The Pashtun culture may be the world’s most dysfunctional

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Steve Sailer takes the release of Brad Pitt’s new movie, War Machine, on Netflix as a jumping-off point for discussing Afghanistan, then and now:

Just as Serbia resembles an outpost of Russian culture in southern Europe, Afghanistan is culturally similar to Arabia, if the Arabs were all smoking meth. The Pashtun culture, centered in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, may be the world’s most dysfunctional. Here are some of their proverbs:

The Pukhtun is never at peace, except when he is at war.

One’s own mother and sister are disgusting.

When the floodwaters reach your chin, put your son beneath your feet.

The horribleness of indigenous Pashtun culture might explain why the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban are seen by locals not as savages but, due to their strict obedience to the Koran, as moral exemplars. Muhammad might have married a 9-year-old, but at least she was a girl. For example, pederasty, or bacha bazi (“dancing boys), is so common among the Pashtuns that American troops were told they had to ignore sex abuse of minors for the good of the alliance. In contrast, one of the precipitating events of the Taliban’s rise to power in the mid-1990s was a small civil war between two non-Taliban warlords over a boy they both fancied. A Taliban squad under Mullah Omar rescued the boy, which raised their reputation.

Many education interventions are either harmful or costly

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Education Realist notes some harmful interventions and costly interventions in education:

Harmful interventions:

  1. Ending tracking
  2. De-emphasizing demonstrated test scores on difficult tests in favor of grades.
  3. Increased legal protections for discipline disasters.

Of the first two, neither have done anything to improve achievement or access. Both have done tremendous damage to high achievers. Caveat: most people think of helping high achievers via coverage (learning faster) but in fact, this has been the most damaging aspect of the changes. Kids are only able to demonstrate ability by the age at which they take a particular math course, and so you have sophomores taking 1st year calculus classes and memorizing enough to pass an AP test without particularly understanding the underlying math.

No, the cost to high achievers is that we aren’t pushing them hard because we can’t, because GPA means so much that teachers can’t create a proper leveling schema. I taught trig. Five kids never showed up regularly, so they got Fs. Other kids worked hard despite having no understanding of the concept in a class they had no choice but to take, so they got Ds. Others had some limited understanding and could successfully do about half the work, so there’s your C. And so on.

And that’s in math. Things are far worse in literature and history, so that even top students are often terrible writers and teachers can’t even begin to address it in classes where the bottom students can’t even read and everyone’s using Schmoop or Sparcnotes to get the short version. We can’t have classes just for bright kids and give hard workers of merely adequate performance in a tough class a C for trying, because that C will do tremendous damage to those kids without the context of a test score.

The third is causing tremendous damage in low income schools, as well as creating more segregation as parents who can leave do. (I get annoyed at people who blame teachers for reduced discipline. It’s a specific policy demand forced on us by the state.)

Costly interventions:

Special education now gives additional money to 1 out of 8 kids and we see nothing for it. Special ed means different things. (1) The severely retarded, who cost hundreds of thousands to educate and should not be part of public school. It’s free childcare service for 16 years, at which point we then dump the kid over to a different state budget. (2)Then there’s the low IQ kids, what we always meant by special ed, who get relatively little in services. (3) Then there’s the emotionally damaged kids who can’t function in regular classes despite no IQ problems. (4) Then there’s the kids with a real disability (blind, wheelchair bound) who get access and aids. (5) Then there’s everyone with a “learning disability” — the fastest growing group. Only 2 and 4 were originally intended by the special ed category. We should dump 5 entirely, create centralized institutions for 1 and 3. 2 and 4 would still cost a lot, but at least they were intended to be addressed by K-12 ed.

We spend billions on “English language instruction,” which hasn’t one meaning. In schools like mine, it means free English lessons for immigrant kids who just got here — mandatory lessons that are often frustrating to bright kids whose English is adequate to work in academic courses (and far better than the bottom third in each course) but aren’t allowed because the “get me out of ELL” score is ridiculously high. In more homogenous schools, it means running half the classes in (usually) Spanish, because ELL from the 60s on was designed on the expectation that ELL kids would be illegal immigrants from across the border.

So the things that do actual harm aren’t extremely expensive, and the things that are a waste of time don’t so much do harm as create hugely expensive systems to support kids that aren’t improving their education and often given tremendous support to kids who just got here while not offering that service (enrichment) to citizens who might benefit from it.

A couple years ago he put forward five education policy proposals for 2016 presidential politics.

Ceremony is central to the creation of civilization

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Longtime friend of the blog Aretae has another book out. It’s called Ceremony: A Profound New Method for Achieving Successful and Sustainable Change:

Secreted away inside of weddings, graduations, religious services, and sporting events are powerful ceremonial techniques for dramatically increasing human performance — ways to increase productivity, strengthen relationships, and effectively manage change.

