A wise leader often prolongs a sense of emergency on purpose

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

The London Underground was governed by a sort of theoretical rule book that no one had ever seen or read, Charles Duhigg explains (in The Power of Habit), and that didn’t, in fact, exist except in the unwritten rules that shaped every employee’s life. One of these unwritten rules was, don’t panic the passengers. Another was, stay in your lane. Then someone spotted the early signs of a fire:

Yet the safety inspector, Hayes, didn’t call the London Fire Brigade. He hadn’t seen any smoke himself, and another of the Underground’s unwritten rules was that the fire department should never be contacted unless absolutely necessary.

[...]

Hayes, the safety inspector, went into a passageway that led to the Piccadilly escalator’s machine room. In the dark, there was a set of controls for a sprinkler system specifically designed to fight fires on escalators. It had been installed years earlier, after a fire in another station had led to a series of dire reports about the risks of a sudden blaze. More than two dozen studies and reprimands had said that the Underground was unprepared for fires, and that staff needed to be trained in how to use sprinklers and fire extinguishers, which were positioned on every train platform. Two years earlier the deputy assistant chief of the London Fire Brigade had written to the operations director for railways, complaining about subway workers’ safety habits.

[...]

No one inside King’s Cross understood how to use the escalator sprinkler system or was authorized to use the extinguishers, because another department controlled them.

[...]

The entire escalator was now aflame, producing a superheated gas that rose to the top of the shaft enclosing the escalator, where it was trapped against the tunnel’s ceiling, which was covered with about twenty layers of old paint. A few years earlier, the Underground’s director of operations had suggested that all this paint might pose a fire hazard. Perhaps, he said, the old layers should be removed before a new one is applied?

Painting protocols were not in his purview, however. Paint responsibility resided with the maintenance department, whose chief politely thanked his colleague for the recommendation, and then noted that if he wanted to interfere with other departments, the favor would be swiftly returned.

[...]

Shortly after the explosion, dozens of fire trucks arrived. But because the fire department’s rules instructed them to connect their hoses to street-level hydrants, rather than those installed by the Underground inside the station, and because none of the subway employees had blueprints showing the station’s layout — all the plans were in an office that was locked, and none of the ticketing agents or the station manager had keys — it took hours to extinguish the flames.

[...]

During turmoil, organizational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power. Crises are so valuable, in fact, that sometimes it’s worth stirring up a sense of looming catastrophe rather than letting it die down.

[...]

NASA administrators, for instance, tried for years to improve the agency’s safety habits, but those efforts were unsuccessful until the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.

[...]

Airline pilots, too, spent years trying to convince plane manufacturers and air traffic controllers to redesign how cockpits were laid out and traffic controllers communicated. Then, a runway error on the Spanish island of Tenerife in 1977 killed 583 people and, within five years, cockpit design, runway procedures, and air traffic controller communication routines were overhauled.

In fact, crises are such valuable opportunities that a wise leader often prolongs a sense of emergency on purpose.

[...]

Fennell began by interviewing the Underground’s leadership, and quickly discovered that everyone had known — for years — that fire safety was a serious problem, and yet nothing had changed.

[...]

So he decided to turn his inquiry into a media circus.

He called for public hearings that lasted ninety-one days and revealed an organization that had ignored multiple warnings of risks.

[...]

A company with dysfunctional habits can’t turn around simply because a leader orders it. Rather, wise executives seek out moments of crisis — or create the perception of crisis — and cultivate the sense that something must change, until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns they live with each day.

Small wins convince people that bigger achievements are within reach

Monday, April 26th, 2021

Keystone habits, Charles Duhigg explains (in The Power of Habit), offer what is known within academic literature as “small wins” — and small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach. This goes well beyond losing weight:

Then, in the early 1970s, the American Library Association’s Task Force on Gay Liberation decided to focus on one modest goal: convincing the Library of Congress to reclassify books about the gay liberation movement from HQ 71–471 (“Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sexual Crimes”) to another, less pejorative category.

In 1972, after receiving a letter requesting the reclassification, the Library of Congress agreed to make the shift, reclassifying books into a newly created category, HQ 76.5 (“Homosexuality, Lesbianism—Gay Liberation Movement, Homophile Movement”). It was a minor tweak of an old institutional habit regarding how books were shelved, but the effect was electrifying. News of the new policy spread across the nation. Gay rights organizations, citing the victory, started fund-raising drives. Within a few years, openly gay politicians were running for political office in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Oregon, many of them citing the Library of Congress’s decision as inspiration.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association, after years of internal debate, rewrote the definition of homosexuality so it was no longer a mental illness — paving the way for the passage of state laws that made it illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.

And it all began with one small win.

Why does reading Lucan’s The Civil War make more sense in 2021 than it might have 30 years ago?

Sunday, April 25th, 2021

Tyler Cowan asks, why does reading Lucan’s The Civil War make more sense in 2021 than it might have 30 years ago?

To me, it seems remarkably contemporary — more than Virgil. People are crazy. They’re at each other’s throats, but not really for any good reason.

[...]

I think the lack of obvious self-interested motivation for the polarization is what strikes me as so contemporary about Lucan. It’s not primarily about rent-seeking. There’s simply some logic of escalation that never stops. Now, maybe at the end of the poem, there’s a return to sanity in some ways, but there’s still this total immersion in violence, and the dynamics of that, the nonrationality or arationality — it struck me if I had read Lucan in 1991, I would have been quite puzzled, like this is something of antique interest. But I read it today — I’m not so pessimistic about the Western world, but it seems to hit much closer to home.

[...]

There seems to be a logic in contemporary politics where people take opposite sides of an issue because other people have taken a side. They don’t necessarily care anymore what it’s about. This may have moderated in the last few months, but there was a sense, if Trump tweeted some view about Turkey, some people would agree, and other people would take the other side, whether or not they had agreement about Turkey.

We should be far less worried about appeasing a would-be aggressor and much more concerned about a militarized foreign policy that overreacts to every possible danger

Monday, April 19th, 2021

While John Mueller’s new book certainly has a catchy title, The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency. it argues not only for complacency but for appeasement, too:

Mueller goes on to show that Washington has consistently exaggerated foreign threats and overestimated the need for militarized responses to threats that were minimal or non-existent, going all the way back to the earliest days of the Cold War. He persuasively argues the case for what he calls complacency and appeasement: the United States faces few real threats, most of them will diminish or implode before they become a serious problem, and most of the threats that policymakers obsess over are manageable or imaginary. He also challenges one of the central myths about the “liberal international order” by denying that an ambitious U.S. grand strategy was necessary to secure the benefits of postwar democratization and economic growth.

[...]

While most advocates for a less aggressive U.S. foreign policy might shy away from the word appeasement, Mueller reclaims the term to restore it to its original meaning. Appeasement has been a curse word hurled against opponents of militaristic policies for the last 75 years because of the unusual events of the late 1930s. It described the efforts of Britain and France at that time to resolve international disputes through diplomatic negotiations to avoid another great war, and because this failed in the face of Hitler’s revanchist aggression, the word has been used to discredit diplomatic compromises ever since.

As Mueller points out, it was appeasement that averted catastrophe in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which had the potential to lead to a global conflagration even more murderous than World War II. In general, he says, appeasement succeeds in avoiding stupid wars, and avoiding stupid wars is in the best interests of all concerned.

Hawks continue to conjure up the specter of Munich to justify their preferred policies, but the horrors of WWII already instructed the world in the insanity of wars between the major powers. We should be far less worried about appeasing a would-be aggressor and much more concerned about a militarized foreign policy that overreacts to every possible danger.

The real insidiousness of it is its unmistakably hypnotic structure and pacing

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

An anonymous commenter on 4chan noticed that John Oliver’s show has a disturbing structure:

The subject of John Oliver came up when a colleague (fellow psychologist) and I were discussing politics a few months ago. Although we were both in agreement regarding the general shitlib inanity of the HBO show, my friend was surprised when I explained that the real insidiousness of it is its unmistakably hypnotic structure and pacing.

I ended up pulling up an episode or two off of YouTube to show her what I meant. All of the segments I’ve ever seen from this show follow the same repetitive format: present some “argumentation” and “facts” for about 10 seconds, then quickly follow these up with a snarky quip (which themselves overwhelmingly take the form of complete non-sequitur or otherwise absurd metaphor) before any rational processing of the preceding argument can take place in the mind of the viewer. Further telling is that the only “beats” or mental pauses in the show’s pacing exist solely to highlight the approving laughter or applause of the studio audience. Repeat this basic formula without variation 20–40 times in a row and you have one of the 12–20 minute “segments” that form the backbone of the show.

The end effect is (obviously) not to deliver information, but rather to literally teach the viewers on a subconscious level to mentally associate derisive laughter with any person or opinion that is at odds with the narrative’s take on the chosen issue. And it accomplishes this by maintaining a strict adherence to a roughly 20-second cycle in which a stimulus is presented, and a response is cued. This is the sense in which the show is fundamentally hypnotic in effect even moreso than its precursors in the genre (Daily Show, Colbert, etc).

To my mind, Oliver’s show is representative of the media’s increasing mastery of the methodologies of mass conditioning; in fact it is almost such a perfect technical accomplishment that I would almost have to admire it on technical grounds, which moreover is in the hands of the entirely wrong people.

This division of powers between the federal government and the central bank is what keeps the money supply relatively stable

Friday, April 9th, 2021

Printing money requires both nuclear keys:

The Federal Reserve can create new base money, but doesn’t have a mechanism to spend it into the real economy. The Treasury, on the other hand, can spend money on behalf of Congress, but has to issue bonds to do it, which sucks money out from somewhere else in the economy. In other words, the Treasury mostly just moves money around. This division of powers between the federal government and the central bank is what keeps the money supply relatively stable during most times in history, and leaves money creation mostly to the commercial bank system.

However, the combination of the Treasury and Federal Reserve working in concert results in a sharp rise in the broad money supply. With this approach, the Treasury spends money into the economy at a massive scale, and the bonds that are issued to pay for it are bought by the Federal Reserve with brand new base money, resulting in outright broad money creation. This close collaboration between the Treasury and the Federal Reserve occurred in the 1940s, and began occurring again in 2020.

[...]

During the subprime mortgage crisis, the Federal Reserve rapidly expanded the monetary base, but the Treasury’s response was more modest. If we continue with the nuclear key analogy for money-printing, only the Federal Reserve’s key was used. The Treasury did not use their key back then; little money was handed out to the broad economy.

[...]

Banks went into the 2008 crisis woefully under-capitalized, much like 1929. In response to a systemic failure of the banking system in 2008, the Federal Reserve created trillions of dollars of new base money to buy some of their assets, in a process referred to as quantitative easing. Additionally, fiscal bills removed troubled assets from bank balance sheets and provided very modest aid to the public. There was, however, no broad bailout of homeowners or other members of the general public other than for relatively small programs like “cash for clunkers”, and this dichotomy of bailing out Wall Street more than Main Street contributed to the rise of both left-leaning and right-leaning populist movements, ranging from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party.

All of this new base money in 2008, in other words, mostly remained in the banking system to recapitalize the banks and to decrease leverage ratios. As a result, the broad money supply didn’t spike at all, since people were not getting stimulus checks and there was no massive fiscal policy response.

Fast-forward to 2020, we went into this pandemic crisis with very different circumstances. Banks were well-capitalized this time from a combination of prior bailouts, leverage regulations, and more risk-averse lending behavior. Indeed, the banking system had plenty of excess reserves going into this crisis.

Instead, the economic shock came directly to consumers and businesses, and the fiscal response of providing stimulus checks, federal unemployment benefits, small business loans that mostly turn into grants, and a variety of other forms of aid, directly increased the broad money supply. Finishing with the analogy, both “keys” were initiated in 2020; the Federal Reserve created even more base money than before, and unlike 2008, the Treasury also sent out massive checks to inject it into the broad money supply, with massive fiscal deficit levels as a percentage of GDP that had not been seen since the 1940s.

Policemen were also needed

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

From the Korean War, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the United States drew troubled conclusions:

American policy had been to contain Communism along the parallel, and in this, American policy succeeded. But no one realized, at the beginning, how exceedingly costly such containment would be. The war reaffirmed in American minds the distaste for land warfare on the continent of Asia the avoidance of which has always been a foundation of United States policy. But the war proved that containment in Asia could not be forged with nuclear bombs and that threats were not enough, unless the United States intended to answer a Communist pinprick with general holocaust.

Yet the American people, Army, and leaders generally proved unwilling to accept wars of policy in lieu of crusades against Communism. Innocence had been lost, but the loss was denied. The government that had ordered troops into Korea knew that the issue was never whether Syngman Rhee was right or wrong but that his loss would adversely affect the status of the United States — which was not arguable.

That government’s inability to communicate, and its repudiation at the polls, firmly convinced many men of the political dangers of committing American ground troops in wars of containment. Yet without the continual employment of limited force around the glove, or even with it, there was to be no order. The World could not be policed with ships, planes, and bombs — policemen were also needed.

Less than a year after fighting ended in Korea, Vietnam was lost to the West, largely because of the complete repugnance of Americans toward committing a quarter of a million ground troops in another apparently indecisive skirmish with Communism. Even more important, the United States, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported, simply did not have the troops.

Korea, from Task Force Smith at Osan to the last days at Pork Chop, indicates that the policy of containment cannot be implemented without professional legions. Yet every democratic government is reluctant to face the fact. Reservists and citizen-soldiers stand ready, n every free nation, to stand to the colors and die in holocaust, the big war. Reservists and citizen-soldiers remain utterly reluctant to stand and die in anything less. None want to serve on the far frontiers, or to maintain lonely, dangerous vigils on the periphery of Asia. There has been every indication that mass call-ups for cold war moves may result in mass disaffection.

[...]

However repugnant the idea is to liberal societies, the man who will willingly defend the free world in the fringe areas is not the responsible citizen-soldier. The man who will go where his colors go, without asking, who will fight a phantom foe in jungle and mountain range, without counting, and who will suffer and die in the midst of incredible hardship, without complaint, is still what he has always been, from Imperial Rome to sceptered Britain to democratic America. He is the stuff of which legion are made.

His pride is in his colors and his regiment, his training hard and thorough and coldly realistic, to fit him for what he must face, and his obedience is to his orders. As a legionary, he held the gates of civilization for the classical world; as a bluecoated horseman he swept the Indians from the Plains; he has been called United States Marine. He does the jobs — the utterly necessary jobs — no militia is willing to do. His task is moral or immoral according to the orders that send him forth. It is inevitable, since men compete.

Since the dawn of time, men have competed with each other — with clubs, crossbows, or cannon, dollars, ballots, and trading stamps. Much of mankind, of course, abhors competition, and these remain the acted upon, not the actors.

Anyone who says there will be no competition in the future simply does not understand the nature of man.

The great dilemma of our time is that, with two great power blocs in the world, each utterly distrustful of the other, and one, at least, eager to compete, we cannot compete with thermonuclear weapons. Competition, after all, is controlled action or controlled violence for an end, and nuclear weapons do not lend themselves to control. And in nuclear war there is apparently no prize, even for first place.

Yet men must compete.

Eliminating systemic racism should be a lucrative undertaking

Monday, April 5th, 2021

It would be in the profit-maximizing interest of firms to snatch up underpaid performers, Steve Sailer reminds us:

If there really is much discrimination, then eliminating systemic racism should be a lucrative undertaking, not one that requires constant paid sermonizing by innumerates about how handing privileges to the politically preferred will turn out to be in our own financial interest.

Of course, if you go far enough back into America’s past, it is easy to find a clear example of an employer who did flourish due to his diverse hiring: Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. By bringing Jackie Robinson up in 1947 to be the first black big-leaguer since the 19th century, Rickey got a lucrative jump on other teams.

[...]

The Brooklyn Dodgers’ example of the payoff from not discriminating is so vivid because:

(1) There really was systemic racism against black ballplayers: the Color Line.

(2) Blacks were as good as whites at baseball. (By the way, it’s often assumed today that whites were surprised in 1947 by how strong blacks were at baseball. In reality, though, black and white stars had often played together in barnstorming exhibition tours and in Caribbean winter ball, so white ballplayers had long publicly praised the talents of their black counterparts.)

(3) Some teams stubbornly resisted integration for up to a dozen years after 1947, highlighting the contrast.

Strikingly, it’s oddly hard to find more recent examples than this of firms that long earned outsize profits by first hiring blacks or women.

[...]

This should remind us that the Women’s Lib battle was quickly and almost painlessly won during the first half of the 1970s. For example, by the time I entered UCLA’s MBA program in 1980, conscious discrimination against women in corporate white-collar hiring was a thing of the past. The only employers I can recall being told were still bigoted against women were Los Angeles’ department-store chains, which, a professor explained, wouldn’t promote shiksas beyond Buyer.

Presumably, some companies took the lead in the early 1970s and outearned their rivals by hiring more women, which allowed them to pay lower wages than the industry standard. But, a half century later, it’s hard to identify these trailblazing corporations because their rivals responded so quickly to this now socially acceptable profit-maximizing scheme.

Before 1969, discrimination in white-collar hiring was less against women per se than against married women. (In contrast, blue-collar jobs that are today 95 percent male were often 100 percent male back then, and good-paying union jobs were usually reserved for men.)

Yet, there had always been a certain number of spinster career women in upscale jobs. For instance, in the 1940 movie His Girl Friday, newspaper editor Cary Grant is desperate to keep his ace reporter (and ex-wife) Rosalind Russell from marrying Ralph Bellamy and immediately quitting the newspaper to be a housewife and mother.

Why the feeling that married women shouldn’t work? The polite assumption had been that respectable women didn’t use contraception, so a married woman was likely to be a mother by the year after her wedding, after which she’d be too busy with child-rearing for paid employment.

But by 1969, The Pill had become socially accepted, plus the burdens of housework had declined due to advances in appliances such as dishwashers and dryers. As Goldin noted, women increasingly went back to paid work after their children were old enough, so it made sense for them to get the education when young that would enable them to hold better-paying jobs.

Hence, most genteel industries rapidly switched over to hiring large numbers of young women in the 1970s.

Now the emphasis would be on infiltration, subversion, and insurgency

Sunday, April 4th, 2021

The Communist powers, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), would remember the rapid escalation of Korea from a small, almost civil-type conflict into a large-scale action involving major powers:

After Korea, overt, brutal armed aggression, which had produced so violent — and unexpected — a counteraction from the West, would be avoided. Now the emphasis would be on infiltration, subversion, and insurgency to gain Communist ends in the fringe areas; the trick was never again, as with the South Korean invasion, to give the West a clear moral issue.

Communist planners, studying the lessons of Korea, could not help wondering what the result might have been could they have slipped several North Korean divisions into the South clandestinely, keeping them supplied across a fluid border. They might well wonder if the West would have then sprung to the defense of autocratic old Dr. Syngman Rhee, even though the interests of the West were equally imperiled.

[...]

Within a year after Korean fighting ended, they would succeed in Vietnam, this time without overt aggression.

Why are there no biographies of Xi Jinping?

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

Many people fell for the delusion that China was nominally Communist but sliding inexorably toward greater freedom:

Indeed, there is a growing consensus that this is a country intent on pushing its dictatorial creed in a tussle for global supremacy against Western liberal democracy. It is a nation which has inflicted genocide on Muslim minorities, throttled freedom in Hong Kong, threatened Taiwan, sabre-rattled on borders in the Himalayas, developed a sinister surveillance society and even infiltrated our universities to scoop up their latest research.

All of which makes the lack of curiosity surrounding the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong seem rather strange. As Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of Chinese history, recently asked: “Why are there no biographies of Xi Jinping?”. Their absence is all the more striking when you consider that China’s ruler is not simply far more important than the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has spawned a small library of books; he is also a fascinating figure with a compelling life story.

Lurking behind that calm facade lies a childhood tale that helps cast some light on Xi’s controlling policies and his aggressive nationalism. Bear in mind that it is Xi who turned his nation back towards harsh totalitarianism, ordered his acolytes to ratchet up repression in Xinjiang and broke any pretence of keeping to the handover deal with Britain to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms. He has ditched term limits to retain power, crushed party foes, stifled domestic dissent and enshrined his name in the party constitution, elevating his position and ideology to the status of Chairman Mao. It is hard to disagree with the view of former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd that he is “the most formidable politician of our age”.

[...]

Xi, born in 1953, is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a Communist revolutionary hero who was close to Mao and became a vice premier. Although China was riddled with poverty, this prominent family lived in a compound for party chiefs with their own cooks, nannies and drivers. One official biography claims that his parents sought to ensure their children were not spoilt, so he wore clothes handed down from his siblings — including floral shoes from his sisters that were dyed black. His father, meanwhile, was so strict that friends said his treatment of his son bordered on inhuman, and Xi also attended the “CCP aristocracy school” in Beijing infamous for military-style discipline. Any hint of softness, said one classmate, was seen as weakness.

Disaster struck when he was nine. His father fell out with Mao amid party in-fighting, so was sent to work in a factory in central China and his family lost its prized home — although his mother Qi Xin retained her party job in Beijing. Worse came in the 1966 Cultural Revolution, with its brutal purging of senior officials as enemies of the state. His father was beaten, paraded on a truck through jeering crowds and jailed. The family home was ransacked by militants, his mother forced into hard labour on a farm. Xi, a bookish boy, was made to denounce his father and bullied by teachers as the child of a “black gang”, the term for disgraced officials. His older sister eventually killed herself after being “persecuted to death”.

The following year Xi’s school was shut down and turned into an exhibition to showcase the pampered privileges of the reactionary elite. At the age of 14, he was caught by a gang of revolutionary Red Guards, who threatened to execute him before making him read quotations from Mao. Another time, he fled from a meeting attacked by students armed with clubs, who caught and badly beat one of his friends. “I always had a stubborn streak and wouldn’t put up with being bullied,” he claimed later. “I riled the radicals and they blamed me for everything that went wrong.”

[...]

Xi himself only evaded jail after Mao, seeking to regain control of spiralling chaos, ordered 30 million young city dwellers into the countryside for “re-education” by peasants. Analysts speculate this difficult period in his teenage years led to Xi’s ability to hide his feelings beneath an impassive surface, along with the development of his fervent desire for stability.

[...]

He found it a shock to eat rough peasant food, sleep on flea-ridden blankets and perform hard rural labour. Dozens of others sent to this region died from disease or the tough conditions. Instead Xi developed extraordinary self-discipline: “The knife is sharpened on a stone, people are strengthened in adversity,” he said later.

His loathing of chaos was fuelled later by the collapse of the other major twentieth-century Communist empire. “Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate?” he once asked. “In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist.”

But it’s not valuable, and it never has been

Sunday, March 28th, 2021

You can almost hear the quiver in their NPR voice as they ask, Is plastic recycling a lie?

Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups.

None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried.

“To me that felt like it was a betrayal of the public trust,” she said. “I had been lying to people … unwittingly.”

Rogue, like most recycling companies, had been sending plastic trash to China, but when China shut its doors two years ago, Leebrick scoured the U.S. for buyers. She could find only someone who wanted white milk jugs. She sends the soda bottles to the state.

But when Leebrick tried to tell people the truth about burying all the other plastic, she says people didn’t want to hear it.

“I remember the first meeting where I actually told a city council that it was costing more to recycle than it was to dispose of the same material as garbage,” she says, “and it was like heresy had been spoken in the room: You’re lying. This is gold. We take the time to clean it, take the labels off, separate it and put it here. It’s gold. This is valuable.”

But it’s not valuable, and it never has been. And what’s more, the makers of plastic — the nation’s largest oil and gas companies — have known this all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite.

A firm foot should have been kept on the Communist neck

Saturday, March 27th, 2021

By 1953, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), almost every troop leader in the Far East held the opinion that continuing the war under present conditions was not only wasteful but verging on criminal:

Now generals said freely that it had been a mistake to remove the terrible pressure from the Communist armies in 1951. They did not say the U.N. should have marched to the Yalu — though many believed it — but they agreed that a firm foot should have been kept on the Communist neck until a signature was on the dotted line at Kaesong.

In retrospect, it seems beyond question that because the West brought naivete concerning Communist motives and methods to the conference table thousands more men that necessary were maimed and killed. If the U.N. had approached the table with a hard eye instead of a sigh of relief, in fighting stance instead of immediate relaxation the changes are high that peace could have been attained in 1951.

Affirmative action in higher education is supposed to be a free lunch

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

Arnold Kling discusses the academic corruption from affirmative action:

Taking the pool of high school graduates as given, it is very hard to give African-Americans the comfort of being fully qualified for admission to a selective college as part of a large cohort of qualified African-American students. They can either be part of a small cohort or part of a large cohort that includes less-qualified students.

[...]

But my view is that college is not the place to try to fix racial inequalities. The attempt to fix these inequalities has to take place much earlier in young people’s lives, so that more black students graduate high school with strong educational backgrounds.

Affirmative action in higher education is supposed to be a free lunch. You can reduce social inequality and improve race relations without corrupting our standards. My guess is that you corrupt your standards without reducing social inequality, and you make race relations worse. If I am correct, then the unintended consequences of affirmative action have been severely adverse.

The Korean War poured billions of American dollars into the Japanese economy

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

In Japan, the Korean War was always close, T. R. Fehrenbach says (in This Kind of War), but always far away:

While the Korean people were inevitably the real losers of the war, the Japanese became the true winner. The Korean War poured billions of American dollars into the Japanese economy.

Millions of Americans passed through Japan, moving to and from the combat zones. These had money in amounts unbelievable to the Nipponese — and the Japanese, among the world’s most industrious people, soon found Americans would spend it for almost anything, if given the opportunity.

[...]

All Americans, passing through, found that good Canadian whisky was $1.50 a fifth, and drinks a quarter U.S. a throw. As one officer said, happily, “At these prices I can’t afford to stay sober!”

[...]

The Japanese could not be blamed for turning their nation into a huge red-light district, for what the customer with money wants, he always gets.

The big money, and the prosperity that flushed the Japanese economy, however, came from American arms expenditures. American military procurement officers found Japanese industry — far more capable and efficient than it is generally given credit for — could produce almost anything needed at the front — and much cheaper than it could be made in the States and sent across the Pacific.

Thousand of American military vehicles, damaged or worn out in Korea, were rebuilt in Japanese shops, some as many as three times, far more cheaply than they could have been replaced. The Japanese, under contract, could manufacture ammunition, tools, equipment, almost anything. They could produce millions of tons of food for Koreans and Americans in FECOM. All in all, the Japanese economy hummed. They made big money.

The benefits did not all accrue to the Japanese, however.

Without its solid industrial base in Japan, in privileged sanctuary from the battles, the United States would have found it as difficult to fight the Korean War as it would have been to land on Normandy on D-Day, had Britain not been there.

(This Kind of War was originally published in 1963.)

College no longer helps men to make the transition to adulthood

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

One source of academic corruption, Arnold Kling notes, is our emasculated culture, which Joyce F. Benenson and Henry Markovits discuss in Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes:

She and Roy Baumeister are the rare social scientists who see that (a) men and women differ on average in their behavioral tendencies and (b) male tendencies are not all bad.

Her book is grounded in observations of young boys and girls. My memories of my boyhood align perfectly with her picture of boys, and with the song lyrics above. We played team sports without supervision, put a lot of effort into setting rules, and competed to demonstrate skill. When we weren’t playing sports, we imagined ourselves fighting the “bad guys,” either in the Old West or in World War II.

One of her ideas is that men have a social strategy that works well in war: organize unrelated males, fight other groups overtly according to rules, then reconcile after battle. Women have a social strategy that works well for protecting their individual health and the health of their children: emphasize safety, covertly undermine the status of unrelated females, and exclude rivals rather than reconcile with them.

This leads me to speculate on the consequences of adding a lot of women to formerly male domains. Over the past several decades, a number of important institutions that were formerly almost exclusively male now include many women: academia, journalism, politics, and management positions in organizations. These institutions increasingly are discarding the values that sustained them when the female presence was less.

1. The older culture saw differential rewards as just when based on performance. The newer culture sees differential rewards as unjust.

2. The older culture sought people who demonstrate the most competence. The newer culture seeks to nurture those who are at a disadvantage.

3. The older culture admires those who seek to stand out. The newer culture disdains such people.

4. The older culture uses proportional punishment that is predictable based on known rules. The newer culture suddenly turns against a target and permanently banishes the alleged violator, based on the latest moral fashions.

5. The older culture valued open debate. The newer culture seeks to curtail speech it regards as dangerous.

6. The older culture saw liberty as essential to a good society. The newer culture sees conformity as essential to a good society.

7. The older culture was oriented toward achievement. The newer culture is oriented toward safety. Hence, we cannot complete major construction projects, like bridges, as efficiently as we used to.

[...]

College no longer helps men to make the transition to adulthood. It keeps them sheltered and controlled, and after graduation they end up living with their parents.