Political IEDs

One of the things I hate most about moralists is the way they lie about the past.  I don’t mean that I hate that they lie about the past– lots and lots of people do that.  I hate the way they do it.  They apply the moral standards of today to the people of the past and hate on them for not living up to moral ideas they’d barely heard of and which would probably have gotten them lynched or ostracized from their communities.  Which today’s moralists, with 20/20 hindsight, assume they’d have blithely ignored in their thoughtless, narcissistic righteousness, had they lived back then, instead of caving in immediately, as their conformity and activist piety today suggests they would have.

The timing and success of moral movements, such as abolitionism, is to me a function of societal wealth.  How much work must one trade to get the basics of life?  That’s societal wealth.  Societal wealth, I believe, is a function of population growth plus technological advances in manufacturing, transportation and communications, with free-market ideas facilitating trade as much as possible.  It’s as though “morality” or “compassion” is one of the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The more your basic needs are taken care of, the richer you feel.  The richer you feel, the more receptive to moral arguments you are.

It must necessarily follow that economic conservatives are the true natural allies, in effect, of social liberals.

Some years back, I was at the house of a friend of mine who’s a fan of military history and a gun collector, and bullet technology at the turn of the century was what we were discussing.  Spitzer bullets (the pointed-nose kind that most rifles fire these days) had been invented and were known to be better in many ways.  But, my friend told me, they couldn’t be used in repeating rifles back then until they invented the vertical-feed magazine, in which the bullets are above or below one another, which displaced the horizontal-feed magazine, in which they’re in a line (for example, in the Spencer rifle diagram above).  “Why is that?” I asked.

“Because if you put spitzer bullets in a horizontal-feed magazine, you’ve basically built a bomb,” he explained.

What he meant was that if spitzer bullets are in a line in a gun, the pointed nose of each bullet will act as a firing pin for the cartridge in front of it.  They’ll all go off in a string and in a confined space like deadly dominoes.

So– to return to the train of thought above– what happens if Trump does put in place the tariffs he has threatened, and it increases the cost of living…and people become less receptive to moral arguments as a result, and more parochial, and they vote for more tariffs?

Wealth and culture

At the Washington Post, Megan McArdle, of whom I am a sincere fan, has a post about the puzzle of race and wealth: why, in 2016, “the net worth of the median white family was almost 10 times higher than that of the median black family.”

“Causal explanations come in two flavors,” she goes on to say, “structural or cultural. What ‘nature or nurture’ is to biology, ‘structure or culture’ is to public policy: Is the problem caused by forces external to the community or by its internal behavior?”

She notes a piece by Coleman Hughes, who argues for the cultural explanation.  He cited a 2015 study by the Federal Reserve bank of St. Louis, who “followed over 40,000 families from 1989 to 2013, tracking their wealth accumulation and financial decisions. They developed a financial health scale, ranging from 0 to 5, that measured the degree to which families made “routine financial health choices that contribute to wealth accumulation”—e.g., saving any amount of money, paying credit card bills on time, having a low debt-to-income ratio, etc. At 3.12, Asian families scored the highest, followed by whites at 3.11, Hispanics at 2.71, and blacks at 2.63.”  Education and wealth made no difference: “the racial gap in financial health-scores didn’t shrink; it widened” between educated, middle-class families of different races.

So far, so good.  But then McArdle then swings to her own parsing of this situation.  What if, she says, structure and behavior are actually “just two sides of the same coin”?  In essence, with neologisms like “frictional racism in everyday life” and unsupported statements like “casual discrimination against black Americans adds up”, she makes an argument that amounts to “discrimination steers culture,” or that how you think about money and spend it depends upon how people treat you.  In effect, that black people are being mistreated so widely that they’re spending all their extra cash on external luxuries to comfort themselves.

With all due respect to Megan McArdle, I must nevertheless say that I consider that to be a weak theory.

First, Continue reading “Wealth and culture”

The erratic 9th Circuit throws a curve…for a strike

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, covering most of the far West and Alaska and Hawaii, has a reputation in legal circles as being the source of some of the weirder, daffier legal opinions out there, and one of the most left-wing in general.  Just now, though a 9th Circuit 3-judge panel ruled that the Constitution protects a right to Open Carry firearms.

Why does the anti-gun crowd freak out over legally carrying a gun in public (whether concealed or not)?  What in their minds does banning it accomplish?  People committing crimes are overwhelmingly already criminals, and those committing crimes with guns overwhelmingly obtained the gun illegally.  And yet, somehow, they’ll be stopped or deterred by the ability of law enforcement to charge them with one more crime on top of the main crime?  They’re a lot more likely to be deterred by the possibility of one or more of their victims turning out to be able to shoot them.

But actually accomplishing anything is not the real point.  The point is for people to feel like something is being accomplished.

Dubious about Tesla

A hedge fund manager who is short Tesla just published a piece on Medium arguing that Teslas are four times as dangerous as luxury cars in general, contrary to Elon Musk’s statement that they’re four times as safe.  He used data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which rates these things in terms of driver fatalities per million vehicle-years, and says that the average is 13 per million vehicle-years, while Tesla has already had 11 in 265,000 vehicle-years, which is a rate of a little over 44 per million vehicle-years.

This analysis is rife with problems.

First off, the author says,

“Along the way, we discovered several errors in the database, likely due to fact that Tesla is not assigned a unique model code but is rather part of an obscure basket of “Other domestic manufacturers” with Studebakers, Hudsons, Packards, and others. Worse yet, that isn’t even the only “other vehicle” basket. We found Tesla accidents coded correctly, Tesla accidents coded incorrectly, and Tesla accidents seemingly completely missing.”

Given that unreliability, is it not as likely that there are accidents coded as Teslas which actually were not?  A serious scientist and thinker would discuss each possibility for error, but he does not mention this one.

Second, the author talks about how reliable the statistical sample is, because they have almost 3 million vehicle-years as a sample size.

The problem is, it’s not the vehicle-years that are the sample size, it’s the number of fatal accidents, because fatal accidents can occur for many reasons, some unrelated to car safety.  11 (or 13) is simply so small a number that any number of factors causing fatalities could skew the results wildly.  Over a large sample size, that sort of thing will even out, which is of course why scientists are more confident about large samples– because over large numbers, skewing factors cancel each other out.  But as noted, that’s just not the case here.  What if these particular years happened to see 11 accidents with Teslas that would have been fatal regardless of the car’s maker, but not so much with the others?  What if Tesla drivers, unlike luxury cars in general, skewed particularly young and male (a demographic more prone to aggressive driving and accidents) or these 11 happened not to be wearing seat belts?  Even more fatal to this finding of significance, what if the fatal accidents clustered around the early part of the time period, such that any deaths as the result of the car itself were the result of problems that Tesla has now solved?

It’s particularly strange that a professional investor would make this mistake.  With so small a number, it’s like seeing a week’s worth of market swings in a stock’s price and thinking that they must be reflective of changes in the true value of the stock.

Mind you, I have no opinion on the actual safety of Teslas, nor on the company’s honesty or financial health (though it sounds like Musk is on thin ice either way with his puffery about Teslas being much safer than the average luxury car), nor even on the author’s short of the company’s stock (though a successful short requires a company’s stock to go down dramatically in the relatively near future, and given the promotability of Tesla’s story and the tiny number of 11 driver fatalities per 265,000 vehicle years, that’s not sufficiently certain for it to be a bet I’d be willing to make).

I do believe, however, that the author has tried to spin gold out of insufficient straw.  To me, this evidence is simply not yet strong enough to support his conclusion.  Perhaps other evidence exists out there which would firm it up.   Perhaps not.

A modest question

Viewing the bizarre social and political landscape today, a single question, or really, I suppose, three related ones, keeps occurring to me. First:

What is the specific path, the specific set of occurrences, that would need to happen in order for the Left to have its vision fulfilled?

First off, it’s asking a lot to request the Left to settle on a single vision, given that they won’t settle on a single definition for any powerful word, particularly those of their own invention.  You give a mouse a cookie…  But set that aside.  And Trump leaving the White House doesn’t count, because that’s merely the immediate stick in their craw.  I’m thinking along the lines of the country, and even more broadly, the world (given that Brexit was the kickoff) returning to the Left’s values, the Left’s cultural orbit, et cetera, and the reestablishment of the “Global World Order”.  Second:

How probable does the Left think (not feel) it is that those occurrences will really take place?

