May 29, 2010

What should Obama do about the oil spill?

Personally, I think he should put on fins, a diving mask, and a snorkel and swim out and see if he can fix it.

I mean, that sounds about as likely to work as anything else Obama is qualified to do. It's not just that he doesn't know anything about the subject, but he doesn't know anybody who knows anything either. Who's he going to call up whom he knows is likely to give him good advice on deep sea oil drilling? Martha Minow? Elena Kagan? Jeremiah Wright? Laurence Tribe? Bill Ayers? Cass Sunstein? David Axelrod? Emil Jones?

If we are going to expect Presidents to know things, or at least know people who know things, we should probably worry about that before the election.

May 28, 2010

87 Years Ago

Here's a picture my dad gave me today. It shows him in 1923 with a muskellunge he caught in the short channel between Lake Michigan and Portage Lake in Onekema, MI: a young Nick Adams. (Ernest Hemingway and my father were born in Oak Park, IL about 18 years apart. Like many Oak Park families before air conditioning, in their times the Hemingways and Sailers spent much of the summer in Michigan; the prevailing wind blows across the lake from Illinois to Michigan, being cooled as it goes, so the west coast of Michigan used to be a major summer resort for Chicagoans.)

A muskellunge is the largest fish of the pike family. Wikipedia informs us: 
The name comes from the Ojibwa word maashkinoozhe, meaning "ugly pike."

Update: two readers suggest, from the coloration, that it's a Northern pike.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 27, 2010

Long spans

After my father got an x-ray in early 2010, it struck me as interesting that his father had been present at the creation in 1895 of the x-ray machine, 115 years before. My teenage grandfather worked as a delivery boy for a lens company in Germany in the 1890s, and one of his customers was the physicist Roentgen, who won the very first physics Nobel Prize in 1901 for his great invention, which used glass plates my grandfather had lugged in. (If the x-ray machine were a movie in 2010, there'd be a ten minute long Credits reel with my grandfather's name in the 8th minute as Delivery Person.)

Not surprisingly, my grandfather later became an x-ray machine salesman, introducing the device to hospitals in China and South America on long, profitable trips in the 1920s. He developed an long-lasting ulcer on the back of his hand from all the hours he held it in x-ray machines with the power blasting during his demonstrations for doctors. Surprisingly, he lived in fine health until 1965.

I thought of that when reading this week that in the Vulcan Society fireman's disparate impact case, to crack down on the bad boys who gave 343 lives on 9/11, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis has appointed as "special master" of the Fire Department of New York the former NYC district attorney Robert Morgenthau. (The very old first DA during early years of Law & Order was modeled on Morgenthau.) 

Morgenthau is 90.

Morgenthau's father, Henry Morgenthau Jr., became FDR's Secretary of the Treasury in 1934, a mere 74 years ago. His grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., was U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

May 26, 2010

Art Linkletter, RIP

Genial television host Art Linkletter has died at 97. 

I was on the "Kids Say the Darndest Things" segment of his House Party talk show, where he interviewed four grade school children, back around 1969 or 1970 when I was ten or eleven. 

I contrived some lines that got pretty big laughs from the studio audience, but, truthfully, I was a little too old, knowing, and show-offy. For example, before our appearance, the lady producer asked the kids to say what they thought were the definitions of various words, but I knew what all the words meant, except "boudoir."

I suspect the little me was fairly insufferable. It's a testimony to Mr. Linkletter's famous amiability that he didn't throttle me on nationally syndicated television.

Interracial Marriage: 2008 stats

Here's a rather incoherent article from the AP on new interracial marriage statistics from the Census Bureau. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau hasn't released the numbers yet, as far as I can tell, so we're stuck with the sneak preview they gave the AP.

Two caveats: first, you need to keep in mind the stock v. flow issue of marriages v. weddings. The Census Bureau typically counts marriages (i.e., two people who are legally married to each other) but not weddings (two people getting legally married to each other). The reality that this article is groping toward is that while the stock of interracial marriages as a percent of all marriages continues to rise as the older married couples, from eras when interracial marriage was very rare, die off, but the percent of new interracial weddings as a percent of all new weddings does not seem to be increasing as fast as before.

