February 17, 2007


Can anybody think of a movie that has had much impact in America made since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that has depicted life under the Communists in Eastern Europe?

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

Dept. of How Stupid of Me Not to Have Thought of That Before

John Tierney of the NYT blogs about an academic conference on the drop in crime, but I just came up with a theory I've never heard before (although somebody must have articulated it before me):

What device that spread throughout society in the 1990s made it radically easier for witnesses to report street crimes to the cops while they were happening, thus discouraging young people from making a career of being a street criminal?

Right: the cell phone.

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

February 16, 2007

The paradox of majoring in economics

Getting a BA in economics is widely considered the appropriate major for ambitious young people who want to become corporate executives, Wall Streeters, or consultants. It's thought much classier than majoring in business administration, but much more germane to business success than majoring in, say, history or philosophy.

Econ is, like, scientific, but it's also about, like, money! (That was essentially my chain of thought many decades ago as I majored in econ, among other things, then got an MBA.)

This logic has made the econ major one of the most popular on Ivy League campuses, especially among male students.

The funny thing, however, is that if you took your economics courses seriously, they would cripple your drive to make a bundle in the business. The Efficient Markets Hypothesis, for example, really does inspire the old joke about the two University of Chicago professors walking down the street who see a $20 bill lying on the sidewalk. They think about picking it up, but keeping walking because it's much more likely that they are both suffering mutual simultaneous hallucinations than that the free market would be so inefficient as to leave a $20 bill lying around.

In contrast, a successful businessman's essential prejudice has to be that his competitors in the market are inefficient knuckleheads who leave money lying around everywhere for him to snatch up.

Fortunately, the vast majority of econ majors pay little attention to the implications of their courses, so America's economy continues to hum along.

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

February 14, 2007

"Little Miss Sunshine"

is one of the less likely Best Picture nominees ever. If the prototypical Best Picture winner is, say, "Return of the King" -- magnificent-looking, three hours long, you need to see it in a theatre rather than on TV -- "Little Miss Sunshine" is at the opposite end on most dimensions. If it wasn't for the swear words, you'd figure it was a TV movie.

The key to understanding "Little Miss Sunshine" is that it's a movie for moms. Mothers are an underserved audience segment in film (as opposed to television), so "Little Miss Sunshine" is rather refreshing in a business where most films are aimed either at males or single women. (One downside of this, however, is that Toni Collette, who has been brilliant in other character roles, is given little to do in this film full of quirky characters because, as the mom, she is the target audience's surrogate.)

"Little Miss Sunshine" offers two messages to moms:

1. Other people's families are just as crazy as your family.

2. No matter how dysfunctional your family is most of the time, it can still pull together in a crisis.

The now famous scenes of the whole normally squabbling clan push-starting the old VW microbus, then helping each other clamber onto the moving vehicle visually summarizes the second message.

I've tried to come up with a cynical objection to these messages, but, ultimately, I like them: they are a good combination of satirical realism and sentimentality.

I just wish the movie was better. For example, there's a key scene about sixty percent of the way through the movie where a character discover that he's red-green colorblind, with heartbreaking consequences. It's unrealistic that he wouldn't know already, but, worse, there's nothing that prefigures that discovery in the film. It would have been easy to write in an earlier scene where, say, the character wears a red shirt with green pants (which colorblind golfer Jack Nicklaus accidentally wore to a tournament early in his career), and the other characters assume he's intentionally doing it to be obnoxious.

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

Economist Greg Clark's exciting new book

A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World

"He is a benefactor of mankind who contracts the great rules of life into short sentences, that may be easily impressed on the memory, and so recur habitually to the mind" --Samuel Johnson

The basic outline of world economic history is surprisingly simple. Indeed it can be summarized in one diagram: figure 1.1. Before 1800 income per person – the food, clothing, heat, light, housing, and furnishings available per head - varied across societies and epochs. But there was no upward trend. A simple but powerful mechanism explained in this book, the Malthusian Trap, kept incomes within a range narrow by modern standards. …

World Economic History in One Graph

Since the economic laws governing human society were those that govern all animal societies, mankind was subject to natural selection throughout the Malthusian Era, even after the arrival of settled agrarian societies with the Neolithic Revolution. The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution that transformation of hunter-gatherers into settled agriculturalists, but continued indeed right up till the Industrial Revolution.

For England we will see compelling evidence of differential survival of types in the years 1250-1800. In particular economic success translated powerfully into reproductive success. The richest men had twice as many surviving children at death as the poorest. The poorest individuals in Malthusian England had so few surviving children that their families were dying out. Preindustrial England was thus a world of constant downward mobility. Given the static nature of the Malthusian economy, the superabundant children of the rich had to, on average, move down the social hierarchy. The craftsmen’s sons became laborers, merchant’s sons petty traders, large landowner’s sons smallholders.

Just as people were shaping economies, the economy of the pre-industrial era was shaping people, at the least culturally, perhaps even genetically. The arrival of an institutionally stable capital-intensive pre-industrial economic system in England set in motion an economic process that rewarded middle class values with reproductive success, generation after generation. This selection process was accompanied by changes in characteristics of the pre-industrial economy that seem to owe largely to the population displaying more “middle class” preferences. Interest rates fell, murder rates declined, work hours increased, and numeracy and literacy spread even to the lower reaches of the society.

