Author: Thomas

Kotlikoffian Casuistry

Economist Lawrence Kotlikoff recently opined to this effect in “Is a Loved One Uninsured? So Are You“:

I met former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor shortly after she retired in 2006, years before Obamacare.

We were both speakers at a conference in Washington, D.C. The justice, a person of extraordinary intellect, is generally exceptionally composed. That day she was upset. In her talk on health care she repeatedly asked, “Why can’t a nation as great and prosperous as ours provide health care for all?”

Universal health care wasn’t a Republican issue, so this seemed an unusual question coming from a prominent Republican. During the break, I asked her if someone she knew was uninsured. She said her son. I asked why. She said he couldn’t afford insurance because his child (her grandchild) had a pre-existing condition.

“This means you too are, in effect, uninsured.”

“Precisely. If they need medical care, I will, of course, help pay the bills, which could be enormous.”….

Yes, our current health care system — all of it — is a mess based on its cost and outcomes. But replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare violates the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” If enacted, it will leave far more of us uninsured or underinsured, which means it will leave all of us uninsured or underinsured.

This, in turn, means we all need to save more for that unexpected call for help from a relative or friend.

Well, Trumpcare is off the board, for now. But Obamacare is by no means here to stay. It will erode by piecemeal legislation, regulatory discretion, and market-driven changes in health-care and insurance.

In the meantime, however, the Jesuitical Professor Kotlikoff can be expected to push for universal health care (whatever that means) by spewing nonsense like that quoted above.

I have questions for Herr Doctor Professor Kotlikoff:

Where is it written in the Constitution that the central government has the power to regulate and provide health care? (Don’t tell me that it’s in the General Welfare Clause; that clause confers no such power on the central government.)

Why is the health of a person who lives at the other end of the country any of my business? I have my own health to care for, and (possibly) the health of persons dear to me. And I (and they) have other needs. If the health of a stranger is my problem, doesn’t that make my other needs his problem? Where’s the limit?

And why limit yourself to the United States? Why not create a global version of Britain’s National Health Service, which has worked out so well for the British?

What’s wrong with expecting people to save more for their own health-care needs, if not for the health-care needs of friends and relatives? Isn’t that called personal responsibility? And hasn’t it been eroded by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, food stamps, etc., etc., etc.?

And why are you, as an economist, so ignorant of the impoverishing consequences of government spending and regulation? Don’t you know that if government had been minimized — held to its proper role as the defender of Americans from foreign and domestic predators — Americans at all income levels could amply afford market-provided, high-quality health care?

The Internet-Media-Academic Complex vs. Real Life

I spend an inordinate share of my time at my PC. (Unlike smart-phone and tablet users, I prefer to be seated in a comfortable desk chair, viewing a full-size screen, and typing on a real keyboard.) When I’m not composing a blog post or playing spider solitaire, I’m reading items from several dozen RSS feeds.

My view of the world is shaped, for the worse, by what I read. If it’s not about leftist cant and scientific fraud, it’s about political warfare on many levels. But my view of the world is more sanguine when I reflect on real life as I experience it when I’m away from my PC.

When the subject isn’t politics, and the politics of the other person are hidden from view, I experience a world of politeness, competence (even unto excellence), and intelligence. Most of the people in that world are owners of small businesses, their employees, and the employees of larger businesses.

In almost every case, their attitude of friendliness is sincere — and I’ve been around the block enough tines to spot insincerity. There’s an innate goodness in most people, regardless of their political views, that comes out when you’re interacting with them as a “real” human being.

The exception to the rule, in my experience, is the highly educated analyst or academic — regardless of political outlook — who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. And it shows in his abrupt, superior attitude toward others, especially if they are strangers whom he is unlikely to encounter again.

The moral of the story: If government were far less powerful, and if it were kept that way, the political noise level would be much reduced and the world would be a far more pleasant place.

The Left and Violence

Much has been made, and rightly so, of leftists’ physical and verbal violence toward conservatives. That the left is inherently violent when faced with opposition to its ideas and aims is unsurprising to me. Leftism is a state of mind that demands control. Leftists project their authoritarianism onto conservatives, one result of which is the false portrayal of Hitler as a right-wing dictator.

Just think about the means by which leftists attain their ends. First, they rely on government — which is the big kahuna of coercive institutions. After that it’s just a matter of selecting the preferred instrument of coercion: regulation, taxation, redistribution, hate-thought-crime legislation, abridgement of property rights and freedom of association, affirmative action racial quotas, and so on.

Leftism is built on control. Control is attained by coercion. Coercion is based on the threat of violence — the ability of the state’s agents to search, seize, summon, compel, fine, and imprison at will — and to use force in doing any of those things.

In sum, leftism depends on violence — or the clear threat of it. Violent outbursts from the left should surprise no one but naifs and leftist hypocrites.

Special Relativity II: A Fatal Flaw?

This post revisits some of the arguments in “Special Relativity: Answers and Questions,” and introduces some additional considerations. I quote extensively from Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theory (1916, translated 1920).

Einstein begins with a discussion of the coordinates of space in Euclidean geometry, then turns to space and time in classical mechanics. In the following passage he refers to an expository scenario that recurs throughout the book, the passage of a railway carriage (train car) along an embankment:

In order to have a complete description of the motion [of a body], we must specify how the body alters its position with time; i.e. for every point on the trajectory it must be stated at what time the body is situated there. These data must be supplemented by such a definition of time that, in virtue of this definition, these time-values can be regarded essentially as magnitudes (results of measurements) capable of observation. If we take our stand on the ground of classical mechanics, we can satisfy this requirement for our illustration in the following manner. We imagine two clocks of identical construction; the man at the railway-carriage window is holding one of them, and the man on the footpath [of the embankment] the other. Each of the observers determines the position on his own reference-body occupied by the stone at each tick of the clock he is holding in his hand. In this connection we have not taken account of the inaccuracy involved by the finiteness of the velocity of propagation of light.

To get to that inaccuracy, Einstein begins with this:

Let us suppose our old friend the railway carriage to be travelling along the rails with a constant velocity v, and that a man traverses the length of the carriage in the direction of travel with a velocity w. How quickly, or, in other words, with what velocity W does the man advance relative to the embankment [on which the rails rest] during the process? The only possible answer seems to result from the following consideration: If the man were to stand still for a second, he would advance relative to the embankment through a distance v equal numerically to the velocity of the carriage. As a consequence of his walking, however, he traverses an additional distance w relative to the carriage, and hence also relative to the embankment, in this second, the distance w being numerically equal to the velocity with which he is walking. Thus in total he covers the distance W = v + w relative to the embankment in the second considered.

This is the theorem of the addition of velocities from classical physics. Why doesn’t it apply to light? Einstein continues:

If a ray of light be sent along the embankment [in an assumed vacuum], … the tip of the ray will be transmitted with the velocity c relative to the embankment. Now let us suppose that our railway carriage is again travelling along the railway lines with the velocity v, and that its direction is the same as that of the ray of light, but its velocity of course much less. Let us inquire about the velocity of propagation of the ray of light relative to the carriage. It is obvious that we can here apply the consideration of the previous section, since the ray of light plays the part of the man walking along relatively to the carriage. The velocity W of the man relative to the embankment is here replaced by the velocity of light relative to the embankment. w is the required velocity of light with respect to the carriage, and we have

w = c − v.

The velocity of propagation of a ray of light relative to the carriage thus comes out smaller than c.

Let’s take that part a bit more slowly than Einstein does. The question is the velocity with which the ray of light is traveling relative to the carriage. The man in the previous example was walking in the carriage with velocity w relative to the body of the carriage, and therefore with velocity W relative to the embankment (v + w). If the ray of light is traveling at c relative to the embankment, and the carriage is traveling at v relative to the embankment, then by analogy it would seem that the velocity of the ray of light relative to the velocity of the carriage should be the velocity of light minus the velocity of the carriage, that is c – v. (Einstein introduces some confusion by using w to denote this hypothetical velocity, having already used w to denote the velocity of the man walking in the carriage, relative to the embankment.)

It would thus seem that the velocity of a ray of light emitted from the railway carriage should be c + v relative to a person standing still on the embankment. That is, light would travel faster than c when it’s emitted from an object moving in a forward direction relative to an observer. But all objects are in relative motion, even hypothetically stationary ones such as the railway embankment of Einstein’s through experiment. Light would therefore move at many different velocities, all of them varying from c according to the motion of each observer relative to the source of light; that is, some observers would detect velocities greater than c, while others would detect velocities less than c.

But this can’t happen (supposedly). Einstein puts it this way:

In view of this dilemma there appears to be nothing else for it than to abandon either the [old] principle of relativity [the addition of velocities] or the simple law of the propagation of light in vacuo [that c is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion]. Those of you who have carefully followed the preceding discussion are almost sure to expect that we should retain the [old] principle of relativity, which appeals so convincingly to the intellect because it is so natural and simple. The law of the propagation of light in vacuo would then have to be replaced by a more complicated law conformable to the [old] principle of relativity. The development of theoretical physics shows, however, that we cannot pursue this course. The epoch-making theoretical investigations of H.A.Lorentz on the electrodynamical and optical phenomena connected with moving bodies show that experience in this domain leads conclusively to a theory of electromagnetic phenomena, of which the law of the constancy of the velocity of light in vacuo is a necessary consequence…..

[I]n reality there is not the least incompatibility between the principle of relativity and the law of propagation of light, and that by systematically holding fast to both these laws a logically rigid theory could be arrived at. This theory has been called the special theory of relativity….

Einstein gets to the special theory of relativity (STR) by next considering the problem of simultaneity:

Lightning has struck the rails on our railway embankment at two places A and B far distant from each other. I make the additional assertion that these two lightning flashes occurred simultaneously. If now I ask you whether there is sense in this statement, you will answer my question with a decided “Yes.” But if I now approach you with the request to explain to me the sense of the statement more precisely, you find after some consideration that the answer to this question is not so easy as it appears at first sight.

After thinking the matter over for some time you then offer the following suggestion with which to test simultaneity. By measuring along the rails, the connecting line AB should be measured up and an observer placed at the mid-point M of the distance AB. This observer should be supplied with an arrangement (e.g. two mirrors inclined at 90 ◦) which allows him visually to observe both places A and B at the same time. If the observer perceives the two flashes of lightning at the same time, then they are simultaneous.

