Why Do Democracies get Weaker & more Parasitic?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Why do democracies get weaker & more parasitic?

What you have under a representative, egalitarian, winner take all, democracy is a shifting coalition of about 51% of voters aligned to threaten about 49%.

If you’re getting more than 51% of the vote (which is certainly possible) that just means you’re leaving rents on the table. You could take more, and/or give less, and still win the election.

Additionally, maximum rent extraction occurs if your coalition comprises the cheapest 51% of voters, in other words, the most useless and parasitic.

In relative terms, the 51% will tend to expand in number as they gorge on the 49%, who will tend to diminish. That means, the 51% will generally be in the position of being able to kick their most productive members out into the 49% and begin consuming them turn, getting ever more radically leftist, degenerate, and freeloading in the process as the polity becomes progressively weaker and more parasitic, until finally, it collapses.

This is one explanation for the expressions “Cthulu only swims left” or “the ratchet effect.”

Thankfully, there are alternatives to democracy.

Why did the Roman Economy Decline?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Peter Brown of Princeton University is one of Mark Koyama’s favorite historians of late antiquity, but Koyama doesn’t agree with Brown’s explanation for why the Roman economy declined:

In The Rise of Western Christendom, Brown summarizes the new wisdom on the transition from late antiquity to the early middle ages. He accepts that this transition brought about an economic decline — a decline evident in the radical simplification in economic life that took place. Long distance trade contracted. Cities shrank and emptied out. The division of labor became less complex. Many professions common in the Roman world disappeared.

All of this is relatively uncontroversial. At issue is what caused this decline? Traditional accounts emphasized the destruction brought about by barbarian invasions and civil wars as the frontiers of the Western Empire collapsed. These accounts emphasized a collapse in trade and increased economic insecurity. Brown, however, argues that the bulk of modern research rejects this old fashioned view.

[...]

The barbarian invasions, of course, play a role in this story because they put pressure on the Roman state. But their role is peripheral. Rather, Brown contends that the Roman state was the engine of economic growth of late antiquity. Turning on its head the old view associated with Michael Rostovtzeff that attributed the decline of the Roman economy to high taxes imposed by the Emperor Diocletian and his successors, Brown argues that these high taxes were in fact the source of economic dynamism.

[...]

The collapse of the Roman state was catastrophic, not because the Roman state was an engine of economic growth, as Brown contends, but because it provided, albeit imperfectly, the public good of defense. In the absence of this, transactions costs greatly increased, long-distance trade declined, markets contracted, and urbanization declined.

The notion of a Malthusian Trap helps explain how high taxes — especially efficient land taxes — might help, rather than hurt, per capita income.

How Many Americans Have a Police Record?

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Approximately 30% of American adults have an arrest record.

The American Elite and the American People

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Victor Davis Hanson’s recent National Review piece on The American Elite and the American People culminates in a delicious rant:

In a sense, these revolving-door apparatchiks and incestuous couples are bullies, who use their megaphones to disparage others who are supposedly blinkered and ignorant to the point of not believing that a videomaker caused the attacks in Libya, not trusting the Iranians, being skeptical about the theory of sanctuary cities, missing the genius of the European Union, not seeing the brilliant logic in allowing in 12 million immigrants from southern Mexico and Central America under unlawful auspices, panicking about $20 trillion in debt, and incapable of appreciating the wonders of outsourcing.

In matters of deception, ostentatious vulgarity never proves as injurious as the hubris of the mannered establishment. So what I resent most about the Washington hollow men is not the sources and methods through which they parlay wealth, power, and influence, or the values they embrace to exercise and perpetuate their privilege and sense of exalted self, but the feigned outrage that they express when anyone dares suggest, by word or vote, that they are mediocrities and ethical adolescents — and really quite emotional, after all.

Spandrell comments:

It’s funny how Montesquieu never thought that this “division of power” wouldn’t work if those in power all went to the same schools and married each other.

A Whole Generation Rushing to Volunteer

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

I wouldn’t call the US a nation of cowards, but Bryan Caplan would — after calculating how few young men volunteered after Pearl Harbor:

According to the 1940 Census (table No. 11), the U.S. had 6.2 million males ages 15-19, 5.7 million males ages 20-24, and and 5.5 million ages 25-29.  That’s 17.4 million men of combat age.  Let’s use David’s high figure of 140k [volunteers] for all three months.  This means that during the first three months of U.S. involvement — a period where our national mythology describes a whole generation rushing to volunteer — just 2.4% actually did.

Guns Used in Crimes

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Lawful gun owners commit less than a fifth of all gun crimes — which is still more than I would’ve expected, to be honest:

In the study, led by epidemiologist Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, researchers partnered with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to trace the origins of all 893 firearms that police recovered from crime scenes in the year 2008.

[...]

More than 30 percent of the guns that ended up at crime scenes had been stolen, according to Fabio’s research. But more than 40 percent of those stolen guns weren’t reported by the owners as stolen until after police contacted them when the gun was used in a crime.

[...]

