tossed a large number of times — 100 or more  — will come up heads about half the time and tails about half the time). Probability, properly understood, says nothing about the outcome of an individual future event; that is, it says nothing about what will happen next in a truly random trial, such as a coin toss. Probability certainly says nothing about the occurrence of a unique event. Therefore, Taleb cannot validly assign a probability of “ruin” to a speculative event as little understood (by him)  as the effect of GMOs on the world’s food supply.

The non-naive PP bridges the gap between precaution and evidentiary action using the ability to evaluate the difference between local and global risks.

In other words, if there’s a subjective, non-zero probability of CAGW in Taleb’s mind, that probability should outweigh evidence about the wrongness of a belief in CAGW. And such evidence is ample, not only in the various scientific fields that impinge on climatology, but also in the failure of almost all climate models to predict the long pause in what’s called global warming. Ah, but “almost all” — in Taleb’s mind — means that there’s a non-zero probability of CAGW.  It’s the “heads I win, tails you lose” method of gambling on the flip of a coin.

Here’s another way of putting it: Taleb turns the scientific method upside down by rejecting the null hypothesis (e.g., no CAGW) on the basis of evidence that confirms it (no observable rise in temperatures approaching the predictions of CAGW theory) because a few predictions happened to be close to the truth. Taleb, in his guise as the author of Fooled by Randomness, would correctly label such predictions as lucky.

While evidentiary approaches are often considered to reflect adherence to the scientific method in its purest form, it is apparent that these approaches do not apply to ruin problems. In an evidentiary approach to risk (relying on evidence-based methods), the existence of a risk or harm occurs when we experience that risk or harm. In the case of ruin, by the time evidence comes it will by definition be too late to avoid it. Nothing in the past may predict one fatal event. Thus standard evidence-based approaches cannot work.

It’s misleading to say that “by the time the evidence comes it will be by definition too late to avoid it.” Taleb assumes, without proof, that the linkage between GMOs, say, and a worldwide food crisis will occur suddenly and without warning (or sufficient warning), as if GMOs will be everywhere at once and no one will have been paying attention to their effects as their use spread. That’s unlikely given broad disparities in the distribution of GMOs, the state of vigilance about them, and resistance to them in many quarters. What Taleb really says is this: Some people (Taleb among them) believe that GMOs pose an existential risk with a probability greater than zero. (Any such “probability” is fictional, as discussed above.) Therefore, the risk of ruin from GMOs is greater than zero and ruin is inevitable. By that logic, there must be dozens of certain-death scenarios for the planet. Why is Taleb wasting his time on GMOs, which are small potatoes compared with, say, asteroids? And why don’t we just slit our collective throat and get it over with?

Since there are mathematical limitations to predictability of outcomes in a complex system, the central issue to determine is whether the threat of harm is local (hence globally benign) or carries global consequences. Scientific analysis can robustly determine whether a risk is systemic, i.e. by evaluating the connectivity of the system to propagation of harm, without determining the specifics of such a risk. If the consequences are systemic, the associated uncertainty of risks must be treated differently than if it is not. In such cases, precautionary action is not based on direct empirical evidence but on analytical approaches based upon the theoretical understanding of the nature of harm. It relies on probability theory without computing probabilities. The essential question is whether or not global harm is possible or not.

More of the same.

Everything that has survived is necessarily non-linear to harm. If I fall from a height of 10 meters I am injured more than 10 times than if I fell from a height of 1 meter, or more than 1000 times than if I fell from a height of 1 centimeter, hence I am fragile. In general, every additional meter, up to the point of my destruction, hurts me more than the previous one.

This explains the necessity of considering scale when invoking the PP. Polluting in a small way does not warrant the PP because it is essentially less harmful than polluting in large quantities, since harm is non-linear.

This is just a way of saying that there’s a threshold of harm, and harm becomes ruinous when the threshold is surpassed. Which is true in some cases, but there’s a wide variety of cases and a wide range of thresholds. This is just a framing device meant to set the reader up for the sucker punch, which is that the widespread use of GMOs will be ruinous, at some undefined point. Well, we’ve been hearing that about CAGW for twenty years, and the undefined point keeps receding into the indefinite future.

Thus, when impacts extend to the size of the system, harm is severely exacerbated by non-linear effects. Small impacts, below a threshold of recovery, do not accumulate for systems that retain their structure. Larger impacts cause irreversible damage.We should be careful, however, of actions that may seem small and local but then lead to systemic consequences.

“When impacts extend to the size of the system” means “when ruin is upon us there is ruin.” It’s a tautology without empirical content.

An increase in uncertainty leads to an increase in the probability of ruin, hence “skepticism” is that its impact on decisions should lead to increased, not decreased conservatism in the presence of ruin. Hence skepticism about climate models should lead to more precautionary policies.

