Now Ghani failed as the head of the state, together with the state he was the head of

Monday, August 16th, 2021

There are many ironies in the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Peter Turchin notes, but for him the main one is that Ashraf Ghani started as an academic who studied state collapse and nation building:

Back in 2008 I reviewed, for Nature, the book written by Ghani and Clare Lockhart, Fixing Failed States. My review was not gentle. One of my comments was that the authors

review four examples — post-war Europe, Singapore, the southern United States and Ireland — that, in their opinion, prove that countries confronted with devastation, chaos and entrenched poverty can transform themselves into prosperous and stable members of the global community. Apart from Singapore, however, these are not examples of state collapse. Europe in 1945 was devastated by interstate war; Ireland was poor before its economic miracle but not a collapsed state; and few would consider the United States to be weak.


My review concluded that Fixing Failed States failed as an academic book. Now Ghani failed as the head of the state, together with the state he was the head of.

David Brooks reconsiders Bobos in Paradise

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

David Brooks looks at the recent social phenomenon of the populist regatta and reconsiders Bobos in Paradise:

They are doing pretty well but see themselves as the common people, the regular Joes, the overlooked. They didn’t go to fancy colleges, and they detest the mainstream media.


You can see this phenomenon outside the United States too. In France, the anthropologist Nicolas Chemla calls this social type the “boubours,” the boorish bourgeoisie. If the elite bourgeois bohemians — the bobos — tend to have progressive values and metropolitan tastes, the boubours go out of their way to shock them with nativism, nationalism, and a willful lack of tact. Boubour leaders span the Western world: Trump in the U.S., Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, Marine Le Pen in France, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy. How could people with high-end powerboats possibly think of themselves as the downtrodden? The truth is, they are not totally crazy. The class structure of Western society has gotten scrambled over the past few decades. It used to be straightforward: You had the rich, who joined country clubs and voted Republican; the working class, who toiled in the factories and voted Democratic; and, in between, the mass suburban middle class. We had a clear idea of what class conflict, when it came, would look like — members of the working classes would align with progressive intellectuals to take on the capitalist elite.

But somehow when the class conflict came, in 2015 and 2016, it didn’t look anything like that. Suddenly, conservative parties across the West — the former champions of the landed aristocracy — portrayed themselves as the warriors for the working class. And left-wing parties — once vehicles for proletarian revolt — were attacked as captives of the super-educated urban elite. These days, your education level and political values are as important in defining your class status as your income is. Because of this, the U.S. has polarized into two separate class hierarchies — one red and one blue. Classes struggle not only up and down, against the richer and poorer groups on their own ladder, but against their partisan opposite across the ideological divide.

Culture wars are long wars

Sunday, July 18th, 2021

We are told that conservatives lost the culture war, T. Greer says, but he dissents:

American conservatives never waged a culture war. Conservatives certainly fought, there is no denying that. They fought with every bit of obstruction and scandal their operatives could muster. But this was not a culture war. Rather, America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture. Republicans used cultural issues to gain—or to try to gain—political power. Their brightest minds and greatest efforts went into securing control of judiciary, developing a judicial philosophy for their appointees, securing control of the Capitol, and developing laws that could be implemented in multiple state houses across the nation. No actual attempt to change the culture was attempted.

This was not thought necessary. Conservatives had the people. One decade they were called a “silent” majority; as the culture war heated up, that majority transitioned from “silent” to “moral,” but a majority they remained. In these circumstances it was sufficient to quarantine the cultural dissidents and keep them from using minority maneuvers (“legislating from the bench”) to impose their cultural priorities on the rest of us. Political containment was the name of our game. Republicans played it well. They still play it well, even when the majority of yesterday has melted away.

The left played for different stakes. They fought for American culture as the right fought over it. Their insurgency succeeded as Hemingway’s businessman failed: gradually, then suddenly.

This is the normal pattern of things. The woke campaign to remake American society is only one of a dozen that have reshaped the American republic. The creation of a distinct American national identity between 1750 and 1780, the 2nd Great Awakening’s moral crusade (culminating in widespread anti-slavery sentiment) that transformed the North between 1820 and 1860, the South’s embrace of pro-slavery politics between 1830 and 1860, and the advance of the Progressive Movement between 1880 and 1920 are all examples of this pattern. More recent social and political movements we tend to associate with narrower dates: the ‘neoliberal revolution,’ with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Civil Rights movement with the victories of 1954–1968, and so forth. But here too there was a gradually and a suddenly; behind almost all of these sudden revolutions were a decade or two of less glamorous institution and idea building. We don’t see the Moral Majority of the ‘80s without Oral Roberts tramping about Tulsa in 1947; there is no Ms. without The Second Sex or the Kinsey reports three decades earlier.

Cultures can be changed; movements can be built. But as these examples all suggest, this is not a quick task. Culture wars are long wars. Instilling new ideas and overthrowing existing orthodoxies takes time — usually two to three generations of time. It is a 35–50 year process.

Relying on military rapid response units to save diplomats is a forlorn hope

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

RAND examined 33 successful seizures of Western embassies between 1979 and 201 and found that groups that successfully seized Western embassies typically accomplished this in two hours or less:

The majority of attacks were accomplished in two hours or less, while 90% were finished in six hours or less.

The study strongly suggests that relying on military rapid response units to save diplomats is a forlorn hope. “In none of the cases that we examined did planned response forces, particularly In Extremis Response forces (such as a Commander’s In Extremis Force, Crisis Response Force, Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team platoon, or other U.S.-based Special Operations Forces) arrive before the attack culmination,” the study noted.

In contrast, security forces already on the scene did offer some protection. “Marine Security Guards (MSGs), Bureau of Diplomatic Security personnel, other routine security augmentation forces, and local security forces did play significant roles in defending against many of the attacks we analyzed,” said the study.

Embassy seizures were usually preceded by warning signs. Nearly 60% of attacks generated risk indicators two or more days in advance. “We also found very few cases in which there was advance warning of more than 30 days — only five times out of all the cases studied, or exactly once per decade,” RAND noted. In only 12.5 % of cases did an attack occur without prior warning.

And as embassy defenses improve, attacks are taking longer to succeed. “In the past decade, the median attack duration was four hours, and the average was 4.8 hours,” RAND said. “The lengthening of this duration could offer wider windows of opportunity to intervene.

Why not make a teen Rambo and turn the project over to John Milius?

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

I recently rewatched Red Dawn for the first time in decades, and it wasn’t nearly as cheesy as I expected. The Wikipedia entry explains how it got made:

Originally called Ten Soldiers, it was written by Kevin Reynolds. It was set in the near future as a combined force of Russians and Cubans launched an invasion of the Southwestern U.S.. Ten children take to the hills when their small town is captured, turning into a skilled and lethal guerrilla band.

Producer Barry Beckerman read the script, and, in the words of Peter Bart, “thought it had the potential to become a tough, taut, ‘art’ picture made on a modest budget that could possibly break out to find a wider audience.” He got his father Sidney Beckerman to help him pay a $5,000 option. Reynolds wanted to direct but the Beckermans wanted someone more established. Walter Hill briefly considered the script before turning it down, as did several other directors.

The Beckermans pitched the project to David Begelman when he was at MGM and were turned down. They tried again at that studio when it was being run by Frank Yablans. Senior vice-president for production Peter Bart, who remembers it as a “sharply written anti-war movie…a sort of Lord of the Flies“, took the project to Yablans.

The script’s chances of being filmed increased when Kevin Reynolds became mentored by Steven Spielberg who helped him make Fandango. MGM bought the script.

Bart recalls that things changed when “the chieftains at MGM got a better idea. Instead of making a poignant little antiwar movie, why not make a teen Rambo and turn the project over to John Milius, a genial and rotund filmmaker who loved war movies and also loved war? The idea was especially popular with a member of the MGM board of directors, General Alexander Haig, the former Nixon chief of staff, who yearned to supervise the film personally and develop a movie career.”

Bart says most of MGM’s executives, except for Yablans, were opposed to Milius directing. Bart claims he made a last minute attempt to get Reynolds to direct the film and went to see Spielberg. However, by this stage Fandango was in rough cut, and Bart sensed that Spielberg was disappointed in the film and would not speak up for Reynolds.

Milius was signed to direct at a fee of $1.25 million, plus a gun of his choice.

Milius set about rewriting the script. He and Haig devised a backstory in which the circumstances of the invasion would take place; this was reportedly based on Hitler’s proposed plans to invade the U.S. during World War II. Haig took Milius under his wing, bringing him to the Hudson Institute, the conservative think tank founded by Herman Kahn, to develop a plausible scenario. Milius saw the story as a Third World liberation struggle in reverse; Haig introduced Nicaragua and suggested that, with the collapse of NATO, a left-wing Mexican regime would participate in the Soviet invasion, effectively splitting the U.S. in half. Bart says, “Even Milius was taken aback by Haig’s approach to the project. ‘This is going to end up as a jingoistic, flag-waving movie,’ Milius fretted. As a result, the budget of this once $6 million movie almost tripled.”

Other changes included a shift in focus from conflict within the group to conflict between the teens and their oppressors, and the acceleration of the ages of some of the characters from early teens to high school age and beyond. There was also the addition of a sequence where some children visit a camp to find their parents have been brainwashed.

Milius later said, “I see this as an anti-war movie in the sense that if both sides could see this, maybe it wouldn’t have to happen. I think it would be good for Americans to see what a war would be like. The film isn’t even that violent — the war shows none of the horrors that could happen in World War III. In fact, everything that happened in the movie happened in World War II.”

Bart says Yablans pushed through filming faster than Milius wanted because MGM needed a movie over the summer. Milius wanted more time to plan, including devising futuristic weaponry and to not shoot over winter, but had to accede.

The Pentagon withdrew its cooperation from the film.

Will China invade Taiwan?

Sunday, July 11th, 2021

Will China invade Taiwan?

Taiwan itself is very badly defended and the defence it does have is ill-suited to the task (its military has “pursued a suicidal procurement strategy of expensive boutique US kit that will be no use in the crisis, like fighter jets that will be killed on the ground by the opening Chinese missile barrage”). The US military is aimed at fighting the War on Terror, not defending overseas territories against invasion. US public opinion might not support shedding blood over defending Taiwan.

On the other hand: a war would be a huge risk for China; “every Chinese leader has an incentive to leave such a risky endeavour to his successor,” another forecaster writes. In the short term, the balance of power is still with the Americans, and China can afford to be patient and wait until the middle of the century. The forecasters use facts like these to adjust their initial base-rate estimate.

The six forecasters estimate the likelihood of a significant China-Taiwan conflict at between 8% and 23% in the next five years, with a median estimate of 14%. That doesn’t sound all that bad, but it’s worth adding something.

If we’ve learnt anything from Covid, it should be that preparing for the most likely outcome is not enough. The odds of a global pandemic in any given year is probably only about 1%. But if one happens, it turns out, it’s really bad, and it would have been worth investing a significant amount of resources to avoid or mitigate it. One of the superforecasters told me that “a 14% chance of a proper conflict by 2026 is quite a big deal. If someone says there’s a 10% chance of a really bad outcome, the expected value [the impact multiplied by the probability] is still really bad.” So you might not think a particular bad outcome is very likely, but if it’s bad enough, then you ought to prepare for it anyway.


The median estimate for how likely the US is to come to Taiwan’s aid if there were an invasion is 83%. So we are talking about a very high probability that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would lead to armed conflict between the world’s two superpowers. They also think it’s about 75% likely that the US would try to sink Chinese invasion ships, and say it’s reasonably likely that China would preemptively attack the US forces in the region if they did attack.

What might the knock-on effects be, if the world’s largest economies end up in a shooting war? Well: the US imports about $470 billion’s worth of goods from China a year. The superforecasters’ median estimate is that that would drop by 20%, or, roughly speaking, $100 billion.


And what’s more, it’s very far from obvious that the US would win. If a war were to break out over Taiwan before 2026, the median estimate is that there’s a 57% chance of Chinese victory; if the war were to break out between 2031 and 2035, when China has had another decade to build up its military relative to the US, the estimate is 66%.

Progressive activists have found a cause even more unpopular than “Defund the police”

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

Progressive activists have found a cause even more unpopular than Defund the police, David Frum notes, and are pushing it with even greater vigor:

Eighty-three percent of American adults believe that testing is appropriate to determine whether students may enroll in special or honors programs, according to one of the country’s longest-running continuous polls of attitudes toward education.

Yet across the U.S., blue-state educational authorities have turned hostile to academic testing in almost all of its forms. In recent months, honors programs have been eliminated in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Seattle. On Long Island, New York, and in Pennsylvania and Virginia, curricula are being rethought to eliminate tracking that separates more- and less-adept student populations. New York City’s specialist public high schools are under fierce pressure to revise or eliminate academic standards for admission. Boston’s exam schools will apply different admissions standards in different zip codes. San Francisco’s famous Lowell High School has switched from academically selective admission to a lottery system. At least a thousand colleges and universities have halted use of the SAT, either permanently or as an experiment. But the experiments are rapidly hardening into permanent changes, notably at the University of California, but also in Washington State and Colorado. SAT subject tests have been junked altogether.

Special programs don’t poll as well when the questions stipulate that many Black and Hispanic students would not qualify for admittance. But the programs’ numbers rebound if respondents are assured that students will have equal access to test prep. The New York Post reported earlier this year on an education-reform organization’s findings that almost 80 percent of New Yorkers would want to preserve selective testing at the city’s elite high schools if it were combined with free access to test-preparation coaching for disadvantaged groups.


The supervisors who led the effort to end academically selective admissions at Lowell now face not only a recall campaign, but also a lawsuit from groups including the Asian American Legal Foundation. Accusations of bigotry have flowed both ways. In March, supporters of the old admissions system surfaced tweets by one of the school’s pro-lottery supervisors that accused Asian Americans of anti-Blackness. Black students at Lowell complain of racist incidents; an Asian American Lowell alum told of being bullied at another, less selective high school.

Some information sticks around when it shouldn’t, while other information vanishes when it should remain

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

The Internet is rotting, Jonathan Zittrain notes:

The first study, with Kendra Albert and Larry Lessig, focused on documents meant to endure indefinitely: links within scholarly papers, as found in the Harvard Law Review, and judicial opinions of the Supreme Court. We found that 50 percent of the links embedded in Court opinions since 1996, when the first hyperlink was used, no longer worked. And 75 percent of the links in the Harvard Law Review no longer worked.

People tend to overlook the decay of the modern web, when in fact these numbers are extraordinary — they represent a comprehensive breakdown in the chain of custody for facts. Libraries exist, and they still have books in them, but they aren’t stewarding a huge percentage of the information that people are linking to, including within formal, legal documents. No one is. The flexibility of the web — the very feature that makes it work, that had it eclipse CompuServe and other centrally organized networks — diffuses responsibility for this core societal function.

The problem isn’t just for academic articles and judicial opinions. With John Bowers and Clare Stanton, and the kind cooperation of The New York Times, I was able to analyze approximately 2 million externally facing links found in articles at since its inception in 1996. We found that 25 percent of deep links have rotted. (Deep links are links to specific content — think, as opposed to just The older the article, the less likely it is that the links work. If you go back to 1998, 72 percent of the links are dead. Overall, more than half of all articles in The New York Times that contain deep links have at least one rotted link.


Of course, there’s a keenly related problem of permanency for much of what’s online. People communicate in ways that feel ephemeral and let their guard down commensurately, only to find that a Facebook comment can stick around forever. The upshot is the worst of both worlds: Some information sticks around when it shouldn’t, while other information vanishes when it should remain.

The team is defeated by bureaucracy, indecision, complacency and malaise

Monday, July 5th, 2021

As you might expect from Michael Lewis, his Premonition is terribly well done, Alex Tabarrok says, if formulaic and over-the-top:

But Lewis has a bigger problem than over-the-top writing.

The heroes were defeated. Lewis likes to tell stories of brilliant mavericks like Billy Beane and Michael Burry who go against the grain but eventually, against all odds, emerge victorious. But six hundred thousand people are dead in the United States and whatever victory we have won was ugly and slow. Indeed, Lewis assembles his mighty team but then The Premonition trails off as the team is defeated by bureaucracy, indecision, complacency and malaise before they even have a chance to enter the real battle against the virus.


If there is one central villain in The Premonition, it’s the CDC. Lewis acknowledges that his perspective has changed. In The Fifth Risk, the system (the “deep state” used non-pejoratively if you will) is full of wisdom and power but it’s under threat from Trump. In The Premonition, Trump is an after-thought, at best a trigger or aggravating factor.


Lewis’s most sustained analysis comes in a few pages near the end of The Premonition where he argues that the CDC became politicized after it lost credibility due to the 1976 Swine Flu episode. In 1976 a novel influenza strain looked like it might be a repeat of 1918. Encouraged by CDC head David Sencer, President Ford launched a mass vaccination campaign that vaccinated 45 million people. The swine flu, however, petered out and the campaign was widely considered a “debacle” and a “fiasco” that illustrated the danger of ceding control to unelected experts instead of the democratic process. The CDC lost authority and under Reagan the director became a political appointee rather than a career civil servant. Thus, rather than being unprecedented, Trump’s politicization of the CDC had deep roots.

Today the 1976 vaccination campaign looks like a competent response to a real risk that failed to materialize, rather than a failure. So what lessons should we take from this? Lewis doesn’t say but my colleague Garett Jones argues for more independent agencies in his excellent book 10% Less Democracy. The problem with the CDC was that after 1976 it was too responsive to political pressures, i.e. too democratic. What are the alternatives?

The Federal Reserve is governed by a seven-member board each of whom is appointed to a single 14-year term, making it rare for a President to be able to appoint a majority of the board. Moreover, since members cannot be reappointed there is less incentive to curry political favor. The Chairperson is appointed by the President to a four-year term and must also be approved by the Senate. These checks and balances make the Federal Reserve a relatively independent agency with the power to reject democratic pressures for inflationary stimulus. Although independent central banks can be a thorn in the side of politicians who want their aid in juicing the economy as elections approach, the evidence is that independent central banks reduce inflation without reducing economic growth. A multi-member governing board with long and overlapping appointments could also make the CDC more independent from democratic politics which is what you want when a once in 100 year pandemic hits and the organization needs to make unpopular decisions before most people see the danger.

Happy Secession Day!

Sunday, July 4th, 2021

Once again, happy Secession Day:

Gardner is one of those people who created our world but is little remembered by it

Sunday, June 27th, 2021

I was reading Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution, when the tech billionaire advising the White House asked our protagonist, “Are you familiar with John Gardner?”:

“Gardner is one of those people who created our world but is little remembered by it. He engineered what were called the ‘Great Society’ reforms back in the 1960s. The program changed everything in America, from guaranteeing voting rights for the groups that were then minorities to establishing a government role in medical and retirement assistance, to even creating the public broadcasting networks that gave your child Sesame Street.”

Naturally I wanted to find out more:

A native of California, Gardner attended Stanford University. As an undergrad he set several swimming records and won a number of Pacific Coast championships, and graduated “with great distinction.” After earning a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1938, Dr. Gardner taught at Connecticut College and at Mount Holyoke.

During the early days of World War II he was chief of the Latin American Section, Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service. He subsequently entered the United States Marine Corps and was assigned to the O.S.S., serving in Italy and Austria.

He joined the staff of the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1946, and in 1955 he became president of that group, and concurrently, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He also served as an advisor to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations and as a consultant to the U.S. Air Force, which awarded him the Exceptional Service Award in 1956. He was a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and of the Educational Testing Service and a director of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. He served as chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Panel on Education, and was chief draftsman of that group’s widely circulated report, The Pursuit of Excellence.

Gardner was the founder of two influential national U.S. organizations: Common Cause and Independent Sector. He authored books on improving leadership in American society and other subjects. He was also the founder of two prestigious fellowship programs, The White House Fellows and The John Gardner Fellowship at Stanford University and U.C. Berkeley. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. In 1966 Gardner was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

Gardner’s term as Secretary of HEW was at the height of Johnson’s Great Society domestic agenda. During this tenure, the Department undertook both the huge task of launching Medicare, which brought quality health care to senior citizens, and oversaw significant expansions of the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that redefined the federal role in education and targeted funding to poor students. Gardner resigned as head of HEW because he could not support the war in Vietnam.

P.W. Singer and August Cole previously wrote Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, which I discussed a few times.

Surviving the Darwinian process of being confronted with what happened in different parts of the world

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

Peter Turchin wrote War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires 17 years ago, but he feels it has aged surprisingly well:

For seven years before I even started writing it, I read voraciously through books and articles by historical sociologists, economists, archaeologists, cultural evolutionists, and — most important — historians. I read both historians who wrote “grand historical narratives,” such as William McNeill, and historians who attempted to view history at a more personal level, through the eyes of individuals. A great example of the latter is Barbara Tuchman, who in A Distant Mirror followed the fortunes of Sieur de Coucy as he tried to survive the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages.

Human brain is a wonderful inference engine. Like many before me, as I ploughed through this sea of information, I started seeing patterns. I remember that I went through a huge number of ideas and possible explanations, many proposed by others, a few that occurred to me. 99% of them were discarded almost as soon as they came up. But a few endured, surviving the Darwinian process of being confronted with what happened in different parts of the world and different historic eras. And so, I ended up writing my own “grand historical narrative.” War and Peace and War was the result.

Turchin finds the current book cover a bit bland and generic and really liked the cover of the first, hardcover edition, based on a detail from The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak (1895) by Vasily Surikov, which is a wonderful illustration of one of the central ideas in War and Peace and War, the metaethnic frontier.

Does the racial gap in arrests lessen as the crimes get more serious?

Monday, June 21st, 2021

Steve Sailer reviews Charles Murray’s short, lucid book Facing Reality: Two Truths about Race in America about the essential factors influencing society — intelligence and violence:

After The Bell Curve, the great and good made immense efforts to Close The Gap, if only to prove Murray wrong. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, pushed by George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy, mandated the Lake Wobegonization of America: Every single public school student must score “proficient” by 2014.

That didn’t happen.

Similarly, Bill Gates poured huge sums into, first, the “small learning communities” fad of the 2000s and then the “Common Core” whoop-de-do of the 2010s. Neither accomplished anything noticeable.

Today, after 55 years of vast spending to eliminate the race gap on tests, the optimistic centrist education reformers of the “All We Have To Do Is Implement My Favorite Panacea” school are finally out of fashion, leaving Ibram X. Kendi and Charles Murray as the last men standing. One or the other must be right: either Murray (blacks, unfortunately, have problems because they tend to be less smart and more violent) or Kendi (any disparities demonstrate that whites are evil and therefore must pay).


But, The Establishment no longer really believes that race gaps can be reduced. Instead, the new conventional wisdom is Kendi’s: Tests must be abolished. This will make the problems caused by lower black intelligence go away for Underpants Gnomes reasons.


Murray, however, has uncovered newly available arrest statistics from the Open Data Initiative by race (with Hispanics usually broken out) and type of crime for thirteen cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

For property crime, Murray finds, Latinos were arrested 1.5 times as often as whites, a modest difference especially considering the disparity in average age.


Blacks in these thirteen cities were arrested for property offenses five times as often per capita as whites.

Are cops just racistly arresting blacks for ticky-tack property offenses like, say, taking an extra newspaper from the rack?

One way to get a clue about this is to look at more serious incidents, such as violent crimes. Does the racial gap in arrests lessen as the crimes get more serious?

No. Hispanics were arrested for violence about 2.7 times as often as whites, while blacks were arrested almost ten times as much.

How about murder, the most diligently investigated of all crimes?

Latinos are arrested for murder about five times more often per capita than whites, while blacks are about twenty times more likely than whites to be arrested for murder.


Whether Facing Reality will inspire a desperately needed national conversation on the reality of racial differences, or whether it will be deep-sixed like Human Diversity, remains to be seen.

But Murray has given it his best shot.

They’re unlikely to function as effective team members in an organization that has to deal with everyday realities

Saturday, June 12th, 2021

R.R. Reno is not inclined to hire graduates from America’s elite universities:

A decade ago I relished the opportunity to employ talented graduates of Princeton, Yale, Harvard and the rest. Today? Not so much.

As a graduate of Haverford College, a fancy school outside Philadelphia, I took interest in the campus uproar there last fall. It concerned “antiblackness” and the “erasure of marginalized voices.” A student strike culminated in an all-college Zoom meeting for undergraduates. The college president and other administrators promised to “listen.” During the meeting, many students displayed a stunning combination of thin-skinned narcissism and naked aggression. The college administrators responded with self-abasing apologies.

Haverford is a progressive hothouse. If students can be traumatized by “insensitivity” on that leafy campus, then they’re unlikely to function as effective team members in an organization that has to deal with everyday realities. And in any event, I don’t want to hire someone who makes inflammatory accusations at the drop of a hat.

Student activists don’t represent the majority of students. But I find myself wondering about the silent acquiescence of most students. They allow themselves to be cowed by charges of racism and other sins. I sympathize. The atmosphere of intimidation in elite higher education is intense. But I don’t want to hire a person well-practiced in remaining silent when it costs something to speak up.

Just ask Spock for his opinion, then do the opposite

Friday, June 11th, 2021

In The Scout Mindset Julia Galef argues that Star Trek’s Spock is a “Straw Vulcan” — a caricature of rationality designed to make rationality look foolish — but Tim Hartford sees him as a rather typical economist:

There is another way that we economists might learn from observing Spock’s mistakes. He is a truly terrible forecaster. Galef, rather delightfully, has gone through the full catalogue of Star Trek, finding every occurrence she could of Spock making a prediction.

“[There’s] only a very slight chance [this plan] would work,” Spock tells Captain James T Kirk at one stage. The plan works. “Intercepting all three ships is an impossibility,” he warns Kirk during another adventure. Kirk intercepts all three ships. The chance of a daring escape? “Difficult to be precise, Captain. I should say approximately 7,824.7 to one.” They escape.


Yet this sort of overconfident nonsense is common in real-world punditry. We seem to have an unslakable thirst for knowledge about the future. Sadly, knowledge about the future is not easy to acquire, so we satisfy ourselves with the pretence of knowledge. If you can’t be accurate, at least sound self-assured. Spock does, every time.

“My choice will be a logical one,” he upbraids a subordinate, shortly before making another fatal error, “arrived at through logical means.”

Well said. But his record is not so good. According to Galef’s tally, when Spock says something is “impossible” it happens 83 per cent of the time, and when he gives something more than a 99.5 per cent chance, it happens just 17 per cent of the time. (He does OK with his forecasts of “likely”.) This makes him a reliably contrarian indicator, as Kirk seems to have realised — just ask Spock for his opinion, then do the opposite.

Failing that, if you want to become a better forecaster, do what Galef did: look back at old forecasts and keep score.