2013 December 31 Tuesday
Duck Dynasty As Escapist Media Fantasy In Declining America

Washington Post media critic Dana Milbank lets loose against the mainstream media for reporting lots of anecdotes (e.g. a suicidal guy police lured off a bridge with a sandwich) while the the plight of the poor gets worse. Dana has got it so wrong. The decline is inevitable within the liberal framework of acceptable policy choices that Dana's media help to maintain. Therefore it is great that A&E lets people watch escapist reality TV shows like Duck Dynasty and other elements of the mainstream media find symbolic issues to get people all worked up about. Anything to think about aside fom the declining labor force participation rate and the rise of single mothers.

On Saturday, 1.3 million unemployed Americans were kicked off unemployment benefits. And if our vacationing lawmakers don’t do something about it when they return, millions more will follow. The matter is getting less attention than Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” but it’s a real crisis for those affected and a disgrace for the rest of us.

Let me repeat myself: The decline of America is inevitable within the liberal moral and intellectual framework. The range of allowed policy options (e.g. Dana Milbank wants unemployment benefits that last a very long time) will not fix and will actually hasten the decline of the middle and lower classes. Unless Milbank tries to expand the Overton window in directions anathema to liberals his whining is pointless.

Want to get a sense of how much life in the US of A is changing and how that bodes for the shrinking middle class and growing lower classes? Read Tyler Cowen's book Average Is Over. He works out a lot of the consequences of the decline in demand for all but the most cognitively able. Tyler sees the need to build very cheap communities for the lower classes like those found in Rio de Janeiro favelas and El Paso's sister city Cuidad Juarez. He pictures 400 square feet homes for the elderly poor. Given that the ranks of the elderly poor look set to grow as the working age poor retire (and notice I did not just say "working poor") Tyler is correct about the necessity. Says Tyler:

Many people will be horrified at this thought. How dare you propose we stuff our elderly into shantytowns? Maybe they are right to be upset, although recall that no one is being forced to live in these places. Some people might prefer to live there. I might prefer to live there if my income were low enough.

Tyler is being realistic. Americans (and we are hardly alone on this) live in a country where median household incomes are in decline (for a few reasons that won't get fixed for decades). Americans largely oppose the entitlements benefits cuts and tax increases needed stop growth in government debt. The long term fiscal outlook is grim due to an expanding lower class imported from Latin America and growing demands on entitlements from an aging population and rising health care costs.

Future generations of retirees will be poorer because defined benefit pension plans are a thing of the past. Also future retirees will be poorer because the government can not maintain current levels of subsidies per retiree as the ratio of workers to retirees declines and health care costs rise.

You are faced with two extreme choices: Go get a Ph.D. in machine learning or watch Duck Dynasty. Duck Dynasty is the far more easily attainable and accessible choice. So I'd like to thank the people at A&E for restoring this escapist fantasy. It is clear the American people need it. Granted A&E just put money over ideology. But I applaud them for it.

Update: What the upper classes could do for the better elements of the lower classes: Allow the creation of communities for the different kinds of poor so that the law-abiding do not have to live near the predators, the lazy, and the inconsiderate. For example, retirees who live on $20,000 per year are far more law abiding than the average younger household with a household income of $20,000 per year.

To put it another way: We need to lower the cost of being responsible, considerate, and yet poor. Why do the middle and upper classes want to keep away from the lower classes? They do not want to live near drug dealers, car thieves, thugs, homes with domestic violence with frequent police visits, and more in that vein. They also do not want their kids sharing classrooms with dumb, hyperactive, and violent kids.

If communities could enforce norms of behavior including, for example, no single moms and even work requirements (with no section 8 housing allowed) then some lower class communities could be pretty safe. But our upper classes oppose letting the well-behaved members of the lower classes escape from the irresponsible and criminal.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 31 07:46 PM 
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2013 December 29 Sunday
Duck Dynasty And Conflicting Moral Codes

Hey duckies, some people think it is immoral to kill and eat animals. Other people sell duck hunting equipment. Some of the moral doctrine rewrites by the Cathedral really do clash with Christianity.

An evangelical Christian points out that there is, in fact, a tension between orthodox Christianity and homosexuality. Saying otherwise robs American society of an honest debate about how to reconcile sexual tolerance with religious tolerance.

My reaction: there is not a single universal moral code that all minds naturally recognize. Individuals differ in their moral beliefs in important ways. Different religious and secular faiths have different moral beliefs. There isn't some set of rules by which we can all get along.

Which moral gap is bigger? The one between Christianity and Islam? Or the one between right wing fundamentalist Christians and secular leftists? I ask this as a curious and concerned spectator.

I do not expect humanity to converge on a single universal moral code. Rather, I think there is a substantial chance that natural selection, genetic engineering, and the development of easier ways for people to watch narrow casted media feeds will cause groups to diverge on moral questions.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 29 10:14 PM 
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High Inflation Rate For Luxuries For Rich People

Expensive cashmere sweaters, big price increases in upper end leather purses, other designer goods way up in price. Why are redistributionists complaining about the high incomes of the upper classes when upper class goods cost so much? I mean, the rich people can barely afford to be wealthy. Sob.

This situation is the result of institutionalized unfairness. It starts with the consumer price index (CPI) and how the US Federal Reserve manipulates the money supply to subdue inflation. The Fed isn't managing the money supply to keep luxury goods cheap. They aren't thinking about the costs of haute couture. Shame on them. The basket of goods used to track the CPI should have Chanel and YSL leather handbags added to it. Time to get luxury goods inflation out of the closet. The Federal Reserve should stop ignoring the wealth-robbing inflation that is stealing from the upper class.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 29 10:13 PM 
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Walmarts Of Higher Education: Good Or Bad?

