The Occupy Wall Street protesters and the bankers share a common delusion

Friday, August 18th, 2017

Eric Weinstein explains the crisis of late capitalism:

I believe that market capitalism, as we’ve come to understand it, was actually tied to a particular period of time where certain coincidences were present. There’s a coincidence between the marginal product of one’s labor and one’s marginal needs to consume at a socially appropriate level. There’s also the match between an economy mostly consisting of private goods and services that can be taxed to pay for the minority of public goods and services, where the market price of those public goods would be far below the collective value of those goods.

Beyond that, there’s also a coincidence between the ability to train briefly in one’s youth so as to acquire a reliable skill that can be repeated consistently with small variance throughout a lifetime, leading to what we’ve typically called a career or profession, and I believe that many of those coincidences are now breaking, because they were actually never tied together by any fundamental law.

Weinstein shares this anecdote about class warfare:

I reached a bizarre stage of my life in which I am equally likely to fly either economy or private. As such, I have a unique lens on this question. A friend of mine said to me, “The modern airport is the perfect metaphor for the class warfare to come.” And I asked, “How do you see it that way?” He said, “The rich in first and business class are seated first so that the poor may be paraded past them into economy to note their privilege.” I said, “I think the metaphor is better than you give it credit for, because those people in first and business are actually the fake rich. The real rich are in another terminal or in another airport altogether.”

The Occupy Wall Street protesters and the bankers share a common delusion, he says:

Both of them believe the bankers are more powerful in the story than they actually are. The real problem, which our society has yet to face up to, is that sometime around 1970, we ended several periods of legitimate exponential growth in science, technology, and economics. Since that time, we have struggled with the fact that almost all of our institutions that thrived during the post-World War II period of growth have embedded growth hypotheses into their very foundation.

That means that all of those institutions, whether they’re law firms or universities or the military, have to reckon with steady state [meaning an economy with mild fluctuations in growth and productivity] by admitting that growth cannot be sustained, by running a Ponzi scheme, or by attempting to cannibalize others to achieve a kind of fake growth to keep those particular institutions running. This is the big story that nobody reports. We have a system-wide problem with embedded growth hypotheses that is turning us all into scoundrels and liars.

Let’s say, for example, that I have a growing law firm in which there are five associates at any given time supporting every partner, and those associates hope to become partners so that they can hire five associates in turn. That formula of hierarchical labor works well while the law firm is growing, but as soon as the law firm hits steady state, each partner can really only have one associate, who must wait many years before becoming partner for that partner to retire. That economic model doesn’t work, because the long hours and decreased pay that one is willing to accept at an entry-level position is predicated on taking over a higher-lever position in short order. That’s repeated with professors and their graduate students. It’s often repeated in military hierarchies.

It takes place just about everywhere, and when exponential growth ran out, each of these institutions had to find some way of either owning up to a new business model or continuing the old one with smoke mirrors and the cannibalization of someone else’s source of income.

Then there’s the Wile E. Coyote effect — as long as Wile E. Coyote doesn’t look down, he’s suspended in air, even if he has just run off a cliff:

But the great danger is understanding that everything is flipped. During the 2008 crisis, many commentators said the markets have suddenly gone crazy, and it was exactly the reverse. The so-called great moderation that was pushed by Alan Greenspan, Timothy Geithner, and others was in fact a kind of madness, and the 2008 crisis represented a rare break in the insanity, where the market suddenly woke up to see what was actually going on. So the acute danger is not madness but sanity.

The problem is that prolonged madness simply compounds the disaster to come when sanity finally sets in.

The path to power for all “decent men” consists in a deeply deceptive competition to appear maximally unthreatening

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Justin Murphy just watched a documentary about John McAfee, and it helped him realize some things about supertoxic masculinity:

The McAfee story is profound because it shows in stunning, horrifying detail how the hyper-masculine drive to dominate really works in contemporary culture: when cranked sufficiently high, it rapidly and easily trounces any quantity of moral outrage and/or legal constraints, in a direct line toward the zenith of the global dominance hierarchy.

Moderate misogyny can get you exiled from contemporary public culture, often for good reason, but hyper-misogyny in an intelligent and driven male appears to give you sovereignty over public culture. It seems to me that, if feminism today has one genuinely catastrophic problem to be rightfully alarmist about, it might just be the small number of males who will not be domesticated through social-moral pressure.

First, a premise of my argument is that SJW culture is genuinely quite effective at minimizing the nastier masculine edges of large numbers of men, because most men are decent people who want to be liked and approved by most others. This is not an empirical article so I won’t go into it, but if you doubt there’s been a general cultural pacification of male aggression just watch a random film from the 1950s and then watch a random film at your local cinema. Anyway, people on the left and right disagree about what to call this trend, but its existence is attested by all. Feminists see this as men learning to be less violent and oppressive, and feminists celebrate women’s long-term positive effect on the civilizing of violent patriarchies; others see this as a kind of female totalitarianism and evidence of civilizational decline. But the fact that feminist cultural politics have exerted notable and widespread effects of generally reducing the expression of masculine aggression in public culture seems hard to dispute.

The hypothesis I would like to advance is that this social domestication of masculine tendencies has made our society more vulnerable to the rare cases of men who escape the filter of social opprobrium. The life of John McAfee is a case study of this problem.

Why would the social pacification of once popular, moderate masculinity empower more virulent forms of violent masculinity? Many lefties think that pacifying the larger mass of men will shift the whole distribution of male behavior, lowering the ceiling of how bad the worst men may become. I would say this is the dominant mental model of most SJWs, because it’s the basic picture that comes out of liberal arts education today (that our images of the world shape what we do in the world, hence the emphasis on media and “representations”).

The problem is that when the baseline of masculine dominance expression is held below it’s organic tendency, defined simply as what men would do in the absence of cultural campaigns to defang it, this increases the potential payoff to those who dare exercise it, as there are more resources to dominate precisely to the degree that other men are not contesting them. Not only does it increase the rewards available, it decreases the risk of competing for them, as the chance of being defeated by an equally aggressive male, or even just the chance of encountering costly competition at all, is lower than it would be in a world of much but minor, local masculine excess. We might also adduce a “rusty monitor” effect: Through the domestication of men over time, most people become blissfully forgetful about what genuinely dangerous men are capable of, decreasing the probability or the speed with which domesticated males might awake from their slumber.

Another reason the over-domestication of moderate masculinity is dangerous is that it makes it too easy for ethically lax “bad characters” to win all of the large number of local hierarchies that would typically have the function of imposing humility and modesty on cocky boys coming of age. If you’re a highly intelligent, confident, and driven young man, the complex difficulty of having to navigate multiple distinct local hierarchies (among other highly driven males themselves sometimes prone to dangerous excess) from a young age, teaches you very quickly that you cannot ever be the best at everything. And that if you cut corners anti-socially you will be destroyed by other males invested in the maintenance of sociality. Examples of local hierarchies are sports competition, dating, ethical honor or “character” in the neighborhood or religious community, or even just fleeting micro-social competition such as battles of wits in social gatherings. All of these things will function as negative feedback mechanisms tempering genuinely dangerous anti-social ambitions in young boys coming of age, but only if the other males are equally able and willing to play all of these games to the best of their abilities.

If you’re overzealous or immodest or you cheat or you ignore your standing in one local hierarchy to dominate another — all of these things tend to get constrained by other males of equal will and ability, who are also sometimes dangerous and who have an interest in knocking all wiley characters down a few notches. What’s happened in recent decades is that a non-trivial portion of the West’s most intelligent and ambitious males pursue cultural careers predicated very specifically on the strategic under-display of their will to power. Take someone like the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — he’s the leading politician of a whole country, so nobody can deny that this is a man with a substantial will to rise to the top through a whole series of competitive filters. But he is one of the best examples of how, today, the path to power for all “decent men” consists in a deeply deceptive competition to appear maximally unthreatening. One reason you get the John McAfee’s of the world is because they went to high school with the Justin Trudeau’s of the world. In all of the little, local hierarchies they encountered throughout life, people like John McAfee and Donald Trump learned that they could be as anti-socially ambitious as they pleased and no other intelligent and able men would check them (because those men were opting for the cultural capital that accrues to being feminist). A serious challenge for feminism is to see that someone like Justin Trudeau is seriously complicit in the production of the McAfees and Trumps of the world. And if your a cheer-leader for the former, you’re an objective supporter and producer of the latter.

I also think that people like McAfee and Trump learn early in life that if you are ostracized from social groups for exceeding moral expectations, then you can just channel your anti-social intelligence to making money all the more efficiently. That is, another key problem is that in secular, advanced capitalist countries such as the U.S., if you are smart and driven enough it is a feasible life path to accept absolute social exile by converting all of your energy into economic capital accumulation, and then build up a new social cosmos for yourself. The interesting thing is to see that this is really only psychologically and materially feasible in a very late stage of advanced western capitalism where non-economic criteria of value have all but disappeared. Whereas above we saw one reason for the emergence of the McAfee’s and Trump’s of the world is that there wasn’t enough local masculine aggression to check them throughout their life, here we note the specific problem that secular society lacks any effective adjudicator of human character other than economic prowess. In this particular dimension we see that the contemporary correlation of anti-capitalism and secularism/atheism is ultimately an untenable loop, because you never have an effective basis for anti-capitalist cultural change if you cannot submit to the possibility that values come from a place higher than practical reality. Of course people pretend they value other criteria, but those criteria don’t operate in the selection of who ultimately wins attention, esteem, and power in society as a whole. There was no person, and no entity, in the entire life of these men who could credibly convey that there exist things in life more powerful than money, for the simple reason that hardly anyone believes this anymore. And so the most toxically ambitious males become the very first to realize that one can very well quit the entire game of socio-moral respectability and shoot to the top of everything via radically unreflective capital accumulation.