It’s also likely that many guns on the black market got there via straw purchases — where a person purchases a gun from a dealer without disclosing that they’re buying it for someone else. This is illegal under federal law. One potential sign that straw purchasing is a factor in the Pittsburgh data: Forty-four percent of the gun owners who were identified in 2008 did not respond to police attempts to contact them.

[...]

Additionally, past research has demonstrated that a small fraction of gun dealers are responsible for the majority of guns used in crimes in the United States. A 2000 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that in 1998, more than 85 percent of gun dealers had no guns used in crimes trace back to them. By contrast, 1 percent of dealers accounted for nearly 6 in 10 crime gun traces that year.

Who is to blame for angering the Bogeyman?

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

When the Vikings sacked the monastery at Lindisfarne, the Anglo-Saxons came to the logical conclusion that God was angry with them:

What followed in Britain as well as the rest of Christendom was more than just a military response to the Vikings. There was a spiritual revival. The secular authorities contributed to the Church and invited the bishops and priests into the granular management of society. The Church reformed religious orders and cleaned up the monasteries and nunneries. The role of women in religious orders was also diminished at this time. In other words, Europeans responded to a pagan assault by getting right with the Almighty.

Oliver Cromwell was pretty sure he was in God’s good graces. After all, he went from minor political figure to the head of the parliamentary army to the Lord Protector of God’s people, the English. After the disastrous military expedition into the Caribbean and a Royalist revolt, Cromwell came to the obvious conclusion. God was not happy with him and the English people. He set off on a campaign to restore liberty of conscience and promote both outward and inward godliness throughout England.

In the early 19th century, Abolitionists were sure that slavery was an offense to God and its presence in the new world would bring an end to the America Experiment. The people of Yankee New England were convinced that America was the city on the hill, the savior of mankind. They still believe this. The lyrics to the Battle Hymn of the Republic make this quite clear.

We may live in a post-Christian era, but that does not mean this kind of thinking has gone away.

High Towers and Strong Places

Friday, August 19th, 2016

In High Towers and Strong Places, Timothy R. Furnish presents a political history of Middle Earth:

Departing from the tradition of analyzing Tolkien’s works as literature, poetry, linguistics, mythology, culture and even roots in Christian theology, Furnish applies the disciplinary lens of political science and opens up into view the geopolitics of Middle-Earth; Sauron as tyrannical theocrat, Gondor as hegemon and Gandalf as the grand strategist of the West. Furnish, a former Arabic linguist and Army chaplain with a PhD in Islamic history, emphasizes that J.R.R. Tolkien, as a scholar and “subcreator” was deeply concerned with history and historical realism as a substantive basis for his fictional world that he took to “amazing lengths” of detail. This makes Middle-Earth a prime candidate, Furnish argues, to be analyzed in “real-world fashion”.

Up In Schmoke

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

In the late 1970s, Kurt Schmoke was, according to Z Man, the hottest thing in black politics since Martin Luther King:

Schmoke was different. He was charming and smart with credentials from the Ivy League. Most important, he was not standing on ghetto corners yelling about the honkies. Instead, he had moderate political views, worked in the legitimate economy as an attorney and he participated in mainstream politics. He was the sort of well-behaved black guy white liberals love.

Schmoke was supposed to be the example of how Progressive race polices would succeed. He went to public school, but got into Yale, went onto a Rhodes Scholarship and then Harvard Law School. This was how race policy was supposed to work. Given the opportunity to be free of white racism, blacks could rise to the very top of society and compete with whites. No one talked about affirmative action and it probably never played much of a role. Schmoke was a genuinely smart guy, but that did not stop white liberals from taking credit.

Schmoke eventually won office in ’82 and then became mayor of Baltimore in ’87. Everyone assumed he would be governor one day and then who knows. Instead, the politics of Baltimore devoured him. He went into office as a cerebral, race neutral technocrat. He was going to fix the city and avoid the racial politics. By the time he left office, he was wearing a dashiki and waving the flag of the African National Congress. Instead of being the sort of black politician that made white liberals proud, he ended up the sort that made them ashamed.

[...]

The reason Schmoke rose to be a star was that he was black. In order to remain a star, or at least remain in office, he had to keep getting blacker.

How Persuaders See the World

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Scott Adams explains how Rational People, Word-Thinkers, and Persuaders see the world:

Rational People: Use data and reason to arrive at truth. (This group is mostly imaginary.)

Word-Thinkers: Use labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. This group is 99% of the world.

Persuaders: Use simplicity, repetition, emotion, habit, aspirations, visual communication, and other tools of persuasion to program other people and themselves. This group is about 1% of the population and effectively control the word-thinkers of the world.

Intellectuals are Freaks

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Intellectuals are freaks, Michael Lind, an intellectual, reminds us:

It was never possible for Chinese mandarins or medieval Christian monks in Europe to imagine that their lifestyles could be adopted by the highly visible peasantry that surrounded them. But it is possible for people to go from upper middle class suburbs to selective schools to big-city bohemias or campuses with only the vaguest idea of how the 70 percent of their fellow citizens whose education ends with high school actually live.