Second, in my long experience with Census studies of interracial marriage, going back to my 1997 "Is Love Colorblind?" article in National Review, only data from the decennial enumerations (years ending in a 0) were of sufficient sample size to accurately capture trends in interracial marriage rates. The Census Bureau has been working to improve the sample sizes in their interim studies, but who knows whether this one is good enough?

WASHINGTON – Melting pot or racial divide? The growth of interracial marriages is slowing among U.S.-born Hispanics and Asians. Still, blacks are substantially more likely than before to marry whites.

The number of interracial marriages in the U.S. has risen 20 percent since 2000 to about 4.5 million, according to the latest census figures. While still growing, that number is a marked drop-off from the 65 percent increase between 1990 and 2000.

About 8 percent of U.S. marriages are mixed-race, up from 7 percent in 2000.

The latest trend belies notions of the U.S. as a post-racial, assimilated society. Demographers cite a steady flow of recent immigration that has given Hispanics and Asians more ethnically similar partners to choose from while creating some social distance from whites due to cultural and language differences.

I wrote a column about exactly this happening in California in 2000: "Continued Immigration Retards Growth of Interracial Marriage." It's logically obvious that as minorities become majorities, they have fewer daily interactions with whites and thus are less likely to fall in love with them and marry them.
White wariness toward a rapidly growing U.S. minority population also may be contributing to racial divisions, experts said.

"Racial boundaries are not going to disappear anytime soon," said Daniel Lichter, a professor of sociology and public policy at Cornell University. He noted the increase in anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as well as current tensions in Arizona over its new immigration law.

"With a white backlash toward immigrant groups, some immigrants are more likely to turn inward to each other for support," Lichter said.

Yeah, yeah, yeah ...
Broken down by race, about 40 percent of U.S.-born Asians now marry whites — a figure unchanged since 1980.
Unfortunately, this doesn't break out the important gender gap in white-Asian marriages. In 1990, 72% of white-Asian marriages involved a white man and Asian woman, while in 2000, 75% involved a white man and an Asian woman.
Their likelihood of marrying foreign-born Asians, meanwhile, multiplied 3 times for men and 5 times for women, to roughly 20 percent.

One of the things that is going on is that the "Asian" population is becoming less East Asian and more South Asian, where the gender gap is very different. Also, South Asians are more into arranged marriages with somebody from the Old Country than are East Asians.

Among U.S.-born Hispanics, marriages with whites increased modestly from roughly 30 percent to 38 percent over the past three decades. But when it came to marriages with foreign-born Hispanics, the share doubled — to 12.5 percent for men, and 17.1 percent for women.
In Southern California, I just do not see 38% of the couples walking down the street together where at least one person is Latino and the other person is white. I'd say it's more like 10%. Maybe it's different in Texas. Maybe interethnic marriage is most common among very white Hispanics, possibly ones who are only 1/2 or 1/4 Hispanic by ancestry, so these couples are not very visible by looks.

Although the Census allows people to identify themselves as being of multiple races, it does not allow them to identify as both Hispanic and non-Hispanic, so people of mixed ethnicities tend to show up in Census stats as solely Hispanic.

Or maybe white-Hispanic marriages are hugely common in working class exurbs in California where I don't hang out much. I don't know. But I don't see white-Latino couples much at, say, the movies in Van Nuys.
In contrast, blacks are now three times as likely to marry whites than in 1980. About 14.4 percent of black men and 6.5 percent of black women are currently in such mixed marriages, due to higher educational attainment, a more racially integrated military and a rising black middle class that provides more interaction with other races.

That would suggest the gender gap in black-white marriages has fallen to 2.21 times as many black men married to white women as white men married to black women, from 2.54X in 1990 and 2.65X in 2000. But, we'll have to see what the sample size is. The decennial enumerations have been far more trustworthy than interim estimates based on a small samples.
... By some estimates, two-thirds of those who checked the single box of "black" on the census form are actually mixed, including President Barack Obama, who identified himself as black in the 2010 census even though his mother was white. 

Census figures also show:

_Hawaii had the highest share of mixed marriages, about 32 percent.

Funny how Mr. Check Only Black Obama was born and raised in Hawaii, which has always been like this.

It was followed by Alaska, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Nevada, which ranged from 15 percent to 19 percent. 

