The coronavirus economy lives on in suspense, not free fall

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

The economy today lives in suspense, not free-fall , Vernon L. Smith suggests:

Not all markets, however, are born equal. Laboratory experiments for goods that cannot be re-traded easily converge to their predicted supply-and-demand equilibrium under conditions of strictly private dispersed information. Their counterpart in the economy, markets for nondurable consumer goods, are a rock of stability. Moreover, these markets are very large, constituting 75% of private product (gross domestic product less government expenditures).

In sharp contrast, laboratory studies of asset markets persistently yield price bubbles in environments with perfect information on fundamental value. Moreover, experiments prove that this propensity to bubble is precisely and only because the items are re-tradable. These studies helped us to understand why all market economic instability arises from durable goods markets, especially housing-mortgage markets, as we have seen in the Great Recession and in the Depression when house prices fell against mortgage debt, plunging households into negative equity. Homeowners, living in houses worth less than what they owe the bank do not feel buoyantly prosperous. The experiments also helped us to understand why security markets are so volatile, but are not a fundamental source of instability, like housing, because securities market loans are short-term callable loans, investor balance sheets are marked steadily to market as prices decline, and there is no build-up of negative equity to dampen long-term expectations.

I believe the economy today lives in suspense, not free-fall. The pandemic will pass; public health institutions have been a model of forthright dissemination of information on the spread of this disease and sanitary procedures to minimize its impact. It’s the citizenry that has been unruly for a time. Supply chains will refill and stabilize quickly, as the pandemic passes, securities markets will recover, and growth will continue to reduce poverty everywhere. Homes are more valuable than ever as a haven of safe and secure living. Provided that we continue to buy them with some of our own money, homes will be part of a secure future.

“With dread” is the only sensible answer

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

If you’re a socialist, you have to be concerned that so many socialists before you defended totalitarian regimes as they committed atrocities, but you might say that the best socialists spoke out:

A reasonable position. I don’t want my views judged by the quality of the typical person who shares my label, either.

Still, this raises a weighty question: How should the best socialists react when they discover that a new socialist experiment is about to start? “With dread” is the only sensible answer. After all, the best socialists don’t merely know the horrifying history of the Soviet Union and Maoist China. The best socialists also know the psychotic sociology of the typical socialist, who savors the revolutionary “honeymoon” until the horror becomes too blatant to deny.

If dread is the sensible reaction to the latest socialist experiment, then how should the best socialists react to any earnest proposal for a new socialist experiment? It’s complicated. The proposal stage is the perfect time to avoid the errors of the past – to finally do socialism right. Yet this hope must still be heavily laced with dread. After all, socialists have repeatedly tried to learn from the disasters of earlier socialist regimes. When they gained power, disaster still followed.

That’s Bryan Caplan, by the way, and he continues:

At this point, it’s tempting to shift blame to the non-socialist world. Without American-led ostracism, perhaps Cuba would be a fine country today. Or consider Chomsky’s view that the U.S. really won the Vietnam War:

The United States went to war in Vietnam for a very good reason. They were afraid Vietnam would be a successful model of independent development and that would have a virus effect – infect others who might try to follow the same course. There was a very simple war aim – destroy Vietnam. And they did it.

If Chomsky is right about U.S. foreign policy, however, the best socialists should feel even less hope and even more dread. Even if the next generation of socialists finally manages to durably build socialism with a human face, the U.S. will probably strangle it.

Personally, I’m the furthest thing from a socialist. If I were a socialist, though, I would be the world’s most cautious socialist. Socialist experiments don’t merely have a bad track record; socialist self-criticism has a bad track record.

Plunder the bookshelves

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Laura Spinney reviews a number of books about societal collapse for Nature:

The newest is Before the Collapse. In it, energy specialist Ugo Bardi urges us not to resist collapse, which is how the Universe tries “to get rid of the old to make space for the new”.

Similarly, Diamond’s 2019 book Upheaval suggested that a collapse is an opportunity for self-appraisal, after which a society can use its ingenuity to find solutions.

[...]

Questioning Collapse, a 2009 collection of essays edited by archaeologists Patricia McAnany and Norman Yoffee, took Diamond to task for cherry-picking to spin a good yarn, for example in blaming such iconic societal failures as the population crash of Easter Island on its people’s destruction of their own environment.

[...]

In his influential 1988 The Collapse of Complex Societies, archaeologist Joseph Tainter argues that collapse — in the sense of the complete obliteration of a political system and its associated culture — is rare. Even the worst cases are usually better described as rapid loss of complexity, with remnants of the old society living on in what rises from the ashes. After the ‘fall’ of Rome in the fifth century, for example, successor states took more than 1,000 years to achieve comparable economic and technological sophistication, but were always recognizably the empire’s offspring.

[...]

In his thoughtful Understanding Collapse (2017), archaeologist Guy Middleton surveys more than 40 theories of collapse — including Diamond’s — and concludes that the cause is almost always identified as external to the society. Perennial favourites include climate change and barbarian invasions — or, in the Hollywood version, alien lizards. The theories say more about the theorists and their times, Middleton argues, than about the true causes of collapse.

The pressing question, Tainter told a workshop on collapse at Princeton University in New Jersey last April, is why can a society withstand repeated external blows — until one day it cannot? For him, a society fails when it is no longer able to adapt to diminishing returns on innovation: when it can’t afford the bureaucracy required to run it, say. In Why the West Rules — For Now (2010), historian Ian Morris proposes a twist on this, namely that the key to a society’s success lies in its ability to capture energy — by extracting it from the ground, for example, or from nuclear fission once fossil fuels have run out. By contrast, Peter Turchin, author of the 2006 War and Peace and War, suggests that collapse is what happens when a society stops being able to deal with the strains caused by population growth, leading to inequality and strife.

[...]

Goldstone rigorously dissected upheaval in the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries in his 1991 book Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. This convinced him that revolution is an inappropriate response to societal tensions, usually leading to tyranny. Solutions have come instead from deep, meaningful reform. Yet the idea that revolution removes obstacles to progress has “deluded literally billions of people”, he argues.

Adjusting for IQ wipes out the ethnic income differential

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

In the third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class Charles Murray proposes that racism and sexism are no longer decisively important in who rises to the top, in part because differences in educational attainment and income nearly disappear for people at similar IQ levels:

Even without adjusting for anything, there’s no female disadvantage to worry about when it comes to educational attainment. Women now have higher mean years of education and a higher percentage of college degrees than men and have enjoyed that advantage for many years. These advantages persist over all IQ levels.

[...]

In terms of the raw numbers, Asians have higher educational attainment than any other ethnic group. Blacks and Latinos have substantially lower educational attainment than whites, but these discrepancies are more than eliminated after adjusting for IQ.

[...]

Asians retain their advantage over whites after adjusting for IQ.

[...]

A substantial female disadvantage in earned income exists, but it is almost entirely explained by marriage or children in the household. Using Current Population Survey data for 2018, earnings for women who were not married, had no children living at home, and worked full-time were 93 percent of the earnings of comparable men.

[...]

Married women with children in the house have considerably lower earned income even after adjusting for IQ, but the main source of the income discrepancy is not that married women in the labor force earn less than unmarried women, but that married men earn more than unmarried men.

[...]

Using raw 2018 data from the CPS, Asians have higher mean earned income than whites, while Blacks and Latinos have substantially lower mean earned income than whites.

[...]

In the earlier survey, adjusting for IQ wipes out the ethnic income differential among whites, blacks, and Latinos (Asians were not included in this survey). In the latter survey, whites and Latinos have effectively the same earned income while the fitted mean for blacks is 84 percent of the fitted mean for whites.

[...]

The fitted mean for Asians is 57 percent higher than the fitted mean for whites.

Inherited wealth is a tangential contributor

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

Charles Murray introduces the third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class) by mentioning another book about class that he (co-)wrote:

The book’s main title was The Bell Curve. In many ways, it documents the ways in which a segment of American society is a indeed morphing into a castelike upper class. But inherited wealth is a tangential contributor. The bare bones of its argument are that the last half of the twentieth century saw two developments of epochal importance: First, technology, the economy, and the legal system became ever more complex, making the value of the intellectual ability to deal with that complexity soar. Second, the latter half of the twentieth century saw America’s system of higher education become accessible to everyone with enough cognitive talent. The most prestigious schools, formerly training grounds for children of the socioeconomic elite, began to be populated by the students in the top few percentiles of IQ no matter what their family background might be—an emerging cognitive elite. By 2012, what had been predictions about the emerging cognitive elite as we were writing in the early 1990s had become established social facts that I described in another book, Coming Apart.

Vocational doors really did open

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

A look back at what has happened to educational and job choices over the last 50 years suggests that vocational doors really did open for women during the 1970s, Charles Murray says (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class):

In 1971, 38 percent of women’s bachelor’s degrees were in education. That proportion had fallen by half by the early 1980s. Meanwhile, degrees in business grew from 3 percent in 1971 to 20 percent by 1982.

[...]

Consider first the most Things-oriented STEM careers — physics, chemistry, earth sciences, computer science, mathematics, and engineering. The percentage of women’s degrees obtained in those majors more than doubled from 1971 to 1986 — but “more than doubled” meant going from 4 percent to 10 percent.

And 1986 was the high point. By 1992, that number had dropped to 6 percent, where it has remained, give or take a percentage point, ever since.

[...]

Women’s degrees in People-oriented STEM — biology and health majors — doubled in just the eight years from 1971 (9 percent) to 1979 (18 percent), remained at roughly that level through the turn of the century, then surged again, standing at 27 percent of degrees in 2017.

[...]

It looks as if women were indeed artificially constrained from moving into a variety of Things occupations as of 1970, that those constraints were largely removed, and that equilibrium was reached around 30 years ago.

[...]

The effect of the feminist revolution on the vocations of college-educated women was real but quickly reached a new equilibrium. For women with no more than a high school education, it is as if the feminist revolution never happened.

[...]

The subtext of this chapter has been that it’s not plausible to explain the entire difference in educational and vocational interests as artifacts of gender roles and socialization. If that were the case, the world shouldn’t look the way it does. In contrast, a mixed model — it’s partly culture, partly innate preferences — works just fine. In this narrative, females really were artificially deterred from STEM educations and occupations through the 1950s and into the 1960s. One of the effects of the feminist revolution was that new opportunities opened up for women and women took advantage of them.

The revolution in women’s education and work since the 1960s

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Charles Murray explores the revolution in women’s education and work since the 1960s (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class):

In 1960, a few years before second-wave feminism took off in the United States, only 41 percent of women ages 25–54 were in the labor force. In 2018, that figure stood at 75 percent.

From 1960 to 2018, women went from 1 percent of civil engineers to 17 percent; from 5 percent of attorneys to 35 percent; from 8 percent of physicians to 42 percent.

Not a single woman was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 1960, nor would there be any until 1972.34 In 2018, 25 women were Fortune 500 CEOs, among them the chief executives of General Motors, IBM, PepsiCo, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, and General Dynamics.

In 1960, there was one woman in the U.S. Senate. After the 2018 election, there were 25. In the 1960 House of Representatives, there were 19 women. After the 2018 election, there were 102.

[...]

By 2016, 1,082,669 women got bachelor’s degrees compared to 812,669 men—a 33 percent difference.

[...]

In 1960, 20 men got a professional degree for every woman who did. By 1970, the ratio was less than 10 to 1. By 1980, it was less than 3 to 1. In 2005, women caught up with men. Since then, more women have gotten more professional degrees than men in every year. As of 2016, 93,778 women got a professional degree compared to 84,089 men.

Time makes these problems worse

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

Peter Thiel reviews Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success:

Douthat outlines four aspects of decadence: stagnation (technological and economic mediocrity), sterility (declining birth rates), sclerosis (institutional failure), and repetition (cultural exhaustion).

