What have the Victorians done for us?

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Certainly the eras that gave us our scientific and intellectual heritage were very unequal, Eric Falkenstein notes, with not just an aristocracy but often slavery:

If some inequality is inevitable, how much is too much or too little?  When the West was beginning its industrial revolution and creating an unprecedented growth in productivity and social welfare, giving us the railroad, electricity, indoor plumbing, the internal combustion engine, etc., Piketty notes wages were ‘objectively miserable’ in the 19th century as if they could have been higher but for elite cupidity, and the Belle Époque evokes the specter of exploitation. The fact that the average height was rising and infant and maternal mortality rates were falling at an unprecedented rate after stagnating for centuries if not a millenium, supposedly means little. So too the great increase in technology that economist Robert Gordon notes was not only unprecedented, but singular, never to be achieved again.  In Piketty’s mind it’s an unbearably time, reminding me of the scene in Monte Python’s Life of Brian where John Cleese says, apart from the aqueduct, sanitation, peace, roads, etc., “what have the Romans done for us?”

Roman Slaves and Capitalists

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Rome’s city population swelled from an influx of non-citizens — favor-seekers, merchants, professionals, entertainers — including many slaves and ex-slaves:

Somewhat surprisingly, being a slave in an important Roman family was a path to upward mobility, since slaves did most of the household and administrative work (being a slave in agriculture or mining was a different story) and many of them were eventually freed as an incentive for loyal service.

Since old Roman conservatives looked down on business, ex-slaves became part of the growing capitalist class. Most important of all was a class of capitalists who leased the state’s public land, since they had the capital to achieve economies of scale in working large plantations, mines, timber, and importing the food supply to feed the population of Rome. It was a minimalist state in most respects. Rome owned vast properties but had few public officials, and they were appointed to very short terms. Hence most public enterprises were leased out; capitalists undertook to collect taxes, advancing cash for state needs and squeezing what they could out of subject peoples.

The New Testament gives us a glimpse of these Roman citizens out in the provinces: Jesus offended local ethnic loyalties by converting tax collectors; and Paul himself was a Roman citizen. Since the most important state organization was the army, the biggest state-related business was supplying it with weapons, armor, food, ships, and harbors. Rome thus developed its “military-industrial complex”, similar to the US since late 20th century in outsourcing as much as possible to private contractors.

Piketty’s Terrifying Dystopia

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Eric Falkenstein returns with a look at Piketty’s terrifying dystopia:

Growth was 3.8% in Europe in the Les Trente Glorieuses (“The Glorious Thirty”) of 1945-75, when marginal taxes and taxes on inheritance were higher, and income became more equally distributed

To him, the implication is obvious. Raise taxes back to what they were in the good old days of Les Trente Glorieuses to reduce inequality. The point of the tax is not so much to increase revenues but rather to “expose wealth to democratic scrutiny” (p. 471) and thus ”regulate capitalism” (p.518). As with all really popular nonfiction, it hits the zeitgeist because many think democracy and equality are paramount unalloyed objectives, a so a big book scientifically proving these noble objectives are under a vicious assault is highly welcome; nothing rallies the troops like news of an attack. Plus, the new tactic is refreshingly more feasible, as making the rich poorer is a lot easier than making the poor richer.

However, the good times he cherishes are what econometricians would call an overidentified event: there are several different correlates that could statistically ‘explain’ the 1950s.  When I was growing up it was common for progressives to caricature the 1950s as a period of bigotry, materialism, and conformism, now those same progressives consider this a golden age; What if the key to reducing inequality is bigotry?  Maybe econometrics shows we need to decimate, in the original Roman sense, our young men every other generation to make them hard working and less whiny.

Most importantly for his case is the fact that because marginal taxes, and inheritance taxes, were so high, the rich had a much different incentive to hide income and wealth.  He shows marginal income and inheritance tax rates that are the exact inverse of the capital/income ratio of figures, which is part of his argument that raising tax rates would be a good thing: it lowers inequality.   Those countries that lowered the marginal tax rates the most saw the biggest increases in higher incomes (p. 509). Perhaps instead of thinking capital went down, it was just reported less to avoid confiscatory taxes?  Alan Reynolds notes that many changes to the tax code in the 1980s that explain the rise in reported wealth and income irrespective of the actual change in wealth an income in that decade, and one can imagine all those loopholes and inducements two generations ago when the top tax rates were above 90% (it seems people can no better imagine their grandparents sheltering income than having sex, another generational conceit).