I am very pleased with this suggestion, but for all that I cannot regard the matter as quite settled, because I feel constrained to raise the following objection: “Your definition would certainly be right, if I only knew that the light by means of which the observer at M perceives the lightning flashes travels along the length A → M with the same velocity as along the length B → M. But an examination of this supposition would only be possible if we already had at our disposal the means of measuring time. It would thus appear as though we were moving here in a logical circle.”

After further consideration you cast a somewhat disdainful glance at me— and rightly so— and you declare: “I maintain my previous definition nevertheless, because in reality it assumes absolutely nothing about light. There is only one demand to be made of the definition of simultaneity, namely, that in every real case it must supply us with an empirical decision as to whether or not the conception that has to be defined is fulfilled. That my definition satisfies this demand is indisputable. That light requires the same time to traverse the path A → M as for the path B → M is in reality neither a supposition nor a hypothesis about the physical nature of light, but a stipulation which I can make of my own freewill in order to arrive at a definition of simultaneity.”

It is clear that this definition can be used to give an exact meaning not only to two events, but to as many events as we care to choose, and independently of the positions of the scenes of the events with respect to the body of reference (here the railway embankment). We are thus led also to a definition of “time” in physics. For this purpose we suppose that clocks of identical construction are placed at the points A, B and C of the railway line (co-ordinate system), and that they are set in such a manner that the positions of their pointers are simultaneously (in the above sense) the same. Under these conditions we understand by the “time” of an event the reading (position of the hands) of that one of these clocks which is in the immediate vicinity (in space) of the event. In this manner a time-value is associated with every event which is essentially capable of observation.

This stipulation contains a further physical hypothesis, the validity of which will hardly be doubted without empirical evidence to the contrary. It has been assumed that all these clocks go at the same rate if they are of identical construction. Stated more exactly: When two clocks arranged at rest in different places of a reference-body are set in such a manner that a particular position of the pointers of the one clock is simultaneous (in the above sense) with the same position of the pointers of the other clock, then identical “settings” are always simultaneous (in the sense of the above definition).

In other words, time is the same for every point in a frame of reference, which can be thought of as a group of points that remain in a fixed spatial relationship. Every such point in that frame of reference can have a clock associated with it; every clock can be set to the same time; and every clock (assuming great precision) will run at the same rate. When it is noon at one point in the frame of reference, it will be noon at all points in the frame of reference. And when the clock at one point has advanced from noon to 1 p.m., the clocks at all points in the same frame of reference will have advanced from noon to 1 p.m., and ad infinitum.

As Einstein puts it later,

Events which are simultaneous with reference to the embankment are not simultaneous with respect to the train, and vice versa (relativity of simultaneity). Every reference body (co-ordinate system) has its own particular time; unless we are told the reference-body to which the statement of time refers, there is no meaning in a statement of the time of an event.

Returning to the question of simultaneity, Einstein poses his famous thought experiment:

Up to now our considerations have been referred to a particular body of reference, which we have styled a “railway embankment.” We suppose a very long train travelling along the rails with the constant velocity v and in the direction indicated in Fig. 1. People travelling in this train will with advantage use the train as a rigid reference-body (co-ordinate system); they regard all events in reference to the train. Then every event which takes place along the line also takes place at a particular point of the train. Also the definition of simultaneity can be given relative to the train in exactly the same way as with respect to the embankment. As a natural consequence, however, the following question arises:

Are two events ( e.g. the two strokes of lightning A and B) which are simultaneous with reference to the railway embankment also simultaneous relatively to the train? We shall show directly that the answer must be in the negative.


FIG. 1.

When we say that the lightning strokes A and B are simultaneous with respect to the embankment, we mean: the rays of light emitted at the places A and B, where the lightning occurs, meet each other at the mid-point M of the length A → B of the embankment. But the events A and B also correspond to positions A and B on the train. Let M’ be the mid-point of the distance A → B on the travelling train. Just when the flashes of lightning occur, this point M’ naturally coincides with the point M, but it moves towards the right in the diagram with the velocity v of the train. If an observer sitting in the position M’ in the train did not possess this velocity, then he would remain permanently at M, and the light rays emitted by the flashes of lightning A and B would reach him simultaneously, i.e. they would meet just where he is situated. Now in reality (considered with reference to the railway embankment) he is hastening towards the beam of light coming from B, whilst he is riding on ahead of the beam of light coming from A. Hence the observer will see the beam of light emitted from B earlier than he will see that emitted from A. Observers who take the railway train as their reference-body must therefore come to the conclusion that the lightning flash B took place earlier than the lightning flash A. We thus arrive at the important result:

Events which are simultaneous with reference to the embankment are not simultaneous with respect to the train, and vice versa (relativity of simultaneity). Every reference body (co-ordinate system) has its own particular time; unless we are told the reference-body to which the statement of time refers, there is no meaning in a statement of the time of an event.

It’s important to note that there is a time delay, however minuscule, between the instant that the flashes of light are are emitted at A and B and the instant when they reach the observer at M.

Because of the minuscule time delay, the flashes of light wouldn’t reach the observer at M’ in the carriage at the same time that they reach the observer at M on the embankment. The observer at M’ is directly opposite the observer at M when the flashes of light are emitted, not when they are received simultaneously at M. During the minuscule delay between the emission of the flashes at A and B and their simultaneous receipt by the observer at M, the observer at M’ moves toward B and away from A. The observer at M’ therefore sees the flash emitted from B a tiny fraction of a second before he sees the flash emitted from A. Neither event corresponds in time with the time at which the flashes reach M. (There are variations on Einstein’s thought experiment — here, for example — but they trade on the same subtlety: a time delay between the flashes of light and their reception by observers.)

Returning to Einstein’s diagram, suppose that A and B are copper wires, tautly strung from posts and closely overhanging the track and embankment at 90-degree angles to both. The track is slightly depressed below the level of the embankment, so that observers on the train and embankment are the same distance below the wires. The wires are shielded so that they can be seen only by observers directly below them. Because the shielding doesn’t deflect lightning, when lightning hits the wires they will glow instantaneously. If lightning strikes A and B at the same time, the glow  will be seen simultaneously by observers positioned directly under the wires at the instant of the lightning strikes. Therefore, observers on the embankment at A and B and observers directly opposite them on the train at A’ and B’ will see the wires glow at the same time. (The observers would be equipped with synchronized clocks, the readings of which they can compare to verify their simultaneous viewing of the lightning strikes. I will leave to a later post the question whether the clocks at A and B show the same time as the clocks at A’ and B’.)

Because of the configuration of the wires in relation to the  track and the embankment, A and B must be the same distance apart as A’ and B’. That is to say, the simultaneity of observation isn’t an artifact of the distortion of horizontal measurements, or length contraction, which is another aspect of STR.

Einstein’s version of the thought experiment was designed — unintentionally, I assume — to create an illusion of non-simultaneity. Of course an observer on the train at M’ would not see the lightning flashes at the same time as an observer on the embankment at M: The observer at M’ would no longer be opposite M when the lightning flashes arrive at M. But, as shown by my variation on Einstein’s though experiment, that doesn’t rule out the simultaneity of observations on the train and on the embankment. It just requires a setup that isn’t designed to exclude simultaneity. My setup involving copper wires is one possible way of ensuring simultaneity. It also seems to rule out the possibility of length contraction.

Einstein’s defense of his thought experiment (in the fifth block quotation above) is also an apt defense of my version of his thought experiment. I have described a situation in which there is indubitable simultaneity. The question is whether it forecloses a subsequent proof of non-simultaneity. Einstein’s thought experiment didn’t, because Einstein left a loophole — intentionally or not — which discredits his proof of non-simultaneity. (I am not the first person who claims to have discovered the loophole.) My thought experiment leaves no loophole, as far as I can tell.

If my thought experiment has merit, it points to an invariant time, that is, a time which is the same for all frames of reference. A kind of Newtonian absolute time, if you will.

To be continued.

Rock and Roil

Have you noticed the prevalent use of emotive words in “news” headlines and stories? I’m referring to verbs like “rock” and “roil” and nouns like “chaos” that seem to occur with great frequency, especially since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

Trump’s pronouncements and policies are said to “rock” the foundations of the republic, and “roil” the political scene. It is only natural that such pronouncements and policies emanate from a White House that is “mired” in “chaos.”

Whatever happened to neutral language in headlines and stories? I submit that it vanished with the pretense of objectivity during the Vietnam War. I’m not ignoring the age of “yellow journalism” around the turn of the twentieth century. But it seems to me that reportage became rather neutral, by comparison, in the several decades leading up to the 1960s. It was then that the media began blatantly to take sides instead of relying on subtle forms of bias: what to cover, what “facts” to present, where to position a story, and so on. The subtlety is still there, but as a mere adjunct to overt bias. Were I writing a headline about it, I would say the the bias has become “shrill” since the ascendancy of Donald Trump.

The advantage of the blatant side-taking is that readers, listeners, and viewers are left in no doubt as to the leanings of the reporters, editors, and publishers of particular media outlets. The disadvantage is that many of those same readers, listeners, and viewers are too gullible to see where they are being led by “rock” and “roil,” and take it for granted that such-and-such a policy is in fact unwise, unconstitutional, and widely resisted among the electorate.

Here’s the (obvious) key to understanding the outpourings of most media outlets: They consist of pro-governement propaganda when Democrats are in power and anti-anti-government propaganda when Republicans are in power.

Time for a Jacksonian Response?

Mr. Trump’s revised executive order on visas has been rejected by two federal courts, despite compelling arguments that the rulings are unconsitutional.

Were I in Mr. Trump’s shoes, I would emulate Andrew Jackson:

On March 3, 1832, Chief Justice Marshall handed down the unanimous opinion of the [U.S. Supreme] Court. The Cherokee Nation was sovereign. Georgia law no longer applied to the Cherokee. Justice Story wrote “The Court has done its duty. Now let the Nation do theirs.” At some point, Andrew Jackson supposedly said “Marshall made the ruling, let him enforce it.”

It’s not certain that Jackson uttered those words, but they seem true to the man’s character. And they would seem true to Mr. Trump’s character, and — in this case — to the Constitution.

Mencken’s Pearl of Wisdom

I am not a big fan of H.L. Mencken (see this), nor of Lee Jussim (see this). But I do follow Jussim’s blog, just to keep track of his intellectual outrages. In a recent, quotation-filled post, Jussim quotes Mencken:

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.