You'll note that California, the state with the highest percentage of immigrants and with what had been the second most (to Hawaii) liberal attitudes among whites on interracial marriage, doesn't make the top 5.
The bottom five states were Pennsylvania, Maine, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia, each ranging from 3 percent to 4 percent.

_Mississippi had the fastest growth in mixed marriages from 2000-08, a sign of closer ties between blacks and whites, though it still ranked second to last in overall share of mixed marriages. 

_Mixed marriages jumped from 2.25 million to 3.7 million, or 65 percent, from 1990-2000, as such unions became more broadly accepted in Southern states.

_Among U.S.-born whites, about 0.3 percent married blacks in 1980; that figure rose to about 1 percent in 2008. About 0.3 percent of whites married Asians in 1980 and about 1 percent in 2008. About 2 percent of whites married Hispanics in 1980, rising to about 3.6 percent in 2008.

The figures come from previous censuses as well as the 2008 American Community Survey, which surveys 3 million households. The figures for "white" refer to those whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity. For purposes of defining interracial marriages, Hispanic is counted as a race.

May 25, 2010

Updated: Birth Order

Birth order theories (e.g., first-borns tend to be more risk-averse) have been around for a long time without making all that much progress. The data is very complicated and how exactly do you specify what you are looking for?

Well, here's an NYT article on a small study that is well-defined enough that they might have actually found something:
In the current issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review, Frank J. Sulloway and Richard L. Zweigenhaft went digging for evidence of siblings behaving differently in the vast database of baseball statistics. Given how younger siblings have been shown to take more risks than their older counterparts — perhaps originally to fight for food, now for parental attention — Drs. Sulloway and Zweigenhaft examined whether the phenomenon might persist to the point that baseball-playing brothers would try to steal bases at significantly different rates.

In fact they did: For more than 90 percent of sibling pairs who had played in the major leagues throughout baseball’s long recorded history, including Joe and Dom DiMaggio and Cal and Billy Ripken, the younger brother (regardless of overall talent) tried to steal more often than his older brother....
UPDATED: A reader tries to reproduce this just for brothers where both were batters (i.e., no pitchers) and finds younger brothers more likely to steal in only 56% of the pairs

“We tend not to exhibit birth-order differences all the time in adulthood — we employ them in situations with siblings, because that’s where the behavior comes from,” Dr. Sulloway said. “But we found that here, and that’s significant.” ...

In other words, Sulloway is making a fairly limited claim for the effects of birth order -- birth order has more effect within the family than in the outer world. The oldest son is much more likely to become CEO than the youngest son of the family firm, but not all that much more likely to become CEO of a publicly traded company.

And there remains the plausible issue of whether younger brothers learned baseball strategy more fully simply by watching their older brothers growing up, which Dr. Zweigenhaft, a professor of psychology at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., said could very well be a contributing factor.  

Another explanation about why this study's finding might be restricted to baseball might be that when brothers play on the same team growing up, the older brother will usually be stronger (because he's more mature), and thus be put lower in the batting order in a slugger's RBI slot. In contrast, the younger brother will bat higher in the order where players are more expected to steal.

For example, say you are lucky enough as a high school baseball coach to have two future major leaguers on your team, a pair of brothers two years apart, Al and Ben. Both are much more coordinated at putting the bat on the ball than all your other players. Where do you put them in the batting lineup? When the older one Al was a 150-pound sophomore, you had him batting third or fourth (clean-up) to maximize the number of runs he could drive in because even though he was still thin, he was so much better at hitting the ball than anybody else. But when Al's a 180 pound senior and and his younger 150-pound brother Ben is a sophomore, you still have Al in the RBI slot, but you put Ben in the leadoff slot so he can get on base and steal.

So, by virtue of being older, Al is never given training as a leadoff batter, but Ben, by virtue of being stuck on Al's team, is trained to get on base and steal so his big brother Al can drive him in.

Here's my 1996 book review from National Review of Sulloway's book Born to Rebel.

Life expectancy accelerating

Here's an interesting table from p. 240 of David Willetts's The Pinch of average male life expectancy at the age of 65 in the UK (in other words, in 1950, 65-year-old British men were expected to live to 77.0):

1950: 12.0
1960: 12.2 (+0.2 v. decade earlier)
1970: 12.8 (+0.6)
1980: 14.0 (+1.2)
1990: 15.8 (+1.8)
2000: 18.2 (+2.4)
2010: 21.7 (+3.5) [projected from growth from 18.2 in 2000 to 21.0 in 2008]

So, for every four days you live, you only get three days closer to death? What better excuse for procrastinating?

Now, that's pretty weird. Instead of diminishing marginal returns, we (or at least Brits) are currently enjoying increasing marginal returns. Well, I'm not complaining.

"Shrek Forever After"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
Hollywood’s clean little secret is that many people in the industry are not, at least by natural inclination, the utter shlockmeisters that their output would suggest. They are often cultivated, tasteful, hard-working craftsmen sometimes pained by the trashiness the public demands from them.

Over the last decade, the animated Shrek franchise, a hugely successful series about a green ogre in a tawdry fairy tale land, has offered perhaps the most flagrant example of What the People Want (and Deserve to Get, Good and Hard). Yet, in Shrek Forever After, its latest (and likely last) installment, the animators have moved in a surprising new direction.

The typical billion-dollar box office property, such as the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Spider-Man series, is based on an elaborate preexisting work whose integrity is jealously guarded by fanboys. In contrast, the 2001 Shrek was a surprise hit derived merely from a 32-page bedtime book by William Steig, allowing the franchise to become a tabula rasa pandering to median 21st century tastes.

The first Shrek had evolved into a poison pen letter from DreamWorks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney studio head during its Beauty and the Beast silver age, to his ex-boss Michael Eisner. Shrek’s villain, Lord Farquaad, was modeled on Eisner, who had tried to cheat Katzenberg out of his share of Disney profits (eventually settling for, reportedly, $280 million).

You might have expected that the audience for a family film would have either been oblivious to or alienated by this backstory of Hollywood venality. Instead, they were galvanized.

The meta-joke of Shrek was how DreamWorks’ crudely animated versions of public domain Disney characters (such as three small pigs or a wooden boy) tiptoed right up to but didn’t quite violate Disney’s notoriously well-defended copyrights. It’s remarkable that the public now more or less gets intellectual property humor, but also a little depressing.

Read the rest there and comment upon it below.

May 24, 2010

The Rand Paul Brouhaha and 21st Century Reality

For the last half dozen days, the punditry have been convulsed with debating -- assuming the country got into a giant time machine and went a half century back into the past -- would Senate candidate's Rand Paul's position on laws on the public accommodations portion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act be a good thing or not.

Few seem to have noticed that we are actually living in the 21st Century, when the  issues about discrimination law don't revolve around disparate treatment but around disparate impact, a different legacy of civil rights law. Firefighter cases, as in today's Supreme Court decision regarding the Chicago Fire Department, seem to provide the most public examples of what the current law is, which isn't anything at all like what everybody has been talking about:
Supreme Court backs black applicants in firefighter discrimination suit
Chicago could be liable for as much as $100 million in damages in the case in which minority candidates passed a fire department exam but were not hired.

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau
May 25, 2010

The Supreme Court reinstated a discrimination ruling Monday in favor of 6,000 black applicants for Chicago firefighting jobs in the 1990s, saying they had properly sued after it was clear that an entry-level test had a "disparate impact" based on race.

The ruling leaves public employers in a pickle if they are required by law to use tests for deciding who should be hired or promoted.

After two Supreme Court decisions with very different results in the last year, public employers can be sued for using tests that screen out most blacks and other minorities; they also can be sued by high-scoring white applicants if the test scores go unused.

The apparent conflict is built into the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the justices said Monday. "It is a problem for Congress, not one federal courts can fix," Justice Antonin Scalia said.

He spoke for the court in a 9-0 ruling in a case that began in 1995 when 26,000 applicants took a written test to become city firefighters. Faced with the large number applicants for only several hundred jobs, the city decided it would only consider those who scored 89 or above.
In other words, this was one of the objective, blind-graded tests that the Daley Administration spent about $5 million dollars with outside consultants to develop for the fire and police departments in the mid-1990s to come up with a non-discriminatory way to hire and promote public safety employees.  The city decided to choose randomly among the highest scorers, rather than hire in rank order, which is obviously the best way to hire. Blacks who scored below 89 sued on the theory that the city should have hired randomly from among the huge numbers who scored 65 or higher.
This cut-off score excluded a high percentage of the minority applicants. After a trial in 2005, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall ruled the test had an illegal disparate impact because the city had not justified the use of the cut-off score. Experts had testified that applicants who scored in the 70s or 80s were shown to be capable of succeeding as firefighters.
Why not the best? Especially because the fire department's future leaders will come from the entry level ranks.
The city did not appeal the disparate impact finding, but in Lewis vs. Chicago said the firefighters had waited too long to appeal. The high court disagreed.

Last year, however, the high court ruled that disappointed white firefighters were victims of discrimination by city officials in New Haven, Conn., which had dropped a promotion test after they learned no black candidates were among the top scorers. In a 5-4 ruling, the justices said this amounted to illegal racial bias against the white firefighters.

Nationwide, about 20 million employees work for city and state governments. And in many of these agencies, tests are used to hire and promote employees. That in turn has led to years of litigation on whether the tests are fair.

The decision dealt a potentially costly defeat to the city of Chicago. Earlier this year, a lawyer for black applicants estimated the total damages in the case could reach $100 million.

The ruling was welcomed by John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who argued the case. "This victory goes well beyond the immediate results in Chicago. It should ensure that no other fire department or employer uses a discriminatory test," he said.

Though the recent court rulings have focused on city agencies, the civil rights provision involving disparate impact policies applies to all employers, private and public.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley voiced some weariness with the years of litigation. "For decades we have tried to diversify the Chicago Fire Department. But at every turn, like most cities, we have been met with legal challenges from both sides."

Since 2006, Daley said, the city has used a "pass-fail" approach so that all those who have passing scores are eligible for jobs.
In other words, to get around the EEOC's four-fifths rules, Chicago has made the test so easy in 2006 that about 96% of white applicants pass the test and about 77% of black applicants, which is four-fifths as good, and that selects fire cadets randomly from those who pass, which means that all the test does is eliminate complete idiots.

When results for minorities were disappointing, the city established a cut-off score of 89 and hired randomly from the top 1,800 “well-qualified” candidates.
In 2005, a federal judge ruled that the city’s decision had the effect of perpetuating the predominantly white status quo, since 78 percent of those “well-qualified” candidates were white.
The clock normally stops ticking on civil rights cases 300 days after the employment action is taken. The first lawsuit was filed 430 days after the test results were announced.

But, African-American firefighters maintained — and the Supreme Court agreed — that a new act of discrimination occurred every time the scores were used to hire firefighters between May, 1996 and October, 2001. That’s when the city stopped using 89 as a cut-off point because the number of candidates had run out.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Piers said the decision means Chicago must hire roughly 120 African-American firefighters and adjust their pensions as if they had been on the job since 1995. Six-thousand  others will share roughly $45 million in damages.

“They have to immediately put them on. They can’t say, ‘We don’t have the money,’ ” Piers said.

If class members are too old to perform the physically demanding job, the damages could top $100 million, Piers said.

From the Chicago Tribune:
The Chicago case began in 1995 when 26,000 applicants took a written test to become a city firefighter. Faced with the large number applicants for only several hundred jobs, the city decided it would only consider those who scored 89 or above.

This cut-off score excluded a high percentage of the minority applicants. And after a trial in 2005, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall ruled the test had an illegal "disparate impact" because the city had not justified the use of the cut-off score. Experts had testified that applicants who scored in the 70s or 80s were shown to be capable of succeeding as firefighters.

The city did not contest that conclusion, but it won a reversal from the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on a procedural technicality. The appellate judges said the applicants had waited too long to sue. They had not sued during the year when the test results were released, but sued only after the scores were used to decide who would be hired.

Civil-rights lawyers appealed on behalf of Arthur Lewis and the other black applicants. They were joined by the Obama administration, which said the federal civil rights law forbids the "use" of discriminatory tests. And by that standard, the suit was filed on time.

The high court agreed Monday in Lewis v. Chicago. "Our charge is to give effect to the law Congress enacted," Scalia said. The class of black applicants had sued at the time the test was used, and it resulted in their not being hired, he concluded.

The unanimous ruling stands in sharp contrast to the deep split within the Supreme Court last year over a case involving white firefighters from New Haven, Connecticut. They sued after they were denied promotions when the city scrapped a test because its impact on black applicants. They won a 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court saying they were victims of illegal discrimination.

's case involved the opposite situation. Where New Haven had backed away from using its test results, Chicago pressed ahead and was later sued for using a test that had a discriminatory impact on blacks.

In Monday's opinion, Scalia acknowledged this law creates "practical problems for employers" and can "produce puzzling results." He concluded, however, "it is a problem for Congress, not one that federal courts can fix."

But 21st Century reality will get infinitely less coverage than hypotheticals about Rand Paul's views.

May 23, 2010

"The Pinch" by David Willetts

An excerpt from my new and quite long column introducing an important English book that hasn't been published yet in America:
The best political book published recently in the English-speaking world has one of the worst titles: U.K. Tory MP David Willetts’ The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future—And Why They Should Give it Back.

By this point, American Baby Boomers have so endlessly (and insufferably) navel-gazed that it’s almost impossible to force yourself to read further once you reach the words “Baby Boomers” in a title. The smaller U.K. baby boom hasn’t been so relentlessly rehashed—but that’s not the reason to read this book by the Universities and Science minister in the new coalition British government. ...

The Pinch provides an intellectual framework for thinking about far more than just the debt-related issues raised in Willetts’s lengthy subtitle—timely as those are in this era when the debts piled up during the Bush-Blair “in hock to the world” era are rapidly coming come due. For example, without Willetts spelling it out much, his analysis of the foundations of Anglo-Saxon culture helps explain why the same tendencies that make our societies successful also make them peculiarly vulnerable to immigration. I'll extrapolate on his insights below.

What made possible the Anglo-American heritage of self-governing liberty under law?

Although The Pinch is about England, it’s eminently relevant to American readers. As Willetts says: “England and America share a similar civil society because we share the same (rather unusual) family structure.”

To Willetts, the key to Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism is the nuclear family structure. “When it comes to families, England was the first nuclear power,” Willetts quips.

In his important first chapter, to which he gives the unapologetic title “Who We Are,” Willetts explains the “deep features” that have distinguished England, and its overseas offshoots, from the rest of the world.

England has been “not just different from Papua New Guinea or Pakistan; it is also quite different from France and Italy and most of Continental Europe,” except for Holland and Denmark.

And this difference dates to at least 1250—and perhaps back to (or beyond) the Dark Age days of King Canute.

Following Cambridge anthropologist Alan Macfarlane, Willetts attributes this northwestern European model to the folkways of the ancient Germanic tribes. As Ben Franklin noted, “Britain was formerly the America of the Germans.”

The Anglo-Saxons managed to hit the sweet spot between the kind of cut-throat individualism seen in a handful of cultures (most notoriously the Pushtuns of Afghanistan, who subscribe to the extraordinary proverb “When the floodwaters reach your chin, put your son beneath your feet”) and the more workable extended family cultures seen in, say, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

These broad and loyal extended families do make for cultures of good restaurants. But they aren’t so good at paying their honest share of taxes, as the Greek government’s tax evasion-driven financial crisis is pointing out once again.

In his engaging non-academic style, Willetts outlines the deep structure of Englishness:
“Instead, think of England as being like this for at least 750 years. We live in small families. We buy and sell houses. … Our parents expect us to leave home for paid work …You try to save up some money from your wages so that you can afford to get married. … You can choose your spouse … It takes a long time to build up some savings from your work and find the right person with whom to settle down, so marriage comes quite lately, possibly in your late twenties.“

... This distinction between extended and nuclear family structures has profound political implications according to Willetts. In the lands of extended families, “Helping relatives with contracts and jobs is not seen as corruption but as a moral obligation”. Moreover, “It means that voting is by clans: it is hard to have neutral contracts enforced by an independent judiciary when family obligations are so wide-ranging and so strong”.

... There are clear advantages to extended families: “Big clan-style families are better than nuclear ones at spreading advantage and pooling risk …” Extended families serve as miniature welfare states. If one kinsman strikes it rich, he’ll employ his relatives who need jobs.

Without all this, the English had to dream up self-regulating institutions because “Small families need civil society more:”

“But it was not just voluntary societies which provided mutual support. … Instead of the mutual exchange of the extended family, small families must buy services. For example, insurance schemes, annuities, and savings help protect you when there is no wider family with such obligations.”

Thus, the English were among the pioneers of complex capitalist contracts.

In turn, this early “capitalism without factories” prepared the British to make perhaps the greatest contribution to humanity or recent centuries: the Industrial Revolution, which freed humanity from the Malthusian Trap in which population grows as fast as the food supply, leaving the lower half of society hungry:

“That the Industrial Revolution began in England is a crucial piece of evidence in support of the argument that we have a distinctive economic and social structure.”

In Willetts’s depiction, the English resemble my 2006 description of white Americans:
“They believe on the whole in individualism rather than tribalism, national patriotism rather than ethnic loyalty, meritocracy rather than nepotism, nuclear families rather than extended clans, law and fair play rather than privilege, corporations of strangers rather than mafias of relatives, and true love rather than the arranged marriages necessary to keep ethnic categories clear-cut.”

The Anglo-Saxon nuclear family has greatly benefited humanity. Still, it has its disadvantages.

The nuclear family is expensive. Each small family wants its own place to live—ideally, a house with a garden. Not surprisingly, the crowded British Isles were long the emigration capital of the world, as people headed out for the emptier lands of America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Why don’t Anglo-Saxons like to live in large, noisy My Big Fat Greek Wedding-style homes? Unfortunately, Willetts doesn’t address this. Personally, I don’t see much evidence that people from other cultures get along better with their relatives. They just don’t seem to mind screaming at their cousin-in-laws as much as Anglos would mind.

Perhaps the kind of civil personality cultivated by civil society (and the English became famously polite) is more pained by domestic discord. Civil society seems to breed more polite personalities who can get along with strangers. You can shout abuse at your loved ones because they are stuck with you, but non-relatives have to want to deal with you.

(Or maybe civil personalities enable civil societies? What’s chicken and what’s egg is seldom clear in these virtuous circles of feedback.)

This relative lack of nepotism and ethnocentrism makes Anglos simultaneously both successful and at risk of being out-maneuvered by less idealistic groups.

... One increasing problem with civil Anglo personalities is that they tend to value fair play and neutrality so much that they can blind themselves to the interests of their own descendants.

Read the whole thing there (there's lots more) and comment upon it here.

Now I finally get it

For a decade, there has been a growing fervor in the national (i.e., NY-DC) press over how teachers' unions are the chief impediment preventing our society from Closing The Gap, about how there are huge numbers of young Ivy League grads who only need to sleep 4 hours per night who are dying to become public school teachers in the 'hood but seniority rules keep aged timeservers in the classrooms betraying minority students.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine features a major article on this general theme every few issues. For example, today, there's "The Teachers' Unions' Last Stand" by Steven Brill. 

This assumption that there are a huge number of brilliant people out there who would love to teach in inner city schools if only all those impedimentia about job security and pensions are swept away has always struck me as slightly implausible, but I hear it all the time in the national press.

A commenter at Yglesias's site has finally clued me in to what's going on: in the two centers of the national media, NYC and DC, there really are a lot of bright, energetic, young, idealistic trustfunders with nothing much to do with their days. You graduated from Brown in 2005 with a degree in English, your Dad pays your rent in Park Slope and your credit card bill, and your fiance makes seven figures at Goldman. You've never finished writing that screenplay you've claimed to be working on while you sit around at the coffee shop, and you're starting to realize maybe you really aren't as creative as you thought you were. So, why not become an English teacher at a Harlem charter school? What a great idea. You'd be just like Hillary Swank in Freedom Writers! You'll collect material for a better screenplay! Or, at minimum, it will give you something to do all day, and you still come home to Park Slope.

And that's what you tell your college roommate who works at the NYT, and your fiance tells his boss who is on the board of a charter school charity with some trust fund guys, and pretty soon everybody who is anybody knows that The Gap is caused by having the wrong kind of people as teachers.

I'm sounding jaundiced, but some of these Park Slopers actually would turn out to be very good teachers.

But, there are definite limits to this vision peddled by the NY-DC elite press as national cure-all: nobody in Park Slope is going to move to Detroit to teach for the rest of their lives.