Danes Live Better in the U.S.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Denmark is wealthy, has strong social and economic indicators, and it offers a comprehensive safety net, Tyler Cowen notes, but Danes live better in the U.S.:

or instance, Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland. Only for Norway is the gap a small one, because of the extreme oil wealth of Norway, but even there the living standard of American Norwegians measures as 3 percent higher than in Norway. And that comparison is based on numbers from 2013, when the price of oil was higher, so probably that gap has widened.

Of the Nordic groups, Danish-Americans have the highest per capita income, clocking in at $70,925. That compares to an U.S. per capita income of $52,592, again the numbers being from 2013. Sanandaji also notes that Nordic-Americans have lower poverty rates and about half the unemployment rate of their relatives across the Atlantic.

It is difficult, after seeing those figures, to conclude that the U.S. ought to be copying the policies of the Nordic nations wholesale. It is instead more plausible to think that Americans might learn something from the cultural practices of Nordic-Americans. Sanandaji says those norms include hard work, honesty, a strong civil society and an ethic of cooperation and volunteerism.

My own view is that many groups work hard, but that a disciplined, family-based approach to education and human capital investment is the important norm in this context. All the main Nordic groups in the United States have high school graduation rates over 96 percent. That compares to an average of about 82 percent for the U.S. as a whole.

I enjoyed this angle:

Most of all we should consider the option of greater freedom of choice for residence decisions. For all the anti-immigrant sentiment that is circulating at the moment, would it hurt the U.S. to have fully open borders with Denmark? It would boost American gross domestic product and probably also improve American education. History teaches that serious assimilation problems would be unlikely, especially since many Danes already speak English.

Open borders wouldn’t attract Danes who want to live off welfare because the benefits are so generous at home.

How’s this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam’s.

Brazenly Public

Monday, August 15th, 2016

In the Old West, prostitutes achieved virtually every goal of early feminism:

At a time when women were barred from most jobs and wives had no legal right to own property, women like Jennie Rogers and Mattie Silks, the queens of Denver’s red-light district, owned large tracts of land and prized real estate.

Prostitutes made, by far, the highest wages of all American women. Several madams were so wealthy that they funded irrigation and road-building projects that laid the foundation for the New West. Jessie Hayman, Tessie Wall, and other madams in San Francisco fed and clothed thousands of people left homeless by the 1906 earthquake. Decades before American employers offered health insurance to their workers, madams across the West provided their employees with free health care.

While women were told that they could not and should not protect themselves from violence, and wives had no legal recourse against being raped by their husbands, police officers were employed by madams to protect the women who worked for them, and every madam owned and knew how to use guns.

While feminists were seeking to free women from the “slavery” of patriarchal marriage, prostitutes married later in life and divorced more frequently than other American women. While women were taught that they belonged in the “private sphere,” prostitutes traveled extensively, often by themselves, and were brazenly “public women.”

Long before social dancing in public was considered acceptable for women, prostitutes in the West invented many of the steps that would become all the rage during the dance craze of the 1910s. When gambling and public drinking were forbidden for most women, prostitutes were fixtures in Western saloons and they became some of the most successful gamblers in the nation.

Most ironically, the makeup, clothing, and hair styles of western prostitutes, which were maligned for their overt sexuality (lipstick was “the scarlet shame of street-walkers”), became widely fashionable among American women and are now so respectable that even First Ladies wear them.

You can choose to see 19th-Century prostitutes as quite progressive, or modern progressive women as quite, well, brazen.

Better Surrender Technique

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Everyone is talking about police violence against African-Americans, Scott Adams says, but there isn’t much discussion about practical solutions:

In the short term, the most productive approach probably involves teaching citizens how to surrender better.

You’ve probably seen tutorials on the correct way to handle a traffic stop by police. You should put both hands on the top of the steering wheel, fingers open and outstretched, and wait for the police officer to give you permission to reach for your wallet. If you have time before the officer gets out his car, your wallet should already be out and on the dashboard so you don’t have to reach for it in a suspicious-looking way. That’s good surrender technique, and I think it would work for many situations.

But I think we can simplify it even more.

[...]

Communication experts will tell you that a message is only as credible as the sender. Your first interaction with a police officer will tell him – accurately or not – who you are. So if the first impression looks like rebellion, the officer will interpret everything that follows according to that model. If the first impression is obvious concern for mutual safety, you put the officer on your side from the start. Once you have established yourself as a respectful citizen who is primarily interested in safety, any ambiguous communication on your part will be seen through that filter.

Jocko discussed the same thing in a recent podcast.

Of course, many people already “surrender” just fine, and others don’t, and one might notice certain patterns…

Volleyball is a scam

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

Volleyball is a scam — at least at the high school and college level:

High school volley ball players often use the sport as a way to gain college admission and a year of free school at college and then quit the team. I went to an ACC volleyball game and was amazed at the number of freshmen who were starting. Universities don’t really care because volleyball isn’t a revenue sport and it’s sponsored for Title IX compliance. In particular, schools that have rushed to create football programs in the last 10 years have created women’s indoor and beach volleyball teams in order to offer relatively cheap lady athletics scholarships.