Chuck Rudd of Gucci Little Piggy wants to know why some Alt Right writers are finding common ground with lefties over the undesirability of ostentatious displays of wealth.
At Gawker, Hamilton Nolan, who I’ve cracked on before, has a post conflating displays of wealth with immorality (h/t Mupetblast). What’s increasingly clear to me is that there are some among the alt-right who would agree with Nolan’s argument, and I’m interested in understanding why the line separating the alt-right and the left is becoming more and more blurry
In the comments of his post I explain why I see ostentatious displays of wealth as unhealthy for society.
Since people feel better or worse more due to their relative standing than their absolute standing I think ostentatious displays of wealth just make a small number of people happier at the expense of making a much larger number of people much less happy.
The ostentatious displays of wealth have multiple harmful effects:
- The resentment engendered toward the more productive lead to support of policies that work against market forces.
- The resentment makes people angrier.
- The resentment reduces the sense of common interest and common purpose.
Our problem is that communications and computer technology advances have made ostentatious displays of wealth more visible even as the amount of ostentation has increased due to rising inequality.
So I think it is rational to criticize ostentatious displays. The rich already have many status advantages. Really, they don’t need to grab every status advantage available to them.
We need a society of high trust and a widespread feeling of common ground and shared interests. Ostentatious displays of wealth among an elite whose wealth has been growing for decades far faster than the overall amounts to rubbing salt into a wound. I morally disapprove of ostentation on the part of the upper classes. It is unnecessary cruelty.
Update: More expensive cars in a neighborhood reduce income satisfaction. If the wealthy hid their wealth people would be less dissatisfied by how much money they make.
We provide direct evidence that people with strong family ties have a lower level of trust in strangers than people with weak family ties, and argue that this association is causal. We also investigate the mechanisms that underlie this effect, and provide evidence that these revolve around the level of outward exposure: factors that limit exposure limit subjects’ experience as well as motivation to deal with strangers.
Society benefits from strong nuclear families as children need parents to raise them. But the benefit from strong extended families (extending out to cousins and beyond) is not clear.
Which groups have especially strong family ties? People who engage in consanguineous (cousin) marriage. You will see at that link that Middle Eastern cultures have weak and corrupt governments and, not coincidentally, high rates of consanguineous marriage. To the extent that immigration policies let in large numbers of Muslims who engage in the same practice in Western societies we will suffer from a lower trust society and more corruption. Actually, immigration reduces trust and social capital (and those of strong liberal faith are reluctant to let us know this) even without consanguineous marriage. Consanguineous marriage makes the problem much worse as it promotes divisions down to the scale of extended families.
Why is the Greek economy doing so poorly? To set up an online store to sell olive-related products to mostly foreign buyers takes months of navigating the Greek government bureaucracy.
Antonopoulos and his partners spent hours collecting papers from tax offices, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the municipal service where the company is based, the health inspector’s office, the fire department and banks. At the health department, they were told that all the shareholders of the company would have to provide chest X-rays, and, in the most surreal demand of all, stool samples.
Very messed up. If the Greeks want more jobs and an end to declining living standards they need to take a hatchet to government regulatory processes.
Keep your eye on Hamza Kashgari. He’s the 23-year-old former columnist for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Bilad newspaper who had the extremely bad judgment to tweet an imaginary conversation he was having with the prophet Muhammad. In almost no time, he was running for his life, hopping a plane in Jeddah and hoping to reach New Zealand. In Malaysia, where he apparently had to change planes, he was held incommunicado until a private plane arrived from Saudi Arabia. He’s now back home, in jail and possibly facing a death sentence.
So the Malaysian government was quite willing to send Kashgari back to likely death for what he Tweeted.
Next time someone extols to you the virtues of multiculturalism ask them if we should respect other cultures. Then ask them if we should respect the moral values of other cultures. If you are still getting Yes then ask them if we should respect a culture (Egypt) where 84% of the people favor the death penalty for apostasy from Islam and 82% favor death by stoning for adulterers. Or how about a culture like Pakistan where less than a majority clearly favor democracy. Okay?
I do not see all cultures as equally valuable or equally good or equally desirable. I see the death of Arab Christianity at the hands of Muslims as a loss. I see the rises and falls of different cultures and nations as losses and gains that have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. America's promotion of democracy in the Middle East just unleashes Muslim majorities to conduct ethnic cleansing.
What used to be considered admirably good citizenship is now considered a criminal act.
A New Hampshire grandfather has been arrested and is facing a possible prison sentence for firing a shot into the ground and holding a burglar at gunpoint until the cops could arrive.
Only police are allowed to enforce the law? Since when?
If he goes to trial will a jury convict?
Reason Magazine editor in chief Matt Welch points out Warren Buffett thinks he can spend his money better on philanthropy than the government can. Yet Buffett advocates taking money from rich people to give it to the US federal government.
I'm not one who thinks that Warren Buffett needs to write a $10 billion check to the government in order to prove his policy sincerity. But it is worth noting that his big 2006 media breakthrough came not by pledging his fortune to the U.S. Treasury, but to private charity. It's clear which vehicle he finds the most effective use of his personal money.
Money spent on charity has the potential to be more productive than money spent by national governments. But this is by no means assured. Charity giving and philanthropy are by no means assured to deliver a net benefit to society as a whole.
As I argued in my post Gates And Buffett Quest Will Lower Investment Quality, most philanthropy is wealth-destroying because it shifts money away from productive investment toward unproductive activities, shifts talented people away from useful work, and even in some cases encourages activities that are destructive of self or others. Poorly done philanthropy has effects similar to those of the social welfare state in that it lowers the costs and increases the benefits of bad life choices.
As an example of wealth-destroying philanthropy, Bill Gates (and likely with some of Warren Buffett's money) spent billions of dollars to discover smaller class size does not improve educational quality. It was not hard to know in advance that lowering class size was a waste of money. As Virginia Postrel wrote in the New York Times in February 2001 economist Edward Lazear showed as long as disruptive students are separated from quiet and attentive students the sizes of classes for attentive students can be quite large.
To find out how much of the time learning is actually taking place in a given class, you multiply the probability a student is not disrupting by the probability for each other student. In his model, Professor Lazear uses the same probability for every student, which means he can simply raise the probability to the power of whatever the class size is.
The results are striking. If each student behaves well 99 percent of the time, learning takes place 78 percent of the time in a class of 25; if good behavior drops to 98 percent, learning takes place only 60 percent of the time; at 97 percent, learning drops to a mere 47 percent of the time.
So any value of smaller class size is mostly for the more disruptive students so that they do not disrupt the learning of each other.
Money spent to pull larger numbers of people into teaching careers to make class sizes smaller pulls people away from better uses of their time. In his book Thinking, Fast And Slow Daniel Kahnemann points out the Gates Foundation was lured into making a billion dollar mistake by looking at schools with small classes that had great student performance. What the Gates Foundation's advisers missed: with smaller classes comes larger variation. Some of the schools with terrible student performance also had small class sizes. With smaller groups comes greater odds that a small group will deviate from the average of all students.
Philanthropy is very hard to do well. Even with expensive advisors the Gates Foundation still made a very expensive (and therefore wealth-destroying) mistake. On the bright side, at the end of the mistake Bill Gates admitted the mistake and supporters of wasteful educational spending thru smaller class sizes found a powerful person switched against their position. If Gates used those same dollars to fund the IRS he and quite a few observers would not have learned this lesson.
The U.S. does not have a significantly smaller welfare state than the European nations. We’re just better at hiding it. The Europeans provide welfare provisions through direct government payments. We do it through the back door via tax breaks.
For example, in Europe, governments offer health care directly. In the U.S., we give employers a gigantic tax exemption to do the same thing. European governments offer public childcare. In the U.S., we have child tax credits. In Europe, governments subsidize favored industries. We do the same thing by providing special tax deductions and exemptions for everybody from ethanol producers to Nascar track owners.
I am skeptical of this line of argument for multiple reasons. First off, private providers do not have the same impact as public providers. For example, lots of people providing child care out of their homes do not have the same impact as government-run child care centers whose employees are recruited thru civil service tests and managed by government managers. This difference is profound in impact because the private providers compete and they serve their customers rather than serving managers higher up in agencies or elected or appointed officials. The private providers are far more flexible and serve many more specialty niches (e.g. people who work late or who work weekends or people who want a specific style of environment for the kiddies).
Room for innovation is much larger in the private sector. Also, for some forms of tax deductibility (e.g health care savings accounts paid into with pre-tax dollars that accumulate across years) the buyer using pre-tax dollars has an incentive to be frugal to hold back money for use in later years. The buyer has an incentive to find cheaper service providers and that incentive is missing when health care and other services are provided by a government.
Health care providers and other providers in America have far more incentive to provide flexible hours, short waiting times, and other conveniences and service quality differentiators. The reason is simple: individual buyers are free to take their money elsewhere. The incentives to meet the needs of individual customers are much lower in Europe. The American approach leads to services that are more customer-centric, innovative, and higher in quality.
If we must have subsidies then we should make them come in forms that create more competition and more tailoring to individual needs.
The new regime is content to keep down women, secularists, Christians, and others who don't share their values.The new repression comes with a more Islamic and populist flavor
The newly politically empowered Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic organization that supports religious law and opposes Western influence, has supported a crackdown on those who disagree with them, including the very activists who helped bring about the free elections that the Brotherhood dominated.
This is so predictable. I quote Razib Khan: "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)." Read the whole thing.
I hear Roger Daltry singing. The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again.
As outstanding student debt approaches $1 trillion, it’s one more reason record-low interest rates aren’t doing more to boost housing.
Really, we can't afford this. The increase in number of college degrees issued has done nothing to increase the supply of technically skilled workers.
The debt load has impacts in living standards. Younger folks (who also are less skilled than previous generations) can't afford houses any more.
The Fed’s white paper said 9 percent of 29- to 34-year-olds got a first-time mortgage between 2009 and 2011, compared with 17 percent 10 years earlier.
Among the more educated student debt is too high to qualify for mortgages. Plus, the growing ranks of single women with babies is probably partly the result of high costs of family formation. Though changing demographics due to immigration is another cause.
LORAIN, Ohio — It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.
Single parenthood lowers living standards. We can't afford the higher education racket any more because we have too many other things going wrong. We need to start cutting costs to compensate for all that is going wrong.
College degrees are very expensive and time-consuming proxies for intelligence measurement. If you are smart enough to get into Harvard (with really g-loaded SATs to help qualify) then you are smart enough to work at a company that needs high cognitive ability. Ditto the rest of the Ivy League and other schools with high entrance requirements. If you graduate at the top of your class at a less selective school again you have demonstrated higher cognitive ability. But we can't afford this increasingly expensive but politically correct way of measuring intelligence.
Some of the commenters argued that it wasn't the Griggs decision so much as US government subsidies of higher education (student loans and tuition grants) that caused the higher prices. Chuck Rudd of Gucci Little Piggy responded that Griggs created the conditions under which people would be motivated to use the government subsidies that further helped drive up the costs of college.
It’s all tied in together. Griggs set the table for college degrees to become worth so much to employers making hiring decisions. It became their only metric for sifting through piles of applications. We’re no longer choosing for IQ or mental ability per se; we’re now choosing for something that indicates IQ or mental ability (loosely) and universities can make money off of it.
Government enters the fray – distorting the market – and creating a bubble where colleges and unis have no natural curb to the prices they charge their customers. They know they can charge X amount and that the government will ratchet up student aid and subsidize enough loans to ensure that they get paid.
So Griggs doesn’t directly cause this, but it immediately distorts the market and everything else falls to shit from there.
The same (still existing and still very damaging) intellectual conditions that led to the foolish Griggs decision also led to an overestimation of the value of a college education. The ROI of college was exaggerated because the higher IQ of college grads (as compared to non-college grads) was ignored when college grads were observed to make more money over their careers. The overestimation of ROI from college education provided political support for wasteful levels of subsidy for higher education. So today students have wracked up massive amounts of college loan debt on the theory that college would make them smarter than they really are.
The worst outcome the education racket has brought about: a 50% increase in college graduates in the last 25% with a 0% increase in STEM (science, tech, engineering math) grads. Yes, the huge surge in college education has resulted in a zero percent increase in the supply of people who design, discover, and create new innovations.
What we need: separate the testing for competency and granting of credentials from the delivery of instruction and courseware. For a look at what is going on in educational innovation to free us from inflexible and costly bricks and mortar colleges check out this exchange between Kevin Carey, Reihan Salam, and Arnold Kling:
By many indicators, Greece is devolving into something unprecedented in modern Western experience. A quarter of all Greek companies have gone out of business since 2009, and half of all small businesses in the country say they are unable to meet payroll. The suicide rate increased by 40 percent in the first half of 2011. A barter economy has sprung up, as people try to work around a broken financial system.
Greece is going to become less regulated and less socialist just due to lack of money. Foreign investors will swoop in to pick off pieces that become available as the Greek government sells assets. Greece will become a cheap holiday resort destination. Chinese and German companies will compete for pieces of the carcass.
Even with a bail-out and a more than halving of government debt Greece may end up once again unable to service its debt.
The Germans are getting ready for the Greeks to bail from the Euro currency zone. Read that article. The severity of the problem has sunk for the Germans.
Plans for Greece to default, potentially leaving the euro, have been drafted in Germany as the European Union begins to face up to the fact that Greek debt is spiralling out of control - with or without a second bailout.
If the oil price spike causes another world recession (and I rate that likely by 2013 or 2014) then I'm counting Italy and possibly Spain or Portugal or Ireland as candidates to leave the euro zone. The world economy is bumping up against resource limits.
While some argue that European economic troubles will dampen Europe's oil demand enough to keep prices down I think they miss the big picture. The developing nations of south and east Asia will grow their own demand enough to eat up that oil. The US and Europe are going to have to keep cutting back their own demand to make up for rising demand in Asia. that means our economies will perform poorly and our living standards will at best stagnate and due to declining labor force quality more likely living standards will decline.
My standard advice: Try harder to learn more skills and pursue a more rewarding career. You need to compensate in your own life for what's going wrong at the macro scale.
Update: One of Greece's problem is that government employees are corrupt and expect bribes. That's a reflection on the population that they come from. The Greeks should behave with more virtue and force their government to do the same.
Tipping the weirdo meter scales, Hitler may have knocked up a French woman during WWI in an German-occupied area of France. If you were that guy how would you like to live with that knowledge?
On some topics the British political debate is ahead of the American political debate. For example, the British government's planned immigration policy changes are far ahead of US immigration policy. On old age entitlements the British government is also much more realistic and practical than what passes for mainstream US debate on old age entitlements. British Prime Minister David Cameron sees the necessity to raise retirement age in line with increasing life expectancy.
Mr Cameron said he supported plans to increase the retirement age in line with life expectancy which could see workers remaining in employment until well into their seventies.
Slow economic growth and rising health care costs are putting Western governments under water for funding of their old age entitlement programs. We can't have just 2 people working for every retiree.
People need to hear decades before their 60s that they'll need to work longer. They need to know to make career choices and develop skills that will allow them to have viable careers into their early 70s. To compensate for aging brains people need to develop more skills and to develop marketable skills that will be less affected by body and brain aging.
There are additional benefits from longer time spent working. Senior No. 10 aide David Halpern says if old folks worked longer they would not be so lonely.
He told delegates at the Stockholm summit that more than half of those older than 75 in Britain described themselves as lonely “all or most of the time”.
“Work matters, particularly for older people, not just for money, but absolutely for social contact,” he said.
This is very true. Unfortunately, the old folks who are lonely are so isolated that these lonely people are pretty invisible to those who have lots of friends, work associates, and contacts with social networks. Unless you happen to know old lonely people you aren't going to appreciate the scale of the problem. Even if you know old lonely people (and I do) you might live too far away from them to make much difference in their lives. Wish I had a general solution to offer. I've certainly seen benefits from the need for work.
In 1940, there were 42 workers per retiree. In 1950, the ratio was 16-to-1. In 2010, there were 2.8 workers per retiree, and within 40 years, it’s projected that there will be just two workers per retiree¹. At the present rate, as the population ages and life expectancies continue to rise, the system will not be able to sustain itself into the future without major reform.
See this table of retirement age versus worker/retiree ratio. If the retirement age was raised to 72 by 2030 then the worker/retiree ratio would be 4. Note that since it is politically much harder to raise Medicare retirement eligibility (since old folks will find it much harder to get jobs with medical benefits as compare to younger workers) we need a much higher retirement age with a high worker/retiree ratio to bring in more tax revenue to find medical care for the old. By taking the load off of Social Security with higher retirement age we also keep much more money flowing in from workers paying income taxes and Medicare taxes even beyond the point where they become eligible for Medicare.
David Brooks on Charles Murray's new book Coming Apart (about cognitive sorting, the dysfunction at the bottom and the conservative lifestyles of the cognitive elite - both liberal and conservative) makes the mistake of shows the extent to which even he can't escape from liberal assumptions.
Murray’s story contradicts the ideologies of both parties. Republicans claim that America is threatened by a decadent cultural elite that corrupts regular Americans, who love God, country and traditional values. That story is false. The cultural elites live more conservative, traditionalist lives than the cultural masses.
Democrats claim America is threatened by the financial elite, who hog society’s resources. But that’s a distraction. The real social gap is between the top 20 percent and the lower 30 percent. The liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1 percent narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.
He goes on to seemingly contradict himself in the next paragraph. Click thru and try to make sense of it.
Unfairness? Seriously? If the bottom 30% have lower IQs, low labor market participation rates, high rates of illegitimate (I use that politically incorrect word intentionally) births, and other dysfunction and limits on their abilities then the top 20% are to blame how exactly? Did the top 20% use unfair tactics to drive the bottom 30% to drop out of high school? To make them not show up for work on time? To make them get pregnant out of wedlock? To make them abuse drugs and alcohol?
Brooks and the liberals can't cure the dysfunction at the bottom with more doses of fairness from the top. What might help: The elites could do battle with each other over our media and laws that encourage impulsive bad choices. At the cost of restricting what the cognitive elite can imbibe as cultural products our media should be radically reformed and restrained to deliver far better messages to the bottom 30%. Take away glorification of impulsive lifestyles. Do not even allow a show like Jersey Shore on the air. The impulsive and dumb should get a steady diet of Leave It To Beaver and other large doses of wholeness, conventional families with solid dads, and a total lack of sarcasm directed at guys playing wholesome dad roles. Outlaw gambling. Make liquor harder to get late at night.
I do not expect liberals to be willing to inconvenience themselves in order that lower IQ and impulsive people will only take in constructive and morally restraining messages. But that is what's needed.
What else would help: A total halt and reversal of low IQ immigration. We have far too many low IQ people. Patterns of reproduction are contributing to this as well.
Unfortunately we can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Automation and global trade are both lowering the demand for lower IQ labor and lowering the status of lower IQ laborers. Mass media and vice industries (e.g. gambling) lure lower IQ people into making bad choices. No fault divorce, decline in religious belief, the decline in the status of males, and other changes undermine the attraction of marriage.
The headline: Damian Green: 'we only want the brightest immigrants'. Not so in the United States.
Meanwhile, in the United States immigration has made our labor force less competitive. Alan Greenspan acknowledges that the replacements for the baby boomers can't compete.
"Baby boomers are being replaced by groups of young workers who have regrettably scored rather poorly in international educational match-ups over the last two decades. The average income of U.S. households headed by 25-year-olds and younger has been declining relative to the average income of the baby boomer population. This is a reasonably good indication that the productivity of the younger part of our workforce is declining relative to the level of productivity achieved by the retiring baby boomers. This raises some major concerns about the productive skills of our future U.S. labor force."
Therefore US living standards will fall. The US has peaked. The US is in decline.
It is a shame Greenspan doesn't fully connect the dots. But only thought criminals can put it together. So the decline will have to be even sharper than would otherwise be necessary.
So I recite my position on how each person with brains needs to respond: Try harder to get skills and get ahead because you'll have to perform at a higher level just to stay even with where you stand today. Some people just gripe at how the deck is stacked against us all when I say that. But really, these negative feelings are not productive of anything. Learn more every day, try harder, live more frugally.
Richard Hamming, a Turing award winner for his work in communications theory, gave a great talk about how to be a more productive researcher and Hamming's advice can be applied to anyone who works:
Now for the matter of drive. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode's office and said, ``How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?'' He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, ``You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.'' I simply slunk out of the office!
What Bode was saying was this: ``Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.'' Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest. I don't want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime. I took Bode's remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done. I don't like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes; I needed to study. You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There's no question about this.
Do sustained compounding of interest with your brain or become a victim of globalization and declining natural resources.
I have been with my partner for two years and we are talking about getting married. But, he says he won’t commit himself to me (or anyone) unless there’s a firm deal in place about how often we make love.
His marriage and last relationship ended because both women lost interest in sex. He says he wants an undertaking that we would have sex at least twice a week, unless one of us is ill or away.
Given that men desire sex more often than women the fact that his previous relationships ended due to low sexual interest from the women should not be too surprising. Though I suspect the guy needs to learn how to handle women in a long term relationship.
But why get married in the first place? The advantages of marriage seem small to non-existent and marriage causes weight gain and relationship stagnation. Really, the marriage deal has to offer compelling advantages. So this guy trying to get a better deal up front with guarantees of performance seems pretty practical and reasonable.
In our era when bad kids do bad things they are often referred to as troubled youth. This seems Orwellian. At Merriam Webster the first definition for troubled is "concerned, worried" and that's the definition I would expect. Since lots of youthful criminals are notably lacking in concern for others or worry about their own behavior I see the term "troubled youth" as basically misleading propaganda. They are trouble, not troubled.
The second definition, "exhibiting emotional or behavioral problems" seems more modern. When ideologues abuse a word for propaganda value eventually the dictionaries try to catch up. But the first evoking mental images centered around the original first meaning gives the propagandists their desired result.