For example, he writes that Lilian Bettencourt, the richest woman in France and heiress to the L’Oreal fortune (mentioned often, she serves as the archetype of the rich), never reported more than a $5MM annual income on a $30B fortune, a 0.02% annual return. Given his assumed 5% return on capital, and that given Bettencourt’s true returns have been above this average, this implies that it is clearly possible for reported income to stray from actual income by a factor of 100 for a long time. Given this feasibility and the incentives given by changing marginal tax rates and various corporate laws, it seems highly possible the whole U-shaped pattern in capital/income and top-decile-income/total income is just people sheltering their income at various intensities given the tax rate over the past century.

Live According to Nature

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

In his Letters, Seneca exhorts us to live according to nature:

1. I commend you and rejoice in the fact that you are persistent in your studies, and that, putting all else aside, you make it each day your endeavor to become a better man. I do not merely exhort you to keep at it; I actually beg you to do so. I warn you, however, not to act after the fashion of those who desire to be conspicuous rather than to improve, by doing things which will rouse comment as regards your dress or general way of living.

2. Repellent attire, unkempt hair, slovenly beard, open scorn of silver dishes, a couch on the bare earth, and any other perverted forms of self-display, are to be avoided. The mere name of philosophy, however quietly pursued, is an object of sufficient scorn; and what would happen if we should begin to separate ourselves from the customs of our fellow-men? Inwardly, we ought to be different in all respects, but our exterior should conform to society.

3. Do not wear too fine, nor yet too frowzy, a toga. One needs no silver plate, encrusted and embossed in solid gold; but we should not believe the lack of silver and gold to be proof of the simple life. Let us try to maintain a higher standard of life than that of the multitude, but not a contrary standard; otherwise, we shall frighten away and repel the very persons whom we are trying to improve. We also bring it about that they are unwilling to imitate us in anything, because they are afraid lest they might be compelled to imitate us in everything.

4. The first thing which philosophy undertakes to give is fellow-feeling with all men; in other words, sympathy and sociability. We part company with our promise if we are unlike other men. We must see to it that the means by which we wish to draw admiration be not absurd and odious. Our motto, as you know, is “Live according to Nature”; but it is quite contrary to nature to torture the body, to hate unlaboured elegance, to be dirty on purpose, to eat food that is not only plain, but disgusting and forbidding. 5. Just as it is a sign of luxury to seek out dainties, so it is madness to avoid that which is customary and can be purchased at no great price. Philosophy calls for plain living, but not for penance; and we may perfectly well be plain and neat at the same time. This is the mean of which I approve; our life should observe a happy medium between the ways of a sage and the ways of the world at large; all men should admire it, but they should understand it also.

(Hat tip to Sebastian Marshall.)

The Illegal Alien Crisis of Ancient Rome

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Randall Collins turns his sociological eye toward the “illegal alien” crisis of Ancient Rome and considers its implications for America’s future:

The historical comparison gives us a time perspective we lack: we know what happened down that road. The illegal aliens won; in less than 100 years, ethnic and geographical origins ceased to make any difference in Roman society.

Citizenship had its privileges — and, originally at least, its duties:

Ancient Rome was a self-governing republic. Citizens had the right to vote, and the duty to serve in the army. Since they won every war for about 300 years, territory under Roman control expanded, first to all of Italy, then to surrounding regions. The pattern was not unlike the small thirteen colonies that became the United States of America; Romans too sent out colonies to settle on conquered territory, including the Wild West of its time, the tribal frontier of Spain and France. The Roman state became rich in public land — farmland, mines, forests, etc — which it could dispose of to its citizens either as property grants or as leases. This meant that Roman citizens did not have to pay taxes, unlike the conquered peoples. Roman citizenship was a valuable possession.

Rome began as one of many small Italian city-states, and it expanded by making treaties with others. Since independent states might ally themselves with an enemy, Roman alliances tended to have strong elements of threat — they were forced allies, similar to US policy of interfering in the internal government of weaker states during the Cold War. Rome’s allies were required to send troops in time of war (which was most of the time) and to pay for military expenses. Thus being a Roman ally had considerable disadvantages; they were “friends of Rome” but definitely not citizens. Among other things, they were not allowed to marry Roman citizens, since that would provide a legal path to citizenship (again, some similarities to American laws). Hence there was considerable pressure from the allies, especially those attached to the Roman armies, to be treated like Roman soldiers who shared in the spoils of war.

Roman conservatives resisted widening the franchise. Their center of strength was the Senate, the upper body of the Roman legislature, which appointed most of the officials and generals. Senators were from the long-standing patrician families; but new members of the Senate could be appointed, and so there was some upward mobility — from former plebian families that had become wealthy and distinguished, and even ex-slaves and former allies who had risen in importance. Conservatives, however, looked down on the newcomers, as merely vulgar rich (although the old families were rich too), and above all lacking in the heroic virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice that made up their historic (and somewhat mythological) self-image.

Over time, the aliens squeezed through the cracks. The Roman army kept getting larger, as its conquests grew. War casualties, especially in the long fight against Carthage (264-146 BC), its most powerful rival, created a need to raise more soldiers from the allies, and more of them were rewarded by becoming integrated in the Roman legions. Roman soldiers were serving longer and farther away from home, and the small farmer-citizens who were the basis of the militia lost their land; hence they migrated to the city of Rome itself, where they joined in the popular assembly, exercising their voting rights, and more importantly, made a riotous crowd that pressured the decisions of the Senate. What to do with impoverished citizens became a standing problem. One solution was to plant colonies, rewarding ex-soldiers with land from conquered peoples. At first these were in Italy itself, where citizens lived in enclaves next to locally self-governing communities of non-citizen allies — a condition that made the legal distinction into a form of ethnic segregation. Roman colonists could vote and seek favors from the Senate, but only if they traveled to Rome to exercise their right — since voting was done only in the public assembly.

How long would Batman’s identity remain secret?

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

If Batman were to operate in real life, how long would it take for his identity to be revealed?

In the Legends of the Dark Knight story Prey, which takes place about 18 months into Bruce’s career as Batman, Hugo Strange figured out Bruce’s identity through some basic investigative work, similar to how Ra’s al Ghul claimed to have discerned Bruce’s identity in the Bronze Age.

  1. Examining the remains of equipment that Batman left behind at various scenes allowed Strange to deduce that Batman was well funded and had lots and lots of access to capital as well as fabrication resources.
  2. Batman’s targeting of criminals from all walks of life indicated to him that Batman has a sincere grudge against the underworld, likely because he felt wronged by Gotham’s criminal element, and likely suffered a great loss at their hands.
  3. First hand accounts of Batman’s athletic prowess and visage provided him a fairly reasonable physical profile to go on: White male, age 20-40, excellent physical conditioning.

From there Strange skimmed though police reports of notable murder cases in the GCPD’s archives for 0-40 years searching for persons of interests who could fit those criteria today, before finally arriving at the conclusion that it was Bruce Wayne.

Another significant clue that Strange didn’t consider but probably should have was that Bruce Wayne’s much publicized return to Gotham roughly coincided with the first reported appearance of the Batman.

And that was basically just one guy working on his own. If it were real life I think Bruce would also have the full attention and might of every alphabet soup agency in the country on his ass 24/7 trying to track him down.

Another take:

Exactly one month after being coming to the attention of the Federal authorities.

A crazed vigilante is riding around an American city using military grade weaponry and committing crimes against civilians on a record scale? It would not take long at all to deploy the necessary resources to the scene.

Several Blackhawks and Little Birds from the BATF and FBI be orbiting on shifts doing surveillance, waiting for a signal that the unsub has begun activity.

He would leave to patrol in the Batmobile, and as soon as his distinctive black vehicle’s turbine-driven heat signature was located, a Predator drone would be re-tasked to orbit and follow. That tango in question is very versatile, active, and potentially lethal when engaged so nothing would be done that night, however every illegal activity he performed would be caught on IR-enhanced video, including the multitude of assaults, breakings and enterings, trespasses, abuse of public property, use of prohibited weapons, substances and hazardous materials, perhaps even failure to register a motor vehicle and violating speed restrictions, and several counts of obstruction of justice.

His citizen’s arrests would be logged and the suspects duly charged in any and all assaults against him, as well, however a few suspects will likely be audited for their willingness to testify both against their compatriots and the vigilante.

At some point his most recent crime spree will end and he will head for home. The Predator will follow, a barely visible line in the inky black Gotham sky, camera eye recording the Batmobile’s every move.

Of course the Batmobile will disappear into some rocky outcropping or waterfall or some other land feature and it’s destination will be unknown.

The very next day special operations elements of the DoJ will be at the location, planting temblor sensors and concealed cameras. This is Batman so it will be a few days before he uses the same entrance again, but he will, and when he does, the triggering of the sensors will activate the cameras, and FBI analysts will see the long stretch of tunnel inside the entrance and start doing calculations.

The length of the entrance tunnel until loss of focus or a turn will be calculated, and the direction and distance of that stretch of the tunnel will be known. Immediate records will be pulled for every building in the area, and every microsecond of the next day will be spent sifting through the possible combinations of owners, buildings, knowledge wealth and access to technology.

This will continue with each of the Batman’s movements, and piece by piece a picture of his activities will become known. Information, bits and pieces will be gleaned from his victims, the various residues from his smoke bombs, gases and shark repellents will be analyzed, the Batarangs and grappling hooks researched down to the atomic scale.

Once there is a database of products and substances, the FBI will start rifling through purchase orders and BATF registrations for shipments of the necessary fuel for his Batmobile, and the explosive charges for his bat-grapples, and the avionics for his missile’s warheads, amongst the other detritus he leaves after his battles.

Eventually the source of gear will be deciphered: Wayne Industries, and at that point, the cat is out of the bag. Wayne’s home is within the perimeters of the Batmobile disappearances, and a thermal flyby will reveal he’s using the same electricity as an small industrial plant does when only two or three people ever live in that mansion. Analysis of company records will reveal the massive levels of graft and embezzlement required to hijack all these prohibited and classified materials to the mansion, and the deliveries of the materials will tagged and traced.

The is enough evidence to present Bruce Wayne with a warrant for his arrest based on the very least on corporate malfeasance, embezzlement, falsification of tax records, Illegal trafficking of prohibited agents, weapons and substances falsified BATF filings, and aiding and abetting multiple criminal acts.

Since he is an important personage in the city, they’ll do him the favor of sending one very polite agent armed with a single piece of paper, to wait in his office. What happens after that is up to him.

Conversely a team of agents and a ground-scanning radar van will arrive on the grounds of Wayne Manor and present Alfred with a warrant for his arrest and a search of the premises.

This will occur at the exact same time as Tim Drake, Jason Todd, and Dick Grayson are brought into custody, and James Gordon upon getting notification of a pending warrant against his daughter, will take the day off to go try and convince Barbara to turn State’s witness.

All identified suspects that were encountered during the surveillance will be swept up as well on that day.

Wayne’s excellent lawyer will have him booked and released on bail, at which point mysteriously enough a limo from the Themiscyran embassy will pick him up and he will not be seen again until he submits his US passport and a letter revoking his citizenship, and announces himself a citizen of the city-state of Atlantis.

When asked, they will plainly refuse extradition.

A dissenting opinion:

No No No. You’re describing how they’d catch some regular guy who was using military grade gear every night like a punk, not batman.

You’re disregarding his super power. Superman flies, batman plans. Superman can see through walls, Batman sees through YOU.

Those drones you suppose will find the batmobile for you so handily? I guarantee those drones are Wayne Electronics Products, Running Wayne Industries OS. They will report whatever batman tells them to report.

In fact Wayne Enterprises is the biggest corporation in the DC universe, bigger then lex corp, bigger then google+facebook+sony+3m.

Wayne Industries runs their own mines and R&D labs and everything else batman needs to build the batmobile from scratch and have it come out of untraceable thin air. Who’s to say that 12 tons of steel were smelted and not 10 as the books say? Who’s to say exactly how much fuel was refined when it all came out of the ground just yesterday? Compared to global scale commerce, a few tanks of jet fuel aren’t even worth writing off as loss. I bet more evaporates during transport. I bet more sticks to the side of the shipping containers.

Wayne shipping handles billions of tonnes of freight each month, Wayne Yards builds Aircraft carriers for the Navy. This man can make whatever he needs, and I guarantee it would be child’s play for him to simply not report to the ATF. BATF registrations are what punks who buy too much fertilizer have to worry about, not Batman.

And lets not forget, the bat computer already has access to everything the intelligence networks get, and more. He has his own satellites, his own drones, he runs analytic s the NSA hasn’t invented yet. The minute the government starts paying any serious attention to gotham city not to mention himself the bat-computer will alert his heads up display with 20 countermeasures.

Planting cameras everywhere will never catch batman. He can access your networks. Using technology just makes it easier for him to watch you. He can feed you false video, he knows what you know.

As for using his victims as informants? Ridiculous. These guys won’t snitch on the Joker, they would definitely be too afraid to snitch on Batman. They’re a superstitious and cowardly lot. Besides what can they say except they got beat up by a man dressed in a bat suit?

All that is just Batman’s built in advantages. Then he’ll run countermeasures.

  1. Political, Through his copious connections in through the Wayne Foundation your boss’ boss’ boss will start getting serious heat from some senators about wasting funds chasing Batman when there are criminals to find.
  2. Hacking, All your gear will betray you. Your drones will find Batmobile everywhere, your cellphone will start dropping calls, your requisition forms will fail to make its way through the bureaucracy… Wild goose chases ensue.
  3. Psych ops … don’t get me started. Batman loves to mess with your mind. He’ll make you sit on stake out until your mind goes numb. When you’re going completely crazy from boredom he’ll convince you your fellow agents are on his side, he’ll convince you your fellow agents are Batman! Paranoia! After that he’ll make you believe the Joker is after you personally. Panic! Then He’ll convince you you need to become Batman to save yourself. Then when you try, he’ll end up saving your life.
  4. Decoys. Everyone has been a batman decoy. Robin, Nightwing, Commissioner Gordon, even Superman did it, not to mention the robots… Did you know there are two batcaves ? (there’s another one under the Wayne foundation building). The FBI/ATF are not ready for this.
  5. PR. People mostly love batman. The only serious complaints come from uptight law enforcement types. Pray Pray Pray the Penguin doesn’t try to take over the city during your investigation. The press will eat you alive.

In the end the investigation will become an expensive fail, and the plug will be pulled from higher up. Not before some federal agents learn some valuable lesson about themselves and the need for the Dark Knight.

Summary of the Fate of Empires

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Sir John Glubb summarizes his own Fate of Empires:

As numerous points of interest have arisen in the course of this essay, I close with a brief summary, to refresh the reader’s mind.

(a) We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.

(b) In a surprising manner, 250 years emerges as the average length of national greatness.

(c) This average has not varied for 3,000 years. Does it represent ten generations?

(d) The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:

  • The Age of Pioneers (outburst)
  • The Age of Conquests
  • The Age of Commerce
  • The Age of Affluence
  • The Age of Intellect
  • The Age of Decadence.

(e) Decadence is marked by:

  • Defensiveness
  • Pessimism
  • Materialism
  • Frivolity
  • An influx of foreigners
  • The Welfare State
  • A weakening of religion.

(f) Decadence is due to:

  • Too long a period of wealth and power
  • Selfishness
  • Love of money
  • The loss of a sense of duty.

(g) The life histories of great states are amazingly similar, and are due to internal factors.

(h) Their falls are diverse, because they are largely the result of external causes.

(i) History should be taught as the history of the human race, though of course with emphasis on the history of the student’s own country.

How Batman Manages To Keep His Secret Identity Secret

Friday, July 25th, 2014

A comic fan recently attended a local convention and enjoyed all the costumes people were wearing:

One of the more impressive costumes I saw there was a really well-made Batman costume which I noticed once across a crowd, and later from a little closer up (though not face-to-face). This was the only person I saw in a Batman costume.

A few days later, I was meeting with a friend, and told him I had gone to the convention. “Did you see [a close mutual friend, whom I've known for close to two decades]?” he asked me. “He was dressed as Batman.” He then directed me to our friend’s facebook page, where he had posted pics of himself in a well-made Batsuit costume.

The very same Batsuit costume.

So, would Bruce Wayne’s close friends recognize him as Batman?

I sure didn’t.

This Tree Is Growing 40 Different Kinds Of Fruit At Once

Friday, July 25th, 2014

This single colorful tree grows 40 different varieties of peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and even almonds:

Chip-Grafted Tree with 40 Varieties

After sculptor Sam Van Aken bought a failing orchard in upstate New York full of hundreds of different fruit trees, he began the pain-staking process of grafting several of the different varieties together into one tree. Six years later, the result is this 40-fruit bearing tree (which includes some heirloom varieties that are centuries old) that you can see if full bloom above.

Why Comic Books Are Almost Dead

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Sean J. Jordan explains why comic books are almost dead:

Comics used to be produced in a model very similar to magazines; comics were sold on newsstands and via subscriptions, and the cost of each comic was low because the comic books were being mass-produced and carried advertisements. Part of the appeal of comic books was their relative inexpense, but there was also a huge incentive for readers to trade comics because there were simply too many available for most people (namely, kids) to keep up on.

That all changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when comics went from being newsstand items to collectibles, much like the baseball card market had already done. Comics had traditionally been published on low-quality newsprint with a 4-color process that didn’t allow for a lot of variety. (One of the reasons traditional superheroes are so brightly colored has to do with this lacking palette.)  In the 1990s, everyone suddenly began focusing on quality to enhance the value of comics as collectibles. The price of comics shot up, and suddenly, everyone was a speculator. This is often said to have culminated in the release of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn #1, a book that sold over a million copies due to speculation about its future value, but which is still worth about a penny an issue today. (It was a terrible comic, too, for what it’s worth.)

So, the price of comics went up, the value of comics went down, and the entire market for comics crashed. This resulted in many changes for the comic book industry, including the eventual consolidation of distribution under one company, Diamond Comic Distributors. Every comic book store in America was eventually forced to deal with Diamond or deal with no one. One of the reasons this was bad for comic book shops was because Diamond had a “non-returnable product” policy. Retailers had to order carefully, or be stuck with assets that they would have a hard time unloading.

By the time I got on the scene, comics were pretty much dead. Whereas it’d been normal for comics to circulate in the hundreds of thousands in previous decades, now a hit comic was any book that sold about 10,000 copies. Comic book stores were closing left and right, and those that hung on were adjusting their product mix to become focused on collectible toys, tabletop gaming, and Japanese comics and anime.


But even so, I often heard during my time in the comic book industry that the only thing keeping Marvel afloat was its licensing department. The comic books were not really a profitable enterprise; it was the licensing from the comics that kept the entire machine alive. Apparently, something very similar was going on over at rival DC (which was and still is owned by Time Warner). Comic books had become an anachronism, something that only a handful of enthusiasts wanted to keep up with. What’s more, the serial nature of the storytelling has made it difficult to keep up with comics since they tend to ebb and flow in quality and frequently ship late.

Another problem (and it’s a big one!) is the barrier that hardcore fans present. Oddly, fans are never really happy with Marvel and/or DC, and they are probably the hardest group of people to appease. Yes, they spend money, and yes, they are the ones who are keeping comics alive, but they are not a desirable market because they are not growing. Plus, when you factor in the reality that many fans want to be comics creators themselves, you tend to find a lot of fans who keep up with comics to be able to participate in the conversation, but who make demands on publishers for stories that few people really want to read.

Demands on publishers for stories that few people really want to read? I can’t imagine…

Would it help?

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Would it even help, Glubb wonders, if we understood the life-cycle of great nations?

It is pleasing to imagine that, from such studies, a regular life-pattern of nations would emerge, including an analysis of the various changes which ultimately lead to decline, decadence and collapse. It is tempting to assume that measures could be adopted to forestall the disastrous effects of excessive wealth and power, and thence of subsequent decadence. Perhaps some means could be devised to prevent the activist Age of Conquests and Commerce deteriorating into the Age of Intellect, producing endless talking but no action.

It is tempting to think so. Perhaps if the pattern of the rise and fall of nations were regularly taught in schools, the general public would come to realise the truth, and would support policies to maintain the spirit of duty and self-sacrifice, and to forestall the accumulation of excessive wealth by one nation, leading to the demoralisation of that nation.

Could not the sense of duty and the initiative needed to give rise to action be retained parallel with intellectual development and the discoveries of natural science?

The answer is doubtful, though we could but try. The weaknesses of human nature, however, are so obvious, that we cannot be too confident of success. Men bursting with courage, energy and self-confidence cannot easily be restrained from subduing their neighbours, and men who see the prospect of wealth open to them will not readily be prevented from pursuing it.

Perhaps it is not in the real interest of humanity that they should be so prevented, for it is in periods of wealth that art, architecture, music, science and literature make the greatest progress.

Moreover, as we have seen where great empires are concerned, their establishment may give rise to wars and tragedies, but their periods of power often bring peace, security and prosperity to vast areas of territory. Our knowledge and our experience (perhaps our basic human intellects) are inadequate to pronounce whether or not the rise and fall of great nations is the best system for the best of all possible worlds.

These doubts, however, need not prevent us from attempting to acquire more
knowledge on the rise and fall of great powers, or from endeavouring, in the light of such knowledge, to improve the moral quality of human life.

Perhaps, in fact, we may reach the conclusion that the successive rise and fall of great nations is inevitable and, indeed, a system divinely ordained. But even this would be an immense gain. For we should know where we stand in relation to our human brothers and sisters. In our present state of mental chaos on the subject, we divide ourselves into nations, parties or communities and fight, hate and vilify one another over developments which may perhaps be divinely ordained and which seem to us, if we take a broader view, completely uncontrollable and inevitable. If we could accept these great movements as beyond our control, there would be no excuse for our hating one another because of them.

However varied, confusing and contradictory the religious history of the world may appear, the noblest and most spiritual of the devotees of all religions seem to reach the conclusion that love is the key to human life. Any expansion of our knowledge which may lead to a reduction in our unjustified hates is therefore surely well worth while.

IQ Shredders

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Singapore is an IQ shredder, Spandrell has pointed out. How does an IQ Shredder work?

The basic machinery is not difficult to describe, once its profound socio-historical irony is appreciated. The model IQ Shredder is a high-performance capitalistic polity, with a strong neoreactionary bias.

  1. Its level of civilization and social order is such that it is attractive to talented and competent people.
  2. Its immigration policy is unapologetically selective (i.e. first-order eugenic).
  3. It sustains an economic structure that is remarkably effective at extracting productive activity from all available adults.
  4. It is efficiently specialized within a wider commercial network, to which it provides valuable goods and services, and from which it draws economic and demographic resources.

In sum, it skims the human genetic stock, regionally and even globally, in large part due to the exceptional opportunity it provides for the conversion of bio-privileged human capital into economic value. From a strictly capitalistic perspective, genetic quality is comparatively wasted anywhere else. Consequently, spontaneous currents of economic incentive suck in talent, to optimize its exploitation.

If you think this sounds simply horrific, this argument is not for you. You don’t need it. If, on the other hand, it conjures up a vision of terrestrial paradise — as it does for the magnetized migrants it draws in — then you need to follow it carefully. The most advanced models of neoreactionary social order on earth work like this (Hong Kong and Singapore), combining resilient ethnic traditions with super-dynamic techonomic performance, to produce an open yet self-protective, civilized, socially-tranquil, high-growth enclave of outstanding broad-spectrum functionality. The outcome, as Spandrell explains, is genetic incineration:

Mr Lee said: “[China] will make progress but if you look at the per capita they have got, the differences are so wide. We have the advantage of quality control of the people who come in so we have bright Indians, bright Chinese, bright Caucasians so the increase in population means an increase in talent.”

How many bright Indians and bright Chinese are there, Harry? Surely they are not infinite. And what will they do in Singapore? Well, engage in the finance and marketing rat-race and depress their fertility to 0.78, wasting valuable genes just so your property prices don’t go down. Singapore is an IQ shredder.

The most hard-core capitalist response to this is to double-down on the antihumanist accelerationism. This genetic burn-rate is obviously unsustainable, so we need to convert the human species into auto-intelligenic robotized capital is fast as possible, before the whole process goes down in flames. (I don’t expect this suggestion to be well-received in reactionary circles.)

Organized, Logical, Respectful of Facts

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

The web has given many superbright, very logical people an outlet for their thoughts and observations, Paleo Retiree notes:

Until 2001 or so, nearly all of the people who were getting their thoughts about culture and politics into mainstream print were English, Arts and History types. But since 2001 we’ve seen a lot of engineers and scientists putting their ideas out there too. And god knows they’re just as bright, if not far more so, than the usual American Studies crowd. Plus: they’re organized, they can think logically, and they’ve got a lot more respect for facts than lib-arts people tend to have.

The arrival on the public-discussion scene of these people, mostly guys, has really shaken up the usual liberal-arts crowd, IMHO. It’s been hard on their collective ego, for one thing. To my mind, the beating that the egos of the traditional opinion-makers have taken helps explain the tone of hysteria that sometimes shows up in discussions of “the end of journalism” or “the end of movie reviewing.” Imagine being a pro movie reviewer, for example, and being forced to wake up to the fact that many people are just as happy to take part in informal online discussions as they are to read reviews. And now imagine waking up the additional fact that some of the people who are using blogs, comments, forums and Amazon viewer-reviews as outlets are in fact just as smart, informed, funny and perceptive as you are.

Plus I’m left wondering how much the arrival of so many engineer-scientist types on the public-discussion scene has driven the growth of the Dark Enlightenment / HBD / Game / Reactionary part of the online world. After all, they do tend to like systems, they aren’t afraid of blunt facts, and they do tend to have more politically conservative views than the usual LibArts crowd does.

Smart Money Buys Brand X

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

National brands succeed because of consumer ignorance:

To test whether a lack of information is responsible for consumers’ choices, Bronnenberg and his co-authors compared a range of consumers who shop in the same markets and chain stores during the same time periods. They used both indirect and direct measures of how well-informed the shoppers were about headache remedies. The indirect measures included occupation and education. The direct measures came from shoppers’ responses to questions about the active ingredients in headache remedies. There was a close connection between the indirect and direct measures: The average person accurately answered the ingredient question 59 percent of the time, but that figure rose to 85 percent for registered nurses and to 89 percent for pharmacists.

Using purchase data on more than 77 million shopping trips from 2004 to 2011, the authors matched consumers’ actual choices to their knowledge and professions. Pharmacists bought national brands only 8.5 percent of the time, while the average consumer bought them 26 percent of the time. People lacking a college education were especially likely to buy national brands. On the other hand, health-care professionals — including nurses and doctors — were more likely to buy store brands than lawyers, who don’t have relevant expertise.

In the case of pantry staples (salt, sugar, baking soda and the like), national brands accounted for 40 percent of total sales volume. But among chefs, the share dropped to just 23 percent — the smallest for any other occupation.

It’s interesting that health-care professionals show no special interest in buying store-brand salts, sugars or baking sodas; for those products, their choices look a lot like most other consumers’. And while chefs do show a preference for store-brand headache remedies, it’s not nearly as great as that of health-care professionals. For the most part, people’s knowledge is domain-specific.

Bronnenberg and his co-authors tell the same basic tale for other health products, including cold remedies, bandages, vitamins and contact-lens solutions. Knowledgeable consumers tend to choose store brands. The effects are smallest for first-aid and eye-care products — which suggests that informed consumers might find genuine differences in their quality.

The Emerging Pattern

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Glubb studies the emerging pattern of great nations:

In spite of the endless variety and the infinite complications of human life, a general pattern does seem to emerge from these considerations. It reveals many successive empires covering some 3,000 years, as having followed similar stages of development and decline, and as having, to a surprising degree, ‘lived’ lives of very similar length.

The life-expectation of a great nation, it appears, commences with a violent, and usually unforeseen, outburst of energy, and ends in a lowering of moral standards, cynicism, pessimism and frivolity.

If the present writer were a millionaire, he would try to establish in some university or other a department dedicated solely to the study of the rhythm of the rise and fall of powerful nations throughout the world. History goes back only some 3,000 years, because before that period writing was not sufficiently widespread to allow of the survival of detailed records. But within that period, the number of empires available for study is very great.

At the commencement of this essay, the names of eleven such empires were listed, but these included only the Middle East and the modern nations of the West. India, China and Southern America were not included, because the writer knows nothing about them. A school founded to study the rise and fall of empires would probably find at least twenty-four great powers available for dissection and analysis.

The task would not be an easy one, if indeed the net were cast so wide as to cover virtually all the world’s great nations in 3,000 years. The knowledge of language alone, to enable detailed investigations to be pursued, would present a formidable obstacle.