2013 June 09 Sunday
We Can Not Afford A Gap Between Consensus And Actual Reality

Mencius Moldbug, in a post about an essay by Sam Altman, fingers a basic problem in American society: academia and major media embrace a view of reality that is at variance with actual reality in crucial ways.

The basic problem with our society is a disconnect between consensus reality and actual reality. We actually have no shortage of natural leaders. But they cannot actually lead us anywhere. They are operating in consensus reality rather than actual reality. Their joysticks are not plugged in. When the consensus is nonsense, sober good sense is nonsense. Nonsense is no use to anyone.

We face problems which we can't even seriously attempt to solve because of that gap between consensus reality and actual reality. The educational policy of Bush Jr and Ted Kennedy, "No Child Left Behind", failed due to a willful ignorance of actual reality. The current immigration debate takes place without key actual reality facts as part of the discussion. The character assassination of Jason Richwine shows how far our elites will go to keep actual reality out of the debate.

Sam Altman embraces a couple of views that I also hold: First, a society can only go up or down. A society can't easily stand still. Also, the US economy and assorted European economies are not growing fast enough to buy off all the competing demands that democracy (i.e. larcenous voters) make on net taxpayers.

I believe that growth is not only critical for startups, but for most systems. Either you’re growing, or you’re slowly dying. Perfect equilibrium is rare.

One system that seems to be in early death throes is the United States government.


Without growth, we’re voting against someone else’s interest as much as we’re voting for our own.  This ends with lots of fighting and everyone feeling screwed, broken into factions, and unmotivated.  Democracy does not work well in a zero-sum world.  Autocratic political systems probably work better with growth too, but the effect of a lack of growth is likely less pronounced right up until the revolution.

Altman seems to think one cause is a more anti-science mood among the American people. I do not see that. What I see: a declining fraction of the population have sufficient intellectual octane to understand difficult scientific subjects, let alone to do original path-breaking scientific work. Yet we still have a great many scientists. The problem: an exhaustion of low hanging fruit, both scientifically and with natural resources.

Altman says the long term US economic growth rate has slowed from 5% to 2%.

The trendline goes from just under 5% to just under 2%. This is a much more significant drop than it appears, because it compounds exponentially.

Utopians of libertarian and liberal bent want to imagine we can easily return to the old growth rates if only their policy prescriptions were followed. Libertarians and liberals do not want to give up their myths because they do not want to give up their fantasies of their own versions of utopia.

The decline in Californa's relative standing among the states for per capita income shows that in spite of the presence of Silicon Valley companies the average ability of the populace matters far more. California is doing poorly in NAEP scores.

But aren't some trends really positive? Steven Pinker thinks we are on a great long term trend toward lower crime. But New York City's police might be cooking the books to report a decline in crime.

Felony assaults, along with all other major crimes in the city, have sharply decreased over the last decade, according to the New York Police Department.

But during much of that period, the number of assault victims taken to emergency rooms nearly doubled, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In the long run advances in nuclear power, solar power, batteries, stem cells, gene therapy, genetic engineering for agriculture, and a large assortment of other areas might end up weighing more heavily than what is going wrong. But we do not live in the long run. We can not hop in a time machine and go forward 40 or 50 years. We live in a series of short runs and in those short runs Western societies show signs of stagnation and decline in spite of advances in computer and communications technologies.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 June 09 10:54 AM 

SOBL1 said at June 9, 2013 11:06 AM:

California's decline is an example of the right's leadership blindness crushing actual reality from entering the fix. California has declined for reasons of overregulation on businesses, but moreso on the internal demographic change. The right continuously harps on their socialist policies or anti-business policies, but they never point the finger at massive Mexican immigration. The last republican to do so was Gov. Pete Wilson with the Save our State prop 187 vote, but for some odd reason, the national GOP didn't give him any help when he ran for president in '96. He also had a minor health issue that year. The lack of reality talk about California is similar to the GOP's focus on socialism ruining Detroit. We know why Detroit is a hellhole. God forbid someone point it out.

California's anti-immigration prop 187 being titled "Save our State" is one of the few times a political branding for legislation was correct.

observer said at June 9, 2013 3:51 PM:

We are in for 20 years of pain while we wait for genetics and robotics to take off, as they look sure to do. Best to find a safe place to wait it out. Some places are becoming dysfunctional much more rapidly than others.

Engineer Dad said at June 9, 2013 9:49 PM:

In the near term, the solution appears to be either painless emigration or painful political secession.

Regarding emigration, it would be nice to settle in wealthy Singapore, Germany or possibly Canada and design, develop and manufacture products sold to western monied classes.

Secession, in contrast, would create a painful political and economic upheaval, but could be a viable long term solution. The working class would engage in bright flight to 'gated' regions that would establish on onion concentric layering of the least to well connected around the seceded region.

Many influential consensus reality pundits actively pursue a 'Brazil Notre' trading bloc ideal in which America's current borders with Latin America dissolve and disappear.

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"How is immigration different in 2012?

"4. The idea that “the New World” will become a major trading bloc to rival “Chinese Asia” is a more important idea than it might have seemed twenty or even ten years ago. The United States needs extensive Latin connections to maintain its status as active leader of that bloc."

How we can benefit from establishing a trading block with regions whose people have an average IQ from 83 to 89 w/o Secession baffles me. Try sending your kids to public schools in LA w/o buying your way into high prolonged debt. If I was in my mid 20s, I'd rather live in Singapore.

Randall Parker said at June 9, 2013 10:47 PM:

Engineer Dad,

The libertarian economists are deluded. I wish they had to spend time working in high tech industries.

Trevor said at June 10, 2013 5:09 PM:

When you tally up spending at the local, state, and federal level, government as a whole consumes something like 40% of GDP. How can you just discount that and proclaim libertarians as deluded? When you included the fourth branch of government, the administrate state, we've never had larger government than we do today. That GDP growth has slowed to a crawl of 2% may just be a coincidence, but any fair person would have to conclude the jury is still out on the libertarians' claims.

In addition we have a massively underutilized asset: labor. Our labor policies are a disaster; labor participation is at its lowest rate since WWII. Deregulate labor and lower the costs of hiring and then you'll have a greater leg to stand on when you say libertarians are deluded.

Randall Parker said at June 10, 2013 8:06 PM:


The libertarians are deluded on immigration. Declining labor market participation rate: especially at lower levels of education and lower levels of cognitive ability. $8 per hour labor can not compete against much cheaper Asian labor. Robots have also slashed the demand for blue collar labor.

Lower the costs of hiring: compensation of manual laborers is lower than it was decades ago. Compensation for factory workers continues to decline. People with high school and lower levels of education face declining demand for their labor. That's not the result of taxes or regulation. That's the result of automation and outsourcing.

destructure said at June 13, 2013 10:56 AM:

@ Randall

Labor follows supply and demand just like everything else. The price of labor (wages, salary, etc) can be reduced by either increasing supply or reducing demand. Labor supply can be increased 3 ways: organically, insourcing and outsourcing. Demand for labor can be reduced 2 ways: automation and foreign competition. Even if employers don't insource, outsource or automate wages will still face downward pressure (reduced demand) due to competition from imports made with cheaper overseas labor. So the market is going to force a decrease in wages regardless.

Pick your poison because it's going to happen. Personally, I prefer organic and automation to insourcing and outsourcing. See, not every libertarian is deluded on immigration. Some of us have enough sense to take our own side in a fight.

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