This is through the looking glass and into the wild blue yonder. More below.

The rest of the paper is devoted to two things. One of them is making the case against GMOs because they supposedly exemplify the kind of risk that’s covered by the non-naive PP. I’ll let Jon Entine and Gregory Conko (quoted above) speak for me on that issue.

The other thing that the rest of the paper does is to spell out and debunk ten supposedly fallacious arguments against PP. I won’t go into them here because Taleb’s version of PP is self-evidently fallacious. The fallacy can be found in figure 6 of the paper:

taleb-figure-6

Taleb pulls an interesting trick here — or perhaps he exposes his fundamental ignorance about probability. Let’s take it a step at a time:

  1. Figure 6 depicts two normal distributions. But what are they normal distributions of? Let’s say that they’re supposed to be normal distributions of the probability of the occurrence of CAGW (however that might be defined) by a certain date, in the absence of further steps to mitigate it (e.g., banning the use of fossil fuels forthwith). There’s no known normal distribution of the probability of CAGW because, as discussed above, CAGW is a unique, hypothesized (future) event which cannot have a probability. It’s not 100 tosses of a fair coin.
  2. The curves must therefore represent something about models that predict the arrival of CAGW by a certain date. Perhaps those predictions are normally distributed, though that has nothing to do with the “probability” of CAGW if all of the predictions are wrong.
  3. The two curves shown in Taleb’s figure 6 are meant (by Taleb) to represent greater and lesser certainty about the arrival of CAGW (or the ruinous scenario of his choice), as depicted by climate models.
  4. But if models are adjusted or built anew in the face of evidence about their shortcomings (i.e., their gross overprediction of temperatures since 1998), the newer models (those with presumably greater certainty) will have two characteristics: (a) The tails will be thinner, as Taleb suggests. (b) The mean will shift to the left or right; that is they won’t have the same mean.
  5. In the case of CAGW, the mean will shift to the right because it’s already known that extant models overstate the risk of “ruin.” The left tail of the distribution of the new models will therefore shift to the right, further reducing the “probability” of CAGW.
  6. Taleb’s trick is to ignore that shift and, further, to implicitly assume that the two distributions coexist. By doing that he can suggest that there’s an “increase in uncertainty [that] leads to an increase in the probability of ruin.” In fact, there’s a decrease in uncertainty, and therefore a decrease in the probability of ruin.

I’ll say it again: As evidence is gathered, there is less uncertainty; that is, the high-uncertainty condition precedes the low-uncertainty one. The movement from high uncertainty to low uncertainty would result in the assignment of a lower probability to a catastrophic outcome (assuming, for the moment, that such a probability is meaningful). And that would be a good reason to worry less about the eventuality of the catastrophic outcome. Taleb wants to compare the two distributions, as if the earlier one (based on little evidence) were as valid as the later one (based on additional evidence).

That’s why Taleb counsels against “evidentiary approaches.” In Taleb’s worldview, knowing little about a potential risk to health, welfare, and existence is a good reason to take action with respect to that risk. Therefore, if you know little about the risk, you should act immediately and with all of the resources at your disposal. Why? Because the risk might suddenly cause an irreversible calamity. But that’s not true of CAGW or GMOs. There’s time to gather evidence as to whether there’s truly a looming calamity, and then — if necessary — to take steps to avert it, steps that are more likely to be effective because they’re evidence-based. Further, if there’s not a looming calamity, a tremendous wast of resources will be averted.

It follows from the non-naive PP — as interpreted by Taleb — that all human beings should be sterilized and therefore prevented from procreating. This is so because sometimes just a few human beings  — Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, for example — can cause wars. And some of those wars have harmed human beings on a nearly global scale. Global sterilization is therefore necessary, to ensure against the birth of new Hitlers, Mussolinis, and Tojos — even if it prevents the birth of new Schweitzers, Salks, Watsons, Cricks, and Mother Teresas.

In other words, the non-naive PP (or Taleb’s version of it) is pseudo-scientific claptrap. It can be used to justify any extreme and nonsensical position that its user wishes to advance. It can be summed up in an Orwellian sentence: There is certainty in uncertainty.

Perhaps this is better: You shouldn’t get out of bed in the morning because you don’t know with certainty everything that will happen to you in the course of the day.

*     *     *

NOTE: The title of Jon Entine’s blog post, quoted above, refers to Taleb as a “dangerous imbecile.” Here’s Entine’s explanation of that characterization:

If you think the headline of this blog [post] is unnecessarily inflammatory, you are right. It’s an ad hominem way to deal with public discourse, and it’s unfair to Nassim Taleb, the New York University statistician and risk analyst. I’m using it to make a point–because it’s Taleb himself who regularly invokes such ugly characterizations of others….

…Taleb portrays GMOs as a ‘castrophe in waiting’–and has taken to personally lashing out at those who challenge his conclusions–and yes, calling them “imbeciles” or paid shills.

He recently accused Anne Glover, the European Union’s Chief Scientist, and one of the most respected scientists in the world, of being a “dangerous imbecile” for arguing that GM crops and foods are safe and that Europe should apply science based risk analysis to the GMO approval process–views reflected in summary statements by every major independent science organization in the world.

Taleb’s ugly comment was gleefully and widely circulated by anti-GMO activist web sites. GMO Free USA designed a particularly repugnant visual to accompany their post.

Taleb is known for his disagreeable personality–as Keith Kloor at Discover noted, the economist Noah Smith had called Taleb  a “vulgar bombastic windbag”, adding, “and I like him a lot”. He has a right to flaunt an ego bigger than the Goodyear blimp. But that doesn’t make his argument any more persuasive.

*     *     *

Related posts:
“Warmism”: The Myth of Anthropogenic Global Warming
More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming
Yet More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Modeling Is Not Science
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Anthropogenic Global Warming Is Dead, Just Not Buried Yet
Beware the Rare Event
Demystifying Science
Pinker Commits Scientism
AGW: The Death Knell
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
“Settled Science” and the Monty Hall Problem
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Some Thoughts about Probability
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
AGW in Austin?
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
My War on the Misuse of Probability
Ty Cobb and the State of Science
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas
The Technocratic Illusion
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
AGW in Austin? (II)
Is Science Self-Correcting?

Babbling Brooks

David Brooks has finally gone off the deep end, unhinged by the election of Donald Trump. He just can’t understand it, even though he’s supposedly a conservative. But being a conservative on the payroll of The New York Times means being more polite to left-wingers than Paul Krugman is to conservatives and libertarians.

So here he is, in full flight:

If your social circles are like mine, you spent Tuesday night swapping miserable texts. Not all, but many of my friends and family members were outraged, stunned, disgusted and devastated….

I was on PBS trying to make sense of what was happening while trying to text various people off the ledge….

Populism of the Trump/Le Pen/Brexit variety has always been a warning sign, a warning sign that there is some deeper dysfunction in our economic, social and cultural systems….

Trump’s bigotry, dishonesty and promise-breaking will have to be denounced. We can’t go morally numb. But he needs to be replaced with a program that addresses the problems that fueled his ascent.

After all, the guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year. The future is closer than you think. [“The View from Trump Tower,” The New York Times, November 11, 2016]

Social circles? I ain’t got no frigging social circles. I’ve got family and friends. Only The Crust of Manhattan, Vail, and San Francisco have social circles. Where I grew up a social circle was several boys huddled around a game of marbles.

Which just goes to show you what a clueless twit David Brooks is.

*     *     *

Related reading:

Columnist, Heal Thyself

David Brooks’s recent column, “The Protocol Society,” is a typical Brooksian muddle, in which he attributes evolutionary changes in economic behavior to the “discoveries” of contemporary economists.

Our Miss Brooks

Some time back, Tom Smith referred to the NYT columnist and pseudo-conservative David Brooks as “prissy little Miss Brooks.” Smith’s recycling of the appellation has not diminished its satirical effect — or its substantive accuracy.

Miss Brooks recently cringed when she contemplated an America without government, in the aftermath of a victorious Tea Party movement. Miss Brooks, it seems, is besotted with the manliness of limited-but-energetic governments.

Miss Brooks’s “Grand Bargain”

The idiot known as David Brooks — The New York Times‘s idea of a conservative — is true to form today….

In other words, Republicans should simply give in, on Miss Brooks’s say-so.

More Fool He

Fool David once, Obama’s to blame. Fool David twice, David’s to blame. Fool David thrice (at least), and you know that David’s no sap — he’s a fool.

David Brooks, Useful Idiot for the Left

Brooks begins by assuming that the Hamiltonian approach to government is the correct one: An assertion that Madison and Jefferson would refute.

Beyond that, Brooks ignores the evidence of his own analysis, which is that each aggrandizement of governmental power (economic and social) — beginning with Hamilton’s nationalism — fostered subsequent expansions of governmental power.

Baseball or Soccer? David Brooks Misunderstands Life

Brooks’s latest offering to the collectivist cause is “Baseball or Soccer?”…

Brooks has gone from teamwork — which he gets wrong — to socialization and luck. As with Brooks’s (failed) baseball-soccer analogy, the point is to belittle individual effort by making it seem inconsequential, or less consequential than the “masses” believe it to be.

You may have noticed that Brooks is re-running Obama’s big lie: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”…

The foregoing parade of non sequitur, psychobabble, and outright error simply proves that Brooks doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I hereby demote him from “useful idiot” to plain old “idiot.”

How America Has Changed

I believe that the morals and the mores of a populace change observably over time. That’s certainly true of Americans, even if it isn’t true of, say, many tribal peoples of distant lands. This post takes a look at how American morals and mores have changed, generally for the worse, in my lifetime.

I am an American of humble birth, with a lower-middle-class to upper-lower-class upbringing in the Upper Midwest. I’m a graduate of a huge, tax-funded university more known for its sports teams than its scholarly attainments. And I’m a person who was never fully enveloped by the bubble of elitism, even though I spent forty years living among and working with highly educated and affluent elites. (See my “About” page for more of the gory details.)

And what do I see when I look out at the America of today? It’s an America where so many collegians can’t bear to hear or read ideas unpalatable to their tender minds; where those same collegians require days of mourning to recover from the unexpected electoral victory of Donald J. Trump; where liberal elites generally view Trump’s victory as a sign that ignorant, uneducated, racist whites have conquered the country; and where many of those same liberals who had promised to leave the U.S.A. if Trump were elected but are, unfortunately for the U.S.A., reneging on their promises.

What I see are a lot of people who should be transported back to the lower-middle-class and upper-lower-class environs of the Upper Midwest of the 1940s and 1950s, where they might just learn how to face the realities of life.

POLITICS

Politics wasn’t a preoccupation in the bad old days because relatively little was expected (or wanted) from government. There was Social Security, State unemployment benefits, and workers’ comp — all of which relied heavily on taxes and “contributions” — and that was about it. I guess there were some welfare payments for the truly indigent, but there weren’t extended unemployment benefits, State and federal subsidies to keep students in college and out of the work force, low-income tax credits, low-income housing subsidies, etc., etc., etc. But those are all loose change compared with the real budget-busters: Medicare, Medicaid, and their vast expansion under Obamacare.

And despite having a much smaller government and a few recessions, the rate of economic growth then was higher than it is today.

Moral: Less government means less political strife — and greater prosperity, to boot.

RELIGION

Almost everyone belonged to one, but few people made a big deal of it. Now, it’s de rigeur to belong to the Church of Redistributionism, Alarmism & Pseud-science (CRAP) — and a big deal if someone doesn’t belong. Religion hasn’t withered away, it’s just taken a new and more virulent form.

It used to be accepted that government wasn’t in the business of establishing or suppressing religion — and only a few woolly-haired progenitors of political correctness thought that a Christmas display on government property was an establishment of religion. Now, government is expected to force the doctrines of CRAP down everyone’s throats. That’s “progress” for you.

What’s worse is that the “progressives” who are doing the shoving don’t understand the resentment that it causes, some of which bubbled to the surface on November 8.

BULLYING (OR, THE RISK OF LIVING)

Bullying was common and accepted as a fact of life. The smart, skinny kid who wore glasses (that was me) could expect taunts and shoving from the bigger, dumber kids. And he might sometimes fight back, successfully or not, or he might devise avoidance tactics and thereby learn valuable lessons about getting through life despite its unpleasant aspects. But unless the bullying became downright persistent and turned into injurious violence, he didn’t run to Mama or the principal. And if he did, Mama or the principal would actually do something about the bullying and not cringe in fear of offending the bully or his parents because the bully was a “disadvantaged” (i.e., stupid) lout.

Bullying, in other words, was nothing new and nothing worth mounting a national campaign against. People dealt with it personally, locally, and usually successfully. And bully-ees (as I was occasionally) learned valuable lessons about (a) how to cope with the stuff life throws at you and (b) how to get along in life without having a government program to fall back on.

Life is a risk. People used to understand that. Too many of them no longer do. And worse, they expect others to carry the burden of risk for them. I’ve got enough problems of my own, I don’t need yours as well.

CLIQUES

People of similar backgrounds (religion, neighborhood, income) and tastes (sports, cars, music) tend to hang out together. True then, true now, true forever — though now (and perhaps forever) the biggest clique seems to be defined by adherence to CRAP (or lack thereof).

Aside from cliques consisting of bullies, cliques used to leave each other alone. (I’m talking about cliques, not gangs, which were less prevalent and less violent then than now.) But the CRAP clique won’t leave anyone alone, and uses government to bully non-members.

Irony: The very people who complain loudest about bullying are themselves bullies. But they don’t have the guts to do it personally. Instead, they use government — the biggest bully of all.

SEXISM

There was lots of it, but it was confined mainly to members of the male preference. (I’m kidding about “preference”; males were just males and didn’t think of themselves as having a preference, orientation, or birth-assignment. The same went for females.) And it was based on evolved norms about the roles and abilities of men and women — norms that were still evolving and would have evolved to something like those now prevalent, but with less acrimony, had the forces of forced change not evolved into CRAP.