Stagnation is the most evident. Look up from your phone, and compare our time to 1969. “Over the last two generations,” Douthat writes, “the only truly radical change has taken place in the devices we use for communication and entertainment, so that a single one of the nineteenth century’s great inventions [running water] still looms larger in our every­day existence than most of what we think of as technological breakthroughs nowadays.”

Sterility is not immediately obvious outside of a few places like San Francisco. In public debates, low birth rates are treated as a matter of personal preference. If they mean anything more, it is as a drag on future economic performance—hence an argument for immigration. Douthat goes beyond economistic abstractions to point out that missing kids weaken a society’s connection to the future. He thus explains a key current in “populist” skepticism of the elite consensus: “[Immigration] replaces some of the missing workers but exacerbates intergenerational alienation and native-immigrant friction because it heightens precisely the anxieties about inheritance and loss that below-replacement fertility is heightening already.” Douthat does not ignore racism, but he focuses on the dynamics that explain our unique moment instead of inveighing against an age-old evil.

“Sclerosis” refers to our diseased institutions, especially the inability of our government to get anything done. Assessing the record of rule by experts, Douthat again emphasizes historical contingency rather than doctrinaire ideology:

Time makes these problems worse, as popular programs become part of an informal social contract that makes them nearly impossible to reform; as the administrative state gets barnacled by interest groups that can buy off and bludgeon would-be reformers; and as the proliferation of regulations handcuffs administrators and deprives them of the room to respond to changing times.
In other words, the New Deal could only happen once, and whatever competence prevailed at its experimental dawn no longer exists.

“Repetition” names the condition of our culture, endlessly remaking remakes of remakes. Whereas the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties all had distinctive by-the-decade styles in design, clothing, music, and art, from the nineties to now feels like one big remix.

The point is to make you look like a monster

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020

Most people tolerate the unpleasant ramifications of the status quo because they’re used to them, Bryan Caplan notes:

“What if a poor person gets sick, doesn’t have insurance, and can’t get friends, family, or charity to pay for treatment?”

“What if an elderly person gets defrauded out of his entire retirement and the perpetrator vanishes into thin air?”

“What if a child is starving on the street, and no one voluntarily feeds him?”

“What if someone just can’t find a job?”

If you’re a libertarian, you face what-ifs like this all the time.  The point, normally, is to make you say, “Tough luck” and look like a monster.  What puzzles me, though, is why libertarians rarely ask analogous questions.  Like:

“What if Congress passes an unjust law, the President signs it, and the Supreme Court upholds it?”

“What if the government conscripts you to fight in an unjust war, and you die a horrible death?”

“What if a poor person drinks and gambles away his welfare check?”

“What if the government denies you permission to legally work?”

“What if the President decides your ethnicity is a national security risk and puts you in a concentration camp, and the Supreme Court declares his action constitutional?”

“What if a person lives an extremely unhealthy lifestyle, so by the time they’re retired, they’re in constant pain no matter how generous their Medicare coverage is?”

“What happens if a President lies to start a war, and voters don’t particularly care?”

Once you start the what-if game, it’s hard to stop.  Name any political system.  I can generate endless hypotheticals to aggravate its supporters.  The right lesson to draw: Every political perspective eventually has to say “Tough luck” when confronted with well-crafted what-ifs.  There’s nothing uniquely hard-hearted or cruel about libertarianism.  Defenders of democracy, nationalism, liberalism, conservatism, the American Constitution, and social democracy all eventually sigh, “Life’s not fair,” or “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

Just respect it and respect China

Saturday, February 1st, 2020

When Evan Osnos started studying Mandarin, twenty-five years ago, China’s economy was smaller than Italy’s:

It is now twenty-four times the size it was then, ranking second only to America’s, and the share of Chinese people in extreme poverty has shrunk to less than one per cent. Growth has slowed sharply, but the country still has legions of citizens vying to enter the middle class. It is estimated that a billion Chinese people have yet to board an airplane.

[...]

To a degree still difficult for outsiders to absorb, China is preparing to shape the twenty-first century, much as the U.S. shaped the twentieth. Its government is deciding which features of the global status quo to preserve and which to reject, not only in business, culture, and politics but also in such basic values as human rights, free speech, and privacy.

[...]

For nearly a century, the U.S. has been the dominant military power in the Pacific, as it has in much of the world. Xi sees this as an unacceptable intrusion. “It is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia, and uphold the security of Asia,” he has said. To achieve that, China has strengthened its military to the point that Pentagon analysts believe it could defeat U.S. forces in a confrontation along its borders.

The most anticipated moment of the day was the début of a state-of-the-art missile called the Dongfeng-41, which can travel at twenty-five times the speed of sound toward targets more than nine thousand miles away, farther than anything comparable in the American arsenal. Watching the missile roll by, Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a nationalistic state newspaper, tweeted, “No need to fear it. Just respect it and respect China.” Hu, a seasoned provocateur, added a sly jab at the travails of democracy: above a picture of the missile, he wrote that China was just fine forgoing the “good stuff” of electoral democracy on display in “Haiti, Libya, Iraq and Ukraine.”

The most intriguing unpredictable election process was probably that of the medieval Venetian Republic

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

The Venetians had a somewhat tedious way of combining voting and randomness, Nick Szabo explains, that reduced blackmail and pay-to-play political donations:

If would-be purchasers of political favors cannot predict who will win, or even who might win with substantial probability, they cannot purchase any favors prior to an election. A perfectly unpredictable election would be bribe-free.

We can’t make elections perfectly unpredictable, but we can get pretty close. There are historical and even contemporary precedents. For example, we choose jurors by lot from a pool much larger than the twelve jurors selected. This prevents wealthy plaintiffs, defendants, or governments from buying jurors through the selection process. (After selection, there are a number of legal and physical sequestering mechanisms that can be used to isolate a jury from contact with favor purchasers. As for political office, this article deals only with bribery during the selection process).

In ancient Athens, not only juries but many office-holders were selected by lot. But the most intriguing unpredictable election process was probably that of the medieval Venetian Republic. This republic helped turn a secure island into Europe’s wealthiest trading empire. In Venice, many political offices were selected by a repeated cycle of lottery, vote, …. lottery, vote. The final lottery and vote, at least, were held one after the other in the same room, giving favor purchasers no time or privacy to do their business.

I’ve mentioned unpredictable elections before, but sortition came up recently.

Intelligence and character aren’t the same things at all

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

The problem with meritocracy, T. Greer notes, isn’t the meritit’s the ocracy. He cites some passages from Andrew Yang’s book, of all places:

Intelligence and character aren’t the same things at all. Pretending that they are will lead us to ruin. The market is about to turn on many of us with little care for what separates us from each other. I’ve worked with and grown up alongside hundreds of very highly educated people for the past several decades, and trust me when I say that they are not uniformly awesome. People in the bubble think that the world is more orderly than it is. They overplan. They mistake smarts for judgment. They mistake smarts for character. They overvalue credentials. Head not heart. They need status and reassurance. They see risk as a bad thing. They optimize for the wrong things. They think in two years, not 20. They need other bubble people around. They get pissed off when others succeed. They think their smarts should determine their place in the world. They think ideas supersede action. They get agitated if they’re not making clear progress. They’re unhappy. They fear being wrong and looking silly. They don’t like to sell. They talk themselves out of having guts. They worship the market. They worry too much. Bubble people have their pluses and minuses like anyone else.

[...]

In coming years it’s going to be even harder to forge a sense of common identity across different walks of life. A lot of people who now live in the bubble grew up in other parts of the country. They still visit their families for holidays and special occasions. They were brought up middle-class in normal suburbs like I was and retain a deep familiarity with the experiences of different types of people. They loved the mall, too.

In another generation this will become less and less true. There will be an army of slender, highly cultivated products of Mountain View and the Upper East Side and Bethesda heading to elite schools that has been groomed since birth in the most competitive and rarefied environments with very limited exposure to the rest of the country.

When I was growing up, there was something of an inverse relationship between being smart and being good-looking. The smart kids were bookish and awkward and the social kids were attractive and popular. Rarely were the two sets of qualities found together in the same people. The nerd camps I went to looked the part.

Today, thanks to assortative mating in a handful of cities, intellect, attractiveness, education, and wealth are all converging in the same families and neighborhoods. I look at my friends’ children, and many of them resemble unicorns: brilliant, beautiful, socially precocious creatures who have gotten the best of all possible resources since the day they were born. I imagine them in 10 or 15 years traveling to other parts of the country, and I know that they are going to feel like, and be received as, strangers in a strange land. They will have thriving online lives and not even remember a car that didn’t drive itself. They may feel they have nothing in common with the people before them. Their ties to the greater national fabric will be minimal. Their empathy and desire to subsidize and address the distress of the general public will likely be lower and lower.

A strong state is distinct from a very large or tyrannical state

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Tyler Cowen suggests that smart classical liberals and libertarians have, as if guided by an invisible hand, evolved into State Capacity Libertarians, which he defines via these propositions:

1. Markets and capitalism are very powerful, give them their due.

2. Earlier in history, a strong state was necessary to back the formation of capitalism and also to protect individual rights (do read Koyama and Johnson on state capacity). Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets.

[...]

3. A strong state is distinct from a very large or tyrannical state. A good strong state should see the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties, in many cases its #1 duty.

4. Rapid increases in state capacity can be very dangerous (earlier Japan, Germany), but high levels of state capacity are not inherently tyrannical. Denmark should in fact have a smaller government, but it is still one of the freer and more secure places in the world, at least for Danish citizens albeit not for everybody.

5. Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity. Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending.

[...]

6. I will cite again the philosophical framework of my book Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.

7. The fundamental growth experience of recent decades has been the rise of capitalism, markets, and high living standards in East Asia, and State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem or embarrassment in endorsing those developments.

[...]

8. The major problem areas of our time have been Africa and South Asia. They are both lacking in markets and also in state capacity.

9. State Capacity Libertarians are more likely to have positive views of infrastructure, science subsidies, nuclear power (requires state support!), and space programs than are mainstream libertarians or modern Democrats.

[...]

10. State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem endorsing higher quality government and governance, whereas traditional libertarianism is more likely to embrace or at least be wishy-washy toward small, corrupt regimes, due to some of the residual liberties they leave behind.

11. State Capacity Libertarianism is not non-interventionist in foreign policy, as it believes in strong alliances with other relatively free nations, when feasible. That said, the usual libertarian “problems of intervention because government makes a lot of mistakes” bar still should be applied to specific military actions. But the alliances can be hugely beneficial, as illustrated by much of 20th century foreign policy and today much of Asia — which still relies on Pax Americana.

A concerned citizen is largely helpless

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

In Loserthink Scott Adams cites a celebrity’s global warming climate change tweet as an example of a bright person talking about something without training in economics or business:

Now let’s say you had experience in economics and business, as I do. In those domains, anyone telling you they can predict the future in ten years with their complicated multivariate models is automatically considered a fraud.

[...]

You might be debating me in your mind right now and thinking that, unlike the field of finance, the scientific process drives out bias over time. Studies are peer reviewed, and experiments that can’t be reproduced are discarded.

Is that what is happening?

Here I draw upon my sixteen years working in corporate America. If my job involved reviewing a complicated paper from a peer, how much checking of the data and the math would I do when I am already overworked? Would I travel to the original measuring instruments all over the world and check their calibrations? Would I compare the raw data to the “adjusted” data that is used in the paper? Would I do a deep dive on the math and reasoning, or would I skim it for obvious mistakes? Unless scientists are a different kind of human being than the rest of us, they would intelligently cut corners whenever they think they could get away with it, just like everyone else. Assuming scientists are human, you would expect lots of peer-reviewed studies to be flawed. And that turns out to be the situation. As the New York Times reported in 2018, the peer review process is defective to the point of being laughable.

[...]

My point is that a concerned citizen is largely helpless in trying to understand how settled the science of climate change really is. But that doesn’t stop us from having firm opinions on the topic.

[...]

Whenever you have a lot of money in play, combined with the ability to hide misbehavior behind complexity, you should expect widespread fraud to happen. Take, for example, the 2019 Duke University settlement in which the university agreed to pay $112.5 million for repeatedly submitting research grant requests with falsified data. Duke had a lot of grant money at stake, and lots of complexity in which to hide bad behavior. Fraud was nearly guaranteed.

If you have been on this planet for a long time, as I have, and you pay attention to science, you know that the consensus of scientists on the topic of nutrition was wrong for decades.

[...]

Over time, it became painfully obvious to me that nutrition science wasn’t science at all. It was some unholy marriage of industry influence, junk science, and government. Any one of those things is bad, but when you put those three forces together, people die. That isn’t hyperbole. Bad nutrition science has probably killed a lot of people in the past few decades.

If they don’t turn up to school, it doesn’t make the slightest difference

Friday, November 15th, 2019

You often hear people lament that children should be allowed to roam free. Ed West’s radical proposal is that child labour should be reintroduced:

But it only sounds radical because we associate child labour with past times of extreme poverty and poor working conditions. For my generation it’s Rik from The Young Ones castigating an elderly woman about the “good old days” when you had “four-year-old kiddies digging coal”. And those days were indeed awful. Dan Jackson’s brilliant recent book The Northumbrians recalled the heart-breaking tragedy of the 1862 Hartley Mining Disaster where the bodies of young boys were found with their tiny arms around their brothers.

Not even an ironic reactionary like me would lament the decline of infant mortality and workplace fatalities brought about by health and safety legislation. We obviously wouldn’t allow children to do dangerous work in factories today, and many of the most horrific roles once done by kids are obsolete anyway.

[...]

But for children a bit older, the working environment allows them to interact with adults, adopt adult social norms and learn skills when their brain is rapidly absorbing information. They could also earn money at a time in life they really want it.

I suspect that a lot of teenage crime in London exists because boys reach an age when they want disposable income but there’s no way for them to legally earn it. They’re also mentally and physically under-stimulated by schoolwork they know brings them little tangible benefit. (This is arguably more acute among boys because they’re generally more goal-driven, respond when stakes are high, and easily give up when they’re not). Instead, during those crucial developmental years, they often learn negative behaviour through frustration and drift, so that by the time they’re finally allowed to enter the labour force, they’re already unsuited to it.

At the moment, almost half a million people aged 16-24 are unemployed, but many might not be, if they’d been allowed to start work a bit earlier — with a lower minimum wage. Experience would make them more attractive to employers; it would also get them in the habit of work, so they’d be more likely to adjust to working quickly and stick to it.

Prolonged education also cuts adolescents off from wider society. One of the worst aspects of British society — and where it contrasts poorly with Catholic cultures like Italy or Ireland (still, just about) — is that we have a great deal of generational separation. Young people benefit from working and socialising among those older than them, not only because they’re a calming influence but because they can subtly instruct them on how to behave.

Working young helps insulate children from one of the biggest pitfalls of modern life: extended or even permanent adolescence, which happens when people learn responsibility too late. It also helps a person form a place in a society. Not having enough money is pretty much the worst thing in the world — and reducing poverty should be the central “social justice” aim of governments — but not having a role or purpose is almost as bad.

Teenage boys like to feel needed. This really hit me a few years back when during an unexpected snowfall — there hadn’t been snow in London for well over a decade — all the cars in our area were stuck, and the drivers, many of them mothers with children, stranded. It was obvious that the boys on their way home from the nearby secondary school loved all this — for once, wider society actually needed them.

Having a job, going to an office and earning money — and with it the opportunity to work, and earn, even more — gives teenagers a role. If they don’t turn up for work, the company suffers; if they don’t turn up to school, it doesn’t make the slightest difference except for the purpose of government statistics.