The book proposes a variant of these evolutionary ideas, along the lines suggested by Oded Galor and Omar Moav. The Neolithic Revolution which established a settled agrarian society with massive stocks of capital changed the nature of selective pressures operating on human culture and genes. Ancient Babylonia in 2,000 BC may have seemed superficially to be an economy not dissimilar from that of England in 1800. But the intervening years had profoundly shaped the culture, and maybe even the genes, of the members of English society. These changes were what created the possibility of an Industrial Revolution only in 1,800 AD not in 2,000 BC.

Other scholars have recently posed the challenge of “Why an Industrial Revolution in England as opposed to China, Japan or India?” The speculation here, and it is just a speculation, is that England’s island position and its highly stable institutions, which resulted in a surprisingly orderly and internally peaceable society all the way from 1066 to the present, advanced the process of preference evolution more rapidly than in the more turbulent agrarian economies.

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

February 12, 2007

The message whites hope to send blacks by electing Obama President:

A Rolling Stone article, quoted in The American Scene, reveals that Barack Obama's most important supporters are white women:

"Then, running preliminary polls, his advisers noticed something remarkable: Women responded more intensely and warmly to Obama than did men. In a seven-candidate field, you don't need to win every vote. His advisers, assuming they would pick up a healthy chunk of black votes, honed in on a different target: Every focus group they ran was composed exclusively of women, nearly all of them white.

"There is an amazingly candid moment in Obama's autobiography when he writes of his childhood discomfort at the way his mother would sexualize African-American men. "More than once," he recalls, "my mother would point out: 'Harry Belafonte is the best-looking man on the planet.' " What the focus groups his advisers conducted revealed was that Obama's political career now depends, in some measure, upon a tamer version of this same feeling, on the complicated dynamics of how white women respond to a charismatic black man.""

My mom was a big fan of Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier back in the mid-1960s. To her, they embodied an admirable combination of black masculine charisma and white gentlemanliness. (In contrast, she thought Muhammad Ali an uncultured blowhard.)

It sorely disappointed her that the blacks who burned down Watts in 1965 were not following the fine example for their race set by Harry and Sidney.

She would have liked Barack Obama, too, and for the same reasons.

Now, nobody would use the term "example for their race" anymore. Today, we say "role model." And, what an awful lot of whites hope, deep down, to accomplish by electing Barack Obama President is to make him the supreme king #1 role model for all African Americans, utterly eclipsing deplorable examples such as Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent.

In other words, the message white America hopes to send to black America by electing Obama is:

Stop Acting So Black!
Start Acting More Ba-rack!

Perhaps this explains why blacks haven't been all that enthusiastic about Obama?

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

February 11, 2007

How the college prestige racket works

Here's my new VDARE.com column:

Dr. Faust at Harvard
By Steve Sailer

In January 2005, mistaking a feminist pep rally for a serious academic conference, Harvard President Lawrence Summers, the former Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary, committed a notorious "gaffe" (i.e. he told an unpopular truth).

Summers was no doubt expected to lay on the sonorous soft soap demanded from such an august personage about how we must all redouble our efforts to overcome the persistent plague of discrimination. Instead, Summers, a brilliant but socially maladroit economist, offered a sophisticated data-driven analysis of why women are fairly rare on the science, engineering, and mathematics faculties of Ivy League colleges …

Desperately trying to keep his job, Summers quickly appointed female historian Drew Gilpin Faust, head of Harvard's Radcliffe Institute For Advanced Study, to lead Harvard's Task Forces on Women Faculty and on Women in Science and Engineering. …

Dr. Faust brought back a $50 million wish list of payoffs to feminist interests, which the beleaguered Summers immediately agreed to fund. Hey, the money wasn't coming out of Larry's pocket, so why not?

Despite his craven surrender to Dr. Faust's demands, it didn't save him. Last year, Summers resigned under pressure from the faculty. …

So whom did Harvard pick last week as its new President? A prophetic clue appeared back in January 2005 in the Harvard Crimson: "Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust said Friday that the fallout from University President Lawrence H. Summers’ remarks on females in science had generated 'a moment of enormous possibility' for the advancement of women at Harvard."

Yes—Larry's little miscue has indeed proven "a moment of enormous possibility" for women at Harvard, such as, oh, to pick a totally random example, Dr. Faust herself…who has just been named the new President of Harvard University!

Apparently shaking down the last president for $50 million can help you build your political base for becoming the next president…

You might wonder: how Harvard can risk its reputation by dumping a social scientist for telling the truth and appointing a self-serving feminist apparatchik in his place?

Don't be silly. Colleges are among the least competitive institutions in this country. Their reputations are almost foolproof.

If you want to understand status and power in modern America, you need to grasp how the college prestige game works. …

The point of getting into Harvard is to be able to say you got into Harvard. … In effect, Harvard is hard to get into because everybody knows it's hard to get into. So, no matter what embarrassments happen on campus, it will remain hard to get into for, roughly, ever. [More]

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

My choices for best movies of 2006

American Film Renaissance asked for my choices in the following categories:

Best Time at the Movies in 2006: "The Science of Sleep"

Best Hero: Mark Wahlberg's cop in "The Departed"

Best Narrative Film: "Something New" (okay, it's a stretch to call it "the best," but it was a good picture that was undeservedly overlooked)

Best Documentary: "Idiocracy"

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