Ceremony is central to the creation of civilization. It is an intrinsic tool in religions, militaries, schools, and governments. Yet executives, entrepreneurs, and front-line managers cannot formally describe what it is, how it works, or how to leverage it in their organizations.

Surprisingly, ceremony as a conscious organizing strategy remains almost unknown in the business world. It has been ignored by an entire generation of business consultants. But there is hope. For two decades, the agile software development community has been quietly demonstrating the power of directed ceremony. In this book, we share insights gathered over the last two decades, first on agile software teams and later across entire organizations.

Does your staff come to work because they love what they do, or simply because they are paid? Ceremony builds a workplace people love.

Do people look forward to attending meetings, or do they sneak out of them at the first opportunity? Ceremony creates productive gatherings people want to attend.

Are you able to implement significant change rapidly, or do a whole generation of employees need to retire before real change succeeds? Ceremony enables quick, painless, and effective change.

Do you need to raise productivity, improve quality, and reduce costs, all at the same time? Ceremony is a strategy for doing all three. And it can be implemented in tiny, incremental, low-risk steps.

Ceremonial systems are humanity’s true heritage; rediscover their power.

Why were there so many Jews in SDS?

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Mark Rudd explains why there were so many Jews in Students for a Democratic Society:

I got to Columbia University as a freshman, age 18, in September, 1965, a few months after the United States attacked Vietnam with main force troops. There I found a small but vibrant anti-war movement. In my first semester I was recruited by David Gilbert, a senior who had written a pamphlet on imperialism for national SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. David was one of the founders of the Columbia SDS chapter, along with John Fuerst, the chapter Chairman. Both were Jewish, of course, as were my mentors and friends, Michael Josefowicz, Harvey Blume, Michael Neumann, and John Jacobs. Ted Kaptchuk and Ted Gold were Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Columbia SDS the year before I was elected Chairman, along with my Vice-Chairman, Nick Freudenberg. All of us were Jewish. It’s hard to remember the names of non-Jewish Columbia SDS’ers; it was as much a Jewish fraternity as Sammie. There were probably a greater proportion of gentile women than guys in SDS, and of course I got to know them.

Out of all the uncountable hours of discussion in SDS meetings, at the West End Bar over beer, and in our dorm rooms and apartments over joints, I don’t remember one single conversation in which we discussed the fact that so many of us were Jewish. This glaring lack alone might serve as a clue to what we were up to: by being radicals we thought we could escape our Jewishness. Left-wing radicalism was internationalist, not narrow nationalist; it favored the oppressed and the workers, not the privileged and elites, which our families were striving toward. Moreover, we were New Leftists, having rejected the sectarianism and cant of the Old Left, which, of course was dominated by Jews.

My friends in SDS taught me, quite correctly, that the world was in revolt against U.S. domination. That was why the Vietnamese were fighting so hard. I learned to admire the Vietnamese and the Cubans and the Chinese and the Russian peasants who had stood up to make a new society. Identifying with the oppressed seemed to me at Columbia and since a natural Jewish value, though one we never spoke of as being Jewish. We were socialists and internationalists first. I myself joined the cult of Che Guevara, putting posters of him on my apartment wall and aching to be a revolutionary hero like him. He wasn’t very Jewish, incidentally.

But World War II and the holocaust were our fixed reference points. This was only twenty years after the end of the war. We often talked about the moral imperative to not be Good Germans. Many of my older comrades had mobilized for the civil rights movement; we were all anti-racists. We saw American racism as akin to German racism toward the Jews. As we learned more about the war, we discovered that killing Vietnamese en masse was of no moral consequence to American war planners. So we started describing the war as racist genocide, reflecting the genocide of the holocaust. American imperialist goals around the world were to us little different from the Nazi goal of global conquest. If you really didn’t like somebody — and we loathed President Lyndon B. Johnson — you might call him a fascist.

Columbia SDS adopted an intelligent strategy of protesting the war by opposing the university’s involvement with it. Over a three year period we exposed the University’s claims of being “value-neutral” by pointing to Columbia’s Naval ROTC program, its allowing Marine and CIA and Dow Chemical recruiting, and, finally, the defense-oriented research work of the Institute for Defense Analysis consortium, of which Columbia was a leading — and secret — member. Support for the anti-war position among students and faculty gradually grew as the war escalated and as the SDS chapter engaged in continual educational activities and confrontations. The conflict with the university over the war and racism came to a head in the massive rebellion and strike of April-May, 1968.

What outraged me and my comrades so much about Columbia, along with its hypocrisy, was the air of genteel civility. Or should I say gentile? Despite the presence of so many Jews in the faculty and among the students — geographical distribution in the admissions process had not been effective at filtering us out, our SAT’s and class-rank being so high — the place was dripping with goyishness. When I got there freshmen still wore blue blazers and ties and drank sherry at afternoon socials with the deans. At the top of the Columbia heap sat President Grayson Kirk and Vice-President David Truman, two consummate liberal WASP’s who privately claimed to oppose the war but maintained the institution’s support of it.

In an infamous rabble-rousing speech I made in the course of one the confrontations on campus, I referred to President Grayson Kirk as “that shithead.” Certainly I reveled in my role of head barbarian within the gates. But also I wanted to de-throne the President of Columbia University in the minds of my fellow students. It worked.

More than twenty years ago I read a book called, “The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss and the Jewish Struggle With Modernity.” The author, an Irish-American sociologist named John Murray Cuddihy, advances a fascinating theory on the origins of Marxism and Freudianism. Jews were newly emancipated, that is, given legal and political rights, in Western Europe in the mid to late nineteenth century. But even bourgeois Jews were still excluded from civil society by customs and especially by manners. As Jewish (or formerly Jewish) outsiders ostensibly allowed in, but not really, Marx and Freud brought critical eyes to European bourgeois society. Marx said, in effect, “You think you’ve got yourself a fine little democracy here, well let me tell you about the class exploitation and misery that’s underlying it.” Similarly, Freud exposed the seamy, sexuality-driven motives, the up-raised penises controlling the unconscious minds of civilized, well-mannered bourgeois society.

We Jews at Columbia — and I would guess at colleges throughout the country — brought the same outsider view to the campuses we had been allowed into. We were peasant children right out of the shtetls of New Jersey and Queens screaming, “You want to know the truth about Columbia University, they’re a bunch of liberal imperialists! They claim to be value-neutral but when we asked them to stop their research for the Vietnam War and their racist expansion into the Harlem community, they not only ignored us, but they called out the cops to beat us up and arrest us. Up against the wall, motherfucker, this is a stickup!” Morally and emotionally we could not fit into the civilized world of the racist, defense-oriented modern university. Such was our ordeal of civility.

Political violence is a game the Right can’t win

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

If there’s one thing righties believe, it’s that they could beat lefties in a fight, David Hines says, yet political violence is a game the Right can’t win:

The first thing righties have to understand about Lefties is that lefties have a lot more practice building their own institutions, and assuming control of existing institutions, than their counterparts on the right do, and they share their practical experience with each other. Righties who like to build churches will build a church and worship in it. Lefties who like to build churches will build a church, write a book telling people how to build churches, go out and convince people church-building is the thing to do, run workshops on how to finance, build, and register churches, and then they’ll offer to arrange church guest speakers who’ll come preach the Lefty line.

Righties need to do a better job of teaching each other. And not just teaching the right-winger closest to them. The most organized groups on the Right are the pro-life and RKBA activists; everybody else on the Right should be learning from them.

The second thing to understand about Lefties is how they actually function. There’s a lot of independence involved. Righties like hierarchy, so often think of the Lefties as taking marching orders from George Soros or whoever in a very hierarchical fashion. Not so much. A lot of left-wing organization is very decentralized, and they negotiate with other lefty groups as to exactly how they’ll do things and time things to not hurt each others’ work, so the labor movement’s march is not derailed by black-bloc window-smashing (see, for example, DIRECT ACTION, L.A. Kauffman’s excellent history of the Left from the 60s on).

The Lefties call that approach “embracing a diversity of tactics,” which, taken to its logical extent, is a weasel-worded way of saying that the lefty mainstream is comfortable with radical leftist violence. People don’t like to talk about this much. But while it’s impossible to imagine, say, an abortion clinic bomber getting a cushy job at an elite university, that’s exactly what happened to a number of alumni of the 1970s leftist terror group known as the Weather Underground. As fugitives, they were financially and operationally supported by members of the National Lawyers’ Guild; afterward, they were so normalized that the 9/11 issue of The New York Times infamously ran a profile lauding Weatherman alumnus Bill Ayres. By contrast, right-wing terrorist Eric Rudolph’s fugitive days were spent hiding in the wilderness because no one would help him. He was caught literally dumpster-diving for food. Potential right-wing extremists face opportunity costs that their left-wing counterparts do not.

Righties frequently make allegations of paid protestors when Lefties get a bunch of people together. Again, that’s not how it works. Think of Lefty protests as being like a Grateful Dead concert. People absolutely got paid at a Grateful Dead concert: the band got paid, and the roadies got paid. But the Deadheads who followed the band around didn’t get paid. They weren’t roadies, they weren’t the band; they were there because they loved the music.

