Intelligence – Personality – Psychology

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

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

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.

The Age of Noise

Aldous Huxley says this in The Perennial Philosophy:

The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise and noise of desire — we hold history’s record for all of them. And no wonder; for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence. That most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio, is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the ear-drums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions – news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas. And where, as in most countries, the broadcasting stations support themselves by selling time to advertisers, the noise is carried from the ears, through the realms of phantasy, knowledge and feeling to the ego’s central core of wish and desire.

Mr. Huxley would hate the twenty-first century. The noise is beyond deafening. And it’s everywhere: beeping cell phones; loud one-sided conversations into cell phones; talking automobiles; ear-shattering “music” blasting from nearby automobiles, stadium loudspeakers, computers, TVs, and (yes) radios; screeching MoTown (or whatever it’s now called) blasting away in grocery stores (at the request of employees, I suspect); movie soundtracks worthy of the Siege of Stalingrad; and on and on.

I’m glad that my hearing aids have a “mute” function. When engaged, it takes the sharp edges off the knives of sound that assail me whenever I venture into the outside world.

Sound has become a substitute for the absorption and processing of information, that is, for thought. The decades-long crescendo in the West’s sound track lends support to Richard Lynn’s hypothesis that intelligence is on the decline.

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Related posts:
Flow
In Praise of Solitude
There’s Always Solitude
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness

Brilliant Crazies

Gregory Cochran avers that “smart people are susceptible to all kinds of ideological craziness.” Cochran’s case in point is Neil Turok, a theoretical physicist from South Africa, currently head of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. Back to Cochran:

I mentioned that [Turok] was a smart guy. He’s also crazy. He thinks that sub-Saharan Africans today are analogous to Ashkenazi Jews in 1850 or so – ready to explode into the intellectual world and tear it a new asshole.

Wanna bet? With African math scores at the 5th percentile? With their IQ scores two standard deviations below those of Europeans, three below the Askenazim? That low average tremendously suppresses the fraction above a high threshold. With every event in life its own self consistent with those statistics – not just in Africa, but everywhere in the African diaspora?

And he has no excuse [other than his commie family history]. He grew up in South Africa: there are plenty of things he would have seen if this picture of the world were true, and he’s never seen any of them. Did black kids out-argue him, beat him at chess, win the math competitions even though their parents were poor as synagogue mice? No sirree.

A very smart person like Neil Turok is probably eligible for the Triple-Nine Society (as I was before old age set in). That is, his IQ probably places him at or above the 99.9th percentile of the population: the top 0.1 percent. You’re unlikely to run into one of the 0.1 percenters unless you hang around a university, a research lab, a think tank, or a big professional-services company. They cluster in such places like birds on telephone wires.

Such persons usually do well for themselves. If they aren’t in the top one-percent of the income distribution, it’s because they don’t have the kind of personality (or athletic ability or photogenic qualities) it takes to get there. Wheeling and dealing isn’t for introverts, who are more likely than extroverts to be very smart. But very smart people have the wherewithal to make a good living, especially when the kinds of things they are good at and enjoy (e.g., teaching, writing, conducting research, and crafting legal arguments) are subsidized by taxpayers and bankrolled by wealthy clients and foundations.

Thus very smart persons usually have the luxury of thinking impossible things and dreaming impossible dreams. And when they do, they detach themselves from reality; that is, they become crazy. Like Turok, they often make a good living at it. They’re paid and encouraged to be crazy — to treat reality as an option.

Albert Einstein, for example, held a sinecure at the Institute for Advanced Study of Princeton University for the final 22 years of his life. During that time he added essentially nothing to his monumental work on special relativity, general relativity, and early quantum theory. His career played out in a Quixotic fashion: dreaming the dream (perhaps an impossible one) of a unified field theory and trying in vain to discredit quantum theory as it had developed after his early contributions. But Einstein wasn’t entirely harmless in his dotage. He was a socialist and advocate of world government, and should be dishonored for lending his prestige to those abominable causes.

Cochran is right: High intelligence doesn’t immunize a person from ideological craziness. Nor from nastiness. There’s nothing nastier than an intellectual in attack mode. As a denizen of a Ph.D.-laden think-tank for 30 years, I saw a lot of intellectual savagery at first hand. It was ugly, and I’m ashamed to say that I committed some of it.

High intelligence is highly overrated as a virtue. But if you have it you probably wouldn’t trade it for a million dollars. Well, maybe less than that. I’m open to offers.

A Downside of Empathy

When you can keep your head when others about you are losing theirs, maybe you don’t understand the gravity of the situation.

It’s a funny line, but it also points to a downside of empathy. Empathy is defined as “the power of entering into another’s personality and imaginatively experiencing his feelings.” Extreme empathy puts the empathizer in the same panicked condition as those around him. Which means that the empathizer is probably unable to view the situation unemotionally and react to it rationally.

Not Just for Baseball Fans

I have substantially revised “Bigger, Stronger, and Faster — But Not Quicker?” I set out to test Dr. Michael Woodley’s hypothesis that reaction times have slowed since the Victorian era:

It seems to me that if Woodley’s hypothesis has merit, it ought to be confirmed by the course of major-league batting averages over the decades. Other things being equal, quicker reaction times ought to produce higher batting averages. Of course, there’s a lot to hold equal, given the many changes in equipment, playing conditions, player conditioning, “style” of the game (e.g., greater emphasis on home runs), and other key variables over the course of more than a century.

I conclude that my analysis

says nothing definitive about reaction times, even though it sheds a lot of light on the relative hitting prowess of American League batters over the past 116 years. (I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.)

It’s been great fun but it was just one of those things.

Sandwiched between those statements you’ll find much statistical meat (about baseball) to chew on.

Words Fail Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not only that, but the visible spectrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words fail us.

*      *      *

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

Intelligence, Assortative Mating, and Social Engineering

UPDATED 11/18/16 (AT THE END)

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

INTELLIGENCE AND WHY IT MATTERS IN “REAL LIFE”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARLES MURRAY AND FISHTOWN VS. BELMONT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDING 2 AND 2 TO GET ?