Regular readers won't be surprised by my answer: good. College professors are worried: 'We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education'

Some campuses of the University of North Carolina system are mulling getting rid of history, political science, and various others of more than 20 “low productive” programs.

Speaking as someone who likes history and reads a lot of history books: the colleges are happy to get students to pile on a lot of debt and then graduate with poor employment prospects. A college administrator with good job security and a 6 figure salary can complain about the pressures to improve the economic impact of education. But people really do need to earn a living and we live in an era where median income has been declining for years. This has happened in in spite of rising spending on higher education that has, per student, outpaced inflation for decades.

If you want to raise the per capita GDP of your state then:

  • Strongly encourage and incentivize high school kids to take college courses while in high school. For example, let them watch college course online and then take tests proctored by high school teachers to earn college credit.
  • Drop college majors from the state colleges that have low earnings potential or raise their tuition costs. That way the people who want to study them will leave the state.
  • Lower tuition charged to students from out-of-state who want to come and study engineering, math, or physics. Get the future big earners to move to your state. They'll pay more in taxes and raise living standards.
  • State colleges should have staffed offices for connecting kids up with summer internships that are in state. Get the ROI of those who study useful subjects in your state.
  • Let engineering college profs take a year off at reduced pay to help start a company.
  • Give Y Combinator free office space in an engineering college town in your state to start a satellite office.
  • Encourage more jobs to be automated out of existence (e.g. don't be like New Jersey and insist on gas station attendants to pump gasoline).
  • Raise minimum wage to a level that drives out people who lack the skills to get, say, a $20 per hour job.

Got any other ideas for policy levers that a state government could pull to raise the quality of its workforce and citizenry?

This one is a little odd.

The University of Southern Maine may drop physics.

Since the University of Southern Maine accepts 78% of the students who apply most of its student body probably aren't smart enough to do much with physics. 75% scored below 560 in SAT Math. But they have almost 10k students. How many study physics?

These governors are wise.

And governors in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin have questioned whether taxpayers should continue subsidizing public universities for teaching the humanities.

Wisconsin is a cold place, the sort of place people leave. It especially needs to tilt its educational playing field in favor of people who will earn big bucks.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 29 07:07 PM 
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The Industrial Welfare State Enables Greater Irresponsibility

She makes less than $20k per year as an actor and has 2 medical conditions. What is wrong with this picture?

"I am so deeply clueless about all of this," acknowledged one new buyer, Adrienne Matzen, 29, an actor in Chicago who's mostly been without insurance since she turned 21. Though she needs regular care for asthma and a thyroid condition, she says she's looking for a low monthly premium because she makes less than $20,000 a year.

She's being irresponsible. She's not unusual on this score. Millions of people choose careers and make other decisions that leave them at risk both during their working years and in retirement. Why? Because they can. But that is not the only reason. While conscientiousness attracts attention as a basic personality trait I'm also thinking that there are big differences in levels of innate instincts for safety and security.

Take someone who acts in spite of poverty. They want attention more than they want security. Got a serious health problem? In some minds that doesn't compete with the desire for adulation and attention. Could be they have weak desires for security and safety or do not feel any nervousness about anything that isn't an acute problem. Or it cold be they have really strong desires for attention. Or both.

I am reminded of Gregory Clark's book A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. At least in England the Malthusian Trap selected for important middle class attributes such as higher intelligence, desire to save for the future, and other cognitive characteristics that make people behave more responsibly. The end of the Malthusian Trap caused these selective pressures to reverse and this is not good.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 29 07:00 PM 
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2013 December 28 Saturday
Washington State Credit Downgrade If 777X Production Leaves

If a machinists union does not vote to accept a retirements benefit cut then Boeing will likely move the new 777X elsewhere and Washington State will get a credit downgrade that will raise borrowing costs.

Washington faces a credit downgrade, higher borrowing costs and the loss of jobs and tax revenue should Boeing Co. (BA) decide to move production of its new 777X jetliner to another state.

Keep in mind that if Washington State had lower debt and spending then loss of production of a major airplane would not cut their credit rating. They've got to have other problems that put their creditworthiness in question for this to push them into a lower rating.

Meanwhile, socialist candidate Kshama Sawant, an economics teacher from India who accuses Boeing of "economic terrorism", was elected to the Seattle city council on a platform calling for an increase of minimum wage to $15 per hour. For the sake of the Seattle upper class I hope she can enact the high minimum wage. It will drive the more of the lower classes out of Seattle speed the gentrification (upper classes replacing lower classes) of the city. Hurray! We can have a one class society if we can just get the lower classes to leave. Yes, a one class society. That's where I want to live.

Should Boeing be deported from the United States, its factories moved to another country, so that the good people of Seattle can live free of economic terrorism? Why not even ban Boeing aircraft from the Seattle airport? Instead aircraft from socialist France (where 55% of GDP goes to the government - now that's socialist) could ferry workers to and from the soon-to-be socialist paradise Seattle.

Higher labor cost states have been losing manufacturing jobs faster than the cheaper states. For example, New York is losing manufacturing much faster than Florida.

New York state lost 42 percent of manufacturing jobs from 1990 through 2006. Over the same period, Florida lost 18 percent.

Cheaper states, other countries, and robots are all slashing the demand for high paid union factory labor. Robots will do the most of the manual labor. People with doctoral degrees are seeing the biggest increase in demand for their labor. Engineering and math doctorates are probably in most demand. Machine learning Ph.D.s baby. That's where the future is at.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 28 06:45 PM 
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2013 December 24 Tuesday
Obama Against Inequality, For Policies That Raise Inequality

Why did billionaires help fund Barack Obama's election and reelection? He favors policies that will make them richer. Mickey Kaus dissects arguments that Obama and others on the Left make about growing inequality.

The argument is that as inequality grows it becomes harder to climb the ladder because the rungs are further apart. The problem, for this argument, is that declining mobility is also what you would expect if the meritocracy were working perfectly, without race or class prejudice (and inequality were stable or even shrinking). In a meritocracy, after all, the best rise to the top, the least talented and industrious wind up at the bottom. At some point, after a number of decades, maybe most of the talented will be at the top and the untalented at the bottom! Or at least, once the meritocratic centrifuge has sorted everyone out, there won’t be that many talented people at the bottom to rise in heartening success stories (and those stories that do turn up will mainly involve immigrants).

Meanwhile, Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending have a draft of a paper about assortative mating and creation of genetic castes and how fast it can happen. How much of the rising inequality is due to assortative mating versus the rise in the value of brains versus a trend toward winner-take-all in economic competitions?

My advice: do not wait to find out the answer. Find ways to get yourself some economic mobility in an upward direction. You especially need to do that if the lower classes in your area are dangerous.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 24 12:45 PM 
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Obamacare Raises Insurance Costs For Young People

A McClatchy story shows the GOP finally noticed the obvious: GOP Saturday message: 'Health care law is a bad product for young people'.

The goal of Obamacare in a nutshell: Shift costs from older to younger. Get younger and therefore healthier young people to sign up to pay for health insurance that costs more than it ought to cost them given their lower risks. Then the profits from their policies can be used to subsidize older and less healthy people who get to buy lower cost policies than warranted by their risks.

The old age entitlements are already a big (and quite unsustainable) shift of money from young to old. The irony of this attempt to get more people insured by taxing the young: the net effect is going to be at least a 2 million decrease in the number who have medical insurance come January 1, 2014. This has led Obama to make desperate regulatory decisions that, btw, violate the ACA law (not that a President has to obey the law).

Months ago Megan McArdle outlined just how much the "Affordable Care Act" makes health insurance less affordable to young people. Hey, did anyone stop to think that young people make less money? Really, excepting engineers and investment bankers it is true.

Without the subsidies from "young invincibles" paying $150 a month for almost nothing, the older, sicker part of the insurance pool will have to pay more. The healthier ones may eventually decide that they simply can't afford it; better to pay the fine, tolerate the tiny risk of a huge ER bill, and count on the fact that you can always sign up for insurance if you get sick.

Megan provides some medical insurance cost scenarios in that article. She also has a a really useful article about many factors to consider when buying an Obamacare plan. What is kinda scary: some of these policies make it hard to live part of the year in 2 different states.

The individual insurance market has already been wrecked (i.e. really high prices) by rules that are similar to Obamacare's rules for making it easy to get coverage when you have existing medical conditions. I expect this price spiral will happen in some other states as well. Therefore you might find yourself in the situation where you do not get medical insurance from a job and can not afford to pay for an Obamacare policy.

What I would really like to know: Can one still buy a catastrophic medical care policy that is not an Obamacare approved policy? Suppose you are willing (or out of financial necessity are driven) to take the hit and pay the fine/tax for not having an Obamacare policy. Can you get a catastrophic coverage medical insurance policy?

What I would like to buy: a lifetime high deductible catastrophic medical insurance policy. I want the knowledge that 10 or 20 years from now if I get cancer I can go to the Mayo Clinic or the MD Anderson Cancer Center to get the best treatment. No matter what the people in Washington DC do I want to be able to get the best medical care.

Does any reader know much about the current state of play with catastrophic medical insurance? Can one get coverage that will free one from being shackled to an employer and shackled to residence in a particular state? I want full labor mobility and no worries. Is this possible in the US of A going into 2014?

By Randall Parker 2013 December 24 09:38 AM 
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2013 December 22 Sunday
American Government Surveillance Attracts Admirers

The US government has more info about each American citizen than the East German Stasi security agency did in its hey day. A former Stasi lieutenant colonel appreciates the NSA's accomplishment.

Vladimir Putin looks on in envy as well.

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the U.S. National Security Agency, and even said he envies President Barack Obama in light of the NSA revelations “because he can get away with it.”

I feel so proud of our surveillance accomplishments. But this is just the beginning. No resting on laurels. Cheaper mass storage will open up the potential to store orders of magnitude more info. Our government needs to be ready to collect more data. Better sensors in more locations. More email collection.

With Barack Obama in the White House we have a fawning national press. Data collection will continue to expand.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 22 09:14 PM 
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The Ways The US TSA Is Lame

Rafi Sela, former head of security at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv Israel, lists 7 stupid things about the TSA: "The TSA treats each traveler the same because of some stupid idea that everything needs to be fair."

It is a shame that our masters put political correctness ahead of security and convenience.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 22 09:09 PM 
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Stephen Walt: Will China Achieve Regional Hegemony?

Will China push the United States out of East Asia and then dominate East Asian countries?

It is hard to overstate the long-term implications of this issue. If the United States is able to maintain the status quo in Asia and help prevent China from dominating the region, then Beijing will have to focus a lot of attention on local issues, and its capacity to shape politics in other parts of the world will be constrained. By contrast, if China eventually pushes the United States out of Asia, it will have the same sort of hegemonic position in its region that the United States has long enjoyed near its own shores. That favorable position is what allows Washington to wander all over the world telling others what it thinks they should do, and regional hegemony would give Beijing the option of doing the same if it wished.

China is asserting sovereignty over islands also claimed by Japan, has asserted a large air defense zone, and harasses US Navy ships. China's territorial claims in the South China Sea are absurd.

I am wondering whether the rise of China will eventually bring focus to US foreign policy and make American foreign affairs thinkers become much more rational about strategy. Clearly Japan, South Korea, and Philippines do not want to become vassals of China. The Filipino decision to push the US Navy out of Subic Bay was a big mistake for which they starting to pay as China becomes more aggressive about asserting sovereignty over seas and islands which are much much closer to Philippines than China.

My guess is that the United States will not shift enough military resources, trade negotiation atteniton, and other efforts to stop the Chinese from getting other Asian nations to submit. Japan is aging rapidly and with its stagnant economy and massive sovereign debts it can not afford a big defense build up. The United States is becoming such a large entitlements state that it will not be able to maintain current military funding levels. Big defense cuts are coming even as retirement costs for military personnel

In an article about Middle East strategy Walt goes into greater detail on how America's two weak bordering neighbors, the two oceans on its eastern and western borders, and hegemon position in Latin America enables it to mess around in the rest of the world.

Furthermore, the United States has no serious rivals in the Western Hemisphere. It is protected -- still! -- by two vast oceans. As the French ambassador to the United States said in 1910: "The United States was blessed among nations. On the north, she had a weak neighbor; on the south, another weak neighbor; on the east, fish, and on the west, fish." Today, the United States possesses the world's most capable conventional military forces and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal, giving Washington a deterrent power that others can only envy. Indeed, the main reason the United States can roam around concerning itself with other countries' business (and interfering in various ways) is because it doesn't have to worry about defending itself against foreign invasions, blockades, and the like.

Will the US and China start backing rival factions in African civil wars? Or back rival countries in cross-border conflicts in Africa? Will China ignore the Monroe Doctrine and support factions in Latin America? Will we enter a transition period where China unseats the United States as hegemon?

By Randall Parker 2013 December 22 11:22 AM 
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2013 December 21 Saturday
Washington DC Decides To Accelerate Gentrification

The Washington City Council has decided to accelerate the gentrification of Washington DC by raising the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour. Are the council members aware of the most likely consequences of their vote?

At a higher minimum wage employers will decide to use more educated and trained workers for the same job. The least able will get passed over. Want to really gentrify a city? Put the minimum wage at $20 per hour. Services will become heavily automated and the humans doing the work that can't be automated will have at least some college education. Crime rates will drop. Some of the illegal immigrants will leave.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 11:11 PM 
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Camille Paglia Attacks PC Liberals Over Duck Dynasty

She calls the impulse to silence the duck folks ‘utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist’.

“I think that this intolerance by gay activists toward the full spectrum of human beliefs is a sign of immaturity, juvenility,” Paglia said. “This is not the mark of a true intellectual life. This is why there is no cultural life now in the U.S. Why nothing is of interest coming from the major media in terms of cultural criticism. Why the graduates of the Ivy League with their A, A, A+ grades are complete cultural illiterates, etc. is because they are not being educated in any way to give respect to opposing view points.”

Paglia is right that we are in culturally boring and uncreative period. I think PC shares some of the blame for this.

The Left has gotten very secular religious, Puritan in a really secular way. They can't be trusted to let people speak their minds.

What we need: many national media outlets that are truly independent of each other. Having a few New York City media conglomerates controlling the vast bulk of the cable TV channels is a recipe for carefully policed and enforced group think within a narrow range of permissible views. It seems that technology has not done much to increase the size of the Overton window.

Will internet TV cost the big media companies their narrow control over the range of acceptable views and topics for debate?

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 09:26 PM 
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Nations Are Fighting Each Other Less Due To Less Opportunity?

We aren't all just becoming more peace-loving?

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- While some researchers have claimed that war between nations is in decline, a new analysis suggests we shouldn't be too quick to celebrate a more peaceful world.

The study finds that there is no clear trend indicating that nations are less eager to wage war, said Bear Braumoeller, author of the study and associate professor of political science at The Ohio State University.

Conflict does appear to be less common than it had been in the past, he said. But that's due more to an inability to fight than to an unwillingness to do so.

"As empires fragment, the world has split up into countries that are smaller, weaker and farther apart, so they are less able to fight each other," Braumoeller said.

"Once you control for their ability to fight each other, the proclivity to go to war hasn't really changed over the last two centuries."

I see another big reason for fewer wars: A very dominant hegemon has told assorted countries they are not allowed to fight each other. Some powers have encouraged the United States to play this role. Famously, British General Hastings Ismay said the purpose of NATO was to "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down". The Monroe Doctrine's purpose has been to keep other powers from outside the Western Hemisphere from fighting in the Western Hemisphere. The United States went further and assured the various governments in the Western Hemisphere didn't fight each other as well.

Look at the US role in the Gulf War of 1990. The purpose was to teach the various governments that they were not allowed to invade each other.

Will China's rise cancel out US power in some areas and thereby make wars more likely? Or will the costs of the entitlement state so starve the US military of funds that it will cease to be able to check moves by state actors?

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 08:44 PM 
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Women As Corrupt As Men In Corrupt Societies

Women are less corrupt only in low corruption societies.

Women are more likely than men to disapprove of -- and less likely to participate in -- political corruption, but only in countries where corruption is stigmatized, according to new political science research from Rice University.

"'Fairer Sex' or Purity Myth? Corruption, Gender and Institutional Context" finds that women are less tolerant of corrupt behavior, but only in democratic governments, where appropriating public policy for private gain is typically punished by voters and courts.

"The relationship between gender and corruption appears to depend on context," said Justin Esarey, an assistant professor of political science at Rice and the study's lead author. "When corruption is stigmatized, as in most democracies, women will be less tolerant and less likely to engage in it compared with men. But if 'corrupt' behaviors are an ordinary part of governance supported by political institutions, there will be no corruption gender gap."

What do you make of this result?

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 08:38 PM 
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Employers Hiring More Doctoral Degrees

Demand for labor is highest for the most skilled and most credentialed.

Due largely to huge layoffs in the banking industry, hiring for workers with new MBAs will decline about 25 percent over last year, predicts Phil Gardner, an economist and director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute. Hiring for all degrees, however, is expected to increase 2 percent. This is led by a 26 percent jump for those with doctoral degrees and a 7 percent surge for those with bachelor’s degrees.

Employers are going for specialized skills (e.g. statisticians and machine learning engineers) and for higher intelligence. The average Ph.D. has higher IQ.

This brings to mind one of my favorite links about how employment prospects are changing in the United States. See in chart 4 how in manufacturing only employment for advanced degrees increased from 1992 to 2009 (bachelor's degrees employees peaked in about 1995).

By 2009, manufacturers employed 1,214,000 workers with an advanced degree—a 44 percent increase since 1992.

Also, see another chart on how coming out of the last recession only college grads have done well in the labor market.

So what are the less educated doing with their time? We know the overall labor market participation rate is dropping for a number of reasons. Also, some people might not be getting new jobs because the time period for when one can get unemployment benefits was increased nationally and in some states in the last recession. Well, Evan Soltas points out that when North Carolina recently dumped outs of people off of unemployment benefits the labor market shrunk. In other words, labor force participation dropped. It does not look like there is much demand for the less skilled who are of working age.

Now I will give you my standard advice: move up. If you do not not move up you are likely going to move down. Get more skills. Change to a job where the upsides are greater if you work harder. Then work harder. Find ways to innovate. Find ways to stand out and lead. Go up because the middle is shrinking. Median household incomes peaked in 1998 and in most states median incomes have declined from 2000 to 2012. Adjust to the new labor market. Adjust to the technological developments that are cutting the demand for average and below average workers.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 07:30 PM 
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Canadian Supreme Court Ruling Extends Right Of Self Defense

Check out this article about a Canadian Supreme Court ruling in favor of the right to do prostitution in ways that reduce physical risk for becoming victims of crimes at the hands of their customers.

On Friday, the Supreme Court released its much-anticipated decision in Bedford. The central issue in that case was whether a number of prostitution-related offences are inconsistent with the Charter. The Court concluded they were. In determining the answer to that question, though, the Court shed light on a deeper one – one that goes to the heart of the state-citizen relationship.

The "reasonable circumstances" under which one can defend one's home under Canadian law leave too much discretion in the hands of prosecutors. Does America have a stronger right to self defense? This Canadian commentary suggests the answer is Yes.

I would prefer a more expansive right to self defense which allows us a greater right of free association. The need to exercise one's right of self defense is a necessary consequence of the willingness of a substantial fraction of the population to violate the rights of others. I would especially like to separate myself from direct contact with people who have innate predispositions toward committing acts of violence.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 12:08 PM 
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2013 December 18 Wednesday
Saudi Money And Salafists In Middle East

Says an NY Times article blurb: Hundreds of young Tunisians may have been radicalized by Salafist mosques and trained to fight in Syria.

Hey, which Middle Eastern country funds the spread of Salafist Islam? How Saudi petrodollars fuel rise of Salafism and Insight: Saudi Arabia boosts Salafist rivals to al Qaeda in Syria.

Saudi Arabia is for militant Islamists who fight for the Saudi interpretation of Islam while the Saudis oppose militant Islamists who fight for other interpretations of Islam.

Can we stop treating the Saudis as allies?

By Randall Parker 2013 December 18 10:20 PM 
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72% See Big Government As Threat To American Future

Only 21% see big business as a threat.

PRINCETON, NJ -- Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question.

But most people want the subsidies they get from government: Medical care for the old and the poor, disability payments (increasingly when not disabled), more spending on education, and other stuff. Try polling these opponents of big government on what they would cut from the US federal budget and I bet a conflicting picture would emerge.

Possibly a large part of the fear is of government as spy and government as regulator of whatever it is that people want to do. Well, we face a very very monitored future regardless of how much of it is done by the US federal government. Why? Hard disk capacity and RAM keep getting cheaper. Ditto microprocessors, sensors, and fiber optic cable capacity. The cheaper it gets to record and retain information the more recording and retaining is going to go on.

Neighbors will record their street views. Cops record what is in front of their police cars. Stores record people walking around and they record transactions. Cities record people on streets. The very large number of web sites track who visits. I could go on. We face a tracked and recorded future with lots of computer processing of it all.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 18 08:44 PM 
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2013 December 16 Monday
US Government Policy Failure In Middle East?

A pair of articles on the McClatchy site speak volumes on the failure attempts to create liberal democracies in the Middle East: Benghazi, Libya, has become training hub for Islamist fighters and With Islamists now in firm control of Syria rebellion, civil war might last years.

Are core foreign policy figures in Washington DC so clever that they intentionally turned Middle Eastern countries into battlegrounds and training centers for Islamic fighters? Or is this outcome of supporting revolution in the Middle East a surprise to them?

By Randall Parker 2013 December 16 11:13 PM 
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Populist Political Rebellion Building In America?