Exactly. Thus we have

  • economic destruction to “save the planet” in the name of a pseudo-science that can’t even depict the pre-1975  and post-1998 past accurately
  • cries of “white privilege” and “racism” — accompanied by violence and suppression of speech, aimed at law-abiding persons who don’t think the “right” thoughts and say the “right” things (i.e., conservatives)
  • “gender equality” and “marriage equality” as blanket justifications for the destruction of property rights and freedom of association
  • “income inequality” as the rallying cry of redistributive schemes that penalize success and stifle the very economic growth that would materially enrich the poor
  • shackled, inefficient markets because someone, somewhere made a mistake (from which he and others might have learned) or defrauded someone (for which ample publicity and a prison sentence somehow weren’t a sufficient remedy and caution)
  • massive, costly, authoritarian bureaucracies dedicated to all of those causes, and many more.

It’s all very Orwellian.

Daylight Saving Time Doesn’t Kill…

…it’s “springing forward” in March that kills.

There’s a hue and cry about daylight saving time (that’s “saving” not “savings”). The main complaint seems to be the stress that results from moving clocks ahead in March:

Springing forward may be hazardous to your health. The Monday following the start of daylight saving time (DST) is a particularly bad one for heart attacks, traffic accidents, workplace injuries and accidental deaths. Now that most Americans have switched their clocks an hour ahead, studies show many will suffer for it.

Most Americans slept about 40 minutes less than normal on Sunday night, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology…. Since sleep is important for maintaining the body’s daily performance levels, much of society is broadly feeling the impact of less rest, which can include forgetfulness, impaired memory and a lower sex drive, according to WebMD.

One of the most striking affects of this annual shift: Last year, Colorado researchers reported finding a 25 percent increase in the number of heart attacks that occur on the Monday after DST starts, as compared with a normal Monday…. A cardiologist in Croatia recorded about twice as many heart attacks than expected during that same day, and researchers in Sweden have also witnessed a spike in heart attacks in the week following the time adjustment, particularly among those who were already at risk.

Workplace injuries are more likely to occur on that Monday, too, possibly because workers are more susceptible to a loss of focus due to too little sleep. Researchers at Michigan State University used over 20 years of data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration to determine that three to four more miners than average sustain a work-related injury on the Monday following the start of DST. Those injuries resulted in 2,649 lost days of work, which is a 68 percent increase over the hours lost from injuries on an average day. The team found no effects following the nation’s one-hour shift back to standard time in the fall….

There’s even more bad news: Drivers are more likely to be in a fatal traffic accident on DST’s first Monday, according to a 2001 study in Sleep Medicine. The authors analyzed 21 years of data on fatal traffic accidents in the U.S. and found that, following the start of DST, drivers are in 83.5 accidents as compared with 78.2 on the average Monday. This phenomenon has also been recorded in Canadian drivers and British motorists.

If all that wasn’t enough, a researcher from the University of British Columbia who analyzed three years of data on U.S. fatalities reported that accidental deaths of any kind are more likely in the days following a spring forward. Their 1996 analysis showed a 6.5 percent increase, which meant that about 200 more accidental deaths occurred immediately after the start of DST than would typically occur in a given period of the same length.

I’m convinced. But the solution to the problem isn’t to get rid of DST. No, the solution is to get rid of standard time and use DST year around.

I’m not arguing for year-around DST from an economic standpoint. The evidence about the economic advantages of DST is inconclusive.

I’m arguing for year-around DST as a way to eliminate “spring forward” distress and enjoy an extra hour of daylight in the winter.

Don’t you enjoy those late summer sunsets? I sure do, and a lot other people seem to enjoy them, too. That’s why daylight saving time won’t be abolished.

But if you love those late summer sunsets, you should also enjoy an extra hour of daylight at the end of a drab winter day. I know that I would. And it’s not as if you’d miss anything if the sun rises an hour later in the winter. Even with standard time, most working people and students have to be up and about before sunrise in winter, even though sunrise comes an hour earlier than it would with DST.

How would year-around DST affect you? The following table gives the times of sunrise and sunset on the longest and shortest days of 2017 for nine major cities, north to south and west to east:

I report, you decide. If it were up to me, the decision would be year-around DST.

Thoughts for the Day

Excerpts of recent correspondence.

Robots, and their functional equivalents in specialized AI systems, can either replace people or make people more productive. I suspect that the latter has been true in the realm of medicine — so far, at least. But I have seen reportage of robotic units that are beginning to perform routine, low-level work in hospitals. So, as usual, the first people to be replaced will be those with rudimentary skills, not highly specialized training. Will it go on from there? Maybe, but the crystal ball is as cloudy as an old-time London fog.

In any event, I don’t believe that automation is inherently a job-killer. The real job-killer consists of government programs that subsidize non-work — early retirement under Social Security, food stamps and other forms of welfare, etc. Automation has been in progress for eons, and with a vengeance since the second industrial revolution. But, on balance, it hasn’t killed jobs. It just pushes people toward new and different jobs that fit the skills they have to offer. I expect nothing different in the future, barring government programs aimed at subsidizing the “victims” of technological displacement.

*      *      *

It’s civil war by other means (so far): David Wasserman, “Purple America Has All but Disappeared” (The New York Times, March 8, 2017).

*      *      *

I know that most of what I write (even the non-political stuff) has a combative edge, and that I’m therefore unlikely to persuade people who disagree with me. I do it my way for two reasons. First, I’m too old to change my ways, and I’m not going to try. Second, in a world that’s seemingly dominated by left-wing ideas, it’s just plain fun to attack them. If what I write happens to help someone else fight the war on leftism — or if it happens to make a young person re-think a mindless commitment to leftism — that’s a plus.

*     *     *

I am pessimistic about the likelihood of cultural renewal in America. The populace is too deeply saturated with left-wing propaganda, which is injected from kindergarten through graduate school, with constant reinforcement via the media and popular culture. There are broad swaths of people — especially in low-income brackets — whose lives revolve around mindless escape from the mundane via drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, etc. Broad swaths of the educated classes have abandoned erudition and contemplation and taken up gadgets and entertainment.

The only hope for conservatives is to build their own “bubbles,” like those of effete liberals, and live within them. Even that will prove difficult as long as government (especially the Supreme Court) persists in storming the ramparts in the name of “equality” and “self-creation.”

*     *     *

I correlated Austin’s average temperatures in February and August. Here are the correlation coefficients for following periods:

1854-2016 = 0.001
1875-2016 = -0.007
1900-2016 = 0.178
1925-2016 = 0.161
1950-2016 = 0.191
1975-2016 = 0.126

Of these correlations, only the one for 1900-2016 is statistically significant at the 0.05 level (less than a 5-percent chance of a random relationship). The correlations for 1925-2016 and 1950-2016 are fairly robust, and almost significant at the 0.05 level. The relationship for 1975-2016 is statistically insignificant. I conclude that there’s a positive relationship between February and August temperatures, but weak one. A warm winter doesn’t necessarily presage an extra-hot summer in Austin.

“They Deserve to Die”?

In “Prosperity Isn’t Everything” I quoted Megan McArdle’s observations about how thing have gotten better and worse for Americans. Here’s some of what she wrote:

By the standards of today, my grandparents were living in wrenching poverty. Some of this, of course, involves technologies that didn’t exist—as a young couple in the 1930s my grandparents had less access to health care than the most  neglected homeless person in modern America, simply because most of the treatments we now have had not yet been invented. That is not the whole story, however. Many of the things we now have already existed; my grandparents simply couldn’t afford them.  With some exceptions, such as microwave ovens and computers, most of the modern miracles that transformed 20th century domestic life already existed in some form by 1939. But they were out of the financial reach of most people….

[Not] everything has gotten better in every way, all the time. There are areas in which things have gotten broadly worse….

  • … Substance abuse, and the police response to it, has devastated both urban and rural communities.
  • Divorce broke up millions of families, and while the college educated class seems to have found a new equilibrium of stable and happy later marriages, marriage is collapsing among the majority who do not have a college degree, leaving millions of children in unstable family situations where fathers are often absent from the home, and their attention and financial resources are divided between multiple children with multiple women.
  • Communities are much less cohesive than they used to be, and while the educated elite may have found substitutes online, the rest of the country is “bowling alone” more and more often—which is not merely lonely, but also means they have fewer social supports when they find themselves in trouble.
  • A weekly wage packet may buy more than it did sixty years ago, but the stability of manufacturing jobs is increasingly being replaced by contingent and unreliable shift work that is made doubly and triply difficult by the instability of the families that tend to do these jobs. The inability to plan your life or work in turn makes it hard to form a family, and stressful to keep one together….

Charles Murray writes candidly but not unsympathetically about the plight of low-income white Americans in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010:

Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.

The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness.

Along comes Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review to pour scorn upon low-income whites. Williamson’s article, which appeared in the print edition of March 28, 2016, was originally titled “The Father-Fuhrer,” a reference to Donald Trump. The online version is called “Chaos in the Family, Chaos in the State: The White Working Class’s Dysfunction.” Written before Trump had clinched the GOP nomination, the piece is a transparent attempt to discredit Trump by discrediting a key source of his support: low-income whites in chronically depressed regions of the country.

Here’s a key passage:

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs…. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

Disgusting.

Scott Grier, writing in The Daily Caller (“National Review Writer: Working-Class Communities ‘Deserve To Die’,” March 12, 2016), seems to share my disgust. He closes with this:

While Williamson blames the people living in run-down white communities for their own woes, he does not apply the same principle to run-down minority communities. In his book and articles on the failures of Detroit, for instance, the National Review writer blames “progressivism” and unions for ruining the predominately African-American city.

Spot on. As I say in “Prosperity Isn’t Everything,”

Let’s begin with social norms, which are the basis of social ties. If you and I observe the same social norms, we’re likely to feel bound in some way, even if we’re not friends or relatives. This, of course, is tribalism, which is verboten among those who view all of mankind as brothers, sisters, and whatevers under the skin — all mankind except smarty-pants Americans of East Asian descent, Israeli Jews and American Jews who support Israel, Southerners (remember the Civil War!), and everyone else who is a straight, non-Hispanic white male of European descent. To such people, the only legitimate tribe is the tribe of anti-tribalism.You may by now understand that I blame leftists for the breakdown of social norms and social ties. But how can that be if, as McArdle says, “the college educated class seems to have found a new equilibrium of stable and happy later marriages”? The college-educated class resides mostly on the left, and affluent leftists do seem to have avoided the rot.

Yes, but they caused it. You could think of it as a non-suicidal act of terror. But it would be kinder and more accurate to call it an act of involuntary manslaughter.  Leftists meant to make the changes that caused the rot; they just didn’t foresee or intend the rot. Nor is it obvious that they care about it, except as an excuse to “solve” social problems from on high by throwing money and behavioral prescriptions at them — which is why there’s social rot in the first place.