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

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

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

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

[T]he abstract is this:

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

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

__________

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

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

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

__________

I’d offer a few caveats:

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

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

In sum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

chetty-et-al-figure-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Economists As Scientists

This is the third entry in a series of loosely connected posts on economics. The first entry is here and the second entry is here. (Related posts by me are noted parenthetically throughout this one.)

Science is something that some people “do” some of the time. There are full-time human beings and part-time scientists. And the part-timers are truly scientists only when they think and act in accordance with the scientific method.*

Acting in accordance with the scientific method is a matter of attitude and application. The proper attitude is one of indifference about the correctness of a hypothesis or theory. The proper application rejects a hypothesis if it can’t be tested, and rejects a theory if it’s refuted (falsified) by relevant and reliable observations.

Regarding attitude, I turn to the most famous person who was sometimes a scientist: Albert Einstein. This is from the Wikipedia article about the Bohr-Einstein debate:

The quantum revolution of the mid-1920s occurred under the direction of both Einstein and [Niels] Bohr, and their post-revolutionary debates were about making sense of the change. The shocks for Einstein began in 1925 when Werner Heisenberg introduced matrix equations that removed the Newtonian elements of space and time from any underlying reality. The next shock came in 1926 when Max Born proposed that mechanics were to be understood as a probability without any causal explanation.

Einstein rejected this interpretation. In a 1926 letter to Max Born, Einstein wrote: “I, at any rate, am convinced that He [God] does not throw dice.” [Apparently, Einstein also used the line in Bohr’s presence, and Bohr replied, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.” — TEA]

At the Fifth Solvay Conference held in October 1927 Heisenberg and Born concluded that the revolution was over and nothing further was needed. It was at that last stage that Einstein’s skepticism turned to dismay. He believed that much had been accomplished, but the reasons for the mechanics still needed to be understood.

Einstein’s refusal to accept the revolution as complete reflected his desire to see developed a model for the underlying causes from which these apparent random statistical methods resulted. He did not reject the idea that positions in space-time could never be completely known but did not want to allow the uncertainty principle to necessitate a seemingly random, non-deterministic mechanism by which the laws of physics operated.

It’s true that quantum mechanics was inchoate in the mid-1920s, and that it took a couple of decades to mature into quantum field theory. But there’s more than a trace of “attitude” in Einstein’s refusal to accept quantum mechanics, to stay abreast of developments in the theory, and to search quixotically for his own theory of everything, which he hoped would obviate the need for a non-deterministic explanation of quantum phenomena.

Improper application of the scientific method is rife. See, for example the Wikipedia article about the replication crisis, John Ioannidis’s article, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” (See also “Ty Cobb and the State of Science” and “Is Science Self-Correcting?“) For a thorough analysis of the roots of the crisis, read Michael Hart’s book, Hubris: The Troubling Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change.

A bad attitude and improper application are both found among the so-called scientists who declare that the “science” of global warming is “settled,” and that human-generated CO2 emissions are the primary cause of the apparent rise in global temperatures during the last quarter of the 20th century. The bad attitude is the declaration of “settled science.” In “The Science Is Never Settled” I give many prominent examples of the folly of declaring it to be “settled.”

The improper application of the scientific method with respect to global warming began with the hypothesis that the “culprit” is CO2 emissions generated by the activities of human beings — thus anthropogenic global warming (AGW). There’s no end of evidence to the contrary, some of which is summarized in these posts and many of the links found therein. There’s enough evidence, in my view, to have rejected the CO2 hypothesis many times over. But there’s a great deal of money and peer-approval at stake, so the rush to judgment became a stampede. And attitude rears its ugly head when pro-AGW “scientists” shun the real scientists who are properly skeptical about the CO2 hypothesis, or at least about the degree to which CO2 supposedly influences temperatures. (For a depressingly thorough account of the AGW scam, read Michael Hart’s Hubris: The Troubling Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change.)

I turn now to economists, as I have come to know them in more than fifty years of being taught by them, working with them, and reading their works. Scratch an economist and you’re likely to find a moralist or reformer just beneath a thin veneer of rationality. Economists like to believe that they’re objective. But they aren’t; no one is. Everyone brings to the table a large serving of biases that are incubated in temperament, upbringing, education, and culture.

Economists bring to the table a heaping helping of tunnel vision. “Hard scientists” do, too, but their tunnel vision is generally a good thing, because it’s actually aimed at a deeper understanding of the inanimate and subhuman world rather than the advancement of a social or economic agenda. (I make a large exception for “hard scientists” who contribute to global-warming hysteria, as discussed above.)

Some economists, especially behavioralists, view the world through the lens of wealth-and-utility-maximization. Their great crusade is to force everyone to make rational decisions (by their lights), through “nudging.” It almost goes without saying that government should be the nudger-in-chief. (See “The Perpetual Nudger” and the many posts linked to therein.)

Other economists — though far fewer than in the past — have a thing about monopoly and oligopoly (the domination of a market by one or a few sellers). They’re heirs to the trust-busting of the late 1800s and early 1900s, a movement led by non-economists who sought to blame the woes of working-class Americans on the “plutocrats” (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, etc.) who had merely made life better and more affordable for Americans, while also creating jobs for millions of them and reaping rewards for the great financial risks that they took. (See “Monopoly and the General Welfare” and “Monopoly: Private Is Better than Public.”) As it turns out, the biggest and most destructive monopoly of all is the federal government, so beloved and trusted by trust-busters — and too many others. (See “The Rahn Curve Revisited.”)

Nowadays, a lot of economists are preoccupied by income inequality, as if it were something evil and not mainly an artifact of differences in intelligence, ambition, and education, etc. And inequality — the prospect of earning rather grand sums of money — is what drives a lot of economic endeavor, to good of workers and consumers. (See “Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes” and the many posts linked to therein.) Remove inequality and what do you get? The Soviet Union and Communist China, in which everyone is equal except party operatives and their families, friends, and favorites.

