2009 November 30 Monday
Mexico Cracking Down On Border Criminals

For years I've argued that if the United States was to clamp down and build barriers along the entire US-Mexican border to stop smuggling and illegal crossings then one effect would be to make Mexico a more civilized and lower crime country. The flow of drugs, money, and weapons across the border empowers the Mexican criminal cartels and undermines control of Mexico by its sovereign government. The money corrupts police, army, and government officials. The weapons scare the police out of doing their jobs. Well, even Mexico's government has figured this out as a Los Angeles Times news article title demonstrates: Mexico tightens security at U.S. border crossings

The new infrastructure -- including gates, cameras and vehicle scales -- aims to hamper the smuggling of drug money and weapons to Mexican cartels. Businesses are protesting the increased wait times.

We should build border barriers that would force all traffic thru controlled border crossings. Then we should scale up the technology and personnel used to inspect vehicles and people at the crossings.

The Mexican government wants to stop the movement of criminals across the border. Good idea. The US government should do the same.

"We want security," Calderon said on a recent trip to Tijuana. "This requires sacrifice and measures that permit us to stop the trafficking of weapons, drugs, drug money and criminals across this border."

The US should systematically deport all the Mexican criminals who are in the US and should access Mexican crime databases to check for Mexican criminals who are in the US who haven't yet been caught committing crimes here.

Also see the articles from the LA Times series Mexico's Drug War.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 30 07:50 AM  Immigration Crime
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2009 November 27 Friday
Regulations To Protect Finances Of Ignorant Masses?

Felix Salmon thinks we need a regulatory agency to protect the ignorant masses from their financial literacy.

John Carney is right: a very large number of Americans is always going to be financially illiterate, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

More than half (and a growing proportion) of the American public have IQs below 100. But even an IQ of 100 isn't enough to understand how to buy stocks or what's a good mortgage.

Indeed, if we try too hard to do something about improving financial literacy, there’s a good chance we’ll only end up creating a new cohort of overconfident financial illiterates who think they understand things when they don’t.

This is why we need a Consumer Financial Protection Agency: to make sure that people buying financial products don’t end up buying something that’s going to end up exploding in their face.

During the era of Protestant ascendancy this might have worked. But the WASPs do not run things any more. Nowadays the supposedly pro-regulatory Democrats in Congress support usury. The government isn't capable of benign paternalism. A regulatory agency for consumer finance would likely be captured by the brain dead pro-diversity forces of political correctness. How can a regulatory agency protect people from loans they shouldn't take out when sensible regulations that provide useful protection would have "disparate impact" on NAMs? (i.e. a greater reduction in loans to minorities that have higher rates of defaults)

We have a cancer of know-nothing political correctness eating away at our ability to form rational government policies and that cancer is infecting more and more areas of policy.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 27 06:11 PM  Economics Financial Regulation
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2009 November 25 Wednesday
Americans Bad Financial Squirrels

The nation is not saving nuts for long winters. The US government has taken out a massive $12 trillion Adjustable Rate Mortgage and ARM rates are going to go up.

With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. Other forecasters say the figure could be much higher.

In concrete terms, an additional $500 billion a year in interest expense would total more than the combined federal budgets this year for education, energy, homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another $500 billion per year to debt interest payments is going to put a big crimp in the plans of the Democrats to grow the social welfare state. Rationing of health care is therefore inevitable. Blank checks for every test and expert consultation just won't be possible for everyone. Higher taxes to pay for these higher costs will lower living standards and slow economic growth.

This reminds me: I was explaining to someone this morning why Boeing is a bad long term stock hold. Peak Oil will kill airplane demand while the building US federal debt crisis will cause a slashing of US defense spending. The US global footprint is headed for a big pruning. Just as well, the US elites can't conduct a competent foreign policy anyway.

The next generation of America's work force isn't going to be as productive as the retiring Baby Boomers.

The American people are bad squirrels.

“What a good country or a good squirrel should be doing is stashing away nuts for the winter,” said William H. Gross, managing director of the Pimco Group, the giant bond-management firm. “The United States is not only not saving nuts, it’s eating the ones left over from the last winter.”

Economist James Hamilton worries that the future trajectory of US federal deficits is headed for a wall.

But European politics may not import all that well to this side of the Atlantic. Receipts of the U.S. federal government have never exceeded 21% of U.S. GDP, even at the height of World War II. A permanent move to taxation levels significantly above that would require a major shift in the political landscape, for which I see no consensus of support. To me that implies that any spending trajectory inconsistent with the long-established U.S. norm may be headed for a political brick wall.

Hamilton disagrees with people who argue we can grow our way out of the forecasted much larger debt. I agree for a reason he doesn't mention: We can't count on economic growth. First off, America's demographics are deteriorating. Second, Peak Oil is going to cause a series of recessions followed by weak recoveries. If the economy stagnates then the deficit will swell and debt servicing costs will balloon.

China wants higher interest rates on US debt to boost their earnings. Failing that, the Chinese want their money back:

But seriously, if the Chinese would not lend to the United States then Americans would be better off. The US government couldn't run up as much debt if demand for that debt declined. Plus, the US dollar would fall and this would increase demand for US goods and help balance the trade deficit.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 25 01:35 PM  Economics Government Costs
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Democrats Support Usury

The party of rich financiers defends usury.

WASHINGTON - Efforts in Congress to cap credit-card interest rates are faltering because of opposition from Democrats and a lack of specific support from the White House, despite growing consumer outrage over a rush by banks to impose rates as high as 30 percent.

Since the Democratic Party is clearly the party of Ivy League graduate financiers the less educated and lower status lower classes are going to have to take their complaints to the other political party which must be there to represent them. That's how it works in a 2 party system. One of the parties represents capital and the other represents labor. Surely both parties haven't been captured by rival upper class factions?

Let this be a lesson to the spendthrifts who voted for the Democrats in 2008. If you want to borrow lots of money and pay low interest rates before defaulting you are going to have to find another party to vote for.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 25 01:23 PM  Economics Credit
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Animated US County View Of Unemployment

Watch this animated sequence of unemployment in the United States by county starting in September 2007. That is all.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 25 11:48 AM  Economics Labor
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United States Built Infrastructure Iraqis Can't Maintain

Imagine a world where instead of wasting a couple trillion dollars on Iraq we had spent the money on ways to replace oil imports. We'd have higher living standards and a lower trade deficit. The Iraqis can't maintain the infrastructure we built.

BAGHDAD — In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges.

A society that can't build some infrastructure is also a society that can't maintain it.

But there are growing concerns among American officials that Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans have left, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and jeopardizing Iraq’s ability to provide basic services to its people.

Read the full article. The US builds facilities, hands them over to the Iraqi government, and the facilities are immediately closed. Not enough engineers, doctors, nurses, and other skilled workers to use the facilities that US taxpayers paid to build. The Iraqis do not feel grateful because they are still poor and see lots of destruction around them. Plus, they resent that we are there in the first place.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan US officials are looking at building alliances with tribes since obviously the central government is never going to amount to much more than a big corruption racket.

A lack of realism about human nature causes American governments to engage in massively wasteful and futile undertakings. The lies that pass for politically correct conventional wisdom about human nature lead to wealth destruction and decay of our own society while simultaneously breeding resentment abroad. When rational thinking about the evidence on human nature is placed beyond the pale there's a big price to pay and we are paying it.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 25 08:53 AM  Mideast Iraq Decay
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2009 November 24 Tuesday
More Food Insecurity In America

It is a record-breaking year for America. I'm quite sure it is one of many more to come.

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans who lived in households that lacked consistent access to adequate food soared last year, to 49 million, the highest since the government began tracking what it calls “food insecurity” 14 years ago, the Department of Agriculture reported Monday.

Since the ethnic groups with hunger problems (non-Asian minorities or NAMs) are the fast growing portions of the American population our future will feature more hunger.

Problems gaining access to food were highest in households with children headed by single mothers. About 37 percent of them reported some form of food insecurity compared with 14 percent of married households with children. About 29 percent of Hispanic households reported food insecurity, compared with 27 percent of black households and 12 percent of white households.

But it is a thought crime to think we should keep out immigrants who are most likely to end up poor and hungry. It is a thought crime to think that group average differences in performance starting at a very young age are not malleable to social engineering of environment. Since thinking rationally is taboo we get stupid policies and worsening results.

Single motherhood causes child poverty and hunger.

Heather Mac Donald wonders at the real desperation and competence of the single mothers in America who can't keep food on the table.

Is it really the case that a minimally competent mother (we won’t even contemplate fathers here) in this fabulously wealthy country where food is so cheap cannot give her child a healthy breakfast in the morning? Granted, doing so at low cost entails shopping for food low on the processing chain and, horrors of horrors, actually cooking it. A portion of rolled oats in a large discount container costs pennies and takes five minutes to cook. Too onerous? I know that there is a shortage of decent supermarkets and fresh food in the inner city, a result of low demand and high crime. (Actually, there’s not a decent supermarket in all of New York City.) But a little planning should be able to overcome that shortage by occasional trips to someplace where you can buy in bulk. Here’s a test of whether someone is really suffering from hunger or even just “food insecurity”: Are you willing to cook legumes for a few hours? If not, you’re not starving and have no claim on the public purse.

It really is amazing how cheaply you can eat if you are willing to start with raw materials.

I am pessimistic about the future of America because we no longer hold the lowest classes to a high standard of behavior. As long as poor people are allowed to follow their desires and we step in to bail them out we are going to get a society of increasing irresponsibility and incompetence.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 24 08:04 PM  Civilizations Decay
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2009 November 23 Monday
Israel Sees Younger Unmarried Palestinians As Dangers

In a debate on Dennis Mangan's blog about whether Muslim-Palestinian US Army Major Hasan's killing spree was motivated by Islam or sexual frustration or both a commenter named J said the Israelis cut down Palestinian attacks by restricting entrance to Palestinians over 40 and married. Necessity forces them to be pragmatic and go with what works. America is a wealthier and more powerful country and therefore can afford to ignore more aspects of reality and make larger scale mistakes - which our elites do without hesitation.

Auster's reaction to the idea that Major Hassan went amok fueled by sexual frustration only shows his profound ignorance of (Palestinian) Arabs. Here in Israel we have much experience with Arab suicide bombers and violent street mobs. One of the most effective remedies to the Intifada suicide attacks was to limit work permits in Israel to Palestinians over 40 and married. (That was improved upon by building a fence around Israel, which completely stopped that phenomenon). We cannot stop them coming to pray in the Jerusalem Al Aqsa Mosque, and every Friday prayer used to end in bloody confrontations with the police. So now, when the Arab street gets excited, Israel allows the entrance of only people over 40 and married. About 50% of the Palestinian girls are married by the age of 18, while men usually have to build their house to marry, which is around 30. Marriage is generally an exchange = you have to supply your sister in esxchange for a bride. That's why "honour killings" are so common - if the sister does not agree, she "brings shame on the family" and the brother cannot marry. Whores are killed by the "morality police". The consequence is that sexual perversion (goats?) and murderous acts of running amok are quite common in the Arab society, but who cares? They are never reported not here nor in the USA which is OK. I am sure if Major Hassan had been married he would have reacted with less violence.

Osama Bin Laden has multiple wives. But he didn't personally pilot an airplane into a skyscraper. The 9/11 hijackers were younger and single. If we'd kept out young single Muslims then the World Trade Center would still exist. A policy similar to Israel's would still allow older and safer Muslim businessmen with long business track records to come to the US to buy and sell.

If America's leaders wanted to put the safety of the American population ahead of other considerations then they'd end Muslim immigration and deport non-citizen Muslims. But America's leaders have other priorities.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 23 05:29 AM  Immigration Terrorism
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2009 November 20 Friday
Electronic Medical Records Do Not Help Cut Costs?

A study comparing performance of hospitals at different levels of electronic record implementation findsthat I could file for divorce delivers at best a very small quality of care benefit or a reduction in hospital stay time.

The nation is set to begin an ambitious program, backed by $19 billion in government incentives, to accelerate the adoption of computerized patient records in doctors’ offices and hospitals, replacing ink and paper. There is wide agreement that the conversion will bring better care and lower costs, saving the American health care system up to $100 billion a year by some estimates.

But a new study comparing 3,000 hospitals at various stages in the adoption of computerized health records has found little difference in the cost and quality of care.

I've become suspicious of silver bullets advocated by politicians trying to avoid contentious trade-offs between competing demands of interest groups. Computers are not (at least in the foreseeable future) going to radically improve the quality of care so much that they appreciably cut costs. Until computers either replace health care workers or make incurable diseases curable they aren't going to do much to cut costs.

What are the big drivers of higher health care costs?

  • An aging population, pointless defensive medicine caused by the tort lawyers (and you need to talk to a smart nurse to find out how much this costs us).
  • More government subsidies increasing demand.
  • Regulatory obstacles in the way of introducing newer and cheaper therapies (basically only expensive drugs can generate the revenue to afford the approval costs),.
  • Expensive new technologies that make more diseases treatable - albeit often with only small benefits.
  • Patient demands for all possible treatments whatever the cost and how little the benefit.

To address the economic forces that drive up medical costs requires that Democrats take on their key interest group the trial lawyers, that both parties tell the populace that aggressive treatment of late stage terminally ill patients is a big waste (which the Repubs just demagogued with their "death panels" talk), and that the Democrats admit that the US Food and Drug Administration causes harm as well as good. Our growing portion of the populace that is stupid isn't going to push for needed changes. Will enough parts of our elites promote reforms to restore some common sense? I'm betting against it. The declining empire will continue to decline for this and other reasons. Things will get worse.

Update: While on the subject of great false hopes of medical care: Testing for early detection of cancer has been oversold. Early detection is often marketed under the label of preventative medicine. Well, it leads to unnecessary and harmful treatments and lots of money spent on tests.

Two new recommendations, calling for delaying the start and reducing the frequency of screening for breast and cervical cancer, have been met with anger and confusion from some corners, not to mention a measure of political posturing. The backers of science-driven medicine, with its dual focus on risks and benefits, have cheered the elevation of data in the setting of standards. But many patients — and organizations of doctors and disease specialists — find themselves unready to accept the counterintuitive notion that more testing can be bad for your health.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 20 08:40 PM  Economics Health
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Life Expectancy In Mexico

Recently on an old post an irate commenter named Maria told me in ALL CAPS (with lots of exclamation points) that I didn't understand why illegal immigrants are coming to America: Because they can't survive in their own countries. I deleted her ALL CAPS comment and sent her an e-mail to submit it again without using ALL CAPS. I do, parenthetically, delete comments that are written in ALL CAPS. I probably have missed a few but ALL CAPS is one of the few things (aside from spam) that cause me to delete comments. But I digress.

Maria's comment about survival got me curious about something: How long do starving, desperate, incredibly poor Mexicans live? Average life expectancy in every Mexican state is above 70 years.

Another immigration myth shot to hell.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 20 02:37 PM  Mexico
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Biologically Intact Family Gets Child Support Payments

Truly an amazing and disgusting story: “I pay child support to a biologically intact family”.

For four years, Mike had known that the girl he had rocked to sleep and danced with across the living-room floor was not, as they say, “his.” The revelation from a DNA test was devastating and prompted him to leave his wife — but he had not renounced their child. He continued to feel that in all the ways that mattered, she was still his daughter, and he faithfully paid her child support. It was only when he learned that his ex-wife was about to marry the man who she said actually was the girl’s biological father that Mike flipped. Supporting another man’s child suddenly became unbearable.

Two years after filing the suit that sought to end his paternal rights, Mike is still irate about the fix he’s in. “I pay child support to a biologically intact family,” Mike told me, his voice cracking with incredulity. “A father and mother, married, who live with their own child. And I pay support for that child. How ridiculous is that?”

Is the Law fair? Not remotely. Guys, be careful. Love isn't a battlefield. Love is a minefield.

Roissy advocates mandatory paternity testing at birth. I agree.

This is why I support mandatory paternity testing (MPT) at birth. MPT would completely negate the risk of having to choose between loyalty to a child to whom the father has already bonded, and walking away to leave the child to the whore mother to raise. It’s a simple procedure that would intrude on no one’s rights or emotional well-being, similar to how the state requires driver’s tests for people who want the privilege of driving. By making it mandatory, all issues of trust are rendered moot. If it’s discovered the child isn’t his, the father is legally absolved of any further paternal or marital obligations, and is welcome to exit the marriage without having to pay one red cent to the bitch.

The guy Mike above feels emotionally bonded to his non-daughter. How cruel is nature to give him an emotional matrix that makes him feel that way? How cruel is his ex-wife? He'd have been far better off to find out right after the birth so that he could file for divorce before the wife left the hospital.

On a related note, I'm currently reading Geoffrey Miller's Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior. For realists about human nature the book is an informative synthesis of what is known about how we seek status by buying things. People waste a lot of money buying things to signal status that do not do much (if anything) to raise their status in the minds of potential mates and other observers. The book will help you understand your buying impulses and think more rationally about your desires.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 20 11:20 AM  Cultural Wars Marriage
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2009 November 16 Monday
The Mysteries Of Drug Price Economics

The Gray Lady misses the elephant in the hospital operating room. An article in the New York Times looks at how the drug makers are hiking prices right before the US Congress passes legislation to subsidize health insurance for more people.

Even as drug makers promise to support Washington’s health care overhaul by shaving $8 billion a year off the nation’s drug costs after the legislation takes effect, the industry has been raising its prices at the fastest rate in years.

The article suggests drug companies are doing this in order to negotiate from higher existing price positions. But they entirely miss an obvious really unpolitical explanation for the higher prices.

In the last year, the industry has raised the wholesale prices of brand-name prescription drugs by about 9 percent, according to industry analysts. That will add more than $10 billion to the nation’s drug bill, which is on track to exceed $300 billion this year. By at least one analysis, it is the highest annual rate of inflation for drug prices since 1992.

The article reports that a Harvard economist observed the same pattern of bigger price increases when Congress passed a bill to fund a Medicare drug benefit for old folks. Well, of course. If you increase demand you'll increase prices. But the article fails to mention this obvious lesson from basic economics.

The article continues in this oblivious vein. Look how they mention that the new health care legislation in Congress will increase demand. But they do not say "increase demand". In fact, "demand" doesn't show up in the whole article. How about some economic literacy?

The industry stands to gain about 30 million customers with drug insurance from the legislation pending in Congress. But the industry also faces the prospect of tougher negotiations from both public and private buyers as the government tries to squeeze savings out of the health system.

An aging, growing population combined with more subsidies for drug purchases will drive up prices. Higher demand raises prices.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 16 11:37 PM  Economics Health
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2009 November 15 Sunday
Most Criminals Return To Crime After Prison

A USC press release about crime starts with a depressing figure: Most criminals are not turned away from a life of crime by time in the pokie.

Nearly 650,000 people are released from the nation’s prisons every year, and about nine million more are released from jails. Two-thirds of those who come out of prison are rearrested within three years of release.

What portion of the remaining third also commits more crimes but doesn't get caught for the first 3 years?

I picture the creation of a parallel society on, say, remote islands where criminals get released. The more dangerous get released together in some islands. Other islands get progressively less dangerous people. Why put ourselves at risk to these people?

Here's the kicker: If criminals remain as criminals then the system has failed them.

Federal, state, community and faith-based leaders say these statistics indicate the individuals are not getting the services they need to ensure a successful transition back into their communities.

Services! I say put them on an island with jobs doing light manufacturing. Choose a few industries to protect from foreign competition and let those industries set up factories on, say, the Aleutian islands. Instead of making prisons on the island make safe areas where managers live behind protective walls. The managers could interact with the workers in adjacent factories with guards present.

See any red flags?

Eighty percent of federal prisoners report a history of drug or alcohol abuse, two-thirds of offenders do not have a high school diploma or equivalency degree, up to 16 percent have at least one serious mental disorder and 10 percent of those entering jail are homeless in the months before incarceration.

Some people belong in mental institutions. Letting mentally ill people live on the street is a bad idea.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 15 09:36 PM  Crime Demographics
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Peter Baldwin Compares Europe And America

UCLA historian Peter Baldwin has written a book arguing that Europe and the United States aren't as different as commonly thought and that some of the differences that exist do not fit common stereotypes. The book, The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe are Alike, does a variety of comparisons including health care.

Take health care. Despite the high cost of care and the high rate of uninsurance in the United States, the quantifiable outcomes of the American health care system compare favorably with Europe's, Baldwin found. Proportionately speaking, fewer Americans die of major diseases, strokes, heart attacks, hypertension and cancer than citizens of several European nations.

"If these measures were stripped of any identifying information and you were asked to choose the country which doesn't have a national health care system, you wouldn't necessarily pick the United States," Baldwin says. "In every respect, America falls more or less smack dab in the middle."

In fact, when it comes to the four major cancer killers — colorectal, breast, lung and prostate — Americans actually have better five-year survival rates than Europeans, who are covered by national health insurance systems of one form or another. And these figures include the 15 percent of Americans who don't have health insurance.

So that enormous amount of money Americans spend on health care does buy the sick among us something in the short term. I would argue that it also provides much bigger incentives for the development of new treatments and that those incentives are the biggest benefit of the American health care system. I'd like to find ways to get bigger incentives at lower cost. But I'd prefer higher incentives at higher cost to lower incentives at lower cost.

One point I do not see mentioned in the current health care spending debate: Most people who are alive are not seriously ill. Therefore for most people it is the health care treatments available in the future and not the health care system's delivery of existing treatments in the present that should be their primary concern. Everyone has some disease waiting for them in the future that is currently fatal today. Your greatest interest is in a health care system that provides big incentives for the cure of currently incurable fatal diseases and chronic debilitating and painful diseases.

Europeans waste too much energy transporting freight. While trains are the preferred form of mass transit of more affluent people the much greater American use of trains for freight counts for more than the greater European use of trains for passenger travel.

The United States also has an unexpectedly strong track record when it comes to public transportation, Baldwin found. True to reputation, Americans drive much more than Europeans — some 70 percent more than their closest peers, the Italians. And the U.S. public transportation system leaves, as Baldwin puts it, "much to be desired."

But it's not because America doesn't have a good rail system, he says. It's just that Americans rely less on rail to move passengers than do Europeans. In the United States, rail much more frequently moves goods than in Europe. In fact, well over three times as much freight is carried by rail per capita in the United States than in the closest European nation, Sweden. All European nations, meanwhile, send a higher percentage of freight by road than America. As a result, a smaller percentage of transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions is caused by road travel in the United States than anywhere in Europe other than Norway.

"It may be that Europeans virtuously ride the rails as passengers," Baldwin says. "But their refrigerators, their Corn Flakes and their mail are hauled around in trucks. From Mother Nature's point of view, it doesn't make much difference if you're sending your passengers by rail but your freight by truck rather than the other way around. Pollution is pollution."

The extent of mass transit usage in Europe is exaggerated anyway. Check out table 3 at this link which shows percentages of distances traveled in Europe by car, rail, tram & metro, and bus & coach. What you'll see is that cars account for over 80% of distance traveled in 11 western European countries and only gets below 80% in Denmark, Austria, and Ireland. If that's the best European countries can do with mass transit given their high gasoline prices, denser populations, and public subsidies then the idea that Americans could shift to mass transit is absurd.

Americans engage in more sexual antics than Europeans. Though I wonder on this one whether white Americans are all that risque.

While Europeans may have a reputation for being far more indulgent of the sexual antics of their leaders than Americans, they actually come off as relatively prudish in Baldwin's book. America ranks behind only one country — Iceland — when it comes to the percentage of respondents who claim to have had "three in a bed during sex" and ranks first in respondents claiming to have had at least one homosexual experience.

Iceland probably represents an opportunity for pick-up artists. The place is in a huge economic contraction. Sexually adventurous Icelandic women are probably attracted to affluent foreigners.

Americans score above most European countries by various measures of charity and helping of others.

And although Americans have a reputation for displaying less solidarity than their European brethren, the figures don't reflect that either. When compared to a range of European countries, America ranks first in blood and organ donation and individual charitable giving and second in volunteer work and participation in civic groups.

Again I'd like to see the numbers broken out by race.

America is a large enough and varied country that what's really needed is a comparison of America's regions and races against assorted European countries.

Also see Razib's post comparing nationalism and theism between European countries and American regions.

Update: The UK government report on transportation referred to above contains a chart in chapter 2, "Figure 3: Overall mode share of distance travelled (%) in 2003", that speaks volumes about mass transit in Europe:

Figure 3: Overall mode share of distance travelled (%) in 2003
By Randall Parker 2009 November 15 04:25 PM  Culture Compared
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2009 November 14 Saturday
Farm Automation Replacing Humans

Why let in low skilled immigrants to do manual labor on farms when we are at the transition point where lots of farm jobs are going to get taken over by computer automation. That automated equipment doesn't need taxpayer subsidized health care, unemployment benefits, or schooling for children.

It was 1903 when Robert Blair’s great-grandfather began farming the dry ridge overlooking the Clearwater River near Lewiston, Idaho. In 2001, when Blair took the reins, the farm’s books were still kept by hand. Now, he has deployed a set of Darpa-like technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles and self-steering tractors.

“In six years, I went from just having a cell phone to my tractor driving itself, and having a small airplane flying and landing itself on a farm,” Blair said.

The new precision farmers are hacking together a way of making food in which the virtual and physical worlds are so tightly bound that having his tractor steered by GPS-guidance with inch-level accuracy is ho-hum. Autosteering of farm machinery has exploded over the past several years, according to an annual survey by Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business. In 2004, just 5 percent of agricultural retail outlets offered autosteering. In 2008, more than half did.

Autosteering of farm equipment is a lot easier than autosteering of cars because lots of tractors move around in fields that contain no humans aside from the guy in the cab. The big benefits include the ability to put rows closer together and even vary application of fertilizer and pesticides by area of each field based on historical yields per area. Also, the tractor operator can do other tasks (e.g. surf the internet or do accounting tasks on a laptop during periods when the autosteering is in operation). Further maturation of this technology will eliminate the need for humans in control cabs. Picture huge fields with robotic combines sweeping across, with no human in sight, harvesting wheat and corn crops.

The biggest labor-saving advances will probably come with better automated picking equipment that removes most of the existing use of manual labor for picking vegetables.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 14 12:59 PM  Immigration Economics
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2009 November 12 Thursday
Complainers In China Go To Jail

The country which is on course to become the most powerful in the world has a government that secretly jails rural people who travel to cities to submit complaints at government offices. The 21st century will be the century of economically advanced despotism.

For the past six years, citizens have been held without communication in so-called black jails, often located in state-owned hotels, nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals, according to a new report from the human rights group.

Most of the detainees are from rural areas and travel to major cities to submit grievances at petitions and appeals offices, which address cases without going to court, Human Rights Watch said.

If diversity is strength then the differences in China's political system make the world a stronger place.

Incentives work to change the behavior of government workers. The jails cut down on the metrics used to measure grievances.

But the rights group said the jails are becoming more popular because officials are penalized if too many grievances come from their jurisdictions. Areas with fewer complaints are rewarded, it said.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 12 09:14 PM  China
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2009 November 11 Wednesday
Ambassador Opposes More Troops For Afghanistan

US ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry says make Karzai's government tackle corruption before more US troops get sent to Afghanistan.

The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said.

Karl W. Eikenberry's memos, sent as President Obama enters the final stages of his deliberations over a new Afghanistan strategy, illustrated both the difficulty of the decision and the deepening divisions within the administration's national security team.

Think of it from Hamid Karzai's viewpoint. The people in his government really want to be corrupt. They make lots of money and can help their relations. In a country with a really high rate of consanguineous (cousin) marriage, high fertility, and poverty the gains from corruption for in-bred families can be quite high. So if the United States government will spend money propping up his regime and taking the side of his allied tribes in the long running Afghanistan civil war then why not accept the troops, supplies, and money?

Eikenberry's viewpoint is really optimistic. He thinks if we hold back additional US help then perhaps the Afghan government will clean up its act. Endemic corruption will recede. The populace will back the government and the tribes will stop battling it out. A long history of tribal politics will be replaced with nationalism and economic development. But such a development would mark a radical departure from Afghan history.

A former Marine Corps captain who served in Iraq and then worked for the State Department in Afghanistan has resigned arguing that the US presence in Afghanistan fuels the insurgency.

When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan.

A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.

But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.

Hoh says the troops in Afghanistan are not helping to defeat al Qaeda.

MATTHEW HOH: Of course it's impossible to wave a magic wand and be gone from there. However, I do believe we are involved in a 35-year-old civil war.

I believe we are not the lead character in that war, that it's an internal conflict. I believe that 60,000 troops in Afghanistan do not serve to defeat al-Qaida and do not serve to stabilize the Pakistan government....

Hoh thinks most of the Afghans fighting the US and its allies do so because we are seen as occupiers.

Upon arriving in Afghanistan and serving in both the East and the South (and particularly speaking with local Afghans), I found that the majority of those who were fighting us and the Afghan central government were fighting us because they felt occupied. This concurred with history I had read and with what colleagues had told me.

Hoh says Afghans fight for their village or valley.

"In Afghanistan, everything is much more localized," Hoh tells NPR. "Allegiance is to your family, and then to your village or your valley, and that's what they fight for.

"There has not been a traditional central government there and I don't believe a central government is wanted, and actually, I believe, they fight the central government just as much as they fight the foreign occupiers," he adds.

Hoh does not expect the remaining Taliban to create threats to the United States if we leave.

MATTHEW HOH: The Taliban, we chased them out of power in 2001, like we rightfully should have.

However, what you have in Quetta now, I believe, is just the remnants of that. And while the Quetta Shura Taliban, as we refer to them, is a threat, and is a threat to the Karzai government, I don't believe they are a threat to the United States.

And, furthermore, I don't believe that they would be able to retake Kabul, particularly if we ensure that there was no Pakistani support for them if we left Afghanistan.

Imagine we left, the Taliban swept back into power, and then the Taliban let al Qaeda to set up terrorist training camps again. Well, we could always invade again.

What kind of anti-American whack-job would think the US presence would fuel the Afghan insurgency? Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a hold-over from George W. Bush's administration, also floated the idea that the US presence is fueling the insurgency.

The concern about the U.S. presence fueling the insurgency — not for what the U.S. does, but merely for the fact of its existence — was raised by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January, but it has not yet seemed to penetrate most discourse about the war. Gates himself backed away from the critique in September, saying that Gen. Stanley McChrystal convinced him that the U.S. military could mitigate the danger by actively providing for the Afghan people’s well-being.

I expect US military misadventures to continue. We will keep wasting lives and money based on myths about the effects of US military interventions.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 11 10:28 PM  MidEast Afghanistan
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2009 November 08 Sunday
Housing Prices Still To Drop Much More?

Mark David White, a mortgage broker in the Chicago area, has used a number of housing price histories to look at how far from trend the recent real estate bubble ran up housing prices. He estimates that depending on the source of pricing data and the length of historical time used that US national housing prices still have between 18% and 44% to fall from today's prices.

The total projected fall from Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) data shows a peak-to-trend fall of 27%. Values on this index have fallen 11% from the high. The index predicts prices will fall an additional 18% from their current levels (please see chart above “Figure 2: Monthly House Price Index for USA”).

The FHFA prediction of a total fall of 27% is far less than the total fall of between 49% and 60% predicted by Case-Shiller. Click here and here to see recent posts with Case-Shiller data on either 22 years or 118 years of prices.

Based upon the three data sets reviewed, we can estimate a total fall of between 27% to 60% from the bubble top to the long-term trend. After averaging the three indexes, we may estimate a total fall of 45% from the bubble high.

Looking ahead from today, property values will fall a total of between 18% to 44%. The average of the three data sets says we still have 27% to fall from current levels.

Why does this matter? I can see a few reasons:

  • The bigger the drop the more banks will go under. This costs taxpayers bail-out money. It also suppresses lending to businesses and therefore delays recovery.
  • Further price drops will suppress consumer spending by making people feel poorer. They'll spend less. Recovery will be delayed.
  • Construction as a source of jobs for recovery will be delayed by falling housing prices.
  • But there's good news: future home buyers are going to get great deals. Save your money for a McMansion. They are going to get cheaper.

We will pay more in taxes. We will spend a longer time unemployed or working for reduced wages. Welcome to what some analysts call the New Normal.

Update: Charles Gasparino, author of a new book The Sellout: How Three Decades of Wall Street Greed and Government Mismanagement Destroyed the Global Financial System, says the political attempt to treat all people as worthy of owning a home caused this disaster.

RCM: Who's at the top of your list of people who should be held accountable for the unraveling of the global financial system?

Gasparino: The politically correct answer would list a long line of risk-taking CEOs starting with Stan O'Neal at Merrill, Sandy Weill and Chuck Prince at Citi, Jimmy Cayne at Bear, and of course former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld, as well as various senior traders at these firms. They're all in my book with their contributions to the demise of the financial system.

But what you will also find in my book, which I guarantee is absent from most of the others, is the root cause of the risk taking, which I believe begins and ends with the policy makers. The various heads of HUD, like Henry Cisneros, Andrew Cuomo and those in the Bush Administration who believed owning a home was a right, rather than something that should be earned, led to the disaster at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which spread its guarantees to subprime loans, a place it traditionally stayed away from.

You also can't excuse Alan Greenspan for handing out free money to Wall Street every time the big firms screwed up over the past thirty years. It gave them incentive to double down on their risky bets until of course they double-downed so much the system blew up.

Gasparino thinks the government's policy has caused the crisis to abate only temporarily. I agree. The Peak Oil probably contributed even more. We are going to have a second round financial panic, more financial institution failures, and a second recession.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 08 03:41 PM  Economics Housing
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2009 November 07 Saturday
Intellectual Bankruptcy In Reaction To Fort Hood Shooter

Now, you might think that if a Muslim (who has said he is a Muslim first and an American second) US Army Major goes on a killing spree after he made many complaints about the US war on terror as a war on Muslims that the guy was motivated by his beliefs as a Muslim. If you thought that way you'd be out of touch with American multi-culturalists who find other possible explanations. The latest: Without even yet setting foot in Iraq or Afghanistan Nidal Malki Hasan was pre-traumatized by the stories he heard about those conflicts. Post-traumatic stress disorder has a sibling called pre-traumatic stress disorder. The cool thing about this explanation: the acronym PTSD still works. Just change the Post- to a Pre- and you are good to go.

As the military begins its eighth year of the war on terror, much of the focus has been on the inability to fully support the growing number of troops diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. But the events at Fort Hood cast the issue even wider.

According to reports, Mr. Hasan desperately wanted to avoid being deployed to a war zone. While there appeared to be several reasons for this, including a conviction that he was a victim of harassment, he was also troubled by the stories he heard from overseas.

Among the reasons US Army Major Hasan didn't want to go to deploy to the Middle East: He didn't want to fight the side (Muslims) he feels loyalty toward.

Megan McArdle has rendered herself incapable of learning anything from the Fort Hood shooter.

This guy was some form of lunatic or psychopath, and it seems pretty clear to me at this point that he was inspired by terrorists.  But there's no evidence that he was a terrorist--that is, that he was hooked into some organized network.  Lots of people do terrible things in the name of their religion--just ask George Tiller.  Their acts are, as the Catholic Church says, "sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance".  But they are no more indictments of a community than the acts of that Korean kid who went crazy at Virginia Tech.

Check out a definition of psychopath. Note the lack of empathy. But Hasan did have empathy for Muslims. He wasn't amoral. He was obeying a different moral code that has millions of adherents.

A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.

Hasan, Palestinian bombers, and Iraqi bombers have very similar motivations. They fight for their tribe, their religion, their in-group against others. Their empathy exists but has a focus. The focus isn't on the entire globalized world. It isn't on all the religions, nations, tribes or races. Their loyalty is to their group and their moral beliefs are built around what is good for their group. This isn't lunacy or mental illness. They are acting well within the normal range of human behavior as can be seen over a period of many centuries.

Megan's painted herself into such a small box of understanding of human nature that she can learn nothing from this episode.

There is absolutely no political lesson to be learned from this.  Gun control would not have stopped a commissioned officer from obtaining guns.  Barack Obama had no power to stop this.   Infectious PTSD is a lousy theory.  And nations certainly do not--and should not--shape their foreign policy around the possibility that a random psychopath will start shooting up a crowd.  Evil people do evil things.  That's all.

Evil according to whose moral code? There's not a global moral code accepted by all. You can find many Muslim preachers in the Middle East who see an attack by someone like Hasan in Fort Hood or by Iraqi jihadists in Iraq as acts of the highest moral order. Are all the Palestinians who attack Israel just randomly deciding to do this? Are the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan just coincidentally all just deciding to go plant road-side bombs or attacking American and NATO outposts by chance?

To dismiss something as simply evil is to place a stamp on it that says "no more thinking here". We can't run a foreign policy or an immigration policy or a US military recruitment policy with such a stamp on them. We've been trying to do that and the results have not been salutary.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 07 06:04 PM  Immigration Culture Clash
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Lessons To Learn From Fort Hood Shooting?

A CNN article title states: Fort Hood suspect's religion was an issue, family says. Who would have expected that? An article in the Christian Science Monitor asks did we miss any warning signs? I'm afraid that the nation is beyond help in this matter.

Washington - As Army officials pick up the pieces after the tragedy that unfolded Thursday, when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly walked into a soldier readiness center at Fort Hood, Texas and shot 13 people and injured as many as 30 more, the biggest question they may be asking is: Did we miss the warning signs?

What warning signs? Where You see any warning signs?

His anger was noted by a classmate, who said Hasan ''viewed the war against terror'' as a ''war against Islam.''


Finnell described Hasan as a ''vociferous opponent'' of the terror war. Finnell said Hasan told classmates he was ''a Muslim first and an American second.''

We have religious freedom in America, the freedom to put one's religion ahead of one's country. So this can't be a warning sign. This is just someone expressing a totally legitimate opinion according to our multicultural leaders. Diversity is strength. War is peace.

Born to Palestinian immigrants, Hasan's medical education was paid by the US government. The US military didn't want to let him leave the military even though he saw the US military as waging a war against Islam. Can we learn any lessons here?

His aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, Va., said he had endured name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had sought for several years to be discharged from the military.

"I know what that is like; I have experienced it myself while working as a bank executive," she said. "Some people can take it, and some cannot. He had listened to all of that, and he wanted out of the military and they would not let him leave even after he offered to repay" for his medical training.

In a strong assertion of continued faith Barack Obama says diversity is strength.

"They are Americans of every race, faith and station. They are Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers," Obama said in his radio and Internet address, airing the weekend before Veterans Day.

"They are descendants of immigrants and immigrants themselves. They reflect the diversity that makes this America. But what they share is a patriotism like no other."

Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun Times says we should not change our views of Muslims as a group based on behavior of individual Muslims.

"We should seal the borders!" said a friend of mine, someone I generally respect when he isn't saying stuff like that.

"Tell me," I challenged him "how the actions of this Muslim American indicts all Muslim Americans?"

He sputtered, and I went on.

"If a lady murders her kids and says that Jesus told her to do it, does that indict all Christians? All ladies?"

What about group average differences in behavior and beliefs?

A useful mental exercise for Mr. Steinberg: Imagine that a group became the majority of the US population. What would that group do to the rest of us? The idea that religious beliefs are totally a private matter is absurd. As I've pointed out previously, what Muslims believe would translate into bad news for the rest of us if they became a majority. They do not even have to become a majority in order for their beliefs to become a big problem for the rest of us. The idea that religions are all compatible with our values is absurd.

A 2004 poll of Muslims in Britain shows substantial support for very unBritish Sharia law courts. Doesn't sound personal to me.

A special Guardian/ICM poll based on a survey of 500 British Muslims found that a clear majority want Islamic law introduced into this country in civil cases relating to their own community. Some 61% wanted Islamic courts - operating on sharia principles - "so long as the penalties did not contravene British law".

Many civil cases in this country deal with family disputes such as divorce, custody and inheritance.

A 2007 poll of Muslims in Britain found stronger support for Sharia law among the young.

In the survey of 1,003 Muslims by the polling company Populus through internet and telephone questionnaires, nearly 60% said they would prefer to live under British law, while 37% of 16 to 24-year-olds said they would prefer sharia law, against 17% of those over 55. Eighty-six per cent said their religion was the most important thing in their lives.

Nearly a third of 16 to 24-year-olds believed that those converting to another religion should be executed, while less than a fifth of those over 55 believed the same.

A 2006 poll found that a fifth of Muslims in Britain sympathized with the Muslims who carried out bombing attacks in Britain on July 7, 2006.

Forty per cent of the British Muslims surveyed said they backed introducing sharia in parts of Britain, while 41 per cent opposed it. Twenty per cent felt sympathy with the July 7 bombers' motives, and 75 per cent did not. One per cent felt the attacks were "right".

We should not let people into our countries who will resent us and seek to impose a repressive religion on us.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 07 08:04 AM  Immigration Culture Clash
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2009 November 04 Wednesday
US Scientist, Engineering Labor Down More Than Overall

Guess which occupations have suffered more decline in employment than the overall labor force.

Over the past year, U.S. employment of scientists and engineers—the people who create the next generation of products and make the U.S. more competitive over the long term—has fallen by 6.3%, according to a BusinessWeek tabulation of unpublished data. Yet overall employment has fallen only 4.1%.

Is this due to outsourcing?

One can't move some types of jobs abroad. Police, firemen, nuclear power plant workers, road workers, sewer workers, and other people who do jobs where the labor must be done within a nation's borders. But manufacturing workers and designers (e.g. most engineers, computer programmers) do work that in theory can be done anywhere. So are their jobs leaving?

You might think engineering and scientific research are the lifeblood of a modern economy. Knowledge work produces products that substitute for manual labor. If a national economy can't produce as much demand for such knowledge workers as it did in the past is something seriously going wrong? Is this a sign that nation has peaked?

By Randall Parker 2009 November 04 10:07 PM  Economics Labor
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Social Security Bonus Illustrates Decay Of Common Bonds

David Leonhardt asks which group in American deserves $14 billion dollars.

If you wanted to help the economy and you had $14 billion to bestow on any group of people, which group would you choose:

a) Teenagers and young adults, who have an 18 percent unemployment rate.

b) All the middle-age long-term jobless who, for various reasons, are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

c) The taxpayers of the future (by using the $14 billion to pay down the deficit).

d) The group that has survived the Great Recession probably better than any other, with stronger income growth, fewer job cuts and little loss of health insurance.

Obama chose option d: retirees. The Obama Administration wants to send a special bonus check to all Social Security recipients because the inflation rate was too low (negative really) for them to get a cost of living increase in their monthly checks.

My answer: c, the taxpayers of the future. Do not pile up more debt. This isn't free money.

The trajectory of US government debt, heading toward 100% of GDP, makes me think some form of social glue has dissolved. The people who live within the borders of the United States of America do not feel a large enough sense of common bonds to see the US government's debt as their debt. A sense of common ownership of some aspect of American identity might be expected to cause people to demand restraints on their government.

I'm not sure how to put this into words. But if people identify with each other and they all feel members of the same club you might expect them to see the club's decay as their own decay. But instead there's a greater demand to deliver stuff to people today a little sense of owing something to the people of the future.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 04 10:04 PM  Democracy Failure
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Steve Sailer On Mad Men

Steve Sailer on Mad Men:

While Waugh wore his reactionary heart on his sleeve in Brideshead, Weiner maintains plausible deniability in Mad Men by methodically depicting how unenlightened the upper-middle class WASPs of a half century ago were. We in the audience are scandalized to note, for example, that even the most respectable parents in 1960 devoted more time to socializing with other adults than to obsessively overseeing their offspring’s next leap up the steep slope of the meritocratic pyramid.

Moreover, many families in 1960 can afford a home on just one income. As Betty Friedan noted, housewives are imprisoned in their suburban homes, escaping in Mad Men only, well … any time they feel like it.

Worse, firms pay married workers more than equally productive single ones, in violation of all the tenets of Friedan and Friedman. Employers back then felt they had a “duty to society,” a concept with which our advanced cultures are no longer familiar.

Today the assumption is that we do not need taboos against divorce and against irresponsible personal behavior. Instead we see people pursuing personal fulfillment and personal moral codes shaped to suit each person's desires. The irresponsible parents are no longer labeled as such. Illegitimacy of births is now simply single parenthood, another lifestyle choice.

Even more shockingly, the employees at the Sterling Cooper ad agency knock off work right at 5:15 PM each day. They appear to have some weird Depression-era relic of a notion of solidarity among American workers: that if the bosses want more work done, they should hire more workers.

Nowadays if the bosses want more work done they outsource and pressure employees to work longer hours.

Read the whole essay and his previous essay that builds up to this one. Also see my post Feminists Who Go Crazy For Don Draper. Mad Men is a nostalgic look at a time when people were more authentic and less driven to spout politically correct nonsense. The reality is still there under the rhetoric. You just have to believe your lying eyes.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 04 09:26 PM  Culture Compared
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Obama's Half Brother Writes Novel Nairobi To Shenzhen

Barack Obama, who grew up without his father around, wrote a book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Obama's half brother Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo has written a work of fiction, Nairobi To Shenzhen, which he says started out as an autobiography. In an interview about the book Ndesandjo relates an unromanticized view of his father.

"I remember times in my house when I would hear screams and I would hear my mother's pain." His American mother Ruth was his father's third wife.

"My skin had turned hard emotionally for so many years because of what I'd seen my mother go through," said Ndesandjo, who is slim and bears an appearance similar to the president.

Ndesandjo has lived in China since 2001.

Ndesandjo and Obama do not see the world the same way.

Ndesandjo, who had an elite education in the United States, collecting a degree from Brown University, a masters in physics from Stanford and an MBA from Emory, did not share Obama’s emotional view of his roots.

I think we'd be better off with a realist as President. But the electorate seems to choose candidates in an attempt to fulfill emotional needs.

According to Obama’s account, Mark looked him in the eye and said: “You think that somehow I’m cut off from my roots, that sort of thing. Well, you’re right.”

“At a certain point I made the decision not to think about who my real father was. He was dead to me even when he was still alive. I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife and children. That’s enough.”

By Randall Parker 2009 November 04 07:26 PM  Culture Compared
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2009 November 02 Monday
Lots Of American Children Living On The Dole

The future of the American family will get even worse than this.

Nearly half of American children – including 90 percent of black children and 90 percent of children who spend their childhoods in single-parent households – will eat meals paid for by food stamps at some point during childhood, reports a Cornell researcher.

When poor people have babies you pay. When people with children get divorced you pay. When single girls let themselves get knocked up and decide to keep the baby you pay.

Nearly one-quarter of U.S. children will live in homes that receive food stamps for five or more years. Food stamps are important indicators of poverty and risk of food insecurity, "two of the most detrimental economic conditions affecting a child's health," says Thomas A. Hirschl, Cornell professor of development sociology and co-author of a study published in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (163:11).

The study is based on an analysis of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a 32-year study of about 4,800 U.S. households; it builds on the authors' 2004 research that reported that half of all Americans will use food stamps during adulthood.

The welfare state supports this. Guess who has more babies?

Putting those risk factors together, the researchers found that 97 percent of black children living in non-married households where the household head has less than 12 years of education will have received food stamps, compared with 21 percent of white children living in married households whose head of household has 12 or more years of education.

By Randall Parker 2009 November 02 10:02 PM  Democracy Failure
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Texans Get More For Their Tax Dollars Than Californians

In a piece written for City Journal William Voegeli argues that Californians get less per tax dollar and that high tax states fail to deliver higher quality services.

State and local government expenditures as a whole were 46.8 percent higher in California than in Texas in 2005–06—$10,070 per person compared with $6,858. And Texas not only spends its citizens’ dollars more effectively; it emphasizes priorities that are more broadly beneficial. In 2005–06, per-capita spending on transportation was 5.9 percent lower in California than in Texas, and highway expenditures in particular were 9.5 percent lower, a discovery both plausible and infuriating to any Los Angeles commuter losing the will to live while sitting in yet another freeway traffic jam. With tax revenues scarce and voters strongly opposed to surrendering more of their income, Texas officials devote a large share of their expenditures to basic services that benefit the most people. In California, by contrast, more and more spending consists of either transfer payments to government dependents (as in welfare, health, housing, and community development programs) or generous payments to government employees and contractors (reflected in administrative costs, pensions, and general expenditures). Both kinds of spending weaken California’s appeal to consumer-voters, the first because redistributive transfer payments are the least publicly beneficial type of public good, and the second because the dues paid to Club California purchase benefits that, increasingly, are enjoyed by the staff instead of the members.

Spending is up even after adjusted for population growth and inflation. Most Californians have nothing to show for it.

Californians have the best possible reason to believe that the state’s public sector is not holding up its end of the bargain: clear evidence that it used to do a better job. Bill Watkins, executive director of the Economic Forecast Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has calculated that once you adjust for population growth and inflation, the state government spent 26 percent more in 2007–08 than in 1997–98. Back then, “California had teachers. Prisoners were in jail. Health care was provided for those with the least resources.” Today, Watkins asks, “Are the roads 26 percent better? Are schools 26 percent better? What is 26 percent better?”

See the graph on that web page that shows the proportion of total revenue that goes to each of several categories in Texas and California. More money goes to government administration and public employee retirement in California than in Texas. But curiously, a larger fraction of the total budget in California goes to public safety. I assume that means prisons, police, and judiciaries. I'd like to see the ratio of police to population as well as prisoners and prison guards to population. Are Californians jusy paying more for the same (or lower) level of public safety services?

California has lots of obsolete commissions and boards that exist so that politicians can parachute into them after their legislative careers come to an end.

The resistance comes from the blob of interest groups, inside and outside government, that like California’s public sector just fine the way it is and see reform as a threat to their comfortable, lucrative arrangements. It turns out, for example, that all the pointless boards and commissions are bulletproof because they provide golden parachutes to politicians turned out of the state legislature by California’s strict term limits. In the middle of the state’s most recent budget crisis, State Senator Tony Strickland proposed a bill to eliminate salaries paid to members of boards and commissions who, despite holding fewer than two formal hearings or official meetings per month, had received annual compensation in excess of $100,000. The bill died in committee.

We pay for some awesome retirement packages.

Take entitlements and public-employee pensions, which are, Watkins says, “the real source of the state’s fiscal distress.” A 2005 study by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (California’s version of the Congressional Budget Office) found that pensions for California’s government employees “surpassed the other states—often significantly—at all retirement ages.” California government workers retiring at age 55 received larger pensions than their counterparts in any other state (leaving aside the many states where retirement as early as 55 isn’t even possible). The California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility periodically posts a list of retired city managers, state administrators, public university deans, and police chiefs who receive pensions of at least $100,000 per year. The latest report shows 5,115 lucky members in this six-figure club. The state’s annual bill for polishing their gold watches is $610 million.

I don't see how California gets better. The taxes and other problems drive out the people who are most eager to vote against out-of-control parasitism. California's demographic trends don't hold out hope for a more responsible electorate.

The optimistic assessment is that things are going to get worse in California before they get better. The pessimistic assessment is that they’re going to get worse before they get much worse.

Vicious cycle that keeps getting worse? Or will a backlash ever cause needed fixes?

By Randall Parker 2009 November 02 09:39 PM  Democracy Failure
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Conservative Or Liberals Smarter And Elite Signaling

Steve Sailer points to a Jason Richwine piece Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?. In response Razib makes some interesting comments about status signaling.

But I was struck by a general implication from Richwine's model. Two premises:

1) Elites, cognitive or otherwise, tend to deviate from the "default" norms of society for various reasons (it could be signalling costly behavior to show that they are "above" conventional considerations and such).

2) Eventually, the masses often emulate in the elites in subsequent generations.

The inference would be that cultural cycles should exhibit a pattern where the masses serve as lagging indicators of elite sensibilities. Once the masses start attempting to "catch up," of course the elites have moved on. Empirically implausible? I'll let readers dissect it.

What I wonder: How much societal change made by elites is caused by moral poses they make to signal higher status from other members of the elites versus moral poses to distinguish themselves from much lower status people? Are they reworking society mainly to rise above the masses or mainly to rise above each other?

Or is most of their reworking of norms driven more by hedonistic desires which are blocked by existing norms? For example, people who want a larger variety of sex partners have an incentive to redefine what's morally acceptable as sexual behavior.

I think Razib's comment about masses catching up and elites moving on to new differentiators sounds right. Some of that is done via patterns of consumption. A cell phone used to be a differentiator. Now even many lower class people have an expensive model. But some status signaling is done via products that do not require a fortune to buy. The best example today is the Prius. Some affluent people signal concern for the environment with the car while still burning large amounts of fossil fuels in airplane trips.

What new signaling trends do you see in the elites? Anything interesting?

By Randall Parker 2009 November 02 06:46 AM  Elites Behavior
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2009 November 01 Sunday
Why No RICO Charges For Wall Street Executives?

Okay, my subject title is rhetorical. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are pretty much owned by special interests. But the question needs asking repeatedly.The McClatchy Newspapers chain is doing a series on illegal wrong-doings of Goldman and other Wall Street firms with the claim that these firms knew they were peddling junk as AAA securities. Goldman knew the crash was coming 2 years before it happened but misrepresented the quality of the mortgage-backed securities it was selling. Isn't this felonious behavior?

WASHINGTON — In 2006 and 2007, Goldman Sachs Group peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting.

Goldman's sales and its clandestine wagers, completed at the brink of the housing market meltdown, enabled the nation's premier investment bank to pass most of its potential losses to others before a flood of mortgage defaults staggered the U.S. and global economies.

So basically some Wall Street firms brought on the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression just to make big bucks for themselves. Then some of them get saved by massive government injections because they are too big to fail, they make billions off of these injections, and then they reward themselves huge bonuses. The American people are too stupid to demand that Wall Street be prosecuted like the Mafia.

Why aren't all the pensions, insurance companies, and other institutional buyers calling for jail time for the Goldman bond salesmen and their bosses?

Only later did investors discover that what Goldman had promoted as triple-A rated investments were closer to junk.

McClatchy thinks Goldman Sachs violated securities laws.

Now, pension funds, insurance companies, labor unions and foreign financial institutions that bought those dicey mortgage securities are facing large losses, and a five-month McClatchy investigation has found that Goldman's failure to disclose that it made secret, exotic bets on an imminent housing crash may have violated securities laws.

A former Goldman investment banker describes Goldman's activities as totally criminal.

John Talbott, a former Goldman investment banker and the author of a new book, "The 88 Biggest Lies on Wall Street," said "it wasn't a mistake" when illegal immigrants got home mortgages.

The lenders, he said, "just wanted somebody, anybody to sign a note" so they could sell it to Wall Street, where ratings agencies that were paid hefty fees by the investment banks bestowed triple-A grades or their equivalent on most subprime bonds.

"It's not just unethical," Talbott said of the chain of profiting subprime players extending from real estate appraisers to Wall Street. "It's totally criminal."

McClatchy also finds that Moody's purged ratings analysts who tried to do an honest job. Isn't this also illegal? Why isn't the Obama Administration charging thousands of Wall Street executives and salesmen on RICO charges? Isn't this a massive conspiracy to commit fraud?

WASHINGTON -- As the housing market collapsed in late 2007, Moody's Investors Service, whose investment ratings were widely trusted, responded by purging analysts and executives who warned of trouble and promoting those who helped Wall Street plunge the country into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

A McClatchy investigation has found that Moody's punished executives who questioned why the company was risking its reputation by putting its profits ahead of providing trustworthy ratings for investment offerings.

You can follow McClatchy's investigation here.

What I want to know: Did Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns go down because they were too stupid to know that they were dealing in junk? Or did they just wait too long to get off the carousel when the game came crashing down?

By Randall Parker 2009 November 01 10:48 AM  Elites Betrayal And Incompetence
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