Women probably comprised half the student body at Big-Ten U where I was a collegian. That was a big change from the quaint days of the 1920s (only thirty years earlier), when female students were still such a rarity (outside female-only colleges) that they were disparagingly called co-eds. Nationally, the male-female ratio hit 50-50 in the late 1970s and continues to shift in favor of women.

There’s plenty of evidence that women are different from men, in the brain and non-genital parts of the body, I mean. So disparities in emotional balance, abstract thinking, mechanical aptitude, size, running speed, and strength — and thus in career choices and accomplishments — will surprise and offend no one who isn’t an adherent of CRAP.

The biggest sexists of all are feminazis and the male eunuchs who worship at their feet. Together, they are turning the armed forces into day-care centers and police forces into enforcers of political correctness — and both into under-muscled remnants of institutions that were once respected and feared by wrong-doers.

RACISM

There was plenty of that, too, and there still is. The funny thing is that the adherents of CRAP expect there to be a lot less of it. Further, they expect to reduce its prevalence among whites by constantly reminding them that they’re racist trash. And what does that get you? More votes for Donald Trump, who — whatever his faults — doesn’t talk like that.

Racism, like sexism, would be a lot less prevalent if the CRAPers could leave well enough alone and let people figure out how to live in harmony despite their differences.

Living in harmony doesn’t mean being best buddies with the persons of every skin tone and sexual preference, as TV commercials and shows are wont to suggest. People are inherently tribal, and the biggest tribes of all are races, which really exist, all CRAP aside. Racial differences, like gender differences, underlie real differences in intelligence and, therefore, in proneness to violence. They also betoken deep-seated cultural differences that can’t be overlooked, unless you happen to have a weird preference for rap music.

It used to be that people understood such things because they saw life in the raw. But the CRAPers — who are the true exemplars of cosseted white privilege — haven’t a clue. In their worldview, where the mind is a blank slate and behavior is nothing more than the residue of acculturation, racism is an incomprehensible phenomenon, something that simply shouldn’t exist. Unless it’s the racism of blacks toward whites, of course.

COLLEGE EDUCATION

It was for the brightest — those who were most likely to use it to advance science, technology, the world of commerce, and so on. It wasn’t for everyone. In fact, when I went to college in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were already too many dumb students there.

The push to get more and more dumb people into college is rationalized, in large part, by the correlation between income and level of education. But level of education used to be a sign of drive and intelligence, which are the very things that strongly determine one’s income. Now, level of education is too often a sign that an unqualified person has been pushed into college.

Pushing more and more people into college, which necessarily means taxing productive persons to subsidize the educations of dumber and dumber people, accomplishes several things, all of them bad:

  • There are fewer workers who could be doing something remunerative but not demanding of high intelligence (e.g., plumbing), but who instead are qualified only to do nothing more than the kind of work they could have done without going to college (e.g., waiting on tables and flipping burgers).
  • Which means that they’ve ended up driving down the wages of people who didn’t go to college.
  • And which also means that the tax dollars wasted on subsidizing their useless college educations could have been spent instead on investments in business creation and expansion that would have created more jobs and higher incomes for all.

PROTESTS

These began in earnest in the late 1950s. What they were meant to accomplish in those days — usually the end of legal segregation and voter suppression — were worthy objectives.

Then came the hairy, unkempt, undignified, and sometimes violent protests of the late 1960s. These set the tone for most of what followed. Nothing is too trivial to protest nowadays. To protest everything is to protest nothing.

What protesting usually accomplishes now is inconvenience to people who are simply trying to get from point A to point B, the diversion of police from real police work, the diversion of tax dollars to trash pickup, and filler for TV newscasts.

Oh, yes, it also fills protestors with a feeling of smug superiority. And if they’re of the right color (dark) or the right political persuasion (left), they’re allowed to wreak some havoc, which gives them a perverted sense of accomplishment. And radical-chic CRAPers love it.

Bring back the riot act.

As for those performers who can’t resist the urge to display their CRAP credentials, and who therefore insist on conveying their puerile (and usually hypocritical) views about social, racial, environmental, and other trendy kinds of “justice,” I’m with Laura Ingraham.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Especially 1963: The Year Zero (and the articles and posts linked to therein), and also
What Is the Point of Academic Freedom?
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
Here We Go Again
It’s Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“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?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Khizr Khan’s Muddled Logic
My Platform
Polarization and De Facto Partition (many more related posts are listed at the end of this one)

Polarization and De Facto Partition

I started this post on the day before election day.

Don’t you have the feeling that Election 2016 will result in greater political polarization, not less? I do.

For one thing, both Clinton and Trump are polarizing figures. It seems unlikely that either of them will do things (or try to do things) that will gain the approval of their political opponents.

For another thing, whatever is done by the president, by Congress, or by the Supreme Court in the next four years will simply fuel the outrage of those who oppose it. When government steers to the left, it usually isn’t far enough to the left to satisfy the growing and vocal band of leftists in America, but it always outrages the right. When government steers to the right, it always enrages the left, but it’s never far enough to the right to restore liberty, thus disappointing and further alienating the right.

The underlying trend toward bigger and more intrusive government is especially frustrating for those of us on the right. It seems that no matter which party controls the White House and Congress, the bureaucracy continues to churn out regulations and the Supreme Court (usually) issues edicts that undermine traditional morality and endorse the central government’s interfering ways.

Political polarization is aided and abetted by geographic sorting, and geographic sorting must aid and abet political polarization. Consider how far geographic sorting has come since 1992:

As of 2012, the divide was pretty wide. Half of all voters were living in a county that President Obama or Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee that year, won in a landslide, which is defined here as a county won by 20 percentage points or more.

The proportion of voters living in landslide counties has steadily increased since 1992, a trend that reflects the growing tendency of like-minded people to live near one another, according to Bill Bishop, a co-author of “The Big Sort,” a 2008 book that identified this phenomenon.

Americans have been self-segregating by lifestyle, though not necessarily politics, for several decades, Mr. Bishop said, but lifestyle has grown to reflect politics. “We’re sorting by the way we live, think and — it turns out — every four years or every two years, how we vote.”

Some political scientists expect the landslide trend to continue in the 2016 presidential election. “If anything, I think we’ll see it intensify because Trump has been doing very well among the kinds of voters who tend to live in rural and small-town America,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. [Gregor Aisch, Adam Pearce, and Karen Yourish, “How Large Is the Divide between Red and Blue America?The New York Times, November 4, 2016]

Perhaps the most compelling statistic of the many statistics presented in the article is that the percentage of voters living in landslide counties rose from 37 percent in 1992 to 50 percent in 2012. The United States truly has become a nation divided.

Something has to give. But what, and how? I addressed those questions in “Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead,” and concluded that

unless there is a negotiated partition of the country — perhaps in response to a serious secession movement — a coup is probably the only hope for the restoration of liberty under a government that is true to the Constitution.

The alternative is a continuation of America’s descent into despotism, which — as many Americans already know — is no longer the “soft” despotism foreseen by Tocqueville.

I’ve mentioned the possibility of a coup in several posts, but always with skepticism. I remain skeptical. Given the increasing polarization of the country — political and geographic — something like a negotiated partition seems like the only way to make the left and the right happier.

And then it occurred to me that a kind of partition could be achieved by constitutional means; that is, by revising the Constitution to return to its original plan of true federalism. The central government would, once again, be responsible for the defense of liberty and free trade. Each State would, within the framework of liberty, make its own decisions about the extent to which it intervenes in the economic and social affairs of its citizens.

How might that come to pass?

There are today in this land millions — probably tens of millions — of depressed leftists who foresee at least four years of GOP rule dedicated to the diminution of the regulatory-welfare state.

Obamacare is almost certainly dead. It has been dying of its congenital defects, but I expect Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to put a stake through its heart.

Trump’s nominee to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court probably will be someone closer in judicial philosophy to Antonin Scalia than to Anthony Kennedy. (If it isn’t, Trump may well find himself embarrassed by the GOP-controlled Senate’s rejection of his nominee.) As other vacancies arise during the next few years — and there’s likely to be at least one — they’ll probably be filled by constitutional conservatives. (The GOP-controlled Senate can and should change its rules about Supreme Court nominations to keep Democrats from filibustering Trump’s nominees.) Trump’s one or two nominees will move the Court back to the right, and probably will serve for decades. At any rate, that’s what conservatives hope and leftists fear.

What else? Here’s what I expect (or at least hope for): The end of preaching about race, having “conversations” about it, pretending that it isn’t implicated in violent crime, and turning a blind eye toward violence committed in the name of “racial justice.” The end of uncontrolled (and encouraged) illegal immigration. Reaffirmation of America’s long-standing ties with Israel, the Middle East’s bastion of democracy Western values. Repudiation of the phony deal with Iran. An end to pussy-footing around the relationship between Islam and terrorism. The reversal of anti-growth and anti-business executive orders and regulations (e.g., the EPA’s war on coal) issued in the name of “social justice” and “climate change.” The repeal of Dodd-Frank and its onerous micro-management of the financial industry. The end of efforts to undermine the Second Amendment. The end of the Department of Justice’s meddling in State and local matters to advance a leftist agenda in the name of “civil rights.” An end to similar meddling (and related funding) by the Department of Education — perhaps even an end to the Department of Education. And, generally, a much more hands-off attitude on the part of the federal bureaucracy when it comes to matters beyond the constitutional purview of the central government (which is most matters now consuming the attention of the federal bureaucracy).

