April 6, 2013

Douthat: "Secrets of Princeton"

Ross Douthat writes in the NYT:
The Secrets of Princeton 
SUSAN PATTON, the Princeton alumna who became famous for her letter urging Ivy League women to use their college years to find a mate, has been denounced as a traitor to feminism, to coeducation, to the university ideal. But really she’s something much more interesting: a traitor to her class. 
Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class. 
Every elite seeks its own perpetuation, of course, but that project is uniquely difficult in a society that’s formally democratic and egalitarian and colorblind. 
And it’s even more difficult for an elite that prides itself on its progressive politics, its social conscience, its enlightened distance from hierarchies of blood and birth and breeding. 
Thus the importance, in the modern meritocratic culture, of the unacknowledged mechanisms that preserve privilege, reward the inside game, and ensure that the advantages enjoyed in one generation can be passed safely onward to the next. 
The intermarriage of elite collegians is only one of these mechanisms — but it’s an enormously important one. The outraged reaction to her comments notwithstanding, Patton wasn’t telling Princetonians anything they didn’t already understand. Of course Ivy League schools double as dating services. Of course members of elites — yes, gender egalitarians, the males as well as the females — have strong incentives to marry one another, or at the very least find a spouse from within the wider meritocratic circle. What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”? 
That this “assortative mating,” in which the best-educated Americans increasingly marry one another, also ends up perpetuating existing inequalities seems blindingly obvious, which is no doubt why it’s considered embarrassing and reactionary to talk about it too overtly. We all know what we’re supposed to do — our mothers don’t have to come out and say it! 
Why, it would be like telling elite collegians that they should all move to similar cities and neighborhoods, surround themselves with their kinds of people and gradually price everybody else out of the places where social capital is built, influence exerted and great careers made. No need — that’s what we’re already doing! (What Richard Florida called “the mass relocation of highly skilled, highly educated and highly paid Americans to a relatively small number of metropolitan regions, and a corresponding exodus of the traditional lower and middle classes from these same places” is one of the striking social facts of the modern meritocratic era.) We don’t need well-meaning parents lecturing us about the advantages of elite self-segregation, and giving the game away to everybody else. ...

Lots more good stuff here.

Is the g Factor a myth?

At Human Varieties:
Is Psychometric g a Myth? 
Posted by Dalliard

As an online discussion about IQ or general intelligence grows longer, the probability of someone linking to statistician Cosma Shalizi’s essay g, a Statistical Myth approaches 1. Usually the link is accompanied by an assertion to the effect that Shalizi offers a definitive refutation of the concept of general mental ability, or psychometric g. 
In this post, I will show that Shalizi’s case against g appears strong only because he misstates several key facts and because he omits all the best evidence that the other side has offered in support of g.

Shalizi has a lively intelligence, but he has a little too much confidence in his own g Factor. He begins his essay:
Attention Conservation Notice: About 11,000 words on the triviality of finding that positively correlated variables are all correlated with a linear combination of each other, and why this becomes no more profound when the variables are scores on intelligence tests. ... To summarize what follows below ..., the case for g rests on a statistical technique, factor analysis, which works solely on correlations between tests. Factor analysis is handy for summarizing data, but can't tell us where the correlations came from; it always says that there is a general factor whenever there are only positive correlations. 

But why are there only positive correlations among cognitive skills? That's hardly a trivial question. Many things in life come with tradeoffs, such as risk v. reward. 

Shalizi gives an example about cars, in which he misses this crucial point:
One of the examples in my data-mining class is to take a ten-dimensional data set about the attributes of different models of cars, and boil it down to two factors which, together, describe 83 percent of the variance across automobiles. [6] The leading factor, the automotive equivalent of g, is positively correlated with everything (price, engine size, passengers, length, wheelbase, weight, width, horsepower, turning radius) except gas mileage. It basically says whether the car is bigger or smaller than average. The second factor, which I picked to be uncorrelated with the first, is most positively correlated with price and horsepower, and negatively with the number of passengers — the sports-car/mini-van axis.
In this case, the analysis makes up some variables which aren't too implausible-sounding, given our background knowledge. Mathematically, however, the first factor is just a weighted sum of the traits, with big positive weights on most variables and a negative weight on gas mileage. That we can make verbal sense of it is, to use a technical term, pure gravy. Really it's all just about redescribing the data.

The first factor is less bigness than an axis of affordability v. something like "impressiveness." If you look closely at the components, you can see the tradeoffs: for example, Shalizi implies that horsepower and price are positively correlated, but it's more insightful to think of them as inversely correlated. Restate "price" as, say, "change left over from a $100,000 bill" and the affordability v. impressiveness trade-off is obvious. This inherent tradeoff is one that automobile engineers and marketers struggle with everyday.

In contrast, we don't see these the same levels of tradeoffs on cognitive abilities. Sure, autistic savants might have some amazing skills because they lack others. And blind people sometimes are better at, say, music or other tasks involving mentally processing nonvisual inputs. What's surprising is we don't see these tradeoffs as much.

But, with cognitive tasks, on average, we don't see the kind of tradeoffs you see with most engineering problems. People who are above average on math skills are not, on average, below average on verbal skills. On average, they are above average on both. 

That's kind of strange when you think about it. Presumably, there are trade-offs involving, say, head size, ease of childbirth, nutrition needs, hip width and running speed, tendency to fall over, tendency to get abstracted, and so forth. But the lack of overall tradeoffs just within cognitive tasks is pretty odd. 

Strange New Disrespect for Marco Rubio

The term "strange new respect" was coined by Tom Bethell to describe the terms with which Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices are hailed by the prestige media after they arrive in Georgetown and start to Go Native.

Of course, the process works in the opposite direction, too. In the last couple of weeks, our media-appointed Dictator of Demographic Destiny, Marco Rubio, has expressed hints that he's having cold feet about this whole amnesty/citizenship juggernaut.

Hence, from the NYT:
WASHINGTON — When Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, last appeared with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss their plans for a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, he looked optimistic, apple-cheeked — and slightly nervous. 
Given the disdain some conservatives reserve for Republicans who consort publicly with Democrats, he had reason to be. 
The next time Mr. Rubio is likely to appear with his colleagues in the eight-person bipartisan group could be an even bigger moment, when its members officially introduce joint immigration legislation this month. The probable tableau seems ready-made for problems in the 2016 Republican presidential primary fight in which many expect Mr. Rubio to partake: images of Mr. Rubio, smiling and celebrating alongside Democratic senators and maverick Republicans as he claims co-authorship of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws that many Republicans will reject. 
And so the question percolating on Capitol Hill has become: Will Mr. Rubio, an up-and-coming young conservative elected on a 2010 Tea Party wave, ultimately sign onto the immigration bill that he has been helping to draft ever since the November election? 
“We have to see if the Boy Wonder plays ball or not,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group.

Can anybody imagine the Boy Wonder won't ultimately kow-tow?

The cyberspace delusion

About 20 years ago, the buzzphrase "The Information Superhighway" became all the rage. Soon, it was prophesied, ambitious people wouldn't have to move to expensive places like Silicon Valley or Route 128 outside Boston to get ahead in the cyberspace business. They could just log in from anywhere!

Now, the technology developed spectacularly, but the geographical prophecy turned out backward. Rather than two, three many Silicon Valleys, even Route 128 withered, leaving Silicon Valley as all conquering. 

This is not a unique development either. Instead of the Internet empowering people all across the landscape, real estate trends suggest that instead, power is centralizing. Ambitious young white people are pouring into Washington D.C.. The financial industry sprawls no farther than just across the Connecticut border. 

As judged by relative real estate prices, who you know matters even more than what you know than it did 20 years ago.

Various theories have been suggested to explain this:
Engineering Serendipity


WHEN Yahoo banned its employees from working from home in February, the reasons it gave had less to do with productivity than serendipity. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” explained the accompanying memo. The message was clear: doing your best work solo can’t compete with lingering around the coffee machine waiting for inspiration — in the form of a colleague — to strike. 
That same day, Google provided details of its new campus in Mountain View, Calif., to Vanity Fair. Buildings resembling bent rectangles were designed, in the words of the search giant’s real estate chief, to maximize “casual collisions of the work force.” Rooftop cafes will offer additional opportunities for close encounters, and no employees in the complex will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk away from one another. “You can’t schedule innovation,” he said, as Google knows well, attributing the genesis of such projects as Gmail, Google News and Street View to engineers having fortuitous conversations at lunch. ...
ONE reason structural holes persist is our overwhelming preference for face-to-face interactions. Almost 40 years ago, Thomas J. Allen, a professor of management and engineering at M.I.T., found that colleagues who are out of sight are frequently out of mind — we are four times as likely to communicate regularly with someone sitting six feet away from us as we are with someone 60 feet away, and almost never with colleagues in separate buildings or floors. 
And we get a particular intellectual charge from sharing ideas in person. In a paper published last year, researchers at Arizona State University used sensors and surveys to study creativity within teams. Participants felt most creative on days spent in motion meeting people, not working for long stretches at their desks. 