The good intentions embedded in governmental acts and decrees have stealthily expanded and centralized government’s power, and in the process have sundered civil society….

The undoing of traditional mores began in earnest in the 1960s, with a frontal assault on traditional morality and the misguided expansion of the regulatory-welfare state. The unraveling continues to this day. Traditional morality is notable in its neglect; social cohesion is almost non-existent, except where the bonds of religion and ethnicity remain strong. The social fabric that once bound vast swaths of America has rotted — and is almost certainly beyond repair.

The social fabric has frayed precisely because government has pushed social institutions aside and made dependents of hundreds of millions of Americans. As Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Now for an ironic twist. Were the central government less profligate and intrusive, Americans would become much more prosperous.

Clearly, Kevin Williamson wants to distance himself from people who don’t share his elevated norms. In that respect, he’s no different from a sneering, leftist-voting yuppie. If he were truly conservative, he’d have compassion for the people about whom he writes.

But Williamson has shown himself to be a faux conservative: all economic efficiency and no heart.

Is Consciousness an Illusion?

Scientists seem to have pinpointed the physical source of consciousness. But the execrable Daniel C. Dennett, for whom science is God, hasn’t read the memo. Dennett argues in his latest book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, that consciousness is an illusion.

Another philosopher, Thomas Nagel, weighs in with a dissenting review of Dennett’s book. (Nagel is better than Dennett, but that’s faint praise.) Nagel’s review, “Is Consciousness an Illusion?,” appears in The New York Review of Books (March 9, 2017). Here are some excerpts:

According to the manifest image, Dennett writes, the world is

full of other people, plants, and animals, furniture and houses and cars…and colors and rainbows and sunsets, and voices and haircuts, and home runs and dollars, and problems and opportunities and mistakes, among many other such things. These are the myriad “things” that are easy for us to recognize, point to, love or hate, and, in many cases, manipulate or even create…. It’s the world according to us.

According to the scientific image, on the other hand, the world

is populated with molecules, atoms, electrons, gravity, quarks, and who knows what else (dark energy, strings? branes?)….

In an illuminating metaphor, Dennett asserts that the manifest image that depicts the world in which we live our everyday lives is composed of a set of user-illusions,

like the ingenious user-illusion of click-and-drag icons, little tan folders into which files may be dropped, and the rest of the ever more familiar items on your computer’s desktop. What is actually going on behind the desktop is mind-numbingly complicated, but users don’t need to know about it, so intelligent interface designers have simplified the affordances, making them particularly salient for human eyes, and adding sound effects to help direct attention. Nothing compact and salient inside the computer corresponds to that little tan file-folder on the desktop screen.

He says that the manifest image of each species is “a user-illusion brilliantly designed by evolution to fit the needs of its users.” In spite of the word “illusion” he doesn’t wish simply to deny the reality of the things that compose the manifest image; the things we see and hear and interact with are “not mere fictions but different versions of what actually exists: real patterns.” The underlying reality, however, what exists in itself and not just for us or for other creatures, is accurately represented only by the scientific image—ultimately in the language of physics, chemistry, molecular biology, and neurophysiology….

You may well ask how consciousness can be an illusion, since every illusion is itself a conscious experience—an appearance that doesn’t correspond to reality. So it cannot appear to me that I am conscious though I am not: as Descartes famously observed, the reality of my own consciousness is the one thing I cannot be deluded about….

According to Dennett, however, the reality is that the representations that underlie human behavior are found in neural structures of which we know very little. And the same is true of the similar conception we have of our own minds. That conception does not capture an inner reality, but has arisen as a consequence of our need to communicate to others in rough and graspable fashion our various competencies and dispositions (and also, sometimes, to conceal them)….

The trouble is that Dennett concludes not only that there is much more behind our behavioral competencies than is revealed to the first-person point of view—which is certainly true—but that nothing whatever is revealed to the first-person point of view but a “version” of the neural machinery….

I am reminded of the Marx Brothers line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” Dennett asks us to turn our backs on what is glaringly obvious—that in consciousness we are immediately aware of real subjective experiences of color, flavor, sound, touch, etc. that cannot be fully described in neural terms even though they have a neural cause (or perhaps have neural as well as experiential aspects). And he asks us to do this because the reality of such phenomena is incompatible with the scientific materialism that in his view sets the outer bounds of reality. He is, in Aristotle’s words, “maintaining a thesis at all costs.”

Nagel’s counterargument would have been more compelling if he had relied on a simple metaphor like this one: Most drivers can’t describe in any detail the process by which an automobile converts the potential energy of gasoline to the kinetic energy that’s produced by the engine and then transmitted eventually to the automobile’s drive wheels. Instead, most drivers simply rely on the knowledge that pushing the start button will start the car. That knowledge may be shallow, but it isn’t illusory. If it were, an automobile would be a useless hulk sitting in the driver’s garage.

Some tough questions are in order, too. If consciousness is an illusion, where does it come from? Dennett is an out-and-out physicalist and strident atheist. It therefore follows that Dennett can’t believe in consciousness (the manifest image) as a free-floating spiritual entity that’s disconnected from physical reality (the scientific image). It must, in fact, be a representation of physical reality, even if a weak and flawed one.

Looked at another way, consciousness is the gateway to the scientific image. It is only through the  deliberate, reasoned, fact-based application of consciousness that scientists have been able to roll back the mysteries of the physical world and improve the manifest image so that it more nearly resembles the scientific image. The gap will never be closed, of course. Even the most learned of human beings have only a tenuous grasp of physical reality in all of it myriad aspects. Nor will anyone ever understand what physical reality “really is” — it’s beyond apprehension and description. But that doesn’t negate the symbiosis of physical reality and consciousness.

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Related posts:
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
A Non-Believer Defends Religion
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness
The Glory of the Human Mind
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness
Is Science Self-Correcting?
“Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings”
Words Fail Us
Hayek’s Anticipatory Account of Consciousness

Race and Social Engineering

It’s well known that the white-black gap in intelligence is persistent. (See, for example, the section headed “Race” in this post, and the graphs of average SAT scores by ethnicity in this one.) But according to this paper, those

group mean differences in cognitive test scores arise from the following racially disparate conditions: family income, maternal education, maternal verbal ability/knowledge, learning materials in the home, parenting factors (maternal sensitivity, maternal warmth and acceptance, and safe physical environment), child birth order, and child birth weight.

You should now ask yourself whether family income, maternal education, etc., are the causes of the intelligence gap or evidence of it. My money is on the latter.

But that won’t keep the social engineers at bay. Segregation is a perennial whipping-boy for those who are still seeking the Great Society, even if it’s voluntary, socioeconomic segregation rather than involuntary, state-mandated segregation. People can’t just be allowed to live among the kinds of people they prefer. No, they must be forced to integrate in the (vain) hope of bettering the groups favored by social engineers.

How can integration be forced? Well, the Obama administration found a way to get the ball rolling. It’s a HUD regulation called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which Wikipedia summarizes as follows:

It requires cities and towns which receive Federal money to examine their housing patterns and look for racial bias. The intention is to promote racial integration….

Under the rule, any jurisdiction that receives money from HUD must analyze its housing occupancy by race, class, English proficiency, and other categories. It must then analyze factors which contribute to any imbalance, and formulate a plan to remedy the imbalance. The plan can be approved or disapproved by HUD. This is done at both the local and regional level. For example, a major city, such as Chicago, will have to analyze any racial disparities within Chicago, and Chicago suburbs will analyze their own racial disparities. In addition, Chicago and the suburbs will have to analyze any disparities as compared with each other. Thereafter, the community has to track progress (or lack thereof). The planning cycle will be repeated every five years. If the Federal Government is not satisfied with a community’s efforts to reduce disparities, then under the disparate impact doctrine, this could be considered illegal discrimination. As a result, federal funds could be withheld, or the community could be sued, using the racial disparity statistics as evidence.

You know about disparate impact, of course. It’s a legalistic contrivance which says, in effect, that outcomes which are attributable to inherent differences between races and genders amount to illegal discrimination. In other words, it’s illegal to pick the best-qualified candidate for a job if the best-qualified candidate is of the “wrong” color or gender. “Disparate impact” effectively outlaws tests of intelligence for jobs that require above-average intelligence because otherwise “not enough” blacks will qualify for such jobs. “Disparate impact” effectively requires the lowering of physical standards for jobs that require strength because otherwise “not enough” women will qualify for such jobs. It’s affirmative action with a vengeance.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing is reverse discrimination with a vengeance. Luckily, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing may not survive the Trump administration.

Why would social engineers seek forced integration, other than for the sheer enjoyment of exerting their power and doing unto others as they wouldn’t do unto themselves? The pretext for social engineering, in this case, is the existence of supportive academic studies (shades of the “doll tests” that influenced Brown v. Board of Education). Several of the studies are cited by Thomas B. Edsall in “Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era?” (The New York Times, February 9, 2017). According to Edsall, the studies purport to show that

segregation, especially neighborhood segregation, exacerbates the racial test score gap….

[T]he higher the level of racial and economic segregation in an area, the larger the achievement gap.

Thus:

Among the scholars cited here, there is virtual unanimity on the conviction that one way to improve the prospects of poor minorities, black and Hispanic, is to desegregate both schools and housing.

It’s utilitarianism upon stilts.* And the stilts — the studies — are of dubious quality. Consider, for example, the one that seems to be the least circular of the lot, and which claims to prove that desegregation raises the measured intelligence of blacks. I’m referring to Rucker C. Johnson’s “Long-Run Impacts of School Desegregation & School Quality on Adult Attainments” (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 16664, January 2011). According to the abstract, the study

analyzes the life trajectories of children born between 1945 and 1968, and followed through 2013, using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). The PSID data are linked with multiple data sources that describe the neighborhood attributes, school quality resources, and coincident policies that prevailed at the time these children were growing up. I exploit quasi-random variation in the timing of initial court orders, which generated differences in the timing and scope of the implementation of desegregation plans during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Event study analyses as well as [two-stage least-squares] and sibling-difference estimates indicate that school desegregation and the accompanied increases in school quality resulted in significant improvements in adult attainments for blacks. I find that, for blacks, school desegregation significantly increased both educational and occupational attainments, college quality and adult earnings, reduced the probability of incarceration, and improved adult health status; desegregation had no effects on whites across each of these outcomes. The results suggest that the mechanisms through which school desegregation led to beneficial adult attainment outcomes for blacks include improvement in access to school resources reflected in reductions in class size and increases in per-pupil spending [emphasis added].

