March 21, 2009

Calling all datanauts

The federal New Immigrant Survey, which surveyed 9,400 new legal immigrants in 2003 and intends to track them for decades, offers a fascinating source of data, much of it free to the public. The databases can be downloaded formatted for users of each of the three high-end statistical packages: SAS, SPSS, and Stata. So, if you are a data analysis heavyweight, here's a relatively unplumbed but important data source.

Jason Richwine calculated the Wechsler Digit Span IQ subtest scores for different immigrant groups from it, but nobody has yet published the IQ scores from the four Woodcock-Johnson III IQ subtests given to 3 to 12 year-old children of immigrants with legal permanent residency in the NIS.

You'd have to be careful in evaluating the scores, since on most of the subtests, between 25-50% of the kids got scores of zero right out of up to 76 points. Presumably, they were utterly defeated by language problems due to the Woodcock-Johnson IQ test not having been translated into their exotic languages. The zeroes should be left out. (In contrast, the very simple Wechsler Digit Span subtest was translated into a huge number of languages. One immigrant's child took it in Amharic.)

However, 704 of the Woodcock-Johnson tests were given in Spanish, so those scores are probably more or less fair. And they're the most important ones for understanding the impact of massive Hispanic immigration on America's future.

And you'd also need to work on how to convert Woodcock-Johnson scores to IQ scores.

It would be an ambitious project, but a significant one.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 20, 2009

I'm shocked ...

... SHOCKED to learn that the numbers were phony on Obama's budget for turning America into a Nordic social democratic state while simultaneously cutting taxes for 95% of the population and blowing zillions on climate change. The Washington Post headlines:
U.S. Federal Deficits Soar Past [Obama's] Previous Estimates

Congressional Budget Office says Obama's request would generate deficits averaging $1T a year over next decade -- $2.3T more than Obama predicted.

Deteriorating economic conditions will cause the federal deficit to soar past $1.8 trillion this year and leave the nation wallowing in a sea of red ink far deeper than the White House had previously estimated, congressional budget analysts said today.

In a new report that provides the first independent analysis of President Obama's budget request, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that the administration's agenda would generate deficits averaging nearly $1 trillion a year over the next decade -- $2.3 trillion more than the president predicted when he unveiled his spending plan just one month ago.

And although Obama would come close to meeting his goal of cutting the deficit in half by the end of his first term, the CBO predicts that the nation's annual operating deficit would never drop below 4 percent of the overall economy over the next decade, a level administration officials have said is unsustainable because the national debt would grow too rapidly.

By the CBO's estimate, for example, the nation's debt would grow to 82 percent of the overall economy by 2019 under Obama's policies, compared with a pre-recession average of 40 percent. ...

But I thought that closing that loophole on hedge fund managers' income was going to pay for Green Jobs for everybody??? Surely, hedge fund managers are going to make gazillions and bazillions in the future, right?

Don't fear, the Democrats are resolute, and won't allow anything as uninspiring of Hope and Change as arithmetic to get in their way:

"Our priorities are the same," Pelosi said. "This budget is a statement of our values and our investments in education, health care and the health of America. That includes prevention as well as care, and the energy initiatives as well as tax relief for 95 percent of the American people, as well as an approach that takes the deficit down. Those are the priorities of the budget."

White House budget director Peter Orszag made the same point after speaking with reporters on Tuesday.

"There are always some adjustments," Orszag said of the legislative budget process. "But those four pillars" -- health care, education, clean energy and deficit reduction -- "will be represented."

"The Class"

An excerpt from my movie review in The American Conservative:
“The Class,” a slice-of-life drama tracking a year in an inner city Parisian junior high school, has been greeted rapturously, winning the top prize at the Cannes film festival. The critical acclaim stems mostly from “The Class” not being Hilary Swank’s 2007 “Freedom Writers” or all those other tiresome Nice White Lady movies in which heroic teachers overcome “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and turn their charges into Nobel Laureates.

In contrast, this French film offers a refreshingly realistic depiction of the frustrations of teaching. It’s not wholly plausible—as in all school movies, there is only a single class in “The Class”—but it’s almost unique in suggesting that student quality matters.

“The Class” is based on an autobiographical novel by schoolteacher François Bégaudeau. In the manner of WWII hero Audie Murphy, who played himself in the film version of his memoir “To Hell and Back,” Bégaudeau portrays a teacher named M. Marin. “The Class” could be called “To Heck and Back” because “inner city” doesn’t mean quite the same thing in Paris as it does in Detroit. The French like their cities, so the riotous public housing projects are out in Paris’s dreary suburbs. The Parisian 14-year-olds in “The Class” aren’t gun-packing gangbangers, as in Hollywood movies. They’re just mouthy adolescents, lazy, not terribly bright, and full of ressentiment at the dominance of elitist French culture.

M. Marin’s French literature class is half-French and half-minority, with the unrulier Muslims, black and white, absorbing most of his attention. The smartest and most respectful student is a Chinese immigrant, while the worst troublemaker is Souleymane from Mali in sub-Saharan Africa. One well-spoken lad who hopes to win admission to the elite Lycée Henri IV goes largely ignored in the turmoil caused by his less intelligent classmates, who constantly monitor whether they are being disrespected, so they can get off task. Griping about being dissed is more fun than being forced to reveal to the other kids that they can’t do the work. Marin banters with them, but he’s too genteel to thrive amidst all the dominance struggles.

Now in his fifth year, Marin is no longer an idealist. When a naive colleague suggests that Marin should assign Voltaire’s Candide, he demurs, “The Enlightenment will be tough for them.” Marin tries to get the class to read The Diary of Anne Frank instead (which, in “Freedom Writers,” turns teacher Erin Gruwell’s slum students into prodigies of literary creativity), but it mostly annoys Marin’s heavily Muslim class.

Read the rest in the magazine.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 19, 2009

Obama gearing up for immigration fight?

When listening to people who have talked privately to Obama announce that he totally supports them, it's always hard to tell if he just said "I have understood you," or if he really does agree with them. On immigration, it's starting to look like Obama really is enthusiastic for amnesty, although his handlers are trying to cover it up.

The WSJ reports:
Obama Tells Hispanic Caucus He's Willing to Tackle Immigration

President Barack Obama is ready to add immigration to his already full plate.

Obama told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Wednesday that he’s still willing to push for a comprehensive immigration overhaul during the first year of his presidency.

That could be good news for some business groups that pushed for changes but came up short under President George W. Bush.

“I think the collective sense at the end was, this is a good step,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, who attended the one-hour session at the White House Wednesday. All 24 members of the caucus attended. Hispanic lawmakers and the president discussed specific timelines for trying to win passage of legislation, but neither side was speaking publicly about dates for action following their meeting.

The White House seemed to play down both the talks and their substance. ... Caucus members’ statements following the meeting said that overhauling immigration law was the only agenda item.

The interest of the White House in limiting attention to the controversial issue is most likely a sign of how difficult it will be for Obama to muster the support needed to win passage of substantial change, especially as he spends his political capital trying to fix the economy and on reforming health care.

Grijalva said Obama also promised to use his executive authority to make some substantive immigration changes soon, without waiting for passage of legislation.

Hispanic Business reported:
But immigration legislation is on the agenda and moving forward, said Hispanic lawmakers who attended the West Wing meeting. The caucus consists of Democrats and one independent.

Perhaps somebody should have mentioned that fact to Karl Rove eight years ago: no matter how many votes George W. Bush picks up personally, over 90% of Hispanic elected officials are Democrats, so more Hispanics just mean more Democratic power.
"The president said more than any of us expected him to say," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

Mr. Gutierrez, who is wrapping up a cross-country tour to highlight how families are affected by the immigration system, said the lawmakers "made it absolutely clear that this is a civil rights issue of our community."

Oh, boy.

Deep down, Obama thinks about the various ethnicities the way the Rev. Lovejoy thinks about the religions:
Homer Simpson: "God is punishing me."

Rev. Lovejoy: "No, but he was working in the hearts of your friends and neighbors when they went to your aid, be they Christian, Jew, or [looks at Apu, pauses] ... Miscellaneous."

Apu: "Hindu! There are 700 million of us!"

Rev. Lovejoy: "Aw, that's super."

To Obama, there are only Blacks, Whites, and Miscellaneous.

But, if he's starting to think about amnesty not as another boring Miscellaneous issue (excuse me, Hispanic issue), but as a civil rights issue, watch out. At least, that's what Rep. Gutierrez's plan for manipulating Obama seems to be.
Obama told the group that he will work on immigration in a method similar to other major policy initiatives. There will be a public forum on immigration, possibly within the next two months, to unveil key principles of overhaul legislation.

A huge Congressional fight over immigration with unemployment pushing 10% would be great.

The recent history of federal votes on immigration is that the recessions come at the beginning of decades but the votes only come during the prosperous late middle periods of the decades. Thus, the 1981-1982 recession led to public demands to do something about illegal immigration. But supporters of the status quo stalled until booming 1986, then passed a "compromise" amnesty / enforcement bill, which they corruptly failed to enforce. The 1991-92 recession led to public demands for a crackdown, which the establishment fobbed off until making a few minor reforms during booming 1996. The 2001-02 recession derailed Bush's amnesty plan for half a decade, until he, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain revived it in the Housing Bubble years of 2006 and 2007, which the public still managed to defeat.

So, if Obama wants to fight for amnesty in 2009, bring it on. It's our best chance, ju-jitsu style, to get something positive done instead.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The President's NCAA Office Pool Picks

One question that hasn't been explored is: How much times does the President spend thinking about sports versus thinking about the economy?

The New York Times offers us Obama's picks for the NCAA basketball tournament. This is apparently the first time a President has graced us with his March Madness predictions.

As one emailer comments, Obama's guesses are straight out of Chicago Politics 101: Don't make no waves, don't back no losers. Obama's picks for the Final Four consist of three #1 seeds and one #2 seed. For the Final Eight, he has four #1 seeds, three #2 seeds, and one #3 seed. Not a lot of hope and change on display.

I think the evidence is mounting that sports offer fruitful perspectives for understanding Obama.

A number of readers objected to the elaborate sports metaphor I used in America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance." I analogized Obama's passionate feelings about the black and white races that suffuse Dreams from My Father to an old Boston Red Sox's fan's feelings about the New York Yankees. I suggested that if he had grown up in a city with major league sports teams, he might have channeled his ferocious competitiveness and need for victory into being a pro sports fan rather than into racial politics. His 2000 discovery that he'd never be black enough to black voters to beat more genuinely black politicians like Bobby Rush to run for mayor of Chicago (the most powerful position a black politician can attain qua being a black politician), caused him to rethink his political image the way a left-handed flyball pitcher might rethink his childhood allegiance to the Red Sox when he realizes that Yankee Stadium is better suited to him than Fenway Park.

Another question I haven't seen asked much is: How hard is Obama working? I have the vague impression that to keep his famous equanimity, he spends a lot of time on mental health breaks, such as making up his NCAA picks, rather than, say, staffing the Treasury Department.

Similarly, George W. Bush, for example, spent a huge amount of time exercising while in office, presumably as his way to stay off the bottle. Obama appears to be a fanatical exerciser, too, spending much of the interregnum at the gym rather than interviewing potential Treasury Department appointees.

Obama has a lot of alcoholics in his family tree. His father and his half-brother David both died while driving drunk. His half-brother Roy was a drunk until he became Abongo the fundamentalist Muslim. His grandfather Stan was a barfly. Also, Obama seems prone to depression (e.g., his New York years and following his loss to Bobby Rush in 2000, I would guess), and he seems to spend a lot of time on preventing recurrences.

For example, his Chicago circle of rich black friends put together a complicated schedule of flying to D.C. on weekends to give him somebody to hang out with. No doubt they just want to let people know that they hang out with the President, but they seemed to feel in what they said to reporters that it wasn't any secret that Obama needs an elaborate emotional support system. We really haven't had anybody in the White House in living memory who could be considered the sensitive artiste type, somebody so self-conscious and self-absorbed.

Also, because of the stigma against smoking, Obama seems to spend a lot of time each day ducking out for a smoke in private. At home in Chicago, during tense times such as the choice of a VP last summer, he'd drop in on his private bodyguard's apartment several times a day, presumably for a cigarette.

The good news is that Obama knows himself pretty well (he ought to: he's certainly spent plenty of time thinking about himself), so if he figures that the most number of hours he can work per week is X, well, then, he's probably right.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Iceland, Again

Thinking about the rise and fall of Iceland's three banks, I'm reminded of something I was told by a big businessman and leading citizen from Wisconsin: never get heavily involved in real estate development deals where you don't have some local political clout.

He reflected back on a deal that had worked out for him several decades earlier, when as a young up-and-comer in the Wisconsin business world, he'd been invited to participate in the financing of an enormous complex of apartment buildings on Chicago's Near North Side. He drove down, looked around, figured that there'd be a lot of demand from proto-yuppies for apartments convenient to work and to shopping on Michigan Avenue, so he chipped in some money.

And it turned out very profitably for him. Subsequent investments in other states, however, didn't turn out as well. Permits didn't get approved, and other types of sand got in the gears. It was only years later that he knew enough about Chicago to work out that the other investors in that Chicago group he had participated in were not just random people with some money, but a carefully assembled coalition of the Friends of Mayor Richard J. Daley and of other power players in Cook County and the state of Illinois. (Presumably, they had some long-term rationale for inviting him in involving future deals in Wisconsin.)

So, how can you beat the market consistently in lending or investing?

- Inside pull. You can get your developments fast-tracked because you know the right people.

- Inside information. You know people who know people.

- Inside information about inside pull. You know people who know who are the right people to know.

- You are backed by a huge, rich government. So, you can take bigger risks than the competition because you presume that your government will bail you out if they blow up. Privatize profits, socialize risks.

- A sense of what the public wants next. This is Peter Lynch's notion of investing in, say, the little donut chain that you really like.

- Economies of scale in investment. For example, you can make money at tiny arbitrage opportunities if you have enough money to play with so that you don't experience gambler's ruin in the short run. Or, if you are Warren Buffett, you can make a nice living as a white knight investor who buys companies threatened by hostile takeovers.

There are lots of other items that should be on this list. But my point is: Iceland's money boys were at a disadvantage on everyone of these points. A quarter-million people out on an island in the middle of an ocean were spectacularly ill-suited to play the game of high finance the way it's really played. The Icelanders figured that because they were as good as anybody at whipping up an Excel spreadsheet of the Black-Scholes option pricing model, they could compete globally.

They were naive.

On the radio now

I will be on the Chuck Wilder Show on Thursday at 4:05 E.T. / 1:05 p.m. PT to discuss “the minority mortgage meltdown.” The program airs in Los Angeles and can be streamed live here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 18, 2009

Infrastructure stimulus in action!

Obama's first instinct after getting elected President was to promise to put America back to work through "infrastructure" projects. He seemed to have an image in his head of modern construction projects as employing roughly as many people as you see toiling on the Great Pyramid of Cheops in a CGI scene from a PBS documentary on Ancient Egypt.

So, I've been paying attention to an infrastructure project near my house that started up last fall.

A four-lane street near my house has been torn up for about four or five months now, with bigger water and sewer pipes going in to support all the huge apartment buildings on the street that are being finished. Two lanes remain open, while two lanes are shut for about 1,200 feet. There are usually 10 to 12 large pieces of equipment parked in the construction zone.

But, how many workers are actually employed on the job site? Often, I don't see anybody. At 2 pm yesterday, I counted three. Today was a busy day, with six hard hats on-site. Granted, only two of them were actually working, but that's not the point, the point is that six were drawing paychecks and thus, presumably, stimulating the economy. But six is a lot for this very expensive project that has made making a left turn onto the street an ordeal.

I presume they have good reasons for the lack of activity (perhaps they have to let concrete dry?), but it seems typical for a modern streets and sanitation-type project: the number of hard hats employed on any given day is vanishingly small.

Shifty-looking sorts

Reuters reports:

[Jefferson] Duarte [of Rice U.] and co-authors Stephan Siegel and Lance Young, of the University of Washington in Seattle, studied members of, an online lending site where people looking for loans are matched up with individual lenders.

Each loan applicant submitted a profile which included credit and work history, education level, income and an optional photograph of themselves for lender review.

More than 6,800 loan applications, 2,579 loans and 12,200 photographs from were used in the study.

Duarte hired a team of 25 people to rate the applicants' trustworthiness on a scale of one to five using only the photographs of the borrowers. The team also judged the probability that the borrowers would repay a $100 (72 pound) loan.

Those judged to be trustworthy by the team were more likely to get a loan from lenders and tended to have a credit score about 20 points higher than those determined to be untrustworthy, the researchers found.

"Untrustworthy" borrowers were seven percent more likely to default on their loan than a perceived trustworthy borrower with the same credit score.

"There is an array of information that you can get out of the pictures," Duarte said, adding that borrowers use photographs ranging from family portraits to snapshots of their pets.

"The pictures are revealing something about the behaviour of these people that is not taken into account in the credit score model," Duarte said.

To make sure that the evaluators' prejudices did not skew the results, the researchers controlled for race, age, gender, obesity, attractiveness and education, as well as financial factors like employment status, income and homeownership.

Of course, the really dangerous guys are the Bernie Madoffs and Sir Allen Stanfords who make the effort to look trustworthy. But, I'm always struck by how many dubious types make little effort to look less dubious. They seem to feel they are expressing their individualism, the Real Me.

In truth, they want affirmation and support from their peers, who are dubious sorts, too.

For example, why do car salesmen so often dress like car salesmen straight out of the Robert Zemeckis comedy "Used Cars?" Journalist Chandler Philips went undercover for Edmunds and worked at two San Fernando Valley car dealerships. His "Confessions of a Car Salesman" is well worth-reading.
I knew these interviews came in threes, so I wasn't surprised when Craig walked into the room. He told me that he had been a schoolteacher before he got into the car business. I could see him as a teacher — he had a warm, intelligent manner. He said that being a car salesman was hard on your life. "Truth of the matter is, you lose all your friends. Not because you're a car salesman, but because when you're around, they're not. And when they're around, you're not. You wind up making all new friends." ...

Over the next few days I noticed that car salesmen shook hands with each other a lot. I shook hands with each of my team members when I arrived in the morning; we shook hands before we left the dealership at night. We might shake hands with each other two or three more times during the day. If I happened to be standing on the curb and if another salesman walked up I shook hands with him. It was like we were all staying loose, practicing on each other, for that moment when we would greet Mr. Customer and needed to use a good handshake that's going to seal the deal. ...

Car salesmen and women seem to exist in their own world. What they think is cool is viewed by the public as tacky and obvious. For example, why do they insist on wearing white shirts and silk ties? Or what about gold watches, rings and chains? Who wears that stuff anymore? Don't they realize they are turning themselves into walking cliches? The only answer I came up with was that, as a salesman, I spent all my time with other salesmen. They were my friends. Believe it or not, I tried to fit in, to belong. So I began to develop an interest in gold ties, white shirts and dress shoes. I even grew a goatee because a lot of the guys had beards. And I put gel on my hair and combed it straight back.

Hey, that's my old look (minus the gel) ...

The general public doesn't think all that highly of high pressure salesmen, and that air of social disapproval will eat away at the crucial self-confidence of the salesmen. So, they tend to impose and Us vs. Them attitude on each other, hanging around after work with each other and with the kind of women who like high pressure salesmen. Moreover, the sales managers encourage their salesmen to go into debt to buy fancy cars, clothes, jewelry, houses, and the like, telling them they have to maintain a professional appearance and challenging their manhood if they don't think they can afford all that. That keeps them on the hook working at a job they may not really like but that makes them more money than they can make elsewhere.

I suspect when all the foreclosure statistics in the Sand States are toted up, we'll see that real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and other insiders got themselves in over their heads at a disproportionate rate. A similar dynamic was probably at work on Wall Street, just on a higher dollar scale.

Why they don't get it

The New York Times offers an elaborate quantitative map showing the number of foreign-born people per county over Censuses from 1880 to 2000.

The maps make clear a point I've harped on before: that our NYC/DC/Harvard punditocracy is completely clueless about the multi-generational prospects of Mexican-Americans.

If you look up Mexicans on the NYT's map, there were only 2,138 people of Mexican birth living in Manhattan County in 1980. A goodly fraction of those were likely scions of rich Mexicans working at, say, the U.N. and/or partying at Studio 54. In 1990, there were still only 6,003.

In Washington D.C. in 1980 there were only 514 Mexican-born residents, and in 1990 there were only 1,034.

In Suffolk County, MA, (Boston, Cambridge, etc.), there were 271 in 1980 and 1,006 in 1990.

In other words, Mexican immigrants are a new phenomenon to America's media establishment. So, it's easy to apply Ellis Island-based fantasies to immigrants from Mexico: by the third generation, they'll be doing as well as Italians! Who can say we're wrong? Mexicans in the U.S. are an utterly new phenomenon. There are no track records!

In contrast, in Los Angeles County, there were 33,644 Mexican-born individuals way back in 1920. And there were probably an even larger number of American-born Spanish-surnamed people. In 1980, there were 697,000 Mexican-born folks in LA County. More importantly for analytical purposes, by 1980 there were already a huge number of third, fourth, and fifth-generation people of Mexican descent in LA County.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 17, 2009

AIG v. Earthquake Insurance

There has been a lot of talk about AIG's Financial Products division, which made a lot of credit default swaps (i.e., bets) against defaults (on mortgage-backed securities and the like) happening. And then, what do you know, lots of defaults happened, so many that AIG is insanely broke. And the government has been handing AIG vast amounts of money to pass through to the financial institutions that made bets with AIG (e.g., Goldman Sachs, that Cradle of Treasury Secretaries).

Personally, I've never been a big enough player to be in the market for credit default swaps, but they are analogous to something I've considered purchasing: earthquake insurance. About 7/8ths of California homeowners do not have earthquake insurance. If a small earthquake directly under my house knocks down my house and a few hundred around it, then having earthquake insurance would turn out to have been a great idea. But if The Big One knocks down a million houses, will any insurance company in the business be able to pay off? Would the federal government subsidize the obligations of the insurance companies? Or would the federal government just step in and pay off everybody, insured and uninsured? Or would SoCal revert to a permanent Mad Max wasteland of rubble?

I don't know.

The state legislature set up a public-private entity called the California Earthquake Authority, which boasts that it has $8 billion available to pay off earthquake damage. At $250,000 per house, say, that's 32,000 houses. But most houses aren't insured. On the other hand, a very large fraction of the damage would be done to commercial properties and infrastructure.

Both earthquake insurance and credit default swaps raise the issue of moral hazard. The hazard is obvious with credit default swaps. If you could get AIG to insure for a cheap price that your bundle of liar loans wouldn't default, why not create mortgage backed securities even more likely to default?

Moral hazard seems more implausible with earthquake insurance, but it does exist because there are big differences in potential earthquake damage in Southern California just blocks apart. After the big 1994 Northridge Earthquake, my dad saw a map in the newspaper of all the condemned buildings in the San Fernando Valley. He then looked up a geological map of the Valley that showed where all the old river beds ran.

A typical California riverbed has a trickle of water two feet wide in the midst of a "wash" of sand and gravel hundreds of yards wide. During a major winter storm, the entire wash fills with roaring water, depositing more sand and gravel. After the destructive flood of 1938, the LA River and its tributaries such as the Tujunga Wash were channelized into giant concrete ditches, allowing construction right up to the edge of the channel.

About 80% of the condemned buildings in the Valley after the 1994 earthquake turned out to have been built on top of the sand and gravel of the old river washes. You could see on a street built originally along the banks of the old LA River wash, apartment buildings on the sandy side of the street fell down, while the apartment buildings on the soil side stayed up. As the Bible says, the typical house or apartment building that fell down was a house built on sand:
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

For awhile after the 1994 earthquake, there was some interest in figuring out what parts of Southern California were more likely to fall down again. Maybe we should convert the place that were hardest hit to parks, or at least downzone them from multistory to single story dwellings. But, then, people seem to have lost interest in the subject.

And now that I think about it, this analogy is particularly fruitful. The global financial structure turns out to have been built upon the mortgages of the houses of what Wall Street called the Sand States (California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida)...

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 16, 2009

Legal immigrants: hints of IQ scores

Here are Jason Richwine's calculations of scores from the 2003 New Immigrant Survey of the backward digit span subtest from the Wechsler IQ test. These are for the children of legal permanent resident immigrants:

White natives are at 100, with a standard deviation of 15.

European legal immigrants' kids: 99

India: 112

Northeast Asia: 106

Southeast Asia: 104

sub-Saharan Africa 89

Mexico 82

Central America/Caribbean 83

South America 86

Anyway, this is just a single subtest, but it's interesting stuff, although, as usual, not too interesting, in that it comes out about the way you'd have figured.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Is this Bush or Obama? (Part II)

Is this from a 2001 George W. Bush speech on education or from a 2009 Barack Obama speech on education:

So let's challenge our states -- let's challenge our states to adopt world-class standards that will bring our curriculums to the 21st century. Today's system of 50 different sets of benchmarks for academic success means 4th grade readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming -- and they're getting the same grade. Eight of our states are setting their standards so low that their students may end up on par with roughly the bottom 40 percent of the world.

That's inexcusable. That's why I'm calling on states that are setting their standards far below where they ought to be to stop low-balling expectations for our kids. The solution to low test scores is not lowering standards -- it's tougher, clearer standards. (Applause.) Standards like those in Massachusetts, where 8th graders are -- (applause) -- we have a Massachusetts contingent here. (Laughter.) In Massachusetts, 8th graders are now tying for first -- first in the whole world in science.

Judging from the inelegant diction, misunderestimated statistics, dubious logic, and MBA buzzwords, you might think it's Bush in 2001. But it's Obama last week in his big education speech. The shout-out to Massachusetts is the most obvious give-away.

But it's the same cargo cult mentality that thinks that the big difference between students in Mississippi and students in Massachusetts is that Massachusetts' grades them tougher on state achievement tests to see if they are "proficient" in math and reading, so, therefore, the Massachusetts students Rise to Meet the Challenge.

In reality, Massachusetts has been the intellectual center of North America since the 1600s, and Mississippi has not. And the toughness of the grading of the Massachusetts test doesn't have much of anything to do with it. As I pointed out in VDARE a couple of years ago, Massachusetts is one of the toughest graders, but the toughest grader of all is ... Louisiana.

As I explained, The basic problem, which Obama didn't mention, is the NCLB's
most important and implausible requirement: "that all children should reach a proficient level of academic achievement by 2014" in math and reading.

It's nuts.

... In the current NCLB, which was largely the result of an alliance between President Bush and Senator Kennedy ... . Each state is allowed to concoct its own test to determine whether its own students have reached "proficiency," which the state can define however it pleases.

Not surprisingly, practically every single state cheats in order to meet the law. For example, Mississippi, that intellectual powerhouse, recently declared that 89 percent of its 4th graders were at least "proficient" in reading.

Unfortunately, however, on the federal government's impartial National Assessment of Educational Progress test, only 18 percent of Mississippi students were "proficient" or "advanced."

(The most honest state, surprisingly enough: Louisiana—with Missouri, Massachusetts, and South Carolina deserving honorable mentions.)

Overall, the typical state claimed that 68 percent of its 4th graders were proficient readers, compared to the 30 percent found by the honest NAEP.

But, Obama is pretending, just like Bush, that we can make NCLB come true just by wishing hard enough.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 15, 2009

Indian immigrant IQ

Jason Richwine writes in Forbes:
Indian Americans: The New Model Minority

But education and culture can take people only so far. To be a great speller--or, more importantly, a great doctor or IT manager--you have to be smart. Just how smart are Indian Americans? We don't know with much certainty. Most data sets with information on ethnic groups do not include IQ scores, and the few that do rarely include enough cases to provide interpretable results for such a small portion of the population.

The only direct evidence we have comes from the 2003 New Immigrant Survey, in which a basic cognitive test called "digit span" was administered to a sample of newly arrived immigrant children. It is an excellent test for comparing people with disparate language and educational backgrounds, since the test taker need only repeat lengthening sequences of digits read by the examiner. Repeating the digits forward is simply a test of short-term memory, but repeating them backward is much more mentally taxing, hence a rough measure of intelligence.

When statistical adjustments are used to convert the backward digit span results to full-scale IQ scores, Indian Americans place at about 112 on a bell-shaped IQ distribution, with white Americans at 100. 112 is the 79th percentile of the white distribution. For more context, consider that Ashkenazi Jews are a famously intelligent ethnic group, and their mean IQ is somewhere around 110.

Given the small sample size, the rough IQ measure and the lack of corroborating data sets, this finding of lofty Indian-American intelligence must be taken cautiously. Nevertheless, it is entirely consistent with their observed achievement.

The New Immigrant Survey is being run out of Princeton. It's one of those massive projects like the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth. It only applies to legal immigrants. The first round of data was collected in 2003, and papers have been coming out for a couple of years. Parts of the Woodcock Johnson IQ test were given to immigrants, as well as the digit span test. The data is available to registered users.

If you know more about this research, such as what other legal immigrant groups scored, please let me know.

I'm guessing that Richwine crunched the numbers himself, because I can't find anything published on them, and he is writing his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard on IQ and immigration nexus. (Here's Marcus Epstein's VDARE blog post on Richwine's forthright statements at an AEI conference.) The SPLC is already on Richwine's case for uttering hatefacts.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The coming Amish tidal wave?

Congenial Times has a blog post and a long comment on Amish demographics. There are now somewhere approaching a quarter of a million Amish in the U.S., up from less than 10,000 a century ago. At the current growth rate of doubling every twenty years, there would be approaching eight million Amish by 2110. (Warning: Projections 100 years into the future not likely to turn out right.)

My impression is that the Amish are not a major drain on the taxpayers the way the polygamous Fundamentalist Mormons are, who put their junior wives on welfare and run a lot of scams to get federal and state funds for the their town on the Utah-Arizona border. Of course, an all-Amish country wouldn't work due to the pacifism of the Amish.

Somebody might wish to create a model of the optimal sect for increase in share of the population. The components would consist of:

1. Fertility rates
2. Retention rates
3. Conversion rates
4. Death rates (which usually are pretty much the same these days, as long as the sect doesn't oppose vaccination, or whatever).

The Amish, for example, have quite high fertility rates, high but not 100% retention rates, and very low conversion rates. There are probably trade-offs between the different components.

It seems plausible that the human race in 3000 A.D. will largely be descended from cultures that achieved optimal combinations of these trade-offs for population growth.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Bush-Obama Era

From my new column:

Are we in the middle of what future historians will refer to as the Bush-Obama Era?

That might sound bizarre—until you notice the continuity of policy on crucial issues such as the economy and immigration. Remarkably, under Obama, much of the conventional wisdom of the Bush years continues to reign unquestioned.

Education policy showcases the stability of the Bush-Obama Age. Last week’s big speech on schools given by President Obama to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was essentially a sequel to President Bush’s speeches on the same topic in 2001.

Granted, Bush didn’t start his orations on American education by leading mass chanting in Spanish as Obama just did:

THE PRESIDENT: “Thank you. [Applause.] Si se puede.

AUDIENCE: “Si se puede!
Si se puede! Si se puede!

Somehow, though, I suspect that Bush is now kicking himself that he didn’t think of that cool opening. Si se puede!” That rocks!

Since the topic is schooling, let’s take a test.

Which President orated:

“The highest percentage increase in our budget should go to our children's education. Education is my top priority and by supporting this budget, you will make it yours as well. … Measuring is the only way to know whether all our children are learning—and I want to know, because I refuse to leave any child behind. … “

  1. Barack Obama

  2. George W. Bush

  3. Dwight Eisenhower

It definitely wasn’t Eisenhower. When Sputnik alerted America in 1957 that we were in a dead-serious competition with the Soviet Union for technological mastery of ballistic missiles, the 1958 National Defense Education Act responded by delivering stronger education to the stronger students—where the highest return on investment was attainable. In contrast, both Bush and Obama believe in investing more where the ROI is lowest.

OK, you can tell from the clunky prose style that the quotes above come from Bush in 2001. But the philosophy remains the same.

In his speech last week, Obama told the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce:

“And yet, despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we've let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us. Let me give you a few statistics.”[Transcript, March 10, 2009]

Uh-oh. Obama is into words, not numbers, so his rhetorical statistics tend to be half-digested factoids that raise more questions than they answer:

“In 8th grade math, we've fallen to 9th place. Singapore's middle-schoolers outperform ours three to one. Just a third of our 13- and 14-year-olds can read as well as they should.”

How do American students do compared to foreigners?

For the answer, click here

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

The Washington Post exults over the superbitude of the new Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan, who did such a brilliant job being in charge of affordable housing for New York City in 2004-2008. (You will all recall how affordable NYC housing became on his watch):
It is hard to find a detractor. Bankers and developers say [Shaun] Donovan has a deep understanding of market forces. Affordable-housing advocates say he is committed to the public good.

Personally, I can't make head nor tail of the newspaper's account of his doings. But, from what I've learned about the bankers, developers, and "advocates" in the housing racket, when they all agree on something or somebody's wonderfulness, you'd better get a good grip on your wallet.

Right now, being the former New York City housing czar sounds like a good credential because there haven't been too many foreclosures in New York. (As of October 2008, only 0.17% of units in the state of New York were in the foreclosure process, compared to 2.57% in California.) But a year from now, when NYC is a foreclosure nightmare, maybe this part of his resume won't sound so hot anymore.

I think I understand this part of the article, though:

Donovan revived an old idea, inclusionary zoning, which grants developers the maximum height for their market-rate residences if they agree to build low-cost housing, too.

"The concept was highly controversial when Shaun came in, but over a year Shaun led the team to understand the economy, and build the incentives, and explain to the City Council that it had to approve the rezoning," Doctoroff said. "He built the policy financially and politically."

In Donovan's view, the program, which has created 1,833 units of affordable housing to date, built neighborhoods with long-term prospects for income diversity.

Wow, 1,833 units built in a city of several million units! He's Superman with red hair.

Obviously, government-sponsored "affordable housing" construction doesn't make any difference to most New Yorkers. But, 1,833 New Yorkers apparently made out like bandits.

Help me out here to see if I understand the process correctly: Developer X announces plans to build an apartment building of the legally maximum height for the neighborhood. Neighbors complain, saying it will block their sunlight, increase congestion, make parking harder to find, etc. and demand that the building be only a fraction of X height.

Shaun Donovan grants the developers' wish for X height, as long as the developer makes some of the units "affordable" -- i.e., charges below-market rates. In other words, because housing development is highly regulated, much of the profit from the development stems from getting permission from the government to build a tall building on a particular piece of land. Because the government can bestow or withhold that permission as it sees fit, it can extract some of the profit from the developers. (Sorry, neighbors, about your new sunshine shortage, but you should have invested more in the right politicians. Maybe next time you'll be wiser.)

By the way, don't feel too sorry for the developers -- if there were no restrictions on height, then the housing business would just be a commodity business, which, trust me, is even less fun than it sounds. As it is now, development is a casino: you can make a fortune if the political gods smile on you, and lose a lot if they don't.

The obvious question, but one that seldom seems to occur to reporters explaining the wonders of the affordable housing racket, is: Who gets these "affordable" units? The right to buy or rent at below market values is hugely valuable so there will be no shortage of applicants. Some allocation method is necessary to choose from all the applicants. If the government doesn't determine who gets in, the developers will just take under-the-table kickbacks to bring the net price up close to the market level. Am I being overly cynical in assuming that politics plays some role in determining who winds up in the "affordable" units?

Let me make a wild guess that some of those 1,833 were in some way affiliated with "affordable housing advocates." A common phenomenon that has emerged in recent decades in America, but remains so off-the-radar that I've never heard a name for it, is the business of setting up leftwing pressure groups that make their living by reaching mutually profitable agreements with regulated businesses so that the business can do what it wants.

This can be more sophisticated than just the old shakedown racket. For example, say Developer X wants to put up a 20 story building, and the neighbors want to limit it to 10 stories so they won't lose as much sunshine. Developer X then agrees with Community Affordable Housing Advocacy Organization Y that it will build a 20 story building, but 10% of the units will be "affordable." (And Group Y gets first dibs on some of the affordable units to allot to its supporters.) A government official like Mr. Donovan then grants permission to put up the 20 story building, citing the agreement as proof that the Left and Right are in accord. Of course, the neighbors who want to keep their sunshine aren't in accord at all, but that little detail gets lost in glowing story about private enterprise and public good advocates coming together.

We saw it a lot of this in the mortgage business: a financial institution wants to lower credit standards in order to make a bigger, riskier bet on mortgages. Some GS-14 at the regulator isn't sure if this is such a hot idea. Will the taxpayers wind up on the hook? Is this just a boiler room operation to badger fools into signing a lot of papers they can't possibly understand and then unload the toxic mortgages fast on Fannie Mae?

Good questions! But then, the financial institution announces that it has reached an agreement with various leftist Community Reinvestment organizations to lend even more money to likely deadbeats -- excuse me, I meant, "lower income and minority neighborhoods." And so the regulators roll over in the face of this humanity-affirming concord between the White Power Structure and the Righteous Demands of the Community.

Move along now, nothing to see here.

In reality, the leftist organizations are in a symbiotic relationship with the big lenders. One way or another, they will get a cut of the action. The intervention of the professional leftists serve to distract attention away from what the lender really wants to do -- take big risks that the public may have to bail out -- and refocus the media on the ever popular story of Fighting Discrimination. The two sides then "compromise" to provide a heart-warming happy ending.

This kind of pre-fab agreement makes for nice newspaper articles, because people like to assume there are two sides to every story. In truth, there are usually more than two sides. There's usually an amorphous, poorly organized third side such as the taxpayers or the general public: the poor saps who will end up footing the bill for the agreement between the professionals on the "two sides."

Anyway, I'm getting off track from Shaun Donovan. I don't really know what he's been up to. The newspaper descriptions are eye-glazing, but a lot of people do very well for themselves mastering the bureaucratic arcana of some seemingly boring topic.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer