July 8, 2006

More fun with economists

- I give Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution a harder time than most economists because he has a more sophisticated mind. While a lot of economists are rather obviously a little Aspergery (for example, Alan Greenspan was an Ayn Rand cultist for much of his adult life, yet by the standards, such as they are, of right wing economists, Greenspan's personality seemed pretty normal), Tyler is a civilized, cultured gentleman.

Cowen lists some:

Sad facts of the day

Tyler Cowen

"80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year."

"58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school."

"...more people probably read Engadget than all of the top 50 science blogs combined."

I have no idea if these are true, but what's striking is that Tyler considers them "sad," while simultaneously enthusiastically promoting the further Hispanicization of America, without mentioning the causal linkage between Latin American immigration and lack of book reading in America. When he gets his wish, he's going to be sad ...

Here's a 2005 ranking of the Top Ten of America's Most Literate Cities:

1. Minneapolis, MN
2. Seattle, WA
3. Pittsburgh, PA
4. Madison, WI
5. Cincinnati, OH
6. Washington, DC
7. Denver, CO
8. Boston, MA
9. Portland, OR
10. San Francisco, CA

And here's the Bottom Ten:

70. Garland, TX
71. Fresno, CA
72. Arlington, TX
73. Long Beach, CA
74. Anaheim, CA
75. San Antonio, TX
76. Santa Ana, CA
77. Corpus Christi, TX
78. Hialeah, FL
79. El Paso, TX

Do you notice any demographic differences between the Top Ten and Bottom Ten?

Cowen's political positions on immigration are driven by his amoral tastes, making him reminiscent of Camille Paglia's portrait of Oscar Wilde as the cruel, irresponsible aesthete (see Cowen's Paglian review of "The Devil Wears Prada"). Cowen enjoys Mexican cuisine and painting, so turning vast patches of America into Hispanic slums, even into shantytowns, seems like a good idea to him because of the possibility that it will increase his opportunities to more conveniently indulge his aesthetic predilections.

It's a little hard to argue with a political stance that self-absorbed, other than to point out that Tyler's plan for Hispanicizing our country to benefit his personal tastes is:

(A) Internally inconsistent with his other, more elitist personal tastes.

(B) Unlikely to work because Hispanic immigrants don't bring with them traditional village art forms like the Mexican amate painting that Cowen has written a book about. Instead, they watch telenovelas on Univision and go to movies with big explosions.

(C) Running hard into diminishing marginal returns. Is the U.S. at present truly lacking in Mexican restaurants? Will increasing the number of Hispanics in the country from 45 million to 145 million enhance the indulgences of foodies like Cowen noticeably? (Perhaps Cowen's plan is to use mass immigration to keep down the wages of busboys, thus making his foodie lifestyle marginally more affordable.)

- Cowen's fellow George Mason U. econ prof Bryan Caplan of EconLog represents a very different personality type. Bryan is bright, brave (he is one of very few economists who will publicly mention the letters "IQ"), but not exactly a man of the world. Caplan's view are driven by narrow, rigid, unrealistic, and rather adolescent moral dogmas, largely derived from the works of Julian Simon. Thus:

What We Owe Immigrants
Bryan Caplan

... Suppose two men, John and Julio, are heading to a job interview. Julio tells John: "I need this job more than you do. Please drop out of the race so I get it." It's perfectly reasonable for John to make Hardenberg's reply: "No. You're a stranger and I don't owe you anything." At this point, Mangan and I are in full agreement.

But suppose instead that John handcuffs Julio to a tree to prevent him from going to the interview. Julio says "Let me go. I deserve a shot at this job too." At this point, it's ludicrous for John to reply, "No. You're a stranger and I don't owe you anything." Julio isn't demanding help; he's just demanding that John leave him alone. And if John were to object, "You're not leaving me alone. That job is MINE, and you're trying to steal it from me!" we'd have to answer, "The job isn't yours. It's up to the owner of the business to decide who he wants to employ."

All of this is obvious to any upright 10-year-old.

Which is most perfect self-characterization of Bryan's worldview imaginable: that of a very bright, very self-righteous Webelos.

You're under no obligation to give your toys away to less fortunate kids, but you're certainly not allowed to steal toys from less fortunate kids.

Unfortunately, if the victims happen to be born in another country, most adults don't have the moral sense of a 10-year-old. Don't want to help poor foreigners? Fine. But at least leave them free to sell their labor to willing employers, rent apartments from willing landlords, and buy goods from willing merchants.

But suppose instead that John handcuffs Julio to a tree to prevent him from going to the interview. Julio says "Let me go. I deserve a shot at this job too." At this point, John replies, "You're trying to to drive to the interview IN MY HOTWIRED CAR! I'm calling the police."

But then Julio, who got a B.A. in economics at George Mason and so knows the lingo, says, "But how dare you appeal for help to an American government agency! By what moral right does the Fairfax County Sheriff's office have the right to prevent me from freely exercising my autonomy just because we're within arbitrary lines drawn on a map? And what is this "registration" that you keep waving with your name on it other than a piece of paper issued by some other immoral government agency?"

Then John, who got a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason and so is a true believer, says, "Oh, my God, you're right!. I'm so sorry. Here's the keys to the car. And here's $50 to fill it up."

I doubt if Caplan will ever notice:

A. That his beloved property rights don't enforce themselves, but depend upon a political community.

B. That there are more than 6 billion foreigners on Earth, and that 5 billion of them live in countries with lower average per capita GDP's than Mexico's?

C. That immigration is not like trade because immigrants come with massive externalities?

D. That Americans, being a civilized and at least minimally prudent people, will never adopt a system of pure laissez-faire for immigrants, but will continue to provide them with medical care, inoculations, policing, jailing, education for their children, and the like.

- Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, recently the Chairman of the Presiden'ts Council of Economic Advisers, explains on his blog:

Why economists like immigration

The study of economics leaves a person with two strong impulses.

The Libertarian Impulse: Mutually advantageous acts between consenting adults should, absent externalities, be permitted. The ability to engage in such trades is how people in free-market economies achieve prosperity. When the government impedes voluntary exchange, it prevents the invisible hand of the market from working its magic.

The Egalitarian Impulse: The market economy rewards people according to supply and demand, not inherent worth. Markets often fail to provide people the ability to adequately insure themselves against the vicissitudes of life and accidents of birth. We should, therefore, look for ways to help those who end up at the bottom of the economic ladder.

This is certainly true. What's striking is that the study of economics does not normally encourage the Realist Impulse or the Empirical Impulse or the Skeptically Prudent Impulse or whatever you want to call it.

Most economists feel both of these impulses to some degree. The difference between right-leaning and left-leaning economists is how strongly they feel each of them. Right-leaning economists have a stronger libertarian impulse, whereas left-leaning economists have a stronger egalitarian impulse.

And realist economists, if they exist, don't have a team to belong to.

Although some debates in economics come down to which impulse a person feels more strongly, on immigration the two impulses are reinforcing. The libertarian impulse says, let the American employer hire the Mexican worker, for it is voluntary exchange.

The egalitarian impulse takes note that the Mexican immigrant is the poorest person involved in the situation, and he benefits from more relaxed immigration restrictions.

That there are 4,976,000,000 people living in countries with lower average per capita GDP's than Mexico's will probably never penetrate the consciousnesses of many economists because it is a four-letter-word: F-A-C-T.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

My cover story on the Democrats' basic problem

in the July 31, 2006 issue of The American Conservative is now out electronically. An excerpt:

The Democrats' fundamental weakness is that even after four decades of their strenuously celebrating the moral supremacy of every organized minority, our political system remains, more or less, one of majority rule. It's hard to win a majority if you don't personally want to be part of the majority because your ego centers around visualizing yourself as better than the average American. If you don't like the American majority, either in principle or in person, the majority won't like you.

The GOP, in contrast, presents itself as the party of normal Americans -- or, at least, of normal American voters, whose demographic transformation lags decades behind the raw population totals... The President carried 58 percent of the white vote, and, perhaps most importantly, 66 percent of married white men and 61 percent of married white women....

Crucially, the Democrats garner the votes of merely one out of three of America's wedded white guys -- the demographic segment that, to a fair if impolitic approximation, not only runs the country but also keeps the country running. Because Democrats have increasingly alienated the group who, more than any other, gets things done in America, it's become implausible for the Democrats to portray themselves as the natural governing party. Thus, they have become dependent upon Republican miscues, which, luckily for the Democrats (although not for the country), have been abundant.

This relegates the Democrats to trying to lash together unwieldy coalitions of minorities united mainly in their alienation from majority attitudes. This is possible, but it's harder than the GOP's task of mobilizing a fairly cohesive body of supporters. The Democrats resemble the ramshackle, squabbling multi-tribe army of the Persian Empire and the Republicans the relatively cohesive phalanxes of Alexander.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

My VDARE scoop is up:

George Borjas vs. David Card's Unworldly Philosophy

By Steve Sailer

The Immigration Equation is an 8,000 word article by journalist Roger Lowenstein in July 9th's New York Times Sunday Magazine on the controversy over immigration within the economics profession. (It was available to paying subscribers of Times Select on Thursday.)

It focuses on the rivalry between VDARE.COM contributor George Borjas, professor of economics at Harvard and the "the pre-eminent scholar in his field" according to Lowenstein, and Berkeley economist David Card, who is, well, not the pre-eminent scholar in his field. But Card has gotten lots of publicity recently by telling economists who, for ideological, emotional, or personal reasons favor immigration, but who would prefer not to worry about its effects on America's poor, that, hey, there's nothing to worry about.

Lowenstein's last paragraph sums up his biases:

"The disconnect between Borjas's results and Card's hints that there is an alchemy that occurs when immigrants land ashore; the economy's potential for absorbing and also adapting is mysterious but powerful."

"Alchemy" … "mysterious but powerful" … When you hear those words in a discussion of immigration, you should put your hand on your wallet.

Lowenstein goes on:

"Like any form of economic change, immigration causes distress and disruption to some. But America has always thrived on dynamic transformations that produce winners as well as losers. Such transformations stimulate growth. Other societies (like those in Europe) have opted for more controls, on immigration and on labor markets generally. They have more stability and more equality, but less growth and fewer jobs."

This statement would appear odd to the Chinese and to the smaller Asian Tigers, who have enjoyed the fastest growth in economic history with virtually no immigration.

And that Europe has a shortage of immigrants might seem strange to anyone who recalls the endless car-burning riots by immigrant-stock youth in France last fall, the terrorist bombings by Muslims in Britain last summer, or the Mohammed cartoon riots across the continent last winter.

One might think that any consideration of American immigration would at least cast a glance at the now clearly disastrous European experience with importing foreigners to "do the jobs that Europeans just won't do" and realize that it, too, seemed like a good idea at the time.

"Economists have highlighted these issues, but they cannot decide them. Their resolution depends on a question that Card posed but that the public has not yet come to terms with: 'What is it that immigration policy is supposed to achieve?'"

That's really not a hard question. A general but powerful answer was provided in the Preamble to the Constitution 219 years ago:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…"

In other words, American policy should be for the benefit of Americans and our descendents, not for the advantage of, say, the five billion potential immigrants who live in countries with average per capita GDPs lower than Mexico.

And we definitely should not make immigration laws based on status competition ploys by people who want to show off their status as "winners" unthreatened by competition from uneducated illegal immigrants, unlike all you losers out there whose jobs could be done by some peasant from Chiapas.


In my VDARE article, I answer the question I asked yesterday in regard to David Card's celebrate study showing that the Mariel Cuban boatlift of 1980 didn't lead to lower wages in Miami relative to other American cities in 1981-1985: Was there anything else going on in Miami in the early 1980s that might have been boosting the Miami economy more than the rest of the country's? It seems like I remember something distinctive about Miami's economy at the time ...

By the way, here's a Miami New Times article about those years covered in Card's study.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

World Cup notes

- Yes, this has been a hideously low scoring tournament, even by soccer standards. During the opening three game round among all 32 teams qualifying, the average was 2.4 goals. That sounds pretty good because that would average out to 4.8 goals per game, or to a typical 3-2 game, which is reasonably fun to watch ... except that was 2.4 goals per game, not per team per game.

Since then, in the playoff rounds, where the easy-to-score upon Serbia & Montenegro level riff-raff have been swept away, scoring has fallen to 1.71 goals per game aggregating both teams. Nobody has yet put the ball in the net against finalist Italy at all across six games. (Italy scored an own goal against itself in the 1-1 draw with America.)

- Obviously, soccer needs rule changes to end this scoring drought. I suspect that in a globalized game like soccer, however, it's hard to reform the rules because forging a consensus takes so long, both because of the awkwardness of communications and because of the lack of trust across countries. The rules for a national sport like American football can evolve faster than for an international sport like soccer. This might have more generalizable implications to help explain why multicultural polities tend toward stagnation. "Progressives" favor "diversity" on general principle without ever seeming to notice that diversity tends to slow progress and reform.

- Sunday's final between France and Italy is of interest because the French squad is dominated by immigrant group players, especially West Africans. (Ironically, the great French veteran Zinedine Zidane, the Marseilles-born Berber of Algerian descent, is easily recognizable on the field because he's one of the palest players on the French team). In contrast, the Italians are highly Italian. Not surprisingly, the French are considered faster and the Italians more homogenous, determined, and organized. (Sadly, cultural stereotypes about Italians don't apply to Italian national soccer teams, which are extremely unflashy and defense-oriented.) But is speed really that important? It's not like American football where one of the main strategies is to get a fast wide receiver behind the defense. When you do that in soccer, they just hold up that little flag and call offsides.

France has been the most erratic country: not even qualifying in 1994, winning in 1998, washing out of the opening round without scoring a goal in 2002, and beating Brazil and reaching the finals in 2006. Italy, in contrast, has been fairly consistent. They've probably been the #3 soccer power after Brazil and Germany.

- African national teams continue not to live up to their potential, although Ghana did beat the U.S. handily, but, overall, nobody from Africa did as well in 2006 as, say, Cameroon did in 1990 when it just missed the semifinals, losing to England 3-2 in the tournament's most (only?) exciting game.

On the other hand, black players are doing well on non-African teams. For example, six players on the American squad were black, while only two had Spanish surnames.

- An oddity I mentioned back in 2002 is that although scoring is so low that luck plays a huge role in determining who wins each World Cup game (it's almost as if baseball games were determined by who hit the most triples), the winners always come from the same tiny number of soccer Great Powers, which, oddly enough, aren't that different from the Great Powers of 1914. After Sunday's final, the 18th ever, there will still only be seven teams to have ever won: Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay (but not since 1950), France, and England. And in the last seven World Cups, the second place team has also come from the Big Six (dropping Uruguay). Going back to the first World Cup in 1930, the other finalists have all been European Lesser Powers: Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Sweden. A more interesting array of teams have made the semifinals recently, like Turkey, South Korea (playing at home with some homer calls), Croatia, Bulgaria, and Poland, but getting past the semis has largely been restricted to countries that show up in the old board game Diplomacy, plus their South American equivalents.

- Although everybody is denouncing him as a big bust, I like Ronaldinho, the Brazilian "point guard" who is the highest paid player in the world, because he seldom takes a dive. He is so good at passing and dribbling the ball that he doesn't like to flop to the turf every time his feet are brushed. He simply adjusts and keeps on going. Practically everybody else in the World Cup, in contrast, wants to get a play-stopping whistle from the ref over any incidental contact, real or imaginary, because they really aren't coordinated enough to dribble or pass well enough to make playing the game worthwhile. The feet are just the wrong extremities to rely upon in a game of skill.

- Why are Americans still pretty bad at soccer, despite 100 gazillion kid-hours of AYSO over the last 30 years? I suspect the problem is that American middle class youths practice soccer at set hours of the week, but you never see an American suburban kid dribbling a ball down the street as he walks home from school. (You hardly ever see American kids walking home from school at all.) I bet when Ronaldinho was a kid, the farthest he got from a soccer ball was during a game. Otherwise, he'd be within six feet of a soccer ball at all times.

- Soccer players are famous for their stupidity. Outside of the U.S., where soccer players are well-educated, the game attracts a low class of participant, and all the micro-concussions caused by heading the ball don't help. Italian supporters tell a long list of jokes about what a moron their favorite player Francesco Totti is:

Francesco Totti walks into a bar. "What did you do on your vacation," the bartender asks. "I went water-skiing," he responds. "Was it good?" "No!" Totti says. "I couldn't find a downhill lake."

As I've mentioned before, there's an inverse relationship between the level of on-the-fly decisionmaking required in a game and the level of book smarts of the best athletes, with free-flowing games like basketball and soccer at one end, and repetitious sports like rowing (which is mostly a sport for elite colleges like Oxford and Cambridge) at the opposite end.

The 20 year old star of England, Wayne Rooney, recently received a 5 million pound advance to write his autobiography and four other books. Upon the completion of his contract, he will likely have written more books than he has read. (Okay, it's an old told joke told about Michael Jordan, and, quite possibly, Babe Ruth.)

- Soccer fans are always writing in to tell me that soccer is the most strategically complex sport in the world, although I don't think Bill Walsh would agree. It would help if soccer managers could call a few time outs per game to get their teams back on track or to give them a new strategy, the way basketball coaches do when their teams get discombobulated. It can be a beautiful thing when a soccer team is playing as their manager wants them to do, but it doesn't happen all that often, in part because it's hard for the managers to have all that much influence over the game as it's being played. They are more like Ryder Cup captains in golf (whose primary duty is to announced, "Tiger is teeing off first, Phil second ...") than coaching staffs in American football. A soccer match is kind of like a symphony where the conductor was only allowed to rehearse the orchestra beforehand, and send in one substitute musician after each movement, but otherwise had to stand off in the wings grimacing at each of the many miscues rather than front and center waving a baton.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

July 7, 2006

Leon Hadar realigns the American political system.

I have to say that one of his chosen candidates for President under his new, more rational multi-party system would get exactly one vote (my wife's).

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

The joys of reporting last:

The PAN candidate Calderon is claiming victory in Mexico on the strength of some very late-reporting precincts (i.e., coming in on Thursday following last Sunday's election) that just happened to be dominated by his party.

Ah, the joys of having the other guys' ballots counted first! Theodore White told the story of how he was hanging out with the Kennedy inner circle at Hyannisport the day after the 1960 election, with Illinois, and possibly the Presidency, still up for grabs. Missing were GOP precincts downstate and Mayor Daley's Cook County.

"Even in the most corrupt states of the Union, one cannot steal more than one or two percent of the vote... The AP was pressing its reporters for returns, and the reporters were trying to gouge out of the Republican and Democratic machines their vote-stealing, precinct by precinct totals. ... It was downstate (Republican) versus Cook County (Democratic), and the bosses, holding back totals from key precincts, were playing out their concealed cards under pressure of publicity as in a giant game of blackjack.

"... the AP ticker chattered its keys once more and reported: ' With all downstate precincts now reported in, and only Cook County precincts unreported, Richard Nixon has surged into the lead by 3,000 votes.'

"I was dismayed, for if Nixon really carried Illinois, the game was all but over. And at this point I was jabbed from dismay by the outburst of jubilation from young Dick Donahue, who yelped, 'He's got them! Daley made them go first! He's still holding back -- watch him play his hand now." I was baffled, they were elated. But they knew the counting game better than I, and as if in response to Donahue's yelp, the ticker, having stuttered along for several minutes with other results, announced: 'With the last precincts of Cook County now in, Senator Kennedy has won a lead of 8,000 votes to carry Illinois's 27 electoral votes.'

Later that evening, Kennedy told his friend Ben Bradlee of an early call from Daley, when all seemed in doubt. "With a little bit of luck and the help of a few close friends," Daley had assured Kennedy before the AP had pushed out the count, "you're going to carry Illinois."

Teddy White did not include this story in his romanticized Making of the President 1960, but did finally 'fess up in his autobiography.

By the way, the mirror image happened in the 1982 Illinois gubernatorial election between Republican Jim Thompson and Democrat Adlai Stevenson III. With the Daleys temporarily out of power, Cook County finally showed its cards first, leaving the GOP's Du Page County to come in four days after the election for a winning margin statewide of 5,074 votes. "Several young Thompson staffers were later convicted of vote fraud in that campaign," says Wikipedia.