Before I get to the italicized assertions, I must comment on Johnson’s method. Convoluted and speculative are the best words to describe it. Here are some apt quotations directly from Johnson’s paper:

I compiled data on school spending and school segregation, linked them to a comprehensive database of the timing of court-ordered school desegregation, and linked these data to a nationally representative longitudinal dataset that follows individuals from childhood into adulthood. Education funding data come from several sources that are combined to form a panel of per-pupil spending for US school districts in 1967 and annually from 1970 through 2000. School segregation data come from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and are combined to form a panel used to construct school segregation indices that span the period 1968 through 1988. The school segregation and spending data are then linked to a database of desegregation litigation between 1954 and 2000.

The data on longer-run outcomes come from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) that links individuals to their census blocks during childhood. The sample consists of PSID sample members born between 1945 and 1968 who have been followed into adulthood through 2013; these individuals were between the ages of 45 and 67 in 2013. I include all information on them for each wave, 1968 to 2013. Due to the oversampling of black and low-income families, 45 percent of the sample is black.

I match the earliest available childhood residential address to the school district boundaries that prevailed in 1969 to avoid complications arising from endogenously changing district boundaries over time…. Each record is merged with data on the timing of court ordered desegregation, data on racial school segregation, student-to-teacher ratios, school spending at the school district level that correspond with the prevailing levels during their school-age years. Finally, I merge in county characteristics and information on other key policy changes during childhood (e.g., the timing of hospital desegregation, rollout of “War on Poverty” initiatives and expansion of safety net programs…) from multiple data sources. This allows for a rich set of controls.

The comprehensive desegregation court case data I use contains an entire case inventory of every school district ever subject to court desegregation orders over the 1955-1990 period (American Communities Project), and major plan implementation dates in large districts (compiled by Welch/Light). Every court case is coded according to whether it involved segregation of students across schools, whether the court required a desegregation remedy, and the main component of the desegregation plan. The combined data from the American Communities Project (Brown University) and Welch/Light provide the best available data that have ever been utilized to study this topic for several reasons. First, the year of the initial court order (available for all districts) is plausibly more exogenous than the exact year in which a major desegregation plan was implemented because opposition groups to integration can delay major desegregation plan implementation by lengthening the court proceedings or by implementing inadequate desegregation plans…. And, court-ordered desegregation by legal mandate is plausibly more exogenous than other more voluntary forms of desegregation. Second, the date of the initial court order is precisely measured for all districts.

Sixty-nine percent of the PSID individuals born between 1945-1968 followed into adulthood grew up in a school district that was subject to a desegregation court order sometime between 1954 and 1990 (i.e., 9,156 out of 13,246 individuals), with the timing of the court order not necessarily occurring during their school-age years. Eighty-eight percent of the PSID black individuals born between 1945-1968 followed into adulthood grew up in a school district that was subject to a desegregation court order sometime between 1954 and 1990 (i.e., 4,618 out of 5,245 black individuals). The share of individuals exposed to school desegregation orders during childhood increases significantly with birth year over the 1945-1970 birth cohorts analyzed in the PSID sample….

After combining information from the aforementioned 5 data sources, the main sample used to analyze adult attainment outcomes consists of PSID individuals born between 1945-1968 originally from 8 school districts that were subject to desegregation court orders sometime between 1954 and 1990; this includes 9,156 individuals from 3,702 childhood families, 645 school districts, 448 counties, representing 39 different states. I restrict the estimation sample to individuals who grew up in school districts that were ever subject to court-ordered desegregation, since school districts of upbringing that were never under court order are arguably too different to provide a credible comparison group.

That’s just a small sample of Johnson’s statistical gyrations. Given the complexity of his sources, assumptions, and statistical manipulations, there was ample opportunity for cherry-picking to arrive at the desired result: integration is good for blacks and doesn’t harm whites.

If Johnson has shown anything, it’s that throwing money at the problem is the way to get results. That’s all integration means in the context of his study; it has nothing to do with whatever beneficial effects might arise from the commingling of blacks and whites. (About which, see below.)

And throwing money at the problem most certainly harms whites because most of the money undoubtedly cames from whites. How many white children are denied a chance to go to college, or to a better college, because of the school taxes levied on their parents? Johnson doesn’t bother to consider that question, or any other reasonable question about the deprivations visited upon whites because of higher school taxes.

Moreover, throwing money at the problem doesn’t really work:

Academic performance and preparation for college success are widely shared goals, and so it is useful for the public and policymakers to know how they have varied over time at the state level. The present paper estimates these trends by adjusting state average SAT scores for variation in student participation rates and demographic factors known to be associated with those scores.

In general, the findings are not encouraging. Adjusted state SAT scores have declined by an average of 3 percent. This echoes the picture of stagnating achievement among American 17-year-olds painted by the Long Term Trends portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of tests administered to a nationally representative sample of students since 1970. That disappointing record comes despite a more-than-doubling in inflation-adjusted per pupil public-school spending over the same period (the average state spending increase was 120 percent). Consistent with those patterns, there has been essentially no correlation between what states have spent on education and their measured academic outcomes. In other words, America’s educational productivity appears to have collapsed, at least as measured by the NAEP and the SAT.

That is remarkably unusual. In virtually every other field, productivity has risen over this period thanks to the adoption of countless technological advances—advances that, in many cases, would seem ideally suited to facilitating learning. And yet, surrounded by this torrent of progress, education has remained anchored to the riverbed, watching the rest of the world rush past it.

Not only have dramatic spending increases been unaccompanied by improvements in performance, the same is true of the occasional spending declines experienced by some states. At one time or another over the past four decades, Alaska, California, Florida, and New York all experienced multi-year periods over which real spending fell substantially (20 percent or more of their 1972 expenditure levels). And yet, none of these states experienced noticeable declines in adjusted SAT scores—either contemporaneously or lagged by a few years. Indeed, their score trends seem entirely disconnected from their rising and falling levels of spending. [Andrew J. Coulson, “State Education Trends Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years,” Cato Institute, Policy Analysis Number 746, March 18, 2014]

Similar findings emerged from an earlier study by Dan Lips, Shanea J. Watkins, and John Fleming, “Does Spending More on Education Improve Academic Achievement?” (The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder Number 2179, November 8, 2008). The answer to the question posed by the title is “no.”

Johnson’s expedition through a maze of data sets somehow miraculously arrives at a conclusion that isn’t supported by following the much more direct route of the Cato and Heritage studies: Throwing money at public schools has had almost no effect on the academic performance of students. Johnson report of exceptional results for a select set of public schools that had been integrated is incredible, in the proper meaning of the word: ” So implausible as to elicit disbelief; unbelievable.”

Don’t try to tell me that court-ordered integration has been worth the cost — in money and liberty — because it has fostered brotherly and sisterly love between whites and blacks. The opposite effect is the more likely one. Rather than repeat myself, I refer you to “Genetic Kinship and Society,” especially the discussions of Robert Putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“ and Byron M. Roth’s The Perils of Diversity: Immigration and Human Nature. A clear implication of those analyses is that conflict — political, if not violent — is bound to result from racial-ethnic-cultural commingling, especially if it’s forced.

Forced integration is on a moral par with with forced segregation. Don’t let the social engineers tell you otherwise.
_________
*This is an allusion to Jeremy Bentham’s characterization of natural rights as “simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense,—nonsense upon stilts.” It is a characterization with which I agree.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle
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
Affirmative Action Comes Home to Roost
The IQ of Nations
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined

Unorthodox Economics: 4. A Parable of Political Economy

This is the fourth entry in what I hope will become a book-length series of posts. That result, if it comes to pass, will amount to an unorthodox economics textbook. This first chapter gives a hint of things to come. Here are the chapters that have been posted to date:

1. What Is Economics?
2. Pitfalls
3. What Is Scientific about Economics?
4. A Parable of Political Economy

Imagine a simple society in which Jack and Jill own neighboring farms that are equally endowed in natural resources, tools, and equipment. Jack makes bread and Jill makes butter. Jack also could make butter and Jill also could make bread, but both of them have learned that they are better off if they specialize. Thus:

  • Jack can make 1 loaf of bread or 0.5 pound of butter a day. (The rate of transformation is linear; e.g. Jack could make 0.5 loaf of bread and 0.25 pound of butter daily.)
  • Jill can make 1 loaf of bread or 1 pound of butter a day. (Again, the rate of transformation is linear; Jill could make 0.5 loaf of bread and 0.5 pound of butter daily.)
  • If both Jack and Jill make bread and butter their total daily output might be 1 loaf and 0.75 pounds.
  • Alternatively, if Jack specializes in bread and Jill specializes in butter their total daily output could be 1 loaf and 1 pound.

Jill is more intelligent than Jack, and thus more innovative. That’s why she is able to reap as much wheat and make as much bread as Jack, even though he’s stronger. That’s also why she’s able to produce twice as much butter as Jack.

Jill has an absolute advantage over Jack, in that she can make as much bread as he can, and more butter than he can. But Jack has a comparative advantage in the production of bread; if he specializes in bread and Jill specializes in butter, he and Jill will be better off than if they both produce bread and butter for themselves.

Jack and Jill negotiate the exchange rate between bread and butter. Each ends up with 0.5 loaf of bread; but Jill gets 0.6 pound of butter to Jack’s 0.4 pound. Jill ends up with more butter than Jack because her greater productivity puts in her in superior bargaining position. In sum, she earns more because she produces more.

Jack and Jill have another neighbor, June, who makes clothing. Jack and Jill are more productive when they’re properly clothed during the colder months of the year. So they’re willing to trade some of their output to June, in return for heavy clothing.

Jerry, another neighbor, is a laborer who used to work for Jack and Jill, but has been unemployed for a long time because of Jill’s technological innovations. Jerry barely subsists on the fruit and game that he’s able to find and catch. Jack and Jill would hire Jerry but he insists on a wage that they can’t afford to pay unless they spends less to maintain their equipment, which would eventually result in a lower rate of output.

Along comes Juan, a wanderer from another region, who has nothing to offer but his labor. Juan is willing to work for a lower wage than Jerry, but has to be fed and clothed so that he becomes strong enough to deliver the requisite amount of labor to be worthy of hire.

Jack, Jill, and June meet to discuss Jerry and Juan. They are worried about Jerry because he’s a neighbor whom they’ve known for a long time. They also empathize with Juan’s plight, though they’re not attached to him because he’s a stranger and doesn’t speak their language well.