They pride themselves on their self-bestowed reputation for rationality, after all.  It seems reasonable enough to ask what their path forward is and its chances of occurring.

Imagine the Democrats return to power tomorrow.  (You might as well, since they will sooner or later.  It’s just the nature of politics that no one gets a permanent victory, and it’s amazing to me that no one seems to see this as the best possible argument for compromise.)  Their backbench is in shambles.  The reputation of major interest groups, like education and unions, has never been lower.  Their activists are a laughingstock, calling other people Nazis while arguing for the abolition of the First Amendment, and prompting even some of their own people to #walkaway.  The cultural power of Hollywood has been gutted by the internationalization of filmmaking and by online video.  Their credibility with a large proportion of poor people is shot.


What laws and/or rules can they pass to clamp down control over the country and make sure this sort of thing never happens again?

To me, it seems like they haven’t even reached that question.  They’re still in the Denial stage.

Hubris Proves Evergreen

Richard Fernandez has a piece titled The Wave over at PJ Media, using that two-word term to describe the 2016 electoral collapses of the weird, lopsided modus vivendi that the West had reached in the late 20th century.  Collapse or mere breakdown, it is true that its elites thought it was so secure that they could play footsie, using the PC electron microscope to discover the equivalent of atoms and hadrons and quarks of the various constituent types of -ism that make up the left-wing demonology.  (I wonder, how many microaggressions can dance on the head of a pin?)

“There is no full explanation as yet for what destroyed the mighty Global World Order,” says Fernandez.  “[S]o far the liberal world order has made no serious intellectual effort to understand the Wave, leaving the task to late-night comedians. They have preferred to depict it as the product of subhuman, bigoted minds.”

On that point– that the Left is still not trying to reach for true understanding– Fernandez and I agree.

I think I have at least the beginnings of an explanation.  The liberal world order reached that point of intellectual incuriosity and complacency due to the strength during the 20th century of its own founding elements.

The first element was the rise of the broadcast media, because it was both narrow and efficient.  Print media had been inefficient in entertainment, but wide in opportunity.  Anyone with the capital for a printing press could operate a magazine or newspaper; New York had literally dozens, mainstream and for minorities both ethnic and intellectual.  By contrast, the broadcast media, being like theater, were immediate, intimate and effective– but a limited amount of bandwidth made for a limited number of radio and television stations, which came to be amalgamated into an even more limited number of networks.  They swiftly formed oligopolies.  As advertising dollars flowed away from print media to broadcast media, the newspaper market shrank accordingly, with many cities becoming one- or sometimes two-newspaper towns.  Many in turn came to be owned by networks of media properties, narrowing the cultural and news bottleneck still further and making a takeover of the media as a whole easier.

A similar dynamic occurred elsewhere, sooner or later.  Among content creators, a few major movie studios dealing with two or three major unions produced pretty much all the desireable content out there, with movie-distribution networks being the equivalent bottleneck to the broadcast-media oligopolies, preventing upstarts like United Artists from breaking up the cozy corporate and professional monopolies.  In colleges, galloping credentialism and incredible rewards flowed to the graduates of the most famous colleges possessing the strongest brands, and it led, inevitably, to similar dynamics occurring in business, law and government, because education was the gateway to those professions.

When this sort of hegemonization occurs on a wide scale, it sets up the conditions for moral movements to take over.  The slow-moving gleichschaltung of the institutions of the West by the Left during the 20th century, predecessor of the Culture Wars, might be analogous to the fairly swift-seeming takeover of the Roman Empire by the then-new and energetic moral force of Christianity.  The Supreme Court aided this takeover by deciding that the no-establishment-of-religion passage in the First Amendment meant a blanket prohibition on mingling church and state, which kept out those competing forms of organized morality that were based on ideas about God.

And then?

What technology had given, technology took away.  Cable-TV companies rose in the 1970s– and their cables began to erode the bottleneck, the limited public airwaves, from the dissemination of content, culture and argument.  Conservatives frustrated with the media’s leftward drift formed, in aggregate, a serious market niche that Fox News thrived in.  As though fiber optics were also subject to Moore’s Law, a couple decades later, the Renaissance of the Internet was accompanied by a Reformation, and began a slow-motion shattering of everything at a moment that coincided with the appearance of Leftist Savonarolas and their Inquisitions.  We now have efficiency as great as– even greater than– broadcast media, but widespread.  If you like mixed historical metaphors, it’s the Wild West.

If there’s anything the Left is readiest to understand about the complaints of Trump supporters, it’s their economic wails; prominent Democrats wondered how on Earth Trump managed to seize the economic-populism territory from them (despite the obvious fact that, taking it for granted, they’d been defending it lightly).  In the miniseries Rome, Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, responded to a question about why the Roman Republic might collapse.  “Because the Roman people are suffering, because slaves have taken all the work, because nobles have taken all the land, and because the streets are filled with the homeless and the starving.”  Before 2016, it could be asked about the Global World Order and the answer paraphrased as “because the American people are suffering, because automation and globalization have taken all the work, because Big Agribusiness has taken all the land, and because the streets are filled with the addicted and the convicted.”  And in the centuries between Augustus and the collapse of the Empire, Rome became much more diverse, ethnically, eroding Roman national identity and, surely, social trust.  But the Left’s old answers– entitlement programs of various kinds– are not only out-of-control in cost but have failed to substitute for jobs in terms of life satisfaction.

In short, the Left has been like a family made wealthy for a few decades by circumstance and then reduced to average wealth.   Its more spoiled members are simply having a hard time coming to terms with having to tighten their belts.  The relative cultural unity of the 20th century was not built on solid ground, and when it crumbled, so did its child, the Global World Order.  Of course, Trump’s enemies would love to conjure up the vision of a horde of modern invading Visigoths wearing MAGA hats, but it’s inappropriate; the situation today is different in many ways from that of ancient Rome.  The United States, while still in trouble from the political self-segregation and the blinding ambition of rabid partisans, is not going to collapse.  The Democrats will at some point return to power.  Like Catholicism after Luther, the values of the Left will survive where they deserve to and in the only place they can: in the hearts and minds of people who were truly persuaded, and not in the minds of those who were forced to pay them lip service.  The situation will revert to the mean and return to equilibrium.  But it’ll never be quite like it was before, and in some ways, that’s a good thing.

TL;DR: Hubris strikes again.

Beware the legislative-educational complex

Instapundit links to an article about a large, long-term study showing that the effects of free pre-kindergarten for low-income children are mildly negative for educational accomplishment over time.  It sounds as though the study was thoroughly and properly done, which makes it of even greater-than-usual concern that the study’s authors had a terrible time getting their findings published.  They wrote,

“It is, of course, understandable that people are skeptical of results that do not confirm the prevailing wisdom, but the vitriol with which our work has been greeted is beyond mere scientific concern.  Social science research can only be helpful to policy makers if it presents findings openly and objectively, even when unwelcome.”

In other words, in a world of limited resources, it is vital for policymakers to avoid what does not work, lest the result be no time, money, energy or political capital left for what might.  Seems like a perfectly reasonable point, right?

But there’s no talking to the academics who freak out about this sort of thing.  Getting away from the inconvenience of practicality in their job results was why they fled into their ivory towers to begin with.  Permitting this sort of thing threatens their ability to preen themselves on their morality, and it threatens the real value of their service to the educational-legislative complex: to provide full employment for teachers, whose unions will then send the extra money they get from the public to the Democratic Party.

The P-hacking frontier of rationality

Baltimore police have apparently stopped noticing crime.

There’s something called “drive-and-wave” policing, which is when the police cruise around just as much as ever, since there are surely GPS trackers in their cars.  But they make the decision not to get out of their cars to investigate this or that potentially suspicious thing.  They use their discretion on that, and they do it in a way that produces positive statistics.  They’re provably more present in high-crime areas, which is what their bosses need to see and their bosses need to grandstand about.  But it doesn’t produce civil-rights or police-brutality prosecutions of themselves.  That it produces fewer arrests and less protection of the population is a side effect which surely they must casually regret.

This practice is called p-hacking, in science.  Basically, it refers to manipulating the parameters of the experiment, or more broadly, the professional situation, in order to maximize the evidence for the desired outcome.

“Scientists aren’t supposed to desire a particular outcome!” I hear you cry.

Of course they aren’t.  Steering science, even when you can’t see it, makes it cease to be science.  And police are supposed to desire their job to be done properly, requiring a fair amount of investigating potentially suspicious behavior in person.  But when you set up the incentives badly, p-hacking occurs.  Scientists want headlines, which findings of null hypotheses and re-testing others’ results don’t bring, and they want tenure, and they want grants, and that means they aren’t permitted to find things that could be construed as racist or sexist.  The police want not to be hit with a discrimination or police-brutality lawsuit by people who have learned that politicians, with still other incentives, have established that as the fastest way to victory.

So both scientist and cop use professional discretion– in this case, to stop at a certain point in the process– to avoid bad results for themselves.  It’s akin to the agency problem in business, in which CEOs and investment advisors make decisions for others, like churning their accounts, that are defensible on the surface but which are actually taken to serve the purposes of the agent (the advisor or executive)– maximizing commissions, for example, or producing “accomplishments” to point to.

More broadly, then, this is a structural problem with rationality.  When you mix rationality with politics, yes, politics does become more rational.

But rationality, in turn, becomes more political.

Union organizing for culture

Writer Daniela Greenberg’s job at Business Insider is the latest casualty of the preposterous circular firing squad that the Left’s supposed victory in the Culture Wars has foisted upon us, for the vicious crime of suggesting that any actor can play any role, and that therefore Scarlet Johansson needn’t step aside from a role playing a transgender person in favor of a transgender actor.

“Only TG people should play TG people!” they squawk.  “Only gay people should write fiction involving gay characters!  Only Chinese people can wear traditional Chinese dresses to their proms!”

In the cultural Left’s world, of course, your group identity is (assuming a lack of membership in their analogue to the Washington Generals, the officially designated Bad Guys) your moneymaker, and anything that might dilute its value must perforce be sheer theft.  What has made them think they get to expand this and apply it to everyone, though?

Part of the answer is that they lost the 2016 election, which not only made them feel angry and as if they had nothing to lose, but disgraced the leadership of both parties.  It was only the Democratic leadership, more practical and transactional than the base, that held them back before this (and at that, only partially).

The underlying impulse, however, due to the fact that large parts of the Left are essentially Calvinist.  They believe in economic and cultural predestination, and that no one gets ahead without the active assistance of others.  Have something?  “You didn’t build that!”  Want to do something or have something?  “Can’t win; don’t try– but we’ll take it using government and hand it to you in exchange for your votes.”  This is nothing new, of course, in economics.  Unions used to guard their territory with incredible jealousy, stifling innovation with rebranded greed, normalized rent-seeking and a zero-sum mentality, that culminated in the snarling bag of cats of labor in 1970s Britain.  Now it has spread to culture, in which ethnic groups are strongly encouraged to be grasping, narrowminded and suspicious of incursions on “their property”, as though Chinese culture were some sort of hydroelectric plant that you can’t permit any scabs or imperialist melting-pot advocates to enjoy or profit from until the Central Committee condescends to permit it.

Everyone is acting as though there’s no way of punishing the social-media shaming addicts.  They will be punished, though, sooner or later, the same way the Brexiteers won Brexit and Trump won the 2016 election– from sheer built-up pressure.  It had better happen soon, though, or the punishments of the Woke will go beyond shame or job loss.  Violence and vigilantism will rear their ugly heads.  None of us wants that, but so far, none of us wants to give up what we’d have to give up to avoid it– the non-Left out of having been pushed as far as we’ll go, and the Left, out of ambition born of righteousness.

Donald Trump

No one can write a political blog these days without addressing our era’s most salient political personality.

I am not a fan of Trump personally, though I will say I find it difficult to figure out what goes on in his head.  In turn that makes it harder for me to be completely confident in judging him.  I always try to get beneath the surface of things, the better to encompass the world and sharpen my philosophy, but he confounds me that way.

Unlike a vast number of people on the Left, though, I have no problem distinguishing what I think of him from what I think of his actions as President so far, or from what I think of the 2016 election and what it means.  Of which, more anon.  It speaks volumes of the Left’s worldview that they can’t differentiate the two– that they personalize the Presidency so much that having Trump in it is like having their finger stuck in an electrical outlet.  Is being able to care that much about a President’s personal characteristics an effect of the cultural and political hegemony they’ve enjoyed for some decades now?  Political wealth leads to political luxury, I guess– and a redefinition of political poverty.