Open Borders and the Welfare State

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Milton Friedman said that you can’t have a welfare state and open borders, but Alex Tabarrok disagrees:

What we think of as the welfare state encompasses many different programs, many of which are not handouts. Social Security for example is mostly a forced savings program. For these types of insurance programs there is no problem at all as, for the most part, a person has to work and pay into the program to get money out of the program. For programs like schooling there is also no problem–even if the schooling is provided free to immigrant children–because the schooling leads to higher wages later in life which are taxed. In these cases, the immigrant children are really just receiving a loan which they will have to pay back from their own earnings later in life. The story for basic health is similar. Thus, the only cases where there is a worry about excessive transfers from citizens to immigrants is in pure handouts or health benefits to say the elderly. In these cases, I would simply say that such benefits are not available to immigrants or only available after five years or some such time period.

Commenter Peter Schaeffer notes that the fiscal impact of Middle-Eastern immigration has been extensively studied in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, etc.:

A report just came out in Norway showing that each Middle-Eastern immigrant costs taxpayers $700,000 (net).

The Trouble With Kids Today

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Charles Murray reviews Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, which covers the same ground as Murray’s own Coming Apart, but with very different policy prescriptions:

But let’s face it: my strategy does not have more chance of working than Putnam’s does. The parsimonious way to extrapolate the trends that Putnam describes so well is to predict an America permanently segregated into social classes that no longer share the common bonds that once made this country so exceptional, accompanied by the destruction of the national civic culture that Putnam and I both cherish.

Not Post-Industrial

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Our modern economy is only post-industrial, Henry Dampier argues, because we outlawed and then offshored anything dirty, without actually eliminating it:

In America, the educated classes tended to strip workers of dignity except as victims exploited by cruel capitalists, in need of rescue by the intellectuals. The intellectuals then proceeded to make the means by which those laborers eked out independence and property illegal in the name of ‘rescuing’ them. Dignity came to be conferred by education and having the right intellectual-opinions rather than by acting out the ethic of work, saving, and religious duty.

In the name of equality, actually being a good person according to the past measuring-stick of virtue no longer mattered. You could have dignity and still be worthless or a malefactor by the old rubric, so long as you had the right opinions or were a member of one of the ever-proliferating victim groups.

In this the democratic revolutions just created a new class of ‘enlightened’ masters deigned to continually liberate the ever-propagating new classes of ‘slaves.’ First it was the actual bonded slaves, then it was the laborers, then it was the women, then the blacks, then the colonized, then the homosexuals, and now the bigamists and barnyard-lovers.

The value is not in the actual liberation, but in the sense of meaning and motivation created by each new ‘liberation.’ Since actual equality is impossible, what changes are the stories about equality and the pretensions to it.

Yet despite all the pretensions to historical progress, many things continue as they have before, with perceptions changing much more than the underlying reality. Because it’s not possible for men to be women and women to be men, you can’t actually change one into the other — but you can demand that everyone pretend as if it’s possible. It’s quite the same with the ‘post-industrial economy’ and the ‘information age’ — it hasn’t been possible to abolish factories, but it has been possible to pretend as if it’s been mostly accomplished.

Surviving Like an 11th-Century Farmer

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Keith Ferrell, once editor-in-chief of Omni magazine, found himself out of work, living on what used to be his rural retreat, farming with simple tools — and without a lifetime of experience:

My peas tasted no less sweet for the disarray of their rows. Potatoes dug from soil roughly worked with spade, shovel and mattock were firm and well-shaped, tasty and nourishing. I never used synthetic fertilisers. Whatever I produced was nurtured, instead, with compost, manure (during the years we had a horse), chopped leaves and hay cut with a scythe. I ate plenty of blackberries from the canes that sprouted across once-mown fields, and appreciated the animals – hawks, fox, even bear – whose population increased along with the spread of habitat. The deer and rabbits and groundhogs didn’t care how straight my rows were as they dined upon them – and in any true apocalypse, they could feed us, too.