Now, I would never claim that Mexican elections are as corrupt as Illinois ones, but, still, you can imagine why Lopez Obrador is not a happy loser at the moment.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

VDARE to scoop NYT on NYT's own article:

My 2,200 word response to Roger Lowenstein's 8,000 word article "The Immigration Equation," about the battle between economists George Borjas and David Card, in the upcoming July 9th New York Times should be up on VDARE late Friday night, before it appears on the NYT's public website or in print.

A sample

Lowenstein is enormously impressed by Card's first immigration study, which showed that wages in Miami did not fall after the Mariel boatlift of Cubans of April 1980, which increased the Miami labor supply by seven percent:

"Card's Mariel study hit the cloistered world of labor economists like a thunderbolt. All of 13 pages, it was an aesthetic as well as an academic masterpiece…"

But, of course, the Law of Supply and Demand applies ceteris paribus (all else being equal). Was everything else equal between Miami in the early 1980s and the four control cities that Card used for comparison? Could there possibly have been anything else going on in Miami a quarter of a century ago that was driving up wages by injecting uncounted billions into the local economy.

There's a famous book about economists by Robert Heilbroner called The Worldly Philosophers, but I've noticed that economists are strikingly oblivious to the obvious in the world around them. For example, Steven D. Levitt of Freakonomics fame made himself into a superstar among his fellow economists by arguing that legalizing abortion in the early 1970s cut the crime rate sharply in the mid-1990s. I pointed out to him in Slate.com in 1999 that he had simply failed to notice that, in direct contradiction of his theory, violent crime among teens born right after legalization had soared during 1987-1994. Apparently, none of the prominent economists to whom he presented his theory before its public unveiling had recalled the crack wars, either.

Now, I'm not the world's worldliest man, but I did spend a week in South Florida during that summer of 1980. And even I noticed that in every bar I visited, the locals greeted rapturously a certain annoying Eric Clapton recording, which gave a clue as to why the local economy was booming ...

Can you recall what product was injecting vastly more into the Miami economy in the early 1980d than into other cities' economies? Economists don't seem to be able to...

Check in with VDARE.com Friday night or Saturday morning.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

July 6, 2006

The Mexican election count

Earlier in the week, much of the American media triumphantly reported that the (relatively) rightist/globalist PAN (incumbent party) candidate Calderon held a seemingly insurmountable one point lead over the leftist candidate Lopez Obrador of the PRD, and insinuated that the leftist was a sore loser and potentially violent anti-democrat (like you-know-who, the Venezuelan boogieman) for refusing to give in to the inevitable. Well, it turns out that was just the preliminary count, which missed 3 million votes!

Now, Lopez Obrador has the lead in the official count, but it's narrowing as votes from the pro-PAN far northwest trickle in. As of the wee hours of the morning of Thursday, July 6, CNN reports:

Leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is holding a narrow lead over conservative Felipe Calderon in Mexico's contentious presidential election. With nearly 96 percent of the vote counted late Wednesday, Obrador had about 35.8 percent, compared to about 35.4 percent for Calderon.

This is reminiscent of Election Day 2000, when the networks first declared that Al Gore had won Florida and thus the Presidency, then declared that George W. Bush had won Florida. But as I watched after the declaration for Bush, I noticed that as more and more precincts came in, Bush's lead kept narrowing, and that it was narrowing at exactly the pace you'd expect if the ultimate result was a tie.

To extend the Florida 2000 analogy further, it looks like there was incompetence and/or fraud in filling out and/or counting the votes in Mexico. The NYT reports:

Visits to a few district offices in the industrial city of Guadalajara, a stronghold of Mr. Calderón's National Action Party [PAN], offered a glimpse of the tensions in the process, and the potential for errors and irregularities in the initial tabulation.

Six ballot boxes were opened for a recount in District 8 because of errors on the tally sheets. In every case, the preliminary tallies turned out to be wrong.

In one case, polling workers had miscounted so badly that they gave 100 extra votes to a third candidate, Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI], and doubled the 235 votes for Mr. Calderón. Mr. López Obrador's count was not affected.

If I was to judge purely on the basis of historical fairness, I'd have to say my sympathies are with the party of the left in this election because it had the 1988 election stolen from it by blatant fraud by the longtime ruling PRI. Something that's not well understood about the PRI is that, like the Democratic machine in Chicago, it preferred not to steal elections, but to actually win them. In 1988, however, much to the surprise of the PRI, it was getting beat, so it announced that the vote-counting computers had crashed. When they came up again, what do you know, the PRI's Salinas was in the lead!

I have a vague suspicion that the 1994 and 2000 elections were somewhat prearranged, with PAN not putting up a tough fight in 1994 in return for PRI agreeing not to cheat to keep PAN from winning in 2000 (and perhaps PAN agreeing not to investigate any financial skullduggery by the family of the last PRI president, Zedillo). I don't have much evidence for this, but in a 3 party system, two competitors can make agreements like this to squeeze out the third, as Andy Jackson's supporters alleged about John Quincy Adams' "corrupt bargain" with Henry Clay in the 3-way 1824 election. It's not necessarily corrupt, but if you are the odd man out, it's easy to feel sore about it. The PRD still hasn't ever had a term in office.

Anyway, it's striking how biased against the left party the American press has appeared during the ballot counting, even though the PRD has had a self-sacrificing history of not trying to reverse in the streets electoral cheating against it. Even the far left in Mexico, the Zapatistas rebels of Chiapas, have largely foregone violence for an innovative form of post-modern media-savvy political theater.

The America press' bias in favor of the incumbent is the mirror image of its bias in favor of the challenger Kostunica in the 2000 Yugoslavian election. The challenger Kostunica announced that he had won the election with (as I recall but don't quote me) 57% of the vote, but the election board said he only got 49.8%, mandating a runoff against the incumbent Milosevic (in contrast, in case you were wondering, to the Mexican system where only a plurality is needed).

The American press scoffed at this attempt to deprive Kostunica of his landslide victory. Then Kostunica announced that, well, actually, he'd only got about 53% of the vote, while the election board stuck with its 49.8% story. Then Kostunica said, well, he only got 51.5%. In other words, whatever the actual number was, the election board's 49.8% had to be closer to the truth than Kostunica's original 57% claim.

But, details like how many votes the candidates got ultimately didn't matter, because a vast mob of Kostunica's supporters set fire to the Parliament building and the state television station. Milosevic's riot police refused to respond to the pro-Kostunica violence with violence, so Kostunica took over. This coup was universally praised as a triumph of democracy.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

July 5, 2006

"The Devil Wears Prada"

An excerpt from my review in the upcoming issue of The American Conservative:

Perhaps you shouldn't mention this around the feminist thought police, but women often hate working for other women. While men compete for status by including as many underlings as possible in their hierarchies, women gain prestige by excluding the maximum number from their cliques.

Running Vogue, the most celebrated fashion magazine, might be the ultimate in cliquishness, and Anna Wintour, who in 1996 became the industry's first million dollar per year editor, is famously frosty toward anyone beneath her in celebrityhood.

English journalist Toby Young tells the story of a Vogue executive's teenage daughter interning at the office. Once, as the intimidating editor bore down upon the awestruck girl in a hallway, the stiletto heel of one of Wintour's Manolo Blahniks snapped, sending her sprawling at the intern's feet. The teenager had been warned by her mother that "under no circumstances was she to speak to Ms. Wintour -- ever. Consequently, she gingerly stepped over Anna's prostrate form. As soon as she turned the corner, she sprinted to her mother's office… Had she done the right thing? Yes, her mother assured her. She'd done exactly the right thing."

Wintour has erected a persona for herself that "glories in self-created aristocratic solitude," like a character in a Camille Paglia-directed revival of The Importance of Being Earnest. Wintour resembles an earnest cross between Oscar Wilde's fashion-fixated duo, Gwendolen, whose motto is, "In matters of utmost importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing," and her Gorgon mother, Lady Bracknell, who observes, "Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present."

Personally, I find Wintour's blatant snobbery refreshing compared to the faux-egalitarianism of the high tech world. When interviewing for a job at chipmaker Intel in 1982, I was told that no employee got an office, not even vice-chairman Robert Noyce, the co-inventor of the silicon chip. Of course, I had to stand on my tiptoes and peek into the billionaire's cubicle, which turned out to be 600 square feet, with Impressionist masterpieces hanging on the gray fabric dividing walls.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

July 3, 2006

The Reductio ad Absurdum of the Cheap Labor Obsession

Having expended much energy explaining why importing cheap labor is so good for America, The New York Times now applies the same "logic" to China, in what Dean Baker calls "one of the most convoluted articles yet on demographics:"

As China Ages, a Shortage of Cheap Labor Looms

The world's most populous nation, which has built its economic strength on seemingly endless supplies of cheap labor, China may soon face manpower shortages....

Demographers also expect strains on the household registration system, which restricts internal migration. The system prevents young workers from migrating to urban areas to relieve labor shortages, but officials fear that abolishing it could release a flood of humanity that would swamp the cities.

As workers become scarcer and more expensive in the increasingly affluent cities along China's eastern seaboard, the country will face growing economic pressures to move out of assembly work and other labor-intensive manufacturing, which will be taken up by poorer economies in Asia and beyond, and into service and information-based industries.

The horror, the horror!

First, at present China has, what, 400 or 500 million people in what you could call the modern economy of factories, which leaves another 800 or 900 million people knee deep in rice paddies and the like, doing the same jobs in roughly the same ways as their great-grandparents. China has so much under-utilized labor that it has "internal migration" controls to keep 'em down on the farm. Obviously, for decades to come, the solution to any labor "shortage" in the booming coastal regions is to let more inland farmers move to where the jobs are.

Second, in the long run, China will likely follow Singapore in making a transition from factory work to "service and information-based industries," which, if you are Chinese, is a good thing: white collar jobs are, on the whole, nicer than blue collar jobs.

Baker writes:

It wasn’t that long ago that I learned my economics, but back then this was THE POINT of economic development. Countries wanted to have more good paying jobs relative to the size of their population so that people would not be forced to take the bad paying jobs. I am not quite sure what theory of economic development the Times has where a lack of people in low-paying jobs is a problem. (Maybe we can make Times reporters do them.)

Just about everything else in the piece is equally incoherent. It gives us the warning of the rising ratio of retirees to workers. But let’s toss in some arithmetic. China’s per capita GDP is growing at more than 8 percent annually. This means that in a decade, per capita income will have more than doubled. Suppose the tax burden was raised by 10 percentage points to cover the higher ratio of retirees to workers, this would leave the average worker more than 80 percent better off (assuming that income growth is distributed in proportion to current income, a very big assumption). What is the problem?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

"What's Wrong with the Democrats?"

A brief excerpt from my upcoming article in the July 31st issue of The American Conservative:

While Democrats esteem themselves as more socially prestigious than Republicans, their electoral prospects are undermined by the faint whiff of failure that many Democratic voters exude, the impression that they resent their country and compatriots because they haven't quite fulfilled their own potential.

Surveys going back to 1972 have consistently found that more Republicans than Democrats consider themselves to be "very happy." In a 2005 poll, the Pew Research Center discovered that fifty percent more Republicans than Democrats rate themselves as "very happy," and that "if one controls for household income, Republicans still hold a significant edge." Indeed, Pew reported that their multiple regression analysis of what makes people content showed that "the most robust correlations of all those described in this report are health, income, church attendance, being married and, yes, being a Republican. Indeed, being a Republican is associated not only with happiness, it is also associated with every other trait in this cluster."

While it may (or may not) be admirable of liberals to want to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," it's also hardly unreasonable for voters to assume that the party whose members, on the whole, better manage their own lives could better manage the government.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Austin Bramwell on the Conservative Movement

Bramwell is the young lawyer recently appointed by William F. Buckley to National Review's five-man Board of Trustees just before Buckley's retirement. "I wanted somebody who is very young and very talented," Buckley said. "One likes to think in the long term."

In the July 17, 2006 issue of The American Conservative, Bramwell writes:

First, the conservative movement in large part exists to promote intellectual conformity. Few writers or scholars affiliated with the movement care to risk their sinecures (or their institutions' funding) by disagreeing too vociferously with the official movement position. Consciously or unconsciously, right-wing writers instead tend to suppress thoughts that may be deemed too eccentric or independent. Meanwhile, the movement selects and promotes the careers of young writers whose primary qualification consists of believing ab initio what the movement tells them to believe. One should not be surprised, given this incentive structure, if the movement has become increasingly bland, notwithstanding the usual humbug about how intellectually superior the Right is thse days. Blandness is part of the institutional design.

Second, those at the top of the conservative movement have wide discretion to set its movement's official positions. Bedrock or founding principles, whatever they may be, play very little role in determining what policies the conservative movement will embrace. Whatever may be said of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, for example, they were surely not deduced from immutable conservative principles. Nevertheless, the signature achievement of the conservative movement in the past decade has been to rally -- or, perhaps more accurately, manufacture -- public support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. With just one or two changes in personnel, however, one could easily imagine events turning out very differently. Reckless or prudent, thoughtful or ignorant, the opinion-mongers at the top set the movement line; the other constituents -- the donors, the directors, and other writers and the consumers of opinion -- then accept and promulgate whatever positions the movement tells them to.

By the way, Bramwell had kind things to say about me last year.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

The Random Walk theory of Hollywood success

The Random Walk theory of Hollywood success: The LA Times runs a long article by a physicist explaining that chaos rules in determining which films will be successes and which won't:

Meet Hollywood's Latest Genius:
Then again, in 6 months he could be a loser. Box-office success is more random than you may think.
By Leonard Mlodinow

The fact is, financial success or failure in Hollywood is determined less by anyone's skill to pick hits, or lack thereof, than by the random nature of the universe. The typical patterns of randomness—apparent hot or cold streaks, or the bunching of data into clusters—are routinely misinterpreted and, worse, acted upon as if a new trend had been discovered or a new epiphany achieved. And so, despite a growing body of evidence that box-office revenue follows the laws of chaotic systems, meaning that it is inherently unpredictable, the superstructure of Hollywood's culture—that pervasive worship of who's hot and the shunning of who's not—continues to rest on a foundation of misconception and mirage....

When Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone bought Paramount Pictures in 1993, he inherited Sherry Lansing as studio chief and decided to keep her on. Until just a few years ago, that seemed brilliant, for, under Lansing, Paramount won best picture awards for "Forrest Gump," "Braveheart" and "Titanic" and posted its two highest-grossing years ever. So successful was Lansing that she became, simply, "Sherry"—as if she were the only Sherry in town. But Lansing's reputation soon plunged, and her tenure would not survive the duration of her contract.

In mathematical terms there is both a short and long explanation for Lansing's fate. First, the short answer. Look at this series of numbers: 11.4%, 10.6%, 11.3%, 7.4%, 7.1%, 6.7%. Notice something? So did Redstone, for those six numbers represent the market share of Paramount's Motion Picture Group for the final six years of Lansing's tenure between 1999 and 2004. The trend caused BusinessWeek to speculate that Lansing "may simply no longer have Hollywood's hot hand." In November 2004, she announced she was leaving, and a few months later Grey was brought on board.

How could a sure-fire genius lead a company to seven great years, then fail practically overnight?...

Postdiction is less impressive than prediction. But as the final chapter of Lansing's career shows, postdiction is how Hollywood does business.

Academic research provides an alternate theory of Lansing's rise and fall: It was just plain luck. After all, a film's path from Lansing's greenlight to opening weekend is subject to unforeseen influences ranging from bad chemistry on the set to nasty competition in the theaters, and even after the movie is in the can its appeal is difficult to judge. So one could argue that what is farfetched is not the comparison of Lansing's success and failure to the tossing of darts, but rather the belief that a studio chief's taste can really matter. That's not a popular viewpoint in Hollywood, but there are exceptions, such as former studio executive David Picker, who was quoted in "Adventures in the Screen Trade" as having admitted, "If I had said yes to all the projects I turned down, and no to all the ones I took, it would have worked out about the same."

Few people—including Lansing—wish to discuss it, but in Lansing's case there's already evidence that she was fired because of the industry's flawed reasoning rather than her own flawed decision-making. It's too early to determine how Brad Grey is doing, because Paramount's 2005 films (and even half of 2006's) already were in the pipeline when Lansing left the company. But if we want to know roughly how Lansing would have done in some parallel universe in which she had not been forced out, all we need to do is look at the data from last year.

With films such as "War of the Worlds" and "The Longest Yard," Paramount had its best summer since 1994 and saw its market share rebound to nearly 10%. That isn't merely ironic—it's one of the characteristics of randomness called regression to the mean: In any series of random events, an extraordinary event is most likely to be followed, due purely to chance, by a more ordinary one. Thus an extraordinarily bad year is most likely to be followed by a better one.

A recent Variety headline read, "Parting Gifts: Old regime's pics fuel Paramount rebound," but one can't help but think that, had Viacom had more patience, the headline might have read, "Banner year puts Paramount and Lansing's career back on track." [More]

I've been a big believer in screenwriter William Goldman's famous 1983 pronouncement that "Nobody knows anything" about what films will be a hit.

Certainly luck plays a huge role, but, on the other hand, talent does too. Sherry Lansing during her unluckiest year would still be a much better studio head than, say, I would be during my luckiest year. "Talent" includes the ability to function on little sleep, the self-confidence to make decisions quickly, the ruthlessness to step on the dreams of a lifetime and the personal warmth to keep too many people from hating you for it.

Something to keep in mind is that at the very top of the decision-making pyramid, the big decisions are often the ones that the underlings couldn't decide upon because they are too much of a toss-up. The nobodies who get $150 to read screenplays throw out the vast majority of movie ideas. The ideas that make it to Sherry Lansing's desk are the ones that, objectively, are close to a coin flip, so it's not surprising that no executive's batting average at the top is all that good.

Say that somebody has brought you this package to greenlight -- Steven Spielberg to direct Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts in Dan Brown's next bestselling thriller. Can't miss right? Unfortunately, the agents for Spielberg, Pitt, Roberts, and Brown all know that too, so they want you to commit to paying $70 million in above the line costs just for the Big 4, plus $110 million in production costs, plus $80 million in marketing, for an investment of $260 million, not counting interest costs, which will be in the tens of millions. Okay, now is it such a sure thing? Can you make a profit on this? Well, now it's pretty much of a toss-up as to whether it would pay-off or not, so any idiot who can flip a coin probably wouldn't be all that much worse at making the go-no go decision than Sherry Lansing would be. But the point is that this opportunity would never be brought to any idiot, only to somebody with a long track record of making things happen.

So, you can't be too young. But, you can't be too old either.

Analogizing from sports statistics, it's also apparent that even the most talented have peak years and burn out eventually. (Frequently, an individual's best years precede the peak of his fame by quite some time.) Jobs like running a studio that require tremendous energy are particularly hard to do past a certain age. Soccer players, for example, tend to be washed up around 30. There's now much discussion over whether 31-year-old David Beckham is too old to continue to play for England. On the other hand, he has the kind of specialized skill that serves an old player well -- on free kicks, nobody can bend it like Beckham still can. As you get older, you want to do a few things extraordinarily well because you won't be able to do everything well.

Running a studio, however, is more the job for an energetic generalist than an aged specialist. Lansing turned 60 in 2004, which is rather old in the dog years of moguldom.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Around the Web:

- GNXP's Darth Quixote asks ten questions of Steven Pinker.

- Chris Roach reflects on the 40th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution

- Michael Blowhard says nice things about me, along with much else of interest about the impact of the Web on written discourse in America.

- Genetic distance of populations correlates with economic differences:

The Diffusion of Development
by Enrico Spolaore and Romain Wacziarg

This paper studies the barriers to the diffusion of development across countries over the very long-run. We find that genetic distance, a measure associated with the amount of time elapsed since two populations' last common ancestors, bears a statistically and economically significant correlation with pairwise income differences, even when controlling for various measures of geographical isolation, and other cultural, climatic and historical difference measures. These results hold not only for contemporary income differences, but also for income differences measured since 1500 and for income differences within Europe. We uncover similar patterns of coefficients for the proximate determinants of income differences, particularly for differences in human capital and institutions. The paper discusses the economic mechanisms that are consistent with these facts. We present a framework in which differences in human characteristics transmitted across generations - including culturally transmitted characteristics - can affect income differences by creating barriers to the diffusion of innovations, even when they have no direct effect on productivity. The empirical evidence over time and space is consistent with this "barriers" interpretation. [More]

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer