2012 October 31 Wednesday
New York City More Vulnerable To Disasters

I think societies should function really well. I think avoidable disasters ought to be avoided. I think major disruptions to human society are not necessary if the populace is only sufficiently smart, with long time horizons, and with strong desires to be responsible. Granted, the American people aren't sufficiently smart and lack other needed attributes and those attribute are in decline on average. But that's what I would prefer in the sort of society I'd prefer to live in.

A higher population density brings with it a greater need for highly reliable infrastructure. To pay for that infrastructure a large city is supposed to offer economies of scale and therefore more revenue. Yet the city of New York can't afford enough basic maintenance on its subway system, let alone prepare for a foreseeable hurricane. Or is the city just not willing to charge subway fares high enough to properly fund the subway system?

It would help, surely, if the fifth largest subway system in the world — and by far the largest in the U.S. — weren’t operating under ever-worsening budget constraints. The system took a $1.1 billion budget cut in 2009 and responded by shutting many stations after hours, slashing the number of staffed fare booths and postponing or canceling planned repairs and maintenance. That just leads to more breakdowns, those too often weather-related. For all the pumps at the system’s disposal, they still can’t handle a rainfall of more than 1.75 in. (4.5 cm) per hour without causing service disruptions.

A hurricane of this magnitude was expected and an even worse hurricane will eventually hit. This isn't a Global Warming story. A category 3 hurricane hit Long Island in 1938 and seriously wrecked Long Island. If a cat 4 hurricane hit Manhattan directly the latest disaster would look like small potatoes by comparison. New Jersey took the worst part of the 2012 hurricane, not New York.

New York City has a population of 8.3 million. It needs to spend about $1200 per person to prepare a proper barrier to protect it against a hurricane.

The Cuomo administration plans talks with city and federal officials about how to proceed. The task could be daunting, given fiscal realities: storm surge barriers, the huge sea gates that some scientists say would be the best protection against floods, could cost as much as $10 billion.

The city is too dense to operate well without subways. Yet that density does not supply enough money to maintain, let alone protect, the subways. Is that due to politics or economics? Does NYC make financial sense?

Update: It is truly amazing what you can find on Wikipedia. The current $2.25 NYC subway fare is, adjusted for inflation, about 4 times higher than it was in the 1910s thru about 1946. What caused this? My guess is union wages and union featherbedding. Or has the cost of operating NYC gone up for other reasons?

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I'm wondering whether the continuing communications revolution is going to undermine NYC. Will the value of propinquity go down? Or will the various needs for close contact become disaggregated? In other words, will different smaller cities take on some of the specializations which are currently aggregated together in NYC? Already a lot of back office functions have been moved elsewhere. For what purposes is still NYC needed? Are those purposes better addressed in some smaller, comfortable, and friendly city?

By Randall Parker 2012 October 31 09:33 PM 
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2012 October 28 Sunday
GED Holders More Like High School Dropouts For Income

Dropouts who get a GED degree are close to high school graduates in intelligence. But they do far worse in life. The attributes that cause people to drop out also make them do worse at life.

While GED holders are as smart as graduates, in terms of future outcomes (annual income, unemployment, divorce, drug use) they look exactly like dropouts.

The study made clear that “non-cognitive skills” like persistence, planning and self-control can be more important than intelligence in the long run.

What I'd like to know: can any drugs alter personality in a sustainable way that will increase performance? It is doubtful that Adderall can provide a sustained performance benefit. Though perhaps Adderall can help those with ADHD. GED holders seem like the most obvious category of people to try drugs on to look for ways to boost cognitive performance. Is there a subset of GED holders with IQs higher than the average GED holder and also with ADHD who would benefit from long term usage of Adderall or some other drug?

The claims about GED holders are based on research by Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman. The "can be more important than intelligence" claim from Eric Barker is misleading. There's a big difference between necessary and sufficient. At each level of IQ how much a person will do with their talent depends on their persistence, patience, ambition, openness and other attributes. A 110 IQ person with great personality attributes can outshine a 120 IQ person with paralyzing personality attributes easily enough. But the 110 IQ person can only achieve in ways that are within the range of what a 110 IQ brain handle. That 110 IQ person isn't going to make a major discovery in physics or computational genomics for example. They don't have the intellectual horsepower needed to play in many realms.

Heckman finds that all else equal higher IQ levels are associated with higher levels of economic achievement. People who can do more with their minds can do more with the world.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 28 08:53 PM 
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2012 October 21 Sunday
Whoever Wins US Election Loses For Following 4 Years

As regular readers know, I see the signs of declining living standards. So can either of the two US presidential contenders win a prize by winning the 2012 election? Seems like the answer is No because the next 4 years won't provide either candidate with opportunities to restart the US economy back onto the previous long term trend of yearly growth in economic productivity and per capita output.

If Obama wins he'll get less blame than Romney would get for the same level of poor economic performance. The press is going to much more aggressively attack a Republican over a poor economic performance. Unfortunately, I do not think the press will be any more likely to look at the fundamental causes of poor economic growth under Obama than under Romney. So there's no great learning experience in store in a second Obama term.

Neither American intellectuals or the public at large is in a mood to accept a less rosy prospect for America's future. America's intellectuals are unrealistic about limits to human ability. This helps to enable the public at large to embrace a continuing myth about American exceptionalism. The country becomes less exceptional every year. But anyone not embracing the exceptionalism myth is at risk of being called unpatriotic or unduly pessimistic.

American exceptionalism has recently been championed by conservatives, who accuse President Obama of paying the notion insufficient respect. But the self-censorship it produces in politicians is bipartisan, even if it is more pronounced on the left for some issues and the right for others.

FOR instance, Democrats are more loath than Republicans to look squarely at the government debt crisis indisputably looming with the aging of baby boomers and the ballooning cost of Medicare. Republicans are more reluctant than Democrats to acknowledge the rise of global temperatures and its causes and consequences. But both parties, it is fair to say, prefer not to consider either trend too deeply.

Both parties would rather avert their eyes from such difficult challenges — because we, the people, would rather avert our eyes.

We have fundamental problems that require we adopt long term policies aimed at addressing them. But as Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of the original The Limits To Growth opines in his "2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years" , the high human discount rate (focus on present returns at the expense of long term benefits) precludes a long term approach to growing long term problems.

We live in a period where the innovation costs for maintaining civlization are rising too fast for us to innovate our way out of national and global problems. Depleting resources, rising populations, Unfavorable demographic changes, less remaining low hanging fruit of innovations to discover and quite possibly global warming are what we face. A mere President of the United States isn't going to solve these problems.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 21 09:49 PM 
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Employee Perks In The Home

Home services are the new Silicon Valley perk.

Today, Evernote’s 250 employees — every full-time worker, from receptionist to top executive — have their homes cleaned twice a month, free.

It is the latest innovation from Silicon Valley: the employee perk is moving from the office to the home.

As marginal tax rates go back up again I expect this idea to spread, especially in companies with highly skilled and well compensated workforces.

A Stanford kidney specialist used a minivan to rack up favor chits she could call in when she needed help.

In one video, a kidney specialist told a story that shocked the researchers: while she was on maternity leave, she bought a minivan to ferry the children of friends and neighbors to school and sports practices.

I think companies are missing a big opportunity, especially with highly skilled parents of young children, to attract and motivate parents who are having a hard time juggling child care and work. Women especially leave work earlier because child care ends at, say, 6 PM. They've got to get onto the freeway soon enough that even if traffic is slow they'll get there in time. Put a company sponsored child care place close to the office and keep it open until 6:30 or 7 PM and women trying to meet deadlines would work more and stay with that company.

We need governmental and corporate policies aimed at making it easier for smart people to have more kids.

Companies should also enable employees to order stuff from local stores that they can pick up on their way out the door. Order everything they need in the morning or the day before. Delivery vans could bring stuff into corporate lobbies. Employees could pick up their deliveries on the way out (or have stuff delivered to their desks) and avoid extra stops at stores. Make home responsibilities less of a diversion from work.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 21 08:12 PM 
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2012 October 14 Sunday
On Labeling Opponents Of Multiculturalism As Hateful

Ross Douthat draws attention to the Obama administration's decision to misrepresent the motives of the attack on the US embassy in Libya and to turn against the maker of a video which was very critical of Islam.

What happened instead was very strange. Having first repudiated the embassy’s apology to Muslims offended by a movie impugning their prophet, the Obama administration decided to embrace that apology’s premise, and insist that the movie was the crucial ingredient in the Sept. 11 anniversary violence.

For days after the attack, as it became clearer that the Benghazi violence was a Qaeda operation rather than a protest, White House officials continued to stress the importance of the “hateful” and “disgusting” video, and its supposed role as a catalyst for what Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, insisted was a spontaneous attack.

That the Obama Administration would label a video that lampoons a religion as hate demonstrates why I so distrust Barack Obama. The primary use of the term "hate" is to label someone as outside of civilized discourse and deserving of pariah status. But lets get to root causes. Why use the term "hate" for this purpose? The role of hate looms so large in the elite liberal mind in large part because liberals lack the ability to understand non-liberal minds.

The left has elevated their own psychological blindness and misunderstanding into a campaign of marginalization where they label their opponents as hate groups. This blindness of liberal minds to half the moral considerations used by conservative minds creates a condition very much like the Dunning-Kruger Effect where someone lacks the ability to detect the extent of their own misunderstanding, ignorance, and incompetence. In this case liberals are unable to understand conservatives. So they call conservatives hateful (and this gets so very tiresome). But at least liberal psychologist Jonathan Haidt understands the differences between liberal and conservative minds and the extent of liberal blindness on same.

Steve Sailer is concerned by the threat typified by the Obama Administration's reaction to the Al Qaeda attack on the US embassy in Libya. Says Steve: As immigration becomes more of a sacred civil right for foreigners, free speech becomes less of a one for Americans

The Grand Strategy of the Obama Administration isn't much different from that of the Bush Administration: Invite the World, Invade the World, In Hock to the World. But, you won't hear that from Romney and Ryan.

This is the part that scares me. Will multi-culturalism and the desire to placate ethnicities at home and abroad cause an even larger reduction in freedom of speech than it already has? Speech codes in workplaces are already left-liberal. I'm expecting them to become more strictly enforced and for that enforcement to extend beyond the workplace.

I would add one more explanation. The Obama Administration is reflexively pro-multicultural and therefore anti-free speech in the advanced European and Canadian fashion. They see the First Amendment as all very fine for pornography, but, to be frank, more substantive free speech is outdated in a multi-ethnic age of empire when the government has to keep hot-under-the-collar newcomers, such as Muslims, and old grievance groups, such as blacks, from burning down cities over perceived slights.

The argument for outlawing hate speech is made by some college professors and Jeffrey Waldron's book against the constitutionality of hate speech was published by Harvard University Press. This does not bode well for the former republic.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 14 09:50 AM  Cultural Wars Western
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2012 October 13 Saturday
Nobel Peace Prize Is A Joke

The European Union just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Read the list of previous Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The Peace Prize rides on the coattails of the science and medicine prizes. The latter prizes are for real objective accomplishments and those prizes give the word Nobel prestige that then gets spent on the Peace Prize.

The prize for the European Union is more ridiculous than the average Nobel Peace Prize. The EU financial crisis has boosted Greece's unemployment rate to 25%. That's a Depression that would have been avoided had Greece not joined the ill-conceived European monetary union. Spain could be next.

Europe would not be convulsed in a war if the European Union did not exist. The Europeans aren't up for having wars with each other anymore. If they tried then the United States Air Force would demolish any army that tried to cross national borders as part of an attack on a neighboring country.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 13 03:43 PM  Europe and America
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2012 October 09 Tuesday
Honey Boo Boo Child And Dysfunctional Lower Classes

The mother of “Honey Boo Boo Child” (apparently a little fat girl who performs in many beauty pageants) follows the incentives in front of her and the result is more dumb fat kids.

Well, let’s look at the facts. June is obese, far from wealthy and stuck in a dead-end life. She did the best with the opportunities provided to her, and in contemporary America that meant having children with multiple men to maximize child support. Next, she took advantage of trash culture and voyeurism to capitalize on her daughter. Now she has her own reality show and is being paid thousands of dollars per episode, and richer than she’s ever been.

Each “bad choice” she made was incentivized. Every time she did something we look down on, she was rewarded for it. If she had simply buckled down and lived a modest, decent life, she’d be in a pretty lousy place today. The idea that simply doing what we’re “supposed to do,” presented to us in that enormous fake of a movie Forrest Gump, will pay off, is just plain wrong for a growing number of Americans.

This isn't the 1950s when people could expect to pair up with a husband or wife and get a factory job that put them at similar status level to a large portion of the total population. We've got a much wider spread of classes and far more cognitive sorting. The poor are dumber on average and the upper classes are smarter on average. The classes have less in common: less shared understanding, fewer shared values, fewer shared experiences with cultural products such as TV and radio shows.

Unfortunately the increasingly dysfunctional lower classes are not expected to adhere to upper middle class norms. The lower classes are breeding faster than the upper classes. Just as unfortunately, this is yet another obvious truth that is taboo. Hard to lessen problems which can't be acknowledged in the mainstream media.

Some men drop out of middle class life and become hedonists. Traditional norms of monogamous marriage and dedication to work are still embraced by most of the cognitive elite. But the elite are not enforcing those norms to the masses. That's a lost opportunity whose costs are growing every year.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 09 09:37 PM  Civilizations Decay
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14 Year Old Girl Shot For Attending School In Pakistan

Malala Yousafzai was targeted by the Taliban for going to school and being outspoken about it.

A 14-year-old Pakistani girl who dared defy Islamic extremists by openly attending school was gunned down Tuesday by a bearded Taliban gunman, a shooting that ignited international outrage and plunged deeply divided Pakistan into a new round of soul-searching.

My reaction: keep these barbarians out of the West. Cultures are not all equal. Religions are not all equal. Some are better. Others are worse. Islam is one of the worst religions and is in drastic need of reformation. Whether it is even capable of reformation is still a mystery to me.

Female education is an obscenity to the Taliban.

A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, confirmed by phone that Ms. Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an “obscenity.”

I am reminded of Razib Khan's posts You know barbarians when you see them and Why are Muslims so eloquently barbaric.

I am opposed to barbarism. I'm also opposed to those who promote myths (religious or otherwise) that are aimed at keeping us from developing a scientific understanding of the world and of human nature.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 09 08:22 PM  Cultural Wars Religious
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2012 October 04 Thursday
Class Mobility Between Generations Highest At Top

Contrary to left wing stereotypes, keeping one's kid in the same class is hardest for the upper class.

Analyzed a different way, some 43% of those raised in lower-class families remain in the lower class, while 60% of those from middle-class backgrounds stay middle class and 33% of those from upper-class families remain in the upper class.

Makes sense. Regression to the mean for offspring IQ is a huge problem. To put it another way: The majority of kids born to really smart people are not as smart as their parents. So smart people who manage to use their brains to make a lot of money are mostly going to have kids who do worse in school and worse in the marketplace.

Once upper class people gain the ability to choose embryos based on genes for intelligence and personality type it seems likely that downward social mobility out of the upper will become less common. Upper class people will choose their mates partially based on genetic endowment. Women of lower classes might opt to use sperm donors from the upper classes once we reach that point.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 04 09:47 PM  Economics Class
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Progress: Graduate School Enrollment Declining In USA

It is so rare to see signs of progress that when trends shift in a favorable direction it is occasion to celebrate. The message that most grad degrees are worthless is starting to reach the general public.

New enrollment in graduate schools fell last year for the second consecutive year, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools.

The supply of smart people is too small. Why waste their minds studying subjects with little economic value? Why waste their careers teaching others those same subjects? There's lots of real work to be done and lots of high value problems to solve.

Enrollment in grad education is down 8.8%. Hurray! Now that's progress. Fewer people getting trained to believe liberal myths about the blank slate. Enrollment in arts and humanities fell 5.4%. More progress. Fewer people trying to get degrees in areas where the main employment is to train more people to get degrees in the same subjects. Down with disciplines that have journals just to give people places to publish so they can get tenure.

To speed this progress along what's needed: An end to federal and state funding for study of low value and negative value subjects. College grads who find themselves in the lower classes studied the wrong subject.

In contrast, the share of college graduates who place themselves in the lower class grew from 12% to 17%.

Why subsidize training someone to become lower class? Obviously the vast majority of lower class people did not need any training on how to become poor. Why let people pursue advanced degrees in low income work?

By Randall Parker 2012 October 04 08:59 PM  Education Incentives
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2012 October 03 Wednesday
Some Still Believe Obama Or Romney Can Help Middle Class

Hope springs eternal.

About half (52%) of adults who self-identify as middle class say they believe Obama's policies in a second term would help the middle class, while 39% say they would not help, according to a survey conducted in July.

By comparison, 42% say that Romney's election would help the middle class, while 40% say it would not help.

I do not expect conditions to improve for the middle class in the next 4 years. Another recession is more likely. Higher oil prices are more likely. The continued departure of members of the middle class headed either up or down seems more likely. The middle is not holding. I say again: try to go up so that you can avoid going down.

Romney's problem is that he is perceived as the candidate of the upper class.

There is much more variance in the judgments of the middle class about the likely impact of the two candidates' policies on the wealthy and the poor. Fully seven-in-ten (71%) middle-class respondents say Romney's policies would help the wealthy, while just a third (33%) say they would help the poor. Judgments about Obama tilt the opposite way. Roughly four-in-ten (38%) middle-class respondents say his policies would help the wealthy, and about six-in-ten (62%) say they would help the poor.

It is probably better in the long run if Obama gets elected because then when conditions worsen for the middle and lower classes people will come to understand that even a supposed champion of the lower classes can't or won't help them. Now there's still widespread misunderstanding about why living standards are declining. Having a Democrat in charge will go further toward spreading the understanding that deep economic fundamentals are working against the shrinking American middle class.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 03 09:27 PM  Economics Living Standards
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2012 October 01 Monday
More Americans Identifying As Lower Class

It used to be that living standards went up every year for the vast majority of Americans. It used to be the case that the overwhelming majority of Americans identified themselves as middle class. Not any more One third of Americans now identify themselves as members of lower classes.

The percentage of Americans who say they are in the lower-middle or lower class has risen from a quarter of the adult population to about a third in the past four years, according to a national survey of 2,508 adults by the Pew Research Center.

Not only has the lower class grown, but its demographic profile also has shifted. People younger than 30 are disproportionately swelling the ranks of the self-defined lower classes.1 The shares of Hispanics and whites who place themselves in the lower class also are growing.

31% of whites and 40% of Hispanics now identify as lower class. Since Hispanics are a growing portion of the US population the long term trend is even more strongly toward a bigger lower class. America is going to cease to be a middle class nation. My advice (often repeated): Try to go up. Otherwise you are going down. The middle is shrinking. Avoid the lower classes.

Do you feel helpless to escape from what is going wrong? Move to where opportunity is greater. There are still pockets of high tech and venture capital. Escape from occupations that are going to get automated out of existence. Escape from an also-ran company that has lost out to a dominant player in a sector. Get away from loser jobs, loser companies, loser industries. You've got plenty of decisions to make. Start making decisions that cut your exposure to downsides.

The people with less money feel more stressed.

The survey finds that hard times have been particularly hard on the lower class. Eight-in-ten adults (84%) in the lower classes say they had to cut back spending in the past year because money was tight, compared with 62% who say they are middle class and 41% who say they are in the upper classes. Those in the lower classes also say they are less happy and less healthy, and the stress they report experiencing is more than other adults.

The lower classes are losing their work ethic as they feel increasingly stuck.

As they look to their own future and that of their children, many in the lower class see their prospects dimming. About three-quarters (77%) say it’s harder now to get ahead than it was 10 years ago. Only half (51%) say that hard work brings success, a view expressed by overwhelming majorities of those in the middle (67%) and upper classes (71%). While the expectation that each new generation will surpass their parents is a central tenet of the American Dream, those lower classes are significantly more likely than middle or upper-class adults to believe their children will have a worse standard of living than they do.

We've got a cluster of problems. The US government is running up a huge debt burden even before most of the baby boomers retire. Immigration has brought in a large and growing lower skilled population. Growing competition from Asia for natural resources collides with declining mined ore concentrations. The remaining oil costs more to extract and the marginal cost of production is now very close to (high) world oil prices. The rate of innovation doesn't appear to be fast enough to pay for the innovation costs needed just to maintain civilization. Do not take your living standard for granted.

By Randall Parker 2012 October 01 10:28 PM  Economics Living Standards
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