Lefties are excellent at protests, not because they pay seat-fillers, but because they’ve professionalized organizing them, as you’ll discover if you read any of their books. The protestors aren’t paid. The organizers are paid. The people who train the organizers and protestors are paid. Basically, the way the Lefty protest movement works is sort of like if the Koch brothers subsidized prepping and firearms classes.

Left-wingers have a combination of centralized and decentralized infrastructure, because they have different kinds of groups. Some groups use centralized organization: they’ll go out tabling, recruit people, trying to grow big. Other groups, particularly anarchists, favor a decentralized approach, where actions are performed by the collaborative actions of multiple small cells called affinity groups.

The affinity group structure began in Spain: anarchists there organized themselves into small groups of very close friends who knew each other very well, because such small groups were difficult to infiltrate. Even if they were infiltrated, exposing one group wouldn’t blow the whole organization.

The American Left picked up on affinity groups in the late 1960s. They started as a means for organizing protests and turned into a means of organizing movements. To coordinate, they send members back and forth to spokescouncils. The idea is to create a very collaborative discussion. This is partly due to the influence on the modern hard Left by Quaker organizers — if you remember those lengthy Occupy meetings that just went on and on and on, it’s because that’s how decision-making is done in Quaker meetings, and Quaker organizers taught the technique to Lefties in the ’70s anti-nuclear movement. And it spread, because lefties in different movements talk to each other and work together all the time.

By contrast, righty organizations have historically been slow to organize. When they do, right-wing activists tend to stay in their own lanes and not work together, share notes, or reach out to one another’s followers. Think about the mishmash of signs you typically see at a Lefty protest, and then try to remember the last time you saw, say, an RKBA sign at a pro-life rally. More unfortunately, when righties do become active, they tend to do something like start a blog. Or make a YouTube channel. Or write a magazine article. In short, they become street-corner evangelists. They tend not to do things in meatspace.

Lefties do the work in the real world. Guess who wins?

The recent Battles of Berkeley have shown that right-wing defense groups can acquit themselves admirably in street-fights, but hard experience has taught Lefties that an all-one-tactic mentality is a good way to give your opponents time to figure out how to counter you. If righties going to build things, they need to look at how the lefties are doing it, because they’ve been working on it for forty years. To paraphrase Trotsky, you may not be interested in politics, but politics are interested in you — and you can learn a lot from the people who’ve been working them to their advantage.

The null hypothesis is not an iron law

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Statistically, educational interventions tend to affect resource allocation much more than outcomes, Arnold Kling reminds us, so, for educational interventions within roughly the current institutional setting, the null hypothesis is not an iron law, but it is an empirical regularity. This led me to add:

What stands out to me is just how little variation we see between schooling options. Public schools are all run on the same basic plan. Catholic schools are too, but with stricter discipline. Private schools aren’t much different, but with a wealthier clientele.

Only a few niche alternatives, such as Montessori and Waldorf, offer something truly different, and they obviously attract unusual families.

All because of a failure of nerve

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Theodore Dalrymple was recently accosted by a canvasser for the local Labour Party candidate:

The canvasser was a pleasant lady, and I stopped to discuss educational policy with her. Both main political parties think that more money should be allocated to schools. I said that I did not believe that the abysmally low level of education and culture in much of the country was caused by a lack of money. We spend, on average, $100,000 on a child’s education and yet an uncomfortably large proportion of our children leave school with reading and math skills below those stipulated for 11-year-olds. Moreover, the proportion of such people has remained more or less constant for the last 40 years, despite vastly increased expenditure. The problem, therefore, is not lack of funds, as the canvasser’s party pretended that it was, but something much deeper and harder to solve.

The canvasser was a retired teacher who had taken her retirement as soon as she was able, largely because of the immense number of irrelevant, time-consuming, boring, and intellectually dishonest bureaucratic procedures imposed upon teachers — procedures funded, as it happens, by the increases in education spending.

It also so happened that her daughter was a teacher but had quit after an unpleasant incident. She had given a 14-year-old boy a punishment for bad behavior — he was to stay in school for an extra hour. That night, the boy’s 19-year-old brother came to the teacher’s house and began to smash her car. She was frightened and called the police, who removed the perpetrator from the scene but otherwise did nothing — because, of course, nothing would have been done higher up the criminal- justice chain had they done something: so why bother?

The canvasser’s daughter did not return to teaching. She had undergone what psychologists call one-trial learning. She had taken the opportunity to get a master’s degree and find employment within the educational bureaucracy, into which no misbehaving child might obtrude.

I mentioned that many teachers who had been patients of mine had told me that if they complained to parents of their children’s behavior, the parents blamed the teachers and even became aggressive toward them. This was true in her experience, too, said the teacher.

We agreed, therefore, that there was a profound cultural and moral malaise in the country. The clear implication was that it had nothing whatever to do with insufficient government spending. The schools don’t teach and the police don’t protect, all because of a failure of nerve. We parted amicably, I to my shopping, she to canvassing on behalf of a political party that maintains that all problems arise from lack of government expenditure, problems that will somehow be solved by taxing the rich.

At the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Dániel Oláh looks back at the economic ideas of Ibn Khaldun — who is better known to most of us for his notion of assabiya, or social cohesion:

He states that the division of labor serves as the basis for any civilized society and identifies division of labor not only on the factory level but also in a social and international context as well. Khaldun highlights on the example of obtaining grain that division of labor creates surplus value: “Thus, he cannot do without a combination of many powers from among his fellow beings, if he is to obtain food for himself and for them. Through cooperation, the needs of a number of persons, many times greater than their own (number), can be satisfied” (Khaldun p. 87).

His example of the division of production process is completely forgotten by economists and it’s not less expressive than the pin factory of Smith: “such include, for instance, the use of carvings for doors and chairs. Or one skillfully turns and shapes pieces of wood in a lathe, and then one puts these pieces together, so that they appear to the eye to be of one piece” (Khaldun p. 519). What is more: opposed to Smith, Khaldun doesn’t make any distinction between productive and unproductive work.

Based on this it’s easy to understand that Ibn Khaldun presented very similar ideas as Adam Smith, but hundreds of years before the Western philosopher. But Khaldun said even more about the economy.

He analyzed markets which arise based on the division of labor and examined market forces in a simple didactic way which is very similar to the attitude of Alfred Marshall. The invention of supply and demand analysis wasn’t invented in the 19th century: the islamic scholar also described the relationship of demand and supply, and also took the role of inventories and merchandise trade into account. He divided the economy into three parts (production, trade and public sector) since the market prices in his theory include wages, profits and taxes (Boulakia 1971). At the same time he analyzed market for goods, labor and land as well. This structured approach led Khaldun to invent the labor theory of value, which makes the islamic scholar a pre-marxian (or classical) thinker in this sense (Oweiss, 1988).

His idea, that the produced value is zero if the labor input is zero seems surprisingly classical, far ahead of his time.

In the dynamic Khaldunian model of economic development, the government plays a crucial role. Its policies, primarily taxation has a great effect on the development of a civilization. After the nomadic way of life tribes change to sedentary lifestyle, giving birth to urban civilization. The sedentary lifestyle demolishes the original group solidarity and creates a need for a new clientele. Creating a new group identity is costly and needs a new army as well.

So with the deepening of urban civilization, and thanks to the increasing luxurious needs of the dynasty, the ruler has to increase taxes. In the end, tax rates become so high that the economy collapses. “It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments” (Khaldun p. 352) — writes Khaldun, describing the micro incentives behind taxation as well. On the other hand, he rejects customs and government involvement in trade since the economic-political power of government is disproportionately large.

These ideas are so unique in the Middle Ages, that even Ronald Reagan quoted Khaldun’s work stating that they had some friends in common, referring to Arthur Laffer. The reason for this was that even Laffer himself regarded Khaldun as a forerunner of supply-side economics and the Laffer-curve, although Khaldunian ideas have not much in common with the Laffer-curve. The reason is that these should be interpreted in time dimension rather than as a policy rule of thumb.

The war for our minds is waged over neither facts nor opinions

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

The war for our minds and attention is now increasingly being waged over neither facts nor opinions, but feelings, and one weapon in this war, Eric R. Weinstein explains, is the Russell Conjugation:

Russell Conjugation (or “emotive conjugation”) is a presently obscure construction from linguistics, psychology and rhetoric which demonstrates how our rational minds are shielded from understanding the junior role factual information generally plays relative to empathy in our formation of opinions. I frequently suggest it as perhaps the most important idea with which almost no one seems to be familiar, as it showed me just how easily my opinions could be manipulated without any need to falsify facts. Historically, the idea is not new and seems to have been first defined by several examples given by Bertrand Russell in 1948 on the BBC without much follow up work, until it was later rediscovered in the internet age and developed into a near data-driven science by pollster Frank Luntz beginning in the early 1990s.

In order to understand the concept properly you have to appreciate that most words and phrases are actually defined not by a single dictionary description, but rather two distinct attributes:

I) The factual content of the word or phrase.

II) The emotional content of the construction.

Where words can be considered “synonyms” if they carry the same factual content (I) regardless of the emotional content (II). This however leads to the peculiar effect that the synonyms for a positive word like “whistle-blower” cannot be used in its place as they are almost universally negative (with “snitch,” “fink,” “tattletale” being representative examples). This is our first clue that something is wrong, or at least incomplete with our concept of synonym requiring an upgrade to distinguish words that may be content synonyms but emotional antonyms.

The basic principle of Russell Conjugation is that the human mind is constantly looking ahead well beyond what is true or false to ask “What is the social consequence of accepting the facts as they are?”  While this line of thinking is obviously self-serving, we are descended from social creatures who could not safely form opinions around pure facts so much as around how those facts are presented to us by those we ape, trust or fear. Thus, as listeners and readers our minds generally mirror the emotional state of the source, while in our roles as authoritative narrators presenting the facts, we maintain an arsenal of language to subliminally instruct our listeners and readers on how we expect them to color their perceptions. Russell discussed this by putting three such presentations of a common underlying fact in the form in which a verb is typically conjugated:

I am firm. [Positive empathy]

You are obstinate. [Neutral to mildly negative empathy]

He/She/It is pigheaded.  [Very negative empathy]

In all three cases, Russell was describing people who did not readily change their minds. Yet by putting these descriptions so close together and without further factual information to separate the individual cases, we were forced to confront the fact that most of us feel positively towards the steadfast narrator and negatively towards the pigheaded fool, all without any basis in fact.

Years later, the data-driven pollster Frank Luntz stumbled on much the same concept unaware of Russell’s earlier construction.  By holding focus-groups with new real time technology that let participants share emotional responses to changes in authoritative language, Luntz was lead to make a stunning discovery that pushed Russell’s construction out of the realm of linguistics and into the realm of applied psychology. What he found was extraordinary: many if not most people form their opinions based solely on whatever Russell conjugation is presented to them and not on the underlying facts. That is, the very same person will oppose a “death tax” while having supported an “estate tax” seconds earlier even though these taxes are two descriptions of the exact same underlying object. Further, such is the power of emotive conjugation that we are generally not even aware that we hold such contradictory opinions. Thus “Illegal aliens” and “undocumented immigrants” may be the same people, but the former label leads to calls for deportation while the latter one instantly causes many of us to consider amnesty programs and paths to citizenship.

If we accept that Russell Conjugation keeps us from even seeing that we do not hold consistent opinions on facts, we see a possible new answer to a puzzle that dates from the birth of the web: “If the internet democratized information, why has its social impact been so much slower than many of us expected?” Assuming that our actions are based not on what we know but upon how we feel about what we know, we see that traditional media has all but lost control of gate-keeping our information, but not yet how it is emotively shaded.

Few left Alsace-Lorraine

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Bryan Caplan thinks that expressive voting explains the lack of emigration from Alsace-Lorraine after it became Elsass-Lothringen:

In 1871, the German Empire annexed the French territory of Alsace-Lorraine, known to the Germans as Elsass-Lothringen.  The inhabitants were overwhelmingly German-speaking, but most clearly resented absorption into the new German Empire.  What is striking, however, is how differently this resentment expressed itself in voting versus actual behavior.

For their first five elections, over 90% of the new citizens of the Second Reich voted for “autonomists” — anti-Prussian regional parties.  Their ultimate goal, pretty clearly, was to rejoin France.  Beginning in 1890, autonomists rapidly lost support to the Social Democrats (and, to a lesser extent, the Conservatives).  But even in 1912, autonomists remained the plurality party of Alsace-Lorraine.

Given this near-unanimous political resentment against German annexation, you might think that the people of Alsace-Lorraine would be leaving in droves — or at least struggling mightily to do so.  The reality was quite different.  While they were free to escape German rule by selling out and moving a few miles over the border, few chose to do so:

The Treaty of Frankfurt gave the residents of the region until October 1, 1872 to choose between emigrating to France or remaining in the region and having their nationality legally changed to German. By 1876, about 100,000 or 5% of the residents of Alsace-Lorraine had emigrated to France.


To rationalize the divergence between voting and emigration, you need something like Brennan and Lomasky’s expressive voting theory. The essence of the theory: When people decide how to vote, their main goal is to express their support for what sounds good. When people decide where to live, however, they focus on practicalities, not symbolism.

He misses the point that ordinary folks aren’t atomistic cosmopolitans, as commenter Fazal Majid points out:

I’m sorry, but this article is spectacularly callous. Most people feel a visceral attachment to their homeland. Involuntary exile, even self-exile, is incredibly painful for those concerned, and leaves lasting scars.

Shane L. said something similar:

I tend to agree with Fazal here: leaving home means abandoning family, friends, community, and also livelihood. Surely many inhabitants of 19th century Alsace-Lorraine were farmers? If so, their incomes were probably reliant on their lands too.

Finally there could be a sense of bitter nationalist defiance. Inhabitants might have deliberately wanted to remain on land they considered their own, to spite the invaders, and hoping (correctly, as it turned out) that it would be returned to France in due course.

Hansjörg Walther shared some German insights:

Alsace-Lorraine was the only “Reichsland” which meant it was directly subordinate to the Emperor and not a real state of the German federation with a government. Only in 1911 did it get a parliament of its own and also representatives in the “Bundesrat” (representation of the states).

The elections are for the German parliament. So the most you could hope for was that a block of Alsatian deputies could under certain circumstances obtain some concessions. And then you could also signal to the French that you were still waiting to be redeemed.

The good point of not being a state was that you also did not have to pay state taxes, which usually were higher than taxes on the Reich level. That made it also attractive for “Altdeutsche” (Germans from the old parts of Germany) to move to the region, which may also explain part of the shift to “reichsfreundlich” (friendly to the Reich) parties later on.

They wanted their land back the way it was. No individual could recreate home somewhere else.

If liberty means anything at all

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

Thomas E. Ricks’ new book, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, notes that, although the two never met, their paths ran parallel in many ways:

Significantly, both were estranged from their fathers. Orwell remembered his as “a gruff-voiced elderly man forever saying ‘Don’t’” (the source, Ricks contends, of his lifelong skepticism of authority). Churchill’s father continually and publicly expressed his disappointment in him. “A son who could survive such an upbringing would either be thoroughly damaged or, with some luck, enormously self-confident,” Ricks asserts. “Churchill was very lucky.”

Neither went to university; instead, both went off in service of the Empire. For reasons that remain obscure, the anti-authoritarian Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police, serving in Burma; Churchill served as a cavalry officer in India. After their service (and during, in Churchill’s case), both became war correspondents. And both almost died well before they rose to greatness — a term Ricks unabashedly applies to both, although he is not unmindful of their failings and blind spots.

But Ricks wisely skims lightly over the early years of his subjects and, with Churchill, his ineffectual later years, as well, focusing instead on the “fulcrum point,” the 1930s and 1940s, when both men were frequently lonely voices in the wilderness. As authoritarianism rose across the globe, faith in democracy wavered, particularly among the intelligentsia in Britain (and the U.S.): Striking a deal with Hitler struck many as the only pragmatic possibility. On the left, many were willing to turn a blind eye to Stalin’s death squads in the service of the Revolution. Orwell and Churchill “led the way, politically and intellectually, in responding to the twin threats of fascism and communism.”

Thus both men spoke out eloquently against abuse of power; both refused to bend the facts in service of ideology; both insisted on “the need to assert that high officials might be in error — most especially when those in power believe strongly they are not.” In Orwell’s words, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Nick Szabo’s security through obscurity takes a hit

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Tim Ferriss calls Nick Szabo the quiet master of cryptocurrency.

Hipster libertarian-neoreactionaries may be tempted to say, “I only like old Unenumerated, before Szabo sold out.”

Erik Prince recommends the MacArthur model for Afghanistan

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Afghanistan is an expensive disaster for America, argues Erik Prince. He recommends the MacArthur model:

The Pentagon has already consumed $828 billion on the war, and taxpayers will be liable for trillions more in veterans’ health-care costs for decades to come. More than 2,000 American soldiers have died there, with more than 20,000 wounded in action. For all that effort, Afghanistan is failing. The terrorist cohort consistently gains control of more territory, including key economic arteries. It’s time for President Trump to fix our approach to Afghanistan in five ways.

First, he should consolidate authority in Afghanistan with one person: an American viceroy who would lead all U.S. government and coalition efforts — including command, budget, policy, promotion and contracting — and report directly to the president. As it is, there are too many cooks in the kitchen — and the cooks change shift annually. The coalition has had 17 different military commanders in the past 15 years, which means none of them had time to develop or be held responsible for a coherent strategy.

A better approach would resemble Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s leadership of postwar Japan. Given clear multiyear authority, MacArthur made bold moves like repealing restrictive speech laws and granting property rights. Those directives moved Japan ahead by centuries. In Afghanistan, the viceroy approach would reduce rampant fraud by focusing spending on initiatives that further the central strategy, rather than handing cash to every outstretched hand from a U.S. system bereft of institutional memory.

Second, Mr. Trump should authorize his viceroy to set rules of engagement in collaboration with the elected Afghan government to make better decisions, faster. Troops fighting for their lives should not have to ask a lawyer sitting in air conditioning 500 miles away for permission to drop a bomb. Our plodding, hand wringing and overcaution have prolonged the war — and the suffering it bears upon the Afghan population. Give the leadership on the ground the authority and responsibility to finish the job.

Third, we must build the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces the effective and proven way, instead of spending billions more pursuing the “ideal” way. The 330,000-strong Afghan army and police were set up under the guidance of U.S. military “advisers” in the mirror image of the U.S. Army. That was the wrong approach.

It has led to fatal and intractable flaws, including weak leadership, endemic corruption and frequent defections, which currently deliver the equivalent of two trained infantry divisions per year to the enemy. Further, barely 40% of Afghanistan’s U.S.-provided fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft are functional, leaving security forces without close air support, unable to resupply, medevac casualties, or move troops in a timely manner.

These deficits can be remedied by a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and — when necessary — fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.

An East India Company approach would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support. The U.S. military should maintain a small special-operations command presence in the country to enable it to carry out targeted strikes, with the crucial difference that the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.

Fourth, Mr. Trump needs to abandon the flawed population-centric theory of warfare in Afghanistan. The military default in a conventional war is to control terrain, neglecting the long-term financial arteries that fund the fight, and handicaps long-term economic potential.

The Taliban understand this concept well. They control most of Afghanistan’s economic resources — including lapis, marble, gold, pistachios, hashish and opium — and use profits to spread their influence and perpetuate the insurgency. Our strategy needs to target those resources by placing combat power to cover Afghanistan’s economic arteries.

A cruise ship is not a democracy

Monday, June 5th, 2017

While cruising to Bermuda, Bryan Caplan concludes that cruise ships show the logic of open borders:

On a cruise ship, people of all nations — and all skill levels — work together. Top-notch pilots and mechanics from Scandinavia ply their craft alongside cabin stewards and janitors from the Third World. Via comparative advantage, their cooperation allows them to provide an affordable, high-quality vacation to eager consumers.

A Bastiat fan notes that a cruise ship is not a democracy.

Cyclical theories of history return

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Mark Koyama opens his discussion of the return of cyclical theories of history with this passage from Jean D’Ormesson’s “excellent 1971 fictional history” The Glory of the Empire:

People and states oscillate between peace and war, freedom and slavery, order and disorder. They tire easily. Even happiness soon grows wearisome. No sooner do they begin to enjoy the benefits of wise and just government than they demand more wisdom and a different kind of justice. Factions spring up. Everyone is on the lookout for new privileges. The equilibrium that was so hard to strike crumbles. Wild hopes are embraced. The system collapses. Everything has to be built up anew on the ruins of the past.

The leading modern-day cyclical theorist is “undoubtedly” Peter Turchin, who co-wrote Secular Cycles with Sergey A. Nefedov:

Their innovation (building on an argument made by my GMU colleague Jack Goldstone in his 1991 book Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World) is to take the Malthusian model of economic cycles and add to it a model of elite competition.

Tuchin and Nefedov show that periods of demographic expansion are often associated with the growth of elite incomes and inequality (as population growth causes rents to rise and wages to fall). More elites competing over the surplus, however, puts fiscal pressure on the surplus-extraction machine that we call the state. Elite overproduction thus brings about a political crisis. Secular Cycles applied this model to medieval and early modern England and France, Russia and ancient Rome. Turchin’s most recent book applies it to the United States.

Bas van Bavel’s The Invisible Hand? presents another cyclical account of things. Koyama cites Branko Milanovic’s review:

Van Bavel’s key idea is as follows. In societies where non-market constraints are dominant (say, in feudal societies), liberating factor markets is a truly revolutionary change. Ability of peasants to own some land or to lease it, of workers to work for wages rather than to be subjected to various types of corvées, or of the merchants to borrow at a more or less competitive market rather than to depend on usurious rates, is liberating at an individual level (gives person much greater freedom), secures property, and unleashes the forces of economic growth. The pace of activity quickens, growth accelerates (true, historically, from close to zero to some small number like 1% per year) and even inequality, economic and above all social, decreases . . .

But the process, Bavel argues, contains the seeds of its destruction. Gradually factor markets cover more and more of the population: Bavel is excellent in providing numerical estimates on, for example, the percentage of wage-earners in Lombardy in the 14th century or showing that in Low Countries wage labor was, because of guilds, less prevalent in urban than in rural areas. One factor market, though, that of capital and finance, gradually begins to dominate. Private and public debt become most attractive investments, big fortunes are made in finance, and those who originally asked for the level playing field and removal of feudal-like constraints, now use their wealth to conquer the political power and impose a serrata, thus making the rules destined to keep them forever on the top. What started as an exercise in political and economic freedom begins to look like an exercise in cementing the acquired power, politically and economically. The economic essor is gone, the economy begins to stagnate and, as happened to Iraq, Northern Italy and Low Countries, is overtaken by the competitors.