Jake — the gunslinger hired by Jack, Jill, and June to protect them from marauders — invites himself the meeting and brings Jerry with him. Jake likes to offset his stern image by feigning compassion. He tells Jack and Jill that they have a duty to pay Jerry the wage that he demands. He also requires Jack and Jill to feed and clothe Juan until he’s ready to work, and then they must hire him and pay him the same wage as Jerry. Jack and Jill demur because they can’t afford to do what Jake demands and make enough bread and butter to sustain their families and put something aside for retirement. June, who reacts with great sympathy to every misfortune around her — perceived and real — sides with Jake. Jerry argues that he should be helped, but Juan shouldn’t be helped because he’s just a stranger with a strange accent who’s looking for a handout.

Jake the gunslinger, disregarding Jerry’s reservation about Juan, announces that Jack and Jill must abide by his decision, inasmuch as there are 3 votes for it and only 2 votes against it — and he has the gun.

What happens next? Several things:

Jack and Jill quite properly accuse Jake of breach of contract. He has assumed a power that wasn’t given to him by Jack, Jill, and June when they hired him. Jake merely laughs at them.

Jack, Jill, and June (though she doesn’t understand it) have lost control of their businesses. They can no longer produce their goods efficiently. This means less output, that is less to trade with each other. Less output also means that they won’t be able to invest as much as before in the improvement and expansion of their operations.

June is happy, for the moment, because Jake sided with her. But she will be unhappy when Jake abuses his authority in a way that she disapproves, and when she finally understands what Jake has done to her business.

Jack and Jill have good reason to resent Juan and Jerry for using Jake to coerce them, and June for siding with Jerry and Juan. There is now a rift that will hinder cooperation for mutual benefit (e.g., willingness to help each other in times of illness).

Juan and Jerry have become dependent on Jake, thus undermining their ability to develop marketable skills and good work habits. Their dependency will keep them mired in near-poverty.

In a sane world, Jack and Jill would get rid of Jake, and the others would applaud them for doing it.

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Sentinel: A Tragic Parable of Economic Reality
Liberty, General Welfare, and the State
Monopoly and the General Welfare
Gains from Trade
Trade
A Conversation with Uncle Sam

Presidents and War

This post is prompted by a recent exchange with former think-tank colleagues about H.R. McMaster‘s Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’ve just started it, having until now steadfastly eschewed rehashes of the Vietnam War since its ignominious end. My assessment of LBJ’s handling of the Vietnam War is based entirely on my knowledge of the war as it unfolded and unraveled, and subsequent reflections on that knowledge. I’ll review McMaster’s book in a later post.

The president’s role as commander-in-chief is a two-edged sword. It was wielded ably by Lincoln and FDR (until the end-game in Europe), and badly by Truman, LBJ, Bush I, Bush II, and Obama.

Starting with Bush II, I believe that he made the right strategic decision, which was to bring the Middle East under control instead of leaving it hostage to the whims of Saddam. (Some will say that Saddam was contained, but — in my view — he was a threat to the Middle East if not to the U.S. as long as he was in power.) That may not have been what Bush intended, but that’s what he could have achieved, and would have achieved if he had committed the forces necessary to bring Iraq firmly under control. Instead, he followed Rumsfeld’s do-it-on-the-cheap advice for too long. Anyway, Bush got bogged down, much as LBJ had done with his “signalling” and gradualism in Vietnam. The 2007 surge might have turned things around, but Bush had run out of political capital and couldn’t commit the forces needed to stabilize Iraq for the long haul (and neutralize Iran), even if he had wanted to.

Obama then followed his anti-colonial impulses and converted potential stability into the mess that we see today.

Bush I set it all up when he declined the golden opportunity to depose Saddam in 1991.

Truman’s handling of the Korean War could be defended as making the best of a bad situation. But Truman’s decision to accept a stalemate instead of taking on the Chinese, as MacArthur urged, was a strategic miscalculation of the first order. It signaled to Russia and China the unwillingness of U.S. leaders to push back against Communist expansion. LBJ reinforced that signal in Vietnam. It took Reagan, who pursued a defense buildup in the face of chicken-little screams from the defeatist left, to push the USSR to its breaking point.

To paraphrase Andy Granatelli, you can pay now or pay later, but pay you will. I fear that the long-run price of the defense build-down under Obama will be high.

Rabble-Rouser without a Cause

Lee Jussim, an academic social psychologist, styles himself a rabble-rouser. I will credit Jussim with even-handedness. He’s no lefty; see, for example, Claire Lehmann’s “How a Rebellious Social Scientist Uncovered the Truth about Stereotypes” (Quillette, December 4, 2015). But he displays a knee-jerk reaction to what he perceives as authoritarianism. As Lehmann puts it:

Jussim appears to have had an anti-authoritarian streak since day one…. Ferociously independent, Jussim describes having little respect for, or deference to, authority figures. In high school he says he purposely made life miserable for his teachers, and later he would become an anti-war activist.

Which leads me to suspect that Jussim never got over his case of adolescent rebelliousness.* He seems to have an inborn need to lash out at the current regime, regardless of its political flavor. A case in point is Jussim’s muddled analysis of the state of the union. Jussim’s assertions, in block quotes, are followed by my commentary.

In my blog entry here, I highlighted [four] main signals of rising authoritarianism….

All four warning signals are flashing bright red.

The first signal [the less the results of national elections reflect the popular vote, the more the principle of majority selection of representatives is weakened] is an inherently undemocratic characteristic of the Electoral College (lots of people defend the Electoral College on other, nondemocratic grounds but let’s not pretend there is anything democratic about it). Minorities tend to be more radical than majorities, in part, because radicalism is usually delusional (think about everything from Soviet and Nazi propaganda to the modern “alternative facts”) and, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Think concretely. Is it easier to convince one person or 1,000,000 people that the moon landing was faked, that AIDs was a conspiracy to kill blacks, or that Adolf was right all along?

Ok, let’s scale it up. How about 2 versus a million? 10 versus a million?

Etc.

Lenin never actually had the support of more than about 20-25 percent of Russians. Hitler maxed at about 40 percent and his vote total declined before he first adroitly took power democratically then executed his coup from within the halls of power.

Minority rule is a very very dangerous thing…

So a system that empowers minorities to select rulers is at much greater risk of selecting radical rulers.

Jussim implies that majority rule guards against tyranny. How does that square with the enshrinement of the administrative state — which is nearly as tyrannical as it gets — by FDR, a four-time winner of a popular-vote majority, and the expansion of the administrative state by LBJ, another big winner of the popular vote? (FDR was also responsible for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which still rankles leftists — who otherwise view FDR as a god — and libertarians like Jussim.)

And how is a 46-percent popular-vote minority (Trump’s share of the popular-vote total) the same as the type of radical minority from which Lenin and Hitler sprang? We should feel safer with Clinton — a statist in the tradition of FDR — who won only 48 percent of the popular vote?

What about other presidents who won the electoral vote with less than 50 percent of the total popular vote, many of them with smaller shares than Trump’s: John Quincy Adams (1824), James K. Polk (1844), James Buchanan (1856), Abraham Lincoln (1860), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), James Garfield (1880), Grover Cleveland (1884, 1892), Benjamin Harrison (1888), Woodrow Wilson (1912, 1916 — bingo!), Harry Truman (1948), John F. Kennedy (1960), Richard Nixon (1968), Bill Clinton (1992, 1996), and G.W. Bush (2000). The rule that the winner of the electoral vote wins the presidency has been in place for a long time, and it has produced all of those “minority” presidents. Why? Because with the rule in place, candidates aim to win the electoral vote, not the popular vote. Trump is far from the first successful candidate to do so, and he’ll be far from the last.

So the first signal has been flashing red, on and off, for almost 200 years. It’s a rather unreliable signal, especially given the tyranny instituted by FDR and LBJ — who won huge popular-vote majorities. Or maybe John Quincy Adams was a stealth Hitler. No, it was Woodrow Wilson. Jussim is right, just 100 years late.

The second signal [if and when policies and practices threatening our fundamental rights – speech, religion, association, press – are even proposed, those rights are threatened] is flashing hard and fast. The stay of the Muslim ban was issued, in part, because the ban appears to violate separation of church and state, and in part because it violated academic freedom of state universities (this is part of what gave the states standing to argue for a stay of the ban in court).

Only someone who’s ignorant of constitutional law — as Jussim seems to be — would say that the temporary immigration order was constitutionally stayed for either of the reasons cited. Those are merely judicial pretexts for barring a president from exercising a constitutional function. The Constitution protects Americans’ freedom of religion, despite leftists’ efforts to curtail it; the Constitution doesn’t protect non-Americans because they happen to practice a certain religion. The Constitution protects freedom of speech, including the freedom of academics (like Jussim) to spout nonsense; the Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right of non-American academics to enter the United States.

In addition to the State Department Purge, President Trump has routinely advocated for torture, which is illegal (also flashing the third signal). His administration has also routinely attempted to silence, intimidate, or derogate members of the government and the press.

The State Department purge? Trump simply went against mindless tradition and accepted the resignations of senior political appointees who were undoubtedly anti-Trump. Sanity ruled, for once, in the treatment of the State Department.

Has Trump, as president, authorized torture? Or didn’t he back down from his earlier statements? I believe it’s the latter. (Though I have nothing against torture if the use of it protects Americans.)

Nor has Trump actually attempted to silence the press. He and Bannon have correctly characterized the press (or most of it) as tools of the Democrat Party and left-wing causes generally. Or are they not allowed to say such things because they’ve been accused of harboring fascistic ambitions by people who are afraid that Trump will — justifiably — dismantle much of the left-wing edifice that stands on the necks of American taxpayers? In any event, I’ve seen no evidence that the press has been silenced. Quite the contrary, in fact. Hour after hour, day after day, the media are dominated by anti-Trump reporting propaganda.

The third signal [if and when the federal government advocates not changing laws, but violating laws, the rule of law is threatened] flashed hard when the Trump administration instructed the immigration arms of the executive branch to ignore the court rulings.

The link leads to something else entirely. As far as I know, the court rulings have been honored by the Trump administration.

The fourth signal [rising popularity, membership, and political action among hate groups and neo-fascist movements] is flashing because of the rising tide of harassment of Muslims, minorities, and Jews.

There’s a lot of fake hate-thought and hate-crime out there (small sample here). But none of the real stuff is the doing of Trump, who — unlike Hitler — doesn’t hate non-Aryans or homosexuals. Anyway, there’s simply nothing like a mass movement of the kind that helped to push Hitler into power. It didn’t happen here. Or maybe it did, when Barack Obama became president and black thugs were given free reign to burn, loot, and kill.

To be sure, nearly all Presidential administrations have overstepped their legal and Constitutional bounds at some point. The Founders did not create a system of balance of powers and checks and balances to prevent attempts at overreach — they created it to prevent the success of such attempts. However, I do not recall so many attempts at overreach in the earliest days of any Presidential administration since I started attending to politics (around 1969).

The overreach seems to be in Jussim’s fevered imaginings about a fascist takeover of the country.

The question is: Can a system hold against a determined attempt to undermine it? Tyrants such as Hitler, Putin, and Chavez all initially came to power quite legally, and then subverted their respective systems to install authoritarian autocracies. “Following the law” is no guarantee against tyranny.

The “determined attempt” is another figment of Jussim’s fevered imagination. Tyrants like Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ also came to power quite legally. But they were “all right” because they favored “compassionate” big government. (Well, not the segregationist Wilson or the FDR of the internment camps.)

All of which raises some deeply troubling social, psychological, and political questions. Why do people support autocracies? What, psychologically, is necessary for democracy to flourish?  Why do democracies fail?

American democracy has pretty much failed because successive presidents, Congresses, and Supreme Courts have violated the Constitution. It’s been going on since the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fascism is already here — but it’s not Trump’s fascism, so Jussim can’t see it.

Democracy, even American democracy, is not invulnerable, and will almost certainly not last forever. That, however, does not mean anyone needs to quietly acquiesce to its demise.

If Jussim means by “American democracy” the rule of law according to the principles of the Constitution, he’s postmaturely correct. It’s already dead. And it will take more than the election of a Trump to revive it.
__________
* I don’t denigrate persons who rebel against incompetent or tyrannical authority. I’ve done it as an adult. I twice succeeded in having incompetent bosses fired. A third effort failed, but knowing that it might, I used it to set myself up for a financially rewarding exit.

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Related posts:
FDR and Fascism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
The People’s Romance
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Penalizing “Thought Crimes”
Democracy and Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
“We the People” and Big Government
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Civil War?
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
The Left and “the People”

Cost Disease in the Quasi-Government Sector

What is cost disease? According to Wikipedia, it

is a phenomenon described by William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen in the 1960s. It involves a rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no increase of labor productivity, in response to rising salaries in other jobs that have experienced the labor productivity growth. This pattern seemingly goes against the theory in classical economics for which real wage growth is closely tied to labor productivity changes.

The rise of wages in jobs without productivity gains is from the requirement to compete for employees with jobs that have experienced gains and so can naturally pay higher salaries, just as classical economics predicts. For instance, if the retail sector pays its managers 19th-century-style salaries, the managers may decide to quit to get a job at an automobile factory, where salaries are higher because of high labor productivity. Thus, managers’ salaries are increased not by labor productivity increases in the retail sector but by productivity and corresponding wage increases in other industries.

There’s a lot more to cost disease than the kind of salary bloat described by Baumol and Bowen. Tyler Cowen addresses it here. Scott Alexander picks up the ball and runs with it here and here. Arnold Kling, as usual, gets to the heart of the matter:

1. At any given time, you will have sectors where demand is growing faster than productivity (think of health care and education) and other sectors where productivity is growing faster than demand (think of manufacturing). In the sectors where demand is growing faster than productivity, you have rising relative prices, or “cost disease.”

2. In health care and education, you also have a lot of government intervention, and government intervention almost always takes the form of subsidizing demand while restricting supply. Of course, that is going to cause relative prices to be higher, thereby exacerbating “cost disease.”

3. I would argue that there are plenty of barriers to competition in the college market. Accreditation is one such barrier. But there are natural incumbent advantages as well. You may be able to enter the market for high school graduates who are in no way prepared for college. But trying to enter the market at the level of a top 100 college is nearly impossible.

4. There are plenty of barriers in health care, also. Clinics are a good innovation, but the real expenses in health care are in chronic illnesses, and clinics do not compete to treat diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and so on.

5. It is in the nature of organizations for middle managers to try to build empires, adding to cost without necessarily creating value. In for-profit businesses, the owners have an incentive to check this, because the owners want to maximize profits. In non-profits, the natural checks operate only when revenues are not rising to cover the cost of expansion. Non-profits only worry about the bottom line when it threatens to go negative.

In short, some “cost disease” is natural. At any given time, some industries will have demand growing faster than productivity. However, much of it is artificial, as government subsidizes demand and restricts supply. Finally, some of it results from the fact that non-profits are less efficient than for-profit firms.

As a former officer of a tax-funded, non-profit, professional services corporation (TNPSC), I know about cost disease in the quasi-government sector of the economy.

First of all Baumol and Bowen’s definition of cost disease as salary bloat, though incomplete, is correct. Because my company — call it XYZ Corp. — derived all of its funds from government sources, our salary policies required the approval of government contracting officers. How did we gain that approval? Every few years XYZ hired a consulting firm that had access to salary data for private-sector companies. The consulting firm would then undertake a “study” to compare private-sector salaries with those of XYZ. Lo and behold, by selecting the right set of private-sector companies and the right set of jobs in those companies, the consulting firm found that XYZ’s salaries lagged, and should be boosted by more than the usual annual rate to keep pace with XYZ’s private-sector “competitors.” XYZ’s above-market benefits package (approved by contracting officers) and below-market turnover rate were conveniently ignored.

A related trick was to set executive salaries so that they kept pace with the salaries of executives at other TNPSCs. And how did the larger TNPSCs justify the high salaries to which XYZ aspired? With “studies” showing that their executive salaries lagged those of their private-sector “competitors.”

It’s a joke to compare salaries paid by relatively stable TNPSCs — organizations that have cozy, long-term relationships with their government sponsors — and salaries paid by private-sector companies. In addition to cushy benefits packages, employees of TNPSCs are well-insulated from competition, unlike their private-sector counterparts. Thus employees of TNPSCs are compensated not only with handsome salaries and benefits, but they also enjoy a high degree of job security. Which is why turnover rates at TNPSCs are low relative to private-sector companies.

How does Kling’s list of reasons for cost disease apply to TNPSCs?

Demand vs. productivity. I’m unfamiliar with the current state of “demand” for (i.e., government spending on) TNPSCs. But over the long haul, since the inception of TNPSCs during World War II, government spending on them has risen by orders of magnitude. It’s probably safe to say that the productivity of TNPSCs has risen little. Advances in computation and data storage have enabled such firms to collect and analyze data pertaining to a broader range of subjects, and to do it more rapidly. But there’s been little real innovation in the tools of analysis, most of which were devised during World War II and the decades immediately following the war. And the basic approach to “solving” the problems of government agencies remains the same as it was in World War II: Define the problem, collect the relevant data, analyze the data to find a preferred solution to the problem, and report the results to the government client. It was and still is a labor-intensive process.

Government intervention and barriers to competition. TNPSCs are formally designated by the government. There are relatively few of them, and most of them have pedigrees that date back to the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

The cozy relationships between TNPSCs and their various government sponsors changed somewhat in the 1990s when profit-seeking professional-services firms declared war on TNPSCs. Some TNPSCs suffered funding cuts as a result, but the cuts were far from fatal and TNPSCs compensated by finding a broader range of government sponsors to maintain them in the style to which they had become accustomed. Some of them spun off for-profit counterparts, with the aid of fees earned on government contracts. More stringent contracting procedures imposed as a result of the war on TNPSCs also forced them to emulate the task-by-task funding of for-profits. But that’s just a cosmetic change; it adds to the cost of running TNPSCs, which the government defrays, of course.

Empire-building. Kling’s analysis is spot-on. Here’s some personal testimony: From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the component of XYZ that I managed grew significantly. Staffing probably doubled, and costs rose accordingly. It wasn’t until 1995, when XYZ suffered funding cuts resulting from the war on TNPSCs, that my empire shrank. I ran the support side of XYZ, which encompassed contracting, accounting, information services, publication services, facility operations, security, computer operations, computer programming, and personnel (called “human resources,” of course). I handed off the computer programming function to another manager, who could sell its services to new clients, and cut the staffing of the other functions by about 20 percent. I did it so that the managers of the research divisions — the ones that do the work for which clients pay — could take much smaller staffing reductions. Did the 20-percent cut in support services hinder the work of the research divisions? Not that I noticed.

Why, then, did I grow the support division? Because I could. That’s empire-building, and I was far from the only empire-builder in XYZ or other TNPSCs. Ambition abounds, and it leads to empire-building for as long as the money is there to support it.

Kling is right. Cost disease prevails where government subsidizes demand and restricts supply. TNPSCs are small potatoes compared with the health-care industry, which is the largest component of the quasi-government sector of the economy. The industry is government subsidized (e.g., through Medicare, Medicaid, and research funding) and sheltered from serious competition by a vast web of laws and regulations. Those laws and regulations also impose heavy cost burdens on health-care providers, their suppliers, drug companies, and insurance companies. But the burdens are defrayed to a large extent by government funding. It’s a vicious cycle that’s largely responsible for the high cost of health care in the United States.

It’s even worse in the official government sector, which includes the vast federal apparatus, all manner of State and local agencies, public schools and universities (and heavily endowed private ones) — and myriad contractors to all of the foregoing. Massive cost overruns, dismal performance, administrative bloat, pension-fund raids on the public treasury (i.e., taxpayers), open-ended “entitlement” programs, etc., etc., etc.  It’s the non-accountability swamp. And the only way to drain it is to say “no” — period, full stop, end of discussion.

Tricky Reasoning

Dr. James Thompson recalls the “Linda” question posed by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more probable?
1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Personally, after reading the above description, I have Linda in my mind’s eye, and I can just see her lecturing me on what sort of yoghurt I should eat. If I ever met her, I would not dream of admitting that I drive a diesel car, and that I have very recently taken up sketching nude women. Of course she is a feminist, and against nuclear weapons! That is obvious. (Actually, if Linda is very attractive, it might be worth my while telling her about my book against nuclear war).

“Linda” is the tricky question Kahneman and Tversky made famous. They implied that people who chose answer 2 were being irrational, because, wait for it, it is more likely from a statistical point of view that Linda is a bank teller (answer 1) than that she is a bank teller with a particular political interest (answer 2). This is because there will be at least some bank tellers who are not feminists, and even if there is only one such bank teller, then the category “bank teller and also feminist” will be smaller than the category “bank teller”. So, it is more likely that she is just a bank teller.

However, the introductory remarks have led you into getting the sucker punch. The woman is SINGLE for God’s sake, despite being 31 years of age. Some problem there. Despite being a woman, she is OUTSPOKEN and VERY BRIGHT. She studied PHILOSOPHY which I can testify puts you on a hiding to nothing. She was DEEPLY CONCERNED with issues of DISCRIMINATION and SOCIAL JUSTICE. ANTI-NUCLEAR completes the picture. Answer 2 is the better match with the female of this species.

I’m almost certain that I got the “wrong” answer to the “Linda” question when I first came across it. Am I irrational? I doubt it very much. (Go here and scroll down to “Intelligence, Temperament, and Beliefs.”)

I understand the arithmetic of the “rational” answer, but the “rational” answer points to a nebbish, which is the image conjured by “bank teller.” The description of Linda isn’t that of a nebbish, it’s of a strongly opinionated person with a vivid character.

Therefore, answer 2 is more “probable” than answer 1. Even if Linda isn’t a bank teller, she’s almost certainly a feminist. In other words, answer 2 better describes Linda than answer 1. That’s how I saw it when I first came across the question. That’s how I see it now.

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Related post: The Candle Problem: Balderdash Masquerading as Science

Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Real World

Natural law is about morality, that is, right and wrong. Natural rights are about the duties and obligations that human beings owe to each other. Believers in natural law claim to start with the nature of human beings, then derive from that nature the “laws” of morality. Believers in natural rights claim to start with the nature of human beings, then derive from that nature the inalienable “rights” of human beings.

A natural law would be something like this: It is in the nature of human beings to seek life and to avoid death. A natural right would be something like this: Given that it is natural for human beings to seek life and avoid death, every human being has the right to life.

Maybe. But what about this? It is in the nature of human beings to enjoy sex. Given that it is natural for human beings to enjoy sex, every human being has the right to rape at will. Or not. Following the natural law-natural rights formula, it’s easy deny a natural right to rape at will: It is in the nature of human beings to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Rape is usually painful to the person being raped. It is therefore a natural right not to be raped.

I daresay that many other contradictory and absurd propositions can be concocted from the natural law-natural rights formula; for example: Dying is often (usually?) painful, psychologically if not physically to the dying person. It is therefore a natural right not to be killed deliberately. But if there is a natural right not to be raped, and if a rapist is shot and mortally wounded by the person who is being raped (perhaps it was her only possible defense), how does that square with the supposed natural right not to be killed deliberately. Or what about the case of a terrorist who is killed just before he can detonate a bomb that would have killed dozens of persons? And so on.

In sum, natural law and natural rights are malleable concepts. Here, for example, is Timothy Sandefur, writing in “Judge Gorsuch’s Natural Law” (reason.com, February 12, 2017):

Natural law is among the oldest philosophical traditions. Some of history’s greatest geniuses, from Aristotle to Thomas Jefferson, devoted their most brilliant arguments to it, often differing about details but agreeing on the broad outlines. Natural law was the basis on which America’s founders wrote the Constitution….

… [E]ven those who embrace natural law, including Justice Clarence Thomas, have their differences. For example, while Thomas and his allies see natural law as a basis for attacking legal protections for abortion and euthanasia—because they contradict the sanctity of life—others believe that natural law theory actually supports these rights, because it prioritizes individual autonomy.

It seems that Sandefur is in favor of the right to an abortion, as a matter of individual autonomy. He is clearly critical of what he sees as Judge Gorsuch’s “circumscribed view of individual choice,” and “Gorsuch’s ultimate conclusion that government can bar people from doing things it deems evil—just because—without actually violating their freedom of choice.” So in Sandefur’s parsing of the natural law-natural rights formula, individual autonomy overrules a (qualified) natural right: the right to life.

What puts individual autonomy on a higher plane than life, or — to be precise — the life of a fetus? Sandefur is a clever lawyer, so I’m sure that he has a clever explanation. But I’m unable to access it because of a dead-end link in his blog. Speculation is in order.

If individual autonomy trumps the right to life there must be a natural law-natural right argument that makes it so. Something like this, perhaps:

It is in the nature of human beings that they own themselves and are not the property of others.

Human beings therefore have a natural right to reject man-made (positive) laws that dictate what they can do with their own bodies.

Among many things, this natural right encompasses suicide, drug use, consenting sexual acts of any kind, and abortion.

There are, of course, arguments against suicide, drug use, and unrestricted sexual acts. The arguments are “social”; that is, they appeal to the effects of such acts on other persons, and the ways in which such acts violate the natural rights of other persons. Only an extreme individualist (extreme libertarian) will reject such arguments by proclaiming the superiority of individual autonomy over other considerations. I wonder how those extreme individualists cope with the prospect of euthanasia in the guise of physician-assisted suicide, an epidemic resulting from widespread rejection of vaccinations, or the dire effects of inbreeding.

Is there a natural-rights argument against abortion? The basic one — the right to life — is sidestepped by arguments like these:

A fetus may be a human being but it isn’t yet a person.

A fetus is part of another human being, and not an independent being. The other human being (the mother) may therefore exercise her natural right to rid herself of an encumbrance.

The “personhood” argument is legalistic, at best, because personhood is an abstraction, not a physical fact. A human being is created at the moment of conception. It may be a rudimentary human being, but it is one nevertheless. And it has the potential to become a fully formed human being. In fact, it becomes one before birth. Is it then also a person? Why not, if a new-born baby is a person? But perhaps a baby doesn’t become a person until it vocalizes, or seems to recognize a face, or demands food. Arbitrary, as I say, and therefore unconvincing.

Which is why the “encumbrance” argument is usually deployed, though more euphemistically, in the form of slogans like “reproductive rights” and “a woman’s right to control her own body.” It boils down to the “right to choose,” whence “pro-choice” — meaning pro-abortion.

But this merely sidesteps the basic issue: Is there a natural right to life, or is there not? And if there is, infanticide is surely a violation of that right. So if a human being has a right to life as a new-born infant — which most pro-abortionists will concede — why doesn’t the same human being have the right to life just before he is born; or while he is “viable,” because he could be born prematurely and (probably) survive; or before he is viable but would become so were it not for the intervention of an abortionist?

Now, we’re down to line-drawing and can dispense with the fiction that there’s a natural-rights argument for abortion. In fact, line-drawing is a concession to the natural-rights argument against abortion. If you’re pro-life, you don’t draw a line. It’s those who wish to defend abortion who will argue about where to draw the line. But if there were a real natural-rights argument for abortion, there wouldn’t be a line. There would be a natural right to kill a defenseless, non-aggressive human being, whether it’s called abortion, partial-birth abortion, infanticide, or just plain murder.

As I said, natural law and natural rights are malleable concepts. They can be tortured into yielding almost any interpretation that supports the preferences of the torturer. Or, as Sandefur puts it, “differing about details but agreeing on the broad outlines.” But the devil is in the details.

An extension of natural law is that human beings not only seek to live, but also seek to flourish. (Sandefur likes that extension.) A natural right that fosters flourishing is the right to own property, to use it as a means to the end of flourishing, and to enjoy the use of the property itself, as an aspect of flourishing. Socialism denies or severely limits the right to own property, thus depriving some persons of the ability to flourish as fully as they could in order to underwrite the flourishing of other persons. Socialists — and do-gooders, generally — set themselves up as arbiters of flourishing: Some persons must flourish less so that others may flourish more. As skilled accountants of the soul, they know precisely where to draw the line — just like pro-abortionists (which most of them probably are).

There are those persons — like me — who don’t accept the broad outlines of natural law and natural rights. Jazz Shaw says this in “On the Truth of Man’s Rights Under Natural Law” (Hot Air, March 29, 2015):

Certainly … “natural rights” are things that most rational, decent people could agree upon as things that would be wonderful indeed. But if we are to accept that, then how do you deny someone else claiming a “right” which you don’t support? What of the liberal who claims they have a God given right to health care? Or even the right not to be offended by the speech of others? I can find you a library of examples of both with only a few moments on Google. Some of these same folks regularly point to the General Welfare clause and insist that this means they have a God given right to social security and any other number of safety net items. Are they right? Or are they misinterpreting the words of the founders? Oh, my… now we have another debate on our hands….

If we wish to define the “rights” of man in this world, they are – in only the most general sense – the rights which groups of us agree to and work constantly to enforce as a society. And even that is weak tea in terms of definitions because it is so easy for those “rights” to be thwarted by malefactors. To get to the true definition of rights, I drill down even further. Your rights are precisely what you can seize and hold for yourself by strength of arm or force of wit. Anything beyond that is a desirable goal, but most certainly not a right and it is obviously not permanent.

Amen.

Where does that leave me? Try these on for size:
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
More about Consequentialism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”

Please Understand Me

This is from the updated version of “My Moral Profile.”

I am an INTJ, and an especially strong I, T, and J. Here are my latest scores (02/16/17) on the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS), which is similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The descriptive excerpts are from David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates’s Please Understand Me.

EXTRAVERSION 0 – INTROVERSION 10

The person who chooses people as a source of energy probably prefers extraversion, while the person who prefers solitude to recover energy may tend toward introversion.

SENSATION 8 – INTUITION 12

The person who has a natural preference for sensation probably describes himself first as practical, while the person who has a natural preference for intuition probably chooses to describe himself as innovative.

THINKING 20 – FEELING 0

Persons who choose the impersonal basis of choice are called the thinking types by Jung. Persons who choose the personal basis are called the feeling types…. The more extreme feeling types are a bit put off by rule-governed choice, regarding the act of being impersonal as almost inhuman. The more dedicated thinking types, on the other hand, sometimes look upon the emotion-laden decisions and choices as muddle-headed.

JUDGING 19 – PERCEIVING 1

Persons who choose closure over open options are likely to be the judging types. Persons preferring to keep things open and fluid are probably the perceiving types. The J is apt to report a sense of urgency until he has made a pending decision, and then he can be at rest once the decision has been made. The F person, in contrast, is more apt to experience resistance to making a decision, wishing that more data could be accumulated as the basis for the decision. As a result, when a P person makes a decision, he may have a feeling of uneasiness and restlessness, while the J person, in the same situation, may have a feeling of ease and satisfaction.

Js tend to establish deadlines and take them seriously, expecting others to do the same. Ps may tend more to look upon deadlines as mere alarm clocks which buzz at a given time, easily turned off or ignored while one catch an extra forty winks, almost as if the deadline were used more as a signal to start than to complete a project.