When the inequality-preoccupied economists are confronted by the facts of life, they usually turn their attention from inequality as a general problem to the (inescapable) fact that an income distribution has a top one-percent and top one-tenth of one-percent — as if there were something especially loathsome about people in those categories. (Paul Krugman shifted his focus to the top one-tenth of one percent when he realized that he’s in the top one percent, so perhaps he knows that’s he’s loathsome and wishes to deny it, to himself.)

Crony capitalism is trotted out as a major cause of very high incomes. But that’s hardly a universal cause, given that a lot of very high incomes are earned by athletes and film stars beside whom most investment bankers and CEOs are making peanuts. Moreover, as I’ve said on several occasions, crony capitalists are bright and driven enough to be in the stratosphere of any income distribution. Further, the fertile soil of crony capitalism is the regulatory power of government that makes it possible.

Many economists became such, it would seem, in order to promote big government and its supposed good works — income redistribution being one of them. Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman are two leading exemplars of what I call the New Deal school of economic thought, which amounts to throwing government and taxpayers’ money at every perceived problem, that is, every economic outcome that is deemed unacceptable by accountants of the soul. (See “Accountants of the Soul.”)

Stiglitz and Krugman — both Nobel laureates in economics — are typical “public intellectuals” whose intelligence breeds in them a kind of arrogance. (See “Intellectuals and Society: A Review.”) It’s the kind of arrogance that I mentioned in the preceding post in this series: a penchant for deciding what’s best for others.

New Deal economists like Stiglitz and Krugman carry it a few steps further. They ascribe to government an impeccable character, an intelligence to match their own, and a monolithic will. They then assume that this infallible and wise automaton can and will do precisely what they would do: Create the best of all possible worlds. (See the many posts in which I discuss the nirvana fallacy.)

New Deal economists, in other words, live their intellectual lives  in a dream-world populated by the likes of Jiminy Cricket (“When You Wish Upon a Star”), Dorothy (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”), and Mary Jane of a long-forgotten comic book (“First I shut my eyes real tight, then I wish with all my might! Magic words of poof, poof, piffles, make me just as small as [my mouse] Sniffles!”).

I could go on, but you should by now have grasped the point: What too many economists want to do is change human nature, channel it in directions deemed “good” (by the economist), or simply impose their view of “good” on everyone. To do such things, they must rely on government.

It’s true that government can order people about, but it can’t change human nature, which has an uncanny knack for thwarting Utopian schemes. (Obamacare, whose chief architect was economist Jonathan Gruber, is exhibit A this year.) And government (inconveniently for Utopians) really consists of fallible, often unwise, contentious human beings. So government is likely to march off in a direction unsought by Utopian economists.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to thwart the tax collector. The regulator can and does make things so hard for business that if one gets off the ground it can’t create as much prosperity and as many jobs as it would in the absence of regulation. And the redistributor only makes things worse by penalizing success. Tax, regulate, and redistribute should have been the mantra of the New Deal and most presidential “deals” since.

I hold economists of the New Deal stripe partly responsible for the swamp of stagnation into which the nation’s economy has descended. (See “Economic Growth Since World War II.”) Largely responsible, of course, are opportunistic if not economically illiterate politicians who pander to rent-seeking, economically illiterate constituencies. (Yes, I’m thinking of old folks and the various “disadvantaged” groups with which they have struck up an alliance of convenience.)

The distinction between normative economics and positive economics is of no particular use in sorting economists between advocates and scientists. A lot of normative economics masquerades as positive economics. The work of Thomas Piketty and his comrades-in-arms comes to mind, for example. (See “McCloskey on Piketty.”) Almost everything done to quantify and defend the Keynesian multiplier counts as normative economics, inasmuch as the work is intended (wittingly or not) to defend an intellectual scam of 80 years’ standing. (See “The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math,” “The True Multiplier,” and “Further Thoughts about the Keynesian Multiplier.”)

Enough said. If you want to see scientific economics in action, read Regulation. Not every article in it exemplifies scientific inquiry, but a good many of them do. It’s replete with articles about microeconomics, in which the authors uses real-world statistics to validate and quantify the many axioms of economics.

A final thought is sparked by Arnold Kling’s post, “Ed Glaeser on Science and Economics.” Kling writes:

I think that the public has a sort of binary classification. If it’s “science,” then an expert knows more than the average Joe. If it’s not a science, then anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s. I strongly favor an in-between category, called a discipline. Think of economics as a discipline, where it is possible for avid students to know more than ordinary individuals, but without the full use of the scientific method.

On this rare occasion I disagree with Kling. The accumulation of knowledge about economic variables, or pseudo-knowledge such as estimates of GDP (see “Macroeconomics and Microeconomics“), either leads to well-tested, verified, and reproducible theories of economic behavior or it leads to conjectures, of which there are so many opposing ones that it’s “take your pick.” If that’s what makes a discipline, give me the binary choice between science and story-telling. Most of economics seems to be story-telling. “Discipline” is just a fancy word for it.

Collecting baseball cards and memorizing the statistics printed on them is a discipline. Most of economics is less useful than collecting baseball cards — and a lot more destructive.

Here’s my hypothesis about economists: There are proportionally as many of them who act like scientists as there are baseball players who have career batting averages of at least .300.
__________
* Richard Feynman, a physicist and real scientist, had a different view of the scientific method than Karl Popper’s standard taxonomy. I see Feynman’s view as complementary to Popper’s, not at odds with it. What is “constructive skepticism” (Feynman’s term) but a gentler way of saying that a hypothesis or theory might be falsified and that the act of falsification may point to a better hypothesis or theory?

“Feelings, nothing more than feelings”

Physicalism is the thesis that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on the physical. The thesis is usually intended as a metaphysical thesis, parallel to the thesis attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Thales, that everything is water, or the idealism of the 18th Century philosopher Berkeley, that everything is mental. The general idea is that the nature of the actual world (i.e. the universe and everything in it) conforms to a certain condition, the condition of being physical. Of course, physicalists don’t deny that the world might contain many items that at first glance don’t seem physical — items of a biological, or psychological, or moral, or social nature. But they insist nevertheless that at the end of the day such items are either physical or supervene on the physical.

