Monday, May 23, 2016

New Testament progressives versus authoritarian continental ideologies of the left

I think this is the second time I have done this in the past twenty years.

I go into a used bookstore. I spot a book by Cecil Woodham-Smith. I read her The Reason Why (historical investigation of the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War) and The Great Hunger: Ireland: 1845-1849 (a history of the great Irish potato famine in the 1840s). I enjoyed both those books and am happy to read more of her writing.

Buy book and bring it home.

One page in I realize that this isn't a book by Cecil Woodham-Smith, a British historian writing from the 1950s on. This is a book by C. Vann Woodward, an American Historian of the South. His two most famous books are The Strange Career of Jim Crow and Origins of the New South, 1877-1913. The book I picked up was his autobiographical essays, Thinking Back: The Perils of Writing History. Looks good, so I'll probably read it anyway. I do wish though, that I would quit making this mistake. I guess its the names that throw me off, Cecil Woodham-Smith vs. C. Vann Woodward. Not really that similar but multi-barrel names with Wood in them. Not much of an excuse, but that's all I have.

In thinking about Woodward's journey from Left to Right, a journey so common in the US as to be a trope, it led me to the following formulation. In the 20th century, especially the early decades, we had a lot of New Testament civil rights progressives whose political views were jolted rightward by the Frankfurt School and its derivative ideological children of the left. The authoritarian, dogmatic, and repressive dogma of the Continental Left was too incompatible with the New Testament progressives which is what drove them rightwards. What is notable, to me, is that most these New Testament progressives never really lost their idealism, and were not really ever natively of the right. They simply had no where else to go.

I don't know if that is true but it seems to apply to a handful of cases of which I can think.

As for Cecil Woodham-Smith, I do admire this biographical note from Wikipedia:
She attended the Royal School for Officers' Daughters in Bath, until her expulsion for taking unannounced leave for a trip to the National Gallery.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

This assemblage of sloth, sleep, and littleness

In looking up one John Adams' quotation, I find another that increased my admiration for him yet further. From his diaries:
By my physical constitution I am but an ordinary man … Yet some great events, some cutting expressions, some mean hypocracies, have at times thrown this assemblage of sloth, sleep, and littleness into rage like a lion.

Frequency Illusion - William Petty's Plate of Shrimp

William Petty was unknown to me a week ago. At least, I think so. Then, in the space of a dozen days, I come across him twice. I first mentioned him here, The poor Inventor runs the Gantloop of all petulent wits.

Then, perusing How Rich Nations Got Rich and Why Poor Nations Stay Poor by Erik S. Reinert, I come across this passage on page 75:
Not only was it a necessary precondition for wealth to have a large and growing population, the concentration of this population was also exceedingly important. English economist William Petty (1623-87) therefore suggested moving the population of Scotland and other then peripheral areas to London, where the people would contribute much more to economic growth than they were able to do in the empty fringes of the island.
The import of Petty's recommendation is not what is at issue.

My coming across an obscure British economist of 350 years ago in the space of week is. Now I have hundreds of books of English history, economic development and economic history. It is not improbable that I have come across Petty before and am simply failing to recall him.

Still, his popping up is an example of the Frequency Illusion or the Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, described, colloguially in the 1987 movie, Repo Man,
A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, "plate," or "shrimp," or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.
I remember little else of the movie these near thirty years later, but that scene stuck for describing a known but little discussed phenomenon. The humorous aspect, of course, was that throughout the remainder of the movie, "plate of shrimp" made numerous sotto voce cameos as background.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fox Butterfield and economics

Ms. Economics is pithier than I am but it is the same point.

Longer versions:

Feminist policies are actually pro-natal policies in disguise

The poor Inventor runs the Gantloop of all petulent wits

From A Treatise of and Contributions by Sir William Petty, 1662.

Even before the industrial revolution, the dead hand of vested interests was suppressing progress as Sir William describes below. In fact, given that the history of man until the past five hundred years was essentially of non-progress, perhaps Sir William casts a different light. The argument might be made that until five hundred years ago, the dead hand of fear and obstruction had virtually always had the upper hand, delaying the adoption of new changes long enough that they died a natural death. Progress, in this rendering, is simply a matter of relaxing the vice grip of vested interests in order to trial new ideas.
Where note by the way, that few new Inventions were ever rewarded by a Monopoly; for although the Inventor oftentimes drunk with the opinion of his own merit, thinks all the world will invade and incroach upon him, yet I have observed, that the generality of men will scarce be hired to make use of new practices, which themselves have not throughly tried, and which length of time hath not vindicated from latent inconveniences; so as when a new Invention is first propounded, in the beginning every man objects, and the poor Inventor runs the Gantloop of all petulent wits; every man finding his several flaw, no man approving it, unless mended according to his own advice: Now not one of an hundred out-lives this torture, and those that do, are at length so changed by the various contrivances of others, that not any one man can pretend to the Invention of the whole, nor well agree about their respective shares in the parts. And moreover, this commonly is so long a doing, that the poor Inventor is either dead, or disabled by the debts contracted to pursue his design; and withall railed upon as a Projector, or worse, by those who joyned their money in partnership with his wit; so as the said Inventor and his pretences are wholly lost and vanisht.

Friday, May 20, 2016

We can look forward to its continued citation regardless of its evisceration

From Remember that study saying America is an oligarchy? 3 rebuttals say it's wrong. by Dylan Matthews.
In 2014, a slew of headlines seemed to confirm what many had long suspected — that the rich were actually the ones in control and the rest of us chumps were just along for the ride:

"Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy"; "Princeton Study: US No Longer An Actual Democracy"; "Study: You Have 'Near-Zero' Impact on US Policy"; "Study: Politicians listen to rich people, not you"; "Rich people rule!"

All of these stories were about a study by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, modestly titled, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens."

Their conclusion was explosive: "Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."
I believe rent-seeking and regulatory capture are pernicious problems that undermine our republican democracy and that the wealthy, in general, are the primary beneficiaries of such activities. But that is not what Gillens and Page were claiming. They were not claiming that the rich are gaming the system but that the rich are determining electoral outcomes. Without conducting an analysis, that seemed an improbable claim to support. There were just too many counter-examples.

I saw this study when it came out but did not engage with it on the grounds that the dramatic claims would likely not be supported by the data. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and my suspicion was that this would not pass that test. And so, it seems, that has proven to be the case.

Read the whole article for the ins-and-outs but the evidence against the original analysis and conclusions is reasonably comprehensive and damning. That won't mean that this study is dispatched to the outer realms of cognitive pollution where it belongs. The original study fit too neatly with several entrenched ideologies. Consequently, we can look forward to its continued citation regardless of its evisceration.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Patrician Pathological Altruists

From Countries with Higher Levels of Gender Equality Show Larger National Sex Differences in Mathematics Anxiety and Relatively Lower Parental Mathematics Valuation for Girls by Gijsbert Stoet, et al.

This hurts some of the progressive memes.
Despite international advancements in gender equality across a variety of societal domains, the underrepresentation of girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields persists. In this study, we explored the possibility that the sex difference in mathematics anxiety contributes to this disparity. More specifically, we tested a number of predictions from the prominent gender stratification model, which is the leading psychological theory of cross-national patterns of sex differences in mathematics anxiety and performance. To this end, we analyzed data from 761,655 15-year old students across 68 nations who participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Most importantly and contra predictions, we showed that economically developed and more gender equal countries have a lower overall level of mathematics anxiety, and yet a larger national sex difference in mathematics anxiety relative to less developed countries. Further, although relatively more mothers work in STEM fields in more developed countries, these parents valued, on average, mathematical competence more in their sons than their daughters. The proportion of mothers working in STEM was unrelated to sex differences in mathematics anxiety or performance. We propose that the gender stratification model fails to account for these national patterns and that an alternative model is needed. In the discussion, we suggest how an interaction between socio-cultural values and sex-specific psychological traits can better explain these patterns. We also discuss implications for policies aiming to increase girls’ STEM participation.
So the most progressive nations have the highest degree of gender difference in mathematics anxiety compared to all other countries.

"We also discuss implications for policies aiming to increase girls’ STEM participation." So the Patrician Pathological Altruists strike once again, imposing solutions to solve problems that don't exist. They have decided that there should be proportional representation in the field regardless of what actual women actually want.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators

I don't know why they come to mind this morning, but they do. Two quotes from P.J. O'Rourke.

Succinct as he often is.
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
It's really hard to disagree.

Feminist policies are actually pro-natal policies in disguise

*The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox* by Tyler Cowen commenting on a new book about a phenomenon I have mentioned a number of times over the years. The countries with the most pro-female policies, (family leave, quotas, free day care, etc.) have policies that look very pro-natal in nature and impact. Most these countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, France, Netherlands, etc., also have much more restrictive approaches to abortion, at least compared to the US. The even greater paradox is that these policies lead to workforce outcomes the very opposite of what pro-female activist groups believe will happen. The more female affirmative the nation's policies, the less represented women are in competitive industries, the fewer achievements in any field and the greater presence they hold in lower paying, but secure, government jobs.

America, much derided by the bien pensant, has the most open system to women to achieve top performance in the largest and widest number of fields of endeavor.

From Cowen's post:
That is the new and quite interesting book by Nima Sanandaji. The main point is that there are plenty of Nordic women in politics, or on company boards, but few CEOs or senior managers. In fact the OECD country with the highest share of women as senior managers is the United States, coming in at 43 percent compared to 31 percent in the Nordics. More generally, countries with more equal gender norms do not have a higher share of women in senior management positions. Within Europe, Bulgaria does best and other than Cyprus, Denmark and Sweden do the worst in this regard.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Man everywhere and at all times, . . . has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated.

From Notes From The Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Book 5. Written in 1864. I am not sure whether Dostoyevsky is responding to Marx or anticipating him. Certainly, though, pertinent to the emerging utopianist totalitarians who were convinced man was perfectible according to logic and scientific laws.
They say that Cleopatra (excuse an instance from Roman history) was fond of sticking gold pins into her slave-girls' breasts and derived gratification from their screams and writhings. You will say that that was in the comparatively barbarous times; that these are barbarous times too, because also, comparatively speaking, pins are stuck in even now; that though man has now learned to see more clearly than in barbarous ages, he is still far from having learnt to act as reason and science would dictate. But yet you are fully convinced that he will be sure to learn when he gets rid of certain old bad habits, and when common sense and science have completely re-educated human nature and turned it in a normal direction. You are confident that then man will cease from INTENTIONAL error and will, so to say, be compelled not to want to set his will against his normal interests. That is not all; then, you say, science itself will teach man (though to my mind it's a superfluous luxury) that he never has really had any caprice or will of his own, and that he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of an organ, and that there are, besides, things called the laws of nature; so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature. Consequently we have only to discover these laws of nature, and man will no longer have to answer for his actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him. All human actions will then, of course, be tabulated according to these laws, mathematically, like tables of logarithms up to 108,000, and entered in an index; or, better still, there would be published certain edifying works of the nature of encyclopaedic lexicons, in which everything will be so clearly calculated and explained that there will be no more incidents or adventures in the world.


And all that for the most foolish reason, which, one would think, was hardly worth mentioning: that is, that man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one’s own interests, and sometimes one POSITIVELY OUGHT (that is my idea). One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy—is that very ‘most advantageous advantage’ which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.