But time exerted its effects. Planting a large crop of anything by hand took so much time that plans for other large plantings went unfulfilled. This season or phase of the moon for planting this crop; this temperature means it’s too late or too early to plant that one. Eleventh-century farming was a pre-sunup to post-sundown endeavour, or nearly. Yet even my reduced livelihood required that far more hours be spent at my desk (and not the one by the creek) than in my fields. For everything I accomplished outside, far more tasks and chores – not to mention plans – languished undone.

Mormon Marriage Markets and the Shidduch Crisis

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Theories on declining marriage rates or the rise of the hookup culture often come down to values, but the real issue is demographics Jon Birger (Date-onomics) suggests — and two religions shed some light on the larger situation:

Multiple studies show that college-educated Americans are increasingly reluctant to marry those lacking a college degree. This bias is having a devastating impact on the dating market for college-educated women. Why? According to 2012 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are 5.5 million college-educated women in the U.S. between the ages of 22 and 29 versus 4.1 million such men. That’s four women for every three men. Among college grads age 30 to 39, there are 7.4 million women versus 6.0 million men — five women for every four men.

It’s not that He’s Just Not That Into You — it’s that There Just Aren’t Enough of Him.

Lopsided gender ratios don’t just make it statistically harder for college-educated women to find a match. They change behavior too. According to sociologists, economists and psychologists who have studied sex ratios throughout history, the culture is less likely to emphasize courtship and monogamy when women are in oversupply. Heterosexual men are more likely to play the field, and heterosexual women must compete for men’s attention.


One of my web searches turned up a study from Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) on the demographics of Mormons. According to the ARIS study, there are now 150 Mormon women for every 100 Mormon men in the state of Utah — a 50 percent oversupply of women.


One fact that becomes apparent when studying the demographics of religion is that it is almost always the women who are more devout. Across all faiths, women are less likely than men to leave organized religion. According to the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of self-described atheists are men. Statistically speaking, an atheist meeting may be one of the best places for single women to meet available men.

Due to men’s generally higher rates of apostasy, it makes sense that the modern LDS church, like most religions, would have slightly more women than men. The Utah LDS church was in fact 52 percent female as recently as 1990. Since 1990, however, the Mormon gender gap in Utah has widened dramatically — from a gender ratio of 52:48 female to male in 1990 to 60:40 female to male in 2008, according to a study coauthored by ARIS researchers Rick Phillips, Ryan Cragun, and Barry Kosmin. In other words, the LDS church in Utah now has three women for every two men.

The sex ratio is especially lopsided among Mormon singles. Many individual LDS churches — known as “wards” — are organized by marital status, with families attending different Sunday services from single people. Parley’s Seventh, one of Salt Lake City’s singles wards, had 429 women on its rolls in 2013 versus only 264 men, according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper.


So why are there so many more Mormon women than Mormon men? The simple answer is that over the past twenty-five years, Utah men have been quitting the LDS church in unusually large numbers. ARIS’s Cragun, a sociology professor at the University of Tampa who is ex-LDS himself, said the growing exodus of men from the LDS church is an unexpected by-product of the growing importance of the mission in Mormon life. Serving a mission used to be elective; now it’s a prerequisite for leadership.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of Mormon men do not go on missions, which typically entail a mix of community service and proselytizing. Mormon men are being asked to serve missions at precisely the time in their lives — late teens and early twenties — when sociologists say men are most susceptible to dropping out of organized religion. Cragun believed the dropout problem among men is the real reason why, in 2012, the LDS church lowered the age at which Mormon men can start serving missions from 19 to 18: “I think they were losing too many men who would go off to college or get a job before they turned nineteen and then realize they didn’t want to stop and serve a mission.”