Daniel Stoljar, “Physicialism” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
first published February 13, 2001, substantively revised March 9, 2015)

Robin Hanson, an economics professor and former physicist, takes the physicalist position in “All Is Simple Parts Interacting Simply“:

There is nothing that we know of that isn’t described well by physics, and everything that physicists know of is well described as many simple parts interacting simply. Parts are localized in space, have interactions localized in time, and interactions effects don’t move in space faster than the speed of light. Simple parts have internal states that can be specified with just a few bits (or qubits), and each part only interacts directly with a few other parts close in space and time. Since each interaction is only between a few bits on a few sides, it must also be simple. Furthermore, all known interactions are mutual in the sense that the state on all sides is influenced by states of the other sides….

Not only do we know that in general everything is made of simple parts interacting simply, for pretty much everything that happens here on Earth we know those parts and interactions in great precise detail. Yes there are still some areas of physics we don’t fully understand, but we also know that those uncertainties have almost nothing to say about ordinary events here on Earth….

Now it is true that when many simple parts are combined into complex arrangements, it can be very hard to calculate the detailed outcomes they produce. This isn’t because such outcomes aren’t implied by the math, but because it can be hard to calculate what math implies.

However,

what I’ve said so far is usually accepted as uncontroversial, at least when applied to the usual parts of our world, such as rivers, cars, mountains laptops, or ants. But as soon as one claims that all this applies to human minds, suddenly it gets more controversial. People often state things like this:

I am sure that I’m not just a collection of physical parts interacting, because I’m aware that I feel. I know that physical parts interacting just aren’t the kinds of things that can feel by themselves. So even though I have a physical body made of parts, and there are close correlations between my feelings and the states of my body parts, there must be something more than that to me (and others like me). So there’s a deep mystery: what is this extra stuff, where does it arise, how does it change, and so on. We humans care mainly about feelings, not physical parts interacting; we want to know what out there feels so we can know what to care about.

But consider a key question: Does this other feeling stuff interact with the familiar parts of our world strongly and reliably enough to usually be the actual cause of humans making statements of feeling like this?

If yes, this is a remarkably strong interaction, making it quite surprising that physicists have missed it so far. So surprising in fact as to be frankly unbelievable.

But if no, if this interaction isn’t strong enough to explain human claims of feeling, then we have a remarkable coincidence to explain. Somehow this extra feeling stuff exists, and humans also have a tendency to say that it exists, but these happen for entirely independent reasons. The fact that feeling stuff exists isn’t causing people to claim it exists, nor vice versa. Instead humans have some sort of weird psychological quirk that causes them to make such statements, and they would make such claims even if feeling stuff didn’t exist. But if we have a good alternate explanation for why people tend to make such statements, what need do we have of the hypothesis that feeling stuff actually exists? Such a coincidence seems too remarkable to be believed.

Thus it seems hard to square a belief in this extra feeling stuff with standard physics in either cases, where feeling stuff does or does not have strong interactions with ordinary stuff. The obvious conclusion: extra feeling stuff just doesn’t exist.

Of course the “feeling stuff” interacts strongly and reliably with the familiar parts of the world — unless you’re a Robin Hanson, who seems to have no “feeling stuff.” Has he never been insulted, cut off by a rude lane-changer, been in love, held a baby in his arms, and so on unto infinity?

Hanson continues:

If this type of [strong] interaction were remotely as simple as all the interactions we know, then it should be quite measurable with existing equipment. Any interaction not so measurable would have be vastly more complex and context dependent than any we’ve ever seen or considered. Thus I’d bet heavily and confidently that no one will measure such an interaction.

Which is just a stupid thing to say. Physicists haven’t measured the interactions — and probably never will — because they’re not the kinds of phenomena that physicists study. Psychologists, yes; physicists, no.

Not being satisfied with obtuseness and stupidity, Hanson concedes the existence of “feelings,” but jumps to a conclusion in order to dismiss them:

But if no, if this interaction isn’t strong enough to explain human claims of feeling, then we have a remarkable coincidence to explain. Somehow this extra feeling stuff exists, and humans also have a tendency to say that it exists, but these happen for entirely independent reasons. The fact that feeling stuff exists isn’t causing people to claim it exists, nor vice versa. Instead humans have some sort of weird psychological quirk that causes them to make such statements, and they would make such claims even if feeling stuff didn’t exist….

Thus it seems hard to square a belief in this extra feeling stuff with standard physics in either cases, where feeling stuff does or does not have strong interactions with ordinary stuff. The obvious conclusion: extra feeling stuff just doesn’t exist.

How does Hanson — the erstwhile physicist — know any of this? I submit that he doesn’t know. He’s just arguing circularly, as an already-committed physicalist.

First, Hanson assumes that feelings aren’t “real” because physicists haven’t measured their effects. But that failure has been for lack of trying.

Then Hanson assumes that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Specifically, because there’s no evidence (as he defines it) for the existence of “feelings,” their existence (if real) is merely coincidental with claims of their existence.

And then Hanson the Obtuse ignores strong interactions of “feeling stuff” with “ordinary stuff.” Which suggests that he has never experienced love, desire, or hate (for starters).

It would be reasonable for Hanson to suggest that feelings are real, in a physical sense, in that they represent chemical states of the central nervous system. He could then claim that feelings don’t exist apart from such states; that is, “feeling stuff” is nothing more than a physical phenomenon. Hanson makes that claim, but in a roundabout way:

If everything around us is explained by ordinary physics, then a detailed examination of the ordinary physics of familiar systems will eventually tells us everything there is to know about the causes and consequences of our feelings. It will say how many different feelings we are capable of, what outside factors influence them, and how our words and actions depend on them.

However, he gets there by assuming an answer to the question whether “feelings” are something real and apart from physical existence. He hasn’t proven anything, one way or the other.

Hanson’s blog is called Overcoming Bias. It’s an apt title: Hanson has a lot of bias to overcome.

Related posts:
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Blackmail, Anyone?
NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET, NEVER RELENT!
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XVII)

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

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Victor Davis Hanson offers “The More Things Change, the More They Actually Don’t.” It echoes what I say in “The Fallacy of Human Progress.” Hanson opens with this:

In today’s technically sophisticated and globally connected world, we assume life has been completely reinvented. In truth, it has not changed all that much.
And he proceeds to illustrate his point (and mine).

*     *     *

Dr. James Thompson, and English psychologist, often blogs about intelligence. Here are some links from last year that I’ve been hoarding:

Intelligence: All That Matters” (a review of a book by Stuart Ritchie)

GCSE Genes” (commentary about research showing the strong relationship between genes and academic achievement)

GWAS Hits and Country IQ” (commentary about preliminary research into the alleles related to intelligence)

Also, from the International Journal of Epidemiology, comes “The Association between Intelligence and Lifespan Is Mostly Genetic.”

All of this is by way of reminding you of my many posts about intelligence, which are sprinkled throughout this list and this one.

*     *     *

How bad is it? This bad:

Thomas Lifson, “Mark Levin’s Plunder and Deceit

Arthur Milikh, “Alexis de Tocqueville Predicted the Tyranny of the Majority in Our Modern World

Steve McCann, “Obama and Neo-fascist America

Related reading: “Fascism, Pots, and Kettles,” by me, of course.

Adam Freedman’s book, A Less than Perfect Union: The Case for States’ Rights. States’ rights can be perfected by secession, and I make the legal case for it in “A Resolution of Secession.”

*     *     *

In a different vein, there’s Francis Menton’s series about anthropogenic global warming. The latest installment is “The Greatest Scientific Fraud of All Time — Part VIII.” For my take on the subject, start with “AGW in Austin?” and check out the readings and posts listed at the bottom.

“And the Truth Shall Set You Free”

The truth contained in Drs. Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh’s “Sexuality and Gender” (The New Atlantis No. 50, Fall 2016) will fall on the same deaf ears as many other truths. The “party of science” is really the party of magical thinking — about many things, including economics, climate, race, war, and (most recently) “gender.”

“Gender” is the latest egregious example of seeing the world as one wishes it were, instead of the way it is. “Gender” smacks of Victorian prudery; it’s a euphemism for “sex.” But it’s more than that, because it connotes more than a mere biological fact of life; it connotes a state of mind that somehow transcends biology. (Very Zen, don’t you think?)

Among the subjects addressed by Drs. Mayer and McHugh is “gender identity” The executive summary of Part Three, which addresses that subject, gives these findings:

● The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.

● According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.

● Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.

● Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.

● Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.

● There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.

Don’t get me wrong, I bear no animus toward those few persons who are truly conflicted about their sexuality. But I have no sympathy for juvenile faddishness and the unseemly (and temporarily halted) eradication of privacy in the name of “gender equality.” It’s as if time-honored codes of conduct have somehow become unnecessary and unduly discriminatory. (Where have we heard that before?)

And, as usual, the rush to remake the world in a new, trendy image won’t stop with “equality.” It will become (and has become, in some places) verboten to refer to anyone by anything but an approved label, just as it has become verboten in some places to refuse to bake a wedding cake or provide flowers for a homosexual “marriage.”

It’s easy enough for a black, a woman, or any one of a long list of “protected groups” to march into an EEOC office and file a baseless discrimination claim. It’s unsurprising that the list of protected groups now encompasses anyone who identifies as LGB or T. (What’s wrong with Q?)

What I want to know is why the EEOC and all of the other equality-enforcing agencies of government are still in business. Given the relatively small number of persons who aren’t in a protected group — namely straight, white, non-Hispanic males under the age of 40 who are neither disabled (a broad category) or veterans — it seems to me that equality has already been achieved. Except for the unprotected, of course, but only their mothers give two hoots about them (maybe).

*     *     *

Related posts:
Two-Percent Tyranny
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
The War on Conservatism
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Identity and Crime
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
The Technocratic Illusion
“Fairness”
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Society, Polarization, and Dissent

True Confession, New Resolution

I spent 30 years at a defense think-tank. There were many things that I liked about it, and a few things that I didn’t like about it. The thing that I disliked most was the way in which some senior managers and many analysts offered criticism. They practiced a perverted version of the Socratic method. Instead of working with the author of an analysis to improve it, they would keep probing the weak points of he work — or more correctly, the analyst’s ability to explain and defend it — and leave the analyst melting in a puddle of mortification.

I resented that kind of criticism when it was aimed at me, and when I saw it being aimed at others. (I was involved in the creation of a mock “seal” for the  hazing sessions that were led by a former president of the think-tank. The seal displayed the motto “Nibbled to death by ducks.”) But I often resorted to the method when I was the critic. Human nature is like that.

I am here to confess (as I just did), to repent (as I hope I am doing), and to enter onto the path of righteousness (as I hope I will).

The most constructive way to offer criticism, in my experience, is to put yourself in the place of the person you are criticizing. Try to understand the issue at hand, as he sees it, and try to understand the way he comes at the issue. If you get “inside” that person’s mind, you can then talk to him about the problem in a way that he understands. From there, you can work with him to improve whatever it is he is seeking to improve — be it the Navy’s choice of a new weapon system or the opportunities available to low-income persons.

I know that a person’s political views are largely a matter of temperament, and for that reason not always susceptible to change by appealing to facts or logic. But political views are nevertheless changeable, in the way that a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol will overcome his addiction — if he understands that he can do it, and will live a miserable life and die miserably if he doesn’t.

I am also aware that leftists — who are the usual targets of my criticism — do not often (or perhaps ever) respond constructively to conciliatory statements. As I say here,

leftists can be ruthless, unto vicious. They pull no punches; they call people names; they skirt the law — and violate it — to get what they want (e.g., Obama’s various “executive actions”); they use the law and the media to go after their ideological opponents; and on and on.

Nevertheless, this blog is but a pinprick on the vast hide of leftism. Perhaps it will be more effective if I make a greater effort to understand what leftists want, and try to appeal to them on that basis, instead of preaching to the choir of libertarian-conservatives as I often do.

*     *     *

Related reading and viewing:

Jonathan Haidt, “Why the Centre Cannot Hold in America, Europe, and Psychology” (Heterodox Academy, August 9, 2016). This is an introduction to Haidt’s recent speech at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Denver, where he addressed the causes and consequences of political polarization.

A video of the speech: https://youtu.be/vAE-gxKs6gM

PowerPoint slides: http://heterodoxacademy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/haidt.APA-2016-lecture-on-polarization.for-posting.compressed.pptx

PDF version of the slides: http://heterodoxacademy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/haidt.APA-2016-lecture-on-polarization.slides-for-printing.pdf

Pontius Pilate: Modern Politician

Thou art a king, then? Pilate asked. And Jesus answered, It is thy own lips that have called me a king. What I was born for, what I came into the world for, is to bear witness of the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth, listens to my voice. Pilate said to him, What is truth? And with that he went back to the Jews again, and told them, I can find no fault in him. You have a custom of demanding that I should release one prisoner at paschal time; would you have me release the king of the Jews? Whereupon they all made a fresh outcry; Barabbas, they said, not this man. Barabbas was a robber.

John 18:37-40

 

But the chief priests and elders had persuaded the multitude to ask for Barabbas and have Jesus put to death; and so, when the governor openly asked them, Which of the two would you have me release? they said, Barabbas. Pilate said to them, What am I to do, then, with Jesus, who is called Christ? They said, Let him be crucified. And when the governor said, Why, what wrong has he done? they cried louder than ever, Let him be crucified. And so, finding that his good offices went for nothing, and the uproar only became worse, Pilate sent for water and washed his hands in full sight of the multitude, saying as he did so, I have no part in the death of this innocent man; it concerns you only.

Matthew 27:20-24

*     *     *

Pilate is a modern man. In asking “What is truth?” he marks himself as a moral relativist, someone who scorns the idea that one moral system can be better than another. He would have reacted to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the vein of many leftists: “We were asking for it.”

And like a politician who “accepts full responsibility” for a disastrous decision — but pays no penalty — Pilate ceremonially absolves himself of blame in the death of Christ. As if the ceremonial act (or rote apology) somehow rectifies a grave error of judgment or dereliction of duty. Pilate, having gone through the motions, remains in high office — just like a modern politician.

Immigration and Intelligence

REVISED 11/18/16

I haven’t written about intelligence since April 18, 2015 (here, third item). What’s on my mind now? This:

1. Immigrants to the U.S. are overwhelmingly poor and possibly (but not necessarily) below-average in intelligence.

2. The availability of immigrants seeking employment is a boon to entrepreneurs. Investments in capital (often modest ones such as lawn mowers and chain saws) can be turned into gainful employment for immigrants and profits for entrepreneurs.

3. The employment of immigrants is also a boon to American consumers, who are able to obtain some things more cheaply and some things that they might otherwise not be able to afford (e.g., fresh fruit, maid services, yard work).

4. Consumers should be indifferent about the origin of the labor that benefits them.

5. Taxpayers should care about the origin of labor only to the extent that immigration drives up the taxes because of state support for immigrants (e.g., schooling, medical care, welfare programs where citizenship isn’t a prerequisite).

6. Each taxpayer is also a consumer, and each taxpayer is therefore in a different position with respect to the net benefits (or costs) of immigration. But every consumer-citizen is likely to benefit to some degree because of immigration, though the benefit may not offset the rise in every consumer-citizen’s taxes.

7. Low-skilled Americans who have opted for the dole have no stake in the matter of immigration. If some low-skilled Americans lose jobs that they might otherwise have held, they aren’t “losers” any more than the wagon-makers who lost their jobs when automobiles come along. Voluntary economic change doesn’t have winners and losers — it takes arbitrary government interventions (e.g., minimum-wage laws) to create them.

8. Yes, government allows immigration, but the original intervention that created winners and losers is the one that restrained immigration. If it’s all right for a piece of fruit to move from Mexico to Texas, why isn’t it all right for a worker to move from Mexico to Texas? If it’s all right for a Californian to move to Texas, it is definitely all right for a Mexican to move to Texas.

9. So the only question is whether immigration imposes net costs on some consumers who are also taxpayers. And it’s an issue only because of government programs that allow immigrants to impose costs on taxpayers.

10. The real issue, for me, isn’t immigration, it’s government interventions that may encourage immigration (at a rate higher than the “natural” one) and subsidize immigrants. As usual, government is the problem, not the solution.

What does this have to do with intelligence? This post was spurred by a recent one at West Hunter by Gregory Cochran, “Our Dumb World.” Cochran’s post, combined with another one of his to which he links, can be read as follows:

  • There’s a strong link between the average IQ of a nation and its economic success. (True.)
  • Some things have skewed the relationship (e.g., the imposition of Communism), but the link is there nonetheless.
  • Mass migration from low-IQ countries (presumably Mexico and other Central American nations) to a country with a higher average IQ (e.g., the United States) will reduce the average IQ of the receiving country and therefore harm it economically.

I don’t buy it. For one thing, immigration — even immigration by low-skilled workers with (perhaps) below-average intelligence — can be a boon to the residents of the receiving country, as discussed above. For another thing:

Low-IQ immigrants do not reduce the productivity of high-IQ natives – any more than short immigrants reduce the height of tall natives. (See here for further discussion).

To repeat myself, the real issue is whether government action causes immigrants to impose burdens on natives that wouldn’t be imposed in the absence of government action. And to be clear, government action is any action that results in a rate of immigration which is higher or lower than would occur in the absence of that action (e.g., immigration quotas, implicit or explicit promises of government aid to indigent immigrants).

What about the political and cultural effects of massive immigration from south of the border? I am at the point of declaring that it doesn’t matter. The welfare state is so firmly entrenched in America that I really don’t expect it to be uprooted, except by non-electoral means. Mass culture is already so degenerate that it’s hard to see what could make it worse. And I have no reason to believe that, in general, Hispanics are more vulgar than American Anglos. (Just look at the prime-time TV lineup.) Those of us who prefer high culture can enjoy it without mingling with the hoi polloi.

I have been for years an opponent of illegal immigration. I was on the verge of changing my mind — something of which I am capable. But I’m not ready to do that. My main reservation now has to do with the effect of mass immigration on crime, which argues strongly against immigration from south of the border.

Quick Hits

There’s work underway to

find any of the genetic variants associated with intelligence, however weak and inconsistent they may be, and then look up the published literature to see how frequent those variants are in any racial group.

I’m fairly certain how it will turn out, if the work isn’t sabotaged by those who fear the truth.

Academe’s war on conservatism continues. What else is new?

There’s also a (not new) internet-based war on conservatism (e.g., here and here). Cass Sunstein, a leading light of the anti-free speech forces, was Obama’s regulatory czar. Connect the dots.

Robert Higgs hates the use of “we,” “us,” and “our” in policy discourse. So do I.

Steven Horwitz offers a concise and elegant gloss of Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” I’ve addressed Hayek’s essay here, and a related one (“The Pretence of Knowledge“) here.

Bubbling Along

There’s been a spate of commentary about the (supposedly) growing class divide in America. It all builds on Charles Murray’s four-year-old book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray continues to write about it. His latest entry is a blog post at AEI.org, “Why Should I Have All the Fun? More from the Bubble Quiz.”

The Bubble Quiz, which Murray introduced in Chapter 4 of his book, is meant to measure a person’s distance from working-norms; the lower one’s score, the more one is immersed in an upper-class “bubble,” that is, unattuned to working-class cultural and social norms.

Others have recently joined Murray’s lamentation about the supposedly growing class divide in America. Mark Pulliam, writing at the Library of Law and Liberty (“Horatio Alger Matters“), comments on a new book by George Mason University law school professor Frank Buckley, The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America:

American society, Buckley argues, is trending toward a caste system, in which one’s future economic prospects are largely dictated by the status of one’s parents…. Buckley—who in his Acknowledgments section makes clear his grounding on the political Right— advocates an agenda to restore upward mobility with sensible free-market reforms, which he drolly calls “socialist ends through capitalist means.”

Buckley believes the current sclerosis is largely caused by government policies, not technological change. Specifically, he sees a de facto aristocracy having struck an unholy bargain with the lumpenproletariat to conspire against the middle class…. Buckley posits that America’s wealthy (and mostly liberal) elites support “policies that preserve their privileges and those of their children at the expense of a rising middle class.”…

As surely as contract law spelled the end of feudal serfdom, the rule of law is indispensable to upward mobility. But the rule of law has been hobbled by an overly-complicated legal system that empowers unscrupulous prosecutors, enriches elite lawyers, and reduces the certainty and predictability of everyday commerce.

…The New Class cynically “buys” the acquiescence of the “peasants” (and their leaders) with generous welfare benefits, plentiful government jobs, affirmative action, and Progressive policies that wreak havoc on the middle class, but which largely spare the New Class, ensconced in its gated enclaves, cloistered communities, and private schools.  In Buckley’s telling, stagnant mobility in the United States relative to the rest of the developed countries has produced a “Legacy Nation, a society of inherited privilege and frozen classes.”

The thesis explains many things, including why Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street financiers so lavishly support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, and why the political leadership of both parties is so indifferent to the interests of middle class Americans. (Opinion polls show, for example, that the public overwhelmingly favors significant reductions—if not outright cessation—of immigration levels, yet Congress refuses to act.) The solutions Buckley offers—reforming education (mainly by adopting school choice), paring back government regulation, simplifying the tax code, adopting a Canadian model of immigration (focusing primarily on the skills of the immigrant and the needs of the host country), tort reform, and so forth—are sensible whether or not they would solve the problem of inequality and immobility.

Thomas Edsall of The New York Times comes at the issue from the left in “How the Other Fifth Lives,” citing research that seems to have been inspired by Murray’s work, though Edsall never mentions Murray, who is libetarianish. Edsall is nevertheless in sync with Murray and Buckley:

[Bernie] Sanders’s extraordinary performance to date … points to the vulnerability of a liberal alliance in which the economic interests of those on the top — often empowered to make policy — diverge ever more sharply from those in the middle and on the bottom.

As the influence of affluent Democratic voters and donors grows, the leverage of the poor declines. This was evident in the days leading up to the New York primary when, as Ginia Bellafante of The Times reported, both Clinton and Sanders, under strong pressure from local activists, agreed to tour local housing projects. Bellafante noted that their reluctance reflects how “liberal candidates on the national stage view public housing as a malady from which it is safest to maintain a distance.”

The lack of leverage of those on the bottom rungs can be seen in a recent Pew survey in which dealing with the problems of the poor and needy ranked 10th on a list of public priorities, well behind terrorism, education, Social Security and the deficit. This 10th place ranking is likely to drop further as the gap widens between the bottom and the top fifth of voters in the country.

It turns out that the United States has a double-edged problem — the parallel isolation of the top and bottom fifths of its population. For the top, the separation from the middle and lower classes means less understanding and sympathy for the majority of the electorate, combined with the comfort of living in a cocoon.

For those at the bottom, especially the families who are concentrated in extremely high poverty neighborhoods, isolation means bad schools, high crime, high unemployment and high government dependency.

The trends at the top and the bottom are undermining cohesive politics, but more important they are undermining social interconnection as they fracture the United States more and more into a class and race hierarchy

Before I tell you what I think of these quasi-apocalyptic mutterings, I must quote from a four-year-old post of mine, in which I reported my bubble score:

I am proud to say that I do not live in the upper-middle-class bubble, even though my career, income history, and tastes qualify me as a resident of the bubble. My upbringing (outlined here) inoculated me from elitism. The effects of that inoculation are reflected in my score of 51 on the quiz that Murray presents in Chapter 4 of his book…. Murray gives the following interpretation of scores:

  • A lifelong resident of a working-class neighborhood with average television and moviegoing habits. Range: 48–99. Typical: 77.
  • A first- generation middle-class person with working-class parents and  average television and moviegoing habits. Range: 42–100. Typical: 66.
  • A first- generation upper-middle- class person with middle-class parents. Range: 11–80. Typical: 33.
  • A second- generation (or more) upper-middle-class person who has made a point of getting out a lot. Range: 0–43. Typical: 9.
  • A second- generation (or more) upper-middle-class person with the television and moviegoing habits of the upper middle class. Range: 0–20.Typical: 2.The scoring of the archetypes reflects a few realities about socioeconomic background and the bubble

I defy Murray’s categorization, for I am a first-generation upper-middle-class person with working-class parents and the television and moviegoing habits of the upper middle class. But no matter. My quiz score indicates my comprehension of the “real world” and the “real people” who inhabit it. They are not faceless game pieces to be shunted about in the name of “society” for the sake of my ego or power cravings. That is why I am neither a “liberal” nor a pseudo-libertarian like this fellow and this bunch.

Having said that, I don’t put much stock in the bubble score or in the scare-mongering of Murray, Buckley, Edsall, and others. First, there’s a lot of mobility between income groups — persons who are in the bottom-fifth aren’t doomed to stay there, just as persons who are in the top-fifth (and higher) often fail to stay there. See, for example, my post “Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes,” which gives many links to supporting material.

Second, the illusion of a greater gap between “rich” and “poor” is fostered, in part, by what some call the disappearance of the middle class. Well, the middle class is shrinking, if one measures the middle class by the fraction of persons or households with incomes in a certain income range. But the reason for that shrinkage is simple: a general upward migration toward the upper-income classes. Mark Perry neatly summarizes the state of affairs in “Yes, America’s Middle Class Has Been Disappearing…into Higher Income Groups.” (There’s more here: “Sorry, Everyone: The American Middle Class Is Winning.”)

Third, there just aren’t the kind of sharp class divisions that Murray et al. like to moan about. Murray himself (unwittingly) offers evidence to support my point. It’s found in a spreadsheet that that gives SES percentiles and bubble scores by ZIP (https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Public-Use-Zip-Code-File.xlsx), to which Murray links in the AEI.org piece mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. I derived the following graph from Murray’s spreadsheet:

Bubble score vs. SES percentile
SES percentile refers to a measure of socioeconomic status that takes into account a person’s income, education, and occupation.

Where’s the dividing line — the “knee of the curve” in pseudo-scientific parlance? There’s isn’t one: As a brilliant former colleague put it, curves don’t have knees. In fact, there’s a lot of overlap in bubble scores across the full range of SES values. That overlap is consistent with the r-squared of the polynomial fit, which means that SES explains only 40 percent of the bubble score.

The real problem with American “society” is a kind of moral decay, brought on in great part by dependency on government. Working-class people of my father’s generation didn’t look to government for betterment; they just went out and worked, and usually bettered themselves.

Moreover, working-class people and upper-class “liberals” weren’t inundated by a lot of envy-inducing media blather about “crony capitalism” and “assortive mating.” (See the articles by Buckley and Edsall.) Crony capitalists (a relative handful among 320 million Americans) are the kind of people who would do well under any system — even including Soviet-style communism, which rewards ambition and intelligence, just in different ways than capitalism.

The whining about assortive mating is pointless and hypocritical. Those who engage in such whining would be appalled if government required mating across income levels — a kind of social engineering on a par with China’s one-baby policy. I doubt that affluent left-wing graduates of prestigious universities would countenance such a policy. And if they wouldn’t, what are they whining about?

And what about the obvious fact that high-income persons live in areas that poor people can’t afford. That’s hardly a new thing. But thanks to (relatively) free markets that reward the combination of intelligence-education-effort, there are proportionally more people who are in a position to live in areas that poor people can’t afford. Isn’t that exactly what most striving poor and middle-income persons want? What’s the problem?

I can understand Edsall’s preoccupation with social distancing; he’s a left-leaner who probably wants government to “do something” about it. Murray’s motivation is harder to understand given his libertarianish politics. But it’s evident that he’s been playing into the hands of do-something leftists, albeit unintentionally.

What will happen if government tries to “do something,” that is, more than it has already done (in vain) about supposed social distancing? The “something” is unlikely to be deregulation, tax-code reform, or anything that reduces government’s economic role. The “something” is more likely to be more preferences and handouts that reinforce and expand the cycle of dependency, thus lessening the urge to strive. The spreading rot will bring calls for yet more government action, which will further spread the rot, and so on into America’s dark, dystopian, “European” future.

*      *      *

Related posts:

In Defense of the 1%

Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications

IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition

Alienation

Income Inequality and Economic Growth

A Case for Redistribution, Not Made

Greed, Conscience, and Big Government

The Rahn Curve Revisited

The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy

Nature, Nurture, and Inequality

How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It

Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge

Tolerance

Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy

Capitalism, Competition, Prosperity, and Happiness

Identity and Crime

“transgender” people aren’t: they’re just crazy.

Gregory Cochran, physicist and anthropological geneticist,
writing at West Hunter

*     *     *

The current craze for self-definition suggests a cure for crime: Deny its existence.

If a biological male (female) can claim to be a female (male), and his (her) claim can be upheld by a court and given credence by major corporations,* it follows that a criminal can simply deny that he is a criminal.

End of crime problem. Police forces and courts can be disbanded, and the savings passed on to taxpayers.

Oh wait, that won’t happen. The savings will be used to subsidize the purchase of gender-appropriate clothing, sex-change operations, hormone treatments, voice coaching, and other trappings of terminal gender confusion.

_________
* Recent examples are Target’s decision to allow self-declared transsexuals to enter the fitting rooms and restrooms of their choice, and ESPN’s firing of Curt Shilling for openly stating his opposition to such lunacy.

Politics & Prosperity in Print

I am drawing on my best posts (see “A Summing Up“) to produce a series called Dispatches from the Fifth Circle. The first volume — Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies — is available at Amazon.com.

I’m working on the second volume — Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes — and hope to publish six more after that one.