Another reason why the constraining of moderate masculine toxicity may increase the power of supertoxic masculinity is that males may become more pathologically power hungry from lacking opportunities for healthy satiation. Once upon a time (for better or worse), masculine prowess promised a fair number of immediate satisfactions. The best football players received the genuine interest of the most desired girls in high school, say. But even from my own observations growing up, it was easy to see that as my cohort aged from about 10 years old up toward about 17 years old, conventionally masculine prowess became less and less effective at winning immediate social rewards. By the end of high school, the most desired girls were more interested in — I kid you not — a nationally competitive business role-playing team. What this suggests to me is that, aside from perhaps an early bump at the very beginning of adolescence, dominance hierarchies rapidly stop rewarding conventional masculine expressions of dominance behavior in favor of the capacity to elegantly dissimulate dominance behavior. Today all of the basic evolutionary machinery of mating and dominance competition remains in full operation, but it’s mind-bogglingly confusing because increasingly females select for males who can most creatively and effectively hide their power. What this means is that precisely the most over-flowingly aggressive males may be less and less likely to receive the basic, small doses of love and esteem that every human being requires, in their early socialization experiences. Combined with the previous point about the ultimate power of money, it’s easy to see how and why the feminist inversion of which males get selected by females (defining dominance as the dissimulation of dominance), has the direct consequence of leaving the most irrepressibly narcissistic and power-hungry males to seek unbridled social domination via capital, as a basic requirement for psychological self-maintenance.

As a woman in tech, Megan McArdle realized: these are not my people

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Until the age of 26, Megan McArdle was employed as a technology consultant by a small firm that served the financial industry, where she realized something:

I built servers and workstations, mostly for banks, and in a happy foreshadowing of my future writing for Bloomberg View, I installed some of the first PC-based Bloomberg terminals for a Japanese firm’s office in New York.

Finance back then was heavily male, as it is now. And technology, the same. At the intersection of the two … well, I can count on one hand all the women I worked with directly during almost four years of consulting.

It was very male-centric. I heard about client outings, involving strippers, to which I was obviously not invited. And the sexual harassment (entirely from clients, not colleagues), could be spectacular.

Which has nothing to do with why I left. This will make me sound a bit dim, but at the time, it never occurred to me that being a female in this bro ecosystem might impinge my ultimate career prospects. Nor did I miss having women in the room. I liked working with the bros just fine. And the sexual harassment, while annoying, was just that: annoying. I cannot recall that it ever affected my work, nor that I lost any sleep over it.

No, the reason I left is that I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said “What did you do this weekend?”

I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.

The economic benefits of the French Revolution came about while increasing inequality and consolidating wealth

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

The economic benefits of the French Revolution came about while increasing inequality and consolidating wealth:

In 1789, the revolutionary government seized French lands owned by the church, about 6.5% of the country, and redistributed them through auction. This move provided a useful experiment for the researchers—Susquehanna University’s Theresa Finley, Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Raphaël Franck, and George Mason University’s Noel Johnson.

They tracked the agricultural outputs of the properties and the investment in infrastructure like irrigation, and find that areas with the most church property before the revolution—and thus the most redistribution afterward—saw higher output and more investment over the next 50-plus years. They also found more inequality in the size of farms, thanks to consolidation of previously fragmented land, than in areas with less redistribution.

[...]

Before the revolution, large landholders like the church tended to focus on renting out their land to small-holders, but these small plots didn’t reward investment in large-scale irrigation or other improvements, especially since feudal authorities would collect much of the results. They also faced numerous legal obstacles to selling their land to someone who might invest in it. The system put too many costs on smart investments to be effective.

[...]

“The auctioning-off of Church land during the Revolutionary period gave some regions a head-start in reallocating feudal property rights and adopting more efficient agricultural practices,” the researchers conclude. “The agricultural modernization enabled by the redistribution of Church land did not stem from a more equal land ownership structure, but by increasing land inequality.”

Some workers simply aren’t worth the trouble

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Some workers simply aren’t worth the trouble, Tyler Cowen notes, and these “zero marginal product” workers account for a growing percentage of out workforce. Handle makes a similar point about military recruits:

During the surge and temporary force-builds, the Army and Marines had to lower standards and accept less impressive applicants in order to meet accession quotas for enlistedmen. Usually that involved relaxing each of the many standards each by a little bit. Actually, the system pretends the standards aren’t being changed at all, but that individuals are being granted discretionary ‘waivers’ of a typical standard on a one by one basis by commanders, which is the system ordinarily used rarely in exceptional cases for people with extreme talent or value in some area, but maybe just under the threshold for one of the standards. Well, suddenly these waivers were routine. Still, there is value to keeping the standards ‘in the book’ the same, since everybody still knows what they are supposed to do, and the waivers will eventually go away when the pressure is off.

But eventually you are going to be cutting into muscle and bone and not able to relax some standards any more. And someone is going to discover where you are going to get the most bang for your buck in terms of the greatest numbers resulting from a policy change in the other standards. That turned out to be in background check department, which gave rise to the whole ‘moral waivers’ problem. A lot of these guys were good soldiers, fit enough and smart enough to fit in, go fighting downrange, and get the job done well, but, inevitably, a huge number of them got into serious disciplinary trouble at some point. They were good workers who would get in trouble, which is a very different problem from the obedient and law-abiding ones that just aren’t up to snuff.

In times when men were desperately needed, when those men got in trouble, they’d get slapped on the wrist with minor penalties, or even just a good old-fashioned “smoke the shit out of him” extended painful-exertion session with an NCO. But as soon as Congress announced the numbers had to go down — by a lot, and quickly — then a very different message went out to commanders. Suddenly every little thing was a dischargeable offense, and it was, predictably, disproportionately the moral-waiver guys who were getting kicked out.

The general consequences of race mixture can be predicted with confidence

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

A Duke ethics professor made a terrible mistake:

After reading some recent work on the biology of group differences last summer, it occurred to me that as an ethics professor, I should write something about the moral upshot: if there are such differences, what are the consequences for how we should treat one another? Should we support policies that attempt to equalize opportunities only if they produce equal outcomes?

My conclusion was modest: if there are biological differences between groups, and if, as Lee Jussim has argued, some stereotypes turn out to be accurate in part because of correct generalizations about biological differences, these facts should not undermine our commitment to treating one another as moral equals, or to increasing opportunity for all, regardless of group membership.

But I had committed a sin in the eyes of the two referees who read and commented on my paper. I simply acknowledged the possibility of group differences while arguing that whether or not they exist, they should not matter. For having done that, the two journal referees used expletives and exclamation points to give the most venomous and dismissive feedback I have ever encountered. (Needless to say, the paper was not accepted for publication after such hostile comments.)

This leads Razib Khan to share R. A. Fisher’s thoughts on race and human genetic variation, in response to the UNESCO statement on the Race Concept, published after WWII:

In so far as the Statement condemns any defamation of races and emphasizes the appalling nature of the recent abuse of racial theory, it has my full and unqualified approval. I wholeheartedly agree, also, with its explicit and implicit finding that anthropology and racial studies afford no justification for the assumption that members of any particular race are not entitled the enjoyment of all fundamental rights, or for any form of racial discrimination. And I am very glad that, after all the horrors that have been perpetrated, these principles should have been enunciated clearly and publicized widely by an organization of such standing and by distinguished men as the authors of this Statement.

But the Statement also purports to be an authoritative body of scientific doctrines, and this is quite a different matter. Without touching upon the content of these doctrines, and quite apart from whether or not they meet with my approval, I must register my fundamental opposition to the advancing of scientific theses as such, and protest against it.

I recall the National Socialists’ notorious attempts to establish certain doctrines as the only correct conclusions to be drawn from research on race, and their suppression of any contrary opinion; as well as the Soviet Government’s similar claim on behalf of Lysenko’s theory of heredity, and its condemnation of Mendel’s teaching. The present Statement likewise puts forward certain scientific doctrines as the only correct ones, and quite obviously expects them to receive general endorsement as such. I repeat that, without assuming any attitude towards the substance of the doctrines in the Statement, I am opposed to the principle of advancing them as doctrines. The experience of the past have strengthened my conviction that freedom of scientific enquiry is imperiled when any scientific findings or opinions are elevated, by an authoritative body, into the position of doctrines.

Fisher believed that human groups differ profoundly “in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development” and concluded that the “practical international problem is that of learning to share the resources of this planet amicably with persons of materially different nature, and that this problem is being obscured by entirely well intentioned efforts to minimize the real differences that exist”.

Khan goes on to quote from page 238 of his edition of The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection:

The general consequences of race mixture can be predicted with confidence…Their general character will therefore be intermediate, but their variability will be greater than that of the original races. Morever, new combinations of virtue and ability, and of their opposites, will appear in the mixed race, combinations which are not necessarily heterozygous, but may be fixed as permanent racial characters. There are thus in the mixed race great possibilities for the action of selection. If selection is beneficient, and the better types leave the greater number of descendants, the ultimate effect of mixture will be the production of a race, not inferior to either those from which it sprang, but rather superior to both, in so far as the advantages of both can be combined. Unfavorable selection, on the other hand, will be more rapidly disastrous to a mixed race than to its progenitors. It should of course be remembered that all existing races show very great variability in respect of hereditary factors, so that selections of the intensity to which mankind is exposed would be capable of producing rapid changes, even in the purest existing race.

Jordan Peterson interviews James Damore

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Jordan Peterson interviews James Damore on his memo regarding Google’s diversity programs and their overweening ideological basis:

Peterson provides some links to the pertinent hate facts:

Sex differences in personality:

http://bit.ly/2gJVmEp

http://bit.ly/2vEKTUx

Larger/large and stable sex differences in more gender-neutral countries: (Note: these findings runs precisely and exactly contrary to social constructionist theory: thus, it’s been tested, and it’s wrong).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1…

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1…

http://bit.ly/2uoY9c4

(Women’s) interest in things vs (men’s) interest in things:

http://bit.ly/2wtlbzU

http://bit.ly/2fsq7Ru

The importance of exposure to sex-linked steroids on fetal and then lifetime development:

http://bit.ly/2vP0ZLS

Exposure to prenatal testosterone and interest in things (even when the exposure is among females):

http://bit.ly/2wI28RE

Primarily biological basis of personality sex differences:

http://bit.ly/2vmtSMs

http://bit.ly/2uoPzy0

Status and sex: males and females

http://bit.ly/2uoWkMh

http://bit.ly/2uoIOw8

http://bit.ly/2vNzcL6

To quote de Bruyn et al (first reference on status and sex, above): high status predicts more mating opportunities and, thus, increased reproductive success. “This is true for human adults in many cultures, both ‘modern’ as well as ‘primitive’ (Betzig, 1986). In fact, this theory seems to be confirmed for non-human primates (Cheney, 1983; Cowlishaw and Dunbar, 1991; Dewsbury, 1982; Gray, 1985; Maslow, 1936) and other animals from widely differing ecologies (Ellis, 1995) such as squirrels (Farentinos, 1972), cockerels (Kratzer and Craig, 1980), and cockroaches (Breed, Smith, and Gall, 1980).” Status also increases female reproductive success, via a different pathway: “For females, it is generally argued that dominance is not necessarily a path to more copulations, as it is for males. It appears that important benefits bestowed upon dominant women are access to resources and less harassment from rivals (Campbell, 2002). Thus, dominant females tend to have higher offspring survival rates, at least among simians (Pusey, Williams, and Goodall, 1997); thus, dominance among females also appears to be linked to reproductive success.”
Personality and political belief

http://bit.ly/2hJ1Kjb

http://bit.ly/2fsxIzB

http://bit.ly/2fsILJd

http://bit.ly/2uoPS87

http://bit.ly/2ftDhOq

Conscientiousness associated with conservatism; neuroticism and agreeableness with liberalism: http://bit.ly/2wHNA4r
Occupations by gender:

https://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/occ_gender_share_em_1020_txt.htm

The people it prefers, it consumes

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

The techno-commercial wing of the neoreactionary blogosphere, as Nick Land like to call it, has an obvious fondness for Pacific Rim city-states. like Singapore and Hong Kong, but these right-wing utopias have a problem. As Spandrell pointed out, Singapore is an IQ shredder:

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 accusation is acute, Land says, and can be generalized:

Modernity has a fertility problem. When elevated to the zenith of savage irony, the formulation runs: At the demographic level, modernity selects systematically against modern populations. The people it prefers, it consumes. Without gross exaggeration, this endogenous tendency can be seen as an existential risk to the modern world. It threatens to bring the entire global order crashing down around it.

In order to discuss this implicit catastrophe, it’s first necessary to talk about cities, which is a conversation that has already begun. To state the problem crudely, but with confidence: Cities are population sinks. Historian William McNeil explains the basics. Urbanization, from its origins, has tended relentlessly to convert children from productive assets into objects of luxury consumption. All of the archaic economic incentives related to fertility are inverted.

[...]

Education expenses alone explain much of this. School fees are by far the most effective contraceptive technology ever conceived. To raise a child in an urban environment is like nothing that rural precedent ever prepared for. Even if responsible parenting were the sole motivation in play, the compressive effect on family size would be extreme. Under urban circumstances, it becomes almost an aggression against one’s own children for there to be many of them.

Combining data-visualization and cinematic storytelling to explore the driving factors of war and peace

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Neil Halloran, who previously produced The Fallen of World War II, returns with The Shadow Peace:

How do you get to Denmark?

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Where do ‘good’ or pro-social institutions come from?” Pseudoerasmus asks:

Why does the capacity for collective action and cooperative behaviour vary so much across the world today? How do some populations transcend tribalism to form a civil society? How have some societies gone beyond personal relations and customary rules to impersonal exchange and anonymous institutions? In short, how do you “get to Denmark”?

[...]

So to answer the question at the head of this post, “where do pro-social institutions come from?” — if “bad” institutions represent coordination failures, then intelligence and patience must be a big part of the answer. This need not have the same relevance for social evolution from 100,000 BCE to 1500 CE. But for the emergence of modern, advanced societies, intelligence and patience matter.

It’s not that people’s norms and values do not or cannot change. They do. But that does not seem enough. Solving complex coordination failures and collective action problems requires a lot more than just “good” culture.

I am not saying intelligence and patience explain everything, just that they seem to be an important part of how “good” institutions happen. Nor am I saying that intelligence and patience are immutable quantities.

[...]

Intelligence and patience allow you to understand, and weigh, the intuitive risks and the counterintuitive benefits from collaborating with perfect strangers. With less intelligence and less patience you stick to what you know — intuit the benefits from relationships cultivated over a long time through blood ties or other intimate affiliations.

Your “moral circle” is wider with intelligence and patience than without.

In the 1990s, in the middle of free market triumphalism, it was widely assumed that if you let markets rip, the institutions necessary to their proper functioning would “naturally” follow. Those with a vested interested in protecting their property rights would demand them, politically. That assumption went up in flames in the former communist countries and the developing countries under economic restructuring.

The split at the heart of Chinese America

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

The split at the heart of Chinese America isn’t surprising:

For years in America, Sean lived the life of a striving and successful Chinese immigrant. He paid attention to politics — partly because of his deepening appreciation of the American system and his concern for his children’s future — but he never got involved. Until 2014.

That year, a California state senator named Edward Hernandez introduced a bill to amend the state constitution and lift the 1996 ban on the use of race in admissions at California’s public universities. State Constitutional Amendment 5, or SCA-5, sailed through the state senate in January 2014 and looked set to pass the assembly soon thereafter.

Sean and hundreds of other Chinese Americans like him saw SCA-5 as a direct attack on the educational prospects of their children. Since California had become the first state to do away with affirmative action in state college admissions in 1996, the prospects for Asian-American applicants at California’s best colleges had brightened. Since 1996, the entering class at California’s best state college, the University of California, Berkeley, has averaged above 40 percent Asian American while more than 35 percent of the UCLA undergraduate student body has been Asian American, too. Both of these are more than double the 15 percent share that Asian Americans comprise of California’s population. And now, Sean worried, an amendment to California’s constitution was going to reinsert race into state college admissions and take that all away.

Sean and his friends began organizing. They had an uphill fight. Practically all of the Asian-American politicians in California, members of a Democratic majority, had come out in favor of the constitutional change.

Sean and hundreds of Chinese immigrants held noisy protests; they surrounded the offices of one Chinese-American assemblyman until he emerged and renounced his support of the bill. Their agitation forced three Chinese-American state senators who had voted for the bill to switch their positions. Many of the protesters made campaign donations for the first time. Sean gave about $1,000 to a variety of candidates. Breaking with decades of Asian-American tradition, they began supporting Republicans.

[...]

The Chinese-American community began to swing toward the Democratic Party in the 1960s as thousands of highly educated Chinese immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong and Taiwan, a trend accelerated by the landmark 1965 Immigration Act, passed by a Democratic Party majority and signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, also a Democrat. That law changed the nature of Chinatowns throughout America. In the 1930s, more than 60 percent of the Chinese in America worked as cooks, waiters, domestics, and laundrymen, and fewer than 2 percent had a college degree. By the 1960s, three out of four Chinese had white-collar jobs. In 1966, U.S. News & World Report hailed the Chinese as a “model minority” capable of “winning wealth and respect by dint of its own hard work.”

Chinese Americans started embracing typically liberal causes. One such cause was affirmative action. Activists such as Lily Lee Chen, who left Taiwan to be educated in America in the 1950s, led a campaign to convince Chinese immigrants to avail themselves of government services. “It was difficult in the beginning because so many Chinese Americans didn’t trust governments,” she recalled. But over time, Chen and others like her changed people’s minds. “We were just as needy a group as the Native Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics,” said Chen. “We’re the fourth minority.” Chen became the first Chinese-American mayor in the United States, elected in 1983 as the mayor of Monterey Park in eastern Los Angeles County. Support for affirmative action remained strong throughout the 1990s. In 1996, when voters in California did away with affirmative action in admissions to California’s state colleges, nearly 70 percent of Asian-American voters opposed the measure.

Starting with President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, Chinese from mainland China began immigrating to the United States. The Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 created a massive intellectual windfall for the United States when President George H. W. Bush issued an executive order allowing all the Chinese students in America to stay. Bush’s order gave more than 70,000 highly educated Chinese the right to work in America. Most of them became citizens. Throughout the 1990s, more than three-quarters of mainland Chinese studying in the U.S. opted to remain after graduation. For several years, almost every physics major from Tsinghua University moved to America. Rich Chinese also decamped to the U.S. by the thousands. In 2012, Chinese nationals earned 1,675 of the 10,000 EB-5 visas issued annually by the U.S. government to foreigners who invest $1 million and employ at least 10 people in the United States. Two years later, Chinese obtained 8,308 of those 10,000 slots.

Today, immigrants from mainland China make up close to half of the 5 million Chinese in America, according to Haipei Shue, the Chinese-American organizer. On the streets of Chinatowns old and new, Mandarin Chinese has pushed out Cantonese, Hokkien, and other southern dialects that older immigrant communities spoke. But the change has not only been linguistic. Chinese Americans began turning away from liberal causes such as affirmative action, bolstered by studies such as a 2009 Princeton report in which social scientist Thomas Espenshade suggested that a hypothetical Asian-American student would require an extra 140 points on the SAT to achieve the same probability of admission as a white peer, and an extra 450 points to achieve the same probability of admission as a black peer. Shue estimates that as many as half of first-generation Chinese immigrants now support Republican candidates. Many new Chinese immigrants approved of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tirades against affirmative action and illegal immigration. “There’s a split at the heart of Chinese America,” Shue said.

[...]

For their part, newer immigrants from China — with their advanced degrees and financial resources — sneer at what many of them call “Chinatown Chinese.” They view attempts by liberal Chinese organizations to support affirmative action and other progressive causes as little more than currying favor with white liberals. “I feel like these organizations took these stances so they could get a seat at the table. They are being progressive simply to be progressive, not to solve anything,” said Linlin Chen, a first-generation immigrant who blogs frequently on the issue. “They have become divorced from the community because the community is changing.”

They don’t learn, because they are not the victims of their own mistakes

Friday, August 4th, 2017

Nassim Nicholas Taleb shares his thoughts on interventionistas and their mental defects:

Their three flaws: 1) They think in statics not dynamics, 2) they think in low, not high dimensions, 3) they think in actions, never interactions.

The first flaw is that they are incapable in thinking in second steps and unaware of the need for it — and about every peasant in Mongolia, every waiter in Madrid, and every car service operator in San Francisco knows that real life happens to have second, third, fourth, nth steps. The second flaw is that they are also incapable of distinguishing between multidimensional problems and their single dimensional representations — like multidimensional health and its stripped, cholesterol-reading reduced representation. They can’t get the idea that, empirically, complex systems do not have obvious one dimensional cause and effects mechanisms, and that under opacity, you do not mess with such a system. An extension of this defect: they compare the actions of the “dictator” to the prime minister of Norway or Sweden, not to those of the local alternative. The third flaw is that they can’t forecast the evolution of those one helps by attacking.

And when a blow up happens, they invoke uncertainty, something called a Black Swan, after some book by a (very) stubborn fellow, not realizing that one should not mess with a system if the results are fraught with uncertainty, or, more generally, avoid engaging in an action if you have no idea of the outcomes. Imagine people with similar mental handicaps, who don’t understand asymmetry, piloting planes. Incompetent pilots, those who cannot learn from experience, or don’t mind taking risks they don’t understand, may kill many, but they will themselves end up at the bottom of, say, the Atlantic, and cease to represent a threat to others and mankind.

So we end up populating what we call the intelligentsia with people who are delusional, literally mentally deranged, simply because they never have to pay for the consequences of their actions, repeating modernist slogans stripped of all depth. In general, when you hear someone invoking abstract modernistic notions, you can assume that they got some education (but not enough, or in the wrong discipline) and too little accountability.

Now some innocent people, Yazidis, Christian minorities, Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans had to pay a price for the mistakes of these interventionistas currently sitting in their comfortable air-conditioned offices. This, we will see, violates the very notion of justice from its pre-biblical, Babylonian inception. As well as the ethical structure of humanity.

Not only the principle of healers is first do no harm (primum non nocere), but, we will argue: those who don’t take risks should never be involved in making decisions.

This idea is weaved into history: all warlords and warmongers were warriors themselves and, with few exceptions societies were run by risk takers not risk transferors. They took risks — more risks than ordinary citizens. Julian the Apostate, the hero of many, died on the battlefield fighting in the never-ending war on the Persian frontier. One of predecessors, Valerian, after he was captured was said to have been used as a human footstool by the Persian Shahpur when mounting his horse. Less than a third of Roman emperors died in their bed — and one can argue that, had they lived longer, they would have fallen prey to either a coup or a battlefield.

And, one may ask, what can we do since a centralized system will necessarily need people who are not directly exposed to the cost of errors? Well, we have no choice, but decentralize; have fewer of these. But not to worry, if we don’t do it, it will be done by itself, the hard way: a system that doesn’t have a mechanism of skin in the game will eventually blow up and fix itself that way. We will see numerous such examples.

For instance, bank blowups came in 2008 because of the hidden risks in the system: bankers could make steady bonuses from a certain class of concealed explosive risks, use academic risk models that don’t work (because academics know practically nothing about risk), then invoke uncertainty after a blowup, some unseen and unforecastable Black Swan, and keep past bonuses, what I have called the Bob Rubin trade. Robert Rubin collected one hundred million dollar in bonuses from Citibank, but when the latter was rescued by the taxpayer, he didn’t write any check. The good news is that in spite of the efforts of a complicit Obama administration that wanted to protect the game and the rent-seeking of bankers, the risk-taking business moved away to hedge funds. The move took place because of the overbureaucratization of the system. In the hedge fund space, owners have at least half of their net worth in the funds, making them more exposed than any of their customers, and they personally go down with the ship.

The interventionistas case is central to our story because it shows how absence of skin in the game has both ethical and epistemological effects (i.e., related to knowledge). Interventionistas don’t learn because they they are not the victims to their mistakes. Interventionistas don’t learn because they they are not the victims of their mistakes, and, as we saw with pathemata mathemata:

The same mechanism of transferring risk also impedes learning.

We never really wanted this

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones — who is half-black — tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that when it comes to school segregation, separate is never truly equal:

“There’s never been a moment in the history of this country where black people who have been isolated from white people have gotten the same resources,” Hannah-Jones says. “They often don’t have the same level of instruction. They often don’t have strong principals. They often don’t have the same technology.”

I believe a quick look at the data demonstrates that many majority-black schools get more resources than the average school. And yet they don’t have the same level of instruction. It’s as if the two aren’t strongly linked.

Still, when it was time for Hannah-Jones’ daughter, Najya, to attend kindergarten, the journalist chose the public school near their home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, even though its students were almost all poor and black or Latino. Hannah-Jones later wrote about that decision in The New York Times Magazine.

For Hannah-Jones, sending Najya to the neighborhood school was a moral issue. “It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

If good students lifted up poor students’ performance, this might make sense, but we see far more of the opposite: disruptive students can bring down an otherwise good school.

Hannah-Jones adds that her daughter is thriving at school. “I know she’s learning a lot,” she says. “I think it is making her a good citizen. … It is teaching her that children who have less resources than her are not any less intelligent than her or not any less worthy than her.”

Taking resources away doesn’t make students any less intelligent, and giving them resources doesn’t make them any more intelligent — but poor families aren’t simply rich families without resources. The “children who have less [sic] resources” are generally less intelligent, by any reasonable metric.

On why she chose to send her young daughter to the public school in her neighborhood

One of the things I’ve done in my work is kind of show the hypocrisy of progressive people who say they believe in inequality, but when it comes to their individual choices about where they’re going to live and where they’re going to send their children, they make very different decisions, and I just didn’t want to do that. So for me it was a matter of needing to live my values, and not being someone who contributed to the inequality that I write about.

She’s completely right about the hypocrisy of progressive parents, of course. All of our hip, progressive friends and colleagues moved to the “right” suburbs with the “best” schools — and tend to be remarkably proud of their choice of a public school.

On the importance of having students from different races and income levels in the public schools

The original mission of public schools … is this understanding that no matter where you come from, you will go into the doors of a school and every child will receive the same education.

I find it odd that we would want every child to receive the same education, since children aren’t identical and don’t want or need the same things.

On the history of school desegregation since the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education

Brown v. Board happens, and the way that we’re taught it or the myth about it is immediately our nation repented and went into an integrated future together. That’s not what happened. There was massive resistance, and we don’t see real desegregation occurring in this country until 1964, and really most rapidly from 1968 on. …

Then you see pretty rapid desegregation particularly in the South, but then that changes, and in 1988 we start to go backwards. So we reach kind of the peak of schools integrating, of black students attending majority white schools at the highest rates that they ever have in the country, and then we start to see school districts re-segregating, which means black students are starting to go to schools that are more and more segregated. And school districts that had had a degree of integration are losing that integration. …

I can’t imagine why.

On American resistance to desegregating schools and housing

When I started what I kind of call the segregation beat about five years ago … I think we had stopped talking about this as a problem. If you look at No Child Left Behind, which comes out of the Bush administration, that was all about giving up on integration in schools and just saying, “We’re going to make these poor black and Latino schools equal to white schools by testing and accountability.”

If we assume the problem with poor black and Latino schools is the schools, then testing and accountability make sense, right?

So no one was discussing integration anymore. I think it’s because … we never really wanted this. … It’s always had to be forced, and as soon as … our elected officials and our courts lost the will to force it, most white Americans were just fine with that. …

One of the things that I really try to do with my work is show how racial segregation and racial inequality was intentionally created with a ton of resources. From the federal government, to the state, to city governments, to private citizens, we put so much effort into creating this segregation and inequality, and we’re willing to put almost no effort in fixing it, and that’s the problem.

I’m having trouble seeing how it took “a ton of resources” to create the situation that came naturally, once “our elected officials and our courts lost the will to force it.”

Smart people might have been less careful about suppressing their stereotypical thinking

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

A recent Atlantic piece laments that people who are better at pattern matching are more likely to stereotype — that is, to match patterns:

These depressing results suggest there’s a downside to being smart—it makes you risk reading too much into a situation and drawing inappropriate conclusions. But there’s hope. In the second part of the study, the researchers showed that while smart people learn and apply stereotypes more eagerly, they also unlearn those stereotypes quickly in the face of new information.

When the smart participants were given new, contradictory information about the nose-bridge men, for example, they stopped lowballing them in the trust game. The worse pattern-detectors, meanwhile, didn’t update their thinking in the same way. The same thing happened when the researchers tried to get the participants to un-learn some gender stereotypes.

[...]

According to Geoffrey Wodtke, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, it could be that, because this study focused on unrealistic stereotypes — about cartoon aliens or computer-drawn men, instead, of, say, real-life groups like gays or immigrants — smart people might have been less careful about suppressing their stereotypical thinking. “It’s quite likely that high-ability individuals are … able to efficiently learn and apply stereotypes in a vacuum but also that they are better attuned to social norms and concerns about not inflaming intergroup conflict,” he said.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, chapter 16, Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate, has this to say:

The social norm against stereotyping, including the opposition to profiling, has been highly beneficial in creating a more civilized and more equal society. It is useful to remember, however, that neglecting valid stereotypes inevitably results in suboptimal judgments. Resistance to stereotyping is a laudable moral position, but the simplistic idea that the resistance is costless is wrong. The costs are worth paying to achieve a better society, but denying that the costs exist, while satisfying to the soul and politically correct, is not scientifically defensible. Reliance on the affect heuristic is common in politically charged arguments. The positions we favor have no cost and those we oppose have no benefits. We should be able to do better.

Boys are treated like defective girls

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

We see a continuing pattern in schools, where the simple urges and fascinations of boyhood are considered too dangerous to be allowed:

Boys fantasize of conflict, they love to test their strength against their fathers in mock fights, they’re aggressive, and daydream about battle. Many of the games they prefer involve death and destruction. While this may seem like a horrible thing, this is actually a positive.

Boys need to learn to be dangerous. In fact, they need to be encouraged to be so. It should be understood that being dangerous is not a bad thing. The bad comes when the boy has not properly been taught how to utilize the dangerous aspects of his nature for good. When he has been taught to embrace the dangerous parts of himself, he becomes the man society relies upon to uphold it.

He will go on to become a good protector of his family, a police officer, or a soldier. These dangerous aspects also help him to become more confident in himself. He doesn’t back down from conflict, be it in the office, or in the home. He is the good, dangerous man, and he is a pillar of society.

But it starts with the early years, when the boy is naturally starting to discover this dangerous side of himself. Sadly, we are teaching boys that they are somehow dysfunctional for doing what comes naturally.

As Christina Hoff Sommers goes over in her “War on Boys” video for Prager U, “girl behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.” We medicate boys when they become too kinetic for schools to tolerate, drugging them into sitting quietly.

[...]

As “Wild at Heart” author John Eldredge so eloquently summarizes the good, dangerous man, “Yes, a man is a dangerous thing. So is a scalpel.”