Depends upon who you are meeting, I suspect.

Or, at least, chatting is more fun and makes you feel creative.

I'm sure there's some truth to this, although I have a somewhat different perspective.

First, my experience is that I'm most creative when I stop socializing and finally apply hands to keyboard, usually late at night, all by myself. But, that could be an idiosyncrasy.

What I think is a more general truth is that much of what gets called creativity is actually more influence. People pay more attention to and are nicer to the people they meet in person.

Consider the prominent theorist of the "creative class," Dr. Richard Florida. He is widely viewed as brilliantly creative in his insights, despite a track record of written work that belies that notion. But, he has been relentless at getting his handsome face and his pleasing message in front of other influential people -- in person. Malcolm Gladwell is an even more well-known genius who regularly wows sales conventions.

In contrast, I'm a homebody. Business travel wears me out and makes me less creative. I get bored too easily to bother honing a single presentation that I'd do over and over. I'd rather come up with something new. Since I don't get my face out there much, it's easy to assume I'm a terrible person.

Darwin: Are the races of man separate species or merely separate subspecies?

Charles Darwin's promotion to secular sainthood over the last generation (combined with his cousin Francis Galton's demonization) adds interest and irony to reading Darwin. For example, below is an extract from his 1871 bestseller The Descent of Man on whether human races should be considered separate species or merely separate subspecies.

An unanticipated consequence of the 1973 Endangered Species Act is that the epistemological obscurity and metaphysical fuzziness at the heart of the concept of the word "species" turns out to have billion dollar consequences. Vast legal-scientific-development battles are fought over whether the California gnatcatcher and the Baja gnatcatcher are separate species or merely subspecies. Is the San Fernando Valley spineflower a different species or not from the San Bernardino spineflower?

These convoluted inquiries were anticipated in The Descent of Man. Darwin himself ultimately viewed human races as separate subspecies, but it took him a lot of arguing with himself to get there:
We will first consider the arguments which may be advanced in favour of classing the races of man as distinct species, and then the arguments on the other side. If a naturalist, who had never before seen a Negro, Hottentot, Australian, or Mongolian, were to compare them, he would at once perceive that they differed in a multitude of characters, some of slight and some of considerable importance. On enquiry he would find that they were adapted to live under widely different climates, and that they differed somewhat in bodily constitution and mental disposition. If he were then told that hundreds of similar specimens could be brought from the same countries, he would assuredly declare that they were as good species as many to which he had been in the habit of affixing specific names. This conclusion would be greatly strengthened as soon as he had ascertained that these forms had all retained the same character for many centuries; and that negroes, apparently identical with existing negroes, had lived at least 4000 years ago.* He would also hear, on the authority of an excellent observer, Dr. Lund,*(2) that the human skulls found in the caves of Brazil entombed with many extinct mammals, belonged to the same type as that now prevailing throughout the American continent. 
  Our naturalist would then perhaps turn to geographical distribution, and he would probably declare that those forms must be distinct species, which differ not only in appearance, but are fitted for hot, as well as damp or dry countries, and for the arctic regions. He might appeal to the fact that no species in the group next to man- namely, the Quadrumana, can resist a low temperature, or any considerable change of climate; and that the species which come nearest to man have never been reared to maturity, even under the temperate climate of Europe. He would be deeply impressed with the fact, first noticed by Agassiz,* that the different races of man are distributed over the world in the same zoological provinces, as those inhabited by undoubtedly distinct species and genera of mammals. This is manifestly the case with the Australian, Mongolian, and Negro races of man; in a less well-marked manner with the Hottentots; but plainly with the Papuans and Malays, who are separated, as Mr. Wallace has shewn, by nearly the same line which divides the great Malayan and Australian zoological provinces. The aborigines of America range throughout the continent; and this at first appears opposed to the above rule, for most of the productions of the Southern and Northern halves differ widely: yet some few living forms, as the opossum, range from the one into the other, as did formerly some of the gigantic Edentata. The Esquimaux, like other arctic animals, extend round the whole polar regions. It should be observed that the amount of difference between the mammals of the several zoological provinces does not correspond with the degree of separation between the latter; so that it can hardly be considered as an anomaly that the Negro differs more, and the American much less from the other races of man, than do the mammals of the African and American continents from the mammals of the other provinces. Man, it may be added, does not appear to have aboriginally inhabited any oceanic island; and in this respect, he resembles the other members of his class. ... 
  Our supposed naturalist having proceeded thus far in his investigation, would next enquire whether the races of men, when crossed, were in any degree sterile. He might consult the work* of Professor Broca, a cautious and philosophical observer, and in this he would find good evidence that some races were quite fertile together, but evidence of an opposite nature in regard to other races. Thus it has been asserted that the native women of Australia and Tasmania rarely produce children to European men; the evidence, however, on this head has now been shewn to be almost valueless. The half-castes are killed by the pure blacks: and an account has lately been published of eleven half-caste youths murdered and burnt at the same time, whose remains were found by the police.*(2) Again, it has often been said that when mulattoes intermarry, they produce few children; on the other hand, Dr. Bachman, of Charleston,*(3) positively asserts that he has known mulatto families which have intermarried for several generations, and have continued on an average as fertile as either pure whites or pure blacks. Enquiries formerly made by Sir C. Lyell on this subject led him, as he informs me, to the same conclusion.*(4) In the United States the census for the year 1854 included, according to Dr. Bachman, 405,751 mulattoes; and this number, considering all the circumstances of the case, seems small; but it may partly be accounted for by the degraded and anomalous position of the class, and by the profligacy of the women. A certain amount of absorption of mulattoes into negroes must always be in progress; and this would lead to an apparent diminution of the former. The inferior vitality of mulattoes is spoken of in a trustworthy work*(5) as a well-known phenomenon; and this, although a different consideration from their lessened fertility, may perhaps be advanced as a proof of the specific distinctness of the parent races. No doubt both animal and vegetable hybrids, when produced from extremely distinct species, are liable to premature death; but the parents of mulattoes cannot be put under the category of extremely distinct species. The common mule, so notorious for long life and vigour, and yet so sterile, shews how little necessary connection there is in hybrids between lessened fertility and vitality; other analogous cases could be cited. 
  *(4) Dr. Rohlfs writes to me that he found the mixed races in the Great Sahara, derived from Arabs, Berbers, and Negroes of three tribes, extraordinarily fertile. On the other hand, Mr. Winwood Reade informs me that the Negroes on the Gold Coast, though admiring white men and mulattoes, have a maxim that mulattoes should not intermarry, as the children are few and sickly. This belief, as Mr. Reade remarks, deserves attention, as white men have visited and resided on the Gold Coast for four hundred years, so that the natives have had ample time to gain knowledge through experience.

This observation by West Africans may have had something to do with malaria defenses. British military personnel assigned to West Africa in the early 19th Century died like flies from disease. Their life expectancy was something like two years. In contrast, their life expectancy in New Zealand was longer than back home.
  Even if it should hereafter be proved that all the races of men were perfectly fertile together, he who was inclined from other reasons to rank them as distinct species, might with justice argue that fertility and sterility are not safe criterions of specific distinctness. We know that these qualities are easily affected by changed conditions of life, or by close interbreeding, and that they are governed by highly complex laws, for instance, that of the unequal fertility of converse crosses between the same two species. With forms which must be ranked as undoubted species, a perfect series exists from those which are absolutely sterile when crossed, to those which are almost or completely fertile. The degrees of sterility do not coincide strictly with the degrees of difference between the parents in external structures or habits of life. Man in many respects may be compared with those animals which have long been domesticated, and a large body of evidence can be advanced in favour of the Pallasian doctrine,* that domestication tends to eliminate the sterility which is so general a result of the crossing of species in a state of nature. From these several considerations, it may be justly urged that the perfect fertility of the intercrossed races of man, if established, would not absolutely preclude us from ranking them as distinct species.

  Independently of fertility, the characters presented by the offspring from a cross have been thought to indicate whether or not the parent-forms ought to be ranked as species or varieties; but after carefully studying the evidence, I have come to the conclusion that no general rules of this kind can be trusted. The ordinary result of a cross is the production of a blended or intermediate form; but in certain cases some of the offspring take closely after one parent-form, and some after the other. 

Darwin wasn't aware of the quantum aspect of Mendelian genetics (Mendel's work wasn't rediscovered until 1900, a couple of decades after Darwin's death.) Darwin knew that there was a problem with the genetic models he had in mind, but he didn't know the solution.
...  We have now seen that a naturalist might feel himself fully justified in ranking the races of man as distinct species; for he has found that they are distinguished by many differences in structure and constitution, some being of importance. These differences have, also, remained nearly constant for very long periods of time. Our naturalist will have been in some degree influenced by the enormous range of man, which is a great anomaly in the class of mammals, if mankind be viewed as a single species. He will have been struck with the distribution of the several so-called races, which accords with that of other undoubtedly distinct species of mammals. Finally, he might urge that the mutual fertility of all the races has not as yet been fully proved, and even if proved would not be an absolute proof of their specific identity. 
  On the other side of the question, if our supposed naturalist were to enquire whether the forms of man keep distinct like ordinary species, when mingled together in large numbers in the same country, he would immediately discover that this was by no means the case. In Brazil he would behold an immense mongrel population of Negroes and Portuguese; in Chiloe, and other parts of South America, he would behold the whole population consisting of Indians and Spaniards blended in various degrees.* In many parts of the same continent he would meet with the most complex crosses between Negroes, Indians, and
Europeans; and judging from the vegetable kingdom, such triple crosses afford the severest test of the mutual fertility of the parent forms. In one island of the Pacific he would find a small population of mingled Polynesian and English blood; and in the Fiji Archipelago a population of Polynesians and Negritos crossed in all degrees. Many analogous cases could be added; for instance, in Africa. Hence the races of man are not sufficiently distinct to inhabit the same country without fusion; and the absence of fusion affords the usual and best test of specific distinctness. 
  Our naturalist would likewise be much disturbed as soon as he perceived that the distinctive characters of all the races were highly variable. This fact strikes every one on first beholding the negro slaves in Brazil, who have been imported from all parts of Africa. The same remark holds good with the Polynesians, and with many other races. It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant. Savages, even within the limits of the same tribe, are not nearly so uniform in character, as has been often asserted. Hottentot women offer certain peculiarities, more strongly marked than those occurring in any other race, but these are known not to be of constant occurrence. In the several American tribes, colour and hairiness differ considerably; as does colour to a certain degree, and the shape of the features greatly, in the negroes of Africa. The shape of the skull varies much in some races;* and so it is with every other character. Now all naturalists have learnt by dearly bought experience, how rash it is to attempt to define species by the aid of inconstant characters. 
  But the most weighty of all the arguments against treating the races of man as distinct species, is that they graduate into each other, independently in many cases, as far as we can judge, of their having intercrossed. Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory de St-Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke.* This diversity of judgment does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews that they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them. 
  Every naturalist who has had the misfortune to undertake the description of a group of highly varying organisms, has encountered cases (I speak after experience) precisely like that of man; and if of a cautious disposition, he will end by uniting all the forms which graduate into each other, under a single species; for he will say to himself that he has no right to give names to objects which he cannot define. Cases of this kind occur in the Order which include man, namely in certain genera of monkeys; whilst in other genera, as in Cercopithecus, most of the species can be determined with certainty. In the American genus Cebus, the various forms are ranked by some naturalists as species, by others as mere geographical races. Now if numerous specimens of Cebus were collected from all parts of South America, and those forms which at present appear to be specifically distinct, were found to graduate into each other by close steps, they would usually be ranked as mere varieties or races; and this course has been followed by most naturalists with respect to the races of man. Nevertheless, it must be confessed that there are forms, at least in the vegetable kingdom,* which we cannot avoid naming as species, but which are connected together by numberless gradations, independently of intercrossing.
  Some naturalists have lately employed the term "sub-species" to designate forms which possess many of the characteristics of true species, but which hardly deserve so high a rank. Now if we reflect on the weighty arguments above given, for raising the races of man to the dignity of species, and the insuperable difficulties on the other side in defining them, it seems that the term "sub-species" might here be used with propriety. But from long habit the term "race" will perhaps always be employed. The choice of terms is only so far important in that it is desirable to use, as far as possible, the same terms for the same degrees of difference. Unfortunately this can rarely be done: for the larger genera generally include closely-allied forms, which can be distinguished only with much difficulty, whilst the smaller genera within the same family include forms that are perfectly distinct; yet all must be ranked equally as species. So again, species within the same large genus by no means resemble each other to the same degree: on the contrary, some of them can generally be arranged in little groups round other species, like satellites round planets.*

Darwin then takes up the question of whether humanity arose from a single or multiple sources:
  The question whether mankind consists of one or several species has of late years been much discussed by anthropologists, who are divided into the two schools of monogenists and polygenists. Those who do not admit the principle of evolution, must look at species as separate creations, or in some manner as distinct entities; and they must decide what forms of man they will consider as species by the analogy of the method commonly pursued in ranking other organic beings as species. But it is a hopeless endeavour to decide this point, until some definition of the term "species" is generally accepted; and the definition must not include an indeterminate element such as an act of creation. We might as well attempt without any definition to decide whether a certain number of houses should be called a village, town, or city. We have a practical illustration of the difficulty in the never-ending doubts whether many closely-allied mammals, birds, insects, and plants, which represent each other respectively in North America and Europe, should be ranked as species or geographical races; and the like holds true of the productions of many islands situated at some little distance from the nearest continent. 
Those naturalists, on the other hand, who admit the principle of evolution, and this is now admitted by the majority of rising men, will feel no doubt that all the races of man are descended from a single primitive stock; whether or not they may think fit to designate the races as distinct species, for the sake of expressing their amount of difference. ... 
Nevertheless, so arbitrary is the term of species ... 
  Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole structure be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Feugians on board the Beagle, with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate.

He who will read Mr. Tylor's and Sir J. Lubbock's interesting works* can hardly fail to be deeply impressed with the close similarity between the men of all races in tastes, dispositions and habits. This is shown by the pleasure which they all take in dancing, rude music, acting, painting, tattooing, and otherwise decorating themselves; in their mutual comprehension of gesture-language, by the same expression in their features, and by the same inarticulate cries, when excited by the same emotions. This similarity, or rather identity, is striking, when contrasted with the different expressions and cries made by distinct species of monkeys. There is good evidence that the art of shooting with bows and arrows has not been handed down from any common progenitor of mankind, yet as Westropp and Nilsson have remarked,*(2) the stone arrow-heads, brought from the most distant parts of the world, and manufactured at the most remote periods, are almost identical; and this fact can only be accounted for by the various races having similar inventive or mental powers. The same observation has been made by archaeologists*(3) with respect to certain widely-prevalent ornaments, such as zig-zags, &c.; and with respect to various simple beliefs and customs, such as the burying of the dead under megalithic structures. I remember observing in South America,*(4) that there, as in so many other parts of the world, men have generally chosen the summits of lofty hills, to throw up piles of stones, either as a record of some remarkable event, or for burying their dead. 
  Now when naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small details of habits, tastes, and dispositions between two or more domestic races, or between nearly-allied natural forms, they use this fact as an argument that they are descended from a common progenitor who was thus endowed; and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man. 
  As it is improbable that the numerous and unimportant points of resemblance between the several races of man in bodily structure andmental faculties (I do not here refer to similar customs) should all have been independently acquired, they must have been inherited from progenitors who had these same characters. We thus gain some insight into the early state of man, before he had spread step by step over the face of the earth. The spreading of man to regions widely separated by the sea, no doubt, preceded any great amount of divergence of character in the several races; for otherwise we should sometimes meet with the same race in distinct continents; and this is never the case. Sir J. Lubbock, after comparing the arts now practised by savages in all parts of the world, specifies those which man could not have known, when he first wandered from his original birthplace; for if once learnt they would never have been forgotten.* He thus shews that "the spear, which is but a development of the knife-point, and the club, which is but a long hammer, are the only things left." He admits, however, that the art of making fire probably had been already discovered, for it is common to all the races now existing, and was known to the ancient cave-inhabitants of Europe. Perhaps the art of making rude canoes or rafts was likewise known; but as man existed at a remote epoch, when the land in many places stood at a very different level to what it does now, he would have been able, without the aid of canoes, to have spread widely. Sir J. Lubbock further remarks how improbable it is that our earliest ancestors could have "counted as high as ten, considering that so many races now in existence cannot get beyond four." Nevertheless, at this early period, the intellectual and social faculties of man could hardly have been inferior in any extreme degree to those possessed at present by the lowest savages; otherwise primeval man could not have been so eminently successful in the struggle for life, as proved by his early and wide diffusion. 
  From the fundamental differences between certain languages, some philologists have inferred that when man first became widely diffused, he was not a speaking animal; but it may be suspected that languages, far less perfect than any now spoken, aided by gestures, might have been used, and yet have left no traces on subsequent and more highly-developed tongues. Without the use of some language, however imperfect, it appears doubtful whether man's intellect could have risen to the standard implied by his dominant position at an early period. 
  Whether primeval man, when he possessed but few arts, and those of the rudest kind, and when his power of language was extremely imperfect, would have deserved to be called man, must depend on the definition which we employ. In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some ape-like creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point where the term "man" ought to be used. But this is a matter of very little importance. So again, it is almost a matter of indifference whether the so-called races of man are thus designated, or are ranked as species or sub-species; but the latter term appears the more appropriate.

Since the 1990s, I've been arguing that the naturalists' approach to classifying humans into races / subspecies based on visible characteristics, which Darwin found so conundrum-generating, is more of a proxy for what we really want to know: who is related to whom? And how?

April 5, 2013

Eight months and twenty-nine days

From the New York Times:
Investments in Education May Be Misdirected 
James Heckman is one of the nation’s top economists studying human development. Thirteen years ago, he shared the Nobel for economics. In February, he stood before the annual meeting of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, showed the assembled business executives a chart, and demolished the United States’ entire approach to education. 
The chart showed the results of cognitive tests that were first performed in the 1980s on several hundred low-birthweight 3-year-olds, who were then retested at ages 5, 8 and 18. 
Children of mothers who had graduated from college scored much higher at age 3 than those whose mothers had dropped out of high school, proof of the advantage for young children of living in rich, stimulating environments. 
More surprising is that the difference in cognitive performance was just as big at age 18 as it had been at age 3. 
“The gap is there before kids walk into kindergarten,” Mr. Heckman told me. “School neither increases nor reduces it.” 
If education is supposed to help redress inequities at birth and improve the lot of disadvantaged children as they grow up, it is not doing its job. 
It is not an isolated finding. Another study by Mr. Heckman and Flavio Cunha of the University of Pennsylvania found that the gap in math abilities between rich and poor children was not much different at age 12 than it was at age 6. 
The gap is enormous, one of the widest among the 65 countries taking part in the Program for International Student Achievement run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 
American students from prosperous backgrounds scored on average 110 points higher on reading tests than disadvantaged students, about the same disparity that exists between the average scores in the United States and Tunisia. It is perhaps the main reason income inequality in the United States is passed down the generations at a much higher rate than in most advanced nations. 
That’s a scandal, considering how much the government spends on education: about 5.5 percent of the nation’s economic output in total, from preschool through college. 
And it suggests that the angry, worried debate over how to improve the nation’s mediocre education — pitting the teachers’ unions and the advocates of more money for public schools against the champions of school vouchers and standardized tests — is missing the most important part: infants and toddlers.

In truth, Heckman's focus on preschool is too late. The real gap in environment that leads to different IQs is prenatal. It begins exactly 8 months and 29 days before birth. 

But not a day earlier!

The Current Understanding

At West Hunter, Gregory Cochran sums up the conventional wisdom, c. 2013:
It seems that the talking classes in this country think that human biology mostly doesn’t matter.  The sexes have exactly equal mean abilities and interests – more than that, even the standard deviation must be the same in men and women.  Presumably the third moments as well. 
Race doesn’t exist, so there can hardly be cognitive or personality differences between races. There are no average differences in  mental capabilities between classes.   IQ is not heritable, so eugenics cannot work. Intelligent women should eschew reproduction – that’s something poor people can do just as well, and with the usual 10,000 hours of practice, their kids can be anything they want to be – cowboy, fireman,  or Indian chief. Lest I forget, low test scores in black children are caused by laconic parents, which is why the few children of those career women should be raised by Guatemalan maids. 
Homosexuality is the only genetically-determined personality trait – as well as being a valid lifestyle choice, and a floor wax.  So slash fiction should be the law of the land.

The current assumption that Hart and Risley proved that blacks don't talk enough (but indio childminders from Guatemala are perfectly fine for maximizing Verbal SAT scores) would have struck Charles Darwin as a tad odd. As Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man, in Chapter VII "On the Races of Man:"
There is, however, no doubt that the various races, when carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other,- as in the texture of the hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body,* the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even in the convolutions of the brain.*(2) But it would be an endless task to specify the numerous points of difference. The races differ also in constitution, in acclimatisation and in liability to certain diseases. Their mental characteristies are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties. Every one who has had the opportunity of comparison, must have been struck with the contrast between the taciturn, even morose, aborigines of S. America and the lighthearted, talkative negroes. There is a nearly similar contrast between the Malays and the Papuans,*(3) who live under the same physical conditions, and are separated from each other only by a narrow space of sea.

How they reduce crime in New York City

From the NYT:
Kelly Said Street Stops Targeted Minorities, Senator Testifies 
During a legislative debate in 2010 over the Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk encounters, the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, met with the governor at the time, David A. Paterson, to defend the tactic’s importance as a crime-fighting tool. 
According to a state senator, Eric Adams, who was at the meeting at the governor’s office in Midtown Manhattan, the commissioner said that young black and Hispanic men were the focus of the stops because “he wanted to instill fear in them, every time they leave their home they could be stopped  by the police.” 
Senator Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat who is a former captain in the New York Police Department, recalled the meeting as he testified in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday, as a trial over the constitutionality of the department’s use of the tactic entered its third week. 
Commissioner Kelly, who is not being called to testify, said in remarks to reporters on Monday that Senator Adams’s characterization of what he said was “absolutely, categorically untrue.” Commissioner Kelly has also filed an affidavit in court, saying, “At that meeting I did not, nor would I ever, state or suggest that the New York City Police Department targets young black and Latino men for stop-and-frisk activity.” 

But if blacks and Hispanics eventually decide that rather than getting randomly humiliated by The Man when they walk the streets of New York, they'd rather move to Georgia or Florida, well, don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out.

Construction industry admits it will cheat on "immigration reform" law

With the Obama Administration trying to get a new housing bubble going, it's interesting to see that the construction industry has already announced that it will continue to use illegal immigrants. From the NYT:
Construction Groups Criticize Limits in Guest Worker Deal 
Several major construction industry groups are criticizing the agreement reached last week over how many low-skilled guest workers should be granted visas each year, complaining that the proposed limits were “unrealistic.” The trade associations, including Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Electrical Contractors Association, issued a statement late Wednesday highlighting their concerns about the proposal between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. 
Many immigration experts expect that deal — or much of it — will become part of the immigration bill being developed by a bipartisan group of eight senators, and a representative of the trade associations stressed on Thursday that the statement was not an effort to jettison the immigration proposals but to suggest improvements. 
The Chamber-labor deal calls for admitting 20,000 guest workers the first year, with the total climbing to 75,000 after four years, and future numbers adjusted according to the unemployment rate and industry needs as determined by a new federal bureau. The agreement caps the number of guest construction workers admitted each year at 15,000, and in a bow to labor unions, bars admission for any higher-skilled workers like electricians, crane operators or elevator repair technicians. 
“We are deeply concerned with the size and the scope of the temporary guest worker program in the proposal now being drafted by the ‘Gang of Eight’ senators,” the groups wrote in a statement first reported by Politico. “Capping the amount of visas for the construction industry at only 15,000 in an industry that currently employs nearly six million workers is simply unrealistic and destined to fail.” 
The trade associations added that a program that fails to provide enough visas to meet demand “will inevitably make it harder to fill critical labor openings and make it impossible to secure the border.” 
Associated General Contractors of America, Leading Builders of America, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Roofing Contractors Association also signed the letter. 
Union leaders pushed hard to minimize the number of guest workers allowed, arguing that they hold down wages and take jobs away from Americans, especially when including 1.3 million people in the construction industry who are unemployed. ...  
On Thursday, Geoff Burr, vice president of federal affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, tried to tamp down worries that some trade groups were trying to kill the legislation. 
“The construction industry strongly supports comprehensive immigration reform, and the last thing we want is for current reform efforts to fail,” Mr. Burr said in a statement. “Our statement yesterday was an attempt to help improve the Senate reform package.”

In other words, go ahead and pass your law because it will help hold down construction wages, but we're just going to ignore the enforcement parts that we don't like.

Which is the worst mortgage default: refi or purchase?

I've been looking at some more foreclosure statistics, this time divided between defaults on types of mortgages, and I want to raise a question in the abstract. Which is worse: refinance defaults or home purchase defaults?

Defaulted mortgage can be divided into purchase v. refinance mortgages. In the former case, you get a loan in order to buy a house. In the latter, you already own the house and you get a new mortgage. 

In turn, refis can be divided conceptually into ones where the homeowners makes the likelihood of default lower (e.g., you have a fixed mortgage at 9 percent interest rate and, when interest rates drop, you refinance with a mortgage of the same length and size but with a 6 percent interest rate), ones where the refinance makes the likelihood of default higher (e.g., you switch from a prime to a subprime mortgage in order to take out $100,000 in cash to scratch your Vegas itch), or all sorts of complicated combinations of the two.

Leaving aside the no-brainer case where the only motivation of the refinance is to get a lower interest rate, what's worse: defaulting on a refi or a home purchase? From a moral standpoint, I'd be inclined toward the refi case.

But from a systemic standpoint of understanding cause and effect in the Housing Bubble and Bust, I think cash-out refis were mostly an effect of rising home prices. The more important question is what caused the increase demand for houses that drove up prices, right? And dubious purchase mortgages were the main engine of prices rising above what could be paid off out of income. Does that make sense?

April 4, 2013

Oberlin and Marco McMillian updates

A month ago, the prestige press was convulsed over the KKK riding roughshod over Oberlin College and Clarksdale, Mississippi. What have we learned since then?

About Oberlin, nothing. As far as I can tell from Google News, the Oberlin story has vanished. This is a little odd because Oberlin officials made a big deal about how just before the KKK assault blanket sighting, they had removed two students from campus. Who were they? What had been their motivation? Nobody knows, nobody cares.

The Marco McMillian case, in contrast, continues to generate stories on Google News, each dumber than the last. For example, here's a a long Huffington Post story: 
Marco McMillian's Life And Death A Test For Civil Rights In The Mississippi Delta 
... In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, Mississippi law enforcement agencies collectively reported just one of the nation’s 6,222 hate crimes to the FBI. This year, Mississippi legislators decided against expanding the state’s hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by anti-gay bias. The state also has no laws prohibiting discrimination against anyone in housing, the workplace or other key functions of life. 
“Does that strike you as a place where an honest and thorough examination of hate crime is really happening?” said Mark Potok, a hate crimes and hate group expert with the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center. “If anti-gay bias crimes are happening, where would law enforcement find the motivation, the time, the investigative skills needed to give that possibility a serious look?”

Thanks, Mark. Keep up the good work.

A reader points out that the perfect candidate for Oberlin College Chaplain has been found.

Immigration & real estate: "twin get-the-rich-richer-quick-schemes"

As I've been pointing out this week, in the rest of the English-speaking world, the intellectual tide is moving against mass immigration.

Ed West, author of The Diversity Illusion, writes in The Telegraph:
In David Goodhart’s new book The British Dream he argues that “Hampstead liberals” like himself got it wrong over immigration and chose universalism (looking after the whole world) over looking after their fellow citizens. 
I’ve also got a book out (I might have mentioned it once or twice), and in it I argue that the Right is also responsible, too willing to see mass immigration as an economic benefit while ignoring the social costs. 
The pro-globalisation Conservative view of immigration tends to be that: 
a. If we have free markets we must have free movements of people. 
b. Fears about jobs are based on the lump-of-labour fallacy. 
c. If we’re short of houses, we should build more houses (besides which immigrants account for a small proportion of social housing). 
d. In order to grow, the economy requires more immigrants. 
Although many Liberal Democrats and a small number of Labour politicos hold this opinion, I would argue that it’s an economically liberal, Right-wing view. 
Look at it this way: imagine that Britain had had mass immigration from the 1860s onwards. How do you think the rights of British workers would have panned out over the late 19th and early 20th century? Would housing conditions have universally improved as far as they did? Would inequality have declined? ...
It’s been too easy for Conservatives to see immigrants simply as good workers at reasonable prices, without looking at the short-term economic or long-term social costs. 
Regarding to wages, most of the commentariat are not threatened by immigration, because to become a columnist or radio presenter requires culturally specific skills that immigrants do not posses. But in many industries the availability of cheap immigrant labour has kept wages down. 
Likewise, many Conservatives feel that if we have free trade we should have free movement of people. Why, exactly? Japan’s foreign trade is worth $1,678 billion a year, and they manage to do without much immigration. Britain’s trade expanded exponentially in the 19th century without much internal movement. Out of principle? The reason it’s okay to move around goods but not people is because once we’re finished with goods we can chuck them out; we can’t do the same with people, who marry and have children and have rights and agency and humanity. 
One of the arguments I often hear is that, although immigration over the last 15 years has been wonderful and smashing and everything, what we didn’t do is prepare for the expansion by building the houses. And yet the people expressing this view tend to live in upmarket parts of London, exactly the areas that will not be troubled. Few people want more housing on their back door; almost no one wants social housing. You can’t just say, “hey presto, build!” ...
Finally, we have the argument that the economy will only continue to grow if we import more people. I can see one small problem with this idea. Like all Ponzi schemes, it has to end at some point. The closest parallel is that other Thatcherite yellow brick road, the housing market; last week Chancellor George Osborne signalled his cunning plan to revive our fortunes by re-inflating the housing bubble and so make housing ever more unaffordable for millions of people. 
Many Conservatives have put their faith in a low-wage, high-churn economy based on the twin get-the-rich-richer-quick-schemes of mass immigration and property inflation. Both of these policies continue to lead to ever expanding inequality levels, static or even declining spending power towards the bottom of society, and shifting sands for those struggling in the middle. Personally, that's not a society I feel very comfortable living in.

Men with Gold Chains: Rich Gypsies

Caption in the New York Times:
"A Roma man's prominent gold jewelry"
Immigration restrictionism is growing in popularity in Britain because Romanians and Bulgarians are supposed to get complete freedom to move to Britain in 2014. Brits are particularly worried about Roma Romanians: i.e., Gypsies. If you want to see what Gypsies typically live like, check out Borat's hometown in the 2006 movie. Simon Baron Cohen filmed "Borat" in an Eastern European Gypsy village. (Of course, later on in the film he portrayed stereotyping Gypsies as obviously irrational and evil.)

However, some Gypsies have gotten rich, as depicted in this fabulous pictorial in the New York Times devoted, as always, to Smashing Stereotypes:
Kings of the Roma 
To reach a surprising place, follow Route 6 south of Bucharest as it unwinds across the Romanian countryside, past fields of wildflowers and flocks of sheep. Turn west before the Danube River and head toward a grid of neatly laid streets, set down among farms. 
This is Buzescu, where a small, prosperous group of Roma live among mansions and Mercedeses. 
Like most visitors to Europe, Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky had never heard of Buzescu or met any wealthy Roma. They thought most Roma — often pejoratively called Gypsies — were poor and lived in slums on the fringes of big European cities. On a trip to Europe from their home in Ecuador in 2010, they learned about the Roma of Buzescu and set out to see the town. 
“We wanted to break the image of Gypsies in the street, begging where the cars stop, stealing whatever they can and living in total poverty,” said Mr. Kashinsky, who lived with his wife, Ms. Gachet, in Buzescu for six weeks to document daily life in the thriving community. “Here, the Roma were not the maids of Romanians, but the Romanians were the maids of the Roma. It was an amazing switch.”

So, how did they get rich? The same way a lot of people got rich after the fall of the Berlin Wall:
... The palatial homes belong to the Kalderash, a once-itinerant group of Roma who made their fortune trading metal across Eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism. 
“When Communism fell,” a Roma man told the photographers, “you had to be dumb not to make money.” 
So the Kalderash, whose name means “coppersmith” in Romani, went to work, traveling across Eastern Europe, dismantling abandoned factories and selling the scrap metal for handsome profits.

Up to a point, Lord Coppersmith. Not all those factories were abandoned, and even if they were, the value of the scrap metal belonged to the nation, not to looters.

That's also how Marc Rich, who was pardoned by Bill Clinton in January 2001, made a bundle: "dismantling [not necessarily] abandoned factories and selling the scrap metal for handome profits." So, maybe Yuri Slezkine's opening conceit about Roma being Mercurians too had some basis in reality?

The Kalderash Gypsies, however, appear to be a little more hands-on than metal-trader Marc Rich was -- one of the photographs is of the funeral of a local man who "was electrocuted while stripping copper from power lines in Spain."
... Today, the lavish mansions lining the streets of Buzescu, an otherwise modest farm town, are a testament to the wealth of a people deeply impoverished elsewhere in Europe and widely condemned as beggars and thieves. 
The Roma have faced oppression and violence since their ancestors came to Europe from India centuries ago. During the Holocaust, the Nazis exterminated Romani people by the hundreds of thousands. In 2010, France’s president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, deported thousands of Roma and bulldozed their encampments. His successor, François Hollande, has continued the expulsions. Roma communities face discrimination in Romania too, as evidenced by recent forced evictions across the country. 
Given their painful history, many families in Buzescu are wary of new arrivals like Ms. Gachet and Mr. Kashinsky. Even after one family offered the couple a place to stay, many of the wealthiest residents refused to let them inside their houses. 
“A lot of people were scared of us,” Ms. Gachet said. “They thought we were thieves.” 
But the couple persisted, slowly gaining trust and access. Luckily, they shared a language with the residents of Buzescu. Like Ms. Gachet, who is from Quito, Ecuador, and Mr. Kashinsky, who is from Los Angeles, many Roma speak Spanish — they have been traveling back and forth to Spain for work since Romania joined the European Union in 2007.

Spanish Gypsies, by the way, seem on average to be less Bad News than other Gypsies.
As the doors of Buzescu swung open, Ms. Gachet and Mr. Kashinsky said, they revealed fantastic abundance — winding staircases that led to vast rooms with marble floors and heavy chandeliers — but also great emptiness. 
“They build these giant houses,” Mr. Kashinsky said. “But they don’t really use them.” 
Many parents and teenagers still have to leave Buzescu to find work or conduct business elsewhere in Europe, leaving only elders and young children to live in the outsize homes. Even when families do reunite for holidays or funerals, they tend to congregate in small rooms toward the back of their houses, using outdoor kitchens and bathrooms rather than those inside.  
...“Being Roma, they can’t just go out there to the world and get a job anywhere,” Ms. Gachet said. “The lady we lived with said: ‘Karla, my kids are not going to be lawyers and doctors. You need to understand that. We need to give them tools to survive in our world, and that’s money.’ They don’t get the opportunities that everybody else gets. They’re so discriminated against in their own country.”

I wrote about Gypsies in general and the EU's immigration policies back in 2004 for VDARE.

And here is John Updike in The New Yorker reviewing a book on Gypsies:
Though her six years of living in Roussillon may have left her with “the same attraction to their intractable difference,” readers of her account, if this reviewer is an example, will be cured of any faint desire they may ever have entertained to live like a Gypsy. 
Evidently it’s a miserable life, for the shiftless, jobless, largely illiterate men, and twice as bad for the homebound women, generally married in their teens to other teens, who will bully, betray, tyrannize, and most likely beat them. As for their children, they stay up so late watching television and hanging out on the street that they are usually too sleepy to go to school; Gypsies must be the only significant ethnic group in France that actively discourages literacy and encourages truancy. Compared with them, the embattled immigrants from the Muslim world are models of aspiration to bourgeois order and enlightenment. 
One of Eberstadt’s more hallucinante chapters describes a conference on education held at Collège Jean Moulin, a junior high school for preponderantly Gypsy students. “The occasion is pretty merry,” she writes. “People who work with Gypsies tend to laugh a lot. It’s a laughter of hysterical exasperation, because if you didn’t laugh, you’d hang yourself or quit.

Crime-fighting billionaire advises rest of us

From the Associated Press:
Mayor: Fight Crime by Being More Like NYC 
NEW YORK (AP) — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says places that want to reduce gun violence might want to emulate the Big Apple.

Foreclosures on 2005 Vintage Mortgages by Ethnicity

Here's a graph created by Dr. Carolina Reid of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco tracking foreclosure rates over time on mortgages originated in 2005. This is for the 50 largest metro areas, so it's reasonably representative of the bulk of the mortgage dollars in the U.S.

In thinking about the Great Recession and foreclosures, we need to conceptually distinguish between later foreclosures caused by the recession versus earlier foreclosures that, more than any other single factor in the U.S., caused the recession. (Obviously, the recession had multiple causes, which can be analyzed on multiple levels, just as World War I can be said to be caused (at the specific level) by both the assassination of the Archduke or (at an abstract level) the system of Great Power rivalries. But for historical events as important as the Great War and the Great Recession, it's worth taking the trouble to analyze multiple causes at multiple levels. The mortgage meltdown may not have been the ultimate cause of the recent economic unpleasantness, but it deserves close analysis, just as the assassination of the Archduke, the stock market crash of 1929, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor deserve the attention paid to them.)

The foreclosures rates in this graph are for January of each year. Keep in mind that foreclosures lag defaults by some number of months. 

Some recent history: The subprime crisis was first noticed in February 2007 with the failure of subprime lender New Century Financial in Orange County. So, the first two data points, 2006 and 2007, are both before subprime blew up. The Great Recession itself did not become a certainty until mid-September 2008, and unemployment rose in the wake of those memorable fall 2008 events. Not surprisingly, broad unemployment caused numerous foreclosures. 

But, what's of more interest in figuring out cause and effect are the foreclosures that happened before the country fell into a general recession. This study of 2005 vintage mortgages offers some interesting clues. Here's Reid's map of foreclosures as of January 2007:
As you can see, foreclosures were centered around Greater Detroit

Not surprisingly, in those first two years, while the price of houses was still high, blacks had the highest foreclosure rates. The financial cost of these mortgages defaults was low, however, because home prices in the Great Lakes area are not particularly high.

But, by 35 months later, at the end of 2010, the landscape was dominated by the red of the Sand States of California (the Big Kahuna of real estate values), Arizona, Nevada, and Florida, all of which had above-average priced-homes (California exceptionally so):
As the top graph demonstrates and the second map implies, the Hispanic rate skyrocketed between January 2007 and January 2009. By January 2009, the Hispanic foreclosure rate (about 6%) was roughly three times the white rate (about 2% rate), and the Hispanic rate was now significantly higher than the black rate. The Hispanic foreclosure rate accelerated from January 2009 to January 2010 (roughly the second map), reaching about 10.5%, before its rate of growth moderated from January 2010 to 2011.

More than any other ethnic group, Hispanics blew up and then popped the bubble.

Interestingly, the Asian rate grew sharply over the course of 2009, almost catching up to the black rate. The white foreclosure rate lagged the other ethnicities rates, finally closing some of the gap by January 2011, suggesting that white borrowers tended to be less cause than victim of the recession.

The more I look at the recent studies, the more I keep coming back to my initial reaction: Diversity, in the multiple meanings we assign that term, played a major role in the Recent Economic Unpleasantness. You might think that knowing this would be relevant to immigration policy, but that just shows you are a bad person.

April 3, 2013

1.625 Cheers for "Admission"

The basic problem with "Admission" is that Tina Fey isn't funny in her role as a staffer at Princeton's Admissions department. Otherwise, it's a pretty intelligent movie on an interesting subject. I rather liked it, but, be forewarned, it's not very funny.

Now, for reasons that are no doubt explicated at some length in the roughly 13,000 articles I haven't read all the way through to the end about why the career of Tina Fey is of epochal importance for the social evolution of the world, many seem to feel they, personally, have a lot invested in her. Me, I just like her when she's funny and don't otherwise think about her.

So, the opening of "Admission" requires Fey to do a lot of voice-over explaining the elite college admissions process from the inside, the overly polished kids, the insufferably pushy parents, the cliches about "Just be yourself," and so forth. 

A lot of decent movies founder on this kind of introductory expository voice-over, which is hard to get right in tone. Blade Runner is a notorious instance. For example, if you ever want to see a fine Bonfire of the Vanities-lite satirical movie about Miami, check out Big Trouble based on Dave Barry's novel, which has a much better selected cast than the movie version of Bonfire. But, Tim Allen airballs a few jokes in the opening voiceover, and a lot of viewers wrote it off then and there without noticing that Big Trouble keeps getting better and better.

It's particularly hard to get the tone right in Admission because the natural emotional response to elite college admissions would be, oh, say, Dr. Strangelove-style satire. But, "Admission" won't let the system have it with both barrels. When it does engage in satire, however, I was impressed with the accuracy (the SAT scores and GPAs of the applicants are exactly right), and with some subtle subversiveness. 

For example, Admission revolves on the fate of a diamond-in-the-rough applicant with a 1.5 GPA after three years of public high school in a hick town in New Hampshire where his parents run a mini-mart. But, the first teacher (played by Paul Rudd) smart enough to understand what Jeremiah's talking about realizes his student is an autodidact, so he has him sign up for 8 Advanced Placement tests, even though he's never taken an AP course. Jeremiah gets 5s on all 8. (I'm a big fan of AP tests being incorporated more into the application process than they are at present, since if kids are going to test prep like crazy, they might as well test prep on real subjects like chemistry and European history.)

Jeremiah then takes the SAT and scores a 2360 out 2400.

And Jeremiah is white and working class. In fact, Paul Rudd does some sleuthing and decides that his young prodigy must be the child Tina Fey secretly gave up for adoption when they were at Dartmouth together. (Not a spoiler because it's in the trailer. And I don't care much about the 21st Century spoiler obsession, which makes writing intelligently about movies even harder than it was before.)

Tina is unmarried and nominally childless, having lived with the insufferable head of the Princeton English Department (Michael Sheen, who usually plays Tony Blair) for ten years, until he dumps her for the department's new Virginia Woolf superstar. 

The point of being an admissions "officer" is that although you don't get paid all that much, you have huge amounts of travel to do, and the faculty don't respect you, you have Power. You get to reward kids who remind you of yourself. (As long, of course, as they are budding young sociopaths who are willing to sacrifice all shreds of dignity -- "Write an application essay about my mother's excruciating death from cancer? Why that's a great idea!" -- to fit into and get ahead in the System.)

For example, the aging preppie admissions staffer really wants to push the legacy applicant who is captain of the high school sailing team (how many schools have sailing teams?) but "doesn't test well." (A braver movie would have also shown the gay staffer pushing all the gay boy applicants.)

But, having spent 16 years in this job and having her usual self-esteem issues, the thrill of boosting Mini-Mes who seem like you but are really Other People's Children has lost its thrill. 

Tina's character can't stand all the manipulative parents she has to fend off, but "Admission" raises the question of just how far she would go to get her own kid (assuming Jeremiah really is her baby) into Princeton? 

Pretty damn far, it turns out. 

Periodically, I read articles about how we don't have to worry about affirmative action in the long run because Real Soon Now, black parents will all decide that their kids getting special breaks just isn't fair, so they will demand the end of racial quotas. Yeah, right ...

Other clever aspects: the Paul Rudd character is a globe-trotting do-gooder who moves every few years to some new Third World poverty zone to teach the locals how to dig ditches or whatever NGOs do. Rudd's character hates being thought boring. Along the way, he has adopted an Ugandan boy who is now in 6th grade at the New England alternative school where Rudd teaches.

The little black boy is the movie's wise Numinous Negro, but he's used with a twist. Rudd expects him to be a whiz at schoolwork, but he's not. Why isn't he getting As in Spanish? After all, they've been back home in New England for two years and it's time to head off to the Amazonian jungle of Ecuador to heal the world. But Rudd's adopted son is sick of traveling, sick of the Third World, and likes playing bridge with Rudd's rich Republican mother. The Ugandan kid wants Rudd to marry Fey because Fey is boring and he's sick of Rudd wanting to be interesting all the time.

Director Paul Weitz (who co-directed with his brother Chris Weitz the definitive Hugh Grant performance in the similar About a Boy in 2002) is the son of John Weitz, fashion designer (my mother sent me of to college with a least a dozen pairs of elegant John Weitz socks), race car driver, novelist, historian, and spy, a definite candidate for Most Interesting Man in the World, mid-Century version. I suspect that all of Paul and Chris Weitz's movies are, in some way, about their father.

April 2, 2013

Guns and Race

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
With gun control, murder, and race much in the news, it’s worth noting that the Obama Administration has solved its longstanding problem that, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks commit the majority of homicides in the US.

How did the Obama Administration solve its race-murder problem?

Find out here.

(Update: A reader has found the deleted site archived here.)

Peter Hitchens: "It wasn't because we liked immigrants, but because we didn't like Britain."

Peter Hitchens writes in The Mail on Sunday:
How I am partly to blame for Mass Immigration
When I was a Revolutionary Marxist, we were all in favour of as much immigration as possible.  
It wasn't because we liked immigrants, but because we didn't like Britain. We saw immigrants - from anywhere - as allies against the staid, settled, conservative society that our country still was at the end of the Sixties. 

Yes, England in the 1960s lacked diversity, so therefore it was culturally non-vibrant.
Also, we liked to feel oh, so superior to the bewildered people - usually in the poorest parts of Britain - who found their neighbourhoods suddenly transformed into supposedly 'vibrant communities'.  
If they dared to express the mildest objections, we called them bigots. 
Revolutionary students didn't come from such 'vibrant' areas (we came, as far as I could tell, mostly from Surrey and the nicer parts of London).  
We might live in 'vibrant' places for a few (usually squalid) years, amid unmown lawns and overflowing dustbins. 
But we did so as irresponsible, childless transients - not as homeowners, or as parents of school-age children, or as old people hoping for a bit of serenity at the ends of their lives. 
When we graduated and began to earn serious money, we generally headed for expensive London enclaves and became extremely choosy about where our children went to school, a choice we happily denied the urban poor, the ones we sneered at as 'racists'. 
What did we know, or care, of the great silent revolution which even then was beginning to transform the lives of the British poor?  
To us, it meant patriotism and tradition could always be derided as 'racist'.  
And it also meant cheap servants for the rich new middle-class, for the first time since 1939, as well as cheap restaurants and - later on - cheap builders and plumbers working off the books. 
It wasn't our wages that were depressed, or our work that was priced out of the market. Immigrants didn't do the sort of jobs we did.  
They were no threat to us.  
The only threat might have come from the aggrieved British people, but we could always stifle their protests by suggesting that they were modern-day fascists. 
I have learned since what a spiteful, self-righteous, snobbish and arrogant person I was (and most of my revolutionary comrades were, too). 
I have seen places that I knew and felt at home in, changed completely in a few short years.  
I have imagined what it might be like to have grown old while stranded in shabby, narrow streets where my neighbours spoke a different language and I gradually found myself becoming a lonely, shaky voiced stranger in a world I once knew, but which no longer knew me. 
I have felt deeply, hopelessly sorry that I did and said nothing in defence of those whose lives were turned upside down, without their ever being asked, and who were warned very clearly that, if they complained, they would be despised outcasts.  

Mortgage mania: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Lately, I've been posting summaries of academic research into the true nature of the mortgage meltdown of a half decade ago. I realize that sounds like ancient history of no relevance, but from today's Washington Post:
Obama administration pushes banks to make home loans to people with weaker credit 
By Zachary A. Goldfarb, Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 5:48 PM 
The Obama administration is engaged in a broad push to make more home loans available to people with weaker credit, an effort that officials say will help power the economic recovery but that skeptics say could open the door to the risky lending that caused the housing crash in the first place. ...
In response, administration officials say they are working to get banks to lend to a wider range of borrowers by taking advantage of taxpayer-backed programs — including those offered by the Federal Housing Administration — that insure home loans against default. 
Housing officials are urging the Justice Department to provide assurances to banks, which have become increasingly cautious, that they will not face legal or financial recriminations if they make loans to riskier borrowers who meet government standards but later default. 
Officials are also encouraging lenders to use more subjective judgment in determining whether to offer a loan and are seeking to make it easier for people who owe more than their properties are worth to refinance at today’s low interest rates, among other steps. ...
“If you were going to tell people in low-income and moderate-income communities and communities of color there was a housing recovery, they would look at you as if you had two heads,” said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit housing organization. “It is very difficult for people of low and moderate incomes to refinance or buy homes.”
“If the only people who can get a loan have near-perfect credit and are putting down 25 percent, you’re leaving out of the market an entire population of creditworthy folks, which constrains demand and slows the recovery,” said Jim Parrot, who until January was the senior adviser on housing for the White House’s National Economic Council.
The effort to provide more certainty to banks is just one of several policies the administration is undertaking. The FHA is also urging lenders to take what officials call “compensating factors” into account and use more subjective judgment when deciding whether to make a loan — such as looking at a borrower’s overall savings. 
“My view is that there are lots of creditworthy borrowers that are below 720 or 700 -- all the way down the credit score spectrum,” Galante said. “It’s important you look at the totality of that borrower’s ability to pay.”

It sounds like we need to know what actually happened in the 2000s.

Bankrupt Stockton: Was the mortgage meltdown a government-sponsored affinity scam?

With the city of Stockton, CA in the news as its municipal bankruptcy winds its way through the courts, I was struck by this 2010 San Francisco Federal Reserve paper on the kitchen table dynamics of how so many people in Stockton and Oakland wound up with mortgages they couldn't afford. One short answer: minorities trusted co-ethnic mortgage brokers to treat them fairly out of racial solidarity.
Sought or Sold? Social Embeddedness and Consumer Decisions in the Mortgage Market 
Carolina Reid,  
Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco 
Working Paper, December 2010

Stockton is a Central Valley exurb of the San Francisco Bay Area. In the 2000s, new developments went up all over Stockton, but then around 2007, it became one of the foreclosure sore spots of the country, helping set off the Great Recession of 2008.

My theory of the mortgage meltdown has been that it was inextricably tied up with “diversity.”

But, what do I mean by “diversity?” I use the word to signify:

- a demographic reality;
- an ideology or attitude (“Diversity is our strength,” as Dan Quayle said);
- government, activist, corporate, and media projects intended to operationalize that ideology and intimidate skeptics into silence;
- and to signify what many, from the highest to the lowest in our society, view as a get-rich-quick opportunity.

Dr. Reid's little study of mortgagees in Stockton and Oakland is important for understanding the Who? Whom? aspects of the Minority Mortgage Meltdown. 

Since almost nobody in our culture publicly dissents from Diversity, or really even notices anymore how much it keeps us from noticing what is in front of our noses, we are left with only two ideologies:

Double Down on Diversity

The Randians have the problem that while a lot of government programs exacerbated the mortgage meltdown, good old hog-stomping greed played a huge role as well.

The Double Down on Diversity conventional wisdom about how the problem is, as always, Rich Old White Men blocks us from noticing that the Rich Old White Men who were up to their elbows in this debacle (e.g., Angelo Mozilo, George W. Bush) were outspoken enthusiasts for Double Down on Diversity themselves. Indeed, the Double Down on Diversity view prevents us from noticing the High-Low coalition in which elites use designated victim groups as mascots to get more of what they want, even though it is central to understanding the way of the world in the 21st Century.

If we drop both sets of ideological blinders, one thing we notice is that an overlooked aspect of the fiasco was the role of minority mortgage brokers in putting their co-ethnics into terrible loans. This isn't a huge aspect to the story, but it's an enlightening one.

Since 1968, the government had built a system based around the notion that the problem was white people denying loans to people of color. Over time, the more optimistic and/or aggressive industry participants became true believers. There had been a big push over the years to diversify the mortgage broker profession, both from the government for diversity reasons and from private interests for profit-seeking reasons. It seemed a happy illustration of the virtues of MultiCulti Capitalism.

Not surprisingly, with everybody -- regulators and regulatees -- in vociferous public agreement that the solution was to Double Down on Diversity – hire more minority mortgage brokers so minorities can get more mortgages – the real problem turned out to be the opposite: the minority mortgage brokers pocketed big commissions putting minorities who should never have gotten a mortgage at all into a mortgage, and pocketed bigger commissions by putting creditworthy minorities who should have gotten a prime interest mortgage into a higher commission subprime one. 

Dr. Reid's paper is based on interviews with 33 people in Stockton and 47 in Oakland. In this little study, 66 of the 80 homebuyers were nonwhite. Interestingly, 84% of the respondents enjoyed the services of a mortgage broker of the same race/ethnicity as themselves.
The anecdotes also provide insight into why so many borrowers ended up in loans that they could not afford over the long term, and why borrowers with prime credits cores—particularly among Hispanic and Black borrowers—received a subprime loan. Did borrowers actively “seek” out subprime loans, or were they “sold” loans by unscrupulous brokers and lenders?
In the interviews, three key themes related to social embeddedness emerged. ... social networks to help them identify mortgage brokers and lenders, and particularly for the immigrant and African‐American respondents, revealed a strong preference for brokers who were part of the local community [i.e., racial community, not geographical community). This preference was driven by perceptions that outsiders would not treat them fairly, and that a broker who “understood” their situation would be more likely to result in a positive outcome.

Keep in mind here that “positive outcome” to most of these minority borrowers means getting your hands on the front door key, and “treat them fairly” means letting them get a house, not making sure it’s a mortgage they can afford. Reid provides numerous examples of get rich quick greed among her interviewees. A lot of people in Stockton and Oakland figured they'd flip the house for big money right away, so few read their contracts, even if they were literate in English.
The shared identity that borrowers felt with their brokers, coupled with the broker’s perceived expertise about the mortgage process, led borrowers to trust their advice and not seek external validation of the information provided. As I show using the quantitative data, this led to mortgage outcome sthat were not necessarily in their best economic interest.  
One of the strong themes that emerged from the interviews was the extent to which respondents of color expressed their desire to work with a broker from their own community or background, and that they turned to friends and family members to identify a broker or lender that had a history of serving other families in the community.  
In, numerous interviews, borrowers said that they turned to their social networks and relations in the neighborhood to identify a local mortgage broker who would be willing to “work with someone like me.” Part of this was driven by a lack of trust in traditional lenders, and several respondents in Oakland noted a historical distrust of banks in the community. 

By lack of trust, they mean, I suspect, resentment that banks in the community didn’t trust them to pay back loans. Of course, that it turned out the the bad old banks were right about them won't make them like the bad old banks more.
….Empirical research studies, however, have revealed that during the subprime boom, yield spread premiums coupled with a push for a greater volume of loan originations provided a financial incentive for brokers to work against the interests of the borrower(e.g. Ernst, Bocia and Li 2008). In addition, since there was no statutory employer‐employee relationship between lending institutions and brokers, there were few legal protections to ensure that brokers provide borrowers with fair and balanced information. This aligns with the “trust” that social relations engender. … 
In both Stockton and Oakland, respondents did not seem to be aware of the potential for perverse incentives on the part of brokers, and instead trusted them fully to actin their best interests.

… The quantitative data, however, shows that the decision to “trust” a broker often worked against the best financial interests of the borrower, especially for minority borrowers. Research has shown that regardless of their FICO score, Blacks and Hispanics were much more likely to receive a high‐cost loan, especially when that loan was facilitated by a mortgage broker. This hold strue even when we control for other factors, such as local housing and mortgage market conditions, fico score, and loan to value and debt to income ratio. 
Indeed, in a multivariate model that controls for the majority of underwriting variables, we find that origination by a mortgage broker has a large statistically significant effect on the likelihood of getting a high cost loan for certain borrowers, and that this effect is greater for Hispanics and Blacks. (Figure 5) The marginal effect of using a broker is 22 percent for Hispanics, and 18 percent for Blacks. While it may not seem like an extremely large effect, it is approximately equivalent to a 200 point decrease in a borrower’s FICO score. In contrast, white borrowers who used the services of a mortgage broker were 4 percent less likely to get a high cost loan, suggesting that in their case, on average, brokers helped them to navigate a better mortgage product based on their risk characteristics. 
So, were these loans “sold” or “sought”? While certainly not conclusive, the interviews suggest both are true. First, mortgage brokers in Oakland and Stockton were specifically targeting their services to borrowers with lower FICO scores, and much of the marketing focused on reaching borrowers with poor credit records. (Figure 6) Second, borrowers with lower credit scores actively sought out mortgage brokers who they had heard would help them wade through the paperwork and get a mortgage approved. What was less clear from the interviews was whether or not brokers had intentionally duped borrowers into taking on irresponsible loan products.

In Reid's sample, four of her 80 interviewees were also mortgage brokers themselves. They all felt fine about what they did, and few of her other minority interviewees blasted their brokers. Most felt pretty warmly about their brokers still. The affinity part of affinity fraud really works.

Affinity scams in which people are duped into trusting that a promoter has their best interests in heart because he's a fellow whatever are sadly common. Affinity fraud and Ponzi schemes (which the Housing Bubble was a variant of) frequently go together.

Yet, I'm not sure if anybody has previously pointed out how the government, media, activist, and social pressure to diversify the mortgage industry turned places like Stockton into a government-endorsed affinity fraud Ponzi scheme?