The statistical explanation for why Orthodox men are in short supply is different from the one for the shortage of Mormon men. Orthodox men are not abandoning their faith in large numbers and leaving Orthodox women behind. According to a recent Pew Research study, only 2 percent of Orthodox Jews are married to non-Jews, and the attrition rate from the Orthodox movement to the more mainstream Reform or Conservative branches of Judaism has actually been declining.

The imbalance in the Orthodox marriage market boils down to a demographic quirk: The Orthodox community has an extremely high birth rate, and a high birth rate means there will be more 18-year-olds than 19-year-olds, more 19-year-olds than 20-year-olds, and so on and so on. Couple the increasing number of children born every year with the traditional age gap at marriage — the typical marriage age for Orthodox Jews is 19 for women and 22 for men, according to Michael Salamon, a psychologist who works with the Orthodox community and wrote a book on the Shidduch Crisis — and you wind up with a marriage market with more 19-year-old women than 22-year-old men.

There is no U.S. Census data on religion. But Joshua Comenetz, chief of the Census Bureau’s Geographic Studies Branch, studied the demographics of Orthodox Jews back in his college professor days at University of Florida. Based on his academic research, Comenetz contended that each one-year age cohort in the Orthodox community has 4 percent more members than the one preceding it. What this means is that for every 100 22-year-old men in the Orthodox dating pool, there are 112 19-year-old women — 12 percent more women than men.

The bottom line: According to a 2013 article in the Jewish weekly Ami Magazine, there are now 3,000 unmarried Orthodox women between the ages of 25 and 40 in the New York City metro area and another 500 over 40. That’s a huge number when you consider that New York’s Yeshivish Orthodox — the segment of the Orthodox community most affected by the Shidduch Crisis — has a total population of 97,000, according to the Jewish Community Study of New York published by the UJA-Federation of New York in 2012.


In the Orthodox Jewish community, however, there is a natural control group — one that does make it possible to settle the culture-versus-demographics debate with near certainty. That control group is a sect of Orthodox Judaism known as Hasidic Jews.

The core beliefs of Hasidic Jews differ from those of other Orthodox Jews in nuanced but spiritually significant ways. Hasidic Jews believe each daily act of religious observance creates a personal, perhaps mystical, connection with God. In contrast, their counterparts in the Yeshivish branch of Orthodox Judaism emphasize the study of Torah and Talmud as the primary means of growing closer to God.

While their religious practices may differ, the two groups are still quite similar culturally. Both Yeshivish and Hasidic Jews are extremely pious and socially conservative. They live in tight-knit communities. They are known for having large families. And both groups use matchmakers to pair their young people for marriage.

There is, however, one major cultural difference between the two groups: Hasidic men marry women their own age, whereas Yeshivish men typically marry women a three or four years their junior.

“In the Hasidic world, it would be very weird for a man to marry a woman two years younger than him,” said Alexander Rapaport, a Hasidic father of six and the executive director of Masbia, a kosher soup kitchen in Brooklyn. Both Rapaport and his wife were 36 when I interviewed him.

When I asked Rapaport about the Shidduch Crisis, he seemed perplexed. “I’ve heard of it,” he said, “but I’m not sure I understand what it’s all about.”

More than half of immigrants on welfare

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

More than half of immigrant-led households receive welfare of some kind:

About 51% of immigrant-led households receive at least one kind of welfare benefit, including Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches and housing assistance, compared to 30% for native-led households, according to the report from the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for lower levels of immigration.

Those numbers increase for households with children, with 76% of immigrant-led households receiving welfare, compared to 52% for the native-born.

The numbers for the native-born are disturbingly high, too.

The Decline of the West

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Declinism is apparently in decline, according to Adam Gopnik:

The great summit of declinism — the peak from which all subsequent declinism has declined — was established in 1918, in the book that gave decline its good name in publishing: the German historian Oswald Spengler’s best-selling, thousand-page work “The Decline of the West.” Spengler has by now been reduced to an adjective; news-magazine writers back in the nineteen-seventies always used to refer to Henry Kissinger as “Spenglerian,” meaning farsighted in his pessimism and trying to manage the decline of liberalism in the face of the inexorable spread of totalitarian societies. Yet Spengler turns out to be a more idiosyncratic writer than his reputation suggests. A German pedant whom other German pedants found too humorless, but who lived long enough to flirt with the Nazis and resist them, he wasn’t so much “pessimistic” as biological in his approach. His thesis was that each culture-civilization has its own organic pattern of development, and none can escape its foreordained cycle of growth, blossoming, and wilting, any more than a single rose can. We don’t fall, as empires are supposed to, from sin; we wilt, as flowers do, from sun and time alone.

Spengler struggled to reconcile two truths: first, that all art tends to follow a path from initial strivings to perfect utterance and on to ornamental luxuriance, whether the move is from eighth-century-B.C. geometric art to Hellenistic twistings, or from Bach to Berlioz, or, I suppose, from “Love Me Do” to “The Long and Winding Road.” And yet things from the same cultural epoch, however much they alter in outward form, always resemble one another more than they resemble other, exterior things that they may be imitating. A 1907 Picasso looks more like a Rembrandt portrait than like an African mask — its concern is likeness and the individual, not the spirit and the ritual. The Beatles sound like the Beatles, no matter how many sitars they strum.

Spengler reconciles the two by saying that all civilizations share the same seasons but have different seeds. There have been three distinct seedbeds within Western civilization, each with a set of forms and themes unique to it: the Classical, the Magian (meaning, essentially, early Christian and Byzantine, under the influence of the Near East), and our own, “Faustian” moment. The Classical was linear, with lines drawn around verse forms and atoms alike; Magian culture is mysterious and glittering, like its Magi; ours is, above all, spatial, with atmospheric perspective in our paintings and sea voyages of discovery in our dreams. Spengler has a long reach: there are comparative sections on Chinese and Islamic civilizations; “Pythagoras, Mohammed, Cromwell” is a typical chapter heading. But his main point is that the “West” whose decline we may fret over — the West that conquered the Aztecs and discovered science and built empires and made democracy — is already so far fallen as to be hardly worth mourning. We peaked sometime around 1300, with Chartres and then Giotto, and it’s been straight downhill to cosmopolitan cities and Old Masters and democracy ever since. Spengler has particular contempt for the idea that civilizations compete, a view that he sees as crudely “Darwinian” and “Materialist.” Cultures coexist, and go to hell in their own ways; “civilization” is just the name we give to the decline.

Like all big system-makers, Spengler is most interesting when he is least systematic, in the cracks in his system. He makes the sharp observation that in times of cultural fullness high stories and low dramas coincide; the plots of “King Lear” and “Macbeth,” like those of the Iliad, could be played in a village or a court. He also shrewdly notes that classical civilization, despite its mystery cults, assumed that the essentials of its world picture and logic were available to any educated citizen; in our Faustian culture, despite its “democratic” pretenses, these things are accessible only to a small body of experts. Democritus’ atomism was argued in the agora, whereas atomic theory is understood by a handful of physicists; everyone had an opinion on Praxiteles, but you master a code to crack Picasso. Spengler is also eerily prescient at times, predicting that a new style of “meaningless, empty, artificial, pretentious architecture,” heavy on ornament and historical reference, and filled with “imitation of archaic and exotic motives,” would appear in Europe and America around the year 2000. He was off by only a couple of decades.

But Spengler’s real superiority over this century’s declinists is that he isn’t writing public policy, just watching the wheels go round and looking for patterns in the roll. What Spengler contributed to history was not pessimism but a form of relativism — the insistence that each culture should be respected as a whole and not viewed as a debased version of another. Kissinger was truly “Spenglerian” not in the belief that all one could do was manage American decline but in the belief that each nation would have to find its own road to, and through, modernity — that Chinese democracy would be more Confucian than Jeffersonian, and that freedom in Russia would look more Russian than free.

Today’s declinists have absorbed Spengler, if mostly in unconscious ways. First, there’s his insistence on seeing one’s culture decline in terms of similar patterns elsewhere. This isn’t a self-evident idea; Gibbon, as he charts the fall of the Roman Empire, barely glances at the contemporaneous Persian one. And then there’s Spengler’s rule-seeking abstraction. After Spengler, it isn’t enough to say that the past two decades have been rough in Japan, or that the recession has been hard on Americans, or that the war in Iraq was a folly; the mistakes and the follies have to be shown to be part of some big, hitherto invisible pattern of decline — and made more vivid by contrast with the patterns of some other, as yet undeclined society. The simpler, saner idea that things were good and now they’re bad, and that they could get either better or worse, depending on what happens next, gets dismissed as intellectually disreputable. His imprint is left in the idea that a big wheel must be turning in the night sky of history, and only the author of the book has managed to notice it.

Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Adam Gopnik mocks Declinism:

What makes the bad days come? Why do we fall, and who calls us back, if anything can? Decline has the same fascination for historians that love has for lyric poets. Yet the coming catastrophe is always coming, and never quite getting here, so the first job the new declinist book has to do is explain why the previous declinist books were wrong. The population bomb that didn’t go boom! is an anchor tied to the ankle of the global warmers, while people who want to set up China as the new Yellow Peril are obliged to explain why the Rising Sun stopped rising. What’s more, since the intellectual predecessors of the declinist are all declinists, too, he has to grapple with the tricky point of insisting that the previous era was actually a peak rather than the valley that the previous declinists thought they were looking at.

With empires, as with rock bands, the most popular explanations of decline involve long-dormant disputes and frictions that came to life, or, more simply, a sinister force from Asia that brought the thing down and broke it up. At the same time, declinism can’t decline to the end. Although the forces of decline need to be ominously arrayed in tables and vectors, the author is expected to rally in the last chapter to explain the one way to reverse the otherwise irreversible: world government, national industrial policy, a third party, kindergarten education in Esperanto, or whatever. Everything has to be as inevitable as falling off a roof, and yet there has to be a chance for someone falling to suddenly fly. Declinism is, in other words, a genre as much as it is any set of claims.

Ruling Classes that Lead Dangerous Warrior Lives

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

A successful Malthusian society that manages to form a middle class still needs to mobilize that middle class, Brad DeLong argues, to aid the aristocracy in overwhelming neighbors’ aristocracies:

Think about this, and you will recognize that an aristocracy faces the same Malthusian pressures and dilemmas as does the population as a whole. The population, the demos, lives off the limited resources provided by the land. The aristocracy, the aristoi, live off the wedge between what the demos produce and what they consume. If the aristoi do not find social mechanisms to constrain their numbers, their standard of living will also tend to settle at a point so low that their numbers no longer grow at all rapidly. And the social mechanisms to keep the population growth rate of the aristoi down are the same — and the patriarchal mechanisms of female infanticide, prolonged female virginity, and substantial permanent female celibacy, plus in the case of the aristoi excess male deaths in war, in the duel, or in the hunt. The alternative is to wind up with a very large “upper class” indeed, one made up of huge numbers of princes — but princes who live little better than peasants, a la Armenia or La Mancha.

But there is an additional constraint on the aristoi. A single faction of aristoi controlling an agrarian territory also faces an interesting Laffer curve problem — perhaps the only real-life Laffer curve problem. Tax rates too low leave them with too few resources vis-a-vis neighboring aristocracies. Tax rates too high leave them with too-low a population base. If extent of territory is too small they get absorbed. If extend of territory is too large they suffer rebellion and fraction. Moreover, the tax collectors have to be efficient enough and the soldiers competent enough that the phalanx or whatever is large enough and skilled enough on the battlefield — which means that the upper classes live not in attractive luxury but, rather, “return with your shield or on it”, and there is a premium on figuring out how to attach the middle class to the aristoi to fill out the battle line — to acquire and maintain what Ibn Khaldun called assibiyah, which is difficult because the middle class’s share of the benefits from rule by the current dominant group is not all that large. Add in balance-of-power considerations and the natural diffusion of technology and organization thus lead us to expect to see an agrarian world dominated by ruling classes that lead dangerous warrior lives, mistreat women, and govern moderately-sized principalities in semi-stable military-political equilibrium with each other. True “empires” should be rare, and evanescent. Think Timur-i-Leng, Ashoka, or even Charlemagne.

Malthusian Subsistence

Monday, August 24th, 2015

“Subsistence” in Malthusian theory is a term of art, Brad DeLong explains:

It can mean populations under such intense nutritional stress that women stop ovulating and children’s immune systems are so compromised that they drop like flies when bronchitis hits. But it does not have to. What it does mean is that the standard of living and social institutions are such that the average woman has two children or a hair more that survive to reproduce, and that as a result average rates of population growth are glacial.

Now average rates of population growth were glacial. We expect a pre-artificial birth control human population that is nutritionally-unstressed to roughly double every twenty-five year generation: that appears to happen wherever and whenever farmers newly colonize an area with abundant land previously inhabited by hunter-gatherers. Yet, as best as we can judge, between 8000 BC and 1000 BC the average worldwide rate of population growth was roughly 0.05%/year — 1.3%/generation. From 1000 BC to 1 it was roughly 0.1%/year — 2.5%/generation. And From 1 to 1500 it was back down to 0.5%/year — again, 1.3%/generation. Either these populations were often near and frequently over the edge of women too skinny to ovulate and children so malnourished that their immune systems were badly compromised, or powerful sociological factors were driving a wedge between how rapidly the population could, biologically, reproduce and grow, and how rapidly it did go.

As Lemin puts it, four sociological factors can drive a wedge between the post-pillage or organized extortion (by thugs-with-spears and thugs-with-scrolls) living standards of the bulk of the population and bare biological subsistence:

These four are:

  1. female infanticide,
  2. prolonged female virginity,
  3. substantial female celibacy, and
  4. a large artisan class devoted to making goods and providing services to make life comfortable and even luxurious — but making goods and providing services that do not directly enhance reproductive fitness.

Thus Greek and Roman-like female infanticide — even of girls born to full-citizen wives. Greek and Roman-like large-scale slavery: unlike the post-1807 slave population in the U.S. South, Greek and Roman slave populations did not reproduce in sufficient numbers to sustain their levels via natural increase. Western-European marriage patterns — as her father, I say you cannot marry my daughter and take her out of my house until you have inherited or established a farm of your own. Chinese lineage households — as your elder brother, I say you cannot bring a wife into this household until we get more resources. And there are other, less patriarchal ways: Phoenician and Greek Mediterranean trading networks allowing for greater variety of diet and cross-regional pooling of scarce non-food resources like tin, amber, spices, wood, and so on without substantially impacting reproductive fitness. Imperial Roman artisan productivity taking advantage of economies of scale and distribution. All of these keep “subsistence” in Malthusian theory from exactly meaning “subsistence” on the ground.

They aren’t the greatest thing since sliced bread. But it is not a society of eight average pregnancies leading to five live births, three children surviving to age five, of whom two grow up to reproduce. It is a society of six average pregnancies leading to four live births, of whom two grow up to reproduce. Most of these “preventative check” mechanisms exert draconian control over female sexuality, freedom, and autonomy. But they allow a population in balance with resources and material comfort much higher than that of the “positive check”.

How Cheap Can Solar Get?

Monday, August 24th, 2015

How cheap can solar get, without subsidies, as a function of scale, if current trends hold?

Solar Cost Projections

Must It Be the Rest Against the West?

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

A couple decades ago, Matthew Connelly (who went on to write Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population) and Paul Kennedy (who had already written The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers) discussed Jean Raspail’s controversial The Camp of the Saints — which was itself already more than a couple decades old. Must it be the Rest against the West?, they asked:

Moved by accounts of widespread famine across an Indian subcontinent collapsing under the sheer weight of its fast-growing population, the Belgian government has decided to admit and adopt a number of young children; but the policy is reversed when tens of thousands of mothers begin to push their babies against the Belgian consul general’s gates in Calcutta. After mobbing the building in disgust at Belgium’s change of mind, the crowd is further inflamed by a messianic speech from one of their number, an untouchable, a gaunt, eye-catching “turd eater,” who calls for the poor and wretched of the world to advance upon the Western paradise: “The nations are rising from the four corners of the earth,” Raspail has the man say, “and their number is like the sand of the sea. They will march up over the broad earth and surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city. . . .” Storming on board every ship within range, the crowds force the crews to take them on a lengthy, horrific voyage, around Africa and through the Strait of Gibraltar to the southern shores of France.

But it is not the huddled mass of Indians, with their “fleshless Gandhi-arms,” that is the focus of Raspail’s attention so much as the varied responses of the French and the other privileged members of “the camp of the saints” as they debate how to deal with the inexorably advancing multitude. Raspail is particularly effective here in capturing the platitudes of official announcements, the voices of ordinary people, the tone of statements by concerned bishops, and so on. The book also seems realistic in its recounting of the crumbling away of resolve by French sailors and soldiers when they are given the order to repel physically — to shoot or torpedo — this armada of helpless yet menacing people. It would be much easier, clearly, to confront a military foe, such as a Warsaw Pact nation.

It’s not a perfect prediction, Steve Sailer points out:

My view in 2015 is that the Global Poor today aren’t all that badly off relative to famine-haunted 1973. You’ll notice that the establishment press feels compelled much of the time to mislead readers about who the Mediterranean crossers are, portraying them as “refugees” rather than as people investing in a higher paid career. And if Africans can get their birthrates under control, things will get even better for them in Africa in the future due to technological progress and the accumulation of generations of literacy.

The danger is simply that in the meantime Europe will let itself be saddled with a vast number of Africans and their descendants, turning Florence into Ferguson and Barcelona into Baltimore. That’s not a particularly apocalyptic future, just a stupid one to allow to happen.

Why Read Christopher Lasch?

Friday, August 14th, 2015

What Charles Murray shows empirically in Coming Apart, Christopher Lasch predicted in The Culture of Narcissism:

Over the course of his life and work, Lasch, who was the son of progressive parents and was himself initially drawn to Marxism, grew more culturally conservative as he grew more and more tired with American society’s tendency to equate the good life with mere consumption and consumer choice. Both Democrats and Republicans, he believed, adhered to the “ideology of progress,” a belief system whereby, either through redistribution of wealth or economic growth, “economic abundance would eventually give everyone access to leisure, cultivation, refinement — advantages formerly restricted to the wealthy.”

But Lasch’s conservatism was always idiosyncratic, fusing respect for the conservative traditions of working-class life also celebrated by Charles Murray — such as faith, family, and neighborhood — with a genuine desire for egalitarian democracy based on broad-based proprietorship. As a former Marxist, his analysis always held labor, particularly when self-directed or done voluntarily in cooperation with others, in high esteem because of the ethic of responsibility it produced. Work wasn’t, or shouldn’t be, just a means to put food on the table or a roof over your head. Rather it provided meaning, dignity, and moral instruction, something not found by repeating mind-numbing tasks over and over at someone else’s direction.

After surveying American history, Lasch increasingly latched onto what he described as the producerist ideology animating the young United States throughout much of the 19th century. This meant a celebration of the self-reliance, independence, and modesty of the farmers and artisans who went to work on their own initiative and controlled the means of production, whether that was the plow or the tools of their particular trades. Because of their independence and competence, they could be citizens in the truest sense of the word.

They loathed extreme disparities in wealth and looked upon luxury suspiciously because of the corrosive effect it had on people. “‘Wealth and splendor, instead of fascinating the multitude,’ ought to ‘excite emotions of disgust,’” wrote Lasch, quoting Thomas Paine, whom he considered one of America’s earliest populists. What motivated this revulsion was the belief that the only honest way to accumulate wealth was by what could be produced with one’s hands, which also assured that whatever economic inequality there was would be not only be tolerable but just. “Freedom,” Lasch wrote in The True and Only Heaven, summarizing majority opinion in the early 19th century, “could not flourish in a nation of hirelings.”

Lasch understood the paradox that much of the modern American left and right find contradictory: property could be theft, particularly under capitalist property relations and wage labor, but it also meant freedom for small producers — such as farmers, artisans, and shopkeepers in the 19th century or what today have become small business owners and sole proprietorships — who were able to control the conditions under which they made their living. The rise of mass production for ever-expanding markets and with it the shift to salaried labor destroyed this radical yet deeply conservative outlook on life, turning skilled craftsmen who worked for themselves into interchangeable cogs in somebody else’s machine, both literally and figuratively. Workers understood this, noted Lasch, and reacted by “defending not just their economic interests but their crafts, families, and neighborhoods.”


Friday, August 7th, 2015

When it comes to college admissions, why should an ability to play the bassoon or chuck a lacrosse ball be given any weight in the selection process? To avoid grinds — supposedly:

Jerome Karabel has unearthed a damning paper trail showing that in the first half of the twentieth century, holistic admissions were explicitly engineered to cap the number of Jewish students. Ron Unz, in an exposé even more scathing than Deresiewicz’s, has assembled impressive circumstantial evidence that the same thing is happening today with Asians.

Just as troublingly, why are elite universities, of all institutions, perpetuating the destructive stereotype that smart people are one-dimensional dweebs? It would be an occasion for hilarity if anyone suggested that Harvard pick its graduate students, faculty, or president for their prowess in athletics or music, yet these people are certainly no shallower than our undergraduates. In any case, the stereotype is provably false. Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski have tracked a large sample of precocious teenagers identified solely by high performance on the SAT, and found that when they grew up, they not only excelled in academia, technology, medicine, and business, but won outsize recognition for their novels, plays, poems, paintings, sculptures, and productions in dance, music, and theater. A comparison to a Harvard freshman class would be like a match between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals.

What about the rationalization that charitable extracurricular activities teach kids important lessons of moral engagement? There are reasons to be skeptical. A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back — forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

Doing Good Better

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Alex Tabarrok calls William MacAskill, author of Doing Good Better, a hard-headed, soft-hearted proponent of saving the world, or effective altruism:

Doing Good Better opens, just as you would expect, with an uplifting story of a wonderful person with a brilliant idea to save the world. The PlayPump uses a merry-go-round to pump water. Fun transformed into labor and life saving clean water! The energetic driver of the idea quits his job and invests his life in the project. Africa! Children on merry-go-rounds! Innovation! What could be better? It’s the perfect charitable meme and the idea attracts millions of dollars of funding from celebrities like Steve Case, Jay-Z, Laura Bush and Bill Clinton.

PlayPump Diagram

Then MacAskill subverts the narrative and drops the bomb:

…despite the hype and the awards and the millions of dollars spent, no one had really considered the practicalities of the PlayPump. Most playground merry-go-rounds spin freely once they’ve gained sufficient momentum–that’s what makes them fun. But in order to pump water, PlayPumps need constant force, and children playing on them would quickly get exhausted.

The women whose labor was supposed to be saved end up pushing the merry-go-round themselves, which they find demeaning and more exhausting than using a hand-pump. Moreover, the device is complicated and requires extensive maintenance that cannot be done in the village. The PlayPump is a disaster.