I could go on and on, but you get the idea of what conservative expect (or hope for) and leftists fear. And therein is the source of political pressure that could bring about something like a partition of the United States.

The shoe is now on the other foot. A lot of leftists will want out (see this for example), just as Northern abolitionists wanted separation from the South in the 1830s and 1840s. Let’s give them a way out while the giving is good, that is, while the GOP controls the federal government. The way out for the left is also the way out for conservatives.

Congress, namely, its Republican majorities, can all an Article V convention of the States:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, 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….

Note that the requirement for a two-thirds majority pertains only to amendments proposed by Congress. As for applications by the States, there seem to be enough unexpired and unrescinded applications on hand. And if there aren’t, they probably can be arranged in short order.

The convention would be controlled by Republicans, who control a majority of State legislatures. The Republican majority should make it clear from the outset that the sole purpose of the convention is to devolve power to the States. For example, if a State government wants to establish its own version of Social Security to supplement what remains of it after future benefits have been scaled back to match projected future revenues, that State government wouldn’t be prevented from doing so. And it could design that program — and any others — as it wishes, free from interference on by the central government.

To accomplish that devolution, the Convention of the States would consider and approve, for ratification by three-fourths of the States, a revised Constitution. A complete revision, rather than a series of amendments, would be easier for the citizens of the various States to understand and respond to as they voice their views to State legislators or convention delegates.

At this point, I refer you to the page that I’ve created, called “A Constitution for the 21st Century.” It cures the main problem with the present Constitution of the United States, which is not its actual meaning but the fact that inappropriate meanings have been imputed to it because it is too often vague and ambiguous, and because Congresses, presidents, and Supreme Courts have been unfaithful to it for several generations.

The new Constitution is not only far more specific than the present Constitution — and more restrictive of the powers of the central government — but it also includes more checks on those powers. For example, there are these provisions in Article V:

Congress may, by a majority of three-fifths of the members of each House present, when there is a quorum consisting of three-fourths of the number of persons then holding office in each House…provide for the collection of revenues in order to pay the debts and expenses of the government of the United States [emphasis added]….

A judgment of any court of the government of the United States may be revised or revoked by an act of Congress, provided that such any revision or revocation is approved by two-thirds of the members of each house and leads to a result that conforms to this Constitution.

Then there are Articles VII and VIII, Keeper of the Constitution and Conventions of the States, which begin as follows:

The responsibility for ensuring that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches adhere to this Constitution in the exercise of their respective powers shall be vested in a Keeper of the Constitution. The Keeper may review acts of Congress, the executive branch, and judicial branch that have the effect of making law and appropriating monies….

Delegations of the States shall convene every four years for the purpose of considering revisions to and revocations of acts of the government established by this Constitution. Such conventions (hereinafter “Convention [or Conventions] of the States”) may revise and/or revoke any act or acts and/or any holding or holdings, in the sole discretion of a majority of State delegations present and voting.

On top of that, there is Article IX, which authorizes petitions and subsequent elections for the revocation of a broad range of governmental acts and the expulsion of members of Congress, the President, Vice President and justices of the Supreme Court. Also, a constitutional convention may be called pursuant to a successful petition.

To the extent that Articles VII, VIII, and IX would inhibit presidential and congressional ventures into unconstitutional territory, so much the better.

This new Constitution also provides for secession, the threat of which might further help to preserve its original meaning.

The job of selling the new Constitution would be a tough one, but the key selling point should be the preservation of choice. Individual States could be as socialistic or laissez-faire as their citizens allow, and the wide range of governing styles would afford ample choice for Americans. It would become much easier for every American to live in a politically congenial place.

Related posts:
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
I Want My Country Back
Undermining the Free Society
Government vs. Community
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Society and the State
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
O Tempora O Mores!
A Home of One’s Own
Surrender? Hell No!
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?

I Can’t Resist…

…quoting from my final forecast of the outcome of Election 2016:

Most aggregations of polls give Clinton a narrow lead, which (according to the polls) has increased in the past few days. Some reliable, independent polls tell a different story….

Trump’s momentum may have slowed, but it won’t take much to push him over the top.

If Trump ekes out 51 percent of the two-party vote, he’ll win upwards of 300 electoral votes. (That estimate is based on my model of the relationship between the popular-vote and electoral-vote outcomes in elections since World War II.)  How would he get there? Here’s a scenario that fits the demographics of the various States:

  • Obama beat Romney 332-206 in the electoral-vote tally four years ago.
  • Clinton could take two States won by Romney in 2012: Georgia (16 EVs) and Utah (6).
  • Trump could more than offset those 22 EVs by taking several States won by Obama in 2012: Florida (29), Iowa (6), Maine (4), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Mexico (5), Ohio (16), Pennsylvania (20), and Wisconsin (10).

That would leave Clinton with 240 EVs to Trump’s 298. There are many plausible variations on the scenario that would leave Trump with a majority of EVs, or result in a tie.

It looks as if I was too cautious. At this moment (5:18 a.m. CST, 11/09/16), Trump and Clinton are practically 50-50 in the two-party vote, and Clinton probably will end up ahead. But, as I (and many others) have noted, a GOP candidate can win the electoral vote with less than 50 percent of the two-party vote because the electoral vote count is weighted toward smaller States, which tend to vote Republican.

In any event, Trump held Georgia and Utah, and so far has taken Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He’s leading in Michigan, and may even take New Hampshire.

Clinton has conceded to Trump, which probably settles matters, though Gore conceded to Bush in 2000 and then withdrew his concession. But that was all about Florida. Trump seems to have unquestionably won. (Fingers tightly crossed.)

The even better news is that the GOP has held the Senate, and will end up with a majority of 52 or 53 to 47 or 48 (counting so-called independents as Democrats). Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court won’t be filled by another Scalia, but it also won’t be filled by a Clinton appointee.

My fondest hope is that Trump will stick to his word about the kind of Supreme Court justice he would appoint. If he does that, it will be good news if and when Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kennedy, and even Roberts dies or retires. In fact, I’d like to see Kennedy go first, followed quickly by Ginsburg and Breyer.

 

Election 2016 – Update

I’ve updated “Election 2016.” It includes a plausible scenario for an electoral-college victory by Trump.

Whatever you do tomorrow, if you haven’t already voted, get out there and do it — if you want Clinton to lose, that is. Don’t let Operation Demoralize get to you. The mainstream media will play up Clinton’s lead in the polls (the ones that show her in the lead) until the last vote has been cast on the West Coast. It’s nothing more than legalized election-rigging. Don’t allow it to succeed. Vote!

Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative

A provocative piece by Samuel Gregg, “Markets, Catholicism, and Libertarianism” (Public Discourse, October 24, 2016) reminds me of an idea for a post that flitted through my aging brain a while back. Gregg writes:

In a recent American Prospect article, John Gehring maintains that Catholics like myself who regard markets as the most optimal set of economic conditions are effectively promoting libertarian philosophy. Gehring’s concerns about libertarianism and what he calls “free market orthodoxy” have been echoed in other places.

The generic argument seems to be the following. Promoting market approaches to economic life involves buying into libertarian ideology. . . .

What [Gregg and other] critics seem to miss is that a favorable assessment of markets and market economics need not be premised on acceptance of libertarianism in any of its many forms. . . .

Libertarianism’s great strength lies in economics. Prominent twentieth-century libertarian economists, such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, made major contributions to the critique of socialist economics.. . . .

Philosophically speaking, Mises associated himself, especially in Human Action (1949), with Epicureanism and utilitarianism. Hayek’s views were more complicated. While his Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973/1976/1979) rejected Benthamite utilitarianism, Hayek embraced a type of indirect-rule utilitarianism in works such as The Constitution of Liberty (1960). He also articulated progress-for-the-sake-of-progress arguments and social evolutionist positions heavily shaped by David Hume’s writings.

Such philosophical views are characteristic of many self-described libertarians. . . .

None of the above-noted contributions to economics by Mises and Hayek are, however, dependent upon any of their libertarian philosophical commitments.

That’s exactly right. The great insight of libertarian economics is that people acting freely and cooperatively through markets will do the best job of producing goods and services that match consumers’ wants. Yes, there’s lack of information, asymmetrical information, buyer’s remorse, and (supposed) externalities (which do find their way into prices). But the modern “solution” to such problems is one-size-fits-all regulation, which simply locks in the preferences of regulators and market incumbents, and freezes out (or makes very expensive) the real solutions that are found through innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition.

Social conservatism is like the market liberalism of libertarian economics. Behavior is channeled in cooperative, mutually beneficial, and voluntary ways by the institutions of civil society: family, church, club, community, and — yes — commerce. It is channeled by social norms that have evolved from eons of voluntary social intercourse. Those norms are the bedrock and “glue” of civilization. Government is needed only as the arbiter of last resort, acting on behalf of civil society as the neutral enforcer of social norms of the highest order: prohibitions of murder, rape, theft, fraud, and not much else. Civil society, if left alone, would deal adequately with lesser transgressions through inculcation and disapprobation (up to and including ostracism). When government imposes norms that haven’t arisen from eons of trial-and-error it undermines civil society and vitiates the civilizing influence of social norms.

The common denominator of market liberalism and social conservatism is that both are based on real-world behavior. Trial and error yields information that free actors are able to exploit for their betterment and (intended or not) the betterment of others.

Related posts:
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
Burkean Libertarianism
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
My View of Libertarianism
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Another Look at Political Labels
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
Social Justice vs. Liberty