2012 January 30 Monday
Conspiracy Minded Believe Contradictions

Some psychology researchers are engaged in a conspiracy to produce bogus research to discredit our opposition to rule by Lizard People.

Los Angeles, CA (January 25, 2012) - Distrust and paranoia about government has a long history, and the feeling that there is a conspiracy of elites can lead to suspicion for authorities and the claims they make. For some, the attraction of conspiracy theories is so strong that it leads them to endorse entirely contradictory beliefs, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science (published by SAGE).

The Queen can believe six impossible things before breakfast. Does that make her a conspiracy theorist? I don't think so. The Queen does not theorize. She leaves that job to her scientific advisers.

People who believe conspiracy theories take a dimmer view of the government.

People who endorse conspiracy theories see authorities as fundamentally deceptive. The conviction that the "official story" is untrue can lead people to believe several alternative theories-despite contradictions among them. "Any conspiracy theory that stands in opposition to the official narrative will gain some degree of endorsement from someone who holds a conspiracist worldview," according to Michael Wood, Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton of the University of Kent.

Clearly Barack Obama has only pretended to be a Muslim so he can hide his embrace of the god Thor.

These researchers purport to accept the official narrative on the death of Saint Diana, patron saint of fashion designers and other shallow people.

To see if conspiracy views were strong enough to lead to inconsistencies, the researchers asked 137 college students about the death of Princess Diana. The more people thought there "was an official campaign by the intelligence service to assassinate Diana," the more they also believed that "Diana faked her own death to retreat into isolation." Of course, Diana cannot be simultaneously dead and alive.

But the truth is obvious here and these researchers are just tools for the authorities. Diana had to fake her own death in order to escape from the intelligence service plot to assassinate her. That much is obvious. I realize my smart readers already know this (and some of you are reading this from Iran). But I want to state the obvious.

Diana (along with Liberace and Elvis) now works for the CIA in Iran where she helps the Iranian-US project to develop a secret weapon for use against China. Iran's defiance of the US is of course just a front to fool the Chinese. Everyone knows that. Of course the weapon's real purpose is to repel an invasion by Neanderthals from a parallel universe.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 30 11:32 PM  Elites Versus Masses
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2012 January 29 Sunday
Our Flawed Selves, Men And Women

In a thread on Heartiste's site someone asks how men with a clear understanding of female nature could possibly love women.

Given that girls are as described in this post and this blog–and they are–how can anyone possibly still love them? This is what I don’t understand about this place. Yes, it’s totally right about women, but then somehow I’m still supposed to be able to love them after knowing these things? The right attitude is that of the Muslims, keep them locked up.

"So, do the Zonk" comes back with the best response.

Women have glaring defects. Men have glaring defects. They just are not the same defects. They all arise from the sex drive, which is very deeply hardwired. And the best women like the best men have some understanding of themselves and try to rise above it and act decently, even though they fail some or most of the time. That is simply the tragic reality of being human, and the heroism of trying to make the most of it. Understanding yourself and understanding other people helps you be realistic about them. Then, you can love them knowing that they are far from perfect, just poor, stupid, weak, fouled up human beings. The Muslims are wrong. Freedom and realism are the best way. Our ancestors knew this. They were realists about human beings. The Biblical depiction of human sinfulness is highly consistent with the modern science shown on this site. Realism about male and female sexuality is embedded in traditional thinking and practice. Delusion about sexuality, mostly arising from Feminism, is the problem. Love is possible, but love requires reality.

I don't think generalized contempt or anger between the sexes is useful or justified. Rather, I think we can adjust to the lousier consequences of the sexual revolution by becoming more realistic and accept the implications of scientific research into sexuality. Understand each others' evolutionarily programmed strategies for love and sex and just do a whole lot better job of pushing each others' buttons.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 29 07:46 PM  Human Nature Sexual Differences
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Domestic, Foreign Investors Split On US President Choice

A global poll of investors puts a new spin on Decision 2012: The US presidential election is shaping up as a battle between the preferences of domestic and foreign investors.

Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. investors are rooting for Mitt Romney and those overseas are for Barack Obama. Newt Gingrich is generating little enthusiasm anywhere.

As Lou Pagnucco points out to me, no mention of Ron Paul. He's the invisible man. Even some commentators on the Left enforce orthodoxy against anyone on the Left taking Paul's ideas seriously. But US military people are donating more to Ron Paul than all other US presidential candidates combined. Paul's high support from the military speaks volumes about what the folks in uniform think about the center of debate about foreign interventions as conducted by mainstream media, special interests, and the two main political parties.

Imagine a United States in which only active and retired military could vote. We'd have a smaller government, less foreign involvement, and likely much better national security.

Update: I look at this coming election without enthusiasm. Most people don't know where their interests lie or how much trouble we are in economically. They don't understand the root causes of what is going wrong. Since policy choices that address root causes are not being debated we can't expect policy changes that will make things better. The two political parties and the mainstream media are dysfunctional.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 29 01:44 PM  Elites Versus Masses
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OWS: Like The Summer Of Love Without Great Music

A friend called up and she was ranting at me about all the places that "Occupy" people are occupying in the United States and Britain. Not sure why I should care what they are doing in Oakland. But sometimes a friend needs a rant audience. So I listen. They are camping out at St. Paul's Cathedral in London she says. My reaction: At least it gets the ministers an audience in a country where few still go to church. The occupiers ought to be let in to the pews on the condition that CoE ministers get to preach to them anytime they feel the desire. Besides, church occupancy frees up park space for people who want to stroll around parks. What's not to like?

This friend is older and among her claims to fame: Her and a girlfriend were hitchhiking in the late 60s in SF and Jimi Hendrix pulled up, asked them where they were going, and Jimi took them there. How cool is that?

So then she says "Occupy is like The Summer Of Love 2 without great music". A one sentence distillation from a girl who once got a ride from Jimi Hendrix. We got lasting good music out of the rapid succession of new movements and causes. Or the music inspired people to change. Songs like the Chambers Brothers "Time Has Come Today" ("now the time has come, there's no place left to run") have no current counterparts. Rock and roll has seriously run out of gas.

The funny thing about this decay: All the generations realize it. A guy in his mid 20s was lamenting to me the other day that after the 90s music just became lame. I was just looking at 60s songs on YouTube and on The Byrds Eight Miles High page a commenter says:

We live in a world where most peoples' parents are cooler than their kids.

My generation sucks. All kids my age care about is cars and money and haircuts and all that square stuff.

The gas was running out already in the 1990s. You can buy a best of album from some 1990s band and not get a consistent quality of songs to rival, say, the Rolling Stones albums Exile On Mainstreet or Let It Bleed. I like some Black Crowes songs for example, But their best of collection pales next to Let It Bleed or one of the better Pink Floyd albums.

I rate the whole Occupy movement as unimportant just because it can't inspire great music.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 29 12:34 PM  Culture Compared
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2012 January 22 Sunday
Why Apple Manufactures Abroad

This New York Times article underscores why the remaining members of America's middle class should not take their middle class positions for granted.

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

Read the full article and you will appreciate the scale of the change in America's standing in the world and the power of Chinese manufacturing, engineering, and government finance to make it all happen.

The elites of the United States have made a grave error for the last 40 years or so by importing a large low-skilled labor force. All those cheap illegal immigrant construction workers are useless for high tech manufacturing. The Chinese have a huge labor force advantage for manufacturing. That advantage is going to cost Americans dearly in the years to come.

I will repeat a familiar theme to regular readers: Raise your game! If you are old enough to have grown up in good times, well, that was then and this is now.

You've got a choice: go down or go up. Your odds of standing still are not good. In a world where more people are competing for a declining amount of remaining natural resources you've got to try harder to maintain your current slice.

Maybe cold fusion can save your future old age pension checks from your government. But it would be imprudent to count on LENR to save our bacon. Don't expect the cavalry to come riding over the hill. If you want to do well in the future you've got step it up yourself.

Update: A piece in The Atlantic by Adam Davidson about manufacturing in the United States (thanks TimG for the heads-up) includes a picture of a rather pretty 22 year old single mom, Maddie Parlier, in a Greenville South Carolina manufacturing plant. Her employers think she's a very good worker with lots of promise. Maddie would like to learn more but does not have the time.

At one point, she looked around the office and said she’d really like to work there one day, helping to design parts rather than stamping them out. She said she’s noticed that robotic arms and other machines seem to keep replacing people on the factory floor, and she’s worried that this could happen to her. She told me she wants to go back to school—as her parents and grandparents keep telling her to do—but she is a single mother, and she can’t leave her two kids alone at night while she takes classes.

I am struck by the need for education that comes in smaller bites. Want to raise the skills level of American workers? Provide them ways to learn in small slices of their time late in the evening or while on a work break or on a Saturday morning. The learning has got to be delivered digitally across the web with many automated tests tied to lots of mini lessons.

Our education system is so 19th century. Yet the world is so 21st century. If governments want to craft useful industrial policies my advice would be to make the learning of useful skills (not college humanities classes) easy to do. The technological infrastructure exists for delivering education in bite size pieces. What's needed is the political push to make it happen.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 22 04:35 PM  Economics Living Standards
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Open Marriage Beats Mormonism In South Carolina

Open marriage fan Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina Republican primary.

My take: Animosity toward Mormonism exceeds any opposition the Religious Right has against adultery. In fact, a sense of shared Christian identity was a major reason Gingrich won.

Strange new world indeed.

Yet not terribly conservative Newt pretends he's running against a relatively more liberal Romney.

“In the end, sooner or later, it’s going to become Romney versus Gingrich, and then the natural conservative Republican Party is going to repudiate a Massachusetts moderate whose actual record is, frankly, pretty liberal.”

Of course, Newt's sexual behavior is the natural result of different levels of male and female desire for sex.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 22 04:17 PM  Human Natue Sexuality
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2012 January 19 Thursday
Excessive Contractual Liabilities A Root Economic Problem

Bond giant PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian seeexcessive contractual liabilities as one of our big economic problems.

I worry that, absent a dramatic change in policies in America and Europe, things will get worse before they get better. I fear that, given this possibility, it would then take years, if not decades, to repair the underlying damage done to economies, jobs and people’s lives around the globe.

We are here because of the interactions of three distinct, yet inter-related forces: poor economic growth, excessive contractual liabilities, and disappointing policy responses. The result is that western economies are getting trapped by the lethal combination of an unemployment crisis, a debt crisis, and mounting fragilities in the banking sector.

Too many institutions owe too much in debts and entitlements. The poor economic growth is in part due to high oil prices and high prices for other commodities. Jeremy Grantham's Peak Everything argument suggests our slow growth period will be long lasting. So the size of needed debt defaulting is gigantic.

In Grantham's December 2011 newsletter he says the continued slow growth we are seeing is par for the course of what he's expecting.

Sadly, I feel increasingly vindicated by my “seven lean years” forecast of 2½ years ago. The U.S., and to some extent the world, will not easily recover from the current level of debt overhang, the loss of perceived asset values, and the gross financial incompetence on a scale hitherto undreamed of.

Separate from the “seven lean years” syndrome, the U.S. and the developed world have permanently slowed in their GDP growth. This is mostly the result of slowing population growth, an aging profile, and an overcommitment to the old, which leaves inadequate resources for growth. Also contributing to the slowdown, particularly in the U.S. and the U.K., is inadequate long-term savings. As I write, the U.S. personal savings rate has fallen once again below 4%.

Grantham and El-Erian are ahead of the curve in understanding the depth of our problems and the poorer long term prospects we face. The party's over. Most people need to raise their game (more skills, try for better jobs, be willing to move for career opportunities, work harder) to keep their current living standards. Think about your options. How can you better equip yourself for hard times?

By Randall Parker 2012 January 19 09:30 PM  Economics Limits To Growth
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Davos World Economic Forum Gets Little Done

Bond giant PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian explains why the World Economic Forum at Davos Switzerland accomplishes little.

But most of the Davos devotees I talk to say the problem is more fundamental. They say that many of the attendees who truly matter are not interested in the organizers’ higher ambitions, and some are even suspicious of them. In either case, these key players do not want to give up control of their narratives, and they certainly do not wish to delegate any meaningful part of their personal agenda to Davos.

He makes suggestions in that blog post on how Davos could become more productive for elites so that the elites can work together better to run the world. Excited by that?

Will world institutions rise as regulatory agencies created by treaties? Or will central banks create the structures that enable more world regulation? Or might competition within the elites keep world government from fully developing? How's it going to go?

By Randall Parker 2012 January 19 08:16 PM  Elites International
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2012 January 18 Wednesday
Euro-American Ruling Elites Get Trained Together

Can you say "cognitive sorting"?

For some, that trust has a common source: three of the six banks are led by economists who studied or taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Then, as now, the emphasis was on what former MIT professor and now Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer describes as “economics about the real world.”

Maybe the schools will specialize. Want a Secretary of State or Foreign Minister? Better make sure your country sent enough people to Harvard. Want a Treasury Secretary? Probably Dartmouth grads who spent time on Wall Street. Our last 2 Treasury Secretaries (Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner) follow this mold. Though Geithner also has the chops to be Secretary of State with his time at Johns Hopkins and in China learning Mandarin and Chinese culture and history.

The full article gives more examples than I'm excerpting here. Its not just the central bank heads who studied together. Other officials on both sides of the Atlantic met in grad school.

At MIT, King, 63, and then-professor Ben S. Bernanke, 58, had adjoining offices in 1983, spending the early days of their academic careers in an environment where economics was viewed as a tool to set policy. Earlier, Bernanke and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, 64, earned their doctorates from the university in the late 1970s, Draghi with a thesis entitled “Essays on Economic Theory and Applications.”

With the Ivy League, MIT, and Stanford pulling in even more students from abroad than was the case in the 1970s and 1980s you can imagine what the next generation of elite officials will be like. They'll be able to do Harvard and MIT alumni reunions at G-8 meetings and other gatherings of elected and appointed high officials. They'll have to have Yale and Dartmouth dinners too. If only all this elite selection actually resulted in central bank officials who were less than totally clueless when in the middle of a huge real estate bubble about to burst. If only elite education translated into high competence.

So which schools should graduate social welfare cabinet secretaries? Can we just use Nobel Laureates to run Energy departments for now on? Should their alma mater figure in? Or just the Nobel?

By Randall Parker 2012 January 18 07:11 PM  Elites Versus Masses
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2012 January 16 Monday
McDonalds Bigger In Europe Than US

You might think the United States is junk food center of the world and that Europeans have more sophisticated tastes. Yet McDonalds only gets 34% of its revenues from the United States and 40% from Europe.

Maybe the other US fast food giants aren't as big over in Europe and so McDonalds faces less face food competition over there. Still, I did not expect Mickey D's to be bigger in Europe. Do the least educated (using a euphemism here kiddies) in Europe have more money to spend on junk food than the least educated in America?

By Randall Parker 2012 January 16 02:07 PM  Culture Compared
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Steve Randy Waldman On Lender Relationships

Back in 2010 Steve Randy Waldman gave an interview (which I've only just found) on consumer lending that makes some interesting points: consumer behavior toward lenders should change because lender behavior toward consumers has changed.

The financial industry has changed the economic and legal landscape surrounding consumer lending so that it simply bears no resemblance at all to interpersonal loans among people of good will in continuing relationships. But those are the norms they ask borrowers to adopt with respect to repayment. That act, demanding others act in accordance with standards from which one exempts oneself, is morally offensive. In a society which, despite economic difference, accepts no social class, ones moral obligation is to behave towards others as others must behave towards you. It is clear that, in general, banks and the special purpose entities that increasingly replace them treat their transactions with borrowers as hard-nosed business arrangements which they are willing to pursue on adversarial terms when doing so is in their interest. Borrowers should do the same. To do otherwise is to reward the cynical immorality of others, which serves no social good.

I see a growing bias toward favoring lenders basically because the lenders are powerful. For example, the Irish government was induced to bail out Irish bank bondholders at the expense of Irish taxpayers. The bail-out wasn't just for checking account depositors. It was for German and other European banks which had lent the Irish banks lots of money. The whole European debt crisis has basically played out as an attempt to prevent imprudent lenders (buyers of sovereign debt and bank debt as well as banks that lent for real estate bubbles) from having to take a bath due to their imprudence

Student debt in the US is another example where the political deck has been stacked in favor of lender. US student debt is near impossible to reduce in bankruptcy. To my knowledge it is unique in this respect. Effectively students are entering into debt peonage due to the power and corruption of both lenders and universities. They are like cigarette companies that tempt successive generations of youth into harmful addiction.

My problem with the lenders: If profligate irresponsible spenders act in ways harmful to the the commonwealth (and I think they do) then their enablers also harm society as a whole. Why should we protect these enablers by forcing others (and not just the borrowers) to bail them out? Lenders are morally culpable for creating financial bubbles and enabling irresponsible borrowing.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 16 12:20 PM  Economics Inequality
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Only Requires $380k Per Year To Hit Top 1%

You don't even have to make a million dollars or even a half million a year to hit the top 1%. If you can hit $380k per year people will camp out in parks to protest your existence. Is that cool or what?

The range of wealth in the 1 percent is vast — from households that bring in $380,000 a year, according to census data, up to billionaires like Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates.

Surgeons can reach the top 1%. So can, say, owners of big car dealerships. The top 1% is just not that exclusive. How disappointing.

On the other hand, most people don't know that the top 1% starts at $380k. So if you can reach the $380k threshold you can brag to people that you make enough to be in the top 1% and then decline to state just how much you make.

Of course, earning in the top 1% isn't the same as owning in the top 1%. But most people excited about Occupy Wall Street are going to miss that distinction too. If you want to signal to the OWS crowd you are above them then make $380k a year and then brag to OWS supporters.

Getting into the top 1% by income is a lot easier than getting into the top 1% by net worth. Just to make it into the top 5% you had to have over $1.5 million in assets in 2009. That's not the top 1%. That's the top 5%.

In 2009, the median net worth of the top 10% of wealth in the United States was $1,569,000. That is, if you had exactly that amount, half of the top 10% would be poorer than you and half of the top 10% would be richer than you. You would be standing exactly in the middle. By definition, we know that this must be the cut-off for the top 5% of net worth.

The people making $380k from a high salary are at much greater risk of falling out of the income top 1% than those who make their $380k from interest and dividends. The people with extensive assets are the real elite.

If you think the top 1% is out of reach how about the top 5%? Based in adjusted gross income the IRS says in 2010 about $160k was the threshold for reaching the top 5%. That's after tax deductions, including 401k contributions and HSA contributions. So realistically you've probably got to earn about $190k to make it into the top 5%.

In that last link note that the top 50% only requires $33k of income. So it is pretty easy to feel like you've surpassed half the US population. The US government spending per household (at nearly $36k) has now surpassed the level of earnings of the average American wage earner.

What's tragic about all this: It has become expensive to live in a nice neighborhood. Your ranking by looking at your income might seem high at first glance. But what are you paying for? I'm reminded of a tweet from Steve Randy Waldman: "the most expensive amenity in real estate is well-behaved neighbors." Later in the exchange tells a non-American "...you'd be surprised how expensive a nice life in America is even for those who care little for the trappings of success." Too true.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 16 11:38 AM  Economics Inequality
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2012 January 11 Wednesday
Greek Govt Creates Drug Shortage With Price Controls

In article about Greek parents abandoning children they can no longer afford a couple of sentences show that the Greek government is demonstrating the ability to make a bad situation even worse. If the majority of Greeks support this they deserve to go without drugs.

Pharmacists are struggling to stock their shelves as the Greek government, which sets the prices for drugs, keeps them artificially low.

This means that firms are turning to sell the drugs outside of the country for a higher price - leading to stock depletion for Greeks.

There's no excuse for such blatantly destructive policies.

One wonders: Do Greeks end up buying drugs from web sites to get shipped in from other European Union nations?

What I wish: that I could get a government as good as I deserve and better than the ignorant majority deserve.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 11 09:42 PM  Economics Government Intervention
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2012 January 09 Monday
Imagine Your Father As A Street Bum

An article about some serial killer who is stabbing street people in Orange County California has a rather poingnant comment from a woman whose father became a street person after his wife dumped him.

Paulus Cornelius “Dutch” Smit, 57, was described as “kind” and “sunny,” an “honest and sincere soul” who “seemed excited to be alive.” His bloody corpse was found at the bottom of a library stairwell in Yorba Linda, CA, on December 30. He reportedly had visited the library “almost daily” for a year, which a newspaper account noted was “a rarity for the homeless in the area.” Smit had spent time in Juvenile Hall during his teens for theft. Smit’s daughter Julia recalls that after her mother left him, he preferred living full-time on the streets to working a full-time job and found more “nobility” in referring to himself as a “wanderer” rather than a transient. Julia said it wasn’t until her teens that she accepted her father was what many people would call a bum: “Then I’d see him digging through Dumpsters and say, ‘That’s my father! That’s Papa!’” As with McGillivray, a small candleit memorial has been constructed at Smit’s murder scene.

Imagine being that daughter and seeing your dad digging thru dumpsters. He made life harder on her. Did he know that? Did he care?

So how many people become street people because they just give up on a normal life? Some are alcoholics, other schizophrenics. Okay, I can understand damaged brains and addictions turning people into street bums. But how many choose it? Why? Low motivation? It seems a hard life. I like a soft bed, nice chair, warm shower, and stocked kitchen.

The status fall: What do street people think of status? Who do they compare themselves to?

By Randall Parker 2012 January 09 09:35 PM  Human Nature Status
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2012 January 08 Sunday
Sam Brownback Kills A Kansas Arts Commission

One small parasitic agency bites the dust.

Brownback defied even the GOP-led state legislature in cutting funding for the arts, which left Kansas as the only state without a state-funded arts commission.

Really, governments should not be funding arts commissions. Arts commissions along with many other little parasites grow on governments. Agencies. Advisory boards. Commissions. Since we are now in an era of slow growth (at best) we need frugality.

What would help: A web site which lists a large assortment of things some governments do with columns by federal, state, and local government. Checks on each cell could indicate which governments fund various things. Hover over or click thru on a cell to find out how much gets spent for each purpose.

What has amazed and educated me about the long-running California budget crisis is just how long the crisis has had to run to get some forms of waste cut. In a period of deep crisis the money funneled to subsidize developers doing stuff like refurbishing arts centers and theaters and other public works projects has been hard to cut back. The forces for waste are quite powerful.

Plus, even with staffing on core functions (prisons, police, teachers - all with bloated cost per employee due to public sector unions) getting cut new forms of waste are popping up. Notable case in point: The costs of a dubious California high speed rail project started at around $25 billion to to more than $40 billion to more than double to nearly $100 billion. The numbers are now close to other high speed rail projects per kilometer but could go higher. Only 2 high speed rail lines in the whole world turn a profit. Yet this doesn't dissuade either Governor Jerry Brown or the California legislature. Government has a strong bias toward wasting money.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 08 11:40 PM  Politics Pork Spending
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France Enacts Tougher Rules For French Citizenship

French Interior Minister Claude Guéant is requiring applicants for French citizenship to show support for French values as a condition for French citizenship. Good for him. Good for France.

Candidates will be tested on French culture and history, and will have to prove their French language skills are equivalent to those of a 15-year-old mother tongue speaker. They will also be required to sign a new charter establishing their rights and responsibilities.

Why import millions of people who are fundamentally illiberal into a liberal polity?

By Randall Parker 2012 January 08 02:45 PM  Immigration Culture Clash
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Great Times In Germany While PIIGS Suffer

Something is fundamentally wrong with a currency zone where Germany has the lowest unemployment rate in over 20 years while southern Europe has depression-level unemployment.

There are some bright spots as Europe enters 2012. The recent drop of the euro currency against foreign rivals like the yen and the dollar makes European exports more competitive — a critical advantage for Germany, Europe’s largest exporter and its largest economy. German unemployment now stands at 5.5 percent, the lowest since German reunification.

Not blaming the Germans. Just saying the euro is obviously not a one-size-fits-all currency zone.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 08 02:43 PM  Economics Sovereign Crises
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2012 January 07 Saturday
Savings In A Low Interest Rate Environment

Ryan Avent has a post at The Economist about zero interest rates and whether the Federal Reserve faces political constraints or other constraints in its seeming inability to cause inflation. But I find the motives ascribed to savers as mistaken. In my view of interest rates are zero then savers have an incentive to save more (to make up for interest income not earned). Economists who expect savers will save less due to less reward from interest income when interest rates are low aren't considering the long term goals of savers. The lower interest rates go the more savers need to accumulate to pay for old age.

Also, if unemployment is high for an extended period with long term unemployment especially high (which it is) then why aren't the long term unemployed lowering the wages at which they'll accept jobs to levels sufficient to get jobs? Inflation is considered by many economists to be the preferred solution to high unemployment. But I'm left wondering why people don't get desperate and work for less. The extended term for unemployment benefits?

By Randall Parker 2012 January 07 04:16 PM  Economics Retirement
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2012 January 04 Wednesday
Razib Khan: The poverty of multiculturalist discourse

Great essay. Recommended for full reading.

An academic discourse tends to totally muddy a clear and crisp discussion. The reality is that most Egyptians have barbaric attitudes on a whole host of questions (e.g., ~80 percent of Egyptians favor the death penalty for apostasy from Islam). It was not surprising at all that the majority of the Egyptian electorate supported parties with reactionary cultural political planks; because the classification of these views as “reactionary” only makes sense if you use as your point of reference the Westernized social and economic elite. The majority of Egyptians have never been part of this world, and for them upward mobility has been accompanied by a greater self-consciousness of their Islamic identity.

This reality is not comforting to many, and so there has been an evasion of this. If we accept, for example, the hegemonic superiority of sexual equality, should we not impose the right arrangement upon those who oppress women? This is a serious question, but the fear of engaging in “dangerous” analysis in the “discourse” allows us to sidestep this question. Rather, by minimizing the concrete realities of cultural difference and the depths of their origin, Egyptians are easily transformed into Czechs in 1989 with browner skins and a Muslim affiliation. This is a totally false equivalence. As Eastern Europeans go the Czech population is atypical in its secularism and historical commitment to liberal democracy (one could argue the weakness of the Catholic church goes as far back as the Hussite rebellion and the later suppression of Protestantism by the Habsburgs). While other post-World War I polities switched toward authoritarianism in the inter-war period, the Czechs retained a liberal democratic orientation until the Nazi German invasion. After the collapse of Communism they reverted back to this state. Notably, extreme nationalist parties with anti-democratic tendencies have come to the fore in most post-Communist states, but not so in the Czech Republic.

Razib takes cultural differences seriously enough to actually notice them. Yes, European peoples have a variety of different cultures. Yes, Muslims share cultural beliefs that are incompatible with liberalism (and the rhetoric of liberal multiculturalists leaves them ill-equipped to understand and react rationally to this fact).

Razib makes a distinction between barbarism and savagery. I like the attempt draw such a distinction. But it is worth noting that we consider it unacceptable in the West for women to be the property of their male relatives even while we accept it in Saudi Arabia. So his "unacceptable way of being" seems to need some refinement. Unacceptability is not a binary judgment. There are limits to the cost we are willing to pay to eliminate a practice and those limits depend on attributes of the group is engaging in the practice.

I make a distinction between barbarism, which is a different way of being, and savagery, which is an unacceptable way of being. The modern world has accepted that slavery is savage, and not tolerable in any polity. In contrast, the fact that women in Saudi Arabia are effectively rendered property of their male relatives is barbaric, but not objectionable enough that it must be eliminated through force.

The more alien a culture seems to us the more likely we are to tolerate its practices. We are more disturbed by deviations from our norms by people who are more like us. Mormon polygamy in Utah is deemed less acceptable than Muslim polygamy in the Middle East.

One of the problems with the poverty of multiculturalist discourse is that we end up not talking honestly (or much at all) about practices that we object to if the practices are carried out by people who are not recognized as being of European (including diaspora) cultures.

Also see his previous post An illiberal people, written about the elections that swept Islamists to power in Egypt.

Over the past few days the American media has reacted with some consternation at the fact that it seems likely that Islamist political forces will probably control around two-thirds of the Egyptian legislature. This bloc is divided between a broad moderate element which emerges out of the Muslim Brotherhood, at around ~40 percent, and a crazy and savage Salafist component, at around ~25 percent. Terms like “moderate” need to be standardized though in their cultural context. The Muslim Brotherhood is moderate in an Egyptian framework. But it is not moderate in, for example, a Tunisian context, let alone a Turkish one. Egyptian American journalist Mona Eltahaway has pointed out that while the Tunisian Islamist party, Ennahda, has women in substantive positions (e.g., 42 or 46 women in the Tunisian legislature are members of Ennahda) the Muslim Brotherhood gives women only token representation, with no leadership role. And, as I have observed before the Islamist prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was greeted with great anger by North African Islamists when he proposed the shocking idea (to them) that all religions be treated equally. My point is that what is moderate in Egypt is going to be very reactionary in North Africa, and what is moderate in North Africa is going to be very reactionary in Turkey. In fact, what is moderate in Turkey is going to be very reactionary in the West. To a great extent, this is common sense, but for some reason this sense is lacking from our broader discussion on these issues.

So they differ in terms of just how illiberal they are. But what's the delta for each of the Muslim societies? Is Turkey becoming more reactionary? With more power to democracy (the military undermined with the connivance of the United States) will it become more like Egypt? Seems like it. Will democracy enable Muslim societies to reinforce their reactionary tendencies?

Also see my previous post Razib Sees Liberal Multiculturalism As Epiphenomenal. Also: Inductivist And Imam Rauf: Muslim Extremists Deranged.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 04 08:53 PM  Civilizations Clash Of
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2012 January 02 Monday
BCE, CE, Common Era: Makes No Sense

Bob Sykes makes a great point:

Actually, the substitution of BCE and CE for AD and BC is an example of extreme cultural arrogance and stupidity.

There is no common era except as imposed by 200 years of Anglo-American dominance. The Orthodox Church still uses the Julian Calendar (AD/BC and CE/BCE are Gregorian), and the Hebrew, Hindu, Chinese and Muslim calendars are also still in use. Perhaps you have heard of Tet?

Before Common Era? Think about it. What changed around 1 AD that made what we live in into a common era? Common shared experience? Emergence of a common world shared culture? Nope. The Roman Empire's decline ushered in a shrinking of the size of shared polities, at least in Europe. As for the rest of the world: empires were expanding and contracting. No obvious pattern toward a common era.

It wasn't until the industrial revolution led to cheap enough transportation and communications and eventually the internet that we can speak of global shared cultural experiences. Even 20 years ago few people globally could share experiences with each other between historical civilizations. Now I can write posts knowing they will be read by people in multiple different countries who speak different native languages. I can watch referral URLs come up where people are using Google page translation to read posts I've written. This is starting to become a common era. Still not there yet.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 02 08:19 PM  Cultural Wars Western
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Corruption Strangling Russian Science

Russia's economic recovery has been based largely on natural resource extraction, especially oil production. Unfortunately, the rest of Russian society is choked by corruption. The Russian government's attempt to boost Russian science has been choked by its own corruption.

PUSHCHINO, Russia — For the past decade, Russia has been pouring money into scientific research, trying to make up for the collapse of the 1990s, but innovation is losing out to exhaustion, corruption and cronyism.

A big increase in spending with nothing to show for it.

Shot through with back-scratching and favoritism, the government’s science program has tripled its spending in the past 10 years — and achieved very little. The number of papers published in scientific journals is the same as it was in 2000 and as it was in 1990, even while the rest of the world’s output has exploded.

Russian is in dire need of some virtuous leaders. Will it ever get them? A great deal could be accomplished if even some parts of the Russian government became incorruptible. Russia should be a warning on why we should want to keep corruption (and all of the conditions that favor the development of corruption) out of Western societies.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 02 04:47 PM  Russia
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2012 January 01 Sunday
Hispanics Vote As Democrats Over Money Issues

Audacious Epigone points to a Pew study that shows Hispanics are on the political Left over economic issues. This demonstrates the futility of Republican efforts to court them.

Pew just released the results of a survey on Hispanics in the US headlining with their reactions to an uptick in deportations carried out under the Obama administration as compared to the Bush administration. The report also contains other points of interest, including the emphasis placed on the question of immigration. Of the six issues participants were asked about, immigration came in dead last in the percentage of Hispanic voters who say they are "extremely concerned" about it. From most to least important: Jobs (50%), Education (49%), Health care (45%), Taxes (34%), Federal budget deficit (!) (34%), Immigration (33%).

Hispanics primarily favor Democrats because of the party's policies on health care and economics--policies that seek to transfer wealth from middle class whites to the (disproportionately Hispanic) poor. The GOP would have to move to the left of the Democratic party on both of these fronts to beat it at its own game and have a chance at winning over Hispanics, a move that would necessarily entail the Republican party ceasing to be conservative in any meaningful way.

I suspect the need for the Republican party to court lower class whites has already driven the party leftward of where it would otherwise be. Imagine a parallel history where there was no Hispanic influx. The elected Republicans at this point in time in this parallel history would probably be to the Right of where they are today and they'd hold many more legislatures and Congressional seats. California would still be a Republican state for example.

Since living standards are stagnating and poor Hispanics are a growing portion of the populace I expect the populace as a whole will shift Left. As Hispanics grow in number and the white Baby Boomers retire the lower labor market earning power of Hispanics will further lower average living standards. Add in the other pressures on living standards (e.g. Peak Oil, peak other stuff, and the "great stagnation" factors ) and it is hard to see how American living standards can even stay the same, let alone return to the post-WWII glory era when living standards rose every year. Look at a different Pew study on differences in household median wealth by ethnic group for a glimpse into America's poorer future.

From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households.

As a result of these declines, the typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts) in 2009; the typical Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth; and the typical white household had $113,149.

How will these poor people take care of themselves in old age? The demands for government support in old age will grow even as old age entitlements costs rise to unsustainable levels. People will have to work into their 70s. Higher earners will be taxed at higher rates and will get less in old age benefits. Save more. Work harder. Spend less.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 01 06:20 PM  Politics Ethnicity
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Our Fierce Political Marketplace And The Decline Of Civility

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates bemoans the decline in political civility in Washington DC.

He compared this capital’s “oversized egos and undersized backbones” with the “low-key, self-effacing demeanor . . . steadfast integrity, common decency . . . moral and political courage” of Brent Scowcroft, the 86-year-old former two-time national security adviser and Gates mentor who was being honored at the Atlantic Council dinner. Gates was among the speakers.

So Gates bemoans the passing of a more genteel age in which the divisions weren't as deep and there was a greater sense of common interest and shared identity. One might ask what caused these deep changes in American political culture?

Scowcroft’s virtues “seem to be increasingly quaint” in this town, Gates said, comparing them with the “zero-sum politics and ideological siege warfare [that] are the new order of the day.”

Zero-sum politics: Seems like it mirrors our increasingly zero-sum economy, no?

Ethnic diversity is celebrated on the American left. Yet greater ethnic diversity is one driver of this trend toward lower civility in politics. As Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam has shown: ethnic diversity lowers trust and social capital. When people don't trust each other they compete more in the political arena and compromise less. Ethnic groups try to use government as a tool to take from others. Other ethnic groups fight back. They do all this with euphemisms and shadow boxing. Though the Left certainly tries to call the Right racist as a tactic in these political battles. That further deepens bitterness and is itself an uncivil tactic.

Competition and markets are widely celebrated across the political spectrum as producing efficiencies and innovations that deliver great benefits and surely they do. But much greater competition and efficiency in political markets makes for more divided electorates, less cooperation, and greater incivility. Many innovations in persuasion aim at cheaply and efficiently reaching niches for small marginal advantages. Specialists in campaign techniques know how to push hot buttons in small slices of the electorate to win small but key electoral advantages. So of course they hit those hot buttons.

Technological advances in communications and computing have enhanced the ability of political factions to compete in many ways. Availability of more information channels enables more narrow casting and so fewer political messages aim at appealing to a broad electorate. Where we once had a moderate liberal dominance of the news we now have a more fractured media. Technological advances made this fracturing possible. We couldn't have Fox News competing with the liberal news shows when there was no cable TV. But now with the proliferation of cable TV channels, the shift of AM to talk radio, and the enormous variety of the web sites (where every web site is effectively yet another channel) people can find their way to communities of like minds where experts pitch them messages that enhance and activate their hot buttons to deepen divisions and swing elections.

The amount of data that can be collected on people and funneled out to select target audiences also enhances divisions. Political advertising campaigns can be put together rapidly and their effects can be measured almost equally rapidly. Narrow cast messages can be aimed at email lists and visitors to web sites with well characterized reader demographics.

The larger role of government also undercuts civility in political life. When government played a much smaller role people had fewer reasons to disagree with each other in the political arena. But the sheer number areas where government has become involved is so large that we now have many more reasons to disagree with each other in politics and to be offended and outraged by political choices promoted by opposing factions and interests.

The professionalization of politics is financed by all the factions fighting over what government should or should not do. The money flowing into politics from corporations, unions (especially government employee unions, wealthy donors, a proliferation of lobbying groups that solicit mass donations, and other sources funds a professional class of political operatives, pollsters, opposition researchers, email campaigners, think tanks, political advertising specialists, and other experts at building coalitions and stoking demands in the populace.

This all takes place against a background of changes in education that funnel the brightest to elite schools where they learn to expect they will influence the masses. The grads of the elite schools become experts in marketing, political science, information technology, and other tools of political warfare. It is no wonder that civility has been pushed aside. Competition in the political marketplace is now fierce and looks to stay that way.

By Randall Parker 2012 January 01 10:37 AM  Politics Battles Of Elites
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