McClatchy has an interesting article about the battle between liberal populists and politicians and former political aides associated with a more centrist (relatively speaking) think tank called Third Way. Is this a battle in the Democratic Party that is analogous to the battle between the Tea Party and the Republican party major donors?

Warren chose an indirect response. Without naming Third Way, which some liberals accuse of being bankrolled by wealthy Democrats, she sent a letter to the heads of six major banks, asking them to disclose their “financial contributions to think tanks.”

Is a new split opening up in American politics between populists and the upper classes? Investment banks and billionaires exercise considerable influence over both political parties. I expect the worsening plight of the lower and middle classes to cause them to try harder to take control of the parties so they can battle each other and battle rich people in the political arena.

The wealthy are more organized, with more money, connections, and lots of talented hired help. The poor are growing in number and the non-white poor are encouraged to see themselves as victims. The middle class, well, the center can not hold. Median household income peaked in 1998. Consider the shrinking of middle class neighborhoods:

In 1970, 65 percent of families lived in middle-income neighborhoods (neighborhoods in one of the two middle categories); by 2009, only 42 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. The proportion of families living in affluent neighborhoods more than doubled from 7 percent in 1970 to 15 percent in 2009. Likewise, the proportion of families in poor neighborhoods doubled from 8 percent to 18 percent over the same period. Thus, in 1970 only 15 percent of families lived in the one of the two extreme types of neighborhoods; by 2009 that number had more than doubled to 33 percent of families

I've made this argument here repeatedly: Still in the middle? You are going down if you are not going up. Make a career change. Pick up more skills. Move to an area with greater opportunity and better prospects. Work harder.

Think you can benefit from a populist movement in America? I would not count on such a movement being either fair or rational. You might feel glee (or schaudenfreude if you put on airs) about populists battling billionaires. But regardless of which faction lands more blows America's slow economic growth or economic contraction will continue for some time. I leave you with Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
By Randall Parker 2013 December 16 10:47 PM 
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2013 December 15 Sunday
Who Had A Bad Year In Washington DC?

A WaPo article on who had a bad year in Washington DC displays the liberal press frame that producing more laws is inherently good. Really? Why?

Add it all up, and you get the least-productive Congress in history (only 55 bills have been passed by both chambers and signed into law this year); the least-popular Congress in history (Nickelback, used-car salesmen and political reporters are all liked more ); and a president most Americans no longer like or, perhaps more important, trust.

Least productive? In any year Congress routinely produces massive pieces of legislation that member reads in entirety. It tacks on large numbers of special clauses unrelated to the main purpose of the legislation. That Congress produced fewer abominations this year is hardly a sign that it is doing a worse job.

Our bigger problem: The permanent government. While parts of it are doing innocuous and helpful things like, say, agricultural research and reduction in air pollution other parts of it (as its members were trained into false assumptions about human nature by higher education nut cases) are busy persecuting businesses for accurately evaluating employee performance or persecuting schools that try to reduce damage to learning environments caused by unruly and violent students.

Parts of the permanent government are necessary (like, say, the parts that hunt down rapist, murderers, kidnappers, con artists, and wannabe terrorists). Other parts, not so much. My worry is that the dysfunctional and damaging parts are going to grow and the useful parts stagnate or shrink.

The recent decision by the US FDA to take away our right to pay $99 to get access to analysis of one's individual genome illustrates how the permanent state will take away our right to know things. We are forced to pay more to get less knowledgeable advice from a physician. Meaning no disrespect to medical doctors. One human mind can't hold all the latest research on the health implications for thousands of genetic variants. Yet the FDA wants to pretend that we are better off going to see a doctor first rather than just getting the information better organized in web forms.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 15 06:12 PM 
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2013 December 14 Saturday
Illegal Aliens Going To Shut Connecticut Emergency Rooms

The numbers of "Undocumented immigrants" (and, btw, Sonia Sotomayor once accidentally got accurate and called them illegal immigrants) in Connecticut are reaching such numbers that they are going to start causing cutbacks in emergency rooms in Connecticut hospitals. Another example of how progress is not inevitable.

Hey there people of Connecticut. I realize you are told by elites to celebrate diversity. But it is important for you to understand what low skilled illegal immigrants are going to do to your access to emergency care services. Think about your risks in event of a car accident, a heart attack, or some other life threatening event. From 1985 to 2003 Los Angeles went from having 22 to just 13 emergency services departments. From 1998 to 2007 California lost 14 emergency departments. The Los Angeles Times provides a useful emergency room finder web page for SoCal residents. Connecticut will eventually need such a web page.

Why do illegal aliens cause slashing of emergency services care? As Peter Schaeffer has pointed out, health care costs in America come out to about $12 per hour worked. Take the total health care costs in America and divide by total hours worked. The cost per hour is shockingly high. A large fraction of the American public (probably more than half) do not pay enough taxes to fund their lifetime health care costs.

When deciding where to live consider future emergency department availability. This problem is going to increase the value of living in an area with really expensive real estate. If poor illegal aliens can't afford to concentrate in large numbers then you'll still have access to good emergency care.

But a problem remains: travel away from home. If you are on a road trip and a drunk driver or a trucker asleep at the wheel plows into your car the top notch trauma specialists near your home won't be any help if you happen to get whacked in an area with lots of Medicaid recipients and uninsured illegals.

In the USA health care spending in 2014 is expected to rise by 6.1%. Health care costs will become an even bigger burden as they rise an expected 5.8% annually thru 2022. Depending on population growth, the labor market participation rate, and the rate of overall inflation the health care cost per hour worked could hit $15 or more per hour.

Given the big decline in labor force participation rate each year the remaining workers have to pay more to support everyone else. We need more really high income workers to support the masses. If the masters of the welfare state want to keep it growing they are going to have to forcefully steer smart people toward more productive work. Fewer in non-profits and fewer in college professor positions and more in engineering and corporate management. Got to make the money needed to support the masses.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 14 11:43 AM 
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Judge Supports Right Of Women To Share A Husband

The oppressive legal system prevents women from sharing the limited supply of suitable husbands. But one heroic enlightened judge has stepped up to defend these women against the adverse impact of laws against polygamist marriage. Judge Cites Same-Sex Marriage in Declaring Polygamy Ban Unconstitutional.

It is about time. This ruling renews my faith in the slippery slope. Though the logical conclusion does not seem certain: US Supreme Court knocks down the limitation of marriage as being between just 2 people and legalizes elaborate group marriages with multiple men and multiple women in the same marriage.

But this might work against genetic decay of civilization. Once genetic testing enables us to know who has the lowest genetic load the best prospects for fathering healthy, conscientious, talented children I do not want the legal system to stand in the way of grassroots eugenics led by women who care.

Update: The welfare state is a form of polygamy where single moms marry the government. Imagine legalizing polygamous marriages with one condition: the women and the husband would have to agree to use no welfare state services.

On the other hand: If polygamy makes it easy for women to find someone to marry imagine instead welfare eligibility being dependent on marrying and living with someone. Of course, a problem presents: two non-lesbian women could marry each other just to get welfare eligibility. I have to say, it is really hard to save civilization.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 14 09:40 AM 
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2013 December 12 Thursday
Big Canada Post Office Restructuring

Canada is ahead of America in moving to make needed cutbacks in its postal service. The shift to online bill pay and email have drastically cut demand for first class postal delivery. The Canadian postal service is going to implement community mailboxes in place of home delivery for 5 million households. The community mailboxes, also known as cluster mailboxes cut delivery costs more than in half. The US Postal Service wants to use more of the cluster mailboxes too. But

In the United States the US Postal Service is running massive deficits that will require a $50 billion taxpayer bail-out if it is not allowed to do radical restructuring. It needs to escape union contracts that block some of the restructuring.

Government mismanagement of post offices serves as a useful reminder of why governments should play as few roles as possible.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 12 09:06 PM 
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2013 December 09 Monday
Shelter Life For Children In New York City

The Gray Lady is clueless on what is to be done. What is most notably wrong with this picture?

She shares a crowded, mouse-infested room with her parents and seven siblings, who sleep doubled up on torn mattresses.

...

By the time Mr. Bloomberg was elected, children made up 40 percent of shelter residents.

Does it ever occur to NY Times reporters and editors that really really poor people shouldn't have 7 kids? [edit: 8 kids] That's the most glaringly obvious fact that ought to merit comment. I mean, just what happens in the minds of the reporters and editors who work on a story like that one? The "War On Poverty" commenced in the 1960s. How's that working out kids?

If you read the article pay attention to how many government employees pop up in the story. Shelter operators, teachers, shelter inspectors, shelter janitors, teachers, and others. These poor folks are living in deep government of a very affluent and very liberal city which strongly supports the welfare state. How is that working out?

The Left will make no headway against poverty by limiting their use of reason.

Update: There is a pointlessness to most of mainstream political debate because it rarely gets anywhere near the evidence about underlying assumptions. What causes some people to do terribly in life? This has been researched. But the Left doesn't want to know the answers.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 09 11:16 PM 
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The Mystery Of Iceland's Low Violent Crime Rate

The police in Iceland have killed a man for the first time in Iceland police history. How can the violent crime rate in Iceland be so low that police use of deadly force hasn't occurred before? An expert confesses to not have a good answer.

Frankly, there is no perfect answer as to why Iceland has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world.

Here are some factors that probably play a role.

First off, the small population of 300k people are closely genetically related. All else equal, people who are genetically related feel more loyalty and a stronger bond to each other. Plus, a small population means there is less anonymity. People are far more likely to know each other. The strange other is a less common experience for people living in Iceland.

The closely genetically related small population have a smaller difference in average income partly because the hierarchy is just not that big. So inequality is less than what is possible in a far larger population. Plus, the level of ability varies over a much smaller range than is the case with a genetically more diverse population. The smaller range of innate ability not only decreases economic inequality but also means that more people think at the same level and so have more common views. A genius and a low IQ person are going to have bigger differences in how they conceptualize the world and what they decide is important. Plus, the country can't have many parallel subcultures.

Iceland is a harsh environment and survivng there required substantial planning cooperation for centuries. It seems likely that the environment selected (both genetically and socially) for attributes that enabled cooperation and pro-social behavior.

We need really cheap genetic sequencing done on a massive scale and correlated with behavior to identify all the potential genetic causes of lower crime. But given the large role that biology plays in causing criminality it seems very likely that biology plays a big role in making Iceland a safer place than almost anywhere in the world.

Iceland undermines one popular simple theory on violence: The 90k of guns owned in the 325k Iceland population isn't leading to much killing. Why is that? Hey Icelanders you are messing up a simple narrative on the evil of guns. How dare you!

At 0.3 murders per 100,000 Iceland is still more dangerous than Hong Kong. But 17 countries or islands have at least 100 times the murder rate of Iceland. In a more rational world the search for root causes would be bigger and faster.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 09 10:07 PM 
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2013 December 08 Sunday
Push For Min $15 Per Hour For Fast Food Jobs

My greatest pleasure from reading the Gray Lady is that New York Times articles cover so many topics that are ripe for reframing. Take, for example, this story above a movement for $15 per hour fast food worker wages. Gotta say: great idea! But most of the benefits come from reasons the Gray Lady is not going to mention.

The benefits, oh the wonderful benefits:

  • The public health benefit: Since fast foods are harmful higher prices will discourage people from eating them.
  • Smaller welfare state: People who make more money will qualify for fewer social welfare programs. We net taxpayers will save money. The Gray Lady's article actually mentioned this benefit.
  • The immigration benefit: The average skill level of immigrants will go up when the supply of low skilled jobs suitable for low skilled immigrants gets radically curtailed by high prices.
  • The innovation benefit: High prices for labor are a great incentive for innovation. Look at what manufacturing unions did to boost investments in equipment that raises productivity.
  • Cheaper restaurants in the long run: The automation of food preparation will ultimately lead to cheaper restaurants (so, yes, the public health benefit will be transitory).

Curiously, I expect a high minimum wage to shift some Hispanics against immigration because a a high minimum wage will reduce the supply of jobs they can do even as it boosts the pay for those jobs. It is less clear to poorly paid people that they are in competition with immigrants. They just know they are paid little. But cut the supply of jobs and suddenly they'll see immigrants as competing with them for the limited supply of jobs.

Ron Unz is putting a $12 per hour minimum wage referendum on the California state ballot. While $12 doesn't deliver as big a benefit as $15 it is a big step in the right direction. So go Ron! He reveals just how low paid Hispanics are in America:

Hispanics would gain the most, with 55 percent of their wage-workers getting a big raise and the benefits probably touching the vast majority of Latino families.

Ron's own op-ed in the Gray Lady avoids mention of immigration . However, Bruce Bartlett points out that back in 2011 Ron made clear the impact of a higher minimum wage on immigration.

Ron's ballot initiative has generated a huge debate which he reports on. If this initiative passes in California my hope is that others will put higher minimum wage initiatives on the ballot in other states. Many Western states allow direct ballot initiatives. Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado seem like obvious candidates for a higher minimum wage ballot initiative.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 08 08:32 PM 
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2013 December 04 Wednesday
Europe: The Death Of The Social Compact And Periphery Gutting

While the New York Times bills the decline of wages of the lower classes in Europe as the Americanization of European labor policy it totally misses the deeper cause: open borders within Europe have enabled the high wage countries (especially Germany) to brain drain the lower wage and less skilled periphery. The brain drain is going to drive down the periphery much further.

A clever European leader would be someone who can figure out how to make their country the destination for brains. For example, if I was the Prime Minister of Spain I'd be looking at policies that pull in the smartest people in Latin America. Brain drain all the smart Spanish speakers. Portugal should try to do the same with Brazil.

Ireland probably has the best position from which to try this strategy. English language makes it a far more attractive destination for those who already know the international language of business and who do not want to learn German. The Irish should shape their tax and immigration policy to pull in companies that will brain drain the world for top software engineers who want to lower taxes. When I say top software engineers really I mean that. An ideal immigration policy aimed at brain draining should require scoring high on an IQ test (125 IQ at least) as a condition of entrance.

You might think the Irish will want Ireland to remain, well, Irish. Fair enough if that's what they want. But they need to worry about how to avoid getting more brain drained themselves. They need a critical mass of brain workers in order to provide their own native born brains with job prospects. Else their native smarties will go to Britain or the United States. Essential synergies comes from large concentrations of brains.

The country in southern Europe with the best weather (and which one is that anyway?) could try to make their country the best place for high tech workers and companies that do not need to be inside the German economy and who want to avoid the cold winters. But I doubt that any national government will pursue a strategy nakedly aimed at getting high IQ workers.

So if you are a national leader of an EU country how to keep out the migrating dumb workers who are already inside the EU? High minimum wage and no welfare benefits for non-natives. Also, aggressive policing against parasites. Also, tax incentives for low wage service industries to automate. Or just tax low wage service industries out of existence.

Angela Merkel is making a great move by introducing a minimum wage of of €8.50 an hour in 2015. This will reduce the lure of Germany as a destination for poor migrating low skilled workers. I think of €8.50 an hour doesn't go far enough. of €12.50 an hour would be great. Germany would be headed on course toward becoming an even stronger brain magnet. Plus, German industry would do much more innovating to automate low skilled service work.

Update: The migration out of countries like Spain is mostly of the more skilled people.

The current migration “is mostly the skilled part of the population,” said Massimiliano Mascherini, a research manager at Eurofound, a European Union research agency. “It is alarming for the countries that young people are leaving, and it should be a big source of concern for their governments.”

Germany, Britain, and the Nordic countries are sucking in the engineers and doctors.

The birth dearth is catching up the more technologically advanced northern European states with more engineers retiring than are entering the market. While young people in Europe face high double digit unemployment rates the numbers of engineering openings keep growing.

But EURES, the European jobs and mobility portal set up for job seekers in the European Union (EU), which provides job vacancy information in 31 European countries (the EU’s 27 member states and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), reports that the list of new vacancies for “high-skilled” labor increased significantly in 2012 compared to the previous year, from 18.6 to 24.3 percent.

Any unemployed young European who is smart enough to study engineering but failing to do so is making a big mistake.

Update II: Let me clarify one point: The so-called Americanization of European labor policy isn't really being driven by an influence by America. What's really happening at the bottom end: the demand for less skilled labor is in sharp decline in all industrialized countries. The Europeans can either let wages fall or let employment of less skilled labor decline faster than it already is. Between automation and competition from abroad the old social compact does not stand a chance for low skilled workers except in occupations that can't be moved abroad. At the same time, demand for workers with more valuable skills (notably engineering) is on the rise.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 04 08:42 PM 
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